When Francesca was first placed in her mother's arms, Chloe Serritella Day burst into tears and insisted that the sisters at the private London hospital where she had given birth had lost her baby. Any imbecile could see that this ugly little creature with its mashed head and swollen eyelids could not possibly have come from her own exquisite body.
Since no husband was present to comfort the hysterical Chloe, it was left to the sisters to assure her that most newborns weren't at their best for several days. Chloe ordered them to take away the ugly little imposter and not come back until they had found her own dear baby. She then reapplied her makeup and greeted her visitors -- among them a French film star, the secretary of the British Home Office, and Salvador Dali -- with a tearful account of the terrible tragedy that had been perpetrated upon her. The visitors, long accustomed to the beautiful Chloe's dramatics, merely patted her hand and promised to look into the matter. Dali, in a burst of magnanimity, announced he would paint a surrealistic version of the infant in question as a christening gift, but mercifully lost interest in the project and sent a set of vermeil goblets instead.
A week passed. On the day she was to be released from the hospital, the sisters helped Chloe dress in a loose-fitting black Balmain sheath with a wide organdy collar and cuffs. Afterward, they guided her into a wheelchair and deposited the rejected infant in her arms. The intervening time had done little to improve the baby's appearance, but in the moment she gazed down at the bundle in her arms, Chloe experienced one of her lightning-swift mood changes. Peering into the mottled face, she announced to one and all that the third generation of Serritella beauty was now assured. No one had the bad manners to disagree, which, as it turned out, was just as well, for within a matter of months, Chloe had been proved correct.
Chloe's sensitivity on the subject of female beauty had its roots in her own childhood. As a girl she had been plump, with an extra fold of fat squaring off her waist and small fleshy pads obscuring the delicate bones of her face. She was not heavy enough to be considered obese in the eyes of the world, but was merely plump enough to feel ugly inside, especially in comparison to her sleek and stylish mother, the great Italian-born couturiere, Nita Serritella. It was not until 1947, the summer when Chloe was twelve years old, that anyone told her she was beautiful.
Home on a brief holiday from one of the Swiss boarding schools where she spent too much of her childhood, she was sitting as inconspicuously as possible with her full hips perched on a gilt chair in the corner of her mother's elegant salon on the rue de la Paix. She watched with both resentment and envy as Nita, pencil slim in a severely cut black suit with oversize raspberry satin lapels, conferred with an elegantly dressed customer. Her mother wore her blue-black hair cut short and straight, so that it fell forward over the pale skin of her left cheek in a great comma-shaped curl, and her Modigliani neck supported ropes of perfectly matched black pearls. The pearls, along with the contents of a small wall safe in her bedroom, were gifts from Nita's admirers, internationally prosperous men who were only too happy to buy jewels for a woman successful enough to buy her own. One of those men had been Chloe's father, although Nita professed not to remember which one, and she had certainly never for a moment considered marrying him.
The attractive blonde who was receiving Nita's attention in the salon that afternoon spoke Spanish, her accent surprisingly common for one who held so much of the world's attention that particular summer of 1947. Chloe followed the conversation with half her attention and devoted the other half to studying the reed-thin mannequins who were parading through the center of the salon modeling Nita's latest designs. Why couldn't she be thin and self-assured like those mannequins? Chloe wondered. Why couldn't she look exactly like her mother, especially since they had the same black hair, the same green eyes? If only she were beautiful, Chloe thought, maybe her mother would stop looking at her with such disgust. For the hundredth time she resolved to give up pastries so that she could win her mother's approval -- and for the hundredth time, she felt that uncomfortable sinking sensation in her stomach that told her she didn't have the willpower. Next to Nita's all-consuming strength of purpose, Chloe felt like a swans-down powder puff.
The blonde suddenly looked up from a drawing she had been studying and, without warning, let her liquid brown eyes come to rest on Chloe. In her curiously harsh Spanish, she remarked, "That little one will be a great beauty someday. She looks very much like you."
