[BookStrand Fantasy Romance]
Zane Tollison's wife is running through their cash faster than he can make it. A "Hail Mary" contract with Clearwater Tobacco arrives in the nick of time to keep his fledgling consulting firm afloat, and to unchain him once and for all from his narcissistic wife.
Beautiful, brilliant, and estranged Kathy Davis is desperate for a new beginning. The feisty post doc bio-geneticist jumps at an offer from Clearwater, pouring her soul into a development that will revolutionize the tobacco industry.
The two are unwittingly reeled into a convoluted plan to steal $12 million. Zane is changing into a carbon copy of Kathy, a pawn in a bizarre genetic metamorphosis, entangling Kathy in a sinewy web of seduction and deceit. Forging a bond that will set the course of their destiny, they fight to overpower the diabolic hold that has taken over their lives.
A BookStrand Mainstream Romance
5 STARS: "A recommended read! The Twist by Lee Silver is one of the most fascinating books that I've read in a long time. The story which takes place in the world of big business and high tech genetic research, is filled with interesting and very likable characters, humor, and above all a completely unique story. This is one book that is definitely a keeper! So if you're a fan of witty clever stories with a touch of science fiction thrown in, then you are going to love The Twist." -- Kasey's View
4.5 HEARTS: "Well, I can honestly say this is a unique story. When I first took this one I thought to myself, this is going to be a confusing read. But I was quick to realize the author was able to draw me into the story and keep me there without losing me in the bio-genetic and DNA swapping terms. She created a world that seemed so real and devastating that it seems almost possible. Zane and Kathy are strong characters that are pushed to their emotional, physical, and mental limits and manage to hold on to not only their sanity (most of the time) but to the love they feel for one another. I would highly recommend this one to anyone looking for a suspenseful ride that will keep them anxiously turning the pages and will possibly turn them against cigarette smoking forever." -- Sandra, The Romance Studio
4 STARS: "Humorous. Every man should have to spend at least a month as a woman. Cramps, high/low emotion, pregnancy, and menopause would help a male understand a female. Lee Silver writes with a great deal of humor and imagination. Her characters are well-developed. Her plot is interesting and creative. Fans of fantasy romance will enjoy The Twist." -- Debra Gaynor, Review Your Book
Zane heard the tap, tap, tap of a woman’s heels on the tile floor as he stared at his watch anxiously waiting for the elevator.
She was a tiny thing, not more than five foot three, probably in her early thirties. She stepped up beside him. Their eyes met and she smiled.
One of the big guns’ secretaries, I’ll bet. Zane couldn’t keep his eyes off her.
Wearing a stylishly short, gray tweed business suit, her long auburn hair was pulled in a French twist. Designer gold-rim glasses framed her petite face and green eyes. She looked like she had just stepped out of the latest issue of Vogue.
Zane’s eyes followed her every move as she pranced into the elevator. A leather notebook clenched to her chest, she was one hundred percent professional and drop dead gorgeous.
She turned to him, a ghost of a smile on her lips. Looking Zane squarely in the eyes, she matter-of-factly quipped, “All right, you’ve seen my ass. I guess you can come in now.”
He turned beet red as he walked into the elevator. The doors closed like a vault. “I, I am so sorry, but—”
“No buts about it. I wouldn’t have said that if I didn’t think you were cute.”
She stepped out onto the second floor “See ya!”
He stood, frozen like a pillar of salt, as he watched her walk in slow motion down the hall.
“What did you say?”
She peered over her shoulder and grinned. “Chorde’s office. It’s on the seventh floor.”
Eyes glued to the seam along the back of her skirt, he opened his mouth to speak, but the words refused to come.
She rounded the corner out of his sight. His eyes still peering into the hall, Zane’s finger pressed the button for the seventh floor. As the doors began to close, he blurted out to the brushed steel walls of the elevator, “Thanks.”
* * * *
Chorde glanced at the clock as he reached for his hand. “So good to see that you are prompt. Nine o’clock on the button.”
Clenching his hand with a confident grip, Zane put on a well-practiced smile. “Well, I try, Jonathon.” The truth was he was late for everything. Pat often teased him that he’d be late for his own funeral.
