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Authors: Janet Lane-Walters

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BOOK: A Marriage Takes Two
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Tension gathered in her gut. Why was he telling her this?  Had last night been nothing more than a way to insure she collected the inheritance?

Of course it was, she thought. She coerced him into marriage. He’d never said he loved her. Last night, had she confessed how she felt?  She couldn’t remember.

She glanced at him. In his blue eyes she saw desire, not love. Was he hoping for a repeat performance? Not without love.

She straightened. “Thanks for your help. I’ll be out of your life as soon as I can.”

He groaned. “Carrie…”

“You’ve said enough.” She turned her head and stared out the side window. When they pulled into the driveway, she jumped out of the car and ran to the house.

Tony gripped the steering wheel. So much for the rest of his confession. He’d been going to ask if she would consider making theirs a real marriage. He couldn’t promise love, but he could give her loyalty. Her flight provided her answer. She wanted nothing more than a husband in name only.

He went inside. The family room was dark as was the kitchen. He poured a mug of coffee. This would be another long night.

 

* * *

 

By five A.M. Carrie knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep another minute, and by six, she’d had her first cup of coffee. At seven, she heard Tony on the stairs. She grabbed her purse and slipped out the kitchen door. An hour later, she was waiting outside Grace’s apartment, and when her friend appeared, Carrie got out of the car.

“You look like a wreck,” Grace said. “Marriage problems?”

“Major ones.”

“Like?”

Carrie felt her face flame. How could she explain without looking foolish? “We made love.”

“That’s a problem?  You need a reality check.”

“Wait until you hear the whole story.”

“Good thing I’m off today. Let me shower and change.”

“No problem.”

Carrie followed her friend inside. She slumped on the couch and waited for Grace. When her friend appeared, Carrie began her tale. “So you see, he took me to bed to make sure I get the money. Typical Tony.”

“Are you sure?  I saw the way he looked at you before, during, and after, the ceremony. He looked bemused.”

“A performance for the attorney.”

“Did he know who the man was?”

Carrie frowned. She’d introduced Tony to the Hurcutts after the ceremony. “Someone could have told him who they were.”

“You say he flipped over the outfit his friends gave you. I know your taste in underwear. Just wander around the house in them.”

“There’s a seven year old living with us.”

“I have the answer. You still wearing those shapeless scrubs to work, and jeans and sweats around the house?”

“Why not?  They’re comfortable.”

“But they’re boring.” Grace unfolded her long legs. “We’re going shopping. After brunch at the mall, let’s max your card. We’ll hit the uniform shop and then the department stores.”

Though Carrie didn’t think new uniforms would make a difference, she agreed. Just last night, she had considered changing her image. If she and Grace spent the day shopping, she wouldn’t be at home avoiding Tony and waiting for him to set a date for their divorce.

 

* * *

 

Where was she?  Tony paced from the kitchen through the foyer and into the family room. She’d left the house four hours ago. He had reached the door in time to see her car shoot out of the driveway. Why was she so upset? He was the one who’d been dismissed.

The phone rang. His heart hammered. Had she been in an accident?  “Flynn residence.”

“Tony, it’s Beth. Must be silly season. Today, it’s roller blades and skateboards.”

“I’m on my way.”

“Tell Carrie it’s not often like this. I heard the two of you had a quiet dinner at Greene’s.”

“Are there no secrets in this town?”

“Hardly.”

Tony grabbed his jacket and stepped outside. Carrie would be back, but when? What if Hazel brought Chad home before either he or Carrie returned? He dashed inside and wrote a note for the housekeeper and left it on the kitchen table.

 

* * *

 

Carrie dragged three shopping bags, two boxes, and a hanging bag into the house. Tony’s car wasn’t there. Maybe he’d gone for Chad, or been called to the clinic. She carried the packages to her room and put everything away. Then she went to the kitchen for coffee. Shopping with Grace used more energy than a marathon. She saw the note on the kitchen table and picked it up.

“Hazel, if I’m not here when you bring Chad, call the clinic. If I’m not done, you can bring him here.”

She crumpled the note. Didn’t he trust her to watch Chad?  Did he hope she’d left for good?

Though she had taken off without a word, he should know her better. She sighed. New clothes wouldn’t solve the problems with the marriage.

Some honest conversation might.

But he doesn’t care about me.

You closed him out last night and took off this morning like a spoiled brat.

But…

The silent conversation was interrupted by Chad’s shout. “I’m home. Hazel had to go right back.”

Carrie stepped into the front hall. “Is Ben worse?”

“No, just grumpy.”

Carrie relaxed. What if she hadn’t come home?  Would Hazel have taken Chad to the clinic, or would she have waited here?

“Did you have a good time?” she asked.

“Awesome. Where’s Dad?”

“At the clinic.”

Chad shook his head. “Thought he was off.”

“Things happen. So tell me about the weekend.”

“It was real cool.”

“That’s all?”

He paused on the stairs. “The hospital was really big and interesting. Ben’s in a regular room with a TV and a roommate and a bed that goes up and down. He might come home soon. His doctor knows Dad. Wants to know if he’ll come back. I’m gonna ask him.”

“Would you like that?”

He shrugged. “It’s neat living here, but we could find a house near Mom’s, and I could go from one house to the other. Me and Hazel drove past Mom’s new house. It’s a mansion and there were all these big cars going inside. Maybe she’s home.”

“Haven’t you ever been in the house?”

“Not this one. Brian bought it for her. I went to his old house once, but I was bad, and she brought me home. Then I came to live with Dad.” He continued up the stairs. “Did my stuff come?”

“Sure did. Hey, aren’t you going to wait for your Dad?”

“Who can wait?”  He ran up the rest of the stairs. “I have to put my things away, right?”

“Guess you do.”

A moment later, she heard him shout. “Wow, it’s fab and cool.”

Carrie paused at the door. “Guess you like what we’ve done.”

He climbed to the upper bunk and flopped on the mattress. “Wonder if Mom will buy me a set like this for her house?  Dad says these stay here.”

A knot formed in Carrie’s stomach. She held in the comment she wanted to make. Tony thought Chad understood he wouldn’t be going to his mother’s. She was afraid to ask the boy what his dad said.

“I’ll miss you if you leave.” That was true, except she was the one who would go. “Wouldn’t you rather live with your dad?”

“Yeah, but remember what I said about Mom.” He swung from the upper bunk and landed on the floor. “You don’t know her. She’s...she’s...”

Carrie felt a hand on her shoulder. “Tony?”

“Who else?”

“I’ll see to dinner.” She ducked under his arm and ran downstairs.

Tony swallowed past the lump in his throat. She must have returned before Chad. How had she spent the day?  He entered his son’s room. “So what do you think?”

“It’s great. Just hope Mom will buy me bunk beds.”

Tony sat on the bottom bunk. “Come here. There’s something...” Lord, this was hard. “It’s like this... You’ll be living here always. I have custody now.”

“You told me that, but I have to have something to sleep in when I visit her.”

“Maybe not. You’re going to be here always.”

“Doesn’t she want me?”

Tony held back a groan. “Did I say that?  I’m sure you’ll spend time with her but not for a bit. She needs time to settle into her new home. You okay with that?”

“I won’t be going to her for Thanksgiving?”

Tony nodded. “You’ll be with Carrie and me, at her Mom’s.”

Chad looked up. “That’s cool.”

The grin surprised Tony. He’d expected anger. He’d expected tears and arguments. “Did you have a good time with Hazel?”

“You bet. We went to the museum and saw dinosaurs and stuffed animals and lots of neat stuff, like knight suits and swords. Ben and me watched football. He taught me a card game where you have to count to twenty-one. I won ten pennies. Hazel yelled at him and made him laugh. We ate in the hotel restaurant and had room service for breakfast.”

“Sounds like a good weekend.”

Chad nodded. “There was this doctor. He knew you. Said I look just like you. Wants you to come back. Will you?”

Not in this lifetime, Tony thought. “I don’t think so.”

“Dad, we could live near Mom and then I could see her every day and she’d never...”

Tony sucked in a breath. Marilyn was so involved in her new life she wouldn’t have time for her son even if they lived next door. “We could, but the patients here need me.”

“Patients. Patients. Mom always said you cared more about your patients than you did for your own family.”

Tony heard his ex-wife’s demanding tone in Chad’s voice and her attitude in his words. He rested his hand on Chad’s shoulder. “Forget what your Mom said when she was angry. What do you think?”

“I don’t know. Would you think about moving there?”

“If we did, it would be like it was before. More patients, more night calls, no Hazel. I know you’d like to see your mother, and when she’s ready, I’ll let you go for a visit. Okay?”

