Tonight was the first time she’d actually come to see it in person—and it was everything she’d hoped. It was out of her price range, even with the GoFundMe donations, but it had been sitting vacant for a while. At the very least, she could afford to make an offer, even if it was significantly lower than the asking price. The storefront might be a little closed off, but eventually, when she had the capital, that could be fixed, turned into a restaurant that beckoned customers closer. Open windows, music pouring out, the scent of Argentinian spices wafting onto the street. Lights. There would be so many lights, all colors, strung from the ceilings, hung from the rafters of the patio in back. Plants. Green, lush plants would be placed all over, giving diners the impression they’d gotten on a plane and traveled a long, long way from Port Jefferson.
If Rosie’s mother were still alive, she would have wanted the waitstaff to be impeccably dressed. It was one of her mother’s pet peeves—going out to eat and being served by a waiter with messy hair or an untucked shirt. She’d send Rosie and her father a sniff and an eye roll. God, she missed that eye roll. Missed having them both around so much. Maybe when . . . if Rosie opened the restaurant, she would give a nod to her mother by making an all-black uniform mandatory. She’d add a splash of red, though. That would be for her.
What was she doing here? Lingering at the curb at this time of night, weaving dreams through her car window? Rosie didn’t know for sure, but there was a confidence sitting on her shoulders—a sense of self that hadn’t been there at the start of the day. Or even when she’d finished her shift. It had come when she read the letter. Words. She really did need them. Her friends had been encouraging her verbally since they’d formed the Just Us League and that had gone a long way toward helping her realize she deserved more. More out of her life, her relationship, her career. But there was something about hearing Dominic’s voice, even on paper, that made her feel more like her old self than anything else could. And the further she traveled toward her core, the more her self-esteem built.
Rosie took one last look at the storefront and pulled her car back onto the street, hesitating a moment before turning at the end of the block toward Bethany’s house. She had to resist the temptation to drive the opposite way. To her home. To Dominic. He would be inside her before the click of the lock faded from the air. They would have sex instead of talking, which really, really didn’t sound terrible at the moment. Afterward, though, what would happen? Would unspoken—necessary—words be forced into the open if they gave in to that other, extremely satisfying outlet?
Before she climbed out of the car, Rosie groaned up at the ceiling, all too aware that the seam of her panty hose was damp. It was only Thursday night and they didn’t have therapy scheduled again until Monday. Would they get the all clear to be physical? Would she take it? God knew her body was ready, but her mind . . . she wasn’t sure.
One thing Rosie knew for certain?
A few things couldn’t wait until Monday for clarification.
When Rosie walked into Bethany’s house, the blonde was lying prone on the couch with a cold eye mask draped across the top half of her face. She lifted a hand and wiggled her fingers in greeting. “Hello, gorgeous.”
“Hey, yourself.” Rosie took off her red coat and dropped it on the hook, staring at it for several long seconds. “I’m going to head up early, okay?”
“Something like that,” Rosie murmured, heading for the stairs. “See you in the morning.”
Bethany hummed, thankfully picking up on Rosie’s need for a quick exit. As soon as she was in the guest room, she toed off her shoes and started to pace. Her purse sat on the bed, cell phone visible in the inside pocket. One button and she’d be connected to Dominic. The prospect of hearing his deep, cigar-ash drawl sent a rush of heat through her belly, and although she told herself to ignore those bubbles of yearning, she unzipped her skirt and let it drop to the floor, followed by the hose. Her silk blouse came next, the buttons feeling extra-smooth on her finger pads. It joined her skirt on the floor, and Rosie was left standing in panties and a strapless bra.
Biting down on her lower lip, she inwardly cursed the warm exhilaration creeping up the insides of her thighs. God, she was needy tonight. Every inch of her flesh was sensitive and restless. Hungry. Before she could stop herself, Rosie slid her feet back into the high heels, unable to suppress the naughty tickle of pleasure it gave her, being dressed so provocatively. Ignoring her blaring common sense, she snatched up the phone and called her husband.
