Authors: JoAnn Ross
“The birth certificates for both children list them as twins.”
“Birth certificates can be forged.”
“True. But there's no reason to believe these were. Or that she's Anna.”
“There's one way to find out for sure.”
“You're not going to tell her what you suspect?”
“No. Believe it or not, Zachary, even this old dog can learn a few new tricks. I'm not going to tip my hand. At least, not yet.”
Zach's relief was short-lived.
“You know,” Eleanor mused aloud, “it's been a long time since I had a party.”
“I suppose Alexandra Lyons's name is at the top of the invitation list.”
Eleanor smiled for the first time since Zach had arrived with the dossier. “Of course.”
As he left the estate, though he knew it was wrong, Zach found himself looking forward to seeing Alexandra Lyons again. Oh, there was no way he believed she would ultimately prove to be Anna Lord. But perhaps, he told himself during the drive back to L.A., now that fate was about to throw them together again, he'd discover that his usually faultless memory had merely exaggerated Alexandra's charms.
Perhaps she was nothing more than a romantic, moonlit bayou fantasy.
The hell she was.
“Ms. Ross takes her audience on a thrilling roller coaster ride that leaves them breathless.”
âAffaire de Coeur
Also available from MIRA Books and JoAnn Ross
A WOMAN'S HEART
BAIT AND SWITCH
No one can write a book alone, and I've been wonderfully fortunate to have been on the receiving end of a great deal of help.
To everyone who makes writing for MIRA such a joy: Brian Hickey, Hugh O'Neil and Randall Toye, for their unparalleled corporate support; Candy Lee and Karin Stoecker, who told me to write whatever I want (heady advice for any author); Katherine Orr and Stacy Widdrington, who somehow manage to arrange nearly effortless travel; Krystyna de Duleba, for the dazzling artwork (and for actually welcoming my ideas); Dianne Moggy, Amy Moore and Ilana Glaun, who provide editorial support most writers can only dream of; and, of course, my own incomparable editor and friend, Malle Vallik, who many times understands my stories better than I do.
Also, heartfelt gratitude to Robin Lester and Leslie Burton, for all the years; Shelley Mosley and Julie Havir, for the monthly lunches; and Anna Eberhardt, Jan Flores and Patty Gardner Evans, whose phone calls and faxes keep me reasonably sane.
Last, but certainly not least, I'd like to thank my talented son, for believing in his mother. Here's to tons of sales and mailboxes filled with your own royalty checks, Patrick!
who gives my life meaning.
Santa Barbara, California
t rained the day Eleanor Lord buried her only son. A cold wind, bringing with it memories of a winter just past, blew in from the whitecapped gray sea. Not that the inclement weather kept anyone away; it appeared that the entire town of Santa Barbara had turned out. Rows of black umbrellas arced over the grassy knoll like mushrooms.
Nothing like a scandal to draw a crowd,
Eleanor thought. After all, it wasn't every day that the scion of America's largest department store family and his wife were murdered.
If a double homicide wasn't enough to set tongues wagging, the fact that the victims were two of the town's leading citizens added grist to the gossip mill. Then there was Annaâ¦.
Eleanor's heart clenched at the thought of her missing
two-year-old granddaughter. A sob escaped her tightly set lips.
“Are you all right?” Dr. Averill Brandford asked with concern. He was holding an umbrella over her head; his free arm tightened around her shoulders.
“Of course I'm not all right!” she snapped, displaying a spark of her usual fire. “My son and his wife are about to be put in the ground and my granddaughter has vanished from the face of the earth. How would you feel under similar circumstances?”
“Like hell,” he answered gruffly. “Don't forget, Robert was my best friend. And Anna's my goddaughter.”
Averill Brandford and Robert Lord had grown up together. Clad in rainwear and shiny black boots and armed with shovels, rakes and buckets, they'd dug for clams in the coastal tidelands. Robert had been the pitcher of the Montecito High School baseball team; Averill had been the catcher. Together they'd led the team to three district championships in four years. Inseparable, they'd gone on to USC, pledged the same fraternity and only parted four years later when Robert went east to Harvard Law School and Averill to medical school, making his father, the Lords' head gardener, extremely proud.
