Chapter 21

We have set out together on an adventure to give the world the best computer humankind can produce. We will support and stand by our products, placing quality and integrity above ail else. We relish the adventure because it gives us the opportunity to put ourselves to the test of excellence.

Statement of Mission

SysVal Computer Corporation

The money came rolling in. Slick, green, fast money. Hot money. New money. Money aching to be spent.

The seventies whirled into the eighties, and the greatest industrial joy ride of the twentieth century picked up speed. Silicon Valley was awash in electronic gold as capitalism struck its finest hour.

Home video games had already captured the imagination of the American family, and by 1982, the idea of having a computer in the house no longer seemed strange at all. Firms sprang up overnight. Some of them collapsed just as quickly, but others left their founders with almost unimaginable riches.

In the posh communities of Los Gatos, Woodside, and Los Altos Hills, the electrical engineers stepped out of their hot tubs, stuffed their plastic pocket protectors into Armani shirts, hopped into their BMW’s, and laughed like hell.

By the fall of 1982, the nerds owned the Valley. The bespeckled, pimply-faced, overweight, underweight, dateless, womanless, goofiest of the goofy, were the undisputed, unchallenged kings of the entire freaking Valley!

Man, it was sweet.

Yank pulled his Porsche 911 crookedly into a parking space at SysVal’s main building and then headed up the walk toward the main entrance. He nodded absentmindedly at the two female account executives who had stopped in mid-conversation as he approached and gazed wistfully at the retreating back of his leather bomber jacket. Once inside the lobby, he determinedly ignored the security guard stationed behind the elliptical-shaped desk.

Everyone else who worked at SysVal had to show a plastic security badge to be admitted. Even Sam wore a badge. But Yank pretended the badges didn’t exist, and Susannah had left orders that the guards were to admit him on sight.

Logically, he understood that those golden days of Homebrew were gone forever-the days of free and open information, of one for all and all for one. It was September of 1982. John Lennon was dead, Ronald Reagan was in the White House, and Uncle Sam had just busted up AT &T. The world was changing, and the Valley was filled with industrial spies intent on stealing the latest American technology and selling it to the Japanese, the Russians, or even a new start-up in the next industrial park. SysVal’s astounding success had made it a prime target for those roaches of humanity. Yank understood all that. But he still wouldn’t wear a security badge.

As he headed down the hallway toward the multimillion-dollar lab that had been built especially for him, he had the nagging sensation that he had forgotten something very important. But he dismissed his worry. What could be more important than solving the problem with the trace lines of solder on their new circuit board? They were too close. He had an idea…

Ten miles away, in the gilt and brocade bedroom of his Portola Valley home, lingerie model Tiffani Wade’s carefully arranged seductive pose was ruined by the frown marring her forehead. “Yank? Yank, you can come back in now. I’m ready.”

She called out three more times before she realized that no one was going to answer, then she sagged back into the pillows. “You son of a bitch,” she muttered. “You’ve done it to me again.”

Susannah shut off the Blaze III that rested on the credenza behind her desk and stretched. Somewhere in the building one of the employees fired off an air horn. She barely noticed. At SysVal, people were always firing off air horns or calling out Bingo numbers over the loudspeaker system, just so no one ever made the mistake of confusing them with IBM or FBT.

As if someone had overheard her thoughts, the loudspeaker began to squawk. “Mayday, Mayday. The Japanese have just attacked the parking lot. All employees driving domestic cars should immediately take cover. This is not a drill. I repeat. This is not a drill.”

Susannah rolled her eyes. God forbid they should ever have a real emergency. No one would believe it.

SysVal’s employees were primarily men in their twenties, and they prided themselves on being bad. In the six years since the company was founded, Sam Gamble’s personality had become their model. Even the whiz kids at Apple Computer weren’t as raunchy, as brazen, as wild as the rowdy bunch at SysVal. At Apple they held Friday afternoon beer blasts, but at SysVal they showed stag movies, too. The boys of SysVal strutted their stuff-their youth, their audaciousness, their sense of destiny. They were the ones who had made the magical little Blaze available to the world and helped humanity learn the beauty of personal computing. Like their brash, charismatic founder, they were young, invincible, immortal.

