Authors: Eileen Goudge
Marjorie darted her a black look before bringing her bright, fixed gaze back to Mr. Stancliffe. “Nonsense. They’re perfectly lovely people. Isn’t that what you were just telling me, Mr. Stancliffe.”
“Actually, I didn’t know them all that well,” he confessed, darting Emerson an uncomfortably chummy look, as if they were in solidarity somehow. “Old Mr. Lytton invited me sailing once, but the wind kicked up and we had to call it off. I haven’t seen them since then.” He’d sold the house when he and his wife divorced, he explained.
They chatted briefly about other things, familiar haunts and acquaintances they had in common. The white-shoe world was like a small town in that way: Everybody knew everybody, and if you went back far enough, chances were they were related to you. Emerson would have been bored silly if she hadn’t been seething inside. Just when she’d begun to think that all her efforts with her mother, not to mention the bills she paid, had accrued some sort of interest, she was reminded of what little value her mother placed on
wants and needs. It was Marjorie, after all, who’d pushed her to marry Briggs, then insisted she’d be a fool to divorce him when it was clear the marriage wasn’t working. And now, not content with ruining Emerson’s life once, she was aiming for a second time.
Her thoughts were interrupted by Reggie appearing with the tea tray. She found her gaze straying toward him as he poured the tea, touched that he’d brought an extra cup in case she’d changed her mind. He moved with an almost balletic grace that was soothing to watch. Courteous without seeming subservient, he attended to her mother, making sure she had enough pillows to support her back and that she’d taken her medication.
“You’ll see Mr. Stancliffe out, won’t you, darling?” Marjorie said when it was time for him to go, giving Emerson a pointed look as she rose to comply.
At the door, when he once more pressed her to have dinner with him, Emerson told him she was sorry but she was devoting all her spare time to Marjorie these days. A devoted daughter who wanted nothing more than to throttle her mother right then.
“How could you do that to me?” she berated Marjorie afterward. “You purposely set me up!”
Her mother, sitting up in bed sipping her tea, appeared unruffled. “Honestly, darling, you’re making much too much of it. The man was just being neighborly.”
“Then why did I feel like a sitting duck?”
“Don’t be so dramatic.” Marjorie set her cup down on the night table, wincing at the effort. She was so frail, the tiniest movement was a strain. “Even if I did have an ulterior motive, is it a crime to look out for your only child?”
“You could have at least warned me,” Emerson said.
“If I had, you’d have invented some excuse not to come.”
“You’re damn right!”
“Darling, please.” Marjorie squeezed her eyes shut, as if in pain.
Emerson felt her anger deflate, giving way to sadness. All her life, she’d wanted only to be loved for herself, not the ideal daughter she tried to be. Was that too much to ask?
Abruptly, Marjorie changed the subject. “So what do you make of Reggie?”
“He seems nice.” Emerson knew better than to reveal more than that. Marjorie had drummed into her since childhood the pitfalls of becoming too familiar with the hired help.
“He’s a hard worker, I’ll say that for him. Not like some.”
“I’m glad he meets with your approval,” Emerson said, with a trace of sarcasm. Her tone softening, she added, “He tells me you’ve been helping him with his studies.”
“You know me, I like to encourage the bright ones.” A real lady, Marjorie was fond of saying, knew how to treat the help. “Did he tell you he’s studying to become a doctor?”
“He mentioned it, yes.”
“Very noble of him, don’t you think? All those poor people in Africa dying of AIDS.”
“Is that what he told you? That he’s going to treat people with AIDS?”
“Not in so many words. I just assumed…” Marjorie had the decency to blush.
Emerson suppressed a sigh. “Well, I just hope he sticks around longer than the last one,” she said pointedly.
“I wouldn’t need anyone to look after me at night if you’d stop being so stubborn and move back in,” her mother reminded her for the umpteenth time. “This apartment is more than big enough for the three of us, and it’s ridiculous for you to pay rent on two places.”
