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CHAPTER ONE 'DADDYS current bimbo...' In a room stuffed fu of !

arm " a i#e$ %a&&i " &art"in' &eo& e Roberta C%and er stood a one$ batt in' to sto& %erse f 'oin' !%ite !it% an'er around t%e ed'es of %er red(faced %umi iation$ !%i e t%e &erson !%o %ad )ust used t%at cuttin' " dismissi#e descri&tion of %er mo#ed a!a" from t%e sma 'rou& of &eo& e s%e %ad said it to$ !it%out needin' to ' ance Roberta's !a" to *no! t%at s%e %ad been o#er%eard. Roberta's %eart !as &oundin'$ %er bod" tremb in' !it% t%e su&&ressed desire to reta iate+an ur'e so stron' t%at s%e %ad to force %erse f to stand #er" sti and stare fi,ed " at t%e ' ass of c%am&a'ne s%e !as %o din' to sto& %erse f from doin' )ust t%at. -u u .ac aine !ou d be a muc% better &erson if %er dotin' dadd" !ere to !as% %er nast" mout% out !it% soa&/ 0%at !as %e1 s%e !ondered furious " as t%e b ood continued to &um& an an'r" tattoo inside %er burnin' %ead. 0as %e a man at a $ or )ust a &at%etic itt e mouse !%ere %is dar in' -u u !as concerned1 0i in' to et %er be%a#e an" !a" s%e i*ed so on' as it made %er %a&&"1 S%e ' anced u&$ %er ' intin' 'reen 'a2e %onin' direct " on to t%e man !%o !as u&&ermost in %er an'r" t%ou'%ts. He !as standin' on t%e ot%er side of t%e room$ ta *in' !it%in a 'rou& of &eo& e$ smi in' at some amusin' anecdote t%at one of t%em !as re a"in'$ t%e corners of %is fierce " sensua mout% cur#ed in a2" amusement. 0as %e tota " una!are of t%e !a" s%e !as bein' treated %ere toni'%t1 Or )ust utter " care ess of it1 0%ic%e#er$ %e !as out of order+ ri'%t out of order+ and %e !as #er" uc*" t%at %er manners !ere so muc% better t%an %is dau'%ter's manners$ or %e !ou d be tastin' a bit of %umi iation %imse f ri'%t no!/ Damn "ou$ s%e t%ou'%t an'ri ". Damn "ou to %e for settin' me u&

for a of t%is/ -au'%ter ran' out$ soundin' so !ic*ed " amused t%at it dre! Roberta's 'a2e because it re&resented suc% com& ete o&&osition to %er o!n b ac* fee in's )ust no!. It !as -u u a'ain. Of course it !as -u u$ standin' in t%e midd e of anot%er set of 'uests$ %o din' court in %er o#e " b ue taffeta 'o!n t%at !as suc% an e,act matc% to %er o#e " cornf o!er(b ue e"es. 'Dadd"'s bimbo. Had s%e )ust re&eated t%at c e#er itt e remar* to %er ne! ra&t audience to ma*e t%em au'% i*e t%at1 Roberta s%uddered$ fee in' sic*. S%e !ou dn't &ut it &ast t%e #icious !itc%$ since s%e %ad been sa"in' t%at or somet%in' i*e it to an"one !%o !ou d isten from t%e moment Roberta %ad ste&&ed into t%e %ouse/ And not on " -u u$ s%e reminded %erse f. -u u's mot%er %ad be%a#ed no better$ offerin' Roberta t%e *ind of co d s%ou der a e#enin' t%at %ad been a ca ous messa'e in itse f. 3itc%es$ bot% of t%em. T%e .ac aine !omen !ere not%in' but a &air of ous" bitc%es. ." 4od/ s%e rai ed at %erse f. 0%" didn't I isten to m" instincts and sta" at %ome toni'%t$ instead of o&enin' m"se f u& for t%is *ind of ridicu e1

After a $ it !as -u u's &art". Her ei'%teent% birt%da" ce ebration$ to be e,act$ and &er%a&s t%e "oun'er 'ir %ad a ri'%t to en)o" it !it%out %a#in' 'Dadd"'s current bimbo' &resent to s&oi it for %er. Yet s%e %ad been in#ited/ Roberta reminded %erse f fierce ". .ac %ad done it %imse f/ And$ foo t%at s%e !as$ s%e'd t%ou'%t$ T%is time+ t%is time &er%a&s %e means to et t%em a *no! %o! muc% I mean to %im/ 0%at a )o*e/ s%e moc*ed %erse f acid " no!. You s%ou d %a#e *no!n from t%e moment %e &a med "ou off on %is "oun'er brot%er 5oe for t%e

e#enin' t%at %e !as 'oin' to &retend t%at "ou !ere bare " ac6uainted rat%er t%an o#ers. -o#ers for a most a "ear no!. And 5oe $ s%e t%ou'%t sudden "$ dra''in' %er an'r" t%ou'%ts o#er to t%e ot%er im&ortant man in %er ife(5oe bein' %er boss as !e as .ac's brot%er. 0%ere !as %e in %er %our of need1 C%attin' u& some nubi e ad" some!%ere instead of &rotectin' %er from a t%is f a*1 S%e s&ar*ed a %ooded ' ance around t%e room unti s%e s&ied %im s%uff in' on t%e dance(f oor !it%+-u u's mot%er$ no ess. T%e t!o of t%em !ere dee& in con#ersation as t%e" s o! " circ ed t%e f oor. Discussin' me$ &robab "$ Roberta assumed from t%e e,&ressions on t%eir faces. 5oe !ou d be 'ettin' tic*ed off for brin'in' %er %ere toni'%t$ and %e !ou d be usin' %is sand&a&er(dr" ton'ue to def ect t%e sco d. De ia !as not & eased. -u u !as not & eased. T%e !%o e darned assemb " of c ose friends and re ations !ere not & eased/ And !%"1 3ecause t%e" !ere a determined to fo o! nose to tai on t%e rudeness of t%eir current eader+-u u. And e#en 'Dadd"' %ad been #er" carefu to do itt e more t%an ac*no! ed'e Roberta !it% one of %is beni'n soft smi es so as not to u&set %is &recious dau'%ter/ 'Dadd"'s bimbo. Not to be offered e#en t%e barest courtes". Roberta 6ui#ered on "et anot%er !a#e of dee&$ bubb in' enmit"$ and returned %er 'a2e to !%ere .ac !as sti standin'$ oo*in' e#er" bit t%e &o!erfu eader of men %e !as in %is b ac* dinner(suit and !%ite dress s%irt. .ac. Or So omon .acmi an Hunter .ac aine$ to 'i#e %im %is fu and most ' orious tit e. A bi'$ stron' name for a man born and bred to ta*e on t%e !or d+!%ic% %e did$ #er" successfu " most of t%e time$ runnin' t%e fami " en'ineerin' em&ire !it% a cris&$ c ear foresi'%t t%at *noc*ed s&ots off %is nearest ri#a s. It !as on " !%en it came to %is &ri#ate ife t%at t%in's around .ac became decided " s%ado!". Roberta !as one of t%ose s%ado!s$ s%e acce&ted 'rim ". His ad" of t%e ni'%t$ not fit to ac*no! ed'e a!a" from t%e bedroom/

Yet$ s%ado!" or not$ an'r" !it% %im or not$ s%e found t%at t%e sim& e act of ettin' %er 'a2e rest on %im !as enou'% to set t%ose tin" musc es dee& inside %er bod" stirrin' in %eated reco'nition of t%eir sensua master. And s%e des&ised %erse f for it$ !onderin' !%" it %ad to be %im. A ri'%t$ s%e ar'ued !it% %erse f$ so %e &ossessed t%e *ind of dar* 'ood oo*s most red(b ooded !omen "earned to *no! intimate ". 3ut s%e'd met ot%er men of %is ca ibre before !it%out fa in' f at on %er face for t%em. So !%" %im1 0%" t%is man !%o !as$ on t%e outside at east$ itt e different from t%ose ot%er %i'%(&o!ered$ 'ood( oo*in' men s%e'd *no!n and re&u sed 6uite easi "1 He mo#ed$ %a f turnin' in %er direction$ to isten to somet%in' someone !as sa"in' to %im$ and t%ose tin" musc es dee& do!n inside %er stirred a'ain in ea'er antici&ation of %is noticin' %er. He didn't$ but s%e 'ot t%e ans!er to %er 6uestion. .ac stirred %er senses i*e no ot%er man %ad e#er done. It !as as sim& e and as com& icated as t%at. And it &robab " %ad not%in' to do !it% %is b ac*(%aired$ s6uare( c%inned so id 'ood oo*s$ but !it% t%e inner man$ t%e man s%e "earned to *no!$ and t%e one s%e #er" rare " 'ot to see$ sim& " because %e did not et %er+did not et an"one$ as far as s%e cou d see$ e,ce&t %is fami "$ of course. And Roberta !as not and ne#er !ou d be fami ". T%at fact !as bein' &atent " %ammered %ome to %er toni'%t. 'Dadd"'s bimbo'. Didn't -u u see t%at in ca in' Roberta t%at s%e !as a so insu tin' %er fat%er1 -oo* at %im/ s%e !anted to "e . Does %e oo* i*e a man !%ose tastes in !omen on " stretc% as far as em&t"(%eaded bimbos1 0%o cares if t%e !oman beneat% "ou %as a brain or not$ a moc*in' itt e #oice in %er %ead "e ed bac*$ !%en it's not %er brain "ou're ta*in' & easure in1

And more t%an %a f t%e !omen &resent in t%is room !ou d not !ant .ac for %is d"namic brain eit%er$ s%e ti'%t " moc*ed t%at #oice. Not if t%e" *ne! %im as intimate " as I do/ And it !as t%at intimate *no! ed'e of %im t%at s%e used no! c"nica " to stri& a!a" t%e con#entiona #eneer of e e'ance and so&%istication t%at %e !ore so !e around %imse f$ to see ri'%t t%rou'% to t%e na*ed beaut" of t%e man beneat%. Ta +%e !as ta +and su&erb " constructed !it% it. A ean$ it%e$ s ee* construction of ti'%t$ satin(s%eened s*in stretc%ed taut " o#er %ard$ %ea t%" musc e. 0ide(s%ou dered !it% f at$ s&are %i&s$ and !%at came in bet!een !as so s%oc*in' " desirab e t%at it dried u& %er mout% )ust t%in*in' about it. -on' imbs$ &o!erfu " bui t. 4ood %ands !it% a i'%t$ *no!in'$ sensiti#e touc% t%at cou d((( S%e sto&&ed$ suc*in' in a carefu breat% of air t%en ettin' it out a'ain s o! ". It !as best not to t%in* about t%ose %ands$ s%e decided 'rim "$ and fi,ed %er attention on %is face instead. A ean face$ !it% )et(b ac* %air cut to s!ee& confident " a!a" from %is %i'%$ inte i'ent bro!. His e"es$ dar* " frin'ed b" t%ic* strai'%t bro!s and soft " cur in' as%es$ !ere a most com&e in' co our of come(to(bed 're"7 t%e" dre! "ou to!ards t%em i*e ma'nets$ ur'in'$ &romisin'$ a2i " admirin' Anot%er sto&. And s%e forced %er attention a!a" tram t%e e"es to t%e mout%. A mout% so ra! " sensua t%at it$ too$ !as dan'erous e#en to oo* at. T%in but nice " s%a&ed$ it !as suc% an e,&erienced$ e,&ressi#e$ unin%ibited mout% t%at in intimac" it cou d be 6uite rut% ess in its efforts to dra! t%e res&onse it re6uired. And !%at !as t%at mout% doin' no!1 s%e !ondered$ once a'ain curbin' %er t%ou'%ts before t%e" !ent too far. It !as smi in' a2i "$ f as%in' t%e odd !%ite(toot%ed$ de#i is% " infectious 'rin no! and t%en$ fie din' !itt" remar*s to return t%em !it% interest. -i*e t%e man %imse f$ su&reme " at ease$ t%at 6uic* mind of %is ten seconds faster and s%ar&er t%an an"one e se s%e *ne!. 5oe teasin' " dubbed %im '.ac t%e 8nife' because of %is s%ar& !its$ but %e said it fond ". 5oe res&ected %is brot%er dee& " for t%e !a" %e %ad ta*en on t%e mant e of

&o!er #er" "oun' after t%eir fat%er's first serious %eart attac*$ !%ic% %ad meant .ac's 'ro!in' u& a !%o e ot faster t%an most "oun' men %is a'e !ou d %a#e been e,&ected to do. Yet %e %ad ta*en u& t%e c%a en'e !it% bare " a 6ua m and$ a t%ou'% 5oe !as no sma fr" in t%e fami " firm$ %e deferred a !a"s to .ac's decree. 0%ic% !as !%" .ac %ad &a med %er off on 5oe toni'%t$ of course. He trusted %is *id brot%er to oo* after %is !oman for %im !%i e %e !as too bus"+or too indifferent+to do it %imse f/ He %a&&ened to ' ance u& and catc% %er starin' at %im t%en$ %is e"es instant " softenin' to a !arm$ smo*" 're" as %e sent %er one of t%ose itt e t!ists to %is mout% meant to be a ruefu smi e$ and ti&&ed %is ' ass at %er in ac*no! ed'ement. It too* a s%e %ad in %er to return t%e 'esture$ t%ou'% an ans!erin' smi e s%e cou d not mana'e. S%e !as an'r" !it% %im and !as in no mood to %ide t%e fact. An'r" t%at %e cou d ta*e from %er e#er"t%in' s%e %ad to offer %im$ f aunt %er unf inc%in' " around -ondon as %is !oman "et$ !%en it came to %is fami "$ &retend t%at s%e meant not%in' to %im at a / 5ust an em&t"(%eaded bimbo$ too t%ic* to notice %o! %is fami " sa! %er as dirt/ Her e"es f as%ed a sudden bri'%t$ menacin' 'reen. .ac sa! it %a&&en and fro!ned$ a si ent 6uestion enterin' %is o!n e"es. Roberta's c%in !ent u&$ %er defiant e,&ression darin' %im to come o#er and find out for %imse f !%at t%e oo* !as for/ Im&atience f ic*ered across %is face$ fo o!ed b" a fro!nin' oo* of indecision !%en s%e continued to stare at %im i*e t%at$ and t%e desire to come and find out !%" s%e !as s&ittin' 'reen da''ers at %im be'an to !ar !it% %is determination to *ee& as far a!a" from %er as %e &ossib " cou d toni'%t. T%en$ !it% a sma s%ru' of e,as&eration$ %e too* a %a f(ste& to!ards %er$ and %er senses be'an to fi22 on a bri'%t c amour of trium&% !%en it oo*ed as t%ou'% s%e !as 'oin' to !in t%is &articu ar batt e and %e !as 'oin' to come to %er/

3ut$ )ust at t%at moment$ a f as% of b ood(red si * cau'%t %er e"e$ and s%e ' anced to one side of %im )ust in time to see De ia !ind %er arm into t%e bent croo* of %is. 3" t%e time Roberta oo*ed bac* at .ac %is attention %ad a read" !it%dra!n from %er$ to be centered indu 'ent " on %is !ife's smi in' " u&turned face. E,(!ife$ s%e reminded %erse f as disa&&ointment sent %er racin' %eart & ummetin' to %er feet. E, damned !ife/ T%e" %ad been di#orced for a most ei'%t "ears/ Yet to oo* at t%em "ou !ou d t%in* t%at t%e" cou dn't so muc% as function !it%out t%e ot%er c ose b"/ 4od/ 5ea ous" s%ot i*e t%e %ot f ame of %e ri'%t t%rou'% %er$ forcin' %er to o!er %er e"es$ c ose t%em ti'%t "$ &retend+&retend for %er o!n sa*e more t%an an"t%in' e se+not to %a#e noticed t%eir eas" intimac". So omon .ac aine and De ia Cur2on %ad bot% been )ust ei'%teen "ears o d !%en t%e" !ere forced to 'et married because -u u !as on t%e !a". A in a it %ad been an acce&tab e matc%$ in*in' t%e .ac aine !ea t% !it% t%e Cur2on mi ions$ and 'enera " ma*in' bot% fami ies rat%er & eased at t%eir sib in's' misdemeanour. 3ut$ from t%e sma amount .ac %ad to d %er$ t%e marria'e %ad been an"t%in' but id" ic. And t%e on'(o#erdue di#orce !%ic% too* & ace ten "ears ater %ad been ine#itab e+t%ou'% not so to t%eir staunc% " conser#ati#e fami ies or t%eir adored dau'%ter. Hence t%e s%o! bein' &ut on b" bot% .ac and De ia toni'%t$ and t%e reason !%"$ as usua $ Roberta found %erse f eft out in t%e co d. 'Had enou'% "et1' Startin' at t%e une,&ected c oseness of 5oe 's #oice$ s%e ifted %er face$ t%e na&e( en't% ed'es of %er soft " cur in' &a e b onde %air s*immin' across t%e e,&anse of mi *(!%ite s*in eft e,&osed b" t%e off( t%e(s%ou der desi'n of %er b ac* #e #et dress as s%e turned to oo* into %is sardonica " smi in' face. 3ut s%e *ne! t%at smi e7 5oe !as an'r"+ t%e itt e tic !or*in' at t%e side of %is )a! to d %er so. 0%ate#er De ia %ad said to %im %ad )ust about finis%ed %im off toni'%t.

So$ 'Yes$' s%e to d %im. 'I'#e %ad enou'%.' T%en$ on a sudden burst of 'rim certaint"$ s%e t%ou'%t$ .ore t%an enou'%/ and fe t a ne! emotion be'in to seet%e inside %er$ one !%ic% came from t%e bitter deca" of %er o!n se f(res&ect. 9or t!e #e mont%s s%e %ad been & a"in' t%is 'ame t%e !a" .ac !anted it & a"ed+bein' !%at %e !anted %er to be !%en %e !anted %er to be it. 3ut s%e !as damned if s%e !as 'oin' to be mar*ed as 't%e ot%er !oman' b" a oad of &eo& e s%e cou d not care ess about )ust because t%e" refused to acce&t a di#orce t%at %ad ta*en & ace ei'%t "ears a'o/ 3ein' seen as a man's o#er !as one t%in' but bein' abe ed %is itt e bit on t%e side !as #er" muc% anot%er/ :Dadd"'s bimbo'. T%at te in' bit of crue t" !as$ s%e rea ised$ %a#in' a &rofound effect on %er. And "es$ s%e decided round "$ s%e'd %ad enou'%. S%e %ad %onest " and fina " %ad enou'%/ Her re ations%i& !it% .ac !as 'oin' no!%ere and %ad no %o&e of doin' so !%i e %e considered %is fami " more im&ortant to %im t%an s%e !as/ A %er ife s%e %ad & a"ed second(best to someone+ second(best to %er &arents$ !%o %ad been rat%er s%oc*ed to find t%emse #es anded !it% a bab" t%e" %ad ne#er rea " !anted. Second(best to t%eir dua careers as !i d ife e,&erts$ !%ic% %ad sent t%em !anderin' a o#er t%e !or d stud"in' t%e %abits of one anima or ot%er !%i e t%is ne! anima +a %uman c%i d+!as eft be%ind !it% !%oe#er !ou d %a#e %er so on' as t%eir i#es !ere not disru&ted in an" !a". And no! t%ere !as .ac$ forcin' %er to ta*e second & ace in %is ife to a fami " t%at !as ob#ious " so muc% more im&ortant to %im. And t%ere !as t%e rub$ s%e noted ra! ". S%e !as not im&ortant enou'% to .ac for %im to care !%at %is attitude did to %er. And if t%e ast t!e #e mont%s %ad not made %im care$ t%en not%in' !ou d. S%e !as fi'%tin' for a ost cause$ and t%e rea isation of it %it %er i*e a runa!a" train$ smac* ban' in t%e c%est$ iftin' %er &erfect " s%a&ed

breasts and dro&&in' t%em a'ain in a sin' e !renc%in' 'as& of &ain. It !as time to cut %er osses and 'et out. 0%ere s%e o#ed$ .ac on " desired. And !%" s%e %ad ne#er rea ised it before !as 6uite be"ond %er/ :;%(o%...' 5oe c%anted dri ". <T%ose o#e " 'reen e"es of "ours te me t%at troub e is a(bre!in'/' You're not so %a&&" !it% t%is situation "ourse f/ s%e !anted to sna&. 3ut$ 'I'm 6uite read" to ea#e if "ou are$' !as a s%e re& ied$ %o din' %erse f stiff "$ forcin' %er face to re#ea as itt e as &ossib e of !%at !as 'oin' on inside %er. 5oe cou d see t%at somet%in' momentous !as$ but t%en %e !as standin' bare " a foot a!a" from %er$ and a so 5oe *ne! %er &er%a&s better t%an an"one e se. 'O8$ s!eet%eart.' Sudden " t%e moc*er" %ad 'one from %is #oice$ and %e reac%ed out to ta*e one of %er %ands$ s6uee2in' it 'ent " !%en %e fe t %o! muc% it tremb ed. '-et's ea#e t%e 'racious !a"$ s%a !e1' %e su''ested !it% fa se i'%tness. <T%rou'% t%e door !it% our c%ins u&.'

'You see too muc%$' s%e muttered as %e be'an eadin' %er t%rou'% t%e mi in' t%ron' and out into t%e em&t" %a !a" of .ac's e e'ant countr" %ome. 'And "ou too itt e$ an'e (face$' %e re& ied rat%er dri "$ t%en !it% a 'ent e &us%$ !%ic% !as a most a 'esture of s"m&at%"$ sent %er to!ards t%e stairs. '4o 'et "our coat.' Her s ender bod" !as e,6uisite in t%e b ac* #e #et$ and 5oe !atc%ed %er mo#e 'racefu " u& t%e stairs. S%e !as beautifu 7 no one cou d den" t%at. .ac !ou d not %a#e 'i#en %er a second ' ance if s%e %adn't been. He i*ed %is !omen beautifu $ b onde$ se,". And Roberta &ossessed one of t%e se,iest fi'ures t%at 5oe %ad e#er aid e"es on. S%e !as a soft ines and seducti#e " rounded cur#es$ !it% s*in i*e mi * and %air t%at bubb ed soft " around %er o#e " face. -oo*in' at %er$ "ou !ou d be for'i#en for mista*in' %er as t%e arc%et"&a dumb

b onde. 3ut Roberta C%and er !as far from dumb+as t%ose s%ar& " inte i'ent 'reen e"es !ou d te "ou$ if "ou cou d brin' "ourse f to oo* t%at %i'%. It %ad been to %is ad#anta'e t%at 5oe %ad bot%ered to oo* be"ond t%at si22 in' se,ua a ure !%en s%e'd come for %er inter#ie! ast "ear$ because it meant t%at %e %ad 'ot %imse f t%e best &ersona assistant %e %ad e#er %ad$ and .ac+b" %is 'ood fortune of bein' %is brot%er+ %ad 'ot %imse f t%e rarest !oman %e %ad e#er %ad. '0%ere's Roberta1' T%in* of t%e de#i $ 5oe t%ou'%t dri " as %e turned around. '9etc%in' %er coat$' %e re& ied. .ac's t%ic* b ac* bro!s too* on a do!n!ard s!oo&. So soon1 It's on "((((((((( ' %e ' anced at t%e so id 'o d !atc% t%at %e %ad stra&&ed to %is !rist '+ten(t%irt". T%e ni'%t's sti "oun'.' :Is it1 5oe murmured cr"&tica ". 'I t%ou'%t it !e and tru " done to deat%$ m"se f.' '0%at's t%at su&&osed to mean1' .ac demanded fro!nin' ". 'You'#e been t%ro!in' out sarcasm at me a e#enin'$ 5oe $' %e 'runted. 'And I !ou d i*e to *no! )ust !%at t%e %e "ou'#e been tr"in' to 'et at/' '0ou d "ou1' 5oe )ust sent %im one of %is sardonic oo*s. 'Put a !ee* or so aside some time$ and I' ta*e 'reat & easure in te in' "ou.' .ac stiffened$ t%e fro!n becomin' more &ronounced. '0%at t%e %e 's 'ot into "ou1' %e demanded be!i dered ". 'To isten to "ou$ an"one !ou d t%in* I'd offended "ou in some !a"/' You %a#e$ 5oe !anted to confirm$ but at t%at moment Roberta a&&eared at t%e to& of t%e stairs$ !it% %er b ac* #e #et e#enin' coat dra&ed across %er arm$ and 5oe ost a .ac's attention !%en t%e ot%er man sa! %er. T%ose a2" e"es of %is dar*ened dramatica " at t%e enc%antin' &icture s%e &resented as s%e &aused at t%e to& of t%e stairs

!%en s%e sa! %im$ t%en came ' idin' do!n!ards$ e"es coo $ face as inscrutab e as a face as sensua as %ers e#er cou d be. '0%at's t%is1' .ac murmured %us*i " !%en s%e reac%ed t%em$ %is e,&ression so tender " intimate t%at %er senses 6ui#ered. 'Runnin' out on me !it% m" *id brot%er1' S%e ' anced at 5oe $ !is%in' in some !a"s t%at it !ere 5oe s%e !as in#o #ed !it%. 3ut$ a t%ou'% bot% men !ere 'ood( oo*in'$ smoot%$ so&%isticated$ 5oe 's !ood(as% %andsomeness %ad ne#er attracted %er. 'I'm+tired$' s%e ans!ered .ac 6uiet "$ t%e !e (modu ated tone of %er #oice i*e ric% cream on %one"$ 'i#in' not%in' a!a" of t%e co d$ %ard sense of deat% s%e !as e,&eriencin' inside ri'%t no!. 'It's been a on' da"$ a to d$' s%e added rat%er dri ". 'T%e man !as in %is countin'(%ouse$ countin' out %is mone"$' 5oe &ut in$ smi in' as a !a"s. 'Here$ 'i#e me "our coat$ He too* t%e #e #et !ra& from %er before .ac cou d 'rab t%e %onours. 'Ta*e(o#er dea s ta*e it out of one$ don't "ou a'ree$ .ac1' .ac eaned bac* a'ainst t%e ric% ma%o'an" ne!e (&ost$ sensin' no t%reat in t%e !a" t%at 5oe !as smoot%in' fine #e #et o#er Roberta's s%ou ders. T%is !as %is %ome and %ere$ !%ere Roberta counted for not%in'$ %e sa! 5oe as %is safe substitute. <T%e 3runner dea .' He nodded. 'You c inc%ed it toda".' Not a 6uestion but a !e (informed statement of fact. 'Not 6uite$' 5oe denied$ t%en s%ifted uncomfortab " under .ac's sudden b ac* fro!n. After a $ brot%er or not$ .ac !as a so %is boss. '3ut a bar t%e s%outin'$' %e 6uic* " assured %im. :I f " out to =uric% on Tuesda" to tie it a u&.' 'Is 9ranc 3runner & a"in' footsie !it% "ou1' .ac as*ed s%ar& ". 5oe )ust s%ru''ed. 'He *no!s %e o!ns t%e &atent to a #er" ucrati#e &roduct if & aced in t%e ri'%t %ands. I can't b ame %im for bein' ca'e".' '0e $ I can$' .ac ar'ued. 'He a&&roac%ed us$ not t%e ot%er !a" around. 0%at sto&&ed %im si'nin' t%e dea toda"1'

'T%e e'a bods %is end$' 5oe said dri ". '9indin' &rob ems !%en none is t%ere.' 'De iberate " sta in'$ "ou mean$ .ac said$ and oo*ed 'rim " t%ou'%tfu . 'Do "ou !ant me to 'et in#o #ed1' %e offered.

'No$ I damned !e do not/' 5oe indi'nant " re& ied. 'T%e 3runner t%in' isn't "our bab"$ it's mine/ So *ee& "our nose out$ bi' brot%er/' '0%oo&s.' .ac 'rinned. 'Hit a ra! ner#e$ did I1' 'I can %and e it$' 5oe said 'ruff " !%i e Roberta oo*ed do!n at %er feet$ too a!are of !%" 5oe !as 'ettin' so %ot under t%e co ar to !ant .ac to see it !ritten in %er face. T%e troub e !it% 5oe !as t%at %e !as a %ands(on en'ineer at %eart. S%o! %im a re#o utionar" ne! &roduct and %e tended to 'o a bit o#erboard !it% ent%usiasm about it. Hence t%e 'footsie'$ as .ac %ad &ut it$ t%at 9ranc 3runner !as & a"in' !it% %im. He sa! too muc% ea'erness to &ossess in 5oe 's manner and %ad been & a"in' on t%at b" &us%in' 5oe for a better dea e#er since. 'Can't !e$ Roberta1' His on' fin'ers !ere stro*in' t%e ro ed co ar of %er coat around %er s ender t%roat. 3ut !%en s%e didn't immediate " ans!er$ t%e" &aused to c%uc* %er 'ent " beneat% %er c%in$ demandin' %er su&&ort. S%e 'a#e it. 'No &rob em$' s%e said. 'Not%in' daunts t%e t%ree mus*eteers.' 'T%ree1' .ac 6ui22ed. '.it2"$' 5oe e,& ained. 'Our indis&ensab e t%ird arm.' He meant t%eir s%ared secretar"$ and .ac nodded in reco'nition. T%ere !as no one e se !anderin' around t%e %a !a"$ and a s%ort si ence fe $ bro*en on " b" t%e sound of an o d(fas%ioned !a t2 see&in' out from t%e %u'e dra!in'(room to one side of t%em.

.ac's e"es !ere on Roberta$ mo#in' !it% a a2" !armt% o#er %er$ t%ou'% %e sti made no effort to touc% %er. 'I' see "ou .onda"$ %mm1' %e said. His !ee*end !as fu " boo*ed u& %ere in 3er*s%ire$ & a"in' %ost to t%e d"nast". 5oe fe t Roberta stiffen s i'%t "$ t%e tension in %er so fierce it !as t%reatenin' to sna&. S%e did not re& "$ and .ac too* t%e ans!er as read$ t%e a2" oo* d"in' a!a". :Dadd"1' -u u a&&eared at t%e %a f(o&en door!a" to t%e dra!in'( room$ %er b ue e"es narro!in' !%en s%e sa! Roberta. 'He o$ ;nc e 5oe .' S%e sent %im a beatific smi e. '-ea#in' a read"1 T%at doesn't sa" muc% for m" birt%da" &art".' 5oe et 'o of Roberta to turn and smi e at %is fa#ourite niece. :I must be 'ettin' o d$ &u'(face$' 5oe a&o o'ised dri "$ o&enin' %is arms as -u u ' ided to!ards %im. 'Can't seem to burn t%e cand e t%e !a" I used to.' 'You and Dadd" bot%$ t%en$ since %e's fi#e "ears o der t%an "ou.> S%e &outed c%armin' " at bot% men. 'Per%a&s %e s%ou d ta*e a eaf out of "our boo* and ease u& on ife a itt e.' It !as a direct s i'%t at Roberta$ but neit%er b" !ord nor e,&ression did s%e s%o! %o! easi " t%e "oun'er 'ir %ad cut. .ac !as smi in' indu 'ent "$ !atc%in' %is dau'%ter e,c%an'e fond *isses !it% %is brot%er$ t%e remar* not bot%erin' %im. E,ce&t for t%e s%oc* of )et(b ac* f o!in' %air$ -u u !as more i*e %er red(%aired mot%er t%an %er fat%er+ a !and(s im 'ir !it% on'$ 'racefu imbs and sa&&%ire(b ue e"es. S%e i#ed !it% %er mot%er in t%eir St 5o%n's 0ood %ome for most of t%e time$ but s%e adored %er %andsome fat%er to t%e &oint of %ero(!ors%i&. .ac o#ed and &andered to t%is adoration as$ Roberta su&&osed$ an" dotin' fat%er !ou d. 3ut sometimes it !as so c o"in' t%at it stuc* in t%e t%roat to !atc% it. -i*e no!$ as -u u f uttered %er on' dar* as%es and said$ 'Aren't m" diamond earrin's !onderfu $ ;nc e 5oe 1' S%e ti ted %er %ead s i'%t " for

5oe to 'et a better oo* at t%e e,6uisite diamond dro& ets dan' in' from %er ears. 'I t%in* I %a#e t%e most !onderfu dadd" in t%e !%o e !ide !or d$ don't "ou1' ' 0onderfu $' 5oe moc*in' " a'reed$ obser#in' t%e sim&erin' si'% and sou fu oo* t%at -u u sent %er smi in' fat%er. .ac %ad %is %ands in %is )ac*et &oc*ets$ sti eanin' a'ainst t%e ne!e (&ost$ oo*in' as %e a !a"s did+su&reme " e e'ant and tota " at ease !it% %imse f. 'He s&oi s "ou$ &u'(face$' 5oe censured teasin' ". 'If "ou'd been m" dau'%ter$ for "our birt%da" "ou !ou d %a#e recei#ed an en#e o&e !it% ten 6uid in it and a etter e,& ainin' to "ou %o! t%e ma'ic ei'%teen means t%at "ou 'o out in t%e bi' bad !or d and ma*e "our o!n !a" from no! on.' 'O%$ "ou don't mean it.' 9 irtin' outra'eous "$ -u u &outed at 5oe and a&&ea ed to %er dadd" !it% !ide$ !ounded e"es. 0it%out rea " %a#in' to tr" #er" %ard s%e %ad effecti#e " cut Roberta ri'%t out of it a . 'Dadd"$ te 5oe %e mustn't be %orrid to me on m" birt%da"/' s%e demanded. '5oe $ don't be %orrid to -u u on %er birt%da"$' %er fat%er obedient " com& ied$ au'%in' t%rou'% %is stern tone. '0%ere's t%at besotted "oun' man "ou'#e %ad %an'in' on "our arm a ni'%t1' %e t%en as*ed curious ". A'ain -u u &outed. 'He's tr"in' it on !it% .umm" since %e !as 'ettin' no!%ere !it% me$' %is dau'%ter &ert " re& ied. 'So if "ou don't 'et bac* in t%ere 6uic* and do somet%in' about it$ I can see .umm" ta*in' on a to"(bo"$ and %o! !i t%at ma*e "ou oo*1' '4od forbid/' .ac e#ered %imse f a!a" from t%e ne!e (&ost$ and -u u sent Roberta a oo* of ma icious trium&% !%en it oo*ed as t%ou'% .ac !ou d )ust !a * a!a" !it%out offerin' Roberta a bac*!ard ' ance. T%en t%e trium&% a tered to a ' o!er as .ac &aused and turned$ %is 're" 'a2e co idin' !it% Roberta's 'reen one. 'Sorr" "ou %ad to ea#e so soon$' %e murmured soft "( 'I !as about to as* "ou to dance.' 'S%ame$ t%en$ t%at "ou !ere too ate$' s%e said$ t%e s i'%t %int of

sarcasm in %er #oice )ust enou'% to ma*e %is e"es narro!. 'A nice &art"$ -u u.' S%e turned t%at %int of sarcasm on .ac's dau'%ter ne,t. 'Once a'ain$ man" %a&&" returns$ and I %o&e "ou 'et a "ou deser#e in ife.' 5oe c%o*ed on a cou'%$ and mo#ed 6uic* " as -u u's 7 i e"es too* on a decided " #icious ' o!. 'Time to 'o$' He 'a#e %is niece anot%er *iss$ t%en mo#ed bac* to Roberta's side$ %is smi e o#er(bri'%t as %e too* a firm 'ri& on %er arm. '-unc% one da"$ .ac$' %e offered as a &artin' s%ot$ and be'an &u in' Roberta to!ards t%e front door !%ere one of t%e %ired %e & for t%e e#enin' !as !aitin' to see t%em out$ t%eir car a read" ca ed for and &urrin' at t%e bottom of t%e ste&s. T%e ast t%in' Roberta sa! as s%e s!e&t out of t%e door !as .ac's 'a2e narro!ed t%ou'%tfu " on %er. He !asn't a foo 7 %e !as !e a!are t%at %er ast remar* to %im %ad been a reference to t%e c%a en'e s%e %ad t%ro!n out to %im !it% %er e"es ear ier and !%ic% %e %ad decided to refuse. 0%at %e !asn't a!are of$ s%e *ne!$ !as %o! muc% %e %ad eft too ate. 'T%at !asn't !ise$' 5oe said 6uiet ". 'Didn't "ou *no!1' Roberta dra! ed. 'I am not a #er" !ise &erson.' 3ut I s%a earn$ s%e to d %erse f 'rim ". 4od %e & me$ I s%a earn. '4et in t%e car.' S%e 'ot in t%e car and &u ed %er coat more firm " around %er bod"$ fee in' co d !%en rea " it !as 6uite !arm for a Se&tember ni'%t. 5oe didn't mo#e off ri'%t a!a"$ but sat ta&&in' t%e steerin'(!%ee !it% %is fin'ers !%i e %e studied %er rut% ess " contro ed &rofi e. '3e carefu %o! "ou tac* e t%is$ Roberta$' %e ad#ised after a moment. '." brot%er is not *no!n for %is 'ood tem&er !%en t%in's don't 'o %is !a".' <T%ere is on " one !a" to tac* e it$' s%e said$ turnin' %er %ead s i'%t " a!a" from %im so t%at %e !ou dn't see t%e bitterness ' o!in' in %er e"es. <T%ere is an o d sa"in' about f o''in' a dead %orse. And$

muc% to Dadd"'s dar in' dau'%ter's de i'%t$ no doubt$ I'#e decided t%at I'#e f o''ed t%is one for 6uite on' enou'%.' 'You'#e &ut u& !it% %is outra'eous be%a#iour to!ards "ou for t%e ast "ear$' %e &ointed out. 'So !%" decide t%at toni'%t is t%e ni'%t "ou'#e %ad enou'%1' 0it% t%e car in 'ear$ 5oe $' s%e said$ refusin' to ans!er+if s%e %ad an ans!er to 'i#e %im$ t%at !as$ !%ic% s%e didn't. A s%e did *no! !as t%at s%e'd %ad enou'%. And t%at one sma but te in' itt e &%rase !as 'oin' around and around inside %er %ead$ unti s%e t%ou'%t s%e !ou d 'o mad istenin' to it. 'He !on't et "ou 'et a!a" !it% it.' 5oe mo#ed t%em smoot% " a!a" from t%e %ouse$ t%e %ead i'%ts s&annin' out in a !ide arc across t%e moon ess b ac*ness of t%e .ac aine fami "'s &ri#ate estate. 'He !ants "ou too muc%.' <0ant< bein' t%e o&erati#e !ord.' 'He %ad a %ard time of it from t%e fami " !%en %e forced t%at di#orce on t%em$' %e reminded %er. '3et!een t%em and -u u %e's been made to fee ((((((((( ' 'Start defendin' %im and I' 'et out and !a *$' s%e !arned. 5oe s%oo* %is %ead$ e,as&eration ma*in' %im si'% %ea#i ". 'It's a damned on' !a" bac* to C%e sea from %ere$' %e &ointed out. 'And I !asn't defendin' .ac$ )ust e,& ainin' !%"(((( ' Roberta's %and !ent to t%e door(catc%. 5oe ' anced s%ar& " at %er$ sa! %er co d " determined e,&ression and 'rimaced. 'O8$ O8$' %e said. 'I' *ee& mum and dri#e "ou %ome.' 'Not %ome$' s%e countered$ brin'in' %is 'a2e s!in'in' ri'%t bac* to %er. 'Ta*e me to 5enn"'s instead.' 5oe !as si ent for a moment$ ta*in' in t%is fina &iece of information. T%en %e murmured !eari "$ 'O%$ 4od$ Roberta$ "ou're )ust be''in' for troub e if "ou *ee& t%is u&.'

0as s%e1 T%e !a" Roberta sa! it$ s%e !as be''in' for more troub e b" ettin' t%in's 'o on t%e !a" t%e" a read" !ere. It !as stran'e rea "$ s%e &ondered to %erse f as 5oe dro#e on in 'rim si ence$ but if someone %ad to d %er t!e #e mont%s a'o t%at s%e !ou d find %erse f in t%is *ind of situation !it% a man s%e !ou d %a#e scoffed in t%eir face/ S%e !asn't t%e t"&e+%ad a !a"s been determined ne#er to become t%e t"&e/ A ife of bein' s%unted from one re uctant re ation to anot%er !%i e s%e !as 'ro!in' u& %ad made %er determined t%at once s%e %ad 'ained %er inde&endence s%e !ou d ne#er ma*e %erse f #u nerab e to anot%er i#in' sou $ un ess t%e" cou d &ro#e t%at t%e" o#ed and !anted %er abo#e e#er"t%in' e se in t%eir ife. S%e'd *e&t t%at #o! too$ ri'%t t%rou'% %er co e'e "ears and on into %er first )ob$ acce&tin' dates on " !it% men !%ose ot%er commitments !ou d mean s%e !as ne#er eft !aitin' for t%em !%i e somet%in' more im&ortant %e d t%eir attention from %er. 3ut t%e troub e !it% t%at *ind of &%i oso&%" !as t%at t%at t"&e of man usua " meant a dead(end man !it% a dead(end )ob and a deadend *ind of out oo* on ife t%at 'enera " bored %er to tears. So %er re ations%i&s tended to be s%ort and disa&&ointin'$ ne#er rea " dee&enin' &ast t%e *iss('oodni'%t(on( t%e(doorste& sta'e before s%e !as brea*in' t%em off. ;nti .ac. 0%en .ac %ad come into %er ife$ e#er" ru e s%e %ad stood b" %ad )ust me ted c ean a!a"/ He !as e#er"t%in' s%e didn't !ant in a man. 3us"$ &o!erfu $ !it% t%e *ind of business and &ersona res&onsibi ities t%at meant %e %ad to )u'' e constant " !it% time to ma*e room for %er. He'd e#en cance ed t%eir second date because business %ad ta*en %im out of t%e countr" for a !ee*/ S%e s%ou d %a#e bac*ed off t%en+&robab " cou d %a#e bac*ed off if it %ad been t%eir first date+but$ e#en b" t%en$ it %ad been too ate for %er. -i*e t%e foo s%e %ad disco#ered s%e !as$ s%e %ad fa en %oo*$ ine and sin*er for %im t%at 6uic* ". And for t%e first time in %er ca m$ !e (ordered adu t ife s%e'd found out !%at it !as i*e to ose tota contro of %er o!n destin". So omon .ac aine %ad become %er master. S%e didn't i*e %erse f for ettin' it %a&&en but cou dn't seem to do a sin' e t%in'

about it. He cou d fi %er !it% a dar* and de'radin' a too fami iar disa&&ointment b" ettin' %er do!n at a moment's notice !%en somet%in' more im&ortant cro&&ed u&. T%en$ !%en s%e !as determined t%at it !ou d be t%e ast time %e !ou d do t%at to %er$ %e !ou d do somet%in' !onderfu $ i*e turnin' u& une,&ected " !it% %is arms fu of f o!ers and a sincere a&o o'" on %is i&s t%at !ou d %a#e %er %eart me tin' a o#er a'ain. 3ut not t%is time$ s%e to d %erse f 'rim ". T%is time .ac %ad 'one too far. And t%e co d$ %ard fee in' of oss s%e !as e,&eriencin' inside to d %er t%at no amount of a&o o'isin' !as 'oin' to c%an'e %er mind. S%e %ad %ad enou'%. '-isten$ 5oe turned in %is seat to oo* at %er as %e dre! %is car to a sto& outside t%e ?ictorian to!n(%ouse !%ere Roberta used to s%are a f at !it% 5enn" before .ac %ad ta*en %er to i#e in %is u,urious C%e sea a&artment. ';se t%e !ee*end to t%in* about !%at "ou're 'oin' to do$' %e ad#ised. 'You're t%in*in' !it% "our emotions ri'%t no!$ but 'i#e it a cou& e of da"s and "ou s%ou d be usin' "our %ead a'ain$ 'It's m" emotions !%ic% are in#o #ed !it% .ac$ not m" brain$' s%e dri " &ointed out. 'And I'#e been a&& "in' common sense and modern socia standards to our re ations%i& for a !%o e "ear no!$ and oo* !%ere if s 'ot me$' 3randed$ s%e t%ou'%t bitter ". 3randed a bimbo b" a set of &eo& e t%at s%e !ou dn't 'i#e t%e time of da" to if t%e" !eren't re ated to .ac/ 'It's not me !%o needs to sort m" %ead out$ 5oe . It's .ac/' 'He cares dee& " for "ou$ Roberta$' %e insisted ur'ent "$ %is mout% t!istin' !%en %e sa! t%e sudden ' int of tears f ood %er sea('reen e"es. '3ut not enou'%$' s%e !%is&ered$ not den"in' t%at .ac did care for %er$ in some odd$ se fis% !a". No man cou d 'i#e %imse f so tota " in bed !it%out fee in' somet%in' for t%e !oman "in' beneat% %im+ f eetin' t%ou'% t%at somet%in' !as. 'T%e troub e !it% .ac is$ s%e

added 'rim "$ '%e !ants to eat %is ca*e and *ee& it. And t%is ca*e %as 'one sta e enou'% to c%uc* into t%e rubbis% bin$ '.ac doesn't t%in* "ou're sta e$' 5oe &rotested. 'No.' Her e"es f as%ed %im a %ard oo*. '3ut %e's ta*en so man" bites out of me$ 5oe $ t%at t%ere rea " is #er" itt e eft for me to offer %im/' 5oe si'%ed+t%e *ind of si'% t%at said %e !as 'i#in' u& tr"in' to con#ince %er ot%er!ise. And Roberta si'%ed+re ie#ed t%at %e !as 'i#in' u&$ because s%e'd ta*en )ust about a s%e cou d ri'%t no!. 'I' see "ou .onda"$' s%e murmured$ o&enin' t%e car door. 'And if %e ca me u& oo*in' for "ou$ !%at do I te %im1' %e as*ed %ea#i " as s%e ste&&ed out of t%e car. Roberta bent do!n to oo* at %im. 'Do "ou rea " t%in* %e !i 1' s%e moc*ed$ %er mout% t!istin' bitter " on t%e ans!er t%at 5oe didn't e#en bot%er sa"in' out oud. '4oodni'%t$ 5oe $' s%e said !eari "$ and c osed t%e car door.

