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Installment 21

 

She knew the instant he saw the words, ‘dissolution of marriage by annulment’ because of the rush of emotions crossing his face. “I did it for me first.” she said firmly. “No more hiding.”

“And the other reasons?”

“For us... we deserve a chance. For Lee... he has a life ahead of him and he deserves to go forward with it unfettered.”

“Does he know?”

She nodded. With a deep breath, she reached her left hand out and placed it on his forearm. As she had anticipated, he automatically looked down at her hand... her bare hand.

Dropping the papers on the counter, he took her hand in his and pulled her closer. “And what did I do to deserve this... gift?”

“You trusted me.” she said simply.

He lowered his mouth to hers, tenderly pressing his lips against hers. “Thank you.” he whispered, his voice husky with unshed tears.

She wanted to tell him so much more but she knew he had to be jet-lagged and she was well aware of the long day he had ahead of him, even if he didn’t know it. “You’re probably exhausted... how about you take your bags upstairs and I’ll make you that cup of tea.”

Smiling, he stroked her curly hair, watching the spirals cling to his fingers. “All right, that sounds nice.”

She touched his cheek before turning away to set the kettle to boil. “I’ll be up in a few minutes with your tea and to say good night.” For a moment she watched him leave the room, his back straight, his shoulders broad in the doorway. With a sigh, she turned to the stove and set the burner on high to boil the water. Seeing him after only a few weeks was heaven... she wasn’t sure how she could have existed for so many years without him.

When the kettle whistled, she turned off the burner and set about making Rick’s tea. It took her just a few minutes to unwrap the tea bag and set it in the mug to steep. Instead of waiting for the water to darken, she just picked up the cup, bag and all, and hurried upstairs to spend a few minutes with Rick before the two of them went off to their separate beds.

 

 

Saturday morning, Andi let Rick sleep in since she knew he would be exhausted from his travel. When he did wander downstairs around eleven, she was waiting for him in the kitchen.

“Good morning.” she greeted him with a wide smile. “How are you feeling this morning?”

“Like I have a mild hangover, but otherwise not too bad.” He stepped in front of her and held out his hands to her.

She slipped her hands into his and allowed him to help her to her feet. “I’m so glad you’re home.”

Pulling her into a hug, he reveled in the feel of her body against his. “I’m extremely glad to be here.” he returned before pressing a kiss to her temple. After one more squeeze, he released her and went to pour himself a cup of coffee. “So, what’s on tap for today?”

Her pulse quickened. “Well, the carpets should be all dry by dinnertime, so I thought we’d head back to Tamarack then.”

“Why don’t we go out for dinner instead?” he offered, trying to hide a smile at the look of dismay on her face. Someday he would tell her never to play poker... her emotions were written plainly on her face.

“No!” she cried out. “I mean, no, you’ve eaten out for two weeks... I want to make you a home cooked meal.”

“That’s so much work.” he protested before covering his grin with his coffee cup.

“It’s no trouble.” she assured him.

“So, where’s Lee this morning?”

“He’s out with a friend doing who knows what.”

“Guess that means we’re on our own, huh?”

“I guess so. Something you want to do today?” When he gave her a wicked smile, she blushed and went to retrieve a glass of juice. “I mean, we could see a movie or rent a video or just hang out here...”

“I hate to say it, but I have some work I have to finish. I didn’t quite get everything completed before I left London, but I didn’t want to stay another minute. I think if I jump on it right now, I can get it all finished pretty quickly.” he told her.

“Oh.” she paused. “Well, I guess I can find some things to do...”

“Actually...” he went to stand behind her, wrapping his arms around her and pressing his face into her sweet smelling neck. “I was hoping you’d stick around and keep me company.”

She softened and leaned back into his arms. “I can probably find a book or something to curl up with.”

“Hmm... maybe I should skip the work and get you to curl up with me.”

She flushed hot, wondering if he had agonized over the distance between them during the past two weeks as she had. “I might be persuaded...” she began when the phone rang.

Cursing, he stomped to the wall phone and picked it up on the second ring. “Hello?” He was silent as the person on the other end spoke. “Hold on.” Turning back to her, he held out the receiver. “It’s for you.”

She frowned and took the phone from him. “Hello?”

“Andi, we have a problem.”

Closing her eyes, she tried to stifle a groan. “Hi, Lee, what’s up?”

“I need you to get over here... we’re having a crisis.” he muttered. “And I can’t fix it myself.”

“All right.” She hung up the phone after saying good bye.

Rick stood in front of her, his arms crossed over his chest. “Guess there won’t be any curling up today, eh?”

“I’m sorry, he needs me to come get him. Evidently he tired out more quickly than he expected and he didn’t want the guys to know it.” she lied.

“Why don’t I go get him?”

“No, you have work to do.” she said calmly. “I’ll go. And maybe I’ll just meet you back at Tamarack for dinner?”

“All right. What time?”

She paused as if in thought, when really the answer was already on the tip of her tongue. “I can have dinner on the table by six, if that’s enough time for you to do your work.”

“That’s fine.” Cupping her face in his hands, he pressed a light kiss to her lips. “But I’m not going to forget where we left off.”

“R...right.” she stuttered, her eyes wide.

“See you in a couple of hours.”

“Yes... a couple of hours... yes.” Turning away, she almost ran from the house.

 

 

As it turned out, Lee could probably have handled the cake issue on his own, but since Andi was there, they finished putting up some minor decorations together.

“So how was it to see him again?” Lee asked quietly, holding up a paper chinese lantern for her to hang.

Even though she considered Lee her best friend, she felt awkward talking to him about Rick. “It was very nice. I didn’t realize how much I was going to miss him.”

