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'That was some game you played over the weekend, Sam. I certainly never expected to see the Corporation's gold trophy go to a woman '
'Sam isn't a woman, women are small and cute and cuddly, they stay at home and make babies . Sam even her name isn't womanly '
Samantha Miller drew herself up to her full heightan inch over six feetwhich was an impressive four inches above the man who had just so publicly and cruelly criticised her.
'You know your trouble don't you, Cliff,' she drawled affably. 'You just don't know a real woman when you see one. Seems to me that a man isn't so very much of a man if the only kind of woman he can handle is the kind you've just described, and as for making babies.' She paused for emphasis, well aware of the fact that she had the attention of their fellow employees who had happened to be in the large airy open-plan office with them. 'I'm woman enough to have a baby any time I want one.'
Only now was she revealing the true extent of her anger at the way Cliff had insulted her; her eyes flashing challenging sparks, her voice trembling a little with the force of her feelings.
'You have a baby ' her antagonist jeered angrily before she could continue. 'Who the hell would want to impregnate a woman like you? No way. Your only chance of having a child would be via some med student's sperm and a syringe..
Enough of the people standing around broke into laughter for Samantha to recognise that no matter how publicly she might be accepted by her colleagues, an uncomfortable proportion of them seemed to share Cliff Marlin's views.
Faced with the same situation another woman might have burst into tears or lost her temper but not Sam. You learned young when you were as tall as she was that crying didn't look cute, and besides.
Looking down from the advantage of her extra inches Samantha bared her teeth in a totally false smile and gave a dismissive shrug.
'You're entitled to your opinion, Cliff, but gee, it's a shame that you're such a sore loser. Mind, if I played golf as badly as you do, I guess I might be a tad sore about it, too. And as for making babies how many times did you miss that putt on the eighth.'
Now it was Samantha's gibe that earned a responsive titter of amusement from around her.
Without giving Cliff the opportunity to retaliate she turned on her heel and walked quickly away, her head held high.
What did it matter that she knew the moment she was out of sight and earshot that the others would be talking about her, gossiping about her, the six foot Amazon of a woman who, in all the time she had been with the Corporation, had never attended any of its social events with an escort; the only one of her admittedly relatively small group of female peers in what was essentially a very male-biased industry who had not, at one point or another, confided the details of her private life to the others.
Now, at just over thirty, Samantha was well aware that she had entered a decade which might prove to be one of the most productive and fast-paced of her whole life. It was also a decade which would see the chance of her meeting a man, the man the man she would be able to fall in love with, the man she would want to spend the rest of her life with, the man with whom she would have the babies she craved so much, sharply declining.
There would be men of course were men masses of them, men who didn't want to commit, men who didn't want children, men who did want children, but who most definitely did not want a wife, men who were already married men who Oh, yes, the list of men to avoid was endless and the choice narrowed even further when one was as picky as she.
'Why don't you at least have a date with him?' her twin sister Roberta had demanded the last time she had been over visiting her family in the States from her new-found home in England. Their mother had been complaining to Bobbie about Sam's obduracy in not accepting a date from the man who had been pursuing her at the time.
'There isn't any point. I already know he isn't the one,' Samantha had told her fatalistically. 'It's all very well for you to take Mom's side,' she had complained to her twin later when they were on their own. 'You've found your man, your perfect "one and only," and when I've seen how special what you and Luke have together is, how happy you are, how could I possibly settle for anything less.'
'Oh, Sam.' Bobbie had hugged her contritely. 'I'm sorry, you're right, you mustn't but I have to say I hope you find him soon. Oh dear,' she had then apologised as she'd started to yawn, 'I do feel tired.'
'Tired, I'm not surprised,' Samantha had laughed, and then unable to stop herself she glanced with rueful envy at her twin's heavily pregnant bodynot with twins as Bobbie had first hoped, though. This was another single pregnancy. Seeing the look in her eyes Bobbie had asked her gently, 'Have you never met anyone you could love, Sam? Has there never been anyone you have loved?'
Samantha had thought for a moment before shaking her head. Her blonde hair, unlike her twin's, was cropped into a mass of short tender curls that framed her perfectly shaped face making her large blue eyes seem even larger and darker than Bobbie's.
'No. Not unless you count that crush I had on Liam way back when he first started working for Dad I must have been all of fourteen at the time and Liam pretty soon made it clear that he wasn't interested in a juvenile brat with braces on her teeth and her hair in plaits.'
Roberta had laughed. Liam Connolly was their father's most senior assistant and it was no secret in the family that Stephen Miller was encouraging him to run for the position of State Governor when he himself retired.
'Yeah, well, I guess to a man of twenty-one, especially one as good-looking as Liam, the idea of having a fourteen-year-old adoringly worshipping him doesn't hold that much appeal.'
'Believe me, so far as Liam was concerned it didn't have any appeal,' Sam had returned feelingly. 'Do you know he even refused to kiss me one particular Thanksgiving. Can you believe thatand me his boss's daughter '
'Yeah, that could have been a real bad career move,' Bobbie had agreed tongue-in-cheek, 'and an even worse one if Dad had found out Liam was encouraging you.'
'Mmm and Liam has always put his career ahead of everything else.'
Bobbie had raised her eyebrows a little at the critical note in her twin's voice, inviting an explanation of Sam's acidic one.
'Oh, come on, Bo Bo, there's been a succession of women in his lifeand his bedbut even Dad's commented on the fact he's never come anywhere near making a serious commitment to anyone. Lordy, he hasn't even allowed any of them to move into his house.'
'Perhaps he's still looking for Ms. Right '
Samantha had given her sister an old-fashioned look.
