scarred

Chapter 1


Evan

 

Wedding vows sound so sweet,

Meant for times of joy.

The truth is so much darker,

Filled with moments to destroy.

Your sins left me broken,

Scared and lonely too.

With no one to hear my plea,

With a secret no one knew.

 

I promise to love you forever.  And that’s the easy part.

To honor and cherish you.
To keep your wishes and dreams my own.

To comfort you and keep you safe, always.

Till death do us part.

My wedding vows haunt me.  The parts of them that I can remember, at least.  I can’t stop seeing the look of complete devotion on Kat’s face on our wedding day, as I read my vows from a scrap of paper I’d written them on. 

 

 

My heart raced as I spoke each word, my gaze straying from the paper to look back at her.  She was so beautiful, with a love that I knew I didn’t deserve.   

I can still remember the feel of her soft skin as I cupped her cheek in my hand.  I can still smell the sweet fragrance that drifted toward me as I leaned closer to her, all of our friends and family clapping and cheering as I took my first kiss from my wife.

I can still taste her lips on mine.

When I said those words, I meant them.  I thought they’d be so easy to keep, to be honest, and it never occurred to me that I’d forget.

A large metal door opens at the end of the hall and I look up, my view obstructed by steel bars from the jail cell.

It’s been a long damn time since I’ve been locked up.  Years.  Almost a dozen years, to be exact.  I knew I’d be back soon though.

It was only a matter of time before they brought me in for questioning.  I sit hunched over, resting my forearms on my thighs as I wait for the attending officer to come get me.  He walks right past me though and I drop my head, focusing on the concrete floor and recalling every detail of the night that put me here. 

My hands sweat as I twist my wedding band around my finger.  I can’t think about Kat right now or what she’d say.  I haven’t told her a damn thing about this and she’s still not letting me back into her life.  If she knew the truth, she’d hate me forever.

The worst part about all of this, is that I don’t have a way out yet.  I’m just falling into a dark black hole, not knowing how to escape, or when it will even end.

Someone coughs and I slowly turn my head to the left where it came from a few cells down, but I can’t see a damn thing.  I think there’s only one other person in holding with me.  And he’s on the same side so the rest of the cells are empty.  I guess Tuesdays are slow days for the station.

My foot tap, tap, taps on the ground as I anxiously wait.  The cops haven’t given me shit to go on yet.  Other than the word murder.  My best guess is that they think I gave Tony the coke and knew it was laced with poison. 

Even if I didn’t know it was tainted, I’d still be held accountable.  At least here in the state of New York I am.  But that shit was fucked with.  Someone wanted him dead.  Although the only two people who knew it was even there were me and my old boss.

That lying piece of shit.  My shoulders rise with a heavy breath as the anger gets the best of me.  I can see him smile as he patted my back, walking out the room after making sure it’d be ready for our client, Tony.  I know he knew. 

He’s the one who put it there.  The only question I have on my mind, is whether or not he’s the one who laced it.  I can’t imagine he did.  He wouldn’t be that stupid.  But I’m not taking the fall for murder over that shitty decision that cost Tony his life.

“Thompson,” the cop’s voice bellows and echoes off the walls of the small cell.

“That’s me,” I answer him, looking him square in the eyes.  I don’t recognize him as he puts the key in the lock and opens the door wide for me to get out and walk to the interrogation room.  Adrenaline pumps hard in my blood.  It seems more intense now than it did years ago.

Maybe it’s because I don’t know how I’ll get out of this.  I have an alibi, but if James, my ex-boss, showed them the pictures proving I was with Tony that night, then I’m fucked.

I have to wonder if he would though.  If that’s the case, he was deliberately withholding evidence and they’d have to question his intentions and his involvement.

My boots smack against the floor and I walk at an easy pace, making sure I don’t do anything to piss off the cop.  He’s a short guy.  Probably in his thirties I guess.  Lots of wrinkles around his eyes though.  Maybe from the stress, maybe from the sun.

“After you,” he says with a grim look on his face as he opens the door.  I give him a nod and walk in; he doesn’t follow me though.

I only hesitate to sit down for a moment.  There are two men in the room already.  A tall cop with broad shoulders and a thin mustache that I want to shave off and Jay McCann, the lawyer from James’ PR company.

“You’re fired,” I tell him the second I sit down.  I don’t even look at the dumb fuck.  He’s represented me and plenty of other clients before, but I know he’d break attorney-client privilege and tell James everything.  I don’t trust him.

“Are you sure?” the cop asks me as McCann stutters over a response.  Obviously shocked and I don’t blame him.

“Evan, I don’t understand.  I highly suggest we talk about this before you-”

“Yes, I’m sure.  Sorry, Jay.”  I turn to face him and wait for a response, but he stands up and straightens his jacket.  He clenches his jaw as he grabs his briefcase and I can see he wants to say something, but he holds it in.

I watch him walk around the table and exit without another word, leaving me alone with the cop.

“I’m Detective Bradshaw, Mr. Thompson.”

“I would say it’s nice to meet you, but … ” I say with a smirk and tilt my hands up.  Detective Bradshaw doesn’t laugh or respond to my little joke.  And that’s fine.  They never do in here where it’s recorded.  I know how this works. 

“Have you been informed of your rights?”

“I have,” I answer him.

“And do you know what you’re being charged with?” he asks me.

