Her heart hammered in her throat when Mark’s face stared at her through the window. “What the heck—” she spluttered, pressing the power button to roll the window down. “What are you doing here? I thought stalking me ended a year ago.”
“I never stalked you, Linden,” her ex-husband said with a roll of his eyes.
“You sure seemed to show up at my favorite restaurants often. Or my front door with divorce papers.”
“Because you wouldn’t sign them.”
“Because you wouldn’t give me what I wanted after sleeping with your new dancer. When you have an affair and leave the marriage, you lose buddy.”
Linden shivered at how hateful he looked. This was the man she had loved for ten years, worked every day with at the theater, and finally married. They’d suffered through infertility together, finally being blessed with their beloved daughter, only to lose her to SIDS at eleven months old.
“Can’t you see I’m busy, Mark? Like in a car ready to drive off? Maybe I should have run you off the road,” she said sarcastically.
“Ha. Ha.” Mark’s tone dripped with rancor. “I saw your letter asking for a leave of absence from the theater. You never gave it to me.”
“I gave it to the office manager. I didn’t have to show it to you and get your permission.”
“You did if you want to have a job when you get back from wherever you’re headed to. Secret lover of your own, Linden?”
His comment was so infuriating that Linden bit down so hard she tasted blood. “First off, I would never have a secret lover. That’s reserved for cheating husbands. Second, I don’t have to explain myself to you. We have no relationship any longer, Mr. Denly. Third, vacation time is in my contract. Vacation hours I haven’t used in years. Fourth, it’s none of your business what I do in my personal life. And fifth, why in the world do you even care? Go back to your girlfriend and bugger off!”
“I do care,” Mark said, his voice softening. A sure sign that he was going to bully her about something. “You haven’t been well the past year. I worry that you’re going to get yourself into trouble.”
Linden stared at him, aghast. “Like drive off a cliff? Why is everyone suddenly terrified that my trip is a way to off myself.”
“Have you had any counseling about Abigail or the divorce?”
“That’s none of your business, Mark. Stay out of my life.”
“I know I did you wrong, and I guess I wanted to apologize. We were both hurting over our Abby-girl.”
That was the first apology she had ever received from her husband and the words shocked Linden. Then she shook her head, lest he was just messing with her heart again.
“While I was home crying, you were running into another woman’s arms. On the earthquake richter scale of selfishness, you hit an eleven. Is that why you’re here? To bully me into coming back to Phantom? Interesting that I’m suddenly so needed.”
“Okay, I admit it. You’re one of the top makeup artists in town. So yes, I need you. We’re in our last month of performances and you should have told me I needed to find someone to replace you. You should have waited until this run was done in December.”
“September has better driving weather. I’m avoiding snow chains in the mountains. And, I do believe your office manager hired a makeup temp for the next month. You really should talk to Gloria more often,” Linden added. “Or pay attention to your backstage crew instead of your half-talented Christine understudy.”
“That’s a low blow, even for you, Linden.”
“She interfered in my marriage and took my husband from me and you want me to give her sympathy? And just to clarify this entire conversation: I get to take a vacation without having to run over the director on Second Avenue.”
He straightened, hands on his hips, suit coat over one arm. Looking very much like an ordinary businessman instead of a Broadway director.
Linden gave a small laugh. “I do believe you’re going to miss me, Mr. Denly, but you can’t bring yourself to admit it.”
He bent over, hands braced against the doorjamb. “Hey, Lindy,” he said quietly. “Do you mind getting out of the car for a minute? It feels weird talking to you through the window like this.”
Linden gazed at him, and then opened the car door, standing on the edge of the broken sidewalk. “Is that better?”
“You’re coming back, aren’t you, Linden?”
Linden tried to figure out where this was going. “You mean from my vacation? Why is everyone so worried about me not coming back to New York?”
“Because you’ve had a rough couple of years. We both have.”
“You seem to have gotten over it pretty quickly. Looong before the divorce papers were drawn up.”
A pensive look crossed his face. “We had a child together, I’ll never forget that. And I did love you, Lindy. Part of me still does.”
Before she knew it, Mark scooped her up in his arms, bending softly to kiss her on the lips. Linden was so shocked she froze, but his lips were warm and gentle, and the smell of his familiar cologne engulfed her as much as his arms did.
She couldn’t move, couldn’t speak. Oh, how she’d missed him. Missed his romantic kisses. Missed having her husband in her life. Missed the comfort he used to give.
Ten seconds later, she pushed against his chest, tottering on her feet. “No, no, no, don’t you dare do this to me, Mark Denly! It’s too late. There’s no going back.”
She cut him off, shaking her head, emotion welling up in her throat. “You made your choices. All you want to do now is possess me. I’m leaving. Now goodbye!”
With shaking legs, she clambered back into the driver’s seat, while Mark slipped his hand along her arm as if to stop her.
“We used to be good, Lindy, didn’t we? There’s still something between us. I can feel it.”
“I am not going to answer that,” she whispered, her voice shaking now. If it weren’t for Julie literally back at the theater, waiting in the wings, waiting for Mark at the apartment they now shared, she might not have stopped Mark’s kisses.
But after that kiss, Linden had to reclaim some of her self-esteem.
She hit the button to roll up the window, put the car into gear, and pressed her foot on the gas pedal, shooting toward the green light at the next intersection.