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Authors: Janet Lane-Walters

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BOOK: A Marriage Takes Two
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She swallowed. Had he felt the jolt of desire that had made her knees weak? She glanced at him. He appeared too calm to have felt the connection.

Tony tore his gaze from Carrie’s face. He felt as though he’d been shocked by cardiac paddles at the maximum voltage. The simple nuptial kiss had nearly betrayed him. Had she felt the same shock?  He wanted to sweep her into his arms and head for the nearest bedroom. He groaned. She appeared completely unruffled.

Father John shook his hand. “You’ve made my day. Been a long time coming.”

Tony turned. He was glad the priest couldn’t read his mind. Yes, he and Carrie were married, but he couldn’t allow his emotions to become tangled with what should have been.

Jerry swept Carrie into his arms and planted a kiss on her mouth. “Welcome to the family, Sis.”

As several men Tony didn’t know joined the line and kissed Carrie, Tony scowled, and then forced his lips into a smile. The maid of honor and three other women kissed him.

“Take care of her...She’s the best...We’ll miss her...Don’t hurt her.”

He broke from the bevy and walked to Mrs. Graham. He kissed her cheek. “Thank you.”

“Not me. That child will do what she pleases. Who am I to stop her? I still wish…”  She shook her head. “Don’t hurt her.”

“I won’t.”

“You already have. I’m sure you don’t know how upset she was when you married that woman. She cried for days.”

Guilt gathered in his chest. “I didn’t know.”

Chad tugged on Tony’s sleeve. “When are we going home?”

“After we eat. Hazel’s in the kitchen putting the cake together.” He pulled his son forward. “Mrs. Graham, this is my son. Chad, Mrs. Graham is Carrie’s mother.”

Chad stared. “She don’t look like you.”

“She looks like her father.” She took his hand. “And you look like yours. I have pictures of Carrie, your dad, and your uncle. They’re in a box on the shelf over there.”

Chad toed the carpet. “Can I see them?  Don’t have pictures of my dad. Mom says they got lost when we moved.”

“Why don’t you take them home and bring them back the next time you visit? After all, I’m sort of your grandmother.”

“Cool,” Chad said. “I’ve a grandpop in Florida, but Mom don’t like to go see him. Don’t have a grandma.”

Tony left the pair and moved to Carrie’s side. She turned and smiled.

“Tony, this is Mr. Hurcutt, my grandfather’s attorney, and his wife. Mr. Hurcutt wants us to make an appointment to meet with him. There are papers we need to sign.”

He put his arm around Carrie’s waist and immediately wished he hadn’t touched her. Every pulse point in his body throbbed. “It’ll have to be on a Wednesday.”

“And next month,” Mr. Hurcutt said. “Wouldn’t want to ruin your honeymoon. Then on Friday, Sarah and I will be taking a three week trip.”

“We’re...”  Carrie began.

“Not sure where we’re going.” Tony dug his fingers into her waist. He hadn’t planned a honeymoon, but the lawyer didn’t need that information.

“But Chad…”

“Can stay with Hazel and Ben.”

Mrs. Hurcutt picked up her purse. “We’ll leave so you can celebrate with your friends. The ceremony was lovely.”

“Are you sure you won’t stay to eat?”  Carrie asked.

“We’ve another engagement,” Mr. Hurcutt said.

Once the couple left, Carrie turned to Tony. “We don’t need a honeymoon.”

“And we’re not having one. Think.”

“Oh, you’re right.”

“Carrie, Tony,” Jerry called. “Time for a toast to the newlyweds.”

Tony steered Carrie through the arch into the dining room. Jerry handed them flutes of champagne. “To Carrie and Tony. This was a long awaited event with a detour along the way. May they have many happy years together.”

May they get through the next month; Tony thought and touched the glass to his lips.

“Is something wrong with the champagne?” Carrie asked. “I thought this was a good brand.”

“It is. I haven’t had any for eight years.”

“Oh,” she said.

He grinned. “Besides why waste the calories when there’s killer chocolate cake and all this food?”

“The cake’s too pretty to cut.”

“Would you deny a starving man?”

“Never.”

