Harry Stratton Trevelyan allowed himself few certainties in life, but during the past month he had become absolutely, positively sure of one thing. He wanted Molly Abberwick. Tonight he intended to ask her to have an affair with him.
This was a major decision for Harry. But then, most decisions were major for him.
The opening sentence of his latest book could have served as his personal motto: Absolute certainty is the greatest of all illusions.
As a general rule he applied that principle to his work and to his personal life. A man had only one reliable defense against illusions in both arenas, and that defense was caution. Harry made it a habit to be very, very careful.
Harry's past as well as his current occupation combined to ensure that he viewed the world with what some people called a marked degree of cynicism. He preferred to call it intelligent skepticism, but the result was the same.
The good news was that he rarely got conned, scammed, or fleeced.
The bad news was that a lot of people thought that he was cold-blooded. That, however, did not bother Harry.
By training and inclination, Harry demanded hard, solid proof in virtually every arena of his life. He had a passion for it. He preferred a logical approach to all things.
Once in a while, however, his finely tuned brain seemed to skip the usual methodical steps and leaped straight to an insight so shatteringly perceptive that it sometimes scared him. Really scared him. Nevertheless, for the most part, he took satisfaction in exercising his razor-sharp intelligence. He knew that he was much better at thinking than he was at handling relationships.
Thus far he had moved slowly and carefully toward his goal of beginning an affair with Molly. He did not intend to make the mistake he had made with his ex-fiancée. He would not become involved with another woman in a desperate attempt to seek an answer to the dark questions about himself that he could not, would not put into words.
He would settle for sex and companionship this time.
"Will that be all, Harry?"
Harry glanced at his part-time housekeeper. Ginny Rondell, a plump, pleasant-faced woman in her late forties, hovered on the other side of the long granite counter that separated the kitchen from the living room of the high-rise condominium.
"Yes, thank you, Ginny," Harry said. "An excellent meal, by the way."
Molly Abberwick, seated on the black sofa facing the wall of windows, smiled warmly at Ginny. "It was fantastic."
Ginny's broad face suffused with pleasure. "Thank you, Ms. Abberwick. The tea is ready, Dr. Trevelyan. Are you sure you don't want me to serve it?"
"Thanks, I'll handle it," Harry said.
"Yes, well, I'll say good night, then." Ginny came around the edge of the long counter and trundled toward the green-marble-tiled hall.
Harry waited with an unfamiliar sense of gathering impatience as Ginny opened a closet door and removed her purse. He waited while she put on her sweater. At last she let herself out through the front door.
An acute silence fell on the condominium.
Alone at last, Harry thought, wryly amused at his own eagerness. He hadn't felt this way in a long, long time. He could not even recall the last occasion. It had no doubt occurred at some point in his youth. He was thirty-six, but he had been feeling very ancient for the past eight years.
"I'll get the tea," he said as he got to his feet.
Molly nodded. There was an expectant look in her wide, sea green eyes. Harry hoped the expression boded well for his plans for the evening. He had turned off both phones for the night, an unheard-of course of action. Ginny had been astounded.
True, he generally switched off the business line in the evenings or when he was engaged in intensive study, but he never threw the switch on the family line when he was at home. He was always available to both sides of his feuding clans.
Harry got to his feet and walked to the granite counter. He picked up the tray containing the pot of tea and two cups. He had ordered the very expensive Darjeeling after having made it his business to discover Molly's personal preference. No sugar. No milk. Harry was good with details.
Covertly, he studied Molly as he carried the tea tray to the glass table in front of the sofa. There was definitely an undercurrent of excitement stirring in her. He could almost feel it lapping at him in tiny waves. His own anticipation surged.
Molly sat somewhat primly on the sofa, her attention caught by the lights of the Pike Place Market down below and the dark expanse of Elliott Bay. It was summer in the Northwest, and the days seemed to last forever. But it was after ten o'clock, and night had finally arrived. Along with it had come Harry's opportunity to begin an affair with his client.
