Richard stole a kiss in the hallway before heading into his room, while Lana – still laughing at him for the kiss – opened the door to hers. The first thing he noticed was the lovely view of the ocean straight ahead; he could wake to a spectacular sunrise.
The second thing that caught Richard's attention was the door to his right. It seemed he and Lana had gotten adjoining rooms without asking for them. That's convenient, he thought as he walked past it to set down his suitcase. Now I don't have to go out into the hall to invite her over here. I think there's a decent movie or two on tonight…
That pleasant train of thought came to an abrupt halt when he heard the lock click. Lana had evidently noticed the door at the same moment he did – and her immediate reaction was to bar it. What does she think I'm going to do, barge in there and pounce on her? Not that I don't want to, but I figured by now I'd get a little more credit for being civilized, he thought indignantly.
By the time he set down his suitcase, however, Richard had recovered his sense of humor. After all, if he pushed the issue, Lana was liable to get annoyed with him. Making her laugh about it was a much better option. Chuckling to himself, he went to the adjoining door and opened his side. The arrangement was simple – one doorframe, two doors. Richard rattled the doorknob.
He heard Lana laughing on the other side; she really had a lovely laugh. So he twisted the knob again. "Knock it off!" she called. Instead, Richard grabbed the doorknob in both hands, shaking it as hard as he could.
"Richard, stop being silly," Lana tried to scold, but she couldn't stifle her snickering enough to sound aggravated with him. Better yet, she was now right on the opposite side of the door, so he banged his shoulder against it while continuing to rattle the doorknob. That provoked helpless laughter, and he yanked the door, shaking it in its frame.
Lana slapped her side of the door. "Richard, quit before you break the door down! I swear, you're impossible…"
"What do you think I'm trying to do?" he teased, banging the door with his shoulder again. "You ought to know by now, if you imply a reporter can't do something, we're bound to find a way to do it."
"And you're the worst of the lot!" she called back, smacking the door again. "Stop it! You're going to get us both thrown out of the hotel!"
If she had sounded the least bit upset, he would have stopped. However, Lana was still laughing at his antics, so Richard rattled the doorknob as hard as he could before backing up to knock into it with his shoulder again. Lana chose that moment to unlock her side, and he fortunately heard that, or he would've fallen on her when she snatched the door open. "Now will you quit acting like…?"
She didn't have a chance to finish the sentence. Richard barged through the open door, sweeping Lana into his arms and twirling her around as she yelped in surprise and clutched his shoulders. He set her down and kissed her, holding her close, and felt Lana relax in his arms as she returned the kiss. One hand came up to stroke his jaw, and when she pulled back slightly it was with warm affection shining in those sea green eyes. "You're incorrigible," she told him softly.
"I love you," he said, kissing the bridge of her nose. "And I don't like being locked out of your room like some kind of misbehaving dog. You can trust me to stay out if you tell me to."
"Misbehaving, definitely," Lana said, leaning up for a quick kiss. "But you're not a dog, and I didn't mean to treat you like one. It's just habit, love. I've spent the last three years living in Gotham City, where you always lock every door."
Richard nuzzled her cheek, feeling mischievous. "All right, you're forgiven – if you'll come to my room and watch a couple of movies with me." Seeing her dubious expression, he quickly added, "No stop-motion lizards this time, and no stunt men in monkey suits. Some real classics."
"You have a deal – but in my room," Lana replied, adding with a teasing grin, "That way I can kick you out when I start falling asleep."
"Done," Richard said, and kissed her again. "Let's get unpacked and maybe order room service."
"Sounds like a good idea," Lana said, grinning. "I'm starving. It's a pity White Airlines doesn't offer an in-flight meal on the Metropolis-to-Ft.-Lauderdale run."
"Hey, what do you expect on a free ticket? And you got to ride in the copilot's seat. I think that's worth more than a couple of packs of peanuts." Laughing at each other, they parted ways to unpack.
Lana sat at her hotel room's vanity, gazing into her mirror but not really seeing her reflection. Her mind was on Richard, as it so often was these days. He had spent this first full day of their trip with his father, Theodore.
