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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the experience of using Princess Diana as a minor, but important, character in my first novel, Dance For A Dead Princess. Some readers have understood that I wanted to preserve my own view of Diana in the book. She was a beautiful, naive, young woman, looking for love with an older man after an emotionally barren childhood. But instead of creating a family to nurture, as she wanted to do, she was badly used by her husband, who was chronically and openly unfaithful, and she was abused by the institution of monarchy which her marriage was designed to serve. For the trouble she took to produce two princes and two royal heirs, she was later unfairly labeled unfit and unstable by Charles and his supporters in divorce proceedings.

Some readers are put off by Diana’s presence in Dance For A Dead Princess. In their opinion, even mentioning her is somehow exploiting her memory. But that view is very short sighted because if we don’t mention her, we forget her. And forgetting her is exactly what institutional monarchy wants us to do. Charles, who never made a place for Diana in his life, has filled the place that should have been hers with the woman who destroyed Diana’s marriage. And now the party line is to forget about Diana altogether and to criticize anyone who mentions her favorably as exploitive.

I came across this type of criticism recently when I discovered the work of Peter Settelen, a British actor and voice coach. In 1992 and 1993, Diana hired Settelen to help her improve her public speaking. Tapes of her early speeches demonstrate she had little skill as a speaker at the beginning of her career in public life. But after working with Settelen, she improved dramatically.

When Settelen began to work with Diana, he told her she would have to find her own authentic voice if she wanted to excel at public speaking. To that end, he recorded a series of sessions with her in which she described the events of her life. They are charming and candid, and well worth watching. And they reveal the side of Diana that my fictional character, Nicholas Carey, knew and loved and desperately missed as the novel opens.

Settelen has been criticized, of course, for making the tapes public. He had to go to court and fight to get them back after they were found in Paul Burell’s attic. Earlier, Settelen had been told the tapes had been destroyed.

Settelen candidly admits they were meant to be private teaching tools. But, as he also says, Diana did not know she was going to die; and the opportunity to hear the story of her life in her own words is a powerful way preserve her memory. The tapes Diana made with Settelen are well worth a listen. And listening to them explains why my fictional character Nicholas was driven to preserve Diana’s memory at all costs out of loyalty to his greatest friend.

Here is the YouTube link, the Diana Tapes with Peter Settelen.   What do you think of the tapes?  Did Settelen do the right thing to publish them?

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The Grosvenor Hotel, London

The Grosvenor Hotel, London

Last week, I explained why I was drawn to use Diana, Princess of Wales as a fictional character in my first novel, Dance For A Dead Princess. Although I am ten years older than Diana, my life paralleled hers in certain ways in the early and mid-eighties. I had three children, just a little younger than Diana’s boys; and like Diana, I was enduring the heartbreak of a disastrous marriage and acrimonious public divorce during those years. As Diana had to learn to tread lightly through the legal thicket that surrounded her in order to keep her children, so I, too, had to learn how to thread the narrow path through the court proceedings that would allow me to raise my beloved children. For me, and I am sure for her, those were terrifying and desperate times.

Like Diana, I longed for a comforting male presence in my life, someone to take the sting out of being reviled in public by the father of my children. But that proved as impossible in my life as it did in Diana’s. The men who came into the princess’ life eventually departed, tired of the glare of the media and ever-present lens of the paparazzi. In my own case, no man was willing to risk more than ten years of constantly being threatened with character assassination in a courtroom at the blink of an ex-husband’s disgruntled eye. I could understand, of course. I wouldn’t have chosen to live that way, either. If I’d had a choice.

In Nicholas Carey I created for Diana the kind of male friend I had longed for. Attractive, intelligent, witty, and always on her side. Although Taylor Collins initially sees Nicholas as an arrogant womanizer, on the morning that Taylor has been dumped yet again by her former fiancé, Chris Hunter, she suddenly sees the Nicholas Carey that was Diana’s steadfast friend in every heartbreak. My favorite scene in Dance is the morning after Taylor has spent the night crying over Chris’ engagement. Nicholas shows up early and uninvited at her hotel to comfort her.

From Chapter Ten of Dance For A Dead Princess:

She awoke at nine thirty the next morning to a hangover and someone knocking on the door of her suite. Painfully she got out of bed, tied on her robe, and headed through her sitting room. When she opened it, Nicholas Carey was standing in the hall in his power overcoat with two cups of coffee in paper cups with lids and a brown bag.

“I thought you might need these.”

Without a word she stepped aside, and he entered. He walked over and put the food and drinks on the coffee table. Then he took off his overcoat and laid it over the ottoman. He was dressed for the office in a gray suit, white shirt, and dark blue tie.

