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By Sandra Brown
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Table of Contents
A Preview of Deadline
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"Do you think your husband knows about us, darling?" The man brushed his lips across the woman's forehead as he clasped her in a desperate embrace.
"Even if he does, I don't care," she declared. "I'm tired of hiding. I want to proclaim our love to everyone."
"Oh, my love, my love." The man lowered his head. His nose bumped into the woman's in a most unromantic way.
Lauri Parrish jumped when the exasperated command thundered from the loudspeaker in a voice that reverberated like God's from Mount Sinai.
"What in the hell is going on today? Can't you two get anything right? We've been on this same damn scene for an hour and a half." A brief silence hung in the air while the actors and crew shifted uncomfortably. "I'm coming down."
Lauri watched in fascination as the actress turned to her leading man and said scathingly, "I was to lean into Camera One, Drake. Not you."
"Then you'd better learn to count, Lois. That was Camera Three. Besides, aren't you afraid Camera One will detect your facelift scars?"
"Bastard," hissed the actress as she shoved past the amused cameramen and tapped across the concrete floor of the television studio in the direction of the dressing rooms.
The whole episode intrigued Lauri Parrish, who had surprisingly found herself on the set of The Heart's Answer, a popular daytime soap opera. She never watched television during the day, for she was always working, but everyone in America knew about this particular program. Many working women planned their lunch hours around the drama's telecast in order to keep up with the sexual exploits and personal crises of Dr. Glen Hambrick.
A few days before, Dr. Martha Norwood, founder of the Norwood Institute for the Deaf where Lauri was a teacher, had approached her with an offer.
"We have a student here, Jennifer Rivington, whose father is thinking of taking her out of the school."
"I know who Jennifer is," Lauri said. "She's only partially impaired, but she's totally uncommunicative."
"For that reason her father is very concerned."
"Father? No mother?"
Dr. Norwood hesitated a moment before she said, "No, her mother is deceased. Her father has an unusual job. It has been necessary for him to board Jennifer with us since she was an infant. She hasn't adjusted well. Now he wants to hire a private tutor to stay with her at home. I thought you might be interested, Lauri."
Lauri knit her auburn brows together in a soft frown. "I don't know. Could you be more specific?"
The gray-haired lady with the intelligent blue eyes studied her most dedicated teacher. "Not just now. I will tell you that Mr. Rivington wants the tutor to take Jennifer to New Mexico to live. He has a house in a small community in the mountains." Dr. Norwood smiled gently. "I know you'd like to get away from New York. And you're certainly qualified to take on a job like this."
Lauri laughed softly. "Having grown up in Nebraska, I find New York somewhat stifling and crowded. I've been here eight years, and I still miss the wide open spaces." She brushed back a vagrant auburn curl. "It sounds to me as if Mr. Rivington is shirking his responsibility to rear his own daughter. Is he one of those parents who resents the child for being deaf?"
Dr. Norwood looked down at her well-manicured hands, which were clasped together on top of her desk. "Don't be so quick to judge, Lauri," she chided gently. Sometimes her protégée let her temper get the best of her. If Lauri Parrish had a fault, it was jumping to conclusions. "As I mentioned, the circumstances are unusual."
She stood up briskly, indicating that the meeting was over. "You don't have to make a decision today, Lauri. I want you to observe Jennifer for the next few days. Spend some time with her. Then, when it's convenient, I think you and Mr. Rivington should get together and talk."
"I'll cooperate any way I can, Doctor Norwood."
When Lauri reached the frosted-glass door, Dr. Norwood halted her. "Lauri, in case you were wondering, money is no object."
Lauri answered with complete honesty. "Doctor Norwood, if I accepted any private tutoring job, it would be because I thought that is what the child needed."
"I thought so," Dr. Norwood replied, smiling.
This morning Dr. Norwood had slipped her a piece of paper with an address on it and said, "You are to go to this address at three o'clock today. Ask for Mr. D. L. Rivington. He'll be expecting you."
Lauri had been astonished when the cab driver stopped at the specified address and she saw that it was a building that housed studios for a television network. She had entered the building with her curiosity in the mysterious Mr. Rivington piqued. When she asked for him at the reception desk, the beautiful young receptionist looked puzzled for a moment then giggled as she said, "Third floor."
Lauri started for the elevator but the girl said, "Just a minute. What's your name?" Lauri gave it. The receptionist ran her finger down a typed list, then said, "There you are. Miss L. Parrish. You can go right up, but be very quiet. They're still taping."
