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Authors: Laurie Breton

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BOOK: Sleeping With the Enemy
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“I thought you’d given up on men,” Casey said.

“Some things in this world,” Rose said dryly, “are still best done with two people.”

“I’ve been trying to tell you that for years.  But you stubbornly refused to alter your position on the male of the species.”

“For him, I could make an exception.  I don’t suppose he has a name?”

Studying her reflection, Casey smoothed an errant strand of hair.   “Jesse,” she said.   “Jesse Lindstrom.”  She gave herself a final glance in the mirror and turned to Rose.   Grinning impishly, she said, “Want an introduction?”

 

***

 

Rose lingered on the fringes of the giggling flock of pretty young things, feeling like some geriatric drag queen amid a bevy of nubile maidens.  She had tried to talk Casey out of this idiocy, but trying to talk Casey out of anything, once she got an idea in her head, was tantamount to parting the Red Sea.  As the group of single young women stood eagerly waiting, the crowd of onlookers, assisted by an apparently endless supply of Jack Daniel’s and Johnny Walker Red, offered suggestions and advice.  Casey held her bouquet high, and with unerring accuracy, hurled it directly at Rose.

The woman should have been a pitcher for the Red Sox.  If Rose hadn’t taken a quick step backward, it would have smashed her in the face.  She fumbled and nearly dropped it, and felt her milky Irish complexion turn the color of a ripe tomato.  Amid hoots and applause and a single, drunken,
“Go for it, Rose!”
she met her daughter’s disapproving eyes.  In her white off-the-shoulder party dress, Devon appeared far older than her seventeen years, and at this particular moment, she looked mad as the proverbial wet hen.

Rose offered her a tiny shrug of apology.  Devon’s mouth thinned and she turned to whisper something in her cousin Heather’s ear.  The two girls sniggered, and Devon cast her mother a final look of censure before disappearing into the crowd with Heather.

Damn.  The ride home was going to be long.  At seventeen, Devon should have begun to understand the value of individuality, of nonconformity.  But at seventeen, such values didn’t apply to your parents, and no matter what Rose did or didn’t do, Devon was invariably mortified by her mother’s behavior.

Although the sun still shone brightly, some of the pleasure had dissipated from the afternoon.  Rose raised the bouquet, buried her face in tiny red rosebuds and baby’s breath, and drew in the heady, sweet scent.  Somebody had brought over a straight chair to seat the bride.  Rose clutched the bouquet to her bosom and watched as her baby brother, with extensive verbal encouragement, fished beneath his wife’s skirt in search of the elusive ruffled garter.  The bride dissolved into embarrassed laughter and buried her face in her hands, and when the groom presented the flimsy scrap of lace to his audience, a cheer went up from the crowd.

Then it was Rob’s turn to toss the garter.  Rose watched a fortyish woman whose name she couldn’t remember railroad a sizable group of reluctant males into participating in the ritual.  It was the same at every wedding she’d ever attended.  The significance of catching the bouquet or the garter was known to all, and while unmarried young women generally eagerly embraced the idea of being the next to marry, most of the men were just as eager to preserve their single status.

With the young men herded neatly into place, the bride and groom gazed out over the assemblage.  Casey stretched to whisper something in her husband’s ear.  And with an aim as true as that of his new wife, Rob fired the garter like a slingshot past the heads of the younger men and directly at Jesse Lindstrom.

It hit him in the shoulder and fell to the ground.  For an instant, he looked stunned.  He bent and picked it up, and then Casey was beckoning him to come forward.  Rose’s stomach began to roil as her brother crooked a finger in her direction and then pointed at the chair his bride had recently vacated.  She felt color suffusing her cheeks again as various members of her extended family imparted warm and liquid encouragement.

Rose reluctantly crossed the grass to where her brother stood grinning.  She sent him a killer glare, and his grin broadened.  With all the grace she could summon, she plunked her posterior onto the hard wooden chair.

Jesse Lindstrom knelt in front of her, a glint of humor in those dark eyes.  “Looks like we’ve been set up,” he said.

“If it’s any consolation,” she said, “the minute this little shing-ding is over, I’m calling my friend Guido and taking out a contract on my brother’s life.”

