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“We’ve been divorced more years than I care to think about,” she felt obliged to remind him. If he wasn’t counting, she was.

“A toast,” he continued, ignoring her outburst. “To Elise, the love of my life.”

She pushed back the chair, ready to walk away. “Don’t,” she warned him. Her throat thickened with resentment. How dared he say such a thing to her!

He lowered his wineglass as if nothing was amiss, and reached for his fork. Since—apparently—he intended to behave himself, she reached for her own. Although the lump in her throat made it difficult to chew and swallow, the effort was worth it. Maverick possessed many talents but he excelled in the kitchen. He could have been a noteworthy chef had he followed that path. Instead he’d chased after a pot of gold, collecting nothing except dust and false dreams along the way.

When they’d finished their salad, he removed the plates and served the lasagna. It tasted as heavenly as it smelled, and Elise savored every bite, eating far more than she normally did.

They ate in silence until he finally spoke. “There’s something we should discuss.”

“I can’t imagine what,” she replied primly.

To her astonishment, he relaxed in his chair and broke into a smile.

“What’s so amusing?” she demanded.

“I used to love it when you got all uppity.”

“I beg your pardon?” She already regretted agreeing to dinner. Would she never learn?

“You used to do that,” he said, motioning toward her with his hand, “when we were married.”

“Do what?”

“You’d get that haughty look on your face—the same look you have right now.” He grinned triumphantly. “I loved it. Still do.”

She scraped up the last forkful of noodle, sauce and melted cheese, not deigning to respond. In another minute, she’d retreat to her room….

“I used to time myself—see how long it would take me to get you to smile.”

“Damn it,” she sputtered, outraged by his remark. Everything, everything, was a challenge to him. A game.

“Don’t you remember,” he teased, his eyes sparkling. “I used to wrap my arms around you from behind and kiss you till—”

“You did no such thing.” She remembered all too well, but chose to push those memories away. During their marriage, Maverick always got what he wanted—always won his little games—by using her love for him. Taking advantage of it, of her.

“Oh, you remember,” he whispered. “You do.”

“I’ve done my best to forget,” she said without emotion. “You might not believe this, but living with you had very little to recommend it.”

His smile faded and he sobered. “No one is more aware of that than I am.”

“Nothing’s changed,” she said. “You might claim you’ve given up gambling but you can’t do it. The allure is still there.”

“Not true.”

“Not true? You can’t stay away from the cards.”

“I can play,” he said calmly. “I don’t need to gamble.”

Elise shook her head. “That’s like an alcoholic claiming he can go into a tavern and not be tempted.” Considering that he was teaching their grandsons poker, he was being more than a little unrealistic about his ability to control his gambling.

“I mean it, Elise. It’s over. I refuse to squander the rest of my life on a roll of the dice or the luck of the draw. I want my family and I want you.”

Shocked by his words, Elise nearly spewed wine across the tablecloth. With a supreme effort she swallowed. “You’re too late,” she told him. “Thirty-seven years too late.”

“I think,” he said as he saluted her with his wineglass, “that I’m just in time.”



Bethanne turned off the vacuum cleaner and listened. Sure enough, the phone was ringing. She debated letting the answering machine pick up, but she’d left job applications at a number of businesses and didn’t want to miss a call from a prospective employer.

Hurrying into the kitchen, she drew in a calming breath and grabbed the receiver. “This is Bethanne Hamlin,” she said in her most professional voice.

“We need to talk.”

Deflated, Bethanne leaned against the kitchen wall. She didn’t want to deal with her ex-husband again. Their last meeting, at the café on Blossom Street, had left her reeling with resentment and anger. “Hello, Grant, how unpleasant to hear from you,” she murmured sweetly.

“I’m coming over.”

She bit back the words to tell him she would choose the time and place of their next meeting, but it would do little good. After twenty years of marriage she knew Grant’s moods. She could tell from his tone that he was furious and wouldn’t be put off.

“Fine,” she said curtly.

“I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

“Fine.” The unnamed problem was apparently urgent enough for Grant to take time off in the middle of the day—something that hardly ever happened. She hung up and returned to her vacuuming.

Exactly seven minutes after his call, she heard the knob twist and then a heavy fist pounding against the front door. Grant mistakenly assumed he had the right to walk into her home. Well, she’d fixed that. After the divorce was final, Bethanne had changed the locks, and it gave her a sense of satisfaction to thwart him now.

“Did you think I intended to break in?” he snarled when she unlocked the door and stepped aside to let him into the house.

