Mitch Wilder vows to steal his wife back, knowing that his quest is futile. Claire knows about his other women; the reason they are separated. He must control his rage against his stepbrother, Tom Fleming, for taking Claire away from him. After all, they must work together, running their shipping company. But when Tom is kidnapped and tortured, Mitch realizes that he loves his brother.
After Claire Lester-Wilder catches her husband with another woman, she chases after Tom Fleming to get back at him. She thinks that Tom will be easy to manipulate. But she soon finds that she has chosen the wrong man, again. After Tom pushes her away once too often, she runs into the arms of another man.
Tom Fleming hopes that Claire will go back to Mitch. Not because he doesn't love her, but because of who he is. After he's sent through hell, Tom finally summons the courage to tell Claire that he is gay. There is only one person he trusts to help him heal and fight his demons, the man he is in love with.
Mitch Wilder sat in his brand new 1969 Ford F250 pickup truck across the street from his hometown diner. Icy patches covered the sidewalk. The street was slushy. He debated whether to go inside, unsure of his welcome there. An entire year had gone by since he was home. He stayed away to let everything die down, to get better, and to let his heart heal. But yet, it hadn't. His wife was still living with his stepbrother. Mitch closed his eyes and sighed. If it was the last thing he did, he was going to lure Claire away from Tom.
Tired after the long drive from Hamilton, he wanted to relax and have a coffee, maybe one of Bob Marshall’s famous burgers. He studied the diner, new after a fire destroyed it two years ago. There were no apartments above it now, like there were. Mitch thought it was a good thing, he nearly lost a close friend in that fire. Sue lived upstairs then, Bob's wife now, number three. Mitch looked at the new window in the front. It was tinted, and he couldn’t see inside. He wondered if it was safety glass. Since Bob owned the place, someone had gone through the window at least three times. Sometimes it seemed there were more brawls in the diner than in the Mansford Hotel a few blocks away.
Mitch sighed again. He leaned his elbow on the open truck window, inhaled the crisp chilly air of late March; and envisioned the last day he was there. A trucker dragged his wife inside the diner. He found Mitch's watch in their bedroom, the one he lost several months before. His name was engraved in it. Now the wife, Diana Smithers, was one of Mitch's mistresses.
Constable Stan Cleary had the guy handcuffed, but the trucker managed to jump through the window. Mitch could still hear the glass shattering into a million tiny pieces. He'd sat back down while Bob and Mitch's son, Darren Hoffman, cleaned up the mess. Then Darren yelled at him and Bob threw a broom at him. He helped to clean up the glass.
Mitch remembered the look on Bob’s face when he read the back of the watch, and it still scared him. It was a gift from his wife, Sue. “We’re just friends.” Both he and Sue told Bob many times. But he knew Bob had his doubts. It didn’t help the situation because Bob’s second wife chased after him like a bitch in heat. Mitch didn't like Julie and was almost glad when they found her dead.; floating in Lake Erie. Pete Hoffman murdered her, the man who raised Darren.
Mitch sat back when someone jumped into the passenger seat next to him. His nineteen-year-old nephew, Todd Breckenridge, grinned mischievously at him. Mitch saw how Todd's shoulders had widened. He had also lost all the baby fat on his face. Todd looked more like his mother; Mitch's sister, Nora, than he did even a year ago.
“Nice truck,” Todd looked the inside of the cab over. “Are you going inside, or are you going to sit out here all day?”
“Why aren't you in school?”
Mitch glanced back at the diner. “You think Bob will beat the shit out of me?” He looked back to see the boy shrug his shoulders.
“Only one way to find out.”
“C'mon.” Mitch tried to sound brave. “I’ll buy you lunch.” He reached for the door handle.
“I already ate. And I should probably warn you, Claire's in there.”
Mitch closed his eyes. “Claire,” he whispered. It took him a few seconds to compose himself and look back at Todd. “How is my wife?”