“Come sit down and have some coffee. I guessed you were a nonfat latte fan. And the muffins are blueberry. Everyone likes those. I know it was a rough night, and you look like it.”

“My head is pounding.”

“Coffee, then. Drink up.”

Taylor felt as detached as if she were still dreaming. Something horrible had happened yesterday. Oh, yes. Chris. And Allison. A New Year’s Eve wedding. Her eyes suddenly teared up.

Nicholas held out a white handkerchief bearing the ducal arms. “Thought you might need this, too.”

Get a grip, she told herself, as she wiped her eyes. No more crying. Especially not in front of Nicholas Carey. She took the paper cup he offered and sat down on the sofa. The coffee was rich and strong. He was right. She needed it.

He opened the bag and offered her a gigantic muffin on a paper napkin. “You need some food, too.”

But she waived it away. “Can’t.”

“Just a few bites. My guess is you didn’t eat much for supper last night.”
“How did you know?”

He sat down next to her and sipped from the other cup. “I’ve had a lot of practice with The Morning After. The women in my life, particularly Diana, had a knack for getting their hearts broken. I’m the steady shoulder to cry on. Come on. You aren’t going to feel better unless you eat a little something.”

Taylor broke off a piece of muffin and nibbled at it as she sipped coffee. “Thank you. For the call last night and for coming this morning.”

“As I said, recognizing a woman about to be hurt is my speciality.”

“But aren’t you guilty of that, too?”

“I’d like to think I’m not. But I do have a substantial string of ex’s. I can honestly say they all saw the breakups coming because they were always over the same thing.”

“And that was?”

“Marriage. A woman gets restless after a couple of years if she doesn’t get an engagement ring. And I’ve no intention of ever getting married again. I gather whatever happened last night took you by surprise?”

The coffee was beginning to bring Taylor into focus. “It did.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

She sighed. “No. But I guess talking about it makes it go away sooner. And I want this to go away.”

* * *

In Chapter Ten, I gave Nicholas  the opportunity to demonstrate he’s the perfect friend with lots of experience in comforting beautiful women with broken hearts. And he is disarmingly honest about his own breakups. For Taylor, as devastated as she is over losing Chris, her Morning After with Nicholas is the turning point in their relationship.

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Even before the name of the new little princess was announced, I, like many others, wondered if she would be called after her grandmother, Diana. Diana was thrust onto the world stage at age nineteen, a bit gawky, a bit naive, but utterly charming and sincere. By age twenty-three, she was the mother of two children, one a future king. By the time she died in Paris, at age thirty-six, she had grown into a beautiful, compassionate woman, anxious to be a healing and unifying influence in the world.

After Diana died, I found I missed her although we had never met. While she was living through her disastrous marriage and divorce in the glare of world wide publicity, I was living through my own marriage and divorce nightmare on a smaller, but nevertheless, public scale. On the days when I had to wait to check-out at the grocery story, I used to read the tabloid headlines written by Prince Charles’ supporters, accusing Diana of mental illness and instability; and I would comfort myself with the thought that at least no reporters were sitting in the courtroom to hear the man I’d married say exactly the same things about me. Although it was a public courtroom and anyone who walked in could have heard how, by having three children whom I loved more than life itself, I had maliciously morphed from an academic over-achiever who graduated Number Two in her law school class into a dangerous, crazy, lying freeloader. I felt a bond with Diana, although I was unenviably poor and she was enviably rich, because I realized that access to all the money in the world could never make up for the pain of having the father of your children heap lies and disrespect on you in a public forum.

When Diana died, I felt as if I’d lost a friend. And as the years passed and Charles and his publicists pushed Diana and her memory farther and farther into the background to replace her with Camilla Parker-Bowles, I wondered how many people remained who, like me, thought of Diana, not as a clothes horse or as a Royal Highness, but as a beautiful, loving woman, unfairly used and demeaned by a powerful and wealthy family.

My first novel, Dance For A Dead Princess has many themes, but one of the most prominent is the power of an aristocratic family to control its members. Nicholas Carey, the heredity duke, who is the hero of Dance for A Dead Princess, was forced to return from America when he was only sixteen to assume the position of heir to the dukedom, although given his choice he would have gladly remained in New York and studied to become a concert pianist like his mother. Diana was also affected by the power of her aristocratic family at a very young age when her father wrested custody of his children from their mother, leaving Diana and young Charles to be raised by nannies at Althorpe while grieving their mother’s loss.

