Read One last weekend Online

Authors: Linda Lael Miller

One last weekend

One Last WeekendLINDALAELMILLERLYRICAL SHINEKensington Publishing Corp.www.kensingtonbooks.comAll copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.Table of ContentsTitle PageOther Lyrical novellas by Linda Lael MillerCopyright PageChapter OneChapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter FourTeaser chapterOther Lyrical novellas by Linda Lael MillerOne Last Weekend The 24 Days of ChristmasTo the extent that the image or images on the cover of this book depict a person or persons, such person or persons are merely models, and are not intended to portray any character or characters featured in the book.  LYRICAL SHINE BOOKS are published by Kensington Publishing Corp.119 West 40th StreetNew York, NY 10018 Copyright © 2007 by Linda Lael Miller All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.  Lyrical Shine and Lyrical Shine logo Reg. U.S. Pat. & TM Off. First Electronic Edition: August 2016ISBN: 978-1-6018-3920-6Chapter One“One last weekend,” insisted Ted Brayley, the Darbys' longtime friend and now their divorce lawyer, facing the couple across the gleaming expanse of his cherrywood desk. “Just spend one weekend together, at the cottage, that's all I'm asking. Then, if you still want to split the proverbial sheets, I'll file the papers.”Joanna Darby sat very still, but out of the corner of her eye, she saw her soon-to-be-ex husband, Teague, shift in his leather wingback chair, a twin to her own. Distractedly, he extended a hand, not to Joanna, but to pat their golden retriever, Sammy, sitting attentively between them, on the head.“I don't see what good that would do,” Teague said. At forty-one, he was still handsome and fit, but he was going through a major midlife crisis. He'd sold his highly successful architectural firm for an obscene profit and bought himself a very expensive sports car, and though there was no sweet young thing in the picture yet, as far as Joanna knew, it was only a matter of time. Teague was a cliché waiting to happen. “We've settled everything. We're ready to go our separate ways.”Ted sat back, cupping his hands behind his head. “Really?” he asked, with a casual nod toward Sammy. “Who gets custody of the dog?”“I do,” Teague responded immediately.“Not in this lifetime,” Joanna protested.Teague looked at her in surprise. It always surprised Teague when anybody expressed an opinion different from his own; he was used to calling the shots, leading the charge, setting the course. Somewhere along the line, he'd forgotten that Joanna didn't work for him. “Iwas the one who sprang him from the pound when he was a pup,” he argued. “He's my dog.”“Well,” Joanna answered, making an effort not to raise her voice, “I'mthe one who house-trained him and taught him not to eat sofas. I'm the one who walked him every day. I love Sammy, and I'm not about to give him up.”“Joanna,” Teague said darkly, “be reasonable.” Translation:Agree with me. YouknowI'm always right.“I'm tired of being reasonable,” Joanna said, examining her unmanicured fingernails. “I'm keeping the dog.”Teague rolled his blue eyes and, shoved a hand through his still-thick, slightly shaggy dark hair.A corner of Ted's mouth quirked up in a smug little grin. They'd both known Ted since college, and they both trusted him, which was why they'd decided to let him handle the divorce. Now Joanna wondered if a stranger would have been a better choice, and Teague was probably thinking the same thing. “I guess youhaven'tsettled everything,” Ted said. “Sammy wouldn't be the first dog in history to be the subject of a custody battle—but would you really want to put him through that kind of grief?”“Joint custody, then,” Teague grumbled, a muscle bunching in his cheek. “We'll share him. My place one week, Joanna's the next.”“Oh, right,” Joanna scoffed. “I'd never see him unless you had a hot date.”Sammy whimpered softly, resembling a forlorn spectator at a tennis match as he turned his head from Joanna to Teague and back again. He wasn't used to harsh tones—the Darby marriage had slowly caved in on itself, by degrees, after Teague and Joanna's only child, Caitlin, went off to college. There had been no screaming fights, no accusations—or objects—flying back and forth. This was noWar of the Roses.It might have been easier if it had been.“One weekend,” Ted reiterated. He gestured toward Elliott Bay, sparkling blue-gray beyond his office windows. “You've got that great cottage on Firefly Island. When was the last time you went out there, just the two of you? Walked the beach? Sipped wine in front of the fireplace? Really talked?”Joanna felt a sharp pang, remembering happier times. She hadn't been to the cottage in months—not once since she'd holed up there the previous summer, after Caitlin's wedding, to finish her latest cookbook, with only Sammy for company. Teague had gone on a sailing trip, off the coast of Mexico. It had been a lonely time for Joanna, endurable only because she'd been buried in work.Now Teague got up from his chair, went to the windows, and stood with his back to the room, looking out over downtown Seattle and the waters beyond. “Are you a divorce lawyer or a marriage counselor?” he muttered.Sammy started to follow Teague, paused in the middle of the spacious office, then turned uncertainly to look at Joanna.She blinked back sudden, burning tears. Gestured for Sammy to go ahead, to Teague. Instead, he came back to her and laid his muzzle on her lap with a sad sigh.As Joanna watched her husband, an unexpected question popped into her mind.When did we lose each other?She'd loved Teague Darby since her first day of college, when he'd knocked on her door in their coed dorm and introduced himself. They'd married early in their senior year at the University of Washington, and Caitlin had been born a week after graduation. Joanna, having majored in business and intending to attend culinary school after college and eventually open her own restaurant, had happily set aside those plans to stay home with Caitlin and help Teague start his company. The early years had been hard financially, but he'd worked out of their converted garage behind their first tiny house, and they'd been happy.So happy.They'd given Caitlin a secure, sunny childhood. While they'd both wanted more children, it simply didn't happen. The disappointment surfaced only occasionally; after all, they had a beautiful daughter, a good life together. What more could two people ask for?And they'd loved each other passionately.There had been no single inciting incident, no affairs, no traumas, nothing like that.As the company grew, expanding at a breathtaking rate, so did the demands on Teague's time. They'd moved into progressively larger houses until they'd finally ended up in a mansion on Mercer Island, hired a housekeeper, and entertained lavishly. But they'd still had time for each other, even then. They'dmadetime.Secretly, Joanna had always thought of the cottage as home, not the mansion. And the idea of going to Firefly Island for a last weekend with Teague broke her heart. They'd both been living in the main house, Teague on the first floor, Joanna on the second, and the place was so large that avoiding each other was easy. It would be more of a challenge at the cottage.