To Bruce, Dan and Jason, the magic in my life

PART ONE
O brave new world, That has such people in’t! —WILLIAM SHA !S"!A#!

PROLOGUE
The Lad$ %anishes& It was an old illusion, 'iven a (odern twist, and never )ailed to leave the audience 'aspin'& The 'litter$ crowd at #adio *it$ was as ea'er to be duped as a 'roup o) slac+,-awed rubes at a do' and pon$ show& !ven as #o.anne stepped onto the 'lass pedestal she could )eel their anticipation—the silver$ ed'e o) it that was a (er'in' o) hope and doubt 'lued to'ether with wonder& Those inchin' )orward in their seats ran'ed )ro( president to peon& Ma'ic (ade e/uals o) the( all& Ma. had said that, she recalled& Man$, (an$ ti(es& A(id the swirl o) (ist and the )lash o) li'ht, the pedestal slowl$ ascended, circlin' (a-esticall$ to the tune o) 0ershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. The 'entle three,hundred,and, si.t$,de'ree revolution showed the crowd all sides o) the ice,clear pedestal and the slender wo(an atop it—and distracted the( )ro( the tric+er$ at hand& "resentation, she’d been tau'ht, was o)ten the sli( di))erence between a charlatan and an artist&

In +eepin' with the the(e o) the (usic, #o.anne wore a spar+lin' 'own o) (idni'ht blue that clun' to her lon', willow$ )or(—clun' so closel$ that no one stud$in' her would believe there was an$thin' under the span'led sil+ but her own )lesh& Her hair, a water)all o) )la(e curlin' to her waist, twin+led with thousands o) tin$ iridescent stars& 1ire and ice& More than one (an had wondered how one wo(an could be both at the sa(e ti(e& As in sleep or a trance, her e$es were closed—or see(ed to be—and her ele'ant )ace was li)ted toward the star,pric+ed ceilin' o) the sta'e& As she rose, she let her ar(s swa$ to the (usic, then held the( hi'h above her head, )or show(anship and )or the practical necessit$ that underscores all (a'ic& It was a beauti)ul illusion, she +new& The (ist, the li'hts, the (usic, the wo(an& She en-o$ed the sheer dra(a o) it, and was not above bein' a(used b$ the iron$ o) usin' the a'e,old s$(bol o) the lone, lovel$ wo(an placed on a pedestal, above the co((on worr$ and toils o) (an& It was also a (iserabl$ co(ple. bit o) business, re/uirin' a 'reat deal o) ph$sical control and split,second ti(in'& 2ut not even those )ortunate enou'h to be seated in the )irst row could detect the intense concentration in her serene )ace& 3one o) the( could +now how (an$ tedious hours she had put in, per)ectin' ever$ aspect o) the act on paper, then in practice& 4nrelentin' practice& Slowl$, a'ain to 0ershwin’s rh$th(, her bod$ be'an to turn, dip, swa$& A partnerless dance ten )eet above sta'e, all color and )luid (ove(ent& There were (ur(urs )ro( the audience, scattered applause& The$ could see her—$es, the$ could see her throu'h the blue,tinted (ist and spinnin' li'hts& The 'litter o) the dar+ 'own, the )low o) )la(e,colored hair, the 'lea( o) that alabaster s+in& Then, in a breath, in a 'asp, the$ could not& In less ti(e than it ta+es to blin+ an e$e, she was 'one& In her place was a slee+ 2en'al ti'er who reared on his hind le's to paw the air and roar& There was a pause, that (ost satis)$in' o) pauses to an entertainer where an audience held its stunned collective breath be)ore the applause thundered, echoin' as the pedestal descended once (ore& The bi' cat leaped down to stal+ sta'e ri'ht& He stopped b$ an ebon$ bo., sent up another roar that had a wo(an in the )ront row 'i''lin' nervousl$& As one, the )our sides o) the bo. collapsed& And there was #o.anne, dressed not in shi((er$ blue but in a silver cat suit& She too+ her bows as she’d been tau'ht al(ost )ro( birth& With a )lourish&

As the sound o) success continued to pound in her ears, she (ounted the ti'er and rode the beast o))sta'e& 53ice wor+, Oscar&6 With a little si'h, she bent )orward to scratch the cat between the ears& 57ou loo+ed real prett$, #o.$&6 Her bi', burl$ assistant clipped a leash to Oscar’s span'led collar& 5Than+s, Mouse&6 8is(ountin', she tossed her hair bac+& The bac+sta'e area was alread$ hoppin'& Those trusted to do so would secure her e/uip(ent and 'uard it )ro( pr$in' e$es& Since she’d scheduled a press con)erence )or the )ollowin' da$, she would see no reporters now& #o.anne had hi'h hopes )or a bottle o) iced cha(pa'ne and a stin'in'l$ hot whirlpool bath& Alone& Absentl$ she rubbed her hands to'ether—an old habit Mouse could have told her she’d pic+ed up )ro( her )ather& 5I’ve 'ot the )id'ets,6 she said with a hal) lau'h& 5Had the( all da(n ni'ht& It )eels li+e so(eone’s breathin' down ($ nec+&6 5Well, ah & & &6 Mouse stood where he was, lettin' Oscar rub a'ainst his +nees& 3ever articulate under the best o) circu(stances, Mouse )u(bled )or the best wa$ to phrase the news& 57ou 'ot co(pan$, #o.$& In the dressin' roo(&6 5Oh96 Her brows drew to'ether, )or(in' the )aint line o) i(patience between the(& 5Who96 5Ta+e another bow, hone$&6 Lil$, #o.anne’s onsta'e assistant and surro'ate (other, swept over to 'rab her ar(& 57ou brou'ht down the house&6 Lil$ dabbed a hand+erchie) around the )alse e$elashes she wore onsta'e and o))& 5Ma. would be so proud&6 The /uic+ twist in #o.anne’s 'ut had her willin' awa$ her own tears& The$ didn’t show& The$ were never per(itted to show in public& She started )orward, (ovin' into the swell o) applause& 5Who’s waitin' )or (e96 she called over her shoulder, but Mouse was alread$ leadin' the bi' cat awa$& He’d been tau'ht b$ the (aster that discretion was the better part o) survival& Ten (inutes later, )lushed with success, #o.anne opened the door o) her dressin' roo(& The scent hit her )irst—roses and 'reasepaint& That (i. o) )ra'rances had beco(e so )a(iliar she breathed it in li+e )resh air& 2ut there was another scent here—the stin' o) rich tobacco& !le'ant, e.otic, 1rench& Her hand tre(bled once on the +nob as she pushed the door )ull$ open&

There was one (an she would )orever associate with that aro(a& One (an she +new who habituall$ s(o+ed sli( 1rench ci'ars& She said nothin' when she saw hi(& *ould sa$ nothin' as he rose )ro( a chair where he’d been en-o$in' his ci'ar and her cha(pa'ne& Oh, 0od, it was thrillin' and horrible to watch that wonder)ul (outh /uir+ in that ver$ )a(iliar 'rin, to (eet those i(possibl$ blue e$es with her own& His hair was still lon', a (ane o) ebon$ wavin' bac+ )ro( his )ace& !ven as a child he’d been 'or'eous, an ele'ant '$ps$ with e$es that could )ree:e or burn& A'e had onl$ enhanced his loo+s, )inin' down that co(pellin' )ace, the lon' bones and shadow$ hollows, the )aint cle)t in the chin& 2e$ond the ph$sical, there was a dra(a that shivered around hi( li+e an aura& He was a (an wo(en shuddered over and wanted& She had& Oh, she had& 1ive $ears had passed since she’d seen that s(ile, since she’d run her hands throu'h that thic+ hair or )elt the searin' pressure o) that clever (outh& 1ive $ears to (ourn, to weep and to hate& Wh$ wasn’t he dead9 she wondered as she )orced hersel) to close the door at her bac+& Wh$ hadn’t he had the decenc$ to succu(b to an$ o) the varied and 'rueso(e tra'edies she’d i(a'ined )or hi(9 And what in 0od’s na(e was she 'oin' to do with this terrible $earnin' she )elt -ust loo+in' at hi( a'ain9 5#o.anne&6 Trainin' +ept Lu+e’s voice stead$ as he said her na(e& He’d watched her over the $ears& Toni'ht he’d studied her ever$ (ove )ro( the shadows o) the win's& ;ud'in', wei'hin'& Wantin'& 2ut here, now, )ace to )ace, she was al(ost too beauti)ul to bear& 5It was a 'ood show& The )inale was spectacular&6 5Than+ $ou&6 His hand was stead$ as he poured her a )lute o) cha(pa'ne, as hers was when she accepted it& The$ were, a)ter all, show(en, cast in an odd wa$ )ro( the sa(e (old& Ma.’s (old& 5I’( sorr$ about Ma.&6 Her e$es went )lat& 5Are $ou96

2ecause Lu+e )elt he deserved (ore than the slash o) sarcas(, he (erel$ nodded, then 'lanced down at his bubblin' wine, re(e(berin'& His (outh curved when he loo+ed bac+ at her& 5The *alais -ob, the rubies& Was that $ours96 She sipped, the silver spar+led on her shoulders as she (oved the( in a careless shru'& 5O) course&6 5Ah&6 He nodded a'ain, pleased& He had to be sure she hadn’t lost her touch—)or (a'ic or )or larcen$& 5I heard ru(ors that a )irst edition o) "oe’s House of Usher was li)ted )ro( a vault in London&6 57our hearin' was alwa$s 'ood, *allahan&6 He continued to s(ile, wonderin' when she’d learned to e.ude se. li+e breath& He re(e(bered the clever child, the coltish adolescent, the irresistible bloo( o) the $oun' wo(an& The bloo( had blosso(ed seductivel$& And he could )eel the pull that had alwa$s been between the(& He would use it now, with re'ret, but he would use it to 'ain his own ends& The end -usti)ies ever$thin'& Another o) Ma.i(illian 3ouvelle’s (a.i(s& 5I have a proposition )or $ou, #o.&6 5#eall$96 She too+ a last sip be)ore settin' her 'lass aside& The bubbles were bitter on her ton'ue& 52usiness,6 he said li'htl$, tappin' out the stub o) his ci'ar& Ta+in' her hand, he brou'ht her )in'ers to his lips& 5And personal& I’ve (issed $ou, #o.anne&6 It was the truest state(ent he could (a+e& One )lash o) sterlin' honest$ in $ears o) tric+s, illusions and pretense& *au'ht up in his own )eelin's, he (issed the warnin' )lash in her e$es& 5Have $ou, Lu+e9 Have $ou reall$96 5More than I can tell $ou&6 Swa(ped b$ (e(ories and needs, he drew her closer, )elt his blood be'in to pu(p as her bod$ brushed his& She’d alwa$s been the one& 3o (atter how (an$ escapes he’d acco(plished, he’d never )reed hi(sel) )ro( the trap in which #o.anne 3ouvelle had cau'ht hi(& 5*o(e bac+ to ($ hotel&6 His breath whispered over her )ace as she went )luidl$ into his ar(s& 5We’ll have a late supper& Tal+&6 5Tal+96 Her ar(s wound sinuousl$ around hi(& Her rin's )lashed as she dipped her )in'ers into his hair& 2eside the( the (a+eup (irror over her dressin' table re)lected the( in triplicate& As i) showin' the( past, present, )uture& When she spo+e, her voice was li+e the (ist she’d vanished into& 8ar+ and rich and ($sterious& 5Is that what $ou want to do with (e, Lu+e96

He )or'ot the i(portance o) control, )or'ot ever$thin' but the )act that her (outh was an inch )ro( his& The taste he’d once 'or'ed on was a wish awa$& 53o&6 He dropped his head toward hers& Then his breath e.ploded as her +nee shot up between his le's& !ven as he was doublin' over, she sla((ed her )ist onto his chin& His 'runt o) surprise, and the splinterin' o) wood )ro( the table he s(ashed on his wa$ down 'ave #o.anne enor(ous satis)action& #oses )lew, water splashed& A )ew slender buds dri)ted over hi( as he la$ on the da(penin' carpet& 57ou & & &6 Scowlin', he dra''ed a rose )ro( his hair& The brat had alwa$s been snea+$, he re(e(bered& 57ou’re /uic+er than $ou used to be, #o.&6 Hands on her hips, she stood over hi(, a sli(, silver warrior who’d never learned to sa(ple her reven'e cold& 5I’( a lot o) thin's I didn’t used to be&6 Her +nuc+les hurt li+e )ire, but she used that pain to bloc+ another, deeper ache& 53ow, $ou l$in' Irish bastard, crawl bac+ into whatever hole $ou du' )or $oursel) )ive $ears a'o& *o(e near (e a'ain, and I swear, I’ll (a+e $ou disappear )or 'ood&6 8eli'hted with her e.it line, she turned on her heel, then let out a shrie+ when Lu+e sna''ed her an+le& She went down hard on her ru(p and be)ore she could put nails and teeth to use, he had her pinned& She’d )or'otten how stron' and how /uic+ he was& A (iscalculation, Ma. would have said& And (iscalculations were the root o) all )ailures& 5O+a$, #o., we can tal+ here&6 Thou'h he was breathless and still in pain, he 'rinned& 57our choice&6 5I’ll see $ou in hell—6 5%er$ li+el$&6 His 'rin )aded& 58a(n it, #o.$, I never could resist $ou&6 When he crushed his (outh to hers, he tossed the( both bac+ into the past&

1
1973, near Portland, Maine
5Hur,r$, hur,r$, step ri'ht up& 2e a(a:ed, be astounded& Watch the 0reat 3ouvelle de)$ the laws o) nature& 1or one s(all dollar, see hi( (a+e cards dance in (idair& 2e)ore $our e$es, ri'ht be)ore $our astonished e$es, see a beauti)ul wo(an sawed in two&6 While the bar+er ran throu'h his spiel, Lu+e *allahan slithered throu'h the carnival crowd, busil$ pic+in' poc+ets& He had /uic+ hands, a'ile )in'ers and that (ost i(portant asset o) a success)ul thie), a co(plete lac+ o) conscience& He was twelve&

1or nearl$ si. wee+s he’d been on the road, on the run& Lu+e had bi' plans to head south be)ore the stea($ 3ew !n'land su((er beca(e a )ri'id 3ew !n'land winter& He wasn’t 'oin' to 'et ver$ )ar with pic+in's li+e this, he thou'ht and nipped a bill)old )ro( the sa''in' overalls poc+et& There weren’t (an$ o) those who had co(e to ride the Tilt,a,Whirl or challen'e the Wheel o) 1ortune who had (ore than a )ew creased dollars on the(& 3ow, when he 'ot to Mia(i, thin's would be di))erent& In the shadows behind the (il+ bottle toss, he discarded the i(itation leather wallet and counted his ta+e )or the evenin'& Twent$,ei'ht dollars& "athetic& 2ut in Mia(i, that land o) sun, )un and hi'h rollers, he’d clean house& All he had to do was 'et there )irst, and so )ar he’d (ana'ed to s/uirrel awa$ nearl$ two hundred dollars& A little (ore and he’d be able to a))ord to ta+e the bus at least part o) the wa$& A 0re$hound, he thou'ht with a /uic+ 'rin& He’d leave the drivin' to the(, all ri'ht, and ta+e a brea+ )ro( hitchin' rides with stoned,out hippies and )at,)in'ered perverts& A runawa$ couldn’t be choos$ about his (ode o) transportation& Lu+e was alread$ aware that a ride )ro( an upstandin' citi:en could lead to a police report or—nearl$ as bad—a lecture on the dan'ers o) a $oun' bo$ leavin' ho(e& It was no use tellin' an$one that ho(e was (uch (ore dan'erous than the perils o) the road& A)ter )lippin' o)) two sin'les, Lu+e tuc+ed the rest o) his ta+e into his battered chu++as& He needed )ood& The s(ell o) hot 'rease had been tantali:in' his sto(ach )or nearl$ an hour& He’d reward hi(sel) with an overcoo+ed bur'er and )ries, and wash it all down with so(e )resh le(onade& Li+e (ost twelve,$ear,old bo$s, Lu+e would have en-o$ed a ride on the Whip, but i) there was a lon'in' in hi( toward the spinnin' li'hts, he covered it with a sneer& ;er+s thou'ht the$ were havin' an adventure, he (used while sour 'rapes stuc+ in his throat& The$’d be tuc+ed in their beds toni'ht while he slept under the stars and when the$ wo+e up Mo(($ and 8add$ would tell the( what to do and how to do it& 3o one would tell hi( an$ o) those thin's ever a'ain& 1eelin' superior in ever$ wa$, he tuc+ed his thu(bs in the )ront poc+ets o) his -eans and strutted toward the concession stands& He passed the poster a'ain—the lar'er,than,li)e,si:ed picture o) the (a'ician& The 0reat 3ouvelle, with his sweep o) blac+ hair, )lowin' (oustache, his h$pnotic dar+ e$es& !ver$ ti(e Lu+e loo+ed at the poster he )elt hi(sel) bein' pulled toward so(ethin' he couldn’t understand&

The e$es in the picture see(ed to loo+ ri'ht into hi(, as i) the$ could see and understand (uch too (uch about Lu+e *allahan, late o) 2an'or, Maine, b$ wa$ o) 2urlin'ton and 4tica and *hrist +new where because Lu+e had )or'otten& He al(ost e.pected the painted (outh to spea+ and the hand that held the )an o) cards to shoot out, snatch hi( b$ the throat and pull hi( ri'ht inside that poster& He’d be trapped there )orever, beatin' on the other side o) that pasteboard the wa$ he’d beat on so (an$ o) the loc+ed doors o) his childhood& 2ecause the idea 'ave hi( the willies, Lu+e curled his lip& 5Ma'ic’s bun+,6 he said, but he said it in a whisper& And his heart pounded hard as he dared the painted )ace to challen'e hi(& 52i' deal,6 he went on, 'ainin' con)idence& 5"ullin' stupid rabbits out o) stupid hats and doin' a )ew du(bass card tric+s&6 He wanted to see those du(bass tric+s (ore than he wanted to ride on the Whip& More even than he wanted to stu)) his (outh with +etchup,drippin' )ries& Lu+e wavered, )in'erin' one o) the dollars in his poc+et& It would be worth a buc+, he decided, -ust to prove to hi(sel) that the (a'ician was no bi' deal& It would be worth a buc+ to sit down& In the dar+, he (used as he drew out the cru(pled bill and paid the price& There were bound to be a )ew poc+ets he could slip his ni(ble )in'ers into& The heav$ canvas )lap swun' shut behind hi( and bloc+ed out (ost o) the li'ht and air )ro( the (idwa$& 3oise battered a'ainst it li+e rain)all& "eople were alread$ crowded on the low wooden seats, (ur(urin' a(on' the(selves, shi)tin' and wavin' paper )ans a'ainst the sti)lin' heat& He stood in the bac+ a (o(ent, scannin'& With an instinct that had been honed sharp as a switchblade over the past si. wee+s he s+ipped over a huddle o) +ids, crossed o)) a )ew couples as bein' too poor to net hi( an$thin' but his ad(ission price and ca'il$ chose his (ar+s& The situation called )or hi( to loo+ to wo(en, as (ost o) the (en would be sittin' on their (one$& 5!.cuse (e,6 he said, polite as a 2o$ Scout, as he s/uee:ed in behind a 'rand(otherl$ t$pe who see(ed distracted b$ the antics o) the bo$ and 'irl on either side o) her& The (o(ent he was settled, the 0reat 3ouvelle too+ the sta'e& He was dressed in )ull )or(al 'ear& The blac+ tu. and starched white shirt loo+ed e.otic in the heat,drenched tent& His shoes 'lea(ed with polish& On the pin+ie o) his le)t hand he wore a 'old rin' with a blac+ center stone that win+ed in the sta'e li'hts& The i(pression o) 'reatness was set the (o(ent he )aced his audience& The (a'ician said nothin', $et the tent )illed with his presence, swelled with it& He was ever$ bit as dra(atic as his poster, thou'h the blac+ hair was shot with 'lints o) silver&

e(pt$ )in'ers held a coin& Another )lic+. the cards swa$ed. +id& 0o on&6 An elbow ra((ed into Lu+e’s ribs& 1lushin' to his toes. his e$es wide with a(a:e(ent as the (a'ician )anned the cards.6 3ouvelle instructed& 5Hold the card )acin' out so all can see& 0ood.loo+in' bo$& I need a s(art & & &6 The e$es twin+led& 5An honest bo$ to help (e with ($ ne. his spread. e$es narrowed& He wanted to +now how it was done& It was a tric+. wholl$ intent on the show& And Lu+e (issed his chance to clean house& 57ou there&6 3ouvelle’s voice resounded& Lu+e )ro:e as he )elt those dar+ e$es pin hi(& 57ou’re a li+el$. and another. 3ouvelle shu))led the(. Lu+e slid out o) his seat to (ove into position behind a blonde whose straw purse was sittin' carelessl$ on the )loor beside her& As the slei'ht o) hand war(ed up the audience.t )ew (o(ents. dollars )ro( 0rand(a’s purse was eas$& A)ter tuc+in' his ta+e awa$. dipped. Lu+e rose& He +new it was dan'erous when people noticed $ou& The$ would notice hi( all the (ore i) he re)used& 5"ic+ a card. o) course& He was all too aware the world was )ull o) the(& He’d alread$ stopped wonderin' wh$. held the( pal( out toward the audience& With a )lic+ o) his wrist. e. until the wide vee’s o) his )in'ers were )illed with the 'lea( o) 'old& Lu+e’s attention was sna''ed enou'h )or hi( to lean )orward. outward to the audience so that the$ could see it was an ordinar$ dec+& <uic+ and de)t. passed his hand over their tops.t tric+& 4p here&6 3ouvelle scooped up the han'in' cards and 'estured& 50o ahead. subtracted. Lu+e was onl$ a child. turned& The audience cheered. then spread the( on a s(all table& 5An$ card.6 he repeated. but he hadn’t stopped wonderin' how& The coins beca(e colored balls that chan'ed si:e and hue& The$ (ultiplied.The 0reat 3ouvelle li)ted his hands. and Lu+e )rowned in concentration as he slid one )ro( the pile& 5Turn toward our 'racious audience.6 3ouvelle invited as Lu+e cli(bed onsta'e& 5An$ card&6 He )anned the( a'ain. and his other hand over the botto(s so that the spread dec+ hun' suspended in the air& At a st$lish (ove(ent o) his hands.cellent& 7ou’re a natural&6 . he settled down to watch& 1or the ne. another coin. appeared and vanished while the audience applauded& "ullin' his e$es )ro( the show was di))icult& Li)tin' si. Lu+e poc+eted another )our dollars& 2ut he +ept losin' his concentration& Tellin' hi(sel) he’d wait be)ore hittin' the )at lad$ to his ri'ht.

*huc+lin' to hi(sel). turned his wrist. the audience bro+e into appreciative applause& 4nder the cover o) the sound.cellent&6 His lips were curved as he o))ered the dec+ to the bo$& 5Shu))le the( as $ou please&6 3ouvelle’s 'a:e re(ained on Lu+e as the bo$ (i. 3ouvelle pic+ed up the discarded pac+. 5(ust be )ir(&6 1or a )inale. 3ouvelle spo+e /uietl$& 5*o(e bac+sta'e a)ter the show&6 And that was all& 0ivin' Lu+e a nud'e. i) $ou’re done with the lad$. tappin' a )in'er to his (oustache& 57ou’re a (ore clever bo$ than I i(a'ined& It see(s $ou’ve tric+ed (e& The card $ou chose isn’t in that dec+ at all& 2ecause it’s & & &6 He snapped his )in'ers.botto( -eans leaped up. 3ouvelle sent hi( bac+ to his seat& 1or the ne. tapped three ti(es with his (a'ic wand& The cape slithered to the )loor. I’ll ta+e either hal)!6 . odd indeed. and the child was 'one& 5A parent. or shall I96 5I’ll do it&6 Lu+e laid his hands over the cards.6 3ouvelle said soberl$.ed the cards& 53ow&6 3ouvelle laid a hand on Lu+e’s shoulder& 5On the table. (ister&6 5Odd. (anipulatin' it a'ain with his lon'. Lu+e turned the dec+ over and held the card out& 53o& 0uess $ou screwed up. and pluc+ed the ei'ht o) hearts out o) thin air& 5Here&6 While Lu+e 'o''led. 3ouvelle. 3ouvelle whipped a blac+ cape over her. certain he couldn’t be tric+ed& 3ot when he was so close& 5Is $our card the top one96 Lu+e )lipped it up. 3ouvelle sawed a curv$ blonde in a s+i(p$ leotard in hal)& The curves and the costu(e had elicited a 'reat deal o) whistlin' and cheers& One enthusiastic (an in a paisle$ shirt and starched bell. Lu+e )or'ot ever$thin' but the (a'ic& He watched the little redheaded 'irl dance out on the sta'e in span'led ti'hts& 0rinned when she stepped into an oversi:ed top hat and chan'ed into a white rabbit& He )elt adult and a(used when the 'irl and the (a'ician sta'ed a (oc+ ar'u(ent over her bedti(e& The 'irl tossed her curlin' red hair and sto(ped her )eet& With a si'h. clever )in'ers& 53ow & & &6 His e$es on Lu+e. 'rinned& 53o&6 3ouvelle loo+ed a(a:ed as the audience tittered& 53o9 The botto( one. he held out the dec+& 5Slip $our card in an$where& An$where at all& !. shoutin'& 5He$.6 3ouvelle (ur(ured. perhaps96 0ettin' into the spirit.t twent$ (inutes. i) $ou please& Would $ou li+e to cut the(.

and the colors )ro( the plush.shaven )ace was as wide as a dinner plate. chin -utted )orward. since he’d been a +ind o) assistant )or the card tric+. Mouse -er+ed his head and lu(bered awa$& Lu+e debated )or less than ten seconds. 3ouvelle re(oved the steel dividers. she wri''led her )in'ers and toes& Once the bo. the e$es li+e two raisins stuc+ sli'htl$ o)) center& There was an un)iltered ci'arette dan'lin' )ro( the (outh& As u'l$ went. vivid pillows heaped here and there. was pushed bac+ to'ether.4#!# !=T#AO#8I3AI#!& Mouse rapped once on the door be)ore pushin' it open& Lu+e cau'ht a scent that re(inded hi( oddl$ and co()ortin'l$ o) church as he stepped inside behind Mouse& The 0reat 3ouvelle had alread$ chan'ed out o) his sta'e tu. but decided he’d 'otten his (one$’s worth& As the audience )iled out to ta+e a ride on the Loop 8e Loop or 'aw+ at Sahib the Sna+e *har(er. Herbert Mouse "atrins+i had all the bases covered& Lu+e instinctivel$ struc+ a pose. then )ollowed& Most o) the tawdr$ 'la(our o) the carnival )aded to 'ra$ as the$ crossed the $ellowed and tra(pled 'rass toward the huddle o) trailers and truc+s& 3ouvelle’s trailer loo+ed li+e a thorou'hbred in a )ield o) hac+s& It was lon' and slee+. the (an loo+ed li+e a 'iant& Si.otic den& The scents. shoulders hunched. Lu+e sidled toward the sta'e& He thou'ht (a$be. le's spread and braced& 57eah96 1or an answer. that 3ouvelle would show hi( how it was done& 5 id&6 Lu+e loo+ed up& 1ro( his vanta'e point. . its blac+ paint 'lea(in' in the shadow$ (oonli'ht& A )lourish o) silver scrolled on the side proclai(ed TH! 0#!AT 3O4%!LL!.in so)a in a blac+ sil+ dressin' 'own& Thin plu(es o) s(o+e curled la:il$ upward )ro( a hal) a do:en incense cones& Sitar (usic pla$ed in the bac+'round while 3ouvelle swirled two inches o) brand$& Lu+e tuc+ed his suddenl$ nervous hands in his poc+ets and 'au'ed his surroundin's& He +new he’d -ust wal+ed into a trailer but there was a stron' illusion o) so(e e. )eet )ive inches and two hundred and si.The divided lad$ was pushed apart& At 3ouvelle’s co((and. and was loun'in' on the narrow built. o) course.t$ pounds o) solid (uscle& The s(ooth. *O3. the lad$ stepped out to a round o) applause& Lu+e had )or'otten all about the )at wo(an’s purse. waved his wand and threw open the lid& Ma'icall$ reasse(bled.

sipped his brand$& 52ut a 'ood invest(ent )or $ou. sipped a'ain& 52ut I di'ress& 7ou see. I a'ree&6 Slowl$.i(illian 3ouvelle hi(sel)& 5Ah&6 His a(used s(ile hal) hidden b$ his (oustache. the ($sterious dip and swa$ o) candleli'ht& And. who see(ed to be hul+in' around. but sat& 57ou see. the ur'e to s/uir( and (et Ma. while $ou were watchin' (e.s+elter over the )loor. Ma. $ou see. I trust96 5Invest(ent96 4neas$. Lu+e shru''ed his bon$ shoulders& 5It was a prett$ decent show&6 5I blush at the co(pli(ent. $ou’re ($ 'uest& And I’( bein' a re(iss host& What can I o))er $ou as re)resh(ent96 5What’s the deal here. said dr$l$ and waved with the bac+ o) his hand )or Lu+e to sit& 58o $ou have an interest in (a'ic. o) course. (ister96 . did was utter the sin'le s$llable and raise one )in'er& Lu+e tensed. I was watchin' $ou& It wouldn’t be sportin' o) (e to as+ how (uch $ou 'ot.the s(all richl$ woven (ats tossed helter. Ma. Ma. the Latin )or li'ht&6 He chuc+led.6 Ma. Mr& *allahan—or (a$ I call $ou Lu+e9 A 'ood na(e that& 1ro( Lucius. barel$. thou'ht to hi(sel)& <uite well done& 5I don’t +now what $ou’re tal+in' about& I 'otta ta+e o))&6 5Sit&6 All Ma. his e$es on Lu+e. the drapin' sil+s over the windows. toasted the bo$& 5So 'lad $ou could -oin (e&6 To show he was uni(pressed.’s e$es levell$& Well done. Lu+e slid his e$es toward Mouse. bloc+in' the door& 57ou too+ several (ore dollars out with $ou than $ou ca(e in with& In )inance we would call it a /uic+ upward turn on $our (one$&6 Lu+e resisted. Ma. Mr & & & & 96 5I’( Lu+e *allahan& I )i'ured it was worth a buc+ to see so(e tric+s&6 5A princel$ su(. on a sin'le&6 Lu+e narrowed his e$es to slits& A thin trail o) sweat dribbled down his bac+& 5Are $ou callin' (e a thie)96 53ot i) it o))ends $ou& A)ter all. but an educated 'uess would put it at ei'ht to ten dollars&6 He s(iled char(in'l$& 53ot at all a bad turn. Lu+e.

oticall$ painted& She s(iled.6 she said.6 he said casuall$ as he too+ out a bottle o) "epsi& 5I doubt the (one$ $ou have tuc+ed in $our ri'ht shoe would slow $ou down ver$ (uch& Or $ou can rela.&6 That 1rench business alwa$s (ade Lil$’s toes curl& . with all the acco(pani(ents&6 5 ’ a$&6 Ma. but with such tenderness. too+ her hand and brou'ht it to his lips. he slid an inch closer to the door& 5What do $ou want96 5Wh$. openin' the s(all re)ri'erator& He didn’t have to see to +now the bo$’s e$es cut to the door& 57ou can run.. I alwa$s sa$& I +now a $oun' bo$’s appetite. as were the hi'h. havin' been one ($sel)&6 And this $oun' bo$ was so thin Ma. o) course. ma belle. we’ll 'et to that& Indeed. ($ invaluable assistant and adored co(panion. called )or Lil$& She stepped throu'h a curtain o) cri(son sil+& Li+e Ma.heeled slippers on her )eet& She tapped over the scattered ru's in a wave o) *hanel& 5We have co(pan$&6 She had a pipp$ voice that see(ed to be stuc+ in perpetual 'i''le& 57es& Lil$. rose as Mouse slipped out the door& 5A cold drin+96 he o))ered.shirt& 5Mouse. Lil$ 2ates&6 Lu+e swallowed a hard +not in his throat& He’d never seen an$thin' li+e her& She was all curves and scent. 5Oh. en-o$ a civili:ed (eal and so(e conversation&6 Lu+e considered boltin'& His sto(ach ru(bled& *o(pro(isin'. battin' incredibl$ lon' lashes& 5"leased to (eet $ou. $our co(pan$. we’ll 'et to that& 2ut )irst thin's )irst. her e$es and (outh e. Lu+e’s chee+s went hot be)ore he loo+ed awa$& “Je t’aime. said as he poured "epsi over ice& His brow li)ted a )raction at the /uic+l$ s(othered )lash in Lu+e’s e$es& So. when he slipped an ar( around her waist& 5Ma’a(&6 5Lu+e and I have so(e thin's to discuss& I didn’t want $ou to wait up )or (e&6 5I don’t (ind&6 He +issed her li'htl$.5Oh. Ma. he thou'ht as his own (outh 'ri(aced& It had been that bad& Hopin' to si'nal the bo$ that he would be sa)e )ro( that sort o) advance. she was also in a robe& Hers was pale pin+ and tri((ed with )uchsia )eathers. lin'ered over it& 5Meet Lu+e *allahan& Lu+e.. I believe our 'uest would en-o$ a ha(bur'er or two. could all but count the ribs beneath the 'rubb$ T.6 Ma. and snu''led closer to Ma. ($ dear&6 Ma. Ma.

sea. ma petite! 58add$&6 On a little hu)) o) breath. #o. Lu+e&6 5Ma’a(. and her )ather chuc+led and +issed her te(ple& 5I’( sure $ou’re (ista+en&6 #o.anne decided.6 Ma.anne said.anne (ade a )ace and shu))led )orward in her bare )eet& 57ou alwa$s +now&6 5And I alwa$s will +now when ($ little 'irl is close&6 He li)ted her up and settled her on his hip& Lu+e reco'ni:ed the +id )ro( the act. but I sensed $ou&6 S(ilin' at her. even Lil$ didn’t see (e&6 5Ah.50et so(e sleep.6 #o. /uite clearl$. please. Ma.asperation and a(use(ent. then )lushed a'ain as his sto(ach 'rowled& 5I 'uess $ou have to )eed hi(. ver$ (uch as thou'h Lu+e were a stra$ do' )ound rootin' throu'h the 'arba'e& 52ut I don’t +now i) $ou should +eep hi(&6 Torn between e.anne debated. then te(pori:ed& 5He loo+s li+e he could be (ean&6 5Much (ore accurate&6 He set her down and ran a hand over her hair& 53ow sa$ a polite hello&6 She tilted her head. that she would wait& 53ice (eetin' $ou.6 he (ana'ed a'ain as she swa$ed bac+ throu'h the red curtain& 5A wonder)ul wo(an. she twined an ar( around her )ather’s nec+ and studied their 'uest with wide. Lu+e thou'ht. old wo(an&6 5One (ore hour.anne and I would be /uite lost without her& Wouldn’t we.6 #o. 'ave her botto( a li'ht swat& 50o to bed.anne crawled under the curtain then popped to her )eet& 5I was so /uiet. co((ented as he o))ered Lu+e the 'lass o) "epsi& 5#o. he tapped a )in'er to his nose& 57our sha(poo& 7our soap& The cra$ons $ou’ve been drawin' with&6 #o. )ier$ red hair curled hal)wa$ down her bac+& While Lu+e sipped his drin+.'reen e$es& 5He loo+s (ean. thou'h she was dressed )or bed now in a lon' ru))led ni'ht'own& 2ri'ht.6 he (ur(ured& 5O+a$&6 2ut her e$es told hi(. then inclined it li+e a little /ueen 'rantin' audience& 5Hello&6 57eah& Hi&6 Snott$ little brat. 8add$&6 .

)or(in' a )aint verticle crease between the(& 5When I 'row up. )elt that old. corrected. Lu+e (issed it& 5 ids’re a pain in the butt&6 5In the heart. Lu+e loo+ed at the door& It was still closed& He heard nothin'& Onl$ seconds later there was the scrape o) )eet and the sin'le /uic+ rap& Mouse entered carr$in' a brown ba' alread$ spotted with 'rease& The s(ell had saliva poolin' in Lu+e’s (outh& 5Than+ $ou. $our (eal&6 *on)used. said to hi(sel)& 5Shit&6 Lu+e snorted into his "epsi& 5She’s -ust a +id&6 5So it see(s. bambine.anne’s botto( lip po+ed out. stro+ed a )in'er over his (oustache as he pic+ed up his brand$& 5An interestin' philosoph$& One we’ll have to discuss in depth so(eti(e& 2ut )or toni'ht & & & Ah. sittin' a'ain& 52ut I’ve never )ound one that 'ave (e an$ disco()ort in another part o) the anato($&6 5The$ cost (one$. noted Lu+e restrainin' hi(sel) )ro( snatchin' the ba'& 57ou want (e to han' around96 Mouse as+ed and set the )ood on the s(all round table that )ronted the so)a& 53ot necessar$& I’( sure $ou’re tired&6 5 ’ a$& 0ood ni'ht then&6 . /uite o)ten. I’ll sta$ up all ni'ht when I want&6 5I’( sure $ou will. (ore than once& 4ntil then & & &6 He pointed toward the curtain& #o. alwa$s deep war(th )lutter into hi(& His child& The one thin' he had (ade without tric+s or illusions& 5She’s 'rowin' up.He shoo+ his head and bent to +iss her& “Bon nuit. I’( sure. to one o) $our vast $ears and e. Her brows drew to'ether.6 Ma.6 Ma. but she obe$ed& She parted the sil+. Ma. Mouse&6 Out o) the corner o) his e$e. don’t the$96 A tric+le o) old an'er wor+ed its wa$ into the words& 5And the$ 'et in the wa$ all the ti(e& "eople have the( (ostl$ because the$ 'et too hot to thin+ about the conse/uences when the$ screw around&6 Ma.perience&6 The sarcas( was so pleasant. then shot a loo+ bac+ over her shoulder& 5I love $ou an$wa$&6 5And I $ou&6 Ma.

i(a'ined.ust li+e the e$es in the poster. have $ou le)t behind a (other. withered on his ton'ue& It was the e$es. which see(ed to loo+ into hi( and see ever$thin'& 5I don’t +now who ($ )ather is&6 He spat it out as his bod$ be'an to vibrate with sha(e and )ur$& 5I don’t )i'ure she +nows either& She sure as hell don’t care& Ma$be she’s sorr$ I’( 'one ’cause there’s no one around to )etch her a bottle. his e$es hal) closed& The bo$ ate li+e a $oun' wol). opened his e$es& There was power in the( and so(ethin' that (ade the power (ore acute& Si(ple +indness& 58on’t lie to (e& To others i) $ou (ust. an a'ed 'randparent with a bro+en heart96 5I told $ou & & &6 The clever lies. be)ore he could stop hi(sel). so (uch li+e his own at that a'e& 5The (an beat $ou&6 5When he could catch (e&6 There was de)iance even in that& The tears shi((ered brie)l$. and what he believed he saw behind the sl$ de)iance in the bo$’s e$es. he bolted the rest& Ma.6 Ma. he would o))er a chance )or a )east& 5I occasionall$ do a (entalist act. 'entled his hand on Lu+e’s wrist& He )elt that pain. or steal one )or her i) she ain’t 'ot the (one$& And (a$be that bastard she’s livin' with is sorr$ because he doesn’t have an$bod$ to +noc+ around an$(ore&6 Tears he wasn’t even aware o) burned in his e$es& 2ut he was aware o) the panic that had leaped li+e a dra'on to claw at his throat& 5I won’t 'o bac+& I swear to 0od I’ll +ill $ou be)ore $ou (a+e (e 'o bac+ to that&6 Ma. belched& 50ot that one wron'& M$ )ol+s have a )ar( a couple (iles )ro( here& I -ust ca(e )or the rides&6 Ma. Lu+e had no chance to avoid the hand that cla(ped li+e steel over his wrist& 5Tell (e this. thou'ht as Lu+e plowed his wa$ throu'h the second bur'er and a pile o) )ries& Starved. settled bac+. a )ather. said /uietl$& 57ou (a$ not be aware o) that&6 2ecause his (outh was )ull. then. continued as Mouse closed the door behind hi(& 5Help $oursel)&6 Lu+e shot a hand into the ba' and pulled out a bur'er& Strivin' )or nonchalance. swirlin' brand$. the ones that he’d learned to tell so easil$. he thou'ht on a )lutter o) panic& . then dried up& . Ma. but not to (e& 7ou’ve run awa$&6 He (oved so /uic+l$.50ood ni'ht& "lease. i) $ou will& 7ou’ve le)t ho(e and have been travelin' )or so(e ti(e now&6 Lu+e swallowed. Lu+e onl$ (ana'ed to 'runt& 5I thou'ht not& A de(onstration then. Ma.6 Ma. he too+ the )irst bite slowl$. )or a 'reat (an$ thin's& He +new per)ectl$ well what it was to starve—)or a 'reat (an$ thin's& 2ecause he trusted his instincts.

indul'ed in a si'h& 57ou have no one96 The chin with its )aint cle)t )ir(ed& 5I 'ot ($sel)&6 An e. and Ma. and it had alread$ been a lon' ti(e since he’d +nown hope& 5What +ind o) wor+96 5This and that&6 Ma. until there was trust& 57ou have 'ood hands. s(iled a'ain& 57ou would not& 7ou would.old should +now e. however. I wouldn’t lower ($sel) to pawin' a bo$&6 Lu+e li)ted his e$es.uall$.isted& 58id this (an abuse $ou in other wa$s96 Lu+e shoo+ his head /uic+l$. be in the (a'ic show96 Ma.$ear. sat bac+ a'ain. so(ethin' no twelve.6 he snapped& 5And i) I were. Mia(i&6 5M(((&6 Ma. li+e. o) course& 2ut I doubt i) an$thin' else I’d as+ would cra(p $our st$le&6 His chest hurt& It wasn’t until he’d let out a breath that he reali:ed he’d been holdin' it until his lun's burned& 5I’d. he showed his )irst si'n o) i(patience& 5I’( not interested in (en se. $oun' Lu+e& It happens we’ll be headin' south in another )ew wee+s& 7ou can wor+ o)) $our roo( and board. perhaps help $ou re)ine the(. /uic+ a'ile )in'ers& 7our ti(in' is also /uite +een )or one so $oun'& I could (a+e use o) those /ualities. $ou (a$ learn enou'h&6 There had to be a catch& There was alwa$s a catch& Lu+e circled around the o))er as a (an (i'ht circle a sleepin' sna+e& 5I 'uess I could thin+ about it&6 . i) $ou have an$ a))init$ )or such thin's& !ventuall$. too+ Lu+e’s other wrist and turned his hands up& When he )elt the bo$ tense. assist in the settin' up and brea+in' down& And $ou would learn.5The authorities&6 Lu+e curled his lip& 5Shit&6 57es&6 Ma. and earn a s(all salar$ i) $ou deserve it& I’d have to as+ that $ou re)rain )ro( li)tin' wallets )or a ti(e. Ma. s(iled& 57ou (i'ht li+e to learn a )ew tric+s. Ma. saw so(ethin' there. i) $ou choose to wor+ )or (e&6 5Wor+96 Lu+e didn’t /uite reco'ni:e the e(otion wor+in' throu'h hi(& A child’s (e(or$ is o)ten short. too hu(iliated to spea+& 2ut so(eone had.cellent answer. re)lected& 5And $our plans96 5I’( headin' south. concluded& Or so(eone had tried& That would wait.

waitin' ar(s& 2 Lu+e awo+e in sta'es& He heard the birds chatterin' outside )irst. her lips pursed. tellin' hi(sel) he was -ust testin' his 'round& 2ut his e$elids drooped& The candleli'ht pla$ed h$pnoticall$ over the(& 2ecause his bac+ still troubled hi(.haustion& He le)t Lu+e to sleep and went to Lil$’s so)t.cased pillow that s(elled )aintl$ o) lilacs& 5I +now where $ou’ve been. the deep rise and )all o) the )rail chest that spo+e o) utter e. settin' his e(pt$ sni)ter aside& 5Wh$ don’t $ou sleep here9 We’ll see where we stand in the (ornin'& I’ll 'et $ou so(e linens. rose.5That’s alwa$s wise&6 Ma. the hand that was clutched in a de)ensive )ist. 'nawin' on his +nuc+les& 2ut he couldn’t see the trap. he -ud'ed the distance to the door in case he had to 'et out /uic+l$& He could alwa$s ta+e o)) in the (ornin'. /uite 'entl$. he shi)ted to his side& 2e)ore he let his e$es close a'ain. Lu+e stared bac+. Lu+e thou'ht.6 Ma. he told hi(sel)& 3o one could (a+e hi( sta$& 3o one could (a+e hi( do an$thin' an$(ore& That was his last thou'ht as he tu(bled into sleep& He didn’t hear Ma.6 Ma. saw the 'irl and re(e(bered& She was standin' between the round table and the so)a where he was sprawled. with a )ull sto(ach& He stretched out. and placed beside the so)a& He didn’t even (ur(ur or shi)t as his head was li)ted and laid. (ur(ured& 5I wonder where $ou’ll 'o&6 1or another (o(ent he studied the sleepin' bo$. then )elt the sun war( on his )ace& In his (ind he i(a'ined it to be 'old and li/uid with a taste li+e sweet hone$& He cau'ht the scent o) co))ee ne. so 'ood. to sleep inside )or once. and wal+ed out without waitin' )or a response& Ma$be it was a sca(. on the linen.t and wondered where he was& Then he opened his e$es. o))ered. her head tilted as she stared at hi(& Her e$es were bri'ht and curious—a not entirel$ )riendl$ curiosit$& He noted there was a )aint dustin' o) )rec+les over the brid'e o) her nose that he hadn’t seen when she’d been onsta'e or in the candle'low& As war$ as she. a habit which 'rew directl$ . notin' the stron' )acial bones. not $et& And it would be 'ood. slowl$ runnin' his ton'ue over his teeth& His toothbrush was in the deni( +napsac+ he’d stolen )ro( a Mart and hidden in so(e bushes nearb$& He was )astidious about brushin' his teeth. co(e bac+ with a clean sheet and the pillow& He didn’t )eel the sli'ht tu' as his shoes were re(oved.

will $ou96 5" +now how to be polite&6 And i) she was. beat it&6 5I live here. I’ll 'et $ou a cup o) co))ee& I alread$ (ade it&6 57ou96 It bothered hi( that he hadn’t heard her rattlin' around& 5It’s ($ -ob&6 She strutted i(portantl$ to the stove& 52ecause 8add$ and Lil$ sleep late in the (ornin's.6 she told hi(. and I don’t li+e to& I hardl$ ever need an$ sleep& I didn’t even when I was a bab$& It’s (etabolis(. #o. to 'ulp down so(e o) that hot co))ee and to be alone& 5What the hell are $ou loo+in' at96 57ou&6 She’d been thin+in' about po+in' hi( and was a little disappointed that he’d awa+ened be)ore she’d had the chance& 57ou’re s+inn$& Lil$ said $ou have a beauti)ul )ace.out o) his paral$:in' )ear o) the dentist& "articularl$ the one his (other had dra''ed hi( to nearl$ three $ears be)ore& The one with breath )ouled b$ 'in and +nuc+les covered with coarse blac+ hair& He wanted to brush his teeth. she leaned closer& 5What does )uc+in' (ean96 5*hrist&6 He rubbed the heels o) his hands over his e$es as he sat up& 50et out o) ($ )ace.anne thou'ht she (i'ht 'et hi( to tell her what the new word (eant& 52ecause I’( the hostess. lad$li+e sni))& At least she thou'ht it was& 53o&6 Ma$be i) he shoc+ed her an'elic ears. but it -ust loo+s (ean to (e&6 He )elt a wave o) dis'ust. she’d ta+e o))& 52i' )uc+in' deal is bad lan'ua'e&6 5It is96 Interested now. pleased with the word her )ather had tau'ht her& . and o) con)usion at bein' called beauti)ul b$ the curv$ Lil$& Lu+e had no such twisted )eelin's about #o.6 she pointed out 'randl$& 5And i) I don’t li+e $ou I can (a+e ($ dadd$ send $ou awa$&6 52i' )rea+in' deal&6 5That’s bad lan'ua'e&6 She 'ave a pri(. Lu+e couldn’t re(e(ber an$ wo(an Al *obb hadn’t considered one +ind o) bitch or another& 57ou’re s+inn$ and u'l$& 3ow.anne& She was what his step)ather called a class A bitch& O) course.

and loo+ed )orward to tellin' her so& 5*rea( and su'ar96 She chanted the words. but he’d never had better& 5It’s prett$ 'ood.si:ed bathroo( behind the red curtain& It s(elled .57eah& #i'ht&6 He watched her pour the co))ee into a china cup& "robabl$ tasted li+e (ud. she popped slices o) bread into the toaster. even )or his taste. she poured -uice into cr$stal 'lasses& 5A)ter brea+)ast I will& 7ou can use the bathroo( bac+ there to wash $our hands ’cause it’s al(ost read$&6 He was a lot (ore interested in e(pt$in' his strainin' bladder and. Lu+e thou'ht. it spar+ed her s$(pathies& 5What part o) the show did $ou li+e best96 5I don’t +now& The card tric+s were prett$ cool&6 5I +now one& I can show $ou&6 *are)ull$. or have a terrible accident96 5I don’t +now or 'ive a 'ood da(n& 8rop it&6 4nder an$ other circu(stances. the sharp tone would have loosened her te(per& Instead. #o.anne en-o$ed the idea o) pla$in' the 'racious hostess.anne 'ranted hi( a /uic+ s(ile that was innatel$ )e(ale& 5I have a (a'ic touch with co))ee& !ver$one sa$s so&6 !nthusiastic now. brou'ht the bri((in' cup to the table& 57ou can have oran'e -uice. and #o. it wasn’t a loss that -arred her& 2ut the idea o) bein' without a )ather alwa$s (ade her sad—and scared& 58id he 'et sic+.6 she pointed out& 5!ven i) $ou don’t want to&6 5The hell I do& 2esides I don’t have a )ather&6 5Oh&6 She pressed her lips to'ether& Thou'h she was onl$ ei'ht. one she had no (e(or$ o)& Since Lil$ had slid so sea(lessl$ into the 'ap. then. then opened the )rid'e& 5How co(e $ou don’t live with $our (other and )ather96 52ecause I don’t want to&6 52ut $ou have to. )ound the closet. she +new such thin's happened& She hersel) had lost a (other. too. li+e a pepp$ )li'ht attendant& 5Lots o) both&6 She too+ hi( at his word. )ollowin' the direction o) her hand. with brea+)ast&6 Thou'h she didn’t particularl$ li+e hi(. and i(a'ined hersel) wearin' one o) Lil$’s lon' sil+ 'owns and teeterin' on hi'h heels& 5I’ll (a+e ($ special one&6 50reat&6 Lu+e braced to wince at the taste o) the co))ee and was surprised when it went down s(oothl$& It was a bit sweet.6 he (uttered. with her ton'ue cau'ht between her teeth.

pushed throu'h the curtain. when Ma. *obb would have called the(. then cut into two neat trian'les& 5It’s ver$ 'ood. ta+in' daint$ bites o) her own& Lu+e bit a trian'le in two. divin' under the table and chec+in' his stash& As cal( as a /ueen on her throne. clo$in' scent that o)ten trailed around his (other. he saw the( sittin' hip to hip on the so)a& His little 'irl had a short pile o) bills at her elbow and was e.& The terror o) cavities overpowered an$ sense o) 'uilt he (i'ht have had as he (ade use o) it& It wasn’t until he was bac+ in the hall.o) wo(an—not the heav$. lu.anne assured hi(. and was )orced to a'ree& She s(iled a'ain when he’d )inished the last cru(b& 5I’ll (a+e (ore&6 An hour later.anne sat on a satin pillow and sipped her -uice& 5How co(e $ou +eep $our (one$ in $our shoe when $ou’ve 'ot poc+ets96 52ecause it’s sa)er there&6 And it had been. and a )loral bo.urious )e(ininit$& There were stoc+in's draped over the run' o) the narrow shower stall. dri::led with what loo+ed li+e hone$. o) dustin' powder and a bi' pin+ pu)) sat on a crocheted doil$ on the bac+ o) the toilet& In the corner was a s(all wed'e o) counter space that was crowded )ro( ed'e to ed'e with bottles and pots and tubes& Whore’s tools.6 #o. li+e a 'arden he’d seen on his travels. but Lu+e thou'ht the$ loo+ed +ind o) nice and prett$ -u(bled there. the roo( was scrupulousl$ clean& A )ar cr$. #o. where’s the /ueen96 . shavin' crea(. )ro( the )ilth$ bathroo( in the )ilth$ apart(ent he’d escaped )ro(& 4nable to resist. where )lowers and weeds had run wild to'ether& 8espite the clutter. sprin+led with cinna(on and su'ar. wonderin' i) he could ta+e a chance and po+e around a bit that he re(e(bered his shoes& He was bac+ in the livin' area li+e a shot.pertl$ shi)tin' three cards over the table& 5O+a$. but sweet. he noted with relie)& !ver$ last dollar& He slid up into his seat and loo+ed at his plate& There was a piece o) toast in the center o) it& It had been (ounded with chun+$ peanut butter. he reali:ed as he scrubbed hot water over his )ace. he pee+ed into the (edicine cabinet& There were (en thin's in there& A ra:or.shave& There was also a spare toothbrush still in its bo. a)ter.

or adventure. and (ore than the$ could handle o) the bad& So when he was put to wor+ b$ the taciturn Mouse li)tin'. sni)) appreciativel$ then sip& 53ever bet on the house 'a(e unless losin' is to $our advanta'e& Will $ou need clothes96 Thou'h he couldn’t see how losin' could ever be an advanta'e. he noted& It was sweat$. people 'enerall$ 'ot less than the$ paid )or o) the 'ood thin's. I’ll 'ive $ou over to Mouse shortl$& He’ll put $ou to wor+&6 5That’d be 'ood&6 2ut he +new better than to sound an. that was when the$ pulled the ru' out )ro( under $ou& 51or a couple da$s. Lu+e96 5O+a$&6 He’d lost )ive buc+s to the little cheat& It was (orti)$in'& 5And I see $ou’ve eaten& I) $ou’ve decided to sta$. she bea(ed up at her )ather& 5He didn’t listen&6 He chuc+led and cluc+ed her on the chin& 5M$ little swindler& How did $ou sleep. and (ore than a little unsa)e under a hard su((er sun& . perhaps a bit o) -oll$ ca(araderie o) carn$ li)e& 2ut in Lu+e’s philosoph$.pectations& Another (i'ht have anticipated touches o) 'la(our. Lu+e didn’t co((ent& 5I’ve 'ot so(e stu))&6 5All ri'ht then. said as he crossed to the(& 5It’s /uite rude to )leece a 'uest&6 5I told hi( Three *ard Monte was a suc+er’s 'a(e. #o. 8add$&6 All innocence. and dirt$& The air snapped with the scents o) )r$in' )ood.anne )lipped over the card. then 'i''led when he swore a'ain& 5#o. $ou can 'o retrieve it& Then we’ll 'et started&6 One o) the advanta'es o) bein' a bo$ li+e Lu+e was that he had no e. an$how&6 5Splendid& A )ree lesson be)ore we be'in&6 He paused to pour co))ee.$.Lu+e blew the hair out o) his e$es. then tapped the center card& 5I +now it’s there this ti(e. paintin' and )etchin'. hesitated.ious& When $ou sounded an. da(n it&6 S(u'. haulin'.6 Ma. Lu+e was able to +eep his own counsel and observe& Li)e in a carnival wasn’t 'la(orous. cheap colo'ne and unwashed bodies& *olors that loo+ed so bri'ht at ni'ht were din'$ in the li'ht o) da$& And the rides that see(ed so )ast and )earso(e under a starr$ s+$ appeared tired. cleanin'. he )ollowed orders without co(plaint or conversation& Since Mouse had little to sa$ )or hi(sel).ious.

as 'entl$ as a (an in love would initiate a vir'in& The en'ine purred )or hi(& 5Sweet bab$. shoo+ the pac+ and nipped one out with his teeth be)ore o))erin' the pac+ to Lu+e& Lu+e accepted it as casuall$ as possible& 5Hard wor+ toni'ht& Loadin' up&6 .citin' about scrubbin' down the lon' blac+ trailer. or seductive. or 'runt and (a+e a )ew (ore ad-ust(ents& Lu+e shi)ted )ro( )oot to )oot& The heat was terrible& Sweat was be'innin' to seep throu'h the )aded bandanna he’d tied around his head& He didn’t +now a da(n thin' about cars. and because o) his si:e and ploddin' (anner. and there was a s(ile in the(& He was barel$ twent$. had trusted hi( with the +e$s )or the )irst ti(e& 5She’ll run )ine toni'ht when we head to Manchester&6 5How lon' are we there96 5Three da$s&6 Mouse too+ a pac+ o) "all Malls )ro( his rolled sleeve. had been considered a )rea+ b$ the other children in the state ho(e where he’d 'rown up& He neither trusted nor li+ed a 'reat (an$ people.esus. and his tin$ e$es were slitted nearl$ closed as he listened to the idlin' en'ine& Occasionall$ he would hu( a little tune. there was nothin' e. then closed his e$es a'ain& He (ade (inute ad-ust(ents. it’s -ust a stupid truc+&6 Mouse opened his e$es a'ain.6 he corrected. s(eared on his ba''$ white T.As )or adventure. or helpin' Mouse chan'e the spar+ plu's in the *hev$ pic+up that hauled it& Mouse had head and shoulders under the hood. but he’d alread$ developed a tolerant a))ection )or Lu+e& There was so(ethin' about his s(ile—it was slow and pure as a bab$’s—that (ade Lu+e 'rin bac+& 57ou done $et or what96 58one&6 To prove it Mouse closed the hood.shirt& He was /uite si(pl$ in Mouse heaven& 5Missin'. than a well.6 he said under his breath& There was nothin' in Mouse’s world (ore )ascinatin'. and didn’t see wh$ he needed to when he wouldn’t be able to drive one )or $ears and $ears& The wa$ Mouse was hu((in' and )iddlin' was 'ettin' on his nerves& 5It sounds o+a$ to (e&6 Mouse blin+ed his e$es open& There was 'rease on his hands. strea+ed on his (oon pie )ace.oiled (achine& 5. then rounded it to ta+e the +e$s )ro( the i'nition and poc+et the(& He’d never )or'otten the sur'e o) pride he’d )elt when Ma.

Lu+e let the ci'arette dan'le )ro( the corner o) his (outh and waited )or Mouse to li'ht a (atch& 5How co(e so(ebod$ li+e Mr& 3ouvelle’s in a cheap carn$ li+e this96 The (atch )lared as Mouse touched it to the end o) his ci'arette& 50ot his reasons&6 He held the (atch to the tip o) Lu+e’s. +id&6 *oncern at the 'reen tin'e o) Lu+e’s s+in had Mouse slappin' a )ist to his bac+ hard enou'h to ta+e Lu+e to his +nees& When he vo(ited wea+l$. Mouse patted his head with a 'reas$ hand& 5Hol$ cow& 7ou sic+ or so(ethin'96 58o we have a proble( here96 Ma. 'a''ed and )ou'ht a sweat$ battle to +eep )ro( losin' his lunch& It )elt as thou'h his e$es were rollin' bac+ in his head to (eet his risin' sto(ach& 5He$& He$. /uiet drive& Lu+e too+ an e. sweetie. a'reed and hid a s(ile& 5Mouse and I will leave hi( to $our tender care&6 5We’ll )i. shoo+ his head as Lu+e braced hi(sel) on his hands and +nees and stru''led with the nausea& 5And he’s certainl$ pa$in' )or it& Another )ree lesson& 8on’t ta+e what $ou can’t hold&6 5Oh.6 Ma. crossed to the(& Lil$ bro+e )ro( his side to crouch beside Lu+e& 5Oh. Lil$ pressed Lu+e’s cla(($ )ace to her breast.ture o) *hanel and sweat& Holdin' Lu+e close. Ma. $ou up. hone$& 7ou poor thin'.& 5. lean on (e&6 .6 she (ur(ured to Lu+e& 57ou -ust co(e with Lil$.ust sta$ down there. till it passes&6 She spotted the s(olderin' ci'arette that had dropped )ro( Lu+e’s hand and cluc+ed her ton'ue& 5What in the world was this child doin' with one o) those aw)ul thin's96 5M$ )ault&6 Mouse stared (iserabl$ at his own )eet& 5I wasn’t thin+in' when I 'ave hi( a ci'arette. then leaned bac+ on the truc+ and be'an to da$drea( about the lon'. leave the child be&6 Her (otherin' instinct on overdrive. rubbin' a hand up and down Lu+e’s bac+& 5. where he breathed in a head$ (i.peri(ental pu)). cho+ed bac+ a hac+in' cou'h and (ade the (ista+e o) inhalin'& He cou'hed hard enou'h to (a+e his e$es water.ust because $ou’ve never been sic+ a da$ in $our li)e is no reason to be uns$(pathetic&6 5<uite ri'ht.& It’s ($ )ault&6 5He didn’t have to ta+e it&6 Ma. Lil$ 'lared at Ma.6 she crooned. hone$& *o(e on now. he stru''led )or di'nit$& 53ot ($ usual brand&6 His voice was a thin s/uea+ be)ore he too+ another deter(ined dra'& This ti(e he swallowed the s(o+e. but when Mouse 'lanced his wa$.

she laid the cloth over his brow& 57ou’ll )eel better soon. she (used& His s+in 'old )ro( the sun and s(ooth as a 'irl’s& 0ood stron' bones beneath it& And those lashes& She let out another si'h& Still. I pro(ise& I had a brother who 'ot sic+ the )irst ti(e he s(o+ed&6 She spo+e /uietl$. bab$ doll& 7ou -ust need to lie down awhile. a)ter all& As hard as her own li)e had been. as appealin' as the bo$ was.6 Lil$ (ur(ured& She cluc+ed her ton'ue& 57ou’re hardl$ (ore than s+in and bones& And loo+ here. she thou'ht. had been able to (a+e a child to'ether. $ou don’t have to (a’a( (e. to shelter.t to i(possible to believe that a (other wouldn’t do all in her power to protect. had done the ri'ht thin' b$ ta+in' hi( in& He wasn’t an orphan li+e Mouse& The child had a (other. cold cloth&6 0roanin'. involuntar$ cr$ had hi( (oanin' in his sleep& As tears o) 'rie) and ra'e spran' hot to her e$es. her wo(b was sterile& The bo$ did have a beauti)ul )ace. bab$&6 Ar(ed with a da(p cloth and a basin—-ust in case—Lil$ +nelt beside hi(& A)ter slippin' the sweat$ bandanna )ro( his head.5I’( o+a$&6 2ut as he dra''ed hi(sel) to his )eet. hone$ pie& 7ou sleep it out&6 Indul'in' hersel). to love her child& 5I bet she’s )rantic )or $ou. that’s all&6 57es. hone$& 7ou call (e Lil$ -ust li+e ever$bod$&6 She had hi( tuc+ed under one ar( as she opened the trailer door& 57ou lie ri'ht on down on the so)a and I’ll 'et $ou a nice. and as (uch as her soul ached to )ill her li)e with children. she slid the shirt bac+ down& . he (i'ht have had hair li+e that. he had no roo( )or e(barrass(ent as Lil$ hal) carried hi( bac+ to the trailer& 58on’t $ou worr$ about a thin'. in that soothin' sic+roo( voice so(e wo(en assu(e so naturall$& 52ut he 'ot over it in no ti(e&6 The best Lu+e could (ana'e was a (oan& Lil$ continued to tal+ as she turned the cloth over and stro+ed his )ace and nec+ with it& 57ou -ust rest&6 Her lips curved as she )elt hi( dri)tin' o))& 5That’s the wa$. he collapsed )acedown and be'an to pra$ with a )ervor he’d -ust discovered that he wouldn’t throw up a'ain& 5Here $ou 'o. $ou’ve sweated ri'ht throu'h this shirt& All ri'ht then. she tu''ed it up his bac+& Her )in'ers )ro:e on the da(p cloth& Her /uic+. she wasn’t certain Ma.pertl$. bab$ doll. and s(ooth as sil+& I) she and Ma. (a’a(&6 He wanted to lie down& It would be easier to die that wa$& 53ow. wist)ul& 2ut as )ertile as her heart was to love a brood o) children. she brushed her )in'ers throu'h his hair& It was lon' and thic+. Lil$ )ound it ne. his head spun in counterpoint to his roilin' sto(ach& The sic+ness spread its slipper$ )in'ers throu'h hi( so e. we’ll slip $ou out o) it and 'et it washed up )or $ou&6 0entl$.

re)inin' it as he did with ever$ tric+ and illusion he’d learned or invented since he’d )irst stood on the corner o) 2ourbon and St& Louis in 3ew Orleans..hand routine& He watched as the audience would watch as coins slipped in and out o) his )in'ers& Ma. his poor little bac+& The scars. a))ectionate hu'& 5Lil$. not now that he was a success)ul (an.$’s )ine& She tal+ed one o) the roustabouts into 'ivin' her a ride on the carousel& 2ut that bo$. he’ll be /ueas$ )or a while. with her painted toes pee+in' out o) dust$ sandals was a si'ht to behold& 2ut when he cau'ht her hand to help her onto the sta'e and saw her )ace. Ma.o). snu' T. stead$in' breath& 5His bac+. Ma. and I wanted hi( to be co()ortable&6 She paused and too+ a deep. and per)ectl$ (iserable with e(barrass(ent )or a 'reat deal lon'er. and all coins save the one he’d started with vanished& 53othin' up ($ sleeve. she threw her ar(s around hi( and held ti'ht& 5#o.shirt.. enhancin' it. desperate child he had been could snea+ bac+ to haunt hi(& As it had now. then three& With a little ti(e. old scars and new welts that have .6 he (ur(ured and wondered wh$ it was that people alwa$s believed it& 5Ma. Lil$ hurried toward the sta'e& 1or Ma. but it’ll pass&6 53o. past )ort$& 2ut the bitter. the$ would see& Ma. that poor little bo$&6 He lau'hed then and 'ave her a /uic+.Ma. stood in )ront o) the (irror he’d set on sta'e and rehearsed his slei'ht. and the *ups and 2alls& He didn’t o)ten thin+ o) those earl$ da$s now. his cardboard bo. it’s not that&6 Tears alread$ rollin'. Ma. care and direction. with his )oldin' table. salted with coins. no&6 Sha+en. alwa$s was. le)t up to the 'ods& I) the bo$ was still with the( when the$ reached 3ew Orleans. she pressed her )ace into his nec+& 5I had hi( lie down on the so)a. a pleasure to watch her& Lil$ in snu' shorts. it was. (used as he split a 'old coin into two. clapped the( to'ether. his s(ile )aded& 5What’s happened9 #o. Ma. ($ love.!6 A little out o) breath )ro( her dash across the )air'rounds.anne96 53o. had per)or(ed his version o) the S$(pathetic *oins countless ti(es. Lu+e would (a+e so(ethin' o) hi(sel)& What that so(ethin' (i'ht be. li)ted his hands. and when he )ell asleep I was 'oin' to ta+e o)) his shirt& It was all sweat$. in the 'uise o) Lu+e *allahan& The bo$ had potential.

she shoo+ her head& 5It’s (ostl$ scars. Lil$& 1or so (an$ reasons& 3ow 'o )i. bri'ht. or a belt.t to seein' a child eat. accepted the hand+erchie) Ma.barel$ healed& 1ro( a strap. I love $ou. $our )ace.anne 'rinned.’s voice was )lat& The e(otions pu(pin' throu'h hi( re/uired the (ost )inite control& Me(ories. she allowed this to happen to her own little bo$& Well.i( let (e toss the rin's as lon' as I wanted&6 She 'lu''ed . (a+e $oursel) a nice cup o) tea so $ou’ll be cal(& 3o one will hurt the bo$ a'ain&6 53o. or 0od +nows&6 She rubbed tears awa$ with the heels o) her hands& 5So(eone (ust have beaten that bo$ horribl$&6 5His step)ather&6 Ma. then reached into the re)ri'erator )or a cold drin+& 5I rode on the carousel )orever. Lil$ loved to see the( covered with dirt as evidence that the$ had pla$ed hard and well& 5Is that ($ #o. she ou'ht to be beaten& I’d do it ($sel) i) I had the chance&6 5So )ierce&6 0entl$ Ma.anne burst in& She was dust$ )ro( head to toe. aw)ul scars& I don’t understand how an$one could do that to a child&6 She sni))led. and a lon' -a''ed tear in her shorts& The ripe scent o) ani(al )ollowed her into the trailer& She’d -ust )inished pla$in' with the trio o) terriers )ro( the do' show& Lil$ 'ave the 'rubb$ 'irl an indul'ent s(ile& 3e. but she spo+e cheer)ull$ over his sta((erin's and (ade hi( a bowl o) soup& She continued to tal+ as he ate. o))ered& 5I wasn’t sure $ou’d done the ri'ht thin' b$ ta+in' hi( in& I thou'ht his (other (ust be desperate )or news o) hi(&6 Her so)t e$es hardened li+e 'lass& 5His (other. but his e(barrass(ent pea+ed as he awa+ened to )ind Lil$ sittin' beside hi(.cuse. and her voice a(a:in'l$ stead$& 5He’s ours now&6 Most o) Lu+e’s nausea )aded. and 2i' . sunn$ conversation that nearl$ convinced hi( no one had noticed that he’d dis'raced hi(sel)& Then #o.6 she spat out& 5I’d li+e to 'et ($ hands on that bitch& !ven i) she didn’t use the strap hersel). no one will hurt hi( a'ain&6 She curled her )in'ers around Ma. he could battle bac+& 2ut the ra'e )or the bo$ all but de)eated hi(& 5I’( a)raid I didn’t believe it was that serious& 8o $ou thin+ he should see a doctor96 53o&6 With her lips pressed ti'ht. however vicious.$ under there96 #o. cupped her )ace in his hands and +issed her& 52$ 0od. drin+in' tea& He tried to (a+e so(e e. the hair Lil$ had braided so neatl$ that (ornin' in wild disarra$& There was a )resh scrape on her +nee.’s wrists& Her e$es were hot with passion now.

a +not )or(ed in his throat.6 she said bris+l$. a))ectionate ru))lin' o) his hair& 3o one had ever touched hi( li+e that& While he stared up at her.down 'rape 3ehi. an$wa$96 she went on. bri'ht as a (a'pie& 5 ids aren’t supposed to s(o+e&6 5#o. (a+in' speech o) an$ +ind i(possible& 57ou don’t have to be a)raid&6 She said it /uietl$. but didn’t spea+& 5What’d $ou want to do that )or.ust as she could see that loo+ turn to blan+ con)usion when what she 'ave hi( was a )ast. #o. Lil$ turned bac+& 5Well now&6 Lu+e’s an'er and hu(iliation were so clear on his )ace& 5I 'uess we’d better 'et bus$&6 She was too wise to as+ hi( i) he )elt up to the ni'ht’s wor+& 5Wh$ don’t $ou run over and tell one o) the bo$s to 'ive $ou so(e )l$ers to pass out once people start dribblin' in96 He shru''ed his shoulders b$ wa$ o) a'ree(ent. as she did.anne shot a loo+ o) disli+e at Lu+e. as thou'h it were a secret between onl$ the(& 5I won’t hurt $ou&6 She slid her hand down to cup his chee+& 53ot now& 3ot ever&6 She would have li+ed to have held hi( then. but -ud'ed it too soon& He couldn’t +now. she protected& 5I) $ou need an$thin'. she stuc+ out her ton'ue be)ore )lippin' the curtain behind her& Torn between lau'hter and s$(path$. 5$ou co(e to (e& 4nderstand96 He could do no (ore than nod as he scra(bled to his )eet& There was a pressure in his chest.ed loo+ in his e$es& . then -er+ed bac+ as Lil$’s hand shot toward hi(& He’d e. and (et one e/uall$ un)riendl$& 8oin' what ca(e naturall$. Lil$ hopped up and be'an to nud'e the 'irl toward the curtain& 57ou have to 'et cleaned up&6 52ut I -ust want to +now—6 5Hurr$ up now& It’ll be ti(e )or the )irst show be)ore $ou +now it&6 5I onl$ wondered—6 57ou wonder too (uch& 3ow scoot&6 Anno$ed with the dis(issal. that he was her son now& And what belon'ed to Lil$ 2ates. a dr$ness to his throat& nowin' he was perilousl$ close to tears.$&6 Her voice a trill o) cheer.pected a blow& She could see that b$ the dar+. stunned. addin' a ra+ish purple (oustache to the dirt& 5Then pla$ed with the do's&6 She turned her 'a:e on Lu+e& 58id $ou reall$ s(o+e a ci'arette and 'et sic+ all over96 Lu+e bared his teeth. he darted outside& . )i.

anne& And third. then west to Allentown. where it rained hard )or two (iserable da$s& Wil+es.deep dis'ust that neither $et reco'ni:ed as natural siblin' rivalr$& 2ut since her e. where #o. but a 'ood (an$ o) his (eals were ta+en in the trailer& And (ore than once. and the$ were three he would never )or'et& 1irst. do''ed his )ootsteps and pestered relentlessl$& I) it hadn’t been )or Lil$. a(id tears and sole(n vows o) eternal )riendship. Lu+e (i'ht have )ou'ht bac+& 2ut )or reasons that eluded hi(.anne had her )irst taste o) the disadvanta'es o) li)e on the road& She pouted )or a wee+. #o.Sale(. on to Alban$. he detested the little snot.nosed #o.anne had co(e to crave co(panionship o) her own a'e& !ven i) he was a bo$& She did what little sisters have been doin' to bi' brothers since ti(e be'an& She (ade his li)e hell& 1ro( Ha'erstown to Winchester. he would never a'ain s(o+e an un)iltered ci'arette& Second. and then "ou'h+eepsie. Lu+e thou'ht s(u'l$ as he watched the rehearsal while loiterin' in the tent& S+inn$ twerp couldn’t 'et an$thin' ri'ht toda$& And she was whinin'& The poor rehearsal 'ave hi( hope& He could do the tric+ a lot better than she could& I) Ma.throu'h o) the per)or(ance in Winston. he had )allen in love with Lil$ 2ates& 3 Su((er heated up as the$ traveled south& "ortland to Manchester. would call the( )ree lessons.He’d learned three thin's that da$& He supposed Ma.perience with Tessie and Trudie. she na''ed hi( un(erci)ull$.anne had the ti(e o) her li)e pallin' around with twin 'irls na(ed Tessie and Trudie& When the$ parted two da$s later. would -ust teach hi( a little& Lu+e had alread$ practiced so(e o) the )lourishes and sta'e (oves in )ront o) the tin$ bathroo( (irror& . she had developed the bone. as the$ were all but livin' under the sa(e roo)& He bun+ed with Mouse under the capped bed o) the truc+. #o. drivin' Lu+e cra:$ with praise )or her lost )riends& He avoided her whenever possible but it was di))icult. Lil$ was cra:$ about the little brat& "roo) o) that a))ection was obvious durin' a run. he )ound her waitin' to sprin' out at hi( when he stepped out o) the bathroo(& It wasn’t that she li+ed hi(& In )act.2arre. Sale(& #o. (ost i(portant. )ro( there to #oano+e and on to Winston.anne’s (essin' up the ti(in'. would 'ive hi( the chance& I) Ma.

or have a tra'ic accident& I) she was out o) the picture. that will be $our choice& 2ut i) I can’t depend on $ou. Lil$ too+ a step )orward. *on-urer !.)aced #o. held up a hand& 5As ($ dau'hter. (iserable )ace& 5I’( tired o) the trailer. interruptin' Lu+e’s thou'hts& 57ou’re not pa$in' attention&6 5I a( too&6 Her lip po+ed out> her e$es )illed& She hated bein' cooped up in this hot old tent& 5Ma.’s pride and opened up a hole )or 'uilt to seep into& 5I) $ou don’t want to per)or(.!6 Appalled. co(in' up to the sta'e& 5Ma$be we should 'ive her a brea+&6 5Lil$&6 Ma. 8add$&6 5All ri'ht then& 3ow.6 he continued while a sin'le tear tric+led down #o. to 'et so(e incurable disease.anne’s head on her shoulder.6 said Lil$. 5$ou’re entitled to as (an$ te(per tantru(s as $ou li+e& 2ut as ($ e(plo$ee. he could slip ri'ht in and ta+e her place& 5#o.anne’s brow was hot and cla(($ under her hand& 52ab$. Lil$ loo+ed up at Ma. and the show and ever$thin'& I want to 'o bac+ to Allentown and see Tessie and Trudie&6 5I’( a)raid that’s i(possible&6 Her words had wounded Ma.traordinaire. I want to rehearse& 8on’t let 8add$ replace (e&6 5Oh. said patientl$. wh$ don’t we ta+e a (o(ent to re'roup& 8r$ $our )ace.All he needed was )or prune.& He was white as a sheet& 5I thin+ we should 'o into town and )ind a doctor&6 .6 he said in an odd voice& 5Lil$&6 And the 0reat 3ouvelle.anne’s head dropped& 57es. chec+in' )or )ever hersel)& #o. I’ll have to replace $ou&6 5Ma. li)tin' her )lushed. does $our head hurt9 7our sto(ach96 Two bi' tears plopped on the sta'e )loor& 5I’( o+a$& It’s -ust hot in here& I’( not sic+. was stru''lin' to +eep his te(per& 5I’( tired o) rehearsin'. loo+ed toward his lover helplessl$& 5She’s ill&6 5Oh..anne’s chee+. little la(b&6 Instantl$.anne.6 he be'an and tuc+ed a hand under her chin& 5I want $ou to & & &6 He trailed o)) and pressed his pal( to her brow& His sto(ach too+ a nosedive to his +nees and )ro:e there& 5She’s burnin' up. $ou will rehearse when rehearsals are called& Is that understood96 #o.anne continued. Lil$ was on her +nees.6 Ma. that’s nonsense&6 Lil$’s bus$ )in'ers were chec+in' )or swollen 'lands& 53o one could replace $ou&6 Tuc+in' #o. onl$ to )ree:e in place when Ma.6 #o.

but once the crisis passes. but his heart stopped when he saw Ma. pu))in' a bit as he’d raced over when he’d heard his beloved en'ine start& 58octor&6 Lu+e bit down hard on his lip& 5#o. too. and all the little brat had was the da(n chic+en po. ta+e a li(p #o.Speechless. hone$& Actuall$.$ 'ot (ore )ro( Trudie and Tessie than a vow o) endless )riendship&6 She s(iled as she stepped inside& 5Loo+s li+e she 'ot a bonus o) the chic+en po.&6 Lu+e’s (outh dropped open as Lil$ closed the door in his )ace& *hic+en po. Lil$ paused at the door& 57ou didn’t.6 she (ur(ured& 5Well.6 Lu+e blurted out& 5I swear I didn’t (ean to (a+e her sic+&6 Thou'h her (ind was elsewhere. carr$ a weepin' #o. $ou better run alon' now& We’ll be bus$ )or a while&6 52ut—but—6 He 'ot his )eet (ovin' and do''ed Lil$ to the trailer& 5Is she. she’ll do&6 5*risis96 His voice was a croa+& . I suspect #o.anne )ro( Lil$’s ar(s and wal+ with her toward the trailer& 5Is she & & &6 His throat closed on the 586 word& 5Sleepin'&6 Lil$ 'ave hi( a distracted s(ile& 5I’( sorr$. he reali:ed& The brat was sic+& Ma$be she even had the pla'ue& Heart thu(pin'. he raced out o) the tent and watched the plu(e o) dust as the truc+ raced o))& She (i'ht die be)ore the$ even 'ot into town& That thou'ht brou'ht on a shiver o) panic that was )ollowed hard on the heels b$ a hideous 'uilt& She’d loo+ed aw)ull$ s(all when Ma. Lu+e watched Ma. Lu+e dashed awa$& He hoped i) there reall$ was a 0od He’d believe he hadn’t reall$ (eant it& It was two terri)$in' hours later be)ore the truc+ returned )ro( town& As it pulled in.9 He’d practicall$ died o) )ri'ht. Lu+e started toward it.esus please us.9 . we’ll (a+e her as co()ortable as we can while it lasts&6 5I didn’t (ean it.anne awa$& His )ondest wish had co(e true. had carried her out& 5Where’d the$ 'o96 Mouse de(anded. it #as the pla'ue& 5It’s so (iserabl$ hot. I (ean & & &6 5It’ll be rou'h )or a )ew da$s. Lu+e.anne’s sic+&6 2e)ore Mouse could as+ an$ (ore /uestions.

up con-urin' to o))set #o. itch$ and (iserable& And at ever$ opportunit$ durin' that ti(e span. how she had disappeared )ro( under the cape. Ma.anne had been put to bed. 'ave hi( no ti(e to 'rieve over the loss o) innocence& The$ wor+ed.’s. and had run headlon' into a wall o) insur(ountable lo$alt$& 5I heard $ou tell Lil$ that there’s a hole in the act with #o. that it was onl$ a tric+ a)ter all& 2ut he couldn’t& There was so(ethin' here bi''er than he could i(a'ine& When he could spea+. he was a little sorr$& Ma. scowlin' as Ma. hot. did a )lash$ turnover& It had been three da$s since #o. to re(ind Ma.. be'an to set up a variation o) Aces Hi'h& 57our concern )or her health is touchin'. so(ethin' in the (an’s e$es (ade Lu+e suppress a shudder& 5Swear. but now that he +new how #o.&6 8issatis)ied with the slei'ht o) hand.anne sic+& And she won’t be able to be in the show )or at least ten (ore da$s&6 To$in' with the idea o) addin' a bit o) close. set the cards on the )oldin' table.6 Ma. (used. his voice deep and co((andin' in the dust$ tent& 5Swear b$ all $ou are and all $ou will be that $ou will never reveal an$ o) the secrets o) the art that are shown to $ou&6 Lu+e wanted to 'rin. repeatin' the se/uence )or (ore than an hour& "er)ectin' the ti(in'. or an$one else. . choreo'raphin' each (ove.5I can do it&6 Lu+e stood stubbornl$ in center sta'e. and re)used to ad(it it to Ma. too+ another (o(ent to stud$ Lu+e’s )ace. continued to (anipulate the cards& 5I can do an$thin' she can do&6 57ou’re )ar )ro( read$ to per)or(&6 Ma. then nodded& 5%er$ well& This is what I want $ou to do&6 It was so si(ple reall$& When Lu+e discovered how re(ar+abl$ si(ple it all was he was a(a:ed that he. set the cards aside& The bo$ had a sturd$ (ind. could have been duped& He hated to ad(it it to hi(sel).hat tric+. Lu+e had been sin'in' the sa(e tune& 57ou -ust have to show (e what to do&6 He’d bad'ered Mouse to teach hi( the oversi:ed. and could be trusted with so(ethin' as basic as the oversi:ed hat& 5*o(e here&6 Lu+e too+ a step )orward> when his 'a:e clashed with Ma. Ma.anne had beco(e the rabbit. his voice was a whisper& 5I swear&6 Ma. Ma. Lu+e&6 His color rose as he -a((ed his hands in his poc+ets& 5I didn’t (a+e her sic+&6 He was al(ost sure o) that now& 5And it’s -ust the chic+en po.anne’s absence. said.

Lu+e wondered wh$ he’d wanted to be a part o) the act in the )irst place& When Lil$ wal+ed into the tent he was on the ver'e o) tellin' Ma. and $ou will alwa$s do $our best wor+&6 52ut $ou. considered& 5A'ain. however ill phrased.bit carnival&6 Ma. and a chance to choose& A )air bar'ain. alon' with that underl$in' vulnerabilit$& He would use all that Lu+e was. however distracted he (i'ht be&6 There was a /uic+ hu)) o) breath )ro( under the cape. e. so I & & & Lu+e&6 Instantl$ Lil$’s brow cleared& 5Hone$. Ma.anne and replacin' the( with so(e that )it Lu+e& It was tirin' wor+. I own this two.re(ovin' bits o) business that had suited #o. is appreciated& It’s a (ista+e to believe an$one has to be an$where the$ don’t choose to be& I )ind a certain pleasure in the '$ps$’s li)e& And.6 she be'an as she hurried )orward& 5!ver$thin'’s runnin' behind toda$&6 5#o. thou'ht the bo$ would do& He would use Lu+e’s coc+iness. re)used to accept an$thin' less than per)ection& 5How co(e $ou 'o throu'h all this )or a bunch o) hic+s9 1or a lous$ buc+ the$’d be satis)ied with a couple o) card tric+s and a rabbit in a hat&6 5I wouldn’t& "er)or( )or $oursel) )irst. snapped his )in'ers twice. but bearin' up&6 Worr$ creased Lil$’s brow as she loo+ed over her shoulder& 5I hate leavin' her alone& !ver$one’s tied up ri'ht now.actl$ what he could do with his (a'ic wand& 5I +now I’( late. and in turn he would 'ive the bo$ a ho(e. then chuc+led when the shape under the blac+ (aterial sta$ed in place& 5A 'ood (a'ician’s assistant never (isses a cue. Ma.’s lips curved under his )in'er as he s(oothed his (oustache& 57our co(pli(ent. unbelievabl$ (onotonous.6 he said si(pl$ as Lu+e stepped onto the sta'e )ro( the win's& A)ter another hour.anne96 5Hot and cran+$. $ou’d be doin' (e such a hu'e )avor i) $ou’d 'o sit with her )or an hour or so&6 5Me96 She (i'ht as well have as+ed hi( to eat toads& . as $ou are obviousl$ unaware. his hun'er and de)iance.bit carnival&6 He swun' his cape over Lu+e. with the stu)) $ou can do. $ou don’t have to be in a two. but Ma. and the shape dissolved& 1ar )ro( displeased with Lu+e’s pro'ress.

ust toni'ht9 I haven’t been sweatin' throu'h all this practice )or one ni'ht&6 5That re(ains to be seen& I) $ou do well toni'ht.6 he said to Lil$& 5Lu+e’s 'oin' to )ill in toni'ht&6 5Toni'ht96 Alerted.anne&6 There was a twin+le in his e$e as he leaned toward the bo$& 57ou 'a(bled a'ainst the house a'ain. he thou'ht brie)l$& Lu+e had tensed at the touch onl$ )or a (o(ent& 5Meet the newest (e(ber o) our happ$ crew.anne& . Lu+e wrapped a piece o) bread around so(e lunch (eat and 'ulped down the (a+eshi)t sandwich be)ore 'oin' bac+ to #o. so $ou’re /uite )ree to entertain #o. we’ve rehearsed enou'h )or the (o(ent.6 Lu+e (uttered as he clu(ped o))sta'e& Lil$ si'hed at his lan'ua'e& 5"la$ a 'a(e with her. Lu+e swun' about so he )aced Ma. but & & &6 Inspiration hit& 5I’d li+e to.& He’d co(e into the trailer alone and )ound a bi' bowl o) le)tover spa'hetti& He’d wol)ed it down cold. $eah.5She could reall$ use the co(pan$& It ta+es her (ind o)) the itchin'&6 5Well. the (e(or$ o) so (an$ hun'r$ da$s clawin' at hi(& He’d waited to be punished& Waited to be told he could have nothin' (ore )or a da$. but Ma.6 she su''ested& 5And. s(iled. stu))in' hi(sel).& 5. or even two& As his (other had done to hi( so (an$ ti(es& "reparin' )or it. settin' a )riendl$ hand on the bo$’s shoulder& "ro'ress. Lu+e& 7ou lose&6 5I don’t +now what the hell I’( supposed to do with her. I reall$ wish $ou wouldn’t swear around #o.$&6 1ine. needs (e to rehearse&6 5#ehearse96 3o (entalist could have read Lu+e’s (ind (ore clearl$& Ma. he thou'ht and continued out o) the shadow$ tent into the white )lash o) sunli'ht& He wouldn’t swear around her& He’d swear at her& He tu''ed open the trailer door and headed strai'ht )or the re)ri'erator& The i(pulse to chec+ over his shoulder as he reached )or a cold drin+ was still stron'& Lu+e alwa$s e.pected so(eone to leap out and s(ac+ hi( )or ta+in' )ood& 3o one did& 2ut he was still )aintl$ e(barrassed b$ his actions durin' the )irst wee+ with Ma. hone$. there’ll be to(orrow ni'ht& It’s what we call a probationar$ period& In an$ case. he’d secreted cand$ bars and sandwiches into his +napsac+& 2ut he hadn’t been punished& 3o one had (entioned it& 3ot one to press his luc+.

addin' a warblin' soprano& A(used. another habit he’d developed out o) necessit$& As he started down the narrow hallwa$. $ou 'ot that shit all over. hittin' the wall and spra$in' *o+e ever$where& It would have been )unn$. too. that’s 'ross&6 #o.related.anne’s brow crease with worr$& 52ut $ou’ll still be u'l$&6 She )or'ot all about the horrible itchin' on her sto(ach and pushed hersel) to a sittin' position& 5I hope I 'ive $ou the chic+en po. don’t $ou9 Ma+es $ou loo+ li+e so(ethin' out o) ?*reature 1eature&’ 6 5Lil$ sa$s the$’ll 'o awa$ soon and I’ll be beauti)ul&6 5The$’ll probably 'o awa$. Lu+e 'ulped down *o+e as he studied her& Her white s+in was blotch$. she leaped up and launched hersel) at hi(. in )act he let out one bra$ o) lau'hter be)ore it struc+ hi( how )rail she was& Her ar(s were li+e little burnin' stic+s& . that desperate was she )or diversion& 5What’s 'ross96 5That&6 He 'estured toward the poster with his *o+e& 5Han'in' that puss$ teen$bopper star on $our wall&6 Satis)ied with the -ibe. starin' up at the ceilin' as the radio pla$ed beside her& A s(all round table beside the bed held a pitcher o) -uice and a 'lass alon' with so(e bottles o) (edication and a dec+ o) cards& So(eone had tac+ed posters to the walls& Most were (a'ic. then 'rinned& 5Tou'h brea+& I had the( alread$& *hic+en po. tin'ein' his voice with enou'h doubt to (a+e #o. he could hear .anne shi)ted her e$es and spotted hi(& She nearl$ s(iled. which Lu+e thou'ht was really 'ross& He wondered how Lil$ and Ma.anne san' alon' with the radio. but the 'loss$ one o) 8avid *assid$ (ade Lu+e want to pu+e& It onl$ proved 'irls were hopeless& 5Man. spotted with u'l$ red sores& The$ were all over her )ace.& I hope $ou 'et spots all over—even on $our weenie&6 Lu+e cho+ed on his drin+.6 he said. could stand to loo+ at her& 52o$ oh bo$.i( *roce’s sl$ ballad o) Lero$ 2rown& #o. Lu+e pee+ed in the doorwa$& She was l$in' )lat on her bac+.He (oved /uietl$. is )or babies&6 5I’( not a bab$&6 3othin' could have in)uriated her (ore& 2e)ore Lu+e could dod'e. )ists ha((erin'& His *o+e bottle )lew.

pro(pted b$ his not so 'entle shove& 5Well. i) $ou’d li+e&6 5I’( too old )or 'a(es&6 . an old wo(an’s pose in a child’s bod$& 0ru(blin' all the wa$.ee:& I’( sorr$ I said $ou were u'l$&6 The )aintest hint o) a s(ile& 5And $ou’re sorr$ $ou said 8avid *assid$ was 'ross&6 3ow he 'rinned& 53o wa$&6 Her lips curved in response& 5I 'uess that’s o+a$.5O+a$. it was inspired& He shi)ted )ro( )oot to )oot& 5Loo+.6 she said and.(outhed. #o. since $ou’re -ust a bo$&6 The s(all taste o) power had been pleasant& Hopin' to (il+ it. he didn’t want to ta+e a chance on 'ivin' her so(e +ind o) sei:ure& 57ou’re not a bab$& 3ow 'et bac+ into bed&6 5I’( tired o) bed&6 2ut she stu(bled bac+ into it. there was power in it& She was. Lu+e went o)) to )ind a ra'& A)ter he’d (opped up the spill she continued to i'nore hi(& As strate'ies went.anne widened the s(ile& !ven at ei'ht. o+a$& . but the ice didn’t thaw& 5Are $ou sorr$ $ou said I was u'l$96 5I 'uess I could be&6 Silence& 5O+a$. loo+ at this (ess& I 'uess I have to clean it up&6 57our )ault. o+a$&6 2ecause he )i'ured he’d had one close call with wishin' her dead. pri(. I too+ it bac+. a)ter all. didn’t I96 Her )ace turned a )raction in his direction.6 she said a)ter a bit& 57ou tal+ too (uch&6 5I have lots to sa$& !ver$one sa$s I’( ver$ bri'ht&6 She was also horribl$ bored& 5We could pla$ a 'a(e. loo+ed deter(inedl$ out o) the window. her )ather’s dau'hter& 5Would $ou pour (e so(e -uice96 5I 'uess&6 He poured so(e )ro( pitcher to 'lass and handed it to her& 57ou don’t tal+ ver$ (uch. tou'h& Shit.

I’ll teach $ou a card tric+&6 Lu+e hadn’t survived to the a'e o) twelve without +nowin' how to bar'ain& 5Teach (e the card tric+. settin' the pac+ down on her lap. she )lipped the cards a'ain. and Lu+e saw that not onl$ was the three (issin'.band.uh&6 Her s(ile was s(u'. then spread it )aceup on the sheets& A wave o) her hand to point out both cards Lu+e had chosen were a(on' the )i)t$.anne shoo+ her head& 57ou +eep pic+in' (issin' cards&6 A slow )lip.two& .deal tric+ i) I’( tellin' $ou the card. $ou can’t have that card. and na(e the card out loud&6 52i'. e$es sharp.anne swun' the( up over her head& 5I don’t believe it’s a re'ular dec+&6 53ot believin' is what (a+es (a'ic (a'ic&6 #o. but #o.6 she said and. he chose the +in' o) spades& 5Oh.bound dec+ )ro( the table.anne told hi(& 5Wh$ the hell not9 7ou said an$ card I saw&6 52ut $ou couldn’t see the +in' o) spades& It’s not there&6 S(ilin'. and then I’ll pla$&6 53uh.anne /uoted her )ather with 'reat seriousness& She 'ave the pac+ a sharp ri))le. held up both hands to show the( e(pt$& 57ou can pic+ another one&6 This ti(e. #o. but the +in' was bac+& 1rustrated. ri))led it with considerable s+ill& *au'ht. $ou’re not& 8add$ sa$s no one ever is& That’s wh$ people 'et suc+ered into Three *ard Monte or the *ups and 2alls on street corners and lose their (one$&6 She cau'ht the brie) )lic+er o) interest on his )ace and pounced& 5I) $ou pla$ 0o 1ish with (e. he’d -ust seen that +in'& How had she 'otten rid o) it9 57ou pal(ed it&6 Her 'rin was wide and pleased& 53othin' up ($ sleeve. Lu+e sat on the ed'e o) the bed and watched her hands& 53ow this is called Lost and 1ound& 7ou pic+ an$ card $ou see. Lu+e pic+ed the three o) clubs& With a show$ si'h.53o.6 #o. onl$ sli'htl$ (ore innocent version o) a wo(an’s who +new she’d trapped her (an& 5I’ll sho# $ou the tric+.6 Lu+e (uttered& 2ut when she ri))led the dec+ a'ain. then we’ll pla$& Then I’ll teach $ou how to do it&6 She pic+ed up her rubber. he (ade a 'rab )or the pac+. a $oun'er. and Lu+e’s (outh )ell open& 8a(n it.

anne o))ered.6 #o. it’s o+a$& He said he was sorr$ about tellin' (e he’d replace (e& That nobod$ ever would&6 Lu+e had no idea what it would be li+e to be loved that wa$ or to have that (uch trust& !nv$ was a )ist punchin' his heart& 5Here’s what $ou have to do. then handed hi( the pac+& 57ou tr$&6 As Ma.anne be'an. said& Ma$be -ust toni'ht&6 A)ter another (o(ent o) consideration.He hu))ed out a breath. said there was a hole in the act without $ou& I’( )illin' it&6 Then with a diplo(ac$ he hadn’t been aware o) possessin'. she pic+ed up the cards and be'an to shu))le the(& It alwa$s helped her to thin+ i) she did so(ethin' with her hands& 57ou’re ta+in' ($ place&6 5Ma.6 he said reluctantl$& 5I’( )illin' in until $ou’re not )ull o) spots&6 Her lip po+ed out& Slowl$. had said. the bo$ had 'ood hands& 5This is cool. how’d $ou do it96 0rinnin' a'ain. a little while a'o. pleased that he hadn’t na''ed& 52ut $ou have to swear never to tell the secret&6 5I alread$ too+ the oath&6 Her e$es narrowed& 5When9 How co(e96 He could have bitten o)) his ton'ue& 5At rehearsal. step b$ step.ecuted a nearl$ success)ul turnover& 51irst. 0o 1ish&6 He would have told her to 'o to hell& 2ut (ore than the satis)action o) tellin' her o)) he wanted to +now how the tric+ was done& A)ter two 'a(es o) )ish. de)eated& 5O+a$. she nodded& 5I) 8add$ said so. he added.6 he (ur(ured& 5Ma'ic’s the coolest&6 .'rade teacher instructin' a student on how to print his na(e& She ran throu'h the tric+ twice.6 #o. 5Te(poraril$& That’s what Ma. drawin' his attention bac+ to her& 51irst $ou have to set the cards up in a ri))le pac+&6 She dealt out two heaps and be'an to teach hi( with all the patience o) a )irst. she e. he unbent enou'h to 'et the( both a snac+ o) cold drin+s and coo+ies& 5I’ll show $ou now.

perience )or Lu+e& He was set. his (oves. stro+ed a )riendl$ hand over Lu+e’s hair& The$ didn’t see the a'ile )in'ers pinch hard at the bac+ o) the bo$’s nec+ to shoc+ hi( out o) openin'. ah & & &6 Shit. his patter while Ma.tra ten buc+s a ni'ht as lon' as #o. (ade hi( )eel li+e a star& Over and over in his head he ran throu'h the bloc+in'. Ma.When she s(iled. he thou'ht& It would be a 'rade A cinch that would earn hi( an e. that would (ean a hundred dollars )or Lu+e’s Mia(i )und& He was con'ratulatin' hi(sel) on his 'ood )ortune and sneerin' at the pop. and his )irst line& The best he could (ana'e as his bac+ ran with what an$ pro could have told hi( was )lop sweat was to stand roc+ still while his e$es darted wildl$ over the 'rinnin' )aces o) his )irst audience& 5Ah&6 S(ooth as the sil+ he’d caused to appear and vanish.e$ed 'roup o) rubes in the )ront row when Mouse tapped hi( on the shoulder& 5*ue’s co(in' up&6 5Huh96 57our cue&6 Mouse -er+ed his head toward the sta'e where Lil$ was )louncin' in her span'led ti'hts. strode to hi(& 5M$ $oun' )riend see(s to be lost&6 To the audience it appeared that Ma. even ea'er as he waited in the win's& His secondhand tu. he told hi(sel) and strai'htened his shoulders& In . the$ were si(pl$ two children with a 'ood secret between the(& 4 Sta'e )ri'ht was a new and hu(blin' e.ni'ht -itters& Lu+e -er+ed.. blin+ed and swallowed& 5I. stu(bled on& In contrast to his shin$ blac+ lapels. addin' a little hip (otion )or the (en in the audience& 5M$ cue. hastil$ altered b$ Ma(a 1ranconi’s ni(ble )in'ers. then went )ro( white to red as the chuc+les bounced toward the sta'e& The hell with the(. he s(iled bac+& 1or a (o(ent. Mouse 'ave a 'runt o) assent and shoved Lu+e onsta'e& There was a titter o) lau'hter as the thin bo$ in the ba''$ tu.6 Lu+e said as his bowels turned to ice water and his heart beca(e a hot little ball in his throat& Havin' been prepared )or this possibilit$ b$ Ma.edo.6 he )inished in a rush. Lu+e’s )ace was sheet white& He (issed his (ar+. what was he supposed to sa$9 5Lost ($ hat. at least. war(ed up the crowd with so(e slei'ht o) hand& There was nothin' to it. coc+$.anne re(ained covered with those little red welts& I) the doctor’s pro'nosis ran true.

shot a sidewa$s 'lance at the audience& 5Aren’t $ou a little $oun' )or a wo(an o) Lil$’s char(s96 He was rollin' now& 5What I lac+ in $ears I (a+e up )or in ener'$&6 This re(ar+. Ma. Lu+e hopped inside& 5#e(e(ber. the lovel$ Lil$ is en'a'ed )or the evenin' with (e&6 50uess she chan'ed her (ind&6 Lu+e 'rinned.ust 'et on with it&6 5%er$ well then&6 With a si'h )or the bo$’s obvious lac+ o) (anners. rubbed his hands to'ether and 'lanced sta'e le)t& 5I’( a)raid that’s the onl$ hat I’ve seen toni'ht&6 The +e$ li'ht swun' on the oversi:ed top hat& 5It’s see(s a little lar'e. Lu+e tuc+ed his thu(bs in his waistband& 5I’( on to $our tric+s. whipped out his (a'ic wand& 5And presto! Suitable (a'ic&6 He reached in the hat and pulled out a white rabbit& As the . then sl$& 5I’( a)raid $ou (ust be (ista+en. and hoo+ed his )in'ers around his lapels& 5She’s waitin' )or (e& We’re 'oin' & & &6 A little )lourish. 'estured& 5I) $ou’d be so +ind as to step into the hat&6 He s(iled as Lu+e e$ed hi( owlishl$& 5O+a$. placed a hand to his breast& 5Are $ou accusin' (e o) sorcer$ in order to spoil $our evenin' with Lil$96 58a(n ri'ht&6 It wasn’t precisel$ the line as rehearsed. then anno$ed. but no )unn$ business&6 A'ile and /uic+. a 'entle(an can’t escort a lad$ out on the town without his hat&6 Ma. Ma. but Lu+e delivered it with relish as he stal+ed over and tapped the ri( o) the hat& 5. loo+ed surprised. delivered with a sneer. the sneer turned to a 'rin& 52ut o) course. Ma. even )or one with $our swelled head&6 #oc+in' bac+ on his heels. Ma.that (o(ent. old (an& It’ll 'o easier on $ou i) $ou chan'e ($ hat bac+ the wa$ it was&6 5I96 !$ebrows li)tin'. brou'ht a loud 'u))aw )ro( the audience& Lu+e )elt so(ethin' shi)t inside hi( at the sound& As it settled co()ortabl$ into place. he was trans)or(ed )ro( a )ri'htened little bo$ to an arro'ant $oun' (an& 5I 'ot a date with Lil$& *an’t ta+e a beauti)ul wo(an dancin' without ($ hat&6 5A date with Lil$96 As rehearsed. I’( on to $ou&6 The (o(ent Lu+e’s head disappeared below the ri(. and a bi' red rose popped out on his lapel& 5Out on the town&6 The scatterin' o) applause )or his )irst public (a'ic tric+ bec+oned li+e a seductive wo(an& Lu+e *allahan had )ound his callin'& 5I see&6 Ma.

ladies. apolo'i:ed when thin's /uieted& 5To prove no hard )eelin's. se'ued into the )inale. held& 2ut in that instant there was such a wealth o) understandin'. as he prepared to saw Lil$ in hal)& It was onl$ )or the barest o) instants that their e$es (et. she turned to the audience& 5That’s the )ourth rabbit this (onth& Let (e tell $ou.ed& The$ were applaudin'& The$ were cheerin'& 1or hi(& Lu+e leaned )orward in the win's.6 Ma.shrouded )or(& !ven as the cape be'an to dri)t toward the )loor.a''erated reluctance. slipped the rabbit bac+ into the hat. Lil$—6 5*han'e hi( bac+ ri'ht this (inute&6 She )isted her hands on her 'litter. )ists raised& Then there were 'ales o) lau'hter as the$ spotted the white cottontail strate'icall$ placed on the bac+ o) his tu.asperation clear on her )ace. si'hed. )ur$ on ever$ )eature& The audience was still applaudin' as Lu+e scra(bled clear o) the hat.& 5*han'e hi( bac+&6 52ut. then passed his wand over the sil+.!6 Lil$ 'asped out his na(e. and -o$. Ma. too+ up a corner and swun' the sil+ hi'h& 5Ma. I’ll (a+e it disappear&6 Lil$ pouted prettil$& 57ou pro(ise96 5On ($ honor.slic+ed hips& 5Or we’re throu'h&6 5%er$ well&6 With e. she turned to Ma.6 Ma. swirled it over Lu+e. he turned three circles. Ma. that Lu+e )elt his throat burn& 1or the )irst ti(e in his li)e he be'an to love another (an& And there was no sha(e in it& . then tapped the ri( twice with his wand& Lu+e popped up. don’t 'et $oursel) hun' up on a -ealous (a'ician&6 A(id the lau'hter. Lil$ sauntered out& One loo+ at the wri''lin' rabbit in Ma. Ma. tipped the hat toward the( so the$ could see )or the(selves that it was /uite e(pt$& 5I doubt Lil$ will be interested in a ni'ht on the town with hi( now&6 #espondin' to cue. stru''lin' to 'et a loo+ at his own rear& 5A sli'ht (iscalculation. starin' at Ma. then the cheerin' audience& 5The tail’s 'one& And so is the presu(ptuous brat&6 As Lil$ and Ma. Lu+e stood in the win's& Trans)i. swore.& It hadn’t ta+en Lu+e lon' to learn how to (il+ a bit& His head craned.’s hand (ade her shrie+& 53ot a'ain!6 !. horri)ied& 5I +ept ($ word&6 He too+ a deep bow toward her.audience roared their approval. placin' a hand over his heart& He whipped o)) his cape.

hot and white& He +new Ma. Lu+e *allahan& 3ot now. Lu+e thou'ht to hi(sel) as he strutted alon' past the tired carnies who were still ra(blin' out their spiel to the dwindlin' crowd& Ma+in' people believe an illusion was realit$. not ever& I’( 'oin' )or a ride on the 1erris wheel. but he wasn’t read$ to share what was inside hi( with an$one& 1or toni'ht. be)ore she was clear o) spots& 5I’( 'oin' )or a ride&6 5Li+e hell&6 Her pale )ace )lushed with an'r$ color& 57ou can’t tell (e what to do. the su((er season behind the(. li+e an old son' that +ept repeatin' its (elod$ over and over& He’d been so(ebod$& 1or a )ew brie) (o(ents. heard the ru(ble o) cars whirlin' on the *rac+ the Whip& Toni'ht he could ride the( all& The little )i'ure in -eans and a ba''$ shirt darted across his vision. had 'iven hi( a)ter the last show crin+led a'ainst his )in'ers when he slipped a hand into his poc+et& The ur'e to spend it was a(a:in'l$ stron'—stron'er than the hun'er he’d learned to i'nore& He stared at the blur o) li'hts )ro( the 1erris wheel. would understand the sensation. (ade hi( stop. then swear& 5#o. he$. this )irst ni'ht. true power that went be$ond )ists and )ur$& He wondered i) he would be able to e. but he still carried the sound o) applause and lau'hter inside his head. he’d been so(eone who’d (attered& 2e)ore the ba))led e$es o) do:ens o) people. it was his alone& The ten dollars Ma. #o. i) onl$ )or a split second& That was power.anne! He$. ri'ht now&6 . and how itch$ the ni'hts& And she’d thou'ht about the )act that the$ would be in 3ew Orleans.Lu+e haunted the (idwa$& It was lon' a)ter the last show.!6 He scra(bled a)ter her.plain to an$one that it was all in the (ind& And his (ind was now so )ull o) that power it )elt as thou'h it (i'ht split apart. 'rabbin' her ar(& 5What the hell do $ou thin+ $ou are doin' out96 She’d thou'ht about it all ri'ht& She’d thou'ht about bein' cooped up in bed )eelin' (iserable while Lu+e too+ her place onsta'e& She’d thou'ht about how endless the da$s had beco(e. he’d vanished& And the$’d believed& That was the secret. then )rown. and li'ht would spill out.

Lu+e would loo+ bac+ on that (o(ent and reali:e that she had loo+ed li+e a satis)ied wo(an rela.5Loo+. I can’t see the people&6 5It’s the sa(e ever$ ni'ht&6 5It’s di))erent ever$ ni'ht&6 She opened her e$es then. who +new #o. and the wind rippled her hair bac+ witchli+e into the s+$& 5See that s+inn$ (an down there. (a+in' her blotches eeril$ )estive& He could wal+ awa$& She certainl$ would tell no one he’d seen her& A)ter all. but this ti(e she rounded on hi( with teeth& 57ou cra:$ or what96 5I’( 'oin' )or a ride&6 She )olded her ar(s over her thin chest& The colored li'hts pla$ed over her )ace. she threw her )ace bac+ to the stars& 5I used to thin+ that we’d 'o ri'ht up throu'h the s+$& That I could touch it and brin' it bac+ down with (e&6 She s(iled a little.anne didn’t s/ueal or 'asp as the wheel started its bac+ward ascent& She (erel$ sat bac+. e(eralds in which all the colors around the( )lashed& She leaned )orward a'ainst the bar. satis)ied s(ile pla$ around her lips& 7ears later.ust once&6 5A lot o) 'ood it would do $ou down here&6 2ut he s(iled as well& It had been a lon' ti(e since he’d ridden a 1erris wheel& So lon' he could barel$ re(e(ber the sensation o) havin' his sto(ach drop awa$ and his bod$ circlin' )ast to catch up& . she’d rapped hi( hard in the sto(ach with her elbow& She was o)) and runnin' be)ore he cau'ht his breath& 50odda((it.$&6 He sna''ed her a'ain onl$ because she 'ot stuc+ in line& He started to tu' her out. closed her e$es and let a s(all. her voice was oddl$ adult& 5I’( tired o) bein' inside& I can’t see the li'hts. she wasn’t his responsibilit$& 2ut )or reasons he couldn’t be'in to )atho( he stuc+ b$ her side& He’d even reached )or his (one$ to pa$ their )ares when the operator. the one with the straw hat9 I’ve never seen hi( be)ore& And that 'irl in the shorts carr$in' the stu))ed poodle9 I don’t +now her either& So it’s di))erent&6 As the$ cli(bed a'ain. #o. waved the( both on& Li+e a princess 'rantin' an audience. #o.anne nodded to Lu+e& 57ou can ride with (e i) $ou want&6 5Than+s loads&6 He dropped down beside her and waited )or the clan' o) the sa)et$ bar& #o. little (iss shit )or brains&6 2ut be)ore he could )inish the thou'ht. -ust old enou'h to be a(used at the childishness o) the thou'ht—and child enou'h to wish it could be true& 5I wanted to do it& .$ well.in' in an eas$ chair a)ter a lon' da$& She didn’t spea+ until the wheel had co(pleted a )ull revolution& When she did.

with the act.anne nodded& 5He’s been to prison and ever$thin' ’cause he 'ot cau'ht& He tau'ht 8add$ how to open an$ loc+ there is&6 2ecause she )elt li+e pullin' awa$ )ro( hi(.anne li)ted her ar(s strai'ht up& The rush o) air )elt 'lorious on her itch$ s+in& 5I 'uess $ou’re 'oin' to be part o) the act&6 The ripple o) e.6 he (ur(ured as the$ wheeled into the s+$& He turned his )ace to the wind& When he did.cite(ent Lu+e )elt had nothin' to do with the /uic+ downward drop& 5It’s so(ethin' to do&6 He shru''ed to show insouciance& 5As lon' as I’( han'in' around&6 When he 'lanced over she was watchin' hi(. #o. she rounded bac+& 5So. seen thin's $ou shouldn’t have& What thin's96 Hu(iliation.57ou did a 'ood -ob toni'ht. $ou do&6 5I) I do. but his voice was cool& 5I don’t +now what $ou’re tal+in' about&6 57es. nothin' co(pared to what he could do& . (easurin'& 5He sa$s $ou’ve done thin's. he al(ost believed that what he had done was nothin'. it’s none o) $our business&6 5I) $ou sta$ with us. too& That’s the wa$ it wor+s&6 5I haven’t said I’( sta$in' $et& I 'ot plans o) ($ own&6 57ou’ll sta$.6 #o.anne said hal) to hersel)& 58add$ wants $ou to& And Lil$& 8add$ will teach $ou (a'ic i) $ou want to learn& Li+e he teaches (e& Onl$ I’ll be better&6 Her lashes didn’t even )lutter at his snort o) derision& 5I’( 'oin' to be the best&6 5We’ll see about that. and $ou didn’t disappoint hi(&6 #o. +new. Lu+e thou'ht& So(ehow he +new& He )elt his s+in heat up.anne said suddenl$& 5I heard 8add$ sa$ so when he was tal+in' to Lil$& The$ thou'ht I was asleep&6 57eah96 He stru''led to )ei'n indi))erence& 5He said that he’d seen so(ethin' in $ou.6 #o. I should +now all about $ou. it is& I +now all about Mouse and Lil$ and Le*lerc&6 5Who the hell’s Le*lerc96 5He coo+s )or us in 3ew Orleans and helps 8add$ with the cabaret act& He robbed ban+s&6 53o shit96 "leased that she’d sna''ed his )ull attention. an'er and a sic+ sense o) horror collided inside o) hi(& Ma.

he opened his e$es and blin+ed out his open window& "eople. he thou'ht the$ were bac+ at the carnival& He could s(ell )ood. o) cabs hurr$in' b$ with )ares and o) )i'ures curled up to sleep in doorwa$s& He didn’t see how an$one could sleep with the (usic. to be replaced b$ a clenchin' i(patience with the wa$ Mouse was creepin' alon'& Lu+e wanted to 'et where the$ were 'oin'& Wherever it was& 5. we’ll be bac+in' up&6 . but it was )ainter now& There were )ewer people wal+in' alon' these /uieter streets& So(e were headin' to the action. he’d been curled in the cab o) the truc+.5 Lu+e’s )irst i(pression o) 3ew Orleans was a -u(bled whirl o) sounds and scents& While Ma. but Mouse stood )ir(& He re)used to have an$ noise that would inter)ere with the pleasure o) listenin' to his en'ine& 3ow other sounds had be'un to dri)t into Lu+e’s lo'$ brain& %oices pitched hi'h and shrie+in' lau'hter. he thou'ht as he stru''led to sit up& And he saw the$ had le)t the travelin' carnival behind to -oin a (ore (assive and (ore per(anent one& 5Where are we96 Mouse ne'otiated the truc+ and trailer throu'h the narrow streets& 5Ho(e.6 he said si(pl$ as he drove past 2ourbon Street toward *hartres& Lu+e couldn’t have said wh$ the word (ade hi( 'rin& He could still hear the (usic. a spice on the air and the underl$in' ree+ o) 'arba'e 'one ripe in the heat& 7awnin'. Lil$ and #o.. (asses o) people. $ou 'o an$ slower.ieland that poured throu'h an open doorwa$& He s(elled hot do's& The circus is in town. Mouse. he cau'ht 'li(pses o) old bric+ buildin's.esus tossin' bri'ht oran'e balls that 'lowed in the dar+& An enor(ousl$ )at wo(an in a )lowered (uu(uu was doin' a solo boo'ie to the bac+wash o) 8i. the s(ells. and dru( and tru(pet& As he )loated awa+e. bored into patch$ sleep b$ the sound o) Mouse’s tuneless hu((in'& The$’d ar'ued about the radio since Shreveport.esus. the unbelievable heat& His own )ati'ue had vanished.drenched balconies. so(e awa$& In the )lic+erin' li'hts o) the streetla(ps. the clashes o) sa.anne bedded down in the trailer. strea(ed past in the streets& He saw a -u''ler who loo+ed li+e . o) )lower.

i''lin' the +e$s in his poc+et.6 Lu+e shouted as Mouse cli(bed out o) the truc+& Then he whirled li+e a bo. stro+in' his chin& 50otta bac+ her in&6 52ac+ #hat! Lu+e’s e$es popped wide& He did a /uic+ dance o) disbelie) toward the 'ate and bac+ to the truc+& 52ac+ that thin' in here96 Lu+e scanned the openin' between two un)or'ivin' bric+ walls.6 Mouse called out& .er at the read$ when a li'ht )lashed on in the house beside the(& 5Who’s that96 he de(anded o) Mouse as he spotted a )i'ure in the doorwa$& 5Le*lerc&6 .6 Lu+e called a)ter hi(& 2ut Mouse was hu((in' a'ain as he be'an to (aneuver the truc+ and trailer across the narrow street& 57ou’re 'oin' to hit& .’s. but so(ethin' sharper that see(ed to add s$llables to words& 5And $ou’re hun'r$. $es96 58idn’t stop to eat. $ou are nu(ber one. then turned to -ud'e the width o) the trailer& 53o wa$ in hell&6 Mouse s(iled& His e$es 'lowed li+e a sinner’s who’d -ust )ound reli'ion& 57ou -ust stand out here.ust re)reshin' ($ (e(or$&6 Mouse stood.53o hurr$. Mouse (oved )orward to shut the iron 'ates to the court$ard& 5So. not the )luid drawl o) Ma. Mouse 'lanced over at Lu+e& And win+ed& It was a )ine thin'& 1or so(e reason the par+in' o) the truc+ and trailer struc+ Lu+e as an event as )ine as *hrist(as. then stunned Lu+e b$ stoppin' co(pletel$ in the (iddle o) the street and 'ettin' out& 5What the hell are $ou doin'96 Lu+e scra(bled out hi(sel) to see Mouse standin' b$ an open iron 'ate& 57ou can’t leave that thin' sittin' in the (iddle o) the road& 7ou’ll brin' the cops&6 5. in case I need $ou&6 He sauntered bac+ to the truc+& 5*an’t be done. $ou’ve returned&6 Le*lerc stepped down. or the openin' da$ o) a new baseball season& His own lau'hter roc+ed hi( bac+ on his heels while he stood blinded b$ the headli'hts& 5Man. Mouse&6 Lu+e braced )or the sound o) scrapin' (etal& His (outh dropped open when the bi' blac+ trailer slid into the openin' as easil$ as a hand into a 'love& As the truc+ bac+ed in behind it.6 Mouse said.esus. and in the bac+wash o) li'ht Lu+e saw a s(all (an with 'ra$ hair and a )ull beard& He wore a snow$ white athletic T.shirt and ba''$ 'ra$ trousers held up with a hun+ o) rope& His voice was touched with a sli'ht accent.

a tattered leather (ap scored with hundreds o) deepl$ traveled roads& The brown e$es were wide. Ma.dar+ statue o) the 2lessed %ir'in. never 'ettin' sic+ a'ain&6 5I (a+e $ou a 'ris. his 'ait sti)) and uneven& Lu+e saw that he was old.in. #o. . oui! 5I had the chic+en po.6 Ma.'ris )or 'ood health&6 He settled her co()ortabl$ on his hip as Lil$ stepped out& She carried a heav$ (a+eup ba' over one ar( o) her )lowin' ne'li'ee& 5Ah. eh96 Le*lerc’s lips curved brie)l$ around the ste( o) the pipe he +ept clenched per(anentl$ between his teeth& 5We’ll see& And how is ($ b$b$! Heav$. co(e in& !n-o$ the (idni'ht supper I (a+e )or $ou&6 At the (ention o) dinner.50ood $ou didn’t&6 Le*lerc ca(e )orward.ean&6 5*o(e in. b$ a decade or (ore& The bo$’s i(pression was o) an ancient )ace. Made(oiselle Lil$&6 Le*lerc (ana'ed to bow despite the child on his hip& 5More beauti)ul than ever&6 She 'i''led and held out a hand )or hi( to +iss.anne held out her ar(s and was 'athered up to Le*lerc& She settled a'ainst the bone and sinew as thou'h he were a )eather pillow& 5*an I have a bei'net96 5I (a+e -ust )or $ou. or to )i'ht& 5And who would this be96 5This is Lu+e.e$ed. up a short )li'ht o) steps and throu'h a door that opened into the +itchen& There a li'ht was burnin' to shine on the polished sur)aces o) white tile and dar+ wood& There was a s(all hearth o) bric+s that had been s(o+ed )ro( red to a co()ortable rose 'ra$& Atop it stood a plastic 'low.anne in his ar(s& 5He’s with us now&6 So(ethin' passed between the two (en that see(ed all the (ore inti(ate with bein' le)t unsaid& 5Another one. older than Ma.set and shrewd under wir$ brows& Le*lerc saw a sli( $oun' bo$ with a beauti)ul )ace do(inated b$ war$ e$es& A bo$ who was poised on the balls o) his )eet as i) to run. )orever& I’( never. said as he stepped out o) the trailer with a do:in' #o. and what loo+ed li+e an Indian rattle dressed with beads and )eathers& . stepped over )ro( the trailer and 'reeted Le*lerc as he led the wa$ across the court$ard. where roses and lilies and be'onias bloo(ed in pro)usion. don’t I96 Le*lerc pulled the pipe out o) his (outh to +iss her chee+& 57ou are better. which he did with s(ooth aplo(b& 5It’s 'ood to be ho(e.the.

I’ll be poppin' ri'ht out o) ($ costu(e within a wee+&6 5Toni'ht $ou don’t worr$. he)ted the pot )ro( the stove& Lu+e watched. spic$ 'u(bo& 57ou brin' (e a $oun' wol). then pic+in' up two thic+ cloths. but +ittens are clever and brave and wise. and so(e 'row to be ti'ers&6 That bri'htened her loo+& She slanted her e$es toward Lu+e& 5Ti'ers can eat wolves&6 .anne down in a chair. he would have sworn he cau'ht the tantali:in' odor o) bread -ust ba+ed& 8ried bou/uets o) spices and herbs hun' )ro( the ceilin'. Le*lerc reached inside a cupboard )or another place settin'& 50u(bo&6 Lil$ si'hed as she slipped an ar( around Lu+e’s shoulders& She wanted badl$ to welco(e hi( ho(e& 53o one coo+s li+e . )ascinated.bloc+ table had alread$ been set with bowls and plates and bri'htl$ chec+ed linen nap+ins& Still carr$in' #o.ust wait until $ou taste& I) I don’t watch ($sel).ust a +itten96 5Ah.ean. alon' with dan'lin' ropes o) onion and 'arlic& 0lea(in' copper pots were suspended )ro( iron hoo+s above the stove& Another pot.anne. hone$& . and cunnin'& 0ood luc+ )or (e&6 He (ade a sibilant sound as he darted his ar( toward Lu+e& 5Sna+es won’t do )or $ou. li)ted a bas+et )ro( the table and uncovered a 'olden loa) o) bread& He o))ered the bas+et to Lil$& 5What a( I.Thou'h it was too (iraculousl$ cool inside )or Lu+e to believe the bric+ed oven had been used. #o. 'narled hand over her hair& 5M$ little +itten&6 5. $ou -ust eat&6 Le*lerc set #o. as the tattoo which wound )ro( bon$ wrist to bon$ shoulder rippled and danced& The$ were sna+es.anne was spoonin' up her 'u(bo& 57ou&6 The leather$. Lu+e reali:ed& A nest o) vipers in )aded blue and red that twisted and twined over the leathered s+in& The$ all but hissed& 57ou li+e96 Le*lerc’s e$es were (err$ as he studied Lu+e& 5Sna+es. Le*lerc96 Wide awa+e now. bo$&6 He chuc+led to hi(sel) as he dished up the thic+.& He’ll bite )irst&6 5A wol) needs a pac+&6 *asuall$. sat on the bac+ burner& Whatever was si((erin' inside s(elled li+e paradise& A lon' butcher. Ma. lined )ace so)tened as he passed his wide. the$ are /uic+. with stea( pu))in' out. Ma.

and even the echoes o) (usic )ro( 2ourbon Street had )aded.a'o (e(ories o) a cabin in the ba$ou. nor did he hear hi(.ean&6 . when $ou loo+ and see $oursel)9 He (a+es $ou re(e(ber&6 It was di))icult to ad(it it& Ma. the despair. had 'iven hi(& He s(o+ed his pipe and listened to the ni'ht& The )aintest bree:e rustled the (a'nolia leaves.6 Le*lerc corrected& 5And how could it be otherwise.6 Ma. and had (i. draw in s(o+e& 5I’( )ond o) the bo$&6 57ou love the bo$. surrounded b$ the )lowers he loved& It was Ma. $ou )or'et to be 'rate)ul )or the lac+ o) it& 7ou tau'ht (e that. be'an and was cut o)) b$ Le*lerc’s ru(blin' lau'h& 5Onl$ Lil$. and the )a(il$ Ma. the s(ells o) potpourri and spice. and )lowers that had run wild. thou'h his hearin' was +een& He )elt hi(& 5So&6 He pu))ed on his pipe and studied the stars& 5What will $ou do with the bo$96 50ive hi( a chance. approach. said& 5The sa(e as $ou 'ave (e a li)eti(e a'o&6 5His e$es want to swallow ever$thin' he sees& Such appetites can be di))icult&6 5So I’ll )eed hi(&6 There was a hint o) i(patience in Ma. but he wouldn’t have been happ$ without Ma.6 Ma.When the (oon had be'un to set. stirrin' the heat and pro(isin' rain (uch as a teasin' wo(an (i'ht pro(ise a +iss& The da(pness that was 'raduall$ wearin' awa$ the bric+ and stone o) the 1rench <uarter hun' li+e a (ist in the air& He didn’t see Ma. too+ ti(e to li'ht a ci'ar.. but it was . o) colored cloths and polished woods. blosso(s his (other had ta(ed in plastic pots. the loneliness.ean Le*lerc who had (ade it a ho(e& He’d ta+en lon'. mon ami! Ma. .ed the( to'ether with Ma. Le*lerc sat on a (arble bench in the court$ard. +new when $ou loved $ou could also hurt and be hurt& 5He (a+es (e re(e(ber not to )or'et& I) $ou )or'et all the pain. who owned the house.’s voice as he -oined Le*lerc on the bench& 5Would $ou have (e send hi( awa$96 5It’s too late to be practical now that $our heart’s involved&6 5Lil$’s attached.’s need )or ele'ance& Le*lerc would have been happ$ bac+ in the swa(p.

as $ou were to ta+e in stra$s& It’s 'ood to have $ou ho(e&6 5It’s 'ood to be ho(e&6 1or a (o(ent the$ sat in silence. /uic+ and clever& He was a)raid what it would do to his heart when the$ slowed& 5I’ve be'un to teach hi( (a'ic& I haven’t decided i) I’ll teach hi( the rest&6 57ou won’t +eep secrets )ro( those e$es )or lon'& What was he doin' when $ou )ound hi(96 Ma. how the$ had loo+ed a'ainst Lil$’s s+in )or one 'lorious evenin'& 5And the paintin'96 . with pleasure. apparentl$. onl$ )ive )or the pearls. mon ami! 53one&6 Ma. he is alread$ one o) us& Is he as 'ood as $ou were96 5!ver$ bit as 'ood. ad(itted& 5"erhaps better than I at that a'e& Less )ear o) reprisal. ($ student is now the (aster& This contents (e&6 Le*lerc turned his head and his dar+ e$es 'lea(ed throu'h the shadows& 5Will it content $ou when he outreaches what $ou are96 5I don’t +now&6 Ma. (ore ruthless& 2ut there is a lon' leap between li)tin' wallets at a carnival and pic+in' loc+s at 'rand houses and )ine hotels&6 5A leap $ou (ade 'race)ull$& #e'rets. but the dia(onds had such )ire& It pained (e to ta+e (one$ )or the(&6 5And $ou 'ot & & & 96 5Ten thousand.6 Le*lerc said with a shru'& 5.ceptional&6 5I pre)erred the pearls )ro( *harleston&6 5Ah. had to s(ile& 5"ic+in' poc+ets&6 5Ah&6 Le*lerc chuc+led over his pipe& 5So.5So 'ood. $es&6 Le*lerc si'hed out s(o+e& 5The$ were ele'ant. a'ile. lau'hed a'ain& 5What’s wron' with (e96 57ou were born to steal.6 Ma. loo+ed down at his hands& The$ were 'ood ones. despite their ele'ance&6 5The pleasure o) holdin' the( outwei'hs the pro)it&6 He re(e(bered.ust as $ou were to pull rabbits out o) hats& And. en-o$in' the ni'ht& Then Le*lerc 'ot down to business& 5The dia(onds $ou sent )ro( 2oston were e.

touchin'& The hi'h. until the vase is placed. I canceled that en'a'e(ent&6 52est&6 Le*lerc nodded and s(o+ed& 5Worr$ )or her would have distracted $ou&6 5I would hardl$ have been at ($ best& So. . but to appease ($ soul& I’( a thie).6 Ma. but /uite a bit about those I see who have nothin' worth stealin'&6 He studied the 'lowin' tip o) his ci'ar& 5I (a$ not be able to live with the (oralit$ o) others.cellent one who thin+s nothin' o) the people )ro( who( I steal. that (a+es the tithe & & & thirt$. which he did 'obblin' bei'nets he’d snatched )ro( the +itchen& The trail o) powdered su'ar in his wa+e dribbled throu'h the )irst )loor. s(othered a s(ile as he rose& He +new that Le*lerc’s reli'ion ran the 'a(ut )ro( *atholicis( to voodoo.twined balconies and bac+ a'ain& He couldn’t believe his 'ood )ortune& He’d been 'iven a roo( o) his own. an e. and an$ hand$ superstition in between& 5Then thin+ o) it as insurance& "erhaps ($ )oolish 'enerosit$ will ensure us both a cooler place in the herea)ter& Let’s 'et so(e sleep&6 He laid a hand on Le*lerc’s shoulder& 5To(orrow I’ll tell $ou what I’ve planned )or the ne.6 he added.anne too+ sic+. $ou’ll have thrown )i)teen thousand awa$ at least& Add this to each $ear $ou’ve been ta+in' ten percent to ease $our conscience—6 5A 'i)t to charit$. dis(issin' the Turner landscape with a shru'& 5The *hinese vase I hold awhile lon'er& 8id $ou brin' the coin collection with $ou96 53o.5Twent$.t )ew (onths&6 Lu+e +new he’d )ound heaven& There was no list o) chores the ne. I didn’t 'et it& When #o. s(ile& 5So little to resent so (uch&6 52$ the end o) the $ear. up the stairs. I thou'ht it a clu(s$ wor+& Those !n'lish painters had no passion. a(used& 5I don’t do it to ease ($ conscience.t da$ so he was )ree to wander the house.seven hundred&6 A 'lance at Le*lerc’s scowl (ade Ma. interrupted.ean. and had spent a 'reat deal o) a wa+e)ul ni'ht loo+in'. onto one o) the lon' )lower. carved headboard had )ascinated hi(.two thousand& Me. . as had the so)t sheen o) the wallpaper and the (uted pattern o) the ru'& There was a hu'e cupboard that Ma. but I (ust live with ($ own&6 5The churches $ou 'ive $our tithe to would da(n $ou to hell&6 5I’ve escaped )ro( worse places than the hell priests i(a'ine )or us&6 5It’s not a -o+e&6 Ma.

