Authors: Brenda Hill
Why not? I’m a friend helping a friend. Nothing wrong with that.”
“We both know you have more than that in mind.”
“I sure hope so.”
What was it about this man that he could leave me speechless? And I did feel a softening toward him, but that was only because of what he’d done for me. Of course it was, wasn’t it?
Yet I had the strangest feeling that this man, who was practically a stranger, actually cared about me. I hadn’t had that feeling very often.
Stopping short, I blinked. Of all the silly notions. Of course people cared. I’d had a husband, still had a daughter, and there was Stan and Maggie. Where did I get such a ridiculous idea?
I glanced at my rumpled pantsuit. “I shouldn’t go anywhere. I look a mess.”
“Didn’t anyone ever tell you that you look pretty in blue? But then, you’d be pretty in anything. Or without anything, for that matter.”
Jerking my arm from his grasp, I was ready to make a scathing remark until I saw the way he was looking at me, not as though he were a man on the make, but as someone who was just stating something they believed. Warmth flooded my face and slid all the way down to my toes.
Oh, God, what was happening her
e? And what was wrong with me?
“Since you’re still a little shaky,” he said, “why don’t I drive. Then afterwards, I’ll bring you back to your car. After some time away from here and something to drink, you’ll be in better condition to drive home. Or wherever you want to go.”
Without another word he guided me to his Lexus, supporting me as if I were the most delicate creature on earth.
For most of my life I’d made a conscious effort to always be sufficient and strong, and that meant I had to keep my emotions under constant control. I’d never been allowed to show anger, not with my stepfather, certainly not with Mac. The few times in my marriage I’d raised my voice, Mac hadn’t said much; he’d simply stared at me as if I’d suddenly sprouted two heads and then he’d disappear into his den and wouldn’t speak to me for several days. I’d feel so guilty and miserable that I always ended up apologizi
ng and begging his forgiveness.
Now this man, this strange man who seemed to delight in the
sassy, uninhibited woman I'd never allowed myself to be, suddenly made me feel acceptable, like something precious. And I wasn’t sure how to react.
After the server took our orders, Terry slid next to me in the booth, so close I could feel the heat from h
is body. I scooted to the edge.
“Perfect,” he said,
again sliding next to me. “Now there’s no place for you to go.”
“If you don’t get up and sit acros
s from me, I’m going to leave.”
“You can’t leave because I drove you.” He looked so pleased with himself that I wanted to slug him.
“I knew I shouldn’t have allowed that,” I told him, glancing around the room. “I can always call a taxi.” Since it was past the noon hour, the family restaurant had a few stragglers, but there were several vacant tables. One table for four sat right in front of our booth. I grabbed my handbag and moved to the table, taking the chair with my back to Terry.
“Don’t do that,” he said. “I’ll be good. I promise.”
Ignoring him, I glanced over the menu as if I intended to order something more.
“Look,” he called out, “I moved.”
Peeking over the top of the menu to see if anyone was looking, I saw that we had attracted the attention of two middle-aged women. Both were smiling.
“Returrrrnnn to meeee,” Terry sang to the tune of the old Dean Martin song.
Oh, my God. I twisted around. “Will you please shut up?”
“You don’t like my singing? I’m crushed. I thought I had a good voice. Maybe you didn’t hear enough.” He immediately went into another verse, only this time he sang louder.
I wanted to crawl under the chair. Who could I call to pick me up? I didn’t want to bother Stan over this. Damn, how could I have been so stupid? Maggie. She’d come to get me. But then, she’d never let me forget it. Calling a taxi seemed to be my only alternative.
The server brought our drinks, briefly hesitating when she saw me sitting alone at the table. Placing Terry’s coffee in front of him, she turned to my table to serve my iced tea.
“Lover’s spat,” Terry told her in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear.
The heat rose in my face. Good God, what was wrong with the man? And what insane noti
on made me agree to this farce?
“We’re not lovers,” I corrected, ignoring Terry. “We haven’t been to be
d together,” I blurted. Then, horrified at what I’d said, I sunk even lower in the chair.
She smiled and even had the effrontery to wink at me before making her way to a noisy family of five.
I pulled my cell phone from my handbag and punched in Maggie’s number. Nothing happened, so I tried again. The damn thing wasn’t working. Of all times...
“Lisa,” Terry said, his voice soft, “please join me.”
Once again I grabbed my handbag and stood, almost tripping over the chair in my haste to leave. I hurried to the cashier and asked for the pay phone. Following her pointing finger, I made my way to the phone, Terry at my heels.