“If you won't do this for yourselves,” Ted said evenly, “or for Caitlin, then do it for Sammy. The poor dog is beside himself.”Since Teague's back was still turned, Joanna took the opportunity to dry her eyes with the back of one hand. Sammy looked up at her with limpid brown eyes, imploring.“I'll do it,” Joanna said, resigned.“Okay,” Teague said, at exactly the same moment.Ted consulted his watch. “The next ferry leaves in an hour,” he said.“An hour?” Joanna marveled. “But I'd need to pack a bag—and Sammy's food—”“You have clothes at the cottage,” Teague reminded her, “and there's a supermarket on the island. I'm sure they carry Sammy's brand of kibble.”Joanna opened her mouth, then closed it again. The truth was, she'd gained five pounds since her last visit to the cottage, and she wasn't sure her island clothes would fit. Since she was too proud to admit that, she decided to take her chances. Most likely, the experience would be a total bust anyway, and she and Teague would both be on the next ferry back to Seattle. She probably wouldn't even be there long enough to need a toothbrush.Teague made that pretty much of a sure thing when he added, “Come on, Sammy. Let's get this over with.”Inwardly, Joanna seethed.Ted gave her a sympathetic look as she rose. Teague and Sammy were already on their way out, though the dog paused every few steps, looking back, clearly waiting for Joanna to follow.For Sammy's sake rather than Teague's, she did.Leaving the suite housing Ted's office, they took the elevator down to the underground lot, where Teague's sports car was parked alongside Joanna's stylish but practical compact.Rather than subject Sammy to another debate, Joanna didn't insist that the dog ride with her instead of Teague. The ferry terminal was only minutes away, and once they were aboard the large, state-operated boat, the ride to Firefly Island would take less than half an hour.Teague had the top down on his high-powered phallic symbol, and Sammy loved an open-air ride, whatever the weather. Although the morning had been pristinely sunny, one of those days that seem to mock Seattle's reputation for unrelenting rain, the sky was darkening now, its gray tone reflected by the choppy waters of the bay.In the old days, Joanna thought, with a quiet sigh, she and Teague wouldn't even have considered taking two cars to the cottage. If Caitlin was going along, she'd have had at least one friend with her, and they would have all crammed themselves into Teague's big SUV. On the occasions when Sammy and Caitlin stayed home, in the expert care of the recently retired Mrs. Smills, their housekeeper, they would have stayed in the car for the short duration of the crossing, willing the boat to go faster.Back then, as soon as the front door of the cottage closed behind them, they'd have left a trail of clothes behind them, laughing as they raced for the bedroom.Joanna waited in the short line of cars just behind Teague and Sammy—not as many people heading for the island as there usually were on Friday afternoons, she thought—paid her fare when her turn came, and drove into the belly of the ferry.They practically had the whole boat to themselves.Joanna waved reassuringly to Sammy, who responded with a doggy grin, but Teague sat staring straight ahead as though they were strangers, he and Joanna, not two people who had raised a child together.She leaned back in the car seat and closed her eyes. Ted's heart had been in the right place—he hoped she and Teague would reconsider, of course, and decide not to go through with the divorce. Maybe he figured they'd fall into each other's arms, alone in a romantic island cottage, and rekindle the old flame that had once burned so brightly that it glowed within both of them.When had it gone out?The last time she and Teague had made love—weeks ago, now—they'd both been satisfied, but nothing more. Two bodies, colliding, responding reflexively, biologically—and then drawing apart. Afterward, Teague had quietly left their bedroom and gone upstairs to sleep in one of the guest rooms.Remembering, Joanna felt humiliated all over again.She went to the gym three times a week, but she was forty-one, after all, and soft all over, a little saggy in places. And even though she tried to watch what she ate, she was forever testing recipes for her cookbooks, and that involved a lot of tasting.Hence the extra five pounds.Was it the extra five pounds?A brisk rap on her driver's side window startled her, and she turned to see Teague peering in at her.She had put the key in the ignition in order to operate the power windows, and she'd done it before she realized she could have simply opened the door.“I'm going upstairs for some coffee,” Teague said, unsmiling. “Want some?”“No,” Joanna said. “Too late in the day for me. I'd be up half the night.”That familiar muscle in Teague's jaw tightened again. “Right,” he said. “Keep an eye on Sammy while I'm gone, will you?”“Of course,” Joanna replied. As soon as Teague had made his way to the steel staircase leading to the upper deck, she got out of her car, crossed to Sammy, and stroked his silky golden head. The water was a little rough that day, and Joanna felt slightly queasy.Boats, even cruise ships, made her seasick.Teague loved anything that floated, and dreamed of building a craft of his own.Just one of the many things theydidn'thave in common.When Teague returned, carrying a steaming foam cup in one hand, Joanna got back in her own car.Within a few minutes, the captain blew the horn, which meant they'd be docking on Firefly Island soon.Joanna's spirits rose a little at the prospect of being at the cottage again, even though the place was probably full of dust and in need of airing out. But Teague would build a fire on the hearth in the living room, and she would brew tea in the old-fashioned kitchen, and if nothing else, they could talk about Caitlin or Sammy.Or they could not talk at all, which was the most likely scenario.Since it had begun to drizzle, Teague hastily raised the top on his sports car while the first cars to board started off the boat. Sammy seemed to droop a little, as if disappointed.The cottage was several miles from the ferry terminal, which was little more than a toll booth on that side of the water, and Teague led the way along the narrow, winding road, passing the supermarket without even slowing down.Irritated, Joanna pulled into the lot, parking as close to the entrance as she could, and dashed inside to buy kibble, coffee, a toothbrush and paste, and the makings of a seafood salad.By the time she arrived at the cottage, Teague had turned on all the lights and built a fire. With a grocery bag in each arm, Joanna plunged out of the car into the rain, now coming down hard, and dashed for the front door.Just as she reached it, Teague flung it open and Sammy burst through to greet her, almost sending her toppling backward off the small porch.