“Charged?” I answer quickly, my back stiffening as my muscles tense.  “I wasn’t informed that I was being charged.”

“Well, I imagine there’s no refuting it on your part.  You supplied Tony Lewis with the cocaine he overdosed on.”

“And you want me to admit to handing over the cocaine to him so you have someone behind bars to take the fall for a hotshot’s death?” I ask him sarcastically, seamlessly hiding how my nerves want to crack and how my blood pounds in my ears.  I let out an uneasy huff of a laugh and shake my head.  Leaning back in my seat I look him in the eyes with a smile as I say, “That’s not happening, Detective.”

“Well, someone is going to go down for murder, yes.  But you’d only be sentenced for your part and we’re willing to cut you a deal.  Whoever laced it with strychnine intended for it to kill.  There’s no doubt in the DA’s mind that it’s murder.”

He waits for a reaction, but I use every ounce of energy in me to not give him anything.  I won’t say a word.  Inside, I’m denying it.  No fucking way.  There’s no way James would give a client something that would kill him.  They’re wrong.

“We know it’s someone within the firm.  It’s not the first time one of NY PR’s clients has turned up dead.”  He leans back and adds, “As I’m sure you’re aware.”

As he talks, he pulls out a manila folder that was sitting on his lap and tosses it my way.  It lands with a heavy thud in front of me and I easily open it, feigning disinterest.

“Nothing points to that person being you, but this was intentional.  Someone wanted whoever it was that was going to be taking this coke to die.  It was laced with enough strychnine to kill with the smallest sample.”

I don’t say anything as he pauses.  He points his finger to a chart.  “Whoever did it wanted even the smallest dose to kill.”

My heart beats hard in my chest and then again.

“If you have any information on how we’d go about finding the killer, that’d be useful and we’d certainly be grateful for that.”

I have to calmly exhale a few times, keeping as still as possible and making sure my expression doesn’t change in the least before I can respond.  “I really liked Tony and it’s a shame what happened to him.  It’s extremely upsetting to think someone murdered him.”

“It is, especially since he didn’t have any enemies we can find,” the cop says and then leans forward.

“You know if we can’t find who did it, you’ll be taking the full brunt of things.”

I let a sarcastic laugh rock my shoulders and then look toward the door to my left.  The one that leads to my freedom.  “I’m sorry Detective, everyone I know loved Tony and I didn’t give him any drugs.”  I lean forward, mimicking his posture as I add, “It’s illegal.”

“If that’s the way you want to play it,” he says, reaching for the folder and I lean back in my seat again as he collects the papers.

“Am I free to go now?” I ask him.  “I’d like to leave.”

He stands abruptly, making the steel chair legs scrape noisily across the floor.  “I don’t think so.  Maybe a night in the cells will help you remember something.”

Fucking prick. 

“Be back in a bit, Thompson.”

I clench my jaw and crack my knuckles as I watch him leave. 

It’s only when the door shuts and I’m left alone in the room that I realize the extent of what Detective Bradshaw said.

Someone wanted to kill Tony, knowing I’d give the coke to him.  Maybe even thinking I’d take it too.  I’m known for partying.  It’s why clients chose me to represent them in the firm.  My head spins as I try to recount that night.  There’s no way anyone else could have gone in there.  James had a key, and he gave me the only other copy.

I was there to party with the clients and make sure they had a good time, but stayed out of trouble.  It was easy enough in the rec room.

For the last ten minutes I’ve been thinking someone was trying to kill Tony.  It’s what the detective was suggesting.

I’d bet anything that James thought I’d take a hit at least.  

Maybe it’s paranoia, but as I sit alone in the room, all I can think is that the coke was never intended for Tony.

Someone wanted me dead.

 

Chapter 2


Kat

 

You said you’d love me forever,

But forever was too long.

 

You said I was your one true love,

But the two of us were wrong.

It’s deceit and lies that broke us,

And living life in pain.

Forever was supposed to be ours,

But forever was said in vain.  

 

It’s not every day you read about your husband going to jail in the papers.  That’s one way to find out, I guess.

My heels click on the sidewalk as I make my way down to the end of the block so I can get home.  The bags from the grocery on the corner dig into my arm. 

It hurts after a few blocks, but I don’t care.  I let the pain sink in and focus on the front door to my townhouse.

It doesn’t take long for my gaze to break.  

Standing in front of the building, dressed in all blue and complete with the cap, is a female cop.  She’s short and blonde, with her hair pulled back into a low bun.  My steps slow as I spot her and I want to break down again.

If only I’d stayed holed up in the apartment and didn’t have to eat.  The thought is bitter and I push myself to walk forward.  Each step hurts more and more.

I must still love the asshole, ‘cause knowing he’s in trouble hurts down to my core. 

It was the sign that I was looking for though.  The one that put the nail in the coffin to my marriage.

“Mrs. Thompson,” the cop says as I walk up to the stone steps.

“Hello,” I say awkwardly.  Not wanting to even look her in the eyes as the shame creeps up and makes the cold air feel even colder.

“I’m Detective Nicoli,” the woman says and I nod my head, feeling the pinch of the plastic bags dig even deeper into my forearm as I shift on my feet.

“How can I help you, Detective?” I ask her and force myself to straighten my shoulders.

“Could I come in?” she asks me, as if I’d let her.

