Just Around The Cornerñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
Matt blinked. He froze inside. “Pardon?”
“I just thought you should know.” Phyllis Langford looked far too calm sitting there, her honey-colored purse, which matched her honey-colored shoes, still slung over her shoulder.
“I don’t understand why I’m the one you’re telling,” he said carefully. He knew it wasn’t polite to ask a woman who the father of her child was, but what did a guy say when it wasn’t him? He might have lost a good piece of his mind that day, but not so much that he hadn’t protected himself, and her, from any and all consequences.
“Because you’re the only man I’ve had sex with since I divorced my husband four years ago.” As he shook his head, she added softly, “Condoms fail.”
“Read the box the next time you pick some up,” she said, still appearing far too calm. “Besides, when I thought about it, I realized the wrapper you took from your wallet didn’t look exactly new.”
Damn, the woman sounded as though they were discussing nothing more earth-shattering than a rained-out game of Little League. Didn’t she get it? They had an untenable situation on their hands.
Matt didn’t even know how to be a friend. There was no way he could be a father.
Have you ever found yourself disliked for something, some trait or skill, that’s an integral part of you? Something you can’t change? It’s not an easy position to be in, but a very real one. To be a person deserving of happiness—a good person, a loving person—and yet alone. It was a situation that intrigued me, a situation I couldn’t let go. I needed to know how such a thing could happen. To find the happy ending.
This is Phyllis Langford’s story. If you’ve read any of my previous SHELTER VALLEY books, you’ll remember her. Just Around the Corner is a story about the human spirit, about making the most of what life has given you, about enduring. And about happy endings. I believe there’s a happy ending out there for everyone. It’s just a matter of hanging on. Of not giving up. Eventually it will come knocking.
Each day of my life consists of hanging on, of not giving up—and of answering the door when I hear that knock. It doesn’t come just once. It comes, for me, every day in one form or another. A phone call. A smile. A note. A hug.
I wish you all a lifetime of happy endings—and the ability to hear happiness knocking at your door when it arrives.
Tara Taylor Quinn
P.S. I love to hear from readers. Write me at P.O. Box 15065, Scottsdale, Arizona 85267-5065. Or visit my Web site at http://members.home.net/ttquinn.
Just Around the Corner
Tara Taylor Quinn
For Tanya Elizabeth Clayton.
You, like Phyllis, are an amazing young woman.
I truly believe that you will take whatever life gives you and make your own happy endings. I’m very proud to be part of your life.
by Tanya Clayton
Every time you tell me something
That may help me
I turn the other way.
My pride says I won’t listen
But my heart absorbs every word.
I always tell you I’ll be a better mother
But I know I won’t.
You have taught me lessons
That no one else could.
You have backed me up
When no one else would.
You have been my biggest fan
When everyone had given up.
You are my mother,
The person that I am part of
And the person I am proud of
Being part of every day.
THE KISS WAS as powerful as he was. As dangerous.
Her arms crept around his neck, her lips pressing against his as excitement uncoiled in her belly. This was insane.
And she didn’t want it to stop.
Phyllis had spent the entire day with Matt Sheffield. Seen him in action. And still knew absolutely nothing about him.
Because he wanted it that way.
Which made him even more desirable. Because she wanted it that way, too.
Dr. Phyllis Langford didn’t need a man in her life—especially this man. Didn’t need to know him, to get tangled up in the shadows she’d read in his eyes, the aloofness in his body.
What she needed was exactly what he was giving her. Lips that knew their destination, that didn’t hesitate. Hands that touched her lonely body, igniting fires banked too long.
“We shouldn’t be doing this,” she said, her mind still engaged enough to recognize that much.
“Mm-hmm.” The moan tingled against her lips. His tongue penetrated her mouth, and Phyllis thrilled to his aggression. He felt so damn good. And it had been such a long time…. He placed her against the theater’s sound-booth console in the performing-arts center at Montford University, where they’d spent the day working on a “Patterns of Abuse” presentation she’d be giving at a “Psychology In the University” seminar in that very theater later that month. The big window in front of them looked out over the dark and empty auditorium. The controls beneath them pushed into her back.
“Not here,” he said suddenly, pulling her up and urging her toward the couch at the opposite end of the room.
The couch she’d been eyeing off and on all day, her mind filled with lascivious thoughts.
She’d just never dreamed her inappropriate and completely far-fetched fantasies would ever achieve reality there.
Hadn’t really even decided she wanted them to.
