Secrets and Lies
101 pages
English

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Secrets and Lies

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101 pages
English

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Description

Natalie Jameson has a handsome husband, three wonderful children, and one very big secret. She's managed to keep it under wraps for over twenty years, but recent events lead her to decide she has no choice but to reveal the terrible truth. Alex Jameson has had one goal in life since the minute he met Natalie on their college campus. Do whatever it takes to make this woman happy. When circumstances threaten to unravel the web of secrets and lies they've built around themselves, will their love be strong enough to survive?

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Publié par
Date de parution 25 octobre 2011
Nombre de lectures 10
EAN13 9781772997293
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0032€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.

Exrait

Secrets andLies
 
By Jamie Hill
 
Digital ISBNs:
EPUB978-1-77299-729-3
Kindle978-1-77299-730-9
WEB978-1-77299-731-6
Amazon Print978-1-77299-732-3
 
 

 
Copyright2 nd Ed. 2018 Jamie Gerry
Cover Art by MichelleLee
 
All rights reserved. Withoutlimiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of thispublication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into aretrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means(electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise)without the prior written permission of both the copyright ownerand the above publisher of this book.
Dedication
 
To Tim
Part One

“How dare you speak to me in that manner?”Natalie Jameson clenched her fists. She couldn’t remember the lasttime she’d been so furious, while at the same time full of anguishand regret.
“No, Natalie. How dare you?” Herhusband’s normally handsome face reddened, the veins in hisforehead growing bigger the angrier he became. “You started this.It’s your fault.”
Natalie stomped past herliving room sofa, pausing long enough to pick up a decorativepillow. She squeezed the small, blue square and slammed it down onthe couch again. “So you’ve said. Repeatedly. I’ve got it, Alex. Allour problems are my fault. Read you loud and clear.”
“I never said everythingwas your fault. Just this one thing. This one very huge issue.” He ran a handthrough his closely cropped, brown hair.
“You’re making it huge, that’s forsure.”
Alex blinked in apparent disbelief. “You sawour daughter when she stormed out of here tonight! Gigi was damnnear hysterical. She’s got an hour’s drive ahead of her. Frankly,I’m concerned that she makes it home safely.”
Natalie glanced over her shoulder as sheheaded into the kitchen. “Great, pin that on me, too, while you’reat it. Now I’ll worry until she has time to get home and we canphone her.”
Alex stayed on her heels. “I doubt she’sgoing to talk to either one of us tonight.”
“She might.” Nataliedredged some optimism from deep inside. Gigi had been upset. Even though Nataliehad the best intentions, nothing about their conversation had gonethe way she’d hoped or planned. Natalie’s stomach churned withuneasiness.
“Now you’re delusional. We’ll be lucky ifshe talks to either of us again this month.”
Natalie filled the kettle and placed it onthe stove. “In case anyone wonders where Geege gets her flair fordrama…”
“I’m not being dramatic,” Alex insisted.“Realistic is more like it. And I think I’ve figured out yourmotive for stirring this pot.”
“My motive?” Natalieraised her voice again. “I told you mymotive . Gigi is having some medicalissues. Her doctor referred her to a specialist, and before sheeven sees him, she has to fill out a really long family medicalhistory. I wanted her to have accurate information.”
“You honestly think it’s better for her toput ‘unknown’ than to possibly list inaccurate information? Becausethat’s what it is, you know, a great big stinking ‘U’ forunknown.”
Natalie’s heart sank. “I never thought aboutit like that.”
“Exactly. Youdidn’t think ,Nat.”
“Why should I?” she snapped. “You’rethinking about it enough for both of us. You’re overthinking it todeath. You always do this, Alex. Give me a break!”
“Don’t turn this around onme. I told you I figured it out. You’re bored with the kids out ofthe house for the first time ever. You’ve lost your purpose. Ithink you stirred all this up so you’d feel needed again. So Gigi would needyou.”
Natalie coughed, choking back amazement atAlex’s assessment. He was so totally off base, she wondered if herhusband really knew her anymore. “How dare you?” She fumed.
“Here we go again. Round and round incircles. This conversation is going nowhere. I, on the other hand,am out of here.” He grabbed his coat and yanked his keys from thehook on the wall.
“Where are you going?” Her voice soundedshrill to her own ears. Natalie knew she needed to reel herself in,but couldn’t quite handle that just then. “Don’t you walk out onme!”
Alex steeled his blue-eyed gaze at her andscowled. He tugged the door open with a jerk, and slammed it on hisway out.
“Alex!” She stared after him but he didn’treturn. She heard the garage door go up, and the sound of his carbacking out. The overhead door lowered again. Alex was gone.
Two hours later, he still hadn’treturned.
Natalie sighed. The eyes seemed to follow her as she movedaround the house. The ghost didn’t move, it simply peered out fromthe dark hallway, but it had an eerie glow-in-the-dark quality thatmade her uneasy. Natalie chided herself for being jittery about acardboard Halloween decoration. She pulled her sweater tighteraround her waist, and hurried from the hallway.
The house is too quiet. That’s my problem. In the twenty years she’d lived there, the placehad never seemed as quiet as it did now.
Is Alex right? Am I bored with my ‘new’ life? The question nagged at her as she made her way tothe kitchen, where the teapot had just begun to whistle for thethird time that night. She poured steaming water into her well-used‘World’s Greatest Mother’ mug and added a fresh tea bag. Shescooted onto the bench in the breakfast nook, then leaned backagainst the cushions and allowed herself to think about what wasreally bothering her.