Claire knew who it was the moment the shiny new silver truck pulled up across the street. She watched her husband from behind the new tinted window. “Mitch,” formed across her lips like a sigh. She knew her husband’s outline, the way he moved, and thought about the night he sat in the middle of the street in his old black truck. It was in front of her little cottage she had at that time, after they argued. She was sure he spent all night out there in the rain, but they both were too stubborn to let the other one know how sorry they were.
Tom Fleming followed her line of vision with an amused look on his face. “So, he did decide to come home.” He looked back at her from across the table. “Maybe I should go get him.”
“I, aw.” She saw the smile on Tom’s face and wondered why he wasn’t jealous. Tom never seemed to get jealous of her. “Are you sure you want to face your stepbrother?”
“Why wouldn’t I? Don’t forget, we work together. Just because my office is here, and he spends most of his time in Hamilton, doesn’t mean we don’t speak to one another.” He stood and set the paper napkin on his plate. “I’ll be right back.”
Claire watched Tom dodge soupy puddles through the window, and then turned to see her first husband walk up to her. Bob wiped his hands on his apron. “Bob,” she said. “Mitch is out there.”
Bob leaned his a-bit-too-big belly over the table and looked out to where Tom was. “He’s got a new truck, a nice one.” He sat down across from her and pushed Tom’s plate to the middle of the table. “He really embarrassed you the last time he was here, didn’t he?”
“It didn’t come as a complete surprise though, Bob.” He gave her a compassionate look. “No, I guess not.” Bob reached over the dishes and squeezed her arm. “Let me know if he does it again. I’ll ban him from here, if you want.”
“Thanks, but I don’t want to come between you and him. I know you’re one of his best friends. I’m just tired of catching him with other women.”
Bob's features were stern. “You were my first wife and I still love you, Claire.” He looked back at Sue, who was taking an order from a customer. He winked at Claire and then stood. “I won’t cause any ruckus as long as he behaves,” he told her before he picked up the dirty dishes and left.
Tom walked across the street toward his stepbrother, wondering why he volunteered to do this. Sure, they did speak to one another but not much, and only about business. The subject of Claire was taboo.
“Hey, big brother, come on in, won’t you.” Tom held out his hand as he approached the truck. “I’ll buy you a coffee.” He noticed the dead look in his brother’s hazel eyes and the gray that started to streak his blond hair. Mitch stuck his hand out of the window and shook it lightly. Too weak, thought Tom.
“Tom,” Mitch said, as if unsure of himself. Tom hated the way Mitch had been since he told him that Claire was going to move in with him. He wished he could start that day over again, and not say those words. It was why Mitch tried to commit suicide over a year ago. He wanted the old Mitch back; the cocky, egotistical man who demanded things and strutted across the room...not this candy-ass.
“Hey, Uncle Tom.” Todd leaned forward in his seat. “You should see all the gadgets this truck has.” Tom chuckled and peeked inside. “Get a job Todd, and you can get your own someday.”
Tom opened the door and Mitch slid out of the seat. He noticed his brother left the keys in the truck, reached in and took them out of the ignition. Todd gave him a dirty look. “Just in case you decide to go joyriding,” he told the teen. Tom shut the door and walked with Mitch toward the diner. “You looked better the last time I was in Hamilton.
Mitch shrugged. “It comes and goes.”
“You coming to my office later?”
“Not today. I need to rest, and I want to see my son.”
Todd hit the horn and they both turned to look back. Mitch grinned when Todd held his hands up in the air. “Why won’t you let him take it for a spin?” he asked Tom.
“Because, I don’t want to get killed.”
“Ha, you’re afraid of Big Joe, aren’t you,” Mitch said as they reached the sidewalk.
“Aren’t you?” Tom grinned then handed his brother the keys.
It shocked Claire, the way Mitch looked. Tom led her to believe he was better. Was this better than what he looked like before? Not from what she remembered. She lifted her head, so Mitch could give her a peck on the cheek. He sat down across from her and gave her a wink. Yet, they had to say a word to each other, but they didn’t need to. She felt the same tug at her heart she always did when he was near. It wasn’t until that very moment she realized how much she missed him. God, she wanted him, wanted what only he could do to her.
