After a forty year separation, Felicity is back, offering Marek passion and love. Will they overcome their differences this time around?
San Francisco, 1971: hippies in the streets, music and revolution in the air. One evening Marek Sumner opens his door to the wild-looking Felicity Powers.
“I’m here to seduce you.”
Felicity’s philosophy in life? If you want something, go for it.
After Marek lets her into his house and heart, his life is never the same again.
But Felicity wants adventure; Marek needs stability and calm. In bitterness, they separate.
Forty-three years later, Felicity is back, still offering love, adventure and passion. But Marek, older, wiser, knows their relationship won’t last this time around either…
“Making a quick getaway?” Felicity stood in the doorway taking in the scene: the open but fully packed suitcase on the bed, Marek’s trench coat flung over the table. He was on his way out. No denying the evidence.
Marek sat in the armchair by the window, his face tight, his eyes haunted. “I’m sitting here, in a chair, right? Aren’t the words ‘a quick getaway’ somewhat of an exaggeration?” He drawled the words out slowly, mockingly.
“Okay then. A slow getaway.”
He stared at her, unable to pull his eyes away. Her face was pale, her expression wild. Loose tendrils of hair shadowed her neck, calling attention to the slow throb of veins under the delicate skin. She looked sexy as hell. Tempting and far too dangerous to think about.
“Not quick, not slow. Neither one of the above. No getaway.” His voice was icy, impersonal.
“That!” Her arm waved wildly, gesticulated in the direction of the suitcase. A sharp, searing feeling of betrayal mixed with humiliation kept her tense, unrelenting. “I mean, if you want me out of here, all you have to do is tell me. Since you’re obviously desperate to get rid of me.” She felt as if she’d been stabbed. She crossed the room slowly until she was standing beside him, staring down at him, her eyes flashing with determination and fury. “But let’s not forget you were the one who invited me up here. Remember? I didn’t ask to be put up in your hotel room.”
But you might have done so. If he hadn’t taken matters into his own hands. Well, never again. Never. Your time is up as far as I’m concerned, Marek Sumner!
He stood, studied her for a minute.
“God, you’re beautiful.” It was as if the words had been wrenched out of him, as if he’d have given anything not to have said them, but they made her heart stand still.
“You’re right, of course. This dream is going to blow sky high, just the way Owen’s did a hundred and fifty years ago.”
A woman’s voice. Rich, throaty. Lazy. Marek Sumner looked up from the lecture notes he’d been shuffling together. Audacious, slanting brown eyes scrutinized him, taking his measure in a leisurely way.
“You must be the only one here who agrees with me,” he drawled slowly, stalling for time while his own glance played back over her with the same boldness. His gut tingled, a deep, primitive reaction. Nothing to do with words or ideas.
She tossed her head, scornfully. “I know. I spend my days arguing with people who believe a society of peace and love is possible. That, the ‘revolution’ will come, and the police will waltz through the streets distributing flowers.”
“I’ll bet that doesn’t make you many friends here in Haight-Ashbury.” He kept his voice dry, calm, belying the wild, reckless response teasing the edge his consciousness. Adrenaline had begun pumping, tightening his muscles, his skin.
“Of course it doesn’t.” Her shrug showed how little “making friends” mattered to her. “It’s easy for students to claim material goods don’t count. In a few years, when they’re career-oriented citizens with families and mortgages, they’ll change their minds, all right.”
Fascinated, he noted the mass of curling orange hair pulled together in a high, wild knot at the top of her head. Who are you? Where did you come from? Tallish, very slender, almost fragile—yet tough as steel. He could certainly sense that. Astounding looking. A sharp
thrill rippled along nerves stretched elastic tight.
“Of course they will.” He smiled slowly. “Which is why I wanted to give this lecture on the ‘Empire of Good Sense.’ In 1825, Owen’s ideas were radical: common property, equality of the sexes, absolute individual freedom. And, in the end, his commune failed. Just like any hippie ‘revolution.’ ”
The words came automatically. Watching her, he forgot about ideas, time, the room, the people waiting to talk to him, the soft evening sun spilling through the Bookworm’s wide doorway. He forgot everything except this woman standing here, right in front of him.
And she knew it. Her secret smile met his. Still the conversation continued, words weaving together, forming a bridge where they could meet.
“I’ve been called a reactionary three times in the last ten minutes.” He laughed.
“The ultimate insult!” She laughed back, a rich warm sound, as smooth as a caress on his bare skin.
