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The God Particle: A Novel Excerpt from The God Particle: A Novel

by Richard Cox



Chapter One

Steve isnít stupid.

He can tell by the way she keeps stealing glances at him, by the way she follows everything he says with squeaky titters, by the gradually shrinking perimeter of his personal space this afternoon, that Serena wants him.

Heís known about her crush for months. Frequent visits to his office with no real purpose. Hemlines and necklines drifting inexorably toward each other. Projects stretching into evenings, into weekends, into fuzzy, indeterminate hours that find the two of them alone with the soft rumble of the air conditioner and the laboring hip-hop bass signature of her portable CD player. Serena is familiar with her product offering, after all, and she markets it well.

But Steve isnít stupid. Heís withstood her voluptuous body and subtle signals because sleeping with his administrative assistant would be more trouble than itís worth, because heís never cheated on a girlfriend in his life. And if Serena has figured this out by now -- tomorrow theyíll be flying back to L.A. after a full week in Switzerland -- it hasnít stopped her from making a last-ditch effort this afternoon.

Which is remarkable, considering that he spent his entire morning searching for an engagement ring. Up and down the sidewalks of the Bahnhofstrasse, beneath the overcast Zurich sky, weaving between men and women dressed in outfits that cost more than Serena makes in a month. Around lunchtime he found a winner, a stunning three-carat solitaire set on a thousand-year-old band forged somewhere in the Alps to the east, a uniquely European item he purchased for just under thirty thousand Swiss francs.

The ring is for his girlfriend, Janine. Sheíll be waiting for him at LAX in less than twenty-four hours, one expectant face in a field of them beyond the post-9/11 security checkpoint. A smile and a kiss and a seventy-five-minute drive to Valencia. A dip into the Jacuzzi tub with a Sports Illustrated. And a few minutes later sheíll bring him a lime-garnished Corona, join him in the tub, and heíll be waiting with the ring.

Serena knows he plans to propose tomorrow evening. She knows because itís all theyíve been talking about since he met her at the train station and showed her the ring. He even told her about Lucerne, a beautiful lakeside city here in Switzerland, where he plans to take Janine for their honeymoon next summer.

And still Serena casts smoldering glances at him, brushes against his arm a little too often as they walk along the shadowy Limmat River. She takes his hand as they hurry across the rail tracks, just beating an oncoming commuter train.

During a life spent pursuing women, predicting their behavior well enough to have scored more often than most men, Steve still doesnít understand why women do what they do. Why is Serena so attracted to a man eight years her senior, a man with a serious girlfriend? Why is she more attracted as she listens to him talk about that girlfriend? Perhaps the exotic setting has something to do with it, their visit to this ornate and historic European city. The odd warble of police sirens, the constant rush of intercity trains, the ancient texture of cobblestone streets under their feet. But itís more likely that Serenaís aggression is driven by the overpowering attraction a woman feels for something denied to her. This isnít the first time heís met one who suffers from a fixation on unavailable men.

The two of them pass the train station and make their way toward the Niederdorf, a touristy sliver of Zurich where claustrophobic streets have been closed to all but foot traffic, and multilevel buildings advertise all manner of food and drink and sex. Serena keeps going on about her obsession with Italian food, so Steve is directing them toward Santa Lucia, a busy restaurant with a chef who is a master of masonry-oven pizzas.

Rain begins to splatter the cobblestone street as they push through the Niederdorf crowds. Serena spots Santa Lucia and takes Steveís hand, compelling him to run. With his other hand he pats the side of his overcoat, reassuring himself with the slight and squarish bulk of the ring box, and groans as he notices a clot of wet and hungry folks in the restaurantís entryway. He could locate a cab in sixty seconds, after all, and find shelter in the warm, dry bed of his hotel room thirty minutes after that. Instead, he watches as Serena wriggles her way inside, leaving Steve and an elderly Germanic man to brave the rain.

