Read Sleeping Alone Online

Authors: Barbara Bretton

Tags: #Contemporary

Sleeping Alone

Sleeping Alone

Barbara Bretton

 

Acclaim for the novels of

Barbara Bretton

“Bretton’s characters are always real and their conflicts believable.”

— Chicago Sun-Times

“Soul warming... A powerful relationship drama [for] anyone who enjoys a passionate look inside the hearts and souls of the prime players.”

— Midwest Book Review

“[Bretton] excels in her portrayal of the sometimes sweet, sometimes stifling ties of a small community. The town’s tight network of loving, eccentric friends and family infuses the tale with a gently comic note that perfectly balances the darker dramas of the romance.”

— Publishers Weekly

“A tender love story about two people who, when they find something special, will go to any length to keep it.”

— Booklist

“Honest, witty... absolutely unforgettable.”

— Rendezvous

“A classic adult fairy tale.”

— Affaire de Coeur

“Dialogue flows easily and characters spring quickly to life.”

— Rocky Mountain News

 

Publishing History

Print edition published by Berkley, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.

Copyright 1997, 2014 by Barbara Bretton

Digital Edition published by Barbara Bretton, 2014

Cover design by Erin Dameron-Hill

Digital formatting by
A Thirsty Mind Book Design

All rights reserved. No part of this book, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews, may be reproduced in any form by any means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without prior written permission from the author.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, business establishments, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

The scanning, uploading, and distributing of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the copyright owner is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

 

One

London, England

Alexandra Curry Whittaker was debating the relative merits of the jazzy red suede Filofax against the more sober black leather model the day her world exploded. She didn’t need a new Filofax—truth was, she didn’t need anything new at all—but it was a rainy September afternoon, and shopping was the traditional outlet for lonely American wives with too much time on their hands.

“Go out and enjoy yourself, darling,” Griffin had said to her that morning, barely glancing over the top of his
Times.
“You deserve it.”

He left a bouquet of credit cards on the mahogany hall table, and she gathered them up as if they were roses. In the beginning there had been roses, dozens of them, long-stemmed American Beauties, perfect white teas, armloads of pale yellow and peach and ivory, but the roses had long ago been replaced with credit cards and cash. She supposed she should be grateful she had such a generous husband, even if she didn’t quite understand how that was supposed to make up for the fact that she was sleeping alone.

Her closets bulged with Thierry Mugler dresses, Armani jackets, slinky Hervé Leger outfits that Griffin loved her to wear to theater premieres when he knew the paparazzi would be out in force. “American businessman Griffin Whittaker with his beautiful young wife Alexandra.” He clipped every mention, no matter how small, and filed them away “for posterity,” he said.

Posterity.
The word made her think of manor houses with clipped privet hedges and dour-faced nannies pushing prams the size of VWs. If she closed her eyes she could envision an endless daisy chain of babies, linking each new generation with the one that had come before.

“Don’t think of this as a failure, Alexandra,” her doctor had said after the last series of painful and expensive tests had turned up neither a pregnancy nor a reason why there wasn’t one. “Nature has her own timetable. Her own reasons.”

She had nodded calmly, as if her heart broke in two every day of the week. “I understand,” she’d said. “It’s no one’s fault.”

But that wasn’t true. She knew whose fault it was. Her uterus was a clenched fist, defending its walls against all invaders, and not even Griffin’s seemingly endless funds could pry it open. Sometimes she wondered if her doctor wasn’t right and if nature didn’t know exactly what she was doing, protecting an innocent child from a marriage that had long ago lost its sense of joy.

Still she longed for a child. She’d struggled to accept the fact that pregnancy might not be an option for her and turned her dreams toward adoption. “We have so much,” she’d said to Griffin one night before they started sleeping alone. “Why not share it with a child who needs us as much as we need him?” There were times she physically ached with longing for a child to love.

Griffin wouldn’t hear of it. He wanted a child of his own, a child who shared his blood and background, and nothing less would satisfy him.

“Mrs. Whittaker?” The salesclerk’s voice broke into her thoughts. “If I might be so bold, the red suede is produced in limited quantities, while the black leather is more readily available.”

Snob appeal, Alexandra thought. How well the Brits knew their former subjects. She flipped through the calendar section of the red organizer and was mentally filling in all the tidy little squares with upcoming appointments and social engagements when she saw her husband’s mistress.

