Authors: Jasmine Hill
Tags: #Erotic Romance Fiction
The pain was deep and intense, and she wanted nothing more than to go home, soak in a hot bath and lick her wounds.
She drove home on autopilot, all the while thinking about what had just transpired in Rhett’s office. There was no question that Camille would be considered beautiful by anyone’s standards, and she was younger, late twenties or early thirties. A perfect match for Rhett. Why would he cheat on her?
“And why choose me to aid and abet in his betrayal?” But it wasn’t just she whom he had betrayed, he’d also betrayed Camille. She couldn’t work out why he had gone so far as to invite her to the Valentine’s Ball. Surely it hadn’t been a serious invitation. Why would he risk being seen publicly with her when he was engaged to Camille?
Nothing made sense and she definitely couldn’t reconcile the cheating, hurtful actions of Rhett with the man that she had come to know.
She wasn’t sure how she was going to face him again. The prospect of seeing him daily while she completed the interior design task was unwelcome and worrying. She would just have to straighten her spine, be brave and pretend that he hadn’t hurt her. Acting professionally, and like their sexual encounters had never occurred, would be the only way to maintain her dignity.
She parked the car in her garage, glad to finally be home. She’d entered the house and had just removed her high heels when the doorbell rang.
It couldn’t be Rhett, surely. He didn’t know her address but, then again, it wouldn’t be hard for him to find out. She walked to her front door, peeked through the spy hole and sighed heavily—her day was going from bad to worse.
Taking a deep breath, she opened the door. “Hello, James. What are you doing here?” she said to her ex-husband.
Rhett was angry with himself and absolutely incensed with Camille. He knew that she wanted to resurrect their relationship. She had called him often enough and he’d worried about dealing with her when she returned to town, but he hadn’t figured on her arriving early and breezing into his office to announce that she was still his fiancée!
He could only imagine what Lucy was feeling after that little incident and what she must be thinking of him. She needed some space at the moment and he expected that he was the last person whom she wanted to see, but he needed to explain.
He pulled up outside Lucy’s house and cut the engine. Taking a deep breath, he rehearsed briefly what he was going to say to her. Approaching the front door, Rhett noticed that it had been left ajar. Apprehension pricked his skin as he stepped over the threshold. Why had the door been left open? He hoped fervently that Lucy was all right. Cautiously, he moved towards the lounge room where he heard lowered voices, one of them a man’s, and he immediately relaxed. Whoever it was with Lucy, she obviously knew him.
He moved closer so that he could make out what was being said.
“I still don’t understand why you are here, James,” he heard Lucy say.
Rhett froze and peered into the lounge. Lucy was in front of the fireplace. A man was standing before her, too close, almost touching. He was probably about five feet nine, fit-looking and ruggedly handsome—the ex-husband?
What the fuck is he doing here?
“I want us to try again. I miss you. We had over twenty years together, Lulu. I was stupid for leaving you. Call it a midlife crisis—I don’t know—but I want you to give me, to give
“You should have thought about that before you ran off and had an affair,” Lucy responded bitterly.
As Rhett watched unobserved from the doorway, James reached out and caressed Lucy’s cheek. “Please, sweetheart,” he murmured. He leaned towards her and brushed her lips with his own.
What the fuck!
Rhett didn’t wait to see any more but strode purposefully into the room.
“Get your hands off her,” he ground between clenched teeth. “You forfeited your rights when you fucked around behind your wife’s back.”
Lucy and James jumped, then moved apart, startled by his presence and his vehement outburst.
“Who the hell are you?” James asked, eyes wide and incredulous.
“I’m Lucy’s friend. In fact, I’m more than a friend and I take it that you are her
.” He wanted to remind the guy that he no longer had any claim over Lucy and that she was free to see whomever she wished. He recognised that after what had transpired earlier in his office, he had no right to get angry, but he couldn’t help himself. He knew that this jerk had cheated on Lucy for a year with his secretary before he’d walked out on her and demanded a divorce. He couldn’t believe the audacity of the prick to come back and beg her forgiveness.
“You’re sleeping with this guy?” James asked Lucy incredulously. “Don’t you think he’s a little young for you, Lulu?”
