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A Perfect Husband
By Aphrodite Jones
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2004 Aphrodite Jones
All rights reserved.
It was a balmy night in Durham, not a bit like winter, and Christmas was just around the corner, with all the holiday plans in place, when the Petersons decided to settle in for a cozy evening alone. Their Christmas tree was up, their presents for the kids had been bought, not yet wrapped, but that could wait. This particular Saturday night was a special evening for them. It was a time for Michael and Kathleen to celebrate, to bring the magic back to their marriage. The Petersons were tired of the social scene; they wanted things to be more simple. It was a relief for them to stay at home and just enjoy each other. They needed that. They talked about going on a second honeymoon in Bali, one of the places in the world where they spent their happiest times.
As they sipped champagne in their family room, watching America's Sweethearts on the TV, they held hands like two teenagers. The Petersons realized that as much as they loved each other, as much as they were devoted and supportive of one another, they seemed to have forgotten about romance. They each had become too busy with their own lives, each of them having full-time careers; then with all their other commitments, it seemed everyone else came first. This was especially true of their five kids, who had finally grown up but were ever-more demanding as college students.
The night before, Michael had taken Kathleen to a holiday bash thrown by one of the local newspapers — he was glad that she enjoyed it — they both delighted in the social whirlwind. But with more black-tie affairs soon to come, with an invitation to the governor's mansion for the following week, with Kathleen's new gown and evening shoes already lined up and waiting, Michael reminded his wife that they had to take time out for each other. Life was too short.
By the time the two had dinner and got themselves comfortable, Kathleen left all her cares behind. She relished her private time, especially since her days were filled with corporate meetings and presentations. Despite the fact that she was a wisp of a woman, tiny in height and frame, Kathleen was the type of woman who was larger than life. Not only was she regal and brilliant, a success in her work and a supporter of the arts, she was a woman of grace, someone whom many people looked up to.
But home alone with Michael, Kathleen was a different person altogether. With Michael, she could let go of her business persona, let her hair down, and confide whatever insecurities or troubles she might have on her mind. Around Michael, her signature pearls and business suits were gone. With him, she could let go of any pretenses. Even around her kids, Kathleen would wear sporty casual attire, but with Michael, it didn't matter what she wore. He loved her every day of her life, whether she was in a ball gown or in cheap comfortable clothes. That night, Kathleen had thrown on a navy sweatshirt with white sweatpants and was running around the house in clear flip-flop sandals. Kathleen didn't need to try to impress Michael — he wasn't only her husband, he was her best friend — and she loved him more than anyone could know.
A handsome man, ten years her senior, Michael Peterson was a very successful author when he married Kathleen. And she was his dream wife, the woman he'd been searching for. Kathleen came from a place of strength and beauty; she was a glamorous woman, a real class act. With the advance from one of his books, Michael had bought the mansion they lived in. He afforded his wife the lifestyle most people only dream of — the elegant house on lavish acres in the heart of Durham, the Porsche, the BMWs, the Jaguar — the Petersons had it all. Having been on the New York Times list, Michael Peterson was a known entity in their small Southern city. People in Durham were aware of him; he dabbled in local politics and wrote columns for the local media, and his war-based novels were impressive, even if they were not always met with rave reviews.
On this special occasion, Michael and Kathleen were celebrating some good news. Peterson had sold the film rights to one of his most recent books, and the project looked like it was going to be a sure thing. Michael had reason to rejoice; he had been waiting a long time for his ship to come in. With Hollywood producers calling, he felt he had a shot at international acclaim. It was an answer to his prayers, really, because he knew Kathleen hadn't been herself lately....
Michael wanted to bring that sparkle back into his wife's eyes. He understood that his wife had reasons to be nervous; her financial world was rocky, especially in the months following the 9/11 attack, when her company, Nortel Networks, was in trouble. But Michael wanted Kathleen to stop worrying so much. He was a complete charmer, he knew all the right things to say, all the right moves, and even though he realized that Kathleen was concerned about her future, that her company had already laid off so many people ... he reminded Kathleen that she was a leader, a most prized employee, someone who could never be replaced.
Michael felt optimistic that Nortel would bounce back, that the economic crash suffered by corporate America in the wake of 9/11 was only a temporary situation. A decorated war hero, Michael Peterson was more concerned about the terrorist attacks, the troops being sent abroad, and the threats of chemical warfare. Having fought as a U.S. Marine in Vietnam, Peterson had already lived through atrocities, through things like Agent Orange. He was concerned about the young men, the U.S. troops fighting battles overseas.