CHAPTER T0O 5ENNY !as sur&rised to find %er o d f atmate standin' on %er doorste&$ as*in' for %er o d room bac*. 'O8$' s%e demanded$ once s%e'd us%ered Roberta into t%e sma $ c%un*i " fami iar sittin'(room and &us%ed a drin* of somet%in' stron' into %er %and$ '!%at %as t%at se fis% rat done to ma*e "ou refuse t%e fina stra!1' 'Not .ac$' Roberta %us*i " denied$ defendin' %im e#en !%i e s%e *ne! t%at %e did not deser#e it. 'His fami ".' And s%e to d %er friend t%e 'ist of %er sudden decision toni'%t. 'Ho! is it$' 5enn" demanded an'ri " !%en Roberta %ad finis%ed$ 't%at a man of So omon .ac aine's tou'% c%aracter can be so !ea* !%ere %is fami " is concerned1' 'He o#es t%em$' Roberta stated sim& ". 'And fee s 'ui t" for ettin'

t%em a do!n$ so %e s&ends %is ife !a *in' a fine ine bet!een & easin' %imse f and & easin' t%em.' Her s%ru' said )ust %o! successfu " %e mana'ed it most of t%e time. '0%ic% 'i#es "ou t%e una&&eti2in' ro e of bein' &i''" in t%e midd e. 5enn" 'rimaced distastefu ". '4a#e me$' Roberta corrected. 'I'#e )ust resi'ned from t%e &osition$ remember1' 'You %a#en't to d %im "et$ 5enn" !r" " &ointed out. 'No$ s%e a'reed. '3ut I !i .' S%e %ad %ad enou'%. 'Actua "$ I fee 6uite 'ood/' s%e sudden " announced. '3eneat% t%e bitterness$ of course.' S%e ac*no! ed'ed 5enn"'s moc*in' oo*. 'And t%at's on " t%ere because I fe t so %umi iated toni'%t. 3ut$ ot%er t%at. t%at$ I fee as if someone %as ifted a bi' ead !ei'%t from m" s%ou ders. I am no on'er So omon .ac aine's %o e(and(corner affair/' s%e oud " dec ared. 'Per%a&s no! I can be'in to 'et some of m" se f( res&ect bac*.' 'He' be around %ere oo*in' for "ou as soon as %e finds out "ou're not at "our f at$' 5enn" !arned. :His f at$ Roberta corrected$ %er soft cu&id's(bo! mout% turnin' do!n c"nica ". '.ac &ro#ided me !it% t%at f at because a man of %is standin' %as to maintain certain standards for %is i icit affairs/' 'P us t%e fact t%at %a#in' me around %ere cram&ed %is st" e/' Roberta cou dn't %e & but smi e at t%at. 3ui t on Ama2on &ro&ortions$ !it% a fu fi'ure and t%e !e (toned musc es of a trained &%"siot%era&ist$ 5enn" cou d fri'%ten off an" man !it% )ust a certain oo*/ 'Can I %a#e m" o d room bac*1 s%e be''ed %er no!. 'Of course "ou can/' Instant " 5enn"'s softer side !as 'us%in' a o#er %er. 'Do "ou t%in* "ou' s ee& at a 1' s%e as*ed concerned " as Roberta 'ot u& from t%e c%air. 'No$' s%e admitted. '3ut I' tr" an"!a".' Sur&risin' "$ s%e s e&t 6uite !e . Her %ead %it t%e &i o! in %er o d sin' e bed in %er o d

fami iar room t%at &ossessed none of t%e u,urious tra&&in's .ac %ad surrounded %er !it% in %is &ersona ised o#e(nest7 %is dar* " attracti#e face oomed u& into t%e dar*ness$ !earin' t%at ruefu itt e smi e %e %ad offered %er before %is e,(!ife %ad c aimed %is attention t%at e#enin'$ and$ )ust as s%e !as conditionin' %erse f for a on' ni'%t's batt e a'ainst t%e !ea*enin' effects of t%at smi e$ s%e dro&&ed as ee& and dreamed of not%in'. It !as !onderfu . i*e bein' set free.

'5oe 's been on t%e &%one$' 5enn" informed %er !%en s%e !a *ed into t%e sma *itc%en t%e ne,t mornin' dressed in one of 5enn"'s trac*suits$ a &a e b ue one !it% a cream" %ood attac%ed to t%e ba''" to&. 'He !anted to !arn "ou t%at$ contrar" to "our o&inion$ .ac is on t%e !ar( &at%. He's a read" &%oned %is & ace as*in' !%ere "ou are.' Roberta &aused on a moment's s%ar& sur&rise. So %er manner ast ni'%t %ad mana'ed to 'et t%rou'% to %im$ or %e definite " !ou d not %a#e bot%ered rin'in' %er. 'Did %e te %im1' s%e as*ed casua "$ 'oin' to c%ec* if t%e coffee(&ot !as sti %ot. 5enn" s%ru''ed. 'He sa"s not. 3ut a&&arent " .ac %ad been tr"in' "our number a ni'%t$ and %es 'one from t%e &u22 ed to t%e !orried to t%e b ood" furious. 5oe said %e !as s&ittin' out a *inds of nast" insinuations t%at 5oe found rat%er f atterin' since t%e" seemed to team "ou and %im to'et%er. 3ut %e s!ears %e & a"ed it t%ic* and said not%in' ot%er t%an t%at %e dro&&ed "ou off ast ni'%t and t%at !as t%e ast %e'd seen of "ou.' '4ood o d 5oe $' s%e murmured$ t%in*in'$ So %e's decided to come do!n on m" side$ %as %e1 S%e %ad !ondered. 5oe !as .ac's brot%er$ after a . :I cou d do !it% a &iece of toast$' s%e remar*ed. 'I didn't eat a sin' e t%in' at t%at ous" &art" ast ni'%t. 5enn" made a sound of im&atience. 'He' be rin'in' %ere at an" moment$' s%e cried. '0%at are "ou 'oin' to do about it1' '.e1' Roberta &aused as s%e !as about to s i& t!o s ices of bread

into t%e toaster. I'm 'oin' to do not%in'$' s%e said$ feedin' t%e bread into t%e !armin' s ots. <T%is is "our f at. Your &%one. You ans!er it.' 'In ot%er !ords$ te %im a &ac* of ies.' Roberta )ust s%ru''ed$ t%e stran'e ca mness s%e %ad ta*en into s ee& !it% %er t%e ni'%t before sti &residin' t%is mornin'. 'I t%ou'%t "ou mi'%t rat%er en)o" t%e )ob' s%e said. 'O%$ I !i $' 5enn" murmured !it% re is%. S%e %ad a t%in' about men of .ac's ca ibre$ %a#in' been %ea#i " in#o #ed !it% one #er" i*e %im %erse f once+!it% simi ar %eartbrea*in' resu ts. '3ut !%at if %e decides to come bar'in' round %ere to c%ec*1' s%e !anted to *no!. 'Come off it$ 5enn"/' Roberta scoffed. 'You *no! as !e as I do t%at %e daren't ea#e 3er*s%ire unti e#er" ast one of %is 'uests %as eft before %im/ No$' s%e said 'rim "$ 'I'm safe unti .onda". 0%ic% 'i#es me time to c ear m" t%in's from t%e f at before I %a#e to face %im.' T%e toast &o&&ed u&$ and Roberta &am&ered %erse f b" s&readin' a t%ic* a"er of butter on it before ta*in' it to t%e tab e !it% %er coffee. 'You're ta*in' t%is a #er" ca m "$' 5enn" obser#ed. :I mean$ .ac is su&&osed to be t%e man "ou fe %ead o#er %ee s in o#e !it%+t%re! a "our %i'%(f "in' &rinci& es a!a" for. Sure " "ou fee some *ind of 'rief for !%at "ou're doin'1 Did s%e1 Roberta bit into %er toast !%i e s%e t%ou'%t about it. 'Per%a&s I'm sufferin' from s%oc*$' s%e decided fina "$ disco#erin' t%at s%e !as sti fee in' not%in' !%atsoe#er e,ce&t t%at ice(co d determination !%ic% %ad come !it% %er sudden decision ast ni'%t. T%e te e&%one be'an to rin'. Somet%in' c ose to terror %it %er s&ine$ sendin' it )er*in' " erect. Not so in#u nerab e$ s%e ac*no! ed'ed s%a*i " as 5enn" mo#ed re uctant " across t%e *itc%en. 'S%ut t%e door on "our !a" out$' Roberta ca ed after %er$ ca m " enou'%$ and 5enn" sent %er a be!i dered oo* before doin' as s%e !as to d.

T%e moment t%e door c osed$ Roberta darted u& and s!itc%ed on t%e transistor radio. A Saturda" mornin' &o& s%o! b ared out$ dro!nin' out an" %o&e of o#er%earin' 5enn"'s side of t%e con#ersation t%rou'% t%e t%in !a s se&aratin' t%e *itc%en from t%e sittin'(room. S%e sat do!n a'ain$ s%a*in' a o#er. 9ee in' not%in'$ m" foot/ s%e scoffed at %erse f. S%e !as a !a *in' 'renade !it% t%e &in %a f out. 3ut determined$ s%e reminded %erse f 'rim ". Damned$ !retc%ed " determined. 5enn" came bac*. 'He seems more concerned about "ou t%an an'r"$' s%e to d %er. 'He can't understand !%" "ou're not !%ere "ou're su&&osed to be.' 'So "ou su''ested %e oo* !%ere1' 5enn" s%ru''ed. 'I reminded %im t%at "our &arents !ere %ome and su''ested t%at "ou cou d %a#e 'one t%ere. He a&&ro#ed of t%at idea and ran' off to c%ec*.' 'O%$ t%at's a ri'%t$' Roberta said after a moment. 'T%e"'#e a read" eft for !armer c imes.' 4one c%asin' !i d do's across t%e Seren'eti$ %a#in' been %ome on " fi#e da"s to dum& off t%e fi m of t%eir ast fie d(tri&+si, !ee*s stud"in' do &%ins in t%e Sout% C%ina Sea. 9i#e da"s. S%e 'rimaced. Into t%eir ear " fifties$ and sti t%e" bare " &aused for breat% bet!een tri&s. Sti t%e" found no time in t%eir &ac*ed sc%edu e to do more t%an a o! t%eir on " c%i d a conci iator" &%one ca to offset an" disa&&ointment s%e mi'%t fee for t%eir not %a#in' time to meet %er$ if on " for a 6uic* unc%. T%e" i#ed in a !or d of t%eir o!n$ !%ic% eft no room for unim&ortant t%in's i*e dau'%ters. So$ !%at's ne!1 s%e as*ed %erse f as an o d bitterness be'an to boi u& inside %er. T%e" %a#e a #a'ue idea of !%at "ou do for a i#in'$ t%at "our birt%da" is some!%ere in t%e mont% of October$ t%at "ou're not s%ort of funds and are in 'ood

%ea t%. 0%at more cou d a 'ir !ant1 A bit of tender$ o#in' care$ s%e 'rim " ans!ered %er o!n moc*er". A fat%er to %u' and ean on once in a !%i e. A mot%er to run to at times i*e t%ese$ confide %er troub es in. A bit of !%at -u u .ac aine %ad a ot of. 0o!/ 3 o!in' t%e air out of %er un's$ s%e &us%ed %erse f u& from t%e tab e !it% t%at bit of re#ea in' en#" ni'' in' at %er conscience. T%en$ No$ s%e to d %erse f firm ". It !asn't )ust a case of %er bein' en#ious of !%at -u u %ad t%at s%e did not. It !as sim& " t%at s%e !as not 'oin' to ta*e second & ace to an"one e se in %er ife. And t%at$ s%e !as determined$ !as t%at.

.ac ran' t%e f at %a f a do2en times durin' t%e ne,t t!o da"s$ and b" t%e time Roberta %ad come bac* from %er fina e,&edition to t%e C%e sea f at on Sunda" e#enin' &oor 5enn" !as oo*in' f ustered. 'He's b ood" furious !it% "ou$ %e's so !orried/ s%e said a most accusin' "$ !%ic% !asn't sur&risin' since it !as 5enn" !%o %ad %ad to dea !it% %is ca s a !ee*end$ and .ac cou d fra22 e an"one's ner#es !%en %e &ut %is mind to it. 'Don't "ou t%in* "ou s%ou d &ut %im out of %is miser" no! and s&ea* to %im "ourse f1' :No$' Roberta stubborn " refused. '.ac %as &ut me t%rou'% t!e #e mont%s of miser". T!o s%ort da"s of t%e same 'oes no!%ere near &a"in' %im bac*.' 'You !ent into t%at re ations%i& !it% "our e"es !ide o&en$' 5enn" &ointed out. Yes$ t%ou'%t Roberta on a si'%. 0ide o&en but %o&efu . A %o&e dri#en b" a dee&(seated need to be o#ed and !anted for %erse f abo#e a ot%ers b" a man s%e cou d o#e and !ant abo#e a ot%ers %erse f.

0e $ s%e %ad found t%e man s%e o#ed and !anted abo#e a ot%ers. T%e on " troub e !as$ %e did not o#e and !ant %er in t%e same !a"/ 0%ic%$ in t%e end$ eft %er !it% not%in' to be %o&efu for. Roberta !as at %er des* on .onda" mornin'$ dictatin' to .it2"$ !%en .ac came t%rou'% t%e door i*e a bu et. '0%at t%e %e do "ou t%in* "ou're & a"in' at1' %e bar*ed$ stridin' for!ard to s am an an'r" fist do!n %ard on t%e to& of t%e des*. .it2" )um&ed$ start ed out of %er !its b" %is forcefu entrance. Roberta too* %er time before reactin'$ but t%en s%e %ad been &re&ared for t%is+&oor .it2" %ad not. Sti $ as !it% a carefu " sc%oo ed e,&ression s%e ifted %er attention from t%e stac* of &a&ers s%e %ad been !or*in' on and e#e ed %er coo 'reen e"es on %im s%e %ad to 6ue a 6ui#er of a arm. 5enn" !as ri'%t$ s%e ac*no! ed'ed7 %e !as furious. His 're" e"es %ad turned si #er !it% it7 %is mout% &u ed so ti'%t " across %is teet% t%at %e !as snar in' !it% it+ i*e a do'. A bi'$ dar* and ra#a'in' b oodt%irst" do'. 'Do "ou *no! t%e *ind of troub e "ou'#e &ut me t%rou'% t%is !ee*end1' %e demanded %ars% " !%en s%e didn't re& ". 'I'#e been 'oin' out of m" mind !orr"in' !%at cou d %a#e %a&&ened to "ou/' '3ut not enou'% to brin' "ou rus%in' bac* from 3er*s%ire to c%ec* if I !as a ri'%t$' s%e said$ and !atc%ed %im stiffen u& i*e a board at t%e t%rust. '0%at's t%at su&&osed to mean1' %e 'ro! ed. 'Not%in'.' Remo#in' %er 'a2e from %im$ s%e ' anced at .it2"$ !%o !as starin' direct " a%ead doin' a 'ood im&ression of a !a,!or* dumm"$ and Roberta too* &it" on %er. '0e' finis% t%is ater$' s%e to d t%e ot%er 'ir 6uiet ". 'Y("es$ of course...' 0it% a b in* and a )er* .it2" %au ed %erse f out of t%e c%air and s6uee2ed !ari " &ast(.ac's taut frame to ea#e t%e room 6uic* ".

T%e ensuin' si ence t%um&ed i*e a drum+or !as it %er &u se1 Roberta !ondered as s%e forced %erse f to remain ca m " seated be%ind %er des*$ oo*in' %er usua coo " immacu ate se f in a s ate( 're" !orsted suit and neat &o!der(b ue b ouse$ !%i e inside %er e#er"t%in' !as be'innin' to burn u& on a mad combination of bitter &i6ue and t%e usua %ot$ me tin' breat% essness s%e suffered !%ene#er s%e oo*ed at .ac. .it2"'s time " e,it %ad 'i#en .ac time to consider )ust !%at Roberta %ad said$ and %is e"es %ad narro!ed into %ars% " assessin' s its. T%e an'er in %im %ad dam&ed do!n to a more mana'eab e e#e $ !%ic% meant t%at %e !as be'innin' to rea ise %e %ad a bi' &rob em on %is %ands !it% %er and !as res&ondin' accordin' "+!it% %is ra2or(s%ar& brain instead of %is emotions. 'E,& ain$' %e demanded at ast. Not%in' more$ )ust t%at one #er" economica !ord !%ic% none t%e ess said it a S%e studied %im for a moment$ com& ete " in contro of %er outer se f e,ce&t for t%e s i'%t tremb in' of %er %ands$ !%ic% s%e c enc%ed to'et%er ti'%t " on %er a& !%i e s%e decided %o! best to tac* e t%is. He too !as dressed for business$ s%e noted inconse6uentia "$ in one of %is dar*$ fas%ionab " cut suits t%at did so muc% to add to t%at air of &o!er and success %e carried around !it% %im. S%e !ou d %a#e fe t muc% softer to!ards %im if %e %ad come bar'in' in %ere oo*in' i*e t%e de#i $ in creased c ot%es and !it% %is si *" %air mussed b" !orried fin'ers. 3ut %e %adn't. .ac mi'%t %a#e been concerned about %er$ but on " in as muc% as %e cou d not understand !%at !as 'oin' on. His concern %ad not sto&&ed %im from %a#in' a 'ood ni'%t's s ee& or ma*in' %imse f &resentab e for !or* t%is mornin'. 0%ic% )ust !ent to &ro#e %o! ri'%t s%e !as about %is fee in's for %er$ s%e conc uded. 'It's 6uite sim& e$ .ac$' s%e t%erefore informed %im e#e ". :I#e mo#ed out of "our f at '

'I *no! t%at/' %e cut in deridin' ". 'Ha#in' arri#ed t%ere at some un'od " %our t%is mornin' to find it stran'e " ac*in' an" of "our &ersona &ossessions/' '+because$' s%e !ent on$ as if %e %adn't interru&ted$ %o din' %is s icin' 'a2e !it% %er o!n su&reme " ca m one$ 'I %a#e decided to conc ude our re ations%i&$ He didn't mo#e for t%e s&ace of se#era stutterin' %eartbeats$ %is stunned e"es fi,ed on %er o#e " com&osed features. T%en$ 'You'#e !%at1 %e c%o*ed$ and %er stomac% turned itse f inside out as a stran'e *ind of trium&% 'rabbed %o d of %er. S%e %ad actua " mana'ed to %it %im ri'%t be o! t%e &ro#erbia be t at ast/ 'You %eard me$' s%e ans!ered smoot% " enou'%. 'It's o#er bet!een us.' 9inis%ed$ finite$ s%e added to %erse f c"nica ". No more. .ac s%oo* %is )et(b ac* %ead as if %e needed to c ear it. '3unn"...' %e murmured$ t%e %us*" sound of %is #er" &ersona &et name for %er !renc%in' at somet%in' #er" #u nerab e inside %er. '0%at t%e %e is t%is1' 4enuine be!i derment %ad mana'ed to c oud o#er %is an'er. His i'%t " tanned face !as sudden " &a e !it% sur&rise. A ti'%t " c enc%ed fist came out bet!een t%em$ t%e on'$ b unt(ended fin'ers uncur in' s o! "$ as t%ou'% it too* a 'reat effort to ma*e t%e conci iator" 'esture. '0%at %a#e I done to brin' t%is on1' %e as*ed. Done1 'Not%in'$' s%e said. E,act " not%in'. And %ardened %er %eart a'ainst t%e a&&ea in' &icture %e ma*e standin' t%ere & eadin' !it% %er i*e t%at. He %ad used t%is tactic before !%en s%e'd been an'r" !it% %im+and %ad a !a"s !on !it% it. 3ut not t%is time. 'I %a#e sim& " decided t%at it is time to 'et out$ .ac. Sure " "ou abo#e a &eo& e can understand t%at1' It !as a &ointed di' at t%e on' strin' of !omen !%o %ad &receded %er in and out of %is o!n ife.

And %e too* it$ b" dro&&in' t%e o&en %and$ t%e on' fin'ers c enc%in' u& a'ain at t%e same moment t%at %is mout% c enc%ed a so. '3ut !%"1' %e demanded. 'And !%" i*e t%is1 0it% no &rior !arnin' but )ust an em&t" f at for me to !a * into/' Had t%at %urt1 S%e oo*ed into %is %ard si #er e"es and sa! t%at it %ad. .ac &robab " brou'%t t%e end to a re ations%i& b" sendin' a bunc% of roses or a &rett" brace et of diamonds and a t%an*("ou$ !%ic% meant as itt e as t%e re ations%i& itse f %ad meant to %im. Did %e t%in* t%at %is !a" !as an" ess %urtfu t%an %ers %ad been1 'T%e re ations%i& !as 'oin' no!%ere$' s%e to d %im$ i'norin' t%e atter to ans!er t%e former because t%at deser#ed an ans!er7 t%e atter did not. His e"es narro!ed assessin' " at t%at. 'And "ou+ !anted it to 'o some!%ere1' %e murmured soft ". Roberta smi ed$ seein' t%e tra& e#en as %e set it. 'O%$ "es$' s%e admitted$ e#er so ruefu ". 'I !anted it to.' '3ut "ou *ne! I !asn't into marria'e e#en before !e be'an.' 'Yes.' Her soft b onde %ead nodded$ t%en sta"ed o!ered$ from !%ere s%e !atc%ed %er fin'ers & eat and un& eat t%emse #es on %er a&. Yes$ s%e t%ou'%t %ea#i ". S%e %ad *no!n$ but s%e %ad been foo is% enou'% to %o&e ot%er!ise. '0e a'reed to i#e to'et%er$ not%in' e se$' .ac said 'rim ". T%at brou'%t %er %ead s%ootin' bac* u&$ 'reen e"es %onin' on to %im. '3ut !e didn't i#e to'et%er$ did !e1' s%e c%a en'ed. 'You %a#e "our 3er*s%ire %ome$ !%ere I am not !e come. Your 8ni'%tsbrid'e a&artment$ !%ere I am not !e come. And "ou %a#e "our C%e sea f at$ !%ere I am su&&osed to *no! m" & ace and *ee& to it/' 'And !%en do I e#er use t%e 8ni'%tsbrid'e & ace1 %e demanded furious ". 'Or s&end time in 3er*s%ire$ come to t%at1' 0it% a ra*in' f ic* of %is %and %e dismissed t%at ar'ument !it% t%e contem&t %e t%ou'%t it deser#ed. 'You *no! as !e as I do$' %e !ent on 'ruff "$ 't%at !%ere

"ou are is !%ere I !ant to be$ !%ic% *noc*s t%at e,cuse ri'%t on its cra2" %ead.' ';n ess "ou're entertainin'$ of course.' Des&ite t%e !armin' res&onse s%e %ad e,&erienced to %is 'ruff confession about !antin' to be !%ere s%e !as$ Roberta *e&t %er mind firm " fi,ed on t%e &oint in %and. '0%en "ou sudden " de#e o& amnesia !%ere I am concerned.' '4ood 'rief/' %e 'as&ed$ e"es !idenin' as understandin' sudden " %it. 'Do "ou mean to te me t%at t%is is a because of 9rida" ni'%t1' He made a sound t%at !as bot% im&atient and scornfu . 'T%e fina stra!$' s%e conceded. 'T%at's a . 3ut %e !asn't istenin'. 'I can't be ie#e it/' %e !as mutterin'. 'You're )ust b ood" miffed because I didn't dance attendance on "ou a ni'%t on'/' 'You didn't dance attendance at a $ t%e !a" I remember it.' 'I %ad ot%er duties to attend to/' %e sna&&ed. 'It !as. -u u's ni'%t. And s%e$ t%erefore$ %ad first ca on m" attention/' 'S%e 'ot it$ .ac$' Roberta dri " assured. 'S%e certain " 'ot it/ T%e fu $ centra and undi#ided attention of most of t%e room a ni'%t+at m" damned e,&ense due to "our ac* of su&&ort for me/' '-u u said somet%in' to u&set "ou1' %e as*ed s%ar& "$ rea " be'innin' to catc% on at ast. His e"es dar*ened$ t%e an'er ea#in' %im to be re& aced !it% anot%er oo* of ur'ent a&&ea . '-isten$ 3unn" ' %e eaned to!ards %er a'ain '+if -u u+or an" of m" fami "+offended "ou at t%e &art" t%e ot%er ni'%t$ t%en I a&o o'ise for t%em. T%e"'re a so damned((((((( ' Roberta sudden " s%ot to %er feet. 'T%e" didn't offend me$ .ac. You did/ You do it e#er" time "ou &retend I don't e,ist as far as t%e" are concerned/ If once+)ust once+"ou %ad come to m" side$ forced t%em to acce&t me for !%at I am su&&osed to be to "ou$ t%en t%e" !ou d %a#e done+and "ou *no! it/' S%e suc*ed in a s%ort breat%$ dis'usted !it% %im and %erse f for &uttin' u& !it% it a for so on'. '0e ((((((( '

S%e tried to &ut a bra*e on %er tem&er$ but it didn't !or*. No! t%at it %ad been et oose it did not !ant to retreat a'ain. 'I refuse to %ide in t%e cu&board i*e "our 'ui t" s*e eton an" on'er/ I %a#e done not%in' +not%in'+to be as%amed of. Yet "our fami "+t%rou'% "ou((((( ' s%e an'ri " made c ear '+%as sun* m" se f(esteem to suc% a e#e t%at it can't in* an" o!er/ And "es ' s%e nodded ti'%t " '+I'#e %ad enou'%/' T%e ot$ e#er"t%in' s%e %ad been bott in' u& a !ee*end$ !as s&i in' out in one furious !a#e. '.ore t%an enou'%/ I !i not a o! m"se f to be trodden under "our rotten fami "'s feet for anot%er da"/ So "ou can ta*e "ourse f+and "our se fis% idea of a re ations%i&+and )ust 'et out of %ere/' '9inis%ed1' %e c i&&ed. 'Yes$ s%e said$ and sat do!n !it% a bum&$ dra!in' air into %er un's in an effort to contro %erse f. S%e %ad been determined not to ose %er tem&er !it% %im$ to finis% t%is !it% a t%e coo a& omb t%at a man i*e .ac !ou d e,&ect from a !oman of %er su&&osed so&%istication. 3ut t%at !as t%e troub e$ s%e conceded an'ri ". S%e !asn't rea " so&%isticated at a / S%e !as )ust a o#e(#u nerab e foo ca ed Roberta C%and er$ forced into & a"in' an a ien ro e because s%e cou dn't contro %er fee in's for t%is man/ And to %a#e %im s%e'd %ad to & a" it %is !a"+ri'%t do!n t%e damned ine/ :So "ou !ant out. :Not !ant1 s%e corrected$ 'I %a#e out.' 'Or marria'e$ %e derided$ s%o#in' %imse f a!a" from t%e des*. 'O%$ no.' S%e denied t%at instant ". 'You see$ t%at !as anot%er t%in' I disco#ered on 9rida" ni'%t. I disco#ered t%at I %a#e no !is% to become a member of "our rude and se fis% fami ". 3ut I do !ant marria'e/' s%e added 6uic* "$ !%en %e f as%ed %er a oo* t%at said %e mi'%t be considerin' t%rott in' %er for t%at &articu ar insu t. :And since it ob#ious " isn't 'oin' to be to "ou((((((( ' %er s ender s%ou ders ifted and fe in a s%ru' '+t%en I must cut m" osses and

oo* around for someone e se.' 'E#en t%ou'% it's me "ou o#e1' O%$ t%at %urt$ and it s%o!ed in t%e !a" s%e !inced. 3ut s%e ifted %er c%in to %im$ 'reen e"es %o din' on to %is. 'And !%o do "ou o#e$ .ac1' s%e c%a en'ed 6uiet ". He s!un' a!a"$ ob#ious " not &re&ared to ans!er t%at one. 'I earned t%e !eddin' esson t%e first time around$' %e muttered e#asi#e "$ 'oin' to stand at t%e !indo! !it% %is %ands s%o#ed into %is trouser &oc*ets. 'I %a#e no intention of &uttin' m"se f t%rou'% t%at *ind of %e a'ain.' 'I can understand t%at$' Roberta ac*no! ed'ed fair "$ '3ut !%ate#er %e "our marria'e !as to "ou$ .ac$ "ou did 'ain somet%in' #er" &recious from it. You 'ained -u u$ !%om "ou so ob#ious " o#e and adore+a dau'%ter !%o o#es and adores "ou in return. Do "ou t%in* I don't !ant to e,&erience t%at *ind of bond !it% a c%i d of m" o!n1' s%e a&&ea ed to t%e ri'id set of %is bac*. 'Do "ou %onest " t%in* t%at$ )ust because "ou see "our dut" to t%e %uman race fu fi ed in -u u$ I must acce&t t%at it can ne#er %a&&en to me because I o#e "ou and t%erefore must concede to "our dictum1' 'You're )ea ous of -u u/' %e s!un' around to dec are. :I am not )ea ous of -u u/' s%e denied$ stormin' to %er feet a'ain as t%e taunt %it a ra! ner#e$ '3ut I am )ea ous of !%at "ou and -u u %a#e$ t%at I can ne#er %a#e if I don't cut m"se f free from "ou/' '3ut "ou're on " t!ent"(fi#e "ears o d$ dammit/' %e ras&ed. 'You'#e 'ot "ears a%ead of "ou to & an t%in's i*e %ome and fami "/' S%e fe t %erse f 'o ic" co d. '-ea#e it unti "ou decide t%at "ou'#e %ad enou'% of me$ do "ou mean1' T%e co our drained from %is face$ %is t%ic* " cur in' as%es f ic*erin' do!n to %ide %is e"es from %er as %e turned bac* to t%e !indo!. And Roberta smi ed b ea* " to %erse f as %er %eart f i&&ed o#er$ t%en a" stru'' in' i*e a d"in' fis% in %er breast. S%e %ad )ust *noc*ed t%e nai

ri'%t on to& of its indis&utab e %ead. 'You'#e ne#er so muc% as %inted to me before t%at "ou fe t i*e t%is$' .ac muttered after a on'$ %ea#" moment. :I !as !aitin' for "ou to s%o! enou'% interest in m" fee in's to !onder$ s%e murmured s%a*i ". '3ut "ou ne#er %a#e$ %a#e "ou1' E#en s%e %eard t%e contem&t in %er #oice$ aimed entire " at %erse f for %er o!n &o!ers of se f(de usion$ and .ac's s%ou ders s%ifted on a 'esture of discomfort as %e &ic*ed u& on it too. '3ut t%at rea " is not t%e main issue %ere. 4rim " s%e s%ifted t%in's bac* on to t%e ri'%t trac*. <T%e issue bein' t%at I am no on'er !i in' to %a#e a %o e(and(corner affair !it% a man !%o can't e#en ac*no! ed'e me for !%at I am su&&osed to be to %im$ in front of t%ose &eo& e %e cares for$ because %e is as%amed of me.' 'No! t%at's a do!nri'%t b ood" ie/' .ac bar*ed$ s&innin' around to ance %er !it% a murderous oo*. 'You *no! !%at "ou are !it%out m" %a#in' to s&e it out for "ou/' %e bit out an'ri ". 'You are beautifu $ "ou are bri'%t$ "ou are enc%antin' to be !it%$ and "ou're damned fantastic in bed/ And an" man !ou d be &roud to ca "ou %is+inc udin' me/ So sto& comin' on to me as t%ou'% I treat "ou i*e some dirt" secret I *ee& s!e&t beneat% t%e car&et$ because it )ust isn't true/' :Isn't it1' 'No$ it b ood" !e isn't$' %e 'ro! ed$ ad#ancin' on %er !it% !rat%fu intent ' eamin' in %is e"es. 'You are t%e first !oman in ten "ears t%at I'#e 'i#en m" com& ete o"a t" to/' %e reminded %er as %e reac%ed %er. '3ut I 'a#e "ou a !%o e ot more t%an t%at.' S%e %ad been referrin' to %er o#e but$ t"&ica .ac$ %e com& ete " misunderstood %er. 'Yes/' %e %issed. 'And I %a#e ne#er ceased to be 'ratefu for t%e %onour of bein' "our first o#er/ %e moc*ed %er cuttin' ". '3ut if "ou t%in* I am 'oin' to &a" for it b" bein' cornered into marr"in' "ou$ t%en "ou %a#e anot%er t%in' comin'/' '3ut I to d "ou$' s%e reminded %im$ :I don't !ant to marr" "ou.'

<T%en !%at t%e %e do "ou !ant1 %e s%outed. 'Out$ s%e said sim& ". <I )ust !ant out$ '4od in %ea#en$ !oman+no/' %e ras&ed$ and reac%ed for %er$ %is fin'ers di''in' into %er s%ou ders as %e tu''ed %er u& a'ainst %im. 'No$' %e re&eated$ and brou'%t %is mout% do!n %ard u&on %er o!n. S%e %ad been doin' fine unti t%en$ Roberta t%ou'%t !retc%ed " as .ac be'an a rut% ess & underin' of %er mout%. S%e %ad been mana'in' to %o d a t%ese traitorous fee in's ri'%t at ba"+unti %e'd touc%ed %er And no!+no!... S%e 'roaned$ tr"in' des&erate " to &u a!a" from %im before %er c amourin' senses 'ot t%e better of %er. 3ut %e !as bi' and stron' and %un'r"$ and t%e an'r" a''ression in %im ans!ered a softer feminine need inside %er to be mastered b" %is su&erior !i . Her ti&s &arted to t%e demandin' &ressure of %is mout% !it%out %is %a#in' to tr" %ard to ma*e it$ and on t%e sensua caress of %is ton'ue s%e "ie ded+"ie ded i*e a !ea* itt e *itten to t%e su&erior dominance of t%e bi'$ &o!erfu cat. 'If I'd been %ere$ %e muttered a'ainst %er c in'in' mout%$ '"ou !ou dn't %a#e 'ot as far as &ac*in' "our damned i&stic*/' He mo#ed %is %ands in a &ossessi#e 'esture do!n %er bod". '0e !ou d %a#e been doin' t%is in t!o seconds f at instead$ and an" ta * of ea#in' me !ou d %a#e f o!n ri'%t out of t%e nearest !indo!/' S%e cou dn't den" it. Her senses !ere on fire a read". He !as an'r"$ !%ic% on " %ei'%tened %er a!areness of %im. And %e !as a itt e fri'%tened7 s%e cou d te b" t%e tremor in %is fin'ers as t%e" mo#ed o#er %er$ b" t%e !a" %is #oice %ad dee&ened into t%ic* %us*iness as %e s&o*e$ a of !%ic% touc%ed t%at softer &art of %er t%at s%e %ad tried so %ard to oc* a!a". He *issed %er dee& "$ %is bod" strainin' a'ainst %er$ mo#in' !it% a %ot and %un'r" need t%at made %er o!n f es% burn$ %er senses t%rob and t%e breat% ea#e %er un's on o!$ an'uis%ed itt e sobs !%i e s%e tried so %ard to fi'%t %er o!n fee in's as muc% as %is %eated

seduction. 3ut to no a#ai . And it !as .ac !%o brou'%t it a to an end$ &us%in' %er to arm's en't% t%en %o din' %er t%ere !%i e %e studied %er t%rou'% %ard$ narro!ed e"es$ %is o!n breat%in' no steadier t%an %er o!n as s%e stood t%ere s!a"in' di22i ". '0%ere did "ou 'o t%is !ee*end1' %e demanded. '5enn"'s$' s%e ans!ered$ %a#in' to fi'%t not to f in' %erse f bac* into %is arms. '3itc%/' %e ras&ed. 'Did 5oe ta*e "ou t%ere1' :I...' S%e ifted a tremb in' %and to &us% %er %air a!a" from %er face$ sti too da2ed to t%in* c ear ". 'I !(!ent after %e dro&&ed me off$' s%e ied$ but t%e %esitation %ad damned %er$ and 5oe too. .ac's face turned to 'ranite. 'T%at's brot%er " o"a t" for "ou/' %e muttered ti'%t ". '0%at %e did$ %e did for me/' Roberta insisted. <T%at doesn't ma*e %im dis o"a to "ou. 'It doesn't1' %e )eered. 'In m" boo* it ma*es %im a b ood" traitor/' 4rabbin' %o d of %er c%in$ %e ifted it t%reatenin' ". '0%ere e se %as %e been decei#in' me$ I !onder1' %e 'rated. '0it% "ou$ &er%a&s1 Has m" *id brot%er been tr"in' %is uc* !it% "ou$ Roberta1 Is t%at !%at t%is is rea " a about1' An'ri " s%e &u ed a!a" from %im. 'T%at is a dis'racefu t%in' to su''est/' 'No more dis'racefu t%an t%e insu ts "ou'#e been t%ro!in' at me since I came in %ere$' %e defended. '5oe fancies "ou. He a !a"s %as$ and don't tr" te in' me ot%er!ise.' 'You're cra2" if "ou be ie#e t%at$' s%e si'%ed$ s%a*i " tr"in' to &u %erse f to'et%er. 'Not cra2"$' %e dented. '5ust a!are of !%at's 'oin' on around me. 5oe a !a"s did !ant "ou for %imse f$ and t%e on " reason %e %as ne#er

made a serious mo#e on "ou before is because I t%reatened to *noc* %is b oc* off if be e#er did.' <T%en !%" t%ro! us to'et%er t%e ot%er ni'%t$ if "ou rea " be ie#e t%at1' Roberta cried in an'r" ama2ement. '3ecause I t%ou'%t %is res&ect for me meant more to %im t%an %is desire for "ou$' .ac stated. '3ut I'm be'innin' to see t%at I !as !ron'.' '0ron' about a ot of t%in's$ if "ou %onest " be ie#e eit%er 5oe or m"se f !ou d do suc% an under%and t%in' as to & a" "ou fa se/' Roberta cried. '0%ate#er.' .ac )ust s%ru''ed a of t%at aside$ %is attention sudden " fi,ed on t%e 'o d !atc% ' eamin' at %is !rist. 'I' be &uttin' %im strai'%t before too on'.' 4rim " %e turned and strode to!ards t%e door. 'I' come do!n and co ect "ou after !or*$' %e informed %er curt ". <T%en !e' 'o to 5enn"'s to'et%er to mo#e "our t%in's bac* to C%e sea.' 'I'm not comin' bac* to "ou$ .ac$' s%e to d %im$ oo*in' &a e but adamant. He turned to ance %er !it% a oo*$ t%e contem&t s%e read in %is e"es tota " ne! to %er and %urtfu . 'Do I %a#e to come bac* t%ere and re&eat t%e esson1' %e demanded$ &uttin' s%amed co our into %er c%ee*s as %e f ic*ed %is e"es inso ent " o#er t%e !a" s%e !as sti standin' t%ere$ s%a*in' in t%e aftermat% of %is ast assau t. 'I cou d ta*e "ou %ere and no! on t%is f oor if I !anted to$ and "ou *no! it$' %e )eered$ 'so sto& tr"in' to dra! t%in's out. You'#e made "our &rotest and it %as been du " noted. No! !e return to t%e status 6uo. 'No/' s%e &rotested. '.ac: 'Si, o'c oc*$' %e c i&&ed out$ arro'ant " cuttin' across an" &rotest s%e %ad been about to ma*e before %e s ammed out of t%e room. Roberta stood starin' at t%e c osed door$ bubb in' !it% an'er and frustration$ !onderin' )ust %o! %e %ad mana'ed to turn t%e !%o e t%in' round to suit %imse f i*e t%at.

Eas"$ a sma #oice taunted in %er %ead. You made it eas" for %im b" fa in' so easi " into %is arms/ 'Damn$ s%e e,& oded soft "$ t%en %eard anot%er door be"ond %er o!n s am s%ut$ and cursed a'ain. 5oe 's office door. True to %is !ord$ .ac %ad 'one to ta*e t%e rest of %is an'er out on 5oe . 4ui ti " a!are t%at s%e %ad !e and tru " dro&&ed 5oe in it !it% %er stu&id ton'ue$ s%e dro&&ed %ea#i " bac* into %er c%air$ !onderin' 'rim " if s%e !ou d sti %a#e a )ob b" t%e end of t%is %orrib e mornin'.

CHAPTER THREE 5OE- !as !aitin' for %im !%en .ac strode into %is office. '-o"a brot%er "ou are$ %e bar*ed. '-o"a o#er are "ou$ 5oe returned t%e insu t. 'I !ou dn't sub)ect m" !orst enem" to !%at "ou sub)ected Roberta to on 9rida" ni'%t$ and t%at's t%e trut%$' %e said$ t%en a2ed bac* in %is c%air to !atc% curious " as t!o stri&s of 'ui t" co our !as%ed across .ac's %i'% c%ee*bones. 'Roberta can fi'%t %er o!n batt es !it%out "our needin' to & a" t%e s%inin' *ni'%t/' %e muttered. <Turned m" PA to &u &$ %a#e !e1' 5oe moc*ed t%at ar'ument. Roberta cou d no more fi'%t .ac and !in t%an s%e cou d !in a'ainst a %ead(on co ision !it% a doub e(dec*er bus. 'So no! "ou t%ou'%t "ou'd tr" &u #erisin' me. 0e $ sorr"$ bi' brot%er$ but I refuse to & a". You're a foo $ if "ou !ant to %ear t%e trut%+!%ic% I don't for one minute t%in* "ou do. Roberta is one in a mi ion$ and "ou'#e et %er s i& ri'%t t%rou'% "our se fis% fin'ers because "ou care more for *ee&in' t%e damned &eace on t%e %ome front t%an "ou care for %er.' 'Don't sermonise o#er me$' .ac 'rated. 'Not after t%e !a" "ou'#e & a"ed me for a foo a !ee*end. Ho! man" times did I ca "ou u&1' 'O%$ about ten$' 5oe ans!ered care ess ". 'Pit" "ou didn't sto&

&%onin' and start dri#in'$ isn't it1 You mi'%t )ust %a#e cau'%t %er bet!een mo#es t%en. A%...' %e breat%ed as .ac stiffened. 'So Roberta &ointed out t%e same error$ did s%e1 You'#e 'ot to 'i#e it to t%at 'ir (((((' %e smi ed '+s%e's %onest to t%e ast fu (sto&.' 'I %ad ot%er commitments t%is !ee*end$ .ac defended %imse f 'ruff ". 'S%e *ne! t%at$ and if s%e cared s%e !ou d %a#e understood.' '-i*e "ou understood %o! %umi iatin' it !as for %er to be &a med off on "our *id brot%er at "our dau'%ter's birt%da" &art"1' 'O%$ 'o to %e $ 5oe $' .ac si'%ed$ runnin' a %and around t%e bac* of %is nec* t%en t%ro!in' %imse f into a c%air. 'You *no! %o! sensiti#e -u u is about me and %er mot%er. It !as %er ni'%t7 I %ad to &ut %er fee in's first.' 'T%en !%" in#ite Roberta at a 1' '0%" did s%e %a#e to acce&t1' .ac s%ot bac*$ and 5oe suc*ed in a s%ort breat%$ t%e %andsome ines of %is face %ardenin' as %e stared at %is brot%er. 'You bastard$' %e breat%ed. 'You !ere co#erin' "ourse f/ P a"in' a et's(*ee&(e#er"one(%a&&" 'ame so t%at So omon .ac aine cou d fee comfortab e !it% %is conscience/ ." 4od$' %e muttered as %e t%re! %imse f for!ard in %is c%air and ' ared at .ac$ '"ou rea " are a se fis% s!ine$ aren't "ou1' 'You *ne! t%e score !%en "ou a'reed to ta*e %er as "our &artner$' .ac derided 5oe 's derision. 'I did t%at for Roberta's sa*e$ not "ours$' %e made acid " c ear. 'I !arned %er not to 'o. I said it !asn't !ort% t%e &ain our ot !ou d &ut %er t%rou'%. 3ut do "ou *no! !%at s%e said1' %e offered ti'%t ". 'S%e said$ <T%is time$ 5oe $ %e' s%o! t%em. If %e cares for me at a $ %e' s%o! t%em.< 4od /' He t%re! %imse f bac* in %is c%air$ %ea#in' in an unstead" breat% of air as .ac s6uirmed a itt e. 'No c%ance$ &oor *id/' %e si'%ed. '0%i e s%e oo*s at "ou !it% %o&e in %er e"es a "ou see is !%at a 'ood a" s%e is in bed/ And t%at )ust about sa"s it a $ doesn't it$ .ac1' %e conc uded %ars% ".

'You !ou dn't sa" no to %er if s%e !as a#ai ab e$' .ac )eered$ comin' bac* fi'%tin' because 5oe %ad %it more t%an a cou& e of #er" ra! s&ots in %is conscience. 5oe e"ed %im curious ". '3ut s%e is a#ai ab e no!$ isn't s%e1' 'Ta*en a fanc" to m" ea#in's$ 5oe 1' .ac t%re! bac* nasti ". '0%" not1' 5oe countered$ a stran'e$ !%imsica oo* crossin' %is face. '0e'#e s%ared a most e#er"t%in' e se most of our i#es. 0%" not t%e odd o#er or t!o1' Sudden " .ac !as on %is feet and eanin' across t%e des*$ one on' fin'er stabbin' t%reatenin' " into 5oe 's !atc%fu face. 'If I find "ou'#e made a sin' e &ass at %er$ 5oe $ so %e & me$ I' *i "ou+'ot t%at1' 5oe 's e"es narro!ed sudden ". 'Is t%at a c%a en'e$ .ac1' %e en6uired soft ". 'T%at !as no c%a en'e$ .ac %ars% " denied. :It !as a c ear(cut t%reat/ .a*e one mo#e on 3unn" and "ou' re'ret it/' %e !arned$ too an'r" to notice t%e !a" %e %ad used %is #er" &ri#ate &et name for Roberta. Hard(as(' ass si #er e"es %e d curious " assessin' bro!n ones and$ for t%e first time e#er$ t%e t!o brot%ers oo*ed at eac% ot%er in mutua %osti it". 'I don't t%in* t%at's "our &rero'ati#e an" more$' 5oe said 6uiet ". 'Roberta %as finis%ed !it% "ou$ remember1 ;n ess$ of course$ "ou'#e mana'ed to bu " %er into 'oin' bac* to "ou1 'I'm co ectin' %er from %ere toni'%t$' .ac stated !it% 'rim satisfaction$ strai'%tenin' u&. 'And as far as "ou or an" ot%er man is concerned$ Roberta is mine$ and s%e sta"s mine. So *ee& "our ro#in' e"e off m" !oman+ m" !oman/' %e re&eated &ossessi#e ". '4ot t%at1' 4ot it$ 5oe t%ou'%t as %e !atc%ed .ac s am out of %is office !it%out !aitin' for an ans!er. He %ad more t%an 'ot it. S o! " %e reac%ed out for t%e interna te e&%one. 'In %ere$ & ease$

Roberta$' %e commanded !%en %er rat%er %us*" #oice ans!ered$ t%en re& aced t%e recei#er$ a oo* of 'rim ca cu ation on %is face. 3ut t%e e,&ression Roberta sa! !%en s%e s un* !ari " into %is office a moment ater !as t%e usua sardonica " moc*in' one. 'I'm sorr"$ 5oe $ s%e murmured 'ui ti ". 'He+%e sort of coerced t%e trut% out of me. :Sit do!n$ %e said. S%e sat$ oo*in' i*e a !%i&&ed do' e,&ectin' to be *ic*ed. 'Did %e con#ince "ou to 'o bac* to %im1' %e demanded. T%at brou'%t %er c%in u&. 'No$ %e did not/' s%e dec ared. <T%at's not t%e !a" .ac te s it$ 5oe remar*ed dri ". 'Your brot%er can sa" !%at %e i*es$ s%e countered &rim ". 'He a !a"s %as been too stuffed fu of se f(de usion.' 5oe smi ed at t%at$ 'So$ !%at do "ou intend to do !%en %e comes for "ou t%is afternoon1' %e as*ed. S%e 'a#e a sma s%ru'. 'I'm not 'oin' an"!%ere !it% %im a'ain$ s%e stated firm ". 'Sure1' 'Positi#e$ s%e said$ and t%e coo 'reen 'a2e s%e e#e ed on %im s%o!ed suc% tou'% determination t%at 5oe nodded as if s%e %ad mana'ed to con#ince %im at ast. <T%en t%ere is no reason !%" "ou can't %a#e dinner !it% me toni'%t$ is t%ere1' %e offered.

