Marriage of Convenience By ‘J’ Chapter 12

Republisher’s Note: Michelle and Danny face down jealousy.

Marriage of Convenience By ‘J’ Chapter 12

When Danny woke up in the morning, he had a dull headache and his side felt like it was on fire. His memory of the night before was foggy, but he knew he hadn’t been drinking. He’d taken a beating but was sure he gave better than he got. It was the dreams that bothered him.

They were not the nightmares that tormented him when he first got out of the family business. He hadn’t dreamed of that in years, hard work and a purpose in life had managed to exorcise those demons. These dreams were about Michelle, and they remained with him in daylight, erotic wisps and snatches that tantalized with their very brevity. Images assaulted his consciousness as he rose and went to the bathroom, splashing cold water on his face. He remembered soft thighs under his hand, yielding flesh that was as smooth as milk. At least the pictures seemed like a memory, but he knew they couldn’t be. He felt cheated and deprived.

He glanced at himself in the mirror over the sink and cringed, what woman would want to go to bed with this? He had a terminal case of five o’clock shadow, his blue black beard casting a sinister shadow on his jaw and chin. His fleshy lower lip, always a target in a fight, was split and scabbed. He washed his face gingerly and tried to put on a shirt, but his ribs protested. The damn things probably were broken, or at least cracked. They’d been broken before and had felt the same.

He left his room and went to the kitchen, where Rosa and Michelle were making breakfast. He took a cup of coffee from the post and was attempting to beat a hasty retreat when Michelle said,”I made and appointment at the clinic for you at ten. I’ll drive you to see the doctor.”

Danny stared at her. “I’m not going to see the doctor.”

“Yes, you are, and we’re not going to argue about it. You were in so much pain last night that I had to slip you a mickey.”

“A mickey?” he said, smiling slightly. She sounded as though she had stepped out of a Humphrey Bogart movie.

“I put pain pills in the drink I gave you.” She poured cream into a pitcher and handed it to him.

He thought that over, adding a dollop of cream to his coffee and rubbing his side with his other hand. That explained the headache. Maybe the vivid dreams, too.

“I don’t have time to go into town today,” he said, trying again.

Both looked at him.

“A broken rib can puncture a lung,” Michelle said.

Danny glanced from Michelle’s face to Rosa’s and knew he was outnumbered.

“All right,” he said reluctantly.

“Ready?” Michelle asked. He nodded. They walked out to the car together, and Michelle got behind the wheel as Danny slipped in beside her. “I can drive,” he said. Michelle ignored him.

“Did I say anything after you gave me those pills last night?” Danny inquired suddenly, looking over at her.

“What makes you ask that?” Michelle replied, stalling.

“I don’t know,” he said frowning. “I’m kind of confused. It all seems like dreams.”

“It probably was,” Michelle said quickly. “The medicine really knocked you out fast.”

He seemed to accept that and looked out the window broodingly for the rest of the trip. When they reached the clinic, Michelle parked and they went inside, where Danny gave his information at the window and sat waiting the restlessly, looking as if he were about to bolt any minute. The room was crowded, and he got up to pace several times, looking longingly at the door.

Michelle was beginning to think he would leave regardless of what she said, when his name was called by the nurse.

He seemed to be in the doctor’s office for an inordinately long time, and when he finally emerged, Michelle was able to determine why. The white coated physician was with him. She was about thirty, with thick chestnut hair and large green eyes. She was wearing non-regulation high heels, and a blue silk dress showed beneath her jacket.

They were deep in conversation, and Michelle felt sure it had nothing to do with cracked ribs. Danny finally tore himself away from his medical adviser and came through the door, a prescription slip in his hand.

“So?” Michelle said to him.

“She X-ray’d them for me. Hairline fractures,” she said.

“Gee, she developed X rays right there, huh?” Michelle said.

“Yeah, they can do that now,”Danny said staring at her.

“For special patients?” Michelle asked.

“For everybody. What’s the matter with you?”

“I’ve been waiting almost an hour, that’s what’s the matter with me,” Michelle replied irritably.

“I’m sorry it took so long. When I told her I hadn’t seen a doctor in a while, she gave me a thorough exam.”

“I bet,” Michelle said under her breath.

“What?”

“That’s good. Do you have to get that filled?”

He nodded.

“Did she say anything about you not being able to work?” Michelle asked suspiciously.

He didn’t answer.

“Danny. I’ll call and ask her myself.”

“She told me I can’t lift or do heavy work for a week,” Danny replied unhappily.

“I’ll see that you follow that directive,” Michelle said.

He looked at her as they left the office. “How do you propose to do that?” he asked.

“I have my ways.”

“Gonna sit on me?”