“I’d rather not,” I answer, my voice a bit harsh.  I struggle with the bags slightly, hearing them crinkle as I let out a low sigh.  “It’s been a long few days,” I tell her.

“The bags under your eyes could have told me that,” she says with no sympathy in her tone.

I huff out, “Thanks,” with the intention of walking right by her and into the townhouse, but then she adds, “I’m sorry for what you’re going through.”

And I hesitate. 

I stand there, taking it.  Taking the sympathy but more than that, needing it.  Tears burn my eyes as I look back at her.  “What do you want?” I ask her.

“It would be better for you if I could come in?” she suggests, looking pointedly at the bags on my arm. 

I shake my head.  That’s not happening. 

The charge is murder if the papers are telling the truth.

I’m not interested in hearing from anyone other than my husband.

“Just ask me whatever you want,” I tell her and lick my lower lip.

“I know you two are getting a divorce,” she starts and the article from two days ago flashes in my memory.

All about how Evan lost his job, his wife and now he’s being charged with murder.  My heart twists just the same as it did when I read it.

“I wanted to know if you had any information at all that you’d like to give us,” Detective Nicoli says and I shake my head, not trusting myself to speak.

“Look, I know this is hard, but anything you can give us would be appreciated.”

I stare straight into her eyes and I hope she feels all the hatred in my gaze.

“I don’t have anything I’d like to tell you,” I sneer.  I’ve had to talk to cops before.  I never said a word.  And I’m sure as hell not going to now. 

Not when what I say would contribute to losing him forever.

“Did you know Tony Lewis?” she asks and I shake my head.  Again not wanting to speak, but she waits for me to say it out loud.  The pen in her hand pressed to the pad.

“Never met him.”

“Do you know where your husband would go to acquire cocaine?”

My expression turns hard as I tell her, “My husband doesn’t do coke.”  I want to add anymore.  He’s done it before.  He told me.  He’s done a lot of shit that I’m ashamed of, but that was before me.

Detective Nicoli smirks at me and flips the page over in her notepad then says, “We’ll have the warrant for a sample from him soon.” 

Absently my hand drifts to my stomach, to where our baby is growing, as if protecting this little one will protect Evan.  But I’m quick to pull it back as one of the heavier bags slips forward on my arm.

She doesn’t need to know, but I want to tell her.  I want to tell the world my Evan could never do what they’re saying he did.  But I don’t tell her a damn thing.

“Good for you,” I tell her and start to walk past her again.  I shove the key into the lock and turn it, but before I can open it, the cop leans against the door and waits for me to look at her.

“Get out of my way,” I seethe, my anger coming through.  Anger at Evan, anger at her. 

“Someone’s going down for Tony Lewis’ death.”

“Someone should, but my husband is not a murderer,” I finally snap.  I grip the handle tight, feeling the intricate designs in the hard metal press against my skin.  It’s freezing and the lack of circulation in my arms hurts.  But I can’t let go.  I don’t trust myself.

“I’m going inside and I have nothing left to say,” I tell her and every word comes out with conviction. 

“I’ll leave my card,” she says and slips it into one of the bags dangling from my arm.

I watch her walk away, not saying another word and biting back the comment on the tip of my tongue for her not to bother. 

“Fucking bitch,” I spit out the second I open the door and then let the bags fall to the floor. 

My body feels like ice and my arms and shoulders are killing me.  My legs are weak as I lean against the door to shut it and stare absently ahead, my gaze drifting from the empty foyer to the stairs.

I want to cry.

I want to give up.

But mostly I wish I’d been a better wife.  I wish I’d kept Evan from whatever the hell he did. 

I know him.  He’s not a murderer.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

Evan

 

Damaged, scarred and ruined,

My life all but destroyed.

Nothing but a gaping hole,

With revenge to fill the void.

I should have seen it coming,

But I was blinded by the lies.

And now I’ve succumbed to my sins,

With death to be my prize.

 

Every second that ticks on that fucking clock makes me want to break it.

I haven’t felt like this since the first time I was brought into jail.  It wasn’t here; it was somewhere in Chicago.  But this need to get the fuck out and handle all the hell I created is the exact same feeling I felt that first night.

Tick, the clock’s minute hand moves again and I look to my right, staring down the woman at the front desk who’s doing the paperwork for my release. 

My neck cracks as I stretch out my shoulders.  I haven’t slept and I’m exhausted, but only pure adrenaline is pumping through my veins.

I need to get the hell out of here.

I knew something was off from the very beginning.  James tried to fuck me over.  It had to be him.

The only reason I can think of would be because of Samantha though, and that shit doesn’t make sense.  It’s been years since we had that affair.  Years for her husband to get over it.  Shit, all he’s been talking about for weeks is how he wants their divorce to be finalized.

I lean back on the metal bench and force myself not to look at the secretary and not to look at the clock either.  My eyes focus on the corners of the cheap linoleum tiles and I drown out the sounds of the police station.

No noise, just the memory of that night coming back to me. 

My shoulder flinches as I remember the feel of James’ hand on my shoulder, showing me where the rec room in the hotel is and asking me if I need anything else.  My eyes close and I can see him handing me the key card and looking to his left and right before telling me to make sure I show Tony a good time.

My lungs still and my vision turns red as my teeth grind against one another and my fists clench. 

I can’t fucking handle this.  If that fucker set me up to die, he’s a dead man.

And if it wasn’t him, who was it?