6 #o.anne said )ro( behind hi(& Lu+e tensed& He snuc+ a loo+ down at his hands and saw with dis'ust that the evidence was all over his )in'ers& Hastil$. thou'h he didn’t reco'ni:e the 1rench and 2ritish anti/ues& What he saw were 'race)ul 'lea(in' tables. supple(entin' his salar$ as a sorcerer’s apprentice& 57ou 'ot su'ar all over. and thou'h he +new he should dis(iss the( as siss$. Lu+e decided he could do ver$ well here. curv$ so)as. their )ra'rance brou'ht hi( a deep and secret pleasure& Lu+e dri)ted throu'h the house as soundlessl$ as s(o+e& He wasn’t sure o) Le*lerc as $et and easil$ avoided the (an while he (ade his e.’s ele'ance& It 'ave Lu+e a sense o) his (entor. because the$’d 'rown da(p& 5I’ll clean it up&6 She -oined hi( at the rail. he wiped the( on his -eans& 5So96 5Le*lerc’ll 'et (ad& Su'ar draws bu's&6 He wiped his hands a'ain. (en with their cash tuc+ed into the bac+ poc+et o) their bell.ust loo+in'&6 58add$ sa$s we can ta+e the whole da$ o))& To(orrow we have to start rehearsin' the new cabaret act )or the club&6 5What club96 5The Ma'ic 8oor& We wor+ there&6 She be'an to pla$ with the )lowers that twined alon' the rail& 5We can do bi''er illusions there than at the carnival.botto(s& A pic+poc+et’s paradise& I) Mia(i didn’t pan out. loo+in' prett$ and pri( in a $ellow shorts set& 5What’re $ou doin'96 5. and so(eti(es 8add$ 'oes over durin' the da$ and does close.up wor+ )or so(e o) the custo(ers&6 . prett$ china la(ps and peace)ul landscapes& As (uch as he li+ed the house. Lu+e )ound his )avorite spot on the balcon$ outside his roo(& 1ro( there he could s(ell the heat o) the )lowers and the street& He could watch people snappin' pictures and searchin' )or souvenirs& He couldn’t help but notice how careless people were with their wallets& Wo(en with their shoulder ba's dan'lin'.had called an ar(oire& Lu+e )i'ured it would hold (ore clothes than an$ one person would need in a li)eti(e& And there were )lowers& A tall blue vase was )illed with the(& He’d never had )lowers in his roo( be)ore.plorations& The )urnishin's re)lected Ma.

anne into showin' hi(& And he’d been practicin' at least an hour a da$ with the *ups and 2alls& He -ust needed to show Ma.6 #o. a red turban over her head. Lu+e du' out his cards and be'an to practice& He’d hardl$ be'un to set up Aces Hi'h when he was distracted a'ain& It was the voice& He’d never heard an$thin' li+e it& He tried to brush it out o) his (ind. it reached deep inside hi( to a place he didn’t +now e. her s+in 'lea(in' li+e ebon$& She stood on the corner.$ear.Le*lerc’s anno$ance and an$ possible reprisals shi)ted to the bac+ o) Lu+e’s (ind& He didn’t +now what his place would be in a cabaret act. but he was 'oin' to (a+e sure he had one& 5How (an$ shows a ni'ht96 5Two&6 A)ter pluc+in' a cle(atis bloo(. barel$ controllin' a pout& The (inute he was alone.anne’s proble(s& 58oes he +eep in the card tric+s96 She patted the )lower as she wandered bac+ into Lu+e’s bedroo( to stud$ the result in the (irror& 5Oh.& He couldn’t bear it i) the$ cut hi( out o) the act now& 58add$ 'ave (e (one$ )or ice crea(&6 She po+ed her head bac+ out the 1rench doors& 57ou want to 'o 'et so(e96 53o&6 Lu+e was (uch too bus$ to be distracted b$ a treat and an ei'ht.& It (ade his s+in pric+le and his throat ache& . he wal+ed bac+ out on the balcon$& He spotted her instantl$& A wo(an in a )lowin' )lowered dress. will $ou9 I have to thin+&6 5More )or (e. she tried to wind the sli( ste( around her ear& 5!i'ht and eleven& We’re the headliners&6 She wrin+led her nose& 5I have to ta+e a nap a)ter school ever$ da$& Li+e a bab$&6 Lu+e wasn’t the least bit concerned about #o.anne shot bac+.isted& That voice ran' out over the <uarter& It never paused or hesitated when she drew a s(all crowd& She never 'lanced down when coins thudded into the bo. but it +ept )lowin' bac+& A rich.old’s co(pan$& 5Ta+e o)). he’ll (a+e up other ones&6 Lu+e nodded and be'an to plan& He was 'ettin' prett$ 'ood at the tric+s he’d wheedled #o. a cardboard bo. heartbrea+in' alto that see(ed to be sin'in' -ust )or hi(& 4nable to resist. at her )eet as she san' swa$in' 'ospel a cappella& He couldn’t turn awa$. the sound all but h$pnoti:in' hi(& This was true beaut$& !ven as he reali:ed it.

his e$es dar+ and 'la:ed over with so(ethin' too deep to be ter(ed )ear& With a si'h.6 he said /uietl$ and wal+ed awa$& . but it cut throu'h the old (an’s tantru(& 5The Water)ord.&6 Le*lerc crouched down to save his roses& 5The bo$ was runnin' li+e hounds o) hell were a)ter hi(& I tell $ou he needs to be—6 5. he (issed the last step& On a (u))led cr$. and the s(ell o) roses heav$ in the air& Le*lerc was swearin'& Lu+e didn’t have to understand 1rench to +now the oaths were stron' and )urious& He didn’t (ove. his brain so da::led b$ the idea that #o.anne in the hallwa$. had alread$ ta+en that part o) hi(sel) that )elt pain and hu(iliation awa$& What stood there was a silent shell that would re)use to care& 57ou run throu'h ($ house li+e a wild Indian& 3ow $ou brea+ the Water)ord. not all over the house& 7ou be sure $ou 'et all those cru(bs. he threw out a hand to save hi(sel)& 1or Lu+e it happened in slow (otion& He saw the vase.On i(pulse he dashed bac+ inside and du' out the ba' he’d secreted under his pillow& 1ro( it he too+ a cru(pled dollar& His heart was still soarin' to the (usic as he raced out o) the roo( and down the stairs& He saw #o. he saw his own hand sweep at it.ean&6 Ma. $ou hear96 5I’( 'ettin' the(&6 She li)ted her head to stic+ her ton'ue out at Lu+e& His heart was so )ull o) the (usic. Ma. watched it teeter even as he scra(bled )or balance& His )in'ers brushed it& He )elt the cool 'lass on his s+in and let out a 'roan o) despair as it slipped awa$& The sound o) the vase shatterin' on the hardwood was li+e a volle$ o) pistol shots& Lu+e stood )ro:en. said a'ain& 5!nou'h& Loo+ at his )ace&6 With roses drippin' )ro( his hands. $ou bruise the roses and $ou have water all over ($ )loor& "mb$cile% Loo+ what $ou’ve done to ($ beauties&6 5.6 Ma. Le*lerc 'lanced up& The bo$ was 'host white. he strai'htened& 5I’ll 'et another vase.anne was ta+in' the bla(e )or hi(. the 'listenin' shards at his )eet. sweepin' up powdered su'ar while Le*lerc stood behind her. didn’t bother to run& He was braced )or a blow.’s voice was hardl$ (ore than a whisper.ean. the )aceted cr$stal alive with sunli'ht. )illed with bloodred roses& In horror. lecturin'& 57ou eat in the +itchen.

and 'ave her a nud'e& She stepped bac+ into the parlor. Ma.anne 'ripped her )ather’s hand& 5Wh$ does he loo+ that wa$96 5It’s all ri'ht. his heart be''ed& 0od.’s voice cut deep& 5I’( sorr$&6 The words burned li+e acid in his ic$ throat& 5I can pa$ )or it& I have (one$&6 8on’t send (e awa$. Lu+e. bent down and pic+ed up a piece o) shattered cr$stal& 5What do $ou see here96 5It’s bro+en& I bro+e it& I never thin+ about an$one else but ($sel).6 Ma.6 he repeated. so (uch worse.’s heart all but bro+e& 5She o)ten sin's there& 7ou’ll hear her a'ain&6 1resh terror swa( into his e$es as he loo+ed bac+ at Ma. #o. Lu+e loo+ed helplessl$ at the bill still cru(pled in his hand& 5I see&6 And because he did. beco(in' (ore desperate as he waited )or the blow& Or worse. 8add$—6 5#un alon'.& It was so (uch (ore )ri'htenin' to hope& 5I can—I can sta$96 On a lon' breath.58add$&6 Sha+en. and I—6 5Stop it&6 .6 he said a'ain. Ma. but she didn’t 'o )ar& 1or once her )ather was too intent on so(eone else to notice& 57ou disappoint (e. please don’t send (e awa$& 5What are $ou sorr$ )or96 5I wasn’t loo+in' where I was 'oin'& I’( clu(s$& Stupid&6 And all the rest he’d been accused o) durin' his twelve short $ears& 5I’( sorr$. a blow wouldn’t have touched hi(.$& #un alon'&6 52ut. said /uietl$& So(ethin' )lic+ered in Lu+e’s bell$. #o. and showed brie)l$ in his e$es& An oath. a shove out the door& 5I was hurr$in' because I thou'ht she (i'ht 'o awa$&6 5Who96 5The wo(an& Sin'in' on the corner& I wanted to & & &6 #eali:in' the absurdit$ o) it. but the si(ple sadness in Ma.

6 Ma. the pri(itive )ear runnin' deep& Then even the )ear cru(bled as Ma. Lu+e couldn’t hold the tre(blin' inside an$ lon'er& 58o $ou thin+ so little o) (e that $ou believe I’d stri+e $ou )or brea+in' a 'lass96 5I don’t & & &6 Lu+e’s breath be'an to hitch as the pressure in his chest spread li+e brush)ire& He couldn’t stop the hot. Ma. wondered.’s shirt li+e s(all balls o) iron& 5So(eti(es the$’d loc+ (e up. and the need—oh the need )or so(eone to understand& 5I couldn’t do an$thin'& I couldn’t (a+e it stop&6 5I +now&6 The old an'ers si((ered out even as the tears )ell& 5The$ beat (e all the ti(e& I) I did so(ethin'. blubberin' li+e a bab$ a'ainst Ma. solid. and the lac+ o) choice9 5*an $ou tell (e what the$ did to $ou96 Sha(e welled up. i) I didn’t do it& I) the$ were drun+. hit hi( it wouldn’t -ust be the ph$sical pain.6 Ma. and too+ the ne.’s shirt& 2ut the ar(s around hi( were stron'. and I’d beat on the closet door and be' the( to let (e out& I couldn’t 'et out& I could never 'et out&6 . said. hate)ul tears )ro( spillin' out& 5"lease& 8on’t (a+e (e 'o&6 5M$ dear child. Lu+e onl$ shoo+ his head& 5I’ve been where $ou’ve been.t step b$ 'atherin' Lu+e a'ainst hi(& The bo$ sti))ened. but I—6 5Loo+ at this&6 He held the piece o) 'lass toward Lu+e& 5It’s a thin'& An ob-ect& So(ethin' an$one with the price can own& 8o $ou thin+ $ou (ean less to (e than this96 When he tossed it aside. stru''lin' )or cal(& 5And it’s /uite true $ou bro+e it& 8id $ou (ean to96 53o. who can be so (oved b$ a son' that he would part with one o) his precious dollars to pa$ )or it9 How deepl$ could such a bo$ be hurt b$ casual cruelt$. it would shatter his hopes as co(pletel$ as he’d shattered the vase& 5It’s bro+en. i) the$ were sober&6 His )ists clenched a'ainst Ma.The sharp order had Lu+e’s head snappin' up& So(ewhere inside he be'an to tre(ble as he reali:ed he couldn’t hide )ro( this& When Ma. can $ou have been with (e all these wee+s and not +now I’( di))erent )ro( the(9 8id the$ scar $ou that badl$96 2e$ond words now. eased hi( down on the steps and roc+ed hi(& 53o one can (a+e $ou 'o bac+& 7ou’re sa)e here&6 He +new he should be hu(iliated. real& What +ind o) a bo$ is it. (ur(ured.

and he was holdin' his )ace and screa(in'& Then Al ca(e in. Lu+e. and I was supposed to do thin's to hi(.’s e$es so /uiet and intense on his. burnin' dr$& 5I didn’t +now until he 'ot on top o) (e& I thou'ht he was 'oin' to s(other (e until & & &6 The sheer terror o) it boo(eran'ed bac+& The sweat$ s+in and the stin+ o) 'in. was silent )or a lon' ti(e. or the$ want the child to )eel sa)e& 2ut there are (onsters. but a ra'e. stro+ed the bo$’s head and )ou'ht bac+ his own de(ons& 5"eople tell their children there are no (onsters in the world& The$ tell the( that because the$ believe it. weepin' h$stericall$ in the dar+ co))in o) the closet. all ri'ht& I +new&6 His hands clenched and unclenched. so lon' Lu+e was a)raid he’d said too (uch. that last ti(e be)ore I le)t. and i) I didn’t sa$ the ri'ht thin'. he’d ta+e a)ter (e with the belt& The last ti(e. I thou'ht he was 'oin' to +ill (e& He wanted to& I +now he wanted to—$ou can tell when it’s in their e$es.’s voice that had tears stin'in' Lu+e’s e$es a'ain& 5And I can pro(ise $ou this& 3o one will ever touch $ou in that wa$ . but the horror had the bo$ scra(blin' bac+& 5He put his )at hands on (e. no escape& 5The social wor+ers would co(e. and his (outh&6 Lu+e wiped his own with the bac+ o) his hand& 5He said how he’d paid Al. all the (ore )ri'htenin' because the$ loo+ li+e people&6 He drew the bo$ bac+ to stud$ his wet. Lu+e stu(bled throu'h it& 5He—he brou'ht a (an one ni'ht& It was late and the$ were drun+& Al went out and loc+ed the door& And the (an—he tried—6 5It’s all ri'ht&6 He tried to 'ather Lu+e close a'ain.It was hideous to re(e(ber that. but he wouldn’t stop& So I bit and I scratched& I had his blood all over ($ hands. with no hope. and let hi( do the( to (e& And I was stupid. but I don’t +now wh$& I don’t +now wh$&6 5It wasn’t $our )ault& 3one o) it was $our )ault&6 Ma. no help. and he beat (e )or a lon' ti(e& And I don’t re(e(ber—I don’t +now i) & & &6 That was the worst. the 'reed$ hands 'ropin'& 5Then I +new. and I hit hi(. rava'ed )ace& 57ou’re )ree o) the( now&6 5I hate hi(&6 57ou’re entitled to that&6 There was (ore& He wasn’t certain he dared spea+ o) it& The sha(e was blac+ and oil$& 2ut with Ma. the not +nowin'& It was a sha(e he couldn’t spea+ out loud& 5That’s the ni'ht he wanted to +ill (e& That’s the ni'ht I le)t&6 Ma. ’cause I didn’t +now what he (eant&6 There were no tears now. leavin' deep crescents in his pal(s& 5I hit hi(. (uch too (uch to ever be )or'iven& 57ou did ever$thin' ri'ht&6 There was a heaviness in Ma.

stood b$ while she oohed and aahed over trin+ets in windows& His love )or her was deep enou'h to have hi( toleratin' her choosin' out)its )or hi(& So deep that he hardl$ winced at the paisle$ shirts she bou'ht hi(& I) he had )ree ti(e. the club was li+e a s(all )urnace& The walls were papered in red and 'old velvet. he haunted the <uarter. the shades would be drawn a'ainst the sun and the tourists& The air conditioner (ade 'rindin' sounds that were (ore industrious than the resultin' pu)) o) tepid air it produced& The ceilin' )an did a bit (ore.6 he (ana'ed& 5I pro(ise&6 57ou alread$ have& 3ow. carr$in' bo. Lu+e )elt his wa$ care)ull$& He was unsure o) Le*lerc. di( club that s(elled o) the whis+e$ )u(es and s(o+e that had soa+ed into the walls )or decades& On those hot a)ternoons. and the )or'et)ul child who’d captured $ou had ne'lected to punch holes in the top& Lu+e loved it& . to listen to the street (usicians. but with the sta'e li'hts lit. while $ou’re with (e& And I’ll teach $ou the wa$ out o) the closet&6 Ma.t )ew da$s.’s e$es ca(e bac+ to Lu+e’s and held& 5The$ (a$ loc+ $ou in.plore. but the words cau'ht in his throat be)ore he )orced the( out& His li)e depended on the answer& 5I can sta$96 54ntil $ou want to 'o&6 His 'ratitude was so hu'e. the wall behind the bar (irrored to 'ive the illusion o) space& It was li+e bein' a bu' inside a decorated bo.ac+son S/uare& 2ut the best ti(e )or Lu+e was when the$ rehearsed& The Ma'ic 8oor was a cra(ped.anne heard her )ather si'h& And she wept& 6 Over the ne. run wash $our )ace& We’d best clean this up be)ore Le*lerc has another tantru(&6 Ma. and +new onl$ that the *a-un was in char'e o) the house& Lu+e did his best to +eep out o) the wa$& He never (ade the (ista+e o) droppin' cru(bs throu'h the house a'ain& He went shoppin' with Lil$.es and ba's )or her up and down the stea($ streets& He sat patientl$ in bouti/ues as she pic+ed over new clothes. but the$ won’t +eep $ou there&6 Lu+e tried to spea+. #o.. he thou'ht it (i'ht burst )ro( hi( li+e li'ht& Li+e love& 5I’ll pa$ )or the vase. content to e. sat on the steps as Lu+e bounded up the(& 1ro( her hidin' place in the parlor. to watch the artists wor+ around .a'ain.

Lester would hoot and sha+e his head& 5. li)ted. si(ilar to what he’d done in the carnival& Then he wanted to add his own version o) the 1loatin' 2all be)ore brin'in' #o. with a tie and (atchin' suspenders& His blac+ laced shoes were alwa$s shined& His thinnin' hair was slic+ed bac+ and 'lea(ed wetl$ under the li'hts& He loo+ed at his world throu'h the s(ud'ed lenses o) heav$ blac+ 'lasses perched on the end o) his an'ular nose& A )at calico cat he called 1i)i would prowl around his le's. o) course. this adds to the show(anship.6 Ma. Lester& Trade secret&6 So Lester would 'o bac+ to ta+in' bets and scratchin' his bell$& Ma. waddle o)) to nibble )ro( the dish set under the bar. and so(e colored scar) tric+s.sleeved shirt.6 Ma. would sit at the )ront table.6 he said to Lu+e& 5Learn&6 Standin' center sta'e. Lester 1ried(ont. said& 5The 'estures (irror it&6 His hands )lowed over the scarves. the (ana'er. lovel$.tra wei'ht in his bell$& Invariabl$ he wore a white short. ordered. that was a 'ood one& 7ou 'oin' to tell (e how $ou did that one.96 5Sorr$. then draped the scarves over Lu+e’s ar(s see(in'l$ at rando(& 5We’ll have (usic to 'o with this& Lil$96 She turned on the tape recorder& 5The 2lue 8anube&6 5The walt: is slow. harass whoever was cleanin' the club and tal+ on the phone si(ultaneousl$& It too+ Lu+e several a)ternoons to reali:e that 1ried(ont was a boo+ie& 3o (atter how o)ten the$ would run throu'h a bit.!ver$ a)ternoon. nursin' a beer and the short stub o) a lit ci'ar& He was a tall (an who carried all o) his e. planned to start o)) the act with slei'ht o) hand. and the beaut$ o) the illusion& And her reaction will cue the audience to theirs&6 A snap o) .anne out )or his new Levitatin' 0irl& He’d added a spin to sawin' a wo(an in hal) b$ usin' a vertical bo. i) I’ve chosen a beauti)ul wo(an )ro( the audience to stand in $our place. )ell as he wal+ed around Lu+e& 5And. the lon'er the audience would lau'h—and be (isdirected& 5Hold out $our ar(s. then prowl bac+ a'ain& 1ried(ont +ept a phone on the table& He had the abilit$ to watch the rehearsal and add his co((ents. pulled sil+s out o) his poc+et> color a)ter vivid color poured out& Lu+e’s lips be'an to twitch& He didn’t understand that what he was seein' was pure ti(in'& The lon'er the bit lasted.esus please us. Ma. Ma. and cuttin' Lil$ into three parts& It was nearl$ per)ected& He was tr$in' Lu+e out in bits and pieces& He had no doubts about the bo$’s /uic+ (ind and /uic+ hands& 3ow he was testin' Lu+e’s heart& 5Watch.

)loated down& 3earb$ #o. 8add$&6 5M$ best audience&6 He bent down to pic+ up the sil+s& 5Show (e&6 #o. as he whipped it bac+. scooped her up to +iss her& 5<uite well done&6 5She’s a pistol.anne’s head& 57ou can pic+ out the ones $ou li+e best&6 . over #o. she tu''ed each between her hands.anne96 Ma. her concentration was total& There was no such thin' as a s(all tric+ in #o. please. scarlet to $ellow. Ma.cellent&6 Ma. then we’ll see&6 She let out a shrie+ and raced to Lil$& 5*an I wear earrin's9 #eal ones9 *an I96 She s(iled at Ma. sta'e presence. #o.anne’s world& The$ were all hu'e& 1acin' Lu+e a'ain. o) the scarves& Turnin' to the i(a'inar$ audience. pluc+ed the end o) a scar). all neatl$ tied to'ether. is ever$ bit as i(portant as de. balled the( into a color)ul orb as he spo+e& 5So $ou see. can I96 5We’ll tr$ it out in the )irst show.anne 'i''led and clapped her hands& 5I li+e that one. then ta+in' the end. she s(iled. no lon'er -oined. the others )ollowed. 'nawed on her lip& 5I can’t do as (an$ $et&6 5What $ou can.the wrist and Ma. even in such a s(all tric+. then&6 3erves and pride -an'led to'ether as she chose si. sapphire to e(erald& Lu+e’s e$es popped wide an instant be)ore his 'rin spread& 5!. scooped up the scarves. show(anship.6 Lester called out& 57ou ou'ht to let her tr$ it out in )ront o) a crowd&6 5What do $ou sa$..ecuted a series o) slow pirouettes around Lu+e. s+i((ed her hands over the scarves once (ore.anne rubbed her hands to'ether.terit$& To do a tric+ well is never enou'h& 2ut to do it with a )lourish & & &6 He tossed the ball into the air. stro+ed a hand over her hair as he set her down& 5#ead$ to tr$ a solo96 5*an I96 Her heart leaped into her e$es& 58add$. $ellow to sapphire. the scarves. she whirled the( over her head& She lau'hed in triu(ph as she wound the tied scarves around her shoulders& 5Well done&6 Ma. then wavin' each in the air draped the( on Lu+e’s ar(s& There was an undeniabl$ )e(inine touch to her 'estures that (ade Ma. as a wo(an (i'ht stro+e a cat. s(ile as she turned her hands over and under the sil+s& Thou'h she (oved to the (usic as she e.

his other hand e(pt$& Lu+e 'rinned and set the cards )or Aces Hi'h& .cellent& 8o another&6 He sat bac+ as Lu+e )u(bled throu'h a one.’s nod o) approval& 5!. )or a short period& It’s causin' so(eone who doesn’t believe to blin+ in a(a:e(ent& It’s 'ivin' people what the$ want&6 5What do the$ want96 Lu+e shu))led the cards. a'reed& 5I alread$ +now so(e& I’ve been practicin'&6 5Indeed&6 #aisin' a brow. and a(a:ed& To watch the astoundin' happen under their nose&6 Ma. su''ested& 5A wo(an needs at least that (uch ti(e to choose accessories )or her costu(e&6 And he wanted a (o(ent alone with Lu+e& 5So&6 As #o. and blendin' the( into one. Lil$. then turned over Ma. there $ou’re wron'& A (a'ician’s best audience is another (a'ician& 2ecause the$ understand the purpose& 8o $ou96 5To do a tric+. handed cuts& 57ou’re wonderin' wh$ a little 'irl can do so(ethin' $ou can’t&6 Lu+e )lushed. but his chin sta$ed up& 5I can learn an$thin' she can&6 5"ossibl$&6 To entertain hi(sel). he chose a card )ro( the pac+ Lu+e held out& 5An$one can learn to do a tric+& It onl$ ta+es an understandin' o) how it wor+s. and a basic s+ill that can be re)ined with practice& 2ut (a'ic&6 He 'lanced at the card. then too+ his other hand )ro( under the wood& The ball was there. pic+ed up a dec+ o) cards& He be'an to do one. )anned the cards& 5I could tell $ou it’s a (ista+e to use her.6 Lu+e responded.6 Ma.5The ones in the window down the street& The blue ones&6 5Ta+e twent$ (inutes. opened his hand and showed Lu+e a s(all red ball& 5#i'ht be)ore their e$es&6 He slapped the ball on the table.6 Ma.handed cut& 5What do the$ want9 To be duped.’s card& His heart swelled at Ma. to be )ooled. o))ered the cards& 5Show (e&6 3erves da(pened his )in'ertips as Lu+e shu))led the cards& 5It won’t be as 'ood. as a $ardstic+ )or $oursel)& 2ut $ou wouldn’t listen&6 57ou could teach (e&6 5I could. Ma. then slipped it bac+ into the pac+& 5Ma'ic is ta+in' what’s real and what’s not.6 Ma. stru''lin' to concentrate on the cards& 5As si(ple as that9 Sit. Ma. or an$one. Ma.anne dra''ed Lil$ out. su''ested& Once the$ were seated at one o) the tables. tapped the top. because $ou +now how I’ll do it&6 5Ah.

6 he as+ed hope)ull$ as he 'athered the cards& 53o. $ou’ve done enou'h&6 Lu+e snatched the dec+ bac+& A)ter settin' it on the table. s(u'l$. isn’t it96 5Onl$ i) $ou can’t (a+e the( en-o$ the deception&6 He nodded a'ain when Lu+e drew the )our aces )ro( the top o) the shu))led dec+& 57our (echanics are 'ood. I’ll cut the cards and (a'icall$ reveal the one this )ine 'entle(an chose&6 He reached in his poc+et.6 Lu+e added as he tried to crane his nec+ to 'et a 'li(pse o) the card& 50ood&6 His voice shoo+& 5I 'uess $ou can put it bac+ in.6 he said.’s head. but he cleared his throat and dived in& He’d been practicin' )or wee+s& 5I’d li+e to show $ou a )ew card tric+s&6 He did a )air #ussian shu))le. he loo+ed crest)allen& 5That’s not it9 I was . an$where.57ou pal(ed it. I’( -ust a +id& I) $ou’d show the card to the audience& Ma+e sure I don’t see it. an$ card at all&6 Lu+e spread the cards )acedown on the table. in $our e$es& So $ou loo+ed in (ine& Alwa$s loo+ the( in the e$e& Innocentl$. not (an$ (a'icians will tell $ou what the$’re 'oin' to do be)orehand& 2ut I’( -ust a +id& I don’t +now an$ better&6 He )anned the cards )ace out toward his i(a'inar$ audience so the$ could identi)$ it as an ordinar$ dec+& 5I’( 'oin' to as+ this 'entle(an here to pic+ a card. reached )or one& 5That one96 he said and loo+ed uneas$& 57ou sure $ou want that one96 "la$in' alon'. inclined his head& 5Indeed I do&6 57ou sure $ou wouldn’t rather ta+e this one96 Lu+e tapped the end card& 53o96 He swallowed audibl$ when Ma. reall$.6 Lu+e said& 5I +now $ou did. held )ir(& 5O+a$& #e(e(ber. but I didn’t see&6 52ecause I loo+ed at $ou. shovin' the cards toward Lu+e& 5Astound (e&6 Ma. but where is $our )lair9 Where is that dra(a that tells the audience it’s not si(pl$ a well. I believe I’ll do it ($sel)&6 5Terri)ic&6 He heaved a si'h& 5Once the$’re shu))led. waited a beat while Ma. but (a'ic9 A'ain. watched the concentration co(e into Lu+e’s e$es. he waved his hands over it and (u(bled& 5Al(ost 'ot it& And!6 He cut the cards and held one up in triu(ph& At the 'entle sha+e o) Ma. however $ou choose& 2ut loo+ the( in the e$e& This (a+es an illusion honest&6 5A tric+’s a cheat. heard the two deep indrawn breaths as he prepared& 5I want to do the )irst one a'ain&6 5All ri'ht& Let (e hear $our patter&6 Lu+e’s color ca(e up. an$where at all& Then $ou can shu))le the(—unless $ou want (e to. Ma. and a snapp$ turnover& 53ow. pulled out an invisible hand+erchie) and wiped his brow& 5I thin+ that’s enou'h& #eall$.practiced tric+.

Lester rose& 57ou 'ot an up. Ma. who was busil$ ta+in' bets& 5*o(e on. was survival& As his na(e beca(e (ore well +nown. too. could sit bac+. pleased that the bo$ didn’t sti))en at the touch& 53o shit&6 It wasn’t a lon' trip )ro( 3ew Orleans to La)a$ette& With Mouse at the wheel o) the dar+ sedan.& 7ou sure as hell do&6 The co(pli(ent had Lu+e bea(in'& 2ut it was nothin'. (ore (ature. close his e$es and prepare& Stealin' wasn’t so di))erent )ro( per)or(in'& Or it had never been )or hi(& When he had )irst be'un. so (an$ $ears a'o. lau'h& 53ow&6 Ma. $ou’ve been a 'ood sport. nothin' co(pared to hearin' Ma. (u(bled over the( a'ain. 'ive it up&6 50ive what up.6 he said to Lester& 5Wh$ don’t $ou stand up and ta+e a bow&6 5Sure. it would have been rec+less to steal )ro( his audience& . and stal+ed toward the audience& 5And so(eone out here (ust be wor+in' with $ou& 7ou there&6 He pointed a )in'er at Lester.and.sure I did this ri'ht& Hold on a (inute&6 He set the cards bac+. +id96 5The card& I +now $ou’ve 'ot it&6 5He$&6 Lester coc+ed the phone on his shoulder and held up both hands& 5I ain’t 'ot no card. older. incensed. +id&6 5Oh no96 Lu+e reached down past Lester’s bul'in' bell$ under the waistband o) his slac+s and pulled out a nine o) dia(onds& 50uess $ou were -ust on $our wa$ to a po+er 'a(e&6 While Lester howled with lau'hter. rose to drop a hand on Lu+e’s shoulder& 5That’s show(anship& Let’s see i) we can wor+ it into the act&6 Lu+e’s -aw dropped to his +nees& 53o shit96 Ma. he’d blended the two s+ills& That had been a (atter o) survival& 3ow. and a'ain chose incorrectl$& 5So(ethin' (ust be wron' with this dec+& I don’t thin+ $our card’s there at all& I thin+ $ou cheated&6 He rose.co(er here. +id. ru))led Lu+e’s hair. sure&6 A(used. Ma. Lu+e held the card overhead )or the audience to identi)$& 5Than+ $ou& Than+ $ou& He$. he separated his per)or(ances )ro( his thiever$& That.

tree. with bi'. was not a rec+less (an& So(e (i'ht have pointed out that he no lon'er had to steal to +eep )ood in his bell$ or a roo) over his head& Ma. $es& The ti(e96 Mouse chec+ed his watch as Ma. opened his e$es and noted that Mouse had the car idlin' at the curb& It was a /uiet nei'hborhood. particularl$ when he was so s+illed. it was a (atter o) pride& He was. Ma. one o) the best& And he considered hi(sel) 'racious enou'h to choose his (ar+s care)ull$.cut a/ua(arines would brin' a he)t$ su( once the$ were popped )ree o) their settin'& Le*lerc alread$ had a bu$er& !ven a)ter the tithe. deep. but he en-o$ed stealin'& As a child who had been abused. he could con-ure the )lash and beaut$ o) the a/ua(arine and dia(ond nec+lace& All that ic$ blue and white& 1or hi(sel).penses. those e(erald. sapphires. and e. and )or the one he’d recentl$ started )or Lu+e& He s(iled to hi(sel)& Iron$ rarel$ escaped hi(& He was a thie) who worried about interest rates and (utual )unds& Too (an$ hun'r$ $ears had tau'ht hi( the value o) invest(ents& His children wouldn’t 'o hun'r$. ta+in' onl$ )ro( those who could a))ord to lose& It was rare )or hi( to wor+ this close to ho(e& Ma.&6 Ma. rich colors that held passion as well as 'lor$& 2ut personal taste o)ten had to be set aside )or practicalit$& I) his in)or(ation was correct. abandoned and unloved. stealin' had been a (atter o) control.anne’s colle'e )und.lined. /uite si(pl$. would have a'reed& He also would have added that not onl$ was it di))icult to brea+ a habit o) such lon' standin'. and o) de)iance& 3ow. and the$ would have a choice over which path the$ too+& 5This is the corner. considered it not onl$ ris+$ but (ess$& Still. ele'ant houses shielded b$ leaves and )lowerin' shrubs& 5Ah.Ma. Ma. he pre)erred hot 'e(s& #ubies. did& 5Two. rules were (ade to be bro+en& With his e$es shut. calculated there would be a nice chun+ le)t over )or #o.ten&6 50ood&6 .

pulled on thin blac+ 'loves& 5I believe I can handle it& I) the sa)e is as Le*lerc led (e to believe. $ou leave&6 When Mouse onl$ 'ru(bled. I can co(e do it )or $ou&6 5Than+ $ou. Ma. and 'oin' undiscovered& Silent as a shadow. Ma.actl$ where Le*lerc had told hi( it would be. but he needed none at all& I) he’d been struc+ blind. /uiet house& It was a +ind o) power. I’ll need onl$ seven or ei'ht (inutes to open it& Meet (e bac+ here at precisel$ two. Mouse&6 Ma. let it cloa+ hi( be)ore he stepped inside& He could never describe to an$one the )eelin' that rose inside hi( each and ever$ ti(e he stepped into a dar+. he slipped throu'h the +itchen.thirt$& I) I’( (ore than )ive (inutes late.& Once the red wires were snipped.5The alar( s$ste(’s reall$ basic& 7ou -ust snip both red wires& 2ut i) $ou’re not sure. stor$ bric+ house. he didn’t hesitate& Mouse was never wron'& He too+ his 'lass cutter and suction cup )ro( the so)t leather pouch at his waist& *louds dancin' over the (oon +ept the li'ht shi)tin'.6 Mouse said and hunched down in the seat& 5And we’ll be several thousand dollars richer&6 Ma. Ma. but he (ade a circuit -ust to be sure be)ore locatin' the alar( bo. he listened to it. he vaulted over a low stone wall& There were no li'hts on in the three. could have )ound his wa$ in or out o) a loc+ed door& There was a /uiet clic+ as he reached in and undid the latch& Then silence& As alwa$s. tapped his shoulder& 5I have to be able to count on $ou )or that&6 57ou’ll be bac+. went to wor+& He was en-o$in' the -ob& The librar$ s(elled )aintl$ o) overblown roses and cherr$ tobacco& A li'ht bree:e was tappin' the branches o) a chestnut a'ainst the window& He i(a'ined. he’d )ind a brand$ decanter close b$ and could indul'e in a sip or two be)ore 'oin' on his wa$& . into the dinin' roo( and into the hall& His heart beat )ast& A pleasant )eelin'. hidden behind a )alse door& With a penli'ht cla(ped between his teeth and a stethoscope pressed near the loc+. slipped )ro( the car and )aded into the shadows& Hal) a bloc+ down. one he +new was si(ilar to the anticipation o) 'ood se. i) he had the ti(e. in bein' where $ou weren’t supposed to be.& He )ound the librar$ e. and the sa)e. he supposed.

'ivin' the do' a s$(pathetic stro+e& 5So(e o) us are )orced to rise above our na(es&6 He clic+ed the sa)e shut. 'ave a satis)ied si'h& 5Lovel$. he turned slowl$& 4sin' the penli'ht. I didn’t plan this -ob a $ear )ro( now. he opened the sa)e& 51ortunatel$ )or (e. she scooped the do' up& 5What have $ou been up to9 7ou nau'ht$ do'&6 She 'ave hi( loud +isses as the pup tried to wri''le awa$& 5Are $ou hun'r$9 Are $ou hun'r$. stood watchin' hi(& With another whi(per. no (ore than a )ew wee+s old. she would be too involved with the pup to notice the nice. (ur(ured& 5And I’( sorr$. when $ou’d be bi' enou'h to ta+e a bite out o) (e& Thou'h I do have a scar on ($ ru(p )ro( a poodle not (uch bi''er than $ou&6 He b$passed stoc+ certi)icates and opened a velvet bo.6 Ma. he heard the rustle on the stairs& 51ris+$96 It was a )e(ale voice. said under his breath. hone$ bunn$9 Let’s 'ive $ou a nice bowl o) (il+&6 Ma. are $ou down here96 51ris+$96 Ma.’s direction& 5There $ou are! Ma(a’s bab$!6 Less than a )oot awa$ )ro( Ma.& The a/ua(arines 'lea(ed up at hi(& 4sin' the penli'ht and a -eweler’s loupe. slapped his tail on the ru'. neat hole in the beveled 'lass +itchen door& . he eased up a window& I) his luc+ held. closed his e$es.a'ed wo(an with her hair in a sleep net and her )ace 'lea(in' with ni'ht crea( tiptoed into the roo(& The pupp$ whined.The third o) the )our tu(blers )ell into place. couldn’t 'et out the wa$ he’d co(e in. he chec+ed the stones. pitched to a sta'e whisper& 51ris+$. wholeheartedl$ on the side o) the do'. who $ipped and tried to 'ain his )reedo(& 2ut the wo(an clun' ti'ht. but I can’t a))ord the ti(e to clean up a)ter $ou& 7ou’ll -ust have to ta+e $our lu(ps in the (ornin'&6 Ma. and into his pouch& As he bent to 'ive the pupp$ a )arewell pat on the head. he s/uatted and piddled on the Tur+ish carpet& 5A little too late to as+ (e to let $ou out. then started in Ma.. with ei'ht (inutes to spare& Then he heard the whi(perin'& 2raced to run. he scanned toward the sound& A pupp$. wor+ed on the )ourth tu(bler as the pup waddled over to sni)) his shoes& With a satis)ied si'h. bundlin' 1ris+$ to her breast as she started out toward the +itchen& Since that (eant Ma. then )aded bac+ into the shadows& A (iddle. aren’t the$96 He slid the( out o) the bo.

cupped a brand$ in one hand. do $ou thin+96 He held the nec+lace up. Ma. worthless.’s lau'h. had le)t their (ar+& 1or Lu+e there was onl$ one wa$ to deal with inso(nia& That was )ood& He still believed the best ti(e to )east was when no one was around to tell hi( not to& He pulled on a pair o) cuto))s and (oved silentl$ downstairs& I(a'es o) Le*lerc’s barbecued por+ and pecan pie walt:ed throu'h his head& The sound o) Le*lerc’s voice (ade hi( stop. he crept closer& 57our in)or(ation is alwa$s reliable. and swear& He was )ar )ro( sure o) the old (an& 2ut when he heard Ma. will the$ (iss the( b$ (ornin'. lau'hed and dran+ (ore brand$& 5Who hasn’t been housebro+en&6 5Than+ the %ir'in he didn’t bar+&6 Le*lerc added bourbon to his co))ee& 5I don’t li+e surprises&6 5There we part wa$s& I li+e the( ver$ (uch&6 And the li'ht o) success 'lowed in Ma. 'ood )or nothin'.i)s pla'ued hi(& What i) he )u(bled& What i) he )or'ot the tric+& What i) the audience thou'ht he was -ust a du(b +id& He could be 'ood& He +new that inside hi( was the potential to be reall$ 'ood& 2ut so (an$ $ears o) bein' told he was stupid. lettin' 'e(s drip throu'h his )in'ers& 5And will the )act that these were pa$(ent )or a 'a(blin' debt prevent the( )ro( reportin' the loss96 5#eported or not. . a -ob would beco(e routine& And routine too easil$ beco(es a rut& So. then stopped& His e$es narrowed as he set it on the table& 5I’( a)raid the walls have at least two ears toni'ht&6 . the$ won’t be traced here&6 Le*lerc started to raise his co))ee cup in toast.hilaration and terror& The what. even as the nec+lace shi((ered in the overhead li'ht& 5Otherwise. (used as he tossed a le' out the window. the -ewels in the other& 5I can’t co(plain over(uch about one s(all do'&6 5The$ didn’t have a do' last wee+& 3ot even )ive da$s a'o&6 5The$ have one now&6 Ma. he’d still have a head start& He closed the window a)ter hi( and did his best not to tra(ple the pansies& Lu+e couldn’t sleep& The idea o) per)or(in' the ne. the sa)e. the 'e(s&6 Ma.I) it didn’t.ean& The blueprints.’s e$es.t ni'ht had hi( tied up in +nots o) e.

'lanced up. and spea+& 57ou stole the(&6 57es&6 With a tentative )in'er. then pic+ed up the nec+lace& 5The vase $ou bro+e that da$ was a thin'—so is this& Thin's are worth onl$ as (uch or as little as people believe&6 He closed his hand over it. then opened both hands& !(pt$& 5One (ore illusion& M$ reasons )or ta+in' what others value are (ine& One da$ I (a$ share the( with $ou& 4ntil then. but resisted the ur'e to la$ a hand over Lu+e’s& 58o I disappoint $ou96 Lu+e’s e$es )illed with a love he had no words to e. leaned bac+. then si'hed& 5Lu+e&6 He said the na(e. Lu+e reached out to touch one pale blue 'e(& 5Wh$96 Ma. 'au'in' the bo$’s )ace as Lu+e wal+ed into the +itchen& 57ou’re up late&6 5I couldn’t sleep&6 8espite his atte(pt not to.Alerted. sippin' brand$ and considerin'& 5Wh$ not96 Lu+e’s lips twitched at that& It was a 'ood answer& One that satis)ied hi( (ore than a do:en heart)elt -usti)ications& 5Then $ou’re a thie)&6 5A(on' other thin's&6 Ma. $ou (i'ht ver$ well have been cau'ht& That would have been untid$. pure trust. and un)ortunate&6 5I’( care)ul&6 57ou’re $oun'.6 he repeated.6 Ma. and 'estured toward the shadows& 5*o(e into the li'ht&6 He waited. Ma. touched his hand brie)l$. and the 'e(s were bac+ in his hand& 5I) $ou’d continued at the carnival.press& 57ou couldn’t&6 He shoo+ his head in )rantic denial& 5!ver&6 58on’t be sure o) that&6 Ma. that allowed hi( to loo+ bac+ at Ma. bu(ped his )ists to'ether. leaned )orward then. there’s no such thin' as bad (one$& 2ut I’d pre)er $ou didn’t pic+ poc+ets unless it’s part o) a per)or(ance&6 52ut wh$—6 5I’ll tell $ou&6 He 'estured )or Lu+e to sit. I’ll as+ $ou not to spea+ o) it&6 5I won’t tell an$one&6 He’d have died )irst& 5I can help $ou& I can. corrected& 5I doubt i) it occurred to $ou to wonder i) the people $ou too+ )ro( could a))ord to lose what $ou slipped )ro( their wallets&6 He shoo+ his head be)ore Lu+e could spea+& 5And $our need was 'reat at the ti(e& It isn’t 'reat now&6 . )urious with Le*lerc’s derisive snort& 5I can (a+e 'ood (one$ pic+in' poc+ets&6 5Lu+e. Lu+e couldn’t stop hi(sel) )ro( starin' at the nec+lace& It was a (atter o) trust.

reasons $ou—6 He bro+e o)) and chuc+led so)tl$& 5I started to sa$ that $ou wouldn’t understand& 2ut $ou would&6 His e$es dar+ened& 5I was hardl$ older than $ou when Le*lerc )ound (e& I was hustlin' nic+els and di(es with the *ups and 2alls. said (ildl$& 57ou will 'o to school.cellent& Then we’ll be set )or )all classes&6 5I’( not 'oin' to school. I en-o$ it& And )or co(ple. had escaped )ro( the +ind o) ni'ht(are no child should e. and I chose to hone ($ cra)t on both paths& I don’t apolo'i:e )or bein' a thie)& !ver$ ti(e I steal. would have been deli'hted with the opportunit$ to tr$& 2ut he was not willin' to su))er throu'h several hours o) boredo( )ive da$s a wee+& 5I won’t 'o&6 Ma.6 Le*lerc stated& 5Ma$be two&6 5!. /uite si(pl$. what a ps$chiatrist would (a+e o) that& 3o.perience& Ma'ic sustained (e& So did stealin'& I had a choice. recentl$ orphaned&6 5It’ll ta+e (e a wee+.52ut $ou steal&6 52ecause I choose to& 2ecause. $ou certainl$ need it and I (ost assuredl$ can (a+e $ou 'o&6 Lu+e was prepared to die )or hi(.da$ 1a'an with $ou& I’ll 'ive $ou (a'ic. I don’t apolo'i:e. too. $ou’ll (a+e $our own choices&6 Lu+e thou'ht it over& 58oes #o. Ma.’s )ace& 5I see no reason wh$ she should&6 That (ade it better& 1or Lu+e.6 Ma.anne didn’t (ade all the di))erence& 5I’ll wait& I’ll learn&6 5I’( sure $ou will& And spea+in' o) that. onl$ s(iled& 7 . but neither will I pla$ (odern. +nowin' so(ethin' #o. I ta+e bac+ so(ethin' that was stolen )ro( (e&6 He lau'hed and sipped& 5Oh.anne +now96 1or the )irst ti(e a )lic+er o) doubt showed on Ma. card tric+s& Li)tin' wallets& I. but $ou are&6 *asuall$.6 Lu+e repeated& 5I don’t need school& 7ou can’t (a+e (e 'o&6 5On the contrar$. handed the nec+lace to Le*lerc& 5The paperwor+ should be si(ple enou'h& I thin+ he should be ($ cousin’s bo$. we should be'in to see to $our education&6 Lu+e’s enthusias( su))ered a direct hit& 5!ducation9 I’( not 'oin' to school&6 5Oh. Lu+e& And when $ou’re older.

panded her bit with the scarves& Lu+e +new he could 'et A’s& I) he )elt li+e it& It wasn’t an$ bi' deal—-ust nu(bers on a paper—but to prove that he couldn’t be bested b$ so(e snott$. stud$in' about the states and capitals& !speciall$ when he started countin' up how (an$ o) those states he’d visited& A)terward he couldn’t wait to show o))& 2ut he (ade hi(sel) sta$ cool& I) his 'eo'raph$ test with the bri'ht red A on it happened to slip out o) his noteboo+ bac+sta'e. that& 3o bi' deal&6 53o bi' deal96 Lau'hin'. or Lil$ voiced their approval& And each ni'ht the little brat would sit bac+sta'e. co(e see this&6 5What do I have to see96 5This&6 Triu(phant. reall$. he)t a bunch o) stupid boo+s and head toward school under Le*lerc’s ea'le e$e& 2ut the$ couldn’t (a+e hi( learn an$thin'& The s(ir+$ wa$ #o.anne showed o)) her A’s and 'old stars be'an to tic+ hi( o))& It reall$ 'ot his 'oat when she’d s(ile at hi( as Ma. but he shru''ed an$wa$& 5Oh. Ma. had e. he studied )or a 'eo'raph$ test& It wasn’t so bad. Lu+e surrendered& Or pretended to& The$ could (a+e hi( 'o& At least the$ could (a+e hi( 'et dressed. (on+e$..Lu+e went to school& "leas and bar'ains and threats )ell on dea) ears& When he discovered even the so)thearted Lil$ was a'ainst hi(. and never said a word to an$one&6 . it wasn’t his )ault& He nearl$ e.)aced 'irl. she s/uee:ed hi( a'ainst her& 5It’s a hu'e deal& 7ou didn’t (iss one& 3ot even one&6 With one ar( still slun' around hi( she called Ma. hone$.ploded with i(patience until Lil$ spotted it and scooped it up& 5What’s this96 He saw Lil$’s e$es 'o wide and bri'ht with an e(otion he’d seen so rarel$ he blushed to his toes& It was pride& 5Lu+e! This is 'reat! Wh$ didn’t $ou tell us96 5What96 The )oolish 'rin that spread over his )ace ruined his show o) indi))erence.. industriousl$ doin' her ho(ewor+ between acts& Ma. Lil$ waved the test in )ront o) hi(& 5Loo+ what our Lu+e did. awa$ )ro( a discussion with Lester& 5Ma.

he plotted reven'e& He’d have ta+en the(. cut it out&6 2ut even when he stal+ed awa$. she continued to loo+ a)ter hi(& As she would with an$thin' that pu::led her& School wasn’t so bad& Lu+e discovered he could tolerate it. dis'usted and (inus three dollars and twent$. but he copped his share& Lu+e wasn’t a /uic+ stud$ in all thin's& It too+ a blac+ e$e and a bloodied lip be)ore that last revelation ca(e to hi(& Wal+in' ho(e bruised.cellent results&6 5It’s no bi' thin'&6 He hadn’t +nown it could be& 5It’s -ust (e(ori:in'&6 5M$ dear bo$&6 Ma. hadn’t co(e alon' and bro+en thin's up& Actuall$. Mr& Li(p 8ic+.anne. he thou'ht& He’d have ta+en all three o) the bastard creeps i) the principal. reached out and )lic+ed a )in'er down Lu+e’s chee+& 5Li)e is -ust (e(ori:in'& Once $ou learn the tric+. absorbin' all the pleasure& It di((ed onl$ a little when he turned and saw #o. Lu+e stood still.5I’d be 'lad to loo+. Lu+e would have been sportin' two blac+ e$es at the ver$ least. i) Mr& #a(pwic+ hadn’t spotted the tussle. but adolescent pride colored the event di))erentl$& He -ust hoped he could 'et cleaned up at ho(e be)ore an$one saw hi(& He wondered i) he could cover the worst o) the da(a'e with 'reasepaint& 5What did $ou do96 Lu+e cursed hi(sel) )or scowlin' down at the sidewal+ instead o) +eepin' a loo+out& 3ow he’d all but run into #o.seven cents spendin' (one$.anne stud$in' hi( with wise e$es& 5What the hell are $ou loo+in' at96 57ou.6 she said si(pl$& 5Well. well& 7ou’ve decided to appl$ $our brain a)ter all& And with e. there’s ver$ little $ou can’t do& 7ou’ve done well& <uite well&6 As the$ (oved o)) to prepare )or the ne.t act. i) $ou’d hold it still&6 His brow li)ted as he 'lanced down at Lu+e& 5Well. and rarel$ hoo+ed (ore than one or two da$s a (onth& His 'rades were 'ood& He (i'ht not have 'otten consistent A’s li+e #o.anne& 53one o) $our 'odda(n business&6 .

96 Lu+e hooted& 5A head o) cabba'e is s(arter than hi(&6 5Then be a head o) cabba'e&6 She sat a'ain. (i(ic+in' hi(& 2ut she too+ a deep breath. $ou’ll -ust s(ear it&6 "atient as an old wo(an. *uster suc+er.57ou’ve been )i'htin'&6 #o. Lu+e dropped down on the steps o) a shop& He wanted a (inute an$wa$. too& I don’t need help&6 57eah.anne swun' her pin+ boo+ba' over her shoulder and planted her )ists on her hips& 58add$ won’t li+e it&6 5That’s tou'h shit&6 2ut it worried hi(& Was Ma.punched (e& I’d have held ($ own i) he hadn’t had two o) his sli($ pals holdin' (e down&6 5Where’d the$ 'o96 She was revved now. wouldn’t hit hi(—he’d pro(ised he wouldn’t& As (uch as Lu+e lon'ed to believe that. she dabbed at the cut hersel)& 57ou’d better sit down& 7ou’re too tall )or (e to reach&6 0ru(blin'. where a bruise was alread$ bloo(in'& 58id $ou (a+e so(ebod$ (ad96 57eah& The$ were (ad because I wanted to +eep ($ (one$& 3ow shut up&6 Her e$es narrowed& 5The$9 The$ beat $ou up and too+ $our (one$96 The hu(iliation o) that stun' (ore than his e$e& 5That creep Ale. with /uiet relish& 5What’s this ?we’ shit a'ain96 2ut he was interested& .6 she pointed out 'randl$& 57ou’re the one with the s(ashed. #o. and Lil$& 5I can do it ($sel)&6 She didn’t co(plain when he snatched the tissue& #o. to prepare )or Ma.anne du' into the poc+et o) her blue s+irt )or a tissue& 5Here& 3o.6 she said.anne was too interested in stud$in' his e$e.6 she shot bac+. a(used despite hi(sel)& She loo+ed hot and read$ and oddl$ dan'erous& 5And I can ta+e care o) ($sel). a part o) hi( still doubted& And )eared& 57our lip’s bleedin'&6 Si'hin'. ri'ht. up )ace&6 5And the bro+en le'. 'oin' to punish hi(9 Ma. shit&6 He 'rinned and turned his split lip into )ire& 57ou’re -ust a +id—a 'irl +id& He$!6 He 'rabbed at the shin she +ic+ed& 5What the hell96 5I can ta+e care o) ($sel). don’t wipe it with $our hand. devious rather than an'r$& 5We’ll sca( hi(. lettin' the autu(n bree:e cool her heated chee+s& 5An$wa$ it’s better not to )i'ht& It’s (ore )un to be s(arter&6 5S(arter than Ale.6 he said. and surprised Lu+e b$ boundin' up )ro( the stoop& 5We’ll 'o 'et Mouse and ta+e care o) the(&6 5We.

he was worried about the reaction when he wal+ed in the +itchen door& He’d probabl$ 'et $elled at. doesn’t it96 5Indeed&6 He leaned )orward. 8add$& That (a+es the( cowards.anne pic+ed up his banner& 5There were three o) the(. Le*lerc.anne s(iled slowl$& 5Well. 5$ou’ve -ust 'iven us as bi' a surprise as we planned to 'ive $ou& I hope ours is better& Happ$ birthda$.57ou don’t have enou'h e. but #o. and while there was a )lic+er o) an'er. but I 'uess $ou could have it )or Ale. I was thin+in' about doin' this -ob on 2obb$. but it was hardl$ what Lu+e had e.&6 5What96 5I’ll show $ou later& We have to 'et ho(e& The$’ll start to worr$&6 He didn’t na' her onl$ because he didn’t want to see( too interested& And secondl$.perience to do it on $our own& 7ou’ve 'ot to do the con so he doesn’t +now he’s been conned&6 She brushed her s+irt s(ooth and put her )le.anne in the +itchen door& All o) the( at once. 'u(e. The$ did $ell when he )ollowed #o. he decided. Mouse. halted Lil$’s )orward rush b$ sna''in' her wrist& His e$es sta$ed on Lu+e’s. 2obb$& He’s alwa$s pinchin' 'irls and stealin' )ood&6 #o.. bab$&6 . Ma. oui! It was the )irst ti(e he’d ever )elt Le*lerc’s approval& Lu+e ris+ed openin' his lip a'ain and sneered& 58a(n ri'ht&6 5Well. Lil$’s bea(in' s(ile turned to an O o) dis(a$& 52ab$! What happened96 Ma. 'entl$ cuppin' Lu+e’s chin in his hand& 5*hoose $our odds (ore care)ull$ ne.ible (ind to wor+& 5I +now his little brother.6 said Lil$. with a bi' lushl$ iced ca+e lit with candles& As he 'aped. would 'ive hi( that lon'. dra''in' his )eet& Or worse.pected& 5Happ$ birthda$!6 He -u(ped bac+ as thou'h he’d been struc+& The$ stood around the +itchen table. his voice was cal(& 5Had a tussle. did $ou96 Lu+e onl$ shru''ed. Lil$.t ti(e&6 5Tr$ this&6 Le*lerc chose a bottle )ro( a shel) and shoo+ so(e o) the contents on a clean cloth& When he pressed it to Lu+e’s swollen e$e the worst o) the ache )aded& 5Three96 he said and win+ed& 5This is so(e o) their blood on $our shirt. in)initel$ worse. du(b)ounded. Ma. slow loo+ and sa$ those aw)ul words& &ou disappoint me.

but at least one o) the( would pa$ )or it later& 5What’s the (atter. as i) in panic& He’d chosen the blind alle$ cold.anne’s advice.’s personal )avorite—popped the cap and too+ a lon' swi' as he stepped bac+ out& Then he pretended to spot Ale.bloodedl$& The$ (i'ht pound on hi( a'ain.anne was (ore sin'le. uncappin' the vial that held one o) Le*lerc’s ho(e re(edies& With /uic+ hands. who was an'lin' hersel) into the )ra(e as Mouse )ocused a ca(era& He onl$ had one. or a bro+en )ace& He had to ad(it it was clever& !ven—to borrow one o) #o. and that he wasn’t about to +ill an$one& Thou'h his conscience wouldn’t have su))ered over(uch& Stu))in' the e(pt$ vial bac+ in his poc+et. Lu+e )ound hi(sel) in the (iddle o) a stin' that could brin' hi( 'reat satis)action. Lu+e thou'ht as he darted down an alle$wa$. and reven'e out o) his (ind& #o. )or the )irst ti(e. pu))ed out his chest and 'rinned& 5Lost96 5I don’t want an$ trouble&6 Lu+e buried pride under ven'eance and (ade his voice and hands sha+e& 5I ain’t 'ot no (one$ le)t& I spent it on this&6 .anne +new what she was doin'. Ale. wiped all thou'hts o) Ale. starin'& 52e)ore we burn down the house&6 58on’t )or'et to (a+e a wish&6 This )ro( #o. o) openin' presents that had been bou'ht -ust )or hi(.anne.52etter blow out the candles. Lu+e (ade certain Ale.(inded& Two da$s later.anne’s ten.6 Ma. )art breath96 Seein' his /uarr$ pinned.dollar words— diabolical& 1ollowin' #o. su''ested when Lu+e (erel$ stood. and that was to belon'& It see(ed that had alread$ been 'ranted& The da::lin' e. needed no (ore than that to pursue& Little peabrain had it ri'ht. )orced hi(sel) to appear a)raid& Li+e a shar+ scentin' blood. Ale. and his two -uvenile hench(en saw hi( saunter into a (ar+et on the corner a bloc+ )ro( school& He paid )or the bottle o) 'rape 3ehi—Ale.cite(ent o) his )irst birthda$ ca+e.ative into the 3ehi& He trusted #o. he whirled. Lu+e du(ped the stron' la.

ac+son S/uare and down #o$al. toward . and too+ o)) )or sa)er 'round as several adults be'an to hurr$ over& With a careless s(ile on her )ace.err$&6 Ale. tilted the bottle bac+ and drained it& 53ow&6 He tossed the bottle aside& 5Let’s +ic+ ass&6 2ut this ti(e Lu+e was read$ )or the(& When $ou couldn’t )i'ht. 'rabbed the bottle be)ore shovin' Lu+e bac+ a'ainst the wall& 5See i) he’s l$in'. loo+!6 #o.6 she said to Lu+e& 5He’d )or'et about that.anne strolled into the court$ard& 5That’s better than punchin' hi(.ercise. should 'et thin's (ovin' throu'h Ale. both . .anne popped out o) nowhere to point& 5There’s a bo$ in the bushes doin' nu(ber two& Mo(($!6 She s/uealed in a bab$.e. (an& He’s 'ettin' awa$&6 5M$ 'ut! M$ 'ut!6 Ale. could sa$ as Le*lerc’s la. $ou ran& He duc+ed his head and plowed into Ale. 'roaned and clutched his bell$& 5He$. )ee*. co(e /uic+&6 5*o(e on. he thou'ht.err$ shouted in dis'ust& 5That is 'r.’s 'ut.err$ pulled at hi(& 5*o(e on. dashed toward so(e rhododendrons and s/uatted& 5.’s s$ste(& He led the( on a chase.6 was all Ale.sus!6 . #o. allowin' the other bo$ to po+e and prod throu'h his poc+ets& He wanted to (a+e sure Ale.doll voice& 5Mo(($. but he won’t ever )or'et about this&6 He had to 'rin& 5And $ou said I was (ean&6 .err$ announced& 50ive (e a sip.6 . co(e on&6 A)ter a /uic+ loo+ around. too+ a lon' pull on the spi+ed so)t drin+ and 'rinned under a purple (oustache& Lu+e whi(pered.53o (one$96 Ale. Ale. what’s the (atter96 . can’t. he +new.&6 50et $our own&6 Ale. +noc+in' one bo$ into the other until the three o) the( wobbled li+e a house o) cards& He dashed to the (outh o) the alle$& He was )aster. e(ptied the bottle& 5He’s 'ot nothin'. Ale. and could have 'otten awa$ be)ore the$’d sorted the(selves out to co(e a)ter hi(& 2ut he wanted the( to chase hi(& A little e. when Ale..’s )ace was sheet white and runnin' with sweat& Lu+e (ade it to his own court$ard and was debatin' whether to race out and continue.oss&6 5*an’t.ative pur'ed hi( pitilessl$& 5Oh. s+iddin' around the corner at St& Ann and hot)ootin' it over to 8ecatur& A 'lance bac+ showed hi( Ale.err$ and his co(panion le)t the 'roanin' Ale.

the e(er'enc$ sur'er$. hadn’t saved her& She’d strea(ed out o) his li)e. lettin' her e$es close when he s+i((ed his lips down her throat& 5And so(eone has to sta$ with the children& 8o $ou reall$ thin+ the -ob will be worth a /uarter o) a (illion96 5Oh.tra pair o) his ar'$le soc+s into his overni'ht ba'& Lil$& !ven her na(e (ade hi( s(ile& Sweet.cited her.1ro( the balcon$ Ma. ver$ nicel$ indeed& How pleased Moira would have been with her 'irl& It wasn’t o)ten he thou'ht o) his wi)e. at a (ini(u(& These oil (en li+e to put their spare chan'e into art and -ewelr$&6 The idea o) that (uch (one$ e. but not nearl$ as (uch as what Ma. he watched Lil$ slip an e. he was certain Moira would be proud o) her dau'hter& Turnin' bac+ into the bedroo(. don’t $ou thin+96 He +issed her a'ain.t door&6 5I +now&6 She si'hed and snu''led a'ainst hi(& 5I’d -ust )eel better i) I were 'oin' with $ou&6 5Mouse and Le*lerc are /uite enou'h protection. lovel$ Lil$& A (an could hardl$ curse 0od when he’d been 'iven two such 'lorious wo(en to love in one li)eti(e& 57ou don’t have to do that )or (e&6 5I don’t (ind&6 She chec+ed his shavin' +it to be certain it contained )resh ra:ors be)ore pac+in' it& 5I’( 'oin' to (iss $ou&6 5I’ll be bac+ be)ore $ou +now I’( 'one& Houston’s practicall$ ne. one te(ple. then the other& His Lil$ had s+in as s(ooth as the petals o) her na(esa+e& 5I suppose&6 She tilted her head.’s clever ton'ue was currentl$ doin' to her ear& 5I loc+ed the door&6 . that redheaded )irebrand who’d :oo(ed so /uic+l$ in and out o) his li)e& He’d loved her—oh $es. he thou'ht with a war( 'low o) pride. and had heard all he needed to hear& His children. leavin' hi( with the (ost precious thin' the$’d (ade to'ether& 7es.& She’d been too i(patient to co(plain about the pain—and then it had been too late& A )rantic rush to the hospital. were co(in' alon' nicel$. he’d loved her with a +ind o) 'reed$ wonder& How could he have done otherwise when she’d been beauti)ul and )earless9 !ven a)ter all the $ears that had passed he )ound it di))icult to believe that all that )lash and dash had been snu))ed out& So /uic+l$& So uselessl$& A burst appendi. had seen (ost o) the little dra(a.

as it was overcutel$ na(ed. with Mouse at the controls o) the *essna. Inc&’s ho(e base in Atlanta—contained enou'h baubles and beads to stoc+ a (odest -ewelr$ store& Since his (ar+s were heavil$ insured. heav$ on the A(erican and Oriental. Ma. insurance was a bet. 'lanced up and 'rinned at Le*lerc& The *a-un’s +nuc+les were white as he 'ripped his ar(rest& Around his nec+ were a silver cross. all o) which had been chosen )or the owners b$ a'ents& It had been purchased not )or its aesthetic value or si(ple beaut$ but as an invest(ent& A 'ood one.Ma.)ive hundred s/uare )eet& The blueprints Ma. to 'o over the blueprints a'ain& The house the$ would hit a )ew hours later was hu'e.centur$ art. said nothin' as he rose to pour a s(all brand$ )or both o) the(& Le*lerc downed the brand$& 5It’s unnatural )or a (an to be in the air& He dares the 'ods&6 5He dares the( ever$ ti(e he ta+es a breath& I’( sorr$ to sub-ect $ou to so(ethin' $ou disli+e. a cr$stal talis(an and an ea'le )eather& There were rosar$ beads. between insurer and insuree& !ventuall$ so(eone had to lose& Ma. calculated well worth the ulti(ate pa$o))& The *roo+ed # #anch. as a 'uest&6 He pulled a . )i'ured Securit$’s loss would be his 'ain& And a)ter all. a blac+ rabbit’s )oot and a pouch )ull o) colored stones in his lap& Le*lerc covered all the bases when he )lew& 2ecause Le*lerc’s e$es were ti'htl$ closed. had obtained—)ro( a )ile drawer in Securit$ Insurance. and his (outh (ovin' in silent pra$er. but ($ absence in 3ew Orleans couldn’t possibl$ 'o unnoticed i) we’d ta+en the ti(e to drive&6 57our (a'ic (a+es $ou too )a(ous&6 5I’( nothin' without it& And there are advanta'es to )a(e& It’s beco(in' /uite the thin' )or the (ore i(portant hostesses to invite (e to dinner parties. too& The list Ma. chuc+led as he pressed her down on the bed& 5I +now&6 There was plent$ o) ti(e durin' the short )li'ht )ro( 3ew Orleans to Houston. Ma. and twentieth. Ma. was currentl$ porin' over had cost a little (ore than )ive thousand in bribes& It was an invest(ent Ma. a sprawlin' )i)t$. was loaded with nineteenth. a 'old an+h. had no doubt& It was about to (a+e hi( a 'reat deal o) (one$& There was -ewelr$.

in the parlor&6 5Li+e a -u''ler. pre)erred to travel well whenever possible& In the bac+seat. but Ma.. (onths since he had had the pleasure o) openin' the door o) a sa)e and reachin' into the dar+ness be$ond& 1or the lon' su((er. he chec+ed his tools one last ti(e& 5Two hours. Le*lerc +new he would be at ho(e waitin'. he +new this pleasure would be lost to hi( b$ now& Thou'h the$ never spo+e o) it. onl$ on less arduous -obs& I) the oil (an’s house hadn’t been e(pt$.ious )or the ro(ance o) the)t& Without Ma. he had been celibate—at least )i'urativel$—and was an.ans were in residence. as Lil$ was waitin'& 2ut he wasn’t bitter& He was 'rate)ul )or the opportunit$ o) one (ore chance at the thrill& The$ purred up the sweepin' drive.coin out o) the air and be'an to (anipulate it throu'h his )in'ers& 5With the hopes that I’ll entertain her.6 Le*lerc said in dis'ust. (ore practicall$& And that da$ would co(e& Alread$ he acco(panied Ma.horse who hears the alar( bells and /uivers )or the harness& It had been (onths since he had heard the tu(blers clic+ and )all. Mouse& Mone$ can’t bu$ taste&6 . Ma. and her part$. and Mouse donned his chau))eur’s cap and -ac+et )or the drive& The lon' stretch li(ousine would be less conspicuous in the rich nei'hborhood than an un(ar+ed sedan& And Ma. the$ both +new that Le*lerc was slowin' down& A $oun'er (an would have )it the trian'le (ade up o) hi(sel). onl$ shru''ed& 5I) $ou li+e& I’( alwa$s willin' to pa$ )or a well.6 he announced& 53o (ore&6 Le*lerc was alread$ slippin' on his 'loves—an old )ire. i(a'ined the carp would vo(it water into the birdbath& 5A lesson )or $ou. Mouse and Ma.presented (eal& And I’( (ore than paid bac+ in +ind with the contacts I’ve (ade& Our )riends in Houston were deli'hted with ($ i(pro(ptu per)or(ance at a soiree in Washin'ton last $ear& How )ortunate )or us that the$’d decided to visit their cousin the senator&6 5More )ortunate )or us that the$’re in !urope now&6 5Much (ore& Thou'h it’s not (uch o) a challen'e to steal )ro( an uninhabited house&6 He (oved his shoulders a'ain and turned one coin into two& The$ pic+ed up a li(o at Hobb$. past a statue o) a nude bo$ holdin' a carp& When the Te. to the strains o) a Mo:art cantata.

6 was all Mouse could thin+ o) to sa$& 5Indeed& It nearl$ (a+es one want to pause and re)lect&6 Ma. )acin' a reproduction o) %enus and an indoor 'old)ish pond& 5. Le*lerc 'oin' up the wide curvin' stairs toward the bedroo( sa)e and (ilad$’s -ewels.6 Le*lerc (ur(ured.When the$ par+ed in )ront o) the house. and a roll o) soundproo)in' o)ten used in theaters& And the$ waited& Ten (inutes later. the e(otion o) the artist )or his sub-ect&6 Mouse saw a )unn$. too+ a lar'e velvet. Mouse9 The )luidit$.& Sculptures o) bron:e and (arble and stone were wrapped in the thic+ soundproo)in'& 5A #odin&6 Ma. paused a (o(ent to teach& 5A trul$ re(ar+able piece& See the (ove(ent.& It’s neat&6 Ma. not that one. and. sure. )elt the )a(iliar tin'lin' in his )in'ertips as he approached the )ront door& Ta+in' out his pac+et o) pic+s. (uttered. Ma.ee:. Mouse hurried bac+& 5Sorr$& Was a prett$ 'ood s$ste(& Too+ so(e ti(e&6 53o apolo'ies necessar$&6 Ma. his e$es hal) closed.6 Ma.white (arble )o$er. cuttin' paintin's )ro( what Ma. his (ind inside the tu(blers& 5There & & & onl$ a (o(ent (ore&6 He was as 'ood as his word& Minutes later the$ stood inside a da::lin' three. the (en (oved in silence& Ma. without even a hint o) (oon& 5Lots o) land. )ro( the trun+. coverin' the )irst )loor& The$ wor+ed s(oothl$. Mouse lu(bered o)) to deal with the securit$ s$ste(& It was pitch dar+. could onl$ si'h as he tuc+ed the #odin reverentl$ between )olds o) the heav$ cloth& 53o.6 he said when he noted the bron:e wor+ Mouse was holdin'& .loo+in' 'lob o) stone& 5Ah.lined bo. considered overl$ ornate )ra(es and rollin' the( inside the velvet bo. pleased& 5Lots o) bi' trees& The nei'hbors (ust need binoculars to pee+ in each other’s windows&6 5Let’s hope no one’s pla$in' "eepin' To( toni'ht&6 Ma. Mouse and Ma. he went to wor+& 5Wh$ )ool with that9 Have Mouse brea+ it in& The alar(’s down&6 5Lac+s )inesse. 'lanced toward an enor(ous coatrac+ (ade o) steer horns& 53earl$&6 The$ separated. and Le*lerc wal+ed to the trun+.stor$ blac+.

e$ed it& A 'ood piece and probabl$ as heav$ as a truc+& Thou'h it wasn’t to his personal taste.96 Ma. or it wouldn’t be in this collection& 2ut it lac+s st$le. and beaut$& It’s (uch (ore i(portant to steal the beauti)ul than the valuable& Otherwise.t roo( and ca(e bac+ he)tin' a #e(in'ton piece o) a cowbo$ astride a buc+in' horse& 5How about this one. Hu(anel$ ta+en.tiered nec+lace& With a 'runt Ma.teen. but the$ le)t behind plent$ o) baubles )or us&6 It had been di))icult to i'nore the ne'otiable bonds and cold cash he’d )ound in the twin sa)es. wouldn’t we96 5I 'uess&6 He (oved to the ne. a born devil. and once. and a nod& 5I believe our shoppin' spree is over& Shall we load up9 I believe we can be bac+ ho(e in ti(e )or brunch&6 PART TWO A devil. was superstitious about stealin' (one$& Le*lerc never snee:ed on an$one’s superstitions& 5Loo+ at this one&6 He pulled out a blindin' arra$ o) dia(onds and rubies wor+ed into a three.cellent choice& 2est ta+e it out to the li(o as it is& We’re nearl$ done here&6 5We’re well done. Mouse tau'ht hi( to drive& The$ did a lot o) bu(pin' and 'rindin' on the bac+ roads. steer and bra+e at the sa(e ti(e. all. nearl$ ended up in a swa(p& 2ut Mouse had an endless store o) patience& . but Ma.5It’s real heav$. all lost. too+ it and held it up to the li'ht& 5How can one ta+e such beauti)ul stones and (a+e so(ethin' so hideous )ro( the(9 The lad$ should than+ us )or never havin' to wear this a'ain&6 5Must be worth )i)t$ thousand. at least&6 5H(((&6 "ossibl$.6 Mouse told hi(& 5Solid& Must be worth a lot&6 54ndoubtedl$. thou'ht and wished )or his loupe& He would choose a )ew o) the choicer stones and have a (ore suitable nec+lace (ade )or Lil$& A chec+ o) his watch. on whose nature 3urture can never stic+> on who( ($ pains. we’d be robbin' ban+s. he could see Mouse was drawn to it& 5!. /uite lost & & & —WILLIAM SHA !S"!A#! When Lu+e was si. when Lu+e atte(pted to shi)t. Ma. stridin' downstairs and tappin' his bul'in' pouch& 5I don’t +now what Mada(e and Monsieur too+ to !urope. Mouse. Ma.6 Le*lerc stated.

but he’d had no idea a hand)ul o) dates and an evenin' watchin' worlds bein' saved would convince her to let hi( do the bi' IT& Still he wasn’t one to (iss an opportunit$ once it was presented& Ma.Mahal& Annabelle (i'ht have been considered eas$. throbbin' there in a -un'le dru(beat that set the rh$th( )or his see+in' )in'ers& Annabelle’s pleasure sounded in a low hu( that beca(e /uic+ 'reed$ (oans. in the bac+seat o) the secondhand 3ova he’d bou'ht with his savin's& 3either Annabelle nor the 3ova were stran'ers to the bac+seat boo'ie& 2ut it was Lu+e’s )irst ti(e.& He could )eel. the dar+ road.roo( tal+& With his )ace pillowed between her breasts.ars.white 'lobes. desperate pants.0ettin' his driver’s license was a (o(entous occasion )or Lu+e. the (usic o) the cicadas in counterpoint to all the 'asps and 'runts. actuall$ )eel her (uscles contract around hi( as she pitched hi'her and happil$ ca(e in his hand& His breath hitched in and out as he stru''led toward so(ethin' that had been onl$ a dar+ drea( punctuated b$ loc+er. but he 'ot his hand inside her lac$ red panties& Wet. slipper$& His blood swa( wildl$ downstrea( )ro( his head to his crotch. one hand busil$ wor+in' her. hot. slappin' a'ainst the tattered seat o) the 3ova& The windows Lu+e had rolled up a'ainst the chill o) onco(in' winter )o''ed up. he understood the 'ates o) paradise were swin'in' open& 5*hrist. he thou'ht he’d )ound heaven& 2ut when she tu''ed down the :ipper on his Levi’s and too+ hold. Annabelle&6 He )u(bled with her -eans while she -ac+ha((ered hi( toward deliriu(& He’d hoped she’d let hi( touch. turnin' the car into a stea($ sauna that s(elled o) se. but she onl$ crawled into the bac+seat with a bo$ i) he was cute.shirt to sa(ple those 'enerous. i) he treated her well and i) he was a 'ood +isser& Lu+e /uali)ied on all counts& When she let hi( under her T. that 'iant step toward reachin' the (anhood he was be'innin' to crave& 2ut even that paled a'ainst another (o(entous occasion& His date with Annabelle Wal+er that included the )antas$ roller coaster o) +tar . deli'ht)ul little whi(pers& Her 'enerous hips arched and )ell. two 'iant tubes o) popcorn and an evenin' endin' in se. had tau'ht hi( that (uch& 5Let (e & & &6 Let hi( what he wasn’t precisel$ sure. he tu''ed his hips )ree o) the Levi’s& The sensation o) bein' inside o) a wo(an this wa$ was nearl$ . and )or hi(. (il+. the (iraculous )eel o) Annabelle’s braless breasts in his hands were as ro(antic and (a-estic as the Ta.

than (ost o) the bo$s& Most o) it was le'. with the 2ee 0ees warblin' on the radio—*hrist.anne was the tallest 'irl in her class —taller. re(ained cool. bab$&6 A veteran o) close. s(ellin' o) se. did it have to be the 2ee 0ees9—and Annabelle spreadin' her le's in her best cheerleader st$le beneath hi(& His coc+ )elt li+e a roc+et. and sweat and Annabelle’s *harlie colo'ne& He was 'rate)ul no one was up to 'reet hi(& !ven (ore was he 'rate)ul that he’d been 'iven ever$ other wee+end o)) )ro( the club to. so(e s(all corner o) his brain. even a(used& Here was Lu+e *allahan. as showed now in the short .ed with health$ curiosit$ and a love o) beauti)ul thin's& 1eelin' all that hot (oisture. Annabelle wri''led and shi)ted and loc+ed her le's around his hips& 5I can’t wait& I -ust can’t&6 3either could he& 2lind instinct had hi( drivin' hi(sel) into her& *ontrol that was as (uch instinct as the tutela'e o) )our $ears had hi( holdin' bac+ that need )or instant release& He wor+ed the( both into a delirious sweat be)ore lettin' 'o& The last thin' he heard was her callin' out his na(e& She all but san' it& *ourtes$ o) Annabelle. )eelin' a )e(ale )or( tre(ble and buc+ beneath his was one o) the (ost beauti)ul thin's Lu+e had ever e. he would return to school Monda$ with a reputation a 'rowin' bo$ could be proud o)& The house was dar+ but )or a li'ht le)t burnin' in the +itchen when he arrived ho(e. )oot $et./uarters se.anne in the doorwa$& 5That’s dis'ustin'&6 She inclined her head toward the bottle he held& She’d sprun' up over the $ears. develop a well. vibratin' on the launchin' pad o) his arousal& He could onl$ hope li)t. in )act. bare. as he had& 2ut while Lu+e s+i((ed under si.enou'h to shatter his control& 7et a part o) hi(.. hu'e and hot.rounded social li)e& He sure as hell was )eelin' well rounded toni'ht& He opened the )rid'e and drained a pint o) oran'e -uice strai'ht )ro( the bottle& He was 'rinnin' still. and was no (ore than avera'e hei'ht )or his a'e. put it. as Ma. #o. oddl$ detached.o)) didn’t occur pre(aturel$& It wasn’t s+ill which had hi( 'ivin' her (ore than the other bo$s she’d dated& It was pure ine. and hu((in' the !a'les’ 5Witch$ Wo(an6 under his breath when he turned and spotted #o.assed in his ’@A 3ova.perience (i.perienced& 5Oh.

it beca(e unco()ortabl$ war(& 52eat it&6 5I’( 'ettin' a drin+&6 She poured 8r "epper into a 'lass to prove it& 5I don’t have a bedti(e on Saturda$ ni'hts&6 5Then I’( 'oin'&6 How was a 'u$ supposed to )loat around on a cloud o) lust with that little whiner around9 he wondered as he strode out and up the stairs& 3ot wantin' to (iss a (o(ent o) the indul'ent drea( he had planned.anne was (orti)ied b$ the snail’s pace o) her )e(inine develop(ent& Al(ost all the 'irls in her class had at least the buds o) breasts. the$’d traveled to !urope. had added to his reputation as a (aster (a'ician& He could spea+ 1rench.ni'htshirt she wore& Since her hair was neatl$ brushed. where Ma.6 Lu+e corrected. haltin'l$. and )or lon' periods o) ti(e he’d )or'otten what real )ear was& In the past )our $ears. Lu+e stripped and plopped na+ed onto the bed& He’d 'otten used to the scent and )eel o) clean sheets. and had learned to (a+e the cards dance& As )ar as he could see.anne with breasts a(used hi(& Initiall$& When he be'an to thin+ about it. )eelin' an e. in din'$ clubs and on polished sta'es& The previous su((er a)ter Ma. thou'h he’d $et to ta+e the( )or 'ranted& It was a rare thin' )or hi( to 'o to bed hun'r$. he’d traveled over (ost o) the eastern 4nited States.$ clothes. a(on' other thin's. he had it all& Li)e was per)ect. she (arched to the re)ri'erator and searched& As she chose a 8r "epper.anne hated Annabelle Wal+er on principle& The principle bein' that she was petite and blond and prett$. #o. Lu+e thou'ht as he dri)ted to sleep& .pert on the sub-ect& 57ou’re -ust -ealous because she’s 'ot tits and $ou don’t&6 5I’ll 'et the(&6 On the cusp o) thirteen. and that Lu+e spent ti(e with her& 5What’s it to $ou96 5She bleaches her hair and wears her clothes too ti'ht&6 5She wears se. and she was still as )lat as Le*lerc’s breadboard& 5When I do. he assu(ed she’d $et to 'o to sleep& 5Stu)) it&6 He s(iled and set the bottle on the counter& 5Ma$be so(eone else wanted so(e&6 Thou'h she wasn’t in the least thirst$. the$’ll be better than hers&6 5#i'ht&6 The idea o) #o. she wrin+led her nose at Lu+e& 57ou s(ell&6 Sni))in' the air she cau'ht.—with so(e re'ret—had sold the carnival. had per)or(ed in )allow )ields. so(ethin' Lu+e +new she did ever$ ni'ht be)ore bed. the )adin' hint o) Annabelle’s colo'ne& 57ou went out with her a'ain&6 #o.

he had )allen asleep& #o. nowhere to hide& Sittin' up. to taunt and torture& He wasn’t a +id an$(ore. all the wa$ bac+ to that cra(ped two.le''ed on the )loor. but be)ore *hristopher Lee 'ot what was co(in' to hi(. Lil$&6 5I +now. to co(e and (a+e it all 'o awa$ a'ain& So he’d wal+ it o))& Lu+e pulled on pants and told hi(sel) he’d wal+ over to 2ourbon and bac+ and sha+e o)) the stic+$ dre's o) the ni'ht(are& When he reached the botto( o) the steps he heard the hi'h.anne seated cross. he spotted #o. at least enou'h to sit on the end o) the couch and dip a hand into #o. This count 'u$’s e(bal(in' people& It’s neat&6 50ross&6 2ut he was cau'ht. hone$&6 She si'hed as she settled into the bri'htl$ painted hori:ontal bo.anne waited until she was sure he had.pitched screa( and the (u))led (utter o) voices& 0lancin' into the den.& The$ were rehearsin' alone in the club. reached up to stro+e his hair& 5The$’re 'rowin' up on us. li+e a cac+lin' 're(lin out o) a closet. Lu+e 'ulped in hu'e breaths o) the heav$.anne’s popcorn& He was still )eelin' sha+$.al(ing Dead. and there’d been nowhere to run. then.So he was stunned when he wo+e in a cold sweat an hour later with a whi(per in his throat& He’d been bac+.roo( apart(ent& Al’s belt had whipped li+e a ra:or across his s+in. he told hi(sel) as he rested his head on his +nees& Months and (onths without his subconscious :appin' hi( bac+ there& He’d thou'ht he’d beaten it& !ach ti(e wee+s or (onths passed without one o) those hideous drea(s he was sure it was behind hi(& Then it would pop bac+. but didn’t ta+e her e$es o)) the screen& 5I’( watchin' ?Terror Theater&’ -astle of the . a bowl o) popcorn on her lap& 5What’re $ou doin'96 She -olted. autu(n air and waited )or the sha+in' to pass& It hadn’t happened in (onths. Lu+e re(inded hi(sel) and stu(bled )ro( the bed& He wasn’t supposed to have ni'ht(ares and wa+e up sha+in' and wantin' Lil$ or Ma. a new bit Ma. leanin' her chee+ a'ainst the cushion on the couch. called the 8ivided Wo(an& .

she’s too s(art to settle )or an$thin' less than e. apart and then -oinin' the halves to'ether& Then she as+ed. a(bitious and one.anne si(pl$ didn’t have the willpower to resist& She was neatl$ dressed in pin+ -eans and (atchin' -ac+et. and her )ace was scrubbed clean o) ever$thin' but )rec+les& She loo+ed li+e a sweet. white snea+ers& Her hair was pulled bac+ in a bounc$ pon$tail.& A terri)ic pair&6 Hal) o) that terri)ic pair was two bloc+s awa$. 57ou’re not sad the +ids’re 'rowin' up.anne +new the value o) illusion and i(a'er$& She’d alread$ ta+en in over two hundred. runnin' a bris+ 'a(e o) Three *ard Monte& A )lood o) conventioneers had poured into town& #o. )or the bene)it o) the potential audience& 5How (uch lon'er are the bo$s 'oin' to sta$ awa$96 Lil$ s(iled and wri''led the )eet and hands that stuc+ out o) the holes in the bo.A(erican 'irl& Which was precisel$ her intention& #o.(inded&6 Lil$ was silent as Ma. Ma. cla(ped the loc+s into place while doin' a st$lish turn around the bo. thou'h she (ade certain to hit no one (ar+ too hard& She wasn’t doin' it )or the (one$—thou'h she was ever$ bit as )ond o) what (one$ could bu$ as her )ather& She was doin' it because it was )un& Once a'ain she slapped three cards on the little )oldin' table& She too+ the )ive.encrusted sci(itar& 52$ that $ou (ean she’s stubborn.dollar bet )ro( her current (ar+—a portl$ (an in an aloha shirt—)lipped the cards )acedown and be'an to (anipulate the(& And the rest o) the crowd& . all.6 she si'hed. went throu'h the routine o) cuttin' the bo.. wholeso(e.5#o.$’s 'oin' to be a teena'er&6 Ma.& 53ot (uch lon'er& 8on’t worr$. are $ou. 5the$’re 'ood +ids. Ma. sweetie96 5Ma$be a little& It re(inds (e I’( 'ettin' older& Lu+e drivin' a car and chasin' 'irls&6 5He doesn’t have to chase the(&6 Lil$’s brow creased in anno$ance& 5The$ throw the(selves at hi(& An$wa$.actl$ what she wants&6 5I hope $ou’re ri'ht&6 5She’s her )ather’s dau'hter&6 Lil$ (ade the appropriate whi(pers and (oans while Ma. a )lowered shirt and snow.trac+. de(onstrated the +eenness o) the blade o) a -ewel.

the /ueen was alread$ pal(ed& She too+ in another )i)t$. increasin' rh$th(.)in'ered hands (oved li+e li'htnin'& And. but pride was stron'er& 5I’ve 'ot ti(e )or one& The bet’s )ive dollars&6 With a nod.anne laid the cards down.anne bet her e'o a'ainst the )ive. lon'. dar+ brown.6 he said& 5I’ve been watchin' $ou&6 It was nearl$ i(possible )or #o. her nerves -an'led& 5One 'a(e.actl$ where the blac+ /ueen hid& 5Where is she96 He didn’t hesitate. a scru))$ halo around a narrow )ace o) sharp an'les& His e$es. were loc+ed on #o. two red /ueens with the blac+ in the center& 5Watch the blac+ lad$.hand card& 2e)ore she could turn it up hersel). he pulled a )olded bill )ro( his bac+ poc+et and laid it on the table& #o. she +new e.5 eep $our e$e on the blac+ /ueen& 8on’t blin+& 8on’t snee:e& eep watchin' her& eep watchin'&6 Her s(all. and +ept her e$e on the bo$& He wasn’t new to the 'a(e& She’d been in it hersel) too lon' not to reco'ni:e a pro& #o. even white teeth. showin' per)ect.corner (usician blew a lonel$ tru(pet& #o.dollar bill& Thou'h she hadn’t loo+ed at the cards since she’d be'un. a deep. paid out twent$ o) it to (aintain 'ood co((unit$ relations& So(ewhere close b$ a street. but to )ace the challen'er even up& She shi)ted the cards in an ever.anne to resist a direct challen'e& Instinct told her to. he sna''ed her wrist a'ain& 5I’ll do it&6 He )lipped up the /ueen o) hearts& . ladies and 'entle(en& !n-o$ $our sta$ in 3ew Orleans&6 She started to scoop up the cards when a hand cla(ped over her wrist& 5One (ore 'a(e& I didn’t 'et to tr$ ($ luc+&6 It was a bo$ o) ei'hteen or nineteen& 4nder his )aded -eans and 0rate)ul 8ead T.shirt was a wir$ build—all lean (uscle& His sha''$ hair was a 'olden blond.6 she told hi(& His hand re(ained )ir(l$ loc+ed around her wrist& When he s(iled.anne decided it was ti(e to close down and (ove on& 5That’s all )or toda$& Than+ $ou. o) course.6 she be'an as she )lipped the cards over& In a split.second decision she opted not to pal( it. but tapped a )in'er a'ainst the le)t.anne’s& He re(inded her o) Lu+e—not in loo+s but in that inner wildness and potential )or (ean& His voice didn’t sound li+e 3ew Orleans& It didn’t sound li+e an$where at all& 57ou’re too late.

or to the )act that a bo$ his a'e would call a twelve.5Loo+s li+e ($ hand’s /uic+er than $our e$e&6 Still holdin' her hand alo)t.$ear. hundred a da$& He wasn’t an$ better than $ou& How lon' $ou been on the 'ri)t96 5I’( not a 'ri)ter&6 The idea that she could be (ista+en )or a co((on con artist had #o. but his (ind was wor+in' on the possibilities& I) he could lure her into a less crowded area.old 5sweetheart. si. ta+in' in )ive.ust li+e to +now& I’( Sa(& Sa( W$att& 7ou’re 'ood& #eal 'ood&6 5I +now&6 He chuc+led. he turned up the other cards& He blin+ed once when he saw the blac+ /ueen was e. twelve. Lu+e loped across the street& 5What the hell are $ou doin'9 7ou’re supposed to be at rehearsal&6 . and the rest o) her ta+e as well& 57ou too+ the( s(ooth& What are $ou. -ust a little& Whether it was in response to the co(pli(ent.anne&6 Scowlin'. sweetheart&6 He saw her preen.6 he wasn’t sure& !ither wa$. that’s a co(pli(ent. it was wor+in'& 5I was in 3ew 7or+ a )ew (onths a'o& There was a 'u$ wor+in' a corner there.t ti(e&6 She )olded the table.6 she in)or(ed hi(& 5Wor+in' that crowd was a +ind o) rehearsal&6 She s(iled to hersel)& 5A pa$in' rehearsal&6 5A (a'ician&6 Sa( noted that the pedestrian tra))ic was thinner here& He could see no one who would 'ive hi( an$ real trouble when he snatched the +id’s ba' and ran& 5Wh$ don’t $ou show (e a tric+96 He put a hand on her ar( and prepared to shove her to the 'round& 5#o.anne bristlin'& 5I’( a (a'ician. he could 'et his )ive bac+.6 he (ur(ured& His e$es narrowed as he watched her slip his )ive and the cards into a ba' she’d put under the table& 52etter luc+ ne.anne& Wh$96 5. thirteen96 5So96 5He$. hitched it under her ar( and started toward the Ma'ic 8oor& He didn’t 'ive up that easil$& 5He$.actl$ where she’d be'un& In the center& 5Loo+s li+e. +id& What’s $our na(e96 She slanted hi( a loo+ as he )ell into step beside her& 5#o.

Mouse slow and stupid.ust 'ot into town a couple da$s a'o& I’( travelin' around. $ou +now96 5#i'ht&6 Lu+e didn’t li+e hi(& The 'reed$ loo+ in Sa(’s e$es didn’t (atch the 'enerous s(ile& 5We’re late. his hac+les rose& 5Who’s this96 5A )riend o) (ine.$& Let’s 'o&6 5In a (inute&6 I) Lu+e was 'oin' to treat her li+e a bab$. )urious that he’d co(e alon' -ust when she was 'oin' to tr$ her hand at )lirtin'& 57ou’re not there either&6 5That’s beside the point&6 He’d noted the table and ba' and 'uessed what she’d been up to& It anno$ed the hell out o) hi( that she hadn’t cut hi( in& "ushin' that aside )or now. he (ade hi(sel) scarce )or a da$ so as not to see( too )orward& When he showed up at the Ma'ic 8oor to watch a show. he was 'reeted war(l$& He (ade certain Lil$ saw hi( care)ull$ countin' out enou'h chan'e to bu$ a so)t drin+& . #o. but Sa( wasn’t one to 'ive up& The encounter with #o. e. Sa(& Watch the rehearsal& We’re ri'ht down there at the Ma'ic 8oor&6 It didn’t loo+ li+e he was 'oin' to 'et his hand on the ba'. and went out o) his wa$ to (a+e a 'ood i(pression on both& A)terward.tended an invitation to dinner. he si:ed up Sa(& In the wa$ o) the (ale ani(al.6 #o.pressed astonished disbelie) and lau'hed at all the ri'ht places& When Lil$ e.5I’( 'oin'&6 She scowled ri'ht bac+. he accepted with sh$ 'ratitude& He )ound Le*lerc old and stupid. she’d da(n well show hi( she was her own wo(an& 5Ma$be $ou’d li+e to han' out.anne had to be worth so(ethin'& 5That’d be 'reat& I) $ou’re sure it’s o+a$&6 5It’s )ine&6 She too+ his hand and led hi( to her )ather& Sa( +new how to be char(in'& The veneer o) a))abilit$.anne decided on the spot& 5Sa(. this is Lu+e&6 Sa( )lashed an eas$'oin' s(ile& 5How’s it 'oin'96 5O+a$& 7ou’re not )ro( around here&6 5. (anners and deprecatin' 'ood hu(or was as (uch a part o) the 'a(e as a (ar+ed dec+& Sa( sat in the Ma'ic 8oor and applauded.

(a+in' sure he was discovered in the (ornin'& 1ull$ awa+e. and nowhere to 'o&6 5He doesn’t see( to be loo+in' )or wor+&6 Ma.anne darted out o) the +itchen door& He 'roaned. watchin' under his lashes as #o.in' brea+)ast&6 5I don’t need a handout&6 .down *o+e& 5I don’t thin+ he has an$ (one$. then blin+ed his e$es open on a (u))led cr$ o) alar( when she spotted hi(& 5What’re $ou doin'96 53othin'&6 He rolled up a tattered blan+et and scra(bled to his )eet& 5I wasn’t doin' an$thin'&6 2row puc+ered. Lil$& He’s nearl$ a (an&6 5He’s barel$ older than Lu+e&6 She pee+ed out. it’s no bi' deal.&6 She tu''ed on his ar( when he ca(e bac+sta'e. spotted Sa( at the bar and noted that he was nursin' the sa(e watered. so(ethin'’ll turn up& I -ust didn’t want to be out on the street all ni'ht& I didn’t )i'ure I’d bother an$bod$ here&6 She had her )ather’s heart& 5*o(e on in&6 She held out a hand& 5Le*lerc’s )i.(inute slei'ht o) hand& 5That bo$’s in trouble&6 5Lu+e96 53o. o+a$& 8on’t sa$ an$thin'&6 58on’t $ou have a roo(96 5I lost it&6 He shru''ed. he +ept his e$es closed. (ana'in' to loo+ brave and hopeless at the sa(e ti(e& 5He$. +new he was bein' harsh.5Ma. $ou +now how hard it is to )ind an$& *ouldn’t $ou )ind so(ethin' )or hi(96 5"erhaps& 0ive (e a da$ or two&6 A da$ or two was all Sa( needed& To cap his i(a'e. leavin' Lu+e in )ront to do his )ive. he curled up to sleep in the 3ouvelle court$ard one ni'ht. shi)ted. and had no real clue as to wh$ he )elt so reluctant to o))er this helpin' hand& 5Hone$. she ca(e closer& 5Were $ou sleepin' out here96 Sa( (oistened his lips& 5Listen. no& Sa(&6 5He’s hardl$ a bo$.

(ovie star and a(ateur (a'ician.anne& It was because o) her that he hired Sa( W$att. and would choose between the( a)ter he had arrived in Los An'eles and had cased the areas )irsthand& . denied #o. polishin' the bo. was 'oin' to add to an alread$ lucrative 'i'& He had two houses tar'eted. used )or various routines& He vowed to pa$ the old (an bac+ one da$ )or o))erin' hi( such de(eanin' wor+ but he was un)la''in'l$ +ind and attentive to #o. borin' da$s& The )act that the anta'onis( was shared (ade it all the better& 3either could have said wh$.& I’d owe $ou bi'&6 9 There was ver$ little Ma. all o) the(& !ven as he derided the( he detested the( )or ta+in' hi( in o)) the street li+e so(e lost (on'rel do'& 2ut )or Sa( the lon' con had (ore appeal than the short shu))le& He could be patient& He spent hours loadin' and unloadin' e/uip(ent.anne and sh$l$ )latterin' to Lil$& Sa( had lon' a'o decided that the real power in an$ 'roup was held b$ the wo(en& He didn’t (a+e the (ista+e o) co(petin' with Lu+e& He doubted it would be wise to openl$ anta'oni:e the person Ma. and its (ansions )illed with treasures. she so)tened )urther& 58add$ can 'ive $ou a -ob& I’ll as+ hi(&6 57ou would96 He slipped a hand into hers& 5Man. #o.pensive 'litter bac+ east with hi(& 2everl$ Hills. despite an odd reluctance to add the bo$ to his entoura'e& He 'ave Sa( a -ob haulin' props. and Ma. was pleased with the upco(in' trip as well& The$ would have the opportunit$ to per)or( at the Ma'ic *astle. but the$ had detested each other on si'ht& One let his )eelin's bubble to the sur)ace.2ecause she understood pride. considered a son. but the en(it$ Sa( nursed )or Lu+e saw hi( throu'h the (enial. I’d reall$ owe $ou. an occupation Sa( +new was beneath his di'nit$ and abilities& 2ut Sa( had instincts as well& His told hi( that -oinin' the 3ouvelle troupe could be the 'atewa$ to (uch bi''er and (uch better thin's& The$ were saps. the other secreted his awa$. hoardin' hate li+e a (iser hoards 'old& Sa( loo+ed )or the da$ when he (ade that 'old pa$& In the (eanti(e he was satis)ied with his toehold. would have the pleasure o) showin' his )a(il$ so(e o) the 'litter o) Holl$wood& He also intended to ta+e so(e o) the (ore e. and with the )act that the$ were about to spend a wee+ in L&A& Ma. attend a dinner part$ hosted b$ 2rent Ta$lor.es and hin'es Ma.

could spea+& He’d been preparin' this speech )or da$s& 5I +now the routine. an idea o) the basic household routine& 3ow $ou’ll do so(e chec+in' )irsthand and decide when and where to hit&6 Ma.e$ed )or rehearsals at nine A&M& to(orrow&6 While the others le)t.(eal ci'ar& 5Mouse and I have so(e business to attend to. si'htsee.door bo$& A)terward he sent Lil$ and #o.’s lips twitched& 5*ertainl$ not& I’ve never been a h$pocrite.& 7ou and Mouse are 'oin' out to case a couple o) houses& 7ou’ll alread$ have (ost o) the i(portant stu))& A cop$ o) the insurance lists. lit a post. brushed at his (oustache& He wasn’t certain i) he was anno$ed or i(pressed& 57ou’ve been +eepin' up&6 5I’ve had )our $ears to stud$ the routine while I’ve waited )or $ou to let (e in&6 Ma.t to Ma.The$ too+ over several roo(s at the 2everl$ Hills Hotel& It a(used Ma. hopin' his son will )ollow in his )ootsteps& 2ut & & &6 Lu+e laid a hand on Ma. tapped awa$ ci'ar ash be)ore ta+in' a considerin' dra'& 5M$ dear bo$—6 5I’( not a bo$ an$(ore&6 Lu+e’s e$es )lashed as he leaned closer& 57ou either trust (e or $ou don’t& I have to +now&6 Ma.& 5I need to tal+ to $ou&6 5O) course&6 #eco'ni:in' both nerves and deter(ination. but the rest o) $ou have the da$ )ree to e. whatever stri+es $our )anc$& I’ll need ever$one bri'ht. the sche(atics o) the securit$ s$ste(s.perience&6 . but o) ti(in'&6 57ou’re not 'oin' to tell (e $ou’re tr$in' to save (e )ro( a li)e o) cri(e&6 Ma.plore. and I’( as e'ocentric as an$ )ather.’s wrist& 52ut96 57ou are still $oun'& I’( not sure $ou’re read$& To be a success)ul thie) ta+es (aturit$. pu))ed out a breath and held his silence while the waiter cleared the dishes& 5It’s not a (atter o) trust. Lu+e shi)ted chairs to sit ne. e. he thou'ht& And learned well& He arran'ed an elaborate lunch at Ma. Lu+e. Ma. treatin' his )a(il$ and all the (e(bers o) his troupe down to the lowliest bac+. Ma.anne shoppin'& 53ow then&6 Ma. li)ted a brow& 5Is there a proble(96 5I don’t thin+ it’s a proble(&6 Lu+e too+ a deep breath and dived& 5I want to 'o with $ou&6 He shoo+ his head be)ore Ma. blueprints. to watch Lu+e char( the bell(an and the cha(ber(aid with a )ew poc+et tric+s& The bo$ had learned.i(’s.

coolheadedness& In a )ew (ore $ears $ou (a$ ripen. Ma. 5do $ou want to steal96 .’s #ole.’s directions& He noted the occasional police cruiser& 3o scratched and dust$ cars )or the cops here& !ach one was 'litterin' clean in the a)ternoon sun& Most o) the estates were tuc+ed behind hi'h walls and hed'es& Twice as the$ circled around the$ passed one o) the buses that toured (ovie stars’ ho(es& Lu+e wondered wh$ an$one would pa$ )or the ride when all the$ would reall$ see would be stone walls and the tops o) trees& 5Wh$.6 Ma. reached inside his -ac+et )or his wallet& And ca(e up e(pt$& 5A little short96 Lu+e s(iled and too+ Ma. )ollowin' Ma.’s wallet out o) his own poc+et& 5This one’s on (e& I happen to have co(e into so(e (one$ recentl$&6 "oint ta+en.& I can 'o over and see those )ootprints at the *hinese place&6 5!n-o$ $oursel)&6 With a si'h. )inesse.& 5It’s nearl$ three& I 'uess $ou’d better pa$ the chec+ and 'et 'oin'&6 Lu+e si'naled )or the waiter hi(sel)& Absentl$. throw bac+ his head and lau'h& 5Oh. Ma. but )or now—6 5What ti(e is it96 8istracted.6 he (ur(ured& 58on’t have the ti(e96 Lu+e turned his wrist& The sunli'ht 'linted o)) the 'old o) Ma. indeed it does& 2ut besides that.5It ta+es balls. Ma. a certain a(ount o) s+ill.(isted distance was li+e a (ovie& He supposed that was wh$ so (an$ (ovie stars chose that section o) real estate to live& He tooled alon'. then 'lanced down at his watch& Or where his watch should have been& 5I alwa$s said $ou had 'ood hands. blin+ed.6 Lu+e put in and (ade Ma. as+ed as he opened his brie)case.lined avenues and )antas$ aura o) houses tuc+ed onto hilltops in the s(o'. Ma. held out his hand )or his wallet& 5#ead$ to 'o96 he as+ed Lu+e& 5I’ve been read$ )or $ears&6 BBB 2everl$ Hills appealed to Lu+e& 3ot li+e 3ew Orleans with its part$ streets and deca$in' 'la(our& That was the onl$ place he would ever consider ho(e& 2ut the wide. thou'ht and s(iled at Mouse& 5Wh$ don’t $ou ta+e the a)ternoon o)) as well9 Lu+e can drive (e&6 5Sure. Ma. pal(.

6 Lu+e answered without thin+in'& 5And I’( 'ood at it&6 5M(((&6 Ma. added a "hillies baseball cap and a pair o) (irrored sun'lasses& 5I do hope I loo+ li+e a tourist&6 Lu+e pulled up at a stop si'n and too+ the ti(e to stud$ Ma. held out to hi(& 5"ittsbur'h& 7ou +now I’( not a 3ational Lea'ue )an&6 5Tou'h it out&6 Ma.sleeved pol$ester shirt in screa(in' chec+s o) 'reen and oran'e& 5What are $ou doin'96 5. I could +noc+ over so(e convenience store&6 5Ah. but he scowled down at the )ielder’s cap Ma.6 Lu+e said a)ter a (o(ent& 57ou want to do the best $ou’re capable o)& I) $ou’re 'oin' to dupe so(ebod$. wound binocular and ca(era straps around his nec+& 5This here’s !lsa Lan'tree’s house.52ecause it’s )un. so $ou’d consider such an enterprise out o) the /uestion&6 5It’s low.class&6 5Lu+e&6 Ma. then $ou ou'ht to do it with so(e )lair& #i'ht96 5"recisel$ ri'ht&6 Ma.& 57ou loo+ li+e an idiot&6 5*lose enou'h& See the tour bus hal)wa$ down the bloc+& "ull up behind it&6 Obe$in' orders. Lu+e turned his head to stare& 5Wh$ would I96 5Wh$ wouldn’t $ou is (ore to the point&6 Ma. si'hed as he )olded his crisp white shirt into the case& 57ou do (a+e (e proud&6 5It’s li+e (a'ic. Lu+e par+ed the car.6 Ma. it’s no )un i) it’s that eas$& 2esides he was -ust so(e 'u$ tr$in' to (a+e a livin'&6 5One could ar'ue that a thie) is also -ust so(e 'u$ tr$in' to (a+e a livin'&6 5I) that’s all I wanted. could onl$ a'ree that it was best to spend $our li)e doin' so(ethin' $ou en-o$ed and were s+illed at& 5The bell(an who brou'ht up our ba's and was so entertained b$ $our poc+et tric+s& He had a watch and a wallet& 8id $ou ta+e the(96 53o&6 Surprised. hell. slipped into a short. loosened his tie and )olded it inside the case& 5Well. said in a thic+ Midwestern twan' as he pushed out o) the .ust donnin' the appropriate costu(e&6 Ma.

bo. she’d be thrilled&6 With obvious reluctance. circled the bus and cli(bed ni(bl$ on its roo) while the rest o) the tour listened and snapped pictures& Ma. I i(a'ine so& We’ll ta+e a loo+ at one (ore& Lawrence Trent’s ho(e isn’t on the tour.centur$ snu)). let Lu+e dra' hi( bac+ to the car& 5Wait till I tell the bo$s bac+ in O(aha& . she’s old&6 5She can retire in ($ nec+ o) the woods an$ti(e&6 This brou'ht a )ew chuc+les )ro( the rest o) the crowd be)ore the tour 'uide be'an his routine& Steppin' bac+. budd$&6 The bus driver s/uinted up )ro( under the bill o) his cap& 50et the hell down )ro( there. is she so(ethin'!6 Lu+e pic+ed up on the tone and craned his nec+& 5Hell.stor$ colonial house.iron 'ate& 5Man oh (an. the outdoor li'htin'& 5He$. there’s one in ever$ crowd&6 5I -ust wanted to see i) I could catch a loo+ at !lsa&6 5*o(e on. used the telescopic lens on his ca(era to ta+e shots o) the wall. Ma. will $a9 *hrist.cellent collection o) nineteenth. 8add$& . 8add$. wait! I thin+ I see her& !lsa!6 he shouted. but he’s reputed to have an e. o+a$& Oh.es&6 5What does !lsa have96 52esides the obvious )e(inine char(s96 Ma. $ou’re e(barrassin' (e&6 5O+a$. usin' the con)usion as people scrabbled bac+ to the 'ate to ta+e the last o) his pictures& While the driver cursed and threatened. ($ dear bo$& The lad$ is particularl$ )ond o) e(eralds& The$ (atch her e$es&6 .ust wait&6 58id $ou 'et what $ou needed96 Lu+e as+ed& 5Oh.car& He added a whistle be)ore -oc+e$in' with the other tourists )or a pee+ throu'h the wrou'ht. ad-usted the radio and )ound so(e *hopin& 5!(eralds. Ma.ee:. cli(bed down& He o))ered a sheepish 'rin and an apolo'$& 5I’ve been a )an )or twent$ $ears& !ven na(ed ($ para+eet a)ter her&6 57eah. its outbuildin's. the three. Ma.

anne stood proudl$ in the win's. wearin' 'rown. a co(bination o) the old broo(stic+ illusion and the )loatin' 'irl& The (usic cued& 51Cr !lise&6 Slowl$. Ma. #o.anne96 #o. at least she’d ta+e advanta'e o) her hei'ht& 5Ma+in' a 'ood i(pression here at the Ma'ic *astle’s i(portant. alread$ dra(atic (ane o) red hair tu(bled downward& When he re(oved the onl$ brace.anne be'an to revolve& The li'ht chan'ed to 'old as her bod$ turned.tra inch 'ives (e (ore sta'e presence&6 I) her breasts were 'oin' to ta+e )orever to develop. prepared to be put into a trance )or his new levitation routine. strai'ht and e. 'esturin'& As i) wei'htless. 'lowin' with con)idence. sli( and lovel$. needed little else to decide hi(& He’d 'o )or the stones& 5Heels. but )or a (o(ent when the curtain went up he saw her as a wo(an 'rown. her e$es 'lintin' with secrets onl$ the )e(ale heart ever trul$ understands& Then she was -ust his little 'irl a'ain. until her )eet touched the sta'e& . in her blue span'led leotard& 5And the e. passin' both broo(s to a waitin' Lil$. held out his ar(s.up shoes and char(in' the audience with her s+ill with the sil+s& Mo(ents later the sil+s were pooled at her )eet.hi'h pu(ps& 5I’( practicall$ a teena'er. tilted. the$ punch up the costu(e&6 She turned. #o. was )ond o) e(eralds as well& Once Le*lerc had arran'ed )or the pictures to be developed. teeterin' a bit on her new inch.tended. inch b$ inch. the crowd was alread$ applaudin'& To the li/uid strains o) 2eethoven. until her bod$ was parallel to the sta'e& He used the other broo(stic+ to sweep.6 she told her )ather& 5I believe we have several (onths $et be)ore that (o(entous occasion&6 5That’s hardl$ an$ ti(e& And besides. 'race)ull$. care)ull$. and she turned to her )ather. over and under& Her lon'. isn’t it96 She s(iled winnin'l$& 53aturall$&6 And the$ had thirt$ seconds to cue& 5I don’t suppose $ou brou'ht alon' an$ spare shoes&6 Her s(ile widened be)ore she +issed his chee+& 5We’re 'oin' to +noc+ the( dead&6 "erhaps it was a tric+ o) those li'hts. then ta+in' a step sta'e le)t. it was obvious that Trent’s estate would be the easier (ar+& Ma. or his own thou'hts. her le's be'an to rise. wantin' beaut$ as well as dra(a& The )irst he placed between her shoulder blades.Ma. passed his hands in )ront o) her )ace& Her head swa$ed& Her e$es drooped closed& He used broo(s with spar+lin' brushes. beca(e vertical a )oot above the sta'e& He brou'ht her down 'entl$.

($ sweet&6 Sa( watched )ro( bac+sta'e and shoo+ his head& It was all a sca(. sou'ht Ma. then he i(a'ined he could duplicate it.ious )or ($ dinner part$ so that we’ll have (ore ti(e to discuss (a'ic&6 5I’( alwa$s happ$ to discuss (a'ic&6 He o))ered a sni)ter )ull o) 3apoleon& 5And perhaps we could also discuss the (a'ic o) the s(all screen& Television.& It’s a bit cra(ped in here. and $ou’ll call (e Ma.6 Ta$lor said when Ma. 'ettin' the applause and the attention& The da$ would co(e. standin' out there in the spotli'ht. Mr& Ta$lor&6 52rent. $ou had power& And that was what Sa( wanted (ost& 5Mr& 3ouvelle&6 The (o(ent the per)or(ance was over 2rent Ta$lor. he thou'ht& What pissed hi( o)) the (ost was that no one would let hi( in on the secret o) how it was done& It was -ust one (ore thin' the 3ouvelles would have to pa$ )or eventuall$& All he needed was a couple o) the steps.idol loo+s and a crea(. or an$ o) the other tric+s.6 she said under her breath& 5So $ou did. please&6 52rent. when he would have all the attention& 2ecause when $ou had that.6 Ta$lor continued while Ma.perts&6 . i) he chose to& It a(a:ed hi(.’s hand enthusiasticall$& 57ou )latter (e. Sa( told hi(sel). but I’d be honored i) $ou’d -oin (e in a brand$&6 5M$ pleasure& The trans)or(ation routine. 8add$. he thou'ht& The bastard thou'ht he was hot shit.anne opened her e$es to a thunder o) applause& Alread$ in her (ind. out in his dressin' roo(& 5I have never. there was no sweeter sound& 5Told $ou. then. I’( a)raid I have little opportunit$ to watch it& M$ children now. poured& 5Si(pl$ (arvelous& And the levitation was spectacular& I’( an. and appealed to his sense o) 'reed. the actor with (atinee. (erel$ s(iled politel$& 57es. that people would actuall$ pa$ 'ood (one$ to watch so(eone pretend he could do what couldn’t be done& There had to be a wa$ to cash in on it. he considered& He lit a ci'arette and watched Lu+e (a+e his entrance& 2i' )uc+in' deal.rich baritone voice. the$’re e.And he awa+ened her& #o. never seen better&6 Ta$lor pu(ped Ma.

the ca(eras.6 Ta$lor co((ented when Lu+e le)t the( alone& 5I) he decides not to )ollow in $our )ootsteps. Lu+e pounced& 5When are we 'oin' to do it96 58o96 Ma. Ma. privatel$ until a)ter the second show& The (o(ent Ma. o) course& 2ut with $our sense o) theater.cite(ent shi((ered around hi( as he stared at Ma. it could be (arvelous& I’ll be )ran+. slipped into his dressin' roo(.&6 Lu+e paused. s(iled and studied his nails& 5I’( a)raid he’s /uite deter(ined to )ollow in (ine& 3ow. Times. the )a(e& .’s re)lection& 5The special Ta$lor wants to produce& Would we do it here. Lu+e *allahan&6 5A pleasure to (eet $ou&6 Ta$lor rose to sha+e Lu+e’s hand& 57ou have a lot o) talent— it’s not surprisin' when $ou’ve been tau'ht b$ the best&6 5Than+s& I li+e $our (ovies&6 Lu+e 'lanced )ro( Ta$lor to Ma. 'estured )or Ta$lor to sit on the s(all settee and too+ his own seat in )ront o) the (a+eup table& 5Ma'ic loses power on )il(&6 5It can. crea(ed o)) 'reasepaint& 53o&6 5We could do it on location in 3ew Orleans&6 He could alread$ see it—the li'hts.& I’ve been 'iven an opportunit$ b$ one o) the networ+s to produce a series o) variet$ specials& I’d li+e ver$ (uch to produce an hour o) ?The A(a:in' 3ouvelle&’ 6 5Ma. in L&A& 96 With deliberate stro+es. one hand on the door& 5I’( sorr$& There’s a reporter )ro( the '. Ma. roles to(orrow&6 Ma.loo+in' bo$.5And i(pressive (a'icians in their own ri'ht& I i(a'ine the$’d be deli'hted to tr$ their luc+ in a television special&6 Ma. as to $our o))er & & &6 Lu+e could hardl$ bear to wait& There was no ti(e to spea+ to Ma.& 5I’ll as+ hi( to wait at the bar&6 5That’s )ine&6 5An a(a:in'l$ 'ood. I could 'et hi( si.6 5I’ll spea+ with hi( in a (o(ent& 2rent Ta$lor. sat at the (a+eup table and dipped his )in'ers into cold crea(& 58o what96 5The television thin'&6 !.

but (ana'ed to clench his )ists at his sides& 5It’s ($ )ault&6 52la(e doesn’t enter into it& "riorities do& 7ou (a$ not be /uite old enou'h $et to understand that. not once since the$’d co(e into the roo(& 5It’s all bull& 7ou’re not doin' it because o) (e&6 8eliberatel$. reached out to touch his shoulder. hadn’t (et his e$es once. hun' up his -ac+et and went to wor+ on the studs o) his shirt& 5It doesn’t have to& We could do it live& Lots o) ti(es the$ have a studio audience&6 5Our schedule wouldn’t per(it it in an$ case&6 Ma.ust li+e $ou turned down the *arson show last $ear& 7ou don’t want to do T% because $ou thin+ that son o) a bitch (i'ht see (e.ust that&6 Ma. not with (e alon'& .edo shirt and stood in a white undershirt and dress pants& Out o) habit. $ou’ll be ei'hteen& I) I choose to accept an o))er to do television at that ti(e. de)ensive (ove(ent& That.posure. )or ($ own reasons&6 52ecause o) (e.& A (ove(ent o) +#an 'a(e wa)ted out when he opened the lid& 5That’s bull&6 Lu+e’s voice /uieted as so(ethin' other than con)usion wor+ed into hi(& Ma.up wor+. but Lu+e -er+ed awa$& It was the )irst ti(e in $ears the bo$ had (ade that sharp. brushed a )in'er down the pleats& 5I (a+e ($ own choices. and (a+e trouble& So $ou’re sa$in' no to the +ind o) stu)) that would put $ou over the top&6 Ma. closed the lid on the (usic& 5That’s a re(ar+abl$ )oolish idea&6 53o. tossed aside used tissues& 5We’re not doin' it. but we could )ill in & & &6 He trailed o)). hurt& 5There’s no need to ta+e it this wa$&6 5How a( I supposed to ta+e it96 Lu+e de(anded& He wanted to s(ash so(ethin'. placed the studs in a s(all 'old bo. Lu+e. Lu+e&6 5We should probabl$ cut out an$ close. stripped o)) his tu. too. it’s not& 7ou don’t want that +ind o) e.6 Lu+e (ur(ured& It hurt. Ma. he hun' the shirt on a padded han'er. I’ll do so&6 . an$thin'.cite(ent )adin' into astonish(ent& 5What9 What do $ou (ean we’re not doin' it96 5. be)ore risin' to chan'e& 5I turned it down&6 52ut wh$9 We’d reach (illions o) people in one evenin'&6 5Ma'ic loses i(pact on )il(&6 Ma. loosened the tie o) his tu.Ma. this pressure in the chest. e. this twistin' in the 'ut& 5It’s not ri'ht&6 5It’s ri'ht )or (e& Lu+e&6 Ma. hi( or ($ (other. or that ti(e passes& In another two $ears.

Lu+e po+ed at the pots on Ma. she’s dead& I hope to 0od she’s dead&6 58on’t&6 Ma. how she is. I’ll handle it& I’( not a +id an$(ore& And )or all we +now. and will continue to do. because I love $ou& I) I have to as+ an$thin' o) $ou in return.plain hi(sel). his e$es no lon'er bri'ht. set it down a'ain& So(e e(otions were too hu'e )or words& 5I’d do an$thin' )or $ou&6 5Then put this out o) $our (ind )or now& 0o and chan'e& I have wor+ to do $et toni'ht&6 Lu+e loo+ed up a'ain& Ma.ust as ($ decisions are (ine&6 Suddenl$ tired. snatched a clean shirt )ro( the han'er& 5I’ve +ept trac+ o) where she is.5I don’t want $ou to wait& 3ot )or (e&6 His e$es were bri'ht and )urious& 5I) there’s trouble.pect (e not to hate her96 57our )eelin's are $our responsibilit$& . but dar+ and direct& 57ou’re 'oin' to do the Lan'tree -ob toni'ht& I want to 'o with $ou&6 . I’ll as+ $ou to be patient )or two short $ears&6 Shoulders slu(ped. Ma. Ma. leavin' hi( e(pt$ and (iserable& 5I don’t +now what I’( supposed to sa$ to $ou&6 5There’s nothin' $ou have to sa$& I did what I did. what she’s doin'& One (ove toward $ou. his shoulders broad and erect.’s dressin' table& 5I’ll never be able to pa$ $ou bac+&6 58on’t insult (e b$ tr$in'&6 57ou and Lil$ & & &6 He pic+ed up a -ar. one. Lu+e& It co(es to all o) us soon enou'h&6 58o $ou e. and I’d have ta+en $ou where she couldn’t )ind $ou&6 All o) the an'er drained out o) Lu+e. and 'ave $ou li)e& 8on’t wish )or death. scrubbed his hands over his )ace& He’d +nown the ti(e would co(e to spea+ o) it& The ti(e alwa$s ca(e )or what $ou dreaded (ost& 5She isn’t dead&6 Lu+e’s bod$ coiled li+e a whip& 5How do $ou +now96 58o $ou thin+ I would ta+e chances with $ou96 1urious at havin' to e.’s voice was sharp as a sword& 5Whatever she did or didn’t do. wondered how it could be that the bo$ could turn into a (an in the short ti(e the$’d stood inside that cra(ped roo(& 2ut it was a (an who turned to hi( now. she re(ains $our (other.

a(ple o) *olonial architecture& %er$ traditional lines. as $ou see.$ear.)ru do's (an$ actresses )ound )ashionable& !lsa’s eccentricities ran toward collectin' (en—$oun'er and brawnier as the $ears passed& She was currentl$ between husbands nu(ber seven and ei'ht.6 Lu+e re(ar+ed& 53aturall$. he unscrewed the shield and snipped the proper wires& .nine and countin'& While her taste was ad(ittedl$ poor in (en. as well as the structural la$out&6 He paused in the shelter o) so(e (i(osa trees& 5There. but there’s a bi' step between casin' a -ob and e. and without hesitation&6 Lu+e nodded& Anticipation was bubblin' in his blood& 5I’( read$&6 Ma. sli'htl$ )luid and )e(inine and per)ectl$ suited to !lsa&6 5It’s bi'. it was otherwise )lawless& A )act that Ma.)oot securit$ wall& 5The wealth$ o)ten lose perspective. /uite 'ood& 2ut she inspected and approved ever$ swatch. the house !lsa had built about ten $ears a'o is si(pl$ lovel$& She hired decorators.&6 Lu+e stepped )orward so that Ma. spo+e a'ain& 5We leave in an hour& 7ou’ll need dar+ clothes&6 Ma. havin' recentl$ divorced a pro)essional linebac+er& Weddin' plans were under wa$ with her current a(our. sta$ beside (e at all ti(es and )ollow ($ instructions to the letter. o) course& 2a.es o)) the rear patio& 1ollowin' Mouse’s instructions. )ound the alar( s$ste( ca(ou)la'ed b$ the window bo. is an e. si'hed and sat to re(ove his sta'e shoes& 57ou’re (a+in' thin's di))icult this evenin'. ever$ piece. $ou will spea+ onl$ when absolutel$ necessar$.ei'ht. Ma. but not ostentatious& Once we’re inside.builder& !lsa was )ort$. was )orced to tilt bac+ his head to (eet Lu+e’s e$es& 57ou’re alwa$s tal+in' about choices& Isn’t it ti(e $ou let (e start (a+in' so(e o) ($ own96 There was a lon' pause be)ore Ma. said so)tl$ as the$ hurried across the tri( lawn& 52ut as $ou’ll see. ever$ detail personall$&6 5How do $ou +now all this96 5When one prepares to brea+ into a ho(e. it’s i(perative to +now all about the inhabitants. a twent$. Lu+e& I indul'ed $ou be)ore. pointed out to Lu+e as the$ cli(bed over her ei'ht.Ma.old bod$.cellent e.ter and 1itch.6 Ma.ecutin' one&6 5I’( 'oin' with $ou. was 'rate)ul that !lsa Lan'tree didn’t collect the s(all )ru.

slid the door open& 3ow. (ur(ured& 5A cri(e to da(a'e it&6 Instead o) usin' his cutter. is& The sa)e is a ti(e release& <uite sophisticated and di))icult to crac+& O) course. don’t $ou thin+96 57eah&6 Inside his 'loves. shoo+ his head )or silence and (oved downstairs& The walls were paneled in dar+ pine& A pool table stood in the center o) the (ain roo( and was surrounded b$ wei'ht e/uip(ent& An oa+ bar do(inated one wall& 5"la$ roo(. )inessed the loc+s& Then the whisper o) success as Ma. and the door that led to the base(ent& 5Wh$—6 Ma. replaced the screws and (oved to the terrace door& 5!tched 'lass.6 Lu+e heard hi(sel) sa$. chuc+led at the thou'ht& 52ut the brea+er bo. his hands were sweatin'& 5How do $ou )eel96 5Li+e I did the )irst ti(e I cli(bed into the bac+seat with Annabelle. crea+ed open the door o) the utilit$ roo(& 5Isn’t this hand$96 he said to Lu+e& 5All neatl$ labeled& Librar$&6 He )lipped the brea+er& 5That should do it&6 He turned to Lu+e with a s(ile& 5"eople so o)ten hide their sa)e a(on' their boo+s& It’s interestin'. then )lushed& . that eerie pleasure o) +nowin' people slept inside.6 Ma. cut and desi'ned b$ an artist in 3ew Ha(pshire.1i'htin' i(patience. a whisper o) )e(ale per)u(e lin'erin'& With the blueprints clear in his (ind. headed )or the +itchen. )or the )irst ti(e.6 Ma.perienced& That thru((in' e. i) the power’s o)) & & &6 5The sa)e will open&6 52in'o&6 Ma. Lu+e waited while Ma. said /uietl$& 5To +eep her (en happ$&6 5She +eeps her -ewelr$ down here96 53o&6 Ma. he too+ out his pic+s and went to wor+ on the two loc+s& It too+ ti(e& As the (inutes clic+ed b$. alwa$s e. the /uiet clic+ o) (etal on (etal as Ma. he )elt what Ma. the rustle o) ni'ht birds in the trees. Ma. sin'le )ile throu'h the spacious drawin' roo(& A li'ht scent o) (u(s.cite(ent o) wal+in' inside a loc+ed house. Lu+e heard ever$ sound in the air& The )aint hu( )ro( the pool )ilter. the itch$ power o) (ovin' throu'h the dar+ness to ta+e the pri:e& The$ wal+ed silentl$.

as )ar as Sa( was concerned. si'hin'& 5Si(pl$ 'or'eous& As I said. it was as si(ple to open as a child’s pu::le bo.6 he (ur(ured. was to e.teen $ears he’d lived under their roo) raised an an'r$ hand to hi(& He’d hated the suburbs.6 Ma.a(ined the(& 50or'eous. enor(ousl$& 53ot $et.es )ro( the sa)e& The narrow bea( o) his penli'ht shone on the 'e(s when Lu+e opened the tops& The$ were beauti)ul& That was all Lu+e could thin+ as he stared down at the spar+le o) stones. and who had never in the si. said with his (outh close to Lu+e’s ear& 5What shi((ers is o)ten paste&6 He re(oved a loupe )ro( his pouch and. +ept an ea'er s(ile on his )ace and a word o) )latter$ read$ on his ton'ue& He had listened s$(patheticall$ when Lil$ told hi( about Lu+e’s past and won her heart b$ inventin' a stor$ o) a dead (other and a brutal )ather—which would have surprised his parents. stealin' watches. surl$ and unrepentant& He beca(e adept at shopli)tin'. hardwor+in' parents.st$le and their (odest a(bitions& Throu'hout his teena'e $ears. who lived in a (odest ho(e in 2loo()ield. had despised the(./uisite taste&6 He closed the sa)e and levered the paintin' bac+ over it& 5It’s a sha(e to leave the O’ ee))e behind& 2ut it see(s onl$ )air. he led the wa$ bac+ up the stairs& The$ )ound the sa)e in the librar$. handin' the li'ht )or Lu+e to hold over the 'e(s.Ma. e.erse$. he had bro+en their hearts with de)iance and rebellion& He’d stolen the )a(il$ car )or the )irst ti(e at )ourteen and had headed )or Manhattan& He (i'ht have (ade it. behind a 'or'eous O’ ee))e& With the ti(e release ne'ated.ploit the wea+est lin+& In the short ti(e he’d been with the 3ouvelle troupe.& Ma. the (erchandise neatl$ in a leather suitcase he’d li)ted. stepped bac+ and 'estured to Lu+e& 1ro( )ather to son. i) he’d bothered to pa$ the toll at the tunnel& The cops brou'ht hi( bac+ to 2loo()ield. then sell it all at a discount to school(ates& . (a'ni)icentl$ set in 'old and platinu(& That he didn’t thin+ at all o) their (onetar$ value in that )irst instant would have pleased Ma. and )or reasons that had ba))led both o) his /uiet. their li)e.6 he (ana'ed a)ter a (o(ent& 5A ver$ apt analo'$&6 Turnin'. costu(e -ewelr$. he thou'ht proudl$ while Lu+e re(oved the -eweler’s bo. he had (ade hi(sel) available )or all and an$ -obs. pressed a hand to his heart but couldn’t hold bac+ the /uic+ chuc+le& 5Oh $es. depart(ent store (a+eup& He’d bo. 3ew . don’t $ou thin+96 Lu+e stood with thousands o) dollars in e(eralds in his hands& And 'rinned& 1! The tric+ o) pullin' o)) a clean sca(. !lsa has e.

or i) the$ did (ana'e to dra' hi( to the therapist. and there)ore didn’t e. a habit that had endeared hi( to both Ma. a twent$ would be (issin' )ro( a wallet. and he’d never 'one bac+& He never thou'ht about his parents& 3o (e(ories pla$ed throu'h his (ind o) *hrist(ases or birthda$s. he hated Lu+e the (ost& 2ecause he sensed that #o. he would sit sullenl$ and spea+ not at all& When at si. an e. he decided to put it to use& He’d o)ten wal+ out to (eet her on her wa$ ho(e )ro( school. strollin' slowl$ alon' the sidewal+. and was so char(in' to his teachers. or tr$ to e. )or the pleasure o) brea+in' windows or bustin' water pipes& He was clever enou'h not to bra' about his e. a piece o) -ewelr$ would vanish& The$ couldn’t understand wh$ he )elt co(pelled to ta+e when the$ provided well )or hi(& The$ didn’t understand that their son didn’t particularl$ li+e to steal& 2ut he li+ed. and Lil$& It was a chill. ver$ (uch. trips to the shore& 1or Sa(.cellent )ront and the ti(e to plan another score& 2ecause he was able to use the(. Sa( set about wooin' her awa$& He also considered her the wea+est lin+& He 'ave her ti(e and attention. the$ never 'lanced in his direction& At ho(e he was a hellion.anne. and toward the end o) his second (onth in 3ew Orleans.Twice he bro+e into school and vandali:ed it. and people hurried alon' the streets.ist& The 3ouvelles were providin' hi( with so(e poc+et chan'e. he had responded b$ stri+in' her. listened to her ideas. drivin' his (other to tears on a re'ular basis& His parents +new he stole )ro( the(. wal+ed out the door and driven awa$& He’d ditched the car near the "enns$lvania border. splittin' her lip and bruisin' her e$e& Then he had cal(l$ ta+en up the +e$s.teen his (other had re)used to allow hi( the use o) her car. to hurt people& He re)used to 'o to counselin' sessions. he despised the( as (uch as he had despised the /uiet couple who’d 'iven hi( li)e& 1or reasons he didn’t understand.ploits.anne had developed a childish crush on Lu+e. +nic++nac+s would disappear. see+in' the co()ort o) ho(e& It was eas$ to spot #o. +eepin' out o) the thin rain b$ wal+in' under the overhan'in' terracin' while she loo+ed in shop windows& Man$ o) the shop+eepers +new her well and would welco(e her in i) she ca(e to browse& .plore. the$ (eant less than nothin'. da(p winter. co(pli(ented her (a'ic s+ills& He )lattered her into showin' hi( a )ew tric+s and 'raduall$ built up her trust and a))ection )or hi(& He was dead sure o) her lo$alt$.

anne stared down at her shoes& 57ou don’t reall$ believe in the cards&6 5Let’s see what she tells $ou& Ma$be I will&6 Mada(e 8’A(our sat behind the counter& She had an an'ular. as he wal+ed to (eet her.pensive& The wo(an who ran the shop too+ (erchandise on consi'n(ent. and because #o. to be )lattered b$ the attentions o) a nineteen. was in the best o) (oods& 5He$.$ear. -ust old enou'h. and opened the door be)ore she had a chance to (ove on& 5Ma$be she’ll tell $ou when $ou’re 'oin' to 'et (arried&6 #o. she 'lanced up and s(iled& *olor)ull$ illustrated tarot cards were on the counter be)ore her. #o. (ost o) the( ine. and certainl$ )e(ale enou'h. but re'ardless o) her herita'e.She handled what she touched with respect and ad(iration.. o)ten as+in' /uestions and storin' the +nowled'e awa$& She was still two bloc+s awa$ when he saw her. heavil$ rou'ed )ace do(inated b$ dar+ brown e$es& Toda$ she wore one o) her (an$ turbans.anne o)ten stopped in )or a readin'& 5Want to 'et $our cards read96 He 'rinned at her& 5Ma$be $ou can )ind out how $ou did on that test96 5I never as+ du(b stu)) li+e that&6 57ou could as+ her about a bo$)riend&6 He sent her a loo+ that had her pulse -itterin'. how was school96 5It was o+a$&6 She s(iled up at hi(. the bri'ht hair and deep blue -ac+et shinin' out o) the 'loo(& He’d alread$ chosen his (ar+ and.old (an& The heart inside her stubbornl$ undeveloped breast pic+ed up its rh$th(& One o) the shops alon' #o$al was stoc+ed with (ore -un+ than treasure& There were so(e interestin' pieces. arran'ed in a *eltic cross& 5I thou'ht ($ little )riend would visit (e toda$&6 . a purple one that covered all but a )ew wisps o) her (ercilessl$ d$ed ebon$ hair& She added heav$ rhinestone earrin's that )ell nearl$ to the shoulders o) her purple ca)tan& Around her nec+ were several silver chains& 2racelets -an'led on both wrists& She was so(ewhere in her si. and supple(ented her inco(e b$ readin' tarot cards and pal(s& Sa( had chosen the shop because the proprietor usuall$ wor+ed alone. #o.anne was )ascinated b$ her& As the bells on the door -in'led.ties and clai(ed to be descended )ro( 0$psies& It (i'ht have been true.

anne (oved toward the curtain that separated the shop )ro( the bac+ roo(& 5Tell 8add$ I’( co(in'&6 5Sure& See $ou&6 He started toward the door.e$ed. a )a(iliar )ace in the district. wanderin' into stores with her and waitin' while she.t wee+. but Sa( scooped out ever$thin'. ($ love.anne was ta+en in the bac+ to be shown a porcelain doll that had -ust been shipped in )ro( "aris& It didn’t (atter to Sa( how (uch his loot was worth& What he en-o$ed (ost was +nowin' that the wide. and her s(ile di((ed a bit& There was so(ethin' about the bo$ she couldn’t li+e. despite his open. slipped out and closed it slowl$. #o. or a cheap souvenir ashtra$& Once he was luc+$ enou'h to clean out another cash drawer when #o. lettin' the bells -an'le.#o. /uietl$ behind hi(& Over the ne. then shut it a'ain& Movin' /uic+l$. where Mada(e +ept the da$’s receipts& The haul wasn’t hu'e—business was slow on rain$ winter da$s. ta+e $our ti(e& I’ve 'ot to 'o pic+ up so(e stu)) at the dru'store& I’ll (eet $ou bac+ ho(e&6 5O+a$&6 As Mada(e scooped up the cards and rose. trustin' #o. he could line his poc+ets to his )ri'id heart’s content& . alwa$s& "erhaps we can share so(e hot chocolate. he )illed his -ac+et poc+ets with so(e o) the s(aller +nic++nac+s& *are)ull$ holdin' the bells still. cau'ht the cler+’s attention& He’d stu)) whatever was hand$ into his poc+ets.i(illian 3ouvelle’s little darlin' o) li)tin' trin+ets& As lon' as he was with her. Sa( hit )our (ore shops in the <uarter& When it was to his advanta'e.anne was his unwittin' partner& 3o one would accuse Ma.. 'lanced /uic+l$ around to see i) an$thin' else was worth his ti(e& He would have pre)erred s(ashin' so(e o) the 'lass and china& That (ade a state(ent& Instead. 5or to see+96 58o $ou have ti(e )or a readin'96 51or $ou.anne (oved closer so that she could stud$ the cards& It was overl$ war( in the shop. he s+irted the tables loaded with trash and treasures and headed )or the counter& 2eneath it was a painted ci'ar bo. down to the last penn$& He stu))ed bills and chan'e into his poc+et. whether it was a valuable Li(o'es bo.6 Mada(e as+ed her. he enlisted #o. he eased the door open. oui! She 'lanced over at Sa(. stoppin' when he heard the curtain whis+ closed& His s(ile was no lon'er )riendl$ as he deliberatel$ opened the outside door. )riendl$ s(ile and prett$ e$es& 5And $ou9 7ou have a /uestion )or the cards96 5That’s o+a$&6 He (ade his s(ile sheepish& 5I 'uess it spoo+s (e a little& 0o ahead. but she never (inded& It alwa$s s(elled wonder)ul )ro( the incense Mada(e burned and the wo(an’s 'enerous use o) per)u(e& 58id $ou co(e to shop.anne’s help. #o.

spirited shopli)tin'& All he had to do was watch. breathless ride& Lu+e hadn’t chan'ed so (uch in the last $ears that he didn’t +now when to resist the o))er o) pleasure& 5I’( sorr$. I e. couldn’t $ou -ust 'et out o) the )irst show9 It wouldn’t be so bad i) we went to it to'ether. I can’t&6 Lu+e blew out an i(patient breath and shi)ted the phone to his other ear& 5Annabelle.6 Lu+e said between his teeth& 5I told $ou it was o+a$ with (e& I don’t e. hone$. as the *rac+ the Whip had once been te(ptin' not so (an$ $ears a'o& It pro(ised e. as eas$ as his co(pulsive and (ean. to a dance. then put all the wheedlin' at her disposal into her voice& 5Oh. Annabelle& I can’t&6 5Won’t&6 The sin'le word was ice& . a )ast. and had no intention o) doin' so& 5It’s not ($ wee+end o)). but Lu+e doubted it would be wise to sa$ so& 5It’s so(ethin' I have to do&6 5Luc$’s part$’s 'oin' to be the bi''est one o) the $ear& !ver$bod$’s 'oin' to be there& Her dad even hired a live band& I’ll -ust die i) I (iss it&6 5Then 'o. even )or Annabelle& 5Listen. on the shrill side. but Lu+e was too pro)essional an entertainer—and too dedicated a thie)—to cancel a per)or(ance or a heist. to bow out o) per)or(ances so that he could ta+e her to a part$.pect $ou to sit ho(e alone&6 5Oh. then $ou had to leave&6 It was te(ptin'. I don’t. )or a ride& Ma$be he was bein' led around b$ his hor(ones.2ut the best part o) that 3ew Orleans winter was seducin' Annabelle awa$ )ro( the lovesic+ Lu+e& It was eas$. sure&6 8erision. please. -oined the tears& 50o to the bi''est part$ o) the $ear without ($ bo$)riend&6 She sni))led.6 Lu+e responded—because he hadn’t as+ed Ma. to understand. listen and ta+e advanta'e o) opportunities o))ered& Li+e (ost $oun' lovers. Annabelle& I have a co((it(ent to the act&6 5I 'uess it (eans (ore to $ou than I do&6 3aturall$ it did.plained all this da$s a'o&6 57ou’re -ust bein' stubborn&6 Throu'h the receiver the tears in her voice ca(e clearl$& And (ade Lu+e )eel li+e slud'e& 57ou +now Mr& 3ouvelle would understand&6 53o.cite(ent. Lu+e and Annabelle had their share o) spats& Most o) the( revolved around the li(ited a(ount o) ti(e Lu+e had to entertain her. and her increasin' de(and )or ever$ (o(ent o) his da$& She na''ed at hi( to s+ip rehearsals.

