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 let his heart hear. Yet, it hadn’t. His wife was still living with his stepbrother. Mitch closed his eyes and sighed. If it was the last think 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 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 Restless Honor 7 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 chase 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 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 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 is 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 his 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 watched Tom. “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, 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.”
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, wont’ 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 all over again, and not say those words. It was why Mitch tried to commit suicide over a year ago. He wanted to 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 ignition, reached in and took them. 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 saw you in Hamilton.”
Mitch shrugged. “It comes and goes.”
“You coming to my office later today?"
“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 smirked 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 hadn’t said a word to each other, 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 the 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.” Mitch lifted his cup and took a sip.
Claire saw that it already had his cream in it, and probably his two spoons of sugar too. She glanced down at her own cup and wondered who ordered it for her. Bob was smiling sadly at her when she looked up. 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.”
He looked happy 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 mind, now that I know for sure he is mine.”
Yes, she knew he didn’t want kids, he’d drill it 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 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 a bit on edge when he said it.