Marriage Terms(4)

By: Barbara Dunlop



“Next week we’re skydiving,” said Cullen.

“I do not want to hear this,” said Daniel, hoping against hope that it was a joke.

Bryan finally sank the golf ball. “Relax, Dad. It’s an easy jump.”

“I knew we should have resorted to corporal punishment,” said Daniel.

Cullen laughed. “Where are your clubs, Dad?”

Daniel squared his shoulders. His sons might be grown men, and he might not have control over their hobbies, but he was still their father. “I’m not here to golf.”

Bryan returned the putter to his caddy. “Yeah?”

“And I wasn’t at Boca Royce to swim this afternoon, either.”

After a silent pause, Cullen raised an eyebrow. “Uh, thanks for sharing that with us, Dad.”

He pasted each of his sons with a significant glare. “I was there to talk to your mother.” Then he dropped his tone an octave, giving his voice that steely undercurrent he’d used when they were teenagers and got caught drinking beer or breaking curfew. “She told me about her law practice.”

He paused and waited for their reaction.

Cullen glanced at Bryan, and Bryan shrugged.

“Her defense attorney practice,” Daniel elaborated, trying to crack their poker faces.

Bryan turned to leave the green. “Is something wrong, Dad?”

“Yeah, I’d say something was wrong. Your mother is working for criminals.”

Cullen followed his brother, cocking his head to one side. “Who’d you think she was working for?”

Daniel stalked through the rough. “Executives, politicians, little old ladies writing wills.”

“She’s a litigator,” said Bryan. “Always has been.”

“And you never mentioned it?”

Cullen peeled off his white leather gloves and tucked them in his back pocket.

“We don’t talk to you about Mom.”

“Well, maybe you should have.”

“Why?”

Daniel couldn’t believe his sons would be so obtuse. “Because, she’s in danger, that’s why.”

“Danger from what?” asked Bryan.

“Criminals.”

“She’s not in danger,” Bryan scoffed as they turned onto the pathway that led up to the clubhouse.

Daniel squinted at his older son. He sounded very confident, very definitive.

And Bryan was in the business of danger.

Wait a minute.

Maybe he knew something Daniel didn’t. That was it. Daniel should have realized he could count on his sons.

He felt as if a weight had risen right up off him. “Are you having her watched by one of your associates?”

Cullen sputtered out a laugh, while Bryan stared at Daniel. “Dad, you’ve seen one too many cop shows.”

Daniel rocked back. They were mocking him now. “Her clients are thieves and murderers.”

“And she’s their best friend,” said Bryan. “Trust me on this, Dad. The mortality rate for defense lawyers is pretty damn low.”

“Are you two going to help me or not?”

“Help you do what?” asked Cullen.

Daniel’s original plan was to work on her image and her business. But if he found a good clothing designer, it would only attract a better class of criminals. Nope. This called for drastic action.

“Convince her to change careers,” he said.

His sons drew back simultaneously. Cullen actually held up crossed fingers as if to ward off an evil spirit.

“Uh-uh,” said Bryan with a shake of his dark head.

“Are you out of your mind?” Cullen asked.

Daniel stared at his two strapping, six-foot-plus sons. “Don’t tell me you’re afraid of her.”

“Hell, yes,” said Cullen.

Daniel squared his shoulders and crossed his arms over his chest. “More afraid of her than you are of me?”

Both boys snorted their disbelief.

“You’re on your own with Mom,” said Cullen, starting up the steep grade.

“We’ll be doing something safe,” Bryan said.

Cullen nodded his concurrence. “Like skydiving.”

“He is making me very nervous,” said Amanda to her ex-sister-in-law Karen Elliott where they sat in the solarium at The Tides, her former in-laws’ palatial estate. Since her mastectomy this past winter, Karen had been recuperating out on the Long Island estate. Rays of sunlight streamed through the skylights, glowing against the hardwood floor and bringing out the pastels in the cushions covering the wicker furniture.

“Did he actually do anything?” asked Karen. A cup of herb tea in hand, she was reclining on a lounger next to the glass wall that overlooked the Atlantic.

