The Swedish Ambassador's free hand was squeezing Elizabeth's bottom, and she tried to ignore it as they danced around the room, her lips smiling, her eyes expertly scanning the elegantly dressed guests, the orchestra, the liveried servants, the buffet heaped with a variety of exotic dishes and fine wines, and she thought to herself with satisfaction, It's a good party.
They were in the ballroom of the Long Island estate. There were two hundred guests, all of them important to Roffe and Sons. Elizabeth became aware that the Ambassador was pressing his body closer to hers, trying to arouse her. He flicked his tongue in her ear and whispered, "You're a beautiful dancer."
"So are you," Elizabeth said with a smile, and she made a sudden misstep and came down hard on his toe with the sharp heel of her shoe. He gave a cry of pain and Elizabeth exclaimed contritely, "I'm so sorry, Ambassador. Let me get you a drink."
She left him and threaded her way toward the bar, making her way easily through the guests, her eyes moving carefully around the room, checking to see that everything was perfect.
Perfection - that was what her father demanded. Elizabeth had been the hostess for a hundred of Sam's parties now, but she had never learned to relax. Each party was an event, an opening night, with dozens of things that could go wrong. Yet she had never known such happiness. Her girlhood dream of being close to her father, of his wanting her, needing her, had come true. She had learned to adjust to the fact that his needs were impersonal, that her value to him was based on how much she could contribute to the company. That was Sam Roffe's only criterion for judging people. Elizabeth had been able to fill the gap that had existed since her mother's death. She had become her father's hostess. But because Elizabeth was a highly intelligent girl, she had become much more than that. She attended business conferences with Sam, in airplanes and in foreign hotel suites and factories and at embassies and palaces. She watched her father wield his power, deploying the billions of dollars at his command to buy and sell, tear down and build. Roffe and Sons was a vast cornucopia, and Elizabeth watched her father bestow its largesse on its friends, and withhold its bounty from its enemies. It was a fascinating world, filled with interesting people, and Sam Roffe was the master of it all.
As Elizabeth looked around the ballroom now, she saw Sam standing at the bar, chatting with Rhys, a Prime Minister and a Senator from California. Her father saw Elizabeth and waved her over. As Elizabeth moved toward him, she thought of the time, three years earlier, when it had all begun.
Elizabeth had flown home the day of her graduation. She was eighteen. Home, at the moment, had been the apartment at Beekman Place in Manhattan. Rhys had been there with her father. She had somehow known that he would be. She carried pictures of him in the secret places of her thoughts, and whenever she was lonely or depressed or discouraged, she would take them out and warm herself with her memories. In the beginning it had seemed hopeless. A fifteen-year-old schoolgirl and a man of twenty-five. Those ten years might as well have been a hundred. But through some wonderful mathematical alchemy, at eighteen the difference in years was less important. It was as though she was growing older faster than Rhys, trying to catch up to him.
Both men rose as she walked into the library, where they were talking business. Her father said casually, "Elizabeth. Just get in?"
"Ah. So school's finished."
And that was the extent of her welcome home. Rhys was walking toward her, smiling. He seemed genuinely pleased to see her. "You look wonderful, Liz. How was the graduation? Sam wanted to be there but he couldn't get away."
He was saying all the things her father should have been saying.
Elizabeth was angry with herself for being hurt. It was not that her father did not love her, she told herself, it was just that he was dedicated to a world in which she had no part. He would have taken a son into his world; a daughter was alien to him. She did not fit into the Corporate Plan.
"I'm interrupting. She moved toward the door.
"Wait a minute," Rhys said. He turned to Sam. "Liz has come home just in time. She can help with the party Saturday night."
Sam turned to Elizabeth, studying her objectively, as though newly assessing her. She resembled her mother. She had the same beauty, the same natural elegance. A flicker of interest came into Sam's eyes. It had not occurred to him before that his daughter might be a potential asset to Roffe and Sons. "Do you have a formal dress?"
Elizabeth looked at him in surprise. "I - "
"It doesn't matter. Go buy one. Do you know how to give a party?"
Elizabeth swallowed and said, "Certainly." Wasn't that one of the advantages of going to a Swiss finishing school? They taught you all the social graces. "Of course I know how to give a party."
"Good. I've invited a group from Saudi Arabia. There'll be about - " He turned to Rhys.
Rhys smiled at Elizabeth and said, "Forty. Give or take a few."
"Leave everything to me," Elizabeth said confidently.
The dinner was a complete fiasco.
