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Susan looked through the window at the gray clouds, drizzle of rain, and shivered at the damp chill which enveloped her. She would have gladly climbed back into the warm bed and spent the afternoon reading had she any choice, but Friday had seen the end of her temporary job. With scrimping, the check she had received would last a few weeks, covering her room rent and frugal meals.
As she switched on the overhead light and began to apply her make-up, she glanced once more at the circled ad in the morning's paper. 'Wanted: manuscript typist. Work from machine dictation. By appointment only. 538-4200.' Though it was Sunday, she had ventured to call, surprised when a sharp voice on the phone demanded her address and told her that transportation to the interview would be provided at twelve-thirty. It was almost that now. She straightened her one 'interview' dress, a serviceable blue jersey. She hated it, but until she found a decent job, it would have to serve.
"Perhaps this time," she thought, picking up her worn all-purpose coat.
"Susan!" The voice of her landlady crackled up the stairway.
"Coming!" She flew down the stairs and stopped at the sight of the uniformed chauffeur. As he held the door for her, she could see him clearly, and smothered an involuntary gasp, for the man was a virtual giant, his grim expression made brutal by the network of scars across his face. An urge to turn and run for the safety of her room seized her. He recognized her hesitation; his lips curled slightly upward. "Mr. Barrington does not like to be kept waiting, Miss," his whispering voice as harsh as his appearance.
Her mind occupied with planning answers to the questions she expected during the interview, she paid no attention to the direction the car was taking. She was startled, then, when she looked out the window to see not city, but fields stretching out from both sides of the road. She leaned forward, calling to the chauffeur, "Where are you taking me?"
His eyes flicked at her from the rearview mirror. "To your interview, Miss." With a faint whisper, the glass privacy partition between them slid up.
Panic filled her, she rapped at the glass partition but gained no response. She thought of trying to jump from the car, but the speed was too great. Trembling, she crouched in the corner and prayed.
Mile after mile sped under the tires. At last the limousine turned into a small lane leading into an almost impenetrable grove of trees. As the car slowed, her hand reached for the door latch. Though she tugged at the handle, the door failed to yield. She sensed the eyes of the chauffeur momentarily on her as the limousine paused on a bridge scarcely wide enough to accommodate its bulk. Ahead, heavy gates opened slowly. The car inched ahead barely clearing the gates before they began to swing closed once more. A drive paved with brick curved through the trees. As they passed, she began to make out the somber stone mansion looming ahead.
The limousine stopped before the entrance. A faint click and the chauffeur was holding the door, staring down at her. She pulled her coat about her and stepped out. As she climbed the steps, one of the pair of heavily carved doors opened. A middle-aged man in formal dress gazed at her expressionlessly.
She smiled. "Mr. Barrington, I ..."
"I am Martin, the butler, Miss. Mr. Barrington is in the study. If you will come this way." His English accent intrigued her.
Abashed at her error, she followed through the near darkness of the spacious entry hall. He knocked once and swung one of the double doors open, stepping aside for her to enter.
At the far end of the room, a fire flickered on the hearth. With the drapes closed and the only light provided by a desk lamp, she paused for her eyes to adjust to the deep gloom. Shelves of books lined the walls, a large desk, comfortable looking leather wing chairs at either side of the fireplace, occasional chairs and tables filled the room's expanse sparingly. On a console between two of the draped windows a large bowl of roses scented the air. She took a step further on the heavy carpet.
"Miss Susan Sims?" A low deep voice broke the silence. She looked up to see a silhouette unfold from one of the fireside chairs and cross to the desk. She crossed the expanse of carpet to the chair in front of the desk and gazed up at the man on the other side. He stood taller than the chauffeur, so tall that the light from the desk lamp reached only to the middle of his chest. Though his face remained obscured, she felt his eyes raking over her.
As he made no move, she opened her purse and extracted several sheets of paper, holding them across the desk. "My references, Mr. Barrington."
A tapered long-fingered hand received them and dropped them casually to the desktop. Just as she had begun to seat herself, he moved abruptly around the desk. "Please."
She arose and followed him to a side door. He opened it and switched on the lights, standing aside. Instead of seeing the room, she gazed at her potential employer. Though she stood five feet eight inches, her head did not come even with his broad shoulders. She took in the slim athletic build, the black hair worn youthfully long, the handsomeness of the sharp-featured face, saved from beauty only by a thick moustache as black as his hair. She felt momentarily faint, for in her wildest fantasies she had never dreamed of anyone so beautiful, yet so masculine, as Barrington.
He motioned with his hand. "Miss Sims?"
Susan jerked back to reality. "Oh, yes?"
"If you don't mind." The deep voice censured.
A grouping of modular furniture created an efficient office. At one side of the desk a workstation held a computer. He opened a cabinet next to it, revealing dual tape dictation units. She seated herself in the plush ergonomic chair, realizing that no expense had been spared for comfort and efficiency.
"You will transcribe a full page from the machine taking up where the tape is now and print it out."
She looked at the machines and back to Barrington. "I've never used this particular equipment before. Is your program WordPerfect?"
"I thought the machines were standard," he all but snarled. "I prefer Microsoft Word."
"Oh. I know that I can become proficient with a few hours practice. Less, if you have the manual that I can study."
"I shall make an allowance." He slipped back an immaculate French cuff and pressed a button on his watch. "Begin."
The dictation in his voice was rapid, leaving her time only to concentrate on her flying fingers. At the margin, she stopped and waited for the printer then handed the page to him.
Barrington's lips curled in satisfaction. "Four minutes. Quite acceptable." His eyes scanned the page, stopping near the end. A long finger jabbed at the offending spot. "Comma, Miss Sims! A comma before a coordinating conjunction when that conjunction joins two lengthy independent clauses, or are you ignorant of the basic rules of grammar?"
The cutting criticism delivered in a growl brought a flash of resentment in Susan. "Your dictation is very rapid, Mr. Barrington. Under normal circumstances, I would have used the screen to check a section before printing." She stammered.
He did not reply, but switched on the other tape machine. "A business letter."
Upset, Susan began typing. She was in the second paragraph when he looked at the screen and immediately reached over to punch the cancel key. "Completely unacceptable!" He snapped. "I do not tolerate modern block with open punctuation."
Had it not been for her desperate need of a position, Susan would have walked out at that moment, yet she knew the fault had been hers for not asking his preference. She lowered her head as tears sprang to her eyes. "I'm sorry, Mr. Barrington. If I may start over?"
The question hung unanswered until his irritation eased. At last he nodded. "Very well." He noticed her tears as she raised her head. "I trust you are not given to frequent tears. There are tissues in the left hand drawer," he snapped.
Susan wiped her eyes and retyped the letter. Barrington nodded as she handed him the work, dropping it in the trash as he gestured toward the door. Once Susan was again seated in front of his desk, Barrington lit a cigarette and leaned against the mantel, looking at her coldly. "Should you be offered this position, your responsibility will be limited to transcribing the dictation of my manuscripts and any business correspondence I require. You will, of course, live in."
"Here! In this house?"
Barrington's eyebrows met in a scowl. "Quite. I did not notice any family reference in your resume, therefore I assumed that you were free to do so."
Despite her renewed resolve to remain calm during this strange interview, Susan's mind lapsed into turmoil at the thought of this cold sensual man, her fear of the gigantic chauffeur, the granite face of the butler. "No!" From the astonishment on Barrington's face, she realized she had spoken her thought aloud.
"No?" Barrington sneeringly echoed as he walked to the desk and picked up a pad covered in neatly hand written notes. "And where will you go?" He asked before beginning to read from the notes: "Susan Marie Sims: single, age: twenty four, family: none, bank balance: two-hundred thirty-two dollars and sixty-eight cents, police record: accomplice in stock fraud, dismissed on lack of evidence of wrongdoing." He raised an eyebrow in her direction. "Shall I continue?"
Susan jumped up furious. "Where did you get that information? How dare you!"
"You can't possibly believe that I'd have someone privy to my business affairs, much less live within, without checking. Between the time you called for an appointment and your arrival, I came to know you better than you know yourself. Of course, if you fear for your supposed virginity ..."
"Of all the insulting ..." Susan quivered in anger for a moment then spun on her heel, almost running for the door. The handle failed to yield no matter how she twisted. She glared back at him. "Open this door immediately."
"As you wish." He indolently touched one of a bank of buttons at the side of his desk, the door swung silently open.
Head high, Susan's intended step into the hall was arrested by a throaty growl. A large furry dog sat before her, fangs glistening. She shrank back against the door facing. The animal did not move though his eyes never left her. She heard Barrington's dry chuckle behind her, then his voice. "Satan!"
The dog loped easily to him, looking up in expectation. Barrington patted him on the head. "Good boy. What are you doing in here?"
The dog's muzzle turned toward her then back to Barrington. "Oh, you knew we had a visitor." He placed his hands on either side of the dog's head and cuffed him playfully. The animal growled in pleasure then pulled away, going to one of the draped windows. Barrington pulled aside the drapes revealing French doors. He opened one and jabbed with a finger. "Go, Satan." The silver-grey animal bounded into the rain as Barrington closed the door and drapes. "Magnificent creature, isn't he, Miss Sims?"
"Th-that's a guard dog."
"Not really well trained. He's a cross between a timber wolf and a Malamute. A most intelligent animal, though a bit quarrelsome at times. Should you join our staff, Satan will be as protective of you as he is of the household. He obeys staff instantly, but he knows when a stranger is on the grounds. Have you decided?"
"De... decided what?" She managed to whisper.
Annoyance crossed Barrington's face. "To take the position."
"But of course. We haven't discussed terms. If you care to take your seat."
Still shaken, Susan welcomed the chair under her. "Make I have some water, please?"
Barrington touched another of the buttons and spoke. "Water for Miss Sims, Martin."
Within seconds, the butler held a tray towards Susan. She took the fragile goblet with a shaking hand and sipped the sparkling fluid gratefully.
"You're not afraid of dogs?" Barrington asked.
"Of course not. It ... it's just that he was unexpected." She returned the goblet to the tray which Martin had placed on the desk.
"Now, if you have recovered? Your apartment is well away from mine and those of the staff. Your hours are nine to four, your weekends free to do as you choose, except on those rare occasions when I have pressing business. As you have no transportation and we are nearly twenty miles from the city, there is a Maxima which you may use at any time." He glared at her. "There are three unconditional rules. First, the pool and private beach are off-limits to you between the hours of nine and eleven and any other hours of which you will be informed in advance. Second, the path into the woods at the right of the house you are never to enter for any reason, and I stress, for any reason. Third, I trust you are capable of the discretion required of a confidential secretary. Not a word of the work which crosses your desk is to be revealed to anyone. Any infraction will result in immediate dismissal. Do you understand?" He glared at her until she nodded. "Very well. Now as to salary ..." He named a figure which caused her mouth to open in astonishment.
"But for such short hours ..."
"It is inconvenient to be so far from the city and any social life you might have. Further, I have no desire to try to find someone else with your qualifications if you prove satisfactory. I assume that you can begin work tomorrow. Well?" He asked impatiently.
Despite her fears, Susan answered, "Yes," before she could stop herself.
Barrington pressed another of the buttons and stood facing the door until it opened. Susan turned to see the chauffeur.
"Shaun, take Miss Sims to her apartment and help her pack. She is coming immediately."
With her thoughts in turmoil, Susan was oblivious to everything until the limousine stopped before her rooming house. The chauffeur followed her up to her room and packed the few books and possessions in boxes while she pushed her clothing into a suitcase. She paused to answer a tap at her door. Her landlady beckoned her into the hall and closed the door. "Susan, you know the rules about men. What's going on?"
Beneath the stern exterior, Susan knew, lay the soul of kindness. "I've found a job, Mrs. Barnes. Mr. Barrington's chauffeur is helping me pack. I was going to stop to see you on the way out."
"He's such a terrible looking man, Susan. Are you safe with him?"
"Oh, Mrs. Barnes, I don't know." Susan's fears tumbled out.
"Don't go. I fear for you."
"I can't afford not to. The pay is way above anything I could ever hope to find, but I'm afraid." She lay her head on the ample bosom and let her tears flow.
"There, there, dear. I've always room for you here. You're such a nice quiet girl. I wish you'd stay, but if you must go, remember that you can always come back to me."
"Thank you, Mrs. Barnes. I'll try to keep in touch. I appreciate all your kindness."
"It's nothing, my dear. I'll stay with you while you finish packing."
Susan wiped her tear stained face and pushed open the door to her room. To her amazement, Shaun bowed in Mrs. Barnes' direction and whispered, "Madame," before picking up the boxes and carrying them down to the car.
Susan finished packing and set the suitcase outside for the chauffeur, then gave a final glance to assure herself that she had left nothing behind. "Oh," she whispered and picked up two flourishing African violets from the windowsill.
Mrs. Barnes followed her down to the waiting car. Susan kissed her wrinkled cheek and got in while the elderly woman looked enviously at the limousine.
As they left the city, Susan sniffled at the enormity of her action in leaving the familiar for a world of isolation, guard dogs, and cold luxury.
Martin's rigid expression cracked into a faint smile as he held the door and nodded towards the woman standing in the shadows of the hall. "This is Mrs. Martin, the housekeeper. She will show you to your rooms."
Mrs. Martin stepped forward, plump, smiling. "It's so nice to have you here, my dear. Come along. You'll wish to freshen up before dinner, I'm sure." The motherly expression and warm voice brought a lift to Susan's spirit as she followed up the graceful staircase.
"Do you like the ocean?" The housekeeper asked as they walked along the hall.
"Very much. What little I've seen of it."
Mrs. Martin opened a door and crossed the sitting room to draw back the drapes. Though the light remained cold, the pale gold of the walls and carpet gave the room warmth. Susan looked at the furnishings. "It's lovely."
"I like it," Mrs. Martin answered, opening another door. "Your bedroom and bath are through here."
Susan followed. A resplendent brass bed dominated the room. The green color scheme was so faint it seemed almost an illusion. The color became stronger in the bath. "Surely not all this?"
"Of course, my dear. Michael - Mr. Barrington specifically asked me to make this suite ready for you. It's quite complete with a small kitchen unit just off the sitting room if you should wish to prepare yourself a snack. But Michael - tsk, tsk," she chided herself, "do forgive me, but Mr. Barrington seems like my own. Martin and I came here when he was but an infant. Anyway, he will expect you to take most of your meals downstairs." She patted Susan's arm. "Now I'll go along and let you get ready for dinner."
Susan washed her face and repaired her tear stained make-up. Mrs. Martin met her at the bottom of the stairs and led her to a dining nook just off the kitchen. "Mr. Barrington is out, so I'll bring your dinner in just a moment. Coffee or tea?"
"Hot tea, if it isn't any bother."
"Not at all. The kettle is always on the boil." Mrs. Martin served Susan an impressive plate and turned back to the kitchen.
"Won't you join me?" Susan begged, seeing that she was to eat alone.
