Now she felt a disconcerting echo of that teenage confusion and she was cross with herself because there was a flutter in the pit of her stomach and a whisper of what might have been. Stupid, because what might have been had already happened: a youthful affair that had burned itself out.
"I'm good, thanks," she said, matching his effortless courtesy with what felt like abject gaucheness. "Just down here for a few days. I work in London now. But you—" She gestured awkwardly towards the flyers. "You're doing well. TV shows, writing..."
She knew she sounded inane but he merely inclined his head. "Thanks."
"It's what you always wanted."
She saw a flicker of expression in his eyes then, gone too quick to read. He said nothing. Alison was starting to feel hot and anxious. It had been a stupid thing to say. She knew nothing of what Adam wanted these days. She had barely known him ten years before and if she had realised she was going to meet him again today she would have been better prepared.
Butterflies fluttered again, trapped, beneath her breastbone. She needed to give herself some time and space to think. Adam's
godfather—in an unusual breach of courtesy, Adam had not introduced him—had moved away, pretending to rearrange the paperwork on the sales desk, but she knew he was listening, wondering.
"Well..." She waved a vague hand towards the door. "I really must go. Good luck for the talk tomorrow. Not that you'll need it, of course."
"I heard what you were saying," Adam said, ignoring her words. "You don't think this is a portrait of Anne Boleyn."
Alison felt a sharp pang of disappointment, followed swiftly by a sort of anger at her own obtuseness. This was why Adam had come out to speak to her. It was not because he had wanted to see her. It was because she had raised questions about his work. The anger pricked her into speech.
"It's a portrait of Mary Seymour," she said, "the daughter of Katherine Parr and Thomas Seymour."
Adam paused for a moment, studying her face. There was a tight frown between his brows now. Alison waited for him to contradict her. She was already regretting her words; she should have gone back to the hotel, thought about what had happened, decided on what she should do next, rather than blurt out a statement that would only make Adam want to know more.
"I thought Mary Seymour died as a child?" Adam said.
Kudos to Adam, Alison thought. Most people had never heard of Mary Seymour, let alone knew what had happened to her. She did not know herself. Until tonight her search for Mary had drawn a blank. She had hunted her through books, archives, museums and galleries and had found next to nothing. Mary's had been a life almost completely lost from history. But the one thing that Alison did know was that Mary had not died as a child.
She shifted, aware of Adam's acute gaze resting on her. "She definitely survived into adulthood," she said.
"I assume there is evidence to support that?" Adam leaned against the edge of the sales desk and folded his arms. His tone was not disbelieving, but there was more than a hint of challenge in it. Alison felt a flutter down her spine.
This was precisely the sort of conversation she should have avoided until she got her head together.
"I've seen other portraits of Mary," she said. "I know a bit about her. I researched her for some work I was doing..."
She could sense Adam's puzzlement. One thing he did know about her was that she was no historian. When they had met at summer school in Marlborough, she was a sullen teenager with a sponsored place on a tourism course. He had just accepted an offer to read History at Cambridge.
"Genealogy," she said quickly, forestalling his next question, making it up as she went along. "I was looking for some stuff on my
family tree and found Mary. There's a distant connection between us."
She felt as though she was digging herself in deeper rather than out.
"Genealogy," Adam repeated. His gaze was narrowed intently on her now.
He looked as though he didn't believe a word. "You never talked about your family," he said slowly. "You told me you couldn't leave them behind fast enough."
"That's how I felt at eighteen," Alison said. "People change." She fidgeted with the strap of her bag. "Look, forget I mentioned Mary at all. You've got a talk and a book..."
"And a TV programme," Adam said dryly. "All based on the premise that this is a portrait of Anne Boleyn not Mary Seymour."
Alison felt a flicker of sympathy for him. The discovery of a new portrait of Anne Boleyn was quite a coup and would bring Adam lots of publicity. She had planted a seed of doubt in his mind now and even though he knew she was not a professional historian, he could not risk making a highly visible mistake.
This excerpt is from the paperback edition.