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Authors: Janet Lane-Walters

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BOOK: A Marriage Takes Two
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“You’re not bad.”

“One time I kicked Brian and Mom said I was bad. She smacked me.”

“Are you worried about yelling at Carrie?”

Chad nodded. “You’re sending me back to Mom, right? I want to live with you...and...Mom...”

“That’s impossible. You’re staying with me.”

“Then Carrie will leave.”

“She won’t.”

“Mom don’t want me to live here. She said if you ever got married again, she would stop you and I’d never see you again.”

“She didn’t stop me.”

“But she isn’t home, and she’ll make me live in Brian’s house when she gets back. She says I belong to her.”

“You won’t go back. That’s a promise. You have choices, and if you want to stay here every day, you can. You don’t even have to visit her.”

Chad shook his head. “You don’t know her.”

Maybe Chad was right, but Marilyn’s latest plan showed there was no room in her life for her son. “There’s something else. Hazel wanted you to go to the city and stay at the hotel. Maybe visit Ben and go to the museum.”

Chad stared at his feet. “I can’t go. I’m on punishment, right?”

Tony nodded. “What do you think your punishment should be?”

“Tell Carrie I’m sorry. No TV and no phone. Maybe a spanking.”

“Have I ever spanked you?”

“No, but...never mind.” Chad looked up. “I would really like to see Ben.”

“Let’s see how the rest of the week goes.”

“I’ll be good. Maybe I’d better show Carrie how to make grilled cheese.”

“Good idea. I think she’s started the soup. Bet she burns it.”

“Dad, it’s one of those boxes. Who could ruin that?”

Tony stepped into the hall. “I smell something and it’s not Hazel’s coffee.”

“Come on, Dad, we have to take care of Carrie.”

 

* * *

 

On Friday afternoon, Carrie reached for the last chart in the stack. One more note and she was done. In fifteen minutes, the bus would drop Chad off and they’d pack for his weekend trip. She and Tony would be alone, and the idea unsettled her. How would she keep from acting in some foolish way?

“Carrie.”

The sound of his voice caused her pen to slide across the page. “What’s up?”

“You busy?”

“One chart, and then I have to meet Chad.” She stared at his serious expression. “Did Hazel change her mind?”

“Not that I know of. Just wanted to know if you’d like to come when I drive Chad to the city.”

“His furniture’s being delivered.”

“I forgot. We’re not ready.”

“All we have to do is paint. I’ll start when I get home. Pick up a pizza for dinner.”

“He’s still got a bunch of stuff all over the room.”

“He’ll clear it out, never fear. Don’t be a pessimist. You never used to be one.”

Not until Marilyn announced her pregnancy and he’d known he would marry her. Once he’d been like Carrie and seen life as a series of adventures. “Guess I have been.”

“You got that.”

She looked into his eyes and saw desire. He wanted her, and she wanted him. Tomorrow night they would be alone. She’d find a way to change his mind about the nature of the marriage. She closed the chart and rose. “Let me go. Chad’s waiting.”

“Carrie.”

“Yes.”

“You’re good for him, and you’ve been good for me.”

“Thanks.” She headed to the stairs.

He caught her hand and turned her to face him. His lips brushed hers in a kiss as fleeting as a shadow. She stepped toward him. This was what she wanted and what she needed.

What about his love?

An impossible dream.

“Sorry,” he said.

“This isn’t a good place.”

“Or a good time,” he said.

She hurried away. He needed her, but not forever, and not for love. “Or a good idea,” she whispered.

“See you later,” he called. “There’s something we need to discuss. Something you can’t continue avoiding.”

What did he mean?
She couldn’t afford to be hurt by him again. This time, she wouldn’t recover. On Wednesday, they would meet Mr. Hurcutt. He would sign the money over. Then she’d be free to leave, though she wanted to stay.

 

* * *

 

Tony watched Carrie. He shouldn’t have kissed her. At least not here. For a brief instant, there’d been hunger in her eyes. Her response confused him. She’d always been open and impatient. Since the wedding, she’d become wary. Tomorrow they would talk about the will and decide what to do. Would she opt to keep the truth from the attorney? Would they make love if neither of them could speak of commitment?