“I don’t think that’ll be necessary.  We’ll get through this somehow.” Ignoring the wolf whistles and the catcalls, he gripped her ankle firmly.  At his touch, heat pulsed upward from her core, and she knew she was turning five different shades of red.  With his free hand, he worked her shoe loose and set it aside.  “How far are we going?”

She swallowed hard.  “Excuse me?”

Those liquid eyes studied her at length.  “The garter.  How far are we going with it?”

In that moment of hesitation, something passed between them, something hot and primitive and exciting.  It must have been an internal devil who prompted her.  In a husky voice she barely recognized as her own, she said, “How far do you want to go?”

His smile took its own sweet time coming, but once it got there, it was worth the wait. 
Jesus, Mary and Joseph. 
Her heart began hammering in triple time as he slipped the garter over her heel and past her ankle, raised the hem of the green dress and drew the tiny scrap of elastic and lace slowly up over her calf.  When he reached her knee, he paused.  “This party will probably go on for hours.  Let’s run away together.”

His fingertips pressed against the back of her knee.  Each small point radiated heat.   She said, “How do I know you’re not an ax murderer?”

He inched the garter past her knee and released it.  “I guess,” he said, “that’s just a chance you’ll have to take.”

 

chapter two

 

After ten futile minutes of searching for Devon, she stumbled upon Luke sprawled lazily on the grass in the shade with several of his male cousins.  Although he still wore the earring that dangled to his shoulder, Luke had submitted to a haircut a week before the wedding, mute testimony to the esteem in which he held his Uncle Rob.

She knelt to tug playfully at his lapel, knowing it was taboo to show any physical affection in front of his peers unless it was offered in the guise of traditional masculine roughhousing.  “Yo, kiddo,” she said.

Luke’s ears turned red.  “Yeah,” he said.  “Whaddya want?”

“I’m leaving for a little bit.  Tell your sister when you see her.  If you need anything, Auntie Maeve is around somewhere.”

His flush deepened.  “Ma, I’m fifteen years old.  I don’t need a baby-sitter.”

He was right.  She didn’t want to admit that her baby was growing up.  She held back the caress her fingers automatically wanted to bestow.  Instead, she said gruffly, “Stay out of trouble, kemosabe.”

She found Jesse Lindstrom leaning against the back porch railing.  Beer bottle in hand, he was chatting with a dark-haired man she didn’t know.  When he saw her, he set down the half-empty beer and stepped away from the railing, and she felt an instant of panic.  She knew nothing about this man except that he was Casey’s former brother-in-law.  She was thirty-six years old, for God’s sake, not twenty, and in spite of her liberation from Eddie, she didn’t make a habit of picking up strange men.

But logic didn’t enter into the equation.  It hadn’t since she’d first noticed him standing there on the lawn, watching her with those dark eyes.  She was reasonably certain she knew where this was headed, but she was powerless to resist.  Didn’t want to resist.  Didn’t even want to think about it for fear that she would lose her nerve and change her mind.

He led her to a shiny red GMC pickup, opened the door for her and steadied her as she raised the hem of her dress and climbed up into the cab.  Inside, it was hotter than the hinges of hell.  Rose lowered the window, and fresh air, ripe with the scent of new-mown grass, rushed through the opening, cooling some of the perspiration that had gathered under her arms and between her breasts. 

Jesse walked around to the driver’s side and climbed in, started the truck, backed it around and squeezed between two cars parked in the grass at the edge of the drive.  Afraid to look at him or at the three feet of no-man’s-land on the bench seat between them, Rose stared out the window at the passing landscape, as exotic to her as a foreign country, with its rolling hills and trees and its green pastures dotted with black and white cattle.

A couple of miles down the road, near a large, tidy Colonial home, Jesse slowed, clicked on his blinker, and turned off the highway onto a drive that was little more than a gravel path through a broad meadow of gently nodding grasses and wild roses that bloomed in clusters.  He brought the truck to a halt atop a slight rise, and Rose sucked in her breath at the brilliant vista of meadow and sky and broad blue river that was laid out before her.

“This is spectacular,” she said, reaching for her door handle and climbing down from the truck cab.   Even on a hot summer day, the temperature here was moderate, cooled by a mild breeze blowing in off the river.   Wordlessly, she followed him around the house to the neatly mowed back lawn, taking a direct path to the river, until they both stopped at the riverbank.   Standing at the spot where grassy lawn met the rocky path down to the river, she closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath of fresh air, holding it as long as possible before releasing it.

