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Authors: Liz Crowe

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Mutual Release (60 page)

BOOK: Mutual Release
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Her mouth was dry. She could feel her tongue swelling up. Her temples pounded with memories, voices, smells. For the first time in weeks nausea rose, flooding her mouth with spit. But she squared her shoulders and forced herself to be calm. This is your final step, she’d thought. Take it, by yourself, without Evan or anyone else to prompt it. This way, you are whole and can move on beyond him and his shitty behavior and lies and

She’d turned away, unwilling to let her mother see the tears and think they had anything to do with her own presence.

“Um, listen, I just thought, I mean, I’m not here to dredge all this up again. But I – ” Julie jumped when her mother reached across the small table and gripped her fingers. The ones that were ringless now.

She stared at their joined hands, trying to come to terms with how, exactly, she had arrived at this bizarre juncture in her life.

“Julie, all I can ask is for your forgiveness knowing all the time it is the very last thing I deserve. I divorced Bart a month afterwards. He ran off to Mexico or some damn place, avoiding the cops, because I went straight to them to back up your… your

Oh honey, I am so sorry. I


Julie watched as the skinny ghost of her once loud, bossy, opinionated mother dissolved into tears at the table.

“You called me a slut, Mom,” she whispered, still staring at the hands that had raised her, spanked her plenty as a toddler and small girl, and finally rejected her. “You told me it was my fault.” Glancing up, her eyes were surprisingly dry. “I’m having girls. Two of them. And the only reason I’m here today is to get some closure. To look you in the eye and tell you I will never say anything like that to them, ever. I won’t be perfect, but I damn sure will not be you.” She’d tried to wrench herself free of her mother’s surprisingly strong grip, too near to tears and needing her space.

“I’m glad you made it. That you are so successful, beautiful, happy,” her mother declared, her gaze sharp like Julie remembered it.

“Mom, I may be successful, but I am hardly happy.” She slumped back in her seat, put her hands in her lap. “But I needed this, for myself. Not for you and your need to be made guilt-free. I can’t do that. Only you can.” She rose to her feet.

“Wait, sit, please. Talk to me. Just another minute. I promise I won’t cry anymore. Even I’m sick of myself lately. Tell me what’s wrong and why you aren’t wearing Evan’s rings. He is a catch.”

Julie tried not to smile, but she did. Her mother may have changed some, but to her a man like Evan would always be “a catch.” And after nearly two hours of sitting across the table from the one woman she had hated for so long, but wanted to love her so badly, the corner of her soul she’d shut down years ago began to revive. Just a little – it would take time for her to truly forgive – but it was a start.

As she now watched Nina feed baby Angie, an idea began tickling the back of her brain. This was her full circle. She needed Evan, yes, but she needed that moment with her mother worse, and she’d made it happen. She had been at home, processing how much lighter she felt in her soul when Evan had barged in and manhandled her into the car.

“So, Nina,” she said, accepting a lemonade from the girl who hovered around her, fussing over her comfort and well-being in a way that reminded her of Paul. “When you go back to school, as Evan is insisting upon, how will the daycare thing work? Do they take babies this young?” She put a hand on Angie’s sleeping form now nestled down in the bassinette between them.

Nina shrugged and pulled her knees up to her chin in a way Julie tried very hard not to envy. “I know Evan’s right. I’m within a year of having a degree in journalism, and I have a part-time job offer at the local paper already, but…” She fussed with the baby’s blanket, biting her lip. “I hate to leave her.”

“I have an idea,” Julie declared. “Give me a couple of weeks, but I think I may have a solution to get you back in class and keep little Angie at home for a few more months.”

Nina shot her a quizzical look. Julie sighed and launched into her entire, sordid story, something about the young wide-eyed girl making her spill her ever-loving guts in a way no one ever had. By the time she was done, her heart was pounding, and Nina was crying huge fat tears, unable to stop.

