Marriage of Convenience By ‘J’ Chapter 15

Republisher’s Note: Just when things were looking good, Bill Lewis arrives to ruin everything.

Marriage of Convenience By ‘J’ Chapter 15

In one panic-stricken instant Michelle considered several alternatives. The first was giving way to unrestrained hysterical screaming. The second was bolting like a vampire confronted by a crucifix and locking herself in with Danny. And the third was answering the door.

She decided to answer the door. Bill was very persistent and, having seen her, would knock until his fist fell off. She checked her buttons and snaps as she walked through the kitchen to let him in and found that everything was in order.

“Bill,” she said, pulling open the door and manufacturing a smile. “What are you doing here?”

“Hi!” he said, grinning as he entered the house.

“Surprised?”

“I sure am,” Michelle said desperately, glancing over her shoulder.

“Well, I was missing you and I thought, I’ll just take a few days off and hop on a plane, why not?”

“Why not?” Michelle echoed.

“So, this is your father’s place?” he asked, looking around.

“It was, yes.”

“Nice place.”

“Yes. As a matter of fact, why don’t we go outside right now and take a look at it?” Michelle said hastily, attempting to shove him back out the door.

But she was too late. Bill’s gaze was fixed over her shoulder at a point about seven inches above her head.

“Who’s that?” he said.

Please let him be wearing a towel, Michelle prayed silently. She turned to face Danny.

He was wearing a pair of pants.

“Who the hell is this?” Danny demanded, hands on narrow hips.

Michelle tried very hard to vanish, but she was neither supernatural nor Harry Houdini. She was still standing there several seconds later, with the two men glaring at each other. She finally said, “Danny, this is my colleague from the district attorney’s office, Bill Lewis. Bill, this is Danny Santos.

Danny made no move to shake Bill’s extended hand.

Michelle said nothing.

Bill dropped his hand.

“What are you doing here?” Danny said to him.

“Michelle just asked the same question,” Bill said, smiling weakly. “Maybe I should have called first.”

“Answer the question,” Danny advised coldly.

Bill looked from one to the other in confusion and decided to tough it out.

“I’ve come to ask Michelle to marry me,” he announced, stepping forward and putting his arm around her.

Michelle stared at him in horror, astonished.

“Is that right?” Danny demanded, his mouth a grim line.

“Wait, Danny,” Michelle interjected, “this is a mistake…..”

“I think I’m the one who made the mistake,” he replied tersely, looking at her.

“There’s no mistake,” Bill said.

“Could be,” Danny said to him flatly.

“I think you’re a little late for a wedding,” he turned on his heel and strode from the room without looking back.

“Danny, wait,” Michelle called after him.

There was no answer.

“Michelle, what’s going on here?” Bill said, examining her anguished face.

“I….it’s complicated.”

“It must be.”

“Bill, let’s get out of here. I want to explain, but it would be better if we left and talked someplace else.”

They went out to Bill’s rental car and he drove into the city, where they stopped at the same coffee shop Michelle had patronized with Danny. When they were seated in a booth and had ordered, Bill said, “I think you’d better start from the beginning and tell me all of it.”

Michelle folded her hands on the table in front of her. “I wasn’t entirely frank with you about the reasons for my trip out here.”

“Somehow I sensed that.”

“I told you that I was going to Europe to settle my late father’s estate.”

“Right.”

“I didn’t tell you that his will required me to marry my step-brother in order for us to inherit the ranch.”

“Danny? The guy back at your house?”

She nodded bleakly.

“You married your step-brother?”

“As soon as I got here.”

“Michelle, why? You know a piece of Victoriana like that will would never stand up in a court today. You could have contested it easily.”

“I know, but contesting it would have taken a long time, and the ranch is Danny’s home. I didn’t want to tie it up in a long legal, wrangle that would have left him unsettled indefinitely.”

“Or maybe you really wanted to marry the guy,” Bill said, watching her expression.

“Not at first,” she said slowly.

“But now?”

“Now, I…” She gestured helplessly, leaving the sentence unfinished.

Bill stared at her. “Michelle, I came out her to propose. I have a ring in my pocket. Now you tell me you’ve married somebody else because of some antiquated will and, even crazier, that you want to keep it that way?”

“I know it all sounds….odd,” she said weakly.

“It’s clear I jumped to a conclusion here.”

“Bill,” Michelle said gently, “I’m sorry if you mistook my feelings, but I don’t recall doing or saying anything that would have led you to believe I was ready to marry you.”

“No,” he admitted.

“What then? What brought this on?”

He shrugged. “I guess it was impulsive. I want to get married. I want to have children, and we’ve always gotten along….”

“Do you love me?”

He looked abashed. “I guess so. I, well… I don’t know…”

Michelle remembered the passion in Danny’s husky voice as he said, “Oh God, I love you. I always have.” She dropped her eyes.

“I know that’s not a statement to sweep you off your feet.” Bill admitted, “But I’m afraid I’m not sure what love is exactly.”