He studied her enigmatic expression. Was he missing some bit of information?

 

* * *

 

Carrie huddled against the passenger’s door. She had let Tony drive her car and she felt edgy. Not that he was a bad driver, but Jezebel had been her first purchase after college graduation. She knew every idiosyncrasy. She had lavished care on the car. She trusted Tony. She just wasn’t used to being a passenger.

She glanced at him. Why had he sent Chad home with Hazel and Ben?  The boy’s chatter would have kept at bay the silence that rode as a passenger.

Would Chad have talked?  Except with her mother, the boy had been silent and sullen.

Another glance at Tony showed tension on his face. Was he regretting the marriage?  Should she ask?

She shifted her position. Being alone with him had stirred fantasies, but a wedding night wasn’t part of their agreement. Still, the kiss had held a promise she wished he’d meant. She closed her eyes. The obstacles to finding a place in his heart had grown from mole hills into steep mountains. He didn’t like to touch her. Every time they touched, he tensed. He thought of her as a little sister. That’s what he had told his son. He still loved his ex-wife. She heard the hurt in his voice when he mentioned Marilyn’s name. Three strikes and she was out.

Her guts felt as though they’d tangled on themselves. The food she’d eaten to cover her nervousness was trapped in the coils. She glanced toward the rear seat where the cake holder holding the top layer of Hazel’s creation had been placed. The cake that was to be saved for their first anniversary. The one she would never see.

Tony switched on the radio. She buried her face in the bouquet and inhaled the scent of violets and miniature roses. “Mom was surprised and pleased by the flowers.”

“I’m sorry there wasn’t time to arrange a more formal wedding.”

“Ours was just right.” Why would he have wanted an elaborate farce?

“I thought all women wanted to show the world how lucky they were when they landed a man.”

“Not me. Mom wouldn’t have come if she would need to be wheeled into a church.”

“She and Chad hit it off. He’s the reason we were late. He’s going to give you trouble.”

“I expect he’ll try. He’s one angry child.”

“And there’s more hurt in store when he learns Marilyn and her new husband don’t even want him to visit them, not to mention live with them.”

“Does he know?”

“I’m not sure.”

“You’d better tell him.”

He groaned. “I’m waiting until she returns so we can tell him together.”

Not a smart move, she thought, but it wasn’t her place to interfere. “I guess we’ll handle this one day at a time.”

“Yeah. So what will you do tomorrow while I’m at the clinic?”

“Call the movers, arrange for delivery of my furniture and figure where to put it.”

“You can have the room next to the guest room. It’s empty.”

“Mind if I paint?”

“Feel free. It’s your house now.”

For how long?

After Tony pulled into the driveway behind his sport utility, she carried the cake container and the bag of food Mary had packed to the kitchen. Tony left her suitcases at the foot of the stairs and followed her.

He pulled a note from the coffee-maker. “Hazel’s taken Chad to her house for the night.”

She swallowed. She hadn’t planned on a night alone with him. From the look on his face, neither had he. She opened the cake holder and slid the contents into a box. Then she tackled the bag of food.

“At least you won’t have to eat my cooking,” she said.

“You don’t cook?”

“I’m a mistress of the microwave. I only promised to make decent coffee.”

“So you did. Want to go out for dinner?”

She shook her head. “Thought I would unpack and look at that empty room. Do you want to go somewhere?”

“Not really.”

Their gazes meshed. Carrie knew she didn’t want to do any of the things she’d mentioned. She wanted to savor his embrace, to feel his lips on her skin, to surrender to him. Tension built until she wanted to scream.

He doesn’t love me
. Doing the things she craved wasn’t a good idea. They’d opted for friendship, not to become lovers who could part with no regrets.

Before she made a move predestined for failure, she bolted from the kitchen. She grabbed her suitcases and went upstairs.

 

* * *

 

The voice of the announcer signing off the late news woke Tony. He turned off the television. So much for changing the terms of the marriage. He’d been willing to try, or at least make a case, for a marriage with more than friends co-existing, but she’d hidden upstairs and he’d fallen asleep.
Exhaustion or avoidance
? He wasn’t sure.

