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The Millionaire Claims His Wife(8)

By:Sandra Marton



Too bad. Too damned bad, considering that she was the one had gotten  them into this mess in the first place. If only she hadn't been so  damned permissive. If only she'd put her foot down right at the start,  told Dawn she was too young to get married-

"It deserves kicking," he grumbled, but he stepped aside and let her  swish past him, snatch up the chair cushions and plump them, as if that  might remove any sign he'd sat there. "How's Dawn?"

"She's asleep." Annie tucked the cushions back in place. "How's Nick? I assume he's still here?"

"Yes, he's here. He's asleep, in the living room."

"And he's okay?"

"As okay as he can be, all things considered. Has our daughter told you yet just what, exactly, is going on?"

Annie looked at him. Then she ran her fingers through her hair, smoothing the curls back from her face.

"How about some tea?" Without waiting for his answer, she set off for  the kitchen. "Unless you'd prefer coffee," she asked, switching on the  overhead fluorescent light.

"Tea's fine," Chase said, blinking in the sudden glare. He sank onto one  of the stools that stood before the kitchen counter, watching as Annie  filled a kettle with water and put it on the stove. "Has she?"

"Has she what?" Annie yanked open the pantry door. She took out a box of  tea bags and put it on the counter. "Would you like a cookie? Of  course, I don't have those hideous things you always preferred, with all  that goo in the middle."                       
       
           



       

"Just tea," he replied, refusing to rise to the bait. "What did Dawn say?"

Annie shut the pantry door and opened the refrigerator. "How about a sandwich? Swiss? Or there's some ham, if you prefer."

"Annie..."

"You'd have to take it on whole grain bread, though, the kind you always said-"

"-that I wouldn't touch until somebody strapped a feed bag over my face  and a saddle on my back. No, thank you very much, I don't want a  sandwich. I don't want anything, except to know what our daughter told  you and what it is you don't want to tell me." Chase's eyes narrowed.  "Has Nick mistreated her?"

"No, of course not." Annie shut the refrigerator door. The kettle had  begun to hiss, and she grabbed for it before it could whistle. "Hand me a  couple of mugs, would you? They're in that cupboard, right beside you."

"He doesn't seem the type who would." Chase grabbed two white china mugs  and slid them down the counter to Annie. "But if he's so much as hurt a  hair on our daughter's head, so help me-"

"Will you please calm down? I'm telling you, it isn't that. Nick's a sweetheart."

"Well, what is it, then?"

Annie looked at him, then away. "It's, ah, it's complicated."

"Complicated?" Chase's eyes narrowed again. "It's not-the boy isn't..."

"Isn't what? Do you still take two sugars, or have you finally learned to lay off the stuff?"

"Two sugars, and stop nagging."

Annie dumped two spoonfuls of sugar into her ex's tea, and stirred briskly.

"You're right. You can wallow in sugar, for all I care. Your health isn't my problem anymore, it's hers."

"Hers?"

"Janet Pendleton."

"Janet Pen..." He flushed. "Oh. Her."

Annie slapped the mug of tea in front of him, hard enough so some of the  hot amber liquid sloshed over the rim and onto his fingers.

"That's right. Let your fiancée worry about your weight."

"Nobody's got to worry about my weight," Chase said, surreptitiously sucking in his gut.

He was right, Annie thought sourly, as she slid onto the stool next to  his. Nobody did. He was still as solid-looking and handsome as he'd been  the day they'd married-or the day they'd divorced. Another benefit of  being male. Men didn't have to see the awful changes that came along, as  you stood at top of the yawning chasm that was middle age. The numbers  that began to creep upward on your bathroom scale. The flesh that began  to creep downward. The wrinkles that Janet Pendleton didn't have. The  sags Chase's cute little secretary hadn't had, either.

"...make him normal. That's not what happened with Dawn and Nick, is it?"

Annie frowned. "What are you talking about?"

"Reality, that's what. I was telling you that I just heard about this  guy, married a girl even though he knew he was a switch hitter, hoping  that having a wife would make him normal-"

Annie choked over her tea. "Good grief," she said, when she could speak,  "you are such a pathetic mate stereotype, Chase Cooper! No, Nicholas is  not, as you so delicately put it, a 'switch hitter."'

"You're sure?"

"Yes."

"Yeah, well, it might not hurt to ask."

"Nick and Dawn have been living together, the past three months. And  Dawn hasn't so much as hinted at any problem in bed. Quite the  contrary." Annie blushed. "I dropped in a couple of times-not in the  morning, or late at night, you understand-and I could pretty much tell,  from the time it took them to get to the door and the way they looked,  that things were perfectly fine in that department." She looked down at  her tea. "I don't drop by without calling first, anymore."

"What do you mean, they've been living together?"

"Just what I said. Didn't Dawn tell you? They took an apartment, in Cannondale."

"Dammit, Annie, how could you permit our daughter to do that?"

"To do what? Move in with the man she was going to marry?"

"Didn't you tell her no?"

"She's eighteen, Chase. Legally of age. Old enough to make her own choices."

"So?"

"What do you mean, 'so'?"

"You could have told her it was wrong."

"Love is never wrong."

"Love," Chase said, and shook his head. "Sex, is more like it."                       
       
           



       

"I asked her to take her time and think it through, to be sure she was  doing the right thing. She said she'd done that, and that she was."

"Sex," Chase said again.

Annie sighed. "Sex, love...they go together."

"Yeah, well, they could have had the one and still waited for the other,  until after the wedding." Chase glowered into his tea. "But I suppose  that's too old-fashioned."

"It was, for us."

Chase looked up sharply. Color swept into his face. "What we did, or didn't do, has nothing to do with this situation."

"That's where you're wrong." Annie stood. She picked up her mug of tea,  cupped it with both hands and walked to the deep bow window that  overlooked the garden. "I'm afraid we have everything to do with this  situation."

"What are you talking about?"

"Do me a favor, will you? Shut off the light. My head's pounding like a drum."

"You want some aspirin?"

Annie shook her head. "I already took some." She sat down on the sill,  her knees drawn up to her chin, her eyes on the darkness beyond the  glass. "You want to know what Dawn said? Okay, I'll tell you, but you're  not going to like it."

"I don't like much of anything that's already happened today," Chase  said, getting to his feet and walking toward her. "Why should this be  any different?"

"The first thing she said was that she loves Nick."

"Uh-huh." Chase folded his arms and leaned back against the window  frame. "Why do I get the feeling we're about to play, 'good news, bad  news'?"

"She said she knows that he loves her."

"That's the good news, right?"

Annie nodded. "The bad news is that she ran away from him for the same reason."

Chase's brows knotted. "Let me be sure I'm following this. Our daughter  fell in love, got engaged, moved in with the guy, married him, went off  with him on her honeymoon...and then decided to bolt because it dawned  on her that she loves him and he loves her?"

Annie sighed. "Well, it's a bit more complicated than that."

"I'm relieved to hear it. For a second there, I thought I was going completely nuts. What's the rest?"

"She's afraid."

"She's afraid," Chase said, trying to stay calm. He had the feeling they  were moving into the sort of emotional deep water that women swam  through effortlessly and men found way over their heads. "Of what?"

"Of them falling out of love."

"Annie." Chase sat down on the sill, his knee brushing hers. "You just  said, girl loves boy. Boy loves girl. They're just starting out. There's  no reason for her to think-"

"She's afraid of what's going to happen."

Chase waited, but Annie said nothing. He could almost see the water rising.

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