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Authors: Janet Lane-Walters

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BOOK: A Marriage Takes Two
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He laughed. “You still do that.”

She slipped the cube into the cup. “Lukewarm tea tastes the best.”

“If you say so.” He reached for his mug. “I’ll drink iced tea in the summer, but coffee does it for me.”

A kiss would do it for me, she thought.

He lifted the will and began to read. She wanted to run her fingers through his thick curls. She wanted to taste the coffee flavor of his mouth. She wanted what she’d never had.

The phone rang. Tony grabbed the receiver. “Dr. Flynn here...Marilyn.”

In her haste to leave the room, Carrie nearly spilled her tea. Hearing him talk to the woman who had hurt him was more than she could handle tonight.

Tony frowned. Why had Carrie bolted?  Surely she didn’t think there were vibes from his long dead marriage?

“Hold on, Marilyn. What did you say?”

“That Brian and I are back and I had a divine time. Wait until you see the magnificent rubies and the marvelous silks he bought me. But that’s not why I called.”

“And why was that?”

“To share my wonderful news. I know you’ll be pleased for me. That’s why I can’t have Chad over Thanksgiving or Christmas. Brian doesn’t want me to overdo, especially when we’ll have dozens of social obligations. I’m sure you’ll agree.”

Tony gripped the phone. “Have you considered Chad’s feelings?  He’s been waiting for your return. He expects to live with you.”

“Haven’t you told him he’s not?”

“You said you had. Besides, you made the decision. It’s your place to tell him.”

“Tony, please. There wasn’t time in the rush of wedding preparations. I just can’t have him here. He’ll be jealous of my baby.”

“What baby?”

“Brian’s heir. The man’s so proud and treats me like a queen. Just think, I’m going to have the Brinker heir.”

“What about Chad?”

“He’s yours.”

Tony raked his hair. “You have visitation rights. Two weekends a month and holidays. Should I bring him next weekend?”

“You haven’t heard a thing I’ve said. Why won’t you ever listen?  That’s why our marriage failed. Things had to be your way.”

“Marilyn, you have to tell him.”

“Me? I don’t need the stress. I’ll mail his presents. I bought him a tee shirt in every port we visited. It’s not that I don’t want him, but he’s a difficult child and has taken a dislike to Brian. I had him for seven years. It’s your turn now and Brian agrees.
Ciao
.”

“Marilyn...Wait...Damn.”

He wanted to smash the wall or do something equally destructive. Instead, he jammed the papers in the envelope and strode upstairs. Good thing Carrie hadn’t stayed. She would have seen him at his worst.

 

* * *

 

“Carrie, are you coming?” Chad called.

Tony adjusted his hold on the crystal ball and grinned at his son. “You look ready for a battle.”

“Do you think I’ll win a prize?  Carrie, hurry up. We’re gonna be late.”

“I’m on my way.”

Tony glanced toward the head of the stairs. Oh Lord, she was going to drive him crazy. Though her costume covered her from head to toes, more of her curves than he needed to see were revealed.

A black cat. A wizard’s familiar.

His wife had just become more of an inconvenience, a feat he’d thought impossible. Why me? He gripped the banister.

“Wow,” Chad said. “They’re awesome. Where’d you find them?”

“In a costume shop. Watch.” She opened and closed her hands. The claws extended and retracted.

Chad touched one. “Cool. They look real, but they’re soft. Wait ‘til my friends see them.”

Tony stifled a groan. Wait until every man at the school saw his wife.

Carrie reached for her jacket. Tony swallowed. “Don’t you have a long coat? It’s cold out there.” And hot in here, he thought. Thank heavens the wizard’s robe covered his reaction to her costume.

“We’ll be in the car.” Her eyes held a saucy challenge. He scowled. This wasn’t the time to accept it. She had set the terms of their bargain. Tonight, his neighbors and colleagues would meet his wife, the kitten he’d rather find curled in his bed.

Outside the school, Carrie adjusted Chad’s crown to a rakish angle. “Sire, you look great.”

He grinned. “See you. Gotta tell my friends about your claws.”

Carrie bent to lift the cookie containers from the back seat. Tony’s gaze focused on her nicely rounded rear and trim legs. They had to go inside. He had to keep his hands off her. By the end of the evening, he’d be hopping like a ton of Mexican jumping beans.

