Skip to main content



Your Heart Belongs to Me

Ryan Perry did not know that something in him was broken. At
thirty-four, he appeared to be more physically fit than he had been
at twenty-four. His home gym was well equipped. A personal trainer
came to his house three times a week.

On that Wednesday morning in September, in his bedroom, when he
drew open the draperies and saw blue sky as polished as a plate,
and the sea blue with the celestial reflection, he wanted surf and
sand more than he wanted breakfast.

He went on-line, consulted a surfcast site, and called Samantha.
She must have glanced at the caller-ID readout, because she said,
“Good morning, Winky.”

She occasionally called him Winky because on the afternoon that
she met him, thirteen months previously, he had been afflicted with
a stubborn case of myokymia, uncontrollable twitching of an

Sometimes, when Ryan became so obsessed with writing software
that he went thirty-six hours without sleep, a sudden-onset tic in
his right eye forced him to leave the keyboard and made him appear
to be blinking out a frantic distress signal in Morse code. In that
myokymic moment, Samantha had come to his office to interview him
for an article that she had been writing for Vanity Fair. For a
moment, she had thought he was flirting with her --- and flirting

During that first meeting, Ryan wanted to ask for a date, but he
perceived in her a seriousness of purpose that would cause her to
reject him as long as she was writing about him. He called her only
after he knew that she had delivered the article.

“When Vanity Fair appears, what if I’ve savaged
you?” she had asked.

“You haven’t.”

“How do you know?”

“I don’t deserve to be savaged, and you’re a
fair person.”

“You don’t know me well enough to be sure of

“From your interviewing style,” he said, “I
know you’re smart, clear-thinking, free of political dogma,
and without envy. If I’m not safe with you, then I’m
safe nowhere except alone in a room.”

He had not sought to flatter her. He merely spoke his mind.

Having an ear for deception, Samantha recognized his

Of the qualities that draw a bright woman to a man, truthfulness
is equaled only by kindness, courage, and a sense of humor. She had
accepted his invitation to dinner, and the months since then had
been the happiest of his life.

Now, on this Wednesday morning, he said, “Pumping
six-footers, glassy and epic, sunshine that feels its way deep into
your bones.”

“I’ve got a deadline to meet.”

“You’re too young for all this talk about

“Are you riding another train of manic

“Slept like a baby. And I don’t mean in a wet

“When you’re sleep-deprived, you’re
treacherous on a board.”

“I may be radical, but never treacherous.”

“Totally insane, like with the shark.”

“That again. That was nothing.”

“Just a great white.”

“Well, the bastard bit a huge chunk out of my

“And --- what? --- you were determined to get it

“I wiped out,” Ryan said, “I’m under the
wave, in the murk, grabbin’ for air, my hand closes around
what I think is the skeg.”

The skeg, a fixed fin on the bottom of a surfboard, holds the
stern of the board in the wave and allows the rider to steer.

What Ryan actually grabbed was the shark’s dorsal fin.

Samantha said, “What kind of kamikaze rides a

“I wasn’t riding. I was taken for a ride.”

“He surfaced, tried to shake you off, you rode him back

“Afraid to let go. Anyway, it lasted like only twenty

“Insomnia makes most people sluggish. It makes you

“I hibernated last night. I’m as rested as a bear in

She said, “In a circus once, I saw a bear riding a

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

“It was funnier than watching an idiot ride a

“I’m Pooh Bear. I’m rested and cuddly. If a
shark knocked on the door right now, asked me to go for a ride,
I’d say no.”

“I had nightmares about you wrestling that

“Not wrestling. It was more like ballet. Meet you at the

“I’ll never finish writing this book.”

“Leave the computer on when you go to bed each night. The
elves will finish it for you. At the place?”

She sighed in happy resignation. “Half an hour.”

“Wear the red one,” he said, and hung up.

The water would be warm, the day warmer. He wouldn’t need
a wet suit.

He pulled on a pair of baggies with a palm-tree motif.

His collection included a pair with a shark pattern. If he wore
them, she would kick his ass. Figuratively speaking.

For later, he took a change of clothes on a hanger, and a pair
of loafers.

Of the five vehicles in his garage, the customized ‘51
Ford Woodie Wagon --- anthracite-black with bird’s-eye maple
panels --- seemed to be best suited to the day. Already stowed in
the back, his board protruded past the lifted tailgate windows,
skeg up.

