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The Best Laid Plans

Sidney Sheldon

Chapter 1

  The first entry in Leslie Stewart's diary read:

  Dear Diary: This morning I met the man I am going to marry.

  It was a simple, optimistic statement, with not the slightest portent of the dramatic chain of events that was about to occur.

  It was one of those rare, serendipitous days when nothing could go wrong, when nothing would dare go wrong. Leslie Stewart had no interest in astrology, but that morning, as she was leafing through the Lexington Herald-Leader, a horoscope in an astrology column by Zoltaire caught her eye. It read:


  Be prepared to enjoy what? Leslie thought wryly. Today was going to be like every other day. Astrology was nonsense, mind candy for fools.

  Leslie Stewart was a public relations and advertising executive at the Lexington, Kentucky firm of Bailey & Tomkins. She had three meetings scheduled for that afternoon, the first with the Kentucky Fertilizer Company, whose executives were excited about the new campaign she was working up for them. They especially liked its beginning: "If you want to smell the roses. . . " The second meeting was with the Breeders Stud Farm, and the third with the Lexington Coal Company. Red-letter day?

  In her late twenties, with a slim, provocative figure, Leslie Stewart had an exciting, exotic look; gray, sloe eyes, high cheekbones, and soft, honey-colored hair, which she wore long and elegantly simple. A friend of Leslie's had once told her, "If you're beautiful and have a brain and a vagina, you can own the world. "

  Leslie Stewart was beautiful and had an IQ of 170, and nature had taken care of the rest. But she found her looks a disadvantage. Men were constantly propositioning her or proposing, but few of them bothered to try really to get to know her.

  Aside from the two secretaries who worked at Bailey & Tomkins, Leslie was the only woman there. There were fifteen male employees. It had taken Leslie less than a week to learn that she was more intelligent than any of them. It was a discovery she decided to keep to herself.

  In the beginning, both partners, Jim Bailey, an overweight, soft-spoken man in his forties, and Al Tomkins, anorexic and hyper, ten years younger than Bailey, individually tried to talk Leslie into going to bed with them.

  She had stopped them very simply. "Ask me once more, and I'll quit. "

  That had put an end to that. Leslie was too valuable an employee to lose.

  Her first week on the job, during a coffee break, Leslie had told her fellow employees a joke.

  "Three men came across a female genie who promised to grant each one a wish. The first man said, 'T wish I were twenty-five percent smarter. ' The genie blinked, and the man said, 'Hey, I feel smarter already. '

  "The second man said, 'I wish I were fifty percent smarter. ' The genie blinked, and the man exclaimed, 'That's wonderful! I think I know things now that I didn't know before. '

  "The third man said, 'I'd like to be one hundred percent smarter. '

  "So the genie blinked, and the man changed into a woman. "

  Leslie looked expectantly at the men at the table. They were all staring at her, unamused.

  Point taken.

  The red-letter day that the astrologer had promised began at eleven o'clock that morning. Jim Bailey walked into Leslie's tiny, cramped office.

  "We have a new client," he announced. "I want you to take charge. "

  She was already handling more accounts than anyone else at the firm, but she knew better than to protest.

  "Fine," she said. "What is it?"

  "It's not a what, it's a who. You've heard of Oliver Russell, of course?"

  Everyone had heard of Oliver Russell. A local attorney and candidate for governor, he had his face on billboards all over Kentucky. With his brilliant legal record, he was considered, at thirty-five, the most eligible bachelor in the state. He was on all the talk shows on the major television stations in Lexington - WDKY, WTVQ, WKYT - and on the popular local radio stations, WKQQ and WLRO. Strikingly handsome, with black, unruly hair, dark eyes, an athletic build, and a warm smile, he had the reputation of having slept with most of the ladies in Lexington.

  "Yes, I've heard of him. What are we going to do for him?"

  "We're going to try to help turn him into the governor of Kentucky. He's on his way here now. "

  Oliver Russell arrived a few minutes later. He was even more attractive in person than in his photographs.

