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"You haven't bought me! You tricked me into coming here, and I just made the best of the situation!"
Then she used her most devastating weapon —* all the more so because she knew it was the truth. "Well, all your money can't bring Julie Long back to you. You can fool yourself but you can't fool me! You haven't been out with Mariette Anderson tonight, Hartley McPhail! You've been out with the ghost of your lost love!" Too late, she saw the black rage in the face of a . man driven beyond control.
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Duntori. This book Is sold subject to the condition that it shall not. hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any former binding or cover other than that in which this is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. Title 813'.. be lent.To My Mother For Her Encouragement Copyright © 1980 by Patti Beckman First printing 1981 British Library C. ce-sold.I. London.P. Wp1 3DP) The Beachcomber . Sevenoaks Kent (Editorial Office: 47 Bedford Square. a division of Hodder and Stoughton Ltd. by way of trade or otherwise. Patti The beachcomber. Printed and bounc in Canada for Hodder and Stoughton Paperbacks. I. Mill Road. Beckman.Green.54(F) ISBN 0-340-26726-V 77*6 characters and> situations In this book era antiraly imaginary and bear no relation to any real person or actual happening.
now a National Seashore set aside as a wilderness area by the Department of the Interior. allow them to stew on a mental fire for a while. Jean LaFitte. but she was too shaken to fathom what it really meant to her life. it is said. in the 1950s. coyotes. leaving behind a buried family fortune that was never recovered. Padre Island had long been a special place of refuge for Mariette. causeways were built that spanned the Laguna Madre. who. They filled their sketch pads with drawings of sea birds. She shivered and drew closer to the fire when her father described the fierce. But most of the island. constraining mantle of a plastic. the Karankawas. to sort it all out. watching civilization dissolve in the distance far behind her. It was just too much to take in all at once. and sat thinking. a Spanish priest.8 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 6 Chapter One Mariette Anderson signed the papers blindly without even reading them. The southern and northern tips were becoming populated with homes and condominiums. the brilliant blue sky overhead. remained as unspoiled and remote from civilization as when Karankawa Indians and Spanish conquistadores explored the dunes. built a home and corrals out of driftwood. opening traffic to tourists and developers. twentieth century world. Then she headed for the beach. kicked off her shoes and stepped outside. cannibalistic Indians. a place where she could brush aside the cobwebs in her mind and drop the artificial. to try and make some sense of what was happening. Except for an occasional fisherman. At night they would build a campfire out of driftwood. a great deal of money. Padre Island on the Texas Gulf Coast had been a part of her life since her father brought her here when she was a little girl. the island had been inhabited only by sea birds. lonely dunes and gathered exotic seashells. They had swum and fished in the surf. her only companions the restless surf. She was a thinker who had to mull over events. On the island. The place got its name." she thought. The events of the morning swirled in her mind. Mariette left the lawyer's office. Padre had been a remote. "I always think best there. she could get a better perspective of her life. developed a prosperous cattle business. Mariette was not one of those spontaneous people who took life's surprises in their stride and made quick decisions. tortured shapes of driftwood and the sun-bleached skeletons of wrecked boats. kangeroo rats. climbed into her Volkswagen. Then. from Padre Balli. he said. then fled the island during the Civil War. rattlesnakes and longhorn cattle. separated from the mainland by a sheltered lagoon called the Laguna Madre. She dug . Padre Island is a narrow barrier island that stretches over a hundred miles along the Texas coast. She parked her little car. Soon she was in another world. first owner of the island who gained possession through a Spanish land grant. "I'll drive to the island. She loved to hear the story of the Singer family who were shipwrecked here in the 1800s. He told her about the pirate. Now Mariette drove along the hard-packed sand of the beach." She stopped by her apartment to change into her blue jeans and gather up her sketch pad and pencils. isolated place accessible only by boat. She understood that she had money coming to her. Mariette would sit transfixed as her father spun adventure stories about this romantic Robinson Crusoe island. the blinding white sand and the sea gulls swooping around her. who were the Island's first inhabitants. and then in due time she could reach a decision. explored the mysterious. once buried treasure on Padre Island. She had to think about it. For centuries.
She could forget about her troubles and just commune with nature. stroll along the beach. It felt like lead in her fingers. settled down with her sketch pad and began drawing the outline of a piece of interesting driftwood that had been twisted into a grotesque shape by the sea and the wind. It's blood money. and now was mocking her in the form of a small fortune that her pride would not let her touch. "No. letting the foam tickle her bare toes. lifted her face to the breeze. Angrily. . She hated to read it. no entanglements to complicate life. she arose. Finally. This experience had shown her that trite old saying. she thought. filling her lungs with the sea air. She was a child again. she forgot the emotional storm she had been through earlier today. Just get up every morning. become one with nature. she saw a figure trotting along the edge of the surf. They think they have the right to manipulate others with their money and power. Dread and curiosity combined with loneliness for her father overtook her. Reluctantly. No documents to sign. She removed her hairpin and let her long. she would never know what it was like to be rich. Well.8 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 7 her toes into the sundrenched sand. I don't want to know what it says!" Mariette suddenly burst outloud and threw the letter back on the seat. I can make my own way in life!" Mariette kicked the sand angrily. Finally she sighed and put her sketch pad aside. "People with money think they can buy everything they want— even another person. Suddenly a movement down the beach caught her attention. No one to answer to. she chose a comfortable spot in the dunes. to be a beachcomber. Mariette wiped the tears from her eyes. and walked back to her car where she picked up the envelope she had laid on the seat. She strolled along the edge of the surf. She picked up seashells and watched busy little sanderlings scurry ahead of her on their spindly legs. There was a freedom about the island. secure and comfortable." is a hundred percent true! It had made her grow up a child without a mother. She began crying. It was like a great womb where she felt safe. No court trial to brood over. "Douglas Turner told me all I need to know. but knew she must. The cares of the world were lifted from her. Her father's letter. one thing's for sure: I'm not going to touch one penny of that money — Daddy didn't want it. then sat down and wept. Padre Island had a magical effect on her. Simple living. and have this glorious island all to yourself. But as matters stood. she thought. There was no pretense here. What an ironic twist of events! She would have been overjoyed to have her financial problems so easily solved had it not been for the taint on the money. I'm not going to live off blood money. She had chosen a deserted spot. No classes to attend. No decisions to make. It would be wonderful to just live out here. Why torture myself by going over all the ugly details? My uncle bought my mother with all his money. The person moving toward her was the first sign of human life she had seen for miles. For a while. ugly truth!" Suddenly she was overwhelmed with a choking wave of bitterness more intense than she had ever before known in her young life. She inhaled deeply. Just doing what you want to do every day. Visions of lawyer Douglas Turner's office relentlessly intruded on her thoughts. and neither do I. had made her father's life a tragedy. But even the magic of the island began to fade under the heavy weight of what had happened this morning. tasted the salt moisture on her lips. dusted the sand from her jeans. Far in the distance. exulting in a wonderful sense of freedom. golden mane tumble down her back. "Money is the root of all evil. That's the plain.
his . His lithe. muscular legs moved in long. he glanced her way and gave her a flashing. Soon she could see the bare chest of a tall. With his deep. lean man with a shock of golden hair almost the same color as her own. easy grin. then suddenly changed course and strode across the sand toward her. became life-size. He slowed to a walk.8 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 8 The figure grew larger. easy strides as he jogged along the rim of the surf. sea-blue eyes. When he was even with Mariette's car. He was wearing faded cut-offs.
"Suit yourself. Under other circumstances. she preferred to be alone with her thoughts. "Are you really? A beachcomber. leaning back against a wheel of her car. She wasn't in the mood to make small talk." "Mind if I sit and rest a spell?" She shrugged. "Are you a tourist?" he asked. I got some disturbing news today and came out here to sort out my thoughts. Couldn't he see that? "Do you come here often?" he asked. Mariette would have responded with the natural healthy interest of a young woman suddenly thrust in the company of such an extraordinary male specimen. outdoor physique and cheerful grin gave him a younger look. "Hi. and I'm intruding. the sky and the ocean waves. She looked at him curiously. He wiped his forearm across his brow and smiled again. "That's none of your business!" she snapped. . He was definitely the Nordic type. he made her think of a Viking striding out of another age. I'm a good listener. "You come here often?" he persisted." Mariette felt a twinge of guilt for being so rude. There was something quite basic. . It's a public beach. It was impossible to entirely ignore the presence of his masculinity. And I've got plenty of time." Mariette answered coolly. but his healthy." "Then I'll leave. "Oh. He waved his hand at the sand dunes. Beyond a flicker of interest and a passing awareness of his appearance. Nevertheless." he grinned. muscular body bronzed by the sun. "It's me. I live in Gulf Coast City. He spread out his hands. his tall." "Yes. been put under wraps. I'm sorry I snapped at you the way I did. not to mention an exciting man-smell." she softened. I'm just a beachcomber. for the most part. "No. You obviously want to be alone. I mean?" "Sure. He sat on the sand next to her. now and then. she wouldn't have sought out a deserted part of the beach to be by herself. If she had wanted company. a physical appeal that radiated from him. I'm on edge. Will you forgive me if I leave right now and promise not to bother you? I'm usually not so thoughtless. it's not you. honest-to-gosh beachcomber? "Funny. I'd just been thinking a little while ago how great it would be to leave civilization behind and just be a beachcomber out here. "Oh—I'm sorry." she replied a bit sharply. It's just that . today that part of her emotions and chemistry had. an animal charge of energy." he greeted warmly. "This is my home. "Looks like you have the beach all to yourself today. "Oh. why don't you tell me about it? It usually helps to get things off your chest. A fine sheen of perspiration covered his rippling muscles." "No—don't go while I'm still feeling rotten for being so rude to you.20 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 21 thick golden hair. much less to be picked up by some kind of beach bum. Guess I'm being a pest. flashing his white teeth." . A sure enough. He was a man in his thirties. I just wasn't prepared to talk to anybody. His breathing slowed to normal." He was breathing deeply from his morning exertion. " "Hey." he said with a chuckle. Who asked him to intrude on her privacy? She had come here to be alone in order to sort out her feelings." Mariette didn't know whether to believe him or not.
" he said." Mariette choked. And he was quite disarming and easy to talk to. "My uncle bought my mother. Mariette felt a shiver race through her body at the beachcomber's touch as if she'd had a mild electric shock. quiet voice of her father telling a story she had difficulty accepting. "Read this. Or maybe it was her state of mind and emotions that made it easy for her to talk with him. a shock of golden hair and sky-blue eyes. hesitantly. she might as well get it over with now. she was going to have to read the letter. If he wasn't a real beachcomber. gritty layer of sand touched hers as the envelope passed between them. But it wasn't that he was better looking than some other men Mariette had seen on the beach. He was right—it did help to talk with someone. an" indefinable magnetism. but in her imagination she heard the soft. The painful story with all the sordid details was in the letter from her father. Anyway. She'd seen more than one like that around here. a welldeveloped body. And she knew people sometimes got tired of the rat race and fled from civilized life. And that would spare her the pain of reading the message in her father's handwriting. Please. what was important to her at the moment was that he was a stranger whom she would probably never see again. he was good-looking in a Nordic sort of way. The beachcomber began reading the letter in his youthful baritone. the way his jaw was set. what a wonderful daughter she had been to him and how much he wished . "We must be operating on the same psychic wave length. He had strong features." she said in a trembling voice. The anger and heartbreak stored up in her were like steam building up to the point that something had to give." His eyes were twinkling. Warm fingertips tinged with a fine. . having a joke on her at her expense. She couldn't decide if he was some kind of a nut. nodding quietly from time to time. fishing and picking up driftwood and making crafts to sell to tourists.20 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 21 "And then I showed up. He listened soberly. He was different in a subtle way that she could not yet define from any other man she had met before." Her tear-filled gaze focused on her Volkswagen. She knew sooner or later. her slender arms wrapped tightly about her shins. He did look like a beachcomber. Some of them ended up on the beach. She decided to believe him. There was a sureness about him verging on arrogance. but soon a torrent of words was pouring out. "I just found out this morning. Aloud. The letter began with her father paying a loving tribute to her. . . she had to admit. Mariette sat on the hard-packed sand. There was something else about him. frowning a bit. What was so compelling about this man? True. as if he felt supremely confident. Perhaps she'd just let the beachcomber read it to her. Sitting around brooding alone didn't make her feel any better. or if he was what he said he was. She began gradually. clutching her knees under her chin. I'm so confused and mad and hurt. a certain turn of his head. It would explain the situation to him—something she was finding very painful to put into words." She lowered her wet lashes to hide eyes that she knew must be red and puffy. "Here. he sure was a more than reasonable facsimile. telling how she had made his life complete. handing the white envelope to the beachcomber. to get things off her chest. She flashed him a sudden look. a materialization of your thought.
she had been called to Douglas Turner's office to sign the papers that had come as such a bombshell. He never remarried. Perhaps she would eventually go into commercial art. she'd avoided romantic entanglements. that her father had been killed in an automobile crash when a drunk driver had hit the pickup truck he was driving. as would any young girl. With that. she had enrolled in a local college. Just as Mariette was beginning to adjust to life without her father. her father had looked so pained. working. studying. So. Mariette had not dated much. they spent a week's vacation in Mexico. Because of her close relationship with her father. the measured. but beyond that. she had learned not to mention her. Mariette's breath came in irregular snatches as she remembered the closeness she had felt for her father. Her father had a natural talent for drawing. she had returned to an empty home that was full of memories of her father. Plenty of time to decide. And he responded by devoting his life to her. which Mariette inherited. he said. Or so she had always thought until now. Her father had left a small life insurance benefit. Mariette knew how lonely he would be if she spent her evenings on dates. too young to remember. She could hear again. That week was one of Mariette's most cherished childhood memories. She also found part-time employment in the university placement office which both helped her finances and added to her busy schedule. Once. They enjoyed weekends together. She had forced herself to stay active. She had leased her father's home to tenants and rented a small apartment near the college campus. instead. losing herself in a hectic rush of activity. attending classes. Her mother had died when she was an infant. On pretty days. drawing and painting the colorful scenes in a Mexican village. her interest in the theater might lead her in that direction. Mariette's world was shattered. having fun doing inexpensive things. with the legacy had to come the painful truth. In the winters they roller-skated. she'd had escorts to the important high school proms and parties. polished diction of Douglas Turner: "Mariette. She had a right to the money that would be coming to her. He took her to the park for picnics in the summer. she made her father the center of her young universe. taking a liberal arts course. she'd told herself. she'd arrived at the age of twenty-one rather naive about men. Mariette recalled vividly this morning's meeting in the lawyer's office. they'd often take their sketch pads to the waterfront to draw shrimp boats. I have good news for you but there's an element about it that may . But the few times she brought up the subject of her mother. she would be an adult now. She had lived through a difficult year. Oh. It was something she knew her father would have wanted. saw movies and visited museums and circuses. Plenty of time for that later. From morning until late at night she was constantly on the move. Her father had worked hard as a mechanic and hired a housekeeper to take care of her until she was old enough to go to school. She was interested in the theater and in art.20 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 21 he could spare her the pain of knowing the truth about her mother. Of course there were times when Mariette sadly missed having a mother. And. sea gulls and sand dunes. So. It was only a year ago. Or. shortly after her twentieth birthday. After the funeral. They went fishing and swam in the warm Gulf surf. But. It could mean a great deal to her life.
prove somewhat—well, unpleasant or distasteful to you." "Oh?" she had said, clutching her purse. "I hardly know how to tell you this. You see, you're due to come into a pretty sizeable amount of money now that you have turned twenty-one." "Money?" Mariette echoed. "I—I don't understand. Money from whom? My father never had a great deal of money." "I think you'd better let me tell you the whole story," Turner had said gently. "It's all explained in a letter your father left with his will. The letter was sealed with directions that it was not to be opened until your twenty-first birthday. So, until this week, I didn't know its contents." "A letter?" Mariette asked, her brows drawn in a puzzled frown. He nodded. "As you know, your father and your mother had a financial struggle during their marriage. Your father was a young mechanic with his first job. Your mother wanted—well, material things, a nice home, expensive clothes, trips. Your father simply couldn't provide those things. Apparently your mother was not happy in the marriage, and after you were born, she felt trapped. Then, along came your father's brother, who was several years older and quite successful. To—well, to get to the point, your mother and your uncle fell in love. Your mother demanded a divorce so she could marry your uncle. It was harder to get a divorce in those days if one of the parties contested it. Your father refused to give her the divorce, wanting to hold his family together and thinking she would get over your uncle. But she didn't. She began to drink heavily, vanishing sometimes for several days at a time. She'd come home drunk and abusive. Your father began to worry that she might harm you in one of her fits of
rage. At any rate, an agreement was finally reached. "Your uncle offered your father $50,000 to give your mother the divorce. Your father refused. He was a man of considerable pride and character. Of course, your uncle could easily afford the money. He pointed out that your mother was going to run off with him anyway, divorce or not. Finally, a compromise was reached. Your father must have loved your mother a great deal in spite of everything. With her gone, his life was shattered, and he had only you. He wanted the best of everything for you. So your father agreed to the divorce on the condition that the $50,000 be put in trust for you. "Your uncle set up the trust fund for you. You could say it amounted to your uncle 'buying' your mother by leaving you $50,000 in trust. With the interest that has accrued over the years, it has grown into a handsome sum." Mariette had sat there stunned. Her mind felt immobilized. At first she couldn't believe what she had just heard. Then the tears began to flow. "Daddy never talked much about my mother—but he never said one bad word about her. He just told me she died in a plane crash when I was a small child." "That much is true. She and your uncle both died in the same crash when you were three years old. It's all here in the letter." The letter. The hated letter that she wished she had never seen or heard of. How much better it would have been not to know the truth! And that money —what good would it be to her? How could she spend it or enjoy it when it had been a source of such pain and heartache for her beloved father? It was blood money! She wouldn't touch a penny of it. . . .
She became aware of a baritone voice softly speaking her name. "Mariette?" "What?" she responded, half in a daze. She looked directly at the beachcomber. "Mariette. You haven't been listening. I've finished the letter." "Oh, yes. So you have. Thank you." She had only half listened. Douglas Turner had already filled her in on the ugly details, so there were no surprises in what she had just heard. Sky-blue eyes were searching large gray ones. Mariette sat transfixed. Never had she felt so vulnerable, so alone, so in need. Her gaze was held almost against her will by the magnetic stare of the half naked man whose eyes searched her face. Suddenly, she felt her inner reserve give way. For a long moment, she saw past the sky-blue orbs and an electric shock passed through her as her soul became one with his soul. A strange glint shown in his eyes, and she realized she was seeing the inner essence of the man. And he was probing the inner, secret reaches of her being. She sensed that both knew they had transgressed the bounds of polite society by asking for and giving of the secret depths of their most protected private feelings. It was accepted to look and feel this way with a lover. But it was scandalous to look and feel this way with a stranger. A sudden flush scorched Mariette's cheeks. She felt a deep pounding in her temples. Her hands trembled. She could scarcely hear the roar of the ocean over the blood coursing madly in her ears. With a great effort, she disentangled her gaze from his. She managed to avert her eyes to gaze at the sand near her left ankle. Quivering with fright, she caught her breath and willed her fluttering heart to return to normal. What had she done? To exchange an intimate glance like that, to give her
soul, even for a moment, to a total stranger. . . . The realization that she was so vulnerable frightened her. But, she reassured herself, the beachcomber had caught her in a uniquely weak moment. The shocking news about her inheritance had unnerved her, and the beachcomber had been the one person to share her father's letter with her. Naturally she would fall easy prey to strange emotions at such a time. That was it, she told herself. It had to be. "Quite a story, isn't it?" Mariette said at last, groping for some words to end the unsettling experience she had just had. "Yes," he agreed quietly, still staring at her intently. "And that's not all. You know what else I still have to look forward to?" "What?" "The drunk driver who ran into my father. His trial is coming up soon. That's why I have to keep busy, keep my mind occupied. I've enrolled in the college in town, studying art and drama." "The money should help." "How?" "You could use it to travel, to get away for a while, away from the bad memories." "Oh, no!" Mariette ejaculated. "I'm not touching that money!" "But your father wanted you to have it. He told you so in the letter. He said for you to use it, to make your life better." "What do you really know about how I feel?"
Mariette said angrily. She grabbed the letter, jumped up, and turned her back on the beachcomber. "I know that you've been terribly hurt," he said slowly, his voice softened with sympathy and understanding. "But rejecting your inheritance isn't going to help anybody." "You sure are a hypocrite," Mariette exploded. "Here you are, beachcombing, giving up material things to live a simple life, which you must have thought would be a heck of a lot better than grubbing for money in the rat race. Then you tell me to grab this money to make my life better. Did money make your life better? If it did, what are you doing here?" "I didn't say there was anything wrong with money—" "Oh?" Mariette whirled around to face him. He was so close she almost bumped into him. She took a step backward. "I guess it depends on how you use it," he said. "Oh, sure," she shot back. "The poor and middle Class use money to buy groceries, pay rent, and maybe take a two-week vacation every year. But the rich— that's a different story. They use money to buy people. Just the way my uncle bought my mother and wrecked my father's life. They have no regard for the feelings of others. They just use their money for their own selfish motives, to get what they want, no matter how it hurts others!" He shrugged. With masculine practicality that infuriated her at that moment, he said, "I still think it's a lot of money. Doesn't make sense to throw that kind of money away. Take it." "Never!" she blurted out angrily. She twisted her feet in the warm, gritty sand and ran toward her Volkswagen. Her tanned fingers reached for the door handle. But she saw her fingers stop short of their goal as a strong hand grabbed her upper arm. Sand dunes flashed by as she was forcibly spun around to face sky-blue eyes squinted in what she interpreted to be a mixture of anger and determination. "You're pretty stubborn and bullheaded, aren't you?" "Who are you to tell me what to do?" she demanded. "You're nothing but a beach bum. I don't know what possessed me to tell you my private business."
A steely glint flashed in his blue eyes. Mariette felt strong arms encircle her bare midriff. She was pulled up close and tight to his muscle-hard body. She felt his manliness press against her flesh. His lips bore down on hers, but before contact was made, she threw her head to one side, pushed her fists against his chest, and fumed, "No you don't!" A sinister smile crossed his lips. "Oh, yes I will!" he threatened. His right hand left her back and his strong fingers entwined themselves in her long mane. She struggled and pushed at him with her fists, but he took no notice of her struggles. She kicked his shins with her bare feet and winced as her toes struck his hard bones. Skillfully, as if he had done this many times, he turned her face toward his. His lips parted slightly and touched hers, softly at first. Slowly, he increased the intensity and squeezed her tighter and tighter. Her breath came in short gasps, but not, she realized, from being squeezed too tightly. The salty kiss was stirring emotions in her that she had never felt before. Suddenly, she liked the warm taste of his mouth, the crushing strength of his arms around her. She felt her resistance melt into sheer pleasure as she eagerly sought his mouth with hers. Her lips turned into
"You're despicable. She had to get the matter over with now! She dialed the attorney's number and waited impatiently through two rings. and I won't take it. "What!" "Take the money. blond hair from her left ear. exhausted and drained. she would remember it was stained with her mother's dishonor and her father's tears. As soon as she got the engine started she sped away. She pressed against him hungrily and became weak at the touch of his hand on her shoulder. He answered the phone personally. Finally. She was like a lost wanderer on the desert who finally comes upon an oasis and drinks in the long denied. hands on his hips. I never want to see you again!" She blindly yanked open the door of her little car. "Who is this?" he asked. she couldn't keep from glancing in the rearview mirror. She had to make a firm stand." he whispered. "I won't look back. All she could think about was indulging more and more in a divine pleasure she had gone too long without. She wanted no part of the tainted money her uncle had left her. The beachcomber stood in the sand. A warm breath tickled her. I can't take the money my uncle used to buy my mother. Strong arms supported her and held her cheek against his chest." "I see. then glared at him with blazing eyes. "Mariette Anderson. throwing sand from the spinning back wheels of her car. She felt like a lost rag doll. staring intently after her." she thought." he said slowly. She tingled with a giddy glow when she brushed the outer rim on the sun bleached hair on his chest. The money must be disposed of in some way that would not involve her. delicious nectar to quench a parched body in need. She let one hand trail slowly down his chest. I don't want the money! You do something with it. I can understand how you feel. but still she held on tightly and sought out more of the sensuous rapture his kiss had ignited in her. Then incredulously. tears stinging her eyes. Her lips began to sting and ache. stooped to grab up the envelope she had dropped. How could she explain it? Temporary insanity? All the way home.24 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 15 a raging fire that engulfed her entire body. Her fingers tickled the curls and her other arm tightened even more about his neck as if she would never let go. "Well. she relaxed her hold around the beachcomber's neck and fell limp against him. Gradually. but legally . she dropped the letter she had been holding and wrapped her arms around the beachcomber's neck. Turner. "What kind of a person are you!" Disillusionment and anger grew in her by the second." "Is that all you can think of at a time like this?" she gasped. My Lord. She didn't want to have any further connection with that dirty money. I don't even know his name! She was horrified at herself. "What?" she asked blankly. What in the world got into me? she demanded of herself. She had come to a definite decision about what she would tell Douglas Turner. One thing she was sure of. making her cheeks burn. bounded up the stairs two at a time and burst into her apartment. She jerked her still quivering body from his arms. In spite of herself. I don't want the money!" she blurted out. But in spite of herself. Every time a cent of it touched her hands. he eased the pressure of his Hps on hers and very slowly raised his head. She could barely stand. "Take the money. Strong fingers gently brushed aside her long. To surrender to blind emotion like that with a total stranger. "Mr. I don't want it. She parked her Volkswagen. her confused thoughts tumbled over one another. A wave of humiliation flooded through her. Her arms hung useless at her sides. newly discovered by its owner. feet apart. She worked her mouth on his and welcomed his continuing response.
she thought." Now he's treating me like a baby. She poured two capfuls of bubble bath into the torrent of water. materialistic insistence that she take the money. Bubbles began popping up in the water. Mariette." She hung up and flopped wearily into her apartment's only overstuffed chair. Mariette stepped into the tub gingerly." "Good girl. What did it all mean. her feet finding the yellow. But his calm. persuasive advice did have an effect on her. Mr. "Can't you give it to some charity or something?" "Well. How peaceful she felt. She had winced at the ridiculous price when she splurged on the scented preparation. You don't have to spend it if you don't want to. This morning's emotional storm had exhausted her. and she closed her eyes and inhaled with pleasure. Her bronzed hand turned on the water faucet in the tub and adjusted the temperature to a comfortable warmth. but it's still yours. Perfect. growing into a pinkwhite mountain." Mariette was silent for a long moment. a total stranger. She languished in the silk-smooth water. dangling her fingertips in the bubbles . Mariette stripped off her jeans and shirt and strode with long steps across the shag carpet. I'll think about it some more. Now he was causing her to be torn in different directions again." Turner said gently. He wanted you to have an easier time of it than he had. I can certainly find some way to dispose of the money. Take plenty of time. Why don't you sleep on this matter a few nights? Give it some more thought. Beneath her tan. impetuous decisions that they later regret. The tenseness in her muscles ebbed and seemed to flow out of her into the water." she said glumly. But she had dispelled her guilt with the first luxurious bath." "But I don't want it!" she insisted. who had aroused in her heights of emotional intensity she had never known she could feel. She felt the water warm her shoulders and back. Then she had met the beachcomber. But he had been another bitter disappointment because of his crass. There's no hurry at all about a matter this important. for the first time today! She arched her left wrist. The rose sweet scent of the bubble bath wafted to her nostrils. absorbing the full meaning of his words. Darn you. if you're sure that's how you feel. But remember your father put that money in trust for you. a pink flush rose from her calves to her thighs as she slipped through the billowy bubbles and settled into the hot water. too. She felt relieved at her impetuous decision. she had learned she had come into a small fortune. She dipped a longnailed finger through the tingling bubbles and into the warm water. non. Ah. complete relaxation. Mariette. Turner. They tend to be very idealistic.slip applique flowers she had applied to the bottom. Her one bathroom luxury was a bottle of bubble bath she allowed herself to indulge in. seething inwardly. But her joy had been snuffed out when she found out the source of the money. warming it as it crept up the steep sides. He was only thinking of your welfare. hot soak in the tub would revive her and give her a chance to sort out her confused and overtaxed feelings. overlooking the practical side of things. Her head found the back of the tub. learning about your mother. "I can see why you win so many court cases. Mariette watched lazily as the water poured into the cold tub. He sacrificed a great deal for you. She liked her bath just short of scalding. Young people sometimes make spur-of-the-moment. Douglas Turner! she thought. stroking one arm with a sigh. "Okay. "And you've had a bad shock today. How would he feel if you disposed of the money? Think about that. "You're very young.24 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 16 the money is yours. anyway? Maybe a long. He loved you very much. First.