“Mr. Thompson.”  A small voice to my right says my name and breaks my concentration.  It takes every effort to raise my head up and relax my body as if nothing’s wrong.

Each step smacks off the floor with the ticking of the clock.  My heart beats in rhythm. 

No one can know that I know.  Not a soul.

“Your belongings,” she says flatly.  A weak smile forms on her thin lips as she hands me a Ziploc bag and tells me what each item is, going down the list in her hands.

It’s all procedure, I tell myself.

I shove my hands into my pockets and rock on my heels as I wait.  Each second makes me more and more anxious to get out of here.

“And your keys,” she says and then finally meets my eyes again.

“Thank you,” I tell her and grab my shit.  As I slip my black leather wallet into my back pocket, I wonder what James will say.  Better yet, I wonder how I can get him to confess. 

“Make sure you sign here,” she says.  I smile as I do what I’m supposed to.

Break his knuckles.

“And here,” she adds, pointing to a line on the release forms.

Bash his knees in with a tire iron.

“You’re all set, Mr. Thompson.”

Put a gun to his head.

I force the left corner of my lips up as if I’m happy to be getting out of here.  But my muscles are wound tight and my stomach’s churning.

All because of one question: What if it wasn’t him?

No one can know about any of this shit.  My heart skips a beat and I hesitate to walk out of the station.  Kat.

I force myself to move forward.  I can’t go to the cops, even to protect her.  All they’ll do is go after me.  I don’t have a shred of evidence.  I have nothing but my word.  And inside these four walls, my word doesn’t mean shit.

The sky’s gray as I glare through the glass doors, hating this place and what I’ve done.  I have to tell her; I shake my head at the thought.  I’ll have to tell her I’m coming home first and with that thought I take out my phone.  Pressing the power button to turn it on, I lean against the door waiting to see what I’m up against.

I bet she’s heard I’m locked up, but maybe there’s a small chance that she hasn’t.

As the phone comes to life, a series of pings follows the messages popping up. 

One from Pops, first asking where I am and if Kat forgave me.  The next asking me to call him when I get out of jail.  My heart sinks in my chest and the feeling of disappointment runs through me.  He’s too old to be dealing with my shit. 

My body sags against the door, the cold from the autumn night seeping through the hard glass.

I scroll through the messages from people I don’t give a shit about asking all sorts of questions.  They don’t matter. 

But the one person who does matter, the only one I want to hear from and the only person I want to run to … not a single text. 

I check the missed calls to make sure, although hopelessness runs through my veins.  I swallow thickly and push the glass door open with a hard slam of my fists. 

I hate that she didn’t call me.  That she didn’t care enough to let me know that she heard.  If Pops has heard, she’s heard.

The bitter cold air whips by my face as I move toward the corner.   

I check through my messages again, searching for her name like I could’ve missed it.  One catches my eye.  Samantha, James’ wife.  I pause over her name and read her text.  We need to talk.

My strides become quicker at the thought of meeting up with her.  She might know something.  She might be my way to get what I need from James.

I have to go to Kat first and knowing that, I text Sam back, asking when and where. 

I glance up at the corner, seeing the don’t walk sign and take a look over my shoulder to hail a cab.  I’m going home, whether Kat likes it or not.

I’ve kept so many secrets from her.

My head hangs low as I step out into the busy streets of New York City and a cab pulls up.  The door slams shut with a loud click, dulling the city noises as I tell the driver our address.  It’s only after a few minutes of quiet, the rumble of the car almost lulling me to sleep, that I rub my tired eyes and think about what Kat would say.  What she’d do if she knew the shit I got myself into.

She’s already so close to hating me.

She’s close to being over me and what we had.

I can’t risk losing her, but right now either choice–to come clean, or to hide it from her–either choice feels like I’ve already lost her.

 

 

 

Chapter 4

 

Kat

 

  It’s not in my nature to tempt you,

It’s just that I’m so alone.

It’s a darkness that’s all-consuming,

Leaving me chilled to the bone.

Your smile makes me feel something,

To fill the hole my love left behind.

It’s not my desire to lead you on,

But seduction isn’t a crime.

 

“I just want to thank you for meeting me,” Jacob says as my keys clink on the coffee shop table and I take a seat across from him.

It’s been three days since Evan came back to the townhouse.  And three days since he punched Jacob and accused me of cheating on him.  Three days of me hiding away in our bedroom and pretending like this isn’t my life.

But at some point I had to come out.

“I’m so sorry,” I say with my eyes closed tight as I settle down into the seat.  It’s a wicker chair with a dark red cushion and the smell of coffee from the café adds to the comfort.  The whole place has a homey feel to it.

My cheeks are practically frozen from the bitter wind whipping through West Village, but even still they burn. 

“Don’t,” Jacob stops me, holding his hand up and waving off my embarrassment. 

I can’t believe how out of hand things have gotten.  As a professional, I’m mortified.  Who am I kidding?  I haven’t been professional with Jacob from the beginning.

“Please, Jacob.”  I shake my head slightly and then look up at him, staring into his eyes as I refuse to let him downplay everything.  “What happened the other day was ridiculous.  Evan had no right to put his hands on you, and firstly I want to thank you for not pressing charges.”

“I don’t blame him, Kat,” Jacob says with an ease that catches me off guard.  My heartbeat quickens and it’s the only thing I can hear for a brief moment while I take in his words.