Richard had wanted to bring her with him this morning to meet his father. She had demurred politely, pleading exhaustion from the long flight yesterday. Actually, the designer had flown for longer hours and gone about her business with less sleep, but she thought it would be better to give Richard some time with his family first before she arrived on the scene. The last thing Lana wanted to be was the unwelcome interloper, and given what she'd heard about Sylvia, she'd committed herself to making the best possible first impression.
It wouldn't be so bad if it were just that Lois and Perry dislike her, Lana thought, running a brush meditatively through her waist-length hair. It took a lot more work than most people suspected to maintain it, but long red hair was her trademark feature and she cherished it. At least the time-consuming comb-outs gave her enough uninterrupted peace and quiet to think about things, such as now. Admittedly, neither Lois nor Perry is the most amiable individual on earth, and I can see how Richard's mother could take a dislike to both of them. It's hard to realize there's more to both of them than the profane, sarcastic exterior, when they've spent their lives creating that façade and making sure everyone believes in it. But when Richard says what he said about Sylvia, his own mother… I'm not looking for an argument, but I'm not going to walk into this unprepared for one, either.
Done for now, she tilted her head back and started braiding her hair loosely. The texture was like silk, heavy and sleek – since she was a teenager, Lana's coveted mane had never known hairspray or hot blow dryers, and it had responded to that cosseting by becoming unbelievably soft and glossy. Richard loved to touch it, and if Lana was honest with herself, she loved the feeling of his hands running through her hair almost as much as he did. Just last night, they had wound up on the sofa in her room with him stroking her hair until she was almost hypnotized by it.
The memory brought a small, amused smile to her lips. That nonsense with the locked adjoining door had gone on until she had finally unlocked her door and snatched it open, prepared to ask Richard why he was acting like a sugared-up second-grader. She didn't get the chance to speak; her actions backfired when Richard bolted through, swept her up in his arms, and spun her around while she tried not to scream in surprise. When he set her down, he kissed her long and thoroughly before letting her speak, and that distracted her enough for him to talk her into having dinner and a movie in her room. Except that once Richard started toying with her hair, Lana stopped paying attention to the film and almost drifted off to sleep right there beside him. It was so relaxing…
When the movie went off, he had very gently woken her before going back to his own room. And, rather predictably, Lana had dreamed about what might have happened if she had simply whispered, "Stay with me." Those dreams had made her blush a little when he turned up the next morning with breakfast – he would be gone most of the day, and wanted to spend some time with her first. Throughout the trip, Richard had been exceptionally attentive, charming, and thoughtful – the polar opposite of her ex-husband, in fact.
But that thought wasn't one she wanted to entertain. Putting Don far from her mind, Lana finished the tail of the braid. She glanced at the clock and suppressed a sigh; it was only afternoon, and if Richard's parents were anything like hers, they would want to keep him well past dinner.
That left her with nothing in particular to do today. She had whiled away most of the morning reading, stopping only to order lunch from room service and dine at her leisure. Lana contemplated going out to sightsee, but Richard was familiar with the area and she preferred to see it with him. Instead, she went out onto the balcony to watch the ocean.
The clean, salty tang of the breeze teased a few tendrils loose from her braid, and she closed her eyes, letting it blow the cobwebs out of her mind. Especially that half-hysterical little voice that kept popping up and whining, What are you doing here?
I have a right to a vacation, she sternly told that nagging voice. And I have a right to spend it with the man I love. Yes, love. No sense in hiding behind semantics now. It doesn't matter that I've only known him a few months, or that he was so recently engaged to another woman. The only thing that matters is that I've fallen head over heels in love with him like I never did with anyone else. And after being sane and sensible and cautious my whole life, I think I darned well deserve a whirlwind romance.
The cliché made her chuckle, and Lana loosened her collar; it was much warmer out than she'd expected, eighty degrees or so. Only a few moments of that steady baking warmth sent her back into the air conditioning, laughing at the notion of being too warm in December.
It turned out to be lucky timing, as she'd barely gotten changed into a lighter top when she heard a knock at the door. Frowning, she went to open it, and was surprised to see a very disgruntled Richard in the hallway. Before she could even get her thoughts in order, he stepped inside and hugged her, burying his face in her shoulder.
Lana stroked his hair, wondering what had gone wrong and knowing he would tell her soon enough. For now, he needed comfort; his shoulders were tense, and she tried to rub some of that stiffness away.