That was the type of person Peterson was, a very strong man, a man of conviction, a patriot. He was always concerned for his country, his fellow citizens, his friends and neighbors. People gravitated to Michael, they loved his worldly perspective; they were entertained by his sharp mind and brilliant wit. Michael's charismatic character was the reason Kathleen had fallen so head over heels in love with him. Not only was he a good-looking man, well mannered and well bred, Michael was also an excellent talker who provided a constant source of amusement, information, and guidance. Peterson was the type of man who was the rock, the keeper of the castle. For Kathleen, Michael was the man she could always count on. He was the soul mate who would be with her until her very last breath.
Beyond her executive position at Nortel Networks, Kathleen was one of those Martha Stewart types. She was used to working on projects at home, always cooking, decorating, making things happy and cheerful. The idea that Michael wanted to spend quiet time — romantic time — really made an impression on her. Michael had emailed her at work the day before and he was flirting. He told her how gorgeous she was, and said he wanted to work on their marriage. Between all the kids' needs, the keeping track of every household expense, the added burden of holiday spending, Michael reminded Kathleen that she needed to give more focus to him.
That was one thing about her husband, he was independent, but he always needed her. This was an important time for him. He had a major career move happening, and he wanted her support and input. Michael wanted to stop all the worrying and negative thoughts — it was time to focus on the positive, to smile about their good fortune and the bright lights of Hollywood that awaited them. Michael was ecstatic about the huge upturn his career was taking. It wouldn't be long now; after twenty-five years and all that writing, he would really cash in. Peterson had received $600,000 for one of his books already. And with the new movie deal, his name would finally be up there — right next to Tom Clancy and James Patterson — where it belonged.
It was only a matter of time.
That night, when Michael insisted that Kathleen forget about everyone else, Kathleen realized her husband was right. She needed to celebrate with him, to enjoy life for every moment it offered. If Michael was willing to bring their love life back, then she needed to do her part to keep her marriage intact. She needed to dote on her husband and let him brag to her. She needed to assure him that she believed in him fully, without doubt. And Kathleen did believe in Michael. She had always believed in Michael. He was her soul mate, a man she'd known for thirteen years. The two of them had been through everything and — in the end — all they really had was each other.
Still, no matter how much Michael wanted Kathleen to take a break from her endless worrying, Kathleen's job problems were still with her. She found her workload hard to escape. Even in the midst of their quiet Saturday night together, Kathleen would be interrupted by a call from Canada. Instead of being able to fully relax, as she had promised herself, Kathleen had to break away from her romantic evening to receive e-mails from a Nortel coworker. But Kathleen wasn't going to let that bother her.
Even if the promise of Hollywood couldn't erase all the loss Kathleen had suffered, she wasn't going to let it show. Not on this night. Michael was well aware that Kathleen was firing her employees left and right, that she was working harder than ever for the same pay. He also knew that her stock options at Nortel had dropped over a million dollars. That million-dollar loss was her life's savings — and even though he tried to console her, reminding her it was only a loss on paper — the two of them had been through all that before. For Kathleen, that loss was real. Her blood and sweat had gone down the drain, and along with it, her plans for an early retirement.
Kathleen was determined to keep all that chatter in the back of her mind. She and Michael had been down that road so many times already. And he had a point: the worrying wasn't making anything any better. Kathleen realized that her work would always be there, that she could get back to it again in the morning. It suddenly dawned on her that the duty of being Michael's loving wife was all that really mattered. Kathleen decided that nothing unpleasant was going to spoil their evening. Nothing was going to stop her from being happy for her husband. On that given night, on Michael's big night to gloat, she wanted to put on a big smile and be loving. With all her heart, she wanted to help her husband succeed....CHAPTER 2
The Peterson mansion, once known as the John Buchanan House, was built in 1940 by a wealthy man who wanted a large stylish home that offered elegant areas for entertaining. Located in the posh suburb of Forest Hills, the mansion was, in certain respects, unusual. It was more modern, more upscale than many of the large old homes one might visit in the area. But at the same time, the Peterson house had all the high-end appointments — the traditional hardwood floors, the built-in bookshelves, the crystal chandeliers, the wide, sweeping spiral staircase — all the formal trappings evident in the homes of wealthy Southerners.
