Marriage of Convenience By ‘J’ Chapter 14

Republisher’s Note: Michelle finds a mess when she comes home from town and finds Danny in a mess again.

Marriage of Convenience By ‘J’ Chapter 14

The next day Michelle had some shopping to do. She spent a couple of hours in the stores, buying some personal items, and returned just after noon. She came into the kitchen and called,”Anybody home?”

Rosa entered from the hall, looking worried.

“Is Danny okay?” Michelle said.

Rosa looked more worried.

“What is it? Is he ill?”

“He’s not here,” Rosa said.

“Well, where is he?”

“In Jail,” Rosa replied, shrugging helplessly.

“In jail!” Michelle said incredulously. “He’s sleeping when I leave, I’m gone for two hours, and when I come back he’s in jail? What on earth happened?”

“I told him to wait for you, but he wouldn’t.”

“Wait for me to do what?” Michelle asked, trying to absorb it.

“The insurance adjuster came right after you left,” Rosa explained. “Danny got up and went out to the stable with him. The insurance man looked at the stable roof and said the company would only pay ten thousand to replace it. Well, that’s a new roof, Danny had it put on a year and a half ago for fifteen. They got into a dispute about it, and Danny wound up punching him.”

Michelle rubbed her forehead. “Let me understand this. Danny wanted five thousand more than the company man said the roof was worth, so Danny handled the argument by decking the guy?”

“That’s about it,” Rosa said uncomfortably.

“Why am I surprised?” Michelle murmured to herself, shaking her head wearily.

“The insurance man was furious, he marched straight in here and called the police,” Rosa said. “He’s charging Danny with assault. The cops came and took Danny away in a squad car. He’s in the municipal lockup right now.”

“Oh God, I can’t stand this,” Michelle said. “What’s his bail?”

“It wasn’t set yet when I called.”

Michelle sighed. “I’ll go down there and try to straighten this out. Rosa, I’m sorry you had to be here for it.”

“Don’t’ worry about me, I was just afraid somebody was going to get hurt. I wish Danny would think before he reacted so physically.”

“Amen,” Michelle murmured. She glanced at her watch. “I’ll have to stop off at the bank and get some money. I doubt if the bail will be more than five hundred for simple assault, but I’ll get some extra money just in case.”

“There was nothing simple about it,” Rosa said darkly.

“The jail is right behind the municipal building, isn’t it?”

Michelle said, fishing around in her bag for her wallet, which contained her bar association card.

Rosa nodded. “Do you want me to come with you?”

Michelle shook her head. “I can handle it. I’ll call you if there’s any problem.”

Michelle hurried to her car and drove back to town, pulling into the lot of the municipal building and walking around to the jail. A uniformed clerk looked up desultorily as she entered through the double glass doors.

“I’m here to post bail for one of your detainees,” she said.

The woman jerked her head toward the rear of the room.

“See the sergeant.”

The desk sergeant was seated on a raised platform from which he surveyed the world like a ruling despot on a throne. He fixed Michelle with a gimlet stare as she approached.

“Something I can do for you, young lady,” he drawled.

“I’d like to post bail for Danny Santos,” she announced.

The sergeant, whose name was Brady, shuffled through a pile of papers on his blotter. “Santos, Danny,” he recited.

“Assault and battery, civil complaint filed by one Steven Caldwell of 10 Elmhurst St, Upton. Santos’s hearing is in two weeks on the tenth, 11:00 am. Six hundred and fifty franks, please. Cash?” Brady said.

Michelle handed the pile of franks to him. He counted it with the precision of a bank teller; he obviously loved his job.

“And you are?” he said, his ballpoint poised above a form.

“His lawyer.”

“ID?” the sergeant asked.

Michelle presented her bar card and driver’s license.

“These are from the USA,” Brady said.

“Yes, I know,” Michelle said patiently. “I’ve only been out here a short time and….”

Brady waited.

