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For The Babies' Sakes
By Sara Wood
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWas her husband having an affair?
Pale with horror, Helen stood motionless in the hall, so shocked that she didn't notice the mud oozing from her sopping wet suit or the dirty puddle of water that was soaking into the new carpet.
Slowly she closed the front door, her appalled eyes fixed on the very pink, very minimal pair of briefs, resting on the first step of the stairs. She felt too scared to move, in case other intimate items of underwear decorated the rest of the stairs, which disappeared from view in a curving sweep of highly polished oak.
Helen's heart pounded. The briefs were very feminine, and definitely not hers. It was the sort of underwear worn by well-endowed women on the front of saucy magazines. Somehow it had fetched up in her home. But how?
Grey eyes wide, she stared blankly at the ridiculous fringe that decorated the scrap of silky material. Who could own something so uncomfortable and impractical? And what was it doing there in the first place?
Suspicions crowded in on her. Too many things were adding up. She found herself almost incapable of breathing at all. Each gasp of air only increased the choking, bruised sensation in her chest.
Heck, she felt awful. With a small moan, she squeezed her eyes shut, fighting thenausea and weakness of the flu which had plagued her all morning.
Cocking her head on one side, she listened nervously for the tell-tale sounds of an orgy - or female giggles at the very least. Yet with the builders absent for the next two weeks, there was nothing to be heard except the torrential rain, mercilessly battering away at the porch roof. Was this silence good or bad?
Helen shivered and raised a shaking hand to pluck the saturated clothes away from her body. It wasn't the flu that was making her feel so wretched, but a sense of dread. It was sending icy fingers crawling over her skin and chilling her to the marrow.
The facts were beginning to frighten her. One. A sexually active female had dropped those briefs. Helen bit her lip, realising why she'd come to that conclusion. She wasn't sexually active. She and Dan were so exhausted from working so hard that they rarely saw one another, let alone found time for making love. And so she wore practical underwear, cotton knickers not men's magazine stuff.
Two. She'd been struggling to put on her wellington boots in the car - a Must Have item with all the rain they'd had that June - when she'd seen that the curtains of the master bedroom had been drawn, even though it was the middle of the day.
She'd been so startled by this that she'd jumped out in disbelief, leaving her umbrella on the passenger seat. The torrential rain had beaten down on her unprotected head while she'd stood looking at the window like an idiot, trying to understand what was going on.
Burglars! she'd thought. And then she'd grinned wryly at her wild imagination because surely burglars wouldn't bother to draw the curtains in one room only while they ransacked the house.
That had led her to fact three. Just one other person had a key to the house. Her husband. Almost in slow motion, she'd turned to look at the barn, where Dan usually parked his car. It was a relief to see it there, rather than a burglars' getaway van with a burly type in a balaclava riding shotgun.
Then she'd realised that Dan must have come home because he'd caught the same flu bug that had laid her low. That was why she had rushed to the house, recklessly scrambling over the huge lumps of soil that had been churned up by the builders' trucks and lorries during the renovations.
Her haste to comfort him had made her careless and she'd fallen flat on her face in the mud, cursing the day they'd moved into the country. Nothing new there. But of course she'd hauled herself up, anxious to provide a bit of TLC, dreaming of cuddles by the fire and nose-blowing in unison.
Huh! He probably didn't have flu at all! Her eyes glowed with resentful anger. Perhaps something else was laying him low! Someone else.
She winced, a rush of emotion bringing tears to her eyes. She loved Dan. Adored everything about him. As usual, she was jumping to dramatic conclusions when there was probably an innocent explanation.
But ... Female knickers on the stairs. Her husband home. Curtains drawn. It all seemed horribly damning.
A scouring fear washed through her and she felt her legs begin to shake uncontrollably. With a trembling hand she pushed back her hair, smoothing its muddy strands back till it stopped dripping down her face and blurring her vision. She had to investigate.
Hardly aware she was still wearing her muddy boots, she stumbled over to the foot of the stairs and grabbed blindly at the newel post to prevent herself from sinking to the floor in a boneless heap.
Tears dammed up in her throat, choking her. She felt so shocked and weak that she could hardly collect her thoughts to make sense of what was happening.
But she knew there must be a rational explanation. He wouldn't betray her, not Dan. She racked her brains desperately.
Perhaps he was ill. And some time before he'd felt really sick and had come home, he'd bought some sexy underwear to spice up their non-existent sex life, and had accidentally dropped something from his shopping foray as he'd staggered up the stairs to bed.
Her brain stalled, her headache intensifying, and she waited for a moment of dizziness to pass. Illness was so debilitating. She had crawled back from London after nearly fainting on the way to work. The trip had been draining: a long walk, two tubes, an hour's journey on the train and a twenty-minute drive.
Normally she was out all day. Dan would expect her to be furthering her career as the financial executive for the "Top People's Store" in fashionable Knightsbridge. But she'd come home instead.
And she wished with all her heart that she hadn't because the doubts were building up, terrifying her with the possibility that Dan could be upstairs in their bedroom with another woman.
Her head lifted in despair and, to her horror, she suddenly noticed something else, a few steps further up. It was a nylon stocking in a very fine denier, its twin casually twined around the banister.
"Oh, Dan!" she breathed, tragic-faced, desperately hoping against hope that there was some simple, obvious answer to this. "Don't be there," she pleaded. "I couldn't bear it!"
He was everything to her. She had even agreed to live in this awful house, with its wall-to-wall mud outside and an attic full of crazy squirrels who thundered about all night in clogs. She'd even tried to ignore the spiders who leered at her from every conceivable corner of the house and who waggled their spindly legs at her in a horribly menacing way. Anything, she'd thought, if it made him happy.
And they'd been happy, hadn't they? He'd pledged undying love, had carried her over the threshold of the huge, thatched Deep Dene farmhouse after their marriage two years ago and had proudly pointed out its wonderful potential when all she could see was dereliction and isolation.
But for him she'd put up with the dilapidation, the constant presence of the builders, the temperamental boiler and scowling Aga stove.
City-bred, she had longed for decent pavements, trafficfilled tarmac and frequent inhalations of carbon monoxide. But Dan adored Deep Dene with its ancient beams, inglenook fires and five acres of landscaped gardens, so she had curbed her horror.
They had handed the place over to the workmen and had begun their hectic commuting to London from their future Dream Home in the Sussex Downs. Though it was more of a nightmare to her.
Her stomach churned as she stared blankly into space. Perhaps the commuting was the problem. They hardly saw one another nowadays. It was ages since they'd hugged, and weeks and weeks since they'd made love. She got home late and flung something in the microwave. Dan turned up at all hours, sometimes too shattered to speak.
Her face paled. He was too virile, too intensely masculine to be celibate.
That was when men strayed. "Dan! Don't do this to me!" she whispered, appalled. The awful feeling in her stomach became unbearable, though whether that was due to her illness or to fear of what she might find, she didn't know.
Excerpted from For The Babies' Sakes by Sara Wood Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.