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Текст книги "Consequences"

Автор книги: Aleatha Romig

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Текущая страница: 24 (всего у книги 36 страниц)

The outdoor adventure was exhilarating, cold air, brilliant snow, and muscle exertion from skiing. The warming up process had been remarkable, crackling fire, soft rug, and the tender lovemaking. The lunch was warm: soup, panini, and hot coffee. Now they shared, talked, and were totally honest with one another. Claire’s body melted against his, she felt drained. She waited for his response, knowing that her fate wasn’t in her own hands. She had no choice but to trust this man who had her wrapped affectionately in his arms. Closing her eyes she listened to his heart, his breathing, and drifted off to sleep.

  Nobody can go back and start a new beginning,

butanyonecanstarttodayandmakeanewending. —Maria Robinson

 Chapter 35

Grandma Nichols once said, “The only constant in life is change.” Claire prayed those changes would be good. After their heart-to-heart, she began to see small signs that gave her hope.

The afternoon of their talk, she awoke on the leather sofa in Tony’s suite. Hugging the warm comforter, she gazed around. The diminishing daylight accentuated by the glow of the crackling fire illuminated the room. She was alone. At first, she assumed her husband was in the adjoining bath or dressing room, but open doors and silence soon told her otherwise. This had never happened. His suite had technology. She’d seen him use it. The large framed screen could access the world at a click of a remote.

Tentatively, Claire rose and walked to his bureau. The top left drawer contained that key to accessibility. She didn’t want to point and click. She needed to know if she could. The internal monologue began: Can Tony see me? He’d never talked about cameras in his suite. Did they exist? Is this a test? A trap? She asked for the ability to upset him. Claire decided she needed to know if she’d been given that chance.

Her hand trembled as she gripped the slender handle. What if the drawer was locked or the remote was gone? Calling upon her courage and strength, she pulled. Through the darkness and into the cavernous depth, she saw it—silver with black buttons. The remote was there, available to her. Emotions swept through her: relief, she was getting the chance she requested. Happiness, he was trusting her. Sadness, she couldn’t touch it. Fear, would he catch her? She listened for the sound of footsteps, or worse doors opening. The only sound came from the fireplace. Claire carefully closed the drawer, walked back to the sofa, and collapsed onto the soft cushions. The flames flickered as the scene melted before her moistening eyes. She pulled her knees into her chest and watched the blaze before her. Fear and sadness pushed relief and happiness away. Summoning the happiness she told herself this was a good thing and attempted to regain her composure before she left his suite.

About a week later she sat perched on a high stool with her Gucci heeled boots teetering on a wooden rod, listening to her friend’s voice, more evidence of progress. Claire loved Courtney’s company. She could talk enough for the both of them, making Claire laugh in the process. Today she was talking about the Red Cross, the amazing job it did responding to natural disasters and helping the citizens of Iowa and the United States. She explained the financial problems facing the Red Cross with donations decreasing and needs increasing. Courtney was the fund-raising chairman for the Quad City Chapter. She asked for Claire’s help with her committee, believing that they had an advantage of knowing individuals and businesses that were surviving the economic slowdown. They could use those connections to help raise money. She asked Claire which fund-raisers she thought would be most profitable. They discussed the pros and cons of an auction, banquet, sports tournament, or raffle. There were so many possibilities. Courtney wanted to exceed last year’s goal.

The pub where they sat was electric with energy. Located on the University of Iowa’s campus, its tables overflowed mostly with students coming and going. The hum of voices combined with the sound of moving chairs caused Claire’s toes to move with excitement. She hadn’t been around this many people in so long. She wanted to absorb all the vitality. Claire told Courtney that with a degree in meteorology the idea of assisting with a charity that aided with the disasters she used to forecast appealed to her.

Courtney gave her a folder of information. It contained a calendar with scheduled committee meetings and a list of committee members’ names, e-mail addresses, and telephone numbers. As Claire ate her salad she scanned the contents. This volunteering would be more time consuming than she’d realized. That was great. Of course, she knew she would need to run it all by Tony. But how would it appear if Mrs. Anthony Rawlings wasn’t willing to help charities? Besides, he had allowed this outing knowing that Courtney wanted Claire’s help, more evidence.