“Claire,” he finally said, just above a whisper. “How have you been?”
“Fine,” was all she could say, and tried to pry her eyes away from his beautiful hazel ones. Someone set down two cups of coffee in front of them. Claire looked around and remembered where she was, and that they weren’t alone. Tom had disappeared.
“I’m sorry,” Mitch told her, “about Diana.”
“Yes, the trucker.” He nodded toward the window.
“Oh, yes.” She didn’t forget about this Diana, she just didn’t know her name, didn’t want to know it. “I know, Mitch. And you’re sorry for Linda, for the hookers, and for dozens more women you're involved with.” Despite herself, tears came to her eyes.
“I can’t help it.” He looked down at his cup. “I tried with us Claire, I really did. I just don’t know why I’m like this.”
Why is he such a hunk? Claire asked herself. Why couldn't she let go of him? She squirmed in her seat and thought about how well-endowed he was.
“Tom bought a house,” she said in a futile attempt to change the subject her mind wanted to dwell on.
“I know, he told me.” He lifted his cup and took a sip.
Claire noticed it already had his cream in it, and probably his two spoons of sugar too. She looked down at her own cup and wondered who ordered it for her. She glanced up to see Bob smiling sadly at her. Quickly, she turned away from him, and didn’t know why she suddenly felt nervous.
“I’ll be staying at Darren’s,” Mitch told her as he set his cup down. “No surprise there, eh?”
“Does he know you’re back in town?”
“Yes. I won’t see him until he’s done school today.”
Claire noticed how happy he looked when he spoke about his twenty-one-year-old son. A son he had with one of her two best friends. It wasn’t until two years ago when he finally confessed that he was Darren’s father...although they all suspected because Darren had Mitch's eyes. They were hazel, with a slight downturn on the outer corners of the eyelids. She wondered how many more little Mitches were out there.
“He’s doing good in university,” Claire said with a little pride of her own. “He’s a smart kid.”
Mitch beamed and then sobered. “You know? Yeah, you know, I didn’t want kids.” He sat back in his seat. “But I’m sure glad Darren's mine, now that I know for sure he is mine.”
Yes, she knew he didn't want kids, he'd drill that into her every time she brought up the subject. There had been a time when she so desperately wanted a baby of her own. They had only been married a few short months but dated on and off for most of their lives. “You never told me how you figured it out.” Claire watched his eyes cloud over, something he did when he didn’t want to reveal anything; that and a firm clamp of the jaw. Then the cloud lifted.
“Nora and Joe kept at me, said how much Darren looked like me.” He studied his empty cup. “They’ve both been at me for years. Anyway, I just found out that Kathy had an affair with just one other man. And that man, as we know, was Bob.” He looked back up at her. “I think I’ve always known Darren was mine, but Kathy kept denying it. After a while I tried to, too.”
“And now I love him with all my heart.” His left eyebrow rose. “And no, there aren’t any more of my little brats out there.” Yet, he was just a bit on edge when he said it.
Mitch enjoyed one of Bob's famous burgers for lunch. As he wiped his chin with a paper napkin Claire stood to leave. “I better get back to the clinic,” she said then bent down and kissed his cheek.
“Later, Doc.” He watched her walk out of the diner. The mention of other kids made his stomach queasy. He did have other kids. There was Mark in Ottawa, who was the same age as Darren. Mark's sister, Victoria, who died when she was four. Then there was ten-year-old Leslie in Hamilton. He knew that if Claire found out about them, she'd kill him. Because she'd know how much he had been screwing around.
Bob poured him another cup of coffee. “Can you sit for a minute?” Mitch asked as he spooned sugar into his cup.
Bob set the pot on the table and slid in where Claire had been. “How have you been, Mitch?”
