Chapter 1 She looked up at him from the tubful of warm, frothy, peach-scented bubbles, her violet-blue eyes fixed on the face of the man kneeling so attentively beside the tub. Taking a single white rosebud from the bouquet he had brought her, Sharon Kramer's most persistent suitor delicately settled it in the hint of her full cleavage revealed by the thick bubbles. "I'm so glad we got that silly misunderstanding cleared up, sweetheart," he murmured as he leaned over to kiss her full lips. "But then..", he traced one finger along the curve of her cheek, "it's always so much fun to make up from a lover's spat." He brushed a light kiss on the crown of dark red curls pinned loosely atop her head, then got up. "I'll take care of these," he said picking up the bouquet of eleven white roses, "then let myself out." As he started to pull the broad white door closed, he paused to take one last look around at the appointments of the large bathroom, things only wealth could afford. Things like the plush winter white carpet or the two small Waterford crystal chandeliers that hung from the high ceiling or the raised imported round black marble tub with three low steps leading up to it. Like the matching black marble counter that went around the entire circumference of the large round bathroom. Like the ten graceful jade vases filled with white roses perfectly spaced at six foot intervals on the counter, their beauty reflected in the floor to ceiling mirrored walls. "Just one...no, two more things, Sharon," the tall, debonair young man said looking at ivory-skinned, red haired beauty lounging in the tub. "Don't ever say "no" to me again, and..." he felt inside his coat pocket and touched the small plastic bag, the item it held still vaguely warm. "...and don't ever look down your nose at anybody again. Bye, sweetheart." Blowing a kiss to the silent girl staring at him, he drew the door shut very gently. Completely unhurried the tall young man dressed in dark slacks and a black turtleneck sweater went noiselessly down the broad "open fan" staircase. Exiting out the front door, he wasn't alarmed by the fact that the entire neighborhood was in total darkness; not even the moon was out. Punching in the "set alarm" code on the security system panel by the door, he stepped out, then made sure that the door's dead bolt was in place and the lock on the door itself was set. Then he put the keys back under the upper left hand corner broad black doormat and strolled calmly down the front walk. Reaching the black florist's delivery van parked at the curb, he paused just long enough to peel off the smooth magnetic letters that spelled out "Custom Floral Fantasies" written in flourished gold letters on both sides of the van. Getting into the van, Sharon Kramer's visitor tossed both the magnetic letters and the bouquet over his shoulder, then carefully checked his appearance in the rear view mirror. Throwing a final disdainful glance at the huge house with graceful white columns framing the double front doors, he put the van in gear and drove away. In the total darkness caused by the city-wide blackout that had started almost two hours ago, the van, its headlights dark, vanished into the night. -------------------------- Tommie had started her vigil at ten thirty last night, sitting in the high backed rocking chair by the open double bedroom windows, the cheap sheer peach colored curtains drawn back so she could see the driveway. Even the soft, warm summer breeze that came softly through the windows could not dispel the fear that chilled her as she endlessly rehearsed what she knew she had to say to Derek. But it wasn't until five thirty the next morning that she saw the Caprice pull into the driveway. She knew that amorous gleam in his eye when he came into the bedroom a few minutes later, took her in his arms and began fondling her through the almost sheer dark blue nylon nightgown. She didn't know whether it was the fear of what this man, her husband, might do to her, or her own revulsion of her cowardice to do what she knew needed to be done that finally unlocked her throat and let the words spill out. "No, Derek," she said, managing to wriggle free of his grasp, and back away. "Not right now." "What did you say?" his voice was ominously soft as something "clicked' inside him, his brown eyes narrowed to slits as he moved toward his wife. "Did you just say "no" to me?" "Y.yes I did," Tommie said, looking up at him. "I need to tell you something." She hesitated. "I..can't..I won't help you anymore." Yanking his jacket off, the six foot two inch man advanced menacingly on the frightened woman now unwittingly backing herself against the wall. "You know what will happen to you if you don't, don't you Tommie?" "I don't care anymore," she shouted at him. "Anything...even jail would be better than this...hell. No! I don't care what you do to me, I won't do it any more. I won't! I won't!" Black, boiling rage welled up inside the man who could have been a model for GQ, and ignoring his terrified young wife's screams, slammed his fist into her face once, twice three times. The last hit knocked her down, but his anger was too hot, his rage too black for him to notice that for several seconds she seemed almost dizzy as she lay on the floor, her gown wildly askew. "Get up!" he screamed.