Chapter Twenty: Ever So Rich

"Have you ever thought about how hard it is to start your life over again? I mean, to really make a new start?"

"Huh?" The question took Charity by surprise. Lady Margaret just dropped it on her out of the blue, at a moment when she was far more interested in spooning up her dessert than in pondering the mysteries of life. But maybe that was the point. Charity had been so busy lapping up her ice cream that she had simply tuned out everything else – the fancy London restaurant, the tinkling of expensive silverware, the soft, soothing music in the background. She had even lost track of what Lady Margaret had been saying!

The curvy little redhead frowned, sitting up straight and struggling to gather her wits. "Maybe a person needs to change a little bit each day?" This was just like school – Charity had no idea what the right answer was and was just hoping for a lucky guess. At the same time there was a dish of chocolate ice cream right in front of her. It was smooth and rich, almost creamy. And it was starting to melt.

"Perhaps." Lady Margaret hadn't ordered any dessert. Her crystal blue eyes were focused on Charity like laser beams. "All of us change over time, and hopefully we change for the better. But sometimes a gradual change is not enough. Sometimes it's necessary to make a clean break."

"A clean break." Charity didn't get it. Her brain was a puddle, just like the ice cream in her dish. Then it clicked. "Lady Margaret, I am so sorry about hanging out with Georgie, and spending the night with Betty and not telling you! I know that it was rude, and unprofessional. But they're both nice people, really! Please don't ask me to stop seeing them. Please! I'll do anything you ask . . ."

The tall, strikingly beautiful woman laughed, her blue eyes twinkling. "I wasn't talking about you, dearest," she said, twirling a lock of raven-black hair between her fingers. "I was talking about the choices I've made in my own life. The people I've had to leave behind."

"Oh." Deep down, Charity couldn't help feeling that Lady Margaret was talking about getting rid of her. She looked at the chocolate ice cream in her dish. Even melted it was the best ice cream she'd ever had. She started spooning it up slowly, determined to enjoy her last meal.

"You asked me earlier about the boy who was arrested at the photo shoot," Lady Margaret said softly. "You were correct, it wasn't Lars at all. It was someone from my past."

"From your past? You mean, like an enemy?" Charity froze with her spoon halfway to her mouth. "But he was just a kid! What could someone like that do to someone as rich and powerful as you?"

"I had a child when I was very young," Lady Margaret said, her amazing blue eyes fixed not on Charity but on one of her own diamond rings. "I was working as a dancer then, in a sleazy London strip club. I gave the baby up for adoption."

"Really?" Charity's green eyes were huge with amazement. She couldn't imagine Lady Margaret stripping off her clothes in a smoky club. Or being poor, or having a baby. Or hurting deep down the way she seemed to be hurting now. "But now that you're rich, and you've made such a name for yourself, why can't you just . . . well, take him back again? Then he'd be all set for life!" The red-haired girl gulped her ice cream, almost envying the lucky boy from Lady Margaret's past.

"That isn't what he wants," the older woman sighed. "You see, dearest, Richard was adopted by a family of very progressive people. Strict vegetarians, environmental activists, very committed to social justice and so forth. They've raised him to see me as some sort of monster!"

"That's not right," Charity objected, frowning. "They had no right to turn the poor sod against his own mother!"

"He didn't know who I was until last year," Lady Margaret explained. "Apparently he found out on some sort of website, while doing internet research at the university. But the moment he learned the truth, he started a one-man crusade to 'expose' me as a corrupt businesswoman who profits from factory farming, child labor in China, sexual exploitation in the fashion industry, and who knows what else!"

"How awful!" Charity felt a rush of sympathy for Lady Margaret. "Have you tried talking to him? Alone, I mean?"

Lady Margaret shook her head. "I've asked him several times if I can do anything for him," she said in a low, shaky voice. "I've even asked him to live with me. But he insists that I begin by stripping my portfolio of all my most profitable investments and giving all the profits to the poor! On top of that, he wants me to publicly announce that I had him out of wedlock, while working as a dancer. Of course his political friends are encouraging him. And his so-called 'family.'"

"It's like he wants to take away everything you accomplished after you gave him up for adoption." Charity's head was spinning as she put the whole picture together. Impulsively she reached for Lady Margaret's slim, manicured hand and gave it a clumsy squeeze. "You're the smartest person in the world, Lady Margaret. You don't need my help. But if there's anything I can do, anything at all, just ask me and I will."

"Finish your ice cream, dear," Lady Margaret replied, suddenly switching back to her usual take-charge tone. In a way it was just a joke. She was pretending nothing was the matter. But the redhead could see the other side of it too. Lady Margaret needed someone to be nice to. She was ever so rich and very powerful, but her own child didn't want her.