His exhale bathed her mouth. “Not going to lie, I want you alone,” he said. “But I can tell you’re only going to be half with me. I’d rather wait until you’re all here.”
“How dare you show up looking this good. Saying things like that.”
He opened his mouth to respond and closed it, his forehead wrinkling. “Should I stop?”
She lifted up and kissed him softly, heat radiating from her face when a cheer went up from just beyond the kitchen. “Does that answer your question?”
“Rosie,” Candy called, turning Rosie’s head. “My two dishes were already reheated once. Are they safe to freeze and heat up again?”
Rosie surveyed the offerings. “Is there meat in that lasagna?”
“No, ma’am. I wish there was,” Candy replied. “Those damn vegetarians have infiltrated the church and—”
“Yes, you can reheat the lasagna. No on the pork dish, though.”
Rosie started to turn back to Dominic, but Melinda tapped her arm. “How would you portion this? I’d say there’s enough for three nights, if we stretched . . .”
“Um. We can mix and match a little, but we should use the more perishable items first. Here, let me get something to take notes. Everyone, line up your dishes.” Rosie was torn between wanting to leave and feeling really amazing that the women seemed dependent on her advice. Her . . . leadership. For a woman who’d been ignored on the cosmetics floor of the mall for years, being seen as relevant was like a breath of fresh air. One she couldn’t help but suck down, letting it stretch her fingers as she picked up something to write with. “We’ll need kid-friendly meals, ladies. Who makes the meanest macaroni and cheese?”
Several hands went up.
Rosie smiled and clicked her pen.
Christ, could these women put away booze. Dominic had been allowed entry into a secret society where women swore like sailors and objectified men. It was goddamn enlightening, to say the least. Every once in a while, Rosie threw an apologetic glance over her shoulder at him, but it was completely unnecessary. He could have stood there all night and watched her run the show. Even as he marveled over the woman he’d married, however, he couldn’t help but feel distinctly out of place. Not only because he was the proverbial fox in the hen house and stood out like a red ink blot on a white shirt. But because, for the first time, he was seeing his wife through a different set of eyes and realizing . . . she’d grown. Without him.
He’d had nothing to do with it.
Dominic opened Bethany’s fridge and took out a bottle of water, uncapping it and drinking deeply. He would have much preferred a beer, but he wouldn’t have even one knowing Rosie would be in the passenger seat of his truck. Rosie, who was now writing out a recipe for chicken Parmesan with one hand, tracing out a new spreadsheet with the other—all while having a full conversation. This was the same woman he’d passed in their silent house, day after day. All the while, she’d had these amazing capabilities.
She should have been running that restaurant years ago.
God, maybe . . . she should have left him years ago.
“Hey.” His wife turned to him, her eyes bright with exhilaration. “Hey, um . . . there’s a big Tupperware container of carbonada in the fridge. Oh, and some alfajores on a plate on top of the microwave. Could you help me put them in the truck?”
She started to say something else, but several people began talking to her at once, hijacking her attention. On the way out of the house, with his arms full of food, he couldn’t help but pause in the doorframe and take in a wide shot of the scene. Everyone was getting ready to pack up and move out, and Rosie was doing the same, Bethany and Georgie helping her pile supplies like napkins, paper plates, and plastic forks into a bag. He could easily see her doing the same thing in a bustling restaurant, knowing exactly what everyone needed to make their dining experience fluid, better, because it was second nature.
This. This is what made her happy. Not warming up her car in the morning or breaking his back on a construction site. She wanted to feed people. When she hadn’t gotten enough encouragement at home, she’d gone and found it elsewhere. The worst part was, he’d known she wanted to own her own place. From the time they were in high school, her dream had been front and center in conversations with him. With her mother. Instead of buying her a restaurant, however, he’d been selfish and spent money on a house. A house he thought she’d love as much as him. A house they’d spent their youth designing like spun sugar, over the phone, under the stars. If he’d talked to her more as an adult—or listened, rather—he wouldn’t have buried the importance of Rosie owning her own restaurant beneath his selfish desire to be her provider. He’d needed that role, and a house was something he could give her all on his own. Maybe he’d even done it on purpose, subconsciously, trying to be the proverbial breadwinner.