Another central theme is the toll an unhappy marriage takes on the individuals involved. Having been unhappy in childhood, marriage for both Nicholas and Diana represented the chance to form happy unions of their own. For them, marriage was a chance to love and be loved rather than to be used as pawns on their aristocratic families’ chessboards. But Nicholas and Diana’s hopes were dashed yet again. Nicholas’ wife, Deborah and Diana’s husband, Charles, turned out to be powerfully in love, but not with their spouses. For Nicholas and for Diana, having lost the chance at a happy childhood, the loss of the opportunity to have a happy marriage was a second and even more powerful blow.

Some readers interpret Diana’s presence in Dance for a Dead Princess as an attempt to make believers out of the conspiracy theory of Diana’s death or as a crass attempt to sell books because her name is in them. But neither was ever my intention. I brought Diana into the book to keep her memory alive and to remind the world of the tragedy of her life. She was a beautiful, loving woman who was denied the thing she most longed for: the chance to create a loving family for herself, her husband, and her children. At one point in Dance, Nicholas observes how unfair it was for Diana to be called unstable and mentally ill all because she wanted what every wife wants, to have her husband to herself.

The haunting tragedy of Diana’s life was what I hoped every reader would take away from Dance. In the Prologue, the reader encounters Nicholas in Paris where he is grieving the loss of his beloved friend and the mutual support and companionship they offered each other in their isolated, unhappy lives. Nicholas stares down at the Place d’Alama Tunnel, thirteen years after that fateful August night, deeply longing for one more chance to talk to Diana. “How many nights had he spent talking to Diana about his marriage, about her marriage, about his guilt over Deborah and about the impossibility of being in love?” And he wonders how his friend felt as death approached. “ . . . What had she felt as she slipped away from everyone who loved her? Had she struggled against it, as Deborah had? Or had her torn and broken heart quietly accepted her fate? No, he doubted that. She’d have fought to stay with her boys.”

Whether or not there was a historical conspiracy to assassinate Diana is not the point of Dance. The role of the conspiracy in the plot is to give Nicholas an opportunity to express his unbearable grief over the loss of both Diana and his wife. Aching from all that loss in his life, Nicholas vows to expose Diana’s assassins, not as an act of vengeance, but as means of expressing his soul crushing sadness. And ironically, through this one, last powerful expression of grief, Nicholas meets Taylor Collins, the one woman who has the power to give him what he has always longed for, but has never had.

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It must have been the last winter storm of the season that came overnight. It seems odd to say “winter storm,” since in San Diego “winter storms” do not have freezing temperatures and snow, the hallmarks of real winter. But even though it was 61 degrees when I went outside with the first of the retrievers at seven o’clock on Saturday morning, it felt colder than that. I put on my jacket before accompanying retriever two on her first potty break of the day.

We walked to Hendrix Pond after retriever breakfast. (Mine comes later with a foamy hot latte that I make myself in a bone china cup with pastel flowers that is the sine qua non for reading my emails.) Everything was shiny wet under gray clouds that carried the potential for new rain. The eucalyptus trees tossed restlessly overhead in the wild winds, and the world smelled of rain and the fruity, but faintly astringent, aroma of eucalyptus. Excitement was in the air; but I had no idea why.

The pond was a sheet of greeny-brown glass, with few green-headed mallards and navy-winged females swimming among the reeds. The three white heron that had been there yesterday were nowhere to be seen. (It has been ages since all three were present; a good sign, I think when all return together. I found a white feather once that one of them left behind, and tucked it into a flower pot by my front door as a symbol of magic and good luck.) Most of the ducks were tucked securely into various sheltered nooks around the pond, some with their heads under their wings. No one had come to feed them as people often do of a morning. The retrievers and I had the wild, windy, cold, wintry world of the pond to ourselves.

We followed our usual trail around the perimeter, the retrievers investigating every new smell that overnight wind and rain had created. I waited patiently while they exhausted every sniff of whatever blade of grass or smooth bit of rock caught their canine fancy. I gazed out at the ducks and listened to the creaking eucalyptus overhead and wished I had awakened in the night to hear the wind and rain. There is nothing more cozy than waking in the wee hours to hear the world being tossed to bits by winter winds accompanied by the staccato beat of rain on the roof while retrievers snore contentedly close by. I love to snuggle deeper into my warm bed and my heap of feather pillows and say a prayer of thanks for my roof, my bed, my dogs, and for being cozy and dry.

