He had been here many times, but never alone with her. Not like this. He stared at her covertly, enchanted. She was so beautiful, the dark blue of her suit bringing out the color of her eyes, the sweetness of her scent fogging up his senses. He was bewitched by her, had been from the moment he laid eyes on her. Strangely, he found himself even more so on this particular day. To be summoned here, by her personally, he couldn’t possibly refuse. There was nothing he could imagine denying her.
She dismissed the maid and served him herself. Strong coffee, black for him, light and sweet for her, little sandwiches without the crusts and sweet treats on fine European china. And all the while, she politely made meaningless small talk. She was the perfect hostess. She was perfect, magnificent, a beauty who shined so brightly, it made his heart ache to gaze upon her. Finally, when a second cup had been poured and they had eaten their fill, she turned to him, her hands resting on her knees.
“I asked you here today because I have—there’s something I need you to do for me.”
“If it’s possible, of course I will.”
“Before I go into that, I want to say that I know you and my husband aren’t the best of friends, and I love my husband.”
He scratched his head and responded, “Okay.”
“I saw the doctor you recommended.”
“I am fine.”
“Well, you can’t expect results overnight.”
“I saw him four months ago.”
“Yes, but these things can take time.”
“Every night for four months, except during my cycle? That kind of time?”
He gaped at her lapse in modesty and managed to respond haltingly, “Well, that does seem rather unusual. But I’m not a specialist in this field.”
“No, but this is where you come in.”
He choked on his cooled coffee. “I beg your pardon?”
“I don’t have many options and more than anything, I want a child. You can give that to me, to us.”
“I don’t think this is a good idea.”
“Please, I’m begging you. He will never know.” She took his hand and shook her head, her eyes lowered. “I will never tell anyone. He will never know the truth.”
“You’re asking me to betray my—the Chairman.”
“You know I would never ask if there was any other way.”
“How?” He swallowed hard, drinking in the sight of her greedily and more openly than he had ever dared. “How will we, uh, how do you want to handle this?”
Covering her revulsion with a smile, she whispered, “Sometimes, the good old-fashioned way is best.”
The hitch in his breathing put her over the top and she knew it. In giving him the one thing he coveted, he surrendered any and all misgivings about the folly of her plan. Smiling triumphantly, she took his hand and led him to the bed she shared with her husband. Pushing him onto the bed on his back, she straddled him and loosened the knot of his tie, casting him the kind of look only a woman schooled in the art of seduction can. It would have raised his eyebrows into his hairline if the shock hadn’t worn off, allowing him to engage in the moment.
His hands come to rest on her hips, his thumbs caressing her pelvic bones through the fine wool of her skirt. She pulled his tie free, tossed it over her shoulder and attacked the buttons of his dress shirt with gusto. His arms collided with hers in the struggle to disrobe, but clearly he was the overeager party. She was controlled, unaffected by the gentle touch of his fingers as he traced her ribs and the silky cups of her bra. As she focused on unfastening his belt and trousers, she gasped in surprise as he rolled her onto her back and pulled the skirt he had managed to unzip moments earlier over her slim hips, dropping it to the floor.
He took the time to prepare her, patiently and with great understanding (given her resistance, which she managed to hide admirably). He believed it to be nerves; they were, after all, both married to other people and in her husband’s bed, though it was unlikely he would arrive home any time soon. And while she was neither virgin nor novice, he was gentle when he entered her.
She gasped, surprised by the difference in sensations between her husband and this man. She was a good Catholic girl and had been a virgin until her wedding night. Naively, she had assumed all men were the same. There was no pain, but she felt strangely full. Her eyes fluttered shut, her head rolling back as their bodies moved together. Reaching behind him, he lifted her leg higher, allowing him to slide deeper. She wrapped her other leg around his waist, locking her ankles as her hands gripped the pillow beneath her head.
He groaned her name and ground his hips against hers. Her soft sounds of passion, the rhythmic tightening of her thighs around his waist and her body around his, pushed him over the edge. Calling her name as he came, she cried out softly as his warm seed coated her insides. Still moving slowly within her, prolonging his pleasure, she whimpered as she reached a weak climax. She wanted to cry when he sagged, his body pressed against hers, pressing tender kisses to the soft skin of her neck and shoulder.