Jonathon Chorde was a stately gentleman in his early sixties. His British accent and tailored, double-breasted suit gave him an air of cosmopolitan sophistication. He was medium height, perhaps five foot ten, balding, and a bit over weight.
Chorde motioned towards a pair of stuffed leather chairs at the far corner of his office. He poured two cups of tea from a silver carafe and offered a small serving tray. “Pastry, Mr. Tollison?”
Never one to pass on a free breakfast, Zane reached for a cherry Danish. He flashed a grin as he took an over-sized bite. “Mr. Tollison was my father. You can call me Zane.”
“As you please. Down to business then, shall we?”
Chorde set his cup on the marble tabletop and leaned forward. “We are both businessmen. I shan’t beat around the bush. Simply put, Clearwater wants tobuy your name.”
A piece of Danish caught in Zane’s throat, and he coughed into his napkin.
Chorde ignored the outburst. “As I indicated when I spoke to you yesterday, we are in the process of pulling together a study to refute the accusations of the anti-smoking coalitions. Although we certainly value your insights, there is really very little we expect you to do. We already know what we want to find, and except for going through the motions of the actual ten-day investigation, our people have basically completed the final report.”
He reached for his tea and leaned back in his chair. “We did feel that it was important for you to actually be here while we conduct the study to lend a touch of credence to the work. In any case, it will certainly benefit us both for you to learn as much as you can about the project. You’ll need to be prepared to field any questions that might come up about the research in the future.”
Pulling a piece of lint from his trousers, he continued. “We shan’t detain you once we’ve gathered our data, but please, feel free to stay at Clearwater to dot and cross whatever I’s and T’s you feel are necessary to put the finishing touches to the report. After all, the findings are going to be released by Tollison Consulting.”
Chorde’s smile could have belonged to the Grinch who stole Christmas. “We had hoped we could attract your services and took the liberty of having our legal people draft a preliminary agreement. A good faith advance in the amount of 1.15 million dollars shall be deposited to your account upon signing the contract, with the balance being paid in ten equal installments of 1.15 million dollars each day for the duration of the study. The total for your services will be 12.65 million dollars.”
He pushed a pen and a stack of papers towards Zane, and reached for a French
cruller. “The future of the entire tobacco industry depends on the timely release of these findings. We shan’t tolerate any mishaps. The agreement provides a rather stiff penalty of 2.3 million dollars per day should you fail to see the job through.”
Chorde’s face grew cold as he glared over the top of his glasses. “I prefer not to elaborate, but please understand, this would be the least of your concerns if the details of your actual role in the investigation should ever chance to leave this room.”
Zane stared at the contract, contemplating the contrast between the white papers and the brown marble tabletop. Ever since he could remember, he had been a tinkerer. From high tech military jets to antique cars, from tube-type radios to house renovation, at one time or another, Zane had seen or worked on just about every mechanical device imaginable. Starting as a model builder as a child, he learned the building trades while working his way through college, Combined with a graduate degree in engineering, he was able to view most situations from both sides of the fence. At the end of the day, there was very little Zane could not or would not do.
A few well-timed hat tricks had earned him quite a name for himself. After ten years in the aerospace industry, Zane had managed to save a small nest egg and opened his own consulting firm. Most of his clients were companies he had worked with at one time or another while he was still in aerospace. The work was sporadic, but at least he wasn’t a wage slave for one of the airframe giants anymore. He smiled. Living like a starving animal is a small price to pay for your independence.
There were big contacts, with even bigger expenses, but Elise’s addict-like preoccupation with her beauty had brought him to his knees. There were spas and salons, waxes and peels, life coaches and Feng Shui instructors, and a whole host of female must-dos she assured he need not and could not possibly understand. Added to her weekly jaunts to Europe to shop at some swanky new boutique with one of her upscale girlfriends, their bills were a four million dollar snowball rolling down hill.
Zane twirled the ballpoint pen between his fingers. A whole career boiled down to two simple choices: his morals and financial ruin, or the answer to a prayer for selling his professional reputation down the river.
Twelve million dollars. Half for the Governor’s share, and a third to keep him out of debtor’s prison, there would be a million apiece left so he and Elise could go their separate ways.
Zane took a reflective bite from his Danish and swallowed hard. “So where do I sign?”