The housekeeper shook her head. "Thank you, but no. The staff have their own dining room and schedule. I must not disturb the routine. Besides," she smiled kindly, "Martin will be waiting for me. Now enjoy your dinner. If there's anything you desire, just ring."
Exhausted from the chaotic pace of the day, Susan ate as much of the perfectly prepared meal as she could and returned to her room. Certain that she would not sleep, she took a mild sleeping pill and climbed into bed.
Her next recollection was arousing at the tap at her door. "Yes?"
The door opened to admit a young maid carrying a tray which she set on the table by the windows, then drew back the drapes. Sunlight flooded the room. "Your breakfast, Miss."
"Just let me wash my face." Susan fled into the bath. When she returned, the bed was made, a chair pulled up to the table. She uncovered the dishes on the tray and looked with astonishment at the eggs Benedict, melon, sweet rolls, and pot of coffee, so different from the instant coffee and bun she usually had.
While she ate, she gazed through the open window across the lawn to the beach, watching the small waves breaking on the beach. The fresh breeze and bird songs lifted any reservations remaining from the night before. 'It's so beautiful here, how could I not be happy?' She thought as she sipped the last of her coffee.
'Oh, what a beautiful morning,' she hummed as she slipped into a plain cotton dress and sandals, but some of the lightheartedness disappeared as she stepped into the gloom of the hall and made her way down the stairs.
"Good morning, my dear. Did you sleep well?" Mrs. Martin's cheerful voice greeted her in the lower hall.
"I am sorry, but I forgot to ask what you wished for breakfast, so I had to guess."
"It was delicious, but far too much for me. I usually have just tea and a sweet roll of some kind, but I'd like fruit, too, if that's convenient. Wouldn't you prefer me to come down?"
"Mercy no! Mr. Barrington would never hear of it. Betty will take your tray. Do you know where your office is?"
"I'm not sure. There are so many doors."
"You'll learn in time. I know Mr. Barrington took you in through his study yesterday, but you must never enter his study unless he summons you. I'll show you to your door." She led Susan to a low door beneath the staircase and pushed it open. "Here you are. If you should wish for anything, there's a directory for the house under the phone. It comes out like this." She pulled the flat tray from beneath the phone. "Use button 6 for inside calls. 1 and 2 are outside lines, but only button 1 is connected on this phone. There is a separate line for the computer, so its use will not affect any calls. 2 is Mr. Barrington's private line. Line 3 is not connected on this phone, but you must never answer that line on any of the other phones."
"But what if it should keep ringing?"
"Never!" Mrs. Martin's answer was sharp. "Shaun or Martin will answer, but you must not. Promise me!" The urgency of her voice and serious expression wrung a promise from Susan. The housekeeper left as Susan switched on the machines and looked at the pile of cassettes on the desk. A folded note lay on top. 'This dictation has accumulated during the time we were without a typist. Once you have caught up, there will be less immediate demand. You will leave all finished copy and letters in the marked trays on your desk.'
After an hour of familiarization with the equipment, Susan found her speed up to standard. She was well into the dictation when the door opened and Betty entered to place a tray on the desk. "Coffee, Miss?"
"Thank you, Betty. Won't you call me Susan?"
The girl showed her surprise. "Oh, no, Miss. Mr. Martin would never permit it."
In her loneliness Susan felt a need for friendship. "He doesn't come in here often, does he?"
"Then when he isn't around won't you call me Susan, please?"
"Thank you, Susan," she replied with a shy smile.
"That's better. Won't you join me?"
"Mrs. Martin will be needing me. I'll pick up the tray later."
Susan sipped her coffee and looked out of her office window into a formal garden as the printer hummed. When she finished for the day, she decided, she would take a walk and see the beauty up close. She resumed typing until Mrs. Martin called her to lunch. Once more Susan found herself alone in the dining nook.
"I do hope you like salads. It's quite warm out, and Mr. Barrington prefers dinner. Lunch is usually something light."
Susan looked at the one service plate on the table. "It looks lovely. Isn't someone going to join me?"
"Mr. Barrington lunches in his study and there's no one else, except the staff."
As the housekeeper left her, Susan felt discontented. She hated to eat alone. Though her previous positions had been temporary, she made friends easily and there was always someone to lunch with. Talking brought a respite which made the day seem shorter. She had expected little after her interview, certainly not an invitation to eat with her employer, but she had thought her meals would be taken with the staff. 'I'm neither fish nor fowl,' she thought as she began to eat.
Later in the afternoon, a faint click attracted her attention. She looked up to see Barrington leaning against the door of the study watching her coldly. "I believe that your hours are nine to four. It is now," he paused to consult his watch, "ten of five."
"I was trying to catch up the back work. I don't mind working later until everything is caught up."
"How far are you along?"
"I've completed about a third of the dictation."
Barrington's eyebrows raised. "You are fast."
"It's this wonderful machine. It's more like play than work."
"I'm pleased that you approve. If you should care to use the beach, you may."
"Thank you. May I walk in the garden?"
"You may do as you please as long as you remember the rules I set down yesterday. You will avoid the pool area this afternoon until at least six." He looked at her closely. "Have you nothing more suitable for office wear than that?"
Susan dropped her head as a flush sprang to her cheeks. Why, she asked herself, would her lack of wardrobe be important in such an out of the way place.
As though he read her thoughts, Barrington added brusquely, "I occasionally have business conferences at which you will be required to take notes. You must present a proper image. However ..." He turned back into his study and closed the door.
Susan bit her lip in vexation. She had worked diligently to please him, and all he had noted was her dress. Besides, he knew perfectly well that she couldn't afford better. She switched off the machine and went up to her room to change.
Susan lay on the beach letting the sun wipe away her frustration and loneliness. With her first pay check, she vowed, she would drive into the city and try to find clothing that would meet Barrington's approval. She had often admired the smart dresses and suits of the executive secretaries in the offices where she found temporary employment and had made note of where they shopped.
She dozed until a harsh whisper raised her to consciousness.
"You're becoming rather red, Miss."
She opened her eyes to see the chauffeur standing a short distance away, wearing swim trunks, a beach towel draped over his shoulder. "I don't burn easily," she replied, looking at her arms and legs, "but I think I've gotten enough for today." She looked up at the massive figure, seeing the web of scars that covered his face continued down over most of his exposed chest as well. Instantly, her fear turned to pity for the suffering he must have undergone.
"I didn't mean to intrude, Miss. I'll come back some other time." The harsh whisper of a voice seemed gentle now.
"Please don't go. I'll be going back to the house as soon as I've had a dip in the water. I'd feel better if someone were here. I'm not used to ocean swimming."
The expressionless blue eyes raked over her. "As you wish, Miss." She gasped at the shock of the cold water, then plunged into a small wave to swim against the motion. When she returned to the beach, the chauffeur bent to hand her, her towel.
"In the future, Miss, you will find towels, robes, and anything else you might need at the bath house." He pointed to a small building at the edge of the lawn, which she had thought a garden house.
"Thank you. May I call you Shaun?" She asked hesitantly, hungry for companionship.
"That is my name, Miss."
"Yes, Miss." His tone implied shock at her implied familiarity.
Embarrassed, she walked toward the house, turning once to see him swimming powerfully out into the ocean. At last in her room, she changed into the dress of the morning and looked at her face in the mirror. It was just as well that Shaun had awakened her, she thought. A few minutes more and the exposure to the sun might have become uncomfortable. She brushed out her hair, letting it fall into a soft curl about her shoulders rather than pinning it up.
She dined alone again. Mrs. Martin did not volunteer Barrington's whereabouts, nor did Susan dare ask. In her loneliness, the beautifully prepared meal made little impression. She picked at it, then driven by restlessness went to her room for a sweater and out of doors. She crossed the lawn into the formal garden. The flowers lost much of their color in the twilight, but their fragrance filled the air. She paused at the fountain, feeling the breeze-drifted spray caress her face, then walked further along the boxwood bordered path.
The moon, as it rose, was near full, casting quiet light. Enchanted, Susan sank down on a bench, letting her imagination range free. Never, she knew now, would any man other than Barrington have appeal for her, and he, it seemed, was oblivious to all but her faults. 'I wonder what sort of woman it would take to arouse him,' she wondered.
Closing her eyes, she envisioned herself in a regal gown standing on tip-toe to kiss him as he returned from work, ready to hand him a drink and hearing him whisper, 'My darling, the day has been endless without you.' Her dream collapsed in the sudden glow of light over the garden from concealed fixtures.
"It's you, Miss." Martin stood a short distance away.
"Yes. It's so lovely out, I decided to take a walk."
"Of course, Miss. If I might, I suggest that you be careful of the dog until he comes to know you. If he challenges you, just call him by name. Please don't run from him or he might attack."
"Thank you, but I haven't seen him tonight."
"He's with Mr. Barrington just now. If there is nothing you wish, I will leave you. The lights go off automatically after an hour."
"Thank you, Martin. Good night." She arose and walked on through the garden, exiting near the path which Barrington had placed off-limits. She looked down the path with curiosity, but could see no further than where it curved in the woods. As she was about to turn back to the house, she thought she heard a sharp cry. She listened intently, but hearing nothing more, decided it must have been from one of the gulls on the beach.
She paused to pick up a current magazine from the table in her sitting room and, though it was early, climbed into her bed to read. Her eyes grew heavy. She switched off the lamp and lay back against the pillow. Faintly, she heard music as if played on a large organ, the sound lulling her into sleep.
Comfortable with the machines by now, she began to consciously read the material she typed:
His hands fumbled with the hook of her bra. At last it
fell, her taut well-formed breasts surged upward. 'Oh,
darling,' he whispered in her pink shell-like ear, 'I've
wanted you so.' His breath was hot on her throat as
his lips traveled downward to her breasts where he
began to suckle.
Susan's mouth opened in shock. 'What trash!' Seized with a feeling that some monstrous joke was being taken at her expense, she angrily jabbed a button on her desk.
A moment later, Barrington stood in the connecting doorway, eyeing her questioningly.
"Mr. Barrington, I do not appreciate your sense of humor."
His expression changed to one of cold anger. "I have no sense of humor."
"Than what do you call this drivel I've been transcribing if not a joke?"
"Regardless of what you might think, Miss Sims, that drivel, as you call it, pays your wages. I might remind you that you were employed to type, not offer literary criticism. The typist you replaced found her work so titillating that she spent her time reading instead of doing her job. I trust you have no such tendencies?" He looked at her thoughtfully. "However, if it has taken you three days to find out, you are either an excellent typist or a complete idiot."
"I assure you that I'm a very good typist."
"Adequate, let us say. I have no reason to complain thus far. As you have yet to discover, I will save myself further interruption and explain that you are doing three separate manuscripts. In one of them you will begin to find a number of Italian terms. Should you need to check spellings, you will find a group of foreign language dictionaries in the bookcase, just there. The thesaurus on your machine also contains several languages. Now, if there is nothing further ..." He turned back into his office and slammed the door before Susan could speak.
Mollified that she was not the butt of a joke, she resumed typing, though she found that she was unable to maintain her previous detachment. Several times during the morning, her cheeks flamed at the suggestive words flowing from her machine.
As she lay waiting for sleep that evening, she tried to reconcile the embarrassingly trite work she typed with the cold formality of Barrington. It didn't fit the man, no matter what interpretation she tried. She had gone into the library to find something to read, only to find a limited selection of the better current novels, the preponderance of volumes being magnificent leather bound sets of the classics. Even the supply of current periodicals was limited to the best in literary quality. 'Then how can he write such garbage?' She wondered as her eyes closed.
The following days found Susan settling into the routine of work, eating alone, and seeking desperately to fill the hours away from her desk. She began to look forward to her evening walks in the garden where at least her mind was able to escape the isolation. Many times her dreams included Barrington being gracious, taking her to exclusive places to dine and dance. In one flight of fantasy, they traveled to Europe where, in a casual manner, he introduced her to the romantic places of which she had only read. At least twice, her fantasies had been interrupted by cries, quickly hushed, from the wooded area forbidden to her. Once she had turned aside and taken a step towards the path. If someone were in such agony, surely she could help, but the second step was never taken, for Satan stood in the path, fangs glistening. When she turned and started to walk toward the house, the animal watched for a moment then loped back into the woods.
The next Friday afternoon, Susan dialed the city, arranging a luncheon date for the following day with her one constant friend.
Susan was surprised when she mentioned her desire to drive into the city for Martin had simply said, "Of course, Miss." And handed her the keys to the Maxima.
She arrived at the small restaurant early and chose a corner table that afforded some measure of privacy. She ordered a drink and settled back on the banquette to wait.
"Susan! It seems like years and it's only been two weeks." Ann settled into the chair across from Susan. "Tell me all about your new job. Does it pay well? But it must. I heard about the limousine. What's your new boss like? Do you enjoy the work?"
Susan held up a hand to staunch the flow of questions. Ann never changed, she thought. "One thing at a time. I'm losing track."
Ann laughed, her dark eyes dancing with curiosity. "I'll have one of those," she told the hovering waiter, pointing to Susan's drink. "When did you start drinking at lunch?" She asked as the waiter left.
Susan shook her head. "This job is enough to make one drink. Oh, I didn't mean that, it's just ... just such a weird situation and it's so lonely."
"Tell me! I'm dying to hear about it. I went by your room last Monday, and Mrs. Barnes told me you had left in a chauffeur driven car so big it was indecent."
Susan smiled at the recollection of the look on Mrs. Barnes' face when she saw the limousine. "The job is wonderful, nine to four, and I have a new computer with a word processing program which does everything. The pay is fantastic, too." Her smile vanished. "But Mr. Barrington is impossible. I haven't seen him but three times since the interview."
"I wish my boss was that hard to find," Ann interrupted. "Go on."
"I type manuscript from machine dictation and a business letter now and then. Every morning when I go in, there's a tape on my desk and a list of appointments and instructions."
"Where do you live?"
"In the house. Mr. Barrington's office is there, and I have an office of my own."
"Is he good looking? How old is he?" Susan's hesitation was too much for Ann.
"He's maybe thirty and, yes, he's awfully good looking, but he's the coldest fish I ever saw. What little he's said to me has been criticism."
"He couldn't! You're a much better typist than I am, and I'm not bad."
"Oh, but he does. He's a perfectionist and never misses a chance to remind me of it."
"You poor thing. What's the house like?"
Susan shrugged. "I haven't seen anything but my office, the dining nook, and my apartment. You wouldn't believe it, but I've got a complete apartment with a kitchen and all, right there. It's just beautiful." She grinned at Ann. "A maid brings breakfast to my room every morning. I could even have it in bed if I wanted."
"I don't believe it!"
"Mrs. Martin, she's the housekeeper, is the sweetest person. I wanted to come down or fix my own, but she wouldn't let me. She said it was scheduled and I wasn't to do anything to upset the household. It's really rather nice."
"Can't you just see my boss giving me breakfast in bed," Ann exclaimed.