He started downstairs. To continue to think about the marriage was to go in circles. He entered the first examining room and immersed himself in the needs of a patient.

“Mrs. Greene, I’m pleased. Your pressure’s down and you’ve lost five pounds. Any dizziness with the new medicine?”

The elderly and over-weight woman shook her head. “Not so’s I noticed. Been eating bananas like you said. What’s the story about Ben Smithton?”

“He’s improving.”

“My man died from the black lung. Was in the days afore much could be done. Been a widow near thirty years.”

“That’s a shame.”

“Nothing a body could do. Beth give me a new diet. Gonna lose five more pounds. Got a great grand coming. Want to be around to see her smile.”

“Keep up the good work and you will.”

Tony walked her to the door. Beth pulled the remaining charts from his basket. “Two cancellations. I’ve rescheduled them for Monday.”

“You mean I get to go home early?  That’s twice this week.”

“Lucky you. Want to take one of my kids?”

“No problem.”

She laughed. “No need. See you Monday afternoon. Jane and I have house call duty.’

He grabbed his jacket and headed to the car. He wished Mr. Brodie had kept his appointment. The man’s symptoms were a puzzle. Tony thought about discussing the case with Carrie the way they had years ago. She might even have some ideas about other tests he could order.

If he hadn’t been such a jerk, he and Carrie would have turned friendship into love. He wouldn’t have Chad though. He didn’t regret his son, just the casual way he’d been conceived….flattery, champagne, and lust, along with a woman determined to marry a man she thought would give her money and prestige. What a fool he’d been. Now he had the wife he wanted, but he didn’t deserve her love, nor could he make that promise to her.

When he pulled into the driveway, he saw Hazel’s car. Ben, he thought. Had something gone wrong?

He dashed up the steps and opened the front door. The garlicky aroma of Hazel’s red sauce lured him to the kitchen. He heard her singing. Relief slowed his strides. She would never be so light-hearted if her husband was in danger.

He stopped in the doorway. “What are you doing here?”

She turned. “Making sure you don’t starve, and that I earn my wages.”

“Do we look like we’re wasting away?”

“I saw the empty boxes. Pizza. Microwave dinners. Wrap the one you brought home, put it in the freezer and have it next week.”

“How’s Ben?”

“Making a miraculous recovery, so the doctor says. He may be out of ICU tomorrow. News about Chad’s visit perked him up. Gonna watch football with the boy on Sunday. Figured I’d take Chad back with me.”

Tony poured a mug of coffee, sipped and nearly choked. “Yours?”

“Weren’t none but that fancy stuff your wife makes.”

“I was going to bring Chad down in the morning.”

“Waste of gas, not to mention time. Needed to fetch Ben’s robe and slippers. He don’t think much about them hospital things. Needed a bunch of cookies for the nurses. Raided the freezer. Not many left.”

“No problem. Must have been a dozen kinds in there. I could still bring Chad in the morning.”

“Don’t be a fool. Figured you and Carrie could use the time. Look on this as a wedding present. Didn’t give you one.”

“You made the cake.”

“With your ingredients.” She snorted. “Seems you need a smack on your noggin. For a smart man, you are dumb.”

“What?”

She laughed. “Use your eyes and look at your wife. I won’t say a thing more.”

Chad dropped a stuffed knapsack on the kitchen floor. “Should I take this to the car?  Hi, Dad.”

“Going somewhere?”

“With Hazel, so you don’t have to drive me.”

Though his son’s early departure had changed the weekend plans, he couldn’t say no. Not when he saw the eagerness in Chad’s eyes and knew how worried his son had been about Ben.

“Promise you’ll behave.”

“I will. You, too.”

Hazel’s burst of laughter made Tony shake his head. “Will do.”

“When I come back, my room’s gonna be done. Carrie said she would paint all night if she had to. Me and her put all the books and toys in the hall.”

“You were busy.”

“I could stay and help paint.”

“We’ll be fine.” He heard a crash and ran into the hall. “Carrie, are you all right?”

