Jack Rogan looked at the army of waiting drivers holding up signs and was trying to find one with his name on it. Having experienced hair-raising trips to the Kuragin Chateau from Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport in the past, he had taken his publicist’s advice and arranged a hire car to take him there this time.Don’t be silly, Jack, you’re a celebrity now, he remembered Rebecca Armstrong tell
him sternly. You can afford it; trust me.
Remembering Rebecca’s words brought a smile to his face. Not only was she his publicist and literary agent, she had taken over managing his entire life. Then again, he had to admit he did need some managing, especially after the Wizards of Oz – a notorious outlaw bikie gang – had burnt down his house and he had lost all his personal belongings. Almost all, he thought, smiling. Because his house didn’t have a garage, his beloved MG was parked in the street at the time and had escaped the inferno. The material links with the past were all but gone and Rebecca had done a sterling job rebuilding his future. Jack didn’t mind. In fact, he was looking forward to seeing his new penthouse on the harbour, which Rebecca had bought – sight unseen – and had furnished for him, for the first time.
Jack had spent the past year in New York rewriting his book, The Disappearance of Anna Popov, in preparation for publication. After the tragic events that led to Anna Popov’s spectacular rescue in the Australian outback, Jack had discovered certain secrets of the past during his research which, had they been made public, could have destroyed the lives of people he held dear.
Torn between what was right and what would sell, Jack had made a courageous decision. The book would not be published. Anna’s grateful parents were relieved. However, Jack’s New York publishers were outraged and threatened to sue. Jack stood his ground. Then, unexpectedly, Countess Kuragin and Professor Popov – Anna’s parents – changed their minds. They encouraged Jack to publish his book after all, provided he was prepared to leave certain sensitive parts out of it to protect the privacy of those most exposed. Jack accepted the compromise and threw himself into the task of rewriting the book. He had spent the past year in New York under the watchful eye of Rebecca, desperately trying to repair the damage to his reputation and his relationship with the hostile publishers.
Fortunately, success heals all. The much-awaited book was an overnight sensation and all was forgiven. Somehow, even the delay had worked in his favour. His reputation intact, Jack was once again the celebrated author and darling of the New York literary set.
With the exhausting book launch behind him, Jack had pleaded for a little time off and was on his way back to Australia. You want to go for a month? Are you out of your mind? he heard Rebecca complain after he had finished all the interviews. Two weeks, that’s it! I need you here! They had settled for three and Jack was enjoying the freedom of being able to do his own thing for once. No more book signings, no more TV shows, no dressing up, he thought, no shaving, no Rebecca! Bliss!
Jack had decided to interrupt his trip back home to Australia to visit Anna and the countess. He wanted to deliver signed copies of his book to them personally; they deserved that courtesy. After all, it was theirstory. And besides, Jack was curious to see how Tristan was growing up. He hadn’t seen any of them for almost a year. Emails and skyping just wasn’t the same.
It was almost dark by the time the black hire car pulled up in front of the chateau. The countess had reopened her chateau as an exclusive boutique hotel, which had always been immensely popular with the super-rich looking for privacy and style and an opportunity to rub shoulders with a blue-blooded Russian countess.
As he got out of the car, Jack remembered the first time he and Rebecca had visited the Kuragin Chateau. The intimidating, liveried doorman had taken the two first-timers under his wing and inducted them into chateau etiquette. That was two years ago, Jack reminded himself. It had been the beginning of an extraordinary adventure leading to the sensational rescue of the countess’ daughter, Anna. The recent publication of his book, which finally told the curious public what really happened after Anna disappeared from Alice Springs all those years ago, was the culmination of a long, exhausting journey.
The countess heard the car pull up and rushed outside. ‘Here you are at last!’ she said excitedly, kissing Jack on both cheeks, ‘The famous author returns. Let me have a look at you. A little thinner than I remember,’ she teased, linking arms with Jack. ‘We’ll do something about that! Dinner’s waiting – come.’
‘Why is it women always want to fatten me up?’ remarked Jack.
‘Because we are fond of you.’
‘How’s Anna, and Tristan?’ asked Jack, following the countess into the foyer.