Susan broke into laughter at the thought of Ann's dignified, rotund employer standing by her bed holding a tray, then continued. "I think what I hate most is not having anybody around to talk to, especially when I eat. The dining nook is beautiful and the windows look out over the ocean, but it's so lonely."
"But Barrington, that's his name isn't it? Surely he eats lunch. Mr. Smithers is always after me to eat lunch with him."
"Mr. Barrington eats lunch in his study." The week of solitude overwhelmed Susan. "Oh, Ann, I miss you so much."
"I miss you, too. Since you live out there, I don't suppose your boss would let you have company for a weekend."
Susan looked at her in surprise. "Goodness, I've only been there a couple of weeks, so I wouldn't dare ask this soon. But if I stay on and I catch him in a good mood ... Would you really want to come?"
Eagerness glowed on Ann's face. "I wouldn't miss it. Just think of the luxury, and the ocean at your door. Maybe I could even get to see if your boss is as good looking as you say." Ann might have continued but for the arrival of the waitress with their meal.
While they lingered over coffee, Susan commented, "You might not like it. There's a guard dog, and Shaun, he's the chauffeur, scares me."
"What do you mean? What does he do?"
Susan shrugged. "Nothing. It's just that he's a huge man and he's covered in terrible scars. There are even places I'm not allowed to go."
"How mysterious. Your boss doesn't work for the Mafia or anything?"
"No, he just writes books as far as I know."
"Then why all the mystery? Aren't you just dying of curiosity?"
"Well, yes, but I can't afford to lose a job that pays like this one. It's easier to mind my own business."
"That's your trouble, Susan, you haven't the faintest bit of curiosity and I have too much. But you said that Barrington criticized you. What on earth for?"
"He doesn't like my clothes. He said I didn't dress right for an office. As if anybody's going to see me out there anyway."
Ann laughed. "He knows a pretty girl when he sees one. He just doesn't want you to hide your charms."
Susan blushed. "Don't tease, Ann. I'm as plain as can be. Besides, I can't afford anything new."
"Why not? If the pay is all that good and you live in, you don't have a thing to spend it on but clothes." She swallowed the last of her coffee. "Let's go shopping. I know a little place that has the prettiest things just right for you and good prices, too."
She all but dragged Susan out of the restaurant and along the street to a small shop where she was greeted by the clerk.
"Need something to dazzle that boss of yours Ann?"
"You know I could wear a paper sack and he'd never notice. It's not dressing me he wants, the old fool. What I need is something really glamorous for Susan."
The older woman studied Susan for a moment. "What a lovely complexion. I have some new summer things which will be perfect for you. Let me look."
"I can't afford the things here." Susan whispered as the clerk moved off to search a rack.
"When you see what she chooses for you, you'll want everything. Let go and splurge. It'll do you good. Every time I get down, I come in and buy something. Makes me feel like a new person."
"This will be perfect on you." The clerk held out a simple short-sleeved linen dress in a pale green. "Try it on."
Susan came out of the dressing room to draw a gasp from Ann. "It's fantastic. Look at yourself."
Susan turned in front of the mirror, pleased at her appearance, while Ann asked the clerk, "Don't you have a scarf or something to set it off? And maybe some sandals to match?"
The woman's eyebrows raised. "Sandals in a professional office?"
"Susan works at the beach."
"Oh. Then they would be appropriate. Let me see." She returned in a few moments with a pair of sandals and a pair of pumps in a darker shade to compliment the dress. "I thought perhaps you might want pumps for city wear."
Susan would have been content with one outfit, but under Ann's enthusiasm, she added a light blue ensemble as well. "Let's go, Ann. I can't afford another thing. This has taken nearly every cent I have."
"Okay, but we're coming back when you get paid. Those rags you've been wearing don't do a thing for you, and you could be stunning with your hair done right and clothes like these. Come on to my apartment and I'll do your hair."
Despite her reservations, when Ann finished, her hair fell in a soft curl about her shoulders and her face was transformed by the application of light make-up.
"I wish I could hear your boss when he sees you now. I always knew you'd be a knock-out if you'd let yourself go and got out of dresses like my grandmother wore. Don't you feel better already?"
Susan smiled her gratitude. "Oh, I do. But I spent so much."
"Look, if it makes you feel good, that's all that counts. Hey, remember I want to come visit."
"I want you to. It's been such fun today. When I think Mr. Barrington will let me, I'll ask him if you can come." She glanced at her watch. "I have to hurry. Thanks for everything, Ann."
"Damn the man!" Susan muttered under her breath as the door between her office and Barrington's study closed. She had hoped that he would at least look pleased at her new outfit. Instead, he had merely raised one eyebrow, placed the dictation on her desk, and said, "I'd like this letter as soon as possible," before going back into his study. It was marked contrast with the excited comment of Mrs. Martin as she had come down that morning.
"Why Miss Sims, I hardly recognized you. What a gorgeous dress, so right for late spring. It does wonders for you. I know Mr. Barrington will be pleased."
Thinking once more of the housekeeper's words brought some of the pleasure back.
When she paused for her mid-morning coffee, Susan argued with herself. Now that the work was caught up, the job was undemanding and, she'd been led to believe, permanent. The pay was certainly above that of any in the city. Then why did she feel so insecure? She was shocked when the answer dawned on her - she was attracted to Barrington. "No!"
The explosiveness of the spoken word startled Betty who had slipped in to pick up the tray. "I'm sorry, Miss. I didn't mean to disturb you."
The look of dismay on the girl's face brought Susan's instant sympathy. "I'm so sorry, Betty. I wasn't speaking to you. It slipped out because I was thinking of something else." She replaced her cup on the tray. "I talk to myself sometimes. It helps me think things through."
"I know, miss. I do, too. It helps like you say."
"I'm just glad it was you and not him." Susan nodded towards the door between the offices. "If he'd heard me, he'd probably have me committed."
The maid shook her head. "I don't know, Miss. There's times I've heard him out in the woods yelling like anything, when I know he's in his office, but I recognize his voice."
"What's up that path in the woods?"
Betty gave her a frightened glance. "I don't know, Miss, and I don't want to. Nobody goes there but Mr. Barrington and Shaun. Sometimes Mr. Martin goes and once in a great long time, Mrs. Martin. He," she nodded towards the door, "fired one of the girls just for saying she wondered what all the mystery was about."
She might have continued, but the door opened and Barrington glared at her before handing Susan a tape. "If you've finished your coffee, Miss Sims, I wish this letter done immediately." As he closed the door, Betty picked up the tray and fled.
As Susan was finishing her lunch, Mrs. Martin came into the dining nook. "Hurry along and get ready to go into the city, dear. Mr. Barrington has some errands for both of us."
Susan looked at the housekeeper in surprise. "But he didn't say a thing about it this morning, and I've quite a bit of work to do."
"I know. That's the way he is. Hurry, now, Shaun is waiting with the car."
Susan ran up the stairs, checked her make-up, and dashed down. Once she was seated, Shaun helped Mrs. Martin in the limo with surprising gentleness.
"Goodness, Shaun, I'm never so old!" The housekeeper exclaimed in jest.
The scarred face twisted into an awkward smile. "Never said you were, but I've got to take care of my favorite girl. Isn't often Mike lets me have the pleasure of your company."
"Get on with you, Shaun. I never heard such foolish talk in all my days." The affection in her voice convinced Susan more than anything else that she had nothing to fear from the massive man.
But of course not, she thought, listening to the banter between the housekeeper and the chauffeur. He's an employee the same as I. He only does what he's told. She leaned back against the soft seat listening to them, realizing that while Shaun teased Mrs. Martin with great affection, he also offered her the highest respect.
As they entered the city traffic, Shaun raised the privacy partition and Mrs. Martin turned her attention to Susan. "I am sorry, my dear. I didn't mean to ignore you, but it's so seldom that Shaun and I have time to chat. I know I shouldn't say this, but Shaun is my favorite. There's nothing that he wouldn't do for me or Michael or Kev ..." Her hand flew to her mouth, a look of consternation crossed her face before she continued hastily. "He's not really staff, you know, but we all feel that he's one of us. Poor boy, he needs someone to love him; he's so much love to give in return. It's shame that no one can see farther than his face. I don't even ..." She stopped and patted Susan's hand. "Pay no attention, my dear. I'm an old fool who talks too much."
The limo turned into a quiet side street planted with trees. Flower boxes lined the sidewalk and graced the windows of many of the row houses lending an old world charm. A number of the houses had had their lower floor converted into boutiques, identified by discrete brass plaques set above the bell push. Susan had often wandered along the street wondering at what treasures lay behind the private facades. She'd never dared enter one, knowing the prices would be far beyond her limited means.
Shaun pulled the limo to the curb and held the door for them. Susan looked quizzically at Mrs. Martin as Shaun helped the housekeeper out. "Come, child," Mrs. Martin said, holding out her hand to Susan.
Perplexed, Susan followed her up the steps and past Shaun holding the door for them. Mrs. Martin paused. "We'll be at least two hours if there's something you wish to do."
The chauffeur smiled at her. "I knew I could count on you. Kev wants some things."
The housekeeper's smile broadened. "Bless you, Shaun. We'll wait at the usual place if you're not back before we've finished."
Susan followed her into the main room which achieved the look of a fashionable town salon. A beautifully gowned woman swept in through another door. "Mrs. Martin, what a pleasant surprise. How may I help you?"
Susan stared in surprise at the warmth of the words. Certainly the housekeeper could not be a client of such a shop as this.
"Claudette! I've missed seeing your lovely things since Madame passed away. This is Miss Sims, Mr. Barrington's executive secretary. He wishes a few things in formal wear for her."
"Of course. And how is Mr. Barrington?"
"How else? Let's see if we can manage to awaken him, shall we?"
"Please." She waved a graceful hand toward two chairs upholstered in silk separated by a low table. As Susan started to sit, the woman stopped her. "Just a moment." Susan stood uncertainly, turning as directed while the woman studied her serenely. "Yes. Now, please."
Susan sank back in the chair and leaned towards the housekeeper. "What on earth did you mean that Mr. Barrington wanted evening wear for me?"
Before Mrs. Martin could answer, a maid set a tea service on the table before Mrs. Martin. She poured a cup of tea and handed it to Susan, then poured for herself. "Try one of these, my dear, they're delicious." She extended a small tray of open-faced sandwiches. "Claudette could make a fortune in catering if she ever gave up dressing people."
"But what about me?"
"Oh, yes. Mr. Barrington ..." Mrs. Martin broke off as a model swept into the room wearing an off-white floor length gown drawn over one shoulder in the classic Greek fashion. The severity was relieved by an elegant clasp at the shoulder. The model wore her hair in an up-sweep. The understated elegance made Susan gasp. "How lovely."
Mrs. Martin nodded at Claudette and another model took the floor wearing a simple suit with a box skirt and jacket in light blue tweed. A ruffled pastel blouse offset the severe cut. Navy pumps and bag offered contrast.
As the model left, Susan whispered to Mrs. Martin, "The dresses are lovely, but hardly what I've seen in the fashion magazines."
"Claudette doesn't follow trends, dear. Just classic styles always in good taste. That's why madame never bought her clothes anywhere else. Besides, Mr. Barrington prefers Claudette's simple designs."
"But why are we looking at these?"
"Me! But I have no use for dresses like these."
"Oh, dear, whatever will I do with Mr. Barrington. He's having guests for dinner on Tuesday. You are to serve as hostess, so it's imperative that you look your best."
"He never said a word to me!" Susan exclaimed.
"I'll explain on the way home. Now, let's see a few more selections."
Mrs. Martin turned her attention back to the waiting model.
In her shock, Susan could remember none of the garments selected. Mrs. Martin made the decisions and Susan was whisked off to a fitting room. A perfect size eight, there was little to be done, and soon a maid placed a stack of boxes in the foyer. "Your car is here," she announced.
Thank you, Claudette. Mr. Barrington will be pleased as always," Mrs. Martin said, gathering up her purse.
"You're so kind. I do wish I could have your Miss Sims as a model. Her coloring and figure are perfect. It's a pleasure to dress someone so lovely."
"It must be your beautiful designs," Susan replied. "I'm far from pretty."
"Let Mrs. Martin have her way and you will see."
Shaun had the packages stowed in the limo and opened the door as Susan and Mrs. Martin came down the walk together. He winked at Mrs. Martin conspiratorially.
Part II I III
Tuesday afternoon as Susan
was stacking the last of the finished copy Mrs. Martin burst into her office.
"Susan, dear, will you never finish on time? Come along. André is here."
"The hairdresser. You have only two and a half hours before the guests arrive. André's frantic."
"He's here?" She whispered in disbelief.
"He always came to do Madame's hair for special events. He lives just down the beach, so it's no imposition for him. Now get your bath and put on everything but your dress. I'll get your robe for you to wear while he does your hair."
When she had finished her shower and dressed to her slip, she put on the robe and sat before her dressing table. The housekeeper entered with a small man Susan disliked on sight. Her dislike intensified when he spoke in a shrill voice with a French accent she instantly detected as false. At Mrs. Martin's insistence she submitted to his ministrations. He swept her hair up, muttering savagely to himself.
"I'd like it brushed out and let fall loose," Susan commented impatiently.
"Never! Never!" He shrieked. "It must be up for a Grecian gown. Only the classic style will do it justice."
Mrs. Martin patted Susan's hand. "Trust André. I've shown him your gown, so he knows just what to do."
"Indeed," he hissed between his teeth. "I will make you a vision of loveliness." He continued to fuss with her hair until Susan was ready to scream, but at last he stepped back and clapped his hands in satisfaction. "So!"
Susan turned to look at her reflection with horror. Her chestnut hair was piled severely upward, accenting her height, making her features plainer than ever. Now, just when she must look her best, she looked ridiculous. Tears sprang into her eyes.
"What's the matter, dear?" Mrs. Martin asked anxiously.
"It's awful! I look so plain this way."
"Just so," shrilled André. "Wait until you have make-up to accent your features. You will be a beauty. I promise you. Come." He patted away her tears with a tissue and bent over, studying her face. "Yes," he muttered, "lovely skin. A touch of blusher, light eye-shadow, mascara, and lip rouge." He opened a case of cosmetics and applied them deftly. Once, he paused, made a slight correction, then stood back. "Voila!"
Susan gazed at her reflection once more, unable to believe that the light touch of emollients could bring about such a transformation. The tears that sparkled now were of joy. "Why I look lovely," she whispered.
"No, no. Exquisite." André shrilled. "Now the gown."
The excitement of her appearance drove from her mind any embarrassment at his presence as she slipped from the robe and into the gown. André touched her make-up sparingly and stepped back to view his creation. "Oh, Mam'selle, few do I make so beautiful."
"Surely most of your clients are prettier than I."
He shrugged. "What is beauty? I could make a department store dummy into high fashion, but look at yourself - hair that is perfection without tint, a complexion too lovely to hide with cosmetics, just enough make-up to highlight your features, and perfection."