Roberta fro!ned at %im$ sur&rised b" t%e in#itation 'I don't need conso in'$ 5oe $' s%e to d %im$ addin' ruefu "$ 'and neit%er do I need &rotectin' from %im.' No1 His moc*in' oo* derided %er certaint" on bot% counts. 3ut a

%e said !as$ 'Actua "$ I cou d do !it% "ou a on' toni'%t. I'm meetin' -ou Sa es from Portsmout%+and !e bot% *no! !%at t%at means/' He sent %er a ruefu 'rin. -ou Sa es !as an e,(s%i& en'ineer !%o$ on retirement from t%e Na#"$ %ad started u& %is o!n marine en'ineerin' com&an" !it% a ot of financia bac*in' from .ac aines. T%at !as not t%e &rob em7 t%e &rob em !it% -ou Sa es !as t%at %e cou d drin* an" man under tab e$ and a !a"s insisted on tr"in'/ 5oe !anted %er a on' to *ee& trac* of discussions once %e %imse f %ad 'one be"ond t%e &oint of understandin' an"t%in' t%at t%e !i " -ou !as tr"in' to 'et out of %im/ 'So$ if "ou're not seein' .ac toni'%t$' 5oe conc uded casua "$ '"ou can come and & a" buffer for me+can't "ou1' He !as c%a en'in' %er reso #e. Roberta reco'nised t%at and rose %au'%ti " to it. 'Of course$' s%e a'reed. '4ood$' 5oe said$ a ' eam of somet%in' s%e did not rea " i*e enterin' %is i'%t bro!n e"es before %e smoot% " %ooded it. '9inis% an %our ear " t%is afternoon$ t%en$' %e aut%orised$ and Roberta *ne! t%at %e !as on " su''estin' it so t%at s%e !ou d be a!a" from %ere before %is brot%er came oo*in' for %er. 'And I' &ic* "ou u& at se#en o'c oc*.' .ac arri#ed at si,(t%irt"$ )ust as Roberta !as fres% from %er bat%$ !it% %er %air &i ed u& on to& of %er %ead and %er i'%t " &erfumed bod" !ra&&ed in su'ar(&in* to!e in'. Poor 5enn" !as tr"in' to %o d %im bac* at t%e f at door. He too* one oo* at Roberta and started sco! in'. :Te %er to et me in$' %e commanded ti'%t ". <T%is is m" f at$ So omon .ac aine$' 5enn" inserted firm ". 'And I((((( ' 'Te %er$' %e 'ro! ed. Roberta's 'reen e"es f ic*ered. He meant business7 it !as &u sin' from e#er" &ore in %im. 'It's a ri'%t$' s%e said %us*i " to %er friend. '-et %im come in.' It !as eit%er t%at or !atc% %im e,& ode on t%e doorste&$

and$ for a 5enn"'s bra#er"$ Roberta didn't t%in* %er friend !as u& to a dose of .ac's rea fur". .@ 4 o!erin' at bot% of t%em$ 5enn" re uctant " ste&&ed to one side. Roberta du' %er %ands into t%e dee& &oc*ets of %er !ra& and mo#ed into t%e sittin'(room. .ac fo o!ed %er 'rim "$ &ointed " s%uttin' t%e door in 5enn"'s face. Si ence fe . Ha#in' to brace %erse f for !%at !as comin' ne,t$ Roberta turned to face %im. At ast %e !as be'innin' to oo* a itt e fra"ed around t%e ed'es. A dar* fro!n intensified t%e broodin' beaut" of %is e"es and %is mout% !as turned do!n!ards+not su *" but tense$ as t%ou'% %e !as %a#in' difficu t" %o din' it under some sort of contro +%arro!in' enou'% to reac% in and s6uee2e t%at !ea* &art of %er t%at o#ed %im so bad ". 'Come %ome$ %e said 'ruff ". Her %eart s6uee2ed a'ain in !retc%ed re& " to t%at rou'%(#oiced & ea. 3ut %er e"es remained unmo#ed as t%e" %e d on to %is. 'No.' S%e s%oo* %er %ead$ dam& tendri s of si *" %air c in'in' to %er un%a&&" face. 'No$ .ac. You and I !ant different t%in's out of ife. If I et "ou ta * me into comin' bac*$ t%en I !ou d be i#in' a ie to m"se f$ and I )ust can't do t%at an" on'er.' '0%at ie1' %e ras&ed$ stridin' across t%e room unti be !as standin' ri'%t in front of %er. His %and came u& to cu& %er c%ee*$ t%e t%umb s idin' beneat% %er c%in to ift it u& so t%at %e cou d oo* fierce " into %er e"es. :You sti !ant me$' %e c aimed. 'And t%at's no ie/' 'Yes$' s%e si'%ed$ not bot%erin' to den" it$ es&ecia " !%en %e must be ab e to fee t%e !a" %er &u ses !ere ea&in' at e#en t%e sim& est touc% from %im. '3ut !%at do "ou !ant$ .ac1' s%e as*ed %im sad ". '.e$ t%e !%o e &erson$ !it% a mind and fee in's to consider+or )ust t%e bod" t%at res&onds so e,citin' " to "ours1 '." bod" res&onds to "ou in t%e e,act same !a"$' %e countered %us*i ". 'You t%in* I do a t%e ta*in'$ but !e ta*e from eac% ot%er. A t%e time$ e#er" time.' He mo#ed %is fin'ers in a feat%er( i*e caress o#er

%er s*in t%at sent s!eet sensations of de i'%t s&rin* in' t%rou'% %er. 'E#en t%is$' %e murmured as s%e et 'o a s%a*" si'%. 'Suc% a i'%t caress$ "et it's enou'% to ma*e "ou 6ui#er !it% & easure$ and m" fin'ers are tin' in' as if t%e"'re touc%in' t%e most e,6uisite substance e#er.' His ot%er %and came u&$ s idin' around t%e bac* of %er nec* to ti& %er %ead 'ent ". 'I on " %a#e to oo* at "ou to !ant "ou$ and I *no! it's t%e same !it% "ou. 0e're 'ood to'et%er/' %e stated !it% soft ferocit". '0%" are "ou tr"in' to t%ro! it a a!a"1' 0%"1 Roberta c osed %er e"es$ tr"in' to s%ut out t%e dar* f ame burnin' in %is e"es. He !as ri'%t. E#er" !ord %e %ad said !as o%$ so true/ 3ut t%at !asn't a of it$ !as it1 T%is !i d$ !antin' se,ua need assua'ed on " one sma &art of %er ac%in' sou +!%at about t%e rest1 :I !ant more$' s%e to d %im t%ic* ". 'I need more from "ou$ .ac.' '.ore of !%at$ for 4od's sa*e1' %e 'round out. '.ore of t%is1' 0it% an an'r" tu'$ %e too* %o d of %er robe and !renc%ed t%e t!o &ieces of to!e in' a&art to e,&ose %er s%ou ders and t%e smoot% s o&es of %er cream" breasts. Her 'as& of &rotest !as ost in t%e an'r" !a" %e %oo*ed an arm around %er !aist to &u %er o!er bod" a'ainst %im t%en ifted t%e ot%er %and to %er breasts. His fin'erti&s on " %ad to brus% i'%t " across %er sensiti#e ni&& es to %a#e t%em s&rin'in' into ti'%t$ tin' in' buds of ife. He ifted dar* and smo*"$ &assionate " %un'r" e"es to %ers in si ent c%a en'e and s%e 'roaned$ s%a*in' %er %ead in mute denia $ %er soft mout% dra!n tense " bac* a'ainst %er teet% to sto& %erse f from res&ondin'. It !as a test. S%e ac*no! ed'ed t%at as s%e stood stoc*(sti in front of %im and tried %er damnedest to fi'%t %is de iberate ons au'%t on %er senses. And$ because s%e fou'%t %im$ t%e caresses !ent on and on unti %er f es% be'an to 6ui#er$ %er breat%in' so erratic t%at it sent %er %eart stutterin' out of r%"t%m and s%e %ad to c enc% %er !%o e bod" to sto& %erse f 'i#in' in to t%e ur'e to et %er s&ine be'in a su&& e arc% to!ards %im$ !%ic% !ou d be t%e first si'n of %er im&endin' surrender. 3ut s%e mana'ed+mana'ed ri'%t u& unti t%e moment !%en %e brou'%t %is mout% into t%e batt e. And t%en it became a i#in' %e $ if

on " because s%e *ne! s%e )ust didn't %a#e it in %er to fi'%t t%ose !onderfu i&s. And t%e b ood be'an sin'in' in %er %ead as %is ton'ue cur ed sensua " around %er o!n$ %er bod" arc%ed$ and %er arms !ent %e & ess " u& around %is nec*. '4od in %ea#en$ !oman/' %e muttered %ot " as %e dre! a!a" from %er c in'in' mout%. 'Don't "ou *no! !e a read" attain t%e u timate1 An" more of "our more and !e'd ris* d"in'/' 'Se,/' s%e c%o*ed out !retc%ed "$ %er 'reen e"es o&enin' to f as% %im a bitter oo*. 'Do "ou %a#e to brin' e#er"t%in' do!n to se,1' 'It's !%at !e %a#e/' %e ras&ed. 'And a %e of a ot more t%an most &eo& e e#er *no!/ And "ou$' %e !arned$ 'are "in' to "ourse f if "ou tr" to dismiss a t%is as not%in'/' <I am not dismissin' it$' s%e denied$ %er bod" tremb in' as s%e tried to bac* out of %is &ossessi#e 'ras&. '3ut on its o!n it isn't enou'%/' 'It %as to be enou'%/' %e said t%ic* ". '3ecause I can't offer "ou more$ and "ou're foo in' "ourse f if "ou t%in* "ou can !a * a!a" from it$ And$ to &ro#e %is &oint$ %is mout% too* %ers !it% suc% de#astatin' &o!er t%at s%e me ted+me ted i*e !a, on a burnin' cand e$ me ted to %is *iss$ to t%e fee of %is %ands as t%e" fumb ed !it% t%e *not on %er robe t%en t%rust t%e fabric a!a". .e ted to t%e ra!$ sensua fee of %er na*ed f es% &ressin' a'ainst t%e rou'%ness of %is c ot%es. .e ted as %e mo#ed %is %ands ur'ent " do!n %er bod"$ t%e caress fi in' %er imbs !it% a dar* resonant !armt% t%at %ad %er c in'in' !ea* " to %im as t%ose *no!in' fin'ers ' ided o#er %er bab"(soft s*in unti t%e" reac%ed %er %i&s !%ere t%e" cur#ed &ossessi#e "$ %o din' %er firm in front of %im so t%at %e cou d t%rust %is o!n %i&s a'ainst %er in a s!eet$ &u sin' r%"t%m of need. He !as as aroused as s%e !as$ and t%at made %er me t a t%e more. T%is *iss !as i*e no ot%er t%e" %ad e#er s%ared+%ot and %un'r"$ so %un'r" t%at s%e cou dn't seem to 'et enou'% of %im and too* %is %ead bet!een %er %ands$ dra!in' %im c oser !it% tense$ tremb in' fin'ers.

T%e action %ad %er bod" stretc%in'$ arc%in'$ a ti'%t stin' of & easure rus%in' t%rou'% %er as %er na*ed breasts rubbed a'ainst %is %ea#in' c%est$ %er ni&& es ti'%t and t%robbin'. And s%e fe t i*e eas" meat to t%e ra#a'in' %unter. 3ut$ !orse$ s%e didn't care. 'You !ant me$' .ac c aimed t%ic* ". 'Yes.' S%e didn't e#en tr" to den" it. He !as a read" caressin' %er so intimate " t%at be %ad to *no! an"!a". 3ut concedin' t%at muc% did not mean s%e i*ed %erse f for it$ because s%e didn't$ and a on' !it% t%e s%ame of *no!in' %o! eas" s%e !as for %im came t%e burst of an'er+t%e *ind of an'er born of %ot$ s!eet &assion+ and on a sur'e of &ure anima re#en'e s%e s id one of %er o!n %ands do!n %is bod" to touc% %im$ fe t %is #io ent sur'e of & easure and dra''ed %er mout% from %is so t%at s%e cou d f are at %im in trium&%. 'And "ou !ant me/' s%e c aimed$ t%e !ords scra&in' %us*i " o#er %er o#e(dried t%roat. 'I'm not t%e one tr"in' to den" it$' %e 'ritted. 'You are/' :O%/ s%e 'roaned as %e mo#ed %is fin'ers in an intimate caress t%at set %er !%o e bod" s%udderin' %is res&onse. 'You s!ine/' s%e !%is&ered %e & ess ". '9or ma*in' "ou fee t%is 'ood1' .ac smi ed a a2" smi e t%at !as fu of sensua trium&%. <I can ma*e "ou fee e#en better$' %e murmured tem&tin' " a'ainst %er &arted mout%. 'Here and no!$ or &referab " bac* in C%e sea$ !%ere !e !on't be disturbed. You on " %a#e to sa" t%e !ord...' T%e !ord. T%e !ord !as '"es'+t%at !as a +)ust one sim& e !ord and %e !ou d carr" %er a!a" and a of t%is !ou d be for'otten. It e#en %o#ered on t%e ti& of %er ton'ue$ ur'ed t%ere b" %is *no!in' caresses and t%e de#astatin' tenderness of %is *iss. He did an une,&ected t%in' t%en. Instead of conso idatin' on t%e #ictor" %e !as %a#in' o#er %er senses$ %e &u ed a!a"$ *issed %er once more #er" 'ent " on t%e mout%$ and carefu " fo ded %er robe bac*

around %er bod". T%en %e too* %o d of %er %and and 'uided it bac* to %is o!n ardent " &u sin' bod". 'You$' %e !%is&ered rou'% ". 'On " "ou. Come %ome to me$ bunn" rabbit. Don't ma*e me be'. He %ad %er t%en. T%e dee&$ dar*$ t%robbin' t%ic*ness of %is #oice$ t%e !a" %e %ad used %is o!n #er" &ersona &et name for %er$ !%ic% on " esca&ed %is i&s !%en %e !as des&erate " aroused$ t%e %onest" !it% !%ic% %e !as te in' %er !%" %e !anted %er+and t%e & ea. A & ea s%e %ad ne#er e,&ected to %ear %im use+no matter %o! muc% %e mi'%t !ant to. T%e" a %ad %er !e and tru " beaten$ and s%e ifted %er e"es to te %im so$ 'i#e %im !%ate#er %e !anted from %er because ne#er$ e#er in t%e t!e #e mont%s s%e %ad *no!n %im %ad s%e e#er %eard .ac sound so utter " #u nerab e. T%en t%e sittin'(room door o&ened and 5oe !a *ed in. He &aused$ too* in at a sin' e ' ance )ust !%at !as 'oin' on$ and said in t%at i'%t( #oiced tone %e used to 'oad &eo& e into reaction$ '3een &rimin' m" date for me$ .ac1 No need$ bi' brot%er. I 6uite en)o" doin' t%at *ind of t%in' for m"se f.' Roberta )ust stood$ 'as&in' at t%e unbe ie#ab e crudit" in 5oe 's taunt$ but .ac !ent one ste& furt%er t%an t%at$ %is face contortin' !it% b ac* ra'e as %e s&un around$ too* one 'iant ste& to!ards 5oe and raised %is arm$ !it% a fist c enc%ed read" to &unc% %im on t%e )a!/ <No/ s%e cried$ ea&in' out to 'rab .ac's arm )ust in time to sto& %im andin' t%e b o!. T%e musc es beneat% %er fin'ers !ere bunc%ed and read"$ and it too* t%e fu stren't% of %er t!o %ands to %o d %im bac*. 'He !as on " tr"in' to ri e "ou$ .ac/' s%e said ur'ent ". 'P ease/' s%e & eaded !%en t%e musc es did not re a,. 3"es fierce !it% an'er$ %e turned on %er. 'You're defendin' %im after !%at %e's )ust im& ied1' %e c%o*ed. 'Of course I'm not defendin' %im/' s%e sna&&ed. '3ut %e's "our brot%er/ You don't &unc% "our brot%er )ust because %e %a&&ened to ma*e a rat%er crude )o*e/' '3ut !as it a )o*e1' Si #er(bri'%t e"es %ad narro!ed in %ard

sus&icion. His %and c osed around one of %er !rists !it% enou'% stren't% to ma*e %er !ince as %e )er*ed %er %ard u& a'ainst %im. 'Has %e been ma*in' a & a" for "ou be%ind m" damned bac*1' :Of course %e %asn't/ s%e denied$ starin' at %im as t%ou'% %e %ad 'one star*$ starin' mad$ but t%en s%e %ad not been a &art" to %is ro! !it% 5oe ear ier t%at da" and %er 'Ho! can "ou sus&ect suc% a rotten t%in' of 5oe 1' fe on deaf ears. '4od$' %e c%o*ed. 'And to t%in* I %ad a o!ed m"se f to be ie#e it !as a )ust t%e !i d ima'inin' of m" )ea ous mind/' 'A 's fair and a t%at$ 5oe &ut in$ seemin' to be de iberate " &ourin' oi on to t%e f ames of .ac's an'er. Roberta f as%ed %im a be!i dered oo*$ and !as s%oc*ed to see a ' int of co d ca cu ation ' eamin' in %is e"es. 'Sto& it$ 5oe /' s%e sna&&ed at %im. 'T%is is not funn"/' T%en$ incredu ous " to .ac$ 'You *no! t%ere's not%in' 'oin' on bet!een 5oe and me/' 'No1' .ac's e"es !ere so bri'%t !it% sus&icion no! t%at Roberta 6ui#ered. <T%en !%at t%e %e is %e doin' %ere$ !a *in' in as if %e !as e,&ected1' %e c%a en'ed ti'%t ". 'Per%a&s because I am$' 5oe inserted into Roberta's c ear %esitation. 'E,&ected$ I mean$ %e made &ro#o*in' " c ear. 'I'm ta*in' Roberta to dinner.' .ac turned on %im i*e a ratt esna*e read" to stri*e$ one %and sti !ra&&ed around Roberta's !aist in a bone(crus%in' 'ri& !%i e t%e ot%er !as c enc%in' into a fist a'ain. 'I'#e !arned "ou once a read" toda"$' %e bit out ti'%t ". 'Don't ma*e me re&eat m"se f.' 'And I !arned "ou too$ if "ou remember1' 5oe countered coo ". T%e t!o men ' ared at eac% ot%er$ t%e %osti it" bet!een t%em so stron' t%at it crac* ed in t%e air around t%em. -oo*in' an,ious " from one to t%e ot%er$ Roberta et out a &ained c%o*e. 'O%$ & ease/' s%e be''ed. 'Don't fa out because of me/ I cou dn't bear it/' 9or an ans!er .ac f ic*ed %is contem&tuous 'a2e a!a" from 5oe

and on to %er. '4et "our coat$' %e c i&&ed. '0e're ea#in'$ ri'%t no!.' '3ut I'#e arran'ed to %a#e dinner !it% 5oe toni'%t/' Her 'reen e"es a&&ea ed for %is understandin'. 'I can't )ustA' '-oo*/' %e 'round out !it% des&erate " !anin' &atience. 'It isn't a damned c%oice bet!een dinner !it% %im or comin' !it% me/ It's me "ou be on' to and me "ou're comin' !it% ri'%t no!/ So 'et "our damned coat/' '3ut I'm not e#en dressed/' s%e dec ared$ !it% a sense of utter disbe ief t%at an" of t%is !as rea " %a&&enin'. 'He doesn't need "ou dressed$ 5oe moc*ed a2i ". '0%en %as .ac e#er needed a !oman dressed1 I !ou d %a#e t%ou'%t t%at b" no!$ Roberta$ "ou !ou d *no! and understand t%at((((/' .ac did %it %im for t%at one. His fist anded on 5oe 's c%in !it% enou'% force to send %im sta''erin' bac*!ards a cou& e of ste&s before %is e's 'a#e out beneat% %im and %e fe $ *noc*in' o#er a sma tab e and andin' %ea#i " a'ainst t%e corner of it before %e reac%ed t%e f oor. On a %orrified cr" Roberta tried to 'o to %im$ but .ac sto&&ed %er$ %is %and ti'%tenin' around %er !rist to )er* %er bac* to %is side. '-ea#e %im$' %e ras&ed$ t%e an'er in %im &u sin' out of e#er" bunc%ed musc e in %is &o!erfu bod". '5ust 'o and 'et dressed.' He 'a#e %er an un'ent e s%o#e to!ards t%e door. :No$ 0%ere it came from Roberta did not *no!. Certain " before 5oe %ad come into t%e room s%e %ad !ea*ened enou'% to do an"t%in' .ac cou d as* of %er. 3ut t%e u' iness of t%e scene !%ic% %ad ensued$ & us somet%in' t%at 5oe %ad )ust said$ %ad brou'%t %er s%udderin' to %er senses. 4rim " s%e !ent to *nee do!n beside 5oe . :0%at do "ou mean+no1' .ac demanded rou'% "$ ' arin' as s%e

'ent " turned 5oe 's face so t%at s%e cou d see t%e dama'e .ac %ad done to %is )a!. His i& !as s& it and b eedin'$ %is )a! a read" turnin' an u' " s%ade of red. S%e found a &a&er tissue in %er robe &oc*et and carefu " & aced it a'ainst 5oe 's i&. '5ust !%at I said$' s%e ans!ered f at ". 'I'm not comin' !it% "ou.' A moment's si ence fo o!ed t%at$ as if .ac !as %a#in' difficu t" be ie#in' %is o!n ears$ t%en %e said rou'% "$ '3ecause I %it t%e fou ( mout%ed s!ine1' 'No$' s%e said. 'He deser#ed it.' 5oe 'rimaced at t%at$ ma*in' no attem&t to e#er %imse f u& from %is %udd ed &osition on t%e f oor. '3ut %e's a so ri'%t$ isn't %e1' S%e ifted em&t" 'reen e"es u& to .ac's. 'You do on " !ant me for m" bod". I'm not%in' s&ecia to "ou and ne#er !i be$ !i I1 I'm not comin' bac* to "ou$ .ac$ s%e conc uded !it% du fina it". He didn't sa" a !ord$ not a sin' e !ord. And t%e si ence c attered around a t%ree of t%em as %e stood t%ere$ ' arin' at t%e t!o of t%em on t%e f oor at %is feet. T%en$ in a #oice Roberta bare " reco'nised as %is$ it !as so ra!$ .ac said$ 'To %e !it% "ou$ t%en$' and$ !it% a ast searin' oo* at 5oe $ %e turned and !a *ed out of t%e room$ s%ou derin' aside 5enn"$ !%o %ad )ust a&&eared at t%e sittin'(room door$ as if s%e !eren't t%ere. '." 4od$' 5enn" 'as&ed into t%e t%robbin' tension %e eft be%ind %im. '0%at's been 'oin' on in %ere1' T%en s%e sa! 5oe $ sti sittin' on t%e f oor$ nursin' %is )a!$ and a arm !idened %er bi' bro!n e"es. '5oe /' s%e cried. 'You'#e cut "our i&/' T%e front door s ammed7 Roberta san* !ea* " into a nearb" c%air$ co#erin' %er burnin' e"es !it% a co d and tremb in' %and. '0%" did "ou do it$ 5oe 1' s%e !%is&ered t%ic* ". '0%" did "ou %a#e to ri e %im i*e t%at1' 'Contrar" to "our ear ier statement toda"$ .iss C%and er$' %e dra! ed as %e dra''ed %imse f to %is feet$ '"ou do need &rotection !%en %e's around. Or %adn't "ou rea ised t%at "ou !ere about to ie

do!n and et %im !a * a o#er "ou "et a'ain1' S%e !inced at t%e &ointed sarcasm$ t%e un&a atab e trut% in it s%ri#e in' %er insides !it% s%ame. 5oe !as ri'%t and s%e %ad been read"+more t%an read"+to do an"t%in' .ac !anted %er to do. :0%ic% doesn't mean "ou %ad to be t%e one to &rotect me$ s%e cried. 'You and .ac are brot%ers/' He nodded. 'And it's because I o#e m" brot%er t%at I did !%at I did/' :3" de iberate " 'oadin' %im into %ittin' "ou1' s%e c%o*ed. '3" &retendin' "ou %ad somet%in' intimate 'oin' !it% me/'

'It !or*ed$ didn't it1' %e countered. 'He came on to "ou a mac%o and read" to dra' "ou off b" "our %air. S%e si'%ed im&atient "$ %a f !is%in' t%at s%e %ad ne#er started a of t%is. 'I !i not be a &art" to & a"in' 'ames !it% .ac's fee in's$ 5oe $' s%e stated firm ". '0%" not1' %e as*ed. 'He's been & a"in' 'ames !it% "our fee in's for on' enou'%/ No$ isten to me$' %e !ent on 6uic* " as Roberta &a ed under t%at bruta t%rust. '.ac o#es "ou$ Roberta. He %as from t%e first moment %e aid e"es on "ou$ on " %e's )ust too damned t%ic* to reco'nise it. He needs !a*in' u&$' %e stated f at ". 'And if "ou o#e %im as muc% as "ou seem to do$ t%en "ou' %e & !a*e %im u& before %e oses %is ast c%ance to 'ain some &ro&er %a&&iness in %is ife/' 'He's not S ee&in' 3eaut"/' s%e cried$ oo*in' at 5oe as if %e'd 'one star*$ starin' mad. 'Yes$ %e is+in a !a"$' 5oe insisted$ t%ou'% %e smi ed at t%e com&arison %e %ad un!ittin' " made. 'On " in .ac's case %e !as &ric*ed in t%e fin'er b" t%e marria'e tra&$ and is so damned scared of bein' &ric*ed a'ain t%at %e daren't e#en oo* true o#e in t%e face !it%out brea*in' out into a co d s!eat/' <True o#e/' s%e scoffed. 'You're t%e one !%o's b ind if "ou rea "

be ie#e t%at. .ac doesn't !ant me because %e o#es me/ He !ants me because I e,cite %im in bed/' 'And no !onder$ if "ou f ame as s&ectacu ar " in &assion as "ou do in an'er/' %e dra! ed$ %a2e e"es t!in* in' as t%e" ran o#er %er o!n s&ar* in' e"es$ %er de irious " tremb in' mout% and t%e !ic*ed sensua it" of %er %ea#in' breasts. '0e $ find some ot%er suc*er to !a*e "our brot%er u&$' s%e sna&&ed. 'I no on'er care for t%e )ob.' 5oe !as si ent for a moment$ %is e"es fi,ed on %er bo!ed %ead !%i e %e & a"ed !ari " !it% %is s!e in' )a!$ t%en %e said carefu "$ 'I su&&ose dinner is off too1 On " -ou !i be((((((( '

Her %ead sna&&ed u&$ %er 'reen e"es t%reatenin' to s& ice %im in t!o. 'O8+O8/' %e said$ &uttin' u& a defendin' %and. 'I can see t%at "ou're too an'r" !it% .ac to eat a sin' e morse $ so I' )ust ta*e m"se f off$ and.. . It !asn't )ust .ac s%e !as an'r" !it%+and 5oe *ne! it. '5ust 'et out of %ere$ 5oe $' s%e su''ested %us*i ". '3efore I do somet%in' !e mi'%t bot% re'ret/'

CHAPTER 9O;R '0HAT !as a t%at about1' 5enn" demanded in be!i derment once 5oe %ad eft. 'Not%in'$ Roberta said !eari ". '5ust 5oe & a"in' one of %is sic* )o*es on %is brot%er at m" e,&ense/' 'You mean it !as .ac !%o s& it %is i&1' 5enn" 'as&ed in disbe ief. '0e $ it certain " !asn't me/' Roberta derided$ t%en added 'rim "$ '3ut I'm no! !is%in' it %ad been/' 0%o did %e t%in* %e !as$ s%e t%ou'%t an'ri "$ tr"in' to interfere in

%er and .ac's &ri#ate ife1 And %o! dared %e su''est t%at %is brot%er o#ed %er1 .ac didn't *no! t%e meanin' of o#e. He on " *ne! t%e meanin' of se,. And s%e !as !e rid of %im/ s%e to d %erse f stubborn ". 3ut %ours ater$ %a#in' s%ared a i'%t mea !it% 5enn"$ t%en turned %er attention to t%e T? set$ Roberta %ad to admit t%at s%e !asn't !atc%in' an"t%in'. In fact$ s%e %adn't %eard or seen a sin' e t%in' t%at t%e T? %ad been c%uc*in' at %er a e#enin'/ S%e !as !aitin'$ s%e rea ised. S%e !as sittin' %ere in a definite tense !aitin' mode$ !aitin' for .ac to rin'+ %o&in' t%at %e !ou d rin'/ Yet %o&in' )ust as des&erate " t%at %e !ou d not. S%e si'%ed and si'%ed a'ain$ !is%in' t%at t%ese stran'e sensations s%e !as e,&eriencin' inside did not ma*e %er fee so+!retc%ed/ You're in mournin'$ s%e dia'nosed %er &rob em. .ournin' a dead o#e. No$ not dead$ s%e t%en re#ised t%at t%ou'%t. 3ut cast into a se f( im&osed e,i e. 0%ic% on " made it %arder to dea !it%$ sim& " because s%e *ne! s%e !as %a#in' to fi'%t %er o!n decision$ %er o!n fee in's !%i e *no!in'(!e $ %a f *no!in'+t%at .ac !ou d ta*e %er bac* if s%e )ust 'ot u& no! and !ent to %im. .ac. T%ose tin" musc es dee& inside %er 6ui#ered$ %er senses be'innin' to ac%e !it% a !retc%ed need )ust t%in*in' about %im. About t%e s%eer mascu ine beaut" of %is dar* 'ood oo*s. His a2" smi e. His sensua *iss. His i'%t$ *no!in' touc%... Her fin'ers t!itc%ed$ t%en be'an to tin' e !%en s%e remembered )ust !%ere s%e %ad ast touc%ed %im intimate ". So !arm$ so stron'$ so &otent " aroused t%at s%e %ad to be mad to be 'i#in' u& t%e *ind of & easure %e cou d 'enerate for :Im 'oin' to ma*e a coffee. Do "ou !ant one1' Roberta b in*ed$ t%e sound of 5enn"'s #oice dro&&in' %er i*e a ift do!n ten f oors as s%e came out of %er re#erie. 'I+no$ t%an* "ou$' s%e ans!ered %us*i ". 'I

t%in* I' )ust 'o to bed...' 'O8$' 5enn" acce&ted easi " enou'%$ but %er e"es !ere *no!in' as s%e !atc%ed Roberta ea#e t%e room$ *no!in' as !e as Roberta did t%at s%e !ou dn't s ee& a !in* toni'%t$ no matter %o! %ard s%e tried. And s%e didn't. S%e a" t%ere t%in*in' instead. T%in*in' of .ac as t%e d"namic businessman s%e %ad first met in 5oe 's office on " da"s after s%e )oined t%e com&an". He'd oo*ed ean$ c ean$ s%ar& and a i#e$ t%e !e (structured s%a&e of %is bod" b" no means dis'uised b" t%e con#entiona na#" b ue suit and &a e b ue s%irt %e %ad been !earin'.

He %ad been au'%in' !it% 5oe !%en s%e %ad oo*ed u& and seen %im for t%e first time and$ i*e a frame ta*en out of time$ s%e cou d sti %o d t%at &icture of %im !it% %is %ead t%ro!n bac*$ %is b ac* %air s%inin' in t%e o#er%ead i'%ts$ %is face ean and ric% " tanned because +s%e'd found out ater+%e %ad )ust returned from a mont%( on' %o ida" sai in' around t%e 3a%amas !it% %is teena'e dau'%ter. S%e cou d sti see %is mout%$ disturbin' " sensua e#en !%i e !earin' t%at amused smi e. And %is e"es$ a soft$ au'%in' 're" t%at %ad !anned %er t%rou'% to %er #er" core !%en t%e" %ad sudden " sett ed on to %er. 5oe %ad seen !%at !as %a&&enin' to %er and %ad smi ed !r" " as %e'd introduced t%em. 'Our c%airman$ So omon .ac aine$' %e'd introduced .ac dri ". T%en to .ac$ 'Roberta C%and er$ m" ne! PA.' '3ertie for s%ort1 Or e#en somet%in' more e,otic( i*e 3unn"1' .ac as*ed$ ste&&in' for!ard to ta*e %er %and. :No/' s%e denied$ stru'' in' to maintain %er com&osure because$ e#en t%en$ t%e sim& est touc% of %is %and %ad fi ed %er !it% a %ot$ stif in' breat% essness s%e %ad ne#er e,&erienced before. 'No one e#er ca s me 3unn"$' s%e &rotested. 'And I !ou dn't ans!er to it if an"one did/' 'E,ce&t for a o#er$ of course$' .ac added outra'eous "$ and !atc%ed !it% a *ind of sur&rised fascination as a b us% ran ri'%t u& %er cream" c%ee*s.

'Not e#en t%en$' s%e demurred$ o!erin' %er 'a2e from %is because s%e )ust didn't *no! %o! to %and e t%e messa'es %is e"es !ere sendin'. '0e' see$ %e murmured soft ". And t%e" %ad seen.

Her stomac% cur ed$ forcin' %er bod" to cur !it% it into a ti'%t ba of ac%in' miser" as %er memor" & a"ed anot%er &icture across %er mindB a &icture of t%e t!o of t%em "in' na*ed on a !%ite(s%eeted bed$ s%e su&ine beneat% %im !%i e %e a" abo#e %er$ %is bod" %ot and %ard$ s%eened i*e si * b" a fine a"er of moisture$ t%e intensit" of t%eir desire for one anot%er so concentrated t%at not%in' e se in t%e !or d e,isted. :3unn"...' s%e cou d %ear %im !%is&er$ t%e erotic !onder in t%e soft$ %us*" sound enou'% to ti& %er$ 'roanin'$ ri'%t o#er t%e ed'e. T%en$ more often t%an not$ t%e &%one !ou d rin'$ s%e reminded %erse f staunc% ". And it !ou d be De ia or -u u demandin' %is attention+and 'ettin' it as t%e" bruta " reminded %im !%ere %is &riorities a". 0it% t%em$ not !it% %er. Not !it% %is current bimbo$ !%o !as t%ere to be used and discarded as t%e moment demanded/ 4rim " s%e turned %er face into %er &i o!$ and forced %erse f to remember t%e bad side of .ac. His care ess indifference to %er dee&er fee in's. His crass se fis%ness in t%e s%ru''in' !a" t%at %e !ou d dismiss an" &rotest s%e mi'%t &ut u& a'ainst %is demandin' fami " !it% a sim& e$ 'I'm sorr"$ Roberta$ but I %a#e to 'o.' And t%at !ou d be t%e end of t%at. S%e !ou d re#ert bac* to bein' Roberta a'ain$ and t%e '3unn"' %e %ad )ust been so com& ete " en'rossed in !ou d become not%in' but a s%ado!ed memor"$ ost be%ind more &ressin' concerns. Hea#"(e"ed from a rotten ni'%t of rest ess batt e !it% %er emotions$ and fee in' bad(tem&ered enou'% to sco! at an"one !%o so muc% as

' anced %er !a"$ Roberta !a *ed into t%e & us% e,ecuti#e fo"er of .ac aines$ read" to do batt e !it% an"one !%o dared ta*e %er on/

3ut 5oe !as %er u timate tar'et$ since %e$ in %er !retc%ed state of mind$ %ad become no better t%an .ac !it% %is outra'eous be%a#iour of t%e ni'%t before. So s%e !as read" for a ro! in more !a"s t%an one as s%e too* t%e ift u& to t%e e,ecuti#e f oor and !a *ed in t%rou'% t%e doors !%ic% ed to 5oe .ac%ine's &ersona suite of offices+on " to %a#e %er b a2in' 'uns s&i*ed t%e moment s%e arri#ed. 'Emer'enc"+emer'enc"/' .it2" c%anted !it% bris* !%ims" t%e moment s%e sa! Roberta. '5oe %as been ca ed a!a" to dea !it% some ur'ent business do!n Portsmout% !a"$ and "ou're to 'o to =uric% instead of %im.' '.e1' Roberta c%o*ed. '3ut I don't %a#e t%e aut%orit" to si'n dea s for .ac aines/ 'You aren't to si'n an"t%in'$' .it2" informed %er. '5ust sta t%em unti 5oe can 'et t%ere in a cou& e of da"s' time.' '3ut t%at's cra2" o'ic/' Roberta &rotested. '9ranc 3runner !as a read" turnin' s%" on 9rida" afternoon. If !e don't stri*e !%i e t%e iron is %ot !e ma" ose t%e dea a to'et%er.' .it2" )ust s%ru''ed$ as if t%at !asn't %er &rob em$ and &ic*ed u& a bu *" fi e !%ic% s%e %e d out to Roberta. <T%is is for "ou$ s%e said. 'E#er"t%in' to do !it% 3runner's is in it. 5oe said "ou'#e to ta*e it !it% "ou and sift t%rou'% it !it% a fine(toot% comb$ oo*in' for oo&%o es$ t%en use t%em as sta in' fodder unti %e can 'et t%ere. He rec*ons t%at 9ranc 3runner is &u in' a fast one in t%e %o&es of 'ettin' more mone" from us$ and 5oe is )ust not 'oin' to & a".' At ast/ Roberta t%ou'%t !it% a dee& sense of re ief. At ast 5oe %as seen t%e i'%t of da"/ '3runner$ %e said to remind "ou$' .it2" continued$ 'needs us more

t%an !e need %im. So a bit of co d s%ou der from us ri'%t no! ma" %e & remind t%e craft" o d de#i of t%at. So I'm to &ut toda"'s meetin' !it% 3runner bac* unti tomorro! mornin' and "ou're boo*ed on t%e unc%time f i'%t out of Heat%ro! to =uric% toda"$ so "ou'#e 'ot t%e rest of toda" to 'o t%rou'% t%at ot.' S%e &ointed at t%e fi e !%i e i'norin' Roberta's b an*(e"ed consternation. 'T%ere's a %ote room a read" boo*ed in t%e com&an" name$ s%e !ent on bris* "$ namin' one of t%e to& internationa %ote s$ 'and "ou're 'oin' to %a#e to %o& to it if "ou !ant to 'o %ome and &ac* a ba' before "ou catc% t%at f i'%t.' '0%en did 5oe or'anise a of t%is1' s%e as*ed in a be!i dered #oice. 'T%is mornin'$' .it2" said$ addin' dri "$ '?er" ear " t%is mornin'+ !%en %e c%ased me out of bed and %ad me in %ere at si,(t%irt"$ no ess$ and I am not amused/ 'No$' Roberta murmured t%ou'%tfu "$ 'I can see "ou're not. If %e %ad to incon#enience one of us$ t%en !%" didn't %e %a#e me dra''ed out of bed$ since I seem to be t%e one a t%ese orders are bein' t%ro!n at1' .it2" )ust s%ru''ed. 'Don't as* me to e,& ain %o! %is mind !or*s$' s%e sni&ed. 'A I *no! is t%at$ b" t%e time I 'ot in %ere$ %e !as a read" runnin' around i*e a demented f ". And a of t%at((((( ' s%e &ointed to t%e fi e a'ain '+!as a read" com&i ed and !aitin' for "ou.' 'So$ !%at's %a&&ened at Portsmout%1 Roberta t%en en6uired$ rememberin' 5oe 's dinner !it% -ou Sa es ast ni'%t. 'A&&arent " .r Sa es %as an en'ineerin' &rob em$' .it2" e,& ained. :So 5oe %as 'one do!n t%ere to %e & sort it out. 0%ic% ea#es me$' s%e t%en added com& ain(in' "$ 'runnin' t%is de&artment a b" m"se f/' 0e $ &er%a&s it !as for t%e best$ Roberta decided as s%e !aited to board %er f i'%t at Heat%ro! Air&ort. 9a in' out !it% 5oe as !e as .ac !ou d do %er no 'ood in t%e end. S%e did$ after a $ %a#e to !or* c ose " !it% %im. And %e !as a 'ood boss to !or* for most of t%e time. It !as on " !%ere t%eir re ations%i& o#er a&&ed from business into t%e &ersona t%at t%in's 'ot com& icated$ and &er%a&s$ from no! on$ s%e s%ou d ma*e sure t%at it didn't %a&&en a'ain. Per%a&s "ou s%ou d %a#e a&& ied t%e same &iece of ad#ice to t%e

com&an" c%airman/ s%e t%en to d %erse f 'rim ". T%en "ou !ou dn't be fee in' as rotten as "ou're fee in' ri'%t no!. 0%ic%$ a'ain$ &robab " made =uric% t%e best & ace s%e cou d be for t%e ne,t fe! da"s+if on " because it & aced %er be"ond tem&tation !%ere .ac !as concerned. At east in =uric% s%e cou dn't$ e#en if s%e !anted to$ !ea*en %er reso #e and see %im. .ac...s%e t%ou'%t !istfu " t%en$ ruinin' a %er 'ood common(sense t%in*in' b" driftin' off into a !or d dominated b" t%e man. A man !%o e,uded &o!er and a menacin' se,ua it" !%ere#er %e !as or !%ate#er situation %e !as in. i*e in %is office on t%e f oor abo#e %er o!n$ )ust sittin' be%ind %is bi' red eat%er(in aid des*$ %e mana'ed to oo2e enou'% c%arisma to c%ar'e %er u& se,ua ". Or !a *in' out of t%e bat%room at %is C%e sea f at after an in#i'oratin' s%o!er$ so utter " at ease !it% %is o!n na*edness t%at %e !ou d %a#e t%e 'a to 'rin at %er !ide(e"ed$ %un'r" stare because %e *ne! !%at %is na*edness did to %er. Arro'ant de#i $ s%e t%ou'%t no!$ but "earnin' ". Dressed or undressed %e !as one #ibrant " se," man. He e#en oo*ed 'reat in tennis !%ites$ %ard musc es ri&& in' as %e & a"ed !it% a &o!er(%ouse accurac" !%ic% s%o!ed %o! easi " %e cou d %a#e ta*en t%e 'ame u& &rofessiona " !it% a itt e encoura'ement from %is &arents7 %e !as t%at 'ood. 3ut t%e" %adn't encoura'ed %im$ and t%at 'rim con#ersation t%e" %ad once s%ared in t%e dar*ness of t%eir bedroom one ni'%t came bac* to remind %er. A ni'%t !%en t%e" %ad made o#e !it% no interru&tions to s&oi t%e beaut" of it$ !%en s%e %ad istened to %im ta *$ %er bod" cur ed c ose " into %is !%i e %e to d %er about %imse f$ about %is ambitions$ %is re'rets$ %is secret dreams. S%e %ad been so sure t%at %e !as comin' to o#e %er t%en7 !%" e se !ou d %e %a#e o&ened %imse f u& to %er t%e !a" %e %ad1 T%e !a" %e %ad &e&&ered %is !ords !it% soft$ o#in' *isses and i'%t touc%es$ as t%ou'% needin' to reassure %imse f t%at s%e !as t%ere !it% %im in t%e dar*ness !%i e %e ta *ed$ %ad confirmed as muc%$ ' %is #oice 6uiet and o!$ te in' %er t%in's s%e cou d %a#e a most s!orn %e %ad ne#er to d

an"one e se. T%in's about %is ear " "ears at boardin'(sc%oo $ !%en ' %e %ad missed %is &arents so muc% t%at %e'd %ad to earn to c%anne %is ener'ies into somet%in' demandin' or et t%e rest of t%e bo"s see %o! &at%etica " %omesic* %e !as. Ho! it %ad been "ears ater before %e disco#ered t%at t%e"'d a fe t t%e same !a"+ ost$ one "$ #u nerab e$ re)ected. Some %ad found t%eir succour in %ard stud"$ ot%ers$ i*e %imse f$ %ad found it in s&ort. Not t%at be %ad sacrificed %is education to it. -uc*i "$ %e'd admitted$ %e %adn't needed to$ since a natura abi it" to absorb facts and fi'ures %ad %e &ed %im sai t%rou'% %is academic studies !it% a minimum of effort so t%at %e cou d sin* a of %is &assion into s&ort. Ru'b"$ cric*et$ and abo#e a tennis. He'd to d %er of %is sense of &ride and ac%ie#ement !%en %e !as se ected to & a" for %is count"+on " to %a#e %is &arents b oc* t%e c%ance. S&ort$ t%e"'d to d %im$ !as a !e and 'ood in its & ace. 3ut t%eir e dest son !as destined for better t%in's. He !as %eir to t%e 'reat .ac aine em&ire$ !%ic% meant an"t%in' s&ort" %ad to ta*e a bac* seat. He'd to d %er %o! s%eer frustration and disa&&ointment %ad made %im rebe t%en$ and s%e cou d sti fee t%e !a" %is sma 'rimace %ad brus%ed a'ainst %er c%ee* !%en %e'd to d %er %o!$ t%at summer of %is ei'%teent% birt%da"$ %e %ad reacted b" c%uc*in' a %is s&ortin' e6ui&ment into t%e rubbis% bin and refusin' &oint(b an* to & a" a'ain+ e#en for %is sc%oo . He %ad 'one a itt e !i d after t%at$ not on " rebe in' a'ainst %is be o#ed s&ort but rebe in' a'ainst ife itse f$ refusin' to conform to an"t%in'$ and fa in' into one mad 'affe after anot%er$ unti t%e u timate 'affe %ad been to ma*e De ia &re'nant. His &arents !ere & eased+%er &arents !ere & eased$ since t%eir dau'%ter %ad been be%a#in' no better t%an %e %ad been be%a#in'. It meant t%e" cou d s i& t%e reins on t%eir !i d c%i dren and tu' t%em firm " bac* into ine. T%eir marria'e$ %e'd %ea#i " confessed$ %ad been a disaster a most from t%e moment it %ad be'un. T%e"'d bot% been too "oun'$ bot% %ad %ad too man" ot%er t%in's in ife t%e" !ou d rat%er be doin' t%an & a"in' %ouse and bein' &arents t%emse #es$ !%en t%e" !ere sti of an a'e !%ere e#en t%e !ord '&arent' !as enou'% to ma*e

t%em burn !it% resentment. T%eir on " sa#in' 'race$ %e'd conceded$ !as t%at t%e" %ad bot% adored -u u from t%e #er" moment s%e !as born. T%e" %ad doted on %er$ %er 'rand&arents %ad doted on %er. And if in &ri#ate %e and De ia %ad fou'%t i*e cat and do'$ in front of -u u$ or t%eir res&ecti#e &arents$ t%e"'d be%a#ed i*e star(crossed o#ers$ if on " to *ee& %idden from si'%t t%e miser" t%at t%eir rec* essness %ad &aid t%em bac* !it%. He %ad s%o!ed NO interest in an"t%in' s&ort" for "ears after t%at$ t%en one da" 5oe %ad arri#ed at %is door !it% t!o tennis rac*ets in %is %and and a bo"is% 'rin on %is face as %e'd said$ 'P ease$ .ac$ !i "ou come out and & a" !it% me1' Roberta %eard .ac's fond au'%ter ec%o bac* to %er from t%at dar*$ s&ecia ni'%t$ fu of !arm and o#in' affection for %is on " brot%er. So %e %ad started & a"in' tennis a'ain+a'ainst 5oe main "+once a'ain usin' t%e 'ame as succour to %is fee in's$ #entin' a t%e an'r" frustrations %e %ad been storin' u& inside because bot% %e and De ia *ne! t%en(marria'e !as on t%e roc*s but neit%er !ou d ma*e t%e mo#e to end it because t%e" !ere bot% so re uctant to %urt -u u and disa&&oint t%eir &arents "et a'ain. Roberta si'%ed to %erse f. T%e un%a&&iness and frustration .ac %ad endured t%rou'% t%ose "ears %ad been so &a &ab e as %e'd described t%em t%at s%e cou d sti %urt for %im no! as muc% as s%e %ad done t%e ni'%t %e %ad to d %er about t%em. T%en t%e crunc% %ad come$ s%e reca ed. 3" t%en$ %e and De ia !ere eadin' #irtua " se&arate i#es$ e,ce&t for t%e fact t%at t%e" sti i#ed in t%e same %ouse. .ac !as bein' 'roomed to ta*e o#er from %is fat%er$ !%ose %eart condition !as a read" a cause for concern$ so %e'd found %imse f !or*in' a t%e %ours 4od sent %im in an effort to ease %is fat%er's !or* oad !%i e De ia )ust did %er o!n t%in'$ unfettered b" a %usband !%o rea " did not care !%at t%at t%in' !as so on' as s%e !as discreet about it. T%en one ni'%t %e'd come %ome a da" ear " from a business tri& to t%e States$ to find De ia !it% anot%er man. A ri'%t$ %e'd conceded$ so %e %ad *no!n s%e too* o#ers$ but$ as far as %e %ad been a!are$ s%e did not s ee& !it% t%em in t%eir %ome/

And findin' a stran'e man !anderin' about t%e & ace$ as if %e be on'ed t%ere$ %ad acted i*e a cata "st to ten "ears of toein' t%e ine for e#er"one e se's sa*e/ And %e'd decided t%at if De ia cou d not res&ect t%eir %ome as a sanctuar" from e#er"t%in' e se t%e" did a&art$ t%en %e !anted no more of t%eir marria'e$ so %e'd mo#ed out and fi ed for di#orce. No one %ad i*ed it. His &arents !ere furious. De ia !as furious because s%e'd 6uite i*ed t%e eas" ifest" e t%eir indifferent marria'e offered %er. And t%e ten("ear(o d -u u %ad been utter " inconso ab e. S%e'd #o!ed ne#er to s&ea* to %im a'ain$ and certain "$ for on'$ !retc%ed mont%s$ %ad %e d ti'%t to t%at #o!. T%en %is fat%er %ad %ad anot%er %eart attac* !%ic% %ad &ro#ed fata +)ust anot%er burden of 'ui t %e %ad to carr" around !it% %im. It !as a!fu $ %e %ad confessed. A c%a&ter in %is ife %e sti %ad not come to terms !it% and !ou d ne#er !ant to re&eat so on' as %e i#ed. 0%ic% !as !%" %e !as so a'ainst marria'e$ Roberta %ad conc uded$ and !%" %is fami " sti %e d %im b" t%e a&ron(strin's. 'E,cuse me$ madam1' Roberta b in*ed$ brin'in' %er e"es into focus on t%e smi in' %ostess !%o !as eanin' to!ards %er. '0ou d "ou fasten "our seatbe t$ & ease1 0e are about to and.' -and1 Roberta b in*ed a'ain$ stunned b" t%e fact t%at s%e seemed to %a#e mana'ed to 'et %erse f on to t%e & ane and t%rou'% t%e !%o e )ourne" !it%out e#en rememberin' ea#in' Heat%ro!/ .ac/ s%e b amed an'ri ". S%e %ad ost %erse f in %er fa#ourite fantas" ca ed .ac.