At the end of the cobblestone driveway, as he turned left into
the street, he paused to look back at the house: gracefully sloping
roofs of red barrel tile, limestone-clad walls, bronze windows with
panes of beveled glass refracting the sun as if they were

A maid in a crisp white uniform opened a pair of second-floor
balcony doors to air the master bedroom.

One of the landscapers trimmed the jasmine vines that were
espaliered on the walls flanking the carved-limestone surround at
the main entrance.

In less than a decade, Ryan had gone from a cramped apartment in
Anaheim to the hills of Newport Coast, high above the Pacific.

Samantha could take the day off on a whim because she was a
writer who, though struggling, could set her own hours. Ryan could
take it off because he was rich.

Quick wits and hard work had brought him from nothing to the
pinnacle. Sometimes when he considered his origins from his current
perch, the distance dizzied him.

As he drove out of the gate-guarded community and descended the
hills toward Newport Harbor, where thousands of pleasure boats were
docked and moored in the glimmering sun-gilded water, he placed a
few business calls.

A year previously, he had stepped down as the chief executive
officer of Be2Do, which he had built into the most successful
social-networking site on the Internet. As the principal
stockholder, he remained on the board of directors but declined to
be the chairman.

These days, he devoted himself largely to creative development,
envisioning and designing new services to be provided by the
company. And he tried to persuade Samantha to marry him.

He knew that she loved him, yet something constrained her from
committing to marriage. He suspected pride.

The shadow of his wealth was deep, and she did not want to be
lost in it. Although she had not expressed this concern, he knew
that she hoped to be able to count herself a success as a writer,
as a novelist, so that she could enter the marriage as a creative
--- if not a financial --- equal.

Ryan was patient. And persistent.

Phone calls completed, he transitioned from Pacific Coast
Highway by bridge to Balboa Peninsula, which separated the harbor
from the sea. Cruising toward the peninsula point, he listened to
classic doo-wop, music younger than the Woodie Wagon but a quarter
of a century older than he was.

He parked on a tree-lined street of charming homes and carried
his board half a block to Newport’s main beach.

The sea poured rhythmic thunder onto the shore.

She waited at “the place,” which was where they had
first surfed together, midway between the harbor entrance and the

Her above-garage apartment was a three-minute walk from here.
She had come with her board, a beach towel, and a small cooler.

Although he had asked her to wear the red bikini, Samantha wore
yellow. He had hoped for the yellow, but if he had asked for it,
she would have worn red or blue, or green.

She was as perfect as a mirage, blond hair and golden form, a
quiver of light, an alluring oasis on the wide slope of sun-seared

“What’re those sandals?” she asked.

“Stylin’, huh?”

“Are they made from old tires?”

“Yeah. But they’re premium gear.”

“Did you also buy a hat made from a hubcap?”

“You don’t like these?”

“If you have a blowout, does the auto club bring you a new

Kicking off the sandals, he said, “Well, I like

“How often do they need to be aligned and

Soft and hot, the sand shifted underfoot, but then was compacted
and cool where the purling surf worked it like a screed.

As they waded into the sea, he said, “I’ll ditch the
sandals if next time you’ll wear the red bikini.”

“You actually wanted this yellow one.”

He repressed his surprise at her perspicacity. “Then why
would I ask for the red?”

“Because you only think you can read me.”

“But I’m an open book, huh?”

“Winky, compared to you, Dr. Seuss’s simplest tale
is as complex as Dostoyevsky.”

They launched their boards and, prone upon them, paddled out
toward the break.

Raising his voice above the swash of the surf, he called to

“Was that Seuss thing an insult?”

Her silvery laughter stirred in Ryan memories of mermaid tales
awash with the mysteries of the deep.

She said, “Not an insult, sweetie. That was a
thirteen-word kiss.” Ryan did not bother to recall and count
her words from Winky to Dostoyevsky. Samantha noticed everything,
forgot nothing, and was able to recall entire conversations that
had occurred months previously.

Sometimes he found her as daunting as she was appealing, which
seemed to be a good thing. Samantha would never be predictable or

The consistently spaced waves came like boxcars, four or five at
a time. Between these sets were periods of relative calm.

