Katherine swayed gently to the music. Lost in the smoothness of the melody, she did a spin, followed by a plié and ending with a dramatic bow. Ten-year-old Emily watched in rapt fascination, clapping ferociously when she was done.
“Oh, let me try!” The child nearly exploded with excitement.
Katherine laughed tenderly. She held both of the little girl’s arms in her hands and gently glided them over her head.
Katherine wore a black leotard, leggings, and ballet shoes. She had pulled back her hair tightly against her scalp and twisted it in a braid atop her head.
The little girl proudly wore a similar costume. She was a special child. Katherine only worked with the special children, the ones with the special gifts, the ones whose talent would buy them the sky.
Peter watched as Katherine guided her apt pupil into a perfect plié’. The child eagerly attempted to achieve the same level of Pointe and failed. She started crying.
Katherine pulled her against her, cradling the head with the vibrant red hair, comforting her. “Hush, little one. Don’t rush it, sweetie.” She kneeled down, so she was eye level with the child. She took both of the tiny hands in her own. “You will get there. You are amazing.” She soothed the child as she enfolded her in her arms.
Peter had started the dance school on the first anniversary of his wife’s death. “I dedicate this studio to you, darling. May your spirit live on forever,” he had declared at the opening celebration of the studio twenty-six years ago.
Katherine had been teaching at the studio in her spare time for over a decade now. She had been taking dance lessons since the age of two, first from her mother, and later, after her mother’s death, in this very studio. Peter had sent her off to study in France when she was ten. He was excited to see the level of mastery she had achieved when she had returned. The natural grace with which she performed astonished him.
When Katherine tired of dancing, Peter did not resist her. He had been disappointed but remembered Amber’s frustration with the life she had endured. She was fifteen –years-old when she broke the news to her father. She announced proudly that she wanted to be a lawyer and put all the bad people behind bars.
Peter laughed it off, thinking she would change her mind by the time she graduated. However, he was surprised when, at sixteen, she announced that Lynette Jenkins, who had been her mother’s best friend and lawyer, had offered her an after-school job filing papers in her law practice. Peter was skeptical but supportive. She worked three afternoons each week at the law practice and taught at the dance studio on Saturdays.
Lynette Jenkins knew a bright mind when she saw one and mentored Katherine. When it came time for Katherine to go off to law school, the only advise her father gave her, as he watched her board the plane, was, “Knock ’em dead, kiddo.” Then he waved goodbye as she took one step closer to her future, and one step farther from his protection.
All these years later, he still grew teary-eyed when he remembered the moment. He took a handkerchief from his breast pocket and dabbed at his eyes. Katherine looked up and waved to him. He smiled and waved back. He was content in his position as the benefactor of the studio and took no active role in the running of the school. He had passed that job along to Katherine upon her graduation from law school.
When she finished with the child and had safely placed her back in the care of her mother, Katherine nearly ran to Peter. Excitement danced in her eyes, her brilliant blue eyes sparkling with amazement.
“Did you see her, Daddy? She’s a natural. Her plié is perfect, and she can nearly achieve relevé to the point of an experienced ballerina.”
“Yes, Kitten. I saw her. She truly is a beauty.”
She lowered her head and dropped her shoulders. “I’m afraid we’re going to lose her.”
“Is she that advanced?”
Katherine shook her head. “She’s ready for recital. Madame` Chez is coming to watch her. I’m confident she will accept her into her training program.”
Peter chuckled lightly. “That old bird is still alive? I can’t believe it.”
She hit him playfully on the arm. “Oh, Daddy, she’s not that old. She was only just barely in her fifties when I studied with her.”
“Still, that would put her somewhere in her early seventies. She should be enjoying her life.”
She shook her head in a, don’t you know anything gesture. “Ballet is her life.”
He stared at her with consideration. “Do you ever regret your decision to leave the ballet? You could have been up there on that stage.”
