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This book was given to Dragana Kraguljac on Instafreebie. www.instafreebie.com


SCANDAL

W ILLOW W INTERS


Contents Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Epilogue Sneak Peek at Broken Blurb Prologue 1. Olivia About Willow Join my Naughty List


PROLOGUE

S taring out the window behind my desk with my hands in my hair, I debate how I should handle this. It’s almost nightfall and the New York skyline is just starting to come to life. I stretch my arms out in front of me, making my shoulders arch and my back crack, and let out a lengthy exhale; it’s been a long day. I need to finish this deal, or at the very least come to some sort of resolution before I can leave the office. I turn and glare down at the email in front of me, narrowing my eyes. They want too much for their company, and I’m not going over my budget. It would make my life easier to have it privately owned by me, but my mind's made up. I won’t buy them out, not at that price. I’d rather spend the money creating a competitor. It’ll take some time, but financially it’s the better move. Decision reached, I have to call Bowe and tell him no deal - we aren’t budging. I finally take a seat at my high-back desk chair, somewhat satisfied with the decision, and glance down at a sterling silver picture frame on my desk. She looks stunning, comfortable and satisfied in my embrace; I happily accept the distraction. My body relaxes and my


lips curl up as I think about that night, and the surprise she had for me under that dress. For someone so sweet and innocent she can be quite brazen. I rest my head in my hand, elbow on the desk, tapping my temple with my index finger and stare at the picture, at her beautiful curves. Just looking at her makes my dick hard. My smile fades as I remember I still haven’t told her about yesterday. Now there’s a fight I don’t want to have. I grit my teeth as I move my eyes to the computer screen and then back to the photograph, tapping my fingers on the desk. She doesn’t need to know about any of that, and there's no point in me worrying her for no reason. I’ll take care of it. She worries enough as it is, always fretting. She hasn’t changed since the first day I saw her. The recollection makes me grin as I lean back in the chair, keeping my eyes on her dazzling smile.

I NOTICED KATE FIRST, a tall blonde prancing about, talking louder than she needed; she didn’t seem to have a care in the world. I watched as she haphazardly bounced off Emma. She tried to balance herself but bumped into me instead, splashing a small bit of coffee into the air. I should be grateful for Kate’s lack of grace. If it wasn't for her, I wouldn’t have seen Emma. I scowl, thinking of what my life would have been like without her, without my Emma. She was beautiful - still is - with soft chestnut curls surrounding her pale skin, and a petite frame that made her seem fragile and delicate. It was her eyes that entrapped me though, a striking hazel. For a moment, I forgot why she’d stopped and why I’d been able to study her features. I don’t believe I said anything. I just


observed her, waiting for her eyes to meet my gaze. Watching her fuss over spilled coffee was amusing. She couldn’t stop apologizing. I smile at the thought and roll my eyes as I remember. It wasn’t her fault, but she took all of the blame. I remember how soft her voice sounded. “I shouldn’t be so clumsy. I’m so sorry.” She made a desperate attempt to wipe the coffee off my shirt with a tiny square napkin in her hand until she saw me watching her closely. I could tell she was embarrassed and possibly intimidated. She stumbled back a bit, continuing to apologize. I tried to reassure her it was fine, but she only bowed her head and gave a soft sheepish smile, avoiding my gaze. As she walked away, I began to feel irritated. Now that I had to change my shirt I was going to be late for my meeting, but I couldn’t get her out of my head. I looked behind me to see her leaving, taking easy steps as her hips rocked just enough to emphasize her provocative curves. Whoever it was I was going to meet with, they could wait. I turned abruptly and briskly walked until they were in my sight, keeping my eyes focused only on her. She made me want more; I wanted to see what she looked like when she was pleased, what her laugh sounded like. I stayed back a few steps, walking slowly behind them. Waiting for a moment to open, waiting to see her smile. Her soft, delicate hands gripped the twine handles of a shopping bag. I watched as she moved her thumb over the rough material in a rhythmic motion. Her skirt fell just below her knees and flowed as she walked; watching her hips sway was mesmerizing. I admired her small waist, and my gaze trailed down to that gorgeous backside as I felt a low, carnal hum deep in my throat. I heard her gentle voice over the crowd, followed by a small laugh. I


wanted to hear that pleasing sound again. I knew I could make her laugh. I could make all sorts of sounds escape those exquisite lips. Suddenly, the two of them stopped. Stopping for more coffee? Probably because she spilled hers a moment ago. I grinned at the thought.

THE PHONE RINGING in my office disturbs me from the pleasant remembrance. I pick it up and snap, “What?” “S-Sorry to disturb you, sir. Elizabeth is here to see you. She apologizes for coming unannounced. She says it’s urgent.” My secretary’s voice is hushed, and her sentences are separated by quick intakes of air. I don’t feel bad for her. I pay her well to deal with my bullshit, and quite frankly she should be used to it by now. “Send her in.” I hang up the phone, still annoyed. Goddamn it! What the hell happened now? The power suit of a bitch that is my public relations consultant saunters through my office doors, slamming them shut behind her. I gesture with my hand for her to take a seat, glaring at her audacity. The blouse beneath her jacket is unbuttoned to such an extreme that I find it hard to take her seriously. Elizabeth has worked for me for years. Each year my agitation grows larger, as does her insolence. She's damn lucky she’s good at her job. “Is there anything you’d like to tell me?” Her lips are pursed, and her eyes are narrowed. Deciding not to hide my irritation I reply in a low monotone, “That depends, what exactly can I tell you that will make you leave my office?” Her gaze doesn’t leave me as she hisses, “You can start with how many women you're currently fucking.” My eyes widen at her response, first with shock and then


rage.


CHAPTER 1

can practically hear my mother’s voice now. Emma Idear, a little wine goes a long way. I shake the thought off. One more glass down, and finally I don’t care anymore. Or, at least for a moment, I don’t want to care. Should I grab another? That’s the only question on my mind. And if I'm able to ask the question, then I already know the answer. I’m vaguely aware that a massive hangover awaits me tomorrow morning if I continue like this, but that physical pain is worth the emotional numbness I so desperately need tonight. Maybe I should try to pull myself together. I might find some relief if I splash a bit of cool water on my face. No, I feel like a wreck, so I should look like a wreck. That’s what I am right now, a seven-car pileup on the interstate with an overturned tractor-trailer. You’re a wreck; deal with it. I come to terms with this fairly easily. Maybe it's because of the wine, or maybe I’m just not ready to look at myself in the mirror. I wince, and my body sinks deeper into the sofa. Kate’s with me. Her eyes are red-rimmed, and her cheeks are tearstained. Even with a pained look on her


face and disheveled appearance she still looks stunning. How the hell is that even possible? I bet she’s wearing waterproof mascara. For a second I consider asking her. It would be a nice change in conversation. Knowing Kate, it might make her laugh a bit. My eyes brighten for a moment at the thought of a happy exchange, but then they dim again with disappointment. Not tonight. Maybe another time. We’ve been curled up on her sofa draped in a chenille blanket, drowning our thoughts in Cabernet Sauvignon. I think we’ve been like this for hours now, even though it feels as though it’s been days. I look at the clock. 8:43 p.m. So it's been almost four hours of her desperately and hopelessly trying to console me. No resolution has been found. Not that I know what I want the resolution to be. It doesn’t really matter what you want anyway. He’s going to get what he wants, he always does. I don’t know how many times she’s told me it’s alright and everything's going to be fine. It’s not what I want to hear. What do you want to hear? I don’t know. The thought makes my heart dig deeper into my chest, and the hollowness fills my insides. I don’t know what I want. We haven’t really been speaking in the eternity that's passed, just crying. Whenever I start to talk, I can’t continue, and words fail to escape my lips. I’m unable to utter a sentence without morphing into a sobbing lunatic, my words cut off by hysterical gasps for air. She’s been so patient. Trying to talk me through it, trying to get me past this desolate stage. She’s been unsuccessful, but I appreciate her efforts. I don’t think anything or anyone in the world could help me right now. I have to face the inevitable. I shudder. Good God, what will I feel like then?


I imagine a bridge crumbling to pieces from the center outward, causing dozens of cars to plummet thousands of feet before crashing into the water, slowly sinking as they're consumed by the dark, unforgiving water. I thought we would be chatting over a combination of bridal shows and catty reality television. That’s what these nights usually deliver. We escape to her sofa with Chinese food and a bottle of wine, confiding in each other about the details of her latest beau or family drama. It’s been our usual routine ever since we graduated from college and moved to the big city. We've always gotten together like this at least once a month for the last four years. But tonight is so much different, so much darker and quiet. I see Kate move, adjusting the small throw pillow under her arm. She’s staring at the ceiling with her fingers intertwined and resting on her chest. I can see she’s exhausted. She closes her eyes and breathes in deep. I’m sure her eyes are burning, too. She’s cried just as much as I have. But she shouldn’t have to deal with this catastrophe. I wish I could rewind time. I wish I could have prevented her from experiencing this heartbreak. I probably would have called her though as soon as I saw the photos. I shake my head at the thought. I know I would have called her. I wouldn’t have known what else to do. She’s always been there for me, making everything better when my world starts falling to pieces. We’ve been best friends attached at the hip since before I can remember. I admire her large green eyes, tanned skin and blonde hair. Kate is absolutely gorgeous and poised, with the world at her feet. She goes through men like I go through wine. Maybe that’s why I was so shocked that Thomas wanted me and not her.


“Oh my God, Emma!” I remember her screeching, looking back to make sure he was out of earshot. “He is totally into you. You lucky bitch! I would kill for someone like him to look at me like that.” She playfully grabbed me by the waist, making us sway chaotically on the sidewalk. Leaning into me she grinned and said, “Good God, he’s so hot. Did you see his shoulders? I bet he has perfectly airbrushed abs under that shirt.” I just giggled at her ridiculousness. “I would grab that ass and ride him raw,” she said confidently, practically drooling. I remember her comment all too well. She caused me to convulse into frenzied laughter, and she went on and on completely uncensored as we continued to stride down the sidewalk. She was right though. He'd just kept looking at me with his perfectly handsome smile while promising, “It’s fine, really.” His flawless blue eyes never left me, even as he wiped his shirt dry. I'd closed my eyes and fantasized that he really hadn’t taken his eyes off me, and that the gorgeous man was in fact flirting with me. He was in a crisp white button-down shirt with a tie and a leather jacket, looking like the perfect combination of serious CEO and sex god. The thought sent pure bliss everywhere through my body. One area in particular was a little more blissful than usual. Not five minutes after parting ways he was beside us outside of another coffee shop. When I turned to see him standing there, I was utterly speechless and for the first time ever, so was Kate. Her lower jaw even dropped a bit. She humorously moved her hand up to close it in a theatrical way and an asymmetric grin appeared on her face. For a moment I thought, Fuck, he heard her. Kate


didn’t seem to think he could have possibly heard her obscene gabbing, or if he had, she didn’t care. She just stood there staring first at me, then him, and then back at me. I could imagine her with pompoms, rooting for me while doing high kicks in the air. Before I could apologize for Kate’s blabbering, he smiled wide and just the sight of his gorgeous face handicapped my ability to speak. He was unbelievably attractive. I couldn't stop admiring those soft blue eyes, perfect white smile, exceptional jawline, and the hint of stubble making him look casual, but so fucking hot. “I’m sorry to bother you,” he said calmly. “I just thought maybe you would let me take you out to dinner.” A date? This unbelievably handsome sex god wants to go on a date with me?

I COULD HARDLY COMPREHEND that this picture-perfect hunk of a man, who I had just spilled coffee on moments ago, was asking me out on a date. How did he even find me? Next time I need a date apparently all I need to do is dump a hot beverage on a good-looking gentleman and poof, he’ll ask me. I parted my mouth in disbelief and tried to respond. My hesitation was obvious. I just stood there staring at him. My face felt like it was on fire, and my mind was racing. Say something you idiot, don’t blow it! “I think you owe me one date, at least. You did stain my shirt,” he said smoothly with a smirk. He made me blush and I couldn’t help but smile. He looked familiar, but I had no idea who he actually was when I agreed to let him take me to dinner. In fact, it wasn’t until after our first date when I searched his name


online that I realized I’d just given a multi-billionaire a single chaste kiss after taking me out for one of the most amazing meals I’d ever experienced. The first thing that came to mind was, Thank God I didn’t invite him into my apartment. I was sure he must have had a mansion with maids to keep everything tidy, and elegant artwork hanging on walls decorating spacious rooms with cathedral ceilings. What would he think of my cramped apartment containing Ikea furniture littered with manuscripts, and crumpled pieces of paper strewn about? Before I could even worry that I had blown my chance with him by only allowing a single kiss, he sent me a text.

THANK you so much for a lovely evening. X Thomas

WAS that single X poking fun at the fact I only let him have one peck? Well, it was a little more than a peck, but still. I waited an agonizing full two minutes to text him back. I didn’t want to seem desperate, as if waiting two minutes could help me escape that image.

THANK YOU THOMAS, I had a great time. XX Emma

I THOUGHT I would be cheeky and give him another kiss. No hug though, since I didn’t want to be too affectionate. He


immediately sent a message back. He didn’t seem to care whether or not he appeared desperate. Why should he?

I’D LIKE to see you again. Would you join me Saturday? I have a corporate dinner to attend. We can go out for drinks afterward.

I STILL REMEMBER the overwhelming joy running through my body. I jumped up and down, holding in my screaming delight, pounding my fists through the air in triumph. It may have been a bit obnoxious to my neighbors. Mrs. Jones in the apartment below mine started banging on the ceiling, yelling at me to knock it off. So I sat in my desk chair just hugging myself, and then of course I called Kate to inform her how glorious my date was. I smiled so much that night my cheeks hurt all week.

THAT WAS THE BEGINNING, a little over two years ago, and a year before our wedding. Just thinking of it makes my heart collapse and my stomach feel hollow. Maybe we got married too soon and we should’ve taken things slower. We weren’t that young though; both of us were already in our mid-twenties. I could’ve tried harder to be a better wife. I should’ve tried harder to get pregnant. I should’ve taken those hormone shots like the doctor said. It’s my fault we can’t get pregnant, not his. No! No! This is NOT my fault! My rage chimes in to overshadow my melancholy, screaming at me for blaming myself. Apparently the wine wasn’t enough to completely anesthetize me, or the effects are already starting to wear


off. Either way I creep to the edge of the sofa, trying to gather enough strength to stand and sulk to the kitchen. Kate raises her head to look at me. Her hand moves to her face, gently rubbing residual tears from her cheeks before resting her head on the arm of the sofa. “Where are you going?” she asks warily, her voice strained. She wrestles with the blanket, trying to release her legs. I can tell she’s still concerned for me. My heart drops to my stomach as I wish I could tell her I'm fine and not to worry. I think about saying those words, but I can’t. I’m not fine, and she knows that all too well. I settle on the truth. “Just to grab another bottle.” I manage a small pathetic curl to my lips as I respond and grab the empty glass from the table. Yes, I think I will need the entire bottle. It’s hard looking her in the eyes. My gaze drops, and my eyes glaze over as I head toward her kitchen. I see her sink back into the corner of the couch and I let out a sigh. I’m relieved she doesn’t feel the need to follow me. She hasn’t left me alone all night. I’m grateful to have a friend like Kate. It makes me feel selfish though, that she hurts so much for me. There's nothing I can do to ease the pain for her. It’s obvious I’m nowhere close to being okay. At least the wine is helping to dull things. “He’s a fool, Emma,” she breathes rather than speaks her conclusion. I stop midway to the kitchen, and her hardwood floors creak in response to my weighted halt. I’m momentarily immobilized by her words. I don’t want to succumb to reality. I grip the stem of the glass tighter, close my eyes to prevent the burning, and breathe deep. My eyes fill, but I hold back for a moment and then continue to move. I release my breath and let the tears fall carelessly down my cheeks to my chin. I continue to


the kitchen without acknowledging her, or the hot unwelcome tears. I just keep my head down. Why do I keep crying? Because your life is falling to pieces all around you, and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s the last bottle of red, but it should be all I need. I already feel lightheaded and fuzzy. I haven’t had this much to drink since our first night as an official couple. We were so careless, but it felt so good. I still remember every amazing detail. The way he touched me. The way his lips tasted of sweet wine. I relieve myself of that thought immediately, shaking my head angrily. I don’t want to think about being with him. No looking back on the past anymore tonight. I need to concentrate on my immediate future, an affair with a bottle of merlot. It’s no Cabernet Sauvignon, not smooth and sweet, but it'll get the job done. I wonder if that was what he thought. She’d get the job done. No! Stop it! No thinking, just drink! Stop doing this to yourself! I harshly wipe the tears away from my face with the back of my hand. I pour a glass and greedily drink all of it, tilting my head back to secure the last drop. All I can taste is bitterness. The glass slams down on the granite with all of my weight; I stumble back, a bit shocked. I don’t know if that was the result of my drunkenness, or the anger that’s craving to escape. It takes me a moment to realize it isn’t broken, and relieved, I carefully pour another. I take a small sip and stand there for a moment. I feel the warmth run down my throat and settle in my chest. I sway a little. I need to sit down ASAP. I consider resting on the kitchen floor, but I decide that I should return to the warmth of the sofa and Kate’s comfort. I head back to the living room, the bottle of merlot in my left hand, and the glass in my right. Kate is no longer


cocooned in the blanket. Instead she’s on the edge of the sofa, leaning into the laptop on the coffee table. Not this again. I was happily unaware. I wish I could just go back to not knowing. Do you? I decide not to answer that question. I don’t want to think about it. I haven’t looked at the screen all night. I don’t want to see it ever again; once was enough. The images are burned into my mind. Just thinking about it is torture. Kate looks for something in the pictures, a detail to reveal the truth maybe. But there’s nothing apart from undeniable evidence, and I can’t stand to look at them. The soothing blue walls are no longer comforting. Instead they make me feel cold and lonely. I search for Kate’s eyes, and on cue she looks up at me. I nudge the bottle in her direction, which almost causes me to spill the much-needed wine in my glass, but she just shakes her head. Good, more wine for me then, if I need it… no, when I need it. “Maybe it’s not true,” she says, glancing at me from the computer screen. Her eyes are warm, and her expression is soft. “You can never believe what you see on TV.” Her voice sounds hopeful, but not moments ago she called him a fool. What conclusion is she coming to? Did he, or didn’t he have an affair? The pictures support the former. I make a pathetic attempt at a shrug. “It was on the news, Kate. It’s not like the news is going to lie.” My voice is low and flat. I see her body collapse with the weight of my negativity. I look down at the floor. She’s only trying to help. I sit cautiously next to her, careful not to look at the screen. I don’t want to see. Those pictures were both the end of my happiness, and the start of my downfall.


Staring vacantly ahead, I move the glass to my lips and take a small sip before the tears start again. I force my sadness to morph into anger. How could they post such awful things? It’s amazing how quickly those vultures will grab onto a story and let it spread like wildfire. I’m sure it will be on every gossip magazine cover tomorrow. Isn’t that a little conceited? You think your disaster of a marriage is significant enough to make the cover?Keep those fingers crossed some celebrity has a public meltdown overnight. The nasty thoughts actually puts me at ease. I can only hope I don’t have to endure the ridicule of trashy magazines grabbing hold of these photos and plastering them everywhere. I can’t help but torture myself as I give the pictures another look. As soon as my eyes catch a glimpse of his hands on her, I feel the unforgiving tears swell again. This time I don’t blink; I just let them fall. They land hard and loud on the pillow in my lap. Those strong hands that hold me close at night are the same hands wrapped around some harlot’s waist. I shift my eyes toward the blank television screen. I’d rather look at nothing than submit myself to those damned pictures another second. I seek comfort in another sip of wine, then another. I'm jolted out of my thoughts as my phone vibrates against the coffee table for at least the tenth time tonight. I ignore it. So far I have a total of eight missed calls, and an even larger number of unanswered text messages from friends and family… and him. I can’t face my family, not by text message or phone, and definitely not in person. I can hardly speak to Kate; how could I possibly hold a conversation with them? I wonder if they’ve called him. Have they yelled at him, screaming viciously into the phone like I so badly want to do? I wonder what he’s told them. Maybe he’s apologized


profusely and asked them to talk to me, to ask me to forgive him. I can’t bear the thought of anything other than him refuting having an affair. But how could he possibly deny it?I don’t want to hear what he has to say. More than that, I dread speaking to him. I know it will mean the end of everything I thought we had together. The anger starts igniting in me, making my stomach feel twisted and hot, and my chest starts pounding. I feel torn between my anger and sadness. I don’t know which emotion I should embrace. I look at Kate’s computer, feeling her eyes burning into me, watching me. Is she wondering if she should close the laptop? Maybe she’s waiting for me to speak? My eyes are helplessly drawn back to the picture on the screen. She’s gorgeous, so gorgeous. And she looks delighted in his arms. A tall blonde with big blue eyes, rosy cheeks, and supple lips. Not to mention a perfect body. She’s one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen, even more beautiful than Kate. Well no shit, if he's going to cheat, of course she's going to look like a fucking supermodel. I take another sip of wine. Who is this woman? Curiosity makes me reach for the laptop, and drag it toward me. Kate leans back a little bit. She doesn’t look relaxed though. Her mouth is in a hard line, and she's biting her thumbnail. I think she's waiting to see if I can handle this. Truthfully, I’m not sure I can handle it. The headline reads, “Thomas A. Grant Has a Mistress!” It's the same headline I saw on the TV at the bar. Why do they care? Why is this on the news? Don’t they have something more important to report than the intimate details of my marriage? I thought the same thing when we got engaged. We


aren’t celebrities; he’s just unbelievably wealthy and successful. At least back then I was somewhat uncomfortable posing for pictures and giving tidbits of information for articles. Over time I came to enjoy it. I wore the most beautiful dresses for photo shoots. My favorite ivory lace ballgown came from one of those sessions. Of course Thomas would have paid for whatever I wanted, but for the designer to gift me the dress, I was ecstatic. Now I just feel sickened thinking about it all. I can’t read the text; my vision is blurred from the tears. But I can see his arm firmly wrapped around her oh-so-skinny waist, pulling her up to his lips. His fingertips are gripping into her body, skin touching skin. Her short, tight skirt is clinging to her in all the right places. His left hand is out of view, so I can’t see his wedding band. He probably took it off anyway. I cringe at the thought and let out a small, pathetic sigh. I have to look up for a moment and steady myself. I pick up the glass again, finding comfort in the wine. I can’t believe he allowed that kind of indiscretion to be captured. He’s always so private, making sure that no one's watching and only allowing photographers to take our picture when it benefits us. I can’t believe how reckless he was. How could he do this to me? My heart feels like it’s being tightened into an unusable mass and shoved up my throat.“How can I not believe this?” I blurt out angrily, hitting the screen and glaring at Kate. I smack the screen so hard I think I may have broken it. Seeing it still intact, I wonder if I might have injured my finger instead. I move my hand to my lips, and my face displays the pain. “I don’t know,” she mutters as she drops her gaze. She looks hurt, and I immediately regret my outburst.


Why am I taking my anger out on her? The pain in my chest deepens. I swallow hard and say, “I’m sorry.” She looks up at me, managing a look that's both apologetic and forgiving. She readjusts herself so she’s close to me, rubbing my back while placing her head on my shoulder. I wipe under my eyes with my sweater sleeve. The soft cream cashmere is streaked with eyeliner and foundation. I look down at the screen, analyzing the photograph. It’s one of three or four, I can’t remember which. Maybe there are even more photographs. I hope there aren’t any more; I don’t think I could bear seeing more of these. If he’s leaving you for her, you might see one of her in a wedding dress. My throat dries up at the thought. I try to swallow and fail. More wine. “Maybe it was altered?” Kate offers. “There’s no way that they would broadcast a manipulated image.” I take a deep breath, and come face to face with the harsh reality. “These are actual photographs.” My gaze drops to the floor as I finally admit it to myself. There’s no denying it. He was with this woman. And from the looks on their faces, he enjoyed it and so did she. The tears are back, and the saltiness makes my eyes burn even more. The pain is unwelcome. “Maybe it was taken a long time ago, before you?” She almost whispers the last two words. Again her voice is hopeful, and I don’t know how to respond. I rest my head on hers while we both look at the screen. It’s possible it was taken a long time ago. Not too long ago though. His hair is a little long in the photo, which means it had to be taken sometime after out wedding. He started wearing it longer after I told him on our honeymoon how


much I liked it that way. His dark brown hair is just long enough to grab onto. I like to force his head up and kiss him when we’re in bed. That’s one thing I just don’t get. Our sex life was unbelievable. There was undeniable chemistry between us from the start. Why would he cheat on me? Maybe he wanted to see if blondes really were more fun. He’s so handsome in the picture, gazing down at her with his beautiful blue eyes. He looks so strong and masculine, with his broad shoulders and muscular arms. It must’ve been taken after work. It looks like they’re outside his office building. The stonework on the wall behind them gives the location away. He’s in grey suit pants and a navy striped tie with a bright white dress shirt. I can’t remember the last time he wore a suit. Usually he wears slacks and a crisp white button-down. It must’ve been taken after a business meeting or maybe when one of the partners came in to talk mergers. I can’t recall him wearing a suit any time recently though. Back to the picture, back to the tie. It’s one of my favorite ties. In fact, I used that tie to blindfold him on his twenty-eighth birthday. He was so shocked and surprised. I was happy he gave up some control and let me take the lead. It was so unlike him, and so unlike me. He got me back though, and with that same tie. I smile at the memory. Maybe that’s why it’s my favorite. Maybe he used it on her. My face turns to disgust, and my eyes dart back to the image. His lips look so soft and kissable. He looks like my Thomas, but instead he’s holding some unknown woman in his arms. More than holding her, he’s embracing her. They look like they’re happy… and in love. Or at least she looks like she’s in love. The more I look at his face,


the more he seems annoyed. I scrunch my forehead and squint my eyes. Yes. That’s what it is. He’s annoyed. I scroll down to look for the other photos. “Did he leave a voicemail?” Kate interrupts my thought. I slowly grab my phone without looking at it, keeping my eyes on the screen, then on second thought, I set it back down. I readjust to sit upright and take another sip of wine. I have to set the glass down gently. My nerves are running so high that I’m practically shaking, and finally I take the phone in my hands. “Yeah, two of ‘em.” My voice sounds weak, barely audible. What happened to my strength and anger? I feel wounded thinking about him calling me, knowing that I’m deliberately not answering. I wonder what he said in his messages. The possibilities are endless. I’m leaving you for another woman, a much hotter, more attractive, sexier woman. Oh, and I bound her up in your favorite tie while I fucked the shit out of her. The thought sends shivers through me, and my anger is back full force. I ball my hands into fists, my nails digging into my palms. No more sadness. I’m overtaken by anger. Six voicemails to listen to, and I don’t want to hear any of them. Two are from him, and four are from my mom. My heart breaks, thinking of what she might have said in the messages. I can’t imagine what’s going through her head right now, my poor mother. And if I listen, I know I’ll have to call her back. But I can hardly speak a word calmly right now; there’s no way I could bear listening to my mom, let alone talk to her. And then there are his voicemails. I can’t imagine what they say. Well I can, but I don’t want to think about it. I can’t bear the thought of him confirming it. Even if he did try to deny it, I don’t know if I could believe him.


My mind wanders as I look at the swirling bitter liquid in the glass. I couldn’t wait to get in bed with him tonight. After a little wine and girl talk I always look forward to being on top, teasing him by moving my nipples around his lips. I love it when he bites down gently, rubbing his tongue on the sensitive ends, making them hard and forcing me to arch my back in absolute ecstasy. Stop those thoughts right now! I push the glass away from me. I’ve had enough. “Do you want to listen to them?” Kate whispers. She’s readjusted herself so that she’s cross-legged and facing me, forcing me to acknowledge her question. I’m so glad she isn’t a mindreader. I hope my face doesn’t give her any insight into what I was just thinking. What should I say to her? Any normal, rational woman would have listened to them by now. It’s been hours since we arrived at the safety of Kate’s house, containing my sadness away from the public eye. I haven't answered my phone or responded to anyone. Instead I just collapsed on her sofa and let out painful sobs while she reassured me that everything would be fine. “It can’t hurt to listen to them. You have to talk to him eventually, right?” Her eyes are piercing into me, begging me. I suppose I should listen to what he has to say. I have to face the reality of the situation, whatever that might be. It might mean the death of my marriage, such an abrupt and unwanted end. Maybe he really hasn’t cheated, but maybe he left messages begging me to forgive him. Either way, I won’t know until I listen to them. I reluctantly look up at her and nod.A sudden loud knock makes my body shudder. Bang! Bang! Bang! The unrelenting pounding causes us both to stiffen, and our eyes widen; Kate looks at me in terror.


“Kate, open the door! Emma!” Oh shit, it’s him.


CHAPTER 2

course he’s here. He would’ve known I was with O f Kate, and my car is parked in front of her house. Even if he didn’t know I was going out with Kate, where else would I have possibly gone? How could I have been so stupid to think that he wouldn’t find me here? I guess I didn’t think he would come for me. After all, why would he? As soon as I saw the news, I just figured the next time I saw him would be in his attorney’s office, finalizing the paperwork for our divorce.

I STOOD THERE in the bar, glaring at the television and the photographs in complete shock.

SOURCES SAY the celebrated CEO of the privately owned company Grant Enterprises has been having an affair for almost a year, just shortly after his honeymoon ended, the news anchor reported with ease and confidence. Although we are uncertain of the identity of the woman in the photographs, she is reportedly just one of many


mistresses. Reports that his marriage is on the rocks came in earlier today after we received the photographs. It’s only been a little over a year since New York’s most eligible and wealthy bachelor tied the knot, and it seems as though he may be back on the market. Kate was speaking, but I wasn’t listening. I was staring at the small wedding photograph in the upper left corner of the television screen. We were so happy then; it had been taken just after we had our first kiss as husband and wife. It had been on the cover of several magazines, and now it was on a television screen as a beautiful news anchor announced the demise of my marriage. “Are you okay?” Kate asked as she grabbed my hand, trying to force me to look at her. I must have seemed so calm to Kate, but I was standing there numb and lifeless. “Emma! Let’s get out of here,” Kate practically yelled at me and pulled me by the arm to the freezing outdoors. I stumbled on the sidewalk in my heels. I was shocked and unable to comprehend what was going on around me. The only thing I could hear were my heels on the cold concrete. My heart was sinking into the pit of my stomach and forming a painful knot. The words echoed in my head as I staggered down the street. Mistress. Over a year. One of many. As we got into the car, Kate looked me dead in the eye, and grabbed my shoulders, shaking me. “What the hell is going on? Did you know about this?” She paused and looked at me, bewildered. What did she think? That I knew and that it was some secret I was keeping from her? Of course I didn’t know. Who would think that their perfect husband was cheating?


I tried to speak, but I couldn’t. I just looked at her with my mouth open, wordless. “He-” That’s all I could say. I kept repeating it, making no progress in forming a complete sentence or thought, for that matter. I was numb with disbelief. “Oh my God, Emma. Are you okay?” Her hard look softened instantly. Her voice was soothing and compassionate, finally realizing this was a complete and utter shock to me. I burst into tears, releasing the grief that was overwhelming me. I covered my face and let the sobs out, gasping for breath. Kate held me, rubbing my back and silently crying on my shoulder as she reassured me, “Hush, hush, everything will be okay.” “Let’s go to my house, okay?” She talked to me like I was a child. And just like a child, I lifted my head and nodded. I’d never even suspected that he had any desire for another woman. He gave no hint at all that he was interested in any of the many women who constantly ogled him and flirted with him. Some even did it right in front of me, but he never seemed to notice or care. I always just smiled at how oblivious he was to them. Was he really that oblivious? Whenever we'd go out for dinner, female waitstaff always seemed to throw themselves at him, to no avail. I did enjoy the pissed off attitudes and sheer disappointment when he ignored them and gave me all of his attention. Ha! That’s what they get for hitting on my man. He only had eyes for me. When I’d throw a hissy fit over the audacity of those women, that’s what he would tell me - “I only have eyes for you.” He knew how to calm me down.


BUT THAT WAS before all of this, before the news announced to the world that my marriage was over. Bang! Bang! “Emma! Open the damn door!” The brash pounding brings me back to the present. His tone is different - harsher, and almost violent. He uses that stern tone with his employees when they’ve really fucked up, not with me. He’s not sad or apologetic; he’s pissed. This is going to be bad. Really bad. I brace myself, gripping the sofa. If he wants to get in, he’s going to get in. He always gets what he wants. Why would this be any different? My grasp tightens. I stare at the knob, waiting for it to move and then I see the deadbolt. She didn’t lock the door. Before either of us can move, the doorknob turns and the door is flung open, hitting the wall hard and making us jolt. It feels like the entire room shakes. Kate jumps up onto the back of the sofa and covers herself with the blanket. Only her head is peeking out, as if the chenille throw gives her some special invisibility or protective powers. I’ve never seen her like this before. She’s always so calm and collected. She’s the forceful, protective one of the two of us. Especially when it comes to Thomas. She’s never backed down from him; she’s never been intimidated. Once she even told him that she would castrate him if he took advantage of me. She was dead serious. She’d gotten wind of his reputation about a week after we started seeing one another, and immediately changed from a cheerleader to a mother hen with a shotgun. I remember the look on his face after she said it. He was cold and unamused, but she just stared back at him, holding her ground. I don’t know if it’s exhaustion,


drunkenness, or shock that's making her behave like a meek little mouse. Watching her makes me even more petrified. I feel my heart rapidly pounding in my chest, and the sound is deafening. My body is both twitchy and unmoving at the same time. A lump forms in my throat, suffocating me. There’s a paralyzing sensation throughout my body keeping me from making any kind of movement. My tense fingers feel like stone. “She doesn’t want to talk to you!” Kate yells as she slightly lowers the blanket. She looks terrified, but at least she sounds confident. He finally enters the room slowly and cautiously, as if that was his cue. He looks at Kate with resentment. This is not good, not good at all. I wish I were with Kate under the safety of her blanket. I can’t take my eyes off of him as he rips his gaze away from Kate and stares at me. His expression changes from intense fury to something else, but I'm not sure what. His face is hard to read. He’s standing with the door wide open, breathing deep. Slowly, he turns and shuts the door. He gives it a hard push and slams his fists against it. For a moment, he rests his head on the wall, leaning all his weight into it and breathing slowly. The room is silent except for his heavy breathing. He looks like my typical Thomas. He’s wearing my favorite tie, just like in the photograph. I feel a sense of hatred toward the navy and white striped evidence on his neck. Clad in a white shirt and black slacks, he appears professional but relaxed. His clothes don’t match his expression or his tone though. “I had to come see you,” he says with his eyes shut. He pushes off the wall and moves his hands through his hair. His face is grim, and then he looks at me. His


expression immediately softens. I think he's relieved. He waits for me to speak, but I don’t. I feel my face change from disbelief and frightened to pissed off instantaneously. “What the fuck are you doing here?” The words come out viciously, and I’m shocked that they came out of my mouth. Kate looks at me with wide eyes; I shocked her, too. Thomas tilts his head and narrows his eyes. The anger returns to his face and then is replaced by frustration and hurt. A moment passes and he says nothing, he just stares at me. My breathing slows, but my chest is still pounding. I’m confused by his reaction, but still enraged. He finally speaks, ignoring my insult. He whispers in a low voice, “Baby, why didn’t you answer me? You saw the news?” The last one is a statement rather than a question, and the words are laced with apprehension. Anger rises inside me anew, making me feel heated. Why didn’t I answer? Is he fucking serious? He knows damn well that I saw the news. I don’t answer, I just stare at him with daggers in my eyes. I can’t hold back my disgust; the resentment has taken hold of me. “Did you listen to my messages?” He sounds despairing, and he moves toward me. “Stay away!” I yell as I get up too quickly for my own good. As I take a step back, I almost trip over a basket of magazines. I stumble a bit and try to regain my balance. I’m so drunk though, I don’t think I can keep this up. I don’t even know what I’m doing. My head is pounding, and the room spins. I don’t want to see him, and I don’t want to talk to him. I just want him to leave. I reach for my glass, spilling wine across the espresso coffee table and onto the beige rug and throw it at him as hard as I can. “How dare you!” I scream at the top of my


voice, and it cracks on the last word. He moves his arm up to block the glass, and it breaks against his forearm. The glass shatters and the pieces rain down onto the floor. I’m not sure if it’s blood or wine running down his skin. I hope it's blood; he deserves to be in pain. “You cheating bastard!” I sneer at him. “You sicken me.” He doesn’t look angry, only hurt and defensive. I’m so confused. He isn’t responding how I thought he would. I feel dizzy, and it’s getting more and more difficult to stand by the second. I wish I hadn’t had so much to drink and that I hadn’t gotten up so quickly from the sofa. I move into the corner. He still hasn’t responded. I need to calm down. Tears are streaming down my face, and I try not to blink and point angrily at the door for him to leave. Damn it! I don’t want to cry! Be strong! I just let the tears run down my face, doing my best to ignore them. As the seconds pass, my body begins to betray me. I think I’m shaking, but I don’t look down to check. I hope I’m not. I want to appear strong; trembling legs are not on my side. I am a resilient, confident woman and I deserve better. I can do this. I repeat my mantra in my head and stand firm, giving him a deadly glare. “How could you do this to me?” I mutter, rather than yell. “Leave! Just get out.” I stomp my wobbly leg as I point at the door. I don’t know how much time has passed. Seconds? Minutes? Say something! He just stands unmoving, looking at me with confusion and pain. How did he think this was going to go down? Did he picture me in the fetal position bawling my eyes out, too? I calm a little, and I reluctantly lower my heavy arm. Say something, please. I need him to say something.


As if hearing my unspoken plea, he answers me. “Emma,” he says as his voice breaks and he reaches his hands out to me, “I didn’t cheat on you.” I move farther away as he moves closer. My heartbeat picks back up. I don’t believe him. I saw the pictures. He’s lying to me. “Please, listen to me.” He puts his hands down and looks deep into my eyes. I can’t hold his intense gaze. I’m just staring at the dark hardwood floors, but the tears welling in my eyes blur my vision. Is he telling the truth? Thomas moves slowly to the wingback chair across the room, farther away from me, and sits with his elbows on his knees, face in his hands. I look at him, to gauge my opponent. He’s shaking. I’m so confused. He doesn’t look like he wants to fight. He looks beaten down already. Did he come to tell me it’s not true? Does he still love me? I want to know, but I don’t want to listen to him. My emotions are out of control. I really wish I hadn’t had so much to drink. But I don’t even know if I could handle this if I was sober. “I didn’t lie to you. I’ve never cheated on you.” His voice begins to break, and he looks up to meet my gaze. Now I notice his red-rimmed eyes. I look away from him as my mind races. Has this really just been a horrific publicity stunt? Is Thomas a victim as well? What harm have I done to him, ignoring him when he's been reaching out to me? “Emma, maybe you should listen to Thomas,” I hear Kate say from across the room. Her voice is hopeful once again. I forgot she was even in the room. She looks almost relieved, still a bit frightened and uncomfortable though. Whose side is she on? She’s always on my side. I should heed her advice, but that would mean having to hear Thomas out. I look at him and then at Kate. I feel


weak and I lean against the wall, feeling the cold on my stiff, aching body. I lean my head back gently, keeping my eyes on him. I don’t know what to do. My hands move to my head, and I close my eyes to try to calm down. “I really wish you had answered the phone.” His voice breaks again, and as I look up to study his expression, his eyes show me that he’s in agony. I don’t answer him. I just stare at him through the tears in my eyes. “If I’d known what they were going to air, I would’ve paid them a fortune not to, whatever they asked.” His voice is low and full of regret. Just because he wishes it never got out doesn’t mean a damn thing. Is he only sorry that I found out this way? Does he wish he’d told me in person? I'm repulsed, and it pushes my sadness to the pit of my stomach. I can’t look at him anymore. I move my enraged gaze to the ground as my breathing quickens once again. He glances down at his hands. “Elizabeth from PR said they got it right before they went on.” He sounds so distressed. “They wanted to be the first to report it,” he mutters with a mix of anguish, regret, and disgust. I can’t acknowledge him just yet. There were photographs, and he hasn’t said anything about who that woman is. I bite my tongue to keep from yelling at him. I’m not ready to ask him about her, but he looks desperate. He'll tell me whatever I want to hear. In my drunken state, I’m weak. I’ll believe anything that comes out of his mouth, and I’m desperately trying to remain strong. I’ll listen to what he has to say… in the voicemails. “I haven’t listened to them yet.” I manage to speak somewhat calmly, although the words are drenched with disgust, and I have to immediately bite my lip to refrain from saying anything else. I finally rub the tears from my


eyes and off my chin. “Emma, I-” he starts to speak, but I cut him off. “I’ll listen to them. I don’t want to hear anything from you right now.” I point a weak, trembling finger at him. My voice breaks as I scoff, “I can’t even look at you.” He drops his head back to the ground, but keeps his hurt puppy dog gaze on me. I move my eyes to Kate. She immediately looks down at her hands as though she may turn to stone if her eyes meet mine. I hold down the vile uprising in my stomach and try again to calm myself. I’m barely able to stand up and reach the coffee table. I stare down at my phone, the device that may lead me to end my marriage, and reluctantly access my voicemail. I put it on speakerphone so they can hear. They both sit up. Kate looks at the phone, curious and scared. Thomas looks slightly relieved, but still so distressed; his eyebrows are furrowed and his mouth is in the most pathetic pout. “Baby, I hope I’m getting to you before these damn reports come out on the news. I just talked to PR…” He trails off for a moment, and there’s hesitation in his voice as he continues, “They said photos were leaked of me with another woman. These must be old photos, and I haven’t seen them yet, but baby I love you and I’ve never cheated on you. Don’t watch the news, please. I love you. Please call me when you get this… I love you.” His voice sounds so anxious. Kate starts to speak, but I hold up my hand to stop her. Thomas starts to move toward me, and I do the same with him. I want to listen to the other voicemail, the one from after he saw the photos, when he knew what the evidence was. I hit play on the second voicemail. “Baby, please call me. I just watched the news clip. I know this looks bad.


But those photos were taken a long time ago.” The overwhelming feeling of sadness I've had since the bar starts to ebb, and a bit of relief washes over me as I let out an enormous breath. That’s what I needed to hear. My heart drops away from my throat, allowing me to breathe. He was with that woman. Yes, there are photos of it, but it was a long time ago. The voicemail continues. “Please call me. I’m working with PR to release a statement now. Please let me know that you’re okay. I've never cheated on you. I love you.” Why had they surfaced just now, and who leaked them? What about the reports saying that we split? My curiosity and anger are stronger than my reprieve. Before I can say anything, Thomas’ voice interrupts my thoughts. “Those pictures were taken a long time ago, Emma. She’s no one. I’ve never cheated on you.” He looks up at me with tears in his eyes. “Who is she?” I ask. “She’s no one. Just someone I use to fuck. Before I met you.” He glances at me and hesitantly walks closer. His response makes me sick. I grab my stomach, feeling my insides warp and twist violently. “I don’t know why they were released, or who's responsible.” My heart races and twists into a tortured knot as I listen to him. I’ve never seen him like this. He’s begging me. “I will find out, and I will fix everything. I’ll make everything right again. I promise. Please forgive me, Emma.” “What about the other mistresses? And the reports that we ended our marriage?” I sneer at him. My anger is unrelenting. “I have no fucking clue. All of this is as much of a shock to me as it is to you.” Tears start running down his face as he says, “I would never cheat on you, ever; I love


you.” His soft blue eyes pierce through me, pleading for me to forgive him. “Emma, I could never do a thing like that to you.” He reaches for my hand, and I hesitantly allow him to pull me closer to him. “I mean that with everything in me. I love you, and I will do everything and anything to keep you mine forever.” I look into his eyes, willing myself to believe him as he wraps his arms around my waist, but my sight is jerked away. In the window past Kate, I can see a shadowy ghostly figure, standing outside staring at us.

THE WOMAN from the photos is outside Kate’s house.


CHAPTER 3

eerie image of the woman staring at us from the T he dark sends a freezing chill down my spine. The bits of relief I had reluctantly accepted creep out of my body as I stare back in disbelief and stumble away from the safety of Thomas’ arms. What the fuck is she doing here? I blink, and the figure is gone. The chill spreads through my body, and my expression hardens. I’m too disconcerted, and possibly too drunk, to comprehend what I’ve just seen. Was that really her? “Emma, what’s wrong?” Thomas pulls me back to him with a look of concern, but I push him away and stare blankly at the now vacant lawn, searching for evidence that I didn't just imagine her. “Talk to me, baby.” “She’s outside. I saw her.” Thomas grabs my arms and forces me to look at him; his blue eyes burn into mine. I have to look away. His apologetic, collected demeanor has vanished, replaced by worry and anger. Kate immediately turns around to face the window. My mind starts racing. That lying bastard! He really is cheating on me, and the bitch came to watch him. He


probably told her he was ending it with me. I'm so furious, my body begins to shake. “Who did you see?” He grabs my chin to force me to look in his eyes, and I vehemently whip my head around, pulling away from his grasp. “Tell me now. Who did you see?” His voice is demanding as his eyes search the empty yard. I can hardly think, let alone talk. I don’t know her name. But it was the woman from the photos. It’s dark outside, but I know it was her, glaring at us. Remembering the image makes my body tremble. My mouth is parted, but the words won't come out. The woman you were photographed with. The woman you were kissing. I just can’t say the words. My stomach heaves. Oh God, not now! I don’t want to throw up. “I don’t see anyone. There’s no one out there.” His gaze turns from the window to me, searching for the answer. His eyes are serious and intense. He grabs both of my arms, pulling me toward him. His touch is gentle enough not to cause pain, but still forceful. He whispers, “Did you see the woman in the pictures? Was it her?” I nod, and a “yes” creeps out of my throat without my conscious permission. He hesitantly releases me, and the concern on his face grows deeper. Even as he strides hurriedly to the front door to lock it, he still speak calmly as he asks, “Kate, your back door, is it locked?” Without waiting for a response, he starts moving through her kitchen toward the back room. I stand motionless and confused, but bathed in anger. She calls out to him, “Yes, it’s always locked.” Kate moves to the kitchen, but doesn’t enter. She just leans in, waiting for him to respond. “Thomas, what is she doing here?” I call out in a weak


yet pissed voice, but he doesn’t answer. Alone in the living room, I become increasingly aware of the overwhelming feeling of anxiety suffocating me. “You were fucking lying to me. You prick.” My voice is so low that I know he can’t possibly hear me. I'm still mad, but there’s some other feeling nagging at me. His reaction doesn’t quite add up. I’m too drunk to completely grasp what’s going on. I desperately need to sober up. Thomas returns quickly from the great room and grabs Kate’s arm. “We’re leaving now.” “But-” Kate attempts to protest as she frantically grabs her purse. He releases her and walks over to me. He reaches for my arm, and I violently smack him across the face. “You fucking liar!” I slap him again, so hard that he has a bright red imprint on his jaw. My hand burns, and the pain races through my trembling body. “You’re cheating on me!” “Emma,” his tone is bitter and pissed, but his eyes are full of grief, “I’ve never cheated on you. We don’t have time for this. We’re leaving.” He grabs me by the wrist, pulling me toward the door and again I push back as he seizes Kate by the wrist as well. “Now!” he yells and jerks the two of us to the door, hurling it open in a swift motion. “What the fuck is going on, Thomas?” Kate asks, and there's a mixture of confusion, anger, and fear in her voice. “If you aren’t cheating on me, then why the fuck is she here?” My voice is shaky as I sneer at him. He doesn’t respond, or release my arm. His face is stony and impassive and I smack him again, this time with a closed fist. I hear a low, irritated groan in his throat as he grabs me by my waist, tossing me over his


shoulder. I pound my fists on his back and scream for him to put me down, but he doesn’t stop. He forces me out of the house and to his car. “Fuck you!” I yell as he carries me outside and puts me down. “Emma, listen to me. She’s dangerous. Get in the damn car and knock it the fuck off.” He’s pissed; he’s never talked to me like that before. It takes me a moment for his words to register. His eyes warn me that I better listen to him, but I’m so confused I don’t know what to do. He moves deftly around the car as I slowly open the door. Dangerous? I glance cautiously around the yard where I saw the ghostly figure just moments ago and pray to God she still isn’t here. I look around again, frantically trying to calm my breathing; there’s no one here. “I can drive myself,” Kate says angrily with a scowl on her face. “No! Get in the damn car!” We’re both so shocked and frightened that our bodies do as they're told without further argument. My breathing quickens, and the unwelcome tears return. Dangerous? As Thomas starts the car, I see her and the sight stills my body. She’s inside Kate’s house watching us through the large bay window, a dark scowl on her face. Her unkind eyes meet my gaze, and my anger is replaced by fear. We left because he’s afraid of her… because she’s dangerous. I hear Kate gasp from the rear of the car. Confused and terror-stricken, we watch the house and the woman disappear from sight as Thomas speeds down the deserted street.


THOMAS DIALS his phone as we pull out of the neighborhood, completely ignoring us. “Michael, call Paul now. She’s at Kate’s house.” Michael is his assistant. I feel my body trembling uncontrollably from the combination of the cold and my terror. Thomas looks at me guardedly as he says, “She must have followed me there. Take care of it. What are the hotel details?” “She was in the house.” I’m still pissed, but more horrified than anything else, and my emotions are reflected in my shaky voice. “She wasn’t just at the house, she was in Kate’s house.” He glances at me and his eyes are sorrowful, but his lips are pressed into a hard line. He doesn’t respond as he stares intently at the dark road in front of us. “I saw her when you pulled out of the driveway,” I say, my voice strained. “I saw her too. I saw her too.” Kate says the words quickly, and the fear in her voice is plainly obvious. “What was she holding?” I didn’t notice anything. I close my eyes, and all I can see is her staring at me with those wretched eyes. I feel an overwhelming urge to vomit. The car is silent, leaving her question to turn stale in the air. Fear is not an emotion Kate is comfortable with, and it’s quickly replaced by anger. “What the fuck was she doing in my house?” The two of us stare expectantly at Thomas, who is actively avoiding our gazes. Thomas finally speaks after a moment of silence passes, but all he says is, “I don’t know.” His voice is low and I get the sense that he’s lying, or holding something back. I gape at him; once again I'm torn between sadness and anger, although this time fear is added to the wild mix of emotions overwhelming me. “When I got to the back door, it was unlocked.” He


looks down at his white-knuckled hands gripping the wheel and then in the rearview mirror. “I couldn’t see her, but I heard her. She was somewhere in the back room.” “What was she doing there?” Kate repeats her question since we’re still waiting for an explanation. “I don’t know,” he says curtly. His expression morphs to one of concern although his voice is still harsh as he admits, “She came to my office yesterday.” I can’t manage a response. My hands start to shake, and I force them into fists. “I swear it’s the first time I've seen her since we ended it,” he adds, and his voice is less harsh. Instead it's laced with apprehension. He gives me a nervous glance, as if he's gauging whether or not I believe him. I feel dizzy and nauseated; I lean my head against the cold window in a feeble attempt to steady myself. “And when did you end it?” I ask him accusingly, feeling pricks at the back of my eyes. “A long time ago, I swear! Years ago. And I haven’t seen her since… until yesterday.” His voice is low and sincere. I don’t look at him; I keep my head down to avoid his gaze. My head is throbbing. I want to believe every word that he says. But it just doesn’t add up. “We dated years ago. It was just a good time.” I slam my head back in my seat and roll my eyes. Kate scoffs at his response, “A good time? Really?” She lets out a spiteful laugh. “That insane bitch is in my house right now!” She’s pissed, really pissed. “Who just walks into someone’s house?” “The police are on their way,” he says and searches for her eyes in the rearview mirror. “Michael is taking care of it.” He sounds apologetic. “Tell me everything right now,” I demand. “I want to know everything.”


He gently puts his hand on my knee, and I angrily slap it away. “No. Don’t touch me. Tell me right now, Thomas.” My tears are falling freely, and I make no attempt to wipe them away. I glare at him, my body shaking. My voice breaks as I repeat, “Tell me now.” He hesitates, looking at me with concern and pain. “Her name is Lillian. We started seeing each other the summer before I met you. We were only together for a few weeks, if that.” He looks at me desperately, hoping I believe him. “You know how I was before I met you. I wasn’t committed to anything or anyone. She wanted more and I didn’t, so we ended it.” “Who ended it, exactly?” Kate asks with resentment. “I ended it,” he says. “And I’m guessing you were a huge dick about it,” Kate jeers from the back. “I wasn’t any more or less of a dick than I always was. We were over, and I told her that.” “That doesn’t make sense. If that's true, then why was she in Kate’s house?” I look at him and wait for a response. Why is she dangerous? The question is burning into me, but I fail to ask him. He’s still holding back. I want to threaten that I’ll leave him, tell him that it’s over. I can’t take this bullshit. But I try to remain calm; he’s never lied to me before. Not that you know of. He grips the wheel tight and pulls onto the highway, looking in his rearview. I look in the side mirror reflexively, but no one is there. “Do you think she’s following us?” Kate asks warily, and the change in her tone is sobering. “I don’t know. Possibly.” He takes a deep breath. “You need to tell me what the hell is going on, right now.”


