to do with us, and you knew it. That's why you lied to me."
In spite of the hopelessness of the situation, or perhaps because of it, he started to get mad. "It's not my fault the Galloway deal never came up between us. You never asked me about it."
"Why would I do that?" Her voice rose. "How was I supposed to guess that you were involved in it?"
"You didn't work at Galloway. How was I supposed to guess that you had a connection to the company?" he countered.
"It doesn't matter. Don't you understand? That takeover was as ruthless, as cold-blooded, as anything I've ever seen in business. The fact that you were the hired gun who tore that company apart tells me exactly what kind of scum you really are."
"People got hurt in that takeover." Her hand clenched very tightly around the strap of her elegant shoulder bag. "Badly hurt. I don't do business with men like you."
Jack saw Hugo, the maitre d', hovering uneasily at a nearby table, obviously at a loss to decide how to quell the escalating scene. The waiter who had been on the way to the booth with ice water and bread halted, unmoving, a short distance away. Everyone in the dining room was listening now, but Elizabeth was oblivious to her audience.
Jack was morbidly fascinated himself, even though he was at ground zero. He would never have guessed that Elizabeth was capable of such drama. For the past month she had seemed so calm, so composed, so controlled.
"I think you'd better cool down," he said quietly.
"Give me one good reason."
"I'll give you two. Number one, we've got an audience. Number two, when you finally do cool off you are going to regret this scene a lot more than I will."
She smiled at him with such freezing disdain that he was amazed there were no icicles in her hair. She waved one hand in a wide arc that encompassed the entire dining room. He took that as a very bad sign.
"I don't give a damn about our audience," she said in ringing accents that no doubt carried all the way into the kitchen. "The way I look at it, I'm doing everyone here a public service by telling them that you are a lying SOB. I won't regret a single thing about this scene."
"You will when you finally remember that we've got a signed, sealed contract for the Excalibur deal. Like it or not, we're stuck with each other."
She blinked once. He saw the jolt of shock in her eyes. In the heat of her outrage, she had apparently forgotten the contract they had both signed yesterday morning.
She rallied swiftly. "I'll call the Fund's lawyers as soon as I get back to the office. Consider our contract null and void as of today."
"Don't bother trying to bluff. You can't get out of our deal just because you've decided I'm an SOB. You signed that damned contract, and I'm going to hold you to it."
"We'll see about that."
He shrugged. "If you want to tie both of us up in court for the next ten or twelve months, be my guest. But I'll fight you all the way, and I'll win in the end. We both know it."
She was trapped, and he was pretty sure that she was too smart not to recognize that simple fact.
There was a tense moment while he watched her come to terms with the realization that he had won.
Frustrated rage flared once more in her face.
"You will pay for this, Jack Fairfax." She reached out
and swept the pitcher of ice water off the tray held by the motionless waiter. "Sooner or later, I swear you will pay for what
She dashed the contents of the water pitcher straight at him. He did not even try to duck. The only escape route was under the table, and somehow that option seemed more ignominious than staying in his seat.
The icy water splashing in his face ignited the temper that he had been struggling to control. He looked at Elizabeth. She was staring at him, the first signs of shock and horror lighting her eyes. He knew that it was just beginning to dawn on her that she had made an almighty fool of herself.
"This isn't about the Galloway deal, is it?" he said softly. "This is about last night."
Clutching her purse, she took a step back as if he had struck her. "Don't you dare bring up last night. This is not about last night, damn you."
"Sure it is." He swiped a chunk of ice off the shoulder of his jacket. "I take full responsibility, of course. It's the gentlemanly thing to do, isn't it?"
She sucked in her breath in a stunned gasp. "Don't try to reduce this to sex. What happened last night is the least important aspect of this entire affair. In fact, what happened last night was so unimportant and so unmemorable that it doesn't even register on the scale."
Last night had meant nothing to her. He lost what little remained of the control he had been exerting over his anger. His hands closed around the edge of the table. He rose deliberately to his feet, heedless of the fact that he was still dripping ice water. He smiled slowly at Elizabeth.
"On my own behalf," he said with grave politeness, "I would like to say that I didn't know going in that I was dealing with the original Ice Princess. You should have warned me that you've got a little problem in that department. Who knows? With some extra time and effort, I might have been able to thaw you out."
As soon as the words were uttered, he regretted them. But they hung there in the air above the table, frozen, glittering shards of ice. He knew they would never melt.
Elizabeth fell back another step. Her face was flushed. Her eyes narrowed. "You really are a bastard, aren't you?" Her voice was low and much too even now. "You don't care a damn about what happened in the aftermath of the Galloway deal, do you?"