“Please don't leave
.” Terry covered the coin slot with his hand. “I apologize if I’m acting like an idiot, but you see, I don’t have much time. I have to make you understand.”
rstand all right. You’re a newly-divorced man on the prowl. For some reason, perhaps because I’m a recent widow, you thought I’d be an easy mark. Well, think again. I may have been stupid enough to come here with you, but I’m not stupid enough to stay.” Rummaging in the bottom of my handbag, I found nothing but an old stick of gum wrapped in a lint ball.
Spinning around, I headed for the cashier.
“Lisa, please wait.” Something in Terry’s voice tugged at me. I don’t know why. Thank God no one was sitting in this section of the restaura
nt; I already felt like a fool.
“I’ll give you three minutes.”
He started toward me.
“Stay right there,” I told him.
He halted. The look on his face seemed so plaintive that I actually felt sorry for him.
“Lisa, please let me talk to you,” he said with a desperation I didn’t understand. “I’ll be a gentleman, I promise, and I’ll keep my distance. But I don’t have much time, and what’s left I want to spend with you.”
“Why? What is it about me that you seem to like so much? I haven’t led you on, so it can’t be that.”
He said nothing for a moment. “Truthfully?”
“You’ve got two minutes.”
“I’m not sure. You’re an attractive woman, true, but from the moment I looked into your eyes, those big sad eyes, especially in such a tiny body, I wanted to wrap you in my arms and give you all the love I’ve been denied.” He flushed. “I know that sounds like corny, but I mean it.”
He didn’t move, except to offer me his hand, silently imploring me to take it.
My heart melted and I took his hand.
I knew I’d stay when he’d said he’d been
I also wanted to know what he meant about not much time. And maybe part of it, a big part, was the expression in his eyes when he looked at me. Whatever it was, I allowed him to lead me back to the booth.
Once seated, the server brought fresh drinks and I found myself doubting what I had done. What in God’s name was I doing there, sitting with a man who, no matter what he said, was clearly on the make? Why didn’t I just get up and leave? Getting home wasn’t an excuse; I could find a way if I truly wanted to leave.
I finally glanced at Terry. And oh my God, I wished I hadn’t. Even though I had never been a woman of much passion, I recognized the heat in Terry’s gaze.
Years ago on my twenty-first birthday, I’d wanted to do the
coming of age
tour, to walk into bars and clubs without worrying about being thrown out. Oh, I didn’t party like most people; I never liked drinking until my senses dulled and I stumbled over my own feet. Even today, I avoid people who can’t seem to stop. But I’d loved the idea of being recognized as an adult capable of making my own decisions. So, attracted by the bright neon lights and twangy country music, I’d march into a bar, look around, then go to another. Mac happily accompanied me, getting a kick out of the entire thing. Next I wanted to go to some nudie bars and an X-rated movie, to see what all the fuss was about. The first few minutes were fascinating; they actually showed, right on the screen, people in the sex act. It was remarkable and I watched, totally absorbed in seeing all the things I’d never even considered doing. But one time, while exiting the ladies’ room, I passed a man in the lobby whose heavy-lidded gaze raked over me with a hunger so profound that I made my way back to Mac and insisted we leave. Later, I realize that the passion wasn’t for me personally, but still, I never forgot it.
The hunger in Terry’s eyes was almost the same, and for some strange reason, I couldn’t look away. My breathing quickened and a trickle of sweat rolled under my bra. I swallowed, then r
ealized how dry my throat felt.
How could my mouth be so dry when the rest of
my body felt like liquid fire?
I stirred sweetener in my tea, embarrassed to disc
over my fingers were trembling.
When Terry took my hand and gently squeezed it, I forgot the tea. He ran his thumb over my knuckles and suddenly the sound of dishes clattering and the conversation at the next table evaporated into silence. All I could hear was my heart beating, and with each throb, my traitorous body responded. He raised my hand to his mouth, and holding my eyes with his, he gently brushed the top of my hand with his lips. The touch was so light I shouldn’t have felt much at all, but fire blazed all the way to my toes, melting everything in its path. My nipples hardened, scratching the lace in my bra. My panties flooded with desire.
Here I was, a forty-three-year-old woman and I’d never felt anything like that in my entire life. At that moment, if he’d suggested a motel room, I would have led the way.