“Maybe, but I never would have been the star Mother was. I don’t have her grace. Anyway, I don’t regret it. I love being a lawyer, and I still have ballet.”
“Yes, you—” he started to object, but she interjected.
“No, Daddy, I don’t. I learned my skills. Mother was a natural. Emily is a natural. Madame` Chez will be lucky to get her.”
“You’re that sure?”
“Her father has already put in a transfer to his Paris office. Her parents are that sure. I’m confident, too. As long as they support her and she continues to practice, she will be up there on that stage soon enough.”
Peter nodded. “Hmm…are you up for dinner, Kitten?”
They started to walk to the dressing rooms. Katherine tucked her arm in her father’s while she clenched her thirst with a bottle of Evian. When she swallowed, she grinned and said, “Well, I dare say you’ll be a vast improvement over my last date.”
He laughed. “I take it things didn’t go so well between you and Austin?”
“It was a disaster I can’t talk about.” She smiled at his confused look. “Client/Attorney privileges prevail.” She laughed aloud.
“What? Your dinner date ended up in court?”
She laughed and Peter marveled at what a delicate sound she made. When she brought her laughter under control, she said, “Well, as I said, I can’t tell you anything just yet, but trust me, you’ll find out soon enough. I imagine the papers will soon get wind of it. At the very least, once Chandler Reynolds finds out, you will probably be able to hear the shouting all the way at your beach house.”
He snorted. “I can’t wait.”
“Let me change and we’ll get out of here.”
When she emerged from the dressing room, Peter was holding a huge bouquet of roses. Katherine looked surprised, raising her eyebrows and grinning. “Where did those come from?”
Peter shook his head. “It wasn’t me. A delivery man just dropped them off. They’re beautiful.”
She stepped back, eyeing them. “Who are they from?”
“Now, Katherine, I learned a long time ago not to snoop in your personal business. I didn’t read the card.”
She cast him a yeah-right look and snatched the card from the holder. She smiled in satisfaction.
“They’re from Chad.”
“Chad Simon, from #1073,” she said in exasperation.
“1073 what?” Peter asked in confusion.
She sighed and shook her head. “Apartment 1073. I met him the other night in the elevator. We rode up together. Actually, he held the elevator for me.” She took the flowers from him, laced her arm through his again, and led him to the door.
“By the way, I’m getting complaints about the elevator. It is slow, you know. We need to replace it.”
“It’s on the list.”
“It’s been on the list for months now. Someone is going to get stuck in it.”
“Don’t change the subject, Kitten. Tell me more about Chad Simon.”
“There isn’t much to tell. As I said, I met him in the elevator the other night. We ran into each other, literally, the next morning, and now he’s sending me flowers.”
“What does he do for a living?”
“Honestly, Daddy,” She tugged on his arm, knocking him in the shoulder. “I didn’t get his life history in the course of one short elevator ride.”
“Has he asked you out?”
She smiled shyly. “Yes, he has, but we don’t have a date set yet. He’s supposed to call me.”
Peter felt the all too familiar sense of panic whenever he thought danger was near his daughter. Ever since the night he lost his love, he was extra careful with Katherine. “Let me check him out first.”
“That isn’t necessary. He lives in our building, and you know how strict our admittance guidelines are. He practically has to be a saint just to be approved.”
He pondered her comment in quiet consideration as they walked to the car. He helped her inside and then went around to the driver’s door and got in.
“Where would you like to eat?”
She yawned and stretched. “Actually, I’m pretty tired. Do you mind if we just eat at your house? You can tell Mary to keep it simple.”
“I think a quiet evening alone with my beautiful daughter would be just the thing an old man like me needs.”
“You’re not old, Daddy.”
“Old enough to be a grandfather,” he said bluntly.
She sat silently.
“Kitten, are you all right? I was just joking…well, sort of.”
“I’m fine,” she reassured him, patting his hand. “It’s just that I think I’m starting to agree with you.”
“Well then, what’s the holdup?”