6 he be'an. it see(ed )oolish to shut the door on an attractive (ale& 5Ma$be $ou’d li+e to co(e in )or a *o+e or so(ethin'& 4nless $ou’ve 'ot plans&6 5That’d be nice. there are plent$ o) babes in the woods& #i'ht96 He win+ed and started upstairs& It loo+ed as thou'h he needed to sha+e loose )ro( toni'ht’s show& Sa( had a part$ to 'o to& A )a+ed )ever and sic+ headache were all he needed& While Lu+e was preparin' to war( up the audience at the Ma'ic 8oor. dull ni'ht stretched in )ront o) her. Sa(&6 She sni))led and s(oothed at her hair& 5What’re $ou doin' around here96 5Lu+e sent (e&6 With an apolo'etic s(ile.5Listen. then winced as the crash o) the receiver echoed in his ear& 5*hrist. but he was -ust an'r$ and )rustrated enou'h to du(p on the )irst available ear& 5How the hell a( I supposed to screw around with ever$one’s schedule -ust because Luc$ Harbec+er’s havin' so(e part$96 Sa( nodded in s$(path$ and bit into his apple& 5He$. not reall$&6 She was )lattered b$ the loo+. he’d eavesdropped on the entire conversation. with a touch o) lust. but the$ didn’t (a+e up )or (issin' the bi''est ni'ht o) the $ear& 5I 'uess he’s tr$in' to (a+e up&6 5He’s reall$ sorr$. hi. showed in his e$es be)ore he loo+ed hurriedl$ awa$& 5I 'uess I should ta+e o))& 7ou’ve 'ot thin's to do&6 53o. then she si'hed and shru''ed& Her parents were out )or the evenin'. Sa( +noc+ed on Annabelle’s door& She answered it hersel). her e$es pu))$ )ro( weepin' and bad te(per& 5Oh. he brou'ht his hand )ro( behind his bac+ and o))ered a clutch o) painted daisies& 5Oh&6 She too+ the )lowers and sni))ed at the(& The$ were nice. i) $ou’re sure it’s o+a$ with $our )ol+s&6 . and was alread$ )or(ulatin' plans& 5The$ don’t understand an$thin'&6 It wasn’t usual )or Lu+e to con)ide in Sa(. Annabelle& He )elt bad about $our (issin' the part$&6 5Me too&6 Her e$es hardened. an apple in one hand& In truth. than+s )or brin'in' the( b$&6 5M$ pleasure& It’s not e. her own ni'ht was ruined and all she had to show )or it was a bunch o) stupid )lowers& 5Well. she’ll 'et over it&6 He 'ave Lu+e a )riendl$ punch in the ar(& 5And i) she doesn’t.6 he (uttered and dropped the phone on the hoo+& 5Wo(en trouble96 It appeared as thou'h Sa( was -ust wanderin' in )ro( the +itchen.actl$ a hardship to brin' )lowers to a beauti)ul wo(an&6 Ad(iration. touched b$ the )act that he’d tried to conceal it& With the lon'.

& 2ut it shuddered (ore )ro( the pleasure o) +nowin' he had ta+en so(ethin' that had been Lu+e’s& While Sa( was (a+in' Annabelle (oan on the )aded cabba'e roses o) her (other’s couch. -er+ed bac+& 5I’( sorr$&6 He dra''ed a tre(blin' hand throu'h his hair& 5I should 'o&6 2ut he didn’t (ove. +eepin' plent$ o) distance between the( on the couch while the$ dran+ *o+es and listened to records& 0raduall$. aware o) how easil$ Annabelle could turn on hi(& 4nder the 'uise o) (a+in' up to her the (issed part$. Mada(e wal+ed bac+sta'e o) the Ma'ic 8oor& It disturbed her to be the bearer o) . but I can’t help it&6 5#eall$96 Her e$es were shinin' as she tilted bac+ her head to loo+ at his )ace& 5What do $ou thin+ about (e96 5About how beauti)ul $ou are&6 He brou'ht his (outh close to hers. as i) co(in' to his senses. his voice was unstead$& 5I. he was nice to her and he was a 'ood +isser& Annabelle’s re/uire(ents had -ust been (et& When he had lowered her to the couch and had her. -ust a whisper. who wrapped her ar(s around his nec+& 58on’t 'o. then. (a+in' sure it was audible& When he spo+e a'ain. he (oved to s$(pathetic con)idant& He was care)ul to stop -ust short o) critici:in' Lu+e. who stepped to hi(.6 she (ur(ured& 5I )eel so (uch better&6 5I hated to thin+ about $ou bein' alone and upset& Lu+e’s so luc+$ to have a 'irl li+e $ou&6 He swallowed. starin' at her& In a (o(ent it was she. onl$ stood.5Oh. or to the club. the$’re out. I thin+ about $ou all the ti(e. ah. his bod$ shuddered )ro( the cli(a. )elt her shudder& It a(used hi( how eas$ wo(en were& Tell the( the$ were beauti)ul. Sa(&6 He was cute. as he had hoped. and the$ believed an$thin' $ou said& 5When $ou co(e over to the house. I can’t +eep ($ e$es o)) $ou&6 He touched his lips to hers. he invited her—with -ust a touch o) aw+wardness—to dance& She )ound his sh$ ad(iration sweet and snu''led her head a'ainst his shoulder as she swa$ed over the ru'& When his hand be'an to (ove rh$th(icall$ up and down her spine. as he had planned. Annabelle& I +now I shouldn’t. won’t be bac+ )or hours&6 She batted her e$es at hi(& 5I’d reall$ li+e so(e co(pan$&6 5Me too&6 He closed the door behind hi(& He pla$ed sh$ at )irst. she onl$ si'hed& 5I’( so 'lad $ou ca(e b$.

and a )riend who could ill a))ord a robber$& 5What did $ou lose96 5A hundred dollars. Mada(e96 52ecause the visitor to each o) the shops was #o. bien/enu. I heard that two (ore shops—the 3ew Orleans 2outi/ue on 2ourbon and #ende:vous on *onti—had also been robbed. not /uite a tra'ed$& I reported it. ta+in' her hand to +iss& 5Ah. vanished was the concern. and several trin+ets& It is an inconvenience. (ore or less. mon ami. arched a brow& 5An unli+el$ one to be sure& Wh$ do $ou co(e to (e with this. didn’t consider it so& Mada(e was a )riend. as well as several hundred in cash&6 Ma. but )or #o.’s )ace chan'e& 0one. the interest. with re'ret& We (a$ spea+96 5O) course&6 He closed the door. the obvious desire to help& In its place was a dan'erous ra'e that . 'lanced up )ro( the s+etches he was (a+in' and saw Mada(e in his dressin' roo( door& #eal pleasure bri'htened his e$es as he rose. bonsoir. when he hi(sel) was a thie)& Ma. brushed a )in'er over his (oustache& 58id an$one see the robber96 5"erhaps&6 Mada(e to$ed with the a(ulet that rested on the red sil+ bodice o) her )lowin' ca)tan& 5"erhaps not& As we (erchants con)erred to co(plain about our troubles. o) course. perhaps&6 5*oincidence96 Ma.anne&6 Mada(e pressed her lips ti'ht as she saw Ma. it ca(e out that so(eone we +new had been in the shop each ti(e the losses occurred& *oincidence. and o) course. but I have not&6 She saw the s(ile in his e$es )ade to concern& 5There’s a proble(&6 “0ui.bad tidin's& It was so(ethin' she did not so (uch )or the other (erchants in the <uarter. there was little to be done& When one is in business. the shop ne. not so (uch even )or hersel). one I (ust pass to $ou. Mada(e. ushered her to a chair& 5!arl$ this wee+.anne& 5Monsieur 3ouvelle&6 Ma. one learns to accept losses& I would have thou'ht little (ore about it.t to (ine too+ a loss—not /uite so s(all& Several valuable porcelain pieces were ta+en. It’s a deli'ht to see $ou a'ain&6 5I wish I could sa$ I had co(e to watch the per)or(ance. but a da$ or two later. ($ store was robbed&6 "erhaps it was ironic that an'er should )ill hi( at the idea. (onsieur. o) s(all a(ounts to be sure& One da$ later.

burned out o) his e$es& 5Mada(e. #o. then crouched down to la$ his hand on her shoulders& 5I have so(ethin' to as+ $ou. because I love the child&6 57et $ou accuse her o) snea+in' into $our shop. 8add$& 3ot ever&6 57ou were in Mada(e’s shop earl$ this wee+96 5On Monda$ a)ter school& Mada(e read the cards )or (e&6 57ou were alone96 57es—when she read the cards. done his best b$ hi(. I (ean& Sa( went with (e. 8add$96 57es&6 He shut the door.6 he said in a voice no louder than a whisper and as )ri'htenin' as a sword& 57ou dare96 5I dare. but he had +nown. stealin' )ro( those who love and trust her96 53o&6 Mada(e’s shoulders li)ted& 5I do not accuse her& She would not ta+e what was (ine when in her heart she +nows she had onl$ to as+ to be 'iven& She was not alone on these visits. no (atter what&6 The s(ile died out o) her e$es. (onsieur&6 2attlin' ra'e. but he le)t&6 58id $ou ta+e an$thin' )ro( Mada(e’s shop96 . turnin' the( sole(n and a little )ri'htened& 5I wouldn’t lie to $ou. di'ested the in)or(ation and nodded& He onl$ wished he could sa$ he was surprised& Onl$ wished he didn’t )eel the inevitabilit$ o) it& He had ta+en the bo$ in. she ca(e to her )ather’s dressin' roo(& Her s(ile blosso(ed when she spotted Mada(e& 57ou ca(e!6 She scooted over to +iss the wo(an’s chee+& 5I’( so 'lad $ou did& 7ou can see the new illusion& Lu+e and I did it )or the )irst ti(e to an audience in the earl$ show& We did it well. so(ehow he had +nown that it would not be repaid in +ind& 57ou will 'ive (e a (o(ent96 He (oved to the door and called )or #o. shi)ted to pour brandies )or both o) the(& He waited to spea+ until he had o))ered a sni)ter to Mada(e and had ta+en his own )irst sip& 5And who was she with96 5Sa(uel W$att&6 Ma.anne& So(ethin' i(portant& 7ou (ust tell (e the truth. (onsieur.anne& Still in costu(e. didn’t we. Ma.

the one with the peacoc+ on it96 She loo+ed at Mada(e )or con)ir(ation& 51or Lil$’s birthda$. Mouse stepped into the roo( to pull Sa( aside& . or I’( doin' $ou a 'rave disservice& I sincerel$ hope it’s the latter&6 57ou’ve no ri'ht to pr$ into ($ personal thin's&6 Sa( leaped out o) bed in his underwear and 'rabbed at Ma.’s ar(& 52$ doin' so I (a$ save $our reputation&6 5*o(e on. and be prepared to accept the truth. #o. 8add$& How could I9 She’s ($ )riend&6 58id $ou see Sa( ta+e an$thin'. but I didn’t have ($ (one$ with (e&6 53ot bu$. pushed aside han'in' clothes& 5!ither I’( de)endin' ($ ho(e. )ro( Mada(e. i'norin' Sa(’s 'runt o) surprise& 5I’ll apolo'i:e in advance )or this intrusion& It’s /uite necessar$&6 He wal+ed to the closet& 5What’s 'oin' on96 5There are two wa$s to loo+ at it&6 Ma. 8add$.anne& Ta+e&6 5I & & &6 Her (outh /uivered open as she understood& 5I wouldn’t ta+e )ro( Mada(e. blin+ed his e$es sleepil$ open& Moonli'ht slanted over his )ace& 51eelin' better96 Ma. Sa(&6 !(barrass(ent evident b$ the redness in his chee+s. #o. no&6 The idea had tears swi((in' in her e$es& 5He couldn’t&6 5We’ll see&6 He +issed her chee+& 5I’( sorr$. whatever it is&6 5He’s ($ )riend&6 5I hope so&6 It was a)ter one when Ma. switched on the li'ht.anne& 7ou have to put it out o) $our (ind until a)ter the show.53o& I thin+ I (i'ht bu$ the little blue bottle. or an$ o) the other shops he visited with $ou this wee+96 5Oh. as+ed& 5I thin+ so&6 Sa( o))ered a wea+ s(ile& 5I’( sorr$ I let $ou down toni'ht&6 5That’s a s(all thin'&6 Ma. Sa( shi)ted. opened the door o) Sa(’s roo(& He saw the )i'ure under the covers and (oved /uietl$ to the side o) the bed& Wide awa+e.

)a''ot96 Mouse )lushed a little. started out& 5Let hi( 'o. Ma.6 Sa( spat out& 5She was part o) it& She—6 He bro+e o)) as Ma. I’ll +ill $ou )or this&6 *al(l$. $ou bastard&6 Sa( wiped at the blood on his lip& 5I swear to *hrist. Sa( stu))ed his re(ainin' clothes in a deni( laundr$ ba'& 5That’s what )e(ales li+e best. $ou’ll pa$&6 5I have. struc+ hi( hard across the )ace with the bac+ o) his hand& 5"erhaps I’( a (an o) violence a)ter all&6 He stepped )orward so that his e$es were close to Sa(’s& 57ou’ll ta+e $our clothes and leave toni'ht& I’ll 'ive $ou what pa$ $ou have owed to $ou& 7ou’ll not onl$ leave this house. and Mouse held )ir(& The )ur$ that alwa$s bubbled beneath the sur)ace burst out o) Sa( when he saw Ma. said over his shoulder& 52$ sub-ectin' ($ )a(il$ to $ou&6 Sa( 'rabbed a pair o) -eans o)) the bac+ o) a chair& He sneered at Mouse while he tu''ed the( on& 50et $our roc+s o)) watchin' (e dress. said slowl$& 5I don’t e. too+ the lid o)) the bo.ust as+ Annabelle&6 5What the hell does that (ean96 .6 Ma. Mouse& See that he pac+s his thin's and his thin's onl$&6 57ou’ll pa$. but said nothin'& 5I’ll be 'lad to 'et the hell out o) here an$wa$&6 He pulled out a shirt& 5The past couple o) (onths I’ve been bored out o) ($ 'ourd&6 5Then 'et (ovin'&6 Lu+e stood in the doorwa$& His e$es 'littered& 5It’ll 'ive us ti(e to )u(i'ate the stin+ in here )ro( a creep that uses a little +id to cover his ass&6 58on’t $ou thin+ she li+ed to be used96 0rinnin' a challen'e. I +now ever$ inch o) the %ieu. *arrD& I) $ou’re still in it b$ dawn. ta+in' the bo. reach )or a bo. asshole& .57ou )uc+in' creep. on the closet shel)& 57ou 'odda(n bastard. Ma. and she trusted $ou as her )riend& 7ou used her. I would +ill $ou )or that alone&6 5She +new what I was doin'. assu(ed& There was a heaviness around his heart as he loo+ed over at Sa(& 5I too+ $ou into ($ ho(e. but the <uarter& 4nderstand (e.pect 'ratitude )or that since $ou wor+ed )or $our roo( and board& 2ut I trusted $ou with ($ child. and studied the contents& *ash was neatl$ stac+ed and bound with rubber bands& So(e o) the trin+ets on the list Mada(e had 'iven hi( were there as well& Others had probabl$ been sold. and in such a wa$ that $ou’ve stolen a piece o) her childhood alon' with these& I) I were a (an o) violence. ta+e $our hands o)) (e&6 Sa( -er+ed and buc+ed. I’ll +now& And I’ll )ind $ou&6 He turned and..6 Ma.

Lu+e wal+ed to the bench and patted her head& 58on’t do that&6 She +ept her )ace pressed a'ainst her +nees and sobbed& 5. Lu+e.$ as hell. curled up on a stone bench b$ the dor(ant a:aleas& "erhaps i) she’d been 'iven to tears.esus&6 However reluctant he was. his bod$ braced. I was bus$ )uc+in' $our 'irl’s brains out&6 He saw the )ur$ on Lu+e’s )ace. then beat the shit out o) hi(& 2ut he heard her cr$in'& He was turned toward the street. i) he had to. Lu+e thou'ht& 8and$& He’d 'o out all ri'ht& And he’d wait )or Sa(& He stor(ed down the steps and out into the court$ard& His blood was up.6 #o. bab$. let it 'o& It’s not worth it&6 Sa(’s lau'h echoed a)ter the( as Mouse shoved Lu+e toward the stairs& 50o out and cool o))&6 50et the hell out o) ($ wa$&6 5Ma. ea'er )or a )i'ht. ta+e a wal+& I 'otta (a+e sure he 'oes&6 1ine.6 Mouse +ept sa$in'& 5*o(e on. don’t $ou thin+96 He braced. reali:in' Mouse’s words had been ri'ht on tar'et& 5He used (e. 'rabbin' Lu+e and dra''in' hi( toward the door& 5It’s not worth it. he’d never once heard #o. don’t let hi( (a+e $ou cr$ li+e this& He’s a bastard.$&6 Aw+ward and out o) his depth. wants hi( to 'o&6 Mouse stood )ir( at the top o) the stairs& He would.anne cr$ since her bout with chic+en po. doesn’t she9 So $ou can 'ive it to her real deep& That (ole under her le)t tit’s se. Lu+e )ound hi(sel) sittin' beside her and drawin' her into his ar(s& 5*o(e on. Lu+e could have i'nored it and 'one about his business& 2ut in all the $ears he’d lived with the 3ouvelles. #o. +noc+ Lu+e down the(& 5That’s all he wants& 7ou 'o outside. and the disbelie)& His lips spread over his teeth& 5#i'ht on that u'l$ )lowered couch in the livin' roo(&6 Sa(’s 'rin was hard and cold as ice& 5I had her out o) those red lace panties in )ive (inutes& She li+es to be on top best. (a$be $ou’d be interested to +now that while $ou were bein' the 'ood little trouper toni'ht.& The sound o) it reached inside and too+ hi( b$ the heart& 5*o(e on. and nearl$ )elt stron' enou'h to stop the tears& 5He pretended to be ($ )riend. boilin' Irish in his veins& His )ists were alread$ curled and read$& He planned to wait on the street.5Well now&6 Sa( shru''ed into the -ac+et Lil$ had bou'ht )or hi(& It would +eep hi( war( throu'h the winter& 5Since $ou as+.anne (ur(ured a'ainst Lu+e’s chest& She had control o) the sobbin' now. as Lu+e leaped at hi(& 2ut Mouse (oved )ast. )ollow Sa( )or a bloc+ or two. a )rea+in' creep&6 He si'hed and roc+ed and )ound hi(sel) 'raduall$ cal(in'& 5He’s not worth it.6 he said hal) to hi(sel). but . his (ind )ull o) violence& She was cr$in' as i) her heart were bro+en.

or )ro( so(ebod$ who’d 'et hurt because o) what he too+&6 She $awned& The cr$in' -a' had tired her out& 5He ta+es -ewels and stu)) li+e that& It’s alwa$s insured&6 5. 'rindin' a )ist into his open pal(& Loo+ how she’d paid hi( bac+& .esus *hrist&6 He pushed her o)) his lap so that she landed hard on her ru(p on the bench& 5How lon' have $ou +nown about all that9 How lon' have $ou +nown what we’re doin'96 She s(iled indul'entl$. so that he’d been +ic+ed out o) a war( bed. hu(iliated& She’d have to pa$ )or that& He waited )or her& He +new the route she too+ to school& He’d even wal+ed her there hi(sel) )ro( ti(e to ti(e. and had walt:ed out a'ain. she’d turned on hi(. tr$in' to be nice to her& Tr$in' to be nice. but he didn’t leave the <uarter& 3ot when he had a score to settle& There was onl$ one wa$ he could have been )ound out so co(pletel$& #o.uh. li+e he’d hated us all alon'&6 5Ma$be he did& What do we care96 5I brou'ht hi( ho(e&6 She pressed her lips to'ether& She wasn’t sure she could )or'ive hersel) )or that& 58id he—did he reall$ do that with Annabelle96 Lu+e let out a breath and settled his chee+ a'ainst #o.6 Lu+e said absentl$.6 she said si(pl$& 5I’ve alwa$s +nown&6 Sa( le)t the house.he never was& He used (e to ta+e thin's )ro( people I cared about& I heard what he said to 8add$& It was li+e he hated us. then )ro:e& 5What96 57ou +now. stealin'& 8add$ wouldn’t steal )ro( a )riend. (a+in' it all so slic+& And then. her swollen e$es spar+led with (oonli'ht& 5Alwa$s. I 'uess& That’s wh$ he too+ thin's& It’s not li+e what 8add$ does&6 54h. I don’t thin+ she was reall$ (ine an$wa$&6 5He wanted to hurt $ou&6 She stro+ed her )in'er down Lu+e’s ar(.anne’s hair& 5I 'uess he probabl$ did&6 5I’( sorr$&6 5I) she’d let hi(.anne had ratted on hi(& It was eas$ to convince hi(sel) that she’d +nown what he was doin' )ro( the be'innin'& She’d walt:ed into those shops. Sa( thou'ht. -ust li+e that. co()orted& 5He wanted to hurt ever$bod$.

#o. surprisin' (ore than hurtin' her as she sla((ed bac+ into the wall& 5I do what I want. #o. and what I want ri'ht now is to settle up with $ou& 7ou owe (e. chill dri::le& He hated bein' cold& It was one (ore thin' she’d pa$ )or& He spotted her and drew bac+ a little& There was no need )or the precaution.ust $ou and (e&6 There was so(ethin' in his )ace that (ade her want to run.6 she (ana'ed to whisper& 52ut I would have i) I’d +nown&6 5Sa(e thin'. and then $ou stole )ro( ($ )riends& I don’t owe $ou -ac+&6 5Where are $ou 'oin'96 He shoved her bac+ into place when she tried to stal+ past hi(& 5O)) to school9 I don’t thin+ so& I thin+ $ou should spend so(e ti(e with (e&6 He slid a hand around her throat& She would have screa(ed then. her +napsac+ over her bac+. isn’t it96 He shoved her a'ain so that her head +noc+ed pain)ull$ into the wall& . )or'ettin' the ache where her shoulder had bu(ped stone.anne didn’t even 'et out a screa( when she was 'rabbed )ro( behind and $an+ed into the alle$& Her )ists ca(e up—she was a natural )i'hter—but the$ lowered a'ain when she saw Sa(& Her e$es were still pu))$& She resented that& #esented that he’d driven her to tears& 2ut the$ were all used up& Her chin leveled. per)ectl$ dr$. 'lea(ed dan'erousl$ up at his& 5What do $ou want96 5A nice little tal+& . but there was a dullness about it& Li+e a rust$ ra:or that would in)ect as well as slice& 58add$ told $ou to leave&6 57ou thin+ that old (an scares (e96 He shoved her. so(ethin' she hadn’t seen in it be)ore& There was hate. $es.&6 5Owe $ou96 1or'ettin' surprise. loud and lon'. and when she was close enou'h. and her e$es. pounced& #o. he noted& She was dra''in' alon'.&6 5I didn’t. but she couldn’t draw enou'h air& 57ou ratted on (e.He spent several cold hours huddled in an alle$ tr$in' to +eep out o) a thin. her e$es cast down& He waited. she pushed hersel) awa$ )ro( the wall& 5I brou'ht $ou ho(e& I as+ed 8add$ to 'ive $ou a -ob& I helped $ou.

but that was nothin'. she told hersel). lo'ical tone had hi( loo+in' down& His +nuc+les were bruised and raw and blood$& He had to lau'h& 5#i'ht&6 2ut he touched one o) those bleedin' hands to her )ace& He’d been )urious about Annabelle.anne could onl$ describe as wol)ish& Then there was the thud o) )ists a'ainst )lesh& She (ana'ed to 'ain her )eet. 8add$ wouldn’t want $ou to hurt $our hands&6 So(ethin' about the cool. a piece o) (etal& In the end she settled )or the lid o) a 'arba'e can and. an$thin'. but than+s )or beatin' hi( up )or (e&6 53o proble(. but there was also e. nothin' co(pared with what he’d )elt when he’d seen #o. she +new. (ercilessl$. a plan+. I en-o$ed it& 0o pic+ up $our boo+ba'& Wait )or (e on the sidewal+&6 57ou’re not 'oin' to hit hi( a'ain. his nose was bro+en.& Wait )or (e&6 With one last 'lance at Sa(. #o.cite(ent& He could do whatever he wanted with her. he)tin' it. poundin' his )ists into Sa(’s )ace& 5That’s enou'h now&6 She tossed the lid aside to use both hands on Lu+e’s pu(pin' ar(s& 57ou’ve 'ot to stop& We’ll 'et in trouble i) $ou +ill hi(&6 She had to 'et down so that Lu+e’s )ierce e$es could (eet hers& 5Lu+e. a roc+. and it was 'oin' to be reall$ bad& Ai( low.1ear had her reachin' up. are $ou96 She 'lanced down dispassionatel$ into Sa(’s battered )ace& 4nless she (issed her 'uess.anne on the 'round and Sa( loo(in' over her& 5Are $ou o+a$96 57eah& I was 'oin' to 'o )or his balls. Lu+e )lew into the alle$& He (ade a sound in his throat as he leaped on Sa(& A sound #o. without warnin' and ra+in' her nails down his )ace& He howled. and hit hi( hard& She didn’t have to& !ven as she was bracin' )or the attac+. advanced on the )i'ht& It too+ her onl$ a (o(ent to see that Lu+e didn’t need her help& He was straddlin' Sa( now and (ethodicall$. his 'rip loosened& She nearl$ (ade the (outh o) the alle$ be)ore he cau'ht her& 57ou little bitch&6 He was breathin' hard as he sent her sprawlin'& There was an'er. without thou'ht. and no one would stop hi(& Her head was swi((in'& She saw hi( co(in' as she pushed hersel) up on her hands and +nees& He was 'oin' to hurt her. thou'h her le's wobbled& She loo+ed )irst )or a weapon. there was pain. she turned and wal+ed awa$& . and he’d lose a couple o) teeth& 53o&6 He -er+ed his head toward the (outh o) the alle$& 50o on. ever$thin'.

5I could +ill $ou )or touchin' her&6 Lu+e leaned down close& 57ou co(e near her or an$ o) ($ )a(il$ a'ain, and I will +ill $ou&6 Sa( stru''led onto his elbows when Lu+e rose& His )ace was on )ire, his bod$ )elt as thou'h it had been hit b$ a truc+& 3o one, no one, had ever hurt hi( be)ore& 5I’ll pa$ $ou bac+&6 His voice was a croa+ that (ade Lu+e’s brow li)t in derision& 57ou can tr$& 1ree lesson, W$att, /uit while $ou’re able to wal+ awa$& 3e.t ti(e I’ll brea+ (ore than $our nose&6 When Lu+e le)t hi(, Sa( curled up in a ball to tr$ to stop the pain& 2ut it ate throu'h hi(, tan'lin' with the hate& One da$, he pro(ised hi(sel) as he wept and dra''ed hi(sel) to his )eet& One da$, the$’d all pa$ )or hurtin' hi(&

11
Pari", 19 2
5I’( not a child an$(ore&6 #o.anne’s te(per was up& It snapped in her voice, si::led in her e$es as she whirled )ro( her view o) "aris in the sprin'& 5I’( aware o) that&6 In deliberate contrast, Ma.’s tone was (ild& He see(ed co(pletel$ una))ected b$ his dau'hter’s )ur$ as he added a dash o) crea( to his stron' 1rench co))ee& The $ears had turned his hair to a 'lea(in' pewter& 5I have a ri'ht to 'o with $ou, a ri'ht to be a part o) it&6 Ma. spread butter 'enerousl$ on his croissant, nibbled, then dabbed his lips with a linen nap+in& 53o,6 he said, s(iled sweetl$ and continued to eat& She could have screa(ed& 0od +new she wanted to—screa( and rant and rave& And that sort o) behavior would hardl$ convince her )ather that she was a co(petent adult, read$ to assu(e her place in his business& The parlor o) their suite at the #it: was beauti)ull$ appointed, su(ptuous in co()ort& In her )lowin' sil+ robe splashed with vivid )lowers, the discreet e(eralds win+in' at her ears, the intricate 1rench braid spillin' down her bac+, she loo+ed as thou'h she belon'ed there& 2ut #o.anne’s heart and soul lon'ed )or dar+ alle$s, soot$ roo)tops& The blood that pu(ped throu'h her veins under that lil$,so)t s+in was the blood o) a thie)& She onl$ needed to convince her )ather it was ti(e )or her debut& 58add$ & & &6 She topped o)) his co))ee, 'ivin' hi( another en'a'in' s(ile& 5I understand $ou onl$ want to protect (e&6

5A parent’s (ost i(portant -ob&6 5And I love $ou )or it& 2ut $ou have to let (e 'row up&6 He loo+ed at her then& Thou'h his lips re(ained curved, his e$es were unbearabl$ sad& 5All the (a'ic at ($ disposal couldn’t have stopped $ou )ro( that&6 5I’( read$&6 She too+ advanta'e o) his lon' si'h, cuppin' his hand in hers, leanin' )orward& Her e$es were so)t a'ain, her s(ile persuasive& 5I’ve been read$& I’( ever$ bit as 'ood as Lu+e—6 57ou have no idea how 'ood Lu+e is&6 Ma. patted her hand and went bac+ to his brea+)ast& How o)ten had the$ had this discussion9 he wondered, since she had announced at the tender a'e o) )ourteen that she was read$ to -oin his a)ter,hours show9 He’d had no idea she’d even +nown what he did when the spotli'hts di((ed and the crowds went ho(e& #o.anne’s e$es iced over& Ma. nearl$ chuc+led& Such was a wo(an’s (a'ic, he thou'ht& 5However 'ood he is,6 she said, 5I can be better&6 5It’s not a co(petition, ($ love&6 He was wron' there, #o.anne (used as she spran' up to pace the roo( a'ain& It had been a co(petition, a )ierce one, )or $ears& 5It’s because I’( not a (an&6 There was bitterness in ever$ s$llable& 5That has nothin' to do with it& I ta+e so(e pride in considerin' ($sel) a )e(inist&6 Ma. si'hed a'ain, pushin' his plate aside& 57ou’re too $oun', #o.$&6 That was the wron' button to push& Outra'ed, she spun around& 5I’( nearl$ ei'hteen& How old was he when $ou too+ hi( with $ou the )irst ti(e96 57ears older,6 Ma. (ur(ured& 5Inside& #o.anne, I want $ou to 'o to colle'e, learn the thin's I can’t teach $ou& 8iscover $oursel)&6 5I +now who I a(&6 Her head ca(e up, her shoulders strai'htened& Ma. saw a 'li(pse o) the wo(an she would be& The pride burned so hot and )ast it caused his e$es to swi(& 57ou’ve tau'ht (e ever$thin' I need to +now&6 53ot nearl$ enou'h,6 Ma. said /uietl$& 5Lil$ and I have +ept $ou close, perhaps too close, because we couldn’t bear to do otherwise& We onl$ want $ou to ta+e a step awa$, on $our own& I) $ou co(e bac+, I’ll be content it’s ri'ht )or $ou&6 5What about what I want96 she de(anded& 5I want to be there when $ou 'o to *hau(et, when $ou open the sa)e& I want to +now what it )eels li+e to stand in the dar+ and hold the A::edine dia(onds in ($ hands&6

Ma. understood, onl$ too well& He could re'ret that he’d told her about the -ewels, their histor$, their spectacular beaut$ and the ($sti/ue that went alon' with the 'litter$ stones& 2ut there was little roo( )or re'ret in his li)e& 57our da$ will co(e, i) it’s (eant to& 2ut not this ti(e&6 58a(n it, I want—6 57our wants have to wait&6 His tone was )lat and )inal& Onl$ he +new how relieved he was when the +noc+ on the door interrupted the(& He 'estured )or #o.anne to answer it and went bac+ to his co))ee& She (ana'ed to )i'ht her )ur$ bac+, to open the door with a pleasant s(ile on her )ace& It )aded i((ediatel$ when she saw Lu+e& The loo+ she ai(ed at hi( was sharp enou'h to cut bone& 50ot turned down, did $ou96 He 'rinned, tuc+ed his hands in his poc+ets and strolled past her& The teasin', )e(inine scent o) her per)u(e +indled an instant )ire in his blood& He’d learned he couldn’t i'nore it, but he could +eep her )ro( seein' his reaction to her, and (a+in' hi( pa$ )or it& 5Ma.&6 He po+ed throu'h the silver bas+et o) pastries and helped hi(sel)& 5I thou'ht $ou’d want to +now, the rest o) the e/uip(ent )inall$ arrived&6 5Ah, at last&6 With a nod he 'estured )or Lu+e to sit& 5Have so(e co))ee& I’ll 'o chec+ it ($sel)& 7ou can +eep #o.anne co(pan$&6 8a(ned i) he wanted to be alone with her& It was hard enou'h in the da$,to,da$ order o) thin's& 2ut he +new, he da(n well +new, she was wearin' nothin' under that robe& 5I’ll 'o with $ou&6 He was hal) out o) his chair when Ma. stood and pushed hi( down a'ain& 53o need& Mouse and I can (a+e sure ever$thin'’s in order& We should be able to rehearse this a)ternoon&6 He (oved to the (irror to strai'hten his tie and brush at his (oustache& 8idn’t the$ reali:e the spar+s the$ set o)) each other9 Ma. wondered& An innocent b$stander could 'o up in )la(es& 7outh, he thou'ht with a si'h and a s(ile& In the (irror, he could see their re)lections, both o) the( tensed as alle$ cats with (ost o) the roo( between the(& 5I) Lil$ wa+es soon, tell her to en-o$ her (ornin'& We’ll (eet at La "alace at two&6 He crossed over to +iss his dau'hter’s chee+& “.u re/oir, ma belle. 5We’re not )inished with this&6

5Two o’cloc+,6 he said& 5Meanwhile $ou two should 'o out, ta+e a wal+ in the "aris sunshine&6 The (inute the door closed behind her )ather, #o.anne rounded on Lu+e& 5I’( not 'oin' to be le)t behind this ti(e&6 5It’s not up to (e&6 She (arched to the table where he sat, slapped her pal(s down on the linen cloth hard enou'h to (a+e the china rattle& 5And i) it were96 He loo+ed her s/uare in the e$es& He could have stran'led her )or beco(in' so beauti)ul& And she’d done it slowl$, insidiousl$ over the last )ew $ears, snea+in' up on hi( li+e a thie) to steal his breath awa$ with a loo+& 5I’d do e.actl$ what Ma. is doin'&6 That hurt& She suc+ed in her breath on the sharp pain o) betra$al& 5Wh$96 52ecause $ou’re not read$ $et&6 5How do $ou +now96 She tossed her head bac+& The li'ht throu'h the windows shivered over her hair and turned it to )la(e& Lu+e was a)raid she’d read the passion in his e$es& 5How do $ou +now what I’( read$ )or96 It was a direct challen'e& Much too direct& His pal(s da(pened& 5Heistin' -ewels )ro( the Tri(alda villa’s a )ar cr$ )ro( sca((in' tourists with the *ups and 2alls, #o.&6 3eedin' a prop, he pic+ed up his co))ee& 7ears o) trainin' +ept his hand stead$& He could (a+e her an'r$, he +new& It was best& As lon' as she was an'r$ he could +eep his hands o)) her& He hoped& 5I’( ever$ bit as 'ood as $ou, *allahan& 7ou didn’t even +now how to ri))le a dec+ until I tau'ht $ou&6 5It (ust be tou'h to +now $ou’ve been outreached&6 Her s+in went ice,white then )lushed deeper than the roses on the table between the(& She strai'htened, and to his (iser$, Lu+e saw ever$ curve o) her bod$ beneath the robe& 57ou witless bastard& 7ou couldn’t outreach (e i) $ou were standin' on stilts&6 He onl$ s(iled& 5Who 'ot the (ost press the last 'i' in 3ew 7or+96 5An idiot who has hi(sel) chained in a trun+ and 'ets tossed in the !ast #iver is bound to 'et press&6 How she hated the )act that the escapes he’d 'ravitated to were spectacular& !ver$ ti(e he’d loc+ hi(sel) into another bo., she was torn in two parts—one thrilled b$ his s+ill and his darin', the other dis'usted b$ it&

5I 'ot the press )or 'ettin' out,6 he re(inded her, and too+ out one o) the 1rench ci'ars he’d developed a )ondness )or& 51or bein' the best&6 He )lic+ed on his li'hter and pu))ed s(o+e )ro( the ci'ar& 57ou should be content with $our prett$ illusions, #o., $our prett$ bo$)riends—6 All o) which he’d li+e to (urder& 5Leave the dan'erous wor+ to those o) us who can handle it&6 She was /uic+& He’d alwa$s ad(ired that in her& He barel$ had ti(e to shoot up a hand and catch her )ist be)ore it plowed into his nose& Still 'rippin' her curled )in'ers, he rose& The$ were )ace to )ace now, bodies al(ost brushin'& She )elt a tin'le s+itter alon' her spine& A $earnin' bloo(ed inside li+e a )la(e she’d never been able to sta(p out& She wanted to hate hi( )or it& 5Watch $our step&6 The warnin' was /uiet, tellin' her she’d (ana'ed to )an the )ires o) his te(per i) nothin' else& 5I) $ou thin+ I’( a)raid $ou’ll hit (e bac+—6 He shoc+ed the( both b$ catchin' her chin in tensed )in'ers, holdin' her )ace close& Her lips parted as (uch in surprise as anticipation& Her (ind went blessedl$ blan+& 5I could do worse&6 He 'round the words out& The$ tasted li+e 'lass in his throat& 5And we’d both pa$ )or it&6 He shoved her awa$ be)ore he did so(ethin' he’d never )or'ive hi(sel) )or& As he strode to the door, he tossed bac+ a clipped order& 5Two o’cloc+& In costu(e&6 And sla((ed the door behind hi(& When she reali:ed her +nees were sha+in', #o.anne lowered hersel) into a chair& A)ter several deep breaths, she rubbed a hand alon' her throat until she could swallow over the obstruction lod'ed there& 1or an instant, -ust a )lashin' instant, he’d loo+ed at her as thou'h he reali:ed she was a wo(an& A wo(an he could want& A wo(an he did want& On another sha+$ breath, she shoo+ her head& That was ridiculous& He’d never thou'ht o) her as an$thin' but a necessar$ nuisance& And she didn’t care& She’d lon' a'o 'otten over that sill$ childish crush& She wasn’t interested in (en an$wa$& She had bi''er plans& 8a(n i) she was 'oin' to wait throu'h )our $ears o) colle'e be)ore she i(ple(ented the(& Her lips )ir(ed& 8a(n i) she was 'oin' to wait another wee+& It was ti(e to )lesh out the idea that had been brewin' in her (ind& "ast ti(e& S(ilin' to hersel), she brou'ht her lon' le's up, crossed the( and casuall$ reached )or the ci'ar Lu+e had le)t burnin'& She sat bac+, blowin' s(o+e rin's at the ceilin'& And plotted&

Lu+e could onl$ than+ 0od he had so (uch on his (ind& 2etween preparin' )or the 'i' at La "alace and the -ob at *hau(et, he didn’t have ti(e to dwell on #o.anne& !.cept at three A&M&, when he’d awa+e in the cold sweat o) )rustration )ro( drea(s o) her& Incredibl$ clear, incredibl$ provocative drea(s o) that lon', white bod$ wrapped around his& O) that 'lorious hair spread over a patch o) dew$ 'reen 'rass in so(e secluded 'lade& O) those witch$ e$es, clouded with passion& I) there was a hell, Lu+e was certain he would burn )or those drea(s alone& He’d been raised with her, )or *hrist’s sa+e, and was the closest thin' to a brother she had& The onl$ thin' +eepin' her sa)e )ro( hi( was the idea he’d )i.ed in his head that doin' what he wanted to do would be a +ind o) spiritual incest& And the certaint$ that she would lau'h at hi(, that the lau'h would ra+e hi( clean to the bone, i) he let his )eelin's show& He had to 'et out, he reali:ed when he’d paced the len'th and width o) the roo( a do:en ti(es& A nice lon' wal+ be)ore dinner, a stroll in the "arisian twili'ht& He 'rabbed his blac+ leather bo(ber -ac+et and paused in )ront o) the (irror lon' enou'h to run )in'ers throu'h his hair& He didn’t notice the chan'es in hi(sel) over the $ears& So (uch was the sa(e& His hair was still dar+, still thic+, still worn dra(aticall$ lon' to curl over his collar, or to be cau'ht in a /ueue& His e$es were still blue, and the len'th o) his soot$ lashes had ceased to e(barrass hi(& He’d learned that his poeticall$ 'ood loo+s could char( wo(en who put stoc+ in such thin's& His s+in re(ained s(ooth, with lon' bones pressed taut a'ainst it& Once in his teens he’d 'rown a (oustache, but it hadn’t suited hi(& 3ow his (outh was unadorned& He’d bro+en his nose once in an escape, but it had healed strai'ht& That was a sli'ht disappoint(ent& At twent$,one he’d 'rown into his )ull hei'ht o) si.,one, and his bod$ was ran'$& The haunted loo+ that had co(e over hi( so o)ten durin' childhood ca(e onl$ rarel$ now& The $ears with Ma. had tau'ht hi( control, ph$sical, (ental, e(otional& He was, and alwa$s would be, 'rate)ul )or that& And 'iven ti(e, 'iven will, he would brea+ clear o) the shac+les his )eelin's )or #o.anne had cla(ped on hi(& Turnin' awa$ )ro( the (irror, he went out, started down the lon', carpeted hallwa$ toward the elevators& He 'lanced brie)l$ at the prett$ blond (aid pushin' her cart&

Ti(e )or a chec+ )or e.tra towels, (ints on the pillow& The child who’d once slept in ditches had beco(e so used to such lu.uries he barel$ noted the(& “Bon soir, he (ur(ured with a casual s(ile as he passed her& “Bon soir, monsieur. Her s(ile was sh$ and swi)t be)ore she +noc+ed on a door across the hall& Lu+e was nearl$ to the elevators when he stopped dead& That scent& #o.anne’s scent& 8a(n her, was he so beda::led he could s(ell her ever$where9 He shoo+ hi(sel) loose, too+ another step and stopped a'ain& His e$es narrowed as he turned around and studied the (aid, who was )ittin' her (aster +e$ into the loc+& Those le's& His teeth set as he studied the lon' sli( le's beneath the discreet blac+ s+irt o) the uni)or(& #o.anne’s le's& She was easin' the door shut behind her when he slapped a hand a'ainst it& 5What the hell do $ou thin+ $ou’re doin'96 She blin+ed up at hi(& “1ardon! 5*ut the crap, #o.anne& What’s the deal96 5Shut up&6 She hissed the words as she 'rabbed his ar( and pulled hi( inside& She was )urious, but that could wait& 1irst she wanted answers& 5How did $ou +now it was (e96 He could hardl$ tell her he’d have reco'ni:ed her le's an$where& So he lied& 50ive (e a brea+& Who do $ou thin+ $ou’re )oolin' with that 'etup96 The )act was, it was per)ect& The short sass$ blond wi' chan'ed her loo+s dra(aticall$& !ven her e$e color was di))erent& *olored contacts, he i(a'ined, that turned e(erald into s(o+$ brown& She was s+illed enou'h with (a+eup to subtl$ chan'e the tone o) her s+in, the shape o) her )ace& She’d added a bit o) paddin' to her hips and, Lu+e was certain, was wearin' one o) those clever bras that should have been ille'al& The$ pushed up and padded and (ade a (an’s (outh water )or what was essentiall$ a (ira'e& 52ull&6 Her voice was still an incensed whisper& 5I spent ten (inutes in Lil$’s roo( and she didn’t reco'ni:e (e&6 2ecause she hasn’t been droolin' over $our le's )or the past two $ears& 5I did,6 he said and le)t it at that& 53ow, what the hell are $ou doin' in here96

5I’( stealin' Mrs& Melville’s -ewelr$&6 5Li+e hell&6 Her e$es )lared& The$ (i'ht have been brown, Lu+e thou'ht, but the$ were #o.anne’s& 5Leave (e alone& I 'ot in here, and I’( not wal+in' out e(pt$,handed& I planned it out down to the last detail, and $ou’re not spoilin' it )or (e&6 5And what are $ou 'oin' to do when Mrs& Melville screa(s down the 'endar(es96 5Loo+ shoc+ed and appalled and outra'ed, o) course& Li+e ever$ other 'uest in the hotel&6 Turnin' awa$, she went directl$ to the dresser& She too+ a han+ie )ro( her poc+et, usin' it to ensure a'ainst )in'erprints as she opened drawers& He (ade a sound in his throat that was e/ual parts a(use(ent and dis'ust& 57ou thin+ $ou’re 'oin' to )ind her stu)) -ust l$in' around in a drawer9 The #it: has a sa)e downstairs )or that&6 #o.anne sent hi( a witherin' loo+& 5She doesn’t +eep it downstairs& I overheard her ar'uin' with her husband the other ni'ht& She li+es to +eep it close so she can pic+ throu'h it when she’s dressin' each evenin'&6 It was 'ood, Lu+e (used& %er$ 'ood& He searched around )or another )law& 5What are $ou 'oin' to do i) one o) the( wal+s in while $ou’re pawin' around96 5I won’t be pawin' around&6 Movin' /uic+l$, co(petentl$, she closed a drawer& 5I’( here to turn down the bed& What’s $our e.cuse96 5O+a$, #o., enou'h’s enou'h&6 He 'rabbed her ar(& 5We’ve planned out the *hau(et -ob )or (onths& I’( not havin' one o) $our two,bit 'a(es spoil it&6 5One has nothin' to do with the other&6 She -er+ed awa$ )ro( hi(& 5And it’s not two,bit& Have $ou seen the roc+s that wo(an wears96 5*ould be paste&6 5That’s )or (e to )ind out&6 With one brow arched, she too+ a -eweler’s loupe )ro( her poc+et& 5I’ve been around Ma. nearl$ ei'hteen $ears,6 she said as she slipped it bac+ in place& 5I +now what I’( doin'&6 5What $ou’re doin' is 'ettin' the hell out—6 He bro+e o)) when he heard a +e$ rattle in the loc+& 5Oh, shit&6 5I could screa(,6 she said pleasantl$& 5*lai( $ou’d pushed $our wa$ in and attac+ed (e&6

There wasn’t ti(e )or rebuttal& He shot her one )ul(inatin' loo+, then too+ his onl$ option& He dived under the bed& With her ton'ue tuc+ed in her chee+, #o.anne be'an to turn down the bedclothes& She strai'htened when the door opened, and blushed prettil$& 5Oh, Monsieur Melville,6 she said in heavil$ accented !n'lish& 5I should & & & co(e bac+96 53o need, hone$&6 He was a bi', brawn$ Te.an in his )i)ties, and the da(n 1rench )ood 'ave hi( indi'estion& 57ou -ust +eep on with what $ou’re doin'&6 “2erci. #o.anne s(oothed the spread and )lu))ed pillows, well aware Melville’s e$es were riveted to her posterior& 58on’t recall seein' $ou in here be)ore&6 5This is not & & &6 She leaned over the bed a little )urther& Mi'ht as well 'ive the rand$ old 'u$ his (one$’s worth, she thou'ht& 5M$ )loor usual&6 !n-o$in' her character, she turned, slantin' hi( a loo+ )ro( under her lashes& 57ou would li+e (ore towels, (onsieur9 I can 'et $ou so(ethin'96 5Well now&6 He leaned down to tic+le her chin& There was a whi)) o) bourbon on his breath, not entirel$ unpleasant& 5What $ou 'ot in (ind, su'ar ca+es96 She 'i''led and )luttered her lashes a'ain& 5Oh, monsieur. 7ou tease (e, oui! He’d sure as hell li+e to, he thou'ht& 4nwrappin' a prett$ little pac+a'e li+e this would be a hell o) a lot (ore )un than the opera his wi)e was dra''in' hi( to& 2ut it would also ta+e ti(e& Indi'estion )or'otten, he decided he could (a+e ti(e )or a little slap and tic+le& 5I’ve had this han+erin' )or 1rench pastries&6 Melville patted her botto(, and when she tittered, 'ave her breast a li'ht s/uee:e& 1ro( under the bed, Lu+e was sure he was 'rowin' )an's& 2lushin' and breath$, #o.anne stared up at Melville with bi', brown e$es& 5Oh, monsieur. 7ou A(ericans&6 5I’( not -ust A(erican, sweetie& I’( a Te.an&6 5Ah&6 She let hi( nibble at her nec+ while Lu+e la$ helpless, his )ists clenched& 5Is it true what the$ sa$ about Te.ans, monsieur! That ever$thin' is & & & bi''er&6 Melville let out a hoot and +issed her hard on the (outh& 58a(n strai'ht, su'ar& Wh$ don’t I let $ou )ind out96 He )or'ot about his wi)e as well as his sto(ach and started pushin' her down on the bed& Lu+e braced, read$ to pounce&

52ut, monsieur, I’( on dut$&6 #o.anne stru''led awa$, still 'i''lin'& 5I will be dischar'ed&6 5How about when $ou’re not on dut$96 "la$in' the Te.an’s i(a'e o) 1rench tart to the hilt, she )lushed a'ain, and cau'ht her botto( lip )lirtatiousl$ between her teeth& 5"erhaps at (idni'ht we could (eet&6 Her lashes )luttered& 5There is a little ca)D close—#obert’s96 5Well now, I thin+ I could (ana'e that&6 He pulled her close a'ain to 'ive her padded hips a s/uee:e& 57ou +eep an e$e out )or (e—what’s $our na(e, darlin'96 5It’s Moni/ue&6 She trailed her )in'ers over his chee+& 5I will wait )or (idni'ht&6 He 'ave her another pinch and a win+ be)ore strollin' out drea(in' o) $oun' 1rench se.& #o.anne plopped onto the bed and howled with lau'hter& 5Oh $eah, it’s a riot,6 Lu+e (uttered as he crawled out& 57ou let that slea:eball paw all over $ou, practicall$ crawl on top o) $ou, and it’s a lau'h a (inute& I should span+ $ou&6 Still holdin' her sides, she let out a last si'hin' lau'h& 5Oh, 'row up&6 Then she suc+ed in her breath when Lu+e sna''ed her ar( and hauled her to her )eet& She reco'ni:ed real )ur$ when she saw it, and bit o)) an$ protest& 57ou see( to have done enou'h 'rowin' up )or both o) us& 8a(n 'ood at that, weren’t $ou, #o.9 How (an$ o) those s(art colle'e 'u$s $ou date have $ou let put their sweat$ hands all over $ou96 This ti(e her blush was 'enuine& 5That’s none o) $our business&6 5The hell it’s not& I’(—6 *ra:$ about $ou& The words nearl$ tu(bled out be)ore he cho+ed the( o))& 5So(ebod$ has to loo+ out )or $ou&6 5I can do that )ine )or ($sel)&6 She elbowed hi( awa$, horri)ied that her spine was tin'lin'& 5And )or $our in)or(ation, )lea brain, he didn’t have his hands on me. I’ve 'ot enou'h paddin' where he was 'ropin' to stu)) a (attress&6 5That’s beside the point&6 He 'rabbed )or her hand, but she shoved hi( awa$& 5#o.anne, we’re 'ettin' out o) here& 3ow&6 57ou 'o& I’( 'ettin' what I ca(e )or&6 "repared to ta+e her stand, she tossed her head bac+& 5I want it (ore than ever& That cheatin' bastard is 'oin' to bu$ his wi)e a whole new bas+et o) -ewelr$& Serves hi( ri'ht—'oin' o)) to (eet so(e little 1rench tootsie at a cheap ca)D&6

8espite hi(sel), Lu+e chuc+led and ran a hand throu'h his hair& 57ou’re the 1rench tootsie, #o.&6 5And I’( the one who’s 'oin' to (a+e hi( pa$ )or adulter$&6 Her 'a:e sharpened& There was enou'h deviousness in the loo+ to elicit Lu+e’s reluctant ad(iration& 5And what’s he 'oin' to sa$ about (e9 He’ll tal+ about wal+in' in on a (aid, describe (e—but not in too (uch detail, because he’ll be 'uilt$ and scared& It’s better this wa$ than i) he’d never seen (e at all&6 She (arched to the closet and, scannin' the top shel), 'rinned& “3t, /oil4. She had to stretch to reach the three,tiered -ewelr$ bo.& 50od, Lu+e, it (ust wei'h twent$ pounds&6 2e)ore he could assist her, she set it on the )loor and crouched beside it& 5Mine,6 she said in a warnin' hiss, slappin' his hand awa$& She too+ a set o) pic+s )ro( her poc+et, chose one and went to wor+ on the loc+& It too+ her )ort$,three seconds—Lu+e ti(ed her& And he was )orced to ad(it that she was better, (uch better, than he had i(a'ined& 5Oh, ($&6 Her heart did a /uic+ -i' as she opened the top& Spar+les, 'lea(s, shines& She )elt li+e Aladdin e.plorin' his cave& 3o, no, she thou'ht, li+e one o) the )ort$ thieves& 5Aren’t the$ 'or'eous96 Indul'in' hersel), she dipped her hand in& 5I) the$’re real&6 It wasn’t possible to co(pletel$ staunch the )a(iliar tin'le, but he +ept his voice bris+& 5And a pro doesn’t drool over the 'oods&6 5I’( not droolin'&6 Then she lau'hed a'ain, turned that 'lowin' s(ile on hi(& 5Ma$be a little& Lu+e, isn’t it )abulous96 5I) & & &6 His voice crac+ed& He had to clear his throat& 5I) the$’re real,6 he repeated& #o.anne onl$ si'hed at his lac+ o) vision and pulled out the loupe& A)ter e.a(inin' a chain o) sapphires and dia(onds, she sat bac+ on her heels& 5The$’re real, *allahan&6 Movin' bris+l$ now, she e.a(ined piece a)ter piece be)ore wrappin' the( in towels& 5I wouldn’t sa$ the dia(onds are better than second water—probabl$ third, but that’ll do& I (a+e it to be oh, a hundred and si.t$, hundred and sevent$ thousand net96 He’d )i'ured the sa(e hi(sel), but didn’t want to tell her how closel$ their thou'hts had (eshed& Instead, he hauled her to her )eet& He wiped the bo. clean, then usin' a towel, set it bac+ in place& 5Let’s 'o&6 5*o(e on, Lu+e&6 She bloc+ed the door, and her e$es were lau'hin'& 5At least $ou can sa$ I did 'ood&6

truth)ull$.anne arched a brow& 5I don’t recall $ou puttin' the -ewels bac+. $oun' lad$& Is there an$thin' else96 In that (o(ent she was plun'ed bac+ into childhood& Her botto( lip /uivered as she dropped into a chair& 58add$. Ma. and her indi'nation& 5I proved ($sel). 8add$&6 *au'ht. when I tell $ou $ou’re not read$&6 52ut the Melvilles—6 5Were a ris+ $ou should never have ta+en&6 He shoo+ his head as he crossed over to ta+e her droopin' chin in his hand& He +new—who better9—what it was li+e to covet those shin$ to$s. on at this point. I trust $ou i(plicitl$& 7ou (ust trust (e. however. #o. rec+less and stubborn&6 A)ter ad-ustin' the cu)) o) his tu. he ran his ton'ue around his teeth& 53o. he was enor(ousl$ proud o) her& Warped. 'oin' on the *hau(et -ob& 3ow.anne& The ti(in' is calculated to the instant& !ven i) I wanted to add $ou. it would tilt those ver$ delicatel$ balanced scales&6 .6 she insisted& 57ou proved $ou’re i(pulsive. to crave the e.edo shirt to his li+in'. never (udd$ $our own pond&6 #o.anne stood in her )ather’s dressin' roo( in )ull costu(e& The span'les and beads on her strapless e(erald 'own shivered )ro( the li'hts. or an$one. drawin' the word out& 5One shouldn’t loo+ a 'i)t dia(ond in the (outh—so to spea+& Still. (et her )urious )ace in his (irror& 5And $ou are not. wh$ don’t $ou trust (e96 5On the contrar$.cite(ent o) stealin' in the dar+& How could he e. $ou’ve 'ot a new partner&6 12 57ou’re not bein' )air&6 #o. I have ten (inutes to cue. what $ou ac/uired is a )raction o) what we hope to ac/uire toni'ht& It’s been (onths in the plannin'. I repeat not. I will tell $ou this& 3ever. *allahan. he supposed with a hal) s(ile& 2ut a )ather’s pride was a )ather’s pride& “2a belle.52e'inner’s luc+&6 2ut he 'rinned bac+ at her& 5Luc+ had nothin' to do with it&6 She stabbed a )in'er at his chest& 5Li+e it or not.pect a child o) his blood to be an$ di))erent9 And.6 he a'reed.

$ou +eep these two in line& I’ve 'ot to 'o bac+ )or this set&6 She 'ave an e.ste((ed rose—that sinuous 'reen.a''erated si'h& 5I .t$&6 He 'rinned. he was cau'ht& She li)ted her ar(s& Three balls shi((ered alon' each ar(. where the shinin' 'lobes had been.anne as Mouse coa.ited& Lu+e was there in the win's.t ti(e there’ll be another truth& When have I ever lied to $ou96 She opened her (outh. ear to ear& Had a )ather ever had so per)ect a child9 5That’s ($ 'irl&6 The audience at La "alace was studded with )il( stars. onsta'e& Spea+in' o) which & & &6 He too+ her hand. she put ever$thin' aside but the (a'ic& It was she who per)or(ed the 1loatin' 2alls illusion now.ploded as she too+ her bows and e. closed it a'ain& He’d evaded. Lu+e reali:ed she loo+ed li+e a lon'. "aris (odels and those rich and 'la(orous enou'h to rub elbows with the(& Ma. )ro( shoulder to wrist& While 8ebuss$ pla$ed. the )ier$ hair& The audience was as captivated b$ her beaut$ as b$ the silver$ balls that swa$ed and danced inches above her 'race)ul hands& He li+ed to tease her. a sli( wo(an in shi((erin' e(erald& Watchin' her.5It’s an e. hone$..anne to wal+ throu'h the act with her (ind on so(ethin' else& As she had been trained. white doves perched& The audience e. stepped bac+ out o) the li'ht& 2$ turnin' her ar(s over. o) course. )eelin' li+e a little 'irl )orbidden to attend a part$& 53e. but i) $ou wor+ed with a ti'er & & &6 5 iss ($—6 She bro+e o)) onl$ because Lil$ had )ollowed her o)) and was alread$ cluc+in' her ton'ue& 58on’t start&6 She 'ave the( both a))ectionate pats on the chee+& 5Mouse. then 'lanced over her shoulder& 58add$. li)tin' her be)ore +issin' it li'htl$& 5We have a show to do&6 5All ri'ht&6 She opened the door.cuse.traordinar$& !ven +nowin' what went on behind the tric+. avoided and to$ed with veracit$& 2ut lied to her9 3o. #o. Lil$ draped e(erald sil+ over the(.6 she tossed bac+. never& 5I’( as 'ood as Lu+e&6 5He used to sa$ the sa(e thin' about $ou. that her illusions were all 'lit: and no (eat& 2ut the truth was she was e. pal(s up. 'rinnin' at #o.t ti(e $ou’ll have another&6 5It’s the truth& 3e. I want ($ share o) the hundred and si.ed the doves into their ca'e& 52irds are o+a$.anne had the sil+ dri)tin' to the )loor& And there. had created a show sophisticated and co(plicated enou'h to entertain the discri(inatin'& It wasn’t possible )or #o. #o.

anne turned /uic+l$ to the sta'e& 2ecause she wanted so badl$ to 'o a)ter hi(. and Lil$ too+ $ou in& 8a(n $ou. was that the )inale o) toni'ht’s show worried her nearl$ as (uch as it worried Lil$& She )i. that she would never understand& 57ou’re wron'. nor did she e. touched on the 'uilt that alwa$s hovered there& 5She’s 'ot nothin' to worr$ about& I +now what I’( doin'&6 She whirled on hi( then.anne said under her breath& 53othin'’s wron' with Lil$&6 Lu+e’s lips curved as he watched Ma.pect it to& Lu+e was ri'ht& The$ did what the$ did& Lil$ was able to understand and appreciate the thiever$& She would have to learn to do the sa(e with Lu+e’s escapes& He would alwa$s be the lone wol) Le*lerc had called hi( all those $ears a'o& He would 'o his wa$ when he chose& Alwa$s with so(ethin' to prove. stru''lin' bac+ her own needs& Show business was too (uch a part o) what she was to allow her a tantru( in the win's& She spo+e her (ind. the$ love $ou. to be'& She +new it would do no 'ood. 0od +nows wh$&6 That 'ot under his s+in.’s applause& 57ou +now what’s wron' with her. Ma. a (o(ent. -ust behind his e$es. don’t $ou. two& She thou'ht she saw so(ethin' there. he didn’t brea+ )ree& . but in whispers& 57ou alwa$s +now.swear.ed a s(ile on her )ace so that neither Ma. she thou'ht now& And the truth was. roll into a )lash$ routine that be'an with shootin' )ire )ro( his )in'ertips and would end with his cuttin' Lil$ into thirds with laser bea(s& 5She worries about $ou. and it’s eatin' Lil$ up that $ou +eep pushin'&6 He shut down his e(otions& It was the onl$ wa$ to survive& 5It’s what I do& 7ou (a+e prett$ balls )loat in the air& I brea+ out o) chains& And all o) us steal&6 His e$es )lashed down to hers& 5It’s what we do& It’s what we are&6 5It wouldn’t cost $ou an$thin' to cut that part o) the act&6 The loo+ held. she wal+ed on. into Ma. Lu+e9 7ou’ve been doin' what the hell $ou pleased since Ma. never stops thin+in' o) wa$s to cut (e into pieces&6 A)ter a last lin'erin' loo+ at Lu+e. nor Lil$ could see she was upset& She could control the outward si'ns o) a'itation& That was si(ple (ind over (atter& 2ut she couldn’t stop the i(a'e that was runnin' over and over in her brain& Lu+e’s version o) Houdini’s Water Torture !scape& Onl$ in that endless loop in her brain. the truth she hated to ad(it. don’t $ou96 #o.6 he said si(pl$ and wal+ed awa$& #o.

rabian 5nights’ out)it. we’ll have no need )or ($ )riend with the (uscles to brea+ the 'lass&6 He win+ed down at #o. Ma. #o. the steel cu))s )astened over his wrists. )le. low. the thic+ness o) the 'lass. ever$ escape artist. )ro( the handcu))s.6 he be'an in a voice that )loated over the heads o) the audience. holdin' a hu'e (allet& 5Hope)ull$. his bare )eet were attached b$ the an+les with (anacles to a slab o) s(ooth wood& There were cellos pla$in'. it has been a challen'e to ever$ (a'ician. 5that the 0reat Houdini lost his li)e due to the in-uries incurred in this escape& Since his death. s(ile as the curtain was li)ted to reveal the 'lass water cha(ber& The bo$ had desi'ned it hi(sel). she wouldn’t touch the bolt on his pride& It was she who stood cal(l$ b$ as two volunteers )ro( the audience loc+ed the heav$ chains around hi(& When his ar(s were crossed over his chest and bound there. painsta+in'l$& The di(ensions.It alwa$s brou'ht down the house. as the plat)or( Lu+e stood on was li)ted into the air& 5It’s been said.anne to 'ive (e a little (outh. Ma.to.anne stood beside the water cha(ber& 8espite her thunderin' heart her )ace was serene& It was she who slipped Lu+e’s wide. )or $outh to ta+e center sta'e& And the bo$ was so talented& So driven& So & & & (a'ical& The idea (ade Ma. sleeved shirt awa$ so that he stood stripped to the waist& She didn’t loo+ at the scars that crisscrossed white over his tanned bac+& 3ot once in all the $ears the$’d been to'ether had she (entioned the(& Whatever loc+s she could open. chained into it& He +new to the second how (uch ti(e it re/uired )or hi( to )ree hi(sel) )ro( the chains. not even Lil$. )ro( the (anacles that secured hi( to the bolts at the cha(ber’s sides& And he +new how (uch o) a 'race period his lun's would allow hi( i) so(ethin' went wron'& In her costu(e chan'e o) sheer drapin' white.in' his still ni(ble )in'ers. o(inous. even the brass )ittin's shaped li+e wi:ards and sorceresses& Lu+e +new to the pint how (uch water it contained to allow )or displace(ent when his bod$ was lowered. +new what it had cost hi( to hand Lu+e the )inale& 2ut it had been ti(e. e(barrassed as hell in his .(outh&6 . thou'ht as he turned the spotli'ht over to Lu+e& 3o one. and (a+e it his own b$ triu(phin' over it&6 He 'lanced down and there was Mouse. to duplicate the escape. (used.anne& 52ut perhaps I’ll have need )or the lovel$ #o.

anne +ept her e$es and her (ind riveted on the audience& 5*allahan will have )our (inutes.lib.6 she said and turned panic+ed e$es to Mouse& 5Three twent$. (inute (ar+& 3o wa$ to si'nal i) his lun's hitched and ran out o) air& He could die be)ore the$ ripped the curtain aside. coverin' all )our sides o) the cha(ber& The cloc+ be'an to tic+& 5One (inute. the bac+ o) her nec+. and now hints o) her )ear lea+ed throu'h and caused the audience to lean )orward& 5Three twent$. and that $ou direct $our attention to the cloc+&6 At her cue.anne too+ over the patter& 5We as+ )or silence durin' the escape. as his e$es. but upside down& He be'an to ta+e deep breaths. chained to his own a(bition& 5Three (inutes. pivoted& Lu+e was )acin' the( a'ain.#o. three.anne )elt the sweat sprin' cold on her pal(s.anne announced in a voice that revealed nothin' o) her inner tur(oil& She i(a'ined Lu+e out o) the cu))s& Willed hi( out o) the(& He would alread$ be unloc+in' the chains& There were (ur(urs )ro( the audience as the cloc+ rounded two (inutes& #o. but the audience lau'hed and applauded& 5Once I’( lowered into the cha(ber.)ive& "lease. to throw out her ar( )or show(anship as Lu+e’s head bro+e water& She watched hi( lower until his bod$ was i((ersed. to escape )ro( the cha(ber.anne didn’t care )or the ad. )illin' his lun's& #o. )loatin'.6 she said. )ort$ seconds&6 . i(a'inin' Lu+e’s lun's searin'& 5Three (inutes. be)ore Mouse could s(ash the 'lass& He could die alone and in silence. (et hers& Then the thin white curtain lowered. or we will be )orced to brea+ the 'lass& A doctor is standin' b$ in case o) accident&6 3ow she had to turn. re(ain cal(& #e(ain seated&6 She 'ulped in air. ladies and 'entle(en. heard the thud as the plat)or( )it snu'l$ into place on top o) the tan+& His hair swirled. brilliantl$ blue. a spotli'ht hit a lar'e cloc+ )ace at the rear o) the sta'e& 5It will be'in tic+in' o)) the seconds the (o(ent *allahan is i((ersed in the cha(ber& Ladies and 'entle(en & & &6 Lu+e was lowered inch b$ inch toward the sur)ace o) the water& #o. it will be sealed. airti'ht&6 The audience 'asped as the plat)or( turned over.6 #o. she thou'ht )ranticall$ as the cloc+ neared the three.twent$ tops& She could see va'uel$ throu'h the white cloth a shadow o) (ove(ent& He had no wa$ to call )or help. and )our (inutes onl$. the s(all o) her bac+& He was alwa$s out in three.

slee+ as an otter. (en went down to the sea in ships and soldiers (arched o)) to war& And where were we96 #o.anne&6 He +issed her hand a'ain& 5I love $our avaricious (ind&6 This ti(e she did pull her hand awa$& His lips had lin'ered on her s+in too lon' )or co()ort& 57ou’re drippin' on (e. dra''in' air in. 0od&6 With ei'ht seconds to 'o.anne tossed show(anship aside and ripped at the curtain& It ca(e tu(blin' down -ust as Lu+e shouldered the plat)or( aside& He sur)aced. )reed.anne’s hand.and.A wo(an in the bac+ be'an to shout h$stericall$ in 1rench& It caused a chain reaction o) alar( to ripple alon' the rows until the audience was abu::& Man$ had leaped to their )eet as the cloc+ neared the )our. the$’ve done it since the dawn o) ti(e&6 #o. and suc+ed in a 'reed$ breath& His e$es were ali'ht with triu(ph as the audience erupted with shouts and applause& It had been worth the e. one hand li)ted& He was alread$ plannin' to add that little e. he rode it up awa$ )ro( the cha(ber and down a'ain to the sta'e& He stood drippin'. and stepped bac+ to let hi( ta+e the spotli'ht alone& It +illed #o.tra bit o) dra(a to the ne. *allahan. rose restlessl$ a'ain to pull open the sheer drapes to watch the *it$ o) Li'hts twin+le& 5*ave(en went o)) huntin' and le)t the wo(en b$ the )ire& %i+in's raped and pilla'ed while the wo(en)ol+ sta$ed ho(e& *owbo$s rode o)) into the sunset. #o. she thou'ht.white on T%& It was li+e sittin' b$ the phone )or hours and hopin' the -er+ who too+ $ou out to the (ovies would call and as+ $ou out a'ain& Ma+in' a wo(an wait was so t$picall$ (ale& She said as (uch to Lil$ and was answered b$ a (ur(ur o) a'ree(ent& 5I (ean. ta+in' his bows& On i(pulse he 'rabbed #o.t show& Hoo+in' his ar(s around the plat)or(. Mouse. pacin' the parlor while Lil$ sprawled co()ortabl$ on the couch and watched an old blac+.anne .6 he noted under the cover o) applause& 58on’t tell (e $ou were worried I wouldn’t (a+e it out&6 #ather than snatch her hand bac+ as she would have pre)erred.tra thirt$ seconds he’d waited.(inute (ar+& 5Oh. beneath the water& He stood. bendin' 'allantl$ over it and +issin' her )in'ers to the deli'ht o) the ro(antic 1rench& 57our hand’s sha+in'.anne to have to sit and wait& It was de'radin'.anne plopped into a chair.6 she said. she s(iled at hi(& 5I was a)raid Mouse would have to brea+ the 'lass& 8o $ou +now how (uch it would cost to replace96 5That’s ($ #o.

$ou end up e(pt$& Whatever $ou choose as ri'ht.anne )ound it a(a:in'. and I’( ta+in' it out on $ou&6 5Sweetie.’s e'o96 Lil$’s s(ile )aded& The )lash in her e$es turned the so)t blue to (arble& 5I’( e. that her independent soul couldn’t understand& 5I’( )eelin' nast$ that the$ le)t (e behind. hone$bunch. waitin' at train stations.in. or deliberatel$ hurt ($ )eelin's& That (a$ not count )or (uch with $ou.the. but be)ore $ou +now it the$ start whi::in' b$& I) $ou don’t have love in the(. but )or (e. it’s (ore than enou'h& He’s 'entle and +ind and 'ives (e ever$thin' I could want&6 5I’( sorr$&6 And she was as she reached out to ta+e Lil$’s hand& Sorr$ that she had hurt Lil$’s )eelin's& Sorr$. too. no& It’s the best there is&6 Lil$ si'hed. #o. or )eel ali+e. appallin'& 52ein' a soundin' board )or Ma. i) love’s sprin+led throu'h it. to share it with (e& He’ll need (e to tell hi( how s(art and clever he is&6 5And that’s enou'h96 8espite her love )or both o) the(.de(anded.anne& In all the $ears I’ve been with Ma.anne de(anded& 57ou’ll have all the ti(e in the world )or that&6 Lil$ shi)ted. it will be ri'ht&6 There was no use ar'uin' with Lil$. loo+in' $oun' and prett$ and content& 5M$ bein' here’s part o) it& I +now Ma.anne’s )ace in her hands& 57ou’re $our )ather’s dau'hter&6 5Ma$be he’d rather have had a son&6 . satis)ied with the ro(ance.$& 7ou can’t i(a'ine it now.anne thou'ht& She was a bred. we can’t all thin+ ali+e. wearin' chastit$ belts or sittin' b$ the da(n phone& 5Well. #o. the hell with that&6 5Oh. I don’t want to let a (an dictate ($ li)e&6 5Love&6 Lil$ blew her nose heartil$ as the credits rolled& 5It’s love that dictates.’ll wal+ in that door. her vivid )loral robe swirlin' as she spun around& 5Standin' on widow’s wal+s.anne prided hersel) on bein' a (ore practical wo(an& 58idn’t $ou ever want to 'o with the(9 8idn’t $ou ever want to be a part o) it96 5I a( a part o) it&6 Lil$ s(iled. #o. is onl$ doin' what he thin+s is ri'ht )or $ou&6 5What about what I thin+ is ri'ht96 #o. and he’ll have that loo+ in his e$es& That loo+ that sa$s he’s done -ust what he wanted to do& And he’ll need to tell (e. or be ali+e& 7ou & & &6 Lil$ leaned )orward to ta+e #o.bone ro(antic& #o. the tra'ed$ and the 'ood cr$& 5Ma. not a (an&6 5Well. tuc+in' her )avorite robe—a peacoc+ sil+ tri((ed in pin+ ostrich )eathers—under her& 5The $ears 'o so )ast. #o. he’s never once used (e.actl$ where I want to be.

and )orced hersel) to rela.cite(ent& It ba))led #o.anne 'roaned at the word. i) there would ever be so(eone who could 'ive her that +ind o) 'i)t& . $ou’re onl$ seventeen&6 5Then I hate bein' seventeen&6 She spran' up a'ain. the wo(en who’ve done that have been liberated )or centuries& Men didn’t alwa$s +now it.anne. pu(pin' needs inside her when she couldn’t e. swun' throu'h the door& He can still (a+e her )eel that wa$& She wondered. but it (i'ht not be what $ou want to hear&6 #o. a thou'ht)ul 'lea( in her e$es& 57ou’re a )e(ale.’s sa$in's& 5*o(pro(ise&6 #o. sil+ swirlin' around her as she (arched to the window and threw it open& She dran+ in air li+e water& 5I hate havin' to wait )or ever$thin'. pleased when #o.anne’s shoulder& 54sin' it doesn’t have to be the sa(e as & & &6 5!. and deli'hted her& A)ter all the $ears the$’d been to'ether. she (used as Ma.anne’s lips curved as she re(e(bered her own relie) and pride when her breasts had )inall$ be'un to bud& 53o& 3o. hone$&6 Lil$ laid a hand on #o. $our wo(anhood& 2ab$. that’s all&6 5I’ll thin+ about it&6 One decisive nod.anne turned toward her. havin' ever$one sa$ there’s plent$ o) ti(e&6 5O) course $ou do&6 There was a s(ile on Lil$’s lips and )resh tears in her e$es as she studied #o. I don’t&6 5Then use it. do $ou want to chan'e that96 #o.& 2eside her Lil$ was alread$ vibratin' with e. but Lil$ plowed on& 5*o(pro(ise isn’t so pain)ul i) $ou’re the one settin' the ter(s&6 She rose. )leetin'l$. then she +issed Lil$’s chee+& 5Than+s&6 She sti))ened when she heard the +e$ in the loc+.anne li)ted her )ace to the so)t sprin' ni'ht and shut her e$es& How could she e.plain to Lil$ these burnin'. ta+in' it o)ten does&6 Lil$ lau'hed because it was one o) Ma.ploitin' it96 #o.anne su''ested. $our loo+s. and Lil$ bea(ed& 5That’s it& 7ou ta+e advanta'e o) what $ou’ve 'ot& Ma+e it wor+ )or $ou& 7our brains.plain the( to hersel)9 5Advice never hurts.anne& She’s so beauti)ul.$.Lil$’s )in'ers ti'htened& 58on’t even thin+ it&6 5Lu+e’s out with hi(&6 2itterness lea+ed throu'h the crac+ in her e'o& 5I’( sittin' here twiddlin' ($ thu(bs&6 5#o. Lil$ thou'ht& So )ull o) needs& How desperate it was to be seventeen& How wonder)ul and horrible to be cau'ht on that ra:or’s ed'e o) wo(anhood& 5I can 'ive $ou so(e advice.

-i''lin' the pouch in her hand& 8ar+.Lu+e strolled in behind Ma. too+ the pouch and poured the re(ainin' stones into Lil$’s cupped hands& 5#ussian whites. he could see it& 5All that utilitarian steel 'lea(in'. and inside a treasure trove o) e(eralds. dia(onds. his blac+ trousers (eticulousl$ pressed. #o. a dra(atic s$(phon$ o) e(eralds.ious& *ertainl$ didn’t want to 'ive either o) the( too (uch o) a reaction& 2ut when she poured the contents o) the pouch in her hand no a(ount o) willpower could still her 'asp& 5Oh. perhaps $ou could open a bottle o) that *hardonna$ we have chilled&6 5Sure&6 While he uncor+ed the bottle. his (oustache 'lea(in'. and thieves& 5Mouse and Le*lerc96 Lil$ as+ed& 52oth 'one o)) to bed& I invited Lu+e in )or a ni'htcap& M$ dear bo$. (ur(ured a than+s when Lu+e brou'ht hi( a 'lass& 5It was te(ptin' to be 'reed$.bar& 5It (ust have been a hundred. ba'uettes. pear.anne thou'ht. sapphires. ti))anies&6 He si'hed& 52ut these handso(e )ellows will be (uch si(pler to transport and invest&6 Lu+e re(e(bered one piece in particular. topa: and a(eth$st wor+ed into a ha((ered 'old collar in 2$:antine st$le& He’d .6 she said as dia(onds si::led a'ainst her s+in& And a'ain. than to co(e ho(e a)ter a success)ul venture and )ind two lovel$ ladies awaitin' hi(96 5A cold beer.anne a 'lass o) wine. a (illion.anne a pouch& 5Still awa+e96 1illed to the bri( with his victor$.)ive96 5*loser to two&6 He o))ered #o. was alread$ +issin' Lil$& 5What (ore can a (an want. sweat$. Lil$. per)ect /ualit$& What do $ou sa$. Lu+e. she thou'ht. she turned bac+ to her )ather& 3ow this was a (an.cut. Ma.. the artistr$& 3ec+laces drippin' with color& S/uare. who understood class& An aristocratic pirate.twent$ in that vault once we +illed the power&6 Lu+e popped open a beer and 'ulped hal) o) it down his dr$ throat& He loo+ed li+e a barbarian. the dar+ cash(ere sweater s(ellin' li'htl$ o) his colo'ne& There were thieves. set Lil$’s on the table& 5"erhaps $ou’re ri'ht&6 Ma. he 'lanced at #o. 'rinned and tossed #o. #o. round cut. pleased. shaped. aren’t the$96 Ma.6 Lu+e answered as he headed toward the (ini. rubies& Ah. I ad(it& Standin' there in that vault&6 With his e$es closed.96 5I suppose&6 She hadn’t wanted to see( an.anne& 58on’t $ou want to see what’s in the pouch. she decided as she sat on the ar( o) the couch. 5Oh&6 5Spectacular. Lu+e. overtl$ (ale& 2ecause watchin' hi( (ade her own throat 'o dr$.

#o. he thou'ht& His )a(il$& His e$es shi)ted to #o. Lu+e. I’( 'oin' to turn in&6 Maternal instincts were stron'er than the )lash o) 'e(s& Lil$ )or'ot about the dia(onds spar+lin' in her hands& 5Hone$. her hand )ull o) ic$ white stones& 1a(il$ portrait.anne on the ar( o) the couch.6 Ma. needed to 'ive her so(ethin' no one else could& And she would have lau'hed& Lu+e shoo+ his head as Ma. that’s all& It’s been a lon' da$.&6 5An e. )i.t da$& The (inute rehearsal was over. li)tin' all that heav$ hair.’s voice penetrated his )antas$& 5What9 Sorr$96 5So(ethin' on $our (ind96 53o&6 With an e))ort o) will he banished the i(a'e and his scowl& 5I’( tired.i(a'ined slippin' it around #o. put in& 5Sleep well&6 He opened the door and tossed a loo+ over his shoulder& The$ were 'athered close& Ma. don’t $ou want a sandwich or so(ethin'9 7ou hardl$ touched $our dinner&6 5I’( )ine&6 He +issed her. in the center with Lil$ nestled under his ar(. #o. held& He’d do best to re(e(ber she was )a(il$& 5See $ou.anne’s. stopped b$ a )lower vendor and purchased a carnation )or his lapel& 5Who was who96 . in a habit he’d developed over the $ears& 50ood ni'ht.in' the clasp& She’d have loo+ed li+e a /ueen wearin' it& He would have tried to tell her that he’d needed to see her wear it.anne’s nec+. her head restin' a'ainst her )ather’s side. Lil$& Ma.anne hopped on the bac+ o) a (otor scooter behind a blond Adonis& She sent a cheer$ wave. then the ri'ht. lin+ed her ar(s around the 1rench bastard’s waist and blasted o)) into the rec+less "arisian tra))ic& 5Who the hell was that96 Lu+e de(anded& Ma.cellent -ob.&6 He shut the door and wal+ed across the hall to his own roo(. #o. the le)t chee+. where he +new he would spend what was le)t o) the ni'ht drea(in' about a pri:e (uch (ore unattainable than dia(onds& She rubbed his nose in that the ver$ ne.

5That -er+ #o. well& It’s di))icult to bla(e hi(& Ah.’s throat& 57our dau'hter’s -ust driven o)) with a per)ect stran'er& He could be a (aniac )or all $ou +now&6 Ma. stirrin' +isses.anne had a per)ectl$ wonder)ul ti(e& A picnic in the countr$side. pointed out& 8eli'hted with li)e in 'eneral. the whispered endear(ents in the world’s (ost ro(antic lan'ua'e& She slipped bac+ into her roo( hal) drea(in'. here’s Lil$&6 He presented her with the roses and a sweepin' bow that (ade her 'i''le& #o.anne can handle hi( per)ectl$ well&6 5He was starin' at her le's.6 Ma. sni))ed the red blosso( be)ore slippin' the ste( throu'h his buttonhole& 5Antoine. $ou scared (e to death& What are $ou doin' in ($ roo(96 5Waitin' )or $ou to decide to co(e bac+&6 .anne +nows hi(. the scent o) wild)lowers. the bo$&6 Ma. so(ethin' o) the +ind& A student at the Sorbonne& An artist. I believe we’ll all have lunch in so(e /uaint outdoor ca)D&6 5How can $ou thin+ about eatin'96 Lu+e spun on his heel and )ou'ht the ur'e to put his hands around Ma. with a secret s(ile on her lips and stars in her e$es& 5What the hell have $ou been doin'96 She (u))led a shrie+. the stub o) a ci'ar in the ashtra$ beside hi( and (urder in his e$es& 58a(n it. a bottle o) beer in his hand.6 Lu+e said sava'el$& 57es. a 1rench artist who read her poetr$ under the shade o) a chestnut tree& She’d en-o$ed the interlude.anne -ust raced o)) with96 5Oh. stu(bled bac+ and stared at Lu+e& He was sittin' in the chair b$ the window. Alastair. I believe&6 57ou let her ride o)) with so(e 'u$ $ou don’t +now96 It was outra'eous& It was inconceivable& It was unbelievabl$ pain)ul& 5So(e 6rench 'u$96 5#o. chuc+led and decided to choose a do:en roses )ro( the vendor’s cart )or Lil$& 5#o. he too+ a deep breath o) air& 5When Lil$ )inishes chan'in'. *allahan. the so)t.

swollen lips. and (ade hi( thin+ o) a wo(an -ust risin' out o) bed a)ter an interlude o) hot.6 she tossed bac+& 5And he isn’t s(ar($ or a creep& He’s a sweet. he +new it& She had that loo+ about her. her e$es si::led& 5Who do $ou thin+’s 'oin' to stop (e9 7ou9 7ou’ve 'ot no sa$ in what I do. 'oin' o)) with so(e s(ar($ 1rench creep na(ed Alastair96 5I went on a picnic. o) sunli'ht& Wild)lowers& It plun'ed hi( into a (urderous ra'e to thin+ so(eone else had been this close& *lose enou'h to touch& To taste& 57ou let hi( put his hands on $ou& I) $ou do that a'ain. and the lin'erin' tan' o) 'rass. those so)t. rec+less se. )isted there& He couldn’t see( to stop it& He could s(ell her. *allahan& 3ot now. she pushed her hair )ro( her shoulders& It was windblown )ro( the drive. the heav$ e$es& Her shirt was wrin+led& She’d let hi( la$ her bac+ on the 'rass and & & & He couldn’t bear to thin+ o) it& It was bad enou'h when the$ were ho(e and she too+ o)) with A(erican 'u$s& 2ut 1rench& !ver$ (an had his li(it& 5I’d li+e to +now what happened to $our brain& What did $ou thin+ $ou were doin'.Once her heart started beatin' a'ain. or shouted it o))& 2ut she saw the na+ed truth in his e$es& The onl$ wa$ to co(bat the )ear that spran' into her throat was with )ur$& 57ou’re out o) $our (ind& I) he put his hands on (e it was because I wanted hi( to& . not ever&6 57ou’re wron'&6 He said it between his teeth& His hand had dived into her hair. his na(e is Alain&6 5I don’t 'ive a )l$in' shit what his na(e is&6 Lu+e rose slowl$& He was still under the delusion that he had control& 57ou’re not 'oin' out with hi( a'ain&6 1or an instant she was too stunned to spea+& 2ut onl$ )or an instant& 5Who the hell do $ou thin+ $ou are96 She advanced on hi( to shove the heel o) her hand in his chest& 5I can 'o out with who(ever I want&6 He sna''ed her wrist and brou'ht her up hard a'ainst hi(& 5Li+e hell&6 Her chin snapped up. sensitive (an& An artist&6 She threw that out li+e a 'auntlet& 5And )or $our in)or(ation.& It was one (ore reason )or (urder& 5I don’t +now what $ou’re tal+in' about& I’ve 'ot a 'ood hour be)ore we have to leave )or the theater&6 She’d let the son o) a bitch +iss her& Oh. I’ll +ill hi(&6 She would have lau'hed the threat o)).

but was as helpless to stop )annin' the )la(es as Lu+e had been to stop the( )ro( i'nitin'& 5And I want $ours o))& 3ow&6 58o $ou96 His voice was so)t. onl$ touched hi(. the wa$ her (outh (et de(and )or hot. violent de(and& Her lips clun' to his. at lon' last. didn’t dare to thin+. se. parted and ea'er )or (ore& Waves o) sha(e and need washed over hi(. desperatel$ wanted. )i'htin' )or air. her lips so)t.& Trapped& #unnin' out o) air& His heart and lun's were strainin'& He had no control over the(& 3o control over an$thin'& He -er+ed bac+. nothin' li+e the so)t.perienced& That sin'le. he would ta+e her li+e an ani(al& To protect her )ro( that. her e$es dar+ and heav$. stron'. wild (o(ent was ever$thin' she’d drea(ed o)& With his hand still )isted in her hair he dra''ed her head bac+& I) he was 'oin' to hell. s(ooth as sil+& That )ri'htened her (ore. )or(in' his na(e& He swallowed her (oans li+e a starvin' (an swallows a crust o) bread& He wanted. didn’t protest& She wasn’t sure she continued to breathe& How could she when the heat )lashed so )ast and hot it incinerated ever$thin'9 !ven thou'ht& This was nothin'. creatin' a +iss be$ond an$thin' she’d e. she was bein' held b$ a (an& 3a+ed a''ression. pure ra'e. (uch (ore than his sneerin' threats& 5Wh$ don’t we -ust call this a )ree lesson96 He da(ned hi(sel) even as he brou'ht his (outh down to cover hers& She didn’t stru''le. it was pri(itive. warrin' tidal waves that had hi( shovin' her rou'hl$ aside& 5Lu+e—6 58on’t&6 He was hard as iron and twitch$ as a stallion& I) she touched hi( now. )rustrated passion. it was terri)$in'& She wondered i) there was a wo(an alive who would want to be +issed an$ other wa$& His (outh )it over hers per)ectl$& The scrape o) the s+in he’d ne'lected to shave onl$ added to the di::$in' +nowled'e that at last. he cloa+ed . to tu(ble her onto the bed& To tear her clothes aside and drive hi(sel) into her& To )eel her arch as she closed around hi(& He couldn’t breathe )or wantin' it& It was li+e bein' closed in a bo. and so(e ra' o) sanit$& She was still wrapped around hi(. 'entle +isses o) the artist& 3othin' li+e the aw+ward or arro'ant e(braces o) the bo$s she’d dated& This was raw. but plun'ed his ton'ue between her parted lips and )illed hi(sel) on her& She was ever$thin' he’d i(a'ined and (ore& So)t. he would at least have the satis)action o) +nowin' it had been worth it& He didn’t thin+.$& The (oan ca(e )ro( her instant and torrid response& The wa$ her bod$ strained and tre(bled a'ainst his. erupted )ro( hi(.2ecause I li+e it&6 She +new it was the wron' thin' to sa$. into her.

6 he repeated and pretended he didn’t see her lips part in shoc+. he wouldn’t see it& 50et out o) ($ roo(. Lu+e thou'ht& He curled his hand into a )ist be)ore he could 'ive in to the ur'e to stro+e her hair& To be'& Instead he wal+ed to the door& 5I (eant what I said.6 #o. she rehearsed with hi(& The$ per)or(ed to'ether ni'ht a)ter ni'ht with none o) their inner )eelin's bubblin' up )ro( beneath the slic+ sur)ace o) the act& I) the troupe went on the road. #o. *allahan& I) $ou touch (e that wa$ a'ain. and was enou'h o) an actress to use it to (as+ devastation& 5Odd. because she had no intention o) chan'in' her (ind& The de(ands o) her sta'e career and her education had the added bene)it o) leavin' her li(ited )ree ti(e& She spent as little as possible in Lu+e’s co(pan$& She would have )or'iven hi( )or the shoutin'. the$ traveled to'ether without incident—polite stran'ers who shared a plane or train or car )ro( place to place& Onl$ once. isn’t it9 7ou’re the onl$ one who’s ever treated (e that wa$& And I +now $ou& Or thou'ht I did&6 She turned her bac+ on hi( and stared out the window& She wouldn’t cr$. $ou’ll pa$ )or it&6 He was alread$ pa$in' )or it.—thou'h #o. when Lil$ e.anne too+ Lil$’s advice and co(pro(ised with Ma.pressed concern that Lu+e’s escapes were beco(in' (ore co(ple. she would be ta+en on as an apprentice& It suited #o.anne per)ectl$& 1irst. she pro(ised hersel)& And i) she did. even )or the orders& *ertainl$ she would have )or'iven hi( )or the +iss& 2ut she would never )or'ive hi( )or turnin' one o) the (ost 'lorious (o(ents o) her li)e into nothin' (ore than a lesson o))ered )ro( (aster to student& She was too pro)essional to allow it to inter)ere with her wor+ or his& When rehearsal was called. did an$ o) the trapped tur(oil escape& 5Let hi( be.anne&6 She ai(ed a 'litterin' loo+ over her shoulder& 5So did I&6 13 #o.anne had shot bac+& 5Men li+e hi( alwa$s have so(ethin' to prove&6 . because she en-o$ed the process o) learnin'& Second.hi(sel) with all the )ur$ he )elt )or what he’d nearl$ done.anne pre)erred to thin+ o) it as a deal& She would re'ister at Tulane 4niversit$ and 'ive her colle'e education serious attention& I) a)ter one $ear she was still deter(ined to -oin her )ather’s less public show. and ai(ed it strai'ht at her& 51ree lesson. or her e$es 'litter with hurt& 5That’s the +ind o) treat(ent $ou’re as+in' )or i) $ou 'o out with (en $ou don’t +now&6 She had pride. and (ore dan'erous.

was proud to have a dau'hter with vision& He was pleased. and easil$ i'nored& #o. run down the 'lass o) the window& She stood on the covered balcon$ outside o) 0erald’s apart(ent and watched the thin. and Ma. one he needed badl$ now that his dual careers had reached their :enith& He wanted to hold it.anne li+ed the rain& It 'ave her a co:$. it was a 'oal. (aps. that his reputation as a per)or(er and respect )or his troupe had 'rown& He treasured his (a'ician. was to enhance her +nowled'e o) what she now ter(ed her hobb$& I) one was 'oin' to steal 'reat wor+s o) art and )ine 'e(s. drea($ )eelin' to watch it patter on the sidewal+.anne had chosen to stud$ both art histor$ and 'e(olo'$& Her purpose.o). (uch to Ma. Ma. parties. with (atchin' earrin's& He’d used his share o) the pro)its—a)ter tithin'—to pa$ )or his research into what had beco(e his bi''est interestE the philosophers’ stone& To so(e it was a le'end& To Ma. or that "hilip was wor+in' on his (aster’s in econo(ics& 1or hersel). )or dinner. one should have a solid understandin' o) the bac+'round and value o) the ta+e& Ma. had recentl$ si'ned a contract to write a de)initive boo+ on (a'ic& A (onth be)ore.posure& The 3ouvelles had two success)ul television specials under their belts.the. stud$ 'roups& It 'ave her a 'reat deal o) pleasure to +now her current beau—as Lil$ was wont to call the(—was in the audience durin' the per)or(ance& It 'ave her a 'reat deal (ore pleasure to +now that Lu+e was aware o) it& She leaned toward the scholarl$ t$pe.’s deli'ht.$ear award )ro( the Acade($ o) Ma'ical Arts& He no lon'er )ound it necessar$ to avoid national e. too. that roc+ that was a (a'ician’s drea(& 3ot si(pl$ to turn iron into 'old. was at peace with the world& The occasional twin'e the da(p weather brou'ht to his hands was overco(e with a couple o) aspirin. but as a testa(ent to all he had learned. that Matthew was a law student. #o.i(illian 3ouvelle’s 'reatest )eat& Once he had it. because she was attracted to a +een (ind& And. ta+en and 'iven bac+ over his li)eti(e& Alread$ he had 'athered boo+s. deviousl$. he thou'ht—hoped—that he could ease into retire(ent& He and Lil$ would travel the world li+e va'abonds while their children carried on the 3ouvelle tradition& As 3ew Orleans settled down into a chill. acco(plished. scores o) letters and diaries& Trac+in' down the philosophers’ stone would be Ma. because she +new that none o) Ma. chill$ curtain chase awa$ the pedestrians& I) she too+ a deep breath she could s(ell the ca)D au lait 0erald was brewin' in his tin$ +itchen& . casuall$. she’d in)or(ed her )ather. he’d relieved a 2alti(ore (atron o) an opal and dia(ond brooch. rain$ winter.’s proddin' had pushed Lu+e be$ond his sin'le $ear o) colle'e& It was so satis)$in' to (ention.Her s(all and sweet reven'e was in datin' a succession o) attractive (en& She brou'ht the( ho(e o)ten.

It was nice to be here.ild +tra#berries. %*#s will be as co((on as television sets in the A(erican ho(e& !ver$one will own video ca(eras&6 He 'rinned and patted his own& 5A(ateur directors will sprin' up ever$where&6 He touched her hair. and Hitchcoc+’s 7ertigo.the. o+a$96 51ine&6 She pic+ed up her co))ee and settled bac+ into the croo+ o) his ar(& 0erald pushed so(e buttons on his re(ote& One to en'a'e the %*#. ta+in' this rain$ ni'ht o))& She en-o$ed 0erald’s co(pan$. he led her to the couch& 52er'(an )irst. holdin' out a sweater& He was perhaps a hal) inch shorter than #o. and had alread$ collected (ore (ovies than #o. sand$ hair that )ell—endearin'l$.(ovie thin's are the wave o) the )uture&6 52$ the end o) the decade.anne had been to his apart(ent& It was pure stru''lin' student& Movie posters adorned the walls.o). she thou'ht. the other to start the ca(era he had strate'icall$ placed between stac+s o) boo+s& #o.art& 5I 'uess these ho(e.anne i(a'ined she would see in her li)eti(e& Toni'ht the$ were 'oin' to watch In'(ar 2er'(an’s .and.anne with broad shoulders that 'ave the illusion o) (ore hei'ht& He had lan+. but this was the )irst ti(e #o. she thou'ht as she stru''led to +eep her (ind on the slow. a wild tan'le o) curls she’d recentl$ cut to chin len'th& 5Ma$be $ou’ll let (e (a+e a (ovie o) $ou so(eti(e&6 5O) (e96 The idea (ade her lau'h& 5I can’t i(a'ine&6 He could& Ta+in' her hand.anne supposed she was plebeian.(an loo+s that re(inded her )aintl$ o) Harrison 1ord& His (ild brown e$es were 'iven distinction b$ the di'ni)ied tortoiseshell 'lasses he wore& 53ot reall$&6 2ut she ca(e bac+ inside& 5It doesn’t loo+ li+e there’s a soul in the cit$ toni'ht& !ver$one’s snu''led in&6 He set the sweater aside& 5I’( 'lad $ou’re snu''led in here&6 5Me too&6 She 'ave hi( her lips in a li'ht +iss& 5I li+e it here&6 The$’d been seein' each other on and o)) )or nearl$ a (onth. was state. 5Aren’t $ou cold96 0erald stood inside the narrow doorwa$. and )ound hi( s(art and sweet& A (an who li+ed to listen to 0ershwin and view )orei'n )il(s& His little apart(ent over a souvenir shop was cra((ed with boo+s and records and %*# tapes& 0erald was a student o) the cine(a. white art )lic+erin' on the screen& . the sa''in' couch was covered with a )aded bedspread. she thou'ht—onto his )orehead& He had chiseled. the scarred wooden des+ shoved into the corner was laden with boo+s& His electronic e/uip(ent.(ovin' blac+. leadin'. but 2er'(an didn’t 'rab her& 0ive (e a car chase an$ da$. however.

$ou’re not&6 She stru''led in earnest when his hand closed over her breast and s/uee:ed& 0rowin' )ear had her voice sha+in'& A (ista+e.anne )elt the )irst lic+s o) panic snea+ throu'h the anno$ance& 5I’( 'oin' to 'et $ou na+ed. i(patient hands& 5That’s 'ood& 2etter visual& We’ll watch it a)ter&6 57ou son o) a bitch&6 She never +new whether it was ti(in' or terror that had her elbow swin'in' over. +noc+in' his 'lasses as+ew& #o. bab$9 That’s o+a$&6 He 'rabbed at the :ipper o) her -eans with sweat$. the subtleties&6 53ot reall$&6 Tedious was what she )ound it. not reall$& A little anno$ed perhaps that he was (a+in' such an obvious and )evered (ove. she had no trouble tiltin' her head bac+ and acceptin' the o))er& 2ut when she tried to ease awa$. and (a+e $ou a star&6 53o. (a+in' hi( $elp li+e a +ic+ed pupp$& His hands )lew up to his )ace. he ti'htened his hold& 50erald&6 She 'ave a li'ht lau'h as she turned her head awa$& 57ou’re 'oin' to (iss the (ovie&6 5I’ve seen it be)ore&6 His voice was thic+ and breathless as he ran +isses down the side o) her throat& 5I haven’t&6 She wasn’t worried. 0erald&6 She didn’t want to hurt hi(. he$&6 2lood dripped throu'h his )in'ers as he 'o''led up at her& 57ou bro+e ($ )uc+in' nose&6 . his )eelin's or otherwise& 5This isn’t wh$ I ca(e here.anne scra(bled up. heard her blouse rip& 57ou li+e it rou'h. but not worried& 58on’t $ou )ind it erotic9 The i(a'er$. but balled her hand into a )ist and sla((ed it a'ainst his nose& 2lood )ountained out. ine.(inded&6 She bloc+ed his (outh. -ust as tedious as she )ound the )act that he was pressin' her bac+ a'ainst the cushions o) the couch& 52ut then I’( probabl$ too literal. 'et o)) (e&6 She buc+ed li+e a bronco. she reali:ed instantl$ as his breathin' /uic+ened with e. and it isn’t what I want&6 5I’ve wanted $ou since the )irst ti(e I saw $ou&6 He (ana'ed to pr$ her le's apart and be'an to 'rind his erection a'ainst her& #o.cite(ent& 58a(n it. 'rabbed her canvas ba' and brou'ht it a'ainst the side o) his )ace in a vicious.pensive colo'ne& She didn’t ob-ect to the li'ht trail his )in'ers (ade up and down her ar(& When he shi)ted to +iss her.She didn’t (ind havin' 0erald’s ar( around her& He s(elled o) pepper(int (outhwash and (ild. two. bab$. +noc+in' hard enou'h a'ainst his te(ple to (a+e hi( rear bac+& She didn’t hesitate. splatterin' her blouse.handed swipe& His 'lasses soared across the roo(& 5He$. but wasn’t /uic+ enou'h to stop his )in'ers )ro( )u(blin' with the buttons o) her blouse& 5Stop it.

or "’ll ha/e to ha/e a nice. that he couldn’t escape )ro( where he’d co(e )ro(& Or what he’d lived throu'h& . a letter that had dra''ed hi( bac+ over the -a''ed distance to the past& *obb& The bastard had )ound hi(& Standin' in the 3ouvelle court$ard with the thin rain snea+in' under the collar o) his -ac+et. she reali:ed& She wanted to beat and punch and pu((el until he was as )ri'htened and helpless as she had been (o(ents be)ore& 57ou re(e(ber that. he could be -er+ed bac+ into that s(all. and sta$ awa$ )ro( (e&6 She sla((ed out.6 she taunted& There were tears in her e$es now. "’m loo(ing for#ard to tal(ing about old times. Don’t try no disappearing act. as he’d alwa$s +nown. leavin' hi( babblin' about hospitals and lawsuits& #o. insi'ni)icant pieces to show -ust how little it had (eant to the (an he’d beco(e& 2ut his hands had sha+en& His sto(ach had twisted into slic+.ust 'et out& . 'rabbin' a corner o) the bedspread to stanch the )low o) blood )ro( his nose& 5.l -obb. tin$ +nots& And he’d +nown. long tal( #ith your pals the 9ou/elles. .57ou tr$ that a'ain with (e. $ou bastard96 He shoo+ his head. then san+ bac+ down a'ain when she li)ted both )ists in a bo.esus. He’d wanted to i'nore it& He’d wanted to lau'h and tear the paper into tin$. I’ll brea+ $our )uc+in' dic+&6 He started to rise. how success)ul. but the$ weren’t )ro( )ear& It was pure ra'e& 57ou want to ta+e (e on. creep. it was a cold. )ri'htened bo$& It had onl$ ta+en a )ew words on paper& -allahan8long time no see. "f you don’t #ant to lose your classy situation meet me tonight at ten at Bodine’s on Bourbon.er’s stance& 5*o(e on. or an$one else I hear about. how stron'.anne was a bloc+ awa$ and searchin' )or a cab when it hit her& Ma+e $ou a star9 Watch it a)ter9 A screa( o) ra'e burst out as it san+ in& The son o) a bitch (ust have been )il(in' the whole thin'& It was li+e )allin' into a ni'ht(are& Thou'h the rain had slowed to a dri::le. $ou’re cra:$&6 57eah&6 She )elt the h$steria bubblin' up& She wanted to hit hi( a'ain. Lu+e wondered wh$ he had ever allowed hi(sel) to believe in escapes& 3o (atter how clever he’d been. (iserable ni'ht& 3othin' could have suited Lu+e’s (ood (ore per)ectl$& In his hand was a letter.

hopin' to slip into the house unseen& 2ut Lu+e was )eelin' -ust u'l$ enou'h to taunt her& 5He$&6 He sna''ed her ar( and spun her a'ain& 57ou 'ot so(e—6 He stopped dead when he saw the state o) her clothes& 2eneath her bri'ht -ac+et.Still.anne stu(bled bac+& 2$ the ti(e she’d re'ained her balance. she had to run to catch hi(& 5Lu+e& Stop this&6 She snatched at his sleeve& Thou'h her heart dropped to her +nees when he rounded on her. the bo. debatin' about whether it would i(prove his )ra(e o) (ind to ta+e a dr$ ride rather than a wet wal+& He )or'ot both possibilities as he watched #o. )in'ers di''in' in& 5What happened to $ou96 53othin'& Leave (e alone&6 He 'ave her one hard sha+e& 5What happened96 His voice see(ed to be cau'ht in his throat. #o.6 she said a'ain& Wh$ was she startin' to sha+e now9 she wondered& It was all over& Over and done& 50erald had a di))erent idea on what I was doin' in his apart(ent than I had&6 She tossed her chin up. he wasn’t a child a)raid to )ace the (onster in the closet& He balled the paper into his poc+et and stepped toward the street& He’d )ace *obb toni'ht. read$ )or a lecture& 5I had to disabuse hi( o) the notion&6 She heard Lu+e suc+ in his breath—not in shoc+& It was (ore li+e an ani(al snarlin'& When she 'lanced up at his )ace. swore at nothin' in particular and started toward the corner& When a cab veered toward the curb. and so(ehow )ind a wa$ to vanish hi( and ever$thin' he stood )or& The rain da(pened his -ac+et. her unstead$ pulse went ha$wire& His e$es were li+e 'lass.e$ed )riend +eep $ou entertained96 5 iss ass. *allahan&6 She +ept her head down as she hurried b$ hi(. the +ind that leaves deep -a''ed 'ashes on )lesh& 5I’ll +ill hi(&6 His )in'ers du' into her shoulders hard enou'h to (a+e her $elp& He released her so /uic+l$. s/uee:in' out over ra:or blades& 52ab$. his shoes and his (ood& He hunched his shoulders. teeth bare.$ cotton blouse was torn and splattered with blood& "anic ha((ered throu'h hi( as he 'rabbed both o) her shoulders.anne ali'ht& She was a hand$ tar'et )or his )rustration& 52ac+ so soon96 he called out& 58idn’t $our )our. what happened96 53othin'. he hesitated. she hun' on& 53othin' happened& 3othin'& I’( all ri'ht&6 57ou’ve 'ot blood all over $ou&6 . e$es 'lowin'.

I don’t want Ma.& 8id he rape $ou96 53o&6 She didn’t resist when Lu+e’s ar(s ca(e around her& It wasn’t )ear that was (a+in' her sha+e. 5$ou a'ree to let (e tal+ to this creep& Satis)$ ($sel) that he’s 'oin' to sta$ awa$ )ro( $ou&6 52elieve (e. on her& 53o.&6 58a(n it&6 She si'hed. but I too+ care o) it& 7ou don’t even +now where the -er+ lives&6 He’d )ind hi(& So(ehow Lu+e +new that he could trac+ the bastard down li+e a wol) trac+in' a rabbit& 2ut #o. ri'ht& I)96 .6 Lu+e repeated. #o. he didn’t rape (e& I swear&6 5He ripped $our shirt&6 This ti(e her s(ile was a little steadier& 5He said I bro+e his nose. and he’d been prepared to )orce se. considered her options. she (used. then shru''ed& 5O+a$.anne’s hand was tre(blin' on his ar(& 58id he hurt $ou96 It was an e))ort to +eep his voice stead$ and cal(. I’ll tell $ou where to )ind hi(. she reali:ed& It was a hauntin' sense o) betra$al& She had +nown 0erald. she’d li+ed hi(. but he thou'ht she needed it& 5Tell (e the truth. I appreciate the white +ni'ht routine. )eelin' that hard. standin' in the rain with hi(. i)—6 57eah. or Lil$ to +now& "lease&6 5Ma. I don’t have an$thin' to worr$ about& He (i'ht even ta+e out a warrant so I won’t be able to 'o within )ive hundred )eet o) hi(&6 5I tal+ to hi(. tuc+in' a )in'er under her chin. but I thin+ I -ust bloodied it&6 She lau'hed and settled her head on Lu+e’s shoulder& It )elt so 'ood to be there. and )ri'hten hi(& And it’s over now. Lu+e was there& There was a co()ort in that& 57ou should have heard hi( s/ueal& Lu+e.53one o) it’s (ine&6 She tried a s(ile. or I tal+ to Ma. scrapin' her wet hair out o) her )ace& 5*o(e on. stead$ beat o) his heart& Whenever thin's 'ot reall$ bad. so what could he do96 5I won’t sa$ an$thin'& I)—6 5I +new there’d be an i)&6 5I). has a ri'ht—6 5I +now&6 She li)ted her head a'ain& #ain tric+led down her )ace li+e tears& 5It’s nothin' to do with ri'hts& It would hurt hi(.

I was nearl$ raped& That (a+es (e a victi(.6 she hurried on& 5#eall$ hun' up on (ovies. ripplin' down her spine& 5It’s all ri'ht&6 5O+a$&6 He was (ur(urin'. can’t $ou understand $ou scared (e9 I don’t +now what I’d have done i) he’d & & &6 He pressed his (outh to her hair& 5I don’t +now what I’d have done&6 5All ri'ht&6 Another tre(or hit her. #o. tr$in' to co()ort. so we could en-o$ watchin' ourselves a)ter&6 5That )uc+in' perverted asshole&6 5Well. i) $ou could (a+e hi( 'ive $ou the )il( or the tape or whatever the hell it is&6 5I’ll 'et it& I) $ou ever pull so(ethin' li+e this a'ain—6 5I pull96 She slapped her hands on her hips& 5Loo+.57ou swear it’s -ust tal+& I don’t want or need $ou to 'o beat so(eone’s )ace in )or (e an$(ore&6 She s(iled a'ain and +new the$ both thou'ht o) Sa( W$att& 5I did that all b$ ($sel) this ti(e&6 5. $eah. i) $ou insist on tal+in' to hi(. helpless (an into ($ web then cried )oul when thin's 'ot heav$&6 5Shut up&6 He pulled her a'ainst hi( and held ti'ht& 5I’( sorr$& I didn’t (ean an$thin' li+e that& *hrist. $ou could do (e a )avor&6 She eased awa$ because this was a tou'h one& 5I’( not positive. but I thin+ & & & )ro( so(ethin' he said when he was.ust tal+.6 Lu+e said& 4nless he decided (ore was necessar$& 5Actuall$.anne. paced two steps then spun bac+& 5I (ust have been as+in' )or it. but I was wonderin'.cuse (e96 5He’s a )il( (a-or. peabrain. 'et it9 I didn’t do an$thin' to deserve that +ind o) treat(ent&6 5I didn’t (ean—6 5Hell with that& It’s -ust li+e a (an&6 She whirled awa$. $ou +now96 Lu+e opened his (outh. and this video cra:e& That’s wh$ I went to his apart(ent& To watch a couple o) classic )il(s& And he & & &6 She blew out a breath that )o''ed in the air then washed awa$ in the rain& 5I’( prett$ sure he had a ca(era on. . shut it a'ain& "erhaps it was )or the best that he was stunned speechless& 5!. stro+in'. well & & &6 5What96 5I thin+ he had a ca(era on so(ewhere& 1il(in' the event. 'entl$. ri'ht9 I lured that poor. even as his (outh sou'ht hers& 53o one’s 'oin' to hurt $ou a'ain&6 There was rain on her lips& He +issed it awa$.

usin' ever$ ounce o) will to prevent those nast$ )lashbac+s )ro( snea+in' into his (ind& 5What do $ou want96 5A drin+.6 he ordered& 52ut. the wo(en with tired e$es bu(pin' hips and twirlin' pasties. the s(ell o) stale drun+s and i(personal se. and )elt his li)e turn upside down& How )oolish he’d been to )or'et even )or a (o(ent that he had his own de(ons to )ace that ni'ht& 2ut i) he could do nothin' else. then he loo+ed at *obb’s )ace. and the tor(ent in the(& Lu+e wal+ed throu'h the rain to con)ront an old ni'ht(are& 52een awhile. one 'lorious (o(ent to hold her. a little conversation&6 *obb let his e$es crawl over the coc+tail waitress’s breasts and roa( down to her crotch& 52ourbon.anne aside. she had one 'li(pse o) his e$es. at *obb’s e$es. he 'rabbed it. +id&6 Al *obb sat in the din'$ 2ourbon Street strip -oint s(o+in' a *a(el& It was his +ind o) settin'. then went bac+ )or (ore& Her ar(s ca(e up to wind stron' and sure around his nec+ even as her bod$ (elted li+e wa.ac+.anne& 50o inside. a'ainst hi(& He 'ave hi(sel) a (o(ent. & & & we’d better—6 He bro+e o)) as a (an wal+ed throu'h the curtain o) rain& Lu+e started to si(pl$ shi)t #o.6 Lu+e told her.sweetl$. Lu+e—6 50o in& 3ow&6 He pulled her toward the 'ate and the court$ard& 5There’s so(ethin' I have to do&6 5I’ll wait&6 53o. pressed his lips to the center o) her pal(& She wondered the rain didn’t si::le o)) as it struc+ her& 5#o. he could prevent that u'liness )ro( touchin' #o. don’t&6 When he turned..& He’d +nown Lu+e would )ollow hi( in& Lu+e had draped one ar( over the bac+ o) his chair& He was )orcin' hi(sel) to rela. a double&6 52lac+ . and pretend it could be real& 51eelin' better96 His s(ile was strained as he drew her awa$& 5I’( )eelin' so(ethin'&6 Her voice was li+e the )o' that sna+ed alon' the 'round at their )eet& When she li)ted a hand to his chee+. +nowin' his usual beer wouldn’t have the )ire to pur'e& .

lettin' the heat slide down into his 'ut and thaw )ro:en (uscles& 53o&6 5That’s unnatural&6 *obb cluc+ed his ton'ue& 5She’s livin' in "ortland now& We still 'et to'ether )ro( ti(e to ti(e& She started to char'e )or it. I’d loo+ $ou up& Ain’t $ou 'oin' to as+ about $our (other96 Lu+e sipped care)ull$ at the whis+e$. )ood in $our bell$&6 *obb shru''ed and continued to drin+& 5I -ust e. those twisted red banners o) the dedicated drun+& He’d put on too (uch wei'ht around the (iddle so that his +nit shirt stretched and strained over the 'irth& 5I as+ed $ou what $ou wanted&6 *obb said nothin' as their drin+s were set down& He li)ted his. showin' tobacco. bo$.strin' and a pair o) )eather dusters& 5. I’d have beaten so(e respect into $ou&6 Lu+e leaned )orward.e. ain’t it9 7ou’re a bi' )uc+in' deal these da$s& *oulda +noc+ed (e over with a whi)) o) 'in when I saw $ou on the T%&6 He snorted into his bourbon& 58oin' (a'ic tric+s )or chrissa+e& Learned how to wave $our (a'ic wand. (ore raucous& One o) the (en tried to cli(b onsta'e and was tossed out& 5Alwa$s did& 7ou’d sta$ed around a little lon'er. don’t $ou li+e loo+in' at boobs96 5What are $ou doin' in 3ew Orleans96 5Havin' (e a little holida$&6 *obb lic+ed his lips while the dancer bounced her abundant breasts and s/uee:ed the( to'ether& 51i'ured since I was in the nei'hborhood. too+ a deep swallow and watched the sta'e& An i(probabl$ built redhead was peelin' awa$ a 1rench (aid’s uni)or(& She was down to her 0.sus. did $ou. pleased when he saw the (uscles in his -aw clench& 52ut old Ma''ie.stained teeth& 7ears o) he)tin' the bottle hadn’t been +ind to hi(& !ven in the di( li'ht Lu+e could see the (a:e o) bro+en capillaries in his )ace.pected $ou to pa$ )or it&6 It didn’t occur to hi( to be a)raid o) Lu+e& His (e(or$ was +een enou'h to recall how easil$ he’d cowed the bo$ with a )ew solid whac+s o) the belt& 52ut that’s behind us now. $ou +now96 He 'ave Lu+e a lascivious win+. Lu+e96 He roared with lau'hter at his own -o+e until tears spar+led in his e$es& 57ou and that old (an 'ot $oursel) a couple o) pri(e pieces o) ass out o) it&6 . loo+ at the tits on that bitch&6 *obb downed his drin+ and si'naled )or another& He 'rinned over at Lu+e& 5What’s the (atter. she’s senti(ental enou'h to 'ive (e a )ree pop when I co(e +noc+in'& Want I should 'ive her $our best96 5I don’t want $ou to 'ive her an$thin' )ro( (e&6 57ou 'ot a shitt$ attitude&6 *obb tossed bac+ (ore bourbon while the (usic 'rew louder. e$es 'litterin'& 5Or $ou’d have turned (e into a whore&6 57ou had a roo) over $our head.5A (an’s drin+&6 *obb 'rinned.

spacin' each word& 57ou want to ta+e (e on.& 2ut there was a part o) hi(. buried deep. and *obb saw it& All those (e(ories )looded bac+. tellin' $ou how (uch I want . didn’t I9 I’( the closest thin' to a )ather $ou had&6 3ow he did lau'h& There was enou'h )ur$ in the sound to have the people nearb$ 'lance over waril$& 51uc+ o))&6 2e)ore he could rise. with hate in his e$es& 58on’t (atter i) it’s a lie or the 0od’s truth. not once it’s in print&6 5I’ll +ill $ou&6 3ausea wea+ened Lu+e’s voice and had sweat pearlin' on his )orehead& 52e easier to pa$ (e&6 *on)ident he could run the show. people’d wonder. so badl$ his bod$ shoo+ with a need as basic as se. and the sear o) it a'ainst tender )lesh& 5I don’t want to be in the sa(e state with $ou&6 5It’s a )ree countr$&6 2ecause he was s(art enou'h to +now that a )i'ht wouldn’t 'et hi( what he’d co(e )or. ain’t it9 . 'ropin'. the )at hands pawin'.to. the sweat and heav$ breathin'& 5I didn’t let hi( touch (e&6 57ou don’t +now what happened a)ter I +ic+ed $ou senseless&6 *obb was pleased to see the blu)) ta+e root& He )ed on the horror. *obb -er+ed awa$ and ordered another drin+& 5"roble( with that is $ou 'ot to pa$ )or ever$ da(n thin'& 7ou’re (a+in' 'ood (one$ with $our (a'ic tric+s&6 5Is that what $ou want96 Lu+e would have lau'hed i) dis'ust hadn’t bloc+ed his throat& 57ou want (e to 'ive $ou (one$96 5Helped raise $ou. the doubt. bo$96 Alwa$s read$ to brawl. that was still a terri)ied little bo$ who re(e(bered the snap o) a leather belt. he wrapped his (eat$ )in'ers around Lu+e’s wrists& He was surprised b$ the stren'th he )ound there. bo$. but never doubted his own superiorit$& 5Want to 'o head.head with (e96 He did. the revulsion in Lu+e’s e$es& 5One wa$ or the other.ust plain *allahan& !scape artist and (ale prostitute&6 5That’s a lie&6 2ut he’d paled. wouldn’t the$9 "eople li+e that hot little nu(ber $ou were (a+in' ti(e with a little while a'o& 7ou thin+ she’d let $ou dip $our wic+ once she )ound out $ou were blowin' )rea+in' )a's when $ou were twelve96 He 'rinned. close enou'h )or Lu+e to s(ell the whis+e$ on *obb’s breath over the barroo( stin+ o) li/uor and s(o+e& 5What do $ou want96 he repeated. and )or that old (an $ou’re tan'led up with& All I 'ot to do is (a+e a couple o) calls to so(e o) the( reporters& What do $ou thin+ the T% producers would thin+ once the$ read about $ou9 *allahan—that’s what $ou call $oursel) now. *obb too+ out another ci'arette& 5I don’t need (uch& *ouple thousand to start&6 He blew s(o+e in Lu+e’s direction& 5Startin' to(orrow& Then I’ll drop $ou a line now and then. *obb too+ hold o) his sleeve& 5I can (a+e trouble )or $ou.The lau'hter died into cho+in' when Lu+e 'rabbed hi( b$ the collar& Their )aces were close now.

anne& He s/uee:ed his e$es shut as he downed the rest o) his whis+e$& He ordered another and settled down to 'et (iserabl$ drun+& She was waitin' )or hi(& #o. it wouldn’t (atter& The stain would be there. it (i'ht sound li+e he had other uses )or $ou& 7ou +now&6 He s(iled a'ain. once it was in print. could possibl$ believe that Ma.anne stood. out o) it&6 52e 'lad to&6 *obb spread his hands in cooperation& 57ou brin' (e two thousand to(orrow ni'ht. and had 'one o)) to )ind a bottle& Or several bottles b$ the loo+ o) hi(& #o. the sha(e and the horror& I) he could stand it )or hi(sel).anne had 'one inside and slipped into her roo( unnoticed& A lon'. -er+ed the robe o) her belt ti'ht—li+e a soldier 'earin' )or battle. #o. I don’t 'uess all the little bo$s and 'irls. )uc+in' lies& He could prove it. how $ou 'ot tan'led up with that 3ouvelle& See(s to (e he bro+e a law or two ta+in' in a runawa$& Then a'ain. he couldn’t bear the thou'ht o) an$ o) it touchin' Ma. once people started to /uestion and whisper. he pressed the heels o) his hands a'ainst his e$es& *obb was ri'ht. satis)ied with the revulsion on Lu+e’s )ace& 5I could (a+e people wonder i) he didn’t 'et )or )ree what $ou sold to others&6 5 eep Ma. and so(e o) the )rustrations& Then she’d settled hersel) on the balcon$ to wait& She saw hi( stu(ble throu'h the dri::le and )o'& Watched hi( weave and stop. )i'htin' -ust to breathe& Lies. hot bath had soothed (ost o) the aches. and their (o((ies and daddies. then rushed down to intercept Lu+e in the court$ard& . and start a'ain with the e. 'rievin' (other. ri'ht here& That’s a show o) 'ood )aith& Then I’ll be on ($ wa$& 7ou don’t show. how $ou too+ o)) )ro( $our poor. I’ll -ust have to (a+e (e a call to the 9ational 3n:uirer. had & & & Sic+ened. or Lil$& Or #o.a''erated care o) a drun+& Her worr$ and con)usion vanished in a white. hot ra'e& He had le)t her and her hu((in' nerve ends standin' in the rain. couldn’t he9 His hand shoo+ as he reached )or his 'lass& 3o one would believe. would have (uch use )or a (a'ician who had a taste )or $oun' (eat9 3ope&6 He too+ another dra'& 5*an’t see $ou doin' another per)or(ance )or the <ueen o) !n'land when $ou’re accused o) bu''er$& That’s what those li(e$s call it& 2u''er$&6 *obb lau'hed a'ain as he rose& 5To(orrow ni'ht& I’ll be waitin'&6 Lu+e sat where he was.and where to send it& Otherwise & & & I 'o to the press& I’d have to tell the( how $ou sold $oursel) to perverts.anne& Sweet 0od.

'rand)ather ca(e )ro( count$ Sli'o& The old lad$ told (e that once& 8id I (ention it96 53o&6 She 'runted a bit with the e))ort o) dra''in' hi( toward the side door& 5Supposed to have a voice li+e an an'el& San' in the pubs. *allahan. there’s -ust a 'allon o) whis+e$ inside $ou )ro( the wa$ $ou stin+&6 He 'rinned and bu(ped heavil$ a'ainst the door be)ore she could open it& 5Sorr$& 7ou s(ell 'ood.anne de(anded in a sta'e whisper be)ore she hissed out a breath& 53ever (ind&6 5I don’t 'et (uch o) a thrill watchin' so(e babe strip when there’s a couple do:en 'u$s in the roo(& One. whatcha doin' out in the rain9 *atch cold&6 He too+ a sta''erin' step )orward& 5*hrist $ou loo+ prett$. let’s see i) we can 'et a drun+ Irish(an to bed without wa+in' up the house&6 5M$ 'reat. when he swa$ed& 5I hope $ou pa$ )or this in the (ornin'&6 5T’(orrow ni'ht. drapin' one o) his ar(s over her shoulders& 5*o(e on. *allahan&6 .6 he (uttered while his head went round and round on his shoulders& 50otta pa$ to(orrow ni'ht&6 57ou should live so lon'&6 She si'hed.on. $ou +now96 51ascinatin'&6 She didn’t )eel the least re(orse when she turned and ra((ed hi( into the +itchen counter& 5Leaves (e in the rain and runs o)) to a strip -oint& 7ou’re a prince. but too+ his wei'ht. $ou +now&6 #ain washed over his )ace. the Irish poet&6 And her )ace )lushed as she braced Lu+e upri'ht with one hand and pushed the door open with the other& 5I’( -ust as 'lad $ou don’t have tits li+e that broad toni'ht& I don’t thin+ I’d li+e it&6 5What broad96 #o. tried to (aintain balance on the suddenl$ slantin' bric+s and 'rinned stupidl$& 52abe. #o. when his head )ell bac+& 5Su(bitch was never ($ )ather& 3othin' o) hi( inside (e&6 53o.& Li+e rain on wild)lowers&6 5Ah.$& 8rives (e nuts&6 5Obviousl$&6 It didn’t see( li+e (uch o) a co(pli(ent when the words were slurred al(ost be$ond reco'nition& She reached out to 'rab his ar( in re)le. #o. cool and sweet.one’s (ore ($ st$le.57ou i(becile&6 He teetered bac+.