While the sea was slacking, Ryan and Samantha paddled out to the
lineup. There, they straddled their boards and watched the first
swell of a new set roll toward the break.

From this more intimate perspective, the sea was not as placid
and blue as it had appeared from his house in the hills, but as
dark as jade and challenging. The approaching swell might have been
the arching back of some scaly leviathan, larger than a thousand
sharks, born in the deep but rising now to feed upon the sunlit

Sam looked at Ryan and grinned. The sun searched her eyes and
revealed in them the blue of sky, the green of sea, the delight of
being in harmony with millions of tons of water pushed shoreward by
storms three thousand miles away and by the moon now looming on the
dark side of the earth.

Sam caught the second swell: on two knees, one knee, now
standing, swift and clean, away. She rode the crest, then did a
floater off the curling lip.

As she slid out of view, down the face of the wave, Ryan thought
that the breaker --- much bigger than anything in previous sets ---
had the size and the energy to hollow out and put her in a tube.
Good as it gets, Sam would ride it out as smoothly as oil surging
through a pipeline.

Ryan looked seaward, timing the next swell, eager to rise and
walk the board.

Something happened to his heart. Already quick with anticipation
of the ride, the beat suddenly accelerated and began to pound with
a force more suited to a moment of high terror than to one of
pleasant excitement.

He could feel his pulse throbbing in his ankles, wrists, throat,
temples. The tide of blood within his arteries seemed to crescendo
in sympathy with the sea that swelled toward him, under him. The
sibilant voice of the water became insistent, sinister.

Clutching the board, abandoning the attempt to rise and ride,
Ryan saw the day dim, losing brightness at the periphery. Along the
horizon, the sky remained clear yet faded to gray.

Inky clouds spread through the jade sea, as though the Pacific
would soon be as black in the morning light as it was on any
moonless night.

He was breathing fast and shallow. The very atmosphere seemed to
be changing, as if half the oxygen content had been bled out of it,
perhaps explaining the graying of the sky.

Never previously had he been afraid of the sea. He was afraid of
it now.

The water rose as though with conscious intention, with malice.
Clinging to his board, Ryan slid down the hunchbacked swell into
the wide trough between waves.

Irrationally, he worried that the trough would become a trench,
the trench a vortex. He feared that he would be whirled down into
drowning depths.

The board wallowed, bobbed, and Ryan almost rolled off. His
strength had left him. His grip had grown weak, as tremulous as
that of an old man.

Something bristled in the water, alarming him.

When he realized that those spiky forms were neither shark fins
nor grasping tentacles, but were the conceptacles of a knotted mass
of seaweed, he was not relieved. If a shark were to appear now,
Ryan would be at the mercy of it, unable to evade it or resist.

As suddenly as the attack came, it passed. Ryan’s storming
heart quieted. Blue reclaimed the graying sky. The encroaching
darkness in the water receded. His strength returned to him.

He did not realize how long the episode had lasted until he saw
that Samantha had ridden her wave to shore and, in the relative
calm between sets, had paddled out to him once more.

As she came closer, the concern that creased her brow was also
evident in her voice: “Ryan?”

“Just enjoying the moment,” he lied, remaining prone
on his board. “I’ll catch one in the next

“Since when are you a mallard?” she asked, by which
she meant that he was floating around in the lineup like a duck,
like one of those gutless wannabes who soaked all day in the swells
just beyond the break point and called it surfing.

“The last two in that set were bigger,” he said.
“I have a hunch the next batch might be double overhead,
worth waiting for.”

Sam straddled her board and looked out to sea, scanning for the
first swell of the new set.

If Ryan read her correctly, she sensed that he was shining her
on, and she wondered why.

With his heart steady and his strength recovered, he stopped
hugging the board, straddled it, getting ready.

Waiting for the next wave train, he told himself that he had not
experienced a physical seizure, but instead merely an anxiety
attack. At self-deception, he was as skilled as anyone.

He had no reason to be anxious. His life was sweet, buttered,
and sliced for easy consumption.

Focused on far water, Samantha said, “Winky.”

“I see it.”

The sea rose to the morning sun, dark jade and silver, a great
shoulder of water shrugging up and rolling smoothly toward the

Ryan smelled brine, smelled the iodine of bleeding seaweed, and
tasted salt.

