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The Millionaire Claims His Wife(9)

By:Sandra Marton



"What's going to happen?" he said carefully.

Annie shrugged. "Their love will shrivel up and die."

"That's ridiculous."

"I said the same thing."

"And?"

"And, she said..." Annie swallowed hard. "She said she'd watched us today, at the wedding."

"Us?" Chase nodded, as if he had a clue as to what they were talking  about. The only thing he was sure of was that the water was definitely  getting deeper. And rougher. "As in you, and me?"

"Us," Annie repeated, "as in you, and me. She said it hurt her to see  how we hated being forced into each other's arms, on the dance floor."

"Well, of course we did. Nobody warned us that was going to happen. Did you explain that to her?"

"I did."

Chase thought back to the moment when Annie had gone into his arms. He  thought beyond that, to when he'd suddenly realized how good it had felt  to have her there, and he cleared his throat.

"We managed, didn't we?"

"Sure. I pointed that out to her."

"And?"

"And, she said it was sad, that-that we'd had to pretend we enjoyed  dancing together again." Annie's cheeks grew warm. She could clearly  recall the instant when being held in Chase's arms had gone from being  an unwanted chore to being-to being... She took a deep breath. "I told  her it was nothing for her to worry about."

"And?"

"And, that was it."

"What was it? I don't know what the hell you're talking about."

Annie put her mug on the sill beside her. Then she linked her hands together in her lap.                       
       
           



       

"That was what triggered it."

"Triggered what? I still don't know what-"

"Dawn said she was standing at the airport ticket counter, just standing  there, you know, while Nick checked their luggage through and confirmed  their seats, and all of a sudden it struck her that what was really so  sad about you and me was that once upon a time, we must have loved each  other a great deal."

"She'd have liked it better if we hadn't?"

Annie swallowed. Her throat felt uncomfortably tight. "She said-she said  that she realized, for the first time, that you and I must have felt  just the way she and Nick feel. You know, as if we were the only two  people on the whole planet who'd ever loved each other so much."

"Lovers always feel that way," Chase said gruffly.

"She said that if her mother and father could go from feeling like that  to-to feeling the way we do about each other now, then she didn't want  any part of the process that got them-that got us-to this point."

Chase stared at his ex-wife. Her eyes were glassy with unshed tears and  her mouth was trembling. Was she remembering, as he was, how it had once  been between them? The joy? The passion? After a long minute, he  cleared his throat again.

"What'd you say?"

"What could I say?"

"That our mistakes don't have to be hers, for starters."

Annie waved her hand in a sad little gesture of dismissal.

"Did you tell her that she was probably tired and jittery, and overdramatizing things?"

"Yes."

"Good."

"I thought so, too." Annie sighed. "But Dawn said she was just being  pragmatic. She said she'd rather end things between her and Nick now,  while they still cared for each other, than wait until-until they hated  each other."

"God, Annie. We don't hate each other. You told her that, didn't you?"

Annie nodded.

"And?"

"And she said I was kidding myself, that love and hate were two sides of  the same coin, that there was no middle ground, once people who'd been  in love fell out of love."

Chase blew out his breath. "My daughter, the philosopher."

Annie looked up, her eyes filling again. "What are we going to do?" she whispered.

"I don't know."

"Dawn's heart is breaking. There's got to be something! We can't just  let her walk away from Nick. She loves him, Chase. And he loves her."

"I know. I know." Chase shoved his hand through his hair. "Let me think for a minute."

"Our daughter's terrified of marriage, and it's our fault!"

Chase shot to his feet. "That's crap."

"It's the truth."

"It isn't. It's bad enough we couldn't make our marriage work but I'll  be damned if I'm going to feel guilty for the failure of Dawn's  marriage. You hear me, Annie?"

"The entire house will hear you," Annie hissed. "Keep your voice down, before you wake the kids."

"They're not 'kids.' Didn't you just tell me that? Our daughter was old  enough to decide she was ready to get married even though, according to  you, you tried to talk her out of it."

"According to me?" Annie leaped up, her hands on her hips. "I did try to  talk her out of it! But you'd already caved in and given her the  'follow your heart' baloney. You told her to do what she wanted!"

"That's not true." Chase strode toward Annie, his eyes blazing. "I  begged her to think and think again. I said she was too damned young to  take such a serious step-and guess what? I was right."

Annie's shoulders slumped. "Okay, okay. So we both tried to convince her  to wait. So maybe she should have listened to us. But she didn't."

"No. She didn't. She did her own thing. And then she sees us dancing and  all of a sudden, she turns into Sigmund Freud and figures out that  she's made a terrible mistake."

"Chase, please! Keep your voice-"

"She has an epiphany, brought on by seeing us dancing. Why not by a gum  wrapper on the floor at the airport, or the electrical energy from an  overhead wire?"

"This is not something to joke about, dammit!"

"Maybe it was some guy at a piano, playing a three-handed version of  'The Man That Got Away.'" Chase lifted his arms to the sky, then dropped  them to his sides. "What was wrong with her hearing the day her old man  tried to give her some advice?"                       
       
           



       

"It was advice I'd tried to give her, too," Annie said coldly. "I keep telling you that."

"What was the use of my talking," Chase said, ignoring her, "if she  wasn't listening? She did what she wanted and now she thinks she can lay  it off on our divorce?" Chase's mouth thinned. "I don't think so."

"She's not trying to lay anything off. She's upset."

"She's upset? What about everybody else? Does she think we're busy  yakking it up and having an all-around good time?" Chase's face  darkened. "Do you know what it was like, having Nick turn up at the door  to tell me Dawn had run off and he couldn't find her? Do you have any  idea at all of what that kid and I went through?"

"Yelling won't help, Chase."

"Neither will playing the patsy." Chase rammed his fist against the wall. "If only you'd put your foot down sooner."

"Dammit," Annie said fiercely, "I did!"

"I don't know what you did. I wasn't here for the past five years, remember?"

"And whose fault was that?"

Chase and Annie glared at each other, and then Annie blew out her breath.

"This is pointless. There's no sense bringing up the past. Dawn needs  our help. We can't let her walk away from Nick and her marriage for the  wrong reasons."

"I agree. Damn, if only she'd made do with simply moving in with Nick. Why'd she have to rush into marriage?"

"A little while ago, you were furious because she had moved in with him!"

"Didn't you teach her any self-control? If she hadn't let her hormones get the best of her-"

"How dare you? How dare you talk about self-control? If you'd had any self-control at all, we might still be married!"

"I'm tired of defending myself against that old charge, Annie. Besides, if you hadn't treated me as if I had leprosy-"

"That's right. Blame it on me."

"I don't see anybody else in this room to blame it on."

"I hate you, Chase Cooper! I hate you, do you hear? And I regret every time I ever let you touch me!"

"Liar!"

"Liar, am I?"

Chase reached out, caught Annie's shoulders and yanked her to him. "You  were like warm butter, in my arms, right from the beginning."

"Only because I was so innocent!" Annie set her teeth and tried to twist  free. "I was a baby when we met. Or have you forgotten that?"

"You were the hottest baby I'd ever seen. The first time I kissed you,  you were like fireworks going up. All I could think of was having you to  myself, for the rest of my life."

"Except when you found out there was more to life than bed."

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