Chapter One Kassandra von Gotthard sat peacefully at the edge of the lake in the Charlottenburger park, watching the water ripple slowly away from the pebble she had just thrown. The long, graceful fingers held another small smooth stone, poised for a moment, and then threw it aimlessly into the water once again. It was a hot, sunny day at the end of the summer and her golden strawberry hair fell in one long, smooth wave to her shoulders, pushed away from her face on one side with a single ivory comb. The line of the comb in the smooth golden hair was as perfect and graceful as everything else about her face. Her eyes were enormous and almond shaped, of the same rich blue as the bank of flowers behind her in the park. They were eyes that promised laughter, and yet they whispered something tender at the same time; eyes that would caress and tease, and then grow pensive, as though lost in some distant dream as far removed from the present as the Charlottenburger Schloss just across the lake was distant from the bustling city. The old castle sat timelessly, watching her, as though she belonged to its era rather than her own. Lying on the grass at the edge of the lake, Kassandra looked like a woman in a painting or a dream, her delicate hands sifting gently through the grass, looking for another small pebble to throw. Nearby, the ducks were waddling into the water as two small children clapped their hands with glee. Kassandra watched them, seeming to search their faces for a long moment, as they laughed and ran away. "What were you thinking just then?" The voice at her side pulled her from her reverie, and she turned toward it with a slow smile. "Nothing." Her smile broadened and she held out a hand toward him, her intricate, diamond- encrusted signet ring gleaming in the sun. But he didn't notice it. The jewels she wore mattered nothing to him. It was Kassandra who intrigued him, who seemed to hold the mystery of life and beauty for him. She was a question to which he would never know an answer, a gift he would never quite possess. They had met the previous winter, at a party to celebrate his second book,Der Kuss. In his outspoken fashion, he had shocked all of Germany for a time, but the book had nonetheless won him still more acclaim than his first. The story had been deeply sensitive and erotic and his seat at the pinnacle of Germany's contemporary literary movement seemed assured. He was controversial, he was modern, he was at times outrageous, and he was also very, very talented. At thirty- three, Dolff Sterne had made it to the top. And then he had met his dream. Her beauty had left him breathless the night they met. He had heard of her; everyone in Berlin knew who she was. She seemed untouchable, unreachable, and she looked frighteningly fragile. Dolff had felt something akin to a shaft of pain when he first saw her, wearing a silky, clinging dress of woven gold, her shimmering hair barely covered by a tiny golden cap, a sable coat draped over one arm. But it wasn't the gold or the sable that had stunned him, it was her presence, her separateness and silence in the clamor of the room, and finally her eyes. When she turned and smiled at him, for an instant he felt as though he might die. "Congratulations." "On what?" He had stared at her for an instant, struck almost dumb, feeling his thirty- three years shrink to ten, until he noticed she was nervous, too. She wasn'tSteel, Danielle is the author of 'Ring' with ISBN 9780440173922 and ISBN 0440173922.