He sped through the intersection, took a left at the light, and started the climb that would take them to his house overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
She laughed. “Daddy…I know you know where babies come from. I need to find a husband before I get the baby.”
“I’m afraid, with your standards, Kitten—I’ll be haunting my grandchildren from the grave just to communicate with them.”
“Daddy!” she exclaimed. “That’s purely audacious. Are you suggesting I have a child out of wedlock?”
He laughed heartily. “I’m telling you no such thing. However, you are a grown woman, and what you do with your personal life is your business.”
She grinned at him. “Then why do you keep throwing me at Austin Reynolds?”
“Touché,” he said. He looked at his daughter from his peripheral vision. Would Austin be that bad if it meant having grandbabies?
He pulled into the long driveway and shifted the car, accelerating to climb the steep incline. The driveway leveled off and Peter pushed a remote button above his visor. The gate swung open and he entered the grounds.
His “little beach house” as Katherine so often referred to it, was by no means little, and could barely be called a house. The six-thousand-square-foot, six-bedroom, four-bath, palatial mansion stood upon a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Peter and Amber, who had intended to fill the bedrooms with laughing children, built the home. They often had lain awake at night, in their oversized bed, in their oversized bedroom, and planned for their future.
On the night they had brought Katherine home from the hospital, they placed her in her cradle beside their bed and just stared at her.
“She is the first of many,” Amber had promised. “I want at least a dozen.”
However, she couldn’t keep that promise now, thanks to an unknown assailant who had snuffed her life from her in a thoughtless act of violence. Peter ached longingly for his lost love, fumed with the knowledge that the man was still out there, free to walk around as if he weren’t a stealer of lives.
Katherine nearly leaped from the car before it came to a halt and ran for the front door. She burst through it in an attitude of exuberant energy.
“Mary!” she called. “Mary, we’re here.”
Mary came running from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a towel as she ran. She threw her arms around Katherine in excited glee. She held her against her, cupping the back of her head with her hand. She closed her eyes, savoring the feel of her surrogate child in her arms. “Oh, Baby girl. It’s so good to see you,” Mary said.
Mary had been caring for Katherine since birth. Hired by Amber as a part-time nursemaid, she bonded with the Winters family, almost instantly becoming one of them. Amber insisted that Mary finish college and even helped her study. Mary majored in home economics and remained a permanent part of the household.
Following Amber’s death, Mary took on the task of helping Peter raise Katherine. She had fallen right into the role and relished the bond she and Katherine formed. She became president of the PTA, Girl Scout leader, and choir director at Katherine’s school. She put other mothers to shame.
When Mary met Bradley Copenhagen, an electrical engineer who came to rewire a portion of the house, they fell madly in love. When she announced their engagement, Katherine locked herself in her bedroom and wailed for days.
Mary, fraught with worry over Katherine’s fear of losing another mother, called off the engagement. For two weeks, Peter watched as the two of them moped around the house with dismal spirits. His solution: he hired a contractor to build a second home behind the main house. Then he gave it, and a quarter acre of property, to Mary and Bradley as a wedding gift, a winning situation for all involved.
“Let me look at you,” Mary said to Katherine, holding her at arm’s length and examining every inch of her.
“You’re living on yogurt again, aren’t you?” Mary scolded.
“I am not,” Katherine declared defensively though she grinned. “I eat an apple with it now.”
“Oh, that’s much better.”
They both laughed and hugged again. “I’ve missed you so much, Mary.”
“And I you, child.” Suddenly, she became serious. “I’m preparing a nice, big, roasted chicken for dinner.” She poked her in the ribs. “Maybe some of it will stick this time.”
Katherine giggled. “Yum, my favorite.”
She looked around. “Where are Brittney and Baxter?”
Mary shook her head in mock anger. “Those two mongrels have been banished outside,” she said with a dramatic flourish of her arms, pointing one finger to the rear yard.
“What did they do now?” Peter asked, coming in and shutting the front door, carrying the newspaper in his hands.