She appeared at the head of the stairs. “Just dropped a drawer.”

“Would you wait for me?”

“Always.” She ran down the stairs.

Tony gripped the banister. Surely she was teasing. “Chad and Hazel are leaving.”

Ten minutes later, Tony and Carrie stood on the porch and waved at the departing car. “It’s you and me,” he said.

“Yeah. Do we eat or paint?”

What about neither?
He didn’t voice the question for fear of her answer. “Paint, eat, and paint some more. You promised Chad the room would be done.”

“So I did. Grab the paint and I’ll bring the brushes, rollers, and pans.”

 

Chapter 8

 

Carrie stretched the reach the final spot on the wall. “Done.” She climbed from the ladder and stood in the middle of Chad’s bedroom. Her arms and shoulders ached, but the room looked great. Light green walls, white ceiling, and woodwork the same shade as the dark oak furniture Chad had chosen. By tomorrow, the room would be perfect.

“I think I’ll hang the curtains,” she said.

Tony put his brush on the paint can. “You’re kidding. Leave something for tomorrow.” He draped his arm around her shoulders. “We done good, kid. Let’s have coffee and dessert. Hazel made cannolis.”

For a moment, she’d thought he was finally making a move, but then he’d called her kid. They were pals, buddies, everything except man and wife. “I guess so, but don’t you want to see how it’s going to look?”

“Must you always rush?”

“Me?” she asked. “Not always. Took me three months to propose.” She figured it would take that many years before he figured how much she cared for him. How would he react if she told him she loved him? She couldn’t take the risk. She paused at the door. “Chad’s going to be thrilled with the room.”

“Thanks to you. I think he finally understands he’s staying here and not returning to his mother.”

“Maybe you’re right.” She groaned. Why did she mention Chad?  The expression on Tony’s face meant he was thinking about his ex-wife.

He pulled his tee shirt over his head and wiped his face. “Why don’t we shower before dessert?”

Together?

Don’t you wish?

That’s not going to happen. Now, while he’s still in love with Marilyn.

The sight of his bare chest mesmerized her. Was he out to drive her over the edge? Her hands itched to touch. She watched the play of his muscles. Blood rushed through her veins when her gaze slid to the dark hair that tapered toward the waistband of the sweats that rode low on his hips. She inhaled deeply and the scent of him made her body ache.

Cool it, Carrie.

How?

How could she douse a fire when fuel was added with each breath, each glance, and each touch? “I’m going to hang the curtains.”

“Tomorrow. We’ll do them together,” he said. “Hit the shower.” He tapped the tip of her nose. “You’ve paint here and your hair has green polka dots.”

That’s telling you how attractive you are.

Just stop it.

She sucked in a breath and immediately regretted the action. The air was heavy with his scent and laden with desire. This weekend was about to become the longest days of her life.

Blood pooled in her lower abdomen and throbbed with a steady beat. She looked up and saw his eyes darkened with need. Why not love, she wanted to cry. The look was urgent and lacked the tenderness she craved. She broke the connection. Tony strode away, lifted the roller pans and the cans of paint.

After he vanished into Chad’s room, she leaned against the wall in the hall and gulped breaths of air that failed to dilute his scent. What was she going to do?

“Carrie, are you all right?” Tony called.

“I’m fine.” She swallowed. Was she, when even the sound of his voice made her skin tingle?

“Get your shower. I’ll clean the pans and start the coffee.”

“I’m on my way.”

If she had any sense, she would shower and go to bed. Much more time in his company and she’d attack him. Then he’d remind her of their bargain. She was much too aware of him. She’d skip the cannolis. Anything they needed to discuss could wait until morning.

Chicken!

You bet.

She dashed into her bedroom and tripped over the shoes she’d kicked off that afternoon. Her hand struck the box on the dresser. Red silk spilled on the floor.

An omen. Why not, she thought. Not that Tony would see the sexy items, but there was no reason to keep the tap pants and camisole in a box.

She filled the tub and added bubble bath. As she soaked her aching body in the heated water, she glanced at the door to Tony’s bedroom and her thoughts steamed. In her fantasies, he opened the door and joined her.

