SNEAK PREVIEW OF CROWDED HEARTS – A NOVELLA
Chapter 1 – Special Circumstances
Tawny Lindholm lay on her back and stared at the cracks in the ceiling of her bedroom. She should have been enjoying this rare, lazy morning in bed but her brain refused to relax. “We could just elope.”
Her fiancé Tillman Rosenbaum crooked his elbow up and placed his chin in his palm. Intense, dark eyes pinned her. “When I suggested that months ago, you shot me down.”
She sighed. “I know. I didn’t realize how complicated this would become.”
“A couple in their fifties getting married is always complicated.” His deep, throaty voice sounded matter-of-fact.
“Don’t you ever get tired of being right?”
He combed long fingers through her auburn hair spread on the pillow. “If we left the kids out, you’d always regret it. And Mimi and Arielle would never speak to me again.”
He’s right, Tawny thought. His two daughters, eighteen and seventeen, acted more excited about the wedding than the bride.
Tillman continued, “Judah decided being my best man is a good gig…after I promised him a Jeep when he gets his driver’s license.”
“You had to bribe him? I thought he liked me.”
“He’s crazy about you. Had to convince him it was worth five minutes standing next to me.”
“You’re exaggerating.” Tawny worried when Tillman sometimes tried to buy the love of his three children rather than earn it. “He’s just struggling with growing into a man in the shadow of an arrogant, domineering father.”
“Don’t sugar-coat it. Tell me how you really feel.”
She rolled to face him, caressing the dark hair on his chest. “And underneath all this obnoxiousness hides a caring, loving man.”
“I’m an asshole.”
She pushed him onto his back and climbed atop him, pressing her naked body down the length of his. “Yes, but you’re a sweet asshole.”
Even as she felt him hardening against her bare thigh, his hands gripped her waist, prepared to move her away. “If you don’t get off me, we’ll be late for the appointment.”
“What appointment? I thought you were taking the rest of this week off because the kids will be here.”
“Really? What client is that special?”
“Get dressed before I succumb to your feminine wiles…again.”
He lifted her off, got out of bed, and turned his lean, lanky body sideways to fit through the narrow space between the mattress and the wall. “Ouch!”
“Stubbed my toe on the dresser. This bedroom’s too damn small.”
At six-foot-seven, Tillman took up a lot of real estate and constantly complained about his feet hanging over the end of her queen-size bed. But the room was too cramped for a king mattress if they wanted to close the door to the hall.
Tawny bit her tongue. Her hundred-year-old Craftsman bungalow had been big enough for her and her late husband, Dwight, to raise two children. And to hold thirty-two years of good memories of their marriage.
But it was way too small for Tillman and his ego. Most of their fights centered on Dwight. For a rational, logical attorney, Tillman harbored unreasonable jealousy toward a man who’d been dead for four years.
So many adjustments. She had to keep reminding herself of the big compromises Tillman had made to be with her—including opening a satellite office in her small hometown of Kalispell, Montana, even though his legal practice was headquartered in Billings. His major clients and most of his income came from that larger city and he commuted back and forth often.
He tried to make light of his sacrifice, saying, “Eve and I get along better when we’re four- hundred-fifty miles apart.”
That was at least partly true. Tillman and his law partner, Eve Landes, made a winning but volatile combination.
Tawny padded barefoot into the bathroom where Tillman was brushing his teeth and ran the backs of her fingers down his broad back. “Hope the appointment doesn’t drag on too long. We have to pick up Neal and Mimi at quarter to two.”
He swished water and spat. “We’ll be there in time. It’s near the airport.”
She’d assumed they were meeting the client at the office in downtown Kalispell. “Since when do you make house calls?”
Deadpan, he repeated, “Special circumstances.”
The canny attorney habitually resisted tipping his hand. She’d learned to wait him out because he always told her eventually.
She reached around him for her brush and divided her hair into sections to french braid. “I just wish Emma would come on board with the wedding.”
He shook a can of shaving cream. “I tried my considerable charm on her but she still despises me.”
Tawny chuckled. Charm was not the first word that came to mind to describe the brilliant but demanding attorney. Her daughter, Emma, had hated him at first sight and maintained that opinion even though he’d worked magic a couple of times to protect her from criminal prosecution. “I told her that her hissy fits weren’t going to change my mind. If she boycotts the wedding, so be it.” Despite Tawny’s words, the thought of her daughter not being there tightened a knot in her heart.
