By Wendy Richards <email@example.com>
Submitted: November 2004
Summary: The ink on her marriage certificate is barely dry, but Lois is already having doubts about her wedding to the third-richest man in the world. And then she meets a handsome stranger on a beach… (Part 1 of the Eternity trilogy)
Author's note: With much thanks and appreciation to Kaethel and Yvonne for invaluable beta-reading and encouragement, and also to the IRC gang and posters on the Fanfic Message Boards for nagging and kind words. In fond memory of a fantastic trip around the Great Lakes in summer 2004.
All characters are copyrighted to their owners.
*We sat and watched the sun go down
Picked a star before we lost the moon
Youth is wasted on the young
Before we know, it's come and gone
*You were there for summer dreaming
And you are a friend indeed.*
— 'Eternity', written and performed by Robbie Williams
The view by the lake was beautiful. Completely unspoilt, with nothing but pine-trees and water so far as the eye could see. The sun beating down and causing ripples of light to dance on top of the water. A couple of Canada geese playing close to the water's edge. To the right, a white-tipped rocky waterfall where the river emptied into the lake. If Paradise existed, it would be here, Lois was sure: on this stretch of the north-eastern shore of Lake Superior.
And yet she was restless. Dissatisfied.
Yet she was the last person in the world who had a right to be dissatisfied with her life. She had it all. Married to the third- richest man in the world. Three mansions, four penthouse apartments and two beach-houses, including this one, at her disposal. Servants at her beck and call. Any number of platinum credit cards. A bank balance amounting to so many digits she couldn't possibly keep track of it. A private plane or helicopter to take her anywhere she wanted to go. A top-of-the-range Mercedes SLK convertible for summer, and an equally top-of-the- range Mercedes SUV for winter.
Nothing was too good for Mrs Lex Luthor.
Including, she had to acknowledge, a doting husband. Lex was every bit as charming as when she'd married him two months earlier, and according to her mother that was something to be very thankful for. Most men, going by the Gospel According to Ellen Lane, very quickly changed their behaviour once they had the ring on their wife's finger. The charm, the courtesy, the willingness to please all went out the window, and the wife was left to adapt as best she could.
But Lex hadn't behaved like that. He still told her that he loved her at least once a day. He continually brought her little gifts — trinkets, he called them. Like the gold and ruby bracelet she was wearing now. Or the diamond and sapphire pendant which was back in the safe in their Metropolis penthouse.
Tokens of her husband's esteem. Or symbols of his possession?
But that wasn't fair. Lex loved her. She knew that — he told her so, and he showed her in so many ways, including his lovemaking. He had turned out to be a considerate, courteous lover. Okay, so what if their sex life didn't set the sky on fire? It was good. It was pleasant. It was… nice.
And she was still restless and unhappy.
There was something wrong with her, Lois decided, stifling yet another yawn as she gazed out at the beautiful panorama in front of her. With everything she had, with a life as perfect and as privileged as hers, what right did she have to be discontented?
Oh, sure, she missed the excitement of her life as a top reporter. Who wouldn't? But then, as Lex had explained, she couldn't have expected to carry on with that sort of life once she was married to him. He needed her to be available: to escort him to functions, to act as his hostess, to be seen out on the town with him when necessary. The unpredictability of her working hours as a reporter would have made that impossible. And, of course, the truth was that, as Lex Luthor's wife, she was swiftly becoming very recognisable. That would have meant an end to undercover work in any case.
But she was still able to write. And that was what she was supposed to be doing right now, she reminded herself, glancing guiltily at the laptop on the table in front of her. Writing her novel.
This was the perfect place for being creative, Lex had told her. No interruptions. The sort of scenery which could only inspire the imagination. Every convenience she could wish for, but no distractions — he deliberately had never had a television installed in the beach house, he'd explained. And, although there was a telephone line, hardly anyone had the number and there were only two telephone points in the entire house. The house itself could only be reached by boat or helicopter.
The ideal retreat.
Except that the creative juices weren't flowing. Lex had left the previous evening after spending the weekend with her and promising to return next weekend, and she'd assured him that she would spend the entire day writing. After all, she already had the novel plotted out. It was just a matter of getting started.
She'd had all day. It was now early evening, and yet all she had to show for her day was two paragraphs. Two pretty terrible paragraphs, at that. The prose was stiff, the language flowery and the narrative… boring.
That beach bum crouched by the piece of driftwood over there, a couple of dozen feet away, could probably do better than that, Lois thought sardonically, her finger poised to delete her day's work.
Wait a minute…
How had that beach bum got there?
She stared at the man, who didn't appear to have noticed her yet. He was tall, she guessed; probably around Lex's height or a little taller. He was younger than her husband, and his hair was dark, ruffled by the slight wind coming off the lake. He wore glasses; she could see the sunlight reflecting off them. And his clothes… Scruffy shorts and a loose cotton shirt which had to have seen better days. Maybe he'd slept in it, she thought.
"Hey, you!" she called.
He looked up, and she was lost for words for a moment. He was one of the best-looking men she'd ever seen. Broad shoulders, a strong chin, straight nose, hair flopping over his forehead. Young, she thought. About her own age.
"I'm sorry, I didn't see you there." He got to his feet, brushing back his hair, and came closer. "Hi."
He was friendly. All the same… "How did you get onto the beach? This is private property."
"Oh." He looked nonplussed. "I… uh…" He waved vaguely behind him. Towards the cliffside, perhaps? Had he climbed down? "I'm sorry. Should I go?"
Perversely, now that he'd offered to leave, she didn't want him to. Not because she was attracted to him or anything like that, Lois told herself. Of course not! A guy like that, who was probably just some drifter? It was only because she was bored. And anyway, she might even get some inspiration for her novel if she talked to him.
"No, it's okay. You want a drink?"
He looked surprised, but came closer. "Sure, if I'm not bothering you. You said this was private…?"
Lois shrugged. "I was getting tired of my own company anyway. Have a seat."
He sank with easy casualness into the spare chair opposite her. "You were working," he pointed out.
"Trying to work. And not succeeding."
"Ah. You need distracting, then. To take your mind off it. And then, later… who knows?" He grinned at her. "Come back to it fresh and the words will flow like water."
Lois frowned. How did he know…? "Do you know me?" she demanded quickly. Who was he? A member of the paparazzi? A tabloid reporter? Some no-good who planned to kidnap her for ransom? As Lex kept reminding her, she was now a very powerful, very wealthy, very newsworthy woman — and thus a target for all kinds of unpleasant things.
He looked taken aback, however — or was it an act? "No, I don't — should I? Though I guess if you own someplace like this…" He waved around, at the beach, the house, the masses of space. "It's only that you have a laptop. And the way you glared at the screen just now… well, it reminded me of myself when I get blocked. It's frustrating."
"You write?" *Was* he a tabloid reporter?
He shrugged. "If you can call it that. I'm a freelance journalist. And would-be novelist, I guess, if I could ever manage to finish more than a couple of chapters of any of my great ideas. They all seem so wonderful inside my head, but…"
"Oh, don't I know it!" Lois exclaimed. A freelance journalist, she repeated silently to herself. Why weren't alarm-bells going off inside her head?
But she didn't want them to go off, she realised. This man, whoever he was, was *nice*. Friendly. Easy to talk to. Sympathetic. And good company.
Exactly how a sleaze reporter would masquerade, Lex's voice inside her head said. No, she told herself, her own voice. She knew the newspaper world! She didn't need Lex to warn her about tabloid tactics.
But this guy just didn't feel 'tabloid'. Although, of course, that could just mean that he was a darned good actor. She really should get up and go into the house and send the housekeeper out to get rid of him.
Lois reached into the cooler the housekeeper had given her, taking out a glass and the jug of fresh lemonade. She poured her guest a drink.
"So. I'm Lois. What's your name?"
He accepted the glass with a warm smile which made her insides curl. "Nice to meet you, Lois. I'm Clark."
"Hi, Clark." She smiled back. "Your accent's American, not Canadian. Mid-west?"
