After the Storm

Chapter Twenty-One

   As it turned out, it was easier than she thought.

   At eleven the Vales joined the family for their traditional Christmas brunch, and Diana, repressing her fears of what she must face on the following day, entered into the festivities joyfully.

   "Who knows, someday there may be a bouncing baby or two to help us celebrate," Tim said, giving Marcie a warm squeeze with the arm he had draped around her shoulder.

   "When do you plan to marry?" Catherine asked tensely, moving her eyes over the congenial group seated at the dining table.

   "Tim and I want a small wedding, Mrs. Sullivan, though I guess soon I'll be calling you 'Mother,' " Marcie added shyly. Diana watched her mother stiffen hoping Marcie hadn't notice. "We've decided to be married in my home, with only family members and a few close friends present."

   Catherine forced a smile and began expounding on Diana's June wedding and her plans for an elaborate ceremony.

   "I'm really jealous that you're going to California, Di," Marcie said, pretending a pout, and Diana flushed as her mother turned to stare at her.

   "What's this?"

   "Just for a week, Mother." Diana bit her lower lip, sensing the familiar guilt her mother could evoke with the lift of a sculptured brow.

   "But, Diana, you can't leave just now. Have you told Kevin?"

   "We won't be leaving until next week, Mother," she replied evasively. "I'll wind up my work at the office. I haven't had a vacation this year since things have been so hectic, and I'd love a week's rest."

   "But, Diana, I don't see how you can go and leave Kevin right now."

   Tim, noticing Diana's composure beginning to crumble, spoke quickly. "Yup, Mom, it's all settled. I'm showing my kid sister the great golden state of California."

   Subject dismissed! Diana wondered why Tim could say one word and gain their mother's approval, while she could connect endless words together and receive nothing but disapproval.

   "Wish Marce could come along," Tim said wistfully, "but the doctor says no for now."

   "Does this mean," Catherine asked hopefully, "that you may be moving back to Chicago, Tim?"

   "Looks like it, Mom." Tim grinned at his mother, and Catherine turned to chat brightly with Marcie, as though seeing her for the first time.

   After dessert, Louis pulled his host aside as they rose from the table. "Joe, I'd like a word with you and your daughter somewhere private. Could we use the den?"

   Joe smiled broadly. "Of course, of course."

   They sat on the circular brown tweed sofa, Diana wishing for Tim's moral support. Perhaps Louis had heard of her broken engagement and wanted to counsel Joe against unrestrained rage. She crossed and recrossed her legs until Louis Vale at last began to speak.

   "I want to make you a deal, Joe, as Chairman of the Board of Sullivan's and you, Diana, as president." Louis sat on the edge of the sofa. "This is no hasty decision. Beverly and I have given it a lot of thought and prayer and decided now is the time to make you our offer."

   He wants Tim to have a job at the publishing house to ensure Marcie's security, Diana thought, moving restlessly. But he doesn't know the O'Neals will be in control. She longed for the conversation to end, but Louis obviously had much more on his mind.

   "I'd like to buy O'Neal out and become your partner," Louis said abruptly and sat back, waiting for his offer to penetrate.

   Stunned, Diana caught her breath and looked quickly at her father. He had not assimilated his old friend's words, and his heavy brows beetled over glazed eyes.

   "Louis, what in the world?"

   "Let me explain." Vale leaned forward, clasping his steepled fingers together. "When Marcie was so sick, Beverly and I thought our world had come to an end. We lived for that girl. If she died, then everything we'd worked for . . ." He paused to swipe at his eyes, "Well one night we stopped by the hospital chapel, and I made a deal with God — if he'd save my little girl, I'd give him what was left of my life to do with as he pleased. I'd spread the word about Christ. Now that I know a little more about the Lord. I know I'd do it even if he hadn't chosen to heal Marcie. But he did. The doctors call it a remission. We call it a miracle. We believe the Lord has completely healed her. Having Tim as our son-in-law is a bonus."

   "Spread the word about Christ? What does that have to do with becoming my partner?  I don't understand."

   "Joe, I'd like to open a religious division at Sullivan's and publish books that glorify god. Steven Cartright's book would be the first one off the press."

   "But we signed a contract with O'Neal. He's to become my partner in June. We already owe him over a million dollars."

   "I understand more than you think I do. I may be retired, but I still read the Wall Street Journal, and ailing companies often make their columns." There was a long pause. "Beverly and I are more than comfortably situated and have much more of this world's goods than we deserve or need. It's about time I tried to give back a part of all God's given us."

   His tone was all business. "I'm prepared to pay off O'Neal, with interest, and as the papers are drawn up, become your partner, if you're interested. No strings. Except in one area — I'd expect a religious division." He smiled and added, "With Tim as manager."