It wasn’t just the quiet. The stillness ofthe house was preferable to the yelling and crying that had takenplace there just two hours ago. Alex almost never got angry. A calmand rational man, he usually thought about his words before hespoke. Natalie liked to tease that he was the stereotypicalaccountant—organized, predictable and virtually unshakeable. He’dproven her wrong tonight. He could indeed be shaken, and it wasn’ta pretty sight.
Despite her teasing, his predictability andcalm demeanor had always provided a steadying influence on her. Hewas her rock, her strength. An extremely good-looking man, now amature version of the incredibly handsome boy she’d met in college.The first thing she’d noticed about him had been his eyes—piercing,bright blue irises that could see through her, as if to her verysoul. Add to that his intelligence and common sense way of seeingthings, and Natalie had the man of her dreams. He was, quitesimply, the love of her life.
Natalie remembered seeing those eyes growdark with anger only one other time in their lives before tonight.Serious anger, not the ‘Who-launched-the-ball-through-the-window?’type of stuff. Alex handled those things with a grain of salt. Hewas a good father, with an extraordinary amount of patience. Nottonight. Tonight he’d been angry, his eyes, normally bright, hadgrown dark, full of anguish and resentment. She hated knowing she’dcaused that.
The ironic thing was, whenAlex had gotten so angry before, a long, long time ago, it was forthe same reason that he was angry now. Natalie sighed and sippedher tea. The more things change, the morethey stay the same.
The thud that rattled the back patiodoor made her jump. She chuckled, then set her cup down and went tothe door. “Get a grip, Nat.” The dark eyes peering through theglass made her smile. She unlocked the door and slid it open. “Iforgot you were still out there. Sorry, Jake.”
The golden Labrador retriever nuzzled herknee in response, and headed directly for his food and water bowls.His dinner had been interrupted when the fighting broke out andNatalie sent him to the backyard. Jake was very protective of hisfamily, but not so much toward Alex, who spent less time at homeand therefore interacted with the dog the least. Jake had atendency to growl at Alex, which irritated the man. If Jake hadseen Alex screaming at her like a madman, there would have beentrouble. And nobody liked to see Gigi cry, even the dog. He wasextremely protective of the children, especially Gigi, their onlygirl.
“Children,” Natalie said thoughtfully as shesat down, absent-mindedly watching Jake eat. They technicallycouldn’t be called children anymore, but they’d always be herbabies.
Gillian, called ‘Gigi’ byeveryone except her co-workers at the fancy new advertising agencywhere she was recently employed, had just turned twenty-three.David, who was twenty-two and living away at college, preferred tobe called ‘Dave’. Natalie smirked. Twelve hours of labor earned herthe right to call him whatever she wanted.Most of the time it was ‘David’, but occasionally it was somethingworse. Matthew, at nineteen, was her baby. He hated being calledthat, but it didn’t stop Natalie. She’d been called her mother’sbaby until well into her thirties, when her mom died. It was atradition handed down.
In August, she and Alex had moved their babyinto a dormitory room at the local university. He’d lived at homehis first year of college but had grown increasingly anxious to getout on his own. The dorm was their compromise. He had a life-longfriend as his roommate and a meal card to eat at the dining hall.Which basically meant Natalie and Alex saw him on Sundays, when thedining hall was closed. Matthew came home to eat and do hislaundry.
She liked the fact that this last littlechick hadn’t ventured too far away from the nest. It was easier tokeep tabs on him. Other parents had it worse. Some kids wenthundreds of miles away to college. David was within two hours ofhome, and Gigi lived an hour away. Close enough for both of them tocome home regularly. Natalie loved having her children close.
There I go with the‘children’ business again. She’d probablyalways think of them as children. She finished her tea and lookedaround the kitchen. The presence of Halloween decorations indicatedthat she’d remained in mother mode, even though the kids were allbut gone. She wasn’t sure why she’d decorated for the holiday,except that she’d done it for the last twenty-some years, and now,it was a habit.
Natalie rinsed her cup andput it in the dishwasher, glancing at the clock. Barely nine p.m. Shedidn’t know if Alex was coming home tonight or not, but she had tocheck on Gigi. Enough time had passed; her daughter should havemade it back to Topeka by now. She picked up the phone, punchingthe memory button and the number two.
Gigi answered with a clipped tone. “I don’twant to talk, Mother.”
Ah, the wonders of CallerI.D. At least she answered, even if shedid call me ‘Mother’ . “I know, I’m sorry.I just had to make sure you got home okay. You were prettyupset.”
“You don’t think I had a right to be?” Gigidemanded dramatically.
Natalie always said the girl should havestudied theater. “Of course you do. I know you need some time toprocess the news, and get used to the idea.”
“Then please don’t call me again. Give mesome space.”
“All right. Like I said, I just wanted tomake sure you got home okay.”
“I did. I’m fine. I’m totally pissed, butI’m fine.”
“I’m sorry, Gigi.”
“Good night, Mother.” Gigi disconnected thecall.
Natalie sighed and hung up the phone.
Alex was right. It’d been too much for Gigito process. He’d known she was going to be angry.
Natalie naively had heldout hope that her daughter would understand. Too idealistic, she’dthought Gigi would take the news better. But how was a girl supposed to take thenews that the man she’d grown up believing to be her father…actually was not?
 
