“Just one,” Grace whispered placing her hand on his knee.

“What’s that?”

“Stop this damn car and just do it.”

Cliff was more than happy to oblige.

Rosie and Zach were tense with each other over the Christmas holidays, and things didn’t seem to be getting any better in the New Year. Rosie tried, she honestly did, but Zach was increasingly demanding and unreasonable.

They were constantly bickering, constantly at odds. Some days she was convinced her marriage had been a mistake. Zach didn’t want a wife, he wanted a maid. Rosie had tried to live up to his expectations, but when she did manage to juggle her schedule to do these wifely chores, it always backfired. Breakfast was a good example. He apparently wanted her tied to the stove, yet no one was interested in her cooking.

Shortly before Christmas, in a conciliatory mood, she’d made meat loaf and mashed potatoes and even gravy. Eddie hated the meat loaf, and Allison complained about the potatoes. Rosie could have put up with their dissatisfaction if Zach had shown one bit of appreciation for her efforts. Instead, he’d pointed out that real potatoes didn’t come out of a box and that his mother had never used canned gravy. Well, she wasn’t his mother, as she’d told him. Zach had muttered, “You can say that again.” Rosie found his remark insulting and hurtful.

Today, though, everything was beginning to add up. That morning Zach had forgotten his briefcase at the house. On her way to a meeting with the church library committee, Rosie had brought it to the office.

Seeing Janice Lamond with Zach had opened her eyes. No wonder he was dissatisfied with his home life. Zach and this other woman were involved. They might not be having an affair—or were they?—but there was something going on between them.

Rosie brooded about it during her meeting. She skipped her volunteer stint at the school that afternoon. All day she seethed. With an unaccustomed burst of energy she cleared up accumulated clutter in the house, vacuumed and did five loads of wash. She had a casserole in the oven when Zach got home.

Standing by the kitchen door with her hand on her hip, she glared at him as he walked in.

“What?” he demanded when he’d taken two steps into the house.

“We need to talk.”

“About what?” He loosened his tie, looking weary.

“I want to ask you about Janice Lamond.”

“What’s she got to do with anything?” Zach spat out.

As if he didn’t already know. Whirling around, Rosie slapped a plate into the dishwasher. “I think it would be best if we talked about this after the children are asleep.”

Zach disappeared for five minutes; then he was back. “If you’ve got a problem I want to hear it now.”

“Fine.” Rosie yanked open the silverware drawer and took out the knives and forks for the evening meal. “I was at your office this morning, if you remember.”

“Yes.” He crossed his arms and leaned against the kitchen counter. “So what?”

“I saw the way your assistant looked at you—and the way you looked at her.”

Zach frowned. “You’re imagining things.”

“The hell I am.” The more Rosie thought about it, the hotter she burned. All day she’d been wondering exactly what was happening between her husband and this other woman. She was so hurt, so furious, she could barely think straight.

“There’s nothing going on between Janice and me,” Zach said after a stilted silence.

“Fine. I want you to get rid of her.”

“What?” Zach nearly exploded.

“If what you’re saying is true—” which, frankly, she doubted “—then you won’t mind getting a new assistant.”

“Because you’re paranoid about another woman. I don’t think so.” His jaw was tight and that stubborn expression came over him. “You’re jealous….”

“I have eyes in my head, Zach. I saw the way she looked at you.”

“Give me a break.” His hands were clenched now.

“No wonder I can’t do anything to satisfy you anymore. You’ve been picking away at me for months. I’m not a good enough housekeeper and our meals are below your high standards. That’s how it started, isn’t it?”

“I never realized what an active imagination you have,” he said, and while his words weren’t insulting, his tone was. “You’re so far off-base it’s pitiful.” He circled the table as though he found it impossible to stand still.

“I want her out of your office.”

Zach clutched a kitchen chair with both hands, his knuckles standing out white. “Forget it.”

Moving behind a chair, too, Rosie mimicked his posture. She stared across the table at Zach, her eyes narrowing. Looking at him now, his face distorted with anger, she wondered if he wasn’t already involved in an affair. Never had she believed something like this would happen to her and Zach.

“You refuse to fire her?”

“Damn straight I do! First of all, this is none of your business. Second, Janice Lamond is organized, efficient and a pleasure to have in my office. I am not going to discharge her because my wife is jealous. If anything, you could take a few lessons from her about keeping this house clean and orderly.”

The words hit her as hard as a physical blow. “If that’s the way you feel,” she said, shocked by how cool and unemotional her voice sounded.

“That’s exactly the way I feel.”

“Then perhaps it would be a good idea if we separated.”

