Nicole Thurston was used to the finer things in life. It was one of the many benefits of marrying her husband, Adam. As far as the public knew, she was an heiress, the daughter of a condo developer who was notorious in Chicago. What they didn't know was that the fortune had been squandered long ago, and the wealth of her family was just an idea, at best; a theory of sorts. She was rich on paper. But none of that mattered anymore, because she had the financial security she craved. And her father could just go to hell for all she cared, despite the fact that he had arranged Nicole's introduction to Adam by way of his late father.
No, the only thing that was troubling the redhead at the moment was her apparent inability to conceive a child with Adam. At the age of thirty-four, the entire culture was letting her know that her biological clock was ticking, and in her opinion, she needed something more tangible than a diamond wedding ring to keep him safely attached to her. He was a politician, and she knew that was dicey territory. She didn't so much care if he had affairs, but what if he decided he wanted someone younger, fertile, and God forbid ... foreign. Whenever she thought about it, that whole Mark Sanford business came to mind.
She idly straightened a photo hanging on the foyer wall, killing time until Adam arrived home for the night. Nicole always made sure to be there when he got home; she believed in the old fashioned ideal of a wife, save for the house cleaning and chores, of course. She had a stable of maids and housekeepers for that.
Now that the campaign for mayor was really starting to pick up steam, Adam considered himself lucky if he was able to walk through the front door before midnight. As much as he had to go all around the city, making his case for running Chicago, Adam was glad he wasn't running for the state legislature -- or the United States Senate, like his late father did. The travel and time demands those elections would've entailed would've been far worse. As it was, Adam was considerably beat as he walked into the vast foyer leading into his house's living quarters, green tie loosened around his neck.
Setting down his briefcase, Adam turned his cell phone to silent. He didn't want any staffers or aides bothering him for the rest of the night. Whatever crisis came about, whatever conclusion the latest poll numbers reached, they could wait until the morning. Adam just wanted a quiet evening with his wife for once.
"I'm home," he announced, walking into the living room. Once he laid eyes on Nicole, Adam's lips curled into a smile for the first time in what seemed like days. Giving speech after speech talking about the vampire menace and railing against the moral degradation of Chicago's populace didn't give him much time to offer a smile. Smiling didn't indicate a steely moral resolve that Adam was trying to get across.
Nicole was quick to provide Adam with a kiss, taking his jacket for him and hanging it in the massive hallway closet. The affection was non-sexual, as she believed that the other kind of overtures should only be displayed in the bedroom. It just seemed ... cheap, to do anything on the furniture that was accessible by guests. "How was your day? Oh, and Liza whipped up something for dinner tonight, I can warm the plate up for you if you're hungry." She gave her husband a smile and led him into the dining room, which was set, as always, with china and candles.
Her heels clicked against the marble floor, an accent she had once admired about the house, but which she now found slightly aggravating. But then, she was somewhat fickle about decor and wardrobe, overhauling both every few months whenever Adam wasn't paying particular attention to the accounts.
"That would be great," Adam agreed, plopping himself down at the dining table once he'd been led into the room. He hadn't had anything to eat since lunch, which consisted of a quick plate of chicken wings and celery sticks from the buffet at a downtown event at 11 that morning. One thing about running for public office -- it didn't leave much time for honest, home-cooked food.
Honestly, it was a wonder Adam was getting a gut.
"Spoke with Archbishop Callahan this morning," he said, watching Nicole put together a plate. He didn't know what was on the menu tonight, but he was so hungry, he really didn't care. "Looks like I'll have the backing of Chicago's Catholic community."
She smiled, placing the plate in the state-of-the-art microwave and putting it on five minutes, just like Liza had instructed her. It was so nice finding a woman who could both clean and cook, instead of having to hire two separate people. Maybe she'd raise her salary by a dollar; that seemed reasonable. "Well, of course. They seem to be the only people with values anymore. You know, my sister was telling me her husband convinced her to try this new Episcopal church ... one of the preachers is a lesbian. Things are so distorted, aren't they?"
Nicole set the plate in front of her husband when it was done. It was some sort of Italian dish with steak and pasta. She poured a glass of wine for him and then took the seat opposite him with a glass for herself. She'd wait until he was finished eating before asking him about what the housekeeper had found in his laundry earlier.
"Next thing you know, there will be vampire preachers." Her delicate lip curled in disgust.
A dyke priest?" Adam scoffed, shaking his head. "It's a wonder she doesn't burst into flames up there on the altar."
Cutting into the steak and taking his first bite, Adam shook his head. The only business gays had being in a church was if they were turning to the Lord to rid them of their sin. The idea of one of them preaching the word of God was almost sickening. Thankfully, this dish was so good -- particularly the pasta - that any queasiness was easily squashed. Still, it was a disgusting thought.
