Marriage Terms(2)

By: Barbara Dunlop



“Call my office.”

“We’re family.”

She whooshed away from the edge, creating an eddy around her body. “We’re not family.” Not anymore.

He glanced around. “Do we have to do this here?”

“Hey, you can be wherever you want. I was swimming away, minding my own business.”

He nodded toward the mezzanine floor that overlooked the pool. “Come up and have a drink.”

“Go away.”

“I need your legal advice.”

“You have lawyers on retainer.”

“But this is confidential.”

“I’ve got laps left to swim.”

His eyes focused on her blurred shape beneath the water. “You don’t need them.”

Her heart tripped over a beat. But then she remembered the way glib compliments rolled off his tongue. She turned and stretched into freestyle again.

He followed her to the other end and was standing there when she came up for air.

She sighed in frustration. “You can be a real jerk, you know that?”

“Go ahead and finish. I’ll wait.”

She gritted her teeth. “I don’t think so.”

He grinned and reached out his hand.

Daniel was worried she wouldn’t fall for his ruse. Then he’d have to find another way to lure her into conversation. Because he definitely had a few things left to say.

Over the past few weeks, he’d seen her frantic schedule. He’d overheard the late-night calls. And he’d watched the way her clients took advantage of her.

Her dark eyes narrowed warily, and he moved his hand a little closer, wiggling his fingers in encouragement. He just needed her attention for a few days, maybe a couple of weeks. Then she’d be back on track, and he’d get out of her life for good.

Finally, she grimaced and tucked her small, slick hand in his palm. He tried not to be too obvious about his sigh of relief as he gently lifted her from the water.

She straightened on the deck, and he took in her toned limbs and the way her apricot suit clung to her ripe curves. Because she favored casual clothes now—clothes that tended toward loose and baggy—he’d thought maybe she’d gained weight over the years. Not so.

She had a ton of fashion potential. Her figure was gorgeous. Her waist was indented, her stomach smooth and tight, her full breasts rounded against the wet Lycra.

A long-dormant jolt of desire hit his system. He clenched his jaw to tamp it down.

If he alienated her now, she’d bolt. Then she’d spend the rest of her life swimming away her office hours and wandering around midtown Manhattan in khakis, gauzy blouses and clunky sandals.

He cringed at the image.

She might not admit it, but she needed to broaden her professional circles, cultivate prosperous clients and, for the love of God, dress for success.

She extracted her hand from his.

“One drink,” she warned, giving him a don’t-mess-with-me look as she whisked water droplets from her suit.

“One drink,” he agreed gruffly, dragging his gaze from her luscious figure.

She took in his dry trunks, wrinkling her nose. “You didn’t even get wet.”

He cupped her elbow and turned her toward the locker rooms. “That’s because I wasn’t here to swim.”

Her skin was slick and cool, like the tile under his feet. She stopped at the head of the corridor and turned to face him. He could almost see her mind ticking through the situation, formulating arguments.

He scrambled for a distraction. “Don’t suppose you’d consider a family changing room for old times’ sake?”

That put a flash in her mocha eyes, but it also shut her up. Which was what he’d had in mind.

He didn’t really have a legal matter to discuss. It was a spur-of-the-moment excuse to get her out of the pool, and it was going to take a few minutes to put the finer points on the lie.

He gave her what he hoped was a nostalgic smile. “The boys sure loved it here.”

“What is wrong with you?” she asked.

“I’m just saying—”

“Fine. Okay. The boys loved it here.”

She was silent for a moment, then her eyes softened. He felt himself sinking into his own memories.

The shouts of children faded, and he suddenly saw two small, dark-haired boys whizzing down the slide and doing flips off the diving board. Boca Royce was the only recreation he and Amanda could afford during their lean years—thanks to the Elliott family lifetime membership. And Bryan and Cullen used to swim their little hearts out.

His memory moved on to the end of the swim day, when the boys were ready to drop. He and Amanda would bundle them home for frozen pizza and a cartoon movie.

Then they’d tuck them in and curl up in their own bed for a leisurely evening of love.