“When I called it off, she went insane, completely out of her fucking mind.” I stare at him intently, waiting for him to continue. “What did she do?” I ask cautiously. “She would hold on to me crying, and stand in front of my car so I couldn’t leave, things like that. She kept calling me and sending me photos of herself. I ignored her messages, but then she showed up at my parents' house.” He looks disgusted. “I didn’t even know she knew where my parents lived. She was stalking me. I told her it was over, and to leave me alone. But she just didn’t get it. I had to call the cops and have a restraining order issued.” “What the fuck?” Kate moans, and collapses against the backseat. Thomas hesitates, then continues. “I got a call from a hospital saying that she had overdosed on something, like a week after I had her arrested.” He sighs and shakes his head as if remembering something dreadful. “I really didn’t want to see her, but they said I was listed as her emergency contact and that she had no one else. She was begging me to take her back lying there in the hospital bed. She was a complete mess.” He hesitates. “Her arms were tied down. They said she tried to kill herself.” “Are you serious? What did you do?” I ask in complete disbelief and horror. He keeps his eyes on the road as he answers. “I didn’t know what to do. She completely lost her mind. It’s not like I led her on. She knew I didn’t want anything more than a good time.” Finally, he takes a regretful, dejected look at me. It’s difficult to look back at him. I’m in shock. Again I have an urge to vomit; I close my eyes tight and try to force it down. “Are you alright?” he asks warily.


“Yes. I’m fine,” I lie. I want to vomit all over your car, asshole. I take a deep breath in an attempt to calm the sickness in my stomach and my simmering resentment, then ask, “What did you do?”“I left the room and told the doctor I wasn’t her boyfriend.” He pulls off the highway. “I told them I would pay for her treatment, but that was all I would do. I didn’t want to know the details of her progress, and I didn’t want anything to do with her. I never asked how much, and I never really looked into it. I know she was in a psych ward for awhile after the hospital. I figured once she got treatment she would snap out of it and leave me alone. I thought it was done and over with, until yesterday.” “When she came to see you?” I can’t even begin to fathom what happened in his office. Do I really want to know? “Yes.” He takes a breath and continues, “She just walked in, like I was expecting her and knew she was coming.” He gives the wheel a hard thump, causing my body to shudder. “I can’t fucking believe Sandra let her in like that.” “She just let her in?” I’m mortified that his senseless secretary would carelessly allow a psycho ex to walk into his office. “They were close years ago. She used to work for the company.” Kate snorts at his response. He was so reckless. I have no idea how he could have possibly been so successful when he really only cared about fucking everything in sight. I’ve never asked him about his past; I knew too much from Kate as it was. “I didn’t want anyone at the office to know what happened. I never told them.” Again the look of regret crosses his face. “She sat down and just stared at me. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to say. The last


time I saw her, she was in the hospital. She tried to kill herself because of me. I don’t know what she expected me to say.” “What happened, Thomas?” My throat hurts now. I try to swallow to ease the pain. “She started talking about how she had loved working for my office. I was hoping she was going to ask for a reference and that would be the end of it, but then she lost it. She started crying hysterically and talking about how she should be my wife.” My entire body tightens, and I struggle to breathe. He twists his hands around the leather steering wheel, and from the corner of my eye I can see his body tense. She wants to be his wife? “I had to call security. As soon as she left, I had Michael look into her history. Apparently she was let out of treatment after about a year, but then a few weeks later she was readmitted. Michael's still gathering all the details. She was released last week.” “So she’s completely psychotic?” Kate mutters in the back of the car. Thomas finally turns off the road, pulling into The Gramercy Hotel parking lot. “Why was she readmitted? Did she contact you when she got out the first time?” I don’t want to know, but the words come out regardless. My eyes dart to him, measuring his reaction. “No, she didn’t. I don’t know why all of this happened. I never could’ve guessed…” his voice trails off. “So she’s the one who leaked those photos then?” Kate comes to the realization before me. I completely forgot about the photos. I take a deep breath and let out a long, dismal sigh while keeping my eyes closed. “I imagine it was her.” He puts the car in park, and stares down at the stick shift. “I don’t even remember


those pictures being taken when I was with her. I don’t know who took them.” “Does she know where we live? Is that why we’re here?” I ask the questions in a low, defeated voice, not making eye contact, just staring out the window. I lean my head against the cold glass, my knees pulled up to my chest. After everything today, I just want to crawl into my bed and hide. “She came to our house earlier today. When I got home I could see her in the window.” My head jerks in disbelief, and I gawk at him. My heart feels like it's being ripped out of my chest. She was in our house, our house? “Rose?” Her name escapes my lips as a whisper. Rose is our housekeeper; I can’t imagine what she would have done. “She’d gone for the weekend already. I called her, but she had no idea.” He closes his eyes. “How did she even get in?” “I’m an idiot, Emma. I used the same security password that I had at my old place.” My eyes widen. The thought of that woman in my house is too much for me to bear. I can’t believe she just walked into our house. She wants to be his wife. She was waiting for him. She might’ve been waiting for you. Shock and terror grip me, holding me still against the leather as I come to that realization. Thomas can see it in my face. He makes a move to touch me, but stops when I glare at him. I hesitantly ask, “What did she want?” “I don’t know. I called the police right away and had Michael track you down to make sure you were okay. I stayed in the driveway, waiting for the cops to come or for her to make her move. I didn’t even get out of the car.” He swallows hard as both Kate and I stare at him, waiting to


hear what happened. “They spent over an hour searching, but they couldn’t find her anywhere.” He finally looks at me with his soft blue eyes and rests his hand on my knee. I can't tell if he's trying to console me or trying to comfort himself. “That’s why it took me so long to get to you. I didn’t want her to follow me and confront you.” I look at him with a mix of confusion and fear in my eyes. Confront me? “But she did follow you,” Kate mumbles under her breath. “I know.” He swallows hard and frowns. His eyes are full of anguish. He looks completely broken down. A moment of silence passes. I feel completely overwhelmed as the tears return and I sob. “I would never hurt you, Emma. I love you. I swear I didn’t cheat on you. Please forgive me.” He sounds desperate again, but his voice calms me. I helplessly weep as I feel Thomas’ strong arms around me, holding me steady, calming my shaking body. “I would never do anything to hurt you,” he whispers to me. He puts his warm hand on my face and pulls me up to his lips. His thumb rubs my ear and then moves through my hair and down my neck. I didn’t realize how much I needed his touch. Exhaustion overwhelms me as I sink into his arms.

THOMAS TAKES me by the waist as I slip out of the passenger seat, cursing my drunkenness and attempting to wrap my head around this horrible evening. Part of me wants to push him away and smack him across his


gorgeous face, but I need his comforting touch. All of this is too much for me to handle. My head is pounding, and comprehending everything is too overwhelming right now. I recap the night as we head toward the entrance: he hasn’t cheated on me, a psychotic ex released those photos, she also went to see him yesterday to try to get him back, and she broke into Kate’s house after breaking into our home to do God knows what. The last one is the most disturbing. I can't stop thinking about the endless possibilities of what could’ve happened if Thomas hadn’t seen her in the window, or if he’d walked into the house with her waiting in some dark corner for him. What if I hadn’t seen her through Kate’s window? What would she have done? I have to shake the thoughts away. I wish all of this was just a nightmare I could wake up from. He leads the way with me beside him and Kate staggering in her heels by my side. We're all silent. The atmosphere that was once a mix of fury and sadness is now a horrid mess of fear, shock, and confusion. I’m all of these, but worst of all, I’m drunk. I’m angry that we’re in this situation, but I don’t think I should be angry at Thomas. Yes, he was a careless asshole who slept around, but that was years ago. I wish there was a way to make all of this go away. As I think it over in my head, if everything he’s saying is true, Thomas has done nothing to warrant my aggression, at least not since he’s known me. Yet I’ve been verbally and physically abusive, even as he was trying to get me out of harm's way. I can’t imagine what Thomas must think of me right now. Again, I feel sickened. This time, shame accompanies the unpleasant sensation. Thomas takes off his jacket and places it around my shoulders, holding onto me tight. It’s only when I see Kate shivering that I realize how cold it is. It’s not


snowing, but the wind is bitter. I pick up my pace toward the entrance of the hotel. When he opens the door for us, he kisses me gently on my forehead. I’m grateful for both his kiss and his jacket. I wanted to crawl into his arms in the car, but at the same time, I wanted to beat the shit out of him. Thomas gives my hand a squeeze and kisses the back of my hand but I want more. I want him to reassure me that this will all go away. Thomas handles checking in while Kate and I stand to the side of the lobby. “I’m so sorry, Kate. I can’t believe all this shit.” I can’t tell her just how sorry I am. I start to think about what would have happened if we’d gone back to my house, then I realize it would have been worse, so much worse. What exactly is this woman capable of? What would she have done? I shake the thought from my mind. Again, I don’t want to know. “It’s not your fault, Emma.” She breathes in deep and takes my hand in hers as she says, “I’m scared for you two.” I’m not really sure what to say. I feel fuzzy and incapable of responding. We both turn toward Thomas suddenly as his phone rings. He holds up a finger to the clerk and slowly walks toward the elevators, keeping his head down. He’s out of earshot. We just stare at him, hopeful that the police have her in custody. What would they even charge her with? Breaking and entering? Harassment? Being a psychotic bitch? I turn back to Kate, gently squeezing her hand. “It’ll be okay. I know it will.” My voice is weak though, and even I’m not convinced by my tone. I examine her anxious green eyes and do my best to reassure her. She shakes her head and begins to respond, but Thomas interrupts us. “Kate, I’m sorry for today. She isn’t in your house, and


there doesn’t appear to be any damage. The police don’t know where she is though. They’re doing their best to track her down. She was able to pick your lock, at least that’s how it appears.” His voice is too businesslike. Despite his calm composure, I can tell he’s pissed. “Please stay here at the hotel tonight.” He breathes deep and says, “Michael is replacing the back door and locks in your house. I hope that’s alright.” “Yes, of course.” Her voice sounds raspy, and she clears her throat. Her gaze rests on the floor. “Good. Here’s your hotel key.” He hands her a small envelope. “Your room is right next to ours.” He puts his hand on the small of my back and leads us to the elevators. Everyone is silent as we wait for the doors to open. I don’t even know what I would say if I had the energy. She’s still out there. That’s what we’re all thinking, but no one’s saying it. “Kate, I don’t think you’ll need it, but just as a precaution, I’d like to have you protected tomorrow,” he says matter-of-factly as he pushes the button for our floor and the doors close. “What?” Her eyes dart to him with disbelief. I stare at him with bleak curiosity. I’m not sure what this woman is capable of, but would Kate really need protection? “I would just have peace of mind if you allowed two members of my security team to accompany you while the police locate her.” I pull away from Thomas and he watches me closely, but doesn’t say anything. I can hardly handle what’s already happened. I don’t want to think about what may happen if they can’t find her. “That’s fine,” she responds in a low voice. She stares at the elevator doors, waiting for them to open. I watch Thomas, but he doesn’t speak. No one


speaks. My body feels heavier with every second that passes. I hold onto him, resting my head on his shoulder. The doors open, and we move into the carpeted hall. “I can’t tell you how sorry I am, Kate,” he says, keeping his gaze on her while we walk. “I had no idea this would happen.” He looks and sounds completely sincere. Kate’s eyes and tone are forgiving. “No one could’ve possibly known, Thomas.” She stops at her room and glances up at us. “Sleep tight, you guys.” I grab her hand and attempt to smile. “Sleep well. I’ll see you in the morning.” It’s more of a question than a statement. She squeezes my hand. “I better see you tomorrow,” she says with a smile. Her warm response puts me at ease. That’s the Kate I know. We watch her enter before Thomas opens the door to our room.


CHAPTER 4

much to do, but I feel exhausted and quite T here’s so honestly I don’t even know how I’m still standing. I doubt it’s even 1 a.m., but I’m struggling to comprehend everything that’s just happened. Given the ungodly amount of alcohol I drank tonight, I’m surprised I’m still conscious. I don’t know what to think. I believe Thomas, and I know he loves me, but I feel wounded. I’m not sure how to respond to all of this. He’s looking at me as though he’s unsure if I believe him, or maybe he's wondering if I still love him. I do hopelessly still love him. I feel a sense of relief as I realize our marriage isn’t over. For hours, I was sure he was leaving me for another woman. I was so foolish. I shudder and then rest on the bed, sinking deep with my feet still firmly on the ground. “You should call your mom, Emma.” His voice of reason makes me groan, even if it is a pleasant disruption from my morbid thoughts. I’d completely forgotten about my mom and her messages. “Did you talk to her?” I look up after a moment passes and he still hasn’t answered me. He’s on his phone,


absorbed by something. “Thomas?” He glances at me, and his blue eyes look heavy and wretched. My poor Thomas. “She called me during the PR meeting.” He sighs and walks slowly across the room, setting his phone down on the nightstand, and sits next to me on the bed. I lay my head in his lap, curling my legs up on the soft bed, caressing his hand with mine. I feel his stiff body relax somewhat with my touch. My heart drops as I realize I’ve caused him unnecessary agony. With everything he’s been going through, I’ve only made it worse. He lays a comforting hand on my exhausted body, rubbing his fingers gently up and down my lower back and the curve of my waist. I could fall asleep in his lap, absorbing his reassuring touch; I don’t want to move. “We were on the phone for almost an hour.” I look up to see a smirk on his face. “She was more reasonable than you.” I pull his hand toward mine and kiss his wedding band. “I would never cheat on you.” The strength in his voice collapses as he says, “I’m sorry.” I crawl into his lap, nestling my head under his chin, trying to comfort him. He whispers, “I love you.” “I love you, too.” I kiss him gently on his throat, down to the little dip above his chest. “I’m sorry I didn’t answer when you called.” He gently rolls me onto the bed so I'm lying on my back. He leans down and kisses me firmly and passionately, consuming me. The kiss lights a fire in me. I tilt my head up, deepening the kiss and moan softly against his lips. But it’s short-lived. As he pulls away, I reach a hand around his neck and pull him in again for a small kiss. My lower lip grazes his, and I nip at him


gently. He closes his eyes and breathes in deep, calming his body. “Call her, she just wants to hear your voice and make sure you’re alright.” He gets up slowly. “Call her, baby.” His voice is filled with fatigue. He gives me a soft kiss on my lips before I watch him walk to the bathroom, hands in his hair. I sit up, doing my best to remain awake, and take a look around the room. It’s a large suite, nicely decorated with large framed pieces of contemporary art on each wall. The furniture has clean straight lines. It looks nothing like our home. I wish we were home, climbing into our own bed. I would give anything to be falling into the soft down comforter on our bed right now. I breathe in deep, thinking wistfully of the soft lavender notes from the aromatherapy candles on our nightstand, but no such scent exists in this room. It’s a cold, contemporary refuge. The thought sinks deep, twisting and disintegrating my insides. We aren’t home because some crazed stalker broke in and is looking for us. What does she want? Again, I shake the thought away. I don’t want to know. Right now I just want to forget. I feel overwhelmed with anxiety. I shouldn’t think anymore tonight. Hopefully tomorrow she’ll be in jail or a psych ward, and then I won’t have to think about it anymore. So long as she's nowhere close to me or my husband. My head is throbbing, sending sharp pains to my temples. I wait a moment for the pain to pass. I look over to the closet and see four suitcases stacked neatly on the floor courtesy of Michael, I’m sure. Michael does whatever Thomas requests, and never asks any questions. It used to make me so uncomfortable, but I’m more used to it now. I get up and dig through my bag


to find a gorgeous pink paisley nightshirt. I toss my clothes on the floor and slip on the silk material. I instantly feel calm, and letting go of that tension allows the exhaustion to overwhelm me. I return to the edge of the bed and feel myself sink into the bedding. “Thomas, did Michael pack a bag for Kate?” The thought creeps into my mind. I hope he did, even though the thought of him picking out lace panties for Kate makes me cringe. He answers from the bathroom, “He’s getting one now. I didn’t anticipate her joining us.” Relief sets in, although I now know that Kate is about to get a new set of panties that Michael possibly handpicked. What does he think about that job requirement? “You should give him a raise!” I yell. I hear him let out a small laugh. I’m not sure how much Michael gets paid, but I know it's some ridiculous amount. He earns every penny of it though. A few minutes pass before I reluctantly sit up. I need to call my mom. I can’t let her worry all night. I scoot across the bed to grab my purse off the nightstand and let out an exhausted sigh. I find my phone and toss the Kate Spade satchel carelessly onto the floor. If I were more awake I’d kick my own ass for disrespecting my purse like that. But now I just stare at it briefly and then look back to my phone. Back to the task at hand. Growing up, I only had my mom; my father left when I was born. She’s been my rock, and I’ve tried to be hers. I know I’ve failed tonight. I failed miserably in so many ways. I’ll just call her. I can’t listen to the voicemails. If I start listening to them, I know I’ll cry. I dial her number and relax into the bed, running my hands through my hair and under my eyes. They feel


slightly swollen. “Baby girl!” My mom answers the phone so warmly. “I was so worried about you!” she says, and there’s the disapproving motherly tone I was expecting. “Hi, Mom,” I say. Even though she's scolding me, just the sound of her voice puts an immediate small smile on my face. “I didn’t mean to make you worry, I was just trying to pull myself together.” My voice sounds a bit distraught, which causes hesitation on the other end of the phone. “Sweetheart, have you talked to Thomas? I talked to him earlier-” “We talked. I’m with him now.” I cut her off. I don’t want her to think that Thomas and I are fighting. I believe him, and I’m worried and angry, but I do believe him. I hear a sigh of relief on the other line. “He’s going to fix everything.” Was that for your benefit, or hers? “It was just a publicity stunt.” My heart drops a little with the last line. That isn't true at all, but she doesn’t need to know the details. I can barely even wrap my head around all of it. “My poor baby, it’s not fair that you're in such a difficult place with the media. It’s all a bunch of nonsense.” I can hear her getting heated. I must get my temper from my mom. “Don’t you worry about a thing, sweetheart. As soon as I get a chance to fly to New York, I’m going to take you two out on the town.” I snicker a little at the thought of her version of out on the town. “How about we take you out on the town?” I suggest and feel the smile on my face grow. My mom’s lightheartedness is infectious, and I welcome it. There’s giddiness in my voice when Thomas paces back into the room. His body is less tense; he looks like my normal, loving husband. He’s wearing blue flannel pajama pants


hanging from his hips and nothing else. I eye his perfect, muscular physique. Yum. “I have to go, it’s getting late.” I can’t take my eyes off him. I feel scandalous having a conversation with my mom while I quietly admire every inch of his body. I wonder if he knows what I'm thinking. He’s not looking at me though. Instead he’s concentrating on finding something in one of the larger suitcases. I feel awful that I ignored him and made everything more difficult for him tonight. I want to make it up to him, tell him I’m sorry and that I love him. Exhaustion may put that on hold though. “I love you, Emma. Sleep well and call me tomorrow.” She puts emphasis on “call me tomorrow.” “I will, Mom. I love you too.” Thomas sits down next to me, moves my hair to the side and kisses my cheek. “I’m sorry about everything today, and so is Thomas,” I say. I feel terrible that she had to see all of that. I can’t imagine what was going through her head, or how she reacted. I need to delete those voicemails without listening to them. I don’t want to know. “Oh, pssh! It’s not your fault. You two did nothing to be sorry about.” I helplessly grin at her tone. “Tell him I love him too. Give him a big kiss from me.” Her approval makes me smile and my whole body relaxes, sinking deeper into the soft mattress. “Good night, Emma.” “Good night, Mom.” I hang up the phone and reach across the bed, stretching to put it on the nightstand. It’s almost dead, but I don’t have the energy to dig through my bag to find the charger. Thomas grabs my waist and pulls me to his chest. I impishly object, letting out a small, playful groan. “I’m so sorry baby, I really can’t tell you enough,” he whispers in my ear and gives me small kisses on my forehead, cheek, and neck.


“No more apologies, just make it all go away.” I look up at him and kiss him under his chin and then on his throat. I take in his masculine scent. I just want it all to go away; I don’t want to think about it anymore. A thought sparks my curiosity. “What are you going to do to the broadcast station?” I nudge his chin with my nose. He looks down at me past his eyelashes. He has enough money to buy the entire company and fire everyone if he really wants to. Resentment starts coursing through me. Thomas can tell I’m angry. He runs his hand through my hair and tilts his head to the side. His look calms me. “Nothing. I’m not going to do anything,” he says, nonplussed. I’m a little bit shocked. He’s not going to do anything? I eye him with curiosity. “I'll issue a statement tomorrow before work saying they were photos from a long time ago, and that we're happily married and a little shaken up that someone would go through so much trouble to hurt us.” I guess that’s reasonable, more reasonable than what I would do. Definitely more reasonable than what I would like him to do. “Don’t worry about a thing, Emma. I'll take care of everything,” he whispers in my ear and I lay my head on his chest. His warmth comforts me, and again I believe every word he says. “I can’t keep my eyes open,” I mutter as my eyelids fall unwillingly. My entire body relaxes lying against him. “Sleep, baby.” He gives me another kiss and shifts me slightly so he can turn off the light. “Everything will be better in the morning.” It sounds like a promise.


CHAPTER 5

E verything is sparkling white and dripping in diamonds. The most beautiful roses, nearly thousands of them, are huddled in perfect centerpieces on every table and surface. Taller arrangements line the immense windows of the candlelit ballroom. Snow is gently falling, and the twinkling of Christmas lights surrounding Fifth Avenue is so romantic that for a moment, it steals my gaze. I can see all of our guests seated in black tie formal attire, happily chatting with one another. They can’t see me just yet. I’m peeking through a gap between large walnut doors. Thomas seems amused by my childlike giddiness. Who would’ve thought just a year after spilling coffee on the most eligible bachelor in New York I would be exchanging vows with him? Fate, I think as I close my eyes and take in the intoxicating floral aroma. He holds my hand tightly as the doors open and we make our grand entrance. Immediate applause greets us, followed by the sound of an eruption of knives clinking on champagne flutes. A soft melody begins to play in the background. His soft blue eyes meet mine as he moves


to twirl me on the dance floor. He pulls me in close, forcefully embracing me for a kiss. He leans into me, and whispers, “I will love you forever.” I smile and let out a small, teasing laugh. He spins me again and again, allowing my full ballgown to expand. His hand gently caresses my waist as he pulls me toward him and pushes me away during our first dance together as husband and wife. His blue eyes pierce into me with passion and endearing love. I close my eyes as he kisses me, gently biting my lip. He smiles when I open my eyes. I’m overwhelmed with pure happiness. I close my eyes and wonder, how could life get any better?

IT CAN’T, you fool. And when you can’t go up, you must come down, crashing hard, smashing onto the cold concrete into a million shards of nothingness.

A CHILLING SHUDDER runs through my body and I open my eyes mid-spin; I think I see a woman outside. In that fraction of a second I thought I saw the silhouette of a woman tightly clutching her long white coat around her chest, glaring at us. My smile disappears for a moment but as I spin again, I don’t see her. I stand still, pushing him away. The music stops, replaced by silence. The warmth in the room disappears. I stare at the window.

W HERE DID SHE GO? I feel her behind me.


I JOLT AWAKE, gasping for air. “Emma, wake up!” Thomas is holding me, his fingers gripping into my trembling shoulders. I glance around anxiously; we’re in the hotel room. My body is shaking, and the pounding in my chest deafens me. “I saw her.” I take a deep breath and then another, trying frantically to calm myself. Tears start falling down my face. “I can’t get her out of my head.” He takes my head in his hands and pulls me to his chest. He gives me soft kisses on my lips and wipes my tears away with his thumb and then gently moves his thumb to my lips, quieting me. His soft blue eyes are compassionate. I rest my head on his shoulder and nuzzle under his chin, doing my best to relax my breathing. “I’m scared.” I feel weak as I say it. The words I speak are hopelessly true. “Hush, baby.” He kisses my hair. “Everything will be alright. You have nothing to be scared about.” He holds me for a moment until my sobbing stops, his warm embrace soothing me, calming my quivering body. “I'll fix everything.” Thomas has had stalkers in the past. This is easily remedied. In just a few days, life will be back to normal. I shouldn’t be so shaken up. But then again, I’ve never come so close to any of his stalkers, at least not that I’ve known about. I steady my breathing. Everything will be alright. He'll fix everything. As I finally calm down, I'm crippled by the throbbing in my head and pounding on my temples. Ugh, hangover. As if he’s read my mind, Thomas releases me, kissing my neck and laying me into the comfort of the duvet. I feel lonely as he leaves me, suddenly cold. I sit up slightly and surround myself with the warmth of the blanket,


burying my head in my knees. Drawing the white sheets close to me, I think, it was only a nightmare. Thomas returns, sitting softly on the edge of the bed and hands me a glass of water and two Advil. “This should help.” He looks at me with a humorous grin. “Don’t tease me,” I playfully warn as I crane my neck up to sip the water and swallow the precious medicine. The water alone is enough to immediately ease some of the pounding. I lay my head on his shoulder, moving my hand to his chest, and feel a sense of happiness. I’m safe in bed with my loving husband. His thumb travels down my cheek to rest on my bottom lip. He pushes my mouth open just a little, enough to get the tip of his thumb wet. He moves his warm finger down past my chin, trailing down my throat. I look up at him past my lashes, feeling fragile. “Thom-” I start to speak, but he interrupts me with a forceful kiss, nipping my bottom lip. His dominance makes my core instantly heat. The smoldering fire I felt earlier revs back to life. He moves one of his hands to my waist, keeping the other around my neck. His deft fingers push under my shirt and move up my back. His hand glides gently over my skin, sending a sweet sensation through my body. His touch makes my lips part as I release a moan. I don’t know if I have the energy for this, but it feels so good. I’ve been craving his touch, needing it. “Baby, I want you.” His deep voice lowers as he kisses my neck tenderly and then whispers in my ear, “I need you.” I feel his hot breath on my neck as he kisses me down to my chest. In a swift movement he takes my nightshirt off and carelessly tosses it on the floor. He grazes my breasts with his lips, gently nipping the


hardening buds of my nipples then moves back up my neck, finally meeting my wanting lips. His strong hand on my back gently moves to the small of my waist, making me wriggle under him. My lips part as his kisses move lower. I let out small moans as I writhe under his expert touch. His low groans against my skin turn me on even more. I feel heated, wanting him to love me. His hands go to my hips, and his fingers curl around the soft fabric of my thong. I tilt my hips up, giving him the permission that he wants. He slips them down past my knees, slowly sending an intense sensation down my body as his fingertips lightly caress my skin. He open-mouth kisses my breasts, trailing his tongue lazily around my nipples. Moving from side to side, he kisses down to my navel as he removes my thong completely, causing my entire body to shiver in anticipation. He stays below my waist as I close my eyes and enjoy his tender kisses. He brushes his nose against my clit, making me gasp. A rush of warmth surges through my body. I arch my back in response to his tongue, my fingers carelessly combing through his hair. I dig my fingers into his hair as he suctions his lips against my clit, making my pussy clench. He’s merciless and I know it won’t take much to push me over the edge, but I don’t want to cum like this. “I need you inside me,” I whimper. “Please, Thomas.” He releases my clit and gives me one more languid lick as he tastes me. He looks up at me with longing eyes. “Not yet.” His soft wet tongue laps at my clit before he sucks it into his mouth. I can’t hold back my moan as I struggle to hold still. I don’t want to wait any longer. I’m so close, I can feel the numbing sensation moving from my toes, up my body. My neck arches and I beg him yet again, “Please


Thomas, please.” In a swift move he pulls my hips to him and enters me slowly, achingly slowly. Every inch of his thick cock stretches me, sending a jolt of pleasure through my heated body. He kisses my collarbone as he gradually moves in and out over and over, letting my body grow accustomed to his size. I lift my hips to meet his, wrapping my legs around his waist, digging my heels into his ass. His lips meet mine and I feel his hot tongue in my mouth, the salty taste of my arousal evident. He quickly pushes deep inside me, making me throw my head back and moan. The previous gentleness is replaced with ruthless, lustful force. He looks at me, staring into my eyes as he thrusts deep again and pushes me back against the wall. My hands reach up to grab the headboard and he pins them there, holding my wrists in one hand. He leans down and kisses my nipples, biting and pulling them gently. He moves his body faster, making me moan louder. Just a little more. It’s too slow; I need more. I writhe under him, begging him for my release. “When you didn’t answer,” his voice is low and sexy as he slows his pace, “it made me very mad, Emma.” I feel an immediate sense of loss as he moves so that only the tip of his cock is in me. His baritone voice shoots heat from my toes and fingers, all the way to my core. He slams into me, sending a wave of ecstasy through my body. I look into his eyes, surprised and entrapped in his gaze. He moves out slowly and then pounds in deep again, forcing me to throw my head back and bite my lip. I muffle my moan. “You know I don’t like to worry.” It’s so hard to concentrate on what he's saying with the overwhelming


pleasure I'm feeling. “I don’t want you to ignore me again, Emma.” Another forceful thrust, and I feel like I can’t take much more. My body is tingling with the heated sensation threatening to take over. “I don’t want to worry again.” I force my eyes open to meet his and gently kiss his lips, willing him to forgive me. His face is merciful, but his eyes are angry and intense. “Tell me you won’t do it again.” His eyes penetrate me, and again he slams into me. I love it when he fucks me like this. Punishing me. “I won’t,” I manage to utter and desperately kiss him hard, trying to move my hands from his grasp. I want to hold him, reassure him that I won’t do it again. But he keeps me pinned. “I want to hear you say it.” He thrusts harder and holds himself still deep inside me as he kisses my neck, nipping and biting, making my pussy throb even more for him.“I promise!” I’m so close to the edge it’s hard to speak. “I’ll answer you.” I gasp as he slams into me again. “I won’t make you worry.” Tears fill my eyes as I near my release. He kisses me softly before releasing my wrists. His motions pick up and I feel myself reaching for his back, scratching him, burying my head in his neck. He reaches down and rubs my clit in motion with his body. Oh fuck! Yes! “Please,” I moan desperately in his ear. “Cum, baby, cum,” he breathes into my neck. My body gives with his, trembling with a merciless wave of ecstasy and I scream out his name as I feel him pulse in me. My shoulders shudder as the aftershocks take over my exhausted and sated body. All the while Thomas holds me up before laying me down softly. I take a deep breath as he gently pulls out of me; I


feel sore instantly. He takes me in his arms and gives me a loving kiss. Taking his head in my hands, I kiss him back sweetly but passionately, bringing his lower lip between mine and letting my teeth run along it. “You are mine, and I will love you forever,” he says with a satisfied smirk. His blue eyes look tired but full of sincerity. He pushes a loose strand of hair behind my ear, away from my face, and kisses me tenderly on my neck. “You are mine, and you better love me forever.” I look him dead in the eyes as I say it and then rub my nose on his devotedly. He gives a coy smile at my response. I rest my head back on his chest and say, “I love you, Thomas.” He kisses the top of my head, and I fall asleep in his arms. I don’t dream of her invading my most-loved memories. Instead I dream of Thomas making me his, forcefully but sweetly, and loving me. Only me. Only Thomas.


CHAPTER 6

M y body is still aching from the riveting night of makeup sex. We’re alone in the elevator, heading to the first floor so we can meet Kate for breakfast at the hotel café. I lean into Thomas’ chest as he wraps his arms around my waist and nuzzle into his neck. He releases one of his hands from my body and pushes a button, halting the carriage in its tracks. I smile shyly, looking up at him. “I want to enjoy you for a minute,” he says as he tucks my hair behind my ear. “If you’d called off from work, you could be enjoying me all day.” My eyes plead with him, hopeful that maybe he’ll change his mind. “Not today, baby.” He gives me a soft kiss on my lips. “A man has to make a living.” I roll my eyes at him. “I’m sure that they’d be fine without you for a day.” “I can’t today.” He kisses my hair as I move my head back to his chest. I wish he would just take off and stay with me. I still don’t know exactly what he does at work. It mostly sounds like setting up meetings, going to meetings, and making plans for more meetings.


“I promise I'll make everything better.” He lets out deep as he speaks. “Did they find her?” I can’t help but ask. I bite the inside of my cheek after the words are out, but I can’t take them back. It’s been on my mind all morning. I didn’t want to bring it up. If ignored long enough, most problems just go away. At least with Thomas they do. “Not yet, but don’t worry. I'll take care of it.” His voice is determined and his gaze penetrates me, willing me to believe that everything will be just fine. I nod gently, not taking my eyes off of his. His hand moves to the back of my head, embracing me for a kiss. A small sigh leaves me as he reaches over and pushes a button again. The elevator moves, and we readjust ourselves. Public displays of affection outside of holding hands are a no-no. He gently rubs soothing circles on my wrist. The small action instantly calms me. The door opens, and I’m relieved there aren’t paparazzi in the front entrance waiting for us. When we first got engaged, they were everywhere, like vultures. Thomas squeezes my hand, and I see his body relax. He’s relieved, too.

BREAKFAST WITH KATE went much better than I thought it would. A bit of rest is all we needed, I suppose. Last night was just so damn dramatic. I crave normalcy. “I’m not paying you back for this,” Kate says to Thomas as she points to her ivory chiffon top with a broad grin. “I’ll tell Michael he chose an acceptable outfit for you.” He takes a sip of his black coffee. He sounds serious, but I can see he’s holding back a smile. “So is the crazy bitch out of my house?” she asks so


casually that I’m forced to let out a small laugh. “She is,” Thomas’ smile dims as he responds. His face becomes a little more serious. “I'd still like you to have security with you until the police find her.” He puts his coffee mug down. “They found her car at a motel outside of the city.” He keeps his eyes on his index finger as it rubs the rim of his mug. “They’ll find her soon.” Uneasiness settles in my stomach. He pulls a folded envelope out of a pocket in his jacket and hands it to Kate. “The keys to your house, madam,” he says jokingly with an asymmetrical grin, lightening the mood. “Why thank you, good sir.” Kate takes the envelope with a wide smile. I giggle at their playful banter. As I take the last bite of my omelet, life seems fairly normal. Somewhere deep down in my gut I don’t feel that it's possible, but on the surface at least, normalcy has returned. We say goodbye and head back to the hotel room to grab my purse. On our way to the elevator I see Kate chatting with one of two men dressed in black suits escorting her to her car. I bet she’s flirting with him. That’s my Kate.

MICHAEL HAS ALREADY TAKEN our bags. We head downstairs and find him beside the BMW sedan quietly talking with two more men dressed in black suits. Thomas opens the door for me, and I do my best to graciously slide in. Michael is driving like usual, and one of the new gentlemen joins him up front while the second sits in the back with us. I feel unsettled by the amount of security. I’m comfortable with Michael, since I usually just think of


him as an assistant, even though I know he’s ex-Army. That’s one of the reasons Thomas hired him. “Emma, this is Nate and Calvin. They’ll be accompanying you and Mr. Grant over the next few days.” Michael nods his head in their direction as he speaks. “Nice to meet you, gentlemen,” I say and smile warmly at them. “Same to you, Mrs. Grant.” Nate turns in the front seat and gives me a small awkward wave. Calvin nods, giving a polite but professional smile. They look almost identical, Caucasian with dark hair and dark eyes. “Please call me Emma,” I say and sigh. Not this again. I don’t like being so formal. My hand goes to my forehead, rubbing my temples. I still feel a bit groggy, with a lingering hangover. I don’t hear their response, but I assume they both nod. I look at Thomas, waiting for him to explain why we need so much extra security. But he doesn’t. He’s holding back. The look on his face tells me not to question him, but I disregard it. “Why do we need so much security?” Thomas breathes in deep before looking at me. “Baby, please just go with it for now.” I gape at him. I will not just go with it. I snap at him, making sure my frustration is apparent as I insist, “Thomas, tell me.” He glares back at me. A moment passes, and he says nothing. The tension in the car is palpable; the security trio is avoiding making eye contact. Calvin looks as though he regrets sitting in the back with us. “Please, just tell me,” I try to sound less frustrated and more desperate. “I should know. I’m your wife.” Thomas shifts and moves his hand to his chin, resting


his index finger on his lip. I tilt my head and plead with my eyes. A moment passes, still nothing. Finally, he moves his hand from his mouth and releases a deep breath. “On my way to Kate’s last night, Michael called me.” I see Michael look up at us through the rearview mirror. He seems surprised that Thomas is telling me this. His eyes move back to the road when he notices my gaze. “Her records in the hospital included a name change. She changed her last name before coming to work for my company. She was charged with manslaughter and attempted murder but was never convicted, because she successfully used an insanity defense.” The blood rushes from my face. For a moment, I feel frozen, but then my heartbeat picks up and my back stiffens against the seat. “That’s why she changed her name.” “What happened?” I’m not really sure if I want to know the answer, but it escapes from my lips before I question myself. I can hardly believe what he’s saying. I wish I hadn’t asked. I should have just gone with it. “She ran into the back of her boss’ car.” He sighs deeply. “The car went off the road and crashed into a tree. Both he and his wife were killed instantly.” My eyes widen with a combination of sadness and fear. I grab his hand, and he gives me a small squeeze in return. “Michael looked into the evidence, Emma. She had a gun on her, and there were bullet holes found on the car.” Oh, fuck.“How was that overlooked? You let her work for you?” My eyes flare as anger trumps all of my other emotions. “I was careless with my security before I met you, Emma.” He grabs my hand and releases a sigh of remorse. “Now that I have you, I’m taking more


precautions. I didn’t realize how much of a threat she was, but I told you I would take care of this.” I look down and concentrate on the best way to phrase my question. “What will happen when the police find her?” I look at him, and his eyes are soft, full of concern. “She'll be arrested, and I'll push for her incarceration, but it's up to a judge if she'll go to prison or a psych ward. She obviously has a variety of problems and should be on some kind of medication.” I don’t know if that was the answer I was looking for, and I still feel unsettled. “She’s dangerous. And I don’t want to take any chances. Not with you.” He picks up my hand and kisses it gently on my knuckles. It doesn’t help. She had a gun. She killed her old boss and his wife. I pull my hand away from him gently, not with anger. “Does she want to kill you, or me… or both of us?” My face shows how worried I am, and I can't stop imagining the horrible image of Thomas lying dead on the sidewalk outside his office. I don’t know what I would do; I would be beside myself. Tears prick at the back of my eyes. I can’t believe he didn’t tell me this. Actually I can, and now I wish he hadn’t told me. I wish I hadn’t pushed him to tell me. “I doubt it, Emma.” I’m not sure I believe him with the tone he's using. I think he’s just trying to calm me down. “I just want to be extremely cautious.” He gives me a small smile, attempting to comfort me. “There’s no reason that we should take any chances.” I nod slightly. He’s right. There’s no way of knowing what she’s capable of, but we shouldn’t wait like sitting ducks to find out. Everything will be alright. He can make any problem go away. “I agree.” I scoot close to him and give him a small


kiss on his jaw. “Thank you for telling me,” I whisper, although I'm not thankful at all. I lean back in the seat, pushing my body into the leather and let out a long sigh. I rest my head while I glance out of the window and realize we’re not driving home. We’ve already driven past the exit. “Where are we going?” “I’d like you to come to work with me today. I want you with me.”I open my mouth to object, but then close my lips tight. If this is what he wants, he’ll get it. He’s always had this controlling, possessive way about him. Usually it’s an immediate turn-on, but not so much today. I lie back in the seat again and look out the window, feeling like a child. He places his hand on my inner thigh and rubs his thumb along the seam on my jeans. I close my eyes and rest my head on his shoulder. Truthfully, I want to be with him, too. I’m glad I have my laptop with me so I can work on my novel, even though I don’t see how I could possibly work on a romance comedy given my current emotions. Maybe I’ll start a new novel about a psycho bitch who gets her head blown off. I huff and look back out the window. If only. “Thank you for not fighting with me,” he whispers as his lips gently brush my cheek.

I THINK BACK to the first night we were together. We’d been seeing each other nearly every other day for a month, even though he hadn’t made a move to sleep with me yet. I felt a surge of excitement each time he called. Every day that passed was like a small triumph, easing my insecurity about his intentions. Kate was starting to let up on him, although she still didn’t believe he’d given up


his reputation. She worried about me, maintaining her position as the overly protective friend. She’d call me after every date if I hadn’t texted her by 11. She really relaxed when he finally agreed to go out in a group setting with a few friends at a bar, even though he had to pick the venue. It was one of several that he owned. I didn’t know it at the time; I just thought it was his favorite bar. In fact, at the time I had no idea about the insane number of properties and businesses he owned. Thomas is much more comfortable in public when he owns the building, so he just snapped them up as he saw fit. He owns fifty-one percent and is a silent partner in more businesses than he needs, but what Thomas wants, he gets. I remember how jealous I was, watching how the women reacted to him. He was in a pair of dark denim jeans and a simple white t-shirt, but he looked so fucking hot. Some of the women openly hitting on him were really gorgeous. It made me so self-conscious even though he didn’t seem to pay much attention to them. After a bit of alcohol, I loosened up. I tried to get him on the dance floor, but he insisted he only wanted to enjoy the view. It made me blush. The night went great, other than his drooling admirers. Shots and dancing, more drinks, everything in good fun. We went back to his place, and it looked every bit the masculine CEO bachelor pad that it was. I hadn’t been there before that night. I was right about the maid and incredible artwork. I was wearing expensive lingerie for the occasion. I wanted him; I was ready, and I was going to have him tonight. I’d planned on making my move at my apartment at the end of the night. I was pleasantly surprised when he invited me back to his place instead. I sat down on his massive sofa and waited for him to


dismiss Michael. “Good night, Miss-” “Emma,” I corrected him before he could finish, with a huge grin on my face. “Good night, Emma.” I was still trying to get him to loosen up. I don’t think Thomas liked that very much, but he never said anything about it. “Night, Michael.” I smiled at him as he left. He returned a small smile and nodded at Thomas. Thomas stood at the end of the sofa, casually taking off his watch while keeping his eyes on me. I was squirming on the sofa, waiting for him to make a move. I wanted him so badly. I was considering just jumping on him. It was embarrassing really. Looking back on it, I’m glad I can say at least I was tipsy. He looked at me, tossing his watch on the side table. His gaze lingered, making me squirm even more. “Would you like a drink?” he asked politely. Still refusing to take my eyes off him, I shook my head and bit my lip. I was doing my best to be the sexiest version of myself I could manage. “Did you have fun tonight?” He was still standing, unzipping his jacket. “Yes,” I responded sweetly. “Did you?” For a second, I worried. Maybe he didn’t have a good time. “Of course.” He sat next to me, smoothing the hem of my dress with his hand, his thumb caressing my skin. I instantly felt heated in all the right places. “Did you enjoy shaking your ass for all of those men?” His voice was forceful without even the slightest hint of humor. I was stunned by his question. Way to put a damper on the mood. I sat up a bit, and then smiled shyly. “Yes, I did,” I answered in a sultry voice, keeping my lips slightly parted and meeting his gaze. His eyes


widened. He was completely taken aback, making me quite happy with my ability to shock him. I’d never felt so in control and sexy before. “I enjoyed myself very much.” He made an awful attempt to restrain his amusement, forcing me to giggle. “You know, Emma, I don’t like people looking at what’s mine.” His eyes went dark, and his serious tone returned. I’m his? Yes! I immediately desired his touch. I bit my lip again and scissored my thighs, feeling a throbbing ache to be touched. “Oh yeah,” I said as I batted my lashes, “and what do you plan on doing about it?” I was shocked at my response. I think he was, too. I have a feeling no one had ever talked back to him before. He didn’t restrain his smile this time, and he let out a small gasp. Thank God for the confidence that alcohol provides. “Let's see, Emma,” he said as he started moving his fingers slowly up my dress, almost tickling my leg. “I would very much enjoy it if you would stay the night with me.” I was shocked. From what Kate had told me, no one ever stayed the night with him. It was one of his womanizing rules. My smile disappeared, and I stared back at his calm blue eyes in disbelief. He stopped moving his hand immediately, and the small grin on his face vanished. “I’m sorry if I-” He pulled his hand away, and I quickly grabbed it. Shit! Why did I have to ruin this? “No. I’m sorry. I’m just shocked. I didn’t think you let anyone stay here.” My sexy facade was gone. His body immediately relaxed and he placed his hand just above my knee, but he looked puzzled. He shifted in his seat, leaning back into the sofa with his body directed toward me.


“I’ve never let anyone stay here. That’s true. I’ve also never gone out with a woman’s group of friends and watched her tease a crowd of men.” He hesitated, and his blue eyes searched mine. “There are a lot of things I’ve never done with anyone that I’ve already done with you.” I looked at him with shock. We’d gone on typical dates; I didn’t know what he was referring to. “And I have to say, I’ve enjoyed them.” He leaned in and kissed my neck and then my throat, trailing up to my lips. “I like you very much, Emma, and I would like to keep seeing you.” He took a deep breath, and again his blue eyes looked deep into mine, searching for something. My mouth was parted just slightly, but I didn’t speak. I was mesmerized by his confession. “Is that alright with you?” Is he really asking for my permission? As if I would say no! “Yes.” I grinned and felt my sultry side return. He’s really into me. “What else would you like to do?” He shot me his handsome perfect grin, and his eyes lit up. “Oh Emma, I thought you’d never ask.” His hand moved to my inner thigh, grazing the skin below the hem of my dress. “There’s a matter I would like to discuss.” “Go on.” I tried to make my voice low and sensual. I was hot and wet for him, ready to be taken. “If you’re going to be mine, then I don’t want to be jealous. I don’t want to worry. I want you there for me, always.” Whoa. It got a bit more serious than I anticipated. “And would you be mine? And not make me jealous or worry?” I asked. Again, I shocked myself with my response. His eyebrows raised in surprise. Apparently he wasn’t prepared to be questioned. Why didn’t you just say yes? Don’t lose him! Before I could worry that I had


ruined it, he answered me. “Yes,” he answered softly, kissing my neck. “Then make me yours, Thomas,” I whispered in his ear, gently nipping his earlobe. I started to wonder if he’d told anyone else this, if it was his line to get a girl in bed, but I shrugged off the concern. I didn’t want to think about it, not in the heat of the moment. I wanted him so badly I honestly didn’t care if it was a line. Although with his looks and his money, he didn’t need a line. “Emma, if you’re mine,” he stopped kissing me and smiled, “then I'm going to have to punish you.” I jolted back, and his smile dimmed. Whoa, slow down. What kind of punishment are we talking about here? He let out a small laugh in response to my reaction and gently rested his head on my chest. “I didn’t mean to startle you.” He lifted up his head and looked at me, soft blue eyes meeting mine. “I just want to fuck you.” My eyes widened. “Hard.” My pussy clenched, and I swear I soaked my panties. He waited for my response, but I wasn’t sure how I should answer. I was speechless. My breathing quickened. “If it’s alright with you, I'd like to fuck the shit out of you for making me jealous.” My smile reappeared, and I couldn’t contain how eager I was. Oh God, yes! Fuck me as hard as you want. “Could we make love first?” The words left my mouth subconsciously. Fuck! I couldn’t believe I just asked him to make love. For the third time tonight, I thought I blew it. As soon as I realized what I had said, my heart sank. Why couldn’t you just be happy with fucking? Before I could get too upset and overthink the situation, he answered me. “If that’s what you want.” He kissed me with unbelievable passion, wrapped his arms around me and


lifted me off of the sofa. My heart raced, and I felt an erotic thrill course through my body as he carried me to his bedroom. The anticipation was overwhelming. We were going to do it. A month of waiting, and now it was finally going to happen. He breathed into my neck as he laid me on the bed, the stubble on his jaw sending shocks of arousal through my body. He kissed and nibbled as his hot tongue and soft lips explored my body. The tiny bites had me wriggling in his arms and moaning. I arched my body into him, letting him know what I wanted. He groaned low in his throat as my hips pushed against his hardening cock. I remember being so shocked at his size that I let out a small gasp. He let out a devious, low chuckle into my neck before bringing his gaze to my eyes. I felt the heat of a blush envelop me as he searched my eyes with a sexy, carnal grin on his gorgeous face. “Don’t worry baby, it’ll fit.” He took my bottom lip into his mouth and nipped it gently before kissing his way down to the small of my neck. I parted my lips and concentrated on breathing. Holy fuck. Both of his hands traveled leisurely down my dress as he kissed me with desire, gently trailing along my shoulders. His nibbles at my breasts made my nipples harden on contact before moving farther down to my hips and thighs as his fingertips played with the hem of my dress. The small touches against my skin left a fiery heat in their wake. He broke the kiss to pull the dress over my head. He rested his forehead on mine and reached behind me to release my bra. I couldn’t help but resist shyly as he moved to pull it away from my breasts. As soon as I did, he moved back a bit and raised his brows with a questioning look. I parted my lips to answer, embarrassment flaming my cheeks. He just shook his head, admonishing me while


moving the offending hands out of his way to reveal my body. He let out a small groan of pleasure and rocked into me as his eyes lingered on my body. My nipples hardened under his gaze and he kissed me fiercely before moving to my breasts. His hand massaged my right breast while he sucked the left into his mouth. His tongue swirled around my nipple before sucking it and biting gently. My body melted into his as waves of pleasure coursed through me. My fingers tangled in his hair, pulling gently as warm moisture soaked my panties. He began kissing down my belly, letting his tongue dip in my navel. His fingers brushed against the thin piece of fabric at the entrance to my pussy. As he pushed the fabric aside, he stopped his kissing and let out a deep moan while pushing two fingers into me. “Fuck, you're so hot and tight for me.” His blue eyes blazed as he looked directly into mine, thrusting his fingers in and out. I threw my head back in pleasure. “Yes please, Thomas.” His thumb found my clit and he rubbed it with almost too much pressure while he stroked the sweet spot against my front wall. My orgasm was instant and intense, shocking me and making my body shudder and convulse while I screamed out his name. When I came back down, my orgasm still slowly pulsing through me, he'd slipped off my panties and was hard and ready at my entrance. He kissed me gently before looking deep into my eyes as he entered me. His lips parted in ecstasy. His cock stretched me as he entered, filling me to the hilt. My head thrashed as he stilled inside me. He kissed me delicately, giving me time to adjust before he pulled all the way out, leaving me feeling empty and wanting. Before I could move and beg


for his cock, he slammed back into me, driving my body into the bed forcefully. “Yes!” I screamed out as he pounded into me, fucking me into the mattress with animalistic need. My body heats, remembering his strength and size. Over and over he slammed into me. Each time he hit my sensitive clit, it sent sparks of pleasure through my body. I writhed and moaned under him as he took possession of my body. My orgasms bled into one another, and he fiercely rode through them as I screamed out his name and tried to hold onto my sanity. When he finally found his own release, my body was limp and sated. He lay next to me, kissing my hair before moving to my lips. “Was that worth the wait, baby?” He let out a low chuckle at his question before nuzzling my neck. Too exhausted to respond with words, I merely murmured, “Mmm.” I wrapped myself around his body while he caressed my back. After several quiet moments I found the strength to lift my head, placing my hand and forearm on his chest to give him a small, chaste kiss. He smiled back at me and kissed the tip of my nose. “I knew you’d feel like this,” he whispered against my ear. His strong hands gripped my hips before flipping me onto my stomach to position my ass in the air, making me let out a small squeal. “I want more of you. I can’t get enough.” I looked over my shoulder to find him stroking his hard cock and lining it up at my already sore entrance. I arched my back and pushed against him, wanting to feel him claiming my body again. Every touch, kiss, thrust, and moan was better than I had imagined. That night, as I lay in his arms after several rounds, I reminded him that he hadn’t punished me. “Not tonight. I think you’ve had enough for tonight,” he


said and kissed me gently on the forehead. “But now you’ve been warned, my little vixen. When you make me unhappy,” he smiled and continued, “I’ll make sure you know.” His blue eyes looked devilish as he said, “You’ll make it up to me in bed.” He’s kept his promise. And I have very much enjoyed it.

REMEMBERING the details of that night makes me smile. My entire body relaxes, and I imagine myself sexy and powerful. I feel restless, wanting him to touch me again. Not here, not with an audience. Especially not Michael, because he’s already seen too much. Thomas tilts his head in curiosity and I meet his gaze, staring into his blue eyes as I bite my lip. He smiles and asks, “What’re you thinking?”“Wouldn’t you like to know?” His eyes widen at my response. I give him a small grin and bat my eyes before I lean my head back, looking out the window. I hear his breathing pick up, and I can’t help my smile widening.

I CAN’T WAIT for tonight.


CHAPTER 7

M ichael stops the car in front of Thomas’ building, and I no longer feel hot and sexy. My heartbeat quickens, and I feel sick to my stomach instantly. There are at least a dozen reporters waiting on the sidewalk. “Should we go in the back?” I ask, even though it’s more of a plea. I’m not in the mood for this. I hope he isn’t either. “Elizabeth said I should make a statement.” He holds my hand gently. “If you wouldn’t mind, she suggested that you be with me.” I give him a dirty look. “So that’s why you wanted me to come to work with you?” I ask accusingly. His expression changes, as though I've slapped him in the face. He looks shocked and appalled. “No, of course not. Don’t think that.” His brow furrows, and he looks genuinely hurt. “Baby, if you don’t want to give a statement, or if you want me to have Michael take you around the back, that’s fine. I didn’t think you would mind.” I instantly feel horrible. “I’m sorry. Of course I’ll stand by your side.” I give him a soft smile and a kiss on the cheek. “I don’t know what’s


gotten into me.” “I know yesterday was rough, but this will put an end to it.” He kisses my hand and opens the car door. As soon as his door opens I can hear the media clamoring outside. The door closes, and it's silent again. My heart starts racing. I don’t want to do this. I can change my mind. No, do this for your husband. He needs you. In a moment, he’s at my door and Nate is by his side. I wish it were Michael, not a stranger. But I take Thomas’ hand and stand as graciously as I can. I can do this. Reporters are hovering so close, hardly giving me any room to walk. Everyone’s speaking at once; I can only make out single words. Cheating. Affair. Divorce. Mistress. I hold onto Thomas’ hand with everything in me, feeling the familiar prick at the back of my eyes. I breathe in and out, concentrating hard on not crying. He must feel my anxiety because he pulls me in close to him and gives me a small kiss on the cheek. “Are you alright?” I can hear the agony in his voice. “I’m fine, please just don’t let go of my hand.” I feel as though I would drown if he let go. He nods and gives me another kiss. Finally we’re at the entrance and as we turn around, Nate is behind us at the door. Thomas raises his hand, and instantly the mob quiets. I’m almost taken aback by how quickly the atmosphere has changed. One person takes the lead and asks, “Mr. Grant, would you or your wife like to comment on the photos released yesterday?” The reporters hold their microphones high in the air, and cameras begin flashing in the background. He takes a deep breath, and I squeeze his hand. I look at my hand in his, waiting for him to speak. He clears his throat. He doesn’t mind making them wait.