He had intruded on her life uninvited. She had made up a romantic story about his renouncing the materialistic rat race to live an idealistic existence away from civilization. He had even volunteered to leave her alone. hiding out from the law. She shivered. and she realized she was reliving the kiss on the beach. Of course. That had been a mistake. He'd wanted her money! . She could see through his scheme now. It was the money! He was a beach bum. Why hadn't she thought of it before? She really was naive. . But he had seemed nice enough at first. But then her face turned hot as she saw a woman entwined in a man's arms. then coldly cast them aside when their money ran out. Even worse. She had asked him to read the letter to her.24 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 17 and flicked a tiny cloud of translucent bubbles in the direction of her big toe peeking above the fluffy mountain of suds in which she was buried. too lazy to go look for employment. he might be some kind of fugitive. at kissing her into submission. he'd gotten fired from some dinky job and was floating around on the beach. she had to admit. taking a stranger into her confidence that way. but for vulnerable females with money. staying interested in them as long as they gave him money. show her a little interest. But once his interest had been aroused by something . She opened her eyes. just waiting for her to take. Probably. It was greed. j Against the blackness of her closed lids. He was probably a beachcombing gigolo. Romance the girl on the beach. she saw the beach stretching out before her and imagined the sea licking at her ankles. . searching not for shells and driftwood. and she never wanted to think about him again. erasing the picture. win her over and then help her spend her money! He had been so expert at overcoming her resistance. letting her thoughts wander. He'd probably romanced plenty of girls on the beach. Now she understood that glint in his eyes. He wasn't living on the beach by choice—he was there by default! And the lure of all that money. She was perfectly relaxed and content. became their boyfriend. Of course! She sat upright. No wonder he had urged her to accept it. Then she closed her eyes. her eyes wide. He roamed the beach. it wasn't entirely his fault. He romanced them. The truth was probably much less glamorous or flattering. had been too enticing for him. He hadn't cared a snap about her. Why did that scene have to flash on her mental screen? She didn't want to think about the beachcomber. probably without a penny to his name.
and both angry and humiliated at her own actions on the beach that day. But the impact on her emotions had been greater than she suspected. the matter of how to dispose of the trust set up for her by her uncle. but without any real interest. a tall. She felt his browneyed gaze intently on her. And. She felt angry every time she thought about the man—angry at him. she hadn't been able to put aside her memory of the beachcomber's kiss." "Oh?" responded Mariette politely. expressive gestures. for the time being. her drama class had taken on a new dimension when Dr. She had decided to put aside. Ted Barnes had announced to her class that. They appeared to be involved in a heated discussion. Her drama instructor. She had problems enough of her own. perhaps even be amused by it. Her attention was drawn to the back of the auditorium where the community'theater director. taking a deep breath.' and she wished the director hadn't called on her to read for that part. The person he was talking to was obscured by the shadows of the darkened auditorium. She wouldn't mind having a minor role to help occupy her time. She had thought that surely after a few days passed she would become more objective about the incident. but kept their voices low." said the elderly man. But she didn't think she was qualified to try for the lead character. The week had done little to resolve her confused emotions. Her heart really wasn't in this. in the plush auditorium of the community theater building that had just recently been constructed. A week had gone by since she'd received the disturbing news about her inheritance and had the equally disturbing encounter with the stranger on the beach. along with a couple of dozen other actors trying for parts. arising.THE BEACHCOMBER 33 Chapter Two "Will Mariette Anderson please read the part of 'Julie Long'?" The play director's booming voice penetrated Mariette's mental fog. And so. "Yes. But she was abiding by her agreement with the lawyer to let the matter ride for a while. Ted Barnes was in the theater this evening. "He has the discipline necessary to hold a cast together. His hands moved in broad. she couldn't refuse." Mariette responded. That's him Mr. . and the churning feelings would not go away. here she found herself tonight. Of course. 'Julie Long. was talking to someone. her busy schedule kept her from brooding too much. "Yeah. "William Nelson is a fine director. courtly man with a stern manner. Fortunately. She smoothed her green slacks and white t-shirt. impatiently. Mariette climbed the steps to the stage and took a seat to the right of an elderly gentleman who gave her an encouraging smile. Mariette Anderson." the director called again. as part of their summer assignment. to make a mediocre play seem more powerful than it is. Her feeling about the money had not changed. "His problem is the producer. She knew he would be very disturbed with her if she refused to read for the part." the man went on. punctuating his words. Try as she might. please. It was as repugnant to her as the day Douglas Turner told her about it. they were to try out for roles in a play that was going to be produced by the city's Community Theater. But I'm afraid he's in a lot of trouble this time.
he has. Needs expert casting—maybe some rewriting." "Yes. Dr. After a lackluster reading. you know. A lot of girls in his drama class had crushes on him. to make small talk. that's too bad. I hear he wants to run the whole shootin' match. She read her lines mechanically." "Well. "I guess you know the producer is Hartley McPhail. "We'll read Act I. Needs a lot of work to make it click. There was an awkward moment. moving into the seat next to Mariette. she siezed on the first thing that came to her mind. and he's got a real spark of genius. took her place offstage. scene 5." . but she really wasn't that interested. 'Dr. trying to overcome her selfconsciousness at using the drama professor's first name. But he was the friendly. "I must say I've heard you read better. She remembered Ted Barnes had told the class this play was premiering here. Barnes. "All right—Ted. and made her entrance on cue." she responded. why don't you call me 'Ted'? We're not in the classroom." "Yes." said a familiar voice. brown eyes of her college drama instructor. Barnes' is terribly formal. "I guess I just don't have my mind on what I'm doing tonight. his suave. you'd be perfectly cast for the part of Julie Long." He placed a large hand on her delicate fingers and gave a warm squeeze. and perhaps with a bit of work— say." Mariette said absently." Mariette apologized. and then. Won't give Nelson the freedom he needs to pull this play off. Show people were emotional and affectionate. But her mind was elsewhere. Sure hate to see him bridled by some amateur producer who doesn't know beans about the theater. nevertheless." when only being friendly. It's an original play. A raw. Mariette realized she must get used to these casual displays of affection if she were going to become involved in the theater." said the script girl. Nelson's good at that. Was it just a friendly gesture? Ted Barnes was a handsome man with his neatly trimmed black beard.'" Mariette thumbed through the script to the appropriate page. she told herself. extroverted type who took a personal interest in all his students.' 'Jud Rutherford' and 'the neighbor. untried script. "I hear the producer is taking an unusally active interest in the directing of this play. urbane manner and beautifully modulated voice. now." said Ted Barnes. young lady. "Oh. I've worked with that man in many a play. They often kissed or held hands or called one another "darling. she left the stage to take her place in an auditorium seat once again. "Characters are 'Julie' Long. Mariette turned to meet the large. I'm sorry. His holding her hand meant nothing really.THE BEACHCOMBER 33 Nelson is arguing with now.
Deborah. She's the real brains in the family. William Nelson can use all the help he can get. "Oh. His deep brown eyes bore into hers." Mariette puzzled over the conflicting views of William Nelson's directing ability. Again. Was he actually interested in her. I'm in the parking lot behind the theater building. and thank you. The elderly actor trying out for the part of the neighbor in the play had praised Nelson's directing ability. Hartley McPhail III. Nelson had certainly impressed her. She could think of no reason not to let him walk with her to her car. As for McPhail having a say in how Nelson directs the play—if you ask me. with his interest in the theater. ranching." said a young woman in jeans and a halter top."Who on earth is Hartley McPhail?" "Someone who has a lot of money is all I know. too. too. He's a ruthless businessman." Backstage. Rich people can afford to indulge their whims like that. a dilettante with a secret yearning to become involved in the theater. his commanding voice and grandiloquent gestures. which seemed doubtful after her poor showing tonight. Must be something in it for him with this play. What would the theater be without it? As soon as we're out of . And certainly. "I hear he's an old man who's taking one last shot at fame before he passes on. Nelson's strictly bushleague. Nelson can use help there. clutching a board and hammer said haughtily. Talented. I haven't met the man. Was professor Ted Barnes perhaps showing a bit of professional jealousy? Or was William Nelson only a pompous sham? Perhaps if she got a role in the play. A rich man's hobby. shipping. A real professional. The topic of conversation was the rich producer of the play. But a glowing intensity in his gaze made her suddenly wonder if she were putting the wrong interpretation on his attentions. "He's probably got involved in the theater so he can pick up some poor innocent thing and take her out to his yacht and seduce her. she could judge for herself. oil wells. a tax write-off. If nothing else. so she stammered. He couldn't direct a first grade Christmas pageant without his wife. Fancies himself a Shakespearean scholar. that's all for tonight. But at any rate." "What do you mean?" "Everyone in town knows that Nelson needs money badly. You know. talented women. "Y—yes. Her thoughts were interrupted by the script girl calling from the stage. "Ladies and gentlemen." "Can I walk you to your car?" asked Ted Barnes as he rose and gallantly took Mariette's arm. Those rich guys all think they're God's gift to women. His community theater group went way over their heads in debt to move into this extravagant new building. I assume that Hartley McPhail is going to be generous with some sort of contribution in exchange for getting to produce this play here. he's planning to spend a bundle on this play: lavish sets and costumes—" "But what on earth is a man like that doing producing a community theater play?" "No one seems to know." Ted Barnes chuckled. even if they are as old as Methuselah. he came in contact with many beautiful. Mariette felt flustered. First he'd casually held her hand. "Backstage gossip. All he's interested in is money and power. she tried to tell herself it was only a friendly gesture on his part. a guy like that doesn't care about fame. A man as handsome and polished as Ted Barnes could probably have his pick of any eligible woman in town. they walked past a group of stage hands working on scenery and props. From what I've heard. I guess. Good luck to everybody. who was wielding a paintbrush. now he was offering to walk her to her car. Why would he suddenly show a romantic interest in a small town girl as young and naive as Mariette? But the clasp of his hand on her arm was firm and his gaze insistent. With his flowing mane of silver hair. more than a teacher for a student? "But why me?" she wondered." A third woman. I guess he's one of those typical Texas millionaires. Perhaps McPhail is a theater buff. You'll receive a call in the next couple of days informing you of the casting. but I take that with a grain of salt. all right. She had solid roles in a number of Broadway shows some years back.
Mariette shuddered. a tall. Was he teasing her. Now it was dashed onto the beach. Barnes—Ted. not knowing how to deal with a man with Ted Barnes's sophisticated wit and charm. Suddenly. respected by his colleagues and his students. sitting straight up in bed. Ted Barnes was a successful professional man. Mariette screamed. Ted Barnes's kiss had lifted her spirits. Then he bent and his lips brushed hers. another man appeared from the mist. blond Viking striding toward her across a sandy beach. He gazed at her a moment longer. "Well. "What a miserable night!" she groaned. It was Ted Barnes! The Viking drew his sword menacingly . and a kiss that drenched her with fire. fumbling with her keys.hearing range. She was flattered and pleased. tossing her fragile boat relentlessly. A man strode toward her out of the morning mist. He scooped her up in powerful arms. and had lived in New York. Mariette struggled through the foaming surf. despite her youth and lack of sophistication. "and I'll have put that man completely out of my memory— especially now that I have Ted Barnes to think about!" Chapter Three The storm had raged all night. male body. She had tossed and turned. blond man dressed like a Viking. laughing at her lack of worldliness? He was at least ten years older than she. No more rest for her if she was going to arrive at her classes on time." "Us?" Mariette stammered." she said. remembering how warm his hands had been cupping her face the moment he had kissed her. swung her feet to the floor and yawned. then fell wearily back against her pillow. Mariette felt at a loss. good-night Dr. Mariette sank dazedly into the car seat. She looked around her familiar apartment with dazed eyes. She sighed and groped for her bedside clock. He had encouraged her acting ability. . But he stopped her. Me walking with you out to your car this way. having one violent dream after another. then turned and strode away. insisting that she had great potential. He studied her eyes gravely. he had shown her nothing but consideration in his classes. But another image intruded on the memory of Ted Barnes's kiss— the picture of a tall. as if memorizing her face. His gaze was both teasing and searching. tilting her face up toward his. He placed a hand under her chin. He seemed to admire and respect some things about her. they'll probably be gossiping about us. Now she knew he wasn't just being friendly. She must be out of her mind to still feel her heart race when she thought about him! But then hadn't she diagnosed her tumultuous emotions that day on the beach as temporary insanity? "Give me a few more days. They arrived at her little car. The beachcomber on the other hand was a penniless bum who probably preyed off women. There was an air of amusement about him. He was one of the most attractive bachelors in the city." he grinned. He'd gotten a degree from an Ivy League college in the East. collapsing at last on the sandy shore. cupping her face gently in his hands. powerful arms sweeping her against a hard. Was she going to be haunted by the memory of the beachcomber forever? Why couldn't she put him out of her mind? She compared the two men. She stretched the sleepiness out of her body. . What a small town hick she must seem to him! And yet. She tried to decipher how she felt. Ted Barnes was definitely showing a romantic interest in her! Mariette drove home in a confused state. "Sure. ." she thought firmly. A man as handsome and charming as Ted Barnes —attracted to her! She tried to visualize his face and hear his voice.
Other decorations included treasures she'd picked up while beachcombing: small pieces of odd-shaped driftwood. some chairs. Rembrandt. but also some classical selections by the more romantic composers: Chopin. shooing Rembrandt ahead of her. abstract print in green and brown earth tones that blended well with the soft yellow walls. But this old cat had stayed on to become a member of the family. Twice she had given him away. nuzzled his soft fur and carried him into the kitchen for a dish of cat food. Temperatures today will be in the midnineties. Breakfast out of the way. There had been a constant procession of such animals in her home as she was growing up. she had found good homes for most of them. This time of the year. She'd framed some of her and her father's best acrylic paintings and pen-and-ink drawings. Suddenly. and twice he had found his way back across town to her home.40 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 22 Early morning sunlight was filtering through the curtains of her apartment. For the windows she had chosen a chintz material with a modern. He responded with a pleased purr. giving her a perfunctory rub in passing. was hurricane season. she had disposed of the old. spaghetti-strap sandals. She had been able to afford an inexpensive stereo record player. But today she had other things on her mind. His many scars and chewed-up ears were evidence of a misspent life romancing in alleys. she heard a soft scratching at the door. peasant blouse neckline. "Hello. A few hanging plants added a tropical touch. glass fishing floats and bottles that had washed ashore. puffed sleeves and a full threetiered skirt. she couldn't bear to part with him. She knelt and rubbed the cat's ears. putting on her slippers. worn furniture. a couch. but at the present time it poses no threat to land. Living on the Texas Gulf Coast. For herself. "A depression in the Gulf of Mexico was upgraded to tropical storm 'Beth' today. The apartment decorations reflected her love of the island and her artistic talent. She switched on a little transistor radio to check the time. a small color TV set. Eventually. she dressed for her day's classes in a cheerful yellow sundress which had an elasticized waist. She had painted the apartment walls a soft. she thought. It was time to get going. stray animal. she had a piece of toast and slice of grapefruit with her coffee. She slipped into white. After that. When she'd rented out her father's home. She loved the plants and they flourished under her green thumb. you old rascal. Now she picked him up." Mariette adjusted her wristwatch. midsummer. ." she grinned. she normally paid close attention to weather storm bulletins. tiger-striped tomcat ambled in. Tschaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. She plugged in her coffeepot. She opened it and a large. The time is seven o'clock. The announcer was giving the morning temperature and weather bulletin. She could almost swear he winked at her. the second hurricane of the season. "Have you been out courting again?" she chided. cheerful yellow. she had purchased a few modern pieces for her apartment. spreading its golden light over her treasured possessions. grabbed up an armful of books and hurried out of the apartment. and her record library included currently popular disco music. Mariette could never turn away a hungry. tipping over garbage cans and battling other felines who had the audacity to invade his territory. With the money it brought. Bookshelves on one wall from floor to ceiling contained her modest library of light romances and mysteries along with some books of poetry and a few of the classics including a treasured set of Dickens and Shakespeare her father had given her on her sixteenth birthday.
making her jumpy and on edge. wild energy gripped her. She suddenly remembered something about her drive home from the play tryout that gave her an uneasy twinge. leaving her feeling restless and agitated. She simply could not concentrate. With lightning speed. too. Across the street. But it began dropping behind. A reckless. she plunged into her work at . and her heart picked up tempo. She thought. she glanced at her watch nervously." Then she shrugged and dismissed the incident from her mind. "Now that's strange. An uncontrollable longing to drive out there was taking possession of her. No matter how hard she tried to concentrate on the morning's lectures. a man was sitting in a green station wagon. The green car behind her made the turn. That morning. Mariette frowned. watching her intently this morning. "I must be getting paranoid. She had given the matter no further thought — not until she saw the stranger in the green station wagon across the street. she had lost him. "I wonder if he was following me. got the little car started and began her drive to her morning college classes. The green station wagon was following her! Or was she imagining it? Maybe he just happened to be going in her direction. It had something to do with the island. her mind had been in such an emotional whirlpool over Ted Barnes's kiss coupled with her conflicting feelings about the beachcomber that she really hadn't given a lot of thought to the car behind her other than to lock her doors and take a well-lighted route home. If the man had been following her. She shook her head. her time spent in her classes was a total washout. he buried his face in a newspaper. willing the time to hurry by more quickly. She dumped her books on her car seat. Her emotions were at a feverish pitch. She thought again about Ted Barnes's kiss last night. scattering her thought processes. but as soon as she looked his way. she noticed something that made her pause. She was sure he'd been watching her. A car had followed her for several blocks. After a few more blocks. she became aware of the directions her emotions were carrying her." Mariette said aloud. That would be awkward. How will I act toward him when I do see him in class the next time?" She adjusted her rearview mirror and suddenly her fingers stiffened. Gradually.40 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 23 As she walked toward her parked car. He was probably waiting for someone to join his carpool and passing the time doing a little early morning girlwatching. "I'm glad I don't have his class today." she chided herself. she knew. Her little car leaped ahead. she could no longer see it in her rearview mirror. At the time. She pressed firmly on the accelerator. the car had dropped far behind her and eventually disappeared. High school boys prowling around in their cars sometimes followed a car driven by a lone female. After a few blocks. Something gnawed at her. What was it? It was partly a panicky feeling of being driven toward something she didn't understand. her thoughts kept returning to the island. All through lunch. She took a sudden left turn.
It was a helicopter. Even in this solitude. no matter what. thinking how tiny she must look to the pilot. she felt a growing restlessness. and she would leave early. She dug her bare toes into the gritty sand. she thought she caught sight of the mysterious green station wagon following several blocks behind her. and was back in her car in a matter of minutes. she couldn't entirely escape the twentieth century world. she drank in great gulps of the salt laden jair. passing far above her. The intensity of her longing had become so great that I she no longer questioned it. kicked off her sandals. How could that be? She had been called here by some hidden force she didn't understand. and she sighed. She felt the warm sea spray caress her arms and legs. Then the helicopter disappeared. because of the tropical disturbance in the Gulf. she drove until something inside her told her to stop.44 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 45 the placement office that afternoon. welcoming the release from such civilized restrictions as shoes. She became aware of a whirring. hidden by the dunes. and stepped joyfully onto the beach. How did the poem go? she thought. She begged off having to do any more work that day. she realized with a start. and she had done as she was bidden. marveling at its many I moods. letting the soft foam tickle her bare ankles. She suddenly recalled a fragment of verse from a I slender book of poetry written by a woman who had j once lived here as a beachcomber for several months. | She gazed out at the sea. the water had been a peaceful emerald green. The island was working its magic. packed a light picnic snack of cheese and fruit. finishing what she had to do an hour ahead of schedule. to cradle her to its bosom and heal her inner turmoil. She hurried back to her apartment. She waved at the mechanical bird above her. She walked for nearly a mile. . She meandered along the surfs edge. She parked the Volkswagen. today. Once. The traffic was heavy. on her way to the causeway. She didn't know why she had been called here by her tumultuous emotions—but never mind. probably from the coast guard. But suddenly her reverie was broken. flapping sound in the air above her and glanced up to see what was invading her private world. But instead. happy to have her island world to herself again. Hungrily. She didn't see the station wagon again. Now. She was through with her Iwork. Once on the beach. changed into jeans and a halter top. She had fully expected the island to calm and soothe her. But she couldn't be sure it was the same car she had seen this morning. the tides were high and j the waves looked angry and gray. and soon forgot about it. and her agitation was—growing. Fortunately. She felt a growing excitement as she approached the island. She sat down near the . as it had done so many times in the past. then turned and walked back to the vicinity of her parked car. her supervisor waved her good-bye without question. The last time she'd been here.
44 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 45 water's edge and dug her fingers angrily into the sand. Curiously disappointed for reasons she. herself. staring at her. Anticipation and fright made the hair at the back of her neck prickle and stand up. did not understand. an uncomfortable sensation flowed over her. She was not alone! Without looking over her shoulder. she knew another person was standing behind her. Why had she come here? What was she seeking? Suddenly. . she wanted to cry.
"—and finally. Mariette's cheeks burned. "And finally—" Now a cocksure. I awakened in you a passion you didn't know you had. last night in her dreams. broad-shouldered man." Mariette's face flushed with embarrassment." Mariette retorted. She had been lured to the beach by an uncontrollable urge to once again see a man who had kissed her and made her feel as she had never felt before in her life—and all because he wanted to use her—all because of the lure of her tainted money! In spite of the blazing heat of the sun. The glare of the low-hanging sun blotted out all but the silhouette of a tall. His powerful embrace took her breath away. "What are you doing here?" she demanded. She wanted nothing else so much in life right now as to knock that superior. Had she come here purposely to see him? If so. She pounded his chest. but he grabbed both her wrists in . Before she could protest. "Who do you think you are—and what right do you have talking to me like this!" Her right hand shot out at the beachcomber's face. remember?" He laughed sardonically. He pulled her toward him savagely. His white teeth flashed in an arrogant grin. a beach bum." There was a mocking note in his voice. She had wanted to see the beachcomber again. I listened to you pour your heart out about your personal problems for one thing.46 THE BEACHCOMBER She turned quickly. But his lightning fast response stopped her hand just short of a direct hit. "I think a better question is." Mariette's nostrils flared with anger. she had seen him rescuing her on the beach. "I live here. what are you doing here?" "None of your business. The memory of his kiss was stirring up dizzying storms of sensual longing. "Now will you please go away and leave me alone?" "Why?" he asked with a wicked smile. Did she want anything to do with a man like that? "I see you couldn't stay away." "And that was—" "Take the money. mocking grin spread across his face again. But she had refused to let herself consciously face such shocking thoughts. the beachcomber's lips had silenced her with a crushing kiss that sent panic racing through her body. His fingers bit into her flesh. Mariette gasped audibly. But at the same time. She was humiliated beyond words. knowledge of his questionable motives made her seethe with anger. taunting grin from his lips. a shiver ran through her. a heartless wanderer who preyed on unsuspecting women. What had possessed her to confide in a total stranger? "Then I read your father's letter to you. Her emotions had tricked her into coming here! Not in her wildest dreams would she consciously and rationally have considered seeing the beachcomber again—and yet. And in a flash. "After what I did for you last time we met on the beach? Don't I even get a 'thanks'?" "What are you talking about?" "Well. She should have known all along. Not only could she not trust this gold-digging stranger. And I gave you some good advice. but she realized that she couldn't even trust herself." "You're insufferable!" Mariette cried. what powerful force had drawn her here. mocking. why? She had come to the conclusion that he was a gigolo. she knew why she had come.
Her body was on fire every place he touched her. She looked up at him. and her senses reeled from the suddenness of it all.48 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 27 one powerful hand. And I could have had you. turned his back on her. she would respond with wild abandon as primitive as this remote stretch of beach. He shook his head. he released her completely. She knew that if he claimed her now. Circumstances are not right. but she welcomed the pain for another taste of his lips. she could no longer resist. She knew it. Overhead. this was not the right time. do you understand?" Mariette was scared." he began. She felt bitter tears well up in her eyes at the knowledge of her weakness. and he was looking at her in a strange manner." he whispered hoarsely. "Don't get the wrong idea. He dropped to his knees. there on the beach. In spite of her strict moral upbringing. but she realized with a second wave of fright that her fear was not of the beachcomber. Her heart pounded with fright. she realized that the crushing strength of his embrace was easing. We both know that. The pounding of her heart was the beating of ancient drums in a ritual love dance at the dawn of civilization. Dimly. He wasn't making empty threats. Suddenly. His eyes were smoldering with naked fires that she could only interpret as open lust. fight all you want. Had she fought harder. Nothing can stop me from possessing you right here and now. But instead of pleading with him. But the aftermath might not have been so pleasant. the blue sky whirled in a slow circle. He tore his lips from hers. "I did want you very much—do want you. It would have been wild and glorious while it lasted. run to her car and locked the doors. She was limp with surrender. Her lips stung from the violence of the beachcomber's kiss. His fists were clenched and he was breathing as if he'd just run a half mile down the beach. Then like a sleepwalker slowly emerging from a fog. There was a mystery in his eyes that she could not fathom. "No. He forced her down until she was on her back. He was staring at her with tortured eyes'. She marveled at the intensity of her emotions as she felt strong hands pulling her even closer. pulling her down to the sandy beach with him. she heard his baritone voice speaking in a slow. All rational thought had been swept from her mind. Mariette could only feel herself turning weak with desire. molding her body to his. Mariette's own shaking body lay limply in the sand. And they both knew it. . or demanding her freedom. "There isn't another person within miles—do you know that? You can scream all you want. looking up at him. He jumped to his feet. looking away from her toward the dunes. she could have torn herself from his grip. No—" He suddenly turned. the weight of his body increasing. She had been riding a dizzying merry-go-round that had come to an abrupt and unexpected stop. The primitive lust she had seen there before had been replaced with a violent storm. "You should never have come here alone. How could she give herself to a stranger like this? This time he meant business. as she knew she should. moved away from her. and he knew it. She was afraid of her own unleashed passion. controlled manner. She ran her fingers through the curls in his chest and nuzzled her cheek in the crook of his neck. dazed and bewildered.
I should not have let it go so far at this time—" He hesitated. He seemed on the verge of telling her something else— something important to both of them. But then a veil drew across his eyes, shutting her out. "No, it's better this way." And then he did a surprising thing, something that left her baffled and frustrated. He simply turned and trotted away down the beach. She sat there, seething with confusion and anger, watching his figure grow smaller and smaller, and finally disappear in the distant mists. Never had she felt so utterly drained and shaken. In the aftermath of that blind storm of passion, she had to face the cold realization of what had taken place. She had to face herself. She lifted her hands to her cheeks which had become flushed with shame and humiliation. How could she have behaved this way? For twenty-one years she had lived comfortably with herself, thinking she knew her mind and emotions quite well, a young woman fully in control of herself and her impulses. And now she had discovered there was a complete stranger living inside her, a stranger who had taken possession, who was willing to surrender totally and completely to another stranger her more rational self detested. Yes, she detested him for his arrogance, his mocking conceit, and his total lack of morality. Mostly, she detested him for the unholy power he had over her. Was he some kind of demon who was able to cast a wicked spell over her? She was almost ready to believe it! Slowly, she clambered to her feet and stumbled to her car. She sat behind the wheel for several minutes before she had enough strength to drive. As she sat
there, she pondered the mysterious actions of the beachcomber. "Whatever made him act like that," she said grimly, "I'm sure it was for some reason that was for his benefit!" After a bit, she started her car, turned and drove back up the beach. The sun was setting and the tides were even higher, pushed almost to the dunes by the disturbed Gulf waves. She had to leave the hard-packed beach area and drive in the softer sand near the dunes. The little car began slipping in the treacherous sand. Suddenly it hit a soft spot. The rear wheels began spinning. With a cry of dismay, Mariette pressed the accelerator to the floor. She knew how easy it was to get stuck in this sand. And once a car bogged down, it had to be towed out. That was what was happening. The rear wheels spun wildly in the soft sand. She felt the little car slowly sink. Finally, she gave up and switched off the ignition. "Well, now I've done it!" she groaned. She felt chagrined. An old hand at driving on the island like herself, getting stuck! The car was in so deep she couldn't hope to push it out by herself. And there was no one around for miles to help her. There was no choice but for her to hike to a ranger station several miles down the beach. She was not frightened. Being young and vibrant with health and energy, she welcomed a hike on the beach, especially at this time. The physical exertion would help dispell some of the pent-up anger and boiling emotions left behind by the beachcomber. She entertained herself by reciting poetry and lines from plays aloud. "Demosthenes trained his voice by speaking over the roar of the ocean, so I
shall do the same!" she laughed into the wind. She had walked for half an hour when she suddenly noticed the shape of a gray structure behind the dunes. It was a shack built out of driftwood. she was walking up close to the dunes. From this vantage point she could see the shack, and she climbed atop a dune to get an even better look. "That must be the beachcomber's shack!" she exclaimed. Suddenly, her heart was pounding again. She should have felt only disgust and loathing for the occupant of that singular structure sitting isolated in the dunes. She should have passed on by, regardless of how tired she felt from her long walk. She should have been too proud to ask a man she should hate for help. But she realized hopelessly that the stranger in her that the beachcomber had awakened was actually hoping she might stumble across the place where he lived. It was that stranger in her, she told herself, who compelled her to do what she knew she could not stop herself from doing. It was that stranger, who was taking possession of her body, who delighted at the opportunity to see the beachcomber's island home and perhaps solve the aura of mystery that surrounded him. She had a perfectly legitimate reason to knock on his door. She needed help getting her car unstuck. She ran down the soft sand of the dune. The shack was a weather-beaten, ramshackle structure made of oddshaped driftwood boards. The currents of the Gulf that swept the beaches of Padre Island relendessly brought a regular supply of driftwood. She recognized a hatch cover from a wrecked ship, which had been used as
Tucked in among the dunes, it was not easily seen by anyone driving along the water's edge, so she had never noticed it from her car. But now, because of the unusually high tide, part of a wall. The driftwood had acquired a silvery-gray platina appearance from the action of the sea, sand and sun. "Is anybody home?" Mariette called, her breath catching in her throat. Her hand touched the door, and it creaked open. As her eyes adjusted to the interior gloom, she saw a table made from an iron barrel, a battered chair, and an air mattress that served as a bed. On rickety shelves were a few canned goods. A gasoline lantern hung from the ceiling. The beachcomber was not home. Mariette was both disappointed and relieved. She took another step into the room, pushed by her curiosity. On a table, she spied a letter addressed to "Vincent Brown," in care of General Delivery. So that was the beachcomber's name—Vincent Brown! Her roving gaze fell on a shelf on another wall. There, she saw a small stack of men's clothing, mostly cut-offs and t-shirts. And then, next to his articles of clothing, she saw something that gave her a stunning blow, something that brought tears of hurt and blinding anger to her eyes. She saw an assortment of women's clothing: halters, shorts, underwear, sandals. "So that's it!" she choked. "No wonder he wouldn't talk about himself. No wonder he's acted so mysterious— why he suddenly stopped at the last minute before making love to me. He's got a girl living with him!"