Courtney stood to get them both some coffee and Claire looked around the restaurant. She couldn’t believe her exhilaration at being out with a friend. Between Courtney and the surroundings she felt like her chest would pop. The people at the other tables looked so carefree. They probably took their freedoms for granted, Claire knew she used to. Exhaling, she thought about her husband. He was trying to consider her requests. She smiled as she remembered him telling her to call Courtney.

Everything seemed normal as he entered her suite and talked about his day. It was as he entered the bathroom for a shower that his words stunned her. “Claire, I almost forgot, Courtney would like you to call her. My iPhone is on the bookcase. Her number is in the address book under Courtney S., help yourself.” Then he turned and closed the door. Claire stared. Was it really him? The other times she called from any phone, he’d dialed. She worried that maybe she had imagined the whole scene.

Her legs wobbled as she walked toward his iPhone. Slowly, she picked it up and went through the address book. She scrolled until she saw Courtney S. There were many names, she continued to scroll and saw Emily V., John V., and John V. home. She scrolled back to Courtney S. and hit the dial icon. The screen indicated that the call was in progress. It didn’t last long and Claire believed her clammy hands and shaking knees couldn’t be detected on the other end. Most excitedly she’d made a call and it led to this lunch.

When Courtney returned, she set the mugs on the table. Their salads were gone and the Red Cross had been thoroughly discussed. It had been fun. Now they were having some more coffee and chatting before returning home. Gently, Courtney reached out and held Claire’s hand. Suddenly, Claire felt uneasy. With as much practice as she had maintaining eye contact in difficult situations, she looked away from her friend. Courtney’s pale blue eyes showed too much concern. “I am so glad you have agreed to help me.” She spoke softly and slowly.

Claire’s uneasiness made her want to pull her hand away. Instead, she smiled. “I am happy that I can help you and others.”

“Claire, you don’t need to be perfect all the time. You don’t need to say everything perfectly, look perfect, and be perfect. Life isn’t a test that you must continually pass.” Claire stared silently at her friend, afraid her voice might crack. The energy of the room evaporated. “I just want you to know that Brent and I have known Tony for a long time . . .” Claire swallowed. She heard this speech from everyone who knew her husband and had entitled it the Great Man Speech, usually accompanied by the He works so hard. “And he can be a pompous, condescending, controlling ass.”

Claire’s eyes grew wide and her head dropped. She didn’t cry. She laughed, suddenly and uncontrollably, bordering on hysteria. It wasn’t good for appearances. Apparently, her laughter was contagious because Courtney started laughing too. People looked at them. Fleetingly, Claire didn’t care. After a few moments, she regained enough composure to ask, “Excuse me? What did you just say?”

“Honey, you heard me. And I am pretty sure you know exactly what I said.” Courtney squeezed Claire’s hand again. “Don’t get me wrong, I love your husband. But let me be honest, sometimes I hate him too.” Claire nodded. She completely understood. “It’s all right. But it’s not all right for you to feel alone.” Claire listened. “Your husband loves you. I see it in his eyes when he looks at you. I’ve never seen him look at another woman the way he looks at you. But he has demons, ones I don’t even begin to understand. And he has serious issues with control. He can drive Brent crazy sometimes.”

“Courtney, I think maybe we shouldn’t be having this conversation.” Claire’s uneasiness returned.

“Tony would say we shouldn’t be having this conversation. What do you say?”

Claire didn’t know what to say. Part of her wanted the conversation to end, it made her uncomfortable. The other part of her wanted to talk, open up, and feel connected to someone in this world besides Tony. “I think maybe it would be better not to speak about Tony.”

“All right, Claire, I respect you. I respect you for marrying Tony and for your inability to talk.” Claire tried desperately to maintain her mask. “I have tried my very best to make you comfortable. I want you to feel relaxed with me.”

“I do Courtney. I consider you my friend.”

“Honey, I am your friend. You are my friend. And Tony is a dear friend too. But that doesn’t mean I don’t worry about you.”

“Thank you, but you don’t need to worry about me. I’m fine.”

“Yeah, I recognize fine. And sometimes when you are with us, you are fine. Other times you only seem fine.” Claire didn’t know what to say. “It must be difficult to suddenly be thrust into Tony’s world. He puts a lot of significance on appearances. Well, maybe he hasn’t mentioned that to you.” Courtney started to stand to leave.

