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The Short Forever

By´╝ÜStuart Woods

Chapter 1

ELAINE’S, LATE.

Stone Barrington sipped his third Wild Turkey and resisted the basket of hot sourdough bread that the waiter had just placed on the table. Callie was to have been there an hour and a half ago, and he was very, very hungry. She’d called from the airport to say that she was on the ground and on her way, but that had been an hour ago. It just didn’t take that long to get to Elaine’s from TeterboroAirport, where her boss’s jet landed. He glanced at his watch: He’d give her another three minutes, and then he was ordering.

He had been looking forward to seeing her. They’d spent some very pleasant time together in Palm Beach a few months before, on the yacht of his client Thad Shames. She was Shames’s majordomo—assistant, cook, social secretary, whatever he needed—and she moved when Shames moved, back and forth between Palm Beach and New York. In New York, she had been living with Stone, and he missed her when she was away.

“Give me a menu,” Stone said to Michael, the headwaiter.

“Giving up on her?” Michael asked.

“I am. If I drink any more without some food in my stomach, you’re going to have to send me home in a wheelbarrow.”

Michael laughed and placed a menu before him. “Dino’s not coming?”

“He should be here in a while; he said he had to work late.” He opened the menu, and Michael stood ready, pad in hand. When Stone was this hungry, everything looked good. He’d meant to have fish; he’d gained three pounds, and he needed to get it off, but now he was too hungry. “I’ll have a Caesar salad and the osso buco,” he said, “and a bottle of the Amerone.”

Michael jotted down the order, and as he reached for the menu, Stone looked up to see Callie breezing through the front door. He rose to meet her. She looked wonderful, as usual, in an Armani pantsuit. She gave him a short, dry kiss and sat down.

“I’d given up on you,” Stone said. “I just ordered.”

Michael handed her a menu, but she handed it back. “I’m sorry, I can’t stay for dinner,” she said.

Stone looked at her, stupefied. She had kept him waiting for an hour and a half, and now she wasn’t going to have dinner?

“Would you like a drink, Callie?” Michael asked.

She shook her head. “No time, Michael.”

“You still want dinner, Stone?”

“Yes, please,” Stone replied.

Michael retreated.

“So?” Stone asked.

“So what?” Callie replied.

“Is there something you want to tell me?” He wanted an apology and an explanation, but he got neither.

“Stone,” Callie said, looking at the tablecloth and playing with a matchbook. She didn’t continue.

“I’m right here,” he replied. “Have been, for an hour and a half.”

“God, this is hard,” she said.

“Maybe a drink would help.”

“No, I don’t have the time.”

“Where do you have to be at this hour?” he asked.

“Back in Palm Beach.”

Stone wasn’t terribly surprised. Thad Shames, a computer software billionaire, had a peripatetic life-style, and Callie was, after all, at his beck and call.

“First of all, I’m sorry I’m late,” she said. “I had to go by the house and pick up some things.”

Stone looked around; she wasn’t carrying anything.

“They’re in the car,” she said.

“What did you have to pick up?” he asked.

“Some things. My things.”

Stone blinked. “Are you going somewhere?”

“Back to Palm Beach. I told you.”

Stone was baffled. “Callie . . .”

She took a deep breath and interrupted him. “Thad and I are getting married this weekend.”

Stone was drinking his bourbon, and he choked on it.

“I know you didn’t expect this,” she said. “For that matter, neither did I. It’s just happened the past couple of weeks.” She had been gone for two weeks on this last trip.

Stone recovered his voice. “Are you perfectly serious about this?”

“Perfectly, and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t try to talk me out of it.”

That was exactly what he wanted to try. “I wouldn’t dream of it,” he said. “If that’s what you want.”

“It’s good, Stone. It isn’t like with you and me, but that could never last.”

“Why not?” Stone demanded, stung.

“Oh, it’s been great. I arrive in town, move in with you; we go to Elaine’s and the theater, and around. We fuck our brains out for a week or two, then I go back.”

That was exactly what they did, he reflected, but he wasn’t going to admit it. “I thought we had more than that going,” he said.

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