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The divorce club, p.18
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       The Divorce Club, p.18

           Jayde Scott
 
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  "I'm here now, sweetie." My hand starts rubbing her back.

  She leans forward and wraps her arms around my neck. "When we crashed Jamie tried to wake you up, but you wouldn't move. I thought you were dead."

  "I would never leave you." I press a soft kiss on her cheek, forgetting everything else. My daughter's alive and that's all that matters.

  ***

  The next day, my test results come in. Apart from a mild concussion there's nothing wrong with me. Doctor Morris decides to keep me here for another night just in case, but the bed's needed. If it weren't for my headache I'd be sent home straight away.

  Even though Mel assures me she's cancelled the club meeting, I call the ladies nonetheless, skipping Jamie because he should be the one to make the first step. He doesn't.

  On Tuesday morning, the nurse helps Sam and me to pack our things. I expect Greg to pick us up as promised, but instead Mel jumps in. Sam's jaw sets, the disappointment's clearly visible in the way her shoulders drop. The anger flaring up inside me makes my skin crawl. Allowing him back into our lives isn't going to happen, not least because I have the nagging feeling that if he can't even pick up his injured child from the hospital there's no chance he's changed his cheating ways.

  Mel helps us inside the house, then leaves for work. Greg's not around, but then again, why am I even surprised? I prepare tea and cookies while Sam settles on the sofa. With her leg still in plaster she won't be able to climb up the stairs. Until it's removed she'll have to make do with the privacy of the living room and a sofa, albeit one with lots of cushions, as her bed. Sam doesn't complain for a change. It must have something to do with having the TV set all to herself and no parents to supervise how long she's keeping it switched on.

  As I place the plate on her lap she smiles up at me. I kiss her cheek and excuse myself, eager to get to the solitude of my bedroom for a moment. I still haven't heard from Jamie. My stalker hasn't bothered me since Saturday. Not for the first time I'm thinking Jamie might be involved. The fact that both seem to keep their distance at the same time makes me wonder what's going on.

  Chapter 19

  Greg arrives home shortly before dinner. I'm in the kitchen, heating up a ready meal lasagna when he comes in and plops down on a chair, huffing. If I didn't know better I'd actually think he's tired after a long day in his full-time job, but he hasn't had one of those for more than six months.

  I slam two plates on the table without looking at him.

  "Don't be this way. I'm staying here for a while so you'll need to get used to it." He kisses me on the cheek, then reaches for the plate and slides it over. "You won't even know I'm here."

  I slap his hand away. "The plates are for Sam and me."

  "No dinner? You're kidding. Prison inmates get treated better than this."

  I narrow my gaze. "Do you think I'd come home from the hospital all swollen and bruised up and cook your sorry butt dinner?" He nods, grinning. I can't believe it. "Seriously? You should be cooking for me."

  "I don't know how to cook. You always did it."

  "What? You're not microwave-compatible?"

  Greg shrugs. "What's a bit of cooking to you? I know you're a little banged up, but how hard can it be for a woman to throw a frozen dinner in the oven?"

  "That's the point I'm screaming to you."

  "You're the woman," Greg says. "You didn't mind all that cooking when we got married. I need to read the book, How To Fight Like A Wife."

  I turn, furious. "I'm not your wife. Let's get one thing straight here, you're sleeping on my sofa and spending time with Sam. That doesn't make me your maid, your waitress, or even your cook. I'm not a friend with benefits."

  He winks, obviously not taking me seriously. "Are we talking about housekeeping and cooking benefits?"

  "I'm a friend with absolutely no benefits. As a matter of fact, I'm not even your friend," I say. "I'll tolerate you the way I tolerated your stinky feet in our bed when we were married."

  He grabs my middle and tries to drag me on his lap. "In our bed, stinky feet was the last thing on your mind."

  "You think you deserve dinner?" I pull back, eager to put some distance between us. "You couldn't even be bothered to pick up your own daughter from the hospital."

  "I forgot how sexy you look when you're angry," Greg whispers.

  "Remember what I did to those chocolates in the hospital? I'm getting ready to do the same thing to this lasagna with one major difference: exchange the wall for your face."