Taking off her glasses, Susannah rubbed the bridge of her nose, then looked across her office at a much-abused dart board with the Apple logo painted on it. She thought about the five of them-Jobs and Woz, Sam, Yank, herself. All of them college dropouts. Freaks, nerds, rebels, and one overly polite socialite. In the five years that had passed since the West Coast Computer Faire, everything they touched had turned to gold. It was as if the gods had blessed them with youth, brains, and unlimited good luck. On paper, anyway, she and her partners were worth over a hundred million dollars each, while at Apple, Steve Jobs was worth more than three hundred million. Sometimes the enormity of their success scared Susannah to death.

The battered Apple dart board gave visual evidence of the early rivalry between the two young companies, but in the past few years that had changed. With trie dawning of the 1980s, the Big Boys had finally lifted their heads and realized that they had been left behind. Late in 1981, IBM had introduced the IBM-PC. Apple Computer, in a display of bravado that Susannah still wished SysVal had thought of first, had taken out a full-page ad in the nation’s newspapers. The ad said, WELCOME IBM. SERIOUSLY. A paragraph of copy had followed in which the brash young upstarts at Apple had assumed the role of the wise old men of the industry and spelled out for Mighty IBM all of the glories of personal computing-as if IBM were too inexperienced, too stupid, too wet-behind-the-ears, to figure it out for themselves. The sheer audacity of it had kept the business community laughing for months.

A custom-designed radio-controlled car zoomed into her office, did a three sixty in the middle of her carpet and zoomed out again with no sign of a human operator. SysVal’s engineers were entertaining themselves again.

Rubbing her eyes, she pushed a stray lock of hair away from her face. Her hair was shorter now, cut in a breezy style that feathered around her cheeks and softened the sharp, aristocratic features of her face. Since no important meetings were on her docket for that day, she had dressed informally in a coral cowl-neck sweater and tight, straight-legged jeans. Two slim gold bangles glittered at one wrist and a wide gold cuff hugged the other. The third finger of her right hand sported a two-karat marquis-cut diamond that she had bought for herself. More, she had definitely concluded, was better than less.

On impulse, she reached for her telephone and dialed the number that connected her directly with Mitch’s private office. But before the phone could ring, he walked through her door.

“Mental telepathy,” she said, some of her tension slipping away merely at the sight of his solid, comforting presence. “I was just calling you.”

He slumped wearily into the chair opposite her desk. “Somebody left a bra in the hallway.”

“As long as the person who lost it isn’t running around bare-chested, don’t complain.”

Of them all, Mitch had changed the least. The blunt planes of his face had hardened a bit, and a few strands of gray had begun to weave through the sandy hair at his temples. But his body hadn’t lost any of its tone. At thirty-seven, SysVal’s Executive Vice-President of Sales and Marketing was still as solid as the Buckeye wide receiver who had won a place in Woody Hayes’s heart.

Mitch was the most respectable corporate officer SysVal had, a wonderful piece of white bread who thought nothing of flying across the country to watch one of his kids play soccer, and was recently honored as the Bay Area Jaycees’ Man of the Year for his civic contributions. Over the years, he and Susannah had developed a deep friendship.

She saw at once that he was exhausted. He had been driving himself for months, trying to win a multimillion-dollar contract with the state of California to install the Blaze III in hundreds of its state offices. The contract would provide the capitalization SysVal needed to finish up the work on the Wildfire and launch their new business computer ahead of the competition. Unfortunately, SysVal’s competition for the contract was FBT, and Cal Theroux had been lobbying hard for the Falcon 101, FBT’s new personal computer. Although the entry of giant corporations like IBM and FBT had legitimized the personal computer, it had also made things a lot tougher.

“Be honest with me,” he said, as he stretched out his legs. “Do you think I’m stuffy?”

“You? Perish the thought.”

“I’m not joking. I want to know.”

“You’re serious?”

He nodded.

“Yes. You’re definitely stuffy.”