Nita glanced over at Chloe with ill-concealed disdain. "I see no resemblance at all, señora. And she will never be a beauty until she learns to push away her fork."
Nita's customer lifted a hand weighted down with several garish rings and gestured toward Chloe. "Come over here, querida. Come give Evita a kiss."
For a moment Chloe didn't move as she tried to absorb what the woman had said. Then she rose hesitantly from her chair and crossed the salon, embarrassingly aware of the pudgy calves showing beneath the hem of her cotton summer skirt. When she reached the woman, she leaned down and deposited a self-conscious but nonetheless grateful kiss on the softly fragrant cheek of Eva Perón.
"Fascist bitch!" Nita Serritella hissed later, as the First Lady of Argentina departed through the salon's front doors. She slipped an ebony cigarette holder between her lips only to withdraw it abruptly, leaving a scarlet smear on the end. "It makes my flesh crawl to touch her! Everyone knows there wasn't a Nazi in Europe who couldn't find shelter with Perón and his cronies in Argentina."
The memories of the German occupation of Paris were still fresh in Nita's mind, and she held nothing but contempt for Nazi sympathizers. Still, she was a practical woman, and Chloe knew that her mother saw no sense in sending Eva Perón's money, no matter how ill-gained, from the rue de la Paix to the avenue Montaigne, where the house of Dior reigned supreme.
After that, Chloe clipped photographs of Eva Perón from the newspapers and pasted them in a scrapbook with a red cover. Whenever Nita's criticisms became especially biting, Chloe looked at the pictures, leaving an occasional chocolate smudge on the pages as she remembered how Eva Perón had said she would be a great beauty someday.
The winter she was fourteen her fat miraculously disappeared along with her sweet tooth, and the legendary Serritella bones were finally brought into definition. She began spending hours gazing into the mirror, entranced by the reed-slim image before her. Now, she told herself, everything would be different. For as long as she could remember, she had felt like an outcast at school, but suddenly she found herself part of the inner circle. She didn't understand that the other girls were more attracted to her newfound air of self-confidence than to her twenty-two-inch waist. For Chloe Serritella, beauty meant acceptance.
Nita seemed pleased with her weight loss, so when Chloe went home to Paris for her summer holiday, she found the courage to show her mother sketches of some dresses she'd designed with the hope of someday becoming a couturiere herself. Nita laid out the sketches on her worktable, lit a cigarette, and dissected each one with the critical eye that had made her a great designer.
"This line is ridiculous. And the proportion is all wrong here. See how you ruined this one with too much detail? Where is your eye, Chloe? Where is your eye?"
Chloe snatched the sketches from the table and never tried to design again.
When she returned to school, Chloe dedicated herself to becoming prettier, wittier, and more popular than any of her classmates, determined that no one would ever suspect that an awkward fat girl still lived inside her. She learned to dramatize the most trivial events of her day with grand gestures and extravagant sighs until everything she did seemed more important than anything the others could possibly do. Gradually even the most mundane occurrence in Chloe Serritella's life became fraught with high drama.
At sixteen, she gave her virginity to the brother of a friend in a gazebo facing Lake Lucerne. The experience was awkward and uncomfortable, but sex made Chloe feel slim. She quickly made up her mind to try the whole thing again with someone more experienced.
In the spring of 1953, when Chloe was eighteen, Nita died unexpectedly from a ruptured appendix. Chloe sat stunned and silent through her mother's funeral, too numb to understand that the intensity of her grief sprang not so much from her mother's death as from the feeling that she'd never had a mother at all. Afraid to be alone, she stumbled into the bed of a wealthy Polish count many years her senior. He provided her with a temporary refuge from her fears and six months later helped her sell Nita's salon for a staggering amount of money.
The count eventually returned to his wife and Chloe set about living on her inheritance. Being young, rich, and without family, she quickly attracted the indolent young men who wove themselves like gilded threads through the fabric of international society. She became something of a collector, dabbling with one after another as she searched for the man who would give her the unconditional love she'd never received from her mother, the man who would make her stop feeling like an unhappy fat girl.