Earlier, he’d heard her moving around, heard doors open and close. He’d thought about joining her, but he hadn’t wanted to risk rejection. She wanted a marriage in name only. Besides, he’d already failed as a husband and he wasn’t doing a sterling job as a father.

He climbed the stairs and paused outside the guest room. Was she asleep? What would she do if he opened the door? He shook his head and recalled the times he’d tried to talk to Marilyn about their failing marriage. She hadn’t been willing to listen. Would Carrie be any different? He turned away.

This was his wedding night. His bride was in bed, the guest room bed. Could he discover a way to change her mind about the relationship? She had so much to give, friendship, laughter, love. How could he ask for her love when his was buried beneath the rubble of guilt?

He would grit his teeth. He would spend hours immersed in cold water. He would spend extra hours at the clinic. Maybe he’d come to grips with the things he had, and hadn’t. done in the past.

Then he would kiss her.

He lay on his king-sized bed and thought about the ceremony. She had looked beautiful, a man’s dream bride in a dress that shimmered when she moved, a dress that had been angelic and seductive. He had to put the past to rest and make this marriage real. If not, he would go slowly insane.

 

Chapter 4

 

Carrie popped the trunk and assessed the assortment of purchases she’d made at the local hardware store. She’d gone for paint, and discovered a treasure trove.

“If you don’t see it, ask. It’s bound to be here somewhere.”

The store’s motto had proven accurate. On the jumbled shelves and in the cluttered back room, she’d found antique doorknobs and etched glass shields for the hall fixtures, once gas lights, but now holding electric bulbs. She’d been so excited about her finds she’d nearly forgotten the paint she’d come to buy.

Won’t Tony be surprised? Her heart thudded in her chest. What would he think about the bedroom she’d chosen? How long would he ignore her when they shared a bathroom? She grabbed the cans of paint. There was no sense speculating. Before too many days had passed, she would know.

An hour later, she finished taping the molding and the edges of the chestnut wainscoting in the front hall. She would work in her bedroom tomorrow, after Tony left for the clinic, and on Thursday, too. That way, she would escape detection until after her furniture arrived. By Friday night, her husband was in for a big surprise. She hugged herself and laughed.

Maybe he would discover her while she took a bath. She would be Venus rising from the foam. He might see her in the wisps of silk she wore under her clothes.

Hazel stepped into the hall. “I’m going home now. Sure you’re not chewing off too big a wad?  All this painting and decorating when you should be thinking on your marriage.”

“Who says I’m not?  He’s not easy.”

Hazel laughed. “You’ve got that. Gonna be ready when your furniture comes?”

“Sure will. On Wednesday, Tony can help me in the room I won’t be using and in the library.”

Hazel shook her head. “Two of you got to stop and figure what you want.”

“I know what I want. He’s the one with the problem.”

Hazel tsked. “Anything I can do before I leave for home?”

The aroma of pot roast filtered from the kitchen. “Not today, but when I finish decorating, you can teach me how to cook.”

“Depends on how long you plan on staying. Cooking takes a bit of learning.” The older woman frowned. “Don’t take a genius to figure whatever kind of arrangement you and Dr. Flynn have, it ain’t no kind of marriage.”

Carrie stared at the wall. “Don’t spread that around. It’s just...just...”

“The doctor’s hard-headed and you’re thick-skulled.”

“We always have been.” Carrie thought of the many times she’d tried to show Tony she was the woman of his dreams. He’d laughed and told her to practice on guys her own age. What made her think she would succeed now?

Hazel untied her apron. “Have a feeling I’m gonna be entertained. Pair of you’ll be fun to watch...Oh, cookies for Chad’s snack are in the jar. Cherry cobbler for dessert. Don’t let the doctor have but one piece.”

“Will do. See you tomorrow.”

After Hazel left, Carrie dragged the ladder from the pantry. Today the foyer, and tomorrow the bedroom of her choice, plus a bit of painting in the room Tony had chosen for her.

She peered into the unfurnished library. Dark wood shelves lined the end walls. Drab drapes at the windows failed to allow light into the room. She revised her plans. The living room furniture from her apartment would fit. Then if she added the library table that had been her grandfather’s and her TV, they’d have a great family room.