   Joe, his florid face crumpling, fought back tears. Tim! His son working in the family business, carrying on the tradition he had built. His dream of a lifetime. He cleared his throat. "And what does Tim say about this, Lou?"

   "He's agreed to work for the firm under these conditions."

   Diana caught her breath and began twisting her ring around her finger. She would be free! Free of Kevin without ruining her parents. Tears began trickling down her face, and simultaneously she saw her father's own tears falling.

   "Lou, this is unexpected. I . . . I don't know what to say. But what about the contract with O'Neal?"

   "You'd better break it, Joe, or he'll bury you. Believe me, O'Neal can't be trusted."

   "Already he's been rerouting my calls to his office, Dad." Diana repeated what Robin had told her.

   "What!" Joe roared, lifting his burly hand to his head.

   "I'm not surprised to hear it, Joe. The man's unscrupulous and that's the way he plays the game. He's not above accepting your daughter as a sacrifice."

   Joe flushed, realizing that he himself had done the sacrificing. He glanced at Diana and, with a sudden tenderness, reached for her hand. "I guess I needn't ask for your opinion, honey girl."

   "Oh, Dad," Diana breathed. "To think that Tim and Marcie would be right here in Chicago, with Tim working with us. To be free of Kevin. It's almost too good to be true. It's an answer to prayer." Suddenly she recalled Tim's bold promise that with God all things were possible, even the most impossible.

   Diana wanted to hug Louis Vale, to hug her father, to hug the world, but she remained seated, inclining her head slightly toward her father, patiently waiting for his answer.

   Joe stood hastily, and with a handshake, Diana's future was secure. She reached up to hug Louis Vale, then turned to her father, placing a kiss on his cheek.

   Tugging off her diamond, she laid it in the palm of her hand, closing her fist over it. "I was going to tell you in the morning, Dad," she said, her eyes scanning his face. "I've broken my engagement. Kevin knows."

   "Y—you told him?" Joe stammered. "Before Louis here made the proposal? What did he say? Did he tell Victor?"

   "I don't know, but I couldn't go through with it, Dad." She turned to Louis. "So you see, Mr. Vale, you've rescued all of us. You gave us a Merry Christmas!"

   "Not me. Give the credit to the Lord," Louis said quietly. "We all have what we want."

   Not quite, Diana sighed, tightening her grip on the diamond. I don't have Steven.

   Joe walked into the living room and surprised his wife by encircling her slender waist, burying his head in her shoulder.

   "Why, Joe." Catherine moved away. "What has happened?"

   And as they stood in the beautiful living room, snug and protected from the December storm, Louis made the announcement.

   Catherine looked from her husband's face to Louis Vale and crossed her arms. "What about Kevin?" she asked hoarsely. "What about the wedding plans?"

   Tim's arm went around Diana, and she leaned against him for support.

   "I've told Kevin I can't marry him, Mother." Diana, holding onto her brother's arm, felt Marcie's hand creep into hers. Suddenly Diana remembered Steven's words about loosing herself from her parents' influence. She was over thirty and still intimidated by her mother. Oh, dear Lord, she prayed, you alone will be Master of my life from this day forward. She looked into her mother's dove-gray eyes and repeated firmly, "Yes, Mother. The wedding is off."

   "At least that wedding!" Tim grinned.

   "What does that mean?" Catherine asked, bewildered.

   Poor Mother, Diana thought. She doesn't even know her precious lifestyle was in jeopardy.

   "I'm taking my future wife home," Tim said.

   They stood in the hallway, each silently contemplating private thoughts.

   Joe, still astonished by Louis Vale's offer, understood that it meant an endless flow of cash with few strings attached. The idea of a religious section wasn't a bad one, not bad at all. Bibles were perennial bestsellers. They could pay back O'Neal with interest, clear the mortgage on the house, and bring Sullivan's back into the black. It was a last-minute reprieve.

   Louis mulled over the ways of God. He had at last found meaning in his life. He had made millions in his day, and now it would serve a worthy purpose. Books were a medium like no other, an influence on the lives of countless millions for good or evil. His only desire now was to influence readers with the message of Christ.

   Elated with the events of the day, Diana placed her diamond in the pocket of her wool skirt. She, too, had been granted release from her unholy alliance with Kevin O'Neal.

   Only Catherine stood a little apart. Though Diana's broken engagement would be an embarrassment to her, she would have her beloved Timmy back.

   Catherine turned to Beverly. "Well, Beverly," she said warmly. "I guess we'll not only be in-laws, but business partners."

   "I'll call a board meeting first thing Monday morning, Lou," Joe said, opening the door and shaking Vale's hand once more. "You and your God — remember to thank him for me, will you?"

   Diana was pleased for her father. But she watched sadly as Catherine smiled her good-byes and swept regally up the staircase to her room.   

Chapter Twenty-two  ||  Table of Contents