Kiss and Tell

“Walk me back to the house, and tell me what detained this fellow of yours,” Marsh continued. “Elliot. The man of your dreams — so to speak. Was it hell or was it high water?”

“Neither,” Leila said. Her gown made a shushing sound on the ground as she walked. “It was work.”

“Work. The worst of the four-lettered words. What is he, a doctor?” Marsh asked. “Was it some life and death emergency operation that only he could perform that’s keeping him from your lovely side?”

The frustration Leila was feeling turned to sharp annoyance. “Not everyone,” she said, slipping back into the barbed comments and slightly veiled taunts that marked her usual conversations with Marsh, “is a critically important small town doctor.”

“Just curious,” he said, ignoring her insult. “New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day are the two most important holidays for lovers. It seems peculiar that he isn’t here with you.”

Leila and Elliot weren’t lovers. Their relationship just hadn’t progressed in that direction. At least not yet. And Leila was in no hurry to change that. But she wasn’t about to correct Marsh and give him more ammunition to use against Elliot.

“One of his clients had an emergency,” she said. “To be specific, a financial emergency. Elliot is a financial consultant.”

“Splendid,” Marsh said, far too enthusiastically. “It’s truly comforting to know you’re considering spending the rest of your life with a man who believes that having bags of money is far more important than silly old love. Of course that works out rather nicely since you’re not exactly in love with him, either.”

Leila shook her head in exasperation. “Simon told you all about Elliot’s proposal, didn’t he? God, I don’t know why I’m surprised. He tells you everything. There’s no such thing as a secret on Sunrise Key, is there?”

Marsh’s laugh was tinged with exasperation of his own. “Ah, the great lack of privacy issue again,” he said. “But this hasn’t anything to do with that. When Si told me you were bringing this Elliot fellow with you, naturally, I asked some questions.”

Leila shot him a look. “You don’t honestly expect me to believe that there’s a single person at this party who hasn’t heard that I was bringing a man to the island with me?”

“Of course not,” Marsh said, holding open the door to the house. “In a town this size, news of weddings and babies travels far and fast. Of course, everyone who’s heard about Elliot assumes you’re in love with the man. Only those privileged few of us know the real truth. I must say, marrying a man for his money… Somehow, I expected more from you, Leila.”

“I’m not marrying Elliot for his money,” Leila said hotly. “If I marry him — and that’s a great big “if” — it’s because–” She broke off, suddenly unwilling to tell him her real reasons for considering marriage with Elliot. She couldn’t bear to hear him mock her fears of spending her life alone, to have him ridicule her desires for children, for a family.

“My God,” Marsh said, his gaze sharpening, somehow managing to read her mind. “Something has unleashed the traditional female in you. It’s time to have kids, so you latched onto the first idiot who comes along!”

“Elliot’s not an idiot,” Leila said defensively. “It’s true that I’m not exactly in love with him, but he’s a nice guy, and I like him. If you don’t like that, that’s tough luck. But then again, why should I care? You’ve never liked anything I’ve ever done.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Marsh said, his cool control starting to slip. “Just because I was disappointed when you moved to New York City after college instead of back to the Key–”

“Hah,” Leila said, all but smacking him with her mask. “Disappointed because I wouldn’t be around to torment and control. ‘There goes Simon’s little sister,'” she said in a mock English accent. “‘Let’s see if we can get her really mad.'”

“What a load of rubbish,” he said, his voice moving up and down the scale with exasperation.

“It’s true. And while you’re at it, fix your stupid hair!”

“My what?” Marsh looked surprised. Was it possible he didn’t notice that he was peering at her through an infuriatingly unkempt lock of light brown hair?

“Leila’s been home less than five hours, and you guys are already fighting?” a voice interrupted them. Simon, the mermaid clinging to his arm, stood in the doorway.

“Your hair is in your eyes,” Leila said to Marsh with exaggerated enunciation. “Most normal people would find that annoying and do something about it. Like fix it.”

“I happen to like my hair just the way it is, thanks,” Marsh said icily.

“You’re arguing about Dev’s hair?” Simon’s voice dripped with amazement and disbelief.

“No, we’re arguing because Leila’s going to marry Elliot Something — I don’t even know his last name–”

“Tillis,” Leila supplied tightly.

“Right. Leila’s only going to marry Elliot bloody Tillis because of some biological imperative to knit diamond-studded booties,” Marsh said, pushing his hair back out of his face. “Better now?” he said to Leila with overly done sweetness. But he didn’t give her a chance to answer before turning back to Simon. “That’s what this Elliot thing’s about. She’s afraid time’s running out and she wants to have a baby. She doesn’t even bloody well love this guy and isn’t that the stupidest bloody thing you’ve ever heard?”

“Maybe we can talk about this later,” Simon said mildly. “After the party.”

Marsh turned to Leila. “You know, you don’t need to marry a man who doesn’t love you simply to have a baby. Any man in the world can give you that. Axel Bayard could give you a baby. Old Martin Hampton could give you a baby. I could give you a baby.”

Marsh’s eyes were lit with the heat of anger as he glared at her. Anger, and a hint of something else. Something that gave additional impact to his casually hurled words, something that made Leila believe he’d gladly take on the task of getting her pregnant. For an instant, his gaze raked her body, as if he were mentally undressing her. For an instant, her stomach felt as if she were riding a roller coaster. Gravity disappeared, and her insides flip-flopped.

Simon and the mermaid were watching her, waiting for her response to Marsh’s loaded comment. What would Marsh do, Leila wondered wildly, if she said, all right, I’ll take you up on that.

No doubt, knowing Marsh, he’d insist on going straight upstairs and ‘getting on with it, then.’ And, while she had to admit that the prospect of making love to her lifelong nemesis was extremely intriguing, where would she be in the long term?

Alone with a baby.

So, instead, Leila snorted. “Thanks, but I’d rather have Elliot’s baby,” she said haughtily. “I’d rather be married first. Being a single parent doesn’t appeal to me.”

“As if old Elliot’s ever going to be around to change the kid’s didee,” Marsh said hotly.

“So what?” Leila said, crossing her arms. It was the exact point that she’d been waffling over herself, earlier. And it was true. Marriage to Elliot would result spending quite a bit of time without him. But since Marsh was raising the point, Leila was forced to defend herself. “That doesn’t mean I’ll be alone. I’ll be with the sweet, Mary Poppins-type nanny that I can hire with Elliot’s bags of money.”

“Yes. Right. Back to the money, are we?” Marsh said.

“Hey, are you guys going to fight the entire two weeks that Leila’s here?” Simon asked.

“Yes,” hissed Leila, turning on her glittering plastic heels and pushing her way out the door.

“Probably,” Marsh said, turning and stomping up the stairs.

Kiss and Tell
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Kiss and Tell
Original 1996 cover art
Kiss and Tell
2008 reissue cover art