This was not the first time Molly had seen the sights from Harry's twenty-fifth-floor downtown condo. He worked out of his home, and Molly had come here often enough on business during the past month. But this was the first time she had ever seen the sights at night.
"You have an incredible view from up here," she said as he set the tea tray down on the coffee table.
"I like it." Harry sat down beside her and reached for the teapot. Out of the corner of his eye he saw her smile. He took that to be another good sign.
Molly had a very expressive face. Harry could have watched her for hours. The angle of her brows reminded him of a bird on the wing. The image was a good metaphor for Molly. A man who wanted to catch her would have to be very fast and very smart. Harry told himself that he was both.
Tonight Molly was dressed in a businesslike, moss green pantsuit complete with a one-button jacket and softly pleated trousers. She wore a pair of demure, suede pumps. Harry had never before paid much attention to women's feet, but he found himself captivated by Molly's. They were perfectly arched with delicate ankles. All in all, a marvel of engineering design, he thought.
The rest of Molly was well designed, too.
Having given the matter a great deal of close consideration in recent days, Harry had finally concluded that Molly was slender, but definitely not skinny. She practically radiated health and vitality. He was extremely healthy, himself. He had the reflexes of a cat, and he actually felt turbocharged when Molly was in the vicinity.
There was an appealing roundness to certain portions of Molly's anatomy. The jacket of the pantsuit skimmed over high breasts that Harry knew would fit nicely into his hand. The pleats of the trousers flared to encompass full, womanly hips.
Although he found her figure eminently interesting, it was Molly's vibrant face that commanded Harry's most serious attention. She was spectacular, he thought with satisfaction. Not spectacularly beautiful, just spectacular. She was unique. Special. Different.
Intelligence shimmered in her green eyes. Harry acknowledged that he was a sucker for brains in a woman. There was strength and fortitude and character in the delicate yet determined lines of her nose and high cheekbones. Her honey brown hair had a mind of its own. It exploded around her head in a short, thick, frothy mass. The style emphasized the tilt of her fey eyes.
It occurred to Harry that with those eyes, Molly could have made her living as a carnival fortune-teller. It would have been a simple matter for her to convince any likely mark that she could see straight into his past, present, and future.
The realization sparked a flash of renewed caution in Harry. The last thing he needed was a woman who could see deeply into his soul. That way lay madness.
For the space of perhaps three heartbeats he seriously questioned the wisdom of getting involved with a woman whose gaze held such a disconcerting degree of perception. He did not do well with women who were inclined to probe his psyche. His disastrous experience with his ex-fiancée had proved that much. On the other hand, he had no patience with bimbos.
For a few seconds Harry let his future hang in the balance as he contemplated his next move.
Molly gave him a questioning smile, revealing two slightly crooked front teeth. There was something endearing about those two teeth, Harry thought.
He took a deep breath and consigned his qualms to hell with a breathtaking recklessness that should have alarmed him. It would be okay this time, he told himself. Molly was a businesswoman, not a psychologist. She would take, a rational, levelheaded approach to what he was about to offer. She would not be inclined to dissect him or try to analyze him.
"I would like to discuss something with you." Harry poured tea into her cup with calm deliberation.
"Yes." Molly gave a little shriek, made a small fist, and pumped it wildly. Her eyes glowed. "Hot damn, I knew it."
Harry looked up, startled. "You did?"
She grinned as she picked up her teacup. "It's about time, if you don't mind my saying so."
Enthusiasm was a good thing in a woman, Harry assured himself. "Uh, no. No, I don't mind. I just hadn't realized that we were on the same wavelength here."
"You know what they say about great minds thinking alike."
Harry smiled. "Yes."
"I realized when you invited me to dinner tonight that this was a special occasion, not an ordinary business consultation."
"I knew that you had finally made a decision."