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Teague caught her by the elbows.Sammy, meanwhile, ran in mad circles in the yard, barking exuberantly at the rain.“Damn fool dog,” Teague said, with the first real smile Joanna had seen on his face in weeks.He took the bags from her and shunted her inside.“There's kibble in the backseat,” she said, despairing of her tailored gray pantsuit, now drenched.“I'll get it in a minute,” Teague said, without his usual curtness, heading for the kitchen. “Jeez, Jo, the shopping could have waited—”Sammy dashed back inside, soaked, and stood beside Joanna to shake himself vigorously. Teague used to joke—back when he still had a sense of humor—that the dog must be part water spaniel, the way he loved getting wet. Throw a piece of driftwood into the sound, and he'd swim halfway to Seattle to retrieve it.Joanna laughed, forced the door shut against a rising wind, and peeled off her jacket, hanging it gingerly on a hook on the antique coat tree next to the door.What the well-dressed woman wears to a civilized divorce,she thought.And then she didn't feel like laughing anymore.Teague was back from the kitchen. “Dry off,” he ordered. “I'll get the dog food.”Joanna kicked off her sodden shoes and wandered into the living room, with its pegged plank floors, and stood in front of the natural rock fireplace, where a lively blaze crackled. Sammy followed, shook himself again, and curled up on the hooked rug at her feet.She heard Teague come in and slam the door behind him.Hair dripping, he lugged the twenty-five-pound bag of kibble past her, retracing the route to the kitchen.“Twenty-fivepounds,Joanna?” he asked. “We're spending the weekend, not burrowing in for the winter!”“I might stay,” she heard herself say. “Start that novel I've been wanting to write.”The dog-food bag thunked to the kitchen floor, and Teague appeared in the doorway. For the first time, Joanna noticed that he'd exchanged his suit for jeans and a plaid flannel shirt. In those clothes, with his hair damp and curling around his ears, he looked younger, more like the Teague Darby she'd known and loved.“We agreed to sell the cottage,” he reminded her.“No,” Joanna said mildly, “wedidn'tagree. You said we should sell it and split the proceeds, and I said I wasn't so sure. I think Sammy and I could be very happy here.” She looked down at the dog. His fur was curling, too, just like Teague's hair, and he seemed so pathetically happy to be home.“Not that again,” Teague said.“You travel a lot,” Joanna pointed out. “He'd be with me most of the time anyway.”Some of the tension in Teague's shoulders eased. “MaybeI'dlike to live here,” he said. “I could build my boat.”“You'll never build that boat,” Joanna said.“You'll never write a novel,” Teague retorted, “so I guess we're even.”Sammy made a soft, mournful sound.“Let's not argue,” Joanna said. “We ought to be able to be civil to each other for a weekend.”“Civil,” Teague replied. “We ought to be able to manage that. We've been ‘civil' for months—when we've spoken at all.”Joanna felt cold, even though she was standing close to a blazing fire. She turned her head so Teague wouldn't see the tears that sprang to her eyes.“Change your clothes, Joanna,” Teague said after a long time, and much more gently. “You'll catch your death if you don't.”She nodded without looking at him and scurried into their bedroom.Her wardrobe choices were limited, but she found a set of gray sweats and pulled them on. When she got to the kitchen, Teague had already opened a bottle of wine and busied himself making salad. Sammy was crunching away on a large serving of kibble.Outside, the wind howled off the nearby water, and the lights flickered as Teague poured wine for them both—a Sauvignon Blanc, to complement the lobster topping their salads.“I didn't know you still wanted to write a novel,” Teague said.“I didn't know you still wanted to build a boat,” Joanna replied. She sat down at the table, and Teague took his usual place directly across from her.“Why a novel?” Teague asked thoughtfully. “Your cookbooks are best-sellers—you were even offered your own show on the Food Network.”“Why build a boat?” Joanna inquired, taking a sip of her wine. “You can certainly afford to buy one.”“I asked you first,” Teague said, watching her over the rim of his wineglass. She wondered what he was thinking—that she ought to get a face-lift? Maybe have some lipo?Her spine stiffened. “I've always wanted to write a novel,” she said.Weren't you listening at all, back when we used to talk about our dreams?“And this cottage would be the perfect place to do it.”“It would also be the perfect place to build a boat.”The lights went out, then flared on again.Thunder rolled over the roof.Sammy went right on crunching his kibble. He'd never been afraid of storms.“Remember how Caitlin used to squirm under the blankets with us in the middle of the night when the weather was like this?” Teague asked. He'd set down his wineglass and taken up his fork, but it was suspended midway between his mouth and the plate.“Do you think she's happy in California?” Joanna mused. “Happy with Peter?”“They're newlyweds,” Teague said. “She has a glamorous job, just like she always wanted. Ofcourseshe's happy.”“So were we, once.” Joanna reddened when she realized she'd spoken the words aloud. She'd only meant to think them, not say them.“What happened, Joanna?” Teague asked.The lights went out again, and the fan in the furnace died with a creaky whir.Teague left the table, went to the drawer, and rummaged until he found a candle. Plunking the taper into a ceramic holder Caitlin had made at day camp the summer she was eleven, he struck a match to the wick.Joanna figured he'd forgotten the question, but it turned out he hadn't.“What happened?” he repeated.She sighed, turning the stem of her wineglass slowly between two fingers. “I don't know,” she said softly. “I guess we just grew apart, once Caitlin left for college.”“I guess so,” Teague said. “Is there somebody else, Joanna?”She bristled. “Of course not,” she said. “How could you possibly think—?”In the light of the candle, Teague's features looked especially rugged. Again, Joanna had that strange feeling of time slipping backward, without her noticing until just this moment.He didn't answer.She took a gulp of wine this time, instead of a sip as before. “What about you? Have you—well—is there—?”“No,” Teague said in an angry undertone. “What the hell kind of question is that?”“The same kind of question you askedme,” Joanna fired back, though she was careful to keep her tone even, for Sammy's sake. “We haven't had sex for weeks. You bought a sports car. Next thing I know, you'll be squiring around some girl barely older than Caitlin—”“You've got to be kidding,” Teague interrupted. “Maybe we're on the skids, but we're still married—and I bought a sports car because Iwanteda sports car.”“You're forty-one. You've just sold a company you worked half your life to build. You bought a sports car. Enter wife number two, who has probably already targeted you as fair game.”“Good God, Joanna. Youshouldwrite a novel, because you haveone hellof an imagination!”“I don't need an imagination. Half the guys you play golf with have trophy wives, while the women who bore their children and helped them build their companies and their bloodyportfoliosare still wondering what hit them!”Sammy crossed the kitchen, toenails clicking on the tile floor, and laid his muzzle on Joanna's lap.She stroked his head. “It's all right,” she told him. “We're not going to fight.”Teague shoved back his chair and stood. “It'snotall right,” he growled. “What kind of man do you think I am?”The furnace tried mightily to come back on, but there wasn't enough juice.“I don't know anymore,” Joanna admitted quietly. “Do you think the electricity is going to come back on soon? It's getting cold in here.”