Something Old, Something New (Chapter Three, page 1 of 1)

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After Alex left, Carmen threw the sheets in the dryer, washed dishes and cleaned his kitchen. It had all the modern conveniences – dishwasher, garbage disposal, and even a built-in oven. It was going to be delightful cooking in this kitchen.
Patio doors gave access to a small courtyard at the back of the house. The broad arches allowed fresh air and the clear fiberglass roof let the sunshine in while keeping the rain out. It wasn’t a grand place, but it was a mansion next to what she was accustomed to. Still, Alex seemed at home in her old house – and she would have been perfectly content to keep him there. Waking up to a cold house wouldn’t be near as bad after a night sleeping next to his warm body.
Warmth crawled up her neck at the thought. Here she was, thinking improper thoughts again. She paused – or was it? After all, he was her fiancé and they would soon be married. She had to start thinking like a woman. He didn’t want to marry a little girl. Come to think of it, would he have been content to live in her house? Would he be content to live with the farmer’s daughter or would he expect her to change?
She sighed heavily and opened the door to the porch. She was willing to change for him – some things, anyway.
Brutus jumped up from the porch where he had been waiting for her. She patted him on the top of the head.
“You’re spending a lot of time over here now. “
He licked his face and went back to panting, his eyes half open as he waited patiently beside her.
Locking the door, she snapped the shirt back up and walked down the porch steps. Behind her, claws clicked on the concrete as Brutus followed. She walked down to the creek and waded through the water. Climbing the other bank, she headed across the field to the old house. Brutus stopped to anoint a bush and then took out ahead of her.
She walked through the grass with her head down. Of course Alex would expect her to change in some ways. In the last few years she had been making all the decisions about her farm. It would be a relief to turn all that stress over to him. He had the money to take care of it and he was confident. She would be taking care of the animals and house. He had his job at the clinic as well as the responsibility of two properties. That hardly seemed fair. Being a stay-at-home mother had always been her career choice, but that wasn’t going to be an option – unless they adopted children. She wasn’t ready for that yet and she hadn’t completely given up the idea of biological children. If god meant for them to have children, they would – no matter what the doctor said.
So absorbed was she in thought that she didn’t notice the gray truck parked in her yard until she opened the gate.
Josh was glowering at her. “Are you just getting home?” He made no attempt to hide the disgust in his eyes.
Warmth rushed to her face. “I met Alex for lunch – not that it’s any of your business.”
“And he gave you his shirt? Where are your clothes?”
Anger washed over her in a bold wave. She grabbed the front of the shirt and jerked the snaps open to reveal the swimwear.
“I was at the creek swimming when he came home. And I repeat – not that it’s any of your business.”
Josh stared at her swim suit, his expression swinging back and fourth from surprise to embarrassment.
In a belated modest moment, she clamped the shirt shut and headed for the house. If it was none of his business, why had she explained - given him proof? And why had he looked at her that way? He was married now. After a few steps, she ran the rest of the way to the porch. Unshed tears of embarrassment were starting to burn her eyes.
“Carmen!” he called after her.
She didn’t stop until she was inside the house and had the door locked. Racing to her room, she changed into jeans and a light shirt. Hopefully he hadn’t come over to walk her up to the mountain.
Later, when she glanced out the window, he was gone. Maybe he realized how inappropriately they had both acted.
She was cleaning the oven when the phone rang. Pealing off her gloves, she headed for the phone. Her cell phone was in her pocket, but Alex probably figured she didn’t have it with her. She caught it on the fourth ring.
“What took you so long?” It was Josh.
“I was busy cleaning the oven.” Again with the unnecessary explanations. “What do you want?”
“Well, that’s not very friendly,” Josh said with a note of indignation in his voice.
“I’m hot and tired, and I’m right in the middle of something. I’m not feeling too friendly right now.”
He snorted. “Yeah? I’ll bet you don’t talk to him that way.”
