What the Lady Wants


Page 19 of 19


"Nobody's going to get shot." Mitch tried to hold Stormy's eyes with his. "Shooting someone would be bad, even if it was Carlo. We're all going to be fine."

"I love you," Mae said.

"I'm gonna kill you," Carlo snarled at Mitch and lunged at him, and Stormy squeaked and jumped back, and the gun went off and shot Carlo in the leg.

Carlo went down with one short scream, Gio dropped to his knees beside him and the buzzer rang.

"That's my ride." Stormy motioned Gio to the door. "Get up and get that, please. And don't try anything funny, or I'll... I'll shoot you, too." Then she looked at Carlo. "I'm really sorry. You scared me. You shouldn't have moved."

Gio put his hand on Carlo's shoulder.

"I'm okay, Grandpa," Carlo said through gritted teeth, and Mitch felt some respect for him for the first time. He didn't have any personal experience with getting shot, but he knew that it had to hurt like hell.

Gio stood and opened the door.

"I have the tickets, my dove," Newton said as he came in, and then he stopped at the tableau before him. "What's this? A bon voyage party?" He went to stand next to Stormy and nodded to Mae. "You must be Mabel. I'm very pleased to be meeting you at last."

"Likewise," Mae said faintly.

"Newton," Mitch said. "Could we discuss this?"

"No!" Stormy's voice was the firmest he'd ever heard it. "We have to leave now," she said to Newton. She leaned into him slightly, and Mitch watched him close his eyes.

"So you'll have to tie them up," Stormy went on.

Newton nodded.

Mitch sighed. He hoped Newton liked South America because coming back north was not going to be an option.

Then Newton stepped behind Stormy and jerked her gun hand up. She fired the gun once into the ceiling before he could get it away from her, and then he had it in his hand.

"Newton?" she cried, and he shook his head at her.

"I'm not going to play the sap for you, sweetheart," he told her.

Mae pushed her way around Mitch to go to Carlo. "Newton, you bastard," she said on her way past him. "I can't believe you betrayed the woman you love."

Newton shrugged. "It's a tough world, Mabel." He transferred his attention to Gio who was now standing again, satisfied that Carlo was all right. "Open the door and wave your handkerchief out there. It's a signal for the police."

"The police?" Stormy's knees gave out, and she sat down on the floor as Gio went to the door, strangely obedient as he cast anxious glances at his grandson.

"It's okay." Newton patted Stormy on the head as if she were a puppy. "Your lawyer's meeting you at the police station."

Mitch gaped at him. "You got her a lawyer already?"

"Well, of course." Newton blinked as if anything else was unthinkable. "I called Nick before I called the police." He smiled down at Stormy. "I told him he'd be defending a beautiful woman who killed her lover in a crime of passion."

Stormy rolled her eyes and put her head in her hands.

"And what did he say?" Mitch asked, fascinated.

"He said, 'Mae shot Mitch?'"

"Don't think I haven't thought about it," Mae said from her place beside Carlo, and then the town house was full of police, and someone called for an ambulance.

Fifteen minutes later, Stormy and Newton were gone, and the paramedics had Carlo strapped onto a stretcher, and the party was definitely over.

"Wait a minute," Mae said, and they all stopped, paramedics included. "I just want to make this perfectly clear, right now, before we all leave." She pointed to Mitch. "I am marrying this man."

Claud turned to Mitch. "I'll ruin you financially."

Gio glared at Mitch. "I'll ruin you professionally."

Carlo struggled to sit up on the stretcher while the paramedics held him down. "I'll kill you," he said to Mitch.

Mitch looked at all three of them with disgust. "You know, I never said yes. I might not even marry her. There are a lot of librarians out there that I've never—"

"Stop it." Mae's voice cut across all of them. "I'm marrying him. That's final. That's what I want."

All four of them gazed at her a moment and then turned to look at one another, and for just that moment, Mitch felt a bond with them.

He was now part of the whatever-Mae-Belle-wants team. In fact, he had been for some time now, watching out for her from the background like Claud, worrying about her incessantly like Gio, wanting her until he was crazy from it like Carlo.

He had met the enemy, and they were him.

Claud nodded at Mae and turned to him. "You'll sign a prenuptial."

Gio sighed at Mae and turned to him. "You'll bring her to dinner every Sunday."

Carlo swung his fist at Mitch and spat, "I'll kill you."

"No, you will not," Gio told him. "He's family now."

Carlo moaned and fell back onto the stretcher, and the relieved-looking paramedics carted him away, followed by Gio and Claud.

"This is awfully sudden," Mitch told Mae as she stared at him, daring him to try to get out of marrying her. "I need time to think about this. Maybe—"

"Do you love me?" Mae demanded.

"More than life itself," Mitch said.

Mae swallowed. "Really?"

"Really." Mitch smiled down at her. "I know. Surprised the hell out of me, too."

She stepped closer to him and put her arms around him, resting her forehead against his chest. "I'm really hungry, and I'm really tired, but mostly I'm just so glad that you're safe and I'm with you that I can't stand it."

"It's all right now," Mitch told her, holding her, his cheek against her hair. "It really is all right now. It's all over. Except for us. We're never going to be over."

"I love you," Mae said into his jacket. "I don't want to spend another day without you."

Mitch's arms tightened around her. "Well, if we can get Carlo neutered, you won't ever have to," he said.

