Marriage Terms(8)

By: Barbara Dunlop



“So, where are we going?” she asked.

“To Mr. Elliott’s apartment.”

“His apartment?”

The driver nodded in the mirror. “Yes, ma’am.”

Amanda’s hand splayed on her stomach. Whew. Okay. Deep breath. She could do this.

Misty and Cullen would be there as a buffer. And there’d probably be a dozen or so kitchen staff. It wasn’t as if she and Daniel would get all cozy on the balcony or anything.

It wasn’t a date.

Although he had kissed her.

On the forehead.

Still, his lips had touched her skin.

She dropped her head into her hands.

“Ma’am…”

She straightened, flipping her damp hair back from her face. “I’m fine. It’s nothing.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure.” She gave him a reassuring smile.

She’d go to Daniel’s apartment. Have dinner. Chat with her son and new daughter-in-law, maybe feel the baby kick then get out of there before things got awkward.

Simple.

Things got awkward faster than she’d expected.

“Misty wasn’t feeling well,” said Daniel as he closed the front door in an oak-paneled, skylighted entry hall.

“So they’re not coming at all?” Amanda darted a glance at the exit, wondering if she should bolt before it was too late.

“Her back was sore.”

Misty’s health was definitely more important than dinner, but Amanda had been counting on their presence. An evening alone with Daniel was more than she could handle right now. “Why didn’t you call?”

“I did call. I left you a message.”

“Then why did you send the car?”

“The message was that we’d moved to my place, not that you weren’t supposed to come.”

“But…”

He gestured to the short staircase leading to his sunken living room. “Please come in.”

She hesitated. But there was no way to bail without looking scared. And she wasn’t scared. Not exactly.

“Amanda?”

She took a bracing breath, made her decision then stepped down the short staircase to the plush ivory carpet.

The room was nothing short of magnificent. Two stories high, it was decorated with sculptures and abstract oils. Camel-colored sofas were scattered with burgundy and navy cushions, alongside two plaid armchairs that formed a conversation group.

Pot lights were sunk into the high ceiling. There was a Monet above a white marble fireplace, flanked by two walls of double-decker windows overlooking the park.

The furniture gleamed, and the flower arrangements were fresh. A team of photographers could show up for a lifestyle shoot and not have to touch a thing.

“I ran into Taylor Hopkins earlier,” said Daniel, crossing the huge room to a curved cherrywood bar.

“Oh?” Amanda took a cautious step forward. Even for Daniel, the room was pristine. There wasn’t a single magazine on the tables, no papers, no dust, not even a track in the carpet. She wondered if it was Sharon’s influence, or if he was spiraling down to some sort of perfection psychosis.

He retrieved two wineglasses from the hanging rack. “He was free, so I invited him to dinner.”

Amanda’s gaze shot to Daniel’s back. “You invited who to dinner? When?”

“Taylor.”

“Why?”

“Because he was free.”

Taylor was free? The same Taylor that Daniel had mentioned on Tuesday? The same Taylor he’d held up as an example of lawyerly perfection?

“What are you up to?” she asked warily.

“Opening the wine. You want some?”

“You’re telling me you accidentally ran into Taylor after Misty called?” She didn’t believe anything in Daniel’s life was random.

His shoulders tensed. “After Cullen called,” he corrected. Then he relaxed and turned his head to look at her. “Glass of merlot?”

“Daniel, what’s going on?”

He shrugged as he twisted the corkscrew into the wine. “Nothing’s going on.”

Yeah, right. “Why is Taylor really coming to dinner?”

“Because Stuart had already picked up the salmon, and because you and I were going to be alone.” He popped the cork.

Alone? If alone was a problem for him, why hadn’t he canceled?

A man in a white suit jacket entered the room. “May I help with the drinks, sir?”

“Thanks,” said Daniel, abandoning the open bottle to the perfectly groomed gentleman.

“We could have rebooked,” said Amanda.

“Then who would eat the salmon?”

Her eyes narrowed. There was something suspicious about that straightforward logic, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it.

“Care for a tour before dinner?” he asked easily, not a flicker of cunning in his eyes.

Maybe she was being paranoid. Maybe Daniel wasn’t thinking up plans to interfere in her life. Maybe she’d overestimated his interest entirely.

“Okay,” she agreed slowly.

The man in the white jacket handed them each a glass of merlot.

“Thank you, Stuart,” said Daniel.

“Thank you,” Amanda echoed.

“Dinner in an hour?” asked Stuart.

“Sounds fine,” said Daniel.

Then he placed his hand lightly at the small of her back. “Let’s start upstairs.”

Amanda forced herself to relax and take in the decor. The room smelled of beeswax and lemon polish. She ran her fingertips gingerly along the gleaming banister as they climbed the stairs.

When they stepped onto the landing, Daniel directed her along the hallway that overlooked the living room.

“Your house is very…neat,” she offered.

There was a hint of a chuckle in his voice. “Why do I get the feeling that wasn’t a compliment?”

“I don’t know,” she lied.

“You’d prefer it was messy?” he asked.

She’d prefer it had a soul. “Well, my house is definitely a lot messier than yours.”

“Do you have a housekeeper?”

She glanced up at him. “Why?”

He didn’t meet her eyes. “Just wondering if you might have hired a former client to do that, too.”

Amanda resisted the urge to elbow him in the ribs. “I don’t have a housekeeper.”

“I see.”

No rebuke. Nothing overt that she could fight with. Just a measured, judgmental I see.

“Regular people clean their own houses,” she pointed out.

He opened a door and hit the light switch. “This is the library.”

She gazed at another pristine room. Two leather love seats faced each other across an antique table. There was a reading desk in the corner with a diamond-tufted chair. And a lighted, saltwater fish tank was built into floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. The wood was deep and rich, in contrast to the muted neutrals in the living room and hall.

She wandered inside, running her finger along the leather-bound volumes.

“Shakespeare,” said Daniel.

Of course it was. “Got anything lighter?”

“A first edition Dickens.”

“Anything newer?”

“The Life of Pi.”

“I give up.” Maybe it wasn’t an act. Maybe Daniel had truly turned into a paragon of perfection. His father must be proud.

“You give what up?” he asked.

“Mr. Elliott?” Stuart appeared in the doorway. “Your company has arrived.”

“Thank you.” Daniel smiled at Amanda and gestured to the library doorway.

“Taylor,” he greeted over the railing. “Glad you could make it.”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Taylor responded, smiling at Amanda as she and Daniel made their way down the stairs.

“Amanda,” he said, holding out his hand.

She reached out to shake.

“You probably don’t remember,” he said, grasping her hand warmly. “We met at a party once. Karen and Michael introduced us.”

“The Ritz,” said Amanda. She remembered. He’d been polite and friendly that night, with a quick smile and a courteous manner that made it hard to remember he was a cold, unfeeling profitmonger.

“You do remember.” He flashed that boyish grin and prolonged the handshake.

“Merlot?” asked Daniel.

Taylor slowly let go of Amanda’s hand, keeping his gaze fixed on her eyes. “Love some.”

Daniel couldn’t let Taylor’s interest in Amanda bother him. Sure, he’d only invited the man over to talk business, not to gaze adoringly into Amanda’s eyes and chuckle appreciatively every time she said something that remotely resembled a joke.

And he hadn’t expected Taylor to pat her hand, touch her arm or inquire about her personal life. But Amanda was an attractive, sexy woman, particularly when her hair got disheveled and she kicked off her sandals to curl her legs up on the couch.

Daniel had to accept the fact that other men were going to find her interesting.

He couldn’t let it bother him.

Even now, when Taylor stood up and oh so casually offered Amanda a ride home, Daniel had to bite his tongue and set his jaw. None of his business if she wanted to accept.

Amanda glanced at him.

He kept his expression deliberately impassive.

“Thank you, no,” she said to Taylor.

And Taylor accepted her answer with equanimity.

Daniel saw Taylor to the front door alone, trying to keep the spring out of his step. Her relationships with other men were irrelevant. He had to focus on the primary goal—getting her to change careers.

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