Lauri stepped off the elevator and found herself in a cavernous television studio. She was awed by the equipment and activity.
The barnlike studio was sectioned off into the various sets for the soap opera. One set was furnished with a hospital bed and dummy medical equipment. Another was a living room. There was a tiny kitchen set barely four feet across. She wandered around the studio, peeking curiously at the sets, trying not to trip on the miles of cable that snaked over the floor and coiled around the studio cameras and monitors.
"Hey, cutie, whaddaya need?" a jean-clad cameraman asked her in a fresh chirp.
Startled, Lauri stammered, "I—uh—yes. Mr. Rivington? I need to see him."
"Mr. Rivington?" the cameraman crowed as if she had said something funny. "That's heavy. Did you pass muster downstairs?" She nodded. "Then you can see him. Can you wait till we get this scene in the can?"
"I—yes," she said, agreeing to whatever his jargon was supposed to mean.
"Stand over here and be quiet and don't touch anything," the technician warned.
Lauri stood behind the cameras that were focused on a set of what looked to her like a hospital lounge.
Now, during this unexpected break, she watched the actor who was the heartthrob of millions of American women. He was sitting leisurely on one of the prop tables, eating an apple he had pilfered from the basket on the table. Lauri wondered if his fans would be so enthralled with him if they had heard Drake Sloan speak so unchivalrously to his co-star. But then, that rudeness was part of his appeal, wasn't it? He was the macho male doctor who ran roughshod over everyone else in the fictitious hospital and reduced all the women to quivering jelly with his domineering manner and seductive good looks.
Well, thought Lauri objectively, that many women couldn't all be wrong. He did have a certain animal appeal—if you liked that type. It was his coloring that first attracted one's attention. His hair was an unusual ash-brown, but under the studio lights it appeared almost silver. Contrasting with that strange silver hair were dark, thick brows and a dark mustache. The mustache added to the insolent sensuality of his bottom lip and drove housewives, career girls, and grandmothers wild with desire. His most arresting feature was his eyes. They were a vibrant green. In close-up shots, they smoldered with a fire guaranteed to melt the heart of the most frigid female.
From her observation point outside the circle formed by the intense studio lights, Lauri watched Drake Sloan as he stood up, stretched like a lazy cat, and tossed the apple core into a wastebasket with an expert hook shot.
Lauri scoffed at his costume. She doubted that any doctor wearing pants that tight could go about the business of healing the sick. The green surgical attire had been tailored to fit Drake Sloan's tall, lean frame like a second skin. The shirt was cut in a deep V that revealed a chest furred with dark hair. As if that would be allowed in an operating room! Lauri thought.
Hearing a soothing voice behind her, Lauri turned. The man she assumed to be the one who had spoken from the control room above was coming toward the set with the offended actress under his solicitous arm.
"He won't take direction," she was complaining. "He knows the blocking, but when the camera comes on, he does whatever he damn well pleases."
"I know, I know, Lois. Can't you be my dependable girl and tolerate him for me?" the director asked commiseratively. "Let's get through today's schedule, and then we'll talk about it over a drink. I'll speak to Drake. Okay? Now, let me see that dazzling smile."
What rubbish. Lauri groaned silently. Artistic temperament. She knew all about it. Tell them what they want to hear and alleviate the paranoia until the next outbreak.
The two joined Drake Sloan on the set, and the three of them held a brief discussion. The crew, who had been enjoying the respite by smoking cigarettes, reading magazines, or talking together, resumed their positions behind the cameras and adjusted the connecting earphones onto their heads. It was through these that each one received his instructions from the director in the control booth.
The boom-microphone operator was toying with his intricate machine. With its erratic, disjointed movements, it resembled the skeleton of some prehistoric animal.
The director kissed Lois on the cheek and stepped back off the set. "Before I go back upstairs, let's walk through the scene one more time. Kiss her like you mean it, Drake. She's your lover, remember?"
"Has your lover ever had anchovy pizza for lunch, Murray?"
Lois screamed in indignation.
The crew burst out laughing at her expense. Murray managed to calm her down once again. Then he said, "Tape's rolling."
One of the cameras had assumed a new position that blocked Lauri's vantage point. In spite of herself she had grown interested in this videotaping session. She moved to an unobstructed spot where she could see and hear clearly. This time when their trite dialogue was completed, Drake Sloan took Lois in his arms and kissed her fiercely.
Lauri's heart skipped a beat as she watched his lips close over the actress's. One could almost feel that kiss, could almost imagine… She leaned against the prop table to get a better view. The sound of shattering glass swept everyone's eyes away from the actors on the set. They were all staring at her!