“If I have to.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” he said, smiling, and she let that pass.

They stopped at a pharmacy in town to fill his prescription, and on the way out Danny said, “Do you want to have lunch? There’s a good place around the corner.”

“All right,” Michelle said, wondering about the invitation. He had made a science of avoiding her since her arrival, and she was suspected that there was an ulterior motive for his sudden chumminess.

The hostess in the restaurant knew Danny, and they talked amiably as she seated them. They had ordered and were waiting for the waitress when Danny said, “There’s a zoning meeting tonight. So you are going to come tonight?”

Michelle nodded.

“Thanks.”

The waitress returned and brought them their food, said “Everything all right?”

“Fine,” Danny said.

She winked at him and favored him with a sidelong smile.

“Another member of your fan club?” Michelle asked archly when she left.

“Never saw her before in my life,” Danny replied, deadpan.

“We hardly had time to pick up our forks, before she asked us if everything was okay,” Michelle said. “Usually you have to send a search party to get your waitress once she’s delivered the food.”

“Maybe she’s conscientious,” Danny said shrugging.

Michelle studied him a moment and said quietly, “My arrival has really cut into your social life, hasn’t it?”

He didn’t answer, taking a sip from his drink.

“It must be hard for you, pretending to be married.”

“I am married,” he replied.

“You know what I mean. Pretending to be in love with me. No?” Michelle murmured.

“People believe it,” he went on,”I mean if you were sixty or ugly or something, it would be different, but this way, it’s not difficult to pull off.”

“Oh.” She hesitated and then added,”But you can’t see other women while I’m here.”

“You won’t be here forever,” he answered flatly.

“Right,” Michelle agreed. She sighed and said,”I guess you’re anxious for this to be over.”

“Aren’t you?” he countered.

“Sure,” Michelle said lifelessly.

Something in her tone must have alerted him, because he looked up at her.

Their gazes held.

“Would you like anything else?” he said.

“Excuse me?” Michelle answered.

“Anything else to eat? Dessert?”

Michelle shook her head.

“Then let’s go.”

They rose together and Danny paid the bill.

As they left, Michelle saw the waitress looking after them.

As they drove to the municipal building that evening, a thunderstorm was gathering. The sycamore and pepper trees bent in the wind, and dead palm fronds rattled to the pavement with every gust. By the time they pulled into a parking space, droplets the size of dimes were splattering on the windshield, and they ran inside through a welcome shower that hit the parched earth and was absorbed instantly by a sponge.

The turnout for the meeting was large, and the developers spoke first. Rain thundered on the roof as one of Morse’s colleagues told how Citrus Farms was going to transform the Valley into the Garden of Eden. To their credit, the ranchers sat in stoic silence and let him talk, there were no boos, but no applause either. When the chairman of the city council asked to hear from the Ranchers Association, Danny stood up to a round of encouraging comments from his neighbors.

“I’ve been ranching in this county for ten years,” Danny said. “And I’m opposed to the rezoning for the developments, and I will tell you why.”

Michelle sat at his side, listening.

“All open country around here is getting swallowed up,” he said. “Now the housing developments are carving this land into sections. There’s going to be no place left for the animals or for the people who tend them.”

The ranchers murmured with approval.

“Those people have to live somewhere, Mr. Santos,” the citrus man said.

“They don’t have to live here,” Danny shot back.

“Santos, has the floor,” the council chairman said mildly.

“Tell them what happened to you last night, Danny,” someone in the back called out.

Danny ignored that and went on, talking of his love for land and respect for the area people who made a living on it. His speech was simple but eloquent, straight from the heart, and Michelle was moved by his sincerity.

So was his audience. When the time came for a poll, the rezoning plan was defeated. “Is that the end?” Michelle asked Danny as his friends came up to congratulate him.

He shook his head. “No way. They’ll resubmit their plan and put it up to a general referendum as soon as they can. This just stalls them off a little. But every bit helps.”

“Why were they so eager to buy our place when they don’t even know if they’ll get the rezoning?” Michelle asked.

“They know,” he replied. “Or they think they know. It’s called confidence. They’re confident they will pay off or buy out whoever they have to in order to make this work. They have done it before elsewhere, I understand. They will regard this as a setback, but hardly a defeat.”

“A formidable opponent,” Michelle said.

“Yes,” Danny said evenly. “But so am I.”

It was still raining hard when they left, and the people delighted in the rare spectacle of an honest to goodness thunderstorm.

“You would think they’d never seen rain before,” Michelle marveled as they went back to the car.

“They don’t see much of it,” Danny replied.

“You were really impressive in there,” Michelle said as they backed out onto the road.

“I just said what I felt.”

“You said it very well.”

