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Body Language Millie Criswell Some languages need no interpretation Ellie Peters has a great apartment, a cool job as a UN interpreter, and a terrific dog. Now all she needs is the right guy to share it with and life will be perfect. But everything she's worked for is threatened the day her obsessive-compulsive, disinfectant-loving mother announces she's divorcing Ellie's father and moving in with her! And to add insult to injury, Ellie's just learned that her ex-fiance, Michael, has become her new boss!Michael Deavers remembers all too well the sparks that flew between him and Ellie. He'd love to rekindle what they once had, but he learned from their brief engagement that he's just not a commitment kind of guy. Though with Ellie once again under his nose, it's hard to remember why he ever had cold feet.Now Ellie is desperate to get Michael out of her head, her mother out of her hair and her life out of the gutter…but old flames die hard, and this interpreter hasn't counted on the language of love. “I still desire you.” The word desire sent quivers running up and down Ellie’s spine, like a feather on bare skin, creating need within her. And Michael certainly knew how to fill that need. “I think we should order dessert. I’m hungry for something chocolate.” Chocolate had the power to make the pain go away; it was also an effective cure for sexual frustration. Michael’s grin was borderline erotic, and it sent her pulse racing. “I seem to recall that when you were hungry for chocolate that usually meant you were hungry for something else.” Shit! It was true. When she was horny, she craved chocolate. “I don’t remember anything of the kind. And I just realized I can’t have dessert. I’m on a diet.” Well, at least her trainer would be proud of her. “You don’t need to lose weight. You look perfect to me.” “I am perfect. Perfectly impervious to your charms, Michael Deavers, so don’t try sweet-talking me into anything. I’m not buying it. Sex is purely an animal instinct—” “We can go back to my place.” The devil was tempting…. Body Language Millie Criswell www.millsandboon.co.uk (http://www.millsandboon.co.uk) Staying Single “A wry, witty and charming tale about getting even.” —Romantic Times “Well worth the read! I eagerly look forward to more of Millie’s books.” —Kathy Boswell, The Best Reviews “Staying Single has it all! It’s funny, witty, [and] fast-paced with engaging secondary characters.” —Romance Readers Connection Mad About Mia “Once again the irrepressible Criswell provides readers with a funny and heartwarming story.” —Booklist “Lighthearted and good-natured reading.” —Romantic Times “Great characters…An entertaining, fun, and witty read.” —Old Book Barn Gazette More Praise for Millie Criswell “Criswell…makes her delightful contemporary debut with a funny and sexy romance…a worthwhile read.” —Publishers Weekly on The Trouble with Mary “Romantic comedy has a new star and her name is Millie Criswell.” —New York Times bestselling author Janet Evanovich “Millie Criswell’s writing is simply brilliant! Romantic comedy is the perfect showcase for her extraordinary talent.” —Suzanne Coleburn, Belles and Beaux of Romance Books by Millie Criswell Suddenly Single Mad About Mia Staying Single The Trials of Angela What To Do about Annie? The Pregnant Miss Potter The Trouble with Mary The Marrying Man The Wedding Planner True Love Defiant Dangerous Desperate Primrose Sweet Laurel Wild Heather To Alexandra Marie Criswell, the new love of my life! This one’s for you, sweetie! Love, Grandma CONTENTS CHAPTER ONE (#u1026ad3c-0021-558e-ae80-8e47a1eac914) CHAPTER TWO (#u375593b6-c544-5d2c-aece-6f2fab7c9cd6) CHAPTER THREE (#ufdc77ddc-a08a-59a6-9da7-1bd525dfd651) CHAPTER FOUR (#u5b9eee6f-cdb2-582f-9fe8-292f79f274c9) CHAPTER FIVE (#ud4941c3e-1305-51a6-a155-286967d34f96) CHAPTER SIX (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER SEVEN (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER EIGHT (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER NINE (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER TEN (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER ELEVEN (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER TWELVE (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER THIRTEEN (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER FOURTEEN (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER FIFTEEN (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER SIXTEEN (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER SEVENTEEN (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER EIGHTEEN (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER NINETEEN (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER TWENTY (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE (#litres_trial_promo) EPILOGUE (#litres_trial_promo) “Never relinquish your own apartment unless you have an engagement ring firmly on your finger, or you’re broke.” CHAPTER ONE ELLIE PETERS WAS HAVING a midlife crisis. Well, not exactly midlife, since she was only thirty-two years, three months, and seventeen days old. But she lived in midtown Manhattan, so the “mid” part was definitely valid. And as crises went, hers was major! “We need to find a place to live, Barn, and we need to find it fast. Brian will be back from L.A. next week, and we’ve got to be moved out of here by then.” Her idea, not his. Brian foolishly thought they could still work things out, even after he’d called Barnaby “God’s stupid mistake” and suggested to Ellie that she take the dog to the pound, and all because he’d peed in his Bruno Magli loafers. It had been an accident, for crying out loud! Ellie’s bulldog, who had a face only a mother could love (if said mother was blind), digested this news by letting loose with a very ungentlemanly fart, and then whimpered, obviously knowing that it was her ex-boyfriend’s hatred of him that had sent Ellie and Brian’s relationship into the toilet, forcing her to look for a new place to live. She may have dumped Brian, but it was his apartment she’d been living in these past six months, and that had been really poor planning on her part. “Don’t worry, Barnaby,” she said, patting the dog’s head affectionately. “Good dogs are much harder to find than good men. And Brian was too anal for his own good, anyway. “I mean, what person in their right mind flosses after every meal?” As the image of yards and yards of dental floss hanging over the edge of the waste-basket emerged—floss she’d been forced to pick up and dispose of properly—YUCK!—Ellie shuddered in distaste, knowing she’d made the right choice. It was so much better to be the dumper rather than the dumpee, for a change, she decided. “At any rate, we are going to be much better off without Brian, Barn.” Seeming to agree with her assessment, Barnaby licked her face, producing an inordinately large amount of drool, which Ellie wiped off with the sleeve of her Georgetown University sweatshirt—her alma mater—before going back to peruse the classifieds. Apartments in New York City were ridiculously expensive. She was no Donald Trump, and Ellie’s job as a translator at the United Nations didn’t pay her enough to find something as elegant as where she was living now, within a stone’s throw of Central Park. She sighed at the thought of moving. Barn loved walking in the park, rolling in the grass and romping with his canine buddies. Ellie loved strolling down Fifth Avenue and looking in the store windows at merchandise she couldn’t afford to buy. It was important to dream, even if those dreams were occasionally dumped on. “Thank you, Brian!” NOT! Brian Pomeroy’s taste ran to the expensive—Hugo Boss suits, Rolex watches, dinners at La Cirque—but he also had a substantial income as a law partner in Fields, Morgan and Pomeroy that allowed him to indulge his every whim. And for a while, Ellie had been one of those whims. For all his faults, which were too numerous to mention—What kind of a man didn’t like dogs?—Brian had been generous, buying her expensive jewelry, planning weekend trips to Bermuda, and taking her to the opera…which she loathed. Apparently, her ex-boyfriend had been under the misguided impression that because Ellie was half-Italian and could speak the language fluently (in addition to speaking French and Spanish), this meant she would automatically be an opera aficionado. Ha! She hated hearing the fat lady sing, in any language. Ellie had met Brian at a cocktail party at the Italian embassy. He’d looked dashing, she’d been desperate, and somehow they’d hooked up. It had been an opposites-attract sort of thing, because they’d really had very little in common, other than a love of good food—the city had fabulous restaurants, and they’d eaten at most of them—and a desire to read the Sunday New York Times from cover to cover. Occasionally they worked the crossword puzzle together, but usually ended up arguing. Brian thought he was smart because he knew what bifurcation meant. Like anyone would use that word! Lifting the hem of her sweatshirt, Ellie looked down at the slight bulge that was now her stomach, thanks to the aforementioned good food. She needed to lose at least ten pounds, fifteen would be better. Diet and exercise, she’d decided, along with all her other life-altering decisions of late, would become part of her new game plan. Ellie’s plan consisted of: locating an apartment near her work (something fabulous, but not expensive), losing weight and getting in shape (without giving up any of her favorite foods or killing herself on the treadmill—exercise was an evil necessity, but it was still evil), and last but by no means least, finding Mr. Right. And not just any Mr. Right, but Mr. Perfectly Wonderful Right. She’d been with too many Mr. Wrongs and was long overdue. Not to mention, a decent orgasm wouldn’t hurt! Her ex-boyfriend knew a lot about bifurcation, just not a whole lot about clitoral stimulation. And you could forget about that whole “G-Spot” thing. The man had been alphabetically challenged. Shaking her head, Ellie cursed beneath her breath to erase the unpleasant memory of Brian Pomeroy. Picking up the phone, she began dialing several of the potential landlords listed in the “Apartments for Rent or Lease” section of the newspaper—the ones who accepted dogs, of course—and made arrangements to see them. “Get your leash, Barn. We’re going hunting.” A FEW WEEKS LATER, Ellie and her co-worker, Becky Morgan, who often shared coffee and lunch breaks together, were eating lunch at their desks in the Translation and Interpretation Department of the United Nations building; this was something they did with regularity, unfortunately, due to the never-ending workload. “So, are you excited about your new place?” Becky wanted to know. “You’re lucky it’s so close to work.” “Wait!” Ellie held up her hand, signaling for her co-worker to be silent, while she finished translating the last of the Italian ambassador’s address to the General Assembly. Yanking off her headphones, she smiled contritely. “Sorry. I needed to finish that so I could get it in for Moody’s approval.” Becky worked as an interpreter, while Ellie’s job was to translate. Becky interpreted orally, which meant she listened to the speaker on headphones, then rendered the speech simultaneously into the target language. Ellie translated the written word into the text of the target language, after the fact. “That’s okay. I asked if you liked your new apartment.” “Are you kidding? I love it.” She bit into her sandwich and listened to her