  "Ouch." He grins. "You're shooting me drama queen vibes, but you still look adorable when you pout."

  He doesn't get it. Whatever I say, he still believes I'm interested in his old butt. I scoff. "That cheap line should score you a plate of food? You and Cat Lady are best friends now. Go over and see if she'll cook you something. Maybe you can catch up on some more gossip since she loves to spy on me."

  "Sounds like a good idea. At least I'll get a home cooked meal."

  "You're unbelievable." I shake my head, wondering how I could stay married to him for fifteen years. "Do I need to remind you I just got home from the hospital?"

  "Don't pull that number on me, Sarah. Sam told me you cook like this all the time. Do you really think our daughter is getting the nutrition she needs from frozen meals? What happened to you? You used to make homemade meals with salad and fresh vegetables. The dining room used to look like Martha Stuart herself had set the flowers, candles and china. Now, look at the state of this kitchen." He points around him. "The dishes and laundry are piled to the ceiling, for goodness sake."

  "It's called having a job. You dropped a bomb on my life and totally deserted Sam and me. No contact. No money. I do the best I can to make ends meet. I work for a living. You see, single mothers need to do that." I toss the cutlery on the table.

  Greg laughs. "What you do is not even a job. I could do that in my sleep. How can you even blame me for being single considering you chose to kick me out the door? You brought this on yourself."

  Seriously, I've no idea why I didn't ask Mel to change the locks while I was still at the hospital. I can't imagine being in the same house with this man for a few hours, let alone days. "You're cold and mean. How much lower can you stoop?"

  "That's an easy one," Greg says. "Have you hit the booze yet?"

  "Taking off the boxing gloves? Let's see." I tap a finger against my lips. "Not yet, but I might just head to the liquor store to forget the sad memory of you ever entering my life."

  Greg's eyes glisten with something. It's probably conniving manipulation because it sure can't be love. "Listen, I don't know how many more times I have to tell you I'm sorry. Just try to keep this house in better shape." His voice is so gentle, I know he's just hungry and wants to make me give him some of the lasagna after all.

  I shrug, smiling. "Sure, and while we're at it, why don't you put your toothbrush back in the toothbrush holder? You just left it sopping wet on the edge of the sink with a gob of toothpaste next to it."

  His gaze narrows. "You slurp your cereal."

  I shoot him a glare. "You leave the toilet seat up. Oh, and flushing every now and then would be a nice touch. We don't want to see how bad tacos mess you up."

  "I shivered for years because you wouldn't turn up the thermostat."

  "We couldn't afford to pay the heat bill."

  "This seems like good, old times. I remember that argument quite well. No more fighting unless you want sweaty make-up sex." Grinning, he pulls me close, covering my neck in sloppy kisses.

  I jerk back, disgusted. "How dare you? When hell freezes over."

  He gazes into my eyes. "Nobody will love you the way I do."

  Now, that must be the most overused line ever, invented to crush anyone's confidence and hopes for a better future. "I'm not buying what you're selling. You knocked up another chic. Remember?"

  "Low blow. If you didn't push me away, I would've been way more of a responsible adult than you."

  I roll my eyes. "Says
the man who spent our life savings on his tramp. You come in here for a whole five minutes and now you think you can mark your territory and call all the shots? Speaking of responsibility, why didn't you pick us up from the hospital, Greg? In case you forgot, our daughter has a giant cast on her foot. So what happened? Did your car get repossessed?"

  Surprise crosses his face. "Didn't Mel turn up?"

  "She did, but she's not her father, is she?" I rub a hand over my face where the bruises tingle. "I don't want you to stay here. It's not good for Sam."

  "You're wrong about that part." He gets up and grabs my arm, forcing me to face him. The golden flecks in his hazel eyes don't melt my heart any more. I feel sad and melancholic, but that's about all there's left between us.

  "You should've seen Sam's face at the hospital," Greg says. "She lit up when I told her I wanted you back, that I wanted us to be a family again. All we need is some time to heal."

  For a moment, I'm flabbergasted, staring at him because my mind's numb. "Why would you tell her that?"

  Greg shrugs. "It's true, and I know deep down you feel the same way. You're just angry. I left because it was your idea to separate and break up our family."

