Impossible dreams, p.29

Impossible Dreams, page 29

 part  #1 of  Carolina Series Prequel Series

 

Impossible Dreams
 



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  She supposed the smaller room next to it could have been anything when the house was designed, but Axell had installed clothes racks and used it for a dressing room. Alexa’s cradle and toys added a splash of color to the rows of dark suits all hanging in the same direction. He dropped the stack of blankets on a dresser and leaned over to adjust the covers over Alexa’s defiantly upturned rear end. Ever since she’d learned to roll over, she’d insisted on sleeping on her stomach. Or her knees.

  Watching Axell’s big body tenderly leaning over the tiny cradle brought tears to Maya’s eyes and a painful longing to her heart. She’d gone and done it now, she realized. She supposed it had been inevitable. She’d been in love with the intelligent curiosity peering from behind his smoky eyes from the day he’d walked into the shop. She’d fallen in love with his strength of character and competence the day he’d delivered Alexa. And the night he’d slammed her against the wall and taken her to heaven...

  She was lost. Hopeless. Done for. She loved the big dope so much it hurt in every cell and pore of her body. She had shit for brains.

  She’d never felt so alone in her life as she did when Axell held out his hand to lead her into the chamber he called his.

  His. The room was his. The house was his. She was his. And now he even owned her heart, while she had nothing. She’d been terrified before, but nothing to compare with the sinking sensation of total vulnerability.

  She’d learned at an early age not to care — not to care when she got yelled at for something she didn’t do, or for something she did do but didn’t know was wrong. She’d learned not to care when no one hung her pictures on their walls or hugged her for making A’s. She hadn’t even cared when Stephen hadn’t bothered to call after she told him she was pregnant. Not for long, anyway.

  But now she cared so much she’d do almost anything Axell asked in hopes he’d love her back and want to keep her. She thought she’d killed that futile dream when she was ten years old. As Axell drew her into his darkened room and pulled her shirt over her head, Maya shivered at the possessive caress of his big hands over her bare breasts.

  “I didn’t think this day would ever end,” he whispered near her ear as he stroked her breasts, arousing them to aching tenderness.

  If she could just remember this was only sex to him... Forcing her mind to focus on the physical, Maya fumbled at his shirt buttons until her palms lay flat against his heated chest. Axell was always warm, and strong, and hard...

  Dammit, she couldn’t think straight. She wanted to whisper love words and kiss him all over, but then he’d know he had her, that he’d won, that he could do with her as he wished. She couldn’t allow that. Somehow, she had to retain her independence, so when the day came that he threw her out, she could walk away without looking back.

  “Your new manager is learning so fast you didn’t need to keep him company tonight?” she asked, deliberately licking at his nipple and feeling his shudder with triumph.

  “The crowd was light when I left. He knows how to reach me if there’s — ” He groaned deep in his throat as she unfastened his belt and brushed her knuckles against the coarse hair there. “It’s not supposed to be this way,” he muttered, finishing the task she’d started and stepping out of his trousers.

  Maya wanted to question that absurdity, but Axell swept her from the floor and flung her on the bed and she forgot the question and everything else.

  “Axell...” She breathed his name as he stripped off her shorts and underwear in a single stroke and the cool air and his hot hand caressed her intimately at the same time.

  “I’ll make this up to you later,” he murmured, pressing his hand against her mound, “but I’ve been thinking about this all day and can’t stop now.”

  Maya grabbed Axell’s arms and choked back a scream as he slammed into her, sending her spiraling over the edge before she knew what hit her. Even as her blood boiled and her brain melted to putty, her soul reacted to the matching desperation in his and reached out with all the power she possessed.

  Their rhythm pounded a steady “yes, yes, yes!” until tears of joy slipped from the corners of her eyes and all the atoms of her body surrendered to the sweet oblivion of Axell’s obsession. As he drove up inside her and shuddered with the force of a raging river crashing through a dam, Maya surrendered to the bliss of physical satisfaction.

  This was enough, for now.