“I can afford it.” Emerson’s divorce settlement had left her fairly well off even without the money she earned. But that wasn’t the point. “Besides, you know perfectly well we’d be at each other’s throats.”
“I didn’t know I was such a chore.” Marjorie, wearing an injured look, drew her shawl around her as if she’d been exposed to a sudden chill. “God knows what you talk about with your therapist. All the ways I ruined your life, I suppose.”
Emerson sank down on the bed, taking her mother’s hand in hers—it was so light, it might have been made of parchment. “I haven’t seen Dr. Shapiro in months.” She’d stopped going soon after she’d filed for divorce. “Besides, I have no desire to rake up the past.”
“I’m sorry, darling. I don’t mean to be so cranky. It’s just…” In that instant, Marjorie’s mask fell away, revealing the frightened woman underneath, a woman terrified of dying and even more terrified of living.
Emerson’s heart went out to her. Whatever her mother had done…or not done…no one deserved this. “Dr. Vanacore says you’re responding well to the chemo,” she said, with feigned enthusiasm. His exact words had been that the cancer’s spread had slowed. Not exactly the news they’d hoped for, but it would buy her mother another six months, a year at best.
Marjorie gave a small, choked laugh. “I’m not sure which is worse, the disease or the cure.”
“You’re tougher than you think.” Whatever her faults, Marjorie had faced her illness, as she had widowhood, with grit and style. If she was bedridden, it was just as well, she’d say. Who wanted to be seen in public wearing last season’s styles?
“Let’s face it, the sooner I go, the sooner we’ll all be put out of our misery.”
Emerson winced. “I wish you wouldn’t talk that way.”
“It’ll be a blessing in some ways. These days I can’t help wondering what there is left to live for.” Marjorie’s face crumpled, and all of a sudden she looked a hundred years old.
“You still have me. And Ainsley,” Emerson said, wishing her mother didn’t have to be reminded of the fact.
Marjorie perked up. “Where is my little cupcake?”
“Drawing a picture for Reggie. I’ll tell her you want to see her.” Emerson rose from the bed.
“I see he’s worked his charms on her, too.”
It was Marjorie’s way of saying that he’d passed the test, Emerson knew, and she smiled to herself, her step lighter as she set off down the hall, drawn by the low, melodic rumble of Reggie’s voice mingling with the high, sweet one of her daughter.
An hour and a half later, having left Ainsley at home with the nanny, Emerson was back on the job, pacing the lobby of the Ziegfeld Theatre with her cell phone glued to her ear. Outside, ticket holders were lined up and limos were pulling up to the curb, while inside a small group of reporters had gathered beyond the velvet ropes. But still no sign of Sally Boyle from ABC or Eric Jameson from Fox News. Where the hell were they? They
her, dammit. She’d delivered her end of the bargain—one-on-one interviews with her star client, Jeffery Kingston. If they stiffed her on this, she’d look like an idiot. New Line Cinema wasn’t paying her big bucks for a one-line mention in the
Normally at premieres her job was merely to field the press. When it was a picture starring Russell Crowe or Will Smith, they turned out in droves. But who wanted to shoot a cast of little-known actors making their way down the red carpet? She’d spent the better part of the week making calls, using every trick in her arsenal to generate some buzz.
Just then she spotted Franny pushing her way through the crowd. Watching her bypass the ticket-holder line to sail down the red carpet as if she owned it, her bouncing hair and red dress that showed every curve causing more than one photographer’s flash-bulb to go off, Emerson felt herself relax.
It’s going to be okay,
she thought. Franny always had that effect on her. She was the earth mother to Emerson’s poor little rich girl.
“Looks like a good turnout,” Franny said, when she’d caught up to her.
“I’m still waiting for a few people.” Emerson glanced about anxiously. The director and stars had yet to make their entrance, so there was still time. She brought her gaze back to Franny. “You look different. Did you change your hair?” No, that wasn’t it. Suddenly it hit her, and she let out a gasp. “Omigod. Are you…?”