At least her son, Neal, was happy for her. He’d pulled strings to get leave from his Army duties in the Mideast. She couldn’t wait to see him after three years away.
Following a late breakfast, they climbed into Tillman’s white Jeep Gladiator truck and drove beneath the canopy of trees overhanging the old avenues and historic houses of the east side. At Woodland Park, they turned then wound down to Highway 2.
Tillman cast a sideways glance at her. “The rabbi is driving from Billings on Friday to perform the ceremony before Shabbat. Sure you don’t want a minister to officiate, too?”
She shrugged. “I don’t belong to a church. I’d feel hypocritical asking someone.”
“I’m hardly observant. Rabbi Weintraub’s a friend.”
A very good friend, Tawny recalled. The Weintraubs had temporarily taken in Tillman’s children after their mother abused them.
“Arielle and Judah roll in this evening,” he said. “Bet he talks her into letting him drive her truck without a license.”
“He’s got his learner’s permit.”
“Only valid if an adult’s in the car.”
“Arielle’s pretty careful. She won’t let him go crazy.” Tawny hazarded a touchy question: “Has she said any more about what she wants to do after she graduates next month?”
“She’ll tell you before she tells me. She’s already too late to apply for good colleges.”
“Not everyone’s cut out for college, Tillman.” Previously, Arielle had confided to Tawny that she wanted to attend cosmetology school, to the dismay of both her highly educated parents.
“Arielle’s smart but she’s uncomfortable in school. And, given my dyslexia, I understand how she feels.”
He stared down his nose at Tawny. “Arielle doesn’t have dyslexia. Even though you can’t spell, you make the most of your considerable capabilities. She should, too.”
Tawny had tried to mediate between father and daughter but success was spotty at best. Time to change the subject. “Isn’t it funny how Neal and Mimi both wound up on the same connecting flight?”
“Kalispell isn’t exactly a teeming hub.”
“True. Where airlines are concerned, this is the ends of the earth. Anyway, I hope they have a chance to get acquainted.”
“You texted them photos of each other, right?”
She nodded. “Must be kind of strange. They’ve never met but their parents are making them instant siblings.”
Mimi was flying from Palo Alto. She’d already aced her undergrad classes at only age eighteen and was on track to complete upper division before she reached twenty. As brilliant and driven as her father.
Tawny’s son Neal was only six years away from putting in his twenty for the Army. Unnerving to think he could be that close to retirement age. She secretly hoped he would start a different career outside the military but feared he might reenlist for another tour. She was proud of him but worried about missions he couldn’t talk about in Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite the danger, or maybe because of it, the pull remained strong for him. She only knew she had to keep her advice to herself.
Tillman turned off the highway onto a road shaded by cottonwood trees and headed east toward the Swan Range. Old farmhouses dotted lush, green pastureland, interspersed with horse corrals. She wondered what his client did, living out in the country.
“In a couple more months,” she said, “when the canola blooms, these fields will look like yellow sheets of sunlight covering the ground.”
The corner of Tillman’s mouth turned up slightly.
“What are you smiling about?” she asked.
After a few seconds, he still hadn’t answered. What was he up to?
She tried another approach. “The mountains feel like you could reach your hand out and touch them. They’re so blue today. Your client must love the view.”
Again, no response.
The road curved north but Tillman continued straight down a poplar-lined driveway. Before them sprawled a ranch-style house with an attached three-car garage. The rambling home had wood siding painted a soft moss green, trimmed with used brick.
He pulled around the circular driveway and parked. In the center flowerbed, daffodils bloomed in front of peony bushes that were ready to bud. Flowering crabapple trees formed pink clouds on either side of the house.
Despite the beautifully-kept grounds, the residence appeared vacant. “What a pretty place,” Tawny said. “Are you going to tell me who this client is?”
He shut off the engine, got out, and started up the flagstone pathway to the front door.
She followed. “Tillman, who lives here?”
When he turned to face her, his smile looked uncharacteristically tentative, almost shy. “If you like it, we do.”
Acid rushed up her throat. Since they’d become engaged, she’d suspected he might do something like this. And that brought to the surface the fear she’d been trying to shove down.
That she would have to sell her home.
TO BE CONTINUED…..