First Chapter

Stolen  Chapter One

       A slender, elegant woman strode through the airport to the baggage carousel, a small purse slung over one shoulder and a leather brief case in the opposite hand. One of the terminal porters pulled a luggage trolley as he tried to follow her.     When he reached her side at the still empty carousel, the woman glanced at him.
      “Sorry, I guess I’m a bit anxious.” She shook her head. “I’m here before my bags. Well, while I wait …” She set the briefcase by her feet and opened her purse. With a gasp, she dug through the small bag.
      “Where is it? Where is it?” she muttered.
       Stooping to open the brief case now lying on the floor, she rummaged through the papers, mumbling under her breath.
       “Ma’am, the baggage is here,” the man beside her announced.
       She slammed the case shut and stood. “Of course, I’ll … I’ll get my bags and then worry about …” She paused and visibly controlled the panic that overwhelmed her momentarily. Looking toward the luggage passing, she pointed at two cases. “That green one and that one are mine.”
        After she and the luggage were deposited in her rental car. The woman removed the cell phone from her purse. At least, she thought, I can still find out where we’re staying. Scrolling down the numbers in the contact list to one entry, she pressed the call button.

      Torri hurried to the living room, a load of laundry in her arms. She blew a stream of air to blow hair off her forehead and muttered at the ringing phone, “All right, all right. Give me minute.” When it continued to ring, she thought, I don’t need anything else. Torri dumped the pile of clean clothes on the sofa and reached for the telephone on the end table. Rubbing her temple with fingers of her left hand, she used the other hand to hold the receiver to her ear.
     “Hello, is Mike there?” an unfamiliar woman’s voice asked.
     “No, he isn’t. May I take a message?”
     “Do you know when he will return?”
     “No, I don’t. He didn’t tell me. Do you want to leave a message?”
     “Tell me, how long have you been with Mike?”
     Looking at the toys scattered around the room, the clothes jumbled in front of her, Torri gave an unlady-like snort before she answered, “Long enough. Now, please, do you or do you not wish to leave a message?”
     “Apparently good office help is difficult to find in Dallas. You certainly don’t sound competent or professional.”
     “Office help ... I don’t think ... ”
     “Listen,” the voice interrupted, “I need to talk to Mike. When will he be in?”
     “I really don’t know,” Torri answered. Can’t believe I’m so calm about another woman searching for Mike. Habit, I guess. Bad habit. “May I take a message, or would you rather call again later?”
     “Just what I need. I lost the paper he gave me with the name of the hotel where we’re supposed to stay for that conference. I’m at the airport and need to know where to go. You wouldn’t know where we’re staying, do you? I know it’s downtown Dallas somewhere.”
     Huh! I could tell you where to go. Torri asked aloud, “Who do I say called?”
     A long-suffering pause precluded the answer, “His wife, Marty.”
     Torri’s hand gripped the phone until her fingers ached from the pressure. A roaring filled her ears as the woman’s voice faded. After she shook head sharply and breathed deeply, her vision cleared. She could hear the woman demanding that she answer.
     “Um ... I’m sorry ... I ... ah ... “ Torri drew on years of hiding her emotions, of facing unpleasantness. “Excuse me. If you don’t know where you are to stay ... Well, I don’t know ... ”
     “Why don’t you just give me the office address, and I’ll wait for Mike there. Surely he will check back there.”
     “Here? You want ... I mean, you really don’t want to come here.”
     “What is your name? Does Mike have any idea how inept you are?” Contempt filled the caller’s voice.
     As if in a dream, Torri gave the address to the woman, then dropped the phone back on the table and herself beside the pile of clothes. “I can’t believe this. Why, what? Mike promised. Each time he promised to reform. I don’t understand.” She wiped a hand across her face. “But, but … another wife?” What now? She shook her head. How can I talk to … Wonder what tale he’ll tell this time? Torri covered her eyes before she whispered, “What have I done? What in the world am I going to do? I don’t think I have the courage to face her. I know I don’t have the courage to confront him.”
     “Mommie! Mommie!”