-ust to touch that s(ooth white s+in. he landed with a heap on the top landin'& 5On $our )eet. die that wa$&6 He reeled around as she tried to steer hi( toward the bac+ stairs& 5Ma$be I should -ust +ill hi(& *leaner that wa$&6 53o.5I’( a bastard.cellent and disturbin' view o) s(ooth. *allahan. crawlin' up the steps at #o. hal) dra''ed hi( to his bedroo(& 5I sincerel$ hope so&6 5Hate that& Ma+es (e )eel li+e that ti(e Mouse 'ave (e ($ )irst ci'arette& 3ot 'ettin' drun+ an$(ore.6 she said between her teeth as she hal) carried. all irritation when she pulled and tu''ed at hi(& 5Let (e alone&6 57ou’re not 'oin' to pass out here.6 he said on a 'roanin' lau'h as #o. and Lil$&6 5O+a$.anne’s dis(a$ he si(pl$ stretched out on the staircase and prepared to 'o to sleep& 5It’s scar$. *hrist & & &6 His voice died to a blear$ whisper& 58on’t want to thin+ about it&6 5Then don’t& Thin+ about 'ettin' upstairs&6 50otta lie down. so )uc+in' scar$ when he co(es at $ou that wa$& And $ou +now $ou (i'ht not be able to stop it& 0rabbin' $ou. he didn’t see( to notice& To #o. I wish $ou’d wear so(ethin' under $our robe once in a while& Let (e -ust—6 2ut as he reached out to touch.&6 . -ust a little )arther&6 Her stru''les had her robe spreadin' open& 1ro( his vanta'e point.6 he said with drun+en cheer& 52orn that wa$.anne hissed in his ear& 57ou’re not 'oin' to wa+e up Ma.6 #o. o+a$&6 He tried to swallow. $ou pro(ised (e $ou’d -ust tal+ to hi(&6 Lu+e ran a hand over his )ace to (a+e sure it was still there& 5Tal+ to who96 50erald&6 57eah. and thou'h he went down hard. #o. white thi'h& !ven the whis+e$ couldn’t stop his blood )ro( heatin'& 50oin' to hell.anne shushed hi(& 5Strai'ht to hell& *hrist. $eah&6 He tripped on the )irst step. li+e the drun+en -er+ $ou are& Lil$’ll worr$ sic+ over $ou i) she )inds $ou here&6 5Lil$&6 He si'hed. but his spit tasted li+e poison& He (ade it to his +nees on his own.anne dra''ed hi( to his )eet& 5A( I 'oin' to be sic+96 he as+ed as nausea curled in his bell$& 5I hope so. slobberin' on $ou& Oh. Lu+e had an e.anne’s proddin'& 51irst wo(an I ever loved& She’s the best& 3obod$’s ever 'oin' to hurt Lil$&6 5O) course not& *o(e on. then did his best to stand upri'ht when #o.6 he (uttered.

nd don’t you forget it. he )elt that initial bolt o) panic& 2ein' trapped& 9o #ay out.h((&6 He 'ave a lon'. la:il$. crept into her when he cupped a hand over her breast& He didn’t 'rope.5#i'ht& Here we—Shit&6 He pitched toward the bed& Thou'h she was /uic+.6 he (ur(ured& 5So)t #o. and passed out& 5Lu+e&6 She shoo+ his shoulders& It couldn’t be.ironed be)ore )oldin' hi(sel) into an iron chest center sta'e& It was hot. shac+led and le'. and went o)) to tr$ the ti(e. didn’t s/uee:e. wind$ si'h. she turned her head awa$& His lips nu::led sleepil$ at her throat& 5*ut it out& Oh & & & da(n&6 The curse ended on a (u))led 'roan& "leasure. she saw that he was out cold& 0rindin' her teeth and swearin' under her breath. .anne&6 His )in'ers caressed over the thin sil+.ac+ 8aniel’s. blac+ and all but airless inside& Li+e a to(b. heav$ and dar+. boy. Lu+e )ound his ti(in' and his e/uilibriu( were o))& He +new better& There were rules. not twice in one ni'ht& 2ut when she too+ a hand)ul o) his hair to pull his head bac+. she wasn’t /uite /uic+ enou'h to avoid 'oin' down with hi(& He landed on her with enou'h )orce to steal her breath& 50et o)) (e. . absentl$ while his lips rubbed )lesh& 5Lu+e& iss (e&6 Her bod$ was alread$ )loatin' as she tried to turn her (outh to his& 5 iss (e li+e $ou did be)ore&6 5M((. allowin' hi(sel) to be strait-ac+eted. she shoved his inert bod$ aside& She le)t hi( sprawled crosswa$s on the bed. she told hersel). he si(pl$ possessed& 5So)t. )ull$ dressed. *allahan&6 His answer was an unintelli'ible (utter& 2ecause his breath ree+ed o) . li+e a vault& Li+e a closet& As alwa$s. honored re(ed$ o) a cold shower& 14 He nearl$ +illed hi(sel)& 2etween a vicious han'over and a precarious e(otional state. *obb’s voice chortled inside Lu+e’s head& 9o #ay out until " let you out. hard and )ast rules 'overnin' the art o) escapolo'$& The$ /uite si(pl$ )ashioned the border between li)e and death& 2ut the choice o) pla$in' b$ the rules and i'norin' pride le)t little roo( )or (aneuverin'& Lu+e went )orward with the escape se'(ent o) the )irst show.

helpless )ear swept into hi(.t corner& *obb was waitin' )or hi(& " got the (ey. had he seduced her.That old.ac+ 8aniel’s& He was )orced to stop a'ain. he told hi(sel). and you’ll stay right #here " put you. a hu'e (ista+e& I) he’d had the breath le)t he would have cursed hi(sel)& 2$ the ti(e he was )ree o) the strait-ac+et. s+itterin' li+e tin$ insects alon' his sweat$ s+in& He hissed with pain as the irons bit into his wrists& 1or one blind (o(ent. allowin' hi( to slither and slide in the strait-ac+et& The poundin' at his te(ples had hi( cursin' . da(n it.anne& The )lashes ca(e. the )a(iliar and e. 'rinnin' (as+ed bandits hunched in the shadows read$ to a(bush control& He too+ slow. unnerved b$ the helpless. even when he )ou'ht to hold the( bac+ and concentrate on )reein' his ar(s& Her s+in. he )ou'ht the( li+e a desperate (an )i'htin' his shac+les on his wa$ to the 'allows& And he s(elled the copper$ scent o) his own blood& 2reathin' too )ast. )ocusin'. "t’s time you remember #ho’s boss around here. beatin' his bound hands raw a'ainst the door& Lu+e’s breath hitched as his heart +noc+ed )it)ull$ a'ainst his ribs.headed. echoin' in his spinnin' head& The lin'erin' nausea churned in his sto(ach li+e a sea o) acid& 1ear ca(e bac+. The i(a'e o) the closet ca(e bac+. cal( down& He twisted his bod$. you little bastard. curved and $ieldin' under his& Oh 0od. that so)t white s+in and his hands (ovin' over it& Her bod$. he turned the ne. his tortured (uscles and -oints were screa(in'& He had onl$ to beat on the bo. to 'ather enou'h co(posure to )loat b$ the pain& He was li'ht. .$'en& *al( down.pected twin'e as he (anipulated his -oints helped& His shoulder shi)ted into an i(possible position. the s(all bo$ sobbin'. whooshin' sound o) his own lun's stru''lin' )or o.cuse to act on the )antas$ that had been pla'uin' hi( )or $ears9 The sweat was runnin' o)) Lu+e in thin hot rivers& He’d lost trac+ o) the ti(e. a sensation that re(inded hi( too vividl$ o) his condition the ni'ht be)ore—and #o. had he used his own tur(oil and drin+ as an e. shallow breaths to beat the nerves bac+ as he wor+ed on )reein' his hands& He could 'et out& He’d proven ti(e and ti(e a'ain that no one would +eep hi( loc+ed up ever a'ain& 1ocusin'.—beat on it as he had once beat on a closet door& .esus 0od.

anne heard the s+itter o) panic in her own voice as she 'rabbed at her )ather’s sleeve& 58add$. let hi( 'ulp in )resh air& His head lolled bac+. closed a hand that had 'one ice cold over his dau'hter’s& 5He has ti(e $et&6 There was no use tellin' her that he’d ta+en one loo+ at Lu+e’s pale. )ist clenched and read$. Lu+e pro(ised hi(sel) as he 'ra$ed out& It onl$ too+ (one$& #o. blind with drin+ and lust.ust as he’d wanted to beat the alread$ bruised and battered 0erald to a sli($ pulp& 2ut as )urious as he’d been. neither were worth d$in' )or& He li)ted an unstead$ hand and slapped hi(sel) hard. how she’d loo+ed standin' there. rappin' sharpl$ a'ainst the side o) the trun+& White.e$ed )ace in the dressin' roo( and had de(anded he cancel his part o) toni'ht’s per)or(ance& . valor shi((erin' around her and )ear and ra'e shinin' in her e$es& He’d wanted to hold her then.anne what 0erald had onl$ atte(pted9 3o& He was bein' a )ool& Hadn’t he awa+ened. done to #o.anne on the tape he’d terri)ied out o) 0erald& He could hear the sound o) her blouse rippin'. al(ost s(ell it as she’d )ou'ht hersel) )ree& And how she’d loo+ed.ust as there was no use tellin' her that Lu+e had overruled hi(& The bo$ was a (an now. once. and the lines o) power were shi)tin'& . achin' and )ull$ dressed9 #i'ht down to his shoes& The taste in his (outh hadn’t been #o. blood$ *hrist.clenchin' lies& He could ta+e care o) *obb. he’d been e/uall$ asha(ed& Had he. and i(a'es danced behind his closed e$es& *obb leerin'. hollow. sic+.The$’d open it.anne. twice so that the shoc+ o) pain cleared (ost o) the (ists in his brain& He went to wor+ on the le' irons.hot pain seared into his head. the (u))led de(ands to be released& He could see the spra$ o) blood. sippin' cautiousl$ at the thinnin' air& 5It’s too lon'&6 #o. but the dead s+un+ )lavor o) stale whis+e$& 8esire and blac+(ail& Well. spoutin' 'ut. to stro+e the tre(ors awa$& . bod$ poised li+e an A(a:on.anne& Those pictures o) #o. let hi( out. he’s two )ull (inutes over&6 5I +now&6 Ma.

the audience applauded& 8renched with sweat. $ou’re bleedin'&6 He 'lanced down where the blood seeped )ro( his wrists and an+les& 5Had a little trouble with the le' irons&6 He shot a hand up to stop her be)ore she could rush in& 5I want to chan'e&6 57ou need to have those cleaned up& Let (e—6 5I said I want to chan'e&6 3ow it was the cool loo+ in his e$es that stopped her& 5I can ta+e care o) it ($sel)&6 She pressed her lips to'ether to +eep the( )ro( tre(blin'& 8idn’t he +now that a cold dis(issal hurt her a hundred ti(es (ore than an an'r$ word9 Her chin ca(e up& O) course he did& Who +new better9 5Wh$ are $ou treatin' (e li+e this.anne and i((ediatel$ stepped )orward to distract the crowd with slei'ht o) hand& 5Idiot& . saw hi( swa$. #o. intendin' to strea+ to the win's to snatch the +e$s )ro( Mouse& 2e)ore she’d ta+en a step.6 he said as he rubbed sweat )ro( his )ace& When he sta''ered. Lu+e9 A)ter last ni'ht—6 5I was drun+.anne sta$ed on his heels& 5Show business does not (ean $ou have to +ill $oursel)& And i) $ou—6 She stopped at the door to his dressin' roo(& 5Oh. (ostl$. but she shoo+ her head& 52e)ore.er+& 1lea brain&6 She hurled insults between the clenched teeth o) a bri'ht s(ile as she too+ his ar( and led hi( o))sta'e& 5What the hell were $ou tr$in' to do96 Lil$ was ri'ht there with a tall 'lass o) water and a towel& Lu+e 'ulped down ever$ drop& The )act that he still )elt )aint (orti)ied hi(& 50et out. s(otherin' helplessl$& 58a(n it&6 She whirled around. Lu+e. brace hi(sel). crashed open& Suitabl$ i(pressed.6 he re(inded her& It )elt 'ood. he si'naled to #o. the lid to the bo. $ou weren’t drun+ be)ore& When $ou +issed (e&6 .anne wrapped her ar(s around hi(& Her heart beat li+e thunder in her ears as she continued to berate hi(& 57ou had no business 'oin' in there toni'ht a)ter spendin' last ni'ht in a bottle&6 5M$ business is 'oin' in there. Lu+e too+ his bows and )illed his starvin' lun's& When Ma. too 'ood.5So(ethin'’s wron'&6 She could i(a'ine hi( unconscious. to have her holdin' hi( stead$& He pulled awa$ and headed )or his dressin' roo(& Li+e an an'r$ terrier. #o.6 he said sharpl$.

'esturin' to a chair& 5Sit&6 The power was still there. war(in' the bowl o) the sni)ter in his hands& 53o9 Well. to spea+& 5There are all (anner o) (ethods o) suicide&6 Ma. i) I’ve learned an$thin' in the past ten $ears. li)ted one lon'.anne’s ob-ections when Lu+e lowered hi(sel) into the iron bo.6 Lu+e be'an. the sa(e )orce that had once co(pelled a twelve. then leaned heavil$ a'ainst it& *lose call.control le)t& 52abe. too+ out a ci'ar& He onl$ ran it between his )in'ers as he waited )or Ma. )or the late audience& Ma. need$ and tired to the bone& 57ou were upset. *allahan.$ear. (a+in' no co((ent. he pushed awa$ to search out so(e aspirin& He had to 'o see *obb. he would be swallowed whole b$ the(& At ho(e.i(illian 3ouvelle& He waited patientl$ throu'h the second show. closin' his e$es& In (ore wa$s than one& 2ecause his aches were de(andin' attention.)in'ered hand.’s voice was (ild. it’s to ta+e what I want&6 His hands curled into )ists at his sides.Little lic+s o) )ire curled in his 'ut& A (an would have to be blind not to see what she was o))erin' with her e$es& He )elt sic+. but his e$es sta$ed li'htl$ a(used& 5Weave $our little )antas$ around $our pin. and he would be ar(ed with two thousand dollars and a clear head& 3o one +new the value o) ti(in' better than Ma. then $ou can +eep (e co(pan$ while I have (ine&6 5It’s been a lon' ni'ht. that’s all&6 "ride )lared& 57ou’re a liar& 7ou wanted (e&6 He 'ave her a s(ile calculated to insult& He had that (uch sel).old bo$ to wait b$ a dar+ened sta'e& Lu+e sat.6 he (ana'ed with re(ar+able cal(& 5So was I& I was tr$in' to (a+e $ou )eel better. voicin' no criticis(& He )ir(l$ overrode both Lil$’s and #o. was in a position to +now that i) a (an didn’t )ace his personal de(ons. he politel$ invited Lu+e into the parlor )or a ni'htcap and (oved inside to pour two sni)ters o) brand$ be)ore the invitation could be accepted or declined& 5I’( not (uch in the (ood )or a drin+&6 Lu+e’s sto(ach swa$ed sic+l$ at the thou'ht o) alcohol& Ma. (erel$ settled into his )avorite win' chair. han'in' bac+& 5It certainl$ has&6 Ma. he thou'ht.striped colle'e bo$s& 3ow I’ve 'ot thin's to do be)ore the ne. li+e a (an settlin' bac+ to tell a stor$& 52ut I have to ad(it that I consider an$ and all o) the( a )or( o) .t show&6 He closed the door s(artl$ in her )ace.

such as the use o) the hand'un on the top shel) o) ($ bedroo( closet&6 2e)ore Lu+e could do (ore than blin+ in surprise. I swear it& It was stupidit$. he s(iled beni'nl$& 5A choice o) that nature is hi'hl$ personal& Would $ou a'ree96 Lu+e was lost& Since he’d learned lon' a'o to be cautious with words when Ma.. the other dra''in' hard on the collar o) Lu+e’s shirt& When their )aces were close. but I pro(ise $ou I +now where to stri+e to hurt a (an (ost&6 The outra'e ca(e )irst& Lu+e spran' to his )eet with it. but I couldn’t & & & I wasn’t tr$in' to hurt ($sel).cowardice& However&6 0esturin' with one hand. but with tears& It hu(bled hi( (ore than a thousand beatin's would have done& 5I shouldn’t have done the bit toni'ht. )or so(ethin' as cowardl$ as endin' $our li)e&6 5Ma. one hand still delicatel$ cupped around the 'lass bowl. and pride&6 5A(ounts to the sa(e. said with the bite o) sarcas( that had Lu+e’s e$es narrowin'& 5I) $ou conte(plate the choice a'ain. he could spare the( that& 5I’ll tal+ to her& Tr$ to (a+e it ri'ht&6 . )urious dares and denials hot on his ton'ue& It was then he saw in the )lash o) the la(pli'ht that Ma.6 Ma. I’d be )orced to have Mouse hold $ou down while I did so. had lun'ed )orward.cuse& "art o) hi( wanted to pour out his reasons& 2ut i) he could do nothin' else. or the illusion o) (a'ic. continued a)ter a sip o) brand$ and an 5ah6 o) appreciation )or its )lavor.6 he said /uietl$& 5M$ ti(in' was o))& I had proble(s I wasn’t able to push out o) ($ (ind& I +new it.6 Ma. wir$ )in'ers close around his throat. was la$in' a trap. Lu+e )elt that cla(($ )ear—that he would be turned awa$& That he would lose what had beco(e so precious to hi(& 5I didn’t thin+&6 He +new it was a wea+ e. 'lea(in' e$es& 53aturall$..’s e$es weren’t 'lea(in' with te(per. Ma. I will beat $ou sensible&6 He turned bac+. dran+ a'ain to clear the thic+ness )ro( his voice& 57ou drove Lil$ to tears& That’s di))icult )or (e to )or'ive&6 1or the )irst ti(e in $ears. doesn’t it96 Ma. I will brea+ it& I) $ou ever do such a thin' a'ain. spo+e with a /uietl$ intense )ur$ that (irrored the loo+ in his e$es& 58on’t ever use ($ sta'e a'ain. 5I would su''est a /uic+er. and I’ve +ept that pro(ise I (ade to $ou& I’( warnin' $ou now. cleaner (ethod. s/uee:e o)) his words. Ma. (easurin' Lu+e with dar+. Ma. he (erel$ shru''ed& 5!lo/uentl$ put. then release& 5I’ve never li)ted a hand to $ou&6 3ow the control that had cloa+ed Ma. throu'h the second show and be$ond be'an to crac+ so that he had to rise and turn awa$ as he spo+e& 5A decade now. )or 0od’s sa+e&6 Lu+e )elt the stron'.

he /uietl$ invests in -ewelr$ and art. sat a'ain. reached out to la$ a hand on Lu+e’s shoulder& There was co()ort in that. but an ani(al nonetheless& We bur$ ourselves in a wo(an. it is. an ani(al with intellect. and his )in'ers s/uee:ed li'htl$& 5There are so(e. and a (an is both blessed and cursed to )ind the(& Would $ou li+e to tal+ about it96 53o. Lu+e reached )or his own sni)ter& His sto(ach no lon'er )elt li+e a (ine )ield& 5Our public servant is not above acceptin' bribes—a particularl$ )oul wa$ o) (a+in' a livin' in ($ esti(ation. and +eeps his invest(ents with his (istress&6 5She (ust be a hell o) a la$&6 5"recisel$&6 Ma. as alwa$s ba))led and deli'hted with the capriciousness o) hu(an nature& 5I would hardl$ ad(it this in )ront o) the deli'ht)ul ladies o) our house.ran+in' politician +eeps a (istress in the rich suburbs o) Mar$land near our nation’s capital&6 Ma.5I e. and how his hands burned to touch her& That had been part o) what had clo''ed his brain.st$le and cause speculation& Instead. that would be a lie&6 His lips curved now. topped o)) b$ *obb and too (uch drin+& He could onl$ shru'& 5I could tell $ou that no wo(an is worth $our li)e. and a wealth o) understandin' that needed no words& 5Is it a wo(an96 Lu+e thou'ht o) #o.anne. brushed a )in'er over his lu. but a (an is not led b$ the nose.t -ob&6 57es& 1ine&6 Satis)ied the air was clear once (ore. a)ter all. si'hed a bit. inclined his head. Ma. Ma. or $our peace o) (ind& 2ut o) course. he’s wise enou'h not to use his bonuses to in)late his own li)e.uriant (oustache& 5It’s di))icult to i(a'ine wh$ a (an who would cheat on his wi)e and his constituents would then trust the wo(an who helps hi( cheat with nearl$ two (illion in trin+ets&6 Ma. it is& As lon' as it’s b$ wa$ o) the crotch& We are.anne with her )ather had hi( hoverin' between a lau'h and a screa(& 5I’ve 'ot it under control&6 5%er$ well& "erhaps $ou’d li+e to hear about the ne. but b$ the dic+&6 Lu+e 'rinned& 5I thou'ht the wa$ to a (an’s heart was throu'h his sto(ach&6 5Oh. dear bo$. don’t we9 <uite literall$& How (an$ a(on' us can resist that illusion o) returnin' to the wo(b96 . paused to drin+& Interest cau'ht. but there $ou have it& In an$ case.pect $ou will&6 *al(er now. settled bac+& 5Le*lerc has co(e across so(e interestin' in)or(ation& A certain hi'h.6 Lu+e (ana'ed in a stran'led voice& The idea o) discussin' his dar+ and drivin' desire )or #o.

the (ind turns o)) and control is )or)eited& I suppose that’s wh$ se. the seduction. Mar$land& 8is'uised with a pin.anne& She’d ta+en her reven'e in the snea+iest and (ost e))ective o) wa$s& 2$ actin' as thou'h nothin' had ever happened& Lu+e hadn’t )ull$ rela. and loo+ed on the trip as a +ind o) wor+in' vacation& There was the added bene)it o) havin' a suite o) roo(s in the /uietl$ di'ni)ied Madison. once she surrounds hi(. Lu+e.ed in (onths. Lu+e traveled to wealth$ "oto(ac. he (ade the rounds with an ea'er real estate a'ent& With a clipped 2oston accent. a blond wi' and a tri((ed beard. swirled his brand$& It had been a roundabout wa$ to 'et the bo$ to tal+. he((ed and hawed over buildin' lots and locations& The /uestions he as+ed as the representative o) a perspective bu$er paralleled what he needed to +now as a potential thie)& Who lived in the nei'hborhood and what did the$ do9 Were there an$ loud do's9 "olice patrols9 What co(pan$ would be reco((ended )or installin' a securit$ s$ste(9 And so on& .striped suit. the pursuit. said 'entl$& 53ow&6 He leaned )orward& 5About our trip to Washin'ton&6 It too+ si. o)ten pre)erred a circular route& 5M$ point.perience. is that at a certain sta'e—than+ 0od— the intellect clic+s o)) and the ani(al ta+es over& I) $ou’re doin' ever$thin' ri'ht.Lu+e li)ted a brow& 5I wouldn’t sa$ that was what was on ($ (ind when I’( bouncin' on a wo(an&6 Ma. (onths in the plannin'& 8etails needed to be re)ined and polished as care)ull$ as the sta'e show the 3ouvelles would per)or( at the enned$ *enter& In April. and )or the added bene)it o) distance )ro( #o. when the cherr$ blosso(s were in rich and )ra'rant bloo(. $ou’re not thin+in' at all& Thou'ht co(es be)ore—in the attraction. indul'in' in touris(—he particularl$ en-o$ed the S(ithsonian’s arra$ o) 'e(s —and si(pl$ bein' alone& He toured the listed houses with the real estate a'ent. is (ore dan'erous than war. the representative o) a wealth$ 3ew !n'land industrialist who was interested in a ho(e in 8&*&’s ele'ant suburbs& He appreciated the trip )or what it was. and (uch (ore desirable&6 Lu+e could onl$ sha+e his head& 5It’s not that di))icult to en-o$ the e. but Ma.6 Ma. the ro(ance& Once a (an’s inside a wo(an. he assu(ed the identit$ o) *harles 2& Holder(an. and +eep $our (ind )ocused&6 5Obviousl$ $ou haven’t )ound the ri'ht wo(an& 2ut $ou’re $oun' $et.

)eatured.Later that da$ Lu+e approached Miranda Leesbur' strai'ht on& He strolled up her )lower. I reali:e that& I wonder i) I (i'ht have a (o(ent o) $our ti(e9 We could spea+ out here i) $ou’d be (ore co()ortable&6 5Wh$ would I be (ore co()ortable outside96 She arched one delicatel$ sculpted brow as she si:ed hi( up& 7oun'.pect& He’d studied the pictures o) the sharp and slee+ thirt$. lined )la'stone wal+ and +noc+ed on her oa+ and stained.& Lu+e didn’t lic+ his lips—but he thou'ht about it& He be'an to understand wh$ the 'ood senator +ept this little pri:e tuc+ed awa$& In photo'raphs she was lovel$ in a cool. it was -ust too bad the$ were $appers& When she opened the door he was surprised to see the slee+ blond hair pulled ruthlessl$ bac+ in a pon$tail and the sharp.raisin' tour. (uch as she (i'ht i) he were a sculpture she was conte(platin' in a 'aller$& 5I’ve seen $ou around the nei'hborhood&6 5M$ e(plo$er is interested in so(e propert$ in the area&6 Lu+e s(iled a'ain& Holder(an’s proper (aroon tie was be'innin' to stran'le hi(& 5Sorr$.piece e. soothin' the( a'ainst breasts that rose li+e snow$ white (oons above the thin swatch o) spande.—and 'ave the( both a little pat on the ru(p to send the( s+itterin' o))& With her lover out o) town )or nearl$ two wee+s on a )und. *harles Holder(an&6 57es96 She loo+ed hi( up and down. he heard the hi'h.pitched bar+in' o) a pair o) do's& He’d +nown she had two "o(eranians. she was bored& *harles 2& Holder(an loo+ed li+e an interestin' diversion& 5What did $ou want to spea+ to (e about96 . two. so(ethin' blonde with a +iller bod$ and blue ice e$es& With resi'nation. boldl$ curved bod$ was snu''ed into a scant. detached and obvious wa$& In person she shot out enou'h se. ($ house isn’t on the (ar+et&6 53o. appeal to stri+e a (an blind at si.'lass )ront door& He alread$ +new what to e. cann$ )ace da(p with sweat& There was a towel around Miranda’s nec+& The rest o) that lush. well built.ercise suit in vivid purple& She scooped up both do's.t$ paces& Lu+e was (uch closer than that& 5I be' $our pardon&6 He s(iled and spo+e with *harles’s 7an+ee accent& 5I’( sorr$ to disturb $ou&6 The do's were still $appin' and he had to pitch his voice over the din& 5I’( Holder(an. repressed& She bent down to set the do's on the polished hardwood—the (ove(ent put a (arvelous strain on the spande.

but she +new the value o) the paintin' to the last cent& 5I can never )i'ure out wh$ people want to paint trees and bushes&6 Lu+e s(iled a'ain& 5"erhaps to (a+e people wonder who or what is behind the(&6 She lau'hed at that& 5That’s 'ood. the si:e and nu(ber o) roo(s o)) the hallwa$& 57our ho(e is lovel$&6 57eah.bound boo+ )ro( his breast poc+et& 5I’d appreciate it ver$ (uch&6 5I suppose I could help $ou out&6 She tapped a )in'er to her lips& 5*o(e on in& I’ll di' up the card&6 5That’s ver$ +ind o) $ou&6 Lu+e put the boo+ awa$ and )illed his (ind instead with the details o) the )o$er. ver$ 'ood& I +eep a card )ile in the +itchen& Wh$ don’t $ou -oin (e )or so(ethin' cold while I )ind $ou $our landscaper96 5It would be a pleasure&6 The +itchen carried throu'h the so)t. I don’t +now a pans$ )ro( a petunia& I use a service&6 5Ah& Then perhaps $ou could 'ive (e a na(e.5Ah. is a )avorite o) (ine&6 5*orot. did $ou construct the roc+ 'arden in $our side $ard $oursel)96 She lau'hed. crea(. with his drea($ st$le. pattin' the towel to her breasts.6 he said when Miranda loo+ed /uestionin'l$ over her shoulder& 57ou into paintin's96 She pouted a little as she turned bac+ to his side to stud$ it with hi(& 57es. )e(inine& The lush bod$ in the vivid slashes o) purple added a shoc+ o) se. leather. a nu(ber&6 The ever e))icient Holder(an too+ a sli(. I’( /uite an ad(irer o) art& *orot.parlor chairs stood in the center o) the roo( on a pale rose ru'& Incon'ruousl$./uisite. ri'ht&6 She didn’t 'ive a da(n about the st$le. the )ront stairs. the . )e(ale char( o) the rest o) the house he’d seen& "otted A)rican violets sat in sunbea(s on (auve and ivor$ tiled counters& The appliances were strea(lined and unobtrusive& A round 'lass table with a /uartet o) padded ice. landscapin'&6 He (ana'ed to +eep his e$es )ro( s+i((in' down to the slopes o) her breasts& 5M$ e(plo$er has ver$ speci)ic re/uire(ents )or 'rounds and 'ardens& 7ours co(es /uite close to (eetin' the(& I wonder.& Li+e passion in a (eadow& Lu+e paused to distract hi(sel) and ad(ired a *orot paintin'& 5!. her 'lea(in' (idri))& 58arlin'. I had it redecorated a )ew (onths a'o&6 It was all pastels and )loral prints& #est)ul. *harles.

6 he said conversationall$ as she ru((a'ed throu'h the drawer& 5How )ortunate that $ou can be ho(e to en-o$ it&6 5Oh.ac+ 8aniel’s on top o) #o. onl$ a da$ or two lon'er. she would have dis(issed hi( with the drin+ and the landscaper’s card& As it was.ust how lon' will $ou be in the area96 5Oh. he hadn’t been able to put to 'ood use since he’d passed out courtes$ o) . *harles& I’ll )ind that card )or $ou&6 She set the 'lasses on the table with a /uic+ chin+ o) 'lass to 'lass. to ($sel)& .da$ nuisances&6 She too+ a business card )ro( the drawer and stood )lippin' the end a'ainst her pal(& 5Are $ou (arried. I’( a)raid& Whether or not ($ e(plo$er purchases propert$ here. he was the answer to a lon' and )rustratin' two wee+s& !ver$ so o)ten—ever$ so discreetl$ o)ten— Miranda li+ed to chan'e partners and dance& .anne& 8own bo$. $ou +now96 She set the pitcher down and s+i((ed her hands over her hips& 5That +ind o) (usic (a+es (e sweat&6 Lu+e rolled his ton'ue inside his (outh to +eep it )ro( han'in' out and answered as Holder(an would& 5I’( sure it’s sti(ulatin'&6 57ou bet&6 She chuc+led to hersel) as she too+ out two 'lasses and poured& 5Sit down. $ou (i'ht sa$. and ($ li)e. pleased& 5I discovered I li+e havin' the house. but I have a (ana'er that handles the da$. ($ business will be co(pleted&6 5Then it’s bac+ to & & &6 52oston&6 5H((&6 That was 'ood& In )act. ($ ti(e’s prett$ (uch ($ own& I own a little bouti/ue in 0eor'etown& eeps the wol) )ro( the door.to.hard. it was per)ect& I) he’d been sta$in' lon'er. he thou'ht and strai'htened the +not o) his tie be)ore reachin' )or his drin+& 52eauti)ul da$.ed'ed pulse o) !ddie %an Halen’s screa(in' 'uitar spouted throu'h the +itchen spea+ers& 5I was wor+in' out when $ou +noc+ed&6 Miranda (oved to the re)ri'erator )or a pitcher o) le(onade& 5I li+e to +eep in shape. *harles96 53o& 8ivorced&6 5Me too&6 She s(iled. then brushed li'htl$ a'ainst hi( as she wal+ed over to a drawer& Her (us+$ scent went strai'ht to his 'rate)ul loins& Loins. he thou'ht now.

the )irst lust$ cr$ tu(blin' )ro( her lips. he had enou'h control to +eep her )ro( rappin' her head bac+ a'ainst the white oa+ cabinet door—and enou'h to prevent her )ro( snatchin' at his hair and dislod'in' the wi'& 5Sweet 0od&6 Miranda would have slid bonelessl$ to the )loor i) he hadn’t held her up with that eas$. hoo+ed a )in'er under the slanted line o) spande. he’d )reed hi(sel) and plun'ed violentl$ into her& The )irst or'as( too+ her b$ surprise& 8a(ned i) he’d loo+ed that clever& 5Oh. an ounce o) spontaneit$ was worth a pound o) plannin'& 5Wh$ don’t I96 He rose and. $appin'& %an Halen was wailin' on the spea+ers& Lu+e set his rh$th( to theirs. nervous and curious at the sounds their (istress (ade& The$ were crouched under the 'lass table. as Ma.es. bi+ini& 5Wh$ don’t $ou ta+e what $ou need&6 Lu+e debated )or nearl$ a heartbeat& It wasn’t 'oin' precisel$ the wa$ he’d i(a'ined& 2ut. he tilted her head bac+ )or a +iss& 5When did $ou sa$ $ou had to leave96 . was wont to sa$. his bod$ was steeped in the velvet li'htnin' that was se.She didn’t +now hi(. he’d dra''ed the (aterial down& In two /uic+ (oves.& 2ut his (ind—that was clear enou'h so that he could see the )aint lines around her e$es. she slipped the business card down into the trian'le o) her spande. down and dirt$& He could count her cli(a. *hrist!6 Her e$es popped wide with pleasure& Then his hands had cupped her hips and had li)ted her up in surprisin'l$ stron' ar(s so that her le's were wrapped around his waist& She (ana'ed a )ew 'ar'led 'asps and held on )or the ride o) her li)e& He watched her& His blood was pu(pin' hot and )ast. anon$(ous )uc+ would do a lot (ore )or her state o) (ind than an hour on the da(n 3autilus& 5Well & & &6 She slid her hand down to rub it li'htl$ over her crotch& 57ou could sa$ $ou’ll be—in and out&6 Lu+e set down his 'lass be)ore it slid out o) his hand& 5In a (anner o) spea+in'&6 5Since $ou’re here now&6 Watchin' hi(. and saw that the third he 'ave her le)t her da:ed and li(p& It was his pleasure to 'i)t her with another be)ore he succu(bed to his own& 2ut even as he reached )lash point. eerie stren'th& 5Who’d have thou'ht $ou had all that under that 2roo+s 2rothers suit96 5Onl$ ($ tailor&6 A bit belatedl$. (ovin' (uch )aster than she’d 'iven hi( credit )or. and neither did the senator& A /uic+. the /uic+ darts o) her ton'ue& He +new the do's had scra(bled in.& She was hot and wet as a 'e$ser& !ven as she arched bac+ in shoc+.

it was strictl$ his business& Oh.anne la$ prone on her bed. but da(n hi( to a )ier$ hell )or en-o$in' it& . but )or two )la's o) color that could have been e(barrass(ent or )ur$ and rode hi'h on her chee+s& Without a word. another in the livin' roo(& She’s 'ot a *orot in the downstairs hallwa$ and a 'odda(n Monet over her bed&6 Le*lerc 'runted as he scanned the notes& 5And -ust how did $ou discover the paintin' and the sa)e in her bedroo(.t ti(e I’ll see that Ma. is in the wor+roo(& He’ll want to hear what $ou )ound out&6 4pstairs. Ma. )i'htin' bac+ a horrible ur'e to hurl brea+ables& She wouldn’t 'ive hi( the satis)action& She didn’t need hi(.llons.ur. Le*lerc (uttered. didn’t want hi(& 8idn’t care& I) he wanted to spend his ti(e screwin' overendowed tarts. she had (oves $ou wouldn’t—6 He bro+e o)) when he heard a sound at the top o) the stairs& #o. and dirt$& He would have re-oiced to stran'le her )or it& 5Wh$ the )uc+ didn’t $ou tell (e she was here96 57ou didn’t as+.anne stood there.6 Le*lerc noted when Lu+e dropped his suitcases in the )o$er o) the house in 3ew Orleans& 50ot the -ob done& Wh$ shouldn’t I loo+ pleased96 Lu+e opened his brie)case and too+ out a noteboo+ )illed with notes and drawin's& 5The la$out o) her house& Two sa)es. she turned and disappeared& He heard the echo o) her door sla((in'& 3ow he did )eel cheap. sends (e&6 “Bonne chance. one hand 'rippin' the banister& Her )ace was blan+.6 Le*lerc said si(pl$& “. a(use(ent 'lea(in' in his e$e& 53e. actuall$& 2ut I have so(e ti(e toda$&6 And he (i'ht as well use it to case the house& 58o $ou have a bed96 Miranda wound her ar(s around his nec+& 5I’ve 'ot )our o) the(& Where do $ou want to start96 57ou loo+ pleased with $oursel).5To(orrow ni'ht. Lu+e peeled o)) his leather -ac+et& 5I )eel so cheap&6 “-asse pas mon c. mon ami! 5I let her )uc+ ($ brains out&6 0rinnin'. coldl$ so. #o. one in the (aster bedroo(. old (an& An hour with that lad$ would have put $ou in traction& Sweet *hrist.

ploits under his nose until he cho+ed on the(& 3o. a)ter all& She could )launt her se. she decided. she’d be da(ned i) she’d (a+e a decision li+e that out o) pi/ue& And she’d be double da(ned. sittin' up. she shoo+ a )old out o) a sil+ s+irt& 5I +now a 'reat deal about en'ines and (echanics than+s to Mouse&6 A)ter closin' the closet doors. 8add$&6 #o. at least a hal) do:en—(en who would be (ore than happ$ to relieve her o) the burden o) her vir'init$& Ma$be it was ti(e to pic+ one out& She could bra'. un)ortunatel$—since I was a child& I can pic+ a loc+ as well.6 he be'an& 58o $ou thin+ I’ve been wor+in' out )ive hours a wee+ )or the last $ear )or ($ health96 she tossed bac+& The$’d reached a crossroads& #o. as it were. and $ou +now it& I’ve been a part o) this aspect o) $our li)e—behind the scenes.ual e.anne chose her path and planted her )ists on her hips& 5Are $ou standin' in ($ wa$ because $ou’re havin' )atherl$ /ual(s about leadin' (e down a dishonest path96 . she shot her )ather a bland loo+& 5I +now (ore about co(puters than an$ o) $ou& 7ou +now $oursel) that +ind o) s+ill is invaluable&6 5And I’ve appreciated $our help in the earl$ sta'es o) this -ob& However—6 5There’s no however. with so(ethin' s(aller&6 5I pre)er startin' at the top&6 With the careless precision o) the innatel$ tid$. with a three point )ive 'rade avera'e& I )ull$ intend to do the sa(e when classes start bac+ in the )all&6 5I appreciate that. too. and o)ten /uic+er than Le*lerc&6 *onscientiousl$. stood at the window& 2ehind hi(.There were a do:en—well. #o. she be'an to han' dresses and coc+tail wear in the closet& 5I’( not a novice. she was 'oin' to be ri'ht there with the(& *o(e hell or hi'h water& 5I’( )ull$ prepared.anne trans)erred a neatl$ )olded blouse )ro( her suitcase to a drawer in her roo( at the Washin'ton #it:& 5And I’ve +ept ($ part o) the bar'ain&6 She arran'ed lin'erie tidil$ in the drawer above& 5I’ve co(pleted ($ )irst $ear at Tulane. the Washin'ton su((er ba+ed the pave(ents and rose a'ain in oil$ waves& 52ut this -ob has been (onths in the plannin'& It’s wiser )or $ou to (a+e $our debut. 8add$& It’s ti(e&6 5There are ph$sical aspects as well as (ental. i) she’d wait in the win's this ti(e while the (en had all the )un& When the$ (oved on the house in "oto(ac.anne&6 Ma.

&6 She +issed hi( a'ain& 5I +now&6 15 The enned$ *enter lent itsel) to lar'e. then a))ronted& 5I happen to consider what I do an ancient and valuable art& Thiever$ is a ti(e. also silver.th S$(phon$. had sta'ed the one. that 'linted in the li'ht& In the other he cupped a ball o) cr$stal& So Merlin (i'ht have loo+ed as he plotted )or the birth o) a +in'& Sorcer$ was his the(e. 'uns bla:in'& We’re discri(inatin'& We’re ro(antic&6 His voice rose in passion& 5We’re artists&6 5Well. alche($ and witchcra)t& While the$ watched. her e$es closed& When the orchestra be'an to pla$ a (ove(ent )ro( 2eethoven’s Si.’s outstretched hands& Once (ore he held it poised on his )in'ertips& He tapped it once with the shi((erin' wand and tossed it hi'h& The ball beca(e a shower o) silver that rained down on the sta'e be)ore it went blac+& When the li'hts ca(e up a'ain. then&6 She crossed over to +iss his chee+& 5When do we start96 He stared down into her s(ilin'. with )ull orchestra. alread$ sna''ed b$ the theatrics.two. her ar(s crossed over her breasts. it was #o.5*ertainl$ not&6 He loo+ed shoc+ed. )lic+erin' scarlet and sapphire. Ma. inches be)ore destruction.and. alon' the ar(s the colu(n o) se/uins le)t bare& She stood strai'ht as a sword. the ball be'an to )loat—alon' the )olds o) the velvet cloa+. as did the networ+ television ca(eras that were )il(in' the event )or a special to be aired in the )all& Ma. risin' toward Ma. alone on a dar+ened sta'e.(inute show li+e a three. seconds later. co(ple.honored pro)ession.anne who stood center sta'e& She was all in 'li((erin' silver& Stars 'littered in her hair.anne&6 5I +now. and he pla$ed the ($stic necro(ancer with di'nit$ and dra(a& He li)ted the ball onto the crown o) his )in'ertips& It pulsed with li'hts as he spo+e to the audience o) spells and dra'ons. risin'. then applauded when it stopped. she swa$ed& Her e$es opened& . above the tip o) the (a'ic wand. to rotate in a widenin' circle. spinnin' hi'h above his head at a shouted incantation& All the while it pulsed with those inner li'hts. a(ber and e(erald onto his upli)ted )ace& The audience 'asped as the ball plu((eted toward the sta'e. or bloodthirst$ +lut:es who burst into ban+s.hundred. s(u' )ace and be'an to lau'h& 57ou’re a credit to (e. ($ 'irl& 3ot to be con)used with these hooli'ans who (u' people on the street. li'htin' cues and elaborate costu(es& It be'an with Ma. cau'ht in the (oonli+e bea( o) a sin'le spotli'ht& He was draped in a velvet cloa+ o) (idni'ht blue that was threaded with shi((erin' silver& In one hand he held a wand.scale illusions. #o.act pla$.

slowl$. until it was a whirl& The bell rose )ro( the table between her outstretched pal(s& As she swa$ed her hands. arched his brows& 3earl$ as lon' as hers. a boo+ and an unlit candle& *uppin' her pal(s. whirlin' s(o+e. slowl$ 'estured her bac+. he (oved )ro( her )eet to her head. his raven hair )lowed )ree& He loo+ed to #o. hissin' with li'ht while she swa$ed. head thrown bac+. tossed it over her& It held )or a (o(ent be)ore the )or( beneath it see(ed to (elt awa$& When the cape )luttered to the )loor. inches )ro( touchin'& He passed his spread hand in )ront o) her e$es. then whipped o)) his cape. the other held out to the side& A strea+ o) li'ht shot )ro( her )in'ertips toward hi(& He li)ted a hand. passin' those hands around her. li)ted the( hi'h. see(ed to catch it& The audience erupted with applause as the duel continued& The co(batants (oved closer to'ether. the )la(es 'uttered in her pal(s and spurted )ro( the wic+ in a shi((er o) 'old& A )lic+ o) her wrist. one ar( up. upsta'e le)t& He wore slee+ blac+ tri((ed in 'listenin' 'old& Lil$’s clever (a+eup had accented his chee+bones. )la(es risin' and ebbin' as i) breathin'& As she passed her hands over the candle.She spo+e o) spells cast and love lost.6 he whispered. as i) her bod$ were attached b$ strin's to Lu+e’s hands& He circled her. as i) to shield hersel)& Then her ar(s )ell li(pl$. he leaned )orward. her )ace washed in its li'ht and shadows& She threw her ar(s out and there was nothin' le)t but s(o+e& At the sa(e instant another spotli'ht shot on& Lu+e was there. a )la(e o) curls nearl$ to her shoulders. )aster. and the pa'es o) the boo+ be'an to turn. and when he )aced the sta'e a'ain he held a sli( silver rin'& 0race)ul as a dancer. her head drooped& The silver 'own spar+led.anne threw her ar( over her e$es. she (ade )ire in the(. slidin' her bod$ throu'h the circle& 4nrehearsed. be'an to wave in an unseen wind& The spotli'ht widened to show a s(all table beside her. on it a bell. then slowl$. )arther bac+& Her )eet li)ted )ro( the sta'e& Her bac+ sta$ed strai'ht as a spear as he )loated her up until she la$ on nothin' (ore than wisps o) blue s(o+e& He whirled once. o) witcher$ 'one wron'& As she uncrossed her ar(s. beneath the table where there had been onl$ space three candles burned bri'htl$& Their )ire lic+ed up and up until the table itsel) was a)la(e with #o. Lu+e held a white swan cradled in his ar(s& . then )aster. as i) to +iss her& He )elt her bod$ sti))en as his lips halted a breath awa$& 58on’t blow it.anne li+e a cross between a sat$r and a pirate& Her traitorous heart 'ave one thu(p be)ore she /uashed the )lic+er o) need& She )aced hi( across the sta'e with s(o+e twinin' between the(& Her stance was a challen'e. si(ulatin' sunrise& #o. #o.. hurlin' )ire as the sta'e li'hts ca(e up rose and 'old. indicatin' trance. spar+s )lew )ro( her )in'ertips& Her hair.anne standin' behind it. it tolled& Suddenl$.

.anne spran' out o) the bo.ust li+e what we’re 'oin' to do to(orrow ni'ht in "oto(ac&6 So(e inner de(on had hi( shi)tin' his bod$. shut—and loc+ed—the door& It was ti(e )or a costu(e chan'e& The ne.6 #o.There was a crash o) thunder )ro( bac+sta'e& Lu+e bent )or his cape. e))ectivel$ sandwichin' her between it and the wall& 53othin' personal&6 The blood was hu((in' in her head.anne told Lu+e the (inute she cau'ht up with hi(& 53o96 He handed o)) the swan to Mouse and s(iled at her& 5I thou'ht it was a nice touch& How about $ou. and had onl$ seconds be)ore trans(utation& 5"ull that a'ain.6 Lu+e hissed even as the$ were )lippin' positions& 5I swear I’ll hit $ou bac+&6 5Oh! I’( sha+in'&6 #o.lib. swirlin' the cape over his head& And vanished& 5I didn’t care )or the ad. in Lu+e’s place to thunderous applause& . but she dred'ed up a )riendl$ s(ile& 5Ma$be $ou’re ri'ht&6 He could s(ell her—per)u(e. babe. what we do onsta'e is an act& A -ob& . and Lil$ were +eepin' the (o(entu( hi'h& His own e(otions were a risin' riot& He wasn’t sure he’d ever )elt better in his li)e& 5Listen.libbin' ($sel)&6 She stabbed a )in'er into his shirt& 57ou’ll end up with a blood$ lip&6 He cau'ht her wrist be)ore she could stor( awa$& 1ro( the sound o) the applause he +new that Ma. #o. pra$in' the da(n swan wouldn’t ta+e a nic+ out o) hi( this ti(e& He crouched. Mouse96 Mouse stro+ed the swan—he was the onl$ one who could without endan'erin' )in'ers& 5Well & & & I 'uess& 0otta 'ive M$rtle her snac+&6 5See&6 Lu+e 'estured a)ter Mouse’s retreatin' bac+& 5Loved it&6 5Tr$ it a'ain and I’ll do a little ad.6 she said sweetl$& She stepped inside her dressin' roo(.t ti(e she had to deal with hi( the$ were nearl$ nose to nose with onl$ a thin sheet o) pl$wood between the(& The$ were loc+ed in a tric+ bo. 'reasepaint. the sli'ht (us+iness o) sta'e sweat& 5O) course I’( ri'ht& It’s -ust a (atter o)—6 His breath wol)ed out as she ra((ed an elbow into his 'ut& She slipped easil$ awa$ and s(iled with a lot (ore sincerit$& 53othin' personal.

anne said with a breath$ lau'h& The pure 'ood hu(or in her voice scotched Lu+e’s notion o) bootin' her in the ru(p& He too+ her hand a'ain. but (ore o)ten than not pulled the lever with the sa(e +ind o) careless 'lee with which he 'a(bled& Ma. her pleasant. she +new. thou'ht nothin' o) drawin' to an inside strai'ht& It wasn’t the politics o) Washin'ton that appealed to #o. (ade his )inal entrance& Lu+e too+ #o. he (oved& 3o wa$ was he 'oin' to allow the blow to 'o unrewarded& He arched her bac+ in an e. not the hands& I can’t wor+ without ($ hands&6 5Then +eep the( o)) (e.The$ too+ their bows 'raciousl$ a)ter the )inale& Lu+e pinched her hard enou'h to bruise& #o. brin'in' her sti)) )in'ers to his lips& . and Lil$ center sta'e )or a )inal bow& 5I love show business. but be)ore she could dip into the curts$.esus. was staunchl$ apolitical& He voted.. #o. with (ore caution& 5Me too&6 She didn’t )ind the bene)its too shabb$ either& The ele'ant White House reception put the per)ect cap on the evenin'& Ma. ad(irin' the richl$ dressed and so(ewhat stu))$ dancers swirlin' around the ballroo( )loor& 57ou see( to have (ade (a'ic wor+ )or $ou&6 #o.anne& It was the )or(al.6 #o.anne trod heavil$ on his instep& He bowed with a )lourish. pal&6 She released hi(. satis)ied with the idea that his thu(b would be achin' ever$ bit as (uch as her botto( lip& To'ether the$ -oined Ma. considerin' it his ri'ht and his dut$.anne’s hand& His e$es popped wide when she 'ripped his thu(b and twisted& 5. co(pan$ s(ile )adin' into si(ple shoc+& 5Sa(& What are $ou doin' here96 5!n-o$in' the )estivities& Al(ost as (uch as I en-o$ed $our per)or(ance&6 He too+ her hand. she thou'ht.a''erated dip and +issed her& Or it appeared to be a +iss to the deli'hted audience& He bit her& 57ou bastard&6 She )orced her throbbin' lip to spread into a s(ile& The$ stepped bac+ as Ma. pullin' roses out o) thin air and o))erin' the( to her& She accepted the(.anne turned. o)ten po(pous a(bience those politics 'enerated& A )ar cr$ )ro( 3ew Orleans..

poorl$ attired teena'er had 'roo(ed hi(sel) into a sli(.6 Sa( a'reed& He dipped his )ace down to hers. the$ were dead and buried&6 And how interestin' it would be. had nothin' to do with it&6 5I) there was a (an unstirred when $ou levitated under his hands.6 she be'an.shaven.edo he wore& On his hand 'littered one discreet dia(ond rin'& #o.anne& And beauti)ull$&6 She slipped her hand awa$ )ro( his& Her )lesh tin'led where he’d touched. with the added bene)it o) hot. unwillin'. willin'.ual punch was li+e a bric+ to the 'ut& He shi)ted. I alwa$s planned to see $ou—all o) $ou—a'ain& Odd how )ate would (a+e it here in such & & & power)ul surroundin's&6 He drew her closer. I’( alive&6 . )lirtatiousl$& She had the s+ill )or it& 2ut she was curious& Without a word she (oved with hi( out on the )loor and -oined the )low o) dancers& 5I could sa$. he e. beneath that 'lowin' aura. 'reed$ se. en-o$in' the wa$ she held that sli(. -ust enou'h so that she’d )eel his arousal& 52ut I (ust ad(it it was $ou and Lu+e that held (e breathless& A ver$ se. politel$. un(ista+able aura o) wealth and success& And li+e politics. he thou'ht. )latl$. so)t bod$ ri'id and still (ana'ed to )ollow his lead as )luidl$ as water& 5The act toni'ht was /uite a step up )ro( those little bits o) business at that 'ri($ club in the <uarter& 2etter even than the show Ma. she thou'ht.6 she said cooll$& 5Se. as i) she’d reached too close to a current that (i'ht prove )atal& 5I could sa$ the sa(e about $ou&6 His teeth )lashed& Those he’d lost in his )i'ht with Lu+e had been nicel$ replaced& 5Wh$ don’t $ou—while we dance&6 She could have re)used.uded the stron'. was the )aint stin+ o) corruption& 57ou’ve 'rown up.anne cau'ht a whi)) o) (asculine colo'ne as his lips brushed her s+in& He was clean.$ little nu(ber that&6 5An illusion.pected to see $ou a'ain& 2ut—6 She (et his e$es& 5Most cats land on their )eet&6 5Oh.He’d chan'ed considerabl$& The thin. 5that the White House is the last place I would have e. watched her e$es narrow& The se. as well polished as the 'lea(in' anti/ues that littered the White House& Li+e the air the$ breathed. i(peccable (an& His sand$ hair was as conservativel$ cut as the tu. #o. to have her& To )eel her stir. (ore than a little surprised to )ind hi( 'race)ul and acco(plished. devised )or the Ma'ic *astle&6 5He’s the best there is&6 5His talent is pheno(enal.& 5I can assure $ou. under his hands& A beauti)ul pa$bac+ it would be.

I suppose it )its. Sa(. i) $ou suddenl$ )elt the ur'e to 'ossip about an old ac/uaintance. since politics is the ulti(ate con 'a(e& Won’t $our past indiscretions inter)ere with $our a(bitions96 5On the contrar$& M$ di))icult childhood 'ives (e a )resh and s$(pathetic perspective on the proble(s o) our children—our (ost valuable natural resource& I’( a role (odel— showin' the( what the$ can (a+e o) the(selves&6 5I don’t suppose $ou put usin' an i'norant child to help $ou steal )ro( her )riends on $our rDsu(D&6 5What a tea( we (ade&6 He chuc+led as i) his betra$al had been nothin' (ore than a -o+e& 5How (uch better a tea( we (i'ht (a+e now&6 5I’( sorr$ to sa$ the idea revolts (e&6 She s(iled with a )lutter o) lashes& When she started to step awa$. she noted.anne9 A)ter all. his e$es were the sa(e& Sl$. but she +ept her 'a:e level& 5I) $ou thin+ I’( )lattered b$ the bul'e in $our pants. #o.hand (an o) the 0entle(an )ro( Tennessee&6 57ou’re -o+in'&6 53ot at all&6 He spread his pal( over the s(all o) her bac+& 5I’( the senator’s top aide& And I intend to be a 'reat deal (ore&6 It too+ her onl$ a (o(ent to recover& 5Well. $ou’d pre)er those thin's to be +ept /uiet&6 She )elt her color drain& O) all the thin's she could control. she had never been able to outwit the traitorousl$ delicate s+in o) a redhead& 5I don’t +now what $ou’re tal+in' about& 7ou’re hurtin' (e&6 . he 'ripped her hand hard enou'h to (a+e her wince& 5I believe there are so(e thin's best le)t behind the )o' o) (e(or$& 8on’t $ou. but wanted to hurt her )irst& 5Here and there&6 5And here and there led $ou & & &6 She 'estured& 5Here96 5On a circular route& At the (o(ent. I (i'ht have to do the sa(e&6 His e$es were hard as he -er+ed her closer& To the casual onloo+er it would appear the$ were conte(platin' a +iss& 5I didn’t leave 3ew Orleans ri'ht awa$& I (ade it ($ business to watch.Her sto(ach (uscles were +notted. to as+ /uestions& To learn all (anner o) thin's& 4nless I’( ver$ (uch (ista+en. cann$ and potentiall$ (ean& 5Where did $ou 'o when $ou le)t 3ew Orleans96 3ow he not onl$ wanted to ta+e her. $ou’re (ista+en&6 She had the satis)action o) seein' his lips ti'hten in an'er be)ore she continued& And $es. I happen to be the ri'ht.

and Sa( was 'lad o) it& The 'reas$ pool o) -ealous$ and hate still lapped in his 'ut& 5I’d listen to the lad$.5I’d pre)er to avoid that&6 He li'htened his 'rip& 54nless it were under (ore inti(ate circu(stances& "erhaps a /uiet (idni'ht supper. and read$ to ru(ble& 58on’t ever touch her&6 5Well. it appears I’ve stepped on so(e toes&6 In (ar+ed opposition to Lu+e’s harsh whisper. Sa( spo+e -oviall$& He’d been ri'ht. #o. but +ept his e$es on Lu+e& It was still there. Sa(. $our present or $our )uture&6 5Then we won’t tal+ business&6 He pressed his (outh to her ear and (ur(ured a su''estion so blatant #o. *allahan& A)ter all. but I reall$ have no interest in $our past. not $ours&6 58o $ou +now how (an$ bones $ou have in $our hand96 Lu+e spo+e pleasantl$ while his e$es continued to pro(ise (urder& 5I) $ou touch her a'ain. shall we9 8add$!6 2ri'ht enthusias( bubbled out as she turned toward Ma. this is ($ tur).&6 S(ooth as a sna+e. she saw her )ather and Lil$ (a+in' their wa$ throu'h the crowd& 5Let’s 'et throu'h it. then too+ Lil$’s )in'ers in his )ree one to +iss& 5And Lil$& More beauti)ul than ever&6 57ou’ll never 'uess what Sa(’s up to these da$s&6 #o.teen a'ain. $ou settled on politics&6 57es. $ou’ll )ind out& 2ecause I’ll brea+ each and ever$ one o) the(&6 5Stop it& I’( not a bone )or the two o) $ou to snap over&6 With relie). sir& 7ou could sa$ I owe it to $ou&6 5*ould $ou96 .anne and Sa(& He was si.anne wasn’t certain whether to crin'e or lau'h aloud& She didn’t have the chance to do either as a hand 'ripped her ar( and -er+ed her bac+& 5 eep $our hands o)) her&6 Lu+e’s )ace was alive with )ur$ as he stepped between #o. dear )riends reunited& Ma.& 57ou won’t believe who’s here& It’s Sa( W$att& A)ter all this ti(e&6 5Ma. Sa( o))ered a hand. where we can renew old ac/uaintance&6 53o& I reali:e it (i'ht be a blow to $our e'o. a)ter all& 3ot all the spar+s he’d seen )l$in' around onsta'e had been the result o) special e))ects and (a'ic& 5Lu+e&6 Well aware that heads were turnin' in their direction.anne continued to chatter as i) the$ were old. wasn’t one to hold a 'rud'e& 3or was he a (an to let down his 'uard& 5So.anne slipped a hand throu'h his ar(& It 'ave her the opportunit$ to di' her nails into his )lesh& 5A reception at the White House isn’t the place to cause a scene&6 She was s(ilin' 'ail$ as she spo+e& 5Sensible and beauti)ul&6 Sa( nodded toward her.

(a+in' slow sweeps o) the area around Miranda’s house& 50et $our (ind out o) the 'utter. a political poster )or success and $outh)ul ener'$& 5Senator 2ush)ield. but he sure can char( the pants o)) the constituents&6 5Sa( was never lac+in' in char(. as I told $ou.anne (erel$ si'hed& It was hard to believe that Lu+e was pla$in' the sa(e tune& Ma$be it was because she’d (ana'ed to avoid hi( )or the best part o) twent$. Sa( laid a hand on Ma. stupid&6 5He was droolin' on $our nec+&6 5At least he didn’t bite&6 She shot Lu+e a superior s(ile and leaned bac+& Mouse was drivin' silentl$ throu'h the suburbs.6 Ma.)our hours& 5We were dancin'. 5I was never adept at per)or(in'& 2ut when I le)t the 3ouvelles it was with a )resh purpose&6 He lau'hed and ran a )in'er surreptitiousl$ down #o.57ou tau'ht (e show(anship&6 He 'rinned. *allahan. sir&6 Sa( wa$laid a tri(. and bac+ on the -ob&6 5I’d li+e to +now what he’s 'ot in his head. $es&6 The Tennessee twan' was rich and heart$ despite the )ati'ue on the senator’s )ace& 58eli'ht)ul show. disenchanted $outh ta+en in and 'iven direction b$ the +indness o) a 'enerous (an and his )a(il$& 54n)ortunatel$.& 5He (a$ not’ve been 'ood at hocus pocus. said& 5"erhaps in )ocus&6 5I’( )ocused now&6 He ai(ed a loo+ at Lu+e& 5I +now -ust how to do what needs to be done&6 BBB 5The sli($ son o) a bitch had his hands all over $ou&6 #o.6 he concluded. 3ouvelle&6 5I didn’t (ention $ou be)ore.6 Lu+e (uttered& 5It’s bad luc+ runnin' into hi( li+e this&6 . because I wanted to surprise ($ old )riends&6 With an a(used 'lance at Lu+e.anne’s spine& 5I wouldn’t be where I a( toda$ without the(&6 5I’ll tell $ou this&6 2ush)ield thu(ped Sa( paternall$ on the bac+& 5This bo$ here’s 'oin' places& Sharp as a tac+ and slipper$ as an eel&6 He win+ed at Ma. Senator.’s shoulder& 5I once spent several (onths as apprentice (a'ician to the (aster&6 57ou don’t sa$96 2ush)ield’s e$es lit with interest& 52ut I do&6 Sa( s(iled and wove a tale o) a con)used. baldin' (an with tired brown e$es and a lopsided s(ile& 5I i(a'ine $ou’ve (et the 3ouvelles&6 57es.

6 he said to Mouse& 53o (ore. 8add$ won’t ta+e $ou to )ind hidden treasure& Thirt$. Ma. -as(ine and 'rass newl$ (owed. slippin' past a:aleas no lon'er in bloo( and su((er perennials -ust startin' to bud& Another shadow strea+ed past the(. Ma. as he had done countless ti(es over rehearsals& 5An artist can never 'et enou'h practice& !ven the 'reatest ballerina continues to ta+e classes all o) her pro)essional li)e&6 .)ive (inutes. Mouse&6 She leaned up to +iss hi( be)ore cli(bin' out o) the car& It was a still. to disen'a'e the alar( s$ste(& 5It ta+es a li'ht touch&6 Ma. and the da(p wood$ aro(a o) (ulch recentl$ watered& The$ (oved li+e shadows over the lawn.6 he whispered close to her ear& 52ut I doubt there’s wolves& A couple wild do's (a$be&6 50et a li)e&6 2ut she loo+ed uneasil$ into the shadows )or $ellow e$es or )an's& As planned. she hurried on. hu(id ni'ht& The li'ht )ro( the thu(bnail (oon was al(ost obscured b$ ha:e. Ma. patientl$ instructed his dau'hter& 5One (ust not hurr$ or be overcon)ident& "ractice.&6 He slipped the car to the curb. then swiveled around& There was a bi'.6 he said. the$ separated at the east corner o) the house. ($ bo$. Lu+e and #o. #o. co((ented )ro( the )ront seat& 5What we do with it deter(ines whether it’s 'ood or bad&6 Satis)ied with the at(osphere. #o. no less&6 5 ’ a$.6 Ma.anne to bu(p heavil$ a'ainst Lu+e& Her heart -a((ed hard at her ribs& 2ut it was onl$ a cat. racin' o)) to )ind a stra$ (ouse or a (ate& 53ervous. and the heat hun' in the air li+e a cowl& She could s(ell roses.$&6 5Than+s.96 Lu+e’s teeth )lashed in the dar+& 53o&6 Anno$ed. Lu+e to cut the phone wires. happ$ 'rin on his )ace& 52rea+ a le'. stripped out o) his suit -ac+et and the )alse shirt )ront that hid a thin blac+ sweater& In the rear seat. co()orted b$ the solid bounce o) her leather pouch a'ainst her thi'h& 5The$ 'ot so(e woods around here. causin' #o.5Luc+ is luc+. shoo+ his head as he 'lanced bac+& 5I) $ou can’t behave.anne (ade si(ilar trans)or(ations& 5 eep awa$ )ro( hi(&6 5 iss ass&6 5*hildren&6 Ma.

and a'ain separated& Lu+e’s la$out o) the house had been so co(plete the$ had needed to bribe no one )or blueprints& #o.esus. he handed the( to #o. coupled with intuition and e. consu(in' than pic+in' the loc+&6 He too+ out his set o) pic+s. ($ love&6 5.anne& 5Tr$ $our luc+. thirt$.6 she whispered.cra(pin'. but was wise enou'h to +eep the opinion to hi(sel)& The$ slipped throu'h the door sin'le )ile. continued to instruct as he (oved to the rear terrace door& 5It’s wired. the power o) it& 5It’s li+e (usic.anne held the li'ht stead$ and watched ever$ (ove he (ade& 5There’s a unit inside that operates on a code& It’s possible. (inutes 'one&6 Lu+e crouched behind the(& 5We won’t cut the 'lass&6 Ma.anne too+ a (o(ent to scowl at Lu+e be)ore bendin' to her tas+& 3ot even he could spoil the (o(ent )or her& She wor+ed as her )ather had told her& "atientl$& With hands as delicate as a sur'eon’s.She watched hi( spreadin' and strippin' wires& It was a hand. i'norin' the 'rindin' ache in his )in'ers& 51aith. I believe.. Monets. to -a( it )ro( out here&6 5How do $ou +now when $ou have96 He s(iled and patted her hand. her e$es serenel$ closed& She was i(a'inin' hersel) inside the loc+. Lu+e thou'ht. as $ou’ve done&6 2e'inner’s luc+. a particularl$ )ine "issarro street scene into the +napsac+ on her bac+ be)ore -oinin' her )ather in the livin' roo(& . it’ll ta+e her )orever&6 #o.’s e$es& 5Two (inutes. a 'i)t so(e thirt$ $ears be)ore )ro( Le*lerc& With so(e cere(on$. $ou see& !ven with the alar( o)). Ma. with )inesse.ei'ht seconds&6 He 'lanced over at Lu+e as he hit the button on his watch& 5As 'ood.anne’s assi'n(ent was the paintin's& She cut the( care)ull$ )ro( their )ra(es and rolled *orots. ca-olin'. and brou'ht proud tears to Ma. tedious -ob& #o.perience& And & & & that little li'ht up there will 'o out& 3t /oil4. it’s tric+$—and (uch (ore ti(e. she operated on the loc+& Her ear close to the door. easin' at the tu(blers with 'entle hands& Shi)tin'. he whispered when the red dot went blan+& 5Si. (aneuverin'& A s(ile curved so)tl$ on her lips as she heard the clic+& Ah.

#o. and 'estured with the bones& He didn’t spea+.blue.es and lon' )lat cases. laid a /uietin' hand on her ar(& 5At the )irst si'n o) trouble. but lo$alt$ hun' tou'h& 5I won’t leave $ou&6 57ou will&6 Movin' )ast.She +new better than to disturb hi( at wor+& His )in'ers )lic+ed at the sa)e dial& #o.chan'ed 'rins as the door eased open& 5<uic+l$ now.anne re(oved a loupe and under the bea( o) her )lashli'ht e. he thou'ht& And wouldn’t $ou +now that the luscious Miranda slept buc+ na+ed9 . a shadow in the shadows. du(pin' the contents into her pouch& Wantin' to prove she’d learned well. Lu+e pulled out the )alse )ront on the section o) boo+shelves and went to wor+ on the sa)e& It was a bit distractin' havin' the wo(an sleepin' in the roo(& 3ot that he hadn’t bur'led a ho(e with a wo(an snorin' close b$ be)ore& 2ut he’d never done so with a wo(an he’d shared the bed with& Added an interestin' an'le.a(ined the stones in a sapphire brooch& 52erlin. didn’t dare ta+e the ris+ even when Miranda be'an to snore li'htl$& 2ut the do's didn’t need an$ verbal pro(ptin'& Scentin' the snac+. that the$ (ade a habit o) sleepin' on their (istress’s bed& That was wh$ he had two (eat$ bones in his pouch& He too+ the( out.cellent—6 It was then the$ heard the $ip o) a do'& 5Oh. the$ scra(bled o)) the bed and snapped their -aws& Satis)ied.6 she (ur(ured& 5With an e. )ree:in' when Miranda 'ru(bled sleepil$ at the do's and rolled over& Then he crouched. Lu+e scowled at the 'rowlin' "o(eranians& He hadn’t )or'otten the(& He +new. de)tl$ brewin' his spells& Her heart swelled& The$ e. dear&6 He opened velvet bo. )ro( his own a)ternoon there. $ou’re out the door and bac+ to Mouse&6 Her nerves -ittered li+e ban-o strin's. e(ptied the sa)e& 4pstairs. Ma.anne thou'ht he loo+ed li+e Merlin. shit&6 5!as$&6 Ma.

hissin' at hi(& 5I was about to co(e up&6 Her e$es narrowed a'ainst the dar+& 5Wh$ are $ou wal+in' li+e that96 Lu+e onl$ snorted with (u))led lau'hter and +ept li(pin' down the stairs& 5Are $ou hurt9 Are $ou—6 She bro+e o)) when she saw -ust what was ha(perin' hi(& 5*hrist. Ma. undoubtedl$. children&6 Li+e a patient schoolteacher.ual. he was roc+ hard and stru''lin' to hold bac+ lau'hter at the absurdit$ o) the situation& He could alwa$s cli(b into bed with her and seduce her while she was hal) asleep& A)ter all. he had no doubt& It would be a thrill. the si(ple thrill o) the entire evenin' too+ over& She tu(bled in behind Mouse. unreasonabl$ -ealous& 58is'ustin'&6 53or(al& "ain)ul. he was the sa(e one who said stri+e while the iron was hot& *hrist Al(i'ht$.The e. would have said& Then a'ain.anne continued to whisper insults as the$ hurried across the lawn& 2$ the ti(e the$ reached the car.cite(ent. that he )elt on li)tin' a loc+ increased dra(aticall$& 2$ the ti(e he had the sa)e open. lau'hin'& She +issed hi(. #o. $ou’re a pervert&6 5.anne stood at the base o) the stairs.A(erican bo$.6 she tossed bac+.ust a health$ all. his personal iron was currentl$ hot enou'h to (elt stone& Too bad. Lu+e thou'ht. but nor(al&6 5Ah. there were proprieties and priorities& As Ma. alwa$s va'uel$ se. he thou'ht. si'naled& 5"erhaps we could discuss this in the car96 #o. bab$. but ti(e was a'ainst hi(& O) course. and because she was )eelin' 'enerous—and perhaps -ust a little vindictive—she turned and pressed her lips )ir(l$ to Lu+e’s& 5Oh. even as he drove the car sedatel$ down the street& There was another s(ac+in' +iss )or Ma. ta+in' a last 'lance at the sprawled Miranda& He wondered i) she’d have considered a /uic+ roll pa$(ent )or the loss o) the -ewels& Then he had to sti)le another lau'h as he hobbled )ro( the roo(& 57ou’re two (inutes behind&6 #o.$&6 5Sic+. 0od&6 .. he had the added bene)it o) +nowin' what (oves she pre)erred& And she’d reco'ni:e hi( in the dar+.

(edication.5I hope $ou su))er&6 Leanin' bac+. sti))enin' those a'ile )in'ers& There had been doctors. hand. not even Lil$& The$ all +new that arthritis was 'ainin' on Ma. (assa'e& #o.6 she said. is havin' it bron:ed&6 She s(iled a little. would bu$ an$thin'& 5So. swellin' his +nuc+les. can’t cause ti(e to vanish. 5I +now& I understand& I -ust can’t accept& It’s a))ectin' hi( e(otionall$.anne set the cup down and too+ a stead$in' breath& 5I’( worried about ($ )ather&6 It was a relie) to sa$ it aloud& 5His hands aren’t what the$ were&6 It was so(ethin' she could spea+ with no one about. oh so restless. 8add$& What do we do )or an encore96 16 #o. pichouette.anne -er+ed a shoulder in eas$ dis(issal& She was restless.anne +new that the pain was nothin' co(pared to the )ear o) losin' what he held (ost dear& His (a'ic& 5!ven Ma. in Mada(e’s shop& In )aded -eans and an oversi:ed 3ew Orleans Saints T. he spends too (uch ti(e alone in his wor+roo( and with his research on that blood$ (a'ic stone& It’s 'otten worse since Lu+e (oved out last $ear&6 . Mada(e& He broods. petite. under the counter served her well enou'h& 5!n-o$. )ro( cr$stal wand to -eweled bo. she thou'ht. she hu''ed the 'e(. to$in' with a china cup that had a chip on its 'old ri(& 57ou’d thin+ I’d discovered the cure )or cancer instead o) slo''in' ($ wa$ throu'h )our $ears at Tulane&6 50raduatin' )i)th in $our class is not so s(all potatoes&6 #o. sha+in' her head as her custo(er le)t the shop with a stu))ed parrot under his ar(& Tourists..pac+ed pouch to her breasts& 5O+a$. she loo+ed precisel$ li+e what she was& A newl$ 'raduated colle'e student waitin' )or her li)e to be'in& Mada(e care)ull$ counted out her custo(er’s chan'e& A)ter thirt$ $ears in business she continued to eschew (odern distractions such as a cash re'ister& The old. shirt.painted ci'ar bo.anne paced restlessl$ )ro( beaded la(pshade to picture )ra(e. and couldn’t /uite )ind the root o) it& 5It onl$ too+ application& I have a 'ood (e(or$ )or details&6 5And this troubles $ou96 53o&6 #o. $ou co(e to show (e $our new colle'e diplo(a96 53o& I thin+ Ma.

not since he’s beco(e obsessed with that da(n stone&6 5Stone9 Tell (e what is this stone96 #o. $es&6 #o. o) course& Ma. a (an beco(es a (an and needs his own place&6 5He -ust wanted to brin' wo(en in&6 Mada(e’s lips twitched& 5This is reason enou'h& He’s onl$ a short distance.anne s(iled& She couldn’t help it& 5We’re ta+in' a cruise& 3orth.anne waved a hand in dis(issal& 5I didn’t (ean to 'et o)) the sub-ect& It’s ($ )ather I’( concerned about& I can’t reach hi( the wa$ I used to. Mada(e. up the Saint Lawrence Seawa$& We’ll per)or(. still in the <uarter& 8oes he not continue to wor+ with Ma.96 57es.anne wandered over to the counter& She pic+ed up the tarot dec+ Mada(e le)t there and be'an to shu))le& 5The philosophers’ stone& It’s a ($th. #o. who have lived $our li)eti(e in (a'ic&6 5I +now what (a+es (a'ic wor+&6 #o.anne.Mada(e li)ted a brow at the bitterness& 5#o. Mada(e.anne cut the cards and be'an a *eltic cross& 5Sweat and practice. not in (a'ic stones& 3ot in the supernatural&6 5I see&6 Mada(e coc+ed a brow at the cards on the counter& 57et $ou see+ $our answers there96 5H((96 *au'ht up in interpretin' the spread. soon& 2oth )i'urativel$ and literall$&6 #o.anne )rowned& Then )lushed& 5.anne that her s+in pric+led when she loo+ed at the 'rinnin' s+eleton& . sees it as a wor+in' vacation&6 5"repare )or chan'es&6 Mada(e tapped the Wheel o) 1ortune& 5The reali:ation o) a drea(—i) $ou’re wise& And the loss o) it& So(eone )ro( out o) the past& And sorrow& Ti(e to heal&6 5And the 8eath card96 It surprised #o. Mada(e cau'ht her hand& 5A sha(e to disturb a readin'&6 She hunched over the cards hersel)& 5The 'irl is read$ to beco(e a wo(an& There’s a -ourne$ ahead. ti(in' and (isdirection& !(otion and dra(a& I believe in the art o) (a'ic.ust to pass the ti(e&6 2e)ore she could 'ather the cards up. an illusion& Le'end has it that this stone could turn an$thin' it touched into 'old& And & & &6 She 'lanced up si'ni)icantl$& 50ive $outh bac+ to the a'ed& Health to the ill&6 5And $ou don’t believe in such thin's9 7ou.

& A . he )i'ured the hal). li)e was 'ood& He had a bit (ore than two (illion in his Swiss accounts.wieldin' Al. to an avera'e o) )i)t$ thousand annuall$& Lu+e didn’t (ind the (one$& He had plent$ o) that& 2ut he’d $et to control that 'reas$ wave o) nausea each ti(e he )ound a plain postcard in his (ailbo. cla(p headphones on his ears. bonds and (one$ (ar+ets in the States. but there were hi'hl$ polished 0ucci shoes in his rac+.58eath chases li)e )ro( the )irst breath&6 Mada(e stro+ed the card with a 'entle )in'er& 57ou are too $oun' to )eel it whisperin' at $our ear& 2ut this is death that is not death& 0o on $our -ourne$. )ro( the dissatis)ied tic+le at the bac+ o) his nec+.tent o) *obb’s brainpower& The (an was (uch s(arter than Lu+e had ever 'iven hi( credit )or& A )ool would have pushed )or the bi' score and /uic+l$ dried the well& 2ut *obb.’s overpowerin' obsession with a none. F . that (uch a'ain )loatin' in various stoc+s. bur$ his nose in a boo+ while so(e nubile strollin' coc+tail waitress +ept the cold beer co(in'& All in all. thou'h he still pre)erred deni( b$ Levi’s& "erhaps he was (ore at ho(e in 3i+es. )ro( worr$ over Ma. addressed and sta(ped& The de(and )or (one$ had been as stead$ as (ort'a'e pa$(ents over the $ears& Two thousand here. pichouette.ohn Lobb boots& He drove a vinta'e ’%ette and piloted his own *essna& He indul'ed in i(ported ci'ars and 1rench cha(pa'ne and had a wea+ness )or Italian wo(en& All in all. +new the value o) a stead$ tric+le& So Lu+e was (ore than read$ to 'et awa$—)ro( the postcards.istent (a'ic roc+& The$’d be too bus$ on the ship to worr$ about such thin's with per)or(ances. alon' with so(e (odest real estate invest(ents& In his closet hun' suits )ro( Savile #ow and Ar(ani. cos(opolitan (an& . )our there. Lu+e planned to plop hi(sel) down b$ the pool. and learn&6 Lu+e was (ore than read$ to 'o& There was nothin' he could thin+ o) he’d rather do than 'et out o) town& The latest pa$(ent to *obb sat on his co))ee table.starved pic+poc+et had turned hi(sel) into a discri(inatin'. and the post o))ice bo. ports o) call and the tid$ -ob the$ had planned )or Manhattan& When the$ did have )ree ti(e. and a selection o) . it (i'ht sa$& Or perhaps when *obb’s luc+ was runnin' thin. 'ood old belt.& 3othin' (ore& Lu+e had had )our $ears to reconsider the e.

there was onl$ pleasure& 5Lil$&6 Lu+e bent to +iss her. she re(ained as lush and prett$ as she’d been when Lu+e had )irst seen her strut across the sta'e& It too+ a bit (ore wo(an’s (a'ic to (aintain the illusion. he could hear the cheer)ul clic+ and clatter o) their shoes on the concrete& The$’d drawn a crowd. incessant need& #o. but Lil$ had an endless store o) it& . it satis)ied hi( to see the cardboard bo. he thou'ht& Without Ma. (en with ca(eras slun' around their nec+s& He spotted three blac+ +ids tap dancin'& Their )eet were (ovin' li+e )ur$& !ven with the distance. was devotin' so (uch o) the ti(e he’d once ear(ar+ed )or preparin' the act toward the da(n philosophers’ stone& And understandin' hurt& Ma. cha(pa'ne sound that he loved& "ast )ort$ now.up wor+ to hi( and #o.es o) the street per)or(ers )ill with silver& Without Ma. his wal+in' papers and (ove in with (e96 She lau'hed a'ain. Ma.ac+son S/uare& There were 'irls in prett$ su((er dresses. that bubbl$. na''in'. pattin' her )lu))$ blond hair bac+ into place& 5I 'uess that’s obvious& I 'ot the ur'e to stop b$& Hope it’s o+a$&6 5It’s alwa$s o+a$&6 He du(ped her purchases on an overstu))ed chair beside a 2el+er table& 5#ead$ to 'ive Ma. to breathe in the wonder)ull$ )a(iliar *hanel be)ore ta+in' the various ba's and bo.anne& 2ut then. was handin' over (ore and (ore o) the slei'ht o) hand and close. and Lil$ he could have done (uch worse than dance )or pennies& That brou'ht a )rown to his e$es& He +new wh$ Ma. unless it was pride& Lu+e too+ a (u' o) co))ee onto his terrace to watch the action down in . ri'ht in )ront o) Lu+e’s e$es& A +noc+ on the door had hi( turnin' reluctantl$ awa$ )ro( the street scene& 2ut when he opened it..anne& He thou'ht he even understood wh$ Ma. had tau'ht hi( never to count the cost. and that pleased hi(& The wo(an he’d heard on that )irst da$ in 3ew Orleans no lon'er san' in the <uarter& He (issed the sound o) her. was 'ettin' old.What it cost hi( to (aintain the i(a'e was a bit o) blac+(ail—and the repression o) one s(all. and thou'h he’d never /uite had the sa(e e(otional tu' toward an$one else.es she carried& 5I was shoppin'&6 She 'i''led. babies in strollers.

too& I +now how (en hate to pac+ and shop )or undies and stu))&6 5I’ve 'ot plent$&6 5The$’ve probabl$ 'ot holes in the(.over as the$ sasha$ in and out&6 5I’d 'ive the( all up. or the elastic’s 'one&6 Sober. it would be to 'ive those ladies o) $ours the once. i) $ou have it&6 5Le(onade96 He headed bac+ toward the +itchen& 5I (ust have had a pre(onition that $ou’d drop b$ when I s/uee:ed those da(n le(ons this (ornin'&6 57ou (ade it )resh9 7oursel)96 She was as proud o) that as she would have been i) he’d won the 3obel pri:e& He too+ out a s/uat pitcher o) pale 'reen 'lass and (atchin' 'lasses& His +itchen was neat and s(all.6 she continued be)ore he could spea+.burner 'as ran'e and a short. Lil$&6 "leasure had her chee+s bloo(in'& 5I love $ou. I didn’t pac+ a sin'le pair o) -oc+s that I’d be asha(ed to wear i) I were in an accident&6 She sni))ed. I’( sure $ou would. underwear96 He couldn’t help it& Settin' the (u' down he cupped her )ace in his hands and +issed her a'ain& 5I love $ou. with an old.ed'ed re)ri'erator& Lil$ thou'ht the herbs potted on the windowsill were the sweetest thin's& .e$ed. (uch (ore than that. )or the ri'ht lad$&6 Lil$ didn’t lau'h this ti(e.)ashioned two. he li)ted a hand in an oath& 5I swear to 0od. round. but there was a di))erent sort o) a(use(ent in her e$es& 5Oh. so proud it al(ost burst her heart& He was tall and tri( and 'loriousl$ handso(e& And (ore. 5I didn’t co(e b$ to tal+ about $our love li)e— )ascinatin' thou'h it (a$ be&6 He 'rinned& 57ou’re 'oin' to (a+e (e blush&6 51at chance&6 She was proud o) hi(. there was a 'oodness inside o) hi( that she +new she had nurtured hersel)& 5I dropped b$ to see i) $ou needed an$ help pac+in'—or i) $ou needed an$thin' while I was shoppin'& Soc+s.5I) I did.t (ove& 2ut. hone$& I’( 'ettin' old waitin' )or $ou to (a+e the ne. but her e$es were lau'hin'& 57ou’re (a+in' )un o) (e&6 57eah& How about so(e co))ee96 5I’d rather so(ethin' cold.

Lu+e thou'ht. Lil$.5I +now $ou’re co(petent&6 It hurt onl$ a little that he could do so easil$ without her& 57ou alwa$s could do an$thin' $ou set $our (ind on&6 She too+ the 'lass he o))ered and rattled the ice in it. loves (e an$(ore&6 5What96 He’d (eant to be s$(pathetic. bab$. Lil$96 5About9 I told $ou. with tears& She wasn’t asha(ed o) the lau'hter. the sur)ace o) an anti/ue co((ode& 5I 'ot it throu'h os(osis&6 51ro( Ma. don’t cr$&6 Wo(en’s tears re(ained the one thin' he had no de)ense a'ainst& 5I’( sorr$ I lau'hed& What (a+es $ou sa$ such a cra:$ thin'96 5He—he—6 It was the best she could do as she wailed a'ainst his shoulder& *han'e tactics. don’t $ou worr$& I’( 'oin' to 'o ri'ht over and beat hi( up )or $ou&6 That brou'ht a 'ur'le o) lau'hter to (i. and waited& 5I don’t thin+ Ma. and stro+ed her bac+& 5O+a$. then drew her into his ar(s& 5I’( bein' sill$& I +now I a(. shit. her te(ple. co()ortin'. notin' the wa$ she ran )in'ertips over the curve o) his love seat. but I can’t help it&6 5It’s all ri'ht&6 He +issed her hair. lau'hin'& 5What a croc+& Oh. supportive& Instead he -er+ed bac+. I +now& Me.. I 'ot )ro( both o) $ou&6 Ta+in' her hand. wandered bac+ into the livin' roo(& 57ou have such 'ood taste&6 He li)ted a brow. restin' his chee+ on her hair& 5I don’t&6 . o+a$. I have terrible taste& I -ust love tac+$ thin's&6 5Whatever I 'ot.6 he (uttered as she dissolved into helpless sobs& 58on’t& *o(e on. set it aside. I -ust stopped b$&6 57ou’ve 'ot worr$ in $our e$es&6 5What wo(an doesn’t96 2ut her e$es slid awa$ )ro( his& He brushed his +nuc+les over her chee+& It was so)t as a bab$’s still& 5Let (e help&6 That was all it too+ to cru(ble the )ra'ile wall she’d (ana'ed to build be)ore +noc+in' on his door& Tears blurred her vision as he too+ her 'lass. or the tears& She’d learned never to be asha(ed o) what )elt 'ood& 5I -ust love hi( so (uch. he drew her down with hi( on the love seat& 5What’s this all about. $ou +now9 He’s the best thin' that ever happened to (e& 7ou don’t even +now what it was li+e be)ore&6 53o&6 He sobered.

that she too+ (one$ )ro( ti(e to ti(e )ro( (en& 2ut she wasn’t a whore&6 Lil$ li)ted her tear. he thou'ht& *o(pletel$ helpless& 5I’( tellin' $ou so that $ou can understand where I ca(e )ro(& About that ti(e ($ (other died& I thin+ +nowin' how hard she’d wor+ed so that I could have 'ood thin's helped (e 'et stron'& So even when he ca(e b$ and said how he was sorr$ and he’d never hit (e a'ain. so we 'ot (arried& He didn’t li+e bein' poor. i) that’s what $ou want&6 5It was a (ista+e. she (used. I told hi( I was leavin'& M$ (a(a’d raised (e better than to be a punchin' ba'& He told (e ($ (a(a was a whore and so was I& He beat (e 'ood that ti(e. wor+ed so(e o) the booths& S(all cons& That’s how I (et Ma. and he was so 'ood. such an aw)ul (ista+e& I was -ust seventeen. or havin' a wi)e who 'ot sic+ in the (ornin's& He +noc+ed (e around so(e&6 She )elt Lu+e tense. and I 'ot wor+ at a carnival& Told )ortunes. and si'h& 5He could have ta+en what I 'ave hi( and le)t it at that& 2ut he didn’t& He too+ (e in& Treated (e li+e a lad$& He showed (e the wa$ it’s supposed to be between a (an and a wo(an& He (ade (e )a(il$& Most o) all he loved (e—-ust )or (e. Lil$& I )i'ure $ou 'ave as 'ood as $ou 'ot&6 .tra.5We were so poor& 2ut that was o+a$.& 5He was (a'ic even bac+ then& Hi( and little #o. and (a$be a little bit o) hi(sel). and I lost the bab$&6 She shuddered once. didn’t he96 That (ade her lau'h. $ou +now what I (ean&6 57eah.sided. I did leave hi(. had ever had a wiser son& 5I 'ot (arried be)ore& Ma. I do& 2ut I don’t thin+ it was all one. because ($ (a(a was wonder)ul& !ven a)ter 8add$ died. )or a (ovie. so I did what an$ s(art wo(an would do and seduced hi(&6 Lu+e held her closer& 5I bet he put up a hell o) a )i'ht. not till later. +nows about it. too& And I wanted hi(.strea+ed )ace& 5It was -ust a wa$ to ta+e care o) her +ids&6 5Then $ou can be proud o) her&6 3o (other.anne& I 'uess I loved the( both so (uch ri'ht o)) I nearl$ burst with it& He’d lost his wi)e. and hurried on& 5When he +ept it up. )ro( old (e(or$& 5It (essed (e up inside so the$ said I wouldn’t be able to have another&6 5I’( sorr$&6 And helpless. )elt a little curl o) sha(e. +nowin' how sill$ it sounded& 5I 'ot pre'nant. but nobod$ else&6 5Then nobod$ else’ll +now now. loo+in'&6 She s(iled a little a'ain. or an ice crea(& I didn’t +now. she held ever$thin' to'ether& She’d alwa$s see to it there was a little e.

and it’s a))ectin' his & & &6 She trailed o)). so to spea+& The ro(ance o) it& He doesn’t turn to (e in the ni'ht an$(ore. to 'o bac+ and tour !urope& Then the -obs& Ma. se. and Ma. standin' in )ront o) an open sa)e as i) in a trance& Or that it had ta+en Ma. has alwa$s been. to write another boo+. then curled her )in'ers in his& 57ou’re the (ost beauti)ul wo(an I’ve ever +nown.uall$& 2ut latel$ we hardl$ ever & & & $ou +now&6 He did. turnin' it pal( up& 5I see a lon' sea vo$a'e. Lil$& That’s all& All that pressure to do another special.&6 57ou don’t read pal(s&6 57ou tau'ht (e. please&6 5O+a$&6 She blin+ed )uriousl$ at tears& 5O+a$&6 . has alwa$s ta+en too (uch on hi(sel) in the plannin' and e.ecution&6 He wasn’t 'oin' to (ention that on their last -ob. suppose there reall$ was such a thin'9 2ut he’s 'otten so cau'ht up in it there’s hardl$ roo( )or an$thin' else& And he’s )or'ettin' thin's&6 She worried her botto( lip and wrun' her hands& 5. is—what with #o. would never hurt (e. ta+in' the useless swatch o) lace and dr$in' Lil$’s e$es hi(sel)& 5I thin+ $ou’re as stressed out as Ma.ust little thin's& Li+e appoint(ents and (eals& We were nearl$ late )or a per)or(ance last wee+ because he )or'ot all about it& I +now he’s worried because he can’t do so(e o) the slei'ht o) hand an$(ore. ah&6 52ut I don’t -ust (ean the per)or(ance. or ta+e ($ hand. wonderin' how it could be put delicatel$& 5What I (ean to sa$ is that Ma. but devoutl$ wished he didn’t& 5Well. nearl$ )ive (inutes to co(e bac+ to hi(sel) and re(e(ber where he was and what he was doin'& 57ou +now what I thin+. he’s still sweet to (e. 'oin' throu'h boo+s and notes and -ournals& That da(n stone&6 She sni))led. the wa$ the two o) $ou are with each other&6 5He’s pullin' awa$&6 She too+ a couple o) stead$in' breaths to stren'then her voice& 5Oh.6 he said. di''in' into her poc+et )or a lace han+ie& 5At )irst I thou'ht it was +ind o) interestin'&6 She blew her nose& 5I (ean.’s 'raduation. well. didn’t $ou96 He pressed his lips to her pal(. I’ve loved hi( )or al(ost twent$ $ears now& I -ust don’t thin+ I could stand to lose hi(&6 5What (a+es $ou thin+ $ou could9 He’s nuts about $ou& That’s one o) the thin's that alwa$s (ade (e )eel the best. salt$ bree:es& #o(ance&6 He win+ed at her& 5And 'reat se. loves $ou—nearl$ as (uch as I do& He$. don’t start drippin' a'ain. robust. or an$bod$ on purpose& 2ut he spends hours and hours alone. he )ound Ma.5I alwa$s tried& Lu+e. 'ettin' read$ )or this su((er 'i'& And I—wait!6 He 'rabbed her hand. or loo+ at (e that wa$&6 Another tear bloo(ed over and slid down her chee+& 5He’s distracted.6 he continued as Lil$ 'ave a water$ chuc+le& 5Moonlit ni'hts. when he re(e(bers I’( around& Ma. I.

anne’s 'ot ever$thin' all neat and tid$. she reached )or her le(onade and sipped to ease her raw throat& 52ut I haven’t pac+ed a thin'& #o.ious all ri'ht&6 #ecovered. then cut bac+ to it and )ro:e& 5*obb&6 3erves )luttered in her throat& 5Wh$ are $ou writin' to hi(96 5I’( not&6 With a vicious inner curse. and in onl$ two cases& I don’t +now how she does it&6 5The brat’s been an or'ani:ation (aniac since she was ei'ht&6 5H((&6 She sipped a'ain.5I want $ou to trust (e when I sa$ it’s all 'oin' to be )ine& We’re 'oin' to 'et awa$ )or a little while. she sat up& 5Sure $ou don’t want (e to pac+ )or $ou96 5Alread$ done& I’( as an. reall$ I wasn’t& 2ut I’( aw)ul 'lad $ou were here&6 5Me too& 7ou du(p an$ti(e $ou li+e&6 5I’( done&6 2rushin' tears )ro( her lashes.$ nu(bers in those ba's96 5A )ew&6 nowin' -ust how (uch Lil$ en-o$ed displa$in' her purchases. Lu+e scooped up the letter and -a((ed it in his poc+et& 5It’s nothin'&6 58on’t lie to (e&6 Her voice was suddenl$ brittle as 'lass& 58on’t ever lie to (e&6 5I’( not& I said I wasn’t writin' to hi(&6 5Then what’s in the envelope96 His )ace went blan+ and still& 5It’s nothin' to do with $ou&6 . Lu+e.ious to leave in the (ornin' as $ou&6 5I’( an. watchin' Lu+e& 5She’s not ei'ht an$(ore& Wait till $ou see the coc+tail dress she bou'ht )or the captain’s part$&6 Lu+e (erel$ shru''ed and sat bac+& 5How about $ou9 An$ se. Lu+e pla$ed alon'& 50oin' to show (e96 5Ma$be&6 She )luttered still da(p lashes and turned to set her 'lass down a'ain& Her 'lance passed over the letter he’d le)t on the table. and drin+ cha(pa'ne coc+tails on the poop dec+&6 5Ma$be he does -ust need to rest&6 Her shoulders shi)ted in one last si'h& 5I wasn’t 'oin' to du(p on $ou. rela.

I don’t +now who else he could hurt& I won’t chance it. she laid a hand on his bac+& 5He’ll never leave $ou in peace&6 5Ma$be not& 2ut he +nows so(ethin' I’( asha(ed enou'h o) that I’( willin' to pa$ hi( to +eep to hi(sel)&6 The tap dancers had 'one o)) to other pastures. Lu+e stal+ed to the window& 5I can a))ord to be polite&6 5Wh$96 He onl$ shoo+ his head& 3ot to her. Lil$ sat a'ain& 5He’s blac+(ailin' $ou96 5That’s a polite ter(& A bloodless ter(&6 1urious with hi(sel).She said nothin' )or a (o(ent. strea+ed )ace& 57ou’re ever$thin' to do with (e. nor o) the ni'ht(ares that pla'ued hi( a da$ or two a)ter he )ound that plain white postcard in his (ailbo. don’t loo+ at (e li+e that& I’( handlin' this the onl$ wa$ I +now how& Leave it to (e&6 5O) course&6 She had a wa$. he’ll never 'o awa$&6 Lil$ spo+e /uietl$ )ro( -ust behind hi(& 0entl$. )li'ht$—6 5Stop&6 She onl$ lau'hed& 5Hone$. Lil$.6 she said /uietl$ as she rose& 5Or so I thou'ht& I’d better 'o&6 58on’t&6 He swore a'ain.a'ed wo(an who wears too (uch (a+eup and who’ll die without lettin' the )irst . won’t $ou9 We don’t want to (iss the )li'ht&6 58a(n it all to hell& I’( pa$in' hi(. twist lies with truth in such a wa$ that I couldn’t live with it& So it costs (e a )ew thousand a pop )or this +ind o) illusionar$ peace& It’s worth it to (e&6 58on’t $ou +now he can’t hurt $ou an$(ore96 53o&6 He turned bac+ then. all ri'ht9 I send hi( so(e (one$ now and a'ain and he leaves (e alone&6 His e$es were )ierce and deadl$& 5He leaves all o) us alone&6 With a nod. I +now -ust what I a(& And I’( not sorr$ about it& I’( a (iddle. o) bein' per)ectl$ a'reeable. tor(ent in ever$ (uscle& 5I don’t& Worse. violentl$. and cuttin' a (an o)) at the +nees& 57ou’ll be at the house b$ ei'ht.& 5As lon' as $ou pa$ hi(. and put a hand on her ar(& 58a(n it. but a do:en varied e(otions pla$ed across her tear. Lu+e thou'ht& "i'eons )luttered in the par+& 5And he can insinuate a 'reat deal (ore. Lil$& 3ot even )or $ou&6 5I won’t as+ $ou to& I will as+ that $ou trust (e enou'h to co(e to (e& Alwa$s&6 She stood on tiptoe to +iss his chee+& 5I +now I’( sill$. not to an$one would he spea+ o) it& 3ot o) what had been. as certain wo(en did.

and (in'le with the passen'ers. Lu+e. purse in tow& 5Oh. spend the ni'ht in $our old roo(& Mi'ht be easier 'ettin' thin's to'ether in the (ornin'&6 It (i'ht at that. all those prett$ shapes and colors. she touched up her (a+eup— a bit (ore bron:e shadow on the lids. he (used and dipped his hands into his poc+ets& It would be even better to 'o ho(e. ($ )ace )irst& I can’t 'o out in public with (ascara all over&6 She dashed toward the bathroo(.berth cabin was tin$ enou'h that she was 'rate)ul she wouldn’t be re/uired to share its space over the ne. even i) -ust )or one ni'ht& 5Let (e 'et ($ ba's. too. $ou co(e to (e& I’ve 'ot ($ own put aside&6 5Than+s&6 He cleared his throat& 52ut he doesn’t s/uee:e too hard&6 5There’s one (ore thin' I want $ou to re(e(ber& There’s nothin' $ou’ve done or could do I’d be asha(ed o)&6 She turned and be'an to 'ather her ba's& 5I’d better 'et on ho(e& It’s 'oin' to ta+e (e hal) the ni'ht to )i'ure out what to pac+& Oh.6 he called out to her& 5I’ll drive $ou ho(e in st$le&6 17 The acco((odations )or the entertainers aboard the &an(ee 1rincess weren’t /uite as lu. all care)ull$ )illed with per)u(es and lotions& The$’d been a bitch to pac+ a'ainst brea+a'e. ta+in' enor(ous a(ounts o) ti(e to dr$ and 'roo(& 2ut she was vain enou'h to consider the ti(e and e))ort well spent& "leased that the piped. (ade her s(ile& The e.star status. and she +new plastic would have been wiser& 2ut seein' the( there.tra blusher alon' the chee+bones& That wasn’t vanit$—precisel$—she assured hersel)& "art o) the -ob the 3ouvelle troupe had ta+en on was to (i. a whisper o) e. wee+s& Her practical nature tu''ed her awa$ )ro( the porthole to unpac+ the contents o) her two suitcases& As a (atter o) habit.in (usic included a classical station.tra wei'ht and trouble had been worth it& She chec+ed hersel) in the (irror )irst.anne (i'ht have hoped& 2ecause o) their special 'uest.si:ed closet& She was ro(antic enou'h to want to hurr$ and be on dec+ when the whistle blew to si'nal casto))& She too+ ti(e to set out the anti/ue bottles and -ars she’d collected over the $ears. 'oodness&6 She pressed her hands to her chee+s& 5I have to )i. 'lad that her hair had 'rown bac+ to past her shoulders a)ter her rash decision two $ears be)ore to crop it chin len'th& It. presentable and pleasant& .t si.'ra$ hair show& 2ut I stand behind those I love& I’ve loved $ou )or a lon' ti(e& 7ou send that chec+ i) $ou )eel a need to& And i) he as+s )or (ore than $ou can spare. to (a+e the(selves co(panionable. ever$thin' was neatl$ )olded or hun' in the stationar$ bureau and 'no(e. was a 'reat deal o) trouble. $ou +now $ou could co(e on ho(e with (e. the$ had been 'iven outside cabins—sli'htl$ above water level& The two.urious as #o.

b$e to the Manhattan s+$line& She too+ a hurricane 'lass )illed with blush pin+ li/uid )ro( the tra$ o) a waiter and. she (used.breasted nav$ bla:er and natt$ white trousers& He alread$ had a cluster o) ad(irin' )e(ale senior citi:ens around hi(& 5.It was little enou'h to pa$ )or a si. silver.cha96 5"robabl$ 'ot a ru(ba or two in hi(& And there&6 He 'estured a'ain. she re(inded hersel)& Si. usin' onl$ an arched e$ebrow to have #o.bellied (an in a baseball cap who inched b$ her& There’d be ti(e )or )un and 'a(es. where ea'er passen'ers were sippin' their co(pli(entar$ coc+tails. ta+in' videos or si(pl$ leanin' at the rail waitin' to wave 'ood. see+in' their roo(s or e. elderl$ sin'les and a scatterin' o) a'in' 'i'olos on the prowl& 5Ma$be we should call it the 0eriatric 2oat. si:ed up her )ellow sailors& At a 'uess. $ou pic+ one&6 . but )or the (ost part there were older couples. a sprin+lin' o) hone$(ooners. snatch a bit there& Li+e pic+in' daisies. and up& 2oardin' passen'ers were alread$ roa(in' the narrow passa'ewa$s. lon' wee+s’ worth o) ti(e& 2ut this a)ternoon she was on vacation& She turned at the top o) the stairs and wound her wa$ throu'h the Lido Loun'e. haired 'entle(an wearin' a double.anne 'au'ed the (ean a'e to be si. a(used& 5What do $ou want to bet he does a (ean cha. he slipped a )riendl$ ar( around her shoulders& He’d decided i) the$ were 'oin' to be in such relativel$ close /uarters )or the ne. she headed out. and was busil$ li)tin' one then the other in between sips o) her ru( surprise& 5Sall$ Tourist&6 5Snob&6 He onl$ 'rinned& 5*o(e on.6 she said.)ive& There were a )ew )a(ilies with children.anne’s 'a:e shi)tin'& 3ear the portside rail was a bi'. out to the dec+ at the stern.t )ew wee+s.6 Lu+e said close to her ear and nearl$ had her spillin' the ru( concoction& 5I thin+ it’s sweet&6 5I didn’t sa$ it wasn’t&6 8espite her barbed tone. sippin' the oversweet ru( drin+..plorin'& "iles o) lu''a'e were stac+ed in )ront o) cabin doors& Larcen$ tu''ed 'lee)ull$ at #o.anne’s heart& It would be so piti)ull$ si(ple to pluc+ a bit here. the$ should tr$ to be civil& 5*hec+ this dude&6 He’d b$passed the ru( )or a bottle o) 2ec+’s and 'estured with it toward a dapper.pin+ -o''in' suit& She had a ca(era and a pair o) binoculars slun' around her nec+. #o.t$. )rows$ blonde in a shoc+in'. s(ilin' at a round.wee+ run on an ele'ant )loatin' hotel& 0rabbin' her roo($ canvas ba'.oe S(ooth&6 5O) the "al( 2each S(ooths.

and Le*lerc. the$ said.6 Lu+e (ur(ured when she be'an to crane her nec+& She loo+ed up and saw the(& Lil$. bron:ed and blond and 'or'eous in his dress whites& His (ood i((ediatel$ soured& 5I) $ou 'o )or that t$pe&6 5I do&6 4nable to resist.t si.She scanned the dec+. wee+s would be a )ree ride& The 3ouvelles would 'ive a (ini. dashin' in an o)). $ou wal+in' hor(one&6 In de)ense o) Mouse.dance 'roup who (ade up the Moon'lades& . I do& Loo+. lin+in' )in'ers& 5O) course he is&6 She shoo+ awa$ the seeds o) doubt& 5Let’s 'o up& I want to 'et so(e pictures&6 It wasn’t 'oin' to be a wal+ on the beach& The )irst onboard sta)) (eetin' dispensed with an$ notion that the ne. hoverin' li+e a shadow behind the(& 5He’s 'oin' to be )ine&6 Lu+e too+ her hand.anne 'ave a wide wave to brin' hi( over& 5What do $ou thin+96 5It’s 'reat&6 His bi'.and. but later.per)or(ance that ni'ht to welco(e the passen'ers on board. alon' with shortened acts )ro( the other entertainers& A 1rench chanteuse. there’s Mouse&6 #o.a''erated si'h& 5Oh. pal& I’ll )ind $ou so(e real ones&6 5Leave hi( alone.(e(ber son'. Ma. then touched her ton'ue to her top lip& 5M((& I’ll ta+e hi(& To( Terri)ic&6 Lu+e studied the ship’s o))icer. loo+in' )estive in a )lowin' blue sundress. I could 'o up on the brid'e and ever$thin'&6 5The$ 'ot an$ wo(en down there96 Lu+e as+ed& 5In the en'ine roo(96 Mouse 'rinned and shu))led& 53ah& ’*ept in pictures on the walls&6 5Stic+ with (e. pale )ace was )lushed with pleasure& Muscles bul'ed beneath the cropped sleeves o) the )lowered shirt Lil$ had pic+ed )or hi(& 5The$ let (e 'o down in the en'ine roo(& I 'otta chec+ the e/uip(ent )or the show and all.anne slipped a hand throu'h his ar(& 5Listen&6 She s/uee:ed as the ship blew two lon' blasts& 5We’re castin' o))&6 5One dec+ up. she heaved an e. #o. a co(edian who spiced up his (onolo'ues with -u''lin' and the si.white -ac+et and nav$ pants..

tra wor+ with the passen'ers is pure )un&6 5So he sa$s&6 A tall. drun+enness was )rowned on& Meals were to be ta+en onl$ a)ter the passen'ers had dined& And.anne said over a bite o) McIntosh& 5And the$ want to +now ever$thin'&6 5!ver$one’s so nice and )riendl$&6 Lil$ avoided crashin' into a cardboard -ail cell and wri''led into costu(e& 5Wh$. she (ana'ed to sna' an apple and a )ew hun+s o) cheese )ro( the bu))et the passen'ers had deci(ated and s(u''led the( into the dressin' cu( stora'e roo( where she and Lil$ were to chan'e )or the )irst show& 5There’s so (an$ o) the(.ac+ )inished& 5Ta+e so(e ti(e to 'et )a(iliar with the ship’s la$out&6 BBB #o.shirt in )uchsia. -ust as+& And don’t pa$ an$ attention to these 'ripers& Most o) the e.cursions& When it was discovered that #o.anne spo+e )luent 1rench. rehearsed.anne to include her in the invitation& 5We’ve 'ot a ver$ sha+$ run. li+es it. answerin' /uestions. the$ were as+ed to assist in dail$ activities )ro( bin'o to shore e. I (et people )ro( all over the countr$& It’s reall$ li+e bein' on the road a'ain&6 5Ma. slender blonde called 8ori ai(ed a considerin' s(ile at Lu+e& 5Let (e +now i) $ou need an$ help 'ettin' ad-usted&6 She s(iled at #o.perience on cruise ships.anne was 'iven a &an(ee 1rincess T. too+ it in stride& 5I) there’s an$thin' $ou need.6 #o.thirt$ in the (ovie theater& That’s on the "ro(enade 8ec+. all (e(bers o) the crew and sta)) would (an the li)eboats onl$ a)ter all passen'ers were sa)e& There was so(e 'roanin' )ro( the (ore seasoned (e(bers o) the sta)) when wee+l$ assi'n(ents were handed out& The cruise director. in the event o) trouble at sea.throu'h rehearsal scheduled at three. wishin' passen'ers a 'ood vo$a'e& As a)ternoon slid toward evenin'. she was i((ediatel$ dra'ooned to help the ship’s two interpreters& #ules were also dispensed& 2ein' )riendl$ and personable with the passen'ers was (andator$& 2ein' inti(ate was not& Acceptin' tips was not per(itted. a)t&6 5And )irst show’s at ei'ht. . a na(e ta' to pin on and a pat on the bac+ )or luc+& She toured the ship.In addition to their act. s(ilin'. then toured the ship so(e (ore.ac+. a $outh)ul vet with ten $ears’ e. doesn’t he96 5He loves it& He alread$ loves it&6 .6 .

anne 3ouvelle vulnerable—so rare he had to resist an ur'e to 'ather her close and (a+e it all 'o awa$& 5Ta+e a couple o) these&6 He held out two white pills& 5I don’t suppose the$’re (orphine&6 5Sorr$& . even thou'h she had to press a hand to her sto(ach as the ship rolled& 58o $ou thin+ this is 'oin' to +eep up96 5What. hone$96 5The (ove(ent&6 She blew out a breath. the ship9 It +ind o) )eels li+e bein' in a cradle. she sipped (ore 'in'er ale and pra$ed )or it to settle& 5I could ride ever$thin' in the carnival and never )eel a thin'& One ni'ht on a boat and I’( whipped&6 . that probabl$ (eant I wanted to be alone&6 5M((.6 she said with all the di'nit$ she could (uster while sittin' on the )loor& 5I +now& It too+ (e nearl$ thirt$ seconds to open it&6 5What I (eant was. the ship’s doctor’ll ta+e care o) it&6 5Stupid&6 More anno$ed than e(barrassed. he turned the cloth over and pressed the cooler side to her nec+ a'ain& 5I) it doesn’t let up.anne swallowed hard& She (ana'ed to 'et throu'h the )irst show be)ore the soothin' cradle she was in had her dashin' down to her cabin& She was -ust )inished bein' sic+ when Lu+e wal+ed in the tin$ head& 5I loc+ed the door. 'rate)ul si'h )ro( her& 5How’d $ou +now I was sic+96 He )lic+ed a hand over the e(erald span'les o) her dress& 57our )ace was the sa(e color as $our costu(e& 8ead 'iveawa$&6 5I’( o+a$ now&6 Or she hoped she was& 5I’ll 'et used to it&6 Her e$es were a little (ore than desperate when she li)ted the( to his& 58on’t $ou thin+96 5Sure $ou will&6 It was a rare thin' to see #o.ust 8ra(a(ine& 8own the( with a couple o) sips o) this 'in'er ale& There $ou 'o&6 As co(petent as a nurse.anne.h((&6 He was bus$ runnin' cool water on a washcloth& He helped her up and led her out to the bed& 5Sit& "ut this on the bac+ o) $our nec+&6 He did it hi(sel) and drew a lon'. doesn’t it9 3ice and soothin'&6 57eah& #i'ht&6 #o. since I loc+ed it. settin' the apple aside to reach )or her costu(e& 5Oh.That was enou'h )or #o.

willin' her le's and her s$ste( to stead$& 5A 3ouvelle never (isses a cue& 0ive (e a (inute&6 She retreated to the bathroo( to rinse out her (outh and chec+ her (a+eup& 5I 'uess I owe $ou one. so she stepped closer and touched his ar(& 58add$96 He -olted. #o. however. stepped out& 5Lu+e.anne was )orced to consider that the (otion o) the boat had onl$ been a contributin' )actor to the whole that had been (ade up o) stress.5It’ll pass&6 Since her color was nearl$ nor(al a'ain. Mouse spent (ost o) his spare ti(e hauntin' the en'ine roo( and crew /uarters and Le*lerc )ound a trio o) po+er buddies& The stress she hadn’t been aware o) carr$in' on board with her be'an to dissipate with each passin' hour& It (i'ht have )aded co(pletel$ i) #o. standin' there. and Lil$ -ud'ed a dance contest.ac+ had been ri'ht. and she saw the panic strea+ into his e$es& In that instant. I’( read$&6 She opened the door. $ou owe (e a lot (ore than one& #ead$96 5Sure. he -ud'ed it alread$ was passin'& 5I) $ou’re )eelin' sha+$. we can cover )or $ou in the second show&6 53o wa$&6 She rose. we don’t have to (ention this.6 she said when she ca(e out a'ain& 52abe.t da$ or two.anne hadn’t turned toward the stairwa$ on the La'una 8ec+ and seen Ma. to allow her to dwell on it& . loo+in' lost& 58add$96 He didn’t respond. unable to +eep a tre(or )ro( her voice& 5Are $ou all ri'ht96 .6 she said a'ain. she decided& The (a-orit$ o) the wor+ re/uired was pure )un& She en-o$ed the passen'ers. do we96 He li)ted his brows& 5Mention what96 5O+a$&6 She s(iled at hi(& 5I owe $ou two&6 Since there was no recurrence o) seasic+ness over the ne. her blood )ro:e& She saw (ore in his e$es than panic> she saw total con)usion& He didn’t +now her& He was starin' into her )ace and he didn’t +now her& 58add$. and the 'a(es and events scattered throu'h the dail$ schedule desi'ned to +eep the( entertained& The rest o) her )a(il$ see(ed to be 'ettin' into the spirit o) thin's as well& Ma. ru( on a nearl$ e(pt$ sto(ach and nerves& It wasn’t a particularl$ pleasant ad(ission )or a wo(an who had alwa$s prided hersel) on bein' able to handle an$thin' that ca(e her wa$& Her da$s were too )ull.

and I 'ot cau'ht up& He (ade the (ost incredible peacoc+&6 She s(iled at Ma. relieved when Lil$ hurried in& 5Sorr$ I’( late&6 She was prettil$ )lushed and wei'hed down with purse and ca(era& 5The$ were havin' an ice. a distinctl$ )e(ale 'esture that could (a+e an$ (an 'rovel& He too+ out his +e$ to open his stateroo( door& Mouse. loo+ed blan+l$ around the roo(& 5Ah. anti/ue boo+ on alche($& 5I certainl$ didn’t (ean to na'&6 *loa+ed in in-ured pride.carvin' de(onstration out b$ the pool. a (uscle wor+in' )uriousl$ in his -aw& Li+e a cloud slowl$ li)tin'. Le*lerc and Lu+e were alread$ waitin'& 5All ri'ht.He blin+ed. pulled out the sin'le chair that stood b$ the bureau.anne was nervousl$ rubbin' her hands to'ether. she (oved sti))l$ around hi(& A wave o) sha(e had hi( reachin' out& 5I apolo'i:e& M$ (ind was elsewhere&6 She (erel$ shru''ed. concerned when Ma. )elt the pulse throbbin' at the base o) his nec+& He could al(ost hear it& He hadn’t +nown& 1or a (o(ent.actl$ where I’( 'oin'&6 Ma. ($ pets&6 Ma. who onl$ 'estured absentl$& .anne plun'ed into the unco()ortable silence& 5The$’ve alread$ 'ot at least a do:en passen'ers si'ned up )or the talent show at the end o) the wee+& It should be a +ic+&6 5How (uch do $ou want to bet so(eone does ?Moon #iver’96 Lu+e as+ed& #o. but she s(iled& 53o bet& I heard Mrs& Steiner tap dances& Ma$be—6 She paused.6 Lu+e pointed out.. and sat& 5Ti(e to 'et down to business&6 5Lil$ isn’t here $et. she noted& A tattered. well&6 #o. he hadn’t been able to re(e(ber where he was or what he’d been doin'& Star+ )ear had hi( snappin' at his dau'hter& 5I don’t need an$one snoopin' around a)ter (e& And I don’t appreciate bein' na''ed about ($ ever$ (ove&6 5I’( sorr$&6 The color ebbed )ro( her chee+s& 5I was -ust 'oin' up to $our cabin&6 There was a boo+ tuc+ed under his ar(. the con)usion )aded )ro( his e$es to reveal anno$ance& 5O) course I’( all ri'ht& Wh$ wouldn’t I be96 5Well. I thou'ht $ou—6 She )ou'ht a s(ile onto her )ace& 5I 'uess $ou’re turned around& I +eep doin' that&6 5I +now e.

6 Le*lerc (uttered& 5We’re a senti(ental lot. he’s such a )unn$ old 'u$&6 5He’s nice..anne put in.anne& Once an e(otional attach(ent’s (ade. interrupted& 5I had a deli'ht)ul ti(e pla$in' brid'e with the( on the "ro(enade 8ec+ -ust $esterda$& He’s in )ood processin' and she owns a boo+store in *orpus *hristi&6 5Bon Dieu. #o. what have we 'ot96 Le*lerc lin+ed his hands behind his bac+& 58iMato in cabin seven si. earrin's& Loo+s heirloo(&6 5Oh. who onl$ 'round his teeth& . appro.a(ison96 Ma.t$. %ir'inia. steepled his hands. Mrs& 0ulla'er in si.anne patted Le*lerc’s hand& 5And an e(barrass(ent to $ou.6 #o.6 #o.anne o))ered& 5A rub$ set. 'au'in' )aces& 5Are we a'reed then9 3o (ar+s this wee+96 He 'ot a nod )ro( ever$one but Le*lerc. tapped his )in'ers a'ainst his chin& 57ou’re /uite ri'ht. stic+ pin.6 Mouse put in& 5He told (e all about this 8e Soto he rebuilt in GHIA&6 5.6 Le*lerc said between his teeth& 5*abin seven ten& 8ia(ond rin'.ohn . pluc+in' one o) the 'rapes )ro( the )ruit bas+et on the bureau& 5The pendant was her anniversar$ present& The$’re aw)ull$ sweet to'ether&6 Ma. I’( sure&6 A)ter choosin' another 'rape. she )olded her le's under her& 5I don’t see how we can steal )ro( people we’re all but livin' with da$ in and da$ out& !speciall$ when we li+e the( so (uch&6 Ma. she’s the dearest thin'&6 Lil$ sent #o.anne a pleadin' loo+& 5I had tea with her the other da$& She lives in #oano+e.carat sapphire pendant&6 5The 8iMatos are the ones celebratin' their )i)tieth weddin' anniversar$. 'estured to the roo( at lar'e& 5There’s Harve$ Wallace in )our thirt$. nec+lace. s/uare cut.& 2ut & & & Shit. sa(e carat wei'ht& Anti/ue e(erald brooch—6 53anc$ and .&6 Lu+e shru''ed& 58ia(ond cu)) lin+s. understandin'& 5So(ethin' else then96 5Well.5All ri'ht then.seven& 8ia(ond earrin's—probabl$ two. to si. the )un 'oes out o) it&6 He scanned the roo(. possibl$ 2ur(ese. cu)) bracelet. with her two cats&6 5Another contender96 Ma. another #ole. aren’t we96 #o.i(atel$ )ive carats& #ub$ rin'. watch and a )ive. twent$.carat. s(iled.a(isons.si. #ole.

stared at Lu+e& 5That is a co(pletel$ asinine notion& She has no reason to doubt ($ )eelin's&6 5#eall$96 Lu+e sat on the ed'e o) the bed. as ever$one (ade to leave& 5O) course&6 Lu+e waited until the$ were alone. but have $ou stirred $oursel) to 'ive an$ o) the( to her9 Have $ou used this bed )or an$thin' but sleepin'96 57ou 'o too )ar&6 Ma. Ma. Ma..’s (outh )ell open& 5I be' $our pardon96 58a(n it. and $ou can’t even bother to 'ive her ten (inutes o) $our valuable ti(e&6 57ou’re wron'&6 Ma. I understand -ust how she 'ot the idea in her head&6 %er$ pale. $ou can’t see what’s happenin' in )ront o) $our )ace& She doesn’t thin+ $ou love her an$(ore& And a)ter seein' the wa$ $ou behaved toward her over these last couple o) da$s.5*heer up&6 Lu+e pic+ed up Ma. Lu+e snatched the boo+ awa$ and tossed it onto the bed& 5She ca(e to see (e the da$ be)ore we le)t )or 3ew 7or+& 8a(n $ou. Ma. leaned )orward& 5When’s the last ti(e $ou bothered to tell her what the$ are9 Have $ou sat in the (oonli'ht with her and listened to the sea9 7ou +now how (uch she counts on the little thin's. ver$ still. but still too+ the precaution o) +eepin' his voice low& 5Wh$ the hell are $ou doin' this to Lil$96 Ma. $ou’re brea+in' her heart&6 5That’s absurd&6 Hi'hl$ insulted.6 Lu+e tossed out& 58isinterest& 7ou’re so )uc+in' obsessed with so(e (a'ical stone. sat a'ain& 5How96 53e'lect. sti))ened li+e a po+er& 5Much too )ar&6 5The hell I do& I’( not 'oin' to stand b$ and see that hurt loo+ in her e$es& She’d crawl over 'lass )or $ou. stared down at his clenched )ist& 5And i) Lil$ )eels as $ou sa$. wee+s& So(eone’s bound to co(e on board we don’t li+e&6 5Then we’re ad-ourned&6 5Have $ou 'ot a (inute96 Lu+e as+ed Ma. Ma. rose )ro( the chair to pic+ up his boo+& 5Where did $ou 'et such a ridiculous notion96 51ro( Lil$&6 Too an'r$ )or respect.’s re(ainin' (ineral water and toasted& 5We’ve 'ot the best part o) si. she’s /uite (ista+en& I love her& I’ve alwa$s loved her&6 . $ou (ade her cr$&6 5I9 I96 Sha+en b$ the thou'ht.

I can pro(ise&6 5We done 'ood&6 #o. in his own wa$& 5"erhaps I’ve been a bit distracted latel$.involved&6 He li)ted his 'a:e )ro( his achin' hands& 5I would never hurt her& I’d cut out ($ own heart be)ore I’d hurt her&6 5Tell her&6 Lu+e turned )or the door& 53ot (e&6 5Wait&6 Ma. with a crowd this a'e. at the ver$ least. he’d do whatever was necessar$ to correct it& The )aintest s(ile touched his lips& And he’d correct it in st$le& 5I need a )avor&6 The )act that Lu+e hesitated showed Ma. I will&6 Ma. a)ter the last per)or(ance toni'ht.5*ould have )ooled (e& 7ou didn’t even loo+ at her when she wal+ed in here&6 5That was business. +eep her awa$ )ro( the cabin )or about thirt$ (inutes& Then I’ll need $ou to be certain she co(es directl$ here&6 5All ri'ht&6 5Lu+e96 He had his hand on the door. I’d li+e to +eep this conversation between us& Second. that’s not too hard&6 #o. but paused and 'lanced bac+& 57eah96 5Than+ $ou& 3ow and a'ain a (an needs so(eone to (a+e hi( )ace his shortco(in's.anne snic+ered& 58on’t be 'rueso(e& 2e use)ul and 'o 'et (e and Lil$ drin+s&6 . then cut hi(sel) o))& He’d alwa$s prided hi(sel) on honest$. and his blessin's& 7ou’ve done both&6 5. I’d appreciate it i) $ou’d detain Lil$.anne dropped heavil$ into a chair in the corner o) the disco& The second per)or(ance o) the evenin' had 'one as success)ull$ as the )irst& 5We +noc+ed the( dead&6 Lu+e sat down. )ull$& 5That. and (ore than a little sel). s(iled then. stretched out his le's& 5O) course.6 he be'an. pressed his )in'ers to his e$es& I) he’d (ade a (ista+e.ust (a+e it up to her&6 5Oh. -ust how deep the te(per went& And how deep his own sins& 5What96 51irst.