After a moment, Richard sighed against her neck, raising goose bumps all the way down her arm. He drew back slightly and gave her a wistful, tired smile. "So, how would you like to fly to the Bahamas with me? We could get there tonight. Freeport, maybe Paradise Island – it's touristy, but still pretty cool."
Lana blinked in surprise. "Why?"
He dropped his gaze, but she saw the flash of anger in his eyes. When he looked back at her, he'd composed himself. "I'd rather not say. Let's just leave it at the fact that I don't want to be in the same country with my mother right now. I mean, if you don't want to leave…"
She silenced him with a kiss and told him, "Wherever you are, love, that's where I want to be." It sounded corny to her – and perhaps a little frightening for its sincerity – but Richard smiled.
"I love you," he whispered, kissing her forehead. "You know that? I love you so much. I don't know what I did to deserve you, but it had to be damned spectacular."
"Flatterer," she sighed, lacing her fingers together at the nape of his neck and leaning up for another kiss. Sooner or later, he'd tell her what happened. Lana was nothing if not patient. In the meantime, though, Richard was nuzzling her neck, and Lana found herself practically purring.
"So should we check out and fly to the Bahamas right now?" he asked, his breath whispering along her skin.
"We have to pack everything again," Lana murmured.
She felt him smile against her neck. "Nah," Richard said, nibbling gently. "We'll just grab our wallets and go. Leave our stuff to the maids."
"And what are we going to do about clothes if we do that?" Lana heard her own voice growing faint, and ducked her shoulder slightly away from him.
Richard held her tighter, and laughed wickedly against her ear. "Who needs clothes? We'll pick a nudist resort."
Even while she blushed, Lana laughed, swatting his shoulder. "Richard!"
"What?" he asked. "I've got nothing to be ashamed of … and neither do you." He punctuated that sentence by tickling her sides, making Lana yelp and try to struggle free.
She caught his hands and glared at him, trying to look angry but only managing to look amused. Leaning as far back from him as she could, Lana said seriously, "Richard, I'm a fair-skinned redhead. A nudist resort in a tropical country is not exactly going to work for me. I'll wind up looking like a lobster…"
That mischievous gleam in his eyes warned her to expect something daring right before Richard said with a grin, "I'd be happy to help you with the sunscreen…"
He leaned in to kiss her, but Lana put two fingers under the shelf of his jaw and pushed him away. "I think not. No nudist resort, Richard – but I promise I'll be ready in an hour. You'll need to contact the airport, won't you?"
"Fine, be sensible," Richard sighed, stepping back slightly … but not without catching her hand and kissing the palm. "I'll be good from now on, I swear."
Smirking a little, Lana propelled him out the door, saying just before she closed it, "You'd better be…" Let him interpret that however he wants… I can always say I meant good as in 'behave like something other than a randy teenager'. And halfway mean it, too.
This time, Lana beat him to the check-in desk and managed to put both of their rooms on her credit card. He had paid for the rooms in Fort Lauderdale, after all – but Richard seemed a little annoyed as they headed upstairs. He expressed that irritation by catching her at her door and tilting her chin up. "Listen, you," Richard said, and the tone was more fond than exasperated. "I know you're a millionaire, but I'm not exactly broke. Quit with the paying for everything, okay?"
"You paid for the rooms last time," Lana reminded him. "Turnabout is fair play. And don't tell me the man is supposed to pay for everything – I might be old-fashioned, but I think that was a rule that needed to be reversed every now and then."
"Yeah, but do you realize you do it a lot?" Richard said, setting down his suitcase. His voice was still gentle, but very earnest. "I know you're not doing it to flash your money around, but to the uninformed eye it might look that way."
"But you're hardly uninformed," Lana replied, setting her bags down. "And I suspect your issue is that to said uninformed eyes, it might look like you were a kept man." She felt her stomach lurch at that; she hadn't meant to challenge him so quickly. A lot of men had issues with women who had more money…
Richard just shrugged. "I don't care what people think, one way or another," he said, and she read simple honesty in the words. "I don't care about the money, either. It's nice, and it's useful, but it's not the point in life. I have enough to take care of myself and treat a lady to a nice vacation. Which is the point – I don't want to have to race you to the counter to pay for things. Let me spoil you a little."
