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Authors: Melissa Senate

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Love You to Death

BOOK: Love You to Death
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Love You to Death
Melissa Senate
Acknowledgments

As always to my great editor, Joan Marlow Golan.

Extra thank-yous to Margaret Marbury for her continued and constant support, Selina McLemore for the cover and good cheer, Sarah Rundle for the PR, and the entire RDI team for all their hard work.

To my agent Kim Witherspoon and Alexis Hurley, thank you, thank you, thank you.

XOXOs to Lee Nichols, Sarah Mlynowski, Lynda Curnyn, Alison Pace and Kristin Harmel.

Special thanks to Levi Robinson for answering my questions about law enforcement.

To Adam for talking me through every book.

And to my precious Max for being who he is.

For my mother

Chapter 1

A
ccording to my half sister Opal, all of twenty-five and a self-professed expert on men now that she was engaged, everything you needed to know about your boyfriend, fiancé or husband you learned on your first date.

Did he talk about his mother? Guess who’ll rule your life in a few years?

He blabbed on and on about his job without taking a breath? Even with reminders, he’ll forget your birthday.

Couldn’t keep his eyes off the hot blonde at the end of the bar? Maybe he’ll only lust for other women in his heart like Jimmy Carter.
Maybe.

Was he rude to the waiter? And you said yes to a second date?

“Abby, do you wanna know what your problem with men is?” Opal had said last week during breakfast at the diner. (The Foote sisters—which included my other half sister, Olivia—had made a pact to get together the first Saturday of every month without fail and had failed until this month, mostly because it was January and everyone had made resolutions to be more family oriented.) “Your problem with men is that you don’t pay close enough attention on that telltale first date. One of many cases in point—the linebacker. His commitment issues must have come up fifteen minutes into your first date!”

The linebacker was Charlie. We broke up two years ago at Olivia’s wedding. Why? When all the single women (myself included) had lined up for the bouquet toss, Charlie, a former defensive linebacker for Notre Dame, had charged from our table (where he’d consumed four Jack and Cokes) and taken a running dive for the airborne clutch of pink roses, knocking over me, two bridesmaids and my recently divorced aunt Annette.

“Wow, Abby, he
really
didn’t want you to be next,” Opal had commented later in the emergency room as we waited for Aunt Annette’s ankle to be wrapped.

Opal had the tact of a four-year-old, which was why I paid attention to
her.
When all was said and done (and a lot had been said that night), the linebacker
hadn’t
wanted me to be next.

I had. Until that night anyway. (Charlie hadn’t even stuck around the E.R. long enough for my aunt to be released!) Had his obvious commitment issues come up on our first date? If they had, I’d been too googly-eyed over him to notice.

“Forget the football player,” Olivia had said. “He was the definition of
passive-aggressive,
but he was no Ted Puck. “
Ted
was your worst boyfriend, Abby. I’d be surprised if he didn’t start making out with the waitress on your first date!”

Ted was my most recent ex-boyfriend. And I’d loved him the way you love The One. But I clearly hadn’t been paying attention on our first date because I’d missed whatever blinking neon sign indicated Caution: Will Cheat On You At Your Own Birthday Party With A Woman He’ll Bring And Say Is His Cousin Mary.

That was six heartbreaking, humiliating months ago. And it had taken me that long to agree to go out with a new guy. Mostly because, this time, I knew exactly what I was looking for, and he wasn’t easy to find: Clark Kent. A mild-mannered, kind, polite guy who’d morph into someone else (and a superhero, instead of, say, a big fat jerk) only if the world’s future depended on it.

My Clark Kent, a quite cute tax attorney named Henry Fiddler, whom I’d been dating for one so-far-so-good month, was at this very moment driving us closer and closer to Olivia’s house, where thirty or so relatives and friends of the family were waiting to meet him. No—waiting to see what insane thing
he’d
do. Because as the whole family knew, “Abby sure can pick ’em!”

My relatives weren’t really gathered to meet my new boyfriend. The occasion was my newborn nephew’s bris. But Olivia had started a hoo-ha by telling everyone that not only was I finally dating again, I was actually bringing the guy to the party.

“Good God, what if he knocks into the mohel during the circumcision!” Olivia’s husband had worried aloud to more than a few relatives. “I wouldn’t put anything past a boyfriend of Abby’s!”