Susan turned back to the dressing table and opened her jewel box with a sinking feeling. Nothing it contained would do justice to the gown. The only pieces of value were amethyst earrings and clip which had been handed down from her grandmother. She held the pieces out.
"No, no," cried André. "Lovely, yes, but wrong. Is there nothing more?"
Susan bit her lip and started to reply, interrupted by a knock at the door. The housekeeper admitted her husband who held a leather case in his hands. Her eyes lighted. "Martin!" She exclaimed.
The butler smiled at her and Susan. "Mr. Barrington had me bring these up for you to select." He opened the case. From a chamois pillow an array of gems sparkled in the light. Even André gasped.
Susan looked at the treasure, finally finding her voice. "They ... they're real."
Mrs. Martin smiled. "Yes, dear. This must be a very special occasion for Mr. Barrington. I haven't seen these since his mother passed away." She turned to André. "What do you think?"
His hand darted to a large burst of diamonds and emeralds. "This alone." He said decisively.
Mrs. Martin pinned the burst to the folds of the gown at Susan's shoulder then handed her the emerald earrings.
"You look lovely, Miss," Martin commented, closing the case. "Mr. Barrington will be pleased."
"Oh, I hope so." Once the hairdresser had followed the butler from the room, Susan felt her confidence slip away. "Oh, Mrs. Martin, I'm so afraid. What shall I do?"
"Don't worry about a thing, dear; just be your sweet self. You'll find that Mr. Barrington's guests are just people, too. I know you'll be fine. I think you should go down now. Cocktails will be served in the drawing room. Mr. Barrington will meet you in the hall."
Susan twirled around in front of the full-length mirror once more to see the miraculous change. She descended the stairs, head high, confident in her appearance. Only a lack of knowledge of the role she was to play gave her qualms about the evening ahead.
Barrington stood in the hall, his tailored dinner clothing perfection. His cold eyes raked her from head to toe before he gave her a fleeting smile, but the words which followed quenched her rush of pleasure. "Quite presentable. I trust you will refrain from saying anything that might disgrace the occasion."
She was torn by a desire to ask what he expected of her, but relieved when he turned away without finding further fault. As the role of hostess had been thrust upon her unwilling shoulders, she was determined to carry it off. "What should I do about the ladies wraps?"
He spun back to her impatiently. "The servants see to our guests' comfort. Your place is beside me. You will occupy the hostess' place at the table. Don't worry about the bell, it's at my end."
She paid no attention to his last words, for her mind had taken flight at his words, "Your place is beside me." Oh, if only it were, she thought. How wonderful it would be if you had said that with warmth and a smile.
Barrington broke her reverie as he slid back the double doors and touched a switch. Soft light flooded the room. Susan gasped at the beauty. Though it had a decorator's skilled touch, the drawing room invited one to linger and enjoy its beauty and comfort. Large mixed flower arrangements and green plants added charm and fragrance.
"I take it you approve," he said placidly.
"I've never seen anything so beautiful. It's too lovely to be used."
"Things acquire beauty through use," Barrington snapped. "Who wants an object solely for itself, doesn't appreciate it fully."
Susan looked at him with exasperation. Everything I say irritates him, she thought.
"I was certain that you had explored the house by now," he growled.
"I do not make a habit of prying into other's possessions." She fired back.
Barrington's eyebrows raised. "Then by all means do so at the first opportunity. It will be quite inconvenient to have to draw you a map if I should send you to one of the rooms for something. If you happen to be afraid, Mrs. Martin can show you around."
"Then I shall ask her. I wouldn't want you to accuse me of taking something!"
At her hot reply, Barrington grinned. He might have spoken further had chimes not sounded. He moved to a place near the door, motioning for her to stand beside him as Martin ushered in the guests.
Her fears were quickly banished as Barrington introduced the Williamsons. Mr. Williamson, a portly man, was jovial, but with Mrs. Williamson, she felt an immediate rapport. The sprightly grey-haired lady quickly made Susan feel that they had been friends for years.
"My dear, you are so lovely," she said when they were seated in the drawing room apart from the men and had been served a cocktail by Martin. "It's obvious that Michael thinks very highly of you."
"You are wearing the Barrington emeralds. He would never let just anyone wear them. They are known the world over for their beauty and perfection, not to mention the sentimental value they have for Michael."
"I would have said he hadn't a sentimental bone in his body." Susan's hand flew to her mouth, for the words had slipped out before she could stop them.
To her relief, Mrs. Williamson laughed quietly. "Still waters run deep. Please don't judge Michael from what you see day to day. The past two years would have driven a lesser man insane. I hope you are strong enough to bear his outbursts without being critical or leaving him." She paused at Susan's startled look. "But of course, you don't know. Hal," she nodded in her husband's direction, "is Michael's attorney just as he was Mr. and Mrs. Barrington's. We've known Michael and Kevin since they were born. Hal and I are the boys' godparents."
"I've never met Kevin and no one talks about him. Would you tell me?"
Mrs. Williamson patted her hand. "I'm sorry, but Kevin is not open to discussion. If Michael wishes you to know, he'll tell you, but please don't ask about him." She quickly changed the subject. "That must be one of Claudette's gowns. It's lovely on you."
"It is. Thank you." She was saved further comment by Martin's announcement of dinner.
Throughout the meal, Mrs. Williamson, by her gentle openness, brought Susan to reveal more of her past than she would have believed. That she had begun nursing school, giving it up just short of graduation and taking several intensive typing courses in order to support herself after the tragic accident in which her adored parents had been killed, leaving her only enough to cover burial expense and the secretarial courses. How she had moved from job to job because the business practices of many of her employers revolted her.
In turn, Mrs. Williamson regaled her with stories and pictures of her grandchildren upon whom she doted.
Susan had not felt so open with anyone since her mother's death. She was surprised when the Williamsons arose to leave. "I do hope to see you again," she said, and impulsively kissed the older woman on her cheek.
Mrs. Williamson's expression was one of delight. "I, too. You must come for tea the next time you are in the city. Michael has our number. Do call, I'd love to see you any time."
Susan waited while Barrington walked the Williamsons to their car. "She's so lovely and kind," She said when he returned.
Barrington's mouth twitched slightly. "I'm glad you had sense enough to notice. Good night." He entered his study and closed the door, leaving her standing in the hall.
With a sigh, Susan climbed the stairs. Mrs. Martin waited in her room. "I'll help you. Martin will be here in a moment for the jewels."
Susan unpinned the brooch and held it in her hand, turning it to catch the light and revel in its beauty. "It's so beautiful, I hate to take it off."
"I know, but the jewels are always placed in the vault immediately. Madame herself insisted on it. The brooch alone is insured for over a million dollars." She laughed at Susan's shocked expression. "And the earrings for half that."
"My God!" Susan gasped. "I was wearing over a million in jewels!"
"You picked the very finest. You have excellent taste."
Martin knocked and entered, the leather case in hand. Susan almost knocked it over in her haste to put the jewels in place. "Take them away, please. I'd never have worn them if I'd known they were so valuable."
"Mr. Barrington would have been quite upset if you hadn't. It's best to do as he asks," Mrs. Martin replied. "If there's nothing more, I'll leave you."
"Nothing, and thank you for all your help this evening."
Susan drifted into sleep to dream that Michael and she were entertaining a large gathering in which conversation hushed as she entered on his arm, wearing the gown and the Barrington jewels, and later of standing in the moonlight, Michael entranced by the vision before him.
She awoke when Betty tapped at her door and entered with the breakfast tray.
A few days after the dinner, Barrington left on an unexpected business trip so swiftly, indeed, that Susan was able to complete the dictation he left in little more than an hour. At loose ends, she sought out the housekeeper. "Mr. Barrington said that whenever you have the time you might give me a tour of the house so that I can familiarize myself with it."
"Now would be perfect." Mrs. Martin beamed at her. "There are a number of rooms that are not in use, so we'll pass them over, but I'll be happy to show you around. You've seen Mr. Barrington's study, of course, and the drawing room and dining room," she said as they walked along the hall to the front of the house. Mrs. Martin pushed aside the doors across the hall from the drawing room. "This is the family living room. It hasn't been used since Madame passed away. That's why the drapes are drawn." She switched on the lights. "Mr. Barrington prefers to use his study or apartment."
Susan looked at a room made comfortable with furniture designed for daily use rather than the elegance of the drawing room. Her gaze was arrested by a portrait of two identical young boys hanging above the mantel. "Is one of them Mr. Barrington?"
"Yes, the one on the left. He was ten when that was painted."
"Then he has a twin?"
"Is he Kevin?"
"Where did you hear about him?" Mrs. Martin asked.
"When you and Shaun were talking on the way into town, and Mrs. Williamson mentioned him. Does he live here, also?"
"He is away." The housekeeper spoke curtly for the first time since Susan had known her. She switched off the lights and closed the doors, then moved quickly along the hall to the room behind the living room. "This is my favorite room," she said, stepping aside for Susan to enter.
Susan gasped. A row of gilt organ pipes filled the far end of the room, the console to one side. Near the windows on the opposite side stood a concert grand piano, lid at full height. Nearer the doorway was a beautifully decorated little instrument with two keyboards. She pointed to it. "What's that?"
"An antique harpsichord which Mr. Barrington had restored for -," she paused almost imperceptibly, "himself. Michael is a fine musician. I always enjoy hearing him play, though it's been quite a while."
"I've thought I heard the organ several nights after I'd gone to bed. And once, I thought I heard the piano with the organ."
"You may well have heard the organ. Mr. Barrington mostly plays now to rid himself of tension. It's usually quite late at night when the poor boy can't sleep. But I'm certain that you must have imagined the piano, for there's no one to play with him. Come along, there's much more to show you."
At the back of the hall, Mrs. Martin opened a door next to Susan's office revealing a lift. "Mr. Barrington had this installed for his mother's convenience and to save us carrying heavy things up and down the stairs. "They rode to the second floor and stepped out into the main hall. The housekeeper pointed in the direction familiar to Susan. "Your rooms are that way, of course, as are a number of guest rooms along the front. They have been closed for several years. Michael's rooms are this way."
She led the way to the opposite end of the hall from Susan's apartment and opened heavily carved double doors to a sitting room paneled in dark wood. Wall shelves were filled to overflowing with books. A desk, deep leather chairs, and handy tables seemed sparsely distributed over the vast space. Panels beside the fireplace stood open, revealing a wet bar. Mrs. Martin closed them with a sigh, then indicated matching panels on the other side of the fireplace. "Mr. Barrington's bedroom and bath are through there, but anything that he might send you up here for will be on his desk."
She closed the doors and pointed to a pair of doors a short distance from Barrington's. "That was Madame's apartment. I'll not take you in, for Mr. Barrington has kept the rooms locked since she passed away."
They retraced their steps towards the stairway. "Whose rooms are those?" Susan pointed to a set of doors opposite those to Mrs. Barrington's rooms.
"They belonged to Mr. Barrington's brother when he was here." Mrs. Martin seemed to quicken her step as if to cut off Susan's questions. At the stair landing, she pointed above. "There are more guest rooms along the front on the next floor. The staff have rooms along the back which are reached by the back stairs. There is nothing out of the ordinary to see, so I'll not take you up, if you don't mind. There are also out-buildings, but you'd certainly have no reason to go into any of those. I gather you know where the bath house is located."
"Oh, yes." A bit of fancy struck Susan. "Is there a dungeon?"
Mrs. Martin broke into laughter. "Heavens, no. I know the place looks a bit grim, but it's just an overly large house. There is a cellar, of course, but except for the wine cellar and vault, the rest of the space is for the laundry, heating and cooling equipment, and storage. There's nothing mysterious about it, I assure you."
Susan adjusted to the routine of the house. She lost her fear of Satan once the animal accepted her presence and obeyed her instantly. He frequently accompanied her on her walks along the beach, delighting in retrieving bits of driftwood she occasionally threw into the surf. Only once did he menace her, when she absentmindedly wandered toward the forbidden path.
She also became comfortable with the presence of the huge chauffeur, for his harsh whisper voice never varied. She began to observe an unusual relationship between Shaun and Barrington, hearing the chauffeur call Barrington by his given name on those occasions when they were unaware of being overheard. Once she had seen them walk across the lawn towards the forbidden path with their arms around each others shoulders. On seeing this, her heart ached to feel Barrington's arm about her, to be in Shaun's place.
On one of the occasions when Barrington was away and her transcription caught up, she wandered into the kitchen for a cup of tea.
Mrs. Martin arose quickly from her seat at a table by the bay window. "Yes?"
"Oh! I didn't know anyone was here. I just wanted a cup of tea."
"Of course, my dear," the housekeeper smiled as she reached into the cabinet for a cup and poured from a freshly prepared pot. "I was just having one myself. Betty would have brought it to you. Why didn't you ring?"
"My work is caught up and I didn't want to bother you or Betty. You must have enough to do to take care of a house this large."
"Mercy, yes." As Susan showed no sign of leaving, the housekeeper pointed to a chair at the table. "Would you care to join me?"
"I'd love to."
As Mrs. Martin raised her cup, she sighed heavily. "It's good to sit down for a few minutes."
This was the first time Susan had seen the woman at less than her cheerful self. "You sound tired, Mrs. Martin."
"I am. The only time we get to clean Mr. Barrington's study thoroughly is when he goes away. Shaun, Betty, and I are the only ones he permits to do it and it takes us all day. He's due back this evening and he would be furious if it were not in perfect order when he returned."
"Is there anything I can do to help?"
"Thank you, but no. Betty and Shaun are helping. Shaun and the gardener do all the heavy lifting."
"I thought Shaun drove Mr. Barrington. I haven't seen him since Mr. Barrington left yesterday."
"Oh, no. Michael drives that fancy little car of his when he goes on short trips. Shaun is always around when he's needed, but he has other duties as well." A fond expression crossed the older woman's face. "Poor boy, I often wonder how he manages all of his responsibilities and remains so sweet and helpful. Never an unkind word or complaint out of him, even when I know he's in pain."
Sensing the housekeeper's predilection to talk, she pressed gently. "Do you know what happened to scar him so?"
She nodded. "You should have seen him when he first came here. He was almost as handsome as Michael, and then that terrible accident with the car." Mrs. Martin gave a shudder. "Just after, it was all I could do to bring myself to look at him. It's just God's mercy that he wasn't blinded. He was only twenty-five when it happened, you know."
"When was that?"
"Two years ago it must be now."
"He's only twenty-seven!" Susan gasped.
The housekeeper's eyes fastened on Susan's face. "I'm talking too much, dear. Michael wouldn't like it. But, yes, Shaun's twenty-seven. The scars make him look much older. Now," she set her cup down, "I must go see that Michael's study is finished up properly. I'm certain that you may use the pool if you'd care for a swim. Just ring when you're ready for lunch."
