Authors: Maya Banks
Tags: #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Adult, #Erotic Romance
To Jennifer who is every bit as nitpicky as I am, a fact I am extremely grateful for. This wouldn’t have a chance of being near as good without you.
Catherine Cullen-Wellesley dropped her gaze to the rumpled table napkin in her hand and swallowed against the lump in her throat. Tears burned her lids, and she blinked rapidly to dispel the liquid threat.
Beside her, the waiter hovered, asking for the fourth time in the last hour if he could get her anything. No, not unless he could hand-deliver her husbands.
She waved the young man away and brushed defiantly at the corner of her eye. Her trembling lips betrayed her, though.
How could they have forgotten their anniversary? Again.
She checked her watch and winced as she realized they were an hour and a half late for their reservation. No, not late. Absent. Just like they’d been absent from every other date she’d arranged in the past several months.
Each time they promised to be there, swore they’d make it up to her, and each time she was left to wallow in her misery.
But tonight…tonight was special. Her palm smoothed over her still-flat abdomen, and a sad smile curved her lips. She was going to tell them on the night of their fifth wedding anniversary that she was pregnant.
Only now she was stuck alone with no one to share the news with.
Alone. It amazed her that even though she was in a relationship with two men, she’d never felt more alone in her life. At a time when she wanted to feel so much joy, her heart ached with sadness. How could she rejoice in her pregnancy, at impending parenthood, when she couldn’t even be sure that her baby would have a father to rely on?
Desolation clogged her throat and tightened her airway. She couldn’t breathe around the growing knot. When had she lost hope? Looking back, she couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt any.
Placing her palms down on the table, she bolted upward. She motioned impatiently for the waiter to bring her the check. When he presented it to her, the sole item on the receipt a glass of wine she hadn’t drunk because of her pregnancy, she fumbled in her purse for a few bills and dropped them on the table.
She hurried for the door where the maitre d’ snapped to attention.
“Shall I summon a cab for you, Mrs. Wellesley?” the older man asked.
She smiled wanly. “Yes, please.”
Compassion shone in his eyes before he turned away. She hated that look. Hated the way it made her feel. Forgotten. Negligible.
A moment later, the doorman escorted her into a waiting taxi and shut the door behind her. She supplied the address to the driver in a shaky voice then sank back against the seat.
“This is a goddamn mess,” Logan Wellesley said as he threw his cell phone across his office. After hours of playing phone tag and one botched conference call, nothing had been solved.
Rhys Cullen made a grim sound of agreement from the doorway. “The question is, what are we going to do about it?”
Logan eyed his partner and shoved his hands deep into his slacks pockets. He turned to stare over the glittering Manhattan skyline, anger and frustration pounding his temples.
He turned back to Rhys. “I’ll tell you what we’re going to do. We’re going to get on a goddamn plane and fix it.”
Rhys nodded. “You taking Kingston or Montford?”
Logan sighed. Catherine wasn’t going to like it. Hell,
didn’t like it. But she’d understand. She always did.
“I’ll take San Francisco. You fly to Atlanta and pin down Montford. You shove those plans in his face. Once he sees them, there’s no way he can turn down our proposal. I’ll do the same with Kingston. I’m not going to let a year’s worth of planning go down the toilet. We’ve got too much time and money riding on this.”
Rhys stepped further into Logan’s office as Logan punched the call button for his personal assistant. In a few moments, Paige Stanton made a punctual appearance. He was really going to have to increase her salary. Having to work well into the night was becoming increasingly habitual for her.
“Yes, sir?” she said primly.
“Call our pilot and have him ready to depart within the hour. I’ll be traveling to San Francisco. Then I need you to book the first available flight to Atlanta for Rhys.”
She blinked in surprise. “But sir, have you forgotten?”
“Forgotten what?” he barked. He didn’t have time to play guessing games. Not when his company was on the brink of the ultimate success. Or failure.
Her lips drew together in a disapproving line. “You and Mr. Cullen are supposed to be flying to Jamaica tomorrow. With Mrs. Wellesley.”
“That’s Mrs. Cullen-Wellesley,” Rhys said mildly.
Logan’s chest tightened, and a dread he couldn’t quite dispel settled over him. He exchanged glances with Rhys but couldn’t read into Rhys’ expression.
“The trip will have to be postponed. Something has come up.”
“Doesn’t it always,” Paige murmured.
Logan stared, sure he hadn’t heard her correctly. Maybe he’d rethink that pay raise. He decided to ignore whatever it was his assistant had muttered under her breath.
“Get the flight arrangements made. Now. Report back as soon as you have.”
Paige turned and walked briskly from the office.
“Cat’s going to be disappointed,” Rhys said softly.
Logan closed his eyes. “I know. It can’t be helped, though. We can’t turn our backs on this. We can reschedule. We’ll take her wherever she wants to go just as soon as we get the lockdown on this new hotel.”
“I’ll call her,” Rhys said, reaching for the phone.
“I’ll call her from the car,” Logan said. They didn’t have time to spare, and if he was honest, he knew he didn’t want to face Catherine right now, even over the phone. If he allowed himself to think too long about her, he’d say to hell with the hotel and get on the plane with her to Jamaica.
“Call our driver instead. Tell him to be out front in ten minutes. We can ride together to the airport.”
As Rhys picked up the phone, Logan looked up to see Paige return.
“Your pilot is filing flight plans as we speak and will have the jet fueled and ready when you arrive at LaGuardia. I booked Mr. Cullen on a ten-thirty flight. You’ll need to get moving if you’re going to make it on time.”