Jonathan "Black Jack" Day entered her life on the opposite side of a roulette wheel in a Berkeley Square gambling club. Black Jack Day had received his name not from his looks but from his penchant for games of risk. At twenty-five, he had already destroyed three high-performance sports cars and a significantly larger number of women. A wickedly handsome American playboy from Chicago, he had chestnut hair that fell in an unruly lock over his forehead, a roguish mustache, and a seven-goal handicap in polo. In many ways he was no different from the other young hedonists who had become so much a part of Chloe's life; he drank gin, wore exquisitely tailored suits, and changed playgrounds with the seasons. But the other men lacked Jack Day's reckless streak, his ability to risk everything -- even the fortune he had inherited in American railroads -- on a single spin of the wheel.
Fully conscious of his eyes upon her over the spinning roulette wheel, Chloe watched the small ivory ball jostle from rouge to noir and back again before finally coming to rest on black 17. She permitted herself to look up and found Jack Day gazing at her over the table. He smiled, crinkling his mustache. She smiled back, confident that she looked her very best in a silver-gray Jacques Fath confection of satin and tulle that emphasized the highlights in her dark hair, the paleness of her skin, and the green depths in her eyes. "You can't seem to lose tonight," she said. "Are you always this lucky?"
"Not always," he replied. "Are you?"
"Me?" She emitted one of her long, dramatic sighs. "I've lost at everything tonight. Je suis misérable. I'm never lucky."
He withdrew a cigarette from a silver case while his eyes trailed a reckless path down her body. "Of course you're lucky. You've just met me, haven't you? And I'm going to take you home tonight."
Chloe was both intrigued and aroused by his boldness, and her hand closed instinctively around the edge of the table for support. She felt as if his tarnished silver eyes were melting through her gown and burning into the deepest recesses of her body. Without being able to define exactly what it was that set Black Jack apart from the rest, she sensed that only the most exceptional woman could win the heart of this supremely self-confident man, and if she was that woman, she could forever stop worrying about the fat girl inside.
But as much as she wanted him, Chloe held herself back. In the year since her mother's death, she had grown more perceptive about men than about herself. She had observed the reckless glitter in his eyes as the ivory ball clattered through the compartments of the spinning roulette wheel, and she suspected that he would not highly value what he could obtain too easily. "I'm sorry," she replied coolly. "I have other plans." Before he could respond, she picked up her evening bag and left the room.
He telephoned the next day, but she gave her maid orders to say she was out. She spotted him at a different gambling club a week later and after giving him a tantalizing glimpse of herself, she slipped out the back before he could approach. The days passed, and she found she could think of nothing else but the handsome young playboy from Chicago. Once again he telephoned; once again she refused the call. Later that same night she saw him at the theater and gave him a casual nod, a hint of a smile, before she moved away to her box.
The third time he telephoned, she took the call but pretended not to remember who he was. He chuckled dryly and told her, "I'm coming for you in half an hour, Chloe Serritella. If you're not ready, I'll never see you again."
"Half an hour? I can't possibly --" But he had already hung up.
Her hand began to tremble as she replaced the receiver on the cradle. In her mind she saw a spinning roulette wheel, the ivory ball skipping from rouge to noir, noir to rouge, in this game they were playing. With trembling hands, she dressed in a white wool sheath with ocelot cuffs, then added a small hat topped by an illusion veil. She answered the door chimes herself exactly half an hour later.
He led her down the walk to a sporty red Isotta-Fraschini, which he proceeded to drive through the streets of Knightsbridge at breathtaking speed using only the fingers of his right hand on the steering wheel. She gazed at him out of the corner of her eye, adoring the lock of chestnut hair that fell so carelessly over his forehead as much as the fact that he was a hot-blooded American instead of someone predictably European.
Eventually he stopped at an out-of-the-way restaurant where he brushed his hand against hers whenever she reached for her wineglass. She felt herself aching with desire for him. Under the intensity of those restless silver eyes, she felt wildly beautiful and as thin inside as she was outside. Everything about him stirred her senses -- the way he walked, the sound of his voice, the scent of tobacco on his breath. Jack Day was the ultimate trophy, the final affirmation of her own beauty.