“Mr. Grant, a comment please?” Before he can speak, and before I can think about what I'm doing, I blurt out, “Those photos were taken a long time ago.” The flashing lights don’t even make me flinch. I continue, keeping my voice strong, “It's unbelievable to me that someone would go through so much trouble to try to question our marriage. I would hope that the media would do a more thorough job of researching a story before they report it.” Thomas’ arm is firmly around me. My heart is beating so loud I can hardly hear a thing. “What about the photo where you can clearly see his wedding band?” another reporter asks. “Thank you for your time,” Thomas calmly comments and pulls me in front of him, shielding me from the frantic reporters who begin yelling out inaudible questions. What? What photo? “That’s all for now.” Nate steps in front of us as Thomas takes me inside. What fucking photo? I have to contain my shock and anger and remain poised until we're out of earshot and out of sight. As we enter the elevator inside his building, I pull away from him and he looks at me with confusion when I rip my hand away from his. Neither of us says anything; Nate remains quiet and pretends to be oblivious as we wait for the elevator to reach the top floor. Soon we’re alone in his office. I slam my purse down on the desk as he shuts the doors. “What photo was that fucker talking about?” I scream at him. “You said they were years old.” “They were. I don’t know what they’re talking about.” He looks puzzled and angry. Angry with me. I move to his computer swiftly without acknowledging him. I bang hard on the keyboard when I'm unable to log in. Fucking


password. He reaches around me and types it in. I grab the mouse, completely ignoring him and I search Google images for Thomas A. Grant cheating photos. I’ve seen the first one and the second. But the third… There it is. It was taken here, in his office. I can see his wedding band. He’s holding on to her elbow, and she's smiling. It looks like they're talking, but his hands are on her. Fucking bastard! “What the hell is this?” I feel hot tears in my eyes as I point angrily to the screen. He looks at the monitor, and he scowls. He completely ignores me, and immediately takes to his phone. “Michael, I need you up here to do a sweep of my office immediately.” He disregards me, and it only fuels my anger. Fuming, I wait impatiently for him to hang up the phone. “Answer me. Now.” My voice breaks, and my eyes start to burn. “I told you yesterday that she came to my office.” “This doesn’t quite look the way you described it,” I sneer. His expression softens slightly. “Look at the damn picture, Emma. She must have videotaped it and taken a screenshot or something.” I look at the picture again. I’m filled with rage, but it's slowly fading. His hand is on her elbow and she’s smiling, but he’s not. There really isn’t anything scandalous about the picture. I scroll to look at all of the others on the screen. Now I’ve seen all of them, I hope. Looking at the others makes me feel depressed and vulnerable. I look at him. He’s running his hands under the windowsill. It looks like the camera would have been set up there for the picture; the angle is right. He shuts his eyes and drops his head. He returns to his phone.


“Michael, she had a camera in or on her purse somehow. I’d still like you to search here in the office though. Yes. Thank you.” I see his breathing calm. He looks at the computer screen and then his blue eyes soften as he looks at how drained I’ve become. “Why don’t you believe me?” He seems pissed still, but he’s trying to calm down. I don’t respond. I wipe at the tears under my eyes and rest against his desk. He puts his hand on my shoulder, but I shrug it away. I’m not in the mood. He sighs and takes a step back. “I’m surprised you spoke to the press.” He’s changing the subject. He moves across the room and opens the door to allow Michael into the room. “I’m really surprised.” “I surprised myself,” I say weakly, not looking up to meet his gaze. I hear Michael moving around, searching the room. I glance over as he feels under the desk. I move to sit in Thomas' chair and feel exhausted. I put my elbows on his desk and cry into my hands. I hate that the world thinks my loving husband has cheated on me. Even more, I hate that it brings out the worst in me. “Don’t cry.” He puts his arms around me and moves the chair so I'm resting my head on his shoulders. I let out heavy sobs. “I just can’t take any more.” I gasp for breath. “This is too much.” “Everything is over, Emma.” He kisses my hair. “No more pictures or reporters. It’s just you and me.” I breathe deep and try to stop my tears. “I love you, and I would never hurt you. I don’t know what it's going to take for you to believe me.” “I do believe you. I don’t know why I freaked out,” I breathe into his neck. “I don’t want you to question me. You never have before, and I like it that way.” I can feel his gaze on me.


“I’m sorry.” The words are barely audible. I have nothing else I can say. He’s never cheated on me, never lied to me. He’s given me the world. I look up at him apologetically and his eyes are full of angst. He closes his eyes and rubs his nose on mine. I kiss him softly. “Do you want some tea to relax?” He looks at me forgivingly. He’s not mad anymore. I know he wants me to be happy. “I just want to go home and take a shower.” I blink the remaining tears away. He hesitates before responding. “Please, Thomas. I need to go home.” “If you must.” He stands up straight. “Michael, could you take Emma home, please?” He pauses, and his eyes turn to me. “And stay with her.” He lowers his voice as he says, “I don’t want you to be alone.” I meet his gaze. “Do you understand me?” Michael has been quietly working, ignoring us. He’s seen so much of our relationship and heard the most intimate conversations, but has never spoken a word about it, never judged us. I used to feel anxious and nervous just being in the same room with him. Now the sight of him makes me feel at ease. Thomas trusts him, and so do I.

I GIVE Michael a small smile as we enter the foyer. He takes my coat. Rose isn’t here, and she won’t be back until Monday. “I’m just going to take a shower.” “I’ll be in the den.” He nods his head politely as I move past him toward the stairs. Part of me wants to just collapse on the stairs and sleep. I’m so happy to be home and still so exhausted from all of yesterday. She was here, in my house. The unwanted thought sickens


me. It’s enough to give me the energy to keep moving though. I drag myself up the stairs and into the bathroom to start a hot shower. I need to wash all of yesterday and this morning off of my body. I drag my body to my bedroom and I feel uneasy. My head starts to throb. I need more Advil, stat. I sit on the bed and open my nightstand, taking out two small Advil from the bottle. I think I see movement out of the corner of my eye and I jump backward, dropping the pills on the floor. My heart races, and my eyes glance nervously around the room. I take a few slow, deep breaths and close my eyes. There’s nothing there. Pull yourself together. I open my eyes and try to relax. I need to calm the hell down. I get on my hands and knees, searching for the pills. I let out a bit of relief when I spot them just under the bed, and I take them in my hands. I throw back both pills, swallowing without water. In my closet I find a pair of sweats and one of Thomas’ t-shirts. It’s not sexy, but right now I need to be comfortable, not worry about looking hot. Maybe I’ll put on a pair of lacy underwear? Yes, just in case. I wish he were home now, so he could join me in the shower. By now, the bathroom is full of steam. I put the clean clothes on the bench, and they smell like fresh lilac. I take in the fragrance and let out a deep breath. I love the smell of fresh laundry. I drop a tiny bit of bath oil onto the floor of the shower, and the smell of eucalyptus fills the room. Breathing it in slowly, my body begins to relax. I let my hair down and leave my clothes on the floor as I step into the welcoming shower. The hot water is so hospitable to my aching body. I immediately fill my hands with water and splash my face. I rub my makeup away and stand under the stream with my mouth slightly


parted and eyes closed. I turn and let my hair become drenched, feeling the warmth massage my back. I lather my hair with shampoo, continuing to breathe slowly. I am home, and everything is alright. I am home, and everything is alright. I am home, and everything is alright. I repeat my mantra while rinsing my hair. The sudsy lather runs down my back, and I finally feel at ease. As I grab the conditioner, my heart stops. I hear the bathroom door creak open. The eerie sound freezes me to the core. I can’t breathe. I can’t move. I try to close my eyes, but I can’t; my body refuses to obey me. I don’t want to see who's there. I stare at the floor, watching the water form a small pool and then disappear down the drain. The heat overwhelms me, suffocating me. My body starts to tremble and I try to will it to stop, finally clenching my eyes shut. The door slams, and I scream as my entire body gives and I slump against the tiled wall. My temple slams against the corner shelf as I collapse onto the floor. Tears fill my eyes and I push my body out of the stream, against the wall. My head aches, but my fear overpowers the pain. I hear Michael tramping up the stairs. Help me! I try to scream again, but my throat is closed and I struggle to breathe. “Emma!” He bursts through the door, and through the glass shower doors I see a wave of steam exit the bathroom. “Emma!” He pulls the door open, and I move to cover myself. Without hesitation he grabs a towel and wraps me in it then turns to face the door. He has a gun in his hand, and he searches the room calmly and meticulously. I’m too frightened to be embarrassed. My heart is still racing, and tears are flooding down my face. I look around the room; it's just us. But I know I heard the door. I’m not


crazy. “What happened?” He looks at me with the most grave expression. I try to respond, but before I get the words out of my mouth his gaze moves to the mirror. She was here. My makeup drawer is open, and in red lipstick she wrote on the mirror: Mine. My heart warps into a painful ball, and my lips part in horror. Michael’s voice drops as he says, “I need you to dress quickly.” He releases me and points the gun at the door. I do as he says. Moving out of his direct sight, I quickly put on my clothes. I’m so shaky that it takes longer than it should. My heart beats loudly in my ears, but not so loud that I can’t hear the sound of a door down the hall opening and closing. The study? The guest room? I feel like I'm going to be sick. I feel the side of my head. It’s sore, but not bleeding. I move to look in the mirror, but then refrain. I don’t want to see. I return to Michael’s side and nod with tears in my eyes. We have to pass all of those doors, and she's behind one of them. I panic with fear. Before I can object, Michael picks me up by my waist, carrying me on his hip. I'm as still as I can be. As we pass the doors, my heart stops. My body tenses, and the overwhelming dread makes me shudder. There are doors on both sides of us, and I expect one to open at any moment. Michael can’t shield me from all of them. I just pray that we can make it down the hall before she shows herself. Michael moves me quickly and silently past the doors. I release a breath I didn’t know I was holding as we pass the last door. My heart is beating so fast and loud I can’t hear anything else. I just hope she’s unaware of where we are. We get to the stairs and he turns, facing the hall with his gun firmly pointed in that direction. He releases me


and tilts his gun, mouthing, “Go.” He trails behind me, although his eyes are fixed on the hallway. I creep down the stairs, mirroring his movements. Be silent. I hear a creak from above. The bedroom. He motions for me to stop and waits with his gun pointed at the door. We stand motionless for what could only be minutes, but seems like hours. I expect her to shoot out of the room at any moment, and then what? My mind races as I stare at the barren hallway. I try to swallow quietly, but every movement my body makes sounds so loud. Every motion seems to echo in the hallway, giving her the knowledge that we’re on the steps. Finally, after what seems like an eternity of waiting for her to make her move, he signals to start moving again. As soon as we get to the foyer, he moves me against the cold wall while he glances around the room. We’re so close. I just want to run out the door. I swallow hard as I think I hear another creak from upstairs, and the sick feeling returns to my stomach. He quickly places his gun in his holster under his shirt. In a swift motion he lifts me up and runs for the door. This is the first time we make any noise. He leaves the door wide open, and in a second we’re by the car. He opens the driver door and pushes me into the passenger side, hurling me over the center console. I’m stunned at his speed and agility. As I steady myself in my seat, I look up at the house and see her. She's standing in the bedroom window holding the curtains open, watching us with a cruel glower. A frightened chill rushes through my body. Michael backs out of the driveway, yelling at me to stay down. My body wills me to stay upright as Lillian’s cold eyes meet mine. I can’t break her gaze, but Michael forces my head down. I feel lightheaded and nauseated.


My body jolts as he puts the car in drive and slams on the gas. I watch Michael as he makes a call. “Nate, did you call the police? Why are they taking so long?” I start to speak and he pauses and looks at me to say, “One moment, Mrs. Grant, please.” He returns to the phone. I try to calm my breathing. I grab my head in my hands, trying to digest what's just happened. “Has he been notified? One moment, Nate.” He glances at me again and reaches into the glove box to take out a tissue. I gratefully accept and attempt to stop the tears that have been mercilessly falling from my eyes. He hangs up the phone and looks at me as he asks, “Emma, did you tell anyone the new security code?” “I- I didn’t even know it changed,” I stutter. Of course they would have changed it, that’s how she got in before. How did she get in this time? “I sat where I could see the front door. No one came in. Even if someone knew the code and came in through the back, I would’ve seen them go up the stairs.” He presses his lips into a frown. “She was already in the house when we got there. Make sure they do a full sweep this time, every room. I want the entire team in that house. When we left, she was in the master suite. Make sure there’s no way she could have possibly gotten into that house without setting an alarm off.” He sounds calm, but he looks worried. I have to concentrate hard to stop trembling. I hold my knees to my chest. It’s not over. Mine? She wants him, she wants the house, she wants my life. Tears continue to flow freely down my face. I’m standing in her way, keeping her from what she wants. Why didn’t she kill me? She could have done so easily if she really wanted me dead. I feel helpless. All I can do is hope they find her


this time. I’m not going back until they find her. I angrily wipe the hot tears from my face. There is no fucking way I am going back there until that psycho is caught.

THOMAS EMBRACES me as soon as I get out of the car, holding me tightly in his arms. I still haven’t stopped crying, but seeing Thomas makes me cry even harder. I’m practically hysterical. He pulls me to his chest and kisses me hard. My hair is still soaking wet and it’s freezing outside, making me tremble in his embrace. Thomas pulls me into the building, kissing me over and over again. “Are you alright? Did she hurt you?” His voice is low and distraught. I nod my head in his chest and let the sobs out, but he pulls away to look at me. His eyes widen as he gently touches my temple, making me wince with pain. “I slipped in the shower… when I heard…” He eyes me warily. Michael clears his throat and speaks. “Mr. Grant, she was there before we arrived. No one came in or out of the house after us.” Thomas looks unforgivingly angry and cold. Michael continues, “We aren’t trusting the police this time. I’ll do the final sweep with the entire team before you return.” Thomas doesn’t relax, but he nods his head. “Thank you, Michael. I don’t want this to happen again.” His voice is calmer now, and I can feel his heartbeat start to slow. “Yes, sir. I’m going to get in touch with security and add more alarms to the house. I would ask next time that two men be with Emma. My priority was keeping Emma safe. Had there been someone else with me, I would’ve


been able to take care of Lillian.” I move my head away from Thomas’ chest, wiping the remaining tears with the bottom of Thomas’s t-shirt, and feel the cool breeze on my face. “I understand, whatever you need.” He pauses before adding, “Thank you, Michael.” He holds my waist tighter as he talks. “Of course. I’m going back to the house to speak with the police. Unless you need my assistance with anything?” “No, go make sure she’s out of there.” “I’ll inform them that Emma is with you. Do you have security here?” he asks as he looks behind us and answers his question himself. He nods. “I’ll report back as soon as I can.” He turns to leave, and I reach for him. “Thank you, Michael.” I hug him hard. He hesitates before giving me a small hug in return. “It’s my job and privilege to look after you.” He releases me and gives Thomas a nod before turning back to the car. I return to Thomas’ embrace and we walk up the stairs to the back of his building. Calvin and Nate are following a few steps behind. Our footsteps echo as we travel to the safety of his office. The only other sound that accompanies us is my heavy breathing, and I’m desperately trying to quiet it. I can’t stop clinging to Thomas’ side. I’m attached to his hip, and his arm is still snaked tight around my waist. Thomas stares straight ahead as we head for the elevator. My breathing calms as we cross the large, yet empty, reception room. Two girls behind computers at the reception desk are staring at us, but they don’t dare speak. Their eyes dart away as Thomas catches their gaze. I close my eyes and rest my head on his chest as the elevator doors close, leaving us


in utter silence.


CHAPTER 8

practically crawl into the soft seat of the large leather Ichair in his office. Thomas moves beside me, caressing my back. He doesn’t sit down though. His blue eyes search mine, and I bite my lip. I’ve calmed down significantly now that we're here. I feel safe in here with his comforting touch. Calvin and Nate are standing guard outside the office, so we’re alone. I just want him to hold me while I cry myself to sleep, but his eyes tell me that he needs me. “Tell me everything that happened.” I hesitate before answering him. I don’t want to talk about it. I feel so drained, and I just want to lie down. I try to protest with my sad eyes, but Thomas isn’t swayed. I take a deep breath and stare at the ground, avoiding his gaze. It doesn’t last long though. He moves my chin with his steady hand and gently kisses me. His warm lips are soft on mine. “I need to know everything,” he calmly urges me. “After we got home, Michael stayed downstairs, and I went upstairs to take a shower.” I take another deep breath and close my eyes. My heart begins to race, but


Thomas’ gentle hand relaxes me as he rubs my cheek. “Was the door locked behind you?” “Yes, I heard the alarm signal. I know Michael locked it.” He nods his head for me to continue. “I went upstairs, and I didn’t see or hear anything. I thought I was alone.” I frown as a thought occurs to me. “Actually, I did think that I saw something in the bedroom, but then I figured I was just shaken up.” His brows knit as he interrupts me to ask, “Did you call for Michael?” He looks alarmed. “No. I thought I was just being-” “If you think you see something, feel something, hear something, whatever, you call for help immediately. I pay them to help you. That’s their job. Security can’t help you if they don’t know.” His face is angry, as though I’ve defied him. I look down at the beige carpet as my breathing picks up. Tears prick at the back of my eyes, and my body heaves. This isn’t my fault. Don’t be mad at me; hold me, comfort me. For God’s sake, don’t lecture me! “I’m sorry, Emma.” He lowers his voice, reverting back to a soothing and comforting tone. He reaches out to me and gently rubs my hands and arms, calming my breathing. “I didn't mean to yell. I’m sorry.” I swallow hard and rest my hands in his as I try to stop the tears. I don’t respond to his apology, but I do accept another small kiss though. “I went back to the shower and a few minutes later I heard the door, and I didn’t move or make a sound.” He glares at me, but he bites his tongue. I look back to the ground and continue. “And then the door shut, and I screamed. Michael ran up the stairs and grabbed me out of the shower.” I glance at his eyes as they widen. I know he must be unhappy that Michael saw me undressed,


but I continue to talk. “She wrote on the mirror, so that’s the only way I really knew that I wasn’t fucking hallucinating. Michael had his gun and he picked me up and carried me out to the hall. We went down the stairs as quietly as we could and then ran out the door.” “Did you hear anything?” he asks. His expression is still heated and frustrated. “I heard the floors creak in the bedroom.” I bite my lip, remembering the noise. “I saw her, too.” His expression changes to distress. “She was in our bedroom looking at us as we drove away.” My eyes search for comfort in his, and he responds instantly. He kisses my nose, making me close my eyes. When they open, his eyes are soft and forgiving. “Was she holding anything? A gun?” The question catches me off guard. “I – I don’t know. I don’t think so.” He takes me gently by my shoulders. “Baby, think. Close your eyes. Did she have anything in her hands when you saw her?” I do as I’m told. I can see her looking at me, and it makes me uneasy; I have to open my eyes. “I can only picture her face. I don’t know if she had a gun or not.” I take in a deep breath. “It’s okay. It’s okay. What matters is that you're safe.” He holds me for a moment, letting me relax in his arms. I kiss his chest, grateful that I have him. “I don’t know what I would do without you. “Nate didn’t tell me what had happened until you were already in the car on your way here. I had no idea.” He kisses my hair. “Even knowing you were safe, I lost it.” He rubs my shoulders, moving down my back and I look up at his soft, caring and loving eyes. “I promise this will never happen again.” “I don’t want to go back until they have her,” I plead


with him, and my voice is shaky. Everything in me is telling me not to go back. “Then we won’t go back.” He releases me and moves to his desk, picking up his phone. I nestle into the soft cushion and bring my knees to my chest, resting my head. “Cancel my meetings for the next four days. Yes, all of them. Tell them personal reasons. No, that’s all.” “Sandra?” I ask wearily. “No, I don’t know what this one’s name is. Sandra was fired after that shit she pulled.” He takes a seat next to me and tilts his head. “I think we should take a vacation.” He moves me into his lap in the large chair and kisses my hair.My body instantly relaxes at the thought, and I nuzzle my head under his chin. Finally, he gives me a bit of his handsome smile. And I weakly smile back. My smile disappears as I remember what was written on the mirror: Mine. I bite my lip. His hand reaches up, and his thumb grazes over my bottom lip. “Don’t think about it.” His blue eyes soothe me. “How about somewhere tropical?” He smiles, and that makes me soften. I’m safe in his embrace and we won’t come back until she's gone, far away from us. His phone rings, interrupting our conversation. I nod at him as he takes his phone out. “Yes?” His voice is stern. He kisses me softly on the forehead and shifts me to sit on the seat as he moves to his desk and sits in his chair slowly. “I understand, are you sure? Good, have them stay there. Yes, thank you. Michael, one more thing. I’d like you to get the jet ready and our bags packed for a little tropical getaway.” He smiles at me as he hangs up the phone. “What happened?” I know that conversation was about her.


“Don’t worry about it, baby.” He gets up and walks toward me, reaching for my hand. I pull away. “I need to know.” He sighs heavily and gives in quicker than I thought he would. “They’ve cleared the house. They didn’t find her, but there wasn’t much damage.” My brow furrows, and my eyes widen. Damage? What the hell did she do? As if reading my mind, he responds, “Nothing that you need to worry about.” I accept his response. I don’t want to know, not really. “Everything will be perfect when we get back. Security will stay in the house and make sure that everything is fine while we’re away. I'm sure the police will find her while we're gone.” I nod. He grasps my chin firmly as he bends down. “Now will you give me my kiss, or am I going to have to take drastic measures?” He says it in such a low and promising tone. It makes me grin and bite my lip. “I don’t know,” I say and look at him straight in his beautiful blue eyes, “maybe you should try to find out.” His grin widens, and he pauses briefly before leaning in for a kiss. I bite his bottom lip lightly as he pulls away. “That’s my Emma.” His voice is so sexy, and his eyes are wanting. “Michael will be here shortly with our bags. How does Bora Bora sound?” “It sounds like a place I’d like to visit right about now.” I smile at him even though my eyes are heavy, and I’m still a mix of wretched emotions. He kisses me gently on my lips and I close my eyes, relaxing in his embrace. “I just have a few things to finish up. Do you mind waiting here for me?” His eyes are begging me not to fight him. “I can wait here.” I’ll obey. I don’t want to fight with him anymore, and I really do want to be with him right now.


He gives me a small kiss and returns to his desk. I pull out my phone. I have to tell Kate what happened. “Babe, I’m going to call Kate,” I say as I head to the door. He looks up and nods, giving his approval and holds my gaze. “Don’t go far.” I nod. I’m not going anywhere. No fucking way. Outside of his office there's a pair of sitting chairs, luxurious upholstered leather with nailhead trim. Down the hall is the reception desk we passed earlier. The room is spacious though, so as long as I keep my voice down the two receptionists won’t be able to hear me. I scroll through my recent calls, looking for Kate. “Mrs. Grant,” a blonde bombshell startles me as she greets me, “is there anything I can get you, water or tea maybe?” She’s beautiful. But beautiful blondes aren’t exactly what I want to see right now. “Oh, no thank you, Ms.-” “Darla Clarens. Please just let me know if you need anything at all.” She smiles without showing her teeth and keeps her head down. She looks intimidated. Looking at her perfectly applied eyeliner and gorgeous chiffon dress reminds me that I'm in sweats with no makeup on. Oh geez. “Darla,” I call hesitantly to her as she turns to leave, and she immediately turns around, waiting for her orders. “I feel like an absolute mess.” I look down at myself, but her eyes stay with mine. She isn’t judging me. “Is there any way that you could have someone bring me a more appropriate outfit and a bit of makeup?” She lights up as if I've just given her a reason to live. “Of course, Mrs. Grant. Whatever you’d like. Would you like me to set up an appointment at the salon next door?” “No, no, just some mascara and a light foundation


would be nice. I’ll just put my hair up into a ponytail.” I don’t need a pampering session, I just want to look slightly presentable. And like I said, my ass isn’t going anywhere. “And would you like a dress or something more casual?” “A dress, please. Something like what you're wearing would be perfect, and I’m a size six.” “I’ll be back as soon as I can.” She smiles as she walks away with a little skip in her step. She must have had a very boring day so far to be so excited. As I watch her retreating form, I turn back to my phone. I have a missed call from my agent, Jerry, and he left a voicemail.

“EMMA, I hope you're doing well. I wanted to make sure you’re still on track for your book release. I understand if you'll need more time. Just let me know if you need anything. I’ll speak to you soon. Bye now.”

JERRY HAS BEEN my agent for almost three years. I debate on calling him back. I really don’t want to talk about any of this chaos right now. The book isn’t due to the editors for another month, but I’m almost done anyway. He can wait a few days for me to call him back. I still haven’t texted anyone back from yesterday. I look at some of the messages. Scrolling through them, they’re almost all the same: Are you okay? and Did Thomas really cheat on you? I don’t want to respond to any of these. Besides, most are from people I haven’t talked to or seen in nearly a year. I delete all of them and


the unlistened to voicemails from my mom. I consider deleting the messages from Thomas. While they were comforting and sobering evidence that he truly does love me, ultimately they were the result of this bullshit and I don’t want to be reminded of it. I hit delete. I look at my phone and wonder if I should text or call Kate. I should call. I dial her number and she answers on the second ring, “Emma, are you alright?” She’s concerned and alarmed. I’m taken aback. When I left her this morning she was fine. “Yeah, I’m fine, what’s wrong?” I ask quickly as my heartbeat speeds up. “The guys here told me what happened. Well, actually I overheard a conversation and then beat it out of them. Are you sure you’re okay?” Thank God. I relax a little. “Yes, I’m fine. Just really shaken up. It’s all so fucking crazy.” I’m happy security's still with her. “Thomas asked them to make sure I stay at the hotel until they find that psycho bitch. They searched my house before I could go in to get a pair of shoes.” She sounds a bit irritated. I’m glad she doesn’t ask any more about what happened. I don’t want to talk about it or even think about it. “It’s probably for the best. I don’t know what I would do with myself if something happened to you.” My voice starts to crack, and I shake myself of the thought. I rub my forehead with my hand. My head is throbbing. “I’m not going to lie, it’s putting a cramp in my style.” I laugh. I’m glad we’re already off this topic and on to her love life. “Oh really? You seeing someone?” She hesitates before answering. “Kind of… Mike called me this morning.” No, not Mike.


“The I’m-never-talking-to-that-fucking-douchebagever-again Mike? That Mike?” My tone has completely changed; I hear my inner bitch loading a shotgun. Not him, not that asshole. She keeps going back to him. He manipulates her, twisting her around his finger. He’ll say whatever she wants to hear to get her in bed and then he treats her like shit. There’s a long pause before she answers. “Yeah… that Mike.” “Katelyn, no.” I refrain from using obscenities and try pleading with her. “He’s changed, Emma,” she says and her voice sounds hopeful. She wants my approval, but all I can do is shake my head and silently scream fuck no. “I know I’ve said it before, but it’s true. He texted me out of the blue to see how I was doing. He said he missed me.” I roll my eyes at the thought. I’m sure he did say it. There’s a huge difference between what he says versus what he does. I want to remind her of what happened last time. He was such a dick. After spending the weekend together, in bed mostly, he didn't talk to her for a week. No calls, no texts, nothing. She finally texted him and he responded, Sorry forgot about ya. He’s such a fucking asshole. I grit my teeth, refraining myself from unloading all of my pentup anger. “Seriously Emma, I want to see him. I’m still not over him… You know that.” That, I do know. She’s going to see him. Regardless of what I say, I know she's going to go back to him. “Are you seeing him tonight?” My voice is low as I concede. “Yeah, he wants to take me out.” There’s a little pep in her tone.


“Don’t sleep with him, Kate. If he really wants you back, he can wait.” I put my imaginary shotgun down, but I’m keeping it loaded and close. “I won’t. Like I said, the security detail is cramping my style.” She laughs, and I can’t help but smile. “Do you guys want to double date?” I want to smack the hope out of her voice with a strong “fuck no.” I settle on the less hurtful truth. “We're leaving tonight. Thomas wants us to take a vacation.” “Ooh! Well, you two could use one for sure. Is it because they still haven’t found her?” Her voice drops as she comes to the realization. “Yes.” I stare down at the hem of my t-shirt. “I told him I didn’t want to go back to the house until the police find her.” I stand by my statement. She’s already been in our house twice now. Third time’s a charm. “I don’t blame you.” She sighs. “I don’t know how you’re doing it.” I open my mouth to respond, but I see Darla walking toward me. “Hold on just a sec.” I put the phone down and face Darla. She seems startled. I think she's worried that she’s interrupted me. I feel guilty, since that wasn’t my intention. I try to put her at ease by saying, “Oh, thank you so much, Darla.” I give her a huge smile and take the Neiman Marcus shopping bags from her hands. “I really appreciate it.” “Whatever you need, Mrs. Grant. Let me know if there's anything else I can do for you.” She gives a small awkward curtsy and nods as she turns to leave. She’s trying so hard, way too hard. The other blonde at the desk is gaping at her, and I see her grab Darla's arm and talk to her animatedly when she's back at the desk. I have to remember to put in a good word for Darla. Poor


girl, she must be new. “Hey Kate, I have to go change and pull myself together. I just wanted to call and make sure you’re doing okay.” “I’m fine, Emma. Call me if you need me, okay?” Mother Hen is back on the phone. I love all of Kate's personas. “I will.” “Good. Enjoy your vacation!” She seems satisfied with my response. “I’ll talk to you later.” “Bye, sweetheart.” I hang up the phone and smile, but then it dims. I really hope she sees through Mike's bullshit. She’s a beautiful mess. I look down at myself; I’m just a mess. I take the bags to the bathroom and look at what Darla’s brought me. As soon as I look into the mirror, I freeze. There’s a small dark bruise forming above my left eye. Fuck. I slide my fingers over the black and blue reminder and grimace. No one bothered to tell me that I look like I got into a bar fight. I hope Darla added concealer to the shopping list. It looks like she bought everything I could possibly need from the Lancôme counter. I immediately check to make sure she used Thomas’ card, and I feel a sense of relief when I see she did. I wouldn’t want her to spend her own money. Given her inexperience, I wouldn’t have put it past her. I take a little time doing my makeup. Foundation first, and then I do my best covering up the bags under my eyes along with the unsightly bruise. After two coats of mascara, I decide to put on a light shade of eyeshadow. I put a cherry red gloss on my lips and smack them together. It gives me a little vigor in my spirits. I’m going to look pretty today. Next I need to get out of these sweats ASAP and


change into the gorgeous nude chiffon little number she's brought me. She also got me a pair of nude panties and matching bra. She really went above and beyond. I’m grateful though. She must’ve noticed my black bra straps. She also got me shoes, and they’re exactly my size. I get that awkward feeling that all of Thomas’ employees know my measurements. When I’m finished primping I knock gently on Thomas’ door, feeling immensely better than how I’d felt when I left. “Come in,” he calls from the other side. I quietly walk in and gently close the doors behind me. I don’t want to interrupt him if he’s busy. When I turn to face him, he stops typing so he can drink me in. I must look pretty damn good. Damn right, your wife got dolled up for you. Be grateful, no more disapproving lectures. I smirk at my thoughts and take a seat in the corner of his office. “Emma, you look very nice,” he says with a sexy grin. He still hasn’t gone back to his work. His hands are on the edge of his desk. He frowns slightly and asks, “Where did you go?” “Thank you. I didn’t go out, if that’s what you’re thinking. I sent Darla out.” I smile, trying to reassure him. His eyes soften immediately and he grins as he leans back in his chair. I clench my thighs, remembering my promise to him last night that I wouldn’t make him worry. I consider reminding him, but then again I don’t think I did a good job of that this morning. “Do you keep my sizes on file so they can all buy me underwear?” I ask him playfully, trying to lighten our moods. “Actually, I do.” He says it with a large grin on his face. Judging by his tone, I’m pretty sure he’s serious. My jaw drops. He snickers at my reaction and returns to his work.


“I’ll be done in just a minute, baby.” I blurt out, “Darla is new, isn’t she? Is she the one who replaced Sandra?” “Yeah, I think that’s her name,” he says stiffly. He doesn’t welcome the reminder. I quickly add, “Well, she’s so sweet. You should give her a raise.” I bat my eyes at him. “She got me my favorite mascara.” “Then I should give her a raise immediately,” he toys with me, and it makes me laugh. There’s a small knock at the door, interrupting our playful banter. “Come in,” Thomas responds while he continues to type. I pat down the hem of my dress as Michael enters the room. “Ready when you are, sir.” He looks at me and nods politely. “Emma.” “Hello, Michael.” I greet him with a small smile and then I remember he’s just returned from the house. “How is everything?” Michael takes a deep breath and looks at Thomas. “Emma, everything is taken care of. Don’t worry yourself,” Thomas answers for him and Michael just stares straight ahead, avoiding my gaze. I pull at the hem of my dress before asking, “Do I need to give a statement to the police?” Thomas stops typing and looks at me with curiosity, tilting his head. “Only if you want to. If you don’t want to, then you don’t have to. I won’t let them make you feel uncomfortable.” He looks deep into my eyes, searching for the reason I would ask. “I was just curious.” My words put him at ease. He stands up from his desk and moves toward the door. “Are you ready for a vacation?” He hasn’t taken his


eyes off me. “Yes. Please.” I look up at him with excitement. We desperately need a vacation.

AS WE LEAVE the side entrance of the building making our way to the paved garage, Michael puts his arms out to stop us and our good humor vanishes. I hear Nate and Calvin shuffling behind us, and one of them moves in front of us with his gun out. My heart stops. “What’s going on?” I manage to say, but no one answers me. I can’t see anything except Michael’s back; he has his gun out, too. Thomas is holding me still against the concrete pillar. They both push against me, shielding me from whatever threat is out there. It’s her. Who the fuck else could it be? I swallow hard and try to remain calm. “Stay here.” Michael steps forward, and Thomas moves to cover me as much as he possibly can. “Stay behind me.” Thomas’ words are forceful and demanding. I nod my head against his shoulders and place my hands against his back.I can just barely see Thomas' BMW from here. Michael parked it in the front of the garage, and it's been vandalized. “He’s mine” is keyed into the side. There’s shattered glass covering the ground surrounding the car; all of the windows have been smashed. The tires are flat from being slashed, and she dented the doors. My throat closes and I flatten myself against the hard wall, grabbing hold of Thomas’ waist. He’s mine. The cold hollowness returns to my stomach, and all I can hear is my heartbeat. “Find her!” Thomas yells. She’s still here, hiding somewhere, watching us. The thought makes me freeze.


My heart races as the seconds pass. Thomas doesn’t turn around, but he puts his left hand behind his back, reaching for my hand. I gratefully grab his hand, and he squeezes mine tight. “It’s going to be all right, baby. Just stay behind me.” His voice is calm. I feel hot tears start to well up in my eyes. “I will,” I promise him and grip onto him with my other hand. I hear, rather than see, another car pull up. I think that it might be her and I try not to panic. Thomas moves slightly, taking me by my hand. Michael moves to the back passenger side and opens the door. Thank God. He nods at Thomas, and in an instant Thomas grabs me and stuffs into the backseat, getting in behind me. “Stay down, Emma.” He looks to his right and slams the door shut. I hear the driver door open and see Michael get in. Thomas puts his arms around me, forcing me to stay down but also comforting me. “Stay low.” His voice is quiet and demanding. He isn’t looking at me. Instead, he’s looking out of the rearview window, trying to find her. My body trembles as I come to the realization. I hear Michael call out the window, “Stay here and find her.” The car zips ahead, pushing me into the backseat as we speed toward the exit. I know we’re close as the car moves up a ramp, and I lift myself to get out of Thomas’ lap. When I look up out of the front windshield, I see her run for the car. Her face is stone cold, and her eyes are staring into me. I scream and cover my face with my hands as she slams into the hood and spins off the side of the car onto the ground. Michael doesn’t stop the car. Instead, he picks up his speed. Tears fill my eyes, and my heart sinks. Thomas’


body leans against mine, pinning me down. My body feels impossibly heavy, but I force myself out of Thomas’ hold and face the back window. I have to see. Did we kill her? She’s on the pavement, struggling to get up and then I notice the gun in her hand. She has a gun. She lifts up both her hands without getting up, and fires. I scream again as I hear the deafening bang of the bullet. Thomas grabs my head and pushes me down. I feel the weight of his chest on my back. I hear another gunshot, and this time the bullet strikes the car violently. Thomas continues pushing his body on top of me, holding me down so hard that I can’t breathe. Tears flow freely down my cheeks, and my body shakes violently. My heart beats wildly in my chest. Finally, we're out of the garage. Light fills the car as we join the traffic. Thomas lifts me up and holds me to him as my body heaves and trembles. I sob deeply into his chest. “It’s okay. It’s over.” He tries to calm me, and I push back with burning tears in my eyes. “It’s not over! How can you say that?” My heart is pounding in my ears. “Emma, that’s not what I meant, please.” He takes my hands and pulls me into his chest. I focus on breathing in and out, trying to calm down. “Sir, we’ll be at the police station shortly. I’ll get a hold of the security tapes and contact the rest of the team to get the details as soon as we pull in.” “Thank you, Michael.” He looks at him sternly, and his voice is low. He looks down at me, softening his eyes, and he pulls my face toward him. “I’m so sorry, Emma.” He closes his eyes and rests his forehead on mine. Our lips meet in a soft and gentle kiss.


But it's not one of affection, it’s drenched with worry.

I'M FIRMLY PLANTED in a chair in the corner of the bustling police station, sipping lukewarm tea. I look across the room to see Thomas standing, watching Michael talk to three detectives. His arms are crossed, and he looks angry and unforgiving. I can’t hear what they’re saying, and I don’t want to hear. I know they didn’t find her. How the fuck does she keep getting away? I heard that much before I stopped listening. I look down at the floor and slide my heels off. I’m surprised they managed to stay on. I stand up from my seat, shaking, with my nude stilettos in my hand. I sullenly walk over to the group of men, hardly hearing the soft pads of my feet against the cold concrete floor. It’s surreal. When I reach them, the men become silent. Thomas turns around to face me. His expression changes from anger to grave concern. “Was she shooting at you? Was she trying to kill you?” I speak without thinking; the words spill out, biting hard at my chapped lips as they exit. I need to know. I can’t stand the thought of someone trying to take him away from me. I’d rather imagine her trying to get me out of the picture than the possibility that she wants my husband dead. My heartbeat is slow, and I have a painful knot in my chest. No one speaks, but all the men look at Thomas to answer. “Emma,” he says and moves his hands up to my shoulder, “go sit down.” He swallows hard and adds, “Please.” My body is shaking and I look up at him, pleading with him to talk to me. The tears return, violently this


time. “Emma.” He places his thumb on my bottom lip and tilts my chin up. He gives me a small kiss; it’s my undoing, and I can tell the men staring at us have now looked away. He whispers, “Please go, I promise I'll tell you everything you want to know later. When we’ve gotten away from this place.” I wipe away the remaining tears and nod. He holds my hand and caresses my knuckles with his thumb. “Thank you,” he murmurs. I nod again and head back to the chair.


CHAPTER 9

“A re

we almost there?” Thomas asks Michael impatiently. It’s late and dark outside. Exhausted, I rest my head on the seat and look out of the window, watching the street signs as they fly by. “Yes sir, we should be there in ten minutes.” We’re finally headed to the airport. Thomas insisted that we leave tonight even though I’m in no mood to fly. He traded the jet for one of the small corporate planes. He says I'll be able to rest better in the plane, and that I should sleep on the way. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to sleep though. When I close my eyes, all I see is her, the woman who wants me dead. She wants what I have. Worse than that, she wants me or Thomas dead. Or both of us. My heart plummets. It’s true, and there’s no way for me to lie to myself. I grab the seatbelt and twist the strap in my hands. My head pushes back into the soft fabric as I restrain my tears and slow my breathing. I calm, thinking we’re escaping from her torment. She’s a wanted criminal, so she can’t leave the country, and she can’t follow us. The thought brings me peace.


She can’t touch us where we're going, and she won't be able to hurt us. The tension drains out of my aching body as I come to terms with the situation. She wants us dead, but I won’t let that happen, and neither will Thomas. She cannot touch us, and she will not harm us. I repeat my mantra. She cannot touch us, and she will not harm us. She cannot touch us, and she will not harm us. My eyes open, and I no longer feel helpless in the grasp of a psychotic executioner. Something else, an emotion I haven’t felt before, is brewing inside me. I feel serenity, mixed with unrelenting disgust and anger. My breathing is deep but calm, and I feel rage course through my blood at the thought of her. I will not let her get the best of me. I swallow hard. Thomas rests his hand on mine. His soft touch makes my negative emotions wither. We’re here. “You can sleep on the plane.” His blue eyes calm me. “And when you wake up, we’ll be far away from this mess.” I manage a small smile. “Okay.” My voice sounds strange; it’s gentler than I feel. He leans down and kisses me, leaving me wanting more. My eyes feel heavy, and the realization makes my body beg me to let it collapse. I look out the car window. The plane is waiting for us as we pull up to the dimly lit airport. I scoot to the edge of the seat and carelessly slip my heels back on. Thomas opens my door and holds his hand out to me. “Hmm, I’m coming. I’m coming,” I mumble under my breath and reach for him. Thomas introduces me to the pilot and copilot. I know I’ve met them before, maybe a year ago, but I’ve forgotten their names. They don’t seem to mind being reintroduced. I mosey aboard, leaving Thomas to talk


with them. There are a dozen white leather seats on the small aircraft. They're arranged into two rows with no one else aboard, but I know at least Michael will be joining us shortly. I take a window seat and begin to drift off before our flight attendant graciously informs us of all of the proper escape routes on the plane. Not really what I want to hear, but thanks, just in case we come crashing down into a burning inferno. Nestled into my seat, I’m vaguely aware of how upset my stomach has become. I hate flying. I reach for Thomas’ hand, and he gives me a light squeeze. “We’ll be in the air soon, baby, and then you can sleep until we land.” He smiles warmly at me. “Tell me something new.” I look up at him through my lashes, hoping for a pleasant distraction. “How about you tell me something?” I hate it when he avoids my questions. “You have nothing new to tell your wife?” I smile shyly, teasing him. He shrugs and gives me an asymmetrical grin in return. I think for a minute, trying to come up with a topic that doesn’t involve the disaster we're attempting to escape. “Kate’s seeing Mike tonight.” I barely succeed in keeping the disgust out of my voice, although I know my face displays how revolted I am. Thomas snorts and shakes his head. “She hasn’t had enough torture already? Is she a masochist?” “I don’t know why she does it. I don’t get it. I told her not to, but I know she’s going to do what she wants.” “She’s seeing him tonight?” “Yes, so at least the security duo will be there to keep her in check.”


He grunts. “A little tequila and both you and her are absolutely shameless, security duo or not.” He’s right, and the thought makes me shudder. I really hope she doesn’t sleep with him… again. She keeps going back to him, like a moth to a flame. He says exactly what she wants to hear. I’ve missed you. I made such a mistake. I’m such an asshole. I don’t deserve someone as sweet as you. She eats it up and tries to comfort him, thinking he’s changed and that he really does appreciate her. Then they sleep together and once he gets what he wanted, it’s over. He avoids her like the plague, only calling when he's drunk at two in the morning. We retreat to her sofa with a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, our hero in red, helping her get over him… again. My body trembles slightly as we take off, and Thomas squeezes then kisses my hand. And just like that, we're in the air. I smile shyly back at him. “She said it seems like he’s changed.” I know it’s not true. I don’t even know why I said it. I’m an optimist, but even I’m not that optimistic. “People don’t change, Emma.” He puts a comforting hand on my knee and lightly caresses my skin with his thumb. “But you changed.” I almost said the words as if they were a question just as I was thinking of them. His hand freezes and then recedes. An icy look replaces the comfort in his eyes. His face is hard, and a scowl grows across his lips. I shift uncomfortably; I didn’t mean to make him mad. “I just meant…” I don’t really know what I meant. “Emma, I don’t want to talk about me or my past.” He clears his throat and stares ahead, avoiding my gaze. “Why? Does it have something to do with her?” I have


to ask the question burning into me. “Who,” he growls at me, “Lillian?” His eyes rip into me. I immediately feel reprehensible and guilty. “She’s someone I used to fuck, and that’s it.” His voice is hard and cross. Tears prick at the back of my eyes, and the hollow feeling of my twisted stomach grows. “Don’t cry. Please, I don’t want to talk about her. I feel guilty as it is.” He picks up my hand and kisses my knuckles before gently setting my hand back down in my lap. I absentmindedly stare down at the hem of my dress. I concentrate on the threading, trying not to let my emotions get the best of me. It’s just too much shit for one person to deal with in only twenty-four hours. I give a small nod, still looking down. He exhales and leans back in his seat, looking miserable and defeated. “Please, just sleep, I promise things will be better when we land.” I feel his gaze on me, but I don’t look up. Moments pass with nothing but awkward silence between us. My breathing calms, and the tears threatening to fall withdraw. I finally look over at him. His eyes are hopeful I’ve forgiven him for his outburst. I lean up out of my seat, leaning my weight on the armrest, and give him a small kiss. I burrow back into my seat and close my eyes, letting a moment pass. What could he have possibly done that he’s so ashamed about? We never actually had a conversation about his “dating” life. I never wanted to question him; I never felt the need. All I knew was what Kate had told me.

I WAS on the sofa reading over some edits when I heard Kate banging on my door. It was late on a Saturday


night, around 1 a.m. My head was still in the clouds. Thomas had dropped me off after our third date, about an hour earlier. It was more than I had ever dreamed. At the time, I was working as an intern for a literary agency. I remember walking out with Sarah Marins, a snobby editor who had an obsession with critiquing my coffee-making abilities. Her jaw dropped when she saw Thomas waiting for me. I hadn’t told anyone that I was seeing him, other than Kate of course. I continued to walk to his car as she stood in the middle of the street gawking. He was in his typical attire, dark jeans and a white t-shirt with a worn brown leather jacket. His hair was a bit messy, just enough to make it seem as though he really didn’t give a fuck. I gave a small wave to Sarah as Thomas opened the door for me. I slid in with a smug grin on my face. He knew exactly what I was doing, and he couldn’t hold back his smile. “I trust you had a nice day at the office.” He grinned, teasing me as he started the engine. “It dragged on a little too much.” I bit my lip as I blushed. I couldn’t help it; he made me melt. “I have something for you. I hope you don’t mind.” He reached into the back of the car and pulled out a bag from Barneys. The handles were tied with a small white ribbon, and tissue paper covered the top. I lit up like a Christmas tree. “You bought me a gift?” I asked quizzically, unable to contain my excitement and thrill at the surprise. “It’s just a little something for tonight.” He smiled. “I hope you like it.” “Can I open it now?” “Of course.” I carefully untied the bow and removed the tissue paper. He bought me a gorgeous black charmeuse knee-


length dress for me to wear for the evening. I pulled out the silky fabric and gazed at it. It was really lovely. “Do you like it?” He looked concerned that I hadn’t said anything. “I love it! It’s gorgeous.” It really was breathtaking. But all of a sudden, I didn’t know how to feel about it. He had bought me a rather expensive gift. Before I could think too much into it, he distracted me. “I’m glad you like it. I thought we could go to the Artisanal tonight. Do you need anything to go with the dress?” “You’re too sweet, Thomas. This dress is plenty.” “Should we head to your place so you can change?” I squirmed in my seat. I didn’t want him to see my apartment. He noticed my hesitation. “You don’t have to wear the dress tonight, I just thought that you’d like it.” He paused before adding, “You look quite stunning as you are now.” He was being far too kind. I was in a business casual outfit for work. I had tried to primp this morning, knowing that I would be seeing him tonight, and I touched up my makeup before heading out to meet him in the parking lot, but I was more work-appropriate than stunning. Not like the dress I held in my hands. “We’ll save this dress for another occasion.” He grabbed my hand and gave it a small kiss as we pulled up to a red light. “I love the dress; I can wear it tonight.” “How about you wear it next weekend?” He grinned at me. “As long as you're available to see me then.” I blushed. I'd be available for him whenever he wanted. He continued to charm me all evening. We spent nearly five hours at the restaurant, chatting and laughing, enjoying each other’s company. It was so easy talking to


him. I wanted more though. I didn’t just want to talk. On our previous two dates, the nights both ended with a small kiss at the entrance to my apartment, and nothing more. I wanted so badly to invite him upstairs, but I wondered how that would make me look. How many dates did we need before it was okay to sleep with him? I didn’t want to come off as easy, but I really wanted him. I wanted to run my hands through his hair, down his chest. I dreamed of what it would be like when I finally got him under me. Or would he be on top of me? I didn’t care, so long as it happened. Toward the end of the night I let the alcohol help me. I made every not-so-subtle flirtatious suggestion, letting him know I was ready, that I wanted him. He held my hand as he walked with me to the entrance of my apartment. I smiled shyly at the ground, but I’d decided to ask him if he wanted to come in. The wine gave me courage. He gave me a soft, sweet kiss as he held the small of my back. “Thank you again for a wonderful evening, Emma. I look forward to seeing you this weekend in your new dress.” “Would you like some coffee?” I asked biting my lip, trying to tempt him. He shook his head and said, “I have to get going.” I parted my mouth to protest. His denial stung my ego. “I’ll see you this weekend.” I couldn’t believe he turned me down. “You looked beautiful tonight, Emma.” I blushed. He gave me another small kiss and then released me. I was confused, but happy nonetheless. I sat for almost an hour wondering why he hadn’t taken me up on my offer. I knew that he knew I didn’t give a fuck about the coffee. I considered texting him to ask


why he had to leave, but I decided against it. I smiled, knowing that I was going to see him over the upcoming weekend. That was enough for me to feel secure. I’d just picked up my article to give myself a distraction when I heard Kate banging at the door. I practically ran to let her in. “Jesus, Kate! Are you okay?” I was honestly scared. I couldn’t imagine why she was freaking out, thumping on my door at this time of night. She was out of breath from running up the stairs. “Did you sleep with him?” I was completely taken aback. I looked at her with distress, momentarily speechless. “Emma, did he try to sleep with you?” Her face was deadly serious. “No. What the hell, Kate?” I couldn’t believe she was asking me that. It was less what she said, and more the way she was asking that was shocking. If I had slept with him, I would have told her immediately. She wouldn’t have had to ask, and she damn well knew that. “Oh, thank God.” She released a deep breath and collapsed on my tiny sofa. I took a seat next to her. “Are you going to tell me what the hell’s going on?” I was pretty pissed. What happened to my cheerleader? She was practically pushing me to have sex with him just the other night. And of course she wanted to hear all about it afterward. “At the event tonight I recognized a woman that Thomas was photographed with, from one of the pictures online.” “Okay?” I nodded for her to continue and get to the point. “She told me all this shit about Thomas. He’s a real dick.” I jumped back off the sofa. There was no way she could be talking about the Thomas I’d been seeing. He


was nothing but a gentleman. She grabbed my hand. “Please listen to me.” I shook my head. I didn’t want to hear it. I walked to the kitchen to make tea and Kate followed me. “She said all he does is sleep around. He charms the skirt off of a girl just to get her in bed, and then he’s done.” I was in complete shock. “He literally just turned me down. I was practically begging him to have sex with me.” And with that, it was Kate's turn to be in shock. Again my ego took a hit. So all he wants to do is fuck every woman in New York except for me? The microwave beeped and I took out my mug and moved to the corner to grab the sugar, feeling the oncoming rush of tears. I choked them back. “You asked him to have sex?” “Well, not like that.” My reply was angrier than I had intended it to be. “He said no?” She was still in shock. “What the fuck? Why aren’t you good enough for that prick? He would be lucky to get into your pants.” I’m surprised and entertained by her anger. I let out a small laugh but at the same time small tears crept out, and I gently brushed them away. “He said he had to go, but that he would see me this weekend.” “So he’s seeing you again?” Her voice had calmed slightly, but she seemed confused. She sat down at a barstool, keeping her eyes on me. “Yeah.” I furrowed my brows. Why was that so hard to comprehend? “I don’t get it.” Her comment really pissed me off. What was so hard to get, that he liked me? “Maybe the bitch you talked to was pissed because he wasn’t into her.”