Chapter Eleven

Bob was back in Mitch's chair again.

"We've discussed this," Mitch said, glaring at the dog. "Get down."

Bob looked at him woefully. Looking woeful was his new stock-in-trade. Now that he was living in a house where the counters didn't remind him of steak, he'd stopped beating his brains out on the furniture and had taken to sitting on it instead, doing a nice imitation of an abused dog. His sense of being displaced no doubt came in part because his new brothers and sister, Maurice, George II and Carmen, all newly liberated from the pound, were taking up floor space that Bob felt strongly should be his. I have to sit up here, his mournful eyes seemed to say. You have dogs on the rest of the floor. Secretly, however, Mitch knew Bob was jubilant. He could see it in the dog's eyes every time he caught him in the desk chair.

"Down," he said, and Bob sighed and jumped down and went to lie on the rug by the window, reproachful even as the breeze from the river blew the white gauze curtains across his back.

"Yeah, you have a hard life," Mitch jeered at him and sat down just as Mae came through the door. She said something, but Mitch was watching her move again and didn't catch it. "What?"

"I said, have you been yelling at Bob again?" She stooped to scratch the dog behind the ears. "He's very sensitive."

"He is not." Mitch turned on the computer on his desk to distract himself from the sight of his wife bending over. He never got anything done when she was around.

"June says lunch is in an hour and don't be late. Harold says the game is this afternoon and you may watch it in his room if you'd like, he doesn't care." Mae grinned at him. "He cares."

"I'll watch the game," Mitch promised. "I've just got to get this done—"

"Stormy wrote." Mae straightened and came toward him. "Another guard proposed. That's the third one in four months." She tossed the letter on the desk.

"I talked to Nick yesterday. He thinks she'll be out in a year."

Mae bit her lip. "That's a long time."

Mitch snorted. "Not for murder, it isn't. If it wasn't for

Nick's pioneering use of the dumb-as-a-rock defense, she'd be in for a lot longer. Besides, Nick says she thinks it's fine. She's getting college credits, and she wants to be a sophomore when she gets out."

"Well, at least she's not with Armand anymore. Even prison has to be better than Armand. Has Newton been writing to her?"

"No." Mitch scowled at her. "And don't give him any ideas. He has enough on his hands trying to run the agency. He's still trying to make divorce work classy."

"Well, if anyone can do it, Newton can." Mae sat down on the edge of the desk. "Uncle Gio called. He said to come early on Sunday so you can get in some boccie ball before we eat."

"Only if Carlo doesn't play. I swear, the last six times he hit me with the ball were not accidents."

"You're just paranoid." Mae looked at him with palpable affection. "And besides, Uncle Gio loves to play with you."

"Why?" Mitch shook his head, dumbfounded. "I keep beating him. Why does he still want to play?"

"Because you beat him. Everybody else that he plays with lets him win."

"Why?"

"Because if they don't, he fires them."

Mitch started to laugh. "Your family is nuts."

"Not all of them." She hesitated and Mitch braced himself. "I talked to Uncle Claud this morning. He's been looking over the investments."

Mitch scowled. "Uncle Claud is an unadventurous old twit."

"He said you were doing brilliantly with them," Mae went on.

"But an astute old twit." Mitch looked up at her. "Does he still hate me?"

"Yes, but he's dealing with it." Mae patted his shoulder. "In fact, he had a suggestion. He thinks I should have a child."

"You do." Mitch turned his attention back to his computer. "Me."

"I mentioned that. He said you needed someone to play with."

"Good. Hire a French maid." When the silence stretched out, Mitch looked up again and grinned. "Forget pretending you're mad. I know you too well."

Mae gazed at him serenely. "If I ever find you with a French maid, I will hire an Italian bodyguard."

"You'd cheat on me with a bodyguard? I'm hurt."

"No, the bodyguard would take the maid away from you, and you'd come back to me." Mae smiled at him. "And then I'd make you pay."

Mitch laughed and pulled her into his lap. "I'm crazy about you, Mabel."

"Good." She snuggled deeper into his lap. "Let's make a baby."

"Right now?"

"Right now. I am ovulating as of this very minute." Mae batted her eyes at him. "Play your cards right, you could get lucky."

Mitch drew back from her a little. "How do you know that it's right this very minute?"

"I have a sixth sense about these things."

Mitch closed his eyes and thought of all the other things that Mae had wanted: the diary, the house on the river, the dogs...him. Those had all turned out well, Bob notwithstanding. And now a baby. He had a momentary vision of Mae staring down at a miniature Mae Belle, stubborn brown eyes meeting stubborn brown eyes. It was about time Mae met somebody she couldn't push around.

And he could watch.

He laughed, and she said, "What?" suspicion heavy in her voice, and he tipped her gently onto the floor, moving his hand up her thigh as his body covered hers.

"Here?" Mae grinned up at him as she twined her hands around his neck and eased her hips against his. "Right here on the floor in front of Bob? I'm shocked. I really am shocked." She unbuttoned his shirt as she spoke, and he shivered as her fingers trailed down his chest.

"Whatever you want, Mabel," Mitch said. "That's what you get."

Then he kissed her, and after a couple of minutes, since neither of them were paying him the slightest attention, Bob jumped back onto the desk chair and fell asleep.

END OF WHAT THE LADY WANTS





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