Hot Shot

By: Susan Elizabeth Phillips

PROLOGUE





For three terrifying days in 1958, the bride was the most famous child in America.

Eighteen years later, Susannah Faulconer once again felt like that panic-stricken seven-year-old. As she began walking at her father's side down the white runner that had been laid in a rigid path through the exact center of the Faulconer gardens, the heirloom pearl choker that encircled her throat seemed to be cutting off her breath. She knew the sensation was irrational since the choker wasn't the least bit tight and she had worn it many times, beginning with her debutante ball when she was eighteen. There was no reason for her to feel as if she couldn't breathe. No reason for her to experience such an overpowering urge to rip it from her throat and fling it into the crowd of well-dressed guests.

Not that she would actually do such a thing. Not proper Susannah Faulconer.

Although she was a redhead, people didn't tend to think of her that way, since her hair wasn't the fiery red of a slick Clairol ad, but a patrician auburn that conjured up images of a gentler time—a time of early morning fox hunts, tinkling teacups, and women who sat for Gainsborough. Beneath a Juliet cap, she wore her hair swept neatly away from her face and simply arranged at the nape of her neck. The style was a bit severe for a bride, but it somehow suited her. Instead of an elaborate wedding gown, she wore a tea-length dress of antique lace. The open mandarin collar revealed a slim, aristocratic neck encircled by the lustrous five-strand heirloom pearl choker that was giving her so much difficulty. Everything about her bespoke wealth, breeding, and an old-fashioned sense of constraint out of place in a modern twenty-five-year-old woman.

A hundred years earlier, Susannah Faulconer would have been considered a great beauty, but her finely chiseled, elongated features were too subtle to compete with the bold cover-girl faces of the seventies. Her nose was thin and long but exquisitely straight; her lips narrow but beautifully arched. Only her eyes had a modern look about them. Wide-set and well-shaped, they were a light gray. They were also unfathomable, so that occasionally during a conversation, the person with whom she was speaking had the uncomfortable sense that Susannah simply wasn't there, that she had withdrawn to a place no one else was permitted to see.

For the past hour, the cream of California society had been arriving for the wedding. Limousines swept up the tree-lined drive and into the cobbled motor court that formed a crescent in front of Falcon Hill, the Faulconer family estate. Falcon Hill looked very much as if it had been part of the hills south of San Francisco for centuries, but it was barely twenty years old—built in the posh community of Atherton by Susannah's father, Joel Faulconer, not long after he had taken over control of Faulconer Business Technologies from his own father.

Despite differences of age and sex, there was a sameness about the guests who sat in the carefully laid-out rows of lacy white wrought-iron chairs. They all looked prosperous and conservative, very much like people accustomed to giving orders instead of taking them—all except the beautiful young woman who sat toward the back. In a sea of Halston and Saint Laurent, Paige Faulconer, the bride's younger sister, was conspicuous in a maroon thrift-store dress from the thirties draped at the shoulders with a funky, pink marabou boa.

As the music of the processional swelled, Susannah Faulconer turned her head slightly and spotted the cynical smile on her sister's pouty mouth. She resolved not to let her old conflicts with Paige spoil her wedding day. At least her sister had decided to attend the ceremony, which—after everything that had happened—was more than Susannah had expected.

Once again she was conscious of the tight pearl choker. She made herself forget about Paige and take in the beauty of the gardens instead. Marble statuary carved in Vicenza, and sparkling fountains purchased from a chateau in the Loire Valley, gave the gardens an old world look. Dozens of urns containing rose bushes heavy with white blooms had been strategically placed throughout the greenery. Gardenias floated in the fountains, and festoons of white ribbon blew gently in the June breeze. Everything was perfect, exactly as she had arranged it.

She concentrated on Cal, who was waiting for her beneath the pristine white canopy that had been constructed in front of the largest of the stone fountains. With his upper-crust good looks, Calvin Theroux reminded her of the men in magazine ads for expensive Scotch. At the age of forty-two, he was one of the most influential men in the Faulconer corporation. Despite their seventeen-year age difference, she and Cal were considered to be a perfect match. They had everything in common. Both had been raised in prosperity—she in San Francisco, he in Philadelphia. They had gone to the most exclusive private schools and moved in the best circles. Of course, Cal hadn't been kidnapped when he was seven, but then, neither had most people.