"I have, as a matter of fact." He eyed her closely. "I've given the matter a great deal of thought."
"Naturally. If I've learned one thing about you during the past few weeks, it's that you give everything a great deal of thought. So you finally concluded that Duncan Brockway's grant proposal is worth funding. About time."
Harry blanked for a split second. "Brockway's proposal?"
Molly's eyes sparkled with satisfaction. "I knew you'd approve that one. I just knew it. It's so original. So intriguing. And the potential is absolutely unlimited."
Harry narrowed his eyes. "This has nothing to do with Brockway's grant proposal. I wanted to talk about another matter."
The excitement in her eyes dimmed slightly. "You did look it over, didn't you?"
"Brockway's proposal? Yes, I did. It's no good. We can go into the details later, if you like. But right now I want to discuss something more important."
Molly looked honestly baffled. "What's more important than Duncan Brockway's grant proposal?"
Harry set his teacup down with great precision. "Our relationship."
"I think you heard me."
Molly's cup crashed back into its saucer. "That does it, I've had it."
Harry stilled. "What's wrong?"
"You have the nerve to ask me what's wrong? After telling, me that you're not going to approve Duncan's proposal?"
"Molly, I'm trying to conduct an intelligent conversation here. However, it seems to be falling apart. Now, about our relationship -- "
"Our relationship?" Molly erupted from the sofa with the force of a small volcano. "I'll tell you about our relationship. It's a complete, unmitigated disaster."
"I wasn't aware that we even had one yet."
"We most certainly do. But it's ending here. Now. Tonight. I refuse to continue to pay for your services as a consultant, Harry Trevelyan. Thus far, I have not received one damn thing for my money."
"There seems to be a misunderstanding here."
"I'll say there is." There was green sheet lightning in Molly's eyes. "I thought you invited me to dinner tonight to tell me that you'd approved Duncan Brockway's grant proposal."
"Why in hell would I invite you to dinner just to tell you that Brockway's proposal is a scam?"
"It's not a scam."
"Yes, it is." Harry was not accustomed to having his verdicts questioned. He was, after all, a leading authority in his field.
"According to you, every single one of the one hundred grant proposals that have been submitted to the Abberwick Foundation have been scams."
"Not all of them." Harry preferred accuracy to gross generalizations. "Some were just plain bad science. Look, Molly, I'm trying to discuss something else entirely here."
"Our relationship, I believe you said. Well, it's over, Dr. Trevelyan. This was your last chance. You're fired."
Harry wondered if he had accidentally stepped into a parallel universe. This was not going according to plan.
He had made his decision regarding Molly with great care and consideration. True, he had wanted her from the start, but he had not allowed himself to be swept away by physical desire. He had worked from a very basic premise. Following the demise of his engagement over a year ago, he had given his future sex life a great deal of serious contemplation. He had concluded that he knew exactly what he needed in a woman. He wanted a relationship with someone who had a lot of interests of her own, someone who would not require constant attention from him.
He required a woman who would not take mortal offense when he was consumed with his research. A woman who would not care if he locked himself in his office to work on a book or an investigation. A woman who could tolerate the demands of his personal life.
Most of all he wanted an affair with a woman who would not question his moods or suggest that he get therapy for them.
Molly Abberwick had appeared to fit the bill. She was twenty-nine years old, a competent, successful entrepreneur. From what Harry could determine, she had virtually raised her younger sister single-handedly after her mother's death several years earlier. Her father had been a genius, but as was usually the case with the obsessively creative type, he had devoted his time to his inventions, not his children.
From what Harry could discern, Molly was no fragile flower, but a strong, sturdy plant that could weather the worst storms, perhaps even those that occasionally howled across his own melancholy soul.
As the proprietor of the Abberwick Tea & Spice Company, Molly had proven her ability to survive and flourish in the tough, competitive world of small business. In addition to running her shop, she was the sole trustee of the Abberwick Foundation, a charitable trust established by her father, the late Jasper Abberwick. Jasper's inventions were the real source of the wealth in the Abberwick family. It was the business of the trust that had brought Molly to Harry a month ago.
