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MONTEREY, California July 3rd.
His hands trembled, but not from fear. Energy pulsated through him, exhilarating him, and he felt the fire inside his head, his belly. Revenge was what he wanted, and now he was living it out. Drawing in a slow, deep breath, he willed his quivering fingers to steady just long enough to replace the telephone receiver. And he was hoping, adamantly, that there was no flickering light on Edward Simon's desk console to warn Simon that someone had been on the extension. The man quietly moved to Simon's closed inner-office door and listened intently for a few moments.
When he heard the secretary's movement, he pushed away from the door. Chuckling softly to himself, he hurried out to the main hall. The tormented tones he'd heard in Simon's voice and the words from his idiot detective were exactly what the man had wanted to hear. He now had no doubt that his carefully prepared plans were running smoothly.
Resisting the urge to bellow a victory yell, he sauntered down the hall, rubbing his hands together and visualizing how close he was to success.
In less than forty-eight hours, Jessica Simon would understand, painfully, that she never should have crossed him. She was his. But she forced him to punish her.
He laughed. And her beloved father was going to help him.
"Lord. I don't want to swallow any of this." Edward Simon placed the telephone receiver back on its cradle while looking long and hard at the newspaper photo on his oversized walnut desk. He knew the detective's somber words were going to be haunting him for a long time to come.
"Well, I'm not believing it."Marjorie Ferris, dictation pad in hand, sat down on brocade chair beside Edward's desk. An intense frown creased her forehead as she brushed back her salt-and-pepper bangs. "You know Jessica could never do such things. It's impossible. She just isn't capable of it, and you and I know why. Your detective could have a hundred affidavits and that report still wouldn't be true."
Marjorie had been his secretary for fifteen years, and Edward fully realized how fond she was of his daughter.
"I know. I know. And normally I would agree with you, Marjorie. But the evidence is overwhelming." He pointed at the photos and papers scattered across his desk. "I can't just ignore it." He desperately wanted to ignore it, but old Dean had just confirmed the newspapers' words after only one day on the job.
The damned report verified that his sweet Jessica, steadily, and darned near on a day-to-day basis, was earning the reputation of a socialite tramp. Just trying to imagine his daughter sleeping with those young men at the club.... Nothing sounded more unreasonable. His Jess was an intelligent, quietly rational girl--except when she sat behind the wheel of that blasted car of hers, or when someone made the mistake of pushing her too far.
He glanced around. Hell, he thought, she worked in this office. They saw each other twice a week or more. He hadn't noticed any changes in her personality....
"If I hadn't been away the past two months, I would have read about it," Marjorie said, interrupting Edward's thoughts and gesturing at the newspaper articles scattered beside his hand. She stood, then paced in front of his desk. "And if you would read more than the financial columns, you might already know what was going on. Absurdity, that's what this all is. Jessica would never become engaged without telling you--let alone the other tripe. You must admit this whole thing is very strange. Why would someone mail these to you?"
Edward swept the papers into a neat pile and nodded in agreement. He had never read a social column in his life. He hated them. The articles had arrived via an express service early yesterday morning with no return address. Edward couldn't think of anyone who would possibly know that he hadn't already read them, or, anyone who would particularly care one way or another.
"I'll give her something else to do," he mumbled. "Something she's never done before. Yes, I believe the time has come for Jessica's test." Family members had long ago aptly named this test the trial run.
He stared absently at Marjorie's back as she plodded across the plush, blue carpet toward her office, broadcasting her obvious disapproval of his actions.
Leaning back, Edward steepled his fingers together, moving them up and down while his thoughts came into focus. Every Simon had to earn the right to control the business and estates with the trial run. His father had sent him to Kansas with one hundred thousand dollars and with no more instructional advice than to build two motels and a hotel--and increase the money tenfold. It took him two exhausting years, but he succeeded. He'd sent his son out with the same amount for college. Scott succeeded, but photojournalism and the excitement of danger kept him away from home.
If Scott were here, he could communicate with Jessica. Jess had always listened to her brother.
For the first time in his life, Edward found himself utterly impatient. He couldn't sit and wait. He had to stop Jess from destroying her integrity. Next to that, the subject of her engagement paled in significance.
He had a feeling that her new behavior stemmed from the attack on her when she was a child, when he should have been there to protect her, when he hadn't been--but there was nothing he could do about the past. Swallowing hard, he closed his eyes tightly for a moment, not wanting to recall how battered, bruised, and helpless Jessica had been.
Whether the incident was the cause or not, he just could not talk to Jessica about her sexual behavior. He usually found it easy to be direct and discuss most anything with most people, but not with Jess; she was his little girl. At one time an almost spiritless, hurt little girl. He hated this communication weakness, wishing she had a mother to turn to. Hell, he'd tried to overcome it a million times. Well, there was always more than one way to an end.
Edward rose from his chair and paced agitatedly behind the desk, staring out the immense span of windows. Beneath Jessica's quiet ways, an ambitious quality existed that others had a tendency not to notice. Jessica couldn't resist a viable challenge or restrain her covert passion for winning. He knew she'd already proven herself with her art and business acumen. Her art sold everywhere, and someone always wanted to commission her. He would have to act shrewdly if he intended to convince her she hadn't.
To outmaneuver Jess wouldn't be easy. She could read him inside and out just like her mother had.
If only Darla hadn't died so young. He needed her. Jessica needed her. Edward could hear his wife's beloved voice warning him to beware of acting the over-protective father.
Hell, he obviously hadn't been protective enough.
Edward stopped pacing, leaned over, and pressed the intercom button for Marjorie's desk. "Get Grady Bowman on the phone. If you can't reach him at home, try his car phone."