S%e !as beautifu as a !a"s$ %er s ender cur#es c ot%ed in a mint( 'reen suit$ and %er &a e b onde %air %ad e#er" man in t%e near #icinit" turnin' to admire %er as s%e &aused in front of t%e sea of faces

f an*in' t%e arri#a s ba". Not t%at Roberta noticed t%eir interest. S%e !as too bus" readin' t%e se ection of ca (cards bein' %e d u& for t%e benefit of &eo& e i*e %erse f !%o !ere bein' met b" a stran'er. Anot%er of 5oe 's 6uic* arran'ements. A friend of %is$ %e'd to d .it2" to te %er$ !%o %ad &romised to oo* after %er unti %e cou d 'et t%ere %imse f. A&&arent " %e !as to act as inter&reter(cum(c%auffeur for an" meetin's s%e mi'%t set u& !it% 9ranc 3runner. 0%ic% did not seem at a necessar" to %er$ since 9ranc 3runner s&o*e &erfect En' is%. 3ut$ !it% a menta s%ru'$ s%e as*ed %erse f !%o s%e !as to 6uestion t%e boss's arran'ements and continued scannin' t%e ro! of cards$ unti %er e"es co ided !it% %er o!n name$ restin' a'ainst t%e !%ite(s%irted c%est of a man !%o$ e#en as s%e !a *ed coo " to!ards %im$ &ut %er instincts on red a ert as s%e read t%e a2" interest in %is &a e b ue e"es. Ta and ra*e(s ender$ t%e !ord '%andsome' !ent no!%ere near describin' %is b ond 'ood oo*s. 3ut !%at !as more to t%e &oint !as t%at t%e man *ne! it and$ b" t%e ra*is% &ose %e ado&ted !%en %e sa! %er !a *in' to!ards %im$ !as t%e *ind !%o fed on %is oo*s for a %e !as !ort%. S%e %ad t%at confirmed t%e moment s%e sto&&ed in front of %im and recei#ed a smi e fit to burn t%e stoc*in's of a esser !oman. '.iss C%and er1' %e en6uired$ !it% a & easant i t to %is 4erman accent. '." name is 8ar -orin'$ and I am to be "our com&anion for t%e ne,t fe! da"s.' 0it% a discardin' f ouris% of t%e ca (card$ %e %e d out %is %and to %er instead. Roberta too* it. '.r -orin'$ s%e ac*no! ed'ed$ 't%an* "ou for 'i#in' u& "our time at suc% s%ort notice.' '." & easure$' %e smi ed. '5oe ne#er to d me %e %ad suc% a beautifu assistant. I can see it is 'oin' to be m" & easure+entire ".' T%e barest %int of a 6uestion in t%at ast &art made Roberta ' ance at %im sa'e ". S%e !as 'oin' to %a#e troub e !it% 8ar -orin' if s%e !asn't carefu $ s%e noted 'rim ". T%e man !as a c%armer$ t%rou'% and t%rou'%. And conceited enou'% to e,&ect %is ad#ances to be !e come.

'S%a !e 'o1' s%e su''ested coo "$ and !as irritated to !atc% %is &a e e"es be'in to ' eam as %e %eard and understood t%e si ent brus%( off in %er tone. S%e'd on " mana'ed to !%et %is a&&etite$ s%e rea ised. Sti $ %e %ad ob#ious " decided to %an' fire for t%e time bein' because a %e did ne,t !as offer to carr" %er sma !ee*end ba' for %er$ t%en too* a i'%t 'ri& on %er arm to 'uide %er out of t%e bui din'. His car !as a s ee*$ to&(of(t%e(ran'e !%ite 3.0$ and %e dro#e into t%e cit" !it% smoot% efficienc"$ %a&&"$ it seemed$ to c%atter on about %imse f !it%out rea " e,&ectin' an" in&ut from %er. He !as a&&arent " an inter&reter b" trade but$ because %e came from a certain socia bac*'round$ %is ar'e circ e of friends %e d & aces of some &o!er in t%e business communit" !%ic% meant t%at %e %ad access to a ot of su&&osed " c assified information t%at %e !as !i in' to &ass on for t%e ri'%t incenti#e. .one"$ in ot%er !ords$ Roberta noted !r" ". And assumed %e must do 6uite !e at it$ if %is car and t%e e,&ensi#e cut of %is c ot%es !ere a 'uide. And s%e su&&osed t%at %is eas" c%arm and aid(bac* manner !or*ed !e on a ot of &eo& e. S%e fro!ned$ !onderin' %o! 5oe cou d %a#e been foo ed into be ie#in' t%e ima'e. E"ein' 8ar surre&titious "$ s%e made %erse f oo* be"ond t%e %andsome &rofi e to t%e substance beneat%. T%ere !as a s%re!dness about t%ose e"es$ s%e sa!$ and somet%in' about t%e smi in' mout% t%at %inted at an abi it" for rut% essness. Yes$ s%e decided. T%is man !as c e#er+c e#erer t%an s%e %ad first 'i#en %im credit for. His %andsome & a"(bo"is% manner cou d )ust be a c oa* %e i*ed to %ide be%ind$ and %is a2" c%arm &robab " 'ot %im & aces ot%er!ise c osed to %im. S%e cou d !e ima'ine t%is man bein' dismissed b" %is &eers as em&t" and %arm ess$ !%en in actua fact %e !as a fo,. A s ee*$ smoot%$ beautifu " 'roomed but #er" cunnin' fo,. Pu in' u& outside t%e %ote $ %e *i ed t%e en'ine$ t%en turned t%at si22 in' smi e on %er a'ain. 'S%a !e start b" s%arin' dinner toni'%t1' %e su''ested. '.a"be 'et to *no! eac% ot%er a itt e better before !e

rea " %a#e to &ut our minds to !or* tomorro!.' Roberta fro!ned. 'I don't *no!...' s%e murmured uncertain "$ %a#in' no !is% to a ienate %im$ e#en if %e cou d become a &rob em. 3ut %e !as a friend of 5oe 's$ and 5oe !as %er boss. 'I %a#e a ot of &a&er!or* to 'o t%rou'% if I'm to be of an" use at a %ere to 5oe ' S%e &osed %er refusa carefu ". 'A !or* and no & a"$ .iss C%and er$' %e c%anted teasin' ". 'And "ou %a#e t%is afternoon to dedicate to !or*. T%in* about it$' %e ur'ed %er %us*i ". 'Per%a&s b" toni'%t "ou !i be cr"in' out for a itt e i'%t re ief from "our &a&er!or*. 0%" not use me$ and a s%ared dinner$ for t%at di#ersion1' His e"es$ mout%$ t%e s%eer bod"( an'ua'e of t%e man itera " oo2ed se,ua c%arm+so muc% so t%at s%e actua " fe t %erse f be'innin' to res&ond to it/ And !%" not1 s%e sudden " as*ed %erse f be i'erent ". You're a free a'ent no!/ You can res&ond to !%ome#er "ou & ease/ 'A ri'%t$ .r -orin'$' s%e %eard %erse f acce&tin'. 'And t%an* "ou for as*in' me. '8ar $ & ease$' %e in#ited$ %is e"es a i'%t !it% e,&ectanc". Her %esitation !as on " s i'%t before s%e returned t%e in#itation. 'Roberta$' s%e informed %im$ and %is & eased smi e at %er ac6uiescence must %a#e been infectious because s%e found %erse f smi in' too. 'S%a !e sa" se#en(t%irt"$ t%en1' %e su''ested. 5ust !%at I needed/ s%e decided$ !%en s%e noticed a ne! i'%tness in %er ste& as s%e !a *ed into t%e %ote to boo* in. 8ar -orin' mi'%t be an out(and(out ra*e$ but e#en a ra*e !as better t%an not%in' to a 'ir a one in a stran'e cit". And an"!a"$ s%e decided$ it did %er battered e'o 'ood to %a#e someone as 'ood( oo*in' as 8ar ea'er to be !it% %er/ T%en s%e fro!ned$ ma*in' a menta note to find out if %e !as

married$ or di#orced+or ob i'ated in an" !a"$ s%a&e or form/ S%e'd %ad %er fi of men i*e t%at. Her room turned out to be a u,ur" suite$ !%ic% made %er smi e ruefu " because s%e *ne! it rea " s%ou d not be. 3ut it %ad been boo*ed ori'ina " for 5oe +and 5oe ob#ious " e,&ected on " t%e best. Sti $ s%e !asn't 'oin' to com& ain$ s%e decided %a&&i " as s%e mo#ed about t%e e e'ant 're" and 'reen bedroom$ &uttin' a!a" t%e fe! items of c ot%in' s%e %ad brou'%t !it% %er. T%en$ !it% %er mind firm " c ic*ed on to !or*$ s%e %au ed t%e bu *" fi e out of %er briefcase$ too* it into t%e e6ua " e e'ant sittin'(room$ & on*ed it do!n on t%e o! tab e f an*in' t!o soft sofas$ t%en sat do!n and be'an t%e on' s o' t%rou'% a t%e &a&er stuffed inside$ oo*in' for t%ose oo&%o es t%at 5oe %ad said %e !anted %er to find. It !as 'one fi#e o'c oc* before s%e came u& for air$ and it !as t%e sudden rumb in' of %er stomac% t%at did it$ remindin' %er t%at s%e %ad bare " eaten a sin' e t%in' a da"/ S%e ca ed Room Ser#ice$ orderin' %erse f a %am sand!ic% and a &ot of coffee$ t%en stood$ oo*in' do!n at t%e mass of &a&ers scattered across t%e tab e. Se#era %ours of so id readin' %ad turned u& not%in' t%at cou d #a'ue " be ca ed a oo&%o e. Not t%at s%e !as sur&rised7 t%e &eo& e in .ac aines' e'a de&artment !eren't *no!n for ea#in' oo&%o es. .ac !ou dn't em& o" t%em if t%e" !ere. .ac. No$ s%e to d %erse f firm "$ !%en t%e usua ac%e be'an dee& do!n in t%e &it of %er stomac%. 9or t%e ne,t fe! da"s s%e !as not 'oin' to t%in* of .ac/ S%e !ou d %a#e a 6uic* s%o!er instead$ s%e decided abru&t "$ a!are e#en as s%e mo#ed off to!ards t%e bedroom t%at it !as .ac's name s%e !as mo#in' a!a" from. 9ifteen minutes ater sa! %er comin' out of t%e bat%room !ra&&ed in one of t%e s%ort$ f uff" !%ite to!e in' bat%robes &ro#ided b" t%e

%ote $ !it% %er %air &i ed u& on t%e to& of %er %ead in a riot of si *" b onde cur s and %er face oo*in' &in* and s%in". S%e mo#ed across t%e room to 'o in searc% of fres% under!ear to &ut on$ t%en &aused$ a scuff in' noise from t%e sittin'(room be"ond catc%in' %er attention. Room Ser#ice/ s%e rea ised$ and c%an'ed direction$ 'oin' to t%ro! o&en t%e bedroom door !it% !ords of t%an*s read" on %er i&s+on " to sto& dead$ t%e !ords con'ea in' in %er t%roat$ !%en s%e found %erse f starin' at not a !aiter !it% a oaded tra"$ but .ac. .ac+ oo*in' as comfortab e as %e on one of %er sittin'(room sofas.

CHAPTER 9I?E HE 0AS rec inin' in one comer of t%e sofa !it% t%e )ac*et to %is s ate('re" suit discarded a on' !it% %is tie. T%e co ar to %is &a e b ue s%irt !as tu''ed o&en a cou& e of buttons and %is feet !ere &ro&&ed u& on t%e ed'e of t%e coffee(tab e+s%e cou d %ard " be ie#e %er e"es/ '.ac/' s%e 'as&ed. '0%at are "ou doin' %ere1' '0or*in'+t%e same as "ou$' %e dra! ed$ ob#ious " not as sur&rised to see %er as s%e !as to see %im. In fact$ %e didn't e#en bot%er oo*in' u& from t%e stac* of &a&ers %e %ad in %is %and. '0%at t%e %e %as 5oe been & a"in' at !it% t%is 3runner t%in'$ Roberta1' %e demanded !%i e s%e )ust stood t%ere$ s%a*in' !it% a dreadfu mi,ture of %orrified s%oc* and s%eer$ undi uted )o" at seein' %im. 'It's no !onder t%e craft" de#i is sti & a"in' %ard to 'et !%en !e seem to %a#e been concedin' to e#er" damned &ro#iso %e can come u& !it% since discussions be'an/' S%e b in*ed$ tr"in' to &u %erse f to'et%er$ unab e as "et to acce&t t%e fact t%at %e !as %ere at a $ or to com&ute a sin' e !ord %e !as t%ro!in' at %er. And t%ro!in' !as ri'%t$ s%e rea ised as %er e"es be'an to c ear$ t%e si " rose(tinted %ue t%rou'% !%ic% s%e %ad been 'a2in' at %im fadin' a!a" so t%at s%e cou d see %im as %e rea " !as.

.ac !as in business mode$ not &ersona . And %e !as an'r"$ %is 're" e"es sna&&in' beneat% fro!nin' b ac* bro!s as t%e" f ic*ed do!n t%e s%eet of &a&er %e !as current " stud"in'. T%e 3runner dea . O%$ 'oodness/ S%e a most )um&ed into stin'in' ife. .ac !as 'oin' o#er t%e 3runner dea / 'Come %ere and ta*e a oo* at t%ese$' %e commanded$ sti !it%out offerin' %er a sin' e ' ance. 9in'ers & a"in' ner#ous " !it% t%e *notted be t to %er robe$ s%e !ent$ sim& " because s%e didn't *no! !%at e se to do/ .ac & a"in' t%e im&atient businessman !as a !%o e ne! conce&t to %er. S%e mi'%t !or* in t%e same bui din' as %im$ and %e mi'%t be %er u timate boss$ but$ unti no!$ %e %ad made a strict ru e ne#er to in#o #e %imse f in an" business matters t%at s%e mi'%t be in#o #ed in too/ 'Concessions+concessions/ %e 'ritted$ t%e bac* of %is fin'ers sna&&in' a'ainst t%e &a&er in a deridin' &ointer to !%at %e !as ta *in' about$ 'In eac% one of t%ese meetin's 3runner demanded and !e conceded. Sit do!n$ %e ordered$ s idin' %is feet to t%e f oor so t%at s%e cou d 'et b" %im and sin* mee* " do!n ne,t to %im. Im&atient " %e s&read t%e &a&ers re e#ant to !%at %e !as ta *in' about out on to& of t%e rest on t%e tab e. 'Here.' He stabbed !it% a fin'er. 'And %ere and %ere and %ere+a concessions %e %ad no ri'%t to demand and !e must %a#e been mad to a'ree to/' T%e !ords on t%e &a&ers s!am in front of %er e"es$ %er mind roc*in' on t%e rea isation t%at$ in t%e fifteen minutes s%e %ad been out of t%is room$ .ac %ad et %imse f in$ made %imse f comfortab e$ t%en sifted t%rou'% a dauntin' mound of &a&er!or* to fi ter out e#er" &oint !ort% criticisin'/ Da2ed " s%e ifted %er e"es to %is face$ !%ic% !as ean and taut in &rofi e$ seein' for t%e first time a side of %im s%e %ad ne#er &ersona " !itnessed before. O%$ s%e *ne! a about %is ra2or( s%ar& re&utation$ %is *een inte i'ence$ %is abi it" to %ome ri'%t in on t%e nitt"('ritt" of a &rob em in a !a" t%at *e&t a t%ose around %im

dancin' ner#ous " on t%eir toes in an effort to *ee& u&. 3ut t%is muc%$ in fifteen minutes1 Her mind bo'' ed. 'Patents$' s%e mana'ed to utter constricted ". : 0e !ant t%e &atents 3runner %o ds$ 'At an" &rice1' .ac as*ed succinct ". :9ibre o&tics is a re#o utionar" &roduct$ .ac$ "ou *no! t%at. He nodded$ and Roberta moistened %er i&s$ t%e fact t%at %e %adn't sna&&ed %er %ead off 'i#in' %er t%e coura'e to continue. :0e $ t%ose &atents 3runner is se in' !it% t%e business re#o utionise t%e re#o ution/ He *no!s %e can #irtua " as* %is o!n &rice. In %is s%oes$ "ou !ou d be demandin' t%e same &ound of f es%$ 'True$ %e acce&ted. '3ut me bein' me$ and m" com&an" bein' t%e so id institution it is$ I !ou dn't be se in' t%ose &atents at a $ !ou d I1' Her o!erin' e"es ac*no! ed'ed t%e moc*er" %e %ad )ust made of %er ar'ument. He !as ri'%t. And t%e on " reason 9ranc 3runner !as %a#in' to se !as because %is com&an" !as in dire financia difficu ties +!%ic% made a t%ose so(ca ed concessions .ac !as anno"ed about a rea moc*er" to 'ood business sense. <T%is !%o e dea is a dis'racefu mess. You *no! t%at$ don't "ou1' %e &rom&ted 'rim ". S6uirmin' a itt e inside$ Roberta nodded. S%e %ad be'un to t%in* t%at !a" %erse f+!ee*s a'o$ in fact$ !%en 9ranc 3runner %ad rea " be'un to s6uee2e 5oe . '5oe %as be%a#ed i*e a soft touc%$ and t%at %as made 3runner 'reed"$ .ac rut% ess " %ammered t%e &oint %ome. 'So 'reed"$ in fact$ t%at e#en no! at t%e e e#ent% %our$ !%en e#er"t%in' is su&&osed to be sett ed bar an officia si'nin'$ %e's tr"in' to &u "et anot%er fast one o#er us. It !on't do$ bunn" rabbit$' %e murmured soft ". 'It )ust !on't do$ Roberta stiffened$ t%e use of t%at &et name and t%e !a" %is %and came across to s6uee2e %er *nee !a*in' %er u& at ast to t%e rea it" of

)ust !%o s%e !as sittin' %ere !it%. T%e 3oss. 9rom t%e moment %e %ad be'un ta *in' s%e %ad seen %im on " as t%e bi' boss$ !%o %ad a ri'%t to 6uestion and criticise an"t%in' %e sa! fit re'ardin' !or*. 3ut sudden " %e !as .ac a'ain$ %er o#er+ e,( o#er/ And s%e ifted !ar" 'reen e"es to %is. '0%at are "ou doin' %ere$ .ac1' s%e demanded sus&icious ". 9or t%e first time %e oo*ed %er direct " in t%e e"e(not t%at %e !as !i in' to 'i#e an"t%in' a!a" !it% it. '0or*in'$' %e ans!ered coo ". 'I to d "ou. 0or*in'()ust i*e "ou$ '3ut t%is 3runner t%in' is 5oe 's bab"$' s%e &ersisted. 'You don't usua " intrude on %is domain$ '5oe is in Portsmout%$ Roberta nodded. 'I *no!$' s%e said. '0%ic% is !%" I'm %ere in %is & ace$ 'Is it1' Her stomac% *notted$ t%e dar*enin' oo* in %is e"es and t%e !a" %e s&o*e t%ose t!o soft !ords enou'% to drenc% %er in a %eated sense of a arm. '0%(!%at do "ou mean1' s%e demanded !ari ". T%e %and at %er *nee mo#ed to %er t%i'% in one smoot%$ sinuous caress$ sendin' s%ar& s%ards of e ectricit" s&rin* in' t%rou'% %er bod". '0%at !ou d "ou i*e it to mean1' %e countered soft ". 'I(((((((((' No/ S%e )um&ed u&$ dis od'in' t%e %and and t%e dan'erous mood %e !as tr"in' to encoura'e. T%en s%e turned on %im furious ". 'You arran'ed a of t%is$ didn't "ou1' s%e accused. 'Arran'ed !%at1' He !as bein' de iberate " obtuse$ &referrin' to et %is 'a2e fo o! t%e contours of %er bod"$ bare " concea ed beneat% t%e s*im&" robe. '5oe 's sudden disa&&earance to Portsmout%/' s%e sna&&ed. '."

%a#in' to come %ere in %is & ace/ You arran'ed t%e !%o e damned t%in'/' .ac smi ed$ re a,in' bac* into t%e sofa so t%at %e cou d run %is e"es o#er %er an'r" face and bri'%t$ f as%in' e"es. 'You're a most e,cruciatin' " se," !%en "ou 'et an'r"$' %e obser#ed. 'Did "ou *no! t%at1' 'And t%at$ s%e reta iated %ot "$ 'is )ust about t%e most ineffecti#e remar* "ou'#e e#er made to me/' 'Ineffecti#e$ %mm1' %e mused. 'An interestin' c%oice of !ords+ es&ecia " !%en "our bod"( an'ua'e sa"s ot%er!ise.' .oc*in' " %e dro&&ed %is 'a2e to !%ere %er arms %ad some%o! become !ra&&ed ti'%t " around %er bod"$ as if to contain !%ate#er !as %a&&enin' beneat% t%em. Roberta si'%ed$ s%eer e,as&eration in t%e sound because %e !as ri'%t7 %e on " %ad to murmur su''esti#e !ords i*e t%ose to %er to set %er bod" a i#e. '5ust te me !%" "ou're %ere$' s%e insisted. '3usiness or & easure1 3ecause if "ou're %ere to dea !it% business$ t%en$ as "ou're m" boss$ I s%a be on " too !i in' to !or* !it% "ou. 3ut if it's & easure "ou're after t%en "ou can$ 6uite fran* "$ 'o to %e .' 'He 1' %e 6ui22ed$ sub ime " at ease in %is re a,ed &osition on t%e sofa$ seemin' " content to torment %er !it% t%e a2" s ide of %is e"es. '3" t%e co our %eatin' "our c%ee*s$ m" s!eet$ it's "ou !%o's #eerin' #er" c ose to t%at fier" & ace. Is t%at sensiti#e itt e & ace tuc*ed bet!een "our t%i'%s !armin' u& too1' %e 6uestioned si *i "$ mo#in' so sudden " t%at s%e 'as&ed$ bot% at t%e outra'eous comment and t%e t%reatenin' !a" %e came to %is feet. 'S%a !e see1' %e murmured$ reac%in' for %er. 'Don't "ou dare/' Cuic* " s%e too* a ste& bac* to a#oid %im$ %er arms remainin' defensi#e " c am&ed around %er bod". 3ut e#en as s%e made t%e &rotest s%e fe t %er c%ee*s 'ettin' %otter and t%at & ace %e !as ta *in' about be'in to t%rob in %eated res&onse. 'I cou d sue "ou for se,ua %arassment if "ou *ee& t%is u&/' s%e !arned.

'As I cou d sac* "ou for incom&etence$ .iss C%and er1' %e countered$ c%a en'in' %er !it% t%e sudden narro!ed ' eam in %is e"es. '9or t%e !a" "ou'#e %e &ed !aste com&an" mone" !it% t%is 3runner dea 1' 'You !ou dn't/' s%e 'as&ed$ bac*in' a!a" one s%a*" ste& at a time !%i e %e fo o!ed. 'No1' %e moc*ed. 'Didn't "ou %a#e e#en one sma concern t%at 5oe !as 'oin' o#er t%e to& !it% %is concessions1' DI.. . S%e f oundered$ %er sma !%ite teet% bitin' do!n on t%e softened f es% of %er o!er i&. To admit t%at s%e %ad %ad reser#ations about 5oe 's %and in' of t%e dea !ou d )ust dro& 5oe ri'%t in it. 3ut to den" an" concern !ou d ma*e %er oo* a b ind and 'u ib e foo . 0%ic% came too c ose to bein' a bimbo for %er i*in'. '5oe is m" boss.' S%e !ent for t%e com&romise. 'He's t%e more e,&erienced. I %a#e to trust t%at %e *no!s !%at %e's doin'.' '?er" o"a $' %e commended. 'No! et's discuss t%is se,ua %arassment t%in'.' He reac%ed out !it% a %and to!ards %er$ Roberta sna&&ed %er %ead bac* in re)ection and %e au'%ed$ t%e !arm$ ra*is% au'% of a man !%o !as en)o"in' t%e %unt. 'I rea " do t%in* it's debatab e !%ic% of us is %arassin' !%om$ "ou *no!$' %e dra! ed.

'I mean$ !%o's t%e one !it% %ard " an" c ot%es on %ere1' %e c%a en'ed$ !it% a moc*in' ti t to %is bro!. <T%is is m" room$' s%e ar'ued. 'It's "ou !%o's infi trated m" &ri#ac"$ not t%e ot%er !a" around.< '0ron'$' %e denied$ ta*in' anot%er ste& for!ard !%i e s%e too* one bac*. <T%is suite is reser#ed in t%e com&an" name. ." name$' %e &ointed out. '0%o e#er %eard of a mere assistant occu&"in' a u,ur" suite of rooms1 'It+it !as boo*ed for 5oe $' s%e defended stammer(in' "$ seein' %is tra& and no !a" out of it.

'." brot%er$' .ac nodded. 'And a co(director. He's a o!ed t%e u,ur" &er*s+"ou're not.' 'I' +I' ea#e$ t%en$' s%e said$ fee in' definite " cornered no!$ %er %and iftin' in a rat%er %e & ess 'esture to!ards t%e bedroom !%ite %er bare feet too* %er anot%er t!o &aces bac*. '5()ust et me 'et dressed and co ect m" t%in's and I' find m"se f anot%er room...' '0%at+after ma*in' "ourse f so de irious " a#ai ab e to me1' 'I didn't/' s%e disc aimed. 'I'#e %eard of !omen s ee&in' t%eir !a" to t%e to&$' %e !ent on merci ess "$ 'but it's t%e first time an"one's e#er tried it on me.' His e"es !ere ' eamin' !it% crue moc*er" as s%e et out a c%o*ed 'as& of &rotest. 'Don't !orr"$' %e assured %er. 'I t%in* I mi'%t en)o" t%e e,&erience. Come &edd e "our !ares$ .iss C%and er$' %e in#ited$ 'and et's see.' 'No/' s%e c%o*ed. T%en$ because s%e cou dn't stand it an" on'er$ 'O%$ sto& it$ .ac/ Sto&+sto& & a"in' !it% me/' He au'%ed$ t%en cau'%t %er+not sur&risin' "$ since %e cou d %a#e done so at an" time in t%e ast fe! minutes. 'O8$' be murmured as %is arms c osed around %er. '0it%dra! t%e %arassment c%ar'e on me and I' !it%dra! mine on "ou$' %e offered. An'r"$ because s%e *ne! %e %ad %er !e and tru " beaten$ s%e ' ared u& at %im$ !onderin' #io ent " %o! bad " %er fist !ou d suffer if s%e smas%ed it a'ainst %is )uttin' )a!/ His 're" e"es !ere au'%in'$ *no!in' e,act " !%at s%e !as t%in*in' and c%a en'in' %er to tr" it. So neit%er mo#ed$ bot% !a'in' t%is &articu ar batt e !it% t%eir e"es$ unti t%e air around t%em be'an to si22 e$ and somet%in' e se be'an to ta*e t%e & ace of an'er(somet%in' e#en more &ro#o*in'$ somet%in' so dar* " se,ua t%at %er s*in be'an to tin' e+tin' e so bad " t%at s%e be'an to fee i*e a fire!or*$ it and read" to e,& ode.

T%e room disa&&eared$ t%e furniture !it% it$ unti a t%at !as eft !as %erse f and .ac$ and t%e ne! sensations bu22in' bet!een t%em t%at !ere so se,ua " stimu atin'. S%e *ne! %e on " %ad to bend %is %ead and *iss %er for %er to 'o u& in a s%o!er of crac* in' f ames. .ac+t%is is .ac$ %er senses !ere !%is&erin' to %er. T%e man !e o#e to oo* at$ sme $ touc%$ taste T%e &in* ti& of %er ton'ue a&&eared$ ma*in' a s o!$ an,ious circ e of %er &arted i&s. .ac's e"es di&&ed to !atc% t%e re#ea in' motion$ t%e irises softenin' into suc% a dar* and smo*" 're" t%at s%e !as breat% ess sudden "$ *no!in' !%at s%e !as in#itin' but utter " unab e to do an"t%in' about it. '0ant me to *iss "ou$ bunn" rabbit1' %e murmured soft ". S%e 6ui#ered$ %atin' %im for ma*in' %er fee i*e t%is$ but o#in' t%e tender sound of %er s&ecia name on %is i&s. And "es$ s%e !anted %im to *iss %er$ S%e !anted %im to &ic* %er u& in %is bi'$ stron' arms and carr" %er into t%e ot%er room !%ere t%e bed a!aited t%em. S%e !anted to stri& off %is c ot%es and ic* %is s*in. S%e !anted to tan' e %er imbs !it% %is$ cou& e t%eir bodies and die i*e t%at+die in t%e arms of t%e man s%e o#ed/ 4od$ s%e t%ou'%t !retc%ed "$ !%at am I t%in*in'1 A *noc* sounded at t%e door t%en$ ma*in' .ac's 'ras& on %er oosen as %is %ead !ent u& in sur&rise. Ta*in' %er c%ance !%i e s%e %ad it$ Roberta s i&&ed a!a" from %im$ runnin' decided " s%a*" fin'ers do!n %er s*im&" robe as s%e !ent to ans!er t%e door. It !as a !aiter$ !%o !a *ed in carr"in' t%e tra" of sand!ic%es and coffee s%e %ad com& ete " for'otten s%e %ad ordered. He ' anced furti#e " from %er %ot face to .ac's ruefu one$ t%en 6uic* " %ooded %is e"es$ too e,&erienced in t%ese *inds of situations not to *no! t%at %e %ad )ust interru&ted somet%in' #er" intimate. .o#in' to!ards t%e o! tab e standin' bet!een t%e t!o e e'ant sofas$ %e t%en &aused !%en %e sa! t%at it !as scattered !it% &a&ers.

Roberta )um&ed to ma*e a s&ace for t%e tra" and as %e &ut it do!n t%e ric% aroma of fres% " bre!in' coffee assai ed %er nostri s$ ma*in' %er s!a o! t%irsti " on t%e sudden sur'e of sa i#a to %er mout%. 'Here.' .ac !a *ed o#er to t%e !aiter$ %o din' out a ban*(note. T%e man's e"es it u& as %e too* it$ bo!in' in %umb e t%an*s before 6uic* " ettin' %imse f out of t%e room. '-oo*$' Roberta demanded in a ti'%t #oice. 'Is t%is suite su&&osed to be "ours1 3ecause if it is I' &ac* m" t%in's u& and(((( ' 'O%$ "ours+"ours$' .ac ans!ered casua ". 'I %a#e anot%er one on t%e f oor abo#e.' 'T%en I !ou d &refer it if "ou eft !it% t%e !aiter$' s%e informed %im &ointed ". '0it%out us %a#in' t%e c%ance to finis% our+ business1' %e dra! ed$ t%en bent %is attention to t%e oaded tra" t%at t%e !aiter %ad & aced on a free corner of t%e coffee(tab e. '.mm$' %e said as %e ifted t%e co#er off t%e & ate of de icate " made %am sand!ic%es. 'Refres%ments !%i e !e ta * s%o&. 4ood 'ir $' %e murmured as be sat do!n and too* one. 'I'm star#in'.' 'I didn't order t%em for "ou$' s%e sna&&ed$ t%en si'%ed !%en %e )ust bit into t%e sand!ic% !it% o#er& a"ed re is% and sett ed bac* to ma*e %imse f comfortab e. 'A ri'%t. Con#incin' %erse f t%at it !ou d do %er no 'ood to anta'onise %im !%en t%is 3runner dea !as in suc% as ob#ious mess$ s%e made %erse f sit do!n on t%e ot%er sofa and &oured %erse f a des&erate " needed cu& of coffee. '-et's ta * business.' 'I !ou dn't mind a coffee m"se f$' .ac &rom&ted. 'T%ere's on " one cu&$' s%e &ointed out$ fee in' a &ett" sense of trium&% at bein' ab e to sa" it. 'So$ I' use "ours !%en "ou'#e finis%ed !it% it$' %e s%ru''ed$ and too* anot%er sand!ic%$ t%en$ !it% a !ic*ed ' eam in %is e"es$ ifted t%e & ate and offered t%em to %er.

I'norin' it$ s%e as*ed %im coo " instead$ '0%at do "ou !ant me to do about t%e 3runner dea 1' 'Not%in'$' %e said. 'E,act " not%in'$' %e e aborated care ess ". Roberta fro!ned. 'Is t%at !%" "ou're %ere1' s%e demanded. 'Are "ou 'oin' to see to it "ourse f1' 'No. As "ou said "ourse f$ t%is is 5oe 's bab". He 'ot %imse f into t%is mess and %e' 'et %imse f out of it+ and ans!er to me ater.' '3ut 5oe isn't %ere and "ou are$' s%e &ointed out. <T%ere's a meetin' sc%edu ed !it% 9ran* 3runner in t%e mornin'. 0%at am I su&&osed to do if 5oe isn't %ere1' '0%at did %e te "ou to do1' 'Sta .' S%e s%ru''ed. '9ind out !%at e se 3runner !ants$ t%en )ust sta %im unti 5oe arri#es.' <T%en t%at is !%at "ou must do$' .ac said. '3ut !it% "ou %ere t%ere's no reason for us to sta /' s%e cried. '.ac$' s%e ur'ed$ '"ou sa! for "ourse f t%e mess t%is is a in/ You cou d strai'%ten it a out in ten seconds f at/ You *no! "ou cou d/' 'T%an*s for t%e #ote of confidence$' %e 'rinned. 'T%at !asn't t%e &oint I !as tr"in' to ma*e/' s%e sna&&ed$ irritated b" %is aid(bac* manner. '5oe is "our brot%er/ He's "oun'er+far ess e,&erienced at t%ese t%in's t%an "ou/ If %e ets 3runner ta * %im into "et more concessions$ t%en "ou *no! %e's 'oin' to 'et a %e of a roc*et from t%e board !%en t%e" e#entua " see t%e fina contract/' <And from its c%airman$ come to t%at$' %e a'reed. Roberta )um&ed to %er feet$ infuriated b" %is distinct ac* of fee in' !%ere 5oe !as concerned. 'I can't be ie#e "ou're 'oin' to stand bac* and !atc% "our o!n brot%er dro& %imse f ri'%t in it/' s%e cried. 'Ho! on' %a#e "ou *no!n t%at t%is dea !asn't 'oin' as !e as it s%ou d1' %e as*ed.

'I((((((((' Damn$ t%e" !ere bac* to t%at a'ain. '0%at made "ou sudden " sus&icious enou'% to come and c%ec* it out1' s%e countered smart ". '5oe !as a to'et%er too uncomfortab e on 9rida" ni'%t !%en I brou'%t it u&$' %e re& ied. 'And "ou didn't oo* so & eased about it "ourse f.' 'It !asn't t%e 3runner dea I !as dis& eased !it%$' s%e reminded %im. 'It !as "ou/' '0ant to *iss and ma*e u&1' %e in#ited. Roberta's c%in !ent u&. 'No$ I do not/' 'Ha#e dinner !it% me$ t%en$' %e su''ested s " "$ 'and !e' discuss bot% issues+"our for'i#in' me and m" %e &in' m" brot%er 'et out of t%e %o e %e's du' %imse f.' S%e s%oo* %er bead$ ' ad t%at s%e %ad a #a id e,cuse to refuse %im. 'Sorr"$' s%e said$ 'but I a read" %a#e a dinner en'a'ement toni'%t.' His e"es sudden " s%ot da''ers at %er. '0%o t%e %e !it%1' %e demanded. 'You'#e on " been in =uric% for fi#e damned %ours/' S%e s%ru''ed$ secret " & eased t%at s%e'd mana'ed to anno" %im. 'A friend of 5oe 's$' s%e to d %im coo ". '5oe $' .ac muttered bet!een c enc%ed teet%. 'I mi'%t %a#e *no!n %e'd((((((((( 0%at's %is name1' %e t%en demanded. '8ar $' s%e said. '8ar -orin'.' '3rea* it$' %e commanded ti'%t "$ t%e name %a#in' a stran'e " murderous effect on %is e"es. S%e s%oo* %er %ead$ sa#ourin' %er cu& of coffee. 'I'm afraid I can't do t%at$' s%e said$ becomin' more at ease t%e more an'r" %e 'ot. 'You !i if "ou !ant me to sort out t%e mess for 5oe $' %e 'ro! ed. Roberta oo*ed sa'e " across t%e coffee(tab e at %im. 'I s%ou d i*e to t%in* t%at "ou !ou d do t%at for 5oe 's o!n sa*e$ .ac'

His e"es dar*ened fractiona "$ but it %ad not%in' to do !it% a 'ui t" conscience for usin' %is brot%er a'ainst %er i*e t%is7 it !as s%eer frustration t%at s%e !ou dn't )um& to %is autocratic biddin'. 'Ho! did "ou meet %im1' %e as*ed. '8ar co ected me from t%e air&ort$' s%e e,& ained$ t%e sma smi e !%ic% came to & a" about %er mout% !%en s%e reca ed t%at meetin' seemin' to s%oot .ac's tem&er ri'%t to its imits. '9anc" %im$ do "ou1' %e en6uired bitter ". 'See %im as t%e *ind "ou can seduce into marr"in' "ou !%ere I !ou dn't1' T%at %urt+%urt so dee& " t%at s%e %ad to fi'%t to s6uas% t%e need to !ince. '0%at's t%e matter$ .ac1' s%e countered si *i ". 'Don't "ou i*e t%e idea of anot%er man *no!in' me as intimate " as "ou do1' In a sudden burst of fur" %e s%ot u&$ %is %and sna*in' out to ta*e t%e cu& from %er before %e %au ed %er to %er feet. 'Don't e#en et "ourse f t%in* about it/' %e !arned %er bitin' ". 'Or$ so %e & me$ 3unn"$ I' ((((( /' 'Don't "ou dare t%reaten me/' s%e f ared$ %o din' %is murderous 'a2e !it% %er o!n. 'I can eat !it% and s ee& !it% !%om I damned !e i*e/ 0e are finis%ed$ remember1' '9inis%ed1' %e 'rated deridin' ". 'You must be )o*in'/' And to &ro#e it %e brou'%t %is mout% do!n &unis%in' " on %ers. 3" t%e time %e re eased %er s%e !as !i tin' i*e a im& ra'. .ac &us%ed %imse f a!a" from %er in dis'ust+se f (dis'ust$ s%e sus&ected$ *no!in' %e %ad seen t%e !a" t%e ti& of %er ton'ue %ad f ic*ed out to catc% t%e dro& et of b ood !%ere %is an'r" assau t %ad bro*en t%e de icate f es% of %er bottom i&. He turned a!a" from %er$ %is s%ou ders %unc%ed in an'r" contem&t. 'O8$' %e said 'rim ". 'I' do a dea !it% "ou$ Roberta. I' sort out t%is mess !it% 9ranc 3runner for 5oe t%e moment "ou a'ree to return our re ations%i& to t%e !a" it !as.'

9or a fe! s%ort seconds s%e )ust stared at %im in b an* disbe ief of !%at s%e t%ou'%t s%e'd )ust %eard. T%en$ 'S ee& !it% "ou$ "ou mean1 0%"$ "ou utter un&rinci& ed s!ine/' s%e c%o*ed. '0%at an offensi#e &ro&osition to ma*e/' '0%"1' %e si'%ed out frustrated ". '0e'#e been s ee&in' to'et%er a most e#er" ni'%t for a "ear/ 0%" t%e %e s%ou d t%e idea of our s ee&in' to'et%er a'ain be sudden " so offensi#e to "ou1' '3ecause I refuse to s ee& !it% an"one )ust to c inc% a business dea /' s%e cried. '." 4od$' s%e !%is&ered$ turnin' !%ite !it% distaste. 'You ma*e me fee i*e a !%ore/' 'You are not a !%ore/' %e roared$ s%ootin' around to face %er !it% an an'r" )er*. 'No1' s%e c%o*ed. 'T%en !%" are "ou tr"in' to treat me i*e one1 Or do "ou %a#e anot%er name for !omen !%o use t%eir bodies as barterin' too s1 O%$ 'o a!a"$ .ac/' s%e c%o*ed$ on t%e first sob t%at s%e feared !as 'oin' to be one of man". '5ust 'o a!a" and ea#e me a one/' 0it% t%at s%e ran$ stumb in' into t%e bedroom to c ose and oc* t%e door so t%at %e cou dn't fo o! %er. He didn't. He didn't e#en tr". And$ odd "$ t%at %urt %er )ust as muc% as e#er"t%in' e se %e did %urt %er t%ese da"s. You're a foo $ s%e to d %erse f stern " A stu&id foo for ettin' %im 'et to "ou t%e !a" %e does/ So s%eer defiance of %er o!n fee in's made %er 'et %erse f read" for dinner !it% 8ar . Dressed in a s%ort$ s in*" dress of ric% mu berr" si *$ %er %air rearran'ed into t%e same bubb " cur s on t%e to& of %er %ead$ s%e !aited unti t%e #er" ast moment before !ari " un oc*in' t%e bedroom door and ste&&in' out to confront .ac a'ain. On " %e !asn't t%ere. And as s%e stood t%ere$ starin' at t%e neat " stac*ed &i e of &a&ers on t%e tab e$ s%e cou d not sto& and$ stran'e "$ did not !ant to sto& t%e 'reat !a#e of em&tiness t%at !as%ed o#er %er.

Sur&risin' "$ because s%e )ust %adn't e,&ected it to be$ dinner !it% 8ar !as 6uite a & easant e,&erience. .ain " because .ac did not &ut in an a&&earance as s%e'd %a f e,&ected %im to. And$ %a#in' s&ent t%e first %a f(%our constant " oo*in' around t%em in case .ac did s%o! %is face$ s%e t%en found %erse f fee in' &er#erse " irritated t%at %e %ad not come to s&oi t%e e#enin' for %er/ So &er%a&s it !as defiance t%at made %er res&ond to 8ar 's &ractised manner as %e set out to c%arm$ tease and f irt !it% %er o#er t%e dinner(tab e. Or ma"be it !as because s%e found it sur&risin' " & easant to be made o#e to in suc% a &ub ic & ace$ !it% %a f t%e room !atc%in' t%em en#ious " !%i e t%e" &retended not to notice t%e fre6uent ' ances sent t%eir !a". T%e" made a sta*in' cou& e$ s%e su&&osed. 3ot% b onde$ bot% attracti#e$ bot% dressed to *i +%e in t%e dar* si * oun'e(suit t%at fitted %is on'$ ean frame so beautifu "$ and s%e in %er mu berr" si * t%at s%e *ne! did so muc% for t%e cream" te,ture of %er s*in. S%e au'%ed at %is teasin' and &outed at %is more su''esti#e remar*s. Ate de icious food and dran* an e#en more de icious b ood( red !ine. And$ in 'enera $ a o!ed defiance free rein o#er %o! s%e res&onded+if on " because s%e !as determined t%at if .ac s%ou d %a&&en to !a * into t%e restaurant %e !ou d see )ust %o! muc% en)o"ment s%e cou d %a#e in t%e com&an" of anot%er man. 0%ate#er$ i'%t(%eaded from too muc% !ine and stro*ed into an eas" mood of ac6uiescence b" 8ar 's !arm and amusin' com&an"$ s%e a'reed to remo#e to anot%er room !%ere a sma band !as & a"in' a2" b ues for t%e cou& es mo#in' to'et%er on a dim " it dance(f oor. 'You %a#e t%e most sensua " a urin' bod" I %a#e e#er %e d in m" arms$' 8ar to d %er as t%e" s!a"ed to t%e a2" music. 'Ha#e I1' S%e turned %er %ead a itt e to oo* u& at %im. 'T%an* "ou$' s%e murmured %us*i ". 'T%at !as a #er" nice t%in' to sa".' His b ue e"es dar*ened. 'I !ou d i*e to sa" a ot more to "ou$

Roberta$' %e returned dee& ". '3ut not %ere. Not in t%is & ace !it% a t%ese &eo& e oo*in' on and en#"in' me t%e most beautifu !oman %ere.' S%e *ne! !%at %e !as su''estin'$ *ne! !it% a ni'' in' sense of 'ui t t%at s%e %ad been a but as*in' for it t%rou'% %er o!n be%a#iour a e#enin'. And as s%e stood t%ere$ enc osed in 8ar 's arms !it% %is b ue 'a2e sin*in' sensua " into %er o!n$ s%e found %erse f !onderin' )ust !%at it !ou d be i*e to %a#e t%is man ma*e o#e to %er. S%e i*ed 8ar . S%e i*ed oo*in' at %im$ s%e i*ed t%e fee of %is %ands on %er bac* and t%e !a" %er bod" brus%ed a'ainst %im as t%e" mo#ed7 s%e e#en i*ed t%e idea of fee in' %is mout% a'ainst %er o!n. 3ut !ou d s%e i*e %im ma*in' o#e to %er1 ;ndressin' %er1 Touc%in' %er !%ere on " one man %ad e#er touc%ed %er1 T%e %and sudden " fi,in' itse f around %er u&&er arm sent t%e %ot$ tin' in' stin' of e ation rus%in' t%rou'% %er and$ at t%e same moment$ 'a#e %er t%e ans!er to %er 6uestion. 'E,cuse me$' a coo #oice intruded. Roberta c osed %er e"es. .ac. Of course it !as .ac.

CHAPTER SIE '.INE$ I t%in*$' %e said as smoot% " but firm " %e &u ed Roberta out of 8ar 's arms. '.ac$' s%e !%is&ered & eadin' "$ c%ee*s f us%in' !%en s%e sensed$ from bot% t%e ic" tone of %is #oice and t%e &ainfu 'ri& %e %ad on %er arm$ a scene be'innin' to bre!. 'You(((( ' His arms c osed ri'%t around %er$ sta*in' c aim of &ossession ri'%t do!n to t%e !a" %is mout% brus%ed a!a" an" !ords s%e !as about to sa". 'Sorr" I'm so ate$ dar in'$' %e murmured. '3ut I !as %e d u& on'er t%an I e,&ected to be.'

