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Authors: Barbara Taylor Bradford

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She took off at
a jog.

EIGHTEEN

The
lovemaking began without design or intent. Fiona awakened slowly from what felt
like the deepest, warmest sleep of her life. She opened her eyes. The gentle
pink of the early morning sky contributed to the feeling she was part of some
magical experience. Out of time, out of space. A dream, she thought. Best dream
ever.

She stirred.
And the warmth, the safety net that surrounded her, stirred too. And sighed.
The sound held a mixture of wonder and pleasure as Luke’s warm hand explored her
naked back, and pulled her even closer to him. They were so close that they
seemed like two halves of one being.

The memory of
what had happened crept in slowly, the terror mitigated by the warmth of Luke’s
embrace. She wondered if she had died in the river, and ascended to some
unearthly plane, where feelings were heightened and the joining of two bodies
was as natural as breathing.

Her hand
traced the strong lines of his face, trailing across the stubble of his beard,
until she felt his mouth. She slid a finger inside, exploring. Her breath caught
as he gently sucked her finger.

He took her
hand in his and ran his tongue along the outlines of each digit, running his
teeth over the tips and sucking tenderly. He ran her hand over his face, lightly
biting at her palm, tasting her and the river, and something close to bliss.

The kiss came
unexpectedly. Their lips touched, lightly at first, then deepened into
something which, although it was the first kiss, seemed practiced, timeless,
inevitable. It was a kiss that sent shockwaves through the body.

When they
could bear it, they pulled away from each other and looked. Stared, really,
into the eyes of a person each had known for less than twenty-four hours. As
they continued to look, there was no guile, no pretense, only an
acknowledgement of the growing passion which was taking control of them.

Now there was
no time for contemplation. There was only the exploration of bodies, the wonder
of discovery. And need. The desperate need to become one.

Luke’s mouth
found her nipples, explored them with his tongue until both stood erect. Fiona
was unable to control her moans of pleasure.

When he finally
entered her she was ready, shivering with desire and anticipation. His manhood was
hard but there was no discomfort, just the feeling of being whole at last. Once
inside her he seemed to grow and grow until he filled every soft crevice. She pushed
against him.

“Don’t move,” he
whispered.

“I have to,” she
gasped.

“Wait. Look at
me, Fiona. Stay with me. Don’t move.”

Her blue eyes
fluttered open. The look in his eyes startled her. It was not one of lust, but of
love. She forced herself to stay quiet. And then he was moving against her, and
they were in unison. Their feelings surged again and again, until finally they collapsed,
filled with ecstasy and joy, and the understanding that this was forever.

NINETEEN

Hayley
slowed her jog to a walk. Things were in such a tangle at the shoreline. If she
went too fast she could miss something. The colonel had said they might find shacks
tucked away in the woods by the shore, that there was everything in this river
from stripers to trout.

Hayley
shuddered as she watched the cold water surge and whirl, hoping her friends
were not in there as well. She walked on slowly, scanning the shoreline and the
cliffs. And that was how she spotted it.

It was caught
between two rocks in shallow water near the shore. The filmy piece of silk was
waving to and fro in the water like some exotic fish. But it wasn’t a fish. It
was the antique Hermès scarf she had bought for Fiona, in one of her Third Avenue
haunts, just after they had booked their first major party.

She knew she
should blow two blasts on her whistle but she just couldn’t do it. This was
part of Fiona. She wasn’t going to let it be shoved into some evidence bag, to
be fingered by God knows how many hands.

She waded into
the water and carefully loosened the scarf from the rocks. Had it ended up
there when Fiona crawled out of the river alive? Or had it been wrested from
her neck as she and Luke were pulled down into the river and pushed out to sea?

She carefully
wrung the water out of the scarf, shook it and put it around her neck for good
luck. This was an omen. They were alive. She would will it to be true.

She froze as
she heard the sound of a whistle from upstream. Two long blasts. She looked
back, waiting to hear shouts of joy, or the strange silence that seemed to
accompany death.