“You’ve made his day,” Tony said.

“Speaking of Chad...What did Marilyn want?”

Her question acted like a blast of frigid air. “To let me know they’re back.”

“Did she want Chad this weekend?”

“Far from that, but let’s not get into it now.”

“Later then.” She walked toward the all-purpose room.

Tony’s gaze followed the sway of her hips. He was in deeper trouble than he’d thought possible. They did need to talk, but not about Marilyn and Chad. He had to find a way to tell her he’d been a fool years ago, and how he had failed her, and himself. Then they needed to find a way to help him keep his bargain. He wanted her, but he couldn’t swear to love her or give her a commitment. Deep inside, he feared he’d be like his father and just walk away.

Laughter, lights, and the cacophony of a multitude of voices poured through the open door. A kaleidoscope of people wearing colorful costumes moved about the room. Tony spotted the pair of nurse practitioners and the clinical nurse manager of the clinic at the bake sale table. Carrie reached them and put the cookie containers down. Moments later, Chad and three of his friends converged to admire Carrie’s claws.

“Tony.” The clinic’s nurse midwife waved. “Come over and introduce your wife.” She leaned toward Carrie and said something.

Carrie’s throaty laughter electrified him. Though she stood half a room away, distance failed to blunt his reaction. Into the fire, he thought and strode to the cluster of women.

 

* * *

 

Carrie watched Tony while she listened to the three women. How much had he told them about the reason for the marriage? They were his friends and colleagues. She thought of the many nights she’d discussed the situation with Grace. Had he also talked?

“I hear you’re a nurse,” Beth, the pediatric nurse practitioner, said.

“That’s right.”

“Currently employed?”  Ruth asked.

“Sort of,” Carrie said. “I’m on vacation, and a leave of absence following that. I’m not sure I want to continue the long commute.”

“Interested in the clinic?”  Ruth asked. “There’s an opening and I’m the one doing the hiring.”

“How do you feel about a husband and wife working together?” 
Especially if they’ve decided to end the marriage.

“As long as they’re professionals, it shouldn’t be a problem. Would you have difficulty working with Tony?”

Carrie felt her cheeks heat. She might have a problem with daydreaming, but never with challenges to her professional behavior. At least she hoped she wouldn’t. “I think I can handle the situation.”

“What’s your specialty?”

Carrie shrugged. “I’ve a BSN and have been working in the ED and Peds. Thirteen hour night shifts.”

“How would you feel about days?” Ruth asked. “And floating between in and out patient. For now, the job is nine to five.”

“Sounds like heaven.” Carrie grinned. If she worked with Tony, he couldn’t ignore her. She heard his deep laughter and lost her focus on the conversation. Even in a billowing magician’s robe, he was tempting.

“Monday at one,” Ruth said.

“Why?” Carrie glanced at the trio.

“For an interview,” Ruth said. “When can you start?”

“In two weeks. I’ll need to see about reciprocity for my license, and there are things I want to do in the house.”

“I can help with the license,” Ruth offered.

“What are you doing in the house?”  Jane asked.

“Some painting and re-decorating.”

“About time,” Beth said.

Ruth looked at the clock. “Time for us to man the food concession.”

“Can I help?”  Carrie asked.

“Be glad to have you.” Beth winked. “With you on board, we’ll clear a mint. All the dads will want a closer look at Tony’s wife.”

Jane laughed. “Can’t wait to see his reaction to the ogles.”

Would he even notice?
Carrie wondered. Ten minutes after making the introductions, he’d charged away. She joined the three women in the kitchen and soon was busy serving hot dogs, pizza, barbecued beef, fries, desserts, and drinks.

Once the rush ended, the costume parade began. Carrie sat with her new acquaintances and watched the children march around the room.

“Chad’s costume is super,” Ruth said. “Where did you find it?”

“We made it.”

Jane looked at her friends. “Carrie, you’re hereby drafted to help with the Christmas play. We need costumes with imagination.”

“And with the PTA Follies in the spring,” Beth said.

Before Carrie found a way to refuse, Chad charged over. “I won. First prize. A certificate to the toy store at the mall. Want to come with Dad and me tomorrow?  You can help me choose.”

