CHAPTERS 1-3 | SHRINKING VIOLET
"Neurotics build castles in the sky. Psychotics live in them.
Psychiatrists collect the rent."
"Reforming women is a time-waster...
the female, from birth onward, is a mist of lies.
And her white belly is a shrine for swindle and delusion.”
...Ben Hecht's former editor at the NY Times (from Maureen Dowd's Times
OP-ED piece, 2009)
The last thing on Manhattan's newest, fast-rising political star Jack Butler's mind, after easing his hard muscled frame into the hand stitched, Italian leather couch in his psychiatrist's Upper East Side office, is getting a hard on. But from the looks of the stunning, self-assured young woman striding regally across the red Persian rug like a lioness in heat stalking the smoldering Serengeti plains of Tanzania, there isn't a whole hell of a lot he can do about it. But if his dangerously enflamed organ expands another inch, there's no way he's going to be able to get up and walk out the door once their session is over.
As for the provocative, young Doctor Simone Stanton, she knows, after one cursory glance at her disturbingly handsome, but very married, new patient, that it's only a matter of time before she either makes him fall madly in love with her or die trying, legal technicalities, professional ethics, and common sense be damned.
Dr. Stanton has done her homework. She's seen Jack's photographs and press clippings, and she's seen the way the predatory New York gossip rag bitches fawn all over him. It's Jack she wants. Nobody needs to know the real motive behind why she'd jumped through so many hoops getting him as a patient, because, one way or the other, he's going down. And once the brilliant, but explosively volatile, doctor makes her mind up about something like that, you'd best duck or take a seat, because God help anybody that stands in her way.
It takes an unprecedented three weeks for the good doctor to slash like a shark smelling blood through Jack's token resistance, a time frame which, by her book, is somewhat of an unseemly smudge on her fast track record of sexual conquests. But in the middle of their first, late afternoon foray into the psychosexual abyss of Simone's fractured libido, a bitterly jealous, sexually-conflicted female colleague, who shares a suite of offices with Simone, inadvertently catches her fantasy object of desire, lying spread eagle on her desk, bare assed naked, with her pretty face buried in Jack's crotch. The ambitiously opportunistic young colleague wastes little time extracting her revenge for getting cuckolded by her imagined amore, and reports Dr. Stanton's titillating escapade to the New York Psychiatric Association Ethics Office. Almost immediately, they launch the third in a series of investigations into Simone's infamously, to say the least, amoral professional conduct.
The provocative details of the sordid dalliance on Dr. Stanton's glass table, makes for racy fodder on the psychiatric cocktail circuit, but among the moral elite scattered throughout the various boards and licensing authorities charged with patrolling the oversexed, fast track behavior of Manhattan's east side shrinks, prurient curiosity and hypocrisy aside, few of them are willing to cross swords with the chronically touchy Dr. Stanton. But it doesn't stop them from jabbering about her privately, and once the rumors kick in, and a lurid cell phone video of the scorching porn scene arrive on the desk of the Ethics Office, Simone's career as a psychotherapist is at the very least, on life support.
Within a matter of weeks she finds herself with a suspended license to practice in the state of New York, a minor inconvenience that barely registers on her pathologically selective radar. She simply takes it in stride, packs up, and moves her office to New Jersey. It'll take a lot more than a "moronic gang of bureaucratic buffoons", as she calls them, to stop her from getting what she wants. And what she wants, is Jack Butler.
But as obsessed with him as she's already become, Simone knows she will have to be very careful this time; he could prove to be more of a challenge than she'd faced in a long time. He's nothing like the petrified stiffs she'd seduced and discarded like flattened tubes of toothpaste. Mostly of them were basically perfidious pussies who didn't have the balls to fight back, and bagging her limit in that polluted stream had always been like shooting goldfish in a barrel. A shimmy of the hip here, an exposed thigh there, and bang, they're salivating like horny house cats, purring for a poke. Keeping their peckers in their pants when the APA comes sniffing around is one thing, but keeping their tattling tongues from wagging after they'd dipped their sticky fingers in the honey pot is an entirely different matter. But then, the ignorant ethics Nazis who'd made the ruling to shut down her practice have no idea who they're dealing with. After all, Simone had been reprimanded before and she'll handle it, just like she always has. No reason to panic. She'd just stay in the shallows a bit longer and wiggle the bait a bit more discreetly next time around. She'd let Jack thrash around in the thickening shadows like a speckled trout attached to a fly for awhile. No sense spooking her prize winning trophy. It makes her wet just thinking about netting a man like that. Catch and release," she whispers to herself, licking her impeccably painted, hot cherry flavored lips. "Catch and release."
