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Excerpt, cont'd
Take My Husband, Please!
An Unconventional Romantic Comedy

Sophie raised a finger and opened the door. "One night. Do you understand? One night."


Will gave a withering last glance before he flipped on the porch light, crossed the deck, and descended three steps to the flagstone pavers that led to the erstwhile-music-studio-turned-dilapidated-shed at the far corner of an oversized yard. Head hanging, he looked back, affecting a weird, tight-lipped smile that did nothing to reassure her that he was all right.


But the massive oak trees cast opaque shadows across the yard; he tripped over Keely's pink Schwinn and landed on the chrome handlebars with dangling neon ribbons. His elbow thumped the rubber horn, and a clownish honk echoed through the air. He bounced up as if it had never happened and disappeared into the night with a slight limp.


Sophie shut the door, awash with questions. How bad were things that Will Camden would sleep in a bug-infested junk room?


The cuckoo's pendulum ticked off the seconds as she argued with herself about what to do. He was a grown man. Whose father had just died. Who'd just lost his job. Who'd recently been served divorce papers. And who had, not unimportantly, for the first time seen her with another man. Her stomach knotted.


"Where's he going?"


Sophie jumped, her hand flying to her chest. She'd forgotten she had a guest. "To our old studio, though I don't know what he's going to sleep on."


"Is that guy here all the time?"


"Hardly. His work is his whole life." She stared into the backyard and softened against the impact of his announcement: laid off. "At least it used to be."


"I get it, I do. But I don't feel quite right dating a married woman. I mean, I know you're getting a divorce, but maybe he's here again because he's not over you."


"That's not true, I'm sure of it." Her gaze fell to the floor, and she whispered the heart of the matter. "He's not in love with me."


"No? And what about you? Are you over him?"


She made certain her gaze didn't waver. "Of course."


"Really? Because none of my ex-girlfriends would ever let me step foot back in the house once we called it quits. And you did let Will stay, right?"


"Out in the shed. Not sure I'd call that letting him stay." She scoffed to make light of it, but she could see Mitch wasn't buying it. "Look, you don't have kids, but maybe you can understand. Our mantra has always been two parents. Regardless of whatever else happens in our lives, Annabelle and Keely will always have two active and equal parents—though I've always been ninety percent more active and equal than Will."


He nodded, a gesture that filled the gaps while he seemed to think it through. "So I guess he's dating and all that too?"


She swallowed a hoot of laughter. "Um, yeah. He's actually quite the ladies' man."


"A ladies' man, eh?" His crooked smile morphed into a cheesy attaboy grin that men give each other in solidarity, a tacit punching of their man cards. Add a Neanderthal grunt and a chest bump, and admit one to the club.


"He dates all the time. Casanova, they call him."


"Good to know. I guess if he's dating and you're getting a divorce, it's okay that we're dating." He took her hands in his. "We are dating, right? I really want to see you again."


She kissed him sweetly. "Yes, I'd like to see you again too. But..." With the thought of her two pukey angels upstairs, she sagged in the knowledge that the magic had come and gone without so much as an abracadabra, along with her chance to see Houdini's magic wand. What she'd felt earlier while in his embrace was no illusion. But Annabelle and Keely came first. "I need to take care of my girls now. Mommy duty calls."


Mitch's warm hands enveloped hers. "Of course, I understand."


"You do?" She walked him arm-in-arm to the front door. "Next time, I'll show you around the place. I've done a lot to the backyard. New flower beds, brick pavers, and I thought—you know," she shrugged, "a man like you would appreciate it."


She mentally gave herself a head slap. A man like him? A city man? A high-rise condo dweller? She might as well have said, Come get a gander at my prize rutabagas, Opie.


He picked his sports coat off the floor and leaned in for a peck on her cheek. "Next time. I hope you know how much I like you. I think a whole lot more fun is in our future."


A bud of awkward sentimentalism bloomed in her chest. "Er, fun sounds... fun." He smiled and took her face in his hands, laid a lingering kiss on her mouth. She added two points in the plus column for his taking the abrupt end of their date so well, and another two points for not flinching when she said Fun sounds fun. "I'm sorry about how things turned out."


"Not to worry." He brushed his hand under her chin. "I'll see you Monday. After that, my plate will be a lot fuller. The Russian Princess demands a lot of my time, you know, and my travel schedule will be hectic."


And we are back to business. Will's work always took him away too. "I get it."


"What if you accompany me? After the morning meeting, if you don't have any appointments, we could all get lunch."


"Really?" Rumors abounded about Mitch's relationship with Rhuta Khorkina, the Russian Princess, but how true could they be if he was asking Sophie to join them? Besides, meeting an international celebrity was an opportunity she couldn't pass up. "I'd love that. If you're sure."


"Positive." He leaned in and deposited one last kiss on her mouth.


Sophie set the deadbolt as Mitch drove off in his Lambo, then padded again to the back of the house and peeked into the backyard. In the distance, a dim light sprayed through the shed's dusty transom window. Will must have found a flashlight. Now that was a pitiful thing. Twenty-four years of her life glowed through that transom, including a twenty-two-year marriage. After a year's separation and agreeing to end things for good, here he was again on her property. She almost felt sorry for him, out there in the equivalent of a junk drawer, and wondered if she ought to invite him inside.


But then his last, brutally uttered sentiment—the final straw that precipitated the divorce filing—replayed in her ears with razor-sharp precision:  I'm not in love with you anymore.


She blew a sigh into the windowpane. "Not after what you said."


She raised her chin, staring at the shed, imagining her ex sleeping with a creepy-crawly cast worthy of a horror flick. Served him right.


She dismissed him then, relegating all concern for his welfare to tomorrow's to-do list. Then she hurried upstairs through a Pine-Sol haze.


Her pre-pubescent beauties snored softly in Keely's room, side by side under a neon pink-and-lime comforter. Brewsky, their gold cat with a fluffy white head, lay curled up and purring between them. Sophie brushed six-year-old Annabelle's dark curls from her forehead and felt for fever. She did the same to nine-year-old Keely, who stirred but didn't wake. Finding neither too warm, Sophie tucked the covers beneath their chins and kissed them goodnight.


In her own room down the hall, she clapped on the lamp, but her heart sank when she glimpsed her bare pillow-top mattress. No comforter, no sheets, no cozy snuggle spot in which to sink blissfully into slumber. Only a big wet spot where a darling daughter had searched for her mother and promptly barfed her disappointment.


She put on pajamas and tiptoed back to Keely's room where she slipped under the covers next to little Annabelle. She snuggled close and smelled the coconut-scented shampoo in her hair, and reached across her to rub Keely's smooth, lanky arm, quietly sending the message, Mama's here. No matter what else happens, Mama will always be here.


For hours, Sophie lay in the dark with her girls, reliving the evening:  the dirty martinis, the fast car, the hot man touching her in places that hadn't been hot in far too long—and her soon-to-be-ex-husband tucked into the sofa cushions like last Super Bowl's beer nuts.


It would be hard facing either man in the light of day, given how things had turned out. Namely, Will interrupting her with Mitch, almost in the act. The really, really almost, it's about damn time, boy, do I need that act.


And then it dawned on her. I was robbed!

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