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Authors: Janet Lane-Walters

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BOOK: A Marriage Takes Two
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“Tony,” she whispered.

“Soon,” he said. “I want this to be perfect.”

His tongue touched where his fingers had been. She felt a surge of exquisite pleasure.

When Carrie’s body shuddered with pleasure and a gush of wetness, he raised his head. She’s beautiful. The sprite had become a woman who, siren-like, drew him to the rocks. For him to love her would court disaster, yet he feared the moment to protect his emotions had passed. He couldn’t let her go without being hurt.

He kissed her and thrust inside. When he hit a barrier, she stiffened. He raised his head and looked into his eyes. “Carrie.” He started to draw back.

“Don’t. Please.” She caressed his back.

He kept his strokes slow and shallow when he wanted to plunge. When she wrapped her legs around his hips and began to move, he matched her rhythm. The barrier vanished and so did his control.

He heard her cry his name. A sound built in his chest that erupted in a roar. He collapsed against her and gulped shuddering breaths. He stroked her sweat-slicked body and reveled in the magic they had wrought.

She was his and his alone. She’d never known another man. The thought awed him, yet he couldn’t say he loved her for that would give her a power he couldn’t cede.

His fingers tangled in her hair. He kissed the corners of her mouth. “Thank you. That was…”

“Incredible,” she said. “Indescribable. Intense.” She stroked his face.

He smiled and turned so they lay face to face. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“What?”

“That I was the first. I could have hurt you. Been too rough.”

“You were wonderful. Did I do something wrong?”

He kissed the tip of her nose. “You were perfect. Why did you wait?  There must have been other men who wanted you.”

Maybe there had been, but she hadn’t given them a chance. She closed her eyes lest she reveal what she couldn’t tell him. She couldn’t admit he was the only man she had ever wanted, that he’d gone from childhood friend, to teenage crush, to the man she’d wanted to marry.

Another woman had received that love. Another woman had borne his son. That woman abandoned and hurt him, something Carrie prayed she would never do.

“Carrie, why?” he asked.

“You know how hectic my schedule’s been,” she said. “I didn’t have time for a social life.”

Her mother, he thought. That’s why she married me, and tonight, they’d protected her inheritance.

She toyed with the hair on his chest. To his surprise, his body stirred. He wanted her again. He sucked in a breath. Years ago, he desired her and he still did. He traced lazy circles on her skin and kissed her eyelids before moving to ravish her mouth. He would make this a night she would never forget.

 

* * *

 

Sunlight streaming through the windows woke Tony. He rolled on his side. Lord, she was beautiful, and all he’d ever wanted. He brushed her cheek with a light kiss. The shrill sound of the doorbell broke the silence.

Carrie sat up and the sheet pooled around her waist. “The alarm. Are we late for work?”

The bell rang again. “It’s Saturday,” Tony said. “Someone’s at the door.” His gaze focused on her breasts.

A third set of peals came in an impatient burst. “The door. Chad’s furniture.” She jumped out of bed. “I’ll let them in.”

“Not like that, you won’t.” He grabbed his sweats and pulled them on. “Get dressed. I’ll handle this.”

He hadn’t planned on this rude awakening. He’d thought of soft kisses and gentle caresses. He’d dreamed of sharing the shower, of making love. He’d considered a dozen other arousing moments that wouldn’t happen this morning and maybe never.

He reached the foyer. The marble floor felt like ice against his bare feet. He opened the door.

“Were you sleeping?” a burly man asked.

“Yeah.”

“Rough night?”

“You could say that.” Tony couldn’t mask his grin.

“Expecting a delivery?”

“Bedroom furniture.”

The man turned. “This is the place. Where does the stuff go?”

“Upstairs. I’ll show you.”

By the time the bunk beds were assembled and the rest of the furniture uncrated, Carrie stepped into the room. She wore jeans that hugged her hips and a striped jersey. Her tousled hair brought memories of the past night and this morning. He grinned.

“You want breakfast?” she asked.

The burly man turned. “Lady, it’s more like lunch. It’s nice to see a couple with a kid bunk bed age look at each other the way you do. Take care, or you might get another.”

Carrie’s face turned scarlet. She bolted from the room.

Tony frowned. Why had she run?  From him?  From the teasing?  Had she run because she was embarrassed by last night’s passion?  Surely she knew what they’d done had been necessary.

He groaned. Last night was the greatest sex he’d ever had. The passion Carrie had shown had been natural. There’d been no games or duplicity.

Sex, he thought. They’d made love, even though no words had been said.

