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Authors: Janet Lane-Walters

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BOOK: A Marriage Takes Two
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“Anything else to bring in?”

“Chad and I managed.”

“Yeah, Dad, we managed.”

Tony grinned. This was the kind of rapport he’d hoped to see. If Carrie and Chad became pals, what he had to tell his son would be easier, unless he couldn’t convince Carrie to stay. “Time to hit the bed.”

“Okay.” Chad charged upstairs.

Tony reached for Carrie and gave her a quick hug. “Thanks.”

She stiffened and he released her. That wasn’t the message she’d meant to convey, but the embrace had startled her.

“We had a good time for tonight, but I’m exhausted,” she said.

“No painting, right?”

“You’ve got that straight. I’d forgotten how much energy kids have, and how fast they move. Not to mention, I finished the foyer, taped in the...library and did the windows.” She failed to mention the wall she’d painted in the room she’d chosen.

“Chad’s more energetic than most kids. I’m free for whatever you want to do tomorrow.”

She wished that was the truth. “Guess we’ll do my room.”

“Haven’t you started there yet?”

“Hey, I’m not superwoman. If it’s not finished, I’ll stay in the guest room. On Thursday, I’ll finish in the library. Chad helped with the windows.”

“Without making a mess?”

“Oh ye of little faith.” She laughed. “Actually, the floor needed to be mopped. It’s ready to wax.”

“When?”

“Thursday.”

“By the end of the week, you won’t be able to move.”

“You’re right, but think of how great the house is beginning to look.”

He nodded in agreement. Since buying the house, the only room to see changes had been the kitchen. Hazel had insisted on new cabinets, appliances, floor, and wall coverings.

“You’re right, but this is a big house. You can’t do everything in a month.”

“I’m going to try...Oh, before Chad gets in bed, I have to measure him.”

Tony frowned. Somewhere during the conversation, he’d missed something subtle and important. He couldn’t ask. She’d always been like a bulldog guarding a bone when it came to keeping a secret. He followed her upstairs. Was that paint he smelled?  He shrugged and decided it was from the foyer.

 

* * *

 

On Wednesday, she and Tony painted the room she wouldn’t be using, and finished painting in the library. By Thursday afternoon, and her stint in the room she planned to use, she thought her shoulder muscles had been permanently damaged, but all was in order.

Friday morning, she left the house at sunrise, and drove to the apartment to let the movers in. Then she ran down the street to the surgical supply house. There, she bought stockinet to use at the elbows and knees of Chad’s costume. Once the furniture and boxes had been loaded, she grabbed the stack of accumulated mail and headed for West Virginia.

By two thirty, the last of her possessions had been placed in the rooms she’d chosen. She stood in her bedroom and hoped her choice would tell Tony of her intentions without the need for words that would sound too much like a plea. What had gone wrong between them? Their ease of conversation had vanished at the altar.

She walked downstairs and entered the library. The sheer curtains from the apartment’s living room allowed the afternoon sunlight to brighten the space. Boxes littered the gleaming oak floor. She opened one of the boxes.

“Carrie,” Chad called.

“In here.” She rose. “Your snack’s on the table. Do your homework and then we’ll make your costume.”

“Don’t have homework. Never on the weekend.”

He waited at the door for her. “This looks nice with your furniture. What a big television...You need a costume, too.”

“Why?”

“Even big people have to wear them, but they can’t win a prize. I want you to come.”

“Are you sure? I could stay home and unpack.”

“Don’t you want to be with Dad and me?”

“I do, but I already ruined your Wednesday when your dad stayed home to paint.”

“That was okay. Maybe he’ll take me somewhere tonight.” Sadness filled his eyes. “Mom never wanted to be with Dad and me. She liked to go to big people’s parties better.”

Carrie trailed him to the kitchen. How should she respond to him?  “I...I think it’s great to see what good friends you and your dad are. I always wished I’d had a father.”

“Did he divorce you?”

“He died before I was born.”

“That’s sad.” He reached for a cookie. “Please come to the party, and could you bake brownies for the bake sale table? I forgot to ask Hazel.”