Lana smiled and traced the curve of his jaw lightly with the tips of her fingers. "Oh, but you are," she said. "Richard, I don't care about the money, either. These days I have enough to do darned near anything I want. You're spoiling me rotten with the attention and the affection – I want that more than gifts."
"How could I not pay attention to you?" He stepped closer and kissed her forehead. "No matter where we go you're the loveliest woman in the room. As for the affection, I'll give you all you could possibly want. And then some."
Lana closed her eyes and leaned against him, letting Richard hold her. He couldn't know how much she craved hearing such things… Reluctantly, she murmured, "We should probably get settled. And I need to call my mother and let her know where I am…"
"Mind if I come over after I'm finished unpacking?" He kissed her brow as he asked, stepping back from her slightly. "Let me call room service and we'll have dinner together."
"Sounds good," she replied, smiling warmly at him. "Now shoo, we're blocking the hallway."
This pair of rooms was adjoining by request, and to forestall questioning Lana opened her half of the door before even setting her suitcases down. She heard Richard stick his arm through and knock on her wall, just being his usual silly self, and then turned her mind to the task of getting things put away. Traveling as often as she did, Lana had unpacking down to a science, and it was only a few moments before she took out her cell phone and dialed her parent's house.
Richard could hear Lana through the open door, and once he'd stashed his own belongings, he headed into her room. She was lying on the chaise lounge, phone pressed to her ear and her eyes closed, with a faint frown line forming between her brows. "Well, Mom, I said I might bring him home for Christmas. Might. As it turned out, he'd promised to see his parents for the holiday… Yes, I know I just said we're not doing that… Mom…"
She was lying on her side, and Richard simply took over the available space beside her, his arm around her waist and his cheek against her belly. Lana gave one strangled gasp, and he grinned, realizing she wouldn't dare yell at him with her mother on the line. So he simply curled up there, holding her, not making one single move that could cause her to swat him off the chaise.
Lana's hand, which had caught his hair and tightened, began to relax. "Hmm? Nothing, Mom. The air conditioning just kicked on, that's all. But yes, I'll be home soon… Richard's fine… Well, yes, he is. A bit of a troublemaker, but a handsome young man nonetheless…" Richard suppressed a laugh at that, and Lana ruffled his hair.
He could feel her breathing, feel the warmth of her skin through the light blouse she wore, feel the tension in her back just under his palm. Richard cuddled close and let the world narrow to just Lana, the rhythm of her breathing under his cheek. It wasn't even so much about the sexual potential as finally being close enough to wrap himself up in the ghost of her perfume.
"Of course I'll call on Christmas Day!" Lana exclaimed into the phone. "Mother. When have you ever known me to miss a holiday, even if I had to travel? Besides, Richard will be calling the twins every night, so we can't possibly forget what day it is."
Richard nodded to let her know she was right, and felt her stomach tense, her breath catch. That made him grin, and he hugged her tight, nuzzling her lightly just to make her gasp. Her free hand tightened in his hair, and he was amused to hear her voice starting to trail off. "Mm-hmm… Yes, Mom… Sure… You know, I really think … I should probably go…" She paused, listening to her mother, and continued, "I've done a lot of flying the last two days… The jet lag, you know…"
Richard's shoulders shook with silent laughter. He leaned back a little looking up at her with mischief and desire in his expression, and Lana tried to glare at him. Her mouth curved up in a wry smile, though, and the spark in her eyes wasn't anger. Stop distracting me, she mouthed at him, and Richard just shook his head, still grinning. He was having far too much fun to quit. Besides, most moms loved to keep you on the phone endlessly, and he wasn't quite hungry enough to start dinner without Lana. Room service was already ordered and on its way…
"Sure… Love you, too, Mom… Give my love to Dad, too, will you? Talk to you tomorrow…" Lana finally snapped her cell phone shut, and gave Richard an exasperated look. "Just what do you think you're doing, Mr. White?"
"Giving you a reason to hang up before dinner gets here," he replied, trying his best to look innocent.
"Mission accomplished," Lana told him, but that gleam of humor was still there, the little hint that maybe straitlaced Ms. Lang was trying very hard not to laugh at him. "Now why don't you…"
He didn't let her finish the sentence. Richard had been playing flirtatious little games like this for years, and you always upped the ante, no matter what. Without really thinking about it, he slid his thumb under the edge of her blouse and pulled it up, just a few inches. Enough to place a soft kiss on the bare skin of her stomach.