“I’d like that.”

“Dad and I are going to the haunted house. Not the real one, though. Want to come? Everybody says it’s creepy.”

Carrie looked at the cluttered kitchen. “Do you mind if I go?”

“No problem,” Ruth said. “You’ve been a great help. See you on Monday.”

Carrie and Tony followed Chad into the dark tunnel leading to the haunted house. Luminous spiders hung in gauzy webs. Eerie laughter, moans, creaks, and rattles, filled the air. Tony caught her hand. “Brings back memories.”

“Yes.” Her heart pounded. Were their memories the same?  The first and only time, until the wedding, Tony had kissed her had been in a similar setting. At fourteen, she’d been awkward, but the brief touch of his lips cemented her dreams of him and forever.

Tony stared at Carrie. In the dim light, he couldn’t read her expression. How would she react if he stole a kiss the way he had years ago? He bent his head and inhaled the scent of her bubble bath. A picture of Carrie in the tub flashed into his thoughts. The aroma had filtered from their shared bathroom and wove erotic images into his dreams.

“Dad, Carrie, come on.”

He straightened. “Guess we’d better go.”

“Guess so.”

Was that a note of regret in her voice?  He reached for her hand.

“Dad, I’m waiting.”

“We’re coming.”

 

Chapter 6

 

Tony pulled into the driveway and parked his car. He’d been married for nearly three weeks and he neared the fracture point. Living in close proximity to Carrie proved more difficult every day. Not that she created problems, unless the casual touches and enchanting smiles were designed to keep him on edge. Since the Halloween party, he’d been aware of every curve of her body. He’d spent evenings in the small office off the living room, claiming paperwork, but engaging in full-blown fantasies.

He pounded the steering wheel. His emotions were tied in knots by lust and guilt. Last night, he’d finally read his copy of the will and discovered yet another stinger.

“If the marriage is proved not to be a true union, the money will be forfeit and distributed to the following charities.”

Surely she knew? She had a copy. They had to make love before the meeting with Mr. Hurcutt. The terms she’d set for the marriage had to be broken and he would savor the moment. Would he survive if she insisted on walking away after the money was hers? They had to talk, but he found the words difficult to express.

Shouts and laughter came from the backyard. He headed around the side of the house.

“Can’t catch me.” Carrie, a football tucked under her arm, charged past a group of boys.

Without a second thought, Tony joined the chase and grabbed her from behind. “Maybe they can’t, but I can.” She turned and her saucy grin sent an infusion of heat to his groin.

The grin slid from her face. Her eyes widened and the green darkened.

“Dad, you’ve spoiling the game,” Chad said. “You didn’t tell me she was a good runner. She should’ve been a boy.”

“I don’t know about that.” Tony’s hand brushed her breast and he felt her nipple tighten. His body responded.

So she wasn’t indifferent. It would make what they had to do less of a challenge.

Desire roiled his thoughts. He groaned and released her. His new knowledge raised a dilemma.

He’d promised her a marriage with no strings. Dumb move. Before he’d agreed, he should have told her how he felt. He should have told her about the plans and dreams he’d once had. He should have told her he loved her before he’d gotten involved with Marilyn. He hadn’t and so he’d blown their friendship and any chance for her love.

Did she understand a marriage in name only wasn’t enough? If Mr. Hurcutt learned they slept in different rooms, he could declare the marriage invalid. Their status, while not public, wasn’t a secret. The right question to the right person and Carrie’s inheritance would belong to charity. He knew his wife wouldn’t lie, and he’d done enough of that. Why had her grandfather made such a strange will?

“Would you like to play?” she asked.

Her softly spoken question elicited a groan. He did, but not football, though touch played a major role in the game of his choice.

“Let me change.” Maybe action would dull his need.

“All right!”  Chad shouted. “Dad’s on my team.”

Guilt rushed over Tony. He’d been so tied by his feelings for Carrie, and his anger about Marilyn’s attitude, he hadn’t spent much time with Chad. Not the way he had before the wedding.

He charged upstairs and changed into sweats. As he dashed back to the game, he had an idea. This weekend, they would make arrangements to re-do Chad’s room, including new curtains and bedspreads, bunk beds, a new desk and dresser, and paint. The redecoration would be another way to show Chad how much he was wanted, and a way to involve Carrie.

