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CHAPTER ONEThe jangling rattle of the alarm awoke David Mills at seven. Without opening his eyes, he reached a practiced hand for the small knob that silenced the disturbing sound. In doing so, the upper part of his arm brushed silky soft flesh and, although the noise of the alarm had not fully awakened him, this pleasurable contact did. He opened his eyes then and regarded the sleeping girl beside him with interest and appreciation.Her short-cropped, brown hair was only an inch from his nose. Her features, rendered slightly out of focus by the wreckage remaining from her last night's make-up, were regular and attractive, gamin even in repose.Because of the warmth of the summer night, the single sheet that had covered them was crumpled around their ankles. Nothing obstructed his view of her lithe, youthful body. Her breasts, pink tipped and sweetly rounded, rose in firm abundance from a perfectly molded torso that expanded upward from a slender waist and flat stomach above swelling hips and artfully tapered thighs. She was, David decided, not only a joy to behold but undoubtedly a very delicious morsel as well and he wondered where in the hell he had met her.He propped himself on one elbow to examine her even more carefully while disjoined and ragged bits of memory came plodding reluctantly back into his mind. The one thing he was sure about was that he had been very drunk the night before. Cocktail lounge interiors, neon lights, taxi cabs, faces of bartenders, all whirled in his brain in a confusing, kaleidoscopic montage. By great effort, he managed to pick one particular place out of this pin-wheel of places and to isolate one face and body out of the spinning delirium of faces and shapes. He remembered a cocktail waitress who had worn a mini skirt surmounted by a blouse so low cut as to be practically negligible. He studied the legs of the girl in the bed beside him. Yep, he decided, this was the one but he'd be damned if he could recall her name.It didn't make much difference. He remembered now that they had come to his apartment in the small hours of the morning and, in spite of the drinking they had both done, had made good love. Satisfied that he had caught up with all stray memories pertinent to anything of importance in their relationship, he rolled closer to her and, cupping one of her fine breasts in his hand while he leaned over her and kissed her on the lips, he let the contact of her smooth, lightly tanned flesh against his chest, belly and thighs excite him.The girl did not awaken immediately. She groaned in protest against this disturbance of her sleep but, as if by instinct, her arms went around him and her hips began a slow, writhing motion. She was still not entirely conscious when his hand left her breast and slid down the flat expanse of her stomach to her patch of crinkly, brown hair but her legs parted to allow his probing fingers to find the moist warmth they sought and when she groaned again it was no longer in protest but with pleasure.With his lips still fastened to hers, his tongue probing the interior of her mouth, David moved in between her opened legs and entered her as easily and naturally as though they had been lovers for years. She was awake now and her response was no longer the remote, automatic somnambulism of dream-like stupor. Together, they moved in the practiced undulation of love and, together, they let passion build in response to the rhythmic stimulation.David was acutely conscious of every part of the girl's body, excited by the silken warmth of her, by the remembered perfection of shapely limbs and of the ardent breasts now crushed against his own chest. Adding immeasurably to the pleasure of making love to her was the thrill that comes only once, the heady feeling of a "first time" with a new girl.That which had, at first, been only desire turning smoothly into pleasure, now became a mounting flame inside his loins, an exquisite agony of boiling body juices that demanded release that, through sheer will, he denied himself until he sensed her own readiness. When the motion of her hips became violent and convulsive he let himself go to burst like a pent-up flood. Together then, they died that little death, that sweet and longed for little death that is the climax of passion churned to a maelstrom of feeling beyond the capacity of body and soul to endure. They spent themselves in diminishing shudders and spasms until, at last, they reluctantly surrendered to rebirth and came back to the world from which they had so briefly escaped."Good morning," David said."Hi," she replied.He grinned at her, still clinging tightly to her, still engulfed by her faintly throbbing loins. "I don't remember your name."Her pretty mouth twitched into a smile. "I'm not surprised. You were wiped out of your mind last