Authors: Abigail Barnette
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary
Copyright © 2014
All rights reserved.
This book contains frank discussion of recovery from rape and suicidal thoughts.
Thanks, as always, to Deelylah Mullin, Jessica Jarman, and Bronwyn Green, for making sure I don’t @#$% up my own stories.
And thank you, reader, for coming along. Your enthusiasm for my characters and stories is more valuable to me than anything a billionaire could buy.
I got a little thrill every time I walked into the
office. I still couldn’t believe that I, Sophie Scaife, self-pronounced “eternal fuckup” just a year before, had founded a successful—albeit teensy—magazine that actually seemed to be gaining momentum with readers.
Our office was the top floor of a six-story converted textile factory in Brooklyn. Since I was way out in Sagaponack, anyway, my business partner Deja and I had agreed on a location as close as possible to her and her wife—and my forever bestie—Holli’s new loft. It was a two-hour drive for me, but I usually took a chartered helicopter or slept in the backseat of the Maybach to get there. The rent was pricey, but it was worth the cost to look professional. As my fiancé said, looking successful is thirty percent of actually
successful. And he’s a billionaire, so I figured we should listen to him.
“Ready for the weekend, Ms. Scaife?” Penny, my bubbly blond assistant, asked when I stepped out of my office. Penny had come to New York straight from Pennsylvania after graduating from college there. We’d been her first job interview, and Deja and I had felt instantly protective of her. We’d snatched her up under our wings and practically hissed at anyone we perceived as a threat. Being a small-town girl myself, I felt a spiritual obligation to create a real-life New Yorker out of her.
“You have no idea.” I let her get my coat and purse as I squinted at the split ends of my long, dark hair. I was so happy it was February, and hat-wearing weather was halfway over. The static was killing me.
“Leaving early?” Deja asked, and I met her smiling eyes in the reflection of the gilded mirror on the exposed brick wall behind Penny’s desk.
“Gosh, I hope I’m not fired.” I stuck my tongue out at her. “Yeah. I haven’t been home in, like, two days. Are you cool with that? Did the proofs come back for the summer wedding shoot?”
After two big weddings—one of them Holli and Deja’s—had served as bookends for the previous summer, I had seen a definite need for a “what to wear to which wedding” type of story. Maybe it was because I had been thrown into the deep end with my sorta step-daughter’s lavish New York fairy-tale dream wedding. Despite my background in fashion journalism, I sometimes struggled to remember anything but the most basic fashion etiquette for special events.
“They did,” Deja confirmed with a little grimace. “I hate them. I’m going to meet with Dan at five. You want in on that meeting? We can Skype you.”
I checked the time on my phone. “I’ll still be in the car at five. But, yeah, try and get me in.”
Just as Penny handed me my coat—a blue-gray, mid-thigh pea coat with two rows of military-style buttons down the front—I got a rush of giddy excitement. I had a job again. I had my best friends back. I was living my dream. But, most importantly, the week was over, and I was going home.
My driver, Tony, waited downstairs with the car. I let him open the back passenger-side door for me, and I slid in. In the past, I’d objected to that part of his job, but now I’d come to realize it wasn’t antiquated chivalry as much as means for a driver to make sure his passenger was actually in the vehicle. The partition between the front and back seats was rolled up, so Tony used the intercom to ask, “Straight home, ma’am, or are we making stops?”
I tried to remember if I’d forgotten anything at our Manhattan apartment. I pressed the button and answered, “Straight home. I might be comatose when we get there, but straight home.”
True to my word, I passed right out almost the very moment the car pulled away from the curb. I wasn’t surprised that running a magazine was hard work—I’d been first assistant to the most demanding woman in fashion, at one time—but the toll it took did surprise me. Just two short years ago, I’d been capable of pulling all-nighters and working through the next day. Now, if I didn’t get at least six hours of sleep a night, I couldn’t function. After suggesting it might have something to do with my steady creep toward thirty, Neil had wisely recanted and agreed that it was caused by stress.