Sobbing, she ran blindly from the shack. This was the end of any emotional hold he had on her. All that was left was bitter hatred. She'd never come to the island to see him again!
The bright sun shone through Mariette's apartment window, painting streaks of shimmering gold in her long blond hair which was tousled from a restless night's sleep. Something jarred her awake. Through her fog of sleepiness, she recognized the ringing of the telephone. She moaned audibly and groped in the direction of her bedside table. "Hello," she said groggily. "Mariette Anderson?" "Yes." "One moment, please." Mariette cradled the phone on her shoulder, swung her slender, bronze legs over the side of the bed and sat up. She found a comb on the bedside table and ran it through her hair. That made her feel more awake and alert. Too bad, she thought, that she hadn't been able to pull herself together as easily the day on the beach when she had stumbled on the beachcomber's shack. The discovery had left her furious and heartbroken. Much as she hated to
admit it, she had been strongly attracted by the beach bum. She had still been shaking when she arrived at the ranger station further down the beach to ask for help in getting her car unstuck. Even though finding out the truth about the beachcomber had hurt, she knew that fate had done her a tremendous favor. Learning what a rat he was—that he was living with another woman while he gave Mariette passionate kisses—made her so angry that she'd be able to put that gigolo out of her mind forever. "Thank you for waiting," said the voice on the telephone. "This is casting from the community theater." "Yes?" "I'm calling the people who tried out for parts in Lovers and Others. You have been chosen to play Julie Long in the play, Miss Anderson." "Julie Long?" gasped Mariette. "But that's the lead!" For a moment Mariette was too stunned to say more. Then she exclaimed, "You must be mistaken!" "There's no mistake, Miss Anderson. Frankly, I didn't think you were the best choice, but I guess Mr. McPhail saw something about you that he liked, because he insisted on you for the lead." "McPhail? You mean Hartley McPhail, the producer?" "Yes. He was in the theater the night of the tryouts." "But I—I thought decisions about casting were left up to the director, William Nelson."
But one thing she had to admit—she had not been the best choice for the part of Julie Long. she thought. "There won't be any understudies. Had it been a mistake to take the part? Well. "I'll check your name off as an acceptance. have his hand in this? He knew she could read better than she had at the dress rehearsal. enter. Had he somehow influenced Hartley McPhail's decision? But why would he do that? Was his interest in Mariette personal or professional? If Ted Barnes had talked to Hartley McPhail. Nelson in the theater on one occasion and now recognized her voice. she had been aware that others had read much better than she. she had committed herself now."They should be. Perhaps Barnes was right. "I see everybody made it." Suddenly. and then bluntly tell her she was not the best choice! How rude could a person be! If she weren't the best choice. Mariette suppressed a giggle. And besides. Mariette realized she must be talking to William Nelson's wife. M. How dare the director's wife call to tell her she got the lead. Are you sure you can manage that kind of time schedule?" There was a sarcastic edge in the woman's voice that was starting to rub Mariette the wrong way. she had been too preoccupied with thoughts about the beachcomber and the attorney's news about her inheritance. "Yes. even the way he entered a room. Be there on time. Deborah." the woman said dryly. and often run as late as midnight. She had met Mrs. Even in her preoccupied state of mind. Did Ted Barnes." Mariette said sharply. why was she given the part? She had to admit she hadn't read very well that night. Then Mariette looked up to see the director. She would go to the rehearsal tomorrow night and dig around." "I said I'd do it!" "All right. and she didn't know what it was. Something odd was going on and she was determined to find out what it was. She picked up the thick script lying in front of her and thumbed through it. The chairs began to fill as the rest of the cast assembled. Nelson's voice did resonate with Shakespearean overtones. He did everything with a theatrical flourish." he said with an exaggerated sweep of his large hands. Mariette took her chair at the long table. I can manage. would South Texas's richest millionaire have listened to him? She had no way of knowing." Mariette hung up the phone angrily. you know. So it's extremely important that you stick with the show once you accept. she was determined to find out why she had been selected by Hartley McPhail. "Will you be available for four weeks of rehearsal and four weekends of performances?" Deborah Nelson asked. her college drama professor. William Nelson. Something was going on." the woman said with resignation. "Rehearsals begin promptly at 8:00 P. That explained her obvious resentment at the way McPhail was riding roughshod over the director and doing his own choosing for the cast. ." "I will. "We have a little different situation in this case. Mariette remembered what Ted Barnes had said about Nelson fancying himself a Shakespearean scholar. We'll have a readthrough tomorrow night.
I'll show them all! I'll give a performance that will have the audience on its feet applauding! Chapter Five The first reading seemed to take hours. Through a blur of angry tears. rolling his r's theatrically. try for the female lead? Dr. I decided to do a bit of acting instead of teaching this summer. Barnes wouldn't want to see me a laughingstock. plump woman. I'm glad you agree. "Very well. Macbeth. a professional looking man. How could she pull off this lead successfully with the little experience she'd had? She was being used in some way. young woman. his eyes bright beneath bushy eyebrows. Please read with as much feeling as you can manage so I can get some idea of how much life you can give your role. But it was suddenly occupied by a man who hurried in from another room—Dr. "You didn't think I'd settle for anything less. probably a doctor or lawyer. She would be a laughingstock. and on top of that. He must think I have some ability. Dr. The director gave her a sardonic glare." Mariette was sure William Nelson looked straight at her with a meaningful glance. "That's not what I meant! I have some doubts—but I came here tonight to do my best. he . Then she thought defiantly. "Mr. I told him you weren't right for it. She stood up. For some reason. did you? Especially with you in the female lead!" That settled it! Ted Barnes must have had some influence in seeing that she got her part. Ted Barnes must wield a lot of influence in local theatrical circles. she had slipped into a defiant. Mariette's blood boiled. "Why. silver hair and raised his chin. I'll do my best." Mariette was struck with surprise again. William Nelson gave her a searching stare. "I didn't know you had tried out for a part. He ran his fingers through his wavy. "Why. Then came a teenage boy. she thought! What is going on here? Nobody seems to want me in the play except Ted Barnes and the secretive Hartley McPhail. and three matronly women. Suddenly she felt her blood pressure soar. Mariette glanced around the table. "I—I don't know if I can do this—" She held the script limply in her hand. for some reason she didn't understand." she blurted out. Frankly. Finally Nelson made a grandiose gesture of resignation and turned away. Nelson. When she glanced at him. He gave her a teasing smile. Hartley McPhail insisted on putting you in the part. "Very well. she thought with another inward giggle." She clutched her script more tightly. to test voice balance. Am I really so awful that I can't pull off this part? Surely Dr. mischievous mood—perhaps a reaction from the tension and depression she had felt the day before. Next to him was a young. and the whole town would laugh at her. Mariette underlined her part in bold red ink. Proceed!" he ordered. Mariette's eyes blazed defiance. For a moment their gazes locked. Mariette felt Ted Barnes's eyes on her. Barnes—Ted!" Mariette exclaimed. This initial read-through is most important. The chair next to her was empty." "And what part do you have?" "Jud Rutherford. I'll show them. well. Across from her was the elderly gentleman who had been so critical of Hartley McPhail.58 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 32 "Tonight I want to hear everyone read every line. that's the male lead!" she gasped. Why else had he been so insistent that she try out for the summer community theater production." He moved in her direction and reached out as if to take her copy of the script." "Yes. Just the color to match my mood. Ted Barnes. Okay.
It's just that—well. William Nelson on the other hand. "I don't believe you! Why are you lying to me?" Ted Barnes was rapidly becoming equally angry. I knew you could do it. that was quite an improvement over the other night. "Now look here. She didn't have a shred of proof that Ted Barnes had a thing to do with manipulating her into the lead part. I was wooden and unconvincing. she stammered. so mad she was trembling. When I discovered you were playing opposite me in . Perhaps she had flown off the handle too hastily. I had no business accusing you of lying. So how come I got the part anyway? Especially when you just happen to have the male lead?" "I guess Nelson thought you had some spark that showed through. I had my mind on something else. I'm delighted that you have this part. I apologize for behaving that way. I just didn't come across. You're right. And I'm not going to stand here and be accused of lying!" For a moment." "Oh. Dr. his knowing brown eyes looking directly into hers. "What?" "You heard him. yet I got it anyway. How did you do that?" "What are you talking about? I didn't do a thing. He told me in front of the whole cast that I wasn't right for the part. Barnes. And he certainly sounded convincing. I don't understand what's happening. "Well." Mariette was boiling mad. come off it! You know good and well Nelson doesn't want me in this play!" she snapped. Embarrassed now. I don't know why you've gotten this paranoid idea that there's a plot of some kind against you. In its place came confusion. "I—I guess I got carried away. Warm spots began to burn her cheeks. Ted Barnes moved to her side and gave her hand a squeeze. Nobody around here seems to think I'm good enough for the lead. Miss Know-It-All. their blazing eyes clashed like dueling rapiers. Then Mariette felt her temper recede. but Hartley McPhail insisted on me for the part. When the rehearsal ended.58 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 33 smiled. "What do you mean?" "What do you know about my getting this part? We all know I didn't read well in the tryout. refused to look at her at all. I thought it would be terrific working opposite you." "What do you know about this?" she demanded. He'd be only too glad to have me drop out.
"Mariette. "I still think something peculiar is going on here. but he wanted you for Julie Long.58 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 34 the male lead— well. though I'll readily admit he did insist on you for this part. I'm genuinely sorry and. how can I refuse?" He chuckled. Barnes' kick." "All right— Ted. something that must wound his tremendous ego. Her intense effort paid off. then insisted. but she couldn't entirely erase the memory of how he had humiliated her before. he had to devote all his time to business. "Tell you what. "I guess I'll forgive you. I just naturally assumed you had somehow influenced Hartley McPhail. I thought we'd made an agreement about that. She projected herself into the part with all her emotions. She read and reread the part of Julie Long. analyzing the character. She wanted to accept his apology. of course. His eyes had grown warm. We sunk a lot of money into this new building." Now they were both smiling. " Mariette felt a warm flush of pleasure. but gradually the anger in his eyes faded and was replaced with the usual look of teasing humor. In fact. She knew what it was costing Nelson to choke down his pride. I suppose the theater got in his blood. "You are a hotheaded little thing sometimes. I believe I owe you an apology. He suddenly looked weary and a little deflated." Mariette said warmly. Why has McPhail suddenly become so allpowerful?" Nelson sighed. I honestly didn't think you were right for the part of Julie Long. She was pensive for a moment. we went into debt. "I'll forgive you if you'll get off that formal 'Dr. I had considered you for a minor part. "Did Hartley McPhail order you to say this?" she demanded hotly. Somehow I'm going to get to the bottom of it. You run this theater—with the theater board's approval. for after the second rehearsal. aren't you?" A smile began to tug at his hps. He was not a man who gave compliments easily. Tonight you showed me an unexpected dimension of your ability. Mariette. he had to backtrack and admit he had been wrong. "That is. inviting her gaze to dissolve more deeply into his. softening the stern look that had spread over his face. he did some amateur acting when he was in college. the director William Nelson called her aside. determined to do her utmost. I think your brain is addled. and said. . And in this case. no. Mariette threw herself into memorizing her lines for the play." Ted Barnes continued to glare at her for a few moments. In fact. The community theater is in the red. When we installed the sophisticated lighting and sound system. And she still didn't entirely trust him. And. f"Will you tell me something?" Mariette asked. "Mariette. you may be superb. "I can't blame you for feeling angry and suspicious. I'll be frank with you. But I trust you will not hold a grudge." "Thanks. but I'll help you." he amended. But he became so busy with his financial empire. Now I believe you might do well in the part after all. Will you help me —Ted?" "When you use my first name like that. well—" He made an eloquent gesture that expressed his helplessness before the allpowerful Hartley McPhail. McPhail didn't order me to apologize." She agreed. "Why is Hartley McPhail pulling the strings on this play? You're the community theater director. Hartley McPhail is a big fan and one of the supporters of the theater.
Never gives interviews. A rich man like that would stop at nothing to feed his ego—even to the extent of hiring someone else to do his writing for him." Mariette said slowly. Why did Hartley McPhail pick me for the lead in his play?" "That I don't know. He did know and appreciate the theater. It was his life. Owns a lot of oil property and a large shipping concern. he bought you. But he insisted. What kind of man is he. But you were stuck. Mr. then added. he must have a ghostwriter. That was the only logical answer. he was basically a sensitive man who recognized his own limitations. but if it hadn't been for his money. breaking her father's heart." "That figures. He agreed—on the condition that the first play produced in the new theater would be Lovers and Others. How could a crass. "and I would be if it were anyone but McPhail. until he can see if the play will succeed. When our finances got so bad." She thought about how her uncle had bought her mother. He manages to keep a low profile." was a nom de plume. pushy businessman like Hartley McPhail be capable of such sensitive writing? Then she thought. Her bitterness became more intense." The director sighed again. Says he values his privacy. "Men like that think they can buy people—and often do. Refuses to let reporters take his picture. to get to the point." Nelson confessed. "William Sills. Mr. But the last person on earth that she expected to be the author was Hartley McPhail. "I might as well tell you that Hartley McPhail wrote Lovers and Others. "Rich people make me sick!" Mariette . "I argued with him about it at some length. The play was a tender love story with sensitive insight into character and life. anyway?" "I really don't know all that much about him. So please keep that confidential. He doesn't want that known yet. But no more. and he would have an active role in directing the play. His colossal ego was a cover for a deep sense of insecurity. Said he had a girl exactly like you in mind when he wrote the play. "When you come right down to it." Mariette stared at the director with openmouthed surprise." Nelson hesitated. A capable director in that capacity. she said. you were forced to go along with what he wanted!" Suddenly she could no longer feel any anger toward the director. didn't he. In spite of his theatrical affectations and posturing. I asked him for a large donation to bail us out. "There's one question I'd like answered since you are being so frank this evening. And Hartley McPhail had ruthlessly trampled Nelson's selfrespect to get what he wanted. She had known this was a premiere performance of the play." "I suppose I should be flattered." Mariette said bitterly. you would have flatly refused to put me in the lead part. Nelson. No one does for that matter. And she'd assumed the name of the author on the script. I went to Hartley McPhail for help. Because he controlled the purse strings. then claiming it as his own! When Mariette recovered from her initial shock at learning the identity of the play's author. But he would never be more than a director in a community theater in a small city.58 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 35 So he had no more time for acting. I just know that he's extremely wealthy and powerful. "Well. He can be stern and ruthless. Nelson? I'm not trying to be unkind.
But the way his hand touched hers and the expression in his eyes just before he had kissed her indicated that he thought of her as much more than a child. "You have a lot of talent. "Hi. But how did she really feel about him? He was certainly an attractive and sophisticated man. Down here among the "good oP boy" South Texas types. But it shows now. Her conflicting feelings fought among themselves for memory of the beachcomber. In spite of her noble resolution never to think of him again. "But I choose to look at it this way: I did what I had to do in order to preserve the theater." she said. Her uncle's money had done that to her father. Yet. Ted Barnes had not yet shown any desire to progress beyond the good-night kiss stage. And I got an added bonus I didn't expect. can I drive you home?" "Excuse me. she had stolen into his room late at night to find him holding a picture of her mother and crying. Ted. it's all worked out for the best. she was beginning to develop a fondness for Ted which disturbed her. Once. as a child. his right arm .58 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 36 exclaimed." "What's that? " "You. She felt comfortable with him—almost as comfortable as she had with her father. his eyes downcast. "When people have a lot of money." Nelson agreed. Was that due to the fact that they were in constant contact because of the play? Well." Nelson said and moved away to talk with the backstage crew. "How did you know I don't have my car?" "It wasn't in the parking lot." "I love that old jalopy. A girl would have to be dead from the neck down not to respond to his attention." Mariette mumbled. At times he treated her like a little girl who needed his firm hand to guide her." "Well this taxi ride will be free. his urbane manner made a decided impression. He the upper hand. "I had to leave it in the shop to have the brakes worked on today and take a taxi to the theater tonight. of all the girls he had to choose from. they turn cruel and ruthless. So. his image popped into her mind at the most inopportune times." Ted smiled as he held the outer exit door open for Mariette. In the end. I didn't see it when you first read. isn't that what really counts?" "I don't know. She would let things ride. "Oh." Ted said as they cruised down the street in his sports car. If he began to show a more serious interest in her. Ted was at least in his mid-thirties. Mariette sighed inwardly. young lady. The image of her father passed through her mind. but it's beginning to show the miles." she chuckled as they walked down the aisle toward the rear exit. he showed a continuing interest in her. but then she felt a hand touch her elbow. Almost reluctantly. All they can think of is satisfying their selfish desires!" "That's about the size of it. so far the situation had not faced her with making any earthshaking decision. Then a smile formed on his lips. I would have overlooked the perfect actress for the part of Julie Long if McPhail hadn't forced me to use you. First there was the had earned his doctorate at Columbia. after all. It seemed to happen when she was with Ted. "I guess you've heard the news. She had to admit she was flattered that. then she would have to try to come to some kind of decision about him." Mariette flushed. she accepted a ride home with Ted Barnes. She felt the urge to philosophize a bit more. Her eyes suddenly blazed with fury.
I get it." "Mariette." She tried to hold back a rush of tears. She also sat around looking glamorous in some shampoo commercials. She was one of the stars on a TV series with two other beautiful young actresses. painful realization dawned. It won't be the first disappointment in my life. "Not at all. You are going to play the part of Julie Long. Mariette was speechless." "Why is she coming here?" "To appear in Lovers and Others." Ted said with a touch of exasperation in his voice. Linda Devans was a nationally known TV personality. "News?" "About Linda Devans." she choked. "you are not being replaced. and had a minor starring role in a Hollywood movie. Then she gasped. nothing's happened to her. "Oh. "You don't have to let me down easily." she said soberly with a sinking feeling. and you've been given the dirty work of telling me that my part is going to be turned over to Linda Devans. "Are you kidding? You mean I'll get to meet her in person? How exciting! I'd love to find out if she's as gorgeous in person as she is on TV." "Now that doesn't make any sense." "Linda Devans?" The name brought an immediate response from Mariette. When the word gets out. The news is that she's coming to town." "You will.58 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 37 draped across the back of the seat." Then Mariette's temporary delight died swiftly as sudden. "Has something happened to her?" "No. Ted Barnes." "Really? Coming here? I haven't seen anything in the newspapers about it." For a moment. touching Mariette's shoulders. "I can take it. You and I both know that nobody in his right mind would ." Ted reassured her. "Somebody— Hartley McPhail no doubt— decided the play needed a nationally known personality for the lead.
" "Well. despite the fact that she still felt confused about her feelings . Nelson tells me that McPhail likes the way rehearsals are going. I mean. at least according to all the gossip magazines. McPhail planned to reveal himself as author of the play if it was a hit. But I think he's bringing her down here for a very practical reason." "Nelson said that McPhail is paying Linda Devans a handsome sum to come here. "After the first reviews. Her ego is too big to play second fiddle to local talent unless there is a very strong underlying motivation. but she had to admit that was what he was becoming." "McPhail must be pretty interested in her. He wants to draw national attention to the play. told me. He's convinced he's got a play here that could eventually make it big on a national level. his brown eyes growing soft. McPhail and Linda Devans have been romantically linked. The set of his mouth above his black beard was firm. But she reminded herself that she had given William Nelson her word to keep that confidential." she said. You're going to be absolutely fantastic. Mariette. she suddenly thought. Otherwise why would he import her all the way from Hollywood?" she asked. A surge of relief restored her spirits. Barnes said. The light changed to green." The car came to a halt at a red light." "Not always—and certainly not this time. "I can tell you what Nelson told me plus what I know about the situation from theatrical scuttlebutt. Maybe. "But I don't understand. The car moved again and Barnes's right hand covered hers. "I don't think we'll have a bit of trouble selling out every night." Mariette shook her head." she said with exasperation. his brown eyes aglow from the reflection of the streetlights playing tag across his face. I think it's well written. too. aware of a gathering excitement at being involved in a play that had suddenly taken on such important and glamorous dimensions. "Oh. baffled. but happy about the decision. "No. Why would a big name like Linda Devans come down here if she's not going to get the lead?" Ted Barnes smiled. He just said McPhail was very definite that he wanted you and no one else to play Julie Long. The price would have to be pretty high to lure her here for a secondary part. himself. Well known actresses who go off to the hinterlands for a part in a local play always get the lead role." Ted said flatly. That really should give the play a boost." "The motivation being her romantic interest in Hartley McPhail?" "Could be—at least that's my guess. Ted's assessment of her acting ability sounded overly enthusiastic. "Okay. tell me. I guess he is—romantically interested in her." Mariette blushed with nervous embarrassment. "Did Nelson say why McPhail is allowing me to go on playing the lead?" she wondered. But I think there's more to it than that. and what better way of getting that kind of publicity than having Linda Devans in it?" Mariette nodded slowly. Ted Barnes turned to look directly at Mariette. "And how do you know?" "William Nelson.70 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 38 waste a talent like Linda Devans on a secondary role in a small town play. even coming from a suitor. She was aware of his touch. but I'm not sure how many paying customers we'd have for an original production by an unknown author with an unknown amateur in the lead. I am glad he's bringing down a big name. That word "suitor" unnerved her a bit." Ted Barnes looked at her. "I'm all ears. I really do. "Mariette—" he began. She must be coming here for more than just money. but more interested in the matter under discussion. His gaze was too direct for him to be deceiving her. "Anyway. himself." he said. She was tempted to ask Ted if he was aware that the real author of the play was none other than McPhail. That would certainly feed his ego. I believe you.
Ted enjoyed taking verbal punches at others in the theater. remembering Ted's less than generous evaluation of William Nelson's directing ability." "Do I detect a note of professional jealousy?" Mariette teased. She'll be the first big star I've ever met in person. teasing tilt of his chin. but I would stop short of calling her a big star." Ted retorted with a cocky. . "Mariette. certainly. "To people in the theater a big star is a Broadway or Hollywood performer who can guarantee sellouts at movie theaters in any film they make. She thought that he was perceptive enough to sense her lack of sophistication with men and was proceeding slowly. she thought. Ted's gentle handling of her was in direct contrast with the beachcomber who had assaulted her emotions with his overpowering presence and demanding kisses. With a start. and realized he had just repeated her name. just lost in thought for a minute. Mariette couldn't decide how to take that last remark. the more she thought about him. the more she loathed him. What were you saying?" "William Nelson wants me to organize a welcome party for Linda Devans when she arrives. Linda Devans may be more well-known because of her weekly TV show than most TV performers." Ted chuckled. "And everybody knows who she is. "I'll let you know when I figure out what I'm going to do. Would you help me set up the party?" "Oh." she apologized. Doesn't that make her a big star?" Ted shot her an indulgent smile as he glanced from the roadway briefly. He hadn't openly declared his intentions yet. Ted pulled his car to the curb in front of Mariette's apartment. switched off the engine and turned in the seat to face her. I can hardly wait to meet her. so she let it pass." "Well. Why couldn't she push the beachcomber's image from her mind completely and forever? The more she thought about him. It didn't make any sense." she heard Ted's wellmodulated voice. she realized that a pair of sky-blue eyes set in a deeply tanned face were intruding again on her thoughts. but his interest in her was becoming pretty obvious. I'd love to. "Please forgive me." he answered." Mariette defended her previous statement.70 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 39 toward him. "Big personality is more like it. "Are you listening?" "Oh. She's on TV every week. pulling her close to him. "What do you want me to do to help with the party?" she asked. "Absolutely not. his warm breath stirring the fringes of her hair. Mariette found herself softly pushing against Ted's chest with her hands. Maybe. she can act. But the more she loathed him. Then she willed herself to relax." "I wouldn't exactly call her a big star.
" Actually." "No. But once she told Ted good-night. She plunged wholeheartedly into her assignment of assisting Ted Barnes with the welcoming party. but I appreciate the offer." Barnes said. As was the custom with name performers taking part in a local production. though. though?" "Sure—" "By the way. Forgive me for not inviting you in for a drink. husky male escort her to her door. Maybe a rain check. "Shall I walk you to your door?" Ted asked. honest man who obviously cared for her as a person—and not just for her money? Although Ted's kiss was tender and sweet. how could she refuse to kiss a good. "Thanks. Linda Devans would learn the play before arriving and step into her role at the last minute. she was relieved at having a large." 40 . Then she felt a wave of cheekburning humiliation when she realized that she might not have been so reluctant to invite the suntanned beachcomber into her apartment. She was nervous about coming home alone late at night.74 THE BEACHCOMBER There was certainly no harm in a good-night kiss from a man as attractive and respectable as Ted Barnes. "Nelson will meet her at the airport and whisk her downtown for a press conference for the local newspapers. As his lips softly touched hers. "Then Nelson will take her to the theater for the party to introduce her to the rest of the cast. what would the neighbors think at this late hour?" she said lightly. it stirred in her none of the storms of passion she was trying so hard to eliminate from her thoughts. The mysterious green station wagon had again followed her on several occasions. Chapter Six The prospect of meeting Linda Devans and actually being in the same play with the TV star had Mariette vibrating with excitement. Linda Devans would not come to town until the final week of rehearsals. Barnes explained the prospective schedule. "Okay. Besides. she wondered if she were letting Ted kiss her to erase some of the guilt she felt for allowing herself to succumb to the beachcomber. do you want me to bring you back anything from Mexico? I'm driving down to the border this weekend to shop for some hand crafts for my new apartment. she hurried into her apartment and closed the door. It's awfully late and I'm really tired. If she had been willing to give herself to a stranger on the beach.
But it was bare no longer. You're a born hostess. for it contained a bountifully laden table draped in purple velvet. and he had a spellbound audience. Her modest background had hardly prepared her for this kind of affluence. large dark eyes and olive complexion merged to create the illusion of a woman smaller than she really was. curious to meet the producer who was giving her the chance of a lifetime to play the lead role in this play. floral arrangements. "Perhaps. In addition Mariette had chosen the escargots." When the time arrived. You can order them through Watson Catering. Nelson. dark curls. "She's here!" someone whispered loudly. "Everything is absolutely perfect. her eyes sparkling. pastries as well as full course meals. Then Ted continued. He's not one for much personal publicity. Will you take on the responsibility of selecting the refreshments?" "Of course. But Ted Barnes reassured her. The theater director. a firm that specialized in a wealthy clientele. Mariette felt a tingle of anticipation and excitement. To Mariette. McPhail said to charge anything we need to his account. The cast was electrified with excitement as they impatiently awaited the arrival of Linda Devans. Clinging to his arm was Linda Devans. "I'd love to do it. Then a sudden electric tension spread through the cast. the better. She was extremely nervous about the responsibility for the party. had decided to utilize the bare stage as the setting for the welcoming party. She explained what she wanted and was shown a catalogue displaying table decorations." They both laughed. but smaller than Mariette had expected. But she reminded herself what Ted Barnes had said. All eyes swung toward the wings of stage left. The man who was forgotten . this woman symbolized glamour. every bit as glamorous in real life as on the television screen. And. he was in center stage." Mariette replied. Anyone would be thrilled to meet her in person." Ted assured her. She had started a new trend in hair styles with her long. I understand. She had launched a successful line of cosmetics. You have excellent taste and judgment. Incidentally. of course he's going to want the best for Linda Devans. wines. and Mariette was no exception. took a deep breath. so they'll have time for a secluded visit in the air. Do you mean I really have carte blanche? I can order anything? No price limit?" "The more expensive. William Nelson made his entrance with a gallant flourish. Imported champagne was being chilled in silver ice buckets. "I'd like for you to make arrangements for the drinks and hors d'oeuvres. The prices made her eyes widen. but I kind of doubt it. The food section included both familiar and exotic hors d'oeuvres. "McPhail can afford the best. various styles of elegant glassware and silver service. She had become a model for countless numbers of young girls who aspired to become television stars or successful models. Never before in her life had she met a real celebrity. Mariette. Mariette made her trip down to the Watson Catering Company. imported cheeses.78 THE BEACHCOMBER "Will Hartley McPhail be at the party?" Mariette wanted to know. Then she realized that the television star's long black hair. He's flying Linda Devans from Las Vegas in his private plane." Mariette glowed under his praise. cakes. And it didn't matter what Ted had said about Linda Devans being more of a name than a real star. and ignored the cost as she ordered what she believed would be a party suitable for the girl friend of a Texas millionaire. as if wanting to wring every drop of theatrical showmanship from the introduction he was about to make. William Nelson paused in the hushed silence. On the table was a splendid centerpiece of costly red roses and gold-rimmed goblets. French pastries and vegetables with dips. clinging black gown. Then he'll probably slip off to his ranch or his yacht or wherever it is that Texas millionaires go. For this moment.