“I have no idea,” Teague said. “If you're cold, go sit by the fire.”“I will,” Joanna said loftily, refilling her wineglass before she left the table.Sammy trotted after her, his tags jingling hopefully on his collar. The cottage had always been a happy place, with the exception of last summer, when Joanna had cried a time or two. No doubt, the dog expected things to morph back to normal at any moment.It would be nice, Joanna reflected, to be a dog.Teague followed and threw another chunk of wood onto the fire, causing sparks to rise, swirling, up the chimney.Joanna plunked into the overstuffed armchair a few feet away, at the edge of the firelight. She swirled her wine in her glass but didn't drink. “Maybe we should go back to the city,” she said. “We could catch the six o'clock ferry.”“Go if you want,” Teague replied coolly. “Sammy and I are staying here.”Joanna closed her eyes for a moment, trying to keep from being swept downstream into the Sammy conflict again. “If he's staying,” she said, “I'm staying.”To her surprise, Teague laughed. It was a raw sound, gruff and low. “Damn,” he said. “One thing hasn't changed, anyway. You're still as stubborn as a toothless old bulldog with a bone.”“Are you comparing me to a toothlessoldbulldog?”Teague shoved a hand through his hair, swearing under his breath.Joanna set her wineglass aside on the table next to her chair. “Okay,” she conceded. “I might be a little stubborn, but I amnotold or toothless.”“Alittlestubborn?” He moved out of the firelight and began rummaging again in the darkness. Just when Joanna had decided he was definitely going to strike her with a blunt object or stab her with an ice pick—by her own admission, she'd watchedwaytoo many episodes ofForensic FilesandBody of Evidence—she heard the staticky crackle of a transistor radio.He was turning the tuning knob, probably looking for a weather report.“—ferries temporarily out of commission,” a disembodied male voice said, between buzzing bursts of static, “widespread power outages—winds reaching—”Joanna sat up very straight and reached for her wine again. “We're stranded,” she said.Sammy, lying on the rug in front of the fireplace, rolled onto his back, paws in the air and belly exposed, and snored.“I see the dog's terrified,” Teague quipped.“Teague, this is serious. What are we going to do?”“Well, we could tell ghost stories. Or play checkers.” He paused. “Or tear off each other's clothes and have sex on the floor like we used to, whenever we came out here without Caitlin and half her Girl Scout troop.”A hot chill went through Joanna, making her ache in some very private places. In danger of spilling the wine, she set it aside again with a thunk.“Don't be ridiculous,” she said.And suddenly Teague was in front of her, kneeling, parting her legs.An involuntary groan escaped her.Teague slipped his hands up under her sweatshirt and cupped her bare breasts in his hands. Ran the pads of his thumbs over her nipples until they hardened.Joanna groaned again. “Teague—”He pushed her shirt up, tongued her breasts, then suckled.“This is—” She paused, gasping. “This won't solve anything—”He was pulling at the elastic band of her sweatpants, drawing them skillfully down, off, away. “Maybe not,” he murmured, raising one of her bare legs and placing it over his shoulder, “but it's going to feel good.” The other leg went over the other shoulder. “Don't be quiet, Joanna,” he said, sliding his hands under her backside and raising her until she felt the warmth of his breath through the nest of curls at the juncture of her thighs. “Please, don't be quiet.”Clawing at the arms of her chair, bucking against Teague's mouth, sobbing as she reached the first of several shattering orgasms, Joanna wasanythingbut quiet.And the dog didn't even wake up.Chapter TwoShe was so beautiful, lying there asleep on the floor in front of the hearth, her supple body spent by their lovemaking, her features gilded in flickering firelight. The glow caught in her chin-length blond hair, all atangle now, and gleamed on the long sweep of her eyelashes. Joanna was Teague's age—forty-one—and yet she looked so much younger, with her guard down like that.Teague wanted to stretch out a hand and caress the flawless line of her cheek with a light pass of the backs of his knuckles, the way he'd done a million times before, when things were good between them.A dog snore ripped the darkness, and Teague smiled slightly, sadly. Sammy was zonked out, too, on the cushions of the window seat built into the bay windows overlooking the water. Not so long ago, Caitlin, coltish and spirited, would have been curled up there with the dog.Where had the time gone?One minute, Sammy was a pup and Caitlin was a ten-year-old.Now, suddenly, the retriever was getting old, and Caitlin was a college graduate and awifeliving far away, in California. Teague's eyes smarted, and he was glad of the power failure, glad of the darkness, glad Joanna was sleeping and couldn't see how close he was to losing it.Losing it? He was losingher. How had he managed to accomplishthatmarvelous feat? Simple neglect, probably. He'd been so busy, building his career, building houses and office buildings, being a man-among-men and all that other crap, that all the ordinary little things connecting him and Joanna to each other had slowly withered and disappeared.He didn't know her anymore.And she certainly didn't know him, if she really thought he wanted to trade her in for a younger model, one of those calculatingly sweetchickswith the grapefruit boobs and sleek hair and the acquisitive instincts of a shark on the hunt.Teague felt betrayed, and for a brief moment, he seethed.Then he sighed and shoved a hand through his love-rumpled hair. Joanna wasn't a stupid woman—anything but. She'd helped him set up and then maintain the company. She'd raised their daughter, and done a hell of a good job in the process. And in addition to all that, she'd established a successful career of her own.And yet she was willing to condemn him on the purchase of asports car?Teague sighed. Joanna had been right earlier: half the couples they'd socialized with over the years had split up, longtime wives replaced by talking mannequins composed more of silicone than flesh and blood and soul. And too often the process started, innocuously enough, with the buying of a sleek, expensive two-seater car.Joanna stirred in her sleep and stretched, one breast bared by the motion.Teague took a few moments to admire that breast, then gently replaced the quilt because the room was cold, even with the fire going. Beyond the sturdy stone walls of the cottage, the storm still raged, cutting Firefly Island off from the mainland.Silently, he blessed the forces of wind and rain and high tides lashing at the rocky shore. Just then, he could have spent the rest of eternity, not just this last poignant weekend, alternately making love to Joanna and watching her sleep.Sammy made a whimpering sound, chasing rabbits in his dreams.Teague spoke quietly to him, and he sighed and settled deeper into his slumbers.The faint jingle of Teague's cell phone, resting on a nearby end table, reminded him that there was no escaping the outside world, not even on Firefly Island in the middle of the storm of the century.Afraid of waking Joanna, he scrambled for the phone and flipped it open.“Teague Darby,” he said, whispering.“Dad?”“Caitlin,” he said, his voice warming. “Babe, it's the middle of the night. Is anything wrong?”“No,” Caitlin answered and immediately burst into tears.“Hey,” Teague said as Joanna stirred again, sat up, and yawned. “What's wrong?”“I keep thinking about you and Mom getting divorced,” Caitlin wailed. “I can't believe it!”“Caitlin?” Joanna mouthed, reaching for the sweatshirt Teague had dragged off over her head earlier and pulling it on.Teague nodded. “You should be asleep, sweetheart,” he told his daughter. “We can talk about this tomorrow.”