But the Peterson mansion was an enigma, because in a sense, the place seemed caught in between the old and the new worlds. Certain of the elements reminiscent of the old South were present, but others were distinctly missing, such as the traditional Corinthian columns and entryway parlors, things considered standard in old Southern homes. Oddly, there was something about the architecture that made the old house seem newer. There were large windows and outdoor patios, not real reminders of yesteryear. There were two worlds, it seemed, present in that old house, and perhaps the most symbolic reminders of that were the Petersons' two staircases. One was a sweeping oval shape, a centerpiece of the home, while the other lead down to the kitchen area, a more practical structure, hidden behind doors.
The home had a few multipurpose rooms, but they were split up in a strange way. There were two living rooms, with a foyer in between them. And then there were two entryways to the house. One was a more casual back door, often left unlocked. The other was the formal entrance off Cedar Street, which no one really used. It was more or less for show. Reminiscent of an earlier age, the Peterson house had some other strange features. There was a buzzer in the formal dining room that had once been used to page servants. And, like in the days of old plantations, there were bathrooms in the basement that had been built so that servants would not share the toilets used by their white homeowner employees.
In a sense, to look at it with an untrained eye, the Peterson home was a place that seemed cobbled together, almost like a patchwork gone astray. But the Peterson home was purposely built in that strange fashion, it rambled on, with its many separate wings downstairs, its five huge fireplaces, and its six sets of bedroom suites upstairs. Not that it wasn't beautiful. The home was gorgeous, with all its nooks and crannies, all its rooms set off with glazed hardwood floors, fourteen-foot ceilings, and elaborate crown moldings.
But then the interior decor of the house was another contradiction. Among the Petersons' typical Americana antiques were prized rare items, pieces supposedly from the Ming Dynasty. Mixed in with their contemporary green and black marble furnishings were elaborate Oriental screens, gold carvings, and porcelain objects on pedestals. The Petersons' home had all kinds of bizarre elements. There were antique cars that were never driven. There was even an unused bomb shelter out in the back of the property, sitting discreetly off the garage at the end of the circular driveway.
Then there was Michael Peterson's personal office and library, an unusually large space, very masculine, very imposing, which enjoyed its own private wing off the main entryway. Distinctly different from the rest of the mansion, Michael's office was heavy and dark, covered in a series of dark redwood panels. With such a massive amount of dark wood, Peterson's office, at times, seemed ominous. It was certainly not an inviting place. If anything, his office was intimidating. It was understood that Michael Peterson didn't want people in there. That was his writing place, his sacred ground.
At the other end of the house was the main living area, Kathleen's domain. An airy space filled with modern furniture, glass tabletops and leather couches, it was white, light, and cheerful. The eat-in kitchen was alive with lush green plants, colorful gadgets, ornate Asian bowls, and a collection of gourmet cookbooks. This part of the house showed off Kathleen's Mother-Earth style. She was clearly a good homemaker. She filled the place with floral designs, oak baskets, beautiful pottery, and vivid art prints.
The Petersons were certainly eclectic, and their home reflected varied tastes. Michael and Kathleen never seemed to care that their style didn't fit with the traditional color schemes or home furnishings of their neighbors. If the Petersons' trappings seemed unusual, that was by design. The Petersons liked the idea that their home reflected a global sensibility. There were the many artifacts Michael collected from his bygone eras — from places like Germany and Japan. There were American quilts that belonged to Kathleen and her first husband, Fred. Other pieces of Americana belonged to Michael and his first wife, Patricia. There were also the items Michael collected from his friend, Liz Ratliff. They were sentimental things, rare chests of drawers, old crafted lamps, and a great tapestry that hung above the winding spiral staircase.
There were so many ornate pieces of art, so many rare things — it would be difficult for anyone to keep track of it all. In one corner would be a large carved Chinese warrior figure dating back thousands of years; in another spot, simple blue-colored steins, marked handmade, from Germany. The Petersons had so many different histories in the family, their collection of home furnishings presented a large cross section of the world. There was no theme.
The Petersons didn't live in such a way that seemed quite pulled together. There was nothing about the home that seemed indicative of the Southern region in which they dwelled. No interior decorator would have condoned the ornate, rather garish Oriental artifacts strewn everywhere. But then, the Petersons were not concerned with the mixed image their home might portray. They weren't the types who wanted a perfect home, pulled neatly together by a decorator's touch. Quite the contrary. They were unusual folks, Michael and Kathleen, who had both traveled the globe extensively. They knew about fine living, and they liked to do things their way.
Excerpted from A Perfect Husband by Aphrodite Jones. Copyright © 2004 Aphrodite Jones. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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