Today’s excerpt is once again from Angels at Midnight, which begins a special ebook promotion at Amazon on Sunday–just $.99!
In this excerpt, Collin Deverell is caught between the proverbial rock and hard place, wanting to pursue a last shot at Olympic gold and his father’s determination to have both of his sons join the family business….
Boston, February 1976
“En garde!” Two men in traditional white fencing attire moved around on the floor of the gymnasium with lightning speed, the blades of their French foils flashing in the harsh glare cast by the fluorescent lighting high above them. One of the men, his foil raised menacingly, took full advantage of a miscalculation on the part of his opponent, lunging forward in an aggressive move that caught the second fencer completely off guard. He backed off hastily, attempting to regroup his forces while using his own weapon to block the attack. The aggressor moved swiftly, and it seemed to his opponent that he was suddenly everywhere—parrying, lunging, feinting, counterparrying, and thrusting with the skill and assurance of the experienced swordsman he was. He scored one touch and then another and another, until he had made the required five touches on his opponent’s target area to take the match in the allotted six minutes.
Once won, however, the aggressiveness of his manner vanished as quickly as he removed his wire mesh face mask, revealing a lean, angular face flushed with triumph, the velvety brown eyes crackling with fire. His thick, wavy dark hair was tousled and damp with perspiration as he faced his defeated opponent and bowed gallantly from the waist, displaying the natural grace of a superbly conditioned athlete. As he straightened up again, he grinned. “We really should do this more often, Farnsworth,” he commented with a twinge of amusement in his voice.
The other man laughed wearily. “I don’t think my heart could take it, Deverell,” he responded breathlessly. “You weren’t playing a game out there—you were waging war!”
Collin Deverell laughed heartily as he pulled the leather glove and gauntlet from his right hand and ran his fingers through his hair, pushing it into place. “Didn’t anyone ever tell you that there’s no crime in playing to win?” he asked in a mocking tone.
“Playing to win?” Derek Farnsworth said with a laugh. “Come on, Collin—for a minute there, I was beginning to wonder if you’d forgotten that there was a friend behind this mask! I felt as though we were actually engaging in combat!”
Collin grinned. “You’re slowing down, pal,” he warned. “Not equal to the challenge anymore?”
“I’m hardly a match for a former world champion,” Farnsworth reminded him. “Look, I think I’ll hit the showers and get back to my law books, okay?”
Collin nodded. “Tomorrow, then?”
Farnsworth gave an exaggerated groan of despair. ” Please—it’ s going to take me a week to recover from today’s match! Give me a break, will you?”
“I keep forgetting I have to go easy on you softies,” Collin teased. “All right—I’ll just have to find someone else to take me on.”
“Keep this up and you’re going to run out of friends,” Derek Farnsworth joked as they walked back to the locker rooms together. “They’ll all be mounted on your wall with your swords and other trophies!”
At that moment, the doors at the far end of the gym opened and a third man entered, a tall, slim blond man Collin recognized immediately from one of his classes at Harvard. “Hey, Deverell! I’ve been looking all over for you!” he called out loudly with an unmistakable New England accent.
Collin waved him off. “Whatever it is, I didn’t do it!” he yelled back.
The other man ignored his response. “Your father’s in town—he’s been looking for you. He called here twice. Your brother also called.”
“My brother,” Collin said ruefully, so low that only Derek Farnsworth, who stood next to him, could hear him. “Baron Stormcloud himself.” He turned back to the other man who stood poised in the doorway. “My father knows where I live,” he said loudly.
“Sure he does, and he also knows that you spend most of your time here,” the blond man responded. “Better give him a call. He said he’ll be staying at the Ritz-Carlton.”
“As if I wouldn’t know where to find him,” Collin said in a casual tone. “I guess I’d better make this fast. When he flies up from New York instead of calling, it’s usually urgent.”
In spite of the bitter cold, the Boston Common was crowded. A group of demonstrators marched in formation, brandishing large, crudely lettered signs while a soapbox orator delivered his impassioned—and very loud—speech from the center of the group. Several children bundled in warm winter attire ran off in the direction of the playground while two bag ladies rummaged through a trash can. Three young girls sat on a bench, lacing up their skates as they prepared to go ice skating on Frog Pond. Collin walked through the Common, oblivious of everything around him except the cold. Turning up the collar of his heavy winter coat, he pulled his gray cashmere muffler up over the lower half of his face. His cheeks stung from the icy wind and his eyes felt uncomfortably dry. The wind whipped through his hair, still damp from the shower, as he walked along the pond, headed for the underground parking garage just beyond the Public Garden at the west end of the Common. Breaking into a run, he dashed through the park and into the garage, not slowing down until he reached his silver Ferrari. Pulling off his gray leather gloves, he dug into his coat pocket for his keys and unlocked the door hastily, his breath visible in the bitterly cold air. He slid behind the wheel and closed the door. As he put the key in the ignition and turned the switch, the engine came to life immediately. He listened to the low hum of the Ferrari’s powerful, perfectly tuned motor for a moment, then put the car in reverse and backed out of the parking stall, reaching for the garage ticket he’d left on the dashboard. The garage, he noticed as he headed for the exit, was almost empty now. He glanced at the gold watch on his left wrist. It was later than he’d thought.