“Please, sweetie, I’m fine. I landed on my feet and with an amazing man. But,” she said, handing Nina another tissue, “I have one somewhat unresolved thing. Something Evan is pushing me to get past. And he may well be right. But don’t you dare tell him I said so.”

Nina giggled, blew her nose. “But how does any of this have anything to do with… you know, my problem?”

“My mother.” Julie choked out the word, still finding it hard to say. “She is, ah, widowed yet again, it seems. Has a boatload of cash and is bored and missing… me. I’ve been talking to her some, trying to let go of my anger. And she wants to move up here now that she knows about me and Evan and… well…”

Nina put a hand over her lips.

Julie sighed. “Yeah. Well, I’ve gone nearly twenty years not talking to her. And she’s spent just as long trying to apologize. She really wants to meet my husband who has apparently been communicating with her for a while.” She frowned, trying hard not to admit how relieved she was this whole thing had been a Damian-fueled misunderstanding. “News to me, until a few weeks ago. So I met her, today. And it was not awful. She is desperate to be a part of my life again. And I do forgive her. I have to.”

Julie gripped the tissue, tears dropped from her eyes onto the paper. “Maybe a good way to ease her back into my life is have her help you with yours. She loves little kids. Once they’re teenagers not so much, but she… Oh I don’t know, maybe I’m nuts.”

Chapter Twelve

Evan flipped through his file of evidence against Damian Slate, cursing himself for waiting this long but determined to make all of the charges against him stick once the guy was tracked down and arrested. Too many people were dead who could testify, including his sister and parents. But he had located Caroline and Rachel, and a couple of girls Damian had messed with in different states, including a rising starlet in California. Evan’s eyes watered with exhaustion.

“Honey?” Julie called from the living room. “I can’t reach my toes.”

He grinned and walked into the living room, then sat with Julie’s feet in his lap, rubbing them to keep them from going to sleep. She was at the start of her eighth month and about a week away from being ordered to complete bed rest. She worked from home already, as did he most days, unwilling to let her out of his sight, especially with Damian roaming around. They had had a few early labor scares already, bloody, horrific messes that had put the fear of God in him. But now that he had seen the twins clearly at the last ultrasound – his baby girls – Evan was already deeply in love with them both when he was not bone-deep terrified about keeping them safe.

He climbed up on the couch and drew her head to his lap, trailing his fingers through her silky blond hair. For the millionth time, he marveled at her amazing body, putting his palm to her belly, smiling at the jumble of activity underneath. “So, names,” he said, as she rolled onto her side so he could rub her lower back.

“I told you. Olivia and Amanda. I’m good with that.”

He leaned over to kiss her temple. “And I’m flattered and honored. But I want our girls to have a fresh start, their own names, not ones already saddled with history, you know?” He meant it, too, and hoped she would get how serious he was about it. “I say we go with Megan and Madison.”

“Oh sure, and then they can meet themselves in triplicate for years. No. Too common.” She sighed as he pressed his knuckles into her hip joint. “Claire,” she said, sighing at his touch. “And June.”

“Perfect,” he declared.

“Ugh.” Julie grunted, shifting her weight. She was all baby, the full sexy curve of her belly way more of a turn-on than it should be. “Help,” she said as she tried to sit up. He sat next to her, kept rubbing the small of her back. “I hurt all over. I’m starving but my heartburn is so bad I could throw up. I want a fucking drink and a full night’s sleep.”

“My love.” He pulled her shirt aside, kissed the amazing full globe of her breast then lower, pressing his lips to her stomach. “I’m sorry, but…” He sat back and grabbed her hand to put it on his erection.

She sighed and ran her hand up and down him as she slid his fingers up her thigh and found her bare sex, moist and ready.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” he groaned.

“You won’t,” she said. “Come on, Country Club. I need this. Humor me. I think you’re… up to it.”

He pulled her to her feet and led her into the bedroom, laid her gently on her side, kissing her neck and shoulders as she arched her back and he slid into her. “Oh,” she gasped as he cupped a breast, tugged on her nipple.