A little harsh, but unfortunately true. If the men I got involved with didn’t make absolute jerks of themselves in front of my family and friends, à la the linebacker and Ted Puck, they turned into martians, like my college boyfriend who, at a dinner to celebrate my father and stepmother’s twentieth wedding anniversary, answered the first three questions directed to him—such as
So, what’s your major?
and
Did you also grow up in Maine?
—in pig latin. We broke up before dessert was served.

Why? Why, why, why? Was it them? Me? Hazards of dating? Or was I just a magnet for every jerk and nut job in New England?

“Didn’t you read that book
He’s Just Not That Into You?
” Opal had asked after the pig latin incident. “The only reason guys agree to meet your family when you’re dating is because they want a blow job later. It has nothing to do with how serious they are about you or the relationship. But then there they are, meeting your family when they’re just not that into you, and they freak out and start talking in pig latin.”

Or they fracture your aunt’s ankle. Or they cheat on you at your own birthday party with a woman they brought and said was their cousin. Mary. (Her name was more likely Angelina or something sexy like that.)

“And then ten minutes later,” Opal had continued, “the relationship is over. Because he just wasn’t that into you to begin with!” She’d gone on and on about the excuses women (specifically me) make for men who “just aren’t into them.” I’d tuned her out, but maybe she’d been onto something.

I glanced at Henry—nice, normal, polite Henry, of the rimless eyeglasses, Dockers and oxford shirt. Did men who “just weren’t that into you” agree to meet your entire family after dating you for only one month? Even when they knew for a fact (because you had yet to put out) that there was zero chance of oral gratification later? Did they pick you up promptly at noon on a Sunday during football season for said family function with a bouquet of lilies for you and one for brand-new mother Olivia? Did they say you looked “so, so beautiful” in your pale yellow sweater and f lippy brown suede skirt, which you shouldn’t really be wearing when it was flurrying outside?

No, no and more no. And besides, jerks did not wear Dockers. Unless…they were the clichéd wolves in sheep’s clothing.

I slumped in my seat, which Henry had prewarmed for me with a f lick of a button in his Subaru Outback—good-guy car if there ever was one. I had to have faith—in my taste in men, in mankind—that Henry was not another Ted Puck. Or Charlie. Or Riley. Or Tom. Good Lord, I could go back to first grade.

“Abs, you have nothing to worry about,” Olivia had assured me last week. “Henry couldn’t possibly be another Ted. Ted was king of the assholes. There’s only down from there. I mean, up. I mean there couldn’t possibly be a worse guy out there than Ted Puck. Forget the past. You’re dating again, which is great. I’m sure Henry is a great guy.”

He was! Is! I
had
paid attention on my first date with Henry. He hadn’t committed any of the first-date crimes Opal and Olivia had counseled me to watch out for. He didn’t stare at the waitress’s chest. He didn’t talk about his exes. He didn’t refer to his last girlfriend or his mother as a bitch. He didn’t excuse himself to check in with his parole officer.

Everything would be fine. Henry would not freak out at the bris and suddenly start singing “Hava Nagila” at the top of his lungs and doing the accompanying kick-dance, bumping into the mohel and scarring young Oscar Grunwald for life.

As snow flurried on the windshield, Henry, two-hands-on-the-wheel, drove us carefully up I-295 toward Olivia’s house in Freeport. He was so cute for a nerd! Truly attractive. Tall and lean, but muscular, broad shouldered. Almost black hair. Blue eyes. Roman nose. And one delicious dimple in his right cheek, at which I was now staring. Not only was he Clark Kent, he was a young Christopher Reeve!

Everything would be okay. Repeat. Repeat.

Henry was singing along to the radio in an
American Idol-
reject voice that made me smile, but he suddenly snapped off the radio midsong and took a deep breath. “Abby, there’s something I need to talk to you about. Okay, I’m just going to say this.” He eyed me for a moment. “I wouldn’t mind knowing where we stand. I mean, here I am, about to meet your whole family…”

I smiled and turned to face him, relieved that I could be googly-eyed over his Clark Kent face, those gorgeous blue eyes, without worrying that he was a jerk-in-hiding. Jerks did not want to know where the relationship stood! Well, unless they were control freaks. Henry, who’d given me total control of the radio, was not a control freak.