He rolled off of her and onto his back, staring at the ceiling, unable to conceal his smile of triumph. Unbeknownst to her, he now held all of the cards and one day, everything would be his. He dozed off, assured of his place as a major player in the Centre’s future. In her selfish desire for a child, she had no idea how deeply her betrayal would cut her husband or how terribly she had upset the balance of power. She had handed him all the leverage he needed to control her, to ensure the events foretold will unfold exactly as predicted.
She feigned sleep when he stirred beside her. Rolling onto her side, she turned her back to him, listening as he dressed. It took all of her willpower to maintain the illusion she was sound asleep when he leaned across the bed and kissed the exposed nape of her neck.
She didn’t move until she heard the front door close. Her eyes opened and she took in the room around her, seeing the world through new eyes. He wasn’t a bad lover she had to admit, but that she had allowed him to put his hands (and the rest of him) on her body, made her feel ill.
Climbing out of bed, she padded into the bathroom and took a long, hot shower, scrubbing every inch of her body. She said a prayer for forgiveness, hoping that once was enough. The idea that she could be compelled to meet him like this again sickened her. She had grown unhappy in her marriage, but took her vows to her husband very seriously and had never broken a single one until this day.
Done is done and can’t be undone. The thought made her sigh heavily and shake her head with a deep sadness she will come to know intimately in years to come.
Slipping back into her Chanel suit, she prepared herself to return to the Centre. She had never lied to her husband in all the years of their marriage and hoped she wouldn’t have to because she wasn’t certain she could pull it off. As she closed the door behind her and made her way to her car, she wracked her brain for a plausible excuse for her absence, should he inquire.
As if he would notice, she thought sarcastically.
She had already come to realize she was nothing more than a prop, an attractive accessory he hung on his arm when he needed a pretty bauble to charm clients (old and new), a gracious hostess, or to make other men envious of the wife he had.
It hurt her to be cognizant of this truth, to know that the love she felt for him was never returned, at least not as non-narcissists know it. The only comfort she had was that he had never broken his vows to her. He had forsaken other women, anyway—the Centre would always be his one true love, the mistress she was incapable of competing with. This was the reason she longed for a child, a little girl to shower with love and affection, to fill the emptiness in her heart and bridge the distance in her marriage.
The charities and visits with parentless children nourished her soul to a degree. But in the darkness, lying beside her husband after he had rolled off of her and passed out cold, she lay awake with the sweat from their lovemaking cooling her skin. Her thoughts consumed by her empty womb after almost six years of marriage.
It was the man who had recently become her lover who pointed her in the direction of NuGenesis the previous fall. She was tested and it was concluded that she was capable of becoming pregnant. They counseled her to relax and enjoy the attempts to make a baby. She was overwhelmed with relief she was not the cause of their childlessness. In time, she came to suspect it was her husband who was the problem, and with this conclusion drawn, she spent the winter planning.
There were several candidates to choose from, but ultimately, she settled on one. The tiny voice she had heard only a handful of times throughout her life whispered that he was the only feasible option. She could never have known she was on a collision course, that fate would not be denied, no matter how she would later attempt to subvert it.
In the last days of her life, she would come to realize the difference between fate and destiny. No matter the twists and turns she made, there could ultimately only ever be one ending. She wept bitterly for all that was lost to her, for the part she played in the Parker legacy and the curse she had unwittingly passed onto her baby girl.
On that last day, when the contractions began, she cried silent tears of despair as she clutched at her rounded belly and prayed for a miracle. But the voices that, with practice, she had begun to hear more clearly, whispered she was beyond miracles now.
It seemed as if time slowed. When the bullet left the barrel, she didn’t close her eyes, she gazed at her executioner, wondering how this man could have touched her so reverently once upon a time and given her the one thing she had so longed for. And later, he threatened her, had beaten her and finally impregnated her against her will to steal her newborn child and murder her in cold blood while stating for the last time he was just following orders.
Just before the bullet struck her between the eyes, she opened her mind in a way she never had before and never knew she could. An image appeared of her beloved daughter, weeping as she looked around a dreary, dank dorm room and she sent her a single thought: I will always be watching over you, baby.
Everything went dark...and Catherine Parker was no more.
For William Raines, her death was just the beginning. And hell followed with it.