The Promise - By Danielle Steel

Chapter 1

The early morning sun streamed across their backs as they unhooked their bicycles in front of Eliot House on the Harvard campus. They stopped for a moment to smile at each other. It was May and they were very young. Her short hair shone in the sunshine, and her eyes found his as she began to laugh.

“Well, Doctor of Architecture, how do you feel?”

“Ask me that in two weeks after I get my doctorate.” He smiled back at her, shaking a lock of blond hair off his forehead.

“To hell with your diploma, I meant after last night.” She grinned at him again, and he rapidly swatted her behind.

“Smartass. How do you feel, Miss McAllister? Can you still walk?” They were hitching their legs over the bicycles now and she looked back at him teasingly in answer.

“Can you?” And with that, she was off, pulling ahead of him on the pretty little bike he had bought her for her birthday only a few months before. He was in love with her. He had always been in love with her. He had dreamed of her all his life. And he had known her for two years.

It had been a lonely time at Harvard before that, and well into his second year of graduate school he was resigned to more of the same. He didn't want what the others wanted. He didn't want Radcliffe or Vassar or Wellesley in bed with him. He had known too many of those girls during his undergraduate days, and for Michael there was always something missing. He wanted something more. Texture, substance, soul. He had solved the problem for himself very nicely the summer before, with an affair with one of his mother's friends. Not that his mother had known. But it had been fun. She was a damned attractive woman in her late thirties, years younger than his mother, of course, and she was an editor at Vogue. But that had been merely sport. For both of them. Nancy was different.

He had known from the first moment he had seen her in the Boston gallery that showed her paintings. There was a haunting loneliness about her country-sides, a solitary tenderness about her people that filled him with compassion and made him want to reach out to them and to the artist who painted them. She had been sitting there that day in a red beret and an old raccoon coat, her delicate skin still glowing from her walk to the Charles Street gallery, her eyes shining, her face alive. He had never wanted any woman as he wanted her. He had bought two of her paintings, and taken her to dinner at Lockober's. But the rest had taken longer. Nancy McAllister wasn't quick to give her body or her heart She had been too lonely for too long to give herself easily. At nineteen she was already wise and well versed in pain. The pain of being alone. The pain of being left. It had plagued her since she had been put in the orphanage as a child. She could no longer remember the day her mother had left her there shortly before she died. But she remembered the chill of the halls. The smells of the strange people. The sounds in the morning as she lay in her bed fighting back tears. She would remember those things for the rest of her life. For a long time she had thought nothing could fill the emptiness inside her. But now she had Michael.

Theirs wasn't always an easy relationship, but it was a strong one, built on love and respect; they had meshed her world and his, and come up with something beautiful and rare. And Michael was no fool either. He knew the dangers of falling in love with someone “different,” as his mother put it—when she got the chance. But there was nothing “different” about Nancy. The only thing different was that she was an artist, not just a student She wasn't still searching, she already was what she wanted to be. And unlike the other women he knew, she wasn't auditioning candidates, she had chosen the man she loved. In two years he had never let her down. She was certain he never would: they knew each other too well. What could there possibly be that she hadn't already learned? She knew it all The funny stuff, the silly secrets, childhood dreams, the desperate fears. And through him she had come to respect his