“Thank goodness, as a traitor to the people’s revolution, I’m more likely to be smothered under a blanket of flower petals than face a firing squad.”
“With your detractors all chanting, ‘I love you.’ ” She stopped abruptly, her smile fading, faint shock sliding into her eyes.
I love you. The words—so casually, so mockingly said—had jolted him, too.
He stared at her, his excitement pulsing into want. High cheekbones, a thin, slightly aquiline nose. Freckles—childish freckles contradicting the hawk-likeferocity of her features: she was a mixture of Tom Sawyer and a foreign queen. Dancing brown eyes that probed, tempted, provoked. This was a woman certain of her charms, of her magnetism. And aware of her power to seduce him.
He also knew he was having the identical effect on her, and the amused and softened curve of her mouth also showed him she wasn’t considering a refusal. An austere, elegant mouth. Narrow lips. Difficult to pull his eyes away from them…
Then, as quickly as it started, it was over.
Myra had suddenly appeared at his side, touched his arm possessively. Her voice was cool, assured.
“Marek, Professor Lyle wants to speak to you about Owen. And Mike Evans needs to give you details about the anti-war protest on Saturday.” She hadn’t even given the red-haired woman a glance. But Marek hadn’t been fooled. He knew Myra well, very well indeed. Her
movements had been too deliberate, her voice too controlled. She’d been very conscious of the other woman’s presence. Had she also been aware of the intensity of Marek’s interest?
Professor Lyle? He didn’t care what Lyle had tosay. Not now. He didn’t want to go talk to Mike Evans either. He wanted to stay here, right here, beside thiswoman with the glorious, wild mane of hair. He wanted to know what her skin would feel like. He wanted to
know the pressure of her mouth as he covered it with his own, the heat of her body when he took her in his arms. Yet he couldn’t expect Myra to just vanish, could he? Or tell her he wanted to be left alone with an unknown woman who glowed like a hot ember.
Myra took his hand in hers.
“Excuse me,” he murmured, regretfully. Allowed Myra to tow him away. He felt foolish, like a poodle on a leash led by an imperious mistress. He glanced back, briefly. The brown eyes mocked him, he, a mere show dog, being pulled into the ring.
Professor Lyle was waiting, a rabid expression visible on his own bulldog face. Once again, Marek was thrust into the heat of the debate, but he no longer felt the slightest interest in Owen and his experimental community. He muttered perfunctory answers, nodded complacently at the barrage of argument. Then looked around, his eyes scanning the room, searching for that hair, the pale, knowing face. He would break away, find her again. Talk to her. The need was imperative.
She’d gone. Vanished. No doubt about it—she’d stand out in any crowd. He felt a deep, dragging sense of disappointment. For what? Immediate desire, instant fascination? That was all.
Idiot. Those emotions were banal, superficial, despite their intensity. Unnecessary, up-rooting responses. Forget it. He’d probably never see the woman again.
This memory you’re dragging out is forty-three years old!
The thought stopped Marek Sumner in his tracks. Forty-three years? His mind went completely blank.
The sun shimmered down at him, just the way it had on that spring day, long ago. Sun? Was his memory playing tricks on him? Fooling him. Touching the long finished romance with a glittery foil brilliance. Spring in San Francisco usually meant fog, gray skies.
And it was time he opened his eyes. This wasn’t 1971. So many years had passed. This was summer, and he was now sixty-five years old. Things had changed in this city.
What an eager young man he’d been when he’d left here in 1976, heading east for his first teaching post, freshly won doctorate in hand. He tried to drum up a memory of that young Marek, and a wry smile twitched at his lips. How intense he’d been, serious, determined to succeed. An idealist, a man with a mission.
Had he succeeded? Well…more or less. Not in everything, of course. He rolled out the list. There had been the professorship in Boston, the books he’d written—critical analyses of contemporary literature— before taking the frightening leap into creative nonfiction
writing. These days, the name Marek Sumner was almost a household word. So much for positives. On the negative side, was his marriage to Nathalie, his subsequent divorce. But the birth of Daniel brought himback to positives again. Good. More on the positive side than on the negative.
Still, he wondered what the eager young man he’d once been would think about a life which had been, for all intents and purposes, so calm. That young Marek had wanted to move mountains, but after a few years out in the world, he’d learned that although you could
nibble at them with dynamite and machinery, mountains stayed. And wisdom trotted in, told you to get on with your real work and leave mountains alone.