Zach looked at her sharply. “Is that what you want, Rosie? Be damn sure it is before you start anything.”

“I’m not putting up with an affair.” She wanted that perfectly clear.

“For the last time, I’m not having an affair with Janice Lamond and the fact that you’re suggesting I am is an insult to both Janice and me.”

“Perhaps you aren’t involved physically yet, but you are emotionally. You think I can’t tell? Do you honestly believe I’m so blind I can’t see what’s happening right before my eyes?”

“I don’t know if you’re even capable of recognizing the truth.”

Rosie bit her lip. “You’re the one who’s blind. I want her fired.”

Zach laughed derisively. “Like I said, that isn’t going to happen.”

“You mean to say you’d rather lose your marriage, your wife, your children and your home in order to keep your assistant? She’s that important to you? Guess what that tells me, Zach.”

Allison appeared then and stood tentatively in the doorway to the kitchen. “Are you two fighting again?”

“No,” Rosie said, softening her voice.

“Yes,” Zach countered, nearly shouting in his anger. His eyes were as cold as she’d ever seen them.

Rosie didn’t care; she wasn’t backing down.

He was being contradictory on purpose, trying to create more havoc and discord than he already had.

“I don’t want to argue in front of the children,” Rosie said pointedly.

“You started this and we’re going to finish it right here and now.” He slammed his hand down on the table, rattling the silverware.

“Mom? Dad?” Eddie stood beside his sister.

Rosie turned and said, “Dinner will be ready in ten minutes. Go wash your hands.”

Both children stayed where they were.

“Do as your mother says,” Zach ordered.

Reluctantly they left the kitchen. Rosie heard them talking as they left. Although she couldn’t make out what was being said, the word divorce was clear.

“Is this really what you want?” Zach asked.

“Is this what you want? To throw your family away for your assistant?”

He ignored the comment. “A separation might not be such a bad idea. I don’t want my children subjected to your paranoia.”

Rosie tried to swallow the lump in her throat.

“If you want this so badly, then I suggest you consult an attorney,” he muttered.

“I will,” she tossed back at him. Her heart felt numb and the sensation was spreading. Staring sightlessly ahead, she gripped the chair so hard her nails cut into the wood.

Zach stood there a moment longer, then turned and reached for his briefcase and walked toward the door leading to the garage.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

He hesitated only a second. “If we’re planning to separate, then I’ll need an apartment.” With that he stalked out.

Rosie remained where she was, hardly able to breathe, hardly able to believe that her marriage had come to this.


The wind howled and rain pounded the house as Bob and Peggy Beldon prepared for bed. The winter months were slow at the bed-and-breakfast. It was three days since their last guest had departed. This business was their retirement project, but right now Bob didn’t object to the scarcity of paying guests. It gave Peggy and him a welcome break and the opportunity to enjoy their home and each other.

The wind rattled the winter-bare branches against the windows as Bob turned off the television after watching the eleven o’clock news. The lights flickered. “Looks like we’re in for quite a night,” he said. “Better have some flashlights handy.”

Peggy nodded, picking up their coffee mugs and moving into the kitchen.

Bob was about to head up the back stairs when he noticed a pair of headlights. A car had turned into their driveway. “We aren’t expecting any guests, are we?” Although he knew the answer, he asked in case Peggy had booked someone and then forgotten to mention it.

“Not until the weekend.” Peggy stuck the two mugs in the dishwasher.

“Looks like someone might be coming.”

His wife parted the drape and stared out the window over the sink. “It isn’t anyone we know, is it?”

“Hard to tell in this rain, but I don’t recognize the car.” Bob was halfway to the front door when the bell rang. He turned on the porch light and unfastened the lock. A man stood on the other side, wearing a raincoat and slouch hat. He held a small suitcase in one hand. His head was lowered, shadowed, making it impossible to see his face clearly.

“I saw the sign from the road. Do you have a room available for the night?” he asked in a low, husky voice.

“We do,” Bob told him and took a moment to size up the stranger. The man was in his mid-fifties, he guessed, but it was difficult to be sure. He kept his shoulders hunched forward as he stepped into the house. Yet Bob thought he looked vaguely familiar.

Always warm and welcoming, Peggy ushered their guest into the kitchen, where the registration forms were kept. The man glanced at the form Peggy handed him. “I’ll pay you now,” he said, withdrawing cash from his pocket.

“We need you to fill out the information card,” Bob said. He had a funny feeling about this guy, although he couldn’t place him.

“I’m Bob Beldon,” he said. “This might seem like an odd question, but have we ever met?”

The stranger didn’t answer.