Mary looked past Katherine at Peter and narrowed her eyes at him as if the antics of the dogs were all his doing. She put her hands on her hips and squared off with Peter. Ticking off transgressions on her fingers, she said, “First they trampled the fresh new garden that I just put in yesterday. Brittney dug up the bulbs and Baxter ate them. If that wasn’t enough, they tracked the mud from the garden they dug up, in through the dog door and all over the freshly waxed floor. Then they dug through the trashcan and scattered trash all over the kitchen.” She sighed in exasperation.
Katherine clapped her hands and squealed. “Oh, they missed me. I’m taking them to the beach. Call me when dinner’s ready,” she threw over her shoulder, her words barely audible over the excited barking of the dogs.
Katherine ran back and forth, laughing and trying to dodge the twin chocolate Labrador retrievers, who jumped on Katherine and nipped at each other in a jealous play for attention. Brittney and Baxter were mere pups and had not yet learned the art of heeling on command. However, they knew the word ball and ran frantically about in search of the existence of the round playthings.
Brittney spotted hers first and grabbed it. Baxter nipped her behind, and when she yelped and dropped the ball, he swooped in and snatched it. Brittney growled. Katherine scolded them both and extracted two new balls from the cabinet that hung just outside the door. Baxter instantly dropped his pilfered ball in favor of the fresh one.
“You two have the manners of a toad,” Katherine said, patting each of them on the head. “Want to go to the beach?” she asked, raising her voice an octave.
Both dogs ran to the gate, balls in mouth, and waited impatiently for her to open the gate that would lead to the steps that would take the three of them to the beach.
Once the gate was open, both siblings tore through it and bounded down the steps. Katherine had to run to catch up. She heard the cacophony of barking long before she saw the stranger with his back pressed firmly against the rocks, trying to ward off the advances of the dogs.
“Brittney! Baxter!” she called. She struggled through the sand and caught up with the dogs. She grabbed their collars. “Heel,” she commanded, yanking back on their collars.
Suddenly, she stopped. Hauntingly familiar eyes peeked out at her from beneath the hooded sweatshirt. For a moment, she was tempted to release the dogs.
The man pushed back the hood and revealed his face. “It’s me, Katherine. It’s Chad Simon.”
She stared at him for a moment in disbelief. The wind had picked up speed. Her long hair whipped around her face, covering her eyes, briefly distorting his image.
“What are you doing here?” She angled away from him, stealing glances toward the house. Would anyone hear her if she screamed?
Chad shrugged his shoulder. “Relax. I was about to ask you the same thing. Are these your dogs?”
“They belong to my father. He lives up there.” She gestured up at the large house that loomed over them.
Chad whistled. “Wow. You guys really do have money.”
She ignored the crack and narrowed her eyes at him. “Are you stalking me?” she blurted.
He laughed. “Stalking?” He pointed at his surfboard. “I was just about to catch some waves.”
She eyed him then, evaluating his face. She was a good judge of people and usually could tell when someone was lying. She took in the surfboard and the wetsuit and relaxed a little.
“I’m sorry. We don’t get many people up here. It’s kind of off the beaten path. And I’m sorry about the dogs. They also aren’t used to strangers hanging around.”
Brittney, figuring this stranger must be okay, as her mistress was talking to him, picked up her ball, and dropped it at his feet. Baxter, still wary, pulled back his ears and growled.
“Baxter, heel,” Katherine warned.
Chad chuckled and picked up the ball and tossed it into the ocean. Baxter, forgetting his protector status, raced his sister for it.
Katherine snickered. “It’s constant competition with those two.”
“Who usually wins?” He picked up his board and the two of them started walking toward the shore. Baxter bounded out of the water, victorious, and dropped the ball at his feet again.
“Never mind, I think I figured it out on my own.”
He threw the ball again, but this time Brittney didn’t chase it. Instead, she sniffed the ground and came up with Baxter’s ball.
