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Authors: Laurie Breton

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BOOK: Sleeping With the Enemy
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They stopped at the playground and sat on the swings.  Beneath her, water from last night’s rain puddled the furrow hollowed out by generations of small feet.  The sky reflected bluish-gray in its surface, and again, her fingers itched to hold a paintbrush.  Ignoring the itch, she said, “I haven’t done this in years,” and bent her knees, pushing herself high in the air.

Jesse swayed desultorily, watching her with a look of amusement, his legs too long and his swing too low to the ground to allow him to gain any altitude.  Hair flying in the wind, Rose swung higher, and then in the distance she heard the rumble of the approaching commuter train.  “Prepare yourself,” she warned him as the rumble grew louder.  “It’ll blow out your eardrums.”

The train burst out from behind the brick school building.  Its rumble and screech bounced off the walls of the courtyard and echoed in a hellish roar as it shot past on the other side of the chain link fence.  Loose fragments of paper danced across the pavement, and she laughed aloud at the look of astonishment on his face.  Rose dragged her feet on both sides of the puddle to slow the swing.  “I tried to warn you.”

He watched the train disappear from sight.  “How often does that happen?”

“About once every twenty minutes, all day long.”

Jesse looked dubiously at the school building.  “And they manage to teach under those conditions?”

“You get used to it.  The sisters just talk a little louder until it’s gone by.”

“Isn’t it distracting for the kids?”

“This is Catholic school, bucko.  Nobody would dare to get distracted.”

The blustering train had somehow eased the tension between them.  When they came back through the door of her mother’s house, red-cheeked and windblown, Pat said, “About time.  We were all laying odds on whether or not you’d come back.  Just where the devil did you two disappear to?”

“We went to the playground,” Rose said, taking off her jacket, “to play on the swings.”

“Hey, Rose,” Rob said, “I hope you didn’t push him off the jungle gym.”

She returned his grin.  “Nope.  But while we were there, the train went by.”

Rob held out his hand to Jesse and said, “Welcome to the family.”

 

***

 

She was bone-weary by the time they reached Jackson Falls in late afternoon.  Because Jesse had to work on Monday morning, they hadn’t planned a honeymoon, but they were childless for the night.  Maeve had used the promise of a Sunday afternoon shopping spree to coerce Devon into staying with her for the rest of the weekend, and Casey and Rob had taken both of the boys so Rose and Jesse could have privacy for their wedding night.

Feeling a bit like a turkey on the day before Thanksgiving, Rose prowled the crowded living room, squeezing between stacked boxes and the remnants of her secondhand furniture.  “We’ve made a hellish mess of your house,” she said.

“It’ll all come together in time,” Jesse said from the kitchen.  “And it’s our house now.”

She poked into a box that was stuffed with photo albums and memorabilia.  Pulling out a framed snapshot of Devon in happier, pre-adolescent days, she said, “Maybe I can get some of this junk put away while the kids aren’t underfoot.”

“Rose, you’re exhausted.  What you need is a nap.”

The prospect sounded heavenly.  “I’m just so tired,” she said in apology.  “I’ve been this way ever since I got pregnant.”

“Go on upstairs.  I’ll putter around down here.”

So she left her groom downstairs, six hours after the wedding, and went to the bedroom alone.  She pulled the blinds to darken the room, and then she wandered around, a little homesick, a little displaced.  It seemed odd, her jewelry box and her perfumes sitting on his dresser, her clothes hanging in his closet.  Rose pictured him in her mind, the father of her child, his long, lean profile, his slender hands, those bottomless dark eyes.  He was her husband now.  She was his wife, and they would sleep together tonight.  Why was she so nervous? It wasn’t as though it were the first time.  But somewhere between the conception and the wedding, something had changed.  She’d had the foolish idea that by asking him to sign a prenuptial agreement, she would be keeping the upper hand in the marriage.  But the truth was that she’d never had it.

The only way she was going to survive this fiasco was to maintain a cool detachment.  If she forgot for one instant that this wasn’t a real marriage, the house of cards she’d carefully constructed would tumble down on top of her.  She was already afraid she’d made a terrible mistake, for Jesse Lindstrom was not the kind of man a woman could regard with indifference.

She awoke after several hours, parched and disoriented.  Unaccustomed to the strange house, she tried several doors before she found the bathroom.  She ran cool water in the lavatory, splashed water on her face, then went downstairs to look for Jesse.

