Authors: Danielle Steel
It was well after midnight, and Eastwood had long since left to sleep in his trailer on the set. He wasn't going to waste the next few hours standing in the Place Vendome, waiting around until morning. And as Peter glanced around he noticed Olivia Thatcher slowly move away entirely from the guests of the hotel, and drift nonchalantly to the other side of the square. She had turned her back on the people standing there, and then suddenly she seemed to be walking smoothly and swiftly toward the corner. And he couldn't help wondering where she was going. He looked to see if she had a bodyguard in tow, he was sure that if anyone knew what she was doing, they would have sent one. But she was clearly on her own, as she began to hurry, and she never once glanced over her shoulder. He couldn't take his eyes off her, and without thinking, he moved away from the crowd himself and began to follow her to the corner of the Place Vendome. There was so much activity outside the hotel, and spilling everywhere, that it appeared that no one had seen either of them leaving. What Peter didn't realize was that for a few steps at least, a man was following him, but at the sound of a flurry in the square, he lost interest and hurried back to the heart of the action, where two well-known fashion models had put a CD player on and had started dancing with each other, in front of a nervous-looking CRS. CNN had arrived by then, and they were in the process of interviewing Senator Thatcher about his views on terrorists abroad and at home, and he told them in no uncertain terms how he felt about it. In view of what had happened to his brother nearly six years previously, he was particularly unsympathetic to this land of nonsense. He gave a rousing little speech, and the people around him who heard applauded him when it was over, and then the CNN crew went on to interview some of the others. Interestingly, they never asked to speak to his wife, they felt that the senator had obviously spoken for both Thatchers, and then the crew hurried over to the dancing models and interviewed them right after Andy. They said they thought the evening was great fun, and it should happen at the Ritz more often. They were staying in the hotel for a three-day shoot for
, and they both said they loved Paris. Then they sang a little song, and did a mock soft-shoe in the Place Vendome. It was a lively group, and despite the possible danger presented by the missing bomb, it was a festive night.
But Peter was far from all of it by then, as he followed the senator's wife around the corner and out of the Place Vendome. She seemed to know where she was going, and she didn't hesitate for a moment. She just kept walking. She walked at a good clip, and Peter took long strides to keep up with her, but he let her keep ahead, and he had no idea what he would say to her, if she stopped and turned around, and asked him what he was doing. He had no idea what he was doing, or why. He just knew that he had to be there. He had been compelled to follow her from the Place Vendome, and he told himself he wanted to be sure she was safe at that hour of the night, but he had no idea at all why he seemed to feel he should be the one to do that.
He was amazed when she walked all the way to the Place de la Concorde, and then stood there, smiling to herself, as she looked at the fountains, with the Eiffel Tower lit up in the distance. There was an old bum sitting there, and a young man strolling by, and two couples kissing, but no one paid any attention to her, and she looked so happy as she stood there. It made him want to go over and put an arm around her, and look at the fountains with her. But instead, he just stood at a polite distance from her, smiling at her. And then much to his astonishment, she glanced over at him, and there were questions in her eyes. It was as though she knew suddenly that he was there, and why, but she still felt he owed her an explanation. Clearly, he had followed her, and she looked neither angry nor panicked, and much to his embarrassment, she turned and walked slowly toward him. She knew who he was, she had recognized him as the man from the pool the night before, but he blushed in the darkness as she came toward him.
“Are you a photographer?” She looked up at him and asked very quietly. She looked very vulnerable and suddenly very sad. It had happened to her before, a thousand times, a million, ad nauseam and infinitum. Photographers followed her everywhere, and felt victorious each time they robbed her of a private moment. She was accustomed to it now, she didn't like it but she accepted it as part of her life.
But he shook his head, having glimpsed how she felt, and he was sorry to have intruded. “No, I'm not…. I'm sorry … I … I just wanted to be sure you …It's very late.” And then suddenly, looking down at her, he felt less embarrassed and more protective. She was so incredible and so delicate. He had never met anyone like her. “You shouldn't walk around alone so late at night, it's dangerous.” She glanced at the young man and the old clochard, and she shrugged, looking up at him with interest.