Less than a week later, as the gold September leaves flutter down from the soot-choked trees in Central Park, a cool grey sheet of rain beats against the second story window of Simone's 70th Street, Upper East Side townhouse. Stepping out of the steamed up shower, she throws an oversized towel around her still dripping shoulders and strides royally into the candlelit bedroom, sniffing the wind like a starving jaguar searching for a midnight snack.
Using her body like a knife, she easily slices through whatever's left of Jack's melting resolve, letting her sopping wet towel slide casually down her tan, elegantly tapered legs before shoving him down into the luxurious mound of red rose petals that she'd scattered across the white, wickedly expensive, goose down featherbed. Then as casually as a high priced hooker, she drapes herself across his broiling body and begins slowly to unbutton his shirt with her teeth, throwing herself against him with such detached fury that Jack can hear his teeth grinding and his bones moan. For the life of him, he can't tell if he's making love or fighting for his life, but when he looks up into the demented face of a malevolent demon, leering at him from behind Simone's swamp green eyes, he knows intuitively that somewhere lines have been crossed and that he'd better either start fighting back or make a run for it now while he still has the chance. But when Simone rocks back on her haunches and nearly bucks him off the bed, he can tell, he's not going anywhere tonight, even if it means risking everything in life he loves. It doesn't seem possible how powerful his insidious addiction to this dazzling but deluded beauty has already become, or just how close he really is to becoming the last man standing in a covert war of wills that he has little or no chance of winning.
Since the moment they'd met, Simone's method of seduction has been positively Germanic in its ruthlessness: as antiseptic and precise as the cosmological paradigm that explains the origin and expansion of the universe, better known as the Big Bang theory, a somewhat paradoxical one in the hands of someone as sexually nihilistic as Dr. Stanton. As she defines it, with her forked tongue planted firmly in her cheek, an orgasm is nothing but a red hot cosmic explosion hurling broiling sub-atomic matter and primordial energy at supersonic speed into the pulsating, radioactive heart of a heavenly celestial body: namely, hers. Of course, had Jack been thinking with the proper organ at the time, he may have realized just how neurotically fixated on wildly uninhibited sex Ms. Stanton actually is, and just how disturbed her variant obsession with having sex with him is about to become.
Not five minutes after leaving Simone's profanely expensive condo, an unremitting wave of guilt begins to work its way through Jack's once impenetrable honor like a bone in a dog's throat. Barreling past the smartly dressed guard, who is standing at attention in the entry way, he shrugs off his self-loathing as best he can and saunters out into the face of an early winter snow storm, the unselfconscious swagger of the aging, but still fit, champion surfer he once was as intact as it ever was: the same lion walk and tussled, barbed wire mane, graying at the temples, his powerful body still sun-bronzed, and though still wise enough to read the waves, apparently not old enough to know better than to tango with a tiger shark like Simone Stanton.
As a sudden flash of lightening rips a jagged slit in the dead black sky, the trapped moonlight pours across the room like a restless river running for its life. Drenched in it, Simone flops over on her bare belly, only to find Jack gone. Had she known he was gone for good, she may as well have stayed in bed. Unfortunately for Jack, she didn't.
Jack could see now, that even in the beginning, during his and his wife Alicia's first year together, the countless hours he'd spent locked away in Vanderbilt Hall in Washington Square, boning up for exams while working part time well into the night, writing articles on legal theory and history for the Law Review, had already begun to stoke Alicia's growing fear of isolation and abandonment. It wasn't difficult to see, that left alone night after night with a new born baby, she'd slowly begun to lose the sense of security she'd once felt, and the regret Jack had felt about that then, and the remorse he feels now, is beginning to seriously undermine any hope he'd ever had of forgiving himself for his obviously self-destructive affair with Dr. Stanton.
Even after he'd become involved with Simone, to his credit, Jack had refused to justify his attraction as a primeval urge too powerful to resist, or to somehow diminish it's affect by saying it didn't mean anything. Simone had in fact, meant nothing to him, and he never did feel anything for her other than obvious physical gratification he'd received, but he knows better than to sell that hype to anyone as sensitive to hypocrisy and moral cowardice as Alicia.