  When he was introduced to Leslie, he smiled warmly. "I've heard a lot about you. I'm so glad you're going to handle my campaign. "

  He was not at all what Leslie had expected. There was a completely disarming sincerity about the man. For a moment, Leslie was at a loss for words.

  "I - thank you. Please sit down. "

  Oliver Russell took a seat.

  "Let's start at the beginning," Leslie suggested. "Why are you running for governor?"

  "It's very simple. Kentucky's a wonderful state. We know it is, because we live here, and we're able to enjoy its magic - but much of the country thinks of us as a bunch of hillbillies. I want to change that image. Kentucky has more to offer than a dozen other states combined. The history of this country began here. We have one of the oldest capitol buildings in America. Kentucky gave this country two presidents. It's the land of Daniel Boone and Kit Carson and Judge Roy Bean. We have the most beautiful scenery in the world - exciting caves, rivers, bluegrass fields - everything. I want to open all that up to the rest of the world. "

  He spoke with a deep conviction, and Leslie found herself strongly drawn to him. She thought of the astrology column. "The new moon illuminates your love life. Today will be a red-letter day. Be prepared to enjoy it. "

  Oliver Russell was saying, "The campaign won't work unless you believe in this as strongly as I do. "

  "I do," Leslie said quickly. Too quickly? "I'm really looking forward to this. " She hesitated a moment. "May I ask you a question?"

  "Certainly. "

  "What's your birth sign?"

  "Virgo. "

  After Oliver Russell left, Leslie went into Jim Bailey's office. "I like him," she said. "He's sincere. He really cares. I think he'd make a fine governor. "

  Jim looked at her thoughtfully. "It's not going to be easy. "

  She looked at him, puzzled. "Oh? Why?"

  Bailey shrugged. "I'm not sure. There's something going on that I can't explain. You've seen Russell on all the billboards and on television?"

  "Yes. "

  "Well, that's stopped. "

  "I don't understand. Why?"

  "No one knows for certain, but there are a lot of strange rumors. One of the rumors is that someone was backing Russell, putting up all the money for his campaign, and then for some reason suddenly dropped him. "

  "In the middle of a campaign he was winning? That doesn't make sense, Jim. "

  "I know. "

  "Why did he come to us?"

  "He really wants this. I think he's ambitious. And he feels he can make a difference. He would like us to figure out a campaign that won't cost him a lot of money. He can't afford to buy any more airtime or do much advertising. All we can really do for him is to arrange interviews, plant newspaper articles, that sort of thing. " He shook his head. "Governor Addison is spending a fortune on his campaign. In the last two weeks, Russell's gone way down in the polls. It's a shame. He's a good lawyer. Does a lot of pro bono work. I think he'd make a good governor, too. "

  That night Leslie made her first note in her new diary.

; Dear Diary: This morning I met the man I am going to marry.

  Leslie Stewart's early childhood was idyllic. She was an extraordinarily intelligent child. Her father was an English professor at Lexington Community College and her mother was a housewife. Leslie's father was a handsome man, patrician and intellectual. He was a caring father, and he saw to it that the family took their vacations together and traveled together. Her father adored her. "You're Daddy's girl," he would say. He would tell her how beautiful she looked and compliment her on her grades, her behavior, her friends. Leslie could do no wrong in his eyes. For her ninth birthday, her father bought her a beautiful brown velvet dress with lace cuffs. He would have her put the dress on, and he would show her off to his friends when they came to dinner. "Isn't she a beauty?" he would say.

  Leslie worshiped him.

  One morning, a year later, in a split second, Leslie's wonderful life vanished. Her mother, face stained with tears, sat her down. "Darling, your father has. . . left us. "

  Leslie did not understand at first. "When will he be back?"

  "He's not coming back. "

  And each word was a sharp knife.

  My mother has driven him away, Leslie thought. She felt sorry for her mother because now there would be a divorce and a custody fight. Her father would never let her go. Never. He'll come for me, Leslie told herself.

  But weeks passed, and her father never called. They won't let him come and see me, Leslie decided. Mother's punishing him.