As they left the restaurant, he pressed her against the trunk of a sycamore tree and gave her a dark, seductive kiss. Slipping his hands behind her, he cupped her buttocks. "I want you," he murmured into her open mouth.
Her body was so replete with desire that it caused her actual pain to let him go. "You're too fast for me, Jack. I need time."
He laughed and tweaked her chin, as if he were especially pleased with how well she played his game; then he squeezed her breasts just as an elderly couple came out of the restaurant and looked their way. On the drive home, he kept her amused with lively anecdotes and said nothing about seeing her again.
Two days later when her maid announced he was on the telephone, Chloe shook her head, refusing to take the call. Then she ran to her room and indulged in a passionate fit of weeping, fearing she was pushing him too far but afraid to risk losing his interest by doing anything else. The next time she saw him at a gallery opening, he wore a henna-haired showgirl on his arm. Chloe pretended not to notice.
He showed up on her doorstep the following afternoon and took her for a drive in the country. She said she had a previous engagement and couldn't dine with him that evening.
The game of chance went on, and Chloe could think of nothing else. When Jack wasn't with her, she conjured him in her imagination -- the restless movements, the careless lock of hair, the roguish mustache. She could barely think beyond the thick, wet tension that suffused her body, but still she refused his sexual overtures.
He spoke cruelly while he traced the shape of her ear with his lips. "I don't think you're woman enough for me."
She curled her hand over the back of his neck. "I don't think you're rich enough for me."
The ivory ball clattered around the contours of the roulette wheel, rouge to noir, noir to rouge....Chloe knew that it would make its final drop soon.
"Tonight," Jack said when she answered the telephone. "Be ready for me at midnight."
"Midnight? Don't be ridiculous, darling. That's impossible."
"Midnight or never, Chloe. The game's over."
That night she slipped a black velvet suit with rhinestone buttons over a champagne-colored crepe de chine blouse. Her eyes shone brightly back at her from the mirror as she brushed her dark hair into a soft pageboy. Black Jack Day, clad in a tuxedo, appeared at her door exactly at the stroke of midnight. At the sight of him, her insides felt as liquid as the scented lotion she had stroked over her flushed skin. Instead of the Isotta-Fraschini, he led her to a chauffeured Daimler and announced that he was taking her to Harrods.
She laughed. "Isn't midnight a little late to go on a shopping expedition?"
He said nothing, merely smiling as he settled back into the soft leather seats and began chatting about a polo pony he thought he might buy from the Aga Khan. Before long, the Daimler pulled up to Harrods' green and gold awning. Chloe looked at the dim lighting glowing through the doors of the deserted department store. "Harrods doesn't seem to have stayed open, Jack, not even for you."
"We'll see about that, won't we, pet?" The chauffeur opened the rear door for them, and Jack helped her out.
rdTo her astonishment, a liveried doorman appeared from behind Harrods' glass door and after a surreptitious look to see if anyone on the street was watching, unlocked the door and held it open for them. "Welcome to Harrods, Mr. Day."
She looked at the open door in astonishment. Surely even Black Jack Day couldn't simply walk into the most famous department store in the world long after closing hours with no salespeople present. When she didn't move, Jack urged her forward with a firm pressure on the small of her back. As soon as they were inside the department store, the doorman did the most astonishing thing -- he tipped his hat, walked out onto the street, and locked the door behind him. She couldn't believe what she'd seen, and she looked toward Jack for some explanation.
"The roulette wheel has been especially kind to me since I met you, pet. I thought you might enjoy a private shopping spree."
"But the store is closed. I don't see any clerks."
"All the better."
She pressed him for an explanation, but he would say little beyond the fact that he'd made a private -- and she was certain quite illegal -- arrangement with several of Harrods' newer and less scrupulous employees.