Susan remained at the table for some time after the housekeeper had gone, pondering the older woman's words. 'That makes Shaun only two years older than I,' she thought, 'yet he seems so old. Perhaps it's all the responsibilities Mrs. Martin says he has, though driving a car once in a while and helping with the cleaning can't be that demanding.' Finding no answer, she carried her cup to the sink.
Several days later, Susan ignored the presence of the housekeeper and continued her work as the woman straightened the room and dusted. The door to Barrington's study crashed open, his presence filling the smaller room. His eyebrows meeting in a scowl, his teeth clinched, he flung a handful of papers at her. "Don't you ever check anything you do?" He growled "I want this redone immediately, and this time do it right." He slammed out as angrily as he'd entered.
Once she recovered from her shock, she gathered the pages and looked at them. Finding nothing wrong, she reset the dictating machine and checked each word. "Oh!" Her hand involuntarily covered her mouth as she looked at the transposed figures, but as the dictation ended, her irritation grew. One mistake which could have been corrected by reprinting two pages had been compounded by Barrington's anger. All six pages, wrinkled from being crushed in his hand, would have to be redone because the memory of the processor had been cleared as soon as she had moved on to the latest dictation. At least an hour's work faced her with having to reset the spreadsheet to accommodate the columns and put the figures in, when five minutes would have been enough for the two pages containing the error. She looked up at the sympathetic smile of the housekeeper. 'Is Mr. Barrington always so grim, or is it something I've done? There was no need to ruin the whole report for one error."
"I'm sorry, dear. He shouldn't get so upset, but he's had little to make him otherwise these past two years. I keep hoping he can find someone who will make him laugh again. He was such a happy child. No, it's not you. We all take the brunt of his temper, though it's easier to forgive when you understand why he's become so hard."
"Won't you tell me?"
"Oh, no. Michael would be furious. He was only upset just now. I don't want to ever witness another occasion when he loses his temper. I wouldn't add to his troubles for anything." She picked up her cleaning materials and bustled out.
Barrington had left the previous afternoon with only a casual comment to Susan. "I shall be back sometime tomorrow."
The next afternoon as she typed, her office door flew open and a woman swept in, an air of ownership emanating as a blanket over the room. Susan's mouth dropped open, for Martin had not announced her. She looked at the regal carriage, the tailored suit and perfect accessories, seeing the image she wished she could project.
Ignoring Susan, she crossed to Barrington's door and placed her hand on the latch. Instinctively, Susan's foot came down on the switch that locked the door, unaware that the same switch set an indicator lamp blinking on Barrington's desk.
Vexation crossed her face when the door failed to yield. Pink spotted her cheeks as she barked at Susan, "Open this door!"
"Mr. Barrington is not in," Susan replied in velvet tones. "Have you an appointment?"
"I never need an appointment. Michael always has time for me. Now open this door."
The haughty tone irritated Susan. 'Over my dead body,' she thought before giving the woman a saccharine smile. "No one enters Mr. Barrington's study unless he is present."
The chill dropped below freezing. "Apparently you don't know who I am."
"I'm so sorry, but no, I'm afraid I don't." Susan replied as sweetly as possible. "Mr. Barrington has never, to my knowledge, mentioned anyone I think might be you."
She crossed to Susan's desk, giving her a look of utter disdain. "With the way servants gossip, I was certain ... however, I happen to be Michael's agent, and," she drew herself up, "though it hasn't been formally announced as yet, his fiancé. Now, open this door."
Susan shook her head. "I shall be happy to make an appointment for you, but under no circumstances will I permit anyone to enter his study unless he's present."
Fury flooded the woman's face. She was about to make some comment when her expression changed completely, for Barrington stood in the doorway. She stood on tip-toe to kiss him. "Oh, darling, I was looking for you, but this little twit wouldn't let me in your office."
"I'm here, now, Valerie. Come in." He winked at Susan before closing the door.
Susan's temper boiled over. The pencil she held snapped in her fingers. She flung the pieces wrathfully in the trash basket and stormed off to the kitchen for a cup of tea. She opened the door just as cook slammed the receiver of the wall phone into place and said distinctly, "Bitch!"
"What on earth?"
"Mr. Barrington has a guest for dinner."
"If it's who I think it is, bitch is the right word."
Cook suddenly grinned. "I see you've met her highness."
Susan shuddered. "Then you can imagine how she behaved when I wouldn't let her into his study."
Cook nodded. "If she traps the boss, I quit! The last time she was here, she didn't ask Martin to return her plate. Oh, no. She actually had me in the dining room telling me what was wrong with dinner and how I should have prepared it. I know damn well she can't even boil water. If my cooking isn't good enough for her, she can starve for all I care."
"How could she? Everything you fix is delicious and the plates are as lovely to look at as the food is good."
"Thank you, Miss. I do try, but nothing is ever good enough for her highness."
Susan took the cup of tea back to her office where the phone buzzed angrily. After answering, she snatched up her pen and pad and entered Barrington's study.
The woman raised her brows at her entrance. "Must we?"
"If you want the book," Barrington replied and began dictating to Susan. When he finished, he looked at her. "You will find a previous contract so marked in the file of diskettes. Run it through and make the changes I've just dictated. Print in triplicate."
Susan returned to her office and found the diskette. She studied the three page document on the screen and inserted the changes, looking at the pages as they dropped from the printer, then tapped at his door.
The woman had draped herself over the corner of Barrington's desk, straightening as Susan entered, and taking her arm from around his neck as he reached for the pages Susan extended to him. His look at Susan was one of exasperation. "That will be all for today. Miss Simms."
Susan closed the door behind her, closing the door on her dreams as well. What little she had seen had dashed them. She switched off the machines and closed her office, stopping at the bar just off the dining room to fix a stiff drink to take to her room. Feeling a headache coming on, she downed the drink and dropped across her bed into sleep.
She was awakened by the phone. Her anger rekindled as she listened then slammed the phone down; the nerve of Barringtron expecting her to dine with them. At the last minute, she washed up and slipped into the pitiful jersey dress she had worn to her interview. She purposefully washed off her make-up and ran the brush casually through her hair.
Barrington and the woman were crossing the hall to the family dining room when Susan reached the bottom of the stairs and followed. Though he said nothing, Barrington's eyes flashed murder when he looked at her. As she took the place indicated, the woman's mouth twisted into a scowl. "Really, darling, I thought the servants had their own dining room."
"Miss Sims is my secretary. I would hardly consider her a servant."
"Then surely you could pay her enough to dress decently for dinner."
"Miss Sim's salary is my business, Valerie," he responded coldly as his foot reached for the bell.
The appetizer Martin set in front of them was a beautifully prepared half an avacado stuffed with a delicate crab salad and garnished with tiny shrimp, arranged on a bed of romaine, a slice of lemon for dressing. Valerie immediately pushed hers to one side and addressed Martin. "I can't abide seafood. Take this back."
Susan knew immediately that the butler's opinion of Valerie was no higher than her own, as he whisked the plate away and stalked into the pantry. Inwardly delighted at Martin's studied discourtesy, Susan grabbed a spoon instead of the cocktail fork and began to eat greedily, with as few manners as possible.
When Martin appeared with the main course, a filet with fluffy potatoes and fresh asparagus, Valerie reproached him a second time. "I detest asparagus. Take this back and bring me something else."
He returned in a few moments with a small portion of green peas obviously from a can, and placed it in front of her. His rigid expression did not change at her withering look and comment "If you can't do any better, I suppose this will have to do."
Before Martin could leave the room, she had turned to Barrington. "Really, Michael, you must do something about your servants. I've never seen such surly service and your cook seems to have no imagination."
"I'm satisfied," he retorted in a dangerous tone.
"Well I'm not. After we're married, I want a complete change of staff."
Susan saw Barrington's eyes roll up.
Desert was one of cook's superb fruit tarts, topped with barely sweetened whipped cream, flavored with a touch of complimentary liqueur. Susan could not resist a sigh of pleasure, which earned her another of those venomous glances. She had noticed, too, that Valerie's wineglass had needed filling three times as often as her own or Barrington's.
"Really, darling, if it wasn't for your superior cellar, I'd as soon eat in a diner." She drained her glass again.
"I would never have suspected," Barrington answered coolly. "I believe you've had quite enough."
"Oh, yes. I think it's time you and me had just one more little drinky-poo together, and then I must get to bed. It's been an exhausting day," she glanced at Susan again, "with all I've had to endure just to see you." Without waiting, she arose and started to make her way unsteadily toward Barrington's study. He sprang to his feet and guided her toward the family living room instead, tossing Susan significant glances over his shoulder.
When Betty had not come in with her coffee by ten-thirty, Susan went to the kitchen. She found the cook slamming pots around; Martin merely grunted at her greeting. As she passed the staircase on her way back to her office with her coffee, Shaun was coming down the stairs carrying two large suitcases and a briefcase, swearing under his breath. Susan could only shake her head and walk on.
She paused in her typing when she heard Barrington yell, "Thank God!"
Moments later the door opened and he stood scowling at her. "And just what the hell do you think you were playing at last evening?"
Susan smiled at him sweetly. "I have no idea what you're talking about, Mr. Barrington."
"You damned well do! I mean that disgraceful outfit you wore to dinner, not to mention your lack of manners. I've seen pigs eat with more grace."
"Oh, dear. I suppose I was a little enthusiastic, but the dinner was so delicious I just couldn't restrain myself."
His scowl deepened. "I'm surprised that you're not wearing green this morning. To match your complexion," he snapped before slamming the door.
She had just removed the last page of transcription from the printer when the door opened and Barrington towered above her, hand held out. "If you have finished, I'll take it." As he turned back to his study door, he remarked, "I shall be out until tomorrow evening."
Though it was still early, she covered the machine and started toward her room, then changed her mind, going instead to the small bar off the dining room and mixed a vodka tonic to carry with her. She stepped off the drive as the limousine, with Shaun at the wheel, drove toward the gates. She was surprised when a few minutes later one of the smaller cars driven by Martin also passed by. Walking around the house, she saw the kitchen door open and Satan bounded past. Mrs. Martin smiled at her. "Would you care for something light for dinner? I thought perhaps a tomato stuffed with chicken salad, potato salad, and some nice melon, since it's so hot."
Susan smiled back. "That would be delightful. Since everyone is gone, may I join you in the kitchen? There's no need to go to any extra trouble just for me."
"Of course, I'll enjoy your company. Six, then?"
After returning her glass to the bar, She went to her room to rest. She awoke just in time to slip into a blouse and slacks. Mrs. Martin had the table ready when Susan entered the kitchen. "I'm sorry I kept you waiting."
"You're just in time. Please sit down."
She noticed the housekeeper looked weary. "Has it been a bad day for you?"
"Not really. I foolishly let one of my prescriptions run out, so I don't feel as well as I should. Poor Martin was a bit put out with me at having to drive into the city to get it refilled. It's times like this that I wish we were closer to some place with a pharmacy."
"I'm sorry." Susan looked at lovely plate before her. "And I put you to so much trouble to fix this."
"Oh, no. It was all done earlier by cook. I had only to fix the plates."
She noticed that the older woman merely picked at her food. "When we're finished, you must let me do the dishes while you go lie down. If you'd care for a cup of tea or something, I'll be happy to fix it for you and carry it to your room."
Mrs. Martin patted her hand. "You're so kind. If you really don't mind, I think I would like a cup of tea." She stood, somewhat unsteadily. Susan jumped up to help her to her bed.
Susan finished eating and fixed the pot of tea. Satisfied that the older woman was comfortable, she returned to the kitchen and to clear away and put things is order.
Certain that all was as Mrs. Martin would have wished, she picked up her sweater and walked out into the twilight. The roses had come into late bloom, entrancing her in the midst of the garden. She sat on one of the benches and delighted in the heady scent. As the light faded into dusk, the concealed lights came on, highlighting the beauty of the blooms. Rarely had she felt so at peace. Indeed, she dozed for a few minutes before she was awakened by a terrible scream from the wooded area in back of the garden. Startled, she jumped up and started towards the path, before remembering Barrington's admonishment. She stopped, frantically trying to think what she must do. With Barrington and Shaun away, Martin in the city, and Mrs. Martin in bed there was no one else.
A call for help followed. I must help someone in such agony, she thought. Satan bounded into the garden, barked at her, then ran a few steps towards the path, turning back to look at her. When she did not move, the animal ran back to her and, taking the leg of her slacks in his teeth, pulled at her. Susan realized that instead of menacing her as he had each time in the past, he was seeking her help. She patted him on the head. "All right, I'll come." He released her slacks and ran ahead as she followed with misgiving.
Though the woods thickened, the path lay well defined, the undergrowth completely cleared away. She moved slowly, cautiously, in the darkness while the dog ran back and forth to ensure that she followed. She crossed a small footbridge over a stream and stopped. In the clearing before her was an A-frame cottage. The glass front overlooking the ocean through a row of pines. Clearly, she heard Barrington's voice call weakly, "Help me!" Satan ran back to urge her on.
When there was no response to her knock, Susan pushed the door open. Satan bounded in and into the shadows. One small lamp on a table by the fireplace cast a feeble glow. As her eyes adjusted to the gloom, she sensed a movement and gasped. Back toward her, a man seated in a wheelchair turned his head in her direction. "Help me."
She approached him slowly, then stopped as she faced him. Had not her nurse's training caused a professional mask to slip into place, she would have cried out, but her face did not betray the emotion that swept through her, for the man had lost both legs just below the knee and the right side of his face bore scars more disfiguring than those of the chauffeur, yet, unmistakably it was Barrington. As she looked at him, she remembered the portrait. This has to be Kevin.
He moaned again and she stepped forward, placing her hands on his. "How may I help you, Mr. Barrington?"
His tormented eyes met hers. "Help me to bed and give me my painkiller."
She grasped the handles of the chair and pushed it toward a partially open door she assumed to be the bedroom. Satan followed and flopped down at the foot of the bed, watching as she managed with some difficulty to lift Barrington from the chair to the bed. With professional detachment, she removed his shirt and jeans, leaving him in his briefs.
"Bath," he whispered.
She got him back in the chair and wheeled him into a handicapped equipped bathroom. "Can you manage?"
He nodded and she stepped back into the bedroom and busied herself straightening the wrinkled sheets until he wheeled himself next to the bed. She lifted him to the bed and helped him find a comfortable position. "Where is your medication?"
"Top shelf of the bathroom cabinet."
She found the vial and read the prescription before filling a cup with water. "When did you have the last one?" She demanded.
"At four. I can have one at bedtime. Please ..." The plaintive tone was that of a little boy.
She glanced at her watch - just gone nine. "You're ready to go to sleep?"
"I hurt. Please."
She handed him the capsule and water, watching as he swallowed it down, then returned the vial to the cabinet. "Is there anything else I can do for you?" She asked, thinking that she must get back to the house before she was discovered.
He moaned and grasped her hand. "My legs hurt so bad. Rub them for me."