     Lowering her hands until her forearms lay across her thighs, Torri looked at her daughter’s frowning face. “Leann?” she snapped through clinched teeth before thinking, Wait a minute, none of this is her fault. Drawing a deep breath, she controlled her irritation to inquire gently, “What’s wrong, sweetie?”
     “Mommie, Lyle won’t wet me pray.” Indignity vibrated through her two-year-old body. Blue eyes snapped as she placed small fists on non-existent hips. “Do sumsing!”
     Pressing her lips together so she wouldn’t laugh - wouldn’t cry, she didn’t know which - Torri shook her head. Unbelievable.
     “I see. Lyle won’t allow you to play. What I don’t understand is why is Lyle playing or why you both aren’t sleeping.” After a brief pause, Torri added, “Well, Leann?”
     The dark, curly head dropped. Suddenly, the small girl’s interest centered on her bare toes. Fists uncurled into hands that picked at her shirttail.
     Torri stood and gathered her daughter into her arms before she strode to the children’s bedroom. She brushed her lips across the child’s temple and hugged Leann close to her chest as she tried to reason with the girl.
     “Now, sweetie, you know it’s nap time. You and your brother
had a late night and early morning. I need the rest even if you don’t.”
     “But, Mommie ... ”
     “Leann,” Torri warned in her strongest I-mean-business voice.
     “Okay, Mommie. I go sleep.”
     Torri opened the door and watched her son maneuver his cars and trucks around barricades of pillows before speaking. “Lyle?”
     The boy’s head snapped around. “Oh, hi, Mommie.”
     “Oh, hi, my foot. Now pick up the pillows, park the vehicles, and climb in bed.” She placed her daughter in the bottom bunk before she turned back to her son. “You know playing is not part of taking a nap.”
     “But, Mommie ... ”
     “That’s what your sister said. Now, hop into bed.” She patted her son on his bottom as he climbed onto the top bunk.
     “I’m too old to take a nap. I’m gonna be four.”
     “I’m older than that and would love to go rest. You,” she pointed at the bed, “stay there and sleep.”
     After she kissed Lyle’s forehead and brushed Leann’s hair back from her face with a tender touch, Torri left the room, closed the door, and allowed her shoulders to bow. Yes, I would love to sleep – for about a hundred or more years.
     She entered the small living room but stood staring blankly at the clutter for a moment. Then taking four laundry baskets stacked at the side of the coffee table, she set them side by side in front of the sofa.
     “Well, guess I’d better stop moping and straighten this room. What’s-her-name will be here soon; I don’t need her feeling sorry for Mike because she sees a messy house,” Torri muttered to herself as she efficiently folded clothes, placed them in separate baskets, gathered toys, put Lyle’s in the basket with his clothes and Leann’s in the basket with hers. Stacking the basket with her own clothes on top of the one with Mike’s, she carried the two to her bedroom. The children’s baskets
she stacked in the hall outside their door.
     She looked down at her bare feet below faded, worn jeans which encased her slim thighs. Torri blew a stream of frustrated air from her pursed lips before hurried to her room to change quickly into a beige sleeveless blouse and tan slacks. She ran a brush through her short, black hair, applied a light layer of lipstick on pale lips, slid her feet into a pair of sandals before she returned to the living room to await her unwanted guest.
      Too nervous to sit, she paced the floor, mentally rehearsing what she would say, how she would react when this Marty person rang the doorbell. When the bell did ring, Torri squared her shoulders, lifted her chin, and marched briskly to open the door.
     The visitor who stood on the porch wore a silver silk blouse and gray tailored slacks. The tall, slender woman, older than expected, eyed Torri through narrowed eyes. “I think someone played a practical joke on me, and it is not funny. I’m looking for Mike Adamson’s office. His receptionist, or whatever, gave me this address.”
     “I’m his ‘whatever,’ his wife Torri Adamson,” Torri challenged the other woman. “I think we need to talk. Please come in.”  She moved from the opening.
     Marty Adamson tossed her sun-streaked hair back from her carefully made-up face before she glanced over her shoulder as if toward the street and escape. Looking back at the open door and the woman waiting, she shrugged slightly before entering. A frown marred her face.
