After the Storm

Chapter Ten

   The storm had passed, and the fresh smell of rainwashed air wafted through an open window in Diana's apartment, where she and Kevin dined at the glass-topped table in the alcove.

   So far, she had managed to manipulate the conversation into neutral territory, purposely avoiding the agenda which lay before them.

   Over her second cup of coffee, she finally managed the opening remark. "Did you have that talk with your father?"

   "Yes, as a matter of fact, we had a meeting with our entire board." Kevin leaned forward, his blue eyes snapping with excitement. "Dad's willing to advance the money to pay your creditors and to reprint the books I mentioned. Quite generous of him, I'd say."

   "And?" Diana stated at Kevin, her eyes changing from tranquil turquoise to the color of a stormy sea.

   "Say, you are beautiful, you know." Kevin touched her chin tenderly.

   "Stick with the subject, Kev."

   "Well . . ." He poured a glass of wine and lifted it high. "To the merger of O'Neal and Sullivan."

   "You mean he'll advance the money if—"

   "Exactly. Dad's no fool."

   "How soon and how much?" Diana heard the chill in her voice, felt the cold truth of Kevin's statement stealing through her body. She pulled her white cashmere sweater closer about her.

   "As soon as our engagement is announced, and my ring is safely on your finger. The amount of money advanced, of course, will have to be discussed with your accountant and your father."

   "And my position with the company? Am I to be one of the 'exceptions' you mentioned earlier?"

   "Diana, you know as well as I that there are always changes in top administration with any merger."

   "Such as?"

   "I'd take over the presidency of the merged companies, with you as my lovely assistant, that is," he said, spacing his next words significantly, "until there are some little O'Neals. Then I'd want you at home caring for our sons."

   A rush of blood flooded Diana's face and she rose quickly, walking to the kitchen on the pretext of refilling her coffee cup. She must have time to sift through these ideas, time to discuss them with — whom? Her father was definitely siding with the O'Neals. Dave Morgan couldn't produce the funds to keep the company functioning. Marcie was too ill. And while she knew Steven would be glad to listen, how could she explain this ridiculous turn of events to him?

   Unsteadily, she returned to the table with two servings of cheesecake. She took one bite and pushed her plate aside.

   "Mm, this is delicious." Kevin ate his dessert with relish and, when he was finished, stood to his feet and drew Diana into his arms. "And so are you. I'm wild about you, darling, always have been." He nuzzled the soft skin of her neck, moving his lips to a delicate ear lobe, the high plane of her cheek, and finally, to rest over her mouth. The alcohol on his breath sent Diana reeling, and she turned away.

   Fiercely he captured her face in both his hands, forcing her lips to yield to his as she stood trembling, tears of frustration filling her eyes. If she consented to a loveless marriage, she could expect more of — the dread thought almost suffocated her — a lifetime of pretense.

   Suddenly sensing her reservation, Kevin released her, holding her in a loose embrace. "We'll be happy. You'll see," he murmured, whispering promises of love, promises of tenderness, promises of happiness ahead — even a promise to stop his drinking if it would please her.

   The pressures of the long day at last exacted their toll, and Diana felt herself leaning against him, her head resting wearily on his shoulder. Kevin could be so sweet when he wanted to be, she thought, sighing in resignation.

   Interpreting this as a sign of submission, he held her more closely, stroking her hair, pressing frantic little kisses on her face. "Say yes, Diana," he muttered hoarsely. "Just say yes."

   Fanned by the breeze, the candles on the table flickered, dimming briefly before flaming again into bright peaks of light. The fresh scent of the rain-washed evening again reached Diana's senses. Feeling the strength of Kevin's arms, the tenderness he had just revealed, she began to weep softly. She would never have Michael again, and Steven was lost to her. She realized just how hungry she was for affection, soft words of love, strong arms about her. Dealing with the stress of the past months had rendered her incapable of making practical decisions any longer. In that moment of weakness, she whispered the words he had been waiting to hear, "Yes, Kevin, yes I will."

   "You've made me a happy man, my love." He tilted her chin to wipe away the tears that ran down her cheeks. "Here, you mustn't cry. This is a time for celebration. Let's drink a little toast — my last, I promise you." He handed Diana her wine glass and lifted his own. "To our marriage." He was smiling, though his blue eyes seemed like chips of ice. "To our future, to O'Neal and Sullivan, to us."

   He drained his glass of wine. Diana sipped hers and set it down. When Kevin reached for her, she allowed him to rock her gently back and forth. "Oh baby, you're mine! All mine! We'll plan our engagement party for Thanksgiving. In fact," he said, warming to the idea, "let's make the announcement at your parents' home at dinner. And we'll have a June wedding."

   Diana was too exhausted to protest and allowed him to formulate the plans for the event — time, place, number of guests. And then he turned to company business. Still, she made no comment, her head against his shoulder, tears of regret spilling down her cheeks.

   It's done. Diana's thoughts were racing. I've committed myself to this man. I must learn to love him, to yield to his embraces, to surrender my dreams to his. I will no longer be Diana Sullivan, but Diana O'Neal, Kevin O'Neal's fantasy of what a wife must be — his showpiece, the mother of his children, Victor O'Neal's daughter-in-law. I've saved the company, I've saved my parents' lifestyle, I've saved the jobs of hundreds of employees, but somewhere along the way, I've lost myself.

Chapter Eleven  ||  Table of Contents