Maggie's Hunt, page 22
“How do you keep them looking so good?” Maggie had asked quietly one morning when Hunt was watering the plants.
“It isn’t hard, Maggie mine. Plants are like people. You just have to find out what they need and then you give it to them,” Hunt had replied.
Maggie still mulled that one over.
Hunt had continued, “When I was a little boy, my grandfather and I spent summers, and some Christmas vacations, in his greenhouse. Being around plants makes me remember him. You would have liked him, Maggie mine. He was a grand gentleman. How would you feel about being married to a man who spent all of his time puttering around with plants?”
“If it makes you happy, it is fine with me,” Maggie told him honestly.
Hunt had smiled at her. “Would you miss living in a big city?”
“Do you have any idea which general area you’d like to settle into?” Maggie had asked quietly.
“That’s really a decision that we can take some time to make. When you get back on your feet, we can get a RV and take a long drive through the country. Kind of a belated honeymoon. Then if we find someplace that we really love, we can settle there,” Hunt suggested.
“And if we don’t find someplace which we love?” Maggie asked, fascinated by the whimsy in Hunt’s voice. This was another side of her husband, the hard-nosed businessman.
He had only smiled at her. “We will. It may take a while, but we will find someplace to settle and put down roots.”
“This is quite a change in lifestyle, Hunt,” Maggie said.
“I told you that I was ready to settle down, put down roots, and raise kids. What did you think that I meant?” Hunt asked.
“I guess that I didn’t expect that you would be giving up your business.”
“I don’t want to be an absentee husband and father, Maggie mine. You and our children, if we ever have any, will always take top priority in my life from now on,” he pledged.
Maggie smiled at him. “Hunt, what did I ever do to deserve you?”
“Whatever it was, it must have been horrible,” he teased.
“When we were kids, Maggie mine, we moved around regularly. Did you ever long for a home, a real home?” Hunt asked.
Maggie nodded. “And a best friend whom I had known since kindergarten, and a big oak tree with a tree house and a rope swing . . . A dog and three cats. Now, there are old, almost forgotten, longings. I used to think it would have been nice to live in a big white Victorian house with turrets and a wrap around front porch featuring an old-fashioned porch swing. The house would have a big front parlor where I would have my grand piano. The parlor would close off from the rest of the house with these big, sliding, pocket doors. The house would also sit on land with a big hill that would be good for sledding in the winter. I used to fantasize about families who could say, ‘Yes, Grandpa built this house for Grandma as a wedding present.’ Pretty dumb fantasies for a sixth generation military brat.”
Hunt smiled at her. “I don’t think so. In fact, they are fairly close to mine. Only, I wanted several acres of land with extensive greenhouses and gardens along with the big house, tree house, pets, and best friend.”
“Big dreams, Hunt.”
“Not that big, Maggie mine. We could make some of them come true for our children.”
“Do you really think that we could settle down in a small town to a ‘normal’ life?” Maggie asked wistfully.
“Honey, we can do anything that we want to do.”
Maggie had laughed. “You almost make me believe it.”
“I just have a hard time envisioning this.”
“I’m not going to force you to stay at home, if you are more comfortable working,” Hunt said quietly.
Maggie smiled. “You’ve never forced me to do anything, Hunt. But, if you are going to be puttering around in your acres of greenhouses, someone had better be marketing your produce and running the business end of things, don’t you think?”
Hunt laughed. “Oh, Maggie mine, I do love you so.”
“Words are cheap, love.”
“Wait until you are back on your feet, Maggie mine,” he told her quietly, firmly, with a broad smile. “Wait until you are back on your feet.”
“I’m working on it,” she told him.
“I know. And you are doing a wonderful job of it. Keep up the good work.”
Now that she would be leaving the hospital, she found herself growing nervous. The nervousness stemmed from more than the knowledge that the person who had been ultimately responsible for her being shot was still out there, somewhere, waiting for another chance. Soon, the barriers would be down between her and Hunt. Soon, it would just be the two of them. And that made her more nervous than the threat of having to deal with a gunman.
Doubts assaulted her about her ability to be the kind of wife whom Hunt needed. Certainly, marriage to her was not the safest action he could have taken. If there was really someone out there who wanted her dead, Hunt could easily end up as a victim. That prospect continued to frighten her.
She wondered if they shouldn’t take Hunt’s mother and father up on the offer of one of the suites at their Inn, at least until she was stronger. But, Hunt had ruled that out because of the lack of security at his parent’s Inn. Besides, he had told her with mischief in his eyes, when he took her to the Inn again, he wanted her on her feet so that he could race her down the ski slope where she had defeated him the last time.
Hunt was probably right, she decided. Michael’s estate would probably be the safest place for them, just now. Truthfully, she found it profoundly ironic that the one place in the world safest for her was the place where the first attempt on her life had been made.
She had said that she would never return to Michael’s estate. Maggie supposed that this would teach her not to say ‘Never’.