  I snort. "Yeah, you bet it was. Please excuse me for not staying with a liar and a cheater. I'm going to buy you a dozen red roses, a gold necklace and some chocolates."

  He tries to pull me close again. "I knew you weren't over me."

  I push him away. "Don't jump to conclusions. I'll buy them, and you take them to your little precious sweetie and apologize. Maybe she'll take you back. Besides, she looks like a model. She'll make excellent arm candy. You can still keep in contact with Sam. "

  "But I don't want a hot model. I want you," Greg whispers.

  If she's the attractive one, what does that make me? I smile. "Aw, that's sweet of you. I'm almost tempted to believe it, but you know the saying 'once a cheater, always a cheater'."

  "That's not the point. You feel betrayed, I understand that, but you shouldn't take it out on me by destroying our daughter's happiness." He squeezes my arm as though to comfort me. More likely it's just another attempt at manipulation. If there was an award for the best cheater and liar, Greg would be serious competition for any participant.

  "I'm trying to understand where you're coming from, but my head won't go that far up my butt. You have until tomorrow to find a place. If you don't I'll toss your stuff on the street and change the locks."

  He glares at me when thumps echo in the hall. Sam appears in the doorway, a frown's perched between her brows. "Are you fighting again?"

  "No, sweetie." Smiling, I dart over and help her to her chair. She peers from me to Greg, mistrust written on her face. I'd love to strangle him for putting her through this whole mess. He might still have a right to half of the house, but I'd rather deal with him in court, represented by a lawyer, than in my home.

  The cheese topping's starting to turn into brown goo. I slip on my mitten and pull the dish out of the oven, fuming that Greg doesn't seem to get the message and just disappear into thin air. I place a lasagna plate in front of Sam and nudge Greg in the back.

  "Didn't you say you had to be somewhere tonight?" My voice drips with fake sweetness. "Like cliff diving, parachuting, or swimming with sharks without a cage?"

  "Nope." Greg takes my fork and tucks into Sam's lasagna. I wish I could just empty the plate over his head, but my daughter's here so I'll have to make do with a glare when he says, "Hey, babe, still have the TV trays? I thought I'd watch some TV in the living room. Sam, do you want to join with me?"

  "We eat dinner at the table, Mister Caveman. Please don't pass your bad habits on to my daughter." I smile. "We also use this neat little invention called silverware and napkins. I hope you're a fast learner."

  "Ha, ha." He winks at Sam. "Isn't your mother just hilarious?"

  "I love seeing you two kid around like it used to be," Sam says.

  Greg nods. "It's nice, isn't it?"

  "Oh, yeah. I hope Mum lets you stay forever."

  "Wouldn't that be generous?" Greg grins. "I'm sure your mum wants to see you happy."

  "Thanks, Mum," Sam says. I groan inwardly. If only she knew the truth. I can't stand her annoying father.

  Greg tucks into my lasagna, spit dribbling out as he speaks. "See that? Your daughter's never been happier."

  "You forgot Dad's plate," Sam says. "We wouldn't want to see him go hungry."

  "Oh, no, we wouldn't. How silly of me." I slam a plate on the table and toss a piece of lasagna on it, the sauce staining Greg's shirt.

  "Hey." Greg jumps up.

  "I'm such a klutz. I'd apologize, but love means not ever having to say you're sorry." My tone is beyond sarcastic, but Sam doesn't seem to catch on. Even if she did, I couldn't help myself.

  "This is good, but not as good as your mum's homemade lasagna," Greg says. "We'll let her be a lazy cook today. After all, she did just get out of the hospital, however, next week it's back to what we're used to, right?"

  Sam bobs her head up and down. "Yeah, Mum's homemade stuff is awesome. I miss it."

  "Maybe now that I'm back, things will return to how they used to be." Sam grins at me. I feel all color draining from my face.

  Cleaning up his dishes and the crumbs strewn across the living room and the subsequent slaving on his laundry and cooking dinner for fifteen years was bad enough, I'm not going back to that after his affair. He can take someone else for granted.

  "Mum, can you teach me how to walk in these crutches?" Sam asks.