She pulled the phone away from her ear and glared at it. Without another word, she hung up. If he wanted to talk to her, he’d have to stop referring to Alex as him. In fact, she’d just as soon not talk to him at all. She marched back to the kitchen, but didn’t even get through the door before the phone rang again. It crossed her mind not to answer it at all, but maybe he had learned something from the last call and would get to the point. In any case, it could be Alex.
“Hello?” Her voice was controlled – just in case it was Alex.
“Carmen, don’t you ever hang up on me again!” Josh snarled.
She lifted her brows and lowered the receiver, hanging up again. No, he hadn’t learned a thing. This time she marched toward the kitchen, her temper rising with every step. Who did he think he was, ordering her around that way?
Again the phone rang. With every step toward the phone she told herself she shouldn’t answer it – shouldn’t lose her temper. But when she lifted the receiver, her mouth wasn’t listening to her mind.
“Leave me alone! I’m trying to get something done around here!” She started to hang up, but the silent line perked her curiosity. She lifted the receiver back to her ear.
For a moment the silence continued, and then a deep voice stated flatly – “Alex.”
Blood rushed to her head in a painful flush and one hand shot to her mouth.
“Oh my gosh! I’m sorry, Alex.”
“What’s going on over there? Why is Josh calling you, and what’s he bothering you about?”
“I don’t know. He came by earlier and . . . didn’t say.”
“So what are you two fighting about?”
She might as well tell him. If she didn’t give him some explanation, he’d really be suspicious. She sighed.
“He was here when I came back from your house wearing your shirt. I guess he thought I didn’t have anything on under it and asked if I was just now getting home.”
For a moment Alex was silent. “So you proved to him that you had something on,” he said dryly.
Her face was burning. “Something like that – and then I ran into the house and locked the door.”
“I don’t know. I was embarrassed, I guess.” She sat down on the couch. “So why were you calling?”
Silence again. “Do you have your cell phone with you?”
“Yes,” she said triumphantly. “It’s right here in my pocket this time. It’s been there every since I came home.”
“Is it on?”
Once again blood rushed up into her face. She pulled the phone from her pocket and glanced at the blank display.
“Well, I guess that’s why I called.”
“Why. . . to catch me with my phone off?”
He chuckled. “No, I can do that any time. That’s why I called your house phone. I called to find out if you needed me to pick up anything at the store on the way home.”
“No, I have everything. I’m going back over to your house as soon as I finish cleaning my oven.”
He groaned. “We’re back to yours and mine again.”
At the moment she wanted nothing more than to be in his arms. She leaned forward on the couch.
“I’m still here.”
“I love you – so much.”
“I love you too, sweetheart. I’ll see you in a few hours.” He paused. “Turn your cell phone on and ignore the land line. I won’t call you again on it tonight.”
“All right.” He was telling her to let it ring, which was an excellent idea. Josh was the last person on earth she wanted to talk to right now.
After she hung up, she made sure her cell phone was on and then headed for the kitchen. As she pulled her gloves on, the phone rang again. She smiled devilishly and shoved her fingers the rest of the way into the glove. Grabbing the scrub sponge, she started cleaning the oven again. The phone ran six times and then stopped. So much for that irritating situation.
By the time the oven was clean, sweat was running down her face. It was miserably hot and she was exhausted. She showered and put on a white sundress with a full skirt and spaghetti straps. With a heavy sigh, she headed for his house. It wouldn’t take long to fix supper.
At the creek she pulled off her sandals and waded for a few minutes. The sound of the water rushing over rocks and the coolness of the water lifted her spirits. Picking a few of the Tiger Lilies, she tucked them into her hair. She carried her shoes up the hill and stopped under the big oak tree to put them on. Below, the pond glistened in the evening heat, as if winking up at her. She breathed deep, throwing her head back and fluffing her hair with her fingers to cool her scalp.
Footsteps sounded behind her and she whirled, half expecting to see Josh. Alex was walking down toward her. She let out a sigh of relief.
“Oh, I didn’t know you were home yet. I must be late.”
“No, I’m home early.” His gaze traveled over her body, a pleased smile beginning. “You look like a little angel.”
Warmth raced up her neck. “I’ll go in and start supper.”