"You don't want to fire me," Harry said.
"It's the only thing I can do," she retorted. "There's certainly not much point in continuing our association. Nothing is getting done."
"What, exactly, did you expect from me?"
Molly threw up her hands in exasperation. "I thought you would be more helpful. More positive. More excited about the various grant proposals. No offense, but waiting for you to approve one is like watching trees grow."
"I don't do excited. I take a deliberate approach to my work. I thought you understood that. That's why you hired me in the first place."
"You're deliberate the same way a stone wall is deliberate." Molly clasped her hands behind her back and began to pace the carpet in front of the windows with long, angry strides. "Our association has been a complete waste of time."
Harry watched her, fascinated. Molly's whole body vibrated with outrage. The volatile emotion should have worried him, but it only seemed to add yet another intriguing dimension to her riveting face.
Riveting? Harry frowned at the thought.
"I knew you would probably be difficult" Molly turned her head to glower furiously at him over her shoulder. "But I didn't think you would be impossible."
Definitely riveting, Harry decided. He could not recall the last time he had been riveted by a woman. Rivet was a word he generally reserved for other areas of interest. A discussion of Leibniz's claim to the invention of the calculus was riveting. Charles Babbage's design for an analytical engine was riveting. The ramifications of Boole's work in symbolic logic were riveting.
Tonight Harry knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Molly Abberwick had to be added to the list of things that could rivet him. The knowledge made him deeply uneasy even as it fed his hunger for her.
"Look, I'm sorry that you think I'm difficult," Harry began.
"Not difficult. Impossible."
He cleared his throat. "Don't you think that's an overly personal way to characterize my professional decisions?"
"Calling Duncan Brockway's grant proposal fraudulent is an overly personal way to characterize poor Duncan."
"Forget Brockway's proposal. I only did what you pay me to do, Molly."
"Is that right? Then you're overcharging me."
"No, I'm not. You're overreacting."
"Overreacting? Overreacting?" Molly reached the granite counter. She whirled around and started back toward the opposite wall. "I'll admit that I'm fed up. If you want to call that overreacting, fine. But it doesn't change anything. This relationship of ours is not working out at all the way that I thought it would. What a disappointment. What a waste of time."
"We don't exactly have a relationship," Harry said through his teeth. "We have a business association."
"Not any longer," she announced triumphantly.
From out of nowhere, Harry felt the dark, brooding sensation descend on him. He should have been thanking his lucky stars for a narrow escape, he thought. A relationship with Molly would never have worked.
But instead of a sense of relief, he knew a hint of despair. He recalled the day Molly had walked into his office-study for the first time.
She had announced that she wished to hire him as a consultant for the Abberwick Foundation. The trust had been established by her father to make grants to promising inventors who could not get funding for their work. Jasper Abberwick had known the problems such people faced all too well. He and his brother, Julius, had labored under financial difficulties for most of their careers. Their cash flow problems had not been resolved until four years ago, when Jasper had succeeded in patenting a new generation of industrial robots.
Jasper had not been able to enjoy his newfound wealth for long. He and his brother, Julius, had both been killed two years ago while experimenting with their latest creation, a prototype design for a man-powered aircraft.
It had taken a year to get the Abberwick Foundation up and running. Molly had invested the money very shrewdly and was now eager to use the income to make the kind of grants her father had wanted her to make.
As the foundation's sole trustee, she was required to handle a wide variety of problems. She was adept at dealing with the vast majority of them, specifically the ones that involved financial decisions. But, unlike her father, she was a businesswoman, not an engineer or a scientist.