His hands skimmed along her sides. Those same hands had been manipulating computer keys and technical equipment all afternoon. His lips left hers only long enough for breathing, and then they were consuming her again. Obliterating thought as he used his body to guide her on another erotic journey.
In spite of the sweet tension building inside her—the kind that made a woman forget she was a nice girl and allow anything as long as she found the satisfaction that was almost within reach—she might still have been able to stop him if he hadn’t seemed as completely absorbed as she.
His hands weren’t quite steady as they slid beneath her red chenille sweater. His breathing ragged, he kissed her chin, her neck and then was at her lips again.
Phyllis accommodated him. Lifting her mouth to his, she raised her body off the couch to let him slide her sweater up, exposing her belly. Her breasts ached for his touch, ached to be covered by those big capable hands. She arched against him.
God, she needed this. To feel desirable. To know she could drive a man to distraction. Maybe because losing the weight hadn’t been enough to give her back the confidence she’d lost. Maybe because all her friends had this. Every single one of them was in love….
For a brief moment, as she lay there with her newly flat belly exposed, Phyllis panicked. Why had she thought of love now? She wasn’t going to get involved again. Not like that. Not when hurt was inevitable.
And then she remembered. She wasn’t in danger. Matt Sheffield wasn’t the type to allow involvement.
Everyone in Shelter Valley respected his “hands off” signals. She’d only lived in the town a little more than a year—nothing like the four years he’d been the Fine Arts Technical Coordinator at Montford—yet she was much more a part of this community than he was. Other than the classes he taught, the events he oversaw, he kept to himself. He seemed to welcome neither personal conversation nor invitations. It didn’t take a psychologist to figure out that the man was off-limits.
His lips burned her neck and then her belly, as his hands finally slid up over her breasts, cupping them, squeezing gently, the sensation excruciating in its intensity.
“Please,” Phyllis was begging before she could stop herself.
“Please what?” he rasped.
“Please make love to me.”
“I intend to, pretty woman.” He took a condom out of his wallet before reaching for the button at the waistband of his jeans. “Believe me, I intend to.”
He’d called her pretty.
They were the last coherent words Phyllis processed for a long time.
The next ones, uttered by her after silent, awkward moments of pulling on clothes that had been hastily discarded, were, “Well, goodbye.”
“We used a condom.” Phyllis looked across at her friend one Monday in the middle of October, her disbelief—and confusion—apparent.
Cassie Tate Montford, happily wearing maternity slacks and a blousy top as she entered her sixth month of pregnancy, looked as if she didn’t know whether to smile or cry.
Phyllis didn’t blame Cassie for her indecision. The two women had several things in common: their interest in pet therapy, their commitment to Shelter Valley…and their red hair. Now, apparently, they shared something else, as well.
Something Phyllis hadn’t planned on at all.
“You’re sure?” Cassie asked.
“I’m sure,” Phyllis said, nodding her head, feeling more like a lost little girl than the Yale graduate she was.
They were in the sitting room at Montford Mansion, sharing cups of homemade hot chocolate, courtesy of Cassie’s mother-in-law, Carol Montford. This was a rare moment of privacy for both of them. Mariah, Cassie and Sam’s adopted daughter, was still at school. And Sam was at work, refurbishing homes, providing better-than-new living conditions for people who occupied the inadequate housing outside Shelter Valley. These places, built in the late 1890s, had fallen into disrepair as subsidized government housing, and Sam was renovating them at a reasonable cost to their current owners.
“So you’re pregnant…. This might not be badnews, you know,” Cassie said slowly, the tremulous smile seeming to win the battle of expressions on her beautiful face. “Babies are such blessings in so many ways. Raising a child is one of the greatest accomplishments possible. And you’ll never be alone….”
Phyllis shook her head. “I’m not alone,” she said, surprised by the sudden ache she felt at Cassie’s pronouncement. “I have plenty of people to love. Plenty of people who love me.”
Cassie was one of them.
“Of course you do,” her friend said, her brow creased in a frown. “But no one who shares the ups and downs of daily life with you.”
Phyllis couldn’t argue with her there. She’d had that once, though. And in her case, being alone was the better option.
“I’m guessing you haven’t told Matt.”
Phyllis shook her head, her short, flyaway red curls the only vibrant thing about her.
“How do you think he’s going to take the news?”
“Not well,” Phyllis said, shrugging.
“Something, somewhere sucked all the love out of that man,” Cassie said, her sweet brown eyes concerned. “He’s been in town four years and has never—not once—accepted an invitation to anything. Not only does he always reject our hospitality, even at Christmas, but he’s never attended any community function when he’s not working. He was probably the only person in town who didn’t attend the Fourth of July celebration last summer.”
“I know,” Phyllis said, wishing the chocolate that was warming her thick ceramic cup could warm her, too. “He’s so…detached, and that’s what made him so safe to begin with. I wanted sex, not involvement.”
Cassie seemed to have more to say, but she sat there staring at Phyllis, instead. Phyllis could only wonder what her friend was thinking. And decided maybe she didn’t want to know.
“It’s not like he can be angry with me,” Phyllis finally said. “It was his condom….”
“So you have every right to be angry with him.”
Tilting her head, Phyllis grimaced. “And what good is that going to do me?”
“Give you the energy to cope,” Cassie said with her customary frankness. The two women had worked together on more than one occasion, counseling abuse victims through Cassie’s pet-therapy program, and they were used to speaking honestly. “Even negative energy is better than none at all.”
Once again, Phyllis couldn’t argue with her. Cassie had learned that particular truth the hard way, Phyllis knew, back when Cassie’s entire life had fallen apart, and she’d disintegrated right along with it. She’d needed years to rebuild what she’d lost, to reshape her existence in a new form.
“I haven’t even thought about coping yet,” she admitted quietly.
Setting down her cup, Cassie said, “And I’m assuming you plan to have the baby when there’s nothing that says you must.”
“Of course I’m having it,” Phyllis said, running her finger along the outer seam of her jeans. “You know me well enough to know that. I only found out this morning, so it’s not like I’ve had time to make a single plan, but not having this baby isn’t even a choice for me.”
“You want it,” Cassie guessed, her brown eyes piercing.
Looking up at her friend, Phyllis smiled. “I guess I do.”
Cassie lifted her cup and sipped carefully from her chocolate. “So,” she said, leaning forward on the couch, her legs spread slightly to accommodate her growing belly. “What kind of cooperation are you hoping to get from Matt Sheffield?”
“Not marriage, that’s for sure,” Phyllis said. That would naturally be one of the first assumptions people would make, but she wasn’t even going to consider it.
“While I have to admit I’m relieved that you aren’t holding out hope that the man’s going to do the right thing by you, do you have to be quite so adamant about being better off single?”
They’d had this discussion before. Phyllis understood that with Cassie’s newfound happiness, and her current state of being head over heels in love, she wanted the same satisfaction for those she cared about. Phyllis got that satisfaction in other ways, but she knew better than to argue with Cassie.
“Financially you’ll be okay, even if he denies all responsibility?” Cassie asked.
“Okay, and then some.”
Elbows on her knees, Cassie rested her chin in her hands, staring down at her bare feet, and then over at the fashionable ankle boots Phyllis was wearing with her size-six jeans.
“You really look great, you know that?”
The words brought a smile to Phyllis’s face. “Thanks.” But then the expression faded as something else hit her. “I’ve lost forty pounds, I’m finally feeling positive about myself, and now I’m going to turn around and get fat again.”
“But only for a while,” Cassie reminded her. “And for a very good cause.” She cradled her own belly, obviously loving every pound, every outward sign that she was truly carrying a baby of her own. She’d been told years ago, after the death of her first born, that she’d never conceive a child again.
“Yeah.” Phyllis nodded, still a bit concerned. Those pounds of hers had not come off easily. Through many long months of struggle, she’d promised herself that she’d never see them again.
“Did you read Borough Bantam this week?” Cassie asked suddenly. As a diversion, the tactic was a little rough around the edges, but Phyllis was eager to turn her thoughts away from her own situation, if only for a minute or two. She nodded.
“The little mouse character picked out a boy’s name and a girl’s name in case a new mouse comes to live with her. You’ve obviously been talking to Mariah about the baby.”
Borough Bantam was a nationally syndicated comic strip depicting a village of creatures who, through their daily and often comical adventures, imparted gentle lessons and observations about life. Cassie’s husband, Sam, the creator, had fashioned them after people he’d grown up with in Shelter Valley, his way of keeping in touch with his home and everything he’d left behind during his ten-year exile from the place he loved. The little mouse in the strip represented Mariah, the little girl Sam had adopted when her parents, his best friends, had been killed by terrorists on the other side of the world.
“We have.” Cassie’s smile was tinged with sadness. “She’s insisting we name the baby either Brian or Morning Glory.”
“After her parents?”
“Yeah. Her mother’s name was Moira, but Mariah always says Morning.”
“So are you and Sam going to keep those names?”
“Absolutely. How can we not? Our daughter speaks her mind, we listen.”