Logan nodded approvingly. Paige turned to go, but he called her back.
“You need something else, sir?”
He swallowed. “I’d like for you to call Catherine tomorrow. See if there’s anything she needs.”
Annoyance flashed in Paige’s eyes. “Of course, sir.”
Catherine let herself into the apartment and kicked off her shoes before trailing across the living room toward the balcony. She was already packed for their trip, so she had nothing else to do with her evening except wait for them to come home.
She consoled herself with the idea that they’d probably gotten caught up with last-minute details. It had seemed a miracle when they’d agreed to the two-week trip to Jamaica. No phones, no email, no business, just the three of them on a tropical beach.
God, she missed them. Missed touching them, talking with them, snuggling into their arms after lovemaking. She touched her stomach again. She was three months pregnant. Three months ago had been the last time either man had made love to her. Before that? She couldn’t even remember.
She’d hoped that tonight, and their impending vacation, would go a long way in recapturing what was lost in their relationship. Somewhere along the way to making their business a success, Logan and Rhys had sacrificed themselves—and her—in the process. She knew it, had known that things could only be allowed to go so far, but now that she was pregnant, it seemed the most important thing in the world to gain that reassurance that she still came first with them, that their child would come first.
She was about to open the sliding glass door when the flashing red beacon on the answering machine caught her attention.
Her heart sped up, and she cursed the fact that she was so willing to forget and forgive at the mere idea Logan or Rhys had called to leave a message. They had her cell phone number, damn it, and if they’d left a message here, it just showed them for the cowards they were.
She blinked in surprise when the phone rang. She stood, staring at it, refusing to cross the room to answer. After four rings, the answering machine picked up, and her own voice filtered across the room.
She held her breath as Logan’s voice sounded.
“Catherine? Baby, pick up the phone. You must have let your cell phone go down again. I’ve been trying to call you.”
She vaulted for the phone, simultaneously reaching into her purse for her cell. As she yanked up the receiver, she fumbled with the cell, turning it over in her hand to see that it was, indeed, dead.
“Logan?” she said as she punched the on button.
“Logan, where are you?” she asked.
“I’m in the car. Something came up.” A long silence descended over the line, and she heard him suck in his breath. “About the trip, Catherine…”
Oh no. No, no, no. He wouldn’t.
“I’m afraid we’re going to have to postpone it. Rhys and I have to fly out. Why don’t you see if you can reschedule it. We’ll go wherever you like as soon as we get back.”
Numb to her toes, she stood, hand gripped tight around the phone. She began to shake, and she gulped back the sob in her throat.
“Catherine, are you there?”
“Y-yes. Of course. I’ll see what I can do.”
She thought she heard him sigh in relief. “I love you, baby. And I’m sorry. I’ll make it up to you. Just a minute. Rhys wants to talk to you.”
She closed her eyes as Rhys’ deep voice came over the line.
“I’m here,” she whispered.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart. This deal has us by the balls. We’ll be back soon. I promise.”
She couldn’t even respond. She didn’t want to hear yet one more promise she now knew wouldn’t be kept. She murmured something appropriate, and then he said he had to go.
She eased the phone from her ear, sliding her thumb over the off button. Then she let it fall with a clank onto the table.
Not one word of their anniversary dinner that they’d blown off. They’d only called to cancel their vacation. The two-week trip she’d painstakingly planned, so excited that they’d agreed to go.
Her hands flew to her face, covering her eyes as tears seeped down her cheeks. Oh God, what had happened to them? She sank to the floor, the expensive wood hard against her stocking-clad knees.
It was time for her to face some hard facts. Her marriage was a mess. A disaster. And worse, she couldn’t fix it. God knew she’d tried. The problem wasn’t her, or lack of effort on her part. The problem was husbands who placed more importance on everything else in their lives but her. Husbands who took her complacence for granted.
She dragged herself to her feet and stumbled shakily toward the bedroom. When her gaze alighted on the trip itinerary on the nightstand, she closed her eyes and shook her head.
The trip was their last chance. One last effort on her part to put things right between them. To somehow capture something long missing in their relationship. She wanted so desperately to go back to the time when all that mattered was that they were together. In her mind, if she could just get them away for a few days, they would see how far off course they’d gone. And maybe they’d realize that they missed her as much as she missed them.
She went to the large walk-in closet and hauled out her packed suitcase, tossing it on the bed. She blinked and stared down at it. What was she doing?
I’ll tell you what you’re doing. You’re going on that trip. Without Rhys and Logan. I doubt they’ll even notice you’re gone
She glanced again at the itinerary. Maybe some time away was exactly what she needed.
She stepped over to the nightstand and picked up the sheet of paper with her flight and hotel reservations. With a sigh, she sank onto the bed, the words blurring in her vision.
She couldn’t do this anymore. Pretend that everything was okay. When a wife didn’t see her husband more than a few hours a week, when that husband never remembered important dates, cancelled every plan they had together, it was time to face the truth. Her marriage was over. It had been for a very long time.
The paper shook in her hand. She wasn’t typically a hysterical ninny. She wasn’t prone to overreaction. She’d spent the last five years sucking it up and smiling while on the inside she ached. She’d played the understanding wife to the hilt.
Now looking back, she realized what a huge mistake she’d made. She had no one to blame but herself. But damn it, that didn’t mean she had to suffer any longer for it.
Galvanized to action, she stood and tugged her suitcase. She’d spend tonight in an airport hotel and catch her flight in the morning. Two weeks on a Jamaican beach sounded like a perfect amount of time to figure out what the hell she was going to do with the rest of her life.