* * * *
Zane studied the mother of pearl barrel of the ballpoint as he slid the signed contract across the table. “Hmm, Mont Blanc. Mind if I keep it?”
Chorde’s eyes followed Zane’s fingers. Not waiting for a reply he stuck the fountain pen in his shirt pocket.
“I will need a copy of that, Jonathon. So when do we start?”
Chorde slipped the contract into his file drawer and pressed a button on his telephone. “Of course. I’ll have my secretary make one straight off. Time is of the essence. Since you’re already here, I had hoped we could begin today.”
“Is that a problem, Mr. Tollison?” Chord pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “I didn’t think you were a government worker.”
“Well, there are a couple of things I’ll need to check on at the office, and I didn’t pack for the trip. But I guess if there’s nothing I need to square away at home—”
“By all means, please make whatever arrangements are necessary with your office and your wife.” He reached in the top drawer of his desk and handed Zane a company charge card. “Small amenities shan’t be a problem. You can purchase anything you need for your stay with this. As far as the deposit, feel free to check with your bank. I’m sure you will find everything to be in order.”
A call confirmed that both the advance and the first day’s deposit had already been credited to Zane’s account. He regretted his unprofessionalism in feeling the need to verify the deposit. If he had any doubts, it was becoming obvious Jonathon Chorde didn’t miss a trick.
Zane picked up the phone and dialed his office. As always, Pat’s friendly voice was on the other end.
“Pat, this is Zane.” He covered the mouthpiece with his hand. “You know that raise I was telling you about?”
There was an uncomfortably long pause. “Yes.”
Zane smiled. His secretary had taken the bait. “Well, how about I start you out with a bonus and a couple of weeks of vacation?”
“Oh, thank the stars. I was afraid you were about to let me go!”
“You know I’d fire myself first. That big contract with Chorde…I got it!”
“Well, congratulations. That certainly is good news.”
“I’ll be out of town for a couple of weeks. Close up the office, turn on the answering machine, and write yourself a company check for $20,000. I have a couple of pre-signed ones in my bottom—”
“For heaven’s sake, I know where they’re at! Zane, I don’t know what to say. I’m so happy for you.”
“You don’t have to say a thing. Go visit those grandbabies of yours for a couple of weeks. I’ll give you a call when I get back in town.”
“And did Mrs. Tollison approve of the flowers last night?”
Zane smiled, a stirring in his pants as visions of the night he’d spent with Elise flashed through his mind. “Yeah, she loved ‘em. Thanks for sticking with me, Pat.” He closed his cell phone with a snap.
One more call. The sweat beaded on his forehead as Zane dialed Elise’s cell phone.
“Hiya sweetie,” she flirted.
“I got the contract!”
“Oooh, sweetie, I gotta talk to ya about that. I mean, like last night was so wonderful! I got to thinkin’ this morning. About me and you and us, and this whole contract thing …” His wife rambled like a broken record. “And I can probably even give up the Feng’s way, and, and everything! But I just got out of the shower, and I’m like all dripping wet and—”
“You take care, Elise. I’ll be in touch.”
He breathed a silent sigh of relief. Maybe she isn’t as dumb as I thought.
Zane cleared his throat as he prepared to hang up the phone. Naw, she’s dumb all right. Just greedy as hell. “Hugs and kis—”
Oh shit, here it comes.
The hair on the back of his neck stood up. “Uh, yeah, Elise. The folks up here at Clearwater? They want me to start today.”
“Today? Sure, why nawt? I can take care of things around here again. I mean, it’s only another ten days.”
Zane held the phone away from his ear. He could always do without the sarcasm.
“Ya know, why’d ya even bother to call? You’re gonna do what ya want anyway.”
He fidgeted with the Mont Blanc. “I guess even twelve million dollars isn’t enough for you for a little inconvenience, is it?”
“Three years of marriage and ya still don’t get it, do ya, Zane? There’s always something comin’ before me.”
He could hear the tears in her voice.
“And I was thinkin’ that maybe after last night… Damn you! Why couldn’t ya even have checked to see if I was gonna be ok before ya took that dumb old contract?”
“Forget it. Just forget it. I gotta go. I really hope ya get what ya want.” Click.
Her words burned in his ears. Zane slipped his cell phone in his pocket and nodded to Chorde. “It’s OK with the wife. We might as well get started.”