“It’s fine, really.  I mean it, I don’t blame him.”

I slowly take off my coat as I tell him, “I do.  I know it looked a little off.”  A feeling of confusion clouds my memory of what I’d planned to say.

I was going to thank him for not pressing charges.

Beg him to not hold it against the publishing agency.

And concede that I would not be his contact if he did go with us.  Obviously, I can’t represent him after what happened.  I’m prepared for that.

“He shouldn’t have done it, and I feel awful.”

“It wasn’t you who did it,” Jacob says.

The comfort in his voice makes me uneasy.

The next words out of his mouth add to that nervousness.  “I’m kinda glad he did.”

“Why?” I ask quietly. 

“You two split, right?” Jacob asks.

“Yeah,” I answer him and it makes my throat go dry.  My chest feels hollow, nothing there but the raw emotion I’m trying to ignore.

“He’s not acting like it, judging by the way he talks to you.  He’s aggressive.  He’s doing what my ex did to me.  And I don’t like it.”

“I don’t know what he’s thinking right now, but this isn’t him.”

“Either way, I knew I was pissing him off and I’m sorry.  Again, I don’t blame him.”

I don’t know what to say back.  There’s a tension between us that’s different from what I anticipated. 

“I don’t like the way I saw him treat you,” Jacob says with a softened voice and then raises his hands up as if expecting retaliation from me.  “I know I only saw a small piece.  A sliver, even.”  He licks his lower lip and then adds, “I just didn’t like it.  So if he’s going to take it out on me instead, I’ll take it.”

“I wish you wouldn’t have done that,” I tell him honestly.

“I’m sorry.  I really am.  I knew it the second I walked down the stairs that I should’ve stayed out of it.  It’s just something about what I see between you guys.  It gets to me.”

“Between us?” I ask him.

“How you obviously care for him even though it’s killing you,” he says with a sadness in his eyes that could be a reflection of mine.

“Either way,” he says, “I’m sorry and you don’t have a reason to be.” 

“I didn’t anticipate you being the one apologizing today.”

Jacob shrugs and it’s then that I see a faint bruise on his jaw.  With the rough stubble, it almost blends in, but when I catch sight of it, I cringe. 

“Shit,” I say out loud and want to cover my face with my hands.  Jacob smiles at me and a masculine chuckle makes his t-shirt tighten on his broad shoulders. 

“Seriously, Kat,” he says and moves his hand to the table, turning it slightly so it’s palm up.  “Don’t worry about it.  I can see where he’s coming from.” 

Jacob’s gaze flickers to a white mug on the table.  I glance down at it; it’s chai, and a warmth flows through me at the thought. 

“So it’s all okay?” I ask him.

He shrugs again and takes a sip from the mug.  “If you’re okay?” he finally answers and okay is not exactly the word I’d use to describe myself right now.

“For you, miss,” a woman to my right announces, startling me and catching me by surprise.  The barista I barely noticed when I first walked in sets down an identical mug to Jacob’s in front of me.  The spices of cinnamon and nutmeg hit me immediately and I welcome the scents.

“Thank you,” I tell her although my eyes are on Jacob.

“I thought you’d like it,” he says with a grin.  “I know the shop is new, but I’ve had their chai almost every day and you have to try it,” he says like we’re good friends.  Like we know each other well.  After a moment he adds, “Great place to write.” 

“I could see that.”  I swallow, feeling a stir of something else in my chest.  It pulls at my heart.  Guilt.  I feel like I’m cheating. 

Evan and I are separated; I have to remind myself again.  And with all the shit Evan’s done, it’s over.  It has to be.

My hands wrap around the mug and they warm instantly as I take a look around the place.  The brick walls and picture frames make it cozy and inviting.  With the dark wooden tables and wicker chairs, I could see how a writer could make themselves comfy in a corner chair.  I take a sip and then another, feeling the warmth flow through my cold chest.  And then a third.  Even though I feel less consumed with regret about the fight between Jacob and Evan, a different feeling is washing through me. 

Like I’m to blame.  And like Jacob’s intentions for inviting me here have nothing to do with the fight or his work.  I’m getting a good sense of what Jacob’s intentions are.   

“So what do you think?” Jacob asks me and I have to blink away my thoughts and try to figure out what he’s referring to.

I think Jacob liked the fight.  And I don’t know why that doesn’t infuriate me.  That’s what I think.  The betrayal sinks slowly into my veins. 

“The chai,” he says and nods to my hands.

“It’s good,” I say with a halfhearted smile and then set it down.  “Jacob, it wasn’t okay what happened.  And I really am sorry.”

He forces a smile onto his lips and it’s quiet for a short moment.  “Kat, I don’t really like your ex.” 

Ex. 

My heart hammers and my blood feels as if it’s draining from my body, leaving me cold.  “I can see why,” I tell him, although I can’t look him in the eyes.

“Hey, I don’t want to upset you.”  His voice changes to a tone that’s sympathetic and I hate this moment.  I hate feeling weak and not knowing what to do or say.

“Please don’t worry about me, Jacob,” I tell him as strongly as I can.

“First of all,” he says with that gorgeous smile, “it’s Jake.”  I can’t help the small laugh that erupts from me at how serious he was when he said that.  “And secondly, I’m not worrying, just being there for someone.  That’s all.”

All my hesitations about him leave me as I look into his kind green eyes.  He’s the rugged kind of handsome I would have been drawn to back when I was single.  I’m honest enough to admit I’m drawn to him now. 

