Leticia Humphrey wasn't the world's richest woman. She wasn't even close. All the same, two and a half billion was nothing to sneeze at.
Ruthlessness -- that was what had brought her this far -- utter and completely cold-blooded ruthlessness. (Her birth name had, in fact, been Ruth, but she had purged herself of that in a hurry, you betcha.) She always got what she wanted, no matter what the price. Always. And everything had a price.
Lonely. She was terribly lonely. She'd been married six times and at one time or another had sampled the wares of scores of lovers. Even at 61, rustling up someone to warm her bed was no problem. She could buy all the casual sex she wanted, but usually she didn't need to resort to that expedient. Her reputation sufficed. She was extraordinarily skilled in the erotic arts and few indeed were the variations thereof that she hadn't mastered. Men staggered from her embrace drained of desire and passion... and life force.
Another husband -- maybe that was what she needed. A good and decent man, not like the spoiled, rich jerks she'd been married to. Smart, steady, sensible, kind, and having a good sense of humor. A good listener. Sympathetic. And, of course, an enthusiastic and virile lover, willing to try anything, capable of fulfilling her special needs. She had quite a number of special needs.
The trouble was that she was looking for an exceedingly rare breed of animal. Those few men possessing the right attributes were already spoken for.
Take Zach Whitman, for example. He met or exceeded all her specifications, but there was one minor problem -- he was married. His wife adored him, and with good reason.
Zach was a promising mid-level executive in one of her many business ventures. Only in his early thirties, he had the type of maturity and solid judgment that translates into top leadership potential. He earned good money, but a stock market slump and an extended illness had all but wiped out his savings and left him deeply in debt. He was vulnerable, and therefore eminently buyable.
"Zach, I have a special assignment for you. It's confidential, of course."
"You can count on me, sir."
The executive vice president handed him a sealed envelope.
An hour later Zach sat alone in the room. The armchair was comfortable. The only other furniture was a small table and a queen-size bed. It was spartan, but clean.
This was all rather mysterious, and with a bit of cheap melodrama thrown in. The instructions in the envelope had directed him to a certain motel on the outskirts of town. He was to rent room 223 for one night, and await an unspecified visitor. At that time, he would find out more.
Zach crossed his arms and closed his eyes. The monotonous thrumming of the air conditioner was lulling him to sleep. He jerked awake as the door opened.
A woman walked in. Leticia! The real power behind the firm, and, if what he had heard was accurate, behind a number of other outfits as well. She was wearing a stylishly casual blouse and skirt, and she smiled warmly as she motioned for him to sit back down.
"I've been following your career, Zach. It's impressive. We need talent of your caliber at the upper echelons of the organization. However... "
There was a long pause.
"Thank you for your confidence, ma'am. I'm here in pursuance of company business, as you are no doubt aware. As such, I stand ready to carry out my assignment."
"Zach," she whispered softly, as she began unbuttoning her blouse. "I am your assignment. You know I'm the owner of the company, the top honcho." She was stepping out of her skirt. Underneath, she had nothing on. "Please, don't compel me to order you to do what should come natural in a situation like this."
He stood up and walked to the door. He was blushing.
"I'm a married man, Leticia. A faithful married man. As much as I value my position in the company, I wouldn't do anything to hurt my wife or jeopardize my marriage. Nor will I compromise my integrity. I'm sorry, but I'm afraid I find myself unsuited for this particular assignment."
"Zach," she said. "I'm not asking you to betray your wife. I'm asking you to leave her. I want you. I want you to marry me. I'm offering -- "
He turned the knob and opened the door.
"Wait! At least stay to listen to my proposal. Your future depends on it."
He hesitated then turned around. "This had better be damned good. You've just delivered a mortal insult. It leaves me precious little alternative -- "
"Shut up. Sit down. Listen. I know how precarious your finances are. You need money to pay your bills. You have no chance whatsoever of fulfilling your potential unless you get money. That's what I'm offering -- money, lots of it. Marry me, stay married to me for a year, a single damn year, and I'll make you a millionaire. That's right -- I'll give you a million dollars in cash, free and clear."
Zach laughed softly. "You think I'd sell myself to you, prostitute myself? You think I'd give up a wife I love for money?" He got up again.
"Look, Zach. If you love that little wifey of yours so much, I'll let you visit her after we're married. Conjugal visits. See? I'll even let you fuck the little slut once in a while if that's what it takes to... "
"Goodbye, Leticia. Oh, and by the way, you look much better with clothes on."
The vase she threw shattered on the door after it had closed behind him.
"A million dollars, Zach? You really think you're worth that much? Are you that good in bed?"
"You ought to know by now, Shelly. We've been married six years."
"Yes, Zach. You are that good. Come here. Hurry."
The next morning at work, there was a written reprimand waiting for Zach. The regional manager warned him that his job was in serious jeopardy. Zach had been expecting something of the sort. It was to be pressure and threats then. Genteel extortion.
The office boy brought Zach coffee and donuts. He was a good kid, just barely out of high school. Eager to please, but not terribly bright. The likelihood was that he'd still be an office boy when he retired.
Zach had a sudden thought. The boy was a handsome, athletic young fellow, just the type an older woman might look upon as "arm candy." There might be some interesting possibilities here...
"Darl, would you mind taking a message to the front office? Deliver it in person, to Miss Leticia. Oh, and straighten up your tie before you go."
As expected, Leticia summoned Zach.
"And what's the bloody meaning of this?" She flung the note at him.
"Don't waste my time, Leticia. You're well aware of what this is about. You'll never possess me, despite bribes, machinations, threats, or the Byzantine plots you're so fond of. But if you're willing to settle for the freshness and enthusiasm of youth, rather than my tired and worn-out self... "
"Get out," she snarled.
"The consolation prize," the note read.