Bethany reached the door first and knocked briskly, flipping back her blond hair and adjusting the collar of her long white coat. She had the kind of confidence Rosie deserved. The kind his wife might have if he’d taken the time to encourage her, to show he had faith in her.
The door opened to reveal a man Dominic recognized, confirming his earlier theory. Port Jefferson didn’t exactly appeal to tons of single men. It was too coincidental that the single man who had just opened the door was the same one who had recently started working for Brick & Morty.
Wes Daniels took off his cowboy hat and slapped it against his thigh, utter consternation written on his face at seeing the horde of people outside his door.
He swept over them with a suspicious glance and focused in on Bethany. “You.”
“You?” Bethany sucked in a breath. “You’re the one? Taking care of a little girl?”
“That’s right.” He positioned the hat back on his head. “Who are all these women? Is this your coven?”
“Oh, I don’t believe this,” Bethany hissed, turning on a heel to face the crowd. “Someone take over. I can’t be the ambassador of this mission. There’s a conflict of interest.”
“What’s that?” Dominic asked.
“We hate each other,” Bethany responded with a tight smile.
“‘Hate’ is a strong word,” Wes drawled, propping a forearm on the doorjamb. “Unless you’re referring to the clear fact that you hate being attracted to me.”
“Oh my God,” Bethany sputtered. “My head is going to explode.”
Wes gestured at their enthralled audience. “What’s all this?”
Bethany sighed. “Food. We brought food.”
“I don’t want charity,” Wes said after a beat. “If that’s what this is, I’ll thank you kindly to take it on home.”
Rosie stepped forward and her soft voice was like a balm over the whole situation. The tension ebbed immediately when she joined Wes on the porch, laying a hand on his arm. “Let’s start over. I’m Rosie. This is . . . everyone.” Smiles and murmurs followed. Wes spotted Dominic standing among the women and nodded in recognition. “We’re a tight-knit community here and I think we might have been a little overzealous. We’re not here to deliver charity, we’re just excited for the chance to be good neighbors. Everyone here has been the recipient of the same at some point.”
Transferring his attention from Rosie to Bethany, Wes started to say something when a little girl bounded out the door, stopping in front of Bethany.
“Oh,” Bethany said, sweeping the hem of her coat back. “Hi down there.”
“I’m Laura. You look like Elsa.”
Bethany blinked. “Who’s that?”
“Elsa in the movie Frozen,” the girl replied, bouncing on the balls of her feet.
“Ah, come on. You must know, Bethy,” Wes said, a grin spreading across his face. “She’s the ice princess.”
A moment passed. “Let’s not call me Bethy.”
Wes chuckled on his way into the house. “Come on in, ladies. And gentleman. Don’t worry about taking your shoes off.”
Dominic and Rosie traded an amused glance when the little girl took hold of Bethany’s hand and dragged her into the house. “Let’s go. I’ll show you Elsa. I have the doll.”
“Oh. Um . . . sure.”
Dominic put his hand on the small of Rosie’s back and guided her into the house. The whole place whipped into chaos within seconds, women piling coats onto the couch, rooting through the fridge to make a spot for their offerings. A doll in a blue dress sang about letting it go loud enough to drown out conversation. In the midst of it all was Rosie. She toed off her gold heels and directed traffic, taping a meal schedule to the fridge. She bit off strips of tape and slapped them on dishes, writing expiration dates in Sharpie.
Again, Dominic found himself struck dumb by her talent. How she moved so gracefully, answering questions as she worked. When Laura was finished playing with the shrieking doll, she danced into the kitchen, poking foil-covered trays with a finger. “Are there—”
Rosie handed her a cookie.
Dominic found himself backing toward the door. As much as he wanted to stand there and absorb the light and warmth from his wife all night, he couldn’t. Witnessing the proof of how much Rosie’s giving nature had been stifled was too much. He could almost feel his heart growing to accommodate these new parts of her. Another part of him warned it was too late, though. He’d hurt the woman he loved—and without the benefit of a time machine, he didn’t know how to repair the damage he’d done.