stomach grumble in response. “It’s in an older building on East Fifty-third Street, between First Avenue and the East River. The rooms are large, I have a fireplace, a study, and I can walk to work, which fits in nicely with my new fitness regimen.” Which I plan to start any day now. “Sounds lovely,” Becky said distractedly, heaving a sigh, and Ellie knew right away that something was wrong at home. Becky was married to Ben and had a ten-month-old baby boy named Jonah. “Jonah had an ear infection over the weekend. We were worried because his temperature had skyrocketed, but he’s fine now.” “Thank goodness! I bet you were scared to death.” Ellie adored Jonah. Every time she baby-sat the adorable cherub her biological clock began ticking like a time bomb. And wouldn’t my mother love to know that? Rosemary Peters was Italian, by birth and by nature. By her standards, you weren’t considered a real woman unless you could breed like a bunny, cook a fabulous dinner for twenty with items you had on hand and recite the Ten Commandments in less than sixty seconds. (Ellie could do it in forty-five.) Ellie’s mother was what one would call your stereotypical Italian mama. She was devoted to her husband and family—translation: she meddled—attended church religiously on Sundays—a card-carrying Catholic who lived to pass out guilt—and was an excellent cook—if you weren’t at least fifteen pounds overweight you were skin and bones. This last part was only good if you were premenstrual and eating chocolate by the pound rather than the piece. “Have you heard from your mother lately, Ellie? You haven’t mentioned her in a while. I hope everything’s okay.” “That’s because if you mention Rosemary, she calls. I think my mother has ESP, or maybe she practices voodoo. I don’t know. All I know is that if I breathe her name, even think it, she calls.” Ellie adored her mother, but she was happy and relieved that the woman lived in Florida and not New York. No way did she want to deal with Rosemary Peters on a regular basis. She’d had enough of that growing up. Anal was the word to describe her mother, or maybe it was obsessive, as in obsessive-compulsive. The woman made Mr. Clean look like a pathetic pig! Rosemary carried a can of Lysol around with her wherever she went; germs didn’t stand a chance in her presence. And neither did daughters who had no boyfriends. “So, are you and Ben still considering buying a house on Long Island? If you do, I won’t be able to baby-sit Jonah, which would be awful.” Ellie liked feeling maternal, as long as that feeling didn’t last for more than three or four hours. She loved kids, but knew her limitations. “I bet you guys will miss the excitement of the city if you leave.” Becky nodded, not looking at all happy about the prospect of moving to the suburbs. “Ben is determined to live closer to his parents. He thinks the city is lacking in child developmental activities and wants to raise Jonah in a more ‘normal’ atmosphere, whatever that is.” Taking another bite out of her turkey sub, Ellie mourned the lack of mayonnaise and her friend’s possible move. “I suppose there are good and bad points to living in both locations. You’ll be far from the madding crowd, but also far from the great restaurants and theaters.” “Ben promises that we can still come into the city for our social activities.” But Becky’s skeptical expression indicated she knew that wasn’t likely to happen. Once Ben got a taste of suburbia, with grocery stores that had more than two aisles and streets with more than one tree for every sixteen thousand people, he’d be hooked. Casseroles and carpools would become a new way of life for Becky Morgan. It was probably fortunate that Ellie hated casseroles, especially tuna, and didn’t know how to drive. And it was also very fortunate that she didn’t have anyone, especially a man, telling her what to do. And the most fortunate thing of all was that she was finally getting her shit together, not to mention her life. THE PHONE RANG and Ellie’s stomach twisted into a tight knot. “It’s my mother, Barn,” she told the dog. “I can feel the negative energy surrounding me. There’s a dark aura emanating from the phone. Can you see it?” The bulldog, who was lying on the floor in front of the fireplace, amidst dozens of rumpled packing papers, covered his muzzle with his front paws and whined pathetically. “Oh, don’t be such a drama queen, you silly boy. That’s Mom’s role.” And did Rosemary ever play it well. Had the woman been a real actress she would have won the Oscar. With a sigh, Ellie picked up the phone. “Oh, Ellie, there you are. I was beginning to think you weren’t home.” “Hi, Mom! I’ve been unpacking. My new apartment is still quite a mess, but I love it. Or I will, as soon as I finish getting everything straightened out.” “I’m looking forward to seeing it.” Visit alert! Visit alert! Take evasive action. Ellie did not want her mother visiting. “I’m sure it’s going to take me a while to get the apartment decorated.” Like about ten years or maybe never. Ben Franklin said that fish and company stank after three days. In her mother’s case, it took about three hours. “The apartment looks like shit right now, and I don’t have enough furniture to fill it. I’m really lacking in the bedroom area.” Wasn’t that the damn truth! “Such language, Ellie. Ladies shouldn’t swear.” Sticking her head in the fridge, she debated ending it all, but decided against it and reached instead for the closest thing edible: a moldy piece of cheese. She bit off a hunk from the least offensive end. Her mother’s visits, threatened or real, were always good for at least ten pounds. She prayed the woman wouldn’t be coming to stay any time soon. She really needed to lose weight. And keep her sanity. “How’s Dad? Has he been working a lot?” Her father, Theodore, or Ted, as he liked to be called, was a certified public accountant who worked out of his house. March and April were his busiest months, and the rest of the year he just coasted, doing books and reports for a number of firms he’d serviced over the last twenty-five years. “Your father spends every waking moment on that computer of his. He’s on the Internet constantly. I don’t think that can be good for him, Ellie. He’s become a recluse, not wanting to go out shopping or to a movie, or do anything that remotely smacks of fun. “I’m going nuts. We’ve lived in Florida for five years and I haven’t been to the beach, even one time. My friends, especially Estelle Romano, are starting to talk.” “Have you considered going by yourself?” “What fun would that be?” Ellie could hear the agitation in her mother’s voice and it worried her. Rosemary Peters was usually in control of herself, others, and any given situation. You could even say she was a bit…uh, controlling. “You need to calm down and think about this rationally, Mom. You know Dad’s the quiet type. And now that he’s found the Internet it’s only natural that he’d be drawn to it. A lot of people have given up reading and television in favor of being online.” “It’s not healthy, I’m telling you. The man needs exercise. He’s not getting any younger, and he’s developing a paunch. Why, the other day he could barely lace up his shoes.” Ellie patted her stomach, and then tossed the cheese in the kitchen sink. “Yeah, well I can relate. I’m trying to lose a few pounds, myself.” “Stop! You’re skin and bones.” Her mother’s tone bespoke horror. “Why would you want to lose weight? Men don’t want to take a skeleton to bed.” Diet wasn’t part of any card-carrying Italian’s vocabulary, unless, of course, an annoying husband was involved. Then all bets were off. Any Italian woman worth her salt had a ready exception for every rule. “I’m hardly a skeleton, Mom. Skeletons don’t have cellulite. And since I’m not sleeping with anyone at the moment, that’s not a factor.” “Don’t tell me about your sex life. I don’t want to know about such things.” Ellie rolled her eyes. “You’re the one who brought it up. And I’m hardly a child. You must have figured out by now that I have sex with men.” “Well, at least it’s not with women. For that I should be grateful, no?” “And I don’t do drugs or sell myself on the street, so you should be grateful for that, too.” “You’re a naughty girl, Ellie. I should have washed your mouth out with soap more often when you were little. Maybe then you’d show some respect to your mother.” Aretha Franklin had nothing on Ellie’s mother when it came to demanding R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Rosemary felt her exalted position as mother superior, so to speak, rated treatment from her family equal only to that bestowed upon the pope. Rosemary probably would have loved everyone to genuflect in front of her, but she hadn’t made that request as of yet. “Lighten up, will you, Mom? I was only kidding. You need to learn to take a joke.” “Maybe you’re right, dear. I’m sorry. I’ve been a little tense these past few weeks. Your father…” “Will be fine. Dad is Dad. He’s got his ways. You’ve known that for thirty-five years. Why should you think any differently now?” “Things seem different. I can’t put my finger on it. But it worries me, Ellie. Something just isn’t right.” “Have you spoken to him about it?” Maybe her father was ill and not saying anything. That possibility worried Ellie. Her father wasn’t one to complain. “Your father refuses to discuss it, says it’s all in my head, that there’s nothing wrong.” “Well, there you go,” Ellie said, trying to ease her mother’s fears. “See, you’re worrying for nothing.” She prayed that was true. “That’s probably what Ted Bundy told those girls he dated. Don’t worry, you’re safe with me, then hack, hack.” Ellie’s mother had a thing about serial killers. She was morbidly fascinated with them and frightened that she or one of her family members would come across one some day. Ted Bundy was talked about so often that he had become like part of the family. The only one Mom drew the line at discussing was Jeffrey Dahmer, because he ate people, and apparently that made a difference. Go figure! “I’m not sure how Bundy and Dad relate, but I still think you’re worrying needlessly.” “Nevertheless, I’m going to church tomorrow and pray about it again. Prayer changes things, you know.” “Great idea! You can pray for me while you’re there. Tell God that I need to meet a really sexy man with gobs of money, who’s good in bed, loves my dog, and has a full head of hair.” If only such a man existed! “Brian was nice. You should have hung on to him. Rich men aren’t that easy to find. And neither are straight men, especially in New York. With all the gay men you’ve got living there, you can’t be too picky.” Ellie and her mother had had this discussion before, ad nauseam. This was usually the place where Ellie made her excuses and hung up. “Well, Mom, I’d better get—” “Not so fast, young lady. I want to ask you something.” Oh, shit! It was never good when her mother prefaced a sentence with that particular statement. She sighed. “What is it?” “Are you coming home for Christmas? Your father and I aren’t getting any younger, and we’d like to spend the holidays with you.” “How would I know? Christmas is still months away.” “It’ll be here before you know it. Promise me you’ll come.” Usually, it was possible for Ellie to blow people off if she didn’t want to commit, but not with Rosemary. Once her mother had decided on something she wanted, she didn’t give up. First the phone calls started, and then came the packages of home-baked cookies. But it was the threats of her mother coming to plead her case in person that would finally