“I wasn’t about to give you the opportunity,” she snarled back. She wanted him to know that he was only there now with her express permission.

Grant charged into the kitchen, then whirled around to face her. “Did you put Annie up to this?” he demanded, his eyes spitting fire at her.

“To what?”

“You know what I’m talking about.” He glared at her, fists clenched at his sides. “Where is she anyway?”

“If you’re referring to our daughter, all I can tell you is that she’s out.” Bethanne folded her arms over her chest and relaxed, leaning her hip against the kitchen counter. She’d tried to warn him, had done her level best to let him know what she’d discovered. Grant had dismissed her worry, as he so often had in the past. In her view, that meant any mischief Annie had visited on Tiffany was his problem, not hers.

“You knew—and you didn’t say a word!”

“What are you talking about? I warned you about the way she felt—the way she still feels.” She sighed with exaggerated patience. “If you recall, I mentioned that I’d read Annie’s journal.” Bethanne didn’t know what her daughter had done on this particular occasion, only that Annie festered with rage.

Grant started to pace. “All you said was that she’s angry.”

“Correction,” she snapped. “That was all you let me say. As I remember the conversation, you brushed aside my concern and said Annie would get over it in time.” She sighed again. “What did she do?”

“You don’t know?”

Bethanne shrugged. “She’s hurting and she blames Tiffany. I assume she had some bedwetting information mailed to her.” She’d read that in the journal and been privately amused. There’d been plenty of other items Annie had requested in Tiffany’s name. Immature and annoying behavior, yes—but what had really shocked Bethanne was the pure hatred her daughter felt for the other woman. Her words were full of spite and anger, to the point that Bethanne knew something had to be done. Annie refused to discuss it, and Grant refused to listen. Bethanne had made an appointment with the therapist she’d seen briefly after Grant’s defection; she wanted to talk about the situation, get some advice, maybe arrange for Annie to see her, too.

“Having all that crap sent to the apartment is mail fraud, and it isn’t a laughing matter. But that’s not the half of it. She’s gone way over the line this time.”

“How unfortunate you have to deal with more junk mail than usual,” Bethanne said sarcastically, knowing it was a childish response. “My sympathies to you both.”

Grant scowled at her. “I can’t thank you enough for your support,” he muttered. “Especially since I’ve spent the last hour dealing with Tiff who’s hysterical because someone poured sugar down her gas tank.”

“No,” Bethanne gasped.

“One guess who’s at the top of the suspect list.”

“Oh, no.” This was much worse than Bethanne had expected. Grant was probably right, too—it was a step up from requesting nuisance mail, but exactly the type of revenge Annie could wreak.

“That’s a serious offense,” he said. “We haven’t talked to the cops yet, but—”

“Would you really prosecute your own daughter?” Grant had sunk lower than she’d ever thought he would, but she’d never dreamed he’d turn Annie over to the authorities.

“It isn’t me she’s doing this to, it’s Tiff.”

Tiff, it was. Poor, poor Tiff. “Then perhaps you should have Tiff discuss the matter with Annie and work this out.”

“That’s not all,” he shouted. “Annie’s done her best to make Tiffany’s life and mine a living hell. You don’t even want to know about the horrible garbage she’s sent via the Internet. Why can’t you control your daughter?”

“Listen. Annie’s your daughter, too, and her secure and happy life was uprooted because her father’s brains are located below his belt buckle.”

“Damn it, Bethanne, I don’t have to put up with that kind of verbal abuse from you. We’re divorced.”

“Fine, then,” she said, gesturing at the front door. “Get out of my house.”

“The only reason you have this house is because I gave it to you.”

“Gave it to me?” she cried, outraged he’d even suggest such a thing. “Gave it to me mortgaged to the hilt. There’s not a penny’s equity in this place, thanks to you.”

“But who’s making the payments?” he challenged. “Don’t forget I’m the one signing those alimony checks—which allow you to keep this house. And that reminds me, do you have a job yet?” This was asked with such blatant sarcasm, Bethanne cringed.

She closed her eyes and tried to control her anger. She didn’t want to argue with Grant. There was no point.

“All right, all right,” he said, apparently reaching the same conclusion. “I didn’t come here to fight. We need to develop some sort of plan to deal with Annie’s problem. This can’t go on.”

“She isn’t angry with me. You deal with her.” She wasn’t being flippant. Annie’s pain was caused by her father. Bethanne was making an effort to help, but anything she could do seemed more like damage control. Grant had to take some responsibility here.