Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Glitter Baby

The first book in the American's Lady series, 1987

To Lydia, with love

Sisters forever

Chapter 1

The Glitter Baby was back. She paused inside the arched entrance to the Orlani Gallery so the opening night guests would have time to recognize her. The low buzz of polite party conversation mixed with the street noises outside as the patrons pretended to view the African primitives hanging on the walls. The air carried the scent of Joy, imported pate de foie gras, and money. Six years had passed since hers was one of the most famous faces in America. The Glitter Baby wondered if they’d still remember…and what she would do if they didn’t.

She gazed straight ahead with studied ennui, her lips slightly parted and her hands, bare of rings, relaxed at her sides. In ankle-strap stilettos she stood more than six feet tall, a beautiful Amazon with a thick mane of hair that fell past her shoulders. It used to be a game among New York’s one-name hairdressers to try to identify the color with only a single word. They offered up “champagne,” “butterscotch,” “taffy,” but never got it quite right because her hair was all those colors, interwoven threads of every shade of blond that changed hue with the light.

It wasn’t just her hair that inspired the poetic. Everything about the Glitter Baby encouraged superlatives. Years earlier, a temperamental fashion editor had famously fired an assistant editor who made the mistake of referring to the celebrated eyes as “hazel.” The editor herself rewrote the copy, describing the irises of Fleur Savagar’s eyes as being “marbled with gold, tortoise, and startling sluices of emerald-green.”

On this September evening in 1982, the Glitter Baby looked more beautiful than ever as she gazed at the crowd. A trace of hauteur shone in her not-quite-hazel eyes, and her sculpted chin held an almost arrogant tilt, but inside, Fleur Savagar was terrified. She took a deep, steadying breath and reminded herself that the Glitter Baby had grown up, and she wouldn’t ever let them hurt her again.

She watched the crowd. Diana Vreeland, impeccably dressed in an Yves Saint Laurent evening cape and black silk pants, studied a bronze Benin head, while Mikhail Baryshnikov, all cheeks and dimples, stood at the center of a group of women more interested in Russian charm than African primitives. In one corner a television anchorman and his socialite wife chatted with a fortyish French actress making her first public appearance since a not so hush-hush face-lift, while across from them, the pretty showpiece wife of a notoriously homosexual Broadway producer stood alone in a Mollie Parnis she had foolishly left unbuttoned to the waist.

Fleur’s dress was different from everyone else’s. Her designer had seen to that. You must be elegant, Fleur. Elegance, elegance, elegance in the Era of the Tacky. He’d cut bronze stretch satin on the bias and constructed a cleanly sculpted gown with a high neck and bare arms. At mid-thigh, he’d slashed the skirt in a long diagonal to the opposite ankle, then filled in the space with a waterfall flounce of the thinnest black point d’esprit. He’d teased her about the flounce, saying he’d been forced to design it as camouflage for her size-ten feet.

Heads began to turn, and she saw the exact instant when the crowd’s curiosity changed to recognition. She slowly let out her breath. A hush fell over the gallery. A bearded photographer turned his Hasselblad from the French actress to Fleur and caught the picture that would take up the entire front page of the next morning’s Women’s Wear Daily.

Across the room, Adelaide Abrams, New York’s most widely read gossip columnist, squinted toward the arched doorway. It couldn’t be! Had the real Fleur Savagar finally been flushed out? Adelaide took a quick step forward and bumped into a multimillionaire real estate developer. She glanced wildly about for her own photographer, only to see that nafka from Harper’s Bazaar already bearing down. Adelaide plunged past two startled socialites, and, like Secretariat going for the Triple Crown, made the final dash to Fleur Savagar’s side.

Fleur had been watching the race between Harper’s and Adelaide Abrams, and she didn’t know whether she was relieved or not to see Adelaide winning. The columnist was a shrewd old bird, and it wouldn’t be easy to put her off with half-truths and vague answers. On the other hand, Fleur needed her.

“Fleur my God it really is you I can’t believe what I see with my very own eyes my God you look wonderful!”

“So do you, Adelaide.” Fleur had a vaguely Midwestern accent, pleasant and slightly musical. No one listening would have guessed that English wasn’t her first language. The bottom of her chin met the top of Adelaide’s hennaed hair, and she had to lean down for their air kiss. Adelaide pulled her toward the back corner of the room, effectively cutting her off from the other members of the press.

“Nineteen seventy-six was a bad year for me, Fleur,” she said. “I went through menopause. God forbid you should ever go through the hell I did. It would have lifted my spirits if you’d given me the story. But I guess you had too much on your mind to spare me a thought. Then, when you finally show up again in New York…” She shook her finger at Fleur’s chin. “Let’s just say you’ve disappointed me.”

“Everything in its proper time.”

“That’s all you have to say?”

Fleur gave what she hoped was an inscrutable smile and took a glass of champagne from a passing waiter.

Adelaide grabbed a glass of her own. “I’ll never forget your first Vogue cover if I live to be a hundred. Those bones of yours…and those great, big hands. No rings, no nail polish. They shot you in furs and a Harry Winston diamond choker that had to cost a quarter of a million.”

“I remember.”

“No one could believe it when you disappeared. Then Belinda…” A calculating expression crossed her face. “Have you seen her lately?”

Fleur wouldn’t talk about Belinda. “I was in Europe most of the time. I needed to sort out some things.”

“Sorting out I can understand. You were a young girl. It was your first movie, and you’d hardly had a normal childhood. Hollywood people aren’t always sensitive, not like us New Yorkers. Six years, then you come back, and you’re not yourself. What kind of sorting takes six years?”

“Things got complicated.” She gazed across the room to signal the subject was closed.

Adelaide switched direction. “So tell me, mystery lady, what’s your secret? Hard to believe, but you look even better now than you did at nineteen.”

The compliment interested Fleur. Sometimes when she looked at her photographs, she could glimpse the beauty others saw in her, but only in a detached way, as if the image belonged to someone else. Although she wanted to believe the years had brought greater strength and maturity to her face, she hadn’t known how others would view the changes.

Fleur had no personal vanity, simply because she’d never been able to see what all the fuss was about. She found her face too strong. The bones that photographers and fashion editors raved about looked masculine to her. As for her height, her large hands, her long feet…They were simply impossible.

“You’re the one with secrets,” she said. “Your skin is amazing.”

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