“Why were you following me?” She asked it very directly, and the brown velvet eyes were so soft as she looked at him that he wished he could reach out and touch her face.
“I … I don't know,” he said honestly. “Curiosity …chivalry …fascination …foolishness …stupidity …” He wanted to tell her that he was overwhelmed by her beauty, but he couldn't. “I wanted to be sure you were all right,“ And then he decided to be direct with her. The circumstances were unusual, and she looked like the kind of person you could be straight with. “You just walked away, didn't you? They don't know you're gone, do they?” Or perhaps they did by now, and were scurrying everywhere, but she didn't really care and she looked it. She looked like a mischievous child as she looked up at him. He had seen what she did, and she knew it.
“They'll probably never know the difference,” she said honestly, looking unremorseful, but surprisingly full of mischief. Even from what he had seen, she was truly the forgotten woman. No one in her group ever paid any attention to her, or spoke to her, not even her husband. “I had to get away. Sometimes it's very oppressive to be … in my shoes.” She looked up at him, not sure if he had recognized her, and if not, she didn't want to spoil it.
“All shoes are oppressive sometimes,” he said philosophically. His were too at times, but he knew that hers were far more so. And then he looked down at her sympathetically again. Since he had come this far after her, there was no harm in going a little further. “Can I buy you a cup of coffee?” It was an old line, and they both smiled, and she hesitated for a long moment while she tried to decide if he meant it, or was just being funny, and he saw her hesitation, and smiled warmly. “It was a sincere offer. I'm relatively well behaved, and can at least be trusted for a cup of coffee. I'd suggest my hotel, but they seem to be having a problem.”
She laughed at that, and seemed to relax as she watched him. She knew him from the hotel, in the elevator and at the pool. He was wearing an expensive shirt and it looked clean, and he was wearing suit trousers and good shoes. And something in his eyes told her that he was both respectable and kind, and she nodded. “I'd like a cup of coffee, but not at your hotel,” she said primly, “it's a little too busy for me tonight. How about Montmartre?” she said cautiously, and he grinned. He liked the suggestion.
“That's a great idea. May I offer a cab?” She nodded, and they walked to the nearest taxi stand, and he helped her in, and she gave the address of a bistro she knew that stayed open very late, and had tables out on the sidewalk. It was still a warm night, and neither of them had any desire to go back to the hotel, although they both seemed a little shy with each other. It was she who broke the ice first, as she looked at him with a teasing expression.
“Do you do that a lot? Follow women, I mean.” Suddenly, the whole thing amused her, and he had the grace to blush in the taxi as he shook his head.
“I've actually never done that before. It's absolutely the first time, and I'm still not sure why I did it,” except that she looked so vulnerable and so frail, that for some insane reason he wanted to protect her, but he didn't say that.
“I'm actually very glad you did,” she said, looking genuinely amused and surprisingly comfortable with him, as they reached the restaurant, and a moment later, they were sitting at an open-air table with two steaming cups of coffee. “What a great idea.” She smiled at him. “Now tell me all about you,” she said, putting her chin on her hands, and looking surprisingly like Audrey Hepburn.
“There's not much to tell,” he said, still looking faintly embarrassed, but excited to be there.
“I'm sure there is. Where are you from? New York?” she guessed, fairly accurately. At least he worked there.
“More or less. I work in New York. I live in Greenwich.”
“And you're married, and have two children.” She filled in the gaps for him, smiling at him wistfully as she did so. His life was so happy and so ordinary probably, so unlike hers with all its tragedies and disappointments.
“Three sons,” he corrected her. “And yes, I'm married.” And then as he thought of his abundance of sons, he felt guilty toward her and the little boy she had lost to cancer. He had been her only child and he knew, as did the entire world, that she had had no children since then.
“I live in Washington,” she said quietly, “most of the time.” She did not offer to tell him whether or not she had children, and knowing what he did of her, he didn't ask.
“Do you like Washington?” he asked gently, and she shrugged as she sipped her coffee.