The retrievers and I walked out of the shadows just as the morning sun broke through the heavy clouds. I felt the warmth of a normal April morning on my back for a few minutes; and now my jacket, which had been so welcome a minute ago, was uncomfortably hot. In this new unwelcome heat, the world seemed to go fuzzy the way a scene does when you turn the focus ring of a camera too far the wrong way. In an instant, I remembered what hot summer walks are like, with the heat of the sun on my back, and the retrievers, in their fluffy blonde coats, anxious to return to the dark cool of the condo. But, as quickly as the heat of April emerged, it vanished behind the gray morning storm clouds sailing across the rain-washed sky. Now the focus ring had been turned in the opposite direction, and it seemed as if the world had gone from fuzzy into sharp focus in the crisp air.

Some people love summer. Maybe because I grew up in the excessive heat of Southern summers, that season has never been my favorite. In a few days, it will become summer-hot here. Nineties are predicted where we live by Tuesday. So this morning’s chance to bid farewell to the cozy focus that winter-damp air brings to life under the tossing eucalyptus was welcome. Winter, I will miss you.

The Pond - Our Daily Destination

The Pond – Our Daily Destination

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Hi, Everyone, Two bits of exciting news for Dance For A Dead Princess this week. First, at long last, it is available in paperback at Amazon.com!

Second, below is a preview of the review of Dance For A Dead Princess that will be in the October edition of the Midwest Book Review!

Dance for a Dead Princess is a work of fiction loosely based on facts surrounding Princess Diana’s life, and opens with the premise that Princess Diana received a death threat shortly before her accident, recorded the phone call, and gave the information to a close friend in America who subsequently died under mysterious circumstances.

Diane’s close (and rich) friend Duke Nicholas, the second richest man in England, would seem to have more than enough resources to track down this missing information, (which seems to have wound up at a Wall Street attorney’s office), but though he can lure Taylor to England with the promise of selling his ancestral estate to one of her clients, he can’t force her to turn over the tape. Nor can he control the unexpected: his sudden infatuation with her.

On Taylor’s part, she views Nicholas as a spoiled, selfish rich man and only wants to represent her client as quickly as possible and return home. She’s recovering from a broken engagement and the last thing she needs is another romance. But then, the last thing she also needs is involvement with a piece of evidence that could and place her in jeopardy while providing the definitive word about Diana’s death.

The plot becomes even more complex with the discovery a document which relates a history that gives her more compassion for Nicholas, who is battling to save his drug-addicted ward. Add an arrest for murder and Taylor finds herself more than immersed in a wildly twisting affair that moves between romance and murder mystery.

Now, I almost hesitate to mention the romance factor: too many romance novels are insipid, predictable, and shallow writings. And I even hesitate to bill this as a ‘mystery’ (even as a ‘historical mystery’) because so much genre writing in this area is also too dry.

Not so Dance for a Dead Princess, which maintains a vivid set of protagonists, clearly outlines motivations built upon their realistic personalities, and adds the backdrop of romance and mystery to create a complex and ever-evolving story line that’s anything but predictable.

For one thing, the historical references run the gamut from past to present. This lends a realistic background to the novel which clearly shows connections between timeline events and what motivates the protagonists. British history is offered as a real force affecting not only past, but present events.

For another, motivations for actions are clearly drawn. Nicholas is drawn to investigate Diana’s death not because she’s a famous personality, but because she was his friend – and his last connection to his wife, also deceased. So his drive to investigate her death comes from a personal, not a political, connection: “How many nights had he spent talking to Diana about his marriage, about her marriage, about his guilt over Deborah, and about the impossibility of being in love? Too many to count. He ached to tell her now how empty his life had become without either of them.”

The connections between Nicholas and Taylor are forged from a number of motivators; from shared feelings to an overall event that ties them together, and are thoroughly explored in a plot ripe with high drama, tense scenes, and realistic twists and turns throughout.

Fans of good solid fiction writing will find Dance for a Dead Princess is clearly more than a cut above genre writing, and will relish the definitive conclusion which leaves nothing hanging and much to enjoy.

D. Donovan, Senior eBook Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

Dance-for-a-Dead-Princess-Final

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Earlier this week, Scotland Yard announced it was investigating new information about the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. A former member of the British Special Air Services the (SAS) boasted to his former wife that the SAS had brought about her death. His former parents-in-law reported the claim to the military police who passed it on to Scotland Yard.

The original announcement was appropriately neutral. Scotland Yard informed the public of the information and indicated the police would assess it for credibility. But Scotland Yard also said it would not reinvestigate Diana’s death at this time, a wise conclusion since no one yet knows if the new information can be believed.

