JOHN MERRIVALE DID NOT LIKE FLYING. Pulling down the window shade, he tried to focus on the jet's luxurious interior, and not the fact that he was thirty thousand feet over the Atlantic Ocean in a hurtling metal box with wings.

Taking in the soft leather couches, cashmere-covered cushions and inlaid walnut table set with a pair of crystal flutes and a dainty silver bowl of caviar, he thought, It's wasted on me. Perhaps that was the greatest irony in all of this. John Merrivale didn't care about money. He never had. John Merrivale wasn't interested in things. The truth was things bored him. Bespoke suits, sports cars, private planes, yachts, mansions. It was women who lusted after all that, the accoutrements of wealth, the status symbols. With Caroline it was real estate. Maria had been more of a magpie, a bauble whore, salivating over anything and everything that sparkled.

Poor Maria. Killing her had never been part of the plan. But she'd put him in an impossible situation. By threatening to tell Andrew about their affair, she'd put everything at risk.

For two years now, the delicate balance of mutual dependence between John and Andrew Preston had protected both of them. If Lenny had been Quorum's head, its brain and its nerve center, Andrew and John had been the fund's left and right hands. John brought money in. Andrew paid it out to investors. Keeping the SEC, and later the FBI, in the dark had been a simple matter of each of them covering for the other.

Of course, the scale of their respective crimes varied wildly. I'm like a hippo on a seesaw with an ant. Andrew's thefts - $600,000 here, a million there - were small. As for his reverse engineering of financial statements, "spinning" the fund's accounts to make it look more profitable than it actually was...every hedge fund on Wall Street did that. Compared with what John had done, Andrew Preston's "crimes" were laughably insignificant.

The truth was that Andrew could have gone to Harry Bain at any time and spilled the beans about both of them in return for a plea deal. John Merrivale understood that only too well. The beauty was that Andrew didn't. Desperate as he was to keep Maria in trinkets, and in his bed, his terror of exposure kept him silent. The poor man was even grateful to John for covering for him with Bain. "I don't know how to thank you, John," he would say, groveling, and John would reply graciously, "It's n-nothing, Andrew. What good will it do to pick open old wounds?"

It was pathetic, really. Andrew Preston had no idea how many cards he held. Just like he had no idea what was going on between his drama-loving slut of a wife and his friend John Merrivale. Andrew's ignorance had been John's saving grace. Until Maria threatened to shatter it.

"I'm going to tell Andrew about us. We can finally be together, my darling. If he kicks up a fuss, I'll tell him I'm going to go to the police and report him. He was stealing from Quorum for years, you know."

It was a terrible shame. After so many years of humiliation and hell with Caroline, Maria had been a lifesaver for John. She made him feel like a functioning, sexual male again. More than that, she made him feel desirable. Powerful. If only she'd kept her mouth shut and her legs open, he would never have had to take such drastic action. But she'd left him no choice. Once Andrew knew that John had betrayed him, he'd tell the FBI everything. Without Maria, he would have nothing left to lose.

Silly girl. Did she really think I wanted to marry her? For us to run away together?

In a few hours, John Merrivale would be landing in paradise, reunited with the love of his life. It wasn't Maria Preston.

He hadn't intended things to be so rushed at the end. The original plan was to wait until public interest in Quorum had faded, then to slip quietly away. But events had overtaken him. First came Grace's escape and recapture, both of which put Quorum firmly back in the headlines. Then the Maria situation had gotten out of control. John hadn't been prepared for the storm of media interest in her murder. Having the press sniffing around him made him nervous, and when Andrew offed himself, it started to get worse. Predictably, Maria's death had destroyed poor Andrew. He was so deranged with grief that he seemed to blame himself for what happened, for not having protected her. Sooner or later someone - a whiz kid at the FBI perhaps, or a dogged journalist - would start putting two and two together. That psychopath Gavin Williams had already come dangerously close to uncovering the truth. That threat had been neutralized, but there would be others. It was time to get out.

Scooping up some caviar in a little silver spoon, John dolloped it onto a blini and swallowed.

Disgusting.

There was only one true luxury in life: freedom. As a boy, John had been imprisoned by his ugliness and his parents' stifling ambition. As a man, he'd been subjugated by his evil, sadistic wife. Now, for the first time in his life, John Merrivale was going to taste freedom, with his love by his side.

He closed his eyes, lost in the bliss of anticipated pleasure.




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