She jumped in reaction, mortified that she had called attention to herself. She hadn't seen the tall glass vase on the table. Now it lay splintered in a thousand pieces on the studio floor.
"Dammit!" Drake Sloan shouted. "What now?" He pushed Lois away from him and crossed the studio floor in three long determined strides. Murray followed him, dispirited and vexed, but calm. The actor bore down on Lauri and she cowered under his anger.
"Who the hell—"
"She's here to see Mr. Rivington," interrupted the cheeky cameraman who had spoken to Lauri before.
Drake Sloan pinned her to the floor with his green eyes, which were now glinting under the dark brows. They opened wider in curiosity. "Mr. Rivington, huh?" There was a twitter of laughter from the crew. "Murray, I had no idea you'd started allowing the Girl Scouts to visit the set for their field trips." This time the crew laughed in earnest.
Lauri was unimpressed by Drake Sloan's comic abilities and furious that she had become the object of his derision. Her temper matched the red highlights in her hair, and her brown eyes narrowed on him as she felt her hackles rise.
"I'm sorry I interrupted your—thing," she said haughtily. She didn't know what to call the taping session and didn't care. She turned away from Drake Sloan's cynical stare and spoke to Murray who seemed to be a decent person. "I'm Lauri Parrish and I was told to meet Mr. Rivington here at three o'clock. I apologize for the delay I've caused."
"It's just one of many today, I'm afraid," he said, sighing heavily. Glancing furtively at Drake Sloan, he said, "Mr. Rivington is busy. Could you wait for him in my office? He should be able to join you shortly."
"Yes, thank you," she answered. "I'll pay for the vase."
"Forget it. Go up the stairs and through the control room. It's the office right across the hall."
"Thank you," Lauri repeated before she turned and, aware that every eye in the studio was on her, climbed the circular staircase. By the time she reached the top, Murray had everyone back in position.
She would have liked to stop and look at the control board—an intimidating, complicated computer. The various monitors suspended above it allowed the director to see what shots the cameras had, and she saw Drake Sloan's face rolling into and out of focus. She was tempted to stick her tongue out at him.
She collapsed in the only available chair in the office besides the one of cracked vinyl that stood behind the cluttered desk. She studied the dusty pictures on the wall that had captured Murray what's-his-name in the company of actresses, directors, and VIPs.
Who was this Mr. Rivington anyway? Was he a network executive? A technician? No. He was someone who had money, for the Norwood Institute was expensive. And Mr. Rivington boarded Jennifer there, which increased the expense threefold. The minutes seemed to stretch out, and Lauri was beginning to grow impatient when she heard the door open behind her.
Drake Sloan walked in and shut the door quietly behind him.
Lauri stood up in a defensive motion. "I'm to meet—"
"I'm D. L. Rivington, Jennifer's father."
Lauri felt her lips forming a small round O. She stared at him as he leaned against the door. He had changed clothes. He was wearing jeans and a pullover sweater. The loose sleeves had been casually pushed up to his elbows.
"You seem surprised."
"Doctor Norwood didn't tell you my professional name." It wasn't a question. He scratched his ear absently. "No, I guess she wouldn't. No doubt she was afraid of prejudicing you against me. Actors have abominable reputations, you know." The corners of his mouth lifted in the semblance of a grin that vanished as quickly as it appeared. "Especially if everything you read in the fan magazines is true. Did you know that I forced my current girlfriend to have an abortion last week? At least that's what I read," he said caustically.
Lauri was still too shocked to speak. She thought wryly about the other teachers in the school and what they would say if they knew she was in the same room with Dr. Glen Hambrick/Drake Sloan.
Lauri was always cool and competent—except when her temper gained control. Why, then, was she standing here with her sweaty hands clasped together? She hadn't moved since he had announced his identity. Her tongue felt glued to the roof of her mouth.
"If it gives you any comfort, Miss Parrish, you're not quite what I expected either." He pushed away from the door and instinctively Lauri took a step backward.
He smiled the smile that deepened the famous dimple in his right cheek. He knew she was uneasy at being alone with him in the small office. That infuriated her: Who was he anyway? She wasn't going to stand here like a groupie in the presence of some rock-star idol and stutter like an idiot. Drake Sloan put his pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else.
"It's Ms. Parrish."
He lifted an amused eyebrow and muttered, "I should have known." His superior attitude irritated her.
She said in her most professional voice, "Doctor Norwood sent me here to talk about Jennifer, Mr. Rivington."