Again her training came to her rescue. Taking a bottle of antiseptic lotion from the table, she poured it liberally in her hands and reached down to massage his stumps.
"That feels so good," he whispered drowsily and fell into a sound sleep.
Quickly, Susan washed her hands in the bath. As she passed the bed, she patted the dog's head. "Stay," she whispered. It might have been the dim light, but she could have sworn that the animal smiled at her. She was almost to the door when it swung silently open and Martin slipped inside. "Oh. It's you."
She caught her breath at being discovered.
"Kevin?" He asked sharply.
She placed a finger against her lips. "He's just asleep."
Martin crossed the room and peered into the bedroom. Satisfied he closed the door and crossed to her. "What are you doing here?"
"He was crying for help. I was in the garden and heard."
"So. You came despite Mr. Barrington's orders. How did you get past Satan?"
"He ... he came for me." Susan answered fearfully knowing that Martin would inform Barrington.
"You don't expect me to believe that the dog invited you here?" He remarked in sarcastic tones.
"But he did. He found me in the garden and grabbed my slacks in his teeth and pulled me this way. He hasn't done anything but watch as I helped Mr. Barrington."
Satisfied from her expression that she told the truth, Martin smiled slightly. "I would never have believed he was that smart. I guess he knew we were all away. Did you give Kevin any medication?"
"Yes. One capsule. He said he'd had the last one at four and he was ready for bed. I wouldn't have, except I know that particular drug."
"How would you know that?"
"One thing Mr. Barrington missed in my references is that I've had some nurse's training."
Martin's stern face cracked into a smile. "Thank you, Miss. I'll stay with Kevin. If you would be so kind, I would like you to look in on Mrs. Martin when you get back to the house. And please don't mention that you've been here. She would be quite distressed."
"Of course. I'll be happy to."
He took a flashlight from the drawer. "You'll need this going back."
Susan switched on the light and followed the path, wondering at the mystery surrounding a pitifully crippled man.
Satisfied that Mrs. Martin slept peacefully, Susan lay in her bed feeling content. Though she knew she would be fired, she had helped someone who needed her aid. 'Let Barrington rage,' she thought, 'I have done my best and I shan't apologize for it.'
She awoke when Betty tapped at her door and entered with the breakfast tray. "I'm sorry," she said as she set the tray on the table, "but I had to fix this myself. I hope melon, toast, and tea will be enough."
"Quite enough, Betty." She saw the concern in the maid's face. "Isn't Mrs. Martin feeling any better?"
"Martin says she must stay in bed for the day, and cook just came in, in a terrible mood."
"I'm sorry you had to bother. I'd have fixed something for myself if I'd known. You should have called me."
"It's all right. Ring if you need anything."
When she had eaten and dressed, Susan carried the tray back to the kitchen, receiving a grunt in her greeting of the cook. Martin crossed the hall as she turned toward her office door.
"Is there anything I can do for Mrs. Martin?"
The butler paused. "Thank you, but no. She just needs rest. It's happened before when she hasn't taken her medication on time."
"Please call me if I can help."
"Thank you, Miss."
A smaller than usual amount of transcription awaited her. While waiting for the printer to finish, she began to read the copy - one of the most delightful children's stories that she could remember ever having read. Enchanted, she read each page as it came from the machine, unable to reconcile what she was reading with Barrington, thinking of the other things that had passed through her machine - tawdry romances, scholarly works on music that had her thumbing frantically through Groves Dictionary, portions of a serious novel, and now this.
Going to the kitchen for coffee, she found cook's mood improved, particularly when she inquired about Mrs. Martin.
"I'm fixing a tray for her now."
The table was piled with vegetables to be prepared for dinner. "I'll be happy to take it to her for you, since you have so much to do."
The frosty face made an effort at a smile. "Thank you, Miss. It would be a help. I'll have your coffee ready by the time you get back."
Susan balanced the tray and tapped at the Martin's door. Dismay crossed the older woman's face as Susan entered. "Oh, I was expecting cook or Betty."
"It's no trouble at all. I'm happy to do it for you," she replied, setting the tray on the bed.
"You're kind to worry about me so."
"Not nearly so much as all your kindness to me. May I get you something else?"
"No, thank you, dear. I know you have your work to do, so run along. I'll be right as rain by tomorrow."
Susan left reluctantly, going back to the kitchen for her coffee. Satan followed her into her office and flopped down by her desk. She bent to pet the animal, asking, "How did you get in?" For the dog was seldom in the house and had never before come into her office. She was about to say something further when the door to Barrington's study crashed open, his face purple with fury. He strode toward her, his emerald eyes as hard as their namesake. His whole body trembled. "You dared! You dared go to the cottage when you were expressly forbidden!" He screamed.
Susan sprang up and backed away until she pressed against the bookcases, cowering in the face of his rage. Barrington took a step closer, drawing back his hand. Instantly, Satan was between them and bared his fangs at Barrington, uttering a deep growl. Barrington froze in astonishment, looking at the huge animal then back to Susan. His mouth opened, but before he could utter a word, Shaun dashed through the door to Barrington's study and grabbed the raised arm, twisting it behind Barrington's back. "No, Mike!" He forced Barrington back into his study, pausing to tell Susan, "Go to your room."
Susan fled, tears so blinding her eyes that she stumbled on the stairs before reaching her room and locking the door behind her. She flung herself across her bed, sobbing in fear. How long she lay, she couldn't have said, only that having cried herself out, her head began to throb. She went into her bath for aspirin and, feeling hot, slipped out of her dress and into a cool tub, letting the lightly scented water soothe. She lay back wondering how she could ever have imagined loving a man so unfeeling and capable of blind rage. She shuddered again at the vision of Barrington's upraised hand. She had just put on her robe when there was a light tap at her door and Betty's voice called, "Miss?"
Susan unlocked the door and Betty's anxious face peered in. "I brought your lunch. Martin said you were here."
Susan looked into the distraught face. "What's wrong? You look frightened."
The maid closed the door. "Oh, there's ever such a terrible fight going on downstairs. Mr. Barrington and Shaun are screaming at each other and Martin has just gone into the study."
"You can't make out words. The doors are too heavy."
"Has this happened before?"
"Only once since I've been here. Mr. Barrington scares me when he gets in one of his tempers. We all try to stay out of his way until Shaun gets him settled down." She wrung her hands in her frilly apron. "I wish Mrs. Martin were feeling better. She can do wonders with him when he's upset. Oh! I've got to take her tray." Betty fled down the hall.
Susan relocked the door and crossed to the table. Her stomach turned as she looked at the beautifully prepared salad plate. It was then she realized that she could not bear another hour in the house.
She began to pull everything from her closet, throwing the clothes carelessly on the bed. Her hand paused as she reached the dresses and gowns that Barrington had purchased for those occasions demanding her presence. She slammed the closet doors on them. "I'll take nothing that I haven't bought for myself. He will have no claim on me," she said to herself as she looked at the pile of garments on the bed. Suddenly her hand flew to her mouth. Her suitcases were in the storage room where Shaun had put them and he was with Barrington. She flung herself down in a chair, feeling trapped, tears starting to her eyes once more,
She nibbled at her lunch, barely tasting the delicate seafood, but calmed a little after the third cup of tea. Still, the pleasant room had become a prison from the fear that kept her within. She wondered how long she must remain closeted away. She grabbed the phone and rang the kitchen.
"Betty? When Shaun is free would you ask him to come to my room, please?" She put the phone down and stood looking out of the window at the calm sea, the few fleecy clouds in an azure sky. At the tap on her door, she crossed the room and unlocked it.
"I hope I didn't disturb your lunch," she said to Shaun.
"Not at all, Miss. I haven't had time for it, yet. How may I help you?"
"Please bring my suitcases from storage. If there are several cartons around, I'd like them also."
His eyes swept the room, pausing at the piled clothing on her bed. "You aren't leaving?" He asked in surprise.
"Yes. I can't work where I'm not wanted."
Dismay crossed the chauffeur's face; he seemed suddenly uncomfortable. "Please, Miss. I beg you."
"I must. I can't live in constant fear and I know he's going to fire me for breaking his rule."
"But you have nothing to fear, Miss."
"Nothing! My God, if it hadn't been for you and Satan, Mr. Barrington would have hit me and heaven knows what else. I'm grateful that you came when you did."
"May I come in for a moment?"
"Of course." Susan stepped back and invited Shaun to sit as she took a chair opposite.
"I know it's not my right, but I beg you to reconsider. Everyone here would be most distressed if you leave. We all think highly of you, especially Mr. Barrington. He says you are indispensable, that his work has never gone so efficiently. He always says that you are a perfect hostess when he has guests."
Susan's face mirrored her astonishment. "He said that?"
"Yes. He'd be devastated if you left. Please wait and talk to him."
Part III I II
Her decision to leave was shaken by Shaun's gentle manner and words. "I don't think I can face him again after what he tried to do."
The chauffeur arose. "I'll bring your luggage if you insist, but I beg you to do nothing hasty for all our sakes, especially Mrs. Martin's and mine."
She now realized the confidence she had come to place in the judgement of Mrs. Martin and Shaun. "I'll wait, then. Is it safe to go out now?"
"Of course. And thank you."
She carried the tray down to the kitchen and continued out to walk aimlessly along the beach, lost in thoughts of what her next position might be. Despite Shaun's assurances, she knew Barrington's unforgiving wrath meant the end of her position here. Certainly she would find nothing as remunerative as this, but she felt secure in the amount of money she had saved, knowing there would be no rush in finding employment, knowing that Mrs. Barnes would welcome her back into the rooming house. Her thoughts were interrupted when Satan loped up, tongue lolling from the side of his mouth. She bent to pet him, but he barked sharply and ran a few steps toward the path. When she failed to follow, he ran back to her, barked again, and ran to the path, stopping to wait. 'Oh, well, in for a dime, in for a dollar,' she thought as she followed.
She paused at the edge of the clearing, taking in the beauty of the cottage in its woodland setting.
"Miss?" Shaun's hoarse whisper broke into her musings. He stood in the doorway, his lips twisted into the best smile the scars permitted. "I see Satan found you. Come in, please."
The main room was ordered in contrast to the night before. Shaun motioned for her to sit on the sofa by the fireplace and crossed to the bedroom. In a few moments he pushed the wheelchair into position in front of her. Kevin Barrington's grey eyes stared at her, while the unscarred side of his mouth pulled up in a smile. "You are real!"
Susan smiled sweetly at them both. "Of course, Mr. Barrington. I do hope you feel better today."
"Then it was you who helped me last night. I thought it was a dream, but I was in bed when I awoke this morning."
She waited for him to continue.
"Who are you, and why are you here?"
"I'm Susan Simms. Mr. Barrington hired me to type manuscript."
"I thought you were a nurse."
Feeling the man's open curiosity warm and gentle, Susan felt an instant rapport. "I had nearly finished my training when my parents died so I had to drop out of nursing school and take up typing to support myself."
Kevin shook his head slightly. "I'm sorry you didn't finish. You're a good nurse. You have a magic touch."
"Thank you. Are you the one who sometimes plays the piano with Mr. Barrington in the evenings?" She saw Shaun's sudden frown directed at her.
A flash of pain crossed Kevin's face then cleared as he answered. "Yes. I love music. I almost majored in it in college." He smiled ruefully. "I guess it's a good thing I didn't. Why do you ask?"
"I sometimes sit on the stairs and listen. It's so beautiful."
From behind Kevin, Shaun jerked his head in the direction of the door. Susan stood. "I must go, Mr. Barrington, if there's nothing further I can do for you."
"No, Shaun's here."
The chauffeur walked with her outside on the deck. "Thank you for being so kind to him, Miss. It's the first time anyone has been asked here."
She walked slowly down the path, the dog at her side.
She had just stepped into the hall when Barrington's office door opened. "Miss Simms, come in here." He called brusquely.
The heavy drapes closed, the study remained as dark and gloomy as always. At the wave of his hand, she took the chair in front of his desk.
Barrington's voice was strained as he asked, "Why did you go to the cottage last night when you were expressly forbidden to do so?"
"I would not have except that Mr. Barrington was crying out for help and Satan came and pulled at me to go."
Barrington nodded. "He would have done, knowing there was no one else around. Where did you learn nursing? It wasn't in your resume."
"I didn't finish the last semester because I had to find immediate income."
He fell into his chair, placing his elbows on the desk and dropping his face into his hands. He finally mumbled, "You didn't find it difficult to help him?"
"Should I have? I saw far worse when I was in training." He remained silent, so she continued. "Since you're obviously going to dismiss me for disobeying your orders, Mr. Barrington, I have already begun to pack. I'll ask Shaun to bring my bags from storage." She started to rise.
"Sit down, Miss Simms. I have no intention of firing you." He fidgeted for a moment and cleared his throat. "This is most difficult for me. I'm not given to apology, but I do, indeed, owe you a most abject apology for raising my hand to you. Had Satan and Shaun not intervened, I may well have struck you. Not knowing your reaction on seeing Kevin, I was furious. Just after the accident so many people openly expressed horror at seeing him that he attempted suicide.
"Fortunately, Shaun and I got to him in time. It was then that I had the cottage built to save him the agony of facing people who might make him feel a freak. No one other than Shaun, myself, and the Martins have seen him in the past year. I would kill before I'd let anyone drive him into that state of mind again."
"I don't blame you, Mr. Barrington." Susan said firmly. "And your apology is understood and accepted."
He raised his head and stared at her. "You're saying that you will stay?"
"If you wish. However, there is one condition."
"And what is that?" He asked, the old sarcasm rising in his voice.
"That you have Mr. Barrington in this house for dinner some evening soon."
"This is his home. He may come and go as he pleases. Are you suggesting that you be present also?"
"Yes. It's not good for him to stay shut away. And if it's not asking too much, I'd love to hear you play together afterwards."
Barrington stood and reached for her hands. "You're a thoughtful and caring person, Susan. We'll do it."
Leaving the study, Susan found herself in a quandary. Barrington's compliment filled her more than she had anticipated. The fear had vanished with understanding, and her love for this man she had so often dreamed of filled her breast.
A few afternoons later as she finished up the day's transcription, her office door opened quietly. "Susan, Kevin will be dining with us this evening. Could you possibly be ready to join us on such short notice?"
"Of course, Mr. Barrington."
"It's informal, no guests."
She ran up to her room and began to sort through her dresses, holding first one and then another, seeing her reflection in the mirror.
Decision made, she soaked in the tub, easing away some of the stiffness that sometimes came when she sat in front of the machine for a long period.
Thank goodness my hair has some natural curl, she thought as she combed it out, letting it fall freely to frame her face. She added just a touch of make-up as André had suggested, and slipped into the simple tailored beige linen dress and her light brown pumps.
She entered the library where the others were already gathered for drinks, confident in her appearance.
"Ah, my lovely young nurse," Kevin commented shyly. He held out a dew moistened gardenia. "For you."
