Read The King Page 1

  Dedicated to all the girls with short hair and all the boys with long hair. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night, in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in

  the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of

  the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.

  —Lawrence of Arabia


  Somewhere in London 2013

  KINGSLEY EDGE WAS PLAYING GOD TONIGHT. HE hoped the real God, if He did exist, wouldn’t mind. He’d told his driver to let him out a few blocks before his destination. Warm air, a late-April rain and a little English magic had sent a soft white fog twisting and f licking its tail down winding streets, and Kingsley wanted to enjoy it. He wore a long coat and carried a leather weekender bag over his shoulder. It was late, and although the city was still awake, it kept its voice down. The only sounds around him came from the soles of his shoes echoing against the wet and shining pavement and the distant murmur of city traffic.

  When he arrived at the door he knocked without hesitation. After a pause, it opened.

  They stared at each other a full five seconds before one of

  them spoke. Kingsley took it upon himself to break the silence. “I’m the last person you were expecting to see again, oui?”

  Kingsley asked.

  He expected the shock and he expected the silence, but he

  didn’t expect what happened next.

  He didn’t expect Grace Easton to step onto the porch in

  her soft gray robe and bare feet and wrap him in her arms. “If I’d known this is how the Welsh say ‘hello,’ I would have

  visited sooner,” Kingsley said. Grace pulled back from the embrace and smiled at him, her bright turquoise eyes gleaming. “You’re always welcome here.” Grace’s words were tender,

  her accent light and musical. She took his arm and ushered

  him into the house. “Always.”

  Always…a lovely word. He never used to believe in words

  like always, like forever, like everything. Now at forty-eight he’d

  lived long enough he could see both ends of his life. Always.

  There might be something to it after all.

  “Zachary’s asleep,” Grace said in a whisper as she took his

  coat, hung it up, and guided him into a cozy living room. “He

  gets up at five every morning, so he goes to bed at a reasonable hour. I prefer the unreasonable hours myself.” “You’re the night owl?”

  “It works for us,” she said with a smile. “I can get work

  done after Zachary and Fionn fall asleep. Would you like tea?

  I can put the kettle on. Or something stronger?”

  “I brought my own something stronger,” he said. He unzipped his weekender bag and offered her a bottle of

  wine. She examined the label.

  “Rosanella Syrah,” she said. “Never had it before.” “It’s from my son’s winery. Best Syrah I’ve ever tasted.” “Not that you’re biased or anything,” she said with a

  wink. She went to fetch wineglasses and a corkscrew from

  the kitchen, and Kingsley looked around. Zachary and Grace

  Easton lived in a small two-story brick house that made up

  one of many in a row of neat but narrow accommodations.

  It was an older neighborhood, a bit shabby but safe and clean

  from what he could see. Inside the house was the picture of quiet domesticity. Intelligent educated people lived here. And

  one very special baby.

  “Am I interrupting anything?” Kingsley asked when Grace

  returned with the wineglasses. He took the corkscrew from

  her and opened the bottle. Grace had a low fire glowing in

  the fireplace and a table lamp on. Gentle light. Kingsley felt

  instantly at ease here.

  “Nothing that can’t wait,” she said, and Kingsley saw stacks

  of papers on the pale green sofa. He took a seat in the armchair

  opposite her and crossed one leg over his knee. She curled up

  into a ball, her knees to her chest, her bare feet sticking out

  from the bottom of the robe. Her long red hair was knotted at the nape of her neck in a loose and elegant bun. In the

  soft light of the room she radiated a delicate beauty. A vision,

  freckles and all. How had he not noticed before how lovely

  she was? Of course, the one and only occasion they’d been in

  each other’s company, he’d been preoccupied, to say the least. “You’re grading papers?” Kingsley asked.

  “No, I’m still on maternity leave,” she said. Next to her on

  the table sat a baby monitor. “These are proofs of my book.

  Nothing exciting. Only poetry.” She held up a printed title

  page that read Rooftop Novenas.

  “You’re writing again?” Kingsley asked. He remembered

  from her file she’d had a few poems published in her early


  “I am,” she said, smiling shyly. “I don’t know what it is…

  As soon as I was pregnant with Fionn I had so much creative

  energy. Couldn’t stop writing. Zachary’d thought I’d lost my

  mind. He’s an editor, though, not a writer. He thinks all writers are a bit mad.”

  “I might have to agree with him,” Kingsley said. “You have

  my congratulations on the book.”

  She shuff led her pages, capped her pen. “Thank you, Kingsley. But I don’t believe you crossed an ocean simply to talk

  about my poetry.”

  “Even if it was inspired by a mutual friend of ours?” Kingsley said.

  “Even so,” she admitted without shame. Good. Kingsley

  might have despised her if she’d had any regrets, any shame for

  what had happened. Instead, she’d come with an open heart

  to their world, an open mind, and had returned home carrying a blessing inside her. “It’s back to school in a few months,

  and I’m trying not to think about having to leave Fionn.” “He taught at our high school after he graduated. Did you

  know that?”

  She held her glass steady on the coffee table between them

  as Kingsley poured the wine.

  “He told me he used to teach. Said he liked it. I didn’t expect that from him.”

  Kingsley picked up a framed photograph that sat on the

  coffee table between them—a black-and-white picture of a

  newborn infant boy sleeping on a white pillow.

  “That’s one thing you can say for him,” Kingsley said, turning the photograph toward Grace. “He’s full of surprises.” She blushed beautifully and laughed quietly, and Kingsley

  couldn’t help but join in her laugh.

