Sidney Sheldon’s Chasing Tomorrow
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL
HE TURNED AROUND AND looked back down the empty church, a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.
“She’s not coming, is she? She’s changed her mind.”
“Of course she’s coming, Jeff. Relax.”
Gunther Hartog looked at Jeff Stevens with genuine pity. How terrible it must be to be so in love.
Jeff Stevens was the second-most-talented con artist in the world. Sophisticated, urbane, rich and charming, Jeff was wildly attractive to the opposite sex. With his athletic build, thick dark hair and intensely masculine aura, Jeff Stevens could have had any woman he wanted. The problem was, he didn’t want any woman. He wanted Tracy Whitney. And with Tracy Whitney, one could never quite be sure . . .
Tracy Whitney was the most talented con artist in the world. It had taken Jeff Stevens a long time to realize that he couldn’t live without her. But he knew it now. The sinking feeling in his stomach got worse. Thank God there were no guests in the church. No one to witness his humiliation, apart from Gunther and the crotchety old priest, Father Alfonso.
Where is she?
“She’s fifteen minutes late, Gunther.”
“That’s a bride’s prerogative.”
“No. It’s more than that. Something’s wrong.”
The old man smiled indulgently. He’d been honored when Jeff asked him to be best man at his and Tracy’s wedding. In his late sixties, with no children of his own, Gunther Hartog loved Jeff Stevens and Tracy Whitney like family. Their union meant everything to him, particularly after the blow of their joint decision to go straight. A tragedy, in Gunther Hartog’s opinion. Like Beethoven retiring after his fourth symphony.
Still, it was wonderful being back in Brazil. The warm, wet air. The scent of bolinhos de bacalhau, the delicious codfish fritters cooked on every street corner. The riot of color that existed everywhere, from the jungle flowers, to the women’s stunning dresses, to the frescoes and stained glass windows of the tiny, baroque Chapel of St. Rita, where they now stood. All of it made Gunther Hartog feel young again. Young and alive.
“What if Pierpont got wise?” The worry lines deepened on Jeff Stevens’s face. “What if . . . ?
He stopped, midsentence. There, silhouetted in the church doorway, stood Tracy Whitney. The sunlight blazing behind her looked almost like a halo, as if Tracy were an angel sent from heaven. My angel. Jeff Stevens’s heart soared.
Tracy’s slender figure was shown off to perfection in a simple, cream silk dress, and her shining chestnut hair cascaded around her shoulders like poured molasses. Jeff Stevens had seen her in countless guises over the years—Tracy’s was a fluid, changeable beauty, which accounted for part of her success as a con artist—but he had never seen her look more lovely than she did today. Tracy’s mother used to tell her that she had “all the colors of the wind” in her. Jeff Stevens understood exactly what Doris Whitney had meant. Today Tracy’s eyes, incredible eyes that could change from moss green to dark jade according to her mood, sparkled with happiness, and with something else besides. Triumph, perhaps? Or excitement? Jeff Stevens felt his heart rate quicken.
“Hello, Gunther, darling.” Tracy walked purposefully toward the altar, kissing her mentor on both cheeks. “How wonderful of you to come.”
Tracy Whitney loved Gunther Hartog like a father. Tracy missed her father. She hoped he would have been proud of her today.
Turning to Jeff Stevens, she said, “Sorry I’m late.”
“Never apologize,” said Jeff. “You’re far too beautiful for that.”
He noticed that her cheeks were very flushed, and a fine mist of sweat had begun to form on her brow. Almost as if she’d been running.
“I have a good excuse. I was picking up your wedding present.”
“I see.” Jeff smiled back. “Well, I do like presents.”
“I know you do, darling.”
“Especially when they’re from you.”
The priest interrupted grumpily, looking at his watch. “Perhaps we could begin?”
Father Alfonso had a baptism to perform in an hour. He wished these tiresome Americans would get a move on. The explosive sexual chemistry between Jeff Stevens and Tracy Whitney made Father Alfonso deeply uncomfortable. As if he were committing a sin just by standing next to them. On the other hand, they had tipped him very handsomely for the use of the chapel at such short notice.
“So did you get it?” Jeff asked, not taking his gray eyes from Tracy’s.
“My present, of course.”
