Gasps and giggles from every corner.
She’d tried to look bored, but Dominic could see the burnished rose on her cheeks and was already counting the days until he could kiss the spots where that color bloomed.
“Are all city kids this brave?” Rosie had asked, studying her apple.
“This one is.”
“You’ve been looking at me a lot.”
When he didn’t elaborate, she laughed. “I’ll think about it.”
Dominic had shrugged. “Better than a yes from someone else.”
He’d started to turn and walk away.
She’d shot to her feet. “Yes.”
They’d gone to the dance together the following Friday. He’d worn jeans and a black button-down. She’d rocked a yellow strapless dress and white sandals—and when she’d come down the stairs of her parents’ house, fingertips trailing on the railing, his palms had started to sweat, his pulse jackhammering, and he’d known there would never be anyone else. Never.
The sound of a car pulling into the lot broke into Dominic’s thoughts. He experienced that same rollicking anticipation, just like all those years ago before the dance. His pulse still went crazy, his heart echoing in his ears, although the anticipation had a much more mature element now. The kind that made his dick grow heavy in his jeans just watching her climb out of the car, her tits shaking around in the neckline of her shirt. Fuck, there really was no one hotter than his wife.
Sunday morning in the gym, he’d thought, This is it, she’s giving in. There hadn’t been a doubt in his mind that he was going to fuck her up against the bathroom tile, one hand over her mouth to muffle her screams. They’d been at what he considered the point of no return, also known as that ass had been backed up in his lap, rubbing all over the wood he was sporting.
Yet she’d been able to put on the brakes. Last time, too.
Whenever he’d been worried about their marriage, their sex life had reassured him that Rosie still felt something for him. Without that reassurance . . . he was scared. Scared enough to talk about his emotions in front of some quack—and that was really saying something, because he barely acknowledged them himself. Keeping a stiff upper lip was a trait he’d always admired in his father. Whether he’d had a bad day at work or money was tight, Dominic’s father kept his head down and grinded. No complaining, no showing signs of worry or stress. He simply got the job done and his family never wanted for anything. If there were cracks in his façade, he certainly never showed them. Wouldn’t it have made everyone around him less confident in his abilities as a provider?
“Hi,” Rosie said, drawing even with him. “You saw the sign and you’re still here, huh?”
She shrugged her purse higher on her shoulder and started toward the building, leaving Dominic to follow behind her. “How was work today?”
How many times had they asked the same question and given the same answers? Thousands? In a setting outside of their kitchen or living room, it really hit home how hollow the words sounded. An exercise in going through the motions. They rarely elaborated and the closer they got to the entrance of the shrink’s office, the more Dominic’s skin started to prickle. He didn’t want to find out this therapist really was a last resort. And not just Rosie’s way of making him suffer to get her back.
He stepped around Rosie and opened the door for her, trying to be subtle about taking in a lungful of her perfume. Coconut. The gold bottle with a crystal pineapple on top was still sitting on her dresser in their bedroom, so she must have sprayed some on at work. As she moved past him into the building, Dominic looked for the pulse in her neck and was pleased to see it pumping quickly. Beat-beat-beat. The proof of her awareness gave him enough hope to follow behind her into . . . the sixties.
Dominic came to a dead stop just inside the door and cursed under his breath. No. This couldn’t be real. Each wall boasted a different mural, and if he wasn’t mistaken, they were trying to celebrate the four elements. Earth, wind, water, and fire. A mélange of blues flowed into a nature scene, then erupted into flames, only to be blown apart by a cloud. With a face. A chandelier of purple feathers hung from the ceiling, so long it almost reached the floor. A bubble machine sent sprays of floating orbs throughout the room, and soft music played, some kind of combination of xylophones and harps.
“I had no idea you hated me this much, Rosie.”
Was it his imagination or did she almost smile? Warmth in the center of his chest caught him off guard and he found himself needing to see that smile again.
“I didn’t know it was going to be quite so . . . colorful,” she murmured. “The reviews online were overwhelmingly positive.”
