“Whenever I’m out of the country,” Robert said solemnly, “I don’t just miss you miserably, I have this odd longing to tell people about you. To be one of those annoying married men who gush about their beautiful wife, look for sentimental presents and show everyone a dozen unsolicited photos of their chubby-cheeked children.”
His words made Jayne’s heart swell. Damn it, she wanted to be his wife so much.
“Is your mother still coming next month?” he said, stroking her hair. “I was thinking we could all go to a cracking play on the West End. A musical, maybe.”
“Yes, she’s coming. I’ll call her tonight and see if she’s bought her airline tickets yet.”
When Jayne had moved over to the UK, Rob had generously promised to cover Barbara’s expenses until she had found a job in England. Her mother, who had survived a debilitating battle with cancer, was feeling much better and had encouraged her daughter to make a new start, so Jayne didn’t feel too bad about leaving her mom behind in the U.S. Jayne promised they could visit each other often, and Barbara was excited about coming to England—she’d never been outside of the USA before.
“I so wish your mother could meet my parents when she visits,” he said. “But I don’t think that’s possible.”
If only Rob had got a chance to tell them the truth, Jayne thought, to make them meet Jayne in person before all hell had broken loose—but no, the wicked Eleanor had gotten to them first.
Jayne suppressed a sigh, trying to convince herself that things would change over time. But deep down, she knew they wouldn’t, at least not in the near future. Despite how many times Robert had tried to tell his mom the real story, Lady Astor simply did not believe it. She claimed he wasn’t thinking with his incisive mind but with his emotions and ego, as happened with so many men who were either infatuated with a woman or played by one. As if that wasn’t bad enough, his mother went on to poison his father’s mind, too. No matter how hard Robert threw himself into the task, he could not dislodge the notion that Jayne was a shameless, opportunistic parasite who would suck the entire Astor family dry if she managed to manipulate Robert into marrying her.
As if reading her thoughts, he said, “We will get married, Jayne. With the grandiose public wedding, all the posh accouterments, the whole shebang.”
“Oh, Rob.” She placed her hand against his cheek, his slight stubble scratching her pleasantly. “I want all of that too, but it’s not that important to me.”
“If it turns out we can’t win over my parents, we can always just—”
“No. Not that way.” He had made this offer many times before. “I’m not going to stand between you and your family, ever.”
He shifted in the bed and craned his neck to get a better look at her face, and he smiled. “So you’re happy just living with me in sin? Don’t you want me to make an honest woman out of you?”
Jayne smiled. “I just don’t want it to happen like that. Of course I want what every young woman dreams of secretly. A church wedding and then a grand reception. With a veil and a tiara to feel like a princess for a day. With chubby-cheeked altar boys in mini suits and bridesmaids almost more beautiful than me. I want to free a hundred white doves, want to pose for a thousand photos until our mouths will hurt from smiling so much.”
She half-turned to face him, wondering how he took this.
She was pleased to see that he was smiling.
She smiled, too. “Can’t you picture it? All those splendidly dressed people beaming from ear to ear. Personalized vows, later on sentimental speeches. Lovely little gifts for the guests, a multi-tiered cake, matching floral arrangements, champagne for everyone. And then you sweeping me off my feet for a waltz.” He chuckled at this. “I know it sounds girlish and old fashioned to you, but I long for all that, Rob. To dance with your father, too. To have my mother and yours dab at a few happy tears when we finally climb into a limousine or carriage among tons of confetti and cheers.”
Rob reached out and twirled a strand of hair around his finger, but he looked saddened by the vision, probably because he knew it would never come to pass. “Who’d have thought you’re such a romantic, Miss Clark? You would make a lovely fairytale bride, putting all the British royalty to shame.”
“I doubt that.”
“Still, back to the other idea, why not have a small wedding by ourselves and let the chips fall as they may? They’re not your parents, they’re mine. If they’re too bloody bull-headed to see— “
“Maybe it’s because I’m adopted.”