Would he do that?

Get real. There’ll be no repeat of the first night you bathed here.

She inhaled deeply. Her brow wrinkled. She must be experiencing an olfactory hallucination. Beneath the floral scent of the bubble bath, she sensed the essence of her husband.

You’re losing it.

Wrong. I lost my mind the minute I proposed.

As the heat of the water relaxed her aching muscles, she pondered her dilemma. Why was she afraid of the desire she’d seen in Tony’s eyes? She’d wanted him even before she understood what the feelings had meant. Every man she’d met had been measured against him, and rejected. She should be turning cartwheels, leading cheers, and grabbing what he offered.

They were friends and colleagues. For Pete’s sake, they were married. She loved him. She wanted him as her lover. Why wasn’t that enough?  Why did she want him to love her as much as she loved him?

 

* * *

 

Tony stood at the sink in the laundry room and cleaned the roller pans. The weekend had deviated from the plans he’d made for the seduction of Carrie. He’d planned to buy flowers and wine on his way back from leaving Chad in the city with Hazel. Instead, his son was gone. He’d made reservations for dinner tomorrow evening. Then Hazel had made enough red sauce to feed them for a week. He’d have to find new ideas, starting with coffee and dessert.

He left the pans and brushes to soak. In the kitchen, he took two mugs from the cabinet and realized the coffee-maker contained the remains of Hazel’s bitter brew. He started a new pot.

Where was Carrie?  Surely, she’d finished her shower? The curtains. He groaned and took the stairs two at a time, but she wasn’t in Chad’s room.

In his bedroom, he stripped off his jeans, shoes and sox. He reached in the drawer for a pair of briefs and pulled out the red boxers.
Why not?
Carrie’s matching outfit flashed into his thoughts. He felt hot, hard, and frustrated.

He opened the bathroom door a crack. Empty, but not without evidence of her recent presence. A floral scent, fog on the mirror; a few stray bubbles on the porcelain. His body stirred. Why couldn’t she have showered? He adjusted the shower head, stepped into the tub and closed the curtain.

Thoughts of sharing this space with his wife aroused him. He washed and turned off the water. After reaching for the towel, he allowed his imagination to create erotic images with Carrie as the featured player.

A sound scattered the dream. He peered around the curtain. The sight of Carrie in the red silk outfit sent his senses into overdrive. She faced the full-length mirror and struck a seductive pose.

Did she know he was in the shower?

He hoped she did. A growl of appreciation rumbled from his throat. She gasped. Her skin vied with the scarlet top.

“Sorry. I thought you were finished. The water went off ten minutes ago.”

He reached around the curtain and grabbed the boxers. “I was thinking...”

She reached for the door to her room. “It’s okay. I’ll leave.”

“Carrie.” Her name emerged in a harsh whisper. He stepped from the tub and caught her hand. “You look terrific. I’d imagined you...”

Oh, lord, he felt like a sixteen year old.

The color of her cheeks darkened. “I’m sorry. I should have knocked before I barged in. I didn’t mean...I’m not playing a game.”

“I never thought you were. It’s not games I want.” He put his arms around her waist and pulled her until her back touched his chest.

He stared at their reflection and saw vulnerability in her eyes he didn’t understand. This was Carrie who plunged into new situations and then stopped to savor them. Didn’t she know he’d never hurt her?

He heard Mrs. Graham’s voice
. “You already have. She cried for days after you married that woman.”

Not this time, he vowed. This time, he would make things right and she would never leave. And you, an inner voice questioned. Will you be like your father?  One day, will you just walk away?  He clenched his teeth. He didn’t know.

The heat of Tony’s body penetrated the silk camisole. Carrie swallowed. Their images in the mirror made her think of love, but in his eyes she saw only desire. She felt his body’s response. Then he released her and she was free to go, but she couldn’t leave him. This moment had been pending since the night she’d arrived on his doorstep and proposed a marriage of convenience.

Asking him to marry her had been a selfish act, she thought. The benefits were hers. What had Tony gained? A wife who wasn’t a wife. He wanted her. She wanted more, perhaps more than he could give.