Fifteen minutes later theyíre seated in a dark corner of the restaurant. Steve is thoroughly soaked.

"I hope this food is as good as you say," Serena says. "Iím starving."

She chatters on while they wait to order, and Steve struggles to guide her away from the deeper waters of intimate conversation. He reveals the imminent acquisition of a new product database. He asks her opinion about moving the U.S. Web servers to Zurich. Serena responds by asking whether he prefers Merlot or Chianti, but before he can answer she grabs a passing waiter and orders something that doesnít sound like either one.

"Janine is going to be so surprised," she says, turning back to him. "I mean really. Three carats. She is so lucky."

"Well, it wasnít the size of the stone I was after so much. I was just looking for something unique."

"I know, silly. But you have to understand girls. Rings are very important to us. Engagement rings, I mean."

Steve smiles politely. Heís not sure what else to say.

"Let me see it," Serena says.

"Now?"

"Come on. Just a peek."

Steve retrieves the box and places it on the table. He tries not to notice how dark it is in this corner of the restaurant, how candlelight twinkles in Serenaís face as she opens the box and removes the ring. He wishes Janine were here. He wishes she were sitting across the table from him, twirling the ring between her fingers, smiling. He wants to reach out and snatch the ring back. He wants to wipe that dreamy smile right off Serenaís fleshy face.

Instead she presses the ring against her left hand. "Do you mind?"

The waiter arrives with their wine, and Serena proceeds to order her entrťe, absently fingering the ring. Steve orders a pizza and glares at her.

"It probably wonít fit," Serena says when the waiter is gone. "But I just want to see what it feels like. May I?"

He looks again at the ring. The stone is nearly pure in its color and clarity, a supernova in the candlelight.

"Actually," he says, "Iíd like to put it back now."

Serenaís smile withers. "Right. Donít want to tarnish the precious ring with my cooties."

"Serena, it makes me nervous to have it out. I paid a lot of money for that thing."

"Money, money, money. Is that all you ever think about, Steve?"

Predictable as they are, Serenaís mood swings constantly amaze him -- from sunny skies to tornado warning in an instant -- but such volatility has its place, and heíd guess (were he interested in such a thing) that she probably makes love like a monster, probably screams and moans and shouts obscenities that curl paint. But he canít be interested in such a thing, because tomorrow heíll be in L.A. with his soon-to-be fiancťe, and any guilt Steve incurs here will undoubtedly follow him all the way home. It will taint the first sight of Janineís smiling face and forever color his memory of the proposal. Serena might even tumble off her precarious ledge of good judgment and fall into the Fatal Attraction abyss.

"Are you going to answer me?" she asks him. Her eyebrows are arched perfectly above heavy liner and green irises. Red lipstick over straight white teeth. Her pink tongue dancing--

"Iím sorry, what did you say?"

"Jesus, Steve, are you so lovesick that you canít even listen when I ask you a question?"

"Iím sorry. Iím really tired. What did you say?"

She slides the ring box across the table. "It doesnít matter."

The waiter arrives with their entrťes, and Serena plows immediately into her spaghetti, washing down every other mouthful with a swallow of wine. Steveís Pizza Dante blisters the roof of his mouth before he finishes the first bite. Their entire bottle vanishes in minutes, and Serena orders another as she uses her fork to chase the last orphaned bits of spaghetti around her plate.

"Whatís the matter?" he asks when the waiter takes away their empty plates.

"Nothing."

"Come on, Serena. You havenít said a word in ten minutes."

"I stopped talking because you werenít listening."

"I said I was sorry," Steve says.

"Answer my question, then. Is money the only thing you ever think about?"

"Of course not. Money is just a means to an end."

"What end?"

The waiter appears again, and Steve requests the bill.

"Why are you asking for the check?"

"So we can pay. Did you want to stay here all night?"

Excerpted from The God Particle by Richard Cox Copyright © 2005 by Richard Cox. Excerpted by permission of Del Rey, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.