such a young age. At thirty-eight, he was one of the most influential men in American industry. If only he had as much control over his own household.

As he shot a pair of onyx cuff links into the sleeves of his dress shirt, he glanced impatiently at his wife. She was sitting at her dressing table and applying lipstick to the full mouth that had ministered so effectively to his body such a short time before. At thirty-three, she was just entering the prime of her beauty. Her breasts strained seductively against the bodice of her slip whenever she leaned toward the mirror. She worked with utter concentration, as if the simple act of applying lipstick took every ounce of her intelligence-which wasn't far from the mark, he thought.

'You're going to be late again, Kay,' he snapped. 'You know how important tonight's affair is. You promised me you'd be on time.'

'Did I?' she said vaguely. She screwed the lipstick down into its tube and then began looking about for the jeweled cap. Wisps of light brown hair from her short Italian cut feathered her cheekbones, softening features that were already pleasantly blurred. Her mouth was too full for fashion, but he had always liked it. Too much, perhaps. It was more a trollop's mouth than the sort of mouth that belonged on the wife of a powerful man.

'Don't be angry, darling,' she said. 'Ever since you got back from New York, you've been so angry with me.'

'Do you blame me? I knew you were stupid, but I never imagined that even you could have been this stupid.'

Kay reached for a cigarette and smoothed the thin arch of her eyebrow with her little finger. 'Don't start shouting at me again, Joel. I've explained that it wasn't my fault. Whenever I went to see Susannah, she was well- dressed. How was I to know anything was wrong?'

Joel bit back a retort, knowing that he would only end up making his feather-headed wife later than she already was. What a terrible marriage he had saddled himself with. Still, he refused to dwell too critically on the sensual side of his nature that drew him to women like Kay-seductive high-born kittens who were marvels in bed but inept at the business of daily living. After all, powerful men were allowed a few weaknesses of the flesh. He had toyed with the idea of divorcing her, but that sort of scandal was dangerous for someone in his position. Instead, he blamed her for not becoming the efficient sort of wife a man of his stature needed.

'Have you seen my earrings, darling? The sapphires?' She poked ineffectively at the clutter on her dressing table in hopes her expensive jewels might be lurking among the Max Factor bottles and cubes of Ayds diet candy.

'God, Kay, if you've misplaced those sapphires again, I'm going to take them away from you. Do you have any idea how much they cost?'

She absentmindedly picked up her lipstick tube again. 'A fortune, I'm sure. I remember now. I took them off in the living room and tucked them in a drawer of the secretary so I wouldn't lose them. Be a darling and get them for me.'

He stalked from their bedroom and went downstairs. As he walked into the living room, he didn't see Susannah sitting like a quiet little mouse in the corner chair, her legs drawn up under the skirt of her new calico nightgown, her eyes bright with adoration as she caught sight of him.

'Damn!' The drawers of the walnut secretary held the usual clutter of Kay's possessions, but no earrings. He banged them shut one by one. 'Dammit to hell. Where could she have put them?'

'Can I help you, Father?' Susannah slipped from the chair and walked toward him, her voice quietly deferential. Joel had forbidden anyone to braid her hair, so it hung loose and bone-straight. As she stood before him, she looked so anxious that his heart turned over in his chest. Because he was so powerful himself, he felt her absolute helplessness and total dependence on him even more acutely. She was so solemn, so quiet, so overly polite with her old woman's vocabulary and desperate obsequiousness. He could not ever remember feeling so protective of another human being-not even his own daughter. Baby Paige had an army of caretakers to watch out for her well- being. This ancient little girl had no one but himself.

'Your mother left some earrings here.'

'Earrings? Might they be blue?'

'Yes. They're sapphires. Why? Have you seen them?'

'Yesterday I saw Mother put some earrings in that bowl on the mantel.'

Joel went over to the bowl and pulled out the sapphires. He smiled at her. Her lips curled in response. It was a trembling, uncertain attempt at a smile, but it was a smile nonetheless.

'What a good girl you are,' he said softly. 'What a very good girl.' And then he hugged her.

Without either of them realizing it, six-year-old Susannah had taken the first step toward becoming the efficient wife that Joel Faulconer so badly needed.

Chapter 2

The next year was magical. Joel legally adopted her so that she was now his real daughter-no longer Susannah Lydiard, but Susannah Faulconer. She went to school for the first time, and the teacher praised her because she was the smartest student in the class. She stopped wetting the bed and began to smile more. Everyone except her mother seemed to like her.

Although Susannah tried hard to please her mother, nothing seemed to work. She kept herself as neat as a shiny new penny and did everything that was asked of her, but Kay still complained.

'Don't sneak up behind me like that!' Kay shrieked at least once a day. 'I've told you a hundred times! It gives me the creeps!'

Susannah perfected a quiet little cough when her mother was around so Kay would always know she was there.

Kay liked Paige much more than she liked Susannah-not that Susannah could really blame her. Paige was so adorable that Susannah immediately made herself a willing slave to her baby half sister. She fetched toys for her, entertained her when she was bored, and placated her when she had a temper tantrum. The sight of her sister's chubby pink face crumpled in tears was more than she could bear.

'You're spoiling her,' Kay complained one afternoon as she looked up from the society pages and flicked her cigarette ash. 'You shouldn't give her everything she wants.'

Susannah reluctantly withdrew her new Barbie doll from Paige's destructive grasp. Paige's blue eyes darkened and she began to howl in protest. The howls grew louder as she ignored all of Susannah's attempts to distract her with other toys. Finally, the newspaper snapped closed.

'For God's sake!' Kay screeched. 'Let her play with your Barbie. If she breaks it, I'll buy you another one.'

Only her father remained immune to Paige's charms. 'Paige has to learn that she can't have everything she wants,' he told Susannah in his most severe voice after observing several of these exchanges. 'You need to start exercising some judgment. God knows your mother won't.'

Susannah promised him she would try to do better, and the very next day she walked out of the room when Paige threw a temper tantrum, even though it nearly broke her heart.

By the time Susannah had finished first grade, the wounds inside her were beginning to mend. Ironically, Kay's criticism proved to be nearly as healing as Joel's affection. From Kay Susannah learned that she wouldn't be shoved in a closet simply because her mother didn't like her. As the world became a safer place that summer, she gradually began to relax her diligence and behave like a normal child.

It was a terrible mistake.

Falcon Hill was set at the end of a long tree-bordered drive sealed off at the entrance with iron gates. In the late afternoon when the adults gathered on the terrace behind the house for martinis, Susannah developed the habit of wandering down the drive to the gates where she played with a doll or climbed up on the filigreed ironwork to extend her view. After having spent so many years being restricted to prescribed walks around the same city block, she found her new freedom dazzling.

She was jumping rope at the bottom of the drive one June afternoon when the balloon man appeared. Even though she was seven years old, jumping rope was a new skill for her-one requiring all her concentration-so at first she didn't see him. The soles of her leather sandals scuffed on the blacktop as she counted softly under her breath.

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