* * *
 
Alex Jameson squinted upinto the early morning sun. Entering the garage, he frowned when hefound the inside door leading to his house locked. Unusual. They rarelylocked it. He wondered if it was significant, a message Natalie wassending him. He dug his keys from his pocket and let himselfin.
Jake barked once, and stopped when he sawAlex.
“Hey, pal.” He patted the dog’s head.
The dog trotted to his food bowl and lookedup.
“Outside first.” He opened the patio doorand sent the beast out to do his morning business. It was early.Alex rubbed a hand over his chin. He needed to shower, shave andget to work.
Natalie appeared in the doorway, wrapped inher thick, velour robe. “Where have you been?”
He tossed his keys on the table and glancedat her. The distressed look on her face indicated she’d slept aboutas well as he had. “I got a motel room.” He went to therefrigerator and pulled out a carton of orange juice. After pouringhimself a glass, he drank it as he stood staring out the kitchenwindow. “I didn’t take any clothes. I need to get cleaned up forwork, and pack a bag.”
“Pack a bag! You can’t mean that you’regoing back to the motel?”
He glanced at herguiltily. Their argument had gotten way out of control last night.He shouldn’t be so mad at her. After all, he’d always known hewasn’t Gigi’s biological father. He’d just never wanted Gigi toknow. That’s Natalie’s fault, dammit, andI’m angry at her for telling the secret we’ve shared for overtwenty-three years. “I need some time tothink this through,” he finally told her. “I need a littlespace.”
“You sound just like your daughter,” shesnapped at him, and mimicked snottily, “I need some space, don’tcall me.” She trailed off, apparently realizing what she’dsaid.
The words knifed throughhis heart. She is mydaughter . He damned Natalie again formaking them both uneasy when the words were spoken aloud. “Youtalked to Gigi?”
She poured herself some juice. “For aminute. I wanted to make sure she got home okay. She didn’t want totalk to me.”
He nodded. They’d bothrealized she’d feel that way. Natalie was a good mother to check onher, anyway. Nobody could ever accuseNatalie of not being a good mother.
He glanced at the homemade Halloweendecorations that graced the kitchen. His wife could remember whichkid made what, and the year they did it. He was clueless about thatstuff. They balanced each other out, one reason why theirrelationship had worked so well for all these years.
He stared out the windowagain, watching Jake tree a squirrel. Thatdog can entertain himself for hours. Probably a good thing, since the kids were all gonenow.
He startled as Natalie moved in and wrappedher arms around him from behind. She pressed the side of her faceagainst his back. “I missed you last night. It’s quiet here bymyself. Please don’t go back to the motel.”
Alex appreciated the warmpress of her body against his back, and his own body’s reaction toit. Even through her heavy robe, he felt her curves against him. Heknew every one of them by heart. He probably knew her body betterthan he knew his own. It’d be so easy to turn around and sweep herinto his arms. He’d brush her long, dark brown hair away from herneck and kiss the hollow there. He could have her on their bed intwo minutes flat, one minute if he went for the kitchen tableinstead of the bed. He smiled at the thought. Been there, done that, and it really wasn’t thatcomfortable . His hand rubbed over hers fora moment. Then he pulled away and moved around her, walking towardthe hall. “I’m going to shower and change before Ipack.”
She went to the bench by the table anddropped onto it. “I won’t help you pack, but I’ll make youbreakfast.”
“Toast will be fine.” He trudged into theirroom. Her side of the bed was rumpled, his neat as a pin. For onemore moment, he thought about dragging her down with him andmessing up both sides of the bed but good. Shaking his head, hepeeled off his clothes and stepped into the shower.
 