“No need. I brought some stuff home from the deli. Come on up and eat.” He took her arm and assisted her up the hill. “You look especially nice tonight.”
“Do I? It’s just an old sundress. I was working in the house all day and wanted to wear something cool.”
He followed her up on the porch and opened the door for her. His hand lightly touched her waist as he guided her into the cool room. The smell of Italian seasoning greeted them and she glanced up at him.
He nodded, “And salad. Hungry?”
“Starved. Why did you come home early?”
“Things were a little slow this afternoon and Dr. Worthington offered to stay. I took him up on it this time. I stayed last time that happened.”
“The last two, if my memory is correct,” she said, taking plates from the cabinets.
“I’d never question your memory,” he said with a smile. Pulling open a drawer, he dispensed a spoon, fork and knife for each of them.
There was something about the methodical way he set the table that was cute – yet utterly masculine. They both reached for a glass at the same time and bumped into each other. The faint smell of his cologne was disturbing and she stepped back.
“Excuse me,” she said.
“I’ll get it,” he said. “Why don’t you open up everything and put serving spoons in it?”
She opened the flatware drawer again and got out spoons. As she leaned over the table to put them in the serving containers, a glass came down on the table on each side of her – his hands still attached. She continued placing the spoons and the hands disappeared - only to end up on her waist. She straightened, turning around to face him. Had he learned nothing yesterday? His hands loosened so she could turn, but never left her waist.
She met his sultry gaze innocently.
“Are you ready to sit down and eat supper?”
Keeping his hands on her waist, he pulled her closer. “In a minute.” His warm hands finally left her waist and slid up her back. He lifted her arms to his shoulders and drew her close. When she didn’t resist, he lowered his head and claimed her lips.
It was impossible not to respond. The faint smell of disinfectant soap was washed away by expensive cologne. His lips were so soft and warm, seeking an answer to a primal question. Exhaustion winked and said goodbye, leaving only passion to direct her. In a moment she was clinging to him, rewarding his hungry kisses with promises she didn’t intend to keep.
Somewhere in the fog of emotion she felt his hand cup her breast. She instinctively pushed it away.
“Carmen” he whispered huskily against her neck.
His emotional voice was like an alarm clock in her brain. She drew back, wiping her mouth as if to remove the last few minutes.
“I’m sorry,” she gasped. They couldn’t keep doing this to each other.
“Stop saying you’re sorry,” he said, backing away. “I’m starting to get a complex.”
She dropped down to the relative safety of a chair and smiled up at him sweetly.
“Would you mind getting us some ice water?”
His smile was sour. “I’ve got an idea what you want me to do with it.”
He got the ice water and then sat down in his chair.
“So what were you working on in the house all day?”
She shrugged. “Just cleaning. Tomorrow I’m going to clean the chicken house. I’ve been idle too long.”
“You’ve been cleaning here too - and taking care of the horses.”
“I know, but it’s not enough.”
“It’s enough,” he said. “You’re just used to working all the time. You need a little down time.”
There was no point arguing with him. He was ready to assume his position as head of the house. Maybe that was why he was in such a hurry to assume husbandly duties as well. That wasn’t fair. Alex was willing to assume one of those duties long before they were engaged.
After supper she washed dishes, pushing him aside when he offered to help. After putting everything up, she turned to the door.
“I’m going to go home now. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He stood. “Whoa. What’s going on?”
“I’m exhausted. I just want to go home and rest.”
“I’ll take you home.” He followed her out the door.
“No, it’s daylight and I can see all the squiggly little things in the grass just fine. I’ll just walk.”
He followed her down the porch steps and across the yard. “If it’s what I did earlier . . .”
“It isn’t,” she said, turning to him. “I really need to go.”
He studied her a moment. “If you’re so tired, why don’t you just spend the night here?”
Were they going to have a repeat of last night? She sighed.
“No, I’d better go home.”
He frowned. “Sometimes I think you carry this morality thing too far.”
It took a moment for the words to sink in – or maybe the idea that he would discard her virtue as nothing important. Long ago she had learned that many people didn’t subscribe to her morals. Often they made fun of them. But this was Alex and it stung bad enough to bring tears to her eyes.