  It was Leslie's elderly aunt who explained to the child that there would be no custody battle. Leslie's father had fallen in love with a widow who taught at the university and had moved in with her, in her house on Limestone Street.

  One day when they were out shopping, Leslie's mother pointed out the house. "That's where they live," she said bitterly.

  Leslie resolved to visit her father. When he sees me, she thought, he'll want to come home.

  On a Friday, after school, Leslie went to the house on Limestone Street and rang the doorbell. The door was opened by a girl Leslie's age. She was wearing a brown velvet dress with lace cuffs. Leslie stared at her, in shock.

  The little girl was looking at her curiously. "Who are you?"

  Leslie fled.

  Over the next year, Leslie watched her mother retire into herself. She had lost all interest in life. Leslie had believed that "dying of a broken heart" was an empty phrase, but Leslie helplessly watched her mother fade away and die, and when people asked her what her mother had died of, Leslie answered, "She died of a broken heart. "

  And Leslie resolved that no man would ever do that to her.

  After her mother's death, Leslie moved in with her aunt. Leslie attended Bryan Station High School and was graduated from the University of Kentucky summa cum laude. In her final year in college, she was voted beauty queen, and turned down numerous offers from modeling agencies.

  Leslie had two brief affairs, one with a college football hero, and the other with her economics professor. They quickly bored her. The fact was that she was brighter than both of them.

  Just before Leslie was graduated, her aunt died. Leslie finished school and applied for a job at the advertising and public relations agency of Bailey & Tomkins. Its offices were on Vine Street in a U-shaped brick building with a copper roof and a fountain in the courtyard.

  Jim Bailey, the senior partner, had examined Leslie's resume, and nodded. "Very impressive. You're in luck. We need a secretary. "

  "A secretary? I hoped - "


  "Nothing. "

  Leslie started as a secretary, taking notes at all the meetings, her mind all the while judging and thinking of ways to improve the advertising campaigns that were being suggested. One morning, an account executive was saying, "I've thought of the perfect logo for the Rancho Beef Chili account. On the label of the can, we show a picture of a cowboy roping a cow. It suggests that the beef is fresh, and - "

  That's a terrible idea, Leslie thought. They were all staring at her, and to her horror, Leslie realized she had spoken aloud.

  "Would you mind explaining that, young lady?"

  "I. . . " She wished she were somewhere else. Anywhere. They were all waiting. Leslie took a deep breath. "When people eat meat, they don't want to be reminded that they're eating a dead animal. "

  There was a heavy silence. Jim Bailey cleared his throat. "Maybe we should give this a little more thought. "

  The following week, during a meeting on how to publicize a new beauty soap account, one of the executives said, "We'll use beauty contest winners. "

  "Excuse me," Leslie said diffidently. "I believe that's been done. Why couldn't we use lovely flight attendants from around the world to show that our beauty soap is universal?"

  In the meetings after that, the men found themselves turning to Leslie for her opinion.

  A year later, she was a junior copywriter, and two years after that, she became an account executive, handling both advertising and publicity.

  Oliver Russell was the first real challenge that Leslie had had at the agency. Two weeks after Oliver Russell came to them, Bailey suggested to Leslie that it might be better to drop him, because he could not afford to pay their usual agency fee, but Leslie persuaded him to keep the account.

  "Call it pro bono," she said.

  Bailey studied her a moment. "Right. "

  Leslie and Oliver Russell were seated on a bench in Triangle Park. It was a cool fall day, with a soft breeze coming from the lake. "I hate politics," Oliver Russell said.

  Leslie looked at him in surprise. "Then why in the world are you - ?"

  "Because I want to change the system, Leslie. It's been taken over by lobbyists and corporations that help put the wrong people in power and then control them. There are a lot of things I want to do. " His voice was filled with passion. "The people who are running the country have turned it into an old boys' club. They care more about themselves than they do about the people. It's not right, and I'm going to try to correct that. "

  Leslie listened as Oliver went on, and she was thinking, He could do it. There was such a compelling excitement about him. The truth was that she found everything about him exciting. She had never felt this way about a man before, and it was an exhilarating experience. She had no way of knowing how he felt about her. He is always the perfect gentleman, damn him. It seemed to Leslie that every few minutes people were coming up to the park bench to shake Oliver's hand and to wish him well. The women were visually throwing daggers at Leslie. They've probably all been out with him, Leslie thought. They've probably all been to bed with him. Well, that's none of my business.

