Marriage Terms(3)

By: Barbara Dunlop



She focused on the expensive amber liquid, ruthlessly reminding herself of who he’d become. It had been a long time since she’d served him Bud in a can.

“Thirty-dollar scotch?” she asked.

He closed the menu and set it aside. “What’s wrong with the scotch?”

“You ever drink beer anymore?”

He shrugged. “Sometimes.”

“I mean domestic.”

He lifted his glass and the ice cubes clinked against the fine crystal. “You’re a reverse snob, you know that?”

“And you’re a straight-up snob.”

He stared at her for a long moment, those knowing eyes sending a shiver up her spine.

Out of self-preservation, she dropped her gaze to the tabletop. She wouldn’t let Daniel’s opinion get the better of her. Forget the haircut. Forget the designer clothes.

His opinion of her meant nothing, nothing at all.

“Why do you suppose…?” he asked softly, and she glanced up. He started again.

“Why do you suppose we argue so much?” The question was undeniably intimate.

She refused to match his tone. “Because we cling to the hope that one day we might change each other’s minds.”

He was silent for a long moment. And then a genuine grin grew on his face.

“Well, I’m open to improvement if you are.”

Uh-oh. She didn’t know where he was going with this disarming act, but it couldn’t be good. “Can we cut to the chase?”

“There’s a chase?”

“The confidential legal matter? The thing you brought me up here to discuss?”

A fleeting expression tightened his features, and he shifted in his chair. “Oh, that. It’s a matter of some, uh, delicacy.”

That got her attention. “Really?”

“Yes.”

She leaned forward. Was there a veiled message in those words? Was Daniel in some kind of trouble?

“You telling me you did something?” she asked.

He blinked. “Did something?”

“You actually broke the law?”

His brows knit together. “Don’t be absurd. Jeez, Amanda.”

“Well, then, what’s with this secret meeting in the middle of the day? And why with me?”

“This isn’t a secret meeting.”

“We’re not at your office.”

“Would you come to my office?”

“No.”

“There you go.”

“Daniel.”

“What?”

“Get to the point.”

Their waiter appeared. “Anything from the menu, sir?”

Daniel barely turned his head. “The canapé tray will be fine.”

“Very good, sir.”

As the waiter left, Amanda raised her eyebrows in a question.

“You never know,” said Daniel. “We might be here awhile.”

“At the rate you’re talking, we sure will.”

He took a sip of his scotch. “Fine. I’ll cut to the chase. I’m looking into an interpretation of our employee manual.”

“The employee manual?”

How on earth was that a delicate matter? Here she thought the conversation, his life, was about to get interesting.

He nodded.

She shook her head in disappointment and reached for her athletic bag. “Daniel, I don’t practice corporate law.”

He trapped her hand on the table, and her entire arm buzzed with the sensation.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

She tried to ignore his touch. “I mean it’s not my specialty.”

“Well, maybe not labor relations…”

She shifted in her chair. She couldn’t yank her hand from his. That would be too obvious. “I practice criminal law.”

He stared at her in silence, the pulse in his thumb synchronizing with hers.

“Crime,” she offered helpfully, tugging her hand ever so slightly.

He blinked in confusion.

“Surely you’ve read the newspapers, seen the dramas on television…”

“But…Private lawyers don’t prosecute criminals.”

“Who says I prosecute them?”

His hand tightened convulsively. “You defend them?”

“Yes, I do.” She made no bones about trying to free herself this time.

He let her go. He glanced away. Then he stared at her again. “What kind of criminals?”

“The kind that get caught.”

“Don’t be facetious.”

“I’m dead serious. The ones that get away with it don’t need me.”

“Like thieves, prostitutes, murderers?”

“Yes.”

“Do the boys know about this?”

“Of course.”

He hardened his jaw. “I don’t like the sound of that.”

“Really?” As if his opinion had any bearing on her career decisions.