Even during their first meaningless roll in the hay, Jack knew Simone was a cannibal at heart and that she'd eat her own young if it got her properly laid. It wasn't hard to tell that it wasn't any garden variety aberration she had, it was a virtual virus, as cold and cunning as it was a newly minted form of heat. She seemed to feed off sex, as if fucking was some kind of a satanic ritual meant to cleanse her sulphurous spirit of whatever vampire had its fangs buried up to its gums in her finely sculptured neck. And yet, what thoroughly baffled Jack was the fact that when she climaxed, she'd shake helplessly in a sweltering wet heap beneath him and tremble on the sweat drenched sheets, dissolving enigmatically into something as strange and small as a wounded bird, or perhaps an autistic child. Then just as suddenly, she'd spring back into action and claw her way to the finish, coming again and again, as if coughing up and spitting out whatever it was inside of herself she hated most. Apparently searching in vain for whatever it was she once was, and could never be again, she came hard and fast, as if wanting nothing left inside of her deep enough to drown in. And still she drove deeper, like a pedophile priest hunting frantically for some pathologically demented form of redemption for the lives he'd ruined. And yet Jack stayed with her like a shell shocked junkie too hooked to quit. As repulsed as he was by his own recklessness, he couldn't get enough of her. Although the cost of it had already become more than he could bare, he didn't know that then. He only knew he'd been standing at the edge of an abyss too deep to ignore and had jumped anyway, just like he always did, and once he started falling, he closed his eyes and held his breath, praying that the end would come soon. He didn't have long to wait.
As imperviously cavalier as she may appear, Dr. Simone Stanton, possibly for the first time in her life, is genuinely shell shocked when Jack shows up unannounced at her condo three weeks later in the middle of a rare summer rain storm, and stands at her townhouse doorway, dripping like a shy twelve-year-old truant who'd just run over her pet poodle. Refusing to come in, he stays in the hallway, shivering in the cool night air.
Responding to Jack's stuttering silence, Simone pouts like a rebuffed teenager: "I suppose, while you're standing there with that stick up your butt, we could discuss psychophysical parallelism or the repercussions of Quantum collapse...but personally, I'd prefer that you drop your drawers and fuck me stupid."
Surging out of his apparent lethargy like a prize fighter smelling blood, Jack drolls sarcastically: "Well, judging by the state your in, that shouldn't take long."
"Go fuck yourself then.
"Well, you know what they say, if you want to get it done right, you gotta do it yourself."
"Have at it, but don't expect any help from me."
"Listen, Simone, this is insane. Let's just get to the point. I can't keep doing this. What I came here to tell you is that I'm still in love with my wife, and I have no choice but to end this thing, before it gets out of hand. I'm afraid to say this, but it's over. I'm sorry."
As utterly unaccustomed as she is to getting dumped, Simone contains her rage, choosing instead to fume silently, keeping her composure just long enough to hook one of her long, tanned legs around Jack and work her fingers between his belt and his trembling bare belly, while whispering seductively in his ear, "Ok, Jack, but you'll miss this, you know."
"Not anymore I won't. I'm done. It's finished."
"That roll of quarters you've got jammed against your zipper says you're lying, Jack. Now why don't you unleash that bad-assed beast and get to work before I come in my panties, ok? I'm getting soaked just thinking about it."
"I think you've seen one too many porn flicks, Simone. Nobody normal talks like that."
"How would you know? You being the fair-haired Boy Scout and all."
'Listen, if it'll make you feel better, I'll just leave a fifty on your nightstand and call it a night, ok?"
"Fifty? For fucking me! I don't think so. You're not fooling anybody, Jack. If you were getting any action from your wife, believe me, you wouldn't be here."
"Don't you ever mention Alicia again, Simone. She doesn't have anything to do with this."
"Doesn't she? I think if you were getting boned at home, you wouldn't be sticking it to me, so let's cut the bullshit and light up that pocket rocket you've got idling in your shorts before the damned thing goes off. From the looks of things, it won't be long."
"Over my dead body, Simone."
"Well, Jack my boy, that can be arranged."