Another woman might have laughed, the gentle brush of lips tickling. From Lana, he expected a swat on the shoulder, perhaps a scolding. But to his surprise, he only heard her draw in a swift breath … and the scrape of her manicured nails clenching the upholstery. He glanced up, wide-eyed, and saw her eyes closed, such exquisite tension in her expression.
Too much, too fast. Not so much the kiss itself as the implication – and not as if my mind hasn't gone there already. Richard waited, his hand on her back, and when those sea-green eyes opened there was no anger in them. He gave her his most apologetic smile and murmured, "Sorry."
"It's been a while," she whispered back, stroking his hair. "A long while."
Propping himself up on one elbow, Richard gave her a wry grin. "What is it with me and women who are just coming off a three-year dry spell?"
Her eyebrows rose slightly, and Lana laughed ruefully. "More like five years."
Richard frowned. "I thought you said you only got divorced three years ago."
"So you were separated for two years?"
Lana leaned back against the chaise lounge with a sigh. "No, the entire divorce – from the moment I said I wanted one to the final court date – only took ninety days. Is it that impossible for you to imagine being married to someone and not sleeping with them? Or just sleeping with them, in the strictly literal sense?"
"When the someone is you, heck yeah," Richard told her, honest puzzlement in his voice, and he grinned at the startled look she turned his way. "I'm serious, Lana. I'm as much attracted to your intelligence and your competence and your sense of humor as I am to your looks, but the looks alone are reason enough to really confuse me. You mean you were married to this guy–"
"Don," she supplied.
"–Don, you were married to Don, sleeping in the same bed with him, and you two never…?"
"Not for the last two years, no." She was blushing then, but not looking away, and not kicking him off the lounge either. "Richard…"
"Something's wrong with him," he asserted. "He's impotent, right?"
"No," Lana told him.
Richard nodded sagely. "Closet gay."
Lana burst out laughing. "He's not gay! Richard, I was married to him, I know."
"That doesn't mean anything anymore," Richard said. "The lady's always the last to know."
"Richard, you remember what happened when Lois and the twins came to Smallville – it was all over the rumor mill the very same day. No, he's not gay, or the gossips would've found out. It would've come out during the divorce, if nothing else. People might not acknowledge it, but they always know in a town that size."
"He slept next to you for two years and didn't touch you," Richard insisted. "There's something not right about him – if he's not gay, then he's got some kind of physical or mental dysfunction that prevents him from acting like a normal straight man. Something."
"No, he just wasn't interested," Lana said. "Richard…"
She trailed off, and he settled himself comfortably beside her, not too much pressure, but an affectionate closeness. His arm still around her waist, he looked up at her and said gently, "I guess this is as good a time as any to have The Ex Discussion."
"Really?" she inquired. "While curled up on the couch together?"
"If you need a hug, I'm right here," he replied, demonstrating with an affectionate squeeze. "So tell me about it."
"I don't know where to start…"
"How'd you meet him?" Richard watched her face intently, and Lana found herself slightly intimidated by his complete focus on her. Taking a deep breath, she looked up at the ceiling, gathering her thoughts.
"I've known him since we were children… Don's family owns the First Bank of Smallville. We knew them – everyone in town knew them. Maybe my family did a little more business at the bank than most, because we owned the store. Anyway, Don's older than me by six years. I don't think he noticed me as anything other than the Langs' little girl until I hit high school, and by then he was in college, so we didn't see each other much. Except during the summer, when he was home from school and I was working at the store. I'd see him sometimes when I deposited the cash at the end of the day. Still, we barely knew each other."
Lana sighed. "I was a very different person back then, Richard. When I was in high school, I was the head cheerleader, the prettiest girl in town, and the most popular person in school. I was a princess, basically, and I was spoiled and selfish and shallow, way too worried about what people thought of me. I dated guys if I thought my parents and my friends would approve – which is why I never dated Clark. Instead I was seeing jocks like Brad. Anyway, by the time I started college, I'd figured out that Brad wasn't going anywhere in life, so I broke up with him.