She turned. As though drawn by a compulsion, she lightly brushed her hands over the dark hair on his chest. He made a sound somewhere between a growl and a groan. She caressed his pectorals and felt his nipples tighten the way hers had. He pulled her close.

Silk whispered over flesh. She moaned, or maybe he did. His lips touched her forehead. He cupped her rear and pressed her against his erection.

“I’ve wanted you since our wedding night,” he said.

She raised on her toes. “You never said, never asked, never let me know.”

“We have a bargain.”

“I thought...Do you still...” Her thoughts were fragmented by what she saw in his eyes. She slid her hands from his chest to his shoulders. His lips touched hers and she felt a rush akin to the one she’d felt at the wedding. This jolt was more acute, more urgent. She loved him. She always had. He wanted her. Could she be content to have his body without his heart?  The things he made her feel and what he made her want pushed the question aside. She surrendered to the sensations that stormed through her body to banish her fears.

Tony traced Carrie’s lips with his tongue. Her eyes smoldered with desire. She moved and her silk top stroked his skin. She tasted of mint and smelled like flowers. Her lips parted. His tongue touched hers, tangled and twined.

She stroked his nape, tangled her fingers in his hair. Her tongue moved slowly over his and reminded him of a cat lapping cream. He wanted to carry her to the bed. He wanted to tear off her clothes and thrust into her to claim her as his own. Not yet. The thought penetrated his hazed thoughts. He released her mouth and lightened the embrace.

“You know what I want.” His voice cracked like an adolescent’s.

“I know, and I want you.” Her whispered response elated him.

“Are you sure?”

“As much as I’ve ever been.”

He slid his hands over her silk top. He caught her lower lip between his teeth and lightly tasted before sliding his mouth over her chin to nuzzle her collarbone.

She sighed and the whisper of her breath rushed over him. She arched back and he widened his stance. His mouth captured silk and the tip of her breast. He suckled the hard kernel. She surged against him.

“Tony...I never knew.”

He scooped her into his arms and carried her into his bedroom. With one hand, he pulled back the covers on the bed. “Tonight you’re mine.”

“Oh, yes,” she said.

He breathed in air laden with her floral scent and a subtle aroma that belonged to her alone. For too long, she’d been his dream. Somehow, he knew reality would be more intense than any fantasy encounter. Beneath his desire lay a fear of what would happen when she left him. He pushed this worry into a dark corner and focused on his wife.

He lay on the bed beside her and ran a finger along the narrow band of silk that crossed her shoulders. She turned toward him and brushed her lips across his chest until she reached his nipple. Her tongue flicked the nub.

A lightning sensation shot to his groin. For a moment, he feared he would erupt. He raised her head and kissed her with fresh intensity. He growled her name and slid his hand beneath her top.

If this be a dream, let it linger until time ends, she thought. The scent of him permeated all her cells. She explored his chest with light touches and firm strokes. Her hand moved down to his abdomen. She licked his skin. The musky salt was ambrosia. She felt light, giddy. Laughter filled her thoughts. He was what she wanted, only him. The yearning had filled most of her life.

Will he be disappointed?

With hands and mouth, he caressed her breasts. A thrill sent her spiraling. Her fingers brushed his arousal. His rumbling growls and guttural sounds were the most sensual music she’d ever heard.

He covered her hand with his. “Not yet, or this will be over too soon.”

He wants me, she thought. In his gaze, she caught a spark of love. Should she speak, tell him how she felt?  She wanted to cry her love, and hear his confession. Before she could speak, his mouth found hers and his tongue slid past her lips in a rhythmic movement that matched the throbbing beat of her pulse.

She grasped the waistband of his boxers and inched them down. He swept off her camisole and then the tap pants. He ended the kiss and pulled his shorts from his legs.

Her gaze devoured his nude body and focused on his arousal. Would he be disappointed?  She felt unsure, yet eager. He knelt between her raised knees and bent to suckle her breasts. His mouth moved down her abdomen toward the place where his fingers worked a magic that left her gasping for breath.

BOOK: A Marriage Takes Two
11.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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