Joel opened his mouth to say something, he didn’t know what, but Olivia had already gone. Hands shaking, he returned the phone to his ear. “Look, I have to go. We’ll talk later.”
He dropped the receiver back on its cradle, cutting the female voice off mid-entreaty, and put a palm to his aching forehead. Damn and blast it. How could he have been so careless? With a sigh, Joel hauled himself out of the chair and left his study to trudge along the passage. The kitchen door was shut, but he ignored the hint, slipping into the room and closing the door behind him. At least he could shield Lottie from whatever might be said between them.
Olivia acted as though she hadn’t heard him come in. Joel watched her empty carrier bags, slamming bottles and jars into cupboards with unnecessary force; it was a miracle they didn’t smash to pieces. Her lips were compressed in a tight line, a sure indication she was fighting tears. As if he needed anything to make him feel worse.
“It’s not what you think.” The words sounded lame even to his own ears, not least because he’d repeated them so often over the past two weeks.
Clearly deeming the remark unworthy of response, Olivia carried a heap of carrots over to the worktop and began skinning them. She wielded the knife with such ferocity Joel guessed she was imagining doing the same to a certain part of his anatomy. He winced.
“Liv,” he tried again, “You’ve got it all wrong.”
“Have I?” She looked up at him, eyes flashing like jade in her flushed face. “So who were you speaking to just now?”
Joel dropped his gaze. “No one important. Just … just someone about work.”
“Silly me, I should have realized. So what did the restaurant order that’s so top secret you can’t tell me about it?” She flung his own words back at him. “’She doesn’t suspect a thing, I promise.’ What’re you up to, Joel? Slipping cannabis in the veg boxes? Give me a break.”
“I know it sounds unlikely—”
“An out and out bloody lie, you mean.”
“All right,” Joel said, “so it wasn’t a client, but that doesn’t automatically mean I’m guilty of what you think.”
“And what do I think?” Olivia’s sneer clashed with her soft features. “Or are you so eaten up with guilt you can’t even bring yourself to put it into words?”
“No. I’m just not willing to give your accusation any credence by naming it.”
“Don’t you patronize me! I suppose you’re going to tell me next I’ve imagined the whole thing: the way you put the phone down whenever I come into the room, your mood swings, the endless dropped phone calls.”
“Like I said, those were probably just wrong numbers.”
“Funny how it only happens when I answer the phone.” Olivia thrust the knife towards him, and for an instant Joel feared she would run him through the heart. “No, the only thing wrong with those phone calls was that the woman on the other end got me instead of you. What I don’t understand is how you expected to keep something like this from me. I thought you knew me better than that.”
“Yeah?” Joel’s temper rose. “Well, that makes two of us. I never believed you’d be so quick to jump to conclusions. Why can’t you just trust me?”
“Trust you? After the way you’ve been sneaking about lately? That’s hardly the behavior of an innocent man, Joel.” Still holding the knife, Olivia crossed her arms over her chest and drew a shuddering breath. “Okay, if you’re really not having an affair, what is it?”
He flinched from the plea in her expression, the faint glimmer of hope. “I can’t tell you.”
There was a long silence.
“No,” Olivia said, voice catching, “I didn’t think so.”
He raised his head to see her eyes brimming with tears.
“Liv.” He started forward, wanting to put his arms around her, to tell her everything was all right. But it wasn’t all right, and they both knew it.
“Don’t touch me,” she hissed. Shoving him aside, she threw open the kitchen door and stormed out.
Joel fought the urge to charge after her; what would be the point? He was the last person Liv wanted around right now, and who could blame her? Hell, what a God-awful mess. As if his marriage heading for the rocks wasn’t bad enough, he now had to contend with a whole weekend playing gracious host to his family. Compared with that, the prospect of his enraged wife knifing him in the chest was almost appealing.
Published by All Things That Matter Press