Home Fires

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Authors: Barbara Delinsky
speak. Her throat was choked with emotions ranging from confusion, panic and despair to hope. Had this final kiss accomplished anything? Oh, yes, it certainly had. It had reminded her of how special Mark was, how unique their relationship, how very priceless that which they had shared. Hadn’t he said it himself … that he could only offer her what money couldn’t buy? Well, she reflected with mounting anguish, he had offered it to her. Now it was her duty to refuse the gift.
    The shakiness of her limbs was no obstacle to what she knew to be her own responsibility. Drawing herself up straighter she devoured his handsome features for a last moment, then took a deep, sorrowful breath. “It’s convinced me that I was wrong to have come here in the first place, Mark.” Before her aching gaze his face grew pained. “You have to understand that my life is … my life. I can’t change it Not yet, at least. I’m not … ready. This is too new. There’s too much to consider.”
    â€œBut you came here tonight—”
    â€œIt was a lapse!” she cried, finding a hidden reserve of strength to push past him and hurry through the suite.
    â€œBut it reflected a deep need!” He followed her, his voice rising, though well controlled.
    â€œNo!” She turned to him, then away. She realized that this forceful denial of his claim might be less than honest Ashamed and frightened, she couldn’t look back again. “No! I’m fine.” She drew open the door of the suite, moved through and closed it behind herself without
knowing that Mark had stopped at the edge of the bedroom to watch her departure with rigidly enforced dignity.
    â€œI’m fine,” she whispered softly, willing her tears not to fall as she mustered her own waning dignity and approached the elevator.

    T he tears could only be held back so long. Deanna remained dry-eyed and composed through the short trip to the fortieth floor. She calmly let herself into her suite, answered Irma’s questions with the remarkably firm assurance that she’d had a pleasant evening, then retreated at last to the privacy of her own room. There she sank down onto the softness of the cushioned lounge and cried.
    Even Larry’s death hadn’t prompted so anguished a flood of tears. Then she had known a grief bounded by the finality of death. What one couldn’t change, one had to accept This situation was different
    As the sleepless hours passed and her tears slowly dried, she tried to assimilate what had happened, tried to find a proper perspective with which to view it But she couldn’t. Everywhere she looked she saw evidence of the life she’d lived for what seemed like forever. There in the
bedroom she’d shared with Larry she could find no room at all for fantasy.
    She finally slept for several hours before awakening, groggy and unsure, to the buzz of her alarm. Though a hot bath eased the dismaying tautness in her thighs, nothing could ease the unsettled state of her mind. She was sure of only one thing: She had no desire to face Mark Birmingham in the hotel dining room that morning. Her feelings were far too raw and he read them far too accurately. It would take time for her to fully restore the veneer of composure that was such a vital part of her image.
    Unfortunately, Mark had no intention of granting her that time. She was sitting at her dressing table, taking her frustration out on her thick mane of hair, when the muffled sound of the doorbell reached her. She knew who it was instantly. Putting her brush down slowly, she stared at her reflection until the soft knock on her door drew her gaze in that direction.
    â€œYes, Irma?”
    The housekeeper timidly eased the door open. Her voice was quieter than usual and distinctly hesitant “Excuse me, Mrs. Hunt, but there’s a Mr. Birmingham to see you. I’ve explained that you weren’t up yet, but

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