“Oh yes.” Tracy grinned. “I got it all right.”
Jeff Stevens kissed her passionately on the mouth.
Father Alfonso coughed loudly. “Please, Mr. Stevens. Restrain yourself! Estão na casa de Deus. This is a place of worship. You are not yet married.”
“Sorry.” Jeff grinned, looking anything but.
She did it. Tracy did it. She outwitted the great Maximilian Pierpont. After all these years.
Jeff Stevens gazed at his wife-to-be adoringly.
He had never loved her more.
TEN DAYS EARLIER . . .
SCHIPHOL AIRPORT, AMSTERDAM.
TRACY WHITNEY LEANED BACK in her first-class seat, number 4B, and sighed with contentment. In a few hours she would be reunited with Jeff. They would be married, in Brazil. No more capers, Tracy thought, but I won’t miss them. Life will be thrilling enough just being Mrs. Jeff Stevens.
Their last con, stealing the priceless Lucullan Diamond from the Netherlands diamond-cutting factory in Amsterdam, had been a fitting swan song. Together, Tracy and Jeff had outwitted both the Dutch police and Daniel Cooper, the dogged insurance agent who had tracked them all across Europe, in a daring and dramatic heist. We’ll never top that, thought Tracy. And we certainly don’t need any more money. It was the perfect time to retire.
A puffy, dissipated-looking middle-aged man was standing over her. He indicated the window seat. “That’s my seat, honey. Great day for a flight, huh?” There was a leer in his voice as he squeezed past her.
Tracy turned away. She had no interest in making conversation, especially with this creep.
Sitting down, her companion nudged her. “Since we’re going to be seatmates on this flight, little lady, why don’t you and I get acquainted? My name is Maximilian Pierpont.”
Tracy’s mental Rolodex whirred into action, but she displayed no visible sign of emotion.
Maximilian Pierpont. Legendary corporate raider. Buys up companies and strips them. Ruthless. Three times divorced. Owner of most valuable Fabergé egg collection outside the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.
“Countess Valentina Di Sorrenti.” She offered him her hand.
“A countess, eh? Charmed.” Maximilian Pierpont pressed his lips to Tracy’s wrist. They were wet and slimy, like a toad. She forced herself to smile.
Tracy had first heard the name “Maximilian Pierpont” on board the QE2, many years before, when she and Jeff Stevens found themselves passengers on the same voyage bound for London. Jeff had been planning to rob the famously unscrupulous Pierpont, but had ended up pulling an ingenious betting scam with Tracy instead, tricking two chess grand masters into playing each other in a rigged game.
Later, Gunther Hartog had commissioned Tracy to rob Pierpont on the Orient Express train to Venice, but he never turned up.
Tracy’s beloved mother, Doris Whitney, had killed herself after a local mafioso in her native New Orleans, Joe Romano, tricked her out of her family business. Tracy’s father had spent his life building up the Whitney Automotive Parts Company. After his death, Romano raided the company, firing everybody and leaving Doris penniless.
Tracy had long since taken her revenge on Joe Romano. But her hatred of corporate raiders never left her. As far as she was concerned, there was a special corner of hell reserved for the Maximilian Pierponts of this world.
You won’t get away this time, you bastard.
THE FLIGHT WAS LONG. Tracy chatted amiably with Pierpont for almost two hours before he fell asleep, snoring loudly like a beached walrus. It was enough time for her to embellish her alter ego a little. Tracy had played the Countess Valentina Di Sorrenti before and knew her history well. (She’d written the countess’s Wikipedia page, after all.) Valentina was a widow (Poor Marco! He died so young and so needlessly. A Jet Ski accident in Sardinia. Valentina witnessed it all from the upper deck of their yacht, El Paradiso) and came from an ancient, aristocratic family. She had recently lost her father and hinted at a large inheritance, without being drawn into details. Details were best avoided, in Tracy’s experience, especially while a con was still being formulated. She also made sure to display a charmingly feminine lack of understanding about financial matters and the ways of the world that made Maximilian Pierpont’s greedy eyes shine almost as much as they did when he looked at her breasts, something he did frequently and with no hint of embarrassment. By the end of the conversation, Countess Valentina had agreed to meet him for dinner the following evening at one of Rio’s finest restaurants.