* * * *
Chorde walked around from behind his desk and pointed over Zane’s shoulder. “I’d like to introduce you to our senior researcher for the project. Zane Tollison, meet Kathy Davis.”
Designer gold-rim glasses and leather notebook clenched to her chest, the woman from the elevator stood leaning against the doorjamb. She stepped over beside Chorde and placed her notebook on his desk. “We sort of ran into each other earlier, Jonathon. It’s nice to meet you, Zane.”
Chorde placed his palm on her buttocks as she offered her hand to Zane. Without so much as a flinch, Kathy reached behind her back and smacked his wrist, a wide grin on her face as she shook Zane’s hand.
He cleared his throat and straightened his necktie. “Kathy, perhaps you could take our visitor to get the things he’ll be needing for his stay with us. You will be working together quite closely for the next few weeks. It will be an excellent opportunity for the two of you to get better acquainted.”
Chorde tapped his forehead with this palm. “Oh dear me, I nearly forgot. Mr. Tollison, if I might have your wrist for a moment, so I can put on your security bracelet.”
Chorde reached in his pocket and removed a shiny, white metal cuff. “Yes, we have voice recognition security for our employees, but provide bracelet keys for visitors to allow them to come and go as they please during their stay with us.”
He placed the S-shaped link around Zane’s wrist, rotated the halves to form an oval, and pressed them together with his fingers. The ends closed with a metallic snap.
“The bracelet contains an encoded microchip that emits a frequency well beyond the range of the human ear. Simply hold your wrist up to the monitor to open a door.”
Zane stretched out his arm and looked at his wrist. “Pretty stylish. What happens if I lose it?”
Chorde smiled. “It doesn’t come off.”
He studied the bracelet and tugged solidly. The cuff would not slide over his fist. “I like. Much nicer than the cheesy plastic jobs they have in the hospital.”
“We’ve found them to be both impeccably secure and convenient for our guests.” He put his arm around Zane’s shoulder and led the two towards the door. “Of course, unlike that Mont Blanc, we will want it back when you leave Clearwater.”
Kathy’s eyes were glued to the monitor. “These estrogen numbers are sky high, and your cholinergic neurons are going crazy from the nicotine.” She bit her lip, scrolling through the unwieldy matrix of data as she waited for the chromosome analysis program to boot. “It’s the most natural geometry for Huey—the craving for calcium, your cramps and wild mood swings. I can’t believe I didn’t think of it before.”
“Kathy, you’ve gotta tell me what you’re babbling about.”
She pecked at the keyboard, reloading his DNA files. “I’ve worked with the same twists for so long, I never even gave a second thought to the fact that you’re a guy.” The chromosome graphics popped up on the display. “Bingo.”
Kathy propped her chin in her hand. “Your DNA?” She tapped the screen. “It’s female.”
Zane snickered. “Let me get this straight. You mean I’m turning into a girl?”
The silence was deafening.
He ran his fingers though his hair. “No, it can’t be.”
She placed her hand atop his shoulder and switched off the computer. “You’re not turning into a girl, Zane.” She could instantly feel the muscles in his neck relax. “You already are one. Technically speaking, your body is just making a few corrections to match your altered genetic profile.”
“Dandy, just fucking dandy.”
The room rumbled like thunder as he pounded his fist on the table. “Do you always have to be so goddamn clinical?”
Zane tossed his hands in the air and stormed towards the doorway. “That’s it. I don’t give a shit about the money. I’m through.”
A familiar voice echoed from the intercom. “What’s the matter, sweetie, don’t ya wanna be a girl?” One hand perched on her hip, the lanky blonde giggled, waving her fingers as she stood behind the glass observation window at the far end of the lab.
“Elise, what are you doing here?”
“That bitch wife of yours is in on this!” Kathy shrieked.
“Shut up, you nerd slut,” Elise snipped. “He’s always been pretty dickless, so it ain’t really gonna make all that much difference, now is it?” She folded her arms and chuckled. “I don’t know what I ever saw in him, but from last night’s late show, it sure looks like he plugs your socket!”
“Ladies, ladies,” Chorde’s voice interrupted. “This catfight is utterly unbecoming for the both of you.” A man stepped up behind Elise and put his arms around her waist. “The test shall continue.”