night. I'm Connie and you are David Mills, a junior engineer at Bergstrom Electronics. Age twenty-four. Single. Lots of fun and very good in bed."He looked at her in astonishment. "Good God! Did I tell you all that last night?""No. I had to look in your wallet for your address and I found your I.D. card too. It was interesting. You also have a hundred and eighty-three dollars. I considered rolling you but you were so sweet and you made love to me so beautifully last night, I just didn't have the heart to do it."This frank confession failed to disturb David in the least. He knew it for what it was, a pitch to tap him for some money that, after her honesty, he could hardly deny. He didn't mind. She had been worth it."If you are short," he told her, "I'd be glad to make you a loan.""I could use twenty," she admitted.He was glad she didn't add some imaginative story to the simple statement, some sloppy fiction concerning a kid brother who needed a twenty-dollar pair of shoes to attend first grade. They both knew it was not a loan and that they would probably never fee each other again, or at least that he would certainly never see the twenty again. She was a part time prostitute doing a little moonlighting on her regular job but had not quite reached the point where she was willing to pin a price tag on the front of her skirt just below her navel.He kissed her, got up and took his wallet from his trousers where he found them half under the foot of the bed. He extracted a twenty and handed it to her with no comment.She accepted it the same way."I expect I'd better shave and think about going to work. Lord! What a revolting thought!"She made sympathetic sounds and sat up, reaching for her own clothing that she had thoughtfully draped over the back of a near-by chair.Watching her graceful motions as she performed the very feminine functions of slipping into brassiere and panties and sheathing her beautiful legs in nylon, David was tempted to call the office and play sick for the day but then he remembered Holly Van Haagen and that he had a date with her that evening. To rise from his death bed to escort the boss's lovely secretary to a night club might, he admitted, cause some suspicion around his place of employment.He dressed and shaved, after which he asked Connie if she would join him for breakfast."Food? Ugh!" she grunted, grimacing wryly, her pert nose wrinkling in disgust. "How can you? You ought to be so goddamned hung over this morning that you'd look like you were sitting down when you walk. Instead, here you are, all bright eyed and bushy tailed and actually talking about food. It isn't natural."David laughed. "Evidence of a good, clean life," he said blithely.They went down the stairs to the street level and parted on the sidewalk, she to seek her own apartment and to sleep until her own work-day would start in the evening and he to a restaurant where he would fortify himself against a morning of toil.Later, while guiding his two-seater sport car through the morning traffic, his thoughts turned again to Holly Van Haagen. Now there, he thought, was a real challenge. He had invented several names for her during the two weeks he had been at Bergstrom's, none of which were very original but were aptly descriptive. He sometimes thought of her as the "Snow Queen" and, at other times as the "Ice Maiden." She was very young, very blonde, very beautiful and very unresponsive to all of his overtures.It was typical of David that two weeks of being repeatedly rejected had not in the least dulled the edge of his confidence in eventual victory. He would have hotly denied that he was a conceited young man. He did not feel that it was conceit to be aware of the facts of his unquestionable good looks, his brains and way with women. A long series of relatively easy victories over the opposite sex had convinced him that he was irresistible. He had been curious and interested upon finding himself in bed with the lovely Connie that morning but not a bit surprised. He expected to wake up with beautiful bed partners. He had certainly never found a homely one under the sheets with him.Yesterday had seemed to once again prove his point. The icily beautiful Holly had wearied at last of the hard-to-get game and had consented to go on a date with him. Now there remained only the business of working out what particular strategy he would use to guarantee that the evening would culminate in his apartment and, to be more specific, in his bed. He did some mental arithmetic involving the amount of money still in his wallet, another sum representing the minimum necessary for survival until pay-day and came up with a figure that seemed adequate for the champagne-oysters-dinner-show-orchids routine with which he planned to overcome Holly's resistance. Satisfied, he glanced in the rear view mirror and grinned at himself. A face that