He paused on the back porch. Carrie and two of Chad’s friends were standing in a huddle. She looked up. “We’re going to slaughter you.”

“Want to bet?” he said.

“Loser does the dishes.”

“Deal!”

A half hour later, the sky darkened. Chad’s friends headed across the yard to their homes. Tony smiled. Tonight he would have no complaints from their parents about Chad’s behavior. In fact, there hadn’t been one since Carrie had appeared at the door.

“I’m starved,” Chad said. “What’s for dinner?”

“Oh, no!”  Carrie ran to the house.

Tony and Chad followed. The odor of burnt food filled the kitchen. “What happened?” Tony asked.

“The mac and cheese.” She opened the oven. “I was supposed to put the burgers in and take this out an hour ago. Now what?”

Tony switched on the kitchen fan. “I’ll broil the burgers. Won’t take long.”

“Bake, broil.” She shook her head. “I can’t even follow simple directions.”

“You’ll learn.” He brushed her cheek with a finger. “I’ll handle dinner. We’ll have chips and salad. Go wash your face. You look like the grubby pest of years ago.”

Carrie bolted. She felt like she’d been branded. She considered staying to change his mind about the grubby pest, but she couldn’t. He might desire her, but he didn’t love her. She pressed her hand to her cheek to hold the warmth close.

“Boy, didn’t we have fun,” Chad said. “You played good, but Dad and me were better.”

“Don’t gloat,” she said. “Beat you upstairs.”

“How come you don’t cook?”

“Never learned. My mother was always too busy to teach me.”

“Kind of like my mom, ‘cept she didn’t like to cook. Used to buy sandwiches at the store, and order pizza and Chinese.” He sighed. “She’s been gone a long time. Sure hope she comes back soon. There’s something I have to ask her. Wonder what kind of presents she’ll buy me.”

“Oh...” Carrie swallowed. It wasn’t her place to tell him his mother was home. “Hazel’s going to give me cooking lessons.”

“Cool.” He reached the top of the stairs. “Beat you. Hazel showed me how to make toasted cheese sandwiches and soup from a can. Says every man should cook, do laundry, and clean bathrooms.”

Carrie laughed. “She’s right.”

After dinner, Carrie did the dishes. Then she headed to the family room to watch a show with Chad. When he and Tony went upstairs, she turned the TV off. She and Tony had to talk about Marilyn’s return. He couldn’t continue to hide the truth from his son, or himself.

The man must be blind. If he would face the truth about his ex-wife, the hurt would diminish. Did he feel guilty about something he’d done to that woman? She couldn’t imagine what.

She heard him on the stairs and left the family room to intercept him. So many evenings he’d vanished into his office, but not tonight, and not before they hashed out the problem and found a solution.

“Tony, I need to talk to you.”

He followed her into the family room and slumped on the couch. “I hope there’s not another problem.”

“Is Chad upset about his mother’s decision?” she asked.

“Not really.”

“Have you told him everything?”

“Sort of. He keeps asking how long he’s going to be here. I thought he was happy.”

“Maybe he is.”

“But he keeps nagging about when she’s coming home. How can I tell him she doesn’t even want him for weekends or the holidays?”

Carrie clenched her hands. She wished she could tell that witch a thing or two. “How can she just blow him off?”

“She doesn’t seem to have a problem with the idea. She’s much too enthralled with her rubies, silks, pregnancy, and social obligations.”

“Why…”  Carrie pressed her lips together. She knew why he’d married Marilyn. Love and Chad.

He married me because we’re friends.

Are you sure?

Of course.

She gulped a breath. “Those things don’t give her the right to ignore her son. I hope you’re not still paying alimony and child support.”

“Don’t know. My accountant takes care of my bills.”

“Did you tell him about Marilyn’s marriage, and the change in the custody agreement?”

“Afraid not.”

“Are you crazy?”

He shrugged. “I thought…never mind.”

Carrie’s shoulder muscles tightened. Had he thought Marilyn would return, or that she wouldn’t marry Brinker? Maybe he believed she would change her mind about Chad.

“You should call your accountant, and your attorney, to make sure your rights are protected. Have you seen the custody papers?”