Eventually they were reunited in the Southern California coastal town where they'd grown up. These past horrendous days, Averill had been a pillar of support. He'd arrived at the house within minutes of Eleanor's frantic phone call, rarely leaving her side as she waited for the kidnapper's call.
Tears stung her eyes. Resolutely Eleanor blinked them away, vowing not to permit herself to break down until her granddaughter was home safe and sound.
She thanked the minister for his inspiring eulogy, not
admitting she hadn't heard a word. Then she turned and began making her way across the mossy turf.
In the distance the Santa Ynez Mountains towered majestically in emerald shades over the red-roofed city; a few hardy souls were playing golf on the velvet greens of the Montecito Country Club.
Out at sea, draped in a shimmering pewter mist, a tall masted fishing boat chugged its way up the Santa Barbara Channel. Watching the slicker-clad men on the deck, Eleanor felt pained to realize that people continued to go about their daily lives, that the earth had not stopped spinning simply because her own world was crumbling down around her.
As she neared her limousine, Santa Barbara's police chief climbed out of his black-and-white squad car, parked behind it, and approached them. The look on his face was not encouraging.
“Good afternoon, Chief Tyrell.” Though there were shadows smudged beneath Eleanor's eyes, her gaze was steady and direct.
The police chief lifted his fingers to his hat. “Afternoon, Mrs. Lord.” He doffed the hat and began turning it around and around between his fingers. “The FBI located your granddaughter's nanny in Tijuana, ma'am. Rosa Martinez checked into a hotel under an assumed name.”
“Thank God, they've found her,” Eleanor breathed. “And Anna? Is she well?”
“I'm afraid we don't know.”
“What do you mean, you don't know?”
“She didn't have a child with her when she checked in.”
“But surely Rosa will tell you where Anna is. Even if she refuses to cooperate, don't you people have ways of encouraging people to talk?” Thoughts of bright lights and rubber hoses flashed through her mind.
“I'm afraid that's impossible.” His voice was heavy with discouragement. “The nanny's dead, Mrs. Lord.”
“She hung herself.”
“But Annaâ¦” Eleanor felt Averill's fingers tighten on her arm.
“We don't know,” Chief Tyrell admitted. “With the nanny gone, no witnesses and no word from the kidnappers, we've run into a dead end.”
“But you'll keep looking,” Averill insisted.
“Of course. But I'm obliged to tell you, Mrs. Lord,” the police chief said, “that the little girl's nanny left a suicide note asking for God'sâand yourâforgiveness. The FBI's taking the note as a sign that your granddaughter's, uhâ” he paused, looking like a man on his way to the gallows “âdead.”
No! For the first time in her life, Eleanor felt faint. She took a deep breath, inhaling the mild aroma of petroleum wafting in from the offshore oil derricks; the light-headed sensation passed.
She heard herself thank the police chief for his continued efforts, but her voice sounded strange to her own ears, as if it were coming from the bottom of the sea.
Back at her Montecito estate, she forced herself to remain calm as she accepted condolences from mourners. Finally, mercifully, everyone was gone, leaving her alone with Averill.
“Are you sure you want to stay here tonight?” His handsome face was stamped with professional and personal concern.
“Where would I go? This is my home.”
Needing something to do with her hands, Eleanor absently began rearranging a Waterford vase filled with white lilies. The house was overflowing with flowers; the rich
profusion of sweet and spicy scents was giving her a blinding headache.
“Would you like some company?” Averill asked solicitously. “I'd be glad to stay.”
“No.” She shook her head. “I appreciate your concern, Averill, but if you don't mind, it's been a very long day and I'd like to be alone.” When he looked inclined to argue, she said, “I'll be fine. Honestly.”
He frowned. “If you can't sleepâ”
“I'll take one of those tablets you prescribed,” she assured him, having no intention of doing any such thing.