His voice turned husky. “We had some good times, didn’t we?”

She didn’t engage, didn’t meet his eyes. Without a word, she turned on her heel and marched down the corridor.

Just as well.

He was here to offer her a few basic pointers, to get her professional life on track.

Anything else was off-limits.

Way off-limits.

Amanda felt considerably less vulnerable in faded jeans and a powder-blue tank top. In the ladies’ change room, she finger-combed her damp hair and smeared some clear lip gloss across her mouth. She never used much makeup during the day, and she wasn’t about to put any on for Daniel. She wasn’t blow-drying her hair, either.

Throwing her bright yellow athletic bag over one shoulder, she exited the change room and trotted up the wide stairs to the mezzanine.

One quick drink. She’d hear him out, refer him to somebody much higher priced than she was then maybe go see a good therapist.

At the top of the stairs, a set of arched, oak doors led to the pool lounge. A receptionist at the marble counter stopped her and asked to see her membership card. Before she could retrieve it from the depths of the bag, Daniel appeared, impeccably dressed in an Armani suit.

He took her arm and gave the receptionist a curt nod. “That won’t be necessary.

She’s my guest.”

“Technically, I’m not your guest,” Amanda pointed out as he pushed on the oversize door. “I’m a member, too.”

“I hate it when they card you,” said Daniel, gesturing to a small, round table near the glass wall overlooking the pool. “It’s so tacky.”

“They don’t recognize me,” she said. The receptionist was only doing her job.

Daniel pulled out one of the curved-back chairs, and Amanda sat down on the leather cushion, plunking her bag on the hardwood floor.

“Maybe if you were to—”

She glanced at him over her shoulder.

He snapped his jaw shut and rounded the table.

As he sat down, a waiter in a dark suit appeared. “Can I get you a beverage, sir?”

Daniel raised his eyebrows in Amanda’s direction. “Fruit juice,” she requested.

“We have an orange-mango blend,” said the waiter.

“Sounds good.”

“And for you, sir?”

“Glen Saanich on the rocks. Yellow label.”

“Very good.” The waiter gave a sharp nod and left.

“Let me guess,” she said, not in the mood to let the cut off insult slide by.

“You were going to say that if I wore a power suit nobody would check my ID.”

He didn’t even bother to disagree. “The clothes do make the woman,” he said.

“The woman makes the woman,” she replied.

“A business suit and a nice pair of heels would give you a lot of credibility.”

“I dress like that for the courtroom, not to get into exclusive clubs.”

Daniel scooped the fanned, linen napkin from his water goblet and plunked it on the table. His study of her became more intense. “What do you plan your wardrobe around?”

“My life. My job. Just like everybody else.”

“You’re a lawyer.”

“I’m aware of that.”

“Amanda, lawyers usually—”

“Daniel,” she warned. Whatever it was they were here to discuss, it wasn’t going to include her clothing.

“All I’m saying is drop by a boutique. Get a standing appointment at a salon—”

“My hair?”

He paused and something flickered in his expression. “You’re a beautiful woman, Amanda.”

“Right,” she huffed. Too bad she had ugly clothes and bad hair.

“I’m talking a couple of blazers and a bit of a trim.”

“So I won’t get carded at Boca Royce?”

“It’s not just the ID card, and you know it.”

She stiffened her spine. Maybe not. But it was also none of his business. “Back off, Daniel.”

Unexpectedly, he held up his hands in surrender. A few beats later he offered an apologetic grin.

Somehow his easy capitulation felt unsatisfying. Which was silly.

He reached across the table and snagged her napkin, dropping it beside her glass so their view of each other was unobstructed. Her gaze caught on his strong, tanned fingers, and she had a split-second flashback to his hand against her skin. She swallowed.

Their waiter appeared, setting their drinks down on coasters and leaving an appetizer menu behind.

“Hungry?” asked Daniel, letting the menu fall open.

As if she was going to drag this out over phyllo or sushi. “No.”

“We could get some canapés.”

She shook her head.

“Okay. Then I’m good with the scotch.”

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