     Torri closed the door, inhaled deeply and faced her visitor. “Mike doesn’t have an office except for the extra bedroom here. He does, however, have a wife – me – and two children.”
     “I don’t believe you! Oh, I don’t mean about the stupid office. But I am Mike’s wife. What are you trying to pull?”
     “Mike and I have been married nearly eight years.” Torri wearily sat in the rocking chair across from the sofa. “Unless you’ve been married longer, I’m the legal spouse.”
     “No. No, you’re lying. Mike wouldn’t do that to me.”
     “Maybe you should sit down,” Torri suggested as her eyes filled with tears. “There isn’t any easy way to tell you. Crazy, I’m crazy to worry about you and your feelings, but …”
     “Tell me what? More lies?” Striding toward the door, Marty reached for the knob.
     “Mommie, why is that bad lady yelling at you?” Lyle crossed the room to stand beside the rocking chair and glared at the woman who caused his mother to cry.
     Marty paused, turned back. She slowly shook her head while she studied the sturdy boy: his dark auburn hair, his green eyes with golden specks, the cleft in his chin.
     “He’s ... he’s ... ”
     “A miniature of his father, I know,” Torri completed Marty’s statement as she brushed tears from her face. “Please sit down. You really do need to listen to me, whether I want to talk to you or not.”
     As she took Lyle’s hand and pulled him into her lap, she assured him, “Sweetie, this lady and I need to talk. Thank you for wanting to protect me, but I’m all right. Would you do a big favor for me now?” Lyle nodded his head. “Good. Play quietly in your room for a while. Let Leann finish her nap. Okay?”
     “Thanks, sweetie.” Torri gave her son a quick hug as he slipped from her lap. He started toward the hall, stopped to frown at the woman sitting on the sofa before he continued to his room.
     Once the bedroom door closed, the second Mrs. Adamson turned to Torri in confusion. “Why did you allow me to come here? In your place, I’d send you to hell first.” She blindly gazed at her clasped hands. “I can’t believe ... Oh, dear God, I don’t understand. Why ...” Her composure shattered, she covered her face as sobs racked her body.
     Ignoring the other woman’s distress, Torri allowed her eyes to wander over the photographs on the wall above the sofa and crying woman. False, all lies. That wedding picture, the start of the lies. A family photo, a family I thought he wanted. How can we look so happy. Torri turned her eyes away. I can’t stand to see my stolen dreams on display, not any longer. What a fool, stupid fool I am.
     When Marty’s sobs decreased to a few sighs, Torri turned her attention once more to the other woman. “There are tissues on the table beside you.” As Marty wiped her ravaged face, Torri continued, “I don’t really know why I gave you the
correct address, had you come here. I guess, I wanted actually to face one of Mike’s other women. I don’t know ... Anyway I did; you’re here; so what do we do now? I don’t know that either.”
     “What do you mean? What can be done? I mean, I’m not even married if you ... Wait a minute, what did you say? ‘One of Mike’s others’?” Marty shot off the sofa and jerkily moved to the front window. As she stared at the cars parked on the other side of a narrow strip of July-brown grass, she whispered, “He seemed so real, so honest. I can’t
believe this. I can’t believe I was so dumb.”
     Torri rocked gently as she answered, her voice numb, dispassionate. “I lost count of the other women that I’ve known about. I’m not even sure when he started his extra-curriculars. I first discovered he had been playing around for quite some time when Lyle was about three-months old.” She shrugged. “I don’t know. Just don’t know why I tolerated it.” She paused and added, “I guess I’m just weak.”
     No longer the arrogant woman who had arrived, Marty shuffled to the sofa, picked up her purse, and started toward the door. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I just didn’t know.”
     “Aren’t you going to wait for Mike?”
     Not turning to answer, Marty watched her own hand reach for the doorknob. “No, I’m going back home. I’ll talk to my attorney, see what needs to be done.”
     Torri realized she also needed to take action and rose from her chair. “I’ll probably talk to a lawyer, too. I need some information, before you leave, please?”
