But for months, the insane suspicion, the improbable vision of what she thought she had seen in the shadows, kept tormenting her. When she prepared a client sales presentation, Wes's image would pop up and project itself on the screen. Even while her body was swept up in his tender lovemaking, a mental image of his figure lurking in the shadows would force its way to a spot behind her eyes.
She distrusted herself, convinced her mind was deranged. Hugging Ellie, Rachel forced herself to remember how lucky she was. Their Fifth Avenue penthouse offered her a ringside seat on life, her own private show in which every act complemented the other. It was lunacy to think otherwise.
A year later, exhausted from a one-day round-trip business flight to Memphis, Rachel gave Ellie her bath and tucked her to bed. Then, wanting to keep Wes company in his study, she lay on the couch. Sometime later, through a gauzy curtain of sleep, she felt his strong arms as he lifted her and carried her to their bedroom. Gently, with the delicate yet assured hands of a competent surgeon, he removed her shoes and clothes, and tucked her under the satin sheets. She drowned in their coolness, sucked down as though by an undertow, and slept.
She hit the surface of wakefulness with a start.
She sat up.
The green glow of the digital bedside clock bounced off the mirror above the antique dresser. Three-thirty. It took her a moment to realize it was not afternoon, but the middle of the night.
Instinctively, she listened for sounds of Ellie. Lately, the two-year-old would wake up several times during the night. With Rachel's cooing and singing, she would finally fall back to sleep, but she thrashed about, getting entangled in her blanket. Rachel kept checking on her, fearing she would smother.
"People who say they sleep like a baby usually don't have one," Rachel had commented one morning after a sleepless night, and Wes responded with his open, warm chuckle.
No sounds reached Rachel now as she cocked her ear, her eyes trying to penetrate the darkness. The room was silent and still. Once again, even though she had demanded that Wes leave the baby monitor on, he had turned it off to ensure her uninterrupted rest.
What made her open the door with the stealth of a thief? What made her tiptoe ever so lightly on bare feet, sliding along the corridor wall until she reached Ellie's room?
The scent of baby lotion and fabric softener wafted to her nostrils. The faint light of the new Mickey Mouse nightlight, bought in response to Ellie's panicked crying at bedtime, outlined the doorway. Although Ellie, at almost two, couldn't speak yet, Rachel knew her baby was terrified of the dark.
She hugged herself against the chill and held her breath. She heard the tiny sounds Ellie emitted in her sleep, a cross between lip smacking, thumb sucking, and a gurgle.
Rachel peeked in.
The pale halo of light was golden, outlining Wes's back. His body was contorted in the position she had seen in her nightmare.
Silently, Rachel glided in and rounded his body.
Through the crib bars, she saw Wes coaxing his penis into the baby's mouth to suckle in her sleep.
She had seen it right that night over a year ago.
Time stopped, hovered, and quivered before it exploded into a million fragments. Rachel screamed.
"CROSS MY HEART AND HOPE TO DIE."
In the reception area of Chuck Bernstein's law office, Rachel took a deep breath and relaxed her fists. She extended her fingers and touched the white spider mums in the vase on the side table. The current issue of Business Week, her must reading, lay beside it. She picked it up, leafed through it, and dropped it back. She wasn't up to it. Not now.
Copyright Talia Carner 2002. All rights reserved. For permission to reproduce this excerpt please contact the author at www.taliacarner.com
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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