“Ican'tsleep,” Caitlin said. “There are so many things going around and around in my head—”“Like?”“Like what's going to happen to Sammy when you two split up?Tellme you're not planning to take him to the pound!”“Caitlin,of coursewe're not planning on taking Sammy to the pound.”Joanna smiled and shook her head, then reached for her sweatpants and shimmied into them. “I'll put the coffee on,” she said, then remembered that the power was off and looked stymied for a moment. The pump would work—for a while—so there was water, but the pot was electric.“Oh, good,” Caitlin snuffled. “I was so afraid—”“Don't be. Everything is okay, honey.”“No, it isn't! You and Mom are gettingdivorced!Theworldis ending!”If Caitlin's career in advertising didn't work out, Teague figured, she could probably land a part on a soap opera. She had the crying part down pat.“Honey—”Joanna approached, took in Teague's naked frame with a lift of her eyebrows, and held out one hand.Teague gladly surrendered the phone.“Cait,” Joanna said, watching as Teague pulled on his jeans and headed for the kitchen, probably intending to engineer some solution to the coffee problem. “It's Mom.”“Mooooooom!” Caitlin sobbed.Usually, Caitlin was coolheaded, self-possessed, certainly not given to hysterics.“Sweetheart,” Joanna began, following a prompt from her well-developed intuition, “are you pregnant, by any chance?”Caitlin gulped. “Yes! And what kind of family is this baby going to have, I ask you? Peter's parents have been divorced since he was ten. Now you and Dad are going your separate ways! What is my child supposed to do forgrand-parents?”Teague came out of the dark kitchen, brandishing a metal coffeepot they used for camping.He was a blurry shape to Joanna because her eyes were full of tears.“Sweetheart,” Joanna said carefully, “grandparents don't have to be married to each other to do grandparent-type things.”Teague dropped the coffeepot, spilling water and dry grounds all over the plank floor. He looked so stunned that Joanna laughed.Caitlin, misunderstanding, was not pleased. “This may be funny toyou,Mother, but I assure you, it is no laughing matter! My whole life, I've imagined us all having Christmas and Thanksgiving together at the cottage, me all grown-up, with a family of my own—and now—”“There's a baby—she's—?” Teague croaked.Sammy, roused from his bed on the window seat, padded over to lap up water and grounds.“Yes, Teague,” Joanna said, speaking over Caitlin's tearful rampage, “our daughter is expecting a child.”Teague sank heavily into an easy chair.“You're not having a heart attack, are you?” Joanna asked.“Dad ishaving a heart attack?” Caitlin cried.“No,” Joanna said, very quickly. “No, sweetheart. No. He's just, well—surprised.”“Is he all right?” demanded Caitlin, frantic. Peter could be heard in the background murmuring reassurances, probably trying to wrest the telephone receiver from his bride's hand so he could find out what was going on.“Teague,” Joanna said, “Caitlin wants to know if you're all right.”“I'm—fine,” Teague said, poleaxed.“He's fine,” Joanna told Caitlin.“Joanna,” said Joanna's son-in-law on the other end of the line, “Caitlin is beside herself. Listen, if Teague is having a heart attack, we'll catch the first flight out of LAX—”“Hold it,” Joanna said. “Teague isnothaving a heart attack. Sammy is not being sent to the pound. And unless I miss my guess, no planes are landing at Sea-Tac because we're in the middle of a virtual hurricane.”“A hurricane?” Peter gasped.Caitlin's instant lament could be heard in the background.“Wait,” Joanna pleaded. “I was exaggerating. It's only a very bad rainstorm. Take a breath, Peter. And tellCaitlinto take a breath. She could hyperventilate.”“My daughter ispregnant?” Teague muttered stuporously, like a man just coming out of a coma.“Caitlin, sit down,” she heard Peter say. “Take a breath. There is no heart attack. There is no hurricane. Everything isall right.”Caitlin sobbed something incoherent.“Except that you and Teague are getting divorced,” Peter translated sadly.“Well, yes,” Joanna allowed. “We are. But it isn't the end of the world.”“As you know,” Peter replied, “Caitlin doesn't see it that way.”“Take care of her, Peter. Get her to breathe into a paper bag or something, and if she still doesn't calm down, call her doctor. This is so unlike her. She's usually so practical.”“She's been crying for two weeks straight,” Peter admitted.“And you didn't call me?”“She said it was nothing, just a mood she'd get over. Or PMS. It really resembled PMS.”Joanna sank into the second chair, remembered what she and Teague had done in it a few hours before, and sprang to her feet again. “Sammy,” she said, since Teague was still out of commission, shooing the dog away from the spilled grounds, “don't eat the coffee.”“Joanna, are yousureeverything is all right? Where are you, anyway? We tried the main house, and the cottage, and finally resorted to Teague's cell phone.”“We're fine. We're at the cottage, but the power is out, and the phone lines are evidently down, too. Put Caitlin back on, if she's able to talk.”There was some shuffling.Joanna crouched to scoop up the soggy coffee grounds with the first thing that came to hand—Teague's flannel shirt.“Mom?” Caitlin said.“Feeling better?” Joanna asked, directing the question not only to her distant daughter but to Teague, who seemed to be coming around.“Yes,” Caitlin said.“No,” said Teague.“When was the pregnancy determined?” Joanna asked. “And when is the baby due?”“We did a test yesterday,” Caitlin sniffled. “You know, with one of those drugstore kits? I saw my doctor today, and he confirmed it. It's too early to pinpoint the actual due date, but he's guesstimating it will be sometime in February.”“Are you happy?”More sniffling. “Of course I'm happy. So is Peter.” Then, bravely, “I guess we can have Christmas at your place one year and Dad's the next.”“We'll figure something out,” Joanna said gently, trying not to think about split Christmases and Thanksgivings because she knew if she did, she'd soon be sobbing as hard as Caitlin had been a few minutes before. “I promise.”“You're cutting out, Mom,” Caitlin said, sounding more like her usual self.“Your dad probably forgot to charge his cell phone again,” Joanna said.“At least I carry one,” Teague said.Joanna hated cell phones, considered them intrusive. But with the regular lines down and Caitlin so upset, she was glad Teague didn't share her sentiment. “Go back to bed, Caitlin. Get some rest. If the storm lets up, I can probably call you tomorrow.”“Wait a second,” Caitlin said. “You and dad are at the cottage together. Does that mean—?”“Tomorrow, Caitlin,” Joanna said.They rang off.“She's a baby herself,” Teague said.“Caitlin is a grown woman, Teague,” Joanna reasoned, feeling the strangest mixture of joy and sorrow. “She has a college degree, a husband, and a good job.”My baby,her heart said.My baby.And she started to cry.“Come here,” Teague said, holding out a hand.Joanna let him pull her onto his lap. Nestled against him, she buried her face in the curve between his neck and shoulder, breathing in his familiar scent.She thought of separate Christmases.Separate birthdays and Thanksgivings.And she cried even harder.“Hey,” Teague said gruffly, stroking her back, “I think we're supposed to behappyabout this.”“Iamhappy!” Joanna sobbed.Sammy, laying his muzzle on the arm of the chair Teague and Joanna were huddled in, gave a low, worried whine.“It's okay,” she told the dog.“I don't think he believes you,” Teague said.Joanna stroked Sammy's head, brushed some coffee grounds off his nose. “Really,” she said. “It's all good.”Teague held her. “Right now,” he said, “I like it fine.”Sammy gave a doggy sigh, turned, and went back to his window seat, climbing the special carpeted stairs Teague had built for him when the vet first diagnosed his arthritis.“This is hard,” Joanna whispered.
