At the bottom of the escalator, he’d reached Rosie, taken her hand, covering the meager engagement ring she wore with his palm—and kissed her like it would be the last time, like a dying man, because he had no idea how to speak the words in his head out loud.
So much time away from Port Jefferson had given him perspective. He’d sat back and listened to the rich futures his fellow soldiers had carved out for themselves. And they’d not only called attention to his own lack of grandeur, but that of his father. That man had worked his fingers to the bone and he’d earned respect, given his family security. Had it been enough for him? Maybe being depended on would have to be enough for Dominic. To work, provide, and give Rosie security, since he couldn’t give her everything in the world. Everything she deserved.
What he’d given wasn’t enough. At least now he had his answer.
Dominic shook off the dark trail of thoughts and leaned back, retrieving Rosie’s red fall jacket from the backseat. Holding it beneath his arm, he walked toward the house, the sounds of laughter growing louder as he got closer to the front door. He debated knocking, but set aside that plan almost immediately. No one would hear him unless he pounded the goddamn door down and pissed-off husband wasn’t the image he needed to portray. Even though he felt every inch the angry, resentful man, this close to carrying Rosie from the meeting over his shoulder.
For better or worse, wife. You said the words.
That thought gave Dominic the impetus to push open the front door and enter the house. He half expected to be spotted right away and possibly sprayed with holy water, but he stepped into an empty entryway unnoticed. He used the opportunity to hang the red coat on the hook to the right of the door, hiding it slightly behind a couple black coats. Up ahead, there was a crowd of women gathered in the living room around a makeshift bar and trays of appetizers. He immediately recognized the food as Rosie’s cooking and the restlessness inside him expanded. Where was she?
An oven door snicked shut in the kitchen and there she was. All alone, but looking happier than he’d seen her in a long time. She used the back of her wrist to push a stray curl out of her face and went back to arranging empanadas on a tray, adding a little bowl of pickled onions as garnish and sprinkling parsley over the top of everything. The recipe had been passed down from her mother’s Argentinian side and she’d perfected them in high school. Dominic had figured out quickly that the act of making the delicious, crusty meat pockets was a sign of Rosie’s happiness.
It had been a long time since she’d made them for Dominic.
He knew the moment she sensed him because her movements slowed, hands pausing in midair. He forced his features to remain schooled as she looked up from her task, clocking him in the doorway. The corners of her mouth turned down and wobbled a little bit, delivering a swift kick to his stomach. God, she really didn’t love him anymore. Couldn’t possibly. Not when her first reaction upon seeing him was sadness.
He took a few steps toward the kitchen, acutely aware that the conversation in the living room had flatlined. “Can I talk to you outside?”
Rosie shifted behind the kitchen island, the smooth bronze color of her cheeks turning a deep rose. Lips rolling together, she cast a look toward the living room.
Bethany approached, stopping between them, clearly unsure how to proceed. “Uh, hey, Dominic.” She tucked some blond hair behind her ear and widened her eyes at Rosie. “What brings you to our humble Just Us League meeting?”
Dominic held on to his patience. Wasn’t it obvious why he was there? She was standing in the kitchen looking so fucking gorgeous, his hands flexed with the need to stroke her skin, head to toe. “I want to talk to my wife.”
Bethany hummed. “Okay . . .”
“It’s fine.” Rosie nodded briskly and took off her apron, leaving it on the marble island top. “There are a fresh batch of spicy pork empanadas here, if everyone wants to dig in.” With a reassuring smile in the direction of the living room, she breezed past Dominic and out the door.
He raised an eyebrow at the sea of disapproving faces and followed her out the door, closing it behind them. The first thing he noticed was her lack of coat. It was right inside, hanging on a hook, but he couldn’t tell her that. She’d know he’d brought it.
When she rubbed her hands together to ward off the brisk air, Dominic ground his back teeth together and started to shoulder off his leather bomber. “Put this on.”
His wife shook her head. “Why did you come here?”
