Solid Ground

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Chapter 21

Roast Beast Dressing

1/2 cup mayonnaise (if you live in the American South…Duke’s)

1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin olive oil

1 clove of crushed garlic

1 Tablespoon finely chopped chives

5 drops Worcester sauce

Salt and pepper to taste

Thoroughly mix all ingredients in a bowl and spread liberally on both sides of the bread (or his buns as Samuel said…remember he likes his spread thick). This dressing will turn leftover roast beef into something special for your man’s lunch. Don’t forget to use Jill’s dessert recipe for afterward, though.

Daniel pounded the bag like demons from the fires of hell. His body needed to release the frustrations and doubts that his mind refused to admit. The past four days had been fucking amazing. After his little fight with Samuel on Monday and his surprising afternoon romp in bed with his wife, that word still stuck in his throat sometimes, all should be right with the world. Except…

“Give the damned thing a break, man. What has it ever done to you?” asked the voice of his conscience and friend.

Daniel stepped back from pounding the leather surface of the punching bag. Walking to the side of the gym, he picked up his towel and wiped the sweat from his brow.

“Want to talk about it?”

“Gees, man, is that all you and that witch you married ever do? Talk about us and our lives?” Daniel lifted the bottle of water and downed most of it in a single gulp. If only he could quench other thirsts as quickly. But even after four days of the most spectacular sex of his life, he still could not let it go.

“I keep telling you, she’s a white witch,” Samuel smiled as he wiped his forehead. “And she doesn’t mean any harm, man.”

Daniel sighed, “Is nothing sacred with that woman?”

Samuel laughed, “Not much, buddy. And we just want to help. Be there for you both.”

Daniel shook his head at his friend’s latest offer.

“Is it what we talked about the other day? I mean, it’s going to take some time and patience.”

Daniel laughed this time. “Not as much as you think, old man.”

Samuel arched his brow and waited as they picked up their gym bags and headed out the door. Daniel toyed with things in his mind as they crossed the parking lot. True enough, Samuel and Simone had been his friends for almost fifteen years. They were among the few people who knew the dirty details of his first marriage. Simone more, even, than his best friend. Somehow this felt different. Raw.

But the truth was, if not for his conversation with Samuel on Monday, he might still be cooling his heels and stewing in his insecurities instead of enjoying his wife’s charms. Well, most of the time, anyway. “Things are good. I mean really good. Really,” he said in a low voice.

Samuel wrinkled his forehead, “Then I’d hate to see that poor dead cow if they weren’t.”

“No, I mean the sex is great. More than great.”

Samuel smiled, “For the rest of us, too. Thanks for the short days. But what’s the problem?”

Daniel leaned against his Explorer. “She’s still sleeping in the nursery with Britney and Ashley,” he almost whispered. Daniel just shook his head at the chuckle from his friend. “You have an awful sense of humor, my friend. Unless you’re looking to replace that bag, I’d recommend you stop laughing.”

His friend rubbed the side of his head and smiled. “No, thanks. I’m still having headaches from the other day.”

Daniel shook his head as he opened the back door and threw his bag onto the floorboard.

“Have you tried talking to her about it? Asking her.”

Daniel slammed the car door. “Fuck, man, you don’t invite your wife to sleep in your bed.”

“Maybe,” A knowing grin cut across Samuel’s face. “But then again, most marriages aren’t arranged, sight unseen, on the internet by meddling friends and mothers either.”

Daniel fought the urge to knock that smile from his friend’s face. But he grudgingly acknowledged that what he said made sense. “I’m getting tired of asking this fucking question, but now what, smartass?”

“Find a delicate way to bring the subject up with the missus. I don’t know. Maybe ask how the babies are sleeping. See if perhaps she is worried about them. Hell, Jess has been begging and pleading for her own room so damned long. Why don’t we all paint the basement for the kid? You could use the excuse that she needs the bed for her new room, maybe?”

Daniel frowned in thought. Samuel did have a point. Jess had been asking him to do just that for over two years. She hated pink and Barbie dolls almost as much as she disliked having to share space with her younger sister. It had been another of Rachel’s little points about why he should quit the Navy and go to work for the Dodds. So, they could afford a bigger house and give all the girls their own rooms.

“How about you bring the truck and meet me at the bus stop then? We can take the girls and make a quick run to the hardware store for drywall and some paint before dinner. Get started first thing tomorrow.”

“Sure, you don’t want to head there now?” Samuel teased.

“Hell, no. You ain’t the only one whose sexy wife is waiting at home for a nooner.”

Samuel slapped him on the back. “That’s the way to think, my friend. See you after a bit of… Skyrockets in flight, afternoon delight,” his deep baritone attempted a falsetto. The two parted laughing, smiling, and humming the old hit.


Jill had just set the bowls of diced ham, cheese, carrots, and Cheerios in front of Brit and Ash when the doorbell rang. Leaving the girls securely fastened in their highchairs, she turned towards the living room and the front door. Singing out, “I’m coming.”

