The Trouble with Angels

Page 30

However, as Maureen looked back over her life since the divorce, she was forced to admit how much better off she and Karen were without her ex-husband.

"And since the divorce?”

Karen’s nightmares had been much better since she’d started the horseback riding. But Maureen was well aware that a few lessons weren’t the cure-all to Karen’s troubles. It was just that she couldn’t afford counseling on top of everything else.

"And since,” Maureen repeated, "she’s doing all right.”

"All right?”

"She needs counseling. For that matter, so do I.”

"It helped me tremendously after Pam died.”

"You had counseling?”

Thom’s hands gripped the mug. "I’m not ashamed to admit I needed it.”

Maureen knew from previous conversations that Thom had been deeply in love with his wife. From what he’d told her about his marriage, it had sounded ideal, almost too good to be true.

"The counseling helped.”

"I’m sure it did.” She stared into the murky depths of her own coffee.

"As strange as it may seem, I had to work hard at forgiving Pam for dying.”

"Forgiving her?”

"I know that must sound unreasonable. At the time I couldn’t justify my feelings. One night shortly after the funeral, I was cooking dinner and the potatoes boiled onto the stove. It was a little thing, but I was so angry I damn near put my fist through the wall.”

"Angry? But why?”

"If Pam had been there, it never would have happened. I wouldn’t be coming in from the barn and left to deal with dinner for Paula and me. It’d be on the table.” His smile was filled with a wry sadness. "In my heart I know Pam didn’t want to die any more than we wanted her to, but I still had to learn to forgive her.” Thom raised the coffee mug to his lips and hesitated. "It might help you.”

"What might?”

"Forgiving Brian.”

Maureen stared at him, hardly able to believe what he’d said. "Forgive Brian? You’ve got to be kidding.”

It might have been Joy’s imagination, but even the air seemed to chill between her and Ted, trapped as they were in the elevator.

He hadn’t spoken in ten minutes or longer. Those minutes were probably the most intense of Joy’s life. Her legs were growing tired, and she wondered just how much longer it would take for the electricity to return so she could escape these uncomfortable circumstances. She wondered what had happened to cause the outage; her fears mounted.

"You can sit on my jacket if you like,” Ted suggested, breaking the quiet.

"I’m fine,” she returned, and then, because it had been a generous thing to do, she added, "Thanks for the offer, though.”

A silence, then, "You’re welcome.”

Joy smiled into the darkness, and she had the distinct impression that Ted was grinning, too, although she had no way of knowing if that were so.

The elevator car remained pitch-black. It amazed her how much she could feel in the dark. How alive her senses were, sharing this compact space with him. Ted was as far removed from her as was humanly possible. She could feel his breath on the back of her neck, feel the heavy thud of his heartbeat.

"I wish I had a match,” she said, thinking out loud. The lack of light was dangerous to her emotional well-being. Already she was moving closer to him, mentally, if not physically. After fifteen minutes alone with him, she was thinking that her steadfast rule about dating a man involved with someone else should be more of a guideline.

"Matches,” Ted repeated. "Don’t tell me you’re afraid of the bogeyman?”

"No. Well, maybe a little,” she conceded.

It grew tiresome to stand after a while, and her feet were beginning to hurt. "If you don’t mind, I’ll take you up on that offer,” she said.

"The coat or the date?”

"The coat.”

"Damn,” he muttered.

Joy could hear the laughter in his voice. She wished she didn’t find it so easy to smile when she was with him. A rustling sound followed as he removed his suit coat and spread it on the floor.

"It seems a shame to dirty your jacket.”

"There’s nothing here the dry cleaners can’t remove.”

Fumbling with her hands to find her way, Joy lowered herself onto his suit jacket. She sat with her legs scooted to one side and her weight leveled onto one arm.

Sitting, she soon discovered, meant being close was unavoidable. She didn’t need their shoulders to touch to feel his presence. He was there, bigger than life.

"I apologize for snapping at you,” she said, regretting her earlier behavior. It wasn’t his fault the electricity had gone out, although she would have been happy to blame him.

"My temperament wasn’t any better,” he admitted, and then with regret added, "What’s happened to us, Joy? We used to be friends, remember? Good friends. I’ve never enjoyed an evening more than the one I spent at the Lakers game with you.”

"Yes, well—”

"When I’m with you,” he said, cutting her off, "I feel everything more intensely. Hell, I don’t even know what I did that was so terrible. Okay, okay, I know it has to do with Blythe—”

"I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to talk.”

"Not talk?” He sounded incredulous.

"About us,” she clarified. "I can’t see beating the subject into the ground, can you?” Any further discussion would lead to more hurt, and she’d been miserable enough the last few days. In her heart of hearts she’d accepted that he was going to marry Blythe Homes.