“Well, thank you. Thank you so very much.” He glared at her, a picture of offended dignity.

She smiled. “Does this sudden soul searching have anything to do with your relationship with the beautiful, talented, and terminally obnoxious Jacqueline Dane?”

“Jacqueline is not obnoxious. She is one of the finest actresses in this country.”

“As she is quick to point out. Did you see that television interview she gave last week where she went on and on about the importance of making serious films and doing serious work? She kept pushing her fingers through her hair like she had mange or something. I have never yet seen that woman give an interview where she hadn’t managed to work in the fact that she has a degree from Yale. She bites her fingernails, too.”

He gave her his best stony-eyed gaze. “I suppose you would prefer it if I started dating bimbos like Yank does.”

“You and Yank could do each other big favors by trading women for a few months. Yank needs to date someone with an IQ that’s higher than the speed limit, and you need to find a woman who can lighten up a little. Honestly, Mitch, I can’t believe Jacqueline had the nerve to call you stuffy. I think her face would crack if she ever tried to smile.”

“You just said I was stuffy,” he pointed out.

“I’m allowed to say that because I’m one of the best friends you have, and I adore you. She, on the other hand, only cares about dead philosophers with names no sensible person can spell.”

“I had my fill of party girls when I was married to Louise. I like serious women.”

Susannah shook her head in disgust. There was simply no reasoning with him. In the past six years, Mitch had had long-term relationships with three women, all brilliant, beautiful, and sober-minded. Susannah still couldn’t make up her mind which one of them she detested the most. At heart he was a family man, and Susannah was afraid he might actually marry Jacqueline Dane. And if her suspicions were right, the actress would jump at the offer. Mitch had a funny effect on women. For someone who was basically a stuffed shirt, he certainly didn’t have any trouble finding bedroom companions.

She knew she was beating a dead horse, but she plunged in anyway. “Why won’t you let me pick out some women for you? Really, Mitch, I know just the sort of person you need. Someone who’s intelligent, but warm. Someone who won’t try to mother you, since I know you hate that. A woman with a sense of humor to make up for the fact that you have absolutely none.” It wasn’t true. Mitch had a wonderful sense of humor, but it was so dry that most people didn’t appreciate it. “A woman without much libido, since you’re getting older and you probably don’t have the sex drive you used to.”

“That’s it.” He stood and glared at her. “My libido isn’t any of your business, Miss Hot Shot.”

“Touchy, touchy.” She tried to imagine herself joking with a man about his sex drive six years ago and failed. SysVal had changed them all.

He finally smiled. “Now that you’re filthy rich, you’ve turned into a real brat, do you know that?”

“We’re all filthy rich. And I’m not a brat.”

She noticed the strain that had been evident when he had come into her office had dissipated. The company was a pressure cooker of activity with a new crisis popping up every hour, and she and Mitch had long ago discovered that baiting each other worked as well as anything else to relax them both.

An angry male voice blared through the loudspeaker. “Whichever son of a bitch took DP27E’s new HP calculator had better get the fucker back to the office right now!”

Mitch’s expression grew pained, and he lifted a disapproving eyebrow toward the speaker. “Susannah?”

She sighed. “I’ll put out another obscenity memo.” They had learned years ago that it was useless to lock up the loudspeaker controls. There was nothing the SysVal engineers loved better than breaking through anything that bore even a passing resemblance to a closed system.

She asked him about his visit to Boston. Over the years, Mitch’s children had visited him frequently, and she had grown fond of them. She kept a framed picture nine-year-old Liza had drawn for her on her desk next to a paperweight David had made in his sixth-grade art class.

Mitch walked over to her window. “I finally met Louise’s new husband. He and I had a couple of beers and talked about the kids. He said they were getting along well, and he wanted me to know that he wasn’t going to try to take my place with them. He saw himself as a big brother, not a father, that sort of thing. Heck of a nice guy.”

“You hate his guts, don’t you?”

“I wanted to slam my fist right through his face.”

She gave him a sympathetic smile. Not for the first time, it occurred to her that Mitch was a much better friend to her than Sam had ever been.