“She’s resourceful. I’ll give her that,” Chad said. “Are you going to introduce me to your friends?”
She pointed at the dog exiting the water. “That’s Baxter.” She patted Brittney’s head. “And this is Brittney.”
Brittney looked up at him and barked in greeting. They both laughed.
Katherine picked up the ball and threw it north along the water’s edge. Brittney went after it. Baxter, spotting her, took off on a run.
“I see what you mean.” Chad chuckled and said, “Does she ever get it?”
“Once in a while.” She lowered her voice to a whisper as if she didn’t want the dogs to overhear. “They both kind of suck in the manners department.”
“They got in trouble this morning for digging up Mary’s—that’s my dad’s house manager—flower bed.”
“I’ll bet she was pretty mad.”
Katherine shook her head. “Threw them out like the trash. Lucky for them I arrived home in time to rescue them.”
He looked back up at the house. “So, do you live here as well?”
“No. I grew up here, but I live full-time in the penthouse.” She looked up at the house. Her eyes moistened with tears and she looked quickly away. “I spend a lot of time here, though.”
The tenderness in her eyes annoyed him, and he looked down at the ground to hide his face. He kicked at a seashell. “I can see why. I think I’d live here if I had the choice.”
“It’s kind of far from the office.”
Baxter brought the ball back, and this time, Chad pretended to throw it south. When Baxter took off on a run, he switched arms and threw it north. Brittney hauled after it. Baxter, realizing he had been tricked, stopped in his tracks, reversed direction, and ran past them, seconds too late. Brittney came bounding over with the ball triumphantly clenched between her teeth, wagging her tail with all her might. Chad patted her head.
Katherine smirked. “That was clever of you.”
“Yeah, but I’ll bet he won’t fall for it again.”
“It doesn’t matter. He left the other ball in the water, and I don’t think Brittney’s ever going to let go of her victory.”
Katherine looked up and saw a figure standing at the top of the stairs. “It’s my dad. Dinner is probably ready now. Would you like to join us? I’m sure my dad won’t mind, and Mary always makes too much.”
He glanced at Peter and then Katherine. His eyes turned hard, which he quickly cleared. “Thanks, but maybe another time. I’m afraid I’m a bit of a mess right now.”
Baxter walked by him and headed for the steps. Now that he had lost his ball, the fun was clearly over. He didn’t glance at Chad, choosing to ignore him.
“Ouch,” Chad said. “I’ve been snubbed by a dog.”
Katherine laughed heartily and touched Chad’s arm.
Chad looked down at her hand resting on his arm. She quickly withdrew it. “I’m sorry.”
He shook his head. “Don’t be.” He grabbed his board and trotted off to the water, confused by the feeling he got when she touched him. He expected to feel anger, but he felt desire instead. He pushed it away. No! He would not forget why he was here.
Katherine climbed the steps and came to stand beside her father.
“Who is that?” Peter asked.
“Chad Simon, if you can believe it.”
“What’s he doing way up here?”
She shrugged. “Apparently surfing.”
She walked past him and climbed the stairs. He followed her but stopped just before reaching the top step, turning to look at the young man who casually rode the waves. An uneasy sense of foreboding passed over him.
Peter caught up to Katherine and placed his hand on the small of her back. “Be careful, Kitten.”
She tilted her head to one side and smiled. “Of what, Daddy?”
He glanced back toward the water, from which Chad Simon was just exiting. He watched him shake the water from his hair. Chad looked up at them and then started on a jaunt down the beach. Peter shook his head. “Just be careful.”
Chad saw the old man looking at him, but he didn’t care. They’d see who was high and mighty when it was all over. The old man would be begging him…groveling in fact, for just a shard of his old life back. Perhaps he’d marry Katherine. Maybe they’d have children together, and then when she was all set and happy in their made-up life, he’d take the children and run. Then she would know what it was like to suffer. He didn’t want the children. He hated children. He’d have to hire someone to take care of them. He smiled. He’d have all that money to spend, what were a few pennies to take care of the brats. Better yet, he could send them off to boarding school. No, that would take precious money. He’d put them up for adoption.
