Hope went back downstairs and helped Fiona sort out the equipment. She told her what she wanted, and then went upstairs to show her where to set up the lights she’d be using. She wanted to photograph him first on the couch, and then at his desk. As she watched Fiona set up, Finn disappeared upstairs to his bedroom, and he reappeared an hour later when Hope let him know that they were ready. She sent the maid up to tell him, and he came back downstairs in a soft blue cashmere sweater the same color as his eyes. It was a good look on him, and his trim form looked sexy and masculine in the sweater. She could see that he had just shaved, and his hair was loose but freshly brushed.
“All set?” She smiled at him, picking up her Mamiya. She told him where to sit on the couch, Fiona gave them a light reading as the lights flashed beneath the umbrella, and Hope set down the Mamiya and took a quick Polaroid to show him the pose and the setting. He said it looked great to him. A minute later, Hope started shooting, alternating between the Mamiya, the Leica, and the Hasselblad for classic portrait shots. She took mostly color, and a few rolls of black and white. That was always her preference for a more interesting look, but his publisher had been specific about wanting color and Finn said he preferred it too. He said that it felt more real to his readers and made it easier for them to connect with him, than in an arty black and white shot on the back of the book.
“You’re the boss,” Hope said, smiling, as she looked into the camera again and he laughed.
“No, you’re the artist.” He seemed completely at ease in front of the camera, moving his head and changing his expression by fractions, as though he had done this a thousand times before, which Hope knew he had. The photograph they were taking was for his eleventh book, and so far, all of them for the past twenty years had been best sellers. At forty-six, he was an institution in American literature, just as she was in her field. It would have been hard to decide which of them was more famous or more respected. They were an even match in their reputations and skills in separate fields.
They shot for an hour, as she praised him for good moves and the right turn of his head, and she was almost sure she had gotten the winning shot in the first half hour, but she knew better than to stop there. She had Fiona move the light setup to his desk, and suggested he take a half-hour break, and maybe put a white shirt on, but leave it open at the neck. He asked if she’d like to stop for lunch then, but Hope said that if he didn’t mind, she’d prefer to continue working. She didn’t want to break the mood, or to get slow and lazy after lunch. She found that it was usually better to stay on it once she and her subject were working well together. A long lunch or a glass of wine could break the spell for either or both of them, and she didn’t want that to happen. She was delighted with what they were getting. As a portrait subject, Finn O’Neill was a dream and he was fun to talk to. The time was speeding by.
Half an hour later, he was back in his living room, in the white shirt Hope had asked for, and sat down at his handsome partner’s desk. Hope moved the computer away because it looked so incongruous in that setting. He was a delightful subject, fooling around, telling jokes and stories about well-known artists, writers, his house in Ireland, and the outrageous stunts he had pulled on book tours in his youth. At one point he had tears in his eyes when he talked about his son and bringing him up on his own, without a mother after her death. There were so many magical moments while she talked to him that Hope knew she would have a multitude of great shots to choose from, each one better than the last.
And then finally, after a few shots of him leaning against an antique ladder in front of the bookcase, they were through. And just as she said it, he exploded in laughter with a look of joy and release, and she stole one more shot of him, which could just turn out to be the best one. Sometimes that happened. And he gave her a warm hug as she handed her Leica to Fiona, who took it reverently from her hands and set it on a table with the others. She unplugged the lights and began to break down the equipment and put it away, as Finn led Hope downstairs to the kitchen.
“You work too hard! I’m starving!” he complained as he opened the refrigerator and turned to her. “Can I make you some pasta or a salad? I’m about to keel over from starvation. No wonder you’re so small, you must never eat.”
“Usually not when I’m working,” she admitted. “I get too involved in what I’m doing to think about it, and it’s so much fun doing the shoot.” She smiled shyly and he laughed.
“Most of the time I feel that way about working on a book, although at times I hate it too. Particularly rewrites. I have a nasty editor, and we have a love-hate relationship, but he’s good for the books. It’s a necessary evil. You don’t have that with what you do,” he said enviously.
