East Seventy-Seventh Street, New York
THE BLACK MERCEDES CLS 550 stopped in front of the Mark Hotel on East Seventy-Seventh Street and the doorman rushed out to open the passenger door. In the fraction of a second it took John Sinclair to step out of the limousine, time collapsed. It had been five years since he last stood in this exact spot, but it seemed like yesterday, with one important difference—life had vastly improved, thanks to Cordelia Stapleton.
He turned to help Cordelia from the car, lacing his fingers through hers, as she surveyed the quiet Upper East Side neighborhood. The canopy of the Mark Hotel was before her, and golden, fan-shaped ginkgo leaves whirled down in the autumn breeze.
“I can’t believe we’re actually here!” she said, her green eyes lighting up with excitement.
“I know I put up some resistance about coming to this gala,” Sinclair admitted, “but now I’m actually looking forward to it.”
The Ancient Civilizations Ball was the most glamorous event of the fall social season. International celebrities and New York society people mingled with the elite of the art and antiquities world. Sinclair’s attendance was sure to generate a buzz. He was a celebrated archaeologist and had discovered more ancient sites than anyone since Howard Carter, the legendary explorer who found King Tut’s tomb.
As Sinclair entered the hotel, the desk manager looked up.
“Welcome back, Mr. Sinclair! So nice to see you again.”
“How are you, Bernie? It’s been entirely too long. I’d like you to meet Cordelia Stapleton.”
“Miss Stapleton, delighted! No need to register, I have your information. What time would you like the hotel car to pick you up this evening?”
“Seven-thirty would be fine,” Sinclair said, checking his watch.
The manager walked with them to the elevator, reached in, and punched the button for the tenth floor. As it ascended, Sinclair watched the lights—3, 4, 5—and then turned to Cordelia.
“I’m so glad you’re here with me, Delia,” he said, using her childhood nickname.
She gave him a look that lingered for another two floors. Then he moved decisively, pulling her toward him. She melted into his chest, pressing her cheek against his white shirt. He bent down and kissed her until the chime of the elevator registered in his brain and she pulled away.
“I’ll get the bags settled and then we can continue our . . . conversation,” Sinclair said as he followed the uniformed bellman into the bedroom of the suite.
Cordelia watched his broad shoulders retreat down the hall and turned to survey the living room—tastefully decorated in shades of pale gold. On the bar, an ice bucket held Veuve Clicquot and Badoit mineral water. Out the window, skyscrapers glowed silver against the evening sky.
“John, you should look at this view!” she called.
All was silent, only the air conditioner was whirring.
No answer. She entered the bedroom and found Sinclair asleep, fully clothed. He was a gorgeous sight, stretched out in his elegant Savile Row suit. There was a formal stateliness to his position—flat on his back, arms at his sides—as if he were an ancient pharaoh lying on a bier. His face was still deeply tanned from the expedition to Egypt, a contrast to the white pillowcase. Sinclair had strong features, classically handsome, but with a rugged appearance that spoke of sun and sand, and a life spent outdoors.
Careful not to disturb him, Cordelia tiptoed over to her suitcase. The zipper made a tearing sound and he stirred.
“I drifted off,” he said sleepily.
“Sorry, I need to hang up my dress.”
Sinclair rolled on his side and propped his head up.
“Care to join me?” He patted the bed next to him. “I know a great cure for jet lag. You’ll feel like a new woman.”
His eyes were dancing, and a smile played around his lips.
“I’m so tired, I might not get up again,” she demurred.
“What’s that over there on the desk?” he asked.
Cordelia hung up her gown and then walked over to a huge vase of white lilies wrapped in glistening cellophane. She pulled off the card and read it aloud. “Dear Delia, Have a great time at the gala. Love, Jim Gardiner.”
“He really does
spoil you,” Sinclair observed.
“He always did,” she agreed, walking toward the bathroom. “I think there’s time for a nice soak before we go out.”
The bath was palatial—a large, footed tub and his-and-her marble sinks.
“Ohhh . . . they have my favorite ginseng bubble bath!” she called back to him, seizing the Molton Brown bottle.
“Is that tub big enough for two?” she heard him ask from the bedroom.
She turned on the tap, undressed, pinned up her hair, and slipped in, feeling the warm water slide over her limbs. Sinclair appeared in the doorway, holding the bottle of champagne and two flute glasses. His tie was pulled loose and his shoes were off.
“May I join you?”