After the Storm

Chapter One

   Diana Sullivan smiled courteously at the attendant in the parking pavilion of the office complex, dropped her keys into his hand, and walked briskly to the waiting elevator. Pressing the penthouse button, she turned and caught a glimpse of her reflection in the mirrored wall. Looking back at her was an elegantly groomed young woman. Wide green-blue eyes, fringed by thick dark lashes, complemented her chestnut brown hair. Her David Hayes suit, accessorized by a soft beige blouse, projected an image straight from Dress for Success, appropriate to her position as president of the prestigious Sullivan Publishing House.

   The elevator doors opened and Diana deliberately slowed her pace to smile a soft good-morning to the staff secretaries lining either side of the beautifully appointed suite of offices.

   No one would suspect that her mood was despondent or her heart heavy. She was determined to quell the rumors, though not unfounded, of Sullivan's imminent bankruptcy. But she knew the gossip would persist that had already created an aura of stunned incredulity throughout the House.

   Even while she inquired about a sick child, admired a birthday bouquet, and nodded encouragement to a new employee, Diana's mind was roiling with disturbing thoughts. The presidency, resting on her slight shoulders, had come at the price of Joseph Sullivan's near fatal heart attack only two years earlier. The very memory of that moment in the hospital room still had the power to turn her knees to jelly.

   "Diana!" Her father's labored voice, issuing from his gaunt frame, was a hoarse imitation of his usual brisk cadence. "You'll take over as president."

   But there was no enthusiasm in his terse command. Her brother Tim would have been his first choice, Diana knew, as the only son of the publishing magnate. Unfortunately, he had proved a bitter disappointment, and the relationship between father and son was still strained.

   "All right, Dad." Her reply was crisp and business-like. "Don't worry about anything. Just get well."

   "I'm not worried, Diana. You can handle it."

   Did he really believe that? Diana wondered. Even her masters degree in business administration from an eastern university and summers spent interning in the publishing house had failed to convince her father that a woman was equal to a man in his world. He'd never admit his daughter was capable of running his multimillion-dollar empire. No. She suspected some ulterior motive, some secret strategy. It wasn't like Joe Sullivan to concede defeat so easily.

   Diana rose to leave and pressed a cool kiss on his forehead.

   "Rest now, Dad. We can discuss the details later."

   "Yes . . . later." He sighed, dismissing her with a weak wave of his hand, and closed his eyes.

   By the time Joe Sullivan was able to return to the office for a few hours a day, Diana had instituted some policies and procedures of her own, abandoning some of her father's exacting ways of running a tight ship. She had argued that kindness and consideration produced high morale and efficiency among employees and had calendared one day a month for performance reviews, subsequently writing a brief note of commendation to those whose reviews were outstanding.

   When an "Employee of the Month" award was given for exceptional work, her father exploded. "You and your kitten-soft methods! They'll eat you up and spit you out!"

   Diana remained firm. "You made me president, Dad. Now let me preside."

   "What we need is an executive director!" he had raged, but she knew that his tirade was intended for the son who should have been occupying the president's chair, and she fought back a tearful response lest he accuse her of typically feminine emotionalism.

   Still musing over the events of recent months, Diana opened the door to her private offices.

   "Hold my calls, Robin," she said to her pert assistant, seated at a desk in a large reception area. "I have some paperwork to do."

   Gaining the sanctuary of her suite, she leaned wearily against the door. It had not been enough for Joe Sullivan that she had kept the business on a par with others in the industry, many of their books appearing on the bestseller lists. In a called meeting of the board, he had used his leverage as chairman to approve the hiring of Ralph Roper, a man who came highly recommended for his ability in operational management. Diana was incensed.

   "Dad, during the two years I've been president, with the help of Dave Morgan's public relations skills, we've made money and are publishing bestsellers so . . . why?"

   But it was too late! Over her protests Roper had been hired, and she had disliked him on sight. Intuition warned that he possessed a cunning intellect, patiently diverting every circumstance to his own design. Within weeks, without consulting the board, he refurbished a suite of offices for himself and his personal staff. He was the kind of man who knew exactly what he wanted, intended to get it, and would brook no interference.

