RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL
HE TURNED AROUND AND LOOKED BACK down the empty church, a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.
'She's not coming, is she? She's changed her mind.'
'Of course she's coming, Jeff. Relax.'
Gunther Hartog looked at Jeff Stevens with genuine pity. How terrible it must be to be so in love.
Jeff Stevens was the second-most-talented con artist in the world. Sophisticated, urbane, rich and charming, Jeff was wildly attractive to the opposite sex. With his athletic build, thick dark hair and intensely masculine aura, Jeff Stevens could have had any woman he wanted. The problem was, he didn't want any woman. He wanted Tracy Whitney. And with Tracy Whitney, one could never quite be sure...
Tracy Whitney was the most talented con artist in the world. It had taken Jeff Stevens a long time to realize that he couldn't live without her. But he knew it now. The sinking feeling in his stomach got worse. Thank God there were no guests in the church. No one to witness his humiliation, apart from Gunther and the crotchety old priest, Father Alfonso.
Where is she?
'She's fifteen minutes late, Gunther.'
'That's a bride's prerogative.'
'No. It's more than that. Something's wrong.'
The old man smiled indulgently. He'd been honoured when Jeff asked him to be best man at his and Tracy's wedding. In his late sixties, with no children of his own, Gunther Hartog loved Jeff Stevens and Tracy Whitney like family. Their union meant everything to him, particularly after the blow of their joint decision to go straight. A tragedy, in Gunther Hartog's opinion. Like Beethoven retiring after his fourth symphony.
Still, it was wonderful being back in Brazil. The warm, wet air. The scent of bolinhos de bacalhau, the delicious codfish fritters cooked on every street corner. The riot of colour that existed everywhere, from the jungle flowers, to the women's stunning dresses, to the frescoes and stained glass windows of the tiny, baroque Chapel of St Rita, where they now stood. All of it made Gunther Hartog feel young again. Young and alive.
'What if Pierpont got wise?' The worry lines deepened on Jeff Stevens's face. 'What if...?'
He stopped, midsentence. There, silhouetted in the church doorway, stood Tracy Whitney. The sunlight blazing behind her looked almost like a halo, as if Tracy were an angel sent from heaven. My angel. Jeff Stevens's heart soared.
Tracy's slender figure was shown off to perfection in a simple, cream silk dress, and her shining chestnut hair cascaded around her shoulders like poured molasses. Jeff Stevens had seen her in countless guises over the years - Tracy's was a fluid, changeable beauty, which accounted for part of her success as a con artist - but he had never seen her look more lovely than she did today. Tracy's mother used to tell her that she had 'all the colours of the wind' in her. Jeff Stevens understood exactly what Doris Whitney had meant. Today Tracy's eyes, incredible eyes that could change from moss green to dark jade according to her mood, sparkled with happiness, and with something else besides. Triumph, perhaps? Or excitement? Jeff Stevens felt his heart rate quicken.
'Hello, Gunther, darling.' Tracy walked purposefully toward the altar, kissing her mentor on both cheeks. 'How wonderful of you to come.'
Tracy Whitney loved Gunther Hartog like a father. Tracy missed her father. She hoped he would have been proud of her today.
Turning to Jeff Stevens, she said, 'Sorry I'm late.'
'Never apologize,' said Jeff. 'You're far too beautiful for that.'
He noticed that her cheeks were very flushed, and a fine mist of sweat had begun to form on her brow. Almost as if she'd been running.
'I have a good excuse. I was picking up your wedding present.'
'I see.' Jeff smiled back. 'Well, I do like presents.'
'I know you do, darling.'
'Especially when they're from you.'
The priest interrupted grumpily, looking at his watch. 'Perhaps we could begin?'
Father Alfonso had a baptism to perform in an hour. He wished these tiresome Americans would get a move on. The explosive sexual chemistry between Jeff Stevens and Tracy Whitney made Father Alfonso deeply uncomfortable. As if he were committing a sin just by standing next to them. On the other hand, they had tipped him very handsomely for the use of the chapel at such short notice.
'So did you get it?' Jeff asked, not taking his grey eyes from Tracy's.
'My present, of course.'
'Oh yes.' Tracy grinned. 'I got it all right.'
Jeff Stevens kissed her passionately on the mouth.
Father Alfonso coughed loudly. 'Please, Mr Stevens. Restrain yourself! Est?o na casa de Deus. This is a place of worship. You are not yet married.'
'Sorry.' Jeff grinned, looking anything but.
She did it. Tracy did it. She outwitted the great Maximilian Pierpont. After all these years.
Jeff Stevens gazed at his wife-to-be adoringly.
He had never loved her more.
About the book:
#1 New York Times bestselling author Sidney Sheldon's most popular and enduring heroine--Tracy Whitney of If Tomorrow Comes--returns in a sensational sequel full of passion, suspense, and breathtaking twists.
Excerpt from The Master and Margarita
- Mikhail Bulgakov
Excerpt from First Love
- Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev