FOUR

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Virginia's arms were getting sore. Damn these nails. Why had she listened to the manicurist? She'd gone in for a simple polish and, one hour and sixty bucks later, come out with a full set of sculpted gels that were only going to slow her down. Like now. Whoever had invented the lobster clasp clearly didn't have nails.

Giving up and dragging the necklace back down, she studied her reflection in the mirror. She'd been successful in finding an evening gown for the fundraiser. And the search hadn't been too painful, either. The simple elegance of the mermaid-style dress was what had drawn her to it. The halter top bodice joined a form-fitting skirt that clung to the upper thigh before letting loose and flaring out in an abundant ruffle to the ground. Pale green satin complemented the tiny bit of color she had managed to get over the summer. With her dark hair pinned up in a soft style, she was almost unrecognizable in the bedroom mirror. She turned to and fro, captivated by the soft fabric as it surged and slowly settled around her ankles.

Janine walked up to stand beside her, wide-eyed. "Mommy, you're a princess."

Leaning down, Virginia planted a kiss on a soft cheek. "Thanks, sweetie, but I'm afraid you are the only princess in this house."

There was a giggle, a twirl, and then she was skipping her way back out of the room just as Tom entered, fidgeting with his watch. Stopping beside him, Janine reached over and tugged on his jacket. "Doesn't she look pretty, Daddy?"

"Yes," he appeased without looking. Then, much to Virginia's astonishment, he did glance over, surprise brightening his eyes before offering, "Nice dress."

"Thanks," she said, knowing that would be the extent of his compliments. "You look nice too." It was true—Tom always looked handsome in his tuxedo. He was tall and thin and the cut of a suit flattered his body. His hair was graying early but he didn't dye it, claiming the salt-and-pepper locks made him appear more experienced and trustworthy. Not wanting to be the one to cancel his little ego trip, she didn't offer her opinion that those things were earned, not given.

She held up the necklace in front of her. "Do you mind?" It was one he had bought her years ago for their first anniversary. The diamond pendant wasn't much in the carat category, but he had scrimped and saved for months to afford it. She treasured it for that very reason.

"Sure."

She turned back to the mirror as he came up behind her. He took the delicate chain in his hands and lowered it to her chest, his arms floating down to her shoulders to secure the clasp. "Done." He lingered behind her. "I remember that necklace." His voice was soft, almost remorseful.

She found his face in the mirror, but his gaze wasn't on the necklace—it had drifted down to her cleavage. Catching her catching him, he cleared his throat and turned away. Without another word, he left the room. Inwardly she cringed, hoping this wasn't going to be an evening where Tom would consume a few too many drinks and decide to bless her with one of his infrequent visits to her bedroom.

Virginia sighed. Whenever she allowed her thoughts to go down that path, she always felt like a failure. True, the separate rooms had been Tom's idea when they moved into the new house, claiming her shift work disturbed his sleep. She was just as much to blame, though, having gone along with it. Such a great way to put the pass in passion, their sex life was pretty much nonexistent.

Maybe she'd gone too far with this trying-to-look-nice thing. She never knew how to refuse him since he was, after all, her husband, but in all honesty, she could have given up sex altogether. The few times it did occur between them, it felt like they were both simply going through the motions.

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