He stopped short. A realization blasted into his awareness. The words the delivery man had said hit home. Once again, passion had ruled. Chad was the result of a night of careless sex. What if Carrie was pregnant?

She hadn’t married him for forever, just until her inheritance was secure. He gripped the banister and followed the delivery men downstairs. By Wednesday, the money would be released. She would leave, and he had to let her go.

He dashed upstairs and showered. How could he let Carrie walk away and keep himself from being hurt? What he felt wasn’t love, but he needed her. She was his.

The phone rang. He grabbed the one by the bed. “Flynn residence...Beth, what’s up.”

“I’ve had a rash of accidents this morning. Three kids who need stitches, one broken arm, and a possible fractured tibia.”

“I’m on my way. Give me ten minutes.” He quickly dressed and headed downstairs. In the kitchen, he poured a mug of coffee. “Carrie,” he called.

She popped out of the pantry. “A problem?”

“Sort of. I have to go to the clinic.”

“Guess you don’t want brunch.”

“Sorry.”

A lump formed in Carrie’s throat. Last night had been wonderful, and Tony had been everything she’d imagined. This morning, he acted like they were strangers. “Will you be long?”

“Don’t know. Sounds like there’s an epidemic of accidents. Beth sounded frazzled.” He put the mug down. “While I’m there, I’ll make rounds and save myself another trip.”

The brisk tone of his voice brought tears closer to the surface. What had she done wrong? She kept her back to him. “See you when you get home.”

Once he left the kitchen, Carrie let out her held breath. She hadn’t done anything wrong. He’d just remembered she wasn’t the woman he loved.

She pinched the bridge of her nose to stop the trickle of tears. Crying solved nothing. When he returned, she intended to discover where their marriage was headed.

Really?

I will. I have to know, but I’m afraid of what he’ll say.

She drained her mug and rinsed Tony’s. Then she strode upstairs to Chad’s room where she hung curtains and made beds. She put his clothes in the drawers and the closet, placed toys and books on the shelves. The activity kept her from thinking about Tony and the hopeless state of their marriage.

 

Chapter 9

 

Carrie brunched on peanut butter, jelly, and frustration. Why had Tony’s mood changed? Last night, he’d been an ardent and caring lover and she’d sensed his love. This morning, she’d awakened to find his blue eyes glazed with hunger, and what she thought went beyond desire. Then the doorbell had rung. Even in the few minutes while he’d dressed, his eyes had held a promise. She’d showered and gone to Chad’s room and found the contained man he’d been for most of their marriage.

She sucked in a breath. The arrival of Chad’s new furniture must have reminded him of his son, and his son’s mother. Even after more than two years, the woman had Tony tied in knots.

A spurt of anger entered her thoughts and was followed by a gush of hurt. She wanted to point out how destructive his ex-wife had been to him and his son. How could he cling to a hopeless love?

She groaned. She had done that. Until her grandfather entered her life, she’d pretended loving Tony hadn’t hurt and convinced herself their friendship hadn’t mattered. With her grandfather, she’d shared stories of her childhood and told him about Tony.

“You love him,” her grandfather had said.

“As a friend, a brother.”

The elderly man had shaken his head. “Don’t lie to yourself. For too many years, I did that. I lost my chance to know and love you. Child, the man’s divorced. Either go after him, or excise him from your heart.”

Could she do either had been the question she’d struggled with for two months after her grandfather’s will had been read. Her thoughts had circled from hope to despair. One thing had troubled her. In all the years since his divorce, Tony hadn’t come to her. He’d been the one who had walked away and his words that day had hurt. He loved his wife. She and the child she carried must come first.

They still do.

Are you sure?

With a sigh, she left the kitchen. What now, she wondered. Tony had finally seen her as a woman, but not as the woman he loved. How long could she endure his indifference?  She shook her head. He wasn’t disinterested, or indifferent. He just wasn’t in love with her. She stood in the family room and wondered what she should do until he returned from the clinic.

The phone rang. She grabbed the extension in the foyer. “Flynn residence.”

“Carrie, I’ll be tied up for a bit, but I wanted to let you know I’ve made dinner reservations for seven thirty.”

“You’ll be tired. We don’t have to go out. I’ll cook some pasta to go with Hazel’s sauce.”

“Tempting, but I want to take you out. You’ll like Greene’s Tavern. It’ll be a treat for me to eat somewhere besides the mall.”

“There is that,” she said. He sounded different than he had before he left. More warm, more sexy. “How dressy?”

“Nothing fancy. It’s not a sophisticated place, but there’s a great ambiance and wonderful food.”