“Epic,” Sam called out, sizing the swell.

“Monster,” he agreed.

Instead of rising into a control position, she left the wave to
him, her butt on the board, her feet in the water, bait for sharks.
A squadron of gulls streaked landward, shrieking as if to warn
those on shore that a behemoth was coming to smash sand castles and
swamp picnic hampers.

As the moment of commitment neared, apprehension rose in Ryan,
concern that the thrill of the ride might trigger

He paddled to catch the wave, got to his feet on the pivot
point, arms reaching for balance, fingers spread, palms down, and
he caught the break, a perfect peeler that didn’t section on
him but instead poured pavement as slick as ice. The moving wave
displaced air, and a cool wind rose up the curved wall, pressing
against his flattened palms.

Then he was in a tube, a glasshouse, behind the curtain of the
breaking wave, shooting the curl, and his apprehension burst like a
bubble and was no more.

Using every trick to goose momentum, he emerged from the tube
before it collapsed, into the sparkle of sun on water filigreed
with foam. The day was so real, so right. He admonished himself, No
fear, which was the only way to live.

All morning, into the afternoon, the swells were monoliths. The
offshore breeze strengthened, blowing liquid smoke off the lips of
the waves.

The beach blanket was not a place to tan. It was for rehab, for
massaging the quivers out of overtaxed muscles, for draining
sinuses flooded with seawater, for combing bits of kelp and crusted
salt out of your hair, for psyching each other into the next
session. Usually, Ryan would want to stay until late afternoon,
when the offshore breeze died and the waves stopped hollowing out,
when the yearning for eternity --- which the ocean represented ---
became a yearning for burritos and tacos.

By two-thirty, however, during a retreat to the blanket, a
pleasant weariness, the kind that follows work well done, overcame
him. There was something delicious about this fatigue, a sweetness
that made him want to close his eyes and let the sun melt him into

As he was swimming effortlessly in an abyss vaguely illuminated
by clouds of luminescent plankton, a voice spoke to him out of the
deep: “Ryan?”


“Were you asleep?”

He felt as though he were still asleep when he opened his eyes
and saw her face looming over him: beauty of a degree that seemed
mythological, radiant eyes the precise shade of a green sea
patinaed by the blue of a summer sky, golden hair crowned with a
corona of sunlight, goddess on a holiday from Olympus.

“You were asleep,” Samantha said.

“Too much big surf. I’m quashed.”

“You? When have you ever been quashed?”

Sitting up on the blanket, he said, “Had to be a first

“You really want to pack out?”

“I skipped breakfast. We surfed through lunch.”

“There’s chocolate-cherry granola bars in the

“Nothing but a slab of beef will revive me.”

They carried the cooler, the blanket, and their boards to the
station wagon, stowed everything in back.

Still sodden with sunshine and loose-limbed from being so long
in the water, Ryan almost asked Samantha to drive.

More than once, however, she glanced at him speculatively, as if
she sensed that his brief nap on the beach blanket was related to
the episode at the beginning of the day, when he floated like a
mallard in the lineup, his heart exploding. He didn‘t want to
worry her.

Besides, there was no reason to worry.

Earlier, he’d had an anxiety attack. But if truth were
known, most people probably had them these days, considering the
events and the pessimistic predictions that constituted the evening

Instead of passing the car keys to Sam, Ryan drove the two
blocks to her apartment.

Samantha showered first while Ryan brewed a pitcher of fresh
iced tea and sliced two lemons to marinate in it.

Her cozy kitchen had a single large window beyond which stood a
massive California pepper tree. The elegant limbs, festooned with
weeping fernlike leaves divided into many glossy leaflets, appeared
to fill the entire world, creating the illusion that her apartment
was a tree house.

The pleasant weariness that had flooded through Ryan on the
beach now drained away, and a new vitality welled in him.

He began to think of making love to Samantha. Once the urge
arose, it swelled into full-blooded desire.

Hair toweled but damp, she returned to the kitchen, wearing
turquoise slacks, a crisp white blouse, and white tennies.

If she had been in the mood, she would have been barefoot,
wearing only a silk robe.

For weeks at a time, her libido matched his, and she wanted him
frequently. He had noticed that her desire was greater during those
periods when she was busiest with her writing and the least
inclined to consider his proposal of marriage.