“No Emma, she knew a lot about him. There were other girls there, too. Ones that he had slept with.” My stomach tied itself into a knot. “How many?” “Four of them. They all said the same thing.” “What was it, like a Thomas Grant bashing party?” “It ended up being that. He basically slept with the entire staff at the Pegu Club. At least the waitresses.” I didn’t know what to say. I felt crushed and didn’t want to believe it. I just shook my head and let out a small sob. “Emma, I didn’t mean to make you upset. I just wanted you to know. You should know. You’re just so naïve and gullible. He doesn’t have good intentions.” “Then why didn’t he sleep with me tonight?” I was intentionally bitter in my response. “I don’t know. I’m just worried. They said-” I cut her off resentfully. “I don’t want to know what they said. I don’t care if he slept with them. I really like him, Kate. He’s sweet, romantic, and funny. And really fucking hot.” I took a deep breath and tried to regain a sense of calm. “Calm down, okay? I don’t want you to be mad. Please. I just want you to be careful.” “I don’t know what to do, Kate.” I felt helpless. It just didn’t make sense. He wasn’t trying to sleep with me at all, yet she was telling me he was a manwhore. “Don’t think too much about it. Just don’t sleep with him. Okay?” “I couldn’t even if I wanted to. I can’t believe he turned me down.” The knot in my stomach tightened. “I feel like such an idiot,” I sobbed into her shoulder, and she gently rubbed my back. “Don’t. Don’t. Maybe it’s a good thing.” I looked at her questioningly. It’s good that out of all the girls in New


York, he just doesn’t want to fuck me? “Well, they made it sound like his only concern was getting into bed. So maybe it’s good that he didn’t with you. And he wants to see you again?” I nodded my head weakly and rubbed my tears away with the back of my hand. “Just wait a while before having sex with him, okay?” I nodded my head again and took a deep breath. “One month?” she suggested. “One month,” I agreed. She stayed with me that night. I didn’t tell her about the amazing date I'd had. My bubble had burst, and I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to hear anything else that she'd heard either. I refused to believe that I was like those other women, not that I knew anything about them other than they’d slept with the man I was seeing. He was so perfect; I just couldn’t believe that he was using me, that he wanted me to be another notch on his belt. I was cautious that Friday when I saw him though. He knew something was wrong as soon as I got in his car, and he pried it out of me. I’ve never been good at disguising my emotions. “Apparently you have a reputation,” I muttered under my breath. My eyes were staring at the floor of his car, past the hem of the gorgeous black dress I was wearing. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “A reputation?” His voice was low and sent a chill down my spine. I picked nervously at my newly manicured nails. I didn’t want to say it out loud. I didn’t want to tell him I knew he slept around. “Yes.” I barely spoke my reply. I felt the beginning of tears in my eyes. I thought he would end it with me for sure. “Emma, I don’t want you to worry about that.” His hand pulled my chin up so that I was looking into his soft


blue eyes. “You have nothing to worry about.” His words were so comforting. It was amazing how easily he consoled me. I gave him a small smile, and he returned it with a sensual kiss. I took a deep breath, letting all of the tension go. “I thought we could go to the Museum of Modern Art and then Blanca? If you would still have me.” “Of course.” I blushed. How could this sweet man possibly have such a bad reputation? My mind was at ease after talking to him. He didn’t want me to worry, and honestly I didn’t want to worry about it either. I just wanted to enjoy my time with him, while he charmed my skirt off, as Kate would have put it.

“YOU DID CHANGE,” I almost whisper, but I know he heard me. He lays his head back with his eyes closed and lets out an irritated sigh. I place my hand on his, squeezing lightly and nestle my head into the seat cushion. We’re far above the clouds. Soon I drift off, waiting to land on more agreeable territory.

WE LAND BY SUNDOWN. I slept nearly the entire flight, all twelve hours. Mentally I feel rested, although my body is still exhausted. Thomas woke me up sweetly, and given our desperate need for relaxation, neither of us mentioned the fight on the plane. I thought about asking him why I made him so upset and apologizing, but I think it’s better just to leave it be where it belongs, in the past. I choose my battles, and this certainly isn’t worth the energy I’ve already given it. The view from the the hotel suite is absolutely


stunning. Clear blue water extends as far as we can see, and the soft oranges of the sunset over the ocean are picturesque. The salty breeze is a welcoming scent. We had a small rooftop dinner lit by candles; he had it ready for us when we arrived. He really makes my heart melt sometimes. He can be so romantic. Michael took our bags and Thomas led me up the stairs. It was a pleasant and much-needed surprise. He’s trying so hard to get me to relax, and it’s working. “You know I'll do everything I can to keep you safe? I won’t let anything happen to you.” I look up at him, and his eyes are full of worry. “I know you won’t.” I don’t know what to say to reassure him. I trust him with everything in me. But I’m still worried. I know she wants me dead and she's out there somewhere, with a gun. “I’m just scared.” He kisses me lightly on my forehead. “I know, baby.” He brings me in close to him. I feel calmed by his warmth. I nestle my head in his chest and breathe in his scent. “I’m doing everything I can to make sure you’re safe.” He pauses for a moment, as if debating telling me something. “I’m having a panic room installed in the master bedroom.” He doesn’t look down at me while he talks. “Just in case something happens.” I slowly nod. A panic room sounds like a great idea, but it wouldn’t have helped to have one today since she was already in the master bedroom. I decide not to comment, since I don’t want to make him angry and fight with him. If he wants one, then it can’t hurt. “Let’s talk about something else,” he says and his tone is slightly more upbeat. His hand brushes a loose strand behind my ear. “After all, we’re on vacation.” He gives me a small, loving smile and I return it, kissing his cheek. “So now you’ve thought of something to talk about


with your wife?” I say with a grin. He lets out a small laugh, and with one small comment, the mood is immediately lightened.

OUR GLASSES ARE EMPTY, sitting beside us on the blanket. The fragrant aroma reminds me of just how sweet the wine has tasted on so many delightful occasions. He’s gently caressing the curve of my waist. His soft touch through the fabric makes my skin feel sensitive, and I feel myself aching down there for him. “Would you like something more to drink?” he asks me sweetly, reaching for the bottle. I reach my hand out, stopping him. I’ve spent the majority of the day crying in his arms, and tonight I want him to know how much I appreciate him and everything that he’s done, how much I love him. After all of the trouble he's gone through today, he’s trying so hard to put me at ease. He’s done all of this for me, and I want to give him all of me in return. “No, I don’t want any more wine.” I bite my lip and look at him seductively through my thick lashes. He knows what that look means. He grins at me with surprise in his eyes and moves to his knees so that he's leaning into me. He places his hand on my lower back and slowly moves me to the ground, knocking over the glasses; I hear them clink as they roll off the blanket. He doesn’t acknowledge them. Instead he keeps his hands on me caressing my body. His lips touch mine and I feel his soft, wet tongue as he kisses me fervently. His hand slips under my dress and moves to my waist. His fingers lightly move across my skin, making my breathing quicken. I grab his legs with mine and force his body under me, pulling myself on top of him. I’m surprised both by


my strength and that he let me. He smirks at my advance. “You want to be on top?” He gently kisses my exposed shoulder and continues up my neck. He takes a small nip at my earlobe, sending an agonizing want to my wetness. I don’t know why I’ve pinned him under me. I don’t want to be on top; I don’t want control. I want to enjoy his embrace without thinking about anything other than how good his touch feels. I look down into his passionate blue eyes as I make up my mind. “No.” I bite my lip and shake my head. “I want you on top.” I kiss him softly, and he takes that as his cue. He quickly rolls me onto my back, pinning me down with carnal desire. A knock at the door interrupts our heated moment. Thomas looks up at the door with irritation, then looks back down at me. I bite my lip and quickly lean up to kiss him under his chin. “Not now, Michael,” he says and kisses me, “we’re busy.” He smiles and licks his bottom lip. I hear footsteps go down the staircase, relieving my concern that we would have to wait. He kisses me passionately and hard on my lips. His breathing quickens as he reaches up my dress with both hands and rips off my lace underwear in one quick motion. Fuck, he makes me so hot. He looks down at me as he rubs my clit. I moan, writhing from his touch. I try to keep myself composed and looking sexy because I know he’s watching me, but it’s so hard. The intense sensation overpowers my will. He leans his weight on me, pinning me down, forcing me to accept the overwhelming sensation. I can feel his hard length against me, and the knowledge sends a surge of warmth to my core. He moves two fingers into


my wetness and continues to rub my clit with more pressure. He hits that sweet spot over and over again, pushing me closer and closer. “Oh, Thomas. Yes,” I moan. I’m so wet, so ready for him. He kisses my neck; his hot breath intensifies the sensation. “Please, I need you,” I beg him, stifling my moans. He kisses me hard and enters me quickly and forcefully to the hilt, and I throw my head back and scream out his name. His lips capture mine, muffling my cries of pleasure as he pumps in and out of me. I kiss him back with a bruising need, grabbing his hair and pulling him toward me. He picks up his speed as I tilt my hips up to meet his. A tingling heat spreads from the tips of my toes and fingers throughout my body. I feel a throbbing need to explode. I hold onto his back, my hands under his shirt, fingers gripping into his warm skin. I'm careful to keep my nails from digging too roughly into his back as I near my release. He picks my body up and moves me against his chest. He leans back, forcing me to sit on his lap with my legs wrapped around his body. I kiss him passionately, gasping for breath as I slowly come back down. I close my eyes as he enters me again and again. My breathing quickens. He hits my clit with every stroke. “Yes! Harder,” I whisper in his ear and bite down gently on his shoulder. He does as I ask and in response I arch my back and cum, allowing my body to shake in his arms. He gives another hard embrace, making me groan with pleasure and I feel his release pulsing in me. “Emma, you’re amazing,” he whispers in my ear, and his hot breath travels down my neck. He holds me close, and kisses me gently. I quietly hum into his chest, willing my body to calm. After a few moments, I’m able to


respond. I whisper, “You’re pretty amazing yourself.” I nudge my nose against his with a shy smile and kiss him softly.

WE LOOK over the edge of the rooftop, watching the waves crash gently into the sand. The sound is calming. Both of us are sated, feeling the relaxing effects of the alcohol and earth-shattering sex. I’m lying in his arms, my back to his front, enjoying the gentle salty wind on my face and his warm breath on my neck. Our peaceful moment is interrupted when his phone rings. I move to give him space, but he holds me close and awkwardly fishes the phone from his pocket. He looks at the caller ID and exhales. “I have to answer this,” he says and his voice is sorrowful. I nod, even though he doesn't need my approval. “Yes?” he answers with an agitated tone. Whoever it is, he doesn’t want to be talking to them. “What are you talking about? Are you serious?” He's growing angrier by the second, angry enough to release me. I move so I'm sitting cross-legged in front of him. “Of course I didn’t hit her!” I gape at him in absolute shock. Hit her? She’s saying that he hit her? That’s ridiculous. He’d never put his hands on a woman! Maybe he did it years ago, a voice inside my head whispers, and the insidious thought is sobering. I know he was different before he met me, but abusive seems like a stretch. I’d never heard that about him, and Kate would’ve told me for sure if she had heard that. “This kind of bullshit isn’t going to hurt my business,


but it does hurt my wife and this is completely unacceptable. I want to know who these sources are. I don’t care that they're confidential! I want to know now. You can find out anything with the right amount of money, so make it happen.” He finally slams the phone down after a resentful, “Good night.” “She’s saying you hit her?” I ask in disbelief as soon as he hangs up. “No,” he says and hesitates, taking a deep breath before continuing. “There’s been an article posted online saying that I hit you. PR is sending me a picture and the article now.” He looks at the bruise above my eye. “But I’m sure they must be referring to the bruise you got when you slipped in the shower.” I gasp and move my hand to my mouth. “Are you serious?” I move closer to him, scooting on my knees. “That’s crazy. You would never hit me.” His phone beeps. He looks down and sneers, “Fucking paparazzi.” He passes me the phone. It’s a picture of me from yesterday, heading up the stairs of his office building. I look so withdrawn, and he looks pissed. “That’s not fair, you didn’t do anything.” My heart climbs into my throat. I have to make this better. I need to support him and not let them demonize him. “I’ll tell them I slipped and fell.” Thomas’ grave expression lightens, and he chuckles. I'm puzzled as I ask, “What’s so funny?” “I don’t think that telling anyone you slipped and fell is actually going to make matters any better.” Oh good God. A grin spreads across my face and I shake my head. He's right, that sounds terrible. “I guess not.” A moment passes and then I finally ask, “What can I do to make this better?” He takes me by the


waist, pulling me into him and kisses me passionately, nipping my bottom lip tenderly. “Just don’t worry about anything, and don’t stop loving me.” I look up at him, surprised. “Of course I won’t stop loving you.” My eyes meet his, and he can see my concern. How could he possibly think I would ever stop loving him? “Good. It would be nice if you could refrain from throwing wine glasses at me, too.” He gives me a wolfish grin with his response. Leaning into his ear I whisper, “You have no idea how happy I am that I grabbed the glass and not the bottle.”


CHAPTER 10

phone rings at seven in the morning. I hear the M y muffled tone from my purse across the room. I slowly pry my sleeping husband’s arm from my waist, doing my best not to wake him. I scamper quietly to my purse and fish out my phone, but I missed the call. It was Kate. I look back at the bed and see that Thomas is still sound asleep. I slip into the hallway as quietly as I can and dial her back as I walk down the stairs to the dining room. It’s gorgeous. Everything here is exquisite. She answers on the second ring. “Hey Emma, I hope I didn’t wake you. I forgot about the time difference.” Her voice is soft, too soft. Something’s wrong. “It’s fine sweetie, I slept for twelve hours on the plane.” I let out a small laugh and gauge her response. She’s quiet. My heart sinks. “Was your flight good then?” she asks, making small talk before she get into the real reason she’s called. “Yeah, it was fine. I know you didn’t call to ask about the flight though. Is everything okay?” I know it’s not okay though.


“I’m a fool,” she sobs into the phone. “I don’t know why I’m so stupid.” “You’re not stupid. Is this about Mike?” I bite my lip. I know this has to do with him. Yet again another question asked even though I already know the answer. “Yes.” Her sobs are heavy as she breathes in deep, gasping for air. Poor Kate. “What happened? Do I need to break his legs?” I’m hoping for a small laugh on her end, but I get nothing. “Yes, break his legs and cut off his dick.” She's bitter and angry. “What happened?” “I’m such an idiot. I slept with him.” I try to remain calm. I knew she would. He always knows exactly what to say. “He took me out to dinner, then we came back to my place.” She takes a quick intake of air, trying to calm her breathing. “We had sex, twice. It was good. It was really good. It always is.” “Okay.” I really don’t want to know how good it was. That’s not why she's crying. “And he stayed over. And at three in the morning his phone rang.” Her voice raises in anger. “I pretended to be asleep, and I listened. It was his girlfriend, wanting to know where he was. He called her baby and told her that he loved her. I freaked out.” “Oh my God, Kate. I’m so sorry.” He’s such an asshole. “I told him to get the fuck out, and he laughed at me, Emma. He literally laughed in my face.” Her sobs are back full force. “Everything’s going to be alright, I promise. He’s such a dick. I fucking hate him.” “He really is. He even said, ‘Thanks for the booty call’ on his way out.” I grit my teeth.


“So do I have permission to punch him in the face if I see him?” Half of me is serious about it. “You do. You have my full permission.” Her breathing has calmed a bit. “The security guys heard everything. I feel like such a fool.” “It’s okay, sweetie. I’m sure they don’t think badly of you.” “I can’t even look them in the eyes.” “They get paid to guard you, not to judge you. If they give you any shit, I’ll tell Thomas to fire them on the spot.” I finally get a small laugh from her. “I just want to be happy. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.” “Don’t worry. As soon as you stop worrying and stop looking, that’s when it’ll happen. I promise.” “Thanks. I hope so. I’m tired of being alone.” I hear the stairs creak. Thomas is walking down. He gives me a wary look when he sees my face. I mouth, “Kate.” He nods his head and walks to the kitchen. I’m sure he can guess it’s about Mike. I do my best to console her, and tell her to call me if she needs to talk. I wish I were with her. I feel guilty that I’m so far away. She needs a good guy, someone like Thomas. A horrible thought crosses my mind. I wonder if Thomas ever did anything like that. I can’t imagine that he would have, but then again I’ve been oblivious to his past. I head to the kitchen and find Thomas talking to Michael. “Everything okay?” he asks. Both he and Michael are eyeing me curiously. “Mike is an asshole.” “I thought we already knew that.” He waits for my response as I fill a mug with water and put it in the microwave.


“He got a call from his girlfriend at three in the morning after he slept with Kate.” Thomas shakes his head and says disgustedly, “What a fucking prick.” “You’ve never done that before, have you?” I ask him quietly, before I can think better of it. At first he looks surprised, and then furious. “No.” His short response cuts deep into me. I shouldn’t have asked him that. He frowns. I see Michael discreetly leave the room. “Why would you even ask me that?” “I just don’t know much about your past. And what I do know…” I don’t know how to finish the thought. I can’t look him in the eyes. I just stare at the floor, and I feel sick to my stomach. “Do you think that badly of me?” “No. I don’t think badly of you at all. Sometimes I just wonder what you were like before me.” “I was an asshole, but I wasn’t that bad. I just slept around. Women threw themselves at me, but I was always upfront about not wanting a relationship.” He swallows hard. “Is this because of Lillian?” I freeze. Yes. “I don’t know,” I lie. I don’t want to admit that she’s been making me question him and his life before he met me. I add the tea bag and sugar to the hot water and slowly stir it. The clink of the spoon hitting the ceramic is loud in the silent room. Guilt erupts in my stomach, twisting it. A moment passes, but he says nothing. I finally look at Thomas and I wish I knew what he was thinking. My eyes plead with him to open up to me and put my thoughts at ease. He tenses and sighs before surrendering to me. “Lillian was like every other woman. They all made passes at me. They wanted to fuck me.” He hesitates and


closes his eyes as he admits, “I was stupid and careless.” He moves to sit at the dining room table, and I cautiously grab my tea and sit next to him. “That’s all there is to it. I slept around. I wasn’t like Mike; I didn’t lie or cheat. There was never any commitment.” “I’m sorry.” I don’t know what to say. He hasn’t told me anything I didn’t already know. “I don’t know why I’m acting like this.” “You’re wondering what I did to Lillian.” My heart sinks. I hold onto my mug and sip my tea. I am. I want to know more about her, but at the same time I don’t. He breathes in deep, not giving me the option of deciding whether or not I should hear it. “She worked for my company for I don’t know, maybe three months. She made a pass at me a few times, and I told her it was strictly against company policy.” He sighs again. I can’t take my eyes off of him. I’m hanging on every word. “One day she came into my office and told me she was quitting. I asked her why, and she said she’d been offered a job with another company for more money. I asked her how much more, but she just shook her head. She said she was taking the job regardless because she wanted to fuck me.” I grab my tea and hold it close. I don’t want to hear this. “I was stupid, Emma. I started sleeping with her off and on for about a month. She wasn't special. We would meet up for sex. That was all there was to it.” I take another sip of tea. I don’t want to think about my husband sleeping with her, let alone hordes of women. “And then she started showing up all the time. It wasn’t my style to see the same girl over and over again. I didn’t want a relationship, and I told her that. That’s when she freaked out.” I don’t respond. He’s eyeing me, trying to gauge my reaction. I finally collect my thoughts


enough to reply. “And after her, you started seeing me. Do you think that’s why you wanted a serious relation-” He cuts me off angrily. “Jesus, Emma. No. Why would you think that?” “I just… I don’t know. You went from her, to me.” He tilts his head in confusion. I didn’t even realize that I had made that connection until I said it aloud. Is that why he dated me? He felt guilty over her suicide attempt? “No, I didn’t. For Christ's sake, I fucked a girl the night I saw Lillian in the hospital. And a handful more before I met you.” I gape at his response. What a dick. I’m appalled, but at the same time I feel a wave of angst leave my body. “Emma, I don’t know how to explain it to you, but I'll try.” He sighs. “When I saw you, I wanted you. I wanted to fuck you, but I wanted more, too.” His voice is calm and low, full of sincerity. “It had nothing to do with anyone else. I wanted you, and I was curious.” “Curious?” I blush a little and squirm a bit in my seat. “Yes, I wanted to know more about you. And the more I got to know you, the more I wanted you.” He puts a hand on my knee. “But you never tried to have sex with me.” I bite my lip, remembering how he turned me down. “Yes I did. As soon as you offered, I jumped on you. It just took you a while, a long damn while. A whole fucking month of no sex.” “But you turned me down. On our third date I wanted you to come upstairs, and you turned me down.” He looks confused at first, and then he laughs. “Emma, you were drunk. I shouldn’t have let you have so much wine.” I put my mug down on the counter and let a small smile slip.


“That’s why you said no?” “Yes, what did you think? That I didn't want you? I just didn’t want to take advantage of you.” I feel the tension leave my body, and the anger dissipates. He did want me; he was just being a gentleman. Ha! “Would you have still wanted me if we hadn’t waited a whole month?” Curiosity has gotten the best of me. “Of course. After you asked me about my reputation, I figured I shouldn’t push you. But after seeing you that night, dancing with everyone watching,” he moves closer to me, “you have no idea how much I wanted to make you mine. I should have kissed you right there in front of everyone.” I smile shyly at his response and wrap my legs around him. “I felt guilty taking you back to my place. I thought I was pressuring you.” I shake my head at him. He didn’t pressure me at all. He responds as if reading my mind, “When I saw your lingerie, I knew you wanted me.” I smile and kiss him. Thinking about our first night together makes me giddy and hot. “Are you satisfied now? Will you stop questioning me?” I feel a pang of guilt, halting the heat wave rushing through my body. I nod my head. He pulls me to him and kisses me. “Good. Don’t bring it up again.” “I promise I won’t.” I smile as he kisses my forehead.

“YOU RENTED A PORSCHE?” I’m staring at a ridiculous twoseater convertible. It’s a very nice car, but a little more than over the top and entirely unnecessary. “Of course. If I’m going to drive, I might as well drive something nice.” I shake my head at him. Thomas has


decided that Michael should have the night off. “Alright Mr. Extravagant, where are we going?” He looks amused. “I thought we could go to Bloody Mary’s for dinner.” I’ve spent most of the day on the beach while he's been working. I don’t think he understands what a vacation entails. “I think I would enjoy that.” I give him a small kiss on the cheek as he opens my door for me. I have a new sense of confidence from knowing the only reason he ever turned me down was because I was drunk, but I also feel a bit guilty for asking him about his past. As we drive down the road, I come up with an idea to make it up to him. “Could we rent a boat tonight?” “A boat?” He looks at me quizzically. “Yes, I want to make love to you on the water… to make up for this morning.” He smiles at me and puts his hand on my knee. “I have other plans.” He looks at me with a devilish grin. “Oh?” He makes me nervous when he looks at me with those wolfish eyes. He just continues to smile, not giving anything away.I enjoy the low hum of a sweet song playing on the radio and lay my head back, wondering what my husband has in store for me. It’s not a long drive to Bloody Mary’s. The entrance looks like a tiki hut, with a straw roof and a primitive wooden sign. The lighting is dim and romantic; the room is airy with sand covering the dirt floor, and palm trees lining the walls. I squeeze Thomas’ hand with delight. We sit at a booth in the back. I scoot in first and Thomas follows me, his hand grazing my knee as he leans in and gives me a small kiss on the cheek. As soon as we sit,


Thomas orders us each a Bloody Mary and blackened tuna for dinner. As the waiter leaves us Thomas rests his hand on my thigh, pulling my dress up slightly. I gasp, quickly moving to push his hand away. “Don’t deny me,” he whispers in a low and threatening tone. I inhale quickly. He’s punishing me, in public. This is new, and my blood heats in anticipation. I bite my lip and pull my hands away, resting them on the seat beside me. Thomas leans in close, his breath hot on my neck. “I’m going to make you cum.” I hold my breath, looking at his blue eyes. “I don’t know if I can… here.” We’ve never done anything like this before. I feel nervous, but at the same time I’m so wet at the thought of him pleasuring me in public. “I don’t want anyone to see, Thomas.” My eyes plead with him. “Do you think I would let anyone see?” His blue eyes pierce me, warning me not to question him. No, he wouldn’t. I shake my head. “Just control yourself. Don’t you dare moan.” I nod, biting my lip, and keep my eyes on Thomas. He nonchalantly picks up the wine list with his free hand while his other hand moves back to my thigh, pushing my dress out of his way. I reach for a wine list also and pretend as though I'm studying it. As his fingers reach my panties, he gives me a devilish smile. “I’m glad you wore lace.” With his eyes still on me he pushes his fingers through the lace, ripping them, and enters me. I part my lips to moan, but he says, “No moaning, baby. I don’t want anyone to know.” He looks back down at the wine list after glancing around the room. I look also, but no one’s watching. I let out a small gasp as he hits my sweet spot. His thumb starts rubbing


against my clit, and I have to grab his arm to keep myself upright. Already he's bringing me closer and closer to my release. “Thomas, I don’t know if I can handle this,” I plead with him, and he stops. My body tenses. I need my release. I was so close. My body aches. “Alright then.” He looks at me with a wild and pleased grin. He knows exactly what he’s doing. No! Don’t leave me like this. “Please, I need you.” “I thought you said you couldn’t handle it?” He smiles as he takes his Bloody Mary from our waiter. I straighten and blush. I don’t think the waiter has a clue; I glance around the room again, and still no one’s watching us. I feel so scandalous. “I want you,” I whisper to him. “What do you want me to do?” “I want you to fuck me.” “Isn’t that a bit shameless? We’d have an audience.” He’s teasing me. I bite my lip again, holding back my mixed emotions. “I don’t like this.” I feel a rush of sadness. I don’t know why exactly, probably more from my frustration and orgasm denial than anything else. My hormones have been crazy these last few days. Thomas straightens and looks at me; his eyes are full of concern. “Tell me what you want me to do.” He looks and sounds sincere. I think if I told him to turn me around and fuck me on the table, he might. I don’t know what to say. I really don’t know what I want. I’m afraid I’m going to lose control and moan in front of everyone. “I want to cum.” Thomas grabs my waist, pulling me closer to him, and quickly slides his fingers back inside me, hitting my G-spot, sending a sweet sensation of


ecstasy through my body. I start to moan, but his lips stop me with a kiss and then he pulls away. His other hand moves to my back, holding me up. “You’re going to cum quietly, Emma. Do you understand?” I nod my head, concentrating hard on keeping my body still and my noises to a minimum. His rhythm picks up, and I resist the urge to arch my back. My eyes meet his and he’s watching me closely, waiting for my release. “You’re so close.” He glances around the room casually, looking as though nothing is out of the ordinary, and then his eyes fall on me again. “Cum for me.” His words send me over; my body gently shakes in pure ecstasy. I hardly have a moment to enjoy my orgasm. I’m shamelessly aware there are at least forty other people in the restaurant. I readjust myself and look around the room cautiously. No one is watching us. I smile shyly at Thomas. He’s wiping his fingers on his napkin. I feel my cheeks redden. I can’t believe we just did that. “Better?” he asks me with a smug grin. “Much better.” I feel warm all over, enjoying the aftermath of the intense sensation. “I wasn’t planning on letting you go.” I raise my eyebrows in surprise. “I was going to make you squirm.” “That’s mean,” I pout. “I’m glad you didn’t. I don’t think I could’ve handled it.” He smiles. “You can handle more than you think.” I blush at his response.

“THE BLACKENED TUNA WAS DIVINE.” I’m gently swaying in my seat, completely sated in every possible meaning of the


word. “I want another Bloody Mary.” Thomas is amused. “I think four is plenty.” His smug grin is still plastered across his face. Have I already had four? “So Thomas, would you like to come upstairs for some coffee?” I’m still enjoying the confidence boost from finding out that Thomas did in fact want to sleep with me the night he turned me down. Seeing as how I’m obviously a bit tipsy at the moment, I intend to take full advantage and act out the scene how it should’ve played out. “You’re my wife now, Mrs. Grant. I think I would very much enjoy taking you up on that offer.” He signals for the check and gives me his handsome smile. Yes! When I get up, I almost tumble over, but Thomas catches me just in time, holding my waist to him. He lets out a small laugh. “Maybe I should’ve made you stop at three,” he whispers in my ear and brings me to my feet. I huff. “I’m fine, now let’s get home so you can take advantage of me.” Thomas shakes his head, but doesn’t lose his sex god grin. My heels sink in the sand as we walk out of the restaurant. I’m not sure how I was able to walk in these heels when we arrived here but it has, for some unknown reason, become more difficult. I reach down and kick them off, not so graciously bending over to retrieve them, and decide to carry them in my hand. Thomas shakes his head and lets out a small snicker. I glance around, and now people are watching. Sorry folks, you already missed the main act! He opens the door and gently sets me in the passenger side of the Porsche. Rubbing the interior leather, I’m suddenly finding the car quite a turn-on. He opens the driver side and slides in, putting the key into


the ignition. I can’t resist climbing over the stick shift and leaning into him. “How about here?” I whisper sexily in his ear. I sit up straight, keeping both knees on his seat with my feet on the passenger seat just barely propping me up. I pull my dress up just enough to show a little of my thighs, and I bite my lip. The roof is still down, giving me plenty of room to tease him. “People will see. Not here.” I pout; I want it now. I don’t want to wait. Before I can object, a light flashes in my eyes. I wince and settle back down into my seat. “Good evening, everything alright over here?” It’s a female cop, tanned from the sun with a very nice figure, really busty. I find myself staring at her breasts even though they’re tucked conservatively into her uniform. I feel a rush of blood to my face. I’m slightly embarrassed, but more than that I'm annoyed. “Yes officer, everything is fine. We were just leaving.” Thomas gives her a small smile. He seems calm, a little embarrassed maybe. “Did you two have anything to drink tonight?” She shines the light back at me. “Yes, I had half of a Bloody Mary about two hours ago, but my wife has had four.” He looks at me and smiles. “It’s been a little while since we’ve had a date night.” The officer is eyeing me curiously. “I was just taking her home.” “I see, Mr….?” “Thomas Grant.” Her eyes light up with recognition, and she tilts her head. “Thomas Grant, as in Grant Enterprises?” He nods his head modestly. The officer smiles slightly but then her demeanor changes, and she points the flashlight into my eyes yet again. I wince; she's looking above my eye.


Seriously? How long has this fucking article been out? “He didn’t hit me. I slipped and fell.” I answer her before she has time to question. And then I realize what I said, and I begin to laugh. I try to hold it in, but that only makes me laugh harder. Thomas shakes his head, still holding the wheel and the officer looks at me as though I’m insane. “I don’t know why I'm laughing. I’m sorry, officer. Domestic violence is not a laughing matter.” I can’t hold it in any longer. I have to put my head on my knees to try to muffle the sounds; small tears are forming in the corner of my eyes. I look up and do my best to be serious. “I really did slip in the shower.” I try to calm my breathing and contain my laughter. I don’t know what’s gotten into me. Thomas sighs and says, “I didn’t hit my wife. And for that matter, I didn’t cheat on her either.” He looks pissed now. I can’t resist chiming in. “Yeah, if he did, I’d cut his balls off.” I manage to shock both Thomas and the cop. I wipe the tears from the corner of my eyes and nestle down into the seat, pulling my seatbelt across my chest. “Alright, you two. Get her home safe, Mr. Grant. And good luck.” I smile at her last comment. As she walks away, Thomas pushes the button to bring the top back up, concealing us from the public. “You’d cut my balls off?” He looks at me, still in shock. I bite my lip and nod. “Well, I can safely say I’m happy you only had wine at Kate’s house. God knows what would've happened if you'd gotten your hands on Bloody Marys.” I let out a laugh as we pull out of the parking lot.


CHAPTER 11

wake up to bright sunshine pouring into the room and IThomas' arms are firmly around me, holding me to his chest. I roll over slowly and carefully in his arms so that I can face him. I study his handsome face while he sleeps. I only get away with it for a moment. His eyes gently open, and a smile forms on his lips. “Good morning, beautiful.” He puts his hands behind his head and stretches. “Good morning yourself.” I kiss his bottom lip and smile. “Did you have fun last night?” “I did, did you?” I can’t help but smile wider. “I have to admit that I enjoyed myself. Especially when we got in bed.” My cheeks blush scarlet at his response. “You took advantage of me,” I tease him. “If I remember correctly, I’m pretty sure you took advantage of me.” I laugh, hiding my grin under the blanket. “What are the plans for today?” He sits up and stretches more, arching his back and


yawning, which makes me yawn in turn. “Whatever you’d like.” He brushes a few curls away from my face, and I blink up at him. “I just have a bit of work I have to do this morning.” He gives me a small smile and rubs his thumb over my bottom lip. “I promise I won’t be long.” He gets up from bed and puts on his favorite pair of flannel pajama pants. The pants are slung low on his hips, emphasizing his abs. That only makes me want him more. I readjust in bed to get a good look at him, resting on my elbows. “So no time for a little loving?” I give him a small pout and move my hand through my hair. “Mmm, baby, you tease me.” He crawls on the bed until he’s on top of me. I grab the blanket and squeeze. Yes! His lips touch mine and then he breathes into my ear, “How about later?” I look up, startled, and his huge handsome smile is staring back at me. I smack him hard in the chest and exclaim, “You tease!” He laughs and jumps off the bed. I throw my pillow at him as he runs to the bathroom. I rest back against the bed. I feel like we;re on our honeymoon again. We didn’t go anywhere tropical though. Plus we weren’t blessed with such good weather, not that we noticed the weather anyway. We had plans to visit the castles in Ireland and sightsee. Instead we ended up spending two weeks in bed, exploring our sexual boundaries. I blush, remembering his body and the way he gasped when he saw my lingerie. I curl up in the blanket, feeling traces of his warmth and taking in his scent. I can’t imagine loving this man any more than I do now.


I TAKE my time getting ready, enjoying my shower and pampering myself with the luxurious oils and lotions I find in the bathroom. They make my skin feel so soft; I can’t help but run my fingers up and down my legs. I think Thomas will like the way my skin feels. I prance to the closet where I left my bag and pull out a pair of black lace panties and matching bra.I smile. That’ll teach him to tease me. I decide to have a small breakfast while he works. I skip to the kitchen and catch a glimpse of a fruit basket on the counter full of peaches. I inhale their sweet scent, loving the way they smell. I take a bite of one, and it's so ripe, the skin peels off easily. It’s so delicious. I take another bite, and the juice drips down my hand. I reach over to grab a napkin, and suddenly I stop. I put the peach down quickly onto the counter, and my hand flies to my mouth. I feel sick to my stomach. I search the kitchen for a trashcan. I’m going to throw up. I dry heave. Oh God! What the hell? Finally I find a small trashcan underneath the sink for me to abuse. Michael barrels into the kitchen. Ugh. Don’t look at me. He must’ve heard me frantically throwing things around looking for the damn trashcan and dry heaving. “Emma, are you okay?” What does it look like? “Go away,” I mutter as I vomit noisily into the trashcan. I hear him leave quickly. When the convulsions stop, I lean back against the fridge. The cool surface feels soothing against my skin, but I'm miserable. I lie there for a moment, trying to collect myself. What the hell is wrong with me? Wait… My eyes open wide, and I manage to pick myself up and retrieve my purse. I pull out the tiny calendar that tracks my cycle, and I count. Four days late. Does that mean I’m a month pregnant? I look back to the month


before. I had a short period, super short. Now that I’m thinking about it, it wasn’t very heavy either. Am I pregnant? Michael returns, just in time. “Here’s a towel, and I’ve informed housekeeping. They’ll be here shortly.” He doesn’t look at me as he speaks. “Should I let Mr. Grant know? Or would you like me to take you to the bathroom or bedroom? Do you need a doctor?” “Michael, I think I’m pregnant.” I blurt out before I'm fully aware of what I've just said aloud. I feel a mix of shock and anticipation. He finally looks at me, and smiles. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him smile before in all the years I've known him. “Ma’am, you’re pregnant?” He restrains his smile and tries to remain professional. “I don’t know for sure, but I think I might be.” I let myself smile, and my chest fills with hope. “I need a pregnancy test.” “I’ll be right back.” He leaves before I can say another word. I want to go with him. Is he really going to go buy one? I tie up the trash bag and push it down. I pick myself up again and scurry to the bathroom. I brush my teeth and wash my face hurriedly. I look at myself in the mirror. Please, please let me be pregnant. I remember the conversation we had about a week after he proposed. It was the first time we had discussed having children. “I want to marry you, and spend my life with only you, Emma.” He was so devotedly amorous, kissing me ravenously, his breath hot on my neck. “What about children?” I was so naïve. Of course he wanted children, he was just being a romantic prince. He silently laughed with his nose resting on mine and gently kissed my top lip and then the bottom one.


“Of course, baby. If you’d like to have children, then we’ll have children. Plural?” I giggled at his response as joy spread through my body. I was going to have a husband and children. I nodded my head and buried my face in his chest as he embraced me. We started trying for a baby a month before the wedding. We hadn't cared if I had been a month along by the wedding, and you wouldn’t have been able to tell anyway. I was thrilled; Thomas would be such a great dad, and I couldn’t wait to be a mother. I spent hours with Kate coming up with potential baby names and researching their meanings. But it was all for naught. Every time I saw the negative on the pee sticks, I couldn’t help but be upset. I didn’t know why I couldn’t get pregnant. I wanted to give him a baby more than anything. I practically lived for the thought of being a mother. He’d given me the world, and all he'd ever asked from me was to give him a baby, and I couldn’t do it. We used ovulation tests and when they never showed a positive in the months that I used them, we decided to see a specialist. They just said we should keep trying, and that pregnancies take time. The doctors said stress might be why we'd been having difficulty. Stress? What did I know about stress until just a few days ago?

I HEAR someone outside the door, and my thoughts are interrupted. “Emma, I have what you requested.” Michael is back. “That was quick.” I go to the bathroom door and grab a small bag from his hands. “Thank you so much.” “Good luck,” he says then nods and walks away down


the hall.

COME ON, pee. I always have to pee. It figures the one time I need a stream, and I can’t muster up a drop. Concentrate. You can pee. You can do this. I laugh. What is wrong with me? Apparently I don’t work well under pressure. Finally! I put the cap back on and wipe it down with toilet paper before I set it on the counter. I can’t look. I sit back on the toilet. Just wait a minute, just a single minute. It’s agonizing. I hold my breath and rock. I can’t stand it any longer, but it’s only been about ten seconds. I pick it up. Two lines. I chirp and start jumping up and down, letting out a silent scream. I can’t believe it; I’m pregnant. I run out of the bathroom and straight into Michael, almost pushing him over. “Where is he?” I can’t contain my excitement. We’re finally going to have a baby. I just can’t believe it. “He’s in the study, upstairs.” The smile returns to his face and he hesitates to say something, but then he speaks. “I’m so happy for the both of you.” The smile plastered on my face hurts my cheeks as I wrap my arms around him in a happy embrace. After a moment he gives me a quick hug and releases me. “I’m gonna go tell him!” He nods at me as I run toward the stairs. I swing on the railing and sprint down the hall. I halt myself outside his door and knock lightly as though I wasn’t just barreling down the hall. “Yes?” He's stern in his response. I open the door. He’s on the phone so he holds up a finger. I find a chair in the corner and take a seat. The smile is still on my face, but it’s more subdued.


“Are you sure? Fucking unbelievable.” My mood drops immediately. I think about coming back later when he's off the phone, but he motions for me to remain seated before I have the chance to fully get up. Damn it. What happened now? I just wanted a moment to be happy. “Make sure this gets out into the press. Call Joshua Barker. Tell him I want to prosecute her to the full extent of the law. Thank you.” He slams the phone down and closes his eyes. His anger dissipates as I squirm in the chair. “What was that about?” I ask under my breath. I don’t want to know, but I have to ask. I have such fantastic, wonderful, blissful news. I don’t want him to be bogged down with whatever that was. “Apparently Elizabeth was the source for the article.” His voice is low and full of regret. I gasp.“You’re not serious?” I can’t hide the shock in my voice. I’ve known her ever since I started seeing Thomas. She even attended our wedding. He nods and says, “She did. Michael just confirmed it with the publisher. It didn’t cost quite as much as we thought it would to release their source.” “Was she involved with the news story, the leaked photos?” I move my knees to my chest, saddened by the memory. “No, no. She didn’t have anything to do with that.” “Why would she do something like that?” He lets out a deep sigh. “After she came into my office and showed me the clip of the news broadcast, we worked out all of the public relations bullshit and I tried to call you again. I didn’t bother to keep leaving messages, since I knew you were deliberately not answering.” He looks at me with sorrowful yet angered eyes, and my stomach knots. I feel awful, reminded of the pain that


I caused him. “I was pissed, Emma. I was really fucking pissed. As I was getting ready to leave, she said something like, ‘If you can’t get hold of your wife tonight, you have my number. Call me if you want some company.’ And I lost it.” “She made a pass at you?” I’m disgusted by the revelation. I feel a wave of nausea and I have to lean back in my seat and concentrate on my breathing to contain it. I can’t help but wonder if the nausea is from all this bullshit or the little miracle growing inside me. The thought relaxes me somewhat, and I unconsciously move my hand to my belly. “Yes, and I fired her instantly. The company replaced her with Margaret Keller. I’ve worked with her before, when Elizabeth was away.” “So she wrote that story about you hitting me?” I’m confused and upset. I had no idea that any of this had happened. “She didn’t write it. The magazine editor called to get a comment, and she fabricated the story. I’m going to make sure she’s never hired again.” “I’m glad you didn’t take her up on her offer.” I smile a bit and try to make light of the situation, but my smile doesn’t reach my eyes. “I'll take you throwing objects at my head over another woman, any day.” I can’t help but smile, and he grins in response. “So what do you need?” Oh crap, I can’t tell him now. I bite my lip. I don’t want to tell him when he's in such a horrible mood. My brightened spirits are completely gone. “Is everything alright?” He looks so concerned that it makes me laugh. I wonder if he's going to make that face every time the baby cries. Baby. My heart swoons. “What’s so funny?” He's amused by my sudden


outburst. I can’t help but laugh again. “Nothing, nothing.” I’m still smiling. Apparently my happiness is not too badly wounded from Elizabeth’s betrayal. “You came in here to tell me something, so what is it?” He has a huge grin on his face. My giddiness is infectious. I feel my cheeks start to hurt from my smile. I run my hands around the polished wood of the desk in the study. I can’t help but to keep smiling. He looks at me with his head tilted, curious. He licks his lips. “Emma, sweetheart, what is it?” “Thomas, I think I’m pregnant.” I can’t believe I said it. It just spilled out. I didn’t want to say it, but the words escaped my lips without permission. Tears swell in my eyes. He looks up from the desk, and his blue eyes meet my gaze. His face looks a bit shocked. “Pregnant,” he echoes, then sits up straight in his chair and looks at me from head to toe. His eyes meet mine again as he asks, “You’re pregnant?” I nod with a small smile. He gets up so quickly that he knocks the chair over. He doesn’t spare a look back. His beautiful smile makes his eyes squint as he holds me tight. He kisses me quickly, small kisses on my lips and face and then he moves to my belly. I laugh. He looks up at me with big blue eyes and asks, “We’re going to have a baby?” “Yes!” I can hardly breathe; I’m so elated. He grabs my waist, lifting me into the air and kisses me hard on my lips. He puts me down and holds me close. I squeeze him back as hard as I can. “We’re going to have a baby, Thomas.” I give his nose a nudge with mine and smile.


“I’m so happy, Emma.” He closes his eyes and kisses me, holding me in his embrace. “I’m so happy.”

I DRY OFF, stepping out of the shower onto the cold floor tiles. We spent the rest of the afternoon on the beach not doing much of anything, just soaking in the sun and pushing the hot sand around with our feet. I thought about wading in the water and bodysurfing but I settled on relaxing, enjoying my new glow. Thomas stayed with me, holding my hand and kissing me every so often. We discussed baby names; the thought makes me smile. We haven't agreed on anything yet, but we have plenty of time. I kept looking down at my flat tummy. I smiled, knowing I would have a baby bump soon. I’m not sure if I’m a month or two along, and I can’t wait to go to the doctor’s office to find out and get a due date. I know all the ultrasounds look the same in the beginning, but I can’t wait to see my little squish. I walk out of the bathroom, patting my hair dry. Thomas is relaxing on the bed with his laptop next to him, staring up at me. “So tonight, I’d like to have dinner with my parents.” Thomas looks at me, not so much asking if I’m alright with the arrangements he’s made. It's more that he’s telling me. “I didn’t know your family was in Bora Bora.” I’m in shock. We haven’t seen his parents since this past summer when we spent a week with them at their vacation home in St. Bart’s. I didn’t expect to see them again until Christmas. “They weren’t. They’re flying in now.” He looks up from the computer, smiling. “I wanted to tell them the


news in person. Your mother’s on her way, too.” My eyes widen. “Thomas, we haven’t seen a doctor yet.” The tone of my voice worries him, and his smile fades. He looks crushed. “I just don’t want to jinx it.” He hesitates and looks at me. “We shouldn’t tell anyone until we're at least three months along. I don’t want to get everyone’s hopes up, just in case…” My voice trails off, and I feel my stomach knot at the unwelcome thought. “We don’t have to tell them then.” His face is kind and understanding, but his body language tells me he's disappointed. “If you want to wait, then we can wait.” “Thank you, Thomas.” I kiss him and turn toward the closet. “So how much time do I have to get ready? And where are we going?” I want to change the subject immediately. “I think another two hours.” He sighs. He must have put them on the jet. I can tell I’ve let him down. I don’t like putting a damper on his plans; it makes me feel guilty. “What would you like to eat?” “Anything and everything. I’m starving.” I search for something to wear, and I hear Thomas hurry across the room to be beside me. He pulls me to him and kisses my cheek. “That’s because you’re pregnant.” His eyes have lit up again. I smile back at him as he gives me another kiss.

IT'S a short walk to La Villa Mahana. Thomas has his arm around my waist, keeping the soft chiffon fabric of my dress from blowing in the wind. He plants soft butterfly kisses on my neck as we walk to the front doors. I'm unable to stop smiling. A nice gentleman holds the door


open as we walk in, and Thomas composes himself, taking my hand in his. “Emma, sweetheart, you’re glowing.” I see my mom stand as her voice echoes across the room. Thomas releases my hand, and I move through the tables gracefully and quickly hug her. I can’t believe my mom is here. I’m overwhelmed with happiness. I feel his hand on my lower back as I release her. He embraces my mom as I move to the other side of the table. His parents get up slowly from their chairs. “How are you, my dear?” His father gives me a hug, and his cologne smells fresh and cool. His mom kisses me on the cheek and then gently wipes her lipstick off with her thumb, making me stand while everyone watches. I silently giggle, amused. The five of us take our seats. I’m sandwiched between my mom and Thomas. Before I can enjoy the fact that we’re all together for the first time since the wedding, Thomas’ mother begins to speak. “Thomas, please tell me you didn’t invite us out here to discuss the debauchery on the news last week.” She takes a sip of water, not taking her eyes off Thomas. “I’d like to think that I’ve raised my son to be a better man.” My heart sinks. Why would she bring that up? She’s a hard woman to love. Her tone and rough edges make us all feel awkward. I’d forgotten all about that nightmare. I nervously grab my napkin and smooth it in my lap, staring fixedly at the silver charger plate in front of me. I’m sure my glow has dimmed. Thomas still hasn’t responded, but I see his eyes narrow. His dad stares at his mother with a look of contempt, but says nothing. He’s never objected to his wife’s bitchy tendencies. My mom begins to speak, no doubt to defend Thomas, but Thomas clears his throat,


halting her. She glances at Thomas and then looks to her glass of water, smiling politely. “It’s not too much to think that your son and his wife just wanted to enjoy their family's company, is it?” His face is soft but his eyes are like daggers, warning her to watch her step. He’s supported his family since he was twenty-four. His mom had no problem accepting his money; she continues to ask for anything and everything that she wants, always wanting more. Even with everything he’s given them, she still remains cold at times. I don’t know why, but sometimes I think she’s resentful for some reason. She has an uncanny ability to manipulate him through guilt trips. Tonight, Thomas is not in the mood for her games. I can already tell he won’t tolerate it. I shift uncomfortably in my seat. Thomas’ demeanor changes once he sees I’m upset. He quickly changes the subject. “I’m very happy you’re all here.” He smiles at everyone in turn, and then his eyes land on his mother. “I hope you had a nice flight.” The waiter graciously interrupts the dismal mood. “Hello Mr. Grant,” he says and politely bows his head then begins handing out dinner menus, “could I start you and your guests off with a bottle of wine or champagne? We have an excellent variety.” “Yes, a bottle of wine please, do you-” Thomas pauses and looks at me. I can’t drink anymore; I’ve already had too much alcohol as it is. The thought saddens me. The first few weeks, you can drink, right? I feel my throat close and try to let out a small cough to clear it. I can’t think about it right now, not in front of our family. I reach for my water, and I take a sip with my eyes on Thomas. He's paused too long. He’s practically giving it away. I raise my


eyebrows at him as I drink. Fuck. It’s so obvious. His eyes stay on me but he says to the waiter, “A bottle of whatever you would suggest.” The waiter hesitates, looking at me quizzically before nodding politely and leaving. When I put my glass down, I feel my mom’s hand on mine. Her eyes are glossy and full of hope; she’s trying too hard to keep her mouth from forming an all-out grin. “Emma, sweetheart, is there something you want to tell us?” Her eyes and voice are both expectant. I part my mouth, but I don’t know if I want to say the news out loud. I’m so afraid of jinxing it. We’ve been waiting so long, and we haven’t even seen a doctor yet. I pause and toy with my napkin. They already know, so there’s no point in denying it. “We haven’t been to the doctor yet, but-” I begin hesitantly as Thomas’ hand moves to my shoulder. Before I can continue, my mom starts to cry, letting out small whimpers of joy. “You’re pregnant?” His mother launches out of her chair, throwing her napkin to the floor. The entire restaurant is gawking at us. Could she have said it any louder? She heads for me and embraces me while I’m still seated. I do a double take. She has tears coming down her face. “I’m going to be a grandmother,” she gasps, releasing me. I hadn’t expected her to act so excited. She holds out her arms to Thomas, and he accepts. I stand to hug his father, who gives me a small peck on the cheek. I can hear applause erupt from the audience in the restaurant. My cheeks flare as I blush. “Well done, you two. I’m very happy for you.” He pats my back as he hugs me. When he releases me, he looks down at my flat abdomen. “Not too far along yet?” I


struggle to get a response out. “We just found out this morning,” Thomas answers for me eagerly. His dad gives me another embrace and again kisses me on the cheek. His mom is still holding onto him, refusing to let him go. “I’m so happy for you!” she exclaims repeatedly. I’m grateful that she’s being so kind to him. He never told his parents we were trying to have a baby. He scowled when I asked if he had talked to them about it. I've always had an uneasy feeling that his mother never expected our relationship to last. It’s almost a certainty, but I push that thought aside. Right now there’s no doubt she’s overjoyed we're having a baby, and I'm gratified knowing she’s happy for us. Once again everyone takes their seats, smiling and crying tears of joy. Finally I’m able to take my mother’s hand. She’s shifted so she’s facing me. She keeps kissing me on the cheek and crying. Neither of us can speak for a solid moment. When she can finally talk, she holds my hand tenderly in hers and says, “You’re going to make such a wonderful mother,” before letting out more sobs of happiness. I must get my emotions from my mother. Once things have calmed and the food has been served, Thomas leans into me and quietly whispers, “I thought you weren’t going to tell them?” I can’t help but smack him playfully under the table, hitting his leg with the back of my hand. He smiles and leans in to give me a kiss. I stare into his caring, teasing blue eyes. His light is back, and so is my glow.


CHAPTER 12

of our vacation were amazing and T he remaining days wonderful. It meant the world to me to see my mother and how happy she was for the two of us - correction, three of us. I was sad to see her go, but I was grateful to have a couple more days alone with Thomas. Those days were spent carelessly lounging on the white sand, catching the warm glow of the sun on our skin.Thomas has pampered me to no end, with romantic candlelit dinners and strolls on the beach as the sun sets on the dark aquamarines of the ocean. I’d grown accustomed to resting my head on his chest listening to various boy's and girl's names roll off his tongue, gauging whether or not the name is worthy of our baby. The sweet smell of his skin and soft hum of his voice were so comforting. I didn’t want to leave, but we had no choice. Reality put an end to my serene escape. As we packed our bags, we were interrupted with news of yet another magazine article. Apparently someone in the restaurant sold the story that we were pregnant. My heart dropped. Thomas thinks it was the waiter, but honestly it could have been anyone given how


loud his mother yelled our news. Damn his mother and her huge mouth. I cried for almost an hour, and only stopped when Kate called me. I’d planned on telling her in person, since this wasn’t something I thought qualified as acceptable for a phone conversation. It was agonizing to withhold it from her. The last two days I refused to take her calls. I couldn’t handle hearing her voice and not being able to tell her, so I blamed my absence on the reception when we eventually spoke. She was, of course, overjoyed and ecstatic, but a little pissed that she found out the news from an article. I refused to let Thomas comment on the story. I didn’t give a damn what PR was telling him to do. It’s not supposed to be public knowledge. We still haven’t seen a doctor. Other than that small hiccup, our vacation was lovely. I wish we could stay here forever.