Evaluating the merits of the grant proposals submitted by desperate inventors required a sound, working knowledge of scientific principles and cutting-edge technology. In addition, it demanded historical perspective. Such judgments could only be rendered by a trained mind. The Abberwick Foundation had required the services of someone who could judge a proposal not on the basis of its potential for immediate industrial application, but for its long-term value.
Beyond that, Molly had also needed someone who could weed out the frauds and con artists who circled wealthy foundations such as hers like so many sharks in the water.
Molly had many impressive credentials, Harry acknowledged, but she did not have a strong technical background. She was a woman with half a million dollars a year to spend, and she needed help. Specifically she needed Harry Stratton Trevelyan, Ph.D.
Thus far Harry had perused over a hundred grant proposals for her. He had not approved a single one. He was chagrined to realize that he had not understood how impatient Molly had become during the past few weeks.
His attention had obviously been focused on other things.
He had been curious about her from the moment she had made the appointment to interview him as a consultant. He had recognized her last name immediately. The Abberwick family had produced a long string of eccentric but undeniably gifted inventors over the years.
The Abberwick name was not exactly a household word, but it was certainly a familiar one in the commercial world. There it was associated with a variety of machine tools, control system components, and, in recent years, robotic devices.
As an authority in the esoteric field of the history and philosophy of science, Harry had had occasion to learn something about the various Abberwick contributions to technology.
The family had a history as old as the nation itself. One early colonial Abberwick had made a significant improvement to printing press machinery. That particular device had made it possible to double the output of certain inflammatory tracts and newspapers, which had, in turn, helped shape public opinion concerning a revolution in the American colonies.
In the 1870s another Abberwick had made a major advance in steam engine design. The result had been increased efficiency for the railroads, which had, in turn, influenced the development of the western regions of the United States.
In the late 1930s an Abberwick had invented a control mechanism that had made assembly lines more efficient. The increased efficiency had impacted wartime production of tanks and airplanes.
And so it went. The Abberwick name was sprinkled about the history of American invention like so much popcorn on the floor of a theater. And it was noticed in much the same manner. One didn't really see it until one stepped on it.
But Harry had made a career of stepping on such odd bits of information. Invention shaped history, and history shaped invention. Harry frequently studied the way in which the two meshed, mingled, and influenced each other.
He gave lectures on the subject at various universities and colleges. He wrote books that were considered classics in the field of the history of science. And somewhere along the way, he had become an authority on scientific fraud.
Harry frowned as he watched Molly fume. It alarmed him that he was still looking for an excuse to pursue an affair with her. An intelligent man would back off at this point, and he was nothing if not intelligent.
"Let's be realistic, here, Molly," he said. "Firing me would be an extremely foolish move on your part. We both know that."
She spun around, brows beetled. "Don't you dare call me a fool."
"I didn't call you a fool. I merely said that it would be foolish to end our business arrangement. You need me."
"I'm beginning to have serious doubts about that." She aimed a finger at him. "You're supposed to advise me, but so far all of your decisions can be summed up in a single word. And that word is no."
"It doesn't take any great talent to say no, Dr. Trevelyan. I'll bet that I can find lots of people who can say it. Some of them probably charge a good deal less than you do, too."
"But will they say yes when they should say it?" he asked softly.
"All right, so maybe another consultant will screw up now and then, and I'll make some grants to the wrong people." She dismissed that possibility with a wave of her hand. "You know what the French say, you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. At least something will get done."
"Half a million dollars a year is more than a few eggs. You're assuming that you can even find another academic specialist here in Seattle who possesses the historical perspective as well as the scientific and engineering expertise to advise you."
She looked down her strong, assertive little nose at him. "I don't see why it should be so difficult to find someone else to do this kind of consulting."
Harry realized with a sense of amazement that he was actually getting angry. He quickly suppressed the sensation. He would not allow Molly to set a match to his temper.
"You're welcome to try, of course," he said politely.
Molly's soft mouth tightened. She tapped the toe of one suede pump and regarded him with an expression of simmering irritation. Harry said nothing. They both knew that her odds of finding anyone else with his peculiar combination of qualifications was bleak.