  She had heard that until recently he had been dating the daughter of a senator. She wondered what had happened. That's none of my business, either.

  There was no way to avoid the fact that Oliver's campaign was going badly. Without money to pay his staff, and no television, radio, or newspaper ads, it was impossible to compete with Governor Cary Addison, whose image seemed to be everywhere. Leslie arranged for Oliver to appear at company picnics, at factories, and at dozens of social events, but she knew these appearances were all minor-league, and it frustrated her.

  "Have you seen the latest polls?" Jim Bailey asked Leslie. "Your boy is going down the tubes. "

  Not if I can help it, Leslie thought.

  Leslie and Oliver were having dinner at Cheznous. "It's not working, is it?" Oliver asked quietly.

  "There's still plenty of time," Leslie said reassuringly. "When the voters get to know you - "

  Oliver shook his head. "I read the polls, too. I want you to know I appreciate everything you've tried to do for me, Leslie. You've been great. "

  She sat there looking at him across the table, thinking, He's the most wonderful man I've ever met, and I can't help him. She wanted to take him in her arms and hold him and console him. Console him? Who am I kidding?

  As they got
up to leave, a man, a woman, and two small girls approached the table.

  "Oliver! How are you?" The speaker was in his forties, an attractive-looking man with a black eye patch that gave him the raffish look of an amiable pirate.

  Oliver rose and held out his hand. "Hello, Peter. I'd like you to meet Leslie Stewart. Peter Tager. "

  "Hello, Leslie. " Tager nodded toward his family. "This is my wife, Betsy, and this is Elizabeth and this is Rebecca. " There was enormous pride in his voice.

  Peter Tager turned to Oliver. "I'm awfully sorry about what happened. It's a damned shame. I hated to do it, but I had no choice. "

  "I understand, Peter. "

  "If there was anything I could have done - "

  "It doesn't matter. I'm fine. "

  "You know I wish you only the best of luck. "

  On the way home, Leslie asked, "What was that all about?"

  Oliver started to say something, then stopped. "It's not important. "

  Leslie lived in a neat one-bedroom apartment in the Brandywine section of Lexington. As they approached the building, Oliver said hesitantly, "Leslie, I know that your agency is handling me for almost nothing, but frankly, I think you're wasting your time. It might be better if I just quit now. "

  "No," she said, and the intensity of her voice surprised her. "You can't quit. We'll find a way to make it work. "

  Oliver turned to look at her. "You really care, don't you?"

  Am I reading too much into that question? "Yes," she said quietly. "I really care. "

  When they arrived at her apartment, Leslie took a deep breath. "Would you like to come in?"

  He looked at her a long time. "Yes. "

  Afterward, she never knew who made the first move. All she remembered was that they were undressing each other and she was in his arms and there was a wild, feral haste in their lovemaking, and after that, a slow and easy melting, in a rhythm that was timeless and ecstatic. It was the most wonderful feeling Leslie had ever experienced.

  They were together the whole night, and it was magical. Oliver was insatiable, giving and demanding at the same time, and he went on forever. He was an animal. And Leslie thought, Oh, my God, I'm one, too.

  In the morning, over a breakfast of orange juice, scrambled eggs, toast, and bacon, Leslie said, "There's going to be a picnic at Green River Lake on Friday, Oliver. There will be a lot of people there. I'll arrange for you to make a speech. We'll buy radio time to let everyone know you're going to be there. Then we'll - "

  "Leslie," he protested, "I haven't the money to do that. "

  "Oh, don't worry about that," she said airily. "The agency will pay for it. "

  She knew that there was not the remotest chance that the agency would pay for it. She intended to do that herself. She would tell Jim Bailey that the money had been donated by a Russell supporter. And it would be the truth. I'll do anything in the world to help him, she thought.