lost nothing by having regular, very masculine features, soulful, cocker spaniel-type eyes and was surmounted by a head of black, wavy hair, grinned back at him. He wondered for a fleeting instant what it would have been like to have been born unattractive then shuddered and dismissed the thought as unworthy of such a beautiful day.Bergstrom Electronics was situated at the north end of the town of Gardenville. It was a very new, very modem plant and, despite the tall, quite impressive fence of woven wire which enclosed its several acres, it was as attractive as an industrial plant could possibly be. The architect, apparently a frustrated abstractionist, had designed the administration building and all other structures visible from the highway, with a view toward lessening the severity common to such commercial establishments. They swooped and soared in unexpected angles and planes and were painted in a variety of brilliant colors. This uninhibited treatment, along with a complimentary landscaping done in carefully contrived confusion, created a somewhat startling but, nevertheless, pleasing aspect.This was Bergstromland as seen from the highway. Behind the pixilated facade was quite another world. Here there was neither beauty nor joy but only grim efficiency and an almost military discipline. Woe to the worker who punched in a minute late or punched out a second early. People at benches or machines in the vast assembly department, worked against a daily quota. Clerks, messengers and even junior executives moved through the hallways with furtive and guilty haste, lest some Big Brother-type, wearing the red badge of highest authority, question their reason for being absent from their desks.It hadn't started out that way. The great change had been brought about by a visit from a group of high-ranking Air Force officers. They came and went in the aloof elegance of their uniformed, bemedaled and gold-braided isolation but they had looked, they had asked questions and they had made notes and they left behind them the rumor that Bergstrom Electronics was being considered as a possible bidder for a juicy, government contract that, if acquired, would convert them from manufacturers of household electrical appliances to manufacturers of component parts for a mysterious device known as an intercontinental ballistic missile.This alone would have been enough to have galvanized any independent, relatively small, electronics company into frenzied activity but there was more. Holden Electric, a competing company on the south end of town, had also been inspected by the tin gods of war. The two companies were left with the understanding that only one contract would be granted in the area, so that it became a matter of competition. The company that first shaped up to meet military specifications would be the one most likely to be allowed to place both front hoofs and snout in the public money trough and swill to their heart's content.Immediately, the fence went up around Bergstrom Electronics and a gate, complete with uniformed and armed guards appeared overnight. Identification badges were issued, fingerprints and photographs were taken and everyone was required to fill out endless questionnaires and loyalty forms.Gone was the erstwhile spirit of camaraderie and good fellowship from the offices, the rest rooms, the various departments and the cafeteria, replaced by a kind of mutual desperation and suspicion.Holden Electric, on the other end of town, seemed to react to the challenge with much less concern. They went through the motions of gearing themselves for security and conforming to military specifications but with a casual air that fathered the rumor that they had a secret weapon, one they would unlimber only at the last and most critical moment of the contract race.David Mills stopped his car at the gate, submitted to an examination of his identification badge by the same guard who scrutinized it with equal care every morning, then drove to the parking lot designated for junior engineers. He showed the badge again to gain entrance to the main building and passed down the hall to the wing where the Engineering Department held forth.Happy-go-lucky by nature, David felt and resented the squelching of his blithe spirit within these grim walls and among these desperate and frightened people. He looked forward to the ten o'clock coffee break when he would be able to spend a few minutes with Holly Van Haagen. Icy she might be but, at least, it was beautiful ice. To fan to fierce flame the smoldering fires he suspected of existing under her cold exterior was the sort of challenge that stirred him, that could churn his very bowels with excitement. Winning Air Force contracts he considered a dreadful bore.His cheery greetings to his fellow workers were mostly answered by hasty grunts or nods. It was generally understood