He breezed on by the desk clerk, waving him off when he greeted him with a cheery hello. His father was sitting on the floor watching television when he came in. He barely acknowledged him.
“Are you going to do anything with your life except watch television?” Chad asked, standing between him and the set.
“What do you care?”
“Because you’re pathetic.”
Spencer looked at Chad and sneered. “Look in the mirror.”
Chad balled up his fist. Spencer pulled back. Chad chuckled. When Spencer saw he wasn’t going to do anything, he relaxed. “Do you mind moving? You’re blocking my show.”
Chad stood his ground. Spencer sighed and muted the volume. “Was there something else?”
“She caught me.”
“Caught you what?”
“On the beach. She caught me on the beach watching her.”
“What do you mean she caught you!” Spencer Simon wailed at his son. “You said you’d be careful.”
“I couldn’t help it. How was I supposed to know she would come down the stairs with a couple of dogs?”
“They have dogs?”
Chad nodded. “Two of them, chocolate Labrador Retrievers.”
Spencer was thoughtful. “They didn’t have dogs before when I did my preliminary checking.”
“Well, they do now. Just how well did you check them out?”
“The whole works, credit checks, bank accounts, where they shop, where they eat. I even have the name of Peter Winters’s tailor. I don’t like this, Chad. I have an uneasy feeling. I think we should pull back before someone gets hurt.”
Chad shot him a hateful glance. “You didn’t think of that before.”
“That was a long time ago, and it was an accident.”
Chad punched the wall and wheeled on his father, heaving, breathless, pointing an accusing finger at him. “Well, that accident cost me a childhood, and I demand restitution.”
He crossed to the computer, turned it on, waited for it to warm up, and entered some security codes that would grant him access to the employee files of the Winters Corporation.
“What are you doing?” his father asked.
Chad didn’t answer him right away but kept tapping on the keys.
“I asked what you’re doing.”
Thirty seconds later Chad hit the print button and an employee referral form printed out. “You’re now a part of the maintenance staff,” Chad said, handing the form to his father.
“What? Oh no, Chad, I can’t do this.”
“You can, and you will,” he demanded. “You work the eight to five shift so you’ll have access to her apartment while she’s at work.”
“You want me to go into her apartment?”
He grabbed the older man’s shoulders and stared him down. “Stay with me, Dad. Why do you think we’re here?”
Spencer looked like a trapped cat. “I don’t like this. Let’s stop before it goes too far.”
“No!” he shouted. “I’ve been planning this for too many years. I’ll not let a guilt-ridden old man spoil it now. Report for work at 7:45, tell them you’re a new hire and don’t draw any attention to yourself.”
Spencer took the form and shuffled off to his bedroom. He shut the door behind him, crossed to the closet, and retrieved a small shoebox that he had hidden behind some blankets. He lifted the lid and shifted through the contents. He took out an old newspaper article, a diamond pendant, and a little pink hair ribbon. A cop might call them his trophies. He called them his penance.
He heard footsteps outside his door, quickly thrust the items inside the box, replaced the lid, and shoved the box under the bed.
Without bothering to knock, Chad opened the door and stared at his father. “Are you okay?”
Spencer nodded. “I’m fine.”
“I’m sorry about the argument.”
Chad looked around the room, eyes narrowed with distrust. “What are you doing?”
“Nothing, just sitting here thinking.”
“Well, good night.”
“Good night, Son.”
He closed the door. When Spencer was sure he was gone, he retrieved the box again. He took out the pink ribbon, laid it on the bed, and returned the box to its hiding place.
Pulling back the blankets, he climbed into bed and wound the pink ribbon around his fist. He allowed his mind to ponder the memories. He must always allow the memories to come. The memories were God’s punishment.