Zane’s finger quivered as he pointed at the window. “That, that’s me!”
“Surely, you must be beside yourself, my dear. Have you had no occasion of late to see yourself in a mirror?” A shallow grin spread across Chorde’s face. “I must admit, the boy-cut clothing and trendy punk hairstyle make quite the fashion statement. Might I suggest nipple rings and a few well chosen tattoos?”
Zane pawed at the window. “Chorde, what the hell is going on?”
“The name is Tollison, Zane Tollison.” Chorde glared out of the window. “With a few subtle improvements, of course.”
Ignoring Zane’s presence, Chorde walked to and fro. “It occurred to me rather serendipitously that several objectives could be achieved during the course of a single study. Not only could we demonstrate the ability to add the Hydrolyzed Unilateral Esquilax responsible for nicotine addiction to a male subject, we could put to rest the messy debate over whether genetics or socialization is root cause of women’s low tolerance for the stuff.”
He put his cigarette to his lips and inhaled. “As dear Kathy can confirm, it was a decidedly simpler process to develop a phantom to add this new gene through a shot gun approach, altering the entire genetic structure than to wade through the tedious process of designing a recombinant to add a single gene to a foreign DNA geometry. Of course, we would have to perform our test on a subject who not only lacked the gene, but who was also not a woman.”
Chorde paused, his hands following the curve of Elise’s shoulders. “At least for the beginning of the study. And so, you will be relating for us first hand the experience of your artificially induced nicotine addiction—”
His lips formed a twisted a grin. “From a most feminine perspective. A vantage point that if every study ever done on women and smoking is any indication, would even now be, shall we say, quite difficult and in a few short days, impossible to reverse.”
Chorde crushed out his cigarette. “Which brings us to the question, what then shall become of Zane Tollison and his lovely wife?”
He turned to Elise, stroking her cheek with the back of his hand. “Twould be nothing short of sinful for such a sweet young beauty to fritter away the years alone, the love of her life, just a memory in another woman’s mind.”
Cocking his head as if he were in deep thought, he continued, “Ah, but perhaps, just perhaps, the same technology that could save an entire industry from financial ruin, could restore the waxing memories of youth to a tired old man as the lost husband of the young woman he loves.”
Chorde looked deep into Elise’s eyes. “Two star-crossed sole mates, rich beyond their wildest dreams.”
Elise batted her eyes and giggled. “I just love the way you say things,Zane.” She removed a tube of lipstick from her handbag, impetuously touching up her already perfect lips.
“And the mystery woman who dares challenge me so brazenly?” Chorde leaned forward, hands pressed against the window. “She and her pathetic memories of Zane Tollison will be strewn aside like a paid wench.”
Elise pursed her lips and snapped the clasp on her handbag. “Did ya get that, sweetie? Zane said you’re screwed.”
Zane stormed towards the doorway. “I don’t give a fuck about you or your money. I’m getting out of here.”
Chorde put his cigarette to his lips. “As you please.”
Zane grabbed Kathy’s hand. They raced out of the lab and headed for the elevator. He held his bracelet to the microphone of keyless entry system.
The computer voice replied, “Access denied.”
Zane pressed Kathy towards the speaker. “You try—”
Kathy stepped up to the microphone. “Kathy Davis, ground floor.”
The light flickered. “Access denied.”
“Oh, Zane,” she shrieked. “It’s not working!”
Kathy cleared her throat and repeated, “Kathy Davis, ground floor.” She sheepishly peered over her shoulder. “Please?”
The speaker crackled. “Voice recognition pattern unknown. Access denied.”
Chorde’s laughter echoed on the walls. “Your efforts are futile. This facility is as impossible to escape as it is to penetrate.”
Zane sprinted up and down the hall. He tossed his hands in the air. “Where’s the goddamn stairwell?”
Kathy bit the tip of her finger. “The elevator’s the only way out.”
He dashed into the suite and picked up the receiver. “Get me 911.”
Zane slammed the handset in the cradle. “Damn it hell! He’s blocked me out. You try—”
Kathy fingers trembled as she put the telephone to her ear.
The automated operator greeted her, “What number please?”
“Get me 911.” Kathy’s voice wavered. “This is an emergency!”