" "How nice. "Everybody. olive complexion was dusted lightly with a face powder that contained minute particles of sparkling glitter that reflected the lights and gave her skin a glow." The crowd was beginning to shift. the rest of her face was scrubbed clean." He gestured with a broad sweep of his hand toward the smiling television star. But when her eyes actually focused on Mariette. Mariette felt self-consciously unsophisticated by comparison. "I thought she might be snobbish or aloof. Her long." In spite of her excitement. or had she only imagined it? "I've been eager to meet you. Her flawless. But she's friendly as can be. Mariette was impressed by how far makeup could go to transform a very pretty woman into a stunning beauty. "What do you mean by that?" "Nothing. and the silence turned into a hum of voices. Her full lips were outlined with a lipstick a shade darker than the rest of her lips. "Linda Devans!" A crowd quickly formed around the celebrity. as if about to quote from Shakespeare. Now she could see the skillful way in which Linda Devan's dark eyes were played up with black mascara and lavender eye shadow that had been stroked subtly across the lids. "She seems very unaffected. Mariette relaxed a bit in the warmth of the smile that Linda Devans now turned her way. Her classic nose and delicate chin balanced perfectly against her long. . Mascara was the only eye makeup she ever used." Linda Devans replied. which gave her an animated look. Mariette moved closer to Linda Devans.78 THE BEACHCOMBER once the play opened. Except I wouldn't make any snap judgments. "How nice to meet you. and he gave it his all. Mariette and Ted remained on the fringe of the group. When they were introduced." Ted replied with a slight note of irony in his voice. black curly hair. blond hair had never been professionally styled. "She's really genuine." "So it would seem." he said in resonant tones." Mariette said. Her dress was a simple Grecian style which certainly did not cling to the contours of her body seductively as Linda Devans's designer creation did." Mariette heard the star repeat several times." Linda Devans said sweetly to another member of the cast who was just in front of Mariette. "Please call me Linda. And except for lipstick. "Not artificial at all. a subtle change in Linda Devans's expression took place." thought Mariette." Mariette stammered. Mariette thought there was a coolness in the television star's voice. now had a chance to play the lead. "I watch your TV show all the time. listening to the exchange between the cast and the sultry-looking beauty. "let me introduce you to the person you've all been waiting to meet.
" "Professionals understand there's much more hard work than there is glamour. "Th—thank you. for a while. other members of the cast claimed her attention. But she certainly did not have to use bleach. The configuration of the crowd changed with the ebb and flow of admirers around the central focal point of the party. "I hope you liked the refreshments." As Mariette smarted under that verbal dig." Mariette said with honest admiration. Mariette was so taken in by the friendly smile and manner of the actress that she found it hard to believe that Linda Devans was not sincere. "I asked about you as soon as I got off the plane. I selected everything myself. Once/as this change occurred later in the evening." "Why is that?" Mariette asked with surprise." Linda Devans said. Mariette found herself again face to face with the celebrity. "It must be really glamorous." Mariette explained. her large eyes sparkling. with a little. "I knew who you were the instant I saw your hair. "It's a real thrill getting to work with you. friendly manner." Linda Devans said. Then. I know. she began to understand clearly that Linda Devans's saccharine smile was a cover for an acid tongue." the actress said with a lift of an expertly styled eyebrow. smiling at Mariette's long blond mane which flowed to her shoulders. Mariette thought. William Nelson said you were the bleached blond. hoping to touch on something they could discuss without the subtle taint she felt creeping into the conversation. then stopped. working in a TV series. "Because you're playing the part I should have had. She tried to change the subject. wide-eyed. The sun streaks in her hair might be mistaken for a frost job. but Mariette felt needles in the other woman's voice. Mariette again changed the subject. considering what you have to work with. "I'm so glad you told me before I made an embarrassing comment I would have been ashamed of later. "You certainly have done wonders with your hair. "I'm looking forward to learning some professional acting techniques from you." "Did you?" Linda Devans asked. "Yes. Yet." Linda Devans continued in the same sweet. But she supposed Linda Devans couldn't know that." "Are you?" Linda Devans said. "I'm playing the part of Julie Long. Linda Devans. Persistently trying to establish a pleasant rapport with the star. teasing laugh. not quite sure how to take the doubleedged compliment.80 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 43 The celebrity was once again friendly. her smile disarming as she chatted with Mariette and Ted Barnes about the play. "That's what all amateurs think." The disarming smile remained on her lips. there was an undercurrent in the star's voice that was making her increasingly uncomfortable. They were standing far enough apart from the others to have a private conversation." She laughed as if teasing. Ted Barnes had seen through her facade ." Mariette said. a smile radiating from her full mouth." Mariette replied. still smiling as she placed a derisive emphasis on the word "amateur. Mariette's hand moved selfconsciously toward her hair.
80 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 44 immediately. But he had been in touch with the real world of people like Linda Devans. . ironic attitude toward her. and Mariette realized now that that had been the reason for his reserved.
She wasn't about to allow Linda Devans to shove her around. but no great emotional ties. no matter . what did she have invested in the play? Some time. The TV actress had set a trap of honey for her and she had fallen right in." Linda Devans's dark eyes smoldered. I know you don't have that. I wouldn't be so sure that he's going to take the lead away from me on your demand." Mariette said quietly. In all her life. But before Mariette would concede that they had to be enemies." Boldy. It was a deadly combination that served to disarm the victim who too late felt the knife edge of Linda Devans's words. After all. But why stubbornly hang onto a role that meant subjecting herself to the unpleasantness of facing Linda Devans day after day? "Have it your way. I thought surely you would be given the lead." Mariette controlled a sudden urge to slap the phony smile off Linda Devans's face. True. Mariette could not remember having encountered anyone else who radiated such a pleasant glow of phony friendliness while attacking so viciously with a barbed tongue. "I admire your professionalism. "Don't think because of the way you look that you're irreplaceable in the role of Julie Long. "I have an inside track to Hartley McPhail. I was prepared to step aside. but she could no longer avoid the truth that Linda Devans was verbally cutting her to pieces under a sugary cover of artificial smiles. The battle lines were drawn. "By opening night." warned the TV actress. Linda Devans meant to have Mariette's lead part in the play." Linda replied smugly." "I was Hartley McPhail's choice in spite of objections from the director." she said placing a deliberate emphasis on "Miss. And that woman was a dark bird with sharp talons poised for the kill. Mariette visualized herself stepping down and handing her part to Linda Devans. playing the lead in Lovers and Others had jumped to the top of the list of crucial matters in Mariette's life. it might open the doors to a theatrical career for her. "Don't be too sure I'll be playing that smaller part." "And just how might you manage that?" Mariette asked hotly. mystified by Linda Devans's remark about how she looked. I couldn't help but respect you a great deal. "Miss Devans. Mariette shot back. "That's exactly what I intend to do." the television star said with sugary iciness. But when I found you were actually going to play a smaller part. It would certainly be much easier than enduring the conflict she knew was sure to persist as long as she played the lead while Linda Devans had a lesser part. She wondered how she could have been so meek as to consider. "The opening night curtain hasn't gone up on this play." "Linda—" "That's 'Miss Devans' to you. "Whatever else you may have. Suddenly. For an instant. Now it looked as if Miss Devans had declared war. "When I heard you were coming. yet. quite a bit of effort. Bitter disappointment took the place of the excited tingle she had felt at the prospect of meeting Linda Devans. she was determined to make one last effort to strike a responsive chord in her adversary in the hope of turning her into a friend. I could have that part. and was prepared to fight for it. Through the veneer of affected sweetness and friendliness. handing her role to this acid-tongued female." Mariette said stonily.45 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 83 Mariette regretted having to admit it. even for a moment." she retorted with mocking sweetness. the real woman was now clearly revealed to Mariette.
Miss Devans has just given me a clearer picture of what celebrities are really like under all that glamour. it was you who decided . She realized he had tuned in on the undercurrent of hostility. At that moment." he said with surprise. Then Mariette felt a wave of shame. One of the things she admired most was honesty about one's feelings." Linda's forced smile faded. for she detected a momentary confusion and uncertainty in Linda Devans's otherwise. "Oh. Mariette then twisted her lips into a phony. frank attack was having a devastating effect on Linda Devans who apparently was more at ease when hiding her true feelings behind a facade of pretense. And her counterattack worked. Mariette felt her selfhate begin to melt and she became more comfortable with herself again. exaggerated smile she hoped matched the best that Linda Devans had to offer. Mariette drew a deep breath. "I heard about that. Although Mariette felt she could hold her own in a verbal battle with the TV star." Mariette said with feigned sweetness. "Yes. as she looked straight at Linda. looking Linda Devans squarely in the eyes." "Not as embarrassing as all that make-believe sweetness you used as a cover-up for insulting me!" It felt good to speak the truth. "You have just succeeded in making an enemy out of a person you're going to be stuck with for the next few weeks. The honest side was scornful while the deceitful side was smiling. "And you still want the part?" Linda asked. And this direct. Mariette raised her chin defiantly. Mariette went on. she loathed herself more than she loathed Linda Devans. On an impulse. But she refused to admit Linda Devans knew something she didn't. I see you two have hit it off. But you chose to dislike me merely because I happened to have been chosen for a part that you wanted in this play.46 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 83 what your personal relationship may be. "And I know why he chose you in spite of your lack of experience on the stage. The two women were smiling glares at each other when Ted Barnes joined them. "Well." In spite of being completely unsure of herself." "Of course you can't. "I wouldn't have thought you two were anything alike. Mariette decided to pretend that she also had privileged information. "Really. cool. Do you?" This new barb struck deeply. she was being bested by Linda's apparent privileged knowledge about the strange motives of Hartley McPhail." Mariette stammered." "I can't imagine why." "We've just discovered how much we have in common. I am not giving up the part of Julie Long! It would have been much more pleasant to be friends. She didn't mind the hostility as much as she abhored pretense. when the truth was that she was still as mystified as ever about why she had been chosen for the lead—a mystification that was heightened by the strange implication in Linda Devans's words." That was pure bluff." Linda Devans said. "Of— of course. She had let Linda Devans get under her skin so badly that she was resorting to the same deceitful tactic of talking out of both sides of her mouth at the same time. Just remember. "But you don't know all the facts. She became aware of the expression of concern on Ted's face. this—this is becoming embarrassing. self-possessed gaze." a smiling Linda Devans said with overtones of sarcasm that were not lost on Mariette. "Miss Devans." Mariette shrugged. why don't we drop the pretense? I came here tonight very excited and eager to meet you.
so it certainly wasn't to spare me any hurt. Do you think she can get McPhail to change the casting?" "I can only tell you what William Nelson told me—that McPhail made it quite clear he wanted you. Linda Devans thinks she's going to snatch the lead part out from under me. and they wither under the honesty. face up." "You're just trying to make me feel better." she reminded him. She was going to have to face Linda Devans again. "Mariette." "What do you mean?" "Well. I know her type." she protested. The truth is one thing barracudas can't stand. "You did the right thing. you stopped playing her little game and told her the truth. That's about all I've been able to dig up. you did exactly the right thing. "Come on. "Or. She hinted at something she knew that I didn't know. McPhail has a yacht anchored in the bay where he spends part of his time. I smelled trouble. It was hard for me to believe at first that she was really saying the vicious things I heard. to play Julie Long. her eyes brimming with tears. "I just can't understand why Hartley McPhail didn't turn the lead over to her. yet? You promised to help me solve the mystery." Then Mariette held out her hand to Ted. Her voice was a knot in her throat. Their whole life is predicated on manipulation." Ted chuckled. her face a flushed pink. But once you figured her out." "That's a barracuda's main line of offense. Mariette found herself shaking. double entendres. I'm not going to be much help. cattle and shipping interests. If you're not prepared for them. I was prepared to like you. "No I'm not. "So far. "but I'll lay odds you had every reason to get mad. backstabbing and deceit. and no one else. But now that I've got it. you'll lose. he's at his ranch home. something about the way I looked being the reason for getting the part. But turn the tables on them and lay all your cards on the table. The instant I saw her." He squeezed her gently. There are lots of them in the theater. But Mariette was too upset to let such an encounter pass lightly. You deserve a pat on the back. now I've really done it!" she groaned." His expression urged her to forget the matter. Mariette. All I've been able to find out is backstage gossip about our elusive producer. why he chose me for the lead." They left Linda Devans standing alone. He has his own private jet plane. maybe she can persuade him to change his mind. her eyes bewildered as she tried to regain her composure. "Oh." "Are you worried about it?" "Sort of. I've put a lot of myself into developing . "Linda Devans is a real barracuda." He comforted Mariette with his arm around her shoulders. They trick you with that innocent exterior. Other times. He has known Linda Devans since their college days together. Have you found out anything. they can eat you up and spit you out in little pieces before you know what's happened. more important." "But that was before Linda actually showed up in person. People like him don't care a snap about other people's feelings. Then his voice softened." "That certainly doesn't shed any light on why he's producing this play. "How could I lose my temper like that?" "I wasn't in on the entire battle. I really didn't want this part in the first place. If you play the game according to their rules. and she didn't know how to deal with the next meeting." "But she seemed so sweet." Mariette said glumly. Mariette." she admitted. Now that she's here. "To be honest. He owns oil. Let's go. you're too naive to recognize her type." he replied sternly.47 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 83 what our relationship was going to be.
Her thoughts stuck on the word "yet." she stammered. McPhail feels you can only experience that honestly if you wear the real thing— exclusive designer originals. I'm ready to go home. Tell you what. she didn't have to decide whether to make the shopping trip with Ted Barnes to Mexico. she would just have to let things ride. "I—I don't know—. knowing that the glow in them was intended to let her know that he'd like people to think of them as a couple." he grinned. Mr. "The play calls for a look of wealthy sophistication." Mariette and three other women in the cast were to be flown to Dallas in McPhail's private jet. She felt dreadfully tired." Mariette avoided Ted's eyes. Instead of selecting clothes from the community theater wardrobe for the play. What is it?" Ted put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close to him. "I'm leaving early and will be back the same day. What would Ted think of her if he knew? How could she go on pretending to be chaste when she } knew that her innocence was intact only because a beach bum had rejected her? All at once. Fashion coordinators will help you select the outfits appropriate for your roles." "That sounds interesting." said William Nelson." he reassured her. Cost is not to be a consideration. William Nelson made an announcement that stunned Mariette. "Mr." and she repeated it to herself. Though she felt comfortable in Ted's company. "It's all on the up-and-up. For the time being. Did you think I was?" Mariette's embarrassment deepened. I'm not asking you to spend the night with me. she had taken it as a proposition to be turned down. I'd hate to have done all that for nothing. It troubled her that he was growing more and more interested in her while her feelings for him remained unchanged. She couldn't decide what to do about her relationship with him. She wasn't ready yet for a serious romance." she said slowly. "Thanks for the invitation. Right now. Is that terrible?" "Hardly. I'll think about it and let you know. Do you think anyone would notice if we slipped away early?" "Probably. Ted. she had been ready to give herself to a complete stranger on the beach. but that the time was not right. There's no way to do justice to the character you're playing if your ego doesn't become deeply involved. She decided that her subconscious must be telling her that the problem was not that Ted Barnes was the wrong person. "I'm going to make another fast trip to Mexico this weekend to pick up some more things for my apartment. Fortunately. "But that's the kind of gossip I like. Why don't you come along and help me pick them out?" Mariette felt the blood rush to her cheeks. the turmoil of the day's events took their toll.48 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 83 the character and polishing my performance. When she had been swept away on a tide of overwhelming passion. Mariette was uneasy about the rumors she knew must be circulating around the community theater grapevine—gossip about her and Ted. real furs and diamonds. I'm awfully tired all of a sudden. There they would . Hartley McPhail had decided he wanted principal members of the cast to wear the real thing. I have just the remedy to get your mind off your problems." "Is that the only reason?" "Well. But when a respectable man like Ted Barnes invited her to go along on a perfectly innocent trip. At rehearsal the next night. "I guess my ego's at stake. A totally unexpected development turned Mariette's world upside down that weekend. McPhail will pick up the tab.
Her emotions were in a turmoil. The play must have a special meaning to him to spend so much money on costumes. he could certainly afford it. all her life. grits. They rode the escalator to the second floor where Mariette found herself in a world foreign to anything she had experienced before. For a girl. Mariette thought. another limousine was waiting. She hated men like Hartley McPhail whose money made slaves out of other people. They were escorted to a section of McPhail's jet that was designed like a plush clubroom. precisely on schedule. Everything was planned and smoothly coordinated like the gears in a clock that meshed quietly and efficiently. Fontana. black limousine arrived at Mariette's door.49 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 83 be whisked by limousine to NeimanMarcus for the most glamorous shopping trip of Mariette's lifetime. But a man as wealthy and eccentric as Hartley McPhail did not do things in a normal manner. She had to pinch herself to verify that the dreamlike event was reality. to the Neiman-Marcus store at the North Park Mall. It was a world of exclusive designer fashions where women of unlimited means—wives and daughters of men who owned oil wells. The jet came in for a landing at the huge international Dallas airport located at Arlington. she reasoned. When they were in the air. At the airport. iced melons and coffee. And the expense could probably be written off as a tax deduction. Mariette felt like she was living a fairy tale. his presence was only seen in the smooth way his crew handled the flight and the morning's events. who. this experience was unnerving. By going on this Alice in Wonderland shopping trip. broiled quail. garments bore such labels as Christian Dior. She had half expected the legendary Hartley McPhail to put in an appearance on the plane. a part of Mariette felt she was compromising her . had bought her wardrobe at Penney and Sears. they were served an elegant Texas breakfast of huevos rancheros. The jet sped over five hundred miles of Texas prairie from the sea coast to the tinsel town of Dallas in a little more than an hour. but as usual. ranches and cattle —shopped. Breakfast was barely over when the pilot's voice on the intercom warned the passengers to fasten their seat belts. McPhail's long. There they were met by a team of fashion coordinators. It certainly was not the normal way to outfit a cast. They were whisked over the turnpike into Dallas. On the other hand. There were no hitches. Here. Early Saturday morning. She and the other three women were taken to the airport. Gucci and Givenchy. no delays.
Her hands were like ice. She gazed wide-eyed at her reflection in the full-length mirror. she touched rich fabrics that shimmered in her hands. Now. she allowed herself to float in the clouds of a make-believe world. a letdown. a return to sanity. a chic. Yet. The image staring back from the mirror was a stranger. it wasn't Mariette Anderson. and the play. leathers that graced her feet with seductive elegance. At the moment. was no longer a threat to the play's opening night. I have to admit it is a brilliant piece of strategy on his part to submerge you more deeply in the role. You must become Julie Long. . I wish I could say I had thought of it myself. And then came that special excitement. You must think and act like Julie Long. she couldn't remember a single line in the play. Mariette found the last week of rehearsal went smoothly. when adrenaline poured through the veins. Shopping at this internationally renowned fashion center where oil-rich Arabian sheiks brought their women. William Nelson was right. dislikes and prejudices. one of the other cast members giggled. sophisticated woman of the world? No. accustomed to the finest clothes and surroundings. It was Julie Long she saw. You are now Julie Long. you have to put aside your personal feelings. She knew that soon she would be home in familiar surroundings and there would be a reaction. And "Hurricane Beth. In spite of Linda Devans's threats. you must convince them that Julie Long's world is your world. you must submerge your own personality. And Julie Long is a rich girl. The wardrobe from Neiman-Marcus had transformed her into another person. a much more worldly and glamorous woman than Mariette was in real life. Mariette had gone along with the charade." So. Dress rehearsal was flawless." almost intoxicated. lush furs in which to bury her cheeks. Do you believe this is really happening?" Mariette felt strangely "high. It isn't only the clothes from Neiman-Marcus. your own likes. For the duration of this play. McPhail very wisely wants you to experience the shopping trip as Julie Long. But for the moment. and senses were heightened to a fever pitch—opening night! Mariette stared at herself in the dressing room mirror. It was painful and it was wonderful. sophisticated stranger. when she had protested to William Nelson and had tried to back out of the trip. put her totally in the role of another person. Mariette was not removed from the role of Julie Long.92 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 93 principles. Opening night panic. would experience it. Butterflies were holding a convention in her stomach. You are no longer Mariette Anderson. If the audience is to suspend disbelief. for the sake of William Nelson. "I keep thinking the clock will strike midnight any minute and this limousine will turn back into a pumpkin. On the way back to the airport. diamonds that blinded her. Was it really Mariette Anderson she saw in the exclusive gown created by a world renowned Parisian designer—a gown that transformed her into a chic. Except for occasional sniping from Linda Devans. herself." which for a while had threatened the Texas coast and then roared inland near Tampico. "If you are going to be a good actress. he had told her sternly.
then hurried past her. The full impact of Nelson's words struck her with devastating force." Mariette exclaimed. and somewhat piqued that Ted Barnes had not told her of his health problem." murmured a voice behind her. one of those things tourists come down with. The director had taken her into his confidence. If no one had understudied the part. "It's nothing too serious. Last night. He can't go on tonight. But then she was struck by their present predicament. He's been feeling ill for several days. looking somewhat amused and bored.92 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 93 "Don't be too taken in by all the glitter. Barnes seemed all right at dress rehearsal. he became really ill after dress rehearsal. She knew the real identity of William Sills." said the director. He'll be all right for next week's performances. "Ted Barnes has taken suddenly ill. won't we?" she exclaimed." . Nelson said. "We'll have to postpone the opening tonight. Quietly. Linda Devans smirked into the mirror. His voice was low and anxious." Mariette heard a stunned gasp from the cast and stage crew. and his doctor put him in the hospital. There was no understudy for the lead part! "Ted—Dr. But Nelson's next words reassured her. Barnes was shopping in Mexico." Mariette was relieved that it was not a serious illness. Mariette realized this was no routine opening night pep talk. Then she thought about Linda Devans. Hartley McPhail." "William Sills?" someone asked. To Linda. The last time Dr. but had sworn her to secrecy. But when Mariette walked through the wings. how could there be a substitute? Nelson cleared up the mystery with another piece of astounding news. Of course. "With no understudy to take the lead male role—" "Well—that's what I want to tell you. "We do have a substitute to play the male lead in Ted Barnes's place." A puzzled murmur ran through the crowd. A tingle shot through Mariette. It was customary for the director to give the cast last-minute instructions before the curtain went up. and with sudden apprehension. Nelson wasn't speaking in an affected. his doctor assures me." For once. She felt immobilized. he dropped the bombshell. "The author of the play is going to fill in for Ted Barnes tonight. he picked up a bug. but otherwise—" She realized with sudden concern that it must be something serious. so no one else in the cast knew. she saw a worried William Nelson pacing back and forth. "The name 'William Sills' is a nom de plume. Then the entire cast was called onstage. To the others in the cast. looking cool and totally in command of herself. When the cast was assembled. but kept it to himself. this opening night in a community theater was no doubt just a routine job. The TV actress was smiling. perhaps a heart attack to keep Ted Barnes from the theater on opening night. The real author of Lovers and Others is actually the producer. Linda would know all about the real author of the play. it was the biggest night of her life. being Hartley McPhail's girl friend. "I'm counting on all of you to give first-rate performances tonight in spite of what I have to tell you. "I thought he was a trifle pale. theatrical manner. Nelson explained. To Mariette. Mariette envied her professional calm.
He can step in at the last minute and feed his colossal ego by playing the lead role!" William Nelson sighed. is it?" she whispered. into the wings. but the worried expression in his eyes gave Mariette her answer. McPhail has had acting experience. Now everyone do your best to make me proud of you. I bet you'd postpone this opening night until Ted Barnes could play the role. Nelson took Mariette's hands in his and gazed into her eyes. Let's clear the stage now. Mr. How . but you're prejudiced against him because he symbolizes the kind of ruthless moneypower you've told me you detest. Now she felt a wave of consternation." The cast and stagehands moved away. having written it. He'll be fine. How could she possibly go out on the stage and play convincing love scenes with a man she'd never seen before— especially a ruthless tycoon like Hartley McPhail whom she disliked on general principle? Other members of the cast had their own reasons for dismay at this shocking turn of events." "But just because he wrote the play doesn't mean he can act!" another voice protested. He certainly knows this play better than anyone else. Mr. "This isn't the way you'd do it. She had grown to like the director and to know him quite well. McPhail is not elderly. I probably would have canceled it. talking in low. Mariette caught up with William Nelson and slipped her arm through his. He's a man in his thirties. "If you think of yourselves as professionals. so I had no choice." he nodded." Nelson didn't reply. "I don't know how those backstage rumors get started. "Yes." the director assured the cast. "What do you mean?" "If you had your way. "Mr. "How could he possibly play the part of a young. being made up. Nelson. "Another case of a rich man calling the shots just because of his money!" she exclaimed bitterly. "McPhail did tell me to go on with tonight's performance." Nelson said with some exasperation. And she knew he was putting on an air of optimism that he didn't really feel." They had reached a secluded corner behind the wings. "I thought Hartley McPhail was an elderly man. Nelson was trying to sound confident. The curtain will go up on schedule. tense voices." the director said.92 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 93 Another exclamation of surprise ran through the cast. You might fool the rest of the cast. You've never met McPhail. He studied drama in college. He's really quite capable as an actor and he certainly knows his own play. but Mariette detected a hollow ring in his voice. virile man?" "Mr. "Mariette. but McPhail insisted. McPhail is in the men's dressing room now. in ten minutes." someone objected. but you didn't fool me. I'm not so concerned about how McPhail will play his part. didn't he? He's probably delighted that Ted Barnes took sick. "Those of you who have scenes with him. It's you I'm worried about. "McPhail ordered you to go on with this opening performance despite your objections. He's well cast for the part. and certainly as handsome as Ted Barnes. remember to play to him just as you would have played your role to Ted Barnes. Mariette's initial reaction had been stunned disbelief. you'll be able to accept this substitution without blowing your lines.
" Then he hurried away. "I've been asking myself the same question. I'll explain everything after the play is over tonight. my job could be on the line with this play. the blame will fall on the director. anyway?" She realized she was babbling. . she said. Then he was directly in front of her. You would have blown your lines for sure. she walked to the spot in the wings where she would await her entrance cue. "After that. provoking discovery confused her mind even more." she admitted. that she would have to face a total stranger in the male lead role. She looked up at the tall. Shock had made her knees weak. totally out of context. I don't have time to explain a lot of things now. shaky laugh." . do I?" He squeezed her hand. whom she had seen only on the island in ragged shorts. I'm counting on you to put your personal feelings aside tonight. his face deeply lined with worry. untried play like this as the premiere performance in the new theater. listen to me. now. The curtain is going up in two minutes. Nelson continued to gaze into her eyes. And now. But you have to know this much about me. "Mariette. The beachcomber was wearing stage makeup! This was becoming more than she could deal with. I have every confidence in you. "Good girl. With an embarrassed. They'd like to find some excuse to fire me. She saw him out of the corner of her eye. If it bombs out. But I didn't want you to walk on stage without knowing about me first. She stopped breathing. . She was busy with her own thoughts. Then a fresh. startled surprise. standing before her. but was too involved with her thoughts and emotions to pay any attention. "What are you doing here?" Her beachcomber reached for her hands. This is the first play in our new theater. Then she gasped. leaving Mariette to deal with the storm of emotions churning inside her. She felt his powerful grip squeeze her numb fingers. Then a rush of anger took the place of her initial. Can you do it? Can you be the fine actress you've shown me at rehearsals? Can you do it for me and the rest of the cast?" Mariette swallowed hard. He was squeezing her hands painfully tight. wearing expensive. the shocking news that Ted Barnes was ill. trying to psyche herself up to the challenge ahead of her. tailor made clothes and stage makeup. broadshouldered blond Viking. Slowly. this beachcomber. "You have no business being backstage! What are you doing here. A tall figure moved from the shadows backstage toward her. I don't have a choice. . First. My name is Hartley McPhail.92 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 93 can you play love scenes convincingly with a man you hate so much?" Mariette slowly shook her head. Some members of the community theater board don't like me. "Mariette—Mariette. Some of them were angry that I am putting on a new. She was glad for the support his strong arms gave her.
