Actually she was surprised, too. Usually she wasn’t confrontational, but she was living out a fantasy, and she didn’t want it ruined by him analyzing her sorry lack of a social life.

As it was, her two older brothers and her father were constantly foisting eligible friends off on her. There just wasn’t anyone she wanted to date. Well, maybe Ted, but he was already involved with Blythe.

Now that she was on a date with him—albeit one and only one date—she didn’t want him ruining it with a promise to fix her up with one of his good buddies.

"I apologize,” she whispered, her eyes avoiding his. "I didn’t mean to snap at you.”

"No, no,” he said quickly, "the fault was mine. I shouldn’t have pried. It’s just that—” He stopped abruptly. "Never mind.”

"If you’re going to suggest a friend you want me to meet, please don’t.”

"A friend? No, I wasn’t thinking of introducing you to any of my colleagues.”

It was absurd that she was so pleased to know that.

When they’d finished their dinner, they headed for the Forum. By the time they arrived, the facility was quickly filling up. Joy was amazed at the different perspective one got at the court level compared to sitting in the stands.

"This is fabulous,” Ted said as they settled onto the folding chairs on the sidelines. He twisted around and looked into the row upon row of seats behind him.

"I can’t believe I’m here. Promise me one thing,” she said. It was a long shot, but she was covering her bases. "If you ever meet my dad or my brothers, which I realize is highly unlikely, whatever you do, don’t mention this, all right?”

"Ah-ha!” Ted said, and laughed. "So there is someone who would have given his right arm for these tickets.”

"Yes. But family. It would have only caused problems. Three men. Two tickets. Besides, I was the one who won that silly drawing. I don’t know how, mind you, but it was my name they pulled out of that giant barrel, and I love basketball as much as my father and brothers.”

Applause erupted when the two teams ran onto the polished wood floor. Soon the players were taking practice shots, tossing the ball back and forth to each other. Joy was close enough to hear the whoosh of the balls as they passed from one pair of hands to another.

She craned her neck back to watch the men who raced past her. "I don’t think I ever realized how tall everyone is.”

"Me either,” Ted agreed.

Within a few minutes the game started, and the action was nonstop. Whatever inhibitions Joy had experienced at the beginning of their evening vanished as the Lakers took the floor. She cheered when they scored and argued with the referee over what she felt was an unfair foul.

It wasn’t until the fourth quarter, when she was relatively sure the Lakers would win the game, that she relaxed enough to realize that Ted was studying her.

"What?” she murmured. She would have looked away, but his gaze held hers fast and hard.

"Nothing,” he said.

"Then why are you looking at me like that?”

Ted grinned. "I’m not entirely sure what ‘that’ means, but I will tell you I’ve never seen anyone enjoy a basketball game as much as you.”

"Oh.”

Her enthusiasm did seem to runneth over. She honestly tried to sit still for what remained of the game, but it was impossible. Each time the Lakers scored, she leaped to her feet and applauded loudly. And when an official, the very one who’d given the unjust penalty, happened to walk past her seat, she suggested he might want to have his eyes checked.

If the referee heard her, he chose to ignore the comment.

The score was tied the last two minutes of the game when Seattle took a time-out.

"We have to win,” Joy said, wringing her hands.

"Why?” Ted wanted to know. "Do you have a lot of money riding on the outcome?”

"No!” She wasn’t into gambling. "It’s just that if I’m going to cheer my heart out for these guys, the least they can do is win.”

"They have enough incentive of their own.”

"I’m sure they do.”

The buzzer blared, and the two teams returned to the court. Joy’s eyes followed the time clock. Seattle scored, putting them in the lead. There was time, almost a minute and forty-five seconds, for the Lakers to tie up the game.

The Lakers piled two points onto the scoreboard, and the game was even. The last minute of the quarter dragged on for twenty. Just before the buzzer, Stanley, a rookie player for the Lakers, threw the basketball at midcourt. The ball swooshed through the net, and the fans went wild.

Without thinking what she was doing, Joy cried out excitedly and hurled herself at Ted. His arms went around her waist, and he lifted her from the ground and whirled her around several times in their own private celebration.

People crushed in around them, but Joy didn’t notice and she doubted that Ted did, either. All at once she realized that she was in Ted Griffin’s arms, holding on to him as if she intended never to let go.

Enjoy it, she told herself. Consider it a bonus.

She closed her eyes and savored the feel of his arms around her, savored his strength.

He released her abruptly, as if he realized he’d held her far longer than he should have. Joy made busywork, gathering her sweater and her purse. The Forum was emptying, the crowd pleased with the results of the game.

