Authors: Ginger Voight
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©2015, Ginger Voight
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First of all, I’d like to give a huge shout-out to my beta readers, particularly Steven Voight, MJ Fryer and Jeff Mayo, who always hold me to the highest standards and never let me get away with anything. I’m better because of you. Keep holding my feet to the fire!
Thanks as always to the bloggers who are so eager to spread the word regarding the books they love. Many of us writers owe our entire careers to you. There are so many amazing bloggers that to include them all would be another book in and of itself. Fortunately for me I can call many of these ladies my friends, including powerhouses such as Brandee of Brandee’s Book Endings, Samantha of Sammy’s Book Obsession, Cheri of Kindle Crack Book Reviews and Kelsey of Kelsey’s Korner Blog.
I had a lot of fun writing Xander because I had a lot of fun researching Xander. I needed a sexy British voice in my ear to flesh out this idea I had of a confident alpha who could see women of all ages and sizes for the desirable women they are. Fortunately for me I ran across a website called audiosexual.com, which features a lot of steamy erotic audio by such a man. Thank you, Matt, for the endless hours of … inspiration. Xander wouldn’t have been Xander without you! ;)
And last but certainly not least, thank
, dear reader, for trusting me enough to pick up each new book and travel these crazy paths with me. I never lose sight of the investment you make in each story. I strive always to give you the best stories, and characters, I can. Thank you for letting me live the life of my dreams through these pages. You are wonderful. xoxo
The last time that Joely Morgan had been in her bedroom, she had thrown a heavy hand-blown glass vase at the wall. It was fitting. The vase had been a wedding present and, like the marriage itself, it deserved to be destroyed. It had been a beautiful vase, with only one minor inclusion she had found a week after her honeymoon. She had joked with Russell about it way back then, saying that proved that things didn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. That one tiny air bubble gave the vase character, made it interesting. She believed with her whole heart that had been a good omen for their marriage. It wouldn’t be perfect, just like their courtship hadn’t been perfect.
But it could last forever, just like that solid, tear-drop vase swirled with deep cobalt blue and emerald green. As it so happened that crystal vase shattered quite handily when hurled against the wall. It easily broke into pieces just like the rest of her life the second she found out her husband of seventeen years had been sleeping with a younger woman from his office.
She remembered the look on his face as she stood in front of him, confronting him with what she knew. He didn’t even have the decency to be ashamed. “Yes,” he said simply when she asked him if he wanted to continue seeing this girl. “She makes me feel alive again. It’s something I’ve been missing for a long, long time.”
That was when Joely started throwing their expensive belongings across the room like some demented carnie game from hell. She wrecked, on purpose, the lovely bedroom that she had meticulously kept so tidy, just like the rest of their four-bedroom house on the southwest side of Abilene, Texas. It was a 3,000-square-foot brick monstrosity adjacent to a golf course where Dr. Russell Morgan could be found at least three days a week, which usually included the weekend.
Golf had been a major sticking point in their marriage. Given Russell was one of the top cardiac surgeons in West Texas, his schedule didn’t allow much free time. Russell always managed to fill what little there was of it with golf, despite their large family. The rearing of their three children was left largely to Joely, whose career as a stay-at-home mom began when Russell first opened his practice.
While she was supposed to be a 24-hour counselor, chauffeur, chef and cop, he got to show up a few hours a week like Santa Claus. He didn’t get to see them, he said, so he would leave most of the discipline up to her. Instead he was the one they went to for allowances, special gifts and – often – a get-out-of-kid-jail-free card when Joely wouldn’t cave in to what they wanted.
He often used his work schedule as an excuse to bail when things got a little too intense around the house. Due to the life-and-death nature of his particular expertise, he was on-call pretty much 24/7. Their family dinners were interrupted whenever he was needed, even if it meant flying to Dallas, Amarillo or Houston and staying overnight. In fact, the only family commitment that was binding at all was the two hours they spent at church every Sunday.
, she scoffed, her lip upturned. It was a snarl she hadn’t quite been able to unscrew from her face for the past week and a half. They attended one of the biggest churches in south Abilene every single week without fail, presenting the picture-perfect Christian family, an all-American success story of fidelity, honesty and faith. It had all been a big fat lie. Little did she know her domestic bliss had come with its own hidden inclusion that she had never quite noticed in seventeen years. It took finding an email to his new lover to blow the whole thing to bits, just like the expensive vase that had crashed against the wall.