     “What? I mean what else could you possibly need to know?”
     “I need to know your full name, other than Adamson, your address, when you supposedly married Mike, things like that. I don’t know what all I’ll need. Please, I have to free myself, too. I can’t ... This is the final humiliation so no more. I never thought I’d ever try to leave.”
     Marty opened her purse and removed a business card then turned slightly to hand it, without raising her sight, to Torri who had joined Marty at the door. “Our ‘wedding’ was six weeks ago, May 29.”
     Torri gently placed her empty hand on Marty’s bowed shoulder. “You didn’t know, but Mike did. He knew he was already married. Blame him, not yourself.”
     “But, but I’m so ashamed. I never checked. I just believed him. If you need them, the records are on file in Austin. Please, I’ve got to go ... please.” Marty yanked open the door, rushed toward her rental car parked at the curb to return home to Houston.
     Torri quietly closed the door before she walked back to sit in the rocking chair. As she read the card in her hand, her eyes widened in amazement. “Uh-oh, he really hit the big time. CEO of a company even I’ve heard of. Shee. He’ll hit the roof. Wait a minute. He will hit the roof? What about me.” She covered his eyes and groaned. “I’ve been weak and
stupid, allowed him to …”
     Her adrenaline pumping as anger momentarily replaced shocked indifference, Torri jumped from the chair to pace the room. “I can’t take this. I won’t take this. His excuses, his lies, they won’t work this time. I’ll tell him, this time, I will tell him it is over ... I can’t ... ” She dropped to the sofa, hands dangling between her knees, the brief surge of anger gone, leaving her drained. How strange. I should be devastated; my pride hurt at least, but I’m not. I feel ... numb. Strange.
     “Mommie,” Leann’s voice broke her inner discussion.
     “Hi, sweetie, did you have a good nap?”
     “I told her to stay in the room, but she won’t mind,” Lyle interjected, a frown wrinkling his brow.
      Drawing the children to the sofa, one on each side of her, Torri hugged both. “That’s fine, Lyle. It’s all right now. You’ve been my big boy. Thank you. Now, tell you what. If the two of you will go in your room and put on your shoes while I call Gram and Gramps, I’ll let you talk to them and then take you to the playground.”
     “Yaiiiii!” Leann slid off the sofa and ran toward the bedroom.
     “I hurry,” Lyle stated as he followed quickly behind his sister.
     Torri picked up the phone and punched in the numbers to reach her grandparents. She mentally pushed the intruding feelings back behind the numbness again, needing to be able to function, to make arrangements to get her children and herself away from the nightmare her life had become.
     “The Light House Inn, may I help you?” The warm voice answering the phone wrapped Torri in comfort.
     “Gram?” Torri asked, relieved her grandmother had answered.
     “Torri? Oh, honey, how good to hear your voice, but what’s wrong?” Her grandmother chuckled softly. “Yes, I can tell.”
     “I can’t explain now, the kids will be back in any minute. May we come home?”
     “You didn’t need to ask. You know that, don’t you? When are you coming?”
     “As quickly as possible tomorrow morning. I don’t want to say anything to Lyle and Leann, yet. They’ll be in here to talk with you and Gramps as soon as ... oh, here they are. I’ll let them speak with you.”
     Torri placed the receiver to Leann’s ear and told her, “Say hello to Gram, sweetie, and then let Lyle talk.”
     “Hilo, Dram, I gonna go swing.”
     As Leann and then Lyle briefly visited long distance with their great-grandparents, Torri started a list of things she needed to do before they left for Oklahoma and home. Stay busy, that’s what I need to do. Stay busy. Play with the kids, pack, stay busy.
     Ten o’clock that night, Torri stood in the middle of the living room and rubbed the small of her back. After feed, bathed, and put the children to bed, she cleaned the apartment and packed the minivan, leaving barely enough room for Lyle, Leann, and herself.
     Whew, think I’ll take my shower in the morning. Torri glanced around  the tidy room. At least Mike won’t have any complaints if he does show up tonight. Maybe, just maybe, we can be long gone before he does come back. Though
why I should care, I don’t know. She closed her eyes for a moment. What is wrong with me?
