He heard her words. More importantly, he heard the tone of her voice. There was no way to ignore it. The passing storm had left the power out, and with the heat of summer, everyone's windows were open.
But this argument was different than all the others. Jake Stanton tried to shut out the bellows of his neighbors. He had even switched rooms, trying to escape the sound of it. The rage he heard only incensed him. He had to fight the urge to go over there and pound Brad Jackson's face to pulp.
Libby Jackson was a beauty. There had been a time when Jake would never have let the fact that she was married deter him. He would have taken what he wanted and left them to clean up the mess, but this one was different. There was something about her that made him want more than to win the game. He wanted her to come to him.
In the past, the Jackson's arguments had been one-sided for the most part. He would lay down the law and she would eventually capitulate. Not this time. This time, Libby was having her say.
"Fat? I'm fat? You go to hell," she yelled. "I did it all for you, you and your high Catholic morals. I been breeding your kids for five years now. God knows I love my children, but I wanted to wait. You wouldn't hear it, you ass. No birth control in this house, you said. Three kids and one miscarriage in five years! How the hell am I supposed to be the skinny trophy wife you want if I'm always pregnant? You did this to me and I was weak enough to let you."
Not to be outdone, Brad yelled back, "You're a lazy bitch. This house is a mess. The kids run wild. I work my ass off to buy you everything you want and all I get when I get home is soggy grilled cheese and canned soup. What the fuck do you do with all my money?"
"I pay the bills!"
Each word she screamed was separated by a brief pause, each syllable punctuated with impotent rage. Jake tried not to look, tried not to see through that open window, but he had no choice. He was drawn to it like a spectator at a bloody train wreck.
Her face was red and her body shaking as she faced her husband in the center of their living room. Jake could see the way her chest heaved outward as she drew another breath.
"There isn't much left to buy you steak every night, Brad," she continued. "What do you expect with three kids? You don't have any idea how much it costs for food and clothes for them. You're never here!"
"Well, maybe," Brad retorted, "if you weren't so disgusting to look at, I'd come home more often."
Jake was on his feet, letting an unread book slide from his lap. The woman was shattered, the fight seeming to leave her. Her shoulders slumped forward and her hands covered her face.
The man was pleased with himself, seeing how his barb had hit like a punch in the gut. Jake thought that Jackson would have done her a favor if he'd just shot her and got it over with. Libby looked to be crying, her curvy body shaking and shuddering.
Jake paced away from the window. He had his fists doubled, just itching to beat Jackson into a greasy spot. Once more, he stalked back to the window as he wrestled with his need to avenge poor Libby and take for his own.
Libby's head came up; her hands dropped to her sides. Her face was utterly calm as her voice dropped so low that Jake had to struggle to hear it.
"No more," she said. "I'm done. I want you out. Get out and take the stink of your whores with you. Take your rules and your high-handed bullshit, take it all and leave. I can't live like this anymore. You hear? I want you out."
Brad took a step closer to her. Jake saw the way he tried to intimidate the woman, but she didn't give an inch. She even lifted her chin a notch higher when the man started to yell again. Jake knew a moment of pride for her, and a moment of blinding hatred for Brad.
"This isn't your house, fat ass," Brad yelled. "It's my money that pays for it. You don't contribute shit."
"I think you forget that it was my savings that made the down payment, Brad," she answered without missing a beat. "You didn't want to buy a home. You said it was too much of a liability, remember? I put the money down and I made every payment from that paltry pittance you call my allowance and the money I make selling cosmetics. Don't even think that you're going to take it from me or my kids."
"They're my kids, too," Brad returned.
"That's just a matter of biology. It takes more than sperm to make a father and you fell short years ago. Get out."
"Fine," yelled Brad. "Keep your house and keep the kids. In a month you'll be starving and on the streets. Don't bother coming to me for help because I'll let you rot."