among them that David Mills was a disturbing and even dangerous influence and it was feared that his frivolous attitude might even reflect poorly on the entire department. He was shunned and snubbed by everyone and it had even been rumored in the rest rooms that he was under suspicion of subversion. The head of his department had gone as far as to recommend his dismissal on the charge of improper attitude and lack of company spirit. The head office had apparently ignored this request for personnel action.David didn't like it. He didn't like his job or the company for which he worked. Basically friendly and outgoing, he resented the unfair ostracism and considered his fellow employees a bunch of disgusting and cowardly sheep. Had it not been for Holly Van Haagen, he would have turned in his badge and drawn his time after the first two days of incarceration in the Bergstrom Bastille.For two hours he did what he considered a clerk's job, making a recapitulation of a recent inventory of toaster parts and entering the totals on a form that he suspected would be promptly buried in the files and forgotten. He assumed that they didn't trust him with more important work.At ten he left his desk and joined the mad rush to the cafeteria, his heart leaping at sight of Holly's trim form in the line ahead of him. Coffee cup in hand, he joined her at one of the tables."You're taking an awful chance being seen with me in public," he told her. "I'm about as popular around here as a pregnant high school girl at a P.T.A. meeting. Do we still have a date for tonight?"Holly shrugged her pretty shoulders and David was entranced at the rising and falling motion this imparted to her full bosom. She smiled and he fancied it a less wintry smile than usual. "I don't care what these people think and I doubt if you do either," she replied evenly. "Of course we still have a date."She was a slender, fine-boned blonde with the clearest, bluest eyes he had ever seen. In an older woman, her almost too perfect features might have been termed classical but they escaped such static classification by virtue of the mobility of youth. Her shoulder-length hair hung, softly and naturally waved, in defiance of the bouffant style still popular. When she moved her head it rippled and gleamed like a girl's hair in a TV commercial for shampoo. She wore simple dresses on the job yet, on her, he was sure that even a burlap sack would not have appeared simple. Her body was elfin slender but endowed with a marvelous suppleness and grace that called attention to her delicately and beautifully formed shape whenever she walked.He wondered about her age but had lacked the temerity to question her. He suspected that the pose of aloofness and carefully cultivated sophistication had been adapted for the express purpose of making her appear older.The hem of her dress she wore modestly knee-length but, as she sat on the bench beside him, her skirt had worked up over a nyloned leg to reveal a dazzling bit of creamy thigh and David felt his hand twitch with an almost uncontrollable impulse to caress her there. A familiar but uncomfortable sensation in his own loins caused him to wonder if he was going to be able to stand up and walk across the room without embarrassment at the conclusion of the coffee break.He did, but only due to the restrictive blessing of skin-tight, jockey shorts.He managed to survive the rest of the day without being put to sleep by the sheer boredom of interminable lists of toaster components and escaped that evening at quitting time, eager for the adventure of a night with Holly Van Haagen. At least he fervently hoped it would be a full night.He called for her at six and was gratified to find her ready and waiting. To his surprise and delight, she seemed much warmer and more casual away from the job but she vetoed his elaborate plans for the evening."It sounds much too formal," she objected, "and much too expensive as well. Couldn't we just have a hamburger somewhere and go to a movie?"They did and she made no objection to the arm he placed over her shoulder as they watched the flickering fiction of the screen. Later, when he parked the car along the river road and they watched moonlight lay a bronzy path across the quiet, barely moving waters, she turned her face up for their first kiss.For David, at least, it was as though a small hydrogen bomb had gone off in the front seat of the car.He had been thrilled and excited by other kisses from other women but those had been mild experiences compared to the total shock of Holly's lips on his and Holly's slender, vibrant body in his arms. Denied the support for his attack that he had counted on from champagne, he had revised his strategy to include a much slower, more gradual approach to seduction but the impact of Holly was too much for him. His hand automatically slid in through the