  There were two hundred people at the picnic at Green River Lake, and when Oliver addressed the crowd, he was brilliant.

  "Half the people in this country don't vote," he told them. "We have the lowest voting record of any industrial country in the world - less than fifty percent. If you want things to change, it's your responsibility to make sure they do change. It's more than a responsibility, it's a privilege. There's an election coming up soon. Whether you vote for me or my opponent, vote. Be there. "

  They cheered him.

  Leslie arranged for Oliver to appear at as many functions as possible. He presided at the opening of a children's clinic, dedicated a bridge, talked to women's groups, labor groups, at charity events, and retirement homes. Still, he kept slipping in the polls. Whenever Oliver was not campaigning, he and Leslie found some time to be together. They went riding in a horse-drawn carriage through Triangle Park, spent a Saturday afternoon at the Antique Market, and had dinner at A la Lucie. Oliver gave Leslie flowers for Groundhog Day and on the anniversary of the Battle of Bull Run, and left loving messages on her answering machine: "Darling - where are you? I miss you, miss you, miss you. "

  "I'm madly in love with your answering machine. Do you have any idea how sexy it sounds?"

  "I think it must be illegal to be this happy. I love you. "

  It didn't matter to Leslie where she and Oliver went: She just wanted to be with him.

  One of the most exciting things they did was to go white-water rafting on the Russell Fork River one Sunday. The trip started innocently, gently, until the river began to pound its way around the base of the mountains in a giant loop that began a series of deafening, breathtaking vertical drops in the rapids: five feet. . . eight feet. . . nine feet. . . only a terrifying raft length apart. The trip took three and a half hours, and when Leslie and Oliver got off the raft, they were soaking wet and glad to be alive. They could not keep their hands off each other. They made love in their cabin, in the back of his automobile, in the woods.

  One early fall evening, Oliver prepared dinner at his home, a charming house in Versailles, a small town near Lexington. There were grilled flank steaks marinated in soy sauce, garlic, and herbs, served with baked potato, salad, and a perfect red wine.

  "You're a wonderful cook," Leslie told him. She snuggled up to him. "In fact, you're a wonderful everything, sweetheart. "

  "Thank you, my love. " He remembered something. "I have a little surprise for you that I want you to try. " He disappeared into the bedroom for a moment and came out carrying a small bottle with a clear liquid inside.

  "Here it is," he said.

  "What is it?"

  "Have you heard of Ecstasy?"

  "Heard of it? I'm in it. "

  "I mean the drug Ecstasy. This is liquid Ecstasy. It's supposed to be a great aphrodisiac. "

  Leslie frowned. "Darling - you don't need that. We don't need it. It could be dangerous. " She hesitated. "Do you use it often?"

  Oliver laughed. "As a matter of fact, I don't. Take that look off your face. A friend of mine gave me this and told me to try it. This would have been the first time. "

  "Let's not have a first time," Leslie said. "Will you throw it away?"

  "You're right. Of course I will. " He went into the bathroom, and a moment later Leslie heard the toilet flush. Oliver reappeared.

  "All gone. " He grinned. "Who needs Ecstasy in a bottle? I have it in a better package. "

  And he took her in his arms.

  Leslie had read the love stories and had heard the love songs, but nothing had prepared her for the incredible reality. She had always thought that romantic lyrics were sentimental nonsense, wishful dreaming. She knew better now. The world suddenly seemed brighter, more beautiful. Everything was touched with magic, and the magic was Oliver Russell.

  One Saturday morning, Oliver and Leslie were hiking in the Breaks Interstate Park, enjoying the spectacular scenery that surrounded them.

  "I've never been on this trail before," Leslie said.

  "I think you're going to enjoy it. "

  They were approaching a sharp curve in the path. As they rounded it, Leslie stopped, stunned. In the middle of the path was a hand-painted wooden sign: LESLIE, WILL YOU MARRY ME?

  Leslie's heart began to beat faster. She turned to Oliver, speechless.

  He took her in his arms. "Will you?"