Her penniless beachcomber was really Hartley McPhail. He seemed to be projecting some kind of powerful inner force. and whispered breathlessly. Their summer romance was rapidly becoming serious. concentrating the power of i his gaze. and then it becomes numbed and dazed. She was one of the audience. Julie Long was talking to her mother in the parlor of their mansion." It was Julie Long who turned with an expectant i smile. A prop girl suddenly thrust Mariette's purse in her 100 hand. gave her a gentle push into the wings. The mind can take in just so much shocking information. In a kind of hypnotic daze. He nodded to her. McPhail's eyes narrowed. But it was Mariette Anderson who felt the . That was reality. It was reassurance that she wasn't dreaming or hallucinating. Mariette moved onto the j stage. The maid hurried to answer it. Julie Long. His eyes burned into hers. but they wouldn't register. as if willing her to get a grip on herself. She was Mariette Anderson watching the character. A husky baritone voice said. Linda Devans. Mariette heard herself speaking her lines. But she knew in that dark void on the other side of the lights was a packed theater. McPhail's publicity people had saturated the area's media. The front doorbell rang. She welcomed the pain from her cramped fingers. dressed in elegant finery for a date with Jud Rutherford. slipping an arm around her. popular young man on campus who had been pursuing her with a passion she found overpowering. Her mind had been so programmed. the only reality was the tingling electrical charge she felt spreading up her arms from his powerful grip. one of the richest men in Texas! The words repeated themselves in Mariette's brain. For the moment. she couldn't think. "Hello. she could go through her motions and recite her lines with no conscious effort. then. The crowd was here partly out of curiosity to see a new play premiere. move across the stage and speak lines as the opening situation of the play unfolded. She felt strangely detached. Julie Long was a rich college girl. watching herself move and speak. but mainly to see the famous TV personality. Julie. Beyond that.THE BEACHCOMBER 101 Chapter Seven Hartley McPhail continued gripping her hands. to hold onto her sanity. Opening night was a sellout. She heard a step behind her. The long hours of rehearsal were paying off. The floodlights were a blazing wall between her I and the audience. Julie was falling head over heels in love with the handsome young man who was soon to ask her to marry him. "Break a leg!" the theatrical phrase meaning good luck.
McPhail wasn't living on the beach with another woman. but not before he cast her a knowing glance that spoke volumes about their romantic encounters on the beach. when she turned to face the character of Jud Rutherford. and all he symbolized. All that mattered was getting through tonight's performance. She was grateful that she had only a few more lines to exchange with the other characters in this scene before she and McPhail made their exit. Why had Hartley McPhail pretended to be a penniless beachcomber? How had he managed to mysteriously appear on the beach whenever she went to the island? Did their first chance meeting on the beach have anything to do with McPhail selecting her for this lead part? And was that first meeting really by chance? Other thoughts crowded the questions—the realization that she had made a mistake about the owner of the beachcomber's shack. In the dressing room. Mariette stared in the mirror at the reflection of the young . Why had McPhail led her to believe he was a beach bum? Had it been a game with him? And how had he happened to pick a girl who was later to try out for a role in his play? It didn't seem possible that the sequence of events her feverish mind was reviewing could all be coincidence. She couldn't remember ever being this unnerved before. he aroused in her feelings that no other man had ever been able to awaken in her. But there was no way to figure it out now. How about the mysterious green station wagon that had been following her the past weeks? Did it play a part in this tangled puzzle? She felt sure there was a logical explanation. Hartley McPhail. But weighing heavily against the pluses on the other side of the scale. "Vincent Brown. His sky-blue eyes bore into her gray ones. the ruthless tycoon who used his money to buy the director and this theater to satisfy his swollen ego. a tidal wave of tempestuous emotions momentarily swept aside all her scorn for him. they were back on the beach. Mariette unbuttoned her dress with shaking fingers. As Mariette hurried to the dressing room for a fast costume change. and for an instant. Mariette and the wealthy producer had parted without a word when they ieft the stage. The conflicting emotions struggling inside her left Mariette drained. No matter that she despised the man. sharing that magic moment when she had cast aside all her inhibitions and had exposed the naked depths of her soul to this man's probing. Smoldering black eyes shot her a deadly stare. to kiss her. The looks that Mariette and McPhail had exchanged had not gone unnoticed by Linda Devans." Vincent Brown and her beachcomber— Hartley McPhail—were obviously two different people. she passed Linda Devans. was this new discovery that her "penniless" beachcomber was in reality. questions were flooding her thoughts. Again the questions pounded in her throbbing mind.102 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 55 emotional jolt of again meeting eye to eye. Now that her mind had recovered from the initial shock. But at that moment. She ached for him to hold her again. And her cheeks stung with excitement and embarrassment as she thought about the love scenes in the play when she would have one last opportunity to unleash her wildest emotions in the arms of a man she had fervently hoped she would never have to see again. and certainly wasn't a gigolo preying on women for their money! Those were positive points for Hartley McPhail.
her words seeming more real than they ever had in rehearsals. gazing deep into her eyes. are we really so many worlds apart?" "Not—not where it counts. The veil shrouding his soul lifted." she choked. It was as if he meant every word from his heart. She would steel herself against his potent charms by constantly focusing her thoughts on his ruthless nature while she played the part of his onstage lover. Mariette quivered when McPhail drew her into his arms for their first onstage kiss. McPhail was on stage. At least outwardly she was. He crushed her into his arms fiercly. this time. she felt the wave of hot shame again when . she would be safe. grasping her small hand in his large. This time. a troubled frown shadowing his brow. she was back on the beach in the arms of a stranger. in spite of all she could do. She forgot that a spotlight was slowly fading out her image on the stage. That would be her defense against him. she knew him for what he really was. If she could only capture that feeling of detachment she had experienced when she had first walked onstage. An invisible chisel knocked chinks out of her rock-like determination. just the way her uncle had ruthlessly bought her mother and wrecked her father's life.woman in stage makeup. "You will not fall under his spell again!" she ordered herself through clenched teeth. He spoke his next line. who seemed a stranger to her. She reminded herself how Hartley McPhail bought and used people. McPhail turned. speaking. But the sight of his masculine. Her momentary fright fled in the face of her own passion. All she could think of in that moment was responding to the rapturous nectar of the mouth that had claimed hers in what was. The tremor in her voice surprised even her. his mouth hungering after hers with a frightening intensity. the same depth that McPhail was delivering them. He spoke with a convincing passion that took Mariette's breath away. Tonight. Toward the end of the scene. She had thought she was more in control of herself. The director had said he was a competent actor. The blood pounded in her head making hearing difficult. Mariette left the dressing room with her chin firmly set. and she told herself she was impervious to men like him. But it was more than that. She entered on cue. his wide shoulders. looked at her intently. a legitimate encounter that should cause her no shame. He gripped her slim shoulders and held her for a meaningful moment. She saw his pupils grow noticeably larger. Mariette was surprised at the magnificent job McPhail was doing portraying the role of Jud Rutherford. She forgot that an audience was watching. eagerly to his advances. But inside. She was surrendering herself to this man for the sake of the play and the theater. he was a man inspired. and the stranger in her was submitting willingly. He strode forward. Never had Ted spoken his lines to her at rehearsals with the same intensity. stalwart body. "Julie. If Mariette Anderson could stand aside and watch Julie Long go through the motions of the love scenes with McPhail. She was amazed that a man so hard-boiled and cold could deliver such a tender soliloquy on the depths of his love for Julie Long. He was not going to trick her again into succumbing to his power over her. muscular one. McPhail was deceitful. once again aroused against her will. blond hair and sky-blue eyes made her emotions turn traitor. she began to fill with admiration for the conviction McPhail gave to his role. and for an electrifying instant. Her wrist went limp at his touch. while she waited in the wings for her cue to enter. He had certainly proved that by the way he had tricked and deluded her. And. In spite of herself. he caught her up in that inspiration.
For tonight. and there's nothing you can do about that!" The air crackled with invisible hot sparks as the two women glared at each other. "That was some performance!" a stagehand said. "Wow. "That kiss sizzled all the way back to the dressing rooms!" Mariette tried to hold her head high. She didn't want to admit it to herself." Mariette said." Linda said through tight lips." exclaimed an actress who had a minor. She was trapped here in the wings as she waited for her next cue. but she had enjoyed McPhail's kiss to the depths of her being. Her determination to remain emotionally aloof had completely crumbled. She loathed the part of her that was so weak. trying to keep her self-control. "My relationship with Hartley McPhail onstage is none of your business. I am Julie Long. If you make a play for him. My job is to create a convincing role. After the play. Mariette turned to face the woman she was learning to dread more every day. She surrendered herself to this night with a willingness created by the excitement of knowing she was part of something unique." "Look Miss Devans. He had demonstrated once again his power over her. When the curtain goes up. Excitement gripped her as she replayed the scene in her mind to wring all the enjoyment possible from it. something that would never happen again to her in her lifetime. and could enjoy herself to the fullest without fear of consequences. He's mine." "Well. But she was blushing deeply. I'll see to it that you'll regret it the rest of your life. But until the last curtain comes down tonight. . Linda Devans played her role with raw nerves exposed. professional overtones of an experienced actress. Even the stagehands and other cast members in the wings were clapping. Her lips still tingled. pretending the incident had merely been an act. Mariette was aware that she was part of an experience that unusual circumstances had forged for tonight only and not likely ever to be repeated. "That was quite a scene. you're welcome to Hartley McPhail. When the curtain fell. so I don't see that you have any choice. for it had been no act. You can't have him. I am responding to him as Julie Long. Mariette watched the TV actress play the next scene with Hartley McPhail. Instinctively. she knew tonight was one time in herentire lifetime when she could give herself totally to an experience with no restraints on her emotions.she realized she was passionately returning this man's kisses because she wanted to. you're stuck here until your next cue. "Linda. Gone were the cool. "But you might as well get any ambitious notions out of your mind. he is my lover. It gave an earthy quality to her role which fit in with the heightened passion Mariette and McPhail had created in their kissing scene. Linda played the role with a vengeance." Mariette looked around desperately for a way to escape but realized that Linda Devans was right. Tonight's audience was being treated to a storm of real emotions rarely seen on the stage. I don't care to discuss it. I wouldn't have him as a gift. his lover. "I saw how you kissed Hartley. walk-on role. Mariette Anderson was transformed by the magic alchemy of the theater into Julie Long and Hartley McPhail became Jud Rutherford. The entire play was being transported to an inspired plateau. McPhail held Mariette an instant longer than necessary. She pulled back to gasps and thunderous applause from the audience. Linda's cue called her to the stage." said a voice with a slightly strangled quality. no thought of civilized or moral inhibitions.
She didn't feel like celebrating. the cast party was in full swing. "Mariette." said a baritone voice behind her. Not since her father had been killed by the drunk driver could she bring herself to partake of anything alcoholic. His colorful silk shirt was open at the throat. Tonight was make-believe." he murmured. You think I tricked you. Mariette Anderson would forget she despised Hartley McPhail. and she was loved by a man unequaled by any other she had ever met. I know you're probably angry with me. She didn't want to appear conceited or aloof. She ran one finger absently over the rim of the glass she was holding in her right hand. blond hair around her cheeks." Mariette turned. "I'm glad you came. she was in love. She contemplated the rim of her glass which was still full of the soft drink she had accepted. and Mariette was mourning their demise. a beautiful fantasy out of her most romantic dreams—a fantasy that would end when the last curtain came down. and so she kissed him with a passion. His casual stance said conceit. who. full moon.Julie Long loved Jud Rutherford. Here was a man used to having his way. And the set of his firm jaw signaled control. For tonight. She lowered her lashes. "You mean nothing to me personally. chiffon dress whipping about her ankles in the ocean breeze. On another part of the ship. "Why shouldn't I come?" she shrugged. But here she felt isolated and a little afraid at being caught alone with Hartley McPhail. Gone was the magic of opening night. For tonight. Mariette leaned heavily on the rail of Hartley McPhail's yacht. Mariette had lost her self-control tonight in the character of Julie Long. "I was afraid you might not. After the standing ovation given the cast." He took a step closer. But Julie Long and Jud Rutherford had died after the final curtain came down tonight. But she could think of no plausible excuse not to go. seeing first muscular thighs straining against the rich. The sea breeze blew strands of her long. She felt her long. She slowly raised her eyes. for a few hours tonight. But she was herself now. chocolate colored fabric of his trousers. had lived and breathed almost as surely as if she had really existed. abandon and intensity that left the audience gasping. "That was for the benefit of the audience. She hadn't really wanted to attend the opening night cast party when she learned it was to be held on the rich producer's yacht." "The way you returned my kisses tonight told me differently. She heard the gentle lap of the waves against the side of the yacht. she was Julie Long." she lied. Gone was the character of Julie Long. Blond hair peeked teasingly from over a deep red ascot tucked casually but elegantly into the front of his shirt. it would look strange if the female lead had refused to celebrate with the rest of the cast and crew. And this man . His mode of dress indicated unlimited money. She wanted to be alone with her thoughts. Chapter Eight Mariette stared at the pale. not trusting herself to let his sky-blue eyes take possession of her gray ones.
And I deserve to be told the truth for a change." Her gray eyes snapped at him. He had kissed her with a passion intended for Julie Long. Was he lying to himself? Mariette didn't believe him. Had the play been about anything else. I like to stay in the background for several reasons. a girl I loved in college. I could see you would turn against me instantly. But when I saw you on the beach that day. When I met you. For a moment she was at a loss to know what to say. But she was still curious about several other matters. I'm sure it's no surprise to you that many women are after me for my money." Mariette said with a bite in her voice." His baritone voice had grown deep and husky. She sensed he was groping for an answer and had taken the glass from her to give himself time to think. "You do owe me an explanation. I gave up some of myself tonight in doing that. why did you stop to talk to me?" There was an uncomfortable silence. "I said you looked like her and I wanted you for the lead in the play. I gave up my privacy. Normally. But then she recalled the interlude on the beach —McPhail's arms crushing her to him. Mariette. "Why didn't you tell me who you really were?" she asked. I would never have stepped out on that stage. I dared not let you know who I was. I put it away." "If you like to be alone so much. it was. "Was our first meeting on the beach just a coincidence?" "Believe me. I had a serious debate with myself tonight about whether to fill in for Ted Barnes." His voice was not convincing." "And you wrote this play about her afterward?" "Yes. I knew you were perfect for the part of Julie. you see Julie Long. "Who?" "Julie Long. So I didn't tell you. I thought I might see dollar signs in your eyes the minute you found out who I was. But it was never produced. He returned to the rail and leaned against a white post that served as a support for the upper deck. "You reminded me of someone. clean sea air. something I value most highly. I like the fresh. "What would you think if you were in my place?" she demanded. thinking I had buried it along with Julie. Now she realized that she had meant nothing to him as Mariette Anderson. She knew the heartbreak of losing a loved one. because of my money. "So I have been a substitute for your lost love. "I—I don't understand. But I didn't say I saw her when I looked at you." Mariette felt an uncomfortable chill in the air. "We were to be married but—she died in an accident. She had only recently come to terms with her father's death.had nothing to offer Mariette Anderson that she cared to have. You looked like Julie reincarnated. She was a real person. "So I found out." Mariette felt an unexpected rush of compassion for his suffering. I let you go on thinking I . I go to the island quite often to jog. the real Julie Long." he began slowly. McPhail absently reached for the glass in Mariette's hand and placed it on one of the deck tables in a recessed holder. the isolation and anonymity. "I like to remain anonymous as much as possible. After I read your father's letter to you. When you look at me. it didn't matter whom he saw when he looked at her. but since she hoped never to see him after tonight. the character in the play?" "No. Just a happy accident. Then she found her voice. It was as if fate were telling me that the time had come to produce the play— with you in the lead." "Money is the last thing I'm interested in!" Mariette protested bitterly.
right down to William Nelson! And how did you buy the information that I was in Ted Barnes's drama class?" she asked. were you prepared to buy him. She pushed him back." Mariette stammered." "You mean you bought the college and Ted. Whether rich or poor. "That's why it's been following me. calm down. He read the play and liked it. . blond mane. That's when I put one of my men on your trail. momentarily flustered because he had trapped her with her own words. I stumbled across a shack which I naturally assumed was yours. when you were driving off that first day. I found a letter in it addressed to Vincent Brown. his warm breath gliding over her ear as he buried his face in her long." "But you urged me to take the money left in my trust. too. icicles dripping from her words." "That's something I'll never find out. his blue eyes piercing the darkness of the dimly lighted deck. to convince me you really were a beach bum?" "Vincent Brown? What are you talking about?" "The last time I went to the beach. I could have had you anytime I wanted you. And that helicopter I waved to on the beach. Then she asked. "But. too. He agreed because he thought the suggestion was a good idea. The college benefited from the money. Besides. you would still be the same person you are now." McPhail said. with your fat little checkbook?" "Mariette. "What about Vincent Brown's shack? Did you set that up too." he said patronizingly. you would find out that money doesn't automatically make people evil and mean. "You can't deny it." "But that doesn't alter the fact that you bought the entire thing. anger blazing in her eyes.was a beachcomber so money wouldn't enter into our relationship. He pulled her close to him. So I thought you were a gigolo." "The green station wagon!" she exclaimed." McPhail reached out and grabbed Mariette possessively by the upper arm. Women's clothes were in the shack. That means you do care. didn't hurt anybody." he persisted. wanting to get your hands on it." "I hoped if you accepted it. "What I did. I memorized your car license and had you traced through the registration. thought it was mine." Mariette said flatly. back to some more answers—how did you arrange for Ted's entire class to try out for the play? That surely couldn't have been a coincidence. I wanted to know each time you headed out to the island so I could have my helicopter fly me out to 'accidentally' meet you on the beach again. in spite of what you said!" "Don't flatter yourself. "So that's why you didn't return to the island anymore! You found some guy's shack. "You wanted me to make love to you on the beach. "Ted Barnes didn't know anything about the endowment. and figured I had another girl. "You told me you were studying art and drama at the local college." "And if he hadn't. "Don't be angry for your honest emotions. the class benefited from the experience and the community benefited from seeing a topnotch play." "I gave an endowment to the college and asked the president if he'd call in the dean and have him suggest to Ted Barnes that his entire drama class try out for the new play. You were in it and landed nearby behind the dunes!" Mariette marveled at the great lengths he had gone to in order to work out his scheme with her. remember? So it wasn't hard to trace you." Mariette said accusingly. too?" Hot flames of anger licked Mariette's cheeks. I thought it was the coast guard.
and you're willing to buy anyone who stands in your way." Mariette felt an expression of triumph lighten her features. "Except for one tiny detail which you seem to have forgotten. and I wanted you desperately. Now that you know who I really am." "Not in a million years. But I knew it would be a mistake. You're still in love with her. McPhail. You want Julie Long. I felt it. me included!" McPhail gave her a long look and then burst out laughing. too."There's nothing wrong with what you felt. there's nothing to stand in our way. Yes. a dead girl. You stop at nothing to get what you want. "There's another reason I'm not going to become involved with you. ." "You mean my money?" "No. It's not your money I can't stand. It's you. "Nothing is going to keep me from having you. if necessary I'll use my money to win you over. just as I do now. If you'd face the truth about yourself. or there would always be a blot on our relationship." she said emphatically. You had to know about my true identity and come to me willingly. It's that I loathe you. you won't. you'd know it's not me you want. Mr.
leaning wearily against the railing. She's real live flesh and blood. you gave your heart and soul to me willingly. I am not Julie Long. Get out of my life for good!" There was a long pause. the hard muscles of his chest straining at his shirt. The air between them smoldered with a combination of churning passion and unbridled fury. You knew all about Linda Devans and the gossip about us. I am Mariette Anderson." she ordered in a low voice that trembled. still emotionally leaning on her dead father's arm. She realized that for the first time she was experiencing a true adult man-woman relationship with all its convolutions of contrary emotional feelings. but no more! I know all about you now." she said tartly. Mariette sensed an animal hunger in his embrace. His sky-blue eyes were almost black as his pupils expanded to blot out the irises. just as you did that time on the beach. Once you get over this romantic infatuation with a ghost out of your past. and by then you knew who I really was." "Don't pull that Shakespearean psychology stuff on me. There was a great deal of pain in her growing up. Mariette's inner turmoil had snuffed out the life of the little girl she had been up to that instant. thoughtful look as if turning her words over in his mind. as if a caged creature were about to be unleashed upon her. then replied with maddening calmness. I can see it if you can't. In that moment. unaware of the cooling effects of the evening sea breeze surrounding her and carrying her womanly scent in the direction of her adversary. She quivered with sudden fright.116 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 117 And all I am to you is her reincarnation. and I don't like what I see one bit. And I don't want anything to do with you. I don't plan to spend my life being somebody's ghost." He pulled her to him again. I kissed you tonight as Julie Long. but . Never had she suffered such a mixture of pain and pleasure in one moment. He seemed to draw within himself to wrestle with an inner demon. And one more thing—let's not overlook Linda Devans. Mariette Anderson. you'll come back down to earth and remember it's Linda Devans you've been in love with all along!" McPhail gave her a long. Now leave me alone. "Me thinks the lady doth protest too much. Don't waste your efforts fighting the inevitable. You'll always be mine. and you've been romancing her for a long time. The pain of the death of that part of her caused her anguish. McPhail's eyes became inscrutable. "Keep your hands off me. which. when it met and co-mingled. She stood there. "You know what I say is true. looking to him for guidance and counsel. She jerked herself from his arms with a quick twist of her body and stepped back several paces. and nothing you can say will ever convince me otherwise. "It's true you had a certain power over me once. You're mine. created a stirring in Mariette that took her breath away and left her body drained of all strength to fight anymore." "You kissed me passionately on stage tonight. both in body and spirit. but she's dead now forever. but she felt an unexpected strength growing in her in the form of the adult woman she was becoming who henceforth could stand on her own two feet and make her own decisions. Still.
But she was a child no longer. and she was suffering more deeply because of it. and she thanked a higher power for making her grow up. She had bridled her acid tongue and was being sympathetic. and he seemed to draw the life out of her with the fierceness of his kiss. And a woman let her head rule her emotions. That's all it was. She had grown into a woman tonight. She felt afraid and proud at the same time that she had the fortitude to take a stand that was causing her so much misery. who had made her blood boil and had robbed her of every bit of decency and pride she had possessed. Kids let their emotions rule their heads. a certain portion of her self welcomed the opportunity to try out her new-found maturity on such a worthy opponent. And she was choosing to reject this handsome man who stood before her. "I've been looking for you. But she had not dreamed it would be so hard. I decided you two had had a fight. "Hartley is a rat. She looked up through her tears to see a pale. he pushed her back from him and looked at her with passion and rage battling in his eyes. This was the real thing—adult passion. There was a desperate. This was no high school romance gone on the rocks. She was frightened for having played so dangerous a game. "You're going to surrender to me— willingly and gladly. But the woman in her was in control now. She was a real woman now. he pulled her toward him and smothered her with his embrace. Her hands shook uncontrollably. Before she realized what he was doing. Her throat became tight and threatened to cut off her breath. Angrily. "If only he would leave me alone!" There were so many despicable things about him. Then. He always gets what he wants. "I saw Hartley storm down the gangway from this direction. too. just female animal emotions aroused by the looks and manners of a powerfully attractive male animal. he takes by . as if the sheer force of his will could command her to be his. Mariette was still crying softly when she heard the tap-tap of high heels approaching. Her life was her own now. along her neck and through her hair. symmetrical face surrounded by a cloud of black hair materializing from the shadows of the darkened deck. but which she knew to be right. Although she was less than happy at the prospect of encountering Linda Devans. Then his lips crushed down on hers. Mark my words!" Then he stalked off. suddenly. Then she fell into a deck chair in a heap of confused misery and let the tears flow freely. He ran his hands up and down her back. demanding quality to the way his lips moved on hers. she wiped her mouth with the back of one hand. She knew what she had to do. She despised her own weakness for responding to the kisses of a man she hated." Mariette got the impression that Linda was trying a new approach. you know. Mariette was so caught up in her own discovery of her new self that she failed to notice McPhail's advance toward her.116 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 117 a sense of satisfaction. Mariette stood looking blankly after the figure disappearing into the darkness of the afterdeck." Linda murmured sweetly. and she was free to choose what to do with it. She sobbed aloud and cried. What he can't buy.
" "Yes. He and Julie had leading roles in several plays. But once they get what they want. We understand each other. deeply in love. You're from a different mold. his major subjects were business and economics. "Yes. "I know you don't. But he was interested in the theater. a business tycoon like Hartley McPhail. "Because we're two of a kind. confiding tone. with a surprising note of honesty in her voice. "And Hartley was in love with her?" Mariette prompted. Right now he happens to want you." Mariette glared at Linda for being patronizing. "Men like McPhail want the things they can't have. That was her real name. Hartley will come back to me. He'll leave you with a broken heart. by the way—Julie Long. even though he didn't plan to make it his career. aggressive and calculating. He's been mine for a long time." Linda warned. confused at the actress's sudden change in attitude. of course." Linda admitted. "We both turn on the charm for an audience." "Well. as if only guessing. In spite of how she felt about McPhail. he did. The TV actress pulled a deck chair closer and sat in it." "Did he tell you that?" Mariette asked coldly. But she decided to feign ignorance to see if Linda Devans would reveal more details about McPhail's lost love. naive and vulnerable. I certainly don't understand either one of you. He'll never get me!" Mariette vowed furiously. taking drama classes." "Seems odd. Ted told me where you met.116 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 117 scheming or by force. She spoke in a low. I think he could have made a success in . Hartley made up all the other names in the play. but we'll go to any lengths to get what we want. Be careful. That's why I think I should tell you something you ought to know. That was quite some time ago." Mariette said. The drama department critic gave them excellent reviews. If you were like me. they toss it aside. Rats like that often are. Mariette couldn't help but be curious about someone out of the past whom she resembled so strongly." Mariette said. You are honest. too. came as no surprise to Mariette." "Don't worry. I'd let you find out for yourself." "I can't imagine why you would want a man like him. Mariette." "What are you talking about?" "Julie Long was a real person. But I know him." "Did he have any acting roles in campus plays?" "Yes. We were in the same college crowd. youngster. A challenge sets them on fire. I knew them both. I was in some drama classes with both Hartley and Julie. But you deserve to know the truth before you get hurt any worse. Hartley McPhail had already told her as much. "Not in so many words." That bit of information. "You don't have to tell me how despicable he is. Hartley and I have both been hardened by life and by the world." "Well." "Don't be too sure. I know. We're tough." "We all knew each other. And he was quite good. "He's devilishly charming. of course. but I guess for sentimental reasons he kept Julie's real name.