They chatted for a few more minutes, and then Mitch left. Her stomach rumbled and she realized she was hungry. Maybe she could talk Sam into leaving early tonight. It would be wonderful to have dinner at home for a change and spend an evening alone together-something they hadn’t done in longer than she could remember.

She got up from her desk, deliberately pushing away the painful knowledge that Sam wouldn’t want to spend an evening alone with her. She had made it a habit not to dwell on the problems in her marriage when she was at work, but it was difficult. As she walked out of the office, she forced herself to think about the company instead.

SysVal had become one of the most glamorous privately owned companies in the world. Thanks to Mitch’s brilliant financial strategies, the original four partners had each held onto a whopping fifteen per cent of the company. Susannah didn’t like to think about how much money they had. The amount was almost obscene.

As she turned the corner into the next hallway, she ran into two of the engineers who were playing with the radio-controlled car. She chatted with them for a few minutes and admired their toy. When she finally moved on, she wasn’t aware of the fact that they still watched her.

Even though Susannah wasn’t beautiful, there was something about her that drove the young engineers at SysVal slightly crazy. Maybe it was those tight jeans-those long slim legs. Maybe it was the way she moved-tall and proud. But physical appearance was only part of their attraction to her. There was the aphrodisia of her wealth and the ever-increasing influence she held in a male-dominated industry. All in all, at the age of thirty-one, Susannah was a potent combination of style, sex, brains, money, and power, qualities that were irresistible to the brilliant young men who came from all over the world to work for SysVal.

They joked about what it would be like to sleep with her, but behind their sexual bantering lay a genuine respect. Susannah was tough and demanding, but she was seldom unreasonable. Not like some people.

Sam wasn’t in his office.

Susannah moved on. SysVal headquarters occupied three large buildings, grouped together in an informal campus arrangement. Her office was in the main building, the center section of which was open, with glass block walls and partitions that didn’t quite reach the ceiling. A Joan Jett song blared from one of the labs, and she passed a group of video games that occupied a cranny in the brightly painted hallway. At SysVal, the boundaries between work and play were deliberately obscured.

Lights were coming from the left, and she took a sharp turn in that direction. Although it was after six o’clock, the New Product Team was still meeting to talk about the problems they were having with the Blaze Wildfire, the revolutionary new business computer they hoped to launch within a year.

For all the future promise of Sam’s Wildfire project, the Blaze III was SysVal’s workhorse, the bread and butter of the company. The Blaze HI was the computer that America was buying for its kids, the computer that small offices were growing to depend on, and the computer that-along with its ancestors the I and II-had made them all rich.

Sam’s voice punched the air and spilled out into the hallway from one of the conference rooms. She paused inside the doorway to watch him. Once just the sight of him had sent thrills of excitement through her body. Now she felt a sense of despair. Somehow she had to make things right again between them. But how could she do that when she wasn’t even certain what was wrong?

He was straddling a chair backward, straining the fine woolen material of his charcoal slacks. His white shirtsleeves were rolled to the elbows, his collar was unfastened, and the heels of his Italian loafers were propped up on the chair rungs. A dozen young faces sat cross-legged on the floor around him, gazing up at him as he spoke, their expressions rapt while they listened to Brother Love’s new-age Sermon on the Mount. Blessed is the microchip, she thought, for its users shall inherit the earth.

The employees both loved and hated Sam. With his evangelist’s zeal, he inspired them to do the impossible, but he had no patience for incompetence and was brutal in his criticism. Still, very few of them left, even after suffering one of his humiliating public tongue-lashings. He gave them the sense that they had a mission in life. They were soldiers in the final crusade of the twentieth century, and even those who had grown to detest him continued to scramble all over themselves to please him.

She frowned as she watched those young, eager faces soaking up everything he said. An aura of hero worship had developed around Sam that bothered her. It might be good for the company, but it wasn’t good for Sam.

Her presence in the doorway caught his attention. He turned his head and frowned at the interruption. She remembered how his face had once softened when he caught sight of her. When had it begun to change? Sometimes she thought that it went as far back as her father’s funeral.