She'd succumbed to his medical prompting that first night, only to discover that the pills made her feel as if her head were wrapped in cotton batting. It was important she be alert when the police called to tell her they'd located Anna.
Although he appeared unconvinced, the young doctor finally left. Eleanor sat alone for a long silent time. After being in the public eye all day, she was grateful for the opportunity to allow herself to droopâface, shoulders, spirits.
Finally, when she thought she could manage the act without collapsing, she got to her feet and climbed the elaborate Caroline staircase to the nursery, where she kept her vigil far into the night.
blivious to any danger, Alexandra Lyons ran full tilt across the icy street, deftly weaving her way between two taxis, a gunmetal gray Mercedes and a jet-black Ferrari. Her hooded, red wool cape was like the brilliant flash of a cardinal's wing against the wintry gray Paris sky and the falling white snow.
Her long legs, clad in opaque black tights and pointy-toed red cowboy boots, earned a quick toot of the horn and an admiring second look from the driver of the Ferrari.
It was Christmas in Paris. Glittering semicircles of Christmas trees had replaced Rond Point's formal gardens, and garlands of lights had been strung up in the city's leafless trees, turning the Avenue Montaigne and the Champs-ÃlysÃ©es into great white ways, reminding one and all that Paris was, after all, the City of Light.
But Alex's mind was not on the lights, or the joyful
season. Her concerns were more personal. And far more urgent.
She was on her way to the
of Yves Debord to try again to win a coveted position with the French designer. And though she knew her chances of winning a position at the famed house of couture were on a par with catching moondust in her hand, even worse than failing would be to grow old and never have tried.
Emerging ten years ago as haute couture's
, the designer had been immediately clutched to the
bosom of the
. Fashion celebrity oozed from the perfumed corners of his
glinted off the windshield of his Lamborghini, glowed from the crystal chandeliers in his many homes.
Hostesses in Los Angeles, Dallas and New York fawned over him. He skied in the Alps with movie stars and was welcome at presidential dinner tables in Rome and Washington and Paris.
During Alex's student days in Los Angeles, the Fashion Institute had shown a documentary about the designer directed by Martin Scorsese entitled
Pure Pow: The World of Debord
. Enthralled, Alex had sat through all three showings.
She now paused outside the showroom to catch her breath. Adrenaline coursed through her veins at the sight of her idol's name written in gleaming silver script on the black glass.
“You can do it,” she said, giving herself a brisk little pep talk. “The answer to all your dreams is just on the other side of this door. All you have to do is to reach out and grasp it.”
She refused to dwell on the fact that after months of daily visits to the
bureau de change
to cash her dwindling supply of traveler's checks, she was almost out of funds.
Her night job, serving beer and wine at a Montparnasse nightclub, barely paid her rent. The hours, however, allowed her to search for work in the fashion houses during the day, and if sleep had become a rare unknown thing, Alex considered that a small price to pay for a chance to fulfill a dream.
Throwing back her shoulders, Alex lifted herself up to her full height of five feet seven inches and then, with her usual bravado, entered the showroom. Behind her, the door clicked shut with the quiet authority of a Mercedes.
The front room, used to greet customers, was a vast sea of cool gray. Modern furniture wrapped in pewter fabric sat atop silvery gray carpet that melded into the gray silk-covered walls. Marie HÃ©lÃ¨ne, Yves Debord's sister and house of couture directress, was seated behind a jet lacquer table.
She was dressed in black wool jersey, her platinum hair parted in the center and pulled into a severe chignon at the nape of her swanlike neck.
When she recognized Alex, she frowned.
“I know,” Alex said, holding up a gloved hand to forestall the director's complaint. She pushed back her hood, releasing a thick riot of red-gold hair.
“You've told me innumerable times in the past six months that there aren't any openings. And even if there were, you don't take Americans. But I thought, if you could only take a look at my workâ” she held out her portfolio “âyou might consider showing my designs to Monsieur Debord.”
Alex's chin jutted out as she steeled herself for yet another cool rejection.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained
To Alex's amazement, Marie HÃ©lÃ¨ne didn't immediately turn her away as she had all the other times. “Where did
you say you studied?” she inquired in a voice as chilly as her looks.
“The Fashion Institute. In L.A.”
“Los Angeles,” the directress said with a sniff of disdain, as if Alex had just admitted to being an ax murderer. “You're very young,” she observed, making Alex's youth sound like a fatal flaw. “When did you graduate?”
“Actually, I didn't. I felt the curriculum put too much emphasis on merchandising and too little on technique.” It was the truth, so far as it went. “Besides, I was impatient, so I quit to go to work in New York.”
She felt no need to volunteer that a more urgent reason for leaving school had been her mother's diagnosis of ovarian cancer.
As soon as Irene Lyons had called her with the dark news, Alex had gone to the registrar, dropped out of school and, with a recommendation from one of her professors, landed a job with a Seventh Avenue firm that made dresses for discount stores.
“New York?” Marie HÃ©lÃ¨ne's brow climbed her smooth forehead. “Which designer? Beene? Blass? Surely not Klein?”
“Actually, I worked for a company that made clothing for department stores.”
She lifted her chin, as if daring Marie HÃ©lÃ¨ne to say a single derogatory word. While not couture, she'd worked damned hard. And although her suggestions to bring a little pizzazz to the discount clothing were more often than not rejected, she was proud of whatever contribution she'd been allowed to make. After her mother's death, no longer having any reason to remain in New York, she'd followed her lifelong dream, making this pilgrimage to the birthplaceâand high altarâof couture.
“But I continued to design on my own,” she said, holding out the portfolio again.
When the directress continued to ignore the proffered sketches, Alex steeled herself to be rejected once more.
Instead, Marie HÃ©lÃ¨ne rose from her chair with a lithe grace any runway model would have envied and said, “Come with me.”
Unwilling to question what had changed the director's mind, Alex rushed after her through the labyrinth of gray walls and silver carpeting. They entered a small Spartan room that could have doubled as an interrogation room in a police station. Or an operating room.
Though the steel shelves on the walls were filled with bolts of fabric, there was not a speck of lint or dust to be seen. Open-heart surgery could have been done on the gray Formica laminated plastic table in the center of the room.
Beside the table was a faceless mannequin. Marie HÃ©lÃ¨ne took a bolt of white toile from one of the shelves, plucked a sketch from a black binder, lay both on the table along with a pair of shears and said, “Let us see if you can drape.”
“Drape? But I came here toâ”
“I had to dismiss one of our drapers today,” the directress said, cutting Alex off with a curt wave of her hand.
Her fingernails were lacquered a frosty white that echoed her glacial attitude. A diamond sparkled on her right hand, catching the light from the fixture above and splitting it into rainbows on the white walls. Those dancing bits of light, were, along with Alex's crimson cape, the only color in the room.
“I discovered she was sleeping with a press attachÃ© for Saint Laurent.” Marie HÃ©lÃ¨ne's mouth tightened. “Which of course we cannot allow.”
Uncomfortable with the idea of an employer interfering
in the personal life of an employee, Alex nevertheless understood the paranoia that was part and parcel of a business where the new season's skirt lengths were guarded with the same ferocity military commanders employed when planning an invasion.
“With the couture shows next month, we must hire a replacement right away,” the directress continued. “If you are able to drape properly, I might consider you for the position.”
Draping was definitely a long way from designing. But Alex wasn't exactly in a position to be choosy.
She glanced down at the black-and-white pencil sketch, surprised by its rigid shape. Debord had always favored geometric lines, but this evening gown was more severe than most.
“Is there a problem?” Marie HÃ©lÃ¨ne asked frostily.
“Not at all.” Alex flashed her a self-assured smile, took off her cape, tossed it casually onto the table, pulled off her red kid gloves and began to work. Less than five minutes later, she stood back and folded her arms over her plaid tunic.
“Done,” she announced as calmly as she could.