Marek shook his head as if to clear it of ghosts he should have vanquished a long time ago. Ordering his legs to get moving, he turned the corner. The Haight had certainly changed. Back in the sixties and seventies, the streets had been filled with people: dropouts, students, children, musicians, idealists, dreamers, hangers on. There had been protest, noise, talk of
revolution, flowers, colorful clothes, and music.
“And yet it’s all so conformist! We all think we’re being original, but we’re really only carbon copies!” Felicity’s voice was still there in his head. Felicity protesting, railing, fuming. “Everything should be challenged, questioned. Everything! Every idea!”
Then she’d vanished in a puff of smoke.
Nowadays chic, expensive-looking boutiques replaced the seedy storefronts. Well-heeled, imitation flower children window-shopped. The Bookworm still straddled the corner of Haight and Ashbury, but any similarity ended there. The tiny shop was gone. What was once a haven for burgeoning poets and writers had expanded, become a bookstore with a flourishing international business.
Well, what had he expected? Marek laughed at himself. When you came back on a pilgrimage, you couldn’t expect to fall into a time warp where everything had remained the same. That would be asking for the impossible.
Automatic, plate glass doors slid open with a subtle hum. He stared. Once upon a time, a tattered, green velvet sofa had sent out a leisurely invitation from there, the alcove on the left. Where had the brown wooden benches gone? The scarred worktables that had vied for space with chaotic bookshelves?
All vanished. Existing only in the dimension of memory now.
Those contemporary, experimental paintings on the wall, psychedelic posters, the coffee machine? The speaker’s pew? These days there were cashiers, other efficient-looking employees. People evidently came to the Bookworm to buy books, not to while away sunny afternoons weaving dreams of change.
Marek marched up to one of the cashiers and asked for Carl Hewlett. “You’re Marek Sumner, aren’t you?” The young, gentle-looking woman smiled up at him. She was exceptionally pretty, he noted.
“I suppose I am.” He smiled back. “I recognized you from the photo on your book jacket.” She picked up a telephone. “He’s here!” She couldn’t keep the edge of admiration out of her voice.
In less than a minute, a short, round man was propelling his way through the store. “Marek!” Carl’s face was rosy with pleasure as he clasped Marek’s hands in his own.
“Carl. I’d recognize you anywhere! You’ve hardly changed.” No, that wasn’t quite true. In the old days,
Carl had been a stocky person with a black beard, long black hair and a shiny, grinning face. He was still stocky—even more so. A belt buckle was entirely responsible for holding up his vast belly, and the added pounds made his legs look even shorter. The face was the same, though: round, red, good-natured. He still wore his hair and beard long, but both had turned a bright, pure white. No longer a revolutionary, Carl had evolved into an entrepreneurial Santa Claus.
“When did your plane get in? Why didn’t you call and tell me when you were arriving? I’d have picked you up at the airport.” There was hurt accusation in Carl’s eyes.
Marek gripped his shoulder fondly. “It’s okay. I arrived just a few hours ago. I checked into the hotel, left my bags. I didn’t need to be picked up. I suppose I wanted to get used to being here again. Walk around the city.” He smiled. “Take a little stroll down memory
“Why have you waited so long?”
“I didn’t mean to let all the years slide by like that. They just did.” Carl grinned up at him with complicity. “I know the feeling. Funny how time goes by at a snail’s pace when you’re a kid sitting in a school classroom, then speeds up crazily after you hit fifty.”
“You call it funny?”
Carl led Marek into his office. At least here some of the old chaos reigned. A desk was piled high with books and papers. Cartons vied for place with magazines, empty cups, a computer, briefcases, and several potted plants grown so large, they could never be moved.
“I hate to admit this,” said Carl. “Marek, you’re looking good. Too good. How have you managed to retain all that well-muscled grace of yours? Even the charisma’s still in place; you could charm snakes away from a fakir.” Carl sighed. “It just isn’t fair.”
Marek grinned, took a seat. “You should talk. You’re the one married to a woman who’s twenty-two years younger.”
“And a great fan of yours. Beware!” Carl threw a mock warning across the desk. “So how does it feel to be back in the old stomping ground?”
“Not entirely comfortable,” said Marek, slowly. “Perhaps it’s better to let memories stay unchallenged. They’re often sweeter than reality was.”
