Home > The Stepsisters(6)

The Stepsisters(6)
Author: Susan Mallery

   “When is Mr. Jordan coming by?” Esmerelda asked, wiping an already clean counter for the sixth time.

   “He didn’t say.”

   Daisy had already told the other woman about the phone call. Despite the size of the house, there weren’t many secrets—not from Esmerelda. The housekeeper had figured out Jordan had left before Daisy had. She’d seen the empty hangers in his closet and the suitcase missing from the shelf.

   “I have a nice pork chop for you,” she said. “With the green beans and almonds. Or I could make you a salad. I roasted the golden beets you like.”

   “I can get myself dinner.”

   “You can do a lot of things, but that doesn’t mean I’m not standing here, wanting to do my job.”

   Daisy smiled. “You’re very sweet to me.”

   “You’re family.”

   Employer/employee, but also family. Esmerelda’s older cousin had been Daisy’s nanny when she’d been growing up. Daisy had hired Esmerelda shortly before her wedding to Jordan. Esmerelda managed the house and helped with the kids. Daisy would be lost without her.

   “Jordan’s moving into a long-term-stay hotel,” she said.

   Esmerelda’s concerned expression didn’t change. “For how long?”

   “I have no idea. He’s on his way over so we can figure that out along with what to say to the kids. I’ll eat after I talk to him,” she said.

   Esmerelda pressed her lips together. “After you talk to him, you won’t feel like eating.”

   “So, hey, a new diet program. We could make a fortune.”

   Esmerelda murmured something Daisy couldn’t hear and started pulling packages out of the refrigerator. She placed a small bowl of olives, several slices of cheeses and some crackers at one end of the massive island. While Daisy poured herself a glass of red wine, Esmerelda cut up an apple and added a few clusters of grapes.

   “So the wine doesn’t go to your head,” she said, adding a cloth napkin.

   “You are wise, as always.”

   On an empty stomach, Daisy was a total lightweight. Better to deal with Jordan with all her faculties intact. He was better at fighting than she was. She’d graduated from UCLA with a 4.0 GPA but she lacked the killer instinct to be a really good street fighter—at least when it came to her marriage.

   As she picked up a slice of Brie and put it on a rosemary cracker, she supposed not being good at the emotional dig was something she should be happy about. If only she wasn’t always the one getting gut-punched and left on the side of the marital road.

   She was just polishing off her snack when Jordan arrived. Esmerelda let him in while Daisy considered pouring a second glass of wine.

   “Not the best idea,” she murmured as she braced herself for the upcoming conversation. Figuring out what to tell their children about their separation wasn’t going to be easy. She should have made some notes beforehand. They needed a strategy.

   Jordan breezed into the kitchen. In the past, the sight of his tall, lean body and easy stride would have had her stomach doing cartwheels. Several years into their marriage, he’d still had the ability to make her heart beat faster. Just not lately. As her gaze met his, she felt only dread and a longing for when it had been, if not easy, then at least comfortable between them.

   “How are the kids?” he asked, pouring himself a glass of wine.

   “Better.” She pointed to the back staircase. “You want to go see for yourself?”

   He took a big swallow, put down the glass and went upstairs. She followed, wanting to know what was said. A realization that didn’t speak well of the trust between them.

   He went into Krissa’s room first. Their daughter opened her eyes and smiled at him.

   “Daddy, you’re back! How was the conference?”

   He sat on the edge of her bed and smoothed her dark hair off her face. “More important, chipmunk, how are you? Mom said you got sick.”

   “Uh-huh. Ben had a virus.”

   “And he shared it with you? We’ll have to talk to him about that.”

   She sat up to hug him. Lucky must have heard his voice because the yellow Lab came racing into the room, tail wagging. Sheba jumped off the bed and wanted her share of attention. Even the normally aloof feline Nala seemed relatively pleased to see Jordan. At least that was Daisy’s interpretation of her tail flick.

   Jordan petted both dogs and spent a few minutes rubbing ears and accepting kisses, then he gathered Krissa in his arms and stood.

   “Let’s go see your brother.”

   Daisy started to tell him that Krissa should stay in bed, then reminded herself that doing so would cause father and daughter to give her that look they shared, the one that said she hated when they had fun. Which probably wasn’t what they were thinking at all, but was what always came to mind for her.

   They all trooped into Ben’s room, the dogs leading the way. Ben, in bed, playing on his tablet, looked up and grinned when he saw Jordan.

   “Dad! You’re back.”

   Jordan put Krissa down and hugged Ben. “My man, how are you feeling?”

   “Better. Krissa’s sick now.”

   “That’s your fault,” Krissa told him, climbing onto the bed and slipping under the covers. Lucky climbed up next to her and Sheba settled on the foot, making the full-size bed suddenly a little small.

   Daisy sat at the desk chair, figuring they would all talk for a bit, then she and Jordan would excuse themselves to discuss the next step, so she wasn’t prepared for Jordan to say, “I want you to know we love you both very much.”

   She stood and stared at him. “What are you doing?”

   He waved his hand in her direction without looking at her, as if brushing her off.

   “You know how sometimes there’s too much going on and you need quiet time in your room?” he asked.

   Both of their children stared at him, wide-eyed. Ben nodded slowly.

   “Jordan,” Daisy said, walking toward him. “We need to talk first.”

   “I’ve got this.” He smiled at the kids. “Sometimes parents need a time-out, too.”

   She swore silently. “Jordan, they’re sick. This isn’t the time.”

   Tears filled Krissa’s eyes. “What are you s-saying?” Her voice cracked. “Daddy, no!”

   “It’s okay,” he told her.

   Ben’s lower lip trembled and he glanced between them. “Mom?”

   She moved close and offered what she hoped was a comforting smile. “It’s okay. You’re going to be fine. We love you, like your dad said. The thing is...”

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