  How did I get so lucky? Leslie wondered. She hugged him tightly and whispered, "Yes, darling. Of course I will. "

  "I'm afraid I can't promise you that you're going to marry a governor, but I'm a pretty good attorney. "

  She snuggled up to him and whispered, "That will do nicely. "

  A few nights later, Leslie was getting dressed to meet Oliver for dinner when he telephoned.

  "Darling, I'm terribly sorry, but I've bad news. I have to go to a meeting tonight, and I'll have to cancel our dinner. Will you forgive me?"

  Leslie smiled and said softly, "You're forgiven. "

  The following
day, Leslie picked up a copy of the State Journal. The headline read: WOMAN'S BODY FOUND IN KENTUCKY RIVER. The story went on: "Early this morning, the body of a nude woman who appeared to be in her early twenties was found by police in the Kentucky River ten miles east of Lexington. An autopsy is being performed to determine the cause of death. . . "

  Leslie shuddered as she read the story. To die so young. Did she have a lover? A husband? How thankful I am to be alive and so happy and so loved.

  It seemed that all of Lexington was talking about the forthcoming wedding. Lexington was a small town, and Oliver Russell was a popular figure. They were a spectacular-looking couple, Oliver dark and handsome, and Leslie with her lovely face and figure and honey-blond hair. The news had spread like wildfire.

  "I hope he knows how lucky he is," Jim Bailey said.

  Leslie smiled. "We're both lucky. "

  "Are you going to elope?"

  "No. Oliver wants to have a formal wedding. We're getting married at the Calvary Chapel church. "

  "When does the happy event take place?"

  "In six weeks. "

  A few days later, a story on the front page of the State Journal read: "An autopsy has revealed that the woman found in the Kentucky River, identified as Lisa Burnette, a legal secretary, died of an overdose of a dangerous illegal drug known on the streets as liquid Ecstasy. . . "

  Liquid Ecstasy. Leslie recalled the evening with Oliver. And she thought, How lucky it was that he threw that bottle away.

  The next few weeks were filled with frantic preparations for the wedding. There was so much to do. Invitations went out to two hundred people. Leslie chose a maid of honor and selected her outfit, a ballerina-length dress with matching shoes and gloves to complement the length of the sleeves. For herself, Leslie shopped at Fayette Mall on Nicholasville Road and selected a floor-length gown with a full skirt and a sweep train, shoes to match the gown, and long gloves.

  Oliver ordered a black cutaway coat with striped trousers, gray waistcoat, a wing-collared white shirt, and a striped ascot. His best man was a lawyer in his firm.

  "Everything is set," Oliver told Leslie. "I've made all the arrangements for the reception afterward. Almost everyone has accepted. "

  Leslie felt a small shiver go through her. "I can't wait, my darling. "

  On a Thursday night one week before the wedding, Oliver came to Leslie's apartment.

  "I'm afraid something has come up, Leslie. A client of mine is in trouble. I'm going to have to fly to Paris to straighten things out. "

  "Paris? How long will you be gone?"

  "It shouldn't take more than two or three days, four days at the most. I'll be back in plenty of time. "

  "Tell the pilot to fly safely. "

  "I promise. "

  When Oliver left, Leslie picked up the newspaper on the table. Idly, she turned to the horoscope by Zoltaire. It read:


  Leslie read the horoscope again, disturbed. She was almost tempted to telephone Oliver and tell him not to leave. But that's ridiculous, she thought. It's just a stupid horoscope.

  By Monday, Leslie had not heard from Oliver. She telephoned his office, but the staff had no information. There was no word from him Tuesday. Leslie was beginning to panic. At four o'clock on Wednesday morning, she was awakened by the insistent ringing of the telephone. She sat up in bed and thought: It's Oliver! Thank God. She knew that she should be angry with him for not calling her sooner, but that was unimportant now.

  She picked up the receiver. "Oliver. . . "

  A male voice said, "Is this Leslie Stewart?"

  She felt a sudden cold chill. "Who - who is this?"