The press, however, have transformed this simple bit of factual reporting into a speculative circus. Some commentators insist all possible “conspiracy” theories have been debunked and only crazy people believe them while others see a plot lurking in every corner. Rather than the wait-and-see position of Scotland Yard, most press reports require the reader to take a position: believe or disbelieve. The press’s approach to the new information illustrates the rule that human beings like to organize data and reach conclusions just as they prefer to return to the tonic tone in melody. In other words, we don’t like unanswered questions.

But it isn’t likely that the “truth” of the princess’ death will ever be resolved. Or, if it is, the answer will be revealed a lifetime or so later. Think about it. If powerful governmental and multinational forces brought about her assassination, they have every tool on the planet available to perpetuate their cover up. They aren’t going to make any dramatic confessions based upon the ex-parents-in-law’s letter. And, if Diana’s death was a tragic accident, people who love a conspiracy are going to continue to spin their own yarns.

This whole controversy reminds me of speculation about the fate of Tsar Nicholas of Russia’s youngest daughter, Grand Duchess Anastasia. When I was growing up, a German woman named Anna Anderson made out a case that convinced many people she was the grand duchess and had miraculously survived the cellar execution in Ekaterinburg. Anna Anderson appeared to have information only the real Anastasia would have known. Some who had known the grand duchess believed Anna, but many others dubbed her an impostor. She wound up married to an eccentric professor of history in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she died in 1984. In 1956, Ingrid Bergman stared in a movie loosely based on Anna Anderson’s life and claims. Litigation to determine whether Anna was the real Anastasia never reached a conclusion.

In 1977, two investigative journalists, Anthony Summers and Tom Mangold, wrote a book called The File on The Tsar, claiming that not all of the royal family died at Ekaterinburg and the survivors became pawns in an international power game. They claimed Lenin, the Kaiser, the British royal family, and British intelligence were all involved. I read it at the time, and found it interesting and persuasive.

But The File on the Tsar illustrates how facts can be manipulated to fit the end the writer wants to believe. In 1991, the bodies of the Tsar, his wife, and three of their daughters were found in a mass grave near Ekaterinburg. DNA testing confirmed their identities. Then, in 2007, Alexi and the remaining daughter were found, and DNA testing confirmed that all seven Romanovs had died in the cellar that day. By that time, Anna Anderson had been established as an impostor because in 1984, when she died, DNA testing showed she was not related to the Romanovs.

The deaths of famous people hold our attention, especially when they happen under odd or mysterious circumstances. In fact, our fascination with these stories lies in our inability to know exactly what took place. If the facts were known and settled, we would go looking for another more interesting tale whose facts were not resolved.

Scotland Yard had it right in its neutral announcement; and the press, insisting on belief or un, had it wrong. No one can really decide what happened in Paris on August 31, 1997, based upon this new little bit of information. More than likely whether Diana’s death was deliberate or an accident will never be resolved. Or if it is, the truth will come out after a much longer time, as with the Anastasia mystery. In the meantime, the circumstances surrounding Diana’s death create material for fiction writers like me. I wanted to write about a beautiful woman whom I admired because she grew up in difficult circumstances on the world stage. She transformed herself from a naive girl into a charismatic woman who spoke for compassion and love, and she was willing to share her struggles with the rest of us who are struggling. Dance For A Dead Princess is not an argument for or against what “really happened.” It is intended to be a highly entertaining story about interesting and lovable people.

Anna Anderson on the left and Grand Duchess Anastasia on the right

Anna Anderson on the left and Grand Duchess Anastasia on the right

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CHAPTER ONE
Mid-November, 2010, New York

Conference rooms are all the same. As are airports. On a cold, wet, mid-November afternoon, His Grace, the Eighteenth Duke of Burnham, decided that those who thought running the Burnham Trust was a glamorous job should go from London to Paris to Brussels to New York seeing only conference rooms and airports. He was now trapped in one of the beastly things on the twenty-eighth floor of the Manhattan offices of Craig, Lewis, and Weller, studying the deepening early twilight through the sheets of glass that formed the walls. His mood was as black as the coming night. This was the last leg of his autumn trip to ascertain the status of Trust assets in several countries. And two weeks of nonstop polished mahogany tables, crystal water decanters, dense financial statements delivered by earnest twenty-somethings, and masses of sandwiches on large silver trays had been a mind-numbing combination. He longed to go back to his suite at the Plaza, draw a hot bath, and order a bottle of Balvenie Cask 191.

But a quiet evening in was highly unlikely with Ami Hendria in town. Twenty-eight-year old blonde bombshell actresses were not fans of a low key evening by the fire. Still, he would be the first to admit that one reason he kept Ami around was to avoid having the world find out who Nicholas Carey truly was: a middle-aged homebody, longing for some solitude and a nightcap. On the other hand, the female segment of the populace would have refused to believe his real persona if he had posted it on a billboard in Times Square because, as a widowed duke, every woman he encountered believed he was swinging Prince Charming. And he was anything but that.

