Mrs. Rhys Williams.
Elizabeth could not believe it. The whole thing had an air of unreality. It was something out of a blissful girlhood dream. Elizabeth remembered how she had written in her exercise book, over and over, Mrs. Rhys Williams, Mrs. Rhys Williams. She glanced down now at the wedding ring on her finger.
Rhys said, "What are you grinning about?" He was seated in an easy chair across from her in the luxurious Boeing 707-320. They wre thirty-five thousand feet somewhere above the Atlantic ocean, dining on Iranian caviar and drinking chilled Don Perignon, and it was such a cliche of La Dolce Vita that Elizabeth had to laugh aloud.
Rhys smiled. "Something I said?"
Elizabeth shook her head. She looked at him and marveled at how attractive he was. Her husband. "I'm just happy."
He would never know how happy. How could she tell him how much this marriage meant to her? He would not understand, because to Rhys it was not a marriage, it was a business proposition. But she loved Rhys. It seemed to Elizabeth that she had always loved him. She wanted to spend the rest of her life with him, have his children, belong to him, have him belong to her. Elizabeth looked over at Rhys again and thought wryly, But first I have to solve one small problem. I have to find a way to make him fall in love with me.
Elizabeth had proposed to Rhys the day of her meeting with Julius Badrutt. After the banker had left, Elizabeth had carefully brushed her hair, walked into Rhy's office, taken a deep breath and said, "Rhys - would you marry me?"
She had seen the look of surprise on his face, and before he could speak, she had gone hurriedly on, trying to sound efficient and cool. "It would be a purely business arrangement. The banks are willing to extend our loans if you take over as president of Roffe and Sons. The only way you can do that" - to Elizabeth's horror her voice had cracked - "is to marry a member of the family, and I - I seem to be the only one available."
She felt her face flush. She could not look at him.
"It wouldn't be a real marriage, of course," Elizabeth had said, "in the sense that - I mean - you'd be free to - to come and go as you pleased."
He had watched her, not helping her. Elizabeth wished he would say something. Anything.
"Rhys - "
"Sorry. You took me by surprise." He had smiled. "It isn't every day a man gets proposed to by a beautiful girl."
He was smiling, trying to get out of this without hurting her feelings. I'm sorry, Elizabeth, but -
"You have a deal," Rhys said.
And Elizabeth had suddenly felt as though a heavy burden had been lifted from her. She had not realized until that moment how important this had been. She had bought time now to learn who the enemy was. Together she and Rhys could stop all the terrible things that had been happening. There was one thing she had to make clear to him.
"You will be president of the company," she had said, "but the voting control of the stock will remain in my hands."
Rhys had frowned. "If I'm running the company - "
"You will be," Elizabeth had assured him.
"But the controlling stock - "
"Stays in my name. I want to make sure that it can't be sold."
She could sense his disapproval. She had wanted to tell him that she had reached a decision. She had decided that the company should go public, that the members of the board should be able to sell their shares. With Rhys as president, Elizabeth would no longer have any fears about strangers coming in and taking over. Rhys would be strong enough to handle them. But Elizabeth could not let that happen until she found out who was trying to destroy the company. She had wanted desperately to tell Rhys all these things, but she knew that now was not the time, and so all she said was "Other than that, you'll have complete control."
Rhys had stood there, silently studying her for what seemed a long time. When he spoke, he said, "When would you like to get married?"
"As soon as possible."
Except for Anna and Walther, who was home, ill, they all came to Zurich for the wedding. Alec and Vivian, Helene and Charles, Simonetta and Ivo. They seemed delighted for Elizabeth, and their pleasure made her feel like a fraud. She had not made a marriage, she had made a business deal.
Alec hugged her and said, "You know I wish you everything wonderful."
"I know, Alec. Thank you."
Ivo waxed ecstatic. "Carissima, tanti auguri e figli maschi. 'To find riches is a beggar's dream, but to find love is the dream of kings.'"
Elizabeth smiled. "Who said that?"
"I did," Ivo declared. "I hope Rhys appreciates what a lucky man he is."
"I keep telling him," she said lightly.
Helene took Elizabeth aside. "You are full of surprises, ma chere. I had no idea that you and Rhys were interested in each other."
"It happened suddenly."