Dominic turned in a circle, finding his rear end mere inches from a giant snap dragon plant and stepping away before it took a bite out of his ass. “There’s a good chance his patients were high when they wrote those reviews,” he muttered. “And one of them must be his decorator.”
A laugh bubbled out of her, but she silenced it immediately, seeming almost surprised he could still get that reaction from her. How long had it been since he’d made her laugh? When no amount of mental searching landed him on an answer, his throat grew tighter.
“I don’t know,” she said quietly after a few seconds. “Maybe there’s a method to the madness. In a place like this . . . how could anything we say be embarrassing?”
With a frown, he opened his mouth to ask what she could possibly be embarrassed about, but a door on the other side of the room burst open. Pungent marijuana smoke drifted out around a bald man in sandals and a Green Party T-shirt.
Dominic took Rosie’s hand and pulled her toward the exit, but she dug in her heels. “You’re free to leave,” she said.
“Not without you,” he gritted out, all too aware that the stoned hippie was strutting in their direction as if his hips were detached. “We can find someone else.”
“I like it here.”
“Jesus Christ, I forgot how stubborn you are.”
“That’s because I haven’t been in a long time.”
Dominic’s mouth snapped shut. He wanted to take her face in his hands and dig into that statement before it drove him insane, but a hand settled on his shoulder. “Believe it or not, Team Vega, your reaction to my waiting room is not uncommon.”
“Team Vega?” Rosie asked, waving away a waft of smoke.
“Yes. That’s correct.” The man clasped his hands together. “We have four sessions scheduled. During that time, we are all Team Vega. Rebuilding what is broken will be a collective effort. It will be daunting at times. But there’s some good news.”
“Enlighten us,” Dominic said drily.
The man nodded. “At the end of our four sessions, we should have an idea whether this marriage is worth saving.” His eyes ticked back and forth between Rosie and Dominic. “I can already see we have conflicting opinions on that matter.” Before Dominic could question the therapist’s observation, the man stepped back and gave a slight bow. “I’m Armie Tagart. You can call me Daddy.”
Dominic tried to pull Rosie out the door again.
“Only kidding,” Armie called on his way into the back room. “Follow me into the epicenter of healing, if you would be so kind.” He paused in the doorway. “That’s not a joke. I really call it that.”
There were times a woman admitted she was wrong. This wasn’t one of those times. She was going to brazen this rash decision out if it killed her. Rosie had come home from the gym Sunday morning, her muscles locked with unfulfilled need, and she’d fired off an email to the most woo-woo-sounding marriage counselor on Long Island. Just to spite the man who’d turned her into an addict for his body while withholding everything else.
Rosie lifted her chin and sailed into the back room of the therapist’s office, refusing to show an outward reaction to the lingering scent of pot. She didn’t have to make eye contact with Dominic to know he was the poster boy for skepticism. She could see his body language in her periphery as she looked right and left, searching for a place to sit.
“On the pillows,” Armie directed, indicating what appeared to be a blanket fort in the corner of the room. “Why not conduct our session in comfort?”
Having no choice but to soldier on, Rosie set down her purse on the corner of Armie’s desk and crossed the room, dropping into a cross-legged position on a crocheted heart pillow. When Dominic made no move to join her, she arched an eyebrow at him and he sighed, toeing aside a stuffed crocodile and taking a place beside her.
Armie draped himself across the remaining pillows like Cleopatra preparing for a repast of grapes. “A little bit about me, before we start. Like I said, I’m Armie Tagart. I’ve been counseling troubled couples on Long Island for thirty years. I have no idea about my success rate, because I don’t believe in weighing wins and losses. These are feelings we’re dealing with. Hearts, minds, and expectations. They’re messy and complicated.”
He scratched the top of his bald head. “My methods are unorthodox. They might make you uncomfortable from time to time—and that’s the point. To push past the limits of what you think yourself capable of as a partner and human being.” A beat passed. “Nothing leaves the safe space of this room. Nothing you can say will shock me or make me think less of you. We’re here for a common purpose. To save this marriage. And get high as hell.” He pointed at Dominic, who was preparing to launch a protest. “I’m kidding. Lighten up, brother.”