“Afraid not.” Franny shook her head. “I just got my period.” She was trying her best to appear sanguine, but Emerson could see the disappointment on her face. She’d been so sure…
“There’s always next time,” Emerson reminded her.
“If Jay doesn’t decide to back out.”
“He wouldn’t do that.” Not to Franny.
“Helping out a friend is one thing, knocking her up is another.”
“He knows how much you want this.”
“Not enough to let it screw up our friendship.”
“As if that could ever happen.” Those two were like as peanut butter and jelly.
Franny mustered a smile. “Yeah, you’re right. It’s just my hormones talking.”
“I saw my mother today,” Emerson informed her as she was ushering Franny to the taped-off section of seats set aside for reviewers and VIPs.
“How’s she doing?” Franny asked.
“Not so good.” Emerson didn’t want to put a damper on the occasion, so she added with more enthusiasm, “The new nurse, on the other hand, is just what the doctor ordered.”
Franny, who could read her like a book, arched an eyebrow. “For you or your mom?”
Emerson felt herself blushing. “He
good-looking,” she admitted.
“Come on, you gotta give me more than that.”
“Think Sidney Poitier in
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”
“Uh-oh. Better watch out, girl, or Momma’s gonna
“The thought had occurred to me,” Emerson was quick to add, “But not to worry, I’m keeping it strictly employer-employee.”
“Famous last words.” Franny flashed her a grin.
Emerson wondered, with a delicious little thrill, if she was indeed in danger of starting something with Reggie Okanta, LPN.
Franny took her seat next to Lois Campanela from the
who was busy chatting up Ben Sokolin from
She was careful to lower her voice as she told Emerson about the book deal she was on the verge of closing. “Get this. An unauthorized bio of Grant Tobin.” She didn’t have to add that, with the resurgence of public interest in the former rocker, it could be a very lucrative one.
Emerson gave a little start. “Does Stevie know?”
“She’s the one who hooked me up with him. Apparently she’s known him for years.”
“So she knew he was writing this book?”
“Before she found out Grant was her dad. Now she has a vested interested in making sure it gets into the right hands.”
“Just how much has she told him?” Emerson asked, wondering how well Stevie knew this guy.
Franny shook her head. “She’s keeping it under her hat for now, at least until she’s met Grant.”
she meets him.” So far even Stevie’s wiles hadn’t been enough to penetrate his fortress.
“She’s planning to. Soon.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Franny shrugged. “She says the less we know, the better.”
“Oh, God,” Emerson said, groaning.
The two friends exchanged a look. Knowing Stevie as well as they did, they didn’t doubt she’d resort to any means necessary. And whatever she had up her sleeve, it was likely to spell trouble.
tevie wondered if this was such a good idea. Trying to hold her balance as she sat perched on top of a fifty-pound sack of fertilizer, in the back of a panel truck winding its way up the hill to Grant Tobin’s Holmby Hills estate, she was pretty certain it wasn’t. But she’d run out of other options, so what choice did she have? Gaining access to the Pentagon would be easier than getting in to see Grant Tobin. After butting her head against the collective brick wall of his lawyer, publicist (a misnomer, since his only job, it seemed, was to keep people away), and bodyguard-slash-houseman, a scary-looking dude covered in tattoos who looked like a former gang member, one of her contacts, a nerdy guy named Sammy Garber who collected celebrity trivia the way other people collected stamps—stuff like where they got their clothes dry-cleaned and where they ordered their pizzas from—had turned her on to the gardener who maintained the estate’s grounds. Luckily, Mr. Mori had a soft spot for damsels in distress. Or maybe it was because he was retiring soon. Either way, he’d agreed to smuggle her in past the gates.
Which was how, on this early May morning, while her colleagues at KNLA were at their desks or heading out into the field to cover assignments, she came to be riding in the Trojan horse of Mori and Sons Landscaping, on her way to meet her father for the first time.