"Good guess. I'm from Kansas, though I've done a lot of travelling in the last few years so it's not as strong as it used to be. You're not Canadian either — where are you from?"
"Metropolis," she said, watching for a reaction. If he really did know her…
His expression was eager. "Really? I've wanted to move to Metropolis for years. I should have gone last year, but my dad got sick and I went home to help out on the farm for a while. He's better now." Clark's expression showed how pleased he was about that. "Then a few months ago I was all set to move up — but something happened which changed my plans."
"What was that?" She'd almost had this gorgeous, really nice man in the same city as her?
Not that it would have made any difference at all, she reminded herself. A few months ago she was engaged to Lex. She would never have been in a situation where she and Clark would have met.
Although he did say he was a freelance reporter…
"I've always wanted to work at the Daily Planet," he explained. "But — I guess you know, if you're from Metropolis — back in the beginning of May the building was destroyed in an explosion. There was some problem with the paper's finances anyway, I read, and there just wasn't enough money to rebuild and get the paper started again."
Lois was staring at him. Was this an elaborate trick? It could be, but yet he seemed so innocent, so lacking in guile. She decided to test him.
"Actually, I worked for the Planet for about five years." Now she would see how he reacted. Would he oh-so-innocently make the leap to Mrs Lex Luthor?
"You did?" His expression was excited, envious. "What did you do? Oh, wait," he added, now sounding embarrassed. "What a faux pas! You write… your name's Lois… you're Lois Lane!"
Lois Luthor now, she should have said. And yet she didn't want to correct him. She simply nodded.
"Wow! I know this sounds really gauche, but you're my hero! To have achieved so much at your age… and I love your writing." He leaned forward in his seat, as if he needed to get closer to her in his admiration. "I used to read the Planet online, though I bought a paper copy any chance I got too. And I always looked for your stories. Your writing's so incisive, and you always managed to get the scoops. You're an incredible reporter."
Blushing at the compliments, Lois managed to thank him.
"So what paper are you working for now? I never heard."
"Uh… I'm not, actually." And, despite all Lex's sensible reasoning, which she'd just reminded herself only a few minutes that she did agree with, Lois felt again the pang of resentment at the abrupt ending of her career as a reporter.
"You're not? Why?" He looked shocked and disappointed. But before she could say a word, he clapped his hand to his forehead. "You must think I'm an idiot," he said, now sounding embarrassed. "Your wedding was on all the news channels and in every newspaper. How could I have forgotten? You married Lex Luthor."
Lois looked straight back at him, feeling oddly as if she needed to defend her choice of husband — and the fact that she'd got married rather than re-establishing her reporting career at another paper. "Yes," she said firmly. "I did." That was a bit abrupt, she decided. "We'd been dating for several months already. He'd already proposed by the time the Planet exploded."
<But you didn't accept until after the explosion. Before then, no matter how exciting dating Lex was, your career was much more important> a little voice said to her.
And a new thought struck her. If she'd loved Lex, really loved him, it wouldn't have been a matter of choosing between her career and marrying him. It wouldn't have taken the destruction of the Planet to make her accept him. It would never have been a difficult choice at all.
She would have married Lex because she loved him. But in the end, it had almost been as if she'd married him because her preferred choice no longer existed.
In fact, if the Planet hadn't exploded, she might never have married Lex.
And the sudden rush of longing which hit her at that realisation shocked her.
As did the other sudden rush of awareness. She didn't love Lex. She liked him; admired him; found him charming; enjoyed his company. But she didn't love him.
And that, above all, was why she was restless and unhappy.
Clark was shifting awkwardly, she realised; the movement drew her attention back to him. "I'm sorry," he said abruptly. "I'm intruding. I'll leave you alone."
"Clark…" she began to protest, but he was already standing up.
"Good luck with your novel. And it was really nice meeting you."
He turned and began striding away. And a few moments later, while Lois was still struggling between wanting to call him back and thinking that maybe it was just as well that he was leaving, he disappeared from view.
He was gone. And she knew that she would never see him again.
It was just as well, Lois told herself later that night, sitting in the lounge of the beach house and gazing out the large picture window, watching the waves of the lake hit the shore, then roll back, then hit the shore again. Over and over, an endless cycle of advance, retreat, advance. Neither the lake nor the shore ever seemed to gain the advantage in the skirmish, she thought idly, then castigated herself for her foolishness.
<Save your imagination for your novel, Lois!>
Yes, she repeated silently. It was a very good thing that Clark had left when he had. She'd almost been in danger of…
Of making it into more than it was. An encounter with a drifter. A transient. A man who, if she'd actually got to know him for more than fifteen minutes, would probably have bored her rigid. And for whom she couldn't possibly feel any sort of respect. After all, he was about her age, wasn't he? And what had he done with his life? He didn't even have a real job yet. He'd been about to apply for a job at the Daily Planet. So what? She'd worked there for years!
He was obviously lazy, uncommitted, unable to stay in the same place for long enough to act like an adult and build a life.
But he'd just happened to catch her at a bad time. A low moment, when she was already feeling lonely and unchallenged, and made worse by what she'd realised about her marriage. About herself.
And so, if Clark had stayed a little longer, she might have been lonely enough to…
To… what? Do something stupid? Break her marriage vows? No way!
No, that wouldn't have been the real risk, Lois admitted, staring unseeing at the water as it lapped at the shore. She had never been the type to go to bed with a stranger, and she wouldn't have done that with Clark. No; the greater risk would have been to find herself *liking* him. Wanting to spend time with him. Getting to know him… and finding that she had more in common with him than she had with her husband. That she laughed with him more easily than she did with her husband. That she enjoyed simply being with him much more than she enjoyed being with her husband.
That, in fact, no matter whether she ever saw Clark again after today or not, she would have realised that she'd married the wrong man.
"Hi, Lois. Mind if I join you for a minute?"
Lois's head shot up. How had she missed his approach? And, just like yesterday, where had he come from?
<Tell him to go away> the voice in her head said. <You know it's for the best. He shouldn't be here anyway. He's a distraction — and it's only going to lead to trouble>
"Sure. I wasn't doing much anyway." She smiled at him and waved towards the empty chair.
"Yeah, I didn't exactly see any keys being pounded." He grinned at her as he sat, giving her a flash of white teeth — very clean but, unlike her husband's, not perfect. Clark's teeth hadn't been capped to an inch of their life; they had some ragged edges and crookedness.
Today, he was wearing a blue cotton shirt, tucked into charcoal shorts. It struck her that his clothes were of better quality than yesterday. Though, of course, still not designer — more Old Navy than Polo Ralph Lauren.
"I didn't think you'd come back." The words escaped before Lois could stop them.
He shrugged. "I hadn't planned to. But then I couldn't get the way you looked just before I left out of my head. And I had to come back — to find out if you were okay."
"What do you mean, if I was okay?" Lois stared at him, horrified. What had he seen?
"You looked really unhappy. And I know it's none of my business. You don't even know me, and I don't know you — but I hated to think of you all alone and unhappy. So I had to come back." He glanced down at his lap as he finished his short speech, almost as if it embarrassed him to have said it.
She should lie. Tell him that she didn't know what he was talking about. That of course she was happy — how could she possibly not be? She had every possible advantage in life. Everything she wanted, she could have at the wave of a hand.
As a delaying tactic, she poured Clark a glass of iced tea from the cooler by her chair. He smiled his thanks and accepted it.
"I… guess I'm just feeling a little frustrated," she said in the end, unable to pretend to complete bliss.
"Frustrated? Still not making much progress, huh? Did you get anything written today?" Clark asked, his tone wryly sympathetic.
Lois shrugged. "I sat out here for three hours and I typed two pages."
"Hey, that's a start!" Now he was being encouraging; the over- bright smile gave him away.
"I deleted it all a half-hour ago when I came back out after lunch."
"Oh." He grinned, rueful amusement this time. "That good, huh?"
Lois shrugged again. "I guess I'm just not ready to write the next New York Times bestseller."
