The Heroine - Carrie
Two hours of pep talks, a dozen whispered mantras, and five sets of calming breaths, failed to settle Carrie Graham’s acute case of nerves. Get a grip, she told herself. She was going to see Tony, childhood defender, teenage ego booster, and the one person who’d always listened. Besides, she’d already eliminated every other candidate for the position.
Who are you kidding?
From the moment she’d been presented with her current dilemma, he was the only possibility. All she had to do was convince him… But could she? Sure Tony listened, but he didn’t talk about his problems, or his feelings.
The fading light of dusk made her slow the car in order to read the street signs. She’d planned to leave the apartment at noon, but the short nap after her night shift stretched until late afternoon.
She made the final turn into
Fourth Street in a small West Virginia town established in the days when coal mining dominated the area. She shook her head. Rundown houses and boarded storefronts were the norm along the town’s main street. Why was Tony practicing medicine in this end-of-the-road place?
She hadn’t seen him for years, not since several months after his marriage, an event that had shaken her life. His wife hadn’t understood the friendship, or Tony and Carrie’s mutual interest in medical mysteries. With a flash of anger, Carrie recalled the night that woman stormed into the hospital cafeteria and spewed jealous accusations.
Carrie’s hands tightened on the steering wheel. She’d been embarrassed, hurt, and angry enough that she’d walked away from her best friend.
She’d heard rumors Tony’s wife had taken off for greener pastures. At least that’s what the hometown gossips said. Not that Carrie believed in gossip, especially after the news of her inheritance brought the tongue-waggers out in force.
She slowed the car to a crawl. Waves of panic lashed against her momentary calm. The place in her head where she’d filed his address was empty. She braked. The paper with the directions fluttered from the dashboard. She bent and grabbed them.
One glance was enough to retrieve the forgotten data. She eased off the brake and cruised the street. Half the houses were missing numbers. What now? Then at the foot of the dead end street, she saw the ones she’d memorized displayed in shiny brass on a massive gray house that looked like the setting for a Gothic novel.
A broad lawn fronted the house. The tailored grass stood in contrast to the tangles on either side.
“This is the place.” She gulped a breath.
After parking at the curb, she slowly released a held breath. She strode up the walk and onto the wide porch. Muffled shouts and noises came from inside. She rang the bell. What sounded like a slammed door nearly sent her back to the car. Who was staging a major temper tantrum? She thought Tony lived alone.
She rang the bell again, this time holding it for several peals. The door opened and she forgot why she’d come. She forgot to breathe. Her eyes widened and her heart pounded in a staccato rhythm until she thought her ribs would crack.
He was more than she remembered.
Are you sure you want to be here?
“Tony.” His name escaped on a sigh. She felt like a teenager come face to face with the latest movie hero. This was the man she planned to ask…She changed her mind. Time to retreat. The plan wouldn’t work, not with the things he made her feel, and what he made her want.
The Hero - Tony
After pausing on the stairs to listen to Hazel’s ultimatum about hiring a sitter, Tony climbed to the second floor. His thoughts churned with a dozen conflicting emotions. Carrie was the last person he’d expected to find on his doorstep. When the bell had rung, he’s braced himself for another confrontation with an irate parent who had come to complain about Chad’s unruly behavior. Instead, he’d found a friend.
His day had been filled with unexpected incidents that had set him on edge. A clinic patient had died and Chad had acted up in school and at home. The third sitter in as many months had quit and taken a large chunk of his bank account.
Carrie’s arrival, while not a disaster, had pushed his thoughts to what could have been. She was the girl he’d watched grow into the woman he should have married. The one he’d never told how he felt and the one he couldn’t tell now. He’d chosen to marry Marilyn and the reason for that ill-fated marriage was throwing yet another temper tantrum.
He groaned. He’d tried to make the marriage work. He’d tried to give his wife the things she’d demanded, tried and failed. At least he hadn’t been the one to walk out the way his father had.
Chad was testing his patience and his love. Tony frowned. He knew the reason for the constant outbursts and pranks, but they abraded. When would his son understand that no matter what he did, he was loved?
Tony reached the door of his son’s room and ducked to avoid the sneaker that sailed through the air and smacked against the wall. He and Chad collided. Tony pulled his son into a tight embrace.
“That’s enough,” Tony said.
“I didn’t do anything.” The scowl on Chad’s face reflected the anger in his blue eyes.
Tony released his son and closed the door. He fought to keep his anger and disappointment from erupting in a roar. “You didn’t attack the sitter’s clothes with glue? You didn’t talk your buddies into cutting school and heading to that tumble-down, abandoned house? What else didn’t you do?”
Chad looked up and Tony faced a younger version of himself, a version filled with the same anger Tony had felt years ago. He wanted to say that anger got you nowhere, but he couldn’t find the words.
“You don’t understand.” Tears filled the seven year old’s eyes.
“Then let’s talk about the glue. Why did you do it?”
Chad slumped on the bed. “She didn’t care about me. Just you.”
“I heard her talking to her girlfriend. Said you kissed her and was going to marry her. You can’t get married again.”
Tony groaned. “That’s what he got for hiring a college student. The next sitter would be someone Hazel’s age. “I never kissed her. And as for marriage, that’s not in my plans right now.”
Hope flashed in Chad’s eyes. “Good. You can marry Mom again. Then I won’t have to leave.”
Tony sat on the bed and put his arm around his son’s shoulders. “I can’t do that. She’s married to Brian and on her honeymoon.”
The Villainess - Marilyn
The Villainess - Marilyn
The phone rang. Tony grabbed the receiver. “Dr. Flynn here...Marilyn.”
In her haste to leave the room, Carrie nearly spilled her tea. Hearing him talk to the woman who had hurt him was more than she could handle tonight.
Tony frowned. Why had Carrie bolted? Surely she didn’t think there were vibes from his long dead marriage?
“Hold on, Marilyn. What did you say?”
“That Brian and I are back and I had a divine time. Wait until you see the magnificent rubies and the marvelous silks he bought me. But that’s not why I called.”
“And why was that?”
“To share my wonderful news. I know you’ll be pleased for me. That’s why I can’t have
over Thanksgiving or
Christmas. Brian doesn’t want me to overdo, especially when we’ll have dozens
of social obligations. I’m sure you’ll agree.” Chad
Tony gripped the phone. “Have you considered
feelings? He’s been waiting for your
return. He expects to live with you.” Chad
“Haven’t you told him he’s not?”
“You said you had. Besides, you made the decision. It’s your place to tell him.”
“Tony, please. There wasn’t time in the rush of wedding preparations. I just can’t have him here. He’ll be jealous of my baby.”
“Brian’s heir. The man’s so proud and treats me like a queen. Just think, I’m going to have the Brinker heir.”
Tony raked his hair. “You have visitation rights. Two weekends a month and holidays. Should I bring him next weekend?”
“You haven’t heard a thing I’ve said. Why won’t you ever listen? That’s why our marriage failed. Things had to be your way.”
“Marilyn, you have to tell him.”
“Me? I don’t need the stress. I’ll mail his presents. I bought him a tee shirt in every port we visited. It’s not that I don’t want him, but he’s a difficult child and has taken a dislike to Brian. I had him for seven years. It’s your turn now and Brian agrees. Ciao.”