Their bodies moved as one, slow, easy, perfect, and he shuddered at the last minute when her body gripped him in the throes of her orgasm, pulling his from him with a pleasant spasm. “Mmm… lovely.” He sighed into her hair, holding her close. She gave a deep sigh too, and they slept a few hours.

He woke when one of the girls poked him in the arm with a foot, or something. “Ouch,” Julie yelped, rolling over and sitting on the side of the bed. “Hungry now.”

“Yes ma’am.” Evan pulled on jeans and a sweater. “The usual?”

She nodded, making him breathless at the sight of her, full with his children, his girls, all together and safe. A tiny flicker of fear lit his brain. But he was done with that. He was man enough for this now, and he knew it.

After helping her into the shower, he found shoes and his wallet and jumped in the car. Her usual lately was a full Zingerman’s barbecue plate with smashed potatoes and a chocolate mousse dessert. She had gone so many months with no appetite, and actually lost more weight than her doctors liked, so he encouraged any and all food cravings.

He chatted with the bar staff, having a small glass of Big House Brown Ale while waiting for the carry-out. Then the Zingerman’s managing owner caught him and engaged him in nearly thirty more minutes of conversation.

“Sorry,” Evan said, putting his hand on the man’s shoulder, “but the mother of my future twins is sitting at home waiting for this.” He held up the bag, making the guy laugh and wave him towards the door. “Making her wait much longer puts me in mortal danger.”

By the time he hit the garage opener button, he realized he’d been gone nearly two hours. Dreading pregnant wrath, he eased open the door to the large mudroom, hoping maybe she’d slept through his absence. A split-second of anger at himself for not setting the alarm when he’d left, after all their arguments about her forgetting to do the same thing, made him hurry into the kitchen, anxious to lay eyes on her. She’d been doing a lot of sleeping lately, complaining about it, but still dropping off and snoozing at the slightest provocation.

The house was dark and quiet. He set the food on the counter and shrugged out of his jacket. A fresh thrill of disquiet made him shiver. The house was too dark – darker than he’d left it.

“Julie?” he yelled, louder than he meant to. The echo of his own voice startled him. “Julie,” he muttered, as he barreled into the living room. Lights blazed on, blinding him. He rubbed his eyes and heard the one voice he thought he never would again, unless it was from the other side of a set of prison bars.

“Ah, Evan. So lovely to see you. I’m so sorry it’s in these truly dreadful circumstances. But I’m in a bit of a quandary, you see. And I think I must ask you to back off, allow me to head back to my motherland. With some cash, of course.”

Evan blinked, gulped, and the sound of his wife’s distinct whimper of pain and fear hit his every nerve ending, making them light up like a Christmas tree.

“Where is Julie? Let her go, Damian. I’ll give you anything you want.” He looked around, trying to place where the man was in the room and what he’d done with Julie.

“I realize that, brother.” He saw him then, seated in Evan’s big leather recliner. His suit-clad body was shockingly thin, his blond hair hung in strings around a face in sore need of washing. And he reeked. The smell of cologne did nothing to cover the body odor and sour clothing stink making Evan gag.

“You’re a mess, Damian. What happened? Life on the run not suit you?” Evan kept his voice even, calm, somehow.
Where was Julie?
He heard his voice, amazingly cool and collected, considering. “She shouldn’t be stressed too much, you know.”

“Oh, I’m not stressing her. I’ve been watching you. I’ve seen what she likes…”

Evan launched himself at the man then, fists flying, but Damian leapt up and Evan went sprawling into the chair.

“Oh, such a temper. Calm yourself. She’s fine. All trussed up, just like she wants it, but fine.”

“Show me,” Evan growled, thinking that if he could just get to her, he could release her, make sure nothing went wrong. Then he would deal with Damian.

“All in good time, brother.” The man walked around him.

BOOK: Mutual Release
4.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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