She gestured toward the kitchen at the back, signaling him that she would meet him there. He returned his attention to the group without making any acknowledgment. She straightened her shoulders and walked on with quiet dignity. Just before she reached the kitchen, she passed a woman with two very young children on their way to the large cafeteria. All of them wore visitor’s badges, and the mother was carrying a picnic basket.

Her depression burrowed in deeper. It wasn’t the first time she had seen something like this. SysVal’s employees worked such long hours that spouses-usually wives-sometimes showed up with their children so they could provide some facsimile of a family dinner. SysVal didn’t hire anyone who wasn’t a workaholic, and the long hours were taking a toll on family life-something Sam hadn’t taken into account when he constructed his Utopian vision of their company. But then, families weren’t important to Sam. She touched her fingers to her waist, feeling the hollowness inside. How much longer was he going to ignore this pressing need she had for a child? Just because she was SysVal’s president didn’t mean she wasn’t a woman, too.

She made her way to the refrigerator in the back of the kitchen and pulled out a carton of yogurt. But as she began to peel off the lid, her fingers faltered and her eyelids squeezed shut. What was she going to do about her mar-riage? Far too many times, Sam felt like the enemy, like another person for her to please, another person with an invisible checklist of qualities she had to live up to.

He shot through the door, wearily shoving his right hand through his short black hair. “Susannah, you’re going to have to get on Marketing again. I’m sick of their bullshit. They either have to buy into the Wildfire-and I mean total commitment-or they can take their asses over to Apple. They’re like a bunch of goddamn old ladies…”

She let him rant and rave for a while. Tomorrow he would undoubtedly storm the Marketing Department and throw one of his famous temper tantrums. Then she would have to clean up after him. Sam was thirty now, but in many ways he was still a child.

He collapsed into one of the chairs. “Get me a Coke.”

She went over to the refrigerator and pulled out a can from his private stock. The top hissed as she popped it. She set it in front of him, then bent forward and brushed his mouth with a soft kiss. His lips were cool and dry. After he had been speaking to a group, she was always surprised that they weren’t red hot.

She began to knead the tight muscles of his shoulders with her thumbs. “Why don’t we take off early Friday night and drive down to Monterey? There’s an inn I’ve been hearing about. Private cottages, ocean view.”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

“I think it would do us both good to get away for a while.”

“Yeah. You’re probably right.” Despite his words, Susannah knew that Sam didn’t really want to get away. He fed off the furious pace of the company. Even when he was at home he was thinking, working, lambasting people over one of their seven telephones. Sometimes she thought that Sam was trying to outrun life.

Her hands grew still on his shoulders. “It’s a good time of the month. Full moon, baying wolf, ripe egg.”

He pulled abruptly away from her. “Christ. Don’t start the baby shit again, all right? Just don’t start. You can’t even find time to help me look for that new Oriental rug for the dining room. How do you expect to take care of a kid?”

“I don’t like picking out rugs. I do like children. I’m thirty-one, Sam. The clock’s ticking. SysVal is going to have on-site child care by the end of the year. That’ll make a big difference to me and the rest of our female employees.”

As soon as she had spoken, she wished she hadn’t brought up the child-care issue. She had given him an excuse to divert their conversation from the personal back to the company, and she knew he would take advantage of it.

“I don’t know why you act like this child care thing is all signed, sealed, and delivered. I’m not backing you, and I don’t think Mitch will, either. It’s not a corporation’s responsibility to take care of its employee’s kids, for chrissake.”

“It is if the corporation wants to hang onto its female work force. I’m going to fight you on this one, Sam. I’ll take it right to the Board of Directors if I have to.”

“It wouldn’t be the first time.” He rose abruptly from his chair. “I don’t understand you anymore, Susannah. You seem to fight me on everything.”

It wasn’t true. She still believed that of all of them, Sam had the truest vision of what SysVal could be. Because of him, the company had never been loaded down with hierarchies. The organization was fluid, lean, and profitable.