“What I did wasn’t enough, but its a start.”

“Are you sure you should be driving?” Michelle asked nervously. She could hardly see a thing, and he was still favoring his side.

“I’m fine. I don’t see how holding a steering wheel can affect my ribs.”

He negotiated the return trip, and they dashed back into the house as forks of lightening split the sky. Michelle took off her wet raincoat and was shaking out her damp hair when Danny said, “I was surprised. You seemed one hundred percent with the ranchers.”

He was wiping his damp face with the back of his hand. Touched by the eloquence of his plea at the meeting, and feeling guilty about her meeting with Citrus Farms, Michelle faced him and said quietly,”I don’t want to sell the ranch, Danny. I never did.”

He stared at her speechless. After a moment he recovered and said, “Then why was the meeting with Morse necessary?”

Michelle hesitated.. Seconds passed, and then he held up his hand. “No, wait a minute,” he said. “I get it.” He took a step forward, his dark eyes blazing. “It’s really important to hurt me, isn’t it?”

“Danny…..”

“You despise me, don’t you?”

“I don’t despise you….”

But there was no stopping him now.

“That’s the real reason you came back here, isn’t it? The will provided you with an excuse to return and make me pay, get me back for what happened when you were a kid.”

Michelle was silent. She wanted to contradict him, but there was an element of truth in what he was saying. He had hurt her deeply back then, and she hadn’t been able to explain even to herself why she’d made it look as though she was entertaining Morse’s offer.

“And when Sun City gets in touch with you, I guess you will keep them on a string, too, to make me squirm a little more,” he said softly.

She shook her head. “No, I’m calling Mr. Morse in the morning. I’ll tell him and Sun City that I’m not interested.”

“Oh, thank you so much. What caused this sudden change of heart? IS the lady of the manor taking pity on the lowly man begging to hang on to his parcel land? Is this the same lady who walked away from him without a second glance or a word passing between them in all this time?” Danny said.

“Danny, don’t do this,” Michelle said quietly, pained by the depth of the bitterness in his voice. She wasn’t the only one harboring resentments through the years.

“You must really hate me,” he said quietly.

“No,” she whispered, her voice trembling.

“And the funny thing is, there’s no need for it,” he went on his tone tinged with irony. “You think I rejected you that night in the guesthouse.” His eyes moved over her face, and she could feel there burning touch. “You will never know how much I wanted you to stay.”

She shook her head blindly, her eyes filling with tears. “You told me to go back to school, you said you responded to me the way you had to the whores,” she sobbed.

“What a memory. As it happens, I remember every word of that little speech, too. I’ve had it drumming in my head ever since.” He moved forward and took her arms, holding them as she struggled. “Don’t’ you see that I had to say something bad enough to make you go?” he demanded roughly. “I had to get you to leave right then, or I would have begged you to stay.”

Michelle stared up at him, tears running down her face.

“I don’t believe you,” she whispered. She wanted to believe him, desperately, madly, but the memory of that brutal rejection was too vivid in her mind.

“It’s the truth,” he said huskily, catching a tear on the end of his thumb. “Baby, it’s the truth. I had never wanted any woman the way I wanted you that night.” He closed his eyes, then opened them. “And I never have again,” he added. “Until now.”

She tried to say his name, but he bent his head and kissed her, stopping her mouth with his. This time there was no audience and no pretense that they were performing for one. His clothes were damp and so were hers, and the heat of their bodies blazed through them as they embraced. He dropped his hand to her blouse and unbuttoned it as his mouth moved down her neck and on to the cleft between her breasts, his tongue leaving a trail of fire on her rain cooled flesh. He tried to unhook her bra, but his fingers were shaking and clumsy, so he ripped it in frustration, making a sound of satisfaction low in his throat as his lips closed over a swollen nipple. Michelle gasped, then sighed, barely able to stand as he suckled one breast and then the other, binding her to him with one arm, as with his free hand he searched for the hem of her skirt. He found it, and his palm trailed over her bare thigh. He lifted her suddenly, backing to the wall and forcing her to lock her legs around his hips. She felt him hard and ready against her, with only the thin barrier of their light summer cottons between them, then she whimpered restlessly, eager for more.

They were so lost in each other that it was a while before they heard the pounding on the outer door. Danny finally raised his head and muttered,”What’s that? Do you hear that?”

“Someone’s knocking,” Michelle replied shakily.

“In this weather?” he set her down gently and waited for her to arrange her clothes before he went through the hall, tucking in his own shirt, and opened the door.

Carlo Perez, one of his hired hands, was standing on the porch.

“Lightning,” he shouted over the noise of the wind and rain. “Hit the main stable. It’s on fire.”

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