  ***

  “Let her watch cartoons,” Axell grumbled as Alexa’s coo’s threatened to become squalls in the early dawn.

  With her nose buried in thick feather pillows and Axell’s heavy, muscled arm holding her down, Maya woke from hazy dreams of being twenty-months pregnant again. Only, this time, the child was Axell’s.

  Shivering at this premonition, she shoved at his hand. He merely curled his arm around her chest and dragged her backward against him, plucking her nipple into instant readiness.

  “I didn’t know you were going to be insatiable,” she yawned, snuggling her posterior into the masculine angle of his hips, waking rapidly at the rod probing between her thighs — the hot rod, she giggled to herself.

  “In a few months, you’ll be staggering around in a ratty bathrobe, yelling at the kids,” Axell warned as his fingers did wonderful, marvelous things to her awakening body. “Let’s enjoy the honeymoon while it lasts.”

  While it lasts. Those prophetic words rang in Maya’s heart even as Axell held her hips and her body opened wide at his command. She buried her cries of ecstasy and protest in her pillow with his thrust.

  She’d forgotten to take her pill last night, she remembered in panic as Axell stroked her deep from the inside. Damned dreams had a way of infiltrating the brain to become self-fulfilling. As his rhythm became wilder, she vowed to take two today to compensate.

  In another few months, Cleo could be back in jail, the state could be condemning her school, and Axell could be sorry he’d ever met her. She certainly didn’t need another baby tying her down when it all collapsed around her again.

  As her womb shivered in joy and accepted the hot flow from her husband’s body, Maya wished it could be otherwise.

  ***

  Her insides still aching with the force and promise of Axell’s lovemaking all weekend, Maya added the final touches to the dining room mural. She was still furious with Cleo. She didn’t dare step inside the store until she calmed down. The peace of the empty house — Sandra had gone out house shopping — appealed to the turmoil inside her. The roar and grind of a heavy truck outside shattered any illusion of peace.

  Holding her paintbrush and glancing out the bay window, she frowned in bewilderment as a huge tree backed into the yard.

  A heavy construction truck stopped near a stake someone had driven into the lawn. Even as she gaped in astonishment, the wide drill on the back of the truck lowered and began to dig.

  In awe, Maya watched the process of a full-grown tree miraculously sprouting in the barren back yard — a tree that would shade her tender plants, cool the kitchen, provide branches for the children to play in and the birds to sing from. She could hang feeders from those limbs and watch the goldfinches and cardinals. A tree was life.

  A tree was promise.

  Tears welled, then spilled as Maya clutched her paintbrush and watched the lovely maple tucked into the ground and mulched. Axell was incapable of expressing emotion in any verbal manner. She was starting to understand that.

  That didn’t mean Axell couldn’t feel emotion.

  Maya stood transfixed in front of the window until the very last particle of dirt was tapped down and every last needle of pine mulch was in place. The maple rustled its fat green leaves in contentment as the trucks drove away.

  She wanted to fly to Axell’s side, fling her arms around his marvelous shoulders, and scream “I love you!” to the world while covering him in kisses. She would embarrass him to death if she did.

  Excitement zipping through her soul but brain shouting “Whoa!,” Maya dithered in
indecision. Slipping outside and turning on the garden hose, she stood beneath shady leaves and welcomed the tree with water. Her wilting flowers had already perked up by the time she turned the hose on them. Maybe she could tuck some more around the tree.

  She was doing it again: swimming back and forth rather than striking out in a determined direction. Maya shut off the hose and advanced into the house. Maybe the tree wasn’t a declaration of love. Maybe Axell’s practical streak had recognized the need for shade and he’d just dialed the phone and ordered the tree plunked down. Maybe he had ordered it months ago, even before they’d met.

  Or maybe he’d just said he loved her, and she was dithering rather than responding.

  Racing into the house, Maya came to a screeching halt as she turned down the wrong hallway. She didn’t have her own room any more. Sandra had it.