“I don’t know, Susannah. You’ve changed. And I’m not sure it’s all for the better.” His eyes skimmed down over her clothing. He didn’t like it when she wore jeans. He hated her shorter hair. If he overheard her swearing, he staged a major confrontation. She had finally realized that a big part of Sam wanted her back the way she had been when they had first met.

“Sam, we need to spend some time together without telephones ringing and people showing up at the front door. We have some problems we have to work out, and we need time alone to do it.”

“You’re turning into a broken record, you know that? I don’t want to hear about it anymore. I’ve got enough on my mind without a load of crap from you.”

“Excuse me. Uh-Sam?”

Mindy Bradshaw walked into the kitchen in such a gingerly fashion that the floor might have been covered with rattlesnakes. She was a thin, anemic-looking blonde, with baby-fine hair that fell like a veil over the sides of her face.

Mindy was one of the most recent additions to the New Product Team. Although she was bright, she lacked self-confidence and was frequently at the receiving end of one of Sam’s more humiliating public tongue-lashings. Several times in the past few weeks, Susannah had seen her running from a meeting in tears, not exactly the behavior Susannah wanted to see from the company’s minority female work force-a group of which she was fiercely protective. Despite Sam’s abuse, however, Mindy continued to hang on to his every word and gaze at him as if-at any moment-he just might levitate.

Sam was obviously relieved at the interruption. “Yeah, Mindy, what is it?”

“Pete and I wondered-That is-“

“Christ, Mindy. Start all over, will you? Walk into the room like you own it for a change. Stand up straight, look me in the eye, and tell me to go to hell if you feel like it.”

“Oh, no,” she said breathlessly. “It’s just-Pete and I have been crunching some numbers. We have some ideas about pricing on the BDI that we want to go over with you.”

“Yeah, sure.” He pitched his empty Coke can into the recycling bin and left the room without a backward glance.

Susannah walked listlessly back toward her office. These past few years had turned her into a fighter, but she didn’t know how to fight this. On impulse, she took a detour that led to the east wing of the building. Maybe Yank was still working in his lab. Sometimes when she was rattled, she liked to drop in there and spend a few minutes with him. They seldom talked, but being with Yank was soothing. She enjoyed the quiet patience of his movements, the steadiness of his eyes when they actually focused on her. His presence settled her.

And then she hesitated. She wasn’t going to get into the habit of using other people as a crutch simply because she couldn’t solve her own problems. She returned to her office and flicked on her Blaze III. The light began to glow on the screen. For a moment, she regarded the machine with a mixture of love and bitterness. And then she lost herself in her work.

* * *

Long after midnight that same evening, Sam eased naked into the hot tub. The house that rose behind him was a stark ultramodern structure with a roof line that jutted at sharp angles like bats’ wings against the night sky and held eighteen solar panels to provide energy. He and a team of architects had worked on the design for nearly a year, and it had taken another two years to build. Everything was the best. The interior held free-form couches upholstered in white suede and jagged-edged tables chiseled from rock-crystal selenite. The deck was made of marble and sculptured black granite. Rigidly geometric furniture constructed of cold-rolled steel glimmered faintly near the perimeter of the hot tub. The hot tub itself, made of black marble, was the size of a small swimming pool.

He had settled into a ledge contoured to fit his body. Although he was tired, he couldn’t sleep. As the inky water swirled around him, he gazed down at the lights in the valley below and pretended that they were stars and that he was hanging upside down in the universe. He let himself float, concentrating only on the surge of the waters and the feeling of rushing through unexplored space.

He had more money than he had ever dreamed existed. He could buy anything he wanted, go anywhere, do anything. But something was missing. The water sucked at him and he raced deeper into space. Find it, a voice whispered. Look around you and find what’s missing.

He was only thirty years old, and he didn’t want life to be safe and settled. Where were the challenges? The thrills? SysVal wasn’t enough anymore. And neither was Susannah.

A sound intruded on his thoughts. One of the doors that led out from the house to the deck had opened behind him. Susannah came into his line of vision. He watched with resentment as she pulled her silk robe tight and hugged herself against the night chill.

“You couldn’t sleep?” she asked.

