tall windows with their heavy velvet drapes firmly drawn against the vulgar bustle of the city below. She passed like a whisper across the deep, old carpets. She existed as silently as the stuffed songbirds displayed under glass domes on the polished tables.

Her Grandmother Bennett was gradually losing her mind, but Susannah was too young to understand that. She only knew that her grandmother had very strict rules, and that breaking any one of them resulted in swift and terrible punishment. Grandmother Bennett said that she had already raised one frivolous child, and she didn't intend to raise another.

Twice a year Susannah's mother came to visit. On those days, instead of walking around the block with one of her grandmother's two elderly servants, Susannah went to tea with Kay at the Plaza. Her mother was very beautiful, and Susannah watched in tongue-tied fascination as Kay smoked one cigarette after another and checked the time on her diamond-encrusted wristwatch. As soon as tea was over, Susannah was returned to her grandmother, where Kay kissed her dutifully on the forehead and then disappeared for another six months. Grandmother Bennett said that Susannah couldn't live with her mother because Susannah was too wicked.

It was true. Susannah was a horribly wicked little girl. Sometimes she touched her nose at the dinner table. Other times she didn't sit up straight. Occasionally she forgot her pleases and thank-yous. For any of these transgressions, she was punished by being imprisoned for not less than one hour in the rear closet. This was done for her own good, her grandmother explained, but Susannah didn't understand how something so horrible could be good.

The closet was small and suffocating, but even more terrifying, it held Grandmother Bennett's old furs. For an imaginative child, the closet became a living nightmare. Dark ugly minks brushed at her pale cheeks, and gruesome sheared beaver coats rubbed against her thin arms. Worst of all was a fox boa with a real head forming its grisly clasp. Even in the dark of the closet she could feel those sly glass fox eyes watching her and she sat frozen in terror, her back pressed rigidly against the closet door, while she waited for those sharp fox teeth to eat her up.

Life took on dark, frightening hues for such a small child. By the time she was five, she had developed the careful habits of a much older person. She didn't raise her voice, seldom laughed, and never cried. She did everything within her limited powers to stay out of the terrifying feral depths of the closet, and she worked so diligently at being good that she would probably have succeeded if-late at night when she was sound asleep-her body hadn't begun to betray her.

She started to wet herself.

She never knew when it would happen. Sometimes several weeks would go by without incident, occasionally an entire month, but then she would awaken one morning and discover that she was lying in her own urine. Her grandmother's paper-thin nostrils wrinkled in distaste when Susannah was brought before her. Even Susannah's wicked mother Katherine had never done anything so odious, she said.

Susannah tried to hide the bedding, but there was too much of it and she was always discovered. When that happened, her grandmother gave her a stinging lecture and then made her wear her soiled nightgown into the closet as punishment. The acrid scent of her own urine mingled with the camphor that permeated the old furs until she couldn't breath. Furry monsters were all around her, ready to eat her up. She could feel their sharp teeth sinking into her flesh and their strong jaws snapping her tender bones. Bruises, like a string of discolored pearls, formed down the length of her spine from being pressed so hard against the closet door.

At night she struggled against sleep. She read books from her grandmother's library and pinched her legs to keep awake. But she was only five years old, and no matter how hard she tried, she eventually slipped into unconsciousness. That was when the fox-eyed monster crept into her bedroom and dug his sharp teeth into her flesh until her small bladder emptied on the bedclothes.

Each morning she awakened to fear. Afraid to move. Afraid to inhale, to touch the sheets. On those occasions when she discovered that the bed was dry, she was filled with a sense of joy so sharp it made her queasy. Everything about the day seemed brighter-the view of Park Avenue from the front windows, the shiny red apple she ate with her breakfast, the funny way her solemn little face was reflected in her grandmother's silver coffeepot. When the bed was wet, she wished she were old enough to die.