Time stood
still, or so it seemed. She could hear herself breathing. And then it came: the
all clear. Three short blasts. False alarm.

The search
would continue.

TWENTY

Fiona
awakened to the smells and sounds of a wood fire crackling in the home-made
stove. But she didn’t open her eyes. If this was a dream she didn’t want to
wake up. She purred and stretched like a cat.

Luke, naked,
had hung their clothes around the fire to dry. He sat down next to her on the little
cot and adjusted the blankets around her. “Are you cold?” he asked, kissing her
forehead.

“Are you
crazy?” she grinned. “I’m on fire.”

He swept her
up into his arms and covered her face, her hair, her ears, her neck with
kisses. “Where have you been all my life?” he asked, abandoning the blankets
and pulling her, also naked, onto his lap.

She felt
neither shame nor embarrassment. She put her arms around his neck. “I’ve been
waiting for you,” she said. “But, for your information, a dinner date and
flowers would have been a preferable alternative to going over a cliff on a
train.”

“Just trying
to get your attention,” he said, twisting her hair in his hands.

“Mission
accomplished.”

He kissed her.
“Glad to hear it. I can’t offer flowers, but the fishermen who own this place
left the makings of a meal here.”

He went to the
shelf lining one wall. “I can offer you beans, corned beef hash, tuna, more
beans, condensed milk, Spam, and, yes, more beans. There are some tea bags here,
but I’d have to use water from the river.”

“I’ve drunk
quite enough of the Delaware, thank you very much.” She spotted something and got
up. From behind a cracker tin she extracted a dusty pint of Jack Daniels, which
she brandished.

“Now you're
talking,” Luke said.

“Mr. Thompson,
I have your usual all ready for you,” she said, mimicking the conductor on the
train.

He accepted
the bottle and took a long swig. “Nectar of the gods. And for the lady?”

“I’ll have a
little of that nectar,” she said. “I’d sell my sister for one of those Krispy
Kremes right about now.”

“Didn’t even know
you had a sister.”

“No, but
Hayley comes close.”

“For me too.
She’s like the kid sister I never had.”

“To Hayley,” Fiona
said, raising the bottle and taking another swig.

“To Hayley,” he
echoed. “For bringing us together.” And he pulled her into an embrace which was
tinged with desire.

TWENTY-ONE

Hayley,
her heart pumping with joy and hope, raced toward the plume of smoke emanating
from the little hut in the woods. She had seen the tracks soon after she found
the scarf, and had been following them.

She stopped, and
studied the hollowed-out place in the rocky sand where someone had fallen and
then been half-dragged toward the cabin. It gave her a jolt, but she refused to
let her mind go to that dark place. They were both in that cabin, and they were
both alive and well.

She hugged
herself, thinking how they’d all laugh about this one day, and the luck that
allowed her to be the one to rescue the two people who meant the most to her on
earth. Next to her jerk of a brother, Mikey, who was dead to her, at least
until tomorrow.

She walked
quietly up to the hut, slowing her breathing. She didn’t know what kind of
shape they’d be in, but she was ready for any eventuality. Or so she thought. But
she was not ready for what she saw through the window.

She turned and
ran. Ran hell for leather away from the cabin, away from the pain, the
betrayal. She ran back toward the rest of the search party, until she could run
no farther. She sunk to her knees by the river, sobs of pain and rage wracking
her body.

This was not
to be borne! This thing, whatever it was, between her two former friends would
not stand. She would see to that. One day, and soon, they would feel the pain
she was feeling right now, most especially Fiona.

She wrenched
the whistle from her neck and blew two long blasts, then ten, then twenty. She
blew and blew that whistle until she had no strength left to do anything else
but crawl to her feet and stagger away to make her plans.

TWENTY-TWO

By
late spring Fiona Chambers and Luke Thompson had become household names. Their
heroic rescue of nine souls from a train, dangling precariously over the
Delaware River, was the stuff from which legends are made.

The subsequent
search for the couple, after their forty-foot plunge from the cliff into the
icy water, was followed breathlessly on seven continents.