“I have to edit myself, but I have clients to deal with who commission the work, like your publisher, and museum curators, who can be pretty tough, though it’s different than doing rewrites must be for you. I’ve always wanted to write,” she confessed. “I can barely write a postcard-for me it’s all visual. I see the world through a lens, I see into people’s souls that way.”
“I know, that’s what I love about your work, and why I asked the publisher to get you to do the photo for the book jacket.” He laughed then as he expertly made an omelette for them both, moving like a tornado in the tiny kitchen. He had already made the salad while they talked. “I hope my soul doesn’t wind up looking too black in the shots you took,” he said, pretending to look worried, as she looked at him intently.
“Why would it? I didn’t see any signs of a black soul, or a dark spirit. Is there something I missed?”
“Maybe a little friendly hereditary craziness, but it’s harmless. From what I’ve read about my Irish relatives, some of them were fairly nuts. But not dangerously so, mostly eccentric.” He smiled at her as he said it.
“There’s no harm in that,” Hope said benignly, as he put their omelettes on separate plates. “Everyone has a little craziness in them somewhere. I spent some time in India after my husband and I split up, trying to figure things out. I guess you could say that was crazy too,” she said, as they sat down at the beautiful mahogany table in his cozy dark green dining room. There were paintings of hunting scenes on the walls, and one of birds by a famous German artist.
“How was it?” Finn asked with interest. “I’ve never been to India myself. I’ve always wanted to go.”
“It was fantastic,” Hope said as her eyes lit up. “It was the most exciting, fulfilling time I’ve ever spent. It changed my life forever, and how I look at everything, including myself. And there are some of the most beautiful spots on earth. I just opened an exhibit of some of the photographs I took there.”
“I think I saw a couple in a magazine,” Finn said as he finished his omelette and started on his salad. “They were photographs of beggars and children, and an incredible one of sunset at the Taj Mahal.”
“I went to some incredibly beautiful lakes too. They’re the most romantic places you could ever dream of, and some other places were the saddest. I stayed at Mother Teresa’s hospital for a month, and I lived at a monastery in Tibet, and an ashram in India, where I found myself again. I think I could have stayed there forever.” When he looked into her eyes, he saw something very deep and very peaceful, and beyond it, deeper than that, he saw two bottomless pools of pain. He could see that Hope was a woman who had suffered. He wondered if it was only about the divorce and her husband’s illness. Whatever it was, he could tell that she had been to hell and back, and yet she was incredibly balanced and peaceful, as she looked across the table at him with a gentle smile.
“I’ve always wanted to do something like that,” he admitted to her, “but I never had the courage. I think I was afraid I might have to face myself. I’d rather face a thousand demons.” It was honest of him to admit it and she nodded.
“It was wonderfully peaceful. We weren’t allowed to speak in the monastery. It was amazingly restful and healing. I’d like to go back sometime.”
“Maybe you need to have some fun instead.” Finn looked suddenly mischievous as he said it. “How long are you here for?” He sat back in his chair and smiled at her. She was mysterious and intriguing.
“I’m going back to New York tomorrow,” she said, smiling at him.
“That’s not enough time to spend in London. What are you doing for dinner tonight?”
“Probably sleeping, after a bowl of soup from room service,” she said with a grin.
“That’s ridiculous,” he said with a look of stern disapproval. “Will you have dinner with me?”
She hesitated and then nodded. She had nothing else to do, and he was interesting to talk to. “I didn’t bring any decent clothes with me,” she said, looking apologetic.
“You don’t need them. You can wear a pair of pants and a sweater. You’re Hope Dunne, you can do whatever you want. Will you have dinner with me tonight at Harry’s Bar? As far as I’m concerned, it’s the best Italian food in the world.” She knew it well, but didn’t go there often. It was one of the most elegant dinner clubs in London, and anyone and everyone who was important would be there. Women would be dressed in elegant, stylish cocktail dresses, and the men wore dark suits. And he was right, the food was superb.
“I’d love to. Are you sure you won’t be embarrassed that I didn’t bring anything dressy with me?” She felt faintly awkward, but liked the idea of having dinner with him. Among other things, he was intelligent, interesting, and quick. She hadn’t been bored with him for a minute all day. He was knowledgeable on a multitude of subjects, well read, well educated, and brilliant. The opportunity to spend a few hours with him and get to know him better was hard to resist. She had come to London just for him. And Paul had left that day.