She laughed. “No one would buy mine. One time, I used a mix and they came out like bricks. I think I smelled chocolate today.” She opened the freezer. “I sure did.”

He grinned. “Good. My class is saving for a trip and everyone always buys Hazel’s stuff.”

She handed him a glass of milk. “Meet you upstairs. We can work in the hall. There’s a lot of room there.”

“Five minutes.”

“Don’t gobble. Hazel’s cookies are meant to be eaten slowly and every crumb enjoyed.”

“You’re silly.”

After she left the supplies in the broad upper hall that surrounded the central staircase, she went to the room she’d staked out as hers and opened one of the boxes. She drew out a wooden sword that had been painted gray. Wouldn’t Chad get a charge out of carrying the one his dad had made?

“Carrie, I’m here.”

“In here.”

He appeared in the doorway. “Dad know you put your stuff here?”

“No, and it’s a secret.”

“I don’t think he’s gonna like it.”

She winked. “Then he’ll have to live with it.”

“That’s what he always says to me.”

“So he does...Now, let’s make a costume to go with this sword.”

“Where did you get it?”

“Saved it. Your dad made three, but I bet he and your uncle didn’t save theirs.”

“And you’ll let me use it?”

“Sure.”

“Cool.”

 

* * *

 

When Tony entered the house, the sound of Chad’s laughter lightened his spirits. “I’m home,” he called.

“Upstairs, Dad. We’re making my knight suit.”

Tony took the stairs two at a time. He paused at the top. Chad stood in front of Carrie. She fastened a foil covered chest plate to the armor back. “Hey, son, you look great.”

“Guess what Carrie gave me. Her sword. The one you made.”

Tony shook his head. “I can’t believe you saved that old thing.”

“I’m a pack rat, save everything.”

He nodded. She’d even saved the wrappings and ribbons from every present. “You two about finished?”

“Just need to make the helm.” She put a cap on Chad’s head and used silver cloth to cover it and the back of his neck. “Hand me the chin piece and the visor.”

A short time later, the helm was finished. Chad lumbered to Tony’s bathroom to look at himself in the mirror.

“Cool, right, Dad?”

“Way cool,” Tony said.

Carrie joined them and began removing the costume. “We’ll put this away until tomorrow.”

Tony winked. “You’ve improved the original design. His arms and legs bend.”

“Stockinet dyed gray.”

“You’re a woman of many talents.”

She grinned. “A few you’ve yet to discover.”

The air around her seemed hot. He took a step toward her and stopped. He’d been about to pull her into his arms and show her how much he wanted to discover those hidden talents. Bad idea. He couldn’t risk hurting her. For Carrie, he believed sex without love would be wrong.

“Dad, can we go somewhere tonight?”

Chad’s question cut through the charged silence. “Sure.” He turned to Carrie. “What about you?”

“A rain-check.”

He saw satisfaction on his son’s face. Tony wanted to insist she join them, but Chad hadn’t staged a scene since Monday. Tony wasn’t about to ruin the fragile truce.

“Homework done?”

Chad laughed. “It’s Friday. No homework.” He headed to the stairs.

“Whoa. Back up a minute. Put your costume in your room and help clean this mess.”

“Okay.” Chad carefully picked up several pieces of the armor.

Carrie gathered the rest. Tony put his hand on her shoulder. “Sure you don’t want to come?”

“I might, but let’s not push him. We’ve had a good week. He invited me to the party at school. That’s a start.”

“Will you go?”

Her grin was saucy. “And in costume. Enjoy your evening.”

“You’re the best.”

“No, you are.”

Her answer gave him hope. Someday, he would make those words true. How fortunate she didn’t know how deep his betrayal had been. They’d been friends poised on a step they hadn’t taken. Could they take it now? He gathered the scraps of poster board and foil before heading downstairs.

Chad bounced after him. “Let’s go to the mall for burgers, and then to the arcade.”

“Sounds good.” Tony hoped he sounded enthusiastic. After ten minutes in the restaurant and arcade, his head pounded. Chad went to play a few games while Tony sat and prayed they could leave soon.