“WE’LL BE HOME SOON, baby.” Thomas’ eyes are full of happiness. I smile at him and give him a small peck as I settle back into the seat of the plane. I have mixed feelings about going home. I can’t wait to see the doctor. I want to hear her say out loud, “Congratulations, you’re pregnant!” I feel a warm bliss over my body thinking about it. And then my thoughts sour. She’s still out there somewhere. By now, she may know that I’m pregnant. I wonder if that will make her leave us alone, but the impression that the news may cause her to do something much worse haunts me in the silent moments. We don’t talk about her because he doesn’t want me to worry, but I do. And I’ve gotten sick twice just thinking about it. The last time I was home, she was there waiting, and that


knowledge chills me to the core. We can’t hide away forever. It’s our home, and it will be our baby’s home. We have to go back, but I don’t know if I'm ready though. “Did you make an appointment with Dr. Kenz?” I ask Thomas as Michael carries our last two remaining bags and heaves them into the back of the plane. I need a pleasant distraction, and thinking about seeing the doctor does the trick. Dr. Kenz has been my OB/GYN since I started seeing Thomas. He insisted that I see a doctor he approved of, someone with the utmost care for our privacy. Luckily for me, Dr. Kenz is a kind and professional doctor with a sweet demeanor. She has a way to make the uncomfortable seem normal and relaxed. My first visit with her was the most awkward checkup I’ve ever had in my life though. I made sure I trimmed up down there for the occasion, and I don’t know if that’s normal or not, but she commented on it. I hope Thomas appreciates your landscaping. Looking back on it I laugh, but I was mortified at the time. “As soon as we land, we'll head over. The appointment is at ten but she knows we’re flying in, so if we’re late that won’t be a problem.” I nod my head and rest back into the seat cushion. I'm anxious; I don’t know if it’s the flying, the pregnancy, or the fact that we’re going home. I take a deep breath and try to relax. The thought that Dr. Kenz will probably comment on my tan lines down there makes me chuckle to myself, and soon I'm able to drift off to sleep.

MY HEELS ECHO as they click on the bright white tiles. The sparsely decorated hall seems much longer than before. Dr. Kenz’s office is all the way at the end. Thomas holds


my hand tightly and pulls it to his lips for a small kiss on my knuckles as we walk. Ever since we landed he’s been nothing but smiles. I slept off and on during the flight. Once we returned to the brutal cold of New York, I made half an effort to get back on the plane. He gives my hand a squeeze as he opens the door. Lindsey immediately greets us, a freckled receptionist with her curly auburn locks pulled into a tight ponytail. “Mr. and Mrs. Grant, Dr. Kenz is ready for you.” She smiles warmly and walks us to a small, familiar room in the back. Thomas helps me take off my coat and lays it over the back of a chair along with his in the all-white room. “Welcome back to the States, you two.” Dr. Kenz slips into the room carrying a folder. Just seeing her allows me to let out a small, relieved breath. She has a way about her that instantly puts me at ease. “How was your flight?” “It took forever, but other than that it was just fine.” Thomas is sociable with Dr. Kenz. He smiles. “You know the routine.” She looks at me with her eyebrows raised, and signals for me to prep for her prodding. “Panties too?” I ask with a shy grin. “Yes, please.” She nods professionally as she puts on gloves. Thomas takes a seat close to the bed as I slip under the thin sheet. I set my feet in the cold metal stirrups, keeping my knees touching, and wait for further instruction. “Today I want to determine the due date, if possible,” she says as she preps a monitor and rather long wand. “Thomas said you’re a few days late and had a positive pregnancy test?” “Yes, but I was looking at my calendar and my last


period was really short and light.” Thomas looks at me quizzically since this is news to him, but he stays quiet. “Oh, did you take a test last month?” “I didn’t think much of it. I was dealing with my latest book… it was a little stressful.” “What about your period before that?” “Normal, on time, heavy.” I sigh and look at the ceiling as I add, “Cramps like usual.” The doctor laughs. She knows how much I hate my period, but then again, who likes her period? On birth control, I had practically no period and zero cramps; it was glorious. My period came back with a vengeance when I stopped taking the pills. “Alright, I’m ready when you are, Mrs. Grant.” Thomas reaches for my hand and I hold onto him tight. Please let me be pregnant with a healthy baby. All eyes are on the monitor as she examines me. She readjusts the wand a few times, checking with me to make sure I’m comfortable. Amongst the black, there's a small flutter of white. Dr. Kenz smiles, and I feel a warm surge of happiness run through my body. “Do you see that, you two?” She points at the screen. Thomas squeezes my hand. “Is that our baby?” he asks. I stare at the screen mesmerized, and feel the small pricks of tears at the back of my eyes. “That’s a heartbeat. A very strong and steady heartbeat.” Thomas kisses me on the cheek. I turn to him with tears in my eyes, and he kisses me hard on the lips. She flips a switch and we hear a whooshing noise get louder as she moves the wand. Then I hear it. A steady and rhythmic thumping. “That’s his heartbeat?” Thomas asks. “She, that’s her heartbeat,” I correct him. I wipe the tears from the corners of my eyes. “It sounds like a horse


galloping.” I grin at Thomas and say, “That means it’s a girl. A boy would be a choo-choo train.” Dr. Kenz laughs. “It’s a little too early to tell that just yet.” My heart swells just the same. I’m on cloud nine. “I know, but it’s so nice to imagine a little girl.” I stare into Thomas' eyes. “We’re really having a baby.” He can’t stop smiling, and neither can I. “Congratulations! I’d say you're about ten weeks along.” My cheeks hurt from smiling. I wipe the tears away as Dr. Kenz continues to point out features on the screen: head, arms, legs, feet. My baby is bundled up into a little curved circle, with a delicate flitting heartbeat. Thomas kisses me again and moves his hand to my belly. I’ve never been so happy in my life.

THOMAS HOLDS my waist as we leave. Michael exits the car, and moves to open the door for us. He looks expectantly at Thomas as we walk closer. “Ten weeks,” Thomas announces, and the pride is obvious in Thomas’ voice. “Congratulations, you two,” Michael says and smiles warmly. It's the same smile he gave me when I told him I thought I was pregnant. I can’t help but reach up and give him a hug before I slide into the car. I feel warm and full of peace and happiness as I nuzzle next to my husband. He kisses my hair and runs his hand down the curve of my waist and then to my belly. As we start to move, I slowly get a chill. “Where are we going now?” I look up at Thomas’ blue eyes, and from the corner of my eye I see Michael look at us in the rearview mirror.


“Home,” Thomas says and looks at me with concern. “Is there somewhere else you wanted to go?” I shift uncomfortably in my seat. I don’t know how to explain how I feel. I don’t even know what exactly I'm feeling beyond anxious and maybe a little terrified. Thomas reassures me before I can respond. “She hasn’t been spotted around the house or the office over the past week, Emma.” He sighs, a deep frown on his face. “It’s difficult to track her. She has no phone or credit cards, no address.” He moves his hand to my face, caressing my skin gently, making me close my eyes. “Don’t worry. She’s probably long gone, but just in case, I’m keeping security tight.” I open my eyes to see his soft blue comforting eyes on me. He kisses the tip of my nose. “I don’t want you to think about it.” I nod my head in his chest, taking in his scent and letting out a long exhalation. He lifts my chin up and kisses me tenderly on my lips. “Promise me you won’t worry.” His eyes are sincere as they look deep into mine, begging me. “I promise,” I whisper. I give him a small kiss and rest my head back on his shoulder. He’ll keep me safe. I rest my hand on my tummy. He’ll keep us safe.


CHAPTER 13

finally feel a sense of relief. I can sleep in my own bed Iwithout worrying, and without having unwanted images of her invade my dreams. The first night back was the worst. Thomas had two guards stay outside the bedroom door all night while I slept. I woke screaming from a horrific nightmare, but I couldn’t remember any of the details. Thomas had been in a chair in the corner of the room. He hadn’t been able to sleep, and his eyes were bloodshot. Now he holds me in bed every night, his arms wrapped tightly around my body. I can sleep knowing he’s protecting me. Better yet, he's able to sleep well, knowing I’m safe in his arms. The next day I went to see him in his office, but every blonde reminded me of her, the fucking psychopath haunting me. I had to calm myself and remember that the security team was with me always, plus she hadn’t been anywhere near our home or his office for over a week. Yesterday I finally went out for lunch with my editor, and blondes didn’t startle me. I was at ease and finally felt as though everything was fine, and there was no need for me to worry. “She’s probably long gone.” That’s what


Thomas says, and I'm starting to believe it. We’ve been home for four days now, and life is back to normal. Well, almost normal. My world is now full of tiny baby outfits, shoes, and swaddling clothes. I’ve been researching how to be the best mother I can, starting immediately. Thomas has hired a trainer to come to the house to show me how to do yoga to keep the baby healthy and make birthing easier. I hope it works; truthfully I’m terrified about giving birth. I’ve also signed up for pregnancy classes and massages and acupuncture. I’ll do practically anything if it makes labor easier. Getting weekly massages was Thomas’ idea, and I found it difficult to object. Kate was ecstatic when I told her that of course we want her to be our child's godmother. I’d kept that little tidbit from her when I was still in Bora Bora; I wanted to tell her in person. Her reaction was worth the wait. She was ecstatic. The cheerleader was suddenly back full force, screaming so loudly that it deafened the security team following us, the other shoppers in the mall, and my poor ears that were way too close to her mouth. “Are you serious?” She wrapped me tight in her arms as she declared, “I’m so happy, Emma!” She kept thanking me over and over again. I grinned at the thought that when the terrible twos roll around, I can remind her that not only did she want to be our baby's godmother, but she also thanked me profusely for the title. Her eyes teared up as she said, “I’m going to give this baby whatever she wants, regardless of what Thomas says. If she wants candy, she’s getting candy. If she wants a princess racecar, she’s getting one. Tell your control freak of a husband that I love him dearly, but I love this baby more, and she’ll have anything and everything that she wants.”


“She?” I laughed. Also, I was definitely not going to repeat that message to Thomas, she could do that receive the brunt of his response herself. I’d told her about the heartbeat sounding like a galloping horse, and she'd told me I was crazy. Maybe she’s been swayed since then? “You’re having a girl, Emma. I have a sense for this kind of thing.” She wiped her eyes and started moving faster around the store. “We have so much to do.” She just dropped me off at the house after spending four hours in the baby department at Saks. The sight of miniature clothes and shoes made both of us insanely elated. I’m folding the newly purchased baby clothes into little piles and organizing them in the old guest room closet. I didn’t let her buy anything pink. Not until the doctor confirms I'm having a girl. Rose helped me bring up the outrageous number of bags before she left for the weekend. She attempted to take the clothes from me so she could wash and fold them, but I wanted to do it. She gave me a warm smile and caved. I picked out two different sets of furniture and took down their measurements. I just need to sit in here and imagine what the room will be like once it's furnished. Just the thought brings happy tears to my eyes. Damn hormones. These tears aren’t annoying and aggravating though, they feel just right.The room is spacious and close to the master suite. Plenty of room for everything the baby will need, and then some. I decide I’ll make one of the two large bay windows a reading nook. I saw an adorable set up online with cute shelves attached to the wall and floor pillows everywhere. The walls are currently a warm creamy tan. We're waiting to paint until we know what the sex will be: a little Thomas, or a little Emma. The thought delights me. Dr. Kenz said in another month or two we


should know. I can’t wait to find out. I put the last pair of booties on the shelf. They’re yellow and adorable, one of many gifts from Kate. I rub my thumb along the soft laces. Happiness overwhelms me. I turn to take in the room; it doesn’t look much like a nursery yet, but it’ll be perfect. It warms my heart to imagine myself with a little bundle in my arms. Even if that bundle is going to be screaming in my ear, keeping me up at night like the demanding little tyrant babies are. I let out a small sigh and allow myself to be consumed by joy. My smile vanishes as I hear a loud bang and then another. Quickly, one after the other. Every hair on my body stands upright as I freeze. I scramble to frantically pick up my phone. I hear the front door slam hard. No, no, she’s here. I need to call for help, but I don’t know if I can speak quietly enough. I don’t want her to hear me and know where I am. I back myself into the closet as quietly as possible and text the last person on my phone: Kate.

I HEARD GUNSHOTS. She’s in the house. Call 911.

STARING AT MY PHONE, I attempt to copy the text with shaking hands so I can send it to Thomas, but it’s too late; I can already hear her in the hallway. My body stills. I should’ve moved. I should’ve gone to the panic room. Regret and a feeling of stupidity wash over me, draining the blood from my face. I’m trapped in this room with no escape. I tremble and fear weighs my legs down, holding them motionless.


I hear her footsteps move into the room. I'm huddled with my back against the wall of the closet, terrified out of my mind. I pray she doesn’t see me, but the door to the closet is slightly open. I know if she takes a few more steps, she’ll see me. Silent tears fall down my face. “What are those?” a low, seething voice whispers. My heart stops. She knows I’m here. No, no she can’t be here. I can’t breathe. I know she’s just a few feet into the room, but I can’t see her through the crack just yet. Fear has taken hold of me. My phone vibrates in my hand, and I drop it. I don’t even see who’s calling. It’s too late. I swallow hard. Just breathe. I open the door, stepping out slightly. She has a nasty scowl on her face as she looks at me. Her face is pale, and her eyes are sunken in. She looked so beautiful in the photos, but in person… she looks ghostly and gaunt. “Did you think having his baby would make him want to keep you?” She takes a step toward me and I subconsciously take a step back. She’s close to the door, leaving me with no option to run. The realization petrifies me. I have no choice but to stand here and wait for help. There’s nowhere for me to go, no way for me to escape. “I’m not quite sure what to do about your condition.” Her words terrify me. Not my baby. I don’t know if I should respond. How can I respond to that? “Thomas never said he wanted a child.” She looks me in the eyes, reaching into her waistband as she pulls out a gun. Her finger wraps around the trigger. “He’s happy. He wants the baby.” Please, don’t hurt my baby. Tears run down my cheeks as horrific thoughts creep into my mind. “Please don’t hurt me. Please don’t hurt my baby. His baby.” My lower lip shakes helplessly


as I make my plea. Tears blur my vision, but I can still make out her face. She squints her eyes and takes a step toward me. “Your baby?” She looks angry. “I don’t give a fuck about your baby.” She hesitates and looks at the gun in her hands. “I don’t even know if he would care.” She points the gun at her head, moving the barrel in small circles. “He’s crazy. Did you know that?” She laughs and points the gun at me. She emphasizes each word as she says, “He. Is. Insane.” She laughs again, and this time it's bitter. “He’s constantly giving me mixed signals.” She takes another step closer. “He may have told you that he wanted the baby, but he doesn’t really want a baby. That’s not what my Thomas wants.” My heart is twisting in agonizing pain. Her eyes are wide as a vicious smile appears on her face. “Please don’t hurt me.” My face is wet with tears, and my legs feel weak. My breathing is erratic; I feel like I'm going to pass out. “Why shouldn’t I? You’ve taken what was mine. You've hurt me more than you can know.” “When I saw your picture, you holding him… I was supposed to be holding him. I wasn’t gone that long,” she sneers and her eyes narrow. She waves the gun in the air carelessly. She has a deadly look on her face and her voice rises as she says, “I was getting better for him. And then you stole him out from under me.” The look on her face is demonic as she moves to close the last bit of distance between us. I feel her breath on my face and panic. I throw my fists at her, landing hard on her chest and knocking her back. She lets out a surprised yelp as I dart out the room. I try to shut the door behind me, but she rips it open, forcing it out of my hand. I stumble down the hall and


attempt to run. She chases me and grabs a handful of my hair. Violently she yanks on it, jerking my neck back. I scream out with pain and fear. “You think you can run from me?” She smashes my face into the wall. I try to push her away, but she’s too strong. My finger reaches up and finds her face. I press my index finger hard into her eye socket. She shrieks and clutches at her face, releasing me. For a second I’m free, and I run toward the stairs. She lunges at me, grabbing me, and as I try to pull away she shoves me down the staircase.My legs tangle and I tumble violently, hitting each step until I land painfully on my stomach at the bottom. She trails down the stairs slowly with the gun in her hand. The pain is unbearable, but especially around my lower abdomen. I feel a trickle of warmth between my legs and run my hand down to check. I look at my fingers; they’re covered in blood. No! My eyes fill with tears as her unforgiving, smiling face fills my sight. “Well, that problem solved itself.” She laughs at my tragedy. My body shakes and trembles as I sob. She swiftly kicks me in the stomach. The unbearable pain races through my body as I curl up, trying to protect my stomach. “No,” I weep in agony, letting out painful sobs of despair. She kneels down next to me and brushes my hair away from my face with the barrel of the gun. “I gave you fair warning. I told you he was mine.” She speaks so calmly, with a maddening smile across her face. I can only think about my baby. There's so much blood, my baby. The thought sickens me. My teeth clench, and my body shudders. She cocks the gun and


points it between my eyes. I stiffen with fear, and then a mix of wretched anger and agony overcomes me. I reach up and forcefully grab the gun with my left hand as I punch her in the face with my right, causing my abdomen to twist in brutal pain. I’m shocked by my actions, but I don’t have time to think about what I’m doing. I blindly throw my fists at her. I hold back my heaving sobs and attempt to get to my feet, but I stumble and slip in the blood. The pain in my lower half is mounting. I slam the butt of the gun down, hitting her in her chest. My baby, my baby. What has she done? I shut my eyes and continue the blows. I can’t look. I feel her struggle but I lean in, holding her down with my weight. She scratches my face and neck repeatedly. The cuts sting, and I feel blood dripping down my shoulders. I bring the gun down again and again. I open my eyes to see her hateful gaze and piercing stare. She grimaces, and her mouth is bloody. She attempts to push me off of her, whipping her legs back and forth. As she shoves me across the room, her long legs nail me again in my gut. I hold onto the gun tight and when I hit the ground, it goes off in my hand. The bullet lands somewhere in the staircase, but the deafening sound startles me, making me jolt with fear. I see a trail of my blood, and I feel an overwhelming wave of resentment and anger rush through me. My eyes widen with fury. Through my blurry vision, I see her barreling toward me and I quickly turn the gun on her with both hands and fire. I feel the heat of the gun, and my heart races. I can’t hear anything; it’s silent. I reluctantly open my eyes. Her face changes from wildly deranged to shocked. She looks down at her chest where the blood is slowly soaking in her shirt. Her eyes narrow at me, and she moves forward. I fire again as I push my


feet out in front of me moving me inches at a time, pushing myself against the wall, into a corner. I have nowhere to go. She’s still standing and I fire a third time, holding the gun with my sweaty, shaking hands, and feeling the sting and heat of the recoil. She falls to the floor, first to her knees and then flat on her stomach. Her blue eyes stare at me from across the room, watching me, hating me, wanting me dead. She doesn’t move. Her body is still, and blood is slowly pooling around her chest. I succumb to my sadness, releasing my anger. What have I done? My body shakes as I realize what’s happened. I don’t know how many bullets are left, but if she moves, I’ll fire again. All of my body is quivering, and the gun moves chaotically in my hands. My breathing becomes erratic as I desperately try to maintain control. She still hasn’t moved. I wait for I don’t know how long. The pool around her is growing, and she isn’t moving. I lower the gun, slightly so that I can see her lying in front of me. I try to slow my breathing. I watch her chest. Waiting for movement. I don’t think she’s breathing. I move, dragging my numb, heavy body closer to her. The blood has now surrounded her face. I move her heavy head with a shaky hand and keep the gun pointed at her. Her neck is limp, and her head tilted to the other side. Her face is covered in blood, covered in red. I back away and slam into the bookcase behind me. What have I done? Heat overwhelms my body, and my legs go weak. I hear sirens approach. I blink the tears away and hold my abdomen. What have I done? I sink to the ground and rock tightly, sobbing as my body heaves in painful agony. I see red; I can only see red. I feel a mix of anger, resentment, regret and despair, but mostly sadness, overwhelming sadness.


My body heaves with sobs, and I feel dizzy and lightheaded. I pull my legs to my chest and close my eyes. I need Thomas; I need him to hold me. I need him to tell me everything is okay. I hear the shuffling of fastpaced footsteps and the front door opens, but they’re too late. At least four police officers, maybe more, come charging into the room. Thomas isn't with them; I need Thomas. One crouches down next to me, and the others come to a screeching halt as they see Lillian. It’s too surreal. I can’t keep my head up anymore. I can’t watch. “Ma’am, are you okay?” I can’t respond. The sound of his voice is fading in and out. I do my best to calm my breathing; it doesn’t work. “Is there anyone else here?” I shake my head no, and I still can’t look at him. There was no one else. The sensation of lightheadedness starts taking over my body. I feel myself dry heaving. A hot torrent of tears burns down my face as I blink. I wipe at my face, frantically trying to recover. “She-” I start to speak, but I can't continue. My head falls to my chest. I feel like I’m suffocating, unable to move or talk. “It’s alright. You're safe now.” His voice is low and calm. “Just concentrate on your breathing. Take deep breaths, in and out. You’ve lost a lot of blood.” A gurney is pulled in, and I hear it snap into place as he picks me up. In the background, I can make out voices and more sirens. The voices are close, but I can’t make out the words. “Stay with us.” Before I can respond, I’m being pushed out of the house. Someone I can’t see is holding an oxygen mask to my face. I move my head from side to side, trying to remove the mask, but I’m unsuccessful.


With my head turned I can see her bludgeoned body on the ground. Three men are standing over her lifeless corpse pointing at the corner of the room and then back down at her. I can’t stand to watch any more, and my head sways to the other side as I close my eyes tight. The sound of the ambulance doors opening causes me to open my eyes, but I wish I had kept them closed. The security team that was here to protect me is dead. All of them are lying on the ground, but they aren’t covered in blood like she was. I hope they died quickly. I close my eyes again and let the tears flow freely. I try to lift myself up, but I can’t. I hear someone say, “Stay with us.” I try again to lift myself, but I’m being held down. My body is weak, so weak. As they heave me into the back of the ambulance, I can hear Thomas yelling, “Emma!” I see him trying to push his way through the throng of people, but they’re holding him back, not letting him come to me. The last thing I see before they shut the doors is the imagine of him fighting them, screaming as he watches me disappear from sight. The pain is unbearable; my face heats as tears drown me. I breathe into the mask, “Thomas.”


CHAPTER 14

B eep. Beep. Beep. The sound spewing from the machine wakes me, and I instantly cringe as I feel an overwhelmingly sharp pain. I reluctantly move my neck, only to experience a violent, throbbing ache shoot up my back and down my shoulder. It causes me to wince and suck in a sharp breath though clenched teeth. I open my eyes slightly. The bright light blinds me, and I wince again. As I try to move my arm, I feel another sharp pain. I slowly become aware that there is an IV in my hand. My body feels so heavy. Every tiny movement is accompanied by an intense sting. Beep. Beep. Beep. I breathe in deep, holding my stomach with shaking fingers. The pain is excruciating; I bend my knees, trying to curl up, protecting my stomach, protecting‌ It’s too late. My vision is blurry. I feel a low, seething throb and then it all comes back to me in a rush. I remember her slamming my head into the wall. I remember the gun, the scowl on her face. I remember her wicked smile and her cackling voice laughing at me,


at my pain. I remember the blood, the hot blood between my thighs, and I cry out. My eyes burn as I cry. I pull at the IV, ripping it out without mercy. Jerking out the needle is painful, but I continue anyway. My arm hits the machine making the shrill and constant beeping noise. That fucking noise. I slam into it again and again, trying desperately to knock it over. To end that damn beeping. I want to hear it crash on the ground and shatter. I don’t succeed. Instead it rolls across the floor, slamming into the sterile white wall. My face contorts in agony. Everything hurts, and I just don’t care. Suddenly I feel strong hands pushing me down, restraining me. I try to cry out, but I have no voice. I see a needle coming toward me and I try to wriggle away from the strong arms holding my frail body down. I’m too exhausted to keep fighting, and I give in. I hardly notice the pinch of the needle before I start to drift off to sleep. Movement from the corner of the room catches my eye. Thomas is seated there, watching me with a pained expression on his face. There are tears falling from his soft blue eyes. How long has he been here? I try to keep his gaze, but darkness overwhelms me.


CHAPTER 15

feel empty. I hear voices, and my body stills. I don’t Iwant them to hold me down again. I don’t want to move and feel pain. I calm myself and listen. Where am I? My memory fails me. All I remember is the pain. As if on cue, pain radiates through my body. What the fuck did I do? I finally make out a familiar voice. It’s Thomas. His voice comforts me, at least for a moment. I can’t make out what he’s saying, but I feel my breathing relax. My Thomas. “I’m sorry, Mr. Grant.” Someone else speaks, but I don't recognize the voice. I know that sound, though, a soft sniffle between quiet sobs. He clears his throat, trying to disguise what he’s feeling. No Thomas, don’t cry. “Physically, she’ll recover. She's young, and she’s already healing well. But considering what she’s been through…” I can’t hear what else the stranger is saying. I want to open my eyes, but I’m afraid. I don’t want to come back to reality; life has been cruel. Too late. It’s far too late for far too many things. “Emma,” he calls out softly, and I reflexively open my eyes. Damn it! I’ve never been good at pretending to be


asleep. I’m even worse at refusing Thomas. It takes my eyes a minute to adjust to the soft light in the room, and the shape of his outline is blurry. I feel the corners of my lips turn up into a small subdued smile.But as my eyes adjust, the man in front of me is not the man I remember. He looks frightful. His face is bright red and tearstained, his hair is disheveled and oily, and the scruff on his face is overgrown. He looks like he’s slept in his clothes. They’re heavily wrinkled, and he’s obviously spilled something on his shirt. My smile disappears as my eyes widen, and I take in Thomas. I can’t say his name out loud. Although I try, my voice fails me and my throat burns at the attempt. My eyes meet his gaze, and I feel myself melt just slightly. Although his eyes are red-rimmed, I can see relief and comfort in them. And sadness. His steely blue eyes are drowned in sadness. He bends down over me, taking my hand in his and kisses me tenderly. His warm, soft lips are moist with salty tears. At his touch, life seems to flow through my empty veins and I reach up to move my fingers through his hair, pulling him toward me. My Thomas; I need my Thomas. I part my lips, taking his bottom lip between mine and gently sucking, giving an invitation. An invitation that’s rejected. He slowly pulls away, and when I open my eyes he refuses to meet mine, avoiding my questioning gaze. “Emma.” His thumb grazes my knuckles as he frowns. I hate that frown. Don’t frown. Please give me a small smile, some sign that it’s okay. I’ll take any sign that everything is okay. That anything is okay. You know it’s not. My body shudders involuntarily at the awful truth. The pain in his eyes tells me everything. The memories ambush me, turning my blood cold and forcing my body


to go rigid. “Our baby.” I finally speak with little more than a ragged whisper. More like a whimper. My voice is hoarse, and pain accompanies the small amount of words I’m able to say. It’s all I can think about. It’s all I need to know; I desperately need to know. No you don’t. You already know. Why do you want him to say it out loud? Do you want to hurt him even more, you weak bitch? My stomach churns. Judging by the wretchedness that spreads across his soft blue eyes, he heard me just fine. He grimaces, and it confirms what I already know. Stop doing that, Thomas. Lie to me. Please just lie to me. My eyes beg him to spare my feelings. My lips part, but before my plea escapes we’re interrupted. “Mrs. Grant,” a doctor in a white coat speaks, moving to the edge of the bed. He’s old. Grey hair everywhere, especially his bushy eyebrows. He puts out his hand as though he’s going to touch the bed, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t get close enough. Instead he looks at Thomas, and then back at me. His face is grim, but his voice is steady. “I’m Dr. Carlson. I’ve been monitoring you for the past two days. How are you feeling?” His voice is professional but raspy; it doesn’t match his appearance. My gaze moves back to Thomas, and he’s not looking at me. His eyes are firmly fixed on the doctor. I feel weak, and my throat hurts. My voice is rough and unrecognizable as I say, “I feel numb.” “You’re on morphine, Mrs. Grant.” He pauses, scrawling something down on a clipboard he's holding. “If you feel more pain, please let us know immediately.” “My baby,” I breathe. I keep my eyes on the white coat standing in front of me, and I can see his body language shift almost imperceptibly. I hear him take a deep breath.


I wish I could take my words back. Swallow them, let them hurt on the way down and keep the words deep inside. Let them suffer in silence, but never say them out loud, never let them escape. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Grant.” He glances at Thomas before his eyes fall on me again. “You suffered many injuries, including a miscarriage.” I look up to meet his eyes, but he’s turned to Thomas and begins to speak. Noises are moving around me, noises that I don’t recognize. I don't understand what I'm hearing. Intense nausea threatens to overwhelm me, and my head feels light. Thomas holds my hand, but I rip it away from him, covering my face. I let out a heavy sob. I remember falling, and my body trembles. I turn away from the doctor, away from Thomas, trying to bury myself in the pillow. I gasp for breath, letting out my hard, hot cries. I remember her kicking me, and my knees involuntarily move to my chest. I can’t breathe. I gasp for air, moving my hot face toward the cool air. Thomas is trying to hold me, but again I pull away from him. I don’t want him to touch me. I don’t want to be touched by anyone. “Leave me alone!” I yell. My face feels even more heated than the tears streaming down my cheeks. “You weren’t there. You said you would keep me safe, but you weren’t there!” The words jump out of my throat and strike Thomas. My brow furrows, and the tears cease. Anger drowns out the sadness. The wretched truth has been realized. I should apologize before I say something I don't mean, but I cling to my anger. I’d rather feel anger than the other negative emotions. I grip it tightly, refusing to feel anything else. “Emma, please,” he says, and his voice is soft and wounded. The words have cut him deep, but I don’t care that he’s suffering; he wasn't there. Hate boils inside me,


erupting at the surface. I grab the scratchy blanket they’ve covered me with. White-knuckled, I keep my grip on it because it’s the only thing keeping me from launching myself at Thomas. At the man I once loved and adored. At the man who failed to protect me. I couldn’t keep our baby safe, just as he couldn’t keep me safe. I don’t want anything from him. Not a damn thing. It’s too late. The urge to hit him dissipates as I realize I truly want nothing from him. He has nothing left to give me. Nothing that I want. “Go away!” I scream through the loathsome pain. I deserve it. I deserve all the pain I'm feeling. “Emma,” he says gently as he moves his hand to my back, and I violently shove him away. Dr. Carlson moves closer next. They both put their hands out to keep me from moving, trying to calm me. I hear the doctor talking, but I don’t care what he’s saying. I stare up at Thomas. At the mess of a man in front of me. I scream at him, “Don’t touch me!” My body heaves with my sobs. I feel empty. I want nothing but to be alone. I can’t stand his touch, and I don’t want his comfort. “You have to calm down,” the doctor says as he holds my wrists down, restraining me. Two nurses appear in the room. I hear Thomas yelling at someone, but not at me. Good. Leave me to myself. I try to calm my breathing. I don’t want them to hold me down again. I try to still myself, but I can’t stop the tears. The doctor stands next to me, alarmingly close. I avoid his gaze, closing my eyes and focusing on my breathing. My body rocks with my ragged breaths, although I’m trying desperately to control it. “Mrs. Grant, I understand this is a difficult time for you, and I’m very sorry for your loss. You have other injuries as well. If you move too suddenly, you could


cause yourself even more pain. Please-” “I don’t care,” I cut him off but then begin to weep. My body feels numb and hollow, and won't stop trembling beneath the blanket. I don’t care about pain. I don’t care about anything. “Just try to stay calm,” a nurse says, pushing a needle into the IV, not looking at me. “This will ease your pain, Mrs. Grant.” Her eyes are calm, but sad and she's keeping them straight ahead as though she’s afraid to look at me. None of them dare to look directly at me. Thomas is gone now; even he’s left me. I cry even harder, throwing my head back into the pillow. I watch the door through the tears, feeling my body calm as the drugs take effect. I hear the doctor, but I don’t listen. Say whatever you need to say, but nothing will make this better. Nothing will make me better. My baby is gone, and so is Thomas. I cry until I feel the darkness come. It overwhelms me, but I accept it; it will take me away.

I HEAR KATE'S VOICE, and open my eyes. “Emma.” Her eyes are red-rimmed and bloodshot, a common theme for my visitors. She runs toward me, away from the bright window across the room, away from Thomas, and takes my hand with both of hers. Her touch is so warm. Her eyes fill with tears as we look at one another, and then so do mine. “I’m so sorry,” she sobs. “I called them as soon as I got your text. I’m so sorry.” She moves in closer and her head falls onto the bed. “I called-“ “It’s okay,” I interrupt her and swallow hard, wiping the tears away with my other hand. I don’t know what to say.


The room is filled with bright light. I look to the windows; pink peonies line the sill. They look beautiful. I breathe in deep, and I can just barely smell them. They remind me of my wedding and the soft pink and white bouquet I selected. I breathe in deep again to take in the fragrance. The obnoxiously loud clock interrupts my memory with its incessant ticking. My head is killing me. “What time is it?” I ask weakly as I move to sit up. I wince as pain radiates through my abdomen. “It’s nine,” Kate eagerly answers while helping me. I smile a little as she fluffs the pillow behind me. “Does that feel alright?” she asks. I give a small nod and try to get comfortable. “I’ve been here every day, but you’ve always been asleep when I've visited. Dr. Carlson says you’re recovering well though.” She moves one hand to rub her eyes and then quickly holds my hand again. “How long have I been here?” I attempt to lean forward and feel a sharp pain in my front; my forearms give way, and I collapse back against the pillow. “Five days,” Thomas answers for Kate from his seat in the corner of the room. His voice is deep and more in control than I last remember. I get a good look at him. He looks like his usual handsome self again, albeit with longer hair. His steely blue eyes are watching me intently. He looks mostly exhausted and defeated, but still manages a stern and unyielding expression. There’s someone sitting next to him, an older man with greyspeckled hair and glasses. Kate looks at Thomas and swallows, then looks back at me. “I’m happy you’re awake, Emma. How’re you feeling? Do you need anything?” Her voice is perky, but she’s speaking too quickly. She’s trying so hard to pretend like


everything is okay. Fake it till you make it, I guess. “Sore.” I shake my head and try to move my body again; I’m so stiff. Kate manages a small smile. “You’re going to be better soon.” Usually I love her optimism, but right now it kind of makes me want to punch her in the face. Right in her perfect pouty lips and adorable nose. “It’ll take a while for your ribs to mend completely, but you’re healing really fast. Right, Thomas?” She turns to look at him for confirmation. I follow her eyes and watch as Thomas merely nods, keeping his expression neutral, not moving his gaze which has been staring me down this entire time. She swallows hard again and holds back her tears, tilting her head to look at the ceiling. I consider asking her what happened. But deep down I know, and all of a sudden I remember. It all comes flooding back to me. I wince as I try to adjust myself yet again. “Emma, I’m Dr. Koler. Do you mind if I talk to you?” The older man is now standing at the edge of the bed, looking at me with kind eyes, and no sadness. I like his eyes. For whatever reason, they give me comfort. A small bit of comfort, though I’m not sure that I want it. Kate pats my hand. “I’ll be back tonight.” She manages a smile that doesn’t quite reach her eyes as she adds, “Okay?” I nod as she lets go of my hand. I watch her give Thomas a small smile before she walks out of the room, holding her head down. Her hands immediately move to cradle her face as she reaches the door. A small sob racks her body as she leaves my view. She tried. At least she tried for me. The sight doesn’t cause me pain. Instead sympathy gathers in the pit of my stomach. But more so, regret. Don’t cry for me, Kate. I don’t deserve tears.


“Emma?” Dr. Koler is standing now. Thomas has moved closer to me as well, and now he’s standing against the wall. He's wearing the same timid smile as Kate, one that doesn’t reach his sorrowful eyes. I didn’t see or hear either of them move, and now they’re uncomfortably close. Moving like predators closing in on wounded prey, weak and pathetic. Destined to be ripped to shreds. I tighten my grip on the thin sheets. “Emma?” the doctor asks again as he takes a seat next to the bed. My attention is drawn back to the stranger in the room. “Yes?” “Emma, I want to help you. I’m a psychiatrist.” I look at him with a blank stare, but I feel my head nod. I wish I’d said no; I don’t want to talk to him. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I want to leave and crawl into my bed. No I don’t. I never want to go back to that house again. The morbid reminder nearly suffocates me. I’m suddenly thankful for the newcomer who’s been speaking to me, although I haven’t been listening. He stops talking as though he's realized I couldn’t care less what noises are falling from his mouth.“Do you want to speak with me privately?” I frown, and shake my head. “No, I don’t want Thomas to leave me.” I say the words more out of habit than anything else. The doctor shifts in his seat and moves his hand to his chin, his elbow resting on the armrest. “Do you think he's going to leave you?” His eyes pierce into me. I hear Thomas inhale sharply, but otherwise he remains impassive and quiet. His jaw is clenched. I suppose he’s been instructed not to talk. I narrow my eyes. “That’s not what I meant.” The distaste is apparent in my voice, although it falters at the end.


“Maybe not, but it’s what you said.” He focuses his eyes on me and asks again, “Do you think he’s going to leave you?” This asshole isn’t wasting any time, he just going straight for the jugular. Fine, rip me apart. I don’t care. “Yes,” I say, keeping my eyes down. I would leave me. I’m a murderer. Thomas shuffles over, coming to stand beside the bed. “Emma.” Thomas trembles, and he reaches for my hand. The doctor holds up a hand, signaling for silence. “Why do you think he would leave you?” he asks me. My eyes move from Thomas to Dr. Koler. I can’t look at him as I answer though, and I drop my gaze to the bed. “Because of what I did.” My voice is low. I fidget, picking at my nails. Why the fuck are we talking about this? “What did you do?” Don’t make me say it. “You know what happened,” I bite out, sounding like a resentful child. I stare blankly at him, daring him to push. “Please, I’d like to know what it is exactly.” Bastard. Keep twisting that knife. How much do you think I can take? “I shot her.” The words drip out of my mouth with disgust. “You defended yourself.” My voice raises as I seethe, “I was angry.” I said it. I breathe in quick and swallow, glaring at him for pressing. “Do you think that being angry made you less of a victim?” He keeps his eyes on me as he sits back in his seat. A moment passes in silence, then he speaks again. “Emma, anger is a natural emotion to feel when you’re attacked. There’s nothing wrong with being angry.” I don’t respond. I just move my eyes back down to the sheets. “You’ll learn to cope with your anger and sadness. It’ll


take time, but just like your bones, your psyche will heal.” I still don’t look at him. I don’t cry, I just sit, watching the sheets move gently as I breathe. How can I cope with this? I feel empty and unworthy of love. It would’ve been easier if she’d killed me, too. He keeps talking, but I merely look past him, at the peonies on the sill. I wonder how long they’ve been there, and how long it will take for them to wilt. The doctor pauses and I nod, not knowing whether that’s what he wants. He continues talking, and I feel a little relief knowing he’s satisfied with just a nod. The petals on the blooms look soft and plump. I carefully examine their curves. I don’t think it will take long. Peonies die rather quickly.


CHAPTER 16

t’s been two weeks, two weeks of nothing but writing. I Iimagine I’ll spend the rest of February writing, too. If I’m awake, then I’m typing on my laptop in this room. Thomas calls it my office; it’s filled with cardboard boxes that contain books, framed photographs, and other things. They tried to empty them, to set up the room for me in this new house, but I didn’t want them to. I don’t want anyone in here. This is my sanctuary, where I go to escape. I’ll empty the boxes when I’m ready. Like I’ll ever give a damn. The rest of the house is done. I didn’t do it. I didn’t even have a say, not that I wanted one. A peppy blonde who was all smiles decorated it. I just stood there listening but not hearing, nodding my head in agreement. I was just biding my time until I could come up here, to write it all down and get it out of my head. I refused to go back to the other house… where it happened. It’s on the market now, but I don’t know who in their right mind would buy it. I don’t care either. I’d be happy if it burned down until nothing but ash was left on the cold, frozen ground. I’d prefer it that way, since it would mean


I'd never see it again. Not that you could ever see it or any other building since you lock your pathetic ass in this room every fucking day. I don’t know when the sadness will end. Dr. Koler suggested medicine; he thinks I should be drugged. But I don’t want an easy way out, I want to feel the pain and embrace it. I hear footsteps. They’re slow and heavy, which means it could be Thomas or Michael. They both walk on eggshells around me now. They try to talk to me, but I find it hard to respond, or to care about what they’re saying. I just want to write it all down. I can understand what’s on the screen. But I can't understand the hollow words that turn stale in the air. I can’t, or I won’t? I shake my head at the thought of what the esteemed Dr. Koler would ask. The door opens, revealing Michael. “Tea, Mrs. Grant?” It’s funny seeing such a large man hold a tiny saucer, not that I laugh. I bite my lip and nod. “Thank you, Michael.” He nods, and there’s a small smile on his face. “When did I become Mrs. Grant?” He looks confused by my question, and the smile fades. I try to add a bit of humor to my tone. “Do I have to twist your arm again?” He still doesn’t understand, and he seems on edge. My eyes fall to the floor and I sigh dryly as I say, “Emma, Michael. Please call me Emma.” My voice is flat this time. I can’t do anything right. “Emma,” he says politely, giving the smallest of nods with his lips pressed firmly together in a hard line. His eyes are so sad. I can’t look at him, so instead I go back to writing. The tapping of the keys soothes me somehow. He closes the door softly behind him, leaving me alone. He’s been my only company for the week besides


Thomas. My mom came last week, which was a hell all its own; Kate has stopped coming and calling altogether. I hate to think that this broke her. Coming to see me every day for nothing, calling to listen to silence. I don’t know what to tell any of them, so I say nothing. They both left with the same eyes that Michael had, eyes riddled with pain and helplessness. Eyes that remember the happiness of the past, but know that things are different now. My eyes used to look like that, but now they’re empty. Thomas’ eyes are different. Although his soft blues are marbled with pain, hope is present. There's no hope in his voice or his smile, but I can still see it in his eyes. I’m waiting for it to wither away. I know it will. It’s just a matter of time. Thomas doesn’t cuddle with me in bed like he used to, only when I wake up screaming from the nightmares. That’s really the only time he holds me. It's not that he hasn't tried to hold me otherwise, it's that I always pull away. I tell him it’s due to the pain from my recovery, but he knows I’m lying. He doesn’t fight with me though. He just nods his head and goes along with it, leaving me on my own. Sometimes I want his touch after I pull away, but I can’t tell him. I want the distance between us to grow. He deserves a good life and a wife that can love him. I can’t love anymore. I hate myself. More footsteps echo in the hallway, slow and deliberate. I don’t turn to look when the door opens. “Baby, are you ready for bed?” His voice is soft and soothing. It even rings with a little optimism. Optimism and delusion. “Not yet, I’m still writing. Go to bed without me,” I reply without looking at him. He hesitates before leaving, but


says nothing. He doesn’t close the door though. I listen to his footsteps as they disappear. I sigh with irritation as I push back my chair and stand. It’s the first time I’ve gotten up all day. I shut the door and quickly sit back down.

I TIPTOE INTO THE BEDROOM. I don’t want him to hear me. I don’t want to wake him up. I wish I didn’t have to be in here at all, but he intervenes more if I sleep in my “office.” I’m quiet as I walk to the other side of the bed, farthest away from the door. It’s where he likes for me to sleep. He’s always liked to sleep closest to the door. I used to think it was cute, part of his protective nature. I don’t see the point anymore, but I comply. I step out of my clothes, making a small pile on the floor; I don’t bother with pajamas. I was basically wearing PJs all day anyway. Grey sweats and a baggy t-shirt are my usual attire now. The duvet is cold, but I like the cold on my skin. I slide under the sheets gently, careful not to disturb him. “How's it coming along?” His deep voice startles me, disrupting the little bit of comfort I had. My body tenses. He doesn’t look at me when he speaks. He stares blankly at the ceiling, not moving. His muscular shoulders and chiseled chest peek out from beneath the crisp sheets. “It’s almost ready,” I lie and he sighs, fully aware that I’m lying to him. It’s a sad truth, and an unfortunate necessity in our relationship. I lie, and he lets me. He rolls over and puts his hand on my waist. I stiffen at his touch, but he doesn’t stop. He moves closer to me, kissing my shoulder. His soft lips kiss my neck. I start to protest but his finger moves to my lips, halting my words.


I feel his hot breath on my skin. My body aches for him, but I don’t want him to love me. He moves his body on top of mine; he’s naked, looking handsomely disheveled. I admire his physique in the dim light. I want his touch, any touch, but at the same time I don’t. I don’t deserve it. He pushes my legs open with his knees. Again I part my lips to protest but he forcefully kisses me, harder this time, bruising my lips. He nips my bottom lip and runs his teeth along my jaw to my earlobe. A heat slowly builds in me. I’m torn between wanting to set it aflame and wanting to extinguish it. He pulls my earlobe gently with his teeth. I let out a small moan. He knows what he does to me. He must know I’m fighting it. But he’s pushing back. My Thomas. He’s taking what he wants and giving me what I need. It’s been so long. Too long. I cave to him, accepting his demanding touch. He comforts my trembling body with soft, open-mouth kisses from my neck down to my collarbone, across my chest. I feel his thick arousal against my hips, and his fingers trace the lace hem of my panties before he runs his index finger along the heat of my core. A blush heats my cheeks. I know he’ll feel how damp I am. His simple touches have my body ready to writhe beneath him. I’ve deprived myself for so long. He bites down on my nipples, gently pulling them with his teeth as his hands caress my body. They travel down the curve of my waist to my hips, moving back and forth. His fingers find the waistband of my panties and he pulls them down, planting kisses on my sensitive skin as he moves lower. He sits up, his blue eyes piercing into me, searching for approval. His broad shoulders move to mine and he kisses me forcefully but sweetly, his tongue hot in my mouth. He gives me small kisses on my cheek and


positions himself at my slick entrance. I ache for his touch as small pants escape my lips. I close my eyes and wait for him to take me, but he doesn’t. I open my eyes to meet his gaze. He’s waiting, his soft eyes pleading with me. I reach around his neck, pulling him into me and kiss him. A sad passion overwhelms me as his tongue finds mine with desperation. He pulls my hips close and parts my thighs wider to give him access, exposing me to him fully. He whispers in my ear, “Tell me if I hurt you.” I look into his sad blue eyes and give a small, sorrowful nod in response. If only he knew. I’m ready when he enters me forcefully to the hilt. I moan as he fills me, delightfully stretching me. He stills, allowing me to adjust to his size. His touch makes me arch my back, but I immediately regret it, and wince at the pain. Thomas moves his arm to brace my back, holding me at the nape of my neck. I wrap my legs around his hips and move my body to meet his. His breath sends a thrill of heat down my body. His movements are steady and deep. The bed rocks against the wall, mimicking the steady beat of him fucking me. He kisses my neck and moves his fingers to my nipple, pinching it and then cupping my breast. He runs his thumb over the hard pebble, pinching it harder than before, making me moan louder. His motions pick up, bringing me to the edge of pleasure. His hand continues to squeeze my breast as his lips move to suck the other. My arms move to his back, and my hands wrap around his shoulders. I dig my nails into his skin and cry out in pleasure. He responds by slamming his hard cock deeper into me while pinching my clit, forcing my climax. I toss my head back and cry out his name.


“Tell me you want more.” “I want more,” I whisper. I regret saying it, but I can’t help myself. It’s the truth. Is it? Even if it’s not, it’s so hard to deny him. In one swift movement, he picks my body up to straddle him. His hand steadies my hip and gently moves lower as his thumb finds my sensitive clit. He slowly circles around it, pinching the little mound and making me cry out yet again. He speeds up his motions, thrusting his hips to meet mine as he puts increasingly more pressure on my clit. A wave of pure ecstasy washes over me, and I feel myself pulse and clench around him as I throw my head back and moan. He pulls me to him, fisting my hair and kisses me punishingly hard while he picks up his pace. My body feels weak in his grasp. I grip his shoulders, clinging to him with my breasts pushed against his chest and my chin nestled in his neck. I feel hot moisture between my thighs and I freeze in fear, pushing away from him. He hesitates, then his eyes follow my gaze. He grabs my hips and slams back into me, kissing my neck. “It’s cum, Emma, it’s just cum,” he breathes into my ear, letting his hot breath send a wave of pleasure down my body. I hold onto him tight, kissing his shoulder as my body shudders. “Let me hold you again, let me love you.” I hear his words, and I feel pricks at the back of my eyes. His motions don’t slow, and I feel myself getting closer. I nod into his shoulder. “Tell me,” he says and his voice breaks. I move away from him but continue holding on, and see unshed tears clouding his soft blue eyes. I rest my forehead on his as he continues to move, his steady rhythmic motions


bringing me closer. His hands grip my hips harder, fingers digging into my flesh. “I will let you love me.” Tears escape my eyes and I collapse, burying my head in his neck. He rolls me over gently, but then takes me harder, kissing me passionately with a carnal need. I feel heat rise in my body as he moves faster, kissing my neck and collarbone, trailing down to my breasts. I reach my release with his and my body quivers in his arms. Wave after wave of intense pleasure hits me before he slowly withdraws and collapses on his side, holding my limp body close to his. He pulls me closer as the aftershocks rock me again and again. He moves a heavy arm around my body. My first reaction is to pull away and reject his touch, but I’m exhausted and sated. Although I've promised him that I'll let him hold me and love me, I know I've made a promise I can't keep.

I FEEL THE COLD, hard metal of the gun in my hands. It crashes down on her body, slamming into her lifeless corpse. I don’t stop; I’m filled with rage and anger. Pain jolts through me as I raise my arms and strike down again with all my weight. The heavy metal cracks against her skull. I don’t stop. Again and again I smash it into her. I wish she were still alive. I wish she could feel every second of this. I wish she would try to fight back so I could show her how it feels to fight, knowing you’ve already lost. I feel blood on my face, but it’s cold, it’s freezing cold. I look down, and her eyes are staring at me while her wicked smile mocks me. I bring the gun down hard again and again and again. I cry out, but there are no sounds


other than the thud of the metal striking her flesh repeatedly. I feel heat dripping down my inner thighs, forming a small puddle of bright red between my legs on the dark floor. She lets out a vile laugh.

“EMMA!” Thomas is on top of me, holding me down. My body’s shaking uncontrollably. I’m screaming as hot tears pour down my face. All I can taste is salt on my quivering lips. “Emma, it’s okay. You’re having a nightmare. It’s okay. I’m here.” He’s out of breath. His eyes are begging me to stop, pleading with me. I sob into his strong arms, feeling the small hairs against my face, his warm skin. He moves me to his chest, holding me tight, rocking me slowly and gently. “It’s okay.” He kisses my hair. “It’s okay,” he repeats. I don’t want him to stop holding me. The soft beating of his heart helps ground me. I concentrate on the sound, breathing as slowly as I can. His warmth surrounds me, consoling me until I drift back into darkness. He keeps rocking me and whispering that it’s okay. But I know it’s not okay.