“Look, I don’t have to be admitted to the bar here to get him out of jail,” Michelle said firmly. “Can we proceed with this?”

“Your name is Michelle Bauer,” Brady said, copying it precisely onto his form.

“Michelle Bauer …Santos.”

“A relative?” Brady asked, noticing her hesitation about the name.

“I’m his wife… Legally.” Michelle winced inwardly after she added the last word. Why had she said that? Cops hated lawyers.

“Is there any other way?” Brady asked, raising his bushy brows. “Spiritually? Metaphysically?”

“We’re married,” Michelle said flatly.

“So you’re his lawyer and his wife? Isn’t that a–what do you call it–a conflict of interest?”

“Are you writing a book, Sergeant Brady?” Michelle demanded. “You have the money right here. Just let me sign the papers now and get him out of here.”

Brady scribbled on his forms and pushed them across the desk for her signature. As she wrote, he pressed a button on the house mic at his elbow and said in a bored tone, “Bring Santos up, his bail’s in.”

Michelle was tucking her license back into her wallet when Danny appeared, escorted by a female officer. He looked extremely pained when he saw her.

“Personal effects,” Brady said, handing Michelle an envelope containing Danny’s watch and billfold, and some other items that rattled when she shook it. Danny walked past her and stopped by the desk.

“I’m free to go?” he said.

Sergeant Brady raised his hand and made a tightfisted gesture of farewell, like a baby waving bye-bye.

“That guy thinks he’s a comedian,” Danny muttered as they walked to the door.

“I noticed,” Michelle said. When they were outside, she turned to face him.

“All Right,” he sighed. “Let me have it.”

“Lets go across the street into the coffee shop,” Michelle said tersely. “I don’t want to make a scene in the street.”

“Oh, I agree,” he said, keeping pace with her. “Making a scene in a restaurant is preferable any day.”

Michelle ignored that and waited until they were seated in a booth before saying, “Danny, I never want to bail you out of jail again. If this is the way you plan to handle your problems, in future I suggest you retain the services of somebody else.”

“As lawyer or wife?” he countered.

“Very funny. You should work up a routine with sergeant Brady, should be good for a few laughs.”

“Are you going to let me explain?”

“Rosa already told me what happened. You got a low estimate on the roof replacement and responded by decking the insurance agent.”

“That’s not exactly how it went.”

Michelle surveyed him with exaggerated tolerance. “Are you suggesting that Rosa lied to me?”

He shook his head. “She only told you what I told her. But it wasn’t the whole story.”

“So?” Michelle said.

“Crisp as lettuce, aren’t we?” Danny said dryly.

“I’m waiting.”

“I didn’t want to go into it in front of the two cops,” Danny said. “They were standing there listening to me when I talked to Rosa.”

“I’m still waiting.”

“The guy made a crack about us, okay?” Danny said tightly.

“Us?” Michelle said uncomprehendingly.

“Us. As in you and me.”

Michelle closed her eyes. “Doesn’t anyone around here ever talk about anything else?”

“Apparently not. When he told me he would only give me ten grand for the roof, I said it wasn’t enough. I wanted to go into the house and get the bill for the roof replacement I had done just a year ago, but he said he couldn’t understand why I was worried about money. After all, I had just married you to get the ranch, and with all you were worth, a bill for the roof was a drop in the bucket. That’s when I hit him.”

“Oh.”

“He went nuts and ran back to the house, screaming that he was calling the cops. By then I felt like a ass about it, and so I just waited for the police to show up and went along to the station.”

“I didn’t realize we were so famous,” Michelle murmured.

Danny shrugged. “The ranchers in the valley are a closed community. I guess this guy had been hearing the gossip.” He shook his head. “I shouldn’t have reacted that way, but our…uh…situation is kind of a sore subject with me.”

Michelle merely looked at him.

He met her gaze and glanced away.

“Was he hurt?” Michelle asked.