* * *
 
Natalie couldn’t believe he was packing.Never, in their twenty-four and a half years of marriage, hadeither of them ever packed a bag and left. There’d been arguments,a few fights that lasted longer than the standard riff, and evenone time when she’d accused him of having an affair. Eight monthsalong with Matthew at the time, her pregnancy paranoia was at itspeak. She never really thought he’d done anything with thatannoying woman from his office, but she sure gave him hell aboutit.
She shook her head, notbelieving she’d remembered something so insignificant. Sometimesthe stupidest things stuck in her mind. Alex had a knack forremembering facts and figures. Natalie could tell you the color ofher fourth grade classroom. Pea green withyellow trim.
Now he was packing and leaving, oversomething he’d known about all along. She wasn’t sure whether to bemiserable or infuriated. Somehow, she was both.
He walked into the kitchen dressed for work,and set his overnight bag by the door.
She glanced at it. It wasn’t very big, ifthat meant anything. Natalie stood and walked to the toaster. Shepushed the button down and turned to look at him. “Don’t go.”
He got butter and jelly from the fridge, andset them on the counter. “I don’t want to go through this again. Ineed to get to work.”
“You need to work things out with your wife.Don’t leave me like this.”
“I’m not leaving you, Nat. I told you, Ineed some time to think.”
“To think about what?” She grew agitatedwhile he calmly buttered and spread jelly on his toast. “You’veknown for twenty-three years and nine months about Gigi’spaternity. What exactly do you need to think about?”
He froze on the spot for asecond, then slapped his hand down on the counter. “Of course I’veknown. My knowing has never been the problem. I told you I didn’twant Gigi toknow. I thought we had an understanding.”
“I never understood thatwe were going to keep it from her forever. I thought we agreed to tellher when she was older, and better able to handle it.”
He looked at herincredulously. “You think that time is now? Because I wasthinking older like thirty or forty, or maybe never, I don’t know. I’veraised her like my daughter, Nat. I want her to be my daughter. Shehas been for twenty-three years. Now, in one night, you’ve takenthat away from me.”
Her eyes flashed with the fury she felt inher gut. “Well excuse me! But you’re not the only one who lostsomething. It took years before I could even talk about this. Youknow what it was like for me.” She turned away from him and put herface in her hands.
He stepped up behind her. “Of course I knowwhat it was like! I’ve been here for you every minute of these pasttwenty-four years. I know you were miserable. What I don’tunderstand is why you’d want to make Gigi miserable, too.”
She whirled back around and looked up athim. “I never, ever wanted Gigi to be miserable. I told you, I wastrying to give her accurate information for her records. She’s beenhaving problems.”
“What kind of problems? No one told me aboutanything.”
“Blood in her urine. Not the kind of thing agirl discusses with her father.”
He shook his head. “She had bouts of that asa kid and I was there for every minute of it. The pediatrician saidit was bladder infections.”
“Well, apparently her new doctor doesn’tthink so. He wants her to see a kidney specialist. I want this newguy to figure out what’s wrong with her before things getworse.”
“Oh, I think they’ve already gotten worse.”He took one bite of toast and tossed the rest in the sink. “So nowGigi is suffering and I am, too.”
“And you just have to drag me right alongwith you? You want me to suffer, too.”
He looked at her one last time. “I guess Ido. Goodbye, Nat.” He picked up his bag and walked out.
Natalie didn’t even botherto get dressed. She sobbed for an hour on the bed, then curled upin front of the TV for the rest of the day. There were plenty ofthings she needed to do, but nothing that couldn’t wait. Shegranted herself one day to wallow. She ate cold pizza, frozen GirlScout cookies and watched Lifetime , Television for Women movies oneright after another.
By ten p.m. she felt worsethan she had all day. Her stomach was upset— the two rolls of Thin Mints?— andher heart ached. All the women on TV had their problems solved intwo hours or less counting commercials. They had some doozies, too.Natalie decided perhaps she didn’t have the biggest problems in theworld, but it felt that way to her.
She let Jake outside onelast time for the evening, then he followed her to the bedroom.Since Matthew had left for college, Jake had taken to sleeping atthe foot of Natalie and Alex’s bed. Natalie didn’t mind, but itbothered Alex to no end. He vowed he was not going to ‘do it’ with a dog inthe room. Natalie figured that wouldn’t be an issue now—for awhile, anyway.
 