He’s a good guy, and I can feel that in my bones. 

“That’s very nice of you, but I think,” I start to say and try to figure out how to word what I’m thinking without sounding pathetic.  I’m still in love with my husband.  Even if he’s in jail … and we’re separated.  Instead, all I can manage is a mix between a groan and a sigh.

“Hey, let’s just end it there?” he suggests.  “I don’t have many friends here and I put my nose where it didn’t belong.  I’m the one who’s sorry.”

“You’re not in the wrong here,” I tell him.

“I’m not in the right either, am I?” he asks.

“What do you mean?” I ask him, like I’m oblivious.  I know exactly what he means. 

“I-” he starts to say something but then he stops himself and lets out a short laugh before rubbing his eyes.  “Sorry, I’ve been up all night working on this manuscript.”

I take the moment to move back to work.  To steer this relationship back to just business.

“And have you thought about who you’d like to be your agent and represent you?”  Even I almost roll my eyes at the thought.

“You’re shameless,” he says with a wicked grin.

“I know,” I answer him and smile into my cup.  The smile is oddly genuine given my state just a moment ago, but Jacob has a way of making me feel calm and relaxed.

“I’m not ready to talk to any publishers.  I still don’t know what I want to do with this one yet.”

“Want to tell me about it?” I ask him. 

“Well, it’s about me.  Sort of.”  He leans back and spreads his legs wider, my eyes drawn down his chest as he runs his hand through his hair, looking out of the picture window at the front of the shop.  “My ex, really.”

I nod my head and reply, “So it’s an emotional book for you.  Maybe one to feed your soul, more than your family.”

“Well I have no family to feed, so that’d be an easy one,” he jokes.  “But yeah.  It’s more just for me, I think.”

“And what’s it about, if you don’t mind me asking?” I pry gently as I pick up a sugar packet on the table.  I have no intention of adding it to my drink, but I think best when I have something to pick at.  And I’m grateful for the distraction.  I’d rather talk books all day long than anything else.

“We were high school sweethearts who beat the odds.  But we just didn’t get that happily ever after, you know?”

I feel a pang in my chest, a sharp pain in my heart; one that knocks the wind out of me.  Another romance story gone wrong.  “Why not?” I ask hesitantly.

“She’d been cheating on me for a while.  Found out when she got pregnant and the dates didn’t add up.”

“That’ll do it,” I say as my mind wanders back to Evan.  And his infidelity before we were married.  And to my little secret.

“Turns out it was my best friend.”

“Oh shit,” I tell him and feel gutted for him.  “Double betrayal.”

“That’d make a good title,” he says and then chews on his lower lip. 

Again the feeling of shame settles on my shoulders.  Evan and I are over, and I shouldn’t feel like this is wrong.  But for the first time in years, I feel something for someone else.

There’s no way I can justify this feeling right now.  Not when I haven’t had a moment to get over Evan.  Not when the thought of getting over him cripples me.

“You think I could sell it?” Jacob asks me.  He holds my gaze as he lifts his cup.

“I’d have to see it first,” I tell him even though I know a happily ever after sells better.

“Well, I’m still writing it.  I think the story is still going well though,” he says and every inch of my skin catches on fire.  It’s the way he looks at me.  How his stare holds me captive.  Or maybe it’s the tone of his voice.

“Send me the first few chapters?” I ask him and then reach for my purse.  “I have to get going, I’m sorry.  I didn’t think the meeting would last this long.”

He half-smiles at me, a lazy smile almost as he says, “Okay then.”  He says it like he knows I’m lying, but more than that, like it amuses him.  And again I question why that doesn’t infuriate me. 

Running isn’t my style.  I’m an approach things head-on kind of girl.  But even I’m smart enough to know when I’m set up to lose, and Jacob is only going to lead to more problems.

I start to take out my wallet to pay, but Jacob stops me.  “Don’t even think about paying.”

“Are you sure?” I ask him and he’s quick to answer.

“You can get the next one if you really want to, but this one is on me.”

I give him a tight smile, although I’m grateful.  Truly I am.  Even if his intentions are less than pure. 

I can only nod and then make my way out.  It’s all too much.  Separation, pregnancy.  Now Evan’s in jail.  I can’t take how quickly my life is unraveling.

“Hey, Kat,” Jake says from behind me as I push the door open and the bells ring.  I turn to my left, and look back at him.

“It’s going to be okay,” he tells me and I say thanks although it’s so softly spoken I don’t think he could have possibly heard it. 

I just have to leave.  That’s the only thing on my mind, because I’m so fucking broken that the words it’s going to be okay are my undoing.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 5

Evan

 

Hidden in the shadows,

Are the secrets that tear me down.

They scratch and bite and rip apart,

Then leave me here to drown.

I’ll protect you from them always,

Don’t try to save me now.

The sins will come for you – they will,

The sins that broke my vow.

 

 

The worst sound in the world to me, is the sound of my wife crying.

And the worst sight I could ever imagine, is her bundled into a ball on the kitchen floor, sobbing against the cabinets.  Her shoulders heave as she lets out another sob and it makes me feel that much worse.

I didn’t know it could get any lower than this.

“Kat,” I say her name gently.  She’s crying so hard she didn’t hear me come in.  My voice startles her and she jumps back slightly, causing the cabinet door to shake behind her. 