He took a sip of his tea, then said casually, "So why not write about something different instead? Play to your strengths."
"Such as?" she asked, puzzled.
"Lois, you're a Kerth-winning reporter. You were the youngest Kerth winner ever, weren't you? And now you're married to one of the most powerful men in America. Why not write about that?"
"An autobiography?" Lois stared at him, feeling oddly horrified. "I'm only 27, Clark! You make it sound as if my life is over!"
<And isn't it?> a tiny voice taunted. <You're not Lois Lane, investigative reporter, any more. You're not *anything* any more — you're just a billionaire's accessory, tucked away on a remote beach miles from anywhere, more than a thousand miles from Metropolis — a place where you were somebody. You call this having a life?>
She bit her lip. Acid churned in her stomach. It wasn't true. It wasn't! She was here for a month, that was all. Just to make a start on her novel, without distractions.
Clark shook his head. "That's not what I meant. I mean, I have no idea whether you'll work again as a reporter or not. I do know that I'm confident that whatever you do you'll be a success at it. The point is that you've already been a success. Do you know how many aspiring reporters, or people at the beginning of their journalistic career, would find you an inspiration? *Do* already find you an inspiration?"
That hadn't occurred to her. But it was an interesting idea, and definitely worth thinking about. Not an autobiography as such, but a book about making it as a reporter, with her own experience as an example.
Looking across at Clark again, she gave him a broad smile. "I like the sound of that. I might even give it a try. Thank you!"
"You're welcome," he said, smiling in return. "Now, I guess I should leave you to your keyboard." And he began to stand up.
What was she thinking? Of course she should let him go. Just as she'd decided last night, she really didn't need to have someone like him hanging around. A drifter. Someone who didn't understand the importance of hard work. Not like her — or Lex.
Someone who was far too attractive, and far too *nice*, for her, a married woman, to be spending time with.
"No?" He paused in the act of standing and gave her a quizzical look.
<Okay, Lois, tell him he must have heard you wrong. You were saying 'Oh'. Or anything — it doesn't matter. Just tell him goodbye and let him go>
"No… I mean, you don't have to go yet. Do you?" She glanced around, seeking inspiration for a reason as to why he shouldn't leave. "I feel like taking a walk. Why don't you come with me?"
He tilted his head to one side. "Not quite ready for your laptop's company just yet?" Smiling, he nodded. "Okay, if that's what you'd like."
He waited as she stood, then allowed her to lead the way down to the water's edge. Lois kicked off her flip-flops; the sand here was soft and the lake-water clean.
"Good idea," Clark commented, and he bent to remove the tennis shoes he was wearing, leaving them beside her footwear. The two pairs of shoes, side by side, looked alarmingly intimate, Lois thought — but she pushed that reflection away. An idiotic figment of her imagination, she told herself.
"So, you're on your own here at the moment?" he asked, the question clearly casual by his tone. Unless, of course, he was being deceptively casual… he could still be a tabloid reporter looking for dirt on the Luthor marriage, couldn't he? "Your husband's not with you?"
Clark didn't seem like a tabloid reporter. And anyway, Lex would sic his lawyers onto any tabloid which tried to print some made- up scandal so fast they wouldn't see it coming. And Clark would be out of a job before he'd had time to blink.
"Lex is working," she said, making her answer casual. "He'll be back at the weekend. He's too busy to take a proper vacation right now, which is actually ideal for me because I can work on my book during the week while he's gone."
Yes, she could work on the book, with which she was making no progress whatsoever, and she could brood about what was wrong with her marriage…
There was *nothing* wrong with her marriage! she told herself immediately.
"Sounds ideal in theory — bet it gets a bit lonely in practice."
Just the kind of thing a sleaze reporter would say in order to encourage confidences, Lois told herself. And in just that sympathetic tone, too. She swallowed the bile which had suddenly appeared in her throat. "I'm perfectly happy. I speak to my husband several times a day. I'm the lucky one — who'd want to be stuck in an office in Metropolis in August when they could be here?"
"Oh, I'll bet Metropolis is unbearable right now," Clark agreed. "I've never been there in the summer, but I've been in New York and Chicago. The humidity's awful. Okay, it's not Florida, but still…"
"Yeah," Lois agreed, grimacing. "All through July and August I'm counting the days until September. Though every year I tell myself I should be used to it by now."
"Where did you grow up?" Clark asked. He sounded genuinely interested — and as if he didn't know.
"Metropolis," she told him. "In the suburbs — my dad's a doctor so we had a pretty nice place."
Now she'd done it, she told herself, inwardly rolling her eyes. As good as told him that she was a spoilt little rich girl — and he'd draw the conclusion that she'd grown up to be a spoilt rich man's wife. That she'd only played at being a reporter for a few years in order to achieve her aim…
"Doctor's daughter, huh? You didn't want to go into medicine yourself? Or did your dad's long hours put you off?"
Lois raised her eyebrows at him. "You really haven't had a proper reporting job yet, have you? There's no such thing as regular hours as a journalist — not if you want to get the best stories before anyone else."
"Yeah, I guess that was a pretty stupid thing to say, huh?" He gave her a rueful grimace. "Believe it or not, I have been on the payroll of a few papers. Mind you, two of those were weeklies, so the pressure wasn't the same. But I worked for the newsdesk of a national daily in London — England, not Canada — for a while. I didn't get much sleep while I worked there!"
Again, Lois found herself pushing her doubts away. Clark was just an ordinary guy who'd obviously drifted in and out of reporting jobs around the country — around parts of the world, it seemed. He'd probably been using his journalism degree — if he had one — to earn his way on a round-the-world trip.
Though there was a good way to test him… change the subject, and see if he tried to bring it back to her.
"So, you're from Kansas, you said. Whereabouts?"
He grinned. "You won't have heard of it. It's a small town about 150 miles west of Wichita."
"Try me," she suggested.
"Smallville," he answered.
She stopped dead. "Now you're just trying to kid me."
"No, really!" he protested. "It's called Smallville. Look it up — it's on the map. It's even on the Rand-McNally US atlas! Anyway, I grew up on my folks' farm about three miles outside town."
Smallville, Kansas. Yeah, right.
"I can see you don't believe me." He grinned again, giving her another flash of those brilliant white teeth. "I swear to you — when you go back to your house, look it up. You'll see I'm not kidding."
Lois shrugged. It really didn't matter if Smallville existed or not. It wasn't as if she was ever planning to go there. "And you grew up on a farm," she said. "You didn't think of becoming a farmer yourself?"
He smiled. "Touche. But no — I mean, I'm always happy to help out whenever I'm home, but farming's not for me. I edited my high school newspaper, and that's when I decided I wanted to be a reporter — so I majored in journalism at Midwestern State. I guess my dad would've liked it if I'd majored in agriculture, but he knew it wasn't what I wanted."
Lois made no comment, waiting for him to turn the conversation back to her, to take the opportunity he'd offered himself to ask her about her own college degree and how she'd got into reporting. But he didn't.
"Midwestern's got a good journalism programme," she said after several moments' silence had passed.
"Yeah, it's pretty well-rated. Not as good as some places on the east coast, but I couldn't afford the fees or the living expenses to go anywhere else. I'm not sorry — I was lucky enough to have some great professors."
"I went to MetU," Lois said, feeling somehow that she should contribute something to the conversation — and wanting to swap college experiences. She didn't often, these days, get the opportunity to talk to someone with a similar background to hers — someone who wouldn't just give her a bemused look if she started talking about leads and making deadlines and irritating subs and forty-point headlines. And anyway, her college education was a matter of public record. Anyone could find out where she'd studied, what classes she'd taken, what her grade-point average was and even what she'd come top in with about ten minutes' research.
Clark gave her a crooked smile. "Thought you might have. I mean, why would you go anywhere else when one of the top journalism schools in the country is right on your doorstep?"
And Lex had asked her several times whether she regretted not having gone to Harvard or Smith… Yes, Clark understood in a way that non-reporters didn't.