Alexandra had known about Claire Brubaker for three years. Claire was one of the reasons they’d moved from New York to London. Griffin had assured her that the affair was over, that Claire had been a brief midlife aberration that wouldn’t happen again. Because she needed to, Alexandra believed him. Her marriage meant everything to her. If she wasn’t Mrs. Griffin Whittaker, she wasn’t certain she existed at all.

Claire was admiring a rose-colored silk scarf. Her dark red hair was pulled back in an intricate French braid. She said something to the salesclerk, something low and urgent and endlessly amusing, and the salesclerk laughed out loud. Claire wore a strand of pearls at her neck, a chunky Rolex on her left wrist, and a chic navy maternity dress.

Alexandra’s stomach lurched as a wave of dizziness swept over her.

“Are you all right, ma’am?” the salesclerk asked, all courteous solicitude. “You’re terribly pale. Let me fetch you a glass of water.”

Pregnant.
Claire’s belly swelled beneath the fine wool of her dress. Five months along? Maybe six? Not that it mattered. Claire Brubaker was pregnant, and Alexandra knew there was only one man who could possibly be the father. “Oh, God,” she whispered, as pain swallowed her whole. “Oh, God...”

“Ma’am, please let us help you.”

A knot of salesclerks gathered around her. One pushed a chair against the backs of her knees to force her to sit down. Two elderly matrons in matching chesterfields peered at her curiously.

“Poor dear,” clucked the taller of the two. “You’re pale as cream.”

“Please,” Alexandra managed, “I’m fine.”

The buzz of concern around her grew stronger.

“I’m going to call for assistance,” the salesclerk said. “We can’t have you fainting on us.”

“I’m not going to faint,” Alexandra protested, standing up.

“You
are
terribly pale,” the first salesclerk said. She lowered her voice. “Might you be enceinte?”

“No!” The word rose up over the buzz of the crowd. “I’m late for an appointment. I really must run....”

Claire was still absorbed in examining a Hermès scarf. Alexandra had to get out of the store before she looked up. She tossed the Filofax down on the counter, then dashed for the exit. She heard voices calling after her, a symphony of voices, all of them begging her to come back.
Mrs. Whittaker! Mrs. Whittaker! Don’t go!

Her face burned with embarrassment, but she kept moving. She’d never be able to shop at Harrods again, not in a million years. She’d always tried so hard to blend in, to adapt, to be as invisible as possible, and now she was making a scene the salesclerks would talk about for days.
Don’t think about it,
she told herself as she elbowed past a knot of customers and pushed open the door.
Just keep moving.

All that mattered was putting as much space between herself and Claire Brubaker as she possibly could. A blast of wind-driven rain hit her full force as she stepped outside. She stood in the middle of a dark sea of umbrellas and wondered if you could die from a broken heart. Rain puddled at the curbs and splashed up from the sidewalk, turning everything gray and ugly. London was a filthy city, every bit as dirty as New York. She’d be spattered with mud from head to foot by the time she got home. Griffin hated it when she looked anything but perfect. The thought was almost enough to make her laugh. In the space of a second, her entire life had been turned upside down, and she was worried about mud stains.

She began to run, slowly at first, then gathering speed as she dodged angry taxis and curious businessmen in Savile Row suits that defied the weather. Maybe if she ran fast enough, far enough, she could make it all go away.

But Claire’s face danced in front of her, laughing. Pregnancy had softened the woman’s angular features, making her look more beautiful than ever. She wondered how long Claire had been in London. Had she been here from the start or had she flown into town specifically to see Griffin?

Certainly his behavior had given away nothing. He’d been his usual composed self, solicitous of Alexandra but emotionally distant. Once upon a time she’d been too young and trusting to know the difference. Now that she did, it came close to breaking her heart.

She ran until she couldn’t run anymore. Gasping for breath, she leaned against a lamppost at the entrance to the park across from their flat. Usually the park teemed with fresh-faced nannies and their young charges, but they were all inside today, safe and warm. How many sunny afternoons had she sat at her bedroom window, watching the children play... listening to the sweet sound of their laughter as it rose toward her on the wind? Things would be different in London, Griffin said. There would be more time for each other, more space. And, she’d prayed, maybe a miracle was waiting for them there.