The van braked suddenly, sending her sprawling onto its floor. Cursing under her breath, she pulled herself upright, wrinkling her nose at the smelly brown stuff spilling from a tear in the sack. The van picked up speed again, twisting its way up the steep grade, which sent her lurching from side to side with each turn. At last, it slowed to a stop, and she heard Mr. Mori call out a greeting to the security guard at the gate.
Holmby Hills, even more exclusive than Beverly Hills or Bel Air, was nosebleed country, where the megawealthy occupied sprawling mansions set amid acres of well-tended grounds. The reason Grant could afford to live there, she knew, was because, unlike his former bandmates, who’d gone on to inglorious solo careers or playing backup, he’d written most of Astral Plane’s hit songs. Songs that provided him with a steady flow of royalties, enabling him to live like a king without his ever again having to pick up his guitar.
The van started moving again, rattling over a pebbled drive. From her narrow vantage point in back, she caught glimpses of well-tended grass and trees flashing by. When the van finally ground to a halt and she lurched out into the cool air, she saw that they were in front of a greenhouse situated some distance from the house. A house that loomed like a fortress, high stucco walls festooned in bougainvillea and banked with windows covered in decorative wrought-iron bars, with a terra-cotta-tiled roof that gleamed like dying embers in the rosy dawn light. She stood gazing at it, her pulse quickening as the full realization hit her that she was at last going to be face-to-face with the man she’d seen only in old concert footage. Then Mr. Mori shooed her away, hissing, “You go now!”
Stevie thanked the old man once more and set off toward the house, dressed in a navy tracksuit, Nike running shoes, and a black baseball cap embroidered with a gold gramophone, a souvenir from last year’s Grammy Awards. She crouched low, using the dense shrubbery as cover. The sun was coming up over the distant hills, its pale light glistening on the still damp grass, where shadows stretched like mile markers pointing the way. The only sound was the chittering of birds in the branches overhead.
As she wriggled through hedges and around rosebushes that snagged her clothing, Stevie found herself wondering again what had driven Grant Tobin into seclusion. Was it guilt over the Lauren Rose affair, or being hounded by the press, or both? Whatever the reason, she was determined to find out. It was either that or spend the rest of her life wondering if the man who’d given her life was a would-be killer.
The thought sent a cool trickle down her spine. For all she knew, Grant could be holed up in there with an arsenal of weapons, like those crazy fanatics on Ruby Ridge. What was to stop him from taking a shot at
She spun it out a little further, picturing herself laid out in her coffin. Would Ryan cry at her funeral? Would he be sorry for ignoring her attempts to get in touch with him? Her throat tightened, and she squinted against the light that had become suddenly too bright.
When she was close enough to the house, she circled it once to get the general layout before stepping onto the shaded walkway that led around in back. The air was still cool, but she was sweating as if it were high noon. Stevie Light, known for having nerves of steel, felt more like a scared kid right now than an ace reporter. As a child she’d dreamed of this reunion and had imagined her father clasping her in his arms, weeping with joy. But what if he turned out to be an uncaring prick? Or worse, a monster.
She stepped through a stone archway draped in honeysuckle and onto a patio sheltered by walls on all four sides, in the center of which glimmered a pool undisturbed by so much as a ripple. It was so perfect, she thought, it might have been a back-lot set for one of those suspense thrillers that lull you down the garden path before scaring the bejesus out of you.
A pair of French doors led into the house, and she noticed that one of them stood open a crack. Glancing around first to make sure she wasn’t being observed, she stepped through it into a cool, darkened room. At one end stood a grand piano, gleaming dully in the bands of light that filtered in through the closed shutters. On the wall between sets of bookshelves hung a collection of framed gold and platinum records from the days when Astral Plane had ruled supreme along with Joplin and Hendrix, the Stones and the Grateful Dead.