She sighed. Her plan for Tony’s house would come to nothing unless the marriage became more than one of convenience.

With the ladder in place, she opened the first can of paint, a warm cream color that would enhance the golden tones of the wainscoting and the marble floor.

When the wall around the front entrance was finished, she stopped for a break. Peanut butter cookies studded with milk chocolate bits and the last cup of the coffee she’d brewed that morning made a delicious lunch.

A smile flitted across her lips. This morning, Tony had tasted the coffee and growled with pleasure. The sound had sent heat spiraling through her. She dreamed of hearing him groan in another place and for a different reason.

Back to work, she told herself. She had no time for dreams.

One wall later, she refilled the roller pan and climbed the ladder. The front door opened. Chad dropped his book-bag on the floor.

Carrie turned so her back rested against the ladder steps. “Hi. How was school?”

“Okay.”

“Hazel left some great cookies for your snack. Then you’re supposed to do your homework.”

“Don’t want to. Going out to play.” His body vibrated with defiance. His blue eyes issued a challenge.

She shrugged. “Your choice.”

“Do you mean that?”

“Why wouldn’t I? You know the routine. Make your choice, and live with what happens. What do you think your dad will say?”

“Don’t like homework.”

“Who does? Your uncle and I used to argue with your dad all the time about doing ours. We never won.”

“How come Dad got to boss you around?”

“My mom worked so your grandmother watched me after school. She put your dad in charge of homework. He wouldn’t let us play until we finished.” She didn’t tell him that before long she’d done hers without a fuss to impress Tony.

“What are you doing?”

“Painting. Doesn’t it look nice?”

“Dad know you’re doing this?”

She turned and reached for the roller. “He said it was my house.”

“Not.” His voice rose to a shrill pitch. “My mom says Dad bought this dump for her. Even if she doesn’t live here, it’s hers.”

“Really?”

“Yes, and she’ll hate what you’re doing. She’ll hate you, and she’ll hate Dad for marrying you.”

Carrie stretched to reach the top of the wall. “There’s no reason for her to even think about me, or be upset with your dad. Isn’t she married to someone else?”

“You and Dad aren’t really married. You don’t even kiss. That’s what married people do. ‘Sides, he’s only helping you ‘cause you’re his friend.” He grabbed the ladder.

“Chad.” When the ladder rocked, she lost her balance. The roller flew from her hand. The paint pan tilted and paint splattered on the wall and pooled on the floor. Her foot slipped from the rung. She landed in a heap on the floor.

Chad stared. “I didn’t mean...I only...Dad’s going to be mad...Are you hurt?”

“I don’t think so. Hey, accidents happen.” She got to her feet and rubbed where her elbow had struck the marble floor.

“Wasn’t an accident.” His lower lip quivered. “I was mad.”

“And you acted before you thought.”

“The wall’s a mess and the floor. I ruined them.”

“Not if we clean the spill before it dries.”

“But you gotta use that smelly stuff. Dad will know.”

“Just soap and water will clean this paint.”

“You gonna tell Dad?”

“I think you should.”

He looked at her. Tears glistened in his eyes. “Sorry,” he mumbled.

She grasped his shoulder. “I used to do dumb things when I was a kid. Still do sometimes. Help me find a bucket and some rags. I’ll clean while you do your homework.”

“I should help.”

She looked at the puddle on the floor and the splashes on the wainscoting. “Unless you have pages and pages, there’ll be work left when you’re done.”

“Just two. Spelling and math that’s ‘most done.”

“Then let’s get moving.” Carrie followed him to the kitchen. In the pantry, she found some rags. Chad pulled a bucket from beneath the sink.

After filling the pail, Carrie headed to the door. “See you in a few.”

“Okay.” Chad opened his book-bag and began to work.

She had cleaned the worst of the spill from the floor before Chad came to help. As they washed paint from the paneling, Tony strode into the house.

“What happened?” he asked.

“An accident,” Carrie said.

Chad bolted for the stairs.

Tony’s mouth tightened. “Chad.”

The boy faced his father. Hunched shoulders proclaimed his guilt. “Was my fault. I got mad and shook the ladder.”

