At nine a.m. Friday morning, Jayne was sitting at the desk in the restaurant office taking small bites off a sandwich. The workmen were out in the dining area, making the usual horrendous noise while they installed new moldings all around the room. Jayne had decided not to call Celeste in advance, but to simply show up at her apartment, with no advance warning and no time to prepare.
She forced the sandwich bites down with shop-bought coffee in a paper cup she was clutching too hard in her hand. Her emotions were all over the place, and all the ruckus wasn’t helping things.
What would Jayne find in Paris? How would her twin sister react to her? They hadn’t seen each other since the height of the scandal last summer, or since Eleanor had died. Would the past come crashing back with full force now that it had hooked its foot in between the door and the frame?
And how would Beatrice react to her suddenly leaving for a day? Would she buy Jayne’s vague reason for having to be gone?
Fear clogged her throat and made the forced-down breakfast want to crawl back out. On top of all this worry, she had no idea how to actually tackle the meeting with Celeste, the exact words she would use to breach the subject of blackmail. That was a very serious matter to accuse someone of, even indirectly.
Jayne heard the front door of the restaurant open and set the butt of the sandwich back in its wrapper, waiting.
Beatrice breezed into the office, her arms filled with cardboard boxes stacked several feet high. She pulled the door shut, drowning out only a smidgen of the perpetual noise.
Jayne watched her go through her calm, measured ritual of removing her jacket, straightening her unruffled hair, folding the leather gloves she loved to wear, and setting her Louis Vuitton handbag neatly on a surface she dusted first. As usual, Beatrice was a picture of sophistication, somehow managing to elegantly sit down on a cardboard box as if it were an antique armchair of polished mahogany.
When they said good morning to each other, Jayne tried to return Beatrice’s smile, knowing she had failed when the woman arched her neatly trimmed eyebrows.
She sat down at her little desk and opened her tablet computer, but then looked back at Jayne’s face. “You look as if you’ve had another sleepless night.”
Jayne sat up straighter. “Actually, I need to ask a favor of you, Beatrice, and to tell you the truth, I’m a little uneasy about it.”
Beatrice set the tablet aside, focusing full attention on her, looking a little uneasy herself.
Jayne wet her dry lips and pushed on. “It’s something personal… I…a kind of family emergency has come up in Paris, and I’m needed there as soon as possible. I was wondering whether you could hold the fort on your own? Just for one day?”
For a brief moment, she saw something flicker across Beatrice’s face that could have been anger or disappointment or even exasperation. Then her features smoothed out again and only a slightly cool undertone in her voice betrayed her surprise. “You still have family in Paris?”
“I had no idea.” Like everyone else, Beatrice only knew that Celeste Sotheby had disappeared after Robert had practically left her standing at the altar, but nothing more, not even that Celeste had been pregnant. Since Eleanor was dead, Jayne had no more family in Paris, so it was no wonder that Beatrice was surprised.
“It’s a close friend of my family,” Jayne said.
Beatrice clearly wanted to know more, but Jayne planned to leave it at that, and she barreled on. “I know this is the worst possible time to be gone even for a day, and I hate to leave you hanging, but there’s absolutely no other way. I really need to be in Paris this afternoon to sort this problem out.”
Beatrice’s eyes widened. “This afternoon?”
“Yes. That is, if it’s okay with you. I already made the reservations—I’ll be back late tonight.” The truth was, she had already bought the tickets. She was going to Paris, come hell or high water. She had to confront Celeste about this horrific blackmail letter.
Beatrice narrowed her eyes. “Is this what you’ve been so keyed up and distracted about?”
With a sigh, Beatrice said, “Well, I hope it’s nothing too serious.”
“It’s just…it’s quite urgent. I’m sorry I can’t say more—it’s very personal.”
It felt awful being so vague, but at least it was the truth. And she hated herself for acting like she was Beatrice’s employee. She wasn’t an employee at all—she was the woman’s business partner, and an equal partner, at that! But she couldn’t help it, because she knew she wasn’t behaving the way a responsible business partner should.
There was a frown on Beatrice’s face, and it made Jayne’s gut clench. The woman glanced at her tablet before meeting Jayne’s gaze. “I’m sure you know we’re having the new gas stove installed in the kitchen this afternoon.”
“Yes, of course I know, but—”
“You should be here for that, Jayne. The kitchen is your domain.”
Jayne felt even worse. “I know, I know. But you’re an engineer, I was thinking that you’re better qualified to deal with the installation of a stove, anyway.”
Beatrice glanced at the fingers of one manicured hand, with its neat nails in the softest pink brushing over the hem of her tweed skirt. “I don’t like that, Jayne, you trying to justify your absence by stroking my ego.” For the first time, she saw the anger flaring beneath Beatrice’s composed veneer. “You know how important this is! We need to be ready for the private customer focus group dinner next week. Without that, we can’t finalize the menu before the grand opening!” She pointed a manicured finger at Jayne. “You’re the one who kept telling me how crucial this last phase is.”
Jayne just sat there. Beatrice was right. There was nothing to say. She had no defense.
After a long, uncomfortable moment, Beatrice let out a little groan and said, “I suppose a family problem can’t be helped.” She waved her hand towards the door. “Off you go, off you go.”
Jayne rose from her chair, relieved. “Thank you for understanding, Beatrice, I really appreciate it.”
Before she left the room, she turned and said, “I won’t let you down, Beatrice. I promise.”
“I certainly hope not,” Beatrice muttered.