   What had begun as a disquieting presentiment of trouble had burgeoned into a full-scale nightmare.

   "Dad, I simply cannot work with that man!" Diana, infuriated, confronted her father with details of Roper's arrogant and inconsiderate behavior toward the office staff and his lack of respect for her as president.

   Her father waved off her protestations. "Roper's the best in the business. He may be egocentric, but he'll put us on the map."

   "Unless he destroys us first. Do you realize how he's spending our money?" Diana fought to keep her voice even. Arguing with her father seemed as futile as trying to stop a tornado with words.

   "Diana," Joe said, patting his daughter's hand. "Your job is to attend booksellers' conventions, appear at parties, interview authors, read manuscripts, and make decisions concerning the staff, but the board and I have decided to hire Roper, and you must abide by that decision."

   "Please don't patronize me." Diana's voice broke and she turned quickly away.

   "Honey, don't worry." Now her father's voice was conciliatory. "We'll keep Roper in line."

   If only they had, Diana thought. If only the board of directors had not been mesmerized by Ralph's smooth articulation. At the monthly board meetings he wove his magic spell over the members, all of them past their prime, drawing squares and figures on the blackboard, pacing the room in the manner of an experienced huckster. This department should be upgraded; that department needed additional staffing. He peered at the board members over his half-spectacles until they nodded in agreement.

   Diana kept her eyes reproachfully on his face when he asked, though it seemed more like a demand, for an excessive line of credit at the bank. She could scarcely believe her father signaling the go-ahead for a unanimous vote to give Roper complete authority of Sullivan Publishing.

   "Remember," Roper insisted, "we're living in a new era. Chicago is experiencing a rebirth, and we must keep up, move ahead. Sullivan's has been too conservative for too long. It's time to expand." And here he had smiled his broad "trust me" smile. "I can read your minds. Of course it will cost money, but 'it takes money to make money,' and by the end of the year I predict that Sullivan Publishing House will become one of the top publishers in the nation."

   At an emergency board meeting for which Roper was not present, his broad expansion plan was presented.

   Diana gripped the edge of her chair. "Can't you see? We're moving too fast. Roper is manipulative, power-hungry. He's fired some of our best employees to install his own people, and they're all carbon copies of his business philosophy: fast growth no matter what the cost in dollars or in personnel. He'll ruin us!"

   But the elderly board members bought the hard-selling Roper's philosophy and dismissed her argument with an indulgent smile. In their eyes she was still the adorable child who had toddled into her father's offices so many years ago. They were adamant in their loyalty, and they were taking orders from Joe Sullivan, not the ornamental figurehead who sat in the president's chair. The idea rankled her.

   For a time it seemed Roper might be right, Diana recalled, pressing her fingers to her throbbing temples. He instituted computerization of the offices and warehouse and installed a personal computer in his home; he opened Sullivan bookstores nationwide, and expanded international operations, placing his best man in Geneva, Switzerland. to oversee the branch office. He persuaded the board that as executive director he needed a prestigious car and, with a bar and telephone. His personal staff received exorbitant salaries and bonuses for "innovative and aggressive action." Ralph Roper had succeeded in building his own private empire right under her father's nose!

   She moved slowly to her desk, picked up a small framed photograph, and stared at it unseeingly. Still clutching the picture, she slumped into her gray leather chair and swiveled around to study the skyline through a vast wall of glass. A fine rain had begun, misting the window and bringing to mind another rainy day.

   Diana had left the emergency board meeting angrily, hailed a cab and tumbled into the back seat, unmindful that it was already occupied. Looking up, she had discovered a pair of laughing sea-blue eyes set in a lean and handsome face.

   "You appeared to be in something of a hurry, so I told the driver I didn't mind sharing." He smiled, and the sun suddenly broke through the clouds. "I'm Michael Fielding."

   "And I'm Diana Sullivan."

   "I know."

   She lifted a quizzical brow. "We've met before? I . . . I'm sorry. Maybe I should have remembered."