Then, like a worm in an apple, I thought of his wife, or ex-wife, as he’d said. For a brief moment I wondered if I could believe him and then realized it didn’t matter. In no way did I want any kind of a relationship with a man, and I had no intentions of leading him or anyone else on. I jerked my hand from his. How could I have allowed myself to respond to this man? And in a public place? I couldn’
t look at him.
“This shouldn’t be happening,” I muttered. “I’m newly widowed and you’re a divorced man. By the way, just ho
w long have you been divorced?”
“I left her a year ago and took a small apartment in Redlands, but I didn’t file right away. I thought it would be easier for her that way. She’s still living in our house in Loma Linda, but it’s up for sale. I’m helping her find a smaller place.”
“I suppose she’s agreed to all this, and it’s also just fine that you’re here with me now.”
“Of course not.” For the first time he seemed uncomfortable. He poured more sugar into his coffee an
d stirred. I hoped it was cold.
“Betty doesn’t want the divorce,” he continued, not looking at me. He kept his eyes on his cup. “Never did. She fought it until I filed, hoping I’d change my mind. But I had to do it.”
to divorce her? Why, Terry? Never mind, I know. ‘She didn’t understand me,’ or how about the classic, ‘She’s cold in bed?’” I glared at him, not understanding why I felt such rage. I’d made a life-study of how to appear cool and calm in every situation, how to not let things get to me. Yet here I was, sitting next to this man who brought out emotions I’d never dared to feel. And I didn’t like it, didn’t know how to handle this raging disquiet.
“The simple truth is, I never loved her.” He said it so quietly, so simply that I didn’t question him.
Picturing the nervous, wiry-haired woman and this passionate man, I could agree they were perhaps a mismatch. But I’d known of other marriages that had overcome more difficult obstacles and were perfectly happy.
why did you marry her?”
“We’d been married for almost thirty years
, and I never strayed. I made a commitment and I stuck with it, no matter what. Then something happened to change everything. I woke up and couldn’t stand to spend another day in a stale, passionless existence. I moved out and kept asking for a divorce, finally filed the papers a couple of months ago. I was going to give her the house and anything else she wanted, but she said she didn’t want to live in our house by herself. So I started looking for a place for her.”
“It must have been difficult for her.”
“I’m sorry about that, but it was the right thing for me to do. She’s still young enough to have a life with someone who truly loves her and I hope she does. But right now, I want a life for myself.” He took my hand in both of his, holding it, cradling it as if it were precious. “As soon as I saw you, I knew I’d done the right thing. I’d been marking time, just existing, not dating, not seeing anyone. But seeing you proved that I was still alive, that I could still want something. You see, I want you more than I’ve ever wanted anything in my life.”
I believed him and suddenly, the anger disappeared. Perhaps it was the sincerity in his voice, perhaps it was pure body chemistry, but I found myself leaning toward him, drawn toward him with a yearning I didn’t understand. All I was certain of was that I wanted to hear more.
Then something he’d said made me pause.
“What do you mean, you’d been marking time?”
He sighed. “Let me give you some background, Lisa. I know it’s asking a lot, but I really want you to know.” He sipped his coffee. “It’s cold.”
Strange, but I didn’t feel the same satisfaction I would have felt just a few moments ago.
He signaled the server for coffee and asked her to refill my tea. After our drinks were served, he began again, talking about growing up after his father died in an automobile accident when he was three, and how his mother struggled to raise him. She’d worked in an office, making just over minimum wage.
“She wanted me to get involved in
things,” he said, keeping his eyes on his coffee, “cub scouts and sports, but they always required extra money. We never had enough—for anything. I went to work as soon as I could, then joined the navy. Unlike most people, I loved it and would’ve stayed in—except I met Betty. Typical story. I was on leave in San Diego and my buddy fixed me up with a blind date. I was young, had too many beers, and next thing I knew, Betty was pregnant. I told her I’d take care of her, so I married her. I honor my commitments, and we’d been married ever since—until a few months ago. End of story.”
“But wait, it’s not the end of the story. If you didn’t love her, why didn’t you divorce later?”
He shrugged. “I’d never had much of a family. My grandparents were all dead, and my aunts, uncles, and cousins were spread over the country. I love kids, and she was going to have mine.”
“So you have children?”
He shook his head. “She had an accident. Some guy hit her car. She miscarried and had to have an emergency hysterectomy.”
“Yet you stayed married?”
I wasn’t sure why I was asking all those questions. After all, we would never see one another again. And yet...
“She was really broken up about the miscarriage,” he told me, “so I didn’t want to add to her pain. At that time, it didn’t matter. I went to work, came home, did what I thought I was supposed to do.”