Maybe later today, after the bris, we would go back to one of our apartments and I’d finally say, “Yes, yes, yes, make mad passionate love to me,” or something like that. After each of our nine dates, I’d said a chaste good-night to Henry at my apartment door—well, if three-minute killer kisses that left him panting could be considered chaste. But I could finally rip off his clothes without worry. He just
might
get orally gratified! He
wasn’t
another Ted Puck! I did not have crappy taste in men! I did not need years of therapy! I mentally went through my lingerie drawer. Should I wear the black lace? Or maybe first-time white?

I decided on the white. “Wow, Henry, that is so refreshing to hear,” I said. “Usually it’s the woman who wants to know where the relationship is going, and—”

“I mean
sexually,
Abby.”

Oh.

He glanced at me. I stared straight ahead at the snowflakes being obliterated by the windshield wipers. “We’ve been seeing each other for over a month,” he said. “We’ve gone out, what, like ten times? And all we’ve done is make out like we’re in high school. Middle school, even.”

“Or like I just got out of a bad relationship and don’t feel ready to jump into bed,” I said. “Henry, I like you a lot.
So
much. But sex is a big deal to me, and I just want to make sure—”

“Make sure what?” he interrupted. “That we’re headed for marriage? Abby, it’s been a
month.

I was getting less googly-eyed by the second. “I’m not talking about
marriage.
” Did I say anything about marriage? “But yeah, it’s only been a month and I’m gun-shy, that’s all. If it’s any help, I’m incredibly attracted to you. Saying no isn’t easy.”

He laid his hand on my thigh. High up. “So say
yes.

I grabbed my coffee from the holder separating our seats and sipped at it to have a buffer. “I’m just not there yet, Henry.”

“Maybe tonight?” he asked more hopefully than jerkfully. “I’ll have met your whole family. That should help you feel closer to me, won’t it?”

Oh, God. Why was Opal Foote always right?

Stop pressuring me! “I really don’t know,” I said. “I only know that I’ll know when I know.” You blew it, Henry! You have no idea how close you came.

He moved his hand from my thigh to the steering wheel. “Okay.” He glanced at me and smiled. “You’re hard to resist, that’s all. Okay?”

Barely. Barely okay, buster. It was nice to be wanted. But back off!

“So tell me about the party we’re going to,” he said. “It’s a ‘Come see the new baby’ thing, right?”

Good. A change of subject. “Officially it’s a bris, but yeah, it’s the first opportunity for the whole family and friends to meet baby Oscar.”

He laughed. “Oscar? Like the Grouch?”

’Fraid so. As if we didn’t have enough
O’
s in our family, Olivia married an Oliver and they named their baby, an adorable nine-pounder with slate-blue eyes and wisps of blond fuzz,
Oscar.
Olivia and I are less than a year apart (more on
that
later), but our lives are light-years apart. For instance, my tiny apartment in Portland is the size of her master bedroom, which overlooks three garden-lush and wooded acres, and I couldn’t imagine naming my baby Oscar, but according to Olivia, it’s the new Ben/Sam/Max of the playground set and quite popular in England. All I can think of is an old man scratching his belly or—like Henry—that grouchy green
Sesame Street
monster popping out of a garbage can and singing, “I love trash.”

I laughed, too. “But our Oscar is much, much cuter.”

“I hope
so,
” he said, that delicious dimple popping. “So what’s a bris?”

He didn’t know what a bris was? I knew he wasn’t Jewish (I’m half Jewish, half Methodist), but I thought everyone knew what a bris was. Seconds into my explanation, the car swerved slightly into the slow lane, and we were beeped by another car. Henry’s knuckles were white on the steering wheel, and he slowed down to pull over onto the shoulder of the highway.

“Snow flurries are so deceiving,” I said. “The roads must be getting—”

Henry put the car in Park and turned to face me full-on. “Wait one minute. You’re telling me that they circumcise the baby right then and there? In the
living room?
With everyone
watching?

He’d almost lost control of the car because of the word
circumcise?

“Well, yeah,” I said. “But there’s no
they
attacking the baby with an ax, Henry. Just a mohel. A nice, normal-looking man in a yarmulke. It’s a ceremony. A Jewish tradition on the eighth day of life. What did you think a bris was?” I added, trying to smile.

He seemed barely able to lift his shoulders to shrug. “A
mole?
What’s a
mole?
Is he a medical doctor? This mole is going to surgically remove the foreskin of an infant in front of everyone? And then you’re all going to eat lunch?” He slumped over the steering wheel for a moment, then took a deep breath and eased back into traffic.

BOOK: Love You to Death
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