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Teague propped his chin on top of her head. “Somehow,” he said, “I don't think that's a comment on my manly virtues.”Joanna giggled moistly.“Of course, Ididbring you to three or four screaming orgasms—Grandma.”Joanna laughed and swatted at him.But he caught her face between his hands and suddenly his expression was serious. “Joanna, about the sports car—”She stiffened. Teague had said he didn't have a trophy wife waiting to plant a firm derriere in the passenger seat of his ridiculously expensive ride, and she believed him. But once the divorce was final and he was on the market, it wouldn't be long. He was smart, good-looking, successful, and great in bed—or out of it.No, it wouldn't be long.“Just for tonight,” she said, making herself relax, “let's pretend we're not getting divorced, okay?”“Sounds good to me,” Teague replied, sliding a hand up under her sweatshirt to caress her breast.Joanna was instantly hot. She swallowed a groan as Teague leaned forward to nibble at her neck, her earlobe, the base of her throat.An image of Teague's next wife invaded her mind.Pretend,Joanna told herself silently,pretend.He began, very slowly, to undress her, and soon she was straddling him in the chair, her body already moving to the age-old rhythm, straining to take him inside her.But Teague would not be rushed.He took his time, fondling her breasts.He tongued her nipples, but only sucked them when she begged.He cupped her buttocks, squeezing them firmly.And then she felt his right hand sweep around, find the core of her, and part her to ply her clitoris between his fingers. Joanna was instantly transported back to college days; they'd made love like this then, in the backseat of Teague's rattletrap car, in her dorm-room closet during a wild party, once on his parents' bed, while they were downstairs, playing bridge with neighbors.In their first apartment, after they were married.Teague slid a finger inside Joanna and worked her G-spot until she was half frantic with the need to come. But he always withdrew, just at the crucial moment; he loved to make her wait.Once, he'd lovedher.“Teague,” she murmured, throwing her head back, abandoning herself to his hands, his mouth, his damnably infinite patience. “Teague, oh, please—”“Not yet,” he told her.She began to buck against his hand, desperate for release.“Please—”“Too soon,” he said, taking most of her right breast into his mouth, then pulling back to tease her with his tongue.“Teague—”“Shh.” He worked his fingers faster inside her, then slowed.She rode his hand, felt his palm making slow circles against her clitoris even as his fingers worked her G-spot.And she shattered, broke apart into a million flaming pieces.It was over, then, she thought. Over so soon.But it wasn't over.Teague shifted, opened his jeans, and she felt him, hard and hot, ready to take her.She sagged against him, her body still convulsing with soft climaxes.He eased into her, but the size of him made her draw in a sharp breath and push back from his chest, beginning another ascent even as she trembled with the last sweet, sharp climax.There was a difference, though. Joanna was in control now, even as she climbed inexorably toward another orgasm, one she knew would be brutal in its sheer force.Gripping Teague's bare shoulders, she straightened so she could watch his face change in the dying light of the fire. Slowly, he raised and lowered his powerful hips in long, deep strokes, determined to set the pace.Joanna took over.She moved faster along his length, took him deeper, twisted her torso slightly every time his shaft was sheathed inside her.He groaned, tried to slow her pace with his hands, but Joanna would not be turned from her purpose. She pumped harder, faster, deeper, with a primitive grace that soon hadTeaguepleading, just as she had earlier.“Joanna,” he rasped, the muscles of his neck cording as he threw back his head, beginning to lose control. “Joanna—”She rode him ruthlessly.He came with a low shout and a stiffening of his whole body, nearly throwing her off with the upward thrust of his hips. She felt his warmth spilling into her and savored his unqualified surrender.I love you,she almost said.He settled slowly back into himself, his breathing still quick and shallow, his chest and thighs damp with sweat against her own slick skin. He pulled her close, held her against him.And they slept.* * *When Joanna awakened, she was still straddling Teague. The sun was up and the furnace was running, chugging dusty heat through the vents.The power was back on.Joanna sat back, blinking, and was chagrined to find Teague wide-awake, watching her with a tender, puzzled little smile.In the night, she'd been reckless, passionate, even wanton.In the daylight, she was forty-one.A grandmother-to-be.And the dog was whining at the front door, needing to go outside.She shifted to get to her feet, but Teague stopped her. Tightened his strong hands on her bare buttocks.“Joanna,” Teague said.“Don't,” she whispered.He let her up and propelled her in the direction of the bathroom.By the time she'd finished her shower, squirmed into a pair of jeans that reminded her of the five pounds she'd gained, and added a bra and a T-shirt, Teague and Sammy were back from their walk.Teague was in the kitchen, whistling.Coffee was brewing.“Let's have breakfast out,” he said as she entered. “Unless you want kibble or leftover salad.”“I'm not hungry,” Joanna lied. Didn't he know she was fat?“Well, I am,” Teague said.Sammy munched happily on his kibble.And the telephone rang.“Mom?”“Hello, Caitlin,” Joanna said, feeling oddly embarrassed.“I guess the storm must be over, huh?” Caitlin asked.Joanna glanced at Teague and found him watching her. The expression in his eyes was not grandfatherly in the least. “Yes,” she said. “The storm is over.”“I was pretty hysterical last night,” Caitlin said softly.“You're allowed,” Joanna replied.Teague made a face.Joanna made one back.“But you and Dad are at the cottage. Together.”“Caitlin—”“There's hope, then.” A frown entered Caitlin's voice. “Isn't there?”“We're here to—talk.”Teague waggled his eyebrows suggestively.“To decide things,” Joanna said, blushing. She turned her back to him.“What things?”“Caitlin.”“Okay, okay, I'll let you off the hook. For now. But I still think it's intriguing that you and Dad are—”“We got stuck here,” Joanna answered.“Poor choice of words,” Teague whispered, suddenly behind her, his breath warm against her nape, causing her skin to tingle.“Maybe if you just—talked. You know, communicated?”“I've heard of it, yes,” Joanna replied dryly. “Are you feeling better today, Cait?”“Lots better,” Caitlin said. “It was probably just hormones.”“Yes,” Joanna agreed, turning to glare at Teague because he was trying to turn her on and she was talking totheir daughter.“It was probably just hormones.”Teague pulled an invisible dart from his chest. “Sammy and I are going to the store for breakfast-type food,” he said. “Tell Caitlin I love her and congratulations.”With that, he took the keys to his sports car from the countertop and whistled for Sammy, and the two of them left the kitchen, headed for the front door.Joanna relayed the message, adding that Sammy and Teague had gone to the supermarket.“Good,” Caitlin said. “Then you can talk.”“Caitlin, wearetalking.”“About you and Dad, and your marriage. You know, the sex part.” A silenteewshrilled beneath Caitlin's words.“Caitlin Marie, do not go there. You are my daughter and I adore you. But your father's and my marriage is off-limits.Especiallythe ‘sex part.' ”“So you're admitting you do have sex?”“I'm not admitting anything of the sort. Your father and I are getting a divorce, Caitlin. I know that's hard for you to accept, but it wasn't a spur-of-the-moment decision. We made it very deliberately and gave it a lot of thought first. We're both going to be a lot happier in the long run.”Maybe theverylong run, Joanna reflected.“Is there another man in your life, Mom?”Joanna nearly choked. “No!”