And there it was, out there in the open, sneered by her prick of an ex-husband. The one thing that Rhett knew was guaranteed to upset Lucy and play on her insecurities.
Lucy felt like James had slapped her hard across the face. It was the second time that day that she’d felt the air leave her lungs at a hurtful pronouncement. Hearing those words come out of her ex-husband’s mouth made what she had shared with Rhett seem depraved and cheap.
She looked from James to Rhett. She could tell that Rhett was seething with anger. His jaw was clenched, a muscle ticking in his cheek, hands fisted by his sides.
James looked arrogant and self-satisfied, obviously pleased with himself and his observation of her relationship with Rhett.
What the hell is Rhett doing here anyway? Why isn’t he with his fiancée?
Finally, Rhett responded to James’ last statement. “That’s none of your business, arsehole.”
“There is nothing going on between us,” Lucy muttered. “Whatever we had going, whatever
was, is over.”
Rhett turned towards her. “Don’t say that, Lucy. I came to explain, please, hear me out.”
“I have had enough of men today. I want both of you to leave,” she said frostily and walked towards the front door.
She was suddenly exhausted. The emotional rollercoaster that had been her day had taken its toll, leaving her bone-tired. She couldn’t imagine how Rhett was going to explain away his fiancée, and quite frankly, at that moment she didn’t care. She just wanted to be left alone.
She ushered them both out of the door and locked it behind them before making her way to the bathroom so that she could run a bath.
The steamy atmosphere of the bathroom and the fragrant bubbles helped her to relax while she soaked in the tub. Her mind drifted to the events of the day from Rhett and Camille, to her ex-husband. What a time for James to decide that he wanted her back. She suspected that it was because the secretary had given him his marching orders and James had always hated being alone. She had been devastated when she’d discovered James’ affair and he had subsequently left her, but she was over it. He’d made her see that they had grown apart, out of love and out of lust, so she supposed, in the end, it had been for the best.
She sighed and determined that she wouldn’t think about Rhett or James for the rest of the evening.
* * * *
The following day, Lucy immersed herself in a whirlwind of activity. She had managed to avoid seeing Rhett and was busy reconciling receipts and invoices when Robert Hunter stuck his head through the door of the office.
He looked suave and sophisticated in a charcoal Armani suit and a light blue dress shirt. “Lucy, I’m glad I caught you.”
Lucy looked up from her paperwork and gave him a small smile. “Robert, I am just finalising some things. What can I do for you?”
“Well, I was hoping that you are available tomorrow evening. I would be honoured if you would accompany me to the Valentine’s Ball.”
Lucy was momentarily stunned into silence. Attending the ball with Robert could be awkward. She wondered if Rhett would now be taking Camille. After all, they were apparently engaged and she didn’t relish a confrontation. Nor did she have any wish to sit at the same table as them, and she assumed that Robert would be seated with his son.
Sensing her hesitation, Robert continued. “Of course, I totally understand if you are otherwise engaged and I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable, Lucy. I like you and I would enjoy the opportunity to get to know you better.” He smiled warmly.
Lucy thought quickly and decided on the spur of the moment that she would accept. Why should she spend the evening alone and brooding? She knew that Rhett wouldn’t be expecting her to accompany him after what had transpired between them. Besides, she liked Robert. He was kind and genuine and she knew that he would be the ultimate gentleman. He was also closer to her age, and their attending together wouldn’t raise any eyebrows.
“Oh, it’s not that, Robert,” she explained. “I don’t have any other plans. I just wasn’t expecting an invitation. Thank you. That would be lovely.”
“Excellent. I will pick you up tomorrow evening at seven thirty. I look forward to it.” He gave her a small wave and left her office.
Lucy mused about the ball and what she would wear as she packed up her briefcase and prepared to leave for the evening. She was just about to turn off the light when Rhett came barrelling into the office. He was out of breath and looked like he had been running.
“What do you mean by accepting my father’s invitation?” Clenching his jaw, he narrowed his eyes on her suspiciously.
Lucy was dumbfounded. What right did he have to question her actions? “I don’t see how that is any of your business.”