“Not too bad. Still have awful days occasionally.” Mitch dumped a packet of milk into the cup then took a sip of coffee. He set the cup down slowly. “I want to apologize.” He nodded toward the window. “And give you this.” He reached into his shirt pocket and handed Bob a check.
Bob looked down at it. “What's this for?”
Bob handed it back. “Insurance paid for it.”
Mitch refused to take the check. “Take it, Bob. It's for the inconvenience.”
Bob shook his head but shoved it into his pocket. “Thanks, Mitch. I certainly didn't expect this.”
Mitch waved it away. “I hope there aren't any hard feelings.”
“As long as you behave there won't be.” Bob took his coffee pot and went back to work.
Mitch headed back to his truck and looked over at the gym a few doors down. He didn't feel like facing his brother-in-law yet. He still had four hours to kill, so he drove to London to see his mistress. “Hi, Linda,” he said as he walked into her house. “I know it's been a couple of weeks.”
She studied his face. “You look a bit better.”
“I'm getting there.” He took her into his arms and kissed her. “I have to be at my son's place for supper.”
“Then we better not waste any time.”
They undressed each other in her living room. “Bend over the chair.” Mitch guided Linda over to one, then stood behind her. He wrapped his arms around her and held her breasts. He pushed his big dick in between her legs. Linda threw her head back as he rammed into her.
“Oh, Mitch,” she purred. “I'm not going to be long.” She gyrated her hips until her climax erupted.
Mitch squeezed her breasts as his own orgasm exploded. He hung on to her while they both caught their breaths, then he slowly pulled out. “I didn't hurt you, did I?”
Linda turned around and hugged his neck. “No, that was beautiful.”
“Good.” He reached down to pick up his clothes. He knew he had to be careful, some women couldn't handle his enormous penis. Linda could, it was one reason he kept her as his mistress. But he wasn't heartless. Mitch and Linda had been together for over twenty years. There was love there, even though neither one would admit it.
Still, he hurt her deeply when he married Claire, and she threatened to leave him. He told her that Claire's mother was on her deathbed, and that Claire was due to inherit a hefty sum of money. Mitch was to swindle that money away from his wife then take Linda to Hawaii. Little did Linda know, Claire's mother died a long time ago, and that he and Claire had been separated for a year.
Darren Hoffman left Western University later that day, feeling nauseous. After he threw his books on the passenger seat of his 1962 blue Mustang, he jumped in behind the wheel. A light dusting of snow was coming down. The car roared to life with open pipes when he turned on the ignition. “My Girl” from the Temptations was on the radio. He left London and drove south on Hwy 4, through St. Thomas, then took a left onto Hwy 15. Three quarters of an hour later, he was in Port Shetland.
He could smell the freshwater lake and dead fish, in his mind, as he drove down the hill into town. Darren turned down King Street and honked his horn as he passed the diner. His girlfriend, Lily Marie Marshall, was working. She and her twin brother Justin helped Bob out three days a week and every other weekend. They both wanted to go to university, but Bob could only afford to send one. The twins had taken a year off to decide who would go. His cousin, Todd Breckenridge, was in grade thirteen, having failed a grade. Darren went past Joe’s gym where his best friend, Bret Campbell, worked. The car sped across the steel bridge. He loved the noise his tires made when they rumbled across it.
Today his old man was coming home, his real father. A man he loved all his life. Except he didn’t know, for sure, that Mitch Wilder was his dad until recently. Darren both liked and hated it. Mitch was the town’s notorious womanizer and was always in trouble with somebody. He thought about when his old man was back home the last time. Mitch had gotten married to Claire and separated within a few months. The diner burnt down and was rebuilt. There were also three deaths that came in quick succession. Darren's adopted Grandfather, Bud Lester; Claire's father, was the one he still cried over. Then there was Julie's murder; and before those, was his other Grandfather that Darren didn't know was his then, Mitch's father. A hell of a lot had happened in this town two years ago.