"How very thoughtful, Mr. Barrington." Instead of taking the flower, she bent her knees enough that she was on a level with him and thrust her bosom forward for him to pin the gardenia on her dress. His face flushed as he took the pin his brother held out and fumbled with it until the flower was in place. The flush became deeper as she impulsively kissed him lightly on the cheek.
"Now I feel properly dressed to have dinner with three handsome gentlemen," she said, for Shaun, too, stood there, dressed in a suit of as obviously fine material as both Barringtons wore.
"Please," Kevin said, his face still rosy, "call me Kev. He's," he jerked his head in his twin's direction, "Mr. Barrington. He's older than I."
Shaun laughed while Michael gave a snort. "By half an hour or so. I still think you kicked me out so you could have mother all to yourself."
"You know damned well I did. It was getting crowded."
It was Susan's turn to blush.
Michael noticed. "Don't mind us, Susan. This argument has been going on for years now. Kev still resents me for being first."
"I do not! I just had to stay to pick up any crumbs of talent you left behind." He looked at Susan. "Mike's the smart one. I sort of came out second best in everything."
"Maybe we should change the subject, I believe that we're embarrassing Miss Simms," Shaun commented, and the conversation turned to trivial things.
When Martin announced dinner, Michael offered Susan his arm, but she smiled at him, shook her head, and stepped abreast the wheelchair, taking Kevin's hand in hers while Shaun pushed the chair into the dining room.
She caught her breath, for the table was as perfectly set as for any occasion with guests. Michael smiled the length of the table at her, sending her thoughts into the fantasy of being mistress of the house, the wife of the powerfully built attractive man opposite. Shaun and Kevin became the two beautiful sons she was proud to have born him. A slight cough brought her back to reality, for Martin stood by her chair waiting to serve. She colored at having been caught out.
"Daydreams in the evening?" Shaun teased.
"Oh, no. I was just trying to remember something," she replied, leaning back as Martin placed the plate in front of her.
Michael noted her momentary confusion with amusement, then arose to touch a button set in the wall. From hidden speakers, a Vivaldi string quartet played softly in the background.
During the meal, Susan noticed the glances between Michael and Shaun as Kevin ate with appetite, understanding that this was unusual. She filled with joy.
The tray of raspberry tarts that Martin brought in served everyone but Kevin. He looked at the departing butler with raised eyebrows, but Mrs. Martin swept into the room and placed a tart, double the size of the others and piled generously with whipped cream, in front of him with a kiss on his forehead. A look of pure joy spread across his face.
"You didn't forget," he cried.
"And how could I forget what my boy likes. It's so good to see you at this table again." She called back from the door to the pantry, "Mind you eat every bite of it."
"I don't think you came in second best on that," Michael commented.
Kevin only grinned and dug in as greedily as a child.
After coffee, Kevin looked at Michael serenely. "Susan told me how much she enjoyed listening to us play. Would you do the Saint-Saens with me?"
Michael glanced at her sharply. "Do you know anything about music?"
"Nothing except how beautifully you play together."
His look shifted back to his twin. "All right, then."
This time she took Michael's arm as they left the room. He leaned over to whisper, "He obviously can't use the pedal on the piano so his playing isn't up to professional standards. That's why I asked."
Shaun pushed the wheelchair in front of the grand and joined Susan on the sofa while Michael started the organ blower and seated himself on the bench. A nod from Kevin and their hands came down on the keys. Susan gave a start at the unexpected loudness of the opening passages then settled back, listening to the rippling arpeggios Kevin pulled from the piano over the underlying tones of the organ.
Captivated by the music, she impulsively reached for Shaun's hand. He sat, eyes closed, mouth twisted into the grimace she knew was his smile. The deep blue eyes opened, turning in her direction.
"Oh, they are wonderful, aren't they?"
He leaned closer and whispered, "Better than I've heard them since the accident, thanks to you."
She would have asked for an explanation, but he closed his eyes and leaned back as before. The joyous notes of the final allegro and the happy expressions of both Michael and Kevin moved her to tears as the piece ended. She sat wiping silent tears when the twins turned to look at her.
"My God, Mike, I didn't think we were that bad!" Kevin exclaimed.
"Oh, no. It was beautiful. Thank you, thank you for that lovely music. I shall remember it always."
Michael looked past her at Shaun. "And what say you?"
"Best you've been in a long time. You weren't just fooling around."
Kevin rubbed his fingers. "I need to practice." He glanced at Michael. "You almost got me a couple of times. Can't have that." He covered a yawn. "I think we should get back, Shaun."
Susan started to rise, but Michael motioned for her to remain seated. She waited as he crossed the room to embrace his twin, murmuring something in his ear, and, to her surprise, he embraced Shaun with the same show of affection. For the first time since she had been at the house, his usually scowling face carried a sweet smile transforming it into the most beautiful she had ever seen. Her heart pounded with desire when he returned to sit beside her, taking her hand in his and pressing it to his lips.
"Susan, if only you could know what this evening has done for me. Without you, I doubt it would have happened." He bent and kissed her on the cheek. "Thank you for ... for just being you." He stood, holding her hand and exerting slight pressure so that she arose also. Before she could speak, he kissed her gently on the lips and whispered, "Good night, my love."
She did not remember her feet touching the stairs as she floated to her room, emotions in turmoil by his kiss, hearing over and over his last two words: 'my love.'
She stood for some time on the balcony of her room watching the moon rise over the ocean, imparting a silvery path across the still waters along which she and Michael drifted hand in hand in indescribable bliss. Still filled with dreams, she never remembered going to bed, awaking in amazement to the sun streaming through the open windows and the buzz of the phone. Her heart leapt with joy at Michael's invitation to join him for breakfast.
Several days later her typing was interrupted by the phone. She glanced at the buttons to see line three blinking, perhaps the second time in six months it had done so. As Michael had had her line connected after the evening with Kevin, she answered, listened, then hung up. Switching off the word processor, she left the house quietly.
Instead of entering the cottage, she walked around the side to the deck overlooking the ocean. Kevin called to her. She dropped into a deck chair wondering at the urgency of his call, when he looked so calm. He indicated the tray in front of him.
"I'm having a Campari and soda. Would you join me?"
He mixed the drink and handed it to her. She sipped and made a wry face at the astringent bitterness.
"If you would like something else?"
"Oh, no. I expected it would be sweet. It's refreshing."
"Good. It's the first drink Mike and I were permitted. I've favored it ever since." His expression became serious. "Susan, this discussion must go no further, especially where Mike is concerned."
"Of course, Mr. Barrington."
A fleeting smile touched his lips. "I thought it was going to be Kev?"
"I'm sorry, Kevin. You're so like your brother I forgot."
"See that you don't forget again," he replied with such mock sternness, that she felt for a moment it was Michael speaking. "You seem to have kept up your nursing skills if the way you helped me is an indication."
"I try. I hope someday I can finish and get my degree. I read the Journal of Nursing and several other periodicals when I can get them."
"Susan," he paused, searching her face, "do you think there could be something done for this?" He reached up to touch the scarred cheek.
She nodded. "There are several new ways to treat scar tissue. Depending on how deep and extensive the scarring is, the results vary. May I?" She leaned forward and ran her fingers along the scars, probing gently at several points with clinical detachment. Even so, Kevin winced at her touch.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to hurt you."
"You didn't. I have no feeling there. It's ... well ... the first time anyone's touched it."
She sat back in her chair. "I may be wrong, but I don't believe that tissue of that magnitude could be completely removed, however," she hastened to add at his disappointed expression, "I think it might be helped to the extent that it would be completely unnoticeable unless one looked closely in very strong light. But please remember, I can only tell you what little I know about such a condition."
Hope sprang to his face. "Do you know someone?"
"Let me check for you." She shook her head sadly. "You do know that it will be a lengthy and perhaps somewhat painful experience?"
He grimaced. "I was afraid of that. That's why I haven't asked for help before, but now I think I'm ready." He looked at her pleadingly. "I wish I could ask you to go with me, but I can't. Shaun will go, but you will be here to help me when I come home?"
"I'll be happy to help you in any way I can."
"Thank you, Susan. I wish they could do something about the rest of me."
"Do you have prostheses?"
"I hate them. They hurt abominably and it's impossible to balance on them."
"There's a marvelous clinic in Michigan which apparently has helped many who were unable to be helped elsewhere."
"Do you mean it?" He asked excitedly.
"Absolutely. Shall I get the name and location for you?"
"Please. And don't say anything to anyone until we know whether or not they can help me."
She stood, placing her glass on the tray. "I'll let you know the minute I find out what we need to know."
Back in her office, she finished typing the dictation in record time then dug out several current nursing journals. She sat in the gazebo near the ocean and began to read. The sun was low in the sky as she closed the last journal and laid it aside, looking at the pad on which she had written several names and addresses. She hurried back to her office to make a call to a doctor she had dated a few times while in nursing school and to obtain the phone numbers for each of the names on her list from directory assistance. When she had finished, a glance at her watch showed that she had time to give the information to Kevin before dinner.
Startled by her sudden appearance in the cottage, Kevin dropped the microphone of a dictation machine and looked at her glowing face in wonder. "So soon?"
She held out the listing. "These would be my choices based on what I've read. This last is the clinic in Michigan."
He took the list of plastic surgeons and scanned it, pointing to one name. "He's in the same city as the clinic. Do you suppose it could all be done at the same time?"
She had missed the connection. "I don't believe so, for if they help you with prostheses, they'll want you to exercise at once and you will probably have to be inactive for a short period after the surgery on your face. But at least you wouldn't have to change locations. I called a doctor I know who tells me that he's an extremely good man."
"You didn't reveal my identity, did you?"
"Of course not. The doctor did say that it would be a lengthy process, just as I had thought."
Kevin displayed mild disappointment. "I was hoping it wouldn't have to be drawn out." He smiled weakly. "At least staying in one place, Shaun and I could get an apartment for as long as it takes. Thank you for this, Susan."
"Would you like for me to make the calls to see if I can get appointments? The clinic and a plastic surgeon often have long waiting lists, though it might be better now that it's summer."
"Come tomorrow morning and make the calls from here, would you?"
At the sound of the door opening, Kevin crammed the list in his pocket as Shaun came in carrying a large tray. He looked at Susan in surprise. "I wish I'd known you were here. I'd have brought enough for you to eat with us."
"Thank you, but I have to get back to the house." She left quickly, knowing that Martin would be calling her to dinner.
Instead of going to her office the next morning, she went to the cottage as soon as she had finished breakfast. Kevin waited impatiently, demanding that she make the calls immediately.
"We'll have to wait a few minutes more. Their offices probably don't open until nine."
"Oh, yes. Fix yourself some coffee if you like," he said waving his hand in the direction of the small unit kitchen.
She fixed a cup of tea for herself and poured another cup of coffee for Kevin before sitting down and drawing the phone closer.
Her first call was short and to the point. Kevin started to ask, but she held up her hand as the second number began to ring. This conversation took several minutes during which she provided a good deal of clinical information. Kevin fidgeted as she talked. At last, Susan hung up and sat back.
He could contain himself no longer. "Well?"
"We're in luck. The plastic surgeon can see you on Monday of next week for an evaluation. I got the double appointment you asked for, though they were very reluctant about it since I couldn't give them a reason, which of course you didn't give me." Susan ignored the grin he flashed. "The prosthetist can see you the following Wednesday, so I took both openings." She held out a pad. "Here are the times and addresses."
He squeezed her hand. "Thank you. I know I could have made the calls myself, but I couldn't have given the information they asked for as you did, or been as objective."
She smiled at his eager face. "I must get to the office or Michael will be furious."
"Not a word to anyone, remember; especially to him."
"I always keep promises, Kev. Don't worry."
Michael stood in the doorway looking pointedly at his watch when she entered. A bit of the former coldness was in his voice. "Your hours are nine to four. It is now half past ten. May I be privileged to know what detained you?"
"I was with Kevin. He asked for some research that I was able to complete last night. I didn't think you would mind." She answered contritely.
His stern expression had vanished at Kevin's name. "Thank you. I'm surprised that he asked you since Shaun usually looks things up for him. However, as long as he asked, by all means. I would appreciate it if you would check your desk first. I have one letter that must go out immediately. Hereafter, I will leave a note on your desk if I regard something as urgent."
Her love swelled forth at the kindness in his voice. "I'm so sorry. I'll be certain to check from now on. I'll have your letter immediately." She started the machine, typing as rapidly as possible, then waited until the printer purred out the finished letter. Taking it, she tapped at his door and entered.
Barrington took it for signing. "That was fast. Thank you. I shall be out for the rest of today and tomorrow, so there's no need to rush with the work. Take some time to relax."
"Thank you. I hope you have a pleasant trip."
Susan worked into the early afternoon when Martin tapped at her door. "The phone man is here, Miss. He said you would know about it." He stepped aside to let a short black man in phone company coveralls enter the office.
She looked at Martin in dismay. "I have no idea what you're talking about. The phone works perfectly and Mr. Barrington is out."
"This is the work order, ma'am. I'm to connect line five on Miss Simms' office phone and the phones in her apartment to a new private line." He held out the form for her to see that it corresponded with what he had told her.
"Well, if Mr. Barrington has ordered it, you must go ahead. Shall I move?"
"No, ma'am. I just need access to the equipment downstairs and then check the phones."
"I'll take him down to the cellar, Miss." Martin answered.
Susan puzzled over the order for a few seconds then resumed her typing. She stopped and moved aside when the phone man returned to check the line. Reluctantly, she led him up to her rooms, standing at some distance while he checked the phones in both her sitting room and the bedroom."
"Thank you, ma'am." He picked up his tool kit and walked toward the door where Martin waited.
She returned to close her office, about to leave when the phone rang. She was startled to see the fifth button flashing. She picked up to recognize Kevin's voice.
"I see the phone man has been. If you have a pen, I'll give you your new unlisted number."
"How did you know? He's just left."
Kevin laughed. "You thought it was Mike who ordered the work. It wasn't. It was I."
"But why? And my apartment phones as well."
"This is our secret, Susan. Once Shaun takes me to Michigan, I'll want to be in touch with you, but not on a phone that Michael or Martin might answer. I'm often awake late at night, so I'll probably call you after you're in bed, if you don't mind. That's why I had the phones in your suite done as well."
"I should have thought of that. I'm glad, and of course you may call at any hour."
"Will you come to the cottage for dinner this evening?"
"I'd be delighted."
Though she found the drink before and the dinner delightful, Susan found her time taken in quieting the anxiety of Kevin, so eager for any benefit to his condition. She feared he expected too much. Even the cool assessment offered by Shaun bolstering her own thoughts, failed to keep Kevin analytical.
At the same time, she was given new cause to wonder, for when Shaun went to pour coffee after dinner, he first lifted Kevin to the sofa. As soon as she had been handed her cup, Shaun sat next to Kevin, his arm draped around his shoulders. She noted how quickly Kevin's own arm found its way behind Shaun and around his waist; the contented looks emanating from each face. 'It's your imagination,' she told herself, yet a faint feeling nagged at the back of her mind.
