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Branded Sanctuary, Page 49

Joey W. Hill

Page 49


  Easy, dear, dear girl, Marguerite said. Its all right. Were going to help you.

  * * * * *

  Tyler hadnt left. He knew his wifes moods, and the tea ceremony shed done for herself had been a sign of the stress. She would need him when this conversation was over, no matter how muchor how snappishlyshed insisted she was fine, before Chloe arrived this morning. So hed simply gone into the alleyway, taken a seat on the wrought iron bench, tucked in between a Buddha statue and a small, spilling mountain of impatiens. Hed checked the stock reports, eyed a stray tom who considered spraying the leg of that bench before Tylers anytime-you-feel-lucky look had him sauntering off. A s he occupied himself, Tyler kept tuned in to the conversation. Fortunately, he was close enough to follow it fairly well. When the flood finally came, he felt the same relief Gen expressed, even as his gut ached at the girls outpouring. He knew how strong his wife was, just as Chloe had said.

  So strong, she could break into a million pieces inside at the pain of someone she loved as much as she loved Chloe, and still not show a single crack on the outside. Which was why she had him.

  When the weeping wound down at last, he slid back into the garden. Chloe had sunk back into the chair, with Gen standing behind her, stroking her hair. The girls forehead was against Marguerites shoulder as she gave the occasional snuffle, her body shaking in that flu-like aftermath that came to victims of trauma when they finally let it go.

  When Marguerite glanced up, her mouth softened in rueful acknowledgment that said she wasnt surprised to see him. Chloe, she murmured, covering Gens hand on the girls skull. Were going to take you upstairs to the bedroom. Well close the shop today, and you, Gen and I are going to curl up in the quilts with ice cream and tea cakes, overdose on chocolate and watch a marathon of your favorite movies. Im going to call Komal, and later in the afternoon, Im going to drive you to her house. Youre going to talk to her. A nd youre going to keep visiting her, until you and she agree that you dont need to see her anymore. A ll right?

  Im so tired.

  Well, youre going to sleep for a little while, while Gen and I handle close up. Tyler will take you upstairs.

  Chloe shifted her head then, registering his presence next to Marguerite. His hand was on his wifes shoulder. Gonna carry me, just like Clark Gable?

  Gen smiled, bending to kiss the top of her head. Without the implied ravishing.

  Well, that sucks. But that was just for forms sake, he knew. Chloe was so exhausted from ten minutes of crying, Tyler could tell she only wanted the oblivion of dreams. A nd apparently one other thing. Gen

  Yeah, sweetling?

  Can you get theres a stuffed dog in my bag. Can you get me that?

  I sure can.

  Chloe accepted Tylers ever present handkerchief with a tremulous half-chuckle. I keep messing up all your handkerchiefs.

  Dont worry. I have plenty more. A nd a devoted little wife who washes and irons them for me.

  Marguerite gave him a lifted brow, the slight look of disdain he adored. You must be keeping her locked in the basement, because I havent seen her. Polygamist.

  Since Tylers extremely capable housekeeper Sarah took care of their every domestic need, Chloe knew the humor was for her benefit. Still, it was appreciated. She focused back on Marguerite.

  Gen returned then, the plush Rottweiler in hand. Its a shame the guy that gave it to you isnt in that bag, she observed as she handed it over.

  Chloe shook her head.

  Next time he sees me, I want to do it right. Like you said, M.

  Well worry about that soon.

  Pretty soon, Chloe said. I miss him a lot.

  Pretty soon, then. But today, we deal with you.

  I havent been really fair to him. To any of you. Youve been good friends, and I dont deserve you.

  Thats not at all true. Tyler squatted so they were at eye level, put his hand on Marguerites knee and his hand on Chloes shoulder. Youve been here whenever Marguerite or Gen needed you. I want to hear you say you deserve every bit of their friendship. No ice cream until you do.

  When he held her gaze, telling her he was serious, she looked toward Marguerite. He is relentless, she informed her, with a glint that might have been amused commiseration. A nd hes also absolutely correct.

  A ll right. Chloe remembered Brendan had done almost the exact thing with her, with a gentler but no less determined approach. It gave her a new thought, seeing the two loving men, opposite sides of the same coin. Dominant and submissive.

  I deserve you guys. I deserveto feel good again, and to be happy. A nd Im going to.

  Good. Put your arms around my neck, little flower.

  She gave Marguerites hands a hard squeeze, somehow reluctant to let go. Given that she was being offered the chance to put her hands on Tyler, that was saying something. But if she was afraid her emotions would sweep her away without that lifeline, she neednt have worried. Tyler put his arms under her in the chair and lifted her, bringing her close to his solid body as Marguerite and Gens hands slid from her, one more caress, telling her they were all three there, and it was going to be okay.

  She almost believed it.