While she slept, he’d been rearranging the living room, integrating her ratty and pathetic old stuff with his tidy and functional furniture.  He had spread her worn Oriental carpet in the middle of the floor and moved the boxes to one corner.  She peered into the kitchen, but it was dark and empty.  She finally found him in the den, sitting at the computer, his eyes intent on the screen, Chauncey snoring contentedly at his feet.

Something about the warm domestic scene made her go soft inside.  “Hey,” she said.

He looked up, his eyes unfocused behind wire-rimmed reading glasses.  And then he smiled, and her stomach did a hard somersault
.  Jesus, Mary and Joseph. 
How big a trail of broken hearts had this man left behind him?  And what on God’s green earth could he possibly want with a woman like her?

“Feeling better?” he said.

“Lots.  Now I’m starved.  Do we have any food in this joint?”

“I just bought groceries yesterday, but I wasn’t sure what you and the kids would want.  We can go again when the kids get home.” He saved the file he was working on and shut down the computer.

He had loaded the cupboards and the refrigerator with food, but she settled for a simple grilled cheese sandwich and a glass of milk.  “Not exactly your customary wedding dinner,” she said.  “But then again, I’m not your customary bride.”

He opened the fridge and knelt to search its contents.  “You’ll do.”  He stood with a plastic container in his hand.   Holding up the container, he said, “Fruit salad?”

“No, thanks.” She patted her tummy.  “I’m full.”

“You don’t eat much.”

“Stick around for a while.  I ate like Garfield recovering from a crash diet with both of my other pregnancies.  It just hasn’t hit yet.  When it does, you’ll wish you’d never asked.  I’ll blow up like a hippo and eat everything but the bark on the Christmas tree.”

One corner of his mouth tilted upward.  “That might be worth seeing.”

He pulled a chair up to the table and she watched him work his way through a bowl of fruit salad.  When he was done, he lay down his spoon and they sat there looking at each other until their smiles faded and awareness grew heavy between them.  “Tired?” he asked softly.

“Mmn.” She rested her chin on her palm.

“We should probably go to bed.”  He covered the salad, got up and carried it to the refrigerator.  “Mind if I take a shower first?”

With difficulty, she fought off the image of him wet and naked, soapy water sluicing down his body.  Detachment wasn’t going to be quite as easy as she’d hoped.

While he was showering, Rose prepared for bed.  She briefly considered the drawer full of lacy lingerie that she’d accumulated after a dozen Christmases and anniversaries with Eddie.  She’d always felt ridiculous wearing that kind of get-up.  Most of them still had the price tags attached.  Eddie had never been able to understand her reluctance to parade around dressed like the happy hooker, so even though she never wore them, he had continued to buy her outrageously sexy sleepwear.  She should have thrown them all out years ago.  Or given them away to somebody who would wear them.  They weren’t doing anybody any good, lying there in the drawer, gathering dust.  It must have been six months or more since the last time she’d taken one out and held it to her cheek just to revel in its softness.

She slammed the drawer shut.  Monday morning, she would bundle them all up and donate them to Goodwill.  Her marriage to Jesse Lindstrom was nothing more than a business arrangement, and she intended to make sure that neither party forgot it.  She might be sleeping with the enemy, but she hadn’t yet defected to his camp.

So while the groom showered, the bride dressed for her wedding night in the faded red football jersey that she’d worn to bed every night for the past three years.  She ran a brush through her tangled curls so she wouldn’t look like Godzilla in the morning, turned out the lamp and climbed between sheets that smelled of fabric softener.  In the bathroom, the shower stopped running.  Heart thudding, Rose wiggled her toes between the crisp sheets, feeling like a seventeen-year-old girl about to give up her virginity to the class Romeo.  This was absurd.  He was just another man.  Not even a very exciting one.

She rolled onto her side, punched her pillow, and glowered into the darkness.  It was those damn words,
wedding night
, and all they conjured up.  Passion, romance, great expectations.  All of it a sham.  She thought longingly of escape, but it was too late to back out.  The bedroom door opened and his footsteps approached the bed.  He dropped his watch on the dresser, and the bedsprings sagged when he sat on the edge of the bed.

“I wasn’t sure which side you wanted,” she said into the darkness.