“I’m sorry,” the automated voice replied, “but your voice recognition pattern is not in my file. Please press the star button and try again.”
She ran her fingers through her hair. “It won’t let me through. What are we going to do!”
Zane turned towards the bedroom. “My cell phone—”
Kathy reached for his arm. “It’s no use. They won’t pick up inside the building.”
He flung open the vertical blinds. The window looked out at a cement block wall illuminated by a fluorescent light. “There’s got to be a way out of here!”
His eyes darted around the room. The ventilation return duct was so small a hamster could barely crawl inside. “I’ll cut my way out of here if I have to!”
Zane rustled through the kitchen drawers for a knife. He gouged at the plaster and pulled back the insulation to find a cement block wall. He climbed up on the dining room table and pushed back a ceiling tile. The roof was solid cement. He sliced through the carpet, clawing at the padding only to find the poured concrete floor.
“Jeezuz.” He jabbed the knife deep into the mahogany tabletop. “Out of aces and trapped like a fucking rat.”
He shook his fist, leering at the intercom. “You can keep me here, Chorde, but you can’t make me play your game.”
Chorde cleared his throat. “Oh, really? Perhaps if you begged, and used my proper name, I might reconsider.”
“Beg?” he sneered. Zane fell to his knees. “What the…?”
He clenched his hands as the words flowed from his lips. “Please Mr. T…Tollison, oh please, let us out of here!”
A mocking clap resounded from the intercom. “A touching exhibition, my dear, but alas, the answer is still no.” The speaker fell silent.
Hands on her hips, Kathy stared in amazement. “Zane, are you crazy?”
“I, I couldn’t help myself.” He pointed towards the speaker. “Did you see him? He’s using a goddamn recombinant to turn himself into me.”
Zane raced back into the lab. Elise and Chorde were gone. He beat his hands against the window pane. “You son of a bitch, give me back my body!”
Chorde’s laughter rang through the room. “Temper, temper, my dear. Why don’t you just sit down? Relax, enjoy a cigarette. A few more days, and this will all be over.”
Her mouth opened as Zane sat on the floor and took a cigarette out of his shirt pocket. “What do you think you’re doing?”
A hypnotic serene spread across Zane’s face as he put the cigarette to his lips. “There’s nothing to get excited about. I might as well relax. A couple more days and this will all be over.”
Kathy shook his shoulders. “Zane, that’s exactly what Chorde just told you to do!”
“Jeezuz. It felt so natural, like I had made the decision myself.” He tossed his hands in the air. “How the hell is Chorde doing this to me?”
Tears streamed down her cheeks. “I don’t know. I don’t know! It must be some weird cellular level response.”
Zane crushed out the cigarette, bursting into laughter as he reached for her hand.
She sniffled. “What in the world do you think is so funny?”
“You don’t get it because the joke’s on me. The bastard is stealing my body and my money, and there’s not a goddamn thing I can do except sit back and watch. He’s going to take the twelve million I’m getting for this job and hang me out to dry.”
Zane reached in his pocket for a cigarette. “Chorde’s not brilliant, he’s a fucking genius.”
“Twelve million dollars.” She mouthed his words. “They’re paying you twelve million dollars?”
“Yup. Worth a little inconvenience, maybe even a little risk to your health, huh, Kath?”
Smoke rolled out of his nose as he exhaled. “I can’t quit now if I could quit now. If the gene doesn’t get me, the nicotine will. But if I don’t follow through on this deal, I owe Chorde the twelve million.”
Kathy shook her head and fumbled in her purse. “No, it can’t be. There’s got to be some other way.”
“Looks like I’ve just been screwed.” Zane offered her the packet in his shirt pocket. “How about an after sex cigarette?”
“We need to get to cracking. CAT scan, MRI, electro cardiogram, I need to run a whole battery of tests on you. Now that I know where this thing is going, I can start to figure out how I’m gonna fix it.”
“Yeah, right.” He inhaled and crushed his cigarette on the side of his shoe.
“Zane Tollison, you snap out of this right this instant!” Her eyes welled with tears. “I’m the best damn geneticist in the world. If some wannabe DNA hacker could throw together a recom to do this to you, I can design a deposing recom to reverse the process.”