When they were
rescued, miraculously intact, and, more important to the story, in love with
each other, the frenzy of the paparazzi became all-consuming.

And the
grinding resentment that grew and grew within Hayley’s heart turned into a
cancerous lesion, eating away at her humanity. When the business she had founded
with Fiona returned to normal, or what would have to pass for normal from then
on, everything felt like a slight to her. The role of expeditor she had carved
out for herself now felt somehow demeaning. Fiona’s natural ability to charm
clients and draw in business seemed false and exploitative.

And most of
all, Luke,
her Luke
, whom she had loved for so long, appeared to be a
puppet manipulated by Hayley’s false friend. He was unable to see Fiona as
Hayley saw her now. She was not worthy of Luke, and Hayley knew it was up to
her to show him that.

And she knew
just how and when to do it.

The Edward R.
Murrow Awards dinner, the event that created this whole situation, was coming
up. It would be a night no one would forget for a long time. Hayley would see
to that. Since she had been relegated to what she now saw as the thankless
tasks, the grunt part of the work, no one checked on her. She could make that
evening anything she chose it to be. It was completely in her control.

Mikey stuck
his head in the door, glancing nervously around, wondering if Hayley had
stashed a mallet somewhere to hit him over the head. She had not spoken a civil
word to him since that little incident about the borrowed money on the night of
the train crash.

“You’re not
going to yell at me again, are you?” he whined.

“That depends.
I want you to do something for me.”

Mikey was only
too eager to clean up things with his meal ticket. And he hated it when Hayley
was mad at him. She could be very scary. “Sure, name it.”

“It involves
Eddie Rivers,” Hayley said casually.

“Oh, jeez,
Hayley. I gotta steer clear of him for a while. You know, until I can work out
the details of a business deal we have a misunderstanding about.”

“How much do
you owe him?”

Mikey was
starting to back toward the door. “It’s nothing like that!”

“How much?”

“About eleven large.
More like twenty with the vig.”

“Twenty
thousand dollars! How could you let that blood sucker…” She forced herself to
calm down. “You do this thing for me, I pay off Eddie Rivers. All of it.”

Mikey stared
at her. “For real?”

“For real.”

“Oh, Hayley. Sweetie.
I don't know how to thank you. The guy’s been talking about, you know, car
rides, accidents happening. Scary stuff.”

“I’m not doing
it to keep you from getting tossed in the East River. It’s a business
arrangement. You do a job for me, I pay your debt.”

Mikey couldn’t
stop fidgeting. Something about the ice he saw in his sister’s eyes was frightening
him. “What do I have to do?” he asked cautiously.

“It shouldn’t
be a problem.” Hayley smiled. “It’s right up your alley. I want you to steal
something for me.”

TWENTY-THREE

Fiona
was putting the finishing touches to the plans for Luke’s award dinner. She had
to check and double-check every detail in advance as there would be no time for
last-minute adjustments. Luke had insisted that his fiancée be sitting at his
side on the dais, when he received the honor.

She walked out
onto the small terrace that ran the length of Luke’s Chelsea apartment, and
watched a humongous ship make its way down the river and out to sea. Most
likely the behemoth was headed for some island in the Caribbean, with imported
white sand and twelve-dollar drinks sprouting little paper umbrellas.

How her life—hers
and Luke’s, and even Hayley’s—had changed since that fateful train ride. She
had become ill with a chronic lung infection, from drinking half a muddy river,
had acquired a slight limp that lingered from a badly sprained ankle, and a
fiancé! Luke had asked her to marry him even before the National Guard
helicopters lifted them from the riverbank, and then whisked them to safety and
a firestorm of unwanted publicity.

She could no
longer simply go to work. Instead she had to fight her way through a crowd of
reporters to enter the
Celebration
offices, or her Gramercy Park
apartment.

Miraculously,
the paparazzi had not yet found Luke’s New York pied-à-terre, but despite the
elaborate routes they used to travel here undetected, both she and Luke knew
this precious privacy could be over at any time. She found herself sympathizing
with celebrities.

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