Authors: Tara Mills
Copyright © 2014, Tara Mills
Publisher: Beachwalk Press, Inc.
Electronic Publication: May, 2014
Editor: Kelly Anderson
Cover: Fantasia Frog Designs
eBooks are not transferable. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations in articles and reviews.
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.
Back Cover Copy
Is the scandal worth it? Only she can answer that.
For two years Justine Hubbard has played the supportive wife role for her husband in public…and nowhere else. Senator Gary Hubbard’s philandering ended her love for him. But sometimes there are reasons people decide to maintain the illusion of a happy marriage when the relationship is over.
Living a lie until after the election wasn’t an issue—until she met Sean O’Donnell. She can’t fool the perceptive photographer. He understands her. He wants her. After feeling invisible to her husband, that’s an intoxicating discovery. But having condemned her husband for his hushed affairs, it would be hypocritical to give in to her desire for Sean.
All it would take is a whisper of scandal for her husband’s political enemies to bring him down. She wouldn’t dream of sacrificing Gary’s career, their causes, and her own good name. But how can she stay away from Sean now that she’s fallen for him?
Content Warning: contains sensual sex and mild language
Babe—this one’s for you.
Justine Hubbard was nodding politely to Senator Crowley when she caught her husband’s furtive return to the ballroom. Gary slid his hand out of his waistband, his freshly tucked shirt looking as perfect as it had when they arrived. She knew the instant he spotted one of his biggest donors across the ballroom. He smiled and headed that way to glad-hand the man, no doubt to see how much more he could shake out of him. Seething, she saw the leggy brunette who’d preceded him out return moments later carefully dabbing the corner of her mouth with her middle finger.
It felt like a silent
Fuck you, I just sucked off your husband in the cloakroom
Justine doubted the gesture was intentional. Gary and his
tramp du jour
made eye contact then carefully circulated the reception independently. No doubt they’d arranged to meet up again later.
She wondered what his excuse would be this time.
I have important work waiting at the office? Sorry, sweetheart, but I have to meet with Bolton at the Hiatt tonight because he has an early flight and this is our only chance to hash things out before the vote comes up?
She loathed her husband for his philandering, for his casual lies, for his beautiful insincere smile. He could play anyone. He’d certainly played her. She no longer took him at face value, though he still had the power to wound her.
Suddenly realizing her inattention to Senator Crowley was unforgivably rude, she tuned in to his back-in-the-day story, one she’d heard countless times. So had the other woman in their little party, apparently. She was pretending to listen, though Justine could see she was searching for an exit. Bless the sweet old man. He never noticed any of this. His eyesight was terrible and those thick lenses didn’t seem to help one iota.
When the old gentleman paused to catch his breath, Justine took the opening before the other woman could. She felt bad for doing it, but she couldn’t help herself.
“It’s so nice to talk with you again, Senator Crowley.” She gave his arm a gentle squeeze just above the elbow. “But I see Congresswoman Bradley over there, and we’ve been trying to catch each other. Please excuse me.”
“Of course, my dear. Give her my best.”
“I will. Thank you, sir.”
Sparing a pained and apologetic smile for the other woman, Justine was forced to walk over to Congresswoman Bradley.
They’d never met.
The congresswoman was in an animated discussion of her own when she paused in midsentence at Justine’s approach.
The older woman offered her a warm, though obviously curious smile. “Hello.”
This was terribly embarrassing. Justine smiled back, nodding to the others who were frowning as they tried to place her. “Hello. Congresswoman Bradley, I’m Justine Hubbard. Senator Gary Hubbard’s wife.”
“Oh, yes. It’s nice to finally meet. You must know Alexander…”
Justine was quickly introduced to the group then found herself sucked into a discussion over a stalled funding bill for ten new fighter jets.
Her mind drifting with disinterest, she almost wished to be back at the old senator’s side. Almost.
* * * *
Sean O’Donnell watched Justine Hubbard with a photographer’s eye. He longed to capture the haunting pain and sadness he perceived inside her. The title of her portrait came to him, suggested by what he saw.
. Keeping quiet tabs on her, he had to admire her poise. She had every reason to crumble, yet she carried herself with quiet dignity, putting on a brave face for all the movers and shakers in the ballroom.
She moved him.
Having witnessed her husband’s sneaky return himself, he no longer doubted what the rumor mills were churning out on the good senator. The man was a sleaze.
Scrambling for an excuse to approach the wounded wife, Sean hit on an idea.
Fortune smiled on him when she tactfully excused herself from the congresswoman’s group. Moving away, she seemed to flounder for a destination. Her reluctance to approach anyone else was palpable. He understood perfectly. Normally he felt the same way, but not tonight.
Calmly trailing her, he found himself smiling when she snatched a glass of champagne off a passing tray on her way to the wall of windows overlooking the beautiful Capitol building. Then she stopped, facing out at the cold night, her left arm curled around her waist, as if she was giving herself a hug.
Taking a bracing swallow from his own glass, he admired the graceful line of her neck and the intricate twist of auburn hair just above it. He joined her at the window, giving her his best non-threatening smile. “Excuse me, Mrs. Hubbard?”
She turned in surprise and looked up at him. “Yes?”
“I’m Sean O’Donnell.” He held out his hand and she took it, her expression registering recognition.