* * *
 
Alex looked warily at thephone on his desk, as if it were a snake that might spring up andbite him at any moment. He needed to call Natalie, but he’d beenavoiding her for several days, and that was working for him. Hesighed, not really wanting to think about her. Whenever he did, hisheart ached and he longed to go find her and pull her into hisarms. Then he’d start kissing her neck, and that sweet little cleftbetween her breasts… yeah, I’m a guy, andwith guys it always comes back around to sex.
It was really about more than sex with himand Nat. She was his best friend, and had been since the day shelocked her keys in that crappy car, and he had come to her rescue.He liked to think of it that way, at least. She probably would havemanaged okay without him. But he couldn’t imagine his life if theyhadn’t met and become inseparable from that day forward.
He took a deep breath andpicked up the phone receiver. He punched the speed dial button forhome . I miss home. He waited.
“Hello?” Natalie answered suspiciously.
“Hi, Nat.” He knew with Caller ID she’dfigured it was him. But ever since the day she’d answered with asuggestive proposition and had found his secretary on the otherend, she’d always said ‘hello’.
“Hello,” she repeated. She sounded tired andnot very pleasant.
“I, uh, talked to Matt. He called me, Imean.”
“At the motel?” She sounded horrified.
“No! Of course not. At the office, here. Noone knows I’m at a motel.”
“Oh, good.”
Relief thistime . “He has a rowing regatta onSaturday, in Wichita. He’ll be gone all day.”
“On his birthday? Drat! Are you going towatch?”
“I can’t, I have appointments in themorning. I think my folks are going, though.”
“Well, then, I’m not going. I can’t spend awhole day with them. They’d see through me in a minute, and knowsomething was wrong.”
“Skip it. There’s a regatta here in a fewweeks. We can catch that one.”
“So, he’ll be gone all day. We can stillcelebrate his birthday that evening.”
“Nat,” he hesitated. “Matt wants to go outwith his friends Saturday night. He wanted to know if we couldcelebrate his birthday on Sunday instead.”
“So that’s why hecalled you , thelittle rat! He was afraid to tell me. He knew how disappointed I’dbe.”
Alex sighed. “I don’t see the big deal. Wecan have him all day Sunday, the others can come up—”
Her voice raised a notch, agitated. “The bigdeal is that we see him every Sunday! Call him back and remind himto bring his laundry like usual, so it can be exactly the same asevery other Sunday.”
“Oh good grief!” Alex exclaimed.
“And you know what else? If we celebrateSaturday, the other two come home on Saturday and spend theweekend. If we celebrate Sunday, they’ll just come up for the dayand then right back again. I’m getting cheated.”
He bit back a chuckle. She usually wasn’t sofocused on herself. Matt’s leaving and the events of this week hadobviously put her in an emotional state. He thought of somethingnot so humorous and it brought him back around to reality. “Do youthink Gigi will show up at all?”
Natalie responded crisply. “I don’t know.She’s not speaking to me. Maybe you should call her.”
Alex panicked. “I can’t!”
“What, you’re never going to speak to heragain?”
“That’s not what I meant.”His heart sank. He really did want to speak to Gigi. He wanted tocradle her on his lap and comfort her, or give her a band-aid, orwhatever it took to make her all better. But he suspected there wasnothing he could do at this point. “I suppose I could call her.”
“Fine. I’ll call Matthew,the little weasel, and tell him we’re expecting him all day onSunday.”
“Be nice to him, Nat. It’s hisbirthday.”
“I know that, for goodness sake. You don’thave to remind me.”
She sounded angrier than Alex had heard herin a long time. “I’ve got to run.” The conversation was goingnowhere, it was probably best to end it.
“Go ahead, run,” she said bitterly. “It’swhat you do best these days.”
“Excuse me?” Alex gripped the receiverfirmly.
Her voice grew quiet. “I said to be hereearly Sunday, so your kids don’t know you’re living in amotel.”
“Yeah. Well, bye, Nat.”
She hung up without saying goodbye. Alex putthe receiver down and stared at it. Natalie sounded unhappier eachtime he spoke with her. He needed to get a handle on his life andturn this thing around before the damage became permanent.
The intercom on his desk buzzed. “Your teno’clock is here, Alex,” his secretary said.
“Just a minute, please,”he replied, and picked up the phone again. If he didn’t do thisnow, he might not have the courage to do it later. He hit the speeddial button for Gigi’s home number. With any luck, she’d be atwork. I’m a coward . Hadn’t Nat almost said as much?
“You have reached555-1254.” His own voice on the answering machine startled him fora moment. They had all agreed it was safer to have a man’s voice onthe machine, so Gigi had asked him to record the message when he’dhelped her move in. “We can’t take your call right now. Leave amessage after the beep and we’ll get back to you.” Beep .
“Uh, yeah, hi Geege,it’s…dad,” he hesitated before he spoke the word, and hated himselffor it. No, he hated Natalie for it. Thisis her fault . “Mom’s planning the birthdaything for Matt on Sunday. He’s rowing Saturday, so it has to beSunday…Mom’s not too thrilled about it…” I’m rambling. “Anyway, we want tomake sure you’ll be there.” He paused then added, “Gigi, I knowyou’re upset with Mom and me right now, and I hate the way we leftthings between us, but this is about Matt. If you don’t come forhis birthday, the boys will know something is up. And the last thing we need iseither of the boys finding out about this. This needs to staybetween you, me and Mom.” It should havestayed between me and Mom, dammit. “Callme back and let me know you’re coming, or call Mom if you’d rather.We, uh, love you, Geege. I love you. I hope we’ll see you Sunday.Bye.” He hung up and rested his head on his desk. I used to be such a together guy. When did I turn into this blubberingidiot?
He knew exactly when. Theminute the nurse had placed the tiny squirming infant with thelittle pink cap in his arms, and said, “There you go, Papa!” That’s when.
 