"Damn," Molly said eventually.
Harry sensed a minor victory. "You're going to have to be patient, Molly."
"Says who? I'm the sole trustee of the foundation. I can be as impatient as I want."
"This argument is degenerating -- "
"Yes, it is, isn't it?" Molly brightened. "And you know what? It feels good. I've been wanting to say a few things to you for days, Dr. Trevelyan."
"Harry will do."
She smiled grimly. "Oh, no, I wouldn't dream of calling you just plain Harry. Harry doesn't suit you at all, Dr. Harry Stratton Trevelyan, Ph.D., author, lecturer, and noted detector of scientific fraud." She threw out a hand to indicate the three copies of his latest book that sat on a nearby shelf. "You're much too pompous and arrogant to be a mere Harry."
Harry became aware of a faint, unfamiliar staccato sound. He looked down and discovered that he was drumming his finger against the arm of the sofa. With an effort of will he made himself stop.
He was an idiot even to contemplate trying to salvage his tenuous connection with Molly. He had enough problems in his life.
But the thought of never seeing her again suddenly conjured up an image of a glass bridge stretched over an abyss. It was an old and terrifying mental picture. He pushed it back into the shadows with every ounce of will at his command.
"Why don't you sit down, Molly?" he said, determined to regain control of the situation. "You're a businesswoman. Let's discuss this in a businesslike manner."
"There's nothing to discuss. You said no to Duncan Brockway's grant proposal, remember? And your opinion seems to be the only one that counts around here."
"I vetoed this particular funding request because it's clearly a scam. It's an obvious attempt to defraud the Abberwick Foundation of twenty thousand, dollars."
Molly folded her arms beneath her breasts and regarded him with belligerent challenge. "You really believe that?"
"Positive?" she asked far too sweetly.
"It must be nice to be so sure of yourself."
Harry did not respond to that goad.
"I really liked Duncan's proposal," Molly said finally.
She flashed him a quick, searching look, as if sensing weakness. "There's no hope at all?"
"Not even a shred of a possibility that Brockway has hit upon a fundamentally new concept?"
"No. I can run the proposal past a friend of mine at the University of Washington who is an expert on energy sources, if you want confirmation. But he'll back me up. There is no valid scientific basis for Brockway's concept of generating power from moonlight in any manner that is even remotely analogous to the collection of solar power. The technology he proposes to use does not exist, and the theory behind the whole project is pure bull."
Amusement briefly replaced the anger in Molly's eyes. "Pure bull? Is that some kind of specialized technical jargon?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact, it is." Harry was thrown off-balance by her sudden shift of mood. "Very useful jargon. It can be applied to any number of situations. Save the foundation's money for a more deserving applicant, Molly. This Duncan Brockway character is trying to take you for twenty grand."
Molly gave a resigned-sounding groan and threw herself back down onto the sofa. "Okay, I surrender. Sorry I lost my temper. But I'm really getting frustrated, Harry. I've got a lot of things to do. I can't spend all of my time trying to get grant proposals past you -- "
The storm was past. Harry did not know whether or not to breathe a sigh of relief. "Being a trustee of a foundation is time-consuming."
"Brockway's plan seemed like such a brilliant idea," Molly said wistfully. "Just think, a battery that can generate power from moonlight."
"Con artists aren't brilliant. They just have an incredible amount of audacity." Harry eyed her with sudden speculation. "And charm."
Molly winced. "All right, so I liked Duncan Brockway. He seemed very earnest and sincere when I interviewed him."
"I don't doubt that." So the bastard had tried to sweet-talk her into giving him the money, Harry thought. It came as no surprise. Nevertheless, it annoyed him. "Brockway was very earnestly and sincerely trying to get twenty thousand dollars from the Abberwick Foundation."