For the first few months Mariah had lived with Sam, she’d been mute, a result of the trauma of witnessing her parents’ death. Cassie and her pet therapy had been the way by which Mariah was able to heal. It was also the way Cassie and Sam found each other again.
“So is Sam used to everyone in town thinking he’s a hero for creating Bantam?” Phyllis asked. She knew that Cassie’s husband had been more than a little worried about his reception—and that of his comic strip—when he’d returned to town after so many years.
“I don’t know if he’ll ever get used to it,” Cassie said honestly. “He was so sure they’d think he was poking fun at them and hate him for it. But I think he’s getting just a bit tired of everyone trying to help him write it!”
“They all have ideas, huh?” Phyllis commiserated, and Cassie nodded.
“So, back to Sheffield,” Cassie said. “What are your expectations?”
Shaking her head, Phyllis set her cup farther from the edge of the end table. “I’m expecting nothing from him,” she said. “Our being together—it just…happened. Wasn’t planned. Other than when we put on the psychology seminar last week, we haven’t spoken.”
Cassie studied her friend. “And you were happy about that.”
“Now I’m just trying to deal with the ramifications of this pregnancy in my own life. Matt Sheffield doesn’t matter to me at all.”
Sighing, seeming oddly relieved, Cassie sat back. “Can I tell you something then?”
“If Matt reacts coldly to the news, don’t take it personally. I don’t think the man’s capable of softer feelings.”
Phyllis frowned. “Why do you say that?”
“Last year I had a litter of pups that’d been left at the clinic,” Cassie said. “I took them down to campus one afternoon, offering them to anyone who might want a dog. While I was busy giving care instructions for one of them, another puppy got tangled up in one of the leashes I’d brought along with the stuff I was giving away to the new owners. Sheffield walked by and didn’t even stop. He just left that puppy there, squirming and frightened.”
“Maybe he didn’t see it.”
“He saw it,” Cassie assured her. “He looked right at us. Besides, when he walked by, the puppy started to squeal, which is what alerted me to the whole thing.”
Shrugging, Phyllis looked tired as she laid her head back against the chair. “So maybe he doesn’t like dogs. Probably got bitten by one as a kid.”
“Spoken like a true psychologist. Always looking for the hidden motivations.”
“Everybody has them.”
“Maybe he’s just incapable of caring for anything or anyone,” Cassie said softly.
Phyllis didn’t care one way or the other.
“You know,” Cassie said, leaning forward to lay a hand on Phyllis’s arm. “Between Tory and me and Becca and everyone else in Shelter Valley who’s fallen in love with you, we’ll get you through this pregnancy. And we’ll give you whatever help you need for the next eighteen years or more of single motherhood. No sweat. You can count on that.”
Phyllis’s eyes filled. “Thank you.”
“What we can’t do,” Cassie said, her voice taking on a note of warning, “is prevent—or cure—a broken heart.”
Nodding, Phyllis believed her friend. Cassie should know. She’d lived with one for more than ten years. And from the sound of things, there’d been days when the pain had been almost enough to kill her.
“Don’t worry,” she said, “this heart is firmly intact.” And going to remain that way.
AS DAYS WENT, it wasn’t a good one. Matt Sheffield wondered what he’d done to piss off the fates this time. The new gels had come in for the dance show that weekend and they were the wrong colors. The light board—the computer that controlled the lighting—had crashed, so the lights weren’t working. He had a student working for him who could only be described as technically challenged, the kids in his lighting design class had all acted as though they’d rather be someplace else, and his star student, Sophie Curtis, had been missing cues all morning.
And it was a dance show. His least-favorite kind of production to entrust to students. Plays were usually easy to light—a wash, some specials—unless they were going for extravagant effects. Concerts were even easier, symposiums downright boring. But dance—now there, the lighting was part of the art. He could lose himself in creativity and forget about life for a while.
Unless he had butts to wipe every step of the way.
And Sophie…she’d been preoccupied all semester. In the two years he’d known her, Sophie had done nothing but amaze him, with her diligence, her reliability, but mostly her vision. She could make magic out of an empty stage with almost nothing. Whether she was working as lighting designer, stage manager or sound engineer, she was always the glue that held the rest of the students together.
Until this semester. She’d been late, absentminded, short-tempered. She’d lost weight.
Something was wrong.
Not that Matt had any intention of finding out what.
He glanced up from his desk in the office at the back of the performing-arts center to see who actually had the nerve to interrupt his lunch hour—the one time he could let down his guard and allow free rein to whatever thoughts he felt like having.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî