Read Back in the Soldier's Arms Online

Authors: Soraya Lane,Karina Bliss

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary

Back in the Soldier's Arms (27 page)

BOOK: Back in the Soldier's Arms
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Catching it, Dan propped the pillow behind his head. “I wasn’t the one who took our private life into print.”

“My ad was designed to save you further humiliation by making a joke of it, but it seems you’re determined to suffer.”

“If I’m going to be left, it has to be at the altar.” He rolled off the bed. “So, Grant tells me CommLink made an offer for the Chronicle.”

Jo felt her jaw drop. “What were you doing with Grant?”

“Having a quiet drink with an old school friend. If my brid anÁ€†e won’t spend time with me, I’ve got to hang out with someone.”

“I can’t believe Grant breached confidentiality.”

“Well, he was pretty hammered at the time,” Dan confided. “You know he can’t hold his liquor.”

She narrowed her eyes. “You got him drunk.”

“If you won’t tell me what’s going on, what choice did I have?” he said reasonably.

“What else did he say?”

“That he hates his boss. Is it true, you invited an offer?”

“I was curious to know what the paper was worth.”

“So you’re not serious about selling?”

Jo shook her head. “Keep that quiet, though. I’m still working out the best way to say no.” She added pointedly, “Some people aren’t always good at listening.”

Dan grinned, then lay down on another bed. “This one’s got memory foam, which will apparently mould to our bodies.”

“Your body,” she corrected. “I have a bed.”

“A single bed,” he dismissed. “I’m talking marital.” He took all the legitimacy out of the word, made it wicked.

Jo put her hands on her hips. “Dan, I’m losing patience.”

“You’re losing patience?” She found herself lying on the mattress, his weight on top of her. “Are you really going to make me wait until the wedding night?”

Jo tried to wiggle free. “There isn’t going to be a wedding night because there isn’t going to be a wedding.” Effortlessly Dan held her pinned and she gave up the undignified struggle and craned her neck to see where the sales assistant was. Engrossed on the phone, thank God. “What the hell’s gotten into you?” she demanded. “The old Dan would never have done this.”

“More fool him,” he said and lowered his head to kiss her. Jo froze.

“You folks okay here?”

Pushing free, Jo scrambled off the bed and straightened her tailored shirt with the gathered bust.

On the bed, Dan put his hands behind his head. “We’ll take it … unless there’s one in a larger size? We like a big playground don’t we, honey? And that leaves plenty of room for the kids.”

Jo turned to the mirror and concentrated on raking a hand through her disheveled curls.

Sensing it wasn’t in his best interests, the salesman didn’t press her. “Let me go see if we have a super-king in the storeroom.”

When he’d hurried away, she crossed to the bed and looked down at Dan.

“Is there anything I can say to make you stop this?”

He swung his feet to the floor. “Not a damn thing.”

“Fine,” she shoved him flat. “Play your games but play them solo. Order the cake and the flowers … I don’t care. But I’m not seeing you again until you come to your senses.”

Before she walked out, Jo noticed Dan no longer looked so smug. If you wanted to douse a fire, you took away the fuel. And he wasn’t the only one capable of finding allies in the enemy camp. She should have thought of this earlier.

Jo took out her cell and dialed. “I know this is a surprise,” she said after exchanging greetings, “but I think we need to talk.”

Back in the Soldier’s Arms/Here Comes the Groom



“WHAT A LOVELY IDEA,” Pat gushed as she embraced Jo at the garden-center café. “Meeting here to celebrate, just us two girls. You know I’ve been meaning to phone and congratulate you but it’s all been so confusing. On, then off, then on again.”

“Relax,” said Jo. “I’m not marrying your son.”

The older woman sank into an wrought-iron chair. “Thank God.”

“Ouch.” Jo took her own seat. “Maybe I do prefer it when you pretend to like me.”

Pat recovered. “It’s not that I don’t like you … For heaven’s sake, Jo, do you have to be so … so challenging all the time?”

“I’m sorry, I was brought up to be honest. From your reaction, I guess I’m not the only one wondering if Dan’s sudden obsession with marrying me is a little odd.”

The waitress arrived. “Can I take your order?”

“Cappuccino, skinny milk please, caffeine-free.” Pat scanned the luscious cake selection in the cabinet behind them. “Nothing for me.”

Jo admired self-control but Pat’s bordered on self-flagellation. She reminded Jo of a Victorian missionary who persisted in wearing corsets in the tropics.

“Espresso and a piece of chocolate gâteau please.” Jo glanced mischievously at Pat. “Two forks.”

“One,” Pat corrected. As usual they were off to a great start.

Jo stuck to what they had in common. “How has Dan acted since he got back?”

“Herman says half the work’s done by the time he gets to the farm every morning, which means Danny’s still not sleeping.” Their order arrived as she told Jo about Dan’s insomnia.

Absently, Pat sipped her cappuccino. “I wondered if it was some kind of post traumatic stress disorder, except, as Danny pointed out, he wasn’t on patrol.”

“But he was on the retrieval crew,” said Jo slowly. She couldn’t imagine what that had been like.

“And let’s face it,” said Pat, “he can’t be in his right mind if he wants to—” She stopped, embauck D‡rrassed. Amusement pierced Jo’s growing disquiet. “Marry me?”

“—proceed with this wedding against your wishes. Don’t put words in my mouth.” “Sorry,” Jo said meekly.

“All I’m saying is don’t accept him if you have doubts. Marriage is hard work and you need one hundred percent commitment from the start. Even with commitment, there are no guarantees.” She sounded disheartened. Jo proffered her a fork and, rolling the glazed cherry to the side of the plate, Pat dug into the chilled frosting.

“Well, you can relax about the marriage thing. I’m shunning Dan until he backs off.”

She’d expected approval; instead Pat looked up horrified. “You can’t do that, you’re the only one he’s likely to open up to. He’s not talking to Herman about it and God knows,” she added bitterly, “he refuses to confide in me.”

Dismayed, Jo picked up her fork. “I hadn’t thought of that.” In silence, the two women shared the gâteau. When the last crumb had gone, Pat dabbed at her mouth to remove the evidence and gave Jo a pleading look.

“I wouldn’t ask if I weren’t worried sick about him …”

“Okay,” Jo said, feeling trapped. “I won’t shut him out completely.”

A UTE SHE DIDN’T recognize was parked in the driveway when Jo got home in the deep twilight. And the light was on in the parlor, the formal living room where Nan had once entertained her many visitors. Jo couldn’t remember seeing anything in her grandmother’s diary, but given the chaos of the past few days, she could have missed it.

In the garage, she turned off the headlights and sat for a moment in the dark. Then hauling her heavy briefcase from the passenger seat, she entered the house.

Perry Como crooned from the CD player and her mood lifted. Nan always played him when she was feeling well. Dumping her briefcase, she strolled into the parlor and stopped dead.

“Darling,” said Nan. “We were just talking about you.”

Dan filled another glass with champagne. “Tough day?”

“You could say that,” she returned evenly, glaring at him. Accepting the glass, she turned to Nan, trying to recall how alcohol affected her medication. “Should you be drinking?”

“Pooh, one won’t kill me.” Her grandmother toasted Dan. “Besides, we’re closing a deal.”

Perry warbled that everyone knew where this was heading.

“What deal?”

“Daniel has offered to prune the hedges this weekend.”

“He has enough to do on the farm.” Despite her promise to Pat, Jo couldn’t keep the sharpness out of her voice. He was boxing her in, closing off all escape routes.

Nan’s smile faltered. “Oh, dear, why didn’t I think of that?”

Dan leaned forward and chinked his glass to Rosemary’s. “Because you know I’ll always make time for my favorite women,” he returned gallantly.

“Poppycock,” Nan retorted, but she was smiliverÑ€†ng again. The three of them together was almost like old times. Almost. Jo sipped the champagne, holding the bubbles on her tongue before swallowing. Well, if the mountain thought coming to Mohammed would further its cause, the mountain thought wrong. “How about we go for a drive in the morning, Nan? Get out of Dan’s way.”

His eyes gleamed appreciatively.

Nan looked appalled. “You can’t leave a man alone with a chainsaw, Jocelyn.”

“Anyway, your part of the deal is to supply lunch,” Dan said smoothly. He turned to Nan. “But if you feel I’m intruding …”

“Nonsense,” protested Rosemary, “you’re practically family.”

Perry crooned about two hearts forever linked. Jo gulped her champagne. “Where’s Polly?” she asked her grandmother.

Dan answered. “The housekeeper? She’s making dinner.”

“Jocelyn, we’ve had such fun talking about when you two were children,” said Rosemary. The more her grandmother lost of the present, the sharper the past seemed to become. “Tell me, Daniel, are you still intending to join the army?”

He looked puzzled, and Jo’s fingers tightened on the stem of her glass.

“You mean rejoin the army?” he asked. “No, my resignation’s permanent. And I’m back to take over the farm from Herman, remember?”