She stood there for a long time after Brad stalked from the room. Her body was rigid, her face calm. She looked like one of those Greek statues, serene in her determination and resignation. Not even the noise her husband made as he rummaged through the house packing could move her. She only flinched once when he slammed the door on his way out.
That's when she finally fell apart. After the smoke cleared and the house was silent, she let it go. If there was anything Jake couldn't stand, it was to see a woman cry, and this one was crying buckets. He couldn't understand it. She was finally rid of the son-of-a-bitch. She was free. Why was she crying about it?
He was never one to get involved with other people's problems and he knew that this wasn't the time to start. The poor woman wouldn't welcome a visit from him right now. He clawed at his face, scratching at the stubble that he hadn't bothered to shave off this morning. The situation left him feeling like he should do something, but what?
Snatching up his keys, Jake left the house. He thought that a drive would help to clear his mind and calm his anger, but two hours later, he returned feeling just as pissed off as before. He could see Libby's two older kids playing in their backyard. She must have gone to pick them up from wherever she'd left them earlier.
Smart of her to get them out before the big showdown, Jake thought. Libby was a good woman, always looking after her kids and trying her best to be everything that was expected of her. He remembered the day she'd moved in with her firstborn still an infant in her arms. His memory of that day was that he didn't remember a woman ever looking so beautiful.
Libby was quick with a smile, even when exhausted beyond words. But, as the song goes, a woman gets tired. Jake was sure that she'd reached her limit so many times before. This time, however, it didn't look like there was any going back. He hoped she didn't crack and let Brad back in her home.
Things were only going to get harder for her. Knowing Brad, he'd probably throw up roadblocks for the woman everywhere she turned. The guy was a bastard. It was beyond Jake's powers of comprehension how Libby had ended up with such a loser.
Jake shook his head at himself. Women were always his weakness. They were soft and sweet and smelled so good. They came in all shapes and sizes, everyone of them beautiful in her own way. They were always ripe and ready for his taking.
It was true that Libby had gotten bigger over the years, but she wore it well. She was curvaceous and sexy, with a hint of gentle innocence that Jake found especially appealing. Brad Jackson had to be the biggest idiot walking.
Now she looked especially tired when she carried her baby outside. Jake watched her struggle to herd two lively youngsters toward the door while rocking the wailing infant, but she never raised her voice. That pretty smile didn't appear, either. The woman must really be hurting inside.
The next day, as he drove to the office, Jake decided he had to do something to help. He couldn't just sit idly by while her world crumbled around her. There had to be some way to help her without upsetting her or making her feel like a charity case.
Her home didn't come cheap. It was smaller than most in his neighborhood. Even so, it was situated in an expensive area, surrounded by houses erected to be monuments to those who had "made it". It wouldn't be long before she would have to sell and move to something more affordable.
Move? That would spoil his plans. He looked forward every day to seeing her in the yard with the kids and that pretty smile on her face. Now he finally had a chance to get close to her. He would have to do something to keep her from leaving.
Libby was going to need a job. That wouldn't be easy for her with three small children to look after. What skills could the woman possibly have for the workplace? He'd heard enough talk at the office to know that child care didn't come cheap.
A plan started to formulate in his mind. It was just a glimmer of an idea that started to take substance as the day wore on.
Jake's businesses were thriving. Among them, he owned a growing advertising firm he had started some ten years earlier. He'd built it on the premise that his employees were the backbone of the organization. Without them and their talents, he would just be another small fish in a big pond.
Loyalty was a great commodity, and he earned that from his staff with the respect he gave and the benefits he offered. His new plan for Libby would add another perk for his people. All he had to do was sell it to her.
Jake didn't waste time. It wasn't in his nature. As soon as he got home, he walked across the lawn to knock on Libby's door. It was a harried woman that opened it. She looked as if she hadn't slept in a couple of days, but she was still beautiful.
"Hello, Jake," she said quietly. "I'm afraid Brad's not here."
.... There is more of this story ...