Sex and the Widow Miles (The Women of Willow Bay)

 

Sex and the Widow Miles

by

Nan Reinhardt

 

Copyright ©
Nan Reinhardt 2013

All Rights Reserved

 

This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the copyright owner except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, places, events, business establishments or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

First Digital Edition:
September 2013

 

www.NanReinhardt.com

 

 

 

For Lani, thanks for believing in me and showing me how to believe in myself.

 

 

 

ONE

 

 

The elevator doors whispered shut
behind me and my shoulders sagged beneath the weight of an overstuffed canvas carryon, a leather laptop bag, and my purse. Plush carpet, four handsome mahogany doors, and warm taupe paint made this floor of the Lake Terrace building as perfectly appointed as the lobby and the elevator. Starting down the elegant hallway, I caught sight of a thin, pale woman in the mirror above the table at the other end. Frankly, she looked like hammered shit.

God, what happened to
you?

T
he woman was me.

Once again
, I wondered what the hell I was doing. That same thought had occurred to me on the plane from Traverse City, again while I was standing at the baggage claim in O’Hare International, and in the cab on the way to Carrie and Liam’s new apartment on Lakeshore Drive. Only the fact that I had to pee kept me from hitting the elevator button and heading right back to the airport. I kicked my suitcase to orient the wheels so I could pull it through the rich carpet.

Heaving
a sigh, I dug in my purse for the key Carrie had pressed into my hand when she hugged me at the airport. “This is a good thing, Jules. I promise.”

Opening door number 3, I dragged the suitcase into the tiled foyer, blinking in the winter sunlight
that streamed through French windows overlooking Lake Michigan. I didn’t want to be here.


This is crazy,” I said aloud to no one at all. “I’m outta here. Just as soon as I pee.”

Dropping my coat on the suitcase,
I set the heavy carryon on the floor. As I laid the laptop and my purse on the chest in the foyer, I noticed a yellow sticky note stuck to the mirror.

You
’re staying.
Carrie’s perfect penmanship in purple marker.

I couldn
’t help smiling. It was scary how well she knew me. I glanced around. Bathroom. I seriously needed a bathroom. Scurrying through the living room, I found it. A touch of the light switch revealed another note on the mirror above the sink. I pulled it down and read it as I took care of business.

It
’s been a year. If you don’t move on now, you never will
.
Again in bright purple ink.

The familiar clutch of panic hit me when I stuck the note back up on
the mirror and washed my hands.

I can
’t do this. I’m not ready.

Yes, it had been
a year since Charlie died, but we’d been married for over thirty. I had no idea how to be anyone but Mrs. Dr. Charles Miles.

How do I find my way alone?

I headed down the hall, ready to collect my belongings and call a cab, but I stopped in the archway between the living room and dining room. Another note, this time a pink one, curled up on the shiny surface of the table.

You
’re not alone. You have all of us.

We
’d been through all the excuses, Carrie and I, rehashing my sessions with the therapist every Tuesday and Thursday over wine or coffee. Clearly, she could quote my fears chapter and verse.

With a shake of my head and a chuckle, I turned toward the French doors,
amazed at the sheer size of the place. The apartment was huge, the dining room table easily seated twelve, and the long hallway that led back to the bedrooms was wide enough for Carrie’s antique washstand and two rush-bottom chairs. A grand piano took up one corner of the cavernous living room that she’d managed to make cozy with overstuffed chintz sofas flanking the fireplace, pine tables, pottery lamps, and other French country accents.

Lake Michigan vistas filled the
wall of glass doors that led out to a snow-covered balcony. The lake reminded me of home and panic washed over me once more. The urge to flee overwhelmed me. I just wanted to go home. Back to Charlie’s big house on the shore, where Gray Flannel cologne lingered in the air and I could still feel him close to me. I wrapped my arms around my middle and bent over, taking deep breaths, willing away the feeling of dread.

When I could breathe again,
I wandered through the dining room into a gleaming kitchen, all stainless appliances and warm cherry cabinets. Carrie’s personal stamp showed here, too, in the speckled, gray granite countertops and the copper-bottomed pots hanging from hooks above the big stove. On the island next to a bowl of fresh fruit sat a blue Chicago Cubs baseball cap with a white daisy sticking out of the mesh and more daisies hanging off the brim. And there was another note.
Wear this,
it said.
It’ll make you feel ridiculous and ridiculous is happiness.

My darling Carrie. Was there ever a better friend in the whole world?
How the hell did she manage the post-its and the hat all the way from Michigan? Obviously, she’d enlisted a compatriot in preparing my welcome—no doubt Javier, the personable doorman who’d greeted me when I got out of the cab. I plopped the silly hat on my head, pulling my hair through the hole in the back before checking out my reflection in the glass on the microwave. It was an improvement, so I gave myself a dopey grin and moved on down the hall, peering into Liam’s office and the kids’ bedrooms.

Another note
hung on the double doors to the master suite.

You made it this far. Charlie would be proud of you.

Swallowing the lump in my throat, I stepped through the entrance. Carrie’s touch was evident again in the white-painted wainscoting, buff walls, and white furniture. A crescent window let sunshine stream in over the French doors that opened onto the balcony. Toile fabric covered a pair of wing chairs on either side of a fireplace. The pattern repeated in the cushion on the dressing table bench, the loveseat at the end of the bed—

The bed. Carrie told me to sleep here in her bed, made u
p with a white duvet and shams. Oh, dear God. I dropped to the edge of the mattress and covered my face with my hands. My heart hurt and the loneliness washed over me as I realized I’d be sleeping all alone in a bed Charlie has never even seen before. My throat closed up as I fought tears, although a few spilled over into my lashes. Crying within half an hour of arriving was not a good omen.