"Great game,” she said, the first to breach the silence.

"One of the year’s best.”

"Stanley’s going to be an asset to the team,” she said, burying her hands in her pockets and standing shoulder to shoulder with the slow-moving crowd.

"He already is.”

She noticed Ted didn’t sound his usual self and wondered what was wrong. When she could, she chanced a look at him, hoping she wasn’t being obvious. His face was tight, his eyes brooding and thoughtful.

All they’d done was share in the celebration of the win. It didn’t mean anything.

"Don’t look so worried,” she said when they reached his car. He stood on the driver’s side and she on the passenger’s, the vehicle between them.

"Worried?” He raised his eyes to hers.

"I don’t expect anything more from you, if that’s what you’re thinking. I know you’re not going to see me again. So stop worrying about the hug. It was a hug, nothing more. I’m not going to tell Blythe, if that’s what’s bothering you.” Joy knew she sounded defensive, but she couldn’t help that. Already he regretted their time together. Regretted holding her.

"Leave Blythe out of this,” Ted snapped, and inserted the key into the lock.

8

Maureen had done everything humanly possible to get out of driving Karen to her riding lesson the following Tuesday afternoon. Her parents would have been happy to take Karen, but they were attending a Christmas party with their bridge club. If it wasn’t such a long drive, Maureen would have opted to drop Karen off and return for her later. But the lesson was shorter than the drive.

By sheer luck, Maureen had been able to avoid Thom when he’d driven back into town Saturday afternoon to pick up Paula. But she didn’t expect to be so fortunate a second time.

"Mom,” Karen murmured.

"What is it, honey?” Her daughter had been unusually quiet all afternoon. After the personal sacrifices Maureen was making for these riding lessons, one would hope Karen would reveal the enthusiasm she had earlier.

"Dad phoned on Friday night, didn’t he?”

Maureen’s fingers tightened around the steering wheel. "Yes, he phoned.”

"Did he want to talk to me?”

Maureen never thought she was capable of hating anyone as much as she did Brian for the way he’d hurt their daughter. "He didn’t say.”

"I didn’t think he did.” Karen’s head drooped down so far, her chin was tucked against her chest.

"So that’s what all this is about.” Maureen reached over and squeezed Karen’s hand. "Come on, sweetheart, it’s you and me. It has been for a good long time. We’re doing all right, aren’t we?”

"What did he want?”

"To be fair, I didn’t give your father much of a chance to say.”

Karen looked over to Maureen. "Did you tell him if he wanted anything, he should talk to your attorney?”

The kid knew her all too well. "Something along those lines,” Maureen admitted.

"Is he?”

"I don’t have a clue what your father will or won’t do.” What Maureen did know was that the less she had to do with Brian, the better for everyone involved. Just hearing his voice was like ripping open a freshly healed wound.

But in her case the wound hadn’t healed. It had festered and the poison had acted like a malignancy, spreading into every part of her life. She wasn’t so blind not to know what was happening. Yet she felt powerless to stop it.

Karen continued to study her, until Maureen found her daughter’s eyes disconcerting. "Why are you looking at me like that?”

"I’m trying to see if your face changes.”

"Changes?”

"Your voice does. Whenever you talk about Dad your voice gets deep and a little scratchy.”

"Really?” Maureen hadn’t noticed. "What about my face?”

Karen centered her focus on her mother once more. "Say something about Dad.”

"Say something about Dad,” Maureen repeated. "Well, let me think. We were married right out of college and—”

"Not like that. Talk about him the way you do now.”

"I don’t understand.” Maureen momentarily diverted her attention from the road.

Karen’s voice deepened as she said, "The bastard I used to be married to always said”—she paused—"like that.”

"I sound like that when I mention your father?” Hearing Karen echo the biting words she’d repeated countless times was like a cold slap in the face.

"Yup. Just like that.”

Had she actually spoken those words in that tone of voice for Karen to hear over and over again? Maureen’s stomach knotted with the thought of what had happened to her since the divorce. She’d turned cold and angry. Bitter and ugly.

When Brian had first asked for the divorce, Maureen hadn’t shed a tear. It was as though she’d been waiting for that moment almost from the first.

Brian had always been the restless sort, full of energy. There were places to go, people to meet. Increasingly he spent more time away from home on a variety of different projects.

She remembered the feelings of profound sadness after he’d moved out, and a multitude of regrets. If only she’d been a spotless housekeeper, a better cook, a more imaginative lover. If only she’d been more understanding. If only she’d listened more often. If only she’d talked to him. If only…if only…if only.

Then one day she decided she wasn’t willing to accept the blame for their failed marriage any longer.

***

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