"But aren't there people who work here at night? Cleaning staff? Night security?"
"You ask too many questions, pet. What good is money if it can't buy pleasure? Let's see what catches your fancy this evening." He picked out a silver and gold scarf from a display and draped it over the velvet collar of her jacket.
"Jack, I can't just take this!"
"Relax, pet. The store will be well compensated. Now, are you going to bore me with your worries or can we enjoy ourselves?"
Chloe could barely believe what was happening. There were no salespeople in sight, no custodians or guards. Was this great department store really hers? She glanced down at the scarf draping her neck and uttered a breathless exclamation. He gestured toward the cornucopia of elegant merchandise. "Go ahead. Pick something."
With a reckless giggle, she reached out and pulled a sequined handbag from a display, then looped the braided cord over her shoulder. "Very nice," he said.
She threw her arms around his neck. "You are absolutely the most exciting man in the world, Jack Day! How I adore you!"
His palms crept down from her waist to curve around her buttocks and pull her hips tight against his own. "And you're the most exciting woman. I couldn't allow our love affair to be consummated in any place ordinary, could I?"
Noir to rouge...rouge to noir...The hardness pressed against her belly kept her from mistaking his meaning, and she felt herself growing hot and cold at the same time. The game would end here...in Harrods. Only Jack Day could carry off something so outrageous. The thought of it made her head spin like a red and black wheel.
He pulled the purse from her shoulder, removed her velvet jacket, and draped them both over a display of silk umbrellas with rosewood handles. Then he took off his tuxedo coat and placed it with hers so that he stood before her in a white shirt with black jet studs securing the pleated front, his narrow waist wrapped with a dark cummerbund. "We'll get these later," he announced, resettling the scarf over her shoulders. "Let's explore."
He took her to Harrods' famous food hall with its great marble counters and frescoed ceiling. "Are you hungry?" he inquired, lifting a silver box of chocolates from a display.
"For you," she replied.
His mouth curved beneath his mustache. Removing the lid from the box, he pulled out a dark chocolate confection and bit into one side, opening the shell so that the center oozed a drizzle of creamy cherry liqueur. He quickly pressed it to her lips, sliding the candy back and forth so that some of the rich filling was transferred to her. Then he put the chocolate back into his own mouth and lowered his head to kiss her. As her lips opened, sweet and sticky with cherry liqueur, he pushed the chocolate shell forward with his tongue. Chloe received the candy with a moan, and her body became as liquid and formless as the fluid center.
When he finally drew away, he selected a bottle of champagne, uncorked it, and tilted it first to her lips and then to his own. "To the most outrageous woman in London," he said, leaning forward and licking off a last speck of chocolate that clung to the corner of her mouth.
They wandered through the first floor, picking up a pair of gloves, a nosegay of silk violets, a hand-painted jewelry box, and placing them in a pile to be reclaimed later. Finally, they arrived at the perfume hall, and the heady mixture of the finest scents in the world washed over her, their fragrances undisturbed by the herds of people who thronged along the carpeted aisles during the day.
When they reached the center, he dropped her arm and turned her to face him. He began unbuttoning her blouse, and she felt a strange mixture of excitement and embarrassment. Regardless of the fact that the store was deserted, they were standing in the center of Harrods. "Jack, I --"
"Don't be a child, Chloe," he said. "Follow my lead."
A thrill shot through her as he pushed aside the satin material of her blouse to reveal the eggshell lacework on her bra. He pulled a cellophane-covered box of Joy from an open glass case and unwrapped it.
"Lean against the counter," he said, his voice as silky as the crepe de chine of her blouse. "Lay your arms along the edge."
She did as he asked, weak from the intensity in his silver eyes. Extracting the glass stopper from the neck of the bottle, he slipped it inside the lace edge of her bra. She drew in her breath as he rubbed its cold tip against her nipple.
"That feels good, doesn't it?" he murmured, his voice low and husky.
