Marriage Terms

By: Barbara Dunlop

Chapter 1

If Amanda Elliott had her way, New York would have a law against ex-husbands.

She took a deep breath, curled her toes over the pool deck at Boca Royce Health Club and dived headfirst into the fast lane.

A law against ex-husbands who invaded a woman’s life. She stretched her arms out, surging her body forward until she sliced back up through the surface.

A law against ex-husbands who stayed fit and sexy for over fifteen years. Her right arm pulled into a freestyle arc as she kicked into her rhythm, letting the cool water block out the world.

And a law against ex-husbands who held a woman tight, whispered words of comfort and made her insane world tip right again.

She scrunched her eyes shut against the illicit memory, stroking hard until her fingertips brushed the smooth pool wall at the opposite end. Then she twisted her body to kick into the next lap.

While the politicians were at it, they should write a law against sons who were wounded in shoot-outs, sons who were secretly government agents and sons who went to spy school without their mother’s permission.

It wouldn’t take much. A simple amendment to the admissions disclaimer, and no woman would ever again have to wake up and discover she’d given birth to James Bond.

Amanda pulled past the blue halfway floats.

Her son Bryan was James Bond.

She laughed a little desperately at that one, nearly sucking in a lungful of water.

Try as she might, she couldn’t imagine Bryan with a forged passport, driving exotic cars through foreign countries and pressing little remote control devices to blow things up. Her Bryan loved puppies and finger painting, he lived for those sweet little cream-filled coconut puffs you could only get at Wong’s on the corner.

She was grateful he was getting out of the spy game. He’d vowed as much to his new bride. Amanda had heard it with her own ears. So had Daniel.

Her stroke faltered. This time her ex-husband’s image refused to disappear.

Daniel had comforted her through the long night of Bryan’s surgery. He’d been her pillar of strength, holding her up when she swore the sheer weight of terror would topple her. At times, he’d squeezed her so tight that over a decade and a half of anger and mistrust melted between them.


She made another turn, pushing off the pool wall with her feet and knifing back to the surface. She swam harder, and her jaw tightened as she concentrated on her strokes.

Détente wasn’t even a possibility.

It would never be a possibility.

Because Daniel was a true-blue Elliott. And Amanda…wasn’t. East-West relations were a cakewalk compared to that.

The truce was over. Bryan was well on the road to recovery. Daniel was back on his own side of Manhattan. And Amanda had opening arguments in front of Judge Mercer tomorrow morning.

Her knuckles hit the wall at the end of another lap. Five, she counted off in her mind.

“Hello, Amanda.” Daniel’s familiar voice came out of nowhere.

She scrambled to bring her body to vertical, scrubbing the chlorinated water out of her eyes and blinking at her ex-husband’s fuzzy image. What was he doing here? “Is it Bryan?”

Daniel flinched, quickly shaking his head. “No. No. Sorry. Bryan’s fine.” He crouched on the concrete deck, putting them closer to eye level.

Amanda whooshed out a breath of relief, clinging to the trough at the edge of the pool. “Thank goodness.”

“Cullen told me I’d find you here,” he said.

Her anxiety rushed back at the mention of her second son. “Is it Misty?”

Another shake of Daniel’s head. “Misty’s good. The baby’s kicking up a storm.”

Amanda studied his expression. His face was calm and impassive. Whatever had dragged him out of the office in the middle of the day wasn’t life threatening.

He straightened back to full height, and her gaze strayed to his muscular chest, then to his navy trunks. His feet were bare, and he sported a six-pack of a stomach that would be the envy of a man half his age.

Her mouth went dry, and she suddenly realized she hadn’t seen Daniel in anything but a designer suit for sixteen years. The man who had hugged her goodbye had a body to die for.

She bicycled her legs, trying to restore her equilibrium in the deep water.