He drove past Pete’s house and noticed it still looked rundown. Pete Hoffman was the man who raised him, until he kicked him out of the house after he turned twenty. Darren looked down at the inside of his car. Pete did give this car to him when he bought a new one, the only kind thing Pete ever did for him.
Darren's mother died from cancer when he was seven. He couldn’t figure out why Pete treated him the way he did, until Mitch told him of his real parentage. Now he knew why Pete either ignored him, or didn’t hesitate to give him a backhand, or the belt. Darren shivered when a shock of cold ran up his spine. And now Pete was serving a life sentence for murdering Julie Marshall, Bob's second wife. He confessed it was in a fit of jealous rage, she didn't want him anymore. Julie, as far as Darren was concerned, was that generation's town slut.
He drove another block and turned right onto Willow. Halfway down the street, he pulled into his driveway. Darren looked up at his house, a little white bungalow with black trim. How lucky he felt to have a house paid for at his age. Gramps left it to him in his will, but Bud wasn’t supposed to die so soon. It still hit him hard when Darren thought about his adopted Grandfather. And he didn’t realize how expensive a house was to keep up. Luckily, his dad helped him out with it, and his education, and paid his utilities, gave him an allowance, and bought furniture for him. Just how rich was his old man, anyway?
One good thing came out because he was a bastard, was that his real father certainly wanted to make things up to him now. It didn’t fool Darren though. If it hadn't been for Big Joe and Bob, Mitch would still probably deny he had a son.
Constable Stan Cleary saw the new silver pickup truck drive by on the other street. He followed it long enough to memorize the plates then drove back to the station to check it out. It could be the new drug dealer the Ontario Provincial Police from St. Thomas told him about.
If you can grin and scowl at the same time, Stan did. “Mitch Wilder,” he said when he read the name of the owner on the computer. “So, you came back. Asshole.” Stan leaned back in his chair, put his feet up on the desk, and looked out the window. He passed a hand over his bald head and went back in time to when Mitch showed up in 1967 for his old man’s funeral. Stan had been dating Claire then. Mitch walked into her house and ordered him to stay away from her. Ordered him! As far as Mitch knew, he did. Stan laughed. How easy it was to get back at that arrogant sonofabitch.
He’d gotten a quickie from Claire. Stan nailed her again after she left Mitch. He knew she wanted to get back at her husband just as much as he did. They used each other for sex and that was all it was. He called her his little Barbie Doll. Claire Lester-Wilder had a body of a pin-up girl and was born to screw.
Stan closed his eyes. He stopped playing games after she moved in with Tom. Not because he respected Claire, but because he wanted Tom. There had only been three people he had fallen in love with in his lifetime. Claire wasn’t one of them, he just loved her body.
His first love was Dave Channing, Sue Marshall’s big brother, who died at the age of nineteen in a car accident. Mitch and Dave were in a street race, Dave lost big-time. His second real love was another guy, but it didn’t last long when he caught that guy with someone else. His third love was for Julie Marshall. They had been lovers since he was fifteen. Julie knew he was gay, and he didn’t care if she had the odd affair. She needed other men, just like he did.
Stan thought about his little girl, Sissy. His and Julie's. Bob raised her until he found out that Sissy was Stan's kid. She'd be five now. He hadn't seen her since Julie's funeral, she was out east with her grandmother.
Julie's death left him hollow inside. He’d gotten careless afterward and went to London several times a week for casual sex. Bill was still the one he looked for when he was there, but sometimes he couldn't find him. That's when Stan went home with anyone who interested him. He'd slowed down now and had become more careful who he picked up.
Bill was safe, he was a good guy, and the sex was good. But Stan didn't love him. Maybe he needed more time to get over Julie. But he knew he found the one person he longed to spend the rest of his life with. If only Tom had the guts to leave Claire.
Stan jumped when the phone rang. He dropped his feet to the floor
and swore before he picked it up. “Port Shetland Police,” he said, and tried
to sound professional.