Chad turned and hugged Tony. “What did you and Carrie do?”

“Painted your room.”

“Guess you had fun. Carrie likes to paint.”

Tony laughed. “She sure does. Ready for dinner.”

“What are we having?”

“Spaghetti with Hazel’s red sauce. Carrie said she’d get it started.”

“Let’s go.” Chad headed to the door. “Remember when she burned the soup.”

Tony followed his son downstairs and paused in the kitchen doorway. Carrie was standing at the stove with the phone cradled against her shoulder. She waved a wooden spoon in time to the music on the radio.

“Chad, would you set the table?” she asked.

“Sure.”

“Organizing dinner,” she said. “Yeah, I cooked, sort of.”

Tony considered kissing the back of her neck, but that was a step into madness he couldn’t handle. “What should I do?”

“Make a salad...Mom, I am organized...Yes, we’re coming...Hazel and Ben...I don’t know. He’s in the hospital but I’ll ask...Sure you can talk to him.”

Tony took the phone. “Mrs. Graham, how are you? … That’s great. … Be like old times ... You do ... I’m glad you feel that way. Carrie will, too ... Chad, it’s for you.” He handed the phone to his son.

Carrie turned from the stove. “What did she say?”

“She’s glad we’re married and she’s not angry about the money.”

Carrie smiled. “That’s what she told me.” She gasped. “Help.”

Tony heard sputtering from the stove. He reached Carrie’s side in time to see the pasta water foaming over the side of the pan. “Got it, honey.” He turned off the burner.

 

Chapter 10

 

 

With her white shoes in one hand, Carrie crept down the stairs. Any minute, Tony would leave his room to wake Chad. She had to escape the house before he saw her new uniform. She shouldn’t have given into the impulse to wear it today. She should have worn her scrubs. The uniform fit entirely too well. Coffee and toast? Or a quick change into the familiar and the comfortable?

What? Lost your nerve?

You’ve got it.

Coward.

She was. Yesterday when Grace dragged her into the uniform store, the idea seemed reasonable. That was then. This morning, the image in the mirror had shown the picture she’d thought she wanted to project. Except she knew the new Carrie would stir Tony’s lust. That wasn’t the emotion she wanted to see in his blue eyes.

She sat on the stairs and put on her shoes. As she grabbed her jacket and ducked into the kitchen, she heard Tony begin Chad’s morning wake-up ritual. She filled the coffee-maker, dropped bread in the toaster and put on her jacket. Too late to change and risk Tony seeing her. The jacket would hide most of the uniform.

“Coffee about done?”

Carrie gasped. “Soon.” Tony looked like he hadn’t slept last night.

He arched a brow. “You in a hurry?”

“Sort of. It’s Monday and there are probably new orders and new patients.” She grabbed the toast, buttered it and waited for the coffee to finish. “Chad up already?”

“Amazing. He bounced up the first time I called. Claims the new bed was just right.”

Carrie chuckled. “Wonder how long that will last.”

“A day or two. He’s pleased about going to your mom’s for Thanksgiving.”

“And I’m pleased she’s over her stubborn pride about the money.”

“Told you she’d come around.”

“Guess you did.” Carrie filled two mugs and tried to focus her gaze on anything except Tony’s bare chest. Why didn’t he ever wear a shirt in the morning?

The phone rang. Tony answered. “Sure could. Wednesday for sure. I’ll let you know for how long.”

Wednesday, she thought. “You can’t make plans for then. We’re meeting Mr. Hurcutt.”

“I know. That was Chad’s sitter. Ben Two.”

She frowned. “I don’t think I’ve met him.”

“You haven’t. He’s Hazel’s second son. Named for his dad, so they hung that name on him. All of Hazel’s boys have hit town. One of them will pick Chad up at school while we’re in the city.”

“Isn’t our appointment for one?”

He nodded. “Thought we’d do some shopping for the living room.”

She swallowed the last of the coffee. “Sounds good. See you at the clinic.”

He followed her to the door. “You upset about something?”

“Just don’t want to be late.”

“Drive carefully. It rained last night and then turned to snow flurries. The roads might be icy.”

“I’ll be cautious.”

The five minute drive to the clinic took ten. A frosting of snow covered patches of black ice. When she turned into the parking lot, the car did a three sixty. Her heart leaped in her chest and she gulped a breath. After pulling into a parking slot, she waited for her thumping pulse to quiet.