   "I know you. I didn't say you knew me. With your lovely face all over the society columns, you're fair game. Let's see, you're active in children's charities, interested in the arts, president of the Sullivan Publishing House."

   "I didn't know men read the society section of the newspaper."

   "Only when there's an ulterior motive," he confessed. "We work in the same building, Diana. I've admired you from afar many times and have been angling for a way to meet you." There was a slight pause as he cocked his head and eyed her with open appreciation. "How about dinner tonight? There's a wonderful little Italian place."

   Diana laughed aloud. "Despite your charming introduction, I really don't know you. I'm afraid—"

   "Oh, if that's the problem, I just happen to have a resume with me." With a flourish, he reached into his briefcase and produced an impressive-looking document.

   "Fielding," she read. "Fielding Construction Company of Michigan?"

   "Guilty as charged. Dad decided to open an office in Chicago, and here I am, the enterprising young attorney, ready to take on the Windy City."

   She glanced at his resume. Degree in business law from the University of Michigan. Unmarried. Age, 33. She blushed and returned the paper.

   "I'm impressed."

   "Now will you have dinner with me?"

   "How do I know you're not carrying a fake resume around to deceive naive young women?"

   Michael made a wry face and reached for his wallet. The handsome, assured young man seated next to her was, indeed, Michael Fielding, and Diana was conscious of an unusual rush of strange sensations.

   "So how about it?" he persisted. "You'll love Mama Leone's. Best ravioli in town. You do like ravioli, don't you?"

   Diana, with two manuscripts in her own briefcase, which she had vowed to read this evening, felt strongly compelled to accept his impetuous invitation. "Well—"

   "How about seven? Exactly one hour from now, just time enough for you to powder your pretty nose and for me to race home and change."

   "You are persistent." Diana laughed and agreed to meet him in the lobby of her apartment building at seven o'clock.

   She chose one of her favorite ensembles, a midnight blue silk with matching coat, freshened her make-up, and brushed her tawny hair until it fell in a cascade about her shoulders. Shrugging into her wrap, she studied the effect in her full-length mirror. There was an unnatural flush of color on each high cheekbone.

   "Diana," she asked her reflection, "what's gotten into you? You aren't the impulsive type. You're practical, logical, and never make decisions without considering every aspect. So why are you rushing off to meet a man you barely know? Oh, well," she told herself, "you deserve a little fun and adventure in your life." And she winked at the woman in the mirror, feeling a primitive explosion of excitement.

   She paused at the elevator door, suffering from second thoughts. It wasn't too late to back out. The courteous thing, though, would be to offer her apologies in person. She'd go down to the lobby and greet Michael Fielding, make an excuse, any excuse, and return to her apartment.

   But when she saw him lounging against a mirrored pillar, dressed in a casual sports coat, his shirt open at the collar, her heart turned over.

   "Perhaps I'm overdressed," she said self-consciously, fingering the folds of her designer outfit. "I could change."

   But Michael smiled and took her arm. "You'll knock Mama and Papa Leone right out of their atmosphere. They'll probably even put a sign over the door: 'Diana's been here.' "

   She floated into the balmy evening air without a backward glance.

   It was only later, in the taxi, that her conscience gnawed at her once again. What had happened to her plans to curl up with a promising manuscript? How could she be speeding with this stranger to a restaurant on the opposite side of the city?

   They dined on ravioli, antipasto salad, and hot garlic bread, while a strolling violinist played plaintive Italian melodies. Their conversation flowed as easily and naturally as the music. Occasionally there was a flash of insight, a recognition of mutual interests and backgrounds, and at those times, Diana felt as if she had discovered the lost chord.

   "To the manor born!" Michael lifted his after-dinner espresso in a toast after a particularly revealing discussion of their backgrounds — which were astonishingly similar.

   Diana suddenly found herself feeling the need to defend her family's wealth and position. "My father started as a printer. He built the business from the ground up."

   "Hey, what does it matter? My dad inherited his millions, made millions more, and insisted I become an attorney to keep the millions in the family."