6 8ori a'reed and sna''ed a waitress’s attention& 5I (ean besides bein' a real sweetheart.anne cho+ed on her wine& 5. ri'ht96 #o.anne. but not oppressive& There were a s(atterin' o) passen'ers on the dance )loor '$ratin' to .6 8ori said. 8ori&6 5The two o) $ou& It’s so obvious&6 5Oh9 What’s obvious96 5There’s enou'h se.u(ped9 .ual&6 5So how co(e $ou haven’t -u(ped on it96 #o.anne 'lanced over to where Lu+e was twirlin' Lil$ under his ar(& 5Stor$96 5I (ean. d$na(ic. then leaned over the table a'ain& The (usic was loud.ac+son’s drivin' rh$th(& When their drin+s were served. he’s a (outh waterer&6 To prove her point. he’s 'or'eous.u(ped on it96 5#o. she said. sin'le& Strai'ht. I thin+ I should s+ip it&6 Lil$ loo+ed around the hotl$ lit roo( )or a 'li(pse o) Ma.ual )riction between $ou to set the ship on )ire&6 .anne chuc+led& 58e)initel$ heterose.6 #o.ac+son was tellin' ever$one to beat it& 5That $our co(petition96 8ori plopped down on Lu+e’s vacated chair& 5She’s a tou'h act to )ollow&6 5She’s prett$ 'reat. #o. 8ori traced her ton'ue around her lips& 5I’d ta+e the leap ($sel) e. -ust loo+ at that bod$& Want a drin+96 50lass o) white wine.anne decided& 5A pin+ lad$ )or Lil$ and a 2ec+’s )or Lu+e&6 5Ma+e it two 2ec+s’.anne shoo+ her head& 57ou lost (e.& 57ou $oun' people should en-o$ $ourselves&6 53o wa$&6 Lu+e 'rabbed her hand& 57ou’re not duc+in' out on (e without a dance&6 He pulled her lau'hin' out on the )loor where Michael .cept I don’t li+e to swi( in so(eone else’s pool&6 A)ter a deep breath.5Oh. 51irst round’s on (e& I reall$ li+e wor+in' cruise ships& Most people co(e on with a (ind set to have )un& Ma+es it easier& And $ou 'et to (eet so (an$ di))erent t$pes& Spea+in' o) which&6 She too+ a deep sip o) beer& 5What’s the stor$ on hi(96 #o.

anne had to lau'h& 5Oh.96 53o& Ah. ti(e.anne hoped it could be bla(ed on the )lashin' li'hts o) the disco& 57ou’re readin' it wron'&6 5Oh $eah96 8ori loo+ed bac+ at Lu+e. that was )un&6 3earl$ out o) breath. I could see that ri'ht o))&6 5An$wa$&6 8ori 'rinned en'a'in'l$& 5I) I were to po+e it in.Since the color was )luctuatin' in her chee+s. (a$be later&6 Her whole bod$ was tin'lin'& Her heart pic+ed up the rh$th( o) the bass and thudded a'ainst her ribs& Se. *allahan&6 He stared at her& What was that 'lea( in her e$e9 In another wo(an.ual )riction9 Was that what this was9 I) so. #o.anne purred& . I’d o))er this si(ple. seduce& And i) that doesn’t wor+. Lil$ reached )or her drin+& 51inish that o)). (ore cautiousl$& Intri'ue& All ri'ht. he wondered where she’d bite or scratch )irst& 5Than+s&6 He pic+ed up his beer and casuall$ chec+ed his watch& 50ot a late date96 #o. honored advice& Intri'ue.anne. dran+. con)use. it was deadl$& She sipped a'ain.anne cho+ed a'ain and blushed scarlet& 5Ta+e it eas$&6 Lu+e thu(ped her on the bac+& 5Want to dance. she’d 'ive it a shot& 5I li+ed watchin' the two o) $ou out there&6 She touched a hand li'htl$ to the bac+ o) Lu+e’s& 57ou’ve 'ot so(e 'ood (oves.$&6 #o. #o.huh& Well. then swiveled bac+ to #o. $es& I (ean & & &6 She wasn’t used to bein' )lustered& 5What I (ean is thin's aren’t that wa$ with us&6 52ecause $ou don’t want the( to be96 52ecause & & & because the$ aren’t&6 54h.anne stared into her wine. he would have ta+en it as an invitation& In #o.anne& 5Are $ou sa$in' $ou don’t want hi(96 53o& I (ean. and we’ll do it a'ain&6 53ot on $our li)e&6 She waved a hand& 50o do it with #o. drawin' lines down the outside o) the 'lass with her )in'ers& Her thou'hts were such that she -olted when Lu+e and Lil$ sat down a'ain& 5Oh. I don’t li+e to po+e ($ nose in&6 #o. -u(p his bones& 0ot to 'o&6 57eah& See $ou&6 #o.

anne rose as well.6 she (ur(ured& 5Want co(pan$96 5Well & & &6 5I reall$ a( tired&6 Lil$ $awned a'ain and shoo+ her hand )ree o) Lu+e’s& 5!n-o$ $ourselves&6 Shit. too&6 5I don’t thin+ so&6 She trailed a )in'er down his ar(& 5I i(a'ine there’s so(eone around who’d li+e to dance. wasn’t this interestin'9 Lil$ (used& A little cat and (ouse. 3ova Scotia& We’re doc+in' there in the (ornin'& I’ve. then lean over a table where a )ew o) the entertainers were havin' drin+s& He doubted he’d sleep a win+& .citin'& 5So do I. and thou'ht I’d 'o into town and loo+ around&6 Wh$. Lu+e thou'ht& He had to hope it was close enou'h& 5I’( a little tired ($sel)&6 Lu+e stood as Lil$ wal+ed o))& And (ade a s(all.spra$ed (oonli'ht& 5I can 'uarantee it wouldn’t& 7ou should turn in.anne waril$& He had ten (ore (inutes to detain Lil$.anne reali:ed. #o. +ept his hand )ir(l$ on Lil$’s& 5And I’ve been (eanin' to as+ $ou & & &6 What9 What9 5Ah. ah. then he thou'ht it (i'ht be wise to run )or his li)e& 53o. bi'. I’( a little tired&6 Lil$ )ei'ned a hu'e $awn& 5I’ll -ust 'o down and turn in&6 57ou haven’t )inished $our drin+&6 Lu+e sat a'ain. with #o. i) $ou thin+ it’s 'oin' to rain to(orrow in S$dne$96 5Australia96 Lil$ said. and )ound it oddl$ endearin'& And e. *allahan&6 57eah&6 He watched her stroll awa$. no. 'ot a couple hours o)). her bod$ bu(pin' a'ainst his& 5A wal+ on dec+ would help $ou sleep better&6 She tilted her head bac+ so that the$ were e$e to e$e and nearl$ (outh to (outh& He could )eel his lips tin'le& 53ope&6 He thou'ht o) all the thin's he’d li+e to do with her.5What9 3o&6 3ow. 'a''in' sound when #o. to her. he’s nervous. or wal+&6 She brushed her lips li'htl$ over his& 50ood ni'ht. in the salt.e$ed& 53o.anne in the role o) cat& 57ou two should ta+e a nice stroll out on dec+& It’s 'or'eous toni'ht&6 50ood idea& Wh$ don’t we all do that96 Lu+e 'rabbed Lil$’s hand and watched #o.

challen'e and a(use(ent (elded to'ether& He couldn’t even bla(e the )act that she’d cornered hi( into one o) the ballroo( dancin' de(onstrations—under the 'uise o) sta)) participation—so that he’d had to hold her in his ar(s. he tilted her head bac+& 5M$ heart.cursions—or that she’d (ade hi( en-o$ bein' hauled )ro( shop to shop bu$in' 'i)ts and souvenirs. silhouetted b$ the bac+li'ht )ro( the passa'ewa$& Ma. )a(iliar dance& When he drew her bac+. stepped awa$ )ro( the table where a bottle o) cha(pa'ne was open and waitin'& He crossed to her.6 he (ur(ured& His lips were so)t and stron' a'ainst hers& Then the +iss deepened. eatin' ice . s(ilin' at the i(a'e o) #o. but he )inall$ 'ot a handle on it& She was tr$in' to drive hi( cra:$& It was the onl$ reasonable e. o))erin' a sin'le pin+ rose& He said nothin'.anne’s behavior& It wasn’t that she s(iled at hi( so o)ten& It was the #ay she s(iled& With that oddl$ )e(ale li'ht in her e$es that was invitation. she thou'ht.planation )or #o. onl$ too+ her hand and brou'ht it to his lips as he eased the door shut behind her& Loc+ed it& 5Oh. the old twin+le she adored was in his e$es& 5"erhaps I could as+ one s(all )avor&6 57ou +now $ou can&6 5That cri(son ne'li'ee $ou pac+ed9 Would $ou put it on while I pour the wine96 1 He’d )inall$ )i'ured it out& It too+ Lu+e a couple o) da$s. and an e/ual a(ount o) unco()ortabl$ restless ni'hts. Ma.Lil$ unloc+ed the door o) her cabin. and opened the door to (usic.anne and Lu+e wal+in' hand in hand in the (oonli'ht& She’d waited a lon' ti(e to see her two children )ind each other& Ma$be toni'ht. len'thened as their ton'ues (et in a slow.&6 5I hope it’s not too late )or a s(all bon vo$a'e celebration&6 53o&6 She pressed her lips to'ether to hold bac+ tears& 5It’s not too late& It’s never too late&6 *uppin' her )ace in his hand. breathin' in the scent o) her hair while her hips twitched in a ru(ba under his hand& It wasn’t possible to point to the )act that she’d run into hi( that a)ternoon in <uebec *it$ a)ter co(pletin' her role as interpreter on one o) the shore e. candleli'ht and roses& 5Oh&6 She stood there.

the ele'ance o) the towerin' *hateau 1rontenac& It had been )un to wander throu'h the old town with her.crea( and weavin' throu'h crowds o) tourists on the lon' narrow streets to listen to a (usician pla$ the concertina& To be )air. hearin' her lau'h. and he’d nearl$ told . indul'in' in the delicate pastries bein' served at tea& 2ut #o. watchin' her e$es li'ht up& He didn’t +now how he was 'oin' to 'et throu'h the ne. then tipped her 'lasses down -ust )ar enou'h to loo+ over the tops& 58o I96 . )ro( "ro(enade to #o$al& He wasn’t so(e )rea+in' (essen'er bo$. he couldn’t bla(e the )act that she (ade certain a da$ didn’t pass without 'ivin' hi( one o) those li'ht. butter)l$ +isses that stirred the -uices the wa$ a crust o) bread would hei'hten the hun'er o) a starvin' (an& 3o.ac+ as (uch& 2ut it would have been hard to e.t )ive wee+s bein' so 'odda(n brotherl$& He turned& Most o) the dec+ chairs were e(pt$& 2ecause the$ wouldn’t sail until seven that evenin'.plain wh$ he ob-ected so strenuousl$ to as+in' #o. the steep streets. and an unbearabl$ tin$ bi+ini coverin' no (ore than was re/uired b$ law& Lu+e swore viciousl$ under his breath be)ore crossin' to her& She +new he was there. stretched out on a dec+ chair.anne was here. a boo+ in her hands.anne i) she’d help 'reet passen'ers in the reception line )or the captain’s )arewell part$& The$ were still doc+ed in <uebec *it$& 1ro( the hi'h rail he could see the prett$ hills. he couldn’t bla(e an$ one o) those thin's—until he put the( all to'ether with the less tan'ible but e/uall$ e))ective vibrations she see(ed to e(it whenever he was within )ive )eet o) her& He 'ru(bled to hi(sel) all the wa$ up the outside stairwa$ )ro( the Lido 8ec+ to "ro(enade. (irrored sun'lasses shadin' her e$es. and was 'rate)ul )or the ti(e to whip her heart rate under control& Leisurel$ she turned the pa'e then reached out )or the lu+ewar( so)t drin+ on the table beside her& 57ou li+e to live dan'erousl$&6 She 'lanced up. (an$ o) the passen'ers would sta$ ashore until deadline& Those who pre)erred rela. arched a brow.in' on board were two dec+s below. had +nown )ro( the (o(ent he reached the top o) the stairs and turned toward the rail& She’d been starin' at the sa(e pa'e in her novel )or )ive )ull (inutes.

but he was aware o) ever$ (uscle. the 'lint o) the delicate 'old chain with its sli( a(eth$st cr$stal around her nec+. be)ore she pic+ed up the bottle o) lotion and tossed it to hi(& 58o ($ bac+. her lips curvin'& .ac+ wanted to +now i) $ou could do the reception line toni'ht& One o) the 'irls is )i'htin' o)) a virus&6 5Oh. Lu+e tuc+ed his itch$ hands in his poc+ets& 57ou were ri'ht& She was cra:$ about it&6 5See9 7ou onl$ have to trust (e&6 She shi)ted. she s+i((ed a )in'ertip up a 'listenin' thi'h& 58id $ou 'ive Lil$ the lace )an $ou bou'ht her96 57eah&6 To (a+e certain the$ behaved. she si'hed li+e a wo(an rela. he crouched down and s/uee:ed lotion on her shoulder blades& She si'hed a'ain. li+e a ripenin' peach& 5I don’t sta$ out lon'&6 She s(iled and pushed her 'lasses bac+ into place& A health$ ripple o) lust swa( throu'h her& 5And I’( -ust slathered all over with lotion&6 %er$ slowl$. I thin+ I could (ana'e that&6 She slid her )oot up the chair and la:il$ scratched her +nee& 5Want a sip96 She o))ered the watered.ed& 2ut behind the (irrored lenses her e$es were open and watch)ul& 5It wouldn’t do )or (e to as+ one o) the dec+hands&6 That did it& Settin' his teeth. rolled over and snu''led down& 5I can’t reach it&6 He was surprised the lotion didn’t 'e$ser out the top as he s/uee:ed the bottle so ti'htl$& 57our bac+ loo+s )ine&6 52e a pal&6 A)ter pillowin' her head on her hands. she lowered the bac+ o) the chair. onl$ a little. the wa$ her hair curled riotousl$ where she tied it on top o) her head. catli+e. 'or'eousl$. the erotic scent o) the lotion she’d slic+ed over her s+in& Murder was too 'ood )or her& 5.5A redhead sittin' in the sun’s -ust as+in' to burn&6 In truth her s+in had neither burned nor tanned& It had si(pl$ bloo(ed. o+a$96 57our bac+96 54(.h((&6 Shi)tin' a'ain. ever$ detail& The tin$ hoops in her ears.down *o+e& 57ou loo+ hot&6 5I’( )ine&6 Or he would be once he (ana'ed to (ove the )eet that see(ed nailed to the dec+ b$ her chair& 5Shouldn’t $ou 'o in and 'et read$96 5I’ve 'ot plent$ o) ti(e& 8o (e a )avor96 She stretched once.

li'htin' )ires. his )in'ers on the point o) slidin' beneath to clai( that sil+$ )ullness& . she’d 'roan& 51or entirel$ di))erent reasons. he told hi(sel). it was onl$ a bac+& S+in and bone& So)t. *allahan& 8add$’s alwa$s ad(ired $our hands. the better to absorb each ripplin' sensation& 5M(((& 7ou could 'et a -ob belowdec+s with In'a&6 5In'a96 Odd. he didn’t thin+ he’d ever noticed how subtl$ her bac+ tapered down to her waist& 5The (asseuse& I had a thirt$. $ou +now96 Her chuc+le was sha+$ as he trailed his )in'ers down to the s(all o) her bac+& I) she didn’t lau'h.6 she (ur(ured& 5War(&6 5Havin' the bottle in the sun could account )or it&6 He be'an to spread the lotion with his )in'ertips. o) course& As )or (e.anne thou'ht that could be attributed to a state o) rela.cuse (e96 5The top. but his )in'ers reached and pulled bac+ )ro( the si(ple hoo+ twice be)ore he was satis)ied with his willpower& 3ow #o.plore those slee+ curves& She’d 'roan )or hi(.slic+ed s+in and )eelin' her tre(ble& It too+ little i(a'ination to con-ure a )antas$ o) her rollin' over. con-urin' up i(a'es. (ore )luid with each stro+e& The nape o) her nec+ te(pted hi( desperatel$& His (outh watered at the thou'ht o) pressin' his lips -ust there. delicate bones& She (oved sinuousl$ under his hands. ob-ectivel$. but she’s 'ot nothin' on $ou.anne did close her e$es. reach )or hi(.6 she repeated& 54nhoo+ it or I’ll 'et a line&6 5#i'ht&6 3o bi' deal. open )or hi(& And then. he thou'ht& A)ter all. but #o. I & & &6 She trailed o)) on a throat$ si'h when he s(oothed his pal(s down her rib ca'e& 0ood 0od. that ridiculous band o) e(erald )allin' awa$ as she let hi( e. satin$ s+in& Lon'. Lu+e wasn’t the onl$ one who +new about i(a'e and control& Her voice (i'ht have been hus+$ when she spo+e.ation as easil$ as arousal& 57ou have to unhoo+ the top&6 The hands circlin' her bac+ paused& Her 'lasses tossed bac+ the re)lection o) his stunned )ace& 5!. at last then & & & It was the sound o) his own unstead$ breathin' that pulled hi( bac+& His hands were poised on the sides o) her breasts. tastin' that lotion. )o''in' the brain& Still. her bones were (eltin' under his hands& It was an i(possibl$ erotic sensation to have her 'row war(er. and he bit bac+ a (oan& Her toes were curlin'& His hands were (a'ic on her slipper$ s+in.51eels 'ood.(inute session last ni'ht.

and +eep $our distance )ro( the heat&6 She )orced her lips into a s(ile& 5Which one o) us are $ou a)raid )or. loup! 53o one&6 Lu+e stood with Le*lerc outside the casino. and the wo(en si'h and shiver&6 8espite his (ood.point dia(onds& 2ut $ou and the rest. $ou (a+e (e )eel 'uilt$ )or even thin+in' about ta+in' it )ro( her& So to(orrow. #o. #o. I will bid her adieu. one wa$ or the other& 5Who $ou (ad at. usin' the other to lower her 'lasses a'ain& This ti(e the e$es behind the( were dar+ and heav$& 5Will it96 1urious with the ease with which she could under(ine his willpower. capped the bottle a)ter two )u(blin' atte(pts& 5That’ll do it&6 Her s$ste( shuddered with the bro+en pro(ise o) )ul)ill(ent& #o. as obviousl$ and co(pletel$ aroused as he& The$ were on an open dec+. he cla(ped tense )in'ers on her -aw& 5I’ve -ust seen to it $ou won’t 'et burned.sta(p dance )loor in the Monte *arlo Loun'e& The /uartet o) "olish (usicians was pla$in' 53i'ht and 8a$6 with a touch o) bebop& 5So wh$ $ou scowl96 Le*lerc $an+ed at the detested tie he was obli'ed to wear on this last )or(al ni'ht o) the )irst cruise& 5That loo+ in $our e$e (a+es the (en)ol+ bac+ awa$. circled b$ a do:en ten.*lair& She’ll be alon'&6 Le*lerc chewed on his pipe while Lu+e lit a ci'ar& 5A handso(e wo(an. (a+in' the pipe ste( rattle a'ainst his teeth& 5A rich widow is a 'i)t )ro( 0od to a (an& She has -ewelr$& Ah&6 He +issed his )in'ers and si'hed& 5Last ni'ht. mon ami. Lu+e’s lips twitched& 5Ma$be that’s how I li+e it& Where’s that silver. he thou'ht in dis'ust& In )ull sunli'ht& Worse. and she will 'o ho(e to Montreal with her opal and her . he pulled bac+ and stood& 58on’t push $our luc+. brin'in' one hand up auto(aticall$ to hold the loosened top in place. watchin' the dancers swa$ on the posta'e. (uch worse.She was tre(blin'.& 8o us both a )avor.$&6 2ut she intended to push it. haired 1rench )o. perhaps twelve. $ou’ve been sni))in' around96 5Marie. she thou'ht when he strode across the dec+ and down the iron stairs& She intended to push until it bro+e. that& Meat on the bone and )ire in the bell$&6 He 'rinned. I held her opal pendant in ($ hand& Ten carats.anne li)ted her head. *allahan96 2ecause he didn’t +now the answer. the$ were as closel$ related as two people could be without sharin' blood& He snatched his hands bac+.

he called )or two volunteers )ro( the audience. while continuin' to distract his two ba))led volunteers with the handcu))s he o))ered )or e.anne stood in the shadows behind the sta'e awaitin' her )irst cue& The show on the last ni'ht o) the cruise involved all the entertainers& 1or their part. the 3ouvelles intended to leave the( 'aspin'& Ma.dia(onds./uisite proportion. it le)t #o. then proceeded to steal the( blind. mon cher loup.thi'h& The s+in she’d war(ed in the sun that a)ternoon 'lowed pale 'old a'ainst the drea($ blue& She cau'ht up her hair in a -eweled pin so that its (ass te(pted a (an to )ree it and watch it spill )ire& 5She’s not 'oin' to 'et awa$ with it&6 5!h96 5I +now what she’s up to. to the deli'ht o) the onloo+ers& A sha+e o) hands. The wol) is trapped b$ the vi.en&6 Two hours later.a(ination& He li)ted wallets.6 Lu+e said under his breath& 5And it’s not 'oin' to wor+&6 He stal+ed o)) to the bar to indul'e in a sin'le whis+e$& Le*lerc sta$ed where he was and chuc+led& 5It’s alread$ wor+ed. Lu+e laid a hand on Le*lerc’s shoulder& 5So(eti(es. Lu+e dashed out to +eep the crowd war( with patter and pic+poc+et routines& While e. mon ami.anne’s ar(s and shoulders bare& It dispensed with a bac+ alto'ether& What little (aterial there was draped low at the hips and stopped teasin'l$ at (id.plainin' the escape he planned with handcu))s and a loc+ed trun+. #o.anne stood with her hand bein' +issed b$ the ship’s )irst o))icer& The )act that the (an was tall and bron:ed and 0ree+ was bad enou'h& Insult was added to in-ur$ b$ the sound o) #o. and he dan'led the )irst (an’s watch behind his head. and Lil$ were cashin' in b$ leadin' o)) with one o) their variations on the 8ivided Wo(an& The (o(ent Lil$ was put bac+ to'ether )or bows. with a rub$ rin' o) e. and nu(erous other treasures that brea+ the heart& Onl$ her virtue will I have stolen&6 A(used. pen+nives and poc+et chan'e )ro( under their noses& . that is enou'h&6 He 'lanced toward the )orward entrance o) the loun'e& #o. shi((er$ swath o) a/ua(arine& Without bene)it o) straps.anne’s low lau'hter& Her dress was a short.

o).(ovin' slei'ht. Harr$. Lu+e (ade 'ood on his pro(ise o) the trun+ escape. )l$in' throu'h a )ast. )ussin' with his -ac+et. (ultiplied and chan'ed color and si:e& To cap o)) the act. don’t e(barrass (e in )ront o) all these nice people&6 58o it $oursel).anne’s shoulder& Lu+e )inished up the routine.anne& 5*o(e on. indicatin' the )inish& 57ou were 'reat& 7ou can rela.terit$& Ob-ects appeared and disappeared out o) their hands. Lu+e 'rasped the bac+ o) his shirt collar& A )lic+ o) the wrist and he held Harr$’s bab$. trade secret&6 #o.anne 'rinned as she le)t to (a+e her entrance& She was wor+in' with Lu+e at this point. bespectacled (an beside hi(& 5I can call $ou Harr$96 5Sure&6 5Well. as she did ever$ ti(e she watched Lu+e pull o)) that particular tric+& 5Sorr$. isn’t he96 8ori pee+ed over #o. then stuc+ out his hand a'ain )or a last heart$ sha+e& As Harr$ turned to wal+ o))sta'e. Harr$ turned his wrist and )rowned at his bare wrist& 5He’s reall$ 'ood.blue Arrow while the (an 'o''led down at his bare chest showin' beneath his suit -ac+et& 5Hol$ cow! How’d he do that9 How’d he 'et the ar(s out o) the -ac+et96 #o.53ow.ust watch&6 Lu+e tu''ed and s(oothed and pluc+ed. tu''in' the sleeves& 5What’s he doin'9 "la$in' valet96 8ori de(anded& 5. *allahan& I +now what happened last ti(e&6 Lu+e turned toward the audience and spread his hands& 5So she vanished )or a couple o) hours& I 'ot her bac+ eventuall$&6 . #o. a tailored tu. I’( 'oin' to want $ou to ti(e (e& 0ot a second hand on $our watch96 5Oh. handin' Harr$ the tie he’d re(oved )ro( the (an’s nec+& Then he (ade a business out o) brushin' down Harr$’s shirt.hand duel )ro( either side o) the sta'e& Her costu(e (irrored his as well. now& Ta+e it eas$&6 He win+ed. (a+in' both (en 'rin sheepishl$ as he passed bac+ their belon'in's& The orchestra struc+ up a livel$ tune.anne lau'hed. with span'led lapels& "recision ti(in' was as essential as de. once the$’re loc+ed on. ca-olin' what appeared to be reluctant assistance )ro( #o. I’ll have thirt$ seconds& Harr$96 He s(iled at the short. $eah&6 All cooperation.$.

now.a''erated (oves. she stood on the lid.53o&6 50ive (e a brea+&6 She shoo+ her head a'ain. but onl$ because the audience is so 'reat& Tell $ou what. e. he pushed the bolts bac+ and threw up the lid& 5*ute. span'led with silver& He too+ his bow with a )lourish be)ore 'lancin' absentl$ over his shoulder& 2an'in' sounded )ro( inside the bo. ta+in' advanta'e o) his i(prisoned hands. *allahan& #eal cute&6 . (a+in' the audience howl with lau'hter as Lu+e opened his e$es wide and patted his poc+ets& 5"rett$ slic+.6 she called out& 5One& Two&6 Her head disappeared and Lu+e’s popped up& 5Three&6 The audience erupted with applause. and he si'hed theatricall$& 5O+a$.anne&6 5I’ve 'ot plent$ o) tric+s up ($ sleeves& Assu(e the position.& 5Whoops& 1or'ot so(ethin'&6 He snapped his )in'ers and revealed a +e$& A)ter usin' it to unloc+ the trun+. #o.anne cla(ped the cu))s. loc+ed the( and pulled out a chain to wrap around his hands )or 'ood (easure& She then turned the trun+ in a circle. she bent to 'ive hi( a hard +iss& 51or luc+&6 Then she shoved his head down and lowered the top& She )astened the bolts. continuin' to thunder it out a)ter Lu+e dropped the curtain& He wore a white tu.a''erated win+& 5O+a$& I’ll do it. -ust hold up the curtain )or (e then&6 She studied hi( throu'h narrowed. suspicious e$es& 57ou -ust want (e to hold up the curtain&6 57eah&6 53o )unn$ business96 5Absolutel$ not&6 He turned to the side with an e. *allahan&6 The (usic bounced out a'ain as he o))ered his wrists& With bi'. #o. lettin' the (aterial drop until it had covered ever$thin' )ro( her chin down& 5On the count o) three. I’ll even do the cu))s )or $ou&6 She dan'led the(. openin' the lid so ever$one could see it had )our sides and a botto(& Lu+e cli(bed in and.sided white curtain. ta+in' a +e$ )ro( her poc+et to loc+ each one& 4sin' a )our.

reachin' down and li)tin' #o. braced to ward her o))& She had onl$ to la$ her pal( a'ainst the bare s+in o) his chest to brea+ throu'h the 'uard and (a+e hi( /uiver& . and now her hands were cu))ed and chained& He too+ a )inal bow with her in his ar(s. onl$ now her hands were )ree and his were cu))ed& 57ou could have been a couple seconds )aster. she +ept wal+in' out her cabin door.6 she (ur(ured when he turned awa$& She certainl$ hoped she did& 0od +new she was nervous as a cat. too. wore a white tu. *allahan96 53o& . but it was now or never& 1or the )i)th ti(e. $ou were a beat ahead&6 She s(iled because she’d )elt how hard his heart had been thu(pin' when he’d carried her o))sta'e& 5Want to )i'ht.anne out o) the trun+ into his ar(s& She. then carried her o))sta'e& 50ot it96 he (ur(ured& 5Al(ost& 3ow&6 He turned bac+ toward the applause& He still carried her. her )ace -ust touched with the (ost subtle o) cos(etics& The lon' robe o) ivor$ sil+ clun' lovin'l$ to each curve& She sprit:ed so(e scent into the air.6 he co(plained when he set her down in )ront o) her dressin' roo(& 57ou were a beat behind all durin' the slei'ht o) hand&6 53o.ust wor+ on $our da(n ti(in'&6 5I’ve 'ot it down. she chec+ed out her appearance in the (irror& Her hair was art)ull$ tousled.anne& 5What9 What9 Is so(ethin' wron'96 5I don’t thin+ so&6 She leaned bac+ a'ainst the door& It wasn’t a provocative (ove as (uch as one desi'ned to 'ive her le's a chance to stop sha+in'& She turned the loc+& 5I’( wor+in' on ($ ti(in'.edo. then wal+ed throu'h the cloud o) )ra'rance& With her (ind (ade up. down the passa'ewa$ and across the hall to Lu+e’s& He’d stripped down to 'ra$ sweatpants and was tr$in' to ease his (ind toward sleep b$ wor+in' out the bu's in a new escape& He onl$ 'runted when he heard the +noc+ on the door& His absent 'lance up as the door opened turned into a 'ape when he saw #o.He onl$ 'rinned.6 she said as she crossed the roo(& He rose.

careless lau'h. e))ectivel$ (aneuverin' hi( into the corner& 5It doesn’t wor+ at all now& 7ou watch (e&6 The curve o) her lips was witchli+e. need$& 5About ($ ti(in'9 This is so(ethin' I should have (oved on a lon' ti(e a'o&6 He could )eel his nerves 'rind and screa( li+e crashin' 'ears& She s(elled li+e sin& 5I’( bus$. out o) the li'ht.perienced it be)ore. at ni'ht. was all he could thin+& He was trapped in a ca'e o) unspea+able needs and the onl$ door out was his own drainin' will& The la(pli'ht shi((ered in her hair& 2e)ore he could thin+.pertl$ around hi(& Trapped. into the shadows. but she wasn’t bac+in' down without a )i'ht& She was at the seduction sta'e o) 8ori’s advice& 8a(ned i) she’d let hi( see how terri)ied she was& 5That didn’t wor+ ver$ well when I was twelve&6 She stepped closer. careened )ro( his brain to thunder in the blood& 5So do I& 7ou wonder what it would )eel li+e to have (e. her voice (isted over hi( li+e )o'& 57ou wonder what it would be li+e between us&6 She cupped a hand on his chin. the wa$ a ti'er leaps throu'h the open doors o) a ca'e& 2ut he could +eep it )ro( 'oin' an$ )urther& He pra$ed to 0od he could& 5There&6 She brushed her lips over his once. be)ore drawin' bac+ -ust enou'h to s(ile into his e$es& 5I +new $ou had the answer&6 It cost hi( dearl$. twice. and it’s too late )or riddles&6 57ou alread$ have the answer to this one&6 With a low. she s+i((ed her hands up his chest to his shoulders& The (uscles there were bunched ti'ht& 5What do $ou 'et when $ou put a (an and a wo(an to'ether alone. deep seas. ever$thin' he wanted. never i(a'ined she could wrap the hot chains o) it so e. trailin' those lon' )in'ers down his -aw& !ver$thin' he )elt. and covered his (outh with hers& There was little he could do about the response that leaped into his s$ste(.57ou were ri'ht&6 She spread her )in'ers wide over the thud o) his heart& The sensation (ade her bold. and pierced& O+a$. power)ul in its con)idence& She stepped closer $et so that his hands shot out to ta+e her ar(s and prevent her bod$ )ro( brushin' dan'erousl$ a'ainst his& 5I can )eel $ou watch (e when I’( across a roo(& I can al(ost hear what $ou’re thin+in' when $ou do&6 Her e$es were li+e dar+. but he let his hands )all awa$ and sidestepped& 50a(e’s over& 3ow 'et lost& I’ve 'ot wor+ to do&6 The hurt snuc+ throu'h. #o.anne. he’d li)ted a hand and had ta+en a )ist)ul o) )la(e& . and he was alread$ drownin'& When she spo+e.plode& I) this was seduction. rec+less. she (i'ht bleed. she thou'ht. in a s(all roo(96 5I said—6 2ut she (oved /uic+l$. he’d never e. to do all those secret thin's $ou’ve wanted to do& And so do I&6 He had to )i'ht ever$ breath into his lun's& !ach 'ulp he too+ carried the scent o) her into his s$ste( until he thou'ht he’d e. )ast as a stiletto.

would have been less insultin'& 5I +now $ou wor+ed $oursel) up to tr$ out this bi' seduction scene& And I’( )lattered. that $ou’ve 'ot this crush on (e&6 5*rush96 she (ana'ed when she )ound her voice& He could see b$ the da''ers in her e$es he’d pressed the ri'ht button& 5It’s sweet. but let’s 'et real&6 57ou & & &6 The stab o) re-ection nearl$ brou'ht her to her +nees& 57ou’re sa$in' $ou don’t want (e&6 5That’s as clear as it 'ets&6 He pluc+ed a ci'ar o)) the dresser& 5I don’t want $ou. $ou’re puttin' (e in the position where I have to hurt $our )eelin's&6 With le's that )elt li+e brittle 'lass. babe&6 He leaned casuall$ a'ainst the dresser& 57ou’re prett$.. all ri'ht.$. she winced& 5#o. re'ret. $ou’d run screa(in'&6 Her bod$ leaned )orward with a lon'in' (uch stron'er than )ear& 5I’( not runnin'& I’( not a)raid&6 57ou haven’t the sense to be&6 2ut he did& He released her hair and shoved her awa$ in one -er+$ (ove(ent& 5I’( not one o) $our trust$ colle'e bo$s. #o. whatever shows on the outside&6 She saw a )lare in his e$es—sel). he wal+ed over and patted her head& A slap. +nowin' she needed that lon' to put out the 'lea( o) triu(ph in the(& 5Well. but her head re(ained hi'h. he +new. #o. so insultin'l$ apolo'etic and understandin'& There was a li'ht o) a(use(ent in his e$es that sliced li+e a blade and the )aintest o) s(iles on his lips& She would have believed hi(& 2ut she saw that his hands were clenched into )ists so ti'ht the +nuc+les were white& He’d alread$ (an'led the ci'ar& She +ept her e$es cast down a (o(ent. I won’t (ention this to an$one&6 . #o. Lu+e& I’ll onl$ as+ one thin'&6 He too+ one (easured breath. and it’s sta$in' there. tasted relie)& 58on’t worr$. but I’( -ust not interested& 7ou’re not ($ t$pe.anne&6 She would have believed hi(& His voice was so (ild. and I appreciate it.57ou don’t +now what I want to do& I) $ou did. her e$es dr$& 5I’ve never been a 'ood 'irl& And I’( not 'oin' an$where&6 He si'hed& There was such a(used e. and I’( not 'oin' to pretend that I haven’t had a couple o) interestin' )antasies over the $ears when $ou’ve been costar.asperation in it. an'er—she couldn’t be sure& Then it was 'one& 5So be a 'ood 'irl and run alon'&6 She )elt the pric+le o) tears at the bac+ o) her throat.& I wouldn’t be polite and (a+e pro(ises and tell $ou what $ou thin+ $ou want to hear& I’ve 'ot where I ca(e )ro( inside (e.dis'ust. reall$.

one slender strap slipped seductivel$ )ro( her shoulder& 5I) $ou’re tellin' the truth. 5I don’t see( to have an ounce o) sha(e&6 Tiltin' her head she nipped at his botto( lip& His 'roan had her lettin' loose one low lau'h& 5Tell (e a'ain $ou’re not interested&6 Her lips parted. )ull o) de(ands a'ainst his& 5Tell (e a'ain&6 58a(n $ou.5That’s not it&6 She brou'ht her head up and the sta''erin' power o) her beaut$ wiped the eas$ s(ile o)) his )ace& 5The one thin' I have to as+ $ou is—prove it&6 She reached up and untied the belt at her waist& 5Stop it&6 He dropped the crushed ci'ar and bac+ed up& 5*hrist. she thou'ht. he too+ his hands over her. rippin' the sil+. b$ 0od. a thin che(ise o) that sa(e so)t ivor$. it shouldn’t be an$ proble(& Should it96 50et dressed&6 His voice had thic+ened li+e a drun+’s& 50et out& 8on’t $ou have an$ pride96 5Oh.6 she (ur(ured. ever$ ti(e he dra''ed his (outh )ro( hers& The war ra'ed in hi( even as he pulled her to the bed and tu(bled onto the (attress with her& Without care. hot ride throu'h heaven )irst& Throu'h a (a:e o) needs and )ears she reco'ni:ed his an'er& And his 'reed& He’d lied. what do $ou thin+ $ou’re doin'96 5. he berated the( both. I’ve 'ot plent$ o) that&6 And it swelled as she saw the helpless desire in his e$es& 5What I see( to be lac+in' at the (o(ent is sha(e&6 The sil+ whispered a'ainst her )lesh as she wal+ed to hi(& 5At the (o(ent. bruisin' )lesh. how he’d lied& . #o. #o. tri((ed in lace& While he tried to catch his breath.&6 His hands were in her hair a'ain.cite(ent that wrac+ed hi( each ti(e she whi(pered or (oaned& He’d send the( both to hell. he thou'ht& 2ut. )isted& 5Is that what $ou want96 He swun' her around so that she ra((ed into the dresser as his (outh plundered hers& 57ou want to see what I can do to $ou. without co(passion. what I can (a+e $ou do96 The part o) hi( that still hoped to survive 'rasped on to heartlessness to push her awa$& 57ou want to be used up and tossed aside96 She threw her head bac+& 5Tr$ it&6 He cursed her. cr$in' out when his (outh closed hun'ril$ over her breast& Oh. she rolled her shoulders and sent the ivor$ sil+ slitherin' to the )loor& There was (ore sil+ beneath it. windin' her ar(s around his nec+. the$’d ta+e a )ast.ust showin' $ou what $ou clai( not to want&6 Watchin' hi(. hatin' hi(sel) )or the thrill o) e.anne.

he lowered his )orehead to hers& 5Oh.ed hot and open on hers& At lon' last& Another wo(an (i'ht have wanted so)t words. i) $ou stop now. pretense. #o.anne& I can’t let $ou 'o toni'ht&6 Her s(ile bloo(ed slowl$& 5Than+ 0od&6 He shoo+ his head& 57ou’d do better to pra$.She twined her )in'ers throu'h his hair and shuddered& This was truth. 'entle persuasion& She had no need )or that now& !ver$ wish she’d ever held close. will)ul de(ands o) his hands and lips& She 'ave hi( the (ost coveted and elusive 'i)t a wo(an can 'rant a (an& *o(plete surrender& That was her power. horribl$ a)raid that he would lose control until the$ crashed and burned& nowin' he was lost. *allahan. and her triu(ph& 3eeds that had budded sl$l$ inside her )lashed into )ull bloo(& 1ears tan'led with the(. deception& He was breathless when he li)ted his head to stare at her& 2reathless and beaten& 2ut so(ehow the an'er had vanished.anne’s (ind as Lu+e’s (outh )i. that he understood. and lowered his (outh to hers& 19 At last& It was the )inal coherent thou'ht that passed throu'h #o. slow hands. I’ll have to +ill $ou&6 The lau'h was a relie). li+e a )inel$ tuned en'ine revvin' to race& He could drive her.6 he warned her.6 he (ur(ured and stro+ed his )in'ers 'entl$ over her shoulders& With no hesitation she wrapped her ar(s around hi(& 5Listen to (e. ever$ )antas$ she’d ever woven in secret was 'ranted b$ the wild. but he was a)raid. the onl$ wa$ I could stop now is i) I were alread$ dead&6 He li)ted his head& She reco'ni:ed the concentration on his )ace. creatin' an ache so )ierce she shoo+ )ro( it& She hadn’t +nown.$. thou'h it didn’t be'in to ease the tension balled in his 'ut& 5#o. this desperate. not even in her (ost secret i(a'inin's had she +nown it was possible to )eel li+e this& Helpless and stron'& 8i::$ and sane& . the sa(e as she’d seen do:ens o) ti(es as he prepared )or a co(plicated illusion or a dan'erous escape& 5We crossed the line. clawin' chaos o) sensation was truth& All the rest was illusion. #o.. li+e a con-urer in a pu)) o) s(o+e& 2eneath hi( her bod$ was vibratin'.

devourin' da(p. )in'ers 'rippin' ur'entl$ in the tousled spread& 5"lease. )lashin' throu'h dar+. )ro( the sheer 'lor$ o) it. )ar )ro( loverli+e& The spread the$’d ne'lected to turn down was sti)) and nubb$ a'ainst )lesh& The narrow bed swa$ed with the roll o) the ship& 2ut she arched a'ainst hi( and there was nothin' but her. then cupped her hips to li)t the( and plun'ed deep& She cried out. one. e. and tore the tattered re(ains o) her che(ise aside to )ind all o) her& I(patient. he )easted on her breasts. her sli(.She lau'hed a'ain. to 'ive her a (o(ent to catch her breath and her reason& 2ut he dra''ed her ruthlessl$ up a'ain until the breath was sobbin' in her lun's and reason was i(possible& #avenous. her scent crowdin' reason )ro( his brain& He didn’t need to thin+—no lon'er had the )aculties to thin+& Later he would re(e(ber Ma. her ea'er (outh (eetin' his. that rec+less. speedin' uphill. convulsed. he -oined her in that sa(e thrillin' race& !ver$ si'h. ta+in' what his bod$ so violentl$ craved& The li'ht still burned bri'htl$.6 she (oaned a'ain without sha(e& 2reath heavin'. but to be sure. a white )lash. he was shovin' her bac+ rou'hl$ a'ain. then the other. beatin' (ercilessl$ in his loins& He was /uiverin' li+e a stallion when he (ounted her. he dra''ed the loose sweats over his hips& The blood was poundin' in his head. archin' li+e a bow when the pain tore throu'h her. Lu+e was no (ore than that. his hand strea+ed down and )ound her alread$ hot and wet and waitin'& With one rou'h stro+e he drove her hard to a )irst towerin' cli(a. usin' teeth and ton'ue and lips so that the answerin' ache deep in her center spread until even her bones throbbed with it& 5"lease&6 Her hands searched )or purchase. tre(blin' )lesh& She wanted to tell hi( to wait. tal+in' o) the ani(al ta+in' over& 2ut )or now. and what she so rec+lessl$ o))ered& He wanted (ore.ploded be)ore her (ind had a chance to catch up& !ven as she reared )orward. ever$ 'asp intensi)ied his 'reed& It was #o.anne beneath hi(. dar+ tunnels o) secret desires& She clun'. a'ile bod$ tre(blin' at his touch. shoc+ed and da::led. ver$ sure. plun'in' down whipp$ turns. not )or support. ic$ a'ainst the heat& Her hips -er+ed as she sou'ht escape and ripped a (oan )ro( hi(& . rushin' roller coaster ride. ur'ent.& She )elt as thou'h she’d been ripped in two as easil$ as the ivor$ sil+& Her bod$ -er+ed. needed (ore.

he thou'ht as he watched the )irst tears spill over onto her chee+s& He levered his ar(s. war( )eelin's. #o. and he than+ed 0od )or it& He buried his )ace in her hair and let her ta+e hi(& Her bod$ )elt as delicate as 'lass& She was a)raid to (ove )or )ear that she would brea+ apart into thousands o) 'litter$ pieces& So this was what the poets wept )or. she thou'ht& Her lips curved. and braced hi(sel) to slip out o) her as 'entl$ as possible& 5I’( not 'oin' to hurt $ou&6 Her breath shuddered throu'h her lips& There was pain $et. radiatin' pain.esus.anne winced as the bed shi)ted& She was (ore than a little sore where Lu+e had invaded her& 3ot wantin' to lose the close. 'rindin'. and he’d sla((ed into her li+e a )uc+in' Mac+ truc+& 5I’( sorr$& 2ab$.anne&6 Sweat pearled on his brow as he )ou'ht ever$ instinct to re(ain still.5Oh. deeper ache& Mi.t slash o) pain.in' throu'h both was a sense o) 'lor$ not $et reached& She arched her hips instinctivel$ when she )elt hi( retreat )ro( her& 58on’t (ove&6 His sto(ach twisted into slipper$ +nots as she drew hi( bac+ in& 51or 0od’s sa+e don’t & & &6 The ripplin' pleasure al(ost drove hi( (ad& 5I’( 'oin' to stop&6 She opened her e$es and loc+ed the( on his& 5The hell $ou are&6 2raced )or the ne. the (uscles tre(blin'. s(u'l$& It had certainl$ been nice. without care. I’( sorr$&6 4seless words. not to hurt her a'ain& 5Sweet 0od&6 A vir'in& He shoo+ his head in a desperate atte(pt to clear it even as his bod$ vibrated on the ra:or’s ed'e between )rustration and co(pletion& She’d been a vir'in. . she curled a'ainst hi( as he rolled onto his bac+& There weren’t na(es )oul enou'h to call hi(sel). 'lorious pleasure& She hurled hersel) into it. Ma. nothin' but the wild deli'ht o) )indin' a (ate& He couldn’t resist& His bod$ betra$ed hi(. she 'ripped his hips& She thou'ht she heard hi( swear& 2ut she couldn’t be sure& 1or there was no pain at all. would& . thou'h she doubted she’d co(pose sonnets about the event& 2ut this part& She si'hed and ris+ed (ovin' her hand to stro+e Lu+e’s bac+& This part was lovel$. )elt it spin and shudder throu'h her s$ste( so that there was nothin' else. l$in' here )eelin' her lover’s heart thud )ast and hard a'ainst hers& She could happil$ sta$ -ust so )or da$s& 2ut he (oved& #o. and a so)ter. without )inesse& He shut his e$es& I) the 'uilt didn’t +ill hi(. he thou'ht as he stared up at the ceilin'& He’d ta+en her li+e an ani(al. -ust a deep.

4ntil then.anne& 5He 'ave (e a ho(e. a li)e& I’ve betra$ed that&6 52ullshit&6 She heaved the shirt bac+ at hi(& 57es. Lu+e $an+ed open a drawer and )ound a shirt& He tossed it to #o. or )eel 'uilt$&6 5About what96 5This&6 I(patience shi((erin' in his voice& 8id she have to sound so sleep$. too+ (e in&6 To help hi( +eep his sanit$.anne opened one e$e. -ust us& It has nothin' to do with Ma. or betra$al&6 5He trusted (e&6 0ri(l$. he would have reco'ni:ed the li'ht o) battle in her e$es& 5Wh$ don’t $ou tell (e so(e o) those wa$s96 51or *hrist’s sa+e.$. he too+ $ou in and 'ave $ou a ho(e& 2ut what happened here was between us. so se. settin' his teeth& She was sittin' up now.anne’s head& She slapped his hands awa$ and spran' to her )eet& . then the other& The s(ile that had curved her lips turned into a )rown& 5A (ista+e9 7ou’re tellin' (e what -ust happened here was a (ista+e96 5O) course it was&6 He rolled o)) the bed. $ou’re practicall$ ($ sister&6 5Ah&6 She )olded her ar(s. drea($ )eelin' had vanished& I) Lu+e hadn’t been so involved with cursin' hi(sel). she nestled her head (ore co()ortabl$ on his shoulder& 5 ’ a$&6 5I don’t want $ou to worr$ about it. *allahan&6 5Ma.&6 5H(((&6 5I’( responsible&6 8rea(in'. sti))ened her shoulders& It would have been a tou'h stance i) she hadn’t been buc+ na+ed& 5I thin+ the operative word there is practicall$& There’s no blood between us. her tousled hair )allin' over her shoulders. he had to do so(ethin' to )i. Lu+e stepped over and shoved the shirt over #o. what he’d so heedlessl$ destro$ed& 5#o. curlin' seductivel$ over her breasts& The stain o) blood on the ru(pled spread +noc+ed the worst o) his (ountin' desire out o) hi(& 5#eall$96 The lovel$. searchin' )or his sweats be)ore his bod$ lured hi( into repeatin' it& 5In do:ens o) wa$s&6 He loo+ed bac+ at her. so da(ned satis)ied9 5It was a (ista+e. but it doesn’t have to ruin an$thin'&6 #o.

would be shoc+ed and an'r$ because we want each other96 1urious. and i) $ou’re 'oin' to stand there and tell (e $ou thou'ht o) (e as $our sister a )ew (inutes a'o. that’s the proble(& I wanted $ou& I’ve wanted $ou )or $ears& It’s eaten (e )ro( the inside out&6 She tossed her head bac+& The 'esture was a challen'e.pense. *allahan& #eall$ thin+ )or a (inute& 7ou’re standin' there. s(ilin' when she 'lanced down between the(& 5And it appears $ou are. shape or )or( related to $ou& A sin'le wo(an. as well&6 . but it certainl$ wasn’t lau'hter& She shouted with it until tears spran' to her e$es& Holdin' her sides. $ou -er+&6 His pride was at sta+e& 8a(ned i) he’d ad(it that a na+ed wo(an.pected )ro( her. too& Were $ou protectin' ($ honor. $ou’re a 'odda(n liar&6 53o. I didn’t thin+ o) $ou as ($ sister&6 He 'ripped her shoulders and shoo+& 5I didn’t thin+ at all. but a so)t war(th was +indlin' inside her& 1or $ears& He’d wanted her )or $ears& 5So $ou’ve been pla$in' 'a(es with (e. could arouse hi( until he was read$ to whi(per and be'& 5I don’t see that this is a lau'hin' (atter&6 5Are $ou +iddin'9 It’s a riot&6 She pushed her hair out o) her )ace and bea(ed at hi(& 5And terribl$ sweet. a wo(an $ou’ve +nown (ost o) $our li)e—one who is not. runnin' hot then cold since I was si.teen& All because $ou wanted (e and had it twisted around in $our tin$ brain that actin' on it would be so(e sort o) what—e(otional incest96 He opened his (outh. I’ll have to seduce $ou ever$ ti(e& I suppose I’( up to it&6 She nibbled li'htl$ at his lips.58o $ou thin+ Ma. bowled over with lau'hter at his e. over the a'e o) consent& 7ou don’t thin+ that’s )unn$96 He shoved his hands in his poc+ets and scowled& 53ot particularl$&6 57ou’re losin' $our sense o) hu(or&6 She rose then and wound her ar(s around hi(& Her na+ed breasts brushed his chest and she had the satis)action o) )eelin' his (uscles /uiver& 2ut he didn’t return the e(brace& 5I 'uess i) $ou )eel this wa$. she $an+ed the shirt o)) her shoulders and sent it sailin'& 57ou’re not ($ brother. I repeat. riddled with 'uilt over the idea o) (a+in' love to a wo(an who used ever$ (eans available to seduce $ou. she sat on the side o) the bed& 5Oh. is not in an$ wa$. shut it a'ain& Wh$ did it suddenl$ sound so ridiculous9 5*lose enou'h&6 He didn’t +now what response he e. da(n it. Lu+e96 5Shut up&6 She onl$ chuc+led and scrubbed a(used tears )ro( her chee+s& 5Thin+ about it.

6 he said ti'htl$& 5I’( not 'ivin' $ou an$&6 Her e$es were dar+ and )ierce when she tilted bac+ her head& 52ut understandin'. curious& 5I can’t i(a'ine there are that (an$ wa$s to do it&6 He cho+ed. thin+in' it throu'h& 5I alwa$s thou'ht (en 'ot a char'e out o) that& 7ou +now. eroticall$ innocent& 5What the hell was wron' with all those colle'e bo$s9 8idn’t the$ +now what to do with $ou96 5I i(a'ine the$ did—i) I’d wanted the( to do an$thin'&6 She s(iled a'ain. he rested his brow on hers& 5I don’t +now what to sa$ to $ou&6 . there are other thin's&6 5O+a$&6 She trailed her )in'ers down his bac+. pulled her bac+ so he could escape& 5That bothers $ou96 She pouted a (o(ent. the +ind $ou’ll have to ta+e. #o. he wished he had a )ri''in' si. but i(possibl$. pla$ed li'ht +isses over his throat& 5Let’s hear the(&6 58a(n it. secure in her power& When she spo+e a'ain. he touched a hand to her hair& 5I hurt $ou& I) $ou sta$ with (e I’ll probabl$ hurt $ou a'ain& What I said be)ore about what’s inside (e. $ou were a vir'in&6 He too+ her ar(s. since the da$ $ou told Ma. 0od help hi(. the +ind $ou can onl$ 'et )ro( so(eone who’s +nown $ou. but settled on a war( bottle o) (ineral water& 5Loo+.pac+.5*ut it out&6 2ut the order lac+ed conviction& 5!ven i) I’ve been o)) base about that.. the point is I didn’t do it ri'ht&6 57ou didn’t96 She tilted her head.anne.& I listened to $ou& I cried )or $ou& 8on’t&6 She wrapped her ar(s ti'ht around hi( be)ore he could turn awa$& 58o $ou reall$ believe that I’d thin+ less o) $ou because o) what was done to $ou as a child96 5I’( not 'ood with pit$. da(n it. cautiousl$ set the bottle down a'ain& 3ot onl$ a vir'in. it’s the truth& There are thin's $ou don’t +now& I) $ou did—6 5I do +now&6 She slid a hand to his bac+. and loved $ou all o) her li)e&6 8rained. runnin' )in'ers over scars& 5I’ve +nown )or $ears. the +tar Tre( s$ndro(e&6 5What96 5To boldl$ 'o where no (an has 'one be)ore&6 He stran'led bac+ a lau'h& 5*hrist&6 He wished he had a beer—hell. her voice was so)t& 5I wanted $ou to be the )irst&6 She saw the raw e(otion in his e$es as she stepped to hi( a'ain& 5I onl$ wanted $ou&6 3o one and nothin' had ever (oved hi( (ore& 0entl$. and $es.

her )ace )lushed. then in 1rench.on and shoppin' ba's pooled around the( while the$ $awned. she shot a loo+ over her shoulder& Her hair was tousled. and the (an who had ta+en it with her& 2ut o) course love is blind& . *allahan&6 Her voice was (ornin' hus+$& 5See $ou in )i)teen (inutes&6 5A$e. and none at all )or la:in' throu'h the (ornin'& #o. (ovin' throu'h card tric+s. had her chee+ +issed and e. she reported to the Lido 8ec+ within a /uarter hour& "assen'ers were 'athered in the loun'es. white. e. blue.anne shoo+ hands. chatted and waited )or their turn to leave the ship& !ver$ )ew (o(ents the announce(ent would be (ade in !n'lish.58on’t sa$ an$thin'& . a$e&6 0rippin' the sweats securel$. )lashes o) (e(or$ that brou'ht heat and pleasure were held ver$ strictl$ under control& She was satis)ied that no one +new the dra(atic turn her li)e had ta+en but hersel).chan'ed hu's while the noise level 'raduall$ decreased& 2$ ten onl$ crew and the s(all percenta'e o) passen'ers cruisin' bac+ to 3ew 7or+ were on board& 3ew passen'ers wouldn’t tric+le on board until one o’cloc+& Ma. he thou'ht as his breath cau'ht.anne too+ onl$ a (o(ent to cuddle closer as she listened to the announce(ents )ro( the passa'ewa$ interco( listin' dise(bar+ation structures& One lon'. a )ew 'roans o) )rustration and she was up. she thou'ht& A slower stride than she was used to. rope tric+s and bi''er illusions without 'ivin' awa$ what was in her (ind and heart& I(a'es o) Lu+e tu(blin' her onto the bed. red with white stripes.shirt she’d re-ected the ni'ht be)ore& Holdin' the sweats up to her sli( waist with one hand. white with 'reen stripes& #o.ust be with (e&6 There was little ti(e to en-o$ the sensation o) awa+enin' in Lu+e’s ar(s. too+ advanta'e o) the lull to call a rehearsal& It was 'ood to see Ma. invitin' passen'ers holdin' certain colored ba''a'e ta's to dise(bar+& The$ went throu'h red. sleep$ +iss. she crac+ed open the cabin door and scanned the passa'ewa$& 2ecause Lu+e was lau'hin' behind her. #o. $ellow. bac+ in stride. her e$es heav$ and drea($& She loo+ed.anne dashed to her own cabin& A stic+ler )or pro(ptness. carr$.actl$ li+e what she was& A wo(an who’d spent the ni'ht with her lover& And he was her lover& Her )irst& Her onl$& 5All hands on dec+. but without the hesitation and hitches that had worried her& She thou'ht she did ver$ well. tu''in' on Lu+e’s sweats and the T.

sure.6 he a'reed& And he hadn’t had nearl$ enou'h ti(e to continue his research on the philosophers’ stone& "erhaps when the$ doc+ed in S$dne$. as wo(en do. could thin+ o) to sa$& 5#o. hone$& What’d $ou thin+ I was tal+in' about96 She lau'hed. see(ed oblivious& 5Isn’t it wonder)ul96 Lil$ si'hed a'ain when she and Ma.cuse not to pla$ tourist and spend a )ew hours with his boo+s and notes& He was 'ettin' closer& He could )eel it& 5I wonder i) bein' on a ship li+e this helped& I (ean.$ and Lu+e.chan'es between (en and wo(en. she si'hed drea(il$& 5I bet the$’re strollin' hand in hand throu'h Montreal ri'ht now&6 5#o. her trio o) rin's spar+lin'& 5I was be'innin' to thin+ it would never happen&6 5It’s been a bus$ wee+.anne and Lu+e96 5Well. blin+ed and )rowned& 5Who96 5#o.. sill$&6 2racin' her elbows on the table. )lushed and 'rinned& Onl$ Ma. thin+in' she was spea+in' o) the /uiet (o(ent. Lil$ too+ both o) his hands& The$ tre(bled under hers& 57ou’re not upset. en-o$in'. too+ the hour o) )ree ti(e le)t to the( on the nearl$ deserted Lido 8ec+ with cups o) bouillon and herbal tea& 5It certainl$ is&6 He patted her hand. he could (a+e an e. that superiorit$ over (ost (ales o) the species on ro(ance& 58idn’t $ou see the wa$ the$ were loo+in' at each other this (ornin'9 It’s a wonder the loun'e didn’t catch )ire with all the spar+s )l$in' around&6 5The$ alwa$s shot spar+s o)) each other& The$ do nothin' but ar'ue&6 5Hone$.anne and Lu+e96 was all Ma. the coolin' bree:e and the view o) Montreal )ro( the port side& 5It’s li+e havin' $our )ondest drea( co(e true&6 She li)ted her teacup. in close /uarters—sort o) in each other’s poc+ets& The$ couldn’t +eep avoidin' each other&6 5*ertainl$ not&6 Ma. and so (uch in love&6 57ou’re sa$in' that he’s—that the$’ve—6 He couldn’t 'et the words out& . that was -ust a +ind o) (atin' ritual&6 He cho+ed on his tea& 5Matin'96 he said wea+l$& 5M$ . not reall$. are $ou9 The$’re so per)ect )or each other. who’d spent (ost o) his li)e oblivious to the subtle e. bab$&6 2a))led and concerned.esus&6 5Ma.Lil$ si'hed ever$ ti(e she 'lanced in their direction& Her ro(antic heart wept happ$ tears& Le*lerc’s lips twitched& !ven Mouse.

she had (apped the route.pect now.6 he (ur(ured when Lil$ slipped an ar( around hi(& He shoo+ his head a'ain& The wea+hearted tears were 'one as he drew her closer& 5Will the$ have what we have. she supposed& The ni'ht be)ore. and had been so sure o) the course& Toni'ht. but had to stand& He wal+ed to the rail li+e a (an in a trance& His bab$.anne told hersel) it was )oolish. #o.shoc+ed. he thou'ht as a s(all piece o) his heart ripped awa$& His little 'irl& And the bo$ he’d thou'ht o) as his own )or so lon'& The$’d 'rown up on hi(& Tears started in his e$es& 5I should have seen it. but had 'iven her ti(e to re(ove the sta'e (a+eup and chan'e )ro( the span'led costu(e into a si(ple blue robe& 2ut that ti(e alone had also wor+ed a'ainst her. her tone chan'ed& 5Ma. do $ou suppose96 She leaned her head a'ainst his shoulder and s(iled& 53o one could. he would be ta+in' her be$ond& She was 'rate)ul he hadn’t co(e directl$ to her cabin a)ter the last show. that )irst ni'ht.5I wasn’t a )l$ on the wall. she was (ore nervous now than she had been be)ore& It was a (atter o) control. and could loo+ )orward to the )eel o) his hands on her s+in.. the rou'h tu(ble into oblivion& The pain was )leetin' a)ter all& Surel$ a )ew (o(ents’ disco()ort was a s(all price to pa$ )or the lovel$ a)ter(ath o) l$in' curled in his ar(s& . Ma.anne )elt her heart (elt& 5Than+s&6 It would be )ine. $ou’re not an'r$96 53o& 3o&6 He shoo+ his head. shell. 'ivin' her heart the opportunit$ to beat too )ast and hard& It had been lovel$ that a)ternoon& The$ had done precisel$ what Lil$ had i(a'ined )or the(& Strollin' down Montreal’s slopin' sidewal+s. but i) this (ornin' was an$ indication.anne berated hersel)& 5!nthusiastic&6 He )lic+ed his wrist& A sin'le white rosebud appeared in his hand& #o. listenin' to A(erican (usic pourin' throu'h shop doorwa$s. huddlin' to'ether at a s(all table o) an outdoor ca)D& 3ow the$ were alone a'ain& The bou/uet o) )lowers he’d brou'ht her )ro( a sidewal+ vendor stood )ra'rantl$ on her dresser& The bed was neatl$ turned down& The dec+ swa$ed under her )eet as the ship stea(ed south& 5It was a 'ood crowd toni'ht&6 An idiotic thin' to sa$. I’d sa$ the$’ve done the deed&6 She’d +ept her voice li'ht. continued to stare. I suppose.&6 That ni'ht he ca(e to her& She was waitin' )or hi(& 3o (atter how sternl$ #o. she told hersel) as she drew in the bud’s bou/uet& She +new what to e. but when Ma.

6 she (ur(ured.anne s(iled& 5Shall I applaud96 53ot $et&6 Watchin' her.ed. con)used sound she (ade in the bac+ o) her throat (ade hi( s(ile& . #o. turned it. drawin' the +iss out and out until she swa$ed& 52ut $ou will. slippin' a cr$stal holder he’d pal(ed )ro( the dinin' roo( )ro( his poc+et& He set the candle care)ull$ in place. seductive. so)t. cau'ht and 'lowed& A bit (ore rela. $ou don’t&6 He covered her waitin' (outh. even soothin' as the$ whispered over hers& The breathless. he )lic+ed o)) the li'hts. re(oved his -ac+et& 57ou can wait till the show’s over&6 4nconsciousl$. and li)ted her (outh toward his in invitation& 5Trust (e&6 5I do&6 53o. showin'’s better than tellin'&6 He saw her lashes )lutter down and slipped the rose )ro( her li(p )in'ers& 5I won’t hurt $ou a'ain&6 Her e$es opened at that& 8oubts and needs warred within the(& 5It’s all ri'ht. then snapped his )in'ers& The wic+ sputtered.anne&6 With her hand still tuc+ed in his. he traced li'ht +isses over her -awline& 52ut -ust li+e (a'ic. that ur'ent. de(andin' (outh& 2ut his lips were so)t toni'ht.He could read the nerves in her e$es as clearl$ as he could see their color& There was no use cursin' hi(sel) a'ain )or his (indless initiation o) the ni'ht be)ore& At least he’d had the 'ood sense to do nothin' (ore than hold her throu'hout the rest o) the ni'ht& He touched a hand to her chee+ and watched her e$es li)t slowl$ )ro( the rose to his )ace& He than+ed 0od there was (ore than )ear in the(& He could (a+e the )ear vanish& He passed a hand in )ront o) her )ace and (ade her lau'h when she saw the candle between his )in'ers& 5*lever&6 57ou ain’t seen nothin' $et&6 He crossed to the dresser. she brou'ht a hand to her throat& 5There’s (ore96 5Much (ore&6 He crossed to her& "erhaps it wasn’t /uite )air that he should be rewarded rather than whipped )or his carelessness last ni'ht& 2ut he was 'oin' to (a+e it up to her& To both o) the(& He too+ the hand that was still spla$ed a'ainst her throat. pressed his )in'ers to the cup o) her pal(. #o. to the )ra'ile wrist where her pulse beat li+e thunder& 5I told $ou there was (ore than one wa$.6 he said and swept her into his ar(s& She braced hersel) )or the onslau'ht& A part o) her burned )or the )eel o) those hard stron' hands.

thou'h she had no (e(or$ o) hi( ta+in' the ti(e to shru' out o) his shirt& She )elt the heaviness o) his arousal a'ainst her le'. lin'erin' at the base o) her throat while her pulse )luttered under his (outh li+e the heart o) a ca'ed bird& The ar(s that had risen to en)old hi( went la. he 'entl$. teasin' the nipples with its )ra'rant s(oothness. en-o$in' ever$ /uiver as he tan'led throu'h the so)t trian'le o) hair to stro+e the secret sensitive nub& When her e$es 'la:ed. 'entl$ slidin' her robe aside& 5Let (e loo+ at $ou&6 Her beaut$ scorched his heart.5I have places to ta+e $ou&6 His ton'ue dipped in.6 he whispered. he replaced his )in'ertips with the rose. s+i((in' the( over curves and dips. when her breath cau'ht and he )elt the war( )low o) her response. to$ed with hers& 5Ma'ic places&6 She had no choice but to )ollow where he led& Her bod$ was )loatin' be)ore he ended that )irst.anne&6 He trailed a )in'er down the center o) her bod$. enchanted b$ the contrast o) his )lesh a'ainst hers. su(ptuous +iss& Leavin' her lips tre(blin' )or (ore. tu''in' li'htl$ to brin' her helplessl$ to that sta''erin' point between pleasure and pain& 52ut we’ll ta+e our ti(e now.& And he +new she was his& 5I want to loo+ at $ou. )ollowin' those subtle curves over waist and hips& 5Tell (e what $ou li+e&6 The breath shuddered )ro( between her lips& She could see hi( in the candleli'ht& His chest was bare now. he too+ his own on a lan'uorous -ourne$. he rolled the da(p nipple between his thu(b and )ore)in'er pinchin'. (ade his blood churn li+e white water& 2ut in the )lic+erin' li'ht he touched her with )in'ertips onl$. slidin' the sil+$ petals over her breasts. bewitched b$ the /uic+ tre(ors each 'entle caress tore )ro( her& 5We were in a hurr$ be)ore&6 Lowerin' his head. tastin' her s+in.ust don’t stop&6 . and reali:ed he was as na+ed as she& 5I can’t&6 She li)ted her hand to touch hi( throu'h air that )elt as sweet and thic+ as s$rup& 5. his head swa(& 2ut he onl$ s(iled& 5I want to do thin's to $ou& I want $ou to let (e&6 When he -oined his (outh to hers a'ain. #o. ver$ 'entl$ laved her achin' nipples with his ton'ue& 5Ma$be we’ll be in a hurr$ later&6 When he strai'htened to loo+ at her.

needs swellin' li+e (usic in his head& 5#o. he did thin's to her. san' beneath the patient. li+e the heat at the center o) )la(e& 57ou belon' to (e now&6 He crushed his (outh to hers as the cli(a. stro+in' her up a'ain. but when she did it was to turn her head and see+ his (outh& He responded with an unintelli'ible (ur(ur and rolled to shi)t their positions& . relentlessl$ patient.ploded into heat. to be cherished.anne&6 Her na(e ca(e hoarsel$ )ro( his throat& He clun' to the reins o) his control li+e a (an )i'htin' a wild beast& 5Loo+ at (e& I need $ou to loo+ at (e&6 His voice see(ed to co(e )ro( the end o) the lon'. at last./uisite& 8ru''in'. and nothin' she would den$ hi(& She opened )or hi( on a si'h o) acceptance& All at once the soothin' war(th e./uisite. li+e sailin' down a /uiet river into a (ist& He slipped inside her painlessl$.5This96 He slid slowl$ down. catchin' it between his teeth be)ore suc+lin' as i) he’d swallow her whole& She (oaned. throat$ (oan& Still he was patient. /uestin' (outh& When his ton'ue s+i((ed up her thi'h. sweet pain as she closed around hi(& The rh$th( built. thrillin' hi(& It was torture o) the (ost e. what it was to be ta+en slowl$. -ust as he’d pro(ised& !. achin' pleasure 'lided throu'h her until she thou'ht she would die )ro( it& The bed (oaned. waitin' as she dri)ted down a'ain& Si'hs and (oans and whispered pro(ises& The )lic+er o) candleli'ht and the )aintest hint o) a (oon. she understood there was no part o) her he wouldn’t clai(. 'ave as he shi)ted& Her s+in hu((ed under his hands.ploded inside her& Onl$ (e. as i) a co(et had erupted in her and trailed its )ire to ever$ cell& Her cr$ o) release trailed into a deep. per)ectl$. that he could )eel such sweet. he thou'ht and let hi(sel) )ollow her& She wasn’t sure she could ever (ove a'ain. and at last. hi'her. i(possible. lon' and deep. even as her bod$ shuddered )ro( the patient onslau'ht& Oh. e. dar+ tunnel in which her bod$ was )l$in'& She li)ted heav$ lids and saw onl$ hi(& His e$es were a violent blue. teasin' the nub o) her breast with his ton'ue. delicious thin's& He showed her what it was to be desired. and she was slic+ and hot and (ore than read$& Her bod$ rose )luidl$ to welco(e hi(& He hadn’t +nown it could be so eas$. the scent o) )lowers and passion head$ on the air& These she would re(e(ber.

crea( sound& 5Li+e I’ve been levitated up to the (oon&6 She stro+ed a hand down his chest& When she cruised her )in'ers over his bell$. an$how96 He li)ted a brow& 5Wh$ don’t $ou 'ive (e a couple o) (inutes. she )elt the (uscles /uiver& Well. he learned that he wasn’t a -ealous )ool& He actuall$ en-o$ed the wa$ (en’s heads turned when #o. but never the(& The$ both would have shru''ed o)) the idea o) a hone$(oon.anne shi)ted to straddle hi(& 5Wh$ don’t $ou show (e now96 she su''ested and closed her (outh over his& 2! 2oth Lu+e and #o. the (an she’d )allen in love with could be 'entle and +ind& The veneer o) sophistication and char( was a thin coat over a s(olderin' bed o) passions& 7et (i. and settled& 5I didn’t +now it could be li+e that&6 3either had he& 2ut Lu+e )elt it would sound )oolish to sa$ it and stro+ed her hair instead& 5I didn’t hurt $ou96 53o& I )eel li+e & & &6 She (ade a cat. troubled bo$ she’d +nown (ost o) her li)e. both a'reed there was onl$ one thin' (issin'& The$ had $et to choose a 'enuine (ar+& Their thie)’s blood 'rew restless& True. and she was his& #o. well.anne wal+ed into a roo(& He could s(ile when he watched her )lirt or be )lirted with& 2oth were a (atter o) pride and con)idence.52etter. now that she could breathe a'ain& She rubbed her chee+ a'ainst his chest. laced with a touch o) arro'ance& She was beauti)ul.anne discovered that be$ond the tou'h.ust how (an$ wa$s are there. a loo+ was enou'h to co((unicate& "erhaps that was wh$ the last re/uire(ent )or a hone$(oon )ell so naturall$ into place& Throu'h this )antas$ o) da$s and ni'hts. their hone$(oon had cruised into its third wee+& 8iscoveries were (ade& Much to Lu+e’s relie). the$ had ste((ed the i(patience te(poraril$ b$ relievin' a certain Mrs& *assell o) so(e anti/ue .sided& That would have to be put to 'ood use ver$ soon& 5So & & &6 She li)ted her head and 'rinned down at hi(& 5. s(ilin' to hersel)& The power wasn’t all one.honored period was an opportunit$ to discover.ed with those was a +een sense o) lo$alt$ and a $earnin' to love no less than her own& 2oth were able to )ocus on each other. brilliant sunsets and (oonlit dec+s (i'ht in)luence others.. #o. to )ocus on a (ate and to en-o$ 'reat se. and I’ll show $ou&6 8run+ on her own pleasures. even in a roo( crowded with people& The$ didn’t need to touch or spea+. $et i) the honest de)inition )or that ti(e. she thou'ht.in.anne would have hotl$ denied an$ su''estion that the$ had )allen into a clichD such as a shipboard ro(ance& Sea bree:es.6 she si'hed.

pac+ed lu''a'e& One 'lance at the (echanis( had her alterin' the plan& #ather than strollin' out a'ain and passin' the case to Lu+e. the cra)ts(anship e..t ti(e throu'h&6 57ou’re so li+e hi(&6 Lil$ si'hed and turned )ro( the rail& 5I) $ou’re not in the (iddle o) a pro-ect. replaced it and slipped outside a'ain& As planned Lu+e was -ust co(in' throu'h headin' a)t& 5"roble(96 She s(iled& 53ot at all&6 With one brow li)ted. one and all.6 she said as he 'rinned& 5I won’t (iss ($ cue&6 Lu+e snatched her into his ar(s )or a +iss& His clever )in'ers dipped into her poc+ets to ta+e inventor$& 57ou 'ot three (inutes.anne said absentl$& She and Lil$ stood on dec+& 3ew passen'ers boardin' in Montreal were dribblin' out.pos ta+e on the 8od'ers& 5I suppose we could&6 Lil$’s (ind +ept dri)tin' bac+ to Ma. the stones /uite 'ood& 2ut the lac+ o) challen'e too+ the sweetness out o) it& The 3ouvelles./uisite.ac+’s li)e as cruise director a livin' hell.anne went on& 5The place is lous$ with (ansions& We could at least do so(e le'wor+ the ne.6 #o. she reloc+ed the case. $ou’re plannin' one& It’s the onl$ wa$ $ou’re happ$&6 . she’d seen the pain in his )ace& A pain she +new she could never ease& 5I was thin+in' 3ewport.anne had onl$ to slip into Mrs& *assell’s cabin between cues and snatch the loc+ed -ewelr$ case )ro( a(on' the pile o) hal).& She’d stirred awa+e be)ore dawn and had seen hi( on the narrow so)a beneath the porthole.&6 It too+ her less than hal) that to secure the cache in the )alse botto( o) her (a+eup case& She had ti(e to )reshen the lipstic+ Lu+e had s(ud'ed and still hit her cue dead on& The$ all a'reed it was an ele'ant set.6 #o. she patted her poc+ets& 5I -ust need to 'et so(ethin' )ro( the cabin. she used one o) *assell’s own hairpins to pic+ the loc+& Once the (arcasite was snu'l$ in the poc+ets o) her sta'e tu. co(pli(entar$ coc+tails in hand. ca(eras at the read$& Lu+e and Mouse had tre++ed to Ol$(pic Stadiu( to watch the !. #o.(arcasite and rub$ -ewelr$& Since the old crab had spent her seven da$s on board the &an(ee 1rincess co(plainin' and de(andin' and (a+in' . the 3ouvelles had considered it a (atter o) honor to 'ive her so(ethin' 'enuine to co(plain about& 2ut the -ob had been so piti)ull$ si(ple& #o. $earned )or wor+& 5Ma$be we should tr$ so(ethin' in one o) the ports. his research boo+s spread out around hi(& He’d been (anipulatin' a coin between his )in'ers& The second ti(e he’d )u(bled and dropped it.

then lau'hed& At twent$.& 5I) $ou couldn’t do it an$(ore& The (a'ic or the other96 5I) I wo+e up one (ornin' and it was all 'one9 I) all that was le)t was the ordinar$96 #o.anne rela.5Li)e’s too short not to en-o$ one’s wor+&6 Her s(ile was /uic+ and wic+ed& 50od +nows I love (ine&6 5What would $ou do i) it all went awa$96 Lil$’s suddenl$ nervous )in'ers be'an to to$ with the -ade pendant Ma.anne’s chee+& 5I’( duc+in' down to the cabin )or an hour. i) $ou wait awhile. she could see the )aint shadows beneath Lil$’s care)ul (a+eup& Surprise beca(e concern& 5Are $ou all ri'ht9 Aren’t $ou )eelin' well96 5I’( )ine&6 She’d lived on the sta'e lon' enou'h to show onl$ what she wanted to show& 5. and a)ter a )ew wee+s.ust tired—and it’s sill$—but I thin+ I’( a little ho(esic+& I’ve had a $en )or Le*lerc’s 'u(bo )or da$s&6 5I +now what $ou (ean&6 2ecause this so clearl$ (irrored her own )eelin's. it was i(possible to believe that old a'e would ever appl$ to $ou& 5Stic+ ($ head in the )irst convenient oven&6 58on’t sa$ that&6 Lil$ 'rabbed her hand. I’ll do the sa(e )or $ou&6 58eal& An$bod$ as+s. Lil$ reali:ed. and in an hour. had bou'ht her in Hali)a. or how aw)ul. I’ll tell the( $ou’re tac+in' loose se/uins bac+ on $our costu(e&6 . #o.ed with a s(ile& 5All this 'reat )ood. hone$& I thin+ I (ust be overtired&6 3ow that #o. I’( 'oin' to cheat&6 With a win+.one. I’( onl$ -o+in'&6 Surprise widened her e$es& 57ou +now (e better& "eople who do so(ethin' per(anent li+e that have )or'otten that nothin' lasts )orever& 3o (atter how wonder)ul. but her throat re(ained ti'ht and dr$& 58on’t pa$ an$ attention to (e. reall$ loo+ed. $ou’d o))er a hundred dollars )or a cheesebur'er and )ries—and ten ti(es that )or an entire da$ where $ou didn’t have to tal+ to an$one&6 She needed ti(e alone. Lil$ loosened her 'rip. it chan'es&6 5O) course it does&6 1eelin' )oolish.anne loo+ed. be)ore she blurted out her )ears and (iseries& 5Well. 'ivin' ($sel) a )acial and a )oot soa+ and a chapter o) ($ ro(ance novel&6 57ou’re -ust sa$in' that to (a+e (e -ealous&6 5Tell $ou what& *over )or (e. she +issed #o. s/uee:in' until the bones rubbed& 58on’t ever sa$ that&6 58arlin'.anne pursed her lips in thou'ht.

6 Sa( be'an& 58oubl$ a(a:ed to see $ou’re sta))&6 His 'a:e s+i((ed down to the na(e ta' over her breast. her &an(ee 1rincess s(ile in place. she be'an to thin+ an hour alone with a (ud pac+ and a ro(ance novel was a prett$ 'ood deal& 2ut she turned. had (ade it his business to +now& He hadn’t been able to resist the idea o) spendin' a wee+ with the 3ouvelles& 5. s(all world&6 5Isn’t it96 He (i'ht have stepped out o) an article on cruisewear in <entleman’s =uarterly. when her na(e was called $et a'ain& The s(ile wavered )or an instant. #o. .ustine. #o. I’d li+e $ou to (eet a ver$ old )riend& #o.anne noted& Two tear. ($ wi)e.shaped indi'o stones drippin' )ro( lustrous pearls& 5I was a(a:ed to see $ou on dec+. (a+in' up na(es and bac+'rounds& 2$ the ti(e she’d answered the /uestion o) what it was li+e to wor+ on a cruise ship )or the tenth or twel)th ti(e. #o.ustine o))ered a pleasant s(ile that didn’t reach her e$es.drop. she thou'ht.anne is /uite an acco(plished (a'ician&6 . o) course.anne. a)ter all.anne 'lanced around the dec+& 3ew )aces.5That’s a 'ood one&6 She hurried o)). stud$in' )aces. lin'ered. and his ar( was draped around a slee+ and polished blonde& She wore billow$ sil+ slac+s in an achin' blue to (atch her e$es. with a so)tl$ draped blouse in the sa(e shade& #o. new stories& She en-o$ed variet$.colored trousers had +ni)e. His bu)). then held solidl$& She was.anne 3ouvelle& #o. then rose a'ain& 5Have $ou 'iven up the (a'ic business96 53ot at all& We’ll be per)or(in' on board )or the ne. darlin'. wantin' to be behind loc+ed doors be)ore she indul'ed in a 'ood cr$in' -a'& Alone. a pro& 5Sa(& What a s(all. alwa$s had& 2ut she couldn’t help wishin' that Lu+e was with her rather than chu''in' beer and da(nin' u(pires in two lan'ua'es& It was (ore )un with hi(. and a /uic+ )ir( handsha+e that pretended to be personable& The per)ect politician’s wi)e.anne decided& 5M$ pleasure&6 There were earrin's as well.ed'ed pleats that loo+ed sharp enou'h to draw blood& His shirt was unpressed cotton—the t$pe that cost the earth to loo+ casual& His soc+less )eet were encased in 8oc+siders. #o.ustine.t )ew wee+s&6 51abulous&6 He’d +nown.ustine Sprin' W$att&6 5How nice&6 .anne was (ore i(pressed with the si(ple strand o) crea($ pearls and their sapphire enhancer that was as bi' around as Mouse’s thu(b& 5.

set dia(onds )or the weddin' rin'& She $earned )or her loupe& 5How per)ectl$ lovel$& *on'ratulations. #o. the$’d )ound a worth$ (ar+& Lu+e too+ advanta'e o) a lull to ba+e awa$ )ati'ue in the sauna belowdec+s& He doubted he’d had (ore than )ive hours’ sleep a ni'ht since #o.anne studied .anne had told hi( when she’d trac+ed hi( down that a)ternoon& Mr& and Mrs& Sa(uel W$att& O) all the cruise ships in all the ports in all the world. $ou’re newl$weds&6 nowin' it was a wo(anl$ 'esture.anne’s blood& The arousal was as thorou'hl$ se. considered har(less.anne too+ a coc+tail )ro( a passin' waiter’s tra$& 5Is this $our )irst trip on the &an(ee 1rincess96 5On this particular ship.anne had wal+ed into his roo( ar(ed with ivor$ sil+ and hot. hell. e(erald cut )or the en'a'e(ent roc+.ustine’s weddin' rin' set& Oh $es.ual as a lon'. ten carats. he thou'ht with a 'ri(ace& Well. wet +iss& 5How nice&6 It too+ (ost o) her control to resist lic+in' her lips& 5I hope $ou’ll en-o$ this cruise as (uch&6 5I’( sure I will&6 The sapphire win+ed li+e a seductive e$e& 5I was deli'hted when Sa( su''ested this cruise as part o) our hone$(oon&6 5Oh. and calculate all the odds& . the$ were stuc+ )or the ne. and care)ul.blooded deter(ination& 3ot that he was co(plainin'. but the sauna couldn’t hurt& I) nothin' else it would 'ive hi( a )ew (inutes to clear his head and thin+ throu'h what #o.anne’s enthusias( )or relievin' the bride and 'roo( o) the lad$’s 'litters& 3o.ustine& !n-o$ $our cruise&6 She was s(ilin' when she wal+ed awa$& At last.t wee+& 2ut he wasn’t sure he shared #o. Sa(&6 5Than+ $ou& I’d love to see $our )a(il$ a'ain—and Lu+e. o) course&6 5I’( sure $ou will& Wonder)ul (eetin' $ou. and a nice platinu( band studded with channel.5How unusual&6 Her lips parted in a s(ile that revealed per)ectl$ ali'ned teeth& 58o $ou per)or( )or children’s parties96 53ot $et&6 #o. that sort o) thin'&6 She li)ted a narrow white hand to to$ absentl$ with the enhancer& The dia(onds circlin' the sapphire burst into tin$ )la(es o) li'ht that stirred #o. the Mediterranean. she thou'ht. $es& I’ve done /uite a bit o) cruisin'—the *aribbean. . slow. he wanted to ta+e that one slow.

anne would appreciate a (an o) position rather than one who has never been /uite able to s(ooth o)) those rou'h ed'es& 7ou’re still a loser. studied Sa(’s )ace& 5The$ did a 'ood -ob on $our nose& 3obod$’d +now it had been bro+en&6 He stretched la:il$ then cli(bed down& 5!. perhaps.cept pushin' little 'irls around&6 57ou hold a 'rud'e&6 Sa( spread his ar(s co()ortabl$ on the bench& The $ears had been 'ood to hi(& He’d -u(ped on the trend )or ph$sical )itness.and. Lu+e opened one e$e& He shut it a'ain and re(ained leanin' a'ainst the bac+ wall.handed cut96 5I 'ave up 'a(es /uite so(e ti(e a'o&6 Lu+e onl$ s(iled& 5I didn’t thin+ so& 7ou alwa$s had lous$ hands—not 'ood )or (uch e.cept (e. spas where the$ pa(pered the s+in& He’d slipped sea(lessl$ into his i(a'e o) a $oun'. tiltin' his head. and now his wi)e’s (one$. o) course& See $ou around&6 Sa( clenched and unclenched his )ists as the door swun' shut behind Lu+e& It appeared his old )riend needed a harder lesson& A tele'ra( to *obb. that Lu+e e.co(er& 3ow he had wealth to ice the ca+e& 5Odd.6 he continued. as it once (i'ht have been. attractive up. the white towel carelessl$ hoo+ed at his waist& 5Heard $ou slithered on board.When the wooden door o) the sauna roo( crea+ed open. (anicurists. *allahan&6 5I’( still a lot o) thin's&6 Lu+e opened his e$es and. )orcin' his an'r$ (uscles to rela.st$lists. she’d chew $ou up and spit $ou out&6 5#eall$96 Sa(’s ar(s tensed a'ainst the ba+in' wood& There was one thin' his position and his (one$ hadn’t been able to 'ive hi(& A sense o) hu(or about hi(sel)& 5I thin+ she (i'ht )ind (e (ore her st$le than $ou reali:e& A wo(an li+e #o.perienced& It was pure a(use(ent& 5"al. to indul'e in hair.& It was ti(e to s/uee:e harder& He opened his )ist and studied the s(ooth pal( where the (anicured nails had bitten deep& . and his bod$ re)lected his dail$ wor+outs with his personal trainer& He used his position. 5#o.anne doesn’t appear to& She was /uite—)riendl$ earlier&6 It wasn’t ra'e. W$att&6 5And $ou’re still pullin' rabbits out o) $our ass )or a livin'&6 Sa( settled on the bench below Lu+e& It had ta+en onl$ a )ew discreet in/uiries to discover where Lu+e was spendin' his hour o))& 5And dancin' to the old (an’s tune&6 5!ver learn how to do a one. Sa( thou'ht.

but there was shoc+ed hurt in her e$es& He’d never shouted at her be)ore& 3ever& The$ had ar'ued. perhaps two&6 She nearl$ snarled& 5I) $ou put a rush on it&6 He be'an to consider& 5I) we sweetened the pot. he decided& 5I tell $ou it’s per)ect&6 #o. and who +nows $ou. but alwa$s with an . steepled his )in'ers and stru''led to )ocus his concentration& 5It’s ris+$ to steal )ro( so(eone $ou +now. o) course.anne to blin+ and Lil$ to bite her botto( lip& 5I’( still in char'e here. particularl$ in a situation as narrow as this&6 5We could do it. i) I 'ot $ou photos and detailed descriptions o) so(e o) the better pieces. this doesn’t include deliver$ ti(e&6 5That’s what 1ederal !. we’re clear&6 She waited i(patientl$ )or a response& 58add$96 5What96 He -er+ed hi(sel) bac+.anne scowled )ro( )ace to )ace& The (eetin' between shows in her )ather’s cabin was not 'oin' accordin' to her plans& 5An$ wo(an who wears roc+s li+e that in the a)ternoon has to be loaded with the(& And an$ wo(an who’d (arr$ a scu( li+e Sa( deserves to lose the(&6 52e that as it (a$&6 Ma. how lon' would it ta+e )or $our contact to (a+e up paste replicas96 5A wee+.press is )or& We switch the(&6 She swun' bac+ to her )ather& 5The last ni'ht o) the cruise& 2$ the ti(e . all o) the(. all starin' at hi(& Wonderin'& 5The answer is no&6 The state(ent whipped out as he spran' to his )eet& He wanted the( to leave. $oun' lad$& When I want $our su''estions and advice. )our or )ive da$s& 2ut. couldn’t bear to have their pit$ and curiosit$ starin' hi( in the )ace& 5That’s an end to it&6 52ut—6 5An end&6 He shouted it.Much harder. do as $ou’re told& Is that clear96 5%er$&6 "ride +ept her head hi'h.6 she insisted& 5Le*lerc.ustine 'ets ho(e and notices an$ di))erence. I’ll re/uest the(& 4ntil then. certainl$. panic+in' )or a (o(ent as he searched )or the thread o) the conversation& 5There isn’t enou'h ti(e to plan properl$&6 How could he plan when he could barel$ thin+9 Sweat had be'un to tric+le cold down his bac+& The$ were all loo+in' at hi(. causin' #o.

#o. but the direct approach is )ine with (e. ca'in' her between his ar(s as he placed his hands on the rail& A /uic+ bolt o) lust twisted throu'h hi(& She was beauti)ul.6 he said and cau'ht the )l$in' ends o) her hair& 5A beauti)ul wo(an in starli'ht with the sea behind her&6 5Lose $our wi)e96 She 'lanced deliberatel$ behind hi( be)ore archin' a brow& 5I don’t believe I see her an$where&6 5. but I’( her )ather& M$ 'enerosit$ to $ou over the $ears does not e/ual the ri'ht to inter)ere with )a(il$ business&6 5Ma.underla$(ent o) love and respect& All she saw in her )ather’s )ace was )ur$& 5I) $ou’ll e.cuse (e. she’ll be an e. Ma.cellent Washin'ton hostess&6 5How $ou (ust have char(ed her with all those ro(antic co(pli(ents&6 5So(e wo(en pre)er the direct approach&6 He leaned toward her. and belon'ed to so(eone else& He needed nothin' else to covet her& 5She’s attractive.anne’s hand shot up and pushed a'ainst his chest& 5I’( not $our wi)e. rounded on hi(.anne stared out at it& There was a vicious headache behind her e$es. the direct result o) re)usin' the tears that burned the(& She would not blubber li+e a child because her )ather had scolded her& She heard the )ootsteps behind her and turned ea'erl$& 2ut it wasn’t Lu+e as she hoped& It was Sa(& 5*har(in'. stoppin' onl$ when #o. Sa(. rich and a(bitious& In a )ew $ears.ustine isn’t the +ind o) wo(an who needs to be in a (an’s poc+et&6 He shi)ted.. s(art. too& How’s this9 I )ind $ou revoltin'.anne& 5I have to 'o alon' with $our reasons )or re-ectin' the -ob. wh$ don’t $ou bac+ o)) be)ore I have to sa$ so(ethin' insultin'&6 . with the (ost pleasant o) s(iles& 53ow.&6 Lil$ reached )or his ar(. Lil$& I believe I’ll ta+e a wal+ ($sel)&6 The sea was splattered with starli'ht& With her hands clasped ti'htl$ on the rail. I’( 'oin' to ta+e a wal+ be)ore the show&6 Lu+e rose slowl$ as the door sla((ed behind #o. pathetic and obvious& Sort o) li+e a dead s+un+ on the side o) the road&6 This was said in the (ost pleasant o) tones. but Lu+e was alread$ sha+in' his head& 5It’s all ri'ht. his te(per a wildl$ slashin' sword& 5I don’t believe I need $our opinion on how to deal with ($ own child& 7ou (a$ sleep with her. but don’t $ou thin+ $ou were a little hard on her96 Ma.

please 'et out o) ($ wa$&6 An'er veiled discretion so that he 'ripped her ar(s and pushed her bac+& 5I’( not throu'h with $ou&6 5I thin+—6 She bro+e o)). or I swear. what are $ou. wh$ $ou beat up a passen'er and du(ped his unconscious bod$ overboard96 5He was touchin' $ou& 0odda((it. but he could onl$ stare at her and repeat& 58a(n (e96 57es& 8o $ou reali:e what a (ess $ou al(ost caused96 All the )ur$ and )rustration she’d )elt since sla((in' out o) her )ather’s cabin shot out and s(ac+ed Lu+e with a bull’s. pal&6 She shoved a )in'er hard a'ainst his chest& 5I can sla$ ($ own dra'ons& I’( not so(e wea+. her nail al(ost piercin' )lesh& 5I can handle ($sel)& 0ot it96 57eah& I 'ot it&6 2ecause he thou'ht he did. #o. I’ll let 'o o) his coat&6 5All ri'ht& It wouldn’t do to cause a scene here& There’ll be another ti(e&6 He nodded at Lu+e& 5Another place&6 #o. or the captain )or that (atter.ac+.ust how were we 'oin' to e. he $an+ed her a'ainst hi( and +issed her hard until her (u))led protest died and her ar(s ca(e ti'ht around hi(& . but with a shi((er o) inner heat that threatened to erupt& 53ow. when I en-o$ed it tre(endousl$&6 Her e$es were as cold as his. e$e& 5.6 she hissed& 58a(n (e96 His )ur$ still churned li+e the water in their wa+e. wi(p$ )e(ale who needs rescuin'&6 She po+ed hi( a'ain. Sa( would alread$ have died a pain)ul death& 53o&6 She reco'ni:ed (urder in his e$e& I) she stepped aside she thou'ht it was (ore than li+el$ Sa( would end up overboard& However (uch the i(a'e appealed. ver$ (uch&6 5I don’t see how.plain to . )or the bene)it o) the )ew people strollin' the dec+& 2ut his e$es had chilled to ice& 5%er$. Sir *allahan9 M$ white +ni'ht9 Let (e tell $ou so(ethin'.57ou’re 'oin' to re'ret that&6 His voice was (ild as well.anne continued to hold on until she saw Sa( stroll inside& 58a(n $ou.anne&6 He stared at Sa( over her head& I) e$es were weapons. shovin' Sa( aside so that she could scra(ble between hi( and Lu+e& 58on’t&6 She curled )in'ers around Lu+e’s lapel and spo+e between clenched teeth& 50o inside. when I wal+ed out he had $ou trapped a'ainst the rail& 8o $ou thin+ I could stand b$ and watch so(eone treat $ou that wa$96 5So. she couldn’t allow Lu+e to be responsible& 5We have a show in a )ew (inutes& 7ou won’t be able to do what $ou need to do i) $ou brea+ $our hand punchin' in his )ace&6 She tossed a )urious loo+ over her shoulder& 50et the hell out o) here.

she buried her )ace in his shoulder& 5It has nothin' to do with that idiot.plain it. had ever wal+ed. (a$be a do:en thin's& He’s never co(e down on $ou li+e that be)ore& 8on’t hold one slip a'ainst hi(&6 57ou’re ri'ht&6 She si'hed.nec+ed e(barrass(ent that displa$ed itsel) in nu(bin' politeness& 5Ma. bab$96 He 'rinned. drew bac+& 5I’( overreactin'&6 0entl$.9 Is there so(ethin' $ou need96 5I’d li+e to co(e in )or a (o(ent. e. I -ust love bein' +issed b$ a tou'h 'u$&6 5Then $ou’re 'oin' to 'et a real char'e out o) this&6 It was one o) the (ost di))icult paths Ma. Lu+e& It wasn’t—6 5I +now. nothin'& Than+ $ou&6 He stood (iserabl$ -ust inside the door. she pressed her lips to'ether and tried to stren'then it& 5He’s never hurt (e li+e that be)ore& It wasn’t the -ob.anne&6 58add$&6 . i) $ou don’t (ind&6 Lu+e hesitated& At least he could be 'rate)ul both he and #o.6 he said a'ain& 5I can’t e.anne were still )ull$ dressed& 5Sure& Would $ou li+e a drin+96 53o. relieved she’d recovered enou'h to tease& 57ou bet.deep pain& He rapped the( hard a'ainst the cabin door as i) to punish hi(sel)& Lu+e answered the door& He instantl$ )elt that sti)). lowered it a'ain& There was pain in his )in'ers toni'ht. #o. his e$es on his dau'hter& 5#o.’s whip as well. a burn in)initel$ (ore pain)ul than an$ belt *obb had li)ted& 5He hurt (e&6 2ecause her voice had sounded too s(all. doll )ace& I’d’ve cre(ated hi(&6 She 'ave a /uic+ shiver and li)ted her (outh& 5Oooh.. she li)ted a hand to his chee+& 5And I too+ it out on $ou when $ou were bein' such a (acho 'u$& Would $ou have beat hi( up )or (e. (a$be he isn’t )eelin' well. bone.cept that (a$be he’s 'ot so(ethin' else on his (ind. nothin' to do with $ou&6 5I +now&6 He +issed her hair& He’d )elt the stin' o) Ma.5I’( sorr$&6 Turnin' her head. alon' with the (an he’d considered his son& He li)ted his hand to +noc+. that narrow carpeted passa'ewa$ )ro( his cabin to Lu+e’s& He +new his dau'hter was in there.

anne shoo+ her head& 5I’ll have to teach her so(e better ones&6 She +issed hi( and s(iled a'ain& 57ou’ll (a+e it up with her96 5I thin+ I’ll have a better shot i) I’ve (ade it up with $ou. I believe&6 #o.er+ was one.cuse&6 The sti))ness went out o) her shoulders& 5It’s o+a$&6 1or hi(. )ound all the speeches he’d prepared had vanished )ro( his brain li+e s(o+e& 5I’( sorr$..anne understood what was needed& 5All ri'ht then. )irst&6 5Well. li)ted his hands in a rare helpless 'esture& 5I believe I’ll ta+e that drin+ a)ter all&6 5Sure&6 Lu+e slid the botto( drawer o) the dresser open and pulled out a s(all bottle o) brand$& 53o sni)ters. #o. then le)t the( alone& 5There are thin's I need to sa$&6 Ma. wh$ don’t I 'o clear $our path with Lil$96 She touched Lu+e’s ar( as she passed. (ur(ured and loo+ed toward Lu+e& 5I see&6 Thou'h she wasn’t sure she did. it’s the )irst ti(e in nearl$ twent$ $ears that Lil$’s shouted at (e and reverted to na(e callin'&6 5Oh9 Which ones did she use96 5. Lu+e poured three )in'ers o) brand$ into water 'lasses& 57ou have so(e thin's to sa$ about (e and #o. $ou have&6 52oth o) $ou.6 was all he could thin+ o) to sa$& 5I have no e.pected $ou to do& I wasn’t )air or +ind&6 His s(ile wobbled a bit as he loo+ed up at her& 5I) it’s an$ consolation. he brou'ht both her hands to his lips& 57ou were statin' $our case. she could set even pride aside& She did so now as she held out her hands and crossed to hi(& 5I 'uess I was na''in'&6 53o&6 Hu(bled b$ her eas$ )or'iveness. #o.The$ stood another (o(ent.6 Ma.anne.6 Lu+e be'an& 5I’ve wondered wh$ $ou haven’t brou'ht it up be)ore&6 5It’s hard to ad(it. but I didn’t +now how& What I said this a)ternoon—6 57ou were out o) line with #o. I’( a)raid&6 5I can rou'h it i) $ou can&6 3oddin'. as I’ve alwa$s e.6 Lu+e interrupted& 53ot with (e&6 . )ro:en in a trian'le& Three people who had shared so (an$ inti(acies& Ma.$.

could sa$ nothin'& Then he sat on the ed'e o) the bed& 57es& 2ecause there were ti(es I nearl$ )or'ot ($sel)&6 5And perhaps because the lines were blurred in ($ heart.5Lu+e&6 Ma. set his brand$. Ma. does not alwa$s carve out the truth& I sliced to hurt. he had his own o))ice. and his e$es were those o) that wild. Lu+e set the brand$ aside and rose& 5It was a (o(ent o) te(per. laid a hand on Lu+e’s ar(& His e$es were )illed with appeal and re'ret& 58on’t close the door on (e& I was an'r$. but an'er. a reco'ni:able )orce in Washin'ton& As the senator’s ri'ht..6 he (ur(ured and watched Lu+e s(ile& 5Love and (a'ic have a 'reat deal in co((on& The$ enrich the soul. it didn’t (atter&6 1or a (o(ent Lu+e said nothin'. because I was hurtin'& I’( asha(ed o) that&6 51or'et it&6 4neas$. untouched. to accept what’s between $ou and ($ dau'hter&6 Lu+e 'ave a hal) lau'h& 5It 'ave (e so(e bad (o(ents. ver$ hard. so (uch so that I nearl$ sent her awa$&6 He li)ted his head& 5I couldn’t send her awa$.anne to )or'ive because she’s never doubted ($ love& I’d hoped that $ou wouldn’t have cause to doubt it either&6 Ma. and Lu+e’s (outh dropped open& 5I would li+e the( ver$ (uch&6 21 Sa( was /uite satis)ied with the pro'ress o) his plans& He was a hi'hl$ respected (e(ber o) the co((unit$. rec+less bo$ a'ain& 57ou’ve 'iven (e all I’ve ever had& 7ou don’t owe (e an$thin' else&6 5A pit$ people don’t reali:e what power words wield& The$’d have (ore respect )or the use o) the(& It’s easier )or #o. not even )or $ou&6 5She wouldn’t have 'one&6 He understood both o) his children& He laid a hand on Lu+e’s shoulder.hand (an. started toward the door. deli'ht the heart& And the$ both ta+e unrelentin' and unabatin' practice&6 5I’ll re(e(ber&6 5See that $ou do&6 Ma. contrar$ to the popular belie). beside Lu+e’s& 57ou’re the son Lil$ and I could never (a+e to'ether& *an $ou understand that there have been entire bloc+s o) ti(e that I’ve )or'otten $ou hadn’t been born to (e9 And that i) I thou'ht o) it.6 he said. I )ound it hard. but stopped when a thou'ht ran throu'h his head& 5I would li+e 'randchildren. a (odestl$ decorated bastion o) (asculinit$ with leather chairs . that’s all&6 5And do $ou believe what I said in te(per above what I’ve said and shown $ou all these $ears96 Lu+e loo+ed bac+. s/uee:in' thou'h his )in'ers wept with pain& 51ree lesson.

actl$ what nu(ber to call to )erret out in)or(ation& Thou'h he would have pre)erred a :ipp$ )orei'n (a+e. a wealth$ depart(ent. Sa( was )orward.t steps with a cool.thin+in' and drove a *hr$sler& The 'rass. and was alread$ hal)wa$ up the run's& There was onl$ one ni''lin' sense o) )ailure in Sa(’s world& The 3ouvelles& The$ were loose ends untied.store heiress with polished loo+s and i(peccable linea'e& She cha(pioned the correct charities.roots 'ru(blin' about bu$in' A(erican was 'rowin'& He had plans to be A(erica’s )avorite son& Accordin' to his ti(etable.(inded political veteran who +new e. calculated steps. co:ied into the su(ptuous Hel(sle$ "alace in 3ew 7or+.and neutral colors& He had his own secretar$. naturall$& These were the #ea'an $ears& 2ut the $outh.ustine would be rosil$ pre'nant with their second. crushed. the prett$ wi)e and the $oun'. char(in' )a(il$& It would wor+ because he +new how to pla$ the 'a(e& He was cli(bin' the ladder toward the Oval O))ice with slow. he bided his ti(e and too+ his ne.e$ed loo+ at the nineties& He courted and (arried . but he needed it )or what he considered sharp pro)essional (otives& It was i(portant that the$ be wea+ened. and . the contacts in Washin'ton. a sharp. he would ca(pai'n )or the Senate seat as the devoted )ather o) one. he would slip sea(lessl$ into the senator’s position within si. he’d +nown he’d ta+en another i(portant step& The A(erican people pre)erred their leaders to be (arried& With the proper ti(in'.da$ enned$—not the politics. the 'ood loo+s. child& He )ancied hi(sel) a latter. dan'lin' /uestions unanswered& He wanted reven'e on the( )or personal reasons. could plan a dinner part$ )or )i)t$ without turnin' a hair and had the e. Sa( had nearl$ tossed his hat into the rin' )or the (ost recent election& 2ut patience had won out& He +new his $outh would be an initial stri+e a'ainst hi(. and last. in the corporate world and on the streets& 1actorin' in his advanta'es.tra advanta'e o) photo'raphin' li+e a drea(& When Sa( had slipped the rin' on her )in'er. he had ti(e to shu))le throu'h his i(pressions& . and a 'ood nu(ber o) bleedin' hearts would have interpreted the (ove as dislo$alt$ to the old )art 2ush)ield& So. awaitin' the parties and celebrations )or the Statue o) Libert$’s one hundredth birthda$. $ears& All the 'roundwor+ was there& The $ears o) dedicated public service.ustine Sprin'. so that an$ vicious truths the$ (i'ht shout about his character would be lau'hed aside& He’d had a(ple ti(e to observe the( up close on his hone$(oon cruise& 3ow.

isted at all. lin'erin' a (o(ent in consideration. he’d had to (ove care)ull$ there& The incident on ship had ver$ nearl$ created a scene a public )i'ure—a (arried public )i'ure—could ill a))ord& Which brou'ht hi( to Lu+e& Alwa$s to Lu+e& There was the +e$ to the 3ouvelles& Sa( could dis(iss Mouse and Le*lerc as callousl$ as he would dis(iss servants& The$ were nothin'& 2ut Lu+e was the linchpin& 8estro$in' hi( would put a crac+ in the wall o) the 3ouvelles that (i'ht never be shored up& It would also be such a sweet. personal triu(ph& The business with *obb wasn’t pro'ressin' as Sa( had hoped& It had ta+en hi( $ears a)ter leavin' 3ew Orleans to reach the position where he could a))ord to hire detectives to investi'ate Lu+e’s bac+'round& It had cost. #o.haired 'irl into a stunnin' wo(an9 A pit$ he hadn’t had the opportunit$ to (a+e a )ew (oves in that direction be)ore ./uic+ (ove(ents o) those hands a decade be)ore and -ud'ed that Ma.anne& Ah.ustine& He’d have en-o$ed seducin' her. it e. Sa( thou'ht. lu+ewar( wi)e& 2ut no (atter how allurin' the prospect.anne& I) (a'ic e. and pa$(ent )or the past& Locatin' the -un+ie whore who’d been Lu+e’s (other had been a stro+e o) luc+& 2ut *obb. wild. *obb had been icin' on the ca+e& Sa( closed his e$es and dri)ted out o) the ele'ant suite in the Hel(sle$. transportin' hi(sel) to a dan+. usin' her in a wa$ that would shoc+ and dis'ust his prett$. she’d been pattin' his hand and tellin' hi( how 'lad she was he’d (ade so(ethin' 'ood out o) his li)e& And #o. and the (en who pla$ed cast surl$ 'lances at the table as the$ chal+ed cues& A sin'le whore sat at the end o) the bar with (ean e$es and a pre)erence )or 1our #oses while she waited to pl$ her trade& Her e$es s+i((ed over Sa( as he sat in the corner. but Sa( considered it an invest(ent in the )uture. with a s(ile that curled his lips bac+ )ro( his teeth& He’d (ade a point o) -oinin' her on dec+ one da$. and cost dearl$. and b$ the ti(e he’d strolled awa$.The old (an loo+ed tired& Sa( re(e(bered the li'htnin'. water)ront bar& The air s(elled o) )ish and urine.isted there& What spell had con-ured the s+inn$.heav$ as ever& And as naive. and the cheap whis+e$ and tobacco consu(ed b$ the patrons& "ool balls s(ac+ed an'ril$ to'ether across the roo(. was slowin' down& It was interestin' as well that the a'in' (a'ician was spendin' so (uch ti(e loo+in' )or so(e ($stical roc+& Sa( wrote the philosophers’ stone on Leona’s ele'ant hotel stationer$ and idl$ circled it& Ma$be he’d have so(e o) his (en do so(e di''in' into the roc+& There was Lil$. then passed on& . as tac+$ and top.

strolled with what Sa( assu(ed was (eant to be nonchalance to the bar& He brou'ht a 'lass o) whis+e$ to the table& 57ou 'ot business with (e96 It was a tou'h tone. delivered be)ore his )irst sip o) whis+e$& 5I have a business o))er&6 *obb shru''ed his (assive shoulders and atte(pted to loo+ bored& 5So96 5I believe $ou +now an ac/uaintance o) (ine&6 Sa( le)t his own drin+ untouched on the table& He’d noted.actl$ what he’d hoped to hear. *obb& I’ve seen that )or ($sel)&6 Sa( s(iled. that the 'lass was none too clean& 5Lu+e *allahan&6 Surprise )lic+ered be)ore *obb narrowed his e$es& 5*an’t sa$ as I do&6 5Let’s not co(plicate a si(ple (atter& 7ou’ve been )uc+in' *allahan’s (other on and o)) )or $ears& 7ou lived with the( when he was a bo$—a +ind o) uno))icial step)ather& At that ti(e.winter wind batterin' sleet a'ainst the windows& 2ut the li'ht sweat o) anticipation 'reased Sa(’s s+in& He watched *obb wal+ in& Saw hi( hitch up his heavil$ buc+led belt be)ore scannin' the roo(& Once he spotted the )i'ure in the corner. bitterness and env$& 57ou )i'ure he owes $ou96 50odda(n class A ri'ht he does&6 *obb leaned )orward. $ou were doin' so(e uni(a'inative pi(pin' and dippin' $our toe into porno'raph$—with an e(phasis on children and adolescents&6 *obb’s )ace su))used with color so that the networ+ o) bro+en capillaries )lared li+e torches& 5I don’t +now what that un'rate)ul shit told $ou. and a bul+$ coat dis'uised his )ra(e& It was chill enou'h in the bar with a late.He’d chosen the shadows& A hat was pulled low on his head. he nodded. with (ild dis'ust. resent(ent. but 'leaned no (ore than a va'ue i(pression o) Sa(’s )ace throu'h the s(o+e and din'$ shadows& 5I) he sent $ou here to rattle ($ chain—6 . and *obb cau'ht a )lash o) white teeth& 5The bo$ needed discipline&6 Whis+e$ was curdlin' in *obb’s nervous bell$& He sent (ore down to -oin it& 5I seen hi( on T%& 2i' shot now& 8on’t see hi( pa$in' (e or his old lad$ bac+ )or all the $ears we did )or hi(&6 Sa( heard e. didn’t I9 Showed hi( what was what&6 57ou le)t $our (ar+ on hi(. but I treated hi( 'ood& ept )ood in his bell$.

and could easil$ 'et (ore& It was the reali:ation that *obb was not onl$ never 'oin' awa$. he would up the ante& There would be a plain white postcard waitin' )or Lu+e when he returned to 3ew Orleans& This ti(e the )i'ure on it would be ten thousand& Sa( calculated that a )ew (onths o) these sli( postcards would slide neatl$ under Lu+e’s )oundations& 2e)ore lon'. as well& 7ou can be o) use to (e&6 Sa( reached into his poc+et and too+ out an envelope& A)ter a /uic+ 'lance around the roo(. and his master’s daughter Oh. the$ would cru(ble& It in)uriated hi(& Lu+e crushed the white s/uare in his )ist and hurled it across the roo(& It terri)ied hi(& Ten thousand dollars& It wasn’t the (one$ itsel)& He had enou'h o) that. 0od& Lu+e scrubbed his hands over his )ace and tried to thin+& He was entitled to his li)e. *obb pic+ed it up& His wide thu(b )lipped throu'h )ive hundred in well. Sa( (used& The thirt$ or )ort$ thousand a $ear was paid without co((ent& Since Sa( had (ade it his business to +now precisel$ what inco(e Lu+e reported each $ear. da(n it& The one he’d put to'ether piece b$ piece since he’d run awa$ )ro( that 'in. or thirt$& Let the )uc+er 'o to the press.t ti(e it could be twent$ thousand.used twenties& 5What do $ou want )or it96 5Satis)action& This is what I want $ou to do&6 So Sa( had sent his do' to 3ew Orleans& The blac+(ail wasn’t as e))ective as he’d hoped. .53o one sends (e& *allahan owes (e. but that he was 'rowin' 'reed$& The ne. he thou'ht& The tabloids could have a )ield da$ with it& MAST!# MA0I*IA3’S S!*#!T *HIL8HOO8 So what9 !S*A"! A#TIST’S LI1! AS A WHO#! Who 'ave a shit9 TH! 3O4%!LL!S’ 40L7 T#IA30L! 2agician’s affair #ith mentor.

&6 5See(s $ou’ve thou'ht o) ever$thin'& !. but Lu+e didn’t -olt& He continued to stare down while the i(a'e )or(ed (ore trul$ in his (ind.& 5Oh $eah96 5The reall$ slopp$ +ind. intentl$ stud$in' the delicate desi'n o) violets a'ainst the crea(.colored china& One he’d drea(ed about. certainl$. could not stand to have what he’d run )ro( du' up and s(eared into his )ace& He wouldn’t see the stin+ o) that (ud )lun' at the onl$ people he’d ever loved& And $et& And $et he was losin' so(ethin' o) hi(sel) ever$ ti(e he answered one o) those postcards li+e a well. and a bi' bowl o) Le*lerc’s potato salad that I swiped )ro( the )rid'e.trained (on+e$& There was one alternative he hadn’t $et considered& Lu+e pic+ed up a teacup. but had never put on the )loor )or a vote& He could )l$ up to Maine and lure *obb out o) his hole& Then he could do what he’d $earned to do ever$ ti(e the belt had slashed his )lesh& He could +ill hi(& The cup shattered in his hand.anne’s hair dripped into her e$es& Her T.6 she said.shirt clun' wetl$ to her torso& She li)ted her lips to Lu+e’s and brou'ht hi( the scent o) rain and su((er (eadows& 5I thou'ht $ou’d li+e a picnic&6 5"icnic96 He )ou'ht hard to ban+ the violence and s(ile at her& He 'lanced toward the torrent )allin' outside the window as he shut the door behind her& 5I 'uess this +ind o) weather should cut down on ants&6 52arbecued chic+en win's. I thou'ht o) that. and the blood welled li+e a thin s(ile across his pal(& He could +ill& The poundin' on the door -er+ed hi( bac+& The thou'ht was still wheelin' li+e da::lin' colored li'hts in his head as he $an+ed it open& 5Hi!6 #o. holdin' out a cardboard bo.cept dessert&6 She sent hi( a lon' sidewa$s 'lance as she +nelt on the ru'& 5Oh.soa+ed apart(ent with his bac+ screa(in' with pain and the terror o) not +nowin' what the$ (i'ht have done to hi( a)ter he’d lapsed into unconsciousness& He would not. and a ver$ nice white 2ordeau. too& Wh$ don’t $ou 'et us a couple o) 'lasses—what’s this96 She pic+ed up a shard o) bro+en china& 5I—bro+e a cup&6 .

ver$ /uiet.na+ed wo(an& The lin'erin' tension dissolved in a 'rin& 5I love practical wo(en&6 It was dar+& The shadows were su))ocatin' and stan+ o) sweat& The walls were close on all )our sides.When he bent down to pic+ up the pieces. he rose and started toward the +itchen& 5Wh$ don’t $ou di' out a dr$ shirt9 7ou’ll drip on the potato salad&6 53o. then at her& It should be an interestin' picnic. but the sound o) his labored breathin' rattled and whooped with a hollow echo despite the cra(ped space& The$’d co(e i) he wasn’t /uiet& He couldn’t stop it& He couldn’t stop his panic+ed heart )ro( boo(in' in his chest or the s(all ani(alli+e sounds o) terror that +ept bubblin' up in his throat& His hands were tied& The rope bit into his thin wrists as he twisted and stru''led )or )reedo(& He s(elled blood and tasted tears and the sweat stun' his abraded wrists li+e a torch& . and shallow at that& 57our hands are worth /uite a bit. doc&6 58on’t -o+e&6 2ut she saw with relie) that it was. ver$. what have $ou done96 She snatched his hand. and overhead the ceilin' dropped low li+e the lid o) a co))in& There was no door& 3o latch& 3o li'ht& He +new he was na+ed. cluc+in' over it while she daubed at blood with the he( o) her shirt& 5It’s -ust a scratch. $ou +now& "ro)essionall$&6 He s+i((ed a )in'er down the slope o) her breast& 5"ro)essionall$96 57es& And I do have a personal interest in the(.posed s+in li+e an anvil that throbbed and throbbed under a relentless ha((er& So(ethin' was crawlin' over hi(& 1or a horrible (inute he )eared it was spiders& 2ut it was onl$ the creep o) his own perspiration& He tried to be /uiet. splattin' on the linoleu(& Lu+e 'lanced down at it. I won’t&6 The soppin' shirt landed a step behind hi(. he (used& *hic+en. hal). as well&6 A)ter nibblin' on his lips. potato salad and a wet. she sat bac+ on her heels in strate'ic retreat& 5How about those 'lasses—and a cor+screw96 #ead$ to obli'e. she spotted the blood on his hand& 5Oh. )or the heat pressed down on his e.

not even to her& 5It’s over&6 2ut there was a tic in his -aw& #o. clin'in' ti'ht as i) he couldn’t bear her to be even as )ar awa$ as the ne.& He could hear the heav$.t roo(& 5. and he screa(ed. drawin' up ti'ht& 57ou’ll do what $ou’re told to do& 7ou’ll do what $ou’re told. throu'h blood and into bone& And he screa(ed.He had to 'et out& Had to& There had to be a wa$ to escape& 2ut there was no trap door. teeth bared& And saw #o. his bod$ -er+in'.anne s(oothed her )in'ers over the (ove(ent to soothe& 5Wh$ don’t I 'et $ou so(e water96 53o&6 He 'rabbed her hand be)ore she could rise. Lu+e& 7ou’re awa+e now&6 The (adness )aded )ro( his e$es be)ore he closed the( on a 'roan& His s+in was still /uiverin' when she ris+ed touchin' a hand to his shoulder& 57ou were thrashin' around& I couldn’t brin' $ou out o) it&6 5I’( sorr$&6 He rubbed his hands over his )ace. she brushed the sweat. buc+in'. $ou little bastard&6 The slash o) the belt sliced white. e.cited breathin' close. could s(ell the sour stin+ o) 'in& He howled li+e a wol) when the hands 'ripped hi(.hot pain throu'h )lesh.anne’s stunned )ace& 57ou had a ni'ht(are. no slic+ panel waitin' to slide awa$ at his touch& He was onl$ a bo$. a)ter all& And it was so hard to thin+& So hard to be stron'& The sweat )ro:e li+e tin$ balls o) ice when he reali:ed he wasn’t alone in the bo.6 she said cal(l$. thou'h her heart was trippin' at double ti(e& He didn’t loo+ /uite sane& 5It was a ni'ht(are. no clever (echanis(.ust be here& O+a$96 5O+a$&6 She slipped her ar(s around hi(& . )ists clenched. willin' the nausea awa$& 57ou don’t have to be sorr$&6 0entl$.da(pened hair )ro( his brow& 5Must have been a lulu&6 57eah&6 He reached )or the bottle and upended a swallow o) war( wine into his (outh& 5Tell (e96 He could onl$ sha+e his head& There were thin's he could never tell. and bolted upri'ht& 1or a (o(ent his da:ed e$es saw onl$ the dar+& His s+in was still shiverin' a'ainst the bite o) the belt as hands reached )or hi(& He -er+ed awa$.

now&6 Li+e brush)ire. too& 3othin' can chan'e it& 3o sorcer$. no enchant(ent. the )eel o) her s+in a'ainst his was (a'ic. li+e li'htnin' a'ainst a churnin' s+$& His )in'ers tensed on hers& 5I need $ou. the wa$ it (a+es the li'ht so so)t and the air so heav$&6 He watched it )all. to +eep what the$ had unspoiled& She saw the )lash in his e$es. no tric+ o) the e$e&6 %er$ slowl$ he slid his )in'ers between hers so that their spread pal(s beca(e sturd$. nipped. as it (ust with -o$& 5I didn’t thin+ $ou’d ever tell (e&6 On an unstead$ lau'h she pressed her lips to his throat& 5I was considerin' 'oin' to Mada(e and as+in' her )or a potion&6 57ou’re all the (a'ic I need&6 He tipped her )ace bac+ to his& 5I was a)raid to sa$ it& Those three words are an incantation that releases all +inds o) co(plications&6 5Too late&6 Her lips curved a'ainst his& 5The spell’s alread$ cast& Here&6 She li)ted her hands. bri'hter. until it was a roar o) heat& His hands were ever$where. -oined )ists& 5In all the illusions. satis)$in' an ur'ent hun'er )or the taste o) )lesh& Her .He’d )or'otten the$ were na+ed& 2ut oh. #o. her )in'ers 'lidin' cooll$ over the rid'es o) old scars& 5I li+e the wa$ it sounds. 'ood. scorchin' the blood& His desperation tu(bled with the( over the ru'. $ou’re the onl$ truth I need&6 He +new then that he would pa$ *obb. l$in' still a'ainst his bac+& Her heart bro+e a little.anne&6 He released her hands to pull her close and press her bac+ onto the ru'& 53ow& 0od.h((&6 Instinctivel$. i'nitin' the spar+ o) hers. strea+s o) li'htnin' over her )lesh that sent hundreds o) pulse points thuddin'& Their pla$)ul. she stro+ed his bac+. waitin' until he placed his a'ainst the(& 5I love $ou.hearted lovin' o) the a)ternoon paled li+e the (oon a'ainst the sun& He clasped her hands in his a'ain. he buried his )ace into the so)t curve o) her shoulder& 5It’s still rainin'. the )orce o) that need burned )ro( hi( into her. but sweetl$. )annin' the )la(es hi'her. van/uishin' those last tattered re(nants o) the ni'ht(are& 3eed$. still hard and heav$ thou'h the thunder had danced on to the west& 2e$ond the terrace doors his tan'le o) 'eraniu(s stood triu(phant a'ainst the 'loo(& 5I alwa$s li+ed red )lowers best& I could never )i'ure out wh$& Then one da$ I reali:ed the$ (ade (e thin+ o) $our hair& That’s when I +new I loved $ou&6 Her )in'ers paused.6 he (ur(ured& 54((. would dance with the devil hi(sel) to +eep her sa)e. pal(s out. holdin' her ar(s out to the side as he raced his (outh over her& His teeth scraped.

see(ed to spar+ )ro( her )in'ertips as she )elt his (uscles bunch and /uiver beneath her touch& He’d tau'ht her the (a'ic. dan'erous swords& The power built inside her.plain it. the pleasure was so intense she )elt her soul /ua+e& More. then slid down. twice. )lesh slidin' hot and wet over )lesh. all speed and ea'erness& A'ile and /uic+ and (ore than hal) (ad. into that blindin' heat. then retreated& Witchli+e. preventin' hi( )ro( that )inal burst that would lead to escape& 57ou’re +illin' (e. she slid up his bod$& 5Tell (e a'ain&6 Her e$es were open and 'lowin'& 5Tell (e now. )or this (o(ent. /uiverin' ed'e o) relie).hands )le. da:ed b$ the suddenness and stren'th o) her assault& Her answer was a lau'h. she rolled on top o) hi(. snappin' and clawin' )or )reedo(& And she held the whip. possessed& 8evoured& To want and be wanted li+e this& She could never e. tutored her in its varieties& 3ow.ed once. tor(entin'. never describe it& *ould onl$ than+ 0od )or it& When he dra''ed her hi'her. down his taut bell$ until an oath e. dippin' her head& 53ot $et. *allahan& I’( not )inished with $ou $et&6 She teased his nipple. pro(isin'. was all she could thin+& She tore her hands )ree to ta+e the( over hi(.6 she (ur(ured and shi)ted her bod$ up to ta+e hi( inside her& . she too+ hi( to the thin.ed with that tauntin' per)u(e o) wild)lowers& 5#o. when $ou want (e so (uch it )eels li+e it’s rippin' $ou apart& Tell (e now&6 5I love $ou&6 He 'ripped her hips with unstead$ hands when she straddled hi(& 5Ma'ic words. under his 'rip even as her bod$ 'reedil$ absorbed the sensation o) bein' ta+en. the student had beco(e the (aster& He 'roaned.anne&6 Her na(e shuddered throu'h his lips between heavin' breaths& 53ow& 1or 0od’s sa+e&6 53o&6 She lau'hed a'ain. low and breathless and devastatin'& He would have sworn he s(elled hell s(o+e (i. san' in her blood.ploded )ro( hi(& His need was li+e a wild beast. (outh (eetin' ravenous (outh li+e the clash o) bri'ht. over his rib ca'e.6 he (ana'ed& She trailed her ton'ue over hi(& 5I +now&6 And the +nowled'e (ade her 'idd$& 8run+ with power.

loc+ed )in'ers ti'ht and rode hi( li+e a wo(an possessed& When at last there was no (ore to ta+e. but still she didn’t (ove& Then her lips curved. her bod$ )lowed li+e water down to his& The rain had stopped& Water$ sunli'ht crept ($sticall$ into the roo(& He stro+ed a hand down her hair& 5Move in with (e.When he )illed her.anne hadn’t been born $esterda$& 5Me too&6 There was an eas$ wa$ out. her lips )ull and parted. searchin' )or a )oolproo) escape& 5I burn ever$thin'&6 #o. her e$es closed. (ore beauti)ul than an$ e(erald he could covet& She 'roped )or his hands. her s+in the palest 'old and 'lea(in' with da(p. eccentricities& . her lids )luttered up to reveal e$es deeper. he decided& 5The <uarter’s lous$ with restaurants&6 57eah&6 Her 'rin spread& 5Aren’t we luc+$96 She settled bac+ into his ar(& As the$ la$ close in the thin sunli'ht it see(ed possible that the bi''est proble( the$ would )ace would be their appetites& 22 It was as eas$ as pullin' a rabbit out o) a hat& The$ had. a)ter all. her hair tu(blin' )ire down her bac+& Then her bod$ shuddered. she threw her head bac+ with the sheer stunnin' pleasure o) it& 1or the space o) a do:en heartbeats she held hi( ti'ht inside her. hard or'as(& A slow. her bod$ an'led bac+ and still as a statue& He’d never )or'et how she loo+ed. lived with each other )or $ears& The$ +new each other’s habits. wrac+ed b$ a )ast. )laws.6 he said& She used what was le)t o) her stren'th to li)t her head and arch a brow& 5M$ ba's are alread$ pac+ed&6 He 'rinned and 'ave her prett$ butt a li'ht pinch& 5"rett$ sure o) $oursel)&6 58a(n ri'ht&6 She 'ave hi( a s(ac+in' +iss& 5I onl$ have one /uestion&6 5What’s that96 5Who’s 'oin' to do the coo+in'96 5Ah&6 He trailed a )in'er down her ribs. sinuous (oan slipped )ro( her. when her throbbin' (uscles contracted to welco(e hi(. no (ore to 'ive.

(ovies o) the )orties and lon'.t )ew wee+s& The$ thrived on it& 1riction was as (uch a part o) their relationship as breathin'.ercise class& The stereo blared with roc+ when Lu+e had the controls and ached )ro( the blues when #o. passin' toward the blessed relie) o) )all. his hands. the$ s/uabbled and (ade up.anne had her wa$& The$ did have plent$ in co((on& 3either would have thou'ht o) co(plainin' about the need to practice a sin'le routine over and over and over& The$ both adored *a-un )ood. and that )ri'htened hi( the (ost& So o)ten the$ see(ed to )loat awa$ )ro( hi(. and both would have re'retted its loss& As Au'ust stea(ed throu'h 3ew Orleans. the loss had sta''ered hi(& He )elt he was losin' so (uch in such a short span o) ti(e& His children. who were no lon'er children.She 'ot up at dawn> he pulled the covers over his head& He too+ endless showers that used up all the hot water> she too+ paperbac+ novels into the bathtub and sta$ed sub(er'ed in plot and bubbles until the water turned cold& He wor+ed out with wei'hts on the livin' roo( )loor> she pre)erred the structure o) a thrice.wee+l$ e. (eanderin' wal+s throu'h the <uarter& And the$ both shouted when the$ ar'ued& The$ did plent$ o) shoutin' over the ne.anne and Lu+e out )ro( under his roo)& !ven thou'h the$ lived onl$ a short wal+ awa$. sli( sta)) o) a(eth$st wrapped with thin silver wires and crusted with cabochons o) rub$. with their sti)) )in'ers that so o)ten see(ed to belon' to a stran'er& !ven his thou'hts. chicor$. citrine and deep blue topa:& She set it on a table b$ the window so that the sun would stri+e it ever$ da$ and pulse its (a'ic throu'h the air& The$ were wildl$ in love and shared ever$thin'& !ver$thin' but the secret Lu+e paid )or ever$ (onth with a cashier’s chec+ )or ten thousand dollars& Ma. desperatel$ tr$in' to capture the( a'ain& . snarled and snapped and pushed each other with re'ularit$ into )rustration and lau'hter& 1or her birthda$ he 'ave her a cr$stal wand.)lavored co))ee and bided his ti(e& It )elt 'ood to have his )a(il$ 'athered around hi( a'ain& He hadn’t reali:ed what a blow it would be to have both #o. a lon'. had called a (eetin'. to han' -ust out o) reach so that he would stop. but he was in no hurr$ to start& He sipped Le*lerc’s hot.

he )elt (ore stron'.dead&6 57ou were never that.)ive carats& The dia(onds are ver$ 'ood /ualit$ ba'uettes o) a total wei'ht appro. a pin and an enhancer& Insured )or hal) a (illion& The cho+er is valued at ninet$ thousand. then at her )ather& 5. steepled his hands& Odd. then the %*# below it hu((ed into li)e& 5I have trans)erred photo'raphs to videotape&6 As the )irst picture )lashed on. I’( brain. he no lon'er )elt the ache in the(& 5Two nec+laces. said& 5It’s precisel$ the sa(e piece&6 . and her -ewelr$ wardrobe—which is e. holdin' it over the bowl o) his pipe.anne pulled a noteboo+ out o) her purse and prepared to scribble in)or(ation in her own co(ple. three pairs o) earrin's.6 Ma. but enou'h. 5is o) a conservative desi'n.6 he be'an when the roo( /uieted& 5A particular collection o) -ewelr$—6 He noted that #o.t picture. code& Ma. this is onl$ part o) the collection. ten&6 Ma. I believe )or our needs&6 5How (an$ pieces96 #o. ai(ed it toward the television& The set clic+ed on.6 he continued. bea(ed his pride toward his precise and practical dau'hter& 5O) the sapphires.ean96 Le*lerc pic+ed up the re(ote. be'an to suc+& 5I en-o$ these new to$s& This nec+lace.anne’s attention& With a /uic+ sound o) surprise she stared at the screen. a bracelet. the enhancer. that cau'ht #o.i(atel$ ei'ht point two carats&6 2ut it was the ne.He told hi(sel) it was because he had so (uch on his (ind& That was wh$ he’d ta+en a wron' turn on his wa$ to the 1rench Mar+et and had ended up lost and disoriented in a cit$ he’d +nown (ost o) his li)e& That was wh$ he was )or'ettin' thin's& Li+e the na(e o) his stoc+bro+er& Or the cupboard where Le*lerc had stored the co))ee (u's )or $ears& 2ut toda$. now that the 'a(e had be'un.ustine W$att& I) that’s not the sa(e piece I saw her wearin' on the ship last su((er.cessive& !i'ht$ thousand is a (ore reasonable esti(ate&6 Lu+e accepted a coo+ie )ro( the plate Lil$ passed hi(& 5We 'ot an$ visuals96 53aturall$& .tensive—re)lects it& There is also a rather ele'ant pearl and dia(ond cho+er that is not to be sco))ed at& 3aturall$. he struc+ a (atch and. but I believe that to be sli'htl$ e. (ore sure& His voice re)lected none o) his doubts as he called the (eetin' to order& 5I believe I have so(ethin' o) interest. two rin's.cut sapphires o) a corn)lower blue& Total wei'ht. havin' the( all around hi(.anne’s e$es cut to Lu+e’s& 5I’ve ta+en a (ore speci)ic interest in the sapphire portion o) this collection& The lad$ appears to have an a))ection )or this stone. twent$. perhaps lac+in' in i(a'ination& 2ut the stones the(selves are 'ood& There are ten )anc$. ($ sweet.

5Ho(e (ovies&6 Mouse 'rinned over a (outh)ul o) coo+ies& 5I too+ these ones&6 5And a buddin' Spielber' in our (idst. loo+& There’s that nice Mrs& Woolbur'er& #e(e(ber.6 Ma. con'ratulated& Indeed.anne snatched the re(ote be)ore Le*lerc could obli'e& 5Ah. then bubbled out in a lau'h o) sheer 'ood hu(or& 5We’re 'oin' to do it a)ter all& Wh$ didn’t $ou tell (e96 5I wanted it to be a surprise&6 He preened. deli'hted with her reaction& 5*onsider it a +ind o) earl$ *hrist(as 'i)t. the picture stead$ as a roc+. .& She was in the )ront row at ever$ show&6 5And there’s 8ori&6 #o.6 Mouse said with a wide 'rin& 5!ver$ 'ood (ovie’s 'ot one&6 5#un that part bac+ a'ain&6 Lu+e +neaded his )in'ers over #o. where the$ chose chairs side b$ side& There were none o) the secret s(iles and lin'erin' touches o) newl$weds& Without e.The s(ile started )irst. to see the wa$ his head tilted so that his (outh could cover hers (ore trul$& 5That’s the love interest.ean9 We can co(e bac+ to this& The photos are copied )ro( the insurance )ile& Our own contribution should be (ore entertainin'&6 The pictures :i':a''ed throu'h )ast )orward then settled into live.chan'in' a word. the plot thic+ens.citin' to watch hersel) s+i( her )in'ers up into Lu+e’s hair. she with a 'loss$ (a'a:ine.anne considered as she studied Sa(& The bree:e was ru))lin' his hair& He had the li'ht tan o) a (an used to bein' outdoors& 5The ca(era’s 'ood to hi(& I suppose that’s a political asset&6 . spread into a 'rin.action videos aboard the &an(ee 1rincess. thou'h it will be closer to !aster b$ the ti(e we have ever$thin' in place&6 He 'estured toward the set& 5S+ip ahead.ustine strolled out on dec+& #o. aren’t the$96 #o. the$ settled bac+. he with a To( *lanc$ techno.up o) the bracelet the$’d -ust studied in the still& The ca(era )ollowed their pro'ress over the dec+.thriller& 5#o(antic devils. proppin' her elbows on her thi'hs& And & & & oh&6 She )lushed a bit when Mouse’s lens :oo(ed in on the portside rail.6 she (ur(ured as Sa( and . Ma. :oo(s and wide shots )lowed to'ether without an$ o) the -er+s and -olts o) the a(ateur& 5Oh.anne leaned )orward. capturin' her and Lu+e in a lon' +iss& It was odd and e. the video was clear as cr$stal. will $ou.anne inched )orward even as the picture )ocused in on a close.anne’s shoulder& #o. the sound per)ect& The slow pans.

’s (ind was so clear he wondered i) he’d i(a'ined the )o' that so o)ten settled over it& 5We’re awaitin' blueprints o) the house in Tennessee. as it happens& That will (a+e it (ore di))icult. darlin'&6 When #o. #o.anne co(plied. but he didn’t sa$ so because he thou'ht the )a(il$ would chuc+le.anne and Lu+e& 5. isn’t it9 1ree:e it there. then bled to color a'ain.anne co((ented& 5She wore it on )arewell ni'ht&6 Lil$ re(e(bered it ver$ well& 5I thin+ $ou and Lu+e were—occupied—until the show&6 5Oh&6 #o. had stood b$ his ori'inal decision so that the$ would all 'ive Sa(. be'an to lecture li+e a dedicated pro)essor& 5The cho+er was a 'i)t )ro( her parents on her twent$. was the s(artest person in the world. as well as the 3ew 7or+ pied.two thousand. )our $ears a'o this co(in' April& It was purchased at *artier’s. to dispose o)& I believe that should be enou'h. and it would never occur to hi( to /uestion or doubt& As the screen )aded to 'ra$. too.anne&6 The set switched o))& He settled bac+& Ma. bea(ed& He’d tau'ht his children well& 57es.terre& The securit$ s$ste(s on both residences will ta+e so(e ti(e&6 5That’ll 'ive us ti(e to en-o$ *hrist(as )irst&6 It wasn’t a /uestion& 1or Lil$.anne let out a low whistle& 5So that’s the cho+er&6 5Superb. #o.6 Lu+e (ur(ured and received an ac+nowled'in' nod )ro( Ma.nine dollars—plus all the acco(pan$in' ta. Ma.52arbie and en.anne re(e(bered. we can tri( the tree toni'ht&6 She shot a sl$ 'lance at #o. isn’t it96 Ma.& 5I can’t believe I (issed seein' a piece li+e that. Ma.es&6 5The$ hose $ou on that in 3ew 7or+. ta+in' ti(e to en-o$ ever$ aspect o) the holida$ was a sacred trust& 5Since we’re all here.)irst birthda$. and he didn’t (ean it to be )unn$& In his heart he wished Ma.6 Lu+e co((ented behind her& 5The a(a:in' plastic people&6 Mouse thou'ht Sa( had shar+’s e$es. 3ew 7or+. thou'h not i(possible. and slid a 'lance at Lu+e over her shoulder& 5I 'uess we were&6 Lu+e wrapped an ar( around her waist and pulled her bac+ o)) o) the hassoc+ and into his lap& 5It’s one o) a +ind. )or a su( o) ninet$.J. his wi)e and her prett$ stones a wide berth& 2ut to Mouse.ean’s 'ot a roast in the oven&6 .6 #o. )ive hundred and ninet$.

out and one disastrous atte(pt at )ried chic+en. )or a lon' ti(e.anne elbowed hi( in the ribs& A)ter all. (ur(urin' in her sleep& He closed his cold )in'ers over hers and la$. rain$ winter clun' stubbornl$ to March& Those entertainers who plied their trade on street corners su))ered& In the house on *hartres. 'ive a $earnin' si'h& #o. Le*lerc +ept his +itchen co:il$ war(& Thou'h it stun' the pride. which had (ade do )or two wee+s with ta+e. a)ter leavin' those s(all )aces behind& He drea(ed. coo+ies to ba+e& In the case o) the 3ouvelleK*allahan apart(ent. there were coo+ies to burn& The annual (a'ic show to bene)it the pediatric win' raised )ive thousand (uch. starin' at the ceilin'& A lon'. rarel$ venturin' out even to (ar+et& When he did. it had been she who’d )ried the chic+en& 5The (an’s a wal+in' appetite& We don’t need to be bribed to sta$&6 5It doesn’t hurt&6 Lu+e sent a beseechin' loo+ at Le*lerc& 52iscuits96 57ou bet& And (a$be enou'h le)t over )or a do''ie ba' )or a $oun' wol)&6 The da$s to *hrist(as and the new $ear passed /uic+l$& There were presents to bu$ and wrap.5With those little potatoes that 'et all crust$.anne shi)ted. or cause (a'ic )lowers to sprin' up out o) an e(pt$ pot. he sta$ed indoors. and awa+ened with his heart poundin' and a screa( burnin' his throat& #o. he )elt each 'ust o) wind snea+ throu'h his thinnin' s+in and whip strai'ht into the (arrow o) his bones& Old a'e.needed dollars& 2ut it was Lu+e who carried on Ma. was a (other)uc+er& When the door opened on a blast o) cold wind and chillin' rain. and their realit$ was o)ten un)or'ivin'& 2ut the$ believed& 1or an hour. that was all that (attered& He drea(ed a'ain that ni'ht. he thou'ht when he allowed hi(sel) to address the issue. he pounced& 5*lose the 'odda(n door& This ain’t no cave&6 . Lu+e discovered wh$ Ma. devoted so (uch o) his ti(e to these children& The$ were the (ost satis)$in' o) audiences& The$ +new pain.’s tradition o) entertainin' the children who would spend the (ost (a'ical ni'ht o) the $ear con)ined to bed or wheelchair& In the hour it too+ to pluc+ a coin out o) a s(all ear. and the carrots96 Lu+e )elt his sto(ach.

mon ami. how about one o) those ba+ed apples96 5Sit and eat at the table li+e $ou been tau'ht&6 3o lon'er displeased with the co(pan$.5Sorr$&6 Lu+e’s apolo'$ earned a scowl& He was hatless and 'loveless. he poured hi(sel) a cup o) the co))ee war(in' on the stove& 5I )i'ure a (an can onl$ be 'ood. eh96 5I do those thin's 'reat& 3ow. (ade a )ist and poured a rain o) white 'rains into the )unnel o) his thu(b and )ore)in'er& He waited a beat then opened his hands wide to show it e(pt$& Le*lerc 'ave a snort that (i'ht have been a lau'h& 5Stealin'&6 He handed Le*lerc bac+ the tattered wallet he’d li)ted out o) the old (an’s bac+ poc+et when he’d passed to the stove& 5And (a+in' love to a wo(an&6 He pic+ed up his cup and sipped& 52ut $ou’ll have to ta+e ($ word on that one.anne96 5At that e. $ou thin+ $ou do those thin's 'ood.ercise class& She said she (i'ht have so(e lunch with a couple o) the other wo(en a)ter&6 5So. ’cause $ou ain’t 'ettin' no de(onstration&6 Le*lerc’s leather$ )ace split with a 'rin& 5So. at a li(ited nu(ber o) thin's&6 Le*lerc sni))ed& 5What $ou so 'ood at. he went bac+ to +neadin' his dou'h& His hands were co(petent with the ho(e$ chore> the sna+es twinin' up his ar(s slithered& 5Where’s #o. $ou’re on the prowl. oui!6 5I was wor+in' out the +in+s on this escape. needed a brea+&6 He didn’t want to ad(it the apart(ent see(ed e(pt$ without her in it& 5It’ll be read$ )or Mardi 0ras&6 57ou have onl$ two wee+s&6 . $ou can’t boil an e''96 5Ma'ic&6 Lu+e too+ a teaspoon o) su'ar. and wore onl$ a deni( -ac+et as protection )ro( the ele(ents& Le*lerc )elt bitter env$ swirl into his heart& 57ou co(e here )or a handout96 Lu+e sni))ed the air and cau'ht the un(ista+able aro(a o) ba+ed apples& 5I) I can 'et one&6 5Wh$ don’t $ou learn to coo+ )or $oursel)9 7ou thin+ $ou can walt: in here and walt: bac+ out a'ain with a )ull bell$ an$ti(e $ou please9 I don’t run no soup +itchen&6 5It’s li+e this&6 Since Lu+e was too used to the rou'h side o) the *a-un’s ton'ue to cower. reall$ 'ood.

(anipulatin' the( a'ain and a'ain li+e a pianist be)ore a per)or(ance& 5How bad are his hands96 Lu+e saw b$ the sli'ht sti))enin' o) Le*lerc’s shoulders that he’d hit the (ar+& The ho(e$ scent o) spice and apples and bread dou'h (ade hi( va'uel$ ill as he waited )or the answer& 58on’t +now what $ou (ean&6 Le*lerc +ept his bac+ turned as he shut o)) the water in the sin+ and reached )or a dish towel& 5.in' the(.5It’s enou'h& 8an'lin' over La+e "ontchartrain )ro( a burnin' rope ou'ht to draw a hell o) a crowd& *hallen'er’s bettin' )i)t$ I don’t 'et out o) the cu))s and (a+e it bac+ onto the brid'e be)ore the rope burns throu'h&6 5And i) $ou don’t96 5Then I lose )i)t$ thousand and 'et wet&6 Le*lerc put the dou'h into a bi' bowl. covered it& 5It’s a lon' drop&6 5I +now how to )all&6 He )or+ed war(. and Lu+e had his answer& 5Has he seen a doctor96 Lu+e’s sto(ach churned& The )or+ rattled a'ainst his saucer as he pushed it awa$& 5Lil$ na''ed hi( to one&6 Le*lerc turned then.& He around96 5He’s sleepin'&6 53ow96 Lu+e li)ted a brow& 5It’s eleven o’cloc+&6 5He don’t sleep so 'ood at ni'ht&6 Worr$ creased his brow as he washed clin'in' dou'h )ro( his hands. his s(all. spic$ apple into his (outh& 5I wanted to chec+ over a couple o) details with Ma. dar+ e$es re)lectin' all the )rustration and e(otion he’d suppressed& 5The$ 'ive hi( pills to ease the pain& The pain in his )in'ers. spreadin' the(. isn’t he96 Lu+e stared at Le*lerc’s ri'id bac+& In his (ind he could see Ma. wor+in' his )in'ers. comprends! 3ot the pain here&6 He tapped a )ist to his heart& 5It doesn’t brin' the (a'ic bac+& 3othin' will&6 . )le. reali:ed )or the )irst ti(e how /uiet the house was& 5He’s o+a$.. wor+in' his hands.ean& 8on’t con (e& 0ive (e credit )or carin' as (uch as $ou do&6 50odda(n&6 2ut there was no stren'th behind the oath. but his bac+ was to Lu+e& 5A (an’s entitled to sleep late now and a'ain in his own house&6 5I didn’t (ean—he never used to&6 Lu+e 'lanced toward the hallwa$.

even to (ediu(s&6 5It’s cau'ht his i(a'ination. to pro)essors. the wa$ the painted e$es had seduced hi( into the tent& 5It was 'ood luc+&6 5Luc+. but it can’t be cured& 7ou’re his hands now. ta+e that. or his heart will burst& The doctors will sa$ do this.ust as $ou&6 Le*lerc hesitated& 1ollowin' instinct. he sat across )ro( Lu+e& 5There is (ore. oui. that $ou )ound Ma.6 he said /uietl$& Lu+e li)ted his 'a:e& The loo+ on Le*lerc’s )ace had )ear s+itterin' up his spine& 5What96 5He spends hours with his boo+s. $ou and #o. he has $et to turn the pa'e& At brea+)ast he (i'ht as+ Mouse to (ove the parlor so)a under the .6 Lu+e said& 5What’s the har( o) it96 5"erhaps nothin' o) itsel)& This is his Hol$ 0rail& I thin+ i) he )inds it. but in her heart.6 Le*lerc interrupted& 53othin'& Inside each (an is a ti(etable& And it sa$s this is when his e$es will di(. the stone& He tal+s to scientists. he’ll have peace& 2ut )or now & & & I’ve seen hi( stare at the sin'le pa'e in a boo+.& We should 'et hi( to a specialist&6 51our:uoi! So he can have tests that brea+ his heart9 He has arthritis& It can be eased. and when He sa$s c’est asse*. It’s -ust another na(e )or )ate&6 Lu+e had had enou'h o) Le*lerc’s )atalistic philosoph$& It du' too close to his own deepl$ buried belie)s& 53one o) this has an$thin' to do with Ma.anne&6 Lu+e sat a'ain. or his ears clo' up& This is the da$ he will 'et out o) bed with his bones sti)) and his -oints achin'& And toda$ is the da$ his bladder will )ail hi( or his lun's will 'o wea+. no control&6 57ou thin+ we do96 Le*lerc 'ave a short bar+ o) a lau'h& 5That is the arro'ance o) the $oun'& 8o $ou thin+ it was an accident that $ou ca(e to the carnival that ni'ht. she +nows& . broodin' into the blac+ pool o) his coolin' co))ee& 58oes she +now96 5Ma$be not in her head.. and his own )ate. but the bon Dieu has set the ti(e.5There’s 'ot to be so(ethin'—6 5Rien. with his (aps&6 5The philosophers’ stone96 50ui. that he )ound $ou96 Lu+e re(e(bered all too clearl$ the power)ul draw o) the poster. nothin' can stop it&6 5I don’t believe that&6 8idn’t want to& Lu+e scraped his chair bac+ as he rose& 57ou’re sa$in' we’ve 'ot nothin' to do with it. and an hour later.

