Jessie Keane


The fifth book in the Annie Carter series, 2013

Cliff, this one’s for you…


London, 1980

Annie Carter swept into the Ritz Hotel in Piccadilly with a determined stride and a face like thunder. Heads turned and conversations stopped mid-sentence. She was wearing a black power suit, big gold earrings, shoulder pads out to here, and killer heels. She was tall anyway, but the heels took her up to six feet. Her thick chocolate-brown hair was bouncing loose on her shoulders and her eyes, dark green and flashing with barely repressed emotion, said Don’t fuck with me. Her red-painted lips were set in a grim, irritated line as she was led in under the high gilded cupola of the Palm Court by a doorman dressed in a brass-buttoned tailcoat and white tie.

Dolly Farrell, former Limehouse madam and currently manager of the Palermo, one of three clubs owned by Max Carter – Annie’s husband – was already waiting at their table. Dolly saw her old mate sweeping in like the wrath of God and thought that you would never know in a million years that Annie Carter had come from nothing. Now, she looked rich to the tips of her fingers. She also looked seriously pissed off.

Uh-oh, thought Dolly. What now?

She half-rose from her dainty gold Dior chair, the words of greeting dying on her lips as Annie walked straight up to the table and slapped a brown envelope down upon the pristine napery, rattling the glasses and knocking the cutlery askew.

‘Well, there it is then,’ said Annie, planting her hands on her hips and glaring around as if she was mad at the entire world. Which she was. Mad enough to spit. ‘That’s it. Done. Finished.’

Dolly looked from Annie’s face to the envelope and back again. Slowly, she sank into her chair.

‘The decree absolute?’ she guessed.

‘No, I’ve won the pools. Of course it’s the decree absolute. I am officially, as of this moment, divorced from Max bloody Carter.’

‘If madam would care to sit?’ asked the waiter, pulling out a chair for her.

Annie sat down. He placed a napkin in her lap and discreetly withdrew. The other diners averted their eyes, resumed their conversations.

‘Get me some champagne or something,’ moaned Annie, slumping with elbows on the table and head in hands. ‘Let’s celebrate.’

Annie dragged her hands through her hair and looked up at her friend’s face. Her mouth was trembling. Dolly thought that if this was any other woman of her acquaintance, they would break down and cry their heart out at this point. But not Annie Carter. Tough as old boots, that was her. Impervious to hurt. Ex-madam, once ruler of the streets around the East End, once true Mafia queen. Now a divorcee.

Dolly gazed at her. ‘You don’t like champagne,’ she pointed out. She knew Annie didn’t drink alcohol or have any tolerance for it. And you know what? You don’t look much like celebrating, either.

‘No?’ Annie gave a harsh laugh. ‘Well, maybe it’s time I started.’

The waiter returned.

‘Tea for us both,’ said Dolly, and he went off to fetch it.

Annie was staring at the envelope. ‘I can’t believe it,’ she said faintly.

‘I thought it was what you wanted,’ said Dolly.

No, what I wanted was for him to stop behaving like a jealous manipulative arsehole, thought Annie. And instead, I got this.

‘So what happens next?’ asked Dolly when Annie didn’t answer. She had watched this, the war between Annie and Max, escalating over several years. The arguments, the confrontations, then the courts, the decree nisi. Now it looked as though the final shot had been fired.

‘He’s moving out,’ said Annie, struggling to keep her voice steady. ‘He’s at the Holland Park house as we speak, getting the last of his things together.’

‘So you’re keeping the house?’

‘Of course I’m keeping the house. It’s my bloody house.’

‘Where’s he going then?’

‘He’s got the place in Barbados, he’ll go there.’

Dolly nodded. Their tea arrived, along with scones, jam, cream, tiny chocolate cakes, finger sandwiches and raspberry Bakewell tarts. Annie looked at it all, so lovely, so appetizing, and felt sick.

‘I never wanted this,’ she said, poking the envelope with her finger. ‘I just wanted…’ She faltered to a halt.