Oh, he was bored if his mind wandered to scotch and the possibility of eluding Ami’s grasp that evening. To bring himself back to the present, he looked down the nine-foot glossy mahogany conference table and counted the populace. Three lawyers from Beville, Platt, and Fisher on one side, all local counsel for the Burnham Trust. And two on the other side from Craig, Lewis, and Weller for Miss Reilly’s Female Finishing Academy. Why did it take five lawyers to sell a house to a girl’s school? And why weren’t any of them the one he wanted to see? His operative had named Taylor Collins, a partner in the Craig, Lewis real estate section, as was the one likely to know where Diana’s tape was. He’d told Hollis Craig he wouldn’t sell the Abbey to his daughter Tracy’s school unless Taylor was on the deal. Yet, he’d been trapped in this conference room for more than an hour, with no sign of her.

The tape was so sensitive, Nicholas knew he couldn’t approach Taylor Collins directly about it. But he was more than happy to offer Burnham Abbey, the ancestral home of the Careys, on the sacrificial altar of subterfuge. The place had long been an albatross around his neck that he was determined to remove. He smiled happily at his picture of his father, the Seventeenth Duke, turning in his grave in the chapel about now as the lawyers blathered on blissfully and incomprehensibly about the terms of the deal.

For as many of his forty-nine years as he could remember, he had detested lawyers of every ilk. The American big firm types were particularly irksome because they all looked, sounded, and dressed exactly alike. Dark suits, starched white shirts with monograms on the cuff, and subdued silk ties. And the women lawyers. Oh, he didn’t even want to think about their sexless, baggy black outfits. Was being neutered worth all that money they reportedly made? He knew Taylor was thirty-nine, but he bet she looked at least forty-five and was twenty pounds overweight. And probably chain smoked and had a face like a bulldog. He didn’t look forward to dealing with her.

Well, here was his chance to find out. The massive, dark mahogany door to the conference room opened, and another female suit stepped inside. Except this one was so, so different from the others. And not at all the woman he had expected to see.

“Sorry to be late. I had a call from the Cuniff trustee that I had to take.” She was speaking to Hollis Craig, but a pair of eyes the color of spring violets were fixed on him. Very like Diana’s eyes, but deeper.

“My partner, Taylor Collins, Your Grace. She’s going to be in charge of the file for Miss Reilly’s as we agreed.”

His heart was racing so fast, he had difficulty speaking, so he merely nodded in response. At thirty-nine, she looked ten years younger. He guessed the form-hugging black wool suit on her tiny five foot two frame was Chanel. She barely weighed a hundred pounds. Her jacket allowed a demure ruffle to spill over its dark edge, highlighting the single strand of perfect pearls circling her creamy throat. Her dark hair was pulled back into the usual professional woman’s knot, revealing more perfect pearl drops in her exquisite little ears. He wondered what she looked like when her hair was wild and free. Her face was impassively professional, yet he sensed much more lay beneath the surface. Physically he was drawn to her so strongly that he wondered what color La Perla’s she was wearing, but he longed for more than sex. He desperately craved the impossible: time alone and the chance to know who she was beneath the lawyer facade.

The conference room doors opened once more and another black-suited woman with hair also tightly wound roused Nicholas from his fantasies. She wasn’t as expensively dressed, and he recognized her immediately as the telephone receptionist who sat at the throne-like desk opposite the elevators. Her task was to greet everyone who arrived at the twenty-eighth floor.

“Your Grace?”

Why did all professional woman have to slick their hair into those ridiculous knots? Did it make them seem more serious? More competent?

“Your Grace, ” she repeated. She was young, early twenties. There was that look in her eyes that said, maybe I will be his Cinderella. Even a woman in a business suit longs to be a princess. Or at least a duchess. Although he doubted Taylor Collins would be interested.

“Yes, Miss –?”

” La Breaux. Marie La Breaux.”

“Well, yes, Miss La Breaux? What is it?”

“A call for you.”

” I’ll take it later. After we’ve wrapped up in here.”

“I’m afraid it’s the headmistress from your ward’s school.”

“Oh, God. Very well.” Nicholas got up and went into the adjoining conference room, this one dominated by a long glass table, sterile enough for surgery, surrounded by empty high-backed chairs. It looked like a board meeting of ghosts, and for a moment Nicholas saw the empty room as a metaphor for his own life. The people he had loved the most were all ghosts: his mother, Deborah, Diana, Annabel.