And for the next hour, as they strolled in and out of the water's edge, they swapped reminiscences of journalism classes, college newspapers and student life generally. Lois squashed the disloyal thought that this wasn't a conversation she could ever have with Lex. She hadn't married her husband because they had a college degree in common, after all. Their marriage was based on different things entirely.
<Like the fact that he offered you an escape-route after the Planet was gone?>
<No!> she objected. <Like the fact that we have all sorts of interests in common… we share the same ideals, we like the same things… good books, good conversation, the theatre, music…>
Lois gazed out across the lake, trying to swallow the lump that had suddenly appeared in her throat. Why was it so hard to think of things that she had in common with her husband? Why was it so easy to see how many things she had in common with Clark?
"Hey." A gentle touch on her arm, together with the softly-voiced word, drew her attention back to Clark. "Are you okay? You… uh, you looked pretty sad just there."
In that moment, Lois yearned to be able to tell him everything. To ignore the consequences for her marriage and just tell Clark how she really felt. How alone she was. How she'd begun to question whether she'd really made the right choice. How scared she was that the man she'd married was little more than a stranger to her. How she was very sure that she didn't love her husband… and that she had no idea what that meant for her marriage or her future.
And then sanity returned. How could she possibly tell Clark anything of the kind? She didn't know him. Okay, in one way that was a good thing; who better to open her heart to than to someone she was never going to see again once he, or she, left this place by the lake? But that was a dangerous trap to fall into. She was Lois Lane, now Mrs Lex Luthor. Information about her was highly saleable. Any tabloid, or even newspaper, in North America, if not the world, would pay big money to know that Lois Luthor was regretting her marriage.
And it wasn't true anyway. Was it? She wasn't really regretting her marriage. She was just going through a bit of a wobbly patch, that was all. After all, this was the first time she and Lex had been apart since they'd married. And she'd been alone for two nights. She was going through a bit of separation anxiety. That was all.
So she summoned a smile, turning it on Clark. "I'm fine."
He hesitated, his expression showing uncertainty. "I don't want to intrude," he said slowly. "I know it's none of my business. But you don't look fine, Lois. And if there's anything at all I can do to help…"
She shook her head, maintaining the over-bright smile. "There's nothing. But thank you for offering. And we're back where we started!" she exclaimed, bending to pick up her flip-flops and then walking towards the table. "Can I get you some more iced tea?"
He stood where she'd left him, at the water's edge, his expression suggesting that he saw much more than she wanted him to. "Like I said, I don't want to intrude. And no, thank you. I really should be going — I've invaded your privacy long enough." And he crouched down, putting his tennis shoes back on.
Lois stood, watching him, unable to move. In that instant, she felt as if she'd lost something — something fleeting, something she'd never even had. She had no idea what it was, and yet she felt its absence keenly.
And in that same moment, she realised that she didn't want Clark just to disappear; she didn't want never to see him again. But he was going; that much was obvious. He'd clearly taken her pretence — which must have been apparent to him — as a 'butt out' message; the Lois Lane walls had slammed firmly into place, and she'd scared him off.
All the same, it was probably for the best that he left now. She couldn't really see them regaining the easy companionship they'd shared during their walk along the shore.
And that… saddened her.
"Clark," she began slowly. "How long will you be in the area?"
He stood, shading his eyes from the sun as he did so. "I'm not sure. A couple of days, maybe."
"Will I see you tomorrow?" she asked, suddenly not caring if she sounded… well, desperate for his company. Needy. As if she… liked him.
He looked surprised. "Would you like to?"
"Yes," she answered honestly.
"I thought…" he began. Then he shrugged and smiled at her. "Okay. Same time, same place? And I promise not to ask you anything personal, all right?"
Lois let go of the breath she hadn't known she'd been holding, relief she hadn't been expecting flooding through her. "Okay."
Much later that evening, Lois sat back and re-read the paragraph she'd just written. Even if she said it herself, it was darned good writing. Clark's suggestion had been just what she needed — having written precisely two and a half pages on her novel in two days, most of which she'd ended up deleting, she now had over thirty pages of a semi-autobiographical analysis of working in journalism.
Best of all, it had been easy — and fun — to write. She hadn't been torturing herself trying to get a sentence that didn't sound forced, or read like purple prose. She hadn't been rehearsing every line in her head in order to ask herself if real people actually sounded like that. The words had just flowed. And they'd kept on flowing. Just as they had when she'd been back in the bullpen, writing up stories on her old computer.
The narrative had also conjured up lots of fond memories: of being in the newsroom every day, of pounding the pavement looking for a story, of the sources she used to work with and the odd, sometimes bizarre, characters who would wander in off the street claiming that they had a scoop for her. It had also brought back bittersweet memories of the people she'd worked with: Perry, Jimmy, Eduardo and even Cat. She missed her former colleagues, especially Perry — in fact, it was about time she called him. They hadn't spoken since the wedding.
She stretched and reached for the cup of coffee Betty, the housekeeper, had brought her half an hour ago. It was cold; Lois grimaced as she swallowed. Though even that took her back to the old days at the Planet, where she would frequently get so involved in writing up a story, or planning her strategy to get the scoop, that she'd forget to drink her coffee and end up downing it tepid.
She missed the Daily Planet.
But, as Lex would say, the Planet was gone and she had to move on. Looking backwards didn't get anyone anywhere. It was a time in her life which she certainly should remember fondly, but it was over. She had a new and exciting life now. And, as he'd reminded her on Sunday evening before he'd left, she was going to be a best-selling writer.
Press Pass: the scoop on journalism, by Lois Lane. She could see the front jacket now, Lois thought: a photograph of herself receiving her first Kerth award. Of course, Lex would probably want her byline — author name, she corrected herself — to be Lois Lane Luthor, but they could discuss that.
Lois bit her lip and stared out into the middle distance. Why was she trying to fool herself? They wouldn't discuss it. Lex would tell her what he wanted, as he always did. And he would expect her to comply. He wouldn't shout or argue; that wasn't Lex's way. He would simply turn on her that expression he used sometimes, which suggested that she was really being rather foolish and irrational, and that he was being extremely patient with her, just waiting for her to come to her senses. That he was tolerating her idiocy, but he really wished that she would understand reality.
Her husband. The man whom she'd promised, mere weeks ago, to love and cherish until death did them part.
Lois stood and walked across to the window of the large living- room. The lake was stormy tonight; in the light of the moon she could see little white-capped waves eddying their way across the surface. It was windy — perhaps there would be a thunderstorm later. That would be spectacular to watch.
"Do you need anything else for tonight, Mrs Luthor?"
The housekeeper's voice from the doorway made her turn. "No, I'm fine, thank you. Goodnight, Betty."
"You too, Mrs Luthor. I'll see you at breakfast, as usual."
Lois merely nodded before turning back to the window. She was getting as bad as Lex, she reflected: beginning to treat household staff as if they were just part of the furniture. She should know better — after all, she'd waited tables during her college years, and she knew how it felt to be given orders one minute and then treated as invisible the next.
She sighed. For some reason, she was very dissatisfied tonight. And restless.
<You know why. You're not happy. You already admitted this, didn't you?>
Lois turned away from the window and started pacing the room. This was all Clark's doing. She should never have invited him to stay and talk with her the previous day — and she should definitely have sent him away today. He was, by his very presence, making her question every decision she'd made in the last few months. And that was just crazy. After all, the man was a nobody. Plus his very lack of achievement went against everything she believed in: hard work, dedication and success.
So what if he was good-looking? So what if he was amusing company for an hour or so? Anyone could seem appealing on short acquaintance, especially in this sort of setting and when she'd been trying to write without success. If she'd met Clark in Metropolis, say, when she'd still been at the Planet, she probably wouldn't have given him a second glance.
And she'd been crazy enough to ask him to come again tomorrow? Well, she'd just have to tell him that she'd made a mistake and ask him to leave.