Pain knifed through her middle, and she sank down onto a bench and lowered her head. Even miracles needed some earthly help. She couldn’t remember the last time she and Griffin made love. Three months? Maybe six? She didn’t know. More often than not, he slept in his study. He claimed late nights and an unwillingness to disturb Alexandra, but she knew it went deeper than that. Disappointment had taken its toll on them both, turning sex into something joyless and pathetic. She missed being held. She missed the comforting weight of his body next to hers. She missed waking up in the morning and seeing his familiar face.

Griffin was fifty-five years old, and time was running out. He wanted a child more than anything, a son to carry on his name. “I’ll give you sons,” Alexandra had promised him on their wedding night. “As many as you want.” He had been there for her when she needed him most, and she would do anything to make him happy.

Ten years later she was still trying.

She placed her palms against her midsection and tried to imagine how it would feel to carry a child within her own body, to watch her belly grow bigger with each month that passed—to share it all with a man she loved.

The thought brought her up short. Did she love Griffin any longer? Once upon a time, loving him seemed as natural as breathing. She depended on him. She respected him. He was responsible for everything in her life—the roof over her head, the food she ate, her clothes. Without Griffin she would have nothing. He was the one who had helped her make sense of her life after her parents’ tragic death, shielding her from the legacy of bad debts and lawsuits they had left behind for their only child. She’d been seventeen years old, left with no home, no family, no one to turn to... except for Griffin.

But was that love? She’d thought so once. The sound of his footsteps on the other side of the door had been enough to brighten her day, but his infidelities had taken their toll. No one could sustain a marriage on gratitude alone. She’d often had the sense that she was a visitor in her own home and that one day he would look up from his
Times
and tell her that it was time she moved on.

She looked across the park at the place she’d called home for the last two years. Her passport was tucked in her purse, along with an inch-thick stack of credit cards. She could grab one of those big comfortable cabs London was so proud of and head for Gatwick. Planes left every hour of the day, for every corner of the globe. All she had to do was pick a destination and within hours she’d be there, ready to start a new life. Griffin had already started a new life—it was growing deep inside Claire Brubaker’s body. Maybe it was time for Alexandra to do the same.

But how did you start a new life? She hadn’t a clue.

She wondered what Griffin was doing right now. He was one of those men who managed to cram twenty-five hours into every day. He was probably busy with one of his multinational deals, immersed in details she’d never understand. All these years he’d waited and hoped for a child—you would think he would be shouting his news from the highest rooftop. Instead, he acted as if nothing had changed, as if he wasn’t about to become a father.

But what if she’d jumped to the wrong conclusion and nothing
had
changed? Maybe Claire’s pregnancy had absolutely nothing to do with Griffin. Claire could have taken a new lover, or maybe even found a husband of her own. She was a beautiful woman. The odds of her being alone were a million to one. Besides, it wasn’t as if Claire’s belly bore a sign that read, “Courtesy of Griffin Whittaker.” Maybe she’d let her imagination run away with her and there was really no cause for alarm.

She dashed for home across the rain-swept park to find out.

* * *

Alexandra dressed carefully for dinner in a flowing pants suit of coppery silk. Her hair was swept off her face in a loose French twist. She looked calm, sophisticated, in control.

“I saw Claire today,” she announced casually over dinner. They were seated at opposite ends of the mahogany refectory table, separated by a wall of candles, cutlery, and crystal. “In Harrods.”

“Claire told me,” he said. “You left your credit card on the counter.”

Claire told him? Her hands began to tremble, and she quickly placed them on her lap. “I’ll pick it up tomorrow.”

“You must be more careful, darling,” he said evenly. “Not every establishment is that honest.”

“I had other things on my mind,” she returned, just as evenly. “I was... surprised to see Claire at the scarf counter.”

“I didn’t invite Claire to London,” he said, pouring himself more wine. “She came of her own accord.”

“That’s interesting.” She drew in a breath. They sounded as if they were discussing the price of eggs. “How long has she been here?”

He met her eyes. “Why do you ask?”

“Because she’s pregnant,” She hadn’t meant to say it so bluntly, but there it was.

He nodded. “Claire wasn’t sure you’d noticed.”

Other books

Murder in the CIA by Margaret Truman
Demon Seed by Dean Koontz
Voodoo Plague - 01 by Dirk Patton
The Girl Who Bites by Woods, Alice J.
False Testimony by Rose Connors
Ring Around the Rosy by Roseanne Dowell
Jessica's Ghost by Andrew Norriss
African Enchantment by Margaret Pemberton