I woke when we stopped outside the gate at the end of our driveway, and stared up at the scraggly branches of the jack pines towering over the car in the twilight. I sat up and rummaged through my purse for a piece of gum. I hadn’t seen my fiancé in two days. There was no way I was going inside to kiss him with sleep mouth.
Tony dropped me by the front door, and I fiddled with the alarm to get inside. The house is huge. It’s this sprawling seaside Hamptons mansion, way too big for just two people, but Emma would fill it up with grandkids in no time. I’d just hung up my coat when I heard Neil’s sophisticated English accent.
“Excuse me, ma’am, but do I know you?” He walked toward me from the windowed hall that led to the kitchen. Smiling, he held out his arms when I launched myself at him at a dead run.
… There was no way other way to put it. He was just Neil. Without the stress of running a company full-time, he was happier and healthier than he’d ever been since we’d gotten together—evidenced by my “oof” of pain as I collided with his chest. When he’d still been recovering from his stem cell transplant the year before, I’d gotten used to a slightly chubby fiancé. Post-cancer, he had this new-lease-on-life, constantly-working-out thing going on, and he wasn’t as squishy as before.
Not that I was complaining. Yeah, he was going through a midlife crisis, but I couldn’t blame him. He was only months away from becoming a grandfather, and while he was uncontrollably excited at the prospect—he’d already converted a room in our house into a nursery, “just in case we should ever need it,”—nobody was entirely okay with aging. Heck, even I was beginning to see the specter of old age looming, what with Emma and Michael’s constant “granny” jokes. They found it beyond amusing that I would be a step-grandmother at twenty-six.
I buried my face in Neil’s sweater and breathed in the smell of his cologne. “I am so glad to be home.”
His lips moved against the top of my head as he said, his voice full of raw, tender emotion, “I missed you so much.”
Then I realized that the hand on my ass was slowly bunching my skirt up. He was talking to my butt.
I gave him a playful shove. “Perv.”
“Excuse me, but I am a deeply romantic, poetic soul.” He pretended to be wounded then grinned. “Who also happens to adore your ass.”
“Romantic,” I scoffed. “Pervmantic.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment. Come on, I’m making dinner.”
“Dinner?” I asked, walking ahead of him with a sexy sway to my hips. “I thought you said that when I got home, you’d be eating—”
My words stuttered short when we stepped through the swinging door and I saw Emma and Michael sitting at the island. I switched tracks to avert disaster and raised an irritated eyebrow at Neil. “Vegan. Because Emma is here. Hello, Emma.”
She gave me that look she always gave me when she knew something was up, but she didn’t want any details. “Hi, Sophie.”
“Hey, Sophie,” Michael said, standing to give me a hug. Michael came from a super WASPy family who defied stereotypes by being the huggingest damn people I’d ever met. And I’m from the Midwest.
I gave him a squeeze then went to Emma, motioning for her stay seated. I hugged her briefly and asked, “How are you feeling?”
“Swollen,” she complained, her hand falling to her round tummy. Of course, Emma would be one of those women who carried her baby perfectly, like a little basketball in front. I was jealous, and I was never even going to have kids. But everything Emma did was adorable. Waifish, with blond hair in a chin-length bob that perfectly suited her and big green eyes that could stare down a hardened assassin, she was the perfect combination of sweet and intimidating.
Neil and I had placed bets on which features the baby would have. Neil had his money on Emma’s blond hair, but Michael’s height, while I was rooting for another brunette short person to join the family so I wouldn’t be alone anymore.
“Oh! Here’s your chance, Dad!” Emma said, flapping her hands excitedly. “She’s moving!”
Neil dropped the spoon he’d been using into the pot of marinara simmering on the stove, and I leapt behind the island to rescue it. He wiped his hands on a dishtowel and hurried over to place them on Emma’s stomach.
Then, at the same time, both he and I raised our heads and said, “She?”
Michael laughed and scratched the back of his neck. “Well, so much for keeping it a secret.”
“A little girl?” Neil exclaimed, looking to Emma for confirmation. “Why didn’t you tell me? I would have done the nursery in pink.”