Molly scowled. "That's not fair. Duncan's an inventor, not a con man. Just a dreamer who wanted to make his dreams come true. I come from a long line of such people. The Abberwick Foundation exists to help them."
"You told me that the mandate of the foundation is to fund serious inventors who can't get government or corporate backing for their projects."
"I believe that Duncan Brockway is serious." Molly lifted one shoulder in an elegant little shrug. "So maybe his plans were somewhat overenthusiastic. That's not unusual in an inventor."
"And he seemed like such a nice man," Harry muttered.
"Well, he did."
"Molly, if there's one thing I know, it's con artists. You hired me to weed them out for you, remember?"
"I hired you to help me select the best grant proposals and to choose funding applicants who present innovative concepts."
"And to ferret out the scams."
"Okay, okay. You win. Again."
"This isn't supposed to be a battle," Harry said wearily. "I'm just trying to do my job."
"I know that the foundation money is burning a hole in your pocket, but there will be plenty of opportunities to give it away."
"I'm beginning to wonder about that."
"You don't want to be too hasty. Selecting legitimate applicants takes time. It should be done cautiously and deliberately." The same way a man should select a lover, Harry thought.
"Uh-huh." Molly glanced at the crammed bookcases that covered two walls of the large living room. "How long have you been doing this kind of consulting?"
"Officially? About six years." Harry frowned at the sudden change of topic. "Why?"
"Just curious." She gave him a sublimely innocent smile. "You've got to admit it's an unusual career. There aren't a lot of people who specialize in detecting fraudulent grant applications. How did you get started?"
Harry wondered where this was going. The woman changed directions faster than alternating current. "A few years ago an acquaintance who was overseeing a government-funded project became suspicious of some of the test results. He asked me if I would take a look at the methodology the grant recipient claimed to be using. I did. It was immediately clear that the outcome of the experiments had been rigged."
"Immediately clear?" Molly's eyes widened with sudden interest. "You realized the guy was a fake right away?"
"Just like that?" She snapped her fingers.
Harry did not want to go into a detailed explanation of just how it had become evident to him that an elaborate fraud had been perpetrated. Let's just say I have a feel for that kind of thing."
"A feel for it?" Molly sat forward, obviously intrigued. "You mean you're psychic or something?"
"Hell, no, I'm not psychic." Harry grabbed the teapot and forced himself to pour more of the Darjeeling into his cup. He was pleased to see that not so much as a single drop splashed on the glass table. His hands were as steady as ever. "That's a crazy thing to suggest. Do I look like the kind of person who would claim psychic powers?"
Molly settled back against the sofa. A thoughtful expression lit her eyes. "Sorry. Didn't mean to offend you."
Harry assumed his best professorial tone. "I'm a student of the history and philosophy of science -- "
He gave her a hooded look. "In addition to my doctorate in that field, I have undergraduate degrees in mathematics, engineering, and philosophy."
She batted her lashes. "Wow."
Harry ground his teeth. "My background gives me insights which those who have specialized in only a single field tend to miss."
"Ah, yes. Insights."
"Exactly. As I was saying -- "
"Before you were so rudely interrupted," she murmured.
"To answer your question concerning my career path," Harry plowed on steadily, "one consulting job led to another. I now do a handful every year, provided that they don't get in the way of my research and writing projects."
"Your research and writing are more important to you?"
Molly propped one elbow on the arm of the sofa and rested her chin on the heel of her hand. "So how come you agreed to work for me? I'm sure I'm not paying you nearly as much as you can get from a contract with the government or a big corporation."
"No," he agreed. "You aren't."
"Why, then, are you bothering to consult for the lowly little Abberwick Foundation?"
"Because you're willing to do what government and industry won't do."
She tilted her head to one side. "What's that?"
"Waste money on interesting, intriguing projects that don't have any immediate, obvious application. You're willing to invest in the unknown."
Her brows raised. "That's why you agreed to work for me?"