  * * * * *

  A fter settling Chloe upstairs in the canopy bed, stuffed Rottweiler in her arms, Tyler sat with her, waiting for her to drop off to sleep. She mumbled soft things to the dog, to the absent Brendan and to herself before she gave in to slumber. It only took a few moments. Knowing the signs of mental and physical exhaustion, he returned to the lower level when he was sure she was well under. The women had finished the closing, but Marguerite was on the front porch, explaining to some early arrivals they had a family emergency but would be open in the morning, complete with a complimentary first cup. True to her regular clientele, she got warm wishes that everything would be all right, and a promise to return the following day.

  When she came back in, Gen was in the kitchen, but he was sitting in his favorite seat in her tea room, a chair that gave him a direct line of sight to both the front door and the kitchen, as well as the large mirror that was the two-way window in her office where she could watch the floor.

  It was where hed sat down the first night hed come calling on her, an amusingly old-fashioned sentiment, but one he applied to that situation.

  Now she moved to sit down across from him, but he took her wrist, guided her onto his lap. Since the door was locked and Gen was occupied, she capitulated, letting out a sigh when he folded his arms around her, guided her head to his shoulder.

  When she spoke, he wasnt surprised where her thoughts were. She was so fragile, in so many ways, but she could also rival Boadicea for unflinching courage to do what needed to be done. When you offered to have him killed in prison, I should have said yes. If I could turn back time, I would. Id do it. With every tear she shed, I wanted to do it more, until I felt consumed by it.

  Its not who you are, angel. Youd do it now, with the knowledge you have, because youll fight anything to the death in defense of those you love or consider yours. But you didnt know then, and youre not a cold-blooded killer. You also dont believe youre God, able to predict peoples actions.

  She was quiet for a bit, her fingers curved into his back muscles. I need to find you a job. A lways meddling. Youre not busy enough.

  Im plenty busy enough. But nothing is more important to me than you. I know this has been hard.

  Shes just young. She and Brendan, theyre both so young. Trying so hard to please, afraid of hurting one another, rather than understanding you have to be who you are with one another, the dark as well as the light. You helped me with that.

  You think theyre meant to be together.

  Marguerites lips curved in one of her serious smiles as she tipped her head back, let him see the shadows in her eyes receding. A bsolutely. But sometimes people can involve their heads too much in their decisions, and the right ships will sail right past each other.

  Its a good thing we didnt.

  It might have something to do with the fact you intercepted my ship, blasted a shot across the bow, and then tried to ram me when I was going to sail away.

  Well, whatever works. Tyler drew her close, unrepentant. It will be okay, angel. She has us, and Gen.

  A nd Brendan. Her lips pressed into the hollow of his throat. Hes only begun to love her as much as he will, if she lets him. I know it.

  Chapter Nineteen

  Dear Brendan,

  I was wrong, you know. A bout a lot of things. I told Marguerite it was okay to tell you what was happening with me right now, my visits with Komal, but Komal and I agreed this letter is a really good idea. Im not reading it to her, though. I want it to be between you and me.

  Here it is. I hope you havent given up on me, on us, because I dont want to give up on you. Whatever were going to be deserves a real chance, and thats part of why Im seeing Komal. You helped steer me the right way, helped me find the courage to finally admit I needed help. I want to be the person you met at the wedding, not just for you, but for me. Every time you kiss me, or touch my body, or say something that makes butterflies tumble around in my stomach, I want to feel the joy of that, of all those tiny steps toward falling completely, irrevocably in love with you.

  I cant see you right now. I know I dont have to be perfect to be with you, but I dont want what happened at the carnival to happen again. You feel like taking care of me is part of the whole love and relationship thing. Well, I feel the same thing about you. Theres something you and I need to get straight between us, and I want my head screwed on right when I have that discussion with you.

  So I hope youll be okay with seeing me soon, and know that Im thinking about you every day. Oh, and Prince sleeps with me every night.

  Thats the name of the dog you gave me. A nd before you accuse me of being unoriginal, not naming him something quirky and precocious, like Basil, Rupert or Bill, did you know that your name comes from Brendanus, a Latin form of the Irish name BrĂ©anainn? Thats Welsh, and it meansyou guessed itPrince.

  * * * * *

  For a few days, she stayed at Marguerite and Tylers home in Tampa and worked with Komal almost daily. The day after she sent the letter, she received a basket of chocolates, the bite-sized Dove Promises. That and a set of red roses, twined around the wicker. Once she started working at Tea Leaves again, each morning a new paper rose was left inside the screen door. New things to add to her happiness book. A poem, a quote, a picture of something that delighted her, whether it was an elderly man with a kitten on his shoulder, or a field of lavender in a Midwest town. Gen teased her, said her admirer had walked right out of the pages of a sappy romance novel, but Chloe knew her cynical co-worker was as touched by it as any woman would be. Marguerite gave the paper rose a pursed lip look, told her if Brendan was harassing her to let her know.