At three-thirty p.m., Jayne stepped out of Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris with a heavy heart and a mind working overtime. It had been a year since she’d last set foot in France, and she had planned to never return because it dredged up too many bad memories.
But this was the right thing to do. She had spent every minute of the train and taxi rides and flight here reconsidering her decision and reflecting on the untenable situation she was in, and she’d come to a frightening conclusion: If this blackmailer demanded more payments, she might lose Rob. If Celeste was the blackmailer, she had to put a stop to this.
Even though it had only been a few days since they received the first letter, there were already signs that it was weighing down their relationship. Whenever Robert called, he sounded busy, exhausted, serious, or all three at once. They hardly ever talked about anything but the blackmail problem now, and the usual cheerful, positive undertone in his voice was mostly gone. Rob was doing his best to find a solution to the problem, she knew, but it was evident he was also under tremendous stress, and she wasn’t sure how long he could find it in himself to not let the dreadful situation get to his heart. He had to be blaming her for it, at least a little bit—that was only human.
Lifting her head and jutting her chin out defiantly, Jayne exited the airport lobby and walked towards the taxi stand. As she would only be here in Paris for a day, she didn’t even bring a carry-on—she simply slung her messenger bag over her shoulder.
Remembering the French she had polished during her impersonation of Celeste, Jayne asked the taxi driver to take her into the city. She had memorized Celeste’s address and done a bit of research online. If Celeste was behind the blackmail letter, she would let her twin know that she wouldn’t get away with any further attempts, just as Rob had said he would do. She would make it clear that Rob would not give her more money, not another euro, and she’d make sure Celeste knew that she was lucky they hadn’t called the police.
Celeste lived in the sixième arrondisement of Paris, or sixth arrondisement as it would be called in English, and was sometimes known as Luxembourg, Faubourgh Saint German or Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The area was the home of a magnificent abbey constructed during the 6th century—the entire area was decidedly upscale, but that didn’t really surprise Jayne as the taxi cruised through it. She remembered that Celeste had mentioned a trust fund she could fall back on. This posh area south-west of the city center was popular for its peace and quiet, independent food stores and designer boutiques, and the beautiful Jardin du Luxembourg park.
With an odd mix of feelings, Jayne wondered whether Celeste took her baby to the park in a stroller, mingling with the high-society crowd. Would she disguise herself with a cap and sunglasses? Or was she bold and unafraid for people to know who she was, withdrawn enough from the social circles to have sunk completely into oblivion?
Jayne hadn’t eaten a bite since she’d forced down the cardboard-tasting sandwich in the morning, her nerves keeping her from doing more than gulping two cups of coffee and then guzzling water during the flight because her stomach was revolting. Now, it protested with gurgles as she tried to get her thoughts in order, gazing unseeingly out at the heavy traffic and glimpses of the Paris suburbs. She couldn’t for the life of her figure out what to say to her sister. When she showed up on her doorstep without warning, would Celeste simply close the door into her face and refuse to talk? What then? Or what if it was all a trap and Celeste had been waiting for Jayne or Robert to turn up at her place so she could do more damage?
By the time Jayne pulled herself out of her desperate thoughts she realized they were nearing Celeste’s part of the city, cruising along the River Seine.
As they traveled to the left bank and approached the sixième arrondisement, it became obvious that it was indeed one of the city’s most expensive neighborhoods. The French intelligentsia favored this area because of all its higher education institutions and publishing houses—and the world famous cafés like Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore certainly helped contribute to its popularity.
Many of the buildings looked old but newly renovated with immaculate little strips of lawn and wrought-iron gates. They passed the grand old building of the École des Beaux-Arts de Paris on the Rue Bonaparte, almost directly across the Seine from the famous Louvre Museum. As they drove past one elegant building after the other, Jayne marveled at how high the income of those living here must be. Still, there was no gaudy opulence. Instead, the area had an almost bohemian air to it. Odd as it was, Jayne would have felt at home here too if she’d had the means—and the thought gave her pause, because wasn’t that something she had in common with Celeste then?
Before she could analyze that, the taxi pulled to a stop in front of an endless row of similar-looking four-storied apartment buildings on the Rue Dauphin. The driver let loose a litany of rapid-fire French, and Jayne guessed more than understood that he said he wouldn’t be able to park here.
What now? Should she send him off in search of parking so he could wait for her? What if she got mired down and it took her hours get what she wanted out of Celeste? She couldn’t even be sure Celeste was home, but she knew that Celeste’s child was too young to be in a nursery school yet. She thought Celeste might employ a nanny.
“C’est combien?” she asked, frowning at the ungodly sum of money the driver demanded. She had no energy left for haggling, so she pushed the euros into his hand and got out.
Surreptitiously straightening her clothes—she’d dressed in beige pants and a pearl-colored Cashmere sweater, but opted against any jewelry—Jayne scanned the building front with its many identical windows with white shutters. The basement housed shops, but there was a narrow passageway leading to a central courtyard at the rear.
She walked to the main entrance of Celeste’s building and studied the bells with their neat name tags. There was no Celeste or Sotheby to be seen, but some of the name tags had been kept blank for privacy reasons.
Jayne fished her phone out of her pocket and double-checked the address and apartment number. She walked on shaky legs into the foyer and pressed 2 to take the elevator to the second floor. Hauling in a steadying breath, she rang the bell, hearing it peal faintly inside.
After a moment, she thought she could hear a baby crying. Then, a muffled thunk and shuffling footsteps that stopped close to the door. Was Celeste looking at her through the peephole?
Read Part 7 here.
Don't want to wait? Pre-order the book now (release date is June 30th)!