Nibbling on his ear, Simone makes one last feeble attempt to bend Jack's will but he recovers just in time. He sincerely wants his family back. His wife's emotional stability is going downhill. His son hates his guts. And intuitively he's beginning to realize that Simone Stanton is not even remotely the intriguing, captivating woman she'd first appeared to be. But still, her body is a devastating weapon, one that he'd had no experience defending himself against, and she knows it. Like she knows him. She knows where all his secrets are hidden and she'd easily reached into secret places he'd never even knew existed. After a few short weeks, in and out of bed, she'd already unmasked every desire that he'd been disguising so well for so long, but deep inside Simone's neurotically insecure self, what she's feared most, right from the start, is that Jack's pathetic little house mouse frau of a wife Alicia, would someday forgive him and want him back, and that he'd come running when she squealed. Simone keeps telling herself that Jack is a handsome son-of-a-bitch, and women like his wife are stupid like that. And this time it looks as if Jack really does intend to go back to the doped up trollop.
"Well, we'll see about that," Simone says under her breath, as her filmy black, Anna Sui dress floats teasingly to the rug, giving Jack one long last peek at what he'll miss most about her. But he doesn't fall for it.
"I never meant to hurt you, Simone. This just isn't going to work. I'm sorry."
"Oh don't be such a milk toast pussy, Jack. I'm not interested in fucking saints. I don't just WANT you to hurt me, I want you to make me bleed."
The streak of pure malevolence staining the irises of Simone's ice blue eyes chills Jack to the bone but he keeps quiet.
"I'm not a mannequin you have to dress up and play house with, Jack. And if hurting me turns you on, have at it. I'm a big girl, I can take it. Pain works for me. It's what makes me feel alive."
"If that's true then I feel nothing but pity for you."
Ratcheting back the fury that's been seeping through her well disguised wrath, Simone lowers her voice and shrugs: "Well, what else is there to say. It's not easy being me."
"I don't imagine it is. God help you, Simone."
"What is it with you religious types anyway, blathering away all the time about God and Jesus all the time? The whole Bible is nothing but allegories and parables. It's all voodoo hype, for Christsakes. When you die you're dead. Get over it."
Jack's known from the beginning that if word of his sleazy affair with a whacked out shrink ever hit the mainstream gossip rags, his bright and shining political star will almost immediately burn out, and that it won't be long before he starts getting the throw-away cases that the veteran prosecutors in his firm no longer want. How he got talked into seeing this sexually nihilistic doctor for what seems now to have been nothing more than a jet lagged streak of chronic remorse over the way he'd trashed his relationship with the one women he'd ever really loved, is beyond him. Everybody gets depressed from time to time, although, Jack has to admit, not depressed enough to drink themselves into a stupefying, alcohol-fueled coma seven nights a week and ignore the adoring wife who loves him more than her own life. But if this adolescent infatuation with Simone gains any more traction, or if the press gets wind of the affair, his political aspirations will start fading faster than his tarnished halo, and his career will take a sideways leap into the nearest dumpster. The only way he can protect himself is to end this delusional affair and get himself straight before Simone's fanatic fascination with him obliterates everything he'd worked for his entire life. There's no sense continuing to wallow in a dead pool of self-pity and regret. He'd gotten himself sucked into Simone's X-rated psychosexual circus and he'd pay whatever price it takes to end it. To hell with the consequences. None of it's been worth the pain he'd caused his family and it's time he took responsibility for what he'd done, and to put an end to it once and for all.
As entertaining as Jack's pussy-whipped declaration of independence has been, Simone Stanton has no intention of playing anybody's jilted lover. Putting aside her anger temporarily, she begins formulating the first phase of her cunning crusade to break Jack's will. To consecrate the deal, she slips to her knees in the plush, ludicrously expensive Burberry carpet at his feet and begins to lather him into a deluded frenzy that he has, up until now, controlled. Miraculously, he manages to stuff his blood-gorged dick back into his pants, spin on his heel, and limp awkwardly towards the door, completely oblivious to the fact that nobody has ever said no to Dr. Simone Stanton and gotten away with it. Nobody.
In the middle of a drug-induced flashback, Simone's jade-streaked eyes go blank, and the shimmering candles on her thirteenth birthday cake glow gold, their reflections dancing like ghostly marionettes in the flickering shadows on the wall. The past seems to come suddenly alive and sizzles like a handful of sparklers on the fourth of July. It's just her and her indifferent, oblivious mother Ruth now. Every thing her beloved father Roman had ever meant to her had long ago vanished into what should have been a wistful memory of an innocent childhood, but instead had become a polluted drowning pool drenched in disgust, self-loathing and relentless shame. No pretty presents, no phone calls, no cards, and no weightless kisses that once fluttered like drunken butterflies against her tear-stained cheek. Her mother had seen to that, and after Ruth had divorced her father to pursue a temporary dalliance with a lesbian Rockette, she had no idea the irrational rage it would unleash in her mercurial daughter's already fractured psyche.