"I had already broken the mold by going to college when all my friends were getting married, but my parents supported me in that. Even though I was getting a degree – in business, by the way – I was also looking to settle down. I wanted someone stable, secure, dependable … someone to take care of me, basically."
Richard shifted a little, resting his head on his arm as he looked up at her. She hadn't met his eyes yet, but with that slight move she glanced back down and smiled ruefully. "My freshman year, I worked at the store whenever I wasn't at school, just like always. Mom and Dad wanted me to have a work ethic, to understand the business when I took over, and not just from the standpoint of store owner. They wanted me to know what it was like to run the register and stock the shelves and sweep the floors. Dad said, 'All the fancy degrees in the world are worthless if you can't look your stock boy in the eyes and have him respect you. And he won't respect you unless you can prove that you know his job.' Good advice, actually.
"Anyway, I made enough working there that I wanted to open a bank account – my parents gave me a credit card for college expenses, but I could only use it for books and things like that. Don was working full time at the bank, and he set up my checking and savings accounts for me. He took the time to explain everything to me, and there was one thing I liked about him right there – he talked to my eyes, not my chest. You've been guilty of that a time or two, Mr. White."
Richard laughed, and for a wonder she heard a trace of embarrassment in that little chuckle. "Yeah, well, I hope you can forgive me the occasional glance. Sometimes it's hard to take my eyes off you. You're beautiful, Lana – do you know that?"
"Yes," she replied, and felt Richard startle slightly. Perhaps no other woman he'd met had accepted the compliment so easily and so casually. "That much I'm sure of. I know I'm beautiful, and no, I'm not particularly impressed by that fact. It's an accident of genetics, that's all. When I was younger, though, I was convinced my looks were my only asset."
"Fortunately you got wiser with age," Richard commented, smiling at her. "Because gorgeous as you are, it's only one of the things that make you irresistible."
She stroked a stray lock of hair off his forehead, smiling fondly at him. Was there anything Richard couldn't turn into a compliment? "Anyway, to make a long story short, Don asked me to dinner, and I accepted. It wasn't dating like I was used to. He took me to the best restaurants and then the theater or the symphony. Every other boyfriend had taken me to the diner and out to the drive-in – and generally tried to put his hands somewhere he shouldn't have when the movie got boring. Don never did any of that. He treated me like an adult, like a lady, and I'll admit I was completely bowled over by it. Plus, he spared no expense where I was concerned, and I had no idea how to react to someone who would buy me a three-hundred-dollar dress just to wear to a dinner party with his father's friends."
Lana laughed, and for the first time there was a hint of bitterness in her voice. "I think he picked me out, Richard. The way you pick out a puppy from a litter of them. He watched me, and he thought to himself, 'She's pretty and she dresses well and she's from a good family. She's got good manners and a nice personality. Yes, she'll do.' And he set about wooing me in such a way that my head spun. Don wasn't big on romance, but he lavished attention and money on me, and I couldn't help being flattered. I thought he did it because he loved me."
Richard rubbed her back gently during the long pause before Lana continued. "I was a sophomore in college when Don proposed. God, you should've seen the ring! He came to the house and got down on one knee in my parents' kitchen and asked me to marry him. Mom and Dad were thrilled – they wanted the best for me, and Don certainly looked like a good son-in-law to them. I said yes, of course. I thought I loved him. Maybe I even did. I'm not sure anymore; when I think back to that evening, mostly what I remember feeling is shock. And relief. I was never going to have to worry about anything again.
"Well, I dropped out of college shortly thereafter, and my cousin Silas took over the family store. Don and I got married in a big church wedding, and I became a banker's wife." Lana laughed again. "What a naïve little girl I was. Being married was nothing like what I expected."
She paused again, and Richard leaned forward to nuzzle her cheek. "What do you mean?" he asked.
"I thought marriage would be roses and chocolate and snuggling under the covers," Lana said at last. "Instead it was picking out wallpaper patterns and cleaning house and throwing dinner parties for Don's banker friends. He told me, when we courting, that he'd give me everything I wanted. And in a sense, he did – a new car every year, jewelry, all the clothes I could imagine. At one point I had sixty-eight cocktail dresses, Richard – sixty-eight. That's nothing in Metropolis, where the really rich never wear the same outfit twice, but in Smallville it was astounding."