“I’d be honored to have dinner with you, Hope,” Finn said honestly, and looked as though he meant it. She was the most interesting woman he had met in years. “You can tell me more about India, and I can tell you all about Ireland,” he teased her. “And what it’s like to restore a three-hundred-year-old house.”
Finn told her he would pick her up at the hotel at eight-thirty, and a few minutes later she and Fiona left, after the driver carried out all their equipment. Fiona had been quietly reading a book in the small sitting room, after the maid gave her a sandwich for lunch. She didn’t mind waiting for Hope, and had loved working with her that day.
Fiona got all the equipment organized for Hope back at the hotel, and put away her cameras. It was five o’clock by the time she left, and she said it had been a great day. And after that Hope lay down on her bed for a nap, thinking about her conversation with Finn, and his invitation for that night. It was one of the things she liked best about doing portraits. The work itself wasn’t exciting, but the people she met were. He was such a talented man, as most of her portrait subjects were. She had always loved his work, and it was fascinating discovering the man behind it. He wrote somewhat eerie, even frightening books. She wanted to ask him more about it that night. And he seemed to be just as interested in her work.
She fell asleep for two hours, and woke in time to shower and dress for dinner. As she had warned him, she wore black pants and a sweater, and the only pair of high heels she had brought with her, and was relieved that she had brought a fur coat. At least, she wouldn’t totally disgrace him at Harry’s Bar that night. She couldn’t compete with the fashionable women there, but she looked sober, and simple, and decently dressed. She wound her hair in a bun, and put on just a little makeup and bright red lipstick before she left her suite to wait for him downstairs.
Hope was sitting in the lobby when Finn walked in promptly five minutes later, in a dark blue suit, and a beautifully cut black cashmere coat. He was a striking figure and heads turned as he greeted her and they walked out together. Several people recognized him as he escorted her to the Jaguar he had left at the curb. This wasn’t the evening she had planned on before she met him, but it was fun being out with him, and she smiled broadly as they drove away.
“This is great. Thank you, Finn,” she said warmly, and he turned to her with a smile. The restaurant was only a few blocks away.
“I’m looking forward to it too. And you look terrific. I don’t know what you were worried about. You look very chic.” It had been a long time since she had been out to a fancy dinner. She didn’t do much of that anymore. She rarely went out in the evening now, except to museum parties, or her own gallery shows. Dinners like the one at Harry’s Bar were more part of Paul’s old world, and no longer hers. She was part of a more artistic crowd in New York, that was more in keeping with her work. They went to little bistros in Chelsea and SoHo, never fashionable restaurants.
The headwaiter greeted Finn warmly, and obviously knew him well. He led them to a quiet corner table amid well-dressed diners from a variety of countries. She could hear people speaking Italian, Arabic, Spanish, Russian, German, and French as well as English. And Finn ordered a martini as soon as they sat down. Hope ordered a glass of champagne, as she looked around. The same cartoons were on the walls. Nothing had changed since the last time she’d been there with Paul. It had been years.
“Tell me how you got started taking pictures,” Finn asked as their drinks were served, and Hope took a sip of her champagne.
She laughed at the question. “I fell in love with cameras when I was nine. My father was a professor at Dartmouth, and my mother was an artist. My grandmother gave me a camera for my birthday, and it was love at first sight. I was an only child, so I was good at entertaining myself. And life was pretty quiet in New Hampshire when I was growing up. As long as I had a camera in my hands, I was never bored. What about you?” she asked him. “When did you start writing?”
“Just like you. When I was a boy. I was an only child too, so I read all the time. It was my escape.”
“From what?” she asked with interest. Their art forms were different, but their creative talents were nonetheless a bond.
“A lonely childhood. My parents were very close, and I think I felt left out a lot of the time. There wasn’t a lot of room for a child in their lives. They were older. My father was a doctor, and my mother had been a famous beauty in Ireland. She was fascinated by his work, and a lot less interested in me. So I developed a rich fantasy life, and spent all my time reading. I always knew I wanted to write. I wrote my first book at eighteen.”
