THE CATALYST by Sandra K. Marshall
Dark revelations and secret love lead to personal resurrection.
Carolyn Madison didn't kill her husband but didn't mourn him either. The rapist deserved to die, or at least she thought so. Beneath a myriad of family secrets, Carolyn drags the skeletons out of the closet and in the arms of her true love, learns to love again.
Walt Tollhouse has pined for Carolyn since she was a shy seventeen-year-old. Little did he know Robert Dubois would steal her away, and then destroy the beautiful spirit he still loved? Beneath the guise of clean-up man, the martial arts instructor never pushes his battered love but gives her the silent support she deserves.
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Where is the devil?
From the doorway, Carolyn Madison’s gaze sharpened as she scanned the room. Her traitor ex wouldn’t miss the opening of a new ballroom at his favorite riverboat casino in Kansas City. She couldn’t wait to tell him the Odyssey casinos were still hers. Great. He’s not here to ruin her evening.
Even after their divorce, Robert Dubois retained a position at the Odysseys. It galled Carolyn that her father had allowed her ex to remain on the board, although she knew Daddy wouldn’t have if he’d known the crime Robert had committed against her.
Unclenching her hands, she took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. She slid her moist palms down her black Halston evening dress.
Lanterns graced the walls, giving out a dim orange glow. Large, terra cotta pots of purple flowers and green shrubbery scattered throughout the area and a large fountain standing in the center added authenticity to the Mediterranean-style room.
Long tables were filled with hors d’oeuvres of Greek spinach and cheese pastries, spinach salads, and dishes of chicken, pork, and lamb. Ice sculptures of dolphins playfully cavorted at one end. The tantalizing smells of garlic, oregano, and basil from the serving pans conflicted with the guests’ perfumes as they enveloped her.
Women in elegant gowns and men in tuxedos stood in groups, chatting while sipping champagne. She’d created the perfect spot to entertain the high rollers, proving she was capable of running the casinos. The company was still hers despite Robert’s schemes.
Strolling into the room, she sidestepped people as she maneuvered through the crowd, waving and smiling when she heard her name.
The touch of a hand on her arm made her turn. Carolyn smiled at the tanned, prematurely white-haired man who was their head of security and board member, too.
“Hello, Walt. I didn’t think I would see you tonight.”
She’d always talked to Walt Tollhouse more than with other men. In the last month since he’d informed her of Robert’s treachery, she’d spent more time with him and grown to trust him.
He grinned. “I wouldn’t miss your party for anything.”
“Thanks. I know you hate crowds and don’t usually attend these shindigs, so I appreciate your coming.” Walt’s dark brown eyes crinkled with a softness she’d never seen before and brought back a memory of being in love with him as a teenager.
The CIA had grabbed him for covert operations in the Middle East, and when he had come back, she was married. Still, the last few weeks stirred a longing she hadn’t known in years. She regretted not having waited until he came home instead of jumping into a loveless marriage.
“Is the board meeting on for tomorrow?”
“Yes. Changes need to be made immediately.” Carolyn knew Walt worried about the company. Robert had sold out to a competitor by hiring one of their people. He’d made it necessary for her to run the company in order to protect it from a takeover when her father died a few months ago. She’d called a special meeting to let the other members know he’d been removed from the board.
“Good.” Walt patted her shoulder. “I’ll be there.”
“I’m grateful for your extra effort and support, Walt.” She reached out and embraced him, her cheek brushed the lapel of his gray tux, and she noted his wide chest and clean good-guy smell. “We would’ve lost the Odysseys if not for you and my father.” She gazed at him with gratitude. He’d helped her to find the courage to do what she was doing.
His arms enclosed her in a brief clasp, then he stepped back and dropped his hands to his sides. “I’d never let that happen.”
“I know you wouldn’t.” Carolyn squeezed his arm, touching solid muscle. She regarded him more closely. He was a handsome man even at fifty, and a good friend to her family as well as head of security. They’d met when he’d worked as a cashier at the casino while getting his college degree. Back then, their age difference had seemed enormous; today it wasn’t such a stretch. Five years didn’t seem as much now.