Tears started to escape down Claire’s cheeks. Her voice barely an audible whisper, “Courtney, please sit back down.” Courtney did. “If Tony knew we were having this conversation, I wouldn’t be able to have lunch with you again, and perhaps it could affect Brent’s job. I know they’re best friends, but with Tony I’m not sure there are boundaries.” Courtney was at least twenty years Claire’s senior, yet she listened, recognizing the sincerity of the younger woman’s tone.

“So my intuitions aren’t unwarranted.” Claire shook her head no. Courtney spoke softly. “Claire, are you all right?”

“Courtney, I think we need to go back to your SUV. I’m uncomfortable having this conversation and I’m definitely uncomfortable having it in a public place.”

They stood, put on their warm coats, gathered their purses, and walked to Courtney’s SUV. The break in the conversation and fresh cool air gave Claire time to regroup. Alarms sounded in her head. If she chose to continue this discussion she would be breaking rules: number one, do as you’re told. She’d been told on multiple occasions the importance of appearances, not divulging private information. This was her first time out alone as Mrs. Anthony Rawlings. She wanted to be involved with the Red Cross and wanted more freedoms. Breaking rules would not facilitate those goals. They walked to the car in silence.

Sitting in the passenger seat, Claire buckled her seat belt and straightened her posture. She knew what she would say. “Courtney, thank you for your support. You’re right. I’ve been overwhelmed by the responsibility of becoming Tony’s wife. He has been supportive and understanding and is helping me recognize the significance of and the obligations that accompany that title. I’m sure he’ll be happy to know you’re willing to help me too.”

Courtney understood, Claire had just ended the conversation. She didn’t want to push, only to let Claire know she was there. “I am glad you’re feeling better about it. Just know that sometimes women pick up on things men don’t, even very observant men. I hope it’ll help you to know that I’m quite perceptive and I’m here for you whenever you need me.”

Claire thanked her again and asked her a question about the Red Cross.

While driving, Courtney asked if they had special plans for Tony’s birthday this weekend. Claire was taken aback. She didn’t know it was her husband’s birthday. However, he hadn’t known when it was her birthday either.

“I don’t believe we do. Tony seems to be very low-key about birthdays.”

Courtney declared that it was settled, they would do something together. She told Claire about a bar in Rock Island with live music, good food, and a fun atmosphere. Courtney thought that would be good for all of them. Claire promised to discuss it with Tony and let her know. They debated the best day, Tony’s birthday was on Saturday. Either Friday or Saturday would work for the Simmonses. When Claire got out of the car she invited Courtney inside, Courtney declined. Claire leaned over and hugged her. “Thank you for everything.” She looked directly into Courtney’s caring blue eyes. “I’m looking forward to helping you and you helping me.” She grabbed her Prada handbag and the charity information.

Catherine let her know that Mr. Rawlings would be home for dinner in her suite at seven. Suite meant casual, but Claire decided she wanted to make the night special. She wanted him to know how grateful she was for the small freedom. She also knew that she’d experienced an excellent opportunity to upset him and avoided it. She wouldn’t share that information, but in her mind it gave them more reason for celebration.

Tony was pleasantly surprised by Claire’s appreciation and enthusiasm. When she showed him the schedule of committee meetings he said it would be a week-by-week decision. Circumstances can change. However, he didn’t anticipate any glitches. She didn’t either.

During dinner she mentioned that she learned a secret about him. Intrigued, he said, “I wasn’t aware I had any secrets from you.”

Claire smiled. “I learned that Saturday is your birthday.”

His eyes darkened and his jaw clenched. “I thought since I missed your special day, we could miss mine.”

“Well, Courtney thinks we should all go to the Rock Island Brew Company.” He knew the place, he’d been there. She waited for him to agree to the celebration. Finally, she asked, “I promised Courtney I would get back to her about it, would you like to go Friday or Saturday night?” His agitated expression made her uncomfortable. “Or would you rather I told her we will celebrate on our own?” She realized that this was a subject he didn’t want to continue.

I will think about it and get back to Courtney.” The discussion was done and Claire didn’t know their plans.

The next evening Claire sat surrounded by papers when Tony entered her suite. Dressed and ready for dinner, she was completely absorbed in the financial information of the Iowa Red Cross. He looked at her mess and placed two large leather-bound photo albums on top of her papers. Claire looked at the albums and then at her husband. “Good evening, what are these?”