“No. I didn’t hit him that hard. His pride was damaged more than anything. He didn’t see it coming, and it landed him in the dirt in a rather undignified position.”

“How nice,” Michelle said evenly. “I’m so sorry I missed it.”

“So you’re pretty mad at me, huh?”

“Whatever gave you that idea?”

He fiddled with the packets of sugar in the metal stand on the table. “Look, Michelle, I know you think I’m a…”

“No!” she said, feigning astonished disagreement.

He held up his hand. “Let me finish. I’ve been trying, I really have. But can you imagine how it makes me feel when I’m reminded that everyone knows why you married me? I see the look on their faces, the tone of their voices. They might as well say that a woman like you wouldn’t have me, gilded, except for your father’s will. I know what they’re thinking.”

“Oh, Danny, we’ve been over this before. You’re too sensitive.”

“It wasn’t a temper that caused me to react today,” he said quietly. “That insurance agent was pretty direct.”

“Can’t you overlook that sort of remark?”

He dropped his eyes. “Not when it’s true,” he said quietly, his expression grim.

The waitress arrived to take their order. Michelle, nonplussed by his last statement, asked for coffee. Danny nodded that he would have the same. The woman left.

“Danny,” Michelle said guardedly, “I don’t think this is working out.”

His head came up sharply. “What do you mean?”

“I seem to have brought you nothing but trouble. Maybe I should just go back to Springfield. I don’t have to stay here for us to inherit the ranch. It will come to us as soon as the will is probated, and then I can file for divorce in absentia.”

His face became veiled, withdrawn. “Is this what you want?” he said flatly after a long pause.

She shrugged. “We’re just torturing each other this way, creating uncomfortable circumstances. Don’t you agree with me?”

“Whatever you say.” He wouldn’t look at her.

“Do you want me to stay here?” she asked directly.

“I want you to do whatever suits you,” he replied, his tone deliberate.

The coffee arrived and they stared at the cups morosely, equally miserable.

“Will you take me to the airport if I book a flight?” Michelle ventured at length in a small voice.

“I’ll take you wherever you want to go,” he answered, staring past her head.

“Good.”

They pretended they were interested in their drinks a little longer, and then they got up and left.

Rosa was sipping tea in the kitchen as they entered by the back door. She looked up apprehensively and said to Danny,

“Are you out of jail for good?”

“I’m out on bail,” he said. “I have to appear for a hearing.”

The two women exchanged glanced.

“I’m glad it was no worse,” Rosa said.

“It was bad enough,” Michelle said darkly.

Danny walked through the kitchen and into the hall. Seconds later they heard his door close.

“I can’t tell you what a wonderful time I’ve been having today,” Michelle said dully, sliding into the chair across from Rosa.

“Danny doesn’t look any happier than you do.”

“I’m thinking about going back to Springfield,” Michelle said bluntly.

“What?” Rosa said, sitting up straight.

“You heard me.”

“So you’re just going to give up on him?” Rosa demanded.

“Rosa, what can I do? You see what’s happening. Today he wound up in jail because he has a bad temper.”

“He’ll still have a bad temper if you leave, and you know that. What’s the real reason?”

“I can’t stand it,” Michelle whispered.

“You can’t stand what?’

“Being around him all the time. Seeing him, hearing him, and knowing that it will all end. The longer I remain, the worse it will be when I finally get the divorce and have to leave.”

“Who says you have to leave?”

“Do you think I would stay here and continue this….?”

Rosa put her hand on Michelle’s arm. “Go to him. Talk to him.”

Michelle shook her head mutely. “I still have some pride left. I’m going to gather the shreds of it around me and go home.”

“Your home is where Danny is,” Rosa said.

Michelle shook her head, tears gathering in her eyes. “I hoped I could make that come true, but all I’ve done is cause problems.”

“Michelle, I know he wants you.”

