Someone approached and laid a hand on her arm, jarring Rosie from her thoughts. “These cookies are amazing, Rosie!”
“They’re called alfajores—and thank you.” Desperate for a distraction from whatever foreboding gnawed at her gut, Rosie shot to her feet and escaped the living room. “I’ll just, um . . . whip up a fresh batch.”
When Dominic arrived for their second therapy appointment, Rosie was already inside the office, her skin cast in a purple lava lamp glow. Today had been a particularly messy day on the job, so he’d chanced a quick stop at home to shower and change, but unfortunately that decision had made him three minutes late. He searched her face upon walking into Armie’s office, surprised when she seemed relieved that he’d shown up. Did she actually think he’d bail?
Every day that passed made him even more determined to fix what was broken, by whatever means necessary. The other night, when her name had popped up on his cell-phone screen, the world around him had come spinning back into motion. It did the same now. Being near his wife simultaneously settled the chaos in his blood and stirred it with lust. He knew damn well they were in therapy to talk, but tell that to his excess testosterone. He’d been on the verge of insanity since he made Rosie come over the phone, closing his eyes and trying to conjure her taste at the oddest times. Like during a foundation inspection that afternoon.
“I was covered in grout,” he muttered, sitting down beside her on the floor in the pillow fort, unable to keep himself from absorbing the sight of her. God, she always looked fucking fantastic, but after a few days away from her? The way she curved and dipped in all the tastiest places made him dizzy. His gaze ran hungrily over the juncture of her thighs, climbed up her belly, and clung to her tits. “I didn’t want to show up dirty.”
“Could have fooled me,” she whispered, widening her eyes at him. “Dominic.”
With a low sound in the back of his throat, he faced Armie, who was watching them with unabashed amusement. “I see you’ve been taking the rules seriously.”
Jaw tight, Dominic crossed his arms and leaned back beside Rosie. He might have started to see the merit in these sessions, especially after hearing how much Rosie liked his letter, but that didn’t mean he’d stopped wanting to simply be alone with her. She needed words. He got that now and he was going to work on it. What else could they possibly iron out?
Armie clapped his hands together. “Laughter. We all need it.” He split a speculative look between Rosie and Dominic. “During our first session, Dominic, you seemed almost startled when Rosie laughed, which tells me it has been a while since you shared your humor with her.” Armie raised an eyebrow at Rosie. “Would you call that accurate?”
Rosie dipped her head, but nodded, sending Dominic an almost apologetic look.
His gut clenched.
“Did you used to laugh together?”
“All the time,” Rosie murmured. “He used to do this thing where he blew air into my neck and made kind of a . . .”
“Fart sound?” Armie supplied.
A laugh huffed out of Rosie. “Yes. Or he would tell me stories about his parents. Or over the phone, he’d talk about the men he was deployed with and their habits.” Her eyes softened. “When we were in high school, he drew sketches of our least favorite teachers sinking in quicksand or being chased by a goat and he’d leave them in my locker. Yeah. We laughed all the time.”
“What about you, Dominic? Did Rosie make you laugh?”
“Sure she did,” he said, meeting her eyes for a not-long-enough moment. “She can do the Minion voice. You know, the little yellow guys from those Despicable Me movies?” His lips jumped. “That was probably my favorite. She’d do the voice when I was having a shitty day.”
He caught a small, reminiscent smile from Rosie and his heart missed a beat. His hand itched to reach over, to trace the curve of her mouth with the pad of his thumb, but Armie distracted him by pulling a giant bag of marshmallows out from behind his back, dangling them in midair. “Who’s up for a game of Chubby Bunny?”
Rosie whistled long and low. “That took a left turn.”
“Hear me out.” Armie ripped open the bag and popped one of the extra-large marshmallows into his mouth, talking around it. “We build resentments toward our loved ones. Sometimes we’re not even aware of them. But they grow so strong, they prevent us from remembering what we loved about our partners in the first place. Maybe one or both no longer wants to give their significant other the satisfaction of showing their amusement, so the other person stops trying. And the laughter dies.” Armie handed Rosie the bag, which was a good move considering Dominic would have handed it right back. “We can fix this by laughing at ourselves. If we stop taking ourselves so seriously for a moment, our partner can do the same. There is relaxation and acceptance in laughter. It’s the anti-resentment drug.”