<Maybe that solves one problem, but what are you going to do about your biggest problem? The fact that you don't love your husband?>
"Definitely is spelt with an i and not an a." The lazily amused voice coming from over her shoulder made Lois jump.
But she recovered quickly. "That's what spellcheckers are for."
"Hmm." Clark leaned over her shoulder, resting his hand on the back of her chair. Almost without realising she was doing it, Lois caught her breath. His fingers were tantalisingly close. "Looks like your spellchecker thinks that spelling is correct. I wonder how that happened?"
"Smarta -" Lois began, breaking off the word. She backspaced and corrected the spelling.
"Looks like you've been busy." That soft Midwestern accent was just too nice to listen to. Lois hoped that Clark couldn't tell that she was almost melting at his voice.
"Yeah, I got a lot of writing done, between last night and this morning."
But he wasn't paying attention. "Hey, this is good!" he exclaimed, and she realised that he was reading over her shoulder. "And you took my suggestion. I knew you'd do such a great job of this, Lois!"
Lois shrugged. "It was a great idea. I've barely been able to stop writing since you left yesterday."
He grinned. "See? All you needed was the right inspiration. But if it's going so well, maybe I should go and leave you to get on with it?"
"No!" Surprising herself, Lois caught at his arm. "Don't go. This'll still be here later. And I wanted to talk to you."
"Sure. I mean, you're the closest thing I have to a target audience. And I want to know what you'd find interesting to read about."
Clark shrugged lightly. "If you're sure. Want to walk, then?"
"Sure!" Lois said again. She jumped to her feet and gestured along the beach. "This way okay?"
<Moron, Lois!> she cursed herself. It wasn't as if there were lots of routes to choose from. Up the beach… down the beach… And she didn't really want to go down the beach, because that way lay the path to the house and, for some reason, she felt reluctant to go in that direction with Clark.
"So, what have you covered so far?" Clark asked. She told him, once again finding him a great listener, interested in what she had to say and asking helpful questions.
"But are you sure it's not too… well, boring?" she asked him eventually.
"Heck, no!" he exclaimed. "Like I said yesterday, I'd love to read it. I promise you, Lois, when this is published I'll be first in line to buy it. Though," he added with a grin, "if you do a book-signing tour I'd probably wait until then — I couldn't pass up the chance of a signed copy."
"Hey, let's wait and see if I can get it published first!" Lois exclaimed.
"Somehow, I doubt that'll be a problem." He raised an eyebrow and shrugged slightly. "Doesn't your husband own a publishing company or two?"
Lois felt anger flare within her. "You think I'd use my husband to get my book published?"
He hesitated. "Well… some people would."
"Not me," she said tautly. "If you knew anything at all about me, Clark, you'd know that I've always succeeded on my own. I don't accept help from anyone. I don't *want* help from anyone. And I sure as hell don't expect strings pulled for me because of who I'm married to!"
"Whoa!" Clark stopped walking and held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. "I'm sorry. I really didn't mean to suggest that you'd… well, get into some sort of vanity publishing. I just meant that at least it'd be easier for you to get an editor to look at it — that's the hardest part of trying to get something published. Most stuff submitted just gets rejected without anyone even having read it."
"That's true," Lois acknowledged. "But I'd still prefer to go to a company Lex doesn't own."
Because that way she'd know that she'd succeeded on her own merits… or because she suspected that Lex might not approve of what she was working on instead of the novel he'd encouraged her to write?
Lex had shown very little interest in what she was writing when he'd called at after midnight the previous evening. He'd asked whether she was making progress, and she'd explained that she'd abandoned her first project but was making real headway on the journalism book. He'd given her perfunctory praise, but hadn't asked any questions about her plans or the detail of what she was writing. He hadn't seemed excited about it. He hadn't discussed with her what she could include and what she might decide to omit. He hadn't said that he wanted to read it.
But then, Lex wasn't a reporter. If she was writing a book about big business, running companies, arranging takeovers, then he would definitely show interest, wouldn't he?
<Change the subject, Lois> She really wished that Clark wouldn't bring up the subject of her husband.
"So, seems like you know something about the publishing game," she said idly, walking onwards and kicking at the sand as she did so. "Ever tried writing a book yourself?"
He gave her a faintly embarrassed smile. "Once or twice, yeah."
"Once or twice?"
"When I was in college, I wrote an entire novel. In retrospect, it was pretty awful. All about this guy who felt like an outsider, and how he tried to fit in. It was kind of boring, really. Self-indulgent, I guess."
Self-indulgent? That sounded as if it'd been at least partly autobiographical. So Clark felt — or used to feel — as if he was an outsider? She wanted to ask why, but something held her back — if she started asking very personal questions, would he feel that he had free rein to do the same? And she simply wasn't prepared to answer personal questions from Clark. Not if they concerned the one thing she'd been able to tell from their first afternoon that he was curious about: her marriage, and why she'd given up reporting.
She could almost hear him now. "Why has a great reporter like Lois Lane allowed herself to be immured thousands of miles from the place where she's known? Why aren't you still working as a reporter?"
Oh, she had answers. She wasn't immured here; far from it! The lake was beautiful. The beach house was perfect. She had all the time and space she needed to write. Her husband was affectionate and indulgent. She could go back to Metropolis any time she wanted. And if she wanted to work, she could walk into any job, anywhere.
But anywhere she worked, she'd be Mrs Lex Luthor. She'd be the story, rather than the conduit.
And… Lex wouldn't like it if she worked full-time as a reporter any more.
"But, my dear, the hours are so unpredictable. And I do like knowing that you're at home waiting for me when I finish work. We couldn't do things on impulse any more, either, if you were working on a reporter's schedule. And you've told me that you've always wanted to finish that great novel you're working on…"
No, Lois had no wish to allow Clark any freedom to ask anything that personal.
"You said once or twice — so what was the other?"
He smiled wryly. "When I came back from the Far East, I'd just had so many amazing experiences I had to write them down — the sights, the people, the sounds, the cities, the countryside, the art, the history, the culture… it's so different from anything people in the West know. I mean, almost any big city you can name in the US has a Chinatown, but that's nothing like China. The country's vast — I spent months travelling in China, but I didn't get to know it all. And then there's Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, Tibet… anyway," he added, looking just a little embarrassed, "I wrote it all down, but I guess I was kind of over-enthusiastic. It got a rejection slip."
Clark had travelled all over the Far East? That was fascinating! "You couldn't be over-enthusiastic about that, as far as I'm concerned," she told him. "I'd love to hear about it! And, you know, there is a market for that sort of book. I mean, look at Bill Bryson — he's making a pretty good living out of it."
"Hey, I'm no Bill Bryson!" Clark said, laughing. But he took her at her word and began telling her about his travels. He really had been all over the place, and his descriptions and anecdotes almost made her feel that she was there herself. *Almost*. In fact, he made her want to visit all those far-off countries.
Lex would take her, if he knew she wanted to go…
But if she went with Lex, she wouldn't get to go where Clark had been. Lex would insist on only the very best — five-star and better hotels everywhere they went, a flurry of staff accompanying them to ensure that their every need was met and that they never had to experience a moment's discomfort or unfamiliarity. If she were in Tokyo or Beijing with Lex, it would
be exactly the same as being in any major city in the States. The only difference would be that, if they went out for sushi, it would be authentic. Oh, sure, they'd sightsee — but only officially-designated tourist attractions. Nothing that would bring them into contact with ordinary, *real* local people.
If she wanted to see the real China, she wouldn't see it with Lex. But with Clark…
No! She had to stop thinking like that. Had to stop comparing Clark to Lex and adding the balance in favour of Clark.
Lex was her *husband*! She'd married him, for better or for worse. It was time to stop looking wistfully to check if the grass was greener on the other side. And anyway, she'd *wanted* to marry Lex. He was a good man and a wonderful husband.
The comparison simply wasn't fair, not to mention inaccurate.