wear Ellie down. Sighing deeply at the thought of palm trees and sand instead of evergreens and snow, Ellie finally gave in, knowing her mother would hound her until she did. “All right, I’ll come. But you should know that sometimes they make me work during the holidays. I can’t always get the time off.” “You’ll ask your boss. He’ll understand the importance of family and will let you come home.” “Mr. Moody’s not married, Mom. He doesn’t have a family, and I doubt he’d give a rat’s ass about anyone else’s.” Herbert Moody was a prick. Ellie lived for the day when the man retired and was replaced with someone of this century. “What is he, an atheist?” “No, just a crotchety old man who should have retired years ago. I think Moody’s been at the U.N. since the day it opened.” There’d been talk of letting him go, but so far it hadn’t happened. Ellie figured the man had dirt on anyone who was anyone, like J. Edgar Hoover, only she didn’t think Herbert Moody was gay. “There’s a lot to be said for older people. You shouldn’t discount them, Elinore. You could learn a lot from them, if you would just listen.” Rosemary always called Ellie by her given name when she had a point to make, as if stretching Ellie into Elinore could somehow emphasize the importance of what she was saying: Elinore don’t ignore. “Normally, I don’t, but Mr. Moody is hard of hearing and has a very sour stomach. His breath could knock down an elephant from a mile away.” “I’ll let your father know you’ll be coming. Maybe it’ll cheer him up, get him interested in something other than that computer of his.” “Maybe you and Dad should think about going on a cruise, or taking a romantic vacation somewhere. A change of scenery would be good for both of you.” A moment of silence ensued as Rosemary digested this suggestion. Then she said, “You know, Ellie, that’s not a bad idea. Most of the cruise ships leave from Miami or Fort Lauderdale. We wouldn’t have to pay extra for airfare. I’m going to look into it.” “You can get some really good fares online.” “Good. I’ll check. I’m not as good at the Internet as your father, so I rarely use the computer, but I think I can find my way.” Ellie felt hopeful. Her mother rarely took her advice. Actually, she never took it, and Ellie gave very good advice, if she did say so herself. But Rosemary was of the opinion that she knew everything. Pearls of wisdom spewed forth from her mouth like an uninterrupted lava flow. And like lava, which hardened when it cooled, her mother’s opinions were of the etched-in-stone variety. “It’ll give you and Dad something in common that you can talk about,” Ellie added. “And cruises are very romantic. I think you should go. But make sure you book a good line, splurge a little. You both deserve it.” “Thank you, dear. I’m glad I called. I feel so much better.” Breathing a sigh of relief that Rosemary wouldn’t be purchasing a plane ticket for the Big Apple any time soon, Ellie smiled to herself and replied, “Let me know what you find out about the cruise.” “Of course I will. Did you think I wouldn’t discuss every detail with you? You’re my daughter; this is an important decision I’ll be making.” Ellie rolled her eyes. The woman was going on vacation, not having brain surgery! “Okay, Mom. I’ll talk to you soon.” “And Ellie—” “Yes?” “Be sure to spray your toilet bowl and seat with Lysol before using it. You never know who was living there before you. And it wouldn’t hurt to scrub your floors with Murphy’s Oil Soap, and then—” “Someone’s at the door, Mom. Gotta go. ’Bye.” As Ellie hung up the phone, she looked heavenward or, in this case, at her ceiling, which was slightly soiled with soot. “Please, God, let the cruises be available.” “If you want to meet men, go where the men are.” CHAPTER TWO IT WAS SATURDAY and Ellie was taking the big plunge. She had enrolled at Gold’s Gym for a three-month trial period. Exercise not being her thing, she didn’t want to commit to any time period longer than that, just in case it didn’t work out. Although, she was fairly certain—okay, pretty sure—well, if not pretty sure then relatively hopeful—it would. And there was method to her madness. Not only was she planning to lose weight and get in shape—that’s what she told herself, anyway—she decided that going to the gym would be an excellent way to meet men. Hanging out where the guys did made perfect sense to her. Ellie didn’t play golf, racquetball or frequent those sports bars with the big-screen TVs. But she could exercise, if she was so inclined. And now that Brian was out of her life, she was definitely inclined. Ellie didn’t intend to remain celibate any longer than she had to. Sex by mechanical means was the pits. Not to mention that she’d gotten a shock the other night, and it wasn’t of the pleasant variety. In fact, it had given new meaning to the phrase “tickling your fancy.” Unfortunately, her fancy had almost fried. She would never confess to her mother that she liked sex. Rosemary preached that sex before marriage was immoral and that intercourse should be solely for procreational purposes. Yeah, right! Sex was a great way to release tension, it curbed her appetite—well, she wasn’t one hundred percent certain about that; her lack of hunger could have been due to exhaustion—and it made her skin glow. Yes, having sex on a regular basis with someone who knew what they were doing—translation: orgasm proficient—was definitely a goal to strive for. But first, she needed to get back in shape. Cellulite and sex didn’t go well together, despite what her mother claimed—this, from a woman who probably hadn’t had sex in the last ten years, not that Ellie wanted to think about such matters. Parents having sex was at the very top of the ick factor scale. A child could go blind if she thought about such things. “You must be Ellie Peters,” the brawny man with the clipboard pronounced as he approached, interrupting her disturbing thoughts. “I’m Will Travers, your personal trainer.” Wow! Her personal trainer was a major hunk. The man had pecs and abs to die for and pretty green eyes that were warm, friendly and made Ellie’s tummy flutter. Should she give him her phone number now, or wait until they became better acquainted? “I’m Ellie.” She smiled her cutesy Meg Ryan smile. He pinched her upper arm and the cellulite bunched like warm chicken fat around his fingers. Meg Ryan did not have upper arm fat, she thought, wanting to scream, “It’s baby fat!” figuring everyone under the age of thirty-five should be able to claim baby fat, if no one called them on it. Unfortunately, he had called her on it. “Looks like we’ve got some work to do.” “Yeah, well, that’s why I’m here.” “Excellent! Then let’s get started.” Mr. Gorgeous proceeded to weigh her, take her measurements and body fat, and then he put all of the information into a folder with her name on it, no doubt making a notation about her extreme obesity in big red letters: “BABY FAT PHONEY!” Normally, Ellie would have told an insensitive Neanderthal like Will to go “F” himself, but since the man had arms like tree trunks, a chest the size of a small country and no wedding ring, she decided to suck it up and remain friendly. There was no telling what other large “attributes” Will might possess, and he was definitely a dating possibility. Size mattered, regardless of what anyone said. Whether you were talking male genitalia, female breasts or brain matter, size was definitely important—the bigger the better! Let’s face it, and she wasn’t trying to be mean, but a teeny, weeny weenie wouldn’t be able to hit the A, B, C or G-Spot. “I’m sure I’ll be in good hands,” she said. After all, only King Kong had meatier palms! Will looked her over from top to bottom, scribbled something else on his clipboard, and pronounced, “You’ve got a good body, Ellie. It just needs a bit of toning. Go change and meet me at the treadmills in ten. We’ll go over your dietary plan and workout program as soon as you’re ready.” Fearing demerit points if she was late and wanting to impress him, Ellie changed quickly and was at the treadmills in the allotted time, garbed in black Nike shorts and a cropped top to match that did nothing to hide the lump that was sadly called her stomach. She could almost count every candy bar, bowl of ice cream and piece of bread as she grimaced at the rolls of dimpled flesh. The moon had fewer craters. Will, the cellulite slayer, would not be pleased. “I CAN’T WALK another step,” Ellie admitted after only ten minutes on the treadmill. She was breathing heavier than an obscene phone caller and sweating like a pig on Prozac. “I have no idea how mice do it.” The little bastards got to eat cheese, that’s how they did it. “My seventy-five-year-old grandmother walks faster and longer than you do,” he said, softening the chastisement with a grin, which was damn sexy and gave Ellie the impetus to go one more lap, though she was positive a heart attack was imminent. What if the flutter in her chest wasn’t caused by Will, but by heart disease? “Your grandma obviously has better genes than I do.” “Maybe. Gran smokes, drinks vodka martinis and still has sex. Claims it keeps her young.” Ellie’s brow shot up, but she remained silent, wondering why an elderly woman could find male companionship while she was having so much trouble. On the other hand, did she really want someone who kept his teeth in a glass at night? “Come on. We’ll do weights next. That’s the only way you’re going to firm up those biceps and triceps, and it’ll help burn fat. I’m sure you want to look good in tank tops next summer.” Ellie shook her head. “Actually, I’m committed to wearing long sleeves. No sunburn, no mosquito bites…” “The reps will help firm your breasts, too. They’ll be nice and perky when we get done with them.” Glancing down at her chest, she frowned deeply. “What’s wrong with my boobs? They look perfectly respectable to me.” Actually, she thought her breasts were one of her better features, but obviously Will wasn’t impressed. “You’ve got a bit of sag going on there, Ellie. You don’t want to turn a 36C into a 42L, now do you?” “Ha, ha, ha! You should be shot. I don’t know why I decided to come to this gym. It’s like a torture chamber. And the insults…I’m going to ask for my money back.” Nevertheless, Ellie plodded behind Will as they made their way to the weight room. She had no energy left to argue and no idea how she was going to find the strength to walk Barnaby this afternoon. The weight room was crowded, the smell of sweat and testosterone filling the air. Will indicated that she was to lie on the bench and lift the weights he handed to her over her head. They were only three pounds each, but they might as well have been three thousand, as difficult as it was to hoist them up. The only pumping iron she’d done before today had involved pressing her shirts for work. “You’re doing good. Keep it up. I’ll be back in a sec. I’ve got to go talk to someone. Just keep lifting. And no cheating. I’ll be watching.” “I hate you!” “I know, but you’re going to be in the best shape of your life when I get finished remolding you, and then you’ll thank me.” Ellie had never considered herself a quitter, but as she lifted the weights up and over her head and the muscles in her arms screamed in protest, she felt like quitting, crying, or both. She hadn’t been in this much pain since the fourth grade when she’d fallen off her bike and dislocated her shoulder. At least then, her mother had given her ice cream for bravery. Now she got bupkis! Squeezing her eyes shut, she concentrated on lifting her arms one more