“It’s a great place to come when you need to clear your head,” he said.

“I can see why.” 

“You’ll probably want to take those shoes off,” he warned.   “We’re going down to the river.”

She turned to look at him.   While she was gazing at the scenery, he had shed his shoes and socks, his necktie, his suit coat.   From the truck, he’d produced a folded blanket, a jug of Chianti, and two paper cups.   Rose eyed the wine and raised an eyebrow.

The corner of his mouth twitched.  “I stole it.  They’ll never miss it.  I figure it’s safer than that punch they’re all drinking.  I think I counted at least three different people pouring stuff into it.”

Dryly, she said, “Every one of them a MacKenzie, no doubt.”

“I couldn’t testify to that.  But one of them was your Uncle Seamus.” He held out a hand.  “Careful.  The rocks can be slippery.”

He braced her elbow and guided her along some invisible course that he seemed to know by heart.  Rose stepped over a wide crack, and Jesse jumped down onto a hard pack of wet sand and turned to help her down behind him.

They were on a beach, a small private strip of sand.  Rocky outcroppings surrounded it, completely hiding it from the lawn above.  While Jesse spread the blanket on the sand near the rocks, Rose moved slowly toward the river.  She stood ankle deep in crystal-clear water, face turned to the sun, and felt all her tight muscles begin to loosen.

She sensed his presence, opened her eyes and smiled at him as he handed her a paper cup of Chianti.  “You own this little chunk of paradise?”

“I think,” he said, gazing placidly around him, “a more accurate assessment would be that it owns me.”

She folded her arms across her chest.  “This place makes me feel like I just took two Valiums and had a long session with a good Swedish masseuse.  You should rent it out, an hour at a time, to overworked city-dwellers.  You’d make a mint.”

“Probably.  But I like my privacy too much for that.”

By unspoken agreement, they sprawled on the blanket with the bottle of wine between them.  “Did you get everything squared away with your kids?” he said.

“One of them.  Luke.  My ray of sunshine.  My daughter, unfortunately, seems to be avoiding me.”

He uncapped the bottle of Chianti and topped off both their cups.  “Oh?”

“Devon just turned seventeen, and suddenly I can’t do anything right.  I don’t talk right, I don’t dress right, I don’t act like anybody else’s mother.” Rose leaned forward and rearranged the hem of her dress so the sun could warm her toes.  “I think she wants me to be some polyester
hausfrau
in pink foam curlers.”

His smile was wry.  “Instead,” he said, reaching out to finger her dangly copper earrings, “you wear the sun and the moon and the stars.”

“I am who I am.  Take me or leave me.”

“I respect that.  Devon will, too, one of these days.”

“Assuming we both survive her adolescence.” Palms braced against the blanket behind her, Rose tilted her face up to the sun.  “Sometimes, I feel like I’m losing her.  You should have seen the look she gave me today when I caught the bouquet.  She was absolutely livid.”

“It’s a hard age.  I teach high school, and the girls can be a pain to deal with.  They can get really snotty at that age.”

She eyed him speculatively.  “You’re a high school teacher? What do you teach?”

“Freshman comp.  English lit.  That kind of thing.”

A sudden breeze blew in off the water, raising gooseflesh on her bare forearms.  Then it was gone, as quickly as it had come.  “With your looks,” she said wryly, “you must have to fight off lovesick girls with a baseball bat.”

His smile was rueful.  “Only a few.”

“How do you handle it?”

Jesse shifted his weight onto one hip and stretched out his long legs.  “You just have to set boundaries, and make sure they understand the consequences if they step over the line.  Kids respond to limits, as long as they think they’re fair.”

“I bet you’re one hell of a teacher,” she said.

“And I bet you’re one hell of a mother.”

She took a sip of Chianti.  “Do you have any kids?”

“One,” he said.  “Mikey.  When Colleen and I divorced, she had things she wanted to do, places she wanted to go.  I was the settled one, so Mikey stayed with me.  He’s a great kid.  Never gives me any trouble.  He actually listens when I speak.”

“I hope you realize that’s nothing short of a miracle.  My kids stopped listening to me as soon as they learned the word no.”

BOOK: Sleeping With the Enemy
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