Dominic curled a hand around the doorknob, but Georgie’s voice stopped him.
“Where are you going?”
A silent breath left him. “Will you just tell her I’m proud of her?”
He walked out of the house before Georgie could try to convince him to stay. He couldn’t. Couldn’t let another minute pass wherein he was the roadblock standing between his wife and what she wanted most.
As soon as he reached the bottom of the porch, Dominic dialed Stephen’s number and held the phone to his ear. “Hey,” he said, when his friend answered. “That realtor we used to buy the house. Mine and . . . Rosie’s new house.” He swallowed hard. “You think she could help us put it back on the market? Priced to sell.”
Rosie had no idea how much time had passed between walking into Wes’s house and looking up to find Dominic gone from his post beside the door. It could have been twenty minutes or two hours. God, she hoped it wasn’t two hours. She’d only meant to get everything put inside the refrigerator and give out meal assignments, but the questions kept coming, and before she knew it, she wasn’t merely planning cuisine for the household, she was commiserating with Just Us League members about their kitchen disasters and giving them tips to avoid catastrophes in the future. Every time she thought, Okay, now on with the date portion of the evening, a new situation arose.
Dominic must be . . .
Where was Dominic?
Rosie’s attention shifted over to Georgie, who—come to think of it—had been hovering around for the last half an hour, nervously eating way too many cookies. “Hey.” Rosie caught her friend by the elbow. “Did you happen to see where my husband went?”
She raised an eyebrow at Georgie, who promptly deflated.
“I’m not sure what happened. He looked a little out of place so I went over to make small talk and he wasn’t feeling it. He left, Rosie. And . . . he wanted me to tell you he’s proud of you.”
Her throat muscles cinched up tight. “Why would that make him want to leave?”
Georgie sighed miserably and handed Rosie a cookie. “I don’t know.”
The cookie was inserted whole into Rosie’s mouth. “You know what? I just . . .” Her frazzled nerves spoke up, demanding to be heard. “I don’t even want to pick it apart. Actions speak louder than words, anyway, don’t they?”
She’d been excited about the date, bought a new dress, and . . . yes, she felt extremely crappy for letting Wes’s situation get in the way of her night with Dominic, but he’d seemed to understand. Had even wanted to help. And right now, his disappearance was just another in the long line of confusing and hurtful moves her husband had made. At that very moment, she wasn’t even interested in the why.
Rosie spoke around the hurt occupying her throat. “Should we crack open some wine?”
But the next morning had been a different story. Rosie most certainly had been interested in the why when it came to her husband’s disappearance. She’d picked up her cell phone off the bedside table, hesitating only a moment before group-texting Armie and Dominic.
Can we fit in a session this morning?
Both men had agreed with one-word answers, as if they sensed anything more elaborate might make her scream, which wasn’t altogether inaccurate. And the Dominic who’d showed up at the therapy appointment? Oh yeah. This was the Dominic she knew well.
The one who gave away nothing as he held the door open so she could pass through into Armie’s office. He’d been waiting in the parking lot when she arrived and hadn’t said a word beyond a gruff hello. No explanation as to why he’d left Wes’s house early. Left their date early. Nothing. He was back to being an impenetrable concrete wall.
The sudden change in him carved a chunk out of her middle. Or it started to, anyway. She was well versed in shutting down, too, it seemed. Closing herself off wasn’t as easy as it used to be, but she yanked on the switch until her inner electricity went off.
With her back ramrod straight, Rosie dropped into the cluster of pillows indicated by a too-observant Armie, refusing to look at Dominic as he sat down beside her.
They’d tried to make it work. It hadn’t.
Simple as that.
She’d called this emergency therapy session this morning because she desperately needed an outcome. Good or bad. Either she walked out of there with the missing piece to her husband’s puzzle or they completed the sessions and moved on with their lives.