Read an Excerpt
In the dark bedroom, a Michigan March wind howling outside, Ann suddenly felt a hand on her shoulder.
She didn't screamalthough she sure wanted to. She needed sex right now like she needed a triple yeast infection. Her work day had been endless. Normally she loved working with troubled kidsthe meaner the betterbut this particular group of adjudicated urban monsters had brought both weapons and nonstop attitude to the table all afternoon. She was beyond wiped out. She was so tired her
Jay's quiet hand on her shoulder was typical of her husband. He'd always had that doctor's careful touch. Testing, not demanding. Diagnosing her mood, not pushing.
Right then, even his infernal consideration grated against her nerves. She knew what he wanted, and damn it, she just plain didn't.
There was a time she'd jumped Jay three times a week, and he'd jumped her the other four. Hormones had run sizzling-hot between them for years. They'd never seemed to tire of each other. But then, the obvious thing happened. They grew up. Both of them had busy lives, extraordinarily demanding jobs that stole intensive energy and time, and just possibly, age had become a factor in their sex lives, too!not that Ann admitted to approaching menopause.
She fully realized that menopause was a fact of life, but honest-to-Harry, she just had no time to deal with a bunch of crappy pre-menopausal symptoms. Not now. Maybe she could get around to scheduling it in when she was past fifty, but right now she was only forty-two.
Old enough to feel cranky when Jay wanted sex and she didn't.
Slowly, though, that quiet hand on her shoulder turned into two quiet hands. Jay didn't exactly push her into the mattress, but he definitely nudged. It was a smooth, tricky gambler's move designed to make her not notice she was suddenly lying prone on her stomach, right where he wanted her. Silent and sure, those big strong hands of his started kneading all the tense muscles in her neck. Then in her shoulders. Then down her spine. She slept nude, always hadso did heso it wasn't as if there were any barriers between his hands and her skin.
And suddenly that exasperated Oh No in her head seemed to re-translate into a meltdown Oh Yes.
Backrubs turned her into putty, always had, probably always would. A cranky mood suddenly turned velvet.
Screaming stress suddenly turned silky. Someone released a greedy moan in the darknessand it didn't seem to be Jay.
"You've been way overtired," he murmured.
That was like saying the sky was blue. And maybe her hours were long, but Jay had patients calling him 24-7, yet he never complained. Guilt itched her conscience, because they were both over-busyyet she never seemed to think of initiating a backrub for him first.
Right then, though!she stopped thinking altogether. In the dark, she didn't have crow's-feet or a thickening middle. She didn't have a job that consumed her a little too much. She didn't have stress or anxiety. In the dark!she was just a woman. Turning rapidly into a puddle of a woman.
Those hands of his could make any woman melt. Long, strong fingers combed into her hair, massaging her scalp, creating shivers and lusty sighs. There went her pride. Who needed it? She heard her hungry moan for more, heard Jay chuckle. All right, so she was pitifully weak!but it wasn't as if she had to hide her character flaws from Jay. He knewcouldn't resist. Or didn't want to resist.
She turned, blindly reaching for him, her lips parted to invite his to a private party. A very private party.
The phone rang.
Alarm instantly bucked through her. She immediately recognized the ringit wasn't Jay's cell or hers, but distinctly the private house landline. And few would call the house phone this late except for a family emergencyor their daughter.
For her, the intimate mood severed faster than a bug bite. She tore free from Jay's arms and twisted behind her for the phone. "Lisa?"
Her daughter's voice gasped a chortle of laughter. "Mom! How'd you know it was me? And darn it, you sound sleepy. If I woke you up, I'll have to shoot myself"
"Don't be silly, love bug. You know your dad and I always want to hear from you."
"Well, I could have waited. I just got excited about telling you something. But if you're tired, I'll call tomorrow"
"No, of course not. What's wrong?" She bunched a pillow behind her in the dark, not looking at Jaybut she guessed he'd gone on red alert for the late call the same way she had. They both adored their daughter.
"Nothing's wrong, Mom. I just had some news. Something happened!."
On the bedside table, a trickle of silver gleamed. Half consciously, Ann picked it up. She'd found the treasure at a jeweler last weekend. It was still two months until Mother's Dayand obviously it was silly to buy a Mother's Day present for one's daughterbut Ann couldn't resist. The gift was so perfect, so right, for the mom-daughter relationship she had with Lisa.
The pendant was a solid chunk of sterling on one side, strung on a black silk cord. The back was engraved:
Never Forget For A Single Minute
You Didn't Grow Under My Heart But In It.
She hadn't shown the gift to Jay yet, not just because there hadn't been a chance, but because he didn't care about trifles like that. But still!.
