Authors: Jessica Hawkins
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Contemporary, #Contemporary Fiction, #Adult, #contemporary erotica, #contemporary romance series, #debut, #romance series, #complete series, #50 shades, #Fiction, #Romance, #new authors, #Series, #Erotica, #New Adult, #Drama, #Contemporary Romance, #third in the series
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
. . . she smiled at him
and at her own fears
THE SIZZLING WAS ALMOST ENOUGH to make me scream. Plumes of smoke spiraled up from the table. Chunky guacamole sat untouched next to a full basket of salted tortilla chips.
Tension grew between my two best friends and me as silence stretched over the tiny table. Lucy blinked finally, but the horror on her face remained. When the wait became excruciating, I repeated myself. “I’m leaving Bill.”
“You’re telling us this over fajitas?” Lucy asked, shaking her head with disbelief.
I shrugged, not casually, but because there was no appropriate way to respond to such a question. I glanced from Lucy to Gretchen, who reached out to clasp her hand over mine. I was drowning, and she could tell.
“Is this why you’ve been distant since I returned from Paris?” Lucy asked me. Her eyes cut to Gretchen. “And why don’t you look surprised?”
“I’m not,” Gretchen said evenly.
“Did something happen while I was on my honeymoon?” Lucy continued, subconsciously touching her new wedding band.
“Something happened,” I confirmed. “And that something is that I’m in love.”
Up until that moment, Gretchen had looked almost relieved. Now she gasped as a breathtaking smile broke out across her face.
“Well, I’d have to be, wouldn’t I?” I asked.
She nodded, her mass of blonde curls bouncing joyfully.
“You’re in love with your husband,” Lucy stated, straightening her shoulders. “Bill.”
“Luce.” I took a deep breath and addressed her with unwavering focus. “You and Gretchen have been my best friends for a long time. When something this big happens in my life, I want to share it with you. I’m in love with someone else, and I’m leaving Bill for him.”
She lunged against the table. “What the fuck?” she screeched.
I winced. Lucy was sweet, doe-eyed and polite. She didn’t screech, she squealed – and she never cursed. “I know it’s shocking,” I said. “I wanted you to hear it from me before I talk to Bill.”
Her mouth fell open. “You haven’t told Bill?”
I shook my head.
“Who is this guy?”
The night before, I’d leaped, literally and figuratively, for ‘this guy.’ And he had caught me in his arms, taking my weight with ease. Rain drenched us, our lips joined and relief melted the muscular arms around me. Our foreheads met. He told me he loved me. I told him he was my home.
A small smile dissolved the tension in my face. “I’m leaving my husband for David Dylan.”
Her brown eyes doubled in size, and she gripped the table until her knuckles whitened. “Excuse me?”
My smile faltered as reality slashed through the sweet memory.
“What are you talking about?” Lucy intoned. “Do you hear what you just said?”
“You’re in shock,” Gretchen said. “Just listen.”
“You knew about this?” Lucy shot back, redirecting her glare at Gretchen.
“Some of it.”
“David Dylan,” Lucy echoed. “As in, my client, Andrew’s friend, Dani’s – ” Her eyes darted frantically over the table as she tried to find the word.
“Yes,” I said softly. “Your client, your husband’s friend and the man your sister was involved with.”
“How did this happen?”
“I’m sorry to spring this on you both, but like I said, you’re my best friends.” I looked between them. “I need you now. I need you there after I tell Bill.”
“How?” Lucy repeated quietly.
“David and I have a . . . connection. I wish I could show you how I’m feeling, Luce, because it’s impossible to describe. Bill has always been good to me, and I love him, I do. I don’t want to hurt him. But with David, it’s different, it’s – ”
“Of course it’s different,” Lucy interrupted. She held up her fingers to tick off each point. “David is gorgeous. Wealthy. Charming.
.” Her hands flew up in exasperation. “He knows exactly what you want to hear.”
“You set him up with your sister,” I pointed out.
“That’s something else entirely. He knows she’s not the type you just fool around with.”
“And I am?”
“No, but that’s irrelevant because you’re married. You’re
,” she repeated. “What are you doing?”
I just stared at her, my mouth hanging open slightly.
“He is a total player,” Lucy continued, her face contorting with disgust. “I set him up with Dani so he could see that there are women out there worth settling down for. But he’s not the type of guy you leave your husband for. Jesus Christ. I mean, does he think of you as some sort of challenge?”
She had pinpointed my greatest insecurity and shoved it in my face. David was a player. He had women falling all over him, and I knew he’d taken advantage of that. What made me different? Was it because he’d had to chase me? Without evidence to deny Lucy’s claims, I remained quiet and wrung my hands in my lap.
“I’ve talked to him.” We both turned to Gretchen. “I’ve talked to David,” she said, “and this isn’t a game for him. He is crazy about her. He
her. He told me.”
My skin prickled as I thought of my David: sexy, tall and strong, with an enormous and loving heart. It gave me the strength to beat back the doubt creeping in.
“That’s utterly ridiculous.” Lucy’s voice, hard-edged, cut into my thoughts. “He’d say anything to get what he wants. What makes her different from the hordes of women he sleeps with?”
“It’s different because every time we’re in the same room, I can barely stand not to touch him, to feel him, to look into his eyes. In his arms I feel safe. I feel loved. Not the way Bill loves me, but loved in a way that I could almost open up my chest and give him my heart.”
They both gaped at me, not bothering to hide their surprise. Lucy visibly grasped at words. “Wow,” she said softly. “I never thought I would hear something like that come out of your mouth. It’s so . . . not you. It’s romantic and – and emotional.”
