For Better or Worse (Prologue, page 1 of 1)

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Alex replaced the receiver and leaned forward in his chair, rubbing his face as if to remove the conversation. It had never been his intention to hide his past from Carmen. It wasn’t as if he had anything to be ashamed of. Still, there were some things that would be better left in the past. Carmen was all about honesty and innocence. There was little of that in the life he chose to leave behind.
He stood and headed for the door, shutting off the light as he left his home office. It was late, so he made his usual rounds. He lifted Destiny from the rug in her room where she had fallen asleep and gently placed her in her bed. He tucked the blanket around her and leaned down, kissing her on the forehead. Destiny would be two years old before long. Since Carmen had been the one to initiate that adoption, it was safe to assume she was over her adoption phobia. She once had said she wanted five children. He’d never set a number, but right now two hardly seemed enough.
He picked up the toys Destiny had been playing with and put them in the toy box. Then he exited the room as quietly as possible, leaving the door open so they would hear if she woke in the night.
Down the hall, he opened the door to Jonathan’s room and smiled. Stepping into the room, he took the book from a limp hand and placed it quietly on the night stand. Shutting off the reading lamp, he backed out of the room and silently shut the door. On Jonathan’s ninth birthday, in October, they had given him the responsibility of taking care of Random. He had been helping train her, and when she was old enough to have a foal, it would be his. It wasn’t a bribe. Jonathan was enthusiastic enough about his chores. They could afford to buy him a horse of his own, but he would learn more this way.
Careful not to let the heels of his boots make noise in the hallway, he headed for the living room. He checked the front door to make sure it was locked and then quietly walked through the living room. He paused in the dining room doorway, watching as Carmen stretched to put a glass in the cabinet. Long ago he’d learned to let her do things by herself. She was self-conscious about her small stature and any attempt to assist usually became an encouragement to push herself beyond her limits. Left alone, she rarely did that.
She shut the cabinet door and hung the towel over the oven door handle to dry. Turning toward the dining room, she glanced up and drew a quick breath.
“Oh!” she exclaimed, her amethyst eyes unusually large. She breathed a sigh of relief. “You startled me. I didn’t know you were standing there.”
“The kids are asleep,” he said, moving toward her.
The full lips curved into a shy smile as she stepped eagerly forward to meet him. Carmen was as passionate as she was beautiful.
He leaned down; kissing the soft part of her neck that pulsed with excitement. Taking her face in his hands, his thumbs stroked the soft skin on her cheeks. He searched her face, reading it like a book. She was lonely. No surprise. In the last week he had been out on night calls three times. She deserved better than that. Fortunately she had a forgiving nature. He lightly touched her lips with his.
She gripped his arms and pressed close to him, her warm lips seeking his.
He gently disentangled his arms from her hands and gripped her waist, pulling her close. For a moment he cradled her in his arms, caressing her back.
Finding new ways to excite her had become a game – one that increased his excitement as well.
Carmen didn’t warm to people instantly, nor was she generally impressed by praise . . . which was why it came as such a surprise that mere words were such powerful tools. Something as simple as calling her sweetheart or pointing out her many attributes could put her in a romantic mood. Coupling words with a gentle caress or lifting her into his arms and carrying her to their bedroom never failed to excite her. Today was no different.
Later, he lay awake, arms behind his head while she slept. His sister, Katie, had insisted that they were destined to be together. If he’d met Carmen any later, she probably would have been married to Josh. If he’d married Tess, he wouldn’t have met Carmen at all. It wasn’t destiny. Life was simply a maze of possibilities waiting on decisions.
Carmen once said she wasn’t like Tess. She wasn’t, but one thing drew him to each of them. He thought they needed him to take care of them. Tess needed someone to take care of her, but Carmen didn’t. He was the one who needed to take care of her. Carmen was small and delicately built, but she had spirit. There was very little she wouldn’t tackle – including things she shouldn’t. That made it hard to protect her at times. Still, she didn’t usually resist his attempts. In fact, she seemed to enjoy that form of attention.
Until now, money had aided him in taking care of her. After the telephone call tonight, he wasn’t so sure money was an asset. Of course, money wasn’t the entire issue. Carmen had shown little interest in their financial status. Maybe she thought it was more than it was - maybe less. She still maintained that the money he came into the marriage with was his. If he had believed in prenuptial agreements, he might have thought her attitude was a good idea. He didn’t. But then, maybe she felt that way because she knew he was financially responsible. He was. After Tess broke their engagement - at the last minute - there had been no reason for him to hold his end of the bargain . . . nothing but integrity. He had paid for the car and told her it was hers. Regardless of what well-meaning friends and relatives said, he refused to take the car back.
The truth was, he bought the clinic and their home with money he inherited. They were living off money from the clinic. The rest he had built in investments – other than what was in the special savings account drawing interest until he could decide whether to return it or accept the responsibility that went with it.
He sighed heavily and rolled over, putting an arm around Carmen’s waist and snuggling close to her. She moaned softly in her sleep and smiled, caressing his arm.
He hugged her. Carmen was always willing to listen, whether it was something happening at work or his plans about the wildlife safari. This latest thing was different, though. Burdening her with something like that wasn’t fair.
He kissed her neck. Whatever lay ahead, being with her would make it more pleasant.

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