And then several days after her sixth birthday, it all changed. She was huddled in the closet with the smell of urine stinging her nostrils and fear clogging her throat. Her wet nightgown clung to her calves, and her feet were tangled in the soiled bedclothes her grandmother had ordered be put into the closet with her. She kept her eyes fixed, staring through the darkness at exactly the spot where she knew the fox head was hanging.

Her concentration was so intense she didn't hear the noise at first. Only gradually did the piercing sound of her grandmother's voice sink into her consciousness, along with a deeper male voice that was unrecognizable. She knew so few men. The doorman called her 'little miss,' but the voice didn't sound like it belonged to the doorman. There was a man who fixed the bathroom sink when it leaked, the doctor who had given her a shot last year. She saw men on the street when she took her walks, but she wasn't one of those dimple-cheeked little moppets who attracted the attention of adults, so few of them ever spoke to her.

Through the thick door she could hear the male voice coming closer. It was loud. Angry. She sprang back in fear and the furs caught her. The mink, the beaver-their dead skins swung against her. She cried out as the grisly fox head struck her cheek.

The door flew open, but she was sobbing in fear and she didn't notice.

'Good God!'

The angry male voice penetrated her consciousness. Panicked, she pushed herself deeper into the suffocating depths of the furs, instinctively seeking a known terror instead of an unknown one.

'Good God,' the voice repeated. 'This is barbaric.'

She stared into the malevolent face of the fox and whimpered.

'Come here, sweetheart,' the voice said, speaking more softly this time. 'Come here.'

Slowly she turned, blinking against the light. She turned toward that soft, crooning voice, and her eyes drank in their first sight of Joel Faulconer.

He was big and golden in the light, with powerful shoulders and a large, handsome head. Like a magic prince in one of her books, he smiled at her and held out his hand. 'Come here, sweetheart. I'm not going to hurt you. I won't let anyone hurt you.'

She couldn't move. She wanted to, but her feet were tangled in the wet bedcovers, and the fox head was butting against her cheek. He reached for her. She winced instinctively and drew back into the coats. He began crooning to her as he pulled her free of the furs. 'It's all right. It's all right, sweetheart.'

He lifted her into his strong arms and held her against his chest. She waited for him to recoil when he felt her damp nightgown and smelled her acrid scent, but he didn't. Instead, he clasped her tightly against his expensive suit coat and carried her into her bedroom, where he helped her to dress. Then he took her away from the Park Avenue penthouse forever.

'That stupid, stupid bitch,' he murmured as he led her from the building.

Not until much later did she realize that he wasn't talking about her grandmother.

Joel Faulconer wasn't a sentimental man, so nothing in his experience had prepared him for the surge of emotion that had overtaken him when he had seen Susannah huddled like a frightened animal in his mother-in-law's moth-eaten furs. Now, six hours later, he glanced over at her strapped into the airplane seat at his side and his heart turned over. Her enormous gray eyes were set in a small, angular face, and her hair was skinned into braids so tight her skin seemed as if it might split over her fragile bones. She stared straight ahead. She had barely spoken since he had taken her from the closet.

Joel took a sip of the bourbon he had ordered from the stewardess and tried not to think about what would have happened to Susannah if he hadn't given in to the vague impulse that had taken him to his mother-in-law's doorstep that morning. Kay didn't like her mother, so he had only met the woman a few times in social settings and had never spoken with her long enough to realize that she was mentally ill. But Kay should have known.

As Joel thought about his wife, he felt the familiar combination of disgust and arousal she always managed to produce in him. She hadn't even disclosed that she had a daughter until several months after their wedding-about the same time he had begun to have second thoughts concerning the wisdom of his marriage. Kay had assured him that the child was better off with her mother, and not being anxious to take on the burden of another man's offspring, Joel hadn't pressed her. She went to see the child whenever she was in New York, and he had assumed that Susannah was well cared for. By the time Kay had given birth to his own child, he had nearly forgotten the

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