Seagulls soared on the rising air currents while storm clouds gathered on the far horizon.

“He suggested an extreme makeover.” Amanda still bristled at Daniel’s nerve.

“Like plastic surgery?” asked Karen.

“Like a haircut and a new wardrobe. But who knows what all else he had in mind.”

“Whew.” Karen blew out a breath. “You scared me for a minute. I thought maybe Sharon had completely corrupted him.”

Amanda cringed at the mention of Daniel’s recent ex-wife. Rail thin and strikingly beautiful, Sharon Styles was never anything less than a perfectly coiffed fashion plate.

Karen smoothed a hand over the colorful scarf that disguised the hair loss from her chemotherapy. “Personally, I’d kill for a good makeover.”

Amanda gave a chopped laugh of disbelief. Karen didn’t need a makeover. She was classy and gorgeous under any circumstances, from the glow of her honey-toned nose to the shine of her pedicured nails.

“I say we skip the makeover and kill off Daniel,” said Amanda.

Karen suddenly sat up on the chaise, swinging her legs around the side and clinking her china teacup into its saucer. “That’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

Amanda feigned delight. “You’re going to kill off Daniel?”

“I’m going to get a makeover. And Daniel’s right. You should come with me.”

“Hey!” Bad enough when Daniel criticized her appearance. She didn’t need Karen jumping on the bandwagon.

Karen waved a dismissive hand. “Don’t be so sensitive. We’ll spend the weekend at Eduardo’s. Mud wraps, facials…” Her hand went to her chest, and she rolled her eyes reverently. “Oh, one of those heated stone massages will make you feel like a new woman.”

“I don’t want to be a new woman. And I can’t afford Eduardo’s. One of those heated stone massages would bankrupt me. I don’t need a makeover.”

“When did need have anything to do with a makeover? And you can make Daniel pay.”

Daniel pay? Let Daniel and his money anywhere near her life? Was Karen out of her mind?

“After all, it was his idea,” said Karen with a calculating gleam.

Amanda shook her head. “I think you’re missing the point of this conversation.”

Karen grinned unrepentantly. “I’m not missing the point. They nuked my cancer, not my brain.”

Amanda leaned forward in her armchair, folding her hands on the knees of her

khaki pants, making sure she was perfectly clear this time. “I don’t want to humor Daniel. I want your husband to help me get him off my back.”

Karen copied Amanda’s posture. “Maybe Daniel will get off your back if you get a makeover.”

“If I get a makeover, Daniel will think I’ve taken his advice.”

“Who cares?”

“I do. He wants me to stop practicing law. I give in on the makeover, you can bet what’s coming next.”

“It’s not like he can have you disbarred.”

Amanda paused. She supposed that was true enough. He couldn’t actually force her to stop working. Could he? The Elliotts were powerful, but she had to believe there were limits on what they could pull off.

He’d have to catch her doing something unethical—which she wouldn’t. Or he’d have to set her up—which he wouldn’t. Her folded hands tightened. But Patrick might. If Daniel asked him to.

Of course, Patrick couldn’t care less what Amanda did for a living, or whether she consorted with criminals. By the same token, neither should Daniel. Really, where on earth was this coming from?

Karen sat back in the chaise and gave an exaggerated sigh into the silence, smoothing the palm of her hand over her forehead. “I think a makeover would help me recover so much faster.” She turned her head toward Amanda and shamelessly blinked her long lashes. “But I really don’t want to go to Eduardo’s all alone.”

Amanda wasn’t fooled for a second.

Karen was milking the situation for all it was worth. But she had been through a terrible illness. And if she wanted company at a weekend spa, how could Amanda refuse?

A gull cried against the sheer cliffs outside, a second answering it as the surf roiled up against the rocks.

“If I say yes,” Amanda ventured, “we can’t tell Daniel.” If Daniel thought she was taking his advice, any of his advice, there’d be no stopping him.

A beautiful smile grew on Karen’s face. “I say we let them dye your hair.”

“No, we’re not…” When Karen’s expression faltered, Amanda paused. “You think I should dye my hair?”

“Oh, they can give you the most divine highlights. You’ll love it. I promise.”

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