'If he is, then all I can say is that he surely is having one hell of a good time with an awful lot of Ms. Wrongs first!'
Now, all too well aware of what was likely to be being said about her behind her back in the general office, Samantha headed for the elevators. So what if officially she wasn't due to take her lunch break for another full half an hour? Right now she needed to breathe fresh clean air and not the stale rancid stuff she had just been forced to endure, contaminated as it had been by Cliff's malice and envy. Because that was what had sparked his attack on her, Samantha knew that He had been riding her hard for the last six weeksever since she had been offered the promotion he himself had wanted.
She had a month's leave coming up soon, thank goodness, and she had already made arrangements to spend most of it in England with her twin.
Her father's term as State Governor had only a little more time to run, otherwise he and her mother would have been joining her.
Theirs was a very close family, made all the more so because of its history. Her mother had been born illegitimately to Ruth Crighton, the unmarried daughter of the Crighton family of Haslewich in Cheshire, England, at the time when unmarried girls of Ruth's class simply did not become pregnant or certainly were not supposed to.
It had been during the Second World War. Ruth had fallen deeply in love with Samantha's grandfather but, due to a misunderstanding and the disapproval of her own father, who had a bias against Americans, Ruth had erroneously believed that Grant had lied to her about being single and actually already had a wife and a child in the States. Pressured by her family, Ruth had given her baby, Samantha and Roberta's mother, up for adoption.
By one of those quirks of fate that always seemed too farfetched to be possible, Ruth's baby had been adopted in secret by Grant, who had assumed that Ruth was rejecting her child in the same way she had rejected him.
It had only been when, on realising how badly their mother Sarah Jane was still affected by the dreadful hurt caused to her by her mother's rejection, that Samantha and Roberta had hatched a plan to bring Ruth to book for her desertion of her child. It was then that the whole real circumstances surrounding the birth had come to light.
Not only had their grandparents been reunited, but Roberta had also met Luke to whom she was now married and already had one child. Another was on the way.
Like their grandmother, Luke, too, was a Crighton. Only from the Chester, not the Haslewich branch of the family.
Crightons and the law went together like peaches and cream and so it was no surprise that Luke should be one of the city's leading counsel.
Initially Samantha had been inclined to be a little in awe of her slightly austere brother-in-law, but beneath that austerity lay hidden a wicked sense of humour and a very dry wit. True, he had stolen away Sam's beloved twin sister and put the width of the Atlantic between them, but he had also, it had to be admitted, made Bobbie deliriously happy and they were not the kind of twins who needed to live in one another's pockets. But there were times like now when the one person, the only person, she wanted was her twin sister.
Cliff Marlin might be little more than a pathetic apology for a real man but he was a pathetic apology for a real man who had hurt her far more badly than she wanted him or anyone else to see.
His malicious taunt had cut deep and dirty. Not even Bobbie knew how gut-wrenchingly envious Sam sometimes felt or how shocked she had been to recognise how strong her own inner conviction that she would be the first one of them to marry and have children had been.
She did not begrudge Bobbie her happiness, of course she didn't, and she had seen the anguish and pain Bobbie had gone through when she had thought that Luke didn't return her feelings, it was just that It was just what? she asked herself tersely, worrying at the thought with the same intensity she was worrying at her bottom lip as she strode out into the spring sunshine.
It was just that she had this yearning, this hunger to be a mother. It was just that she felt raw with the pain of not fulfilling the tender nurturing side of her nature. But how could she compromise? How could she have a child when there was no man in her life?
Earlier when Bobbie had teased her that she would have to hurry up and find someone so that she could provide her own baby with cousins, Sam had laughed and mocked her twin that a man wasn't necessary for the purpose of procreation any more, at least, not the kind of loving personal contact with one that Bobbie seemed to be enjoying so much. She hadn't meant it of course, she had simply been giving in to that slightly offbeat side of her nature that had gotten her into trouble so many, many times when she had been growing up. There was an impetuous, an impulsive and very strong streak of determination running through her character, Sa-mantha acknowledged wryly.
Back there in the office just now for instance, the temptation to throw Cliff's words back at him and tell him that she would prove to him just how much of a woman she was, that she would prove to them all just how easily she could find herself a partner, have herself a baby, had almost been too strong for her to resist, but fortunately she had resisted it.
It would have been foolhardy in the extreme for hera career woman who worked in the hard-nosed business of modern computer technology, where logic was a necessityto give in to the impulse to throw caution to the winds and go with the heady wave of emotion which had stormed her, riding its crest triumphantly like Pacific surf as she told Cliff that not only could she disprove his words but that she actually would.
Naturally it ill behoved the daughter of the State's Governor to give in to such a hotheaded impulse. Her father was another mark against her in Cliff's eyes, of course. She had overheard the sneering comments he had made to another colleague when she had been offered the job he had tried so desperately hard to win for himself.
'It's obvious she wouldn't have had a chance if it hadn't been for the fact that her father is the State Governor,' she had heard him saying bitterly. 'No prizes for guessing just what's going on. The company has put in tenders for government work and what better way to tip the odds in their favour than by getting in the Governor's good books by promoting his daughter.'
It wasn't true, Samantha knew that. She had won that promotion on merit. She was, quite simply, the better person for the job and she had told Cliff so in no uncertain terms. He hadn't liked hearing her saying it, no sirree, and he had liked it even less when she had beaten him hands down in the firm's annual golf tournament.
She had Liam to thank for that. He was a first-rate player and, even as a teenager, he had never allowed her the indulgence of beating him, mercilessly telling her just where she was going wrong. He was equally good at playing chessand pokerwhich was why her father claimed he would make a first-rate Governor.