“So, what do I do?”
“Lock the doors and turn off the phone. Don’t talk to him. If you don’t feel safe, go to a relative’s or friend’s house. Or to a motel for one night. Tomorrow we’ll get together and come up with a new game plan. I’ll file some restraining orders.”
“You can keep us safe?”
“You’ll be fine, May. Trust me. Bullies are cowards. Once he sees how strong you can be, he’ll back down.”
“Okay. When can we meet?”
Meghann dug through her bag for her PalmPilot, then checked her schedule. “How about a late lunch—say two o’clock—at the Judicial Annex Café by the courthouse? I’ll schedule a meeting with Dale’s lawyer for later that afternoon.”
“May, I know this is a sensitive question, but do you by any chance have a photograph of yourself . . . you know . . . when he hit you?”
There was a pause on the other end of the line, then May said, “I’ll check my photo albums.”
“It’s simply evidence,” Meg said.
“To you, maybe.”
“I’m sorry, May. I wish I didn’t have to ask questions like that.”
“No. I’m sorry,” May said.
That surprised Meg. “What for?”
“That no man has ever shown you the other side. My father would have killed Dale for all of this.”
Before she could stop it, Meghann felt a sharp jab of longing. It was her Achilles’ heel. She was sure she didn’t believe in love, but still, she dreamed of it. Maybe May was right. Maybe if Meg had had a father who’d loved her, everything would be different. As it was, she knew that love was a rope bridge made of the thinnest strands. It might hold your weight for a while, but sooner or later, it would break.
Oh, there were happy marriages. Her best friend, Elizabeth, had proven that.
There were also forty-eight-million-dollar-lottery winners, five-leaf clovers, Siamese twins, and full eclipses of the sun.
“So, we’ll meet at the Annex tomorrow at two?”
“I’ll see you there.”
“Good.” Meghann flipped the phone shut and dropped it in her purse, then pushed the elevator button. When the door opened, she stepped inside. As always, the mirrored walls made it feel as if she were stumbling into herself. She leaned forward, unable to stop herself; when a mirror was near, she had to look into it. In the past few years, she’d begun to search obsessively for signs of aging. Lines, wrinkles, sags.
She was forty-two years old, and since it felt as if she’d been thirty a moment ago, she had to assume it would be a blink’s worth of time before she was fifty.
That depressed her. She imagined herself at sixty. Alone, working from dawn to dusk, talking to her neighbor’s cats, and going on singles’ cruises.
She left the elevator and strode through the lobby, nodding at the night doorman as she passed.
Outside, the night was beautiful; an amethyst sky gave everything a pink and pearlized glow. Lit windows in towering skyscrapers proved that Meghann wasn’t the only workaholic in the city.
She walked briskly down the street, bypassing people without making eye contact. At her building, she paused and looked up.
There was her deck. The only one in the building without potted trees and outdoor furniture. The windows behind it were black; the rest of the building was a blaze of light. Friends and families were in those lighted spaces, having dinner, watching television, talking, making love. Connecting with one another.
I’m sorry, May had said, that no man has ever shown you the other side.
Meghann walked past her building. She didn’t want to go up there, put on her old UW sweats, eat Raisin Bran for dinner, and watch a rerun of Third Watch.
She went into the Public Market. At this late hour, pretty much everything was closed up. The fish vendors had gone home, and the dewy, beautiful vegetables had been boxed up until tomorrow. The stalls—normally filled with dried flowers, handmade crafts, and homemade food items—were empty.
She turned into the Athenian, the old-fashioned tavern made famous in Sleepless in Seattle. It was at this polished wooden bar that Rob Reiner had told Tom Hanks about dating in the nineties.
The smoke in here was so thick you could have played ticktacktoe in it with your finger. There was something comforting in the lack of political correctness in the Athenian. You could order a trendy drink, but their specialty was ice-cold beer.
Meghann had perfected the art of scoping out a bar without being obvious. She did that now.
There were five or six older men at the bar. Fishermen, she’d guess, getting ready to head up to Alaska for the season. A pair of younger Wall Street types were there, too, drinking martinis and no doubt talking shop. She saw enough of that kind in court.
“Hey, Meghann,” yelled Freddie, the bartender. “Your usual?”
“You bet.” Still smiling, she moved past the bar and turned left, where several varnished wooden tables hugged the two walls. Most were full of couples or foursomes; a few were empty.
Meghann found a place in the back. She sidled into the glossy wooden seat and sat down. A big window was to her left. The view was of Elliot Bay and the wharf.
“Here ye be,” Freddie said, setting a martini glass down in front of her. He shook the steel shaker, then poured her a cosmopolitan. “You want an order of oysters and fries?”