  Stalking down the hall past her husband’s playthings, Maya ground her teeth. She was Axell’s wife. She had no room, no house, no life of her own except as an extension of his. What had she been thinking?

  She hadn’t, as usual. She’d just jumped right in and gone with the flow because it was easiest.

  Well, she’d damned well better stop and think now. She could love Axell and even trust him — and Lord knew, she did, with every fiber of her being. Her heart ached with the depth of it, and she wanted to explode with the joy of knowing a man as steady and trustworthy and intelligent and sexy as Axell could conceivably want someone as unwantable as her.

  But life happened. It had happened to her one too many times, and she was never prepared. This time, she couldn’t afford to go with the flow. She had Alexa to consider. If — when — Axell realized life with her was too impossible to go on, she had to be able to walk away.

  The phone rang.

  Staring gloomily at the rumpled bed she’d shared with Axell last night, Maya ignored the intrusion. Axell had left her sleeping this morning, or this room would never look like this. Axell didn’t leave beds unmade or clothes hanging on chairs. Remembering the round of lovemaking that had left her satiated and curled in a cocoon of contentment, she grimaced. It was too damned easy to make babies and she was too damned careless.

  The phone rang again.

  She picked up the clothes they’d scattered in haste last night. She’d have to get Sandra out of here so she could move back to her old room before this became habit. If she just thought of herself as a boarder...

  She grabbed the phone on the third ring rather than follow that thought. The city council had a meeting tonight. If it was one of Axell’s damned constituents, she’d personally ram the receiver down their throats. Axell better believe she’d make a lousy mayor’s wife.

  “Miss Alyssum?” the voice inquired on the other end.

  “Alyssum — Holm,” she corrected determinedly. She hadn’t bothered changing the name on her legal documents. She’d better start considering how much of her identity she wanted to sacrifice.

  “Mrs. Holm,” the deep voice continued with more assurance. “This is Philip MacGregor with MacGregor and Blythe in Raleigh.”

  Lawyers. Mr. Pfeiffer’s lawyers. Maya remembered them well. She wrinkled her nose and wondered why they weren’t calling Selene. She remembered they were supposed to. Panic immediately ripped through her. What if they were calling to say the lease was invalid?

  The lawyer had continued talking while her thoughts spun out of control. She’d missed the first part of his spiel. Frantically, she tried to tune in now.

  “We’ve filed the will with the court here in Raleigh. As executors, we’re free to begin proceedings on the deed transfers. If you prefer, we can send someone down there with the documents. We’re having the property appraised for estate-tax purposes. The appraisal value will be your basis at the time of transfer, so you may wish your attorney or accountant...”

  Maya choked the receiver and stared blankly at the window. Deed? Not lease?

  “Mr. MacGregor,” she interrupted tentatively. He’d think her a nutcase. She was a nutcase. She didn’t care. “Could you please start all over? I don’t understand...”

  “I should have realized this came as a surprise to you,” the voice replied soothingly. “Perhaps I should drive down and explain in more detail. Would your sister be available? I’m not certain how to reach her.”

  “Cleo’s at the shop,” she said absently. “I’ll call her. I just don’t understand...”

  “Mr. Pfeiffer acknowledged you and your sister as his granddaughters in his will, Mrs. Holm. He came to us a few years ago, after his wife’s death, to have it drawn up. I think it would be best if I drove down and explained it to you and your sister in person.”

  “Yes. Yes, I think that’s best.”

  Maya sank to the floor and stared into space, dimly aware of Alexa’s crying in the background.

  She’d thought there had been no will.

  The lawyer had mentioned deeds.

  Did the school belong to her now?

  ***

  November, 1976

  Some rumor-monger has told Dolly of my daughter’s existence. I cannot even correspond with my lawyers for fear she will discover what I have been doing without her knowledge. If Dolly should go to the Arnolds to verify this damned story, there will be hell to pay. I’m not as wealthy as they are, but by damn, I’ll do what it takes to look after the ones I love.

  Thirty-three

  I used to have a handle on life, but it broke.

