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Sins and Secrets -- inda Steinberg

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Sins & Secrets
Contemporary Women's Fiction

On her forty-sixth birthday Rita Talley’s perfectly compartmentalized world is shattered. After a traumatic divorce, she thought she’d finally achieved personal and financial independence. Her children are grown, the business she built out of desperation--a training and employment agency specializing in displaced homemakers like herself--is thriving. Even her love life is easy and uncomplicated. Until she learns she’s pregnant. Wrestling with an agonizing decision no woman should have to make, Rita finds herself dealing with emotions she thought she’d banished from her life.

After thirty years as the dutiful corporate wife, Joanna Faraday can no longer deny that her husband is involved with another woman. Finally ready to rediscover herself, she seeks the counsel of a woman who’s been there and helped others past it. The businesswoman she admires most: Rita Talley of Talley’s Temps. Entangled in secrets and lies, the two women form an unlikely friendship. But if Joanna learns that her mentor is her husband’s pregnant mistress, the betrayal will cut deeper than her husband’s cheating ever did.




The word hovered in the air like an atomic cloud, freezing time, halting breath, and ending life as Rita Talley knew it. Swallowing her breath mint, she stared across the desk at her gynecologist. "You’re kidding, right?"

Dr. Carter tapped his pen against his Dallas Cowboys coffee mug. "The lab ran your test twice.”

"But I'm forty-six years old!” Today. The mint stuck in her throat like a shard of glass. "How could this happen?"

"I assume, the usual way.” Dr. Carter's eyes twinkled through black-rimmed bifocals. "The alternatives of modern science have not improved on the original method."

“Not funny, Doctor.” Rita tried to focus on the framed diplomas above his head, but the Latin words blurred into ominous inkblots. "I thought I was past this. My periods have been irregular for over a year. When they stopped, I thought..."

Dr. Carter reached across the desk for her hand. Her clenched fingers shuddered in his grip. "Menopause is a long, slow process. Sometimes one of its side effects is an unexpected pregnancy."

 God, she felt stupid. She withdrew her hand, willing it to steadiness. “How far along?”

“I’d say eight to ten weeks. Possibly twelve. When was your last menstrual period?”

“I...I’m not sure.” It was five months since she’d last spotted, but she couldn’t be that far along. To be safe, they’d continued to use contraception for a couple more months, so at most she was...She gripped the arms of her chair. "Isn't it dangerous to have a baby at my age?"

"There is a greater risk of abnormality when the mother is over forty.” Dr. Carter smiled encouragingly. “But you've delivered two healthy children, and at this time I have no cause for concern. Most ‘caboose’ babies are born healthy and normal."

Healthy and normal. Every mother’s prayer. But would it be happy? Rita flexed her fingers. How could she raise a baby at her age? With her hectic schedule? Alone? Anxiety flushed her face, warming its way to panic.

“Due to your age, we will do an amniocentesis,” he said. “And since you’re unsure of your last menses, let’s do an ultrasound to determine the baby’s age.” He stood, crossed to the doorway, and motioned for the nurse.

“Today?” Her eyes strained at their sockets. Why did he have to keep using the word ‘baby’? It wasn’t a baby yet.

"Rita.” The doctor’s eyes read her concern and added his own. "You do want this baby?"

"I don't know.” She massaged her forehead to ease the dull ache. "This is so..."

"Unexpected. I understand.” Dr. Carter cleared his throat. "I'm sure you'd like to discuss this with the baby's father.” His tone commanded rather than suggested. “You can bring him with you for the ultrasound.”

Rita met her white-haired gynecologist’s judgmental eyes, her cheeks flaming. The baby’s father! How would she tell him that they...that she... She couldn’t phrase the words, even in thought. That would make it real.

Ushering her to the doorway, Dr. Carter handed her a slip of paper. “Stop by the front desk and schedule an appointment for Friday. We’ll talk more after we see the pictures,” he said with maddening calm. Then he shut the door behind her.

The walls wavered and folded in like a collapsing deck of giant cards in a fun house. Rita fought her way down the swaying hallway past alcohol-fumed exam rooms and a blur of nurses in hot pink smocks. In the pastel pink and blue waiting room, smiling pregnant women paged through baby magazines. Two more happy mommies-to-be crowded the elevator, one dressed in a turquoise Mexican tent dress, the other in a tight tee shirt with the word BABY and an arrow pointing down. Their burgeoning stomachs bounced toward each other with each lilt of the descent. They eyed Rita’s crisp linen suit and business pumps as if she were an alien invading Planet Pregnancy.

She clutched her shoulder bag closer to her body and stepped out onto the main floor. Why did this have to happen now? Just when she'd finally clawed her way out of the stress pit Tom had dumped her into? Every aspect of her life--her work, her family, even her sex life--was neatly compartmentalized in its proper place. She answered to no one but herself. A lonely existence at times, but at least she controlled her own life.

Until today.

The aromas of over-brewed coffee and almost-stale glazed donuts emanated from the snack bar off the lobby. Rita’s stomach dipped and twisted. She forced a deep breath and walked faster.

Outside, the heavy hand of Texas heat smacked her in the face. Only ten o'clock and already an oven. The temperature was expected to hit 102° today, 112° factoring in the humidity.

Rita grappled with the door handle of her cherry red Porsche, trying not to burn her fingers. Her chin-length hair clung to her neck. Her suit jacket smothered like a coat of armor. As she slipped into the driver’s seat, she imagined squeezing an extra thirty pounds between the upholstery and the steering wheel.

Pregnant in Dallas in August. She plucked a wad of tissues from her purse and mopped perspiration beads from her forehead. Why her? Why not Holly? Rita’s daughter and son-in-law had been trying for three years to get pregnant.

She eased the Porsche into gear and out of the parking lot, cranking up the air conditioner to max. Glancing skyward, she let out a breath. Is this Your idea of a joke?

The only response was the sudden appearance of a four-foot wide pothole.

Swerving, she merged into the snail-paced, mid-morning traffic. Mentally calculating the first time they’d had sex without a condom. May fifth. Cinco de Mayo. Mexican Independence Day. She remembered laughing about celebrating their independence from birth control. What if she’d gotten pregnant that night? She counted weeks on her fingers. And groaned. Worst-case scenario, she was already into her second trimester.

Why had she waited so long to complain about breast soreness and the nausea she’d assumed went along with menopause? Depending on the results of the sonogram, she might only have a few weeks to make a decision. If it wasn’t too late already.

God, she felt so alone. From Dr. Carter’s disapproving frown, she surmised that if she chose to...not have the baby, she’d have to travel that road without her personal physician.

And if she chose to keep it, she’d have to raise this child with even less help than she’d had from the father of the first two.

The choice was simple, from a practical standpoint. And Rita was a practical woman. Even if her capricious body had reeled her back into childbearing age, her heart and mind were definitely past child-rearing age. Her life was settled. Comfortable. Self-directed. If she wanted to keep it that way, she just needed to do what a woman had to do. And yet...

Her fingers grazed her Pilates-flat stomach. It was silly even to think there might be movement this early, and yet she felt, or thought she felt...the embryonic stirrings of her child. His child.