She covered the bottom half of the phone and let out a shaky exhale. Oh my God. One word out of his mouth caused the wetness to spread in her underwear, sent her nerve endings into chaos. “Hi, Dominic.” In the background, she could hear the familiar slide of their living room curtain rod. “I’m not outside.”
The frustration was evident in his lack of response.
What if he’d found her walking up the brick pathway? He’d already be unzipping his pants, stripping off his shirt to reveal all that honed and hardened muscle—
“So . . .” Rosie licked her lips, toes flexing in her high heels. “Let me get this straight,” she breathed. “First, you sneak my coat into Bethany’s house. Now I find out you’ve been paying the security guard to watch over me?”
Silence passed. “Joe was supposed to keep that between us.”
“Dominic . . .” She shook her head. “Don’t you think I would have liked knowing that?”
His low, noncommittal rumble reached her ear. “You should assume I’m doing everything I can to keep you safe.”
Her laugh sounded dazed. “But it would have made me feel special. It would have told me that I’m special to you.” Pressing the phone to her ear, she lay down on the bed and trailed light fingertips around her belly button. “A lot like your letter.” Her body might be in full protest mode that she hadn’t gone to see her husband tonight, but her brain could acknowledge how important it was for them to talk. Like this. So even though it was hard ripping off Band-Aids, she forced herself to do it. To be revealing. “Your letter made me feel like . . . the old me. I read it three times.”
There was a change in the nearness of his breathing, as if he’d moved the phone away. He came back almost as fast. “I wasn’t sure I did it right.”
“What were you hoping to do? With the letter.”
“Truthfully? I wanted it to make you come home.”
The raw quality of his voice made her throat temporarily close up. “Don’t you agree there are things we have to straighten out way before that happens?”
He cleared his throat and fell silent for a moment. “You couldn’t even look me in the eye for ten goddamn seconds, Rosie. I know we’ve got a big problem now.”
Their marriage might have gone radio silent, but she knew this man better than anyone. Enough to know he’d been holding on to this one thing, possibly even obsessing over it. Should she have been more sensitive to that? “I’m sorry. I’m still not sure what happened.”
“I hate this.” She heard him swallow. “I want my wife home. We can work out what’s wrong right here. We don’t need to separate.”
“Do you want me back because I’m your wife and I’m supposed to be there? Or do you miss Rosie?” Her chest lifted and fell. “Can you imagine how hard it is to believe you want me home when . . . you barely seemed to register I was there before?”
His laugh held no humor. “Jesus Christ. If you only knew.”
“Tell me. How am I supposed to know anything unless you talk to me?” She closed her eyes and evened out her breathing. “We can start easy. Even you telling me about your day would mean so much to me. Actual details. Not just it was good.”
A floorboard creaked on the other end of the line and she knew exactly which part of the house he was in. The hallway. Right in front of the pictures of them together. High school graduation, the day of his first deployment, on the steps of the courthouse on their wedding day, Dominic looking serious with an arm wrapped around her waist, pulling her into his side. She’d stood in that same spot thousands of times, listening to the echoes of the past, wishing they’d carried into the future.
“Stephen hired a new guy. Wes from Texas. He wears a cowboy hat.”
“Get out of here.”
“It’s true. Bethany didn’t mention him?”
“No, but she’s wearing her heavy-duty eye mask. It only comes out of the freezer when she’s mega-stressed.”
“Trust me, he’s the cause.” She heard the scrape of a picture frame being adjusted. “Count on him being the topic of discussion at an upcoming Just Us League meeting.”
That same sensation she’d experienced in the mall parking lot was back. That sense of fullness, being grounded. Talking to Dominic, hearing his words, reminded her who she’d been when talking to him hadn’t been such a rare event, but a constant. It brought back that optimistic, anything-is-possible state of mind. Made her loose, light, and woke up every section of her body from the tips of her breasts down to the softening flesh between her thighs. Before she knew her own intentions, Rosie slipped her fingers into the waistband of her panties, running her middle finger through the slickness Dominic had created with his voice. His words.