"Drake. Would you like some coffee?" He indicated a coffee maker on which a pot of coffee as black and thick as pitch was warming. Lauri didn't want any, but realized it would give her something to hold except her other hand.
He crossed to the small table and looked dubiously into a cup whose degree of cleanliness was questionable. He poured the coffee and raised an inquiring brow. "Cream? Sugar?"
He added a powdered product to the coffee and stirred it with a stained plastic spoon that had obviously already been used for that purpose. He handed her the cup. She closed her hand around it. He didn't release it at first, but continued to hold the cup until she looked up at him. She swallowed hard at her first glimpse into the emerald eyes that now reflected an image of her.
"I've never seen anyone with eyes the same color as their hair," he said.
Lauri knew her auburn hair was beautiful. It was a deep russet that lightened in the sunlight. What made her more than an exceptional redhead was the color of her eyes. They were such a light brown, they looked almost topaz until one compared them to her hair, when they took on that unusual auburn hue. The yellow linen suit accented her hair and eyes and added a glow to her honey-apricot complexion.
Thank you wouldn't really be an appropriate response to his statement, for it hadn't been a true compliment. Lauri only smiled tremulously and tried more forcefully to pull the coffee cup out of his hand. He gave in and turned to pour himself one.
"Tell me about my daughter, Ms. Parrish," he said, stressing the form of address with heavy sarcasm. He went behind the desk, settling into the creaking chair, and propped his feet on the desk.
Lauri sat tense and straight on the chair facing him. She sipped her coffee. It was as bad as she had anticipated it would be. He chuckled at her grimace. "I apologize for the quality."
"It's fine, Mr. Sl—Rivington."
She was staring down into the coffee cup and, when he didn't say anything, she looked up at him. To her surprise he signed his name with the alphabet for the deaf. D-R-A-K-E. His dark brows lowered over his eyes, which seemed to insist she use his first name.
She licked her lips nervously, smiled slightly, and then signed Lauri. He lowered his feet, leaned forward in the chair, rested his elbows on the desk, and supported his chin on his fists.
Lauri decided now was as good a time as any to test his expertise at sign language. Dr. Norwood had been judiciously reticent about Drake Rivington. Lauri now understood that her supervisor had wanted her to form her own opinion of him. Using slow and precise gestures, Lauri asked him in sign language, Do you use sign language with Jennifer?
"I understood Jennifer, that's all," he said when she stopped.
She tried again and asked him in sign, How old is your daughter? He didn't react at all. He just sat there staring at her with those green eyes that had suddenly become expressionless. Lauri signed What color is her hair? Nothing. Do you love Jennifer?
"Jennifer again. I'm sorry I don't know the rest. I think this is love." He crossed his arms over his chest as she had done.
"Yes, that's right, Drake. From now on, this will be your name so you won't have to spell it out each time."
She made the sign for the letter D and touched it to the middle of her forehead. "This is father," she said, touching her forehead with her thumb, her other fingers spread. "We'll combine the two. See?"
He nodded. "This is Lauri." She made the letter L and stroked the side of her face from cheekbone to chin. "This is girl," she said, stroking her cheek with her thumb while her hand was held in a gentle fist. "See how we combine the two signs to form someone's name?"
"Yeah," he said with a trace of excitement. "For Jennifer we make the letter J with our little finger and then a curly sign to indicate her curly hair."
"Exactly!" They smiled across at each other, and for a moment their eyes locked. There was a strange but pleasant stirring deep within her. She had a fleeting knowledge of how other women must feel when they watched this handsome face on their television screens each afternoon. He was indeed charismatic and he knew it. If she didn't watch herself, he could deter her from the things she had come to say to him.
"Drake," she was signing everything now, even as she spoke it, in the habit of teachers who worked with the deaf. "Doctor Norwood asked me to evaluate Jennifer's progress. I've been observing her for several days. I feel that my opinion is an educated one, but that's all it is, an opinion. However, I'm going to be totally honest with you."
"I want you to be. I'm sure you think the worst of a father who has had his daughter institutionalized for most of her three years, but I love her. I'm concerned about her. And I want to do what's best for her." He stood up and went to the window. With his back to Lauri, he looked through the grimy glass.
"Please watch me sign, Drake. It will help you learn it." He faced her again as if about to issue a challenge, but he shrugged and returned to the chair.
She continued quietly. "You are fortunate that Jennifer is not profoundly deaf. I'm sure you know by now that her deafness is the sensory neural type that, at this point in time, is irreparable. She can hear some loud noises. For instance she can distinguish between a helicopter and a whistle." She paused to see if he would comment. He didn't, so she continued. "Unfortunately she doesn't know the name for a whistle or a helicopter. Or maybe she knows and just doesn't reveal to us that she does. She's almost totally unresponsive to any communication."