Marie HÃ©lÃ¨ne's response was to pull a pair of silver-rimmed glasses from the pocket of her black skirt, put them on and begin going over the draped mannequin inch by inch.
Time slowed. The silence was deafening. Alex could hear the steady tick-tick-tick of the clock on the wall.
“Well?” she asked when she couldn't stand the suspense any longer. “Do I get the job?”
The directress didn't answer. Instead, she turned and submitted Alex to a long judicious study that was even more nerve-racking than her examination of Alex's draping skills.
“Where did you get that
outfit?” Marie HÃ©lÃ¨ne's nose was pinched, as if she'd gotten a whiff of Brie that had turned.
Imbued with a steely self-assurance that was partly in-born and partly a legacy from her mother and twin brother, who'd thought the sun rose and set on her, Alex refused to flinch under the unwavering stare. “I designed it myself.”
“I thought that might be the case.” The woman's tone was not at all flattering. “My brother prefers his employees to wear black. He finds bright colors distracting to the muse.”
“I've read Armani feels the same way about maintaining a sensory-still environment,” Alex said cheerfully.
The directress visibly recoiled. “Are you comparing the genius of Debord to that Italian son of a transport manager?”
Realizing that insulting the designerâeven unintentionallyâwas no way to gain employment, Alex quickly backtracked.
“Never,” she insisted with fervor. “The genius of Debord has no equal.”
Marie HÃ©lÃ¨ne studied her over the silver rim of her glasses for another long silent time. Finally the directress made her decision. “I will expect you here at nine o'clock tomorrow morning. If you do not have appropriate attire, you may purchase one of the dresses we keep for just such an occasion. As for your salaryâ¦”
The figure was less than what she'd been making at the nightclub. “That's very generous, madame,” she murmured, lying through her teeth.
“You will earn every franc.”
Undeterred by the veiled threat, Alex thanked the directress for the opportunity, promised to be on time, picked
up her portfolio and wound her way back through the maze of hallways.
As she retraced her steps down the Avenue Montaigne, Alex's cowboy boots barely touched the snowy pavement. Having finally breached the directress's seemingly insurmountable parapets, Alexandra Lyons was walking on air.
“If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,” she sang as she clattered down the steps to the metro station. Her robust contralto drew smiles from passing commuters. “I love Paris in the winter, when it drizzlesâ¦. Or snows,” she improvised. “Boy, oh boy, do I love Paris!”
She was still smiling thirty minutes later as she climbed the stairs to her apartment.
The first thing she did when she walked in the door was to go over to a table draped in a ruffled, red satin skirt that could have belonged to a cancan dancer at the Folies BergÃ¨re, and pick up a photo in an antique silver frame.
“Well, guys,” she murmured, running her finger over the smiling features of her mother and brother, whose life had been tragically cut short when his car hit a patch of ice and spun out of control on the New Jersey turnpike six years ago. “I got the job. I hope you're proud.”
Alex missed them terribly. She decided she probably always would. They'd both had such unwavering confidence in her talent. Such high hopes. Alex had every intention of living up to those lofty expectations.
When she'd left New York, two days after her mother's funeral, she'd been excited. And nervous. But mostly, she'd been devastated.
As the plane had reached cruising level thirty thousand feet over the Atlantic, she'd collapsed and to the distress of the flight attendants, who'd tried their utmost to uphold the Air France tradition of
esprit de service
her a glass of the cognac strictly reserved for first-class passengersâshe'd wept like a baby.
For the first time in her life, she'd been truly alone. And though she'd been raised to be independent, deep down inside, Alex had been terrified.
Now, against all odds, she'd achieved the first part of her goal. She'd gotten her boot in Debord's black glass door. Next, all she had to do was prove to the designer she was worthy of the opportunity. Once Debord recognized her talent, she'd be bound to win a promotion.
Could she do it?
Her full lips curved into a wide grin. Her amber eyes, touched with golden facets that radiated outward, lighted with Alex's irrepressible lust for life.
“You bet,” she decided with a renewed burst of her characteristic optimism.