David reached for a pair of filled champagne glasses he had set on a lacquered table. "A toast," he declared, "to the second-luckiest man alive."
"The second?" she said, and smiled in pretended shock. "Who's the first?"
They looped arms and took a long, luxurious sip from the crystal glasses. "This farmer with two goats. I'll tell you later.
"I have something for you," David suddenly remembered. He had already given her the perfect five-carat diamond on her finger, which he knew she wore only to please his folks. He went to his tuxedo jacket, which was draped over a high-backed chair, and returned with a jewelry box from Bulgari.
"No, David," Melanie protested. "You're my gift."
"Open it anyway," he said to her. "This you'll like."
She lifted the top. Inside a suede pouch was a set of earrings, large silver rings around a pair of whimsical moons made from diamonds.
"They're how I think of you," he said.
Melanie held the moons against the lobes of her ears. They were perfect, and so was she.
"It's you who pulls my tides," David murmured.
They kissed, and he unfastened the zipper of her dress, letting the neckline fall just below her shoulders. He kissed her neck. Then the tops of her breasts.
There was a knock on the door of the suite.
"Champagne," called a voice from outside.
For a moment, David thought of just yelling, "Leave it there!" All evening, he had longed to peel away the dress from his wife's soft white shoulders.
"Oh, go get it," Melanie whispered, dangling the earrings in front of his eyes. "I'll put these on."
She wiggled out of his grasp, backing toward the Mandarin's master bathroom, a smile in her liquid brown eyes. God, he loved those eyes.
As he went to the door, David was thinking he wouldn't trade places with anybody in the world.
Not even for a second goat.
PHILLIP CAMPBELL had imagined this moment, this exquisite scene, so many times. He knew it would be the groom who opened the door. He stepped into the room.
"Congratulations," Campbell muttered, handing over the champagne. He stared at the man in the open tuxedo shirt with a black tie dangling around his neck.
David Brandt barely looked at him as he inspected the brightly ribboned box. Krug. Clos du Mesnil, 1989.
"What is the worst thing anyone has ever done?" Campbell murmured to himself. "Am I capable of doing it? Do I have what it takes?"
"Any card?" the groom said, fumbling in his pants pocket for a tip.
"Only this, sir."
Campbell stepped forward and plunged a knife deep into the groom's chest, between the third and fourth ribs, the closest route to the heart.
"For the man who has everything," Campbell said. He pushed his way into the room and slammed the door shut with a swift kick. He spun David Brandt around, shoved his back against the door, and powered the blade in deeper.
The groom stiffened in a spasm of shock and pain. Guttural sounds escaped from his chest tiny, gurgling, choking breaths. His eyes bulged in disbelief.
This is amazing, Campbell thought. He could actually feel the groom's strength leaking away. The man had just experienced one of the great moments of his life and now, minutes later, he was dying.
Campbell stepped back, and the groom's body crumpled to the floor. The room began to tilt like a listing boat. Then everything began to speed up and run together. He felt as if he were watching a flickering newsreel. Amazing. Nothing like he had expected.
Campbell heard the wife's voice and had the presence of mind to pull the blade out of David Brandt's chest.
Copyright © 2001 by James Patterson.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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