If he can make love to you. Linda nodded. but you don't have to worry about any competition from me. They were waiting for their wedding night. but had exactly what it takes to become rich and powerful. "I know about his picking me because I looked like his lost love. And that's only one more reason I'm not planning to give in to him. He reads dozens of books a month. He has to be tops. He is one of those rare individuals who can do anything he puts his mind to—and succeed at it. I'm staying away from him. He can read a book in an hour." Linda continued. She was from a rich family. Until I saw you. "Naturally. Now I realize that he never entirely got her out of his system. Then he and I became lovers. It's amazing how much you look like her. to be a substitute for that poor dead girl's ghost. He'd begin to see you realistically as an entirely different person from Julie. It was a long time before he showed an interest in women. He's all yours!" A strange expression crossed Linda Devan's face." "That's an opportunity he'll never have." Mariette said with angry determination. He was a struggling college student. "No. But Julie was killed in a car accident a few weeks before the wedding. "Hartley flipped when he saw you.116 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 117 the theater if he hadn't felt a compulsion to get ahead in the business world. it would probably satisfy that unfulfilled part of his life. amost giving Mariette a glimpse of the real person buried under all the defenses and affectations. It was a memorial to Julie. despite her other feelings about him. For a moment the brittle facade seemed to dissolve. and the mystery would be gone. giving Mariette a long. "They never consummated their love." Mariette felt a sudden chill. There was a driving force in his life such as I've never seen in another human being. studied look. Thank you for reinforcing what I already knew. Julie's family knew he would be successful and gave their blessings to the couple. She didn't like the idea of so closely resembling a dead woman. I thought he'd gotten Julie out of his system. That's the tragedy of it. especially one who had been the object of Hartley McPhail's passionate love. Disillusionment would set in." "And they were married?" Mariette asked. You could almost be her twin sister. Almost—but not quite. touched by a wave of sympathy for McPhail. Tears were forming in Linda's eyes when she suddenly jumped up and hurried away to the restroom. and he'd discard you. It was a storybook romance. It was as if a portion of her identity had been stripped from her. He's not satisfied just to be good." "How awful!" Mariette gasped. and why Hartley has been so taken with you." "Did he write any other plays besides Lovers and Others?" "No. He drew into himself and shut out the world. Hartley has a fantastic mind. He spent all his time making a fortune in the business world. They were desperately in love. that was his only attempt at playwriting. "Hartley almost went crazy from grief." Linda said. The next time . He carried a load at college that no average person could handle.
she was her usual self again—the phony.116 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 117 Mariette saw Linda. . . . saccharine air barely concealing an acid tongue—a role she had played for too many years to change .
well-known rancher and oil drilling company owner in this state. "Last night an original play. some of them strangers to ourselves! . She felt a sense of loss. that we are not a single person." She had arrived at the hospital this morning as soon as visiting hours permitted. Hartley McPhail was equally convincing as her lover. She'd be safe and comfortable kissing Ted Barnes on stage. to love Hartley McPhail? She shuddered and pushed the morbid thoughts from her mind. She never wavered from her captivating performance. The audience was enthusiastic. If you were good with an amateur substitute in the lead role last night. But whether she could put on the same electrifying performance was another matter. It was a side of her she would prefer to keep secret. I've read that review at least a dozen times. shook her head incredulously. Miss Anderson's performance lifted the show from a mere love story to a story about love as it touches us all. "Wait until they see tonight's performance! The doctor promised to release me this afternoon. This confirms what I have been saying all along. but not fully ready to give the part of herself up. "That's a rave review from a critic who is usually just lukewarm about community theater productions. Mariette Anderson. and for good reason. She transformed her character. But it was a Mariette Anderson she didn't I know. But at the same time. She doubted if she could go through the emotional turmoil of another evening's love scenes with Hartley McPhail. skillfully directed. wait until they see how good you'll be with a real pro taking over the male lead tonight!" "I'm so relieved that you'll be back in the play tonight. artfully costumed and professionally acted. Relieved? Yes. definitely. Mariette was afraid of the stranger in her. Mariette: you have a lot of talent!" Mariette. the surprise of the evening was local talent. She held the audience spellbound from the first scene to the final curtain. It was emotional exhaustion that made her think like that. How true it was. Ted!" Mariette exclaimed with heartfelt sincerity. It has been she. Lovers and Others. Hartley McPhail. "I still can't believe it. Ted had a lot of ego invested in this situation. had its premiere performance in the community theater. "Although Linda Devans of TV fame gave the smooth. She shook her head. because she was ashamed of that stranger. He couldn't for a second admit that an amateur like McPhail could step into his part and do as smooth a performance. she knew she would never again be magically transformed into the person of Julie Long without McPhail. seated in a chair beside the bed. none other than the author of the play.132 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 133 Chapter Nine The newspaper rustled in Ted Barnes's hands as he read aloud. into the living incarnation of what every woman feels when she meets the man who makes her whole. Mariette Anderson. who played opposite a last-minute replacement for the lead. professional performance everyone expected. but in reality many persons. She wasn't sure if she could have faced McPhail on the stage again. bringing copies of the local newspaper for Ted Barnes to see. had come fully alive on the stage in another woman's identity. She couldn't blame her weakness on anyone else. She thought about stories she'd read where the ghost of a deceased person took possession of a living individual. Now Ted laughed. I still think I'm dreaming. But a secret part of her thought differently. as if the stranger in her who had responded so willingly to McPhail on the beach. Naturally. Julie Long. But that stranger was gone now. Was that happening to her? Had the real Julie Long come back from the grave to live in her body. both male ego and professional ego. Theatergoers were treated to a well-written play. Between them. a stranger who had been sleeping inside her until j McPhail awoke her with his passionate kisses. who had responded so wantonly to Hartley ! McPhail." Ted Barnes smiled at Mariette from his hospital bed. Mariette recognized that and was quick to agree with Ted that the play would go much better with him back in the male lead role. they gave an electrifying performance that had the audience holding its breath.
Mariette listened to the thunderous applause and knew she had held her own tonight. "Am I dreaming?" "There it is." He began reading the news story: "Theater fans in a small Texas town turned out in large numbers to see TV celebrity. written. She knew Ted wanted so much to reach that magic inner sphere that would unite their emotional beings and place them in a special intimacy. excitedly waving a national publication. only she was aware of the subtle change in her performance. Why did she keep getting herself in such situations? She liked Ted well enough. She bit the inside of her lip in anger. But Ted Barnes took her hands in a warm clasp. look at the time. but I'll stick my neck out and say Linda Devans would have been hard pressed to do a better job. I guess. While the play still has a few rough spots. 132 THE BEACHCOMBER . either from Hollywood or Broadway. believe it or not. Lovers and Others. "Oh. as Mariette Anderson playing a part. instead!" "Oh. she was free to act the part of Julie Long from a new dimension. It bothered her that she felt disloyal when merely entertaining the idea of letting Ted penetrate the defenses of her outer being. But guess what—they raved over us. But she was grateful. hoping to soothe her guilty feelings by not giving Ted too sudden a brush-off. in an original play. Before he could respond to that remark. but unable to yield to it. we—we did handle ourselves pretty well onstage. She was immensely relieved." Barnes laughed. stole the show. a local actress. "There's no limit to what that man will do when he starts out to get what he wants. In a wave of humiliation and shame. Linda Devans." He showed her the article. I bet Linda is furious!" Mariette gasped. His eyes did not burn into hers. There was a subtle difference that she hoped would not weaken her performance. Ted Barnes as the hero carried off his role with the kind of professional polish one sees on Broadway. The next week. incredulous eyes. He'll even buy national publicity. too late realizing that Ted would surely think her confusion was due to her emerging feelings for him. Hartley McPhail. She feared that he might misinterpret her battling emotions to mean that she cared more for him than she did. "But I'm not going to lose any sleep over her tantrums. changing the subject before she could speak. She wanted to right the situation. "D'you suppose Hartley McPhail's money had anything to do with this getting published?" Barnes shrugged. It must be nice to have that kind of power. "I have a paper to work on. since their roles were so dissimilar. "What difference does it make? The important thing is he got the story in a big. pressing her lips together. She was tempted to yield to his visual search and let him draw her out. you know. Disloyal to whom? Her cheeks flamed hot. He was convincing. but his performance was entirely different. His touch did not set her on fire. Ted Barnes stopped by her apartment early one afternoon. While nobody was disappointed in Miss Devans's performance. "No doubt. "We're starting to get national attention. even if he did have to twist a few arms and line a few pockets along the way. and must do some library research. Perhaps it would be unfair to say Miss Anderson outshone Linda Devans. Her eyes met his and the barrier behind her gray orbs softened a bit.THE BEACHCOMBER 133 That night." She shook her head slowly." "Wow!" gasped Mariette. coast-to-coast publication. When the final curtain fell. Could you drop me off?" she asked. trying to divert Ted's thoughts from their personal relationship. she realized that she would feel disloyal to her beachcomber. not as Julie Long responding to Jud Rutherford. Tonight. but how could she explain that her behavior was due to her shame over the foolish way she had acted with a stranger on the beach? "Yes. Now listen to this. the kind that could draw individuals who shared a unique experience together. "It's entirely possible." she said hastily. but acting as skillfully as ever. She didn't want to give him any false hopes. "I guess McPhail has been pulling some more strings." An angry reply was on Mariette's lips. She looked at it with wide. I think we'll be hearing more about this play. into a private bond of closeness. She had finished opening night in a state of emotional exhaustion. Looking a bit pale. His voice did not electrify her. Hartley McPhail! What evil power did the man have to enslave her body and her emotions this way? She averted her eyes in embarrassment. Then her eyes narrowed thoughtfully. his large brown eyes trying to pierce Mariette's veil of privacy. Mariette Anderson. by Texas oil tycoon. "The two of us make an exciting team." Ted Barnes chuckled. Mariette stared at Ted. but she didn't love him and wasn't sure she ever would." he said huskily. understanding the longing in his eyes." "What?" Mariette asked incredulously. she hopped up from the sofa and began gathering up her textbooks from the kitchen table." Mariette agreed. Apparently. Mariette faced a different Jud Rutherford on stage. Ted Barnes played the hero's part with feeling and emotional warmth. He got some critics with national connections to come down to see Linda Devans in the play. it was a remarkable production for a local community theater. I can't help but admire the guy in some ways. And this was a very special occasion. She's always news.
we'll take the play on the road with performances in Houston. penetrating eyes in the audience. But it was the thought of McPhail flushed and excited as the rest of them. first I'll ask for a leave of questions you may have. A warm about it. Mariette felt more and more secure in her role of Julie Long. Then." with it. He was as cast. "If I have to. She felt as if he were stripping her naked with his gaze. we'll take it to New York. "A famous actress can't allow her studies to slide. I know life for good. Dallas. Her heart mysteriously began dancing rapidly in her breast. polishing it to make it better and better." she corrected. Those of you who can stay with the production will have long-term contracts with top pay." McPhail began in his strong. She discovered that she possessed a love for the theater more intense than she first imagined. "I see it in your face. I realize that you have commitments here. First. But a chance like this nothing to keep you here. and in this cast. responsive audience could be as intoxicating as champagne. the role of Julie Long. I'll need that college degree so I can support myself some other way. I would like to take this entire cast with us. his face registering a mixture of disappointment and patience. His eyes took in the performers at a single glance and paused to rest momentarily on Mariette's face. "William Nelson can answer any However." he continued." he replied. with an emphasis on everyone that did not escape her. She was as free to Barnes. Teaching drama in a "I don't know. his cool." He paused for a moment to let the full impact of his words take effect." hand closed over hers. Am I right?" "This could be the start of a stage His grin was almost boyish. "Yes. her position at the college. . You'll no longer be amateurs. McPhail was facing the cast. and I'm ready to invest whatever capital it takes to put us there. She could not read the emotion in his eyes. Only when she caught sight of Hartley McPhail's brooding. Denver and San Francisco. we'll find professional people to take your place. Mariette? You're "So what? You can always get staying with the play. "If you return. Some of you have families and jobs you may not want to leave." tion. It's a big step. of course? There's another husband. He certainly was an attractive man. "Broadway is going to be our ultimate goal. Ted Barnes—a stage or TV —on Broadway!" career. But she could not be sure how she felt about him. aren't you?" she contact with Hartley McPhail would end asked. "Why carreer— Hollywood next!" not? Anything is possible with McPhail's "I'll quit my job tomorrow. absence. "thanks to everyone's hard work." McPhail paused again and Mariette looked up to meet his sky-blue eyes staring straight into hers. "All of you know the play has been getting excellent reviews. I believe in it—and in all of you—so much that I'm ready to gamble quite a bit of money on its future." McPhail said." millions behind us. that made her hesitate." said McPhail. I am convinced that eventually this production can be a success on Broadway. "I hope everyone here can stay with the show. Her cheeks grew hot. But if she continued to play opportunity knocking when I hear it. Mariette forced herself to sound casual and humorous. urbane style travel with the play as anyone in the had been brushed aside. "Besides if I flunk out in the theater. my husband would small college is not my ultimate ambidivorce me . For once. and she'd have him out of her He nodded. I think the play has potential far beyond community theater. This professional experience "He's been fully briefed on this project. We'll rewrite the play as we go. following her every movement. but felt transfixed momentarily before averting her eyes downward. How about you. forceful voice. The applause of an enthusiastic. As Ted's car sped away. I'll have to think Mariette felt stunned. If you can't go with us. Hartley McPhail met with the cast backstage to deliver a piece of astounding news. An excited murmur ran through the electrified cast." into the wings. one night. she looked after it thoughtfully. I want you to know I believe in this play." would make me more valuable when I With that. You will be professionals. and he was obviously serious in his feelings about her." she laughed. When we're satisfied with it. "Can you believe it?" "Me things. did she lose her growing self-confidence. "I'll A babble verging on hysteria rose bet you're thinking this could lead to big from the cast. ." "I'm hardly a famous actress. Give this some serious thought. she quivered inwardly. Mariette felt her heart race even faster. he turned and strode away return. She had "You're willing to resign your expected that when the play ended. If only she hadn't met Hartley McPhail! At the next weekend performances." They continued the light banter all the way to the library." —!" "I—I don't know.THE BEACHCOMBER 133 "Sure. the shadow of 132 THE BEACHCOMBER . She looked up It was true that she had nothing into the sparkling brown eyes of Ted to keep her here.
She had become a close friend of just about everyone in the cast. Angrily. and if I stay with the show. "He's doing it again. A new element had been added that kept backstage buzzing. she thought. Those who had to stay behind were in tears. The temptation was almost overpowering to stay with the show. The future of the play was the main topic of conversation at the cast party after the closing curtain. The opportunity of a lifetime weighed against more heartache over McPhail. For weeks. it had been the point around which her life revolved. For a while. The final curtain tonight meant an end to all of that unless she made the decision to go on the road with the rest of them. he'll have bought me!" Closing night of the play was a bittersweet experience for Mariette. there was a high level of enthusiasm in the cast and crew as the play unfolded before the responsive audience. "What do you think?" she asked the scarred THE BEACHCOMBER 133 . Those who were staying with the play were in high spirits. Mariette sat on her sofa. to be a part of this new adventure and see where it would lead. He's already bought Ted Barnes. The next morning.132 THE BEACHCOMBER Hartley McPhail would continue to fall over her life. That night. The choice was going to be excruciating. trying to buy all of us with his money. her legs curled under her as she absently rubbed Rembrandt's soft fur. Mariette was swept up in the excitement.
McPhail said it's a matter of utmost urgency. But the look of distress on the man's face made her hesitate. "There must be some mistake. McPhail was just ruthless enough to fire the man if he didn't carry out orders. but she was quivering with anger. Miss Anderson. A tall." One look at the man. And now was her chance. "I have the feeling that I'm going to regret either choice I make. "All right. and demand to see McPhail. She'd like to tell that egomaniac a thing or two. you old rascal. It's about your contract for the play. "Yes. He sent me here to take you to the airport. McPhail gave me instructions for you to come and discuss it with the business manager. "But I'm not going. She stared at it with a feeling of confusion and distress." She was on the verge of slamming the door in the chauffeur's face. She wouldn't want McPhail to think she had dressed up on his account. After opening the door for Rembrandt to run outside. "Please. "Good morning. It would be delightful to turn the tables on that power-mad money grubber. Hot anger boiled up in her." she agreed. "It's not an easy decision. dark man strode down the ramp to meet her. the chauffeur pulled up to McPhail's private jet. "Miss Anderson?" he asked politely. Mr. If you don't come. She put Rembrandt down and opened the door to a small man dressed in a black suit and wearing a soft. gold letters." the man persisted. "Should I sign up? It would make a difference in your life." "Mr. McPhail's chauffeur. blond hair was in pigtails." "Mr. How do you think you'd take to life on the road?" Rembrandt nuzzled his battered head against her palm and purred softly. His plane has just arrived. He was crushing the cap in his hands as he looked at her almost desperately. refuse to talk to the business manager." "Please tell his business manager I haven't made up my mind yet. He wanted me to waste no time in locating you and asking you to come to the airport to meet with his business manager. At the airport." "I am Mr. and that she was wearing her most faded jeans and T-shirt." Mariette allowed herself to be escorted to the plane. Hartley McPhail was throwing his weight around again. I'm terribly sorry. Mr McPhail does not tolerate failure. You'd have to do a lot of traveling. "Let me get my purse." She was glad that her long. black cap. She would go to the airport. The poor guy probably had a family to support. I don't know anything about going to the airport. Mariette locked her apartment and settled down in the limousine. and Mariette knew that here was a fellow human being just carrying out a job." she thought glumly. McPhail will blame me for not being persuasive enough." Mariette said in exasperation. "Well." Her musing was interrupted by a knock at the apartment door.71 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 139 old tiger-stripped tomcat." He handed Mariette a small business card bearing McPhail's name in raised. She had rehearsed her speech all the way from . ma'am.
feeling impotent and furious. "to your complete satisfaction. Mariette was escorted to the lounge room. But suddenly. She found herself in a compact office. blue carpet and blue velvet seats. "I'll explain everything. The hum of activity had resumed. But the plane was gathering momentum and she was losing her footing." he said calmly. As soon as the plane was airborne. A typewriter tapped discreetly. After the first curious glances. Mariette. he was signing several documents handed to him by another secretary. com- plete with a desk and typewriters. Then she stopped just inside the next compartment. observing his gold monogram on the plush seats. Behind the desk sat none other than Hartley McPhail! There was a momentary pause in the activity. Her eyes snapped fire." "Oh. she thought. She put her coffee cup on the lounge bar with a hard clink! Then she headed toward an exit. Her startled gaze shot to a window and she saw the ground rolling by. Was McPhail purposely demeaning her by letting her cool her heels in this insulting manner—implying that his staff's time was valuable. taken by surprise. no!" Mariette gasped. Several people were bustling around. She was furious at herself for allowing him to put her "on hold. Mariette heard McPhail's baritone voice giving orders regarding some oil and cattle buying deals. "Good morning." But there wasn't much she could do. The man's ego knew no bounds." "But—but—" she spluttered. She marched up to his desk. seething with resentment as the minutes ticked by. McPhail looked up from a sheaf of papers in his hands. the people in the room paid her no more attention. and the words were blistering her mouth. "I'll be with you in just a minute. She sipped the steaming coffee. He and McPhail talked quickly in low tones. The deep furrow in his brow. A man in a dark suit entered the room from an opposite door. McPhail's expression relaxed. He bent over the desk. The man nodded and left. At the same time. Mariette un-snapped her belt and stormed through the nearest door. her tongue stinging with words she was going to unleash. but hers was not? Finally. looking for the business manager." he said. the ramrod straight posture . But before she could open her mouth. "Please fasten seat belts. served a cup of coffee and asked to wait. the hard set of his tanned jaw. She took another step toward a compartment door to order that the plane be stopped so she could get off. she felt movement under her feet. She had no choice but to fall into the nearest seat and reach for the seat belt. her patience exploded. All eyes in the room turned her way. McPhail held up a large hand. Mariette sank into a chair. We are preparing to take off." Then he turned his attention to a secretary and fired off a rapid barrage of memos. the pilot's warning came over the intercom loudspeaker. Instead of being greeted by the business manager.72 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 139 her apartment. At the same time. She looked impatiently around at the rich. She was trapped on the plane and being ignored.
You met me on the beach in the guise of a beachcomber and then playing a part in a play. I want you to see what it is really like being with someone who is rich.73 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 139 all softened when his sky-blue eyes fell on Mariette. that's my business. I'm going to show you a side of me you haven't seen yet. so we can get better acquainted. What if I did? I saw what I wanted and I paid for it—a good price." Mariette was not at all sure she wanted to be alone with him." "You hurt Nelson's pride. "This is kidnapping!" McPhail laughed huskily. "Kidnapping? Hardly!" He reached out his hand to take hers. and I bought William Nelson. I earned it the hard way." Mariette didn't know whether to be mad or frightened. Having money is great! You say I bought the community theater group. "Some people manipulate by lying. they would have been too broke to open the doors. striding over to her and taking her arm. are you afraid? Afraid you might enjoy yourself?" "I could hardly enjoy buying people the way you do." she shot back. I saved the man his job!" "But you're using your money to manipulate others. you're wrong. she found herself unable to resist. I buy it. Well. but she snatched it back. "Come on. and Nelson would have been kicked out. some by using their charms or by making others feel guilty." he replied calmly. but in her present state of bewilderment. If I want to use my money to influence or control people. do you?" "I don't know what else you would call it! I'm here against my will. Now I want you to meet the real Hartley McPhail. You have your mind made up to despise all wealthy people." "His pride wouldn't have helped him much if the board of directors had fired him for mismanagement of the theater! If it hadn't been for Lovers and Others and the money I donated to the theater. Sorry about that last-minute business rush. Now if I see something I want. "Why did you trick me into coming here?" she demanded. You don't really know what it's like to have unlimited amounts of money to spend. let me tell you. and you're taking me heaven knows where." he said when they were seated in the plush lounge. "All you see is the negative side of having money." "I don't know and I don't want to find out!" she snapped. I might add! Is there anything wrong with that? I didn't hurt anybody in the process. I'm not making any . His touch made her flesh burn. "You don't really believe you've been kidnapped. "Let's go back to the lounge where we can be alone." He shrugged. For the next forty-eight hours." "What if I refuse?" "Why refuse?" he asked with an expansive sweep of his hand. "You are going to be treated like a visiting princess. "What's the matter." "I'm giving you an opportunity to get to know me. It's my money. "You are going to be my guest for the next forty-eight hours. "I had to take care of some things." he said. But now I can give you my full attention.
For an instant. his tan deepening with anger.74 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 139 excuses. "I am not Julie Long!" Mariette flared." "What for?" Mariette asked stiffly. Mariette feared he might hit her as he stood over her. "Can't you forget about Julie Long?" McPhail asked." McPhail replied. his blue eyes searching hers intently. "Why should I? You haven't. "That should be obvious." The black pupils in McPhail's skyblue eyes constricted. his muscular body taut with what . I want you to see me the way I really am.
now escorted her from the runway to the ranch house. She could see a lush. Next. The garments ranged from sportswear to a formal dinner gown." he said coldly. the bathroom and curtains.148 THE BEACHCOMBER [ THE BEACHCOMBER 75 she realized was a storm of emotions she had stirred up in him. French doors opened on an inner courtyard. Gleaming floors were of colorful Mexican tile. then became riveted on a portrait above the fireplace. just press this button. Mariette looked around the elaborately furnished room of gold and brown tones that were carried out in the thick carpet. Ceilings rested on massive roughhewn beams. indicating the device on the wall. the wall covering. mesquite and huisache. Then she saw that they were circling a private runway near a sprawling ranch house. obviously intended for her use. they vanished. The ranch house was built of native. the bedspread. She hardly had time to speculate on this confusing turn of events before the pilot's voice over the intercom again warned passengers to fasten their seat belts as they were about to land. Grazing in the brush were herds of cattle looking like brown dots from this distance. Why had she been so reckless as to arouse his ire? He was a powerful man—perhaps even dangerous. swirling water at the flick of a finger. She saw a vast expanse of desolate Texas prairie covered by a scrubby growth of chaparral. This portrait was his shrine to his lost love. Her own image gazed back. She was stunned. A Mexican woman dressed in a blouse and bright red and green skirt welcomed Mariette and showed her to the guest room. "I have to get back to my business. and wondered if it was because of apprehension of what was to come or because of the way his dark blue trousers hugged his powerful legs and hips. and slipped into the dress." he said abruptly. removed her t-shirt. Mariette took a seat by a window and gazed downward. faucets and knobs were plated with gold. for he did not immediately leave the plane. sunbaked land with its native growth of thorny cactus. She picked up a deep purple cocktail dress. soft music filled the bathroom. Hartley McPhail must not have finished his business transactions. She informed Mariette in a soft voice that everything in the room was for her to use during her visit. "If you need anything. The dark-haired man who had welcomed Mariette earlier. Then he disappeared. The sunken tub included a whirlpool spa that sent out torrents of hot. huge oak trees and red flowers while just beyond. Mariette watched his tall frame move to the doorway of his office. When she turned on the light. McPhail had obviously obtained her . stretching to the horizon lay the parched. green lawn. If Mariette had any doubts that McPhail was still in love with the real Julie Long." She unzipped her jeans. brown adobe brick. The irrigated ranch grounds looked like a green oasis in the arid land. She felt a sudden palpitation of her heart. she turned her attention to an assortment of clothing laid out across the bed. Mariette's gaze roamed the main room. The label read "Dior. leaving her with her thoughts. The thick adobe walls shut out the day's heat and created an atmosphere of cool. In the spacious bathroom. Then he paused and turned. quiet dignity. Then she realized —this was the real Julie Long! Their resemblance was indeed remarkable.
Mariette marveled at the kindness and sensitivity McPhail exhibited as he introduced her to each animal in turn. The gored skirt embraced her hips and fell about her legs as if gently caressing her thighs. obviously recognizing McPhail. It was as if a thin covering of formality and reserve had melted away. as if it had been designed." As the walked between the stalls. She exchanged the cocktail dress for a delicate linen frock suitable for lunchtime. The narrow waistline hugged her snugly. McPhail rang a dinner bell. and what he had planned for her. She has a fiery temper. she told herself. McPhail was dressed in a dark suit which served to intensify the blue of his eyes and the blond-gold of his thick hair." McPhail said. English peas. but at least civil to him. Once again. cut and sewn only for her. "We are grooming her for the next racing season." McPhail patted the horse's muzzle and spoke softly to her. She gazed wide-eyed at the mirror. blue jeans and a blouse decorated with filigree stitching and pearl buttons. it would be in his usual flamboyant style. The horse whinnied softly. "This is Sabra. She determined that she would be cool and distant. She saw a massive chestnut head with strong neck muscles. So why not make the best of the situation. pausing before the stall of a black steed with large. iced tea and a delectable French pastry. Rembrandt was quite capable of fending for himself for a couple of days. The limousine carried them in airconditioned comfort around the dusty back roads of the ranch. and he took her on a tour of the ranch. He often disappeared for longer periods when he felt the urge to go roaming. flared nostrils. After lunch. She was McPhail's captive for the next two days. Besides she was curious to see first-hand how a Texas millionaire like McPhail lived." he said as they paused in front of the last stall. On his orders she had changed from the linen dress into a western riding outfit consisting of western boots. The dress fit perfectly. The low neckline threatened to expose the swell of her breasts. she could relax. Or." he said. she'll run her heart out for you. but stopped short of more than a provocative hint of what lay below. and go along for the ride. She had no commitments for the next two days at home. She could brood and pout and fight him every step of the way. "And this is my prize beauty. McPhail directed his chauffeur to bring the limousine. "There is where we keep the horses. "Come on. a silent waiter appeared and served them a light lunch of chicken breasts stuffed with wild rice. making an insightful comment on each horse's temperament and personality. If you handle her with respect. He patted the horse and gave it a lump of sugar from a bag hanging on the . she had been transformed into a fairy princess. pointing to a long row of white buildings close to a circular racetrack. He seated Mariette at a glasstopped table beneath an oversized umbrella. Almost at once. but she also has a rare competitive spirit. let's have a closer look.148 THE BEACHCOMBER [ THE BEACHCOMBER 76 measure merits from Neiman-Marcus. She was surprised that such a ruthless man would take a personal interest in his animals. Whatever McPhail had in store for her. The midday meal was served on the patio near the Olympic-size swimming pool. McPhail began to talk more warmly. McPhail had changed from the blue business suit into a pair of worn blue jeans and scuffed cowboy boots.
She wasn't surprised." she said finally." McPhail said with a curious note in his voice. It does them a lot of good to get out in the open country. Mariette followed silently. "What's her name?" she asked. she couldn't define. I've had her for quite some time." McPhail said." She shot him a puzzled glance. When they left the narrow trail and headed into the open spaces dotted by scrubby looking bushes. He nodded. He seemed as natural in his blue jeans and cowboy boots as he did in his expensive business suits. he asked. difficult to fathom. Concentrate on feeling the rhythm. McPhail saddled a second horse for himself. We keep him around for nervous tenderfeet. They come out once a month to swim and go horseback riding. "But do you have a gentle horse? I've only ridden a few times. "Let me show you how. "She is." Mariette commented.148 THE BEACHCOMBER [ THE BEACHCOMBER 77 door. "Would you like to go for a ride?" "Oh. Then he helped Mariette mount. I'd love to. "The kids all love him because he's so easy to ride. "Julie. You ride with the horse. not on your seat. Instead. His name is Pokey. Carry your weight on your stirrups. velvet soft muzzle." he grinned. white patch on his left flank." she said. McPhail pulled his horse to one side and motioned for Mariette to pull alongside him. Watch. but I won't part with her. Once you get the idea. you go down. She's retired from racing now. a big. black stallion. She's free to live out her life on my ranch. opening one of the stall doors and leading out a brindle colored animal with a large." McPhail threw a blanket and saddle over the horse's back and yanked the cinch tight. "You have to feel the horse's movements. "The kids?" she asked. I have the perfect mount for you. through a wooden gate toward the vast expanse of prairie." Mariette watched McPhail closely. See? Kind of stand in the stirrups. His hands around her small waist sent a quiver up her back as he lifted her easily into the saddle. "You must have loved her very much. She watched McPhail's large frame ride easily in the saddle. feeling her body bouncing jerkily in the saddle as the horse's back swayed from side to side. "You're not going to be able to ride very far like that. it's not hard at all. When he goes up. Why should she be? What else she felt." "She must be very special to you. Charity was not a quality she had expected to find in his ruthless nature. as they walked away. "I could sell her tomorrow for a small fortune. There was a long pause." "She looks expensive." "The name sounds right. He walks with a definite rhythm. patting the horse. He didn't reply. Move with him. you go up." A strange mixture of emotions gripped her." Mariette touched the warm." "Sure. They rode out of the stall area." "Oh. "I like to make my home available to various children's organizations. you don't have to worry about this horse. Then he murmured. well cared for and loved. losing some of her cool aloofness. with a sudden change of mood. He was a complex man. making an effort to concentrate more on how he rode than on the muscular swell of his thighs or the masterful way he . "This is an Arabian horse." she exclaimed." "It looks so easy when you do it. Gentle as a kitten. When he goes down.