Her mouth falls open slightly, but she doesn’t say anything.  It looks like she’s holding her breath.

“What’s wrong?” I ask her and hate myself.  It’s fucking obvious.  “What can I-”

“Nothing,” she says shortly, cutting me off.  “I’m fine.”  She uses the sleeve of her shirt to wipe her tears away, leaving her cheeks bright pink and tearstained.

“You aren’t,” I tell her.

“I’ll be fine,” she answers and her tone is harsher than usual.  I suppose for good reason.

“I don’t want to cry in front of you,” she says with sincerity.  Not to hurt me, just to tell me the truth as I walk deeper into the kitchen.

“That’s what I’m here for,” I tell her and then feel like an asshole.  I haven’t been here in days.

I can see Kat’s lips part with some sarcastic response.

“I know we’re going through shit and I’m not making things any better.  But I’m here now.”  She doesn’t respond as she pushes her hair out of her face.

I can’t help but notice the curve of her shoulders and the way her breasts move as she steadies her breathing.  My body is ringing with the need to touch her.  The need to make her pain go away.  “Whatever it is,” I tell her, “it’s going to be okay.”  I don’t know how many nights I’ve told her that. 

And it’s always been true.  

“I’m crying because of you!” she screams at me and brushes away her tears angrily. 

“I’m sorry, babe.  It’s not what you think,” I tell her, assuming this has to do with spending a night in jail.  Fuck, I hope it’s not something else.

She only huffs in disbelief and shakes her head, refusing to look at me.  My blood turns cold and I struggle to move, to breathe, but still I walk toward her.

I can’t lose her.

“Kat,” I say her name and she doesn’t look at me.

As I crouch down next to her, Kat gets up just to get away from me and it kills me.  Pushing up on her knee and then wiping under her eyes as she turns from me.

Her shoulders shudder as she opens a cabinet and reaches for a glass.

All I can hear is her heavy breathing as she tries to calm herself down.

“They broke in through the window,” she says with a shaky voice and my blood goes cold.

“Who?” I ask and she shrugs her shoulders, looking at me with an expression of disbelief and answering sarcastically, “How the fuck should I know?”

“Where?” I ask her and follow as she walks to the guest bathroom.  The second the door opens, I’m hit with the freezing air coming in through the broken window.  It’s only a powder room and inside the tub are shards of glass.

“They got in through the stairs on the back of the building.  Didn’t take anything that I can tell.”

“What the fuck,” I mutter beneath my breath, my fists clenching at my sides.  “Were you home?” I ask her quickly.  I should have been here.  I should have been protecting her.

She shakes her head no.  “I called the cops as soon as I got in.  I knew something was off.  They went through your drawers, by the way.  You may want to check to see if you had anything in there.”

Fuck.  My heart hammers as Kat leaves me to go back to the kitchen.  I stand there numb with fear.

I don’t know who it was or what they were looking for.  But if she’d been here …

“Kat, please,” I beg her, willing my legs to move and follow her back to the kitchen.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” she says without even looking at me.

“Kat, I need to know-“ I start to say, but she cuts me off.

“If you want to talk, then tell me how jail was.  How about that?” she spits back.

“Don’t please me, don’t touch me, don’t anything me,” she says, glaring over her shoulders as she slams the cabinet door.  Her eyes are red-rimmed and she looks paler than usual. 

She fills the glass with water and drinks down half of it with her back to me. 

I want to reach out and hold her, but I’ve never seen her like this.

“Kat, I can explain.”

“Oh, thank goodness.  I was worried for a minute,” she says and her voice drips with sarcasm, her back still to me as she turns the tap back on and fills the glass again.

“Please, if you don’t mind, you could start with … I don’t know,” she shrugs and turns to face me, the bitterness in her voice never more apparent than now.  “Why I should give a damn about whatever excuse you have?”

My brow furrows as I take in her stance.  She slams the glass down and waits.  Her hair falls in front of her face, hiding part of her tired eyes and she doesn’t bother to push it away. 

“I don’t want you to be mad,” I start to say but then take her in.

Her knuckles turn white as she grips the counter and I know right then, I can’t tell her what I think about James.  I can’t tell her that I think someone was trying to kill me or that I’m bringing more trouble to her.

I have to be the man she wants me to be.

I can do that.  Just one more lie.  Just once more. 

I swear it’ll be the last.  And only so I can hold on to her.

“Kat, I don’t know a thing about the coke or James or whatever the hell anyone’s told you.”

“You said you needed an alibi,” Kat says straightfaced.  She blows part of the hair away from her face and then crosses her arms across her chest.

My stomach sinks as I give her just a little.  Just enough.  “This is why.  I knew Tony was dead, but I wasn’t involved.”  Lie.  I can barely stand on my own two feet knowing I just lied to her.

“Why an alibi?” she asks.

“To save the company’s image.  We couldn’t be associated with it any more than we already were.”  It’s only a thinly veiled lie.  It’s mostly true.

Kat nods her head, putting a finger to her lips and letting the words sink in as she stares at the floor.

“So you gave him the coke?” she asks and her eyes flash to mine.

“No,” I tell her and my voice is hard.  “I told you I don’t do that shit.”  Lie.  Another lie.  I’m digging my hole deeper.

“They’re going to test you,” Kat says like she doesn’t believe me.