“Not really. I hated it when I was young. I suppose if I thought about it, I'd hate it more now. It's not the city I dislike, it's the people and what they do to their lives there. Theirs, and everyone else's. I hate politics and everything it stands for.” And as she said it, he could see how fervently she meant it. But with a brother, a father, and a husband deeply entrenched in politics, she had little hope of escaping its clutches now. And then she looked at him, she hadn't introduced herself yet, and she would have liked to believe that he had no idea who she was, and she was just a woman in loafers, jeans, and a T-shirt. But she could see in his eyes that he knew her secret. It may not have been why he was there, having coffee with her at two
, but he wasn't unaware of it either. “I suppose it would be unrealistic to think you don't know my name …or do you?” she asked with wide eyes, and feeling sorry for her again, he nodded. The anonymity would have been nice for her, but it wasn't her destiny, not in this lifetime.
“I do, and yes, it would be unrealistic to think people don't know who you are. But that shouldn't change anything. You have a right to hate politics, or anything, or go for a walk on the Place de la Concorde, or say anything you want to a friend. Everybody needs that.' He sensed easily how badly she did.
“Thank you,” she said softly. “You said before that everybody's shoes pinch sometimes. Do yours?”
“Now and then,” he said honestly. “We all get into tight spots sometimes. I'm the head of a company, and sometimes I wish that no one knew that and I could do anything I wanted.” Like right now. For one tiny moment with her, he would have liked to be free again and forget he was married. But he knew he could never do that to Katie. He had never cheated on her in his life, and he didn't intend to start now, not even with Olivia Thatcher. But that was also the last thing on her mind. “I think we all get tired of our lives sometimes, and the responsibilities placed upon us. Probably not as tired as you do,” he said sympathetically, “but I think, in our own ways, we all wish we could walk out of the Place Vendome sometimes, and disappear for a while. Like Agatha Christie.”
“I've always been intrigued by that story,” Olivia said with a shy smile, “and I've always wanted to do that.” She was impressed that he knew about that. She had always been fascinated by why Agatha Christie had simply disappeared one day. They had found her car crashed against a tree. And the famous author had vanished. She did not reappear until several days later. And when she did, she offered no explanation whatsoever for her absence. At the time, it had caused an enormous ruckus, and there had been headlines all over England about her disappearance. In fact, around the world.
“Well, you have done it now, for a few hours anyway. You've walked right out of your life, just as she did.” He smiled at her, and she looked at him with eyes full of mischief as she smiled.
Olivia laughed at the idea, and for a moment she loved it. “But she was gone for days. This is just for a few hours.” She looked faintly disappointed as she said it.
“They're probably all going completely crazy by now, looking for you everywhere. They probably think you were kidnapped by King Khaled.” She laughed even harder at that, and she looked like a kid when she did, and a few minutes later, Peter ordered them both a sandwich. And when the sandwiches came, they both devoured them. They were starving.
“I don't think they're even looking for me, do you know that? I'm not sure that if I truly disappeared anyone would even notice, unless they had a rally to attend that day, or a campaign speech in a women's club. I'm very useful at times like that. Otherwise, I'm not very important. I'm sort of like one of those artificial trees they bring out to decorate the stage. You don't need to feed or water them, you just roll them out to look good when you need a little window dressing to set the main showpiece off.”
“That's an awful thing to say,” Peter chided her, though from what he had seen, he wasn't sure he disagreed with her. “Is that how you really feel about your life?”
“More or less,” she said, knowing that she was daring a great deal. If he turned out to be a reporter, or worse yet, someone from the tabloids, she'd be mincemeat by morning. But in a way, she almost didn't care. She needed to trust someone sometimes, and there was something incredibly warm and appealing about Peter. She had never talked to anyone as she did to him now, and she didn't want to stop, or go back to her life, or ever return to the Ritz Hotel. She wanted to stay here in Montmartre with him forever.
“Why did you marry him?” he dared to ask after she put down her sandwich again, and she looked into the night thoughtfully for a moment and then back into Peter's eyes.