0%at do "ou t%in* "ou're & a"in' at1 %er an'r" 'reen 'a2e demanded. 0%at t%e %e do "ou t%in*1 %is an'r" e,&ression re& ied$ darin' %er to ma*e a scene b" den"in' %is ri'%t to be so &ossessi#e. A moment's batt e !it% t%eir e"es$ !it% t%e tension be'innin' to f o! bet!een t%em$ not a due to t%is &articu ar situation$ and s%e o!ered %er e"es$ t%e sound of a2" music and t%e fact t%at t%e" !ere not a one on t%e sma dance(f oor ma*in' %er uncomfortab " a!are of t%e interest t%e" !ere causin' and forcin' %er to concede t%e batt e to %im. Anot%er *iss brus%ed %er mout%$ conso idatin' %is #ictor"$ and s%e !anted to s a& %is arro'ant face/ He *ne! it$ too$ because s%e %eard %im utter a soft au'%$ t%en$ 'Aren't "ou 'oin' to introduce me to "our +com&anion$ dar in'1' %e &rom&ted si *i ". <T%is is 8ar -orin'$' s%e re uctant " com& ied. 'A friend of 5oe 's and m" inter&reter !%i e I'm %ere in =uric%. 8ar (((((' s%e ifted uncomfortab e e"es to %im$ not sur&rised to find %im stud"in' t%em bot% narro! " ' +t%is is So omon .ac aine. 5oe 's brot%er$' s%e added$ 6uite unnecessari "$ s%e rea ised a most immediate "$ because s%e %ad on " %ad to mention .ac's name for 8ar to stiffen u& in reco'nition$ but s%e finis%ed t%e introduction an"!a". 'And$ of course$ m"((((' 3oss$ s%e %ad been 'oin' to sa"$ but .ac &re(em&ted %er. 'I t%in* .r -orin' understands e,act " !%at I am to "ou$ dar in'$' %e moc*ed$ and turned %is attention to 8ar !%i e Roberta stru'' ed to contro t%e %ot f us% of mortification tr"in' to mount %er c%ee*s. 'Nice to meet "ou at ast$ .r -orin'$' %e ac*no! ed'ed$ !it% an amiab e nod of %is dar* %ead. '." brot%er %as s&o*en of "ou$ of course.' 8ar returned t%e 'esture !it% %is %ead$ and Roberta noticed curious " t%at %e %ad 'one 6uite &a e. 'I !as not a!are t%at "ou !ere in =uric%$ .r .ac aine$' %e murmured soft ". 'No1' .ac fro!ned. 'I'm sur&rised t%at 5oe ne#er mentioned t%e c%an'e in & an to "ou... Sti $' %e added after a t%ou'%tfu moment$ 'I don't su&&ose %e !ou d !%en m" reasons for bein' %ere are &ure " &ersona + !%ic% reminds meA' %e smi ed '+t%an* "ou for ta*in' care

of Roberta t%is e#enin'.' T%at ruefu 'rin touc%ed %is mout%. 'S%e %ates it !%en I %a#e to & ace %er second o#er business$ don't "ou dar in'1' %e added$ to reinforce t%e rotten 'ibe. S%e tried to &u a!a" from %im$ but %e sto&&ed %er b" tu''in' %er c ose into %is side$ stron' fin'ers increasin' t%eir c aim to &ossession b" sett in' a on' %er ribca'e ri'%t beneat% t%e s!e of %er breasts. '3ut I'm %ere no!.' He ' anced do!n at %er %ot and an'r" face. 'So sto& &outin'$' %e sco ded soft ". 'I' ma*e it u& to "ou ater.' He !as treatin' %er i*e some+some em&t"(%eaded bimbo/ And fur" s%ot i*e si #er ances into %er 'reen$ 'reen e"es. .ac fie ded t%e oo* !it% a moc*in' one$ s ee* b ac* bro!s arc%in' in c%a en'e for %er to dare den" a sin' e !ord %e %ad said. S%e cou dn't and %e *ne! it. .ac !as %er boss$ after a . To s%o! %im u& as an o#er(&resum&tuous foo !ou d mean s%o!in' u& t%e !%o e .ac aine em&ire as t%e same. S%e cou dn't do it$ and o!ered %er %ead instead so t%at 8ar !ou d not see t%e mutinous frustration burnin' in %er e"es. 3ut .ac !as %a#in' none of it. He !anted %is &ound of f es% from %er$ and !as determined to 'et it. So once a'ain s%e fe t t%at &ossessi#e %and tu' at %er s ender bod"$ s%iftin' %er e#en c oser to %is %ard(&ac*ed frame. 'Sa" t%an* "ou nice " to .r -orin' for oo*in' after "ou t%is e#enin'$ Roberta$' %e &rom&ted si *i ". 'It' s ate and I'm+ tired.' 4od$ I %ate "ou/ s%e t%ou'%t #icious "$ and %ad to fi'%t to ift %er embarrassed face to 8ar 's sti &a e one. <T%an* "ou$' s%e said dutifu "$ t%en rebe ion struc* and$ instead of offerin' %im %er %and as 'ood manners demanded s%e do$ s%e eaned a!a" from .ac to & ace a i'%t *iss on 8ar 's stiff c%ee*. 'Sorr" to %a#e to cut our e#enin' so s%ort$' s%e murmured as s%e dre! a!a". Instead of ta*in' some 'ratification from %er 'esture$ 8ar reacted as if %e %ad been s%ot$ )er*in' %is %ead bac* from %er and starin' at .ac as t%ou'% %e e,&ected t%e ot%er man to &unc% out %is i'%ts.

'No &rob em+no &rob em$' %e 6uic* " reassured %er. '.r .ac aine is 6uite ri'%t and it is ate. And I %a#e a fe! &%one ca s to ma*e before I...' He f oundered$ and Roberta stared at %im in an'r" frustration. Co!ard$ s%e t%ou'%t bitter ". .ac sta*es %is c aim and "ou bac* ri'%t off/ So muc% for "our mac%o ima'e/ 'Nice to %a#e met "ou$ .r .ac aine.' 0ari " be stuc* out a %and to!ards .ac. 'No doubt !e !i meet a'ain tomorro!1' .ac's bro!s rose in en6uir". '9(for t%e meetin' !it% 9ranc 3runner$' 8ar e ucidated. .ac didn't ans!er$ and !%ate#er &assed bet!een t%e t!o men #ia t%eir e"es made 8ar 'o e#en &a er and ma*e %is e,it so %urried " t%at Roberta scoffed out a sound of scorn as s%e fo o!ed %im contem&tuous " !it% %er e"es. 'If %e brea*s into a run$ I t%in* I s%a be sic*/' s%e muttered disdainfu "$ turnin' %er attention bac* to .ac. .ac's e"es !ere narro!ed as %e too !atc%ed 8ar 's %urried e,it. ' i*e %e said$ %e murmured t%ou'%tfu "$ '%e needs to ma*e a cou& e of &%one ca s.' 'At t%is time of ni'%t1 To !%om1' s%e derided scat%in' ". 'He's runnin' because of "our c e#er %ands(off(m"(&ro&ert" tactics/' S%e ' ared furious " u& at %im. '0%en are "ou 'oin' to acce&t t%at I mean it !%en I sa" I don't be on' to "ou an" more1 'Come %ere$' %e murmured. 'No.' 'Yes$' %e insisted$ and dre! %er into %is arms$ mo#in' %er smoot% " into r%"t%m !it% t%e music$ %is dar* %ead o!erin' unti %is mout% %o#ered soft " a'ainst %er ear. '." !oman$ bunn" rabbit$' %e !%is&ered. '.ine$ !%et%er "ou !ant to be or not.' 'Ho! t"&ica " arro'ant/' s%e sna&&ed. 'Ho! t"&ica " "ou$ t%at "ou fi'%t !it% "our ton'ue !%i e "our bod" cur s so de icious " into mine.' Start ed$ s%e !ent sti $ on " t%en a!are of %o! instincti#e " %er

arms %ad cur#ed around %is s%ou ders$ %er bod" arc%in' to!ards %is. 'Damn "ou$' s%e muttered$ and &u ed a!a". 'I'm 'oin' to bed$' s%e announced$ turnin' to !a * off t%e dance(f oor. '4ood.' .ac's arm came comfortab " across %er s%ou ders. 'I'm comin' !it% "ou.' 'Not to m" bed$ "ou're not$ s%e informed %im. 'I !as actua " en)o"in' m"se f toni'%t unti "ou came a on'/' s%e si'%ed out frustrated " as t%e" reac%ed t%e !aitin' ift. 'I noticed$' %e dra! ed as %e ifted an arm to sto& t%e ift doors c osin' !%i e %e us%ered %er inside. His sudden c%an'e in tone a one made %er ' ance s%ar& " at %im. 'You !ere !atc%in' us/' Roberta accused$ seein' t%e sudden an'r" ' int in %is narro!ed e"es. 'Ri'%t from o&enin' to 'rand fina e$' %e moc*ed$ stabbin' a %ard fin'er at t%e ift conso e t%en eanin' %is s%ou ders bac* a'ainst t%e !a as t%e door s id s%ut. He fi,ed %er !it% a bitter oo*. 'So I a so sa! t%e !a" "ou oo*ed at %im$' %e said ti'%t ". 'And t%e & easure "ou found dancin' in %is arms/ And+'oddammit$ Roberta$' %e e,& oded sudden "$ 'but I a so sa! "ou !onderin' )ust !%at it !ou d be i*e to ta*e %im to "our damned bed/' <T%at's a ie$' s%e cried$ 'i#in' %im bac* oo* for an'r" oo*. 'Is it1' %e c i&&ed. 'You mean "ou didn't !onder()ust once+!%at it !ou d be i*e to %a#e %im as "our o#er instead of me1' 'I((((((((' 4od$ %ad s%e been so ob#ious1 Co our sur'ed into %er c%ee*s. Ne#er a 'ood iar$ s%e found s%e cou dn't ie no!$ e#en !%en it !as none of %is business !%at s%e !as t%in*in'/ '0e $ et me te "ou somet%in'$ s!eet%eart$' %e murmured 'rim ". 'You' ne#er *no!. Not if "ou #a ue "our )ob in m" com&an"$ t%at is.' '0%at+!%at do "ou mean1' s%e 6uestioned !ari "$ not i*in' t%e dan'erous oo* m %is e"es.

'I mean$' be said$ 't%at 8ar -orin' is ri'%t off t%e a'enda !%ere "ou are concerned+and t%at$' %e added t%reatenin' " !%en s%e !ent to &rotest$ 'is an order$ direct from "our c%airman+not )ust t%e )ea ous o#er.' 'E,( o#er$' s%e corrected mutinous ". 'It !i be e,(c%airman to "ou$ too$ if "ou disobe" me on t%is$ Roberta. I am t%at serious. 8ar -orin' is out$ or "ou' be out of m" com&an". It's as cut and dried as t%at/' And t%at$ s%e made t%orou'% note$ !as t%e boss in %im s&ea*in'. A boss !%o ne#er said a !ord !it%out meanin' it. T%e ift sto&&ed$ t%e doors s idin' smoot% " o&en$ !%ic% !as a 'ood )ob because it 'a#e %er somet%in' to do !it% %er frustration+s%e cou d sta * out into t%e %a !a" and storm a on' to %er room. He !as ri'%t be%ind %er. Of course %e !as ri'%t be%ind %er/ s%e ac*no! ed'ed an'n ". T%is !as So omon .ac aine$ and not%in' fa2ed %im$ not e#en t%e !it%erin' oo* s%e %ad sent %im before s%e eft t%e ift/ 'I to d "ou...' s%e be'an to &rotest !%en %e !as sti ri'%t be%ind %er as s%e o&ened %er suite door. 'And I to d "ou$' %e countered$ %is %and at t%e base of %er s&ine$ &ro&e in' %er into t%e room so t%at %e cou d fo o! itera " seet%in' !it% an'r" frustration$ s%e rounded on %im. '5ust because "ou &a" m" !a'es$ .r .ac aine$' s%e be'an furious "$ 'it doesn't mean "ou can((((( ' He !a *ed ri'%t &ast %er$ 'rim indifference to an"t%in' s%e mi'%t !ant to sa" scored into %is arro'ant face as %e !a *ed across t%e room t%en &aused b" t%e o! coffee(tab e. '0%ere is t%e 9ranc 3runner fi e1' %e as*ed. 'I(((((((-oc*ed a!a" in m" briefcase$' s%e to d %im$ momentari " stum&ed b" %is 6uic* c%an'e from an'r" o#er+e,( o#er+to 'rim " focused businessman.

'4et it$' %e commanded. 9ro!nin' in confusion$ s%e !ent to fetc% it from t%e bedroom. 'I t%ou'%t "ou said "ou !eren't 'oin' to 'et in#o #ed !it% t%is dea $' s%e said as s%e came bac*. 'T%ere !ere a fe! &ro#isos attac%ed to t%at statement$ if I remember correct "$ %e moc*ed. '3ut$' %e t%en added 'rim "$ 't%in's %a#e c%an'ed. And neit%er of us is 'ettin' in#o #ed !it% it.' '0%at do "ou mean1' s%e as*ed as %e reac%ed for t%e fi e. 'Cuite sim& " !%at I said$' %e ans!ered s%ort ". 'T!o can & a" at 9ranc 3runner's itt e 'ame. And from no! on neit%er "ou nor I are a#ai ab e for ta *s$ meetin's or an"t%in' for t%e ne,t fe! da"s. '3ut I %a#e a meetin' a set u& !it% 3runner tomorro!$ and 8ar is((((' 'Cance $' %e said. 'Cance bot%. And don't do it "ourse f$' %e added as an aftert%ou'%t. '4et Rece&tion to do it for "ou. I !ant no contact+ none !%atsoe#er+ bet!een "ou and -orin' or 3runner.' '3ut+8ar is on our side$ .ac$' s%e reminded %im confused ". '0%" & a" footsie !it% %im1' '8ar -orin' is certain " not on our side$ .iss C%and er$' %e corrected 6uiet ". '8ar -orin' is on 8ar -orin''s side. He's in ca%oots !it% 9ranc 3runner$ &robab " on commission$ so it's in %is best interests to 'et t%e most %e can out of us before 3runner si'ns an"t%in'. 5oe and -orin' !ere friends in t%eir co e'e da"s. 0%en 3runner be'an to set t%is dea u& 5oe contacted -orin' to &ic* %is brains o#er 3runner's re&utation. -orin' sa! instant " t%at %e %ad a c%ance at 'ettin' in on t%is dea so %e offered %is ser#ices+to bot% men. His u timate 'oa bein' to ine %is o!n &oc*et$ of course.' 'You mean$' Roberta 'as&ed in %orror$ 't%at 8ar -orin' %as actua " been usin' %is friends%i& !it% 5oe to s6uee2e as muc% out of %im as %e cou d1' .ac nodded$ %is attention seemin' " fi,ed on t%e stac* of &a&ers %e

!as busi " siftin' t%rou'%. 'T%e first rate of sur#i#a in t%e !or d of bi' business$ Roberta$ is ne#er to trust an"one$ not e#en "our friends. 5oe *no!s t%at$ %e added 'rim ". <3ut %e con#enient " for'ot t%at ru e !it% -orin' and deferred to %is friend " ad#ice ri'%t t%e !a" a on' t%e ine.' 9ee in' a bit as t%ou'% s%e %ad )ust been *noc*ed do!n b" a steamro er$ Roberta san* into t%e nearest c%air$ tr"in' to !or* out %o! .ac %ad come b" t%at conc usion !%en as far as s%e %ad seen t%ere !as not%in'+not%in'+to ma*e %im sus&ect suc% a t%in'/ 'I don't see %o! "ou can &ossib " *no! a of t%is for sure$' s%e murmured da2ed " in t%e end. 'Cuite easi "$' .ac said. '-ast ni'%t I !ent round to 5oe 's f at to t%um& %im a'ain for tr"in' to mo#e in on "ou$ and++' 'O%$ "ou didn't %it %im a'ain$ did "ou1 Roberta &ut in concerned ". To %er sur&rise$ .ac smi ed. 'He !as too damned drun* to &unc%$' %e to d %er ruefu ". '-ou Sa es$' s%e remembered$ and found %erse f smi in' !it% %im. '3ut !%i e be !as ramb in' on about "ou$ me$ %im and a ot of ot%er stuff I didn't for one moment understand %e a so mana'ed to s%o! %is concern for t%is dea $' be e,& ained. 'And t%e mess %e *ne! %e !as ma*in' of it.' 'So$ "ou're %ere e,&ress " to sort t%is a out for 5oe 1' s%e demanded$ be'innin' to fee t%e first rumb in' of %ard sus&icion. 'Of course$' %e ans!ered smoot% ". 'Yet "ou'#e been refusin' to %e & me sort it a out/' s%e cried. T%en anot%er t%ou'%t bit %er$ narro!in' %er e"es and ma*in' %er %ands c enc% an'ri " at %er sides. '0%" am I %ere$ .ac1' s%e demanded 6uiet ". .ac ' anced at %er$ and t%at !as a it too* for t%e #er" ast &enn" to dro& borne$ 'You're %ere as m" %ands(on assistant$' %e moc*ed. 'An"t%in' to sa" to t%at$ .iss C%and er1' %e en6uired &ro#o*in' ".

<T%at de&ends$' s%e came bac* stiff "$ 'on !%et%er I'm ta *in' to m" boss or t%e man I used to 'o to bed !it%.' 'O%$ "our o#er$ dar in'$' %e dra! ed a2i "$ ma*in' a fine but c ear distinction bet!een %er &ast tense and %is &resent. '.ost definite " "our o#er.' <T%en "ou're not%in' but an unscru&u ous ra*e/' s%e f ared$ be'innin' to seet%e !it% )ust about e#er" an'r" emotion s%e &ossessed. 'Ra*e1' be c%o*ed. '0%at %a#e I )ust said t%at cou d e#en #a'ue " be described as ra*is%1' He !as au'%in' at %er$ re a,ed a'ain$ en)o"in' %imse f at %er e,&ense. His e"es %ad turned a !arm and a&&ea in' s%ade of 're"$ %is mout% t!itc%in' !it% t%at itt e smi e t%at a !a"s 'ot to %er$ no matter %o! an'r" !it% %im s%e !as. 'T%en !%" e se %a#e "ou 'ot "our e,( o#er' it !as %er turn to abour t%e distinction '+%ere$ if not to %a#e "our ra*is% !a" !it% %er1' 'Ra*is%.' He s%oo* %is %ead$ sti au'%in' at %er. 'I o#e it.'

'Don't come near me/' s%e !arned as %e be'an !a *in' to!ards %er. '0%" not1' %e c%a en'ed$ sti comin'. '3ecause "ou're too damned sure of "ourse f for "our o!n 'ood.' 'Sure enou'% to *no! t%at I can ma*e "ou fee !onderfu if "ou 'i#e me a c%ance$' %e murmured$ reac%in' %er. 'I'#e 'ot a bar'ain for "ou$' %e said as %is arms c osed around %er. 'Ho! !ou d "ou i*e t%ree !%o e da"s of m" undi#ided attention & a"in' tourist !%i e !e ta*e a#oidin' action a'ainst 3runner1' '9or !%at &ur&ose1' s%e demanded sus&icious "$ *no!in' t%at t%is man ne#er su''ested an"t%in' !it%out an u terior moti#e. '9or t%e &ur&ose of en)o"in' eac% ot%er's com&an"$ of course$' %e ans!ered$ t%en dre! %er c oser to %im. 'Doesn't it a&&ea )ust a itt e bit$ bunn" rabbit1' %e murmured$ %is i&s brus%in' tem&tin' " a'ainst

%ers. 'T%ree !%o e da"s of m" undi#ided attention ad ed so e " u&on "ou1' 'I t%ou'%t "ou %ad more &ride t%an to c%ase after a !oman$' s%e &outed as a de iberate 'oad$ but rea " %is tenacit" !as !armin' %er a t%e !a" t%rou'%. Per%a&s be did care for %er1 Per%a&s %e e#en cared more t%an %e actua " rea ised %imse f1 Stran'e "$ %e smi ed$ %is e"es soft " amused as t%e" 'a2ed dee& " into %er o!n. '0%at's m" &ride !ort% !%en 'au'ed a'ainst+t%is...1' %e murmured as %e cau'%t %er mout%.

'T%is' !as s!eet$ it !as 'ent e and it reac%ed ri'%t do!n dee& inside %er and coi ed itse f ti'%t " around e#er" & easurab e sensor s%e &ossessed. His mout% !as !arm and tender$ %is ton'ue moist and e,6uisite " an'uid as it )oined !it% %er o!n. His %ands !ere i'%t " caressin' f es% t%at &reened to %is touc%. S%e si'%ed soft "$ !is%in' s%e cou d %ate %im and *no!in' s%e cou dn't$ and on an act of defeat %er arms s id u& %is arms and around %is nec*$ fin'ers c osin' into %is %air to brin' %is mout% more t%orou'% " on to %er o!n. 'Sa" "es$' %e ur'ed a'ainst %er searc%in' mout%. 'O%$ 4od$' s%e c%o*ed$ des&isin' %erse f for bein' so eas" for %im. 'Yes$ damn "ou$ So omon .ac aine+"es/' On a soft 'ro! of trium&% %e 'at%ered %er into %is arms$ %is mout% fi,ed %un'ri " on to %ers as %e carried %er t%rou'% to t%e bedroom. Her c ot%es !ere remo#ed b" e,&ert %ands$ %ands t%at *ne! )ust !%ere to touc% and %o! to touc% to arouse %er. 3" t%e time s%e %ad remo#ed %is )ac*et$ tie and s%irt$ s%e !as ost in t%e ma'ic t%at !as %is a one+%is bod"$ %is *isses$ %is ti'%t " musc ed f es% !%ere %er %ands cou d run at !i . On " once did sanit" brief " raise its %ead to !arn %er t%at s%e !as !ron' ettin' t%is %a&&en. '.ac$' s%e !%is&ered &rotestin' " a'ainst %is mout%.

3ut %e &re(em&ted %er$ &us%in' %er 'ent " do!n on to t%e bed and fo o!in' %er !it% %is bod"$ %ot and %ard. 'You !ant t%is$ Roberta$' %e stated 'rim ". '0e bot% do$ so muc%$ !e ac%e.' He !as o%$ so ri'%t$ s%e ac*no! ed'ed !%en$ to &ro#e it$ %e ran %is %ands do!n %er bod"$ caressin' %er !%ere %e *ne! so !e t%at s%e cou dn't %e & but arc% and 'roan !it% desire. :See1' %e murmured$ s idin' %is mout% sensuous " a'ainst %ers. 'Your bod"'s cr"in' out for me. You !ant to fee m" mout% c ose around "our breasts and suc*+ suc* %ard unti "ou can't te t%e &ain from t%e s%eer & easure of it.' S%e 'as&ed as %e did )ust t%at$ o!erin' %is %ead to c ose %is i&s around one t%robbin' &ea*$ %is ton'ue f ic*in' 'reedi " around it before %e suc*ed it dee& " into %is mout%. Her soft cr" as & easure ri&&ed t%rou'% %er accom&anied %er fin'ers c utc%in' at %is %ead to %o d %im to %er as s%e t%rust u&!ards in a sensua need for more. He 'a#e it$ s%iftin' to t%e ot%er breast$ ra#is%in' it$ dri#in' %er so cra2" t%at s%e %ad to &u %ard at %is %air$ brin'in' %is bead u& before s%e actua " ost a contro t%ere and t%en. Trium&% ' o!ed in %is e"es as %e oo*ed do!n on %er$ because %e *ne! )ust %o! &o!erfu " %e affected %er. 3ut %e !as affected too7 s%e cou d fee it in t%e %ectic &um&in' of %is %eart$ see it in t%e dar*ened tautness of %is face and t%e !a" %is f es% 6ui#ered across ti'%t " &ac*ed musc e$ as des&erate to fee %er touc% as %er f es% needed %is. And$ as if %e *ne! !%at s%e !as t%in*in'$ be ac*no! ed'ed it$ trai in' a %and do!n %er stomac% to %er na#e $ t%en furt%er$ unti %e'd di&&ed into t%e %ot$ moist core of %er. '.ine$' %e !%is&ered &ossessi#e ". '." !oman$ do "ou %ear1 .ine and no one e se's. 4od/' %e c%o*ed t%en$ on a sudden u&sur'e of im&assioned &ossessi#eness. 'Ne#er an"bod" e se's/' He too* %er mout% a'ain$ dra!in' %er into t%e *ind of *iss t%at dru''ed t%e senses !%i e %e aroused %er !it% an ur'enc" t%at actua " mana'ed to s%oc* %er. Hands$ mout%$ ton'ue$ t%e &u sin' dominance of %is ti'%t " musc ed f es% so beautifu "$ e,cruciatin' " sensua t%at s%e became too ost to do an"t%in' ot%er t%an fo o! !%ere %e ed.

Her bod" became a &u&&et$ coa,ed to res&ond to %is s i'%test touc%. And s%e re#e ed in t%e res&onse s%e ur'ed from %im+t%e 6uic*enin' rise and fa of %is c%est beneat% %er caressin' fin'erti&s$ t%e ras&in' %iss of %is breat% !%en s%e ran t%em a on' %is 'roin$ teasin' %im b" a#oidin' contact !it% t%at %ard$ t%robbin' core of %im t%at t%rust ur'ent " a'ainst %er t%i'% unti %e cou d stand t%e teasin' no on'er and 'rabbed one of %er %ands$ forcin' it %ard do!n on to %im !%i e %e &unis%ed %er b" dra!in' on %er breasts a'ain$ dra!in' and dra!in' unti s%e cried out in !retc%ed &rotest. He *ne! !%at s%e !anted+needed from %im e#en before %er e's &arted to ur'e %im bet!een t%em. 3ut for some reason of %is o!n .ac !as %o din' bac*$ %is breat%in' fierce as %e %e d %imse f a!a" from %er a itt e$ su&&ortin' %imse f on arms !%ic% s%oo* !%i e %e oo*ed into %er &assion(da2ed e"es. '0%at do "ou !ant1' %e demanded 'ruff ". 'You$' s%e !%is&ered. 'I !ant "ou$ inside me$ fi in' me. I !ant "ou/' S%e tried to ca&ture %is mout% but %e !ou dn't et %er$ t%e s!o en &o!er of %is man%ood brus%in' so tanta isin' " c ose to its 'oa t%at %er senses s6uirmed in frustration. 'P ease$ .ac+& ease/' s%e be''ed. 'No!$ tomorro! and a t%e ot%er tomorro!s+!i "ou sti !ant me t%en1' 'Yes$ o%$ "es/' s%e 'roaned$ too de irious to t%in* about !%at s%e !as sa"in' or$ more to t%e &oint$ !%at %e !as as*in' of %er. '9ore#er. I o#e "ou+"ou *no! t%at.' He s%uddered #io ent " as if %er ans!er %ad reac%ed in and touc%ed somet%in' dee& inside %im$ t%en %e t%rust %imse f inside %er$ fi in' %er as s%e'd so des&erate " needed %im to do$ and %er e's !ound ti'%t " around %is %i&s$ %er arms 'oin' around %is nec* to &u %is mout% %un'ri " do!n on to %ere. And$ fused to'et%er i*e t%at$ t%e" be'an to mo#e. It !as s o! and it !as stron'$ t%eir f es% at one !it% t%eir dri#in' senses as t%e" c imbed to!ards t%at u timate 'oa !%ere e#er"t%in'

!ou d s%atter in a crescendo of s%eer out(of(bod" & easure. T%eir breat% s%attered first$ fo o!ed b" t%eir minds$ t%en t%e &u sin'$ t%robbin' co a&se of e#er"t%in' &%"sica . And it !ent on and on$ %o din' t%em tota " ca&ti#e b" t%e most &o!erfu and &ro on'ed c ima, t%e" %ad e#er s%ared. Comin' bac* to rea it" !as not eas"$ or 6uic*. Roberta !as fee in' s%a*en b" it a $ and s%e 'uessed t%at .ac !as fee in' #er" muc% t%e same %imse f. 3ut$ as t%eir musc es s o! " re a,ed and t%eir breat%in' too* on a steadier &ace$ %e ifted %is %ead from t%e moist %eat of %er t%roat !%ere it %ad urc%ed !%en %is contro %ad fina " eft %im$ and said t%ic* "$ 'You are t%e most se f ess " 'i#in' !oman I'#e e#er *no!n$ do "ou *no! t%at1' <T%an* "ou$' s%e !%is&ered$ o#in' %im+unab e to sto& %erse f o#in' %im. S%e understood t%at no!. 'No.' He s%oo* %is dar* %ead. 'I t%an* "ou$ for )ust bein' !%at "ou are to me. T%an* "ou$' %e re&eated 'ruff " a'ain$ t%en ca&tured %er mout% !it% a *iss so utter " s!eet t%at for some cra2" reason it made %er !ant to cr". Yet s%e didn't$ and t%e reason !%" came in t%e ne,t moment !%en t%e te e&%one b" t%e bed be'an to rin'. .ac muttered somet%in' and !ent to mo#e a!a"$ but s%e sto&&ed %im$ a forebodin' t%e i*e of !%ic% s%e'd ne#er e,&erienced in %er ife before ma*in' %er c in' to %im in &anic. 'No$' s%e & eaded an,ious " a'ainst %is i&s. '-ea#e it.'

'I can't$' be 'roaned. 'It mi'%t be im&ortant.' 3ut %is mout% !as soft and %un'r" a'ainst %ers as %e said t%e !ords$ and !%en s%e !ra&&ed %er arms around %is nec* and mo#ed sensua " a'ainst %im %e s%uddered$ %is %ands s idin' do!n t%e en't% of %er$ on' fin'ers &ossessi#e and tremb in'$ and Roberta fe t a %ot f ood of e ation as %e 'ri&&ed %o d of %er %i&s %ard and t%rust %imse f a'ainst %er$ a read" aroused$ e#en after !%at t%e" %ad )ust s%ared.

T%en$ !it% t%eir mout%s sti fused$ %e e#ered %imse f a!a" from %er. 'One minute$' %e &romised a'ainst %er c in'in' i&s. '5ust one s%ort minute$ dar in'$ & ease.' And %e &rised %imse f free. His %and !as not 6uite stead" as %e ifted t%e recei#er from its rest. 'Yes1' %e bit out$ !%i e %is e"es$ so dar* and s umberous !it% satiation and ne! desire$ de#oured %er !%ere s%e a"$ touc%in' distance a!a" from %im. S%e 6ui#ered and %e sa! it %a&&en$ t%e %ot f us% of &assion dar*enin' %is c%ee*s. And it on " %it %er at t%at moment t%at t%is !as %er room$ and t%erefore %er te e&%one to ans!er. S%e !as about to sa" as muc% to .ac !%en$ on a sudden f as% of irritation$ %e sat u& and s!un' %is feet to t%e f oor$ t%en s%ot tense " to %is feet. '-u u1' %e muttered s%ar& ". '0%at t%e %e are "ou doin' rin'in' me %ere at t%is time of ni'%t1' And !%ose damned &%one it !as dro&&ed ri'%t out of %er mind as s%e fe t %er %eart dro& i*e a stone to %er feet. -u u$ s%e !as re&eatin' o#er and o#er to %erse f. Of course$ it %ad to be -u u. 0%o e se cou d &ossess t%is *ind of &erfect timin' ot%er t%an .ac's o!n dear -u u1 He istened !%i e Roberta a" &erfect " sti $ fee in' t%e 'oose( bum&s come out a o#er %er f es% as %ars% rea it" s o! " returned. 'Do "ou mean to te me$' .ac said ti'%t "$ 't%at "ou'#e ca ed me on'(distance )ust to te me t%at De ia is i 1' De ia. -u u and De ia. Not )ust one of t%em intrudin'$ but bot%. :0%at1 0%en1' His #oice %ad dee&ened and 'ro!n %us*" !it% concern. 'A ri'%t$ dar in'. Don't cr". S%e' be fine$ bab"$ be sure of it$' .ac murmured soot%in' ". 'An a&&endi, o&eration isn't t%at !orr"in' t%ese da"s... No$ of course I care/' He si'%ed in e,as&eration at somet%in' -u u must %a#e said. '3ut "our mot%er is not m" res&onsibi it" an" more/ I %a#e t%in's to do %ere t%at(((' Anot%er si'% and %is beautifu s%ou ders !ere ramrod(stiff$ %is dar* %ead t%ro!n tense " bac* on %is taut nec*. 0%at !as s%e demandin'

of %im$ Roberta !ondered$ to ma*e %im oo* i*e t%at1 He oo*ed+ tormented. S%e soon found out. 'Of course I %a#en't 'ot one of m" !omen %ere/' Roberta f inc%ed$ %er !%o e bod" )er*in' in &ained s&asm. Of course$ s%e t%ou'%t 'rim ". I'm )ust a &iece of not%in'$ not !ort% mentionin'. Cuiet " s%e c imbed out of t%e bed$ &ic*ed u& %er robe and s%ru''ed it on. 'You *no! I o#e "ou$ dar in'$' .ac stated %ea#i ". '3ut )ust for once can't "ou dea !it% t%is "ourse f1' 0%ate#er -u u said t%en it !as &o!erfu enou'% to ma*e .ac's s%ou ders sa' in defeat. 'A ri'%t+a ri'%t/' %e surrendered im&atient ". 'If "ou rea " need me$ t%en...' His #oice trai ed off$ t%e sound of t%e door o&enin' be%ind %im brin'in' %im s!in'in' around to face Roberta. S%e &aused$ %er 'a2e e#e ed on %is im&atient face. 4o$ s%e si ent " to d %im$ and it !i be t%e ast time "ou' e#er 'et t%is c ose to me. His e"es dar*ened$ t%e tension in %im so &a &ab e t%at Roberta t%ou'%t s%e cou d actua " taste it. T%en %e o!ered %is dar* 'a2e from %er$ t%ic* as%es s!ee&in' t%e &assion out of %is e"es as %e said f at "$ 'Yes. Of course I' come. I' catc% t%e ne,t f i'%t out of %ere.' And s%e turned a!a" and !a *ed out of t%e room. T%ree da"s1 s%e !as t%in*in' bitter ". He cou dn't e#en 'i#e me one/ 4oin' o#er to t%e courtes" bar$ s%e &ic*ed u& a miniature bott e of 9renc% brand"$ &oured it into a ' ass$ and s!a o!ed it do!n in one fier" 'o. 'I'm sorr".' His #oice came$ 6uiet and &rotracted$ from t%e bedroom door!a". Roberta turned to oo* at %im. He !as dressed a'ain$ oo*in' as if %e %ad ne#er been out of t%ose c ot%es toni'%t. S%e turned a!a"$ t%e bitterness !e in' u& inside %er$ too &oisonous

to 'i#e #ent to. '9or 'oodness' sa*e$ Roberta/' %e ras&ed out %ars% ". 'I %a#e no damned c%oice/' 'C%oice1 0e a %a#e c%oices$ .ac$' s%e said f at ". 'And "ou'#e )ust made "ours.' 'And t%at's it1' %e bit out. '3ecause "ou can't %a#e a of me "ou !ant not%in' at a 1 Doesn't t%at ma*e "ou 'reed"$ Roberta1 Damned b ood" se fis% in fact1' Did it1 S%e su&&osed it did. 'In ot%er !ords$ un ess I'm &re&ared to do a t%e com&romisin'$ I'm bein' se fis%. Is t%at !%at "ou're sa"in'1' 'No$' %e si'%ed out %ea#i ". 'I'm sa"in' t%at t%e commitments t%at %a f ru e m" ife are m" &rob em to dea !it% as best as I can. 3ut "our insecurities about our re ations%i& are "our &rob em$ s!eet%eart$ to dea !it% t%e best "ou can$' '." <insecurities<$ as "ou ca t%em$' s%e f ared u& in derision$ ' ie most " in t%e fact t%at "ou sti continue to den" m" e,istence/ Ha#e "ou an" idea %o! c%ea& and insi'nificant t%at ma*es me fee 1' An'r" moc*er" scored across .s face. 'So "ou !ou d rat%er I to d m" distressed dau'%ter to ca bac* !%en I'm finis%ed ma*in' o#e to "ou$ !ou d "ou1' %e t%re! bac* scat%in' ". 'You %ad finis%ed$' s%e reminded %im. 'T%en t%e &%one started rin'in'$ and "ou !ere bac* to den"in' I !as e#en !it% "ou once a'ain.' 'O%$ 4od$' %e si'%ed$ scorin' a !ear" %and t%rou'% %is %air. 'I can't fi'%t "ou on t%is one )ust no!$ Roberta. I %a#e to 'o. 0%ic% doesn't mean I !ant to 'o/' %e t%rust out ti'%t " at %er bitter oo*. 'On " t%at I %a#e to 'o/ You %a#e m" com& ete o"a t" in e#er" !a" t%at is im&ortant to us$ but I cannot &retend I %a#e no fami " commitments )ust to ease "our &ossessi#e strea*. T%e"'re t%ere. I %a#e to dea !it% t%em. I can't offer "ou an" more reassurance t%an t%at/' And !asn't t%at ri'%t+%o! it s%ou d be1 S%e censured %er o!n resentfu ness. 0ou dn't s%e actua " fee as%amed of %im if %e c%ose

t%e ot%er !a"1 Of course %is fami " %ad to come first. T%e" !ere fami "/ 9 es% of %is f es%/ 5ust because %er o!n fami " didn't %a#e a nurturin' 'ene bet!een t%em$ it did not mean s%e %ad t%e ri'%t to be'rud'e t%ose !%o did/ 'T%en ta*e me !it% "ou/' s%e & eaded im&u si#e "$ %er face un*no!in' " #u nerab e as s%e stared at %im across t%e fu !idt% of t%e room. 'If "ou don't !ant to ea#e me$ t%en ta*e me !it% "ou/ 9or 'oodness' sa*e$ .ac/' s%e cried$ !%en s%e sa! t%e an'r" refusa a read" formin' in %is e"es. '4i#e me somet%in' ot%er t%an "our bod" t%at sa"s it's !ort% carr"in' t%is re ations%i& on/' He *ne! s%e meant it$ too. T%ere !as a ne! i'%t burnin' in %er e"es t%at !arned %im t%at t%is time+t%is time s%e !ou d not et %im seduce %er out of %er reso #e. It !as u& to %im no! to decide !%et%er %e !as &re&ared to offer %er more of %imse f t%an be bad been doin' or$ more im&ortant " &er%a&s$ if %e cared enou'% about %er to offer %er more. '." 4od$' %e si'%ed$ f as%in' %er a %ard$ im&atient oo*$ t%en$ 'A ri'%t/' %e surrendered. 'You can come/' Her %eart ea&t$ %er c%est e,&andin' on a s!e of trium&%. 'T%an* "ou$' s%e !%is&ered s%a*i ". 'Don't t%an* me$ Roberta$' .ac ans!ered 'rim ". 'I am doin' t%is under &rotest$ as "ou !e *no!. You !ant more from me. You're 'ettin' more from me. 3ut it's 'oin' to cause &rob ems t%at I cou d !e do !it%out ri'%t no!.' He meant %is fami "$ and %er ea&in' %eart san* !%en s%e rea ised %o! muc% %e resented %er &us%in' %im into a corner i*e t%is. 3ut it !as no! or ne#er$ s%e reminded %erse f 'rim ". He mi'%t be ri'%t$ and %er timin' !as ous"$ but !ou d t%ere e#er be a ri'%t time for %er to ma*e a stand1 Her e,&erience to date said no$ ne#er+ not !%i e %is fami " demanded more from %im t%an &ossib " !as fair. Her c%in came u&$ determination ' o!in' in %er 'reen e"es to %o d on to t%is bit of ne! 'round s%e %ad !on for %erse f$ !%et%er %e i*ed it

or not. 'And t%e 3runner dea 1' s%e as*ed as ca m " as s%e cou d. '0%at do "ou !ant me to do about t%at$ no! !e are bot% ea#in' =uric%1' .ac &aused as %e !as about to t%ro! o&en t%e door$ and s%e sensed a sudden tension in %im before %e turned bac* to ' ance at t%e fi e. 'Pac* t%at$' %e commanded. '5oe !on't be free to come %ere for a fe! more da"s so %e can brin' it bac* !it% %im !%en %e does.' 'And t%e ca s1' s%e as*ed. 'Do "ou sti !ant me to &ut t%rou'% t%ose ca s to 3runner1' 'No.' He turned a!a" a'ain. '9or'et t%em. 9or'et t%e !%o e damned t%in' for no!$' %e decided im&atient ". 'I'm 'oin' to find out t%e times of t%e -ondon f i'%ts$' be said$ t%en &aused a'ain$ %is 'a2e fi,ed on t%e sti uno&ened door. 'Is t%is enou'% of t%e more "ou'#e been demandin' from me1' %e as*ed %us*i ". Her c%in came u&$ 'No$' s%e ans!ered bra#e ". '3ut it's a start.' 'As I said$' %e si'%ed$ '"ou're a 'reed" !oman$ Roberta.' '3ut sti "our !oman$' s%e countered. 'As "ou i*e to c aim.' He made no re& " to t%at one$ but s%e sa! %is s%ou ders 'i#e a ruefu s%ru'. 'See "ou ater$' %e said$ t%en %e !as 'one$ ea#in' %er to sin* !ea* " into t%e nearest c%air$ fee in' as t%ou'% s%e %ad )ust run and !on a marat%on. 3ut %e cared$ s%e reminded %erse f staunc% ". T%ree da"s+t%ree !%o e da"s %e %ad tried to &ut aside for %er/ And$ e#en if -u u's ca %ad effecti#e " ruined a of t%at$ ne! %o&e be'an to f are i*e fire in %er breast. .ac's fami " came first !it% %im+&er%a&s t%e" !ou d a !a"s come first+but t%ere !as room in %is %eart for %er too7 s%e !as sure of it no!. And s%e !as sudden " determined not to 'i#e u& a sin' e inc% of t%at s&ace !it%out a damned 'ood fi'%t/

CHAPTER SE?EN 3Y 9I?E o'c oc* t%at same mornin' t%e" !ere at t%e air&ort$ !aitin' in t%e de&arture oun'e for t%eir f i'%t to be ca ed. T%e moment t%e"'d c%ec*ed in .ac %ad 'one off to ca t%e %os&ita to find out %o! De ia !as. Sittin' !aitin' !it% t%eir f i'%t ba's$ Roberta !atc%ed %im come stridin' bac* to %er$ t%e dar* fro!n on %is face fi in' %er !it% a sma sense of a arm. '0%at's t%e matter1' s%e as*ed %im s%ar& ". 'I don't *no!$' %e 'runted$ t%ro!in' %imse f do!n in t%e c%air beside %er. 'S%e's sti in T%eatre. 9or a strai'%tfor!ard a&&endi, o&eration it seems to be ta*in' an a!fu on' time...' '0%at time did t%e" ta*e %er into T%eatre1' Roberta as*ed concerned ". He ' anced at %is !atc%. 'A most four %ours a'o no!.' He fro!ned a'ain. 'I %o&e t%e b ood" & ane doesn't ta*e off ate/' %e sna&&ed$ on a sur'e of an,ious im&atience. Roberta reac%ed out to touc% %is arm. 'S%e' be a ri'%t$' s%e tried to assure %im. 'De ia is fit and %ea t%". 0%ate#er is com& icatin' t%in's s%e' come t%rou'% it a )ust fine.' 'It isn't De ia I'm !orr"in' about$' %e muttered$ and 'ot u&$ mo#in' a!a" on rest ess e's$ ea#in' %er to dra! %er o!n conc usions from t%at. -u u. He %ad to mean -u u. Did t%at 'ir %a#e an" idea %o! uc*" s%e !as %a#in' a fat%er i*e .ac1 s%e !ondered !istfu ". Arri#in' at Heat%ro! ri'%t in t%e midd e of t%e commuter rus%$ Roberta b essed %er o!n foresi'%t in t%in*in' of %a#in' a car aid on$ read" and !aitin' to !%i& t%em into -ondon. 3" t%en t%e" !ere bot% tired7 neit%er %ad s e&t. It %ad been 'one t!o o'c oc* !%en -u u's ca %ad come t%rou'% to .ac$ and b" t%e time t%e" %ad &ac*ed and made arran'ements to tra#e it %ad been a most time to ea#e for t%e air&ort

to catc% t%e first s%utt e to -ondon. Since ea#in' =uric% %ard " a !ord %ad been e,c%an'ed bet!een t%em. .ac %ad sun* dee& into %imse f$ !aitin' out t%e )ourne" !it% a necessar" &atience$ but t%e dar* e,&ression on %is face %ad said t%at %is concerned t%ou'%ts !ere !it% %is dau'%ter and %is e,(!ife and$ !ise "$ Roberta %ad not tried to intrude. It !as mid(mornin' before t%e" !a *ed t%rou'% t%e doors of t%e & us% &ri#ate %os&ita !%ere De ia %ad been admitted. After a s%ort con#ersation !it% t%e 'ir on Rece&tion$ !%o !as unab e+or un!i in' +to te t%em an"t%in'$ t%e" !ere directed to!ards t%e ifts and t%e f oor t%at De ia's room !as situated on. It !as e#ident as soon as t%e ift doors o&ened on to -u u's strained !%ite face t%at t%e &oor c%i d !as a most frantic !it% !orr". S%e sa! Roberta first$ and for a moment somet%in' murderous sna&&ed into t%e "oun'er 'ir 's e"es$ t%en$ as t%e" ste&&ed out of t%e ift$ s%e !as t%ro!in' %erse f into .ac's arms. .ac cau'%t %er to %im$ %is arms c osin' secure " around t%is dau'%ter !%o meant a t%e !or d to %im. 'O%$ Dadd"/' s%e cried. 'It's a!fu / Nobod" !i te me an"t%in'$ and s%e's been 'one %ours and %ours/' 'S%us%$' %e murmured soot%in' ". '4i#e me fi#e minutes and I' find out )ust !%at's been 'oin' on$' %e assured %er. 'No!$ is t%ere a !aitin'( room or somet%in'$ !%ere "ou can !ait !%i e I(( ' 'I'm comin' !it% "ou/' -u u insisted tearfu ". 'I !ant to see t%eir faces !%en t%e" tr" fobbin' "ou off t%e same !a" t%e"'#e been doin' to me/' Des&ite t%e 'ra#it" of t%e situation$ Roberta cou dn't %e & smi in' at t%at$ i*e %is dau'%ter$ s%e !as !e a!are of .ac's intimidatin' force !%en %e met !it% resistance in an" !a". 4 ancin' at %er o#er t%e to& of -u u's dar* %ead$ .ac sa! t%e smi e$ and moc*ed it ruefu "$ ta*in' a moment out %imse f to ac*no! ed'e t%e %umour in t%e remar*. '0i "ou !ait1' %e t%en as*ed %er %us*i ".

