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Home > Mistress of the Game(7)

Mistress of the Game(7)
Author: Sidney Sheldon

She reserved her broadest grins for her brother, however. Robbie was entranced by his baby sister from the moment she arrived home from the hospital, rushing to greet her as soon as he got back from school, irritating the maternity nurse by dashing straight to her crib whenever she cried, even in the middle of the night.

“You mustn’t panic so, Master Robert.”

The nurse tried to be patient. The boy had just lost his mother, after all.

“Babies cry. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with her.”

Robbie scowled at the woman, full of contempt.

“Oh, really? How do you know?”

Peeling back the soft cashmere blankets, he lifted his sister to his chest, rocking her softly till her cries subsided. It was two in the morning, and outside the nursery window a full moon illuminated the Manhattan sky.

Are you out there, Mom? Can you see me? Can you see how good I’m taking care of her?

Everyone, including Barney, had been worried that Robbie might have very conflicted feelings toward the baby. He might even become violent toward her, “blaming” Lexi in some simple, childish way for their mother’s death. But Robbie had confounded them all with an outpouring of brotherly love that was as unexpected as it was clearly genuine.

Lexi was Robbie’s therapy-Lexi and his beloved piano. Whenever he felt the smooth, cool ivory beneath his fingers, Robbie was transported to another time and place. Every other sense shut down and he became one with the instrument, body and soul. At those times he knew his mother was with him. He just knew it.

“Robert, darling, don’t lurk. Come in.”

The forced cheeriness in Peter’s voice made Barney Hunt wince. He turned and saw his young godson hovering in the doorway.

“Uncle Barney’s here. Come and say hello.”

Robbie smiled nervously.

“Hi, Uncle Barney.”

He never used to be nervous, thought Barney. Who’s he afraid of? His dad?

Standing up, he clapped Robbie on the back.

“Hey, sport. How you doing?”

“Good.”

Liar.

“Your dad and I were just talking about you. We were wondering how things were going at school.”

Robbie looked surprised. “School?”

“Yeah, you know. Have the other kids been giving you a hard time? About the stuff in the newspapers?”

“No, not at all. School’s great. I love it there.”

He likes school because it’s an escape from this place. An escape from grief.

“Did you want to ask me something, Robert?”

Peter’s tone was tense, his speech clipped. He’d remained seated behind the desk since his son came in, rigid-backed, his whole body clenched, like a prisoner on his way to the firing squad. He wished Robbie would go away.

Peter Templeton loved his son. He was aware that he was failing him. But every time he looked at the boy, he felt overcome by a wave of anger so violent he could hardly breathe. Suddenly the bond that Robbie and Alexandra had shared in life, the love between mother and son that had once been Peter’s greatest delight, left him consumed with jealous rage. It was as if Robbie had stolen those hours from him, those countless, loving moments with Alex. Now she was gone forever. And Peter wanted those moments back.

He knew it was crazy. None of this was Robbie’s fault. But still the fury corroded his chest like battery acid. The irony was that Peter felt nothing but love for Lexi, the baby who had “caused” Alex’s death. In his grief-addled mind, Lexi was a victim, like himself. She had never even known her mother, poor darling. But Robert? Robert was a thief. He had stolen Alexandra from Peter. Peter couldn’t forgive him for that.

Even now, Peter sometimes overheard the boy talking to her.

Mommy, are you there? Mommy, it’s me.

Robbie would sit at the piano, a beatific smile on his face, and Peter knew that Alex was with him, comforting him, loving him, holding him. But when Peter woke in the night, screaming Alex’s name, there was nothing. Nothing but the blackness and silence of the grave.

“No, Dad.” Robert’s voice was barely a whisper. “I didn’t want to ask anything. I…I was going to play the piano. But I can come back another time.”

At the mention of the word piano , a nerve in Peter’s jaw began to twitch. He’d been idly tapping a pencil on the desk. Now he gripped it so hard it snapped in his hand.

Barney Hunt frowned. “You okay?”

“I’m fine.”

But Peter wasn’t fine. His hand was bleeding. One by one, slow, heavy drips of blood splashed onto the polished wood of the desk.

Barney smiled reassuringly at his godson. “We won’t be long. Five minutes and then I’ll come and find you. We can play some catch, how’s that sound?”

“Good.”

Another shy smile and Robbie was gone, slipping out of the room as silently as he had arrived.

Barney took a deep breath.

“You know, Peter, the kid needs you. He’s grieving, too. He-”

Peter raised his hand. “We’ve been through this, Barney. Robert’s all right. If you want to worry about something, worry about these damn newspaper reporters. They’re the damn problem, okay?”

Barney Hunt shook his head.

He felt for Robert, he really did. But there was nothing more he could do.

Eve Blackwell closed her eyes and tried to fantasize about something that would bring her to orgasm.

“Is that good, baby? Do you like that?”

Keith Webster, her husband, was drenched in sweat, pounding away at her from behind like an overexcited terrier. He’d insisted on regularly “making love,” as he put it, throughout Eve’s pregnancy. Now that her time was fast approaching, her belly was so vastly swollen that doggy-style sex was the only option. A small mercy for Eve, who was no longer forced to look at Keith’s weak, weaselly face twisted into a mask of sexual ecstasy every time he made love to her.

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