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Laura Swann Fletcher had never realized how long five minutes could be. Especially when you were holding your breath.
She scowled at the vial atop the cultured marble coun-tertop, as if intimidation could speed up whatever mysterious chemical reactions were taking place inside it.
Heat lightning flashed outside the bathroom window, hinting of the storm to come. A distant taste of rain rode on the sultry air. Normally, summer storms in Arizona's high country never bothered Laura.
But tonight was different. Tonight she felt as if the electricity had gotten into her blood, making her edgy.
"Dammit, hurry up," she begged. As if she didn't have enough to deal with. "Please, hurry up."
She took a deep breath that should have calmed, but didn't. "It's only stress," she insisted, as if saying the words could make them true.
Perhaps she should have taken Fredericka Palmer up on that offer of Valium. Only last week her longtime best friend had professed concern about her. If only Freddi knew the whole story.
"Dammit, get hold of yourself." Laura hardly recognized the high, nervous voice. She pressed her palms against her rib cage and, taking several more deep breaths, willed herself to relax.
But her mind continued to churn restlessly, tossing up the myriad problems that had been plaguing her. Problems without end. Dilemmas without solutions. Nerves humming, Laura decided to see if one all-important call she'd been waiting for had come while she'd been out buying the home pregnancy kit.
The answering machine was downstairs, in the den. The red light was blinking, signaling four calls. She pushed the Rewind button. Then, Play.
Unbearably restless, she prowled the plank floor.
Beep. "Laura. It's your father." His recorded voice was as gruff as always, but she thought perhaps it was only her imagination. His next words confirmed that it wasn't. "I heard a story today that damn well better not be true. If you're there, pick up."
There was a slight pause as he waited for her to do as instructed. As she always had. "Hell." Another frustrated pause. "When I get back from Santa Fe, you and I are going to have a talk. Because you've got a lot of explaining to do, girl."
So, he'd found out. Even as Laura reminded herself that she'd been going to tell him herself, painful memories, buried but never forgotten, snaked through her.
She looked down at her watch.
Two more minutes.
She continued to pace.
Beep. "Laura, it's Alan. Thunderstorms kept us on the ground at National, now we're stuck on the runway at O'Hare. We're going to be late getting into Phoenix, then with the ninety-minute drive to Whiskey River, it'll probably be past midnight before I get home. Don't bother waiting up."
It was not the first time her husband had been delayed while on a trip with Heather Martin, his ambitious and sexy chief of staff. Laura doubted it would be the last. The difference was, this time she honestly didn't care.
Alan Fletcher was a rising political star, the brightest, most promising light in the Republican political firmament. Having won reelection to the U.S. Senate by a landslide, he was being touted as the party's best hope to regain the White House.
Laura had never enjoyed living in Washington. She hated the artifice, the parties that were nothing but power plays, the emphasis on political prestige rather than character. The role of senate wife had been difficult enough. The idea of becoming First Lady gave her hives.
Beep. "Hi, Laura. It's Mariah. Kill the fatted calf, the prodigal daughter is coming home! Do I have a lot to tell you! Guess it'll have to wait until I show up on your doorstep, which should be around midnight, which I know is an ungodly hour, but I'm dying to share my news with my big sister. Love ya."
Damn. Laura dragged a trembling hand through her auburn hair. Trust Mariah to choose this weekend to return to Whiskey River. Nothing like throwing a lit match into an already volatile situation.
Then again, Laura considered, if anyone could appreciate what she was about to do, it would be the woman who, like their glamorous mother, had been banished from the Swann family.
She looked at her watch again.
Only one more minute.
Beep. "Hi." The deep, intimate voice sent a familiar heat surging through Laura.
"I just wanted to make sure you're okay. Hell, the truth is, I'm worried about you, babe. I still wish you hadn't insisted on doing this alone.
"Christ, Laurie" she could picture him dragging his hands through his thick black hair "I don't remember you being so stubborn twenty years ago. If you had
Oh, hell. Forget I said that. One day at a time, right?"
"One day at a time," Laura whispered.
It was the same thing she'd been saying for months. The problem was, she knew Clint Garvey would not wait any longer. The last few times they'd managed to be together, they'd wasted valuable timetime they could have spent making lovearguing.
Finally, last weekend, Clint had issued an ultimatum. She knew, with every fiber of her being, that if she didn't keep her promise to leave her husband, she would lose the only man she'd ever loved.
She sighed as she looked down at her watch again.