"It wouldn't surprise me," Adam said, pausing to swallow another bite, "if there was some undead preacher out in the middle of nowhere, praising Satan and plotting the end of the world."
She stared at the damask table cloth contemplatively, the object currently nestling in the pocket of her Marc Jacobs pencil skirt practically burning a hole against her thigh. Nicole wanted to say something about it, but not when Adam had just come home, and not while they were on this subject which, admittedly, she had accidentally steered them into. "The fertility doctor called me this morning," the redhead informed him. "He laid out the different options I have. He emphasized how much it all cost, as if money is an object where our future children are concerned." She gave a mean-spirited, dismissive laugh. "He's lucky he's the most recommended doctor in Illinois, or I wouldn't take such presumptuousness from him. He actually suggested that if this doesn't work out, that we adopt. I'd use a surrogate before that happened, and you know how I feel about that."
Under the table, her pale hands were trembling slightly. Despite the confident way she talked about the subject, and despite the money and resources they possessed, Nicole's greatest fear was that she would never have children that were truly her own. In the place deep down inside her that wasn't tarnished and hardened by her cold, moneyed upbringing lay the tender, raw part of her that knew it wasn't just about keeping Adam around. She really did love him, and she wanted the whole package that marriage was supposed to bring. Damnit, she deserved it.
"Please," Adam scoffed. "If, by some stroke of bad luck, we don't have the money, I've got a Republican friend in the Senate who's in real tight with the insurance industry. If we have to, I'll give him a call and have Blue Cross or whoever cut a check for us."
Not that Adam expected that to be necessary; both he and Nicole were well off enough, thanks to their respective family fortunes, that something as inconvenient as a medical bill wouldn't constitute so much as a drop in the bucket for them. The mayoral candidate took a few moments to continue eating, polishing off the steak before working his way through the rest of the pasta. He hadn't really gotten to his wine yet, but he would eventually.
"We are not gonna have some little third-world bastard running around this house spreading around his AIDS," Adam spoke again. "We are not some spoiled Hollywood actress playing grown-up after she divorced a guy old enough to be her father. You will have a baby, and it will be as God intended a woman to have a baby.
Promises didn't usually mean squat for a politician, but in this case, Adam fully intended on keeping it. He could care less whether he kept his word to the general public -- they were all misguided and idiotic degenerates anyway. But this was his wife they were talking about; the only person in the world Adam truly cared about, other than himself.
Nicole finally felt the muscles in her face relax, and she gave her husband a rare, genuine smile that she reserved only for him. If the antique oak table weren't so wide, she'd lean over and touch his hand tenderly. "You're right," she said, the tight knot that resided in her solar plexus slowly uncoiling. His promises always made her feel better. It was so nice to have a husband who was authoritative and strong, and not one of these new, liberal pansies like the one her impressionable younger sister had attached herself to.
"Oh, Adam. I can't wait until we welcome our first child into the world. I know he'll be just like you, handsome, smart and ambitious." Despite the fact that, internally, Nicole was wishing and hoping for a girl, she knew a boy would please him more; someone to carry on the Thurston legacy.
Polishing off the rest of his pasta, Adam wiped the corners of his mouth with the napkin before grabbing his wine glass and taking that first sip. He preferred scotch at the moment, but he knew wine went better with dinner. Besides, the night was still relatively young; he could still gave that glass of scotch before turning in for the night.
The following day promised to be light, compared to the rest of his week thus far. If Adam was as lucky as he thought he was, he might manage to make it home before midnight two nights in a row.
What a feat that would be.
"The state's Republican Party is hosting a family values dinner next month," he announced. "They'd very much like for us to attend, since they want me to give one of the speeches." He shrugged, took another swig of wine. "I'm not keynote speaker, but it'll be a great chance for media coverage."
"I'll be proud, as always, to be on your arm."
Her smile widened as she came around the table. His proximity, his scent, still managed to send a thrill of excitement through her. Nicole wasn't an innocent young girl anymore, but that suited her just fine. Behind closed doors, she knew just how to push all of Adam's buttons, and it didn't hurt to remind him of that fact. She leaned in, her custom-tailored blouse offering him a tantalizing view of her curves, and pressed her lips firmly against his, her manicured hand resting on his chest.
"I'm going to get ready for bed," she told him. "I'll be with you shortly." The redhead retreated, her smile taking on a mischievous note as she headed for her private dressing room. Once in that sheltered privacy, she took the small glass vial out of her pocket and held it up the light, studying it. There was a patina of red inside it, dried and flaking. There was no mistaking the smell of copper and salt.
"This is between Adam and God," she told herself quietly, before placing the vial delicately on the tiled floor. Nicole took in a deep breath, then crushed it beneath her high heel until it was just grainy dust. Avoiding the tiny pile of broken glass, she quickly slipped out of her clothes, changing into a creamy silk negligee that her husband had expressed much fondness for, and returned to him.