With Kevin's doubts finally put to rest, the conversation continued in more general areas until she took her leave. Shaun walked her to the door, letting Satan out to run.
"Your help is more appreciated than you can know. I've tried to get him to seek help before this, but it was you who made it possible. Please keep the secret."
"If I've helped, then I'm glad. And, yes, no one will find out from me."
"Good. We'll be leaving early tomorrow morning. It's a long drive, but it will be less traumatic for Kev. I've told Mike only that we'll be out of town for some time doing research, which has been true the few times we've both gone before. Use that as an approach to any questions he might ask."
"I pray all goes well for both of you. Do be careful on the trip." She impulsively kissed him on the cheek, leaving him flushed with pleasure.
Several weeks later, Susan switched off the processor and lifted the receiver, pressing the flashing fifth button. "Hello, Shaun ... Oh, Kevin, it's good to hear your voice." She listened intently and pressed the button to ring Michael. She had barely hung up when his study door opened. "I hope you're free on Friday night. I'd like to have guests to dinner."
She gave him a look of perfect innocence. "It's no one important, just a couple of old friends who have been here before."
He shrugged. "I thought it might be someone important from the way you sounded." His lack of curiosity came from the increasing trust he placed in her good judgement.
"It's important to me. I hope you will dine with us."
"If you wish. I have nothing planned."
"They may be a little late, so they won't expect cocktails. We'll eat as soon as they arrive. Do you mind awfully if we dress?"
"As you wish." He closed the door and Susan smiled to herself as she resumed her work.
Early Friday evening Mrs. Martin entered Susan's room with André at her side. He wasted no time in arranging her hair to suit the Grecian gown she had not worn since Michael had entertained the Williamsons. On the few occasions he had had guests, Michael had insisted that she wear different gowns, but this one remained her favorite. Between them, they had persuaded Martin to bring the emerald and diamond clasp and earrings from the vault without informing Michael.
Neither Kevin nor Shaun had said a thing about a change in Kevin's condition other than that there had been some slight improvement. Filled with expectation and anticipating Michael's joy, she radiated warmth and pleasure when she entered the sitting room where an impeccably dressed Michael waited, drink in hand. His eyes widened. "God, you are positively radiant tonight. I've never seen you look more lovely."
"Why thank you, kind sir." She stood on tip-toe to plant a kiss on his cheek.
A slight frown crossed his face. "May I ask why you are wearing mother's emeralds?"
"I hope you don't mind. They go perfectly with this gown and I wanted to look my best for our guests."
"I thought you said it was no one important."
"Just to me, perhaps."
"I don't mind about the emeralds, but why all the mystery about whom I'm to share a meal with?"
"I want it to be a pleasant surprise for you."
Once he had fixed her a drink, he stood gazing at her, filled with a desire to feel her warmth close, to possess the first woman who, oblivious to her natural beauty, had not flaunted it as an invitation. Merely that Susan asked nothing and gave so much to all of them was enough to drive him to the brink.
"Why are you staring at me that way, Michael?"
He caught his breath. "I could take you now without the least regret."
"Sir, you threaten me," she said in mock severity.
He slammed his drink down and caught her in his arms. "Damn it, Susan, don't play games. Do you know what you're doing to me?" His mouth crushed against hers, seeking hungrily.
Her resolve crumbled, her mouth and body responding to his until she pulled away, gasping for breath. "Michael, we have guests due."
"Damn the guests. You're all I want."
She shook her head. "Not now. This is too important." She checked her make-up in the mirror, wiping a tiny smudge of lipstick with her cocktail napkin while Michael drained his drink in a single gulp and mixed another.
Some minutes later he complained of hunger. She took his arm as they crossed to the family dining room. Michael rang at her insistence that they begin without waiting any longer. Martin served the crab cocktail and had just returned to the kitchen when Susan glanced at the doorway and uttered a piercing cry, so startling Michael that his fork dropped to the floor and his foot came down hard on the bell, catapulting Martin from the kitchen. Michael's eyes followed hers, his wineglass dropped from his hand unheeded, all color drained from his face.
Susan recovered first. "Kevin!" She cried, for Kevin and Shaun stood in the doorway, Kevin clutching Shaun's arm for support. He took a couple of steps toward her, his face glowing with pride. Where the scars had been, new skin glowed pink and fresh as a baby's. Her eyes flew to Shaun. His face was clear, fresh and pink as Kevin's, save for a few tiny scars. A tremendous moustache covered his upper lip, spread in the wide smile impossible before. Tears sprang to her eyes as she stood on tip-toe to kiss first Kevin and then Shaun.
"It worked, Susan! It worked!" Kevin shouted. "Even for Shaun."
Turning to see if Michael shared their joy, she gasped to see him still seated, tears pouring down his cheeks as his shoulders shook with sobs.
"Mike, it's me, Kev. Aren't you glad to see us?"
Slowly he arose and flung his arms around Kevin in a bear hug, finally holding out one arm to include Shaun, sobbing loudly now.
"It's nothing to cry over," Shaun said in his harsh whisper.
Michael fought for control. "Nothing! God, how I've prayed for this moment." He backed away, looking from one to the other, shaking his head. "I can't believe it." His tapered fingers gently stroked the side of Kevin's face and then Shaun's. It finally dawned on him that he looked directly into Kevin's eyes. "You walked in!"
"Of course I did, you fool. I walked all the way from the cottage. I've got legs that don't hurt. I may not be too good on them yet, but it'll come. For now, I have to hang onto Shaun or use crutches." He would have continued had Mrs. Martin not burst into the room and cried, "My boys!"
Kevin walked the few steps to her, Shaun close behind. She grabbed Kevin and kissed him on the cheek, then Shaun. "It's a miracle," she said softly, lifting the corner of her apron to wipe her eyes. Martin's usually stony face beamed as he stepped forward to clasp each of their hands, looking into their faces, speechless. At last he took his wife by the arm. "Mother," he said quietly and led her into the butler's pantry.
Shaun helped Kevin turn until they faced Michael and Susan. Michael's look of disbelief remained as he stammered," H...how?"
"I thought we were invited to dinner," Kevin said with a mischievous grin, "but if you're not going to give us anything to eat, Shaun and I will go into town."
"The hell you will!" Michael barked. "Sit."
Martin served fresh cocktails, replacing those barely touched by Michael and Susan as well.
"I'll ask you just once more, Kevin. How?"
"That lovely lady at the end of the table."
"I believe that's her name," Kevin replied impishly. Shaun grinned at the banter.
"Damn it, Kevin!" Michael cried in exasperation.
"Okay, okay. You remember the day after you tried to kill her for helping me? When she came and her expression didn't change when she saw me, and when she massaged my stumps without flinching, I knew I had someone I could trust, so I asked for her help. I was only thinking about the scars, but she told me of a clinic she thought could help me walk again. She was right. It was bad, Mike. They had to do revisionary surgery before they could fit the legs properly, but God, it was worth it to walk, and they cured the pain I used to have." He looked across the table at Shaun with affection. "Shaun nursed me through that. The plastic surgeon insisted that he could help Shaun, too. Can you believe I had to threaten him before he would do it? And look at him now. The scars are nearly gone. I wish they could have helped his voice, too, but now he looks like before, even if I do sort of miss his ugly face."
"I sure don't," Shaun fired back. "I remember how Susan looked when she saw me that first day. I scared her silly."
Susan blushed. "That was before I knew what a wonderful person you are, Shaun." She said quickly.
He smiled at her. "No offense, but I know how I looked. It was enough to give small children fits. True, I didn't think I could take the pain again, but Kev never whimpered, and he went through a lot more than I did. I'm just grateful that he had enough sense to trust you, Susan, and that you knew what we needed."
The perfectly prepared dinner was eaten without notice as they talked. When Michael mention coffee and liqueurs, Susan asked, "Kevin, are you tired?"
"Not at all. Shaun and I slept most of the afternoon. That's why we were late. Why?"
"Would you and Michael play something for me?"
Kevin bowed. "For what you've done, anything." He grinned at his twin. "Try and get out of this one. Come on."
When Kevin was seated at the piano, he called, "Let's do the Demerest 'Fantasie.' I'm out of practice and that's not difficult."
While Michael searched for the music, Susan quickly used the house phone. As she resumed her seat, the Martins slipped quietly into the room taking seats near the door. She turned to look for them, happy at Mrs. Martin's sweet smile sent in her direction. Susan closed her eyes, letting the music surround her, as the organ under Michael's hands swelled and ebbed like the ocean's waves, while Kevin added sparkle as though the sun struck upon those waters. She sat enthralled until the crashing chords of the piano over the sustained chords from the organ brought the piece to an end.
"Oh, thank you. It was perfect." Susan said.
Shaun stood. "It's time for our medication, Kev, and you've been on those legs long enough." He glanced at Susan. "Be glad you're not his nurse. He's impossible. Even a saint would be hard put to be around him."
"I wouldn't be if you weren't so damned bossy." Kevin took Susan's hand in his. "Now Susan's good. She asks how she can help instead of demanding like you," he teased.
She let Michael see them out while she waited in the hall. He returned, eyes glowing, to take her in his arms, kissing her passionately.
"I loved you before, now I shall be forever in your debt. You've given me life itself. I died the night Kevin and Shaun were hurt, and though they thought me unfeeling, I suffered every agony with them. Being cold was the only way I could live with what I had done. Now, the nightmare is over and you are the cause, my darling. Come, we must talk."
He led her into the sitting room, motioning for her to sit on the sofa while he tended the fire and called Martin for coffee.
Once the butler had left, Susan looked at the sober faced Michael. "What you were saying before. Are you trying to tell me that you were responsible for the accident?"
His eyes held the torment of the past three years. "Yes," he answered and looked away.
"But you couldn't be!" She cried. "I've seen your temper, but I can't, I won't believe that you would go so far."
He grabbed her hand and pressed it to his cheek. "I did," he choked out. "I'd driven the car that day. I knew there was a problem with the steering, but when they took it to go into the city, I let them have it without mentioning the trouble, even though I knew Kev drove fast."
Tears started from his eyes. "Because I was hoping they would be killed."
Her hand flew to her mouth as she stared at him in horror and tried to pull away.
He tugged at her roughly. "Please, hear me out," he begged. "Please, I have to tell someone. I can't carry this any longer."
She edged further away.
"Don't pull away. I can't bear it," he said with a sob and leaned toward her.
She backed away until she was against the arm of the sofa and could move no further. His face hardened.
"I was angry with them for what they had done to me, because I was prejudiced and didn't understand then that it was nature and not a matter of choice that dictated. It wasn't a conscious thing, just anger. We'd had lunch together and afterwards came in here for coffee. They sat here on the sofa holding hands and told me they were in love. God, Susan, would you expect me to hear that sort of thing from my twin and someone I considered my best friend and not react?
"There's a mystical connection between twins, but it died at that moment. I remember being unable to say anything, and they sat here expecting me to be happy for them. I slammed out of here and went to my study. They took the car and the rest is history."
"But if you were so angry with them then, how is it that you accept it now?"
"If you've kept up, you know there's evidence now that gayness is genetic. No one knew about it back then." He shook his head sadly. "If you could have seen them after the accident as I did ... I've never seen anything so horrible. When they at last came home, they avoided me as much as possible so they wouldn't have to see my hatred every time I looked at them, but when they looked at one another, all I could see was the love in their eyes. Even though he was in agony himself, Shaun was more loving and gentle with Kevin than ever before. They didn't even see how horribly scarred they were. They just loved each other all the more.
"When I could finally accept them, I told them that I had known of the defect in the car. They didn't blame me, but looked at me with pity. That hurt worst of all." Tears streamed down his cheeks. "I knew then that I had injured two beautiful humans because of my blindness. In all their pain and suffering, they offered me only love. It would have been far easier for me to take if it had been hate, but it wasn't. I tried, God how I tried to make it up to them, but I could never find a way to help their physical injury. It took you, my darling, with your knowledge and acceptance of them to do that." He grasped her tightly. "And to think how close I came to keeping this miracle from happening."
Susan sat lost in Michael's words. "If you went to your study, then you didn't have a chance to tell them about the car."
He shook his head. "Not really. I had planned to, but I left the room in shock. I didn't even think of it."
"Then how could it be your fault?"
"I should have put the keys away so they'd have to take one of the others."
"But can't you see? It was chance, not deliberate. It isn't as if you handed them the keys and told them to drive that one. And you've done everything you could for them since. How can you keep blaming yourself? It was an accident and nothing more. You have taken one thought from your shock and made it into guilt for what happened."
She moved closer to him, taking his face in her hands and looking into his tormented eyes. "Let go of it, Michael. Don't let it eat at you any longer." She wiped his tears away with her fingertips, gently trailing their path down his cheeks.
Hope filled his face. "Are you sure?"
"Anyone would tell you the same. I shudder to think what this has done to you all this time. No wonder Mrs. Martin has been so concerned for you."
"She said, 'If only I could hear him laugh again. He used to be such a happy child.'"
"The dear woman. I must have put her and Martin through hell." Contrition filled his voice. "Not to mention what I've put you through."
"Don't think of me, my darling. Think of yourself."
"I want to think of us. Oh, Susan, I planned to ask you to marry me. I love you so, but that's impossible."
"Why? I love you, Michael, with all my heart. I've loved you from the first time I saw you. You know that."
He turned an anguished face to her. "Oh, there's so much I want too give you, but there's nothing left inside me but pain for what I've done. I need ... oh God, I need you so much, but I can't be what any woman would need. How can I ask you to live here knowing that Kevin and Shaun are gay, consider themselves married."
"I guessed long ago. I don't care if they're gay as long as they're happy as I know you and I will be. They're kind to everyone and I feel comfortable with them, something I can't say about some of the employers I've had, whose main occupation seemed to be trying to entice me into bed. Not that they succeeded, mind you."
His expression brought laughter to her lips. He struggled with himself for a moment. "Are you saying you'll marry me?"
"Oh, yes, my darling."
He clung to her as if he were drowning. His lips found hers in a lingering kiss that left her breathless in its intensity. Finally, he stood. "Don't move, my love. I'll be back in a moment."
He returned to the room shyly, one hand clutched into a fist and sat next to her. "I wanted this to be at a more romantic time and setting, but we don't always get what we want." He held out his hand and opened it. A large diamond solitare sparkled. "Susan Simms, will you marry me?"
She caught her breath at the magnificent stone, then looked into his eyes. "Only on one condition, Michael."
His face blanched. "What?"
"That you have Kevin as your best man."
Joy filled him and enveloped her. "There's no one else I'd rather have, but I thought ..."
"Hush, you fool." She placed a finger across his lips. "And for your doubts, I want you to ask Shaun to give me away as I have no one."
Speechless, he slipped the ring on her finger and kissed her in the way she had always known he would.