Michael and Susan, if they weren’t out gathering votes, would be spending most of their time in Washington. Michael had told Hunt that she and Hunt might as well use the place in Virginia, since it would be standing empty, except for staff most of the time. But, what had sold Hunt on landing there while Maggie got back on her feet was that Michael’s estate would be more secure than almost any other place that he could think of. The fact that Michael’s home featured an indoor pool, a sauna and hot tub, a fully equipped weight room, and a judo practice room, was merely incidental. Also incidental was the fact that Hunt thought that Maggie needed to lay a few ghosts to rest before she would be really ready to pick up her life.
Maggie smoothed down the fabric of her dress. She had lost weight since she had last worn it. Her hair had grown out slightly from the hacked up mess the kidnappers had left it. Time and the efforts of a good hairdresser had worked wonders.
The pins were now out of her hip. The stitches from the second operation had been removed today. There was a lot of healing to be done, yet. But, Maggie felt hopeful.
Maggie had been given a booklet containing the exercises the physical therapists had decided were necessary for her to regain the full use of her left leg.
Hunt walked into the room, all smiles. “Well, your hospital bills are all paid, Mrs. Thomas. Are you ready to go?”
Maggie stood up, leaning heavily on her new cane. “I’m ready, darling.”
Hunt smiled at her. “We’ll fly to London, lay over there for a few days, then return stateside, if that is all right with you. I thought that you might want to spend some time with your brother.”
“One of these days, Hunter Alexander, I am going to wake up and find that you are a figment of my imagination.”
“A nightmare, perhaps?” he teased shamelessly.
“Don’t fish for compliments, husband.”
He walked over to her. Hunt’s arms went around her. He held her tightly. “There was a time that I doubted that I would ever hold you again,” he said in a tortured voice. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”
Hunt’s London pe
He smiled at her. “Rest now, Maggie mine. You are more tired than you think that you are.”
Maggie was asleep when he returned with a tray containing their lunch. Hunt set the silver tray on the night table. Then he stretched out beside her, rolled onto his side, and just looked at her for the longest time.
Maggie awoke slowly with the sensation of being watched. She opened her eyes. A broad smile crossed her face. “How long have you been lying there?”
“A minute. an hour. a century. I don’t know . . . .” he told her quietly.
Maggie reached out to him. Hunt took her hand.
“Come on, I made us a cold lunch. Sandwiches, salad, fruit. You need to eat,” Hunt said gently.
Maggie smiled at him. “I love you, Hunt.”
He kissed her lightly on the mouth. “I love you, Maggie mine. Being patient is one of the hardest things that I’ve ever done. But, you still need time to finish healing. You aren’t physically ready to be a wife to me. So, I’m going to take our lunch into the dining room, out of the way of temptation. Then I’ll be back to escort you in.”
Maggie smiled at the back of her swiftly retreating husband. Then she followed him, leaning heavily on the beautifully sturdy ebony cane he had bought for her.
John and an obviously pregnant Emily arrived at dinner time.
Maggie had decided after her thirty minutes of grueling therapy, that she would help with dinner. Hunt wasn’t too happy at the prospect of Maggie doing anything besides resting. But, he gave in. Maggie had peeled and chopped vegetables for the soup. She had shaped the dinner rolls Hunt had made and kneaded in his mixer. She had also filled and frosted the Black Forest cake for dessert.
And they had talked about things in general. This dinner preparation time had been very companionable.
Maggie was exhausted by the time that dinner was over. And Emily was showing signs of weariness herself. So, John took his wife home shortly after dinner.
Maggie walked to the bedroom, leaning heavily on the cane. She gathered her night things and went into the bathroom. “What I wouldn’t give for a bath,” Maggie muttered.
“Don’t even think about it, Maggie mine,” Hunt replied from the doorway. “In a few more days, when the stitches have healed up, then you can have a long hot bath. Do you need any help washing up?”
Maggie turned to her husband. “I think that I can manage, Hunt. Thank you.”
Hunt nodded tightly. “All right. I’ll just be out here, if you need me. I’ll change the dressing when you are ready for bed.”
Five days cooped up in his London apartment, with Hunt sleeping in the guest room, were about all she could take, about all either of them could take. So, Hunt made the arrangements to fly to Virginia.
Maggie slept for most of the overseas flight from London to New York. They made it through customs without incident. But, trying to get from customs to the gate for the charter flight that would be taking them to the airstrip on Michael’s estate was another matter.
Hunt had wanted her to use a wheelchair, but she had refused. Still, one of the bodyguards pushed the offending chair, waiting for her to need it.
The press descended on them en masse. “Mrs. Thomas, how does it feel to be back home?”
Maggie smiled at them. “If I kissed the ground, I’d never get back up,” she replied easily.
“What do you think of your stepfather’s stand on terrorism?”
Maggie’s face became hard. “I agree with it. We can not give in to terrorism. Terrorists must be stopped, and stopped hard. Terrorist actions are acts of war, and must be treated accordingly.”
“How do you feel about the way that your stepfather handled the negotiations with the kidnappers?”