“We don’t know if it’s a little girl yet,” Michael reminded him. “We know it has a vagina.”
“Exactly. They might name the baby Olivia, and then, we find out when he’s like three that he’s really Oliver.” I fished the spoon from the pot, keeping myself at arm’s length from the occasionally popping red sauce to protect my Cordovan lace Dolce & Gabbana sheath dress.
“Will the two of you please allow an old man to have his moment?” Neil scolded. We’d been round and round the gender politics carousel of hell with Neil ever since Emma and Michael had announced that they weren’t going to share the baby’s sex. Neil was super progressive in some ways, startlingly antiquated in others.
Dinner with Michael and Emma was a joy, as always. It was weird, having a stepdaughter who was the same age as me, but in a lot of ways, it was fun. We made an excellent team for ganging up on her father. And Michael was finally able to speak without fear of being destroyed by the hate radiation Neil used to emit whenever the poor guy was around. It was disappointing when it was time for them to head back to the city.
Finally getting a moment alone with Neil alleviated some of that disappointment. I’d stayed in the kitchen to load the dishwasher while Neil walked Michael and Emma to the door, and I was just washing up when he came back.
“Have I ever told you how much I enjoy this whole domestic thing?” I asked, drying my hands.
He came over to circle his arms around my waist. “You enjoy it so much, you started a magazine and put in sixty hours a week?”
“Exactly. I am not scrubbing that pot.” I indicated the giant saucepot in the sink, which I hadn’t been able to fit into the already stuffed dishwasher.
“Leave it. Julia is just going to rewash all the clean dishes by hand in the morning, anyway.”
I rolled my eyes. “She’s not that picky. Besides, isn’t that a good thing in a housekeeper? Attention to detail?”
He kissed my forehead and went to the refrigerator. Pulling out a bottle of white wine, he said, “I have an idea.”
“Oh?” I liked Neil’s ideas. They were usually absolutely filthy. A little tingle of anticipation made me shiver. Before I’d started
, Neil and I’d had all the time in the world for sex. Now, with work keeping me in New York several nights a week and exhausted the rest of the time, we did it when we could.
“Why don’t we start a fire in the den, drink some wine, and I can pretend that I’m more interested in hearing about your day than I am about getting into your knickers.” He grinned at me as he opened a drawer and felt for the corkscrew.
I rolled my eyes at him. “Better idea. How about I take a bath, then we do your plan?”
“Oh, if you must.” He set the bottle aside and came to me, looping one arm around my waist to pull me against him. His fingers dove into the hair at the nape of my neck as he kissed me, and my toes curled in my shoes. My pussy clenched, and I momentarily considered hopping up on the counter and letting him have his way with me right then and there, but we had all night. That was pretty rare.
I stepped back, a little wobbly on my feet. “Okay. I’m off.”
Our house was thirty-five thousand square feet, equipped with a library, a home theatre, a hot tub and a sauna, and forty-nine acres of grounds that included the previous owner’s custom built, scale reproduction of the Pavilion Français at Versailles.
But my favorite part of the place was my bathtub.
It’s really amazing. It’s a high-backed, claw-footed copper tub with a white porcelain basin. It was an antique—part of the apartment I’d shared with my best friend Holli. When I’d moved in with Neil, he’d not only bought the tub from the landlord, but he’d had a reproduction made for our house in London.
I started the water running and poured in some bubbles. The tub had good memories for me. I’d spent a lot of evenings lazing in it, fantasizing about the one-night stand I’d thought I’d never see again. Back then, I’d thought Neil was Leif, a hot forty-two-year-old guy who’d swooped in like a sex guardian angel and fucked me silly during a sixteen hours layover. He wasn’t the only one who’d lied about his identity; he’d thought I was twenty-five, not eighteen like I was at the time.
Now, eight years later, we were getting the happily ever after neither of us had even hoped for.
When I sank into the deliciously scalding water, it was like returning to the womb. I moaned with unabashed pleasure, tilting my head back and closing my eyes.