She’d avoided men since her divorce from Robert twenty years ago after six years of putting up with his affairs. It could be time for her to move on with her life. The thought made her decide she'd better go mingle because she didn’t know if she was ready to share her time with someone. Her fear of Robert shouldn’t deprive her of other relationships. Her existence since becoming a mother was devoted to her children. Now that they were grown, it was time for her to move on.
“I’ll see you tomorrow at the meeting, Walt.”
“Okay. I’ll stay awhile longer to make sure a crisis doesn’t pop up this evening.”
“Thanks.” Smiling, she started to walk away, but stopped in time to keep from bumping into a group.
A twinge of a headache settled in her temples, and she rubbed the right side of her head. After a few moments the pressure lifted. There were guests to be entertained.
Carolyn waved to several people, then she spotted her children and decided to join them.
She was proud of them for working their way up in the company. Her oldest, Alan, dressed in his usual conservative dark suit, and her oldest daughter, Jolene, were total opposites. She was a peacock in a multicolored gown. Her youngest, Melanie, at twenty-two, wore a simple black sheath similar to her mother’s.
Melanie resembled a younger version of Carolyn, petite and pale. She clashed with this daughter because they were so much alike but mostly due to Robert’s influence on Melanie. At sixteen, Melanie had become rebellious, and her father encouraged her mutiny. He'd thought it was funny to turn her daughter against her. Although Jolene and Alan had their father’s dark hair and his height, six feet, they were nothing like him otherwise.
She turned to invite Walt, but he was gone. A movement in the doorway attracted her attention and her gaze fell on her ex.
He’s here. A spurt of anger slashed through her brain, the headache of a moment ago now screaming. She sped toward the entry where Robert stood, noting several ladies waved at him. Why would anyone be interested in a thieving, no-good drunk? Even though appearance wasn’t everything, his
excessive drinking had put lines on his face and added pounds to his belly.
She wove her way around people while fury surged into her chest like acid at the memories of his deeds.
She saw that he’d spied her and he turned away. He’d run, of course. Usually, since their divorce, she avoided him, so he had to know she was onto him. She pushed through the exit. He wouldn’t get away. She would let him know she’d learned of his devious plan in time to foil him.
“Darn it.” She tottered on stilettos and grabbed the rail just in time to prevent a tumble onto the bridge of wooden planks between the boat and land. Panic seized her, and she wondered if she was doing the right thing by confronting Robert; he had a history of violence.
Yes, the time had come for her to beat down her fears. She glanced ahead at the tree-lined and dimly lit parking lot. The shadows scared her, but she still followed him and reached his assigned spot before he could pull away.
She banged on the window. “Robert. Stop! I want to talk to you now. Be a man for once.” A man? Not likely. He was a rat; a big fat rodent, who sniffed and hunted for his next female victim. The motor revved and tires squealed. She jumped back when the black BMW’s back fender grazed her hip.
“You’re despicable, Robert!” She banged her hand down on the fender of the car next to her.
“Carolyn, are you all right?” Walt ran toward her. He reached for her and pulled her close. He rubbed his hands up and down her arms. “You’re not injured, are you?”
“No.” She wobbled and leaned against him. She wanted to melt into his dark chocolate eyes, but instead pushed him away. Their contact alarmed her--she liked his touch too much. Carolyn didn’t think she was ready for intimacy but maybe...“I-I’m fine.” Her hip ached like the devil.
“I’ll get him for this. Robert won’t harm you again.” He patted her shoulder tenderly. “Go back to the party. I’ll take care of Robert.”
What did he mean? Carolyn stared after Walt as he dashed off. She touched her arms where he’d stroked her. They radiated heat like dice rolled between two palms.
Would this gentle man really harm Robert? Remembering the stories of how he’d saved people at great risk to himself while in the Middle East, she shuddered.
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