How do I do this?

I can’t.

Sud
denly I was so exhausted I could barely sit up straight.

Swiping my
damp cheeks with my palms, I leaned back to rest my head on the pillow and bumped into something behind me. Reaching back, I pulled out a big teddy bear, fat and squooshy with velvety white fur. How did I miss him? His sweet goofy face had another post-it stuck right in the middle of his forehead.

It
’s time you slept with a new man. Meet Horace.

I couldn
’t help myself, I giggled. Burying my nose in Horace’s soft fur, I sniffed back the tears, and thanked God for a best friend like Carrie Reilly. She’d been right by my side since the funeral and she was still with me, prodding me to move on and making me laugh when all I wanted to do was sit down and cry. With one swift kick, I let my shoes drop to the floor and curled up in the center of the bed, my arms full of fuzzy polar bear.

I
had no idea how to get rid of the overwhelming sense of loss, and I sighed as I flopped over onto my back and hugged the stuffed bear close. According to the therapist, you move on with your life, and that was what this trip was all about. It was all about getting away, finding a new focus.

So
now, here I was, crying into a teddy bear in the middle of Carrie and Liam’s bed, and trying to figure out what I was going to do with myself in Chicago for the next few weeks. Dr. Benton was wrong, a change of scenery wasn’t going to help. It was the same grief, just a different venue.

I closed my eyes against the burn of threatening tears, and worked on the focusing exercises the therapist had given me when
a door closing somewhere in the apartment brought me upright with a start.

Heavy footsteps sounded in the foyer.

Oh, God. Somebody was in here. Did I forget to lock the door? Hell, did I even
close
the door? I couldn’t remember. Leaping from the bed, I scanned the room for something to defend myself with, and my eyes lit on a baseball bat leaning against the wall between the bed and the nightstand. Ah, Carrie’s trusty bat—her response when Liam suggested buying a handgun after an apartment in the building down the block was burgled.

Great
. My first hour in the big city and I’m going to be murdered all over Carrie’s beautiful white bed.

Heart pounding, I grabbed
the bat and tiptoed over to peer around the door.


Carrie? Are you in here?” called a deep voice laced with concern.

Okay, so maybe it wasn
’t a murderer. But it also wasn’t Javier, the doorman, whose voice was higher and accented. How dare someone just walk in without knocking and scare the daylights out of me like this? What the hell’s wrong with ringing the damn doorbell?

The footsteps were headed down the hallway now, so I
used my anger to build courage and stepped out from behind the door. I looked ridiculous in the daisy hat, with a giant polar bear tucked under one arm and brandishing a Louisville Slugger. But who cared? I was
supposed
to be here, this guy certainly wasn’t.

He was tall and his spiky blond hair
, backlit by the sun, shone in a gold halo around his head. “Do I know you?” he asked. “Are you Jules?”

Irritation battled with relief as I realized the guy, who looked vaguely familiar, was probably harmless. Still, he should
’ve rung the bell, not just walked in.

Jerk.

I was beat and frustrated and so over everyone and everything that I brushed past him and headed for the kitchen.


I’m the widow fucking Miles,” I said. “And I need a drink.”

 

 

 

TWO

 

 


Easy, Slugger. I didn’t mean to scare you.” The man trailed behind me into the kitchen.

Slugger?

Oh, the bat. Cute, very cute.

I finally recognized him. He was Liam
’s business manager Will… something. The guy Carrie had told me lived diagonally across the hall in Apartment 2. I’d actually seen him around Willow Bay when he’d stopped in to meet with Liam, but beyond attending a couple of the same New Year’s Eve parties at Reilly’s, we’d never really had any interaction.


Try the wine fridge.” He cocked his head toward the wine cooler below the counter next to the sink. “Unless you want something stronger. In that case, liquor’s in the cabinet under the island.”

I pulled out some
Riesling and set the wine, the bear, and the bat on the island before yanking on the first drawer I came to in search of a wine opener.

The guy sat down in a tall wrought iron stool and gazed at me, a small smile playing on his lips.

Two drawers later, I let out a disgusted breath. “Corkscrew?”


Over there, top drawer.” He pointed. “Glasses in the cabinet above the wine cooler.”

I scowled. The cabinets were glass-front, for God
’s sake. I’d figured out where the damn wineglasses were. Even though I was irritated with him for scaring a couple of years off my life, and I wasn’t really in the mood for entertaining, I held up a second glass. Since I didn’t intend to stay past one quick glass of wine, I figured why not be at least a little gracious.


Sure, I’d love some wine. Thanks,” he said. “I’m Will Brody, by the way. Liam’s business manager, neighbor, friend, and all-around good guy.” If he hadn’t already turned on the overhead lights, his smile would’ve lit up the kitchen. “And you’re Carrie’s best friend, Jules, right? They told me to expect you.”

Churlish isn
’t usually my style, but I wasn’t in any frame of mind to get drawn into exchanging pleasantries with this guy, particularly since I’d be gone in less than an hour anyway. However, I gave him a grudging nod as I pulled the cork from the bottle. “Yes. Julianne Miles.”

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