After the Storm

Chapter Three

   At that very moment, Joe Sullivan was confiding to Victor what his old competitor already knew. But Joe needed to talk it out, needed to explain how Roper had deceived him, had mishandled company funds.

   After Joe confessed his foolish mistake in trusting Roper, further admitting he had hired him partly because he doubted his daughter's ability to run the business, he became morose, his large hand encircling the Coke glass. It wasn't easy to admit he had been wrong on both counts.

   His ruddy face flushed. "I need a loan, Vic. I can't allow the business to go into bankruptcy."

   Victor O'Neal's thoughts raced ahead of Joe's ramblings. Was this the moment to introduce his "solution?" He had been pondering it since he first heard of Sullivan's financial troubles and decided he would chance it now. Not that he wished to take advantage of his old buddy's misfortune, but business was business.

   "I have a proposition for you. Listen before you speak, my friend." He paused dramatically. "We could merge. I have the money, as you know, to purchase your House, and I'm willing to do so."

   Joe shifted uneasily. "A company I built from the bottom? How could you suggest such a thing? Sullivan is our family name. How could I allow . . .?"

   "You can keep your name, your offices, your staff." He waved aside the insinuation.

   A small tic played at the side of Joe's mouth. "But?"

   "A business-and-marriage merger." Victor O'Neal reached for a cigar, bit off the end, lit it, and blew a stream of smoke in the opposite direction.

   Joe, under doctor's orders to terminate alcohol and nicotine, watched nervously, stunned by the suggestion.

   At this moment, smoking his cigar and drinking his third glass of sherry, Victor still did not look at Joe but waited for his friend to assimilate his magnanimous offer.

   When Joe remained silent, Victor glanced at his face, flushed with beads of perspiration breaking out, and sensed victory.

   "It's perfect, Joe," Victor said, his voice soft and conciliatory. "Your Diana and my Kevin. Just think, O'Neal and Sullivan combining forces to bring the public the best books in the industry. We could capture the market. My new romance section is booming. If you read the trade journals," he said with a trace of irony, "you know how well we're doing."

   Victor rambled on, explaining in detail the scope of the new market, the millions to be realized, all the while searching Joe's face for a sign of capitulation. He knew Diana was the pride of Joe's life, since his son Tim had disgraced the family by refusing to fight in the Vietnam conflict. What a terrible heartache, Victor thought, having a draft dodger for a son. And to make matters worse, the boy had further antagonized the family by moving to Hollywood to break into the movies. No wonder old Joe had had a heart attack. It was common knowledge that Diana sat in the president's chair because her older brother had abdicated his rightful place.

   While Victor continued pressing his proposition, Joe felt like a champion boxer thrown to the floor of the ring, listening for the count of ten. His old opponent had thrown him a rope, a lifeline, Victor held both ends in his own hand. It was useless. Diana would never consent to a loveless marriage. But if he explained to her that Sullivan Publishing was done for without her help, that they were doomed to financial disaster — what then?

   Joe ran a burly hand through his iron-gray hair. "A loan, Victor. All I need is a loan. The banks won't talk to us. Roper has ruined our name across the country. Your cosignature, perhaps." He glanced at Victor's hooded eyes, his noncommittal posture. "You know my Diana would never marry Kevin. She hasn't looked at a man since Michael died."

   "Then it's time she did." Victor reached for his drink and finished it in one gulp.

   He had not struggled to the top of the heap for nothing. He smelled a good challenge, and the prospect of landing Diana Sullivan for his son fueled his resolve to have her at all costs.

   Personally, he thought Joe Sullivan a fool. He knew Ralph Roper's reputation for ruthlessness, but Joe's lack of trust in his daughter had proven his undoing. The girl had plenty of savvy, and she was a looker. Her charm and beauty could be used to great advantage. No, old Joe had failed to recognize the gold mine in his own backyard. Well, Victor had always had a knack for spotting and developing talent. Just look at his own kid.

   Fresh out of Northwestern, the boy had taken to publishing like a true O'Neal. Five years ago he'd been ready to take the reins, though Victor knew just how much to hand him. He had a good head for the business and knew how to predict what the public would be wanting to read several months before they knew it themselves. With his mother's looks and his gift of blarney, the kid would do all right for himself. Didn't he have half the city's most marriageable young ladies eating out of his hand? So what if Kevin had sown a few wild oats here and there, Victor thought approvingly. The old man had sown a few in his day. Kevin had made no secret of the fact that he fancied the brown-haired beauty, and he'd settle down soon enough with a girl like Diana Sullivan.

   He glanced again at his companion. Joe was looking bushed. Maybe he'd had enough for one day. He needed time to chew on the idea.

   "Let's go, my friend. We can continue this little conversation another day."