He ran a hand through his hair to get rid of some of the cold water. "No, I don't. Business is business, as far as I'm concerned. I don't believe in getting emotionally involved."
"I understand," she said. "That's precisely how I feel about last night."
She turned on one needle-sharp heel and walked out of the restaurant without a backward glance.
Jack watched her leave. He did not take his eyes off her until she disappeared through the door.
The twinges of impending fate that he had experienced when she had entered the dining room grew stronger. He knew that she must be feeling them too.
They both knew the truth.
She could walk away from what had happened between them last night, but she could not walk away from the business contract they had signed. For better for worse, for richer for poorer, it bound them together more securely than any wedding license could have done.
Between midnight and dawn, Wednesday morning
HE WAITED FOR HER AT THE REAR OF THE PARKING LOT, HUDDLED against the brick wall, shivering in the light windbreaker. The streetlamp wasn't working right. It cast a faltering, sickly glow that did little to dispel the shadows. There were only a handful of cars left in the lot. Pioneer Square was quiet at this hour. The nightclubs and the taverns were closed. Other than the drunk he'd tripped over in the alley, he'd seen no one else. That was a good thing, because the kind of folks who did show up in this part of town at this time of night were usually quite scary.
It was raining, a relentless mist that drove the predawn chill deeper into his bones. But he knew it wasn't just the night air that made him feel so cold. It was the fact that he hadn't kept his twice-daily date with Madam Lola this evening. He hadn't been able to afford her tonight, and now he was paying the price.
He'd first met Madam L. back in grad school. He had been a good student in those days. Everyone had said he had a bright future in chemical engineering. Probably would have held a few patents by now if he hadn't met Madam Lola. It was a woman, a student in one of his classes, who'd introduced him to Lola. She'd assured him that sex was great after just one dose. She'd been right. But Lola soon became more interesting than sex. More interesting than getting a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. More interesting than the successful future he'd once planned for himself.
Lola had taken over his life, and the lady was a harsh mistress. She demanded his obedient attendance twice a day. If he missed even one dose, he felt like that stuff on the parking lot pavement that he'd stepped in a few minutes ago. And he also felt cold. Very, very cold.
But she would be here soon, and she would bring the money she had promised to pay him and he would buy some more time with Madam L. and everything would be okay again. He could maintain pretty good when he kept up with his twice-daily appointments. Good enough to hold a job. For a while, at any rate. Balancing work and Lola was never easy. He could usually get by for a few months, and then something always went wrong. Either he failed a drug test or he started taking too many sick days. Or something.
He hoped he could last a while longer in his present job. He sort of liked it. Sometimes when he was working at Excalibur he pretended that he really had finished that doctorate; that he was a respected member of the research team like Dr. Page, maybe, not just a lowly lab tech. He felt bad about what he'd done tonight. But he hadn't had a choice. His salary at Excalibur was good, but it wasn't good enough to pay for the amount of time he had to spend with Lola these days. His other employer was very generous, though.
And she would be here soon. With lots of cash for Lola.
He heard her footsteps first, high heels echoing lightly on the wet pavement. He straightened away from the damp bricks, anticipation driving out some of the chill. Not long now and he would have what he needed to warm him once more.
"About time you got here," he muttered.
She walked toward him through the thick shadows. The hood of a long, black raincoat concealed her face. "Everything went well tonight, I assume?"
"No problem. Lab's a mess. It'll take 'em days to clean up."
"Excellent. It was probably unnecessary. Just a precaution in the unlikely event that Fairfax or Excalibur security calls in the police. It will send them off in the wrong direction."
"Companies never call in the cops on this kind of thing if they can help it. Bad public relations. Freaks out the investors and clients."
"Yes. And that is the one thing that Excalibur can't afford to do right now." She moved her hand, reaching into her purse. "Well, I think that takes care of everything. You've been a fine employee, Ryan. I shall be sorry to let you go."
"I'm afraid I don't need you anymore. In fact, you've become a liability." She removed her hand from her purse. There was just enough light from the dying streetlamp to reveal the glint of dark metal.
He struggled to come to grips with the reality of what was happening. But by the time he understood, it was too late. She was like one of those women in the old black-and-white films that Dr. Page loved, he thought. A femme fatale.
She pulled the trigger twice. The second shot was unnecessary, but she wanted to be quite certain. There was a line in the script that summed up her philosophy on details.
A lady with a past has nothing to lose. But a woman with a future can't be too careful.
From Soft Focus by Jayne Anne Krentz. (c) December 27, 1999 , Jayne Anne Krentz used by permission.