“Does Dad have a girl on the side?”“He says he doesn't, and I have no reason not to believe him.”Except for the sports car.“Caitlin, why are we having this conversation when I made it perfectly clear about five seconds ago that what goes on in your father's and my private lives is patently none of your business?”“I don't understand why you're doing this,” Caitlin said, sounding hurt. “That's all. You don't have another man. Dad doesn't have another woman. What is so terribly wrong that you can't work it out?”“We've grown apart,” Joanna said. “Your father wants to build a sailboat. I want to write a novel.”“And those things are mutually exclusive?”For a moment, Joanna was stumped for an answer. She could say they'd tried to save their marriage, she and Teague, but it wouldn't be true. Theyhadn'treally tried. One day, one of them—she couldn't remember which—had said, “Maybe we should just call it quits.” And the other had replied, “Maybe so.”Things had escalated from there.A tear slipped down Joanna's right cheek, but she managed to keep her tone normal. Bright, perky, everything's-fine ordinary.“Okay,” Caitlin said, “just tell me one thing, and I'll leave you alone. I promise.”“Okay,” Joanna agreed, a split second before she realized she'd just taken the bait.“Do you love Dad or not?”An enormous, painful lump formed in Joanna's throat. She tried to swallow, but it wouldn't go down.“Mom? Are you still there?”“I'm—here,” Joanna managed.“That's what I thought. You still love Dad, don't you?”Joanna realized she loved the man Teague used to be, but he'd become someone else over the past few years. As for last night, well, that had been—what? A time warp? Some kind of primitive reaction to being stranded together in a storm?“Mom?”“Caitlin, not now. Please.”“I'm coming up there,” Caitlin said decisively. “Someone has to talk sense into the two of you.”Joanna drew a deep breath and let it out slowly, silently reminding herself that she loved her daughter. Caitlin was only trying to help. “You're expecting a baby, sweetheart,” she said gently. “You have a husband and a nice apartment and a very demanding job. You can't just pick up and leave.”“Peter and I talked it over last night,” Caitlin said. “We want to take Sammy.”“Take Sammy?”“You know, give him a home.”“Hehasa home.”“Abrokenone.” Caitlin gave a small, stifled sob.Again, Joanna's eyes stung. “Yes,” she admitted, suddenly imagining all of them—herself, Teague, Caitlin and Sammy—picking their way around the storm-tossed wreckage of some once-great ship, unable to reach each other. “A broken one.”“I guess Sammy wouldn't be happy in this little apartment,” Caitlin admitted.Suddenly needing to move, Joanna wandered out of the kitchen and into the living room to stand with one bent knee resting on the window seat cushion. Sunlight danced, dazzling on the water—it was as if there'd been no storm in the night, as if she'd dreamed it.While Caitlin talked on, Joanna, only half listening, stared out at the sandy, stony beach in front of the cottage and remembered Teague and Sammy playing there. Teague throwing sticks, Sammy chasing them, bringing them back.“Sammy needs your father,” Joanna said.And deep in her heart, a silent voice added,And so do I.Chapter ThreeBy the time Sammy and Teague returned from their supermarket mission, Joanna had brought the bumpy conversation with Caitlin in for a safe landing, gathered up the quilts from the living-room floor, and opened several windows to the warmth of the day.“He's jonesing for a walk,” Teague said with a nod toward Sammy as Joanna stepped outside to help carry in the bags of groceries stuffed into the tiny trunk of the sports car. “Think breakfast could wait?”Joanna smiled even as her heart splintered inside her. Why couldn't life always be like this—simple, easy, glazed in sunlight? “Sure,” she said.So they left the groceries, and Teague caught hold of her hand, and they went across the dirt road and down the bank to the beach, Sammy gamboling joyfully ahead of them.Joanna bit her lower lip, watching him, trying to stay another spate of tears. They would have this one last glorious weekend together, she and Teague and Sammy. She envied the dog because he couldn't know just how short the time would be.“What?” Teague asked, noticing what she was trying so hard to hide.“I was just wondering—do you think we tried hard enough?”Teague looked puzzled.“To save our marriage, Teague,” Joanna prompted.“No,” Teague said. He bent, still holding Joanna's hand firmly, and picked up a stick. He tossed it a little ways for Sammy, who shot after it, a streak of happy, golden dog catapulting down the beach.“What could we have done differently?”“Talked, maybe. Instead of always assuming we already knew what the other was thinking or feeling and proceeding from there.”“Talked,” Joanna mused. “Tell me about your boat, Teague. The one you want to build.”“You hate boats. They make you claustrophobic and seasick,” Teague reminded her.She smiled. “True,” she said. “But talking about them is not the same thing as spending weeks at sea.”“Weeks at sea?” Teague echoed, confused.“Aren't you planning to sail around the Horn or something?”He chuckled, though whether it was because her question had amused him or because Sammy was nudging him in the knees with the stick, wanting him to toss it again, Joanna had no way of knowing.So she waited, strangely breathless.“No,” Teague finally said after throwing the stick, a little farther this time, and watching as Sammy raced after it. “I just want to go fishing.”“Then why not simplybuya boat?” Joanna asked. “Why go to all the trouble of building one?”“For the experience, Joanna,” Teague answered. “I'm used to building things. Caitlin's backyard playhouse. The dog steps in there by the window seat. The company.”“Oh,” Joanna said. “I guess I pictured you sailing the high seas.”Sammy came back with the stick, but he was tiring. He wasn't used to running along beaches anymore.Teague spotted a fallen log a little way down the beach and led Joanna there to sit. Sammy lay down gratefully in the sand, panting but still holding on to his treasured stick.“You pictured me sailing the high seas,” Teague said, gazing out over the waters of the sound, so tranquil now, so dangerously stormy the night before. He looked sadly amused. “No doubt with a long-legged blonde for a first mate?”Joanna hesitated, then let her head rest against the side of Teague's shoulder for a long moment. “And the whole time, you were imagining a dinghy a hundred yards from shore?”“Pretty much,” Teague said.“I should have asked you.”“I should have told you, whether you asked or not.” Teague slipped an arm around Joanna and held her close for a moment. “Are we still pretending right now, Joanna,” he asked, “or is this real?”“I'm not sure,” Joanna said softly.“Me, either,” Teague admitted. He leaned to stroke Sammy's mist-dampened back. “I'm not sure of much of anything right now.”“Neither am I.”“Tell me about the novel.”“It would be about a marriage. A young couple falling in love, having a child, building a wonderful life together—and growing apart in ordinary ways. Becoming strangers to each other.”“You forgot about the golden retriever they adopted at the pound,” Teague said, with an attempt at a grin that pierced Joanna's heart again.“Oh, I didn't forget that,” Joanna answered.“Will they break up, these people in your book? Or will they work things out?” He was looking deep into her eyes now, peeling back the layers of her very soul. “Stay together for the sake of the dog, maybe?”Joanna chuckled, but it came out sounding more like a sob. “I don't know,” she said. “Maybe it's too late for them. Maybe it would be better—kinder—to just cut their losses and run.”Sammy had recovered after his brief rest and got to his feet, eager to chase the stick again.Teague let his arm fall slowly from around Joanna's shoulders and stood, Sammy's stick in his hand. “Time to head back,” he told the dog. “You don't want to overdo it, boy.”Joanna rose, too, reluctantly. She'd wanted so much to hold on to the moment she and Teague had shared, but it was already gone.So the three of them walked back to the cottage, one buoyant with faith in a good world, two doing their best to pretend things weren't falling apart.