“Hello?”

“Helen Myrtin, Your Grace, from Miss Whitcomb’s School.” Her thin, nasal vowels sliced through the silence and reminded Nicholas that in person she appeared as intimidating as she sounded. Thirty-five. Always dressed in suits so crisp they looked like military uniforms. “I’m afraid there’s been a bit of difficulty with Lucy. Again.”

Nicholas had hoped she wouldn’t refer to the past, but in fairness, she had a right to sound exasperated. It had taken a hefty chunk of Trust cash, tastefully donated to the school’s general fund, to keep Lucy there the last time. “Tell me about the problem, Mrs. Myrtin.”

A very human sigh surprised him. “I’m so sorry, Your Grace. I hate giving bad news.”

“If she’s drinking again–”

“I wish that were the only problem. Unfortunately, Lucy has begun to experiment with drugs. She had too much to drink, threw up in the loo, and passed out. One of the other girls found her and called Matron who called Dr. Briggs. When he looked her over he found signs of cocaine use. And later we located some of the drug among her things.”

Nicholas gripped the phone and willed her to stop speaking. The alcohol had started last year. It had been tough to deal with a fifteen-year-old with a taste for scotch. Maybe he should have seen the other coming. But he had put his head in the sand. “Are you very sure that she was actually using the stuff–not just trying to sell it?” Both were bad, but using was worse. It would be much harder to stop that.

“Perfectly sure.” The headmistress’ voice tightened in response to his denial. Give me any window, any hole to escape this he prayed. Don’t make me deal with another failure where Lucy is concerned. I know it’s my fault. But it hurts too much. Far too much. Still, fate had already done its work. There was no going back. “Dr. Briggs says the drug caused bleeding around her nose. The girl who found her in the loo thought she was dying.”

“I see. And where is Lucy now?”

“In the infirmary. We have to send her down. At least until the New Year. You realize that, of course.”

“Of course.” But she wasn’t saying out for good. There was still hope. “But after Christmas?”

“You’ll have to show us that she was treated. And that she’s–uh, how do they say- clean. Perhaps one of those drug management programs in Harley Street. Although I will warn you the source is her boyfriend. He’ll find her if she’s in London. He’s very persistent.”

“Boyfriend?”

“Well, man-friend, actually. Didn’t you know about David Lowenby? She said you approved.”

“David Lowenby is Lord Gaynor’s heir and twenty-five years old. He’s almost ten years older than Lucy. She couldn’t have been seeing him.”

“I’m afraid she has. She told us she had your permission,” Ms. Myrtin repeated.

“And you believed that?” Nicholas didn’t even attempt to control his outrage.

“Well,” her tone of detached poise seemed to slip momentarily, “I did think of ringing you up. But she was so emphatic. Good family. All that.”

He sighed. “Well, the harm’s done. But if I put her in Harley Street, Lowenby will find her with more cocaine. You are right. I’ll have to think about what to do.”

“There are home programs, I think. Nurses you can hire. Maybe one of the Harley Street clinics can give you some information. But we do have to send her away today. And you appear to be out of the country.”

“New York is not the ends of the earth, Mrs. Myrtin. I can telephone my staff. I’ll send an estate car for her as soon as you ring off. I would imagine my driver can be there within the hour.”

“That would be greatly appreciated, Your Grace.”

After Nicholas hung up, he sat for a long minute watching the New York sky line; he felt empty and sad and defeated. She had promised no more drinking. She would study to get into Oxford. She would find some meaning and purpose for her life. Not just parties and shopping. But all her promises had meant nothing. He glanced at his watch: 4:30 here, so 9:30 in London. He could have Lucy at Burnham Square before midnight.

He picked up the phone once more, this time punching the intercom button.

“Marie La Breaux, here, Your Grace.” She sounded so eager. For what, he wondered.

“Please get my butler on the phone and tell him to send a car to fetch my ward from school. At once.”

“Yes, Your Grace. I’m sorry the news was bad.”

But he wasn’t inclined to tell her anything, so he ignored her condolences. First rule of survival in the tabloid fishbowl of aristocratic life. Never give anyone information about yourself. “And get my London solicitor on the line. Lord Thomas. My personal assistant will give you the numbers.”

“Yes, Your Grace.” She sounded more distant now. She had understood he was not going to let his guard down with her.

Kerry Thomas, his chief friend from Eaton, would know what to do. Restraining orders–whatever it took to keep the press out of Lucy’s screw-up. Maybe he could recommend a treatment program. A scholarship boy from a poor London family, Kerry was resourceful. And now rich.