“Really, Amanda.” He reached for her hand with both of his this time. “I thought…” He shook his head. “But this is dangerous.”

His touch might be disturbing, but his words were even more so.

She fought him on both fronts. “This is none of your business, Daniel.”

He stared at her intently. “But it is my business.”

“No.”

“You’re the mother of my children.”

“No.”

“I can’t let anything—”

“Daniel!”

His hands tightened, and he got a familiar look in his eyes. That look said he had a plan. That look said he had a mission. That look said he was going to save her from herself.





Chapter 2





Daniel needed to talk to his sons. Well, one son, to start off with. He supposed he’d have to wait until the bandages came off to confront Bryan. But Cullen was getting a piece of his mind right away.

He tossed his credit card on the counter at the Atlantic Golf Course pro shop.

Amanda a criminal defense attorney? Of all the lunatic ideas. After their divorce she’d pursued her B.A., then a graduate degree in English literature, then three years of law school, and she was throwing it all away on lost causes?

The pro shop clerk bagged a royal-blue golf shirt, while Daniel signed the receipt.

Her clients probably paid her off in stolen stereos.

Maybe the bank robbers had cash—small, unmarked bills. And then only as long as they’d pulled a few successful jobs before they got caught.

His ex-wife was defending bank robbers. His sons had known she was in danger.

All these years, and they hadn’t bothered saying anything. Was it not a salient point to bring up in conversation?

“By the way, Dad. You might be interested to know that Mom’s consorting with thieves and murderers.”

Sure, he and Amanda had agreed not to bad-mouth each other in front of their kids. And, for the most part, that meant not talking about each other in the early years of the divorce. But Bryan and Cullen were grown men now. And they were perfectly capable of seeing danger when it hovered in front of their eyes.

Daniel exited the pro shop and headed for the locker room. Misty had said Cullen’s tee time was six-thirty. That meant he’d be coming up on the ninth hole about now.

At his locker, Daniel hung up his suit jacket, his tie and his dress shirt. Then he tugged the new golf shirt over his head and straightened the collar. He left the clubhouse through the terrace café.

Normally he’d check out the dining room, maybe exchange an informal word with some of his business associates. But not today. Today he marched straight down the shade-patterned pathway.

Cullen had some explaining to do.

Five minutes down the path, he spotted Cullen on the ninth green, lining up for a putt. He turned and angled toward him, not caring in the least about etiquette.

“Hey, Dad.” A hushed voice to his left stopped him in his tracks.

He turned to see his older son. “Bryan?”

Standing at the edge of the green, Bryan sported a sling to protect his injured shoulder.

He nodded to Daniel.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Daniel hissed.

“I’m golfing,” said Bryan.

“You’re injured.”

Cullen looked up from the putt. “Will you two shut up?”

Daniel clamped his jaw until Cullen’s ball had disappeared into the hole.

“Hey, Dad,” said Cullen, sliding the handle of his putter through his fist as he paced toward them. He handed the club to his caddy.

“You just got out of the hospital,” Daniel said to Bryan.

Bryan headed for his own golf bag. “It was a superficial wound.”

“It was a bullet hole.”

“In my shoulder.”

“You were in surgery for three hours.”

Bryan shrugged his good shoulder and accepted a putter. “You know those doctors.

They eke out every billable minute.”

Daniel rounded on Cullen. “You actually brought him golfing?”

“I’m taking the drives,” said Cullen easily. “He’s only putting.”

“And he’s cheating,” said Bryan, lining up his one-handed shot.

“Like I need to cheat to beat a cripple,” Cullen called.

“I can’t believe Lucy let you out of the house,” said Daniel. Bryan had always been the daredevil of the family, but this was ridiculous.

“You kidding?” asked Cullen. “Lucy paid me to get him out of the house.”

“Apparently I’m not a good patient,” Bryan said, swinging at the ball and missing the hole.

“That’s five,” said Cullen.

“Yeah, yeah,” Bryan returned. “I’ll get you next week.”

Top Books