Live in the moment, and try not to die while doing it.
Matthew Aloysius Devlin
Ruby Graham stepped out of the tube at Hammersmith Broadway on a Thursday morning in March and adjusted her sunglasses to quell the headache detonating in her frontal lobe.
Commuters barged past her, cutting through the pedestrian traffic with the grim determination of First World War squaddies leaping from the trenches.
She forced herself to move, instead of standing like a dummy at the tube entrance – causing a pavement pile-up was not going to bring back her soul mate or unbreak her heart.
I miss you so much you daft old sod, why did you have to die?
She sniffed down the sob cueing up in her throat as she headed along Shepherd’s Bush Road.
No more tears, Ruby, all they do is make you look like a badger.
If she tried hard enough, maybe she could hear Matty laughing at himself and the ridiculousness of being struck down with congestive heart failure in his flat above The Royale Cinema, instead of dying while cliff diving in Acapulco, or motorbiking across the Sahara desert or participating in one of the many other ‘marvellous adventures’, which had made up his life.
She dug her iPhone out of her pocket and reread the email she’d received the day after Matty’s death. The email she’d ignored in the last ten days while getting the million and one things done that came with an unexpected death. Unfortunately, she couldn’t ignore it any longer, because the appointment was today.
She lowered her sunglasses to double-check the address.
Peter Ryker, Solicitor, Ryker, Wells and Associates, 121a Shepherd’s Bush Road.
She stopped at a doorway jammed between a kebab shop and a florist and pressed the bell for the first floor.
The muffled ring drilled into her skull and she cursed her lemon-tini binge at yesterday’s wake for the five hundredth time since she’d woken up in Matty’s tiny flat above The Royale an hour ago amid a pile of debris worthy of Glastonbury.
Note to self: catastrophic hangovers and grief do not make great bedfellows. Especially when you still have the reading of the will to get through.
The intercom buzzed and she whispered her name, so as not to wake the sleeping dragon that had only been temporarily tamed by the cocktail of extra-strength painkillers she’d found in Matty’s medicine cabinet.
She climbed the narrow staircase to the first floor, praying on each creaky tread that Matty hadn’t lined up too many shocking reveals for this afternoon’s entertainment. Given Matty’s addiction to showmanship and the fact he appeared to have stage-managed the reading of the will scene from The Grand Budapest Hotel, she wasn’t holding out too much hope.
Ruby’s stress downgraded when she reached Peter Ryker’s office to find an open airy space, the clean lines of the modern furniture highlighted by the comforting view through the Victorian bay window of Brook Green – and no sign of Ralph Fiennes anywhere. Ryker stood when she entered and came from behind his desk. A slim man in his fifties, he wore an expertly tailored slate-grey suit, his warm smile contradicting his conservative appearance.
‘Miss Graham, thank you so much for coming.’ He shook her hand in a firm grip, the easy confidence in his manner matched by the cosy chestnut brown of his eyes.
Ruby’s lungs squeezed, Ryker’s paternal smile reminding her of Matty – and everything that would be missing in her life from now on.
No Matty to make her laugh at some daft exploit from his youth. No Matty to pore over the relative merits of Easter Parade versus Monty Python’s The Life of Brian for The Royale’s Good Friday screening. No Matty to share a spiced caramel latte with while they debated the next quarter’s schedule of gala events. No Matty to be there for her when she needed a shoulder to lean on. Or a person to tell her they were proud of her. Or even a hopeless romantic with Cupid delusions who insisted on trying to fix her up with guys he fancied, most of whom turned out to be gay.
She dragged in a breath past the boulder in her throat that had taken on asteroid proportions during yesterday morning’s service at the Golders Green Crematorium. Time to stop fixating on the prospect of her life with no Matty in it and concentrate on the irony that she was even going to miss those terrible blind dates Matty had been fixing her up with ever since she’d turned twenty-one.
‘Sorry, if I’m a bit late,’ she managed to mumble to Ryker.
‘Not a problem.’ He touched her arm as he let go of her hand, the welcoming smile faltering. ‘And let me say, I’m so sorry for your loss. Matty was such a character, I’m sure we’ll all miss him immensely.’
She nodded, as her eyeballs stung and the asteroid in her throat head-butted her tonsils.
Ryker indicated a chair on the left side of his desk. ‘Why don’t you take a seat so we can begin.’
Remembering her sunglasses, she slipped them off and stuffed them in her bag.
She and Matty had never discussed what would happen in the eventuality of his death. For the simple reason, he had been fit and healthy and only in his early fifties – and neither of them had known he had an undiagnosed heart condition. Because it was, well, undiagnosed. She choked down the asteroid, which was expanding again. That Matty had written a will at all was news to her when she’d gotten Ryker’s email.
But whatever the will contained, her only objective now was to keep The Royale open for business. The small, and only slightly dilapidated art-house cinema in north, north Notting Hill had been Matty’s life and his legacy – and it was all she had left of him.
She crossed to the chair Ryker had indicated as he stepped behind her to close the office door. But as she shifted round to place her bum on the seat, she stiffened and bolted upright.
The trickle of blood still left in her head flooded into her cheeks as she spotted the man sitting in the chair behind the door.
His striking blue gaze flicked over her, the assessment both dispassionate and yet disturbingly intimate.
‘Luke Devlin,’ he said, and nodded.
The curt introduction struck her low in her abdomen. Even his voice sounded like Rafael Falcone’s – the deep American accent enriched by the sandpaper quality that had the media dubbing his father ‘the voice of sex’ nearly half a century ago.