She laughed, a lovely feminine laugh, rich and silky. “Don’t be so modest. I’ve seen your work. It’s beautiful. Haunting.”
So was she. Her features were delicate and refined, without being sharp. Her intelligent hazel eyes held him spellbound.
“Thank you.” Unable to find a reason to keep holding her hand, he was forced to release it. “I was hoping we could talk about your charity Open Arms, Warm Hearts. I’d love to be involved in your next publicity push.”
“Really? That’s wonderful. But I’m not the person you should be talking to. I can put you in touch with her. I’ve taken a leave of absence to help with my husband’s reelection campaign.”
“I see. Sure, that would be great.” He was already getting off track. How did that happen?
“Can you…” She held out her glass and he took it so she could look in her little clutch purse. “The main number is the same,” she told him, pressing a business card against the window and writing a name on the back. “Lise Van Zandt is the acting director until I come back.” She turned around and laughed when she realized he couldn’t take the card from her with both hands full. “Why don’t I tuck this into your pocket?”
Looking down, he watched her perfectly polished nails ease the business card into the breast pocket of his suit coat. His entire body warmed.
Her hand free once more, she relieved him of her glass. “I hear you have another show coming up next month.”
“In three weeks, actually. At the Russell Gallery.”
“I haven’t been to an opening in some time.” Her smile turned wistful.
“Come. I’ll give you a VIP tour myself.”
“You’d do that?”
“For you, yes. Promise you’ll come.”
She shared another of her intoxicating laughs with him. “I promise.”
Their conversation exhausted for the moment, they both turned and looked out at the magical scene before them. Snowflakes fell steadily, glowing silver as they passed through light, their individual beauty captured for a moment before disappearing on the ground or atop the dirty slush in the street.
He wished he had his camera with him now. He’d turn it on this melancholy woman who seemed just as affected by the view before them.
“This reminds me of something you photographed once, years ago,” she murmured.
Surprised, his gaze cut to her. “Berlin.”
She nodded, a faint smile lifting the corner of her mouth. “That’s it.”
Ignoring the cityscape, he admired her profile instead. “When were you there?”
“Eight years ago, I think. Yes. Eight years.” She finished her champagne, glanced around for somewhere to set the glass, then, not finding one, let it hang loose in her hand.
They both started when her husband came up behind them and touched her shoulder.
“Honey, I’m going to call a cab for you because I have to head back to the office for a couple of hours. I hope you don’t mind.”
“No,” she said woodenly, her eyes flat, the light gone from her face. She was like one of those lovely snowflakes he’d admired moments ago and her husband was about to crush her under his feet.
Senator Hubbard moved to give her a kiss goodbye and she turned away, offering her cheek instead. She accepted the contact with a painful wince.
It was difficult to watch, but Sean remained, unable to abandon her.
Only then did the senator acknowledge him. He gave Sean his winning candidate smile, his eyebrows raised with interest.
“Oh, Gary, this is Sean O’Donnell. He’s an artist. Mr. O’Donnell, my husband, Gary Hubbard.”
Sean shook his hand. “Senator.”
The senator put his arm around his wife while she stood, frozen, her smile brittle on the edges. “My wife is a big patron of the arts. I’m glad she found someone interesting to talk to tonight. She hates these functions.”
Sean smiled tightly, noting her discomfort. “She’s not the only one.”
“Yes, well…” The senator rubbed his hands together. “The sooner I get out of here, the sooner I can get home.”
Sean felt the next perfunctory kiss was for his benefit. His heart went out to her.
“Don’t wait up,” the senator said to his wife.
One more insincere handshake with Sean and the man was gone.
She seemed to shrink, as if letting go of the tension took an inch off her height. “I think he forgot to call for my car.”
“I’m just about to leave. Would you like to share a cab?”
The corner of her mouth twitched and she nodded, her lovely hazel eyes shining, though not a tear fell.
They ditched their glasses and headed to the atrium. Twice his hand strayed automatically toward the small of her back as they walked. He had to remind himself not to touch her.
Collecting their coats, he helped her into hers then slipped on his own, winding his slate gray scarf around his neck.
He didn’t hesitate to offer his arm on the way out. Her high heels demanded it. Even though the sidewalk had clearly been shoveled once already, snow continued to fall, the scattered salt leaving circular patterns of melt amidst the slick. The doorman waved a cab forward and opened the door for them. Sean helped her into the back then slid in after her.
The doorman shut them in as Sean adjusted his long coat on the seat around him. “Let’s drop you off first.”
“All right.” She leaned forward and gave the cabbie her address.
* * * *
Justine was hyper aware of O’Donnell’s hand resting on the seat not eight inches from hers as they rode across the city. If they both stretched out a pinky, they might even touch. Beyond handshakes, she hadn’t touched a man in so long. Gary no longer counted. He only touched her in public. After his second brief affair, she’d insisted.
Her life, her marriage, her husband—all of it was a sham.
Glancing surreptitiously at Sean O’Donnell as he watched the scenery pass, she was struck by how handsome he was, in a completely natural way. There was no hint of product in his hair to tame and control the wayward curls flaring out behind his ears. If anyone gave Gary’s hair a little pat it would shift on his head like one solid, perfect helmet.
Even though it was faint, she could smell Old Spice coming off her quiet seatmate. It made her smile. Ah, memories. Back in the day, she used to love that aftershave. Gary only wore expensive cologne.