"I think Lois owns three cocktail dresses," Richard commented. "One's red, one's black, and she hates the other one – I've never seen it."
Lana laughed at that, kissing his brow. "I was admired and envied by every woman in town. And after the first two years, I was bored out of my mind. You see, Don had been following someone's advice while we were dating. He brought me flowers, bought little gifts, complimented me. Once we were married, he stopped doing those things. And why should he? He'd gotten the girl."
"Because you deserve all that?" Richard said, looking up at her in perfect seriousness. "And more – you ought to be adored. Fawned over."
"I was spoiled, but not loved," she said. "Pretty soon I figured out that I wasn't really Don's wife. He'd been married to the bank since before we even went on our first date. And as the years went by, I discovered that I wasn't even Don's mistress. He was always a very mellow guy, but he had an all-consuming passion for something besides the job. Golf."
Richard groaned and threw his head back. "Oh God! You mean to tell me he'd rather spend time with a bunch of old men in ugly shorts than be home with you?! All right, now I know what his problem is. Your ex-husband is the stupidest sonofa… that ever lived. Hands-down."
Lana laughed and couldn't quite stop. Every time she nearly got herself under control again, the image of Don's 'lucky' golf shorts would return to her mind, and the yellow and green plaid would send her off into another round of snickering. When she finally managed to stop laughing, she wiped tears from her eyes with a sigh. "I needed that," the redhead said.
"You should laugh more often," Richard told her. "It makes your eyes sparkle."
"I'm sure you'll make it your personal mission to see that I do," Lana replied, and he only grinned in answer. "Anyway, we'd gotten around to my realization that I was a glorified combination of housekeeper and hostess – a trophy wife."
"And that your ex is an idiot," Richard commented helpfully.
"In your opinion," Lana said.
"Which happens to be right," Richard shot back. "So. You were not-so-happily married. What happened next? What caused you to finally ask for a divorce?"
She looked away again, and he hugged her, his hand on her back tracing soothing patterns through her blouse. When Lana spoke again, her voice was soft and distant. "It was as if Don had hired me for a job – which, essentially, he had. I was to manage his affairs, take care of his house, cook his meals, entertain his friends, and be his arm-candy when we went out in public. In return, he'd buy me anything I asked for. And he had the money for it – when he was younger, his father let him pick out some of his own stocks to start a portfolio. Don was just a kid; he picked names he thought were interesting. One of those was Microsoft. The initial public offering."
"Jeez," Richard muttered. He had investments of his own, and trying to imagine what might have happened if he'd made a similar decision so casually made his head ache.
"Don's father picked some steady performers to go with Don's choices," Lana told him. "Some of the ones Don picked were junk, but Microsoft paid for all the bad choices. So Don had money, but one thing I did learn from him: money isn't all that great. It can do nice things for you and your friends, but money itself doesn't make you a better person. It can make you a much worse one, actually, if you give in to the idea that you're special because you have it. I can thank Don for not letting me fall into that trap, because he never let the money go to his head."
"So in a way it doesn't matter how much money he spent on you," Richard said thoughtfully. "It didn't mean anything. He had so much money that buying you a dozen dresses was nothing. And once you own more jewelry than you could wear in a year, jewelry stops being impressive too."
"Exactly," Lana said. "We had a huge house that was mine to decorate, but I was always alone there. Unless I invited friends over. Even then, all they could talk about was how lucky I was to have Don. Well, I didn't have him – his job and his golf buddies saw him more than I did. I was lonely and bored and crying myself to sleep most nights because it had finally dawned on me that Don didn't love me. I was just another possession of his, only valued for my usefulness. I didn't care about the things he could buy me. I wanted affection, attention… I just wanted to be loved."
Her voice had trailed off toward the end, and Lana was staring up at the ceiling with a troubled expression on her face. The past still haunted her, and Richard was determined to recall her to the present. He leaned in closer, kissing the curve of her jaw, her neck, and her shoulder, light little kisses.
The redhead pulled away from him with a soft chuckle. "What are you doing?"
He smiled and brushed his lips against her cheek. "Loving you."
Lana laughed, adoration in her voice, and nuzzled her nose against his. She'd never felt more cherished than at that moment, knowing that Richard sought to give her what she had always longed for. "Thank you," she whispered, and his reply was a kiss.
End Part One