Roberta nodded. 'Don't !orr" about me$' s%e said. '5ust 'o and find out %o! De ia is.' He nodded 'ratefu "$ t%en turned %is attention bac* to -u u$ dra!in' t%e "oun' 'ir beneat% t%e croo* of %is s%ou der and 'uidin' %er a!a". Roberta !atc%ed t%em 'o$ !is%in' s%e cou d be t%ere !it% t%em$ offerin' t%em bot% %er su&&ort. 3ut s%e !as 6uic* to rea ise t%at t%ere !as a fine but definite ine bet!een su&&ort and intrusion. And one$ s%e ac*no! ed'ed as s%e !ent in searc% of t%e !aitin'(room$ t%at s%e !as 'oin' to %a#e to earn to tread #er" carefu " if .ac's fami " !as e#er 'oin' to acce&t %er &osition in %is ife. Not t%at treadin' t%at *ind of ine !as an"t%in' ne! to %er$ s%e reminded %erse f 'rim ". Her !%o e ife %ad been a series of fine ines dra!n bet!een %erse f and t%ose &eo& e s%e cared about but !%o %ad ot%er t%in's in t%eir i#es !%ic% too* &recedence o#er %er needs. -i*e %er &arents$ for instance$ !%o !ere on " a&&roac%ab e as &arents !%i e bet!een assi'nments. T%en t%ere !as Aunt Sadie$ !%o i#ed t%e obsessi#e ife of a &ainter and$ !%ene#er s%e %ad found %erse f sadd ed !it% %er "oun' niece durin' sc%oo %o ida"s$ %ad mana'ed to come u& !it% )ust about an"t%in' to *ee& t%at c%i d out of %er %air so t%at %er routine !as not disturbed more t%an it needed to be. Aunt Sadie i#ed in a cotta'e 6uite c ose to -a*e 0indermere$ !%ic% !as &er%a&s fortunate for t%e midd e(a'ed s&inster$ !%o didn't %a#e muc% e,&erience !it% c%i dren$ because s%e %ad so #ed t%e &rob em b" fi in' Roberta's time !it% )ust about an" a*e and acti#it" s%e cou d find for %er/ Sai in'$ s*iin'$ !indsurfin'((( 0r" " Roberta counted t%em off in %er %ead. Out!ard(bound courses$ roc*(c imbin'$ fe (!a *in'+b" t%e time s%e !as ei'%teen$ s%e'd become 6uite &roficient in a of t%em/ s%e reca ed$ !it% a smi e t%at s%o!ed it %adn't a been %orrib e. 3ut it %ad been a different matter !%en s%e %ad been dum&ed on %er t!o bac%e or unc es$ !%o %ad ne#er ta*en t%eir noses out of t%eir

stuff" boo*s on' enou'% to notice t%e one " c%i d t%at t%e"'d been eft in c%ar'e of. E,&erts on )ust about an" c assica sub)ect "ou !ou d i*e to mention$ t%e" i#ed for t%eir fust" o d boo*s$ and %ad e,&ected %er to be #er" 6uiet !%en around$ so as not to disturb t%em. T%ose times %ad been &er%a&s some of t%e most miserab e in %er ife$ s%e remembered$ reca in' one &articu ar " fri'%tenin' da" !%en s%e %ad ta*en i !it% a rat%er nast" bout of tonsi itis t%at %ad *noc*ed %er com& ete " f at. T%e" %adn't *no!n !%at to do !it% %er/ So t%e"'d %ad %er &ac*ed off to a &ri#ate %os&ita !%ere s%e'd sta"ed unti it !as time to 'o bac* to sc%oo . S%e ne#er !ent to t%em a'ain after t%at. T%e" said s%e bro*e t%eir concentration. So$ if Sadie !ou dn't %a#e %er$ s%e %ad sta"ed at sc%oo durin' t%e #acation brea*s. So ma"be it !asn't sur&risin' t%at$ !%en it %ad come to c%oosin' %er o!n career$ s%e'd 'one for somet%in' about as far a!a" from sc%o ar " or artistic as s%e cou d 'et. S%e'd %ad enou'% of intro#ert &eo& e$ and !anted to become a member of t%e rea !or d. 0%ere &eo& e interacted !it% eac% ot%er on a e#e s. 0%ere ife !as e,&erienced at first %and+not t%rou'% t%e second(%and media of boo*s or an artist's &a ette or t%e ens of a camera. So s%e'd c%osen business studies and )oined t%e bi''est com&an" s%e cou d find once s%e'd 'raduated. Yet... S%e fro!ned to %erse f. T%ere %ad to be more of %er fami " in %er t%an s%e'd e#er rea " considered before. 3ecause$ unti .ac$ and des&ite a t%e o&&ortunities & aced %er !a" to be different$ s%e %ad %e d %erse f a oof from most of t%em+treadin' !ari " instead of )um&in' into ife !it% bot% feet as s%e %ad been so determined to do. 3ecause restraint bred restraint+on an emotiona e#e an"!a"$ s%e ac*no! ed'ed. It %ad ta*en .ac and %is d"namic &ersona it" to s%o! %er %o! to o#ert%ro! t%at restraint. And$ e#en t%en$ s%e %ad on " e#er done it for %im. T%e !aitin'(room door f e! o&en. Roberta ' anced u& to find -u u

standin' t%ere$ oo*in' beautifu " tra'ic !it% %er )et(b ac* %air tumb in' in disarra" about %er s ender s%ou der1. 3ut it !as %er o#e " b ue e"es t%at %e d Roberta's attention. T%e" %ad 'one s i'%t " !i d !it% s%oc*. '-u u/' Roberta 'as&ed out in a arm. '0%at's %a&&ened1' 'S%e's )ust come out of sur'er"F S%e oo*ed a!fu / Tubes and bott es %an'in' a o#er t%e & ace/ Dadd" sent me in %ere !%i e %e finds out !%at %e can. 3ut...' S%e burst into tears. 'O%$ -u u/' Roberta cried soft "$ )um&in' to %er feet to ta*e t%e &oor 'ir in %er arms. It !as a mar* of )ust bo! bad " -u u !as affected t%at s%e et Roberta %o d %er. S%e !as tremb in' #io ent "$ t%e s%oc* of seein' %er mot%er i*e t%at %a#in' *noc*ed %er for si,. 'Did t%e" sa" !%" it %ad ta*en t%em so on'1 s%e as*ed 'ent ". T%e si *en dar* %ead nodded a'ainst %er s%ou der. 'An o#arian c"st$ !%(!%ate#er t%at is$' s%e c%o*ed. 'It b(burst$ and t%e &(&oison !(!ent e#er"!%ere/' On anot%er sob$ t%e c%i d s%uddered at t%e %orror of it. 'T%(t%e" sa" s%e must %a#e been fee in' un!e for a'es f(for it to 'et t%at bad. 3ut s%e ne#er so muc% as %inted at it/ T%at's a "our fau t/' Sudden " %er %ead sna&&ed u&$ and s%e 'a#e Roberta a #io ent &us%$ sendin' %er sta''erin' bac*!ards !%i e %er b ue e"es fo o!ed %er !it% murder in t%em a'ain. 'You/' s%e s iced at Roberta$ before s%e'd e#en 'ras&ed %o d of t%e first accusation. 'Turnin' u& at m" birt%da" &art" and f auntin' "our affair !it% Dadd"/' 9 auntin'/ Roberta stared at %er in stunned disbe ief. '-u u$' s%e murmured soot%in' "$ '> !ou d ne#er '

'You did+"ou did/' -u u a but s%rie*ed$ not a o!in' Roberta to finis%. 'You made .umm" so miserab e t%at s%e didn't te an"one s%e !as fee in' i T%en "("ou sta *ed out !%en Dadd" !ou dn't & a" u& to

"ou$ and %e s(sna&&ed at e#er"one a !ee*end+inc udin' .umm"/ He didn't e#en 'i#e %er a ift bac* to -ondon as %e !as su&&osed to do because %e !as too ea'er to 'et bac* to "ou/' T%e enmit" in %er e"es a most s iced Roberta in t!o. :T%(t%en$ !%en s%e did tr" to te %im s%e !as i $ %e'd 'one c%asin' off to =uric% after "ou/ I %ate "ou/' s%e cried. 'Ho! can "ou i#e !it% "ourse f$ comin' bet!een a man and %is !ife as "ou do1' 0%ite(faced and tremb in' at t%e ons au'%t$ Roberta b in*ed in astonis%ment at t%e ast accusation. '3ut "our &arents are no on'er man and !ife$' s%e said 'ent ". '.a"be not no!$' -u u conceded. '3ut t%e" !i be a'ain soon$ if on " "ou !ou d 'o a!a"/' Roberta s%oo* %er %ead. 'You don't *no! !%at "ou're sa"in'$' s%e said$ acce&tin' t%at s%oc* !as ma*in' t%e 'ir %"sterica $ e#en !%i e s%e a so acce&ted t%at t%e %atred comin' from -u u !as rea . 'Don't I1' Starin' at %er t%rou'% %ot$ ' intin' e"es$ -u u's mout% turned do!n into an u' " sneer. 'T%e" sti s ee& to'et%er$ "ou *no!$' s%e announced. 'E#er" time Dadd" conies to t%e %ouse be 'oes to bed !it% .umm".' No. Roberta !as not 'oin' to be ie#e t%at. And neit%er !as s%e 'oin' to ar'ue !it% someone !%o !as so ob#ious " out of contro . 3ut t%e idea t%at -u u cou d actua " con)ure u& suc% an intimate scenario made %er fee s i'%t " sic*$ and s%e o!ered %er %ead so t%at -u u !ou dn't see %er reaction on %er face. 3ut s%e did see it$ and com& ete " misinter&reted it. 'A&&a s "ou$ does it1' s%e taunted. 'T%e idea of m" fat%er 'oin' from "our bed to %ers1 0e $ !%at do "ou t%in* it does to %er1 0%" do "ou t%in* s%e's a !a"s ca in' %im u& at t%at itt e o#e(nest %e %as set u& for "ou+and !%" do "ou t%in* %e a !a"s comes runnin' bac* to %er1 3ecause t%e" sti o#e eac% ot%er$ t%at's !%"$' s%e ans!ered %er o!n 6uestion. 'And one da" t%e" !i 'et married a'ain$ !%et%er "ou're sti on t%e scene or not/'

'I t%in* t%at's enou'%$' Roberta said 6uiet "$ iftin' %er !%ite face to oo* co d " at t%e ot%er 'ir . 'I acce&t t%at "ou're u&set$ and I acce&t t%at "ou're in s%oc*. 3ut if "our fat%er %eard "ou ta *in' i*e t%is %e !ou d be t%e a&&a ed one.' -u u's e"es narro!ed. 'You t%in* I'm "in'$' s%e said. '3ut I'm not. Ho! can "ou sta" !it% a man i*e t%at1' 'I *no! "ou're "in'$' Roberta corrected. 'I *no! "our fat%er %as too muc% res&ect bot% for me and "our mot%er to treat us as dis'racefu " as t%at. Don't "ou t%in*$' s%e t%en su''ested 6uiet "$ 't%at "ou !ou d be better &uttin' a "our ener'" into &ra"in' t%at "our mot%er 'ets !e $ instead of usin' it u& %atin' me1' T%e "oun'er 'ir b anc%ed$ t%e remar* %ittin' %ome. 3ut it didn't a ter t%e de&t% of anti&at%" s%e !as fee in' to!ards Roberta. 'I' 'et rid of "ou$ out of our i#es$ if it's t%e #er" ast t%in' I do/' s%e #o!ed. 5ust t%en t%e door be%ind %er o&ened and .ac !a *ed in. On anot%er f as% of dar* %osti it"$ -u u s&un to face %im$ t%en t%re! %erse f$ sobbin'$ into %is arms. 'O%$ Dadd"/' s%e sobbed. 'S%e's been sa"in' t%e most %orrib e t%in's to me/ S%e sa"s s%e %o&es .umm" dies$ and t%at !%en "ou marr" %er s%e' ma*e sure I ne#er see "ou a'ain/' It !as t%e ra'in' of a deran'ed mind$ and Roberta oo*ed sad " at .ac$ e,&ectin' %im to ac*no! ed'e it$ if on " in a oo*. 3ut as t%e moment stretc%ed$ !it% on " -u u's !retc%ed sobbin' to brea* t%e si ence$ an ice(co d sense of dread be'an to ta*e %er o#er. No$ s%e to d %erse f !it% 'ro!in' disma". He cou dn't &ossib " be ie#e !%at -u u %ad said. 'Send %er a!a"$ Dadd"/' -u u sobbed. 'S%e %ates me. P ease send %er a!a"/' .ac oo*ed at Roberta o#er t%e to& of -u u's bead. Ti'%t( i&&ed and %ard(e"ed$ %e said$ 'You'd better 'o.' T%at !as a $ not%in' e se. And as s%e stood t%ere$ !%ite(faced and

starin' at %im$ s%e cou d sense -u u's trium&%ant au'%ter %idin' be%ind t%ose &retend tears. '.ac. You(((((((( ' At ast s%e tried to defend %erse f$ but it !as too ate$ and %e !asn't istenin' an"!a". His attention !as fi,ed firm " on %is dau'%ter$ %is arms and t%e soft sound of %is #oice a aimed to soot%e %er as %e fed %er out of t%e door !it%out a bac*!ard ' ance. Roberta stared after t%em for a on'$ on' time before it %it %er$ rea " %it %er$ !%at .ac %ad )ust done. T%en$ on rea isin' it$ s%e found s%e sti cou d not no!. A ri'%t$ s%e ar'ued !it% %erse f. He %ad been in s%oc*. -u u %ad been in s%oc*. Dear 4od$ %a#in' istened to -u u's 'arb ed descri&tion of !%at %ad %a&&ened to %er mot%er$ t%e" bot% %ad a ri'%t to be sufferin' from s%oc*/ 3ut it !as !%at %ad come after -u u %ad to d %er about De ia t%at !as %o din' %er stiff and sti . A t%at bitter bi e t%at %ad s&e!ed from -u u's mout%+t%e %atred and resentment t%at %ad been a too rea . T%en t%e 6uic*(t%in*in' ies s%e %ad f un' at %er fat%er is an effort to s%o! Roberta in a bad i'%t. And .ac's face. S%e s%uddered. T%e e,&ression on %is face %ad been a too rea a so. He %ad oo*ed at Roberta !it% a co d contem&t t%at %ad fro2en t%e b ood in %er #eins. S%e didn't for one moment doubt t%at .ac !ou d see -u u's ies for e,act " !%at t%e" !ere once %e'd %ad time to t%in* about t%em. 3ut cou d s%e i#e !it% t%at de&t% of %atred and resentment constant " comin' bet!een %erse f and .ac1 No. S%e oo*ed do!n to !%ere %er %ands !ere sti tremb in' in reaction to -u u's #icious ons au'%t$ and *ne! s%e cou d not continue to ta*e t%at *ind of treatment on t%e c%in$ !it% no ri'%t to reta iate. Her o!n &ride !ou d not a o! %er to. And as on' as .ac continued to refuse %er t%e !ea&ons to reta iate t%ere !as no %o&e for t%em as a cou& e.

C%oices. T%e" !ere bac* to c%oices$ and .ac %ad once a'ain made %is. And$ !it% s%oc* as an e,cuse or not$ s%e acce&ted no! t%at t%e ba ance !ou d a !a"s be ti&&ed -u u's !a". .ac didn't o#e Roberta$ but %e o#ed %is dau'%ter. 3 ood !as t%ic*er t%an !ater. Se, !as no substitute for o#e. S%e cou d ne#er com&ete !it% t%at$ and it !as !a" &ast time t%at s%e acce&ted t%at. S%e %ad to 'et a!a"$ s%e rea ised$ on a sudden burst of mo#ement t%at sent %er !a *in' stiff " to t%e door. And not on " from t%is %os&ita $ but from e#er"t%in'+ .ac$ !or*$ t%e ot. S%e needed to be a one to t%in*$ t%in* on' and %ard about !%at s%e !as 'oin' to do !it% %er ife. S%e needed to 'o %ome..$ And !%ere !as t%at1 s%e as*ed %erse f b ea* " as s%e ste&&ed inside t%e !aitin' ift( T%ere !as a & ace in O,fords%ire t%at s%e su&&osed cou d be ca ed %ome. S%e %ad a *e" to t%e front door of t%e red(bric*ed detac%ed %ouse$ and a room u&stairs t%at s%e su&&osed s%e cou d ca %er o!n$ t%ou'% s%e %ad s&ent #er" itt e time in it. Her &arents !ou dn't be t%ere because t%e" rare " e#er !ere. 3ut at east s%e cou d #irtua " 'uarantee %er o!n so itude !%i e s%e came to some decisions about %erse f. T%e idea !as tem&tin'$ so tem&tin'$ in fact$ t%at b" t%e time a ta,i %ad dro&&ed %er off at 5enn"'s f at s%e %ad %er ne,t fe! %ours firm " & anned out.

5enn" !as sti at !or*+for !%ic% Roberta !as 'ratefu $ because it sa#ed %er %a#in' to e,& ain !%" s%e !as bac* so ear " from =uric% and !%" s%e !as 6uic* " re&ac*in' %er suitcase !it% fres% c ot%es before s%ootin' off a'ain. Instead s%e eft 5enn" a note t%at )ust said sim& "$ '4one a!a" for a fe! da"s. See "ou !%en I 'et bac*.' T%en$ armed !it% %er fres% c ot%es$ t%e *e"s to %er rare " used car and t%e *e"s to %er &arents'

%ouse$ s%e eft for O,fords%ire$ sto&&in' on " once on t%e !a" to &ic* u& t%e necessar" &ro#isions to see %er t%rou'% t%e ne,t fe! da"s. As s%e e,&ected t%e %ouse !as em&t"$ ac*in' t%e !armt% t%at came natura " to a & ace !%ere &eo& e !ere actua " i#in'. It !as c ean$ t%ou'%$ neat and tid"$ because %er &arents em& o"ed a ad" !%o came in a cou& e of times a !ee* to *ee& it t%at !a". Dro&&in' %er suitcase do!n in t%e %a $ s%e !ent bac* to t%e car to co ect %er ba's of s%o&&in'$ efficient " storin' t%em a a!a" in t%e ri'%t & aces before ma*in' a t%ird tri& outside to 'ara'e t%e car so t%at no o#er(2ea ous nei'%bour !ou d come snoo&in' around to see !%o !as usin' t%e C%and er %ouse !%i e t%e" !ere a!a". A fe! minutes after t%at and t%e coffee(&ot !as fu to t%e brim !it% fres% " 'round$ in#itin' " scented coffee$ and s%e sat do!n at t%e *itc%en tab e !it% it+to !i t$ rat%er i*e a f o!er !%en it !as star#ed of o,"'en. Or i*e a %uman bein' !%en star#ed of an" more e,cuses to *ee& de&ression at ba". 4rimacin' at t%e miserab e t%ou'%t$ s%e &oured steamin' coffee into %er cu&$ t%en )ust sat starin' 'rim " do!n at it. It !as ate in t%e afternoon$ and t%e Se&tember sun %ad a read" dro&&ed so o! in t%e s*" t%at dus* !as be'innin' to dra! in. Outside t%ere !as no !ind$ not%in' to disturb t%e mood of dar*enin' de&ression be'innin' steadi " to c ose %er in. T%is !as rura O,fords%ire$ and t%e nearest %ouse to %ere !as at east %a f a mi e a!a". T%e ane t%at ran a on'side t%e %ouse !as used on " b" t%e fe! %ouses dotted a on' its fi#e(mi e en't%. So t%e si ence !as tota +a u,ur" s%e %ad not e,&erienced in a on' time$ -ondon bein' t%e nois"$ bus" cit" it !as. It !as stran'e$ rea "$ but )ust i*e t%e ast time s%e'd reac%ed t%is same mi estone in %er re ations%i& !it% .ac. S%e fe t ca m$ su&erb " com&osed$ refusin' to et an"t%in' e#en #a'ue " u&settin' cree& into %er mind.

S%e !as tired$ s%e reco'nised t%at. P%"sica " e,%austed b" ac* of s ee& and emotiona " e,%austed b" too man" batt es !it% .ac. So s%e sat on and on$ not drin*in' t%e !aitin' coffee or e#en t%in*in' muc%$ but )ust ettin' t%e increasin' dar*ness and a sense of com& ete a oneness in t%e !or d s o! " c ose %er in. .a"be s%e do2ed off. S%e cou d %a#e done$ t%ou'% s%e !asn't abso ute " sure. 3ut a sudden noise brou'%t %er )er*in' out of %er odd %a f(a!areness$ )ust in time for t%e *itc%en door to f " o&en and t%e i'%t to f ic* b indin' " on. S%e b in*ed$ t%en didn't do an"t%in' e se but sit t%ere$ starin' at t%e t!o &eo& e standin' starin' bac* at %er from t%e door!a". Her %air !as on'$ sun(b eac%ed to a near !%iteness$ t%e ends so in need of &rofessiona attention t%at t%e" stuc* out i*e stra! from a tied ba e. And %er face !as tanned to t%e &oint t%at it %ad ta*en on t%e &ro&erties of o d eat%er. S%e !as !earin' )eans$ )eans so o d and tatt" t%at a tram& !ou d turn %is nose u& at t%em$ and %er "e o!(co oured s!eats%irt oo*ed as if it %ad been s e&t in for da"s. He oo*ed no better. His stra'' " red %air and beard a most ob iterated %is face. His c ot%es+an e,act matc% to %ers+%un' on a bod" t%at !as so ta and t%in$ it oo*ed as t%ou'% t%e s i'%test &uff of !ind !ou d *noc* it o#er. 3ut t%at !as a fa ac"$ because t%at bod" !as bui t of %i'%(tensi e !ire$ and so fu of rest ess ener'" t%at e#en !%i e %e stood t%ere so #er" sti %is e"es !ere a i#e. 4reen+bri'%t 'reen+!it% s%oc*$ sur&rise and a ot of consternation. Her &arents$ Roberta t%ou'%t !r" ". In t%eir fifties$ "et t%e" oo*ed i*e a &air of %i&&" teena'ers !%o %ad )ust %itc%(%i*ed bac* from some !i d roc* concert. And t%e consternation t%at t%e" !ere too s%oc*ed to %ide !as )ust %o! teena'ers !ou d fee if t%e" !a *ed in to find a stern &arent !aitin' to 'i#e t%em a dressin'(do!n. T%e" ne#er %ad *no!n %o! to res&ond to %er+t%is c%i d t%e" %ad fanned out as muc% as t%e" &ossib " cou d$ and sent a!a" to boardin'( sc%oo as soon as t%e" &ossib " cou d. T%is c%i d !%o$ because of %er

unusua u&brin'in'$ %ad 'ro!n into a coo " beautifu $ #er" so&%isticated "oun' !oman !%o !as so man" i'%t("ears a!a" from !%at t%e" !ere t%emse #es t%at s%e !as a stran'er to t%em. A &%enomenon t%e" did not understand. '3obb"/' %er fat%er 'as&ed$ bein' t%e first to find %is #oice. '0%at are "ou doin' %ere1' 3obb". Roberta smi ed and !r" " s%oo* %er %ead. 3obb"/ He'd ca ed %er t%at !%en s%e !as one "ear o d. Ca ed %er t%at !%en s%e !as ten. Sti ca ed %er t%at !%en s%e !as fifteen and %ad be''ed %im not to$ because it sounded so bo"is% to a 'ir !%o so des&erate " !anted to be a !oman. He %ad ca ed %er t%at on " a cou& e of !ee*s a'o$ !%en s%e'd run' u& in t%e #a'ue %o&e of catc%in' t%em bet!een assi'nments. 'Hi$ 3obb"$ !%at do "ou !ant1' %e'd as*ed$ ma*in' %er fee as t%ou'% s%e on " ca ed t%em u& !%en s%e !anted somet%in'+!%ic% !as 'ross " untrue. 'To see "ou bot%$ !it% a bit of uc*$' s%e'd t%erefore t%ro!n bac* dri "$ &uttin' %im immediate " on t%e defensi#e. '3ut !e're off to Africa tomorro!$' %e'd com& ained. '3are " 'ot time to turn around. 0i it !ait unti !e 'et bac*1' 0ou d it !ait. Not !ou d s%e !ait. S%e'd fe t i*e a do' eft at t%e oca *enne s((a f uff" !%ite 0est Hi'% and ca ed 3obb"$ eft to &ine for t%e return of its o!ners. Had a !a"s fe t a bit i*e t%at. 0%at !as it !it% t%ese t!o t%at t%e" cou d ne#er seem to see %er as an"t%in' more im&ortant to t%em t%an a itt e &et do'1 In fact s%e %ad a %orrib e idea t%at t%e" !ou d o#e a &et do' more/ 0ou d *no! %o! to o#e a do' more. 4od$ if s%e cou dn't see t%at s%e %ad %er fat%er's 'reen e"es and %er mot%er's b onde %air$ s%e !ou d %a#e !ondered on' a'o if t%e %os&ita %ad mi,ed t!o babies u& on t%e da" s%e !as born/ He / .a"be t%ere !as a b onde(%aired 'reen(e"ed t!ent"(fi#e("ear(o d

%i&&" runnin' about some!%ere$ !it% a camera dan' in' around %er nec* and an un6uenc%ab e ur'e to stud" an"t%in' on four e's / S%e be'an to au'%$ t%e idea sudden " stri*in' %er as #er" funn"$ because it brou'%t on anot%er scenario$ !%ere s%e cou d see t!o #er" conser#ati#e &eo& e stru'' in' to brin' u& t%en( !a"!ard dau'%ter !%o found more & easure in stud"in' t%e matin' %abits of mice t%an !earin' &rett" dresses and earnin' to dance and & a" t%e &iano. A cuc*oo in t%eir nest. 0as s%e a cuc*oo in t%e nest1 T%rou'% e"es s!immin' !it% au'%ter s%e oo*ed at t%em$ sa! %er mot%er's eat%er" face and %er fat%er's fu22" red one. T%en s%e t%ou'%t about t%ose ot%er t!o fictitious &arents s%e %ad )ust con)ured u&+staunc%$ conser#ati#e$ u&ri'%t members of t%e communit". And sudden " s%e !asn't au'%in'. S%e !as cr"in'. Sobbin' as t%ou'% %er %eart !ou d brea* because$ !%ate#er t%ese t!o outra'eous &eo& e !ere to %er$ s%e o#ed t%em/ S%e o#ed t%em so #er" muc% t%at it didn't matter !%o t%e" !ere or !%at t%e" !ere+or e#en if t%e" !ere/ S%e o#ed t%em$ and s%e !is%ed s%e *ne! %o! to te t%em t%at$ because s%e needed t%eir su&&ort ri'%t no!. Needed to *no! t%at t%e" o#ed %er. Her tears %ad furt%er sur&rised t%em7 s%e cou d fee t%at in t%e sudden increase in tension in t%e room. S%e rare " cried$ cou dn't remember t%e ast time s%e %ad bro*en do!n in front of t%em. 3ut no! s%e %ad started s%e cou dn't seem to sto&$ and as %er sobbin' !ent on and on from some!%ere near b" s%e %eard t%e sound of s%uff in' feet$ of & astic *noc*in' a'ainst meta $ and #oices 'as&in' in a arm. T%en an arm came !arm " around %er s%ou ders$ and someone e se !as 'rabbin' at %er %ands. Parents. One to %u' %er and fee secure !it%$ and one to te a %er !retc%ed &rob ems to.

A bit of !%at -u u .ac aine %ad a ot of. 'Roberta$ s!eet%eart+!%ate#er is t%e matter1' %er mot%er murmured concerned ".

T%at seemed to do it+for t%e first time in %er ife %er mot%er !as soundin' 'enuine " concerned for %er$ and it o&ened more f ood'ates$ from !%ere !ords came f o!in' out. S%e cou d bare " be ie#e s%e !as doin' it/ 3ut s%e to d t%em e#er"t%in'. S%e to d t%em about .ac and %er o#e for %im$ about %is fami " and %is o#e for t%em. S%e to d t%em about -u u's &art" and !%at came after. S%e to d t%em about =uric% and !%at came after t%at. S%e e#en to d t%em about t%emse #es$ and !%at s%e t%ou'%t of t%em. And it !as on " !%en t%e tears and t%e !ords %ad been drained ri'%t out of %er t%at s%e rea ised !it% da!nin' embarrassment t%at t%e" %ad istened to it a !it%out offerin' a sin' e !ord t%emse #es. 'I came do!n %ere to be a one+to t%in*$' s%e %eard %erse f e,& ain defensi#e "$ %er %eart %ea#" because s%e *ne! t%e" didn't *no! !%at to sa" to %er. 'I+I didn't e,&ect "ou to be %ere.' '0%" s%ou d "ou1' %er mot%er said !it% 'rim iron". '0e'#e ne#er been %ere for "ou before$ so !%" s%ou d "ou e,&ect it of us no!1' 'I didn't mean t%at$< Roberta said uncomfortab ". :I meant(((' 'I *no! !%at "ou meant$ Roberta$' %er mot%er cut in dri ". '3ut I *no! !%at I meant too...' A s%ort si ence fe $ fi ed !it% ner#ous tension brou'%t on b" %er mot%er's une,&ected remar* and Roberta's inabi it" to res&ond to it. T%en %er fat%er c eared %is t%roat. 'Er+"ou %a#en't as*ed us !%at !e're doin' %ere$' %e &rom&ted %us*i ". 'O%/' Roberta's !ater" e"es !idened at t%e reminder. 'I t%ou'%t "ou t!o !ere in Africa1'

'0e !ere$ on "...' Pu in' out a c%air$ %e sat do!n$ t%en casua " be'an to te %er about !arrin' factions and &o itica unrest and confiscated #isas. It mi'%t not be t%e most demonstrati#e !a" of soot%in' an emotiona dau'%ter do!n but b" t%e time %e 'ot to t%e &art !%ere t%e" ended u& f "in' bac* out %a#in' ne#er eft t%e air&ort or used a sin' e ree of fi m s%e !as fee in' muc% ca mer$ and !as ab e to isten !it% rea if ruefu en)o"ment to %is #ersion of a comed" of disasters. 'Hence t%e fi t%" c ot%es$' %e conc uded !r" ". 'And t%e definite un*em&t and un%"'ienic oo* about us. T%e" !ou dn't e#en et us %a#e our u''a'e so !e cou d c%an'e/' 'So.' Her mot%er too* u& t%e stor" as s%e came to sit do!n !it% a fres% &ot of steamin' coffee. 'Ha#in' %ad to &ut t%e !%o e damned &ro)ect on t%e s%e f for no!$ !e decided to come strai'%t %ome$ bat% and 'enera " ma*e ourse #es res&ectab e$ t%en tr" to boo* ourse #es a %o ida". You *no!$ some!%ere norma i*e .a)orca or Tenerife. And %a#e t%e rea brea* !e'#e been &romisin' ourse #es for "ears no!.' 'Sounds 'reat$' Roberta murmured !istfu "$ !is%in' s%e cou d )ust ta*e off for t!o !%o e !ee*s to do not%in' but eat$ stee& and s!im+ and for'et a %er &rob ems for a !%i e. 3ut s%e'd a read" %ad %er 6uota of %o ida" !ee*s for t%is "ear. S%e bad ta*en t%em !%i e .ac !as in t%e Caribbean !it% -u u$ s%e remembered %ea#i ". S%e and 5enn" %ad 'one off to Ita "$ doin' t%e si'%ts in 9 orence and Rome. 'Come !it% us$' %er mot%er in#ited im&u si#e ". 'If "ou're fee in' t%is o!$ dar in'$ it !ou d do "ou 'ood to %a#e a com& ete brea*.' 'I'm sorr"$' s%e refused. '3ut I can't.< And s%e !as 'enuine " re'retfu . 'I'm &inc%in' time off !or* b" bein' %ere no!. If I'm not bac* at m" des* b" .onda"$ t%e com&an" !ou d %a#e e#er" ri'%t to doc* m" &a".' 'Don't "ou t%in* "ou'#e earned t%e ri'%t to ta*e a cou& e of e,tra !ee*s off from .ac aines1' %er fat%er said %ars% ". '5os%ua/' %er mot%er 'as&ed as Roberta !ent &a e$ t%e s%ar& t%rust of t%at remar* %ittin' !e and tru " %ome.

'0e /' %e muttered an'ri ". 'I ma" be better at understandin' t%e %abits of !i d anima s$ but t%at doesn't mean I don't reco'nise it !%en a man is usin' a !oman for %is o!n con#enience/' 'You're ri'%t$' Roberta a'reed$ as a !a"s rut% ess " %onest about %erse f. And it !as t%at same %onest" t%at forced %er to add$ '3ut %e used me on " because I et m"se f be used.' Her c%in came u&$ 'reen e"es def"in' %er fat%er to dis&ute t%at &oint. He cou dn't$ and it !as %e !%o dro&&ed %is 'a2e first. 5ust t%en t%e &%one be'an to rin'$ sendin' a t%ree of t%em sti . Her fat%er ' anced 6uestionin' " at %er. 'Cou d it be for "ou1' %e as*ed. '.a"be.'Roberta s%ru''ed. 'I didn't te an"one !%ere I !as 'oin' but...< It mi'%t be .ac$ s%e t%ou'%t du ". It mi'%t be 5enn" oo*in' for %er. 3ut... 'Do "ou !ant to ta * to t%em1' 'No$ s%e doesn't$' %er mot%er ans!ered for %er. 'S%e doesn't !is% to ta * to an"one for t%e ne,t fe! da"s.' 4 ancin' u& s%ar& "$ s%e cau'%t t%e tai (end of a oo* bein' e,c%an'ed bet!een %er mot%er and fat%er. 0%ate#er it meant$ %er fat%er nodded 'rim "$ t%en !a *ed a!a". '0e 1' %er mot%er c%a en'ed. 'You don't !ant to s&ea* to an"one$ do "ou1' 'No$' s%e ans!ered %us*i ". <T%en "ou !on't %a#e to.' 0it% a s%ort &at on Roberta's s%ou der s%e 'ot u&$ t%en &aused to oo* do!n on %er 'rim ". '0e ma" %a#e been rotten &arents to "ou$ Roberta$' s%e said$ 'but !e do o#e "ou. And for once !e're 'oin' to sta" around on' enou'% to &ro#e it(e#en if t%at means sta"in' %ere in O,ford rat%er t%an )ettin' off on %o ida".' '3ut I can't et "ou do t%at/' Roberta cried$ not seein' t%e itt e tra& %er mot%er !as coo " settin' %er. 'It !ou d ma*e me fee as 'ui t" as sin if "ou did/'

Her fat%er came bac*. Roberta oo*ed at %im !it% %e & ess e,&ectation ' o!in' in %er e"es. 'It !as for me$ not "ou$' %e murmured a&o o'etica "$ and 'rim " !atc%ed t%e ife fade out of %er a'ain. 'Our & ans %a#e c%an'ed$' %er mot%er informed %im coo ". '0e're not 'oin' abroad. 0e're 'oin' to sta" %ere to be c ose to Roberta instead.' 'No$ "ou're not$' Roberta &ut in. 'I' come$' s%e said du ". 'I' come !it% "ou. I' come.' 3ut !%et%er s%e bad c%an'ed %er mind in s%ar& disa&&ointment because t%e &%one ca %ad not been .ac tr"in' to find %er or !%et%er s%e %ad because s%e !as sufferin' from s%oc* at %er &arents' carin' attitude Roberta didn't *no!.

CHAPTER EI4HT 0HICHE?ER$ it turned out to be t%e best decision s%e %ad made in a on' time. Not on " did t!o !ee*s of com& ete re a,ation %e & %er to 'et %er %ead and %er %eart sorted out$ but t%e" a so 'a#e %er time to 'et to *no! %er mot%er and fat%er. And t%e more s%e came to *no! t%em$ t%e more s%e came to understand )ust !%at it !as t%at dro#e t%em as %ard as it did. T%e" ta *ed &assionate " about !or d &o ution and t%e eco o'ica ba ance$ and %o! anima ife 6ua it" !as t%e barometer of %uman ife 6ua it". And of %o! t%e" tried to 'et t%ese &oints across #ia t%eir documentaries. T%e" described to %er %o! muc% time and &atience it too* to fo o! a &articu ar s&ecies t%rou'% a com& ete c"c e of its ife$ to monitor$ o' on fi m its interaction !it% ot%ers of its s&ecies$ and !%at it %ad to do )ust to sur#i#e. 5ust !a *in' t%e seas%ore !it% t%em !as an e,&erience in itse f$ for t%e" cou d &ic* u& a sin' e s%e and 'i#e a *no! ed'eab e narration on !%at it !as$ !%ere it came from and !%" it !as no! "in' on t%is

&articu ar beac%. 3ut sometimes$ as t%e" ta *ed and s%o!ed %er t%in's$ s%e fe t i*e a c%i d a'ain+a c%i d !%o s%ou d %a#e been s%o!n t%ese !onders at fi#e or se#en or nine "ears o d$ not at t!ent"(fi#e. And$ as if t%e" too %ad become a!are of t%e same$ t%e" !ou d sudden " c%an'e t%e sub)ect and ta * of ot%er t%in's+force %er to ta * about %erse f unti t%e a!*!ard moment %ad 'one a'ain. Yet t%ese moments a so dre! t%em c oser to'et%er. Roberta reco'nised t%at s%e !ou d ne#er become a fu disci& e of t%eir fascinatin' ife. Too muc% time %ad 'one b" for %er to c%an'e !%at circumstances %ad mou ded %er into. And t%ere !ere too man" memories of fee in' ost and cast out !%i e t%e" c%ased t%eir &ersona rainbo!s for %er e#er to com& ete " for'i#e t%em t%eir ne' ect of %er. 3ut at east s%e earned to understand t%em$ and ma"be e#en admire t%em for t%eir tota dedication. 3" t%e time s%e arri#ed bac* in -ondon s%e !as fee in' muc% ca mer emotiona " too. -on' %ours s&ent "in' on a beac%$ !it% not%in' e se to do but t%in*$ %ad %e &ed %er &u %er ife bac* into &ers&ecti#e. S%e o#ed .ac. T%at !as an una terab e fact. 3ut s%e %ad a so come to acce&t t%at a one(sided o#e cou d not sustain a re ations%i& and sustain an acce&tab e amount of se f(esteem at t%e same time. S%e needed to brea* com& ete " free from t%e .ac aine &o!er$ and t%e on " !a" to do t%at !as to ea#e t%e com&an"$ find %erse f anot%er )ob and tr" to start afres% !it%out t%e constant &u on %er emotions t%at t%e .ac aine name automatica " %ad. So it !as !it% t%at decision fi,ed firm " in %er mind t%at s%e !a *ed into t%e .ac aine bui din' t!o !ee*s ater. T%e first &erson s%e sa! !as .it2". '0o!$ don't "ou oo* fantastic/' s%e said$ e"ein' Roberta's carefu " nurtured 'o den tan and t%e f atterin' effect it %ad on %er o#e " 'reen e"es and &a e b onde %air. 'And are "ou in dee& troub e/' s%e t%en added sa'e ".

Roberta smi ed at t%e com& iment and &ea*ed a &a e e"ebro! at t%e !arnin'. It !as .it2" s%e %ad s&o*en to before s%e'd 'one off to S&ain$ ea#in' t%e &oor secretar" to brea* t%e ne!s to 5oe t%at %is assistant !as ta*in' an unsc%edu ed t!o !ee*s off !it%out &ermission. 'I don't *no! !%at's been 'oin' on since "ou did a bun*$' .it2" said$ 'but a %e %as been et oose in %ere. T%e 3i' .ac %as %ad one %e of a bust(u& !it% t%e -itt e .ac. He !as %eard b astin' at %im !it% enou'% beat to so der %is feet to t%e 'round$' s%e informed Roberta dri ". 'It seemed to re#o #e around t%e fact t%at "ou %ad been a o!ed to disa&&ear off t%e face of t%e eart%$ and !%at t%e %e did 5oe t%in* %e !as doin' ettin' it %a&&en/ To !%ic% 5oe demanded !%at t%e be t did %e e,&ect "ou to do+!ait around unti %e %ad time for &i o!(ta * a'ain1 0%ic%$' .it2" said dro " at Roberta's stiffenin' oo*$ 'too* t%e to& ri'%t off t%e 3i' .ac's tem&er$ I can te "ou. Since t%en %e's been stom&in' around i*e a 'iant !it% bi' boots on+"ou *no!1' s%e &rom&ted. <T%underin' and i'%tnin' a o#er t%e & ace1' 'And %o! do "ou *no! a of t%is1' Roberta coo " en6uired. '3ecause I istened$' .it2" admitted. '0it% m" ear to t%at door o#er t%ere.' S%e &ointed to 5oe 's c osed office door. 'I 'ot t%e im&ression t%at most of it !as o#er t%e 3runner dea $ but(((((( ' s%e s%ru''ed %er disa&&ointment '+cou dn't 6uite catc% enou'% to be sure. 0%at did %a&&en out t%ere in =uric%1' s%e t%en as*ed Roberta curious ". 'Not%in'$' s%e ans!ered$ t%en as*ed$ for %er o!n curiosit"$ 'Ho! did t%e 3runner dea finis% in t%e end1' 'O%.' .it2"'s e"es !ent !ide a'ain. 'Didn't "ou *no!1 T%e 3i' .ac sett ed a of t%at before %e eft =uric%/' Roberta fro!ned. '3ut %e cou dn't %a#e done$' s%e &rotested. 'He %adn't e#en %ad an" contact !it% 9ranc 3runner before %e eft/' .it2" )ust s%ru''ed a t%at a!a". '0e $ I %a#e a co&" of t%e !%o e dea around %ere some!%ere$' s%e said$ be'innin' to %unt t%rou'% t%e mounds of &a&er!or* c utterin' %er des*. 'Yes/' s%e cried. 'Here it is/'

S%e %anded it to Roberta. 'See+3i' .ac's si'nature on t%e bottom ne,t to 3runner's. And t%e date$' s%e &rom&ted$ ' oo* at t%e date. He c osed it out t%e same da" "ou bot% arri#ed in =uric%. You'#e 'ot to 'i#e it to t%e 'u"$' s%e si'%ed admirin' "$ 'not%in' sto&s %im once %e's been !ound u&/ And oo* at t%e &rice t%e" e#entua " sett ed on/' S%e t%en added for 'ood measure$ '0e'd s%ot !a" &ast t%at !ee*s before %e came in on it/' Roberta !as oo*in'. S%e !as t%in*in' too. T%in*in' t%in's t%at made %er b ood be'in to simmer and sent t!o !ee*s' %ard(!on serenit" s%ootin' ri'%t out of %er %ead. '0%ere's 5oe 1' s%e demanded ti'%t "$ &u in' off %er coat to re#ea a b ac* dress beneat% t%at did t%e most ama2in' t%in's to %er fi'ure. 'In %is office$' .it2" said$ fro!nin' at t%e & ain !%ite en#e o&e Roberta &roduced before discardin' %er ba' a on' !it% %er coat. '3ut if "ou'#e 'ot an" sense$ Roberta$' s%e !arned as Roberta !ent stridin' to!ards 5oe 's c osed office door$ '"ou' 'o u&stairs before seein' 5oe / On "$ t%e 3i' .ac %as a read" ran' do!n %ere$ demandin' to see "ou$ and it's on " fi#e &ast nine no!/' '3 o! .ac$' s%e muttered. 'I' 'o and see %im !%en I'm 'ood and read"/' 5oe 's door s!un' o&en. He !as sittin' at %is des*$ oo*in' 'rim( faced and fed u&. 3ut %e bri'%tened !%en %e sa! %er. 'Roberta/' %e cried$ comin' to %is feet$ 'You oo* 'reat/ T%e brea* %as ob#ious " done "ou 'ood/' 'It %ad$' s%e a'reed$ !a *in' bris* " to %is des*. ';nti I came bac* %ere and sa! t%is/' An'ri " s%e s a&&ed t%e co&" of t%e 3runner dea do!n in front of %im. '0%at does a t%is mean$ 5oe 1' s%e demanded. '.ean1' He oo*ed uncomfortab e a of a sudden. 'It means .ac c inc%ed us a damned 'ood dea +!%at t%e %ec* do "ou t%in* it means1' %e as*ed off%anded ". 'I don't *no! !%" "ou're ' arin' at me i*e t%at$ Roberta$' %e sna&&ed. 'You *ne! .ac %ad 'one out t%ere to sort it a out/'

'Yes$' s%e a'reed. '3ut I %adn't rea ised %o! 6uic* " %e'd sorted it a out$' s%e e,& ained$ ' i*e b" t%e end of t%e #er" same da" %e arri#ed/' 'O%.' 5oe sat do!n a'ain. 'Didn't %e te "ou1 T%at !ou d be t%e emer'enc" !it% De ia 'ettin' in t%e !a"$' %e decided !it% a smi e. 'Or more i*e " because %e didn't !ant me to *no! %e %ad sorted it out at a /' s%e sna&&ed. '0%at *ind of 'ame !ere "ou and "our brot%er & a"in' !it% me$ 5oe 1' s%e demanded to *no!. '0as I sent out to =uric% for no ot%er reason t%an t%at .ac !anted me t%ere1' He f us%ed$ an ans!er in itse f. .ore confirmation came !%en %e turned defensi#e. '-oo*$' %e said uncomfortab "$ 'don't s&it at me+s&it at m" brot%er/ He's t%e one !%o set "ou u&/' '0it% "our %e &/' s%e sna&&ed. '0%ic% ma*es me a t%e more certain t%at I am doin' t%e ri'%t t%in' in 'i#in' "ou t%is/' And s%e %e d t%e & ain !%ite en#e o&e out to!ards %im. 5oe oo*ed at it$ and instant " reco'nised it for e,act " !%at it !as. 'I can't acce&t it$' %e refused$ s%a*in' %is %ead. 'You can$' Roberta countered smoot% ". '3ecause I insist.' Pointed " s%e &ut t%e en#e o&e do!n on t%e des* bet!een t%em. 'O%$ %e $ Roberta$' %e si'%ed %ea#i ". 'Don't do t%is to me/ He' s*in me a i#e if "ou do/' 'I te "ou !%at$ 5oe $' s%e su''ested soft "$ '!%i e %e's s*innin' "ou a i#e$ "ou s*in %im. T%en it !i be )ust i*e o d times$ !on't it1 One brot%er usin' t%e ot%er brot%er to 'et !%at %e !ants1' ' I can't %e & it if %e &u ed ran* on me o#er t%e 3runner t%in'/' %e si'%ed. 'Ta*e issue !it% %im$ if "ou need to ta*e issue !it% an"one/ He's t%e one !%o rea " counts$ after a /' 'O%$ I mean to ta*e issue !it% %im$' Roberta assured %im. '3ut )ust te me one more t%in' before I do$' s%e as*ed. '0as 8ar -orin' a set( u& too1 .ac said "ou'd rea ised %e !as tr"in' to &u a fast one o#er "ou$ "et "ou sti %ad %im meet me !%en I arri#ed.'