‘Rube…—’ She cleared the rubble in her throat and attempted to introduce herself again, preferably without a helium squeak worthy of Minnie Mouse. ‘Ruby Graham, pleased to meet you,’ she murmured automatically.
Although she wasn’t pleased to meet him. What was he doing here?
She’d spotted him yesterday at the back of the crowd in the crematorium. Even then, with his face downcast and his shoulders hunched, the resemblance to the man who had fathered him was striking enough to make Ruby catch her breath.
That had to suck.
But now the likeness almost made her swallow her tongue. Not easy with an asteroid in the way.
It had been Matty’s dying wish Ruby invite his long-lost nephew to his funeral, one of several dying wishes he’d whispered to her from the gurney as they waited to wheel him into surgery. But Ruby was fairly sure at the time he’d only done it to be melodramatic. Matty had always been a drama queen, no way would he have missed the opportunity to milk a possible dying-wish scenario. But he’d never met Luke Devlin, having been estranged from this man’s mother, his sister Helena, since before Devlin was born. Ruby had only sent the invite because… Well, it had been a dying wish for goodness’ sake, intentional or not. She’d never expected Luke Devlin to show at Golder’s Green Crematorium on a rainy Wednesday morning. Especially as she hadn’t even been able to find an address for him, so had been forced to send the funeral notice to his mother’s agent.
Wasn’t the guy a property magnate in Manhattan?
Yesterday, he’d looked supremely uncomfortable, probably because he’d been hit on by half the congregation – after all, most of them were massive film buffs – then left without a word. The whole experience of burying her best friend had been so surreal and overwhelming, Devlin’s appearance had just been one other piece of weirdness Ruby hadn’t had a chance to process properly…
But she was processing it now, like a data analyst on crack.
She searched her memory banks for what she knew about the guy.
But her head was still too fuzzy with grief to remember anything coherent about Devlin. Just that he was rumoured to be the love child of Matty’s sister, renowned stage star Helena Devlin, and Falcone. Helena had always been coy about admitting who had fathered her oldest son – he had a couple of half-siblings, a brother by a Maine fisherman and a sister by British director Hal Markham whose parentage she hadn’t been nearly so coy about. Helena had been notorious in her day, for having three love children by men she hadn’t married, children she had then proceeded to drag around the globe with her and shove into the full glare of the media spotlight. But all three of them had faded from the gossip columns as they’d grown up. Luke in particular was famous for being a bit of a recluse – which had to explain that dark frown.
But if he liked to keep out of the limelight, why had he attended Matty’s funeral? Matty’s death had been mentioned in the tabloids, even if it only got a couple of column inches, simply because of his association with Helena, who had hit ‘national treasure’ status last year after a decade in the wilderness with a Tony-winning role in a revival of Gypsy on Broadway. Ruby hadn’t spotted any photographers, but there was always a chance one might show up for a Where Are They Now? angle. Getting a photo of Falcone’s son, his only known progeny, would be a major coup.
Devlin acknowledged her with a slight inclination of his head, sweeping the thick wave of expertly styled hair off his brow when it threatened to slide down his forehead.
She dragged her gaze away and forced her knees to bend. Her bum hit the cool leather seat just as the rod in her spine collapsed.
Luke Devlin was here on Ryker’s invitation. He had to be. Which could only mean one thing. Devlin was attending as his mother’s representative. Had Matty left The Royale to his sister? After all, Helena and her three children were Matty’s only living blood relations.
Ruby had always considered herself Matty’s family, but she wasn’t his real family. And while he’d refused to speak to his sister for thirty-something years, and never met any of her children, Ruby had never once heard Matty say a mean thing about Helena.
Matty must have been planning to make some grand gesture of reconciliation from beyond the grave. Although he had probably intended to do it when he was ninety, not fifty-one. It would totally fit with Matty’s sense of the dramatic. She could just imagine him savouring this scene as he dictated the terms of his legacy to the solicitor. Either that or he’d had a crush on the debonair Ryker and had needed a reason to see him.
Panic combined with the grinding pain in the pit of Ruby’s stomach and turned the asteroid into a lump of radioactive waste. She’d been so busy making funeral arrangements in the last ten days and coming to terms with the great empty space in her life which would never be filled, she’d had no time at all to properly consider her future and the future of The Royale.
Was she about to lose her home and her job as well as her best friend? Because The Royale was her home, not only did she spend more waking hours there than she’d ever spent in her tiny flat in Maida Vale, the Art Deco cinema had been the home of her heart ever since she was twelve years old, and Matty had caught her sneaking into a Saturday matinee of The Magnificent Seven and offered her a job selling popcorn and ice creams in the foyer on weekends. She had quickly made herself indispensable, Matty’s expansive friendship and The Royale’s glittering fantasy world providing a sanity-saving escape from the chaotic council flat in Bayswater she shared with her mother, and her mother’s endless parade of inappropriate boyfriends.
‘Right, let’s get started,’ Ryker said with forced enthusiasm as he sat down behind his desk.
He opened his laptop and began to talk, but Ruby couldn’t hear a word, his calm sensible delivery washing through her like acid. A spot beneath her right earlobe prickled, far too aware of the man sitting behind her.
And to think she’d woken up this morning, the day after cremating her best friend and soul mate – and the only man she had ever loved – while rocking the killer hangover from hell, convinced her life couldn’t possibly get any shittier.
No such bloody luck, Rubes.