Chad appeared. “Used all my coins.”

Tony dropped the scraps in the trash and followed his son to the car. Once Chad was buckled in his seat, Tony leaned toward him. “You should have invited Carrie.”

“She didn’t want to come.”

“I think she did. She’s part of our family now.”

“It’s not fair.”

“Would you stop saying that?”

“When’s Mom coming back?”

Tony sucked in a breath. He wasn’t ready to talk about Marilyn’s plans for Chad. “I won’t have you being rude to Carrie.”

Chad thrust out his lower lip. “I wasn’t. Not all week, ‘cept Monday. She’s cool, but I wanted it to be just you and me.”

“I can understand that, but —”

“I invited her to the Halloween party at the school. She’s wearing a costume. You need one, too. Maybe we could buy one tonight.”

“I’ll come up with something.”

“Yeah, you’ll probably come as a doctor, or something dumb.”

“What’s wrong with being a doctor?”

“’Cause you are one. You’re ‘posed to use your imagination. Ask Carrie. She has good ideas.”

 

Chapter 5

 

“Carrie, where are you?”

Chad’s voice pulled her from a particularly vivid fantasy involving Tony. “Upstairs.”

“What are you doing?”

“Unpacking.” She dropped a uniform and hurried from the bedroom. Now wasn’t the time for discovery. She started downstairs.

“Here.” Chad thrust a bag into her hand. “Are you mad at me?”

“Should I be?”

“Dad said I was rude ‘cause I didn’t invite you to come with us.”

“You weren’t. Your dad asked, and I turned him down. I had to unpack my clothes before I was forced to do laundry. What did you bring me?”

“Black licorice. Dad says it’s your favorite and you like it better than chocolate. I’ve never tasted it.”

“Want to try a piece?”

“Sure.”

She wanted to hug him, except theirs was an easily damaged relationship. With Chad, she needed caution and patience. She handed him a licorice stick and popped one into her mouth.

Tony strode into the foyer. “You’re corrupting him.”

“Just teaching him what’s good.” She stuck out her tongue.

“Chocolate’s good.”

Chad laughed. “Your tongue is black. Gross. Will mine turn too?”

“Sure will.”

Chad turned to his father. “See, Dad, I told you she wasn’t mad.”

“Guess you did.” Tony winked. “Bet you thought I’d forgotten what you like.”

For an instant, his eyes reflected interest and desire. The fleeting glimpse gave her hope that one day soon she would be able to climb over the barriers he’d erected.

“Chad, time for bed,” Tony said. “Be up in a few.”

“Okay. Night, Carrie.” He handed her the licorice. “Don’t think I like this.”

“Just remember a taste for something different takes time and exposure. Night.”

Tony leaned against the newel post. He arched a brow. “Your thought for the day?”

“Maybe.”

Halfway up the steps, Chad stopped. “Carrie, what are you going to be for the party?”

“It’s a surprise.” One guaranteed to catch Tony’s attention if her choice of a bedroom didn’t.

“You gotta help Dad with his. He was gonna be a doctor.”

“I’ll think of something.”

Tony leaned against the wall. “Remember when we bounced around like that?”

“Eons ago. There should be an instant energy transfusion for parents.”

He laughed. “Figure how and you’ll make a fortune. Thanks.”

“For what?”

“Being so patient with him.”

“He’s a good kid, especially when he forgets he’s angry. Once he understands how much you love and want him, he’ll be fine.”

And once he sees his mother’s selfishness, she thought. For an instant, she considered telling Tony some of the things Chad said about his mother and her new husband. Would Tony believe her? He seemed to avoid any mention of Marilyn, and he certainly never criticized her behavior. Any attack, even a mild one, would look like jealousy.

“What did you have for supper?” he asked.

“A hot roast beef sandwich. Even Hazel’s left-overs are scrumptious.”

“And I ended up with a thin burger and greasy fries.” He pulled away from the wall. “Let me get up to Chad. His costume is great, but we could have saved you the bother and bought one.”

“Then he and I wouldn’t have had time together. We had fun, and no one will have one like his. He needs to feel special.”