She turned her back on him, marching down the hill toward her house. She wasn’t going to argue with him or bawl in his presence.
“Run away, Carmen.” His terse voice followed her. “That’s what you do every time your morals are challenged. If you believe in them so much, why don’t you stand up for them?”
She stopped, anger chasing away the tears. Turning around, she met his startled gaze as she climbed up the hill. Retaining eye contact, she challenged him.
“What am I supposed to say?”
He rubbed his neck. “I’m sorry Carmen. I’m just sexually frustrated.”
It was the worst defense he could have used. She clenched her hands, her arms rigid as she faced him.
“So am I, but I’m not trashing your morals.”
He flinched visibly and took a step back. For a moment he stared down at her, and then sighed.
“I’m not trashing your morals. I’m questioning their validity. Don’t you ever wonder about it? What difference does it make if we wait a few weeks? Isn’t our commitment to each other more important than a few words from clergy?”
“Alex, I don’t want to debate this issue.”
“No, because you might realize you’re wrong.”
“No, because I realize that I might be influenced by lust.” Hands on hips, she met his gaze defiantly. “Is this the speech you prepared for your sister, or is it merely self-serving advice?”
When he opened his mouth to respond, she didn’t give him the opportunity.
“You know what? I’m sick of this male idea that sex is something a man has no control over. If he doesn’t, it’s because he was never trained to. Women have desires too – probably every bit as strong as a man’s. She’s had centuries of learning to control it because ultimately she is the one who will suffer for any poor decisions. The man doesn’t get pregnant and she’s the one who will get in trouble. No matter what he did, the man will swear she led him on.”
His eyes flashed. “If I could get you pregnant, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.”
She stared at him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
He ran a hand over his face as if to wipe away the words. “Never mind.”
“Do you think I would crawl into bed with you just to get pregnant? Do you think I wouldn’t wait if . . .”
“Never mind,” he said forcefully.
“If you think . . .”
He waved a hand in dismissal and turned away.
“Go home, Carmen. Take two Midol and call me tomorrow.”
He ended the conversation by walking toward the porch. It was alright for him to run away. Especially so when he could dismiss her by implying her concerns were born of irrational premenstrual ranting. Let him sleep it off. Maybe he should be taking the Midol.
She swung around and started home again. This time she didn’t look back until she was in her house. From the kitchen window she stared at his house. He must have gone inside. Some childish desire inside was disappointed that he didn’t follow her. It was best this way, though. Maybe they needed a break from each other. She should take him up on his offer to purchase a car for her. At least she could get away from the house. Maybe that was behind her frustration lately. If she went any place, he had to take her – or she had to walk. Dad’s old truck would take too much money to fix, and where would she get the money for a down payment on another - without depleting her savings? She’d talk to him about it tomorrow.
The evening was sticky and hot. It would be so cool in his house. Showering again, she decided to go to bed early. Every muscle in her body was aching. She was getting out of condition. It was one of those rare evenings when she regretted not having a television. Some popcorn and a movie sounded like a good way to relax. If she had a method of transportation, that would be an alternative.
A warm shower soothed aching muscles. She donned a long nightgown and dropped into bed. It wasn’t necessary to count sheep. Exhaustion worked faster than a sleeping pill and she fell quickly into a sound sleep.
About 2:00 AM she woke with a start. Something wasn’t right. She lay still, listening for any sound that might have awakened her. And then the source hit her again with a hard cramp. She raced for the bathroom, remembering the comment Alex had made about the Midol. How did he know? She took the necessary precautions and then took some Midol. Back in bed, she pulled the covers up to her chin. Now she felt cold. Go figure.
An hour later she woke to the rumble of thunder. It was that hollow sound of an electrical storm. Hopefully Alex would hear it and unplug his computer. She rolled over and stretched out. Lightning flashed so bright that the room lit up, and shortly afterward it thundered so loud that the windows rattled.