“Was it published?” she asked, impressed. And he laughed as he shook his head.
“No, it wasn’t. I wrote three that were never published. I finally got published with my fourth. I had just graduated from college by then.” She knew he had gone to Columbia and then later Oxford. “Success didn’t come till a lot later.”
“What did you do until you were published?”
“Studied, read, kept writing. Drank a lot.” He laughed. “Chased women. I got married fairly young. I was twenty-five, it was right after my second book came out. I worked as a waiter and a carpenter too. Michael’s mother was a model in New York.” He smiled sheepishly at Hope. “I’ve always had a fatal weakness for beautiful women. She was a terrific-looking girl. Spoiled, difficult, narcissistic, but she was one of the prettiest women I’ve ever seen. She was young too, and things fell apart very quickly when we had Michael. I don’t think either of us was ready to have a child. She stopped modeling, and we partied a lot. I didn’t have a lot of money, and we were both miserable.”
“How did she die?” Hope asked gently. What he was describing sounded more like a divorce in the making than a tragic loss for him, and she wasn’t far off the mark.
“She was hit by a drunk driver, coming back from a party in the Hamptons late one night. We’d been separated off and on before, and thank God, she always left Michael with me when she went somewhere like that. She was twenty-eight years old, and I was thirty-three. We probably would have gotten divorced eventually. But I still felt awful about it when she died. And suddenly I was alone with my son. They weren’t easy years. But fortunately, he’s a great kid, and he seems to have forgiven me most of the mistakes I made, and there were quite a few along the way. I’d lost my own parents by then, so there was no one to help us, but we managed. I took care of him myself. It made us both grow up.” He smiled the smile that was half-boy, half-handsome prince that had been melting women’s hearts for years. It was easy to see why. There was something so honest and open and ingenuous about him. He didn’t try to hide his flaws or his fears.
“You never remarried?” Hope was fascinated by his life story.
“I was too busy with my son. And now I feel like it’s too late. I’m too selfish and too set in my ways. And since Michael has been gone, it’s the first time I’ve been on my own. I wanted to savor it for a bit. And being married to a writer isn’t much fun. I’m chained to my desk most of the time. Sometimes I don’t leave the house for months. I couldn’t ask anyone to take that on, and it’s what I love to do.”
“I feel that way about my work too,” she agreed. “It’s all-consuming at times. My husband was very good about it, and very supportive. And he was busy too. Very busy, at the height of his career. Being a doctor’s wife can be lonely too. But it wasn’t for me.” She hesitated for a minute and looked away, and then smiled wist fully at Finn. “I had other things to do.” He assumed that she meant her work, which made sense to him. She had produced an enormous amount of work over the years.
“What did he do after he had to retire?”
“He taught, at Harvard. The academic world was familiar to me, because of my father, although Harvard was more competitive than Dartmouth, loftier maybe, and a little more cutthroat. Teaching wasn’t enough for Paul, so he helped to start two companies that made surgical equipment. He got very involved in that, and he did very well with it. I think it’s what saved him for the first few years, when he couldn’t practice anymore. It took some of the sting out of being sick, for a while anyway, to succeed at something else. And then he got worse. And a lot of things changed. It’s hard to see him so sick at his age. He’s still a relatively young man.” She looked sad as she said it, remembering how he had looked at lunch the day before, having trouble walking and feeding himself, and he was still so dignified and strong, even if he was frail.
“What does he do now? Do you miss him?”
“Yes. But he didn’t want me taking care of him. He’s very proud. And everything changed for us, after he was sick… and other things that happened. Life sweeps you away at times, and even if you love someone, you can’t find your way back again. He bought a sailboat three years ago, and lives on it a lot of the time now. The rest of the time, he’s in London, and he goes to Boston for treatment, and then to New York for a few days. It’s getting harder for him to get around on his own. Being on the boat is easier for him. His crew takes good care of him. He left for the Caribbean today.”