Now, ten days after The Event, she stood staring at the indention left behind. He hadn’t had it fixed yet. Who knew if he would? Who cared? It was his house now. He could do with it what he pleased, including moving in his 22-year-old playmate. Like some twisted soap opera, the part of Joely Morgan would now be played by an up-and-comer named Jena. She would sleep in her room, on her bed, on her sheets, living her life.
With a sigh Joely turned towards her huge walk-in closet. It was 10’x10’, with a long, squat chest in the middle that created two aisles in the large space. One side was his, filled with expensive suits and casual wear. The other side was hers, filled to the brim with all the pretty things he had bought for her over the years. Her throat tightened as she stared at the two wardrobe moving boxes waiting to be filled. She said nothing as she began the transfer, with all the designer clothes she had worn by duty of being a doctor’s wife.
To be truthful she hadn’t exactly worn many of the clothes that hung in her closet. Chasing around after three kids didn’t leave her much spare time to worry about such things. She generally wore nondescript jeans with any functional top within reach, and those items took up one-eighth of the monstrous closet where she now stood.
She also had a vanity table full of makeup and perfume, much of which dried out or expired before she could fully use it all. She only broke it out for special occasions, such as the aforementioned church. Other than that, her lavish wardrobe and vanity sat untouched unless she was required to step out on Russell’s arm as his lovely, doting wife should the occasion call for it.
Other than that everything just hung in her closet, neatly out of sight.
It dawned on her as she crammed the wardrobe boxes full that the same could be said for her. Russell had always kept her neatly tucked away until she was needed, on his terms, at his convenience.
Now he didn’t need her anymore. He had made that perfectly clear ten days before. She had gone all in when she said, “You want a taste of the single life? Maybe I should just leave, then.”
Those cool blue eyes never faltered. “Maybe.” It was all he said, and all, really, that needed saying. He was done. It was over. Instead of fighting for their marriage, he walked out of the house that Friday night. By Monday, he had contacted a lawyer. Since Texas wouldn’t recognize any legal separation, he settled for an informal one. They worked out an agreement. She would move out of the house, with the kids, (“Because they need you,” he had said,) and he would provide a monthly check in lieu of child support, ensuring him semi-weekly visits with his children.
It was all perfectly civilized, though every time Joely thought about it she wanted to scream. Despite their years together he had easily let her go. “I’m not in love with you anymore, Joely,” he said, without a hint of remorse or regret. He hadn't mourned their lost love and he certainly hadn't apologized for nailing the coffin shut on their seventeen-year marriage.
Why should he apologize? It had just happened. They grew apart, like many other couples. They’d lasted longer than many of their friends, an accomplishment that used to fill her with a sense of pride.
Now she was a stone’s throw from forty and on her own just like those women she used to pity.
she wasn’t on her own. The minute Russell left the house after The Event, she had called her mother. After a few unladylike curses, Lillian Murphy formulated a contingency plan within mere minutes. Eventually Joely would have to find a job to get into her own place, but until then she could move back home to mother.
“It’s a big ol’ empty house anyway,” Lillian had said. “Five bedrooms, just me and your Gran. You’re welcome to stay here as long as you need to get back on your feet.”
Joely’s kids were far less enthusiastic about this plan. Five-year-old Hannah immediately burst into tears. “I won’t get to sleep in my room anymore?”
“No, honey,” Joely said as she stroked her hair. “But it’s at Nanna’s house. You love staying there, don’t you?”
Hannah nodded but her crying didn’t cease. Fourteen-year-old Nash didn’t cry. In fact he didn’t speak at all. He sat there in the formal dining room, completely stoic, staring at the wood grain on the table. His adolescence had turned a once cheerful little boy into a moody, withdrawn teenager who wore black almost exclusively. She had read every book she could get her hands on regarding depression in teens, but he had been a particularly hard nut to crack. It as though it physically pained him to show any kind of emotion.
Kari Morgan didn’t have that problem. At fifteen, she was comfortable sharing every single emotion she had the very instant she had it. She had always been an expressive child, ever since she was a baby. Joely often envied her willingness to be seen and heard. She was a bit like her grandmother that way. It was one of the positives of moving back home to Lillian’s 1930s colonial home in Old Elmwood, a distinguished, older neighborhood just east of the Winters Freeway.