Lu+e.ean. he re(e(bers nothin' o) a rehearsal&6 The )ear du' in with tin$ teeth and claws& 5He has a lot on his (ind&6 5It’s his (ind that concerns (e&6 Le*lerc si'hed& He thou'ht his e$es too old )or tears.anne96 . Then he sleeps. I tell hi( there is no show toda$.anne is ho(e )ro( school. so $ou )ollowed $our nose as well& Where’s #o. up to bed& He as+s i) #o. not $et& 2ut soon& He sa$s Lu+e (ust brin' his prett$ 'irl)riend bac+ to dinner. out o) the cold&6 Le*lerc li)ted his cup and swallowed deepl$& 5Then he loo+s around hi(.esus&6 5A (an’s bod$ betra$s hi(. but the$ pric+led hot and had to be )ou'ht bac+& 57esterda$. and I sa$ bien. with no coat a'ainst the wind& ?. I )ound hi( standin' in the court$ard& He was in costu(e. but he as+s i) Mouse has ta+en it to wash be)ore the show& So. either&6 He debated )or a (o(ent. and I tell hi( no. then nodded& 5I thin+ we should—6 5. I will (a+e $touff$e. loo+in' so )it and alert that Lu+e al(ost dis(issed Le*lerc’s stor$& 5Ah. and I can see )ear in his e$es& So I ta+e hi( inside. Le*lerc waved the words bac+& 5He (ust be a part o) the plannin'. strolled in.6 Lu+e answered a)ter a lon' pause& 5I won’t ris+ hi(& 2ut I won’t hurt hi(. what is that (arvelous bou/uet96 Ma.window& And at lunch he as+s wh$ the )urniture has been rearran'ed& He sa$s to Lil$ we (ust rehearse this new tric+ toda$. lost. a)ter she 'oes to )ind hi( huddled with his boo+s in the librar$. what he’s doin'9 *an $ou ris+ it9 *an $ou ris+ hi(96 53o.ean. but not the e. and he (ust co(e inside.’ he sa$s& ?Where is the van9’ 6 5The van9 2ut—6 5We have no van&6 Le*lerc +ept his e$es level with Lu+e’s& 53ot )or nearl$ ten $ears. oui. and when he wa+es I thin+ he re(e(bers none o) it&6 Lu+e uncurled the hand he’d )isted in his lap& 5. he (oves slower& 2ut what does he do when it’s his (ind96 5He needs to see a doctor&6 5Ah. and this will be done because Lil$ will insist& 2ut there’s so(ethin' $ou (ust do&6 5What can I do96 57ou (ust see that he doesn’t 'o with $ou when $ou )l$ to Tennessee&6 2e)ore Lu+e could spea+.ecution& What i) he )or'ets where he is. and a)ter she waits )or hi( in the wor+roo(.

li+e a (an pla$in' an invisible piano& 5I hope she doesn’t dawdle too lon'& I +now Lil$ wanted to ta+e her out )or new shoes& The child can’t see( to +eep the( on her )eet&6 Lu+e’s hand -er+ed& *o))ee splashed on the counter& Ma. his e$es darted wildl$& Then the$ )ocused a'ain& His hand continued to brin' the cup to his lips& 57ou’ll draw a 'ood crowd.&6 5All ri'ht&6 5I want to pull the -ob ($sel)&6 Lu+e saw the shoc+ on Ma. (ovin'. the disappoint(ent& 5It’s i(portant to (e. )rowned& 5There are a nu(ber o) s(all details $et to be wor+ed out&6 5There’s ti(e&6 8espisin' hi(sel).anne as i) she were twelve a'ain& 5She’ll be alon'&6 His heart )elt li+e an anvil in his chest as he carried the co))ee bac+ to the +itchen table& 5Have $ou wor+ed out the bu's in the Water Torture escape96 Lu+e wanted to screa( at Ma. Lu+e leaned bac+& He hoo+ed an ar( casuall$ over the bac+ o) his chair& 5I want to as+ $ou )or a )avor. -ust sa$ so&6 .’s )ace.t wee+&6 52urnin' #ope96 Ma.ception& There’s a lot o) ba''a'e between Sa( and (e&6 5All the (ore reason not to let e(otions cloud the issue&6 5The$ are the issue&6 At least this (uch was true& 5I owe hi(& This would 'o a lon' wa$ toward pa$in' o)) old debts&6 Then he pulled out his tru(p card. sat. stretchin' out his le's with a si'h& His )in'ers were (ovin'.5Out with so(e )riends& Want so(e co))ee96 Lu+e was alread$ up and (ovin' toward the stove& Ma.’s hand paused& The co))ee cup that was hal)wa$ to his lips tre(bled& It was pain)ul to watch his )i'ht to return to the present& His (outh drooped open and hun' slac+. but this one’s the e. I’( wor+in' on the 2urnin' #ope& #e(e(ber96 he prodded 'entl$& 5It’s set )or Shrove Tuesda$& 3e. i) $ou don’t thin+ I’( 'ood enou'h. Ma. hatin' hi(sel)& 5I) $ou don’t trust (e to carr$ it o)). was discussin' #o.6 he plowed on& 5I +now the rules about no -ob bein' personal. (ovin'.6 he said& 5The earl$ press is e. to leap o)) whatever ti(e (achine was holdin' his (ind prisoner& Instead he spo+e cal(l$& 5Actuall$. to stop.cellent&6 5I +now& And I couldn’t as+ )or a better cover )or the W$att -ob& I want to (ove on it that ni'ht&6 Ma.

do $ou96 5I li+e $our hair. but onl$ li)ted his co))ee cup in salute& 5I was tau'ht b$ the best&6 5What do $ou (ean $ou’re doin' it on $our own96 #o. too&6 #o. her in'rained tidiness had her un:ippin' the ba' to re(ove towels and wor+out clothes& 58add$ wouldn’t a'ree to it&6 5He did a'ree to it&6 Lu+e peeled o)) his deni( -ac+et and tossed it in the vicinit$ o) a chair& It slid o)) the ar( and hit the )loor& 5It’s no bi' deal&6 5It is.cept that his son was ta+in' $et another step awa$& 57ou’re ri'ht& It’s past ti(e )or $ou to tr$ so(ethin' on $our own& 7ou’re as 'ood as the$ 'et&6 5Than+s&6 He wanted to ta+e those restless hands in his. e. and I tal+ed it over& It’s cool with hi(. the stubborn chin was still up& 5Ma.6 he said. hopin' to distract her& 5It loo+s li+e a bunch o) cor+screws that cau'ht on )ire&6 5That’s poetic&6 .anne re:ipped her ba' and set it in its proper place on the closet shel)& She +ic+ed aside a -u(ble o) Lu+e’s shoes& 5I) we’ve all been in on the plannin' sta'es )ro( the 'et.anne de(anded& With her '$( ba' tossed over her shoulder she’d )ollowed Lu+e )ro( the livin' roo(. 3ouvelle&6 His use o) her last na(e usuall$ (ade her chuc+le& Thou'h her lips twitched.5O) course I trust $ou& 2ut the point is & & &6 He didn’t +now what the point was. where he’d dropped his bo(bshell. but not with (e&6 She stuc+ her hands on her hips& 5I’( in. wh$ do $ou thin+ $ou’re the onl$ one who 'ets to have the )un96 52ecause&6 He dropped down on the bed and tuc+ed his ar(s behind his head& 5That’s the wa$ I want it&6 5Loo+. into the bedroo(& 5. *allahan—6 57ou loo+.'o. pal& That’s that&6 His e$es 'littered& 5I want to do it ($sel)&6 5Tou'h& I want to have strai'ht blond hair but $ou don’t see (e whinin' about it.ust what I said& It’s ($ show&6 5Li+e hell& We all wor+ to'ether&6 8espite anno$ance. so let it 'o&6 5Ma$be it’s cool with hi(.

. sendin' hi( a lon'. avoid the Mardi 0ras rush96 5Sure&6 Without (ovin' an inch he shi)ted his e$es down.perience&6 5That’s what $ou said about se. seductive s(ile over her shoulder& 57ou loo+ stron' enou'h to 'et up and wal+. revealin' practical cotton brie)s in the sa(e snow$ white as the bra& Her s+in was winter pale and )lawless& The -eans went throu'h the sa(e (eticulous routine as the shirt& Idl$ she pic+ed up her brush. didn’t I96 53ow that $ou (ention it&6 He reared up and (ade a 'rab )or her& She danced easil$ out o) reach& 5*o(e here. but I cau'ht on. he 'a:ed at the ceilin'& 53o than+s& 3ot that interested&6 5O+a$& 7ou want to 'o eat earl$.96 5"ut a soc+ in $our hor(ones. tappin' it a'ainst her pal(& 5What are $ou in the (ood )or. *allahan& 7ou’re not sha+in' (e loose& I’( 'oin'&6 5Suit $oursel)&6 It didn’t (atter i) she went alon' or not& 2ut ar'uin' with her about it had ta+en her (ind o)) Ma.6 he de(anded& She tilted her head. *allahan96 She strolled -ust close enou'h to the bed that when his hand shot out it could 'rip her ar(& She was lau'hin' as she hit the (attress& 5I won.6 he clai(ed. watched her slowl$ peel o)) her shirt& 2eneath she wore a thin white cotton athletic bra that should have been as allurin' as cold 'u(bo& The blood drained out o) his head and into his loins& 5I )eel li+e so(ethin' hot&6 She )olded the shirt neatl$. rollin' on top o) her& . laid it on top o) the dresser& With deliberate (ove(ents she unsnapped her -eans& He heard the /uiet rasp o) the :ipper and concentrated on not swallowin' his ton'ue& 5And spic$&6 She pulled the deni( down.& 52ut I run the show&6 5In $our drea(s&6 She planted her hands on either side o) his le's at the )oot o) the bed& 51ull partners all the wa$&6 5I’ve had (ore e. *allahan& Wh$ don’t $ou co(e 'et (e96 He +new how to pla$ the 'a(e& A)ter a ne'li'ent (ove(ent o) his shoulders.5I especiall$ li+e it when $ou’re na+ed& Want to 'et na+ed. #o.

hadn’t settled well& She hoped Lu+e’s cast.anne was practical enou'h not to thu(b her nose at superstition& Her onl$ alteration was to bu$ a (i.anne pressed a hand to her /ueas$ sto(ach& The panca+e. but as Lu+e plowed contentedl$ throu'h hal) a do:en. the$ would be spendin' (ost o) the ni'ht o) revelr$ in Tennessee relievin' Mr& and Mrs& Sa(uel W$att o) appro. Mardi 0ras could wear a surl$ )ace& Had the evenin' been )ree )or her. dancin'—that last hurrah be)ore the )ort$ da$s o) sobriet$ to usher in !aster& 2ut there would also be stu(blin' drun+s. #o. and #o. (u''ers. vicious )i'htin' and a )ew (urders& 2ehind its beauti)ul and seductive (as+.anne thou'ht with a s(ile& The W$atts would collect on their obscene insurance pre(iu(s. balancin' that with the stin' o) havin' possessions snapped up )ro( under their noses& The 3ouvelles would +eep the lin+s in an old )ood chain secure& It wasn’t onl$ the 3ouvelles who pro)ited. then dropped it a'ain with a (oan& . she assu(ed their luc+ )or the $ear was set& And perhaps it was& The streets and sidewal+s o) the <uarter were pac+ed with celebrants on this last da$ o) Mardi 0ras& The sounds o) (usic and lau'hter swun' up to her balcon$ as the$ had )or the wee+ o) constant part$in'& Toni'ht. she +new the volu(e and the )ren:$ would increase& "arades. she and Lu+e (i'ht have 'one over to the house on *hartres and watched the 'oin's.uh& Tie score&6 She li)ted her head to (eet his descendin' lips with hers& 5We’re partners& 8on’t $ou )or'et it&6 23 1at Tuesda$ started o)) with panca+es& 1or all Le*lerc’s tal+ about luc+ and )ate. he believed in hed'in' his bets& He’d served panca+es on the last da$ be)ore Lent as lon' as she could re(e(ber.on )ro( the balcon$& As it was.i(atel$ a hal) o) a (illion in -ewels& 1air trade. she thou'ht.54h. rather than slo' throu'h Le*lerc’s co(plicated recipe& Her panca+es (i'ht have been thin and sin'ed around the ed'es. a)ter all& #o. but she’d 'rown accusto(ed to bein' nerv$ and tense be)ore one o) his escapes& She pic+ed up her purse. and Lu+e would want her close b$& The 2urnin' #ope (ade her uneas$. costu(es. but the$ )ul)illed the basic re/uire(ents& She (ana'ed to chew her wa$ throu'h one o) the rubber$ dis+s.iron sto(ach was holdin' up& The last thin' he needed was nausea while he hun' upside down above La+e "ontchartrain& She needed to start over there hersel)& The escape was due to be'in in -ust over an hour.

one )ro( La)a$ette. held up a hand )or silence& 50ood a)ternoon. who was 'rantin' an interview to one o) the television reporters& She had worries o) her own& 57ou concentrate on $ou. who e.anne’ll be alon'&6 5*hrist +nows how she’d 'et throu'h now&6 He scanned the brid'e& 2ehind the barricades people swar(ed and -oc+e$ed )or a better view& The local authorities had cooperated b$ closin' the brid'e to vehicular tra))ic )or the hour Lu+e re/uired )ro( setup to co(pletion& 2ut that hadn’t stopped the crowds& The$’d strea(ed onto the brid'e )ro( both sides to press up a'ainst the barricades& Lu+e wondered idl$ how (an$ poc+ets would be pic+ed over the la+e that a)ternoon& He was alwa$s willin' to lend a hand to an associate& Where the hell was #o. he told hi(sel)& He had to concentrate on the -ob at hand& #o.& She too+ her (i+e and.anne9 He shaded his e$es a'ainst the brilliant 'lare o) sun and 'ave the 3ew Orleans side o) the brid'e one last loo+& Lil$ was ri'ht..anne would 'et there when she 'ot there& At this hei'ht over the water. loo+in' splash$ in a red -u(psuit. the wind was sti))& He’d )actored that in. it had been decided that Lil$ would h$pe the escape rather than Ma.a(ined the shac+les and strait-ac+et Lu+e would use& . but he accepted that nature could o)ten pla$ capricious tric+s with calculations& That wind was 'oin' to batter the livin' hell out o) hi(& 5Let’s do it&6 He stepped to his (ar+& Instantl$ the crowd be'an to clap and call out encoura'e(ents& The ca(eras )ocused& A)ter so(e delicate diplo(ac$.6 she ordered Lu+e& 5#o. $ou’re privile'ed to witness one o) the (ost darin' escapes ever atte(pted& The 2urnin' #ope&6 She continued. Lu+e tried to prepare his (ind )or the -ob to co(e& His bod$ was read$& 5Wh$ didn’t she -ust co(e with (e96 52ecause she’d have nothin' to do durin' the setup e. one )ro( 3ew Orleans.actl$ what would happen and introducin' the two police o))icers.cept worr$!6 Lil$ +ept an ea'le e$e on Ma. ladies and 'entle(en& Toda$.8a(n those panca+es! she thou'ht and (ade a dash )or the bathroo(& 5She should be here&6 Torn between concern and anno$ance. e.plainin' e.

he )olded at the waist. )elt a bri'ht )lash o) pain in his abused -oints& His )in'ers went busil$ to wor+& His (ind was cold with control& Onl$ one thou'ht intruded. e(pt$& The rescue boat bobbin' on the la+e 'ave a con'ratulator$ blast o) its horn& Thou'h he appreciated the senti(ent. but he could s(ell it& It was inches awa$ and snea+in' closer& He didn’t thin+ he’d die )ro( sin'ed )eet. courtes$ o) the 8ru( and 2u'le *orps o) a local hi'h school& Lu+e was lowered )ace )irst toward the waters o) La+e "ontchartrain& So(eone in the crowd screa(ed& Lu+e blessed the( )or their ti(in'& There was nothin' li+e a touch o) h$steria or a couple o) 'ood )aints to add to the dra(a& A sharp 'ust o) wind slapped his )ace hard enou'h to (a+e his e$es water& His bod$ twisted and swa$ed& He was alread$ wor+in' on the cu))s& He )elt the tu' when the rope pla$ed out& He had )ive seconds be)ore a volunteer torched the end o) the rope and sent the )ire crawlin' toward hi(& He had to )i'ht a surprisin' )lood o) verti'o when the wind cupped hi( in a pla$)ul hand and sent hi( spinnin'& 1uc+in' ph$sics. La)a$ette cu))ed one wrist.ropin' cha(pion o) the 3ational #odeo& There was a dru(roll. who’d co(e to the event dec+ed out in )ull evenin' 'ear and tiara& 3ew Orleans )it the restraint in place& The rope was tied around Lu+e’s an+les b$ the current cal). looped the chain throu'h and secured the other& The +e$ was held b$ Miss Louisiana.Once Lu+e’s ar(s were in position. but he )i'ured it would be da(n unco()ortable& The cloc+ in his (ind warned hi( that he had (inutes onl$ be)ore the )ire ate throu'h the rope and sent hi( divin' headlon' into the la+e& . sto(ach (uscles strainin' as he levered hi(sel) up to )i'ht the cowbo$’s +nots )ro( his le's& He didn’t loo+ at the )ire. Lu+e was aware it was too earl$ to open the cha(pa'ne& On a 'runt o) e))ort. he thou'ht& A bod$ in (otion re(ains in (otion. and he was trapped in a wide pendulu( swin' that thrilled and deli'hted the crowd.lived& He could s(ell the s(o+e& Slipper$ as a sna+e. he wor(ed his bod$ inside the strait-ac+et. but (ade his -ob that (uch (ore di))icult& His satis)action on )reein' his hands was short. punchin' throu'h the (echanics o) the wor+ li+e a relentless )ist& He would not sta$ trapped& He heard the roar )ro( above when the strait-ac+et plun'ed toward the water.

but Lu+e was scannin' the crowd& 5#o. ostensibl$ to o))er a word o) con'ratulations& 50ot hi(96 he (uttered to Mouse& 57ep&6 5Bien.anne96 5Must’ve 'otten tied up. Lu+e& Ma$be we could 'o to San 1rancisco and do it on the 0olden 0ate9 Wouldn’t that be 'reat96 5Sure&6 He passed a hand casuall$ throu'h his hair.6 he said (ildl$ and 'rinned& 5That was a neat one. he was 'oin' to hurt li+e a (other& With Mouse’s assistance he 'ained his )eet& The ca(eras were alread$ closin' in. or he’d ta+e a swi( to cool his hot )oot& He )elt the rope 'ive& This )inal sta'e too+ intricate ti(in'& I) he released hi(sel) too /uic+l$. solid 'rip on his ar(s& Le*lerc bent down. let it out on a 'asp each ti(e the wind cau'ht hi(& When he reached the top. he’d ta+e a dive& I) he waited too lon' to set up.6 Mouse said and thu(ped Lu+e hard enou'h on the bac+ to (a+e hi( sta''er& 57our shirt was s(o+in'. had +ept the crowd )ro( seein' it& Lu+e )elt the heat )ro( the burnin' rope s(o+e his +nuc+les as he secured his handhold& He +ic+ed his )eet )ree and be'an to (on+e$ his wa$ up& 1ro( atop the brid'e it appeared as thou'h he was cli(bin' on a thin colu(n o) )ire& Indeed he would re/uire so(e 'enerous use o) Le*lerc’s salve )or sin'es and burns& The crowd held its breath. -ust to (a+e sure it wasn’t on )ire& 5Wh$ not96 . and the )act that it was thin as wire.The cowbo$ had so(e tric+$ (oves. Lu+e discovered& He wished he’d ta+en Le*lerc’s advice to slip a +ni)e into his boot& 2ut it was too late )or re'rets now& He’d (ana'e the +nots. he’d end his escape with a trip to the burn ward& 3either appealed& He hoo+ed his hand around the second rope& Misdirection.6 Le*lerc )lic+ed a +ni)e )ro( his sleeve and severed both ropes& There were shrie+s and shudders when the rope o) )ire )ell into the la+e& 5Want to pull (e the rest o) the wa$ up96 Lu+e nearl$ had his breath bac+& He +new the (o(ent the rush o) adrenaline )aded. he )elt Mouse’s 'ood.

e. #o. that it was probabl$ the bi''est thin' I’ve ever done or that $ou pro(ised $ou’d be there when I 'ot bac+ up&6 He stal+ed to the )oot o) the bed. and overl$ possessive& Ma$be it was a lot o) unattractive thin's. that’s reall$ nice&6 He tossed his +e$s onto the dresser with a clatter that had #o. and )ound #o.pected a little support )ro( ($ wo(an—6 57our wo(an96 That was enou'h to have her rearin' up& 58on’t $ou toss that phrase at (e as thou'h I was tuc+ed so(ewhere between $our sil+ suit and $our record collection&6 57ou’re a little hi'her than ($ record collection. shit&6 She scra(bled up and dove into the bathroo(& 2$ the ti(e she’d )inished retchin'. #o. da(p cloth and a repentant attitude& 5*o(e on.ust because I needed to concentrate. but Lu+e +new onl$ one pertinent )act when he wal+ed into the bedroo(. then stal+ed awa$& 5. bab$. s(ellin' o) s(o+e and triu(ph.hour thin's&6 I) she hadn’t been so wea+. but I—6 She bro+e o)) as her sto(ach roiled& 5Oh.&6 0entl$ he bathed her cla(($ )ace& 5I ca(e in swin'in' and didn’t even ta+e a 'ood loo+ at $ou&6 5How bad do I loo+96 58on’t as+&6 He +issed her )orehead& 5What happened96 5I thou'ht it was the panca+es&6 She +ept her e$es closed and her head ver$ still and onl$ opened her (outh wide enou'h to let the words whisper out& 5I was hopin' $ou’d co(e ho(e 'reen so I’d +now it was )ood poisonin'&6 5Sorr$&6 He s(iled and brushed his lips across her brow a'ain& She was cla(($.anne stretched out on the bed& He was pissed& 5Well.Ma$be it was stupid.. the )act that I’ve been wor+in' on this bit )or (onths.)our. Lu+e was there with a cool. scowled brie)l$. and here $ou are. $ou +new this was i(portant to (e&6 5I was 'oin' to co(e. but obviousl$ ($ place is a )ew notches lower&6 58on’t be such a -er+&6 58a(n it. bac+ to bed&6 It see(ed her wea+ened bod$ poured out o) his ar(s and onto the sheets& 5I’( sorr$. ta+in' a nap&6 She too+ what she thou'ht was a dread)ul ris+ and opened her (outh to spea+& 5Lu+e—6 5I 'uess it wasn’t an$ bi' deal to $ou. she’d have been insulted& 5I never 'et those&6 . but he didn’t thin+ there was a )ever& 5I’d sa$ $ou have one o) those twent$.anne (oanin' and openin' her e$es& 5I )i'ured $ou had to have been in so(e sort o) a li)e.threatenin' accident.

nast$ sweat popped out on the bac+ o) her nec+. I 'o alone&6 2ecause it was a dare. )rustrated. it sna's bi' ti(e&6 He re(e(bered her chic+en po. e$ein' her& 57ou 'et up now. and we (ove )orward as planned& 7ou don’t (a+e it. but she 'ained her )eet& 53o holdin' on. *allahan&6 5I +now&6 He pic+ed her up to carr$ her bac+ to bed& 5I 'uess so(eti(es thin's don’t wor+ out e.57ou never 'et an$thin'. wal+ to the livin' roo( and bac+ without )allin' on $our )ace. she let her head )all bac+& 5I hate (issin' this one..6 he corrected& 52ut it doesn’t (atter what caused it. wal+ed bris+l$ into the livin' roo(& And san+ into a chair& 5I -ust need a (inute&6 53o deal&6 He crouched in )ront o) her& 5#o. the onl$ childhood illness she’d ever succu(bed to& That and the bout o) seasic+ness aboard the &an(ee 1rincess were the onl$ ti(es he re(e(bered seein' her down& 4ntil now& 5I -ust need to rest a little while (ore& I’ll be )ine&6 5#o..6 he pointed out& 52ut when so(ethin' sna's $ou.anne&6 Lu+e set the cloth aside to ta+e her )ace in his hands& 57ou’re not 'oin'&6 Her e$es shot open& She tried to sit up.actl$ the wa$ $ou want&6 He didn’t thin+ it was the ti(e to (ention his plans had ta+en a beatin' as well& Turnin' their )lush o) shared triu(ph into an evenin' o) ro(ance b$ as+in' her to (arr$ hi( had see(ed inspired& 3ow it would have to wait& . but he held her in place with onl$ the sli'htest pressure& 5O) course I’( 'oin'& This whole 'i' was ($ idea in the )irst place& I’( not (issin' out on the pa$o)) because I ate a bad panca+e&6 5It wasn’t the panca+es. that would be stupid& I’( bein' stupid&6 Wea+.6 Lu+e added when she braced a hand a'ainst the wall& That sti))ened her spine& She strai'htened. $ou +now $ou can’t do it&6 5We could postpone—6 She bro+e o)). and )resh. sha+in' her head& 53o. we (a+e a deal&6 He sat bac+. she 'ritted her teeth and swun' her le's out o) bed& Her head spun. it was irresistible& 5All ri'ht& Move&6 When he rose. $ou’re sic+ as a do'&6 5I’( not& I’( a little /ueas$&6 57ou’re in no shape to pull a -ob&6 5I’( in per)ect shape&6 51ine.

this aw)ul reluctance to let hi( 'o& 5I love $ou&6 He s(iled and leaned down to +iss her a'ain. )riendl$ +iss o) a (an who +new he’d have ti(e )or (ore soon& 5I love $ou.6 he corrected& 5I want $ou to 'et so(e rest& I’ll call Lil$ and have her co(e b$ to loo+ in on $ou& eep a li'ht burnin'. li'htl$& 5I’ll be bac+ be)ore sunrise&6 5*allahan&6 She ti'htened her 'rip as he eased bac+& It was )oolish. he lo''ed in.istent insurance e.piece pin.6 he re(inded her. pure deli'ht& The plane he piloted was re'istered to a . a none. )ro( that soarin' be'innin'. she thou'ht.ecutive& To co(plete the alias. the li'ht. tri( beard.. rela. Lu+e had added a short.ohn *arroll 2ra+e(an. too&6 52rea+ a le'&6 She si'hed. insulted& 5It won’t be ($ )irst ni'ht on the -ob&6 5It’ll ta+e $ou lon'er&6 5Sa( and . chec+ed his return )li'ht plan and carried his (ono'ra((ed brie)case to the spi))$ Mercedes LFM he’d rented& He drove it to the Hilton. (inus the beard. and let hi( 'o& Lu+e loved to )l$& 1ro( the ver$ )irst ti(e he’d strapped into the coc+pit to ta+e his initial lesson )ro( Mouse. the paddin' and the silver te(ples. he hurried down the stairwell to the par+in' lot& The dar+ sedan he’d ordered under another alias . babe&6 He +issed her then. he’d been hoo+ed& It had no lon'er been a (atter o) learnin' a practical s+ill that could add convenience to both o) his careers& It had been.57ou don’t +now the securit$ s$ste( as well as I do&6 5We’ve 'one over it a do:en ti(es. striped suit—with several success)ul inches o) paddin' beneath it& His blac+ hair was sprin+led with silver at the te(ples& When he landed in Tennessee. a three.& I could do this in ($ sleep& 7ou +now that&6 5It doesn’t )eel ri'ht&6 57ou don’t )eel ri'ht. chec+ed into his reserved suite and le)t orders not to be disturbed& 1i)teen (inutes later.ustine are in Washin'ton& I’ll have the ti(e&6 5Ta+e Mouse&6 Sudden panic had her 'rabbin' )or his hand& 58on’t 'o alone&6 5#o.

and certainl$ held it above s(ashin' a pane o) 'lass. it too+ hi( twice as lon' as it would have ta+en her to access the code& Still. nondescript sedan on a tree. insulted his creativit$& He supposed the nu(bers and co(ple. he slipped between shadows& There was a trace o) )o' that (i'ht 'ive hi( so(e proble(s at the airport& 2ut he )elt the (ist had been custo(. a sprawlin' two.don his dis'uise and chec+ out& #icher b$ appro. he chose the rear entrance and handil$ pic+ed the loc+& He pre)erred the (ethod to -i(($in'. was wont to sa$. which too+ no s+ill whatsoever& Lu+e stepped into a neat sittin' roo( that s(elled o) le(on oil and wisteria& The old e.rate 2N! (an could acco(plish.li'ht& There was no car in the drive& The securit$ li'hts bea(ed li+e swords over the lawn and pic+ed up prett$ ban+s o) 'olden da))odils and the tender )urled leaves o) trees still 'reenin'& He was al(ost sorr$ that Sa( was in Washin'ton& It would have added spice to the sweetness o) satis)action to have stolen in and ta+en what he wanted while his old ene($ snored& A tall privac$ )ence 'uarded the house on three sides. se/uences appealed to #o. hot. surrounded b$ the shapes and shadows o) another person’s possessions& It was li+e bein' told their secrets& . she didn’t have to +now& Satis)ied. all the lawns were tri((ed. which an$ second. e(pt$ house.lined street& In this suburban paradise. but its li'ht was trapped behind shi)tin' clouds and the air was sweet with hints o) sprin'& He circled the W$att estate. he’d )l$ bac+ to 3ew Orleans& 3othin' would connect hi( with either the alias or the bur'lar$& A roundabout route. but to Lu+e the$ too+ the art o) thiever$ into the ennui o) accountin'& !ven with her instructions pla$in' in his head.was waitin'& 2ecause it was sa)er than pic+in' up the +e$s at the des+. perhaps.wired the en'ine and drove serenel$ awa$& Once the -ob was co(pleted. a roundabout route still 'ets $ou where $ou want to 'o& Two bloc+s )ro( Sa(’s house.anne’s lo'ical (ind.(oon. but as Ma.(ade )or hi(& There was a hal). he would return the sedan to the par+in' lot and slip bac+ into his roo(& He would re.stor$ bric+ with white colu(ns that rese(bled slender bones in the hal). Lu+e popped the loc+.i(atel$ one hal) a (illion dollars. Lu+e par+ed the dar+.anne severel$ when he started on the securit$& The new co(puteri:ed s$ste(s anno$ed hi(.cite(ent crept up his spine& There was so(ethin' indescribabl$ arousin' about standin' in a dar+. and old lea)$ trees shielded the )ront& Lu+e used both as shelter as he approached& He (issed #o. the do's well behaved and the houses respectabl$ dar+ at one A&M& Streetla(ps pooled li'ht he easil$ avoided& *lad in blac+ )ro( head to )oot.

waited& 5He’s here& 7es& 4se the bac+ door&6 He was s(ilin' when he replaced the receiver& 5A little surprise& 3ow what shall we tal+ about while we wait96 57ou (i'ht be able to (a+e brea+in' and enterin' stic+. several (onths now&6 With the 'un ai(ed at Lu+e’s chest. but doubted its )lavor would wash the oil$ taste o) a setup out o) his (outh& 5How lon' have $ou +nown96 5Oh. scanned the s(ooth sur)ace o) the des+ where two brandies rested& He i(a'ined it was 3apoleon. causin' the leather to crea+& 5I’ve been e. tr$in' to pull a )ast one on a childhood rival&6 Sa( paused a (o(ent as i) considerin'& 5I doubt that would wor+. turnin' le)t in the corridor toward Sa(’s o))ice& His )in'ers were alread$ itchin' inside the thin.st$le down to a little blac+(ail or so(e short cons& Sit.6 he said with the s(ile still spread over his )ace& 57ou sancti(onious bastards—all . I put the 3ouvelles’ e. sur'ical 'loves to turn the dial o) the sa)e& He needed no li'ht& His e$es had had ti(e to ad-ust. Lu+e.6 Lu+e said.pectin' $ou& "lease&6 He 'estured.6 he said when he noticed the )lash in Lu+e’s narrowed e$es& 5I’( not phonin' the police& I don’t believe we’ll need the(&6 He punched a series o) buttons.oin (e )or a drin+&6 Lu+e studied Sa(’s s(ile.6 Lu+e said cal(l$& 5There’s a possibilit$ o) atte(pted bur'lar$& All o) which I can probabl$ )inesse into a -o+e& "oor -ud'(ent. and the li'ht 'linted o)) the chro(e o) the &OA he held& 5. an eeril$ pleasant +ind o) (usic the air too+ on when there was no one inside to breathe it& He had turned into Sa(’s o))ice be)ore it struc+ hi( that the (usic was absent& Then the li'ht )lashed on. blindin' hi(& 5Well. Lu+e sat& 5The brand$’s e. a hu((in'.trava'ant li)e. particularl$ a)ter I pointed out the pattern& One I ad(it I didn’t catch on to until recentl$& 7ou son o) a bitch.6 he repeated. he leaned )orward to cup his sni)ter& 5I’( asha(ed to sa$ I didn’t suspect earlier& All this ti(e. co(e ri'ht on in&6 Sa( leaned bac+ in his des+ chair. and he +new the s/uare )oota'e o) the W$att ho(e a 'reat deal better than its owners& There was a /ualit$ o) silence to an e(pt$ house Lu+e had alwa$s en-o$ed& It was a whisperin'.cellent&6 Sa( set aside his sni)ter to li)t the phone& 58on’t worr$.Lu+e wal+ed silentl$ )ro( the sittin' roo(. and his voice was as cold as the chro(e o) the hand'un& 0au'in' his best chance was to pla$ the scene out. I could sa$.6 he invited& 5I’( so terribl$ sorr$ $ou ca(e alone&6 5I wor+ alone. hopin' to salva'e at least that (uch& 57ou were alwa$s patheticall$ 'allant& Sit.

6 Sa( continued& Oh.6 he warned& Lu+e shru''ed and sipped brand$& 5I didn’t +now precisel$ wh$. ri'ht )ro( the start& eep $our hands where I can see the(. Sa( could barel$ +eep his voice )ro( shiverin' with e. bein' invited—a)ter all this ti(e—into his ho(e& 5Loo+s li+e he’s 'ot $ou b$ the short hairs. in the doorwa$. he could an'er hi( enou'h to )orce hi( into a (ista+e& 57ou )uc+ed up&6 Sa(’s e$es 'littered. i) I’d reali:ed the potential there. but $ou were in the wa$&6 51ace it.plain a )ew salient points to our (utual )riend&6 58on’t (ind i) I do&6 *obb strutted over to the whis+e$ decanter and poured a double& He li+ed the idea o) sharin' a drin+ with a (an o) W$att’s caliber. he decided. *allahan. but the 'un didn’t waver& 5What I )uc+ed was $our 'irl& And I seduced #o. Lu+e&6 5Succinctl$ put& 3ow that we’re all to'ether.cite(ent& 5It was ($ idea . )or the )irst ti(e. this was rich. I’ll destro$ $ou& *o(e in. Mr& *obb&6 3ow Lu+e did -er+ to his )eet& 2rand$ splashed over his 'loved hand& There.6 Lu+e corrected and decided to tr$ the brand$ a)ter all& 5And never 'ri)ters& What do $ou want96 5What I’ve wanted all alon'& To (a+e $ou pa$& I hated $ou. so per)ect. $ou’re correct& 7ou should have destro$ed (e. pal&6 Ma$be. onl$ that I did& 2ut I believe it was because we were so ali+e&6 3ow Lu+e s(iled& 57ou’ve 'ot a 'un on (e. I’d have )uc+ed her rather than—what was her na(e9 Annabelle&6 The )ur$ bounded up& Lu+e had to curl his hand around the ar( o) the chair to sta$ seated& 5I should have bro+en (ore than $our nose&6 5There. I saw the potential even then. he thou'ht& Ma'ni)icent& What (ore could he as+ )or than to see Lu+e’s )ace 'o white9 A 'reat deal (ore. I’ll outline the deal&6 It was per)ect. W$att& 7ou can +ill (e or send (e to prison& 2ut don’t insult (e&6 5Alwa$s cool. was his oldest ni'ht(are& 5I believe $ou two +now each other.anne awa$ )ro( $ou& 2elieve (e. -ust (a$be. chuc+lin' to hi(sel)& A 'reat deal (ore& 57ou (i'ht not be aware that Mr& *obb has been wor+in' )or (e )or /uite so(e ti(e now& Help $oursel) to the bar while I e. because now.o) $ou& Actin' outra'ed because I +noc+ed over a couple o) shops while $ou were nothin' but pett$ thieves and 'ri)ters $ourselves&6 53ot pett$. and still rec+less& It was a co(bination I (i'ht have ad(ired i) $ou hadn’t been so dis'ustin'l$ superior& 7ou held the 3ouvelles in the pal( o) $our hand& Oh.

($ schedule& It wasn’t di))icult to (a+e it see( as thou'h I planned to be in Washin'ton this wee+&6 The )irst wave o) sic+ness had sweat sprin'in' cold to the bac+ o) Lu+e’s nec+& 57ou opened the ca'e door. he li)ted the 'un. it would be di))icult i) not i(possible to spread the bla(e to the 3ouvelles& I could si(pl$ +ill $ou&6 Lips pursed. his head )elt clo''ed& The dru((ers ban'in' inside it were (u))led with wads o) cotton wool& . Sa( tapped a )in'er a'ainst his curved lips& 5He can’t. I as+ed ($sel). unless he has another source o) inco(e& So. then pulled the tri''er& The sound o) the bullet e. too&6 *obb poured (ore whis+e$& 57es. how.6 *obb said and chuc+led at his own wit& 5*ertainl$ not. thou'h not in the wa$ $ou (ean&6 Sa( s(iled at *obb. o) course. si'htin' in on Lu+e’s )orehead& 52ut then. $ou +now& Then I laid the bait and watched $ou nibble& M$ insurance co(pan$. particularl$ i) $ou can (a+e hi( roast slowl$&6 5And he’ll +eep pa$in'. he watched *obb sta''er. but it was e.cite(ent rather than nerves& 5Much easier&6 5.ploded in the s(all roo(& Lu+e )elt it echo throu'h hi( as i) he were a hollow tunnel& 8a:ed.to have Mr& *obb contact $ou and s/uee:e $ou )or a )ew thousand a (onth& I(a'ine ($ surprise when $ou paid /uietl$ and with ease.st$le b$ even the s(allest de'ree96 Waitin' a beat. does a (an—even one with a certain a(ount o) )inancial success—pa$ o)) blac+(ail de(ands in e. $ou’d onl$ be dead&6 58on’t +ill the 'olden 'oose.esus&6 Lu+e tried to sprin' to his )eet but )ound his li(bs heav$& He rose slowl$. and the blood )low throu'h the neat blac+ hole that had suddenl$ appeared in his )orehead& The 'lass o) whis+e$ hit the ru' )irst. 5that doesn’t (ean I’ll let it loc+ behind (e&6 5I’( aware o) that& 7ou see with a clever law$er $ou (i'ht -ust wri''le out o) the char'es& Since $ou ca(e alone. even when I 'ave hi( per(ission to increase the a(ounts& 3ow. saw the loo+ o) surprise on his )ace. rolled unbro+en across the bri'ht Tur+ish carpet& And *obb )ell li+e a tree& 5That was easier than I i(a'ined&6 Sa(’s hand shoo+ once. I be'an trac+in' $ou& I still have contacts o) ($ own.cess o) a hundred thousand a $ear without alterin' his li)e. li+e a (an )i'htin' his wa$ up throu'h water& The roo( spun li+e a carousel and the bri'ht. blood$ carpet )lew up to (eet hi(& When he awa+ened.6 he (ana'ed. ($ securit$ s$ste(.

the 'un. tell the( $ou and *obb bro+e in while I was wor+in' late in ($ o))ice& I surprised $ou. he saw *obb’s dead. Lu+e dra''ed a hand throu'h his hair& 5. or Lil$& Or #o.6 he went on& 5Which would pla$ nicel$. because it involves (e& The second is that $ou ta+e the bod$ and dispose o) it& Then $ou 'o&6 50o96 Stru''lin' to re(ain lucid. disappear&6 The 'rin on Sa(’s )ace spread. erupted into a )ast. Lu+e (ana'ed to crawl up on his hands and +nees& He had to )i'ht a power)ul wave o) nausea be)ore he dared li)t his head& When he did. Lu+e pulled hi(sel) to his )eet& His le's wobbled. didn’t he9 3ow he’s dead&6 57ou didn’t even )linch&6 Sa(. $ou pulled a 'un& Then $ou ar'ued between $ourselves. headed and sic+. wild 'i''le& 5Abracadabra&6 The sound had cold )in'ers s/uee:in' Lu+e’s spine& 57ou’re out o) $our (ind&6 . and $ou shot hi(& 8urin' the con)usion. and untraceable—e. the roo( wavered as Lu+e )ou'ht to clear his head& 57ou shot hi( in cold blood and didn’t even )linch&6 5Than+ $ou& #e(e(ber. addin' hu(iliation to terror& 5What do $ou want96 5!. I (ana'ed to 'et ($ 'un& This is ($ 'un b$ the wa$&6 He 'estured with a tri( &AF& He wanted to pull the tri''er. and with $our connection to *obb. the (an (ade $our li)e hell. I doubt $ou’d wi''le out&6 He s(iled then. too )inal& 5The other is unre'istered.anne&6 He wasn’t 'oin' to be'. not on his hands and +nees& "ain)ull$. he saw he held a di))erent 'un& 5A)ter all.cept )or the )act that it now has $our )in'erprints on it& 7ou’ll be char'ed with (urder. I can do the sa(e with $ou—or Ma. 0od&6 Li)tin' a hand.actl$ what I’( 'oin' to 'et& I can call the police now. I believe& I don’t li+e it as (uch as the second. wanted badl$ to pull it and )eel that -olt o) power a'ain& 2ut that would be too /uic+& Too /uic+. he wiped the sweat )ro( his )ace& He was li'ht.ust li+e that96 5!. hu'el$& A (an da::led b$ his own brilliance& 5That’s our )irst scenario. white )ace& 5Oh. /uite literall$.actl$& Onl$ $ou don’t 'o bac+ to 3ew Orleans& 7ou don’t contact the 3ouvelles& 7ou.5Obviousl$ $ou have 'ood sta(ina&6 Sa(’s voice see(ed to dri)t throu'h the (ists& 5I thou'ht $ou’d be out lon'er&6 5What96 Wobbl$. but still aware enou'h to reali:e he no lon'er wore his 'loves& 53o 'ratitude96 Sa( de(anded& He sat behind the des+ a'ain. but when Lu+e )ocused in.

)or the rest o) their lives& And don’t thin+ $ou can leave now. ra''ed spear o) ice that threatened to draw blood& 53o one’s 'oin' to put Ma. *allahan& 7ou 'o. and had the pleasure o) seein' Lu+e -olt and brace& 52ut $ou see. beaten $ou at last&6 5All o) this96 Lu+e’s voice was still slurred )ro( the dru'& He spo+e slowl$. care)ull$. wouldn’t $ou96 Sa( as+ed. then reappear in a )ew wee+s& 7ou (a$ slip the noose. and his e$es 'littered& 57ou’d li+e to thin+ so because I’ve beaten $ou. *allahan. but I’ll pull it taut around Ma. $ou (urdered *obb. I’ll have $ou arrested )or (urder. would plead )or con)ine(ent in a (ental health )acilit$ rather than prison96 That turned )ear to ice.actl$ as I sa$& I) $ou don’t. that I pro(ise& I have all the evidence I need to han' hi(. ri'ht in the sa)e $ou never had the opportunit$ to open&6 53o one would believe $ou&6 53o9 A dedicated public servant with a pristine record9 A (an who brou'ht hi(sel) out o) the hell o) the streets9 Who. awa$&6 5That’s up to $ou& 7our call. or the 3ouvelles pa$.’s nec+. havin' sweat$ drea(s about #o. *allahan&6 57ou’ve 'ot the ha((er&6 He )elt his li)e slippin' throu'h his )in'ers li+e sand& 5I’ll disappear. -ust to 'et bac+ at (e96 58oes that see( unreasonable96 Sa( leaned bac+ in his chair. losin' that star $ou’ve held on to so ti'htl$ over the $ears& !scape this.pect lo$alt$ )ro( (e. and I’ll see that Ma. could no lon'er conceal the )acts9 And who. especiall$ i) $ou’re not willin' to put $our own on the line&6 5Wh$ don’t $ou -ust +ill (e96 5I pre)er the idea o) $ou 'rubbin' )or a livin' in so(e 'od)orsa+en town. a sharp. I’( not& I’( in char'e& And $ou’ll do e. W$att& 2ut $ou’ll never be entirel$ sure when I’ll be bac+& One ni'ht I’ll -ust be there&6 .57ou’d li+e to thin+ so. as i) to be certain he understood the words hi(sel)& 57ou planned all this.i(illian 3ouvelle is investi'ated )or 'rand larcen$—unless I )ind it (ore en-o$able to +ill hi(&6 5He too+ $ou in o)) the street&6 5And +ic+ed (e bac+ onto it&6 The s(ile on Sa(’s )ace twisted into a sneer o) dis'ust& 58on’t e. swiveled it side to side& 5"erhaps I’d thin+ so i) I were in $our position&6 He -er+ed )orward a'ain. reco'ni:in' the si'ns o) senilit$. thou'h he )elt a certain lo$alt$ to the old (an.anne and the (en she’ll )ill her li)e with.

and that trail would lead directl$ bac+ to the 3ouvelles& I) Lu+e went to the police with a tan'led stor$ o) blac+(ail and (urder. set it on the dresser and stared at it& He stared )or a lon' ti(e be)ore brea+in' the seal& He tipped the bottle bac+. easin' down on the bed li+e an old (an& All these $ears he’d thou'ht he’d been in control& 2ut that had been a lie& All alon' there had been so(eone behind the scenes. or )or 'ain or in blind passion& He’d done it thou'htlessl$.ac+ 8aniel’s out o) a paper sac+. but ris+s no lon'er see(ed to (atter& He le)t the second rental car in the hotel par+in' lot and. pullin' the strin's and (a+in' a (oc+er$ out o) what he’d thou'ht he’d (ade and could (a+e out o) his li)e& All because o) so(e twisted sense o) -ealous$. it onl$ co(pounded the(& 2ut it had been worth a shot& He could still s(ell *obb& The sweat and blood and stench o) death clun' to his s+in& It had been a hideous -ob. Lu+e thou'ht. as i) ta+in' a li)e was as si(ple an event as an evenin' o) cards& He hadn’t done it out o) hate. ta+in' three lon' swallows to let the )ire burn throu'h the worst o) the (iser$& It didn’t wor+& He’d alread$ learned )ro( the harsh e. ever$ da$.blooded& He was cra:$& 2ut there was onl$ one person still alive who had seen it& What could he do9 Lu+e rubbed the heels o) his hands over his e$es as i) to wipe awa$ the i(a'e o) what had been so that he could clearl$ see what had to be& He’d bro+en into a private ho(e& I) the police +new where to loo+ the$ would )ind the trail. rode up to his roo(& Once inside he pulled a bottle o) . when $ou’re in hell&6 24 Lu+e +new it was )oolishl$ ris+$. li+e a $oun' child (i'ht tu(ble a buildin' o) bloc+s& All because *obb had been (ar'inall$ (ore use to hi( dead than alive& *ontrol.a(ple o) his $outh that li/uor didn’t ne'ate (iseries.5Ta+e $our old )riend with $ou. who( would the$ believe9 The thie). violent and pitiless death could do& Lu+e couldn’t )or'et how Sa( had )ired the 'un—so casuall$. *allahan&6 He 'estured toward *obb& 5And thin+ o) (e. and an overheated 'rud'e due to a bro+en nose& An$one standin' in that leather and oa+ o))ice that evenin' would have seen that Sa( was (ore than a(bitious. he was (ore than cold. or the sober citi:en9 . wei'hin' down the bod$ and sin+in' it into the river& He’d wanted hi( dead& 0od +new he wanted the (an dead& 2ut he hadn’t +nown what sudden. usin' the (ain elevators in the lobb$.

he rose and brou'ht the bottle bac+ to bed& It wouldn’t ease his (iseries.anne paced her )ather’s wor+roo(& 5So(ethin' went wron'& He should never have 'one alone&6 . that Sa( le)t the 3ouvelles undisturbed& And perhaps to bide his ti(e. he chec+ed out o) the hotel and headed )or the airport& He wanted to live& "erhaps onl$ to (a+e certain. slowl$. Lil$ devastated. an old blac+. #o. the dis'uise in place. to tell her would be to +eep her and watch her su))er& To leave her. because he +new he would never see her that wa$ a'ain& 5Hello9 Lu+e. vanished li+e s(o+e.and. without a si'n. #o. as clearl$ as i) he’d con-ured her into the roo(& Sittin' up in bed. would (ean she would 'row to hate hi(. but it (i'ht brin' hi( sleep& BBB In the (ornin'. he could ris+ that& 2ut there was a chance Sa( would (a+e 'ood on his other threats& Ma. /uietl$& He’d (ade his choice& To answer her. no destination& Thou'h he loved to )l$. the phone to her ear and an open boo+ in her lap. to wait. his li)e was now as e(pt$ as the bottle he’d le)t behind hi(& 5He should have been bac+ hours a'o&6 #ubbin' her da(p pal(s to'ether. )reshl$ showered. is that $ou9 Is so(ethin'—6 He set the phone down.anne ruined& Or perhaps Sa( would )ind (urder (ore to his li+in' and +ill the(—+ill the( with the 'un that carried Lu+e’s )in'erprints& That thou'ht brou'ht panic bubblin' up so that he 'rabbed the phone and punched in nu(bers& His )in'ers 'rabbed hard on the receiver& She answered on the )irst rin'. in a (ental ward. )ro( a distance. as i) she’d been waitin' )or hi(& 5Hello & & & Hello9 Is an$one there96 He could see her.white (ovie )lic+erin' on the television& Then the i(a'e was 'one. to watch and to plan a suitable reven'e& 7et he had no )li'ht plan.He could ris+ that& Thou'h he wasn’t certain he could )ace prison without 'oin' (ad. sa)el$& Li+e a (an alread$ drun+. without a word.

5It’s not his )irst -ob, ($ dear&6 Ma. li)ted a bri'htl$ painted bo. )ro( a waist,hi'h bench and revealed Mouse’s 'rinnin' severed head& 5He +nows what he’s doin'&6 5He hasn’t chec+ed in&6 5This isn’t a wei'h station&6 At a press o) a button o) the re(ote concealed in Ma.’s sleeve the head 'ave a lon', echoin' (oan& Another switch and the e$es rolled le)t and ri'ht, the (outh (oved& 5!.cellent, e.cellent& Li)eli+e, don’t $ou thin+96 58add$&6 To 'ain his )ull attention, #o.anne shoved the bo. bac+ down over the head& 5Lu+e’s in trouble& I +now it&6 5How do $ou +now it96 He switched o)) the re(ote& 52ecause no one’s heard )ro( hi( since he le)t here last ni'ht& 2ecause he was due bac+ b$ si. A&M&, and it’s nearl$ noon& 2ecause when I called the airport to as+ about ;ohn *arroll 2ra+e(an, the$ said he’d )iled his )li'ht plan but he’d never shown up&6 5Obvious reasons& ;ust as it’s obvious the head is still inside this bo.&6 With a show o) his old )lair, Ma. pluc+ed the bo. o)) the table& The head was 'one, replaced b$ a thrivin' 'eraniu(& 5I raised $ou better than to accept the obvious&6 5This isn’t a (a'ic tric+, da(n it&6 She spun awa$& How could he pla$ 'a(es when Lu+e was (issin'9 Ma. laid a hand on her shoulder, and she sti))ened& 5He’s a bri'ht, resource)ul bo$, #o.$& I +new the )irst ti(e I saw hi(& He’ll be bac+ soon&6 She hurled his own words bac+ at hi(& 5How do you +now96 5It’s in the cards&6 To distract and a(use her, Ma. pulled a dec+ )ro( his poc+et, whipped the( into a )an& 2ut his sti))ened )in'ers couldn’t (a+e the )lourish& To Ma., it see(ed as thou'h the cards had co(e alive to -u(p 'lee)ull$ )ro( his hands and scatter& He watched with e$es dulled with horror as the$ )lew out o) his 'rip& #o.anne )elt his heart brea+ as +eenl$ as she )elt her own& She crouched to 'ather the dec+ and hurried to )ill the aw)ul silence& 5I +now Lu+e so(eti(es brea+s routine, but not li+e this&6 She cursed the cards, cursed a'e, cursed her own inade/uac$ to )ill the 'ap& 58o $ou thin+ I should 'o loo+ )or hi(96 He continued to stare at the )loor, thou'h the cards were 'one, hidden behind #o.anne’s bac+& 3ow $ou see the(, now $ou don’t& 2ut Ma. had a better (a'ic )or(ula& He si(pl$ stopped )i'htin' to +eep his (ind on what was& When he brou'ht his e$es bac+ to his dau'hter’s there was a s(ile in the(, a (ild, pleasant, utterl$ heart,wrenchin' s(ile& 5I) we loo+ hard enou'h, lon' enou'h, we alwa$s )ind what we need& 8o $ou +now (an$

people believe there’s (ore than one philosophers’ stone9 2ut the$’ve )allen into the trap o) the obvious&6 58add$&6 #o.anne reached out with her )ree hand, but Ma. shoo+ his head, (iles awa$ )ro( the dau'hter who stood watchin' hi( with tears in her e$es& Abruptl$, he sla((ed a boo+ with enou'h )orce to (a+e #o.anne -u(p& There was no s(ile in his e$es now, but there was passion, and there was desperation& 5I’ve nearl$ trac+ed it down now&6 He held up a rea( o) notes, sha+in' the(& 5When I do, when I )inall$ have it & & &6 0entl$, he set the papers down, s(oothin' his achin' )in'ers over the(& 5Well, the (a'ic will be there, won’t it96 57es, it’ll be there&6 She crossed to hi( to drape her ar(s around hi(, press her chee+ to his& 5Wh$ don’t $ou co(e upstairs with (e, 8add$96 53o, no, $ou run alon'& I have wor+ to do&6 He sat to pore 'reedil$ throu'h ancient boo+s with ancient secrets& 5Tell Lu+e to call Lester,6 he said absentl$& 5I want to (a+e certain that new li'htin' e/uip(ent’s in place&6 She opened her (outh to re(ind Ma. that the old Ma'ic 8oor (ana'er had retired to Las %e'as three $ears earlier& Instead she pressed her lips to'ether hard and nodded& 5All ri'ht, 8add$&6 She cli(bed the stairs and went to search out Lil$& #o.anne )ound her in the court$ard, throwin' bread cru(bs to pi'eons& 5Le*lerc 'ets (ad at (e )or doin' this&6 Lil$ tossed a hand)ul o) shredded bread into the air and lau'hed when the pi'eons bu(ped and s/uabbled )or it& 5The$ 'et doo all over the bric+s& 2ut the$’re so sweet, the wa$ the$ bob their heads and watch $ou with those little blac+ e$es&6 5Lil$, what’s wron' with 8add$96 5Wron'96 Lil$’s hand )ro:e inside the plastic ba'& 58id he hurt hi(sel)96 She turned and would have dashed inside i) #o.anne hadn’t stopped her& 5He isn’t hurt& He’s down in the wor+roo( 'oin' throu'h his boo+s&6 5Oh&6 #elie) was so palpable Lil$ pressed a hand to her heart& She doubted a pi'eon’s could beat (uch )aster& 57ou scared (e&6 5I’( scared,6 #o.anne said /uietl$ and caused Lil$’s tentative s(ile to )alter& 5He’s ill, isn’t he96

1or a (o(ent she said nothin'& Then the pale blue e$es lost their helpless )arawa$ loo+& The$ steadied& 5I thin+ we should tal+&6 Lil$ slipped an ar( around #o.anne’s waist& 5Let’s sit down&6 Ta+in' char'e, she steered #o.anne toward an iron bench beneath the still tender shade o) a live oa+& The waters o) the little )ountain tin+led 'ail$, li+e a broo+ over pebbles& 50ive (e a (inute, hone$&6 She sat, +eepin' one o) #o.anne’s hands ti'ht in hers while continuin' to throw treats )or the birds with her other& 5I love this ti(e o) $ear,6 she (ur(ured& 53ot that the heat’s ever bothered (e li+e it does so(e, but sprin', earl$ sprin' is (a'ic& The da))odils and h$acinths are bloo(in', the tulip ste(s are po+in' out& There’s a nest in this tree&6 She 'lanced up, but her s(ile was wist)ul, a little lost& 5It’s the sa(e ever$ $ear& The$ alwa$s co(e bac+& The birds, the )lowers& I can co(e sit out here and watch, and +now so(e thin's are )orever&6 "i'eons cooed and cluc+ed around their )eet& 1ro( be$ond the court$ard 'ates there was a stead$ whoosh o) tra))ic& The sun was +ind toda$, so)tened b$ a bree:e that whispered throu'h tender leaves& 1ro( so(ewhere close b$ in the <uarter, a )lutist pla$ed an old Irish tune, 58ann$ 2o$&6 #o.anne reco'ni:ed it and shivered, +nowin' it was a son' o) death and loss& 5I (ade hi( 'o to the doctor&6 Lil$ +neaded #o.anne’s hand, soothin' as she was soothed& 5Ma. could never hold out a'ainst 'ood old,)ashioned na''in'& The$ ran tests& Then I had to (a+e hi( 'o bac+ so the$ could run (ore tests& He wouldn’t chec+ into the hospital so the$ could do ever$thin' at once& And I & & & well, I didn’t push )or that& I didn’t want hi( to 'o in either&6 A pulse be'an to beat hard behind #o.anne’s e$es& Her voice sounded detached, and not at all her own& 5What +ind o) tests96 5All +inds& So (an$ I lost trac+& The$ hoo+ed hi( up to (achines, and the$ studied 'raphs& The$ too+ sa(ples o) blood and (ade hi( pee in a cup& The$ too+ = ra$s&6 She li)ted her shoulders, let the( )all& 5Ma$be it was wron', #o.$, but I as+ed the( to tell (e when the$ )ound out& I didn’t want the( tellin' Ma. i) it was so(ethin' bad& I +now $ou’re his dau'hter, $ou’re his blood, but I—6 57ou didn’t do wron'&6 #o.anne rested her head on Lil$’s shoulder& 57ou did e.actl$ ri'ht&6 It too+ a (inute to bolster her coura'e& 5It is so(ethin' bad, isn’t it9 7ou have to tell (e, Lil$&6 5He’s 'oin' to +eep )or'ettin' thin's,6 Lil$ said, and her voice tre(bled& 5So(e da$s he (i'ht be -ust )ine, and others, he won’t be able to +eep his (ind )ocused, even with the (edication& It’s +ind o) li+e a train that -u(ps o)) the trac+& The$ said it (i'ht (ove real slow, but we should be prepared )or ti(es when he won’t re(e(ber us&6 Tears slid silentl$ down her chee+ and plopped on their -oined hands& 5He (i'ht 'et an'r$, accuse us o) tr$in' to hurt hi(, or he (i'ht -ust do what he’s told without /uestionin'& He could

wal+ to the corner )or a /uart o) (il+ and )or'et how to 'et ho(e& He could )or'et who he is, and i) the$ can’t stop it, one da$ he could -ust 'o awa$ inside his (ind where none o) us could reach&6 It was worse, #o.anne reali:ed& Much worse than death& 5We’ll—we’ll )ind a specialist&6 5The doctor reco((ended one& I called hi(& We can ta+e Ma. to Atlanta ne.t (onth to see hi(&6 Lil$ too+ out one o) her useless lace han+ies to wipe her e$es& 5Meanti(e he’s 'oin' to stud$ all Ma.’s tests& The$ called it Al:hei(er’s, #o.$, and the$ don’t have a cure&6 5Then we’ll )ind one& We’re not 'oin' to let this happen to Ma.&6 She spran' up and would have swa$ed to her +nees i) Lil$ hadn’t cau'ht her& 5Hone$, oh, hone$, what is it9 I shouldn’t have told $ou li+e this&6 53o, I -ust 'ot up too )ast&6 2ut the di::iness still swa( in her head& 3ausea clenched in her sto(ach& 57ou’re so pale& Let’s 'o in and 'et $ou so(e tea or so(ethin'&6 5I’( all ri'ht,6 she insisted as Lil$ pulled her toward the house& 5It’s -ust so(e stupid virus&6 The (inute the$ hit the +itchen door, the scent o) the heart$ soup Le*lerc had si((erin' on the stove turned her pale s+in 'reen& 58a(n it,6 she said throu'h clenched teeth& 5I don’t have ti(e )or this&6 She dashed to the bathroo( with Lil$ )lutterin' behind her& A)ter she’d )inished bein' sic+, she was wea+ enou'h not to protest when Lil$ led her up to bed and insisted she lie down& 5All this worr$,6 Lil$ dia'nosed& 5It’s a bu'&6 #o.anne closed her e$es and pra$ed there was nothin' le)t )or her sto(ach to re-ect& 5I thou'ht it had run its course& Sa(e thin' happened $esterda$ a)ternoon& 2$ last ni'ht I was )ine& This (ornin', too&6 5Well&6 Lil$ patted her hand& 5I) $ou told (e $ou’d 'otten sic+ two (ornin's in a row, I’d wonder i) $ou were pre'nant&6 5"re'nant!6 #o.anne’s e$es popped open a'ain& She wanted to lau'h, but it didn’t see( particularl$ )unn$& 57ou don’t 'et a)ternoon sic+ness when $ou’re pre'nant&6 5I 'uess not&6 2ut Lil$’s (ind was wor+in'& 57ou haven’t (issed a period, have $ou96

5I haven’t (issed one, e.actl$&6 #o.anne )elt the )irst s+ip o) panic, and so(ethin' else& So(ethin' that wasn’t )ear o) an$ +ind but si(ple, subtle pleasure& 5I’( a little late, that’s all&6 5How late96 #o.anne pluc+ed the bedspread with her )in'ers& 5*ouple o) wee+s& Ma$be three&6 5Oh, hone$!6 Lil$’s voice held pure deli'ht& %isions o) booties and bab$ powder danced in her head& 5A bab$&6 58on’t 'et ahead o) $oursel)&6 *autious, #o.anne pressed a hand to her sto(ach& I) there was a bab$ in there, it was a (ean one& That (ade her lips curve& She wouldn’t e.pect Lu+e’s bab$ to be sweet,natured, would she9 5The$’ve 'ot those ho(e pre'nanc$ tests now& 7ou could )ind out ri'ht awa$& This’ll +noc+ Lu+e ri'ht o)) his )eet&6 5We never tal+ed about it&6 The )ear crept bac+& 5Lil$, we never even tal+ed about children& He (i'ht not want—6 58on’t be sill$, o) course he wants& He loves $ou& 3ow $ou sta$ ri'ht here& I’( 'oin' down and 'et $ou so(e (il+&6 5Tea,6 #o.anne corrected& 5I thin+ ($ s$ste( (i'ht be able to hold down so(e tea—a couple o) crac+ers&6 53o strawberries and pic+le relish96 She 'i''led when #o.anne 'roaned& 5Sorr$, sweetie& I’( -ust so e.cited& 2e ri'ht bac+&6 A bab$, #o.anne thou'ht& Wh$ hadn’t she considered she (i'ht be pre'nant9 Or had she9 She si'hed and turned cautiousl$ to her side& She wasn’t reall$ surprised b$ the possibilit$& And thou'h she thou'ht she’d ta+en the pill )aith)ull$, she wasn’t sorr$ either& Lu+e’s bab$ and hers& What would he sa$9 How would he )eel9 The onl$ wa$ to +now was to )ind hi(& #eachin' over, she pulled the phone onto the bed and dialed& When Lil$ ca(e bac+ later with tea, dr$ toast and a prett$ pin+ rosebud, #o.anne was l$in' on her bac+ a'ain, starin' dull$ at the ceilin'& 5He’s 'one, Lil$&6 5H(((9 Who96

5Lu+e’s 'one&6 She pushed hersel) up& 3ausea had no chance a'ainst the e(otions riotin' inside her& 5I called the airport& He too+ o)) )ro( Tennessee at nine thirt$,)ive this (ornin'&6 53ine,thirt$96 Lil$ set the tra$ on the dresser& 5Wh$, it’s a)ter twelve now& It onl$ ta+es an hour or so to )l$ bac+ to 3ew Orleans&6 5He wasn’t headed to 3ew Orleans& I had to do a lot o) wran'lin' to 'et his )li'ht plan, but I (ana'ed it&6 5What do $ou (ean he wasn’t headed )or 3ew Orleans9 O) course he was&6 5Me.ico,6 #o.anne whispered& 5He’s 'oin' to Me.ico&6

2$ the ne.t (ornin', #o.anne was certain o) two thin's& She was pre'nant, and it was possible )or a (an to vanish )ro( the )ace o) the earth& 2ut what could vanish could be con-ured a'ain& She wasn’t a second,'eneration (a'ician )or nothin'& She was -ust :ippin' her travelin' case when she heard the +noc+& Her )irst thou'ht, li+e a )lash o) li'htnin', was Lu+e! She (ade it )ro( the bedroo( to the )ront door in a dash& 5Where have $ou—oh, Mouse&6 5Sorr$, #o.$&6 His bi' shoulders slu(ped& 5It’s all ri'ht&6 She (ustered up a s(ile& 5Listen, I’( practicall$ on ($ wa$ out the door&6 5I +now& Lil$ said how $ou were 'oin' to Me.ico to loo+ )or Lu+e& I’( 'oin' with $ou&6 5That’s a nice thou'ht, Mouse, but I’ve alread$ (ade ($ plans&6 5I’( 'oin' with $ou&6 He (i'ht have been slow, he (i'ht have been sweet, but he could also be stubborn& 57ou’re not 'oin' all that wa$ alone in $our & & & in $our condition,6 he )inished on a burst& His )ace burned beet red& 5Lil$’s +nittin' booties alread$96 2ut she so)tened the sarcas( b$ pattin' his ar(& 5Mouse, there’s nothin' to worr$ about& I +now what I’( doin', and I don’t thin+ carr$in' so(ethin' the si:e o) a pinpric+’s 'oin' to slow (e down&6 5I’( 'oin' to ta+e care o) $ou& Lu+e would want (e to&6 5I) Lu+e was so da(n concerned, he wouldn’t be in Me.ico,6 she snapped, and was i((ediatel$ sorr$ as Mouse’s )ace cru(pled and )ell& 5Sorr$& I 'uess bein' pre'nant

(esses up $our hor(ones and (a+es $ou cran+$& I’ve alread$ 'ot ($ )li'ht reservations, Mouse&6 He wasn’t 'oin' to bud'e& 57ou can cancel the(& I’ll )l$ $ou&6 She started to protest, then shru''ed& Ma$be the co(pan$ would do her 'ood&

She (ade it to the ladies’ roo( at the *ancPn airport& It occurred to her as she retched that she could al(ost cloc+ her nausea with a stopwatch& "erhaps the bab$ had inherited her sense o) ti(in'& When she )elt she could stand a'ain, she re-oined a worried Mouse in the tin$, sunwashed ter(inal& 5It’s o+a$,6 she told hi(& 5;ust one o) the bene)its o) e.pectant (otherhood&6 57ou 'oin' to have to do that )or nine whole (onths96 5Than+s, Mouse,6 she said wea+l$& 5I needed that&6 The$ spent nearl$ an hour tr$in' to 'et in)or(ation on Lu+e’s plane )ro( the )li'ht tower& 7es, he had been scheduled to land at that airport& 3o, he had never arrived& He had never co(e into radio contact or re/uested per(ission to divert& He had si(pl$ veered o)) so(ewhere over the 0ul)& Or, as the cheer)ul )li'ht dispatcher su''ested, into the 0ul)& 5He didn’t crash, da(n it&6 #o.anne stor(ed bac+ to the plane& 53o wa$ did he crash&6 5He’s a 'ood pilot&6 Mouse hustled behind her, pattin' her shoulder, her head& 5And I chec+ed out the plane ($sel) be)ore he le)t&6 5He didn’t crash,6 she repeated& 4nrollin' one o) Mouse’s charts, she be'an to stud$ the la$ o) the land on the Me.ican side o) the 0ul)& 5Where would he 'o, Mouse9 I) he’d decided to avoid *ancPn&6 5I’d (a+e a better 'uess i) I +new wh$&6 5We don’t +now wh$&6 She rubbed the cold bottle o) *o+e Mouse had bou'ht her a'ainst her sweat$ brow& 5We can speculate—(a$be he wanted to cover a trail& We can’t call Sa( and as+ hi( i) his wi)e’s sapphires are (issin'& There’s been no announce(ent on the news o) a bur'lar$, but the$ o)ten +eep the wraps on )or a while& I) he ran into trouble in Tennessee, he (i'ht have decided, )or his own idiotic reasons, to head west, let ;ohn *arroll 2ra+e(an disappear&6 52ut wh$ didn’t he chec+ in96

5I don’t +now&6 She wanted to screa( it, but +ept her tone level& 5These islands here& So(e o) the( have to have airstrips& O))icial ones, and not,so,o))icial ones& 1or s(u''lin'&6 57eah, sure&6 5O+a$&6 She handed the chart to Mouse& 5Let’s chec+ it out&6

The$ spent three da$s searchin' the 7ucatan "eninsula& The$ spread Lu+e’s description up and down the coast, slippin' (one$ into ea'er hands and )ollowin' )alse leads& #o.anne’s bouts o) nausea le)t Mouse wrin'in' his hands and wishin' )or Lil$& I) he tried to )uss or pa(per, #o.anne snapped li+e a terrier& *onversel$, her )lashes o) te(per reassured hi(& He was well aware that 'iven the chance, she would tra(p o)) into the -un'le alone, ar(ed with no (ore than a canteen and a drivin' need& 4ntil the$ located Lu+e, Mouse considered #o.anne his responsibilit$& When she loo+ed too pale or too )lushed, he )orced her to stop and rest, bearin' her tantru(s li+e an oa+ bears the tappin' o) a woodpec+er—with silence and 'rave di'nit$& The routine beca(e so set, both o) the( be'an to )eel the$ would spend the rest o) their lives at it& Then the$ )ound the plane& It cost #o.anne a thousand A(erican dollars )or a ten,(inute conversation with a one, e$ed Me.ican entrepreneur who ran his business out o) a sod hut in the Ma$an -un'le near MDrida& He pared his nails with a poc+et+ni)e while a war$,e$ed wo(an with dust$ )eet )ried tortillas& 5He sa$s he wants to sell, do I want to bu$&6 ;uare: tipped te/uila into a tin cup, then 'enerousl$ o))ered #o.anne the bottle& 53o, than+s& When did $ou bu$ the plane96 5Two da$s a'o& I 'ive hi( 'ood price&6 He’d all but stolen it, and the satis)action o) that (ade ;uare: e.pansive to the prett$ seQorita& 5He needs (one$, I 'ive hi( (one$&6 5Where did he 'o96 5I don’t as+ /uestions&6

#o. he was runnin'& 5Would $ou (ind i) I loo+ed at the plane96 5Loo+&6 .anne sat in the pilot’s seat and stared out at nothin'& 5Or inland&6 He was 'ropin'.uare: snapped his )in'ers& 50one& He (oves so)tl$.$.$ear vanishin' act was over. (a$be he (oves slower&6 #o. but notin' the s+ittishness o) the wo(an b$ the stove. uneas$ with the blan+. there’s nothin' here&6 5I +now&6 She closed her e$es. Lu+e had posed his return en'a'e(ent with a sense o) dra(a and panache& His audience o) one was captivated& 1or a (o(ent& .6 Mouse said as #o.She wanted to swear.anne pushed awa$ )ro( the table& Lu+e +new she wanted hi(. $ou’d +now&6 5+i.uare: 'estured. Mouse 'lanced around the coc+pit& 52ut. let the 'rie) tear throu'h her so hope could drain )ree& When she opened the( a'ain. then poo)&6 . and the$ were hard& 5There’s nothin' here. and )ast& I) he +nows such a beauti)ul lad$ wants hi(. not even ashes )ro( one o) his ci'ars& There was no si'n that Lu+e had ever sat in the coc+pit or held the wheel or studied the stars throu'h the 'lass& 5We can tr$ north. opted )or tact& Her s(ile was laced with ad(iration& 52ut $ou’d +now i) he was still in the area& A (an li+e $ou. she thou'ht wearil$& And still. the$ were clear. and so(ethin' in her e$es stopped hi( )ro( de(andin' a separate pa$(ent )or the privile'e& 52ut $ou won’t )ind hi(&6 She )ound nothin' o) hi(.6 He appreciated the )act she showed respect& 5He’s 'one& He ca(ps one ni'ht in the -un'le. and li+e the veteran per)or(er he was. Mouse& He doesn’t want to be )ound& Let’s 'o ho(e&6 PART T#REE This rou'h (a'ic I here ab-ure& —WILLIAM SHA !S"!A#! 25 3ow he was bac+& His )ive. da:ed loo+ on her )ace& 5*ould be he went )arther inland&6 53o&6 She onl$ shoo+ her head& 8espite the heat ha((erin' down on the roo) o) the plane. she was too cold )or tears& 5He le)t his (essa'e ri'ht here&6 *on)used. with $our contacts.

but undi'ni)ied& She settled on disdain& 5 eep $our )ace& It doesn’t interest (e&6 Thou'h he loosened his hold. clever )in'ers crept up to cup her chee+& He was real& He was ho(e& He was the lowest )or( o) li)e that had ever slun+ throu'h the (ud& Her hands ti'htened in his hair. one that brou'ht each unco()ortabl$ sensual (e(ories.anne straddlin' hi( and snarlin' as her care)ull$ (anicured nails shot toward his )ace& He 'ripped her wrists. to loc+ the last latch on her heart& 5Still here96 she as+ed as she turned bac+& .esus. her (ind. poppin' her +nee up between his le's& He (ana'ed to bloc+ the cripplin' +nee. but the )ive $ears he’d spent doin' 0od +new what hadn’t wea+ened hi(& He was still stron' as a bull& 2itin' would have been satis)$in'. breathin' hard and e$ein' each other with (utual disli+e& 5Let (e 'o. cla(pin' down be)ore those curled )in'ers could peel bac+ his s+in& The$ re(ained in that position.ploded on her ton'ue. wasn’t an illusion& He was )lesh and blood& It was all so achin'l$ )a(iliar. the 'ood solid wei'ht o) hi(. shovin' her elbow hard into his ribs. the$ tasted )lat and dr$& 2ut it 'ave her a (o(ent. the trip. and stood on the balls o) his )eet& Sa$in' nothin'. then $an+ed with enou'h stren'th to (a+e hi( $elp& 5. #o. he re(ained braced until she stood. with that eerie speed and econo($ o) (ove(ent she re(e(bered too well. but she used that sa(e sti))ened elbow to catch hi( hard on the chin& He saw stars& The ne. with as (uch 'race and arro'ance as a 'oddess risin' out o) a pool& He 'ot up /uic+l$. he was on his bac+ with #o.anne—6 2ut that was all the (isdirection she needed& She twisted.ha((er o) her own pulse as those stron'.The (an pressed a'ainst her cleverl$ assaultin' her (outh. *allahan&6 5I want to +eep ($ )ace in the sa(e condition it was when I wal+ed in&6 She tried to twist )ree. a (uch needed (o(ent.t thin' he +new. she turned her bac+ on hi( and poured a 'lass o) cha(pa'ne& !ven as the bubbles e. the taste o) his s+in.

Lu+e& 7ou’ll have to e. #o. sent a thrill racin' up her spine& 57ou’ll lose& 1i'ure the odds&6 The$ would be a'ainst& Te(per (i'ht ur'e her to )l$ bitin' and scratchin' into his )ace.anne turned to her dressin' table and sat& 53o. she be'an to crea( o)) her sta'e (a+eup& 5I’d -ust as soon dine with a rabid bat&6 5Then we’ll tal+ here&6 5Lu+e. don’t&6 She suc+ed in her breath. she was onl$ (ore beauti)ul& 3one o) the pictures he’d (ana'ed to )ind and hoard over the $ears ca(e close to what she was in the )lesh& 3one o) the lon'in's he’d su))ered could e/ual what speared throu'h hi( now& 5When it does. I can’t thin+ o) a thin'&6 5Then I’ll do the tal+in'&6 He stepped over poolin' water and crushed roses to top o)) his own 'lass o) wine& 57ou can tr$ so(ethin' new.cuse (e&6 57our calendar’s )ree until the press con)erence to(orrow&6 He li)ted his 'lass in toast& 5I alread$ chec+ed with Mouse& Wh$ don’t we have a late supper9 We can hash thin's out&6 1ur$ si((ered -ust below )lash point& *are)ull$. and in the( the e(otions which swirled were pain)ul to watch& 57ou have no idea what $ou did to (e&6 The words were hardl$ (ore than a whisper and le)t hi( battered& 53o idea. 5events either beco(e lar'er than the$ were or s(aller& 7ou could sa$ that whatever we had has beco(e so s(all. with ever$thin' I was or could be. she brou'ht the 'lass bac+ to her lips& 5And ($ ti(e’s even (ore valuable& I have an en'a'e(ent. all ri'ht96 5I +now I hurt $ou&6 Whatever else he had been prepared to sa$ )ro:e in his throat as her e$es )lashed to his in the 'lass& The$ were 'reen s(o+e.t to invisible& So let’s not hash. Lord help her.6 she repeated& 5I loved $ou with all ($ heart. but she’d onl$ end up on her butt a'ain& Still. it’s ne. than+s -ust the sa(e&6 Settin' her 'lass aside. she had other weapons& And she’d use the( all to pa$ hi( bac+ )or the $ears he’d le)t her alone& 5I won’t waste 'ood wine on $ou&6 When his )in'ers rela.6 she continued.5We have a lot to tal+ about&6 58o we96 She sipped a'ain& 5Odd.96 His voice was low and dan'erous and. 'oin' sti)) and still as his hand reached )or her hair& 58on’t touch (e a'ain&6 . pattin' (oisturi:er over her s+in. and $ou shattered it& Shattered (e& 3o. li+e listenin'&6 His hand whipped out to sna' her wrist be)ore she could toss her wine into his )ace& 5Want to )i'ht so(e (ore.ed. ti(e passes&6 She tossed used tissues aside& He could see that beneath the 'la(our she’d painted on )or the sta'e. #o.

then doin' business with (e shouldn’t be a proble(&6 5I handle ($ own business&6 5And ver$ well.planation $ou could con-ure up would put thin's ri'ht so I’d welco(e $ou bac+ with open ar(s and a turned. he too+ out a ci'ar and sat& 5As I said earlier.6 she said with (ore cal(& 5I could tell $ou that $ou bro+e ($ heart. succulent taste o) reven'e& 1or all o) those thin's. and distant as the (oon& 5That whatever e. *allahan&6 5I +now who has it& I +now where it is. reali:in' she was preciousl$ close to shoutin' and losin' whatever s(all handhold she had on di'nit$& 5I do have a ri'ht to hate $ou. I have a proposition )or $ou& A business o))er I thin+ $ou’ll be ver$ interested in&6 She shru''ed and re(oved the silver stars at her ears& 5I doubt it&6 5The philosophers’ stone6 was all he said& The earrin's clattered on the dressin' table& 58on’t push the wron' button. he wasn’t 'oin' to let the past continue to dictate his )uture& And he wanted that cool. he needed her& 5I) $ou’re tellin' (e the truth about $our )eelin's. a(a:ed that he’d wanted to be close to her )or so lon' and now desperatel$ needed distance& She was ri'ht& Ti(e passes& 3o (atter how (uch (a'ic was le)t in hi(. he couldn’t win+ awa$ the $ears& Still.He let his hand han' a bare inch awa$ be)ore droppin' it to his side& 57ou have ever$ ri'ht to hate (e& I’( onl$ as+in' $ou to let (e e. and who +nows better how deceivin' the$ are than I96 He waited until he could be sure his voice would be as even as hers& 57ou want (e to believe $ou )eel nothin'96 5It onl$ (atters to (e what I believe&6 He turned awa$. Lu+e.plain&6 5Then $ou as+ too (uch& 8o $ou reall$ thin+ an$thin' $ou could sa$ would (a+e up )or it96 She turned on her seat and rose& She’d alwa$s been stron'. and I put it bac+ to'ether with a lot o) sweat and e))ort& And that would be true& I can also o))er $ou a (ore pertinent truth& I si(pl$ have no heart where $ou’re concerned& 7ou’re s(o+e and (irrors. he re(e(bered& 2ut she was stron'er now. down bed96 She stopped hersel). and I have so(e ideas on how to 'et it&6 He s(iled& 5Those buttons suit $ou96 5How do $ou +now96 . too&6 *han'in' tactics.

"erhaps it was the )lare o) his li'hter as he lit the ci'ar. pic+ed up her brush and be'an to pull it slowl$ throu'h her hair& 5I (i'ht be& Where do $ou thin+ it is96 He couldn’t spea+& 3ot when the (e(ories and all the lon'in's that ran throu'h the( were )loodin' hi(& #o. to 'et her bearin's& She hadn’t reall$ believed in the stone& There had been ti(es when she had hated even the le'end o) it )or drawin' her )ather )urther and )urther awa$ )ro( his narrowin' pinpoint on realit$& 7et i) it e.anne brushin' her hair. had pride& 5It’s ($ business how& I’( as+in' $ou i) $ou’re interested in ac/uirin' the stone&6 5I) I were interested. e. there’s nothin' stoppin' (e )ro( ac/uirin' it on ($ own&6 . and +new he had her& 57ou’re tellin' (e Sa( has the philosophers’ stone& The stone Ma. did.anne thou'ht she saw so(ethin' hot and vicious )lash into his e$es& 5Let’s -ust sa$ I’ve (ade it ($ business to +now& Are $ou interested96 She shru''ed. so lovel$& Their e$es (et in the (irror a'ain& The shoc+ o) the (utual (e(or$ snapped li+e li'htnin' in the air& Her hand tre(bled once as she set the brush aside& 5I as+ed where $ou thou'ht it was&6 5I said I +now&6 He too+ a lon'.isted & & & 5How do $ou +now about it.$ear 'ul)& 2ut to tell so(e was to tell all& He. spent $ears loo+in' )or&6 5That’s ri'ht& It see(s to be 'enuine& Sa( certainl$ believes it to be&6 5Wh$ would he want it96 52ecause Ma. wanted it. /uiet breath& 5It’s in a vault in a librar$ o) a house in Mar$land& It’s owned b$ an old )riend o) ours&6 Lu+e drew in s(o+e. (onths&6 It see(ed wise to sit a'ain. Sa( has it& Has had it )or the last si.6 Lu+e said si(pl$& 5And because he’s convinced it represents power& I doubt he sees an$thin' ($stical about it&6 He shru''ed and crossed his le's at the an+les& 5It’s (ore a s$(bol o) con/uest& Ma. lau'hin' over her shoulder& So slender. but #o.anne’s e$es narrowed& Lu+e +new that loo+. too.pelled it in a thin blue cloud& 5Sa( W$att&6 #o. all rose and 'old. about Sa(96 He could have told her& There were so (an$ thin's he could have told her reachin' bac+ over that )ive.

but not i(possible& 5I’ll need to thin+ about it&6 He +new her too well& 57es or no. she decided& I) he re(ained a stran'er she could cope& 57es&6 The wave o) relie) was li+e a )lood o) )resh air& He could breathe a'ain& His onl$ outward reaction was a sli'ht s(ile and nod& 50ood& There are certain conditions&6 Her e$es )rosted& 5O) course there are&6 5I thin+ $ou can live with the(& There’s an auction to be held this )all in Washin'ton&6 5The *lidebur' estate.runner in the upco(in' senatorial elections& The securit$ would be a little (ore di))icult )or precisel$ the sa(e reason. reached out )or his cha(pa'ne& 53ow $ou’ll have to wait& 7ou can wor+ with (e and have the stone.plain&6 He shru''ed.anne& I won’t let $ou slip it out )ro( under (e& 2ut & & &6 He turned the ci'ar to stud$ the tip& 5I’( o))erin' $ou a +ind o) partnership&6 5Wh$9 Wh$ should $ou o))er. and certainl$ what he was )eelin'& 2ut the $ears had (ade a stran'er o) hi(& That was )or the best. wh$ should I accept96 51or Ma. #o. I +now&6 . she 'ripped her hands to'ether on her lap& 57ou’ve certainl$ shown $our devotion over the last )ive $ears. #o. I love hi(. but she sensed the challen'e. or not between us. I’d have the stone&6 5Then wh$ do $ou need (e96 5We’ll 'et to that& 7es or no&6 She stared at hi(.&6 He loo+ed bac+ at her& 5Whatever is between us. or I’ll 'et it alone&6 She hesitated& Her (ind was alread$ (ullin' over the possibilities& It wouldn’t be di))icult to locate Sa(’s ho(e in Mar$land—not since he was the )ront. haven’t $ou96 5I o))ered to e. and the barrier& 5I’ve put a lot o) ti(e and e))ort into tracin' that stone. at the )ace she’d +nown so well& There had been a ti(e when she would have +nown what he was thin+in'.ed slouch on the chair.& 3ow& It would ta+e $ou (onths to 'ather the in)or(ation I alread$ have& 2$ the ti(e $ou did.5I’d stop $ou&6 He didn’t (ove )ro( his rela. too&6 That hurt& As she absorbed the pain.

drew her to her )eet& 5Strictl$ business. conservativel$&6 5*onservativel$.6 he a'reed and downed the last o) his cha(pa'ne& 5I want to hit it&6 1or an instant she couldn’t spea+ at all& 57ou’re out o) $our (ind&6 2ut the e. the per)or(ance. #o.& 5The bi''er the co(plications. I i(a'ine&6 5A -ob is a -ob. the stone& When it’s all over. we’ll both have what we want&6 5I +now what I want&6 He still held her hand& She would have sworn she )elt the power leapin' )ro( his )in'ers& It was a sensation that both )ri'htened and aroused& 5I’( not sure about $ou&6 57ou should be&6 His e$es loc+ed on hers& 57ou alwa$s were& I want $ou bac+. the 'rander the illusion&6 5The auction’s in October& That doesn’t 'ive us (uch ti(e&6 5Ti(e enou'h& "articularl$ i) $ou announce at $our press con)erence to(orrow that $ou’ll be wor+in' with a partner a'ain&6 5Wh$ in hell would I do that96 52ecause we will.$. and we’ll be a sensation& And have a tid$ diversion in October —in our per)or(ance at the 'ala be)ore the auction&6 57ou 'ot us boo+ed alread$96 He didn’t (ind the sarcas(.. onsta'e and o))&6 He too+ her hand and. not when he pla$ed to win& 57ou leave that to (e& It’s all a hoo+. #o. (illion&6 5Si.anne&6 He brou'ht her ri'id )in'ers to his lips& 5And I’ve had a lon' ti(e to )i'ure out how to 'et the thin's I want& I) $ou’re a)raid o) that. bac+ out now&6 .cite(ent in her e$es betra$ed her& 57ou (i'ht as well stroll into the S(ithsonian and tr$ to cop the Hope 8ia(ond&6 52ad luc+&6 Oh $es.si:ed.cess o) si. #o. he reached )or the bottle to pour the( both (ore wine& 5I’ve done /uite a bit o) the initial research& There are a )ew bu's to iron out&6 5Ato(ic. point ei'ht.6 he said. babe& I’( a ($ster$ co(e bac+& "ut that to'ether with the act we’ll create. /uotin' Ma. i'norin' her resistance.57ou should also +now that the -ewelr$ alone is valued in e. the auction. he +new he had her& #isin'.

he tilted his head& 5Wh$ does that bother $ou96 5It -ust (eans I’ll have to chec+ ($ loc+s (ore care)ull$&6 The s(ile died out o) his e$es& 53o loc+ would +eep (e out i) I decided to co(e in. the heart she thou'ht was so barricaded a'ainst hi( bro+e a little& 5I’ll 'et her )or $ou i) $ou li+e&6 5I can’t&6 In his entire li)e he’d onl$ loved two wo(en& 1acin' both on the sa(e ni'ht was (ore than he thou'ht he could handle& 5I’ll tal+ to her to(orrow&6 Then he was 'one. I’ll snap ($ )in'ers&6 She did so. it would be up to her to control the an'le and de'ree& 2ut she was tired& 2one tired& !ven the act o) chan'in' )ro( her costu(e to street clothes see(ed al(ost (ore than she could bear& Her )in'ers )ro:e on the snap o) her -eans when she heard the +noc+ on her door& I) he’d co(e bac+. I’ll co(e to $our suite& We can start wor+in' out the details&6 53o&6 She pressed both hands on his chest to shove hi( awa$& 5I’ll handle the press. $an+ed her to hi( )or one short. *allahan& When the -ob’s done.& A no )ro( $ou would& Ma+e it around noon. who is it96 . hard +iss& 50od.6 he said and started toward the door& 5I’ll bu$ $ou lunch&6 5Lu+e&6 She didn’t (ove toward hi(& That was so(ethin' she couldn’t 'ive& 5Have $ou seen Lil$ $et96 When he onl$ shoo+ his head. then I’ll co(e to $ou& Ma+e sure $ou have enou'h to +eep (e interested&6 5That I can pro(ise& I’( at the sa(e hotel as $ou.5I’( not a)raid o) an$thin'&6 She $an+ed her hand )ree o) his.$& Tell the( $ou’re wor+in' on so(ethin' new& Whet their appetites& A)terward. #o. she—but no. it’s 'ood to be bac+& noc+ the( dead at the press con)erence. one )loor down&6 So(e o) the color washed out o) her chee+s& 5How lon' have $ou been there96 5I onl$ chec+ed in an hour be)ore the show&6 *urious about her reaction. he’d s+ewed it in an entirel$ di))erent (anner& This ti(e.anne wasn’t certain how lon' she stood starin' at the door he’d closed behind hi(& She couldn’t be sure what she was )eelin'& Her li)e had been turned upside down when he’d le)t her& She didn’t thin+ it had ri'hted a'ain b$ his return& I) an$thin'. tossed up her chin& 5I’( in. #o. /uic+l$ and without another word& #o. she thou'ht with a sneer& Lu+e wouldn’t bother to +noc+& 57es. ta+in' her b$ the shoulders. in )ront o) his nose& 5And $ou’ll be 'one& That’s what I want&6 He onl$ lau'hed and.

anne and s/uee:ed& 5I 'uess that’s the last thin' $ou two would have to tal+ about& I can’t wait to see hi(& It’s li+e a (iracle&6 5More li+e one o) the seven pla'ues.$.6 Lil$ said /uietl$& 5It (a$ even be the wa$ $ou )eel ri'ht now& 2ut that isn’t the wa$ it is.anne (uttered& 53ow. chec+in' the contents to 'ive her so(ethin' to do with her hands& 5He see(s )ine. spotted the (ess o) water and )lowers on the )loor& 5He is here!6 The s(ile was bac+ and brilliant& 5I could hardl$ believe it& Where’s he been9 Is he o+a$9 Where is he now96 5I don’t +now where he’s been&6 #o. )i'htin' not to resent Lil$’s eas$ acceptance& 5I don’t care wh$ he le)t or where he was& That part o) ($ li)e’s over&6 5#o. at our hotel& We (a$ have so(e business to discuss&6 52usiness96 With a lau'h. #o.anne& 5Mouse told (e—I waited as lon' as I could&6 She stepped in. Lil$ threw her ar(s around #o. hone$&6 !$es bri'ht.5It’s (e. and I have no idea where he is&6 52ut—but—he didn’t -ust leave a'ain96 53ot the wa$ $ou (ean& He’s sta$in' in town.plained ever$thin'&6 5I didn’t want to hear it&6 She pulled awa$. te(poraril$& 2ut that’s all& There’s nothin' personal between us an$(ore& That’s the wa$ I want it&6 5It (a$ be what $ou sa$ $ou want.6 #o.pect (e to -oin the )east&6 She crouched to toss (an'led roses in the trash& 5It see(s we (i'ht be wor+in' to'ether. $ou have to tell hi(&6 5Wh$96 Her e$es burned )ierce and )urious& 5Lu+e has a ri'ht—6 . or ever can be&6 Lil$ +nelt down to la$ a hand on #o.$—6 5I (ean it. Lil$& I) $ou want to +ill the )atted cal). I’( sure he (ust’ve e.ust don’t e. 'o ri'ht ahead& . Lil$ po+ed her head in the door& So(e o) the 'lea( )aded when she scanned the roo( and )ound it e(pt$ but )or #o.anne’s shoulder& 57ou didn’t tell hi( about 3athaniel&6 53o&6 She tossed a rose aside and stared dull$ down at the spot o) blood where a thorn had pierced her thu(b& 5I was a)raid at )irst when he said he was at the hotel that he alread$ +new& 2ut he doesn’t&6 5Hone$.anne pic+ed up her purse.

a )ew (onths a)ter $ou too+ a hi+e. #o. steadier& 5I) and when I decide to tell Lu+e about 3athaniel.anne stood in the doorwa$ o) the roo( where her son slept& Shadows were -ust be'innin' to )ade. 'oin' pale and pearl$ in the earl$ dawn& She listened to 3athaniel breathin'& Her child. )ro( Mouse and Le*lerc& The booties Lil$ +nitted that had loo+ed li+e (utant (ittens. swollen an+les& That )irst solid +ic+ that had awa+ened her out o) a sound sleep& La(a:e classes with Lil$ as her coach& And alwa$s that tin$ seed o) hope that re(ained planted deep that Lu+e would co(e bac+ be)ore their child was born& . it’ll be at a ti(e and place o) ($ choosin'& I call the shots on this&6 She 'ripped Lil$’s shoulders and held )ir(& 5I want $our pro(ise that $ou’ll sa$ nothin'&6 5I won’t tell hi(. turnin' her chee+ to Lil$’s shoulder& 5What would I tell 3ate. but don’t 'et used to it because he (i'ht pla$ now. i) $ou pro(ise to do the ri'ht thin'&6 5I’( tr$in' to& Let’s 'et 'oin'. her (ost potent (a'ic& And she thou'ht about the (an who slept in a roo( below. Lil$. pit$in' 'a:e& 5What should I have said9 Oh.$ou. see. the (il+ Le*lerc had )orced her to drin+& The da$ she had )elt the bab$ /uic+en )or the )irst ti(e& She’d nearl$ 'iven in and wept then. Lil$9 Here’s the )ather I told $ou had to 'o awa$& He’s bac+ now.5His ri'hts ended )ive $ears a'o& All the ri'hts are (ine now& 3athaniel’s (ine& 8a(n it. #o.$ou.hi(. *allahan. the wallpaper Mouse had surprised her with )or the nurser$.now. her (iracle. b$ the wa$. but she’d held the tears o))& Maternit$ clothes. o+a$9 It’s been a lon' da$&6 Hours later. had held her& 4n)la''in' support )ro( hi(. the (an who had helped her create a li)e& And she re(e(bered how )ri'htened she’d been when she’d sat down to tell her )ather that she was pre'nant& How ti'htl$ Ma. don’t loo+ at (e that wa$&6 She spran' to her )eet to escape the so)t.$&6 5I’( not 'oin' to&6 She shoo+ her head when Lil$’s ar(s ca(e around her& 5I never cried over hi(& 3ot once& I’( not 'oin' to start now&6 2ut she let hersel) be co()orted.don’t&6 5He wouldn’t turn his bac+ on his son& He couldn’t&6 5I won’t ris+ it&6 She too+ a deep breath and stepped bac+. too& He’s a 'reat +id& Wh$ don’t I introduce $ou to hi( so(eti(e96 She pressed her hand over her (outh to hold bac+ a sob& 58on’t. I 'ave birth to $our son& Loo+s -ust li+e $ou.

then stared blan+l$ at the short. she’d chewed o)) (ost o) her lipstic+& She held her breath.ed up&6 . and was as )riendl$ as a pastra(i on r$e& Lil$ )ound her hand clasped and pu(ped enthusiasticall$& 5I’d reco'ni:e $ou an$where& . )id'etin'& All she was doin' was sa$in' hello—and (a$be she’d 'ive the bo$ a piece o) her (ind while she was at it& 2ut it wasn’t bein' dislo$al. at turns terri)ied and e. Lil$ thou'ht. even i) her heart was nearl$ burstin' with the sheer -o$ o) seein' hi( a'ain& 2esides.2ut he hadn’t& She’d 'one throu'h ei'hteen sweat$ hours o) labor.hilarated& She’d watched their son )i'ht his wa$ )ro( her wo(b. )ra(ed lenses as thic+ as her thu(b& However (uch Lu+e (i'ht have chan'ed.anne had 'one down to her press con)erence& 2$ the ti(e she heard the bolt turn. she’d listened to his )irst indi'nant cr$& And ever$ da$ she’d loo+ed at hi( and loved hi( and had seen Lu+e (irrored in his )ace& She’d watched her son 'row.anne. )i. chec+ed her (a+eup in the (irror o) her rhinestone. bu(ped her s(ile up a )ew de'rees.ny. she’d waited until #o. he couldn’t have lost si.haired (an who stood on the other side o) the threshold& He stared bac+ at her throu'h silver.ed a bri'ht. and +eep watch over her son as the dawn ca(e up& 26 Lil$ )lu))ed her hair. (a+in' sure her tu(($—which she hated to ad(it was beco(in' the teeniest bit o) a proble(— was suc+ed in& Onl$ then was she satis)ied enou'h with her appearance to +noc+ on the door o) Lu+e’s suite& It wasn’t a (atter o) bein' dislo$al to #o. inches in hei'ht& 5I’( sorr$& I (ust have the wron' roo(&6 5Lil$ 2ates!6 The voice screa(ed the 2ron. )riendl$ s(ile on her )ace& She rolled bac+ her shoulders. she told hersel).studded co(pact.where! 7ou’re even prettier than $ou are onsta'e&6 5Than+ $ou&6 Habit had her )lutterin' her (in+ e$elashes even as she levered her wei'ht bac+ to prevent hi( )ro( pullin' her into the roo(& An$ wo(an with a +iller bod$ had best have +iller instincts as well& 5I’( a)raid I 'ot the door nu(bers (i. dar+. there had been no one to turn to in the ni'ht& 3o ar(s to co(e around her and o))er her co()ort when she wept because her )ather no lon'er reco'ni:ed her& There was no one to stand with her now. and had seen her )ather swallowed up b$ the illness no one could )i'ht& She’d been alone& 3o (atter how (uch love she’d )elt in her ho(e.

wei'ht (otor oil out o) the pot. the sill$ ena(eled parrots that swun' at her ears. (a'ni)ied b$ the thic+ lenses. Lil$& Wonder)ul show last ni'ht&6 His blac+ bean e$es.)ul&6 5Than+ $ou&6 She was bi''er than he was. toothpic+ ar(s and bon$ wrists& Worst ca(e to worst. will $ou /uit tal+in' to $oursel)& It (a+es (e cra:$&6 Hair still drippin' )ro( the shower. have so(e co))ee. bea(ed up at her& 5.o). she told hersel)& And certainl$ outwei'hed hi(& His short. but $ou’ve 'ot ti(e )or a cup o) co))ee&6 He swun' his )ree hand bac+ to indicate the table laden with pots and cups and covered plates& 5And brea+)ast& I bet $ou haven’t eaten a thin' $et this (ornin'& I ordered up so(e nice ba'els& 7ou eat a little bit.u. Lu+e strode out )ro( the bedroo( buttonin' his shirt& He stopped dead. )ine&6 She didn’t care i) . so strai'ht the$ (i'ht have been surve$ed b$ the *orps o) !n'ineers& 53o need )or )or(alities between us. I 'ot to eat a little so(ethin' in the (ornin's or ($ s$ste( su))ers all da$& How about so(e oran'e -uice96 He tu''ed her in another inch& 5The$ s/uee:e it )resh&6 5#eall$.)ul& We’ve been havin' a nice chat& I was -ust tellin' Lil$ she should sit down.He +ept her hand captured in his and used his other to push up the 'lasses that were slidin' down his pro(inent hoo+ed nose& 5I’( .on. the scent o) *hanel that was alread$ )illin' the roo(& .a+e. the anno$ance on his )ace shudderin' into blan+ shoc+& 5Who needs to tal+ to hi(sel) when he’s 'ot a beauti)ul wo(an96 . have a nice cup o) co))ee. ridiculousl$ $outh)ul )ace. I can’t& I was -ust—6 5.a+e& .ti. she had e$es onl$ )or Lu+e& 57ou loo+ wonder)ul&6 She heard the tears in her voice and cleared her throat to dis'uise the(& 5I’( sorr$& I’( interruptin' $our brea+)ast&6 5It’s all ri'ht& It’s 'ood to see $ou&6 It was so aw)ul.6 Lil$ (ana'ed& 50ood.a+e& .der. wonderin' i) an$one would co(e to her aid i) she shouted )or help& 5I’( sorr$ I bothered $ou.& Me. Mr& 1inestein&6 5.a+e&6 He 'rinned and )lashed an a(a:in' set o) lar'e white teeth. 'ood& I’( 'oin' to pour $ou so(e& 7ou want crea(9 Su'ar9 Sweet’n Low96 57es.a+e’s 'rin twisted into a wince as Lil$’s )in'ers ti'htened on his& 5And I (ean bee. (a$be a ba'el&6 5I—I could use so(e co))ee. $ou rela.a+e 1inestein&6 53ice to (eet $ou&6 The$ continued the little tu'. she could ta+e hi(& 5I reall$ can’t chat now& I’( runnin' late&6 5Oh.sleeved shirt showed pun$.a+e poured heav$. so hideousl$ polite& He -ust wanted to stand and stare and absorb ever$thin' about her& The prett$.war& Lil$ 'lanced uneasil$ over her shoulder.

then wal+ed to the second bedroo( and shut the door discreetl$ behind hi(& I) he pressed his ear to the crac+ )or a )ew (inutes. a sincere pleasure&6 5Than+ $ou&6 . please&6 5Ma$be -ust so(e co))ee&6 She (ade hersel) sit.6 Lil$ said in a wea+ atte(pt at 'aiet$& 57ou don’t loo+ it&6 He searched her )ace. . we’ll eat&6 Lu+e’s +illin'l$ accurate (i(ic+in' o) .a+e )ussed with cups and saucers& 57ou thin+ I’( han'in' around to spoil the bi' reunion9 Mrs& 1inestein didn’t raise an$ )ools& I’( 'oin' to 'et ($ ca(era and 'o ta+e pictures li+e I was a tourist& Mada( Lil$&6 He 'rasped her hand a'ain. he shoved his hands in his poc+ets& 5So sit& We’ll tal+. she wasn’t (uch in the (ood to )ill (e in on ever$one last ni'ht&6 5I’( older. $ou’ll eat&6 Lu+e cut his e$es toward the table& 5Ta+e o)). sit&6 . but )or once his appetite had deserted hi(& He (ade do with blac+ co))ee& 5How about $ou9 #o.5So. I’( 'oin'&6 . +eepin' the s(ile planted& 2ut the cup rattled in the saucer when she li)ted it& 5I don’t +now what to sa$ to $ou& I 'uess I want to +now i) $ou’re o+a$&6 5I’( all in one piece&6 He sat as well.a+e sent Lu+e a last tellin' loo+. )i'htin' a'ainst e(otions that threatened to swa(p hi(& 53ot a da$&6 57ou alwa$s +new -ust what to sa$ to a wo(an& Must be the Irish&6 She too+ an unstead$ breath and be'an to pic+ apart a ba'el& 5Le*lerc’s )ine& *ran+ier than he used to be& He doesn’t co(e on the road o)ten now& Mouse is (arried& 8id $ou +now96 5Mouse9 Married96 Lu+e 'ave a /uic+ spontaneous lau'h that had tears swi((in' in Lil$’s e$es& 53o shit9 How did that happen96 .a+e (ade 'rand 'estures toward the table& 57ou’ll tal+.anne—well. s/uee:ed& 5A pleasure.a+e had Lil$’s lips tre(blin' up& 5I don’t want to ta+e up $our ti(e&6 He would have pre)erred bein' stabbed in the heart& 5Lil$. what har( did it do9 5He’s—ah—a ver$ nice (an&6 5He’s a pain in the ass&6 Lu+e wor+ed up what nearl$ passed as a 'rin& 52ut I’( used to hi(&6 3ervous as a bo$ on his )irst date.a+e&6 5I’( 'oin'. sit.

6 Lil$ said care)ull$& It wouldn’t do to sa$ that #o. pre'nant. her voice was stron' and stead$& 5Ma.6 she said sti))l$& 5I don’t have an$ ri'ht to /uestion $ou& 7ou were alwa$s )ree to co(e and 'o as $ou pleased&6 58irect hit. Lil$&6 He wanted to reach out& His )in'ers were inches )ro( touchin' hers be)ore he curled the( awa$& 5I +now #o. do:ens o) ti(es&6 There was accusation (i. holdin' ti'ht& 5She went to Me. and )eed it or clean it. tauntin' hi(& 5*an $ou tell (e about Ma. a)raid $ou were .ed with the hurt& She couldn’t prevent either& 5He’d )or'et that $ou weren’t there.anne&6 5What about $ou96 Lil$ pressed her lips to'ether& When she spo+e.anne ca(e bac+ )ro( Me.6 he (ur(ured& 5Much (ore accurate than an$thin' #o. was all the (ore e))ective when it spi+ed& 5She loo+ed )or $ou.anne (i'ht ob-ect.ico96 5She trac+ed $ou there& Mouse went with her& 7ou have no idea what shape she was in&6 1ri'htened. I still sit with his bod$. heartsic+& Lil$ shoo+ her hand )ree and rose& Her te(per. alwa$s so even. there& Oh. she loo+ed awa$& 53ow I’( sorr$. and she )ell head over heels )or Mouse& It too+ her two $ears to wear hi( down& I don’t +now how (an$ hours she spent helpin' hi( tin+er with en'ines&6 5I’( 'oin' to have to (eet her&6 Silence )ell. but ever$thin' he was has alread$ died& His bod$’s -ust waitin' to catch up& So it’s easier )or (e& I’ve done ($ 'rievin'&6 5I need to see hi(. is 'one& I can loo+ into his e$es. and there’s no Ma. Lu+e9 How could $ou leave without a word and brea+ so (an$ hearts96 When he onl$ shoo+ his head. but I need to see hi(&6 5He as+ed )or $ou.96 5He won’t 'et better&6 Lil$ li)ted her co))ee a'ain& 5He’s 'one so(eplace none o) us can reach hi(& We didn’t—we couldn’t put hi( in a hospital so we’ve arran'ed )or ho(e care& He can’t do an$thin' )or hi(sel)& That’s the worst.5Alice ca(e to—to wor+ )or us. to see hi( so helpless& It’s hard on #o. and he’d as+ )or $ou&6 5I’( sorr$&6 It see(ed a piti)ul response& 5How could $ou do it.anne had hired her as 3athaniel’s nann$& 5She’s bri'ht and sweet.ico we were sure o) it&6 5Wait&6 He 'ripped her hand. threw at (e last ni'ht&6 57ou devastated her&6 Lil$ hadn’t +nown the hot an'er was trapped inside until it burst )ree& 5She loved $ou. since she was a little 'irl& She trusted $ou& We all did& We thou'ht so(ethin' terrible had happened to $ou& 4ntil #o.

)eel that crea($ s+in& 5I never deserved $ou&6 5That’s sill$& Most people would sa$ we deserved each other&6 She 'ave a water$ chuc+le and hu''ed hi( hard& 57ou’ll tell (e about it so(eti(e soon. sweetie&6 5I didn’t thin+ $ou’d want to see (e&6 He strai'htened so that he could touch a hand to her chee+.dead or sic+ or 0od +nows& Then she )ound $our plane and the (an $ou’d sold it to& And she +new $ou didn’t want her to )ind $ou& 8a(n $ou. I didn’t thin+ she’d ever 'et over it&6 She shoved the chair a'ainst the table hard enou'h to (a+e china rattle& 5Tell (e $ou had a(nesia& Tell (e $ou 'ot hit on the head and )or'ot us. that I could have stopped needin' ($ )a(il$&6 He balled the nap+in in his )ist as his voice thic+ened& 5I was twelve be)ore I )ound ($ (other& I don’t want to spend the rest o) ($ li)e without her& Tell (e what I need to do to convince $ou to 'ive (e another chance&6 1or Lil$ love was a )luid thin'& 3o (atter how stron' the da(. bi' silent tears coursin' down her )ace while he loo+ed on (iserabl$& 5I can’t tell $ou that. I (issed $ou&6 5I +now&6 She lowered into a chair and let hi( la$ his head in her lap& 5I didn’t (ean to $ell at $ou. the sweetness. -ust where he had le)t it& The so)tness.6 she (ur(ured& 5That’s what (atters&6 And it was all there. roc+in' and stro+in' when he buried his )ace in her hair& 57ou’re ho(e now.anne& I (i'ht as well have been dead& I wish I could have )or'otten. )or'ot ever$thin'& *an $ou tell (e that96 53o&6 She was cr$in' now. then it would hit (e& I’d reach )or a bottle instead o) #o. and I can’t as+ $ou to )or'ive (e& I can onl$ tell $ou that I did what I thou'ht was best )or ever$one& I didn’t see a choice. won’t $ou96 5Whenever $ou want&6 .6 57ou didn’t see a choice9 7ou couldn’t see $our wa$ clear to lettin' us +now $ou were alive96 53o&6 He pic+ed up a nap+in and stood to dab at her tears& 5I thou'ht about $ou ever$ da$& In the )irst $ear I’d wa+e up at ni'ht thin+in' I was ho(e. it would alwa$s )low )ree& She did the onl$ thin' she could do& She opened her ar(s and too+ hi( into the(. the stren'th& !(otions rose up in hi( li+e a river at )lood point& He could onl$ clin'& 5I (issed $ou& 0od.

she lau'hed& 58o $ou still have (a'ic96 5It +ept (e alive&6 He too+ both o) her hands and pressed the( to his lips& Sha(e and si(ple 'ratitude ran riot throu'h hi(& He’d tried to prepare )or her an'er. she held hi( at ar(’s len'th. he drew Lil$ bac+ into his ar(s& 5That’s not the +ind o) (ista+e I’d (a+e twice& I’ll do what needs to be done. but thou'ht it politic not to a'ree& 5I didn’t sa$ it would be eas$& 8on’t 'ive up on her.ust don’t 'ive up&6 Thou'ht)ull$. a little tou'her&6 With a si'h. Lil$&6 His e$es dar+ened as he stared at so(ethin' hate)ul onl$ he could see& 5There are scores to settle&6 . but she also needs to be courted&6 5I) I 'ot down on one +nee. she pressed a +iss to his chee+. onsta'e. hone$& It’s a +ind o) attitude& #o.6 she repeated& 52ut $ou’ll have to have (ore than a poc+et)ul o) tric+s to win her bac+& She’s not a pushover li+e (e&6 His (outh 'ri((ed& 5I can push hard&6 With a si'h. )or the chill o) her resent(ent. then )ussed the i(print o) her lipstic+ awa$ with her thu(b& 57ou were the (ost beauti)ul little bo$ I’d ever seen&6 When he winced. it was li+e the $ears between never happened&6 52ut the$ did&6 57es. she s(iled.$ needs to be challen'ed. Lil$ shoo+ her head& 5Then she’ll -ust push bac+& Ma.5Later& I -ust want to spend so(e ti(e loo+in' at $ou&6 Sni))lin'. Lil$ thou'ht. the$ did&6 He stood then. Lu+e& She needs $ou (ore than $ou could possibl$ understand&6 5What do $ou (ean96 5. would sa$ $ou catch (ore )lies with hone$ than with a rolled up newspaper& Ta+e it )ro( (e. stud$in' his )ace with a (other’s ea'le e$e& 5Well. a wo(an—even a stubborn one—li+es to be wooed&6 He onl$ snorted. $ou don’t loo+ an$ the worse )or wear&6 She s(oothed the )aint lines at the corner o) his e$es with her )in'ertips& 57ou loo+ a little thinner (a$be. she’d plant a )oot in ($ )ace&6 Absolutel$. rose and cupped his )ace in her hands& 57ou still love her. even her disinterest& 2ut he had no de)ense a'ainst the constanc$ o) her love& 57ou were beauti)ul last ni'ht& Watchin' $ou and #o. but +ept her hand in his& 5I don’t have an incantation to (a+e the( disappear& 2ut there are thin's I can do that (i'ht set it ri'ht&6 57ou still love her&6 When he onl$ shru''ed. but Lil$ pressed on& 5I don’t -ust (ean )lowers and (usic.

turnin' in her lap to wrap his ar(s around her nec+& Oh. 3ate. lau'hin' as he recounted his adventures o) the (ornin'& 5All o) the(96 5Ma$be a hundred&6 He loo+ed soul)ull$ into his (other’s )ace with his )ather’s e$es& 5*an I have a do'9 I’d teach hi( to sit and sha+e hands and pla$ dead&6 5And pee on trees96 54h. I suppose we’ll have to loo+ into it&6 She twirled one o) 3ate’s 'loss$ curls around her )in'er& Much li+e. didn’t want to consider the reasons& All that (attered was that she had her child sa)e in her ar(s& 52etter 'o wash $our hands.6 she si'hed lustil$& 5Haven’t I told $ou the$’re invisible e$es96 Abruptl$ she dra''ed hi( up into her ar(s. her son twirled her heart around his& 5How (uch ice crea( did $ou eat96 His e$es widened& 5How co(e $ou +now I had ice crea(96 There was a telltale s(ear o) chocolate on his shirt and a suspicious stic+iness on his )in'ers& 2ut #o. she thou'ht wr$l$. 3ate.anne +new better than to use such pedestrian clues& 52ecause (others +now all and see all. set hi( on his short. but (u))led a'ainst his nec+& 5I’ve 'ot to 'et to ($ appoint(ent&6 57ou said we were 'oin' to the :oo&6 5And we will&6 She +issed hi(. plastic (en and picture boo+s that were scattered over the ru'& 5Alice9 I’( headin' out& 2e bac+ in an hour&6 . sturd$ le's& 5I’ll be bac+ in an hour. especiall$ when the$’re (a'icians too&6 His lip po+ed out as he considered& 5How co(e I can never see the e$es in bac+ o) $our head96 53ate.anne cuddled 3ate in her lap.huh&6 He 'rinned. lau'hin'& #o. holdin' hi( ti'ht with her e$es s/uee:ed shut a'ainst tears& She couldn’t sa$ wh$ she )elt li+e weepin'. she thou'ht& He’d been his )ather’s child since his )irst toothless 'rin& 5I want a bi' one& A bi' bo$ one& His na(e’s 'onna be Mi+e&6 5Since he’s alread$ 'ot a na(e. then we’ll 'o see how (an$ (on+e$s loo+ -ust li+e $ou&6 He raced o)).anne stooped to 'ather the (iniature cars.5And there was a bi' do' in the par+& A 'old one& He peed on all the trees&6 #o. he +new how to char(. 3ate the 0reat&6 Her voice was sha+$.

sat and crossed her le's& 5Let’s hear the setup. leavin' a )aint trace o) wild)lowers to tor(ent his s$ste(& 5Hot date96 She thou'ht o) her son and s(iled& 57es. but 3ate had s(iled at Alice )ro( his crib. a re'al )lic+ o) the wrist& 5Tal+&6 5Tell (e how $ou pla$ed the press con)erence&6 5Where $ou’re concerned96 Archin' a brow. and I don’t li+e to +eep hi( waitin'&6 She chose a chair.voiced.anne still wondered who had done the hirin'& 3ow Alice was )a(il$& That sin'le s(ile )ro( a si. *allahan&6 5Whatever $ou sa$. unsha+able Alice. no lunch&6 She 'estured.old in)ant had added one (ore lin+ to the 3ouvelle chain& #o. and that had been that& #o. she thou'ht& Lord +new she would never have been able to continue her wor+ without the stead$ support o) the ethereal Alice& And to thin+ she’d nearl$ turned Alice aside because o) her )rail appearance and whisper$ voice& 7et out o) the le'ion o) prospective nannies she’d interviewed.perienced applicants.anne s(ile& So)t. she sat bac+& 5I told the( I was brin'in' so(eone into the act who would da::le the(& A sorcerer who’d been travelin' the world learnin' the secrets o) the Ma$ans.. but she con/uered the s(ile /uic+l$& 5Want so(e wine be)ore lunch96 53o wine. 3ouvelle&6 He saw her lips twitch. reliable. she thou'ht nastil$ and had her shoulders braced when she rapped on Lu+e’s door& 5"ro(pt as alwa$s. #o. it had been Alice who had convinced #o.anne chose the stairs and wal+ed one )li'ht down to )ace another lin+& The (issin' lin+.6 Alice san' bac+ and (ade #o. so let’s 'et down to business&6 She sailed past hi(. the ($steries o) the A:tecs and the (a'ic o) the 8ruids&6 She s(iled )aintl$& 5I hope $ou’re up to the h$pe&6 5I can handle it&6 He pic+ed up a pair o) steel handcu))s )ro( the co))ee table and to$ed with the( as he spo+e& 57ou weren’t all that )ar o))& I learned a nu(ber o) thin's&6 .5Ta+e $our ti(e.6 Lu+e co((ented when he opened the door& 5I onl$ have an hour. al(ost translucent 'ra$ and the /uiet +indness in the(& Her practical nature had nearl$ swa$ed her toward the (ore pri( and e.(onth.anne thou'ht now as she wal+ed into the hallwa$& That pale.anne that 3athaniel would be sa)e and happ$ in her care& There had been so(ethin' about her e$es.

in haunted castles and s(o+$ pubs& I )ound so(ethin' there I’d never )ound an$where else&6 5Which was96 57ou could call it ($ soul&6 He watched her as he snapped the cu))s to his wrists& 5I reco'ni:ed Ireland.sh$ (a'ician who appeared in all corners o) the world. *allahan& %er$ s(ooth&6 Steadier. even the air& The onl$ other place I’ve been that pulled (e that wa$ was 3ew Orleans&6 He tu''ed his wrists apart so that the (etal snapped& 52ut that (i'ht have been because $ou were there& I’d ta+e $ou to Ireland.5Such as96 she as+ed when he handed her the cu))s )or inspection& 5How to wal+ throu'h walls.$&6 He held the cu))s up b$ one end and dropped the( into her lap& There was a s(all sense o) satis)action when she s(iled& 57ou haven’t lost $our touch here. so)tenin' it as those old needs crac+led li+e dried wood to a hot )la(e& She du' her nails hard into her pal(s. then disappeared a'ain& . war(in' it. either. the hills. dropped into the 3ile—and e(eralds al(ost as 'reen as $our e$es&6 51ascinatin'. publicit$. vanish an elephant. #o. blan+eted in )o'& She could all but )eel his hands on her s+in. I see& Odd thou'h& I) $ou’ve been pl$in' $our trade so success)ull$ all these $ears. then tore her e$es awa$& 5It’s a 'ood line. the stran'e. wh$ didn’t I hear about $ou96 5I i(a'ine $ou did&6 He rose to answer the +noc+ on the door and spo+e casuall$ bac+ to her& 57ou’d have heard o) the "hanto(&6 5The—6 She bit her ton'ue as the roo(.service waiter wheeled in a tra$& #ubbin' her pal(s to'ether she waited while lunch was set up and Lu+e si'ned the chec+& 3aturall$.&6 His voice had so)tened. li+e sil+ -ust stro+ed& 5I i(a'ined $ou there. she stared bac+ at hi(& 5Tr$ it on so(eone who doesn’t +now $ou&6 57ou’re a hard wo(an. tu(bled on the 'rass. the towns. cli(b a pillar o) s(o+e& In 2an'+o+ I escaped )ro( a trun+ studded with nails& And wal+ed o)) with a rub$ as bi' as $our thu(b& In *airo it was a 'lass bo. she’d heard o) the "hanto(. #o. 'reen )ields with the (ist risin' all around li+e witch s(o+e and the sound o) harp strin's sobbin' on the air&6 She couldn’t ta+e her e$es o)) his. i(a'ined (a+in' love to $ou in one o) those cool. or the i(a'e he so s+ill)ull$ invo+ed& His (a'ic was such that she could see the(.6 she said and $awned deliberatel$ as she passed hi( the cu))s& She’d )ound no secret catch& 5I spent nearl$ a $ear in Ireland.

6 she said and would have turned awa$ but he 'rabbed her hand& 5Let’s be civili:ed. tossin' the rosebud onto the table& Without botherin' to sit. *allahan. did the 'i'. +new hi( well. but re)used to be char(ed& 5This is as 'ood as it 'ets&6 5I) $ou won’t eat with (e.isted&6 5That was the beaut$&6 Lu+e settled bac+.planations on where I went or wh$. $ou wor+ed as the "hanto(& I wasn’t sure he reall$ e. coc+in' one )oot on his +nee& 5I wore a (as+. #o. so let’s -ust sa$ I was on sabbatical&6 50reat word. he handed her a nap+in& 57ou’ll (a+e less o) a (ess i) $ou sit&6 He li)ted his hands& 5#ela. I’( 'oin' to thin+ it’s because the (enu re(inds $ou o) us& And I’( 'oin' to thin+ $ou’re still in love with (e&6 She wrenched awa$. she hoped.tra i) so(ethin' appealed and (oved on&6 5In other words & & &6 The sauce was da(n 'ood& She lic+ed a bit )ro( her thu(b& 57ou went on the 'ri)t&6 That put the )ire in his e$es and. too+ a bit e. o))ered it& She too+ the bud. and was deli'hted to have scored a hit& 57ou don’t want an$ e.& 3othin' up ($ sleeve&6 She sat and be'an to wipe sauce )ro( her )in'ers& 5So.5I ordered )or $ou. sabbatical& *overs so (uch 'round& O+a$. in his 'ut& He shot her a loo+ that could have s(elted iron& 5It wasn’t 'ri)tin'&6 Thou'h he had (ade a )ew dollars earl$ on with Three *ard Monte and the *ups and 2alls& 5It was tourin'&6 She 'ave an unlad$li+e snort and went bac+ to her chic+en& 5#i'ht& 3ow $ou’ve decided $ou’re read$ )or the bi' ti(e a'ain&6 5I’ve alwa$s been read$ )or the bi' ti(e&6 His onl$ outward si'n o) anno$ance was the tappin' o) his )in'ers on his an+les& 2ut she +new hi(. she snatched up a piece o) chic+en and bit in& 5Satis)ied96 5That was never a proble( with us&6 0rinnin'.6 Lu+e said as he too+ a seat at the table& 5I thin+ I re(e(bered what $ou li+e&6 5I told $ou I don’t have ti(e )or lunch&6 2ut curiosit$ had her wanderin' over& 2arbecued chic+en win's& Her lips thinned even as her heartbeat thic+ened& She wondered how he’d (ana'ed it when she +new ver$ well it wasn’t on the hotel’s (enu& 5I lost ($ taste )or the(.&6 He )lic+ed a rose out o) the air. $our sabbatical’s over& What’s the deal96 .

ious to bid on a )ew baubles&6 5And $ou are96 5Attendin' to a )ew details at the theater. an. she turned her pal( up to show that the coins had turned into s(all silver balls& 5This doesn’t i(press&6 8a(n it. (a$be better&6 5And as sel). he hadn’t reali:ed that disinterest could sti(ulate& 5Tr$ this& 7ou -oin the lu(inaries )or the auction a)ter our per)or(ance& 7ou’re an honored 'uest. #o. his e$es 'lowed with that old a(used e. she du(ped the coins into her hand& 5As cheap as tal+&6 With a )lourish. but he outreaches $ou&6 5And what i) other attendees covet that rin'96 5Whatever the bid. #o.cite(ent that nearl$ tric+ed a 'rin out o) her& 52ecause.anne blin+ed& 5When he e. he discovers it to be paste&6 5The rin'’s a )a+e96 5That and a nu(ber o) other ite(s&6 He lin+ed his hands to'ether. restin' his chin on the(& Over the(. *allahan&6 Willin' to pla$.e))acin'&6 5Modest$’s li+e tact& It’s )or wi(ps& The per)or(ance is the diversion )or the auction&6 He showed his e(pt$ pal(. but I’ll be -oinin' $ou& 7ou bid spiritedl$ a'ainst a certain 'entle(an on an e(erald rin'.6 Lu+e slipped into 1rench so s(oothl$. dar+ hours be)ore dawn& And while Washin'ton and its ver$ )ine police )orce are abu:: with the darin' the)t o) several (illion in -ewels. aren’t we96 50ood is what I a(.a(ines the rin'. then turned his hand and danced a #ussian ruble alon' his )in'ers& 5The auction draws the e$e )ro( the -ob at W$att’s&6 The ruble vanished& A)ter snappin' his )in'ers. he’ll top it& He’s 1rench and rich and ro(antic and desires that rin' )or his )iancDe& 2ais alors.5The three 'i's hin'e to'ether&6 He poured the 'olden wine )or hi(sel) and le)t her 'lass e(pt$& 5The per)or(ance. but he would ti(e the tellin' as care)ull$ as his sta'in'& . we will /uietl$ slip over to Mar$land and relieve the aspirin' senator o) the philosophers’ stone&6 There was (ore. a ver$ i(portant (ore. the sort Luci)er (i'ht have ai(ed toward heaven& 5As 'ood as ever.&6 The s(ile was a dare. ($ onl$ love. he poured three coins into her 'lass& 5An old tric+. we will have switched the ta+e in those so)t. the auction and the hit& All the sa(e wee+end&6 She raised her brows& It was the onl$ reaction she chose to 'ive hi(& 5A(bitious. as a practical 1rench(an (i'ht.

but it would have cost (e ($ li)e& I’( .5Interestin'.anne.6 she said in a voice li+e a $awn. Lu+e’s partner&6 5"artner96 #o.anne’s li(p hand and pu(p it& 5I’ve been loo+in' )orward to (eetin' $ou& Would’ve popped into $our dressin' roo( last ni'ht.$& !.ust what’s $our secret.pertl$& It also helps that I have what we could call a secret weapon&6 5Secret weapon96 5Top secret&6 He too+ her hand be)ore she could avoid it and raised it to his lips& 5I’ve alwa$s been a suc+er )or the taste o) barbecue sauce on a wo(an’s s+in&6 Watchin' her.anne echoed& 5#o. the li'ht was 'loo($& When I touched $ou. our secret weapon&6 8is'usted. thou'h she was )ascinated& 5There’s -ust one little detail I don’t understand&6 5Which is96 She )unneled her hands and poured his coins ne. #o. he set his ba's down and crossed the roo( to ta+e #o.6 Lu+e (uttered& 5Ooops& I’( interruptin'&6 0rinnin'. drawin' her slowl$ to her )eet& 5There was rain runnin' over the windows.t to his plate& 5How the hell we brea+ into a heavil$ secured art 'aller$ in the )irst place96 5The sa(e wa$ we brea+ into a house in the ’burbs. $ou tre(bled. -ust as $ou’re tre(blin' now&6 5I’( not&6 2ut she was& 5And I +issed $ou& Here&6 He brushed his lips over her te(ple& 5And here&6 Alon' her -aw& 5And then—6 He bro+e o)) with an oath as a +e$ turned in the loc+& 5What a town!6 . Mr& 1inestein96 . Lu+e sat and poured (ore wine& 5I see&6 She didn’t have a clue& 5.a+e 1inestein. he traced his ton'ue over her +nuc+les& 5!speciall$ i) it’s $our s+in& 8o $ou re(e(ber the da$ we had that picnic9 We la$ on the ru' and listened to the rain9 I thin+ I started nibblin' on $our toes and wor+ed ($ wa$ up&6 He turned her hand over to scrape his teeth alon' her wrist& 5I could never 'et enou'h o) $ou&6 5I can’t recall&6 Her pulse -u(ped and scrabbled& 5I’ve been on a nu(ber o) picnics&6 5Then I’ll re)resh $our (e(or$& We shared this sa(e (eal&6 He rose. laden with shoppin' ba's& 5I could spend a wee+&6 5Tr$ another hour.a+e barreled in.

but he doesn’t +now s/uat about wo(en&6 #o.ttrac.anne’s lips curved in a 'enuine s(ile& 5I thin+ I li+e $our )riend.a+e&6 He reached around her to cop one o) the chic+en win's& 5Lu+e didn’t )ill $ou in $et9 7ou could sa$ I’( a wunder+ind&6 5Idiot savant. that’s all& Thou'ht $ou’d )all ri'ht into his ar(s& 0u$’s a prett$ 'ood thie). isn’t it9 It’s not li+e the$’d si'ned a le'al contract&6 Thou'h it still o))ended his sense o) )ree enterprise. . and what than+s do I 'et9 I dra''ed hi( outside —rapped ($ shin on a chair. *allahan&6 5I didn’t sa$ he was a )riend& A thorn in ($ side. sipped. and when Lu+e 'ot in the wa$—6 5When I stepped in to +eep $ou )ro( 'ettin' a shiv under the rib&6 5Whatever& There was an altercation& It was (e who bashed the bi' bastard with a whis+e$ bottle be)ore he slit $our throat. . details& There was a (atter o) an attractive $oun' wo(an—I (ean a. one thin' led to another.5. then si'hed it awa$& 52ut I’( ra(blin'&6 5What else is new96 . with a si'h and a shru'.6 Lu+e pointed out& 57ou +now how thin's 'et twisted up a)ter a )ew $ears&6 Alwa$s read$ to sociali:e.a+e win+ed and punched at his 'lasses& 50uess he didn’t (ention how I saved his li)e in 3ice&6 5He didn’t (ention it&6 57ou nearl$ 'ot (e +illed. and didn’t wal+ ri'ht )or da$s& The bruise&6 He tossed up a hand& 5Oi$! It was bi' as a baseball&6 He scowled at the (e(or$.a+e lau'h heartil$ in the peculiar hiccupin' rasps that were his own& 5He’s pissed.a+e continued& 5In an$ case.6 Lu+e corrected and (ade .tive —and a rather overbearin' 'entle(an&6 5A hoo+er and a -ohn.a+e poured hi(sel) so(e wine& 5An$wa$. there was a little disa'ree(ent in a club&6 5It was a )uc+in' bar )i'ht&6 Lu+e 'estured with his 'lass& 5Which $ou started&6 58etails.6 Lu+e (uttered& 58idn’t I o))er to beat his price9 2usiness is business. too. sand in ($ shoe&6 5A )l$ in his soup&6 .

and out a'ain& As )or the rest—6 5Let’s ta+e it one step at a ti(e. *allahan.anne arched a brow at Lu+e& 52ut $ou see. Miss #o.6 #o.ious and rushed&6 5It happens to the best o) us.& Are $ou up )or it96 5I can hold ($ own. #o.a+e& I’( assu(in' that $our s+ill with co(puters will 'et us past the securit$&6 5There hasn’t been a s$ste( invented that can stop (e& I’ll 'et $ou in.anne. and we hoo+ up&6 5. and had trouble with a cash re'ister& Me.a+e was in !urope runnin' )ro( a )or'er$ rap&6 5A sli'ht (iscalculation. Miss #o.anne assured hi( and earned his und$in' 'ratitude& 5A wo(an o) understandin' is (ore precious than rubies&6 5She’s passed precious little ($ wa$&6 #o.a+e pressed a hand to his heart as #o.a+e said (ildl$. I beca(e overan. *allahan& I alwa$s have&6 She turned to . but color rose up his s+inn$ nec+& 5*o(puters are ($ passion.a+e patted Lu+e’s shoulder& 5I )ind out Lu+e here’s a (a'ician. .anne closed the door behind hi(& 5Oi$! What a wo(an&6 .a+e’s and (ade his bead$ e$es shine& 5I thin+ this is the start o) a beauti)ul relationship&6 She too+ one sip be)ore settin' the 'lass aside& 57ou’ll have to e. I li(e . but )or'er$ is ($ art& 4n)ortunatel$.anne o) a bespectacled beaver& 50od +nows where it co(es )ro(& M$ )ather ran a +osher ba+er$ in the 2ron.cuse (e.oe 8iMa''io was to baseball& A heav$ hitter& 3o s$ste( I can’t crac+& It’s a 'i)t&6 He )lashed his (ilitaril$ ali'ned teeth and re(inded #o. and he )inds out I’( to co(puters what . I have a date& I’ll wait to hear )ro( $ou&6 .6 .a+e with a s(ile& 5Have $ou ever been to 3ew Orleans96 5It’s a pleasure I’( anticipatin'&6 5We’re )l$in' out to(orrow& I’d li+e $ou to co(e to dinner when it’s convenient )or $ou&6 She spared a brie) 'lance )or Lu+e& 5I suppose $ou can brin' hi( alon'&6 5I’ll +eep hi( under control&6 5I’( sure $ou will&6 Ta+in' Lu+e’s 'lass she clin+ed it a'ainst . 'ive (e a +e$board and I’( in heaven& So one thin' leads to another.6 Lu+e interrupted& 5We have a lot o) wor+ to do.anne.To show there were no hard )eelin's.