“She said her lawyer would send everything to mine.”

Carrie wanted to shake some sense into him. “She can’t be allowed to upset Chad’s life every time she has a whim.” Carrie gulped a breath. “I’d sure find a way so she could never see him again.”

“I can’t do that. She’s his mother.”

The anguish in his voice stopped her. Even after all this time, he still loved Marilyn. That sure blasted the chances of a happy new marriage for them.

“When are you going to tell Chad? You can’t keep pushing this away. He’s being torn in two directions. That’s a lot for a child to handle.”

He put his arms around her. “I’ve really made a mess of things.”

Though being in his arms felt wonderful, his reasons weren’t the ones she wanted to hear. She eased away. “If you want me to be with you when you tell him, let me know.” She walked to the window and stared at the moon.

“Would you go shopping with us? For his bedroom.”

“Sounds like a good idea. Cabbage rose wallpaper is a bit sissy for a boy. Is he excited?”

“Is he ever calm?” Tony laughed. “Right now, he’s dreaming of bunk beds.”

“The wallpaper needs to be stripped.”

“I’ll ask Hazel if she knows a handyman.”

“Why? I bet the hardware store has a tool to make the job easier. I’ll explore tomorrow and start the job. After breakfast, I’ll ask him what color he wants for the room and buy the paint.”

“You don’t mind all this work?”

“It’s fun. Keeps me busy. And you did say this was my house.”

“Guess I did.”

He joined her at the window. Questions arose, but she kept them inside. For how long would the house be hers?  When would he look at her and see more than a friend?

 

* * *

 

Carrie paused to look at the display of curtains and matching bedspreads. She saw several that might appeal to Chad. She turned to ask his opinion and discovered he’d disappeared. She spotted Tony, but where was Chad?

“Carrie, you got to come here.” Chad’s head appeared over the end of the upper bunk.

She headed toward him. “What are you doing up there?”

“Testing the mattress. You gotta tell Dad I don’t want a dorky bed. This is one I want.”

“Let me check it out.”

He scrambled down the ladder. “Look at the drawers under the bottom bunk. I can keep stuff in them. The desk has a secret compartment. “Cool, right?”

She laughed and looked at the price tag. “You sure have good taste.”

Tony appeared. “Your new favorite?  What about the red tubular, or the one with a double bed on the lower bunk?”

“I changed my mind.” Chad hugged his father. “This is the one.”

“You sure?”

“Yes, yes, yes.”

“Then it’s yours.”

“Do you think there’ll be room at Mr. Brinker’s for them.”

“Whoa, they’re for our house. If your mother wants to duplicate the set, she can buy it. You know, I might keep you with me forever.”

Carrie saw yearning in Chad’s eyes. Tell him, she thought. Was Tony wrong about his son’s wish to return to his mother?  Did Chad want to stay with Tony?  The question wasn’t hers to ask. She waited. Instead of speaking, Tony waved to the salesperson.

Carrie took Chad’s hand. “While your dad buys the set, let’s look at curtains and stuff. My treat.”

“You don’t have to,” Tony said.

“I want to...Oh, set up delivery for next Saturday.”

“Why?”

“So the room will be ready and someone will be home to accept delivery. Wouldn’t want to hang Hazel up all day waiting for them to come.”

“You won’t be there?”

“There’s something I have to tell you. On Monday...”

“Come on.” Chad pulled on her arm. “Let’s get the stuff so we can eat. I’m starved.”

 

* * *

 

Carrie sat up and glared at the clock. She was going to be late on her first day at the clinic. Why had she turned off the alarm?  A few minutes had turned into a half hour.

She grabbed a uniform, washed, and dressed. Usually, Chad’s pleas and Tony’s answers woke her. They must have been quiet this morning. After brushing her teeth, she dashed into the hall. There was nothing worse than being late for work.

She paused at the head of the stairs. Tony stood at the front door. “Wait,” she called.

“Can’t. There’s a slew of calls to make. We’ll talk this evening, or if I get a chance, I’ll call.”

She sighed.
I tried to tell him when we were at the mall. I started to say something when we got home, but he retreated to his den.

You didn’t try hard enough.

There wasn’t a good time.

Hah, you turned chicken.

BOOK: A Marriage Takes Two
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