I sighed my relief and nodded.
“But I don’t think you’ve thought this through. You met David when? At my engagement – oh, God, I’m going to be sick. This is my fault.” She put her head in her hands.
“No, no. I met him at your engagement party, but I saw him before then, the night we went to the ballet. Remember that, Andrew’s firm had tickets? David was there, and we had this . . . I never thought I’d say this, but it was like we were meant to see each other in that moment.”
Gretchen smiled. “It’s really romantic, Luce, if you think about it.”
Lucy’s face was still in her hands. She looked up finally and pinned me with a glare. “Have you slept with him?”
My eyebrows joined with confusion. It was true, what I was doing to Bill was awful, but this was Lucy, the idealist. Couldn’t she see the romance of me and David? My heart skipped when I answered her. “Yes.”
“Oh my – ”
“I couldn’t not,” I pleaded.
“That’s bullshit,” Lucy spat. “You’re stronger than that. You’ve always been strong.”
“Which just goes to show that I – ”
“Stop. Just stop. You’ve been lying to all of us, including my sister, for what? Seven fucking months? Is seven months even long enough to know that you’re ready to give everything up?”
I hesitated. “How long did it take you to fall in love with Andrew?”
The way her face morphed had me shrinking in my seat. “You’re sick, Olivia. If you think messing around with someone like David is anything close to what Andrew and I have, then you know nothing about love. That’s ridiculous.”
“Come on, that’s not fair,” Gretchen said defensively. “Have you ever seen Liv this passionate? With Bill? You know this is the right thing, you just don’t want to say it.”
Lucy averted her eyes as I looked from her to Gretchen. Had she just said I was doing the right thing?
right,” Lucy mumbled, crossing her arms. “Bill loves you, he trusts you, and this is how you repay him?” She paled, her face almost green. “You made a vow to him. Doesn’t that mean anything?”
My chest grew heavy, and a lump formed in my throat. “Of course it does,” I said, just above a whisper. “I love Bill, but things just aren’t right with him.”
“So you go to counseling!” she cried. “You don’t fuck someone else!”
I tried picturing David’s face from last night, the way he had looked right after I’d told him he was my home. But I couldn’t in that moment, and I began to waver. Had I thought this through? Did I owe my marriage another chance? What was I thinking, agreeing to leave my husband of three years for someone I barely knew? Tears pooled in my eyes, and I bit my lip to hold them back. Gretchen scooted her chair closer to mine and hugged me from the side.
Lucy cocked her head, peered at me and sighed. “Look,” she started gently, “you don’t have to do this. You said you haven’t told Bill?”
“He only knows David and I slept together. He’s known for weeks, but he never even asked if I had feelings for David. I do – ”
“Then it’s not too late to call this off,” Lucy said. “I can see that you’re really wrapped up in David, but we will help you through it. Couples survive affairs all the time. We’ll get you through this with Bill. And it will be hard, but I promise not to say anything to Andrew about you wanting to leave. Bill doesn’t have to know.”
“But,” I said. “David . . .”
“Forget him,” Lucy urged. “Is he worth losing everything?”
I took a deep, stuttering breath and nodded barely.
Her face fell. “Everything?” she asked blankly. “
?” I just stared at her until she rose from the table. “I can’t,” she said, snatching her purse from the back of her chair. “I can’t watch you do this.”
“Lucy, wait, please,” I begged as she turned to leave.
She looked back and fixed steady eyes on me. “Don’t tell Bill. If you decide to do the right thing, call me, I will be there. But I won’t sit back and watch you throw everything away.”
After she stormed away, I turned to Gretchen. “What am I doing? Am I making a mistake?” I fought back tears as I looked at her. “Oh, God. I don’t think I can go through with it.”
She put her arms back around me and hugged. As we sat in silence, the doubt Lucy had planted began to take hold inside me, feeding off the guilt and shame I’d been harboring for months. Gretchen separated from me finally and brushed a piece of hair from my forehead. “I want to say something, but I’m afraid it will come back to bite me in the ass.”
My eyes dropped to my lap.
“I’m going to tell you anyway,” she continued, “because I love you, and I think you need to hear it.” She sighed and picked at her nail polish, obviously deep in thought. Seconds ticked by until she eventually spoke again. “You’re not making a mistake,” she said softly.
“Bill is not right for you. I never thought so. You’re my best friend in the world, and all I ever wanted for you is to find happiness again, for someone to open your eyes to all the love out there. When you said yes to Bill, I couldn’t believe it. I could
believe that he was the one you chose when you could have anyone.” I laughed nervously, and she snapped her fingers at me. “Anyone, Olivia. I mean it. And not only that, but you deserve more than what Bill gives you.”
“There was a time when you said Bill loved me
much. The way you said it, it seemed like you thought I wasn’t worthy of being loved that way.”
“No, honey. No. Why would I think that as your best friend?” she asked. “I remember that conversation at my place, the night you told me you had feelings for David. I meant that Bill loves you so much, and he would never hurt you, but . . . that’s not a reason to commit the rest of your life to him. Sweetie, you picked him because he was safe, like I said before, and because he couldn’t hurt you. How could he, when you never let him close enough to?”
“But maybe I should have. And maybe Lucy’s right about counseling.”
“And maybe,” she said, “he never gave you a reason to let him in. The last few weeks that you and David weren’t speaking, you thought it was over between you two. If Bill had left you when you told him you cheated, do you think it would have hurt as much as losing David did?”