"I located her, Mom. My mother."
"Pardon?" Ann dropped the bracelet. "I'm sorry, honey, I didn't hear you"
"I think I found her. My birth mother." When she failed to immediately respond, Lisa zoomed on, "You meant it, didn't you, Mom? I mean, you said a bunch of times that it was totally okay if I started looking for her."
"Of course I meant it," Ann said.
"Well, I was studying for the midterm in chemistry last week. Got so tired I was batty. Couldn't sleep. Couldn't think anymore. So I just started messing around the Internet, using some search engines!"
Jay suddenly switched on his bedside light. She motioned for him to turn it off again. She didn't want a light glaring in her eyes. Not at this hour. "So you think you found the woman," she said cheerily, annoyed when her voice seemed to come out cheap as tin.
"Well, it's not an absolute-positive yet. But it was pretty interesting. I started by plugging in the name you gave me you know, Nicole Baker. And the other stuff you'd told me, like that she'd just turned sixteen when she had me. That the whole adoption thing had taken place in the hospital in Rochester Hills!."
"Yes," Ann said. She yanked up the sheet. Then a blanket. It was listening to that howling, growling wind outside that suddenly made her feel chilled and shaky to the bone.
"!Anyway, I got it narrowed down to about seven names a couple nights ago. I thought it was cool then. But yesterday, I got it narrowed down to just two. I guess it's not that unusual a name, even if it's the same birthday, so it may still take a while before I know which of those two for sure. Mom?"
"The one womanshe lives right here in Sterling Heights!"
"Really." Sterling Heights was barely a half-hour drive away. Amazingly close, Ann thought.
"Yeah, really. I mean, that doesn't mean it's her. It's not like I contacted her yet"
"Contact her?" When her daughter fell suddenly silent, Ann realized her voice must have sounded sharper than a rasp. "I just didn't hear you, honey. Did you say you planned to contact her?"
"Well, not this instant. But yeah. When I find some time. I've got a bear of a lit paper coming up. Other stuff going on. Like Doug. Anyway!." Lisa spilled on, sounding like she always did, blithe as bliss. Ann could readily picture her in the cramped dorm room at University of Michigan, pillows stuffed behind her, a box of Oreos in sight, heaped clothes on every surface, her bare toes likely painted some unpredictable colorlike aqua or purple. "Honestly, I hadn't thought that far ahead. It was just neat. Getting this close to finding her. Who'd have thought it could be this easy? And you know!I'd wondered."
"I know you did."
"Mom, you're sounding weird. But you and Dad both said that you didn't care if I checked this out."
"We absolutely don't," Ann assured her. She squeezed her eyes closed, flashing back to those conversations, remembering how she'd tried to coach Lisa with careful, thoughtful, cheerful warningsnot counting on finding the woman, not counting on liking her if she did find her, not presuming the woman would be comfortable or happy to suddenly have a life interrupted by what she'd seen once as a mistake. Ann had tried not to dwell on the negative. She was just well aware that Lisa wanted "happy" answers and real life rarely seemed inclined to provide those. "Well!." Lisa's tone momentarily sounded uncertain, then perked up again. "I guess I better go. I love you to bits." Ann heard a yawn, noisy and huge. Then the sound of girls chattering in the background. "Pass on a hug to Dad, too, okay? And Mom?"
"What, love bug?"
"Is Dad going to be mad if I might have overdrawn just a tiny bit?"
A big sigh. "There were these boots, you know? The stores just put out all the spring stuff and my winter boots were a yucky mess. And these were on sale. And I'm not actually sure I'm overdrawn. I think it's down to the pennies. And I'll get my work check next week, but!."
"It's okay, Lise. But call us as soon as you know. Don't sit there with an overdrawn account."
"I don't want Dad to be mad at me."
"Like this has happened in the history of the universe?" Ann didn't roll her eyes, but she could have. Lisa had had Jay wrapped around her little finger, big finger, thumb and any other which-way, from the day they'd brought her home.
"Well!I'd feel awful if he was disappointed in me."
"Part of learning to budget and manage your money is making mistakes. Your dad doesn't expect you to be perfect. Neither do I. But you know what?"
"What?" "You needed another pair of boots like a hole in the head."
"I KNOW that, Mom."
"They were really cute, huh?"
"Honestly, they were fantastic. Smooth like butter. Warm. Tall, you know, so they'd look really good with a calflength skirt!."
Ann closed her eyes, inhaling the girl talk. This was exactly what she missed so fiercely. The sound of her daughter's voice, babbling on about people and fashion and the silly thing that happened at lunch yesterday and the price of bras. Talking about boots wasn't really talking about boots. It was about the spill of words, the sharing, the enjoying each other.