Dominic wouldn’t lie. He was still skeptical as hell about therapy—and this therapist in particular. Once upon a time, he might have stuffed his cheeks full of marshmallows to make Rosie laugh, but the idea of doing it now, in front of a near stranger, was so far outside his comfort zone, it wasn’t even funny. The exercise also seemed . . . inadequate. He didn’t want baby steps, he wanted her back. Wanted everything fixed now.
“Rosie, I can see your husband is somewhat hesitant, which frankly I find shocking. Why don’t you begin?”
She blew out a slow breath. “So just . . . stuff them in my cheeks?”
“And talk like a Minion. Yes.”
Marshmallows in hand, Rosie turned wide eyes on Dominic. “If you say I told you so, I’ll stuff them somewhere else entirely.”
Dominic crammed a fist against his mouth to stop a chuckle from escaping. Goddamn, he loved her feisty like this. That light in her eyes made his blood crackle. “I wouldn’t dare.”
Rosie gave a skeptical hum and studied the white, sugary confections. Her shoulders squared and she sat up straighter, stowing them away in her cheeks, one by one. Then she looked over at Dominic with a proud, lifted chin and said, “Banana.”
The laugh burst out of him like helium leaving a popped balloon. His vision blurred with mirthful tears, his throat aching from the sheer force of his amusement. The most incredible thing happened while he was laughing, too—Rosie joined him, looking ridiculous and adorable with her full cheeks.
“Dominic,” Armie said, humor lacing his tone. “Would you like to reciprocate?”
Dominic’s laughter faded into a groan. He couldn’t leave her hanging, though. Shaking his head at his wife, he took the bag and tucked six marshmallows in total into his cheeks. “Dr. Nefario,” he said, doing his best Gru impression, though his bad German accent emerged so garbled, he might as well have been speaking into a pillow. “Prepare the torpedo.”
P words were a bad choice.
Dominic barely covered his mouth in time to catch the spit, and Rosie’s head fell back on a belly laugh. Armie might have joined her in his own silent laugh, but Dominic was too busy absorbing the sight of his wife’s pleasure to confirm.
God, she was so beautiful when she was happy. And he’d made her that way by playing Chubby Bunny. Not by handing her his paycheck. Not by working overtime. Just by being himself. Or, rather, the self he’d been when they’d fallen in love. The guy who’d had nothing to offer.
He was still contemplating the meaning of that when Armie interrupted his thoughts.
“Let’s talk about Dominic’s homework.” Armie nodded in his direction, fingers steepled. “Did you write her the letter, Dominic?”
“Yeah.” He rolled his eyes when he realized the marshmallows were still in his mouth and they all had to sit there while he chewed and swallowed, Rosie doing the same with lingering humor in her gorgeous eyes. “She seemed to like the letter.”
“I loved it.”
Dominic kept his features schooled, but those three words made him feel winded, like he’d just finished a race.
Armie split a smile between them. “What did he write about?”
“Homecoming. Our senior year homecoming dance, but . . . it was more than that. There were all these details and I . . .” Rosie paused, her fingers twisting in the hem of her black-and-white wool skirt, one of his favorites, because it seemed to keep her warm. “I could see the proof in his words how he felt about me. Like I was . . . I don’t know. Coveted, maybe? I remember I used to feel that way about myself, too.”
“Used to?” Dominic turned to study her, those words winging around his head like fired bullets. “You don’t think I covet you, Rosie?”
“Lately I do,” she whispered. “All these nice things I keep finding out you do behind my back.” She wet her lips. “Last time we were here, I found out you express your appreciation for me through deeds and now that I know about them . . . yeah, I’m starting to feel coveted again. But it was the words, more than anything. I really liked reading them.”
“I’ll write you more if you come home.”
Rosie blew out a breath. “We keep ending up here,” she said to Armie. “Can you please tell him I can’t come home yet?”