He bent to kiss her and the tips of his lips moved upward. “They are the proofs of the most beautiful bride I have ever seen.” Quickly forgetting the mounds of paper she began looking through the albums. The only pictures she’d seen were the ones on New Year’s Eve.

The first album began with prewedding poses. The estate, the men, the women, everything and everyone looked beautiful. Then Claire and John prior to the walking down the aisle. Tony watched as she turned each page, she was afraid to linger too long on the photos of John and Emily, she would look at them later. The next were a series of Claire approaching Tony and him waiting. She had to admit she looked beautiful. Tony added adjectives: stunning, amazing, gorgeous, and striking. They both appeared to be brimming with love and adoration. There were photos from multiple directions, some very artsy.

Their food arrived and they still had a full album to view. After dinner they spent the entire evening on the sofa in front of the fire, going over and over each photo. They talked about the people, the decorations, the wedding. Claire had been more nervous than she thought, because there were photos she didn’t remember being taken. There were numerous posed photos of the two of them in the grand hall and at the base of the stairs. She laughed at ones where the photographer put her up a few steps, trying to make her taller. “You know, if you had married one of those models you dated they wouldn’t have had to do that.”

He kissed her tenderly and gazed at her with milk chocolate eyes. “I didn’t want to marry any of those women. I have never wanted to marry anyone but you.” He could melt her heart so easily.

The next photos were of the reception. They both agreed that the guests seemed to enjoy themselves. Then pictures of them dancing, Claire remembered her overwhelming desire as Tony directed her around the floor. “I love watching your emerald eyes sparkle as you look at these photos.” She told him how much she enjoyed their reception, especially the dancing. “Well, it won’t be the same, but we can try to relive that dancing on Saturday for my birthday.” Claire smiled, they were going to celebrate.

“I don’t know how I can possibly choose which pictures I like best.”

“Then don’t. Get them all.” Placing one arm around her and flipping the pages back, he added, “But this one of you on the stairs with your gown all around you, I want that one. I want it enlarged over the grand fireplace in the sitting room.”

Claire wrinkled her nose. “That’s silly. I don’t want to see me great-big every day.” Tony told her he didn’t care. He wanted to and he would. Actually, he said he would hire an artist to paint it. Claire just shook her head, stopping him from doing something he wanted to do was beyond her ability.

Next she saw the family shot of her, Tony, and the Vandersols. “Tony, can we have copies of some of these made for Emily and sent to them?” She only said Emily on purpose, but the them should have been her. He sighed and conceded. She knew to drop the subject, but sometimes she couldn’t stop herself. “Has Emily tried to contact me anymore?”


Claire didn’t say any more. He knew what she wanted. If she persisted it would be arguing or pleading. If he changed his mind, he would let her know. Besides, they were having a nice evening with the wedding pictures, she directed the conversation back to the album. “Look at this shot of MaryAnn and Eli, they are hilarious.” The Vandersol conversation ended.

  Trust not too much to appearance. —Virgil

 Chapter 36

The birthday was a success. Tony and Brent joked that late-night partying would mean they shouldn’t drive an hour home, so everyone rode together in the limousine. The Brew Company was alive with music resonating from multiple sections of the large warehouse style building.

The main stage had a “Tribute to Jazz” performance. Courtney reserved a premium table and told the restaurant that they were celebrating a birthday. The people at the Brew Company didn’t know his name, only that Tony was the guest of honor. Claire, Courtney, and Brent laughed as the singer acknowledged him with a rendition of “Hey Big Spender” and wrapped him in her feather boa. Watching Tony’s tolerance, Claire decided she could learn a lot from Courtney. He seemed to accept things from her that Claire wouldn’t dare to attempt.

A week later, Tony invited Claire to Chicago for two nights. Even though she needed to cancel a committee meeting, she wanted to go. It was even her idea to go to the spa and lighten her dark roots. Brent and David Field, whom Claire had met what seemed like a lifetime ago on her first trip to New York, were with them as they flew to Chicago. Claire sat on the sofa while the three men discussed their impending meetings. To pass the time, she looked through her purse and was pleased to have her new ID and credit card. Claire didn’t care about their money, but shopping was one of the few pass times Tony granted without hesitation.