neck of her dress and under her brassiere to cup and fondle her breast while his mouth worked hungrily on hers and his tongue sought entrance between her white, even teeth.She gasped, whether with surprise or burgeoning passion he couldn't tell, but he felt her body begin to tremble and vibrate under his hands like a finely tuned violin string and her lips became as avid and eager as his own. His hand left the warmth and sweetness of her breast and rumpled her skirt as it slid up the soft tautness of her thigh. She lifted her hips toward him as he touched the delicate material of her panties and, ruthlessly, he pulled them to one side to plunge his fingers between her legs, seeking and finding the small button secreted beneath the soft folds of warm, moist flesh. She opened her legs wider for an instant, then pushed his hand away and sat back from him.Panting as though she had run a hundred yards, she stared at him, her eyes wild, almost crazy-looking in the moonlight."No, David! No!" she whispered and then she began to cry.CHAPTER TWO"I suppose you're going to tell me you're just not that kind of a girl." David's voice was shaky with the emotions of passion and disappointment."I don't know what kind of a girl I am," Holly sobbed. "I wanted to and then ... then I was afraid.""Jesus! I might have known it. You're too god damned beautiful to be true. There had to be a catch somewhere. So you turn out to be a neurotic.""I'm sorry, David.""So am I," he replied bitterly and, turning the key in the ignition, he started the engine.They drove back to her apartment in silence.Still angry after he had let her out, he headed for the nearest bar where he drank three straight shots in rapid succession. With the whiskey beginning to sing in his head, he drove to another place. He was working on his second drink there and scowling fiercely at his reflection in the back-bar mirror, when it hit him. He saw himself with sudden an alarming clarity and he was filled with self-loathing."Why so grim tonight, lover?"The remembered voice of Connie was at his elbow and he turned to her without surprise, realizing in a flash of insight that his subconscious had led him to the lounge where she worked. She was dressed as he had first seen her, legs bare and beautiful beneath a mini skirt that barely covered her hips, breasts bulging enticingly above a low-cut blouse."I just don't like drinking in the company of a stupid son-of-a-bitch," he told her. "At least I could have picked a place where I didn't have to look at the bastard." He waved at his reflection in the mirror and it waved accusingly back at him.Connie nodded understandingly. "I get that way too sometimes. They shouldn't put mirrors in these places. Want to stick around until I'm off duty? It won't be long."Out of perversity and anger with himself he would have declined the invitation had she not placed a soft, long-fingered hand on his arm. Her touch undid him, reminding him of his terrible loneliness and his need, not so much for her body as for her womanliness. In that moment he came perilously close to falling in love with her."Yes.""Good. I've got customers suddenly dying of thirst. They'll nurse a drink all night until they see me stop to talk to someone. Don't go away and don't drink too much, David."To his surprise, he didn't order another and felt no need for it. He was content just to wait for her and to watch her long-limbed movements among the tables.When the place had closed and she had changed into street clothes, he took her to an all-night restaurant."Now," she said, over her coffee, "why don't you tell me about it. What is she like?""She's very young and very beautiful ... very passionate too, I think but I went too fast with her and scared her and then I acted like a spoiled brat, like a snot-nosed kid who kicks and screams because he doesn't get a candy bar he hasn't deserved in the first place. Christ's sake, Connie, I thought I was more adult than that."Her eyes were soft with an ancient woman-wisdom as she regarded him tenderly. "None of us are really grown up ... not all the time," she told him. "You must have wanted her very much ... perhaps you're in love with her. I don't think rejection would shake you up so badly otherwise."David looked at her, startled. "Love? I don't know. I hadn't thought of that. She's very withdrawn ... plays hard to get. It was a challenge. I've been working on it for two weeks. Maybe I've just built it up in my mind ... let it get all out of proportion. But, damnit, when she started to cry I could have had the common sense and the human decency to have put my arm around her.""Yes, you could have but it's probably not too late. There's always tomorrow, you know. Speaking of tomorrow, I suppose you have to go to work. Don't you think you ought to go to bed?""I guess so. Will you come with me, Connie?""Of course."