“How long will you be?”

“Who knows?  I’m waiting for some bone films. So far there have been six skateboard and bike accidents. Thank heaven Chad’s not home. I’m sure he would be one of the gang.”

“Maybe not. He’s less awkward than most of his friends.”

Tony chuckled. “So were Jerry and I. Think of how many bones we broke and how many stitches we had. You were the lucky one.”

“You’re right.” She should have asked if he needed help. She was experienced in trauma nursing. Helping would be better than stewing until time for dinner. She dialed the clinic number and got no answer.

Diversion, she thought and charged upstairs. Chad’s room was in order. So was hers. She paused in the doorway of Tony’s room. His bed had been well-used and looked that way. She crossed the room and saw a small dark spot on the white sheet. Her cheeks flushed. Quickly, she stripped the bed and found clean linen.

As she carried the dirty sheets to the laundry room, the lingering scent of love-making brought a rush of memories of the past night’s incredible event. Unless Tony moved past whatever had troubled him this morning that night wouldn’t be repeated.

She added other white clothes to the load and started the washer. Then she grabbed her jacket and left by the kitchen door. A walk might clear her head and leave less time to fret about Tony and what she could do to change the direction of their marriage.

Twenty minutes later, she emerged from the woods into a clearing and saw the shell of a large house. Chad’s haunted house, she thought. The dark holes that had once been windows and doors added to the gloomy appearance. She strode up the flagstone walk through what must have been a formal garden and stood at the foot of the broken steps leading to the front porch.

She shook her head. The place was dangerous. Did Tony realize that? She walked around the house and saw what must have been stables and a rutted road. In the distance, she saw the school. She retraced her steps and headed home. Chad told her a murder had taken place in the house. Was that the reason it had been abandoned?  Though she knew little about architecture, the house appeared older than Tony’s Victorian.

At the house, she put one load of clothes in the dryer and started another. Then she searched in her closet for an outfit to wear to dinner. Unless her underwear counted, everything she owned was plain and practical. Jeans, sweats, leggings, tee shirts, sweaters, and uniforms.

 

* * *

 

At quarter to seven, the front door opened. “Carrie, are you ready? I won’t be long.”

She looked at his blood splattered tee shirt. “Anyone seriously injured?”

“Serious, no. Messy, yes. One head laceration, and you know how they bleed. Two nose bleeds. One broken arm. Seventy stitches on five boys.”

“No helmets?”

He nodded. “Three, no. Three, yes. Gave them safety lectures with their sutures.” He paused at the foot of the stairs. “See you in a few.”

“I’ll be here.”

He grinned. “Figured you would be. You look great.”

“Thanks.” She turned away. She looked great?  Black leggings and a pale green tunic sweater didn’t seem great, but Tony thought they were. Her heart beat faster. Maybe, just maybe, she had a chance for a marriage that was more than in name only.

She shook her head. One compliment did not a marriage make, especially considering his attitude this morning. She thought of the times she’d seen Marilyn. His ex-wife was tall, blonde and beautiful. She’d preferred tight skirts and blouses with necklines that displayed charms Carrie only dreamed of possessing.

Not my style, she thought. She couldn’t dress like that to stir Tony’s interest, but an investment in a different wardrobe might help.

Who was she kidding?

Still, I just might do it. You never know.

She stood at the door and stared outside. A few snowflakes drifted lazily in the air. Clouds grayed the moon. The streetlights glistened on the snow sprinkled trees and bushes. How lovely, she thought.

“Ready?”

She nodded. He’d changed into jeans and a sweater a few shades darker than his eyes. He’d missed a bit of tissue stuck to a razor cut on his chin. She reached to remove it. She heard a quick intake of breath and saw his expression change.

She swallowed against the lump in her throat. She knew why they weren’t eating at home. Having dinner out meant less time together. She grabbed her jacket from the hall tree and reached the car before he was out the door.

In the car, silence clotted like spoiled milk. Tony backed into the street and headed out of town. Clouds hid the moon now. A blues song came from the car’s speakers. She felt tears gather. How could she maintain her composure for an entire evening?

A short time later, Tony pulled into a gravel-studded parking lot. A stone two story building with dim lights above the door drew her attention. “How old?” she asked.

Tony shrugged. “Not sure when it was built, but the tavern’s been here since the area was settled. Always known as Greene’s. Descendants of the original owner still run the place.”

Carrie noted the small windows with brown shutters set high on the first floor walls. “Have they remodeled?”

“A bit. Turned the rooms upstairs into an apartment and added the kitchen wing.”