Dominic frowned at the goose bumps on her arms. “A bunch of strangers aren’t going to stand between me and my wife.”
She laughed. “Oh, I get it. You purposely showed up during the meeting to make a statement.”
Until she said it out loud, Dominic hadn’t even been aware of his own intentions. He couldn’t deny it, could he? He’d wanted to make it known what was written in stone, as far as he was concerned: a marriage was forever and there was nothing more important than their commitment. “You were making empanadas.”
Rosie opened her mouth and closed it before saying, “Yes.”
He slid both hands into his pockets. “You haven’t done that in a while.”
“Actually, I have,” she said, tilting her head. “I’ve been making them for months at these meetings. A few people are even asking about me catering birthday parties.” She licked her lips, her gaze cutting sideways. “Maybe I’ll say yes eventually.”
It wasn’t lost on Dominic that they hadn’t spoken like this in far too long. His wife had been asked to cater birthday parties? Had he really known none of this? A montage of their silent evenings spent in separate parts of the house ran through his head and panic snuck in beneath his skin. Jesus, he didn’t know what was happening in Rosie’s life. At all. “Why haven’t you said yes?”
“I don’t . . .” She gave a jerky shrug. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Seriously, Dominic?” Eyes squeezed shut, she shook her head. “You don’t get to come here and act like you suddenly care.”
Frustration welled up inside him, biting the heels of his already-frayed nerves. “You don’t think your husband cares more than these women? You’ve only been hanging out with most of them for a matter of weeks.”
“I don’t know.” She lifted her hands and let them drop. “I do know the club members like my cooking so much, they’ve . . . they . . .”
A few beats of silence passed while she scrutinized him. “They’ve donated money on this online crowdsourcing site. To help me open the restaurant,” she said quietly. “The GoFundMe was Georgie’s idea and it . . . well, it’s been pretty amazing. The response.”
That knowledge made Dominic’s esophagus burn. He was supposed to provide for his wife. That’s what he’d been doing since the day they married, and he’d been attempting to go beyond the basics by setting aside a portion of his salary for the last five years. Would telling her about it now make any difference? “You’re opening the restaurant with other people’s money?”
“I haven’t decided, actually. I might. If I don’t, I’m going to give the money back, obviously,” she said. “It’s not the full amount I would need to buy the building I like outright, but maybe there’s a chance the owner will let me make payments. It’s worth finding out.”
“Come home,” Dominic pushed through his teeth. “You don’t need to take donations. We’ll find the money to open your place on our own.”
“We’ve had years to try and find it. We didn’t.” She rubbed her hands up and down her arms. “Now I’m going to do it the way I choose, Dominic. I’m sorry if you don’t like it.”
He paced away from her on the porch and came back. What the hell was he supposed to say? She was . . . right. They’d stopped talking about the possibility of her restaurant years ago. He’d almost started thinking she didn’t want to try anymore, so he’d set out to give her another dream. One they’d spoken about hundreds of times. By the time he’d found her classified ads for commercial space under the mattress, the money he could have given her to open the doors . . . it had been spent.
Christ, he was failing here. His wife was gone and she already had plans to pursue the future alone. He’d lost his chance to help. “Come back to me.” Dominic took several steps in her direction, gratified when that familiar awareness smoked in her eyes. “Things haven’t been great for you at home. I get that, all right?”
Bewilderment transformed her features. “Have they honestly been great for you?”
Dominic was too embarrassed to say yes. The privilege of caring for this woman was his reason for getting out of bed in the morning. If he’d sensed occasionally that she wanted more, he’d worked harder. Looked for other things that were making her unhappy and fixed them, because it was his job. The alternative was to acknowledge her unhappiness and his own shortcomings as a husband. That he was human. Inadequate. To admit he wasn’t doing enough—that maybe someone else could have done better by Rosie. He didn’t want to know if their marriage was leaving her unsatisfied; he just wanted to throw another dart and pray like hell it hit the target. “What do I have to do?”