A deep sadness filled Blaire as she followed the long line of cars to the reception at Kate’s house. It seemed impossible that Lily was dead, even more impossible that she’d been murdered. Why would anyone want to harm someone as kind and loving as Lily Michaels? Blaire fought back the tears that had been coming all morning. Gripping the steering wheel, she took a deep breath and willed herself to remain calm. She continued up the tree-lined driveway to Kate and Simon’s elegant estate, where a valet greeted her. She stopped the Maserati and got out, handing the keys to the uniformed young man.
The stone house sat on a rise overlooking a green meadow that sloped down to large stables with a paddock. It was horse country, home of the world-famous Maryland Hunt Cup. Blaire would never forget the first time she’d attended the race with Kate and her parents on a sunny day in April. The excited crowd had gathered around cars and small tents as they tailgated with mimosas and waited for post time. Blaire, a novice, had been taking riding lessons at the Mayfield School, but Kate was practically born in the saddle. Blaire had learned during her lessons that timber races were much like a steeplechase. She watched in fascination as horse and rider scaled wood fences almost five feet high. Lily was in high spirits that day, spreading out the feast she’d brought in the wicker picnic basket on a beautiful flowered tablecloth she put down on a folding table. She’d always done everything with such grace and elegance. Now she was gone, and Blaire was just one of the crowd of mourners that filled Kate and Simon’s home.
Blaire was so nervous about seeing her old friend, but the second she approached her, so many old feelings flooded back. Kate even pulled her aside for a heart-to-heart, and they were able to share a moment of grieving together for Lily. Looking around, Blaire thought the house was just as stately as the one Kate had grown up in. It was still hard to reconcile the image of the carefree twenty-three-year-old girl that Blaire had known with the mistress of this imposingly formal house. Blaire had heard that Simon, an architect, had designed and built it to look historic. Simon was one person who wasn’t going to be happy that Blaire was back. Not that she cared about his opinion. She was ready to reconnect with the other friends she hadn’t seen in years and put him out of her mind.
The library she’d walked past on the way to this room had made her want to stop and linger. It soared two stories high, with an entire wall of tall windows. The dark wood walls and ceiling gleamed in the sunlight, and a wooden staircase spiraled to the loft filled with more books. The dark Persian rug and leather furniture added to the antique feel of the room––a space where a reader could be transported back in time. Blaire had felt the urge to climb those stairs and run her hand along the thick wooden banister, to lose herself in the books.
But instead, she’d continued to the vast living room, where appetizers were now being passed by waitstaff and white wine offered on trays. The space was immense and filled with light, which made it cheerful, if not cozy. Blaire took note of the high ceiling with its intricate crown molding and the original paintings on the walls. They were the same kind of works that she’d seen in Kate’s parents’ house, with the smooth patina of age and wealth. The wide-plank floor was covered with an enormous oriental rug of dark maroon and blue. Blaire noticed the fraying fringe on one corner and a few spots that looked a bit threadbare. Of course—she smiled wryly to herself—it had probably been in the family for years and years.It was still hard to reconcile the image of the carefree twenty-three-year-old girl that Blaire had known with the mistress of this imposingly formal house.
She looked across the room at the gawky man standing by the bar, her eyes drawn to the bow tie around his neck. Who wears a bow tie to a funeral? She had never gotten used to the Maryland obsession with them. Okay, maybe in prep school, but once you were a grown man, only to a formal affair. She knew her old friends wouldn’t agree, but as far as she was concerned, they belonged only on Pee-wee Herman or Bozo the clown. Once she registered his face, however, it made sense. Gordon Barton. A year or two ahead of them in school, he had trailed after Kate like a lost puppy when they were young. He’d been a weird and creepy kid, always staring at her for long moments in conversation, making her wonder what was going on in his head.
He caught her eye and walked over. “Hello, Gordon.”
“Blaire. Blaire Norris.” His squinty eyes held no warmth. “It’s Barrington now,” she told him.
His eyebrows shot up. “Oh, that’s right. You’re married. I must say, you’ve become quite well known.”
She didn’t really care for him, but his acknowledgment of her literary success pleased her nonetheless. He had always been such a tight-ass, so superior as he looked down his nose at her.
