Sharon Harrison and Tony Morelli were never able to control the powerful chemistry between them. It led first to heart-stopping passion, then to marriage and children. They thought they had it all, but under pressure their happy home became an explosive battleground.
Even divorce, however, can't completely separate them. Spending alternate days in their home with their children, they have an unorthodox arrangement that keeps them in close contact. And keeps the desire alive .
Trying hard to concentrate on her work, Sharon Morelli squinted as she placed a wispy chiffon peignoir exactly one inch from the next garment on the rack. This was a standard antiboredom procedure reserved for days when almost no customers wandered into her lingerie shop, Teddy Bares. She was so absorbed in the task that she jumped when two dark brown eyes looked at her over the bar and a deep voice said, ''Business must be slow.''
Sharon put one hand to her pounding heart, drawing in a deep breath and letting it out again. Clearly, Tony hadn't lost his gift for catching her at a disadvantage, despite the fact that their divorce had been final for months. ''Business is just fine,'' she snapped, hurrying behind the counter and trying to look busy with a stack of old receipts that had already been checked, re-checked and entered into the ledgers.
Without looking up she was aware that Tony had followed her, that he was standing very close. She also knew he was wearing battered jeans and a blue cambric work shirt open halfway down his chest, though she would never have admitted noticing such details.
''Sharon,'' he said, with the same quiet authority that made him so effective as the head of a thriving construction company and as a father to their two children.
She made herself meet his gaze, her hazel eyes linking with his brown ones, and jutted out her chin a little way. ''What?'' she snapped, feeling defensive. It was her turn to live in the house with Briana and Matt, and she would fight for that right if Tony had any ideas to the contrary.
He rolled his expressive eyes and folded his arms. ''Relax,'' he said, and suddenly the shop seemed too small to contain his blatant masculinity. ''We've got a project a couple of miles from here, so I stopped by to tell you that Matt is grounded for the week and Briana's with Mamathe orthodontist tightened her braces yesterday and her teeth are sore.''
Sharon sighed and closed her eyes for a moment. She'd worked hard at overcoming her resentment toward Tony's mother, but there were times when it snuck up on her. Like now. Damn, even after all this time it hurt that Briana was Carmen's child and not her own.
Beautiful, perfect Carmen, much mourned by the senior Mrs. Morelli. Eleven years after her tragic death in an automobile accident, Carmen was still a regular topic of lament in Tony's extended family.
To Sharon's surprise, a strong, sun-browned hand reached out to cup her chin. ''Hey,'' Tony said in a gentle undertone, ''what did I say?''
It was a reasonable question, but Sharon couldn't answer. Not without looking and feeling like a complete fool. She turned from his touch and tried to compose herself to face him again. If there was one thing she didn't want to deal with, it was Maria Morelli's polite disapproval. ''I'd appreciate it if you'd pick Bri up and bring her by the house after you're through work for the day,'' she said in a small voice.
Tony's hesitation was eloquent. He didn't understand Sharon's reluctance to spend any more time than absolutely necessary with his mother, and he never had. ''All right,'' he finally conceded with a raspy sigh, and when Sharon looked around he was gone.
She missed him sorely.
It was with relief that Sharon closed the shop four hours later. After putting down the top on her yellow roadster, she drove out of the mall parking lot. There were precious few days of summer left; it was time to take the kids on the annual shopping safari in search of school clothes.
Sharon drew in a deep breath of fresh air and felt better. She passed by shops with quaint facades, a couple of restaurants, a combination drugstore and post office. Port Webster, nestled on Washington's Puget Sound, was a small, picturesque place, and it was growing steadily.
On the way to the house she and Tony had designed and planned to share forever, she went by a harborful of boats with colorful sails bobbing on the blue water, but she didn't notice the view.
Her mind was on the craziness of their situation. She really hated moving back and forth between her apartment and that splendid Tudor structure on Tamarack Drive, but the divorce mediators had suggested the plan as a way of giving the children a measure of emotional security. Therefore, she lived in the house three days out of each week for one month, four days the next, alternating with Tony.
Sharon suspected that the arrangement made everyone else feel just as disjointed and confused as she did, though no one had confessed to that. It was hard to remember who was supposed to be where and when, but she knew she was going to have to learn to live with the assorted hassles. The only alternative would be a long, bitter custody battle, and she had no legal rights where Briana was concerned. Tony could simply refuse to allow her to see the child, and that would be like having a part of her soul torn from her.
Of course he hadn't mentioned any such thing, but when it came to divorces, anything could happen.
When she reached the house, which stood alone at the end of a long road and was flanked on three sides by towering pine trees, Matt was on his skateboard in the driveway. With his dark hair and eyes, he was, at seven, a miniature version of Tony.
At the sight of Sharon, his face lighted up and he flipped the skateboard expertly into one hand.
''I hear you're grounded,'' she said, after she'd gotten out of the car and an energetic hug had been exchanged.
Matt nodded, his expression glum at the reminder. ''Yeah,'' he admitted. ''It isn't fair, neither.''
Sharon ruffled his hair as they walked up the stone steps to the massive front doors. ''I'll be the judge of that,'' she teased. ''Exactly what did you do?''