She rolled over and sat up, trying to calm a racing heart. It was going to be a bad storm. For a moment she wished she had stayed at his house. Why couldn’t this storm wait a few more weeks? She got up and dressed, shuddering at the thought of the dark damp cellar. It was like a prisoner’s cell in some medieval castle. As she plunged a foot into the last boot, someone pounded on the door. Josh knew she was afraid of storms, but now he had Lori to think about. Darting into the living room, she unlocked the door and opened it.
Alex stepped in, his expression sober as he noted her clothing.
“Come on over to the house. They’ve issued a tornado warning for this area.”
He didn’t need to tell her twice. She wasn’t any more willing to stay in the old house alone than he was to let her. She grabbed her purse and followed him to the truck, leaping in quickly so he could close the door and get around to his side. He drove the distance to his house in record time and barely got the truck in the garage before strong winds began bending the trees back and forth. In the house, she stared at the wild scene through the bay window.
“Get away from the windows,” he said, taking her arm. “Come on, let’s go into the hallway.”
In the hallway they knelt close to the wall and he sheltered her in his arms. She snuggled close to him, her heart racing. The thick log walls insulated them from some of the noise, but the storm was fierce. Down the hall, the living room was lit up constantly with brilliant flashes of lightning. Thunder exploded and then the hail started, drumming on the roof like large marbles. She buried her face into his chest, shaking with fear. He gently stroked her hair, his voice soft and close to her ear.
“Don’t worry. It will move on soon.”
When she lifted her head to look at his face in the dim light, their lips were only inches away. In that moment the storm was forgotten as she waited breathlessly for his lips to touch hers.
His hand caressed her cheek and then slid down her neck, sending her pulse into a frenzy of activity. It was too dark to see his expression, but she could tell he was looking at her face.
“Alex,” she whispered.
He leaned back and looked into the living room.
“I think it’s over now.”
He released her and stood, helping her to her feet. Without a word, he strode away from her into the living room. She followed behind him like a puppy, stopping when he flipped a light switch. The lights came on and he breathed a sigh of relief.
“At least we didn’t lose electricity.” He walked to the window seat and looked out the bay window.
“I don’t see any damage, but I’ll be able to tell more in the daylight.”
She ghosted up beside him, standing close enough to catch a whiff of his cologne. He always smelled so good.
He put an arm around her shoulders and glanced down at her.
She shook her head, searching his face for some explanation of the chill in his response to her. In the light it was no easier to read his expression.
His gaze scanned her face in that familiar way and then he squeezed her shoulders. His arm dropped and he moved away.
“I’ll sleep here. You can take the bed.”
For a moment she stared at him. Surely he didn’t expect her to stay at his house all night – in his bed. The reason for his lack of response tonight was suddenly clear. He was trying to keep the situation under control – for her sake. He was tired and it was still raining. Of course he didn’t want to take her home right now. In fact, it would be unfair to ask him to do so. He must have considered that before he decided to come get her tonight.
She shook her head. “No, I’ll sleep in the recliner. I’ll be comfortable there.”
He shrugged and headed for his bedroom. “If you need anything, let me know.”
He was upset with her. Who could blame him? She could have reasoned with him earlier instead of jumping down his throat. Still, it wasn’t the first time they had vehemently disagreed on something. The first week after they met, they were at each other’s throats frequently. As a matter of fact, it had been sexual tension then as well.
On the other hand, he hadn’t been all that certain about his heart then, either. Maybe he was having second thoughts now. Maybe there was someone else – someone more sophisticated and not so much of a prude.
Tears welled up in her eyes and spilled down her cheeks. It always came down to this. Give up the antiquated morals or the relationship. Josh was the only one who ever understood.
She sank into the recliner and kicked it back. For a long time she sat awake in the dark, unable to staunch the flow of tears. She couldn’t lose Alex. If it meant abandoning the morals, maybe that was what she should do.
Exhaustion eventually took over and she slept. Some time later she woke with an aching back. She was too sleepy to bother Alex, so she moved to the window seat and curled up against the chill. The rain was still coming down hard and there were occasional rumbles of thunder. Eventually, rain drumming on the porch roof lulled her back to sleep.

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