     Amazed at the amount accomplished since her afternoon visitor had left, but feeling the results in her tired muscles, Torri entered her bedroom, turned on the lamp beside her bed before she quickly removed her makeup and prepared for bed.
    Yawning, she crawled into bed and turned off the lamp. Sleep claimed her thoughts and body within minutes as darkness pulled her downward.
     Suddenly the overhead light glared into her eyes as her husband’s bellowing voice brought her wide awake. “What the hell is going on? Why can’t you do at least one damn thing right?” He slammed the door.
     “What ... what ... “ Torri felt as if her mind were wrapped in a fog as she tried to shake off the remnants of sleep.
     “Can’t a man even come home to a decent meal in this house? Oh, no, not from my loving wife.”
     With a glance at the bedside clock, Torri answered his attack in confusion, “Mike, it’s after midnight. If I had cooked you a meal, it would have been ruined by now.”
     “Always some excuse. What do you do around here? The house is a mess.”
     “What are you talking about? I had the apartment clean before I came to bed.”
     “Hell, why do I even try to talk to you. You are one of the most worthless people. I don’t know why you can’t do ... ” As Mike’s pounding voice continued, Torri sat on the side of the bed, her arms wrapped around her waist as if they held her together. Her head lowered while Mike continued beating her with words. Then Torri realized that she had sat this way too, too many times as Mike killed her soul. Her head snapped up; she stared at the man who paced the bedroom floor,
hands waving, his usually handsome face molted with anger.
     “I think I’ve heard enough,” Torri interrupted Mike’s tirade.
     Mike stopped his swing toward the door. “What did you say?”
     “You heard me quite well. I’m not going to let you talk to me like this any more. The house is clean. You never said you wanted dinner. In fact you said you probably wouldn’t even be home tonight, that you had business out of town. Well, your ‘business’ came here. Marty, I believe she said her name is.”
     “What do you mean ... Marty? What have you done?”
     “What have I done? Oh, you really are something else. What have I done indeed; you commit bigamy and try to blame me. Well, it won’t work, not this time.”
     “Where is she? Don’t you realize what she means? She has money; she can make me a success! Damn you, where is she?” Mike grabbed Torri’s arm, pulled her to her feet, shook her as he yelled. He bruised her arm and caused her head to whip from side to side.
     Tearing herself away, Torri ran to the other side of the bed and picked up the phone. “If you don’t leave immediately, I will call the police. Your other ‘wife’ went home to end your so-called marriage, which I’m going to do, too. I don’t want to see you, and I don’t want to hear you any more. Get out, now!”
     Mike glared at his wife before he turned, threw the door against the wall, and half ran down the hall, muttering, “I’ve got to get to her. I’ll make her understand ... ”
     When the front door slammed, Torri grabbed the clothes she had laid out for her trip and pulled the shirt over her head and her slacks over her legs and hips. She pushed her dirty clothes and remaining personal items in the bag waiting for them. She rushed to the children’s room, placed their clothes in the bag, and gathered their covers together, taking the blankets and the bag to the van. Next she loaded both children, who stirred but settled back to sleep when told they were going to visitGram and Gramps.
     Within thirty minutes, she had the Caravan heading north on Interstate 35. A blessed sense of relief spread over her when the minivan crossed the Red River bridge. Three hours later she pulled into the drive of the Victorian mansion which housed the Light House Inn northeast of Oklahoma City.
     She found her keys to the house in her purse, opened the van door, and slid from the vehicle, stretching and twisting her body to remove the kinks caused by sitting for over four hours behind the wheel. She allowed her attention to dwell on the house, her home from the time she was seven years old, after the death of her parents. During vacations before their deaths and while living there, she had explored the old building, playing games of pretense. The corner octagonal front towers had been castles with princesses hidden in their depths. The attic above the third floor provided a treasure hunt with many trunks and boxes. The wide front porch, just the right size and location for dreaming, found her snuggled in the swing before summer bedtimes.