Clark was just a drifter… a nice guy, but nice guys weren't necessarily the sort of man you wanted to spend your life with. Like she'd reminded herself before — and she was having to remind herself *again* — she found him appealing precisely because she'd only just met him. She hadn't known him long enough to find out all of the things about him which would irritate her like crazy. And she knew that he would come to irritate her, in time — especially his lack of gainful employment and his clear liking of the carefree life.
This was just a summer idyll, after all. She could enjoy his company for a few days, and then say goodbye whenever she packed up and returned to Metropolis. Unless, of course, he'd drifted on someplace else before then.
Lex, on the other hand, was solid, reliable, hard-working, with a clear sense of purpose. He knew what was important in life.
So she smiled politely at Clark and asked him a question about Singapore. He gave her an odd look, but answered it calmly.
Her thoughts in turmoil, Lois decided to make her excuses and go back to the house. After all, she did have work to do. And she really was spending far too much time with this man who, good- looking and charming as he was, was a complete stranger.
<But great company and fun to be with, not to mention making you feel like you haven't felt in a long time…>
And then her attention was caught by a couple of birds in flight, dancing around each other in an intricate ballet; one leading and the other following, until the first began to follow the second. Against the perfect blue sky, their pirouetting and swaying was simply hypnotic. Lois stood and stared.
"Canada geese." At her shoulder, Clark spoke in what was clearly shared enjoyment of the birds' activity. "They mate for life, you know."
"Yeah?" Lois hadn't known. "I guess it must be mating season now…" She gestured to the birds. "He's making a play for her, isn't he?"
She felt rather than saw Clark's grin. "Actually, mating season is in the spring. I suspect they're just having fun."
"Oh yeah?" Lois stared up at the birds again. "You think he really is her mate? Or is she playing around with someone else while her partner's out of sight?"
She flushed as the implication of her words hit her. <Stupid, Lois!> she cursed herself, and she hurriedly took a step away from Clark, intending to walk onward.
Except that her toe struck a stone in the sand and she stumbled.
"Careful!" Clark caught at her arm, steadying her. "You okay?"
"I'm… fine…" Brought up against Clark's body by his action and her own momentum, Lois felt as if all of her breath left her lungs in one second.
In that second, staring up into Clark's face, Lois was aware of nothing except the man holding her. His size. His strength. His deep brown eyes, behind the gold-rimmed glasses. The way his slightly-overlong hair flopped loosely onto his forehead despite his efforts to brush it back. His white teeth. The tiny tic in his jaw. His fresh, clean, male scent.
She was aware of nothing else. Only him.
And then he moved, and the spell was broken.
Feeling shaken to the core, Lois stepped away from him.
"Well, if you're sure you're okay," Clark said easily, "shall we walk back?"
And he turned back towards the beach house and waited for her to walk with him, his expression completely — normal.
While she was still standing there trying to work out just what it was that had happened. Just what had caused her to feel as if the world had stood still for those few seconds. And why she hadn't been able to take her eyes off Clark.
Hadn't he felt *anything*?
"Okay," she said weakly, and fell into step beside him. Maybe she'd been imagining things, she told herself. That was what came of being alone in a house on a remote beach for days on end — well, alone apart from household staff whom she never saw other than at meal-times.
Yes, she was imagining things. Getting reality mixed up with fantasy — or with the contents of the romance novel she had by her bedside.
So, she found Clark attractive. So what?
Men and women found each other attractive all the time. That didn't mean that they intended to do anything about it, or that it had to mean anything beyond simple appreciation of a member of the opposite sex.
She found Brad Pitt attractive, for heaven's sake! If this was Brad she was walking with, not Clark, she'd probably be itching to jump his bones by now. That wouldn't mean that the attraction was reciprocated — of course it wouldn't be.
It was just hormones. A simple matter of body chemistry interacting with the fact that she was alone here. And probably that she was missing her husband, too — this was the longest period they'd been apart since she'd married Lex.
<Get over it, Lois> she told herself, falling into step beside him. <It's not as if you'd even give him a second glance if you'd met him in Metropolis, anyway. Get real here!>
It was almost a relief when Clark said, once they got back to where they'd started from, that he needed to get going.
It was too quiet. Too solitary. Lois was tired of her own company, and bored with eating alone.
She should have asked Clark to stay for dinner.
She should have…
What was she thinking? Asking another man to dinner in her husband's house?
It was her house too, she protested, almost sulkily.
But still, inviting Clark to dinner would have been completely the wrong thing to do. Even though he was just a friend.
<Just a friend, huh? You were practically slavering over him out there on the beach earlier!>
<No, I wasn't!> she yelled at her subconscious. It had been… oh, a moment of madness. Probably because she'd been staring up at the sky a minute or two earlier. It was probably the effect of near-sunstroke.
So, Clark was a good-looking guy. So he stirred something in her. As she'd already rationalised, that was only because she was alone here, without her husband, and Clark was the only company within miles. She couldn't count Betty and her husband; after all, she hardly ever saw them, and Betty would probably treat a request to sit down and have a chat with the same incredulity as she'd greet an announcement from Lois that she was from another planet.
No, Clark was just a friend. A casual acquaintance, really. Inviting him to dinner would have been harmless.
Lex would never have understood.
It really was insane that a man and a woman couldn't be friends without people misunderstanding, Lois thought in irritation, throwing her napkin aside and getting up from the table, abandoning her dinner. She just wasn't hungry any more.
But there was so much that Lex wouldn't understand about Clark. So much he'd find to criticise. The fact that he was in his mid- twenties and still not gainfully employed. The fact that his clothing was so… "cheap chain-store, Lois," he would tell her dismissively. The fact that he routinely trespassed on a private beach. That was something else — Lex would want to know just how he'd managed to get onto the beach in the first place. And once he'd found out, he would certainly have the route sealed off. And, knowing Lex, possibly guarded.
Heck, Lex would want to know why she hadn't asked how Clark had managed to get onto the beach.
She should have asked him, of course. After all, it was private property — something they'd both ignored after the first couple of minutes. But, as each day had gone by, she hadn't asked.
She knew why. Clark's entry into her bored, isolated life up here seemed somehow like a time out of time. He'd appeared almost as if by magic, and part of her knew that if she ever did ask how he'd got there she'd be breaking the spell. She'd be bringing the outside world into the little, private world the two of them were sharing.
Bringing them back to reality.
And reality was… a world in which she was married to one man while…
…falling in love with another.
<I am *not* falling in love with Clark!> Lois protested to herself the next morning as she showered. <He is *not* as attractive — and just plain *nice* — as I'm remembering> she argued as she dressed. <I do *not* want to… to touch him… to know what it's like to be held by him… to be ki->
Lois flung down the hairbrush with which she was making increasingly frantic attempts to style her hair. She really had a bad case of missing her husband. That was all it was. All she needed to do was see Lex again and she'd realise that Clark was — nothing. Just a kind-of attractive guy with whom she shared a few superficial similarities.
<You talked to Lex last night. For more than half an hour. And you still dreamed about Clark>
Clark was a novelty, she told herself. The longer she spent in his company, the more likely it was that she would find something — some*things* — about him that really drove her crazy. That made her desperate to get away from him. That would reduce her to stiffly-polite pleasantries — or outright sarcasm; since when had Lois Lane ever worried about being polite? — in order to get rid of him.
That was it. All she needed was greater exposure to the guy. More time spent in his company. And she'd soon be sick of him — and be wondering how on earth she could ever have imagined herself attracted to him.
She checked her reflection in the mirror once more, then rolled her eyes at herself. What was wrong with her, anyway? She'd indulged in far more introspection in the past few days than she ever had in her life before. She hadn't even spent this much time wrestling with the decision over whether to marry Lex!
<Stop analysing the situation to death and just enjoy his company!> she told herself.
Lois turned her gaze from the laptop screen and looked at her watch again. It was precisely a minute and a half later than the last time she'd looked. And she'd written precisely — she paused to count — four words in that whole time.
She checked her watch again. It was almost three-thirty in the afternoon.
Clark wasn't coming today.