* * *
 
On Sunday morning, Nataliewas in no mood for a celebration. She hadn’t talked to any of herkids all week, unless she counted a couple rounds of answeringmachine tag with Matthew and then again with David. Personally,she did not countthem as conversations, and she was peeved. They could have triedharder to call her back. It wasn’t as if she were out of the housethat much.
She had no idea if Gigiwould show up, or what her daughter’s temperament would be like ifshe did. No idea when Alex would show up, and whether he would stay, or leaveagain. She began preparing lunch as usual, homemade beef andnoodles, Matthew’s favorite, but she was irritated and there was nojoy in it. She’d baked his favorite German Chocolate cake in thesame manner. Just do it, and get it overwith.
She hung up a few balloons but her heartwasn’t in that, either. When Alex walked through the door she shothim a look that could kill. “It’s about time you got here! I’mtrying to throw all this crap together by myself and it’s turningout horribly! I hate this! I hate feeling like this!” Angry tearsswamped her face.
“I hate it, too!” Heyelled at her. “Do you think I like feeling this way? It sucks, it totallysucks! And then I see you, and listen to you, and Natalie, you’returning into such a shrew!”
“A shrew?” she screeched and stepped intohis face. “How dare you come in here—” her rant was cut off by thepress of his mouth against hers.
He shoved her up against the wall and kissedher harder still.
“I’m so angry with you,” she murmured as shefumbled for his shirt buttons.
“I’m pissed as hell at you.” He yanked hersweater over her head and tossed it in the air.
“The bedroom.” She fumbled with hisbelt.
He walked her backward down the hall,unfastening her bra. “This doesn’t change anything.”
“I know.” She pressed her hand against theback of his head, urging him not to stop, and dragged him into thebedroom. She kicked the door shut, and they fell onto the bed.
 