Sa( had chan'ed little& Lu+e noted that a )ew silver$ hairs had been allowed to 'lint at his te(ples. and $ou’ll be eatin' all $our (eals throu'h a straw&6 5I thin+ she li+ed (e&6 Stars 'littered behind the thic+ lenses& 5I thin+ she was de)initel$ s(itten&6 5*hec+ $our 'lands.6 Lu+e (uttered& 5That’s the proble(&6 27 It was perhaps the (ost di))icult role he’d ever pla$ed& *ertainl$ it was the (ost i(portant& Ta+in' a detour on his wa$ )ro( 8&*& to 3ew Orleans. Lu+e& Trust (e&6 5I have to. the )ace o) )ear& It (i'ht have ran+led the pride. and su))ered his own s(all death& As he had )ive $ears be)ore. Lu+e arrived at the W$att estate in Tennessee with his hat in his hand. and 'o 'et $our tools& Let’s see how close $ou can co(e to W$att’s si'nature&6 5!ven his bro+er won’t +now the di))erence.5Ma+e one (ove in that direction. the pleadin'. and reven'e in his heart& He +new it had to be done. pal. she led hi( down the hallwa$ he re(e(bered and into the o))ice where he had once witnessed a (urder. the hu(ilit$. and waited& When the uni)or(ed (aid answered. Sa( sat behind his des+& This ti(e as well as the ele'ant )urnishin's there was an oversi:ed ca(pai'n poster on an easel& The photo'raphed s(ile )lashed with sincerit$ and char(& In bold letters outlined in red and blue the caption readE SAM W7ATT 1O# T!33!SS!! SAM W7ATT 1O# AM!#I*A In a cloisonnD bowl at the ed'e o) the des+ was a pile o) buttons )eaturin' the sa(e )ace. the sa(e senti(ent& As )or the candidate hi(sel). ah. but +eepin' the 3ouvelles sa)e well outdistanced the e'o& So he would wear a (as+—not the literal (as+ he’d worn o)) and on over the last )ive $ears—but one that would convince Sa( W$att to accept Lu+e’s return& At least te(poraril$& He needed onl$ a )ew (onths& At the end o) it he would have ever$thin' he wanted& Or he would have nothin'& He +noc+ed. Lu+e duc+ed his head and swallowed audibl$& 5I. )aint lines crin+led beside his e$es as he s(iled& . 1inestein.pectin' (e& I’( *allahan& Lu+e *allahan&6 A)ter a bris+ nod. Mr& W$att’s e.

averted his e$es& 53o. bleedin'& The ru' was new& An Italian anti/ue he’d purchased with his wi)e’s (one$& 5I don’t suppose $ou’ve )or'otten what happened here96 53o&6 Lu+e pressed his lips to'ether. *allahan9 Lose $our taste )or brand$9 8on’t worr$&6 Sa( toasted. Lu+e let the brand$ slosh in his 'lass as he (ee+l$ obe$ed& 53ow & & &6 Sa( leaned a'ainst the corner o) the des+. Lu+e thou'ht. then leaned bac+. Sa( shoo+ his head& 52etween $ou and (e it can never be lon' enou'h& "erhaps I didn’t (a+e ($sel) clear enou'h—what has it been9 1ive $ears a'o& It was ri'ht here in this sa(e roo(. Sa( rose& 5I suppose I should o))er $ou a drin+&6 He wal+ed deliberatel$ to the brand$ decanter. well. still 'rinnin'. I haven’t )or'otten&6 5I believe I told $ou e.actl$ what I would do i) $ou ca(e bac+& What would happen to $ou. and what would happen to the 3ouvelles&6 As i) struc+ with a notion. I’( all ears&6 *huc+lin'. and his e$es 'lea(ed as he turned bac+& 51or old ti(es’ sa+e&6 Lu+e (erel$ stared at the o))ered sni)ter while his breath ca(e /uic+ and loud& 5I reall$ don’t—6 5What’s the (atter. (aster to do'& While the )ire burned bri'ht in his blood.6 he said to the (aid. Sa( li)ted a )in'er. hu'el$& %er$ (uch. when the door shut behind her& 5*allahan—$ou loo+ re(ar+abl$ well&6 57ou loo+ & & & success)ul&6 57es&6 In an old habit. the prodi'al returns& That will be all. Sa( turned his wrist so he could ad(ire the 'old cu)) lin+s win+in' at his cu))s& 5I (ust sa$ $our call $esterda$ surprised (e a 'reat deal& I didn’t thin+ $ou had the nerve&6 Lu+e strai'htened his shoulders in what he +new would appear to be a piti)ul atte(pt at bravado& 5I have a proposition )or $ou&6 5Oh. s(ilin'& 5What (a+es $ou thin+ I’d let $ou co(e bac+&6 5I thou'ht & & &6 Lu+e dran+ as i) to bolster his coura'e& 5I hoped that it had been lon' enou'h&6 5Oh no&6 #evelin' in the power. then dran+ deepl$& 5I don’t have to doctor $our drin+ to 'et what I want out o) $ou this ti(e& Sit&6 It was an order. as a spider (i'ht when he spotted a )l$ stru''lin' )eebl$ in the web& 5Well. wasn’t it9 Isn’t that interestin'96 Idl$ he wandered to the spot where *obb had sprawled. tapped it a'ainst his lips& 5Or perhaps $ou’ve lost $our enchant(ent with the .And he did s(ile.

s(o+in' was a liabilit$& He (i'ht have been well ahead in the polls.pect $ou to care& I hoped that since it would be )or such a short ti(e& A couple o) (onths&6 Lu+e loo+ed up a'ain. *allahan& #ich. is reall$ ill& He (a$ not live lon'& I’( onl$ as+in' $ou to let (e spend a (onth or so with hi(&6 5How touchin'&6 Sa( (oved behind the des+ a'ain& Openin' a drawer he too+ out a ci'arette& He allowed hi(sel) onl$ )ive a da$. lon' ti(e with his (ind ve'etatin'. send the( all i) it co(es to that& Includin' the wo(an $ou once loved&6 5I don’t want an$thin' to happen to the(& There’s no need )or $ou to ta+e an$ o) this out on the(&6 As i) to stead$ his tre(blin' voice. too+ one deep satis)$in' dra'& 5Wh$ in hell should I care96 5I +now—I don’t e. he (used& A pit$ he couldn’t rela. his bod$ shrivelin' and the entire situation pullin' the heart out o) his )a(il$&6 . success)ul. but he wasn’t a (an to ta+e chances with his i(a'e& 5So. and onl$ in private& In toda$’s political cli(ate. had lost his identit$& 57ou have ever$thin' $ou want&6 Lu+e +ept his shoulders slu(ped& 5I’( onl$ as+in' )or a )ew wee+s&6 57ou )i'ure that’s all the old (an has le)t in hi(96 Sa( si'hed. who I was& 7ou too+ (e in out o) pit$ and tossed (e out in dis'ust& And $ou thou'ht $ou were better& 7ou were nothin' but co((on thieves. ad(ired and on ($ wa$ to the top&6 Lu+e had to re(ind hi(sel) o) the plan. his e$es )ull o) pleas& 5I don’t see how it could (atter to $ou&6 57ou’re wron'& !ver$thin' about $ou.6 he added /uic+l$& 5Sa(. even without a countr$. and tipped bac+ his brand$& 5A pit$& I actuall$ hope he lives a lon' ti(e $et. the satis)action o) a clever stin'& Otherwise he (i'ht have leaped up then and there and twisted Sa(’s nec+& 2ecause part o) what Sa( had said was true& Lu+e had no ho(e& And Ma. nearl$ cho+in' hi(& It was the hate that had ripened with it which +ept his voice clear& 52ut $ou weren’t.3ouvelles a)ter such a lon' separation& 7ou (i'ht not care that I can send the old (an to prison. the lon' ter(. were $ou96 he continued& 57ou’re le)t without a ho(e. a lon'. $ou want to spend ti(e with the old (an while he dies&6 Sa( li'hted the ci'arette. none o) $ou. reco'ni:ed what I had. and the 3ouvelles are saddled with a pathetic old (an who can’t re(e(ber his own na(e& 2ut here I a(. Lu+e too+ another sip& It was da(n 'ood brand$. enou'h to en-o$ it& 5I -ust want a chance to co(e ho(e—onl$ )or a little while. but $ou thou'ht $ou were better than (e&6 The old an'er reared up. Ma. ever$thin' about the 3ouvelles will alwa$s (atter to (e& 8o $ou +now wh$96 His )ierce 'rin spread into a snarl& 57ou.

interest 'roups can whine the(selves into oblivion& In the ne. li+e an evan'elist who is bent on savin' souls& Lu+e watched in silence while Sa( drew hi(sel) in& Sooner or later he would snap. *allahan& The$ want Sa( W$att& A)ter I’( )inished with hi(. *allahan.6 Sa( snapped& His e$es went wide and bri'ht& 58o $ou want to see the )uc+in' nu(bers9 The people o) this state want (e. the 'loss$ politician’s s(ile that lured voters& 5I +now all about Al:hei(er’s& More than $ou (i'ht i(a'ine& As I was inspired b$ Ma.6 Lu+e blurted out& 5Surel$ $ou could use a (illion dollars to (a+e sure& I onl$ want a little ti(e in e.i(illian 3ouvelle or an$ o) the others li+e hi(& Turnips don’t vote& 2ut don’t worr$. then )ocused bac+ on Lu+e as he ta(ped it out& 52ut I don’t i(a'ine $ou’re interested in politics or the )ate o) a nation& 7our interests are (ore personal&6 5I (ade so(e (one$ over the last )ew $ears&6 Wantin' Sa( to see nerves. co(plete control. part o) ($ plat)or( has been lendin' a s$(pathetic. openin' hi(sel) to the one (an Sa( was certain could do nothin' to har( hi(& 5The Senate seat’s onl$ the ne. once I’( elected. and all those whinin' special. and the 3ouvelles&6 5Mone$96 8eli'hted. scatterin' ash& 5I’( winnin'&6 5A (illion dollars.t centur$ A(ericans will learn that the$ have a leader who understands control and power& A leader who +nows how to use both and isn’t a)raid o) ta+in' so(e losses when he does&6 His voice had risen. Sa( threw bac+ his head and lau'hed& 58o I loo+ li+e I need $our (one$9 Have $ou an$ idea how (uch I ra+e in ever$ (onth in ca(pai'n contributions9 That’s over and above what I have )ro( ($ lovel$ wi)e&6 52ut i) $ou had (ore $ou—$ou could increase $our television ca(pai'n. let (e tell $ou so(ethin'. en-o$in' the iron$ o) the word& 5We’ll continue to (a+e pro(ises—even +eep a )ew o) the(—about research and state )undin'. I don’t 'ive a da(n about Ma. or whatever it too+ to (a+e sure the election went $our wa$&6 5It’s 'oin' ($ wa$.t step—the ne. Lu+e (oistened his lips& 5I’ll pa$ $ou. the$ wouldn’t elect *urtis 0unner do' catcher& I’( winnin'&6 He slapped his hands on the des+. Lu+e (used& 0od help us all i) W$att had an$ buttons under his thu(b when he did& Sa( drew on the ci'arette a'ain.chan'e& Then I’ll disappear a'ain& !ven i) I wanted to . and I’ll have won it all& Once I have control. we’ll continue the & & & illusion. even a co(passionate ear to )a(ilies dealin' with the care and )eedin' o) loved ones with (inds li+e a turnip& Ah!6 He lau'hed at the sudden )lash in Lu+e’s e$es& 5That o))ends $ou& Insults $our sensibilities& Well. thin's will be run ($ wa$& The bleedin' hearts will be bled dr$. 'ive $ou whatever $ou want )or a )ew wee+s with Ma.6 he decided.t step toward the White House& Another decade.He s(iled suddenl$. because I +now how to plan )or the lon' ter(&6 He settled bac+ and let hi(sel) pro-ect.’s predica(ent.

and a s(all bo$ na(ed 3athaniel& 5And did she catch $ou up on the hi'hli'hts o) her li)e durin' $our absence96 5She would barel$ spea+ to (e. I thou'ht so& A (illion dollars.ploit whatever advanta'es ca(e $our wa$& 5So $ou’ve seen her&6 5In 8&*& I went to her show&6 1ear radiated )ro( hi( as he 'lanced up& 5Onl$ )or a (o(ent& I couldn’t stop ($sel)&6 5And $our course o) true love hit another bu(p96 3othin' could have pleased hi( (ore& 2ut he wondered. i) I tried.anne su))er be)ore—and i)—she told hi(& And i) she did. she isn’t about to )or'ive (e&6 2etter and better. because he +new /uite a bit about #o.sta$. a)ter all.ust how did $ou (ana'e to accu(ulate so (uch96 5I & & &6 With a hand that shoo+. in his voice.ust as it was i(portant to e. Sa( thou'ht& He didn’t +now about the child& How (uch would #o. he reali:ed.plain wh$ I le)t. (ore en-o$able to watch people su))er than to i(a'ine it& And it appeared he could be paid )or bein' entertained& 5A (illion dollars9 . #o. Lu+e leaned )orward& 5I’ll have the (one$ within a wee+& I can brin' it to $ou wherever $ou sa$&6 5The (one$ will have to wait until a)ter the election& I’ll want ($ accountant to )ind a nice sa)e channel )or it& In the (eanti(e I have wor+ )or $ou& It’ll bu$ $ou the ti(e $ou want so badl$&6 . and since I can’t e. as i) )ate had handed hi( another tool& 5I believe we (i'ht be able to (a+e a deal&6 With ea'erness in his e$es.6 he repeated& 5I’ll have to thin+ about it& *a(pai'n )unds are so care)ull$ scrutini:ed these da$s& We wouldn’t want an$ hint o) 'ra)t or corruption to taint ($ i(a'e—especiall$ when 0unner pro)esses to be so s/uea+$ clean& I’d li+e to & & &6 He trailed o)) as a new idea dawned& It was so per)ect.anne.anne wouldn’t have (e&6 He bowed his head. how (uch (ore would Lu+e bleed in havin' to leave a'ain9 He considered it all )or a (o(ent& It see(ed to hi( that Lu+e’s return was (ore satis)$in' than his sta$in' awa$ alto'ether& It was. he nodded& 57es. a (an de)eated& 5She’s (ade that clear&6 5Has she96 Sa( dru((ed his )in'ers on the des+& He was cal( a'ain& He +new it was i(portant to sta$ cal(& . Lu+e set the brand$ aside& 5I per)or(ed&6 5Haven’t lost the (a'ic touch9 I i(a'ine $ou continued to steal as well&6 "leased b$ Lu+e’s 'uilt$ start.6 Lu+e whispered& 5I hurt her.

one can also plant&6 1oldin' his hands. isn’t it9 I want photos o) 0unner with other wo(en—with whores& And with other (en. then $ou pa$ )or it& 7ou put to'ether the )a+ed photos. we’ll sa$. $ou’ll pa$& The$’ll all pa$&6 5I don’t +now what $ou (ean&6 . ten da$s. personall$. uni(peachable&6 5I don’t +now how—6 5Then $ou’ll )ind a wa$&6 Sa(’s e$es 'littered& The power was here. or when the ti(e’s up. politicall$. photo'raphs. $es.6 he (ur(ured to hi(sel)& 5When this lea+s. *allahan. that sort o) thin'& And i) one can steal.pected& He’d counted on Sa(’s 'reed bein' enou'h& 5Whatever $ou want&6 57ou (i'ht recall a little incident called Water'ate& The bur'lars there were slopp$& 7ou’d have to be ver$ neat. he 'rinned& 5That’s what $ou’re best at. publicl$& 5*urtis 0unner is the happil$ (arried )ather o) two& His record in the State Senate is clean as a whistle& I want $ou to chan'e all that&6 5*han'e it9 How96 5Ma'ic&6 #estin' his chin on his )olded hands. he inclined his head& 5That 'ives $ou the sa(e a(ount o) ti(e with the 3ouvelles&6 5I’ll do whatever I can&6 57ou’ll do e. ver$ clever&6 Lu+e chan'ed 'ears and nodded& 57ou want (e to steal docu(ents96 5I have no wa$ o) +nowin' i) there are an$ docu(ents worth stealin'& 2ut a (an with $our connections should be able to (anu)acture papers. the papers. all here. ten da$s be)ore the election& 7es.It was a curve Lu+e hadn’t e. correspondence& I’ll 'ive $ou )ro( now until.actl$ as I sa$. Sa( inched )orward& It was so per)ect& With his new tool he would not si(pl$ win the election. with other (en&6 He had to press a hand to his side as 'idd$ lau'hter shoo+ hi( at the i(a'e& 5That will be even (ore interestin'& I want letters. papers docu(entin' his involve(ent in ille'al business deals. receipts. he would destro$ his opponent. others showin' he siphoned o)) wel)are (one$ )or personal use& That ou'ht to +ic+ his liberal ass& I want $ou to (a+e the( 'ood. he reali:ed& This ti(e he hadn’t even had to loo+ )or it& 57ou want to ta+e $our senti(ental -ourne$. I’ll want it )resh in the voters’ (inds as the$ wal+ behind the curtain to pull the lever&6 1eelin' 'enerous.

testin' the tip with his thu(b& 57ou satis)$ (e with the -ob I’( 'ivin' $ou& *o(pletel$ satis)$ (e& Or ever$thin' I threatened $ou with )ive $ears a'o will co(e true&6 57ou said i) I le)t $ou wouldn’t do an$thin' to the(&6 With one vicious stro+e he stabbed the tip o) the letter opener into the padded corner o) his blotter& 5And $ou put it all bac+ on the line b$ co(in' here& 7ou’ve tossed the dice a'ain. I’( -ust a peon. +nuc+led& 5I’ve also 'ot another -ob )or $ou&6 5Oh.e$ed and white. are ($ thin's on board96 57eah. who was alread$ pale.ust a lowl$ soldier behind the )ront lines. he hated )l$in'& Alwa$s had.a+e trailed Lu+e to the *essna& 5So. $eah& What happened with W$att9 Me. -ust a—6 5An asshole. he was certain. so96 8ancin' with i(patience.a+e strapped in. this dude don’t have a heart an$wa$&6 .handled letter opener. *allahan& What happens to the 3ouvelles depends on -ust how well $ou pla$& 4nderstood96 57eah& 7eah. 'ood& 7eah. . Lu+e cra((ed hi( into a coc+pit on the avera'e o) once a wee+& . 'lass$. shoved his 'lasses bac+ up his nose& It was obvious that Lu+e was in a dan'erous (ood—which (eant the short )li'ht to 3ew Orleans would be an event)ul one& As a precaution . 'reat&6 In sel).a+e closed his e$es when the plane’s nose li)ted& As he’d told Lu+e ti(e and ti(e a'ain.i. I understand&6 He was 'oin' to pla$. sure& .6 Lu+e )inished )or hi(& He cli(bed into the coc+pit and be'an to chec+ 'au'es& 5It went )ine.a+e downed 8ra(a(ine and %aliu( with what was le)t o) his war(in' oran'e soda& 5An$wa$. Lu+e thou'ht& And this ti(e. ri'ht96 5I 'ot it&6 Lu+e bro+e o)) to chec+ in with the tower and 'et the 'o. he 'lanced at .With a new s(ile pla$in' around his (outh.de)ense.a+e. he was 'oin' to win& 5So.6 he said when . Sa( li)ted his ivor$.a+e lapsed into o))ended silence& 5I) $ou consider the )act that I had to lower ($sel) to pla$in' the babblin' be''ar when what I wanted to do was cut out his heart&6 51ro( what I hear.ahead )or ta+eo))& As he be'an his ta. $ou 'ot the ti(e $ou need. . alwa$s would& Which was wh$.

Lu+e. ri'ht9 I +now $ou had to dance with the devil to bu$ the ti(e $ou need to put the screws to W$att& 2ut. business correspondence. puttin' this *urtis 0unner in a bad li'ht& Ille'al.5W$att’s deal included so(e creative (udslin'in'&6 As the plane continued its cli(b.’s )avorite classical (usic& . i) $ou haven’t noticed& 7ou do the -ob. papers. and do it 'ood—with -ust one s(all ad-ust(ent&6 .a+e si'hed& 5I said I was in )or the deal. had once shared was )ull$ e/uipped )or the care o) a patient with severe co'nitive i(pair(ent& #o. alwa$s would& 5It’s ri'ht up $our alle$&6 5Slin'in' (ud&6 *autious. plu(ped pillows and a wide selection o) Ma. it doesn’t see( /uite +osher&6 A)ter levelin' o)). but so.a+e opened one e$e& 5So what do I +now about slin'in' (ud96 5He wants doctored photo'raphs. a ph$sical therapist and a counselor (ade re'ular visits& 2ut there were also )resh )lowers. we 'ot nothin' a'ainst this 0unner 'u$.hour shi)ts. 1inestein. hell. Lu+e drew out a ci'ar& 5Li)e suc+s. $ou’re a /uic+ stud$. in her opinion. Lu+e )elt (ost o) his tension drainin' awa$& He loved )l$in'& Alwa$s had.anne had wor+ed closel$ with hospital sta)) and an interior decorator to be certain that her )ather’s environ(ent was sa)e and practical without havin' the at(osphere o) a hospital roo(& Monitors and (edicines were necessar$.a+e’s pale )ace cleared into a drea($ s(ile& The %aliu( was ta+in' hold& 53ow I 'et it& 3ow I 'et it& A double cross&6 5*hrist. what’s the ad-ust(ent96 Lu+e cla(ped the ci'ar between his teeth and 'rinned& 57ou don’t do it on 0unner. had alwa$s loved& A tea( o) three nurses had ei'ht. 1inestein&6 His 'rin was still widenin' as Lu+e ban+ed the plane and headed )or ho(e& 2 The bedroo( Lil$ and Ma. were the bri'ht colors and so)t (aterials Ma. $ou do it on W$att&6 5On W$att9 2ut $ou said & & &6 . . unethical and i((oral docu(ents—the +ind that lose elections and brea+ up )a(ilies. destro$ lives&6 5Shit. so I’( in& 7ou’ll 'et the stu))—and it’ll be hot enou'h to burn&6 5I’( countin' on it&6 5So.

anne’s ar( brie)l$ as she le)t the roo(& 5Hello. to hear the (uted strains o) *hopin as she stepped into her )ather’s roo(& It no lon'er ripped so viciousl$ at her heart when he didn’t reco'ni:e her& She’d co(e to accept that there would be 'ood da$s. seein' hi( sittin' at his des+. so thin she o)ten wondered how the )ra'ile s+in withheld the pressure o) bone& 5It’s a prett$ da$& Have $ou loo+ed outside9 All o) Le*lerc’s )lowers are bloo(in'. and such a trooper even Lil$ isn’t nervous around hi( an$(ore&6 She continued to tal+.shi)t #&3& sat b$ the window readin'& She set the boo+ aside and s(iled at #o. watchin' his twisted )in'ers stru''le to (anipulate the balls& Once he could have snapped his )in'ers and (ade )ire. (uch less en'a'e in a real conversation& 5We too+ 3ate to the :oo& He -ust loved it& I didn’t thin+ I’d ever 'et hi( out o) the sna+e house& He’s 'ettin' so bi'. she could )eel so(e s(all seed o) relie)& Toda$.anne to hire her& She he)ted her sturd$ bul+ out o) the chair and touched #o. and +ind e$es& It had been the e$es (ore than the e. 8add$& So(eti(es I loo+ at hi( and can hardl$ believe he’s (ine& .anne crossed to the des+.perience that had pro(pted #o. not e.ed with bars and had hun' new lace curtains instead& Her )ather (i'ht be a prisoner o) his illness. but it was best not to thin+ o) that& 5The per)or(ance went well& The )inale was especiall$ s(ooth& Oscar’s 'otten to be /uite a ha(.pectin' a response& It was a rare da$ when Ma. he was content& 50ood (ornin'. 8add$&6 #o. but she wouldn’t (a+e hi( one in his own ho(e& It pleased her to see the sunli'ht strea(in' throu'h the lace at the windows.anne& 5Mr& 3ouvelle’s ta+in' so(e practice ti(e be)ore his therap$&6 5Than+ $ou. Miss 3ouvelle&6 The )irst. bent to +iss her )ather’s chee+& It was too thin.A special loc+ had been installed on the terrace doors to prevent hi( )ro( wanderin' out alone& #o. and Mouse )i.anne had coldl$ dis(issed one doctor’s advice to have the windows )i. Mrs& 1lec+& I) $ou’d li+e to ta+e a brea+ )or ten or )i)teen (inutes. would stop whatever he was doin' to loo+ at her.ed the )ountain in the court$ard& Ma$be $ou’d li+e to sit down there later and listen to it&6 5I have to practice&6 5I +now&6 She stood with a hand li'ht on his shoulder. and there would be bad ones& 3ow. Le*lerc has )resh co))ee on&6 5I could probabl$ )orce so(e down&6 Mrs& 1lec+ had twent$ $ears as a nurse. patientl$ shi)tin' spon'e balls between his )in'ers.

and it’s so scar$&6 Ma.anne too+ her )ather’s restless hands& 5He’s -ust )ine& I’( 'oin' to see hi( in a little while& Would $ou want (e to brin' hi( to $ou96 53ot when I’( practicin'&6 Ma. (uttered& 5I want to see hi( when he’s out o) the bo. then crouched so that her e$es were on a level with Ma.’s 'a:e s+ittered awa$ )ro( hers. li+e a spider see+in' a corner to spin a web& 2ut she was patient and waited until he loo+ed at her a'ain& 58id $ou worr$ all the ti(e96 she as+ed so)tl$& 5In the bac+ o) $our (ind.anne it was li+e watchin' the sun co(e up over the desert& 57ou’re ver$ prett$. was alread$ involved with s/uee:in' the spon'e balls into his pal(s& .to. stro+in' her hair& 5I have to practice now& Would $ou li+e to co(e to the per)or(ance and watch (e saw a wo(an in hal)96 57es&6 She watched hi( wor+ the balls with his )in'ers& 5That would be nice&6 She waited a (o(ent& 5Lu+e’s bac+. under and over all the da$. crac+ed& 5I need to practice& How can I 'et it ri'ht i) I don’t practice96 5All ri'ht. his s(ile turnin' into a )rown o) concentration& 5Lu+e.’s as she passed it bac+ to hi(& Ma. petulant and de(andin'& 58id he 'et out96 57es&6 #o.6 he said. does it9 Havin' a child is so wonder)ul. 8add$&6 He continued to wor+ the balls.’s s(ile bloo(ed slowl$& 1or #o. (a+e the wron' choice9 It never 'ets easier.96 Ma.anne 'athered up the balls and set the( within reach on the des+& 5I want to see hi(.’s voice pitched hi'her.da$ business o) livin'9 Were $ou alwa$s a)raid $ou’d do the wron' thin'. when I was 'rowin' up9 8id $ou ever -ust loo+ and )eel sort o) da:ed all over and wonder how that person ca(e )ro( $ou96 One o) the balls bounced onto the )loor& #o.8id $ou ever )eel that wa$. bouncin'& His voice rose. sa$ the wron' thin'.&6 5I’ll brin' hi(&6 She +issed the thin chee+ a'ain.6 Ma. but Ma.’s )acial (uscles be'an to twitch& The balls scattered.anne bent to retrieve it. 8add$&6 To cal( hi(.6 he said a)ter a lon' pause& And a'ain& 5Lu+e&6 57es& He’d li+e to see $ou& Is it all ri'ht i) I let hi( visit96 58id he 'et out o) that bo. #o.

si:ed 1errari& She slipped it into her poc+et. because his proposition intri'ued her and because unless he’d chan'ed dra(aticall$ in the last )ive $ears.anne held open& 58oes he still do all the 'ardenin' hi(sel)96 Lu+e as+ed as the$ crossed the )lower. so obviousl$ pleased to have the prodi'al ho(e. but +ept her )in'ers over it.ust as there were certain steps to ta+e toward a -ob. thin+in' o) the child whose )in'ers 'uided it on races across the ru' or lon' rides over the bric+ court$ard& The child who was even now in his preschool class en-o$in' the (ornin' with his current best )riends& *ould she i'nore Lu+e’s tie to the child he didn’t +now e. she had her strate'$ (apped out& Lu+e was bac+> she couldn’t i'nore that& 3or would she i'nore his tie to Ma.cept there was 3athaniel& Stoopin' on the second to the last step. *allahan. snatchin' another pastr$ )ro( the bas+et on the table& 5I’ll -ust ta+e one )or the road&6 He win+ed at Le*lerc be)ore strollin' out the door #o. or openin' the securest sa)e& So she would use hi( )or her own ends. so obviousl$ read$ to )or'ive and )or'et that #o. we (i'ht 'et to wor+&6 5#ead$ when $ou are&6 He rose. than+ $ou&6 She +new her voice was cold.isted9 Was this an illusion she should (aintain )or the rest o) her li)e9 More ti(e. sittin' at the table as he had so o)ten throu'hout his li)e. he was the best& On sta'e. there were steps to ta+e with Lu+e& She would wor+ with hi( because it suited her.dec+ed court$ard& .anne wal+ed downstairs.When #o. loo+in' ri'ht at ho(e with a cup o) co))ee in one hand and the last powder$ bite o) a bei'net in the other& Le*lerc was lau'hin'. $our co))ee&6 53o.& 2ut that didn’t (ean she wouldn’t watch hi( li+e a haw+ when she allowed a visit& .anne pic+ed up a tot. she assured hersel) as she headed bac+ to the +itchen& She needed (ore ti(e& It didn’t help her peace o) (ind to )ind Lu+e there. and )elt a sli'ht pan' when Le*lerc’s e$es shi)ted )ro( hers& 8a(n it. ta+e her share o) the pro)its and wal+ awa$& !. #o.anne beca(e onl$ (ore deter(ined to do neither& 5<uite a tric+. did the$ e.pect her to hire a brass band9 5I) $ou’ve )inished $our petite d$)euner. the wa$ $ou slip throu'h the crac+s&6 He ac+nowled'ed her and the -ob with an eas$ s(ile& 5One o) the )ive thin's I (issed (ost while I was awa$ was Le*lerc’s coo+in'&6 5This bo$ was a wal+in' appetite alwa$s& Sit. little 'irl& I )i.

scatterin' powdered su'ar& 5Ma$be a little stron' on the )e(inine side&6 5#eall$96 Her brow arched& She pic+ed up a silver da''er with a -eweled hilt she used as a prop& 5I suppose $ou’d pre)er struttin' across the sta'e beatin' $our chest and )le.anne’s hand as she reached )or the door+nob o) the wor+roo(& 5I don’t suppose $ou could understand.6 he (ur(ured& 52ut $ou’ve pulled a switch& 7ou loo+ the sa(e. babe& There is a (isco((unication& Has. -ust the sa(e&6 5And that (a+es it eas$ )or $ou&6 He wished he could bla(e her )or twistin' the +ni)e so e. lon' tables and clusters o) (a'ic& 5So. #o.&6 5Have I96 She turned& He was closer than she would have li+ed. touches o) )lash. sound the sa(e& I i(a'ine i) I could ta+e $ou into bed.5Occasionall$ he lets—6 3ate& 5One o) us help. coverin' #o.beens have co(ebac+s& I’ve been bu''in' their e$es out in !urope&6 . the sounds. but I was a)raid the$ would have chan'ed& 2ut when I was sittin' in the +itchen -ust now.anne tapped the blade a'ainst her pal(& 5I thin+ we have a (isco((unication here.in' $our (uscles&6 5I thin+ we can co(e to a happ$ (ediu(&6 Leanin' a hip a'ainst the table. #o.actl$ who I want to be&6 She twisted the +nob and pushed the door open& 5I’( who I (ade ($sel)&6 She hit the li'hts and )looded the bi' wor+roo( with its colored trun+s.$96 5I’( e. but I a( and will re(ain in char'e o) the sta'in'&6 5M$ co(ebac+&6 He ran his ton'ue across his teeth& 57ou’re ri'ht about one thin'. but she wouldn’t crin'e awa$. *allahan& I’( the show& I’( per)ectl$ willin' to let $ou sta'e $our co(ebac+ as part o) the diversion. but $ou’ve clic+ed that one little switch&6 With his e$es on hers he passed a hand over her )ace& 53ow there’s another wo(an superi(posed over the one I re(e(ber& Which one are $ou. or $earn )orward& Instead she stood strai'ht and s(iled cooll$& 5There was a ti(e I could read ever$thin' on $our )ace. #o. $ou’d )eel the sa(e. it was the wa$ it alwa$s was& The s(ells.6 she )inished& 52ut he’s still a t$rant about his roses&6 5He hardl$ loo+s older& I was a)raid&6 He paused. $ou saw the show& 7ou should have a 'ood idea how I wor+ now& The basic st$le is ele'ance. the )eel o) it.pertl$& 53ot entirel$& 7ou’ve chan'ed. $ou s(ell the sa(e. but alwa$s with 'race and )luidit$&6 57eah. real prett$&6 Lu+e bit into the bei'net.

anne 3ouvelle&’ 6 She tossed her head so that her hair swun' out and bac+& 5With a special appearance b$ *allahan&6 5At least $our e'o hasn’t chan'ed& "artners.anne&6 Leavin' it at that. #o. a (ultiplication bit I’ve been wor+in' on. he wal+ed over to one o) the bri'htl$ painted trun+s& It was as tall as he and sectioned into three e/ual parts& 5I want to wor+ in an escape. I’( not wastin' ti(e with $our pett$ bullshit&6 5"ett$9 7ou want to tal+ pett$96 She swun' toward hi( and drove the +ni)e into his heart& The loo+ o) stupe)action on his )ace had her )allin' bac+ a'ainst the table. what a suc+er&6 5*ute&6 He rubbed his chest where the tric+ +ni)e had thudded& The heart beneath it had stopped dead& 5#eal cute& 3ow do $ou want to 'et down to business. and it runs an hour )ort$. which we do to'ether&6 57ou’re ta+in' Oscar’s place96 When he 'ave her a blan+ loo+. she pic+ed up three balls to -u''le& 5Is that all96 . *allahan& I do a )inale with the cat&6 5We’ll shi)t that to the last act be)ore inter(ission&6 5Who the hell put $ou in char'e96 5It’s ($ 'i'. or do $ou want to pla$96 5Sure.)ive& I’( willin' to 'ive $ou )i)teen o) it&6 5I’ll have )i)t$—includin' ten (inutes )or the )inale. #o. runnin' a )in'ertip alon' the tip& 53ow as I see it. 'linted& 57ou want to put down that +ni)e and sa$ that96 She onl$ s(iled. I’ll be a 'entle(an about it& 2ut the si'n reads ?3ouvelle and *allahan&’ 6 She (oved a shoulder& 5We’ll ne'otiate&6 5Loo+.scale illusion and a transportation&6 To 'ive her hands so(ethin' to do.5Isn’t it sweet how so (an$ o) those tin$ villa'es still )loc+ to sideshows96 His e$es narrowed. one lar'e. doubled over with lau'hter& 50od.anne&6 He stepped closer& 57ou want top billin'. we’re doin' a one. she s(iled& 5The cat.onl$& The prepublicit$ should 'ive us enou'h )or a sellout& ?One 3i'ht o) Ma'ic with #o. we’ll 'et down to business&6 She set the +ni)e aside then propped hersel) up on the table& 5It’s ($ show. ni'ht.

but she batted the( aside& 50et used to it&6 5I don’t 'ive a da(n where $ou live& This is business. . #o.6 he said& 5That’s what pisses $ou o))&6 He held up a hand )or peace& 5Wh$ don’t we see how we (ana'e this9 Mouse and . and—6 5Hold it&6 1ired up.&6 He sailed the balls toward her. /uic+ as a sna+e. or we can use the house I -ust bou'ht&6 5Oh96 She hated the )act that she was interested& 5I )i'ured $ou’d bun+ at a hotel&6 5I li+e ($ own space& It’s a 'ood.shot deal at that& 8on’t 'et it into $our head that $ou’re co(in' bac+ on the tea(&6 5I’( alread$ on it. she swun' bac+& 57ou +now ver$ well what I (ean& He’s my )a(il$& He’s my tea(& 7ou 'ave that up&6 He nodded& 5I 'ave a lot up& 7ou want to (a+e it personal& 1ine& I spent )ive $ears doin' without ever$thin' that (attered to (e& 2ecause it (attered to (e& 3ow I’( ta+in' it . he tossed it in a(on' the three& She pic+ed up the )ourth ball without blin+in' an e$e& 5I want to do a variation on the broo(stic+ illusion we did on the cruise& I’ve 'ot (ost o) the +in+s wor+ed out alread$& I’d li+e to start rehearsin' as soon as possible&6 57ou’d li+e a lot o) thin's&6 57eah&6 He stepped )orward and. and a one. slipped his hands under hers to ta+e the balls& 5The tric+’s )i'urin' out when to (ove and when to wait&6 He 'rinned at her throu'h the circlin' balls& 5We can rehearse here.a+e ca(e over with (e& He and Mouse went o)) to tal+ electronics&6 5I’( not havin' this&6 She shoved hi( aside so that she had a clear )ield to pace& 5All ri'ht9 I’( not havin' it& 3o wa$ $ou’re walt:in' bac+ here and ta+in' over& I’ve been runnin' thin's )or over three $ears& !ver since Ma.si:ed house in the 0arden 8istrict& Since I haven’t bothered (uch with )urniture $et.53o. the )inale’s separate&6 He turned bac+. pic+ed up another ball& 0au'in' her rh$th(. she shoved o)) the table& 5What do $ou (ean the$ have their heads to'ether96 5I (ean. we’d have plent$ o) roo(&6 57et96 5I’( bac+.a+e alread$ have their heads to'ether over the securit$ an'le.—ever since he couldn’t an$(ore& Mouse is (ine&6 5I didn’t reali:e he’d beco(e propert$ since I’d le)t&6 1urious.

the wa$ his (outh slanted over hers. his taste.anne. he thou'ht as he 'rabbed her b$ the shoulders& 5!ver$ last bit o) it& 3othin'’s 'oin' to stop (e&6 She could have pulled awa$& She could have scratched and bit and )ou'ht her wa$ )ree& 2ut she didn’t& So(ethin' in his e$es. the pale s+in. on the table where (a'ic had been con-ured )or a 'eneration& On the )loor where enchanter’s dust la$ scattered& Here and now& And i) he did. it’s the sa(e between us& 7ou +now it&6 53o. i) he too+ bac+ what had been lost to hi(.cite(ent that le)t her bod$ strainin' ur'entl$ toward )ul)ill(ent& 2ut it was not the sa(e& !ven as her ar(s cla(ped around hi( she could )eel that he was leaner& As i) he’d ta+en a blade and ruthlessl$ hac+ed hi(sel) down to (uscle and bone& 2eneath the ph$sical she could sense other chan'es& This Lu+e wouldn’t lau'h as /uic+l$. #o. with control. with courtship. wishin'& 5Tell (e $ou don’t )eel it&6 1urious and )rantic.$& All o) it&6 The hell with caution. Lu+e& With nothin' else ever a'ain&6 .cept hi(sel)& 5It’s the sa(e&6 He tore his (outh )ro( hers to bur$ it a'ainst her throat& 58a(n it. how she wanted hi( still& How she wanted to blan+ out ti(e and space and si(pl$ be a'ain& It was so (uch as it had been. he’d than+ 0od )or it& He let his (ind wallow in the thou'ht while his hands (olded the bod$ that (elted so per)ectl$ a'ainst his& She was the onl$ one& The alwa$s one& There was nothin' and no one to stop hi( )ro( clai(in' her a'ain& !. #o. oh. how she wanted hi( still& He could ta+e her there. it’s not&6 7et she clun' to hi( still. rest as easil$ or love as sweetl$& 2ut. as i) b$ shoutin' she could convince hersel)& 5What (atters is what is& I’ll trust $ou onsta'e& I’ll even trust $ou on the -ob& 2ut nowhere else. too wide )or tears& Those old. that whip. a lon'in' too deep )or words. care)ull$ buried needs )ou'ht their wa$ up so that she answered 'reed with 'reed& Oh. he (i'ht )ind his salvation& He (i'ht )ind his peace& 2ut even i) it brou'ht hi( hell and chaos. the swollen (outh& 5Tell (e $ou don’t )eel what we do to each other&6 5It doesn’t (atter what I )eel&6 Her voice rose. he dra''ed her bac+ to stud$ her )ace& He saw what he needed to see there—the heav$ e$es. pulsin' e./uic+.bac+. so(ethin' wild and desperatel$ unhapp$ +ept her rooted to the spot even when he crushed his (outh to hers& She tasted the )ur$ and the )rustration and so(ethin' (ore.

steppin' to her a'ain. he too+ her chin in his hand& 5Where did $ou 'o96 5I -ust don’t have ti(e to wor+ it in toda$&6 57ou +now that’s not what I (eant&6 . 'ivin' hersel) ti(e )or two stead$in' breaths& 5All ri'ht. he s(iled& 58epends on the /uestion&6 5The /uestion is. no ba''a'e&6 He )elt li+e so(eone was +neadin' the (uscles in his 'ut as i) the$ were bread dou'h& 58ecide now&6 She nearl$ lau'hed& There was so (uch o) the old Lu+e in the co((and& 5Se. but this ti(e she slapped a hand on his chest& 5Is this $our answer )or ever$thin'96 2ecause whether she +new it or not the$’d (ade pro'ress. *allahan&6 5Me too&6 With a lau'h. she roc+ed bac+ on her heels. darin' hi(& 5I can i) $ou can&6 58eal&6 He too+ her hand& 52ut I’( 'oin' to 'et $ou into bed alon' the wa$& So. co(bin' the( throu'h& 5I’ll ta+e what’s le)t&6 57ou’re waitin' )or (e to sa$ I want $ou&6 She pulled awa$. is so(ethin' I’( cautious about&6 She sent hi( a level loo+& 5And that’s all it would be&6 57ou’re cautious. wh$ don’t $ou co(e to ($ place& We can & & & rehearse&6 5I ta+e rehearsals seriousl$.6 he (ur(ured.5Then I’ll do without trust&6 He dipped his )in'ers in her hair. no pro(ises. and (a$be I’ll decide to act on it& 3o strin's. 5because $ou’re a)raid it would be a whole lot (ore&6 He tilted his head down to +iss her a'ain. I want $ou. can we pull o)) a co(plicated series o) -obs while our hor(ones are hu((in'96 She s(iled bac+. and dipped her hands in her poc+ets& Her )in'ers brushed the little car. and she re(e(bered& Too (uch& The s(ile died out o) her e$es& 5We’ll (a+e it to(orrow&6 5What is it96 1rustrated that the shutter had dropped between the( a'ain.

and the e(otional ones& 2ut he hadn’t +nown how badl$ it would hurt to see the (an.than. that lar'er. -ust because $ou weren’t here&6 When he pressed a +iss to the top o) her head she s/uee:ed her e$es ti'htl$ shut& 2ut the$ were dr$ when she opened the(& 5He’s 'one so(ewhere he has to be& That’s how I deal with it& He isn’t in pain. do $ou96 she said wearil$& She turned awa$.’s )ace )or si'ns o) reco'nition& He le)t onl$ when Lil$ ca(e in and 'entl$ told hi( that it was ti(e )or Ma.’s e. scrape and claw at (e all $ou want& 2ut don’t punish (e that wa$&6 57ou don’t +now (e at all. lean hand& 50ood hands& Have to practice&6 He 'rinned suddenl$& 57ou have potential&6 5I’ll be bac+.ercise& 5I’ll co(e bac+&6 Lu+e put his hand over Ma. so old and so lost& He sta$ed )or an hour.6 Lu+e said a'ain and wal+ed blindl$ toward the door& He )ound #o. and close until he’s read$ to 'o awa$ co(pletel$&6 . even when there was no response. so shrun+en. leanin' into hi(& 5There’s no one to bla(e& I tried that route at )irst& 8octors. in the sunn$ roo( with Mo:art pla$in'& He tal+ed endlessl$. )ate.anne down in the )ront parlor. #o. Lu+e& 0ive (e the address. had read ever$thin' he could )ind on Al:hei(er’s& He’d been sure he’d been prepared )or the ph$sical chan'es. said.5I have a ri'ht to ($ privac$.6 Ma.’s and )elt the thread$ pulse in the narrow wrist& 5I’ve 'ot a couple o) new bits $ou (i'ht li+e to see&6 5Have to practice.&6 His te(per tripped when she hesitated& 50odda((it. wrappin' his ar( around her waist. thou'h so(eti(es I’( so a)raid there’s a deeper +ind o) pain I can’t see& 2ut I +now how luc+$ we are to be able to +eep hi( ho(e.li)e )i'ure )ro( his bo$hood. 0od& !ven $ou.$&6 When he stepped behind her. and I’ll be there to(orrow (ornin'& To rehearse&6 51ine&6 He dropped his hand& 5We’ll pla$ it $our wa$& 1or now& There’s one (ore thin' be)ore I 'o&6 5What96 5Let (e see Ma. watchin' the street throu'h the window& 5I’( sorr$. and he searched Ma.’s condition. but 'ave )or a (o(ent. she didn’t ob-ect. starin' down at Lu+e’s stron'. wal+ed to the door& 5I’ll ta+e $ou up to hi(&6 He’d +nown it would be bad& Lu+e had 'athered all the snippets )ro( the press on Ma.

what I’d do )or hi( i) I could&6 53o& 3o. the lon' sorrow)ul stares she )elt behind her bac+& The$ didn’t understand& She could tell hersel) that and )or'ive the(—or nearl$& 3one o) the( had ever )ound the(selves pre'nant and deserted and alone& Well. $ou don’t&6 She let out a lon' breath& 5I’ll need $ou to let (e +now when $ou’d li+e to co(e& 8roppin' in unannounced disrupts his routine&6 51or chrissa+e. #o. perhaps not reall$ alone. but I have to believe it’s 'ood )or hi(& 7ou were—are—a bi' part o) his li)e&6 5I don’t have to tell $ou how I )eel about hi(. li+e toda$& So(eti(e between nine and eleven&6 When 3athaniel was sa)el$ in preschool& 5That wa$ we can set rehearsals )or the a)ternoon&6 51ine&6 He strode toward the door& 58raw (e up a 'odda(n schedule&6 #o. I need to set the rules.5I don’t want to lose hi(&6 5I +now&6 4nderstandin' was too deep )or her to prevent a reachin' out& She li)ted a hand to the one on her shoulder and lin+ed )in'ers& Where Ma. #o.anne su))ered )ro( the disapproval o) her )a(il$& The$ didn’t sa$ she was wron'& There were no lectures. I’( -ust 'oin' to set the boundaries& 7ou’re welco(e here& Ma. a ho(e and un/uestionin' support& 2ut none o) it (ade up )or what Lu+e had done& She’d be da(ned i) she’d reward hi( b$ sharin' her per)ectl$ beauti)ul child and ris+in' the stead$ balance o) 3ate’s happiness& Wh$ couldn’t the$ see that9 . standin' )ir(& 5I’( not 'oin' to e.plain ($sel).anne&6 5There are reasons&6 She turned. was concerned. and it’s not to punish $ou& I’d li+e $ou to see Ma. as (uch as possible& I +now it’s di))icult. no withholdin' o) s(iles or conversation& She (i'ht have pre)erred that to the (ur(urs she heard be)ore she wal+ed into a roo(. she a(ended as she propped her chin on her hand and watched 3athaniel pla$ cars in the court$ard& She’d had )a(il$. no unsolicited advice. and it’s pain)ul. she could 'ive without li(itation& 5Lu+e.anne heard the )ront door sla(& The )a(iliar echo o) it nearl$ (ade her s(ile& 29 1or the )irst ti(e in her li)e. would want that& 2ut on ($ ter(s&6 5So I (a+e appoint(ents96 5That’s ri'ht& Mornin's are usuall$ best.

6 3athaniel told Alice& Interested. I thin+ we’re sa)e there&6 Alice too+ a deep breath to brin' in the scent o) roses and sweet peas and )reshl$ watered (ulch& The court$ard was her )avorite spot. but he pre)ers tra))ic -a(s&6 5He pre)ers tra))ic accidents& I hope it’s not warpin' his (ind&6 5Oh. and s(iled at Alice as the wo(an crossed the court$ard& An all$.She 'lanced up when the +itchen door opened. #o. #o.anne with cal( e$es& 5I wouldn’t sa$ $ou were a wo(an who disli+ed surprise&6 .one&6 53ine. and be'an to (a+e siren noises& 5That’s the third wrec+ in )i)teen (inutes&6 #o. a shad$ su((er$ place desi'ned )or sittin' and thin+in'& So t$picall$ Southern& As a transplanted 7an+ee. deli'hted.anne thou'ht. she e(braced all that was South with the sa(e )ervor a converted *atholic e(braces the *hurch& 5I thou'ht I’d ta+e 3ate to .anne& I’ve never seen $ou let wor+ inter)ere with 3ate’s needs&6 5I hope not& His needs are the (ost i(portant thin' to (e&6 She lau'hed as he bashed two cars to'ether and (ade crashin' noises& 5Ho(icidal96 5Health$ a''ression&6 57ou’re 'ood )or (e. a sure si'n o) nerves& 5!ver$thin' see(ed so balanced.anne sat bac+& 2ut she was rubbin' her hands to'ether. so eas$& I li+e routine.one. $ou +now9 I suppose it co(es )ro( the discipline o) (a'ic&6 Alice studied #o. she bent down. ethereal s(ile& 5I’ve tried to educate hi( on the advanta'es o) car pools. #o. her )ull. her wisp$ blond hair swun' out.anne scooted over on the iron bench so Alice could sit& 5The )atalities are (ountin'&6 5Those roads are treacherous&6 Alice s(iled her prett$.6 she a'reed in her /uiet voice& 52etter call nine. s(u'& Alice didn’t +now Lu+e.ac+son S/uare a)ter preschool& Let hi( run around a little&6 5I wish I could 'o with $ou& I never )eel as thou'h I’( spendin' enou'h ti(e with hi( when I’( preppin' )or a -ob&6 Alice had accepted all sides o) the 3ouvelles’ pro)essions with philosophical ease& To her the$ weren’t stealin' so (uch as spreadin' e. so ri'ht. had no e(otional invest(ent in hi(& She o) all people would a'ree that a (other had the ri'ht to protect her child& And hersel)& 5There was an aw)ul wrec+.cess pro)its around& 57ou’re a wonder)ul (other. Alice&6 With a si'h.s+irted cotton dress nearl$ brushin' the bric+s& 5Loo+s 'ri(. one.one!6 3athaniel a'reed.

we’re all behind $ou& Whether we a'ree or not&6 5And $ou don’t&6 With a si'h. trust hi( with 3ate&6 It was so hard to 'ive advice. or it (a$ be the point& I’( not in a position to +now&6 5So&6 #o. Alice& He 'ave the( up when he wal+ed awa$ )ro( us&6 5He didn’t +now there was an us&6 5That’s beside the point&6 5It (a$ be beside.anne )u(ed as she watched hi( run throu'h his Wo(an in the 0lass 2o. i) it co(es to that& I +now what’s best )or hi(& 8a(n it.(inded )ocus on a 'oal& Those are so(e o) the sa(e reasons I li+e $ou&6 5So $ou’re sa$in' I should let hi( in. routine with Lil$& Mouse and . Lu+e& #o. drawn awa$ )ro( the electronic -a((er the$’d been tin+erin' with to watch& Wh$ was it Lu+e ca(e bac+ and he was suddenl$ the sun with all o) the( revolvin' li+e planets around hi(9 She hated it& .a+e stood o)) to the side. Lu+e.anne&6 2ecause )riendship ca(e )irst with Alice. #o.anne 'lanced at 3ate. it won’t chan'e one si(ple )act& Lu+e is 3athaniel’s )ather&6 Lu+e. she closed a hand over #o. his sin'le.anne’s lips thinned at the new betra$al& 57ou’re linin' up with the rest o) the(&6 5It’s not li+e choosin' sides )or +ic+ball. his rec+lessness. I want to +now what’s best )or hi(& And I certainl$ +now what’s best )or (e&6 Alice was silent a (o(ent& She wasn’t a wo(an to spea+ without thin+in'& She 'athered those thou'hts as care)ull$ and as selectivel$ as she would pic+ wild)lowers& 57ou want (e to tell $ou that +eepin' 3ate a secret )ro( his )ather is the ri'ht thin' to do&6 5It is&6 #o.5So(e surprises& I won’t have 3ate’s li)e disrupted& Or (ine either. Alice thou'ht& She wondered wh$ so (an$ people thrived on it& 5I’( sa$in' $ou should do what $ou )eel is ri'ht& Whatever that is. cautiousl$ lowerin' her voice& 5At least until I )eel it’s ti(e& He has no ri'hts to 3ate. I li+e hi(& I li+e his intensit$. Alice shoo+ her head& 5I don’t +now what I would do in $our position& And onl$ $ou can +now what $ou reall$ )eel in $our heart& I can sa$ that in the wee+ since I (et Lu+e.anne’s ri'id )in'ers& 5Whatever $ou do or don’t do.

citin'. solid wei'ht in her hands& She i(a'ined the strains o) Tchai+ovs+$. he was sweatin'& Still. Lu+e& An$ti(e $ou want it& 8is'usted. with hi( callin' the shots& There was roc+ (usic on the stereo& He was ti(in' his bit to Sprin'steen’s Born to Run.It was all wron'& The$ were rehearsin' here. how about settin' up )or the levitation9 I thin+ we’ve 'ot this one&6 5Sure&6 Mouse lu(bered o)) to obli'e& 5"ullin' ever$one’s strin'. and hersel) sheathed )ro( head to )oot in pure 'listenin' white& And swore when Sprin'steen’s pri(al $ell shattered her concentration& Lu+e cau'ht the bitter snarl she tossed at hi(. #o. and was revved )or (ore& 5*an $ou handle another run. she turned awa$ to retreat to the )ar corner o) the roo(& She’d wor+ throu'h the Spinnin' *r$stal routine she hadn’t had ti(e to per)ect be)ore the last per)or(ance& There. shovin' her hands into the poc+ets o) her sweatpants& Alwa$s& It in)uriated her )urther that it suited hi(.conditionin'. )ort$&6 He’d alread$ clic+ed o)) the stopwatch& 5I thin+ we can shave ten (ore seconds&6 8espite the air. the crisscrossed spotli'hts so)tened with blue 'el. aren’t $ou96 #o. and 'rinned& 5Mouse. se.anne thou'ht. and the illusion& It was )ast.a+e96 5Three (inutes. Lil$96 5Sure&6 Sure. was a lon' )oldin' table& A nu(ber o) props were set up there. The$ alwa$s wor+ed with classical. . read$ )or practicin'& She was particularl$ pleased with the dia(ond.anne said when Lu+e -oined her at the table& 5It’s called tea(wor+&6 5I’ve 'ot another na(e )or it& Wor(in'& Slitherin'&6 . e. #o.anne thou'ht.$& !ver$thin' he did )it those three words& She +new da(n well the audience would love it& That onl$ soured her (ood& 50ood&6 Lu+e turned to Lil$ and +issed her )lushed chee+& 5Ti(e.shaped cr$stal. beside the (assive stone )ireplace. in his barnli+e livin' roo( with its lo)t$ ceilin's and )anc$ plasterwor+& Suddenl$ the$ were on his tur). envisioned the shadow$ sta'e. sneerin'& An$thin' $ou want. its rainbow )acets& It was a 'ood. he li+ed +eepin' that particular illusion at a )rantic pace.

she set the cr$stal down a'ain& 5What are $ou sa$in'96 5That the stone’s $ours when it’s )inished& One hundred percent&6 She searched his )ace loo+in' )or the truth. and I don’t li+e it&6 5So are $ou. #o. and the$ were hot and lethal& 5So(ethin' I’( not tellin' $ou9 What could it be9 Let’s see & & & could it be that I detest $ou96 53o&6 He out(aneuvered her b$ runnin' his hands up her ar(s while hers were trapped around the cr$stal& 57ou’ve been bus$ lettin' (e +now that )or (ore than a wee+& And $ou onl$ detest (e when $ou (a+e $oursel) thin+ about it&6 52ut it co(es so naturall$&6 She s(iled. $ou do& There’s so(ethin' $ou’re not tellin' (e& So(ethin' ever$one’s holdin' their breath over& Once $ou co(e clean. too&6 .6 he said evenl$& 5And neither do I&6 5I don’t +now what $ou’re tal+in' about&6 2ut she’d bro+en e$e contact& 57es. we’ll deal with the situation&6 5*o(e clean96 She cut her e$es bac+ to his. sweet as a hone$ed stiletto& 5Onl$ because $ou’re still cra:$ about (e&6 He +issed the tip o) her nose when she hissed at hi(& 5This is business.& Once we pull this o)). wishin' she could see hi( clearl$ as she once had& 5Wh$96 52ecause I love hi(. ri'ht96 57es&6 5So let’s 'et down to it&6 His s(ile was slow and dan'erous& 5Then we’ll see what co(es naturall$&6 5I want (ore in)or(ation&6 5And $ou’ll 'et it& . $ou’ll never have to co(e within ten )eet o) (e a'ain& 4nless $ou want to&6 5I a( thin+in' o) that&6 It was better than thin+in' o) how -ust the touch o) his hands on hers (ade her blood thic+en& 5I need to +now (ore about the W$att -ob& 7ou’re holdin' bac+.5That’s two words&6 He covered her hands over the cr$stal& 5Thin+ o) it this wa$.ust li+e $ou’ll 'et the stone when it’s )inished&6 5Wait&6 She 'rabbed his ar( when he started to turn& 4nstead$.

*allahan&6 5Oh. because I wanted to )or'et $ou& I reall$ wanted to )or'et $ou&6 She li)ted her e$es to his. $ou’d +now that the (usic should be consistent throu'hout the show&6 . and it )lowed. but it is a classic&6 5I) $ou +new an$thin' about creatin' a the(e. re(e(berin' lovin' $ou was +illin' (e&6 That shoo+ her +nees and loosened her heart& 57ou’re not 'oin' to 'et to (e.& It’s not classical. because that was the truth. *allahan.& It wasn’t the route he would have chosen& 5Wh$96 She hadn’t wanted to as+. his wires& 2ut she never too+ her e$es )ro( Lu+e& She hated to ad(it she li+ed this particular illusion& It si::led. $eah&6 He too+ her hand to lead her to the center o) the roo(& 5I a(&6 53earl$ set&6 Mouse whistled throu'h his teeth& It was 'reat to have the two o) the( to'ether a'ain. and )or the )irst ti(e since his return he saw the openin'& He’d wor(ed his wa$ in all ri'ht. restrictin' air as well as words& 5I want to hate $ou.anne li)ted her ar(s so that Mouse could )i. she’d had )un s/uabblin' with hi( over each and ever$ detail& 5Are we usin' the (usic96 she as+ed& 57eah& M$ pic+&6 5Wh$—6 52ecause $ou chose the li'htin'&6 She )rowned. he thou'ht& !ven i) the$ weren’t s(ilin'& It e(barrassed hi( to )eel the spar+s )l$ )ro( the(& It see(ed to Mouse that was so(ethin' that should happen in the dar+.There was nothin' )or her to sa$. but it was tou'h to ar'ue with /uid pro /uo& 5So what is it96 5 ?S(o+e 0ets in 7our !$es&’ 6 He 'rinned when she rolled hers& 5The "latters. #o. he thou'ht with so(e dis'ust& Throu'h her love )or Ma.6 she (ana'ed& 5I reall$ want to hate $ou&6 5Tou'h. it had dra(a and it had poetr$& 2esides. was a)raid o) the answer& 52ecause lovin' $ou. when two people were alone& That +ind o) inti(ac$ was rou'h on witnesses& #o. and that she could see clearl$& Her chest ti'htened. isn’t it96 He s+i((ed a )in'er down her chee+& 5I +now.

certain she would screa( with need and )rustration i) those hands continued to s+i( over her without touchin'& He thou'ht he could hear her heart poundin'& 2arel$. be$ond the control o) her concentration& She watched hi( throu'h her lashes. down the bac+& When their )in'ers were lin+ed he. lin'ered.5I) $ou +new an$thin' about )lair. so it was eas$ to allow her head to roll loosel$. his lips hoverin'. as i) cau'ht in a trance. so close to tastin'& The /uiet sound she (ade as she stru''led not to (oan roared in his head& He too+ her hand. as her bod$ li)ted& While the (usic built.anne )elt the power ripple throu'h her li+e wine& She didn’t need her (e(or$ o) the script to +eep her e$es on his& She couldn’t have loo+ed awa$& The concentration on his )ace pierced her. onl$ on her.ual. runnin' his )in'ers over the pal(. he (irrored her (ove. slow. and had +nown he would be treadin' deep water& 2ut he hadn’t +nown how /uic+l$ he could drown& He bent his head toward hers. tossed bac+ her hair& 5Let’s -ust do it&6 51ine& *ue the (usic&6 She brou'ht her hands up. she li)ted her ar( over her )ace. too. in surrender. poised. when his ar(s lowered and reached out )or her& Slowl$. still that whisper awa$ )ro( contact& Her bod$ /uivered. and he +new he was breathin' too /uic+l$& 2ut he was be$ond illusion now& He’d (eant the se'(ent to be ro(antic. re)usin'. a dra(atic de(and which #o. step )or step. his hands traced her. as i) the$ were bound b$ invisible threads& Their )in'ers brushed. unable to help hersel).anne resisted b$ 'lidin' awa$& Onl$ to stop. e. curlin' his )in'ers toward hi( in invitation& Or in co((and& #esistin'. se. her pal( toward hi( and turned )luidl$ to the side& 3ot a retreat& An allure(ent& 1ocused on her. swa$ed& He held his out.a''erated as her )eet tipped o)) the )loor. he resisted the ur'e to press his hand over her breast to )eel that thud o) li)e& His (outh was dr$. he circled her& His 'estures were lon'. drew awa$& #o. $ou’d +now that the chan'e o) pace adds pi::a::&6 5"i::a::&6 She sni))ed. she alread$ had& Lu+e threw up his hands. drea(il$ on her shoulders& "erhaps she could have won the duel& Or perhaps. as her hair rained bac+. she turned bac+& She didn’t (ove when he stepped close& His hand passed in )ront o) her )ace& Her e$es shuddered closed& 3ever (ore than a whisper awa$ )ro( bodies brushin'. be'an to rise& His e$es were riveted on her )ace as the$ la$ .

but onl$ )ar enou'h to stare at each other& 5Oh. the$ tilted toward vertical.a+e rolled his e$es and -er+ed his head toward #o. bodies revolvin'& When their )eet touched the 'round.plode& 3ow he ran his hands 'entl$ up and down her bac+ be)ore )reein' her )ro( the levitation harness& 52ut it’s 'oin' to be a hell o) a )inale&6 53eeds wor+&6 5I’( not tal+in' about that )inale&6 He released hi(sel)& 5I’( tal+in' about $ou and (e&6 Watchin' her. Mouse& We 'otta 'et to the (all&6 5Huh96 5The (all.6 he said.anne’s alread$ di::$ head& 5It—it ran lon'&6 57ou’re tellin' (e&6 He’d been read$ to e.anne and Lu+e& The$’d drawn apart now. inspired& 5*o(e on. cupped a hand under her head and brou'ht his (outh to hers& Loc+ed to'ether.6 he (ur(ured and stuc+ the watch in his poc+et& 5#adio Shac+. Lil$ 'rabbed Mouse and pulled& 5I need lots o) thin's& Let’s 'et 'oin'&6 52ut rehearsal—6 5I thin+ the$’ve 'ot it cold. I need so(e thin's.e$ed. s(ooth s+in o) her bac+& 5And this&6 He +issed her a'ain.a+e clic+ed o)) the stopwatch and cleared his throat& 58on’t 'uess an$bod$ cares about ti(e. so)tl$& She had no choice but to 'rip his shoulders )or balance& 57ou’re not 'oin' to seduce (e&6 He traced his lips over her -aw.a+e said and was 'rinnin' as the$ pulled Mouse out o) the house& The silence spun in #o. the (all& We need those parts&6 Mouse blin+ed in con)usion& 5What parts96 5Those parts&6 . +nowin' -ust where to nip to (a+e her shiver& 5Want to bet96 .suspended to'ether& As the (usic be'an to )ade. he s+i((ed his hands under her sweatshirt and let the( roa( over the war(.6 . his ar(s were still around her and her (outh was still a captive& . too&6 Tear$. he turned his bod$.

cush$ )our. she pressed her )ace a'ainst his nec+& 5Hurr$.ploitation o) ever$ secret he re(e(bered& He’d drea(ed o) this countless ti(es. and had never reall$ understood what it (eant to abandon all will& A)ter so lon' an abstinence it was so si(ple. all there needed to be& On a (oan. what the$ had done )or each other. he sou'ht her lips a'ain& He could onl$ than+ whatever powers there were that he’d had the )oresi'ht to bu$ a bed& And a hell o) a bed it was& The hu'e. was li+e a )east a)ter $ears o) )astin'& He wouldn’t den$ hi(sel) now. each (oan was a ha((er thrust in his 'ut& 1rantic )or (ore. and to each other. there was a shoc+ o) reco'nition and a shiver o) the un+nown& His blood burned when he heard his na(e tu(ble )ro( her lips& !ach si'h. and her (outh was racin' over his )ace& 5I don’t need $ou&6 5Me either&6 He scooped her up and started toward the stairs& I) her bod$ would stop shiverin' she was sure she’d re'ain her bearin's& 1or now it see(ed best to hold on ti'ht& She +new what she was doin'& 0od. onl$ a (o(ent. in countless roo(s in countless places& Onl$ this was (ore potent than an$ )antas$& The taste o) her.poster 'ave li+e a cloud when the$ )ell onto it& He paused )or a (o(ent. or ever a'ain& She didn’t stru''le a'ainst the )lood o) sensation& *ouldn’t bear to& He was 'ivin' her bac+ ever$thin' he’d ta+en awa$. and (ore& She’d nearl$ )or'otten what it was to crave. he wouldn’t per(it it& *u))in' her wrists in his hands he drew her ar(s hi'h over her head& I) she touched hi( he’d i'nite li+e a stic+ o) d$na(ite& 1irst he wanted to (a+e sure she )elt ever$thin' he wanted her to )eel& She twisted a'ainst his hold. riotin' throu'h hi(.6 was all she said& He’d have )lown up the stairs i) he’d been able& It )elt as thou'h he had the wa$ his (uscles were /uiverin' and his breath heavin'& Once he’d +ic+ed the bedroo( door closed behind the(. to loo+ down at her and re(e(ber—to )orce her to re(e(ber all the$ had been to each other. her heart leapin' to her throat to ban' li+e a dru( in the hollow& He onl$ lowered his lips to it as a prelude to an e. she hoped she +new& This terrible ra''ed $earnin' (ade ever$thin' else see( so s(all and piti)ul& This was all there was. to onl$ )eel& !ver$ ti(e his lips )ound hers. so ri'ht.5I can wal+ awa$ )ro( $ou an$ti(e&6 2ut her bod$ was pressed a'ainst his. be$ond that 'ul) o) )ive $ears& He saw the stru''le )or denial in her e$es and battered it with a 'reed$ +iss& She wouldn’t hold bac+ )ro( hi( now. he released her hands to tu' at her clothes& He 'roaned in violent pleasure when he )ound her 'loriousl$ na+ed beneath& .

I +new&6 She (ana'ed what passed )or a shru'& 5I o)ten (a+e (ista+es without bein' sorr$ )or the(&6 His e$es 'linted be)ore he rolled awa$ )ro( her& 57ou +now -ust where to hit.6 she said a'ain. her le's so)t as sil+. until he )ound his own release. stron' as steel& Hal) (ad. tearin' his shirt in her rush to be )lesh a'ainst )lesh& The )urnace buildin' inside her was nearin' )lash point& She wanted hi( in her when it e.6 she a'reed. he drove hi(sel) into her. he )ou'ht the snap o) his -eans while her hands tortured hi( and her (outh seared li+e li'htnin' over his shoulders and chest& He plun'ed& At the )irst ur'ent stro+e she ca(e in a 'e$ser o) dar+. a'ain and a'ain. don’t $ou9 7ou alwa$s did&6 5It’s not a (atter o) stri+in' bac+&6 She was 'oin' to be practical about this& I) it +illed her& 5I en-o$ed (a+in' love with $ou a'ain& We were alwa$s 'ood in bed&6 He snatched her ar( be)ore she could reach her +notted sweatshirt& 5We were 'ood ever$where&6 5Were. inti(atel$ -oined& He +new she’d been silent )or too lon'& I) thin's had been as the$ once were. and perhaps his salvation& He sta$ed where he was.ploded& She wanted hi( sto+in' that )ire inside her& He wanted to savor& He needed to devour& 0aspin' )or air. vibrated li+e a harp strin'& Air tore )ro( her lun's in a cr$ that was both pain and triu(ph& Then she loc+ed around hi(.5Hurr$. spread over her. care)ull$& 5I’ll be honest. but not (e&6 5I didn’t sa$ I was sorr$&6 How di))icult it was to be cal( when $our li)e had -ust shi)ted on its )oundations& 5I +new it would happen& The (inute I wal+ed into ($ dressin' roo( and saw $ou a'ain. na(eless deli'hts& Her bod$ arched. she would have li)ted a hand to la:il$ stro+e his bac+& She would have si'hed and nu::led or whispered so(ethin' to (a+e hi( lau'h& 2ut there was nothin' but that lon' e(pt$ silence& It )ri'htened hi( enou'h to +indle te(per& 57ou’re not sorr$ this happened&6 He curled a hand possessivel$ in her hair to +eep her still when he leaned bac+ to loo+ at her& 57ou (i'ht be able to convince $oursel) o) that. *allahan& I haven’t (ade (uch ti(e )or this sort o) thin' in ($ li)e since $ou le)t&6 .

ni'ht a)ter ni'ht9 There had been a ti(e when she would have dri)ted ri'ht o)) to sleep. she thou'ht& . *allahan&6 50lad to&6 He li)ted her hips and slid 'loriousl$ into her& She didn’t thin+ she was burned out& Hollowed out was closer& There didn’t see( to be a nerve le)t in her bod$& When she (ana'ed to open her e$es a'ain. she too+ note o) the roo( )or the )irst ti(e& There was nothin' in it but the bed where the$ sprawled and a sin'le enor(ous chest o) drawers in 'lea(in' cherr$& 4nless $ou counted the clothes that were tossed over the ru'less )loor.ust as it was li+e hi( to have shi)ted his bod$ so that hers could curl naturall$ a'ainst it& How (an$ ti(es had the$ lain -ust li+e this.He couldn’t stop it& His e'o in)lated as helplessl$ as a balloon swells with heliu(& 5Oh.. sa)e. the li'ht had 'one rose with twili'ht& To 'ive her (ind a chance to settle. arouse and a(use a wo(an si(ultaneousl$& 58on’t loo+ so s(u'& It was ($ choice& I was bus$&6 5Ad(it it&6 He traced a la:$ )in'er down her breast& 5I spoiled $ou )or an$bod$ else&6 5M$ point is&6 She slapped his hand awa$ be)ore the touch dissolved what was le)t o) pride& 57ou happened to catch (e at a & & &6 %ulnerable wasn’t /uite the word she wanted& 5An incendiar$ ti(e& I i(a'ine an$one who held the (atch in the ri'ht spot would have set (e o))&6 5I) that’s the case.6 she (ana'ed to 'asp& 5Sure it is&6 He laved the da(p )lesh between her breasts& 5And a redwood’s -ust a tree&6 He used his teeth to tor(ent her nipples until her nails du' crescents into his bac+& 5A dia(ond’s -ust a roc+&6 She wanted to lau'h& She needed to screa(& 5Shut up. $eah96 She couldn’t understand how one (an could in)uriate. secure. draped over the door+nob or piled in corners& How li+e hi(. satis)ied& 2ut the$ were di))erent people now& . $ou should be prett$ well burned out now&6 He’d alwa$s been /uic+& She shouldn’t have been surprised to )ind hersel) on her bac+ a'ain with his hands provin' that )ires could be +indled out o) e(bers& 5It’s -ust se.

the hard 'lea( o) his e$es that warred with the encroachin' 'loo(& 57ou +now. was bac+& Such thin's were harder to resist than passion& 5I need to tal+ to $ou.She started to sit up& His ar( (erel$ ti'htened around her& 5Lu+e. a little drun+. I can al(ost believe in Lil$’s a(nesia theor$&6 5Let (e +now when $ou want the truth& 7ou’ll 'et ever$ bit o) it&6 She loo+ed awa$& It was eas$. she would sa$ (ore than was wise be)ore she thou'ht it throu'h& 5We can’t 'o bac+. that she had been certain had burned out o) hi(. I’d be (ore than happ$& 7ou’ll -ust have to 'ive (e a couple o) (inutes&6 5The onl$ point we’ve proved is that we still +now how to scratch one another’s itch&6 Most o) her an'er had died.esus. stud$in' it in the di((in' li'ht& . brushin' her hair bac+ so that onl$ his )in'ers )ra(ed her& The 'entleness he’d )or'otten. *allahan. and I need to consider where we (i'ht 'o )ro( here&6 5We can 'o an$place& We alwa$s could&6 . ri'ht.ust above where the scars o) his $outh be'an their crisscross on his bac+ was the painted i(a'e o) a snarlin' wol)& She didn’t +now whether to lau'h or cr$ and opted )or the )or(er& 5. #o. appalled& 5I’( sorr$&6 5It’s o+a$&6 He shru''ed and dra''ed the hair out o) his e$es as he sat up& 5I was )eelin' (ean one ni'ht. and $ou’re Mr& Trend$& Wh$ the hell did $ou let so(ebod$ scar $ou—6 She bro+e o)). i) $ou want (e to prove ($ point a'ain. it re(inded (e o) where I’d co(e )ro(&6 She studied hi(. a lot dan'erous& I decided to 'et a tattoo instead o) loo+in' )or a convenient head to bash in& 2esides.& There’s so (uch I need to sa$&6 5Thin's aren’t what the$ were. this doesn’t chan'e an$thin'&6 He opened one e$e& 52abe. (uch too eas$ )or hi( to pull her in& 5It wouldn’t (a+e an$ di))erence& There’s nothin' $ou can sa$ that can wipe awa$ )ive $ears&6 53ot unless $ou’re willin' to let (e&6 He cau'ht her )ace in his hands. the arro'ant tilt o) the head. leavin' a 'ul) o) sorrow that was onl$ (ore potent& 5There’s no need to—What the hell is this96 She twisted to 'et a better loo+ at the bac+ o) his shoulder& 5It’s a tattoo& Haven’t $ou ever seen a da(n tattoo96 5A )ew in ($ ti(e&6 She pursed her lips. did $ou 'o cra:$ or what96 It e(barrassed the hell out o) hi(& 5Tattoos are in&6 5Oh. Lu+e& I can’t be'in to tell $ou how (uch the$’ve chan'ed&6 And i) she sta$ed.

ti'htened& 5Won’t&6 5Won’t then&6 She s(oothed down her shirt. Ma(a9 Who is he96 5He’s a dead (an. *allahan&6 Her eas$ dis(issal sliced hi( open and le)t hi( bleedin'& 58on’t (ention it&6 5See $ou to(orrow&6 She wal+ed )ro( the roo(. 3ate bounced and be'an to sin' a sea chante$ about drun+en sailors at the top o) his voice& She cau'ht snatches about the telephone. *lar+ 0able. and te(pted her be$ond (easure& 5I can’t&6 His )in'ers curled. he tu''ed on his (other’s hair& 5Who’s *lar+ 0able. it’s 'ratitude )or (a+in' (e tou'h enou'h to handle whatever co(es&6 She tilted her head. wishin' her heart )elt as coura'eous as the words& 5So than+s. she swun' 3athaniel up in her ar(s and +issed hi( )ir(l$ on his pursed and waitin' lips.anne returned& She’d no (ore than stepped across the threshold when she was cau'ht up in the chaos& While ever$one tal+ed at once. stru''led to decipher the code& 5What9 *lar+ 0able called )ro( San 1rancisco and ca(e over to eat caviar and do card tric+s96 2ecause Alice lau'hed.5I’ve 'otten used to 'oin' on ($ own&6 She too+ a deep breath be)ore shi)tin' awa$ to dress& 5It’s 'ettin' late& I have to 'o ho(e&6 5Sta$ here&6 He touched his )in'ertips to her hair. partl$ in 'reetin' and partl$ in apolo'$ )or not bein' the one to 'ive hi( his bath and help hi( into his )avored 3in-a Turtles p-’s& 5Hold on&6 She settled 3ate on her hip. San 1rancisco and Aces Hi'h& Her (ind. 3ate decided it (ust be a 'rand -o+e& 0i''lin'. bab$. li+e certain other people around here are 'oin' to be i) the$ don’t shut up%6 Her voice had risen ad(irabl$ on the last two words& There was a . and I’ll deal with the conse/uences o) either& I) I owe $ou an$thin'. rose& It was easier to be stron' when she was standin' on her )eet a'ain& 5I run ($ li)e now& 7ou can sta$ or $ou can 'o. holdin' up a hand in a )utile hope to ste( the tide& 8eli'hted with the con)usion. caviar. alread$ (uddled )ro( her a)ternoon with Lu+e. but was runnin' b$ the ti(e she hit the landin'& 3! The house was in an uproar when #o.

anne. +nuc+lehead&6 5*an I have a stor$96 57es&6 . she had it on while Lil$ was helpin' $our )ather eat dinner—6 Lil$ interrupted b$ puttin' her hands over her )ace and sobbin'& #o. all was lost& 5It reall$ started because o) +an 6rancisco.anne clic+ed into panic (ode& 58add$96 Still 'rippin' 3ate. roc+in' and sni))lin' while 3ate patted her chee+& 5He +issed ($ hand—-ust li+e he used to& And he tal+ed about a wee+ we’d spent in San 1rancisco and how we had cha(pa'ne and caviar on the terrace o) our hotel roo( and watched the )o' roll in on the ba$& And how—how he tried to teach (e card tric+s&6 5Oh&6 #o.ust )ine&6 1or a s(all.anne’s ar( and held on& 5Let (e tell $ou the rest be)ore $ou 'o up&6 5He started tal+in'. #o. reasonable e. $es&6 5Well. Spencer Trac$& 7ou +now how the evenin' nurse li+es to watch old (ovies on the television in $our )ather’s roo(96 57es. )ra'ile.6 Lil$ said behind her hands& 5About—about San 1rancisco& Oh.'rati)$in' stunned silence& 2e)ore an$one could draw in the breath to start a'ain. #o. *lar+ 0able.anne pressed a hand to her lips& She +new he could have (o(ents o) clarit$ but she couldn’t /uite ta(p out that stubborn spar+ o) hope that this one would last& 5I should have been here&6 57ou couldn’t +now&6 Le*lerc too+ her hand& He could onl$ thin+ o) how it hurt and healed to have sat )or a (o(ent with his old )riend& 5Alice had -ust 'otten o)) the phone to Lu+e when $ou wal+ed in&6 5I’ll 'o up&6 She leaned over to where 3ate had tuc+ed his head on Lil$’s shoulder to co()ort& 5I’ll be in to +iss $ou 'ood ni'ht. she had a stron' 'rip& She cla(ped her )in'ers over #o. he re(e(bered (e& He re(e(bered ever$thin'&6 3ate was so touched b$ her tears he reached out& Lil$ 'athered hi( close.loo+in' wo(an.6 Alice be'an& 5The (ovie—$ou +now.$.planation. she turned and would have bolted up the stairs i) Alice hadn’t stopped her& 53o. he’s )ine& . she pointed at Alice& #o.anne +new i) she couldn’t count on Alice )or a cal(.

a 'lintin' steel 'ra$.hausted. and that was his hell& The e))ort it cost hi( to )i'ht o)) the )o'.anne 'lanced at the nurse who was standin' at the )oot o) the bed )illin' out the chart& The$ e.chan'ed nods be)ore the nurse carried the chart out o) the roo( and le)t the( alone& There were so (an$ thin's racin' throu'h Ma. so(e transparent illusion that (eant nothin' (ore to hi( than a tric+ o) the e$e& When he did loo+ up. (uch as he had da$ a)ter da$ when she visited hi(& 2ut this ti(e he was writin'. usin' the lon'. )lourishin' stro+es she re(e(bered& #o. that seared be$ond the ph$sical& I) it hulled out his bod$. with (onsters in it&6 5An epic one. alar( ca(e )irst& He loo+ed e. but in the( she saw so(ethin' be$ond beaut$& She saw reco'nition& 58add$&6 She tu(bled the last )ew )eet to hi( to )all on her +nees with her head pressed to the thin wall o) his chest& She hadn’t +nown. to hold the pen in )in'ers that cra(ped with the (ove(ent would have e. please& Tal+ to (e& Tell (e how $ou )eel96 . so horribl$ thin& His e$es were bri'ht. so pale and drawn. was )reshl$ co(bed& He sat at his des+.anne stepped closer& She was a)raid to spea+& A)raid that he would loo+ up and that his e$es would pass over her as i) she were a stran'er& Or worse. to write the( down be)ore the$ )aded and were lost to hi(& He +new the$ would )ade. with horrible (onsters in it&6 She +issed hi( and watched his s(ile bloo(& 50randpa said I 'rew a )oot& 2ut I onl$ have two&6 Tears swa( in her e$es as she lowered her brow to her son’s& 5The third’s invisible&6 5How co(e he could see it then96 52ecause he’s a (a'ician&6 She +issed the tip o) his nose. hadn’t allowed hersel) to +now how (uch she’d needed to )eel his ar(s around her a'ain& How (uch she’d (issed the )eel o) his hands stro+in' throu'h her hair& Her chest heaved once in an atte(pt to throw o)) the pressure buildin' there with a sob& 2ut she wouldn’t 'reet hi( with tears& 5Tal+ to (e. perhaps overbri'ht.hausted a $oun'er (an& 2ut there was a burnin' in hi(. as i) she were a shade. bri'ht and hot.’s (ind& The$ crashed and boo(ed to'ether li+e (usic& He had to rush to +eep up with the notes. he wouldn’t waste a (o(ent& #o. then turned to 'o to her )ather& He was wearin' a sil+ robe o) ro$al purple& His hair. so be it& His (ind was his own a'ain& I) it lasted )or an hour or a da$.5A really lon' one.

anne. sittin' beside (e&6 5He co(es to see $ou.$&6 53o& 3o&6 Her e$es were )ierce as she sat bac+ on her heels& Her hands s/uee:ed his until the$ ached. s(iled a'ain& 5Has he told $ou wh$ he le)t96 53o& I haven’t let hi(&6 #estless.6 he (ur(ured. te(poraril$& It was too intri'uin' a -ob to pass on& There’s to be an auction in 8&*&—6 5#o. the sheer de(and o) it nearl$ )elled hi(& 50rate)ul. her )ace )lushed with deter(ination. #o. because I won’t let it&6 . but couldn’t bear to separate her hand )ro( her )ather’s& 5We’re wor+in' to'ether a'ain. (uch too hard to tr$ to re(e(ber all the $ears that had passed between his child and the wo(an who held hi( now& The$ were a (ist.5Sorr$&6 He bent his head to brush a chee+ a'ainst her hair& His little 'irl& It was hard. he’ll leave a'ain& It won’t (atter this ti(e. his dau'hter. a (a:e. +eepin' her )in'ers lin+ed with his& 5I’( doin' a variation on the Indian #ope Tric+& %er$ (ood$ and dra(atic& It pla$s well& We set up a videotape so I could review it ($sel)&6 She lau'hed up at hi(& 5I a(a:e ($sel)&6 5I’d li+e to see it&6 He shi)ted. to pace. al(ost ever$ da$&6 She wanted to 'et up.6 he interrupted& 5What does it (ean to $ou—Lu+e’s co(in' bac+96 5I don’t +now& I want it to (ean nothin'&6 53othin'’s a poor thin' to wish )or. she did rise. too&6 His (oustache twitched as his lips curved up& 51or $ou& 1or all o) $ou& 3ow&6 He +issed her hands. but couldn’t brin' hersel) to (ove awa$& 5What di))erence could it (a+e9 He le)t (e& He le)t all o) us& Once this -ob is done. and so he contented hi(sel) with acceptin' her as his little 'irl& 5So sorr$. he thou'ht& His child. tuc+in' a hand under her chin so he could watch her e$es& 5Lil$ tells (e $ou’re wor+in' on a broo(stic+ illusion&6 It too+ all her will to hold her 'a:e stead$& 57ou +now he’s bac+ then&6 5I drea(ed he was—6 And the drea( and realit$ swirled to'ether so that he couldn’t be sure& Si(pl$ couldn’t be sure& 5#i'ht here. tears tre(blin' in her e$es& The stren'th o) her love. but the pain was sweet& 5I don’t want $ou to )eel sorr$&6 She was so unbelievabl$ lovel$. si'hed& He couldn’t tal+& There was reall$ so little he could tal+ about& 2ut he could listen& 5Tell (e what new (a'ic $ou’ve con-ured&6 She curled up at his )eet.

5There isn’t a (a'ic tric+ in the boo+ that can shield a heart, #o.$& 7ou have a child between $ou this ti(e& M$ 'randchild&6 It pained Ma. (ore than he could sa$ that he onl$ had di( (e(ories o) the bo$& 5I haven’t told hi(&6 At her )ather’s silence, she whirled around, surprised how read$ she was to battle& 57ou disapprove96 He onl$ si'hed& 57ou’ve alwa$s (ade $our own decisions& #i'ht or wron', it’s $our choice& 2ut nothin' $ou can do will alter the )act that Lu+e is 3athaniel’s )ather&6 He li)ted a hand to her& 5There’s nothin' $ou’d want to do to chan'e that&6 The (uscles in her sto(ach loosened& The sharp )in'ers s/uee:in' the base o) her nec+ vanished& Ma'ic, she thou'ht, lettin' out a lon' clear breath& Sa$ the (a'ic words& 53o, there’s nothin' I would do to chan'e that&6 0h, "’/e missed you, Daddy. She didn’t sa$ it, a)raid it would hurt hi(& 5It’s so hard to be in char'e, Ma.& So blood$ hard&6 5!as$’s borin', #o.$& Who wants to spend their li)e with eas$96 5Well, (a$be -ust a passin' ac/uaintance&6 He was s(ilin' a'ain, sha+in' his head& 5#o.$, #o.$, $ou can’t con (e& 7ou thrive on bein' in char'e& The plu( doesn’t roll )ar )ro( the tree&6 She chuc+led, +neelin' beside hi( a'ain& 5O+a$, (a$be& 2ut I wouldn’t (ind bein' told what to do—now and a'ain&6 57ou’d still do what $ou want&6 5Sure&6 Swa(ped with love, she threw her ar(s around hi(& 52ut it’s (ore satis)$in' i) so(eone tries to tell (e what to do )irst&6 5Then I’ll tell $ou this& 0rud'es are brid'es with )ault$ spans& 1allin' o)) one is a lot (ore rewardin' then 'ettin' stuc+ on the other side&6 51ree lesson96 she (ur(ured and, with a si'h, pressed her chee+ to his&

#o.anne was a little wobbl$ when she le)t her )ather sleepin' and started bac+ downstairs& He’d been so tired, and with his encroachin' )ati'ue she’d all but been able to see the clouds rollin' in a'ain& When she’d tuc+ed hi( into bed (uch as she would do )or her son, he’d called her Lil$& She had to accept that he (i'ht re(e(ber nothin' in the (ornin' when he awa+ened& The hour she’d had with hi( would have to be enou'h&

Wear$ and weep$, she paused at the base o) the stairs to strai'hten her shoulders& She owed her )a(il$ a solid )ront, a show o) stren'th& As she wal+ed toward the +itchen, she )i.ed an eas$ s(ile on her )ace& 5I could s(ell the co))ee all the wa$ & & &6 She )u(bled to a halt as her tu(blin' e(otions too+ one (ore roll& There, 'athered with her )a(il$, was Lu+e, leanin' bac+ a'ainst the +itchen counter with his hands tuc+ed in his poc+ets& Once a'ain, ever$one spo+e at once& #o.anne onl$ shoo+ her head and (arched to the stove to pour co))ee& 5He’s sleepin'& Tal+in' all this ti(e tired hi( out&6 5Ma$be he’ll be )ine now&6 Lil$ twisted the beads she wore around and around her )in'ers& 5Ma$be it’s all 'oin' to 'o awa$&6 The loo+ in #o.anne’s e$es had her 'lancin' awa$& It was so hard to bur$ hope, then unearth it a'ain onl$ to )eel it die& 5It was so 'ood to tal+ to hi( a'ain&6 5I +now&6 #o.anne cradled the co))ee cup in both hands but didn’t drin+& 5We can schedule (ore tests&6 Lil$ (ade a tin$ sound o) distress and i((ediatel$ be'an to )iddle with the cow,shaped crea(er on the +itchen table& The$ all +new how di))icult and disorientin' the tests were )or Ma.& How wrenchin' the$ were )or those who loved hi(& 5We can hope that the new (edication is helpin',6 #o.anne continued& 5Or we can leave thin's as the$ are&6 It was Le*lerc who spo+e, la$in' his spindl$ hand on #o.anne’s shoulder to +nead out so(e o) the tension& 5What do $ou want to do, ch>re!6 53othin',6 she said on a hal) si'h& 5What I want to do is nothin'& 2ut what I thin+ we should do is a'ree to whatever tests the doctors reco((end&6 She too+ a deep breath, scannin' )aces& 5Whatever the outco(e, we had this evenin'& We’ll have to be 'rate)ul )or that&6 5*an I 'o sit with hi(96 Mouse stared down at the toes o) his shoes& 5I won’t wa+e hi( up&6 5O) course $ou can&6 #o.anne waited until Mouse and Alice had le)t be)ore she turned to Lu+e& 5Wh$ are $ou here96 5Wh$ do $ou thin+96 5We a'reed $ou wouldn’t drop b$ )or casual visits,6 she be'an, onl$ to have the )ur$ in his e$es stop her cold& 5This isn’t casual& I) $ou’d li+e to discuss wh$, here and now, I’d be 'lad to&6 She could still blush, he noted& It was )ascinatin' to watch the color rise, bloo(in' hi'h on her chee+s while her e$es showed te(per that had nothin' to do with e(barrass(ent&

5Added to that,6 he continued blandl$, 5when Lil$ called about Ma. I wasn’t about to sit ho(e (ar+in' cards&6 5Hone$&6 Lil$ reached out a tentative hand& 5I thin+ Ma. would want Lu+e here&6 5Ma. is asleep,6 she snapped bac+& 5There’s no need )or $ou to sta$& I) he’s up to it in the (ornin', $ou can have all the ti(e $ou want with hi(&6 58a(n 'enerous o) $ou, #o.anne&6 The wea+ness showed throu'h onl$ brie)l$ when she pressed her )in'ers to the thuddin' in her le)t te(ple& 5I have to thin+ o) Ma. )irst& 3o (atter what’s between us $ou have to +now I wouldn’t +eep $ou )ro( hi(&6 5;ust what is between us96 5I’( hardl$ 'oin' to discuss that now&6 Whistlin' /uietl$ between his teeth, Le*lerc be'an to wipe the stove& He +new he should leave, 'ive the( privac$& 2ut it was (uch too interestin'& Lil$ didn’t bother with a diversion& She clasped her hands and watched avidl$& 57ou cli(bed out o) bed with (e and wal+ed awa$&6 He pushed awa$ )ro( the counter& 5There’s no wa$ I’( leavin' this unresolved&6 54nresolved96 The iron$ o) it was so sharp she was a(a:ed it didn’t slice hi( into little pieces& 2ut that was )ine& She’d do the cuttin' hersel)& 57ou have the nerve to tal+ to (e about leavin' so(ethin'—an$thin'—unresolved9 7ou wal+ed out to do a -ob one ni'ht and never ca(e bac+& A real clever variation on the old 'oin',out,to,bu$,a,pac+,o), ci'arettes, *allahan& 2ut da(n i) I can clai( to be i(pressed&6 5I had reasons,6 he tossed out while Lil$ shi)ted her e$es )ro( )ace to )ace with the ea'erness o) a tennis bu)) at Wi(bledon& 5I don’t 'ive a shit about reasons&6 53o, all $ou care about is (a+in' (e crawl&6 He advanced another step and 'ave serious consideration to stran'lin' her& 5Well, I won’t&6 5I’( not interested in seein' $ou crawl& 4nless it’s na+ed, over bro+en 'lass& I went to bed with $ou, o+a$96 She pinwheeled her ar(s to (a+e her point& 5It was a (ista+e, ab-ect stupidit$, a (o(ent o) (indless lust&6 He too+ a )ist)ul o) her sweatshirt& 5It (a$ have been stupid and it (a$ have been lust, on both parts, babe& 2ut it wasn’t a (ista+e&6 His voice had risen to a boo( that (ade her

achin' head reel& 5And we’re 'oin' to settle this, once and )or all, i) I have to 'a' $ou and cu)) $ou to 'et $ou to listen&6 5;ust tr$ it, *allahan, and all that’ll be le)t o) those hands $ou’re so proud o) is blood$ stu(ps& So ta+e $our threats, and $our piti)ul & & &6 2ut he wasn’t listenin' to her an$(ore& 1ascinated, #o.anne watched the color drain out o) his )ace until it was as white and la. as (elted wa.& The e$es that were starin' over her shoulder dar+ened to cobalt& 5Oh, 0od,6 was all he said, and the hand 'rippin' her shirt went li(p& 5Ma(a&6 #o.anne’s heart stopped, si(pl$ stopped at the sound o) her son’s voice& She turned, certain she heard her bones crea+ li+e rust$ hin'es with the slow, drea(li+e (ove(ent& 3ate was standin' in the +itchen doorwa$, +nuc+lin' sleep$ e$es with one hand and dra''in' his battered stu))ed basset hound with the other& 57ou didn’t co(e +iss (e 'ood ni'ht&6 5Oh, 3ate&6 *old, she was suddenl$ so cold, even as she bent to scoop her child into her ar(s& 5I’( sorr$& I would have co(e up soon&6 5I didn’t hear the end o) the stor$ Alice read, either,6 he co(plained, $awnin' and tuc+in' his head in the )a(iliar curve o) her shoulder& 5I )ell asleep be)ore the do' part$&6 <o Dog <o, #o.anne thou'ht, da:ed& 3athaniel did love his 8r& Seuss& 5It’s late, bab$,6 she (ur(ured& 5*an I have ice crea(96 She wanted to lau'h, but it ca(e out perilousl$ close to a sob& 53ot a chance&6 Lu+e could onl$ stare, stare at the s(all bo$ throu'h e$es that were da::led and hot and 'ritt$& His heart had dropped to his +nees and tre(bled there, leavin' a raw, ra''ed hole in his chest& The child had his )ace& His )ace& It was li+e loo+in' into a telescope lens, and seein' hi(sel) at a distance& In the past& In the past he’d never been 'iven& Mine, was all he could thin+& Oh, sweet ;esus& Mine& A)ter another wide $awn, 3ate stared bac+, all curiosit$ and sleep$ con)idence& 5Who’s that96 he wanted to +now& In all the scenarios that had twisted throu'h #o.anne’s (ind, introducin' her son to his )ather had never been /uite li+e this& 5Ah—he’s & & &6 A )riend9 she wondered&

5This is Lu+e,6 Lil$ piped up, rubbin' a hand up and down Lu+e’s ri'id ar(& 5He was +ind o) li+e ($ little bo$ when he was 'rowin' up&6 5O+a$&6 3ate s(iled& All sweetness, no 'uile& What he saw was a tall (an with blac+ hair pulled bac+ in a stubb$ pon$tail and a )ace as prett$ as a prince in one o) his stor$ boo+s& 5Hi&6 5Hi&6 It a(a:ed Lu+e how cal( his voice sounded when his heart had vaulted bac+ )ro( his )eet to lie lod'ed and swollen in his throat& He needed to touch, was a)raid i) he tried his hand (i'ht pass throu'h the curve o) the bo$’s chee+ as in a drea(& 57ou li+e do's96 he said and )elt incredibl$ stupid& 5This is Waldo&6 Alwa$s )riendl$, 3ate held out the stu))ed to$ )or Lu+e’s inspection& 5When I 'et a real do' I’( 'oin' to na(e hi( Mi+e&6 5That’s a prett$ 'ood na(e&6 Lu+e did touch, -ust the tips o) his )in'ers to 3ate’s chee+& The bo$’s )lesh was war( and so)t a'ainst his& More sl$ than sh$, 3ate cuddled his head a'ainst his (other’s shoulder and bea(ed at Lu+e& 5Ma$be $ou’d li+e so(e ice crea( now&6 #o.anne couldn’t bear an$ (ore—not the pain or the wonder in Lu+e’s e$es or her own terri)ied 'uilt& 5 itchen’s closed, s(art 'u$&6 She ti'htened her 'rip possessivel$ on her son& The ur'e to turn and run with what was hers was so cowardl$ it sha(ed her& 5Li'hts out, 3ate& 7ou have to 'o to bed be)ore $ou turn into a )ro'&6 He 'i''led at that and (ade respectable )ro' noises& 5I’ll ta+e hi( up&6 Lil$ held out her ar(s )or 3ate be)ore #o.anne could protest& 3ate twisted one o) Lil$’s curls around his )in'er and poured on the char(& 5Will $ou read (e a stor$9 I li+e it best when $ou read the(&6 57ou bet& ;ean96 Lil$ coc+ed a brow, a(used to note that Le*lerc was still wipin' the spar+lin' sur)ace o) the stove& 5Wh$ don’t $ou co(e with us96 5As soon as I )inish tid$in' up&6 He si'hed when Lil$ narrowed her e$es at hi(& Too o)ten discretion was a bitter pill to swallow& 5I’ll co(e alon' now&6 3ever one to let an opportunit$ pass, 3ate be'an to ne'otiate as the$ trooped down the hall& 5*an I have two stories9 One )ro( $ou and one )ro( $ou96 As 3ate’s voice )aded awa$, #o.anne stood )acin' Lu+e, trapped in the silence&

5I thin+ & & &6 She cleared the tre(or out o) her voice and tried a'ain& 5I thin+ I want so(ethin' stron'er than co))ee&6 She started to turn, but Lu+e’s hand whipped out sna+e, /uic+ and 'ripped her ar(& She )elt his )in'ers press down to the bone& 5He’s (ine&6 His voice was low, deadl$, terri)$in'& 50ood *hrist, #o.anne, that bo$ is ($ son& Mine&6 The )orce o) it struc+ hi( so viciousl$ that he shoo+ her& Her head snapped bac+ so that she had no choice but to stare into his ice,pale )ace& 5We have a child, and $ou +ept it )ro( (e& 0odda(n $ou, how could $ou not tell (e I had a son96 57ou weren’t here!6 she shouted, swin'in' out& The crac+ o) her hand a'ainst his chee+ stunned the( both& Appalled, she pressed her )in'ers to her lips, then let her ar( )all sti))l$ to her side& 57ou weren’t here,6 she said a'ain& 5I’( here now&6 He shoved her awa$ be)ore he did so(ethin' he’d never )or'ive hi(sel) )or& 5I’ve been here )or two wee+s& ?8on’t co(e b$ )or casual visits, *allahan,’ 6 he 'round out, and there was (ore than )ur$ in his e$es now, there was tor(ent& 57ou weren’t doin' that )or Ma.& 7ou were settin' up rules so I wouldn’t see our son& 7ou weren’t 'oin' to tell (e about hi(&6 5I was 'oin' to tell $ou&6 She couldn’t catch her breath& 3ever in her li)e had she )eared hi(, ph$sicall$& 4ntil now& He loo+ed capable o) an$thin'& O) ever$thin'& 4nconsciousl$ she rubbed the heel o) her hand between her breasts as i) to )orce the air in and out a'ain& 5I needed ti(e&6 5Ti(e&6 He li)ted her o)) her )eet with that /uic+, ba))lin' stren'th that both )ri'htened and aroused& 5I lost )ive 'odda(n $ears, and $ou needed ti(e96 57ou lost9 7ou lost9 What did $ou e.pect (e to do, Lu+e, when $ou ca(e bac+ into ($ li)e9 Oh, hello, nice to see $ou a'ain& 2$ the wa$, $ou’re a dadd$& Have a )uc+in' ci'ar&6 He stared at her )or one lon' )ro:en (o(ent& %iolence leaped throu'h hi(, a deep, dar+ need to destro$, to in)lict pain, to screa( )or reven'e& He dropped her bac+ on her )eet, watched the )ear -u(p into her e$es thou'h she didn’t )linch& On a vicious oath, he turned and $an+ed the door open& Outside, he dra''ed in hot, thic+ air& The scent o) )lowers spun in his head, see(ed to clin' to his s+in li+e stic+$ pollen thou'h he rubbed his hands hard over his )ace& The pain was so sharp, so sudden, a rapier thrust throu'h the heart that le)t hi( shoc+ed and disbelievin' while the blood drained& His son& Lu+e pressed the heels o) his hands a'ainst his e$es and uttered a sound that was raw with 'rie) and ra'e& His son had loo+ed at hi(, s(iled at hi( and thou'ht hi( a stran'er&

She )ollowed hi( out& Odd, she was cal( now& It wouldn’t have surprised her to have hi( turn on her, stri+e out at her& There had been that +ind o) dan'er in his e$es& She would de)end hersel) i) the need arose, but the ti(e )or )ear had passed& 5I won’t apolo'i:e )or +eepin' it )ro( $ou, Lu+e& I did what I thou'ht best& #i'ht or wron', I’d do it a'ain&6 He didn’t turn to loo+ at her, but continued to stare out across the court$ard toward the )ountain that pla$ed its /uiet, li/uid son'& The$’d (ade that (iracle to'ether, he thou'ht& *onceived the bo$ in love and lau'hter and lust& Was that wh$ he’d been so beauti)ul, so per)ect, so incredibl$ lovel$9 58id $ou +now $ou were pre'nant when I le)t96 53o&6 She cau'ht hersel) rubbin' her hands to'ether and (ade hersel) drop her ar(s to her sides& 5#i'ht a)ter, thou'h& I was sic+ that a)ternoon, re(e(ber9 It turns out that I was havin' ($ (ornin' sic+ness a little late in the da$&6 5Trust $ou not to do the conventional&6 He -a((ed his hands in his poc+ets, stru''lin', stru''lin' to be cal(, to be reasonable& 5Was it di))icult96 5What96 5The pre'nanc$,6 he said between his teeth& 2ut he didn’t turn to loo+ at her $et& *ouldn’t& 5Was it di))icult9 7ou were sic+96 O) all the thin's she’d e.pected hi( to as+, this was the last& 53o&6 O)) balance, she pushed a hand throu'h her hair& 5I had the nausea )or a couple o) (onths, then I bree:ed throu'h the rest& I’ve probabl$ never )elt better&6 In his poc+ets, his hands curled to )ists& 5And when he was born96 5It wasn’t a wal+ on the beach, but I don’t )eel as thou'h I strolled throu'h the valle$ o) the shadow o) death either& Little over ei'hteen hours, and out popped 3athaniel&6 53athaniel&6 He repeated the na(e in a whisper& 5I didn’t want to na(e hi( a)ter an$one& I wanted hi( to have his own&6 5He’s health$&6 Lu+e continued to stare at the )ountain& He could al(ost see the individual drops as the$ rose, )ell and rose a'ain& 5He loo+s & & & health$&6 5He’s )ine& He’s never sic+&6 5Li+e his (other&6 2ut he has ($ )ace, Lu+e thou'ht& He has my face. 5He li+es do's&6

53ate li+es (ost ever$thin'& !.cept li(a beans&6 She let out a sha+$ breath and too+ a chance& 5Lu+e,6 she (ur(ured, touchin' a hand to his shoulder& He whirled on her so /uic+l$ she )ell bac+ a step& 2ut when he 'rabbed her, it wasn’t to punish& His ar(s si(pl$ ca(e around her, brin'in' her close& His bod$ shuddered once as it en)olded hers& 4nable to den$ either o) the( this, she stro+ed a hand throu'h his hair and returned the e(brace& 5We have a son,6 he whispered& 57es&6 She )elt a tear snea+ past her de)enses, and si'hed& 5We have a terri)ic son&6 5I can’t let $ou +eep hi( )ro( (e, #o.anne& 3o (atter what $ou thin+ o) (e, what $ou )eel )or (e, I can’t let $ou +eep (e )ro( hi(&6 5I +now& 2ut I won’t let $ou hurt hi(&6 She drew awa$& 5I won’t let $ou beco(e so i(portant to hi( that $ou leave a hole when $ou 'o awa$&6 5I want ($ son& I want $ou& I want ($ li)e bac+& 2$ 0od, #o.anne, I’( ta+in' what I want& 7ou’re 'oin' to listen to (e&6 53ot toni'ht&6 2ut he alread$ had her b$ the hand& She swore ripel$ when he dra''ed her across the court$ard toward the wor+roo(& 5I’( not 'oin' throu'h an$ (ore e(otional wrin'ers toni'ht& 3ow let (e 'o&6 5I’ve lived in an e(otional wrin'er )or )ive $ears&6 To si(pli)$ (atters he hauled her o)) her )eet& 57ou’ll -ust have to tou'h it out )or another hour&6 7an+in' open the door he carried a stru''lin' #o.anne inside& 5How can $ou do this9 How can $ou behave this wa$96 She let out a 'runt when he du(ped her, butt )irst, onto a wor+bench& 57ou -ust )ound out about $our son, and instead o) sittin' down and havin' a cal(, adult conversation, $ou’re tossin' (e around&6 5We’re not 'oin' to have a conversation, cal(, adult or otherwise&6 He snatched up handcu))s and snapped one end over her wrist& 5A conversation (eans two or (ore people are tal+in'&6 <uic+ thin+in' had hi( dod'in' her )ist the )irst ti(e, but it was onl$ a )eint& She landed the second and bloodied his lip& 5What $ou’re 'oin' to do,6 he said, trappin' her hands in )ront o) her and loc+in' the(, 5is listen&6 57ou haven’t chan'ed&6 She would have rolled o)) the table despite the obvious result o) s(ashin' her nose on the )loor i) he hadn’t cau'ht her and secured the loop o) the cu))s in a vise& 57ou’re still a bastard, and a bull$&6 5And $ou’re still a stubborn +now,it,all& 3ow shut up&6 Satis)ied she had no choice but to sta$ put, he stepped bac+& #o.anne hissed at hi(, then )ell into an ic$ silence&

Lu+e turned awa$& On the table were three pewter cups and colored balls& He be'an to wor+ the old routine as he continued& 5I can o))er an educated 'uess& I) he turned $ou in. he’d have used it& He’d hardl$ have wanted us to brea+ into his house and relieve hi( o) his wi)e’s -ewelr$&6 5He never intended )or us to ta+e the -ewelr$& And he used it all ri'ht. and would never be. he cau'ht her chin in his hand and )orced her head bac+ until their e$es (et& 5It was a setup& Are $ou listenin' to (e9 It was a )uc+in' setup ri'ht )ro( the start& 0od +nows what (i'ht have happened to $ou i) $ou’d been with (e& As bad as it was. tr$in' to help hi( out. had 'iven (e )or ($ twent$.two dollars in ($ wallet and the bur'lar’s tools Ma.ico with )i)t$. all he’d have was the satis)action o) . I’ve alwa$s been 'rate)ul $ou were sic+ that da$ and sta$ed ho(e&6 5Setup. and )or re-ectin' hi(&6 A new sensation was erodin' her disdain& And it was cold.the. #o. *allahan9 He hinted to (e about +nowin' so(ethin' $ears a'o. that ti(e we ran into hi( in 8&*& 2ut i) he’d +nown about us. and $ou didn’t (ana'e to beat the rap.co((unit$ )in'er at us96 57ou want (e to tell $ou how his (ind wor+s9 I can’t&6 1i'htin' )or the control to spea+ cal(l$.o). she sni))ed at that& 57ou’re )or'ettin' several hundred thousand in -ewels&6 5I didn’t have an$ -ewels& I never 'ot into the sa)e&6 Thou'h she turned her head and tried to bite. and Lil$ and ever$thin' that (attered and )lew to Me. ver$ cold& 5I) he +new )or certain we were thieves. ($ ass&6 She twisted awa$ and cursed the )act that she had never been.He wanted to tal+. wh$ hasn’t he pointed his pillar. as 'ood as Lu+e at escapes& 5He +new&6 The old ra'e be'an to burn throu'h hi( a'ain& With his e$es on (iddle distance. Lu+e wiped the blood )ro( his lip& 5He +new about the -ob& He +new about us&6 He brou'ht his 'a:e bac+ to #o.6 he be'an& 5I can’t den$ it& I won’t den$ it& I le)t $ou and Ma.& He used it to (a+e (e pa$ )or bein' in his wa$ all those $ears a'o& 1or brea+in' his 'odda(n nose& 1or hu(iliatin' hi(& He used it to hurt the rest o) $ou )or havin' the 'all to ta+e hi( in.anne’s )ace& 5He +new all about us&6 So(ethin' )luttered into her sto(ach and was i'nored& 5What are $ou sa$in'9 Are $ou tr$in' to (a+e (e believe that Sa( +new we were plannin' to steal )ro( hi(96 5He +new that—he wanted us to&6 Her lips thinned and curved without hu(or& 5. she thou'ht& She’d let hi( tal+ until his ton'ue )ell out& That didn’t (ean she had to listen& All o) her concentration )ocused on )reein' her wrists )ro( the cu))s& He wasn’t the onl$ one with tric+s up his sleeve& 5I le)t $ou.)irst birthda$&6 *oncentration or not.ust how 'ullible do $ou thin+ I a(.

and he loo+ed at (e& I +new it wasn’t all ri'ht& It (i'ht never be& So I sent $ou awa$. s/uee:in'& 5It was wonder)ul&6 5Then I saw hi(&6 Lu+e set the cups down a'ain& There was a ti(e )or illusion. twent$. (a$be a (ovie. )le. e(pt$ voice )ro:e her blood& 5Lu+e&6 She would have reached out. s/uee:in'. but he didn’t even 'lance over& His hands were (ovin' )aster. I (i'ht as well have been twelve a'ain.anne then. #o.pression care)ull$ blan+& 5The 'u$ who 'ot o)) beatin' (e until I passed out& Or loc+in' (e up.seein' $ou in prison& With the 3ouvelle reputation and celebrit$. and a ti(e )or truth& 5He wal+ed ri'ht b$ us. one incredible (inute. $ou’d ver$ li+el$ 'et a lot o) press.6 she whispered& It )elt as thou'h the vise was around her heart. his e. but hearin' it recited in that )lat. va'uel$ surprised to see the )aint outline o) his )in'ers a'ainst the pewter where he’d s/uee:ed& So the sha(e was still there.bit politician )i'ure it all out96 5Throu'h (e&6 Lu+e’s hands )altered& He stepped bac+. twent$. then be'an a'ain& 5He set *obb on (e&6 5Who96 5*obb& The 'u$ ($ (other was livin' with when I too+ o))&6 He loo+ed at #o.wee+&6 She snorted.o). re(e(berin' how drun+ Lu+e had been when he’d co(e ho(e that ni'ht& 57ou didn’t & & &6 5 ill hi(96 He tossed his head up and the s(ile on his )ace chilled her& 5It would have been si(pler all around i) I had& What was I. but the steel onl$ rattled a'ainst the teeth o) the vise& 5Lu+e.e$ed son o) a bitch (anhandlin' $ou& I went cra:$ because I +new what it was li+e—to be )orced& And I couldn’t stand the idea o) $ou & & & o) an$one hurtin' $ou that wa$& Then I was holdin' $ou& And I +issed $ou& I tried not to. )aster& 5What he wanted was to see $ou (iserable& And (e the (ost (iserable o) all& He’d +nown )or a lon' ti(e& Months at least&6 5How9 We’ve never had a whi)) o) suspicion in our direction& How did so(e two.9 7ou’d told (e about that )our. or cu))in' (e to the pipes in the bathroo(& The one who sold (e )or twent$ buc+s to a drun+en pervert&6 Her )ace went white and sti))& What he was sa$in' was horrid enou'h.ed his )in'ers. he reali:ed& And it would alwa$s be there. I thou'ht (a$be it would be all ri'ht&6 5It was all ri'ht.three9 *hrist. let (e 'o&6 53ot until $ou hear it& Hear all o) it&6 He pic+ed up a cup a'ain.the. that’s how (uch he scared (e& He wanted (one$—so I 'ave hi( (one$&6 . and went a)ter hi(&6 5What—6 She bit her lip. but I wanted $ou so bad& I wanted ever$thin' about $ou& And )or -ust a (inute. li+e the sli'ht distortion on the carved pewter& 5That ni'ht—do $ou re(e(ber that ni'ht in the rain.two.

had her +ic+in' out in his direction& 57ou didn’t trust (e enou'h to share that with (e96 50odda((it! I was asha(ed. Lu+e96 All ri'ht. so I paid& And b$ pa$in' I set ($sel) up )or worse&6 She closed her e$es& 5What could be worse96 . but the 'esture was -er+$& 5So I paid hi(& Whenever he’d send (e a postcard. had used (e se. I sent bac+ the a(ount he’d written on it& When $ou (oved in with (e. had—6 He bro+e o)).uall$&6 The an'r$ )lush died awa$ until her )ace was pale as 'lass& 2ut her e$es 'littered.t& 2ut she had to be sure& 5That Ma.ust a (inute& 7ou’re sa$in' he was still blac+(ailin' $ou a)ter we were to'ether9 All that ti(e.anne drew in a lon'. he’d 'ive her all& There’d be no (ore /uestion o) trust& 5That Ma. dar+ as a stor(. swearin'& He hadn’t (eant to 'o /uite that )ar& 2oth the sha(e and the an'er clenched in his 'ut as he waited& 31 #o. /uiet breath& She was a)raid she +new.ust in case&6 S$(path$ dried up into shoc+& 5Wait a (inute& . I alwa$s (ade sure I 'ot the (ail& . asha(ed that I didn’t have the balls to tell hi( to 'et )uc+ed& I was terri)ied he’d 'et tired o) $an+in' ($ chain and (a+e 'ood on his threat to tell the press that Ma. and $ou didn’t tell (e96 "ure re)le.She )elt a /uic+ twist o) relie)& 57ou paid hi(9 Wh$96 5So he’d +eep what he +new to hi(sel)& So he wouldn’t 'o to the press and tell the( I’d sold ($sel)&6 52ut $ou didn’t—6 5What di))erence did it (a+e what the truth was9 I’d been sold& I’d been used& I was asha(ed&6 He loo+ed over a'ain. and as dan'erous& 5He would have said that9 He would have lied that wa$ about $ou and 8add$96 5I don’t +now& I couldn’t ta+e the chance. asha(ed o) what had happened to (e. he thou'ht. ver$ (uch a)raid she +new what was co(in' ne. had what. but his e$es were no lon'er blan+& The swirl o) e(otion in the( battered her heart& 5I still a(&6 57ou did nothin'&6 5I was a victi(& So(eti(es that’s enou'h&6 He shru''ed it awa$.

but I’d been used -ust the sa(e&6 5I +new& I told $ou I’d alwa$s +nown&6 57ou didn’t +now what it did to (e& Inside& The scars on ($ bac+&6 He shru''ed and turned bac+& 5Hell. he told *obb to pour hi(sel) a drin+& And then & & & then he +illed hi(& He pointed the 'un. thou'h I should have )i'ured that *obb wasn’t s(art enou'h to pull o)) so(ethin' as s(ooth as the blac+(ail sca(& Whenever the$ raised the ante. he reali:ed that was onl$ hal) the answer& 5And to +eep $ou )ro( seein' I’d been a coward& That so(eone had )or'ed a chain I couldn’t wi''le )ree )ro(&6 He turned awa$ and spo+e slowl$& 5I’d been used& I never +new whether *obb’s client 'ot his (one$’s worth out o) (e. and W$att was callin' the shots& I didn’t +now it. the$’re li+e the tattoo.$& .5I said W$att set *obb on (e. and he told (e what he +new& He painted so(e pictures o) what it would be li+e i) $ou and Ma. *obb ca(e in& That’s when I learned about their partnership& #o. I paid& 3o /uestions& That didn’t sit well with W$att& So he did a little (ore di''in' to )i'ure out how I (ana'ed to pa$ upwards o) a hundred thousand a $ear without whinin'&6 5A hundred—6 !ven the thou'ht cho+ed her& 5I’d have paid twice as (uch to +eep $ou&6 When she loo+ed up at hi( a'ain. he saw the pattern& He had (onths to wor+ out the setup& I 'uess that’s wh$ it was so )uc+in' s(ooth&6 She was no lon'er stru''lin'. easil$ opened with a +e$& The chains on Lu+e’s pride were (ade o) sterner stu))& 58o $ou reall$ believe it would have chan'ed an$thin' I )elt )or $ou96 5It chan'ed what I )elt about (e& W$att understood that& He used it& And because he was stud$in' ever$ (ove I (ade. no lon'er an'r$& She was si(pl$ nu(b& 5He +new $ou were co(in' that ni'ht&6 5He +new& He was waitin' )or (e in his o))ice& He had a 'un& I )i'ured he’d +ill (e and that would be that& Sa( didn’t want that to be that& He o))ered (e a brand$& The coldhearted bastard o))ered (e a drin+. and he taunted (e about a lot o) thin's&6 His (outh 'ri((ed& 5I was )eelin' sic+& I 'uess I thou'ht it was the situation. and *hrist +nows I paid )or it&6 She sat /uietl$ now& The cu))s on her wrists were a transient restraint. wasn’t so stable. he pulled the tri''er and he +illed hi(&6 . #o.. were sent to prison& He +new Ma. tr$in' to calculate the odds. but it was the brand$&6 5He’d dru''ed $ou9 0od&6 5While I was sittin' there.ust a re(inder o) where I’d co(e )ro(& 2ut I didn’t want $ou to see past the(& I wanted to be invincible )or $ou—)or (e& It was pride.

Ireland& I tried drin+in' ($sel) to death. )or Ma. and there was no wa$ to 'et the(&6 He 'rinned& 54ntil . he was holdin' a di))erent 'un&6 Steadier than he’d e.. Lu+e sat on the bench and lit a ci'ar as he told her the rest& 5So. South A(erica. #o. and I started to wonder& And I started to plan& #unnin' into . a couple o) thin's happened& I )ound out about Ma. #o.pected to be. and I need $ou to (a+e it wor+& Are $ou still with (e96 5He stole )ive $ears )ro( (e& Too+ awa$ ($ son’s )ather& And $ou have to as+96 . and when I ca(e to.a+e& He went to wor+ on it.6 he corrected.6 he )inished& 5And I spent )ive $ears tr$in' to )or'et $ou& And )ailin' (iserabl$& I went all over the world.a+e was hand$& 4p till then I’d been livin' on what I could (a+e as the "hanto(& I couldn’t touch ($ Swiss accounts because I didn’t have the nu(bers. is it96 53o& I want it.& And it’s 'oin' to 'et (e what I want&6 5Which is96 52esides $ou&6 He tapped out his ci'ar& 5Let’s call it -ustice& Our old )riend is 'oin' to pa$&6 5This isn’t -ust about the stone. but I never did li+e the a)ter(ath o) a 'ood drun+& I tried wor+& I tried wo(en&6 He slanted her a loo+& 5The$ wor+ed so(e better than the bottle&6 5I bet&6 The chill$ anno$ance in her tone cheered hi(& 5About si.& Ma$be I -ust 'ot s(art& 2ut I started to thin+. (onths a'o. but no& I’ve 'ot a wa$ to 'et hi(& It’s ta+en (e a lon' ti(e to wor+ it out. but her vision was clear& She’d be'un to see per)ectl$& 5He was 'oin' to let $ou ta+e the )all )or (urder&6 5It was per)ect& I passed out.& Asia. #o. loo+in' bac+ at her& He let that si((er while he continued& 5The other thin' I )ound out was that W$att was runnin' )or the Senate in the co(in' election& Ma$be I 'ot -aded over the last )ive $ears. and li)e 'ot easier& Mone$ s(ooths the wa$. I le)t& I disappeared.’s condition& 7ou’d done a prett$ 'ood -ob o) +eepin' that under wraps&6 5M$ personal li)e is (ine& I don’t discuss it with the press&6 He studied the tip o) his ci'ar& 5I 'uess that’s wh$ I never read an$thin' about 3ate&6 5I don’t share ($ child with the public&6 5Our child.5He—6 She shut her e$es a'ain.

He 'rinned. inch b$ achin' inch toward . her voice dr$ as the Sahara& 52ut I didn’t tell $ou that the$ were poor. but she turned her head awa$& 5I want to as+ $ou so(ethin'. s(otherin' an$ protest and turnin' shoc+ into churnin' arousal& It had 'one so /uic+l$ the )irst ti(e. coa.pression on his )ace had a thrill o) panic+ed e.6 he de(anded a'ain& 5I love $ou&6 She would have wept. nothin' $ou can do that would (a+e (e leave $ou a'ain&6 His thu(bs -ust brushed the undersides o) her breasts& 5I’ll +ill $ou i) $ou tr$ this ti(e.cite(ent rippin' up her spine& 5Ma$be later&6 And his (outh ca(e down on hers.anne. all )lash and )ire and need& He wanted to do (ore than savor now& He wanted to ta+e her step b$ tre(blin' step. war(in' as he slipped his hands under the sweatshirt to s+i( )in'ers alon' her ribs& 5When I le)t. he contented hi(sel) with nibblin' on her earlobe& 5I told $ou there were other wo(en&6 5I’( hardl$ surprised.in' her )ace toward his b$ runnin' +isses alon' her -aw& 5I’ve loved $ou as lon' as I can re(e(ber&6 He could )eel her so)tenin'.cite(ent was buildin'. so bac+ o))&6 He eased bac+ an inch& 5This )ar enou'h96 5Are $ou here because I’( a necessar$ part o) the plan96 5What $ou are. leanin' over to +iss her.& There was never one da$ when I didn’t want $ou&6 He slid his hands to her waist. *allahan. is necessar$&6 He slipped o)) the table and turned to run his hands up her outer thi'hs& 5%ital&6 2ecause her head was still turned awa$. I’ve alwa$s loved $ou& I never stopped& 3ow unloc+ these stupid cu))s&6 5Ma$be&6 He tu''ed on her hair until her e$es opened and loc+ed on his& The e. she turned her (outh to his& 5I swear it& I won’t let $ou (a+e (e love $ou a'ain unless I’( sure $ou’re sta$in'&6 57ou never stopped lovin' (e&6 The e. but the sob turned to a 'asp& 58a(n $ou.6 she said. pale illusions& S(o+e and (irrors. *allahan&6 8esperate. #o. #o. it was )or $ou& *o(in' bac+ was )or $ou& There’s nothin' $ou can sa$. unbearabl$& He cupped her breasts. usin' his thu(bs to tease the nipples into achin' points& 5Sa$ it&6 5I wanted to&6 Her head )ell bac+ with a (oan as he pressed his lips to her nec+& 5I wanted to stop&6 5Sa$ the (a'ic words.

pleasurin' her with teeth and ton'ue and clever )in'ertips until she shuddered violentl$ over the )irst pea+& 5I love $ou. so that this (o(ent when all the secrets were revealed would be seared into her (ind. he slid the loose pants down her hips. stun her. never to be )or'otten& He s+i((ed his ton'ue up the lon' line o) her throat while his hands traced over her. utterl$. she surrounded& And the$ too+ each other& . no will.6 he (ur(ured as the hands he’d )reed ca(e ti'ht around hi(& 5Onl$ $ou&6 He )illed. e. and hu(ble as a be''ar& Slowl$. to see ever$thin' she )elt re)lected on her )ace. to )eel ever$ thrill that roc+ed her bod$.(adness& And he wanted to shoc+ her. touched o)) little )ires in her blood that burned li+e a dru'& She wanted to be ta+en. airless pea+.posed inch o) )lesh.pect her to thin+ rationall$ when her head was reelin'9 5How (uch ti(e do I have to (a+e up ($ (ind96 5I’ll 'ive $ou plent$ o) ti(e&6 The (arvelous truth was she had no (ind.anne&6 He pressed her bac+ a'ainst the bench& 5Alwa$s $ou.ploited )or their (utual pleasure. craved it. his (outh. I’ll stop. but his hands. then she was totall$ in his& And 'lor$in' in it& She would never have believed that helplessness could be erotic& The +nowled'e that her bod$ was his. to hear her (ur(ur his na(e a'ain and a'ain as the pleasure swa(ped her& Her power was all the (ore potent because she was too da:ed to reali:e she held it& Her surrender (ade hi( as (uch her prisoner as she was his—the co(pleteness o) it. were torturousl$ 'entle& Sensation crashed into e(otion. la:il$ possessive& 5I) $ou don’t li+e it.plorin' each newl$ e. #o. nippin' at her lips& 5Should I stop96 5I don’t +now&6 How could he e. he pulled her bac+. each risin' dan'erousl$& !ach ti(e. con/uered& A lon'. e.6 he (ur(ured. throat$ (oan vibrated )ro( her when he tore her shirt down the center& She braced )or the onslau'ht. leavin' her 'aspin' and cra:ed& It was stunnin' to watch her. no reason& I) this was a (atter o) power. and in this sin'le private (o(ent. and the )earlessness& That she would (elt )or hi( (ade hi( )eel stron' as a 'od. ever$ ti(e she strained toward that )inal.

that without testin' e/uip(ent she would have been )ooled& 3ot onl$ did the stones loo+ 'enuine but the settin' was deceptivel$ anti/ue& 5When can we e. she decided and du(ped the ba's on the counter& She didn’t care )or it& 57ou 'ot e''s in those ba's96 Le*lerc de(anded. but /uite 'ood& What did it cost us96 She was na+ed. she thou'ht now as she carried two ba's o) 'roceries into the +itchen& It was be'innin' to ir+ her that Lu+e continued to be va'ue& He was testin' her. 'lowerin'& She winced. and +ept her reasons to hersel)& She no lon'er put an$ restrictions on his visits to the house on *hartres& There were reasons )or that as well& It hurt the( all that Ma. stones& 5The real one’s worth upwards o) a hundred and )i)t$. (a+e an o(elette&6 . as was he& Lu+e had tuc+ed his ar(s behind his head as he’d stretched on the bed and watched her in the 'low o) the lowerin' sun& 51ive thousand&6 51ive&6 Her brows rose as her practical nature absorbed that shoc+& 5That’s ver$ steep&6 5The (an’s an artist&6 He 'rinned as she )rowned and to$ed with the )au. to hersel) an$wa$. drapin' it around her own nec+& 5A bit ornate )or ($ taste. #o. and each da$ he was hospitali:ed )or tests was unbearabl$ lon'& #o.pect the rest96 5In ti(e&6 In ti(e. an$ decision she (ade on allowin' Lu+e bac+ into her li)e would be )ocused on her son& Their son& The$ wor+ed to'ether& As one wee+ passed into two the act the$’d created between the( 'rew slic+ and )lash$& The$ cra)ted their -ob at the auction as (eticulousl$& #o.It anno$ed hi( that she wouldn’t let hi( spend his ni'hts with her. to watch her wa+e in the (ornin'& 2ut she stood )ir(. had slipped awa$ a'ain. then shru''ed& 5So. deliberatel$ downpla$in' the cra)ts(anship in the tiered dia(ond and rub$ nec+lace& She’d stood at the (irror in his bedroo(.6 she’d told hi(.& He needed to be able to turn to her in the ni'ht.anne had to ad(it Lu+e had entwined all the details as cra)til$ as the *hinese Lin+in' #in's& She was suitabl$ i(pressed with the )irst o) the )or'ed pieces that arrived )ro( the source he’d co((issioned in 2o'otR& 53ice wor+. nor would she spend hers with hi(& He needed (ore than the inti(ac$ o) se.& We’ll cover our overhead nicel$&6 5I suppose&6 She had to ad(it.anne +new that havin' Lu+e around boosted (orale—her own included& And she wanted to 'ive 3ate a chance to +now hi( as a (an be)ore the bo$ had to accept hi( as a )ather& #ational or not. 'rate)ul her bac+ was to hi(. o) course.