CHAPTER 17

t’s fucking freezing for April. The sun has already called Iit quits, and the gentle wind from earlier has progressed into a bitter cold breeze. I look up at the sky, and dark clouds are setting in. I knew I should’ve grabbed that cardigan. I give a small sigh and shake my head, silently scolding myself. It was right there, draped over the dining room chair. I looked at it and considered grabbing it, but thought, nah, I’ll be fine. Damn it. I make an attempt to quicken my pace, even though advancing is slow as I move against the wind. This is the only route I know back to the apartment. If it hadn’t been so nice when I left, I would’ve taken the car and avoided all this frustration altogether. Regret. One more regret to add to the growing list. The white plastic grocery bags dangling from my arms feel increasingly heavier with every step I take, digging painfully into my wrists. Why did I have to take two hours picking out this weekend’s meals? Because you have nothing better to do with your life. You’d rather hide in an aisle of spices you never plan on using, pretending you actually give a damn about recipes that include bay


leaves than face the miserable life you’ve made for yourself. Ouch. My heart sinks and twists into a knot in response to my conscience's honesty. I wince. That’s pretty fucked up and brutal. But true. Just as I think life can’t get much worse than this, Mother Nature takes it as her cue to open up the darkened clouds that plague the sky. A drizzling rain begins to pelt me. I think this could be a scene from a comic book, but I fail to find the humor. My apartment is just around the corner, but I can’t run. These damn bags are too heavy and with my luck, they’ll rip open and spill their contents before I make it to the awning. I don't bother to try and shield myself from the rain. The tiny hairs on my exposed skin stand up straight and send chills down my spine, making my body shudder. I feel the raindrops drip down my shoulder blades, pooling at the small of my back and soaking into my cream blouse. It’s more than uncomfortable. Every uncovered inch of me is being drenched, yet I’m helpless. I sneer at my choice of words. Helpless. I could throw these groceries down and run for the awning. I could dump the contents out on the sidewalk and use the bags for cover. But no, instead I sulk, gripping onto bags containing nothing that really interests me while I fill with more and more disdain as the rain beats down harder and harder. I try to swallow my words but even though every other part of me is soaking wet, my throat is painfully dry. My misery gets the best of me; I’m so pathetic. If this were a different time in my life, I would’ve somehow found humor and happiness in the situation. I wouldn’t have let the rain get me so down. But it’s not a different time. And I’m letting it drag me down into a wretched puddle of despair. I feel a familiar prick at the back of my eyes as I turn


the corner but before I can surrender to the tears, I see Michael running toward me, opening an umbrella. I attempt to compose myself, not that I can hide my emotions from him. He can read me almost as well as Thomas can. He does me the favor of appearing as though he hasn’t noticed I’m a completely miserable wreck. That kindness in and of itself nearly sends me over the edge. I want to thank him for the umbrella and for sparing me the humiliation, but my dry throat betrays me once again. “Emma,” he greets me warmly as he shields me from the rain. “I would’ve run down here sooner if I’d known you were walking.” His voice is comforting and puts me a bit at ease until I’m reminded of why he’s here. Why I’m alone. “Thank you,” I reply, but my voice cracks with distress. I try to force a humorous tone, as if I didn’t mind the onslaught and add, “I was getting soaked.” I manage a small smile and return kind eyes to him. “Well, I’m glad I saw you,” he says politely with a professional smile. “Not as glad as I am.” I return his pleasant tone as though his presence isn’t shocking. Well, truthfully it’s not. Either Thomas or Michael has been here almost every evening since I moved out two weeks ago. Usually it’s Thomas while Michael waits by the car, carrying out his role as attentive assistant. He graciously takes the bags from my hands in exchange for the umbrella and stands a good distance away from me, careful not to invade my personal space. There’s immediate relief when he takes the bags. I winced when he took the first, but he was much gentler with the others. I rub my wrists and forearms. When I look up, I’m hit with a sense of selfishness. Michael’s


right half is already waterlogged. The sight of his soggy suit makes me feel horrible. He shouldn’t have to suffer just because I was stupid enough to get caught in this damn rain. “Stand under here with me, Michael. I don’t want you getting soaked, too.” He gently shakes his head and begins to object, but my face must display my desperation. After everything that’s happened, I just want him to stay dry. After a quick moment he nods his head and walks with me under the umbrella, carrying my bags full of unneeded and unwanted perishables. His body is close to mine, close enough to feel the warmth radiating off of him. I don’t mind it. Part of me wants to be even closer, to just be held. But that would be crossing a line. I’m sure he’s already uncomfortable with the proximity under the umbrella. And a much stronger side of me doesn’t want to be held. It doesn’t want any warmth or comfort, not from anyone. “Did Thomas send you?” I finally ask as we take cover under the awning of my building. It’s a question I already know the answer to though. Of course Thomas sent him. I had to say something to end this awkward silence, but I failed to come up with anything better. I create as much distance as I can between us under the awning. Not for me, but for him. I turn the umbrella upside down and attempt to shake the droplets off. Instead I manage to spray my left leg, making me feel even more sorry for myself. “He would’ve come himself, but he’s required elsewhere. He just wanted to make sure you’re doing well.” As usual, Michael's professional and to the point in his response. “Is he in jail?” Michael looks a bit taken aback. I break


his gaze and punch in the code to my building so we can walk inside. I attempt to justify my outburst by adding, “I heard about the incident.” I heard about it in depth. Yet again, a reporter was waiting outside of Thomas’ building and as soon as Thomas set foot outside, he started hounding him for answers. Why did I move out? Are we getting a divorce? Were the pregnancy and subsequent miscarriage leaks an attempt to distract the media from the allegations of his abuse? Thomas remained silent as usual, until the reporter asked if he’d kicked me out because I was a murderer. Thomas’ anger got the best of him. He struck the reporter hard in the jaw, causing him to fly backward into the street, landing on his ass. Murderer, yes. That’s something I am now, and forever will be. The pain in my stomach intensifies. I attempt to hold it back, but I’m vaguely aware the expression on my face is reflecting the distorted, heated mix of anguish and resentment slowly taking over my body. When I read the article online, I just couldn’t believe it. I’ve seen reporter after reporter goad him—heck, I've even seen associates pissed off at Thomas’ business decisions hounding him, cussing at him, and insulting him. Thomas never loses his composure. He wears a perfect mask, never seemingly bothered by anything. Yet there he was, fighting for me, loosing his shit over me. I wish he wouldn’t. My chest tightens, and I struggle to maintain my composure… my own mask. “Mr. Grant isn’t in jail. That matter’s been sorted out.” Sorted out? Paid off is more like it. I don’t bother to question him further. I don’t care to know the details. The thought of Thomas defending me adds to my pain though. I want to let him go, to rid him of my infection. That’s why I left; increase the distance to decrease the


agony. It’s not fucking working. I open the door to my cozy apartment still filled with unopened boxes, and gesture for Michael to put the bags on the kitchen counter. His large frame looks out of place in the small room. This is what I could afford with the royalties from my books though. I didn’t want anything from Thomas. I flatout refused his money. I let out a distressed sigh as I head to the bathroom. I just want to dry off, but as I pat my face with the soft cream hand towel, my body heaves and I succumb to the overwhelming sadness that’s been slowly drowning me. I try to keep my sobs as silent as I can, but I know Michael can hear them. I quickly close the door behind me. It slams with more force than I intended, but I don’t care. I want to be alone. Yes, I’m miserable. I’m a complete fucking mess. But it’s my mess to clean up, and I just want everyone to leave me the fuck alone. I hear his footsteps approach the door. It’s time for me to lie and him to knowingly accept the lie, pretending it isn’t obvious. It’s a senseless game that we play. Maybe game is the wrong word to use… it implies happiness or playfulness. There’s none of that here, and there hasn’t been for quite some time. “Are you alright, Emma?” “Yes, I’m fine.” I struggle to come up with an excuse, something to make him go away and leave me alone, so that I’ll only be a burden to myself. Usually I’m much better at this. “I’ll let Mr. Grant know that you’re well then.” It’s kind of him to give me an out, or maybe he’s just grown tired of hearing my excuses. “Is there anything else I can do for you before I head out?” “No - thank you, Michael. I’m fine.” My voice is shaky. I did an awful job of trying to hide the fact that I’m


practically lying on the floor soaking wet, rocking my body while trying to muffle my sobs with a towel. Pathetic. “Thomas just wants to see you happy.” His words cut through me like a dagger to my heart. Bastard. Just leave me alone. The truth escapes my lips as a whimper before I can consciously object to it. “And I want him to be happy.” I desperately want for him to be happy, but I know he can’t be as long as I’m around. I’m a black hole, draining the happiness from anyone who nears me. “He won’t be happy until you’ve come home.” I can’t help but release the heavy sobs suffocating me. I manage to respond, “You can go now.” It’s an order. I don’t want anyone to see me like this, and I don’t want to talk about this any longer. I hear him softly answer, “Yes, ma’am,” and a few moments later I hear the door open and shut. I reluctantly allow myself to sink deeper into my agony, cooling my face on the cold tile floor where I cry myself into a deep and much-needed sleep.

I KNEW two months after the accident that if I loved Thomas, then I needed to leave him. I don’t know why I’m calling it an accident; encounter, or incident would be better maybe? Two months after I killed her, after I shot her while her eyes pierced me. I was huddled in the corner of our living room, covered in my own blood, and some of hers. It was the day I miscarried due to her brutal attack. It was also the day I lost my passion to live. Thomas couldn’t protect me from her. He couldn’t always


be by my side, waiting for her to emerge from whatever dark shadows she hid in. Even worse, I couldn’t protect our baby, our fragile baby who was never able to take a breath. The first time I tried to leave him, it was a complete and utter failure. Misery loves company, and God knows I was miserable. I still am, but I knew I had to go. Every day my wretchedness was tainting him, darkening every expression on his handsome face. It killed him to see me like that, so I decided to leave. But I just couldn’t ignore his pain. I sat on the edge of the sofa with my suitcase by the door, waiting for him to come home so I could tell him. No one else was with me. Rose had gone home for the weekend and Michael was picking up Thomas from work, even though it was Saturday. I think that’s how Thomas coped; he buried himself in work. I was alone with my thoughts, hating myself and hating life. I thought about just leaving a note. It would’ve been easier. But he deserved an explanation. As if I could verbalize everything I was feeling, or give him a reason he would find acceptable. So I waited, practically shaking with morbid anticipation. When he came in, he knew immediately. I’ll never forget the look on his face when he spotted me, a mix of shock and pure sadness. He stopped moving as if he had suddenly become frozen. Michael walked in slowly and quietly behind him, but quickly left us alone. His eyes never met mine. I searched for them, for support in my decision, but he avoided my gaze. Thomas was still rooted in place, and both of us were mute. I rose slowly, attempting to stand on my own. I tried to swallow so I could speak, but even that simple act hurt. Everything hurt. Looking at his face and seeing the


agony in his eyes, I could barely breathe, knowing the pain that I’d caused him. I needed to tell him I wasn’t getting better, but that I didn’t want to get better. I wanted to live in my suffering or die, because those were the only two fates I deserved. Before I could speak and justify my leaving, he stopped me. “No,” his raspy voice managed to whisper as he shook his head. Hearing the anguish in his voice and seeing the hurt on his face made my heart crumble into a million pieces. But I still knew I needed to leave him. I had to save him from my misery. “I have to-” I tried to speak, but he cut me off as he moved swiftly across the room with tears in his eyes. He wrapped his arms around my body, holding me close to him. “No, no. Baby, you don’t have to do anything.” “Please don’t leave me,” he begged, kissing me passionately. His hand moved to the back of my head, his fingers in my hair keeping my lips pressed to his. I felt his hot tears on my lips, and it was my undoing. I collapsed into his chest, releasing heavy cries. “Everything will get better; just don’t leave,” he said firmly with his eyes closed as he pressed his forehead against mine. He kissed my hair and rubbed my back. Here he was again, comforting me while I caused him nothing but sorrow. I hated myself for hurting him. I was so selfish. He deserved better. Although I stayed that day, I knew I needed to leave and soon. I couldn’t protect our baby, but I could still protect him. It was only a matter of time before he would be more willing to let me go. The days were filled with meetings, counseling and therapy, but they did nothing but take up the time.


I LIFT my aching body off the cold hard floor. Tears cloud my eyes as I try to catch my breath. I’ve been crying in my sleep. I don’t know why, but there are plenty of possibilities. There’s a pounding ache in my temples as I try to steady my trembling legs by resting my body against the sink. I turn on the water and wait for it to warm. After what seems like an eternity, I splash the water on my face. My eyes are sore and feel so raw that the slightest touch pains them. I debate on a shower but then I decide I should seek comfort in my bed. The sheets are cold, yet another reminder of my loneliness. It’s a solitude that I chose and fought for, but at this very moment I don’t want it. In this instant I realize why I was crying. I want to be selfish. I want him to hold me and love me, even though I know I can only cause him pain. I shake my head against the pillow as the tears start to roll down my cheeks yet again. I want to, but I can’t; I have to protect him.

IT FELT like an eternity had passed by the time we finally reached the door to his place. He gave me a roguish grin and softly stroked my lower back as we entered. My body quivered as I attempted to prepare myself for what may come. He kissed me tenderly, trailing kisses down my neck as he undressed me. He admired my naked body and let out a deep groan before taking his shirt off. “You’re so beautiful, my Emma.” His gaze raked me from head to toe as he circled me, taking in every inch of my skin. Thomas was, and still is, the sexiest man I’ve ever seen. I left a trail of hot kisses down his chest. He unbuttoned his jeans as I neared them but then pulled


me up, taking my chin in one hand and kissed me passionately while the other stilled my hips. My body trembled in his arms; I gripped onto his muscular shoulders to keep me steady. After a moment of nipping and sucking on my lips he pulled away from me and led me to the sofa. “Turn around,” he whispered, and yet again he gave me that look. I did as he commanded, turning my body so my back was facing him with my hips pressed against the arm of his sofa. His hand grabbed the back of my neck and gently, yet firmly, pushed my body down onto the soft cushions. I lowered my body with my head resting on my forearms. He moved his hand slowly down my bare back, giving me chills. He breathed in deep and adjusted himself behind me. I turned my head so I could just barely see him. I could feel his hard erection pressed against my ass, and to say I was hot and wet would be an understatement. If I had still been wearing panties they would have been soaked in my arousal. His fingertips slowly moved up the curves of my body, giving me a sweet and sinful sensation. Suddenly he pinched down on my hardened nipples and I let out a cry. My pussy clenched and my back arched. He leaned down and whispered in my ear, “This is as much for you as it is for me.” His hot breath sent yet another chill through my body. I loved being so vulnerable to him. More than that, I loved how much he wanted me and how badly my body wanted him. I softly moaned in agreement. His fingers moved lower, circling my clit and then he entered me with two fingers. I closed my eyes, enjoying the sensation as his fingers massaged me in that sweet spot, gently swaying my hips in motion with his movements. He pulled his fingers out and I could hear him sucking on them,


enjoying my taste; it made me smile. “Mmm, you’re ready for me.” I could feel his smirk as he said it, and again I answered him with a low moan, tilting my hips up just slightly signaling that I was ready. He wrapped my hair around his wrist and tugged slightly, pulling my head up. I opened my mouth and gasped. This was new. And I liked it. “Hold on to the sofa,” he said and kissed my neck as I followed his instructions. He nipped my shoulder and released my hair to grab both sides of my hips. His strong arms lifted me and pushed me hard against the armrest. Just as I was getting settled he slammed into me, causing me to yell out in sheer pleasure. Oh God, yes! I tightened my grip as he slammed into me again. His hands moved to my back, pinning me down as he slowly pushed himself into me deeper and deeper. I struggled beneath him, feeling the ball of hot, wanting pleasure build in my stomach. My conflicted body fought to move away from him, away from the sharp pain caused by his hard thick cock pounding ruthlessly into me. But every time he withdrew I felt an immediate loss. I needed to feel that fullness. I needed him to use my body like he owned it. “Fuck!” I yelled out as my hips dug into the sofa. He moved his hands to my waist, steadying my shaking body as he picked up his pace. With each thrust he filled my throbbing pussy to the hilt. The intense pleasure began to overwhelm me, and the tingling at the tips of my fingers and toes increased. He leaned down, keeping himself deep inside me. He bit my lip and then my earlobe as he whispered into my ear, “Beg me to fucking punish you.”He pulled my hair at the base of my neck and gently lifted my mouth to his. With his other arm he lifted me just slightly off the sofa


and pinched my nipple. He pulled it while twisting his fingers, making me moan. Then he did it again. Harder. I thought that alone would make me cum. But he let up and leaned in so I could feel his hot breath on my neck. He commanded me, “Tell me again.” “Punish me,” I uttered with sweet lust on my lips. “Beg me,” he teased with a sinful smile across his face. It wasn’t the first time he'd told me to beg, but this time I relented immediately. “Please, Thomas, please punish me.” I truly was begging; I was so close. I needed him, and I desperately needed my release. He kissed me hard then pushed me back down and pounded into me over and over again in a rhythmic harmony. My breathing became ragged and I arched my back as I shook from the intensity of my orgasm, feeling a bit of wetness drip down my upper thighs. He didn’t stop as he forcefully took me. The sensation was almost unbearable. I didn’t know if I could take it. I cried out in ecstasy as he rode me through my pleasure. “Thomas – I can’t,” I whimpered as I came once again. My body filled with a pleasure that immobilized my entire body. “Oh yes you can, baby.” His hot tongue filled my mouth as I came back down to reality. He gave me a reprieve, but only for a short moment. I gripped the cushions attempting to brace myself against them, and hid my groans of pleasure in the fabric. His body pushed hard against mine as he grabbed my wrists. He pulled my arms behind my back and continued his punishing fuck. I arched my back hard, moving my head away from the cushions so I could no longer muffle my moans. “I want to hear you, baby,” his baritone voice


whispered against my ear. I was helpless as he continued my punishment, making me climax time and time again, each one more intense than the last, all blending into each other. When he roared his own release and finally let me collapse onto the sofa, I was limp and my throat was hoarse from my screams and moans. He left me panting into the cool cushions but returned quickly with a warm cloth. His strong hands wiped between my legs as he left gentle kisses on my lower back. He carried me to his bed and massaged my sore shoulders and arms, bringing them back to life as I drifted off to sleep in his arms, only to dream of that look in his eyes.


CHAPTER 18

dream of his smile and that devilish look in his soft blue Ieyes I’ve grown to lust after. It’s a look that warns me he’ll have me, any and every way I desire. With a subtle change in both his smile and his eyes, it becomes a threat, a hot promise he’s going to punish me, in any and every way that he desires. That first night I was wary of that look, but back then I was so insecure and unenlightened. He’d taken me to an art exhibit at the New Museum on Bowery. Apparently the up-and-coming featured artist was the son of an important client. I remember one painting in particular. It was extremely explicit for my usual taste, but the broad brushstrokes that captured such fine detail of a woman enjoying her own touch captivated my eyes. Her parted full lips and hooded eyes were hauntingly beautiful. I only realized how taken I was by the piece when Thomas interrupted my thoughts. What those thoughts were, I’m not quite sure, as my memory fails me. I blushed and tried to muster a response to whatever it was he was saying; he grinned and laughed at my stutters.


“Maybe I should leave you two alone,” he teased in a sultry baritone voice while I took a small sip of champagne to avoid giving a response as the heat settled in my cheeks and between my thighs. His strong hands rested on my hips, and his thumbs brushed comforting circles against my skin. I looked up at my tall, handsome man through my eyelashes and just smiled shyly. I felt as though I’d been the one pleasuring myself, caught in the act. The art was amazing and the views were incredible as we walked side by side in the enormous building. Everyone seemed to gravitate toward Thomas. He introduced me to some associates, while others he merely nodded toward and smiled politely. I didn’t mind either way. I found myself gazing out the expansive windows most of the evening. The New York nightlife continued to amaze me; I don’t know how anyone could ever grow tired of it. We’d only been together for a few months and every day that passed I counted my blessings. He wasn’t known for dating, but he did have a reputation for fucking. I had submitted to my cravings for his touch already, even though I was aware of his manwhore past. After an hour or so, we stood facing the skyline, admiring the view while chatting about the works of art. He was obviously way more into the contemporary pieces than I was. He placed his hand on the small of my back, gently caressing the chiffon fabric against my skin; even that tiny bit of PDA surprised me. I let out a small smile, probably blushed, and took another sip of my champagne all the while resisting the urge to nestle my head against his broad chest. A reporter asked for a quote at some point during the night, to which Thomas gave his admiration for the


pieces. The young man then made a motion with his camera, asking for permission for a photograph and Thomas positioned me next to him. He wrapped his arm around my waist and pulled me close but with that small gesture, my insecurities were unleashed and the night was ruined. Thomas had plenty of photographs online with women, but none of them had ever been photographed twice. Never twice. And they were always in this position. I’d seen countless pictures of him online; I couldn’t help myself. Who doesn’t cyberstalk nowadays? I knew without a doubt that with this photo my time was up. My mind began to drown in anxiety as Thomas continued to talk to the reporter, giving him my name but not mentioning our relationship. Why would he? I’m sure he never has in the past. He’s taken other women out, fucked them, been photographed with them. You’re no different. The alcohol took advantage of my weakness. Weeks ago, he’d told me not to worry about his reputation, but how could I not worry? How could I pretend to be blind to the inevitable? I tried to brush it off and enjoy the evening, but it became more obvious as the hour progressed that I was unhappy. He hadn’t done anything wrong, yet my mood was darkening by the minute. There was an obvious awkward tension building between us, and to avoid his curious stare I escaped to the restroom. After a moment of struggling with my doubt, I straightened my skirt, put on a touch of lip gloss, and pinched my cheeks for some color. I did my best to put a small and polite smile on my face as I exited the restroom. I was determined to be more confident, but at this point in the night it was too late. As I spotted Thomas, my smile faded. He frowned when he saw me. I approached him and began to speak. I don’t even


remember what I was going to say, but it didn’t matter anyway because he cut me off. “We’re leaving,” he said dryly, holding his hand out for me. I couldn’t hold back my disappointed expression, but I obediently nodded my head in response and placed my hand in his. Shit, shit, shit. Why did I have to ruin such a good thing? I’m a self-fulfilling prophecy. He graciously smiled as he said his goodbyes to the artist and an older gentleman, presumably the artist's proud father. I stood politely by his side, nodding my head in agreement with Thomas’ compliments. I wanted to say that I had enjoyed the night, but I didn’t trust that anything coherent would come out. I was a nervous wreck; I was so sure he was finally going to end it with me. Every heartbeat sunk deeper and deeper into the pit of my stomach. I did this to myself. I let my insecurities take over and it ruined the night, if not everything between us. He walked quickly as we left the building in silence. It was difficult to even keep up with him, but I didn’t dare complain. I waited for the inevitable, for him to break my heart like he did with every other pretty little thing that walked his way. He escorted me to the passenger side of the car and opened my door, still such a gentleman, even though he was scowling. He closed my door gently, but he slammed his door shut before he was even seated. The bang made me shudder, although I was half expecting it. He started the car and sped out of the parking lot in silence. He didn’t speak for a good long while, and neither did I. I kept my head down or stared out of the window. I didn’t know what to say. I knew I’d brought this on myself, but I didn’t know how to fix it or even how to explain it. “What the hell did I do?” he angrily asked with a low,


yet determined voice as his grip tightened around the steering wheel. I stared at my feet and hesitantly answered in a meek voice, “Nothing.” It was true; he hadn’t done anything. He pulled the car over on the side of the road. Is he going to kick me out? My eyes began to water, and I had to lift my head up and look at the roof of his car to refrain from crying. “Don’t give me that bullshit, something happened,” he said with his brow furrowed as he put the car in park. Thomas put his hand on my chin and gently forced me to look at him, his thumb softly rubbing against my bottom lip. I still couldn’t look at him in the eyes, so instead I stared at his full lips and then his broad chest. I felt so embarrassed. I cleared my throat, but I couldn’t find the words to speak. I closed my eyes, trying to steady myself. “Tell me.” His anger was beginning to let up, and his voice softened. I pulled away from him, gazing at the floor and then rolled my eyes. “I’m just insecure,” I practically whispered. I finally spit out the humiliating truth, and then proceeded to bite my nails. “What did I do to make you feel insecure?” His voice was calm and steady. I felt his eyes on me, searching for his answer, but I didn’t look up. “Nothing.” I whispered through my fingers. In the silence I pinched my bottom lip, trying to distract myself to keep from crying. “Tell me what's bothering you,” he demanded. He gently pushed my hand away from my face and lifted up my chin, finding my gaze. His eyes mesmerized and calmed me. “I feel like I'm just another girl you plan on fucking and then leaving,” I reluctantly confessed.


He released me and slumped in his seat with a heavy sigh. Both hands grabbed his steering wheel as he glared straight ahead, speaking to me but not looking at me. The anger returned. “I told you not to worry, and not to listen to that bullshit.” When I didn’t respond, he turned to me and scowled. Once again I was filled with anxiety and embarrassment. “I’m-” I started to respond with an apology, but he cut me off. “Don’t say you’re sorry. I don’t want to hear an apology. I want you to listen to what I say, and do what you say you’re going to do.” I cowered in my seat. I felt like I was a three-year-old in trouble for coloring on the wall. “Don’t hide from me, Emma.” He still wasn’t looking at me when he spoke. “I’m not angry at you; I’m angry at myself.” He sighed while shaking his head. “What did I do?” he asked. His tone was amazingly calm although his knuckles were white from gripping the steering wheel so hard. “We were having such a good time. Something had to have happened to put you in such a shitty mood. What was it?” “I was just thinking, when we were having our picture taken,” I hesitated to continue but instead I decided I should just let it all out, “that you’ve had your picture taken with lots of women.” “That’s not fair, Emma. I can’t change that.” He sounded exasperated. “There’s nothing wrong with that either. I’m sure you’ve had pictures taken with other guys. You’ve fucked other guys. You know how jealous I am, and I’m not freaking out about it.” He looked at me with a frown. “If I could change it I would, but I can’t.” I answered with bitter sadness as I shook my head,


“Those pictures are with women you fuck and leave. Everyone who sees those pictures knows that you’re fucking them and then you’re going to leave them high and dry. They mean nothing to you.” I slammed the back of my head into my seat and let the tears out. “And now I’m one of them,” I concluded with resentment. We sat in silence for a moment. He’s definitely going to end it now. Self-fulfilling prophecy completed. I wiped my tears away with the back of my hand while he stared at me. I contemplated opening the door and just walking out, but my legs refused to move. My body betrayed me. Thomas picked up his cell phone. He took out a card from his wallet and dialed a number. I had no idea who he was calling, or how long we were going to sit on the side of the road. I sat there silently, watching him from the corner of my eye and nervously awaited the consequences of my candid words. “It’s Thomas Grant.” His professional tone was devoid of any emotion. “Yes, it was great speaking with you tonight, too.” Not that you could tell from looking at his face. “I just wanted to make sure that I’d told you the lovely woman I was with tonight is my girlfriend. Yes, Emma. It would be wonderful if you could include that in the article.” He glanced at me before adding, “She would be delighted.” I sat open mouthed in disbelief. He’d never publicly had a girlfriend, ever. I was the girlfriend of the most eligible bachelor in New York. He was putting a label on it. “Thank you so much… you, too.” He hung up the phone and put it in the cup holder. I stared back at him, wordless. “Does that help to put your mind at ease?” he asked with a bit of a hopeful smile. “Maybe a little,” I said shyly, not really sure how to respond. He said it out loud. Girlfriend. The happiness


that one little word gave me made me feel juvenile. “Just a little?” he said and tilted his head and raised his eyebrows. His hand moved to cup my face, and I leaned into him. “More than a little,” I admitted and smiled and turned my face to kiss his soothing hand. He took my hand in his and caressed the back of my knuckles. His blue eyes pleaded with me. “Please don’t worry, I really can’t stand it.” It’s insane how he’s able to calm me and then turn me on in what seems like a fraction of a second. I felt a bit foolish for behaving like a child, but his touch put me at ease. “I feel stupid.” I relaxed against the seat. I wasn’t sure if I was talking to him or myself. “I understand where it comes from, I just don’t like it.” “I’m sorry.” I sighed and pouted, earning a small smile from him as he leaned over to kiss me, nibbling my bottom lip. I nipped him playfully as he released me and moved back against his seat. “I told you not to worry, Emma. It’s different with you.” His soft blue eyes bore into me as he asked, “When will you believe me?” “I do believe you,” I said earnestly. “There’s just a small part of me that’s insecure.” Well, maybe not a small part. Maybe a huge chunk didn’t believe he’d want me. I knew deep down I was waiting for him to end it. It was just too good to be true. “I’m not going to let you go,” he said as if reading my mind. He tugged at my hand and kissed my knuckles and then my wrist, forcing a smile from me. “There’s my beautiful Emma.” He pulled back onto the highway, and after a moment of silence he finally spoke. “You should prepare yourself.”


The soothing tones had been replaced with something more authoritative. “Prepare myself for what?” I hesitantly asked. He had a sinful smirk on his lips. “I told you not to listen to all that bullshit. You pissed me off tonight. So I think you deserve to be punished.” Whoa. I instantly felt heated in every area that counts. The bitch in my head perked up and stopped licking her wounds from our little spat. Fuck yes! I parted my lips without thinking and said, “Then punish me.” He let out a grunt of a laugh and his breathing quickened. He put his hand on my knee and slipped his hand up past my skirt. My body stilled at his touch. As he rubbed against the fabric over my clit, I arched my back in anticipation. He pulled away slightly, and rubbed my inner thigh as I groaned with frustration. “Not yet baby, wait till I take you home.” I nuzzled into my seat and tucked a tendril of hair behind my ear. “You sure you don’t want to warm me up?” I responded, giving him my sexiest look. As I lowered my hand past the ends of my hair, I gently caressed my breast and continued to move down my body, finally resting my hand on my inner thigh. I was deliberately teasing him. He acknowledged my temptation with an asymmetric smile, but that was all. I knew he was going to fuck me hard. I didn’t know how hard, but I craved it. I wanted to see what he could do to me, but I also desperately wanted to please him in any and every way he wished. Ever since the word “punish” escaped his lips I’d dreamed of being tied down and taken without mercy. Of being spanked until my reddened skin throbbed and ached for his touch. I'd


fantasized of him rutting between my thighs while his body pinned mine down, and his strong hand captured both of mine above my head. His teeth biting into my skin. Marking me. Claiming me as his. Punishing me with small sharp pains that added to the intense pleasure of his touch. As much as I desired that, I felt a sense of uneasiness also. I was ready to give myself to him, but I had no idea what he had in store for me. He warned me before, saying he would punish me if I disobeyed him. I wrestled with the notion of rough sex and what qualified as such. I knew that I would soon find out exactly what that meant, and it was an exhilarating yet terrifying idea. I nervously shifted in my seat, doing my best to imagine the sensual details of what was about to unfold. As I glanced over at Thomas, I’ll never forget the detail of his features. I saw a heated need in his eyes, the gaze of his wanting ready to be fulfilled. It was a haunting look that promised a good hard fuck was coming my way. That look could undo me.

I ROLL over in my bed as I wake up to the invading bright light. I feel heated and wet from dreaming of his touch. I also feel as though I’m close to my release, needing only a little caressing to push me over the edge. I move my middle finger to my clit, applying the needed pressure and rock my body as I imagine his broad shoulders on top of mine, pinning me down. I moan his name and find my release.


CHAPTER 19

t’s always cold in here. I wonder if he’s a pervert. ITurning down the temperature on purpose so your nipples will harden. I brush the nasty thought aside and look out of the large bay window in Dr. Koler’s office, trying my best to prevent a look of disgust from creeping onto my face. He’s not a depraved old man; I just don’t want to be here. I’d find any excuse to leave. He knows that I don’t want to be here, and that I don’t want help. Not from him, and not from the pills he tries to shove down my throat. He judges me. I know he does. The room is stark white. The furniture is all modern, with sleek hard lines, and of course it’s also white. I hate it in here. It feels like an icy, desolate place for me to continue to sink into my sadness. He tells me I’m making progress, but I don’t believe him. I haven’t noticed any progress. I make a note that I always cry during these sessions. I always leave with freshly disturbed wounds. I just want everyone to let me be, so I can stop picking at the sores, and let them scab up. I don’t want to cry anymore. It doesn’t do me any good. He scribbles something down, although I truly don’t


give a damn what he happens to be writing, or thinking for that matter, and finally he looks at me. He puts the pen down on the notepad and moves both of them to his lap, looking his best that I have his full attention. I don’t know why. He knows I don’t want his attention. “Are you still having nightmares, Emma?” So we’re just jumping right into the depressing shit today? Have it your way. “Yes.” I look down at my tangled fingers in my lap and blow out a deep and pathetic breath. It’s the unfortunate truth. “I don’t know how I could ever sleep soundly again.” The sadness in my eyes reaches him, and a look of compassion crosses his face. I don’t want him to feel sorry for me. I regret opening up. I wish I could take it back. “Emma, I want you to try to see your nightmares as a safe way to understand your emotions, and the way your subconscious is dealing with your trauma.” He moves his elbows to his knees as he leans forward with his hands steepled. “No one enjoys nightmares, and we hope to forget them as soon as we wake up, but in order to ensure that they don't return, we have to understand them.” I hear him, yet I’m reluctant to listen. It makes sense that I have nightmares, given what I’ve done. But I can’t stand that he keeps saying “we” as if he has nightmares, too. I bet he doesn’t. He probably gets plenty of rest in a nice warm bed next to a beautiful trophy wife. He interrupts my snide thoughts. “In your nightmares, what are you doing?” I swallow the knot developing in my sore throat. “I’m killing her.” My eyes retreat back to my hands before additionally confessing, “Not with the gun. I’m beating her to death.”


“Tell me more.” I should’ve just lied. Made up something simpler. Something that would keep him from prying into my subconscious. “Sometimes she disappears, and all that’s left is blood.” I try to calm my breathing as I'm reminded of the images that haunt me. Ugh, I don’t want to go there. I just want to forget. “It’s not her blood though, it’s mine.” “From your miscarriage?” he clarifies. “Yes.” “I see. Do you ever have nightmares of her attacking you?” I stare back at him. It occurs to me that I haven’t. I think I feel a sense of shock. Maybe it’s a moment of clarity? I’ve never once dreamed of her attacking me. “It always starts with me at the bottom of the stairs. I'm looking into her cold eyes, seeing the scowl on her face. Then I feel pain in my abdomen. Blood between my thighs. And then I attack. I’m overwhelmed by anger as I beat her to death.” “That’s interesting.” The good doctor disturbs me from my thoughts with his remark. I hadn’t realized I’d been talking out loud. Interesting? What a prick! It’s terrifying. “You do know that you didn’t bludgeon her to death with your bare hands?” “Yes, I know that. I shot her. Three times,” I snap. I feel the need to remind him that I’m aware they're just nightmares, and that I know what’s real and what isn’t. “Yes, you shot her as you were huddled in a ball in the corner of the room with nowhere to run. You shot her as she approached you. After she attacked you. After you suffered an immense amount of physical and emotional pain.” I slowly nod my head as my eyes well up with tears. Thanks for summing that up for me, asshole.


“You’re aware that you were just defending yourself, aren’t you?” “Yes.” I can admit that I was defending myself. But I was so angry. And I wanted to kill her. That’s the truth. I wanted her to die. “Why do you think your nightmares are of you killing her, rather than the other way around?” “I don’t know.” I brush the tears from under my eyes and sink back into the chair. “Do you think you're more scared of yourself than you were of Lillian?” I flinch at the sound of her name. Lillian. But I recover my poor excuse for composure quickly. “What do you mean?” I ask with a mix of curiosity and defensiveness. Scared of myself? How is that even possible? “It seems as though you’re shocked you had the ability to kill her. And even more shocked that you attacked her so savagely.” “Yes,” I admit as he continues. Anyone would be. “Maybe you’re shocked at the emotions you had when you were attacking her. Maybe that is what truly scares you.” My defenses drop as his words sink in. Well, he’s certainly earning his money today, isn’t he? “I wouldn’t say that I’m scared of those emotions. I haven’t felt that same…” I trail off, trying to find a word other than rush. “But you feel them in your nightmares?” “Yes.” “That feeling is brought about by hormones triggered by your flight or fight response. It’s a natural instinct that we can’t control.” He pauses and waits for me to respond, but I don’t know what to say to that. I’m more confused than anything else right now. I think about what he’s trying to say. I’m scared that I chose to fight rather than


run? Actually, you did both. You sucked so bad at the running part that you had to fight. “Everyone is capable of murder. Anyone can be pushed like you were. It’s just a matter of how hard they need to be pushed, and how much damage they can withstand while backed into a corner before they’ll attack.” My cheeks suddenly feel damp as I listen to him. I quickly brush the tears away with the back of my hand. He offers me the box of tissues sitting on the coffee table in front of me, but I shake my head. I’m fine. I try to say the words, but they don’t come out. That’s because you’re not fine. He insists by shaking the box as though I hadn’t just seen him pick it up. I give in and grab two, but I don’t use them. Instead I slowly shred one, taking little pieces off and putting them in a small pile on the table. “It seems as though your nightmares indicate that you’re scared by what you’ve done, more so than anything else that happened.” When I hear his voice I feel embarrassed that I’ve been fidgeting. I push the shreds away and move my hands to my lap. “I suppose.” I hesitate to respond, and move my eyes once again to my fingers to avoid his stare. I can’t lie to myself. Part of me wishes I’d done more than just shoot her. I wish I had taken all of these emotions out on her. All that anger from tormenting us. The sadness from losing my baby. I wish I could beat her over and over again. I’d rather do that than cry. But then again, I deserve the pain. I could have run and hid in the panic room. Even so, I didn’t. Did I want to just get it all over with? I shake my head at the thought. No, I didn’t want the confrontation; I was just scared shitless, weak and frozen. If I could do it all over again, would I run and hide or would I go after her first? I’d make sure I had a gun and I would end that bitch.


There’s no way she would have ever stopped. I made her stop. But only after I’d lost so much. Too much. If I could turn back time, I would shoot her right in the fucking head as soon as she came through that door. I’d be waiting for her. I wonder if I’d be able to sleep at night without the terrors. I’d be able to rub my belly, feel my baby kick and sleep soundly. Would you really though? “Do you want to kill again, Emma?” I whip my head up in response to his question with a look of shock and disgust. Why the fuck would he ask me that? “Of course not. No, I never want to feel that way again.” I look down at my hands, and see that I'm gripping the chair tightly. I hadn’t realized I had even moved them. If I had to, I’d kill her all over again. But want to? No, I don’t want to kill again. At least no one who’s still alive. “And you most likely will never feel that way again. There’s no reason for you to fear what you’re capable of.” “I don’t fear that,” I respond with anger. My breathing quickens. I have half a mind to storm out of his office, but instead I tighten my grip on the chair. I rely on it to keep me steady. “What do you fear then?” “Nothing. I’m not afraid.” “Then what do you think your dreams are telling you?” he asks calmly. So calmly that I want to smack him out of his chair. “That I deserve to be punished for what I did. I don’t deserve to have a child.” Oh shit. I let the truth out. Is that the truth? I think it is. My hands loosen on the chair and I try to calm my breathing. I don’t deserve a child? Dr. Koler leans back in his seat and removes his glasses. It appears that I’ve surprised him. I’m pretty


shocked myself. Where did that come from? The punished part I can see. I was never even charged with a crime, and I only acted in self-defense. Self-defense kept me from seeing the inside of a prison cell. But not deserving of a child. My lungs collapse. No, that can’t be. I wish I could take it back. I wish I could take back that thought. “You lost your child before you shot her in selfdefense. If you deserved to be punished, you would’ve gone to jail. You were the victim. You tried to protect your child. You defended yourself. She went in there to kill you.” He emphasizes every word in his last sentence. His words don’t change the way that I feel. I don’t deserve happiness. Regardless of the situation, I’m a murderer. I’m sure he can tell what I'm thinking by the expression on my face. My heart sinks deeper, and I lower my head in disgust. “Let those words sink in, Emma. Don’t push them away.” He tilts his head and then reaches for a glass of water before he asks his next question. “Do you always have nightmares?” “No, not every night.” I’m grateful for the change in subject. My emotions are off the damn chart. I don’t want to think about what I’ve just admitted to myself. I debate on telling him how often I dream of Thomas, of his touch and how it soothes my pain. He reads my mind before I can decide. “You dream of Thomas?” “How did you know?” I look up at him with my forehead wrinkled. “You’re rather easy to read. Subtlety is a weakness of yours.” He slides his glasses up the bridge of his nose before jotting something down. I look at his pad, but I can’t tell what he’s writing. I think it’s rather rude. I want


to know what conclusions he’s come to. “What do you dream about?” “We have children,” I blurt out quickly. Lie! And what a horrible lie to tell. Now he’s going to read into that bullshit. Damn it. I’d rather lie than tell him I dream about having sex with Thomas, but what an awful lie that was. Being a writer you’d think I’d have come up with something better. “So you still want a family with Thomas?” “I don’t know.” I don’t think that’s a lie, but I’m not quite sure. What a hole I’ve dug myself into. “Why did you move out if you may still want a family with him?” “I just needed space. I need to be alone.” “Why do you think that you need to be alone?” He shifts in his chair and taps his pen on the pad of paper. My eyes instantly dart to the pen and he stops moving it, taking away my distraction. “Because I’m hurting him by being with him like this, the way that I am.” “I see,” he says, putting the tip of his pen in his mouth as he leans back into the chair. “Do you think this hurts him less?” I know it hurts him more, but I want the distance to grow. I’m never going to be the person I once was. He deserves someone better. Not me. Not how I am now. I open my mouth, but I don’t speak. I hope this session is almost over. I’ve had enough for one day. “Are you punishing him, or punishing yourself?” His question catches me off guard. “It’s not a punishment.” “We both know that he blames himself. He regrets leaving you at home. He regrets not being there.” “It’s not his fault.” I don’t blame him for not being there. Lie. My heart sinks. I do blame him. Not for


everything that happened, just for leaving me alone. I had to go through it alone. I had to try to protect our child on my own. “Then whose fault is it?” I start to give him the answer that he’ll use against me. Mine. I stop myself. It’s too late though. He knows what I was going to say. I purse my lips. “You don’t have to punish yourself. With everything you’ve gone through, you deserve so much more. You need to stop blaming yourself. Put the responsibility where it belongs. You killed her with the bullets she was going to murder you with.” I nod my head, but I can’t change the grimace on my face. “You’ve gone through a lot. The best thing you can do is to stop being so hard on yourself. You can’t love someone else if you don’t love yourself first.”

I STORM INTO MY APARTMENT. That’s his advice? I need to love myself? If he knew how often you masturbate, maybe he would change his tune. I still go to Dr. Koler because that’s what Thomas wants. It was part of our agreement for him to give me space and let me move out. He said he wants to make sure I continue therapy, but I’m pretty sure it’s just a way for him to keep tabs on me. You don’t really think the honorable Dr. Koler would violate doctor-patient confidentiality, do you? Ha! Talking to Dr. Koler is not therapeutic. I thought I could use my writing for that purpose. At least I did when I was with Thomas; I wrote everything down. Writing gave me the emotional release I needed. I’ll never publish it though. There’s too much truth, too much raw emotion.


Even if I wanted to publish it, I couldn’t. Jerry, my agent, said it was too dark. The ending wasn’t right. That’s what he had a problem with, the ending. Well no shit, Jerry. He suggested using a different pen name or marketing it as an autobiography. I don’t want the world to know the truth about me though. Thomas did everything he could to keep the details out of the press. He was marginally successful. So when the novel was complete, I couldn’t publish it and release it into the world. And since then, I haven’t written a word. I’ve tried. I really have. But it was to no avail. Writing stopped being my therapy because I’ve run out of stories to tell, at least ones that I’m willing to share. It’s a strange feeling, not writing. Usually I’m always writing, editing, or coming up with ideas for my next novel. But it’s all come to a screeching halt. I’ve been finding solace in something else though, and as soon as I get inside I take refuge in the kitchen to begin my session. Wine. Two glasses makes being conscious easier. Three glasses, and I actually start to feel pretty good. I feel a sense of happiness and comfort. The more I drink, the more the memories fade. I couldn’t drink around Thomas. I knew he wouldn’t allow it. Not to this extent, anyway. In my apartment there’s no one here with me but my dear confidant, pinot grigio. With a chilled glass in my hand, I sink into the sofa and think back on earlier. I’m not punishing Thomas. I’m not punishing myself either. It truly is easier to live without seeing him. I saw the grim look on his face everyday when he would look at me. He probably sees what I see. How can I look at him when every time I do, I’m reminded of what happened and the future we were supposed to have? I’m reminded of the smile on his face when I told him we were having a baby, and then I’m


reminded I haven’t seen that smile since. How can I make love to him? When I feel warmth between my thighs, I remember the blood; I feel it. Before I left, once again Dr. Koler urged me to consider medication for my depression. Fuck antidepressants. If suicidal thoughts are a possible side effect, get that shit away from me. The thought haunts me and sends a shiver over my pale skin. I was on meds when I left Thomas, and I left them there as well. I refuse to ever take them again. They gave me the most horrific nightmares, not like the ones I have now. The night before I left Thomas, I dreamt of waking up beside him. His heavy arm was wrapped around me, and I wriggled away. I waited, listening to his rhythmic breathing, making sure he was still sound asleep so he wouldn’t notice me leaving. I carefully lifted the warm sheets off my naked body, shivering involuntarily in the cold air. I heard the fleshy soles of my feet patter across the wooden floors as I walked to the hall. I casually strolled into the dark kitchen, picked up a knife and slowly ran the sharp blade against my wrist, watching the soft skin split beneath the steel. I stared down at the red dripping down my arm, leaving a warm puddle by my feet on the floor. I didn’t move. I just let the warm drops hit me. I felt a sense of calm and relief; I was grateful to know it was only a matter of time until I would never feel sadness again. And then I heard his footsteps and looked up to see him watching me. I’ll never forget his face, the look of miserable, self-loathing pain. He screamed my name and ran for me as I collapsed on the floor. I jolted awake on a tear-drenched pillow. I turned my body slowly. Thomas looked just as he did in my dream, peaceful and content. I decided two things that night.


One, I needed to stop taking those fucking pills. And two, I needed to leave him‌ just in case.


CHAPTER 20

I have a reason to get dressed. I’ve been F inally cooped up in this damn apartment all week, not doing much of anything but drinking and obsessing over Real Housewives drama on TV. At least I can drown my sorrows in wine and shitty reality television. It feels good to feel something else for a change. Something besides negativity. When Kate called I’d been in the middle of an episode, laughing even. It was almost like old times; she didn’t ask the typical bullshit questions everyone has for me now. Are you alright? Do you want to talk about it? Are you sleeping okay? Do you need company? None of that shit. In fact, she greeted me with, “Hey bitch, I miss your face.” Which made me laugh a little and prompted a conversation about the new cast of Beverly Hills, who we agreed, were simply not bitchy enough to handle the queen bee of the show. When she asked to go out for drinks, I couldn’t say no to her. I’m damned lucky to have such a persistent and kind friend. She didn’t give up on me. It’s a step in the right direction I think, going out to see her. As long as I don’t lose my shit anyway.


I decide on a burgundy lip gloss to match my heels. I want to look cute today. I know Kate’s going to be stunning, because she always is, and I’d rather not look like a steaming hot pile of shit sitting next to her. Most of my things are still in boxes, but I know exactly where my makeup is. After all, I can’t leave the house without a little mascara, even if I do feel like shit and I’m only going to a goddamn therapist. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Kate. She asked to come over when I first moved here, but I just wasn’t ready. I didn’t want to hear her tell me what a mistake I was making. I still don’t want to hear it, but at least now I feel confident in my decision. I needed to do this for me, but also for him. I’d rather talk about her life though. I need something to take my mind off of things. I take a deep breath and look myself over in the mirror. Not bad, not bad at all. I’ve actually lost a bit of weight, enough to fit into my skinny black dress, although it’s hanging a little loose. I touch up my mascara and grab my purse. On the way out I grab my cardigan, and it puts a smile on my face remembering how pissed off I was when I left it here last. I’m so damned dramatic. My heels click in the hallway as I lock the door and stroll confidently to the exit. I’m greeted by the constant clamor that’s New York City and a calming light breeze. There’s still a bit of the May sun hanging around even though it’s 7 p.m. I look to my right and left before taking my place among the crowded herds of people. I watch them as they pass me. I don’t know who they are, and they don’t know who I am. Thomas would easily be recognized, but not me. I’m sure every woman has replaced my face with hers, hoping to fall in love with the gorgeous and rich CEO Thomas Grant. My heart hurts a


bit thinking how replaceable I am. I brush off the thought and pick up my pace. I’m safe walking on these sidewalks. I blend in, completely unassuming. At one point in my life that very thought would have sent me into an anxiety attack. I’m no one, completely unrecognizable. But the thought gives me peace today. Sure they would know my name, Emma Grant. Some would even recognize my pen name. But names are faceless, and I’ve never been so grateful. My destination is only a few blocks down and with the pace I’m keeping I’ll be there in no time. The small French sign at the café catches my eye as I cross the street. I see Kate through the window and bid the hustle and bustle of the streets a farewell. The noisy din is replaced by the sweet melody of stringed instruments. The aroma of delicious red wine immediately greets me; I breathe in deep, closing my eyes to take in the fragrance. I used to love this café. When we first moved to New York, Kate and I would come here all the time. I let out a small smile as she spots me from the corner table. “Emma!” she yells out cheerfully, disturbing the gentle atmosphere and practically jumping from her seat to embrace me. “Kate, I’ve missed you.” I grip onto her and hold back my sorrow. I’m too happy to burden this moment with sadness. I put the reason that it’s been so long since I’ve seen her in the back of my mind and concentrate on how elated we both are to be here. She holds me at arm's length to examine me and exclaims, “You look gorgeous!” I smile brightly at her while a little blush colors my skin before responding, “You look pretty damn good yourself, but then again, you always look good.”


Kate snorts, “Ha! You know that isn’t true. Half the time I look like a damn mess.” I give her an asymmetric smirk. She knows she’s hot. Bitch needs to learn to just take the damn compliment. “Catch me up. I’m dying for girl talk.” I slide into my seat as she sits opposite me, and I wait for her to begin. I’d rather she go first. God knows neither of us wants to talk about the shit I’m going through. I know it’s bound to happen, but I’m fond of the idea that if I pretend the topic won’t come up, then I’ll be safe from it. “Oh, God. I don’t even know where to start!” Her smile is slowly fading. I’m sure she’s thinking about asking me questions, but I want to enjoy talking to her before we dig into all that bullshit. Before I can ask a question to distract her, a cute-as-a-button waitress greets us. She introduces herself as Sandy and she can’t be more than eighteen, if she’s even that old. She’s a little plump with a brunette bob and cherry lipstick. “Can I start you ladies off with something to drink?” she asks in a bubbly, yet casual voice. Yeah, she’s adorable. She reminds me that I’m not so young anymore. Not just starting out in the big city to follow my dreams. All of my dreams came true, and then… Enough. Put a plug in that shit right now! “A bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon?” I look to Kate, and she nods pleasantly. It’s always been our go-to wine. The waitress nods with a smile and pivots to leave with a bounce in her step. “I’m finally getting laid again,” Kate states in a matterof-fact tone with a huge grin, exposing her perfect white teeth. I let my head fall back as I laugh. I have to give her credit. She’s never down and out for too long. No matter how shitty she felt yesterday, she’s ready and hopeful that something better will come along today. I don’t know


how she does it. I look at the happiness on her face as she rambles on about some amazing position that she’s never tried before. I wish I knew her secret. The waitress pours our glasses and gently sets the bottle down on the white tablecloth, forcing Kate to pause her graphic details for a moment. I know if we were already a bottle in, she would’ve continued describing her sexual adventure without any shame. As Sandy leaves, Kate starts in again. “I just can’t talk to him anymore,” I blurt out and interrupt. I didn’t mean to, but the words just escaped me. She looks confused at first, and then seriously focused. She’s been wanting to have this conversation ever since I told her I was leaving him. I’ve flatout refused to talk about it. I’ve refused to listen to her. Of course I suddenly bring it up after she's given up trying to sway me. I’m such a fucking mess. She nods her head, urging me to continue. “The old me would’ve told him everything. I would’ve trusted him to not judge me and to try to understand. But now,” I hesitate; her eyes watch me cautiously. I avoid her gaze and choke down the tiny bit of wine in my glass. I pour another, much fuller glass and continue, “Every time I look at him, I see the smile from when I told him I was pregnant.” I force the tears to retreat from my eyes. I don’t want to cry, and I won’t. I refuse to. “He’ll never look at me like that again.” “That’s not true, Emma. You don’t know that for sure.” Kate’s gentle hand rests on mine. “Everything will get better, you just have to try.” “I am trying.” Are you? I’m struck by the realization that I haven’t really been trying to do much of anything. Other than leave Thomas. “I know you’re getting stronger. You’re not crying as


much as you used to and you’re still seeing your shrink, but have you really tried with Thomas?” She tilts her head and gives me a look of sympathy. I seek shelter, once again, from my own response in the red liquid that fills my glass. “I mean, shit, you only started talking to me again a couple of weeks ago.” An empty pain fills my chest. It’s a feeling of guilt and betrayal. “You texted me Emma, I’m the only one you were able to tell and I couldn't do anything to help except call the cops. I felt so guilty. I don’t know what I would’ve done if you’d died. I’ve never felt so hopeless before.” “I’m sorry. I never wanted to make you feel that way, I swear.” I lean into the table. “I just wasn't ready to talk about it, but at the same time I couldn’t think about anything else.” I rub my temples and then look down at the table, letting out a sigh. “So instead I said nothing and avoided everyone. I’m so sorry, Kate.” “I wish you hadn’t.” Kate rubs gently under her eyes. She won’t cry though. She knows I’ll fall to pieces if she does. I see her transform right in front of me from an emotional wreck to a strong woman. If only I had her powers. “I will always love you. And if you forgive me, I forgive you.” “Deal.” I jump at her offer. Not that there’s anything on her end that needs to be forgiven. I so badly need her. In this moment, I’m aware at how utterly lonely I’ve been. I’ve barely spoken to anyone other than the shrink I don’t even want to see. I ignore Thomas as best as I can, and when he corners me I give him one-word answers. When he comes to see me, I push him away. And he’s yet to push back. He treats me like a wounded animal. Or like I’ll turn to ash in his hands if he so much as touches me. He’s not the Thomas I married. But I’m not the woman he married anymore either. Why should I expect him to treat


me like I am? Kate frowns as she asks, “Does Thomas know about your drinking?” I feel like she’s struck me across the face. I haven’t told anyone about my self-medicated therapy. I look at the glass in front of me, which is almost empty. It’s my third, and the bottle is now completely drained. “I’m not drinking that much.” “How much is not that much?” “Mainly just at night, just to help me sleep. And after the good doctor rips me a new one. You know?” She breathes in deep and says, “Oh, I know. You know I know.” We both chuckle. “It’s good for the short term, but you can’t rely on it.” Her words make me feel guilty as I reach for the glass. I gently pick it up, but decide to set it down and not indulge. My fingertips run down the thin glass stem. Damn it, Kate. “I know. It’s just so hard to deal with everything.” I put my elbow on the table and rest my head in my hand. I look to her for help and understanding. “It’s so hard that it can only get easier,” she says optimistically. Oh Kate, always full of wisdom. I lift the glass to my lips before mumbling, “My therapist’s advice is to love myself.” “Like masturbating?” I practically choke on the wine. “Kate! No, he was not advising me to double click my mouse.” I can’t contain the wide smile on my face. This is why I love her. I need her sense of humor. Her liveliness. “Are you sure? Men can be weird about stuff like that,” she lowers her voice and adds, “they speak in code.” I grin and reply, “I’m almost positive he was just speaking in general terms.” “So, do you love yourself?” My blank reaction causes her to revert back to humor as she says with a sly smile, “Do you love yourself all night long?” She giggles and


downs her wine. I finally submit to her comedy and give a little chuckle. Rather than confessing my sexual tendencies in the last couple of weeks, I decide to answer a bit more seriously. “I don’t know that I do love myself anymore. I feel like I don’t deserve love.” Her face morphs into one of compassion and grief and she immediately puts her glass down. “That’s so sad.” Her sorrowful eyes penetrate mine. “That’s not what I meant,” I say. I’m quick to try to relieve her unhappiness. “I meant I’m not ready to move on yet. I don’t want things to be normal, like none of this happened.” Wow, pretty quick on your feet, aren’t ya? “Why?” she asks, and her voice is hoarse with emotion. “It’s been months. You’ve tortured yourself enough.” “I don’t know. I just feel like things can’t go back to normal.” “But they can, Emma. You just have to give it a chance.” “You mean with Thomas?” I ask flatly. I want to smack the hopeful tone out of her voice. “Do you even want to be with Thomas anymore?” She gives a heavy sigh as she leans back into her seat. “You’ve moved out. You avoid him constantly. You said yourself you can’t even talk to him or look at him.” “I want to be with Thomas, but I don’t want him to be with me.” I tilt my head in confusion, mulling over the words I just spoke. Yup, you hit it dead on. “Well if you want to be with him, then you should be. And if he wants to be with you, well you know Thomas.” She raises her eyebrows and grabs her glass. Yes, I know him. And if he wants something, he’s going to get it. At least the old Thomas would.