“It most certainly is my business, considering that I invited you first. Were you going to tell me that you no longer wish to accompany me?”
She laughed in disbelief. “Were you seriously expecting me to honour our date after what happened with your
? I don’t think that Camille would be very impressed.”
“Well, given that you refuse to let me explain, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised,” he said bitterly. “Do you like my father, is that it? Is he who you want?”
Lucy gave him an appraising look. She wanted Rhett. But she couldn’t get past the Camille bombshell and she didn’t want him to know how hurt she was. She wanted to protect herself, needing a shield, and the best shield at that moment was Robert.
“Yes, I happen to like Robert and I am looking forward to attending the ball with him. Now, if you will excuse me. I need to leave.” She brushed past him without meeting his eyes. She was worried that what she would see in their depths would have her rethinking her sudden resolve. And she needed all her resolve to avoid falling back into Rhett’s arms.
Rhett was furious. He couldn’t believe that his father had invited Lucy to the ball. He had only found out about it by coincidence, when one of the organisers had contacted him regarding seating arrangements. And why had Lucy accepted? Obviously she was angry with him, and hurt, but he refused to believe that she had any romantic feelings for his father.
He’d been stalking towards Robert Hunter’s office and he took a moment to take a deep breath and relax his clenched fists. He loved his father, but the thought of him with Lucy made his blood boil. The circumstances, however, required him to keep a clear head. Starting a fight was not an option. The whole situation was irritating and he couldn’t help blaming Camille for the current state of affairs. He also had to accept part of the responsibility, he supposed. If he had been more vehement with Camille then perhaps she wouldn’t have turned up at his office like she had.
He was certain that Lucy still felt something for him—he could sense it. And if she would let him explain, he was sure that she could find it within herself to forgive him. He just needed a chance to get her alone. To do that, he determined, he needed to sort out the present ball attendance arrangement.
He squared his shoulders and straightened his tie then continued in the direction of Robert Hunter’s office. He was prepared to discuss matters with his father.
Finally, it was February fourteenth and the evening of the Valentine’s Ball. It had been an emotional and hectic week, and Lucy had been left feeling rather frazzled by events.
She gazed at her reflection in the mirror. She had chosen a floor-length, dark silver gown of lustrous satin. It had capped sleeves and a sweetheart neckline that showed a hint of cleavage. It was fitted to just below the waist where it flared to a gentle fishtail design. It had a low back, plunging in a V shape to the sway of her spine. It was elegant yet understated, and she felt that it suited her figure well.
She rummaged in her fairly sparse jewellery box for something appropriate to wear. She’d never purchased much jewellery for herself, always preferring to spend any additional funds on the children or household needs, and her ex-husband had definitely never been a giver of jewellery, or anything remotely romantic. She finally unearthed a delicate silver chain with a teardrop sapphire pendant and matching earrings that had belonged to her mother. It was subtle and simple and matched her dress perfectly.
She was nervous about the evening ahead and had thought numerous times that day about claiming a sudden illness that would preclude her attendance, but she didn’t want to leave Robert in the lurch. Another part of her wanted to see Rhett again, to show him that she was fine, that his indiscretion meant nothing to her and that she was getting on with her life.
She grabbed a grey silk wrap from her closet and had just picked up her silver clutch purse when the doorbell chimed.
When she opened the door, Robert greeted her cordially. He looked the epitome of the suave, sophisticated gentleman dressed in his tailored tux, crisp white shirt and black bow tie.
He swept his gaze over her appreciatively. “You look lovely, Lucy.” He extended his elbow in invitation. “I’ll be the envy of every man there.”
* * * *
Lucy was impressed with the venue. It was beautifully decorated and appealed to the interior designer in her. The theme was pink and white, obviously in favour of the romanticism of Valentine’s Day and in dereference to the Breast Cancer Foundation’s pink ribbon emblem. The chairs were covered in ivory damask and tied with big bows. Bowls of peonies adorned the middle of the round tables, which were laid with a staggering assortment of crystal glasses and silver cutlery. Balloons, tied in bunches, floated around the vast room, and big cardboard love hearts, interspersed with ribbons, hung from the ceiling.