"I gave Debbie that bull when he was a calf. You learn very fast. She's crazy about that animal. Again he took her by surprise." "Thanks. you'll be able to enjoy seeing the ranch." McPhail slowed his mount to a halt. McPhail. "He's in the corral back at the main house. she felt more in tune with the horse's movements." "Thank you." Mariette said with pride. Once before he had exhibited a human side to his ruthless nature when he had talked about Julie Long. momentarily forgetting that this man's compliment meant nothing to her. "Curley is a prize bull Charlie's daughter. "Once you become comfortable in the saddle." "Oh." McPhail explained. I had him moved to the corral and called the vet immediately. Mariette was mulling over this strange turn of events when her thoughts were interrupted by a rider approaching them." McPhail said. "I've had the vet with him all morning. is raising." "How did he break his leg?" "He fell in a ravine. "That's it. He was a magnificent figure astride the horse. "Curley is missing." McPhail encouraged." "Who's going to tell Debbie?" "I already took care of that." Charlie said and rode off in a cloud of dust." To Mariette. Mr. After a bit. "You're getting the idea. Looking at him now. "She is taking agricultural training in school and Curley is her project. Charlie." McPhail said. obviously agitated. It wasn't until they approached a gate in a fenced section of the ranch that Mariette realized how disarmingly comfortable the silence had been. She was no longer bouncing against the saddle with spine-rattling jolts. heading toward a torrent of dusty cattle milling around and bawling loudly as men scrambled with calves on the ground. Didn't you get the message?" "No. His tanned forehead was forrowed with lines. sir. The man was a puzzling paradox." Mariette was touched by the genuine emotion in McPhail's voice. waiting for you. She had once read that a man's masculinity was emphasized when he rode a horse." "Maybe not. accepting. We can't find him anywhere. Debbie. he explained. McPhail. . You go on up now and see what you can do to help. it was a relaxed. Charlie." he said softly. A man in dusty chaps." The man's skin was weather-beaten and leathery from exposure to the sun. He follows her around like a puppy. "She's there now." the man said as he reined up in front of them. "Debbie will be heartbroken. black steed. no!" the other man groaned. "We'll get someone else to check the north fence. he fractured his leg. McPhail and Mariette began riding again. "Charlie. "You go on up there now. "I know." "What's the matter with him?" Charlie asked. This time he was concerned about someone else's loss. "Mr. a frayed plaid shirt and a large western hat rode up to them at a fast gait. Rather. shared solitude that said these two people had met somewhere on an unspoken emotional plane and felt relaxed and safe in the company of each other." McPhail said reassuringly. I hope he can save the animal for that little girl's sake. she believed it." They rode along silently for a while.148 THE BEACHCOMBER [ THE BEACHCOMBER 78 controlled his big. It was not the strained quietude of two enemies contemplating the next verbal attack. We'll spare no expense to save him. But then he was sorrowing only for his own loss.
"You?" Mariette said incredulously." she retorted. "Don't be ridiculous. His easy. The red.148 THE BEACHCOMBER [ THE BEACHCOMBER 79 "Those men are branding some new calves. the silence between them was strained and uncomfortable. "Oh. and there was a sturdy chain link fence around the property." McPhail shrugged." "I never realized—" she stammered. It appeared to be a small. Mariette saw a shack in the distance. Isn't there a more humane way of doing it?" "Some ranchers use a chemical method or a 'freeze' branding method. "Our brand is the 'Rocking M. "It's a necessary part of ranching. but that isn't always permanent. They drew their horses up in front of the unpainted clapboard structure. confident manner changed almost imperceptibly as if a certain stiffness in his body made riding uncomfortable." Mariette protested." McPhail pointed out as they approached the milling herd. I'm keeping it just like it was so I can ride out here once in a while to remind myself what it was like to be that poor. A large man with a red-hot branding iron stepped up to the calf while two other men held the hapless animal still." "It's too bad the poor calf doesn't have anything to say about it. She looked away. She had been temporarily mislead by his unexpected acts of charity." She could see that he watched the branding procedure in a totally objective manner with no concern at all for the poor bawling calves.'" "The calves are squawling so helplessly. She noticed that the closer they came to the building. I bought this old shack and property. an orchestra of emotions playing across his face. the grounds had been kept clean." he said with bitter icing on his voice. but again she was reminded of the basic ruthless side of his nature. Unbranded cattle can be stolen. she asked. "But it's so cruel. if they wander into someone else's pasture. Then he pressed the searing symbol on the calf s flank. Or. smoking M glinted menacingly in the sunlight as the man stood over the struggling calf. McPhail sat looking at it in silence. We're old-fashioned here. I made up my mind I'd never wind up like my poor father. Puzzled. After I made my fortune. "Does that surprise you? My family were dirt poor ranch hands. Presently. that's awful. "What is it?" "This is where I was born. "It's no worse than taking a child to the doctor for a shot. "We know the hot branding iron is an old tried-andtrue system that works and is permanent. Although it was obviously uninhabited." he said. She stopped short of saying that she'd assumed he'd been born rich. The calf let out a tremendous squawl as Mariette heard a loud sizzle and smelled burning hide. I'd lose a lot of valuable cows. for McPhail headed his horse toward it. "I know exactly what it's like to go to bed hungry because there's no money to buy food. the more restless McPhail seemed to grow." . This time as they rode on. or to wake up Christmas morning and know there'll be no tree and no presents." he said impatiently. It appeared to be their destination. poor farmhouse. If I let my herds go unbranded. watching a gangling calf lying on the ground with its feet tied together. there's a big dispute over who they belong to. Her stomach turned a flip-flop." she shuddered.
However. . "So you see. After I got money and power. old man Phillips did me a favor by being so mean to my family." McPhail said in a confidential tone that quickened her pulse." Mariette shivered at this display of ruthlessness. it did! Of course." Mariette said. "In spite of how I felt about rich people when I was a child." In her wildest imaginings. I've been where you are. His revelation about his early family life suddenly made him more human to her. and I did. To picture him as a simple ranch hand was beyond her ability." he went on. I thought they were all heartless and mean like he was. It's like a parent giving advice to a teenager. breaking the strained silence and ignoring her question. It's a good feeling to have lots of money. I ran that man out of business. out of business!" "And did it make you happy when you succeeded?" Mariette asked with a barb in her voice. she began to understand what made McPhail the kind of person he was. "See over there?" McPhail pointed to another house some distance away. I decided to make a lot of money for my father's sake. It was a larger." "You did?" "Of course. He cheated my father and worked him to death. but her emotions were too confused for her feelings to surface." McPhail said at last. He died at an early age from a broken heart and overwork. The steely glint in them made Mariette shiver. but you've never been where I am. white house almost hidden by a grove of trees. He made me want to get rich." "But did it bring back your father?" she persisted. I once felt the same way. "What's that?" Mariette asked. She searched her mind to determine what she felt about this revelation. "That place belonged to the landowner my dad worked for. McPhail's sky-blue eyes rested directly on her face for the first time since they had stopped at this place. Mariette. In a way. At the moment. "You're right. it came too late to help my father. for the first time. Now he lives in town in a oneroom apartment. He was a mean devil. "But I know exactly how it feels.148 THE BEACHCOMBER [ THE BEACHCOMBER 80 Mariette was stunned. thankful that the threatening tension had been relieved. But I was able to pay Phillips back with interest for treating my father that way—for treating all of us like dirt under his feet. I don't have to wear handme-down clothes or grub for a living at a dull job I hate. I found that I liked being rich. than any other man she had ever met. "I know more about your feelings than you think I do. McPhail seemed so much larger than life. that she almost believed he had been born grown. "You think I don't understand what it's like to despise people with money. I hated old man Phillips and all he stood for. He had money. "Call it what you want. that he had once been a child who wept because there were no presents on Christmas morning. If it hadn't been for him. It served that man right. It struck her as strange that he had had a father. I might have grown up to be an ordinary ranch hand." "It sounds like revenge to me. I don't have to take insults from people just because they have more money than I do. it gave me a driving goal in life—to put that bastard. "There's an ironic twist to the story. so I hated everyone with money. Mariette could not think of Hartley McPhail as ordinary in any respect. barely getting by on his social security check. she felt nothing except a strange numbness. The parent has been a teenager. Phillips.
He had made her concern for him look ridiculous. all the money in the world couldn't have persuaded her to leave. aware that some part of her resolve to hate this man felt less than totally solid. "It sounds to me like your mother left your father because she wanted to. it's how you use it that counts." "But you can't deny it corrupts people." Mariette protested quickly. Like the comedian said.148 THE BEACHCOMBER [ THE BEACHCOMBER 81 but the teenager has never been a parent. Then she slowed her horse and let McPhail catch up to her. you might find you like the luxuries money can buy. a sudden vision of her father flashed across her mind. She bounced in the saddle." Whether it was the oppressive summer heat or the anger boiling inside her. A pounding in her temples made clear thinking impossible. "I didn't intend to drink it all. remembering the silky feel of the exclusive designer garments that had fit her so magnificently. Her hands began to shake. hot water swirled around . She drank greedily until she realized she had almost emptied the canteen. She knew her face was growing pale. forgetting in her anger the riding lesson McPhail had given her earlier. You're probably getting dehydrated from the heat. But suddenly she felt weak and breathlessly hot. Angrily. If you'll allow yourself to relax. "I'm sorry. and believe me." Mariette countered. feeling better." he said. rich is better." "I hardly think so. A flick of a button turned on the whirlpool spa. I didn't leave much for you. Back in her room. "How do you know? You've never tried the rich life. His only reply was to chuckle in a taunting manner. "What do you know about it? You weren't there!" "Neither were you." said McPhail. "It corrupted my mother." He reached into his saddlebag and drew out another canteen. she slapped the reins and nudged the horse with her heels and took off in a gallop in the general direction of the ranch house." Mariette said weakly. It'll make you feel better. in a manner of speaking. stirring her anger." "You're wrong!" Mariette said hotly. "Just keep one thing in mind. and she hated him for it. Steaming. "Take a drink of water. "I don't know." she said. Mariette didn't know. her head reeling." "Did it?" he asked with a gentle yet firm tone. "Here. her vision clouding. To give you firsthand experience. Mariette rubbed her sore muscles. Only after the first gulp did she realize how thirsty she was. but not for me. "Are you all right?" McPhail asked. She went willingly. She realized she was dependent on him to lead her back. You were too young to know what was going on." McPhail said." "Don't worry about it. "You are absolutely maddening!" Mariette exclaimed." Mariette reached out weakly to take the container of water. Your uncle didn't 'buy' your mother. "Money itself is neither good nor bad. In spite of how she felt about him. she couldn't just ride off blindly across the vast prairie alone. 'I've been rich and I've been poor. and these two days will be more enjoyable for you.'" "Maybe it's better for you. "I learned long ago to look out for myself. If she had not been willing to go. The cool liquid slid easily down her throat." Mariette murmured. That's why I brought you here. shoving a canteen into her hand. She undressed and slipped into the luxurious sunken bathtub.
She had never actually seen one firsthand. He chuckled. was he? It seemed a silly game to play. the pilot whisked them into the air. When they alighted from the helicopter. "Our dinner awaits us only minutes from here. considering how hungry she was. Then they were over the Gulf of Mexico. she met him in the living area of the sprawling ranch house. The fresh air and horseback ride had given Mariette a ravenous appetite. This was a new and thrilling experience for her. McPhail quickly led her across the broad deck to a doorway in the superstructure. Mariette was fascinated as she watched the scenery unfold beneath them. Then. she had gazed out across the water and had seen these drilling rigs. making her nerve ends tingle and giving her a sensation of being luxuriously spoiled. She saw the gleam of gold cuff links at his wrists. "We're going to have dinner at a place you've never been before—and will not likely forget after you've seen it." Mariette was burning with curiosity. safety belt fastened. so she selected a stunning dark green pantsuit decorated with emerald buttons. She saw a freighter plowing sluggishly through the waves. and far more comfortable than she had expected. McPhail had instructed her to wear pants. she rubbed her body vigorously until her skin glowed. with a thick towel. Over the roar of the engine. Below she saw shrimp boats moving toward port. Tendrils of Mariette's long blond hair began to curl around her face from the dampness of the ocean mist." So he was going to be inscrutable. They had been a part of the scenery. She relaxed dreamily in the elegant bath until she felt restored and at peace with herself. mere dots on the Gulf horizon. She had never before ridden in a helicopter. When she was dressed. but she had no choice except to wait and discover the outcome of his little plot." she exclaimed. she found herself in what seemed like an indoor city over the water. When she was seated in the helicopter. This was the living quarters of the oil rig crew. Then they approached the superstructure of offshore drilling rigs. So this was their destination! Mariette felt a mixture of interest and disappointment. The black girders of an offshore drilling rig grew larger as the helicopter approached a great wooden platform on one side of the massive structure. She could taste salt moisture on her lips. with an air of mystery. like the sea gulls and sand dunes. They soon reached the coast. "I thought we were going to have dinner. She hoped they would not have to travel far to this mysterious place where they were to have dinner. Where could they be going? To his yacht? But that was anchored in the bay and they were headed straight out across the Gulf. It was a surprising contrast . AH of her life spent on the coast. He was again wearing an expensively tailored dark suit and a pale blue shirt with a midnight blue necktie. but he would say no more. relaxing every muscle. so it was an interesting visit. he led her out back where his private heliport was located. Suddenly. The helicopter slowed and began settling down on the broad deck of the drilling rig.148 THE BEACHCOMBER [ THE BEACHCOMBER 82 her. The green color made her gray eyes look large and intense. McPhail had told her. She was disappointed only because she was starved. his baritone voice replied. the damp sea breeze swirled around them. massaging her tired body with sensuous fingers. Without a word.
"That's where the oil don't think you feel you've been is. food and recreation." he muttered. We try to give them "Well. "Is your dinner satisfactory?" "Why it's like a luxury hotel!" McPhail asked. what do you think of my life a happy. that was both maddening and McPhail had been right when he said she compelling. toward his adversaries. halfway through the Mariette exclaimed. too. McPhail grinned proudly.148 THE BEACHCOMBER [ THE BEACHCOMBER 83 to the weather-beaten deck and the corridors. a dark. Shrimp cocktails. "Well—you did trick me and bring "You probably own a whole fleet of me here against my will. clean and dry. but generous "Are you enjoying your visit?" and democratic toward his employees? What could she say? To deny that The more she found out about him. Her knees felt stantly. He possessed a self-confidence attractive. baked potatoes and a efficient air-conditioning wonderfully crisp salad. They greeted him in a manner suddenly weak as she remembered that seemed to Mariette to be a mixture those times on Padre Island when she of respect and affection. considering how ruthless he "It's—it's interesting. "It's excellent. leaning closer to her. returned to the ranch. of course." His broad-shouldered frame seemed to The men they passed in the tower over her. served with a system made the atmosphere delicious wine. she nodded. Here. surprised. as if trying to unlock a secret food. I He shrugged. She He stood there a moment longer. "You own this oil rig. oil-soaked. An juicy steaks. McPhail escorted dry living quarters and they need good Mariette to her bedroom door. They need clean." "Yes. was not likely to forget this dinner. clanking machinery carpeted lounge room with a bar. games outside. kidnapped?" "Yes." he nodded. "Most Between bites of the superb people are surprised when they see an steak." offshore drilling rig for the first time." she hedged. spotlessly clean dining room. These men have to live out here It was midnight when they for weeks at a time." mistreated. they're off duty. She could feel the hallways and those in the recreation impact of his powerful masculinity on room all recognized Hartley McPhail inher most basic senses. comfortable home here when so far?" he asked. but now that you're here." she was. the she'd had a good time tonight would be more of an enigma he became. Could it be that he was ruthless stammered. remember. enormous "Have a good night's rest." outside." he said with a mocking Next she found herself in an smile. comfortable sleeping quarters. wondered how many young women her his eyes searching her in a curious age were treated to a date like this? The manner. She was thought he was a beachcomber." "Do you still feel you've been she said. meal. I have . was something she would long both in her and in himself. All "It should be. a lie. there were lighted and a TV with a huge projection screen five feet square. Then he said. they see on TV are men in hard hats "We're paying the cook on this rig a crawling over cables and dirty machinery small fortune. these offshore drilling rigs.
and in a gesture of sentimentality wished to recapture that mood? She wished that were true. These were the clothes she had worn in the play. But he recovered his composure and said nothing about her appearance. McPhail's jet whisked them to Houston in a matter of minutes. would be an experience of a lifetime. . Leaving her curiosity piqued. But a more realistic side of her mind warned her of the real reason. he turned and strode down the hall to his room. Her first impulse was to fling the garments in McPhail's face and tell him to go find another stand-in for Julie Long. a private elevator delivered them to the upper level where McPhail's box was located. she was shocked to see how much she resembled the girl from McPhail's past. on a trip to Houston with her father. What was McPhail's motive? Was he remembering those love scenes with her on opening night. from his luxurious private box." Whatever her feelings about McPhail and the situation. Mariette could not deny her excitement. The next morning. McPhail had specified which dresses he wanted her to take. and a limousine was waiting at the airport to take them in air-conditioned comfort to the Astrodome. fresh pineapple and steaming coffee. to go there in the company of a handsome Texas millionaire and. and she had to grudgingly admit she had fallen in love with the wardrobe. Mariette felt a peculiar shock. his face turned pale. they had taken a tour of the fabulous Astrodome. There. Was she to play the part of Julie Long again—this time in real life? She eyed the dresses with a mixture of pleasure and pain. They had been carefully cleaned and pressed. Once again.148 THE BEACHCOMBER [ THE BEACHCOMBER 84 another busy day in store for you tomorrow. When she looked in the mirror. Perhaps it was a cruel thing to do. Once. And now. When the maid took them from the closet. The staggering size of the enormous stadium that covered nine and a half acres of land had taken her breath away. after she'd had a delicious breakfast in bed of French toast. She would try not to let her personal feelings about McPhail spoil the day. She even went a step further and arranged her hair in the style of the portrait she had seen downstairs. They were the most elegant garments she had ever worn in her life. I asked the maid to pack a party dress for you because we're entertaining some of my friends at a private dinner and reception after today's game. When she met McPhail in the living area. "We are flying to Houston to the Astrodome. But there were also bittersweet memories associated with the garments. Mariette received a message from the maid that she was to pack for a trip. The maid brought in a set of expensive luggage. grilled ham slices." Again he was being mysterious. refrigerator. Hors d'oeuvres and cocktails were catered from the upper level dining room. Instead. The thirty-seat box was joined to its own lounge room. Hartley McPhail was trying to bring the ghost of his lost love back to life. ice maker. watch the Houston Astros play baseball. telephones and private restroom. deeply carpeted with a closed-circuit TV. But then she changed her mind and decided to play along with the charade for today out of curiosity to see just where the masquerade would take her. She pressed her lips together in anger. he told her.
Mariette went into the restroom. Reluctantly. If McPhail were trying to dazzle her. she had deliberately played up her resemblance to Julie Long. politicians—the people who made things happen. ordinary people from everyday walks of life—secretaries. knowing what her traitorous emotions would do to her when she was in his strong arms. housewives. Truly. Below her. The Astrodome. She was astonished at the company McPhail kept. They no sooner arrived at the box before she was introduced to an exgovernor. The closed circuit TV was showing the baseball game starting below on the astro turf. Later that night they sat alone in the lounge room of his private jet flying back to the ranch. His powerful body moved rhythmically against hers to the tempo of the music. Over near the viewing glass sat one of Hollywood's most glamorous. For this event. It would be a lovely compliment. and trying to find solace for his broken heart in having a love affair with someone who looked so much like her. who ran the country. repaired her makeup. a United States Senator and one of the Dallas Cowboy football stars. She had the giddy feeling of being up on Mount Olympus with the gods. but said nothing. insurance salesmen. Reason flew out of the window. all guests of Hartley McPhail. She looked out at . keeping his thoughts to himself. He had not been able to take his eyes off her all day. "You're lovely. to hurt both him and herself. Mariette was grateful for that. McPhail asked her to dance. itself. mechanics. McPhail seemed to be in a dark. splashed cool water on her face. Here. She felt selfconscious. and finally. But she knew that was not the case. she fled into the private adjoining lounge room to regain her composure. AH the emotions she had felt the opening night of the play in the love scenes with him. she rejoined McPhail to watch the remainder of the baseball game. looking down at the ordinary mortals. he was seeing. her feet sank deeply into elegant carpeting. stormed through her. because he was gazing at the reincarnation of Julie Long. They sipped champagne." McPhail murmured. But she was having the privilege of being admitted to the inner sanctums of the super rich. Mariette changed into the dinner gown the maid had packed for her. he was succeeding. bankers. was one of the great wonders of the modem world. Later. with her emotions under control. in the vast acres of seats were thousands of spectators. out of place and overwhelmed. brooding mood. McPhail's party moved to a private dining room on the upper level for cocktails and a delicious dinner of Japanese tempura. when the game had ended. Perhaps it was to prove to herself what Linda Devans had told her and what she. At the first opportunity. she agreed. And for some perverse need that she didn't fully understand. already knew—that Hartley McPhail was still carrying the torch for the girl out of his past. aging movie stars talking to a national network news commentator whom Mariette recognized instantly. Mariette blushed. It allowed her breathing space. After the meal.148 THE BEACHCOMBER [ THE BEACHCOMBER 85 Mariette was overwhelmed and struck speechless by this opulence. She was up here in the rarified atmosphere of financiers. if it were really she. herself. Mariette Anderson. his eyes dark pools of fiery intensity drinking her in. they lived in a world apart. A small combo provided dinner music.
and tried to bring some reasonable pattern back to her tumultuous thoughts. had swept her off her feet. he walked silently beside her to the doorway of her bedroom.148 THE BEACHCOMBER [ THE BEACHCOMBER 86 the stars and the clouds around them. It wasn't fair! These two days he had taken her from her world of reality to a fairyland of make-believe. but he moved between her and the door. When they arrived at his ranch. robbed her of her defenses. His great strength and broad shoulders towered over . Her heart was pounding with dread and fear—not fear of him so much as fear of herself. She reached with trembling fingers for the doorknob of her room. He had dazzled her with his wealth and power.
She tried to pull his hand away. You can't forget that she was taken away from you before you possessed her. "Please —not like this—" He stood there. trembling from head to foot. Now you brought me here and had me dress in clothes that make me look like Julie Long. burning kisses from her lips to her cheeks to the hollow of her throat. deeply into her eyes. his face darkly flushed. You haven't been out with Mariette Anderson tonight. "I'm— I'm sorry. tonight—in your bedroom. Her body had become a traitor again. She tried to look away. She felt him fumble with the top button of her blouse. "No. and with a sudden gentleness that surprised her as much as his . making a superhuman effort to regain control. sending buttons flying. It was Julie Long! And if we go to bed together. I can buy anything I want—including a weekend with a charming but stubborn young actress!" A searing anger shot through Mariette. clutching the top of her blouse closed with shaking fingers. hungering wantonly for his touch. but you're not fooling me! You made me up to be Julie Long in the play. You might be fooling yourself. But then his mouth was on hers with surprising gentleness. He chuckled low in his throat. She was paralyzed with fright." she whispered weakly. over her.87 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 163 her. It was a primitive scene. and then moving to the delicate. He drew a and I decided I might as well go along with the situation. but her arms had been drained of strength. slapping her cheek. "No—please. fighting back the tears. At last he released her." she whimpered." She shook her head. The anger drove strength back into her muscles. She was clinging to him for support because her legs would no longer hold her." she sobbed. "Well. shadowy hollow between her breasts. he kicked her bedroom door open." And then she used her most devastating weapon—all the more devastating because she knew it was the truth." He took off his coat. The next thing she knew. you'll close your eyes in the dark and make love to Julie Long!" Too late. But you pushed me too far. Too late she shrank back in fright. The cool airconditioning touched her bare skin. knelt beside the bed. Then he took a deep. "You haven't bought me! You tricked me into coming here." he whispered thickly. shuddering breath. His big palm shot out. She said. He was towering shaking hand across his brow. having money isn't so bad. Too late. He gazed steadily. two human animals reduced to the most fundamental emotions and urges. she tried to stop the torrent of angry words. She shuddered as he left a trail of hungry. "You see. to avoid that probing gaze that scorched the depths of her being. "And all your money can't bring Julie Long back to you. But his arms were around her. It wasn't me you kissed a few minutes ago. "Please don't. "Mariette—Mariette. A cry of pain and fright wrenched from her lips. Mariette. Hartley McPhail! You have been out with the ghost of your lost love—the only woman who ever really got through that hard. "So you think I just want sex from you to satisfy some kind of unfulfilled need!" he raged. So now you want sex with me to satisfy that longing. Then she felt his kisses burning on her bare shoulder. She shrank weakly back against the door. he had dumped her on the bed. He was gazing at her with a blazing intensity. angry motion. Then his powerful arms scooped her up and with a single. He leaned closer. It was that day on the beach all over again. ruthless shell to your heart. why don't we find out?" He seized the front of her blouse in both large hands and ripped it apart. and she knew he was going to kiss her. "I want to make love to you— here. she saw the black rage in the face of a man wounded beyond control.
taking what little comfort she could from his masculine smell that clung to the fabric.88 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 163 outburst of rage. Now I realize that he never entirely got Julie out of his system. Disillusionment would set in. she would try hard to put Hartley McPhail out of her life and out of her mind forever. But it was a love doomed from the start. She would find refuge in the love TedBarnes offered her. she knew she would be consumed with a passion that would burn wildly the deepest recesses of her being. She remembered what Linda Devans had told her. "That won't happen again." She looked into his eyes. . As for herself. she knew she must put an end to the way she felt about him. ." it might be a different story. . it would satisfy that unfulfilled part of his life. We'd make a great couple. If only he had really been just a penniless beachcomber! If only life had not made him so hard and bitter that he judged everything on a scale of how much his money and power could buy him. all she had to sleep with tonight was his coat. he covered her with his coat and tucked it around her. "Hartley flipped when he saw you. " Now McPhail's violent reaction to Mariette's words about Julie Long. that he would send her packing back to her apartment in the morning and give up whatever designs he'd had on her. and the mystery would be gone. she had opened the door to that torment with her blind. she huddled under his coat. either by force or because of her own weakness. But there were too many "if only's. . there would be ashes of bitterness and regret because there was no basis for a lasting relationship to warm the embers between the times the fires raged." he whispered huskily. She was certain after what had taken place between them tonight. no matter how much he might deny it to her and to himself. "Please forgive me. He'd begin to see you realistically as an entirely different person from Julie." They added up to an insurmountable wall that would forever keep them in separate worlds. he was a man who had suffered torment almost beyond endurance. And even now. for she knew there would never be another man who could awaken such raging desire in her. and in time have a life that was reasonably happy. angry words about Julie Long. tears for herself. So. If only the ghost of Julie Long were not ever present between them. and tears roiled down her cheeks. There was only cold distance and anger between them. If it were not for those "if only's. when she finally admitted the truth in her heart. had loved him since the first day on the beach. She held it close around her. Obviously. . although she could only suspect the reasons for his anguish. If we go on the road together with .—tears for him. She cried herself to sleep with the knowledge faced at last that she did love Hartley McPhail. After he had gone. Yes. I'm sure you've known for some time that I'm serious. But once burned out. . She could see that. . If he ever did make love to her. . her restless sleep would be filled with dreams of what would have happened in this bed if he had carried out his plan for the weekend with her to the ultimate fulfillment. convinced her that every word Linda had spoken was true. Mariette. Chapter Ten "I've made no secret about how I feel about you. But this last night under Hartley McPhail's roof. If he can make love to you. and he'd discard you. . and for a moment glimpsed the awful torment in his soul.
"Ted. worried about the weather reports he'd been hearing." Ted said. The drunk driver who killed her father pleaded guilty to all charges and was given a prison sentence. Things had been going so well that she refused to take the weather warnings too seriously. so she could commence the matter of trying to get him out of her system. yes. And I feel sure you'll come to love me in time." He uttered an exuberant cry of joy and caught her up in a bear hug. she would be Mrs. "I think you ought to go inland. She had anticipated aH through dinner that he was going to pop the big question tonight. Now all she wanted was to end forever his intrusion on her life and sanity. and for that she was heartily thankful.89 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 163 McPhail's play. see the face of Hartley McPhail. Mariette's life was beginning to take on a semblance of stability again. Fate seemed to be dealing with her in a more kindly fashion at last. so she was spared the ordeal of an actual trial. they say it's packing winds of less . I'm very fond of 167 again. "Charlie. we can share a fantastic future together. Now she clasped his hand and slowly put her thoughts into words. something she had been dreading. I love you enough for both of us. Late that afternoon Ted called her from Dallas. "You know how unpredictable these things are. And. I want to be fair with you. giving her breathing time for herself before making her final commitment to become his bride." she said gaily. She already knew what her answer would be. Would you want me on those terms?" He smiled. knowing that her entire future life would grow out of the next words she uttered. Ted had flown to Dallas for a few days to make preparations for the opening of the play. despite Ted's impatience. And Hartley McPhail had absented himself from her life completely. Ted Barnes was offering her a safe. because of the play. She and Ted Barnes had been out to dinner together. But I am not deeply in love with you. Besides. Probably she would. Mariette would stare at the solitaire on her third finger and in its sparkle. As he said. Getting her wedding ring firmly settled on her finger a week before she might have to encounter Hartley McPhail again would be protection enough. secure refuge in his arms—safety from the kind of heartbreak and tragedy any further encounters with Hartley McPhail would bring." "Oh. "We'll get married the weekend before the play opens in Dallas. Accepting Ted's proposal did not automatically erase Hartley McPhail from her thoughts. Ted Barnes." began to threaten the Gulf Coast. It looks like 'Charlie' is heading your way. it was with a definite feeling of optimism that Mariette taped her windows in a crisscross fashion with masking tape—a precaution routinely followed by coastal residents to reduce the chances of flying glass if the windows broke during a storm. "Ted—yes. it'll probably change direction." It was a week after Mariette's shattering experience on Hartley McPhail's ranch. when the third hurricane of the season. She wondered if she would ever see him again. During the following days. Mariette. She had experienced all the emotional havoc at the hands of Hartley McPhail that she could endure. safely protected from McPhail's disastrous power over her. I'll always be faithful to you and I'll do my best to make you happy. Mariette had refused to push the date up any sooner. But if she encountered him her." She was silent for a long moment. "That's good enough for me. Now they were parked in Ted's car in front of her apartment. His proposal had come as no surprise. I respect and admire you. she'd known for some time that he was serious about you. And she had been mentally rehearsing what she would say to him. So. All in all.