Robert sat up a little in the bed, eying her curiously. “How so?”
Jayne felt awkward. She took a deep breath and plunged forward—she had never told a soul this before. “Rob, I have this intense yearning inside me for a whole, complete, fully-intact biological family. For all the little things that people take for granted with ‘real’ families but that I’ve never had. When we have children, I want them to have all of that, too. When I was adopted, all my adoptive grandparents were dead, and of course I didn’t know my biological ones. Don’t our kids deserve a wonderful set of grandparents like your mother and father who care for them? Who drop in for regular visits to spoil them rotten?”
Rob’s face revealed pleasurable surprise. “I had no idea that’s how you felt, Jayne! Of course we’ll have the grand wedding, hang it all! I’ll get my parents over this nonsense one way or another. And they’ll both come around and love you as much as I do, I promise!”
“You really think it’s possible?”
“I know so!”
He kissed her passionately, one of his hands wandering lower and lower.
“Again?” she asked, smiling and bucking into his touch.
“Well, I’ll be gone for a few days.” He grinned. “We better make it last.”
* * *
After their second round, they lay side by side, sweaty and sated, Jayne with a leg thrown over Rob and her head resting on his chest.
Their earlier conversation had greatly improved Jayne’s mood, and her confidence. Something had shifted inside of Rob. He was now much more committed to solving the problem with his parents, and she could sense it. She was glad she’d told him her innermost feelings on the matter.
His finger was drawing languid circles on her back, and slowly their breathing returned to normal.
Before she could speak, a metallic ka-thunk sound echoed through the house.
“What the devil was that?” he said, sitting up in the bed. He looked uneasily at the bedroom door.
“Relax, it was just the mail. Oh, pardon me, the post, as you call it.”
With that, Jayne caught him looking at the clock on the nightstand—she knew he had to catch his plane to China. “Maybe if you were here more often, you’d recognize the sound.”
He smiled in that characteristic, slightly crooked fashion that was utterly endearing, and he slowly rose from the bed. “I wish I had more control over my schedule, darling, but you know how things work. Either you fight, or you get swallowed up whole and eaten alive by the sharks. No more nepotism to fall back on—I’m working in the real world now.”
“You and your beloved SHEDdule,” Jayne teased. “I’ll never understand why a nation of such logic-fixated, properness-possessed people would pronounce the word that way.”
“It’s you Americans who’ve got it backwards,” Rob said, stepping into the bathroom. As he turned on the water to the shower, he turned and raised his brows at her, amusement curling his lips because she’d been ribbing him about his British ways all these months.
“That’s ridiculous,” she fired back good-naturedly. “It’s so inconsistent. You don’t say ‘She studies at SHool’ or ‘He’s a SHizophrenic’, for god’s sake. So why would you say SHedule? Explain that to me, will you?”
Standing there naked as the water heated up, he crossed his arms and gave her a mock-stern look. “Ever heard about not throwing stones if you live in a glass house? It’s not like you Americans are oh-so-logical and consistent. You turn the spelling of cheque with Q-U-E to check with C-K and all that just so it looks more English than French, but you insist on leaving the H out in the pronunciation of herbs because you claim you want to retain its French feel. And don’t even get me started on how obnoxious you Yanks sound sometimes. Only an American could say ‘yeah right’ and ‘good luck with that’ and have it mean exactly the opposite.”
Jayne mimicked his belligerent stance, crossing her arms too. “Did you just call me obnoxious, Mister ‘I’ll just apologize for everything under the sun so people think I’m politeness personified while I’m secretly ridiculing them’?”
Robert threw his head back and laughed, and she couldn’t help joining in, and he pulled the shower curtain open and disappeared behind it.
Oh, how she loved these careless moments, so few and far between. They were like precious pearls she wanted to collect to craft a necklace of lovely memories.
She wished with all her heart that he didn’t have to leave.