  "Al Towers, Associated Press. We have a story going out on our wires, Miss Stewart, and we wanted to get your reaction. "

  Something terrible had happened. Oliver was dead.

  "Miss Stewart?"

  "Yes. " Her voice was a strangled whisper.

  "Could we get a quote from you?"

  "A quote?"

  "About Oliver Russell marrying Senator Todd Davis's daughter in Paris. "

  For an instant the room seemed to spin.

  "You and Mr. Russell were engaged, weren't you? If we could get a quote. . . "

  She sat there, frozen.

  "Miss Stewart. "

  She found her voice. "Yes. I - I wish them both well. " She replaced the receiver, numb. It was a nightmare. She would awaken in a few minutes and find that she had been dreaming.

  But this was no dream. She had been abandoned again. "Your father's not coming back. " She walked into the bathroom and stared at her pale image in the mirror. "We have a story going out on our wires. " Oliver had married someone else. Why? What have I done wrong? How have I failed him? But deep down she knew that it was Oliver who had failed her. He was gone. How could she face the future?

  When Leslie walked into the agency that morning, everyone was trying hard not to stare at her. She went into Jim Bailey's office.

  He took one look at her pale face and said, "You shouldn't have come in today, Leslie. Why don't you go home and - "

  She took a deep breath. "No, thank you. I'll be fine. "

  The radio and television newscasts and afternoon newspapers were filled with details of the Paris wedding. Senator Todd Davis was without doubt Kentucky's most influential citizen, and the story of his daughter's marriage and of the groom's jilting Leslie was big news.

  The phones in Leslie's office never stopped ringing.

  "This is the Courier-Journal, Miss Stewart. Could you give us a statement about the wedding?"

  "Yes. The only thing I care about is Oliver Russell's happiness. "

  "But you and he were going to be - "

  "It would have been a mistake for us to marry. Senator Davis's daughter was in his life first. Obviously, he never got over her. I wish them both well. "

  "This is the State Journal in Frankfort. . . "

  And so it went.

  It seemed to Leslie that half of Lexington pitied her, and the other half rejoiced at what had happened to her. Wherever Leslie went, there were whispers and hastily broken-off conversations. She was fiercely determined not to show her feelings.

  "How could you let him do this to - ?"

  "When you truly love someone," Leslie said firmly, "you want him to be happy. Oliver Russell is the finest human being I've ever known. I wish them both every happiness. "

  She sent notes of apology to all those who had been invited to the wedding and returned their gifts.

  Leslie had been half hoping for and half dreading the call from Oliver. Still, when it came, she was unprepared. She was shaken by the familiar sound of his voice.

  "Leslie. . . I don't know what to say. "

  "It's true, isn't it?"

  "Yes. "

  "Then there isn't anything to say. "

  "I just wanted to explain to you how it happened. Before I met you, Jan and I were almost engaged. And when I saw her again - I - I knew that I still loved her. "

  "I understand, Oliver. Goodbye. "

  Five minutes later, Leslie's secretary buzzed her. "There's a telephone call for you on line one, Miss Stewart. "

  "I don't want to talk to - "

  "It's Senator Davis. "

  The father of the bride. What does he want with me? Leslie wondered. She picked up the telephone.

  A deep southern voice said, "Miss Stewart?"

  "Yes. "

  "This is Todd Davis. I think you and I should have a little talk. "

  She hesitated. "Senator, I don't know what we - "

  "I'll pick you up in one hour. " The line went dead.

  Exactly one hour later, a limousine pulled up in front of the office building where Leslie worked. A chauffeur opened the car door for Leslie. Senator Davis was in the backseat. H
e was a distinguished-looking man with flowing white hair and a small, neat mustache. He had the face of a patriarch. Even in the fall he was dressed in his trademark white suit and white broad-brimmed leghorn hat. He was a classic figure from an earlier century, an old-fashioned southern gentleman.

  As Leslie got into the car, Senator Davis said, "You're a beautiful young woman. "

  "Thank you," she said stiffly.

  The limousine started off.