Unfortunately Kari didn’t see it the same way. Her safe, upper-class existence had imploded, violently, just like Mount Vesuvius. To hear her tell it, Kari Morgan was essentially Pompeii. All these changes were just that cataclysmic. Since Joely couldn’t promise that she and Russell would reconcile any too soon, if at all, they made every single change as if they were permanent. This included changing schools and moving across town from her friends.
Of course, in a city of 120,000 people ‘across town’ was still just a ten-minute car ride away. From the way Kari was acting, it was like they were moving to Mars. She screamed and cried before she stomped from the room, slamming every door between the dining room and her bedroom upstairs.
It had been like wrangling wild mustangs trying to coordinate the move these past ten days. Even now, while Joely toiled away, filling box after box, her kids were scattered to their different rooms, each procrastinating as they did their level best to delay the inevitable.
Joely couldn’t help but feel a bit resentful. It was hard enough to leave. She had invested years creating a home for her family. She had picked every single piece of furniture. She had chosen every single knickknack. From the paintings and photos on the wall to the tiles on the floor, every single inch of the place had her touch on it.
“I should have fought for the house,” she mumbled as she started filling another box with shoes.
She probably would have, had Russell decided one way or the other if he wanted a divorce. For now, he just wanted to “wait and see” how the new arrangement worked for everyone. What he really meant is that he wanted to see how it worked for him. If he had cared about Joely at all he never would have cheated on her.
Her blood burned just thinking about it. Russell admitted that the affair began six months before. He had been lying for six solid months, to her, to their kids, to their God every Sunday he sat stoic and pious in that church pew, silently condemning everyone else. He didn’t come to her, letting her know anything was wrong. He never gave her a chance to fix what was ultimately broken in their relationship. He just made all the choices for her, which was the most disrespectful thing he could have done. He didn’t value her as a person, certainly not as a mate. He just decided one day he didn’t love her anymore and that was that.
“That’s an easy decision to make for the guy who has already found someone else,” she had sneered. “What if I had done that to you?”
He had chuckled then, which only pissed her off even more. “Be serious, Joely.”
Those three words had emotionally leveled Joely. It wasn’t just that her husband didn’t want her anymore. He was sure no one else did either. She was like last season’s fashion trend, or last year’s technology breakthrough. As a thirty-nine-year-old homemaker, she was obsolete.
“Joely?” she heard Russell call from the bedroom. Out of habit she scrambled to her feet when she heard his call, and cursed herself the minute she did so. He appeared at the door of the closet, looming large at six-foot-three.
Even though she hated to admit it, he still took her breath away. He was as handsome a man at forty-two as he ever was at twenty-four, when they met. He was tall and fit, with smooth jet black hair with a touch of gray at the temples. He wore a neatly trimmed beard, which only made him look more distinguished. Add that to the fat bank account, luxury cars and the thriving medical practice, and he was still as desirable today as he had been in 1996. Maybe even more so.
Unlike Joely, whose hips had widened with every birth, and whose boobs had begun to lose their battle with gravity, whose long, brown hair looked best tied back in a convenient ponytail, he was able to dip his toe back into the dating waters. Girls of all ages flocked to him. Apparently one of them had already reeled him in.
“I thought you weren’t going to be here today,” she said as she continued stuffing things in a box.
“I wanted to say goodbye to the children personally,” he said in that calm, condescending tone he had perfected as a renowned surgeon.
She shoved another belonging into the box. “How generous of you.”
He leaned against the door jam. “I was hoping we could conduct this ugly business as mature adults.”
“Funny,” she said. “That’s how I felt about our marriage.”
He turned to leave, which broke her heart even more. He wouldn’t fight, for her or the kids. He was willing to just walk away from everything they had built. She wanted to scream at him, to ask him why. If only she had another vase to throw.
She followed him to the bedroom. “You have nothing to say?”
He spared her a glance. “I think we’ve said all we needed to say.”
How could that be possible? She still had so many unanswered questions. Rationally she knew that no answer he could give would ever satisfy her, but dammit. He should at least try. He was the one in the wrong. It was up to him to repent, to fix this mess… to make things okay again. “You haven’t said you’re sorry,” she pointed out.