“Which side?”

“Of the bed.  To sleep on.”

“Oh.  I hadn’t really thought about it.  Which side do you want?”

“This side’s fine.  Unless you’d rather—”

“It’s fine with me, too.”

Did he have to be so damned agreeable? She scowled as Jesse drew back the covers and crawled in between them, his body heat invading her space like spilled honey.  They lay side by side in the darkness, taking care not to allow any accidental contact between body parts, the silence so thick between them that the rhythmic ticking of the clock thundered like a cannon inside her head.

One-Mississippi
-TICK. 
Two-Mississippi
-TICK.

He smelled of Ivory soap.  The handful of men she’d dated after her divorce had invariably smelled of some expensive designer cologne.  They’d been cut from the same mold, those men.  They had tried just a little too hard, laughed just a little too loud, talked just a little too much about themselves.  But Jesse Lindstrom wore the quiet, unsullied fragrance of cleanliness, and it was intoxicating.

Oh, God. 
Every inch of her body was excruciatingly aware of every inch of his.  This shouldn’t be so difficult.  It wasn’t as though they hadn’t already been together.  But a semi-drunken coupling on a hot summer afternoon bore little resemblance to the reality of spending the rest of her life sleeping beside this stranger she’d promised only hours ago to love and cherish until death.

Beside her, Jesse cleared his throat.

Beside him, Rose exhaled the breath she’d been holding.

And the telephone rang.

For an instant, she froze.  Then it rang a second time, and with an odd mixture of regret and relief, she fumbled for the receiver.  She found it, brushed her tousled hair away from her face, and croaked, “Hello?”

“You cannot know,” Rob said at the other end of the line, “how much I hate having to do this to you tonight.”

“You might be surprised to know that I have an inkling.  What’s wrong?”

“We’re at the emergency room with Luke.”

Her heart slammed into her throat.  “What happened?”

“Don’t panic, Sis, he’s okay.  But he has a broken ankle.”

She sat up, tossed aside the bedding, and leaned forward to turn on the bedside lamp.  “Are you sure?” she said.  “Did they do an X-ray?”

“Trust me,” he said.  “It’s broken.  We didn’t intend to bother you tonight.  We thought we’d just get it patched up and tell you in the morning.  But they won’t lay a hand on him without your permission.  Rose, I’m sorry.  I told these clowns it was your wedding night, but they don’t have a sense of humor.”

They found Rob pacing the hospital corridor outside the treatment room, his expression at once both thunderous and apologetic.  Inside, Luke lay on a stretcher, his ankle swollen to twice its normal size.  “Hey, kiddo,” she said.  “What happened?”

“I fell through an old floorboard in the barn.”

“I’m so sorry,” Casey said.  “I had no idea those old boards were rotted.”

“We’ll take care of the hospital bill,” Rob said.  “I already set it up with the amazon out front.”

Luke tried to change position, and grimaced in pain.  “I’m sorry I screwed up your wedding night,” he said.

Rose squeezed her son’s hand.  “Don’t be an idiot.  Let’s just get you off to X-ray.  Maybe while they have you in there, they can check out your head and see if there’s anything inside.”

“Funny, Ma.  Real funny.” But when the technician wheeled him off to X-ray, he was grinning in spite of his pain.

The moment he disappeared through the swinging double doors at the end of the corridor, she turned on her brother.  “When I asked you to take him under your wing,” she snapped, “this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.”

Rob gave her a ferocious scowl.  “Go ahead! Rub it in! Don’t you think I feel bad enough already?”

“Don’t bother to look at me like that.  I’m not the least bit intimidated.  You’re nothing but an Oreo cookie.  Hard on the outside, and all mushy on the inside.”

Casey threaded an arm through Rob’s.  “Most of the time,” she said, “he’s mushy on the outside, too.  This was my fault, Rose.  I had no business letting the boys play in the barn.”

From the corner where he’d remained silent until now, Mikey said miserably, “It’s my fault.  We should’ve been more careful.  Will Luke be okay?”

Rose met Jesse’s troubled eyes.  She got up and crossed the room to where her new stepson sat with those impossibly long adolescent legs stretched out in front of him.  Scooching down in front of him, she took his hand and said, “He’ll be just fine.  It’s not your fault.  Accidents happen.”

BOOK: Sleeping With the Enemy
11.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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