From down the hall drifted the faint sound of voices—a man and a woman conversing in Spanish. Stevie’s heart began to hammer in earnest. But she didn’t dare turn back. Who knew when she’d get another opportunity to meet her dad? Cautiously, she crept out into the dimly lit hallway, the soles of her Nikes squeaking faintly against the polished hardwood floor as she made her way toward the circular staircase that led to the floors above. Grant would most likely still be in bed at this hour. That is, unless she’d miscalculated and, contrary to the rumor that he never set foot off this estate, he wasn’t home.
After poking her head into several rooms that were unoccupied any time in her recent memory, she found herself peering into a darkened bedroom in which she could make out an unmade bed and clothes strewn about. She was venturing inside to explore it further when a soft moaning sound caused her to freeze in her tracks. That was when she noticed the figure seated crosslegged on the carpet at the foot of the bed: a bony castaway of a man with scraggly gray hair to his shoulders, dressed only in a pair of boxer shorts. His face was in repose, eyes shut, his hands resting lightly on the bony knobs of his knees.
Stevie’s heart lurched. She’d read the accounts of Howard Hughes’s bizarre behavior toward the end, and that’s what flashed through her mind now. She could hardly believe the lithe, dark-eyed young man in the grainy concert footage she’d seen, with his angel’s voice and devil’s licks, all tossing black hair and twitching limbs, had become this wasted old wreck.
But he looked harmless enough. Not the drug-crazed psycho painted by the press. If he was crazy it didn’t appear she was in any immediate danger. Her heart was pounding nonetheless as she sank onto the bed, waiting what seemed an eternity until his eyes opened and his gaze settled on her. She braced herself against the cry of alarm she was sure would bring the bodyguard running, but Grant—if it was indeed him—remained perfectly still. Except for the flicker of surprise that crossed his face, the sight of a complete stranger sitting on his bed didn’t seem to faze him.
He broke into a slow, dreamy smile. “Hey there.”
“I’m sorry if I disturbed you,” she said.
“It’s cool. I didn’t even hear you come in.” His voice made her think of a rake being dragged over a bed of gravel.
“I tried meditating once, but I couldn’t sit still that long,” she told him.
He shrugged. “You get the hang of it after a while.”
An awkward silence fell.
Stevie cleared her throat, and said, “You’re probably wondering who I am.”
“Oh, I know who you are.” He spoke calmly, but his words sent a bolt shooting down through the pit of Stevie’s stomach. Had he known all this time? All the years she’d believed her father was ignorant of her existence? Then, in a voice heavily laced with irony, he went on, “You came to see the great Grant Tobin. Well, I hate to disappoint you, but the dude checked out a long time ago.”
She eyed him in confusion. “You’re not Grant?”
“I used to be. Not anymore.”
She understood now. “I’m not who you think I am, either,” she informed him.
He cocked his head, eyeing her with new interest. “Okay, then, why don’t you tell me why you’re here.”
She drew in a breath. “I’m your daughter.”
Grant stared at her in disbelief. He was clearly a man for whom life bore few surprises—he’d done and seen it all—but this was obviously the last thing he’d expected to hear. After a bit, he let out a raspy chuckle. “Well, ain’t that something. Me, a dad.” He shook his head from side to side, marveling at the concept. “You sure about that?”
“I’m sure.” Now that her eyes had adjusted to the gloom, she could see the resemblance. She had his mouth. His square jaw with its slight underbite—that was hers, too.
“Well, shit.” He went on shaking his head, chuckling to himself.
“You never got the letter?”
“The one my mother sent telling you she was pregnant.”
“I get a lot of mail. Most of it I never see.” His minions would take care of all that, which explained why he hadn’t gotten the letters Stevie had sent, either. “You see, the thing is—What did you say your name was?”
“Stevie.” She blushed a little. “I was named after Stevie Nicks.” After a moment she added hesitantly, “You believe me, don’t you?”