  Glancing out his office window, Axell saw the unmarked police car parked in front of the building next door and cursed. He didn’t need this now. The police had been all over the bar Saturday night after he’d gone home. One of the local yokels had pulled a knife on a city salesman, and his new manager hadn’t realized the seriousness of the situation. He’d been too scared to call Axell.

  So now he had police reports scattered across his desk, lawyers and insurance companies calling about liability, and a curt message from someone at the ABC board to deal with. The damned mayor had made certain they’d heard about it. He didn’t need more police at Cleo’s shop — his shop. He was a damned partner, thanks to Maya.

  Flinging his pen down and striding out, Axell faced a fleeting regret for the days when a leggy Katherine in her red suit used to greet him in the mornings with nothing more noxious than gossip about the latest backyard panther sighting. Now he had cops and knifings and drugs and a skinny college graduate assistant in too-narrow ties anxiously waiting to be thrown out on his ass. Life had been so much simpler...

  Before Maya.

  Axell rubbed his brow. He couldn’t reasonably blame any of this on Maya. True, Katherine had quit because he’d married Maya, but he couldn’t blame anyone but Katherine for that. And Maya had nothing to do with the knifing, other than luring him home when he should have been here. Maya had nothing to do with her sister’s drug habits, either. She was completely innocent of everything except existing. Maya just needed to exist to attract trouble like honey draws bees.

  As Axell threw open the Curiosity Shoppe door, evil laughter erupted over his head. Startled, he stopped in the doorway and glanced upward for the chimes he’d personally installed himself. A grinning demon lit from within beamed down on him. Swell, now Cleo was probably into demonology or worse.

  With images of Satanic rituals ballooning in his mind, Axell scanned the interior where a plainclothes detective had stopped talking and turned to stare. Cleo, looking rattier and more tired than usual, glared in his direction. So much for the once cheerful atmosphere of the playful shop Maya had created.

  “I haven’t done the weekend’s receipts yet,” Cleo declared, as if Axell normally came in every day and demanded them. “And tell your wife I want my teapot back.”

  “You tell her. She’s your sister.” Determined not to be shoved aside by Cleo’s machinations — he knew enough about human nature to know her rudeness had a purpose — Axell nodded at the detective. “Morning, Rick. Anything I can do for you?” Calm and control
led. He could do that. That’s how he functioned.

  The detective’s expression remained unreadable. “Morning, Axell. Just having a word with the lady.”

  “I’m no lady and never will be,” Cleo retorted. “You’ve had your say. You can find your own way out.” She glared at Axell. “That goes for you too.”

  It struck Axell that Maya’s sister was in need of a good spanking, but that didn’t fall in his line of duty. He walked out with the detective.

  “All right, Rick, now tell me what that’s all about. That’s my building, my wife’s sister, and I own half the shop. I’ve a right to know.”

  The detective looked uncomfortable. Axell was a council member and on the police oversight committee. His vote was one of many, but his influence in the town was considerable. Axell didn’t normally use his influence for the purpose of intimidation, but he was tired of being on the defensive.

  “She had a known dealer in the shop the instant she hit town.” The detective shrugged. “That’s all I’m free to say, and I shouldn’t have said that. Forget where you heard it.”

  Axell waited for the pain to grip his stomach, but miraculously, it only twisted a little. With a nod, he acknowledged the detective’s request. “She wants her kid back. She’ll stay clean, if she can. We’ve got to get the dealer off the street.”

  “That’s what I intend to do.” The detective slammed into his car and drove off.

  Axell took a deep breath and prepared to beard the lion in her den. This gladiator intended to rip the lion’s damned head off.

  ***

  “Selene, you’ve got to be there. You’re the only one I can trust. Axell will be furious, absolutely furious. He didn’t want anyone to know about our relationship to Pfieffer, and now we’re actually heirs... Heirs! Can you imagine? I’m an heiress.” Dizzily, Maya paced up and down with the cordless, ramming her hand through her hair and almost giggling at the absurdity, except its implications were too enormous.

 
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