“You’re right.”

Carrie watched until he vanished. A long sigh escaped. Every time she thought he was ready to respond to her as a woman, he backed away.

With a shrug, she went to the kitchen and took a handful of cookies from the jar. Frustration, she thought. If I’m not careful, I’ll gain a hundred pounds.

She savored one of the cookies. Gingersnaps had never been among her favorites, but these were wonderful. Spicy and chewy.

Tony strolled into the room and took one of the cookies from her plate. “That was mine.” She swatted his hand.

“I know.” He took a bite. “Don’t friends share?”

An undercurrent in his voice made her hope. She pushed the plate toward him. “Help yourself. Better for my health if you eat them.”

“But worse for mine.” He nudged the plate back.

“There must be six dozen more in the freezer, plus several other kinds. How often does she bake?”

“About once a week. I’ll take some to the clinic Monday. Hazel thinks she’s still baking for five sons.”

“Five. Do they live around here?”

“They’re off in five directions, all military.” He held out a cookie. “Eat.”

“I would rather steal a blondie. She made three pans of each for the bake sale.”

“I wouldn’t touch. She would know.”

“Then I’ll buy them.”

“Plan on being first in line. Her baked goods go fast.” He filled a mug with coffee. “Chad’s right. I need a costume. Any ideas?”

She had a number of inappropriate notions, mostly involving skimpy clothes, like loin cloths or fig leaves. “Since Chad’s going as King Arthur. I found a crown in one of my boxes. Why don’t you go as Merlin? I still have the robe Mom made for you when you were a wise-man in the Christmas pageant at church.”

“Do you save everything?” Tony chuckled. “It’s a good idea. What will you be? A dragon.”

“That’s Saint George, but something like that. Just say my costume fits the theme.”

“Guinivere? Lady of the Lake? Lancelot?”

“I’ll never tell.” She rolled her shoulders to relieve the aches of the past week’s intensive labor. Tony rose and stood behind her. With a firm touch, he kneaded her muscles. She bit her lip to contain a moan of pleasure. She wished, but he was just being a friend.

“Sorry.”

“Why? Felt wonderful. I don’t have a muscle that doesn’t hurt.”

“You have been busy.” He straddled the chair across from her. “The place is looking great. What’s your next project?”

“I’m not sure. Maybe the living room.” She tried to read the expression on his face, but his eyes were shuttered.

“Again, thanks for being so great with Chad.”

“I’ve been where he is, and done the rebellion thing.”

“But he should have asked you to come with us.”

She propped her elbows on the table. “He needs time alone with you, and that’s fine with me. Asking me to a party where his friends are is a big step.”

“You’re right. So what are your plans for the rest of the evening?  Want to unpack some boxes in the family room?  I’ll help.”

She shook her head. “Nope. It’s veg time for me with some mindless entertainment.”

“Mind if I join you?”

Like butterfly wings, hope fluttered. “I’d like that.” Though she wished for more, his company was a start toward her goal.

Two hours later when the ten o’clock news began, she glanced at Tony. Her breath caught in her throat. Asleep, he was too, too appealing. She wanted him, but she couldn’t make the first move. He’d married her because they were friends. He would reject any attempt she made to change the bargain.

“I’m going up,” she said.

“Um.”

She shook her head. So much for being a stimulating companion. She’d put him to sleep. Would she be on the periphery of his attention until her hair turned gray?

Upstairs, she filled the large claw foot tub in the bathroom between hers and Tony’s bedrooms. She added a generous portion of bubble bath. As she slid into the steaming water, she sighed. The heat felt almost as wonderful as Tony’s hands.

 

* * *

 

As soon as Carrie left, Tony stretched. The evening of togetherness strained his good intentions and his jeans. If she hadn’t left, he would have made a move destined for failure. Anticipating another restless night, he headed up the stairs.

He stripped off his shirt. A cold shower was his goal. He crossed the room and opened the bathroom door. His hand tightened on the knob.

Carrie! What was she doing in here!

The room he’d given her had no connection to the master suite. He held in a groan.

Why was she doing this to him?