“I’ll have them show you the results if and when they do,” I say and my words come out bitter.

She turns her back to me again and I walk closer to her as she fills the glass with more water.

“I mean it.  I promise you.  It was just a job and I barely drank, Kat.”

She doesn’t look at me as I come closer, close enough to touch her, but I don’t.

“I did drink, but that’s it.  I swear to you.  I wouldn’t touch that shit.”

She sets the glass down and then looks at me as she says, “Tony did.”

She walks past me, brushing her shoulder against mine. 

“I quit for a reason,” I tell Kat, begging her to listen and to forgive me.  “I didn’t do anything, and if anyone in the world would believe me, it would be you.”  My voice shatters on the last word and I have to swallow my plea. 

“I believe you,” Kat says instantly, hating that she’s causing me pain.  This is why she’s too good for me, but I’ll be damned if I don’t do everything I can to keep her.

“No secrets?” she asks me and there’s a change in her expression. 

I shake my head no, although I feel like a fucking coward.

“I have one,” she tells me softly.

“What’s that?” I ask her, sending the air changing between us, darkening and chilling. 

“I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow,” she tells me and her eyes flicker to me and then anywhere else.  She can’t look at me and the sense that she’s hiding something from me takes over. 

“The doctor’s?  You alright?” I ask her, my voice low.  I take one step closer to her and wait for her to move back, but she doesn’t.

She shrugs and stares at the countertop. 

“What’s going on, Kat?” I ask her, listening to my heart beat hard and then harder as she makes me wait.

Her forehead scrunches the way it does just before she cries and I chance another step closer to her.  I can feel the heat from her body as she sniffles and then looks away from me.

“It’s okay,” I whisper.  I reach out for her, praying she lets me hold her and she does.

“Baby, it’s okay,” I tell her as I pull her small body into my arms.  God, I needed this.  I hold her as close as I can, rocking her slightly and loving how she grips onto me right back.  Her shoulders are stiff at first, but she gives in and I say a silent prayer thanking God for it.

I hold her like I have for years, and it feels so natural.  So right. 

“Just tell me what it is, sweetheart,” I whisper in her hair as she sobs into my chest.  It hurts.  Every bit of her sadness shreds me.  “I’m sorry,” I tell her and then pull back to look at her, but she just buries her face back into my chest.

It’s a long moment before Kat quietly pulls away.

“I have something you should see,” she says and starts walking off.  She wraps her arms around her torso as I follow her toward the stairs.

Anxiety suffocates me, not knowing what it is she wants to show me.

“Stay here,” she tells me, looking over my shoulder as she grips the railing.

I nod and watch her walk.  Slow steps.  Her feet pad against the floor as she leaves me.

I wait with bated breath.  My body begs me to sit down, the exhaustion making me want to give in and fall into the couch.  But I stand and wait. 

Whatever it is, a picture of some shit I did, a text or a letter–I don’t care what it is that’s making her so damn upset.  I’ll fix it. 

I won’t let her go and I’ll destroy anyone and everyone who gets between us.

My head lifts when I see her come down the stairs and my feet move of their own accord.

They don’t move for long though.  The second my eyes land on the white plastic stick in her hands, my body freezes.

My mouth hangs open just slightly as I glance from the pregnancy test to Kat’s face.

She stops in front of me, barely looking at me and holds it out.  “I’m sorry,” she whispers in a cracked voice.  As if this is bad.  As if she’s done something wrong.

“Baby, why are you sorry?” I ask as I look between her and the stick.  I can’t will myself to take it or to even believe it’s real.  “You’re pregnant?” I ask her.  As she covers her mouth with her hand and nods, I can’t for the life of me understand why she’s so upset. 

A baby.  A little life just like my Kat. 

It’s the best damn thing I could have ever asked for. 

And then it hits me.  Jacob Scott.  My breathing picks up as my blood heats.  I don’t have the nerve to ask her, but the words are on the tip of my tongue.

I’ll kill him.

“I’m pregnant,” Kat says and takes in a steadying breath, taking a few steps backward.

I almost ask her.  But I can’t do it.  Even if the baby isn’t mine, I don’t care.  I’ll take care of both Kat and her child.

“A baby?”

“Yeah, a baby,” she says and chances a look up at me.  Her long, dark lashes glisten with what’s left of the tears before she wipes them away.

“That’s wonderful,” I tell her and close the space between us, reaching for her hands.  She leans into me and I rub the pads of my thumbs against her knuckles.  “Kat,” I swallow before asking, “why are you sorry about something so amazing?”

I can see her expression fall as she tries to stay strong. 

“It doesn’t change what’s going on, but I just found out and I don’t know.”

“Don’t know what?”

“How we’re going to handle all of this,” she says and starts to pull away from me.

“Kat, you’re mine,” I tell her as I pull her back to me. 

“You were just in jail hours ago.  How are you going to take care of your baby?”

“I’ll be the best damn father I can be.”

“You said that about being a husband too and we’re separated-”

“And we’re going to be fine,” I say, cutting her off.  “Better than fine.  We’re having a baby.”

I finally look at her stomach.  I wrap one of my hands around her hip and the other lays against Kat’s stomach.

“I love you, and that’s what matters.”

“It’s not the only thing that matters,” she tells me back.

Her green eyes swirl with so much emotion, I can’t stand it.  “I’m telling you right now, Kat.  Me loving you, it’s the only thing that matters.”