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Olivia plucked the wayward pillow from its precarious position on the edge of the narrow hospital bed. "Don't worry, my dear," she whispered to her sleeping husband, recalling the hell he had put her through that morning. "The nurses insist on keeping you comfortable, so who am I to deny you that much…even though you deserve nothing?"
Comfortable? As far as Olivia was concerned, only Harold dying would do that. Had he been an animal, they would have put him out of his misery long ago.
Or rather, her misery.
She squeezed the pillow, watching it plump in her hands. Putting Harold out of her misery. Now there was an idea. After years of confronting his daily humilation, his belittling and nettling, his threats to divulge her secrets to the world, Olivia had half a mind to press the pillow over the face she'd grown to despise. It wouldn't take much effort, either. He wasn't in any condition to fight. Just a few minutes, she told herself, and it would be over.
Her pulse raced. She eyed the pillow once again, then the door, then her slumbering spouse. Yes, just a few minutes and the shackles that had kept her from reaching her full potential, her full power, would vanish forever. Then she could run this family, this empire, as she saw fit.
Mesmerized by the exhilarating notion of true freedom, she lifted her weapon of choice and smiled.
Yes, just a few minutes…
"What are you doing, Mother?"
She started at the sound of Neville's voice behind her. Forcing a smile, she tossed the pillow onto a nearby chair, cursed under her breath, then turned to face her son. "Hush. The pillow slipped outfrom under your father. I was just contemplating whether to replace it, but I was too afraid I'd wake him. He needs his rest, you know."
"Yes, I know that, but–"
"But what, Neville?"
At forty-five years of age, attired in a navy-blue business suit with a crimson-colored "power tie," Neville York Devon appeared the picture of handsome dignity and a worthy heir to the town's largest empire. With his thick dark hair, shot with only a touch of distinguished gray, and his regal brow, nose, and chin, he looked nothing like Harold. Thank goodness for that! The rangy, lean, yet muscular frame that Neville had developed during his high school years as the star of the swim team, which he also maintained with a strict diet and exercise throughout the subsequent decades, also bore the stamp of the hardy York family tree, Olivia's kin. Indeed, depending on the angle from which she viewed him, Olivia sometimes mistook her son for her long-dead father, and on those occasions, it took her breath away.
But one significant aspect of Neville's features halted any further comparison to the visage of her father. Up until the moment of his death, Lombard York possessed snapping brown eyes that glowed with the practicality of a no-nonsense taskmaster, a dominant light that haunted Olivia's memories even to this day. Her son's eyes, however, although equally rich in hue, lacked the sternness associated with his York ancestors. Instead, Neville bore the eyes of a Jersey cow's, wide and guileless, yet often ringed with a trace of uncertainty and fear, especially when looking in her direction. Olivia relished those eyes, since she had worked decades making certain they remained unchanged from their current state. She had spent her childhood years feeling insignificant under the watchful gaze of her father, and in her adult years, she would be damned if her son's eyes–or anyone else's–made her feel anything but superior.
"Mother, are…are you certain…?"
"Certain about what, Neville?"
He seemed to be locked in a state of suspended animation, one foot inside the hospital room, one foot in the hallway. Lines of confusion wrinkled his forehead. "Are you…you certain that was all…all you were…were…"
Normally a small part of Olivia would have enjoyed hearing her son's nervous stammer, which he'd also developed early in life. Most people didn't realize he had a small speech impediment, since he reserved that only in his dealings with her, usually during their private conversations when he dared to question her judgment. But now, the stammer annoyed her to no end, especially with her heart thumping and her blood tingling from the shock of getting caught nearly doing the unthinkable.
"For heaven's sake, boy, what in the world are you saying?"
"It's just that…that you were hunching over him…with the pillow and…and it looked like you intended to…"
Blood rushed into Olivia's face. To cover her extreme mortification and guilt, she feigned outrage. "How dare you suggest such a thing!"
"But I…I saw you…"
"Caring for your father, as the nurses have instructed. Nothing more."
"Since when have you ever cared for Father?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"You heard the question. When have you ever given a damn about Father's comfort, in sickness or in health?"
"I don't like that tone, Neville."
His cheeks blanched, and sweat pebbled his brow. Lowering his head, he straightened his tie and plucked invisible threads off his dark sleeve, fidgeting like a white-collar criminal who feared he would be sentenced to a life of hard labor instead of the plush country-club prison he'd been guaranteed. "I'm not sure what…what tone you mean."
"That disrespectful, accusatory tone your rebellious daughter uses toward me at every opportunity. Ah-ha, that's it! Now I understand all too well."
"What do you understand?"
"Has your daughter been filling your ears with childish tales?"
"What does Kendra have to do with anything…with what I…I just witnessed?"
Copyright © 2005 Amber Quill Press, LLC