  Here's my chance to get back at him so, naturally, I'm not going to miss it. "Your father will be home all day long, most likely planted on the couch. He'll have a few minutes to spare."

  Sam shrugs. "Great. Where's your plate? Aren't you hungry?"

  I shake my head. "I suddenly lost my appetite."

  "It must be the pain pills," Greg says.

  "A bitter pill stuck in my throat that won't go down—or away. Sorry, I've got work to do." Gritting my teeth as I hold on to the fake smile on my face, I stomp out.

  "Don't work yourself into an early grave," Greg calls after me.

  He might've won this time by manipulating Sam into wanting him to stay with us, but sweet revenge will be mine. After half an hour of relaxing in the bathtub, I wrap a towel around my sore body and prepare for a long afternoon in front of the computer.

  Cancelling yesterday's class means I'll have to find another time slot in an already busy schedule. With Mindy's personal appointment still to keep I doubt the meeting will fit in before Friday, but I can't afford to cancel and lose my clients. For the first time, I sit in my chair and stare at a black screen. Whatever it was that I wanted to teach my eager students, Greg's annoying presence has made my brain so scattered I've no idea where to start. I manage to come up with half a dozen possibilities when my phone rings.

  "Hey, how are you?" Mindy sounds cheerful, but there's an undertone to her voice I can't quite place.

  "I'm well, thanks for asking. So good to hear from you." My gaze wanders to the screen, eager to get back to work and finish so I can rest. Mindy seems to have other plans though.

  "Yeah, I figured since you didn't turn up yesterday and the meeting was cancelled, I'd check to make sure you haven't forgotten about me." She laughs softly.

  I rub my forehead as I fight the urge to hang up and pretend the line disconnected. "I'm so sorry, Mindy, this isn't such a good time."

  "Oh?"

  I sigh. "Maybe I can spare a minute. What can I do for you?"

  "We need to get the hubby out of the way."

  Laughing, I shake my head even though she can't see me. "That won't be possible for the next few weeks."

  "Why not?" Mindy asks, irritation dripping from her voice. "I don't have that long."

  "Because—" I take a deep breath, considering my words. She reminds me of a spoiled child that turns into a little brat when she doesn't get her way, so I'll have to make it as clear as possible. "M
y face is messed up, Mindy. I'm not sure the hubby will find scratches and bruises attractive. I doubt any guy in their right mind would want to make out with a raccoon."

  "Then slap on the makeup."

  "I can do that if he's into clowns. Trust me, to cover all this up I'll need an entire beauty department."

  For a moment, Mindy keeps quiet. I hold my breath, waiting for another one of her stupid ideas. When it doesn't come I wonder whether she's hung up on me. "Hello? Are you still there?"

  "It can't be that bad," Mindy mutters.

  She's annoyed, which isn't good because in business matters it's all about customer service and reputation. "I'll figure something out," I say before I can stop myself. There's nothing to figure out. I can't march in there and tempt the husband with a swollen face and a head concussion.

  "Listen, I have this friend who's a makeup artist. She can sort you out," Mindy says. She makes it sound like I'm a coke addict and new in town. "I'm telling you she can make Joe Pesci look like Angelina Jolie after a few strokes of blush and powder."

  Annoyed, I start to tap my fingers on the desk. "I'll be okay in a week or two. In the meantime, we can focus on your development."

  "Sarah—" her tone is sharp, almost a hiss "—there won't be any development if she fires me. Apparently, I'm already taking way longer than it should take to get her the necessary proof for her little plan." She's talking about the boss again.

  "Why isn't she just hiring someone again?"

  Mindy draws her breath sharply. "Because she doesn't trust anyone."

  I don't want to point out that some private detective firms are certified and just as hell-bent on maintaining their good reputation as I'd be if I made millions a year. "How come she trusts me?"

  "That's an easy one." Mindy laughs. "She has more money and knows where you live."

  If that's not a first-grade threat, I don't know what is. "How reassuring." The shop assistant's words flash through my mind. Could Mindy's boss be my stalker? But what would be her motive? Stalkers don't need reasons for what they do. A cold shiver's running down my spine as I say, "Listen, I need to meet her."

 
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