She unfastened her seatbelt and opened the door. Tony took her hand. His fingers laced with hers and the warmth penetrated the chill she’d felt all day. When they reached the door, he held it for her, and then rested his hands on her shoulders.

The room reminded her of a cave. The small high windows allowed a glimmer of light into the room. The massive oak bar dominated one side of the room. At the far end, a fire blazed in a fireplace complete with an iron kettle on a hook. Black andirons flanked the sides. The aroma of cider and spices permeated the air. A waitress used a ladle to fill a mug of the spicy liquid from the kettle.

“Dr. Flynn, good to see you. It’s been ages.” A heavy-set woman wearing a floral print dress moved lightly toward them. “Mama came home yesterday. Saw Aunt Hazel Smithton when we was waiting for her. She said Uncle Ben was doing good.”

Tony grasped her hand. “So I’ve heard, too. Is your son keeping his stitches dry?”

“He’d better. He’s grounded.”

As the woman spoke, she studied Carrie. Carrie’s hands curled into tight balls.

“Mildred Greene, this is my wife, Carrie.” His hand slid to Carrie’s waist. “I’m sure you’ll be seeing each other at the clinic. Carrie’s on board there. Mildred has three boys and a daughter.”

The woman laughed. “And everyone is an accident waiting to happen. Welcome to the tavern, Mrs. Flynn. Sure surprised everybody when the doctor got married in such a rush but, seeing you, I can understand why.”

“Surprised me, too,” Tony said. “Carrie and I’ve been friends for ages. Hadn’t seen each other for a bit. When she stopped by, I figured I’d better grab her before she got lost again.”

Carrie swallowed. She wished he meant the words that sounded so sincere.

“Saved you a table in the back room by the fireplace. Bit more private than the main room.”

She led them through a large rectangular room with a pair of trestle tables on either end and several smaller ones in the center. They entered a dimly lit room with four tables placed to ensure privacy. Candles in globes cast light and shadows on the pale green tablecloths.

“I almost feel like I’ve stepped back in time.” Carrie studied the muskets above the fireplace.

Tony held her chair. “I know the feeling.”

“So where’s the menu?”

He pointed to a small slate on the table. “The winter menu. Only the soup and desserts change.”

“So what do you recommend?”

“Everything. Beef Wellington’s great. Brunswick Stew’s terrific. Country Ham’s succulent, and so’s the Seafood Platter.”

A waitress in a bright green tee shirt brought mugs of steaming cider. “Compliments of Aunt Mildred. Congrats. Ready to order?  Soups are beef barley and chicken rice. For dessert, there’s apple dumplings and lemon chiffon pie.”

After the waitress left, Carrie sipped the cider. “This is heavenly.”

“And packs a punch. It’s laced with rum.”

By the time the soup arrived, Carrie felt mellow. She stared at the flames that leaped and changed colors. There was something strange about Tony’s mood and she couldn’t decide why he was on edge and so polite. He seemed so different from the man she’d loved last night. What was he trying to tell her?

The food was delicious. A steady stream of people, some she’d met at Chad’s school or at the clinic and several new people, stopped by the table for introductions and consultations. It wasn’t the romantic evening she’d dreamed of and certainly not the place to discuss the future of their marriage.

After finishing an apple dumpling topped with cinnamon ice cream, Tony pushed his chair back. “Ready to go?”

“I’m not sure I can move. You were right about the food, but I ate too much.”

Tony nodded. “Always do here. The cook is Hazel’s cousin. They grew up together.”

“Is Hazel related to everyone in town?”

“About half, and Ben to the other half.” Tony chuckled. “Most of the old families have connections to each other.” He steered her through the common room and through the now crowded bar.

Outside, a brisk breeze had blown the clouds away. The moon rode high in the dark sky. Tony’s hand at her elbow seemed casual rather than the lover’s touch she craved.

As he started the car, he cleared his throat. “We need to talk about what happened last night.”

She huddled against the door. “Why? It was no big deal. Can’t we wait until after we see Mr. Hurcutt to talk about things?” If she went to the lawyer’s office knowing how soon the marriage would end, she wouldn’t be able to keep silent.

“You have nothing to worry about.”

She frowned. “I never thought I did.”

“Remember what the will says. After last night, all the conditions have been met.”

“The will. I never had a chance to read it. I left my copy on the kitchen table and you must have taken it. What conditions do you mean?  Mr. Hurcutt knows we’re married. He was at the wedding.”

“The marriage has to be a true one, or the money goes to charity. Last night, we took care of that obstacle.”

BOOK: A Marriage Takes Two
8.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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