“Well, Stevie, I can’t say that I do, and I can’t say that I don’t. There was a lot that went down in those days that I don’t rightly recall. That’s just how it was.” His gaze turned inward, his expression briefly clouding over. Then, he stirred and brought his gaze back to her, his lips curled in a small, ironic smile. “So I guess I’ll just have to take your word for it.”
“How do you know I’m not making it up?”
He eyed her with amusement. “Are you?”
“No, but you must get a lot of crazies.”
He regarded her for a moment. “You don’t look crazy to me.”
“Even though I broke into your house? Well, I didn’t actually
in. The door was open.” She hastened to add, “I tried getting in touch with you, but you have more people than a moat has alligators.”
He broke into a grin that showed the trademark gap between his front teeth. “It keeps the press away.”
Stevie felt herself grow uncomfortably warm, reminded that in his eyes she would be the enemy. But he didn’t have to know what she did for a living, at least not until after they’d become better acquainted. Even so, she felt compelled to say, “It hasn’t stopped them.” The press was having a field day with this latest, bizarre turn of events in the Lauren Rose affair. Each step in the woman’s painstaking recovery seized upon, complete with quotes from unnamed, and often fictitious, sources. Yesterday’s tabloid headlines had Lauren providing the district attorney with an account of what had happened the night she was shot that was very different from Grant’s. Grant Tobin, meanwhile, was back in the spotlight, too…and his head on the chopping block.
He shrugged, wearing an impassive look. “I’m used to it.”
Abruptly he unfolded from his seated position on the floor, a bundle of sticks magically assembling themselves into a man standing upright. He yanked open the drapes before crossing the room to where she sat. In the harsh light of day, he looked even older, his face a rutted road in which the ghost of the young Grant Tobin, his flashing dark eyes and the the loose-limbed suppleness with which he’d once walked, glinted like shards of broken glass.
“Yeah, I see it now.” He put a hand under her chin, turning her head this way and that. “You look a little like my mom.”
“Everyone says I look like mine.” From her pocket, Stevie produced a faded snapshot of her mother, circa 1970, in a peasant dress and Birkenstocks holding the infant Stevie in her arms.
He peered at it, frowning, then shook his head. “Sorry. Don’t take this the wrong way or anything—I’m sure she’s a great person—but back then…” He spread his hands in a helpless gesture, wearing a vaguely troubled look. “Like I said, I don’t remember much.”
Stevie smiled to let him know it was okay. Nancy had warned her not to expect too much. She’d been just another groupie, one of hundreds he’d slept with no doubt. The only difference was that she’d come away with something more than bragging rights and an autographed keepsake. Her souvenir had been the six-pound baby girl she’d given birth to nine months later.
Another silence fell, broken when Grant inquired, “Hey, you had breakfast yet?” She told him no. Earlier, she’d been too keyed up to even think about eating, but suddenly she realized she was starving. “Great,” he said, looking pleased. “I’ll tell Maria to set an extra place. How do you like your eggs?”
Stevie’s mind was whirling so, she had to stop and think before she could answer. This whole thing was so surreal. What had started out as
had morphed into
The Twilight Zone.
At the same time something was sliding into place in her like the last, missing piece to a puzzle. Rumors about Grant’s dark side, fanned by the former girlfriends who’d come forward with stories of their own in the wake of the Lauren Rose tragedy, crept into her head, but she resolutely pushed them away. She’d been waiting all her life for this moment; she wasn’t going to spoil it.
They lingered over breakfast, talking about everything from Stevie’s passion for muscle cars to the current music scene—Grant, she learned, was a fan of Eminem. He told her stories about Astral Plane’s glory days in the seventies, when they’d played to sold-out stadiums on two continents. She, in turn, told him what it had been like growing up in Bakersfield, where Nancy’s VW bug plastered with left-wing stickers had stuck out like a sore thumb in a town in which pickups with gun racks were the norm. The only tense moment was when she revealed what she did for a living. Which, it turned out, came as no surprise.