  "I didn't mean just physically, Miss Stewart. I've been hearing about the manner in which you've been handling this whole sordid matter. It must be very distressing for you. I couldn't believe the news when I heard it. " His voice filled with anger. "Whatever happened to good old-fashioned morality? To tell you the truth, I'm disgusted with Oliver for treating you so shabbily. And I'm furious with Jan for marrying him. In a way, I feel guilty, because she's my daughter. They deserve each other. " His voice was choked with emotion.

  They rode in silence for a while. When Leslie finally spoke, she said, "I know Oliver. I'm sure he didn't mean to hurt me. What happened. . . just happened. I want only the best for him. He deserves that, and I wouldn't do anything to stand in his way. "

  "That's very gracious of you. " He studied her a moment. "You really are a remarkable young lady. "

  The limousine had come to a stop. Leslie looked out the window. They had reached Paris Pike, at the Kentucky Horse Center. There were more than a hundred horse farms in and around Lexington, and the largest of them was owned by Senator Davis. As far as the eye could see were white plank fences, white paddocks with red trim, and rolling Kentucky bluegrass.

  Leslie and Senator Davis stepped out of the car and walked over to the fence surrounding the racetrack. They stood there a few moments, watching the beautiful animals working out.

  Senator Davis turned to Leslie. "I'm a simple man," he said quietly. "Oh, I know how that must sound to you, but it's the truth. I was born here, and I could spend the rest of my life here. There's no place in the world like it. Just look around you, Miss Stewart. This is as close as we may ever come to heaven. Can you blame me for not wanting to leave all this? Mark Twain said that when the world came to an end, he wanted to be in Kentucky, because it's always a good twenty years behind. I have to spend half my life in Washington, and I loathe it. "

  "Then why do you do it?"

  "Because I have a sense of obligation. Our people voted me into the Senate, and until they vote me out, I'll be there trying to do the best job I can. " He abruptly changed the subject. "I want you to know how much I admire your sentiments and the way you've behaved. If you had been nasty about this, I suppose it could have created quite a scandal. As it is, well - I'd like to show my appreciation. "

  Leslie looked at him.

  "I thought that perhaps you would like to get away for a while, take a little trip abroad, spend some time traveling. Naturally, I'd pick up all the - "

  "Please don't do this. "

  "I was only - "

  "I know. I haven't met your daughter, Senator Davis, but if Oliver loves her, she must be very special. I hope they'll be happy. "

  He said awkwardly, "I think you should know they're coming back here to get married again. In Paris, it was a civil ceremony, but Jan wants a church wedding here. "

  It was a stab in the heart. "I see. All right. They have nothing to worry about. "

  "Thank you. "

  The wedding took place two weeks later, in the Calvary Chapel church where Leslie and Oliver were to have been married. The church was packed.

  Oliver Russell, Jan, and Senator Todd Davis were standing before the minister at the altar. Jan Davis was an attractive brunette, with an imposing figure and an aristocratic air.

  The minister was nearing the end of the ceremony. "God meant for man and woman to be united in holy matrimony, and as you go through life together. . . "

  The church door opened, and Leslie Stewart walked in. She stood at the back for a moment, listening, then moved to the last pew, where she remained standing.

  The minister was saying, ". . . so if anyone knows why this couple should not be united in holy matrimony, let him speak now or forever hold his. . . " He glanced up and saw Leslie. ". . . hold his peace. "

  Almost involuntarily, heads began to turn in Leslie's direction. Whispers began to sweep through the crowd. People sensed that they were about to witness a dramatic scene, and the church filled with sudden tension.

  The minister waited a moment, then nervously cleared his throat. "Then, by the power vested in me, I now pronounce you man and wife. " There was a note of deep relief in his voice. "You may kiss the bride. "

  When the minister looked up again, Leslie was gone.

  The final note in Leslie Stewart's diary read:

  Dear Diary: It was a beautiful wedding. Oliver's bride is very pretty. She wore a lovely white lace-and-satin wedding gown with a halter top and a bolero jacket. Oliver looked more handsome than ever. He seemed very happy. I'm pleased.

  Because before I'm finished with him, I'm going to make him wish he had never been born.