They were in the entryway, and Sharon tossed her purse onto a gleaming wooden table brought to America by some ancestor of Tony's. She would carry her overnight bag in from the trunk of the roadster later.
''Well?'' she prompted, when Matt hesitated.
''I put Briana's goldfish in the pool,'' he confessed dismally. He gave Sharon a look of grudging chagrin. ''How was I supposed to know the chlorine would hurt them?''
Sharon sighed. ''Your dad was right to ground you.'' She went on to do her admittedly bad imitation of an old-time gangster, talking out of one side of her mouth. ''You know the rules, kidwe don't mess with other people's stuff around here.''
Before Matt could respond to that, Mrs. Harry, the housekeeper, pushed the vacuum across the living room carpet and then switched off the machine to greet Sharon with a big smile. ''Welcome home, Mrs. Morelli,'' she said.
Sharon's throat felt thick, but she returned the older woman's hello before excusing herself to go upstairs.
Walking into the bedroom she had once shared with Tony was no easier than it had been the first night of their separation. There were so many memories.
Resolutely, Sharon shed the pearls, panty hose and silk dress she'd worn to Teddy Bares and put them neatly away. Then she pulled jeans, a Seahawks T-shirt and crew socks from her bureau and shimmied into them.
As she dressed, she took a mental inventory of herself. Her golden-brown hair, slender figure and wide hazel eyes got short shrift. The person Sharon visualized in her mind was shortfive foot oneand sported a pair of thighs that might have been a shade thinner. With a sigh, Sharon knelt to search the floor of the closet for her favorite pair of sneakers. Her mind was focused wholly on the job.
A masculine chuckle made her draw back and swing her head around. Tony was standing just inside the bedroom doorway, beaming.
Sharon was instantly self-conscious. ''Do you get some kind of sick kick out of startling me, Morelli?'' she demanded.
Her ex-husband sat down on the end of the bed and assumed an expression of pained innocence. He even laid one hand to his heart. ''Here I was,'' he began dramatically, ''congratulating myself on overcoming my entire heritage as an Italian male by not pinching you, and you wound me with a question like that.''
Sharon went back to looking for her sneakers, and when she found them, she sat down on the floor to wrench them onto her feet. ''Where are the kids?'' she asked to change the subject.
''Why do you ask?'' he countered immediately.
Tony had showered and exchanged his work clothes for shorts and a tank top, and he looked good. So good that memories flooded Sharon's mind and, blushing, she had to look away.
He laughed, reading her thoughts as easily as he had in the early days of their marriage when things had been less complex.
Sharon shrugged and went to stand in front of the vanity table, busily brushing her hair. Heat coursed through her as she recalled some of times she and Tony had made love in that room at the end of the workday .
And then he was standing behind her, his strong hands light on her shoulders, turning her into his embrace. Her head tilted back as his mouth descended toward hers, and a familiar jolt sparked her senses when he kissed her. At the same time, Tony molded her close. Dear God, it would be all too easy to shut and lock the door and surrender to him. He was so very skillful at arousing her.
After a fierce battle with her own desires, Sharon withdrew, wide-eyed and breathless. This was wrong; she and Tony were divorced, and she was never going to be able to get on with her life if she allowed him to make love to her. ''We can't,'' she said, and even though the words had been meant to sound light, they throbbed with despair.
Tony was still standing entirely too close, making Sharon aware of every muscle in his powerful body. His voice was low and practically hypnotic, and his hands rested on the bare skin of her upper arms. ''Why not?'' he asked.
For the life of her, Sharon couldn't answer. She was saved by Briana's appearance in the doorway.
At twelve, Briana was already beautiful. Her thick mahogany hair trailed down her back in a rich, tumbling cascade, and her brown eyes were flecked with tiny sparks of gold. Only the petulant expression on her face and the wires on her teeth kept her from looking like an angel in a Renaissance painting.
Sharon loved the child as if she were her own. ''Hi, sweetie,'' she said sympathetically, able now to step out of Tony's embrace. She laid a motherly hand to the girl's forehead. ''How do you feel?''
''Lousy,'' the girl responded. ''Every tooth in my head hurts, and did Dad tell you what Matt did to my goldfish?'' Before Sharon could answer, she complained, ''You should have seen it, Mom. It was mass murder.''
''We'll get you more fish,'' Sharon said, putting one arm around Bri's shoulders.
''Matt will get her more fish,'' Tony corrected, and there was an impatient set to his jaw as he passed Briana and Sharon to leave the room. See you at the next changing of the guard,'' he added in a clipped tone, and then he was gone.
A familiar bereft feeling came over Sharon, but she battled it by throwing herself into motherhood.
Is anybody hungry?'' she asked minutes later in the enormous kitchen. As a general rule, Tony was more at home in this room than she was, but for the next three daysor was it four?the kids' meals would be her responsibility.
''Let's go out for pizza!'' Matt suggested exuberantly. He was standing on the raised hearth of the double fireplace that served both the kitchen and dining room, and Sharon suspected that he'd been going back and forth through the openinga forbidden pursuit.
What a rotten idea,'' Bri whined, turning imploring eyes to Sharon. Mom, I'm a person in pain!''
Matt opened his mouth to comment, and Sharon held up both hands in a demand for silence. Enough, both of you,'' she said. We're not going anywherenot tonight, anyway. We're eating right here.''