  “Is he why you’re here? Are you checking on Fionn for


  “No,” Kingsley said. “Although he’ll never forgive me if I

  don’t look in on him while I’m here.” Kingsley ached to see

  the boy, but he had learned the hard way to never disturb a

  sleeping baby.

  “I’m only asking why you’re here out of curiosity. You never

  need a reason to visit us. I assume everyone is well?” Grace

  asked. “Juliette? Your daughter? Nora?”

  “Juliette and Céleste are perfect as usual,” he said. “But

  Nora, she lost her mother recently. A month ago, I believe.” “I had no idea. Zachary never said a word about it.” “She didn’t tell anyone until afterward. She disappeared on

  us for two weeks.”

  “Nora.” Grace sighed and shook her head. “Well, if she behaved like a normal person, she wouldn’t be Nora, would she?” “No. No, she wouldn’t be.” Kingsley laughed to himself.

  “But she and her mother…they had a difficult relationship.” “Because of him?”

  “Her mother hated him. I don’t use the word hate lightly,”

  Kingsley said. “I think it was a peace offering to her mother

  for Nora to go alone. And she couldn’t tell him. Nora ran

  away to her mother’s once before, and he hunted her down

  like the hound of hell.”

  “I didn’t know that. But I can imagine he’s…persistent where

  she’s concerned?”

  “That is one way to put it.” Kingsley took a sip of his wine.

  “She and her mother, they had unfinished business.” “That’s the worst-case scenario then, isn’t it? If you’re close

  to your parents, you have no regrets when they pass away. If

  you have no relationship, you have no grief. If you want to

  be close, but you can’t be…”

  “She took it very hard,” Kingsley said, knowing Nora well

  enough to say that in good faith.

  “I’ll call her tomorrow,” Grace said. “Maybe she should

  come stay with us a few days. She loves being around Fionn.

  And she and Zachary fight so much, she’ll forget all her sorrows, I promise.”

  Kingsley wanted to laugh. Only Grace Easton would call

  the woman who had slept—more than once—with her husband, offer her condolences on the loss of her mother and then invite her to stay in her home with Grace, her husband and

  their infant son who was fathered by Nora’s lover. Did Grace have any idea what an extraordinarily odd woman

  she was?

  Then again, what room did Kingsley have to talk? “Apart from that, we’re all well. He’s well,” Kingsley said,

  saving Grace the embarrassment of asking about him. “Good,” Grace said with a smile. “I never know… He’s the

  easiest man in the world to talk to…and the most difficult man

  to read. Rather amazes me that Nora’s been with him over

  twenty years and is as sane as she is. Zachary was my professor when we fell in love, and I thought I’d go insane trying

  to keep that secret from my friends, my family, the school. To

  be with a priest for twenty years…”

  “No one is more amazed than I that they’ve lasted. The

  sanity part is up for debate, but you can’t question the love.

  Not anymore. And he hasn’t made it easy for her, and she…

  Well, I don’t have to tell you anything about Nora, do I?” Grace grinned broadly.

  “No,” she said. “No, you don’t.” She took a drink of the

  Syrah, and her eyes widened in delight.

  “Your son is quite the vintner. This is marvelous.” “I told you so,” Kingsley said, taking a sip of his own wine.

  The Syrah was good, an excellent vintage, strong and potent.

  As much as Kingsley loved the taste, he found it hard to drink

  sometimes. The knot of pride in his throat made it difficult

  to swallow.

  “Zachary was very impressed with Nico when they met.

  He’s what? Twenty-five and he owns and runs his own vineyard?”

  “I think about how I was at twenty-five, what I was doing

  with my life, and I can’t believe he came from me.” “I can believe it,” Grace said, giving him a luminescent


  “I won’t keep you up all night showing you pictures of my

  children,” Kingsley said. He had pictures of both Nico and

  Céleste with him, and he was seconds away from pulling them

  out. “I’m only here for a few hours before I catch my next

  f light. But I did come for a reason.”

  “Should I be concerned?” Grace asked.

  “Non, pas du tout,” Kingsley said with a wave of his hand.

  “Forgive me. French wine brings out my French.” “I speak some,” she said. “You haven’t lost me yet.” “Bon,” he said and paused for another drink. “I have something to tell you. A story. And I can’t tell you why I’m telling

  you the story until after the story.”

  “I see…” she said, although Kingsley knew she didn’t. “May

  I ask what the story concerns?”

  Kingsley reached into the inner breast pocket of his jacket.

  From it he pulled a crisp white envelope thick with documents

  sealed with wax. The wax was imprinted with what appeared

  to be a number eight inside a circle. Kingsley placed it on the

  table between his glass of wine and Grace’s.

  “The story is about that,” Kingsley said, nodding toward

  the envelope. “And I can tell you the long version which is

  the true version or I can tell you a shorter, sweeter version.

  I’m happy to tell you either. But you decide.”

  “The long version, of course,” she said. “Tell me everything I should know even if you don’t think I want to hear it.” “Everything…dangerous word.” Kingsley sat back in the

  chair, and Grace leaned forward. She looked at him with a

  child’s eagerness. “But if you insist. The more you know about

  us, the better it will be if…”

  He didn’t finish the sentence, didn’t have to, because he

  saw the understanding in Grace’s eyes. She knew the end of the sentence he hadn’t spoken, and her nod saved him the pain

  of saying the words that no one yet had dared to utter aloud. If Fionn takes after his father…

  “The story starts twenty years ago,” Kingsley said, conjuring the memories he had tried to bury. But he’d buried them

  alive and alive they remained. “And it takes place in Manhattan. And although you don’t know yet why I’m telling you