Carl had caught the regretful note. “That sounded
“Did it? It shouldn’t have. Wistful, perhaps.” But his departure all those years ago had also had a tinge of bitterness about it. And the emotion seemed to have hung on.
“I hope you don’t mind, but quite a few of the old crowd will be here for the book signing. They were thrilled to hear you were coming back.”
“You still keep in touch with some of them?” “They’re still clients.” Carl chuckled. “Only the couch potatoes are in hiding.”
The old crowd: Marek forced himself to look cheerful, but he wasn’t feeling overly enthusiastic. Did he really want to see everyone again? One person, yes: Felicity Powers. But that was impossible.
“Myra, definitely. You remember your old flame Myra, don’t you?” Carl beamed. “Of course, she’s been married for the last thirty-odd years. Her husband became one of the cleverest corporate lawyers in the city. Then there’s Danny Tobias, Jenny Catten, Libbet, and John Crandon just to name a few. I wonder if you’ll recognize them all.”
“I doubt it,” said Marek shaking his head. “It could even be embarrassing when I don’t. I’ve been meeting so many people for so many years, quite a few of them seem to have slipped out of my memory.”
“I suppose you’ll be forgiven. Famous people usually are.”
“Either that, or they’re hounded into the ground,” Marek answered ruefully. There was one question he really wanted to ask. Just the one. It hovered on his lips, fought to be voiced. He tried to push it down, away, back. Then lost the battle.
“How about Felicity Powers?” He tried to keep his voice light, disinterested sounding, but even to his own ears, it sounded forced. He’d always been a rotten actor, he thought wryly. He’d never learned the fine art of dissimulation.
“Felicity Powers!” Carl gave him a strange look. “You still wondering what happened to her? You asked me about her when we met up in New York over thirty years ago!”
“Did I?” Of course he had—even though he’d been married to Nathalie at the time. “I guess some people have a way of sticking in your mind.”
Carl nodded. “I suppose you’re right. Felicity was a real beauty back in the old days, wasn’t she? Intelligent too. But a bit of a crank. I always thought she was unstable, difficult. I sometimes wonder what she did with her life.”
“So do I. But not because she was unstable. She wasn’t. Eager, perhaps. Argumentative. And determined to see and experience things. Which is why
I wonder how far she got.”
“Of course I didn’t know her as well as you did.” Carl’s face showed he didn’t consider that such a bad thing. Had Carl also known how badly Felicity’s departure had wounded him? Or had he managed to hide the hurt?
“No, she never showed up here again. Funny, everyone thought the two of you made a great couple. Then, suddenly, she was gone.”
Disappeared out of his life like a streak of greased lightning. “She wanted to live big, she said.” Marek smiled palely. “I can’t tell you how many times she told me that underneath my hippie exterior, I was a conservative stuffed shirt.”
Carl frowned. “Don’t believe it, not even for one minute. If you’d been a conservative stuffed shirt, you never could have written those books.”
“Perhaps I’ve written them because I’m such a stuffed shirt.” Carl waved his arm, a gesture of denial. “So when was the last time you saw Felicity? When you went to Paris?”
“Yes, in Paris,” Marek confirmed. Paris with Felicity, now that was an old memory. “Back in 1974.”
“What the hell was she doing there?”
“Selling roast chestnuts on the street.” Marek couldn’t repress the grin twitching at his mouth.
“Selling chestnuts? She gave up university to sell chestnuts? Like I said, she was crazy.”
“Not really. She didn’t have working papers, and the only job she could get was selling on the street. I like to think of Felicity as a survivor more than anything else.”
“No doubt she was. Way back then. Nowadays she’s most likely married to a nice middle class French businessman, dresses conservatively, dyes her hair, has a permanent, a facelift, and dotes on her grandchildren. Or great-grandchildren!”
“Most likely.” Marek chuckled, but to his own ears, it was a forced sound. The thought of a nice normal Felicity didn’t give him any pleasure. It was too conventional. He’d wanted Felicity to succeed in the unconventional—but he’d never know if she had.
Carl got to his feet. “Well, Marek, come. I’m taking you home with me now. Liz will never forgive me if I don’t. She’s been cooking and baking for the last two days.”
So the subject of Felicity Powers was dropped. Silently, Marek acknowledged how foolish he’d been, hoping she’d be in San Francisco now. She wasn’t. And she would continue being what she’d been for the last forty-odd years: a subtle, fleeting memory. A very faint perfume floating over all the intervening time.
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