She nodded her head, incapable of speech. He inserted the stopper back inside the bottle, picked up another drop of Joy, and slid it beneath the other side of her bra to touch the opposite nipple. She could feel her flesh puckering beneath the slow, circling movement of the glass, and as the heat welled up inside her, Jack's handsome, reckless features seemed to swim before her.
He lowered the stopper and she felt his hand reach beneath the hem of her skirt and slowly move upward along her stocking. "Open your legs," he whispered. Clasping the edge of the counter beneath her hands, she did as he asked. He trailed the stopper up along the inside of one thigh, over the top of her stocking and onto the bare skin, moving it in slow circles to the very edge of her panties. She moaned and eased her legs open wider.
He laughed wickedly and withdrew his hand from beneath her skirt. "Not yet, pet. Not quite yet."
They moved through the silent store, going from one department to another, talking very little. He caressed her breasts as he fastened an antique Georgian pin to the collar of her blouse, rubbed her buttocks through her skirt while he slid a brush with a filigreed sterling handle down the back of her hair. She tried on a crocodile belt and a pair of kid shoes with needle-pointed toes. In the jewelry department, he removed her pearl earrings and replaced them with gold clips encircled with dozens of tiny diamonds. When she protested the expense, he laughed at her. "One spin of the roulette wheel, pet. Just one spin."
He found a white maribou boa and, pushing her against a marble column, slid the blouse from her shoulders. "You look too much like a schoolgirl," he declared, reaching behind her to remove her bra. The silky fabric slipped from his fingers to the carpeted floor, and she stood before him naked from the waist up.
She had large, full breasts capped by flat nipples the size of half-dollars, now hard and puckered from her excitement. He lifted each breast in his hand. She delighted in showing herself to him and stood perfectly still, the chill of the column decidedly welcome against the heat of her back. He tweaked her nipples, and she gasped. With a laugh, he picked up the soft white boa and draped it over her bare shoulders so that it covered her. Then he slowly moved the feathered ends back and forth.
"Jack --" She wanted him to take her there. She wanted to slide down the length of the column, open her legs, and take him inside her.
"I've developed a sudden craving for the taste of Joy," he whispered. Pushing the boa away on one side, he covered her large nipple with his mouth and began an insistent sucking.
She shivered as heat filled every part of her, burning her internal organs, searing her skin. "Please..." she murmured. "Oh, please...don't torture me any longer."
He pulled away from her, his restless eyes teasing. "A little longer, pet. I haven't finished playing yet. I think we should look at furs." And then, with a half-smile that told her he knew exactly how far he had pushed her, he rearranged the boa over her breasts, lightly scraping one nipple with his fingernail as he settled the ends in place.
"I don't want to look at furs," she said. "I want..."
But he led her to the elevator where he operated the levers as if he did it every day. As she rode upward with him, only the white feather boa covered her naked breasts.
When they reached the fur salon, Jack seemed to forget her. He moved along the racks, inspecting all the coats and stoles on display before selecting a full-length Russian lynx. The pelts were long and thick, the color silvery white. He studied the coat for a moment and then turned to her.
"Slip off your skirt."
Her fingers fumbled with the side zipper and for a moment she thought she would have to ask for help. But then the catch gave and she slid the skirt, along with the half-slip beneath, down over her hips and stepped out of them both. The ends of the boa brushed against the very top of her lacy white garter belt.
"The panties. Take the panties off for me."
Her breath was coming in short, soft gasps as she did as he asked, leaving only her garter belt and stockings in place. Without waiting to be told, she pulled the boa away from her breasts and dropped it to the floor, pushing her shoulders slightly back so he could feast on the sight of her breasts, ripe and outthrust, and her mons with its silky covering of dark hair framed by the lacy white straps of her garter belt.
He walked toward her, the magnificent coat outstretched in his hands, his eyes glittering like the jet studs in his snowy shirtfront. "To choose the right fur, you have to feel the pelts against your skin...against your breasts...." His voice was as soft as the lynx pelts as he slid the fur along her body, using its texture to excite her. "Your breasts...your stomach and buttocks...the insides of your thighs...."