He settled deeper into the bubbling waters and wished she would go away.

“Would you like me to get in with you?” she said softly.

He shrugged. “Whatever.”

She unfastened her robe and let it slide from her shoulders. She was naked beneath. There was a momentary shift in the rhythm of the water as she settled onto the ledge next to him.

“The water’s hot.”

“One hundred and two degrees, like always.” He arched his neck and laid his head back in the water, closing his eyes to shut her out.

He felt her fingers on his arm. “Sam, I’m worried about you.”

“Don’t be.”

“I wish you’d tell me what’s wrong.”

His eyes snapped open. “You’re what’s wrong! Why don’t you leave me alone?”

For a moment she did nothing, and then she rose silently from the tub. Water glistened on her body. His eyes roved down over her small breasts, her waist, the soft auburn tuft. She didn’t have any idea how hot she still made him. He grabbed her hand before she could move away and pulled her down. She lost her balance and landed awkwardly beside him.

He pushed her back onto the ledge. “Open your legs.”

“I don’t want to.” She tried to twist away.

“Open them, damn it,” he insisted.

“Sam, this isn’t right. We need to talk. Sex isn’t enough this time.”

She started to get up. He clenched his teeth and moved on top of her. He didn’t want to listen to her. He wanted to get the fire back, the challenge, the thrill of conquest. Wedging open her thighs, he thrust hard and buried himself inside her.

She wasn’t ready for him and she winced, but he tilted up her hips and drove deeper.

She dug the heels of her hands into his chest, trying to push him away. “Dammit, Sam. Don’t do this!”

He refused to let her up. The night-black water swirled around him like a witch’s caldron. Steam rose from his shoulders as he arched his back and thrust again and again, cursing her in his mind. In the old days, she had made him happy… In the old days, life had been exciting… Everything had been new-the company-Susannah… In the old days, life had thrilled him.

He cried out when he came, shuddering violently and falling heavily on her. With a hard shove, she pushed him off her body and rose from the tub.

“Susannah…”

She spun around, steam coming from her body. Her light gray eyes blazed with fury. “Don’t you ever do that to me again.”

Naked and fierce, she stood over him. She was silhouetted against the sky, her head in front of the moon, so that a halo of silver light had formed around her wet hair and spilled down over her shoulders. Water sluiced like quicksilver over her skin. As he stared at her, her entire body glowed with an eerie moon-induced incandescence. She looked both holy and profane.

He hated the strength he saw there. The strength and power and courage that hadn’t been there when they had first met. When had she gotten ahead of him? How had she learned secrets he didn’t know?

A dam of emotion burst from inside him, and he shouted at her. “Why should I worry about how you feel? You don’t care about me!”

She stared down at him, the moonlight forming an unearthly aurora behind her. “You don’t even know what you want.”

He wanted that click he used to feel, that sense that she would fill in his missing parts, that she would give him some of her serenity, polish off his rough edges, soothe his impatience. He wanted her to take away his fear of death. He wanted her to relieve his boredom, offer him a fresh challenge. Make life exciting again. And she wasn’t doing it.

He rose from the hot tub and angrily slicked the water from his body with the flat of his hand. “If you haven’t figured out what’s wrong by now, I’m not going to explain it to you.”

“You’ll have to make peace with yourself,” she said flatly. “I can’t do it for you.”

His anger swelled. “I should have known you would try to make it my fault. What’s happened to us is your problem, Susannah. Yours, not mine.”

He turned to stalk away from her, but he hadn’t finished punishing her for not being able to help him. Spinning back around, he made a final cruel attack. “I’m warning you right now. You’d better not be playing any games with those birth control pills.”

Her hand spasmed at her side. “You bastard.”

Water was glistening on her cheeks, but he didn’t know if it was from the hot tub or because she was crying. “If you get pregnant, I’ll leave you,” he said viciously. “I mean it.”

She spun away from him and stalked toward the house, her robe lying forgotten on the deck.

“Things had better start changing around here,” he shouted after her.

But she had disappeared inside, and he was left alone with himself.

Contents

Обращение к пользователям