Helene studied her with cool, calculating eyes. "Yes. I'm sure it did." And she walked away.
After the ceremony there was a wedding reception at the Baur-au-Lac. On the surface it was gay and festive, but Elizabeth felt the undercurrents. There was something evil in the room, a malediction, but she could not tell from whom it was coming. All she knew was that someone in the room hated her. She could feel it, deep down inside her, yet when she looked around, all she saw were smiles and friendly faces. Charles raising his glass in a toast to her...Elizabeth had received a report on the laboratory explosion. The explosive was manufactured by your factory outside Paris.
Ivo, a happy grin on his face...The banker who was caught trying to smuggle money out of Italy was set up. A man tipped off the border police. Ivo Palazzi.
Alec? Walther? Which? Elizabeth wondered.
The following morning a board meeting was held, and Rhys Williams was unanimously elected president and chief operating officer of Roffe and Sons. Charles raised the question that was on everyone's mind. "Now that you are running the company, are we going to be allowed to sell our stock?"
Elizabeth could feel the sudden tension in the room.
"The controlling stock is still in Elizabeth's hands," Rhys informed them. "It's her decision."
Every head turned toward Elizabeth.
"We're not selling," she announced.
When Elizabeth and Rhys were alone, he said, "How would you like to honeymoon in Rio?"
Elizabeth looked at him, and her heart soared. He added matter-of-factly, "Our manager there is threatening to quit. We can't afford to lose him. I was planning to fly there tomorrow to straighten things out. It would look a bit strange if I went without my bride."
Elizabeth nodded and said, "Yes, of course." You're a fool, she told herself. This was your idea. It's an arrangement, not a marriage. You have no right to expect anything from Rhys. And still, a small voice, deep inside her, said, Who knows what can happen?...
When they got off the plane at the Galeão airport, the air was surprisingly warm, and Elizabeth realized that in Rio it was summer. A Mercedes 600 was waiting for them. The chauffeur was a thin, dark-skinned man in his late twenties. When they got into the car, Rhys asked the driver, "Where's Luis?"
"Luis is sick, Mr. Williams. I'll be driving you and Mrs. Williams."
"Tell Luis I hope he'll be better soon."
The driver studied them in the rearview mirror and said, "I will."
Half an hour later they were driving along the esplanade, over the colorful tiles of the broad avenue along the Copacabana Beach. They pulled up in front of the modern Princessa Sugarloaf Hotel and a moment later, their luggage was being attended to. They were ushered into an enormous suite with four bedrooms, a beautiful living room, a kitchen, and a huge terrace overlooking the bay. The suite had been stocked with flowers in silver vases, champagne, whiskey, and boxes of chocolates. The manager himself had escorted them to their suite.
"If there is anything at all we can do for you - anything - I am personally at your service twenty-four hours a day." And he bowed himself out.
"They're certainly friendly," Elizabeth said.
Rhys laughed and replied, "They should be. You own this hotel."
Elizabeth felt herself color. "Oh. I - I didn't know."
"I - No, thank you," Elizabeth replied.
"Yes, thank you."
In her own ears her voice sounded stilted and unnatural. She was not certain how she was supposed to behave, or what to expect from Rhys. He had suddenly become a stranger, and she felt terribly conscious of the fact that they were alone in the honeymoon suite of a hotel, that it was getting late, and that it would soon be time for bed.
She watched Rhys as he deftly opened a bottle of champagne. He did everything so smoothly, with the easy assurance of a man who knows exactly what he wants and how to get it. What did he want?
Rhys carried a glass of champagne to Elizabeth and raised his own glass in a toast. "To beginnings," he said.
"To beginnings," Elizabeth echoed. And happy endings, she added silently.
We should smash our glasses into a fireplace. Elizabeth thought, to celebrate. She gulped down the rest of her champagne.
They were in Rio on their honeymoon, and she wanted Rhys. Not just for now, but forever.
The phone rang. Rhys picked it up and spoke into it briefly. When he finished he hung up and said to Elizabeth, "It's late. Why don't you get ready for bed?"
It seemed to Elizabeth that the word "bed" hung heavily in the air.