* * *Joanna needed to be busy, so she constructed an elaborate omelet from the contents of Teague's grocery bags. While she cooked, he plugged his cell phone in to charge, in case of another power outage, and carried in more wood from the shed out back. The transistor radio burbled news from the kitchen counter.Some of the ferry docks had been damaged in the storm, so only a few routes were still being run, and while the weather was good now, there was another system brewing off the coast, one that might get ugly. She switched off the radio, set the table, poured juice, and waited while Teague washed up at the kitchen sink.“I guess we couldn't get back to Seattle today even if we wanted to,” she said lightly, wondering all the time she was speaking why she was practically holding her breath for Teague's reaction.“Oh?” Teague asked without turning around.“Maybe not tomorrow, either. According to the news, we're likely to have another storm.”“That's terrible,” Teague said, but when he faced Joanna at last, he was grinning. “Absolutely the worst thing that could possibly happen.”Confused, Joanna blinked, momentarily speechless.“No wonder everybody was buying up all the bottled water and propane when Sammy and I were at the market,” Teague said.Sammy, lying on a nearby rug, lifted his head at the sound of his name, then rested it on his forelegs again when he realized no stick was going to be thrown.“You're being awfully casual about this,” Joanna said.Teague rounded the table, stood behind Joanna, placed his hands on her shoulders, and gently but firmly pressed her into her chair. “Have you got a better idea?”“Well, maybeweshould stock up on bottled water and propane.”“Eat, Joanna,” Teague said, sitting down across from her and helping himself to half the omelet. “I bought some already. Madge Potter will drop it off later, in her truck.”Madge, who had lived on Firefly Island all her life, was a local institution. She published the small weekly newspaper, dug clams when the tides were right and sold them door to door—and delivered groceries.“You'reenjoyingthis,” Joanna accused, but she was smiling.“The omelet? Definitely. This is first-rate, Joanna. No wonder your cookbooks sell like—”“Hotcakes?” Joanna teased.He grinned. “Does the woman in your book write cookbooks?”“No,” Joanna said. She hadn't written a word of the novel yet, but Teague spoke as though she were halfway through. “She's a chef and owns an elegant restaurant.”Teague paused, swallowed, and frowned thoughtfully. “Oh,” he said. When he met Joanna's gaze, his blue eyes were solemn, even grave. “Do you wish you'd become a chef? Started that restaurant you used to talk about?”Joanna considered. “No,” she said. “It would have taken too much time. Raising Caitlin and being your wife pretty much filled my dance card.”“ ‘Pretty much'?”“I was happy, Teague.”“Emphasis on the ‘was'?”“I didn't say that.”“Joanna, if you were happy, we wouldn't be dividing everything we own—including the dog.”“Ifyouwere happy, you wouldn't have worked eighteen-hour days long after the company was up and running,” Joanna said. “You wouldn't have bought a sports car.”“That again? It's acar,Joanna. Not an effort to recapture my youth.”Joanna lowered her fork to the table and stared down at her portion of the omelet, as yet untouched.“Look,” Teague said, making an obvious effort to hold on to his temper, “if the car bothers you so much, I'll sell it.”She looked up. “You'd do that?”Before he could answer, a vehicle rattled into the driveway alongside the house, backfired a couple of times, and clunked its way to a reverberating silence.“Madge is here,” Teague said. And he smiled.In the next moment, a knock sounded at the back door.Sammy gave an uncertain woof and slowly raised himself to all four feet.Teague went to the door.“Got your water and propane and all that camping stuff,” Madge boomed out. “It's an extra ten bucks over and above what you already paid me if I gotta unload it.”Teague chuckled. “Come in and have coffee with Joanna,” he told Madge. “I'll unload the truck.”“Don't mind if I do,” Madge thundered as Teague stepped back to let her pass. She was a tall, burly-looking woman, well into her sixties and clad in her usual bib overalls, flannel shirt, and rubber fishing boots. Her broad face was weathered by years of wind and salt-water spray, her gray hair stood out around her head, thick and unruly, and her smile was warm and full of genuine interest. She leaned to pat Sammy on the head once before he followed Teague outside.“Hello, Madge,” Joanna said, already filling a mug from the coffeemaker. “Have you eaten?”“Hours ago,” Madge proclaimed. “Not a bit hungry. That was some storm we had last night, wasn't it? Nils and me, we thought it would take the roof right off our cabin.”Nils was Madge's live-in boyfriend. He worked on the fishing boats in Alaska in season and ran the printing press when he was home. He was a good twenty years younger than Madge and was known to write her long, poetic letters when he was away.“Sit down,” Joanna invited, handing Madge the steaming mug.“Best stand,” Madge said. “Sit down too much, and these old bones might just rust enough so's I can't get up again.”Joanna chuckled. As colloquial and homey as Madge's speech was, she wrote like the seasoned journalist she was. Joanna particularly enjoyed her column, which contained everything from political diatribes to recipes to local gossip. “Not likely,” she said.“Good to see you and Teague out here together,” Madge went on, narrowing her eyes speculatively. “The way I heard it, you two were on the outs. On the verge of divorce.”“Madge Potter,” Joanna said, as a disturbing possibility dawned, “don't youdarewrite about us in that column of yours!”“Well, I wouldn't name names or anything like that,” Madge promised before taking a noisy slurp of her coffee. “'Course, if I said anything about that sports car, everybody'd figure it out. Stirred up a lot of interest around here, I can tell you, when Teague showed up driving that flashy rig with that redhead—”Madge gulped back the remainder of the sentence, but it was too late.“Redhead?” Joanna asked, mortified, furious, and totally blindsided, all at once.“Oops,” Madge said.Teague appeared in the open doorway at just that moment, a propane jug under each arm. He looked from Madge to Joanna, connecting the dots, and the color drained out of his face.“I guess I'd best be going,” Madge announced and hastened out. Seconds later, her old truck roared to life and rumbled away.“You were here—on the island—with a redhead?” Joanna asked, her voice deceptively mild.Slowly, Teague set the propane tanks down. Sammy slithered between Teague and the door frame and headed for the living room, ears lowered and tail tucked, like a canine soldier hearing the whistle of approaching mortar fire.“It wasn't what you think,” Teague said.“Wasn't it?” Joanna retorted, folding her arms. “Teague, you and Caitlin and Sammy and I came here as a family for years. Everybody knows us. Andyou brought a redhead to this cottage?”“Joanna—”“Shut the door.”Teague reached behind him and closed the door with a soft click.“Yourotten liar!” Joanna accused.Teague reddened, and his jaw took on a familiar hardness. He was shutting down, backing away. In another moment, he'd turn his back on her and refuse to—refuse to what? Explain? Tell more lies?To Joanna's surprise, relief, and outrage, Teague stood his ground. “You're not going to like the truth a whole lot better than what youthinkhappened,” he said. “Ava isn't my lover. She's a real estate agent, specializing in vacation properties. I should have talked to you about it first, I admit that, but you were so busy doing interviews to promote your cookbook—”
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