As for her black-tempered stepfather Reed, who her mother had later married, the only memory Simone has of him is his slipping into her bedroom one night and whispering in her ear that his wanting her was all her fault and that, if she knew what was good for her, she'd keep her naked self away from him. "You've been warned," he'd whispered, as if decreeing an edict of some kind, more to his tortured self than Simone.
Developing early like she did, Simone had blossomed into a sultry, teen queen siren long before she had the time to learn how to protect herself emotionally from the erotic fire that blazed inside of her; and Reed had sniffed it out, drawn to it like a child molesting early parolee on the prowl, catching the fresh scent of jail bait beneath her locked bedroom door on the first night he'd moved in. "You know this is all your fault, you treacherous little bitch," he'd spit in her ear, the first time he'd managed to get her alone. "You're the kind of gum smacking slut who makes sex seem so wretched and dirty. I see you seducing the local boys with your coy green eyes and the cocky flip of your dirty blond hair, teasing them with that honey-packed snatch of yours, begging them for a taste of it. I know what it is you want."
It wasn't long after that when Reed began taking everything that was sick in him out on his well developed and precocious stepdaughter, blaming her for luring him into the profane fantasies he'd come to both abhor and crave. But now, all these years later, after all he'd put her through, she'd make him pay. He'd have no idea when it was coming, but he'd know it was her when it did. It would be her face he'd see when his blood ran cold and drained from the bloated flesh on his face. And it would be her hands wrapped around his blue-veined turkey neck and her cocked ears that would listen to the last breath he'd ever take as it gurgled from his worm red lips. She'd make him pay. She'd make them all pay. And she'd make them feel the pain.
After returning home from Simone's, hopefully for the last time, Jack steps quietly to his front door, not wishing to disturb his weary wife Alicia, who is normally sound asleep by nine in the evening. Surprised to discover that she'd locked the swinging safety latch on the front door, he slips around to the back door and unlocks it with the spare key he'd tucked away under the mat. Closing the door silently behind him, he begins rummaging through the pile of mail that's accumulated on the newly-remodeled, granite kitchen counter. The moonlight frames his patch of thick, coffee-colored hair in a softly descending, off yellow cloud of shame and remorse. Feeling like an intruder in his own house, he flips through the stack of bills, looking for a note or a letter, anything that could be from Dr. Stanton. He wouldn't put it past her to let Alicia know just what her doting husband had been doing behind her back while she'd been recovering from her last physical and emotional breakdown. Simone had made it clear that she had no intention of sharing Jack with his wife, and from all he'd heard lately about Ms. Stanton from his ex-cop, best pal Ted Dyer, who also moonlights as a Manhattan PI and has been peeking discreetly into her past, she's certainly capable of it. "She doesn't take being dumped lying down," Ted had sneered. "Well, in your case, she probably did take it laying down, but from the looks of the file I've been compiling on her, she won't be rolling over and playing dead any time soon, believe me. She's crack, Jack, and God knows you're addicted. She's street legal, but she's still junk, and you better get your ass into rehab and kick that bad-assed habit fast before she blows what's left of your brains to kingdom come."
As Jack absently digs through the endless pile of bills, he looks up and sees Alicia materializing out of the semi-darkness, a golden halo of moonlight perched on her unruly mop of shiny black curls. She could have been a pretty, ten-year-old gazing in awe at Santa Claus, tittering in anticipation, and praying that this was more than a sad hallucination: Santa Claus, peace on earth, Jesus, the Easter Bunny, all of it, not the sordid black shroud of despair that seems to have draped itself around her sagging shoulders these days.
Jack walks over and gently takes his comically befuddled wife by the arm. "Let's get you back to bed, honey. It's late and I just wanted to check the mail. I let myself in the back door. I hope you don't mind."
"Why should I mind," Alicia murmurs weakly, still lost in a drugged semi-slumber, seemingly a bit disappointed about not finding Santa Claus eating cookies and drinking milk in her kitchen, "it's your house too."
"It was," Jack whispers softly to himself. "It was."