‘Anna is in Paris; specialists …’ replied the countess with a hint of sadness in her voice. ‘She’s slowly improving, but Tristan hasn’t stopped talking about you all week. And there’s someone else here who wants to meet you …’
As soon as Jack stepped into the grand foyer, he sensed something. Jack stopped and looked up. Tristan was watching him from the gallery above. Their eyes locked. He has grown quite a bit, thought Jack, watching the boy. Quite tall for fifteen. Then slowly – one step at a time – Tristan came down the stairs. Jack didn’t move, nor did the countess. Reaching the bottom of the stairs, Tristan stopped without taking his eyes off Jack. Then suddenly, he ran towards him, threw his arms
around him and hugged him tightly. ‘I knew you would come,’ he whispered. ‘You’ve stayed away far too long.’
‘You’re right,’ said Jack, gently stroking the boy’s head. ‘I had to finish the book. You know that.’ Tristan nodded. ‘Here, I have something for you.’ Jack opened his duffel bag and pulled out two copies of his book. ‘Fresh off the press and hand delivered. The first two copies in France, I believe. The French translation will be released next month.’ With that, Jack took a bow and presented one copy to the countess, and the other to Tristan. Anna’s striking painting, which had become the cover of the book, brought tears to the countess’ eyes.
‘That’s quite a welcome,’ said a voice from the other end of the foyer. Jack turned around and looked at the young woman slowly walking towards him out of the shadows. Her luxurious red hair shone like a beacon as she stepped into the circle of light.
‘I’m not always this popular,’ replied Jack, watching the woman with interest.
‘That’s not what I heard.’
‘Jack, I want you to meet my niece,’ said the countess, turning to the young woman, ‘Dr Alexandra Delacroix.’
After dinner in her private dining room, the countess excused herself and joined the ‘paying guests’, as she called them, for coffee and liqueurs in the music room. ‘It’s expected,’ she explained. ‘It won’t take long.’ Tristan had reluctantly gone back upstairs to finish his homework and Jack had to promise to come to his room later for a chat, man to man. This left Jack and Dr Delacroix momentarily alone at the dinner table.
‘So, you are coming to Sydney,’ said Jack, leaning back in the beautiful eighteenth-century dining chair. Jack had a good eye for antiques and lamented the loss of his own collection in the fire with a pang of regret. ‘A bit unexpected?’
‘Yes, Professor Kozakievicz – Professor K, as we used to call him – died suddenly and I’m to replace him,’ she replied, a melancholy look clouding her eyes. ‘He was a wonderful colleague and a true friend.’
She’s so young, thought Jack, enjoying the closeness of the fascinating young scientist. ‘And what exactly is it that you do?’ he asked.
‘I’m exploring the mysteries of the human genome.’
‘Wow! Is that what Professor K was working on?’
‘Sort of … He was on the cusp of an important discovery relating to cancer when he died.’
‘What kind of discovery?’
‘The professor’s last words to me were that he had actually discovered a breakthrough in cancer diagnosis and treatment.’
‘But that’s extraordinary!’ exclaimed Jack. ‘And you are to carry on his work?’
‘You must be very good.’
Dr Delacroix didn’t reply. Instead, she was watching this intriguing man she had heard so much about with interest. He has green eyes, she thought. How unusual. Jack’s casual, self-effacing manner had put her instantly at ease and she enjoyed talking to him. In her line of work, meeting attractive men was rather difficult.
‘Have you got somewhere to stay?’ asked Jack, lowering his voice.
‘Well then, why don’t you help me explore my new penthouse, which incidentally, I’ve never seen My literary agent – minder would be more accurate, I suppose – assures me it’s very spacious. I’m returning to New York in three weeks, but you can stay as long as you like.’
Dr Delacroix burst out laughing. ‘You’re joking, surely.’
‘No, I’m perfectly serious. I always wanted a research scientist as a flatmate.’
‘Do you always invite women you’ve just met to share your apartment?’
‘Only attractive ones,’ bantered Jack.
‘They warned me about you!’
‘What, the incorrigible rascal bit? Surely, as a true scientist you wouldn’t believe such scurrilous rumours?’
‘It’s all settled then.’
‘Let me think about it.’
‘All right. Why don’t we coordinate our flights Down Under and you can think about it along the way. How about that?’
Dr Delacroix held out her hand. ‘Okay,’ she said, a sparkle in her eye.
‘Deal,’ said Jack and shook her hand.
[SA1]Jack calls Alexandra fascinating a few lines above. Perhaps use ‘intriguing’ to avoid repetition?
[GF2]Good suggestion; done
[SA3]Suggestion, not a direct question.