   They had looked at each other for a long moment, then had burst into spontaneous and uncontrollable laughter, belatedly noticing the violinist putting his instrument away and the waiters glancing pointedly in their direction. Where were the other diners? Where had the evening gone?

   They parted at midnight at the door of Diana's apartment. Michael took her hand and leaned over to kiss her lightly on the lips. "Tomorrow night?"

   "Tomorrow night."

   And so it had begun.

   Michael. No longer able to keep her memories at bay, Diana gave herself over to them.

   The next months had flown by on wings. She and Michael were rarely apart, and their love had deepened and strengthened until that inevitable moment when they knew they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together.

   The society pages bloomed with the news of their engagement at Christmas. Their parents were inordinately pleased with the match, and, for the first time since Tim's defection to Canada to avoid the draft, Catherine Sullivan displayed an animated interest in her daughter. Cameras caught the handsome couple at charity functions, and Chicago's socially elite were invited to what promised to be a spectacular June wedding. Diana had never felt so deliciously alive!

   There was only one cloud on the horizon. Ralph Roper. He had indeed taken the publishing house to the top, but all was not as it seemed. Diana had shared her suspicions with Dave Morgan and one night they unlocked the controller's private office and pored over his papers with mounting horror. Creditors' letters demanding payment for long-overdue accounts were hidden in his desk.

   Diana told Michael of her fears concerning Roper's business dealings, and he frowned slightly. "You're sure you're not being paranoid, darling?"

   "He's out to ruin us, Michael," she insisted. "I have no one to confide in, no one who believes me except Dave Morgan, and neither of us has been able to convince my father or the board."

   "But why would Roper try to break the company? He's the executive director."

   "I have no idea. Michael. Know a good lawyer?" Her jest was half-hearted.

   "Okay, darling, we'll do a little investigating."

   "Honey," Michael said grimly as he sat in Diana's apartment in early April, "here it is." He produced mounds of paper and laid them on the coffee table in front of her. Michael's investigation tracing Roper's background revealed that Roper had been director of a company in Atlanta that had been forced to sell to a larger corporation. From there, Roper had moved to California to head a sporting goods chain that had also entered Chapter 11, only to be taken over by a larger chain. "What I found seems to corroborate your worst fears. Roper is a dangerous man."

   Diana shivered and tears sprang to her eyes. "Oh, Michael, how can I convince my father?"

   "It's all here." Michael tapped the papers before replacing them in his briefcase and snapped it shut. "When I return from my trip to Detroit, I'll meet with your dad, and we'll confront Roper together."

   "I wish you weren't going," Diana said softly, snuggling closer.

   "It's a business appointment I can't put off," he explained, dropping a kiss on the tip of her nose. "But I'll fly home Sunday night and we'll have dinner. Set a time with your dad for Monday morning. Okay?"

   "Of course — do you think Ralph suspects you have had him investigated?" Diana was suddenly more than a little frightened.

   "He might. He's a clever man. But not to worry. We have all we need to convict him of fraud. I'd say it's an airtight case. By the way, I'm flying the plane myself — the sooner to get back to you, sweetheart."

   "Oh, Michael, what if . . .?"

   "Nothing's going to happen, Di. The law's the law. It's time Roper is indicted. Obviously he's deliberately bankrupted these companies to create takeovers for larger firms. Now, I'd better get going."

   "Call the minute you land." Diana rose with him and walked to the door.

   "I'll do better than that. I'll call before I leave Midway and again after I've set down in Detroit. How's that?"

   "Guess I couldn't ask for more, could I? I'll be waiting." She leaned against his sturdy warmth, reveling in his musky scent.

   "You can't be any more anxious than I! Do you realize it's only fifty-five days, ten hours and, let's see, twenty six minutes before you'll be all mine?" Michael asked, consulting his watch.

   "Mrs. Michael Fielding," she murmured, lifting her lips to his.

   They clung together before Michael opened the door and stepped out into the hallway, briefcase in hand. At the elevator he turned to look at her once more before the doors slid together noiselessly and he was swallowed from sight.