time. “Hello, Ellie.” That voice! She would recognize that deep, sexy voice anywhere. It was like chocolate smoke and it had haunted her dreams—er, nightmares—for years. But how could it be? Cracking one eye open, she gasped, dropped the weights to the floor with a loud thud and nearly cracked her head on the pulls overhead as she bolted upright. DAMN IF ELLIE Peters didn’t still look hot! She wore her dark curly hair a bit shorter now and was maybe ten pounds heavier since he’d last seen her, but she was still the Ellie he remembered. The Ellie he’d been engaged to. The Ellie he’d dumped. The Ellie who now hated him. Michael thought back to the first time he’d seen her. She had been pounding furiously on a Coke machine, cursing and kicking it, claiming it had stolen her dollar. For Michael Deavers, it had been love at first sight. Like Ellie, he had majored in language at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. where they’d met, dated and fallen in love. But unlike Ellie, he’d gone on to get his doctorate in linguistics in the hope that someday, when he grew tired of the rat race, he’d be able to teach at the university level. He’d stayed in D.C. after graduation, working first in the private sector for an international pharmaceutical company, and then with the State Department, which finally led him to his present job with the United Nations, Director of Translation and Interpretation, a job that had been a lifelong dream. A job likely to become a nightmare, once Ellie found out about it. Most women would have forgiven and forgotten by now, but not Ellie. He knew without a doubt that, even though almost seven years had passed since he’d last seen her, she had not let bygones be bygones. She was too Italian for that. Ellie had sent him a voodoo doll shortly after they’d broken up, complete with pins stuck in the groin area and a note that read: A prick for a prick. Michael knew he deserved her wrath. He’d treated her like shit. He had asked Ellie to marry him, gifted her with a diamond ring—which she had subsequently flushed down the toilet—planned for a future together, and then he’d backed out. It had been the shortest engagement since Custer took on Sitting Bull. Michael hadn’t meant to hurt Ellie. Hell, he’d loved her like crazy. But he’d developed cold feet over the idea of getting married, to anyone. He’d had lofty goals and dreams back then, and a wife and family just hadn’t factored into the equation. Michael was still single, still eating takeout every night, still lonely, and there hadn’t been a day in the last seven years that he hadn’t thought about Ellie. He was still in love with her. And he was still afraid to get married. “WHAT ARE YOU doing here?” Ellie squawked. Michael could have asked her the same thing; he had nearly choked on a breath mint when he’d spotted her flat on her back, lifting weights. Ellie had never been what you would call athletic. In fact, the most physical thing they had done together, aside from making love, was walking across the Georgetown campus. Her idea of strenuous exercise had been flipping through the dress racks at Ann Taylor’s. “What are you doing here, Michael?” she asked again, her eyes full of fire. “Working out, same as you.” She rose to her feet and faced him, arms crossed over her chest and chin tilted defiantly. Michael could smell the scent of her perfume mingled with the sweat of her labors. Memories better off forgotten came rushing back and the sudden ache in his groin had nothing to do with his workout. Dark eyes flashed annoyance. “You know that’s not what I mean. What are you doing in New York City? I thought you were living in D.C.” Debating silently whether or not to tell Ellie about his new job, he finally decided against it. “I’m in the city on business. It’s only an hour’s plane ride from Reagan National, so I tend to come here often.” Ellie looked relieved, so he assumed she had bought his answer. It was mostly true, at any rate, but that “mostly” would definitely complicate things down the road. Of course, life with Ellie had always been one big complication. “I’m surprised to see you working out,” he told her. “Didn’t think you went in for diet and exercise, not that you need it, of course.” She looked damn good in her shorts. Ellie had great legs and soft, full breasts that begged to be touched. And there’d been a time when he’d touched them, a lot. Her cheeks filling with color, she lowered her arms to cover her stomach, as if she could hide the last candy bar she’d eaten. “I’m getting into shape, reorganizing my life, eliminating past mistakes, so to speak. So,” she pasted on a fake smile that exuded all the warmth of a piranha, “that being the case, it’s been interesting talking to you, Michael. Have a nice life.” Michael watched Ellie disappear into the ladies’ changing room and shook his head, knowing that come Monday morning the shit was going to hit the fan, and he was going to be in the line of fire. IN THE CHANGING ROOM, Ellie bent over, hands on knees, taking several deep breaths to calm herself. Fortunately, she was alone; no one had witnessed how the mere sight of Michael Deavers had caused her to become apprehensive, unglued, and downright pissed off. Why did she have to see him now, when she felt so alone and vulnerable? Why did she have to see him at all? The devil might wear Prada, but Ellie was pretty certain he wore Armani, too. “Get it together, Ellie. You’re over him,” she told herself, stripping out of her sweaty togs, grabbing a towel off the bench and heading for the showers. I am woman, hear me… Meow? Damn, but he still looked as handsome as ever. His eyes looked even bluer than before, and the sight of his body in that tank top… Michael dumped you, you moron. Get over it! Of course, that was easier said than done. She’d pined for the bastard after he’d broken their engagement. She’d tried to put him out of her mind by dating a procession of new men, but nothing had worked. Even moving to New York City hadn’t been the panacea she’d hoped for; the man still had the power to make her nipples hard, even after all this time. But then, sex between them had always been fantastic. Michael knew a million ways to make a woman happy in bed. It was when you got out of bed that the trouble started. Turning on the faucet, Ellie doused herself with cold water and let loose a shriek as the bracing water cascaded over her, erasing all—well, if not all, then most—erotic thoughts from her mind. Not erotic, she amended. Psychotic! Because it was madness to have even the least little feelings where Michael was concerned. The man was a heartbreaking, insensitive, lying, insincere bastard! Don’t fret. He’s going back to D.C. You never have to see him again. Well, maybe in seven years. That seemed to be about the length of time between visits. And maybe by then she’d be married and have children, or at least a bunch of puppies to coo over. Ellie purposely turned her thoughts to Will instead. He was a nice man, though not really her type. But then, what was her type? Brian hadn’t been right for her, and he was a three-piece suit all the way. Maybe a bit of Neanderthal loving was just what the doctor ordered. And Will as her trainer would keep her on her diet. With her lack of willpower—no pun intended—that was a positive. A group of ladies came into the locker room just then and began undressing. A shapely blonde, who didn’t need to exercise—damn her size two hide!—smiled at Ellie, and she returned the gesture. “You’ve got Will as your trainer, right?” she asked and Ellie nodded. “Too bad he’s gay. It’s such a waste of male perfection, don’t you think?” Ellie’s eyes widened, even as her stomach took a dive south. “Will’s gay? Are you sure?” He sure didn’t come across as gay. Not that it was all that easy to tell. But some homosexual men were swishier than others. The blonde smiled. “Yeah, pretty sure. He’s out in the lobby kissing some dark-haired guy. Apparently they had a tiff this morning.” She shrugged. “Oh well. Doesn’t mean he’s still not a great trainer. Just a sad loss to the female population at large, if you know what I mean.” Ellie did. All the really cute men she’d dated or contemplated dating were either gay, married, or had commitment problems. That was Joey Fratelli—thirty-four and still living with his mama, who did his laundry and cooked and cleaned for him. Rosemary had adored the dentist, which was reason enough for Ellie not to see him again, even though Joey had been very good with a drill. Robert Lipscomb liked to dress up in women’s clothing, and the hell of it was, he’d had a better wardrobe than she did. Then there was Brian Pomeroy, who harbored an unreasonable hatred of dogs, especially ones who peed in his shoes. And last, but certainly not least, was Michael—the man she had foolishly given her heart to, the man she had loved and the bastard who had dumped her. Numb with the news that her trainer was now out of the picture, as far as dating was concerned, Ellie proceeded to dress, wondering if her bad luck was permanent. ARRIVING BACK at her apartment a short time later, Ellie surveyed the mess that Barnaby had made of the remaining packing paper and boxes—which she should have disposed of properly, but hadn’t—scolded the animal half-heartedly, because he was so darn cute—okay, reasonably attractive—then hit the button on her telephone to retrieve her messages. Brian’s deep voice boomed out of the phone’s speaker as he demanded in a very impolite manner that Ellie return his “damn key, immediately if not sooner.” “Like I really want the damn thing,” she shouted back, wondering what had ever possessed her to live with such an unreasonable, dog-hating man in the first place. The second message was from one of her girlfriends, Stephanie Marco, who was calling to see if Ellie wanted to go clubbing this evening. Like Ellie, Steffie was between relationships and had declared that Saturday night was a very good night to get laid. “Hard to dispute that, Barn.” Not that she was into casual sex, mind you, but her flirting techniques could use a bit of brushing up. And after seeing Michael, Ellie’s ego needed a boost, as well. Too bad someone hadn’t invented breast implants for egos, so you could make them larger when you needed to. Ellie needed a 46DD boost right about now. Just as she’d deleted the last message, the phone rang, and she thought about not answering it. Sometimes her boss, Mr. Moody, called on the weekend to ask her to come into work, and she wanted to avoid talking to him. And did she really need more bad news? But deciding it might be Steffie with last-minute details about their night out, she finally picked up. She wished she hadn’t. Actually, Ellie wished she was dead. It was her mother, and Rosemary was crying. And the thing is: Rosemary Peters never cried. “Never trust a man who doesn’t like dogs. Dogs are loyal; men are not!” CHAPTER THREE “MOM, WHAT is it? Why are you crying? Is something the matter with Dad?” “I’ll say there’s something the matter with your father,” Rosemary said in a voice that spewed venom. “Theodore Peters is a bastard. I hate him. He’s a sick man, that’s what he is.” Ellie was stunned by her mother’s vehemence, and not because Rosemary’s sharp tongue couldn’t flay the skin off an adversary from twenty paces. But her venom was seldom directed at her husband. Rosemary didn’t believe swearing was appropriate behavior for a woman, no matter the upset. Ellie wasn’t certain she could speak in complete sentences without swearing. “Could you be more specific?” she asked, unsure