“How sad,” Finn said pensively. It was hard for him to understand why Paul had let Hope get away. And from the way she talked about him, Finn could tell that she still loved her ex-husband and cared about what happened to him. “I guess it wouldn’t be a bad life for a healthy man. I suppose if you’re sick, nothing is much fun anymore.”
“No, it’s not,” Hope said softly. “He’s part of an experimental program treating Parkinson’s at Harvard. He’s been doing fairly well until recently.”
“Not so well.” She didn’t offer the details, and Finn nodded.
“So what about you, when you’re not running off to Tibet and India and living in monasteries?” He smiled as he asked the question. They had both finished their drinks by then.
“I’m based in New York. I travel a lot for my work. And I go to Cape Cod when I have time, which isn’t often. Most of the time, I’m flying around taking photographs, or working on museum shows of my work.”
“Why Cape Cod?”
“My parents left me a house there. It’s where we spent summers when I was a child, and I love it. It’s in Wellfleet, which is a charming, sleepy little town. There’s nothing fancy or fashionable about it. The house is very simple, but it suits me, and I’m comfortable there. It has a beautiful view of the ocean. We used to go there for summers, when I was married. We lived in Boston then. I moved to New York two years ago. I have a very nice loft there, in SoHo.”
“And no one to share it with?”
She smiled as she shook her head. “I’m comfortable the way things are. Like you, it’s difficult being married to a photographer who’s never home. I can do things now that I never did when I was married. I float all over the world, and live out of a suitcase. It’s the opposite of what you do, locked in a room, writing, but it’s not very entertaining for someone else when I travel or even work. I never thought about it as selfish,” as he had said about his own work, “but maybe it is. I don’t answer to anyone now, and I don’t have to be anywhere.” He nodded as he listened, and they ordered dinner then. They were both having pasta, and decided to skip the first course. It was interesting to learn about each other’s lives, and he told her more about his house in Ireland then. It was easy to see how much he loved it and what it meant to him. It was part of his history and the tapestry of his life, woven into his being and dear to his heart.
“You have to come and see it sometime,” he offered, and she was curious about it.
“What sort of doctor was your father?” she asked him over their pasta, which was as delicious as he had promised, and as she remembered. The food there was better than ever.
“General medicine. My grandfather had been a landowner in Ireland, and never did much more than that. But my father was more industrious, and had studied in the States. He went back to marry my mother, and brought her over with him, but she never adjusted well to life away from Ireland. She died fairly young, and he not long after. I was in college then, and I always had a fascination with Ireland because of them. Their being Irish made it easy for me to get the nationality when I wanted it.
“And tax-wise, it made sense for me to give up my U.S. citizenship eventually. You can’t beat no income tax for writers. That was a pretty appealing setup for me, once the books were doing well. And now that I have my great-great-grandparents’ house back, I guess I’m there forever, although I don’t think I’ll ever be able to convince Michael to move there. He wants a career in the high-tech world when he graduates from MIT, and there are plenty of opportunities in Dublin, but he’s determined to live in the States and work in Silicon Valley or Boston. He’s an all-American kid. It’s his turn to find his way now. I don’t want to interfere with him, although I miss him like crazy.” He smiled ruefully at Hope as he said it, and she nodded and looked pensive. “Maybe he’ll change his mind and move to Ireland later, as I did. It’s in his blood. And I would love it, but he’s not interested in living in Ireland now.”
He wondered why she had never had children, but didn’t dare ask her. Maybe her husband had been too involved in his medical career at Harvard to want them, and she had been too busy attending to him. She was so gentle and nurturing that she seemed like the sort of woman who would do that, although she was deeply involved in her own career now. She had said they’d been married for twenty-one years.
Exchanging their histories and talking about their artistic passions made the evening go quickly, and they were both sorry when the evening came to an end and they left the restaurant after a predictably delicious dinner. Hope had indulged herself with the candies and chocolates Harry’s Bar was known for, after dinner. And Finn confessed that he was always sorely tempted to steal the brightly colored Venetian ashtrays, when they had had them on the tables, when smoking was still allowed. She laughed at the image of his sneaking one into the pocket of his well-tailored dark blue suit. She couldn’t see him do it, although she had to admit, it might have been tempting. She had always liked their ashtrays too. They were considered collectors’ items now.
He started to drive her back to Claridge’s after dinner, and then hesitated before they got there.
“Can I talk you into one more drink? You can’t leave London without going to Annabel’s, and it’s almost Christmas. It’ll be lively there,” he suggested, looking hopeful, and she was about to decline, but she didn’t want to hurt his feelings. She was tired, but game for one more glass of champagne. Talking to him was delightful, and she hadn’t had an evening like this in years, and doubted she would again anytime soon. Her life in New York was quiet and solitary and didn’t include nightclubs and fancy dinners, or invitations from handsome men like Finn.
“All right, just one drink,” she agreed. And Annabel’s was packed when they walked in. It was as busy and festive as he promised. They sat in the bar, had two glasses of champagne each, and he danced with her before they left and then drove her back to Claridge’s. It had been a terrific evening, for both of them. He loved talking to her, and she enjoyed his company too.
“After a night like this, I wonder what I’m doing, living in solitude outside Dublin. You make me want to move back here,” Finn said as they got back to her hotel. He turned off the engine, and turned to look at her. “I think I realized tonight that I miss London. I don’t spend enough time here. But if I did, you wouldn’t be here, so it wouldn’t be any fun anyway.” She laughed at what he said. There was a boyish side to him that appealed to her, and a sophisticated side that dazzled her a little. It was a heady combination. And he felt the same way about her. He liked her gentleness, intelligence, and subtle but nonetheless lively sense of humor. He’d had a terrific time, better than he had in years, or so he said. He was also charming, so she didn’t know if he was telling the truth, but it didn’t really matter. They had obviously both enjoyed it.
“I had a wonderful time, Finn. Thank you. You didn’t have to do all that,” she said graciously.
“It was great for me too. I wish you weren’t leaving tomorrow,” he said sadly.
“So do I,” she confessed. “I always forget how much I like London.” The night life there had always been great, and she loved the museums, which she hadn’t had enough time to visit at all on this trip.
“Could I talk you into staying for another day?” he asked her, looking hopeful, and she hesitated, but shook her head.
“I shouldn’t. I really ought to get back, and I have to edit your pictures. They’re working on a pretty tight deadline.”
“Duty calls. I hate that,” he said, looking disappointed. “I’ll call you the next time I come to New York,” he promised. “I don’t know when, but I will, sooner or later.”
“I won’t be able to give you a night as nice as this.”
“There are some good places in New York too. I have my favorite haunts.” She was sure he did. And in Dublin too. And probably everywhere he went. Finn didn’t seem to be the sort of man to sit around at home at night, except when he was writing. “Thank you for having dinner with me tonight, Hope,” he thanked her politely as they got out of the car. It was freezing cold, and he walked her into the lobby as she held her coat tightly around her in the icy wind. “I’ll be in touch,” he promised, as she thanked him again. “Have a safe trip back.”
“Enjoy your holidays with Michael,” she said warmly, smiling up at him.
“He’ll only be here for a few days, and then he’ll be off skiing with his friends. I only get about five minutes with him these days. It’s of the age. I’m damn near obsolete.”
“Enjoy whatever time you get,” she said wisely, and he kissed her cheek.
“Take care of yourself, Hope. I had a wonderful day.”
“Thank you, Finn. So did I. I’ll send you the proofs of the pictures as soon as I can.” He thanked her and waved, as she walked into the lobby alone, with her head down, thinking. She had had such a nice time, far more than she’d expected. And as she got in the elevator and rode up to her floor, she was genuinely sorry to be leaving the next day. After London, it was going to seem very dull now to go up to the Cape for Christmas.
It was snowing again when Hope got back to New York. The next morning she looked out her window at six inches of snow blanketing Prince Street, and decided not to drive to Cape Cod. Being in London had reminded her of how much fun it could be in the city, and when everyone else went shopping that afternoon, the day before Christmas Eve, Hope went to the Metropolitan Museum, to see a new medieval exhibit there, and then walked back down to SoHo through the still-falling snow, which by then had been called a blizzard.