* * *
 
Alex opened the bedroom door a short whilelater and moved down the hall furtively to the family room. Hewasn’t sure if anyone else was there, but he did know he felt onehell of a lot better than he had when he’d arrived home.
“Looking for this?” David held up hismother’s sweater.
“Or this?” Gigi offered up the bra.
Matthew crossed his arms over his chest andgave his father a stern look. “My beef and noodles wereburning.”
Alex rubbed a hand over his face inembarrassment. He snatched the clothing away from the kids. “Yourmother will be out in a minute.” He started back to thebedroom.
“Make sure she’s dressed!” Matt teased. “I’mtraumatized enough as it is!”
“No kidding,” Alex heardDave say. “Who wants to think of their parents doing that? ”
“Especially starting in here and ending upin there!” Matt added, and the boys cracked up with laughter.
Dave said, “I guess we canbe thankful they went in there. We could have walked in and caught them out here …”
“Shut up!” Alex calleddown the hallway, and the voices died off into snickers. Two voices. Gigi hadn’tjoined in the teasing.
He tossed the clothing to Natalie. “We areso busted. Put on your game face, kiddo, because the minute youwalk out there you’re in for some razzing.”
She fastened her bra, adjusted her sweaterand smiled at Alex. “Strangely enough, my mood has improved. Ithink I’ll be able to handle it.”
He fisted his hand in the back of her hairand pulled her face to him gently for a kiss. “My mood hasimproved, too. But nothing has changed.”
“I know.” She traced a finger around hislips. “But if we still have that…” she nodded toward their bed,“then we have everything. We’ll figure this out. I know wewill.”
He kissed her one lasttime and she opened her mouth to his. He didn’t want to let hergo. As long as we stay like this, thingsare fine .
The kiss aroused him again, and as much ashe hated to, he pulled away. “Matt said the beef and noodles wereburning.”
“Damn!” She marched out to the kitchen.
“Hello, Mother.” Matt waved a wooden spoonat her. “Forget something?”
“Yeah, to have the locks on the doorschanged. I finally got rid of all you ingrates, and you keepshowing up again!”
The kitchen erupted intolaughter, and Alex sighed. All’s rightwith the world again, for the time being, at least.
 