Gingerly, she made her way inside. In the hall, she met the maintenance man. He wheeled a barrel of salt and sand.

“There’s a wicked place at the entrance,” she said.

“Got you, too? Thought I’d end up a patient.” He smiled. “You’re Dr. Flynn’s wife. Sorry I missed your party. Heard it was quite an event. They said you was a good sport.”

Carrie’s face flushed. “Had to be.” She headed to the stairs.

After making rounds with the night nurse, Carrie sat at the desk and checked meds and treatment orders. The phone rang.

“Carrie, could you come down and relieve me before I lose my breakfast?” Ruth asked.

“Morning sickness.”

“No. Blood. An accident just arrived. Blood always makes me queasy.”

“I’ll be there in a few.” Carrie waved to the aide. “Ruth will be up in a few minutes. Buzz the clinic if you need one of us in a rush.” She dashed down the stairs and headed to the treatment rooms.

Ruth was waiting outside one of the rooms. “Hi, and thanks.”

“Glad to help. You look pale.”

“I feel that way.”

“The patient?”

“Thirty three year old male with a nasty gash on his right forearm. Pressure dressing in place. He has a small scalp laceration. Denies loss of consciousness.”

“At least it’s not a kid.”

Ruth laughed. “Heard about the fun weekend from Beth. How are the patients upstairs?”

Carrie gave a brief report. “My notes are on the desk.” She studied Ruth’s ashen face and wondered if more than nausea troubled her. “Are you all right?”

Ruth nodded. “I just can’t face blood at any time of the day. Don’t ask me how I got through training. It wasn’t pretty.”

“Let me see about the patient.”

“Good luck. He denies he needs the doctor. Wanted me to apply butterflies to the wound. His family’s with him.”

“Macho man?”

“Definitely. Always has been. What he was doing outside without a shirt and wearing shorts boggles my mind. Tony should be here soon.” Ruth grinned. “Nice uniform.”

Carrie felt her face color. “A friend made me do it. See you later.”

She opened the treatment room door. A series of whistles greeted her. She shook her head. Ruth had forgotten to mention the patient had four family members in attendance. Four of the best-looking men she’d ever seen. Five when you counted the patient, and they all looked like Ben.

“The Smithton brothers, I presume.”

They laughed. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Guess our reputation gets around.” The tallest man winked. “I’m Abe.”

“You look like your father.” She crossed to the examining table and faced her second bare chest of the day. This expanse of muscle didn’t have the effect on her body, heart, and soul, that Tony’s had. She turned to the quartet. “The doctor’s on his way. You can sit in the waiting room. I’ll see to your brother.”

The one with the lightest hair grinned. “And leave you alone with him? Babe, you got guts. I’m Cal.”

The one with the broadest shoulders moved closer. “Dave here.”

“I’m Frank. Ben Two’s on the table.”

Carrie laughed. “No E.”

“Mama named us for presidents.” Abe edged closer.

Carrie felt like bait for a school of hungry sharks. “Out, gentlemen.” She pointed at the door. Where was Tony?  She lifted the towel and the pressure dressing to appraise the long jagged slash.

“We don’t mind a bit of blood,” Cal said.

“Especially if it’s his.” Frank’s comment brought a growl from the patient.

“Hope the towel was clean.” She studied the gash. “You’ll need eight to ten stitches.”

“Will you hold my hand?”  Ben Two asked. “You’re new in town. Doing anything tonight?”

The door closed with a snap. “She’s having dinner with her husband and son.” Tony pointed to the quartet. “I believe she told you to head to the waiting room. Be a good idea if you listened. I don’t need an audience.”

“Yes, sir,” came a chorus. “You sure picked a looker.”

Tony turned to the patient. How did a man who jumps from planes and swims with sharks take a spill at home?”

“Black ice.”

“You’ve been away too long.”

“Sure have. Two plus years. About Dad. He going to make it this time?”

“He’s out of ICU. His breathing’s improved. That’s all I can say.”

“I hear you.”

Tony removed the towel. “Clean, I hope.”

“That’s what your wife asked. Ever seen anything at my mom’s that wasn’t practically sterile?”

Tony laughed. “Her sons. You’re going to need eight to ten stitches. How’s your tetanus?”

“Up-to-date. Uncle makes sure his finest are the fittest. I feel like a jerk. Never got a scratch on a mission. Come home and take a spill.”

“But you’ll deal with the infamy. Bet you’ve already concocted a tale of danger and daring.”

“I’m working on it.”

While Tony examined Ben Two, Carrie put a suture kit and gloves on an instrument table. She pushed the tray to the patient.

Tony frowned. “Carrie, why are you down here?  I thought you were in-patient this week?”

“Ruth wasn’t feeling great. Something about blood.”

Tony moved to the sink and began to scrub. “I’d forgotten how the red stuff gets to her.”

“She’s expecting again, too,” Ben Two said. “Seems like making babies is the only thing her jerk husband does right.”

Carrie frowned. She hadn’t met Ruth’s husband and she hadn’t been here long enough to have heard stories.

She moved to the table, opened the sterile towels and prepared the field. Then she opened the suture kit and cleaned Ben Two’s arm.

A half hour later, she and Tony stripped off their gloves. Carrie taped the dressing in place. Tony smiled. “Thanks. You’re a great assistant.”

What she saw in his eyes was flattering and what she heard in his voice stirred her hopes. “You’re welcome. I’d better get upstairs and relieve Ruth.” As she talked, she cleaned the tray and disposed of the things they’d used.

“Like the uniform,” Tony said.

“So did my brothers,” Ben Two said.

Carrie turned. She’d been right. The new look had aroused his lust. She opened the door and stepped into the hall.

Tony watched her exit. The uniform covered the curves he’d caressed and tasted. He liked the look, but he didn’t like the reaction he’d seen on the faces of Hazel’s sons.

“Mom said you’d married a fine woman,” Ben Two said. “Sure is a prime babe.”

“She is.” Tony fought to keep his voice emotionless. “Stitches out in a week. Keep the dressing dry. Change it as needed.”

“Mom said you’ve been married about a month.” Ben Two winked. “Guess you’re still on your honeymoon. Damn, must be rough working with her. I’d be dragging her into dark corners to steal a kiss and looking for empty rooms where I could explore more than her mouth.”

Tony stiffened. Ben Two’s suggestions had merit, but Carrie would run from those kinds of trysts. Unfortunately, the idea took root and he was tempted. He groaned. On Wednesday, she would have her inheritance and she’d be free to go.

“Problems?”  Ben Two asked.

“No more than usual.”

“So what happened to Dad? Mom either won’t, or can’t, say.”

“She blames herself.” Tony reached for his jacket. “His lungs are compromised from all the years in the mines. He had pneumonia. I could have treated him here, but I wasn’t willing to take the chance.”

“Thanks. I’ll talk to Mom.”

“How long is the crew in town?”

“I have three weeks, and the others a week or two.” He swung into a sitting position. “I feel like a jackass. Now Mom’s going to fuss over me.”

“I know the feeling. She’s forever nagging about my eating habits, and about my son, and Carrie.”

“You’ve got it bad.”

Tony shrugged. “Maybe.”

“Hey, I saw the way you watched her and the expression on your face when the bros were flirting. She’s easy on the eyes, but you look at her like she’s the only dish on your menu.”

“It’s evident to everyone but her. We’re married, but…it’s complicated.”

“Ever think about showing her how you feel?”

“Been there. Done that. We didn’t marry for love.”

“Open your eyes, Doc. I saw the way her eyes danced when you came in.”

“Relief for the rescue, that’s all.” Tony picked up the chart and wrote a note. “There are…”

“She mean to Chad?  She run around with other men?  She hate the idea of this hick town?”

“None of the above.”

“Mom said your snooty ex is married again. She was a real piece of…”  He clamped his mouth shut. “I’m sure you know what she was. Let me find the bros so we can head up to see Dad. Tell Chad we’ll pick him up at school on Wednesday.”

“Will do.”

Ben Two grinned. “Why don’t you and the wife make an evening of it?  Take her to dinner. Buy her flowers and chocolates.”

“Black licorice,” Tony said.

“My favorite, too. Knew she was a special lady. See you.”

Tony stood in the treatment room doorway and listened to the Smithton brothers. Had Ben Two been right about Carrie?  Sure she’d bought a new uniform or two, but he didn’t think the change was for him. He figured she was preparing for the immediate future when she wouldn’t have to provide for her mother and she’d be free to look for love.

 

* * *

 

On Tuesday, Ruth asked Carrie to lunch in her office. What have I done? Carrie wondered. She couldn’t think of anything but, as she approached the nurse manager’s office, she felt like a kid heading to see the principal. She knocked.

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