Michelle nodded slowly. “I believe that now, but it’s not enough. He wanted me ten years ago, but even then I brought out the worst in him. And it’s happening again. Can’t you see that?”

“No. I see a man who’s in pain because he’s afraid, quite rightly, that it will not work out between you. AGAIN.”

Michelle didn’t answer.

“Think about it.” Rosa added. “And don’t go anywhere, don’t do anything without talking to me.”

“Fine, Rosa, but–”

“No buts,” Rosa said firmly, putting her teacup in the sink. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Danny emerged from his room as Rosa was leaving. He had changed his clothes.

“Would you like something to eat?” He nodded. “Sure. Thanks,” he walked off down the hall and seemed so dispirited that Michelle looked after him.

He’s just tired, she thought; he had a long, grueling day, and he wasn’t well at the start.

She finished the salad and grilled a porterhouse medium rare, the way she’d heard him order steak in restaurants. She sat and waited, but twenty minutes passed with no sign of Danny.

Wondering if he had fallen asleep, she set the kettle to boil to make a cup of tea for herself and left the food on the table, going to his door.

“Danny?” she said, tapping lightly.

There was no answer

“Come on in,” his voice was subdued.

Michelle pushed the door inward gently. He was seated on the edge of the bed, wearing nothing but a towel wrapped around his hips. His hair was wet and droplets of moisture clung to his upper arms and torso. He was staring at the floor.

“I made dinner for you,” Michelle said.

He nodded silently.

“Danny, what is it? What’s wrong?” Michelle asked softly.

He lifted one shoulder. “What’s right?’

He raised his eyes to hers and said, “When are you leaving?”

“Um…I don’t’ know,” Michelle replied, startled.

“Tomorrow? The next day? I’d like to know, I’d like to be ready for it.”

“Ready for what?

“The emptiness. The loneliness.”

Michelle stared at him, afraid to breathe.

“For ten years I waited to see you again. I told myself that you had a life of you own and there was no place for me in it, but inside I always wondered, always hoped….” He sighed, swallowing. “But when you leave this time, there won’t be any hope left. There will be nothing but the knowledge that it’s really finally over and I have to go on living, by myself.”

Michelle took a step forward. Her knees were shaking. He searched her face.

His eyes were bleak in the lavender twilight of the room; every line of his posture bespoke resignation and defeat.

“Michelle, please don’t go,” he said huskily. “Please.”

Michelle crossed the distance between them in a second. She pulled him to her and he wrapped his arms around her waist.

“I love you,” he murmured, his eyes closing as she cradled him against her breast. “Oh, god, I love you. I always have.”

His whole body shuddered with the relief of saying it at last, and Michelle’s throat closed with emotion. She clutched him tighter, and he pulled her onto to bed with him, pinning her to the mattress.

She opened her lips as he bent to kiss her. The scrap of terry cloth he wore did little to mute the impact of his muscular arms and legs, the lean strength of his body. His mouth was hot, his hands restless, in her hair, at the buttons of her blouse, the fastener of her skirt. She turned to help him, and then they both heard the piercing whistle of the teakettle as it started to boil.

“What the hell is that?” he muttered, his lips against her neck.

“The tea kettle.”

He propped himself on one elbow and stared down at her.

“You chose this moment to make a cup of tea?”

“Well, I thought you were coming out to have dinner. I’d better go turn it off.”

“No, you’re not going anywhere,” he answered his arms becoming like steel bands to restrain her. “Anywhere.”

“Danny, it will burn through the bottom to the heating coil. It could easily start a fire.”

He groaned with real feeling and rolled off her. “Not another fire.”

“I’ll be right back,” she whispered

“I’ll come after you if you’re not,” he replied, watching her departure with hungry eyes.

Michelle scampered to the kitchen and turned off the current, moving the kettle to a back burner. She was turning to go back to the bedroom when she caught sight of a man standing at the back door.

He was waving to her and smiling.

The man was Bill Lewis.

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