Elizabeth had told the chef to prepare crab cocktails for the first course, followed by individual cassoulets, served with vintage wines. Unfortunately the cassoulet had pork in it, and the Arabs touched neither shellfish nor pork. Nor did they drink alcoholic beverages. The guests stared at the food, eating nothing. Elizabeth sat at the head of the long table, across the room from her father, frozen with embarrassment, dying inside.
It was Rhys Williams who saved the evening.
He disappeared into the study for a few moments and spoke into the telephone. Then he came back into the dining room and entertained the guests with amusing stories, while the staff began to clear the table.
In what seemed no time at all, a fleet of catering trucks drove up, and as if by magic a variety of dishes began appearing. Couscous and lamb en brochette and rice and platters of roast chicken and fish, followed by sweetmeats and cheese and fresh fruits. Everyone enjoyed the food except Elizabeth. She was so upset that she could not swallow a bite. Each time she looked up at Rhys, he was watching her, a conspiratorial look in his eyes. Elizabeth could not have said why, but she was mortified that Rhys should not only witness her shame but save her from it. When the evening finally ended, and the last of the guests had reluctantly departed in the early hours of the morning, Elizabeth and Sam and Rhys were in the drawing room. Rhys was pouring a brandy.
Elizabeth took a deep breath and turned to her father, "I'm sorry about the dinner. If it hadn't been for Rhys - "
"I'm sure you'll do better next time," Sam said flatly.
Sam was right. From that time on, when Elizabeth gave a party, whether it was for four people or for four hundred, she researched the guests, found out their likes and dislikes, what they ate and drank, and what type of entertainment they enjoyed. She kept a catalog with file cards on each person. The guests were flattered to find that their favorite brand of wine or whiskey or cigars had been stocked for them, and that Elizabeth was able to discuss their work knowledgeably.
Rhys attended most of the parties, and he was always with the most beautiful girl there. Elizabeth hated them all. She tried to copy them. If Rhys brought a girl who wore her hair pinned up in the back, Elizabeth did her hair the same way. She tried to dress the way Rhys's girls dressed, to act the way they acted. But none of it seemed to make any impression on Rhys. He did not even seem to notice. Frustrated, Elizabeth decided that she might as well be herself.
On the morning of her twenty-first birthday, when Elizabeth came down to breakfast, Sam said, "Order some theater tickets for tonight. Supper afterward at 'Twenty-one.'"
Elizabeth thought, He remembered, and she was inordinately pleased.
Then her father added, "There'll be twelve of us. We'll be going over the new Bolivian contracts."
She said nothing about her birthday. She received telegrams from a few former schoolmates, but that was it. Until six o'clock that evening, when an enormous bouquet of flowers arrived for her. Elizabeth was sure it was from her father. But the card read: "What a lovely day for a lovely lady." It was signed "Rhys."
Her father left the house at seven o'clock that evening on his way to the theater. He noticed the flowers and said absently, "Got a beau, huh?"
Elizabeth was tempted to say, "They're a birthday present," but what would have been the point? If you had to remind someone you loved that it was your birthday, then it was futile.
She watched her father leave, and wondered what she would do with her evening. Twenty-one had always seemed such an important milestone. It signified growing up, having freedom, becoming a woman. Well, here was the magic day, and she felt no different from the way she had felt last year, or the year before. Why couldn't he have remembered? Would he have remembered if she were his son?
The butler appeared to ask her about dinner. Elizabeth was not hungry. She felt lonely and deserted. She knew she was feeling sorry for herself, but it was more than this uncelebrated birthday she was regretting. It was all the lonely birthdays of the past, the pain of growing up alone, without a mother or a father or anyone to give a damn.
At ten o'clock that night she dressed in a robe, sitting in the living room in the dark, in front of the fireplace, when a voice said, "Happy birthday."
The lights came on and Rhys Williams stood there. He walked over to her and said reprovingly, "This is no way to celebrate. How many times does a girl have a twenty-first birthday?"
"I - I thought you were supposed to be with my father tonight," Elizabeth said, flustered.
"I was. He mentioned that you were staying home alone tonight. Get dressed. We're going to dinner."
Elizabeth shook her head. She refused to accept his pity. "Thank you, Rhys. I - I'm really not hungry."
"I am, and I hate eating alone. I'm giving you five minutes to get into some clothes, or I'm taking you out like that"
They ate at a diner in Long Island, and they had hamburgers and chili and french-fried onions and root beer, and they talked, and Elizabeth thought it was better than the dinner she had had at Maxim's. All of Rhys's attention was focused on her, and she could understand why he was so damned attractive to women. It was not just his looks. It was the fact that he truly liked women, that he enjoyed being with them. He made Elizabeth feel like someone special, that he wanted to be with her more than with anyone else in the world. No wonder, Elizabeth thought, everyone fell in love with him.
Rhys told her a little about his boyhood in Wales, and he made it sound wonderful and adventurous and gay. "I ran away from home," he said, "because there was a hunger in me to see everything and do everything. I wanted to be everyone I saw. I wasn't enough for me. Can you understand that?"
Oh, how well she understood it!
"I worked at the parks and the beaches and one summer I had a job taking tourists down the Rhosili in coracles, and - "
"Wait a minute," Elizabeth interrupted. "What's a Rhosili and what's a - a coracle?"
"The Rhosili is a turbulent, swift-flowing river, full of dangerous rapids and currents. Coracles are ancient canoes, made of wooden lathes and waterproof animal skins, that go back to pre-Roman days. You've never seen Wales, have you?" She shook her head. "Ah, you would love it." She knew she would. "There's a waterfall at the Vale of Neath that's one of the beautiful sights of this world. And the lovely places to see: Aber-Eiddi and Caerbwdi and Porthclais and Kilgetty and Llangwm," and the words rolled off his tongue like the lilt of music. "It's a wild, untamed country, full of magical surprises."
"And yet you left Wales."
Rhys smiled at her and said, "It was the hunger in me. I wanted to own the world."
What he did not tell her was that the hunger was still there.
Over the next three years Elizabeth became indispensable to her father. Her job was to make his life comfortable, so that he could concentrate on the thing that was all-important to him: the Business. The details of running his life were left entirely to Elizabeth. She hired and fired servants, opened and closed the various houses as her father's needs required, and entertained for him.
More than that, she became his eyes and ears. After a business meeting Sam would ask Elizabeth her impression of a man, or explain to her why he had acted in a particular fashion. She watched him make decisions that affected the lives of thousands of people and involved hundreds of millions of dollars. She heard heads of state plead with Sam Roffe to open a factory, or beg him not to close one down.
After one of those meetings Elizabeth said, "It's unbelievable. It's - it's as though you're running a country."
Her father laughed and replied, "Roffe and Sons has a larger income than three quarters of the countries in the world."
In her travels with her father Elizabeth became reacquainted with the other members of the Roffe family, her cousins and their husbands or wives.
As a young girl Elizabeth had seen them during holidays when they had come to one of her father's houses, or when she had gone to visit them during brief school vacations.
Simonetta and Ivo Palazzi, in Rome, had always been the most fun to be with. They were open and friendly, and Ivo had always made Elizabeth feel like a woman. He was in charge of the Italian division of Roffe and Sons, and he had done very well. People enjoyed dealing with Ivo. Elizabeth remembered what a classmate had said when she had met him. "You know what I like about your cousin? He has warmth and charmth."
That was Ivo, warmth and charmth.
Then there was Helene Roffe-Martel, and her husband, Charles, in Paris. Elizabeth had never really understood Helene, or felt at ease with her. She had always been nice to Elizabeth, but there was a cool reserve that Elizabeth had never been able to break through. Charles was head of the French branch of Roffe and Sons. He was competent, though from what Elizabeth had overheard her father say, he lacked drive. He could follow orders, but he had no initiative. Sam had never replaced him, because the French branch ran very profitably. Elizabeth suspected that Helene Roffe-Martel had a great deal to do with its success.
Elizabeth liked her German cousin Anna Roffe Gassner, and her husband, Walther. Elizabeth remembered hearing family gossip that Anna Roffe had married beneath her. Walther Gassner was reputed to be a black sheep, a fortune hunter, who had married an unattractive woman years older than himself, for her money. Elizabeth did not think her cousin was unattractive. She had always found Anna to be a shy, sensitive person, withdrawn, and a little frightened by life. Elizabeth had liked Walther on sight. He had the classic good looks of a movie star, but he seemed to be neither arrogant nor phony. He appeared to be genuinely in love with Anna, and Elizabeth did not believe any of the terrible stories she had heard about him.
Of all her cousins, Alec Nichols was Elizabeth's favorite. His mother had been a Roffe, and she had married Sir George Nichols, the third baronet. It was Alec to whom Elizabeth had always turned when she had a problem. Somehow, perhaps because of Alec's sensitivity and gentleness, he had seemed to the young child to be her peer, and she realized now what a great compliment that was to Alec. He had always treated her as an equal, ready to offer whatever aid and advice he could. Elizabeth remembered that once, in a moment of black despair, she had decided to run away from home. She had packed a suitcase and then, on a sudden impulse, had telephoned Alec in London to say good-bye. He had been in the middle of a conference, but he had come to the phone and talked to Elizabeth for more than an hour. When he had finished, Elizabeth had decided to forgive her father and give him another chance. That was Sir Alec Nichols. His wife, Vivian, was something else. Where Alec was generous and thoughtful, Vivian was selfish and thoughtless. She was the most self-centered woman Elizabeth had ever known.
Years ago, when Elizabeth was spending a weekend in their country home in Gloucestershire, she went on a picnic by herself. It had begun to rain, and she had returned to the house early. She had gone in the back door, and as she had started down the hallway, she had heard voices from the study, raised in a quarrel.
"I'm damned tired of playing nursemaid," Vivian was saying. "You can take your precious little cousin and amuse her yourself tonight. I'm going up to London. I have an engagement."
"Surely you can cancel it, Viv. The child is only going to be with us another day, and she - "
"Sorry, Alec. I feel like a good fuck, and I'm getting one tonight."
"For God's sake, Vivian!"
"Oh, shove it up your ass! Don't try to live my life for me."
At that moment, before Elizabeth could move, Vivian had stormed out of the study. She had taken one quick look at Elizabeth's stricken face, and said cheerily, "Back so soon, pet?" And strode upstairs.
Alec had come to the doorway. He had said gently, "Come in, Elizabeth."
Reluctantly she had walked into the study. Alec's face was aflame with embarrassment. Elizabeth had wanted desperately to comfort him, but she did not know how. Alec had walked over to a large refectory table, picked up a pipe, filled it with tobacco and lit it. It had seemed to Elizabeth that he took forever.
"You must understand Vivian."
Elizabeth had replied, "Alec, it's none of my business. I - "
"But in a sense it is. We're all family. I don't want you to think harshly of her."
Elizabeth could not believe it. After the incredible scene she had just heard, Alec was defending his wife.
"Sometimes in a marriage," Alec had continued, "a husband and a wife have different needs." He had paused awkwardly, searching for the right phrase. "I don't want you to blame Vivian because I - I can't fulfill some of those needs. That's not her fault, you see."
Elizabeth had not been able to stop herself. "Does - does she go out with other men often?"
"I'm rather afraid she does."
Elizabeth had been horrified. "Why don't you leave her?"
He had given her his gentle smile. "I can't leave her, dear child. You see, I love her."
The next day Elizabeth had returned to school. From that time on, she had felt closer to Alec than to any of the others.
Of late, Elizabeth had become concerned about her father. He seemed preoccupied and worried about something, but Elizabeth had no idea what it was. When she asked him about it, he replied, "Just a little problem I have to clear up. I'll tell you about it later."
He had become secretive, and Elizabeth no longer had access to his private papers. When he had said to her, "I'm leaving tomorrow for Chamonix to do a little mountain climbing," Elizabeth had been pleased. She knew he needed a rest. He had lost weight and had become pale and drawn-looking.
"I'll make the reservations for you," Elizabeth had said.
"Don't bother. They're already made."
That, too, was unlike him. He had left for Chamonix the next morning. That was the last time she had seen him. The last time she would ever see him...
Elizabeth lay there in her darkened bedroom, remembering the past. There was an unreality about her father's death, perhaps because he had been so alive.
He was the last to bear the name of Roffe. Except for her. What would happen to the company now? Her father had held the controlling interest. She wondered to whom he had left the stock.
Elizabeth learned the answer late the next afternoon. Sam's lawyer had appeared at the house. "I brought a copy of your father's will with me. I hate to intrude on your grief at a time like this, but I thought it best that you know at once. You are your father's sole beneficiary. That means that the controlling shares of Roffe and Sons are in your hands."
Elizabeth could not believe it. Surely he did not expect her to run the company. "Why?" she asked. "Why me?"
The attorney hesitated, then said, "May I be frank, Miss Roffe? Your father was a comparatively young man. I'm sure he didn't expect to die for many years. In time, I'm confident he would have made another will, designating someone to take over the company. He probably had not made up his mind yet." He strugged. "All that is academic, however. The point is that the control now rests in your hands. You will have to decide what you want to do with it, who you want to give it to." He studied her for a moment, then continued, "There has never before been a woman on the board of directors of Roffe and Sons, but - well, for the moment you're taking your father's place. There's a board meeting in Zurich this Friday. Can you be there?"
Sam would have expected it of her.
And so would old Samuel.
"I'll be there," Elizabeth said.