As he sat waiting for Kerry’s call, he wondered if he should fly back to London that night or follow his original plan to return in the morning. His pilot was used to turning around on a dime if Nicholas demanded it, but sticking to his original itinerary looked very attractive. He didn’t feel ready to face Lucy and her problems any sooner than tomorrow night. If then. He could stay at the Ritz for a couple of days and avoid his townhouse at Burnham Square for at least forty-eight hours. Cowardly, but tempting.

Then, too, it was Ami’s last night in New York before she flew to Paris to begin a new movie. She expected him to take her to dinner at Per Se, with dancing afterwards at Provacateur. The thought of all that throbbing music punctuated by green strobes gave him a headache in advance. In addition to being very egocentric, American twenty-something actresses loved night life. And were completely convinced that dukes did, too, despite his sincere explanations to the contrary.

Well, even if blonde American actresses had dukes pegged correctly, and they all liked to boogie until dawn, he didn’t. Maybe it was because he had never felt much like a duke to begin with. Maybe it was because he hadn’t been intended to be one, either. Arthur had been real duke material. He could picture his older half-brother at Provacateur until the wee hours. He didn’t deserve a lifetime subbing for Arthur.

Hours under strobe lights, sandwiched between gyrating, sweating bodies was just the sort of thing Deborah would have loved and would have insisted that he do with her. But even the most boring things had been worth doing – just to be close to her. All at once, he could see another pair of blue eyes. Not deep violet like Taylor’s, but pale as spring rain, cool, and appraising. Deborah’s eyes. Deborah’s voice. “I can’t live locked away in that decaying old house in Kent. Don’t be ridiculous. There’s everything to do in London and nothing at the Abbey except watching it crumble to bits stone by stone. You can’t seriously be thinking of living there.” He could hear her voice as clearly as if more than a decade had not gone by since the last time she had spoken. And he could picture her graceful body and the way she would shake her golden, shoulder-length hair to make a point.

The memory was too sharp and too clear, and it hurt too much. He brought himself back to the dilemma of Lucy. He would leave New York in the morning as planned. But he’d lie to Ami and cancel the evening. She’d be furious, but she’d get over it. And if she didn’t, there were a zillion more just like her waiting to attach themselves to him. He badly wanted his evening alone at the Plaza with his bottle of scotch. No, that wasn’t what he wanted at all. He wanted to take Taylor Collins to dinner at Per Se, drown in her violet eyes, and learn everything about her, including which places on her tiny exquisite body she liked to be touched. But that was out of the question. He hadn’t expected her to be beautiful and sexy, but he had to force himself to stay on track. He had made a promise to Deborah and to Diana. He couldn’t be so distracted that he gave up his quest for the truth.

He would telephone Steve Riddely now and arrange for him to come round early in the morning to look at Lucy and advise him about treatment programs when he returned. Steve’s father had been his own father’s doctor, and he knew he could trust him not to tell anyone why Lucy had been sent down.
As for himself, he was a coward. Tomorrow or even the next day would be time enough to deal with Lucy.

* * *

The next morning, his Lear Jet was scheduled to depart at 8:30 a.m. As he sat on the tarmac, waiting in the queue of airplanes for clearance to taxi and takeoff, Nicholas Carey reflected upon his success the prior evening. Ami had been easily put off with a promise to fly her to London the following week. Apparently she was willing to risk the ire of her director to be with him. Not a good development. But the bottle of Balvenie Cask 191 had been superb. He had almost obliterated the shock of meeting Taylor Collins with its joys.

But he was sober now, and she was very much on his mind. He had to find a way to see her again. Not only to find Diana’s tape, but to learn more about her. How to do it without being obvious? Ah, the sale of the house. She was the lead lawyer on the file for the buyer. This would be easy. Way too easy. He picked up his cell and dialed his personal assistant.

“Myles?”

“Your Grace.”

“I want you to call Suzanne Kelly, the woman at Miss Reilly’s who is overseeing their purchase of the Abbey. Tell her there may be a problem with conveying a clear title to the school; and their attorney, Taylor Collins, must come to England and personally examine the documents to determine whether the Trust can actually sell the house.”

“Will do, Your Grace.”

“And another thing. The land conveyance records are at the Abbey library in the family papers section. Keep them in the library but hide them where they’ll be very difficult to find.”

“Yes, Your Grace. Anything else?”

“Only one. Book a suite for me at the Ritz for the next three days. I need some time and space away from Lucy while I think about what to do with her.”

“Done, Your Grace.”

The jet gathered speed for take off. Nicholas watched New York begin to drop away behind him. If Taylor knew about Diana’s tape, her life was in danger.

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