He shook his head. “Terrible thing about Lily, just terrible.” She felt her eyes fill again. “It’s horrifying. I still can’t believe it.” “Of course. We’re all quite shocked, of course. I mean, murder. Here. Unthinkable.”
The room was filled with people who had lined up to pay their respects to Kate and her father, who stood by the mantel, both looking as though they were in a trance. Harrison was ashen, staring straight ahead, not focusing on anything.
“Please excuse me,” Blaire said to Gordon. “I haven’t had the chance to speak with Kate’s father yet.” She made her way toward the fireplace. Kate was swallowed up by the crowd before Blaire reached them, but Harrison’s eyes widened as she approached.
“Blaire.” His voice was warm.
She moved into his open arms, and he hugged her tight. She was ricocheted back in time as she breathed in the scent of his aftershave, and she felt a poignant sadness for all the years they’d missed. When he straightened, he pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his face, clearing his throat a few times before he was able to speak.
“My beautiful Lily. Who would do such a thing?” His voice cracked, and he winced as if in physical pain.
“I’m so sorry, Harrison. Words can’t convey . . .”
His eyes dulled again, and he dropped her hand, twisting the handkerchief until it was a tight ball. Before Blaire could say anything more, Georgina Hathaway strode over.
Blaire’s heart sank. She’d never liked either mother or daughter. She’d heard somewhere that Georgina was a widow now, that Bishop Hathaway had died some years ago from complications of Parkinson’s disease. The news surprised her. Bishop was always such a vibrant man, athletic and toned, with a runner’s body. He’d been the life of the party and the last to leave. It must have been torture for him to watch his body wither away. She used to wonder what he saw in Georgina, who was more self-involved than Narcissus.
When the woman put her hand on Harrison’s shoulder, he looked up, and she handed him a tumbler filled with amber liquid Blaire assumed was bourbon, his old favorite.
“Harrison, dear, this will settle your nerves.”
He took the glass from her wordlessly and swallowed a large gulp.
Blaire hadn’t seen Georgina Hathaway in over fifteen years, but she looked practically the same, not a wrinkle to be found on her creamy skin, no doubt due to the services of a skilled plastic surgeon. She still wore her hair in a chic bob and looked smart in a black silk suit. The only jewelry she wore today was a simple strand of pearls around her pale neck and the exquisite emerald-and-diamond wedding ring she’d always sported.
Georgina gave Blaire a tight-lipped smile. “Blaire, what a surprise to see you here. I hadn’t realized you and Kate were still in touch.” She still sounded like a character from a 1940s movie, her accent some blend of British and finishing school lockjaw.
Blaire opened her mouth to answer, but Georgina turned back to Harrison before she could utter a word. “Why don’t we go have a seat in the luncheon area?”
She certainly wasn’t wasting any time staking her claim on Harrison, Blaire thought, though hopefully he had the good sense to avoid getting romantically involved with her. The first time Blaire had gone to Selby’s house, it was a hot June day at the end of eighth grade, when Kate insisted on bringing her along to sit by the pool. She’d never seen an Olympic-sized pool at a private home before. It looked like something out of a resort, with potted palm trees, waterfalls, an enormous hot tub area, and a four-room pool house decorated more lavishly than Blaire’s own house in New Hampshire. Blaire was wearing a new lime-green string bikini she’d just gotten at the mall and thought looked sensational on her. The hot sun felt good on her skin, and she dipped a toe into the sparkling blue water.The first time Blaire had gone to Selby’s house, it was a hot June day at the end of eighth grade, when Kate insisted on bringing her along to sit by the pool. She’d never seen an Olympic-sized pool at a private home before.
After they swam for most of the morning, the housekeeper had brought lunch out for them. They sat around the large glass table, still dripping from the pool, letting the hot sun dry them while they all grabbed sandwiches from the heaping platter. Blaire settled on a roast beef and Swiss and had just reached over to grab some chips from the bowl in front of her when Georgina’s voice rang out.
“Girls, make sure you eat some raw veggies too, not just chips,” she called as she sauntered over, looking chic in a navy one-piece and sarong.