if her father was actually sick, as in dying, and her mother hated him for that, or if there was something else wrong, like they’d argued over money. Not an unusual occurrence. But still, her heart raced at the thought that her father might be seriously ill and hadn’t told anyone. “I hardly know where to start, Ellie. This isn’t something I want to discuss with you over the phone. I’d rather wait and tell you in person. The shock might be too much for you. I nearly fainted when I found out.” Rosemary’s voice cracked, and Ellie’s heart began to pound in her ears. “Dad’s got cancer, doesn’t he? He’s dying, right?” Tears filled her eyes. “Omigod! When did you find out? How long does he have to live? I’ll book a flight, and—” “He doesn’t have cancer, but that bastard will wish he was dead when I get through with him.” Breathing a deep sigh of relief, she tried to calm herself. It was clear that her mother was distraught for reasons known only to her and Ellie knew she needed to have patience in dealing with the distressed woman. “Calm down, and tell me what happened. You’re scaring me. And start from the beginning, okay? I’m sure whatever the matter is, we can work it out.” “Remember how I told you that your father has been spending all of his time on the Internet, and that he didn’t want to do anything else but fiddle with his computer?” Ellie started to get a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach that no amount of Zantac could touch. “Yes,” she said cautiously. “You mentioned that the other day when we talked.” “But what I didn’t mention was that he’s always so secretive when he’s online. He moved his computer into the spare bedroom several months ago and he stays in there for hours on end. When I complained Ted told me he was working on client accounts or getting his stock quotes updated. I didn’t think anything of it at the time. I feel like such a fool.” Ellie’s head began to hurt. This was starting to sound like a nail-in-the-coffin alert. “Anyway, I went on the computer a little while ago, to find the cruise rates, like you suggested. Your father went to the barbershop to get his haircut, like he does every Saturday morning, so I thought it would be a good time to look for the prices and surprise him with the information when he got home. “But I was the one who got surprised. What I found out broke my heart.” Rosemary started sobbing again. “I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it. How could Ted do this to me? After all these years of marriage…” “It can’t be as bad as all that, Mom. Please don’t cry.” Rosemary’s tears were as foreign to Ellie as not eating chocolate. It just didn’t happen. Her mother sucked in her breath, blew her nose, then blurted, “Your father is having an affair! There, I said it. It wasn’t easy, but I said it.” There was a moment of stunned silence while Ellie digested what her mother had just said. “What? What do you mean…an affair?” Surely her mother was mistaken, overwrought…. Insane? “You know, the kind that older men have on the Internet.” “Oh, you mean he’s been visiting porn sites?” She felt a rush of relief. That wasn’t as bad as the other, though it was still out of character for her father. “Probably. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I think it’s called a cyberaffair. I found e-mails from another woman, some bimbo named Michelle. “They’ve been exchanging e-mails for months, talking about sex and all sorts of disgusting, perverted things that they’d like to do to each other. And it may have gone beyond talking. But I’m not certain of that yet.” Knowing Rosemary’s determination to get to the bottom of things, Ellie figured she would be certain, and soon. “What I am certain of is that my life is ruined. Your father has found another woman to replace me—a younger woman would be my guess. Out with the old, in with the new, as they say. I gave that man thirty-five years—the best years of my life—and this is how I’m repaid?” Ellie felt on the verge of puking. This couldn’t be happening. Not with her father, the man she adored—the man she respected more than anyone else in the world. Theodore Peters had always been a straight shooter and the most honorable man on the face of the planet. Her father didn’t drink, smoke, curse, or use violence. He’d always been the perfect, loving father and, she’d thought, husband. “You must be wrong, Mom. Maybe it’s a joke. You know, with a co-worker or someone he has business dealings with. Dad’s never done anything like this before.” She swallowed, getting the courage up to ask, “Has he?” “No, of course not, at least, not that I know of. But just the other day he started a diet and exercise program, insisting that it was time he got into shape, and he’s never been concerned about his appearance or weight before. “I think he’s worried about getting old and needs to prove that he’s still a man—a male menopause type of thing, if you know what I mean. I hear it’s common with men his age.” “But you wanted Dad to lose weight; you told me so yourself when we spoke on the phone the other day. He’s probably just taking your suggestion, trying to make you happy.” “I wish that were true, Ellie, but I don’t think so. Ted bought aftershave. Your father hasn’t worn aftershave in the thirty-five years I’ve been married to him. He said it made him sneeze. And I saw him looking at the men’s hair coloring yesterday while we were at the supermarket.” Ellie knew the aftershave story was true because all of the Jade East, English Leather and Old Spice colognes she had given her father as a kid every Christmas still remained unopened in his medicine cabinet. She had thought it endearing that he’d kept them, in spite of his allergy. “What did Dad say when you spoke to him about this?” “I haven’t spoken to him about it yet. I’m not sure what I’m going to say. I only know that we’re through. I can never trust Ted again. Who knew he could be so deceitful. I always thought he was an honorable man.” “Dad is an honorable man, Mom,” Ellie insisted. “Something is obviously very wrong, and you need to find out what. Maybe he’s got a brain tumor—that affects people in different ways.” “How could he have a tumor? He doesn’t have a brain.” “You’ve got to think this through rationally, after you’ve had time to digest everything. You and Dad need marriage counseling. You can’t just throw away thirty-five years and call it quits.” “I’m not the one who needs a shrink. That would be your perverted father. He’s the one sending love letters to other women.” Ellie sighed. “Mom…” “What am I going to do now? I’m fifty-five years old. Who’s going to want me now?” The hurt, fear and insecurity Ellie heard in her mother’s voice filled her with sadness and empathy. As a woman who’d been dumped by the man she loved, she could relate. As a woman who was presently without a man in her life and had none on the horizon, except for her gay trainer, but he didn’t count, she could relate. As a woman who believed men thought primarily with the appendage dangling between their legs, she could most certainly relate! Sucking in her breath, Ellie tried to sound calm and reasonable, though she was feeling anything but. “Mom, you’re a lovely woman, and you’re definitely not over the hill. But I don’t think you should be thinking along those lines just yet. You don’t have all the facts. You need to talk to Dad and find out what’s been going on, and for how long, who this woman is, if he’s been seeing her in person, or if it’s just an Internet type of infatuation.” “What do you mean, just? He betrayed our marriage vows. I read some of the mail he sent to her. It was disgusting. He talked about how he wanted to kiss her breasts, and other more personal areas. That bastard hasn’t kissed my breasts in over fifteen years. Not to mention that he’s never done the other thing.” Ick factor alert! Ick factor alert! Ellie squeezed her eyes shut, trying to block out the images. “Please, Mom, you don’t need to go into detail. What you and Dad do privately is—” “And do you think he ever takes me out? Or buys me flowers or candy? I should die before he’d ever put his hand in his pocket to buy me a present. But he bought that puttana, that whore, a bracelet. I saw her thank-you e-mail. And she mentioned diamonds. Diamonds! Can you imagine? I’m just sick about it. My engagement ring is so small that I need a magnifying glass to see the stone.” Ellie heaved a sigh, wondering how any man could be so foolish, but wondering in particular how her sensitive, intelligent father could have done what her mother was accusing him of. “I’m so sorry, Mom. I don’t know what to say, except I love you and you will get through this, but it’s going to take some time.” “I love you, too, sweetheart, which is why I’m coming to New York to stay with you for a while. I need time to think things through. We’ll have a wonderful time, you’ll see.” WHOA, MAMA! Ellie’s ears began ringing. She hit the side of her head with her palm, just to make sure she’d heard Rosemary correctly. “What did you say?” “I need time away from here, Ellie. I’m going to come and stay with you. The change of scenery will do me good.” Ellie wanted to be a good daughter. She wanted to be supportive during her mother’s difficult time. But…holy shit! She did not want her mother, aka Mrs. Clean, for a roommate. “Mom, wait! I don’t think that’s a very good idea. You need to work things out with Dad, or at least try to work things out. Promise me you’ll try.” “I’ll talk to your father when he gets home. But I’m not making any promises. I’m a proud woman. I’m not going to take second place to every bimbo that comes along. I respect myself more than that.” “I want you to call me as soon as you’ve spoken to Dad and let me know what he has to say. I’m sure he’s going to apologize and be extremely sorry for hurting you like this. No doubt he thought it was a harmless flirtation.” “With a harmless flirtation, you get a card. Diamonds put this into a whole other category. You’re a woman, Ellie. You know what I’m talking about.” Unfortunately, Ellie did. First Michael shows up, then she finds out that her hunky trainer is gay, and now this. Her life was getting too damn complicated. It was spinning out of control, going down the toilet, and taking her with it. THE WEEKEND PASSED without Ellie hearing back from her mother, which had her worried sick. She’d called several times, but had received no answer and had debated about hopping on a plane and flying down to Miami, to see for herself exactly what was going on. But she had finally decided against it, hoping her parents were trying to work things out. If that was the case, they needed the time alone. And today being Monday, she knew it was going to be a crazy day at work. Mondays were always the worst, for some reason. Apparently, if you were going to start an international incident or blow up the world, Monday was the day to do it. As a translator, she was required to service up to seven meetings per week, each usually lasting no more than three hours, which was enough, as it was a mentally exhausting task. And Mondays were one of her busiest days. “Did you hear about Mr. Moody?” Becky asked when Ellie arrived at her workstation, which looked like it came right out of a ’50s movie—gunmetal gray with an industrial feel to it. The only saving grace was the tall windows that surrounded the building, allowing plenty of light to pour in. To the right she could see the Chrysler Building and Empire State Building, to the left, the East River and Queens. That is, when she actually had time to look