As he pulled out of the garage onto Arlington Street, he was still wondering what could have brought his father to town. Business, no doubt. Quentin Deverell lived for Intercontinental Oil, the family business, as Collin referred to the corporation his father had founded and built into a global giant over the past thirty years. He expected the same total devotion from each of his many employees, and from his identical twin sons, Collin and Justin. It had been their father’s idea, sending the twins to Harvard, and then to the Harvard Business School. It was Quentin Deverell’s most fervent dream that one day his sons should rule side by side over the empire he had created. For Justin, it had been easy: Justin, like their father, had the blood of the boardroom flowing through his veins. He couldn’t wait to occupy a seat on the board of directors. Collin, on the other hand, had never shared their enthusiasm. He had never quite been able to picture himself locked away in an office all day, pushing papers and making deals. He did not think of himself as a businessman. He had only accepted the idea of the Harvard Business School because he knew how much it meant to his father, and because he was not yet sure what he wanted to do with his life.
There had been a time he had believed his future was in the world of sports, in fencing. It was a passion he had felt the first time he took a foil in his hand at the age of fourteen, much younger than most professional fencers begin their training. He had taken an interest in it first as a hobby, then later as a possible career. His first coach, a maitre d’armes from Paris, had seen a natural ability in Collin Deverell and filled his head with thoughts and dreams of Olympic gold. As he grew older, Collin’s love of fencing prevented him from giving one hundred percent of himself to his father’s plans for his future. Furious, Quentin Deverell had put an abrupt end to the training, insisting that his son’s future was in the boardroom, not on the tournament circuit. But Collin had persisted, and soon had a new coach, a former gold medalist from Milan who also saw promise in his young protégé and encouraged his ambitions. With his encouragement, Collin had gone from local to national tournaments to the international level of competition. He had developed a rather flashy style that combined the best elements of the intellectual, defensive French style learned from his original coach with the aggressive, offensive Italian game taught by his new mentor. By the time he was eighteen, he had won several major tournaments, including a world championship. He had been preparing for the Pan-American Games when his father suffered a heart attack. Knowing how much it meant to his father that he and Justin pull together and concentrate on the family’s business interests, Collin had shelved his plans to go for the gold and concentrated on his studies, not wishing to upset his father or cause him further concern. That had been four years ago, and still Collin wondered what his life would have been like today had he continued to pursue that dream. Would he have found what he was looking for, or would he still feel the confusion, the uncertainty he was feeling at this moment? If only, he thought now, he could be more like his brother.
Though Collin and Justin were identical twins, and it was virtually impossible to tell them apart physically, one had only to spend a few moments with them to recognize the striking differences in their personalities. Collin was outgoing, flamboyant, daring, and enjoyed nothing more than poking fun at his twin brother’s serious, uptight, ultraconservative ways. Though they were only twenty-three, Collin often complained that his brother behaved like a very old man, while Justin would refer to Collin as “childish.” There had never been any doubt in Justin’s mind that he would one day follow in their father’s footsteps, that he would hold a high rank within the upper echelons of Intercontinental Oil. Collin, on the other hand, had never been so certain about his future. He could not imagine himself an executive, even within his own father’s company. He possessed the heart and the spirit of the true adventurer, and wanted something he had yet to find. Excitement. Challenge. For a while, fencing had been the answer. Nothing else had made him feel so alive, so exhilarated. And while his dreams of capturing the highest award possible in the game had been dashed, he had never been able to turn his back on it completely. He still played, almost every day, whenever he could find someone willing to take him on. Unfortunately, most of the fencing enthusiasts he had met at Harvard were amateurs and offered little challenge for a world-class player such as himself.
Crossing the river into Cambridge on the Harvard Bridge, he glanced up at the gray, overcast sky. It looked as if Boston would finally get that snowstorm the forecasters had been predicting for the past three days. He switched on the car radio and fiddled with the dial until he found a station broadcasting the local news. “Damn!” he muttered under his breath as the announcer predicted five to eight inches of snow by morning. A traveler’s advisory had been issued by the National Weather Service, the announcer was saying. And Collin had plans for the weekend. Important plans. A snowstorm would definitely put a damper on them. He promptly switched the radio to an album station and adjusted the volume. Then he reached up and loosened the muffler wound around his neck. It had been a long day, and he was glad it was over, even if the coming storm did manage to ruin his weekend.
He drove into the darkened tunnel leading down into the parking garage under his apartment building and parked the Ferrari in his assigned space. He switched off the radio and the ignition and got out of the car, locking the door before he strode off to the elevators. As he rode up alone in the elevator to his floor, he looked at his watch. He would have to put in a call to his father at the Ritz-Carlton as soon as he got in the door. Quentin Deverell was a man who did not like to be kept waiting, even by his own son. He tugged at the muffler until he pulled it off his neck, then unbuttoned his coat. A small smile played on his lips as he thought about the art history major from Radcliffe who was coming over to cook for him tonight. She was quite a work of art herself, he thought. If she were to spend the night…. Maybe the possibility of a snowstorm wasn’t such a catastrophe after all.
The elevator doors opened and Collin stepped out of the car, walking briskly down the corridor to his apartment, keys in hand. As he let himself into the apartment, the first thing he noticed was that the light was on in the living room. Concerned at first—he knew he hadn’t left it on himself—he suddenly remembered: he had given Laura the spare key yesterday so she could let herself in if he were not home when she arrived. Of course—that was it. She’d probably decided to come early and surprise him. Well, he had a few surprises in store for her, too. He turned and opened the closet door, smiling in anticipation of the night ahead.