‘What?’ prompted Dolly.

Annie shrugged. How could she bear to go over it all again? To explain that her visits to Annie’s nightclub in Times Square, New York, had been viewed with extreme suspicion by Max. She’d been so proud of the club, so pleased with it, it was hers and hers alone. But he had killed her pleasure in it. Every time she went over there, he behaved as though she was betraying him in some way and was cold to her for days after. It was maddening. He travelled on business, and you didn’t catch her behaving like a moron.

‘You know what finally finished it for me? He had me followed,’ Annie said. ‘It was this time last year.’

Dolly stared in surprise. ‘What? You didn’t tell me that.’

‘I’m telling you now. It was in New York. I had a feeling I was being watched. Then I caught this bloke trailing me. I grabbed him. It was a private detective, Max had hired him. He seriously thought I was having an affair.’

‘For fuck’s sake,’ said Dolly, too fascinated to even start in on the cakes. Her eyes narrowed. ‘Oh, wait. Not… Alberto Barolli?’

Annie nodded and heaved a sigh. ‘Yeah. He thought I was having an affair with Alberto and he had some private dick trailing me, for God’s sake. I was that mad at him, Doll. I’m his wife. If he couldn’t trust me, what was the point? So when I got back to England, I faced him down about it. And I totally lost it. I said if he couldn’t take my word as the truth, we’d better end it.’


‘And you know what that son of a bitch said to me?’ Annie’s eyes were flaring with temper. ‘He said, “Fine. Then you’ll be free to fuck whoever you damned well like.”’

Dolly winced in sympathy. ‘And what about Layla?’

Annie gulped hard. This was the most awful part. Layla was a daddy’s girl, she adored her father. She’d always run to Max rather than to Annie, which hurt. But Layla’s schooling at Westminster was at a crucial point and she couldn’t relocate to Barbados with her dad, it just wasn’t practical.

‘Layla’s staying with me,’ said Annie.

‘And how does she feel about all this?’

‘How do you think she feels?’ snapped Annie. Then she shook her head. ‘Sorry, Doll. Didn’t mean to take it out on you. It’s just been so hard. She’s devastated. Of course she is. And I’m public enemy number one as far as she’s concerned. Her dad can do no wrong.’

‘She’ll come round,’ said Dolly, reaching across and patting Annie’s hand.

‘I don’t know. All I know is I couldn’t go on that way. What did he want to do, keep me in a cage or something? I have business in New York.’

‘But Alberto’s there,’ said Dolly. And she knew – everyone knew – that Annie and the Mafia boss Alberto Barolli went way back. There had been times when Dolly herself had wondered about the closeness of their relationship. Not that she would ever tell Annie that. ‘Have some tea,’ she said.

‘Why not?’ asked Annie, although she thought it might choke her.

She had an hour to kill, and then he’d be gone. Then she’d go home, wait for Layla to come in from school, try and console her – if she could. And somehow, after that, she was going to have to carry on, to salvage something from the train wreck of her life.


Talk about the best-laid plans, though. Her plan had been to meet Dolly at the Ritz as arranged, give it at least an hour; that would be ample time for him to get the hell out of her house. But no. When she opened the front door at Holland Park, there was Max’s overnight bag and suitcase still in the hall – and from the study, there came the sound of Layla crying.

Annie closed her eyes and leaned against the door. Please, no more, she thought.

But she pushed herself upright and walked over to the study and eased the door open.

Max was there, leaning on the desk. Layla, wearing her school uniform of plain skirt and white blouse, her dark hair pulled back into a pleat, was holding on to him and sobbing.

Fourteen years old, thought Annie. God, what are we doing? What are we putting her through?

Max looked up at his ex-wife as she stood there. Annie felt her guts constrict as he stared at her. Her husband. Correction: ex-husband. He had chipped away at her love for him remorselessly, but still – even now – she found him physically almost irresistible with his black wavy hair, his tanned skin, his predatory hook of a nose, his dense, dark navy-blue eyes. Even if they were looking at her with something cl ...

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