“And did you tell him about the annulment?”

“Yes... needless to say, he was excited to see the papers. I’m sure he didn’t expect it.” She hung the lantern and stepped down off the stool. “And I have to admit, he was very... affectionate this morning.”

Lee grinned. “I don’t need all the gory details.”

Rolling her eyes, she nudged him with her elbow. “There are no details, gory or otherwise, to tell. Someone interrupted us with a telephone call.”

“Oh.” he gave her a sheepish look. “Sorry about that.”

She gave him a one-armed hug as they walked side-by-side into the big kitchen. “When the time is right, it will happen.”

He stopped her and turned her to face him, his hands on her wide shoulders. “I want you to be happy, Andi, you know that.” When she nodded, he smiled what he hoped was a bright smile. “If it’s Rick, then I hope it works out for you just the way you want it to.”

“I hope so, too.” she whispered.

“Just make note, the birthday boy does not need to be at the party all night.” With that, he waggled his eyebrows and winked at her.

She groaned and turned away from him to clean up the supplies they had left on the counter. “Lee, cut it out!”

His smile dimmed just a bit when her back was to him. He still wished it were him that made her happy, but he would be satisfied as long as she found what she was looking for in her life. “So what time is he going to be here?”

“I told him six o’clock. I’m hoping that everyone will be on time and in place by then.”

Lee checked his watch. “We have some time before the food arrives, we should probably get dressed.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Once the food arrives, we’ll be too busy to do anything else. You need any help?” she offered.

“Nope, I’m good. Go make yourself beautiful, doll... not that it takes much.”

She smiled at his teasing tone and pressed a kiss to his cheek. “See you in a bit.” With that, she turned and disappeared down the hallway to the front foyer.

He looked after her almost wistfully, then turned slowly away and retreated to his bedroom to shower and get dressed.

 

 

Andi wanted to look special for Rick’s party, but it seemed like nothing in her closet fit the way she remembered. All the sudden things bunched or clung or just downright hung wrong. Pawing through the closet, she discard dress after dress, skirts, tops, pants. What was she going to do? She didn’t have enough time to run out and buy something, she had to find an outfit immediately.

She flopped backwards onto her bed, closing her eyes on a sigh. It wasn’t like this was the first time Rick was going to see her, but for some reason, it felt like an important evening. After squeezing her eyes shut to block tears of frustration, she sat up and went back to the closet. There had to be something in there she would be happy with. She tossed several things onto her bed, hoping they would look better the second time, then basically stumbled across a dress in the very far reaches of the closet. If it fit...

 

 

Rick stopped just outside the front door to the Tamarack house and took a deep breath. He wanted to make sure he acted suitably surprised so he not only fooled the guests, but also fooled Andrea. She was the whole reason they had cooked up this crazy scheme. Hand out, he turned the doorknob in what he hoped was a casual way, and pushed open the door.

As he stepped inside, the lights flashed on and everyone yelled, “Surprise!”

He jumped and let a wide smile spread across his face. “What the hell?!”

Andi started when Lee nudged her forward. She stepped up to Rick’s side and slipped an arm around his shoulders. “Happy birthday.” she whispered into his ear before pressing a soft kiss to his cheek.

He turned his head to meet her eyes. “You did all this for me?”

“Lee and I did, yes.”

“And you got all these people together.” he murmured, tilting his head toward the group of people watching them.

“Yes.”

“Trying to bribe me to stay in the states?”

She grinned and took his hand to pull him toward his guests. “Absolutely.”

Laughing, he followed her, reaching out to shake hands with colleagues and people from Lee’s office.

A few hours later, Rick noted that Lee was deep in conversation with one of the detectives who worked in his local office. The woman was a sharp investigator who worked like a dog on every case he passed her way. She was also quite a nice looking woman with long blond hair, tanned skin and sparkling blue eyes. He often wondered how she made herself ‘disappear’ when on a case, but in the four years she’d worked for him, she’d never been spotted. Turning away, he searched out and found Andrea across the room. Although he braced himself for the punch in the gut, it still took his breath away when he saw her. There was some kind of glow around her, shining from the top of her curly red hair to the tips of her sandle-encased feet. And in between, she was wearing the most incredible deep green dress that left her shoulders bare, caressed her hips and fell to just below her knees. He wasn’t sure, but the material had kind of a sheen to it that caught and reflected back the lights in the room. As she approached him, he saw that several other men in the room followed her progress with relish, watching her long legs eat up the distance.

“Hi there.” she greeted him. “Are you having a good time?”

“Yes, I am. Thank you for doing this... it has been a lovely evening.”

She quirked an eyebrow at him. “‘Has been’?”

“I was thinking we’d sneak off...” he suggested in a low voice, his hand curling around her upper arm.

Heat tingled along her arm and across her chest, making her pulse quicken. “We can’t leave now, it’s your party!”

“No one will notice...” he began, frowning when he saw one of his colleagues start toward them wearing a big smile. Thinking quickly, he tightened his hand around her arm and hurried her back through the kitchen and out the back door to the patio. He closed the door behind him, knowing he had been rude but unwilling to feel guilty about it.

“Rick! What are you doing?” she called out, turning to face him.

“This.” With gentle hands, he pulled her to him and lowered his lips to hers. Pushing his hands into her brilliant red hair, he kissed her with all the emotion he was feeling right at that moment. When he pulled back, he whispered against her lips, “Come with me to the other house...”

She knew her skin was flushed and her hair was mussed from his touch. He, too, looked a little dazed. “Rick...”

“Let’s go,” he urged. “Now.”