out the window, which wasn’t often. “No,” Ellie replied, turning on her computer and placing her purse in the bottom drawer of the metal desk. “Is he ill?” “He’s gone. Moody’s gone.” Ellie spun around and was surprised by the concerned look on her friend’s face. Becky was not an alarmist. “What do you mean, gone? Gone, as in dead?” She disliked Moody, but she didn’t want him dead, although a minor intestinal upset wouldn’t have been out of the question. “I think he’s been replaced. It’s all been very hush-hush since I came in this morning.” Becky handed Ellie a cup of coffee. “Something’s up. I can feel it.” “Thanks,” she said, taking a sip. “Replaced? By whom?” Surely she would have heard something if that were the case. Just then, Jane Blumley, one of their co-workers, walked by and stopped, an eager look on her face. “I guess you heard about Moody? I think he’s been axed.” She made a cutting motion across her throat. Jane wasn’t a particularly attractive woman—her nose was too large and her hair was so thin she looked bald in spots—but what she didn’t possess in looks she made up for in her ability to disseminate gossip. The grapevine at the U.N. was rife with gossip, rumor and innuendo, and not just the political stuff. If you were engaged in sex with a co-worker, bought a new pair of expensive shoes, or washed and waxed your car over the weekend, it was talked about, dissected, and circulated in a matter of minutes on Monday morning. “There’s probably a memo on your computer,” Becky said. “I got one this morning, though it doesn’t explain very much. Each of us in translation and interpretation is to have a one-on-one meeting, where the changes will be explained and the new director introduced.” “Just like that.” Ellie snapped her fingers. “No notice, no nothing. How do we know we aren’t going to be sacked?” Which might have already happened to Moody, but most likely he’d been put out to pasture. And she couldn’t take exception to that decision. The man was a relic, and his being let go was way overdue. Checking her e-mail, she found the memo Becky had referred to and shook her head. “It’s not even signed. How mysterious is that?” “Maybe Moody hasn’t been replaced as yet. Maybe they’re going to select one of us to head up the department.” Ellie smiled at her friend’s naiveté. “Nice thought, but not likely to happen, Becky. They’ll replace Moody with someone who has a lot more experience than we do. Just to make senior interpreter requires at least ten years of internationally recognized interpreting experience. We’ve still got a ways to go, I’m thinking.” Becky sighed. “I hope I don’t get fired. We think we’ve found the house we’re going to buy.” Ah. That explained the alarm. “Really?” Ellie smiled, happy for her friend, though she wondered how they could afford it. Becky and Ben were always having financial problems and had borrowed money from Ben’s parents just last year to make ends meet. Borrowing money from your parents or in-laws was an open invitation for them to move in with you after they retired. Ellie had decided long ago that she’d rather starve than take that step. Not that she didn’t love her parents, but what grown child wanted to live with them? Which brought to mind her mother’s intention to come and stay with her. Ellie’s stomach soured at the thought. “That’s great, Becky.” She tried to sound cheerful and upbeat. “Not really. It’s the house next door to Ben’s parents.” “Well, at least you’d have a built-in baby-sitter. There’s always that to consider.” Okay, so finding positives wasn’t all that easy. At least she was trying. “It wouldn’t be worth it. Ben’s mother thinks she knows everything about running a household and taking care of children. She’d drive me nuts in two seconds. And she’d have Jonah spoiled rotten in less time than that.” “So tell Ben no. You still have that option, you know. He’s your husband, not your father. And you do have a say in what happens in your marriage; it’s a partnership, remember?” Becky looked conflicted, which was how the woman went through life, unfortunately. She hadn’t yet learned that you can’t please all of the people all of the time. “But Ben’s so excited about the prospect of having a home of our own, where he can put up a swing set for the baby, and—” “Listen to yourself. Jonah is ten months old. He’s not going to be using a swing set for a couple more years. In the meantime, you’re stuck with mommy dearest. If I were you, I’d say something to Ben, and soon.” “I guess you’re right.” But Becky didn’t look at all convinced by Ellie’s argument. “Enough about me,” she said, obviously eager to change the subject. “How was your weekend? Did you do anything fun and exciting?” Before Ellie could respond, her friend added, a wistful note to her voice, “I miss the single life. Don’t get me wrong. I love Ben and Jonah—they’re my whole life. But I miss going out with the girls and meeting interesting men, shopping till I drop and buying the most outrageous, impractical shoes that I can find.” She sighed. “Now I scour the shelves for the cheapest kind of disposable diapers. Sometimes I think I made a mistake by getting married.” Uh-oh. Something sounded rotten in paradise, and she hoped the signal Becky was sending was wrong. She’d read that women often became depressed after childbirth and prayed that Becky’s disillusionment with married life was nothing more than a hormone imbalance. “The single life’s not that great, Becky, and you know it. We all want what you have.” Sort of. Well, except for the poopy diapers and controlling husband. And that house thing next door to mommy dearest was definitely out. The unhappy woman shrugged. “I guess. But I bet you did something wildly exciting.” “Hardly. I was supposed to go out clubbing with my friend, Steffie, but I wasn’t in the mood after my mom called, so I canceled.” She explained the phone call, relating her parents’ present situation. Becky looked suitably horrified. “My father had an affair with his secretary when I was a teenager. It was a horrible mess.” “What happened? Did your mother ever forgive him?” Becky shook her head. “No, she divorced him and still won’t talk to him to this day. It makes the holidays very difficult, not to mention that our wedding was a nightmare. ‘Who’ll give the bride away? Dad number one, or husband number two?’ Dad won out, because I insisted, but not before the War of the Roses Part Two aired.” “Has your father remarried?” “When my mother flatly refused to take him back, Dad married the woman with whom he’d had the affair. It lasted less than six months. Apparently living with her wasn’t the same thrill as banging her.” “If I can’t convince my mother to stay in Florida and work things out with my dad, my life as we know it will be over.” “Wish I could be more optimistic, but based on my own experience, I’d say it doesn’t look good. The only thing you have going for you is that the affair took place on the Internet and not in person.” “Well, Mom’s still not one hundred percent sure about that. I haven’t had confirmation as yet.” “Oy! Parents. I thought we were the ones who were supposed to screw up their lives, not the other way around. They’re older and should know better.” “True. And we’ve got enough to worry about. Our jobs could be hanging in the balance, our futures left in the hands of some unknown entity.” Ellie’s computer signaled that she had mail. She hoped it was from her mother, but it wasn’t. It was a summons to appear in the office of the now defunct Herbert Moody. Normally Ellie felt confident about her position. She was good at her job, and everyone around her knew it. But today for some reason she was filled with unease. The unknown always frightened her. Mr. Moody might have been a turd, but he was her turd. ELLIE DID NOT FEEL one iota better after talking about the possibility of her parents divorcing. Becky made it sound like a fait accompli, that there was no hope for her parents whatsoever. So, as she made her way down the long hallway to what used to be Herbert Moody’s office for her so-called “interview,” she decided that if Rosemary did actually come to visit—please, God, save me!—she would do everything in her power to push for a reconciliation. It was her duty as a daughter. It was her duty as a woman who preferred sanity to madness. It was her duty as— The door was ajar, and as she stepped into the outer office, butterflies began beating viciously against the lining of her stomach. Placing her hand over it to calm her nerves, she smiled at the white-haired receptionist. “Hello, Mrs. Greenlaw. How are you?” “Hello, dear,” the older woman said. “Nice to see you again. It’ll be just a minute.” Mrs. Greenlaw had worked for Mr. Moody for over thirty-four years and had survived with most of her brain matter and good humor intact, which Ellie thought was nothing short of a miracle. “And what shall I call our new director, Mrs. Greenlaw? The memo didn’t list a name, which was probably just an oversight.” “Oh, no, dear. That’s the way the director wanted them sent. Said he didn’t want anyone to form any preconceived opinions before he had a chance to talk to them.” Thinking that was a strange approach, Ellie’s eyes widened momentarily. Maybe he was someone infamous, like O. J. Simpson, whom everyone knew had killed his wife, but was trying to start anew, anyway. Or that guy they sent to prison for stock fraud before it became fashionable and everyone started doing it. The buzzer on the secretary’s phone intercom buzzed. “You may go in now, Ellie. Mr….” She got flustered and covered her mouth, then tee-heed about her almost gaffe. “The director is waiting to meet you.” Pasting on a smile, Ellie smoothed out the skirt of her black wool Ann Taylor suit and pushed open the door. The tall man in question was standing at the wall of windows with his back to her. The office was dimly lit, made even darker by the lack of sunlight. A light rain had been falling for hours, the sky gunmetal gray, which pretty much matched her mood. “You asked to see me, Mr.