He %ad t%e 'race to f us%. 'I t%ou'%t a bit of com&etition mi'%t %e & brin' .ac to %is senses about "ou$' %e admitted 'rud'in' ". O%$ it %ad$ Roberta ac*no! ed'ed si ent ". It %ad acti#ated %is &ossessi#e strea* on' enou'% for %im to sta*e %is c aim on %er a'ain. 3ut it %ad on " asted as on' as it too* %is dau'%ter to resta*e %er c aim on %im. 'Ho! is De ia$ b" t%e !a"1' s%e en6uired as an aside. 5oe oo*ed u& and 'rimaced. 'Not bad no!$' %e said. '0ent t%rou'% t%e mi a bit at t%e time. T%e" %ad to &um& %er fu of antibiotics to *i t%e s&read of infection and s%e's uc*" to be sti a i#e$ to te t%e trut%. :Sti (((((' %e s%ru''ed '+s%e's 'ettin' o#er it and s%ou d be comin' %ome in a fe! da"s. Roberta$' %e t%en & eaded$ 'ta*e bac* t%is etter+ at east unti "ou'#e s&o*en to .ac/' 'No$' s%e refused. 'I don't i*e bein' used$ 5oe $' s%e to d %im ti'%t ". 'And bet!een "ou and "our brot%er "ou'#e been usin' me for )ust about e#er" &ur&ose "ou can t%in* of/' '0%ere are "ou 'oin'1' %e demanded !%en s%e turned to ea#e. 'To ta*e issue !it% t%e boss$ as "ou su''ested I do$' s%e ans!ered tart ". <T%en at east ta*e t%is !it% "ou/' %e said$ urc%in' for!ard to &ic* u& t%e en#e o&e and &us%in' it at %er. 'If "ou're 'oin' to resi'n to an"one$ t%en do it to %im. I'm not bra#e enou'% to acce&t it/' S%e too* t%e en#e o&e and !a *ed out$ !e a!are t%at 5oe didn't t%in* s%e !ou d end u& 'oin' t%rou'% !it% it. S%e !ou d$ t%ou'%$ s%e #o!ed. S%e !as more determined t%an e#er to 'et a!a" from .ac's inf uence no!/ S%e !as sti co d " furious !%en s%e !a *ed into .ac's office !it%out *noc*in' a fe! minutes ater. He !as standin' at t%e !indo!$ starin' out at t%e bird's(e"e #ie! be %ad of -ondon. He !asn't !earin' a )ac*et and %is %ands !ere ost

inside t%e &oc*ets of %is beautifu " tai ored dar* 're" trousers. Roberta fe t t%e usua sensation of %ot breat% essness attac* %er$ as it usua " did !%en s%e first set e"es on %im$ but firm " s6uas%ed t%e fee in' !it% contem&t. S%e !asn't %ere to droo o#er %im. S%e !as %ere to(((((( '0%ere t%e %e %a#e "ou been1' .ac bit out furious "$ turnin' on %er i*e a do' &re&arin' to bite. S%e b in*ed$ %is sudden an'r" snar %a#in' ta*en t%e initiati#e ri'%t a!a" from %er. 3ut on " for a moment. 'A!a"/' s%e said. 'Abroad+ to 'et a!a" from "ou/' His e"es ' inted at %er simmerin' contem&t. 'T%is is not "our e,( o#er ta *in' to "ou$ .iss C%and er$ its "our c%airman$ demandin' a fu e,& anation from "ou/' E,( o#er1 Roberta !ent &a e. It !as t%e first time .ac %ad e#er used t%at &refi, to %er$ and it %it %er so %ard t%at s%e a most 'as&ed in &ain. 'No!$' %e &rom&ted ti'%t "$ !%en %e sa! t%at %e %ad made %is &oint$ '!%ere %a#e "ou been1' 'S(S&ain$' s%e ans!ered$ %atin' t%at te (ta e itt e stammer t%at cre&t into %er #oice. '.a)orca$ to be e,act. ." &arents %a#e friends !%o %a#e a #i a t%ere. T%e" et us use(+' 'Your &arents1' %e cut in incredu ous ". 'You !ent a!a" !it% "our &arents1' 'I do &ossess &arents$ "ou *no!/' s%e said stiff "$ offended b" %is tone. 'Yes$' %e )eered. 'Parents "ou a !a"s &rofessed to %ate/' 'I ne#er said I %ated m" &arents/' s%e &rotested. .ac &u ed an irritab e face. '-o#ed t%em$ but %e d t%em in contem&t$ t%en$' %e amended s%ort "$ addin' deridin' "$ 'You *no!$ i*e 7

"ou do me/' 'I'#e ne#er said t%at eit%er/' s%e denied. '0e )ust(ne#er understood eac% ot%er #er" !e $ t%ats a . 3ut no! !e do.' '0%o+me1 Or "our &arents1' %e moc*ed. '." &arents/' s%e sna&&ed. 'I' ne#er in a mi ion "ears come to understand "ou/ And !i "ou & ease te me if I am sti %a#in' t%is con#ersation !it% m" boss1' s%e t%en demanded im&atient ". '3ecause it natura " ma*es a difference to %o! I re& "/' .ac si'%ed and scra&ed an an'r" %and t%rou'% %is %air. 'Ho! t%e %e s%ou d I *no!1' %e muttered. 'I'm )ust one &erson to e#er"one e se7 it's on " !it% "ou t%at I seem to become t!o.' <T%en t%at s%ou d teac% "ou to *ee& "our %ands off$ t%e &aid staff$ s%ou dn't it1' s%e moc*ed$ re'ainin' %er se f(confidence and %er an'er as %is died a!a". '0%ic% reminds me$' s%e added$ %er c%in comin' u& to c%a en'e %im. '=uric%$' s%e said. 'And t%e so(ca ed 3runner dea 1' 'A%.' He ' anced at %er t%ou'%tfu "$ and sa! in %er accusin' e"es t%at s%e *ne! t%e trut%. 'I'm not 'oin' to a&o o'ise to "ou$ Roberta$' %e said ruefu ". 'So "ou ma" as !e dro& t%e fro2en do act.' 'So "ou did %a#e me sent to =uric% for "our o!n &ur&oses/' s%e 'as&ed. His b ac* bro!s rose at %er !a" of &uttin' it. 'I %ad "ou sent to =uric%$' %e res&onded$ 'to 'i#e us some time a one to'et%er to tr" to reso #e our &rob ems.' 'You mean to tr" to 'et me bac* in "our bed/' s%e corrected %im bitter ". His dar* e"es %ardened at t%at. 'O%$ of course/ %e a'reed sardonica ". '0%at ot%er &ossib e reason cou d I %a#e for & ottin' to 'et "ou a one t%ere if it !asn't to 'et "ou into m" bed1' '." 4od$ .ac/' s%e breat%ed s%a*i ". 'You're a de#ious s!ine/' 'True.' His curt nod ac*no! ed'ed it$ but t%en %e added !it%

!it%erin' sarcasm$ '3ut !%at a !aste of time and effort it turned out to be$ !%en a it too* !as one concerted attac* on "our su&&osed " determined sense to %a#e "ou fa in' strai'%t into bed !it% me/ 0%ic% ma*es "ou+!%at$ e,act "1' %e %it bac* rut% ess ". Eas"$ s%e t%ou'%t$ o!erin' %er e"es to %ide t%e s%ame e#ident in t%eir de&t%s. 'Ho! did "ou do it1' s%e !%is&ered t%ic* ". 'Ho! did "ou c ose t%at 3runner dea so 6uic* "1' He s%ru''ed$ %is !%o e demeanour arro'ant " dismissi#e. '." arran'ements to meet !it% 3runner !ere sorted out before I e#en eft -ondon$' %e informed %er. '0e ta *ed$ and e,c%an'ed contracts o#er dinner+!%i e "ou *ind " *e&t -orin' bus" b" ettin' %im seduce "ou o#er t%e red !ine/' Her c%in came u& at %is deridin' c%oice of !ords. 3ut as for t%e rest$ it fe neat " into & ace. 5ust t%e mere mention to 3runner t%at t%e 'reat So omon .ac aine !as ta*in' o#er t%e dea must %a#e been enou'% to ma*e %im 'ro#e in &anic. 5ust as t%e same name %ad made 8ar -orin' rus% out in &anic$ s%e remembered bitter ". Ea'er to ma*e %is !arnin' &%one ca s to 3runner$ on " to disco#er$ no doubt$ t%at 8ar %imse f %ad been so d do!n t%e ine/ A bit i*e s%e %ad %erse f+!%ic% reminded %er$ and$ !a *in' stiff " for!ard$ s%e aid t%e !%ite en#e o&e on %is des*. '5oe !as too fri'%tened of "ou to acce&t t%is$ so I'm 'i#in' it to "ou m"se f. ." resi'nation$' s%e e,& ained. .ac stared at it$ t%en at %er. 'Is t%is anot%er of "our s!eet !a"s of te in' me !e're finis%ed1' %e 6uestioned c"nica ". <T%ere !as ne#er an"t%in' to finis%$' s%e returned. 'As "ou'#e )ust ta*en 'reat &ains to e,& ain to me$ I !as t%ere to be used$ and eas" in t%e &rocess.' .ac et out a %ea#" si'%. 'You *no! I didn't mean a sin' e !ord of it$' %e said. 'I !as bein' nast"+te in' "ou !%at "ou i*e to be ie#e/ Hasn't it e#er occurred to "ou$ Roberta$ t%at it isn't me !%o %as a o! o&inion of "ou$ but "ou !%o %as one of "ourse f1'

S%e oo*ed do!n and a!a". Per%a&s %e !as ri'%t. 3ut it !asn't %is o&inion or e#en %er o!n t%at %ad beaten %er in t%e end. It !as %is dau'%ter's. '." resi'nation stands$ .ac$' s%e inserted firm ". 'Not !%i e I'm around to b oc* it$ it doesn't$' %e countered. Refusin' to ta*e an" notice$ s%e turned a!a". 'Don't "ou damned !e dare$' %e bit our t%reatenin' "$ brin'in' %er determined stride to a %a t. 'You'#e !a *ed out on me once too often a read"$ Roberta. T%is time "ou see t%e fi'%t t%rou'% to t%e end.' 'And !%at are !e fi'%tin' about t%is time$ .ac1' s%e demanded as s%e s&un bac*. '." ea#in' "our com&an" or m" ea#in' "ou1 On "$ I'd rea " i*e to *no!$ because I'#e ost t%e t%read of t%is one/' '3ot%/' %e sna&&ed. 'Neit%er/ Since "ou aren't 'oin' to do eit%er/' 4rim " %e came to!ards %er. 'T!o b ood" !ee*s I'#e !aited to %a#e t%is out !it% "ou/' %e 'ro! ed !%en %e reac%ed %er. 'T!o !ee*s/ And !%at do "ou do1 You ca m " !a * in %ere !it% "our resi'nation a t"&ed out and a oo* of outra'ed indi'nation on "our face/' His %ands 'ri&&ed %er s%ou ders and 'a#e %er a s%a*e. '0%at is it !it% "ou$ Roberta$ t%at I fee as if no sooner %a#e > ta*en one ste& for!ard t%an I'm ta*in' t!o ste&s bac*1' 'E,& ain !%at t%e ste& for!ard is to!ards and I' ans!er t%e 6uestion$' s%e countered tart ". His e"es dar*ened$ t%e oo* be'innin' to burn in t%em one s%e *ne! of o d. 'You/' %e muttered. <T%e"'re a !a"s to!ards "ou$ "ou foo / 0%" can't "ou see t%at1' '3ecause a %u'e 'reat obe is* ca ed <fami "< stands in t%e !a"$ t%at's !%"/' s%e sna&&ed$ and !atc%ed %im as %e 'a#e a s%ort$ !ear" si'%. 'I'm sorr"$' %e said ti'%t "$ 'for !%at %a&&ened at t%e %os&ita .' 'I t%ou'%t "ou said "ou !eren't 'oin' to a&o o'ise to me$' s%e

reminded %im$ %er c%in bac* u& a'ain$ e"es coo " c%a en'in'. 'Not for t%e 3runner t%in'$' %e a'reed. '3ut I !i for -u u. You %a#e to understand$' %e said %ea#i ". 'S%e's so damned #o ati e+%i'% " strun'/ And(( ' And se fis%$ and s&oi ed$ and &ossessed of a dan'erous ton'ue$ Roberta t%ou'%t$ but *e&t t%ose t%ou'%ts to %erse f. 'And s%e'd )ust suffered a terrib e s%oc*$' %e !ent on. 'It made %er fee fri'%tened+insecure/ So s%e said some #er" !i d t%in's to "ou t%at s%e 6uic* " re'retted ater.' '4ood$' Roberta said. 'I'm ' ad s%e rea ised %er mista*e.' Or tactica error$ to &ut it more %onest ". -i*e Roberta$ -u u %ad ob#ious " rea ised t%at %er fat%er !as not so stu&id as to be ie#e t%ose a!fu t%in's s%e'd said. '9or 4od's sa*e/' %e ras&ed$ seein' somet%in' in %er face t%at must %a#e et %im *no! s%e !as bein' sarcastic$ e#en if %er #oice %adn't s%o!n it. 'Her mot%er !as i +a most d"in' in front of %er e"es/' He 'a#e %er anot%er frustrated s%a*e. 'Can't "ou s%o! a itt e com&assion and fee somet%in' ess t%an enmit" to!ards %er1' Cou d s%e1 Roberta !ondered. Per%a&s s%e cou d+ if -u u e#er s%o!ed somet%in' ess t%an enmit" to!ards %erse f. And t%at !as i*e tossin' "our ca& at rainbo!s$ s%e moc*ed %erse f c"nica ". '0i "ou endorse m" resi'nation$' s%e &arried$ 'if I do1' 'No$' %e 'ro! ed$ 'I !i not.' His mout% ti'%tened at %er continuin' caustic manner. '3ut I'm damned !e %a&&" to do+t%is/' He !as so 6uic* t%at s%e didn't e#en see %im mo#e/ 3ut sudden "+ as a !a"s/+s%e found %erse f bac* in %is arms$ !it% %is mout% co#erin' %ers$ and %e !as *issin' %er !it% a %un'er t%at too* e#er" ounce of stren't% s%e %ad in %er to fi'%t. 'O&en "our mout%$' %e commanded !%en s%e %e d %er i&s ti'%t "

s%ut. S%e s%oo* %er %ead$ refusin' to com& ". 'I can ma*e "ou$' %e !arned. 'I on " %a#e to do t%is.' And %e bit sensuous " do!n on %er bottom i&$ dra!in' t%e tender fu ness into %is mout% and suc*in' de icate " on it. 'No! t%e teet%$' %e instructed$ !%en %er mout% e#entua " &arted on a !retc%ed 'as&. His ton'ue traced t%e c ean !%ite front of %er ti'%t " c enc%ed teet%$ s idin' a'ainst t%e sensiti#e inner tissue of %er mout% as it did so. '4i#e in$ Roberta$' %e ur'ed$ !%en s%e be'an to tremb e at t%e effort it cost %er not to. 'You *no! "ou !ant to.' No$ I don't$ s%e t%ou'%t b ea* ". 3ut I can't seem to %e & m"se f. And s%e fe t a s%udder of & easure ri&& e t%rou'% %er as %is %ands ran caressin' " do!n %er sides to c as& %er %i&s. T%at action forced %er o!n %ands to ift$ to maintain %er ba ance7 %er fin'ers c utc%ed at t%e fine cotton of %is s%irt$ t%en$ because t%e" cou dn't resist it$ s&read 'reedi " o#er t%e %ard(musc ed !armt% of t%e bod" beneat%. He 'roaned in & easure at %er touc%$ t%en mo#ed a'ainst %er+not aroused$ but 'ettin' t%ere. T%e %eat comin' from %im and t%e &u sin' r%"t%m !or*ed i*e a dru' on %er o!n desire. On a soft$ defeated si'%$ %er teet% &arted+but )ust to &unis% %im for doin' t%is to %er a'ain s%e bit do!n %ard on t%e ti& of %is ton'ue before surrenderin' com& ete ". Instead of &rotestin' at %er itt e bit of canniba ism %e au'%ed$ t%e sound %us*" !it% moc*in' trium&%. 'You itt e min,$' %e murmured$ t%en$ to &a" %er bac*$ 'ri&&ed t%e bac* of %er nec* and forced %er %ead ri'%t bac* so t%at be cou d bear do!n on %er mout% !it% an assau t t%at drained %er ri'%t t%rou'% to %er #er" core. T%e &%one on %is des* be'an to rin'. 9or a fe! %ectic moments neit%er of t%em seemed to %ear it. T%en t%e sound im&in'ed on Roberta's mind and s%e dra''ed %er mout% a!a" from %is. 'Ans!er t%e &%one$' s%e !%is&ered. He i'nored it. 'You *no!$ "our e"es 'o t%e most incredib e s%ade of 'reen !%en "ou're aroused$' %e remar*ed instead$ *ee&in' %er face ti&&ed u& to %im. 'Its a oad of ocean('reen co our t%at ma*es me !ant to di#e strai'%t in.'

<T%at's corn"$' s%e derided$ not in t%e east im&ressed. 'Ans!er t%e &%one.' It !as sti rin'in' a!a" &ersistent ". <You're better at t%at. You ne#er *no!$' s%e taunted &ro#o*in' "$ 'it ma" be im&ortant+ i*e De ia needin' a bunc% of 'ra&es$ or -u u !antin' to c%ec* "ou %a#en't 'ot a !oman %ere. T%e %and at %er nec* ti'%tened. His e"es+a dus*" s%ade of s umberous 're" !%en aroused+sna&&ed into a 'un(meta %ardness. '9or suc% a beautifu !oman "ou %a#e a #icious itt e ton'ue in "our %ead/' %e said %ars% ". 'Don't I )ust$' s%e a'reed$ and &ro#o*ed %im e#en furt%er b" &ressin' t%e said ton'ue out bet!een fa se " smi in' teet%. In#itin' %im to bite bac*. He mi'%t be ab e to beat %er easi " !it% %is damned se, a&&ea $ but it !asn't a one(sided. .ac %ad ne#er been ab e to resist %er !%en s%e teased %im i*e t%is. He must %a#e been t%in*in' t%e same t%in'$ because be sudden " re a,ed a'ain. 'You *no! %o! to &ress a t%e ri'%t buttons$ don't "ou1' %e si'%ed$ t%en s!oo&ed$ co#erin' t%at in#itin' bit of ton'ue !it% %is at t%e same time as %is mout% c osed sensuous " o#er %er o!n. T%e &%one didn't sto&. 3ut neit%er did t%e *iss. So bot% !ent on and on$ one seemin' to com&ete !it% t%e ot%er unti $ on a frustrated 'ro! $ .ac 'a#e u& t%e batt e and$ sti *ee&in' a %o d on %er$ too* t%e fe! ste&s bac* to %is des* to snatc% u& t%e recei#er. '0%at1' %e bar*ed. Roberta smi ed$ and !as ' ad it !asn't %er on t%e ot%er end of t%e ine. 'O%$' %e t%en said disconcerted "$ '5enson. T%an*s for returnin' m" ca .' He et 'o of Roberta to s!in' a %i& onto t%e des*$ 'i#in' %er a c%ance to mo#e a cou& e of des&erate " needed &aces a!a". 'No+no$' %e assured t%e ca er. 'You !eren't interru&tin' an"t%in'. 5ust a &rob em em& o"ee.' His moc*in' e"es c as%ed !it% Roberta's$ t%en di&&ed a2i " o#er %er on'$ s ender bod". 'I'#e t%orou'% " dea t !it% %er no!$' %e

said. Her 'reen e"es f as%ed$ %is 're" ones c%a en'ed. 0%ate#er t%e man ca ed 5enson !as sa"in' to %im !as doin' not%in' to intrude on an e"e(to(e"e batt e t%at !as so se,ua " rooted t%at Roberta cou d fee %er senses res&ondin' i*e !e (tuned c%ords to a musician's %ands. '4reat$' %e said sudden "$ brea*in' t%e s&e . 'It's a set u&$ t%en. I' be catc%in' t%e afternoon f i'%t out of Heat%ro! and !i be !it% "ou b"((((( ' %e ' anced at %is !atc% '+t!o o'c oc* "our time.' Your time1 Afternoon f i'%t1 Roberta !ent sti $ 6uic* " tr"in' to !or* out )ust !%at a t%at cou d mean. T%en %er %eart made a sin*in' di#e$ because s%e sudden " reco'nised t%e name 5enson$ and t%at cou d on " mean Ne! Yor*. .ac !as f "in' out to Ne! Yor* t%is afternoon$ to consu t !it% %is %ead of enter&rises o#er t%ere$ and once a'ain s%e !as bein' eft a one and frustrated$ %a f made o#e to and %a f defeated b" a man !%o & a"ed around !it% %er fee in's as if t%e" !ere inanimate to"s/ 'I i*e t%e dress$' %e murmured$ ma*in' %er a!are t%at %e %ad finis%ed %is ca and !as no! e"ein' t%e sim& e b ac* !oo dress s%e !as !earin'$ !%ic% %u''ed %er fi'ure from t%roat to !rist to *nee. 'It ma*es me !ant to &ee it off "ou. Is t%e 'or'eous tan a o#er+or are t%ose interestin' " intimate bits sti cream" !%ite1' 'None of "our business$' s%e sna&&ed$ tr"in' to come to terms !it% t%is atest in a on' ine of mood(f atteners t%at .ac !as so 'ood at dea in' out. 'I cou d ta*e "ou$ ri'%t %ere across t%is des*$' %e murmured$ 'and sim& " find out for m"se f$' 'Sorr"$' s%e refused. '3ut t%at's one de i'%t I'm sa#in' for t%e man I marr".' 'A%$' %e said$ a'ain s%o!in' t%at %e !as ne#er s o! on t%e u&ta*e. '0e're bac* to fi'%tin' a'ain$ are !e1' On a 'rimace$ %e turned a itt e

so t%at bot% %i&s rested on t%e des*$ t%en fo ded %is aims across %is c%est. '0%at caused it t%is time1' %e as*ed !eari ". S%e i'nored t%at. 'I'#e offered "ou m" resi'nation$' s%e reminded %im. 'I'm sti !aitin' for "ou to endorse it$ He i'nored t%at. '.eet someone !%i e "ou !ere on %o ida"$ did "ou1' '0%at if I did1' s%e c%a en'ed. 'It is m" so e aim in ife to find a man !%o rea " understands and res&ects !%at a !oman i*e me needs$' s%e informed %im coo ". He %ad t%e c%ee* to au'% at t%at. 'I understand "ou #er" !e !%en "ou'#e 'ot "our e's !ra&&ed around me and I'm ost dee& inside "ou$' %e stated teasin' ". 'And I entire " res&ect "our need to %a#e me t%at !a" sometimes/' 'Se,/' s%e si'%ed in dis'ust. 'You a !a"s %a#e to brin' e#er"t%in' do!n to se,/' '4reat se,$' %e e,tended. '.ind(b o!in'$ tota "(out(of(ourse #es se,/ Does t%is 'u" !%o's to %a#e t%e &ri#i e'e of ta*in' "ou across m" des* 'i#e "ou an"t%in' e#en remote " as 'ood as t%at/' Roberta stared at %im for a moment in com& ete be!i derment. 'You're cra2"+do "ou *no! t%at1' s%e 'as&ed. 'Ha#in' a con#ersation !it% "ou is i*e !a *in' t%rou'% a ma2e/ T%ere's ne#er an" be'innin' to it or a &ro&er end/' 'And !it% "ou it's i*e treadin' carefu " t%rou'% a minefie d of contrariness/' %e t%re! ri'%t bac*. 'I'm tr"in' to find out !%at turned "ou from t%e !arm and 'i#in' !oman I !as %o din' in m" arms a fe! minutes a'o into t%e bitin' itt e !itc% "ou are ri'%t no!/' Her e"es f as%ed 'reen sarcasm at %im. 'Ha#e dinner !it% me toni'%t and !e' discuss it.' S%e t%re! one of %is o!n c assic fob(offs at %im$ 'i#in' %im a #er" 'ood c ue as to !%at %ad u&set %er at t%e same time. And .ac !as not s o!. 'A%$' %e said. 'You're an'r" because I %a#e to

f " out to t%e States.' 'I'm an'r"$' s%e corrected %im$ 'because I'#e et "ou di#ert me once a'ain from t%e course I am determined to ta*e/ 0%ic% is$' s%e added$ before %e cou d sa" a sin' e !ord$ 'to 'et "our endorsement of t%at etter of resi'nation so I can fina " brea* com& ete " free from "ou/' '0%" bot%er !%en "ou *no! "ou don't rea " !ant to1' %e def ected infuriatin' "$ t%en si'%ed !%en it ooted as if s%e !as about read" to e,& ode !it% frustration. 'You're ri'%t$' %e conceded$ 'and t%is is 'ettin' out of %and. So I' do us bot% a fa#our.' Reac%in' be%ind %im$ be &ic*ed u& %er etter and brou'%t it to !%ere t%e" cou d bot% see it. 'If I do+t%is...' Smoot% " %e ri&&ed %er etter in t!o$ !%i e a Roberta cou d do !as stand t%ere and !atc% %e & ess " as t%e &ieces fe discarded to t%e f oor. 'No! a "ou %a#e to do$' %e !ent on ca m "$ 'is !ait a !%o e !ee* before t"&in' out anot%er one. 3" t%en I !i be bac* from t%e States and !e can discuss t%is more t%orou'% "+o#er dinner$ as "ou &ro&osed+ and I !i 'uarantee "ou+unreser#ed "$ %e &romised$ a"in' a moc*in' %and o#er %is %eart$ 'm" !%o e and com& ete attention for !%ate#er time it ta*es.' ';n ess t%e &%one rin's$' s%e 'runted. 'Roberta/' be sna&&ed !it% !anin' &atience. 'I'm rea " tr"in' to ma*e t%is !or* for us+can't "ou see t%at1' %e a&&ea ed. '0%"1' s%e said. '0%"1' .ac stared at %er$ non& ussed for a moment$ t%en made a !ear" sound of surrender. 'I'm 'oin' to 'i#e u& on t%is$' %e decided$ strai'%tenin' u& to stride o#er to %er. '5ust &romise to !ait a !ee*+ one !ee*/' %e insisted as %is %ands too* a forcefu 'ri& on %er s ender s%ou ders. '3efore "ou do an"t%in' about tr"in' to ea#e %ere+& ease1' %e be''ed$ at %er stubborn oo*. 'I don't !ant to 'o to t%e states ri'%t no! but I %a#e to 'o. T%ere's a &rob em t%ere t%at on " I can sort out/ 3ut !%en I 'ot bac*$ I &romise "ou$ !e' ta *. Ta * serious " about us and !%ere !e're 'oin' to 'o from %ere.' '3ut don't see !%at 'ood it !i do/' s%e cried. '0e' on " continue

to 'o around and around in circ es a'ain$ as !e a !a"s end u& doin'/' 'No$ !e !on't$' %e determined$ and somet%in' in %is e"es forced %er to acce&t t%at %e meant it. 'Not t%is time. A !ee*$ bunn" rabbit.' He bent %is %ead and *issed %er ur'ent ". '3e 'enerous to!ards me for t%is one ast time$ and !ait t%e !ee*.' On a %ea#" si'%$ s%e c osed %er e"es. His 'ent e *iss$ t%e %us*" & ea and t%e s!eet sound of %is s&ecia name comin' so intimate " from %is i&s !ere me tin' %er i*e butter inside$ so t%at s%e didn't e#en *no! s%e'd said$ 'O8$ unti s%e %eard t%e !ord s ide off %er ton'ue. And it !as on " once s%e !as standin' on t%e ot%er side of %is door$ !it% %er e"es c osed ti'%t " o#er defeated e"es$ t%at s%e ac*no! ed'ed to %erse f t%at s%e %ad et %im do it a'ain. He %ad ta *ed %er round "et a'ain+seduced %er round "et a'ain/

CHAPTER NINE THE ne,t !ee* !as a bus" one. 5oe %ad started a ne! &ro)ect$ and s%e became bo''ed do!n in aborious in#esti'ati#e !or*. .ac didn't rin'$ but t%en s%e %adn't e,&ected %im to. 0%at %ad to be said bet!een t%em !as too im&ortant to be touc%ed u&on #ia a te e&%one connection$ so it !as better to %a#e no contact at a . So s%e ost %erse f in !or* and$ to %er sur&rise$ mana'ed to *ee& .ac ri'%t out of %er t%ou'%ts for most of t%e time. ;nti 9rida" afternoon$ t%at !as$ !%en s%e !a *ed unannounced into 5oe 's office$ needin' to see %im about somet%in'$ on " to come to a dead sto& !%en s%e sa! t%at -u u !as sittin' t%ere !it% %im. 'O%$' s%e said$ momentari " stum&ed for once$ 'I'm sorr" to intrude$' and !ent to 'o a!a" a'ain. On " -u u sto&&ed %er$ %er o#e " face a i'%t !it% ma icious derision. 'If it isn't Dadd"'s ad"(friend$' s%e dra! ed. 'Or s%ou d I sa" er( ad"( friend1' '-u u/' 5oe 's s%ar& re&rimand b" no means com&ared !it% t%e

sudden bum t%at be'an in t%e &it of Roberta's stomac%. Yet s%e sti mana'ed to %an' on to %er se f(contro $ %er #oice$ !%en s%e s&o*e$ be "in' t%e storm of &ric* " an'er c amberin' ri'%t across t%e surface of %er s*in. And$ ot%er t%an sendin' -u u a !it%erin' oo*$ s%e fi,ed %er attention e,c usi#e " on 5oe . 'I' come bac* ater$ 5oe $ !%en "ou're not bus".' 'No+Roberta$ !ait.' 5oe came to %is feet$ %is e,&ression ti'%t !it% an'er as %e sta"ed %er !it% a 'esturin' %and. 'You deser#e an a&o o'" from t%is i (mannered "oun' ad"$ and s%e is 'oin' to 'i#e it to "ou+ aren't "ou$ -u u1' %e &rom&ted t%reatenin' ". -u u's beautifu a#ender(b ue e"es o&ened !ide in utter contem&t. 'No$ I'm not$' s%e refused. 'And rea "$ ;nc e 5oe $' s%e murmured deridin' "$ :I don't *no! %o! "ou can *ee& %er !or*in' %ere !it% "ou no! t%at Dadd" %as seen fit to t%ro! %er out/' <T%at's enou'%/' 5oe ras&ed !%i e Roberta turned to ea#e$ countin' #er" s o! " to ten to sto& %erse f from reta iatin'. 'Ho! dare "ou s&ea* to Roberta i*e t%at1' %e demanded. 'Ho! dare "ou1' 'S%e dares$' Roberta %eard %erse f sa" 'rim "$ 'because s%e %as been a o!ed to be ie#e s%e can dare. Turnin'$ s%e faced t%e room a'ain$ %er 'a2e as %ard as ti'%t " &ac*ed ice. '3ut I do t%in* it's time t%at someone &ut "ou ri'%t on a fe! &ertinent &oints$ .iss .ac aine$' s%e continued co d ". <T%e main one bein' t%at "our fat%er did not t%ro! me out of %is ife and ne#er %as/' '-iar$' -u u )eered. 'I !as t%ere$ remember1 At t%e %os&ita !%en .umm" !as i 1 I %eard %im te "ou to 'et out/' '0%at "ou %eard$' Roberta amended$ '!as "our fat%er !antin' to remo#e me from t%e s%ame %is dau'%ter made %im fee for %er/' And s%e *ne! as s%e said it+*ne! t%at t%at !as e,act " !%at .ac %ad been doin'. He %adn't been te in' %er to 'et out because %e be ie#ed -u u's ies$ but because %e cou dn't stand %a#in' %er isten to t%em/ -u u )um&ed to %er feet$ t%at !i dness bac* in %er e"es. 'He %ates

"ou/' s%e %issed out ma e#o ent ". 'He to d me so/' 'Sit do!n$' Roberta commanded 6uiet ". 'Sit do!n/' s%e re&eated forcefu "$ &uttin' a %and on t%e "oun'er 'ir 's s%ou der to &us% %er do!n !%en s%e did not res&ond to t%e order. 'RobertaA' 5oe murmured !arnin' ". 'Sta" out of t%is$ 5oe $' s%e c i&&ed$ not ta*in' %er e"es off t%e "oun'er !oman. <T%is is bet!een -u u and me. I'#e &ut u& !it% t%e insu ts from %er #i e ton'ue on' enou'%. 3ut$ more t%an t%at$ I'#e finis%ed !it% t%e ies. 9inis%ed !it% t%em+do "ou %ear$ -u u1' s%e demanded. 'And for once in "our s&oi ed ife "ou're 'oin' to isten for a c%an'e$ isten to me te in' "ou a fe! c%oice but bitter %ome(trut%s.' 'I don't %a#e to sit %ere and isten to a sin' e !ord "ou %a#e to sa"$' -u u countered s%a*i "$ be'innin' to oo* a itt e !ar" of t%is ne!$ co d " furious Roberta s%e %ad ne#er seen before. 'You do$' Roberta assured %er. '3ecause I am 'oin' to ma*e sure "ou do. Your fat%er %as ne#er so muc% as tried to t%ro! me out of %is ife$' s%e stated. '3ut$' s%e !ent on$ 'I'#e !a *ed out on "our fat%er because I cou d not stand t%e #i eness of %is bi'oted fami " for a minute on'er/' 'You're t%e iar/' -u u said a'ain. 'He t%re! "ou out/ He a !a"s t%ro!s t%em out$ because I ma*e sure %e...' 5oe 's %orrified 'as& brou'%t t%at itt e trut% to an abru&t end. 3ut it came too ate to sa#e -u u and s%e *ne! it$ !%ic% !as !%" %er face !ent red$ %er e"es f as%in' bri'%t b ue !it% 'ui t. '0%ic% ma*es "ou+!%at$ e,act "1' Roberta as*ed$ com&oundin' on t%e error !it% 6uiet contem&t in %er #oice. '.ean$ -u u. It ma*es "ou a mean$ s&oi ed$ utter " se fis% c%i d.' 'I %ate "ou/' -u u reta iated$ &us%in' %er an'r" face u& c ose to Roberta's. 'A m" fami " %ates "ou/ You !anted to s& it m" &arents u& and((((' 'S& it t%em u&1' 5oe c%o*ed in disbe ief. 'Are "ou cra2"$ -u u1 T%e"'#e been a&art for o#er ei'%t "ears/'

'0%at I can't understand$' Roberta !ent on$ as if t%e ot%er t!o %ad not s&o*en$ 'is %o! an"one !%o %as %ad suc% an amount of tender$ o#in' care a#is%ed on t%em can end u& as bitter and t!isted as "ou. 3ut$ %a#in' become !%at "ou are$ -ucinda(((((((' s%e 'a#e %er %er fu name sim& " because s%e *ne! -u u %ated it$ and in t%e 6uiet &art of %er burnin' brain reco'nised t%at t%at !as %er o!n form of ma iciousness comin' out '+I t%in* it's %i'% time "ou too* a 'ood oo* at t%e finis%ed &roduct. You are$ !it%out doubt$' s%e to d %er$ 't%e most se fis%(minded &erson it %as e#er been m" misfortune to meet. You are so se f(moti#ated t%at "ou don't e#en care %o! miserab e "ou ma*e t%ose around "ou fee $ so on' as t%e" ma*e sure t%at "ou$ abo#e a $ fee o#ed/' 'T%at's not true/' -u u c%o*ed. 'I'm not(((((( '

'Se fis%1' Roberta &rom&ted. 'In t%e !a" "ou constant " ma*e "our fat%er &ro#e %is o#e for "ou b" forcin' %im to &retend %e %as no &ri#ate ife be"ond t%e ti'%t fami " 'rou&1 .ean+in t%e !a" "ou !on't et %im find %a&&iness %is o!n !a"$ !it%out ma*in' %im fee crue and 'ui t"1 Or ma icious+in t%e !a" "ou'#e treated me and t%e ot%ers before me t%at "ou're so &roud of 'ettin' rid of1' 'Roberta...' 5oe &ut in & eadin' " !%en %e sa! %is niece's face turn 're"er !it% eac% t%rust. 'And fina "$ -u u$' s%e said %ars% "$ ')ea ous+of an"t%in' or an"one !%o dares t%reaten !%at "ou see as "our &o!er o#er %im. And a for !%at1' s%e as*ed as s%e strai'%tened a!a"$ %er e"es &a e !it% contem&t. 'To &unis% a man !%o$ because %e o#es "ou from t%e bottom of %is %eart$ &ut u& !it% a marria'e t%at !as sour e#en before it be'an for ten !retc%ed "ears$ before %e found %e cou dn't stand t%e miser" of it an" more and 'ot out. 3ut t%at doesn't interest "ou$ does it1' s%e scoffed. '3ecause to ta*e into consideration "our fat%er's fee in's !ou d mean t%at "ou !ou d %a#e to &ut "our o!n aside$ and "ou're )ust too mean to tr".' 'Y("ou're on " sa"in' a t%is to me because "ou're &ee#ed t%at %e' ne#er marr" "ou$' -u u said s%a*i "$ comin' unsteadi " to %er feet.

'.arria'e1' Roberta au'%ed$ a s%ort$ %uffin' au'% t%at s%o!ed %er utter derision of t%e !ord. 'I !ou d tru " %a#e to be t%e em&t"(%eaded bimbo "ou i*e to be ie#e I am to !ant to marr" into a fami " i*e "ours. No$ -u u.' S%e s%oo* %er %ead. 'I don't !ant marria'e from "our fat%er. I don't !ant an"t%in' from %im+not an" more$' s%e added b ea* ". 'You see$ I !ant t%e man I marr" to be stron'. I !ant %im to o#e me abo#e a ot%ers. And "our fat%er can ne#er be eit%er of t%ose t%in's !%i e %e's sti so irremo#ab " tied to "our eadin'(reins.' '3itc%/' -u u s&at out #icious ". 3ut a Roberta did !as smi e. '0e $ at east t%at's one u& on bein' a bimbo$ isn't it1' s%e dra! ed$ and ca m " !a *ed out of t%e room. '0o!/' .it2" dra! ed as Roberta !a *ed &ast %er$ %a#in' ob#ious " istened in on t%e !%o e t%in'. 'S%ut u&/' s%e c i&&ed$ and s%ut %erse f in %er o!n office$ !a *ed around %er des* and sat do!n determined " to %and(!rite %er second etter of resi'nation in a !ee*. On " t%is one s%e meant to ma*e .ac acce&t$ s%e t%ou'%t 'rim ". '5oe too* -u u %ome$' .it2" informed %er$ sid in' !ari " into t%e office se#era minutes ater. 'He said to te "ou t%at %e !asn't comin' bac* unti .ac %ad been and 'one$ t%e co!ard.' .ac1 Roberta fro!ned. Did t%at mean .ac !as bac* in -ondon1 'Arri#ed t%is unc%time$' .it2" said$ as if s%e cou d read Roberta's t%ou'%ts. 'I %ad unc% !it% %is secretar"$' s%e e,& ained %er source of information. 'S%e said %e !as 'oin' strai'%t %ome to stee& off t%e )et( a'.' Roberta fe t a s!ift stin' of a arm s%oot do!n %er s&ine. S%e %adn't 'i#en a t%ou'%t to !%at .ac's reaction !as 'oin' to be !%en %e found out s%e %ad attac*ed %is dau'%ter. 3ut s%e did no!$ so s%e !as more or ess read" for %im !%en %e came t%rou'% t%e door )ust an %our ater.

'0%o t%e %e do "ou t%in* "ou are$' %e 'rated$ 's&ea*in' to m" dau'%ter i*e t%at1' S%e oo*ed u& at %im$ !as sur&rised to see t%at %e oo*ed ess t%an neat in creased suit trousers$ no )ac*et or tie$ and %is !%ite s%irt !renc%ed o&en at t%e t%roat b" !%at oo*ed i*e #er" im&atient fin'ers. He oo*ed &a e and tired too$ t%e c assic s"m&toms of )et( a'. '0e 1' %e bit out$ !%en s%e didn't instant " )um& to %er o!n defence. 'Are "ou referrin' to t%e fe! %ome(trut%s I fe t it !as time s%e istened to1' s%e as*ed coo "$ and !atc%ed !it% detac%ed interest as t%e id f e! ri'%t off %is tem&er. 'You cra2"$ #indicti#e bitc%/' %e ras&ed. <T%is !as "our !a" of &a"in' %er bac* for "in' about "ou to me$ !asn't it1' 'No$' s%e denied t%e accusation$ soundin' as ca m as sti !aters !%i e %e !as stirrin' u& a storm. 'It !as m" !a" of &a"in' %er bac* for darin' to insu t me once too often$' s%e amended. 'T%at's a 1' %e bit out$ comin' to ean t%reatenin' " on %er des*. 'You s&it a oad of abuse at %er and reduce %er to a s%i#erin' %ea& of tears because s%e insu ted "ou1 S%e's on " a c%i d$ dammit/ A &oor$ mi,ed(u& c%i d/' 'C%i d1' Roberta made a sound of dis'ust. 'O%$ do o&en "our e"es$ .ac/ S%e is an ei'%teen("ear(o d teena'er !%o %as an un%ea t%" obsession about %er fat%er/' '0%"$ "ou(((((((((/' His %and sna*ed out$ fin'ers cur in' ti'%t " around t%e bac* of %er nec* to ift %er to %er feet. T%under roared in t%e air around %im$ %is e"es si #er(bri'%t$ burnin' into %ers. 'Ho! dare "ou su''est an"t%in' so #i e1' 'Ta*e "our %and off me before I s%out for .it2" to ca securit"$' s%e !arned. 9or an ans!er t%e fin'ers ti'%tened t%eir %o d. 'You mean as I s%ou d do for t%e !a" "ou attac*ed t%e c%airman's dau'%ter1'

'O%$ &u in' ran* a'ain$ are !e1' s%e scoffed at t%at remar*. '0e $ "ou )ust tr" it$ .ac$' s%e c%a en'ed$ %o din' bac* t%e ur'e to !ince at %is %urtfu 'ri&. 'And e#en t%ou'% "ou're t%eir re#ered em& o"er t%e" !ou d au'% in "our face once t%e"'d %eard t%e fu stor". 0%ic% I !ou d be on " too %a&&" to te t%em$' s%e !arned$ t%en as*ed soft "$ 'Are "ou man enou'% to isten to it$ .ac1 Or %as -u u 'ot "ou too tied u& in *nots !it% %er o!n t!isted #ersion1' His an'r" e"es f as%ed$ and Roberta %e d %er breat%$ !aitin' tense " to see !%ic% !a" %e !ou d )um&. He !anted to murder %er7 s%e cou d see it boi in' in %is e"es. 3ut underneat%+dee& do!n %ad to *no! t%at s%e !ou d not %a#e done an"t%in' to -u u !it%out e,treme &ro#ocation. He et 'o$ turnin' %is bac* on %er as Roberta dro&&ed !ea* " bac* into %er c%air. S%e !as tremb in' so bad " t%at e#en %er %eart fe t as if it !as s%a*in'$ and s%e ifted a %and u& to rub %er nec*$ %er o!n tension as muc% as %is 'ri& ma*in' it ac%e. 'Ta *$' %e commanded 'ruff "$ and !ent to stand o#er b" t%e !indo!. Roberta fo o!ed %im !it% %er e"es$ a most ettin' %erse f fee sorr" for %im$ %e oo*ed so utter " fed u&. 3ut s%e stiffened %er s&ine. S%e !as sic* and tired of bein' t%e *ic*in'(board bot% for %im and %is &ossessi#e fami ". And$ !%et%er or not %e be ie#ed %er after t%is$ at east s%e !ou d %a#e 'ot a !%o e ot of simmerin' resentment off %er c%est. 'A ri'%t$' s%e said$ sittin' bac* in %er c%air$ '!%ere !ou d "ou i*e me to be'in1 0it% t%e first time I e#er met -u u as "our o#er and s%e !arned me t%en t%at I !ou dn't ast a mont% if s%e %ad an"t%in' to do !it% it1 Or$' s%e continued as %e s!un' around to fro!n at %er$ 's%a !e )ust )um& for!ard to %er recent birt%da" &art"$ !%en s%e too* 'reat & easure in sta *in' me around t%e room$ e,& ainin' to an"one !%o !ou d isten+!it%in m" %earin'$ of course+)ust !%o I !as. <Dadd"'s current bimbo<.' Her mout% t%inned !it% distaste on t%e !ords. 'Or$' s%e !ent on$ i'norin' %is narro!in' stare$ 's%a !e remo#e to t%e itt e scene at t%e %os&ita $ !%en s%e tried+#er" %ard+to con#ince me t%at "ou sti s e&t !it% De ia !%en "ou 'ot t%e c%ance1'

.ac !ent &a e and turned a!a" from %er a'ain. T%e fact t%at %e !asn't )um&in' a o#er %er for bein' a iar eased some of t%e tension out of %er as s%e continued 6uiet "$ 'Don't t%in* I'm &uttin' t%e b ame entire " on to -u u. S%e %ad a ot of encoura'ement$ after a $ from bot% "ou and De ia. You bot% &ut on suc% a con#incin' s%o!$ "ou see.' S%e si'%ed. 'It's no !onder -u u !aits !it% bated breat% for t%e da" !%en "ou sudden " see sense and remarr" %er mot%er.' In &rofi e$ s%e sa! %is bitter 'rimace$ and *ne! %e !as acce&tin' !%at s%e !as sa"in'. 'De ia$ on t%e ot%er %and$ I'm not so sure about$' s%e !ent on. 'I t%in* s%e & a"s t%e 'ame in a simi ar !a" to "ou. 3ut I cou d be !ron'$ and ma"be s%e too is sim& " !aitin' in t%e !in's for "ou to turn bac* to %er. > don't *no!.' .ac si'%ed$ runnin' %is %and around t%e bac* of %is nec* before %e dro&&ed it a'ain and came o#er to t%ro! %imse f into t%e c%air across t%e des* from %er. 'You'd better te me t%e rest$' %e in#ited !eari ". '0%at %a&&ened in 5oe 's office toda"1' An'er dar*ened Roberta's e"es for a moment$ t%en c eared as s%e contro ed it. 'I !a *ed into 5oe 's office to find -u u a read" t%ere. ." first instinct !as to 'et bac* out a'ain as 6uic* " as m" e's !ou d ta*e me$' s%e !r" " confessed$ 'but -u u attac*ed first$ and...' 0it% a %e & ess s%ru' s%e to d %im a of it$ t%e ot$ bare " missin' an"t%in' out. 'And if "ou don't be ie#e me$ s%e conc uded$ 't%en )ust as* 5oe + or e#en .it2"$ come to t%at$ because I t%in* s%e o#er%eard t%e !%o e u' " t%in'/' Rest ess " s%e 'ot u&$ 'oin' to ta*e u& .ac's an'r" &ose b" t%e !indo!. 'In tr"in' to *ee& "our dau'%ter's o#e "ou'#e created a monster$' s%e to d %im f at ". 'And if "ou don't do somet%in' about it #er" soon$ .ac$ t%en I t%in* it ma" )ust be too ate+for &oor -u u$ at an" rate.' Turnin' %er %ead$ s%e oo*ed 'rim " at %im. 'S%e isn't %a&&"$ "ou *no!$' s%e said 'ent ". 'S%e can ne#er be %a&&" !%i e s%e continues to be ie#e t%at %er !%o e %a&&iness %in'es on 'ettin' %er &arents bac* to'et%er.'