"I see.” His words were pensive. "If you’d give me an opportunity, I’d like to tell you about Blythe and me.”

"Please, no,” she said quickly before he had a chance to drag the other woman between them. Not that Blythe wasn’t already there, as bold as could be. She had been since the beginning: suave, sophisticated, reminding Joy of everything she would never be.

Other than being strikingly beautiful, Blythe Holmes was sober faced and serious minded. One couldn’t look at the woman and not speculate at her importance. She was the perfect wife and professional for an up-and-coming engineer. Ted’s future was bright. Catherine had bragged about her grandson’s achievements often enough for Joy to know he was considered brilliant.

"All right, we won’t talk about us,” Ted agreed reluctantly.

Joy wasn’t sure if it was by accident or design, but they seemed to be moving closer to each other. Sitting side by side as they were, their shoulders touched. Then, without her being sure how he managed it, Ted positioned himself behind her.

It was difficult to keep her back straight, and then gradually, almost without conscious effort, she found herself using his broad chest for support.

His hands cupped her shoulders and eased her back even more. Joy closed her eyes and against her better judgment allowed herself to be drawn into the warm, welcome circle of his arms. His nose nuzzled the side of her neck, and his hot breath fanned her cool skin.

Unable to raise so much as a token resistance, Joy decided she was weak, much weaker than she ever realized. For the first time in days she felt warm and content. It was cold outside Ted’s arms, cold and lonely. She knew his attention was temporary, fleeting at best, but she needed his touch and his tenderness.

Joy, a willing participant, maneuvered their positions so they faced each other. His hands framed her face, and his thumb skidded across her lips. She knew he intended to kiss her long before he brought his mouth to hers. Knew it and welcomed it.

His mouth was warm and moist when it settled over hers. Joy sighed at the simple pleasure his touch produced. They’d kissed before. This keen sense of satisfaction shouldn’t have come as a surprise, yet it did.

He wove his fingers into her hair, bunching it up in his hands as his mouth glided over hers. He molded the shape of her lips with his, with a heat and a need that seared her senses.

A frightening kind of excitement took hold of Joy, and she opened her mouth to him. Ted’s tongue went in search of hers, and she moaned aloud at this new level of intimacy.

Joy wasn’t sure where they would have progressed from there if the lights hadn’t suddenly gone back on and the elevator hadn’t abruptly jolted them back into the real world.

Ted muttered something under his breath that she couldn’t fully decipher. What she did manage to hear, she agreed with entirely.

"I have a dinner engagement with my grandmother,” he told her. He continued to hold her, although the elevator had started to move. "Can I come see you afterward?”

"Ah.” It shouldn’t be this difficult to decide.

He kissed her again with a hunger that sent her world spinning off its orbit. "Okay,” she agreed, sounding weak and unsure. At the moment she was both.

"Joy,” he said, helping her to her feet, "you’ve got to trust me. I’m not going to hurt you, I promise. Trust me, all right? That’s all I ask.”

The elevator arrived, and Ted stepped off reluctantly. He backed out of the elevator and raised his fingers to his lips in a gesture of farewell.

"Said the spider to the fly,” Joy murmured.

Trust him. That was all he’d asked. Her heart told her she should, and her head, her know-it-all head, insisted otherwise. Joy grinned and decided to believe her heart.

"What happened?” she asked the first person she saw when she stepped off the elevator.

"Happened?” questioned Justine, a library committee member.

"With the electricity.”

Justine stared at her blankly. "I don’t know.”

"We didn’t lose power?”

"No,” Justine said. "What makes you ask?”

Joy barely had time to get home, shower, and change her clothes before Ted showed up outside her door.

"That was fast,” she said, but in truth she was pleased. The timer on the over dinged and she padded barefoot back into her kitchen.

Ted caught her by the hand and brought her into his embrace. She wasn’t given the opportunity to protest, although she wasn’t certain she would have, before he kissed her.

She was breathless and witless by the time he finished.

"That was about the fastest dinner on record,” he told her. "As soon as Grandma learned I was meeting you, she insisted she wasn’t hungry.”

"You didn’t believe her, did you?”

"Not on your life.”


"But that doesn’t mean I didn’t take her to her favorite fast-food place, order her the works, and drive her back to the Wilshire Grove in record time.”

"Ted, you didn’t!”

"Yes, I did. I’m not wasting a minute more without you. I’m crazy about you, Joy.”

She shut her eyes and turned her head away from him. "Don’t say that, please. It’s difficult enough.”

He gripped her by the shoulders and turned her so that it was impossible to hide from him. "You don’t want to hear how I feel about you?”

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