But a restaurant . . . that would be all her. And none of him. None of them.
Still, if he’d known how happy it would make her, he would have used the money he’d saved to buy her a place. Somewhere she could shine. Except that opportunity was no longer available.
Had he actually planned on showing her that house tonight? Was he insane?
Dominic walked out into the cold with a lump the size of a fist in his throat. Since the day Rosie left him, he’d been asking her to come home. She’d been hesitant, and while he knew they had problems, he’d thought she was being stubborn. Unreasonable. But as he slid the tray of alfajores and pot of stew into the back cab of his truck, he finally admitted to himself that therapy was exactly where they belonged.
Rosie spreading her wings and flying was a beautiful sight to witness, but would it mean she flew away from him? How selfish was he to be worried about that kind of thing?
Dominic closed the rear door of the truck with a curse, turned, and came face-to-face with Rosie. She looked so familiar and beautiful in her red coat, he wanted to get on his knees and ask her forgiveness for being a selfish bastard. I’m sorry, honey girl.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” he rasped, avoiding her eyes. “Ready to go?”
She nodded slowly and crossed to the passenger side. Dominic followed, opening the door for Rosie and boosting her onto the seat, his groin tightening at the flash of thigh as she buckled up and crossed her incredible legs. Apparently not even guilt could keep him from lusting after his wife. He wanted nothing more than to wait for the rest of the cars to leave, then drag her back inside and give her a nice, hard quickie up against the door in that tight dress.
And it would solve nothing except his incessant hunger for her. Momentarily.
Ignoring the curious look from Rosie, Dominic closed the passenger door and skirted around to the driver’s side, starting the truck engine a second later. Rosie read him directions off her phone, but apart from that, there was no conversation. Dominic wanted to ask her when she’d cooked the carbonada and if she’d used her mother’s recipe for the hearty soup, but everything sounded disingenuous in his head after he’d finally admitted to himself he’d let her dreams hang in limbo for so long. She’d been pining for something in secret while he’d worked toward an entirely different goal. All of which could have been avoided if he’d talked to his wife. Kept her close instead of at arm’s length where she could never suspect he wasn’t invincible.
“I think this is it,” Rosie murmured, prompting Dominic to set aside his thoughts and pull to a stop at the curb. After putting the truck in park, he leaned toward Rosie and they looked at the modest two-story home. It was lit up like Christmas.
She laid a hand on his arm and a current ran through his body. “We’ll get everyone organized and then we’ll go have dinner. Okay?”
“You’ll get everyone organized.” He cleared his throat hard and dislodged her hand, missing her touch the second it was gone. “You were impressive, honey girl. Back there. You like being a leader, don’t you?”
Dominic hardened his jaw and waited for her answer, even though he already knew what it was. Is this really who I am? A man who’d created an image of his wife that suited him and never noticed she had more inside of her, dying to get out?
“I think . . . maybe I’ve always had the ability to be one.”
He looked over to find her watching him with uncertainty.
“Do you think so?”
“Yes.” He wanted to take her hand back, to kiss her palm, but his own hands felt frozen. “Yes, Rosie. I think you have the ability to do anything.”
Her shoulders relaxed.
“Thanks,” she whispered.
Outside the truck, car doors closed, the Just Us League arriving en masse. Rosie gave him one final searching look before climbing out. Dominic carried the heavy stew toward the front door and Rosie held the baked goods. They were flanked by two dozen women with intention in their strides, and Dominic had to admit, they were pretty damn impressive. Next time someone on the construction site wanted to talk shit about the local women’s club, he was going to damn well set them straight.