—” She froze, her eyes nearly popping out of her head as she zeroed in on the nameplate gracing the desk. “Deavers.” “Get sexual satisfaction any way you can. (The Stones weren’t kidding.) Buy a good vibrator and stock up on batteries!” CHAPTER FOUR “HAVE A SEAT, Ellie.” “Michael!” She practically gasped his name, though she felt like hissing it instead. Her eyes narrowed. “What are you doing here?” But the sick feeling of dread forming in the pit of her stomach told Ellie she already knew. He’d been hired to replace Herbert Moody. Michael Deavers was now her boss! Well, he was more than qualified for the job, and she wasn’t referring to his education and work experience. Michael was a first-rate, heartless bastard with a facile tongue, not to mention, a liar. In the city on business, my ass! “I think you should call me Mr. Deavers here at work, Ellie,” he said, interrupting her silent diatribe. “It would look better for both of us. I haven’t made it known that we had a prior relationship, though my superiors will probably find that out, if they dig deep enough.” Eyes wide with innocence, she shook her head. “Did we have a relationship? I really can’t remember. It was so long ago, and very unmemorable.” His lips thinned ever so slightly, and Ellie smiled inwardly. Score one for the dumpee. “And I’d prefer not to call you anything, you lying—” She sucked in her breath, and her anger. “I thought you said you weren’t staying in New York. I should have known you’d twist the truth to suit yourself, Michael. It is your M.O., after all.” “I didn’t say I wasn’t staying, you just assumed it. What I said was—” “Oh, save it.” She waved away his explanation with a flick of her wrist. “I’m not interested in your lame explanations. Been there, done that.” She rose to her feet. “I don’t think we have anything more to say to each other, Mr. Deavers, so I’ll be leaving.” “Sit down, Miss Peters. It would be in your best interest to hear me out, if you want to continue working here. I won’t allow insubordination. I won’t allow my authority to be undermined, by anyone. I hope you understand.” Ellie, who couldn’t afford to lose her job after signing a two-year lease on her apartment, reseated herself. Crossing her legs, hands folded primly in her lap, she said, “I’m listening,” but she was in reality shouting silently, Prick! Prick! Prick! Where was a voodoo doll when you needed one? “I intend to introduce myself to everyone in the department and explain what it is I expect of them. I’m already familiar with your file.” He flipped through the manila folder before him. “I see that you’ve been doing an excellent job. Moody was very complimentary about your performance.” Ellie’s eyes widened. “He was? Well, isn’t that nice?” Too bad the old geezer hadn’t told her about it. She couldn’t remember a single compliment crossing the man’s lips in all the years she’d worked for him. “Because of our past relationship, whether or not you care to acknowledge it, I thought I should meet with you before meeting the others, to smooth things over and see if you’re going to have a problem with the fact that I’m your new boss.” New boss! The thought made her gag. How could she stay on a diet with this latest development? She needed chocolate. And lots of it. “Of course I have a problem with it. But I can’t quit because you’ve been hired to replace Moody. I have obligations, and I happen to like working here.” He seemed pleased by her answer. “Good. Then we’ll have to make a concerted effort to get along and let the past stay in the past. Are you willing to do that, Miss Peters?” Ellie had despised Michael for so long that she wasn’t sure she could just turn off her hate switch and become civil, but it was obvious that was exactly what she was expected to do, in order to keep her job. “I’ll make a concerted effort to be civil, Mr. Devil…ah…Deavers.” Of course, there were degrees of civility. He heaved a sigh. “I’m afraid I’ll need you to do more than that. I expect you not to badmouth me behind my back. If you have a problem with the way I’m handling things, then do me the courtesy of bringing it to my attention. I won’t tolerate gossip in the workplace. It undermines productivity and morale.” She almost smiled. “Well, good luck with that because gossip’s a way of life around here. We all need some type of release. You of all people, should know that, Michael…uh…Mr. Deavers. You’ve done the job.” Michael’s brow shot up. “There are other forms of release, as I’m sure you know.” Ellie’s smile was borderline nasty. “I know quite well, actually. I can assure you that I haven’t lived a celibate life since you broke our engagement. Many men find me attractive.” Okay, many might have been a slight exaggeration, but surely some…well, maybe a few. “Of that, I have no doubt. I still find you extremely attractive, Ellie.” His words made her heart beat a tiny bit faster, but she did her best to ignore it. “Uh, uh, uh, Mr. Deavers. Those kinds of statements might be construed as sexual harassment. If I were you, I’d be careful. You never know who’s listening, or who is unable to translate or interpret your intentions accurately.” “I’ll keep that in mind.” “Good. See that you do. Now if we’re done, I need to get back to work. I’m behind already, as it is.” “Just one more thing.” She nearly groaned. “Our breakup had nothing to do with you.” “Oh, really?” Her brow arched and she folded her arms across her chest in a defensive posture. “Well isn’t that interesting? And here I thought I was involved.” Michael ran agitated fingers through his dark hair. “I’m not saying this very well, and I’ve been wanting to explain for seven years.” Ellie heaved a sigh, needing to put the past behind her. “Michael, there’s no point in—” “Please, just hear me out. I broke our engagement because I was scared, if you want to know the truth. I shouldn’t have rushed into making a commitment. I had serious ambitions. I thought a wife and family would hold me back. I realize now I was a fool.” “You were probably correct in both assumptions.” Particularly the fool part, she wanted to add, but didn’t. “Anyway, it all worked out for the best, didn’t it? You have the job you’ve always wanted. I remember you talking about working for the United Nations from the moment we met. You usually got what you went after, Michael. The problem is, you didn’t always choose to keep it.” “I HATE HIM! I hate him! I hate him! I hate him!” That was the mantra Ellie recited as she hurried home, passing street vendors, storefront windows displaying enticing arrays of merchandise, dodging cars and impatient drivers who didn’t understand about pedestrian right of way, and not paying much attention to any of them. “I still find you extremely attractive.” “What bullshit! How dare he say such a thing to me?” Trying to work, to concentrate, after her meeting with Michael…oh, excuse me…Mr. Deavers had been nothing short of a nightmare, and a testament to her professionalism. But could she continue working, as if nothing was out of the ordinary? YES! She had to. Ellie had no intention of giving the bastard an excuse to fire her or find fault with her work. She was determined to stick it out and excel. Michael could just go and— Becky actually liked him, as hard as that was to believe. The woman thought he was charming, handsome and quite intelligent. And of course he was. She also thought he was a vast improvement over Mr. Moody. And of course he was. It had been hard to dispute that point, but she had tried her damnedest, citing Moody’s experience and wisdom, though she nearly choked on her words as she’d said them. Ellie couldn’t wait to get home to her new apartment, take a long, leisurely bath, exercise Barnaby, and spend a quiet, relaxing evening by herself. She might even build a fire in the fireplace. The nights were getting colder now, and she’d been dying to sit in front of a warm, cozy fire with a glass of Chianti and just let the world slip by for a while. She needed time to get her thoughts together about how she was going to handle the fact that Michael was now her boss. No. She would not think about him. They were through, finished, done as overcooked steak. Ellie looked heavenward. “Why me, God? What did I ever do to you? On second thought, don’t answer that!” Hearing male laughter, she turned to find Mr. Roselli restacking the apples in front of his market and smiled sheepishly. “You talking to yourself again, Ellie?” the portly grocer asked, a twinkle in his eye. “Yes, but I’m not answering myself this time, Mr. Roselli.” The older man chuckled. “That’s good. I won’t have to call the men in the white coats to come and get you then.” “How’s Mrs. Roselli? Is her foot still bothering her?” “She’s got the gout again. It always bothers her.” “Tell her I said hi.” She waved goodbye and kept on walking the few remaining blocks to her building. Ellie loved her new neighborhood, comprised of mostly brownstones. The people were friendly, and she was starting to feel like she belonged. She hadn’t felt that way while living with Brian, hadn’t fit in with the Fifth Avenue crowd, or with Brian’s snooty friends and co-workers. No way did her income even come close to matching their pretentiousness. Ellie took the stairs to her second-floor apartment, two at a time, eager to see Barnaby and find the refuge she was seeking. It had been a long, difficult day—one of many to come, she was sure. As she reached her front door, it opened of its own accord, and she nearly screamed, until she saw who was standing behind it. Then she nearly fainted. “Hello, dear.” “Mom!” She blinked several times, hoping it was just an aberration, an evil specter floating through her overactive imagination. No such luck. “What are you doing here? You were supposed to call me.” Two horrible shocks in one day didn’t seem at all fair. “I know, I know. But things got progressively worse between your father and me after I confronted him about his dalliance, and I just couldn’t stay in that house a moment longer. I hope you don’t mind that I came.” Of course she minded. What normal adult daughter wouldn’t? But could she say that? NO! “I thought you were going to talk to Dad, ask him about the e-mails he’s been exchanging with that woman.” Rosemary walked into the living room, and Ellie was right behind her, giving Barnaby a cursory pat on his head. Her dog walker, Jen, had come earlier and taken Barn out for his afternoon walk, so Ellie would be spared that chore for the moment, though the bulldog did not look pleased and was giving her his “you traitor” look. “I spoke to your father about this woman—Michelle. He claims they’re just good friends. I asked why, if that was so, did he write all that disgusting filth and why did he give her diamonds? “He said the bracelet was a birthday gift, and that the other was just a private joke between them. I knew right away Ted was lying. Your father lied, Ellie. He stood there and lied right to my face.” “How do you know, Mom? Maybe Dad is telling the truth. He doesn’t usually lie.” And maybe pigs fly, Ellie thought, feeling more depressed by the minute. Men were such assholes. The thing was—she had never lumped her father into that category. He was supposed to be above all that…that…stupidity. “Ted has a nervous twitch beneath his right eye when he’s not being truthful. I used to think it was cute when he was trying to surprise me, on those rare occasions when he made the effort. But that damn twitch was moving a mile a minute, like water drops dancing on a hot griddle. “But aside from that, I just know. I’ve been married to the man for thirty-five years. A wife knows these things. I was just too trusting to realize that something was terribly wrong. I feel so stupid for not knowing what was going on right under my nose.” “You’re not stupid. How could you know? Dad went out of his way to deceive you.” Rosemary looked sad, angry and defeated, and Ellie was worried. Her parents had always been close—the perfect couple. Her mother had reveled in that, taken it to heart and believed in it. Having your illusions shattered was difficult to overcome. Ellie knew that firsthand and was the perfect example of someone who’d never really accepted her fate. She and Michael had been apart for seven years, and still the pain of his betrayal—or change of heart, as he so blithely put it—continued as a gaping wound to her heart that refused to heal. And if she were truthful with herself, the sight of him had brought all those disturbing memories of their time together to the surface. “Do you have any wine, dear? I could use a glass right about now.” Ellie’s musings came to a halt, her eyes widening. Her mother barely touched the communion wine at church service, let alone cocktails. “But you don’t drink. Are you sure?” “Quite sure. It’s time I entered the twenty-first century. Don’t you think? If your father can carry on an affair, I can learn to drink.” A thousand uh-ohs reverberated in Ellie’s head. Her mother’s new tit-for-tat philosophy was not a good thing. But Ellie knew all about a woman’s need for revenge. She fetched the wine, handing her