Her old driver’s license had been a Georgia-issued ID. She thought it was interesting to see how different states IDs looked. However, the variances didn’t stop with the issuing state; the new one contained her name, Claire Rawlings, and printed at the top was VALID IDENTIFICATION. Her Georgia ID had said VALID DRIVER’S LICENSE. She hadn’t noticed it before. It wasn’t something she should bring up with Brent and David present, but decided it was worth discussing when they were alone.

Claire spent the afternoon at the spa lightening her hair and receiving a manicure and pedicure. When she arrived back at the apartment, Charles informed Mrs. Rawlings that Mr. Rawlings would be detained until after nine. He could happily serve her dinner at a more appropriate hour; she declined. “Thank you, Charles, I’ll wait for Mr. Rawlings.”

While dining, Claire sensed Tony was multitasking. He was eating and conversing with her but his mind was elsewhere with Brent and David on some big deal. He talked about the next evening. Hopefully they would be able to go out to dinner and perhaps to a show. It all depended on his meetings. Claire said it sounded great, but she understood if his work went late. She planned to spend the entire next day shopping and knew they were scheduled to go home on Thursday.

As Claire contemplated the best way to bring up her question, Tony did it for her. “You are going shopping tomorrow? Did you see your new ID and credit card? They should be in your wallet.”

“I did. I was wondering why my ID isn’t a driver’s license.”

Tony momentarily stopped eating and looked at Claire as if she’d asked why is the sky blue or why do birds fly? It seemed as though the only word missing from his next sentence was Duh. “Because you don’t drive.” His tone wasn’t cruel, perhaps cold.

She thought carefully about her response. “I haven’t driven since I’ve been with you, but I used to drive and enjoy it.”

“You now have access to a driver. You didn’t before, correct?”

“Correct. However, you have a driver, and you still drive. The Simmonses have a driver and Courtney drives.”

Tony’s annoyance with this conversation came through loud and clear, his words were flat with restraint. “Claire, this is a ridiculous conversation. You have a driver or you are with me. You have no need to drive.”

“Tony, you are obviously busy with work. We can discuss this later.”

Throughout the past year there were numerous instances when Tony purposely baited Claire. He liked to observe her reactions. Initially it was done maliciously. It intrigued him to see how far he could push. Lately it had become a private game. He found her self-control and resilience incredibly sexy. The restraint she demonstrated to refrain from arguing, when clearly her body language screamed fight, was stimulating.

This evening Tony was not playing a game. His mind was set, Claire would not be driving. The fact they were even discussing the subject seemed absurd. “Let me help you, it has been a long day and this discussion is over, it does not need to be revisited.” She thought about saying, “Fine, and I am going to bed.” However, before she had the chance, he continued, “I would offer you the opportunity to decide on your own if it is worth continuing, but I have decided to not take that risk. It isn’t.”

Her chest expanded and contracted as she released a sigh. Looking at her husband, she kept her lips together and remained silent. He watched her neck stiffen and eyes flash. He waited.

After a prolonged silence, confident of her compliance, he continued. “Now tell me about your day at the spa.”

Claire did her best to feign enthusiasm, and reply, “It was very nice. They always do a great job and make me feel special.” Thinking, As opposed to how I’m feeling right now.

A wall of glass extended from ceiling to floor behind Tony. Through the night sky Claire could see the head and tail lights of vehicles moving around the windy city. Somewhere deep in her soul she wondered, Will I ever drive again?

Chicago was uneventful. She shopped without accidentally providing an interview. They dined at a steak house not far from the Tower and went to the Cadillac Palace Theater for Les Miserables. Claire saw it many years ago from the nosebleed section. It was one of her favorite live musicals. A winner of seven Tony Awards, she didn’t mind seeing it again. It amazed her that they could get such exceptional seats. The night before Tony didn’t know if they would be attending a show. “Les Miserables” had been sold out for months. Now they were seated in a premium box enjoying the outstanding performance.

Apparently, Tony’s dealings were successful because they and Brent were able to go back to Iowa as planned. David stayed behind to finalize some contracts. Reading her book, Claire observed Tony with Brent, sensing a difference from the accustomed friendly casual interaction. Watching and listening to them discuss business issues reminded her of Courtney’s comment, “He can drive Brent crazy sometimes.” She hadn’t seen it before, but understood it now.