"That's why I agreed to consult for you," he corrected coolly.
She ignored that. "Why are you so eager to fund a bunch of crazy inventors?"
Harry hesitated and then decided to try to explain. "I've spent my entire career studying the history of scientific and technological progress."
"I know. I read your latest book."
Harry was so surprised by that revelation that he nearly choked on his tea. "You read Illusions of Certainty?"
"Uh-huh." Molly grinned. "I won't pretend it was the hottest bedside reading that I've ever done, but I admit that I found it unexpectedly interesting."
Harry was amazed to discover that he felt flattered. He glanced at the book on the nearby shelf.
Illusions of Certainty: Toward a New Philosophy of Science was not the sort of volume that made best-seller lists. A lengthy, meticulously researched discussion of historical and societal constraints on scientific and technological progress, it was aimed squarely at the academic market. It had sold very well as a college text for students in the history of science, but it had not been meant for the average reader. Of course, Molly Abberwick was hardly average, he thought ruefully.
"Calculated Deceptions. A History of Scientific Frauds, Swindles, and Hoaxes was much more popular," Harry said, striving for modesty. Calculated Deceptions had been his first stab at writing for the lay market. It had done surprisingly well.
"I read that one, too."
"I see." Harry got to his feet, embarrassed. He went to stand at the window. "Well. Thank you."
"Don't thank me. I was doing research on you."
"I was trying to decide whether or not to hire you as my fraud detective."
Harry winced. He gazed out into the night and tried to reassemble his fragmented bits of logic. So Molly was not quite what he had expected. So there were some unplumbed depths in her. Some surprises. So what? He was thirty-six years old, but his Trevelyan reflexes were still very good. He could handle an affair with Molly, he decided.
"Go on," she prompted.
"You were about to tell me why you're taken with the idea of funding inventions that don't offer any obvious payback."
Harry contemplated the night on the other side of the wall of windows. "I told you, I've made a career of studying the history of invention and discovery. In the course of that study I often find myself asking certain questions."
"What kind of questions?"
"Questions such as what would have happened if Charles Babbage had gotten funding to build his analytical engine in 1833, for example."
"The history of the computer would have to be rewritten?" Molly suggested.
"Undoubtedly. If he had been able to create his vision, the world might have headed into the computer age a hundred years earlier. Just think how much farther along we'd be by now." Harry turned away from the window, suddenly caught up in the passion he felt for his subject. "There are a thousand other examples of brilliant concepts that languished for lack of money and encouragement. I could name -- "
He broke off as the front door opened.
"What in the world?" Molly glanced toward the glass-block barrier that divided the front hall from the living area. "I think someone's coming in, Harry."
Harry started forward. "Ginny must have forgotten to lock the door on her way out."
The intruder suddenly appeared. He was a tall, lanky young man dressed in jeans and a blue workshirt. He stopped when he saw Harry, braced his feet apart, and raised his arm. Light gleamed on the steel blade in his right hand.
"This is the end, Trevelyan," the newcomer snarled. "I've finally tracked you down. You won't escape this time."
"My God." Molly leaped off the sofa. "He's got a knife."
"So he does." Harry paused.
The intruder drew back his hand with a lethal, practiced movement.
"Look out." Molly grabbed the teapot.
"Hell," Harry muttered. "Some people have no sense of timing."
The intruder hurled the blade.
Molly shrieked and threw the teapot in the general direction of the glass blocks.
First things first, Harry thought. He grabbed the teapot as it went sailing past.
"Do something," Molly yelled.
Harry smiled wryly. He cradled the teapot in one hand and opened his other hand to show her the knife he held.
Molly stared at him, open-mouthed. Her gaze went from the knife to the intruder's empty hands.
"You snatched that knife right out of thin air," Molly whispered.
Harry glanced down at the gleaming blade. "Looks that way, doesn't it?"
Copyright © 1996 by Jayne Ann Krentz