When she opened the door, she was expecting to find Simone, Trisha, or one of the other wives. Instead, a tall and stocky blond man filled the doorway. She was not sure what it was, but something about the man threw her, made her decidedly uncomfortable. Her arms spread between the door; her body blocked his view of the house beyond. “Yes, may I help you?”

The man held out his hand, “I’m sorry. I forgot we didn’t meet at your wedding reception. You were holed up inside with Simone, I think.” The man smiled, but it only sent a shiver down her spine. Something about it was anything but genuine. “I’m Clay. Clay Dodd. I was in your husband’s unit a few years back.”

Jill relaxed her stance a bit. She tried to quiet the irrational voices in her mind. If this man served under Daniel, then he must be all right. Right? But somehow, the sentiment did not translate from her logical brain to the knots in her gut that screamed for her to beware.

“Mister Dodd, I’m afraid Daniel isn’t in right now, but we expect him shortly,” she replied stiffly.

“Mind if I wait inside?”

Jill was sure that smile usually got the man whatever he wanted, but it did nothing to quiet that voice inside her. She wanted to scream, ‘yes, yes, I mind.’ But without some logical reason, she could not afford to be rude to one of Daniel’s men. Things had been going so well for them this week. Well, almost anyway. “I suppose it will be fine. I was just feeding the little ones.”

“I don’t mind. I haven’t seen my girls in a long time until the other night,” he gave her another of those smiles that failed to move her the way it might other women.

She stepped back to allow the man entry. A shiver ran down her spine as he brushed a little too close against her; that smile broadened. Jill closed the door and turned towards the kitchen. “I need to check on the girls. Have a seat in here. I’m sure Daniel won’t be long,” she knew she was stammering, but there was little she could do to control this irrational reaction to the man.

“If it’s okay, I’d like to hang out with you and the twins in the kitchen. As I said, I haven’t seen much of my girls since…” his words hung in the air. “Rachel was a dear friend, and I was quite fond of the little angels before…Well, before their mother’s untimely death.”

Jill nodded. The man’s affection for the toddlers was another reason that should have soothed some of her concerns, but for some reason, it did not.

Walking into the kitchen, she smiled at the mess about her. Britney and Ashley had managed, in only the couple of moments that she was gone, to throw as much of their food on the floor, as they had eaten. Maybe even more. Jill knew that playing with their food was as important at this age as eating it. Picking up the little pieces allowed them to develop their fine motor and hand-eye coordination. So after four boys, she did not mind the mess.

The man was another matter as he obviously looked around the small kitchen. “They have grown so much. I remember when Rachel was pregnant with them. She always complained about how active they were. Their kicking kept her up half the night.”

Jill tried to focus, gain whatever information she could about her mysterious predecessor. But she could not seem to fight off this feeling. It was one that she had felt only twice before. She hoped with all her heart that this did not end as badly as those other times.

“You said you were friends with Rachel?” she probed as she grabbed a dishcloth from the kitchen sink. She began to clean Britney’s hand as she snuck a quick glance at the clock on the wall. She just hoped like hell that Daniel would be back early as he had all of this past week. If he tarried the way that he had before… Well, it simply did not bear thinking about.

That smile was back again. It reminded Jill of another man’s, the tiny hairs on her arms stood on end once more.

“Yes,” he boasted. “Our fathers run in the same business circles in New York and Washington. Although we had never met until I joined Daniel’s team, we shared many of the same friends.”

Jill nodded as Simone’s words came back to here. She began to connect the dots in her mind, which perhaps explained her unease with the man. But what could she do now? She focused on washing Britney’s hands and face. Removing the soiled bib, she turned her efforts to Ashley. The man came to stand right behind her, once again brushing against her until she moved away.

“It was refreshing having someone more…” He bent to pick up Britney as Jill fought back the desire to push him away from her charge. “Someone more worldly in these godforsaken backwaters.”

Jill frowned at his words. “I don’t understand, Mister Dodd. If you don’t like this place and no longer serve under Daniel, why would you stay?”

“Unfinished business,” the way he said it made Jill’s blood freeze, and her heart skip several beats. She wanted to vomit. She wanted to grab the girls, run, and hide. Jill willed herself to breathe through the fear.

Her mind kicked into the cognitive behavioral therapy that she had undergone after. After the other. It was just fear. Her mind was playing tricks on her. Her body was responding with the irrational fight or flight syndrome.

Jill chose to fight. She picked Ashley up and reached out for Britney. The man brushed his hand against the side of her breast in the exchange. She immediately recoiled at his touch.

“Sorry,” he mumbled with that snake oil smile.

Jill ignored his comment. “I don’t know what is keeping Daniel. He has been getting home earlier this week.”