When they’d both gotten dressed and were back down in the living room, Robert gestured to several sheets of papers on the coffee table, filled with small print and little yellow SIGN HERE stickers.
“I’ll leave these here for you and Bea to sign. They need to be sent to our lawyer by registered post, but please scan them and mail them to me before that.” His voice had automatically dropped into the calm, clipped tone he used for business matters, one more sign that he was half out the door before he’d even left.
With a resigned nod, she spared the documents only a glance and followed him to the front door.
He bent down to pick up the envelopes that they’d heard the postman push through the mail slot and sifted through them. Jayne reached around him to unlock the door when she saw him stop and freeze with a frown on his face. He stared at a letter in his hand, flipped it over, then looked at the front side again.
“What’s the matter?” Jayne said.
He held the envelope out towards her. “This is for you.”
Jayne took the letter and saw that her name was written in odd block letters on the front, with the word PERSONAL underneath in the same style that reminded her of a child laboriously writing out its barely learned letters. There was no return address. Odd. The postmark, she realized after some squinting, was the Heathrow Airport Post Office. Even odder.
Puzzled and feeling a little uneasy, Jayne ripped open the envelope and took out the papers inside.
Her head began to spin as she took in the text composed from cut-out letters of different sizes and colors:
IF yOu ThINk yOU ArE GOinG tO GeT awaY wITH YoUR CRiMinaL WaYS, ThINk AgAIn. I CAn pROvE YoU ArE NoTHinG BuT A CoMMoN GolD DIgGer aND tHat You ImPErSoNAted YoUR TWin SiSTer wHEn ShE WaS PREgnaNT In AN AttEMpt To MArrY RObeRt aSTor YoURsELF AnD SuCK LoRD aND LaDY AsTOR Dry oF ThEir HaRd-EArNed FOrTUne (sEE PhOTos).
I DoN’T KnOW WhAT KiND oF WiCked SpeLL yoU CaST oN YOuR “BeLoVED” RoBERt, BuT yOu CaN TeLL HiM ThAT I WiLL TeXT Him On HIs BUsINESS phone thIS weDnESday aT ExACtLY 07.00 GMt AnD sTaTE My deMANds. I StRONGly SuGGeST thAT HE Be ONlinE wiTH His BAnk accOUNT ReADY tO IMMediaTELY FollOW My InSTRUctionS. If He DOes NoT COmPLy, I WiLL SenD YouR WhoLE SoRDId storY tO LoRD AnD LAdy AStOr, aNd tO ALL ThE TAbloiDS, ToO! SaME iF yOU cALL tHE PoLICe oR Do AnYTHinG ElsE sTupID.
With trembling hands, she turned to the next page and gasped. There was a photo of her and Robert sitting together at the Café de la Paix in Paris last summer. Jayne recognized it. She remembered the exact moment it was taken because she’d been so in over her head at the time. No doubt about it, this picture was from a tabloid and had been taken by one of those paparazzi.
In one corner of the page was a cutout of her sandaled foot, apparently magnified by whoever had sent the letter, with a big red circle around the birthmark on her right ankle. On the next page was another tabloid photo, this one of Celeste frolicking on the beach with her lover in Saint-Tropez—also with the foot magnified, bare in the sand. Even if you didn’t really know what to look for, the difference between the photos was unmistakable: In the second photo, the birthmark had moved to the left ankle.
“Jayne? Jayne, whatever is the matter? Say something! You’re scaring me.”
It dimly registered that Robert had taken the letter from her shaking hand.
For the love of god, she couldn’t bring herself to give him a coherent answer. His worried gaze darted from her face to the letter and back. When she only continued to stare wide-eyed, Robert began to read the letter himself.
“She’s still alive,” Jayne finally gasped, on the verge of vomiting.
His head snapped up for a second but then he went on reading, his eyes now racing across the page. “Who’s alive?”
“Eleanor,” she forced out just before doubling over, certain that she was going to be sick.
Read Part 3 here
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