Clouds of bubbles filled the tub. They shifted to reveal tantalizing glimpses of her skin. He ached. He throbbed. Her leg emerged from the bubbles and he nearly lost control. His grip on the doorknob tightened until he was sure he would dent the metal. If he didn’t move, he’d be in deep trouble.

He eased the door shut. Had she heard him? Seen him? Sensed his presence? He pressed his forehead against the wood and willed his body to behave.

She was his wife, yet he felt like a Peeping Tom. She was his wife, and he had a right to desire her. Except, she was his wife in a marriage becoming more inconvenient by the second.

He dragged his thoughts from temptation. He would handle this madness. She didn’t want him, just his name. Though there’d been times he’d caught her watching him with what he thought was desire, he refused to make the first move. The rules of the marriage had been set by her.

In three weeks, they would see the lawyer. Not long after that, she would return to the night shift and for three nights a week, he wouldn’t lie awake and think about her body and his twined together in his bed. Three weeks wasn’t soon enough. He groaned. By the time her inheritance was released, he would be ready for a padded cell.

 

* * *

 

Carrie caught a glimpse of Tony in the full-length mirror. His expression pulsed with desire. She reached for the sponge and began to wash her leg. Would the rest of her fantasy happen?

The door closed. She watched the bubbles burst until there were none left. Tonight’s plan had failed, but she hadn’t given up. One loss didn’t mean the end of hope.

She drained the tub and pulled the tee shirt he’d loaned her over her head. Since her visit here, the shirt had become her preferred sleeping garment. She pressed her forehead against the door leading to his room. He was on the other side.

What if she popped in and cried “Surprise?  She grasped the knob.

And then what?

Patience.

How long?

He married you out of friendship, out of like, not love. Just wait.

When she entered her bedroom, her body vibrated with suppressed needs. Erotic possibilities filled her thoughts. The mattress was too soft, or maybe too hard. The room was too hot and too cold.

As she wrestled with illusive sleep, she remembered the mail she’d brought from the apartment. There’d been a manila envelope from Mr. Hurcutt. A session with legalese might be an excellent soporific.

As she left her room, the door creaked. She waited a moment to see if she’d disturbed Tony. Then she headed downstairs and retrieved the envelope from the family room.

She smelled coffee. Had she forgotten to unplug the pot?  She strode down the hall.

Tony stood at the counter. Gray sweats rode low on his hips. Her gaze caressed his shirtless back.

Oh Lord, the man was delicious.

Do something?

What?

Before this insane marriage ended, the white coats would come for her. She just might go willingly.

He turned. She sucked in a breath. The dark hair on his chest waited to be touched. His well-developed muscles were there for her to stroke.

Why not? He was her husband. Unfortunately, he still loved his ex-wife. She’d heard the hurt in his voice every time he said that woman’s name. Carrie knew she couldn’t allow herself to become more vulnerable.

“Couldn’t sleep?”

The rumble of his voice sensitized her nerves. Why had she come downstairs? Definitely not to make a move guaranteed to make her look like a fool. This encounter called for a subtle approach and she was used to wielding sledgehammers. Besides, she’d had little experience in the art of seduction.

She waved the envelope. “Picked this up today at the apartment. From Mr. Hurcutt. Copies of the will for us to read.”

“Do we still have to meet with him?”

She nodded. “I asked him to send this. The day he read the will, all I heard was the amount of money, that I had to be married, and my husband had control over the use of my inheritance.”

“I bet you were in shock over receiving a legacy with strings attached...Coffee?”

“I was going to make tea.”

“I’ll do that.”

“Does Hazel work weekends?”

“Only if I need her to watch Chad. Otherwise, we’re on our own. One of us will have to make breakfast.”

She rolled her eyes. “We’ll eat out. My treat.”

“Chad will be happy. He’s tired of scrambled eggs or cold cereal.”

She looked at the clock. Only eleven. It should be later. While the water boiled, she opened the packet and discovered the attorney had sent two copies. She put one beside Tony’s mug. He carried a cup and saucer to the table. She rose and got an ice cube.

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