Guiding his nodding wife carefully up the stairs, Jack eases her feather-thin body back into bed and kisses her lightly on the cheek. "Go to sleep now, Alicia. I'll stop back by tomorrow. I really need to talk to you," adding sweetly, "you know I still love you." Nodding off as the sleeping pills and God knows how many other sedatives she'd obviously taken earlier regain control, Alicia responds in a childlike whisper, "I know. Me too."
Jack can't remember a time when he hadn't been moved by the vague scent of childlike innocence that seems to permeate from every pore of Alicia's skin. They'd become best friends during their junior year at Edgemont High School in Greenville, New York, after surviving equally disastrous, unrequited crushes, and it had been a genuine shock to both of them when they woke up one wickedly cold December morning, stark naked in the back of Jack's '56 Bel Air convertible and discovered that somewhere along the line, they'd fallen madly in love.
Jack shivers every time he thinks about the fearlessness of the plunge they'd taken into the sticky white heat of teenaged lust, and he still can't imagine the even more reckless impulsiveness it must have taken for him to propose to her a short year later. It had always been like that with them, not looking before they leapt, risking it all on a perfect swan dive into the wild blue mystery of it all. But when their son Paul came along a year later, in spite of the fact that the gravity of their impetuousness had already begun to weigh imperceptibly on them both, they never looked back, and never once regretted anything. Until that is, Simone Stanton descended out of the tortured black sky and hovered over their once tranquil lives like the lost Shroud of Turin.
Jack takes a last look back at his sleeping wife as he heads for the stairs in the dark. Their marriage had lasted nearly nineteen years, but less than a year and a half after they'd moved to Manhattan's upper east side, and only a week after Alicia had been offered her first one woman show at a trendy, up-and-coming gallery in the East Village, that she'd received a phone call from an anonymous stranger who explicitly described in mocking detail, Jack's affair with his female psychotherapist. But that's all she knew. She didn't know who the woman caller was and didn't mention the call to Jack until after she'd already filed for divorce. As impetuous as Alicia had always been, it surprised even Jack how fast she'd put her foot down and walked away. But then, she always had stood her ground, and he still respected her for that, in spite of everything.
The entire proceedings were behind closed doors, under a severe gag rule, and the judge conducting the whole sordid dissolution of what had once been a profoundly promising marriage, had kept it that way through the entire proceeding. Still in shock, and too emotionally devastated to thoroughly understand the legal proceedings that followed, Alicia changed her mind at the last minute and agreed to a trial separation, saving Jack the professional humiliation of having his stupid affair blasted across the air waves. He'd gone along amicably, and in spite of the fact Alicia was given custody of their teenaged son, Paul, who's refused to speak to his father since, he'd never once felt bitter about what Alicia had done. He deserved being punished and would never quite forgive himself for his one and only thoughtless indiscretion.
To Alicia, Jack's affair and its aftermath had been nothing but a static blur, a rebellious floater in a viscous pool of amber syrup dancing just out of sight behind her tear stained eyes. Twenty years of marriage on ice, just like that, adrift in a leaky life boat, lost in a sea of impervious confusion and chilled Beefeater's Gin, while her life sailed right off the edge of a world she barely knew.
After kissing his sleeping wife on the cheek, Jack moves slowly through the house towards the door, searching aimlessly in the nightlight shadows for any sign of his ever having lived there. He was still in love with Alicia and still grateful to her that she'd not exposed the affair to anyone, knowing it would most probably have ruined his career had the gossip rags gotten wind of it, not to mention the utter humiliation she'd have felt. A desperate but genuinely contrite Jack had tried several times after that to apologize to Alicia for the unconscionable affair, and time and time again he'd tried to make it go away, insisting that it was over; and, in his mind, it was. Vowing emphatically that he had no intention of ever seeing his therapist again, he wanted nothing more than to reconcile with his wife and to put the disastrous episode behind them for good.
He'd remembered the look on Alicia 's face when he'd told her how much he'd always loved her, and how much he still loved her and always would, in spite of everything. It was as if a temporary, summer shower had fallen during an otherwise withering drought. Shockingly, the wounded, and emotionally mercurial Alicia finally excepted his apology and agreed to consider seeing him again, at least for the time being, but only as a friend. Jack jumped at the chance and became, finally, the attentive devoted husband he knew he should have been before he'd been sucked into his guilt infested tryst with the bitterly jealous and irrationally possessive Dr. Stanton. "You won't be sorry," he'd told her. But he couldn't help but wonder if she already was.