I sit silently, contemplating what I’ve just admitted to myself. I’m pretty sure I already knew it, but I haven’t said it out loud, not without Dr. Koler prying it out of me. I want to be with Thomas, but I know he deserves better. Kate’s inability to refrain from acting a fool surfaces and she starts to sing a popular country song in a sweet voice. Her head bobs a bit and she closes her eyes as she continues. Kate does her best to get into it as she finishes the chorus. She opens her eyes wide and nods her head asking in her peppiest voice, “What do you think?” I giggle and ask, “A little Gary Allan to pick me up?” As I take a sip of wine, I see a rather gorgeous man wide eyed and staring at us. Ha! Kate often forgets that other people exist when we’re out in public. I cough up a bit of my wine and practically snort. “I think you have a fan.” I nod my head in the direction of the gawking groupie, and Kate immediately blushes. She clings to her wine glass with both hands and raises her shoulders to shield herself from the onlooker. “Oh shit. I’m not looking.” I’ve never seen her cheeks get so red. We both giggle into our wine glasses. “So, my new beau likes my voice.” I grin as she changes the subject. Oh yeah. Before I so rudely cut her off, she was telling me about this new guy. “So who is this tone-deaf bastard?” I can’t help but give her a full-on grin. “Jason… that security guy,” she replies, then bites her bottom lip. “Nuh-uh!” I slam my hands down on the table in shock and stare back at her. My widened eyes and raised eyebrows can’t hide my surprise. “Are you serious?” She nods her head while exposing her pearly whites.


I’m in complete shock. Thomas hired security guards for her after Lillian broke into her house. Apparently one of them left an impression.“What does he look like?” I never really got a good look at either of them. I’m sure he’s talk, dark, and handsome. Just her type. I don’t know why that’s the first question that comes to mind when there are a million others probing at my memory. She told me they heard the whole thing, right? The fight she had with her asshole ex. And the sex just before the fight. It's really fucking awkward that her current boyfriend heard her have sex with another man. Maybe he’s into that. I smack my curiosity away as she pulls her phone out of her purse. “Here we are a couple of days ago.” It’s a cute picture of her a rather handsome man on the cheek. He looks pleasantly surprised. Jason has blond beachy hair and steely grey eyes. I bet she tugs on that hair during sex. “So you guys are a couple?” “I don’t know if I would say that. I’m trying to take things slow and not push him away.” I laugh on the inside. She says that, yet she has pictures of them together on her phone. Oh Kate. I give her a small smile. I don’t think Kate knows the definition of taking things slow. “He’s really cute,” I say and Kate shrieks with excitement at my acknowledgment that her new man is in fact a delight on the eyes. I can’t hold in my laughter any longer. “We have to do a double date.” Oh Kate. I smile into the wineglass and agree with a nod of my head as I take a sip. Double date? My smile fades, but before Kate can realize I lift the glass yet again and sip my medication. I can’t believe she fucking said that.


TWO HOURS LATER, the wine is really hitting me. I have a nice warm feeling low in my belly, and my cheeks are sore from smiling so much. Kate and I have moved beyond giggling to full-scale assaults with our laughter. After a few minutes of catching our breath, Kate guzzles down the remainder of her glass. “Alright, make sure no one steals my purse.” I smile up at her and nod slightly while simultaneously trying to sip my wine. Not the best idea, but I’m able to stop the wine dripping from the corner of my mouth. She giggles a little and shakes her head as she walks off. She’s ready to go; I’m not. She has a snazzy apartment decorated to her heart’s desire and a rather handsome new love interest. Not me. My heart hurts as I think about my empty apartment and unopened boxes, but then I shake the thought aside. I’ve had such a great night. I’m not going to ruin it by wallowing in my selffulfilled sadness. I want more nights like this; I truly do want to be happy. I just don’t know if I could have that with Thomas. His gorgeous face reminds me of everything horrid. The last drops of wine from my glass taste especially bitter. Maybe I’ll finally unpack those boxes tonight. That’ll keep me busy. I look over to my right and spot the handsome gentleman who had the unfortunate displeasure of hearing Kate sing earlier. I eye his physique. He’s rather good looking. I drink him in, imagining how his body might feel against mine. I bet he’s rather dominant in bed, but then again I tend to assume every man with broad shoulders and dark features is a beast in the sack. His hair is just long enough to tug while his head bobs between my legs. I cross my legs as the warmth settles between them. As my eyes move from his body to his face, I realize


he’s staring me down with an eager grin. Shit, shit, shit. My face heats with embarrassment. I feel like such a fucking idiot. I gulp some water and glance back in his direction. He shoots me a sexy look and smiles. Holy shit. It feels so invigorating to flirt, dangerously invigorating. I put my hand up, resting my head on my fist to hide the dumb smile on my face and try to compose myself before Kate returns. What the hell am I doing anyway? I’m still married, even though I don’t know if I can live with him. And right now I’m literally not living with him. My schoolgirl mindset is replaced with the daunting realization that my marriage is nothing like a marriage at all. Nothing like what our marriage used to be. My smile fades quickly, as does the color in my cheeks. Kate returns, looking more than a bit tipsy, and I do my best to hide both the flirtatious actions and depressing thoughts that are currently suffocating my previous happiness. “Jason just called. He’s gonna meet me at my place soon.” Her grin is contagious. Her happiness makes me feel warm all over, and I'm so excited for her. “I hope you don’t have granny panties on,” I say humorously. Her mouth gapes a bit in response, and I can’t help but burst into laughter. “You aren’t, are you?” I ask in disbelief. She’s such a gorgeous girl, why would she ever wear granny panties? “Today was laundry day.” Her smile returns and she responds playfully, “I only had like two pairs of underwear left. And they’re not really granny style, just a little old and…” she pauses and gets an embarrassed glow to her cheeks, “holey.” Laughter bubbles out between my lips. “Don’t judge me,” she admonishes me, but smiles anyway.


“As if I could judge. Thomas threw out the majority of my underwear when I moved in with him.” I keep a smile on my face even though the reminder of such a funny and happy memory with Thomas makes me sad. She gathers up her clutch and stands as she says, “Well, I need to get going so I can get myself ready.” “Alright love, I’m going to sit here a bit longer and try to sober up before I head back to the apartment.” “Do you want me to stay with you?” There’s a bit of concern in her voice. “No, don’t be silly.” I smile up at her and joke, “You have a serious emergency you need to attend to.” She rolls her eyes and gently hits me with her studded leather clutch before leaning down to give me a small hug. She totters a little on her heels. “I’m glad we were able to catch up. I’ll call you tomorrow to let you know how tonight goes.” Leaving like this reminds me of how we used to be. We would never leave each other without making arrangements for a night out or a phone date. “I’ve missed you, Kate. Thanks for coming out with me. I’m lucky to have a friend like you.” “Of course! I’ll talk to you tomorrow, hon. If you decide you want a ride just text me, 'kay?” I nod with a small smile and say, “I’ll be fine.” I watch her leave and give her a wave when she looks back at me over her shoulder. Oh, Kate. I’ve missed her so much. But it’s my own damn fault. I’m the one who pushed everyone away. Thomas, Kate, and even my mom. I should call her. I know I should. But what would I say? “Hey Mom, sorry I've been avoiding you. I’m feeling a little better now if you wanna talk about anything other than my life.” Yeah, I’m sure that conversation would go over well. Plus I’d be lying if I said everything was okay.


Honestly, I’d be lying if I said I wanted to talk to her. I don’t mind spilling my guts to Kate. She’s never judged me before. My mom, on the other hand…


CHAPTER 21

my cardigan and clutch to leave, debating A s I gather on what I should say to my mother when I eventually call her, I hear a man clear his throat. Slightly startled, I turn around and I can’t help but smile at such a gorgeous sight.“I noticed your friend left you all alone over here.” Oh my. His voice is so deep and strong. Masculine and confident. Half of me feels an urge to yell out that I’m married. But the other half seems to be winning out as I find myself shielding my wedding band from his sight. What the hell am I doing? I’m too busy silently scolding and fighting with myself to actually respond. “Are you alright?” he asks with a bit of concern in his voice, as well as a hint of humor. His lopsided grin makes me smile. Okay, he’s hot. “I’m fine,” I say and lick my bottom lip and push a bit of fallen hair away from my face. “I’m just a bit tipsy.” He nods and closes his eyes for a prolonged second. “Would you like me to call a cab for you?” What a gentleman. The surprise must show on my face, causing him to laugh a little. “I live close. I can just walk.” Ugh. I probably shouldn’t


have said that. What if he’s a real creeper? “I’m walking, too; do you mind if I walk you home? I don’t think you’re in the best state to walk this late at night by yourself.” Jesus, he sounds like Thomas. Only Thomas would have demanded, not asked. I shake that thought off immediately. I don’t need Thomas right now. I don’t want Thomas. Do I? I think a little Thomas is exactly what you need… not that he's little. “I can walk by myself. I’m fine,” I say with a small smile to the table, seeing as how I don’t have the balls to look this sexy man in the face while I turn him down. I soften a bit and even feel a sense of guilt when I look up at his puppy dog face. Well, that’s not like Thomas at all, at least not like the old Thomas. Not like my Thomas. “Okay, how about I don’t walk you home? Instead we just happen to walk separately, but side by side in the same general direction.” He ends his suggestion with a small sexy grin and bites his bottom lip. I instantly feel wet. What is this guy doing to me? Before I can respond he asks, “Which way is home for you?” “Across the street and to the left,” I respond once again without thinking. Damn my big mouth. “Perfect, it’s the exact opposite direction.” I laugh at his flirtatious response. Truthful or not, he’s cute. And funny. His faded jeans hug his legs just right, giving me an idea of just how muscular he is. I blush a bit as my mind starts to wander. This is dangerous territory. “You really don’t need to walk me,” I say and look at him with a playful smile, shaking my head slightly. I know I should turn him down completely and tell him I’m married, but I’m enjoying his attention way too much. Thomas would give me this attention. But not as a forward, dominant man. He would coddle me, afraid of what I’m thinking and nervous that I’m unhappy. And who


could blame him? Even I’m afraid of what I’m thinking. But this guy, he doesn’t know a damn thing about me. “It’s not about need, it’s about want,” he says in a low, sensual voice as his eyes pierce into me. My lower half disagrees with him. It most certainly is about need. I feel a warm pulse between my legs. I rub my thighs against each other nervously, enjoying the low heated wanting that’s mounting with each second. I know this is wrong. I’ve never done anything like it before. But I’m a little drunk. It can’t hurt for him to walk with me. Yes it can, and you know it. I bite my lip in an effort to silence my self-righteous conscience. It’s been so long since I’ve been touched. Thomas came to the apartment the week I moved in. I caved to him because I missed him. I missed his body, his touch, his warmth. It all felt so right. He had me pinned against the wall in the kitchen, his firm and strong body against mine. My legs were wrapped around his hips. As he brutally kissed my lips and moved to nip at my neck, he started to say it. But he stopped himself. He was going to say, “I love you.” I know he was. But he stopped. It hit me then that the distance between us was growing. I didn’t want him to love me anymore, and moving out had pushed him away. Enough so that he hesitated to tell me he loved me. I shoved him away, and told him to stop. I sank on shaking legs down to the floor screaming at him to leave like the crazy person I was. He stood there naked and confused while I was huddled on the floor crying. He just kept apologizing and asking if I was hurt. I wanted to hit him, and actually I think I may have, but I don’t remember. I shake my head at the memory. “Well, I’m tired of arguing and it’s getting late.” I cross my arms over my chest and hold my purse close. “Are you ready to go?” I ask in my most serious attempt at a


sober tone while I look into his gorgeous brown eyes. I think I’m successful. He smiles and holds back his laughter as he replies, “I believe I am.” I nod my head and step in front of him, leading him toward the door. I feel a knot deep in the pit of my stomach, trying to ground me. It's telling me this isn’t right, that I’m going to regret it. But at the same time, just hearing his footprints behind me I imagine him taking me from behind. No judgment, no strings attached. Just a good hard fuck. Yes, that’s what I want. That’s what I need. The thought is such a turn-on I can’t help to indulge a little. I don’t actually want to sleep with him though. The realization makes me almost stop in my tracks. Of course I don’t want to sleep with him. I’m just turned on by the thought of him taking me. I instantly feel as though I'm playing with fire. I need to end it now. I open my mouth to speak, but he cuts me off as we cross the street. “I noticed you’re married.” My stomach twists in response to his words. “Yes. Married. I guess.” The words fall out in a staccato with little energy or happiness. I guess? I shake my head and say, “Yes, I’m married. I’m sorry.” I come to a standstill as we reach the sidewalk. “I should’ve said something earlier.” I’m caught off guard when he laughs. “No worries, Mrs.?” “Emma.” I’m short in my response, and I feel that familiar heat in my cheeks. There’s no way I’m giving him my last name. “Okay Emma, so how far down is your place?” “You still want to walk with me?” I ask curiously. Does he still want to sleep with me? Did he ever? Maybe he really was just trying to be a gentleman. “It's just a few


buildings down.” He nods, giving me a shy smile and we begin to walk again. In the silence, I concentrate on listening to my heels clack on the pavement. I don’t know what to say. I wish I knew what he was thinking. Not what he thinks of me, I just want to know what his intentions are. “So your husband is alright with you walking on your own at night, drunk?” His brow furrows as he asks, searching my face for an answer. I look at him with surprise. What is this guy’s game? And no, he would not be okay with it at all. But then again, he doesn’t know. I don’t know what exactly I should say in response. I let out a heavy sigh. “I don’t mean to pry,” he adds and clears his throat, looking straight ahead. “I didn’t mean to offend you.” I shake my head again and say, “I’m not offended. It’s just complicated.” “Tell me about it. It’s always complicated.” I laugh. “Is that funny?” he asks with a wry grin. “I’m sorry. It’s just easier to laugh than to cry, I suppose.” I shock myself with my honesty, and it's enough to cause my steps to falter. I lodge a heel in a crack between the slabs of concrete and let out a yelp as I trip. As I brace myself to hit the hard ground, I feel his strong arm wrap around my lower back as he stops me from falling. I open my eyes and catch my breath as our eyes lock. My thighs clench again, and I feel an intense rush of wetness and heat return between them with a vengeance. I let out a deep breath, trying to resist the urge to touch my lips to his. He gently positions me firmly back on the ground. I shake a bit as I catch my breath. I feel so foolish. I have no idea what I’m doing. How could I possibly want this? “I think you might be a bit more drunk than you think.”


I clear my throat and utter in a small voice, “You might be right.” My desire gets the best of me as my pleading eyes search his. “Maybe I could blame it on that.” His breathing quickens, and a low, sensual grunt escapes his throat. I turn quickly, avoiding his gaze and continue to walk. My apartment is close. I don’t know what I want to do. Despite my drunkenness, one thing is clear. If I really want to push Thomas away, this is the way to do it. Thomas would never forgive me. I feel a swell of tears in my eyes and I swallow hard, doing my best to push them back. I need to make up my mind. Here’s my way out. He will leave me. And my body aches to be touched. As though he reads my mind, he reaches around my lower back and gently grazes my backside. His touch sends shivers down my back. I close my eyes, taking in my throbbing need, but when I open them, every warm feeling turns to ice and a sickening ball of guilt fills my throat. Thomas is standing at the apartment door, staring us down with a murderous look on his face.


CHAPTER 22

stop short, not taking my eyes off of Thomas. His jaw is Iclenched, and his hands are balled into fists. Of course he’s here. He’s come to see me every night this week and last. Each time I sent him away after he asked the same questions. Do I need anything? How am I feeling? Do I want to talk? Nope, shitty, nope. Those are easy to answer. I gave him as little as possible and asked him to go, to give me time. He’s always respected my wishes and given me space, even if he doesn’t want to comply. But right now, with that look in his eyes, it's clear he’s not going anywhere and he sure as hell isn’t going to give me space. How could I forget? Did you forget? Didn’t you want this? The hand on my backside is no longer there. The unnamed man to my right seems to have picked up on the situation rather quickly. Run, you poor bastard, run! My inner bitch giggles. You didn’t even get his name. As Thomas begins to walk toward us slowly, as though his moves are calculated, I break his gaze and stare at the ground. My feet are firmly rooted in place, and I’m not quite sure I’m breathing. I’ve never seen him


so angry, at least not toward me. I’m more terrified than saddened. What have I done? I don’t know what emotion is written on my face. I don’t know what he sees when he looks at me. Sure as hell not what he wants to see. “I’ll take her from here.” Thomas’ voice is firm and unforgiving. I can see from my periphery that the man, who I may or may not have been about to sleep with, takes a look at me, but I don’t respond. I just stare at the ground and back up to those angry-as-fuck blue eyes. After a moment, one long moment of awkward silence and thick tension, he nods his head and turns on his heels. I hear him walk off with a much quicker pace than he had walking me to the apartment as Thomas steps closer to me. His body nearly touches mine as he stands in front of me. I don’t say anything, and nothing I’m thinking moves past my lips. Maybe it’s because my thoughts are scrambled. One second I think, This is good, he’s going to end it. But then I’m screaming in my head, Fuck! He’s going to end it. The only thing I could say that I’m sure would be entirely truthful is that I’m a complete fucking mess and I’m so damned sorry for hurting him. Not just now, but all the pain of the last few months. Thomas leans in so close I can feel his hot breath on my neck and he whispers harshly, “Do you hate me that much?” My body begins to heave, and I feel as though I’ve cracked. Avoiding his gaze, I stare down at our shoes, attempting to muster a response. I swallow hard and part my lips, but nothing comes out. My burgundy heels look so small next to his black leather dress shoes. He’s still wearing his suit, so he must’ve come straight from work. It’s perfectly tailored for him, accentuating his muscular


body. My voice apparently no longer works as I can only utter small croaks. I decide to shake my head no instead. Tears fall helplessly down my face. It’s time for me to end it. To tell him he can’t be with me. I tilt my head up to meet his gaze, and the look on his face makes my knees tremble. It’s as if he already knows what I'm going to say. My hearts warps into a painful knot, and my body feels fevered. I feel like I may vomit an entire bottle of wine onto the curb. Correction. Bottles. “Inside,” he commands in a low, seething voice. His hand moves to the small of my back and firmly moves me toward the door. He’s not gentle at all. His strength takes me by surprise. I stare at the ground as we move, concentrating on not tripping and falling. He punches in the security code to the building and guides me into the hallway. I move to take out my keys from my purse, but Thomas motions for me not to and takes out a set of keys instead. I snort, of course he has copies. So much for my apartment. It’s freezing cold. I’m so tired of the cold. There’s hardly any light coming in from the windows, but I don’t bother with the light switch. I just walk slowly to the sofa and sit down on the edge. I hear Thomas toss his keys onto the table and then the lights turn on. He takes a seat at a dining room chair across the room. His broad body dwarfs the furniture as anger surrounds him. The silence is killing me, but I don’t know how to say what's on my mind. I’m not even entirely sure what it is that I want to say. I need more time to think, and less alcohol. Or more alcohol. I don’t know which would be better. I look down at my hands in my lap and decide to submit to my emotions. I lean back into the cushions, fully aware that I'm making myself vulnerable to him. I look into his


sad blue eyes and let my tears fall. “I don’t want you to be with me anymore.” The words escape in a single breath. It’s louder than a whisper, but not by much. “That’s irrelevant.” His voice is strong. “I want to be with you, and you want to be with me.” He hesitates, waiting for me to respond. “Tell me if I’m wrong.” I can’t answer him, so I avoid the question. “Every time I look at you,” I begin but my voice breaks, “You remind me of everything.” I take in a quick breath and sob, “It will never be the same, Thomas.” He walks over calmly and sits down beside me. It knocks me off balance. He should be angry, especially given what happened tonight. I know I should push him away, more for his sake than mine, but his comforting touch soothes me. “We just need time. You need to spend time with me, so I can make you laugh again. I can make you happy again.” “It’s not your job to make me happy.” “Yes it is,” he practically yells at me. “You’re my wife!” His stern response makes me jump and pull away from him. He shifts in his seat, working to rein in his emotions yet again. “Were you going to sleep with him?” he asks in almost too calm of a voice. I wipe my eyes with the back of my hand, smearing mascara everywhere. “I don’t know,” I answer with regret and sorrow, but also honesty. I hear his breathing hitch. “If you want to be with someone else, you should take off your rings.” His response is cold. What did you expect? I move my right hand over my left and twist at my rings. Both my hands shake. I love him so much, but he needs me to do this. He needs me to let him go. Does


he? He's a grown man, and he knows what he needs. What he needs is a faithful wife! I shut my eyes as I slide the rings off and hold them for a moment. Salty tears sting my eyes, but I force them open and steady my breathing. I hold my hand out for him to take them. I’ve done it. Finally, I’m letting him go. “Are you doing this because you want to be with someone else? You want to be with him?” I squint and tilt my head. I’m confused. I expected him to accept the rings and storm off. Or cry, depending on which Thomas is sitting with me right now, the old one or the broken one I’ve created. I shake my head and wipe at my tears. “So you just don’t want to be with me anymore?” My insides feel hollow as my heart sinks even deeper, robbing me of my breath. It feels like he’s punching me in the stomach with every question he asks. I wish he would just take the damn rings. No you don’t. You want him to fight for you. You desperately want him to keep loving you. Again I shake my head, unable to speak. Am I shaking my head at myself or in response to his question? I’m so confused. “I don’t understand, Emma,” he says and gives a deep, agitated sigh. “Why the fuck are you giving me your rings?” “I’m no good for you.” His eyes flare as he speaks with authority. “I’ll decide what’s good for me!” Those blue eyes pierce mine. I try to push the rings into his hand but he pulls away, jumping off the sofa and staring at me as though I’ve lost my mind. You have; you’ve lost everything. “I don’t deserve you,” I whimper. I collapse, pulling my legs into my chest, covering my face. After a moment, Thomas sits next to me once again. I hear him and feel the cushion beside me sink rather than


see him. His hand moves along my back, gently massaging me. I wish he would make this easier. I wish he would just leave me. “Emma, listen to me.” Please make this as painless as possible. “You deserve what I give you.” He lowers his voice and adds, “Nothing more, and nothing less.” I bite my lip. That’s not it, that’s not what I wanted him to say. He’s not going to make it easy. I look at him defiantly. “I left you there,” he says haltingly, then breaks eye contact. For a moment, he looks at his shoes and readjusts himself. I don’t want to talk about it. There, where it all happened. In a place that used to be home. The place where I became a murderer. He looks back at me with one elbow on his knee, hand supporting his head. He looks gorgeous, even with the way he's clenching his jaw. He has just the right amount of stubble. I wipe my eyes and wait for him to continue. I shift a little, leaning toward him and warming my body with his heat. I feel drawn to him. I can’t help myself. But I don’t want this. Yes, you do. Correction, I don’t want him to want this, but I give into him. “I thought you were safe. I underestimated everything. What happened is my fault.” I swallow hard and try to speak, but he cuts me off. “Don’t you dare say a fucking word.” His eyes warn me to obey. “You need to stop all of this.” He sounds exasperated, and I immediately feel childish and guilty. He looks around the apartment, running his hands through his hair. There’s a moment of silence as I realize he’s not going to leave me. He must be some kind of masochist. Still, I can’t help but feel a bit of relief. He’s not going to leave me, at least not tonight. “I promise to have as much passion as I have respect for you. I promise to put your needs and desires above my own,” he says then hesitates and looks at me. He's


reciting our vows. This is like a dagger to my heart. I burst into tears and he cradles my head in my hands and touches his nose to mine as he continues. “I promise to be faithful to you, and to love you always.” Pain fills my chest. “My vows to you, and your vows to me.” He gently takes my hand in both of his and I slowly uncurl my fingers, allowing him access to the rings. I don’t want to let him have them. I want to put them back on my finger. I think about getting down on my knees and begging him to forgive me. But I’m numb with sadness. How could I have let this get so bad? He holds the rings between his index finger and thumb, letting them clink together and his eyes are fixated on them. I wish I knew what he was thinking. Before I can think about what I’m doing, I grab his hands in mine and repeat his words, “I promise to have as much passion as I have respect for you.” His blue eyes look into mine, and they're filled with tears. “I promise to put your needs and desires above my own. I promise to be faithful to you, and to love you always.” He takes my head in his hands and kisses me passionately, bruising my lips. His hot breath and wet tongue fill my mouth. He shifts and leans his weight against me, pushing me into the cushions. He pulls back, sucking in my bottom lip and biting it tenderly. “I love you so fucking much,” Thomas says in a low voice while pulling me in closer. “I’ve wronged you as a husband.” I pull away from him in confusion. With the alcohol, I must have misheard him. I stare back at him and his eyes are full of regret. “I’m-” I shake my head and begin to speak, but he interrupts me. His voice is sultry and full of need. “I never should


have let you forget that you're mine,” he says as his gaze follows his fingers, which trail down my throat and between my breasts. I feel relieved and vibrant at his words. I feel a small smile form on my lips and the heat of a blush on my cheeks. My Thomas. This is my Thomas. “I’m going to fuck you so hard that you'll never think of another man's touch again.” My mouth parts, and my eyes slightly widen in shock. That look on his face is so sexy. Oh, yes. I love it when he looks at me with those eyes. “Beg for it,” he commands me as he pushes his body on top of mine, making me fall onto the sofa. He spreads my thighs apart with his knees as he lifts my dress above my head. “I said beg for it.” This side of him, this demanding sex god, makes me quiver. I need him. I love him. And I need him to love me. “Please, Thomas. Please forgive me.” The words escape before I know what I’ve said. “Forgive me for everything.” The plea falls helplessly and lifelessly from my panting lips. He pulls back slightly. I’ve caught him off guard made him unhappy. No, no, I don’t want to ruin this. I need him. Before I can ruin the moment any more I reach up and grab his head in my hands, pulling his lips to mine. I gently suck on his bottom lip and rock my body against his. My clit brushes back and forth against the buckle on his pants. He moves his hands to my back and slowly moves down caressing the curves of my waist. When he gets to my panties, he doesn’t hesitate to pull at the lace. His strong fingers easily rip them. But as he grips the fabric in his hands, he rests his forehead on mine. He’s hesitating. No, no. Please, I need you to have me. I need


you to take me. I close my eyes tight and hold my breath. After a moment he sits up and moves one hand along my thigh, then kisses the skin just above my knee. His fingers continue to trail up to my ripped panties. He moves the fabric out of his way and looks down at my body. I’m still fully naked with the exception of my bra, but he quickly changes that. He unhooks my bra, kissing my shoulder as he removes the last article of clothing I have to shield my body from his prying eyes. He’s so gentle. Too gentle. And his eyes are devoid of the heat that was there a moment ago. He’s not smiling, and instead his lips form a bit of a frown as he narrows his eyes. The passion is gone. He looks as though he’s studying my body, not wanting to ravish it. The reality is that I’m drunk, lying naked on my sofa, in an apartment I’ve chosen to live in after moving out of my home, away from my loving husband. He’s only inside the apartment because he watched a different man touch me, and I let him. Because I wanted that stranger to do more than just put his hands on me. I’ve ruined the little bit of passion that was left in my marriage. I’ve betrayed him, and I’ve betrayed myself. This pity party has ruined me, and now it’s ruined my marriage. I move my arm to cover my breasts and hide myself from him, but Thomas pushes my arm away and pins it above my head. As he turns his body I feel his erection. He does want me. Lucky bitch. A pulse of heat shoots through me. Then why is he taking his time? He kisses my neck, just below my ear and then releases my arm. I keep it there, right where he left it. I wouldn’t dare move. I’ve learned better. He runs his nose down my neck to my chest. His hot breath makes my nipples harden and my pussy wet. “We’ll discuss forgiveness another time,” he says as


he kisses my chest then looks up at me with those piercing blue eyes. “Right now, there’s something I need to address.” I gasp as his hand penetrates me with two fingers in my slick pussy and his thumb pressing hard on my clit. He keeps eye contact with me as my breathing quickens. I want to throw my head back and moan, but his other hand wraps around my throat with his thumb in my mouth. I bite down hard and moan between my teeth. “Is this just for me? Or did you let it get wet for another man?” His eyes are narrowed; he looks pissed. Good God, I can’t tell him the truth. He removes his fingers and rubs the tips on my bottom lip. I obediently part my lips and suck, tasting my sweet and salty arousal. He moans as I close my eyes, licking his fingers clean. “Just for you,” I murmur softly. Smack! His hand comes down hard on my clit and then quickly reenters me with force, causing my back to arch. I throw my head back and let out a loud moan. My clit is swollen with lust and pleasure. His hand moves from my throat as he grabs the hair at the back of my head and forces me to look at him. His eyes – the passion is back. My Thomas, I’ve missed you. I bite my lip with anticipation and keep staring at those heated, obsessive blue eyes that penetrate mine. I am his, and he intends to keep it that way. My heart swells. “I’m so fucking tired of you lying to me.” The anger in his voice is evident as he plants a possessive kiss on my mouth, scraping his teeth against my soft lips and biting them. “You. Are. Mine,” he growls as his fingers rake across the sweet spot of my front wall. “I’m yours,” I pant as I feel my seductive side take


over. He responds with a wicked smile. He lowers his mouth to my breast, sucking on it and biting the nipple, leaving his marks across my chest. All the while he rubs my clit and caresses the sweet spot within my pussy. My body rocks with his motions, and my hands dig into the cushion. I throw my head back as my orgasm approaches, exposing my throat. He seizes the opportunity to nip at it, biting down on my sensitive skin. As I feel my pussy begin to pulse, he removes his hand completely and stops playing with my breasts. “No. I say when.” His voice is hard and demands total obedience. I gasp at the denial and attempt to push my legs together in either protest or an effort to find release, I don’t know which. His strong arms pin them back, keeping me exposed to him. Punishment. He’s punishing me. Fuck. “Please, Thomas!” I scream out my desire for him. “Please what?” he asks calmly. Way too calmly. My heart races, and my body throbs for him. I catch my breath. “Please take me, please fuck me.” I stare into his eyes, panting with my lips parted. Begging. This is what he wants. No, this is what he needs. Yes! “Please show me I’m yours.” He growls his approval as he stares at my glistening entrance and then smacks my swollen clit again and again. He makes short strokes with the back of one hand while the other works to release his cock, which is fully hard and straining against the grey fabric of his pants. The hot, stinging sensation sends both pain and pleasure shooting through me, bringing me close to the edge yet again. My body squirms to get away, but he holds me down with his knee on my hip. I’m helpless.


The sensation is overwhelming and it’s close to being too much. Just as I'm about to tell him it's too much, he groans and enters me in a single stroke, hard and fast. He fucks me while I lie there completely at his mercy. He lifts my legs straight into the air and pushes them together, swinging my ankles over his right shoulder and holds them there with his arm. He leans his body deep into me. “Oh, fuck,” he moans out. He’s slamming into me over and over. I’m on the brink of being in too much pain. I feel an urge to yell out for him to stop, but I suppress it. God, it feels so good! I want him to stop, but at the same time I need more. He runs his teeth along my calf and bites down just below my ankle. The sensation is intense, and my legs shake. Thomas swiftly wraps my legs around his hips without breaking his rhythm. My legs continue to tremble, and the tremors travel up my body. He crushes his lips against mine, and his hot tongue enters my mouth. I wrap my arms around his broad shoulders and bury my head in his neck, gasping for air and my release. I don’t know how much more I can take. His breathing quickens, and I know he’s close. With one final powerful thrust, we find our release together, both of us moaning loudly. I feel myself clench around him as hot spurts of his seed coat me. Exhausted and sated, I relax in his arms as he kisses my hair. As I drift off to sleep, he leans in and whispers, “Don’t you ever take your rings off again.” My heart stutters and I want to beg for him to stay like this. To always be my domineering and alpha Thomas, but my exhaustion wins out as I close my eyes in the comfort of his touch.


CHAPTER 23

wake up without tears clouding my eyes for a change. IThere’s also no empty feeling collapsing my chest, making it difficult to breathe. Instead, there's just a sense of happiness, peace, and ease. I feel so warm and relaxed, and a bit sore in all the right places. Oh yes, now I remember. I give a small smile as I let out a gentle sigh and roll over to snuggle with my Thomas, to embrace him as his wife. But my hand falls onto cold flat sheets. Alarmed,, I sit straight up and study the bed. No sign of Thomas, and my smile fades. I close my eyes and remember last night. Damn, my head is pounding. I’ve dreamed of his touch almost every night. Was that all it was, a tempting break from reality in my sleep? I clench my thighs, and I definitely ache. That was no dream. I feel like we had such a breakthrough last night, even if I did make a complete fool of myself. I was going to push him away by cheating on him. My head falls into my hands, and my heart falters. I seem to recall Thomas forgiving me though. He did forgive me, didn’t he? Fuck, what did I do? How could he have forgiven such a disgrace to his


marriage? How could I forgive myself? It’s time for you to start forgiving and move the fuck on. I do need to let things go. That’s what I realized last night. I rub my eyes and look down at my hands. They’re covered in black mascara. I’m sure I was a complete mess when he left. I must look horrible. And last night I was so drunk. I was a stumbling fool. I begin to cry, but stop myself. I won’t cry over my own stupid decisions. I’m the one who fucked this up. Last night Thomas was the man I want, and the man I desperately need. But now he’s gone. Did he change his mind? I remember speaking our vows. Faithful. I have no idea how to make this right. But he does want me, and I want him. I have to make this right. I fill with energy, albeit hungover energy, and stagger off the bed. I almost trip as my ankle catches the sheets. I grab my phone from my purse to see what time it is. I don’t even have a clock in this damned apartment. It’s only 7 a.m. I wonder how long Thomas has been gone. When did he decide to leave? I shake my head and take a deep breath. Last night was a huge step forward, at least for me. I don’t know why he left, but I’m sure he had work to do. That’s a lie. I have no idea whether or not he had work, but I hope that it’s the truth. I look on the nightstand for a note, but there's nothing. He used to leave little notes in the morning if he had to leave me and didn’t want to wake me. There is nothing but my wedding rings. I let the hurt in my chest settle before I quickly grab them and shove them onto my finger. They’re so cold. I feel a sense of panic start to come over me, but I will it to stop. Thomas put them there. He put them on the nightstand, not on my hand. I struggle to calm my erratic breathing. Everything is fine; just get your ass up and out of bed.


I GRAB my favorite mug from the dishwasher. It was a gift from my mom, and has a pink plaid design with owls on it. As I fill it with water and put it in the microwave, I realize I’m surprised I’ve been using it. I don’t have anything else sentimental out at all. I didn’t even bring my favorite PJs that Thomas got me. Or the earrings from our rehearsal dinner. I lean my back against the countertop and listen as the microwave beeps. I wore those earrings nearly every day when we were together. I really have been punishing myself. My throat goes dry. Fucking Koler was right. I turn around and take the mug out, placing it on the counter. I open the cabinet and stare at the empty box of Lipton tea bags. Motherfucker. I slam the door shut and wince. The noise gives me a headache. Ugh, I don’t need this right now, not a hangover. Well, I guess I’m in for a world of bad karma. Huh, you have a shitton coming your way. I dump the hot water into the sink. I’ll just pick up some coffee from the Dunkin' Donuts that’s next to Dr. Koler’s office. Medium, iced French vanilla with cream and sugar. It’s been my go-to coffee since college. I smile at the thought. I stretch my arms far above my head before heading to the bathroom. I stop short as I suddenly remember what he said. “We’ll discuss forgiveness another time.” I breathe in slowly, closing my eyes. Please forgive me, Thomas. It took me nearly losing him to realize I do want him. No, I need him. I need the old him. I need my Thomas.

I JUST BARELY MAKE IT to Dr. Koler’s office on time at 8:59


a.m. Beads of water drip down the plastic cup in my hand; I have to resist the urge to shake them off. I need caffeine badly. I took a few Advil before I left, but I still have an unrelenting pounding in my temples. And by pounding I mean a sharp, unwelcome pain that’s nearly debilitating. I hope it’s just from lack of caffeine and that it’s not actually a hangover… or the karma that I deserve. You deserve more than a headache. I shake my head. I want to be able to pull myself together today. Sulking and wanting to bury my head in the ground could hinder that. I take a large gulp of my coffee as I open the heavy door to his building. Hazelnut. Damn it. Seriously? I shake my head and let out a frustrated breath. I was looking forward to my addiction – French vanilla. I take another gulp. Whatever, I need the caffeine anyway. I walk quickly down the hall to the receptionist, giving her a small nod and polite smile as I approach. She's a pretty brunette in a gorgeous satin blouse. She instantly makes me feel jealous. Or at least like I want to see my hairdresser and go shopping. She must spend forever getting those soft curls to look just right. The coppery waves fall over her shoulder and bounce as she gets up from her seat. I bet she doesn’t even touch them all day. She was here last time, and the time before that. “You’re looking well today, Mrs. Grant. He’s all set for you,” she says with a smile. I smile back, say a small thank you and continue on my path. I didn’t even slow down. I don’t have time to chat. Even though I do want to ask her about her hair. I finally get to his office door, and it’s open. “Good morning, Mrs. Grant.” Dr. Koler greets me with a seemingly forced smile. I wonder if he’s annoyed that I wasn’t early, but I don’t really give a damn if he is or not.


I walk in and gently sit down in the chair facing him. I wince as I sit. I’m so fucking sore. I forgot about that. I adjust in my seat and work on keeping my expression neutral, as if to say, “No I’m not wincing in pain due to a night of rough sex with my husband – I’m just getting comfy.” Husband. Again I sigh and do my best to brush the pressing emotions aside. I need to just spit it all out and figure my shit out. Here we go. “I really need to talk today.” I toss my purse onto the floor carelessly and hold onto my coffee with both hands. When I look at Dr. Koler, his expression is one of a knowing man. I’ve seen plenty of those expressions before. What does the good doctor know that I don’t? “Have you not been talking in the sessions we’ve had up to this one?” I snort at his response. Oh come on, Dr. Koler. You’re smarter than that. I shrug off his question. There’s a big difference between talking and just saying shit, and I don’t feel like discussing that difference right now. “Emma, I’m aware that you’ve been holding back. But I assure you, you’ve made tremendous progress. Whatever epiphany you’ve had since our last visit may propel you forward in your recovery, and it makes me very happy to see you opening up.” He holds up his finger as he continues, “But don’t discount all of the work you’ve been doing over these past few months.” He looks at me as he searches my face for a reaction. I give him a questioning look back, taking in what he’s said. Maybe I’ve made some progress, small steps toward not loathing my own existence, but nothing like this. I want something. I want my fucking life back. I breathe in deep, feeling the stiffness of my shoulders. “Please continue. I’m very intrigued to know what you want to talk about.” I shake off my hesitation and just dive


right into it as he leans back in his chair, notepad in his lap. I sigh and put my coffee down to rub my forehead, and I welcome the refreshing cool touch of my hand. “I get what I was doing before.” I look down at the coffee table to begin my confession when I see a ring of water around the base of my cup. I frown and quickly pick it up and wipe the water away with my forearm. Good enough. I look back up at the attentive Dr. Koler and continue. “I wanted to push Thomas away. I don’t know exactly why. I don’t think I was punishing anyone. Not consciously. I just wanted to be alone. I wasn’t ready. And I wasn’t okay with how he was handling me.” I take a deep breath and close my eyes. Dr. Koler motions for me to continue with a small nod of his head. “I’ve never had anything like this happen to me before.” I take another sip of coffee. Who the fuck does have this happen to them? “I’ve never even had a grandparent die. I – I didn’t know how to handle it all.” My voice cracks a little on the last sentence, and I struggle to hold back tears. No crying, I’m done with that shit. Dr. Koler looks calm and understanding. “There’s no right or wrong way when it comes to handling trauma. We do the best we can with what we’ve got.” “I didn’t even know that I wanted to get over it until last night.” I’ve never said truer words. “I see. Sometimes it's better to stay in the past where it hurts but is familiar, rather than fight to move forward. It can be a very difficult thing to do. But now you’ve decided that you want to move forward?” “Yes.” “And what do you want to move toward?” “I want the happy marriage I used to have. I want to


be able to write again. I want to give a shit.” I stress that last one before taking another sip. “I don’t even remember what our house looks like.” Our house. As though I have any kind of ownership of that property. He nods his head as he listens to me ramble before asking, “And you said you decided this last night?” “Yeah,” I say but hesitate to continue. I really fucked shit up last night. “What happened last night?” He raises his pen to his notepad but I ignore his scribbles. “Last night I was going to sleep with this guy I met at a café. Maybe. I don’t know.” I speak the words with my eyes closed, and when I open them Dr. Koler’s calm expression remains the same. I let go of the breath I was holding and continue. Thank you, good sir, for not making me feel like an idiot, even though I feel like one. “I knew it would push Thomas away, and maybe then he would let me go. That’s what I thought I wanted.” He nods his head. I wonder if he’s actually going to say anything during this session. But once again, I don’t give a damn. I want to get all of this off my chest. “I didn’t really know if I wanted to sleep with him. But if he was going to try, I didn’t know if I wanted to stop him.” The doctor’s eyebrows are slightly raised as he nods in understanding, but I go on. “When we got to my building, thank God we went to my place and not his, not that I would have gone to his…” I trail off, then take a deep breath. “Thomas was there.” The doctor seems to be finding it difficult to contain his horror as his pen falters on the paper. “Did he see you?” he asks with what seems like more concern than he intended. Well, he does know Thomas. “Of course. The guy practically had his hand on my ass, and Thomas saw all of it.” My heart drops as I


remember, but I shake my head, pushing the feeling aside. “I had my chance last night to end it with Thomas.” I hesitate and then add, “But I couldn’t do it.” I twist the rings around my finger. “Well, I did try, but as soon as Thomas gave me the chance to take it back, I did. I didn’t want to lose him.” I settle deep into my seat and stare blankly at the table. “Sometimes we realize we really want something just when we’re about to lose it.” Wise words, doctor. I nod my head in agreement. “He was fighting for me, and last night he was one hundred percent the man that I married. He was strong, and confident and dominating. He’s what I need.” I shake my head and say, “Or was. He was what I needed last night.” I feel my forehead crease. I don’t know what I’m saying. This time I put my coffee down on the floor and rub my temples with both hands. “But I fucked up,” I whine to the carpet. “How, exactly?” Dr. Koler asks, and I look up at him. Seriously? He caught me with another man. “I don’t know if he can forgive me,” I respond more calmly than I feel. “He’s so possessive. Last night the sex was great, and it felt like we connected again. I really felt like we were whole again, but this morning he was gone.” My face reflects the sadness that fills me. I swallow hard. “With Thomas? You two had sex last night, and he left before you woke up?” he asks for clarification. “Yes, with Thomas,” I snap. I check my attitude. I can’t blame the guy for asking. After all, I was a little… slutty… last night. More calmly I reply, “Yes. And I asked him to forgive me,” I choke on my words, “but he didn’t say that he forgave me.” “For the other man?” Dr. Koler questions further. “For anything,” I correct myself, “for everything.”


“I’m watching you turn in on yourself right now.” I glance up at Dr. Koler in confusion. “You’re doing great. This is the most progress I’ve seen from you so far. I don’t want you to close yourself off again.” I nod my head. That’s right. No self-pity, no pushing everyone away. I can do that. I need to make things right. But how? “I don’t know what to do now.” It’s the truth. He gets paid the big bucks. I need his advice. Or at least I’ll hear him out. “Well, I take it that you haven’t talked to Thomas,” he says as he takes off his spectacles. “I had to rush to get ready.” He looks at me as though he doesn’t believe that. “And maybe I didn’t want to talk to him just yet.” I take a deep breath before deciding to be honest. I bite my lip and then just let it out. “I’m afraid to talk to him.” A wretched feeling twists deep inside me. “Afraid?” He shifts in his seat and tilts his head, “Why is that?” “I don’t want him to tell me that he can’t forgive me, or that he doesn’t want me anymore. I’ve worked so hard to push him to tell me just that. But I don’t want it anymore.” My voice cracks, but I don’t hold back. “I need him.” I stare blankly at the table as I quietly say, “I love him.” It dawns on me that I didn’t tell Thomas that last night. And he didn’t tell you that, either. My heart sinks. “Emma,” he pauses, giving me the time to raise my eyes to his, “Thomas strikes me as the kind of man who would have already told you if that were the case. And regardless of my opinion, if you don’t talk to him, you’ll never know what he wants.” I nod my head yet again and sigh inwardly. I have to face him. It’s so confusing. I want to see him so badly, yet I’m ashamed. I feel so dirty. You should feel dirty. My thoughts are interrupted by the doctor clearing his throat.


“I think you should go see him. It’s very easy to shut down when you speak over the phone. It would do wonders for your communication if you talked in person.” He nods as he speaks. I suppose he’s asking me if I understand him. “I will.” I nod, slowly. Cautiously, I suppose. Yes. I’m going to have to see him in person. Oh Thomas, don’t deny me. “It would be beneficial to have you two together for a session, if you’re willing. I remember he wanted that some time ago. Would you be open to that now?” “Yes, yes I would.” The words fly out of my mouth. “Emma,” Dr. Koler leans forward, placing the notepad and pen down and looks at me as though he’s seeing through me. “I’m curious can’t help but ask, do you think if you and Thomas reunite you’ll be able to move forward with all that’s happened? The miscarriage, the nightmares of the attack?” My body turns cold. I hadn’t even been thinking of that. I don’t want to think about it. I stare at the floor. There’s a dark ring forming around the coffee as sweat continues to drip down the plastic cup. “Do you think you could see your house again? Or think about having children again? Can you look at him and see the future and not the past?” The word “future” is what I needed to hear. Yes, I can see a future with Thomas. I can see us together in our new home, with him holding a little girl in his arms. A little girl with his blue eyes, and him smiling at her and then at me. It's the future we should’ve had. Tears well up in my eyes, and I quickly brush them away. “Yes, yes that’s what I want.”


CHAPTER 24

A s I drive back to my apartment I debate on going over to the house, the new house. My first thought was to go to the old house. I completely forgot that we’d moved, and how dreadful would that have been? If I’d driven on autopilot back there, when would it have hit me? Is it even ours anymore? I don’t know if I could handle seeing it. My blood runs cold as I imagine it. Shit, shit, shit. Why am I even thinking about this? I wish I could just block it out. But the images come in a flood. I can’t picture the house without seeing her there. Her. I breathe slowly, attempting to calm my racing heart and try to concentrate on the road. It’s over. I tighten my grip on the wheel and steady my breathing. I never have to go back to that house again. And you never have to see her again. I push those thoughts aside; they don’t matter anymore. All that matters is getting Thomas back in my life. I need him to be my Thomas. Then you need to be his. I can wait till tonight. Once I’ve calmed down and pulled myself together, then I’ll go see him. I’ll knock on the door at our new house, and Rose will probably answer. I haven’t seen her in so long. I wouldn’t even


know what to say to her. I’d probably ask her if Thomas was home and ignore the fact that she’s going to be wondering if I’m okay. She’ll be wondering if I’m better. Better? Am I better? I feel better. I feel more like myself than I have for a long time. Am I the person I used to be? I can’t be. How could I possibly be the woman he married? My emotions are off the fucking chart. I pull over onto the shoulder as quickly as I can, doing my best to keep myself together even though I know I’m unraveling. As I put the car in park, my hands begin to shake. Tick, tick, tick. The blinker is still going. My breath comes in short pants no matter how hard I try to control it. Tick, tick, tick. I can’t control anything. Tick, tick, tick. It doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter. Tick, tick, tick. I rest my forehead on the cold wheel and cover my face with my hands. It’s okay to cry. Just let it out. Let it all out. Tick, tick, tick. I try to think about my plan for today. I’ll take this one day at a time. I’m still broken, but I’m ready for help. I’m ready to be there for Thomas and to let him in, as long as he still wants me. I shake my head and concentrate on taking deep, even breaths. I’m not even sure when he’ll be home. Maybe I should call him and ask, or text him. Or maybe text Michael? I should know when my husband will be home. I should be there waiting for him. I used to wait for him, or at least I used to know what time he’d be home and what he was doing. Even if I’d been in my pajamas all day, I’d make sure to get all dolled up before he got home. On lazy days I’d at least put mascara on. A girl always needs her mascara. At least this girl does. To be fair though, his eyes always lit up when he saw me, whether I was in PJs and fuzzy slippers or a


backless dress and fuck-me heels. My heart melts, thinking back on it. We always went out for dinner if I’d put a dress on. He’d say I was too pretty to keep inside. His favorite was a red, strapless sweetheart that clung to every inch of my skin and ended just above my knees. The back had a zipper that ran all the way down the length of the dress so he could take it off easily. I’m sure that’s why it was his favorite. He’d kiss that tender spot on my neck just under my ear and trail kisses along my shoulder. A warm flush of happiness runs over me. It's followed abruptly by sadness at the knowledge that the last time I wore that dress was nearly a year ago. I check my phone again, just to make sure Thomas hasn’t messaged or called me. Nope, nothing missed. I consider calling him, but I don’t have the nerve. Ugh. I rub my eyes, and they feel raw. Raw is a good word. It’s the right word to use. I feel so damn raw all the way to my core.

MY EYES AREN'T PUFFY ANYMORE. I passed out on the sofa once I finally managed to drive home, well to my apartment. I just need to see him. I need to tell him how sorry I am. I need to tell him that I’m getting better, and I do want him in my life. Desperately so, even if he has seen me at my lowest low, and I know he’ll never forget it. I’m so ashamed. That’s really what it is. And he knows all of it. He knows everything I’ve done. Everything I’ve been through. And how horribly I’ve handled it. I lay my head back on the edge of the sofa where I’ve propped myself up. My hot neck finds relief on the cool fabric. I have to calm down, but as the time goes by I can’t help feeling increasingly nervous. I really just need to pull myself


together enough to see him. Enough to talk to him. My fingers comb through my hair. I hope he wants to see me. I take my time getting ready. I thought about putting on the red dress, but I didn’t even pack it. And if I did then it’s somewhere in one of the boxes I've yet to unpack, wrinkled to death. Instead I go for a pale pink chiffon tank and a pair of slim-fit faded jeans that fit my curves nicely, along with my favorite pair of nude heels. I make sure my makeup is on point and even add a bit of color with a cherry red lip stain. I did my best to imitate the receptionist's beachy waves I was coveting. I didn’t quite master the look, but I still feel pretty. I should definitely go to the hairdresser soon. Andres would make me feel beautiful. He always knew what to say to lighten my spirits and bring life back to my hair. I should have made an emergency appointment with him. Maybe tomorrow. That way I’ll have something to look forward to at least if Thomas doesn’t want me anymore.

BLUE. The front door is a deep cobalt blue. I think we painted it that color to match the Moroccan pots on the porch. At least that’s what the designer suggested. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened. My memory is hazy, but I think she’s responsible for the blue door. I actually like it a lot. The front of the house looks so welcoming and homey. Well, maybe homey isn’t quite the right word. The house is unnecessarily large for just the two of us, and it looks even bigger from the outside. It really does look like a picture-perfect home. All it’s missing is the front porch swing. Who would’ve known


what was going on inside of the charming stone exterior? Who would’ve guessed I was falling apart bit by bit, locking myself away, creating a cage designed to keep everyone else out? I put the car in park and sigh a bit in relief when I see the empty driveway. I close my eyes and tilt my head back. Michael could’ve parked in the garage, but I doubt it. I’m not sure if it’s a blessing or a curse that Thomas' car isn’t here. I just don’t know if I’m ready to face him after everything that happened last night. I’m riddled with guilt. But the thought of not seeing him is worse. I take my phone out of my purse and look at it once more. Still nothing from him. Nothing all day. I’m not sure what I expected. I feel so lost. How did I let it get this bad? My mind wanders to last night. I don’t think I would’ve slept with that guy. I wanted to push Thomas away, but there’s no way I could’ve gone through with it. Why did I want to push him away so badly? Punishment. I regret letting that man touch me, letting him walk me home, flirting with him. I regret it all. I just can’t stop seeing Thomas’ face when he spotted us together. He looked so angry and hurt. His eyes pierced through me, hating me and then ravaging me. I shift in my seat as I feel the aching soreness between my thighs. I love that feeling. I'm granted a reprieve from the torturous guilt as I remember his touch. But that little bit of happiness wanes as I realize he might have regrets about last night. Liquid courage helped me confide in Thomas and give myself to him last night, but I want him to have me at my best today. Well, the best that I can be anyway. My inner voice laughs at the idea of me being anywhere near my best right now. Fine. Sober, at least. I want him to know that I mean what I say when I tell him I’m sorry, and that I love him, and that I do want to


work on our relationship and work on myself. I don’t want him to have to question what I say because I reek of pinot and bad decisions, like I did last night. God knows I have a long way to go, but I’m ready to do whatever I need. I just hope he still wants me. I hope he hasn’t changed his mind. I shake the thoughts away. No negativity. I repeat the words in my head over and over. No negativity. No negativity. Closing my eyes, I breathe the words out. “No negativity.” And then I open my eyes. I can’t believe how badly I’ve fucked up. I drop my head onto the steering wheel. “Fuck.” So much for no negativity. I look at the time on my phone before tossing it back in my purse and taking the keys out of the ignition and tossing them in the bag as well. It’s almost 7; who knows when he’ll be home. It’s only when I turn the car off that I realize I hadn't been listening to the radio on the way here. The realization makes me uneasy. Kate and I used to joke that only psychos drive without the radio on. I breathe out, trying to relax and look at the large house that I lived in for nearly two months, but couldn’t remember the exact address of. The garden in front of the house is beautiful. I never really noticed it before. Maybe because I barely went outside. The plants out front are gorgeous, mostly hedges but they’re vibrant, colorful, and meticulously trimmed. Hydrangea bushes line the tall white colonial fence. I wonder if we bought the house like this. I’m sure we did. Thomas doesn’t care much for those kinds of details. Not like me. Not that I cared when we moved in. I used to do some of the gardening. And then the gardener would fix it. I loved poppies and peonies, anything with beautiful large colorful blooms. Thank God for the sprinkler system; the first year I killed nearly everything. Who has time to remember to water the


plants anyway? The first vegetable garden I ever planted was an awful mess. I never got around to going outside and weeding and watering the plants. Everything was overgrown. I had a pumpkin plant that had three tiny pumpkins, but slugs got to them before I picked them. I literally had one green bean on the pea plant. A single bean. Thomas thought it was hysterical.