Selby unenthusiastically introduced Blaire to Georgina, who gave Blaire a tepid smile and then stared at her for a long moment. She tilted her head.
“Blaire, dear. That suit’s a bit revealing, don’t you think? It’s rather nice to leave something to the imagination.”
Blaire dropped the chip still between her fingers and looked at the ground, her face hot with embarrassment. Kate’s mouth had fallen open, but nothing came out of it. Even Selby was quiet for a change.
“All right then, enjoy your lunch.” And with that Georgina turned around and went back inside. She’d been a bitch then, and Blaire would bet she still was.
She shook off the unpleasant memory just as she noticed Simon coming back into the room.
Blaire studied him for a moment before making her approach. He was still as over-the-top gorgeous as he had been fifteen years ago, leaning casually against the doorjamb, that lock of hair that never behaved grazing his forehead. Women were probably still falling at his feet. And she noticed that now everything about his look was expensive, from his exquisitely tailored black suit to his Italian leather dress shoes. The first time Kate brought Simon home over spring break, she had confided to Blaire that he felt out of his element. He had grown up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in a family of modest means. His father’s death of a heart attack when Simon was twelve had devastated the family, both emotionally and financially. His mother never really recovered, and if not for the scholarships Simon earned, it would have been impossible for him to attend Yale. When he and Kate married, he had finally been in a position to make his mother’s life more comfortable, until her death shortly after Annabelle was born. And clearly he’d made his own life more comfortable too, Blaire reflected.
A young brunette woman was by his side. She was good-looking, but what grabbed Blaire’s attention was the way she was looking at Simon, with a mix of adoration and expectancy. Simon smiled as she said something and touched his arm. Their body language made it clear that they knew each other well. Blaire wondered how well. After a moment, Simon seemed to end their conversation, though Blaire couldn’t hear his words. The young woman’s eyes followed him as he approached Kate. Then she turned and stalked away, stopping for a long moment in front of a mahogany sideboard. After she’d left the room, Blaire walked over to see what had caught the woman’s attention. It was a silver-framed wedding photo of Kate and Simon, both smiling as if they didn’t have a care in the world.
A bell tinkled, and a uniformed man announced that it was time for lunch. Simon was standing across the room alone, and Blaire seized her opportunity. As she approached him, his expression turned leery.
“Simon, hi. I’m so sorry for your loss,” she said with all the sincerity she could muster.
He stiffened. “What a surprise to see you here, Blaire.”
Anger surged through her like acid, starting in her belly and burning as it rose to her throat. The memory of what had happened the last time she saw him pushed against her with the force of a tidal wave, but she pushed back. She had to stay cool, composed.
“Lily’s death was a terrible tragedy,” she said. “Now isn’t the time for pettiness.”
His eyes were cold. “How kind of you to come running back.” He leaned in closer, putting an arm on her shoulder in a way that a casual observer would have seen as friendly, and angrily hissed, “Don’t even think of trying to come between us again.”
She recoiled, incensed that he had the nerve to speak to her that way, today of all days. Squaring her shoulders, she flashed him her best author smile. “Shouldn’t you be more concerned with how your wife is dealing with the murder of her mother than worrying about my relationship with her?” Her smile disappeared. “But don’t worry. I won’t make the same mistake again.” This time, I’ll make sure that you don’t come between us, she thought as she walked away.
She was heading to the first-floor bathroom to freshen up before lunch when something outside caught her eye. She moved toward the window and saw a uniformed man standing in the shadows, next to the driveway. It took her a minute to recognize him as Georgina’s driver. What was his name? Something with an R . . . Randolph, that was it. He’d driven them around whenever Georgina had carpool duty. Blaire was a little surprised he was still alive. He’d looked ancient to her all those years ago, but looking at him now, she realized he was probably only in his forties at the time. Then she saw Simon approach him and shake his hand before reaching into his coat pocket and pulling out an envelope. Randolph looked around nervously, then took it with a nod and got into his car.
Simon was already heading up the front walk, so Blaire quickly ducked into the powder room before he could see her. She couldn’t imagine what business Simon would have with Georgina’s driver. But she intended to find out.