A sudden spell of virtuous restraint was a sign that she was
brooding about accepting the engagement ring, as though the
prospect of matrimony required that sex be regarded as something
too serious, perhaps too sacred, to be indulged in lightly.

Ryan happily accepted each turn toward abstinence when it seemed
to indicate that she was on the brink of making a commitment to
him. At twenty-eight, she was six years younger than he was, and
they had a life of lovemaking ahead.

He poured a glass of iced tea for her, and then he went to take
a shower. He started with water nearly as cold as the tea.

In the westering sun, the strawberry trees shed elongated leaf
shadows on the flagstone floor of the restaurant patio.

Ryan and Samantha shared a caprese salad and lingered over their
first glasses of wine, not in a hurry to order entrees. The smooth
peeling bark of the trees was red, especially so in the condensed
light of the slowly declining sun.

“Teresa loved the flowers,” Sam said, referring to
her sister.

“What flowers?”

“On these trees. They get panicles of little urn-shaped
flowers in the late spring.”

“White and pink,” Ryan remembered.

“Teresa said they look like cascades of tiny bells, wind
chimes hung out by fairies.”

Six years previously, Teresa had suffered serious head trauma in
a traffic accident. Eventually she had died.

Samantha seldom mentioned her sister. When she spoke of Teresa,
she tended to turn inward before much had been said, mummifying her
memories in long windings of silence.

Now, as she gazed into the overhanging tree, the expression in
her eyes was reminiscent of that look of longing when, straddling
her surfboard in the lineup, she studied far water for the first
sign of a new set of swells.

Ryan was comfortable with Sam’s occasional silences, which
he suspected were always related to thoughts of her sister, even
when she had not mentioned Teresa.

They had been identical twins.

To better understand Sam, Ryan had read about twins who had been
separated by tragedy. Apparently the survivor’s grief was
often mixed with unjustified guilt.

Some said the intense bond between identicals, especially
between sisters, could not be broken even by death. A few insisted
they still felt the presence of the other, akin to how an amputee
often feels sensations in his phantom leg.

Samantha’s contemplative silence gave Ryan an opportunity
to study and admire her with a forthrightness that was not possible
when she was aware of his stare.

Watching her, he was nailed motionless by admiration, unable to
lift his wineglass, or at least disinterested in it, his eyes alone
in motion, traveling the contours of her face and the graceful line
of her throat.

His life was a pursuit of perfection, of which perhaps the world
held none.

Sometimes he imagined that he came close to it when writing
lines of code for software. An exquisite digital creation, however,
was as cold as a mathematical equation. The most fastidious
software architecture was an object of mere precision, not of
perfection, for it could not evoke an intense emotional

In Samantha Reach, he’d found a beauty so close to
perfection that he could convince himself this was his quest

Gazing into the tree but focused on something far beyond the red
geometry of those branches, Sam said, “After the accident,
she was in a coma for a month. When she came out of it...she
wasn’t the same.”

Ryan was kept silent by the smoothness of her skin. This was the
first he had heard of Teresa’s coma. Yet the radiance of
Sam’s face, in the caress of the late sun, rendered him
incapable of comment.

“She still had to be fed through a tube in her

The only leaf shadows that touched Samantha’s face were
braided across her golden hair and brow, as though she wore the
wreath of Nature’s approval.

“The doctors said she was in a permanent vegetative

Her gaze lowered through the branches and fixed on a cruciform
of sunlight that, shimmering on the table, was projected by a beam
passing through her wineglass.

“I never believed the doctors,” she said.
“Teresa was still complete inside her body, trapped but still
Teresa. I didn’t want them to take out the feeding

She raised her eyes to meet his, and he had to make of this a

“But they took it out anyway?” he asked.

“And starved her to death. They said she wouldn’t
feel anything. Supposedly the brain damage assured that she’d
have no pain.”

“But you think she suffered.”

“I know she did. During the last day, the last night, I
sat with her, holding her hand, and I could feel her looking at me
even though she never opened her eyes.”

He did not know what to say to that.

Samantha picked up her glass of wine, causing the cross of light
to morph into an arrow that briefly quivered like a compass needle
seeking true north in Ryan’s eyes.

“I’ve forgiven my mother for a lot of things, but
I’ll never forgive her for what she did to Teresa.”