The lines on either side of his mouth tightened. "Are you telling me she's retarded?"
"No, not at all," Lauri emphasized. "She's exceptionally bright. It's my opinion that she lacks in—Some children need to be taught on a one-to-one basis. I personally feel that it has been detrimental to Jennifer's development for her to be institutionalized. She needs to be in a home environment where she is constantly in the company of someone who… who…" she trailed off, not wanting to say what she thought might offend him.
"Who loves her? Is that what you're stammering about? I told you I love her. I didn't lock her up in that school because I was ashamed of her."
"I didn't mean to—"
"Of course you did!" he barked. "Since you're so smart, you tell me what a widower with an infant child does with that child. Especially if that child is deaf. Huh? That fancy school of yours is expensive, you know. I have to work hard to afford it. And the medical bills after a million tests that don't tell you one damn thing except that your little girl is deaf, which you already knew, or you wouldn't have put her through those awful goddamn tests in the first place."
He paused to draw a breath, his green eyes flashing dangerously. "At least we concur on one thing. Jennifer needs to be privately tutored." He stood up abruptly, sending the chair flying backward on squeaky coasters. "But not by you." He stormed around the desk and braced his strong arms on the sides of her chair, imprisoning her in it.
"I told Doctor Norwood I wanted someone responsible. I was looking for a grandmotherly type in a baggy sweater with large pockets—not a chick in a designer suit." His eyes flicked over her body in an insulting assessment. "Someone with gray hair pulled back into a neat bun, not flaming red hair flowing in the unmistakable lines of a Sassoon cut. Someone slightly overweight with a plump, matronly figure, not flaunting pert little breasts and a tight little rear." Lauri flushed hotly with anger and embarrassment. How dare he!
"Jennifer's tutor should have thick ankles and wear sensible shoes, not—" He indicated her trim calves, encased in sheer stockings and the high-heeled ankle-strap sandals she was wearing. "You don't look like a tutor for a deaf child. You look like one of the girls who hand out the fragrance samples in Bergdorf's."
He leaned down even closer until his head was almost touching hers. Before she could react, he buried his face in the soft hair behind her ear. "You smell like them too," he whispered huskily.
For an instant Lauri couldn't breathe. But when she could, his own scent assailed her. It was clean and musky and male. What was the matter with her? She jerked her head away from him.
"You—Let me up from here this instant," she demanded, pushing against the wall of his chest. Surprisingly he straightened up and stepped away from the chair as she bolted out of it. She took several deep, restorative breaths before she said, "I may not live up to your expectations, but you certainly confirmed mine, Mr. Sloan." She said the name like an epithet.
"You don't deserve your daughter. She's beautiful and intelligent and sweet. But she's dying. Do you hear me? She's dying emotionally because her only parent hasn't taken it upon himself to learn a language she can understand, much less try to teach her that language. It's parents like you who set deaf education back to the Helen Keller days. I'm a teacher—"
"You're a girl."
"I'm a woman—"
"Ahhh, now we get to my next point," he said, pointing an accusing finger at her. "Don't pretend you didn't like my touching you. I know better. How do I know that if I set you up out in New Mexico, you won't run off with the first unattached man that comes along? Isn't that what all you liberated career girls really want? A husband?"
Lauri could feel the heat of her fury burning to the roots of her hair. "I've had one. It wasn't a very happy marriage."
She whirled away from him before she could say anything else that might prove to be regrettable. After all, Dr. Norwood had sent her on this mission and would expect a report. At the door she turned to see him leaning against the desk with ankles crossed. His smug, satisfied attitude was evident in the mocking eyes, the indolent stance, and the curled lip under the thick mustache.
Slowly and deliberately Lauri said, "You are the most arrogant, ill-mannered, insufferable—" She signed the last word.
"What does that mean?" he snapped, as he quickly pushed away from the desk.
"You figure it out, Mr. Sloan."
She slammed the door behind her.
"Lauri, you'll never guess—"
"Brigette, I'm in the middle of a class. What is it?"
The teacher who had burst into Lauri's classroom of seven-year-old students looked completely flustered, and she stammered as she said, "You'll never guess who's out there asking for you. I mean, I've seen him a million times. I'd know him anywhere. But then there he was, standing out in the hallway, asking for you—"
- On Sale
- Jan 1, 1995
- Page Count
- 288 pages