   Victor summoned the waiter, signed the luncheon check with a flourish, and strode to the door with Joe in his wake. Credit cards, fawning waiters, valets — symbols of the good life, he thought, biting off the end of another cigar.

   Waiting for their cars, Victor spoke again. "Remember the old days, Joe? Arranged marriages were an everyday matter. Look at the divorce rate today. It's because young people can't choose as wisely as their parents. Think about that, my friend." He patted Joe patronizingly and drove off in his white El Dorado.

*   *   *   *   *

   Joe drove his Lincoln to the office like a pilot running out of fuel with no landing strip in sight. On the one hand, he could never imagine Diana consenting to a marriage with Kevin O'Neal; on the other, if the plan were presented as the only viable solution to Sullivan's money crunch, she might be persuaded.

   Joe's thoughts scampered ahead to his confrontation with Diana. He'd always been able to depend on her. Hadn't she taken over the presidency to help him out? And, he had to confess, she'd surprised him with her wisdom and maturity. Even with her personal heartbreak, she'd been concerned for his health, his welfare. Diana was a good daughter, he thought fondly, a reasonable person, except for her determination to prove that Ralph Roper had something to do with Michael's accident. On that score, she remained inflexible. He could just imagine her taking the same stubborn stand when confronted with a marriage proposal to Kevin O'Neal.

   He pressed the penthouse button and, on the swift ride to the top floor, organized the impending conversation. He would first point out how Kevin had brought unprecedented success to O'Neal Publishing Company and, before she could mention the boy's philandering, would further explain that Kevin had reformed and would like to settle down and raise a family.

   He envisioned arranging a "business trip" for the two of them, perhaps a visit to their nearly defunct Geneva office. What could be more romantic than the Swiss Alps? The frustrated writer in him staged the scenario.

   He strode past the staff secretaries, looking neither to the right nor left, pausing briefly to ask his daughter's private assistant if Diana had returned from lunch. At Robin's nod, Joe entered his daughter's suite without knocking.

   Diana sat facing the penthouse window, silently gazing at the great metropolitan skyline, the glistening waters of Lake Michigan in the distance. For a moment Joe stood in the doorway watching her, a warm tenderness enveloping him. She had loved a man and had lost him. She loved her work. He could not allow her to lose again.

   The telephone rang, and Diana quickly swiveled to answer. She signaled a surprised "Hello!" to her father and spoke graciously to the person at the other end of the line.

   What a gorgeous girl, Joe thought, with rising pride. It never ceased to amaze him how he, a burly Irishman, could have produced such a lovely daughter. But, of course, it was his wife Catherine she most resembled. Her luscious chestnut hair, her blue-green eyes, and her silky porcelain skin were a legacy from her mother.

   Listening to her now, Joe was disturbed to hear an unaccustomed edge in her voice. Since Michael's death — or was it more recently? — she had adopted an alien approach to life, confronting each crisis with caution, and shedding some of her softness and vulnerability. Maybe it was just as well. She wouldn't be as likely to get hurt. Although he had never admitted it to Diana, Joe strongly agreed with her suspicions that Roper had hired someone to tamper with Michael's plane. The whole business was having a rotten effect on Diana, he thought bitterly.

   Sinking onto a damask-covered sofa, he tuned in to her end of the conversation.

   "But, Mr. Martindale, the book tour is already scheduled." She spoke with firm authority. "Our publicity department has done a splendid job in promoting your book, but the author is his own best salesman."

   Good going, honey, Joe thought, applauding her firm stand. She's good. She's really good.

   "Thank you, Mr. Martindale," she concluded. "We appreciate your cooperation.

   "Sorry, Dad. It's been one of those weeks. What can I do for you?"

   "We need to talk." He hadn't intended to sound quite so brusque.

   Diana stood behind her desk, a ploy he himself had taught her when he didn't wish to waste time with callers. She was instinctively delaying the confrontation, he thought, smiling at her perception.

   Joe reached into his pocket for a forbidden cigar.

   "Please, Dad, not in my office. Or anywhere else, for that matter. Have you forgotten the doctor's orders?"

   Diana's thoughts were elsewhere. She was studying the painting over his head. The artist had captured the lush green beauty of an English countryside, a small pink and white cottage in the foreground. She had commissioned the painting after she and Michael had stood before that very cottage while on a trip to England.

   "You're thinking of Michael?"

   "Dad," she said softly, "could we talk first thing Monday morning? This has been a rough week, and I'm beat."

   "Sure, honey, it can wait." Joe Sullivan rose and reached for the doorknob, turning to face his daughter. "Let's make it lunch on Monday."

   Without realizing it, she had bought him time — time to figure out a way to present the feasibility of Victor O'Neal's proposition.

Chapter Four  ||  Table of Contents