“You’ll be sure when it happens to you,” Michelle said quietly.

“Has it happened to you?”

She nodded.

The drive home was short, and the house was dark when they pulled up in the driveway.

“Do you think he went out?” Bill asked.

“His car is here.”

They entered together, and Michelle snapped on the kitchen light. She was about to go into the living room when Danny entered from the hall, a half finished drink in his hand. He was wearing the same pants as before, with a loose cotton sweater.

“Well, if it isn’t the happy couple,” he said, toasting them with his glass. Michelle and Bill exchanged glances.

“So, when’s the joyous day?” Danny asked, polishing off his drink in one gulp.

Michelle said nothing, trying to determine how to handle him.

“Cat got your tongue?” Danny said to her. “I would think that such felicitous tidings would be just bursting from your lips.”

Bill moved in front of Michelle.

“I’ll bet you thought that only you lawyers could talk like that,” Danny added. “Speaking of the law, I have a question. Was the blushing bride going to wait until our divorce to marry, or was bigamy part of the plan?”

“There was no plan,” Bill said.

“You’re drunk,” Michelle said.

“Couple drinks,” he replied. “Just enough to help assua…assu… to comfort me in my disappointment.” He threw him empty glass against the wall, where it shattered noisily.

Bill took a step forward.

“Isn’t this touching, Michelle?” Danny said sarcastically. “Your knight in shining armor is going to protect you.”

“Somebody should protect her from you, bud,” Bill said stiffly.

“Bill, don’t,” Michelle said, aware that such intervention would only worsen the situation.

“Listen to the lady, Bill,” Danny said softly. “Otherwise I might have to rearrange your face.”

It was obvious that Bill’s usual good humor was dissipating rapidly. “You’ll probably fall down plastered first, big man,” Bill sneered.

“I’m still standing,” Danny said, closing in on him.

“Oh, you’re so macho,” Bill taunted him, now furious himself. This is exactly what Michelle had wanted to avoid.

“You like the macho type, sweetie?” Danny said to him.

Bill’s face suffused with color.

“You’re all talk, Santos. Nobody witnessing this performance would believe that you’ve had this beautiful girl here all this time and never laid a finger on her. What’s the matter, you afraid of woman?”

Danny lunged for Bill, but Michelle, expecting it, was lighter and quicker. She launched herself at Danny, whose liquor inhibited reflexes were slowed.

He stumbled against her, and she flung her arms around his neck, bringing him to an awkward stop.

“If you do anything to him, I swear I will never speak to you again as long as I live,” she said vehemently, looking up into Danny’s face.

Her intensity got through to him, and he backed away, shrugging off her hold. “I’m impressed,” he said hoarsely. “Your instinct to shelter your beloved is as strong as his.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, will you listen to how ridiculous you sound? If you’d stop hurling insults long enough for me to explain, you’d realize how foolish you’re acting.”

“He doesn’t deserve an explanation,” Bill said tersely.

“Shut up,” Danny said to him.

“Bill, I think you better go, Michelle said.

“Yeah, Bill, why don’t you go?” Danny said.

“I’m not leaving you alone with him,” Bill announced. “I don’t know what he would do to you.”

“Oh, please, let me hit him just once,” Danny said, brushing past Michelle.

“Danny, stop it!” Michelle barked.

He halted.

“How would you do without your little watchdog to run interference for you? Danny demanded of Bill.

“I’d love to show you.”

“Bill, just go. I told you this would happen. Can’t you see that you’re making everything worse?”

Bill hesitated.

“I’ll call you later,” Michelle said quickly, observing his indecision. “Where are you staying?”

“At the Palm Court, in town.”

“Go, I’ll be fine.”

“You promise you’ll call me?”

“I promise.”

“Over my dead body,” Danny said.

“That can be arranged,” Bill replied.

“Danny, do you want him to leave or not?” Michelle demanded.

Danny didn’t answer.

“If you stop antagonizing him, he’ll go.”

“Don’t talk about me as if I weren’t here,” Bill said angrily.”And don’t count on my leaving.”

Michelle was ready to cry. She felt as if she were keeping two hungry lions from fighting over a piece of meat.

And she was the sirloin.

“Bill, I’m begging you,” she said, and the incipient tears were evident in her voice. “I can handle this if you would just leave it alone. He’s not going to hurt me.”

Danny looked at her and turned away.

“If you’re sure,” Bill said, not wanting her to break down.

“I’m sure.”

He threw Danny one more challenging glance before he strode purposefully out the door.

“I’m seriously afraid your boyfriend is a sissy,” Danny said, watching him go.

“He’s not my boyfriend and he’s certainly not a sissy,” Michelle replied angrily. “But you definitely are and an idiot.”

“Yeah, well, let’s not discuss what you are right now.”

“What is that suppose to mean?” Michelle demanded.

“I have to hand it to you, ” he said, leaning back against the kitchen counter and surveying her dispassionately. “It gives me a whole new respect for the workings of the legal mind.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Danny.”