Every other day, it had been not long after two when he'd appeared. Each time, she hadn't even seen him coming. She'd been so engrossed in whatever she'd been doing, or trying to do, that he'd somehow been able to sneak up on her.
Which was why she'd been trying, with increasing futility, to work on her book for the past hour and a half.
<Idiot, Lane! Trying to summon him up as if it were some sort of spell or superstition!>
Clark wasn't coming. And it was a good thing, really.
Clark's presence over the past few days had made her start to feel… to think… to suspect… To worry that she was dissatisfied with her life. To make her yearn for the way things used to be. To make her miss the Daily Planet, the day-to-day hunt for leads and seeing her name on the front page of the paper. The thrill of the chase. The excitement…
Her life used to be exciting.
Now… well, even when she wasn't stuck on a beach miles from anywhere, with no transport (no distractions, Lex had called it), her life was… tedious.
There. She'd said it. It was tedious.
Tedious parties. Tedious receptions. Tedious dinners. Tedious meetings.
Oh, she'd enjoyed it all at first. It was such a change from anything she'd been used to. The designer gowns and ultra- expensive jewellery. Having her hair styled for her on every occasion. Finally seeing behind all those hidden doors into places she'd only been able to sneak a peek into when she'd been a reporter.
But then… she'd started to realise how shallow it all was. How superficial. The saccharine greetings. The false compliments. The empty small talk. The insincere smiles. The gossip in the powder- room and the snide comments behind people's backs.
Not that any of it should have surprised her. The same happened in journalism; she'd lived through years of it. But, for some odd reason, she'd expected something different from these events.
The business dealings and even threats under cover of polite conversations did interest her, and she would have liked to understand more about what went on — but that was the one thing Lex had been insistent upon. Her role was to accompany him, to be decorative, to entertain the other men's arm candy and, occasionally, to smile brilliantly at some man whose attention — or concentration — Lex wanted distracted.
She was bored with her life. But then, wasn't that why she was here, working on a book? Lex had seen how jaded she'd been getting. He'd recognised that she needed a new challenge — and so he'd suggested making a start, finally, on the novel she'd been saying for ages that she wanted to write.
But even working on her book didn't seem to be giving her the challenge, the excitement she needed in her life.
The excitement she'd always had when she'd worked at the Planet…
But surely the Planet hadn't been the sum total of her entire life? What had she done for fun, for excitement, in her free time?
<What free time?>
<Yes, Lois, when did you ever understand the concept of free time when you worked at the Planet?> her inner voice asked her cynically.
<Who are you, Lois Lane? Is — was — your entire life summed up by your job description? Is your entire life now the job known as Mrs Lex Luthor? Who is Lois Lane?>
If she knew the answer to that, Lois thought, maybe she wouldn't be so melancholy. Maybe she wouldn't be sitting here staring blankly at an LCD screen and yearning for the company of a man who wasn't her husband.
"Penny for them?"
"Huh?" Lois jerked her head up. How had he done that *again*? Sneaked up on her without her seeing or even hearing him?
"Your thoughts," he explained with a grin. "Or… no, wait, a penny is far too cheap for you. What should I offer? Fifty bucks? A thousand? Or… maybe a precious freshwater pearl from the Great Lakes?"
"What?" Was he making fun of her? Lois frowned, wondering how to respond.
Clark extended his hand, squeezed into a fist, towards her. As she watched, he opened his hand to reveal something small and round glistening in his palm.
She stared. "Wow! That really is a pearl!"
He grinned. "I found it in the lake early this morning when I went swimming. They're very rare, especially this far north."
Clark's smile reminded her once again just why she was so attracted to him. "I want you to have it. Whether or not you tell me your thoughts."
She should refuse. After all, the only man who should be giving her jewellery was her husband. And yet… Clark looked so earnest and so eager for her to have the pearl. And it would be something to remember him by, wouldn't it? A beautiful pearl, a souvenir of her summer idyll with a stranger.
"Thank you," she said softly, and held out her hand to take it from him. Their fingers brushed, and the contact sent a spark tingling through her.
She closed her fingers around the pearl and slipped it into her pocket, putting some distance between herself and Clark as she did so. This was bad. Any minute now, he was going to notice how she'd reacted, and it would be embarrassing. Plus, he knew very well that she was a married woman — what would he think of her for the way she was behaving with another man?
"So," he said, gesturing with his hand to ask if she wanted to stroll. She nodded and kicked off her sandals, falling into step beside him. "You were looking very pensive. Anything you want to talk about?"
"Hey, I don't want to intrude," he said quickly. "You don't have to tell me anything. But just in case you wanted to talk… I'm a pretty good listener."
How could she possibly tell Clark what was on her mind? She'd been thinking about nothing else but him! Lois turned her head, staring out onto the lake, and shuffled her feet in the sand.
"Like I said," Clark told her in a conversational tone, "you don't have to tell me anything. We can talk about anything you like. Or we can just walk, if you prefer."
"Okay." She turned and smiled at him, and her breath caught at the concerned expression on his face. A man she barely knew, had only talked to on about three occasions, *cared* enough about her to look at her like that?
"I talked to my parents last night," he said, then gave her a slightly shy, slightly embarrassed smile. "I told them that I'd met you."
Lois gave him a puzzled look. Why would his parents be interested in the fact that he'd met Lex Luthor's wife? Unless they were admirers of Lex, which she supposed was possible… but then, why would Clark look so sheepish about his confession? Unless, she thought as her heart-rate began to go into involuntary overdrive, he meant that he'd told them that he'd met… *her*. A woman he liked. Maybe more than liked.
No. It couldn't be that. She was *married*, and Clark knew it. And he'd never given any indication that he was in any way attracted to her. If her reading of him was right, the fact that she was married would ensure that he never even thought of her as anything more than a casual acquaintance whom he enjoyed talking with. He was a country boy, after all, brought up in a small town with small-town values…
…the kind of values which she would once have mocked, but which now sounded right. Appropriate. Not like the dubious ethics which seemed to be involved in some of the business dealings Lex's acquaintances engaged in. Or the casual bedhopping she'd realised went on too.
She shouldn't have been surprised. It wasn't as if she was na´ve, after all — she'd always felt that she was a woman of the world and that little could shock her, especially not after the kind of stories she'd covered as a reporter. But it was the very casualness of it which had disturbed her.
And, now that she thought about it, she found herself wondering whether Lex was a part of it as well. It was his world, after all. Why should she have assumed that he, among all the corporate types at those gatherings, should be completely above board and ethical? Or that he'd be the one man who would never break his marriage vows?
<I'm no saint, Lois. I've done questionable things in pursuing success>
And was still doing them, perhaps?
The disloyal thought took Lois by surprise… and made her wonder. Why, in all this time, had she never dug deeper into the public fašade — even the private persona — that was Lex Luthor? She never had managed to get that in-depth interview, had she?
Instead, she'd married him, and been assimilated into his world as a consequence.
"Lois? You've wandered off on me again." Clark's wryly amused voice interrupted her reflections. "Am I boring you?"
"Oh! No!" she exclaimed, pushing aside the nagging doubts about her husband's probity. "What were you saying? You told your parents about meeting me? Why?"
"Well…" The sheepish note was back again. "Because you're my journalistic hero. They've known that for a while — they've heard me rave about your articles plenty of times. They really got a kick out of knowing that I'd been lucky enough to meet you."
But he wasn't meeting Lois Lane, journalist, Lois realised. Instead, he was meeting the ex-reporter, now idle corporate wife. And that was an identity with which she was increasingly uncomfortable. No matter how interesting writing her book was, she couldn't handle not having a job for very much longer. She would have to discuss that with Lex urgently.
<You could just fly back to Metropolis and look for work> her inner voice prompted. <You know the Star would hire you in a heartbeat. Or you could try the New York Times or the Washington Post or another of the big papers on the East Coast — maybe they could use a Metropolis correspondent. Especially one who's won three awards>
"That's nice," she said, but much to her horror a wistful note crept into her voice.
Clark touched her arm lightly. "Lois? Is everything okay?"