I LAUGH when I think back to that time. At least the tomatoes grew, and they were delicious. They were so ripe and juicy that they popped into balls of sweetness like little candies when I bit down on them. My mouth waters when I think of their taste. And the herbs, oh gosh. I remember how the mint overtook everything. I don’t know why no one told me it would do that. It’s such a weed! The parsley and basil didn’t stand a chance. Thomas kept pushing me to just let the gardener take care of the plants, but I refused. Stubbornness is definitely in my character. Mostly it’s a blessing but in this case, not so much. I finally relented and gave up the damn vegetable garden. In its place I planted a row of apple trees. Nature took care of them. One day I got so fed up with the herbs being overgrown that I cut all of the stems of both the mint and oregano and made a huge centerpiece. The small green petals of the oregano with the dark larger leaves of the mint looked so beautiful. There were tiny white flowers on the oregano, but the bouquet was overwhelmingly green. It smelled heavenly in the dining room. With the windows open, the scent wafted into the living room. I was proud of the one big accomplishment that came from my herb garden. As stupid as it sounds, I was actually excited to


show Thomas. He came home a bit early; I was in the kitchen having tea with Rose. Mint tea, another small success from my garden. “Good evening, Mr. Grant.” He came up from behind me as he addressed Rose with a nod. “Evening, Rose.” He wrapped his arms around my waist and kissed my neck. “Hey baby, you have a good day?” I saw Rose in my periphery discreetly leave the room. She was good at giving us our space. I let out a contented sigh and leaned into him. “Mm-hmm, you?” I turned to look at him and gave him a peck on the lips as he released me. “Better now that I’m home.” “What do you think?” I asked, pointing to the centerpiece. Thomas looked so confused when he saw it. “Where are the flowers?” he asked as he set down his wallet and sunglasses on the table. “It doesn’t have any.” I pranced over with my hands behind my back, swaying back and forth. “It’s mint and oregano, doesn’t it smell divine?” I batted my eyelashes playfully at the last word. He took a whiff and nodded. “Do you want me to buy you flowers?” He looked perplexed. “Is this a hint?” “No, I don’t,” I replied a little too firmly. I cleared my throat and readjusted my dress. “Not every bouquet has to have flowers, and I like my bouquet just as it is.” Thomas straightened his back, raised his eyebrows a bit and smirked. “If it makes you happy.” I gave a low grunt in response and pouted. Damn it, I was proud. It didn't have to have any fucking flowers. I didn’t care if he liked it or not. I closed my eyes and took in the fragrance and smiled. It was my bouquet, and I was going to enjoy


it.“It’s very nice.” I opened my eyes to see him moving closer as he took off his jacket and laid it across the chair, continuing toward me without hesitation. I pulled a face and said, “I grew that bouquet from seeds.” “Did you now?” he asked before nipping my lower lip, his hands caressing my lower back. “I did.” My firm voice lost some of its indignant tone as I parted my lips to kiss him in return. He sucked in my lower lip. “Well, that makes you the sexiest gardener I’ve ever seen.” I gave him a smirk as I leaned back to look in his eyes. “Is that right?” His large hands gripped my ass and moved my hips to his. I automatically wrapped my legs around him as he set me on the table. “You are the sexiest gardener I’ve ever seen, by far.” Within minutes I couldn’t have cared less about the centerpiece as he made love to me on the dining room table. Good thing too, since his thrusts knocked the damned vase over.

I'M BROUGHT BACK to reality when a car drives past. I wish I could go back to that time. But I need to stop wishing for things that are impossible. I shake my head and watch the Audi disappear around the corner. The homes here are spaced far apart and each is custom built. Sitting in the driveway I can’t see another house in either direction. I hesitate to think that I should go inside the house. I still have a key, I think, somewhere on this key ring. It would feel so weird to use it though. I don’t think I ever have. Correction, I know I never have. I only left the house when Thomas made me.


I could always just knock and have Rose let me in. She would, right? My chest hurts, and my mouth goes dry. I think she would. Could I take the rejection if she didn’t? What if she says she has to call Thomas first? He’d probably fire her. Would he? I don’t want to think about that. I just want this part to be over, regardless of the outcome. I just want to close my eyes and go back to where we were. I close them and think back to that first day outside the café. I remember his confidence. His deep blue eyes, full of determination and lust. I smile and open my eyes, only to see that house staring me back in the face. If only I could go back in time. The smile fades. I'll wait here in the car for now, just looking at the house. The house I could’ve made my home. Where I could’ve started over. Where you still can start over. As I gaze at the beautiful brush that perfectly lines the front of our house, something catches my eyes. There's a flash of movement in the corner of the window. I swear it was a face, but not Rose's. It was definitely not Rose. My throat tightens. The curtain is still swaying. She’s dead. It can’t be her. My body heats with anxiety as I reach down into my purse without taking my eyes off the window. I frantically dig around for the keys. Where the fuck are they? I reluctantly peel my eyes away from the window for a split second to find the keys pushed into a corner of my bag. Thank God. My fingers are shaking, and I need both hands to grasp the car keys. I look up to put the key in the ignition, and I nearly scream. My mother-in-law is standing in the doorway. I take a deep breath and try to calm myself. She starts walking toward me, and attempt to gather my composure. Jesus, what the hell is wrong with you?


Out of everyone that could be standing there, of course it's her. Lenore, aka the mother-in-law from hell. Thank God it’s just her; I've never been more happy to see her in my life. I start to smile and then realize she probably hates me more than she did before. Shit, why is she even here? Trying to strengthen Thomas’ backbone and push him to leave me, no doubt. I bet she’s really pissed he didn’t make me sign a prenup. I’m certain she’s always resented me for marrying her son. I think she saw it as me literally putting my hand in her purse and taking money out of her wallet. God forbid he spend his money on a woman other than his mother. When Thomas told her that we were getting married it was over the phone and on speaker with his parents so we could all talk. She literally said no. Her first reaction was no. That bitch knew she was on speaker. She knew I was there. And she said it anyway. The look on his face sent me over the edge. For a split second he’d morphed into a vulnerable and disappointed man with sad puppy eyes. But just as quickly his eyes filled with pure rage. I don’t even remember what it was he was yelling at her, since his dad was yelling, too. Both of the men were letting Lenore have it. At least my future father-in-law was on my side. The waterworks were uncontrollable, and I couldn’t sit there listening to that shit. I wasn’t going to let her try to justify herself. I got the message loud and clear from that one little word. I scurried off to the bathroom to cry in peace and curse out his mother without anyone hearing. I’d heard horrible mother-in-law from hell stories before but seriously, what the fuck did I ever do to her? I heard a knock at the door, and before I could answer, Thomas opened the door and walked in. “She didn’t mean it,” he said in a comforting tone as he knelt


on the cold tile next to me. I rested my head on his chest and sniffled to avoid using his soft oxford shirt as a tissue. Out of every person in Thomas’ life, his mother was the one person he never wanted to disappoint. I wasn’t sure what she'd told him in the whole ten minutes I’d left to cry alone, but I didn’t really care. She’s a woman who means what she says, although in the past her jabs at me had been far subtler. “What do you mean she didn’t mean it?” I snarled into his chest. “She said no. It’s a single word with a single meaning.” I pushed away from him and went to the sink to splash some cool water on my face. “She meant what she said!” I couldn’t look at him. How could she say no? She’s a shrewd woman. You’d think she’d be grateful since Thomas pays for everything, and has since he graduated college and started his business, but no. Not her. At least his dad is a decent man. He’s always so embarrassed by his wife. I just don’t get how they go together. Thomas was quiet, too quiet. I looked at his face and the eyes that stared back at me were no longer soft and comforting. Instead they were cold and unmoving. “I want you to pull yourself together and forget about this.” His voice was quiet, but firm. “Forget about-” I yelled in disbelief, but he cut me off. “She’s my mother, Emma. It’s not going to change.” I stared at my reflection in the mirror as he spoke, concentrating on fixing the concealer under my eyes. “I want us to move on from here, all of us.” I said nothing. He waited for me to agree, but I wasn’t ready to move on from that bullshit. “They’re flying in tomorrow,” he said when I remained silent. His demeanor hadn't changed, and my strength fell flat. For the first time since meeting him, I questioned


whether I wanted to be with him. As if he sensed my hesitation, he wrapped his arms around me from behind and gently kissed my shoulder, then my neck. I watched him in the mirror, and I instantly softened. His stubble sent the most delightful shivers up my spine, making me melt, making me weak. His eyes caught mine in the mirror. “You’re going to be my bride. And she’s going to be damn lucky to have you for a daughter-in-law.” I was too cozy in his arms to object and carry on this stupid fight. “Forget about what she said. You’re mine, and she knows that now.” “She better not wear white to the wedding,” I jokingly responded as I spun around and sniffled while staying in his embrace. I gave him a small smile and nuzzled his nose with mine. It was easy to let it go while he was holding me. It was easy to put my trust in Thomas. I knew if she said anything at all that would upset me, Thomas would make it right. He would defend me, just like he had for the months we'd been dating. His mom was never brutal, just blunt and rude. Like comparing some of my clothes to certain artists when they were in their “white trash” phase, or making snide comments about whatever the hell I was trying to cook. She was constantly giving me “advice,” completely unsolicited of course. Judging, judging, judging. I felt like I could never do anything right by her, but at least Thomas always made me feel like I was valued and wanted. He ate every bite of anything I ever cooked. A mix of happiness and remorse washes over me as I recall him literally choking down some form of meat I severely overcooked one time. My Thomas. It brings me back to the present. Back to Lenore’s heels noisily clacking along the cobblestone as she closes in on the car.


SHE DIDN’T wear white to the wedding – she wore black. And now this woman is standing in front of me. Standing between me and her son, yet again.


CHAPTER 25

“E mma, dear,” she greets me and her tone is sweet,

but I’m not falling for her fake bullshit. I am a bit taken aback she's being nice at all. I was prepared for an onslaught of misery. But no, she’s lulling me into a false sense of security. It’s a trap! “Come in, come in. Thomas said I may get to see you tonight. I’m so happy I have you to myself before he gets home.” Well, that makes one of us. She hugs me tightly, catching me off guard as I stumble out of the car. I give her a quick hug in return and step back against the car door as it shuts. “He did?” I can’t keep the confusion out of my voice. Shit, that’s a weakness; she’ll use it against me. She pats my blouse back into place and a small smile graces her lips as she looks at me from head to toe. When her eyes meet mine, I notice the pure sadness in her eyes. Her smile widens, and I’m sure it’s forced. “Come on in, sweetheart.” She ushers me to the door, and I follow hesitantly behind her. A million questions run through my mind. Why is she here? How long has she been here? What all does she know? But more


importantly, what the fuck does she want with me? She quietly closes the door behind me as I take in the foyer. There's a massive staircase that curves on its way to the second floor, and the high ceiling boasts a gorgeous chandelier. My heels click on the black and white marble as I move from the entrance rug to the hallway. It doesn’t feel like home. It’s too empty. Too cold. “Do you want some tea?” Her voice is sweet and hopeful. And if I’m not mistaken, there's a hint of desperation. I turn toward her and admire her strawberry tweed Chanel suit. As always, she’s beautiful and well put together. Even her blonde hair is in the perfect chignon bun without a single loose strand. “I was just about to make a cup. Would you join me in the kitchen?” “Of course.” What else am I going to do? I sling my bag close to my side, gripping it as if it’s a lifeline. She takes notice and a grim look crosses her face, but it’s gone so quickly I wonder if I imagined it. Silence envelops us in the kitchen. Awkward. I place my purse on the granite countertop and push it away as I take a seat on the plush barstool. Her back is to me as she puts a pot on the stove. She makes tea the correct way, or so she’s told me before. As if she’d never put a mug in the microwave to warm up the water for a quick cup. I call bullshit. When she turns, her eyes refuse to meet mine, and instead they stare at her fingers. “Emma,” she begins, and she sounds nervous, which is unusual for her. “I – I know it’s not my place.” Here we go. What angle is this bitch going to take? Her eyes finally reach mine as she continues, “But I just have to ask, why did you leave him? Do you blame him for everything?” The sorrow returns, and with it tears that linger on the rims of her blue eyes. I part my lips as I


suck in a breath. I shake my head quickly, far too quickly as her words sink in. I didn’t expect that. She looks at me expectantly. “I don’t blame him. I-” I blink rapidly, trying to get my guard back up. I gather my strength and deliver a professional response. “I’m upset by some things. I wish he had been there. But I don’t blame him. It’s not his fault. That’s not why I left.” “Good, good.” She nods slightly and moves as if she’s going to take a seat next to me but then remembers the tea and stands back by the stove, slightly leaning against the counter. “He blames himself, you know. He’s been beside himself ever since that night.” “He shouldn’t.” That’s all I can say as my eyes move from the granite counters back to her. I don’t know what all she's getting at, or where she’s headed with this conversation. I also don’t know how much she knows about everything. “I tell him that over and over. But he doesn’t listen.” She pauses, then her sad eyes move to the counter and her fingers grip the edge. Her brow furrows as she asks, “Why did you leave him then?” She sounds wounded. My conscience roars the truth: because I thought I was going to kill myself. I wanted to push him away because I was hurting him by just being near him. Because I wanted to feel pain, and I didn’t want him to take it away. I deserved it. I deserved the pain and the loneliness. At least I thought I did. If nothing else, I wanted to be in pain. I let my baby die, and I murdered a woman. I didn’t deserve to continue to live as though it’d never happened. I settle on telling her the truth, just a much simpler version. “Because I wasn’t okay and I just needed to be alone.” “But you’re better now, right?” The hopefulness and


desperation have returned. “I mean, you look beautiful as usual, and I can see that you’re well.” Her fingers begin to play with her wedding rings. I eye her curiously. “You look so much better than you did in the hospital. It’s nice to see you looking like yourself again.” “I’m feeling much better. Today at least.” I breathe out deeply, letting my shoulders relax. I vaguely remember her and her husband visiting me. They didn’t stay long, and I didn’t mind that at all. “I think I’ve been getting better a little at a time, but today was much better. Today felt like the old me.” My eyes meet hers, and she smiles. It's a genuine smile. “That makes me so happy to hear, Emma.” Tears well up in her eyes and she begins to move toward me again, but stops herself. “You two will be alright, you know,” she says pointedly. “You’ll get through this together, and you’ll be stronger.” Blinking away the unshed tears, she gathers her strength. “All you needed was a little time. I kept telling him that, and he just wouldn’t hear it. He was so scared you were going to leave him. But I knew you wouldn’t. I know you love him. You just needed time.” She says all of this with determination. “My God,” she shakes her head, “everything you’ve been through. Of course you needed time and space. But you’re so strong. I knew you’d make it out whole.” She nods her head for emphasis. Who the fuck is this woman in front of me? I didn’t anticipate venom, that’s not her style. She’s not hateful, just stuck up. But I sure as hell didn’t expect this. I didn’t expect sympathy and understanding. The teakettle hisses before beginning its whistle, and Lenore turns quickly to remove it from the stove. She begins pouring the water into saucers, and I gather my courage to speak honestly.


“I’m surprised that you want us to stay together. You never wanted us to get married in the first place.” I’m hesitant to confront her, but I can’t help myself. At least she has the decency to look embarrassed when I bring up the fact she’s been gunning for me since he put a ring on my finger. “I always meant to talk to you about that. I really did. I know what you’re talking about, and it’s not what you think. But Thomas asked me to keep my mouth shut. My stupid mouth. I never meant to hurt you, Emma.” She gently places her hand on mine after setting my tea cup down, and I look up at her soft blue eyes. I would have never imagined that Thomas got them from her and not his father. But with that look on her face it’s undeniable. “It’s a very hard thing to let your baby boy go off into the world. Even if he is strong and smart. And he’s turned out better than you could’ve ever hoped.” I watch her eyes glass over and hear her voice crack. Her hand leaves mine and she pulls down on the sleeve of her tweed jacket then wipes at the tears under her eyes. “I always wanted him to be better than me. I wanted the world for him. Thank God for his father. I was so young, and I can’t tell you how much I wish I’d learned more about life before having Thomas. But I wouldn’t change it for the world now, because I’m so proud of him.” She smiles and looks out of the window. “I could’ve never dreamed that he would be so happy.” And then her voice breaks, and her head collapses into her hands. I’ve never seen her so emotional before. And now she’s crying in front of me. I don’t know what to do. “I want him to be happy again, Emma.” Her eyes plead with me. “You make him happy. You make him so happy.” I pull her into me and let her cry as my own tears fall. I used to make him happy. Our embrace is


interrupted when my phone rings. “Get that dear, don’t let me ruin your shirt.” Lenore takes a deep breath and does her best to compose herself as she heads off toward the hallway. “I’m going to freshen up, and I'll be back right down for that tea.” I give her a small smile and nod while wiping at my own tears then reach for my phone. The name displayed across the screen makes my heart stop. It’s Thomas.

BEFORE ALL THIS, I would’ve happily answered, “Hey, babe,” but I haven’t actually answered a phone call from him in months and God knows how much shit has been thrown at us since then. I hesitantly answer the phone on the last ring. “Hello.” I swallow down my nerves. “Emma,” he says and my name sounds so sensual, like it fell from his swollen lips after kissing me with brute force. “Where are you, baby?” I close my eyes and silently hate myself while loving him for calling me baby and putting me at ease. “I’m at the house.” “What house?” He sounds genuinely curious. What other house is there? Oh, God no, not that house. “At the new house.” I lower my voice when I realize what he’s asking. “No baby, that’s not the right answer.” Is he toying with me? I rattle off the address. I almost go outside to check the number, but I’m fairly certain I gave him the right address. He chuckles. It’s a low, sexy sound. “Our house, love. You’re at our house.” A warm calming feeling settles around me at his words. I’m grateful for his kindness, but I feel lost just the same. It


doesn’t feel like our house. Our house? Your house? I don’t know what the hell to call it so it’s just THE house. I almost say that, but Thomas breaks the silence first.“Did you put your rings back on?” His question halts my thoughts and shreds my relaxed demeanor. “Yes,” I answer quickly and before I can respond with more, he cuts me off. “Good,” he says. He pauses before adding, “We need to talk.” My throat constricts as he talks, and my body goes numb. “I know.”


CHAPTER 26

the first time in my life, I find myself wishing my F or mother-in-law was with me. Thomas is sitting across from me, looking practically edible in dark jeans and a white shirt stretched tight across his broad chest, and I can’t fathom how it was easier to open up to Lenore than it is to start a conversation with my husband. I have so much I want to say, but my nerves have kept me tonguetied. I met him here just about twenty minutes ago, and we’ve barely said a word. It’s a beautiful restaurant, one we frequented often when we were married. I’m not sure it’s the best place for our “talk,” but I wasn’t asked. He told me to meet him here, and I couldn’t object. I nervously run my fingers along the stem of the water glass. I part my lips to say something, but I quickly shut them when I look up at Thomas. He’s rubbing his thumb across his five o’clock shadow while his index finger rests against his soft lips, his blue eyes watching me. It’s intimidating to look back at a man as handsome as him; even more so when he’s looking at you as though he’s contemplating what to do with you. I muster the strength to say something. “Where do


you think we should start?” My voice is breathy and I’m not sure if it’s because I can still feel the soreness he left me with last night, or because I’m scared of where this conversation is going to end up. Without moving his finger away from his mouth he replies casually, “We could start with last night.” I lose my composure and take a heavy breath while closing my eyes. I feel his hand brush against mine. “Let’s eat first. I’m sure the food will be out in a minute.” I open my eyes and nod, then place my hand in his. I watch as his thumb rubs soothing circles against my wrist. “How was your day?” I ask, moving my eyes back to his. I need some kind of conversation to help settle me. His expression softens, and a small smile pulls gently at his lips. “It’s the first good day that I’ve had in a very long time.” Although his voice sounds a bit depressed, his smile widens a bit. He leans back, relaxing his shoulders but not moving his hand, his thumb sill gently massaging my wrist. “What about you?” “Same.” I give him a timid smile. “It was a good day. I saw Dr. Koler and talked to him about what happened.” Just as I’m about to give him a play-by-play, the food arrives, putting a pause on our conversation. I smile and thank the waiter before taking a small sip of water. “Would you like another glass of wine?” “Please.” I could really use a little more wine to get me through this conversation. The waiter returns quickly with the bottle to refill my glass as I finish off a spear of asparagus. I smile in thanks and glance at Thomas. “There were a lot of empty bottles in your apartment.” His voice is controlled and even. “Yes,” I answer as though it was a question and not a statement, while I take a sip from my new glass. “I’ve


been forming a bit of a bad habit.” I can own up to it. I know I shouldn’t be drinking so much. It’s just so easy. Much easier to drink, rather than deal with the shit in my head. But I’m ready to deal with it. At least right now I am. Well, I think I’m ready. After this conversation, I know I’m going to have to deal with the consequences of last night – and the last few months, whatever they may be. I’ll do my best not to drown myself in Cabernet, but I can pretty much guarantee I’m going to want a glass or two every now and then. Especially right now. “Is it something I should be worried about?” His deep blue eyes look back at me with concern. I shake my head gently. “I was having a hard time sleeping and dealing with everything.” I let out a sigh and grab my water glass. He nods his head, although he doesn’t seem convinced. I’ll be sure to say no to that third glass when the waiter asks. Besides, I want to be relaxed for this conversation, not tipsy. “I’d ask if you had to drink last night to sleep, but I know the answer to that.” He takes another bite. “I also know that last night was the first time you’ve gone out.” “I figured you were having Michael watch me.” I’m not surprised. Not in the least. He tilts his head in admission, not the least bit ashamed. “And your phone.” Oh, right. How could I forget that he can track my phone? I purse my lips. Not that it really matters. I continue eating before asking, “Do you track my phone a lot?” “Yes.” His response is quick and unapologetic, yet again. I can’t help but smile; I like that he was keeping tabs on me. He smirks and says, “I knew you were home when I called you.” I let out a little laugh before rolling my eyes. Of course he knew. He never asks a question he doesn’t already know the answer to.


“Then why bother calling?” “I didn’t want to wait that long to hear your voice.” His sweet words send a warming ease through my body. “I’m glad you did. Your mother was in the middle of a mini-meltdown.” “I was wondering how the two of you got to sitting so nicely together.” I smirk and retort, “Turns out that your mom isn’t so bad.” “Is that so?” “It is. She even told me that we were going to be fine.” “She’s a smart woman.” He nods a bit and continues eating. I fiddle with my fork before setting it down as my emotions get the best of me. “Are we going to be fine, Thomas?” When he finally looks up at me and sees the worry on my face, he drops his utensils and takes my hands in his. “Yeah, baby. We’re going to be fine.” He kisses my wrists before returning his gaze to me. He moves my hand so that he can rub my fingers instead of my wrist and I let him, staring down at our hands. “We need to talk though.” I swallow hard and nod. I know we need to talk about last night, even if I don’t want to. He waits for me to meet his gaze before continuing. “What happened last night?” I square my shoulders and ready myself. Please forgive me. “I can’t tell you how much I regret last night. I’m so sorry, Thomas-” Before I can continue my apology, he cuts me off. “What do you regret?” His voice is calm, which is terrifying when combined with his emotionless expression. I swallow hard and continue feeling sick to my stomach. “Saying anything other than, ‘No thank you’ to him.”


“And why didn’t you turn him down? You never would’ve done that before. I’ve never had to worry about whether or not you would be faithful to me. That’s not something I can handle. I don’t want to second-guess why you’re going out, or who you may end up meeting.” “I didn’t know what I wanted. You don’t have to worry about it. It was a mistake. A big fucking mistake.” “And now?” “Now?” “Do you know what you want?” I don’t hesitate to tell him, “I want you. I want us back. The way we used to be.” I pray he can read the sincerity on my face and hear it in my voice. He nods his head, still giving me a blank stare, before asking, “And who was he?” “No one, he’s no one. Just some guy who offered to walk me home.” His eyes narrow, and a tic in his jaw starts to spasm. “His hand was on your ass, so I’m guessing he offered more than that.” He grits his teeth before adding, “Or you were the one to offer.” My face heats with shame and embarrassment. “I was flirting, I don’t know why, I jus-” Again he cuts me off. “You don’t know why? Yes you do.” I blink and hesitate to answer. My fingers wrap around my napkin and I watch as I twist it in my hands before looking back up to him. “It just felt good to flirt, I guess. It was nice to be wanted.” “I want you. I never stopped wanting you.” The anger is gone, replaced with hurt. I can’t stand to see him upset, but I have to be honest with him. “I know, but you handled me with kid gloves and talked to me like I was some wounded dog you might


have to put down.” My voice cracks toward the end and I have to steady myself, reminding myself that we’re still in the restaurant. I take another small sip of wine and calm my breathing. He nods his head in understanding. “I messed up, but I know how to fix it.” I shake my head, setting the glass down. “You didn’t mess up. I kept pushing you away-” Thomas interrupts and says, “I know you were pushing, but I messed up by letting you.” He runs his hands through his hair. “I didn’t know how to handle everything, so I thought I’d try it your way. But I shouldn’t have given you so much space. I thought you needed it, but that’s not what you need.” “I thought I needed it, too. I thought I wanted to be alone.” “You may have wanted it, baby. But it’s not what you needed.” “I need you, Thomas.” The words escape my lips before I can try to stop them. My confession makes him smile. “I know.” He leans in a little closer and continues to run his thumb along my knuckles. “I need you, too. I miss you, and I need you. But,” he waits for me to make eye contact, “if you want us to work, things are going to change.” “I do.” For the first time tonight, I let the tears fall and grab his hand in mine. “I do. I want us to go back to how we were before.” He smiles at my admission. “I want that, too.” His smile turns a bit wicked as he adds, “It’s time for me to shorten your leash, baby.” I’m instantly wet and reminded of that sweet ache between my thighs. I bite my lip to suppress a whimper as he stares me down with knowing eyes. He leans across the table to wipe my tears.


“Not tonight.” I’m taken aback by his denial. Why the hell not tonight? There’s no time like the present. “Why not?” I can’t help but ask. I want him. I want to give myself to him and show him how much I need him. He smirks at me and chuckles in response. “Do you need me, baby?” “Yes.” I do. I really, really do. “Then let’s get home, the boxes should be there by now.” Wait, what? What boxes? My face must show my confusion, and he answers my unasked question. “You’re moving back home.” “You had movers come to my apartment and take my things back?!” I'm shocked. “Yes.” He doesn’t look fazed by my raised voice in the least. “You’re moving back.” I part my lips to object, although I’m really not sure that I do object, but he beats me to it. “Close your mouth, you’re moving back home and that’s final.” He motions to the waiter for the check. “What if I need to be alone?” You just fucking went over that! You’ve been alone enough, that’s not working! I tell that inner bitch to shut the fuck up. I can’t help asking. I need that safety net. Thomas answers, “You don’t need it. Your safe place is with me. In our house. In our bed.” I lean back in the chair and toss the cloth napkin on the table. “Well, I guess I should give the keys back.” He chuckles and smirks at me once again. “You can keep them if you’d like, but you won’t be using them. Technically we own the building now.” My mouth gapes open at his response. He bought the fucking building? He shrugs at my reaction. “I didn’t trust their security.” He signs the check and asks, “You ready to go home, baby?” I shake my head a little and feel


myself smile. Maybe my Thomas never left.


CHAPTER 27

“H ow have your nightmares been, Emma?” Dr. Koler

wants to start the session by talking with just me and Thomas observing before we move onto the group issues. I take a deep sigh. “Last night was rough.” Of course my first week home with Thomas would lead to nightmares. I was hoping for everything to be overwhelmingly positive. I really felt different. I felt so much better. And then I had that fucking nightmare again. “Was it a nightmare you’ve had before, or was it different?” “Pretty much the same as before.” I nod my head as I respond. I clench my fists in defeat. “I really felt like I was doing better. I feel like I’m handling my emotions better, since I’m at least dealing with them now.” “You think having a nightmare means you aren’t doing better?” “Doesn’t it? It makes me feel broken.” I throw myself back against the sofa. The hard, white sofa. And when I look down I see I’ve accidentally spread mascara on it.


Shit. Waterproof, my ass. I try blotting it with the tissue in my hand, but Dr. Koler motions for me to stop. How does he even keep this ridiculous furniture clean? “Sorry.” “No worries. Back to these nightmares.” He clears his throat and repositions himself. Thomas is by my side with his arm around my shoulders, rubbing calming circles with his thumb. “Just because you’re still having nightmares doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong.” “I woke up screaming and shaking. It took forever for Thomas to calm me down. How can that be okay?” I’m obviously still broken. Or at least part of me is. “Let me ask you a question. How do you feel besides the nightmares?” “I feel good. I’m happier. That’s for sure.” Thomas kisses my forehead as I continue. “I decided to start writing again.” “That’s wonderful news; what are you writing?” “I’m sticking with my old niche, a little smutty romance.” He chuckles. “Ah, a little smut will keep your spirits high.” I smile broadly at him. “Seriously, Thomas had me read some when I moved back home.” His brows raise in surprise. “Really? And why’s that, Thomas?” “She loves to read.” He shrugs and kisses my forehead again. “I wanted to see her do something she used to love.” “He forced me to, really.” “How’s that?” I blush a little and wish I could take my words back. “He wouldn’t come to bed with me until I read one of the shorts from my favorite author.” He sat across the room, completely naked, stroking


himself as he watched me read on my Kindle while I lay in bed in a silk sleepshirt. He picked out the sleepshirt and even the book. And when I got to the hot and heavy scenes, he made me touch myself. I wasn’t allowed to use my vibrator, but I had to get off before I could go back to reading. Just me and my hands. All the while he just watched, touching himself. It took nearly an hour to get through the short. Then he got into bed and reenacted each scene I'd just read. My panties are damp, and my pussy clenches at the memory. I feel a blush heat my cheeks as I pull my eyes away from Dr. Koler. “Oh, I see.” The good doctor blushes a little as well at what I’ve said. “And how is everything between the two of you? Obviously better than the last time I saw you.” He looks to Thomas before asking, “I imagine the conversation about the indiscretion was difficult.” “As much as I hate the thought of another man touching her,” Thomas says and sighs before shifting, “I think it’s what she needed.” I turn toward him in surprise. “You think it’s okay, what she did?” “Fuck no!” I jump at his outburst. He regains his composure and pulls me toward him. “It’s not okay, but it’s what we both needed. I needed to see that so I could take back control of our relationship, and she needed to realize that me being in control is what she was missing.” I nod my head in agreement and reach for his hand. “You think that’s what you needed, Emma?” “I think I needed what happened after. I needed Thomas to…” I trail off, not sure how to say it. “I needed him to treat me like I wasn’t broken.” I squirm a little. “Even though I wish it had happened in a different way.” “A different way?” “Yeah …” I laugh dryly, “I wish I didn’t have to piss him


off for him to be his old self again.” Thomas shifts next to me on the sofa. “Same here, baby.” Once again he gives me a small kiss on the forehead, and I lean into him. “So now what?” Dr. Koler asks, and looks at me for the answer. “We’re focusing on moving forward,” I state confidently. “What is it that you’re working toward now?” Oh, he wants specifics? I give myself a second to consider what I really want. “I want a new life. A fresh start. I want the family that we were supposed to have,” my voice cracks but I push forward and say, “I want what we were supposed to be.” At the thought of a child I break into a million pieces. I can’t help but cover my face and cry. I feel Thomas’ strong hand on my back. It’s never been more welcome. I lean toward him, and he wraps his arms around me, holding me tightly and kissing me lightly on my shoulder. Dr. Koler passes a tissue to Thomas, who hands it to me and I dab at my eyes. “Go ahead and cry Emma, let it all out.” His words are so familiar. I’ve been telling myself that over and over, just let it all out. But I feel ashamed when I cry. It doesn’t change anything, and it’s not productive. It doesn’t make anything any better. As if hearing my thoughts, Thomas answers me. “You can tell me these things. It’s good to cry and just get it out.” He takes a deep breath; I can tell he’s holding back his own tears. He’s being strong for me. “As long as you can talk to me, things will get better. I promise.” “I just want,” I have to pause as my breathing has become erratic. It’s frustrating. I sit up straight and wipe the tears and snot away. God, I must look awful. It


matches the way I feel. “Tell me everything, so I can give you everything.” I stare deep into his eyes, full of promise and hope. I close my eyes and feel his strong hand on my chin, thumb brushing against my cheek, wiping the tears away. I lean my body into his. It’s the first time I’ve truly felt that I could tell him anything and everything. I can confide in him. “Just tell me what you need me to do, Emma. And it will happen.” I lift my head to look into his eyes. I don’t know what to tell him. I don’t know what I need, but when I do know, I’m going to tell him. I nod and brush the last tear away with the tissue in my hand. “So what do we do now, doctor?” Thomas asks in a much different tone than the one he’s been using with me. His strong and assertive side is quick to take over. “Exactly what you’re doing now. Continue to talk and confide in each other. Be honest and open. The pain will go away with time. Same with the nightmares.” As he says the words, I know they’re true. I just wish time would hurry the fuck up. Our session over, we walk hand in hand out the door. And as we exit Thomas’ hand leaves mine and he wraps his arm around my waist, pulling me in closer. It surprises me and warms me. I sink into his side, making my steps in these damned heels a bit wobbly. But I love that I can still lean on him. I wrap my arm around his back and put my other hand on his chest to steady myself as I tilt my head up for a kiss. His lips greet mine and when I open my eyes I see his smile first, followed by the love and adoration in his eyes. I hear a door open and I feel myself blush as I realize that Michael has just witnessed our PDA. I clear my throat as I slip in to the car and avoid eye contact. I look up, and Thomas is looking him right in the


eyes with a huge smile across his gorgeous face. “We’ll go home first, Michael,” Thomas says with confidence. Home first? He hasn’t said anything about plans for this evening. And quite frankly I feel exhausted, and I’m sure I look like a wreck. “Yes, sir.” Michael returns the smile. When Thomas gets comfortable, I ask, “Where are we going?” “I thought you could wear your red dress tonight.” All I can do is smile at his response and nod. My husband is taking me out for dinner. Such a simple thing, but right now it means the world to me. Thomas shifts in his seat to lean in for a kiss and whispers, “I love you,” and before I can utter those sweet words back to him he says, “And I know you love me, too.” Oh, Thomas. My Thomas.


EPILOGUE

“M aybe we’ll get a little time to sleep ourselves.” I wince as I sit down next to my man and my little man. I’m still sore from giving birth, but it’s not so bad. I almost feel normal. Just a little squishy in places that used to be firm, if utterly exhausted. Thomas gives me a small kiss on the cheek. His shifting nearly wakes our sleeping baby. He freezes in place and holds his breath with wide eyes, careful not to disturb the tiny, sleeping prince. I almost laugh. Maybe it’s the delirium from not having slept more than ten hours total in the four days since our little one has joined us. But I keep my lips tight. We’ll have to wake him up soon to eat if he doesn’t on his own. Although I have half a mind to ignore the damn doctor. He’s already gained his birth weight back, and he’s packing on the pounds. My little chunkster. Right now I just want to enjoy this moment. The picture of my loving husband and the sweetest, most handsome little boy I could have imagined. Our little Liam. He’s absolute perfection. I snuggle into Thomas’ shoulder and give Liam a tiny kiss on the cheek, the


gentlest kiss possible. And for a terrifying second I’m afraid I’ve woken him. But he just nuzzles into the crook of my arm. “He looks just like you, so handsome,” I whisper into Thomas’ neck. I hear Thomas’ throat hum in agreement. And as I close my eyes for just a moment, small tears escape. But for the first time in a long time, they’re tears of gratitude and pure happiness.

I HOPE YOU ENJOYED SCANDAL, read ahead for a sneak peek at Broken, a darker romance…


SNEAK PEEK AT BROKEN


BLURB

Heartless. Ruthless. Stone Cold Killer.

That’s me. I destroy anything in my path to get what I want. Then she showed up. Olivia Bell. She’s sweet and innocent, and in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Now she’s mine. My property. I own her. Given to me as a bargaining chip. She’s not a part of my plans, but plans change. Her pouty lips and gorgeous curves beg me to break her. Taking her lush curvy body, and ravaging it for all its worth would be easy, but I want to earn her submission. It’s addictive. I want it. I want her. They wanted me to break her. I am. And I’m enjoying it. Now they want to take her from me. Over my dead body. Let them come for us. I’ll kill them all. By the time I’m done, everyone will know. She belongs to me.


PROLOGUE

Olivia

THE COURTROOM IS QUIET. I can hear someone in the back of the room clear their throat. I swallow thickly and try to avoid their gazes. But I'm on the witness stand, I can't avoid them or any of this. They’re all watching me. Waiting for an answer. I feel like I’m suffocating. This is too much. It reminds me of being in the room with him. With Kade. My eyes dart to him, and my mouth parts slightly as I remember the time I spent with him. The other men would watch. He said I had to be perfect, and if I was he’d give me my freedom. And he did. He’s a man of his word. But this freedom feels empty and hollow. I wish I could take it back. Not our time together, just my wish to be set free. “Miss Bell?” asks the prosecution, snapping me out of my reverie. “Yes?” I ask warily. My fingers twist in my hand. My


heartbeat picks up. I don’t want to be here. I’d give anything to go back. They’re waiting for me to talk, to testify against him and give evidence that Kade’s a bad man. That he deserves to be imprisoned not only for what he did to me, but for everything else. But I can’t. He did it to protect me. He had to do it. My voice is caught in my throat. My blood heats and chills at the same time. The thought of turning against him makes me sick. My eyes focus on him, and all I want to do is to run to his side. I wish he could just take me away. Instead he’s on trial, and I’m left alone to deal with the aftermath of how my life has changed forever. Tears prick my eyes as Kade nods his head and gives me a small, sad smile. He wants me to answer them. He wants me to be a good girl and tell them everything they want to know so I can go free. It’s time to let go, angel. I hear his words and I hate them. I don’t want to let go of him. I was his, and now I feel like I’m no one. “Do you need me to repeat the question?” the old man says as he stares at me through his spectacles. I shake my head. I know what he asked. I know what they want from me. My body relaxes as I remember how he broke me down bit by bit. Now it seems calculated, as though he knew what he was doing. Like he used me. That’s what they keep telling me, they say that’s why I feel this way about him. But back then, it felt different. It felt as though he was helping me. I thought he needed me. He did need me. His fingers gently slid down the curve of my hip. “My angel,” he whispered. His lips barely touched the shell of my ear, his hot breath sending chills down my shoulder.


As his hand slid farther down, he groaned with satisfaction. I was always ready for him. I learned to love what he did. I learned to be perfect for him. “Miss Bell, answer the question.” The judge’s voice rings out and makes my body jolt in the seat. I clear my throat thinking about where I should start and what all I should tell them. My heart clenches in my chest. I don’t want to share it with them. Right now these memories are mine. They’ll ruin them. They’ll make me think my recollections are something they aren’t. They want me to believe he never loved me, and that the feelings I have for him are false. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to believe. The only thing I know that’s true is I fell in love with Kade and that now, because of him, I’m utterly and completely broken.


OLIVIA

T HREE MONT HS EARLIER…

feel sick to my stomach. I wish I could just throw up Iand be done with this feeling, but it’s not from drinking too much, or food poisoning, or anything like that. I’m just sick of my life and the shitty position I put myself in. Getting turned down for your ninth job interview sucks. And it was for a hair salon. Like, really? All I’d be doing is bookwork. It can’t be that fucking hard. I’m starting to think there’s no hope. That’s what makes me so damn sick. Like there’s nothing I can do, and I’m just screwed. It’s been three weeks since I got expelled from the university. It was all over alcohol. They have a zero tolerance policy. So of course getting kicked out also meant losing my scholarships. And losing my scholarships meant losing my income, plus my part-time job in the registrar’s office. Which means when the rent is due, I’m fucked if I can't hurry up and land a job already. As if this wasn’t already the worst month of my life, my mother won’t even answer my calls. It's her idea of tough love. Yeah, I know I fucked up. I don’t need to hear it again. It’s not like this is what I usually do. Like I went to


college and suddenly became a horrible person. I was in all the honors classes in high school. I was a teacher’s pet. I’ve gotten straight A's my entire life, except for that one C in Advanced Literature. Fuck English, I only took the class because I had to in order to fulfill my graduation requirements. I've always been a brown-noser, as Cheryl calls me. Fuck, Cheryl. It’s her fault! I bite my lip and cross my arms over my chest to warm myself up. I shake my head, trying not to be bitter about it all. It’s not really Cheryl’s fault. She may have put the bottle in my hand, but she didn’t make me drink. She was only trying to help. After all, it’s not every day that your first real boyfriend, the man you gave your virginity to, dumps you for someone prettier. Tears prick my eyes, but I’m sure as shit not going to cry over him. I’ll cry over my self-esteem though, because that shit hurt. When I asked him how he could just break up with me like our relationship meant nothing to him, he just shrugged and said her tits were bigger. Fucking asshole. How did I ever fall for him? Daniel Croast is hot and athletic, and really knows how to lay on the charm. But he’s a fucking dick. I knew this, yet I still fell for him. I still spread my legs for him and let him take every last piece of me that he wanted. Curse my fucking hormones. Tall, with broad shoulders. He played on the rugby team and there's just something about men crashing into each other and taking those brutal hits; it makes my pussy pulse with desire. I’m not a biology major, but it was definitely my fucked-up hormones. I fell in lust, not love.


I finally had a boyfriend and friends. Real friends who liked me for me. Cheryl may be a bad influence and not have a clue about how the real world works, but deep down I know she cares about me. Drinking on campus in the dorms was stupid though. Real fucking stupid. I just went there to cry to Audrey about everything, and instead we ended up drinking. I even thought, No, we should go to our apartment if we’re going to be drinking. Shit, that’s the entire reason we got the apartment off-campus. But I felt horrible, and my friends were all around me, and I just wanted to feel better. I fucking hate that RA prick that busted us. I swear he's got a stick shoved up his ass. He can go to hell for all I care. I turn twenty-one in two months, and Cheryl in three. That RA's so fucking pretentious and likes to pretend he did this for the “right reasons” but seriously, he can go fuck himself. He’s never liked Audrey since she turned his scrawny ass down during freshman orientation. That’s really what it was about, his dumb fucking vendetta. Luckily for Audrey, she left to go get more booze. And while she was walking to the liquor store, campus security showed up. She got a strike, and we got booted. So now I’m at the lowest point in my life. What kills me the most is that my parents aren’t talking to me, which I don’t understand. I know they’re disappointed and all, but the silent treatment is just not helpful. All it's doing is hurting me. I stop at the edge of the sidewalk and wait, standing in the chill of the fall night, hugging my arms tighter around myself. My legs are freezing since I wore a black A-line skirt to my interview, but at least I grabbed my cream chenille sweater.


I stare up at the red hand on the crosswalk sign and just wait. There aren’t any cars this late at night. But the hand is red. And that means you can’t go, so I don’t. I'm not a fan of breaking the rules. I huff a laugh at this train of thought. The one time in my entire life I break the rules, and of course I get caught. And now everything I’ve worked so damn hard for is crumbling all around me. Tears prick at my eyes again, and this time one escapes. I breathe out slow and steady, calming myself. I wipe the stray tear with the cuff of my sweater and start walking as soon as I get the green signal to go. Mascara covers the end of my sleeve now, but I don’t care. I feel like I'm balanced on the edge of a razor. On one side, I care entirely too much about everything, and my heart aches with all the disappointment I've caused, not to mention the disappointment I feel in myself. But on the other side, I don't give a fuck about any of this. I've hardened my heart with hate for everyone around me that doesn't care enough to try to help. I swallow thickly. They don’t have to help me. No one owes me anything, and that's just fine by me. I have a plan. This isn’t going to ruin me. Yes, I got kicked out of one of the most prestigious universities in the country, but I can get into another. If I can just get a job, I can survive until February for sure. That's when I'll find out if I got in anywhere else. I’m sure another school will take me. They can’t hold having a drink over my head forever, especially since I'm sure this kind of thing happens all the time. I’m just happy they decided not to press charges, and it’s not on my legal record. As for my academic record, it was embarrassing


as hell to have to explain that I got kicked out for drinking on campus. But I'll do whatever I have to do. I’ve already filled out twenty applications for other colleges. I filled out nearly forty for jobs. I’ll keep applying myself until someone gives me a break. I’m sure my professors are disappointed, but at least they were kind enough to offer their recommendations. My heart twists in my chest. I hate disappointing people. Especially those I look up to. In my mind, I see Dr. Griffins shake her head slightly, mouth parted in shock as I told her I had to leave. Disappointed. Well, you and me both, I guess. I keep walking down the sidewalk and I start to get a real uneasy feeling creeping over me. It’s so fucking quiet. There’s no one around. It’s just dead. I’m pretty used to walking everywhere, even late at night, but not on this side of town. I don’t even know what time it is. I should be home this late at night. I shouldn’t be here. It’s obvious this isn’t the safest part of town. But I just couldn’t go back to the apartment and have nothing to tell Cheryl. I’m the one who looks out for her. But right now I’ve got nothing for either of us. I couldn’t tell Cheryl that I didn’t get the job, and that I have no plan for us. She's freaking out about money. She’s kind of a wild child, and she’s never had a worry in her life. I love her free spirit and all, but that needs to take a back seat when your parents cut you off. She isn’t like me though. She’s never worked a day in her life. Between all my savings and the scholarships, I was able to pay for college on my own. Not Cheryl Fletcher. I don’t think her


perfectly manicured hands have ever performed any sort of manual labor. Which is fine if you don’t have to, and it’s not like she’s a spoiled brat who throws it in your face. But her parents were pissed about the expulsion and completely cut her off. And it's not like she isn't trying— she’s filled out more job applications than I have. Partly because she doesn’t plan on going back to school. She was undeclared anyway since she doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life. But the best plan we have to make rent this month is to start selling our shit. And by our shit, I mean hers. A purse or two from her collection would be enough to do it. I’m not going to ask though. My everyday purse is a clutch I bought on clearance from Target a few semesters ago. Hardly glamorous, and hardly expensive. Nope, not like Cheryl's newest purse, a Michael Kors hobo with buttery soft leather. Still, I’m not going to ask and put her in that position. It’s the only option I can think of though. I see a few guys walking two blocks up from me. They’re on the opposite side of the street and heading in my direction. I don’t like it. They’re talking and laughing, and having a good time. They don’t seem threatening. But still, a young girl walking alone and three men… I just don’t like it. There’s an alleyway on my left that lets out a few blocks down from the main road where our apartment is. As I stand in the opening, I can see it opens up on both walls of the alley halfway through and that there are some cars farther down on the other side. It's empty. I don’t even hesitate to take the left turn and walk toward more people. Toward safety. I’m pretty sure it’s an even faster route home—I think, anyway. It’s dark, and things look different when it’s dark.


I pick up my pace with my eyes straight ahead on the light at the opening to the other street. I’m about halfway through, right near the openings on both sides of the alley when I hear shouting. My heart jumps in my chest, and my breathing stalls. I instinctively take a step back and nearly fall on my ass with fear. It’s angry shouting. More than two men arguing in what I think is Russian. Or maybe German. I don’t know. All I know is that I don’t understand anything they're saying, and I shouldn’t be here. I look behind me for a moment, but I don’t know where those three men are. Fuck. Fuck. I don’t know what to do. The yelling gets louder and closer. My heart hammers faster in my chest. I feel lost and trapped as my throat closes with fear. I could just run as fast as I can through the opening. It’s large enough that a car could get through. But they sound so close. If they saw me, they’d definitely be able to catch me before I made it out the other side. I take a deep breath and chance a look, just a small glance to see what’s happening. My breathing slows, and the only thing I can hear is my blood rushing in my ears. My heart thumps, thumps, thumps way too loud. They’re going to hear me; they’re going to see me. I feel a small sense of relief as I see a row of trashcans blocking the path. I can see past them though. Maybe twenty feet from me, there's a group of men gathered in the parking lot of a warehouse. I don’t know what’s going on, but it’s not good. So far, no one's spotted me since I'm peeking around the corner with just part of my head showing. I could still get down on the ground, try crawling in the dirt and gravel, and


hope I get through unnoticed. Instead I watch, paralyzed with disbelief at what I’m seeing. A man’s standing apart from the others. It’s not the fact that he’s in a custom-tailored suit when they rest of them are all in wrinkled khakis or worn-out jeans. He’s one of the tallest men, with broad shoulders that stretches the rich fabric tight across his gorgeous frame. But that’s not it either. His very presence is a dominating force. It’s the air around him. He’s a dangerous man. The other men may be mean, or even pure evil. But this man is ruthless, calculated, and something tells me he can get away with it. He’s a man who isn’t denied, and for good reasons. The shadows on his face only make his high and sharp cheekbones even more severe. A light dusting of rough stubble lines his hard jaw. He’s handsome in the most sinful ways, but he’d break you without thinking twice. Maybe even intentionally. He straightens his crisp white shirt from under his dark navy suit with a gun still firmly in his hand, his finger on the trigger. His barely contained anger is evident even at this distance. He’s listening to the man screaming, the one being dragged over on his knees to the center where the other men are circling. Another man, Ricky, is yelling back. At least I think that's his name, since that's what it sounds like they're calling him. Ricky is obviously in charge of the group of men who are mostly dressed in dark denim jeans, and Henleys or hoodies. All but him. All of them are under Ricky's control, except the man with the absolute power.


Their guns are pointed at the one man who’s unarmed and on his knees. Two men are pushing down on his shoulders, forcing him to maintain that position. “Fuck you! Fuck all of you!” the man on his knees yells out and spits on the ground. “So it’s true!” yells one of the men holding him down. “Fucking pig! Fucking liar!” the men are yelling, practically chanting. I realize with a start that the man being forced to kneel must be an undercover cop. I fumble in my clutch for my phone. I need to get help. “What did you tell them?” asks Ricky. Bang! I almost scream and have to cover my mouth with my hands as the sound of a bullet cries out and echoes through the alley. My phone drops to the ground, and the screen cracks from the impact. My heart stills as Ricky yells out and grabs the cop's shoulder. Somehow I don’t think they heard me, or saw me. Their focus is on the cop who's still on his knees clutching his leg and wincing in pain. “The next one will be in your skull.” Ricky walks closer to the man and puts the gun up to his temple, twisting the barrel of the gun to taunt him. “What did you tell them?” The kneeling man attempts to laugh although he’s in obvious pain. “Just do it. You’ll never get anything from me.” He sneers as blood soaks through his jeans. It’s so dark, it almost looks black. No! No! I need to do something. As I bend down to get my cracked phone, the man in the dark suit moves forward. A hush falls over the men. The only exception is Ricky, who’s cussing and making threats that don’t seem to affect the undercover cop. “Is it true?” a deep, rich voice asks so calmly that it


doesn’t seem real. The loud click of his gun cocking makes me take a step forward. My head shakes. No. No. It’s silent. Everyone's waiting for his answer, even Ricky. “Fuck you, you fucking criminal.” “What did you call me?” The man’s voice raises with a deadly tone. He points his gun at his target’s head. “You really going to make me say it again?” the man on his knees asks, but his voice cracks. The fear of imminent death is finally coming through. And with that, his death sentence is complete. One shot, bang, and he falls to the ground. The man in the suit moves his arm again and aims at the ground this time. I can’t see, but I hear the shots ring out, again and again. Bang, bang, bang! I shake my head with disbelief, tears leaking from the corners of my eyes. They killed him, and I saw the whole thing. My blood runs cold, and the sickness I'm feeling threatens to come up my throat. And then I do scream. I shriek louder than I ever have before. A pair of hard, unforgiving arms wrap around my waist and chest before a hand covers my mouth. I struggle against what feels like an unmoving brick frame holding me tight, my back to his hard chest. Caught. I’ve been caught. I fight for my life; my nails dig into his skin, piercing and scratching. But it does nothing. He’s so much taller than I am, so he easily picks my body up off the ground and wraps his hand around my throat, suffocating me. I struggle as much as I can. But it’s hopeless, I'm already losing consciousness. The last thing I see, before my world goes black, is the man in the suit looking down the alley. His intense gaze is focused solely on me.


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ABOUT WILLOW

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