As Samantha took a sip of wine, Ryan said, “But I
thought...your mother was in the same accident.”

“She was.”

“I was under the impression she died in the crash, too.

Was that her name?”

“She is dead. To me. Rebecca’s buried in an
apartment in Las Vegas. She walks and talks and breathes, but
she’s dead all right.” Samantha’s father had
abandoned the family before the twins were two. She had no memory
of him.

Feeling that Sam should hold fast to what little family she had,
Ryan almost encouraged her to give her mother a chance to earn
redemption. But he kept silent on the issue, because Sam had his
sympathy and his understanding.

His grandparents and hers --- all long dead --- were of the
generation that defeated Hitler and won the Cold War. Their
fortitude and their rectitude had been passed along, if at all, in
a diluted form to the next generation.

Ryan’s parents, no less than Sam’s, were of that
portion of the post-war generation that rejected the
responsibilities of tradition and embraced entitlement. Sometimes
it seemed to him that he was the parent, that his mother and father
were the children. Regardless of the consequences of their behavior
and decisions, they would see no need for redemption. Giving them
the chance to earn it would only offend them. Sam’s mother
was most likely of that same mind-set.

Samantha put down her glass, but the sun made nothing of it this

After a hesitation, as Ryan poured more wine for both of them,
he said, “Funny how something as lovely as strawberry-tree
flowers can peel the scab off a bad memory.”


“No need to be.”

“Such a nice day. I didn’t mean to bring it down.
Are you as ferociously hungry as I am?”

“Bring me the whole steer,” he said.

In fact, they ordered just the filet mignon, no horns or

As the descending sun set fire to the western sky, strings of
miniature white lights came on in the strawberry trees. On all the
tables were candles in amber cups of faceted glass, and busboys lit

The ordinary patio had become a magical place, and Samantha was
the centerpiece of the enchantment.

By the time the waiter served the steaks, Sam had found the
lighter mood that had characterized the rest of the day, and Ryan
joined her there.

After the first bite of beef, she raised her wineglass in a

“Hey, Dotcom, this one’s to you.”

Dotcom was another nickname that she had for him, used mostly
when she wanted to poke fun at his public image as a business
genius and tech wizard.

“Why to me?” he asked.

“Today you finally stepped down from the pantheon and
revealed that you’re at best a demigod.”

Pretending indignation, he said, “I haven’t done any
such thing. I’m still turning the wheel that makes the sun
rise in the morning and the moon at night.”

“You used to take the waves until they surrendered and
turned mushy. Today you’re beached on a blanket by

“Did you consider that it might have been boredom, that
the swells just weren’t challenging enough for me?”

“I considered it for like two seconds, but you were
snoring as if you’d been plenty challenged.”

“I wasn’t sleeping. I was meditating.”

“You and Rip Van Winkle.” After they had assured the
attentive waiter that their steaks were excellent, Samantha said,
“Seriously, you were okay out there today, weren’t

“I’m thirty-four, Sam. I guess I can’t always
thrash the waves like a kid anymore.”

“It’s just --- you looked a little gray

He raised a hand to his hair. “Gray where?”

“Your pretty face.”

He grinned. “You think it’s pretty?”

“You can’t keep pulling those thirty-six-hour
sessions at the keyboard and then go right out and rip the ocean
like you’re the Big Kahuna.”

“I’m not dying, Sam. I’m just aging

He woke in absolute darkness, with the undulant motion of the
sea beneath him. Disoriented, he thought for a moment that he was
lying faceup on a surfboard, beyond the break, under a sky in which
every star had been extinguished.

The hard rapid knocking of his heart alarmed him.

When Ryan felt the surface under him, he realized that it was a
bed, not a board. The undulations were not real, merely perceived,
a yawing dizziness.

“Sam,” he said, but then remembered that she was not
with him, that he was home, alone in his bedroom.

He tried to reach the lamp on the nightstand...but could not
lift his arm.

When he tried to sit up, pain bloomed in his chest.

Excerpted from YOUR HEART BELONGS TO ME © Copyright 2011 by
Dean Koontz. Reprinted with permission by Bantam. All rights

Your Heart Belongs to Me
by by Dean Koontz

  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam
  • ISBN-10: 0553591711
  • ISBN-13: 9780553591712