Tony’s repertoire of personalities included an overpowering domineering force that apparently was reserved for those closest to him. Claire had plenty of personal experience with this personality but she’d never had the opportunity to observe it. Today she witnessed Tony’s manipulative rule being unleashed on someone else. It wasn’t pretty. She understood how Brent could relay things to Courtney, because that’s what real couples do, and Courtney could hate and love Tony at the same time.

Pretending to be absorbed in her book, Claire didn’t want to be included in the conversation or for her presence to make Brent uncomfortable. It didn’t seem to be having an effect on Tony.

The last week of February Claire and Tony began to prepare for an interview with Vanity Fair Magazine. Shelly, Tony’s publicist, made a point to come to their house and explain to Claire that this interview was important to Mr. Rawlings’s public relations. There were many speculations in the media about the two of them, their fast wedding, and lack of prenuptial agreement. This would be their way to shape and control the information. Claire thought it was a nice gesture. Truthfully, if Tony told her to do the interview she would do it. What surprised Claire was the extent of planning and preparation that went into it.

Shelly agreed to Vanity Fair because of their willingness to work openly. They gave her a list of questions. She deleted, added, and tweaked them until both parties were satisfied. Then Tony and Claire were given the questions and time to work on their spontaneous answers. Next, with Shelly’s assistance they practiced and modified their answers. She arranged for cosmetologists, beauticians, and clothing designers to assist them before the photo shoot. Shelly promised to be present throughout the entire interview and photo session. She would step in and stop any unapproved questions. This was better than Mr. or Mrs. Rawlings refusing to answer a question or appearing unaccommodating. The article would then be reviewed and approved prior to publication.

Claire thought the whole thing was hilarious. Did all people go through this before an interview? There was a time in her life when she read a celebrity interview and assumed that it was as it appeared. Being Mrs. Rawlings continued to teach her so much.

The day of the interview finally arrived. The people who were there to make Claire and Tony beautiful arrived early, before seven thirty. By the time Shelly arrived they both looked like models. Just another day sitting around the house! Claire thought as she looked in the mirror at her professional makeup and styled hair.

Catherine assumed the challenge of the house. It sparkled. Even the weather received the perfection memo. Not realizing it was late February, the sun shone through a sapphire blue sky, and a fresh layer of snow blanketed the gray dingy ground, adding luster to the outdoors.

Anne Robinson, the reporter from Vanity Fair, arrived promptly at nine. She was accompanied by a photography crew. The Rawlingses were only introduced to the lead photographer, Shaun Stivert. The plan commenced with photos first, while Claire and Tony looked fresh and beautiful. Then they progressed to the interview. The whole process was more work than Claire imagined.

Shelly was true to her word and omnipresent. She didn’t hesitate to say, “No, I think this would be better,” or, “We went over this. You know that will not be discussed today.” Claire studied her lines well, knowing what to say and how to say it. Tony practiced too. Claire thought they both sounded sincere and spontaneous. The Vanity Fair crew finally left after one in the afternoon with Shelly not far behind. “I think that went very well. I will let you know as soon as I have an approved copy.” Once she left, Claire relished the quiet house again, her head pounded behind her eyes. The headaches weren’t as frequent as they were right after her accident. However, when they struck they could be debilitating. Sleeping in a very dark room was the best remedy.

Claire accompanied her husband to his office following the interview. Driving into Iowa City would be counterproductive this late in the day, he hoped to accomplish as much as possible from home. Mr. and Mrs. Rawlings sat silently as Cindy brought them their lunch. Claire closed her eyes and enjoyed the peacefulness as Cindy placed their food on the long shiny table. After pouring their coffee she asked Mr. Rawlings if they needed anything else.

“No, you may go.” And then he spoke to Claire, “How do you think it went?”

She opened her eyes to focus. “I really think it went well. It was a lot more draining than I’d expected. I can’t wait to see the final article.”

“Shelly said we should have a draft by next week. It’s supposed to be the cover story for the April publication, so it won’t hit the newsstands for a while.” Claire shook her head. She couldn’t believe that her marriage would warrant a cover story for anything, much less Vanity Fair. The food and coffee helped her head, but she suspected it’d gone too far. A nap was the real remedy. Once they finished eating Tony walked over toward his desk.

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