THE FIRST TIME Emma met her father, she was nearly three years old. She knew what he looked like because her mother kept pictures of him, meticulously cut from newspapers and glossy magazines, on every surface in their cramped three-room flat. Jane Palmer had a habit of carrying her daughter, Emma, from picture to picture hanging on the water-stained walls and sitting on the dusty scarred furniture and telling her of the glorious love affair that had bloomed between herself and Brian McAvoy, lead singer for the hot rock group, Devastation. The more Jane drank, the greater that love became.
Emma understood only parts of what she was told. She knew that the man in the pictures was important, that he and his band had played for the queen. She had learned to recognize his voice when his songs came on the radio, or when her mother put one of the 45s she collected on the record player.
Emma liked his voice, and what she would learn later was called its faint Irish lilt.
Some of the neighbors tut-tutted about the poor little girl upstairs with a mother who had a fondness for the gin bottle and a vicious temper. There were times they heard Jane’s shrill curses and Emma’s sobbing wails. Their lips would firm and knowing looks would pass between the ladies as they shook out their rugs or hung up the weekly wash.
In the early days of the summer of 1967, the summer of love, they shook their heads when they heard the little girl’s cries through the open window of the Palmer flat. Most agreed that young Jane Palmer didn’t deserve such a sweet-faced child, but they murmured only among themselves. No one in that part of London would dream of reporting such a matter to the authorities.
Of course, Emma didn’t understand terms like alcoholism or emotional illness, but even though she was only three she was an expert on gauging her mother’s moods. She knew the days her mother would laugh and cuddle, the days she would scold and slap. When the atmosphere in the flat was particularly heavy, Emma would take her stuffed black dog, Charlie, crawl under the cabinet beneath the kitchen sink, and in the dark and damp, wait out her mother’s temper.
On some days, she wasn’t quick enough.
“Hold still, do, Emma.” Jane dragged the brush through Emma’s pale blond hair. With her teeth gritted, she resisted the urge to whack the back of it across her daughter’s rump. She wasn’t going to lose her temper today, not today. “I’m going to make you pretty. You want to be especially pretty today, don’t you?”
Emma didn’t care very much about looking pretty, not when her mother’s brush strokes were hurting her scalp and the new pink dress was scratchy with starch. She continued to wriggle on the stool as Jane tried to tie her flyaway curls back with a ribbon.
“I said hold still.” Emma squealed when Jane dug hard fingers into the nape of her neck. “Nobody loves a dirty, nasty girl.” After two long breaths, Jane relaxed her grip. She didn’t want to put bruises on the child. She loved her, really. And bruises would look bad, very bad, to Brian if he noticed them.
After dragging her from the stool, Jane kept a firm hand on Emma’s shoulder. “Take that sulky look off your face, my girl.” But she was pleased with the results. Emma, with her wispy blond curls and big blue eyes, looked like a pampered little princess. “Look here.” Jane’s hands were gentle again as she turned Emma to the mirror. “Don’t you look nice?”
Emma’s mouth moved stubbornly into a pout as she studied herself in the spotted glass. Her voice mirrored her mother’s cockney and had a trace of a childish lisp. “Itchy.”
“A lady has to be uncomfortable if she wants a man to think she’s beautiful.” Jane’s own slimming black corset was biting into her flesh.
“Because that’s part of a woman’s job.” She turned, examining first one side, then the other in the mirror. The dark blue dress was flattering to her full curves, making the most of her generous breasts. Brian had always liked her breasts, she thought, and felt a quick, sexual pull.
God, no one ever before or since had matched him in bed. There was a hunger in him, a wild hunger he hid so well under his cool and cocky exterior. She had known him since childhood, had been his on-again, off-again lover for more