"Oh, sure!" she protested. But something made her add, "It sounds like you have really great parents." And that wistful note was back.
His voice was very soft. "And you didn't?"
Lois bit her lip. "I guess not unless you count a workaholic father who had affair after affair and moved out when I was twelve, and an alcoholic mother." She groaned. "Why the heck did I tell you all that? I had no intention of telling you that!"
He was silent for a few moments. Then, just as she was thinking of something to say to change the subject, he said, "I guess you find it easy to tell me because I'm pretty much a stranger to you. It's not as if I'm going to run into your parents tomorrow — or as if you'll see me several times a week for the rest of your life and have to remember and regret what you told me."
He was right. Lois knew that. So why did she feel such a sense of loss at the reminder that he was a fleeting part of her life? Not a part of her life at all, in fact; they were little more than two ships passing in the night. A brief summer idyll, as she'd told herself earlier.
She didn't want to contemplate never seeing Clark again. But that was precisely why she had to ensure that she never saw him again.
A lump filled her throat suddenly, and she stared out across the lake again, not wanting him to see her reaction to his comment.
Never see Clark again after… well, whenever he left to go back to Kansas?
But she needed him! How was she going to finish her book without having him to brainstorm ideas with, to tell her what worked and what didn't? To reassure her that it was worth writing, that people would want to read it?
Because Lex would be no use at all there. Oh, he'd promise her that he would read drafts for her, "when he had time". But she knew that he would never have time. And any reassurance he could give her about her writing would be exactly the same as what he'd said on the phone last night.
"You write whatever you like, Lois. If you need to write this journalism book first, then get it out of your system. It doesn't matter if it's published or not, does it?" And even as he'd said it, she'd known that he was distracted, that she hadn't had his full attention. She'd heard rustling in the background — paper being turned, she'd guessed — and the muffled sound of something unidentifiable.
No, Lex would never fulfil the role of amanuensis. Not like Clark.
Still, maybe she could get his email address before he left? Or his phone number?
That would work. Lois brightened and turned back to face Clark, intending to ask him. "Clar —"
She broke off immediately. While she'd been facing away from him, he'd stepped closer to her, and the concern for her in his expression was evident. And he was standing mere inches from her.
Her breath caught, and her stomach began doing flip-flops.
Clark's expression changed; the concern faded away, to be replaced by… something else. Something which she dared not put a name to. Something which made her feel warm and tense all at the same time, filled with anticipation, as if she was just waiting for… *something*… to happen…
"Lois." He breathed her name, and she felt the whisper of the word against her cheek.
As if it had been a prompt to which she had to respond, she murmured, "Clark…"
He took a step closer still, and his hand came up, almost shaking as it approached her face. And then he was touching her, his palm warm and caressing against her cheek.
His gaze was intent, focused on her face. And all she could do was look back at him in return — the smooth planes of his face, his strong jaw, the curve of his lips, the faint stubble of mid- afternoon darkening his features. The intent, longing expression in his dark brown eyes… which were coming closer to her as Clark leaned towards her.
Her lips parted and she leaned closer to him, holding her breath as she waited for the kiss which she knew was coming. The kiss which, right now, she knew that she'd been waiting for since the day they'd met. The kiss which she'd die without…
"No!" The appalled exclamation came from Clark and, before Lois could even blink, he'd whirled away from her.
Disappointment flooded her. She'd ached for that kiss. She'd already been anticipating how wonderful his lips would feel against hers. Wanting to reach for him again, Lois took a step towards him.
"I'm — sorry," he said jerkily. "That was — that shouldn't have happened. I apologise."
"I… uh… it's okay," she stammered awkwardly.
But he shook his head. "It's not okay, Lois, and we both know it. I've… I should never have come back here after the first day. I thought I could handle it, but just now — that showed how well I can handle it," he muttered, self-disgust plain in his voice.
"Clark, nothing happened!" Lois protested, trying to squash the need to tell him that she wished something *had* happened. But, at the same time, feelings of horror were awakening within her. She was married, and she'd almost kissed another man. What kind of woman was she?
"That's not the point," he said quietly, sadly. "The fact that I wanted it is enough. Lois, you're a married woman. I should never have even thought about kissing you."
<And you should never have wanted him to>
No, she shouldn't. Why had she? That stupid, crazy, illogical attraction to a man she barely knew? A man who, so far as she knew, was little more than a beach bum?
<A man you find *far* more attractive than you do your husband. A man you have far more in common with than your husband. A man you hate the thought of never seeing again>
She should agree with him, tell him that he was right, that he should never have thought about it. That if he hadn't taken her off-guard, she would have slapped his face. Or pushed him away.
<But that would be a lie. You wanted to kiss him>
"Clark, forget it. Please. It doesn't matter. Let's not spoil the rest of the afternoon."
But he shook his head. "I'm sorry, Lois. I need to go. And I'd better not come back."
"No!" she exclaimed before she could stop herself. "Don't, please. It's not necessary —"
"It's very necessary, Lois," he said roughly, already turning and walking away from her. "I'm falling in love with another man's wife. I have to go. Goodbye."
And he broke into a run along the lake-shore.
Lois watched him until he was no more than a tiny speck on the horizon. Then, as a solitary tear trickled down her cheek, she turned away and walked back to the house, ignoring her laptop and other belongings.
Clark was gone. And this time she knew that she would never see him again.
Clark was too ethical to consider getting involved with a married woman, Lois reasoned later as, having refused dinner, she sat alone in the living-room. He was more ethical than she was. She would have kissed him. She had ached for that kiss — and for more.
She was a slu-
No. The truth was that she simply didn't love her husband. And that Clark had put his finger on it down on the beach.
They were two strangers who'd met by chance and had fallen in love.
She loved Clark. Not Lex. She'd never loved Lex.
She wasn't just attracted to a handsome stranger. It hadn't been just boredom which had made her notice him in a way she hadn't noticed a man in a very long time.
Lois Lane was falling in love, for the first time in her life. And it was with a man other than her husband.
And, finally, her restlessness and dissatisfaction made sense.
She was unhappy because she was in a marriage which was making her unhappy. She was with a man who, for all his good character- traits, did not make up for everything she'd left behind: her job, her friends, the challenges which she'd always relished. If she'd truly loved Lex, she could have been happy without everything which, in the past, had made her life complete.
But she didn't love him.
It was incredible that it had taken a completely unexpected declaration of love from a near-stranger to make her see that. And yet not so incredible, really. Clark's feelings for her weren't one-sided. She cared about him too.
She was falling in love with him, and given that she felt that way, how could she stay with Lex? Apart from anything else, it wouldn't be fair to him to remain his wife when she couldn't return his feelings for her. Even worse when she had feelings for another man.
Well, it was time that she did something about that, she resolved firmly. Nothing was irrevocable, even marriage. And, much as she'd always sworn to herself that she wouldn't repeat her parents' mistakes, divorce was not out of the question. And it would be better to do it now, anyway, before there were children to get hurt.
She would go back to Metropolis and ask Lex for a divorce. It was the fairest, most honest thing she could do in the circumstances. And it was what she needed for herself. Not only because of her feelings for Clark, but because Clark had shown her what a part of her had known all long: that she wasn't happy.
And, at the same time, she would contact everyone influential she knew in the newspaper business. Lex had told her that there was no way that the Planet could be rebuilt but, now that she thought about it, she wasn't sure that she was entirely convinced by that. After all, there had to have been insurance money. So with that and some bank loans, if she could find people willing to stand as guarantor, it had to be possible to reopen the Planet.
Then she would search Metropolis — and Smallville, Kansas — if she had to, for a reporter named Clark. It couldn't be that hard to find him — after all, how many Clarks could there be whose parents lived on a farm three miles outside Smallville? She'd offer Clark a job… and more, if he'd have her. When the time was right for both of them.
That sounded like a plan. And she'd start work on it tomorrow.
Tomorrow, after all, was another day.
To be continued in Betrayed — coming soon.
(c) Wendy Richards 2004