People were boarding up their windows with plywood. so she might as well forget it and go to sleep. His eyes were black with fright. At ten o'clock that evening. the announcer said. "I have too many things to take care of here. but it failed to respond to the switch. He purred loudly. flashlight working. listening to the growing howls and shrieks of the wind." She finally convinced him that she was safe enough here. As long as a person is not down on lowland where the tides can wash you away. bathtub filled with an emergency supply of water. Mentally. Listen. At first Mariette lay awake in the dark. transistor radio supplied with fresh batteries. you're all right. Mariette had lived on the coast too long not to take the necessary precautions when a hurricane warning was issued by the weather service. She had dozed off when suddenly. Then she realized a window had blown out. My apartment building is not in any danger of rising water. she heard the pounding of hammers from houses in the neighborhood. about midnight. Ted. a loud crash brought her upright. Weather reports indicated that the storm was getting closer. Although she wasn't really frightened. she went over her fist once again: canned goods well stocked." he reminded her." she said impatiently. She picked up Rembrandt. Shortly after sundown. and held the large cat snugly beside her. "Why don't you catch a plane for Dallas? I'll find a place for you to stay here—" "Oh. Her apartment building was groaning and creaking in every joint." "Those storms usually pick up velocity just before they hit land. All low-lying areas should be evacuated immediately. In spite of her confidence. Mariette reached for the bed lamp. The earlier 'hurricane watch' has been upgraded to a 'hurricane warning. Her heart pounded and her hands shook. she was to remember their telephone conversation and wish fervently that she had taken his warning more seriously. The walls shook like the sides of a cardboard box being brutally assaulted by an angry giant. She dialed back . Another powerful. I've lived on the coast all my life. Never in her experiences with Gulf Coast hurricanes had she felt the wind pound so furiously. Mariette shined the light on him. She had done everything she could to prepare for the storm. and Rembrandt let out a low. The hurricane is traveling at the rate of ten miles an hour and is expected to hit landfall sometime tonight in the area of Gulf Coast City.' Residents should exercise full protective measures. That's not such a gosh-awful storm by coastal standards. She groped in the dark for her flashlight. Later. Mariette looked out her apartment window and saw the large palm trees swaying in the gale-force winds already buffeting the area.90 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 163 than a hundred miles an hour. She peered out from under the covers and directed the beam of her flashlight toward the sound. A loud crash behind her sent Mariette scrambling under the covers. windows taped up. But it was too late now for her to do anything but sit it out. dreading what she would see. She switched on her transistor radio but got no sound. He looked as scared as she felt. she felt a bit uneasy about the intensity of the winds at this point. "Hurricane Charlie is now packing winds of one hundred and twenty-five miles per hour. We repeat. Now she was really frightened. indicating his delight at the sleeping arrangements. As Mariette unloaded the extra supply of canned goods and flashlight batteries she had brought home from the store. wide-awake. howling gust struck the building. She flipped on the radio. The hurricane must be a real monster. she thought dismally. I've been through a couple of hurricanes and haven't been blown away yet. It looked as if they were in for a really serious blow. Hurricane Charlie has turned into a major storm. frightened growl." Mariette felt a chill run down her spine. crawled into bed. She felt a blast of wet air blow across her cheeks.
"Who is it?" Mariette called out shakily. I decided somebody better get down here and talk some sense into you. shocked at the lack of response. So I flew to San Antonio. Contact with someone! But she grew apprehensive all over again when the announcer said that all radio stations in the area of Gulf Coast City had been forced off the air by the storm. She had read how disasters like earthquakes and storms brought out looters. The darkness was smothering. It was the closest station to the coast that was still able to broadcast. "I had a meeting with some members of the cast tonight. She forced her paralyzed muscles to move. Then a frightening thought assailed her. No streetlight shone through her windows." "Hartley McPhail?" she gasped. depraved person on the other side who had braved the elements to rob storm victims. and it was turning its entire programming over to help the disaster victims. When I heard the weather reports." he said. The pounding persisted. They got the door closed and bolted against the wind. There was nothing silent about the storm raging outside tonight. The banging persisted. shaking some of the leaves and water from his suit coat. broad-shouldered figure of Hartley McPhail came through the doorway with a gust of wind-driven rain. to her door in the middle of a hurricane? "Open the door!" he shouted again. Rembrandt paced nervously around her. of all persons on earth. Who on earth could be beating on her door at a time like this? Could it be some poor soul seeking refuge from the storm? Mariette slowly arose from the bed. and she unbolted the door. I overheard Barnes talking to one of the other actors. Her mouth felt dry. "It's Hartley McPhail! Open the door. but nothing was coming through except static. "Ted told me you were in Dallas. Outside was only blackness. The tall. The narrow beam from her flashlight was all that split the inky blackness. Mariette reached for the doorknob. The indicator light was working. She sat frozen on the bed. Mariette. But there was a decided difference. This transmission was coming from an inland city fifty miles away. so the radio was definitely on. That . There might be a crazy.91 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 163 and forth. She was reminded of the time she had gone on a school trip to Carlsbad Caverns and had experienced the total darkness of a deep cave hundred of feet below the surface of the earth when the lights were turned off. "What—what are you doing here?" she stammered. A sudden pounding at her apartment door set Mariette's heart racing furiously. raising her voice above the sound of the storm." "I was. She almost cried with relief when she finally located a spot on the dial that brought a voice crackling from the loudspeaker. Disaster! The word sent a numbing chill over Mariette. Had terror of the storm caused her mind to play tricks? What unearthly force had brought Hartley McPhail. He said he'd tried to convince you to leave the coast. Then Mariette stared at McPhail with wide. It might be a fatal mistake to open the door. unbelieving eyes. A sense of isolation and panic gripped her. but you were determined to stay here. The caverns had been spooky silent.
" She nodded. He picked her up bodily and carried her into the hallway between her bedroom and the bathroom where the roof remained intact. He put her down quickly and disappeared into the darkness. The entire building shuddered like a ship that had struck a reef." she gasped. dragging the mattress from her bed. "Why on earth would you risk driving through a storm to help me?" He shrugged. I drove the rest of the way. For this once it didn't matter whether McPhail had come to rescue Mariette Anderson or the ghost of his lost love. Quickly. She huddle close in McPhail's arms. In spite of the sounds of crashing timber. The thought filled her with a sadness so overwhelming that her instinct for survival flickered out and died. Mariette felt more secure than at any time since her father had been killed. "It's too late. For an instant everything in sight took on a ghostly white pallor. not without a considerable amount of gratitude. He grabbed the flashlight from her hands and shot its beam around the room. Torrents or rain soaked Mariette and McPhail to the skin. she couldn't think of a better way to go—in the arms of the man she loved. Mariette stood transfixed with fear. do you know that?" There was another loud crash as a flying limb slammed into the building. McPhail got under the mattress beside her and pulled Mariette into his strong arms. pressing her face aginst his broad chest." McPhail ordered. Julie Long. "Into the hallway. "I don't entirely understand that myself. driven there by fright. it didn't matter that he . She clung shakily to McPhail as he moved the flashlight beam around the apartment. he was back. She was sure this night was to be her last on earth. As if gasping its last before dying an agonizing death. If she died tonight. We'll have to sit it out here. A sudden thunderous crash stopped them in their tracks. A giant timber lay right across the spot where only minutes before. she had been huddled under the covers. "Move!" he ordered. Above the howl of the wind. One last shudder was wrenched from it by the force of the wind ripping part of the roof right off the building. "I'm really terrified. But we don't have time to sit around here analyzing my motives. You're a very pigheaded young woman. The sky lit up with a fireball of spectacular white light. Under the circumstances. Then blackness flashed back on and enveloped them. searching for some kind of refuge. McPhail tried to get the door open." Before she could reply another shuddering crash sent her whimpering into McPhail's arms. "Get under here." McPhail's strong arm was around her as he turned to lead her out the door. He shook his head. Mariette obediently crawled under. Her stomach churned. Mariette heard what sounded like a freight train roaring into her apartment. Mariette's terror-stricken eyes saw a huge. She found herself in his arms.92 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 179 was as close as we could get by plane in this kind of weather. Moments later. Her body refused to move. "I still can't believe it. Don't you realize this building is going to go any minute? It's a cracker box. she pulled back. splintering glass and the relentless scream of the wind. the apartment moaned painfully. Mariette gasped. The roar grew louder. The storm's suddenly worse. We have to get out of here. but even his tremendous strength could not budge it. A loud explosion and the tinkling of glass meant another window had blown in." he ordered. holding up one corner." she admitted. The apartment building began to shake menacingly. "I'm glad you came. gaping hole behind her bed.
the storm raged. everything was reduced to the most fundamental matters of importance. and then demanded in return. and for now. Only a deathly silence broken by the soft patter of a light rain. because she didn't . but even more to the point. but McPhail pulled her back. the electricity in the air unleashed primitive passions in them that few civilized humans experience. Her mouth worked against his eagerly. she willingly gave. She might not be what he wanted. Mariette looked around at the destruction in her apartment. She moaned softly. and then at last. Whatever the next few hours would bring them. The promises of their first encounter on the beach were fulfilled a thousandfold. the wind is going to start up from the other direction. the wind came back from the other direction as if twice as angry as before. holding him tightly. What mattered was that she felt safe with him and that he was here. She looked at McPhail. but he was what she wanted. He kissed her again and again. a painful death or continued life. He opened the buttons of her flimsy pajamas and his lips found her willing flesh. She felt his powerful arms drawing her closer and closer. The wild raging of the storm around them. or any disloyalty to him. They whispered each other's names against each other's hps. The earthly commitments and importance of their daily life meant nothing now. In what she perceived to be the last remaining minutes of her life. Whatever his kisses demanded. A thin mantle of gray light shone through the gaping holes of the apartment. Yet. "It's over. the wind faded. The taps turned into torrents as the aftermath of the storm brought a deluge of the flooding rain that sometimes follows a hurricane. Strangley. She didn't think about him at all. The silence was shocking. her books were scattered and soaked and her clothes had been twisted and torn by the fury of the winds. True to McPhail's prediction. A hush came to the storm. the storm slunk away. At least she hadn't totally surrendered herself to him. McPhail's lips found hers. The force of the storm was matched by the controlled passion that raged in them both. "It's the eye of the storm passing over. No splintering glass or crashing timber." he said.93 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 179 was holding her and thinking of Julie Long. "Sorry to disappoint you. she had no thoughts about Ted Barnes." she said wonderingly. What few possessions she had owned had been damaged beyond saving. Her furniture was wrecked. In a few minutes. They were simply a man and a woman. Suddenly. For more black hours. It was 6:30 in the morning. as if tired and ashamed at the destruction it had caused." She huddled down under the mattress with him again. they were still alive. They were stripped of everything except each other. All her inhibitions were swept away. even stronger than before. The stillness was broken by the tapping of raindrops beating down on what was left of the roof and dancing on the floor as they plunged through the vacant spaces. We're directly in the eye of the hurricane. she knew she must break her engagement to Ted Barnes. that would have to be enough. No more howling wind. pitifully insignificant before the furious onslaught of nature gone berserk. she would face it here in the arms of her man. realizing that living meant facing the consequences of the intimacy they had shared during the night. All of McPhail's millions had become meaningless. Not only because she had been unfaithful to him. But by some miracle. she thought gratefully. "The storm is over and we're still alive!" She started to crawl out from under the mattress. Mariette looked at her watch.
"Rembrandt!" "Who's Rembrandt?" McPhail asked. What does he look like?" "He's a big old alley cat. Let's look for him. "We—we made it. His voice was strained." She began crying. "Are you all right?" "Yes—and you?" "Yes. McPhail's only interest in her had been as the reincarnation of Julie Long. Last night had proven that to her. But that was yesterday. Mariette had no one to blame but herself for falling into such a well marked trap. The portion of the roof over this section of the building had remained intact. He had the theater. Wet and hungry." she mumbled. just as Linda had warned. "I'll see if I can find something." Mariette said tearfully. quivering inwardly with anticipation of what the next moment would bring. Her bathroom was the only dry place in the apartment. "Yes. She might as well have been wearing nothing. But the destruction around them presented immediate. but I can't stand it if he's been killed. . McPhail looking troubled and withdrawn." "Let's see if we can find him. urgent problems that helped distract her from her personal sorrow. surveying the wreckage around them. She crawled through the wreckage in the hallway of her apartment that led to the bathroom. Mariette wet and disheveled." McPhail murmured. They were separated by silence now. He sounds as if he and I have a lot in common. Her introspection turned outward when she realized that McPhail was giving her a brooding look. She tried again. He had pursued Mariette at length to satisfy that part of his life.94 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 179 love him. she knew she didn't have to worry about breaking his heart the way McPhail had broken hers. but all right. tears threatening to spill over her lids. And now that she had given herself to McPhail. A burning emotional pain spread through her entire body. Last night he had held and caressed his lost love one final time. Mariette thought it was all too clear in the pensive expression on his face that he was now seeing her in an entirely different light. "My cat! He was in bed with me and now he's gone. His touch seemed cooler." Mariette finally stammered. I have a hunch we'll find him okay. and this was today. It hurt to know that Linda Devans had been right. The pain was almost unbearable. At the moment that scruffy old tomcat was the only creature she loved who loved her in return. He had withdrawn behind some kind of inner curtain and refused to let her pass through it. "I don't care about my other things. "I know the type. and quickly turned away from him." she choked. Her wet hair was stuck to her cheeks and shoulders in dripping strands. No. more distant when he took her hand to assist her. Do you think there's anything left dry you can wear?" Mariette looked down and her face turned pink when she saw how her wet pajamas were pasted to her body. and he would find another young actress who could make him happy. you need to get out of those wet pajamas. gray striped. how was he going to respond to her? Would he sweep her up in his arms and tell her how much he loved her? Her heart stopped dead in its tracks at the thought. But first. having to break the silence. different somehow. keeping his inner thoughts to himself. Ted would get over her. He made no effort to reassure her differently. This morning he had buried her forever. Then a new thought assailed her and she gasped. kind of chewed up from too many fights. He's a survivor. and she could not marry a man she didn't love.
"Is this your cat?" "Rembrandt!" Mariette squealed and ran to hold him. The meow came from deep in the pile. managed to get the door open and crawled inside." Mariette bit her lip. they found a woman and small child huddled together in a pile of wreckage. McPhail was opening some cans of beans he had found. trying not to cry. she found her morale raised a few notches. dry blue jeans and a blouse. pitiful "meow." the woman sobbed. "Oh. "I'm sorry." She walked beside him through the rubble to the corner where he had left his limousine. but McPhail's only concern appeared to be whether the two-way radio was still operating. He threw some bricks aside. He talked rapidly. swearing occasionally. picking up bits of shattered possessions from the debris and staring at them with vacant eyes. Then he told Mariette. Whole walls had been ripped away by the fury of the storm.95 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 179 She stripped off the wet pajamas and quickly toweled her hair and body dry. he reached down into a space and lifted out a gray cat that looked soggy and matted and thoroughly disgusted. Survivors wearing dazed expressions wandered through the rain." McPhail said. "Please. A tree limb blocked a closed door to an inner room. I'm going to try to get through to some of my people. The sight that met her eyes outside was shocking. he said. Nevertheless. She realized . then pointed to the remains of a nearby house. There may be more people trapped under fallen buildings. There were also a pair of sneakers and a raincoat in the bathroom. Mariette obeyed woodenly." She cried out his name again as McPhail clambered over a mound of boards and sheetrock. gently lifting boards and setting them aside one by one. Roofs had blown off. Then McPhail took her hand and led her between the piles of rubble and through a gaping hole in the wall. Inside. Mariette heard a low moan. Between them they were able to get the door open. McPhail dug into the debris." He hurried to the source of the moans." she said. "The sound is coming from over there. The personal belongings of her neighbors had been laid open like a raw wound. Mariette gathered that the radio was working because presently she heard McPhail in a two-way conversation with one of his employees. Rembrandt. In minutes. She thought her heart would burst with joy. The cold beans tasted like caviar. "I haven't seen a sign of your cat." "Thank goodness." he said." Hartley McPhail helped them get to a section of the house that was sheltered from the rain. clutching the child as she stumbled to freedom. McPhail continued to search the wreckage for survivors and for Rembrandt. "I think we can get a helicopter in here with some men and supplies. In spite of her emotional state. It was badly smashed under fallen bricks. She pulled on the limb with all the strength she could muster while McPhail raised the larger trunk with his powerful shoulders. "Oh. "There isn't much just the two of us can do. Mariette heard a small. In a clothes hamper. "Give me some help. she found underwear. They had a breakfast of cold beans spooned right out of the can. where are you?" As if answering her call. while they waited for assistance. thank you. When she returned to the other section of the wrecked apartment. "I thought we might never be found. McPhail frowned. With dry clothes on and the raincoat to keep her dry. When he rejoined Mariette. returning to her side after he had made a search of the immediate neighborhood." she sighed. Mariette was ravenously hungry. "We must get some help in here.
The telephones aren't working. We need to find out what resources we have right here until outside help comes in. certain however." "Yes. too. there would be time to face her own heartbreak then. "You have everything at your disposal that my money can buy. He indicated by his loud purring that he would be quite content to sit out the emergency right here. I know that. There may be hundreds of people trapped and injured. dripping sky. "But you don't need me. We've been cut off from the rest of the country by high tides and floods from the rains. There may be women who are injured. She arranged a warm. and hurried back to the ruins of her apartment. the flood waters have this area isolated. and he agreed to foot the bill for any supplies needed. But at the present time. He said to Mariette. He found there were two local hospitals that had weathered the storm reasonably well. Through a network of amateur operators." "What do you mean?" she asked. Afterward— well. McPhail picked up the microphone and began making calls to ham radio operators who were broadcasting on emergency power. How much was due to lack of sleep and the strain of living through the storm she didn't know. Of course she would help—at least do what little she could. his voice abrupt as if he would not abide her refusal to help. . brushing the tears from her cheeks. "Many people may be stranded by flood waters or trapped in their homes. McPhail arranged for food. Mariette heard the slap. but they were short on supplies and staff. His local fleet of helicopters that was normally used in his offshore drilling operation was ordered into the air to ferry medical supplies and personnel and to begin rescue operations. He then located some medical warehouses in the area. "This is no time to go soft on me. They'll need a woman to comfort them." "I admire you for wanting to help.96 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 179 she was overreacting." "Wrong. "This city is without water or electrical power. They need to be rescued. McPhail was able to contact key people in inland cities as well as assess the local situation. slap of a helicopter making its dangerous flight through the rain. painful as that might be. children who have lost their parents." His gaze was challenging. When Mariette rejoined McPhail." "And then?" "Then we'll see what we can do to help the victims of the storm. McPhail quickly got her strapped into a seat beside him. "I'll put my cat where he'll be safe. There's a lot we can do to help." she agreed. She was." McPhail said sternly. that a percentage of her heightened emotionalism was connected to the presence of Hartley McPhail. They need food and medical attention. slap." McPhail retorted angrily. She found herself going from joy to a flood of tears. "The Red Cross and National Guard will be in here as soon as they can. He was soon receiving reports of stranded victims in various areas." Mariette then saw how effective ham radio operators could be in an emergency situation." Mariette admitted. Right now it's buying us a helicopter to get us out of here. dry bed for Rembrandt in the clothes hamper and opened a can of food for him. As the helicopter lifted into the gray. She would stand beside him in this emergency." "No you haven't. the helicopter had landed in an open area on the street. I've lost everything. You can handle everything yourself." she said. He quickly made notations on a map. When the ham operators patched him through to business associates in inland cities. "But what can I do? I'm helpless like the other victims.
a violent splash of blood over a scene of utter desolation. Mariette shivered at the thought of the tremendous influence McPhail had over hundreds of lives. Inc." He continued to look at her. His eyes. looked bleak and anguished." "I think I already have. she wept over each victim she helped. driving force. Was she now seeing another side. one that felt lost and helpless in the face of so much human suffering—just as she felt? In that moment. he transformed hundreds of his employees in the immediate area into an army of rescue workers. "Hey. dock workers." she said.97 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 179 blankets and clothing to be loaded on trucks that would be prepared to roll as soon as flood waters receded. milk and truckloads of ice that would be distributed free to storm victims. "Have you gotten any rest at all?" "I slept about an hour—sometime last night. "I know. It will all hit you in a few days. He glanced at his watch. truck drivers. Don't go fainting on me now. The next twenty-four hours sped by in an endless procession of rescue operations as pitiful storm victims were taken in a steady stream to more. Maybe a thousand. In short order. she had to admire a man who kept his head at a critical time like this and got the job done with such smooth efficiency. Otherwise you'll turn into one of the victims. Whatever her personal feelings about him. all of whom got their weekly paychecks from McPhail Enterprises. "We've been at this twenty-four hours. He ordered canned goods. McPhail drove himself and his men relentlessly. Then powerful arms wrapped around her. Time became compressed into a tight cube. "Sixthirty." "I think I've seen that many myself. Hundreds. She had seen his ruthless.. He nodded slowly and sighed." She looked at him again. she became numb. giving no one time to rest." "I want you to take a break. Mariette closed her eyes. especially himself. I suppose in a way it has." he replied." "I was sure it had been a lifetime." . For the first time the overworked hospitals and to the first-aid stations that were set up under McPhail's directions. sunken from fatigue. It's like that after a while. she felt strangely close to him. I can't feel anything anyshe saw the haggard lines in his face. She felt herself sway. After a while. then. seeing him more clearly as the bloodred sunrise spread across the sky. He looked at her with a strange expression. I suspect. were sent out to dig storm victims from collapsed buildings and pick them off rooftops in flooded areas." "It must be what war is like. ranch hands. white collar employees. Mariette had never before encountered so much human suffering in her young life. seeing'instantly what had to be done and immediately taking the appropriate action. "What time is it?" she asked dully. as they stood in one of the make-shift first-aid stations. In a crisis he was a ruthless. decisive powerhouse of energy and resources." she whispered. "Does anybody know how many lives were lost?" He shook his head. steadying her. She gazed at the sunrise. At first." She looked at him with wide eyes and swallowed hard." "Yes. "It will be weeks before we know for sure. and then touched her hand. "Yes. Mariette was awed by the power Hartley McPhail wielded. Oil field roughnecks. perhaps even closer than in the passion-filled hours they had shared during the storm.
It might help them hold their lives together until the state or federal government sets up a loan program. "I understand why you're turning your back on me. She rested gratefully against his broad chest. They had learned to admire and respect one another. but it's ending. then another. It would hurt too much." she said fervently. Other men looked up to him. I thought money was the answer to all life's problems. It was an inherent part of his nature. She could not marry a man she didn't love. Mariette realized that. A powerful tide of emotions linked them together in their deep gaze." She hesitated. too. She didn't want to hear him say good-bye. and he got things done." A sudden pain shot through Mariette's heart. She turned her back to McPhail and quietly slipped the ring off and dropped it in her pocket. Soon the work of cleaning up and rebuilding will begin. not just a manifestation of his riches. They lost everything. But I've seen that money and power can do a heck of a lot of good things. Look out there. This time they had seen each other exhibit courage and unselfish acts of heroism. "The water is going down." He gently turned her toward the window. You've done a magnificent job. "Is there anything else?" he asked. I guess money can corrupt people. "and the trucks are getting through." The feeling of a heavy burden began slowly lifting from Mariette's shoulders. she was not sure what would happen between her and Hartley McPhail. they expected him to tell them what to do.98 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 179 Tears trickled down her cheeks." McPhail said sadly. But you've shown me it can't buy the thing I want most in the world. I don't know what these poor people would have done without your rescue teams." she protested. "You can never accept me. but she would never love anyone but Hartley McPhail. "I never dreamed when I started out to become successful that my wealth would one day come between me and the one thing in life I really want. When I was a poor youngster. but she knew she was not going to marry Ted Barnes. There were patches of blue sky in the sunset. "Yes. Most of these people have no insurance." he said. They had been through a lifetime together in the hours since the storm. I'm going to spread it among as many survivors as I can. For example. his sky-blue eyes strangely sad and thoughtful." she said in a muffled voice. At this point. The rain is ending. then said. I've decided what to do with my inheritance. even arrogant at times. And then she saw a heavy green truck rumble by. He said. ruthless. while McPhail could be commanding. "I have to tell you this: what has happened since the storm has made me see a lot of things differently. and trying to buy her. it was because he was a leader of men. It has been quite different from the forty- eight hours they had spent together when McPhail had been showing off what his money would buy. and the National Guard. The Red Cross is coming in." McPhail was gazing down at her. "The way you took charge and organized everything. Mariette bit her lip and glanced down at Ted Barnes's engagment ring on her finger." . And I realize all the money in the world can't make another person fall in love. "This has been such a nightmare." "You're wrong about that. It can't buy me your love." "You're the one who has done the magnificent job. "I don't think I'm cut out to be a rescue worker. She liked Ted. "Thank God for that. They really need help. She sensed they were on the verge of parting.
"Your money has nothing to do with how I feel about you. But another part still longed for Julie. She'll always come between us. live girl. I was carrying that old torch. Surely. It was no ghost who worked beside me. I let go of my mother and all that old childhood pain today. That's the girl I love and want. She looked ." Mariette stood transfixed for an instant." He gazed deeply into her eyes. Mariette Anderson. That I loved the real life-and-biood Mariette. He spoke slowly and deliberately. Whenever you look at me. and I couldn't bear to lose you. tragic though it was. I heard him telling the rest of the cast that you were engaged to him. I wanted you—at least part of me did. I wouldn't admit it to myself.99 THE BEACHCOMBER THE BEACHCOMBER 179 Mariette thought her heart would shatter in her chest." "You must! It's true when I first met you. Yes. not a specter out of the past. I did try to bring Julie back to life. I began to see the truth. I was all mixed up about you. when I brought you to the ranch. "Please. Then I saw Ted Barnes in Dallas. I love you!" "I—I wish I could believe that. And suddenly." His voice was choking with emotion. you see her." "How can I be sure?" "Can you doubt it after these last twenty-four hours? This experience. I'm not sure just how long I kept hoping I could bring her back to life through you. He reached for Mariette's hand. She shook her head. has brought us close together and caused us to know each other's deepest feelings. tired. that you'd be married soon. you can't believe I still love a ghost out of the past. Your money doesn't matter anymore. 1 made up my mind to forget about you. slowly turning to face McPhail again. But I fell in love with you somewhere along the way. I was furious. It's something much more serious than that. "You were right about that—once. Even that weekend. That was the reason I drove through the storm to be at your side—that and the fear that you might be harmed. But she protested. wet and hungry to rescue others. It's Julie Long. I saw Julie again. The two got all mixed up when 1 looked at you: After that night at the ranch. But when I saw you on the beach that day. "Mariette—I don't love Julie Long. It was a fleshand-blood. I saw red. I can't live my life as someone else's ghost." The expression of sadness in McPhail's eyes gave way to a rising glow.
deep into his soul. she didn't feel embarrassed at probing another's inner self. or a blond Viking from another age. "Surely you must realize that if there had been anything serious between us. For the first time. "One more thing. . This time. ." she said. And at last." Reassured. not caring that others might see them. for she was reaching into the depths of the man she loved. for herself. . "I've loved you from the very beginning. Mariette Anderson. one of the richest men in Texas." he smiled. I love you with all my heart. she threw her arms around his neck with joyous abandon. I would have married her long ago." "She's had those ideas for a long time. I'm ready now to give myself to you competely and forever. And there she saw the truth—the truth that said he loved her. "What about Linda Devans? She has some very positive ideas about you two getting together. " . "Whether you are a beachcomber. past the outer veneer he wore for the benefit of others and into the deepest recesses of his being." she said. she knew that he spoke honestly of his feelings for her. she was free to be honest with him.
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