     The house, built in 1900 by her great-great-grandfather for his two sons, had once been a matched duplex, but her grandfather had renovated it into a bed and breakfast with special apartments for his family and rooms filled with antique oil lamps. Now, the house with its sleeping occupants welcomed her and her children with open arms. Home, where she was loved and wanted. She carried her sleeping children individually into the house, around the carved entry stairs, and in the ancient elevator to the second floor room – next to her childhood tower-room – set aside for their use. Torri then walked back to lock her car and the front door. Wearily stumbling into the private family room at the rear of the first floor, she
curled her aching body into her grandfather’s favorite recliner, where he found her later that morning.
     “Torri, Torri, come on, wake up. You need to go to bed. Torri?” Gramps’ voice sounded miles away as he gently shook her. Finally, she opened her eyes to see his concerned face over her. “When did you get here, honey?”
     Torri yawned and stretched, then checked her watch before she answered, “About two hours ago.”
     “You should have awakened us.”
     “I didn’t want to disturb you. I just took the kids upstairs and then came in here because I needed to think, but guess I was more tired than I thought.”
      “Well, you look worse than tired.” Taking her hands in his callused ones, the tall, still vigorous seventy-year-old man pulled her to her feet. “Now, you head on to that bed. Bess and I will take care of the kiddos, and we’ll talk later. Scoot.”
     Torri gave her grandfather a tight hug and kissed his creased cheek. “Thanks, Gramps. I think I will get some rest before I plan what I’m going to do.” She started toward the door before she turned back. “One thing, though, if Mike should call, I don’t want to talk to him. I wish he wouldn’t, but I know he’ll figure we’ll be here. I don’t want to talk to him until I feel stronger and more in control than I am now.”
     “Is this a short-term separation?”
     “No, Gramps, this has to be permanent.” Yawning again, she shook her head to rid her mind of the cobwebs smothering her thinking. “I’ll explain everything later.”
     Unknown to Torri, Roy Gibbs watched his granddaughter stumble from the room, wondering what that sorry excuse for a man had done this time. He and Bess hadn’t said anything to Torri, hadn’t interfered in her marriage to Mike, but to stand by while her husband had belittled her, neglected her and the children, and lived as if he were single and unattached had been a struggle. A strong believer in the sanctity of marriage vows himself, Roy never did understand how a man could promise to love, honor, and cherish and go forth and betray, but he knew many did.
     “He never was any good for her.”
     “Who are you talking to, Roy?” Bess stood in the doorway studying her husband.
     “I was talking to myself. I found Torri down here asleep and sent her up to bed. I have a feeling that Mike did something very bad this time, but she said she’d talk later, that the separation is permanent.” He paused. “The little ones are asleep in their room.”
     “Well, I’ll go help Josie with breakfast so that we’ll be sure and
have something special for the children. Sometimes we don’t have food items that children really like to eat. I want Leann and Lyle to enjoy their breakfast.” Bess giggled. “You know, so it will be a good beginning for hopefully a long stay.”
     “Do we have many guests coming in today?”
     “A couple on their honeymoon, and the Randel family is staying another night. The Harms are checking out after breakfast. Everything is rather light this week, but next week has heavy reservations.”
     “We’ll manage then. I’ll go check on Lyle and Leann. Don’t want them to wake up and be afraid.”
     Crossing to her husband of fifty years, Bess reached up to frame his face with her hands; pulling his silver head close to hers, she brushed her lips across his. “You just want to be with the children, you old softy.”
     “Of course you plan on avoiding them, right?” Roy’s eyes searched her face, thinking she was still the prettiest woman he had ever seen. Gathering her into his embrace, he kissed her and smiled when, after withdrawing from his arms, she teasingly batted her eyelashes at him. He brushed the back of his fingers across her cheek, still satin-soft without wrinkles.
     When Bess laughed and left the room to make her way to the kitchen, Roy started for the back stairs to go to the children, thankful that they were safely under his roof once more. The sound of their laughter would gladden his heart. Their presence and Torri’s would lighten the worry about their well-being. He silently prayed that they would continue to be safe away from Mike’s influence and presence.

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