Nan sat back in the armchair and played with her pearls. “Oh, yes, of course.” She sought out Jo, no longer a grande dame but a confused child.

“We like this tune,” Jo reminded her as another old-timer, Vince Bugatti, began to croon. “You know I’ll never leave you,” she sang softly.

Nan’s expression cleared. “No one cares like I do,” she finished in a sweet contralto. “Vince Bugatti.” Confidence restored, she turned back to Dan. “You grew up extremely handsome, Daniel. In fact, you have quite the look of my Graham, don’t you think, Jocelyn?”

Instinctively Jo exchanged a smile with Dan. “I think Pops was a little rounder.”

“And balder,” said Dan.

“Not when I married him.” Nan’s brow furrowed. “Someone else is getting married soon.”

Jo stiffened. “No, they’re not.”

“I’m sure they are.” Her grandmother’s voice was querulous again. She rummaged through her black handbag. “I write things down,” she said to Dan. “Because of my memory. Jocelyn, what have you done with my notebook?” Her tone accusatory, Nan tipped the contents of her bag on the coffee table. Loose paper fluttered to the floor, along with four spoons, two potatoes and a dirty gardening trowel. “Have you been stealing from me?”

“Now, Nan,” Jo cajoled, kneeling to collect the debris. “You know I’d never touch your notebook without permission.”

Every night, she emptied the handbag of oddities Nan had squirreled away, but the notebook was sacrosanct.

“I don’t believe you,” Rosemary’s voice rose hysterically. “I know you sneak into my&x20Ñ€†#x2014;”

“Is this it?” Dan asked calmly. Coming forward, he slid a hand down the side of the chair, pulled out the notebook and placed it into Nan’s shaking hands, then cupped them in reassurance.

The angry color left Rosemary’s cheeks. In a normal voice, she said, “Yes, thank you, Daniel.”

“My pleasure.” He returned to his chair. Jo concentrated on picking up the last couple of fallen items. When she turned around, she saw he’d topped up her glass. She sipped it and felt her nerves steady.

Nan was busy looking through her notebook. “I knew it,” she said triumphantly. “You’re marrying my granddaughter.”

Tension locked Jo’s spine.

“I want to,” said Dan. “She hasn’t agreed yet.”

“Making him wait, eh? I led your grandfather a merry dance, too.” Rosemary’s gaze fell on the clock. “Oh, my goodness, look at the time. He’ll be home soon from the paper and I haven’t started dinner.” She bustled to her feet. “Jocelyn will look after you, Daniel, but no more picking my raspberries, you rascals. I want them for jam.” Putting her empty champagne glass in her handbag she left the room.

In her wake there was complete silence. Even Vince had run out of croon. “So,” Jo said, “still want to get hitched?”

DAN TOOK A MOMENT to collect himself. “I had no idea she’d gotten this bad.”

“Nan was always very clear that she didn’t want her deterioration broadcast.” Jo put her glass on the mantel. “Only close friends know.”

That stung. “I’m a close friend.”

“You stopped being a confidante when you started trying to bulldoze me into marriage.”

“Don’t give me that,” he said harshly. “This must have been going on for months.”

Jo hesitated. “I figured you had enough on your plate this past year,” she admitted.

No wonder she was looking so goddamn tired. Dan stood up and opened his arms. “Come here.” When she shook her head, he added, “For ten minutes we’ll revert to friends.”

She looked as though she wanted nothing more than to lay her head on his shoulder, but Jo shook her head again. “Thanks, but I’ll wait until normal service is resumed.”

A thought occurred to him. “Is this why you won’t marry me? You know I’ll do anything for Nan.”

“Stop,” she said in exasperation. “I’m not marrying you because we don’t love each other, remember?”

“Yeah, we do, and before you get hung up on the hearts and flowers and starry-eyed bullshit that burns out in a couple of months, answer me this. Has any romantic relationship come close to what we’ve got? Seriously, Jo, what other guy could understand you better than I do?”

“That used to be true,” she said drily. “Before this week. Now I’m thinking we’ve mostly lived in different places for ten years, and you don’t know me at all.”

God, he loved a challenge. “Yeah? Take a seat, Ms. Swann, because this is your life.”

“Go ahead,” Jo sat down and crossed her legs. “Amaze me.”

“I know at thirteen you loved New Kids on the Block and had a crush on Donnie Wahlberg. And now you’ve ditched him for his actor brother, Mark.” As her lips curved he added, “And that the easiest way to defuse an argument is to make you smile.”

BOOK: Back in the Soldier's Arms
2.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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