'0e !on't do t%at. Ne#er$' %e 'runted$ !it% a sma s%udder t%at seemed to sa" it a . 'T%en don't "ou t%in* it's time one or bot% of "ou to d %er t%at1' Roberta su''ested. 'I *no! I don't i*e "our dau'%ter #er" muc%$' s%e admitted$ !it% %er usua unfai in' %onest"$ 'but %a#in' !atc%ed !%at 'oes on from t%e outside$ so to s&ea*$ I do %a#e it in me to understand !%" s%e continues to %o&e.' He si'%ed$ stretc%in' out in t%e u&ri'%t c%air and t%ro!in' bac* %is %ead !it% %is e"es c osed. He oo*ed !earied to deat%. Roberta's e"es f ooded !it% tears$ because s%e !as &ainfu " a!are t%at s%e !as res&onsib e for ma*in' %im i*e t%at. 3ut s%e turned bac* to t%e !indo!$ refusin' to et %erse f res&ond e#en t%ou'% t%e ur'e to 'o o#er and soot%e %im t%robbed ac%in' " inside %er. S%e %ad re'retted %er &art in t%e scene !it% -u u a most before s%e %ad !a *ed out of 5oe 's office$ but$ %a#in' %ad t%e confrontation$ s%e *ne! s%e !ou d be bein' a foo to %erse f if s%e retracted an" of it )ust to ease .ac's fee in's. 'I t%in* it's time I e,& ained to "ou somet%in' about -u u$' %e murmured sudden "$ dra!in' %er attention bac* to %im. 'About t%ree "ears a'o s%e 'ot in !it% a bad cro!d. 0ent so !i d for a time t%at De ia cou dn't contro %er. S%e e#en be'an stea in' from t%e %ouse+ o%$ not bi' t%in's$' %e a o!ed$ at Roberta's stif ed 'as&$ 'but sma t%in's$ t%in's t%at !ou dn't be missed strai'%t a!a" but !ou d fetc% %er a reasonab e &rice on t%e street.' He &aused$ %is mout% fo din' into a 'rim$ ti'%t ine. 'S%e !as se in' t%em for dru's+not%in' %ea#"$' %e added. '-uc*i "$ I found out !%at s%e !as u& to before s%e'd &ro'ressed on to an"t%in' serious " dama'in'. S%e's c ear no!+is e#en embarrassed if it e#er comes u&. 3ut...' T%ere !as anot%er &ause$ fo o!ed b" anot%er %ars% si'% !%i e Roberta stood t%ere$ fee in' %e & ess as to !%at to sa". 'Durin' t%e t%era&" s%e a'reed to attend it came out t%at s%e !as sti fee in' re)ected b" me for ea#in' %er and De ia. So I su&&ose t%at$ since t%en$ De ia and I %a#e 'ot used to &uttin' u& a united front !%ene#er s%e's around and$ i*e "ou said$ so successfu " t%at -u u %as misread its meanin'.' He o&ened %is e"es to

&in %er !it% a sombre oo*. '3ut I %adn't rea ised %o! muc% unti I o#er%eard a t%ose t%in's s%e !as sa"in' to "ou t%at mornin' at t%e %os&ita .' 'You %eard %er1' Roberta 'as&ed. 'Not )ust %eard %er$ but tac* ed %er about it after!ards$' %e admitted. <T%en$ to be %onest$ I )ust ost &atience !it% %er. I t%ou'%t to m"se f((((((' 'rim " %e urc%ed for!ard '+!%at t%e %e am I doin'$ &uttin' m" ife on %o d for %er !%en s%e can ie so b ood" ' ib " about me i*e t%at1' He 'a#e %is dar* %ead a sma s%a*e. 'S%e a&o o'ised after!ards$' %e !ent on. 'E,& ained !%" s%e'd said some of t%e rotten t%in's s%e'd said to "ou. Ha f of it !as %er o!n conscience$ refusin' to acce&t res&onsibi it" for an" &art of %er mot%er's i ness. De ia$ "ou see$ %ad to d -u u t%at s%e fe t sic* before t%e &art". 3ut -u u %ad be''ed %er not to te an"one so t%at %er !ee*end !ou dn't be s&oi ed b" e#er"one !orr"in' about De ia/' His an'er and dis'ust s%o!ed in t%e ras&in' tone of %is #oice. 'So disco#erin' )ust %o! i De ia !as and %o! c ose to deat% De ia came b" not doin' somet%in' about %erse f sooner came as a rea e#e er to %er+so natura "$' %e added sarcastica "$ 's%e too* it out on t%e nearest &erson to %and$ !%ic% %a&&ened to be "ou+or ma"be it !as on " because it !as "ou.' He si'%ed. '0%ate#er. It !as "ou !%o 'ot it in t%e nec*$ and me !%o %ad to stand t%ere istenin' to "ou 'et it/' 'So "ou sent me a!a"$' s%e murmured soft ". 'Had to$' %e 'ritted. 'Ho!e#er an'r" I !as !it% -u u$ %er mot%er !as serious " i $ and I %ad to !ait for t%e outcome t%ere before I cou d e#en be'in to tac* e %er outburst to "ou. 0%at rea " sur&rises me$' %e said fro!nin' "$ 'is t%at$ after a of t%at$ s%e dared to start on "ou a'ain toda".' 'S%e %ates me$' Roberta murmured %ea#i ". 'S%e's a t"&ica " se fis% ei'%teen("ear(o d$ !%o !ou d %ate and resent an"one tr"in' to s&oi !%at s%e sees as %er u timate & an in ife. 0%ic% is to 'et "ou and De ia bac* to'et%er a'ain.' .ac eaned for!ard to rest %is e bo!s on %is s&read *nees$ si'%in'

in !ear" acce&tance of t%at. 'Can "ou 'et .it2" to ma*e me some coffee1' %e t%en as*ed sudden ". 'On "$ I'd )ust !a *ed in t%e door from Ne! Yor* !%en -u u ran' me to &our a "our insu ts o#er me$ and to be fran*$' %e 'rimaced. 'I'm b ood" s&ent.' 'Of course$' s%e said$ ' ad of somet%in' to do ot%er t%an isten and t%in* and %urt for a of t%em. S%e ste&&ed o#er to %er des* and bu22ed .it2" for coffee t%en$ after %o#erin' for a fe! moments$ fi'%tin' a batt e !it% %erse f$ rounded t%e des* to 'o do!n on %er %aunc%es beside %im$ %er !ea* %eart !innin' out o#er stern reso #e to *ee& %erse f a oof from %im. 3ut %e oo*ed so endearin' " #u nerab e sittin' t%ere$ s um&ed o#er i*e t%at$ and %er %and !ent tentati#e " to %is c%ee*$ unsure !%et%er s%e !ou d be re)ected or not. 3ut$ far from re)ectin' %er$ %e too* t%e %and into %is o!n$ *issed %er fin'ers 'ent "$ t%en *e&t it ca&tured as %e o!ered it do!n to %er a&. 'I %a#e a ot to a&o o'ise to "ou for$ don't I1' %e murmured 'ruff ". Roberta smi ed$ !atc%in' t%e !a" %e & a"ed absent " !it% %er fin'ers. 'Not rea "$' s%e denied. 'I &robab " deser#ed most of !%at I 'ot$ sim& " because I a o!ed it to 'o on.' ';nti -u u's &art"$' %e said. '0%en "ou sudden " found "ou'd %ad enou'%.' .ore t%an enou'%$ s%e t%ou'%t$ rememberin' &ainfu " %o! t%ose !ords %ad %it %er fu in t%e face t%at ni'%t. He mo#ed so une,&ected " t%at Roberta started in &u22 ed sur&rise as %e c imbed to %is feet to be'in &acin' t%e room$ sudden " t%e dar*$ rest ess man s%e !as more used to seein'. He !as t%in*in'$ s%e rea ised$ comin' more s o! " to %er o!n feet. He'd reco#ered from t%e s%oc* and !as no! doin' !%at be did bestB oo*in' for t%e best so ution to so #e t%e &rob em. .it2" came in !it% a tra" of coffee$ e"ein' %im !ari " as s%e &ut it do!n on Roberta's des* t%en disa&&eared as 6uic* " as s%e cou d.

Roberta didn't %a#e a c%ance to &our t%e coffee before .ac !as t%ere and doin' it %imse f. He 'u &ed do!n t!o cu&fu s$ b ac*$ stron' and s!eet$ before &acin' a!a" a'ain. S%e !atc%ed %im$ t%is &o!er%ouse met%od of t%in*in' e,citin' %er e#en t%ou'% s%e *ne! s%e s%ou dn't et it. 3ut t%is !as .ac. .ac t%e man s%e'd fa en in o#e !it%. .ac t%e man !%o cou d turn a of t%is rest ess ener'" into &ure$ undi uted &assion. And %er mout% !ent dr" at t%e idea of it$ %er bod" stirrin' into ti'%t$ tin' in' s%oc*s of a!areness. 0ic*ed$ s%e accused %erse f breat% ess ". 0ic*ed+ !ic*ed/ .ac is dea in' !it% a bi' &rob em in %is ife and "ou're standin' %ere !antin' to de#our %im. He turned sudden "$ catc%in' %er %un'r" oo*$ but t%an*fu " too &reoccu&ied to reco'nise it for t%e !ic*ed t%in' it !as. Instead %e strode o#er to t%e des* and snatc%ed u& t%e &%one$ s%ar& fin'ers &unc%in' in a !e (remembered set of numbers. 'De ia1' %e said a most instant ". Somet%in' crac*ed inside Roberta. He !as ca in' %is e,(!ife. .ac bad come to a bi' decision about somet%in'$ and s%e %ad a %orrib e fee in' t%at s%e *ne! !%at t%at decision !as. 'Is -u u sti t%ere1' He sounded so bris* and a i#e t%at Roberta !anted to !ee&. '0%at1' %e dra! ed. 'A read"1' His mout% too* on a ruefu t!ist. 'It didn't ta*e %er on' to reco#er$ did it1' 0%ate#er De ia said b" !a" of re& " made %is e,&ression %arden. 'It's sorted$ De ia. .ore t%an sorted$' %e said 'rim "$ ' ancin' at Roberta in a !a" t%at made %er sure t%e" !ere discussin' %er. So in res&onse %er c%in !ent u&$ 'reen e"es s&ira in' into coo c%a en'e. Yet$ odd "$ %e smi ed at %er$ before returnin' %is attention to t%e te e&%one. 'Ho! are "ou fee in'$ dar in'1' %e en6uired of De ia$ remindin' Roberta t%at De ia must sti be reco#erin' from %er o&eration. 'On "$ I t%in* "ou s%ou d *no! t%at !e %a#e a sma crisis bre!in' and !e ur'ent " need to ta * about it.' De ia said somet%in' t%at made %is face dar*en. 'No$' %e muttered. 'Not )ust -u u$ but "ou

and me$ too. .a" I come round in$ sa"((((((' %e ' anced at %is !atc% '+ %a f an %our1' S%e must %a#e a'reed because .ac nodded and &ut do!n t%e recei#er$ t%en$ !it% a decided " t%reatenin' oo* about %im$ turned %is attention on Roberta. 'Ri'%t$' %e said. '0%ere's 5oe 1' S%e !as instant " on %er 'uard. 'Out$' s%e ans!ered. 'Hidin' a!a" from "ou$ I t%in*.' 'Is %e$ no!1' %e murmured. <T%at' ma*e a c%an'e. ;sua " %e en)o"s ta*in' me on/ -i*e t%e time in 5enn"'s f at !%en %e &ro#o*ed me into &unc%in' %im one.' 'T%at !as a dis'racefu t%in' to do/' s%e f ared. 'Hittin' "our o!n brot%er )ust because %e made a #er" &oor )o*e/' 'T%at s m" bunn" rabbit$' %e dra! ed. 'Defend t%e indefensib e. He en#ies me "ou$ no matter !%at "ou &refer to be ie#e.' S%e stiffened instant " in affront. 'I don't see %o! "ou(((((( '

S%e 'ot no furt%er because %is mout% came %un'ri " do!n on %er o!n. '.mm$' %e murmured as %e dre! a!a". 'I needed t%at/' Roberta )ust stared at %im in breat% ess be!i derment. He !as so bri'%t and a i#e no! t%at s%e cou d %ard " be ie#e t%at t%is !as t%e same man !%o %ad been s um&ed in a c%air in defeat on " minutes a'o/ 'No!$ !%ere's "our coat1' %e as*ed$ oo*in' im&atient " round t%e room. '4et "our coat. You're comin' !it% me.' 'I most certain " am not/' Roberta &rotested$ starin' at %im as if %e'd 'one star*$ starin' mad. '5ust in case it's esca&ed "our memor"$ I !or* %ard' s%e reminded %im %ot ". 'I can't )ust !a * out at a moment's notice$ e#en if I !anted to+!%ic% I don't/' 'I'm t%e boss$ remember1 So 'et "our coat/' 4rabbin' determined " at %er %and$ %e too* it u&on %imse f to %oo* %er coat off t%e %an'er be%ind %er door$ t%en t%re! it o#er %is s%ou der. '0e %a#e t%in's to do$

"ou and I$' %e stated. 'And$ no! I'#e decided to do t%em$ I !ant t%em doin' ri'%t a!a".' 'T%in's i*e !%at1' s%e demanded in e,as&eration. '.ac/' s%e a&&ea ed$ !%en %e be'an dra''in' %er &ro(testin' " t%rou'% t%e door. 'I don't !ant to 'o !it% "ou to De ia's/ And I don't see !%" "ou !ou d !ant me a on'/' 'Don't "ou1' He *e&t on &u in'. 'You started a of t%is$ Roberta$' %e reminded %er 'rim ". 'So I don't see !%" t%e %e "ou s%ou dn't %e & me to finis% it/'

'9inis% !%at1' s%e si'%ed out be!i dered ". 'Can't "ou )ust stand sti on' enou'% to te me !%at t%e %e it is "ou're intendin' to do1' He s%oo* %is %ead. 'You' find out soon enou'%$' %e &romised ominous ". At .it2"'s des*$ t%ou'%$ %e &aused. 'If "ou *no! !%ic% %o e it is t%at m" brot%er is %idin' in$ t%en 'et %im out of it and te %im t%at I'#e *idna&&ed %is PA$' %e instructed a .it2" !ide(e"ed !it% curiosit". 'Te %im t%at if %e !ants to see .iss C%and er a'ain$ %e'd better come and find %er. At De ia's. He ' anced at %is !atc%. '5ust as soon as %e can 'et %imse f t%ere.' <T%is is cra2"$' Roberta com& ained as %e dro#e t%em to!ards t%e St 5o%n's 0ood district of -ondon$ after %a#in' dra''ed %er out of t%e bui din'$ s%o#ed %er into %is car$ t%en be ted %er in before s ammin' t%e door and c imbin' in %imse f. 'You'#e 'one cra2" if "ou t%in* "ou can )ust bu " me i*e t%is/' He )ust i'nored %er$ dri#in' t%e ne!(mode -otus !it% t%e coo &recision of a ion(tamer contro in' a !i d anima . De ia's %ome !as t%e one .ac %ad once s%ared !it% %er. A bi' o d t%in'$ set be%ind a %i'% fence in its o!n sec uded 'rounds. T%e %ea#" !rou'%t(iron 'ates o&ened e ectronica " and it ni'' ed Roberta to *no! t%at .ac sti %ad ri'%t of access$ !%en$ at t%e touc% of a button on %is das%board$ t%e 'ates s id o&en to et t%em dri#e t%rou'%. He sto&&ed at t%e bottom of t%e stone front ste&s !%ic% ed

beneat% a !ide &orc%!a"$ *i ed t%e en'ine$ 't%en c imbed out$ came around to o&en Roberta's door for %er !%en s%e made no effort %erse f$ and firm " %au ed %er out. 'I %a#e no !is% to 'o in t%ere/' s%e informed %im %ot ". 'No matter$' be said$ %is %and a manac e about %ers a'ain as %e &u ed %er to!ards t%e ste&s. 'You're comin'.' Inside !as 6uite sur&risin' " conser#ati#e$ De ia's e,otic tastes in &ersona dress ob#ious " not o#er a&&in' into %er taste in %ome decor. A ta $ 're"(%aired man !it% a sober face came to meet t%em as t%e" entered. '0%ere's "our mistress$ 5oc*1' .ac as*ed %im. 'In t%e sma sittin'(room$ sir$' t%e man re& ied. 'Restin'$' %e added &ointed ". .ac )ust 'runted at t%e ot%er man's acid manner and !a *ed off do!n t%e %a $ dra''in' Roberta be%ind %im. De ia !as rec inin' on a beautifu damas*(co#ered sofa$ %er si *" red %air f o!in' i*e a#a o#er t%e soft " &added arm. S%e oo*ed !onderfu in t%at &articu ar s%ade of #io et satin s%e %ad strate'ica " dra&ed around %er+e,otic$ seducti#e+and Roberta sudden " rea ised !%" t%e %ouse !as so e e'ant " b and. It acted as t%e &erfect foi to De ia's %ectic beaut". 'Ho!'s t%e !ound1' .ac as*ed b" !a" of a 'reetin'. 'Hea in'$' De ia informed %im$ !it%out bot%erin' to o&en %er de icate " bruised e"es. '3ut *i in' me. 0%at's a t%is ur'enc" about$ .ac1' s%e demanded !eari ". 'I su&&ose t%at s " bitc% %as been ma*in' troub e for &oor -u u1< 'As* %er "ourse f$ since t%e bitc% in 6uestion is standin' ri'%t ne,t to me$' .ac dra! ed$ !atc%in' c"nica " as De ia's e"es f ic*ed !ide o&en !%i e Roberta stiffened )er*i " at %is side. 'And as for &oor -u u$' %e continued$ !%i e bot% !omen ' ared at eac% ot%er$ '!e'#e et a serious &rob em de#e o& bet!een us %ere$ De ia$ and it's %i'% time !e did somet%in' about it.'

'Prob em1 0%at *ind of &rob em1' 0incin' at t%e effort$ De ia e#ered %erse f into a sittin' &osition. 9or an ans!er$ .ac stunned bot% !omen. '0i "ou marr" me$ De ia1' %e as*ed. 'You must be )o*in'/' De ia scoffed$ !it%out e#en %a#in' to t%in* about it. 'I !ou dn't do t%at to m"se f a'ain e#en if "ou !ere t%e ast man on eart%/' '4ood$' .ac said. '0%ic% 'ets t%at bit out of t%e !a"$ since t%e ast t%in' on eart% I !ant to do is tie m"se f to a !itc% i*e "ou a'ain. So$' %e !ent on$ tu''in' at Roberta's %and unti %e %ad %er %ard u& a'ainst %is side$ 'I !i %a#e "our fu su&&ort !%en I announce t%at Roberta and I are 'ettin' married$ !on't I1'

CHAPTER TEN SI-ENCE. .ac's coo announcement met !it% tota $ utter si ence from bot% stunned !omen !%i e t%e" stru'' ed to absorb )ust e,act " !%at %e'd said. It !as De ia !%o reco#ered first$ !%i e Roberta ran %is arro'ant remar* o#er and o#er in %er mind$ tr"in' to !or* out %o! s%e %ad mis%eard !%at s%e t%ou'%t %e'd said. 3ut$ starin' at .ac !it% somet%in' c ose to %orror$ De ia !%is&ered t%readi "$ 'O%$ %e $ .ac. T%is !i cause somet%in' rea " nast" to %it t%e fan/' 'No/' Roberta burst out$ comin' a i#e at ast to !renc% %erse f free from .ac's 'ras&. '0%o t%e %e do "ou t%in* "ou are$ dra''in' me %ere i*e t%is and ma*in' arro'ant assum&tions i*e t%at1' s%e cried$ %er face as &a e as %er beautifu %air. 'I !on't marr" "ou/' s%e dec ared. 'I don't !ant to marr" "ou+I don't e#en i*e "ou$ or "our %orrib e fami "/' '0e $ t%at's te in' "ou$ s!eet(face$' De ia moc*ed .ac$ oo*in' as if s%e !as sudden " en)o"in' %erse f. 'And "ou can 'o to %e $ too$' Roberta to d %er cross "$ !ra&&in' %er

arms ti'%t " around %erse f. It !as eit%er t%at or %it one of t%em. And s%e'd done enou'% as%in' out toda"$ e#en if it !as on " !it% %er ton'ue. .ore t%an enou'%$ s%e t%en e,tended$ 'rim " a!are t%at$ if s%e'd )ust %e d on to %er se f(contro and !a *ed out on -u u before$ s%e !ou dn't be in t%is situation no!/ 'I'#e been t%ere a read"$ dar in'$ be ie#e me$' De ia dra! ed. 'In actua fact$ .ac and I #isited t%e & ace to'et%er.' 'And sta"ed t%ere ten damn "ears too on'$' %e a'reed$ !r" amusement soundin' in %is #oice. T%ese t!o !ere cra2"/ Roberta decided$ f ic*in' %er im&atient 'a2e from one !arm " au'%in' face to t%e ot%er. T%e" ta *ed to eac% ot%er i*e enemies$ "et t%e affection+rea $ 'enuine affection for eac% ot%er( ' o!ed t%rou'% eac% c e#er$ tauntin' !ord/ T%en )ea ous" ri&&ed t%rou'% %er i*e t%e #er" f ames of %e $ because t%e" !ere too bus" teasin' eac% ot%er e#en to remember s%e !as t%ere/ I !ant %im to oo* at me i*e t%at/ s%e t%ou'%t an'ri ". I !ant %im to au'% !it% me/ Care for me/ I !ant %im to as* me to marr" %im because %e des&erate " !ants me to and not because of some de#ious & an %e's coo*ed u& to &ut %is stu&id dau'%ter in %er & ace/ 'I'm ea#in'$' s%e announced$ turnin' to!ards t%e door. '-i*e %e "ou are$ .ac 'ro! ed$ reac%in' out to brin' %er to a )er*in' %a t. 'You started t%is and m" 4od "ou're 'oin' to sta" and %e & finis% it/' '9inis% !%at1' a carefu " monitored #oice en6uired from t%e o&en door!a". 5oe / Roberta reco'nised !it% re ief. 5oe !ou d 'et %er out of t%is/ 'Te %im$ 5oe /' s%e & eaded$ &u in' at %er ca&tured !rist. 'Te t%is bi' bu " to 'et %is %ands off me/' 'I !ou d et 'o of %er if I !ere "ou$ .ac$' 5oe su''ested 6uiet ". And it !as in %is e"es t%at %e meant it. 'Don't "ou t%in* "ou're a bit bi' to 'o around t%reatenin' !omen1'

'I'm not t%reatenin' %er$ dammit/' .ac sna&&ed im&atient ". 'I'm tr"in' to marr" %er/' '.arr"1' 5oe 's e,&ression cou d not %a#e ta*en on a bi''er c%an'e if it %ad tried. 'O%$ t%at's a ri'%t$ t%en$' %e said$ and &roceeded to i'nore Roberta as %e came furt%er into t%e room. 'I !as be'innin' to t%in* "ou %adn't 'ot t%e 'uts/ 3ut no! I see "ou %a#e+&ut it t%ere$ bi' brot%er/' He %e d out a %and to .ac. 'I %o&e "ou'#e ordered me round %ere to as* me to be best man1' 'Sto& it/' Roberta c%o*ed$ #er" c ose to a f ood of an'r" tears. '0i "ou a & ease )ust sto& it1' 3i' arms came !arm " round %er$ %u''in' %er c ose to a bi'$ !arm$ infinite " fami iar bod". 'Don't cr"$ bunn" rabbit$' a dee& #oice soot%ed. 'E#er"t%in' !i turn out a ri'%t. You' see.' '3ut I can't marr" "ou$ .ac+can't "ou see1' -iftin' tear(!as%ed e"es to %is$ s%e & eaded for %im to sto& t%is madness. 'Your dau'%ter doesn't i*e me/ And since "ou bot% sti seem to i#e in eac% ot%er's &oc*ets$' s%e added$ f as%in' a )ea ous 'reen ' ance at De ia$ 't%en t%e fact t%at "our e,(!ife doesn't i*e me seems to &ut t%e id on suc% a stu&id idea/' '3ut I i*e "ou$' .ac murmured$ e"es fu of tender au'%ter as %e 'ent " combed %is fin'ers t%rou'% %er si *" %air. 'I i*e "ou #er"$ #er" muc%...' %e to d %er$ and *issed %er+not s o! "$ not 'ent "$ but stron' "$ !it% a %un'r" &assion t%at %ad %er senses s&innin' and %er bod" arc%in' %e & ess " to %is. S%e didn't e#en care t%at De ia !as oo*in' on$ t%at 5oe !as !atc%in' and &robab " smir*in'. S%e didn't care t%at .ac !as ta*in' unfair ad#anta'e and s%e s%ou d be fi'%tin' i*e mad to 'et free$ because in t%e end+on t%e #er" bottom ine of it+s%e *ne! t%at t%is !as !%ere s%e !anted to be$ !%ere s%e needed to be. 'I sti can't marr" "ou$' s%e !%is&ered a'ainst %is i&s$ !%en %e e#entua " eased t%e &ressure. 'T%e"'d ma*e m" ife a miser" if I did.' 'You mean -u u$' %e s&ecified.

S%e nodded$ %er un%a&&" e"es ost in t%e dar* beaut" of %is. 'S%e's "our dau'%ter and "ou o#e %er$ and I !on't et "ou %urt %er t%rou'% me.' T%e tears f ooded %er e"es a'ain. 'S%e'd ne#er for'i#e me if I did /' s%e c%o*ed. 'Yes$ I !ou d.' 9our %eads s&un round to see -u u standin' in t%e o&en door!a"$ oo*in' a!*!ard and defensi#e !it% %er fin'ers stuc* into t%e ti'%t front &oc*ets of %er )eans. Instinct made Roberta !ant to ta*e a defensi#e ste& a!a" from .ac$ but %e ti'%tened %is %o d$ *ee&in' %er c ose. Rut% ess bastard$ s%e to d %im si ent ". No! "ou'#e decided to dea !it% -u u$ "ou're 'oin' to &u no &unc%es$ are "ou1 -u u ' anced at %er fat%er's sudden " c osed face$ t%en at Roberta's #er" !ar" one$ and 'rimaced$ %er 'a2e t%en c as%in' !it% %er unc e 5oe 's for a on' moment before %er dar* as%es s!e&t do!n o#er %er beautifu e"es. And it %it Roberta t%en t%at 5oe must %a#e done some %ard ta *in' to -u u to ma*e %er oo* at %im i*e t%at. 'I t%in* I'#e been ma*in' rat%er a nuisance of m"se f$' s%e said$ sid in' furt%er into t%e room$ t%en added !it% a sma s%ru'$ 'I'm+ sorr".' 'O%$ -u u$ dar in'$' De ia murmured !it% a 6ui#er in %er #oice. -u u ' anced at %er and smi ed$ a beit ruefu ". 'It's "our o!n fau t$ "ou *no!+bot% "our fau ts$' s%e added$ inc udin' %er fat%er in t%e remar*. 'You a !a"s mana'e to oo* so+ri'%t to'et%er/' Anot%er s%ru'$ t%en %er s ender s%ou ders sa''ed. 'An"one cou d be for'i#en for t%in*in' "ou !ere not%in' but a si " &air of c%i dren !%o )ust %ad too muc% &ride to *iss and ma*e u&/' If De ia 'as&ed at bein' s&o*en to i*e t%at b" %er dau'%ter$ 5oe %uffed out a sardonic au'%. '4ood for "ou$ &u'(face$' %e encoura'ed. 'You te t%em !%at "ou t%in* of t%em7 it's about time somebod" did/' 'Somebod" a read" did$ ;nc e 5oe $' -u u reminded %im$ 'To d me$

an"!a".' And s%e turned to oo* direct " at Roberta. 'Do "ou o#e m" fat%er1' s%e demanded outri'%t. T%e room seemed to s!a"$ and Roberta %ad to c ose %er e"es in an attem&t to sto& it. 0%" did s%e %a#e to as* me t%at 6uestion1 s%e t%ou'%t %ectica ". 0%" cou dn't s%e as* it of %er arro'ant fat%er instead1 His ans!er !ou d be far more interestin'$ since e#er"one but -u u$ it seemed$ *ne! %er fee in's/ His !ere sti a damned c osed boo*/ T%e arms enfo din' %er ti'%tened. '0e $ come on$ bunn" rabbit$' .ac !%is&ered 'ent ". 'Ans!er t%e 'ir and et's )ust see if t%at unfai in' %onest" of "ours stands u& in a rea test/' 'I %ate "ou$' s%e !%is&ered$ o&enin' %er e"es direct " on to %is !arm " teasin' 'a2e. 'I %ate a "our rotten fami "/' '.mm. I *no!$' %e a'reed$ and *issed t%e ti& of %er sma $ strai'%t nose. '3ut...1' %e t%en &rom&ted. Pain s%ot across %er features$ &ain and des&air and a !retc%ed !ea* surrender. '3ut I can't %e & o#in' "ou too$' s%e s%a*i " confessed. <T%en "ou bot% %a#e m" b essin' !%en "ou marr"$' -u u murmured in a t%ic*ened #oice t%at said it %urt %er to sa" it. 'O%$ I'm not 'oin' to marr" %im/' Roberta stunned e#er"one b" dec arin'$ and oo*ed stubborn " into .ac's sudden " narro!ed e"es. 'I'm not marr"in' "ou$ .ac$' s%e re&eated$ and 'ent " but firm " !it%dre! %erse f from %is arms$ !antin'+needin' to 'et a!a" before s%e fe a&art inside. '3ut !%"1' -u u cried$ ' ancin' at %er fat%er's face and 'oin' &a e at !%ate#er s%e sa! !ritten t%ere. S%e mo#ed )er*i " to stand in front of Roberta. 'You said "ou !anted %im stron'/' s%e reminded %er. '0e $ %asn't %e &ro#ed %e can be stron' b" as*in' "ou to marr" %im e#en t%ou'% %e *no!s it !ou d %urt me1' Roberta's %ea#" si'% dro!ned out t%e s%orter$ s%oc*ed one .ac 'a#e. 'It's not%in' to do !it% stren't%$' s%e denied !eari ".

<T%en it's me.' -u u reac%ed out to 'rab %er arm !%en Roberta !ent to turn a!a". 'You don't !ant me as a ste&dau'%ter. I can understand t%at/' s%e cried &ainfu ". 'After a $ !%o !ou d1 I'm suc% a terrib e bitc%/ :3ut(((((( I'

'Sto& it$ -u u$' .ac inserted 'rim "$ but %is dau'%ter )ust turned !ide$ ur'ent e"es on %im. 'No/' s%e refused. 'I !on't sto& it/ T%is is a m" fau t and I !on't sto& it unti I ma*e it a ri'%t !it% "ou t!o a'ain/ Roberta$' s%e & eaded ur'ent "$ unconscious " usin' %er name for t%e first time e#er$ 'if I &romise not to interfere one tin" itt e bit$ !i "ou marr" %im1 I' sta" ri'%t out of "our i#es if "ou &refer/' Sincere t%ou'% s%e !as bein'$ %er o#e " e"es fi ed !it% tears at t%e &ros&ect and$ des&ite a t%e anta'onism t%e"'d s%ared durin' t%e ast t!e #e mont%s$ Roberta cou dn't et t%e ot%er 'ir %urt %erse f i*e t%is. S%e too* %o d of %er s%ou ders and$ e#en t%ou'% t%e" !ere a read" tremb in'$ 'a#e t%em a 'ent e s%a*e. '." decision %as not%in' to do !it% "ou$ -u u/' s%e assured %er. 'It %as to do !it% o#e+&ure and sim& e+not%in' e se/ Your fat%er doesn't o#e me$ dar in'$' s%e e,& ained soft ". 'Didn't "ou *no! t%at1' 'Are "ou cra2" or somet%in'1' .ac burst in e,& osi#e ". '0%en t%e %e %a#e I e#er said I didn't o#e "ou1' '0%en %a#e "ou e#er said "ou did1' Roberta corrected 'rim ". 'You mean$ %e's ne#er e#en to d "ou1' -u u 'as&ed. 'You mean$ t%e se fis% rat %as )ust ta*en and ta*en !it%out bot%erin' to(((((( ' '-u u/' T%is time .ac's %ars% re&rimand brou'%t %er ton'ue to a s*iddin' %a t$ but %er e"es$ !%en s%e anced t%em on %im$ condemned$ and .ac's face dar*ened !it% co our. 'I'm 'ettin' out of %ere$' Roberta said$ ta*in' %er c%ance !%i e

fat%er and dau'%ter s&at *ni#es at eac% ot%er$ '4ood$' .ac said. 'I'm comin' !it% "ou.' '3ut s%e doesn't !ant "ou to/' -u u to d %im fierce ". 'Dar in'.' .ac &aused in front of %is dau'%ter and bent to *iss %er an'r" c%ee*. 'I o#e "ou more t%an ife itse f$ so don't be offended !%en I te "ou t%at "ou %a#en't 'ot t%e faintest idea !%at Roberta !ants. 3ut I do$' %e said %us*i "$ s!in'in' an arm around Roberta's stiff s%ou ders. 'S%e !ants con#incin'. S%e !ants coa,in'. S%e !ants me to 'ro#e and be'$ and a !%o e ot of ot%er t%in's t%at are )ust too s%oc*in' for "our de icate ears. So !e !i bot% !is% "ou a 'ood(da"$' %e conc uded i'%t "$ usin' brute stren't% to ma*e Roberta mo#e to!ards t%e door !it% %im$ 'and !e' see "ou a a'ain one ni'%t ne,t !ee*$ at m" a&artment$ !it% a fu com& ement of .ac aines and((((' He &aused to oo* en6uirin' " at Roberta. 'Are "our &arents sti in t%e countr"1' 'Yes$' s%e fro!ned. '3ut(((( '

'Your aunt Sadie1 T%e t!o miserab e unc es1' %e cut in. 'Yes/' s%e si'%ed. '3ut( He oo*ed a!a" from %er. 'T%en it !i be a fu com& ement of .ac aines and C%and ers &resent to %e & ce ebrate our comin' nu&tia s/' 0it% t%at$ %e marc%ed %er out of t%e room. '0i "ou 'et "our damned %and off me1' s%e demanded$ tu''in' frustratin' " !%i e %e &u ed. '0%en "ou're safe " in t%e car$' %e ans!ered$ dra''in' %er outside and do!n t%e ste&s. '4et in$' %e ordered$ once %e'd o&ened t%e car door. S%e s%oo* %er %ead stubborn "$ di''in' %er %ee s in. 'I am not marr"in' "ou$ .ac/' s%e re&eated coo ". 'You can tu' and bu " me around as muc% as "ou i*e but "ou !on't ma*e me c%an'e m" mind.

'4et in t%e car$' !as a %e said. 'I...' '4et in t%e car$' %e re&eated$ t%en$ in a 6uite une,&ected e,& osion$ '4et in t%e damned car$ !oman/ 4et in t%e car/' His accom&an"in' fist comin' do!n %ard on t%e roof of %is &recious -otus made %er )um&$ %er 'reen e"es !idenin' in start ed sur&rise. O%$ %e cou d s%out !it% t%e best of t%em$ s%e a o!ed7 %e cou d e#en ban' about a bit in ra'e$ but s%e %ad ne#er actua " seen %im ose %is tem&er 6uite so s&ectacu ar " before. '0%at's t%e matter !it% "ou1' s%e 'as&ed$ stunned out of %er o!n an'er. T%e dar*enin' f as% of %is e"es !as t%e on " !arnin' s%e 'ot before s%e found %erse f crus%ed in %is arms and bein' *issed !it% a #en'eance. 3" t%e time %e re eased %er$ s%e !as fee in' so di22" t%at s%e cou d bare " su&&ort %erse f. 'Not stron' enou'% for "ou$ am I not1' %e taunted 'rim " into t%e f uff" softness of %er %air. So t%at !as it/ s%e rea ised. It %ad %it a ra! ner#e !%en -u u %ad re&eated t%at c%oice itt e remar*/ 'I !asn't referrin' to "our &%"sica stren't%/' s%e informed %im scornfu ". '." se,ua stren't%$ t%en1' %e su''ested. <T%at$< s%e sna&&ed$ '%as ne#er been in 6uestion+%as it1' And e#en as s%e said it s%e fe t t%at s&ecia ti'%tenin'$ dee& in %er stomac%$ t%at a !a"s betra"ed %er !%ene#er s%e t%ou'%t of .ac in an" se,ua !a". 'T%e stren't% of m" o#e$ t%en$' %e said$ o%$ so 'ent " t%at it brou'%t %er e"es u& to c as% !it% t%e sudden$ stomac%(c%umin' " seriousness of %is. 'And I do o#e "ou$ Roberta$' %e added !it% soft sincerit". 'Ifs )ust t%at it too* me a on' time to rea ise it$ t%at's a .' 'And t%at s su&&osed to ma*e it O81' s%e demanded$ des&ite t%e dec aration not in a for'i#in' mood at a . '3ecause "ou rea ised$ e#entua "$ t%at "ou cou d !e o#e me I am no! su&&osed to fa

'ratefu " into "our arms and te "ou t%at it doesn't matter t%at "ou'#e treated me terrib " for t%e ast t!e #e mont%s1 Ho! conceited can "ou 'et1' s%e demanded in dis'ust. 'Not muc% more$ I a'ree$' %e said ruefu ". '3ut$ "ou see$ I ne#er rea " %ad to bot%er t%in*in' about it unti "ou !ere no on'er t%ere for me to )ust(((((((( ' %e s%ru''ed '+dro!n m"se f in.' 'Neit%er is t%at an acce&tab e e,cuse$' s%e scorned. 'No.' Hea#i " %e s%oo* %is %ead$ t%en turned to ean bac* a'ainst t%e car$ t%e %and scra&in' !eari " t%rou'% %is %air ma*in' %er ac%e because it reminded %er of %o! tired %e %ad been fee in' in %er office ear ier. '3ut it's t%e trut%$' %e stated f at ". 'And "ou deser#e not%in' ess t%an t%e trut% from me. As for -u u$' %e added$ t%en &aused to et a on' si'% ras& from %im$ %is 'a2e f ic*erin' o#er t%e o#e " 4eor'ian %ouse standin' so 'racious " be%ind %er$ 'I o#e %er$' %e said sim& ". 'Hurtin' %er %urt me too. So I did it as itt e as I &ossib " cou d. 3ut(((((((: a s%ru' of %is !ide s%ou ders brou'%t %is 'a2e bac* to sett e on %er '+I found it %urt me more to be !it%out "ou$' %e confessed$ e#e in' me tin' " serious e"es on %er. 'I'm a se fis% bastard$ "ou *no! t%at$' %e !ent on 'ra#e "$ 'and I sa! "ou as mine. ." &ro&ert". ." !oman/' %e stated dri ". '3ut I didn't rea ise %o! muc% I !as "ours unti "ou !ere no on'er t%ere to %o d on to me/ And I !anted "ou to %o d on(ti'%t/' His fin'ers ti'%tened on %er !aist. 'So ti'%t t%at I cou d ne#er 'et a!a"/ And sudden " I didn't 'i#e a damn about m" fami "/' %e confessed. 'I didn't 'i#e a damn about an"t%in' but 'ettin' "ou bac*.' '3ut on 'ettin' me bac*$' Roberta inserted$ 'it didn't ta*e on' for fami " to c aim &recedence a'ain$ did it1' 'Are !e ta *in' about =uric%1' %e si'%ed. 'Yes$ !e're ta *in' about =uric%/' s%e sna&&ed. 'You used me t%at ni'%t$ .ac/ No matter %o! "ou !ant to dress t%e !%o e t%in' u& !it% !ords. You used me and !ere &re&ared to !a * ri'%t out on me a'ain !%en fami " dut" ca ed$ no matter %o! t%at %urt me/ If I %adn't &us%ed "ou to ta*e me !it% "ou$ "ou !ou d not %a#e su''ested it "ourse f/'

'I *no!$' %e si'%ed$ oo*in' !ear" a'ain. '3ut a o!in' "ou to come !it% me didn't do eit%er of us muc% 'ood in t%e end$ did it1' He 'rimaced. '3ecause -u u sta'ed a scene and "ou too* off on "our %ee s.' 'You to d me to ea#e$' s%e reminded %im. 'I meant t%e %os&ita $ not t%e damned countr"/' %e ras&ed. 'Ha#e "ou an" idea !%at it fe t i*e to me t%at ni'%t$ to come oo*in' for "ou at 5enn"'s on " to find "ou not t%ere1' 'Ni'' ed$ did it1' s%e taunted. 'Not %a#in' me !aitin' at "our bec* and ca 1' 'Ni'' ed1 It !orried me/< %e bit out. 'I *ne! "ou'd eft t%e %os&ita u&set/ I *ne! "ou'd most &robab " misinter&reted !%at I'd said. It !as a'es before I t%ou'%t of rin'in' "our &arents' %ouse$ t%en$ !%en I did$ I 'ot "our fat%er$' %e said ti'%t "$ 'coo " te in' me t%at %e %adn't seen "ou in mont%s.' Roberta stared at %im$ a'%ast. '." fat%er1' s%e 'as&ed. 'You s&o*e to m" fat%er and %e said t%at1 0%en1' s%e demanded breat% ess ". He s%ru''ed. 'Ear " e#enin' t%at same da"$' %e said. '3ut %e to d me t%e ca !asn't for me$' s%e murmured. 'So "ou didn't e#en *no! I'd run'1' .ac as*ed in sur&rise. 'No$' s%e said soft "$ %er 'reen e"es !armin' because$ in %is o!n !a"$ %er fat%er %ad been &rotectin' %er from an"t%in' &otentia " %urtfu $ )ust as .ac tried to &rotect -u u. <T%at's !%" it came as suc% a sur&rise !%en "ou to d me "ou'd been on %o ida" !it% t%em$' .ac e,& ained$ t%en as*ed curious "$ '0%at brou'%t t%e %o ida" about1' Roberta f us%ed$ rememberin'$ and oo*in' a!a". 'Not te in'$' s%e refused. .ac be'an to 'rin$ seein' t%e f us% for e,act " !%at it !as. 'You !ere fee in' !retc%ed and to d t%em a about me$ didn't "ou1' %e

teased$ iftin' a fin'er to caress %er )uttin' c%in. 'I bet "ou to d t%em !%at a bastard I am t%en admitted t%at "ou o#e me an"!a"$ !%ic% is !%" t%e" sudden " ac6uired &rotecti#e instincts and to d me ies. Am I ri'%t1' %e &rom&ted. 'Did "ou describe t%e bi'$ bad !o f and Dadd" 'ot out %is s%ot'un to *i %im for "ou1' 'I am a o!ed a itt e tender$ o#in' care m"se f$ "ou *no!/' s%e f as%ed$ 'oaded into doin' so. 'S!eet -u u doesn't %a#e t%e mono&o " on it/' '9rom &eo& e !%o i'nored "ou for t%e best &art of "our ife1' %e moc*ed. 'Come on$ Roberta$ "ou must %a#e been s%oc*ed out of "our mind !%en t%e" res&onded i*e norma &arents s%ou d do/' '0%at's norma 1' s%e countered. 'Do "ou c ass "ou and De ia as norma &arents1 3ecause I certain " don't$ and I don't su&&ose -u u does eit%er/' 'True$' %e conceded. 'I'#e ne#er !it%%e d o#e from %er$ t%ou'%$' %e &ointed out. '0%en I met "ou$ bunn" rabbit$' %e added 'ent "$ '"ou !ere tota " and utter " star#ed of o#e.' Tears s&read across %er e"es$ because s%e *ne! %e !as ri'%t. <T%at didn't mean "ou %ad to ta*e ad#anta'e of it$' s%e c%o*ed. 'No$' %e si'%ed$ dra!in' %er c ose. 'You're ri'%t. And t%at !as t%e most &ainfu trut% t%at %it me fu in t%e face t%at ni'%t in =uric%$ !%en "ou be''ed me to ta*e "ou !it% me$' %e said. <T%e trut% t%at$ un!ittin' "$ or 'reedi "$ ma"be$' %e ac*no! ed'ed %ea#i "$ 'I !as star#in' "ou e#en more$ t%e !a" I !as usin' "ou.' His e"es dar*ened on %er &ained face. 'I can't run bac* t%e c oc*$ Roberta$' %e murmured 'ruff "$ 'but I can contro t%e future from no! on. If I &romise to ma*e "ou t%e a,is t%at m" !%o e !or d turns u&on$ can "ou for'i#e me enou'% to 'i#e me a second c%ance1' A second c%ance1 S%e a most au'%ed out oud at t%e ridicu ousness of t%e & ea. S%e !ou d 'i#e %im second c%ances$ t%ird and fourt%$ s%e !as t%at muc% in o#e !it% %im. His %and ifted to %er %air$ 'ent " stro*in' bac* a stra" cur from one

of %er satin(smoot% c%ee*s. <I cou d *iss "ou into submission$ "ou *no!$' %e dra! ed. 'In t!o minutes f at I cou d %a#e "ou so bent to m" !i t%at "ou'd et me ta*e "ou ri'%t %ere in broad da" i'%t on t%e concrete &at%/' Her 'reen e"es f as%ed. 'Touc% "ou in a cou& e of strate'ic & aces and "ou're not so contro ed "ourse f/' s%e reta iated. 'E#en !it% t%e t%reat of "our dau'%ter$ "our e,(!ife and "our brot%er !a *in' out %ere to catc% "ou out/' He 'rinned$ not in t%e east bit as%amed of admittin' %is o!n !ea*ness to %er touc%. 'Or !e cou d 'o %ome$' %e su''ested !arm "$ ''o inside$ oc* t%e door$ un& u' t%e &%one and see )ust !%o oses contro first in t%e &ri#ac" of t%e bedroom$ on a comfortab e bed$ !it% as man" %ours as !e need to decide !%o is t%e !inner !it%out t%e sma est c%ance of interru&tion from an"one1' 'I'm sti not 'oin' to marr" "ou/' s%e to d %im$ usin' t%e !ords as a form of surrender. 'And !%" not1' %e demanded$ t%e trium&% ' eamin' in %is e"es te in' %er t%at %e *ne! %e %ad !on$ !%ate#er s%e mi'%t sa" to t%e contrar". '3ecause "ou'#e not 'ro#e ed enou'%$' s%e informed %im. 'I !ant "ou at m" feet$ .ac$' s%e !arned. 'As far as I am concerned$ not%in' ess t%an "our com& ete sub)u'ation !i ma*e u& for !%at "ou'#e been &uttin' me t%rou'%.' 'T%en 'et in t%e car$' be coa,ed. '-et me dri#e us %ome so I can sub)u'ate m"se f to "our %eart's content.' 'Home+!%ere1' s%e demanded$ rememberin' e#en if be didn't t%at %e %ad at east t%ree different & aces %e ca ed %ome. 'C%e sea$ of course$' %e re& ied. 'It's too damned far for us to 'o to 3er*s%ire+es&ecia " t%e !a" I'm fee in' ri'%t no!$' %e added !ic*ed ".

'And !%at about t%e 8ni'%tsbrid'e & ace1' s%e reminded %im. 'Do I sti not !arrant entrance into t%ere1' '3 o! t%e 8ni'%tsbrid'e & ace$' %e dismissed$ bund in' %er into t%e car. 'I %a#en't been near it since "ou !a *ed out of C%e sea/' %e to d %er$ once %e'd c imbed in beside %er. 'T%e on " bed I !ant to s ee& in$ m" dar in' bunn" rabbit$' be murmured %us*i "$ 'is t%e one I s%are !it% "ou. And t%at is !%ere !e are 'oin' ri'%t no!/'

'Is t%is o! enou'% for "ou1' %e murmured ater as s%e a" su&ine on t%eir bed$ 'roanin' at t%e e,6uisite & easure %is ton'ue !rea*ed a'ainst t%e so e of %er foot. 'No. I !ant more$' s%e demanded 'reedi ". '.ore1' He t%readed moist *isses across %er toes$ t%en t%e arc% of %er foot$ t%en %er s ender an* e. 'T%is *ind of more1 %e re6uested dutifu ". '.mm$' s%e si'%ed. '.ore of more.' 'Heart ess !oman$' %e moc*ed$ and s id %imse f u&!ards unti %e !as "in' beside %er. 'Sa" "ou' marr" me and I' 'i#e "ou a !%o e ot more$' %e coa,ed. 'Name t%e more$' s%e insisted non(committa ". He !as 6uiet for a moment$ %is ton'ue & a"in' absent " !it% t%e si *en obe of %er ear. T%en be said 6uiet "$ <T%e o#e *ind of more$ t%e marria'e *ind of more$ to a man !%o o#es "ou$ and((((' %e e#ered %imse f u& to oo* dee& " into %er e"es '+t%e c%i dren *ind of more.' 'C%i dren1' S%e oo*ed searc%in' " into %is e"es. 'You rea " !ant more c%i dren1' '.ore itt e -u us runnin' rin's around me1' %e &ondered$ t%en smi ed. 'Of course I !ant more c%i dren$' %e assured %er. 'Your c%i dren +our c%i dren+beautifu itt e &eo& e !it% beautifu minds and a !ic*ed ste&sister to *ee& t%em in ine.'

'-u u isn't !ic*ed$' Roberta &rotested. 'S%e's )ust(&rotecti#e of t%ose s%e o#es$ t%at's a .' 'You're on " sa"in' t%at because s%e sudden " became &rotecti#e of "ou$' %e derided. '0e 1' %e t%en as*ed. 'Are t%ose enou'% mores$ or %a#e I 'ot to !aste time rac*in' m" brains for more mores1' Roberta &retended to t%in* about it$ %er fin'ers & a"in' !it% t%e fine b ac* %air at %is tem& e$ !%i e %e !atc%ed %er !it% t%e 'ro!in' fire of &assion burnin' t%rou'% t%e o#e in %is e"es. T%en$ 'O8$' s%e surrendered$ 'I' ta*e !%at "ou're offerin'$ so on' as "ou &ass t%is ast test.' 'And !%at's t%at1' %e as*ed$ smi in' " ta*in' t%e bait 9or an ans!er s%e &u ed %is na*ed bod" on to& of %er o!n$ t%en !ound %er on' e's ti'%t " around %im. '.ore$' s%e !%is&ered$ and !atc%ed !it% a t%ri as %is e"es s&ira ed into dar* c ouds of storm" &assion and %e t%rust %imse f dee& inside %er. And %e fi ed %er+)ust as %e %ad a !a"s done. 9i ed %er !it% %is bod"$ !it% %is &assion$ and no! !it% t%e &o!er of %is o#e.

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