“You read my mind.”
Freddie grinned. “Ain’t hard to do, counselor.” He leaned down toward her. “The Eagles are coming in tonight. Should be here any minute.”
“The minor league ball team outta Everett.” He winked at her. “Good luck.”
Meghann groaned. It was bad when bartenders started recommending whole ball teams.
Meghann began drinking. When the first cosmo was gone, she ordered a second. By the time she saw the bottom of the glass again, she’d almost forgotten her day.
“May I join you?”
Meghann looked up, startled, and found herself staring into a pair of dark eyes.
He stood in front of her, with one foot up on the seat opposite her. She could tell by the look of him—young, blond, sexy as hell—that he was used to getting what he wanted. And what he wanted tonight was her.
The thought was a tonic.
“Of course.” She didn’t offer a half smile or bat her eyes. Pretense had never appealed to her. Neither had games. “I’m Meghann Dontess. My friends call me Meg.”
He slid into the seat. His knees brushed hers, and at the contact, he smiled. “I’m Donny MacMillan. You like baseball?”
“I like a lot of things.” She flagged down Freddie, who nodded at her. A moment later, he brought her another cosmopolitan.
“I’ll have a Coors Light,” Donny said, leaning back and stretching his arms out along the top of the seat back.
They stared at each other in silence. The noise in the bar grew louder, then seemed to fade away, until all Meghann could hear was the even strains of his breathing and the beating of her heart.
Freddie served a beer and left again.
“I suppose you’re a baseball player.”
He grinned, and damn, it was sexy. She felt the first twinge of desire. Sex with him would be great; she knew it. And it would make her forget—
—about her bad day.
“You know it. I’m gonna make it to the show. You watch. Someday I’ll be famous.”
That was why Meghann gravitated toward younger men. They still believed in themselves and the world. They hadn’t yet learned how life really worked, how dreams were slowly strangled and right and wrong became abstract ideas instead of goalposts for all to see. Those truths usually hit around thirty-five, when you realized that your life was not what you’d wanted.
That, of course, and the fact that they never demanded more than she wanted to give. Men her age tended to think sex meant something. Younger men knew better.
For the next hour, Meghann nodded and smiled as Donny talked about himself. By the time she’d finished her fourth drink, she knew that he had graduated from WSU, was the youngest of three brothers, and that his parents still lived in the same Iowa farmhouse that his grandfather had homesteaded. It all went in one ear and out the other. What she really focused on was the way his knee brushed up against hers, the way his thumb stroked the wet beer glass in a steady, sensual rhythm.
He was telling her about a frat party in college when she said, “You want to come to my place?”
She smiled. “That, too, I guess.”
“You don’t screw around, do you?”
“I’d say it’s quite clear that I do. I simply like to be direct about it. I’m . . . thirty-four years old. My game-playing days are behind me.”
He looked at her then, smiling slowly, and the knowing sensuality in his gaze made her engine overheat. This is going to be good. “How far away do you live?”
“As luck would have it, not far.”
He stood up, reached his hand down to help her up.
She told herself he was being gallant. As opposed to helping the elderly. She placed her hand in his; at the contact a shivery thrill zipped through her.
They didn’t talk as they made their way through the now-dark and empty market. There was nothing to say. The niceties had been exchanged, the foreplay initiated. What mattered from this point on had more to do with bare skin than baring questions.
The doorman at Meghann’s building did his job wordlessly. If he noticed that this was the second young man she’d brought home in the last month, he showed no signs of it.
“Evening, Ms. Dontess,” he said, nodding.
“Hans,” she acknowledged, leading—Oh, God, what was his name?
Donny. As in Osmond.
She wished she hadn’t made that connection.
They stepped into the elevator. The minute the door closed, he turned to her. She heard the little catch in her breathing as he leaned toward her.
His lips were as soft and sweet as she’d thought they would be.
The elevator pinged at the penthouse floor. He started to pull away from her, but she wouldn’t let him. “I’m the only apartment on this floor,” she whispered against his mouth. Still kissing him, she reached into her bag and pulled at her keys.
Locked together, they centipeded toward the door and stumbled through it.
“This way.” Her voice was harsh, gruff, as she led him toward the bedroom. Once there, she started unbuttoning her blouse. He tried to reach for her but she pushed his hand away.
When she was nak*d, she looked at him. The room was dark, shadowy, just the way she liked it.
His face was a blur. She opened her nightstand drawer and found a condom.
“Come here,” he said, reaching out.
“Oh. I intend to come. Here.” She walked toward him slowly, holding her tummy as taut as possible.
He touched her left breast. Her nipple immediately responded. The ache between her legs graduated, deepened.
She reached down, took hold of him, and began stroking.