   She turned back to her living room, aware that tears were dripping off her chin. What a crybaby! she thought, wiping them away impatiently. Michael would be away only three days. Today was Thursday. They would be having dinner together Sunday evening. She would suggest they go to Mama Leone's to celebrate their first date and their anticipated victory over Ralph Roper.

   Restless, Diana walked out to her patio balcony. Dusk was settling over the city, and the first lights were winking on. Chilled by a sudden gust of wind, she returned quickly to the warmth of her living room. But it wasn't the wind that had curdled her blood. It was the familiar sensation of impending disaster.

   Many years ago, at the end of a visit from her grandparents, a fearful premonition had caused her to rush from her mother's side, crying out for Gran and Gramps to come back as they drove away. Her mother had led her into the house, scolding her for being such a silly child. At dusk two highway patrol officers stopped by to inform them that Catherine's parents, the elderly Callahans, had been killed in a head-on collision.

   The phone startled her from her thoughts.

   "I'm at Midway Airport, darling." It was Michael's dear voice. "My plane's on the runway. Just wanted to tell you how much I love you. Be ready for a late dinner on Sunday night."

   She squelched the impulse to beg him to stay. Michael was a good pilot, and she told herself there was nothing whatsoever to fear. The old memory had temporarily unsettled her, that was all.

   She replaced the receiver and reached for a manuscript, laid it down, and turned uneasily to the stereo, welcoming the soothing strains of Chopin. Michael would be taxiing down the runway about now, leaving the ground, circling high above the city. In less than an hour he would be landing in Detroit. In an agony of impatience, she heard the chimes of her clock and willed the time to fly.

   The telephone rang at last and she rushed to answer it, ready to laugh at her fears. But it wasn't Michael's resonant bass on the line. It was his father, sobbing incoherently. The plane had crashed just after takeoff; Michael was dead; she would never see him again.

   Still staring out her office windows into the darkening sky, Diana watched the rain increase in tempo until its patter echoed the beat of her heart, and the tears coursed down her cheeks, keeping pace with the weeping windows.

   Michael. How would she ever learn to live without him?

   She searched the black and watery skies. Was God there? Just where was the God Gran had loved, had praised in her pure, sweet voice, had prayed to when she tucked little Diana into bed on special occasions when she stayed overnight?

   She certainly couldn't look to her parents for enlightenment. Embittered by Tim's defection, they had left the church long ago, discarding their faith like a worn-out garment given to Goodwill. Catherine had become deeply involved in a children's charity, and her father had immersed himself in his publishing business. As a child Diana had hugged her private conversations with God to herself, feeling his favor, and why not? Her life was beautifully gift-wrapped, and there was no reason to believe anything but good lay ahead.

   Lying on the spacious lawns behind their colonial home, staring at the sky, trying to imagine Gran and Gramps with God above the clouds, she had talked to him often. Though she couldn't understand why he had taken her beloved grandparents, her mother had offered what consolation she could: "They didn't have to suffer, dear. And they loved each other so much that God just took them together."

   Perhaps God only bestowed such favors on favored people. She had always thought she was among the favored ones. She very seldom lied or cheated; she had studied hard in school, graduating with honors; she was kind and considerate to others. Because she was a "good girl," good things would happen to her. And for years she knew only good things — her career, her wealth, her family and friends. She thought of Tim and Marcie, her best friend; then, the ultimate proof of God's favor — Michael himself.

   Now Michael was gone, and the company was in jeopardy, while Ralph Roper was alive and well. At the injustice of it all, the acid began to rise in her throat, and a thought surfaced from her subconscious. Michael had not had time to vault his briefcase before the crash. All the evidence implicating Roper had burned with him in the aircraft. Could it be that Ralph had suspected Michael's plan and had arranged for the plane to crash?

   Diana grew cold with hatred. What kind of God would allow such senseless death and destruction? What kind of God rewarded the evil and destroyed the good?

   Diana sat, unmoving, silently vowing never to speak to him again.

Chapter Two  ||  Table of Contents