* * *
 
“Somehow, you managed to pull off awonderful meal, Mother.” Matt held out his plate and smiled at her.“Which is surprising, seeing as how your mind wasn’t on it.”
Natalie tried to give himan irritated look, but he flashed his devilish grin. That , he got from hisfather. The curly blond hair and dimples, which always made herthink of one of Raphael’s angels, were a mystery. She had ahandsome family, no doubt, but Matthew had a cute factor going forhim that none of the others seemed to possess.
“Guess I didn’t burn it too badly,” shereplied snidely as she passed him the bowl.
“Good thing I arrived when I did,” Mattcorrected her, and served himself.
“If you’d have taken my phone calls, therewouldn’t have been any guessing.” Natalie looked at him and at hisbrother. “Both of you. I don’t appreciate being blown off, andhaving to wonder who’s showing up when.” She glanced at Gigi, buther daughter didn’t look up from her plate.
Matt laughed. “You knew I’d show up for mybirthday, Mother.”
She eyed him. “Your birthday wasyesterday.”
He winced, and Dave laughed. “She shoots,she scores! For those of you keeping track, the score is nowGuilt-inducing mother, two points; Guilty-but happily hung overbirthday boy, zero.”
She squinted and looked into Matt’s eyes.“Are you hung over? You’re only twenty, you shouldn’t have beendrinking.”
Matt slapped his brother’s chest with theback of his hand. “Thanks, man.”
Alex sipped his iced tea. “We knew you’dshow up eventually, if for no other reason than to pick up youriPod.”
“Alex!” Natalie made a face at him.
He gazed at her innocently. “It was the onlything he asked for, dear. He had to know we were getting it.”
“Woo hoo!” Matt hollered. “Thanks, Dad!Thanks, Mom!”
Natalie shot Alex another dirty look andmuttered, “You haven’t gotten it, yet.”
Dave turned to his sister. “You sure arequiet today. New job stressing you out? It must be tough to come upwith catchy jingles for Shoe World all day long.”
Gigi made a face at him. “For yourinformation, Shoe World is not my account. I get to come up withcatchy jingles for Fish & Fowl, the new pet store in themall.”
“A pet store?” Dave laughed uproariously,and Matt joined him.
Natalie sat back and watched the show. Herboys had always ganged up on their older sister, but Gigi never hada problem holding her own. She was a tough cookie. Beautiful, too,almost exotic-looking. Her black hair was darker than anyoneelse’s, and she had deep, dark eyes that hinted at somethingunusual in her background. If Gigi had ever wondered about it,she’d never done it vocally to her parents. They certainly hadnever talked about it with her, or each other. Gigi was theirdaughter, regardless.
David was the one wholooked most like his father, Natalie always thought. His hair wasdark and he wore it like the young men did today, short and spiky.He usually needed a shave, which was also a trademark oftwenty-first century man thus far. Other than that, he was Alex.His facial features, his build, his easy smile and sense of humorwere one hundred percent his father. Sometimes when she glanced athim quickly, she was reminded of Alex back then, pulling anall-nighter studying for finals, his face scruffy and his smilebeautiful. Finals’ week had been one of the rare times Alex couldhave been caught unshaven. The rest of the time he’d beenscrupulously neat. Not such a bad thing,it forced me to be neat, too. Theybalanced each other.
She tuned back in to the conversation andfound the boys were still giving Gigi a hard time about herjob.
Matt showed no mercy. “Let’s see, your adcould have a talking dog, no, done that. How about a gecko? No,already been done. A fish! That’s it, a talking fish!”
Natalie looked at him. “Enough already. So,how was your regatta yesterday?”
“It was great! We took first in eight-manand second in the four-man head race.”
“Good job,” Alex said. “I’ll bet Grandpa wasgoing nuts.”
Matt grinned. “He totally was. The guysthink he’s so cool.”
Gigi got a funny look on her face and turnedto her mother. “Grandpa?”
“Yes.” Natalie looked at her. “They went toWichita and watched Matthew row.”
“Excuse me.” Gigi threw her napkin on thetable and ran from the room.
“Well, gee.” Matt watched her go. “She couldhave come if she wanted to. I didn’t think she liked to watch merow that much.”
Natalie sighed. “I don’t think that’s it,honey. Your sister hasn’t been feeling the best this week. Maybeyou guys can cut her some slack.” She looked at Alex and nodded herhead toward the door Gigi had run through.
His eyes widened and he shook his head. Henodded toward Natalie.
She shook her head and made a face at him.Finally, after they’d stared at each other for a full minute, shestood up. “I’ll just go check on her. Excuse me.” She shot Alex onemore dirty look before she left the room.
Natalie stood at the bathroom door. “Gigi,open up.”
Gigi opened the door and dabbed at her eyeswith a tissue. “Grandma and Grandpa!” she moaned softly. “Onlythey’re really not.”
“Of course they are. Don’t be ridiculous.Now dry your eyes and get back out there for your brother. We needto have cake and presents.”
Gigi grabbed her arm. “Do they know? Grandmaand Grandpa…do they know about me?”
Natalie didn’t know how toanswer. Of course they knew, but they’d been sworn tosecrecy. Does Gigi need to knowthat? Wouldn’t that be just one more thingto deal with? She needed to talk to Alex. “Gigi, now is not thetime for this discussion. Stay after your brothers are gone, andyou can talk with me and Dad some more.”
“I’m not sure I want to.”
“Tough. Now plaster a smile on your face andcome on.” Natalie returned to the dining room. “Who’s ready forcake?”
They had cake, ice cream and presents. Thefirst chance Natalie got, she dragged Alex into the kitchen.“Gigi’s curious if Grandma and Grandpa know.”
“Oh, crud.” He shook his head and ran a handthrough his hair. “Do we really have to get into all that?”
“I’d rather not. I don’t want her askinganybody questions other than you or me.” They looked at each otherfor a moment. Natalie realized they both had the same thought atthe same time.
“Then you’d better call your sister and fillher in. You know how close Gigi is to Aunt Dean, and you know howstraightforward Nadine is about everything. If Gigi asks her aquestion, Dean won’t lie.”
Natalie rubbed her eyes and nodded. She wassuddenly very tired.
“You’d better call Dean tonight, after we’regone.”
She looked at him. “You’re leavingagain?”
Alex sighed. “Nat, I told you what happenedtoday didn’t change anything.”
“I know what you told me,” she snapped. “Butyou’ve told me a lot of things over the years, you rat.”
 
* * *
 
The family spent the afternoon loungingaround watching football and fiddling with Matt’s new iPod. Alexthought it would normally have been a pretty relaxing day, buttoday there was an undercurrent of tension running through theroom. He was amazed the boys didn’t pick up on it. They were ascomfortable and relaxed as ever. He made an effort to talk, as didNat. Only Gigi didn’t say much, but she was there, and that was astart.
Jake was in heaven, unsure about whose feethe should be lying next to since all his kids were home again. Hemade his rounds in the family room, soaking up attention fromwhomever he could.
“Hey, Mom,” Dave called from the sofa. “Ithought of a couple CDs to add to my Christmas list.”

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