mother a glass and pouring herself one—which she needed more than Rosemary did—then asked the question uppermost on her mind. “Have you thought about how long you’ll be staying? Not that I’m anxious for you to leave or anything,” she added quickly, noting the hurt look flashing across the older woman’s face. “It’ll be hard for you and Dad to work things out if you’re not at home, is all I meant.” Sipping her wine, Rosemary tried valiantly not to make a face at the dryness of the Chianti. “I’ll be here indefinitely, Ellie. I have no intention of going back to that worm I used to call husband. Not now, not ever.” The word indefinitely hit the side of Ellie’s head with the force of a jackhammer. “Mom, you can’t be serious!” “I’m very serious. I’ve made up my mind to divorce your father. If Ted wants other women, then he can have them. I no longer care.” Crisis! Crisis! Ellie felt a surge of nausea and feared she might puke all over Barnaby. “Don’t talk nonsense! Of course you and dad will make up. This is just a bump in the road. Why, you don’t even know for sure that he actually had sexual relations with that woman,” she said, sounding a bit too much like Bill Clinton during his Monica Lewinsky days. “It might all be part of a fantasy—a sick fantasy, I’ll give you that—but still a fantasy.” “Your father was unfaithful. Period. Why can’t you understand that? Have things changed so much since I was a young woman? He took a vow to love, honor and cherish me, through sickness and in health, for as long as we both shall live. Well, I’m not dead yet! “Whether in his mind or in deed, Ted betrayed me. The damage has been done. And when he refused to stop all contact with that bitch…” Ellie gasped. “Mom! You don’t swear.” “Shit! Shit! Shit! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! There, now I swear. I swear, I drink, I cry.” Suddenly Rosemary burst into tears, and Ellie rushed over to the sofa to comfort her, wrapping her arm around her shoulders. Even Barnaby whined in support. “I’m so sorry, Mom. I wish there was something I could do. I feel so helpless.” Her mother sniffed several times, then smiled wanly, patting her cheek. “There is something you can do, Ellie. Do you have any Lysol? I feel the need to clean.” And so it began…. “Never accept dates out of desperation or loneliness. Desperation fuels dyspepsia, not desire.” CHAPTER FIVE “ARE YOU SURE, Ms. Peters, that you’ve transcribed that last word correctly? The syntax of the sentence doesn’t make sense to me.” Sucking in her anger, Ellie turned to find Michael hovering behind her chair, looking over her right shoulder and reading her transcription. In fact, he’d been hovering a lot the past few days, and it was starting to grate on her nerves. Every time she inhaled she could smell the musky scent of his cologne—the same scent she’d bought him seven years ago, as a matter of fact! Some men had a lot of gall! “Quite sure, Mr. Deavers. I’m very good at what I do. But if you’d like to listen for yourself—” You pompous, arrogant… She removed her headphones and handed them to him, but he shook his head. “That won’t be necessary, as long as you’re certain. By the way, I like that sweater you’re wearing. That purple color looks good on you.” “I don’t care what you like. Just leave me alone and let me do my work.” “Now why would I want to do that? It’s my job to make sure everyone in this department is doing their work to the best of their abilities.” He pulled out a chair and sat down next to her, making Ellie gasp. “What do you think you’re doing?” He smiled. “Observing. And I must say, I like what I see. You’ve only grown more beautiful, Ellie. Time has softened your features, made you look even more—” “I don’t know what game you’re trying to play, Michael, but I’m not interested,” she bit out, barely above a whisper. “And if you don’t want our previous relationship to be found out and bandied about this entire building, I suggest you leave before Becky gets back.” “You’re still very angry with me, aren’t you?” Ellie felt like rolling her eyes. “Are you dense? Of course I’m angry.” She shook her head. “What did you expect, just to waltz back into my life as if the last seven years hadn’t happened? It doesn’t work that way, Michael. You, of all people, should know that.” “It should. We used to be good friends once, before we became lovers.” I will not allow myself to be drawn back to those memories—those sweet, destructive, painfully bitter memories. “Please go away, Mr. Deavers. I need to finish my work and you’re disturbing me.” “That’s good, I think,” he said with a sexy grin, before rising to his feet and walking away, hands clenched behind his back like some pompous dictator surveying his possessions. Well, if he thought she was still one of his possessions, he had another think coming! “What did the director want? Did you do something wrong?” Becky wanted to know upon her return from the rest room. No doubt her ears had homed in like radar on her entire conversation with Michael. Yes! I slept with the bastard! “Mr. Deavers questioned me about one of my transcripts. Guess he’s bored and needs to harass the employees. Have you had any trouble with him?” Becky shook her head. “None. I’d probably pee my pants if he told me I was doing something wrong.” Ellie sighed. “Have you ever considered that not everyone else is right, Becky? That perhaps you’re not the one who is always wrong?” “No, because I’m usually wrong.” Ellie’s phone buzzed just then, and she was grateful for the interruption, excusing herself to answer it. Sometimes Becky’s self-esteem issues were just too much for her to deal with. “Ellie Peters.” “It’s Mrs. Greenlaw, dear. Mr. Deavers asked me to call and—” There was an uncomfortable pause, then, “He wanted me to tell you that gum chewing during translation isn’t acceptable work behavior, that it can distract the listener from hearing the nuances of the speaker’s conversation.” “What?” Ellie nearly dropped the phone. “Mr. Deavers said that? He wants me to stop chewing gum while I work?” The bastard! “I’m afraid so, dear. I’m terribly sorry.” “I realize, Mrs. Greenlaw, that you are only doing as instructed, but you can tell Mr. Deavers that he can go—” “Was there something you wished to tell me, Ms. Peters?” Eyes narrowing to slits, Ellie turned to face Michael. She was so pissed off she thought smoke must be pouring out of her nostrils. It was on the tip of her tongue to tell the arrogant bastard just what she thought of his edicts and where he could shove them. But then, remembering that she needed her job, she said instead, “I don’t have a thing to say to you, Mr. Deavers. Not one damn thing.” WITHIN TWO DAYS of her arrival, Rosemary had gone through Ellie’s new apartment like a white-gloved tornado and had cleaned every inch of it, scrubbing down the floors with Lysol, putting shelf paper in the kitchen cupboards—the ugliest shelf paper Ellie had ever seen, by the way—waxing and polishing the hardwoods, and had annihilated the germs in the bathroom until you could have sipped gazpacho from the toilet bowl. Even Barnaby had not escaped her clutches. “Mom,” Ellie asked, “why is Barnaby’s tongue blue? The poor thing looks sick.” She knelt before the dog, and he whined pathetically, trying to lick her hand with his big fat blue tongue. “He must have drunk water out of the toilet bowl. Disgusting habit! That should teach him a lesson.” The bulldog obviously understood every word Rosemary had said, because he very uncharacteristically bared his teeth, which were also tinged blue. Ellie now had food in her refrigerator, none of which looked particularly healthy or low-fat, soft drinks and bottled water, and a year’s supply of toilet paper, Kleenex, and paper towels in her cupboard, not to mention a hideous array of cleaning supplies. Believing an invasion of flesh-eating bacteria was imminent, Rosemary had purchased twenty cans of Lysol. And as nice as it was to have dinner on the table when she walked in the door after work—relaxing with a glass of wine for five minutes might have been nice, too—and her furniture rearranged to suit her mother’s liking—NOT!—she wanted her sloppy, dirty, bacteria-ridden apartment back, and she wanted it back NOW! Hell! It had only been two days. What would happen after an entire week of living with her mother? Ellie didn’t want to go there; it was too depressing. “Mom, thanks for washing my blouse, but I think you’ve ruined it.” She held up her favorite blue silk blouse, which had shrunk to half its size and was wrinkled beyond belief, and nearly wept. “You can’t put silk in the washing machine. It has to be dry cleaned.” “Don’t worry, dear. I’ll buy you a new one. We’ll go shopping this weekend and we’ll have a wonderful time spending your father’s money. I’ve already ordered several things over the Internet, the most expensive items I could find.” Smiling sweetly, she resumed washing the dishes that Ellie had left in the sink that morning. “I don’t want you to buy me things, Mom, and I don’t want you doing my laundry. I use the dry cleaners down the street. The Wongsteins are very nice people, and they do a good job.” Rosemary shrugged, not saying a word, and it was obvious that Ellie had hurt her feelings. Again. “So I won’t touch your stuff. I was only trying to help.” Heaving a sigh, Ellie sat down at the kitchen table to read the newspaper. “Have you heard from Dad?” she asked nonchalantly, holding her breath and praying for a positive answer. “No, I haven’t. And you must stop asking me that every time we talk, Ellie. Your father is infatuated with someone else. No doubt she’s already moved into my house and they’re planning to get married.” Ellie rolled her eyes. “It’s only been two days. Don’t you think you’re exaggerating just a bit?” “Your father is a fast worker. I remember when we were dating. The man was impetuous. I was drawn to him, like a moth to a flame.” The woman was starting to sound like a bad romance novel. “Dad was impetuous? I find that hard to believe.” Ted Peters thought out every move he made to the nth degree, like a rabid chess player. Her parents’ burial plots had been purchased over twenty-five years ago, so they could be prepared in case the worst happened. Her father never did anything that could be considered spontaneous. At least, Ellie had never seen that side of him, and she had a really difficult time believing it existed. Of course, she also had a difficult time believing he wore the big letter A, so what did she know? A wistful smile crossed Rosemary’s lips. “Ted used to be quite the romantic before we were married. We did a lot of crazy things, like walking barefoot in the rain. I rode on the back of his motorcycle once, and he used to sing me silly songs he made up.” “Dad had a motorcycle?” Ellie was in a total state of shock. This man her mother spoke of was totally alien to her. “Yes, he was quite the catch back then. And boy, was he ever persuasive. I shouldn’t admit this, especially to my daughter, but I almost had sex with him before marriage. Of course, my sanity eventually returned and I waited. “Women of today don’t put much store in that, I guess. But I was a virgin when I married your father. Of course, back then I thought our love would last forever. If I knew then what I know now, I would have been tempted to play around. I had opportunities. I wasn’t always an old lady.” Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/millie-criswell/body-language/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. 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