"Right," she said weakly. She turned and went into the bedroom where the bellboys had put their luggage. There was a large double bed in the center of the room. A maid had unpacked their suitcases and prepared the bed. On one side was a sheer silk nightgown of Elizabeth's, and on the other side a pair of men's blue pajamas. She hesitated a moment, then began to undress. When she was naked, she walked into the large mirrored dressing room and carefully removed her makeup. She wrapped a Turkish towel around her head, went into the bathroom and showered, slowly lathering her body and feeling the warm soapy water running between her breasts and down her belly and thighs, like warm wet fingers.
All the time she was trying not to think about Rhys, and she could think of nothing else. She thought of his arms around her and his body on hers. Had she married Rhys to help save the company, or was she using the company as an excuse because she wanted him? She no longer knew. Her desire had turned into one burning, all-consuming need. It was as though the fifteen-year-old child had been waiting for him all these years without being aware of it, and the need had turned into a hunger. She stepped out of the shower, dried herself with a soft warmed towel, put on the sheer silk nightgown, let her hair fall loose and free and climbed into bed. She lay there waiting, thinking about what was going to happen, wondering what he would be like, and she found that her heart was beginning to pound faster. She heard a sound and looked up. Rhys was standing in the doorway. He was fully dressed.
"I'll be going out now," he said.
Elizabeth sat up. "Where - where are you going?"
"It's a business problem I have to take care of." And he was gone.
Elizabeth lay awake all that night, tossing and turning, filled with conflicting emotions, telling herself how grateful she was that Rhys had kept to their agreement, feeling like a fool for what she had been anticipating, furious with him for rejecting her.
It was dawn when Elizabeth heard Rhys return. His footsteps moved toward the bedroom, and Elizabeth closed her eyes, pretending to be asleep. She could hear Rhys's breathing as he came over to the bed. He stood there, watching her for a long time. Then he turned and walked into the other room.
A few minutes later Elizabeth was asleep.
In the late morning they had breakfast on the terrace. Rhys was pleasant and chatty, telling her what the city was like at Carnival time. But he volunteered no information about where he had spent the night, and Elizabeth did not ask. One waiter took their order for breakfast. Elizabeth noticed that it was a different waiter who served it. She thought no more about it, nor about the maids who were constantly in and out of the suite.
Elizabeth and Rhys were at the Roffe and Sons factory on the outskirts of Rio , seated in the office of the plant manager, Senor Tumas, a middle-aged, frog-faced man who perspired copiously.
He was addressing Rhys. "You must understand how it is. Roffe and Sons is dearer to me than my own life. It is my family. When I leave here, it will be like leaving home. A part of my heart will be torn out. More than anything in the world, I want to stay here." He stopped to wipe his brow. "But I have a better offer from another company, and I have my wife and children and mother-in-law to think of. You understand?"
Rhys was leaning back in his chair, his legs casually stretched out before him. "Of course, Roberto. I know how much this company means to you. You have spent many years here. Still, a man has to think of his family."
"Thank you," Roberto said gratefully. "I knew I could count on you, Rhys."
"What about your contract with us?"
Tumas shrugged. "A piece of paper. We will tear it up, no? What good is a contract if a man is unhappy in his heart?"
Rhys nodded. "That's why we flew down here, Roberto - to make you happy in your heart"
Tumas sighed. "Ah, if only it were not too late. But I have already agreed to go to work for this other company."
"Do they know you're going to prison?" Rhys asked conversationally.
Tumas gaped at him. "Prison?"
Rhys, said, "The United States government has ordered every company doing business overseas to turn in a list of all foreign bribes they've paid over the past ten years. Unfortunately, you're heavily involved in that, Roberto. You've broken a few laws here. We had planned to protect you - as a faithful member of the family - but if you're not with us, there's no longer any reason to, is there?"
All the color had drained from Roberto's face. "But - but it was for the company that I did it," he protested. "I was only following orders."
Rhys nodded sympathetically. "Of course. You can explain that to the government at your trial." He rose to his feet and said to Elizabeth, "We'd better be starting back."
"Wait a minute," Roberto yelled. "You can't walk out and leave me like this."
Rhys said, "I think you're confused. You're the one who's leaving."
Tumas was mopping his brow again, his lips twitching uncontrollably. He walked over to the window and looked out. A heavy silence hung over the room. Finally, without turning, he said, "If I stay with the company - will I be protected?" "All the way," Rhys assured him.