“I was unaware that there were any negotiations with the scum,” Maggie replied sharply. “I do know that they were trying to manipulate Michael and Hunt and my brother, John. And I also know the three mule-headed men in my life well enough to know that the more that they are pushed, the more resolved they become not to be pushed further. One and all, they are all line drawers. Each of them will be patient with a situation only so far and no further.”
Hunt cleared his throat menacingly. “Look, my wife has only just gotten out of the hospital a few days ago. She shouldn’t be standing for prolonged periods.”
“Excuse me, gentlemen and ladies. I believe the boss has spoken.”
“Are you going to campaign for your stepfather?” a reporter asked as Hunt and Maggie walked away.
Maggie turned around slightly. “You know, he hasn’t asked me to,” she said. “Michael has my full and unconditional support. I strongly believe that he is the best candidate from those currently in the field. Now, please excuse me, I am really very weary. I must go.”
When Maggie turned, to walk away, her left leg nearly went out from under her. Hunt steadied her, then picked her up. He walked away with her cradled in his arms.
That picture made the newspapers and television broadcasts.
When Maggie and Hunt arrived at Michael’s estate, they were allowed through the gate by the armed guards. Reaching the main house, both Maggie and Hunt were surprised to find Michael and Susan at home.
Michael met them at the car.
“I thought that you’d be in Iowa or someplace pressing the flesh,” Maggie said teasingly.
“There was no place that I would have rather been than right here, just now, thank you,” Michael told her gruffly. “Welcome home, Daisy.”
Maggie was blinking back tears. “There were times, recently, when I doubted that I would ever see this place again,” she said. “I can’t tell you want it really means to be back.”
Hunt wrapped his arm around her shoulders. “Maggie needs to take a rest,” he said firmly.
“Of course,” Susan said graciously. “Come with me, I’ll show you to your suite. I’ve put you in the south wing in the gold suite.”
Maggie nodded. “That will be just fine, Susan. Thank you.”
“It’s nothing,” her stepfather’s wife replied easily.
No, Maggie thought cynically, it is nothing. Unless things had changed drastically, the gold suite was an apartment to itself. There was a kitchen, an intimate dining room, a utility room with washer and dryer, two bedrooms each with their own bath, and a living room. It was about as far as a person could get from the main part of the house without going out of doors.
Of course, one advantage was that the gold suite was just across the hall from the swimming pool, and sat on the far side of the weight room. All of the athletic facilities in the house were in the south wing on the main floor. So, maybe this placement wasn’t an intentional slur. Maybe, Susan wanted to make my rehabilitation that much easier, Maggie thought.
But, she couldn’t help but remember the comments that Susan had once made about a foreign dignitary who had come to do some bit of extended business with Michael. “Oh,” Susan had said, “We’ll put him in the gold suite. He’ll feel like he has been accorded a special honor. And I’ll feel much better by having him out from under foot.”
The rest that Hunt urged Maggie to take never materialized. Instead, she spent almost an hour in the weight room. The hospital stay had weakened her more than she had thought. She knew that her stamina was way down. She knew that she was sleeping far more than she ever had. But, she hadn’t realized that she could no longer do a hundred reps of a simple arm curl with a ten-pound dumbbell. Maggie had been hurting after thirty repetitions of that exercise. And that had been with her good arm. She barely got ten reps out of her wounded arm. Yes, she was definitely more out of shape than she had imagined that she would have been.
Hunt walked into the weight room when she was doing side leg lif
Maggie just nodded. “I know what I am doing Hunt. I’m not going to strain anything. But, I’ve got to get back in shape. I don’t like feeling this lethargic. And I hate feeling like a cripple.”
Hunt nodded tightly. “At least, let me be around while you are working on this. I’d hate the thought of you hurting yourself with no one around.”
“Believe me, I’d hate the thought of my hurting myself whether anyone was around or not,” Maggie replied mischievously.
“Maggie . . . .”
“All right Hunt. I won’t work out in here by myself any more. Happy?”
“Good . . . .” Maggie looked at the clock which hung over the door. “We will be expected for dinner in an hour or so. We probably should get ready.”
Dinner was, as usual at Michael’s table, excellent. Francois Du Mont had come to work for Michael when Maggie had been thirteen. There had never been a bad meal served in the house since. But, tonight, Francois had surpassed himself. All of Maggie’s absolute favorite foods were served. Maggie found herself with a real appetite.
“Francois has outdone himself, this time,” Maggie said quietly after the chocolate/bourbon/pecan torte was served.
Michael laughed. “It’s good to see you eat again, Daisy.”
“So, how’s the campaign really going?”
Michael nodded affirmatively. “It isn’t as close of a race as I had thought that it would be.”
“The press has been asking whether I’ll be campaigning for you,” Maggie said.
Michael looked at Hunt, then at Maggie. “I don’t think that would be a very good idea, just now. Your primary concern should be getting your strength back,” he said gently.
“All right,” Maggie questioned with narrowed eyes, “What aren’t you all telling me?”