“Oh yes, the boys preparing for a deployment. Making sure the little ladies on the home front have something to think about while they’re gone. Tide them over.”

If she had been uncomfortable before, the man’s brazen words made her more so. Her cheeks flushed scarlet. Perhaps she was just over-reacting. This was America. Possibly her years of British reserve had just tainted her views of polite conversation.

“Rachel always hated these times,” he purred.

The fact that this man knew something so intimate about Daniel’s first wife sent the alarm bells clanging even louder in her head. “I can imagine. It is never easy knowing what is ahead. The uncertainty that the people you love face. The danger. I’m sure she would be very concerned for her husband.”

His laughter at her words reminded Jill of the villain in some bad nineteen-fifties horror movie. “Oh, that was not what worried the Ice Princess. She could not care less about what happened over there. It was her wifely duties before she hated.”

The man stared at her. His gaze traveled over her curves. For the first time, Jill felt exposed in the long sundress. She was aware of the way its halter top hugged and lifted her full breasts. And when the man’s gaze lingered there, she wished she had chosen something else. Something that had a bra with it for sure. But she had not dressed for uninvited company. She had dressed for him. Her husband.

“I bet that isn’t a problem for you,” he winked. “Heard that you heated up that damned tradition.” He took a step closer to her, and Jill tightened her grip on the babies drawing them from where they rested on her hip closer to her heart. Offering her a bit of protection from his bold stares at her cleavage. “Just remember, if you get lonesome while the ‘hero’ is away, I’m always around.”

If Jill’s hands had not been filled with the babies, she might have well slapped his arrogant face. But as it was, she simply made her excuses. “Yes, well, it is time for the babies to get their afternoon nap. I don’t know what is keeping Daniel, but I’ll let him know you stopped by.” Her head tilted towards the door, “Let me see you out.”

The man chuckled. “Maybe I was wrong. Another Ice Princess. Poor commander.”

Jill moved towards the door with both girls in her arms and was thankful to run into the broad chest of her husband. For a moment, it felt as if she could breathe again. Until she saw the hard, cold expression on his face.

“Dodd,” he said, just the single word.

“Hello, commander. I just thought I would stop by for a bit. Meet your new wife properly. I did not get the chance to stick around the reception you remember,” the men held one another’s stares as the tensions increased. Looking at Jill, he continued. “I have to say she is not what I expected. Nothing like Rachel.”

Jill blushed at his words, a vicious reminder of other’s words. She was thankful when Daniel stepped forward and took Britney from her arms, draping his other arm about her shoulder.

“Yes, well, it’s time for the girls’ nap. So, I’m afraid I’ll have to cut this visit short, buddy,” Jill could hear the chill in her husband’s voice at that last word.

“Well, there is one more thing, actually. I just wanted to stop by and let you know that my father’s offer still stands. In fact, I could probably get him to add another ten grand or so,” he smiled at Jill once more. “A wedding present, of sorts.”

“The answer is still no.”

“Come on, man. At least say you’ll think about it. I know that the Navy isn’t paying you peanuts, but our offer is almost triple what you make now. I’m sure that the new wife wouldn’t mind a nice diamond wedding ring or a new car. You got to treat’em right to keep’em.”

It was Jill that stepped forward this time. ” Mister Dodd, I support my husband’s decision one-hundred percent. This world needs more honorable men like him and his team. I would think that you of all people would understand that.”

The man shook his head, “Honor does not pay the bills or provide those girls with the best private education available,” he reached out to tweak Ashley’s nose. The baby screamed immediately.

“My daughters, my family, is none of your concern, Dodd,” Jill felt Daniel’s arm tighten about her shoulders as he spoke.

“Do you think Rachel would see it that way? You’ve virtually kicked her family out of their lives. Heather says you still have not said a word to them about your new marriage. And now you want to kick Rachel’s only real friend around here out, too. What you got to hide, my friend?”

Jill watched the muscles flex in Daniel’s jaw. She could feel the pent up energy course through him. She slipped her free arm about his waist to offer what measly comfort she might.

“Trust me, buddy. Whatever I have to hide is nothing compared to some people. Excuse me if I don’t feel the need to share the intimate details of my life with the woman that tried to take my daughters from me.”

Turning to Jill, he handed Britney back to her. He brushed a kiss across his daughters’ foreheads and a brief one across her lips. “You go ahead and put the girls down for their nap, sweetheart. I’ll see Mister Dodd out.”

Jill thought about protesting. She wondered exactly how her husband would see the man out. She smiled at the image of his boot to the man’s ass. Not that their guest did not deserve it.

As if sensing her concerns, he swatted her bottom and smiled. “Go ahead. This will be quick.”

“I’m sure it will be, Commander,” the other man added snidely.

Jill saw the stares exchanged between the men and decided that a hasty retreat might be a good idea. The babies did not need to see or hear what was about to transpire. And honestly, she did not want to be around for these fireworks either.

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