They were in the Mercedes, the thin dark chauffeur at the wheel, driving back to the city. "You blackmailed him," Elizabeth declared.
Rhys nodded. "We couldn't afford to lose him. He was going over to a competitor. He knows too much about our business. He would have sold us out."
Elizabeth looked at Rhys and thought, I have so much to learn about him.
That evening they went to Mirander for dinner, and Rhys was charming and amusing and impersonal. Elizabeth felt as though he were hiding behind a facade of words, putting up a verbal smoke screen to conceal his feelings. When they finished dinner, it was after midnight. Elizabeth wanted to be alone with Rhys. She had hoped they would return to the hotel. Instead he said, "I'm going to show you some of the night life in Rio."
They made the rounds of nightclubs, and everyone seemed to know Rhys. Wherever they went, he was the center of attenion, charming everyone. They were invited to join couples at other tables, and groups of people joined them at their table. Elizabeth and Rhys were never alone for a moment. It seemed to Elizabeth that it was intentional, that Rhys was deliberately putting a wall of people beween them. They had been friends before, and now they were - what? Elizabeth only knew that there was some unseen barrier between them. What was he afraid of and why?
At the fourth nightclub, where they had joined a table with half a dozen of Rhys's friends, Elizabeth decided she had had enough. She broke into the conversation between Rhys and a lovely-looking Spanish girl. "I haven't had a chance to dance with my husband. I'm sure you'll excuse us."
Rhys looked at her in quick surprise, then rose to his feet. "I'm afraid I've been neglecting my bride," he said lightly to the others. He took Elizabeth's arm and led her out to the dance floor. She was holding herself stiffly, and he looked at her face and said, "You're angry."
He was right, but it was an anger directed at herself. She had made the rules, and was upset now because Rhys would not break them. But it was more than that, of course. It was not knowing how Rhys felt. Was he sticking to their agreement because of a sense of honor, or because he was simply not interested in her? She had to know.
Rhys said, "Sorry about all these people, Liz, but they're in the business, and in one way or another they can be helpful to us."
So he was aware of her feelings. She could feel his arms around her, his body against hers. She thought, It feels right. Everything about Rhys was right for her. They belonged together. She knew it. But did he know how much she wanted him? Elizabeth's pride would not let her tell him. And yet he must feel something. She closed her eyes and pressed closer to him. Time had stopped and there was nothing but the two of them and the soft music and the magic of this moment. She could have gone on dancing forever in Rhys's arms. She relaxed and gave herself up to him completely and she began to feel his male hardness pressing against her thighs. She opened her eyes and looked up at him and there was something in his eyes she had never seen there before, an urgency, a wanting, that was a reflection of her own.
When he spoke, his voice was hoarse. He said, "Let's go back to the hotel."
And she could not speak.
When he helped her on with her wrap, his fingers burned her skin. They sat apart in the back of the limousine, afraid to touch. Elizabeth felt as if she were on fire. It seemed to her that it took an eternity for them to reach their suite. She did not think she could wait another moment. As the door closed, they came together in a wonderful wild hunger that swept through both of them. She was in his arms and there was a ferocity in him that she had never known. He picked her up and carried her into the bedroom. They could not get their clothes off quickly enough. We're like eager children, Elizabeth thought, and she wondered why it had taken Rhys all this time. But it did not matter now. Nothing mattered except their nakedness and the wonderful feel of his body against hers. They were in bed, exploring each other, and Elizabeth gently pulled away from his embrace and started kissing him, her tongue moving down his lean, taut body, embracing him with her lips, feeling his velvet hardness inside her mouth. His hands were on her hips, turning her on her side, and his mouth was running down between her thighs, parting them to his tongue and thrusting into the sweetness there, and when neither of them could bear it an instant longer, he moved on top of her and slowly slid inside her, thrusting deep and making gently circling motions and she began to move to his rhythm, their rhythm, the rhythm of the universe, and everything began to move faster and faster, spinning out of control, until there was a vast ecstatic explosion and the earth became still and peaceful again.
They lay there, holding each other close, and Elizabeth thought joyfully, Mrs. Rhys Williams.