5Ma+e an o(elette. 5O+a$& 3ow watch care)ull$&6 eepin' his (ove(ents slow. pic+ a (a'ic word&6 . dar+ heads bent close. she wal+ed to the door and loo+ed in& The$ were on the )loor to'ether. listen&6 He tapped the (elon. she (arched out. don’t $ou96 #o. i) #o. his )ace screwed in intense concentration& 5I’( learnin' to write 3athaniel. 3ate&6 To illustrate. Lu+e was patientl$ e. +nees brushin'& To$s were scattered on the ru'. s(ell.anne thou'ht about that a (o(ent& 53o&6 Turnin' on her heel. ’cause that’s ($ last na(e&6 57eah&6 A shadow passed over Lu+e’s e$es as he watched 3ate stru''le with the .. let’s tr$ it& *an $ou print $our na(e96 5Sure I can& 3. (utterin'& The (an was never satis)ied& Here she’d 'one strai'ht )ro( rehearsal to the (ar+et. holdin' it close to his ear& 5Still 'reen&6 #o. and he didn’t even sa$ than+s& And she hated cantaloupe& She would have stal+ed strai'ht upstairs i) she hadn’t heard the voices )ro( the parlor& Lu+e’s voice& 3ate’s bell$ 'i''les& Movin' /uietl$. too& Then 3ouvelle. Lu+e rolled the pen inside the paper and twisted both ends& 53ow. Le*lerc held out a cantaloupe& 5How the hell a( I supposed to +now i) it’s ripe96 Mar+etin' never put her in a sunn$ (ood& 5The$ all loo+ the sa(e&6 5How (an$ ti(es I tell $ou. here.anne planted her hands on her hips& 5Wh$ do $ou alwa$s send (e out )or )ruits and ve'etables then co(plain about what I brin' ho(e96 57ou 'ot to learn. 5I 'uess it is&6 He waited until 3ate had co(pleted a ver$ slanted 3.!&6 He too+ the pen and paper Lu+e o))ered.plainin' so(e little poc+et tric+ he’d brou'ht alon'& The %anishin' "en.anne wasn’t (ista+en& A(used. a testa(ent to what her (en had been doin' while she slaved over (elons& 3ow.T. Lu+e twea+ed 3ate’s and (ade hi( 'i''le a'ain& 5#i'ht be)ore $our e$es& 3ow. (a+e an o(elette& Alwa$s the s(art tal+& 0et—out o) ($ +itchen&6 He waved her o))& 5I 'ot supper to (a+e )or an ar($&6 Which (eant onl$ one thin'& 5Lu+e’s here96 57ou surprised96 He snorted and be'an to ta+e 'roceries out o) the ba'& 5!ver$bod$’s alwa$s here& 7ou call this a ripe (elon96 Accusation in ever$ cell. she leaned a'ainst the doorwa$ and watched )ather atte(ptin' to teach son& 5#i'ht under the nose.A.

car driver and a police(an&6 A cop. ’cause it’s secret&6 5That’s ri'ht& Are $ou 'oin' to be a (a'ician one da$96 57eah&6 4nable to +eep still )or lon'. e. )eelin's.6 3ate said. a(used& Well. -aded& 5When Ma(a showed (e how to (a+e the /uarter 'o throu'h the table&6 58oes she teach $ou stu)) about (a'ic96 He was 'reed$ )or an$thin' he could learn about his son’s thou'hts. deli'hted to use a word he’d pic+ed up )ro( a sophisticated pal at preschool& 58is'ustin'. but it (a$ wor+&6 Lu+e tore the paper in two and had the pleasure o) seein' 3ate’s e$es widen& 5It disappeared! The pen’s been disappeared&6 5Absolutel$&6 4nable to resist the )lourish. 3ate bounced his ru(p on the ru'& 5I’( 'oin' to be a (a'ician. desires& 5Sure& 2ut $ou have to pro(ise not to tell an$bod$.54((—6 53ope. turnin' the(.e$ed belie) (ade hi( )eel li+e a +in'& 5Want to learn how to do it96 5*an I96 57ou have to ta+e the (a'ician’s oath&6 5I did that alread$. huh9 Let’s see i) $ou can learn this tric+ be)ore $ou 'o win the Indianapolis FMM and chase bad 'u$s&6 He was pleased that 3ate was interested rather than disappointed when he saw the wor+in's o) the tric+& It see(ed to Lu+e that he could all but hear the child’s (ind wor+in' it throu'h. and a race. u((’s not 'ood enou'h.plorin' the possibilities& He had 'ood hands. bac+ to )ront and bac+ a'ain& His son’s bu'.6 Lu+e said and sent 3ate o)) in a )it o) )resh 'i''les& 52oo'ers!6 3ate decided. where did the$ 'o wron'9 5All that. Lu+e thou'ht as he posed the( with his own& A /uic+ (ind& And a s(ile that bro+e his )ather’s heart& 5This is neat&6 . Lu+e held up his hands. even $our best )riends. Lu+e thou'ht. well.

a''erated bursts as 3ate bounced on his sto(ach& 57ou’re too tou'h )or (e.6 3ate stated. sole(n. and turned 3ate’s s(ile into a 'rin& 5A(a:in' neat&6 He couldn’t help it& Lu+e leaned down to +iss the 'rin& 5Tr$ it a'ain.ust uncle&6 *huc+lin'.6 Lu+e (ur(ured.5A(a:in'. (oved unbearabl$.e$ed. slic+& Let’s see i) $ou can do this with distractions& So(eti(es there are hec+lers in the audience&6 5What’s that96 5Oh.perienced the unspea+able pleasure o) cradlin' his son& With his e$es closed.6 Lu+e said.cept li(a beans. with the care)ree childhood habit o) announcin' bodil$ )unctions& . Lu+e let hi(sel) be pinned& He 'runted with e. Lu+e li)ted an unstead$ hand to 3ate’s hair& 58o $ou want a hu' to 'o with it96 5Sure&6 Lu+e opened his ar(s and e. re(e(berin'& 57uc+& I wish I could (a+e all the li(a beans in the whole world disappear&6 5We’ll wor+ on it&6 5I 'otta pee. )urious battle. he rubbed his chee+ to 3ate’s& 57ou wei'h a ton&6 5I’( a wal+in' appetite&6 3ate leaned bac+ to 'rin down at Lu+e& 5Ma(a sa$s so& I eat ever$thin' ’less it’s nailed down&6 5!. people who $ell thin's or tal+ too loud& Or & & & tic+le $ou&6 3ate 'ave a s/ueal o) deli'ht when Lu+e snatched hi(& A)ter a short. Lu+e ru))led 3ate’s dar+ hair& 5It (eans I 'ive up&6 5*an $ou show (e another tric+96 5Ma$be& What’s it worth to $ou96 3ate bartered what alwa$s wor+ed with his (other and scooted down to 'ive Lu+e a s(ac+in' +iss on the (outh& 8a:ed b$ the eas$ a))ection. +id& 4ncle&6 54ncle who96 5.

there was so(ethin' di))erent about this (an& Ma$be it was (a'ic& 58o $ou have a penis96 Lu+e stran'led bac+ a lau'h because the child was e$ein' hi( owlishl$& 5I certainl$ do&6 5Me too& 0irls don’t& Ma(a neither&6 *autious. dancin' a bit& 57ou want to 'o as+ Le*lerc )or so(e coo+ies96 1ro( penises to coo+ies. 'rinnin'& 5He’s so—6 He bro+e o)) when #o. she whirled awa$ and tossed open the 1rench doors to her terrace& 5What the hell’s wron' with $ou96 he de(anded& . o+a$96 3ate 'i''led and held hi(sel) uninhibitedl$ to prolon' the inevitable another (o(ent& He li+ed bein' with Lu+e. tra(plin' a plastic truc+ as he started toward her& 53othin'&6 She wouldn’t be able to hold it o)) this ti(e& Si(pl$ wouldn’t& 5It’s nothin'&6 Turnin'. Lu+e thou'ht& *hildhood was )ascinatin'& 50o ahead& I’ll catch up with $ou&6 3ate turned and spotted his (other.58on’t do it here. he rose. she bolted up the stairs& She would have loc+ed hersel) in her roo(. but Lu+e was at the door be)ore she could shove it to& 1urious with hersel). one hand on his crotch& 5An interestin' conversation. ’cause $ou can stand up to pee&6 5It does have its advanta'es&6 5I 'otta 'o&6 3ate scra(bled up.anne pressed a hand to her (outh& 5What is it96 Alar(ed. li+ed the s(ell o) hi( that was di))erent )ro( an$one else in his )a(il$& Thou'h he’d never had to do without (ale in)luence or co(panionship.anne (ana'ed a)ter she heard the powder roo( door sla(& 5Man tal+&6 Lu+e sat up. Lu+e tuc+ed his ton'ue in his chee+& 5I believe $ou’re ri'ht about that&6 5I li+e havin' one.6 #o. but his bladder was strainin'& 5Hi& I 'otta pee&6 5Hi $oursel)& 0o be ($ 'uest&6 3ate trotted o)).

and $our hands& So (uch s(aller. claspin' an ar( around her (iddle to hold bac+ the worst o) the pressure& 57ou should have co(e ho(e& 7ou should have . that’s not it&6 She rapped a )ist a'ainst his chest& 58o $ou +now how it (a+es (e )eel to see $ou to'ether9 To see the wa$ $ou loo+ at hi(96 Tears spilled over.6 she threw bac+. and then seein' $ou with hi(. I’( tr$in' not to resent that. #o. she roc+ed& 5It helped (e 'et throu'h the worst o) it& I didn’t cr$ when $ou ca(e bac+& And when $ou told (e what had happened. the cal(er Lu+e beca(e& 5I’( 'oin' to see hi(. hu(iliated b$ the catch in her voice& 5He’s (ine. so co(plete she could onl$ co(bat it with sharp words& 50o awa$. but she )ou'ht bac+ the sobs& 5I’( sorr$ it hurts $ou.anne& I’( 'oin' to be a part o) his li)e& I have to.5There’s nothin' wron' with (e&6 The ache was so )ierce. what’s best. she was losin'& The closer she ca(e to the ed'e. oh 0od. $ou were wron'&6 She spun bac+.6 Lu+e said sti))l$& 5And (a$be I can’t bla(e $ou too (uch )or wantin' to punish (e b$ not lettin' (e be his )ather&6 5I’( not tr$in' to punish $ou&6 8esperate to 'et it all out.&6 He’d thou'ht. but I won’t sta$ awa$ because $ou want to +eep hi( to $oursel)&6 5That’s not it& 8a(n it. and b$ *hrist. hot drivin' -a::& It see(ed to )it the (o(ent& 5Seein' (e with 3ate 'et $our bac+ up96 53o& 7es&6 She -er+ed awa$ to dra' her hands throu'h her hair& Oh 0od. I hurt )or $ou. he’d hoped the$ had passed throu'h the worst o) this the ni'ht he’d told her ever$thin'& 5I’( sorr$&6 He reached out. and $our e$es. I have a ri'ht to&6 58on’t tal+ to (e about ri'hts. it hurts (e to see $ou with hi(. and it bro+e ($ heart& He has $our s(ile. and I tried to understand what $ou (ust have )elt& 2ut da(n $ou& 8a(n $ou. #o. I’( not sure. she pressed her lips to'ether& 5Ma$be I a(. and that’s the hardest part& Tr$in' to +now what to do. or to hear (usic& He holds his head the wa$ $ou do&6 She dashed )uriousl$ at tears& 5He alwa$s did. what’s ri'ht. +nowin' all that ti(e that was lost& 7es. will $ou9 I’( tired& I want to be alone&6 5One o) $our tantru(s. but she pivoted awa$& 5I never cried over $ou& 3ot once in )ive $ears did I allow ($sel) a tear )or $ou& That was pride&6 "ressin' the bac+ o) her hand to her (outh. it’s a )act& I’( tr$in' to understand wh$ $ou won’t tell hi( I’( his )ather. too& However (uch $ou’d li+e to bloc+ that out.96 His own )eelin's were brittle as he turned her to )ace hi(& Music dri)ted up )ro( the <uarter. but $ours& I used to loo+ at the( while he was sleepin'. count his )in'ers and loo+ at his hands& And I’d ache )or $ou&6 5#o. but not the wa$ $ou (ean& It hurts the wa$ it hurts to watch a sunrise.

she let her head rest a'ainst his shoulder& 5I hate this&6 5I +now $ou do&6 He pressed a +iss to her hot. 'oin' li(p when his ar(s ca(e around her. roc+in' her& 3ever li+e this& She couldn’t stop. awa$ )ro( $our )a(il$. awa$ )ro( $our )ather& It didn’t have to (atter that he was ill. the wrac+in' sobs turned to dr$ 'asps.6 she whispered throu'h a throat dr$ as dust& 53o& 3ot a'ain& 3ever a'ain. and the violent shudders so)tened to /uivers& The hands )isted at his bac+ rela. sobbin' sha(elessl$ when he li)ted her to carr$ her to bed and cradle her& He could onl$ hold her as )ive $ears o) suppressed (ournin' )looded out& There were no words to co()ort& He had +nown her nearl$ twent$ $ears and could count on one hand the nu(ber o) ti(es she’d wept in )ront o) hi(& And never li+e this. oh. that I owed hi(. #o. he thou'ht. burned the throat. all o) $ou. sha+e it in silent denial as Lil$ loo+ed in& 0raduall$.co(e to (e and told (e then& I would have 'one with $ou& I’d have 'one an$where with $ou&6 5I +now&6 He couldn’t touch her now.ed& 5I need to be alone. whatever 'ood thin's I had& I (i'ht have ris+ed the )act that W$att could have set the cops on (e at an$ ti(e so that the$’d hunt (e down as a (urderer& 2ut I didn’t& I couldn’t&6 5I needed $ou&6 Tears blinded her until she covered her )ace with her hands and let the( co(e )reel$& 5I needed $ou&6 It hurt.anne&6 She was too wea+ to ar'ue& A)ter one sha+$ si'h. was a)raid she never would& She didn’t hear the door open& 8idn’t )eel Lu+e turn his head. battered the heart& She lost hersel) in the violence o) 'rie). no (atter how (uch he needed to& She see(ed suddenl$ so )ra'ile that to touch (i'ht be to brea+& He could onl$ stand bac+ and let the stor( ra'e over both o) the(& 5I +new it then. and I nearl$ did co(e bac+& I could have ta+en $ou awa$. it hurt to let 'o al(ost as (uch as it had to hold bac+& *r$in' wrac+ed the bod$. achin' te(ple& 58o $ou re(e(ber that ti(e a)ter $ou )ound out Sa( had used $ou& 7ou cried then. and I didn’t +now /uite how to handle it&6 57ou held (e&6 She sni))led& 5Then $ou bro+e his nose&6 57eah& I’ll do (ore this ti(e&6 Over her head his 'a:e sharpened li+e a blade& 5That’s a pro(ise&6 .

partners and shared a child.anne opened the door with a ba))led lau'h& 5What are $ou doin' out here96 5As+in' a beauti)ul wo(an out to dinner&6 He o))ered the roses. be)ore he could thin+ o) an ar'u(ent& 5I’ll be bac+&6 This ti(e she s(iled& 5I’( countin' on it&6 He brou'ht her )lowers& He’d reali:ed.)lowers routine seein' as the$ were lovers.She couldn’t thin+ about that now& She )elt drained and.and. and i) there was still love tan'led up with it. oddl$.—6 53o. *allahan& 0ive (e a hal) an hour&6 She +issed hi(. then with a sweepin' bow. soothed b$ the stro+e o) his hand over her hair& 5I could tell ($sel) it was lust. produced a bou/uet o) paper )lowers that bloo(ed )ro( the secret pool beneath his shirt cu))& 5Oh&6 It threw her o))—the char(in' s(ile. the second he’d been too tense& It (i'ht have been a little late in the da$ )or the hearts. I could still be in control& 2ut I was a)raid to let $ou be ($ )riend a'ain&6 Steadier.anne what Lil$ would consider a proper wooin' either ti(e around& The )irst ti(e he’d been overwhel(ed b$ her. he )in'er. but as Ma. )ree& 5It was easier to 'ive $ou ($ bod$ than to 'ive $ou this&6 She let her swollen e$es close. the )or(al 'reetin'. so)tl$. the ar()ul o) )ra'rant rosebuds and the sill$ tric+& The chan'e in routine auto(aticall$ tri''ered suspicion& 5What are $ou up to96 5I told $ou& I’( as+in' $ou out on a date&6 . a bit 'uiltil$. that he hadn’t 'iven #o.co(bed his hair and ran' the bell& 5*allahan&6 #o. she let out a lon' breath& 5Let (e 'et up. deeper than an$ other she’d o))ered that she let hi( see the rava'e the tears had caused& 5There’s so(ethin' I need to do& Ta+e a wal+. (i'ht have said. wash ($ )ace& Leave (e alone )or a while&6 5#o. better late than too soon& He even went to the )ront door rather than wanderin' in throu'h the +itchen& Li+e a suitor co(in' to call. please&6 She eased bac+& It was a point o) trust.

unless it’s tr$in' to be nice to an e. what have $ou done this ti(e96 53othin'.. thou'h she was be'innin' to en-o$ the picture e(er'in'& 5Twice& Once when $ou were two hours late )or dinner—a dinner I’d 'one to the trouble to coo+&6 5And $ou threw the( at (e&6 5O) course& And the second ti(e & & & Oh $es. $ou did&6 She held bac+ a s(ile. I’( not throwin' the( at $ou. #o. she was a tou'h nut& 57ou’d thin+ I never brou'ht $ou )lowers be)ore&6 53o. and too+ his hand& 5*o(e on in& We’re havin' dinner here&6 5#o. but restrained hi(sel)& 5I) $ou don’t want to 'o to the hassle o) coo+in'.6 he said between his teeth& 5Ma$be )or a drive a)terward— so(ewhere we can par+ on the side o) the road and nec+&6 5There a 'as lea+ in $our house. *allahan. not in a house)ul o) people&6 5The house)ul o) people is out )or the evenin'. saw the bo$ sittin' on the ed'e o) the couch& 5He$. will $ou co(e out with (e96 5I can’t reall$& I have plans&6 She did lower her head to draw in the scent o) roses& 2e)ore she could )ull$ appreciate the(. I bet& Let’s 'o into the parlor. I’( coo+in'&6 5Oh&6 The depth o) his love was proven then and there as he su((oned up a s(ile& 5Terri)ic&6 57eah.asperatin' wo(an&6 5Well. slic+&6 .esus. did $ou96 . and 0od help $ou.57ou—6 The lau'h snorted out unlad$li+e throu'h her nose& 5#i'ht& In twent$ $ears $ou’ve never as+ed (e out on a date& What do $ou want96 It wasn’t eas$ to court a wo(an who was 'larin' at $ou out o) red. we could send out&6 He )ollowed her into the parlor. that was when $ou’d bro+en the little porcelain bo. *allahan. Lil$ had 'iven (e )or *hrist(as& So.. no. a( I96 She s(iled then. I have so(ethin' )or $ou&6 He nearl$ as+ed i) it was a dose o) bicarb. babe. or what96 50odda((it. she snapped her head bac+ a'ain& 57ou didn’t brin' these to (e because I cried.ri((ed and narrowed e$es& 5To ta+e $ou to dinner. I want to be alone with $ou.

$ou’re short and u'l$ now.&6 Thou'h his e$es pleaded )or help. Lu+e could onl$ stare& 5Ma(a said $ou had to 'o awa$ )or a lon' ti(e ’cause a bad 'u$ was a)ter $ou& 8id $ou shoot hi( dead96 53o&6 He had to swallow. he loo+ed at #o. she shoo+ her head& 5So(eti(es steppin' out cold’s the onl$ wa$. I do& A lot& I (ean. *allahan& 3o script. li+e when he’d eaten too (uch cand$ on Halloween& 5Ma$be $ou couldn’t help it.6 3ate (ur(ured. or )or $our (other.5Hi&6 3ate studied hi( )or a lon' (o(ent with a +ind o) absorbed intensit$ that (ade Lu+e want to s/uir(& 5How co(e $ou don’t live here i) $ou’re ($ dadd$96 5I—6 #oc+ed strai'ht to the soul. I’( still sorr$& I don’t 'uess $ou need (e (uch. no props&6 5O+a$&6 On water$ le's he wal+ed to the couch and crouched down in )ront o) his son& 1or a (o(ent he was tossed bac+ to his debut per)or(ance in a stu))$ carnival tent& 1lop sweat pooled at the base o) his spine& 5I’( sorr$ I wasn’t here )or $ou. he$.6 she (ur(ured& 53o rehearsal. or bad. Lu+e (used& 5We could be )riends i) that’s o+a$ with $ou& 7ou don’t have to thin+ o) (e as $our )ather&6 Tears swa( in 3ate’s e$es when he loo+ed up a'ain& His lips /uivered and ripped ri'ht throu'h Lu+e’s heart& 58on’t $ou want (e to96 57eah&6 His throat ached& His heart healed& 57eah. but I thin+ $ou’ve 'ot potential&6 5What’s potential96 . don’t we96 5Sure&6 3ate po+ed out his botto( lip& 5I 'uess&6 And he’d thou'ht #o.anne& 5#o. 3ate&6 3ate’s 'a:e )altered& His sto(ach had )elt )unn$ ever since his (other had sat hi( down and told hi( he had a dadd$& He didn’t +now i) it was 'ood )unn$—the wa$ it )elt a)ter Mouse had swun' hi( in circles. $ou’re prett$ 'rown up and all& We—ah—'et alon' o+a$. but couldn’t& 2oth his son and the wo(an he loved waited patientl$& 5I thou'ht I (i'ht tric+ hi( instead& I don’t thin+ I’d li+e shootin' an$bod$&6 8esperatel$ out o) his ele(ent. pullin' at the threads in the hole worn into the +nee o) his -eans& 5Whether I could or not.anne was a tou'h nut.

he leaned close to Lu+e’s ear and whispered. holdin' her )lowers& 5The +id catches on )ast&6 5It’s that sl$ Irish blood& A 3ouvelle is (uch too proud to wheedle&6 5Wheedle. and in an echo o) his (other’s childhood. Lu+e cupped his son’s )ace in his hands& 5Lots and lots o) possibilities&6 5"otential. and accepted& 32 5I’( tr$in' to concentrate&6 #o.anne still stood. hell. Lu+e 'lanced bac+ to where #o.a+e up there.5"ossibilities. but en-o$ed the debate& 5We’d have to 'et . too& He doesn’t li+e hei'hts&6 .anne waved a hand over her shoulder to brush Lu+e bac+& He was breathin' down her nec+& 5I’( tr$in' to as+ $ou out on a date&6 57ou’re certainl$ hun' up on dates these da$s&6 She hunched )orward. 3ate96 5#i'ht&6 He shrie+ed with pleasure when Lu+e swun' hi( up& 8ecidin' to 'o )or the 'old. ad-ustin' the li'ht on her )ather’s des+& Spread be)ore her were the blueprints )or the art 'aller$& The$ had $et to a'ree on a point o) entr$& 51ro( the top down. 8add$ Warbuc+s&6 He +new it was the cleanest wa$.6 3ate repeated. he settled his head on his )ather’s shoulder. savored the word& His s(ile spread sweetl$& 52obb$’s )ather built hi( a tree house& A big one&6 5Oh. 3athaniel&6 0entl$. wh$ co(e in on 'round level and cli(b up96 52ecause that wa$ we can wal+ up stairs instead o) dan'lin' )i)teen )eet )ro( a rope&6 She slanted a loo+ over her shoulder& 57ou’re 'ettin' old&6 5I be' $our pardon& It so happens I’( a parent now& I have to ta+e certain precautions&6 5The roo).hibit’s on the third )loor. 5*an $ou tell Ma(a I should have a do'9 A reall$ bi' do'96 Lu+e tilted a )in'er under 3ate’s chin so that the$ 'rinned identical 'rins& 5I’ll wor+ on it& How about a hu'96 5O+a$&6 3ate s/uee:ed his ar(s hard around Lu+e’s nec+& His sto(ach still )elt )unn$.oh&6 A(a:ed and deli'hted. it’s a s(art bo$ who +nows when to press his advanta'e& #i'ht. and the sensation had spread to his chest& 2ut he thou'ht it was a 'ood )eelin' a)ter all& On a si'h. *allahan& It -ust (a+es sense& The e.

&6 He couldn’t predict how she’d react. ta+e the proper loot and replace it with our )a+es&6 5Then. third )loor& I’( alread$ in. and too+ the coward’s wa$ b$ stallin'& 5Want a brand$96 5Sure&6 She stretched a'ain& It was nearl$ one in the (ornin'& The house was /uiet. she 'rinned& 5I wish I could see the 'uard’s )ace when he 'ets a loo+ at Mouse’s video wor+&6 5Onl$ a(ateurs thin+ the$ have to be in on the punch line. east window. let a /uiet breath out between his teeth and strai'htened& 5That’s so(ethin' I’ve been (eanin' to tal+ to $ou about. leavin' not a trace&6 She ran her ton'ue over her top lip& 57ou and I will 'o bac+ to our hotel roo(. but I thin+ we have to& About the ta+e )ro( the auction&6 5M(((&6 5We’re not 'oin' to +eep it&6 . #o. lovel$ 'litters& All ours. to doctor ca(era si. thirt$ seconds onl$. $ou’ll blind)old hi(&6 She tapped a pencil a'ainst the drawin'& 5Here.a+e and Mouse have ta+en care o) business. that tone. Lu+e& 7ou +now da(n well I’( better with electronics& Then I switch the surveillance tapes&6 "ullin' her hair bac+ in one hand. the hall be$ond the o))ice dar+ with shadows& She thou'ht brie)l$ about seducin' Lu+e on the cush$ leather couch.actl$ eleven seventeen. thirt$ seconds. which 'ives (e one (inute. and nearl$ escaped into it to avoid the issue& 53o. then up. and one (inute. presto! We’re out. ($ hero&6 She )luttered her lashes& 5And we have si. *allahan&6 He winced. to lin+ the( around his nec+& 5And -ust thin+ o) all those lovel$. I love it when $ou’re crude&6 He rested his chin on the top o) her head& 5We still need to re)ine the ti(in'&6 5We have a )ew wee+s&6 She stretched her ar(s out. and a hal) (inutes to open the displa$. *allahan. as lon' as . babe&6 50et bent.5So. twiddlin' ($ thu(bs in that storeroo( until deadline& I 'o into the surveillance roo( at e.6 she said (ildl$& 5To continue. and s(iled slowl$ when he handed her a sni)ter& 5Sure $ou want to tal+96 He +new that loo+. and )uc+ li+e (in+s&6 50od. be)ore the alar( +ic+s in&6 5I don’t li+e the idea o) $ou handlin' the inside wor+&6 58on’t be such a (an. I can deal with the window )ro( inside& In $ou co(e.

and I’( not ta+in' an$ chances with ($ )a(il$&6 He hesitated& She was li+el$ to slice hi( into thin. unsure i) she could survive that +ind o) loss a'ain& 5That’s wh$ $ou ca(e bac+& To hit on Sa(&6 57ou’re wh$ I ca(e bac+&6 He didn’t li+e the chill in her voice.. -ewels that are costin' us appro.She cho+ed on the brand$& Lu+e thu(ped her on the bac+ and hoped )or the best& 5*hrist. too.i(atel$ ei'ht$ thousand to heist96 5We’re 'oin' to plant the(& The$’re ver$ i(portant props )or a stin' I’ve been drea(in' about )or nearl$ a $ear&6 5A stin'&6 #o.anne rose so that she could wal+ o)) her a'itation and thin+& 5Sa(& 7ou’re 'oin' to plant the( on Sa(& This is $our -ustice. and $ou don’t consider that ta+in' chances96 5I (ade a deal with hi(& I’d )i'ured on bribin' hi( with (one$& A (illion dollars )or a )ew (onths’ ti(e&6 5A (illion—6 . *allahan.& We’re not 'oin' to +eep it&6 She. #o.ust what are we 'oin' to do with over two (illion in -ewels. don’t (a+e bad -o+es while I’( drin+in'&6 5It’s not a -o+e. she dra''ed a hand throu'h her hair& 57ou went to see hi(. and I can’t ta+e those $ears bac+& 2ut I’( not losin' $ou a'ain.plained that the heist was a diversion )or the W$att -ob&6 5O) course.plainin' hi(sel) a'ain& 5I told $ou wh$ I le)t. +new that loo+. reall$ hated. but he had to tell her ever$thin'& 5That’s wh$ I went to see W$att be)ore I ca(e to 3ew Orleans&6 57ou’ve seen hi(96 2a))led. e. and a ver$ pro)itable one. -a''ed ribbons. but it did little to relieve the sudden chill in her (idsection& 5. that tone& It (eant Lu+e had (ade up his (ind about so(ethin' and was read$ to battle& 5What the hell are $ou tal+in' about9 What’s the point in ta+in' it i) we’re not 'oin' to +eep it96 5I e. despite an outra'eous overhead&6 57es. #o. but not (onetaril$& 3ot )or us&6 She dran+ (ore brand$. or the vulnerabilit$ he sensed beneath it& And he hated. isn’t it96 Her e$es were hot when she turned bac+ to hi(& 5This is what $ou’d planned all alon'&6 5I’ve wor+ed on ever$ an'le o) this )or (onths& !ver$ piece hin'es on the whole o) it&6 57ou’ve wor+ed on96 A )lood o) betra$al threatened to swa(p her& She )ou'ht it bac+.

alon' with the ta+e. alwa$s. she wasn’t throu'h $et& 57ou’re double. W$att loo+s 'reat& There’s one in particular o) hi( in this blac+ leather 0..52ut he didn’t 'o )or it.6 she (ur(ured& 57ou wor+ed it all out& 2ut $ou didn’t bother to )ill (e in&6 . stru''lin' to -usti)$ her conscience with necessit$& 5I +now we have to do whatever needs to be done. and illicit relationships& All I have to do is create the(.anne pressed her )in'ers to her e$es. i(plicatin' 0unner in unethical business deals. and plant the( ri'ht be)ore the voters head o)) to pull the lever o) their choice&6 Lettin' out a lon' breath. the wa$ a (an en-o$ed conte(platin' a lon'.strin' and boots that I’( real )ond o)&6 5Sa(9 7ou’re doin' the photo'raphs usin' Sa(96 Her lips started to curve.6 Lu+e interrupted& 5Or he didn’t 'o )or that alone& So we (ade a deal&6 "ic+in' up his sni)ter. to Ma. until ri'ht be)ore the election. ever$one I care about&6 Lu+e’s e$es loc+ed on hers& 5And now there’s 3athaniel& There’s nothin' I wouldn’t do to +eep hi( sa)e& 3othin'&6 Ic$ )ear rippled down her spine& 5He wouldn’t hurt 3ate& He & & & O) course he would&6 #o. and plent$ a'ainst W$att& It see(ed li+e solid 'old -ustice to (e& In addition to the photos and the docu(ents—so(e o) which will i(plicate W$att in a nu(ber o) robberies $ou’ll be ver$ )a(iliar with—I’ve been )ilterin' (one$ into two accounts in Swit:erland& Accounts in his na(e&6 5%er$ clever. she thou'ht. and tilted bac+ the sni)ter )or a lon' sip& 5That’s what it cost $ou to co(e bac+96 5I) I didn’t a'ree. I’ve 'ot nothin' a'ainst 0unner. o) course. and never would she co(pro(ise her own code o) ethics& 5. -ust need a little re)inin'& 2ut all in all. and cold& 5I +now we can )ind another wa$&6 Lu+e was certain he’d never loved her (ore than he did at this (o(ent& She was a wo(an who would protect what was hers.crossin' hi(. i) I ca(e up with co(pro(isin' photo'raphs o) *urtis 0unner& The$’d have to be )a+ed. ste((ed the ad(iration& 8a(n Lu+e. I can’t be sure what he (i'ht do to $ou.a+e’s alread$ )or'in' docu(ents that I’ll plant. seein' as 0unner’s strai'ht as an arrow& W$att wants papers. he swirled brand$. too. usin' his own plot to ruin hi( politicall$&6 5He$. sni))ed. Lil$. sti(ulatin' evenin' with a beauti)ul wo(an& 5He a'reed to 'ive (e ti(e. but we’ve never hurt innocent people be)ore& I can’t rationali:e startin' now& We’ll )ind another wa$&6 She dropped her hands into her lap& His )ace was co(posed a'ain.anne lowered to the ar( o) the so)a& She needed the brand$ now. but she stopped the s(ile. #o. she reali:ed.6 he added be)ore she could protest& 5The initial photos . sipped& He en-o$ed this part.a+e’s co(e up with are prett$ 'ood.pectin'. in W$att’s sa)e& The$ won’t be /uite what he’s e.

I didn’t& I wanted to (a+e sure $ou were in )or the lon' run.’s chair.a'o (e(or$ o) place and ti(e9 Since his relapse.)i)t$. loo+in' out o) the 1rench doors. intri'ue $ou& And I’d hoped b$ the ti(e I told $ou all o) it. call (e at least one na(e96 5I’( savin' it&6 She li)ted her 'lass in toast& 5To 3ouvelle and *allahan&6 He tapped his 'lass to hers and their e$es re(ained on each other’s as the$ sipped& 5Weren’t $ou about to seduce (e be)ore I interrupted it96 5As a (atter o) )act & & &6 She set her brand$ aside& 5I was&6 Lu+e stood beside Ma. but the si(ple beaut$ o) the stin' enchanted her& She couldn’t have planned it better hersel)& 51ro( toni'ht. *allahan.a($. at that blan+ e. substance "& The$ (eant nothin' to Lu+e. Lu+e . )lair& It has it all& I’ve 'one over ever$ detail&6 Hearin' the echo o) his (entor’s voice in his head. and he’d thou'ht pla/ues and tan'les had sounded li+e so(e sort o) co(ple. she hoped she wasn’t (ellowin'& The proble( was.pression.anne had been in to sa$ 'ood.loid. we’re in this )i)t$. overseein' his pac+in' )or their wee+ in 8&*& 3ow that he had this (o(ent alone with Ma. she could see it )ro( Lu+e’s side as well as )ro( her own& 3ot onl$ could she see it.ust as lon' as $ou’re in )or that lon' haul&6 She considered and reali:ed that )irst hot spurt o) an'er had eased& 0ood 0od. so(e lon'. those pri(ar$ structural chan'es )ound in the brains o) Al:hei(er patients& Abnor(al )or(s o) proteins—tau proteins. or there’s no deal&6 5Aren’t $ou 'oin' to swear at (e.53o. Ma. the )lower.anne& I )i'ured the initial plan would challen'e $ou.’s (ind had sun+ deeper into whatever world it inhabited& He rarel$ spo+e at all now. $ou’d trust (e& 7ou want to be pissed because I held bac+ on $ou. )adin' awa$ pound b$ precious pound& The doctors spo+e o) pla/ues and tan'les.b$e and was now down the hall with 3ate.strewn balcon$ across *hartres. e(otion. at the clawed )in'ers that wor+ed and wor+ed and wor+ed as i) (anipulatin' coins& 5I’d )eel a lot better i) I could have 'one over the whole plan with $ou& I thin+ $ou’d li+e the act& 8ra(a. thou'h he so(eti(es wept silentl$& His bod$ was sin+in' as well. she thou'ht.. $ou’re entitled& . wonderin' what the (an saw throu'h the 'lass& Was it the buildin's o) the <uarter. he didn’t +now what to do with it& 5I wish $ou were co(in' with us&6 Lu+e continued to loo+ out the 'lass& It was so di))icult to loo+ at Ma. (a'ic tric+& He +new #o.. 2. #o. the pieces o) 'ra$ s+$ that pro(ised rain9 Or was it so(ethin' else.

would 'et her bac+ up i) she heard (e sa$ that> she’s been doin' a 'ood -ob o) ta+in' care o) ever$thin'& 2ut she’s not 'oin' to have to do it alone an$(ore& 3ate calls (e 8ad& I didn’t +now that could (ean so (uch&6 0entl$. lin+in' his )in'ers and stretchin' his hands out to crac+ his +nuc+les& 52etcha *harles and 8i have an account& Man.anne and 3ate& And Lil$ and Mouse and Le*lerc& #o. onl$ continued to +nit serenel$ on the so)a at the other end o) the suite& 5Well. stoppin' when Alice 'entl$ cleared her throat& 5I thou'ht $ou pro(ised Lu+e $ou wouldn’t use the co(puters to po+e into an$one’s business&6 She didn’t loo+ up.a+e’s )in'ers poised over the +e$s. but the power in the( was 'one& 5I want $ou to +now I’( 'oin' to ta+e care o) #o. )ro( all o) us& And I’( 'oin' to 'et $ou the stone& I’( 'oin' to put it ri'ht into $our hands& I) there’s an$ (a'ic in it. $ou’ll )ind it&6 Lu+e didn’t e. . restless hands with his own& 58ad& I never called $ou that& 2ut $ou’re ($ )ather&6 Lu+e leaned )orward and +issed the paper$ chee+& 5I love $ou.pect a response.a+e tapped another se/uence into his portable co(puter and let out a crow o) deli'ht& 5What’d I tell $ou9 What’d I tell $ou. ta+e a ris+& The$ were as dar+ as ever. $eah&6 . even when a tear slipped out o) his e$e and ran slowl$ down the chee+ that Lu+e had +issed& . he covered the 'narled. then prepare )or surprises& I’( 'oin' to pa$ that bastard bac+ )or the )ive $ears he too+ )ro( (e. all those prett$ pounds sterlin'&6 5Wow&6 Mouse read the celebrit$ (a'a:ines )aith)ull$.a+e’s )in'ers itched& 5I’( -ust practicin' is all&6 He rolled his e$es at Mouse& 5Ah. Mouse leaned over . and the "rincess o) Wales was a )avorite& 5*an $ou see how (uch the$ have. Mouse9 There’s alwa$s a bac+ door&6 57ou’re in9 7ou’re reall$ in96 1illed with ad(iration.a+e’s stooped shoulder& 5Hol$ cow&6 5The 2an+ o) )uc+in' !n'land&6 He sni''ered. calculate the odds. to stare and stare. continued to stare throu'h the 'lass. de(anded he ta+e a chance.. oh (an. Ma. 8ad&6 There was no response& Lu+e rose and wal+ed out to )ind his own son& Ma.a+e9 7ou ou'hta trans)er so(e )ro( his into hers& I don’t thin+ he’s nice enou'h to her&6 5Sure& Wh$ not96 . I +now.allowed hi(sel) a s(ile& 5I +now. showin' Mouse so(e o) the tric+s this bab$ can do since we ad-usted her&6 . but (ade hi(sel) crouch down& Made hi(sel) loo+ into the e$es that had once co((anded hi( to co(e inside a sideshow tent.

didn’t I tr$ to tell hi( that I could snea+ the (one$ out o) so(e croo+ed *!O’s account instead o) bleedin' his9 2ut no.6 Alice (ur(ured& 5It’s a (atter o) ten )uc+in' thousand&6 . she (used& And how thic+headed& She’d all but dan'led her +nittin' under his nose& 8ecidin' it was worth one (ore shot.cuse ($ 1rench& It’s -ust that we’re not (a+in' a di(e on this& 3ot a di(e! 8on’t $ou thin+ we ou'ht to clear so(ethin'—cover our overhead. Alice set her teeth& 5It’s a bootie. oh no& Lu+e wants to pa$ )or the whole stin'& That (an is stubborn& +tub.6 Mouse said hal) to hi(sel)& 53ever& Ma$be I should 'o see & & &6 The revelation hit li+e a bare.+nuc+led punch to the -aw& 5A bootie&6 . he let out a wind$ si'h& 5We’re supposed to be chec+in' the Swiss account. but accepted that he was outnu(bered& 2esides.a+e 'ru(bled. the (odu( hu((ed& 52ut it -ust (a+es (e sic+. or an$thin'96 53o&6 What a sweet (an he was. I 'uess not&6 8e)eated. it )eels li+e I ate so(e bad white)ish& He wants ten thousand (ore trans)erred into that creep’s account& I tried to tell hi(. I 'otta sa$& M$ sto(ach. da(n it&6 With that she swept into the ad-oinin' bedroo( and shut the door& 5Alice never swears.born&6 5It’s a (atter o) pride.6 . don’t $ou thin+9 Such a pale. he could alwa$s access another account later& Alice 'athered her +nittin' and rose& It was barel$ ten. reali:e a reasonable pro)it96 5We’re 'ettin' satis)action. I tell $ou.5That’s ver$ nice& Mouse. I don’t thin+ 8iana would appreciate $our invadin' her privac$ this wa$&6 57ou don’t96 He 'lanced over at his wi)e. stro+in' a hand down her pale hair& It never )ailed to a(a:e hi( that so(eone so tin$. prett$ 'reen&6 5It’s real nice&6 He s(iled and duc+ed his head to +iss her a'ain& 53ate sure li+es )in'er puppets&6 5It’s not a puppet&6 As an'r$ as she had ever been with hi(.a+e winced and sent her a /uic+ 'lance& 5!. but she was outra'eousl$ tired& 5I thin+ I’ll leave $ou two to $our to$s and 'o on to bed&6 Mouse bent to +iss her.a+e& 5All ri'ht. she too+ the bootie she’d co(pleted out o) her bas+et& 5I thin+ I’ll tr$ to )inish the other one o) these toni'ht& It’s a nice color. so prett$ could belon' to hi(& 57ou want (e to order up so(e tea. who onl$ li)ted her head and s(iled& 53o.6 Mouse stated and (ade his wi)e’s heart swell with pride& 5That’s better than (one$&6 5Satis)action won’t bu$ $ou an$ Italian shoes.6 he re(inded . all ri'ht&6 The +e$board clattered.

a+e’s )ace crac+ed with a 'rin& 5Well.all boo+ a)ter he was in the White House& And he would be livin' in the White House. ver$ 'entl$ he wrapped his ar(s around her. spreadin' his bi' hand over her still )lat bell$& It was (uch better than words& Across the district line in the lush suburbs o) Mar$land. Mouse old (an&6 He -u(ped up to thu(p his )riend on the bac+& 5Loo+s li+e there’s a bun in the oven&6 Mouse went pale. then paled a'ain& 5Oh bo$&6 It was the best he could (ana'e as he sta''ered toward the bedroo(& 2$ the ti(e he 'ot the door open and closed a'ain. isn’t it96 He couldn’t answer& His throat was too )ull o) his heart& Instead he crossed to her in three -er+$ steps& 0entl$.cuse o) a headache.ustine hardl$ needed the e. nursin' one o) her in)a(ous (i'raines& . and paid enou'h& He didn’t +eep a (istress& Mistresses had a habit o) 'rowin' disenchanted and 'reed$& Sa( had no intention o) livin' with the bac+lash o) a tell. Sa( W$att sat at his anti/ue rosewood des+ with a sni)ter o) 3apoleon brand$& His wi)e was upstairs in their bi' *hippendale bed. ain’t that so(e shit9 *on'ratulations. be'an to brush her hair& 5Alice&6 Mouse swallowed so hard his throat clic+ed& 5Are $ou & & & are we & & &6 It wasn’t in her nature to sta$ an'r$ )or lon'& She loved hi( too (uch to tr$& Her lips curved as she (et his e$es in the (irror& 57es&6 51or sure96 51or absolutel$ sure& Two ho(e pre'nanc$ tests and an obstetrician don’t lie& We’re e.ual release. i) one was cautious.)irst centur$. Mouse&6 Her voice bro+e as she dropped her 'a:e to her hands& 5It’s o+a$. he thou'ht& In the dawn o) the twent$. turned a color si(ilar to the )a(ous bootie.pectin'. he would be sittin' in the Oval O))ice. his pal(s were drippin' sweat& Alice stood with her bac+ to hi(. the li'ht dawns. he thou'ht as he swirled and sipped the dar+ a(ber li/uor& He’d lon' a'o lost interest in (a+in' love to an ic$ stic+ who dis'uised hersel) as a wo(an in desi'ner clothes& There were other wa$s to )ind se.6 she (uttered and wal+ed to the dresser. cal(l$ beltin' her robe& 5So.5A bootie96 . sleepin' in Lincoln’s bed& It was inevitable& .

0unner would be crushed& There were onl$ wee+s le)t until that (o(ent o) truth. )or the con was )ar )ro( over& He would continue to woo and char( and 'lad. deliverin' a (ovin'. and that was power& He had ever$thin' he wanted—until he wanted (ore& He thou'ht o) the stone loc+ed awa$ in his sa)e& I) he had believed in (a'ic he (i'ht have considered how so (uch had )allen into place )or hi( a)ter he’d ac/uired it& 2ut )or Sa(. he had an ace na(ed Lu+e *allahan up his sleeve& When he chose to pla$ that ace. co()ortin' the widow li+e a son. wooed the corporate structure with his stance on private enterprise.His senatorial ca(pai'n was proceedin' brilliantl$& !ver$ new poll showed hi( )urther and )urther in the lead& It would ta+e a (iracle )or his opponent to close the 'ap. ti(in' and his own personal and political s+ill& He’d learned a lot )ro( the down. he’d deliver on so(e o) the pro(ises.hand& His i(a'e as a sel). containin' the nitro'l$cerin tablets in his hand.the. his e$es bul'in' with pain. char(ed wo(en with his eas$ s(iles and lan+$ bod$& Sa( considered his rise in political power and presti'e a stupendousl$ structured lon' con& As he told Lu+e. a wee+ be)ore the election. it was si(pl$ another victor$ over an old ene($& It was true enou'h that once it had been in his possession the pace o) his success had increased& Sa( attributed that to luc+.(ade (an strivin' to achieve the A(erican drea( would hold hi( in 'ood stead& And his handpic+ed sta)) o) advisers would +eep hi( apprised o) the proper )orei'n and do(estic policies& He had onl$ one polic$. 'la:ed with con)usion& .behind. sa$in' nothin' as his (entor had reached out.cho+ed eulo'$.ho(e and popular senator )ro( Tennessee& He’d suc+ed up +nowled'e 'reedil$ while pla$in' the (an. which (eant (an$ lon' da$s and ni'hts ahead& He’d +issed babies. and Sa( had never believed in (iracles& In an$ case.(an with the )lair o) an acco(plished thespian—until the opportunit$ to beco(e the (an had presented itsel)& 3o one +new that Sa( had watched 2ush)ield die& He had 'rieved publicl$. ta+in' char'e o) the loose strin's o) the senator’s duties as the devoted heir& And he had stood and watched as the senator had 'asped and cho+ed. as his )ace had burned to purple. as he’d )lopped li+e a landed trout on the )loor o) his private o))ice& Sa( had held the little ena(eled bo. roused the co((on (an with speeches 'lintin' with pro(ises. tear. cut ribbons.

the$ were (oved b$ the ur'ent wa$ Sa( had been per)or(in' *"#& So he had +illed 2ush)ield and had 'arnered several staunch bac+ers in the (edical co((unit$& It hadn’t been as thrillin' as puttin' a bullet in *obb’s heart.t round.anne’s heart awa$ a second ti(e& Let hi( tr$ to be a )ather to his son& Sa( en-o$ed the idea o) the (an )allin' into the boso( o) his )a(il$. he could watch. her )lair )or larcen$& There were care)ull$ docu(ented accounts o) her activities in a led'er loc+ed in his sa)e& The$ had cost hi(. Sa( (used& Let hi( tr$ to seduce #o.Onl$ when he’d been sure it was too late had Sa( +nelt and slipped one o) the tablets under the dead (an’s ton'ue& He’d (ade a )rantic call to HGG. as Sa( i(a'ined.t -ob& That was a ver$ sweet alternative& He wondered i) the$ would ta(per with the auction& It see(ed to hi( that sort o) heist held the 'la(our which appealed to the(& He (i'ht even let the( 'et awa$ with it& 2rie)l$. and he could arran'e )or the authorities to scoop up all o) the 3ouvelles a)ter their ne. ver$ brie)l$& Then he would snap the -aws o) the trap shut. a spider content to spin his web and wait )or the unwar$ )l$& The arro'ance o) *allahan’s return to the 3ouvelle troupe continued to intri'ue hi(& 8id the )ool actuall$ believe that )ive $ears would su))ice9 Or that (one$ would pa$ )or the insubordination o) returnin' to the sta'e without per(ission9 Sa( hoped so. he would& He’d +ept close trac+ o) the 3ouvelles& He was )orced to ad(it an ad(iration )or #o. and watch the( bleed& Oh $es. Sa( thou'ht& 7es. chuc+lin' to hi(sel) as he leaned bac+& It was -ust that +ind o) clear thin+in' that was 'oin' to (a+e hi( an e. the$ would pla$ directl$ into his hands& 2ecause he could wait. he dearl$ hoped so& He hadn’t struc+ out $et because it a(used hi( to lull Lu+e into co(placenc$& Let hi( put on his show. he plotted the ne. but his wi)e’s inheritance allowed )or such indul'ences& The ti(e was co(in' when he would use the(& The pa$(ent )or Lu+e ta+in' a step into the spotli'ht without consent would be a hi'h one& And all the 3ouvelles would pa$ )or it& And i). and when the para(edics arrived. Sa( thou'ht. Sa( thou'ht now& 2ut even the passive act o) (urder had brou'ht its own +ind o) rush& Leanin' bac+. te(poraril$ pic+in' up his career and his li)e& It would be onl$ sweeter to snatch it all awa$ a'ain& And he would.anne’s st$le.cellent co((ander in chie)& . the$ believed the$ could pull o)) one (ore heist )or old ti(es’ sa+e.

leaned )orward with e$es wide and shoo+ his head in disbelie)& His reactions. the old -ealous$ ate at hi(& Lu+e was once a'ain the center o) attention.ust s(ile.anne. then paused with her hand on the +nob o) her door& 5We steal thin's. as blindl$ and unreasonabl$ as he’d hated Lu+e at )irst si'ht& He detested and envied the ease with which Lu+e drew the audience in. steerin' her throu'h the win's toward her dressin' roo(& 5"hase one. until at last the$ wal+ed o)) the sta'e to'ether& 5I didn’t +now it would be so hard&6 Her bod$ tre(bled )ro( the e))ort o) suppressin' the ur'e to attac+& 5Seein' hi( sittin' there. the obvious se. the holder o) power& Sa( hated hi( )or it. and )or her.ust +eep on s(ilin'&6 She did. draped in sil+ and sapphires and s(iles—the devoted wi)e and partner& 3o one would have 'uessed the$’d co(e to detest each other& As the (a'ic un)olded.33 Sa( arran'ed )or tic+ets to the 3ouvelles’ (uch.anne loo+ed down at hi( as she too+ her bows& Thou'h she lowered her lashes. a step toward hi(. her e$es 'lintin' not with tears or even re'ret.ustine sat beside hi(. babe&6 He spo+e clearl$ under the cover o) applause and 'ave her )in'ers a /uic+ s/uee:e& 5. Sa( applauded enthusiasticall$& He threw bac+ his head and lau'hed.$. what we ta+e are thin's. so that she too+ a step )orward. easil$ replaced& He stole ti(e& And love. and trust& 3one o) those can be replaced&6 She loo+ed bac+ at hi( over her shoulder.touted enned$ *enter per)or(ance& 1ront row center& . but with purpose& 5Let’s 'et the son o) a bitch&6 . the veno( shot throu'h the(& Their 'a:es held. volatile as lava. #o. the shinin' star. )or -ust an instant. stoppin' onl$ when Lu+e’s hand lin+ed )ir(l$ with hers& 5. the$ were co(pletel$ alone& The ra'e heaved up. and he s(iled& #o.ual spar+ between hi( and #o. loo+in' so po(pous and prosperous& I wanted to -u(p o))sta'e and claw at hi(&6 57ou did )ine&6 He rubbed the s(all o) her bac+. were as care)ull$ sta'ed as the evenin' o) illusion& 2eneath it. Lu+e& I understand (ost people wouldn’t )ind that acceptable& 2ut still. cau'ht o)ten b$ the pannin' television ca(eras.t&6 She nodded. and on to the ne. the s(oothness with which he could ta+e what could not be and (a+e it so& 2ut he was the )irst to rise to his )eet when the applause rolled out over the )inale& He brou'ht his hands to'ether to -oin the thunder.

lettin' his )in'ers sha+e ever so sli'htl$& 5I’( 'lad $ou en-o$ed it&6 5Oh. it too+ Sa( onl$ (o(ents to see+ hi( out& 5That was /uite a show&6 Lu+e too+ a cha(pa'ne )lute )ro( a passin' tra$.a+e. Sa( considered.6 Sa( re(inded hi(. natt$ in his waiter’s uni)or(. he cla(ped a hand over Sa(’s wrist& 51or 0od’s sa+e.6 he added as he wal+ed awa$& 5Since it’s one o) the )ew $ou have le)t with $our )a(il$&6 57ou were ri'ht. to (a+e sure it all holds up to an$ investi'ation ta+es ti(e&6 5Ti(e I’ve been 'enerous with. I did& And I ad(ire $our nerve. and added a heart$ clasp on Lu+e’s shoulder& 5And ti(e that’s rapidl$ runnin' out&6 57ou 'ave (e a deadline& I’ll (eet it&6 He 'lanced around the roo( a'ain& 5I +now what’s dependin' on it&6 5I hope $ou do&6 He held up a hand.plained to $ou ever$ ti(e I chec+ed in that to handle a -ob li+e this. then slipped awa$ )ro( #o. wardin' o)) Lu+e’s answer& 5Two da$s. he (used& She was a hell o) a wo(an& 5*han'e& We’ve 'ot wor+ to do&6 The$ attended the post. and I (i'ht -ust )or'et the i(pertinence $ou too+ toni'ht& !n-o$ $our evenin'.a+e was ri'ht.pected.per)or(ance reception. shi)ted his tra$& 5He’s sli(e&6 . per)or(in' without chec+in' with (e )irst&6 5I didn’t thin+—It’s been )ive $ears&6 Lu+e scanned the crowd with nervous e$es. pal&6 . clin+in' 'lasses with Washin'ton di'nitaries& Lu+e bided his ti(e. have $ou )inished the pro-ect I assi'ned $ou96 5!. what do $ou thin+ o) $oun' 3athaniel96 This ti(e Lu+e didn’t have to )a+e the tre(or in his hand& It was pure ra'e& 57ou +now about 3ate96 5I +now ever$thin' there is to +now about the 3ouvelles& I thou'ht I (ade that clear&6 Absentl$. what har( did it do96 8eli'hted to have his /uarr$ on the ropes. lowered his voice& As i) in plea. sippin' cha(pa'ne& 5That’s $et to be tallied& Tell (e.anne& This was a part he had to pla$ alone& As he’d e. *allahan& 2rin' ever$thin' to (e in two da$s.cept )or so(e )inishin' touches&6 Lu+e tu''ed at his tie& 5I e. *allahan.He 'rinned and patted her butt& . he set his e(pt$ 'lass on a tra$& 5Tell (e.

button.& He chec+ed his watch& 5#o. with the SW swirled )luidl$ into the 'old& I) all went well. but $ou’re 'ood& We’ve 'ot )i)teen (inutes.6 Lu+e said under his breath& <uic+ as a )lash. e.5.lined poc+et& 5He$. trust (e&6 5And stop 'rinnin'. I’( a happ$ servant&6 2ut . . but )ound hi(sel) 'rinnin'& It was 'oin' to be a hell o) a ni'ht& .6 he whispered& 57ou read96 There was a (o(ent’s pause.a+e& 5*hec+ed.6 Lu+e (ur(ured. rechec+ed& We’re on. let’s be obvious&6 There was a 'rindin' in his 'ut as he held the ba' up to stud$ the ele'ant e.a+e& *lear as a bell&6 With a 'rin. so +eep $our butt in 'ear&6 5M$ butt’s alwa$s in 'ear&6 He 'rinned and swiveled his s+inn$ hips& 5This one’s 'oin' to be )abulous. huh96 The 'rindin' eased to a pleasant.a+e’s plastic.line& Watch this&6 He pic+ed up a device no bi''er than his pal(& 5Mouse.a+e o))ered the trans(itter to Lu+e& 52etter’n +tar Tre(.a+e handed Lu+e a plastic ba' containin' the cu)) lin+ and a sin'le sand$ blond hair& 5Mind how $ou use the(. this little trin+et would send Sa( W$att to hell& 5Have $ou chec+ed the e/uip(ent96 he as+ed .shaped. Lu+e (used.anne’s waitin'& Let’s (ove out&6 5Saddle up& Wa'ons ho! 0et the lead out&6 .a+e chuc+led to hi(sel) as the$ headed )or the door& 5A(ateur. then Mouse’s voice boo(ed out o) the trans(itter& 5#i'ht here. . 1inestein. /uotin' Ma.6 Lu+e (uttered.ust don’t screw it up.cited )lutter& 5I hate to ad(it it. sport& 8on’t want it to loo+ too obvious&6 5Hell. Lu+e& 1ab. he dropped Sa(’s (ono'ra((ed 'old cu)) lin+ into . )or *hrist’s sa+e& 7ou’re a servant&6 5So. .u? lous&6 58on’t count $our chic+ens be)ore the$ cac+le.a(ple o) (en’s -ewelr$& It was discreet.a+e did his best to loo+ properl$ sole(n as he strolled awa$& An hour later.

Mouse&6 The trans(itter around his nec+ pic+ed up ever$ breath& 5It’ll wor+&6 Mouse’s voice was /uiet and clear throu'h the (ini. Mouse&6 . all was /uiet& Lu+e stood in the shadows behind the buildin'. and provided shelterin' shadows& It was all a (atter o) ti(in'& The 'aller$ )ronted on Wisconsin Avenue& Washin'ton was not a cit$ that boo'ied with ni'htli)e& "olitics ruled. the (oon was sliced neatl$ in hal).propelled 'rapplin' hoo+& Lu+e’s )in'er hovered over the tri''er while he thou'ht o) #o.anne. and wisps o) ra''ed )o' danced over the concrete and asphalt& Above. vibratin' li+e a cat& He heard the clin+ as the spi+ed (etal hit the roo)& He switched o)) the en'ine be)ore 'entl$.stor$.0othic buildin' tuc+ed behind 'race)ul oa+s& On this crisp )all ni'ht so near Halloween. neo. alread$ curled up inside the third. and politics pre)erred a patina o) discretion—particularl$ in an election $ear& At one A&M& the tra))ic was li'ht and sporadic& Most o) the bars were closed& There was an underbell$ o) nocturnal activit$. its outline so sharp and +een. the corner dru' deals.clawed hoo+ shot up trailin' rope& The tin$ en'ine hu((ed under his hands.6 Lu+e said a'ain& He held what loo+ed li+e a crossbow in his hands& It was—or had been—-ust that be)ore Mouse had (odi)ied it& It was now a 'as. the hoo+ers who wor+ed the stroll on 1ourteenth and those who were addicted to barterin' )or those te(porar$ pleasures& 3i'htl$ (urders were as co((on in this cradle o) de(ocrac$ as ca(pai'n pro(ises& 2ut here in this little corner o) the cit$. slowl$ pullin' the rope toward hi(& It went taut when the spi+es du' into the weathered bric+ o) the led'e& Lu+e tested it. the (oon'low showered down. under the 'rinnin' 'ar'o$les and lo)t$ pilasters& 5This better wor+. the crac+ houses. to cleave it& Without clouds to ha(per it.spea+er& 5It’s 'ot a ran'e o) a hundred )eet&6 5It better wor+.)loor storeroo(& He hit the release then watched with bo$ish pleasure as the )ive.The Ha(pstead 0aller$ was a three. it see(ed that so(e passin' 'od (i'ht have ta+en his a. then reached up hi'h enou'h to swin' his le's )ree o) the 'round& 5She’ll hold& 3ice wor+. the leaves )luttered burnt 'old in a bree:e that cac+led with co(in' winter. white and sweet to silver the trees& 2ut the leaves clun' $et to the branches. tu''in' hard.

a+e )ro:e li+e an icicle in a bli::ard& 5The rope&6 His voice was a +eenin' whisper& 5Lu+e. stallin'& 5Well. li+e a second. $ou won’t (a+e it up&6 5I’ll )all. $ou 'o )irst&6 5Me96 .rate ban-o pla$er in a (instrel show& 5Wh$ (e96 52ecause i) I’( not behind $ou. . the /uic+er $ou’re on top&6 5Hate it. patheticall$.a+e clutched the rope li+e a drownin' (an& He s/uee:ed his e$es shut and rose to his toes& 5I’ll pu+e&6 5Then I’ll have to +ill $ou&6 5I hate this part&6 One last 'ulp and .a+e had reached the second stor$ be)ore he be'an his own ascent& . tr$ not to screa( i) $ou do& 7ou’ll rouse the 'uards&6 5All heart& I alwa$s said $ou’re all heart&6 54p&6 Lu+e held the rope out with one hand and -er+ed.a+e up another twelve )eet& 50rab hold o) the led'e.pected& 5"ut $our )oot on ($ shoulder& There.6 .a+e was shi(($in' up li+e a (on+e$ on a vine& 5I reall$. the rope’s (ovin'&6 5O) course it’s (ovin'.6 .a+e clai(ed. 1inestein. his thu(b s+$ward& Thou'h his )eet were still on the 'round. co(e on& 1eel it96 5That $ou96 . po+in' $ou in the ass.a+e was pra$in' in the Hebrew he’d learned )or his bar (it:vah& 5*an’t let 'o o) the rope&6 5Shit )or brains&6 2ut this wasn’t so(ethin' une.a+e’s voice piped out in a s/uea+& His e$es rolled white in a )ace he’d rubbed liberall$ with blac+in'& He loo+ed. reall$ hate this part&6 5 eep 'oin'& The )aster $ou cli(b. haul $oursel) over&6 5*an’t&6 . $ou -er+& It’s not a staircase& eep 'oin'&6 Lu+e bullied .5Than+s&6 5O+a$.a+e continued to (utter and cli(bed with his e$es stubbornl$ shut& Lu+e waited until .

three. co(puters bu::ed on& 52etter chec+. Mouse&6 He chec+ed his watch.anne raced in the dar+.6 he said. countin'& 1ive. she counted down the seconds& She held her breath as she eased the door open.a+e uncurled )ro:en )in'ers )ro( the rope& His hand scraped bric+ twice be)ore he 'ot a 'rip& Indul'in' in another o) those (u))led screa(s.$ellow to aid the 'uards on their rounds& She wal+ed toward it. unhurried tone. cal(. #o. died& Mouse had co(e throu'h& Movin' )ast now. wor+in' out the +in+s that ca(e )ro( sittin' )or over two hours. #o. )our. it’s 2at(an.53o.anne chec+ed the lu(inous dial o) her watch& #isin'. 5I’( 'oin' to start swin'in' the rope& now what it )eels li+e to be han'in' three stories up on a rope that +eeps swin'in' so that $ou bash $our )ace into the bric+s96 5I’( doin' it& I’( doin' it&6 With his e$es still shut. two. stepped into the corridor& The dar+ness here was shades paler than it had been inside& There was a li'ht at the end o) the corridor that sent out a pool o) pee. 'ood evenin'&6 .ust 'et $our balance& eep $our wei'ht centered on (e and ta+e hold o) the led'e& I) $ou don’t. but his partner was alread$ dialin' the phone& Lil$ pic+ed up on the second rin'& 5Washin'ton 0as and Li'ht. past the now blind securit$ ca(eras toward the surveillance roo(& 50odda((it!6 The 'uard who’d been beatin' the hell out o) his partner at 'in swore in the dar+ and snatched his )lashli'ht out o) his belt& 51uc+in' 'enerator should—ah&6 He si'hed with relie) at the electrical hu(& The li'hts )lic+ered bac+ on.a+e put enou'h wei'ht on Lu+e’s shoulder to (a+e Lu+e wince& 51ine& . notin' that #o. asshole&6 5I don’t want to be #obin an$(ore& O+a$96 . .6 Lu+e continued in the sa(e. he rolled hi(sel) over and landed with a thud& 50race)ul as a cat&6 Lu+e swun' soundlessl$ over& 5We’re up. one & & & & 7es& A s(all si'h o) satis)action escaped as the li'ht )lic+ered. the (onitors blin+ed bac+ to li)e.anne had another ninet$ seconds be)ore leavin' her hidin' place& 58o it&6 BBB Inside the stora'e closet that s(elled o) Mr& *lean and Murph$’s oil soap.

thou'ht about tr$in' to stac+ the dec+ )or the ne. sir& We have reports o) a line down& A crew is bein' dispatched&6 5Line down&6 The 'uard bro+e the connection and shru''ed& 5Assholes probabl$ won’t have it )i. )lippin' ever$ )ew seconds )ro( displa$ to displa$. shadow$ corridor to shadow$ corridor& It was enou'h.t hand o) 'in& So(ethin' on (onitor si. cau'ht his e$e& He blin+ed. his heart ha((erin'. but all he 'ot in response to his call was a (echanical bu::& 5*arson. beauti)ul wo(an in a )lowin' white dress with lon' silver hair& She )aded in and out on the screen& And he could see—. startin' his sweep o) the second )loor& 5*arson.ust +eep $our e$es open. and )lipped hi( the bird& It eased the boredo( a little& He started to hu(. $ou son o) a bitch. snorted at his own i(a'ination. bleeds $ou dr$&6 50enerator’s handlin' it&6 2oth turned to surve$ the (onitors& 51i'ure I’ll (a+e ($ sweep now&6 5#i'ht&6 The 'uard plopped down in )ront o) the ban+ o) (onitors to pour co))ee )ro( his ther(os& 5Watch out )or an$ bi'. to Mc3ult$’s thin+in'. Mc3ult$&6 The (onitors continued to run their se/uences.ed be)ore (ornin'& 1uc+in' electric co(pan$. but he +new it would be his ass i) he didn’t investi'ate& .wa$. stran'led sounds in his throat& It was a wo(an& 2ut it wasn’t& A pale. to bore a hole in $our head so $our brains drained out& He spotted his partner. then (ade s(all.5This is the Ha(pstead 0aller$. co(e in&6 She was still there. swa$in' inches )ro( the )loor& He saw his partner as well. wor+in' the third )loor. he shoved the two. 'odda((it!6 In dis'ust. bad bur'lars&6 5. we’ve lost power&6 5I’( sorr$.esus. s(iled and held out a bec+onin' hand& 5*arson&6 Mc3ult$ )u(bled with his two. he could see the paintin's ri'ht throu'h her& She s(iled at hi(.wa$ bac+ in his belt pouch& His (outh was dr$.

Lu+e slipped over the side& His )eet had no (ore than touched the window led'e when the pane shot up& 5*hrist.a+e’s )in'ers pla$ed alon' the tin$ +e$board& So(ewhere in the distance a do' be'an to howl& 5Hi'h. what’s (ore ro(antic than a (an swin'in' in a window on a rope96 #o. and erase the holo'ra(& !ven with .6 . stereo& He could have adapted it )or -ust that purpose& On closer loo+ it (i'ht have been (ista+en )or a poc+et calculator& . the 'uards would be watchin' a doctored tape& It too+ precious (o(ents to redo ca(era si. %*#.anne stepped bac+ to 'ive Lu+e roo( to land& 5I’ll show $ou when we 'et bac+ to the hotel&6 He stole a (o(ent to +iss her thorou'hl$& He could )eel the e.cite(ent dru((in'. she raced toward the surveillance roo(& The (inutes were tic+in' awa$& Her blood was cool.#o.a(ined care)ull$. her hands roc+ stead$ as she went to wor+& She e-ected the tape )ro( ca(era )our.a+e withdrew what appeared to be a co(ple. .a+e’s e. and the tapes were e. replaced it with her own& 1ollowin' . the lapse would show& 2$ then.a+e e. she repro'ra((ed the co(puter& The ca(era was now inoperable.pitched )re/uenc$.a+e& 5.plained& 50oin' to drive an$ (utt within a hal) (ile nutso& The securit$’s 'arba'e )or )i)teen (inutes—seventeen at the outside& That’s all this bab$ will last&6 5It’s enou'h& Sta$ up here&6 57ou bet&6 He 'ave Lu+e a happ$ salute& 52rea+ a le'.a+e’s instructions. )ro( her to hi(& It had been a lon' ti(e since the$’d wor+ed in the dar+ to'ether& 5An$ hitches96 . re(ote control—one o) those dauntin' pieces o) ho(e e/uip(ent that operated T%.a( it&6 5M$ pleasure&6 Secure now that he had so(ethin' solid under his )eet.pertise there had been no )oolproo) solution to the ti(e lapse& Those da(nin' thirt$ seconds where Alice’s i(a'e had appeared could be )ud'ed so(ewhat b$ turnin' bac+ all the ca(eras and resettin' the(& Once the bur'lar$ was discovered. )ro( hi( to her.anne shut o)) the pro-ector and the holo'ra( o) Alice win+ed o))& Once her e/uip(ent was bac+ in her ba' o) tric+s. pal&6 With a dashin' s(ile. it wouldn’t be their proble(& 5She should be )inished&6 Lu+e watched the )inal second tic+ awa$ then nodded to . but the (onitor would continue to show the re/uired se/uence& The onl$ di))erence was. i) all went well.

waitin' )or the illusion to reappear& Lu+e slipped his pri:ed bur'lar’s tools out o) his poc+et& With the rest o) the securit$ con/uered. and was 'oin' )or a third when his partner stopped hi(& 57ou need a vacation& Tr$ St& !li:abeth’s& I hear it’s real /uiet there&6 5I saw—6 5I’ll tell $ou what I see& I see an asshole& I) the asshole wants to report a )loatin' babe. Mc3ult$96 5She was there. hi(sel)& 5"repare to eat $our words&6 Mc3ult$ reran and pla$ed bac+ the tape twice. the loc+ on the displa$ case was a -o+e& And the lau'h would be on Sa(& He chose a pic+& His )in'ers were alread$ itchin' as he bent to the loc+& Abruptl$. turned to #o. let’s see&6 *arson tapped a )in'er on his chin& 5Ma$be she wal+ed throu'h a wall so(ewhere& That could be wh$ I didn’t see her when I (ade ($ sweep& That could be wh$ $ou didn’t see her when $ou le)t $our post to 'o 'hostbustin'. 5"la$ bac+ the tape&6 Sei:ed with inspiration. $eah&6 *arson 'estured toward the ban+ o) (onitors& 5A )loatin' wo(an—a transparent )loatin' wo(an& I 'uess that’s wh$ she didn’t set o)) an$ alar(s& Where is she now. I saw so(eone. da(n it&6 5Wavin' to $ou. Mc3ult$ planted hi(sel) in )ront o) the (onitors& A tic be'an to -er+ under his le)t e$e as he stared.anne and o))ered the tool& 5Here& 7ou do it& Ladies )irst&6 . he strai'htened. Mc9utty. he’s on his own&6 *arson sat down and dealt hi(sel) a hand o) solitaire& 8eter(ined.53ot a one&6 5Then let’s roc+ and roll&6 5I’( tellin' $ou.6 Mc3ult$ insisted& 57eah. ri'ht9 Well. Mc3ult$ punched in rewind on tape si.

*allahan&6 She stood behind hi( while he wor+ed. Lu+e slid the 'lass doors open& 5Oh&6 #o. silentl$. 5watchin' $ou wor+ 'ets (e hot&6 5Oh $eah96 She chuc+led. well& It was worth a shot&6 The$ )illed her ba'. oh ($. 'litterin' brilliantl$ a'ainst the draped blue velvet& 5Oh ($& M$. the pull.6 he repeated& 53ow 'et to wor+& 7ou’re wastin' ti(e&6 5Oh. #o.&6 The loc+ 'ave& *are)ull$.anne drew in a deep breath& 53ow $ou can al(ost s(ell the(& Hot. all that )lash& Those rubies there& 8id $ou +now the$’ve nearl$ (ined all the rubies there are—at least that we +now about& That’s wh$ the$’re worth (ore carat to carat than dia(onds&6 51ascinatin'. a sapphire there. then drew bac+ her hand& 53o. voice s(o+$. and a connoisseur o) 'e(s& I) her )in'ers lin'ered to caress an e(erald here.6 she (ur(ured. $ou 'o ahead& It’s $our 'i'&6 5Are $ou sure96 5"ositive&6 Then. on the outside&6 50ood&6 She too+ out the "olaroid she’d shot o) the displa$ that evenin'& Wor+in' with it. (en are so eas$& Li)t the loc+. -ewels in their proper place& .ust one. the$ arran'ed the )au. Lu+e& . touchin' the tip o) her ton'ue to her top lip. one hand restin' li'htl$ on his shoulder& 2ut she wasn’t watchin' the delicate wa$ he probed and -i''led& Her e$es were on the -ewels be$ond the 'lass.ust that one rub$ nec+lace& We could pop the roc+s& I could +eep the( in a ba' and -ust loo+ at the( now and a'ain&6 53o. piece b$ 'litter$ piece& She was a pro. but she was also a wo(an.as with two )irst na(es. no.She started to ta+e the pic+. she leaned toward hi(& 52esides. 'ave hi( a +iss& 5*hrist.6 she (ur(ured. sweet& Su((er cand$& *an’t we +eep—6 53o&6 He too+ her bac+pac+ )ro( her& 5. the unabashed arousal& 5I love those prett$ stones& All that color. the$ do shine&6 She )elt the tu'. she was onl$ hu(an& 5I alwa$s )i'ured tiaras were )or beaut$ /ueens )ro( Te. but she si'hed as she slipped the spar+lin' circlet in the pac+& 5Ti(e96 5Seven (inutes.

draped displa$ table and two uni)or(ed 'uards& Ar(ed 'uards& Alon' the side sat a .plain it&6 Lu+e wed'ed it in the thin space between the wall o) the case and the botto( shel). let hi( e.anne co((ented& 5Let hi( e.pin+ dress and purple bolero -ac+et& 5I -ust love stu)) li+e this& All these snoot$ people with their little nu(bered cards on a stic+& I wish we were reall$ 'oin' to bu$ so(ethin'&6 5The$’ll be auctionin' artwor+ as well&6 #o. a -eweled lapel pin in the shape o) an elon'ated )ive. a lon'. the$ (ade the dash )ro( displa$ to window& #o.anne too+ out her co(pact. )or ($ )avorite part&6 Ta+in' the 2a''ie and a pair o) twee:ers )ro( his poc+et. searchin' )or Lu+e in the rear o) the roo(& 57ou bid on whatever $ou li+e&6 5I have such bad taste&6 53o.cite(ent in a snu' hot.anne snapped the co(pact closed& 5There’s no reason we can’t have )un while we’re here& As lon' as we 'et the -ob done&6 5I’ve 'ot ($ part cold&6 Lil$ crossed her le's and drew so(e ad(irin' 'lances )ro( the (en down their line o) seats& There was a lot o) (ur(urin' 'oin' on as people continued to )ile in and ta+e their chairs& At the )ront o) the hi'h. Lil$ bubbled over with e.6 he said a'ain& 5Let’s 'o&6 Hands lin+ed.ceilin'ed roo( stood the auctioneer’s pedestal. swun' her le's out. *allahan&6 #o. linen. he poured the cu)) lin+ into his pal(& 5"rett$ )anc$ duds )or a heist. then shot hi( a s(olderin' loo+ over her shoulder& 53ice wor+in' with $ou a'ain.plain it. ostensivel$ to powder her nose& She an'led the (irror bac+.6 Lu+e decided& 5"er)ect&6 5The$ should.anne cli(bed up. addin' discreet dia(ond studs. allowin' onl$ the )aintest 'lint o) 'old to show& 57eah.pointed star and blac+ Italian pu(ps& She considered it suitable )or an a)ternoon at the auction& 2eside her. $ou have $our taste& And it’s per)ect&6 Tr$in' not to be concerned that she couldn’t spot Lu+e. Lu+e delicatel$ re(oved the hair he’d pic+ed )ro( the shoulder o) Sa(’s tu.6 #o. #o.& A)ter he’d placed it at the rear on a 'lass shel). the$ cost enou'h&6 5I love it when $ou’re 'reed$& 3ow.5The$ loo+ 'ood.anne -a((ed a loose pin bac+ in her hair& The 1rench twist went with her subtl$ ele'ant 'ra$ suit in raw sil+& She’d put the loo+ to'ether.

-ust loo+ at this la(p!6 Lil$’s enthusias( was as 'enuine as the stones in #o. and hoped to be )or'iven& Lil$ waved her card in the air be)ore the description was co(plete.anne stated positivel$.anne be'an to en-o$ the show& So(e shot their cards into the air. the auctioneer nodded toward her& 5Mada( opens the bid )or one thousand& 8o I hear twelve hundred96 Lil$ punctuated each bid with a 'asp or a 'i''le. so(e bar+ed. s/uir(ed and overbid hersel) twice& All in all she 'ained the attention o) ever$one in attendance& . 'loss$ catalo'ue. and li+e others around her. a short. #o. (ade notations. with so(eone occasionall$ bold enou'h to call out his o))er rather than li)tin' the nu(bered card& #o.anne studied the photo o) an Art 3ouveau (onstrosit$ and s(iled& Onl$ Lil$& 5Absolutel$&6 The auctioneer.cla(ation& 5Wouldn’t it loo+ per)ect in the )ront parlor96 #o. a co(puter and stac+s o) led'ers and notepads& "hone. circa GSGF.anne thou'ht and sat bac+.Louis =I% des+ with a telephone. the auctioneer (oved s(oothl$ )ro( lot to lot& 5Oh. loo+!6 Lil$ 'ave a s/ueal o) deli'ht as an ornatel$ carved hi'hbo$. in bids were encoura'ed& #o. so(e tapped a )in'er at the air& Adept at interpretin' the si'nals. was trundled out between two burl$ (en& 5Isn’t it beauti)ul.anne’s ears. wavin' her card li+e a ba$onet& She 'ripped the ar( o) the (an beside her.striped suit.anne pa'ed throu'h the thic+.6 #o. others waved the( lan'uidl$ as i) the e))ort o) biddin' several thousand bored the( be$ond (easure& So(e 'runted. and onl$ (ade the pretense all the (ore believable& Several heads turned at her e. waitin' )or her cue& Artwor+ and anti/ues too+ up the openin' lots& The biddin' was /uic+ i) not spri'htl$. and earned several chuc+les& Indul'ent.anne was still tr$in' to beco(e accusto(ed to the idea o) Mouse’s i(pendin' )atherhood& 5Ah & & &6 The hi'hbo$ belon'ed in a castle—or a bordello& 2ut Lil$’s e$es were shinin'& 5The$’ll love it. too+ his place& *urtain. rotund (an who bul'ed a'ainst the 'ra$ )lannel o) his pin. circlin' and chec+in' o)) ite(s& 5Oh. hone$9 It’d be -ust per)ect )or Mouse and Alice’s nurser$&6 #o.

rubies that were (ore 'lass with 'old salts )used with the strass. one hundred dollars&6 53u(ber ei'ht&6 Lil$ turned her card around.cut dia(onds& 2eneath the raw sil+ -ac+et. that was e. which separated the (ice )ro( the (en& A)ter the third o))er. and would never do so to Lu+e. those interested onl$ in lots alread$ sold dri)ted out& Others ca(e in& The )irst lot o) -ewelr$ was displa$ed.anne )olded out the catalo'ue where she had dar+l$ circled the photo'raph& She allowed hersel) a stran'led 'asp as the description be'an and (ur(ured to Lil$& 51ro( 2o'otR.cite(ent )ro( the crowd.anne raised her card and -oined in& . #o. a collar o) sapphires. but the (one$ had been well spent& !ach new piece brou'ht a rustle o) e. isn’t it ele'ant96 Lil$ said in a sta'e whisper& 5Isn’t it drea($96 5H((& The sapphires are indi'o&6 #o. )aintl$ abashed& 5It’s catchin'&6 5We have to do this (ore o)ten&6 As the a)ternoon wore on. and the biddin' soared& She bid on several lots. e. )or three thousand. and because the piece cau'ht her e$e. and leaned )orward in her seat li+e a runner on the (ar+& The biddin' started at )i)t$ thousand.6 she said. (ounted 4 )our. the rin'& #o. dia(ond bracelets that were no (ore than 'litter$ :ircons. #o.seven )i)t$& 5Auction )ever.anne’s heart be'an to thud& 5Oh. with a little cobalt o. alwa$s care)ul to 'au'e the enthusias( o) those who bid a'ainst her& Lil$ co((iserated with her each ti(e she dropped out& And at last.cite(ent vibratin' in her voice& 50rass 'reen.anne lau'hed.ide added to the strass& She watched the lots co(e and 'o.6 she (ur(ured to Lil$.citin'&6 To show her interest.anne bid on a 8eco sculpture& She )ound hersel) )lushed with pride when she ac/uired it )or twent$.5Sold.anne 'ave a little shru'& 5Too dar+ )or ($ taste&6 She +new the$ were 'lass. a'ate (as/ueradin' as lapis la:uli& She hated to ad(it it. 5It (atches $our e$es. absolutel$ per)ect in color and transparenc$& Twelve and a hal) carats. #o. s/uealed when she read the nu(ber. citrine and e(eralds. hone$&6 #o. to nu(ber ei'ht. then lustil$ applauded hersel)& 5Oh. accented with )ull.

1rench voice& When the 'avel ca(e down he rose& Turnin' to #o. holdin' the rin' up to the li'ht. which was probabl$ deliberate.6 Lu+e stated in a cool. he bowed s(oothl$ )ro( the waist& 5M$ pardon. ($&6 #o. mademoiselle. in the challen'e. and a (atchin' (oustache adorned his upper lip& He wore rounded spectacles with 'old ri(s and a tailored suit o) ro$al blue set o)) b$ a )uchsia shirt& He bid laconicall$ and steadil$. she shot up her card when the o))er struc+ one hundred and twent$ thousand& It was the absolute silence that rei'ned a)ter her bid that brou'ht her bac+ to realit$& That and the viseli+e pressure o) Lil$’s )in'ers over hers& 5Oh.6 He strode onto the sta'e.6 he de(anded. but I alwa$s inspect what I ac/uire. i) $ou please&6 As Lu+e stood behind the des+. loo+& See )or $oursel).anne. bandin'&6 52ut—but—6 . strea+s. toppin' his bid lon' a)ter it was onl$ the two o) the(& *au'ht up in the 'a(e. the auctioneer cleared his throat and be'an the ne.When the biddin' reached sevent$ thousand. to +eep her on her 'uard& He loo+ed artistic and distin'uished and nothin' at all li+e Lu+e& Lon' brown hair was slic+ed bac+ into a /ueue. the auction is still in pro'ress&6 “0ui. b$ li)tin' a )in'er and tic+in' it bac+ and )orth li+e a (etrono(e& He didn’t 'lance bac+ even when Lil$ (u))led 'asps behind her hands or bounced enthusiasticall$ on her seat& #o.)ive thousand.anne pushed. perhaps )urther than was wise. holdin' out the loupe& 52ubbles. )or disappointin' such a beauti)ul wo(an&6 He strode to the Louis =I% des+. too+ o)) his spectacles and be'an to polish the( with a snow$ s/uare o) white linen& 5I will inspect&6 5Monsieur 1ordener. n’est?ce pas! The rin'.anne pressed her hand to her (outh. she spotted hi(& He wasn’t sittin' where he’d told her to loo+ )or hi(. pausin' dra(aticall$& 5Is 'lass& 7oil4. stic+in' the rin' under the auctioneer’s nose& 5Loo+.t lot& 5One (o(ent!6 Lu+e’s voice snapped li+e a whip& His e$es behind the clear lenses were cold blue ice& 5This is a )raud& This is & & & an insult!6 5Monsieur&6 The auctioneer tu''ed at the +not o) his tie as people shi)ted in their seats and (uttered& 5The *lidebur' collection is one o) the )inest in the world& I’( sure $ou—6 5I a( sure&6 Lu+e nodded sti))l$& In his hand he held a -eweler’s loupe& 5This & & &6 He held up the rin'. 'rate)ul )or once that her colorin' brou'ht on blushes& 5I lost ($ head&6 5One hundred and twent$.

he plopped his snea+ered )oot on her lap& 52$ ($sel)&6 . (a'ic& And 'reed&6 5The authorities are ba))led. in bed96 With her ar(s still e. Lu+e pulled out an alu(inu( pencil& Those attendin' who +new 'e(s reco'ni:ed it as a (ethod )or distin'uishin' 'enuine stones )ro( i(itations& Lu+e drew the point o) the pencil over the stone.5And this&6 With a )lourish. called in one o) the top (ineralo'ists& O) course. and na+ed under it& It )elt wonder)ul to be la:$. 'esturin' to the roo(& “9ous sommes tromp$s% We are duped!6 In the resultin' chaos. i) I sa$ so ($sel). she thou'ht& The curtain was about to 'o up on the last act& 34 5The papers are )ull o) it&6 #o. #o. to have this little island o) cal( be)ore the ne. #o.t bout o) e. (onsieur& I don’t understand&6 51ordener understands&6 He tossed up his head. she stretched her ar(s hi'h& She was still in her robe.cite(ent& Over the ri( o) his cup. dichroscopes.anne nibbled on a croissant as she scanned the headlines& 5It’s the bi''est thin' to happen in 8&*& since Ollie 3orth&6 52i''er. the (eth$lene iodide and ben:ene bath. all the standard tests were used when the 'aller$ purchased the collection& "olariscopes.anne s(iled& 5That sounds—6 5Ma(a!6 Li+e a roc+et out o) his ad-oinin' roo(.6 #o. showin' the shinin'. roent'en = ra$&6 5Show o))&6 5Well. Lu+e watched the robe shi)t. 3ate shot across the carpet& 5I did it& I tied ($ shoe&6 2alancin' one hand on the table.6 Lu+e clai(ed. then held it up. and that e/uals ro(ance.anne too+ the ris+ o) catchin' Lu+e’s e$e& Ta+e $our bow. I did spend )our $ears stud$in'&6 Settin' the paper aside. pourin' (ore co))ee& 5"eople are used to subter)u'e and lies in the 'overn(ent& This is a -ewel heist& A (a'ni)icent one.anne read and 'rinned up at Lu+e& 5The$’re testin' ever$ stone.tended. 'ape and reveal a tantali:in' 'li(pse o) ivor$ s+in& 5Wh$ don’t we )inish brea+)ast. silver$ line& 5I will have $ou arrested& I will have $ou in prison be)ore the da$ is out& 8o $ou thin+ $ou can cheat 1ordener96 53o& 3o.

& #i'ht. u'l$ (utt&6 He wound his ar( around Lu+e’s nec+ and loo+ed i(plorin'l$ at his (other& This was his cue. but 3ate was alread$ hootin' and leapin' o)) Lu+e’s lap to catch her in a )ierce hu'& 57ou two 'an'ed up on (e&6 Over 3ate’s head she s(iled (istil$ at Lu+e& 5I suppose I’ll have to 'et used to it&6 . Lu+e /uic+l$ secured the bow so that it would sta$ put& 5I swear to 0od&6 5I 'uess $ou’re all 'rown up then& Want so(e co))ee96 3ate screwed up his )ace& 53ah& It tastes $uc+$&6 5Let’s see then. u'l$ (utt. 3ate96 5#i'ht&6 5I suppose we could loo+. 'lowin' with sincerit$ and 'ood intentions. Ma(a&6 5A)ter he’d chewed the(. 3ate nodded& 5!ver$ sin'le da$& And I’d teach hi( to sit.anne said under her breath& 5I suppose $ou thin+ we should 'o sprin' one&6 5It’s the hu(anitarian thin' to do. wouldn’t $ou.anne (uttered under 3ate’s enthusiastic cheer& 57ou’d )eed it.6 #o. a)ter all. 3ate stared up into his )ather’s )ace& While his son was distracted. and per)or(in' was. don’t we..5Incredible& The bo$’s a prodi'$&6 She studied the loose bow that was alread$ beco(in' undone& 5This is certainl$ a red. slic+96 5Sure I would&6 !$es sole(n. no doubt&6 It would ta+e a harder wo(an than she to resist two pairs o) lau'hin' blue e$es and two croo+ed s(iles& 5I’( not sharin' the house with so(e $app$ little purebred&6 5We want a bi'. co(e clean& Who helped $ou96 53obod$&6 !$es wide. *allahan.6 #o. 3ate96 57eah& A bi'. in his blood& 58add$ sa$s the$ have lots o) poor. #o. it see(s to (e an$ +id who can tie his own shoes should be able to ta+e care o) a do'&6 5*allahan. #o.6 she be'an. ho(eless puppies at the ani(al shelter& It’s li+e bein' in -ail&6 5Low. reall$ low. what else96 Lu+e bounced the bo$ on his +nee as he considered& 57ou +now.letter da$&6 5Let (e see that&6 Lu+e nipped 3ate at the waist and hauled hi( onto his +nee& 5O+a$. too& And to sha+e hands& And & & &6 Inspiration struc+& 5To )etch $our slippers.

$ear retire(ent and pla$ a s(all but pivotal role in an elaborate con had initiall$ thrown hi( o)) balance& Then it had intri'ued hi(& In the end. Ma. Harve$ had 'raciousl$ a'reed to participate. leaned bac+& 5I’d love to see how Tannenbau(’s doin' ri'ht now&6 5He’s a veteran&6 Lu+e +issed her nose& 5We should be 'ettin' a call within the hour&6 5I -ust hate (issin' his per)or(ance& It should be a once.5I’( 'oin' to 'o tell Alice ri'ht now!6 3ate strea+ed awa$.anne’s proposition that he co(e out o) his )our. and with her ar(s lin+ed around his nec+. it )eels 'ood&6 She rose to wal+ over and curl on his lap& 57es.ust the three o) us&6 5There’ll be other da$s& Lots o) da$s when this is all over&6 She s(iled. 8ad&6 He 'rinned over his shoulder& 5Than+s a lot&6 Lu+e couldn’t do (uch about the 'rin splittin' his )ace.li)eti(e&6 Harve$ Tannenbau( was indeed a veteran& 1or (ore than two.in. it does& It )eels ver$ 'ood&6 With a little (ur(ur o) pleasure she cuddled a'ainst hi(& 5I 'uess we have to 'et dressed& There’s wor+ to do $et&6 5I wish we could spend the da$ with 3ate& .t$. but he thou'ht it politic to pretend a sudden interest in his brea+)ast& 57ou’re 'oin' to spoil hi(&6 He (oved his shoulders& 5So9 7ou’re onl$ )our $ears old once& 2esides.ei'ht $ears he’d been a success)ul )ence. dealin' with onl$ the crea( o) the crop& To Harve$. and the 3ouvelles.thirds o) his si. s+idded to a halt& 5Than+s. had ta+en the -ob 'ratis& He was even loo+in' )orward to it& *ertainl$ it was a new twist )or Harve$& It was the )irst ti(e in his lon' li)e he had voluntaril$ wal+ed into a police station& *ertainl$ the )irst ti(e he had ever con)essed— without duress—a trans'ression to the authorities& Since it was the )irst. and to show his senti(ents toward Ma.i(illian 3ouvelle had been the crea( o) the crea(& #o. Harve$ was pla$in' it )or all he was worth& . and b$ all li+elihood the last.a.

red. (ind. we’re +ind o) bus$ around here toda$& 7ou +now how it is when there’s a (a-or -ewel heist. and we are pressed )or ti(e&6 .to. we’d -ust love to sit around and 'o bac+ down (e(or$ lane with $ou. but we’ve 'ot wor+ to do&6 5I co(e here to help $ou )ellas out&6 Harve$ )olded his ar(s and +ept his wide butt planted& 5I’( doin' ($ 'odda(n civic dut$& And be)ore I do it. the second detective. spill it& 7ou loo+ tired. the senior detective.striped tie.e$ed Italian na(ed Loren:o. (a'ic&6 5Sure&6 Sapperstein su((oned up a s(ile& 57ou were the best. and all $ou want to do is pass (e o))&6 I(patient b$ nature.ri((ed and shadowed. Harve$&6 5Well. I want i((unit$&6 5*hrist. Tannenbau(. too+ the co(passionate route& 5Wh$ don’t $ou let us drive $ou ho(e96 5Are $ou listenin' to (e96 Harve$ let his indi'nation rise& 5Hell’s )ire.6 the second detective said between his teeth& 53ow. bo$s. $ou sure as hell never ta''ed (e. starin' up at the two plainclothes o))icers to who( he’d been passed b$ an overwor+ed ser'eant& His e$es were sun+en. but there are so(e that (i'ht sa$ I handled (ore ice than a trio o) !s+i(os&6 5Those were the da$s. these $oun' 'u$s.dawn (ovie (arathon on cable& He loo+ed. Harve$. $ou +now.6 Harve$ (uttered& 5*ould be I shouldn’t be dealin' with underlin's& Ma$be I’ll -ust 'o to the co((issioner&6 57eah. in his ba''$ suit and wide.6 Sapperstein advised& 57ou 'ot so(ethin' to sa$.6 Loren:o invited& 5"ut a lid on it.6 Loren:o (uttered& 5*all the 8&A& Harve$ wants i((unit$& Let’s 'et the paperwor+ (ovin'&6 53o need to be sarcastic. li+e a desperate (an who’d spent a sleepless ni'ht in his clothes& Onl$ the desperation was an illusion& 57ou loo+ worn out. re(e(berin' the 'ood old da$s& 5We used to +now how to +eep the )un in our wor+& Toda$. I co(e in here—and it ain’t so(ethin' I do li'htl$—to 'ive $ou the tip o) a li)eti(e& All $ou can do is tell (e to 'o on ho(e& Li+e I was senile or so(ethin'& I didn’t sleep a win+ all ni'ht worr$in' i) I had the nerve to do this. did $ou9 3ot that I’( ad(ittin' an$thin'.5I co(e here as a concerned citi:en. Harve$&6 Sapperstein. $ou do that. than+s to a dus+. dru((ed his )in'ers on his overburdened des+& 5Loo+. we’re tired. a basset.6 he insisted. no creativit$& 3o. it’s -ust business& 3o )lair. irritable b$ circu(stance. don’t $ou96 5Indeed I do&6 He si'hed.

'et us a cup o) water here&6 . put two and two to'ether.nosed pun+& I was passin' roc+s under cops’ noses while $ou were still pissin' $our diapers& 7ou can’t show (ore respect than that. and I’( wal+in' out the sa(e wa$& I ain’t 'oin' to -ail&6 5Ta+e it eas$& Want so(e water9 Loren:o. and he could have been )eelin' a tu' o) nostal'ia& Then a'ain & & & 5Wait&6 Sapperstein patted Harve$’s shoulder to ease hi( bac+ down& 57ou +now so(ethin' about that. turned red& 5I said h$potheticall$& I) $ou thin+ $ou’re 'oin' to tric+ (e into incri(inatin' ($sel). Harve$& So $ou saw senatorial candidate Sa( W$att steal the *lidebur' collection96 This was as+ed with studied patience b$ Sapperstein& 5Shit! How could I see hi( li)t the(96 #i'hteous )rustration had Harve$ tossin' up his hands& 5What9 7ou )i'ure I stand on street corners and loo+ )or thieves9 7ou’re not 'oin' to han' an$ accessor$ bullshit on (e& I was ho(e sleepin' li+e a bab$ when the -ob went down& And since I wasn’t sleepin' alone. do $ou96 5I +now who did it&6 Harve$’s s(ile was s(u'& He waited one dra(atic beat. word was that he’d been out o) business )or a couple $ears.cellent pro-ection had Harve$’s voice rin'in' out in the nois$ station house& 51or *hrist’s sa+e.5Ma$be $ou’re too bus$ to hear what I +now about the art 'aller$ heist then&6 Harve$ started to heave hi(sel) up& 5I’ll -ust run alon'& Wouldn’t want to hold $ou up&6 2oth detectives’ ears per+ed up& Sapperstein +ept his persuasive s(ile in place& He +new it was probable that Harve$ was -ust blowin' hot air& A)ter all. 5I 'ot (e an alibi&6 5Then wh$ do $ou clai( that Mr& W$att stole the *lidebur' collection96 52ecause he told (e!6 A'itation and e. $ou’ve 'ot another thin+ co(in'& I ca(e in here o) ($ own )ree will.6 he added with a wic+ed 'rin.anne )or o))erin' hi( the -ob& 5Sa( W$att&6 Loren:o swore and bro+e a pencil in hal)& 5How co(e I 'et the cra:ies96 he as+ed a hi'her power& 5Wh$ is it alwa$s (e96 5*ra:$9 Wh$ $ou snot. I’( out o) here&6 5Ta+e it eas$. will $ou9 Ma$be so(ebod$—-ust )or h$pothetical purposes we’ll sa$ that so(ebod$ was (e—used to turn over a )ew roc+s )or hi( now and then&6 Loren:o snorted& 57ou’re tr$in' to tell us that $ou )enced )or Sa( W$att96 5I said no such thin'&6 Harve$ blustered. decidin' he owed #o.

I had a +id b$ ($ second wi)e. $ou turned hi( down&6 Sapperstein rolled his e$es& 57ou’re not involved& What do $ou +now96 5I +now plent$& I 'et a call. Harve$. I’( retired—h$potheticall$& And i) I want to turn down a -ob. I turn it down&6 5O+a$. balls&6 Harve$ let out his own snort o) dis'ust& 5I don’t 'ive a )la(in' shit about his politics& 2ut I’( tellin' $ou—h$potheticall$. 1lorence& He’s a dentist on Lon' Island& Well. $ou’re not doin' an$one an$ 'ood this wa$—6 5I don’t li+e bein' pressured. he started hittin' bi''er tar'ets&6 5So $ou’ve +nown Sa( W$att since he was a +id96 !ven Sapperstein’s patience could be strained& He too+ the cup Loren:o brou'ht bac+ and held it out to Harve$& 5Loo+. and he 'ets nast$& Starts tal+in' about (a+in' it rou'h )or (e& 7ou +now. W$att +nows about hi( and sa$s he’ll (a+e thin's tou'h& While he’s threatenin' (e. I 'ot it&6 5H$potheticall$. and how this score’s 'oin' to set us both up )or 'ood&6 Harve$ dran+ the rest o) his water and si'hed& 5I 'otta sa$. $ou’re -ust 'oin' to 'et $oursel) in trouble& Ma$be $ou don’t li+e the 'u$’s politics. he had (e interested& A -ob li+e this doesn’t co(e alon' ever$ da$& The co((ission would set (e up 'ood& I’ve been thin+in' about (ovin' to . ri'ht9 He tells (e he’s 'oin' to hit the 'aller$. Sapperstein continued& 5We’re here to listen& That’s a )act& 2ut i) $ou’re 'oin' to (a+e up stories li+e this about a respected (e(ber o) the 'overn(ent. and $ou’re entitled&6 5"olitics. what’s it to (e9 So he wants (e to start wor+in' on li/uidatin' the roc+s& I 'ive it a pass.rate )ence with this +ind o) (erchandise& #e(inds (e how we wor+ed to'ether be)ore. 'ot it96 5Sure.6 Sapperstein advised& 5What did $ou do about the -ob96 . and I tell hi( 'ood luc+.5Sure9 Wh$ the hell not96 In dis'ust. he’s co(pli(entin' (e& Tellin' (e how I’( the best and he can’t trust an$ second. and I have to ad(it.na+ed wo(en ever$where $ou loo+&6 5Sta$ )ocused. he used to use (e prett$ re'ular& 2e)ore he 'ot into politics it was (ostl$ s(all ti(e.diplo(at voice.as.a(aica& It’s war( there all the ti(e& Hal). I’ve +nown Sa( )or a lon' ti(e& Since he was a teena'er& 3ever cared )or hi( personall$. Loren:o sto(ped o))& 53ow. but business is business& #i'ht9 An$wa$.6 Harve$ interrupted& 5And that’s -ust what the son o) a bitch is tr$in'& Loo+. but a)ter. Harve$&6 In his best cop. I’ve been losin' so(e sleep over this& W$att had (e worried.

tech& Holo'ra(s. he used to tr$ to do card tric+s&6 57ou +now. Sapperstein too+ up a pad& 5What cab co(pan$ did $ou use to 'et to the :oo96 He scribbled the in)or(ation down as Harve$ related it& 5What ti(e did $ou 'et pic+ed up9 How’d $ou 'et bac+96 All this could be easil$ veri)ied& 5. Sapperstein too+ it b$ the ed'es& Written on it were descriptions o) the *lidebur' collection& . at the :oo& 2$ the ape house&6 51ine. he told (e& The$’re li+e )a(ous or so(ethin' now& An$wa$. $ou +now9 There (ust be li+e a reward or )inder’s )ee )or that haul& I can do a 'ood deed and (a+e a couple buc+s out o) it&6 5So he passed $ou the stu))96 Loren:o spread his hands& 5Let’s see it&6 50ive (e a brea+& I (et hi( $esterda$.in so si(ilar to the 'enuine heist that it would )all beauti)ull$ into place durin' the investi'ation& 5"rett$ slic+—and hi'h. then I started thin+in' how (uch heat was 'oin' to blow when it went down& I’( not as $oun' as I used to be. and I don’t need the a''ravation& So I )i'ured I’d do the ri'ht thin'—turn hi( in. as it would i) he had a )at )ish on the line. how did he tell $ou he pulled it o))96 Harve$’s heart swelled.ust )or ar'u(ent’s sa+e. he reached inside his shirt poc+et and whipped out a paper )olded once& As a )orce o) habit. cuttin' his partner o))& 5 eep 'oin'&6 5He tells (e he’d pulled it o))& He was reall$ hi'h about it. but I can tell $ou so(ethin' else& The 'u$’s not ri'ht& Here&6 Harve$ tapped his head& Si'hin'. and how he had planted )a+es to bu$ (ore ti(e& And he told (e he wanted the( )enced ri'ht a)ter the election&6 5That’s reachin'. or a spar+lin' 'e( in his hand& In concise phrases he described a brea+. +id& I 'ot (ore&6 With a )lourish worth$ o) a (aster.6 Sapperstein said. bra''in'. even i) so(e o) this chec+s out. electronic -a((ers&6 It could have wor+ed. Harve$&6 5Ma$be $ou thin+ so. $ou +now9 3ever s(art to 'et that e(otionall$ involved with a -ob& He told (e how he’d done it.5I pla$ed alon'& 1irst I thou'ht I (i'ht do it. it’s not enou'h )or us to /uestion Sa( W$att&6 5I +now the ropes. Sapperstein thou'ht as his cop’s blood be'an to heat& 5He learned so(ethin' o) (a'ic )ro( these per)or(ers out o) 3ew Orleans& Lived with the( awhile.

all o) which would be spent hand in 'love with his sta)). poutin' over the ruthless wa$ he’d slashed her )our suitcases to two& . lin'erin' tan'& And he was en-o$in' this one )or his old pal Ma. Harve$. and b$ *hrist. when the$ said reven'e was sweet& It had a tan'& A delicious.6 he said and there was )ire in his e$es& 5That old (an (i'ht -ust have (ade our careers&6 The old (an sat patientl$. I’( retired&6 He wa''ed his e$ebrows& 5H$potheticall$&6 58on’t 'et coc+$&6 Loren:o scowled at the paper Sapperstein was slippin' into an evidence ba'& 5I 'uess $ou want (e to send that to the lab&6 57ou 'et enou'h pieces. to help (e arran'e )or the )encin'& 2ut he (ade a bi' (ista+e& I don’t li+e threats.ustine had alread$ 'iven hi( trouble over the a(ount o) lu''a'e she clai(ed to need& She was upstairs. bidin' his ti(e& The$ were wron'. 'old& !n'raved with the initials SW&6 Sapperstein’s nose all but twitched& 5O+a$. the detective wal+ed awa$& His bland s(ile vanished when he reached his partner& 5I’( 'oin' to 'et all I can on the cu)) lin+& 7ou tell the lab to put a rush on that paper& 2itch later. and his wi)e& . he thou'ht. $ou’ve -ust 'ot to start puttin' the( to'ether& Have the( chec+ it )or prints& 1ind out i) W$att’s are on )ile& While $ou’re at it. Loren:o. see i) we can co(e up with a handwritin' sa(ple&6 Loren:o heaved a 'ust$ si'h& 5I -ust heard the$ li)ted a piece )ro( the displa$ at the 'aller$& *u)) lin+. wh$ don’t $ou co(e over and sit here96 Sapperstein led hi( awa$ to a bench near the door o) the station& 5We’ll ta+e it )ro( here&6 5I 'et i((unit$&6 Harve$ clutched Sapperstein’s -ac+et sleeve& 5I won’t do ti(e )or this crap&6 5I don’t thin+ that’s so(ethin' $ou have to worr$ about&6 With a last pat on the shoulder. (ade hersel) s(ile& 5I hope this doesn’t dela$ our return to 3ew Orleans b$ (ore than a da$ or so& I’d hate to (iss Halloween at ho(e&6 5We’ll (a+e it&6 Li)tin' her hand. Loren:o.& 5Then it’s the last act&6 She 'a:ed out the window as the wind tossed leaves alon' the curbs& 5I wish 8add$ could be here )or this one&6 She shoo+ o)) the (ood.5He 'ave that to (e. he +issed it& 5That’s a pro(ise&6 Sa(’s ba's were pac+ed )or his trip to Tennessee& He had ten da$s o) ca(pai'nin' on his schedule.

Sa( (used& Once she could have Senator and Mrs& Sa(uel W$att printed on her *hrist(as cards.tra(arital a))airs. his schedule. dr$ and con)ident& 5It’s alwa$s a pleasure to entertain the bo$s on the )orce& What can I 'et $ou9 *o))ee96 53o. the police are here& The$’d li+e to spea+ with $ou&6 5"olice96 He cau'ht the avid interest in the (aid’s e$es and decided to )ire her at the )irst opportunit$& 5Show the( in&6 5O))icers&6 Sa( ca(e around the des+ to e.She’d 'et over it.tend his hand to both Sapperstein and Loren:o& It was a 'ood politician’s sha+e& 1ir(. pens. leavin' that )or the servants& His pac+in' was bein' co(pleted b$ his valet. but it 'nawed at hi(& He wanted to stri+e /uic+l$. a wei'ht$ boo+ on econo(ics& He snapped the loc+s shut as a (aid ca(e to the doorwa$& 5Mr& W$att. /uic+ and )riendl$& 5!ither o) $ou have )riends or relatives in Tennessee96 53o. his speeches. but Sa( alwa$s dealt with the contents o) his brie)case personall$& His papers. Mr& W$att&6 5I’d li+e to sa$ ta+e all $ou want. the condo(s he used reli'iousl$ in all e. Sa( be'an to sweat around the collar o) his (ono'ra((ed shirt& 5Wh$ don’t $ou tell (e what this is all about96 . O))icer & & & 96 58etective Sapperstein. sir&6 5Well. I had to 'ive it a shot&6 He 'estured toward a chair& 5Have a seat. than+s&6 Sapperstein answered )or both o) the(& 5We’ll tr$ not to ta+e up too (uch o) $our ti(e. )inall$& It should have pleased hi( that he’d been on tar'et about the *lidebur' collection& Sa( had no doubt who had en'ineered the the)t& It would be another wei'ht on the scale i) he decided to turn his docu(entation over to the police& 2ut that would have to wait until Lu+e had brou'ht hi( the )ile on 0unner& Then he would use these last ten da$s be)ore the election to secure his place in histor$& He i'nored the doorbell. notepads. and 8etective Loren:o&6 58etectives&6 1or reasons that ba))led hi(. she’d 'et over a lot o) thin's& He was sorr$ the ti(in' didn’t allow hi( to dole out Lu+e’s punish(ent i((ediatel$& He’d thou'ht he would en-o$ strin'in' out the tension. but I’( catchin' a plane in a couple hours& Hittin' the ca(pai'n trail&6 He win+ed.

Sa( snatched the order )ro( Sapperstein& 5This is a )raud& I don’t +now what 'a(e $ou’re pla$in' but & & &6 He bro+e o)). and will do so with or without $our cooperation& We apolo'i:e )or an$ inconvenience this causes $ou&6 52ullshit& 8o $ou thin+ I don’t s(ell a con9 7ou’re (eat&6 Triu(phant.6 Sapperstein continued& 5We are authori:ed to (a+e this search.third& We have evidence that $ou’re involved in the the)t and. Sa( told hi(sel) as he called throu'h )or the o))ice o) . he was dra''in' at the +not o) his sil+ tie& He punched the nu(ber )or his law$er& 5Wind)ield. b$ order o) .ustine hurried in& 5Sa(. Mr& W$att&6 Sapperstein too+ the o))icial paper bac+& 5We’ll wait&6 He wouldn’t )all )or it& It was a piti)ul plo$. sneerin'& 5*allahan sent $ou& He thou'ht he could ri' this whole business to sha+e (e up& Well. so(ethin' about Sa( set hi( o))& He 'lanced at his watch and s(iled& 52ut I thin+ $ou’re 'oin' to (iss that plane&6 2e)ore Sa( could 'rowl out a response.& Lorrin'.ud'e Harold .5Mr& W$att. that’s what I said& 3ow 'et $our )at ass over here and deal with it&6 Sa( sla((ed down the receiver& 57ou don’t touch a thin'& 3ot one )uc+in' thin' until ($ law$er 'ets here&6 Sapperstein nodded& 5We’ve 'ot ti(e&6 He couldn’t help it.tra (o(ent to slip on his readin' 'lasses& 5We’re authori:ed to search the pre(ises& 8etective Loren:o and I will head the tea( that’s waitin' outside&6 5A search warrant96 All o) Sa(’s char( died& 5What the hell are $ou tal+in' about96 5The *lidebur' collection.& Lorrin'& 2$ the ti(e he was told a search order had indeed been si'ned less than thirt$ (inutes be)ore. what in the world is 'oin' on9 There are two police cars par+ed in )ront o) the house&6 5Shut up!6 He spran' at her li+e a ti'er and shoved her toward the door& 5Shut up and 'et out&6 5Mr& W$att&6 The (aid was nearl$ swoonin' with e.up search warrant&6 He $an+ed the tie o)). he’s wron'& 7ou can 'o bac+ and tell the bastard that he’s dead )uc+in' wron'. threw it& 57es. he -abbed a )in'er at the(& 52oth o) $ou& 0et out o) ($ house. I have a court order&6 Sapperstein too+ it out and paused an e. or I’ll call the cops ($sel)&6 57ou’re )ree to do so.ud'e Harold . . are authori:ed to conduct a search&6 57ou’re out o) $our (ind&6 With pal(s that were suddenl$ wet.cite(ent& 57ou have 'uests in the )o$er&6 . and I’ll bur$ hi( )or it&6 5Mr& W$att. this is Sa( W$att& I’ve 'ot a couple o) -er+s who sa$ the$’re cops standin' in ($ o))ice with so(e tru(ped. which was stolen )ro( the Ha(pstead 0aller$ on October twent$.

6 Loren:o corrected. but never. twistin'& #o. he turned& 5I apolo'i:e )or losin' ($ te(per& It was such a shoc+& It isn’t ever$ da$ I’( accused o) robber$&6 52ur'lar$. Sa(’s newl$ re'ained co(posure teetered on the ed'e& 5What are $ou doin' in ($ house96 57ou called. 5I’ll have to as+ $ou both to leave& This is o))icial&6 5I want to +now what this is all about& 7ou’ve done so(ethin' horrible a'ain. $ou’re )ree to turn the house upside down& I have nothin' to hide&6 %oices in the corridor had ever$one turnin'& When Lu+e shoved throu'h the door past the (aid. please&6 Lu+e (oved to her& 58on’t upset $oursel)& He isn’t worth it& He never was&6 5I brou'ht $ou into ($ ho(e&6 She shoved Sa( bac+& Onl$ the presence o) witnesses +ept hi( )ro( stri+in' her& 5I trusted $ou and ($ )a(il$ trusted $ou& Isn’t it enou'h that $ou betra$ed us all those $ears a'o9 Must $ou still harbor this cancerous hate )or us96 5 eep $our hands o)) (e&6 He 'rabbed her b$ the wrists. but I don’t appreciate the tone o) $our invitation to visit& I & & &6 He trailed o)). $ou de(anded I co(e&6 Lu+e slipped a protective ar( around #o. o) course&6 He’d have the (an’s bad'e—i) it wasn’t a )a+e& 5I do pre)er to wait until ($ law$er arrives.anne tossed her head up. )or the hell o) it& 57es. as i) spottin' the detectives )or the )irst ti(e& 5Who are these people96 5*ops& 3ice to see $ou&6 !n-o$in' hi(sel). )ollowed closel$ b$ #o. valiant wo(an obviousl$ runnin' on nerves& 5I’( sorr$. haven’t $ou96 She whirled on Sa(& 57ou won’t hurt Lu+e&6 She 'ripped his lapels and shoo+& 57ou used (e once. but that was all ri'ht& An$one (i'ht react the sa(e wa$ under the circu(stances& He downed the whis+e$ and waited )or it to settle& 5O))icers&6 With his poster s(ile bac+ in place. never a'ain&6 58arlin'.anne.6 Sapperstein stated.6 he said between his teeth& 5*an’t $ou see I’( bus$96 He wal+ed to the li/uor cabinet and poured two )in'ers o) whis+e$& He’d lost his head )or a (o(ent. a lovel$. W$att.5Send the( awa$. Loren:o 'rinned& 5What is this about96 #o.anne& 5I don’t +now what $ou want. -ust to veri)$ the procedure& I assure $ou.anne’s cr$ o) pain had both detectives (ovin' /uic+l$ to intervene& .

he continued to (utter under his breath& 5Mr& W$att&6 Sapperstein put a restrainin' hand on his shoulder& 5I advise $ou to wait )or $our attorne$&6 5I’ve waited lon' enou'h& I’ve waited $ears& 7ou wanted to search. *allahan& I’ve still 'ot $ou& In the sa)e&6 He wiped a hand across the bac+ o) his (outh as he rose& His e$es were too wide. his lips peeled bac+ in a (oc+er$ o) a 'rin& 5I have evidence in the sa)e a'ainst this (an& He’s a thie) and a (urderer& This wo(an’s a thie) as well& The$ all are& I can prove it& I can prove it&6 Li(pin' toward the sa)e. breath heavin'& 57ou won’t pull o)) this little (a'ic tric+. it’s the <ueen’s lace nec+lace )ro( the *lidebur' collection& 7ou&6 She li)ted her ar(. pointin' an accusin' )in'er& 57ou stole the(& . Mr& W$att&6 Loren:o scooped up a hand)ul. search this&6 He spun the dial on the sa)e. #o.6 Sapperstein (ur(ured& He’d done a turn in %ice. as a )ile )older spilled out. unable to believe his care)ull$ structured world could )all apart so /uic+l$& 5The bastard planted the(& He set (e up&6 He lun'ed& Lu+e braced& !ven as Loren:o (oved to intercept. pursin' his lips as he shu))led throu'h the(& 57ou’re real photo'enic—and a'ile&6 He 'rinned. Sa( wiped his (outh with the bac+ o) his hand& 5It’s 0unner& It’s supposed to be 0unner& The$’re )a+ed& An$one can see that& I’ve never been with an$ o) those people& I’ve never seen the( be)ore&6 53one o) the( see( to consider $ou a stran'er. e$ed. scatterin' 'arishl$ colored photo'raphs& 5Interestin' snapshots. loo+s li+e these should co(e with a disclai(er& ?8on’t tr$ these tric+s at ho(e&’ 6 . 'o''le. chased b$ the )ire o) rubies& 5Oh&6 #o.anne stu(bled toward Lu+e and +noc+ed the brie)case )ro( the des+& The loc+s spran'& An ic$ 'li((er o) dia(onds spilled out. W$att&6 5Sweetheart&6 That was her cue& In a blind rush o) tears. twistin' it bac+ and )orward until the last nu(ber o) the co(bination& He $an+ed it open and reached in& Then he stared.5Ta+e it eas$. #o. his )ace 'ra$.ust li+e $ou stole )ro( Mada(e all those $ears a'o&6 57ou’re cra:$& He planted the(&6 Sa( loo+ed around wildl$. the end -usti)ies ever$thin'& Her )oot hoo+ed ni(bl$ under Sa(’s le' and sent hi( sprawlin' on the open brie)case& 57ou didn’t run )ar enou'h&6 Sa( sat up.anne shi)ted her bod$& It burned her that it would appear she was scra(blin' out o) har(’s wa$& 2ut then. didn’t $ou9 Well. passin' the photos to his partner& 5That’s not (e&6 Still starin'. but never seen an$thin' /uite so & & & creative& 57ou +now.anne pressed her hands to her (outh& 5M$ 0od.

and with the )act that Lu+e had placed the philosophers’ stone in their )ather’s )rail hand so that he slipped )ro( one world to the ne.57eah&6 0ettin' into the spirit. restin' there as it had rested in other pal(s in other centuries& I) it had held power.6 Lu+e (ur(ured& He snapped his )in'ers and o))ered #o. he re(e(bered belatedl$. starin' at the -eweled crown in his hands while a 'i''le escaped throu'h his terrible 'rin& 5It’ll disappear&6 Sapperstein nodded to Loren:o. died durin' one o) those brilliant li'ht shows. Loren:o tapped one snapshot depictin' a particularl$ lewd and unusual position& 5How do $ou suppose he twisted hi(sel) into that (ove9 M$ wi)e would love it&6 53ever (ind&6 Sapperstein cleared his throat& There was. a lad$ present& 5Mr& W$att. #o. I onl$ need ei'ht (ore $ears&6 5Oh. slippin' on the cu))s while Sapperstein e(ptied the sa)e o) -ewels& 5I’( 'oin' to be president&6 Spittle )lew as Sa( ra'ed& 5!i'ht (ore $ears. it was the best wa$ to die& #o.t holdin' it& It wasn’t a brilliant 'e( or a 'litter$ -ewel& The stone was a si(ple 'ra$ roc+. he pointed at Lu+e& 52ut he’ll pa$& All o) the( will& I’ve 'ot proo)&6 He was chuc+lin' as he reached into the sa)e& His nerve crac+ed co(pletel$ when he pulled out a dia(ond tiara& 5It’s a tric+. and as Le*lerc said over one o) the innu(erable cups o) co))ee consu(ed durin' that ni'ht. i) $ou would sit down until we—6 5The$’re )a+ed!6 Sa( shouted& 5He did it& He lied and cheated&6 2reathin' hard. in his own bed. it had )it neatl$ into the cup o) her pal(.6 he said—blubbered& 5A tric+&6 He bac+ed up. had& .&6 57eah&6 She pressed her )ace to his chest to hide a (ile. with a rub$. she hadn’t )elt it& She hoped Ma.red sun as his )inal curtain& His )a(il$ was with hi(. but ni'ht a)ter ni'ht the sunsets were a spectacular s$(phon$ o) color and hue that seared the throat and da::led the e$e& Ma.anne had to be content with that. I thin+ $ou’re 'oin' to 'et (ore than that.anne the rose that appeared between the(& 5Alaca:a(. worn s(ooth b$ ti(e and /uestin' )in'ers& In si:e. who re(oved the tiara& 57ou have the ri'ht to re(ain silent.6 he be'an.wide 'rin& 52ut what are we 'oin' to do )or an encore96 35 1all in 3ew Orleans was war( and bri'ht and bliss)ull$ dr$& The da$s 'rew shorter.

anne had been prepared to )eel s$(path$ )or . a 'lass cutter. a (otori:ed crossbow that propelled a 'rapplin' hoo+.ustine. old ones whose hands and e$es were )ailin' the( even as Ma. would have detested blac+ crape and or'an (usic& Hundreds had crowded into the ce(eter$. )or'in' Sa(’s hand& 2ut it had been a -ob well done& Swiss accounts. now indicted )or 'rand larcen$. and the strains o) *hopin stro+ed )ro( a do:en violins& Ma. in e. he no lon'er insisted he wanted to be president& He clai(ed he was president& The ps$chiatrists continued their deliberate tests while Sa( ran his private 'overn(ent )ro( a padded cell& .’s )arewell per)or(ance.’s soul awa$& #o.anne )ound the 'esture incredibl$ lovel$& Ma. people he’d touched so(ehow durin' his li)e& 7oun' (a'icians ea'er to (a+e their (ar+s. was a class act& Over the ne. she’d had no choice but to ta+e char'e o) the )a(il$& 2ut as lon' as he’d been there in bod$.t )ew da$s. )or(er senatorial candidate. a sin'le 'old cu)) lin+. etched with the initials SW. and (ost da(nin'. never /uite able to brea+ )ree o) the dra' o) 'rie)& Her )ather had been the sin'le (ost i(portant in)luence in her li)e& While he had been ill. as he would have e. painsta+in'l$ detailin' the)ts co((itted over a span o) )i)teen $ears& It had ta+en .pected. had been unearthed& Lu+e considered it an invest(ent that had alread$ paid o))—in spades& #o. she’d had the illusion—a'ain illusion—o) havin' hi(& She wished she could have shared their latest triu(ph with hi(& The headlines still shouted the scandal o) Sa(uel W$att. a(on' a variet$ o) lesser char'es& The$’d )ound other evidence in his Mar$land ho(e& A s(all device that rese(bled so(ethin' between a re(ote control unit and a calculator. a )ine set o) bur'lar’s tools in stainless steel polished to a 'lea(. with a blue s+$ overhead and a )aint bree:e rustlin' in the wild 'rass that spran' up between the raised to(bs o) the cit$ he’d loved& There was per)u(e on the air. but was a(used when she read that Sa(’s devoted wi)e. 'ivin' the illusion o) an'els co(e to bear Ma.anne dri)ted.The$ buried it with hi( on a bri'ht 3ove(ber (ornin'.’s (ind had )ailed hi(& So(eone released a do:en white doves that )luttered and cooed overhead.a+e a (onth to co(plete it. #o.cess o) a /uarter o) a (illion. cleared o) all i(plication. had alread$ )iled )or divorce and was livin' in a chalet in the Swiss Alps& As )or Sa(. a diar$.

It was. she held up a hand.ust loo+in' out& He wanted to 'o.traordinaire&6 Lau'hin' a'ain. restin' it on Lil$’s shoulder& 5He was in his chair.anne continued& 5Leave it to Ma. he’s there.anne supposed. Lil$& I +new it& I )elt it& He needed to 'o&6 She lau'hed. listenin' to the splash and tin+le o) the )ountain& The shadows len'thened and beca(e the dar+& 58on’t (iss hi( too (uch. tr$in' to outdo the Herr(anns and con-urin' with Harr$ ellar& Oh. a low 'enuine sound Lil$ hadn’t heard in too (an$ da$s& 52ut he was stubborn. he’d li+e that. she +issed both o) Lil$’s chee+s& 5I’( not hurtin' an$(ore& I’ll alwa$s (iss hi(. to die on Halloween& Li+e Houdini&6 Her ar( ti'htened around Lil$’s shoulders& 5I swear he (ust have planned it& And I was thin+in' now that i) there’s a heaven )or (a'icians.anne sat on the iron bench watchin' the )ountain& 57ou should have a -ac+et&6 5I’( )ine&6 To show co(pan$ was welco(e. wouldn’t he.e$ed but s(ilin'. but it doesn’t hurt&6 5Then I’( 'oin' to sa$ so(ethin' else&6 She cupped #o. )or so (an$ $ears& 5This one’s alwa$s been (a'ic )or (e&6 The$ sat in silence )or a )ew (inutes.i(illian 3ouvelle. doin' poc+et tric+s with #obert. slippin' an ar( around Lil$’s shoulder when the older wo(an -oined her on the bench& 5I love this spot& I can’t re(e(ber a ti(e when I haven’t been able to )eel better a)ter sittin' here&6 5So(e places are (a'ic&6 Lil$ 'lanced up to the window o) the roo( she’d shared with Ma. Lil$ crossed the court$ard to where #o. and she si(pl$ didn’t +now which she wanted to ta+e& 5It’s 'ettin' chill$ out here&6 In the shadow$ dus+. a +ind o) -ustice& 2ut that was behind her& The corner it had ta+en her )ive $ears to turn was at her bac+& A do:en lon' paths spread out be)ore her.6 #o. Ma.’s )lair )or words& 5He wouldn’t want $ou to hurt )or too lon'&6 5I +now& I was a)raid at )irst i) I let it stop hurtin' it (eant I’d stopped lovin' hi(& 2ut I +now that’s wron'& I was sittin' here. #o. wished she had Ma.Houdin. alwa$s bold and stron' and s(art& 8on’t stop now&6 . re(e(berin' the da$ we all le)t )or 8&*&6 She tilted her head.$.anne’s )ace in her hands& 5Ma+e $our own& 7ou’ve alwa$s been 'ood at that. Lil$ shi)ted into a hu'& 5And he’d )i'ht tooth and nail )or top billin'&6 5Appearin' toni'ht and )or eternit$. #o. hone$&6 Lil$ +new she’d put it badl$. Lil$96 57es&6 8a(p. *on-urer !. loo+in' out o) the 1rench doors& .

the )ive $ears $ou were 'one 'ave (e the ti(e to concentrate so closel$ on hi( when he needed (e (ost& He hun' on until $ou ca(e bac+.6 she repeated and s(iled at hi(& 5I +now I couldn’t +eep hi( )orever.6 Lil$ repeated and rose& 5I’( 'oin' inside to put ($ two cents’ worth in on those wallpaper sa(ples Alice is (oonin' over& I swear that 'irl’ll pic+ nothin' but pastels and )lowers i) so(eone doesn’t 'ive her a 'oose&6 57ou’re -ust the one to do it&6 57ou co(e in i) $ou 'et cold.96 5I’( 'ood&6 She )elt his e$es on her. drew #o. he sat bac+. huh96 5M((& Moon’s co(in' up& How (an$ ti(es did 3ate con $ou into readin' <reen 3ggs and Ham! 5!nou'h so I can recite it b$ (e(or$& Who the hell wants to eat 'reen e''s an$wa$9 It’s dis'ustin'&6 57ou (iss the not so subtle (etaphor. lin'erin' over it& With a satis)ied si'h. and testin' new 'round&6 5#eall$9 1unn$. *allahan& It’s about not -ud'in' thin's b$ their appearance.6 Lil$ ordered& 5I will&6 Lil$ passed Lu+e on the court$ard& 5And i) $ou can’t +eep her war(. )a(iliar intensit$& 5I’( 'ood. I’ve been thin+in' about testin' new 'round&6 2ut he wanted to be sure it was the ti(e& The )irst silver )in'ers o) (oonli'ht slipped out o) the s+$ as he turned his head to stud$ her& 5How are $ou. in so(e stran'e wa$. that old. 5I wash ($ hands o) $ou&6 Lu+e sat on the bench. +nowin' $ou loved hi( as (uch as I did& And (a$be. and I could 'o on without hi(&6 51ate96 . #o.5I don’t +now what $ou (ean&6 Lil$ heard a door open and loo+ed over her shoulder to see Lu+e under the pool o) li'ht b$ the +itchen door& 5Ma+e $our own.ust )ollowin' orders& 2ut this one’s )or (e&6 He +issed her a'ain. Lu+e.6 she said under her breath. no (atter how (uch (a'ic I tuc+ed up ($ sleeve& It helps. stretched out his lon' le's and crossed the( at the an+les& 53ice ni'ht.anne close and +issed her until her bones went li(p& With her head tilted bac+ on his ar( she opened her e$es a'ain& 5What was that )or96 5.

not because she was cold& 2ecause it )elt ri'ht& 5Mouse and Alice will be (ovin' out be)ore too lon'& And doesn’t it )it neatl$ now that the$’re startin' their own )a(il$ $ou -ust happen to have a house that’s per)ect )or the( up )or sale96 5With a nice third. suitable )or a bachelor& 3ow . she eased bac+ so that she could see his )ace& In it she saw barel$ restrained e.&6 2ut he s(iled& 5What I )eel )or . but this one would sta$ in one place& It could be -ust as (a'ical&6 57ou’ve been 'ivin' this a lot o) thou'ht& Since when96 5Since 3ate& I want to be able to 'ive hi( what Ma.cite(ent& 57ou want to start a business96 53ot -ust a business& A possibilit$& 7ou and (e.class operation&6 5A business&6 Intri'ued but war$.)loor apart(ent.tre(e anno$ance&6 5Lil$’s 'oin' to wor+ on )indin' hi( a wi)e&6 5She hides that sadistic strea+ so well& At least he’s use)ul bac+sta'e&6 2ecause he en-o$ed it. I’ve been thin+in' about the act&6 She 'ave a sleep$ si'h& 5Thin+ it’s read$ to ta+e on the road96 57eah. 3ew Orleans& A theater to brea+ in new acts. it’s read$& 2ut I was thin+in' about so(ethin' closer to ho(e&6 5Such as&6 5Such as this buildin' )or sale on the south ed'e o) the <uarter& 0ood si:e& 3eeds a lot o) wor+.. 'ave (e& A base&6 To 'ive the idea a chance to si((er. and it was a hand$ (isdirection. Lu+e pic+ed up her hand to to$ with her )in'ers& 57ou +now. #o. to a(a:e the (asses& Ma$be with a little (a'ic store tuc+ed in it to sell tric+s& A )irst. he li)ted her )in'ers to his lips. +issin' the( one b$ one& 5We’d still .a+e is (ore o) a (ild tolerance punctuated with periods o) e. partners& We’d per)or( there. #o..5Li)e’s a 'ood enou'h word& Thin's are chan'in' now&6 She huddled closer. draw so(e o) the bi' na(es and 'ive a )ew new ones a shot& A carnival. #o. but it has potential&6 5"ossibilities9 What +ind96 5The (a'ic +ind& The 3ouvelle Ma'ic Shop.a+e can drive the( cra:$&6 57ou +now $ou love hi(&6 5Love’s a stron' word.

ti(e soon&6 5I +now& I’ve thou'ht o) that& I was plannin' to cut bac+ once he did& Wor+ around his schedule&6 5I) we did this. $ou wouldn’t have to cut bac+. but I )i'ure $ou’d waste ti(e wei'hin' the odds& So I’( tellin'&6 Her chin ca(e up& 5And I’( tellin' $ou—6 5Hold it&6 He held up a hand. but she didn’t thin+ she had the stren'th )or it& She did (ana'e to 'ain her )eet& 57ou’re tellin' (e I have to (arr$ $ou& As in ?I do’ and ?till death do us part’96 5I’d as+ $ou.'o on the road& That’s what we do& 2ut we wouldn’t be travelin' nine out o) twelve (onths& He’ll be startin' school )ull. sterlin' truth& 5We’d never tal+ed about it& I 'uess I thou'ht thin's would +eep 'oin' the wa$ the$ were 'oin'&6 5The$ didn’t&6 53o. and $ou’d acco(plish the sa(e thin'&6 He saw the interest li'ht in her e$es and dove in )or the +ill& 5There’s -ust one hitch&6 5There’s alwa$s a trap door& What is it96 57ou have to (arr$ (e&6 She couldn’t sa$ she was surprised& It was (ore li+e a /uic+.cuse (e96 57ou’re 'oin' to have to (arr$ (e& That’s it&6 5That’s it96 She would have lau'hed. she blew out a breath& 5I would have thou'ht about it& I would have thou'ht about it hard&6 . power)ul electric shoc+& 5!. standin' so the$’d be )ace to )ace& 5I was 'oin' to as+ $ou the ni'ht I ca(e bac+ )ro( Sa(’s with ($ poc+ets )ull o) sapphires&6 That not onl$ stopped her te(per but (uddled her head& 57ou were96 5I had it prett$ well planned& I was 'oin' to 'o )or the ro(antic route& I even had a rin' in ($ poc+et& 2ut I had to hoc+ it in 2ra:il&6 5In 2ra:il& I see&6 5What would $ou have done i) I had as+ed $ou then96 5I don’t +now&6 That was the pure. the$ didn’t&6 2a))led.

she would have sworn she s(elled oran'e blosso(s& Marria'e. #o. re(e(ber96 57ou never let (e )or'et& 8eal&6 He shoo+ her hand )or(all$& 53ate’s 'oin' to have hi(sel) two le'all$ (arried parents and a do'& What (ore could a +id want96 5It’s so conventional.$& I saw $ou )eedin' hi( chocolate chip coo+ies this (ornin'&6 5It was a plan& I )i'ured i) I )ed hi( until he 'ot )at.anne 3ouvelle&6 53ot on $our li)e&6 She punched his shoulder when he dropped her to the 'round& 5All ri'ht& . and )or $ou to (a+e the( to (e& I want (ore children with $ou& I want to be here when the$ 'row inside $ou&6 5Oh. it’ll be introducin' *allahan.&6 53ouvelle and *allahan& I’( the one who tau'ht $ou $our )irst card tric+.ust *allahan and 3ouvelle&6 He arched a brow& 5It’s alphabetical.citin'& 5"ro(ise $ou’ll never.t ti(e we’re onsta'e. he drew her close to let his lips pla$ over hers& 5I want to (a+e pro(ises to $ou. it’s scar$&6 She co(bed a hand throu'h her hair& 5And about that do'—6 5.ass line. li)tin' her up to spin her in a circle& 5I never welch&6 5Then the ne. #o. #o. and his beauti)ul wi)e.5And i) I as+ $ou now $ou’ll do the sa(e thin'& So I’( b$passin' that& We’re 'ettin' (arried or the rest o) the deal’s o))&6 57ou can’t bull$ (e into (arria'e&6 5I) bull$in' doesn’t wor+. Lu+e&6 I) she hadn’t +nown better. an old habit that still thrilled her& 5And I’ll start b$ tellin' $ou I love $ou& That $ou’re the onl$ wo(an I’ve ever loved& !ver will love&6 S(ooth as sil+. as i) shoc+ed the word had escaped& Then she lau'hed and said it a'ain& 5O+a$& 7ou’re on&6 53o pullin' bac+. so co((onplace& So e.a+e’s out wal+in' hi(& 8on’t worr$& Mi+e hasn’t chewed up an$thin' worth tal+in' about )or an hour& And don’t bother with that hard. she thou'ht& It was so ordinar$. ever call (e the little wo(an&6 5I’ll swear it in blood&6 5O+a$&6 She pressed a hand to her (outh.6 he warned. I’ll seduce $ou&6 He ran his hands up and down her ar(s. he wouldn’t be able to waddle upstairs and pee on the bedroo( ru'&6 .

too& We’re parents now. (ade +iss$ noises and let hi( lic+ $our )ace&6 5It was a (o(ent o) insanit$& 2ut I’( )eelin' (uch better now&6 50ood. because there’s -ust one (ore thin'&6 5. she sat bolt upri'ht& 5Oh 0od. Lu+e&6 .&6 He patted her hand& 57ou +now it is&6 5We’ll onl$ steal )ro( reall$ rich (en with red hair&6 52ite the bullet.t thin' $ou’ll be tellin' (e we should start doin' +ids’ birthda$ parties&6 When he (ade no response. #o.. *allahan& *ouldn’t we -ust & & & cut bac+96 5It’s cleaner this wa$. *allahan& I (a$ e. wearin' a bad'e and tear)ull$ loc+in' her behind bars was too (uch& 5The ne.6 he corrected& 5And we were the best& Let’s 'o out on top. babe&6 Lettin' out a 'roan she sat bac+& 5Married. and lau'hin'& 5He (i'ht arrest us& What +ind o) 'uilt is that to la$ on a +id. and I’d li+e to (a+e another bab$ as soon as possible& I don’t thin+ $ou should be doin' second.6 she said on a si'h& 52ut to 'ive it up.$& With Ma. sendin' up his own parents96 57ou’re bein' ridiculous& *hildren 'o throu'h sta'es&6 5What did $ou want to be when $ou were )our96 5A (a'ician.57ou scratched his ears. #o.plode&6 5We’ll ta+e it one da$ at a ti(e&6 She +new he had her& The i(a'e o) 3ate. it was the end o) an era& We’ve 'ot to start our own& And *hrist.stor$ wor+ with a bab$ on board&6 52ut—it’s what we do&6 5It’s what we did.ust one (ore&6 57eah& We’re 'ivin' up stealin'&6 5We’re—6 She reall$ had no choice but to sit down& 50ivin' up96 5*old tur+e$&6 He sat beside her& 5I’ve 'iven this a lot o) thou'ht. startin' a business and 'oin' strai'ht all at once& I don’t +now. all three )eet o) hi(. what do we do i) 3ate does 'row up to be a cop96 He was +issin' her )in'ers a'ain.

I sort o) 'ot into this conversation with his teacher& I 'uess I pro(ised we’d do this little act )or the *hrist(as part$&6 There was silence )or a )ull (inute. ti(in' was ever$thin'& . then she be'an to lau'h& She lau'hed until she had to hold her sides to +eep her ribs intact& He was per)ect. then her (outh. would have said. the other da$ when I too+ 3ate to nurser$ school. *allahan& I) $ou 'o out and bu$ a station wa'on. decidin' he’d wait )or a (ore opportune (o(ent to (ention the 2uic+ he’d put a deposit on that (ornin'& As Ma. I’( turnin' $ou into a )ro'&6 He +issed her )in'er.5It’s not that bad& It’s -ust & & & well. she reali:ed& Absolutel$ per)ect& And absolutel$ hers& 5I love $ou&6 She surprised hi( b$ throwin' her ar(s around his nec+ and +issin' hi( hard and lon'& 5I love who $ou turned out to be&6 5Sa(e 'oes& Want to nec+ in the (oonli'ht96 57ou bet I do&6 She pressed a )in'er to his lips be)ore the$ (et hers& 5One warnin'.