“I thought you had planned the perfect revenge by dangling the threat of the developers over my head, but this is better. This is perfect. You worked on me just long enough to get me to admit it, didn’t you, and then up pops the fiance, right on cue.”

“Admit what?”

“That I love you,” he said as if the words were torn from his soul. “It must have been such fun, listening to me begging you to stay with me, when all along you knew you were getting engaged to him.” He jerked his head in the direction of Bill’s departure.

“I’m not engaged to him!” she shouted, shaking her fists.

“Oh, right, I guess not. Since you’re married to me.”

The tears were very close to the surface now and Michelle’s hands trembled as she pulled out a chair.

“Danny, Please sit down. I have to talk to you, and I’m asking you to listen.”

“Have I ever denied you anything?’ Danny asked archly.

Michelle pulled out a chair for herself and sat, waiting.

“I may need another drink for this, ” he said.

“No more drinks,” Michelle warned.

He sat across from her, watching her warily.

“You’ve gotten the wrong impression about Bill and me,” she began.

“Oh, I see. He’s a perfect stranger who wandered in here under a spell?”

“Could you cut the sarcasm and let me talk?”

Danny was silent.

“I work with Bill in the D.A.’s office.

“He’s a colleague.”

“That’s right.”

“A colleague who took it upon himself to fly thousands of miles out here and propose to you.”

“Essentially, that’s correct.”

“What does essentially mean?”

“Oh, what is this? A quiz show?”

“Answer the question,” Danny said humorlessly.

“I’ve been dating him,” Michelle admitted.

“Dating?”

“Yes.”

“That’s all?”

“That’s ALL,” she replied, emphasizing the second word.

“For how long?”

“About six months.”

“You’ve been keeping this guy on a string for six months?”

“I haven’t been keeping him on a string, as you put it. I just couldn’t make the commitment that he wanted.”

“So you re telling me he came out here to make a grand gesture and impress you into marrying him?”

“I guess that’s about the size of it.”

“So he didn’t know about us?”

“I didn’t tell him.”

“You thought you could come out here and marry me, get the ranch and then shed me like a skin before returning to his waiting arms?”

Michelle put her face in her hands. “I had no intention of marrying him, Danny. I didn’t know what was going to happen when I got here. It was a sticky situation and I just didn’t want to go into it with him. Can you blame me for that?”

“You mean you wanted to keep him hanging around, since our previous encounter had been less than successful.”

“That is not what I mean.”

“No?”

“You don’t believe me,” Michelle said miserably.

“I believe that I don’t stack up much next to a fellow lawyer.”

“Oh, please, not that again. Danny, I was about to make love with you when Bill showed up at the door. Do you think I would have done that If I were expecting him to come here?”

“I don’t know, would you?” he said, eying her levelly.

There was a shocked silence. Then, “You don’t think very much of me do you?” Michelle asked, stung.

“I thought a lot of the girl I use to know.” His voice dropped an octave. “She loved me.”

“Yes, she did,” Michelle whispered.

“But you’re not that girl anymore.”

“Thank God. You treated her like dirt,” Michelle said bitterly.

“I never meant to,” he said quietly.

“Thanks a lot. That helps a bunch. Do you know what it was like to lie awake night after night, wanting you, needing you so much I could taste it?”

“Yes,” he said quietly, “Michelle,” Danny said hoarsely, his hands gripping the edge of the table.

But Michelle wasn’t listening. “I wanted to lick every drop of sweat from your body and kiss the place where it had been. I could imagine the taste of your skin, the smell,” Michelle said.

“Michelle,” Danny said wildly, kicking back his chair and standing, reaching for her.

She held up her hand. “And when I went to you in the guesthouse,” she continued, “I wasn’t disappointed. You were everything I imagined, and more. But, of course, you know how that ended.”

Danny stopped moving.

“That has haunted me for ten years,” Michelle said slowly. “I’ve only been with one man in my life, a student I planned to marry when we were both in school. The experience of sleeping with him was so pale by comparison with just the memory of the preliminaries with you that I couldn’t go through with it.”

Danny swallowed hard, his dark luminous eyes fixed on her face.

“That was his only problem, you know,” Michelle said quietly. “His and Bill’s. Neither one of them was you.”

He put his fingers over hers on the table. She snatched her hand back. “And now you’re going to tell me that I was taking advantage of you? Leading you on while I was keeping Bill on the back burner? Bill never had a chance, and thanks to you, Danny Santos, neither do I.”

She stood clumsily, blinded by tears, and he caught her against his chest.

“Let me go,” she said, struggling weakly.

“Why?” he said, kissing her face, her neck. “Didn’t you just say you love me?”

“I love you, all right, you creep, for all the good it’s ever done me. You’ve made me more miserable than anybody else in my life.”

He scooped her up in his arms.

“Then don’t you think we’ve wasted enough time?” he asked quietly.

“Danny,” she whispered.

“You’re my wife, Michelle,” he added, silencing her with his mouth.

She closed her eyes as he carried her into the bedroom.

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