“Homework done?” 

Chad nodded.

Tony turned to Carrie. “Thought you planned to paint your bedroom.”

“I did, and I will, but you know me. The foyer was so gloomy and you said…” She cut off the remainder of her sentence. Those words had upset Chad and made him react. “I decided to start here. On Wednesday, we can do the bedroom. What do you think about turning the library into a family room?  My living room furniture would be perfect in here.”

“Sounds good.” His smile faded. “Want to tell me about this accident?”

She pursed her lips. “It’s not for me to tell.”

Chad slumped on the stairs. “Don’t be mad at her. I shook the ladder ‘cause I didn’t think, just acted. Are you going to send me away?”

Tony’s stomach roiled. Why would Chad think he would do a thing like that?  “What are you talking about?  Why would I send you away?”

“Mom did. She has Mr. Brinker now, and you have her. You don’t need me.”

Tony felt like a boulder had slammed into his chest. “I won’t send you away, ever.”

Carrie leaned against the newel post. “And I wouldn’t let him. You belong here. Maybe tomorrow after school, you can help me wash windows and dust shelves in the library.”

Chad looked up. “I’ll do a good job.”

She sat beside him. “I know you will.”

Tony studied the pair. Carrie was a wonder. Somehow she’d managed to defuse Chad’s tantrum. She’d also subtly promised something that had been missing since Chad had arrived, a sense of family.

“Could you take me to buy a costume for the Halloween party at school on Saturday?  That’s instead of Trick or Treat. Dad works late most Tuesdays and I’m afraid the good ones will be gone.”

“We could do that. Maybe even eat out.” Carrie laughed.

Tony wondered what had amused her. “Care to share the joke.”

“Just remembering the time we made suits of armor.”

Tony chuckled. “I’d forgotten. They were a success, and a failure.” He looked at Chad. “We won first prize at the parade. Then it rained and the cardboard got wet and fell apart.”

“The poster paint ran and got all over our clothes,” Carrie said. “We even had gray hands and faces.”

“Wow,” Chad said. “Could we make one for me?  No one else would have a knight suit.”

“We’ll do it then.” She pushed away from the stairs. “I have some ideas for improvements...Now, it’s back to work. We need fresh water.”

Tony lugged the bucket to the kitchen. He should punish Chad for his behavior, but the truce between his son and his wife was important, and fragile.

 

* * *

 

“What about this?”

Carrie headed toward the sound of Chad’s voice. He held a piece of silver cloth. “Perfect.”

“My costume’s going to be way cool.”

“You bet it will.”

“Can we make it when we get home?”

“Not tonight. We have to be fresh, and I have to make a pattern. I’ll measure you tonight. We want perfection, not a mess.” She paid for the cloth and a roll of iron-on seam fastening with her credit card. “Besides, there are some things I have to pick up when I go to my apartment.”

“You gonna live there?”

She heard a note of anxiety in his voice. “I need to let the movers in and then get back here before they do. If my friend, Grace, remember her from the wedding, hadn’t volunteered to be there Thursday while they pack, I would have had to stay overnight.”

“I’m glad you don’t have to.”

They added the package from the fabric store to the one holding heavy, yet flexible, poster board, a step up from the cardboard boxes she and Tony had used.

“One more stop,” she said.

“The grocery store for foil.” He got in the back and fastened his seatbelt. “Did you know there’s a haunted house in the woods?”

“Sure didn’t.”

“It’s way cool. There was a murder there a long time ago and the woman still haunts the place. Sure wish I’d see her sometime.”

“Does your dad let you go there?”

“Sort of...no...not alone. Would you like to go with me?”

“Maybe. I’m not sure a haunted house is very appealing.”

“They’re going to have one at the party. ‘Cept it’s not for real.”

By the time they reached the house, Tony was home. He met them at the door. She studied the way his tee shirt and jeans covered his muscular body. This man made her feel weak and energized at the same time.

“Hi, buddy...Carrie. Buy out the store?”

His voice made her feel shivery, but at the moment, there was no way to let him know. Chad was the perfect barrier between desire and the impossible.

“Just the essentials,” she said.

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