She reached for the coat and clasped its fur to her skin. "Please....You're torturing me. Please stop...."
Once again he drew away, but this time only to slip the jet studs from the front of his shirt. Chloe watched him undress, her heart pounding and her throat tight with desire. When he stood naked before her, he took the coat from her arms and laid it with the pelts turned upward on a low display platform in the center of the room. Then he stepped up and drew her along to stand next to him.
The touch of his naked flesh against hers fired her excitement until she could barely remember to breathe. He ran his hands down along her sides, then turned her so that she faced out toward the display floor. Moving slightly behind her, he began stroking her breasts as if he were arousing her for an invisible audience watching silently in the dark salon. His hand trailed down over her stomach, along her thighs. She felt his penis jutting hard into the side of her hip. His hand moved between her legs, and the heat welled up from his touch, a yearning for release from a myriad of pounding pulses inside her.
He pushed her down into the soft, thick fur. It brushed the backs of her thighs as he opened them and positioned himself between her outspread knees. Turning her cheek into the soft pelts, she tilted up her hips, giving herself to him in the center of the fur salon, on a platform designed to display the very best that Harrods had to offer.
He glanced at his watch. "The guards should be coming back on duty right now. I wonder how long it will take them to follow our trail here." Then he thrust himself inside her.
It took a moment for his words to sink in. She let out a hoarse exclamation as she realized what he had done. "My God! You planned it like this, didn't you?"
He crushed her breasts in his hands and drove himself hard. "Of course."
The fire in her body and the terror of discovery joined together in a shattering explosion of feeling. As her orgasm crashed over her, she bit into the flesh of his shoulder. "Bastard..."
He laughed and then found his own release with a great, noisy groan.
They barely escaped the guards. Drawing on a minimum of his own clothing, Jack threw the lynx coat over Chloe's nakedness and dragged her to the stairway. As her bare feet flew down the steps, his reckless laughter rang in her ears. Before he left the store, he tossed her panties on top of a glass display case along with his engraved calling card.
The next day she received a note saying that his mother had been taken ill and he needed to return temporarily to Chicago. While she waited for him, Chloe lived in an agony of jumbled emotions -- anger at the risk to which he had exposed her, excitement at the thrill he had given her, and a wrenching fear that he wouldn't come back. Four weeks passed, and then five. She tried to call him, but the connection was so bad she couldn't make herself understood. Two months slipped by. She was convinced he didn't love her. He was an adventurer, a thrill seeker. He had seen the fat girl inside and wanted nothing more to do with her.
Ten weeks after the night at Harrods, he reappeared as abruptly as he'd left. "Hello, pet," he said, standing in the doorway of her house with his cashmere suit coat carelessly hooked over his shoulder. "I've missed you."
She fell into his arms, sobbing out her relief at seeing him again. "Jack...Jack, my darling..."
He ran his thumb across her bottom lip, then kissed her. She drew back her hand and slapped him hard across the face. "I'm pregnant, you bastard!"
To her surprise, he immediately agreed to marry her, and they were wed three days later at the country home of one of her friends. As she stood next to her handsome bridegroom at the makeshift garden altar, Chloe knew that she was the happiest woman in the world. Black Jack Day could have married anyone, but he had chosen her. As the weeks passed, she determinedly ignored a rumor that his family had disinherited him when he was in Chicago. Instead, she daydreamed about her baby. How exquisite it would be to have the undivided love of two people, husband and child.
A month later, Jack disappeared, along with ten thousand pounds that had been resting in one of Chloe's bank accounts. When he reappeared six weeks later, Chloe shot him in the shoulder with a German Luger. A brief reconciliation followed, until Jack enjoyed another turn of good fortune at the gambling clubs and was off again.
On Valentine's Day 1955, Lady Luck permanently deserted Black Jack Day on the treacherous rain-slicked road between Nice and Monte Carlo. The ivory ball dropped for the last time into its compartment and the roulette wheel jerked to a final stop.
Copyright © 1989 by Susan Elizabeth Phillips