Read Broken Online

Authors: Lisa Edward

Broken

BROKEN

Lisa Edward

New York Boston

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In loving memory of Eddie Kocjancic, whose enthusiasm for life was infectious. Always in our hearts. Never forgotten. You are missed every day.

PROLOGUE

EVIE RIVERS

I
couldn't do it anymore. As the emptiness in my heart overwhelmed me, draining all hope, light, and happiness from my soul, I could no longer summon the energy to plaster the rehearsed smile on my face.

Standing with my shoulders slumped beside Charles, who was thanking his congregation for attending the service, my eyes clouded over. Charles noticed and squeezed my hand painfully hard as a warning to behave. It reflected badly on him to have a wife who wasn't gushing over him. After all, the women in town believed him to be quite a catch.

I used to believe that too.

We'd met on our first day at Mississippi State University, and I'd thought he was dreamy. His glowing smile and blond hair offset his golden tan perfectly. He'd been charming, already in training for his chosen career as a preacher. I'd never met anyone who could hold an audience in the palm of his hand the way Charles could, every face enthralled as he talked passionately about anything that came to mind. He had won me over instantly.

The only thing we had ever disagreed on was my passion for writing. Well, not so much my writing, but the genre I wrote in. To me and my two best friends, Angie and Rachael, writing romantic short stories was a bit of fun, a way to earn a few dollars around campus on the side. To Charles, it was disgraceful pornography, and he was disgusted by it. I'd tried to compromise by using a pen name, Eden Rose, so no one would know who it really was. I thought the anonymity would appease him, but just the idea of my mind conjuring up the sordid, sexy scenes was a deal-breaker for Charles.

So I gave it up. I gave up my passion for the man I loved.

What a huge mistake that had been, and now I was paying the price.

The silence in the car on the way home was deafening as I gazed out the window, wishing I were anywhere but sitting beside Charles. The vein at his temple pulsed, and I knew it was only a matter of time before he exploded. My stomach churned knowing what was to come. Another argument, another sermon on how I was expected to behave and me feeling like I'd failed, because for all the trying over the years, I would never live up to his standards. I was so tired of never being good enough.

“What's the matter with ya
now
?” His forced calm cracked as soon as we stepped foot through the door of our home, exposing his disapproval of my less-than-jovial performance at the church.

A flood of emotions bubbled to the surface and tumbled out with my hurried words. “I can't do this anymore, Charles. I'm not happy and I haven't been for a long time.”

He shook his head as he paced the floor. “So what would ya have me do, Evelyn?” He stopped inches from me. “This is our life. This is where we belong, servin' our community.”

My gaze dropped for a moment as doubt began eating at me. We'd had this conversation many times before, with different words, under different circumstances, but it always amounted to the same theme—and I had always backed down.

Not this time. For once I had really listened to Charles's service, and when he asked us to take a moment to reflect on our lives, I did. I reflected on the choices I'd made, and I discovered that with every path I'd been presented with, I'd chosen the wrong one and it had led me here.

I met his eyes. “No, Charles. This is your life, your mission, and you do it so well. But this was never how I imagined my life playin' out.”

He couldn't possibly have realized how true those words were. I had written about romance and the fireworks that a first kiss could ignite, had dreamed that I would one day experience both firsthand. I was still waiting. Perhaps if that part of our lives together had been earth shattering, we could have gotten over all the little speed humps, but as time dragged on, those speed humps built up to be one almighty mountain that I was tired of trying to scale.

His hands came to rest heavily on my shoulders. “So I'll ask again, what would ya have me do?”

Desperation rang in his voice and it broke my heart. Even though my love for him had faded, I never wanted to hurt him.

“You don't need to change anythin'. I'm the one who needs to find
my
callin'.”

He was pacing again. “How can I counsel people on the virtues of marriage when I can't make my own work? I'll be a laughin' stock.”

“Okay, so what would you have
me
do?” I asked, turning his question back on him.

“Stay.”

“And pretend?”

“I should be enough. Your duty is to be my wife.”

But it wasn't enough. I had tried to fool myself into thinking being a wife and mother would bring complete satisfaction to my life, and maybe it would have. But the children never came and it had driven a huge wedge between us. Charles blamed me, and I took full responsibility for not being able to provide the family we both so desperately wanted. Charles sat heavily in his favorite armchair, hands steepled under his chin. “Take some time, Evelyn. I'll tell people ya went on a spiritual retreat.”

“You won't tell 'em the truth?”

He gave me his award-winning smile. “You'll come to your senses and return. There's nothin' for ya out there that ya can't get right here with me.”

God, I hoped that wasn't the case. If this was all there was, then I was screwed.

WEEK ONE

ADAM WALKER—JOURNAL ENTRY

I've decided to take some time off to reassess my life and all the shittiness that goes with it. After the last few months with my family in the UK, I could do with the space. I love them all to death, but being with everyone was claustrophobic, and having Mum fuss over me was great for about the first half hour and then it got real old, real quick.

I hate being dependent on anyone, especially when I'm quite capable of taking care of myself. I'm not an invalid. I've been independent all my life and I will be until the day I die. So I'm going to the Hamptons for a couple of months. It's winter, so it should be cold and hopefully deserted, which will give me time to evaluate where to go and what to do next. I still haven't completely come to terms with my broken heart, but I'll get there. People deal with things a lot worse every day—I just need to stop feeling sorry for myself and figure out a game plan.

EVIE RIVERS

After dragging my beat-up suitcases from the trunk of my car, I awkwardly wheeled them up the wooden front steps of a little cottage on the beach that Angie had leased for me for the winter. I'd never been to the Hamptons before. It had always seemed so pretentious, with the celebrities and crowds flocking there just to be seen, but in winter on this crisp, clear day, it felt like a breath of fresh air.

The bounding of heavy paws and panting breath caught my attention just before I was nearly knocked off balance by an overenthusiastic chocolate Labrador.

“Hey, boy, where'd you come from?” I asked, laughing as I scruffed the wet fur on his head. “I wasn't expectin' Angie to send out the welcome wagon.” I found the tag on his collar. “Pleased to meet ya, Max. If only you were a male of the two-legged variety, you could help carry my bags.”

Max sat at my feet, his pink tongue lolling to one side, his head tilted as if he were trying to make out my ramblings.

There was a shrill whistle and Max's ears pricked up. “Here, boy,” a deep, rich voice called with a hint of an accent that piqued my interest immediately. Max leapt to his feet, affording me one last glance over his shoulder as he raced back down the porch steps toward a house a few doors up from my temporary home.

“So much for the welcomin' committee.” I chuckled, opening the door and wheeling the suitcases into the entry.

I looked around at what would be my home for the next two months while rubbing my hands together to warm them. The house was light and airy with a spectacular view of the beach through the floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding glass doors at the back of the house.

Leaving my bags by the front door, I took a moment to meander through the pristine house. It was extremely white, with white walls and furniture sitting comfortably on lime-washed floorboards. It would have been too stark for my taste, if not for the sandstone wall with its massive open fireplace. The fire had been stocked with kindling just waiting to be lit, and the warm hues of the stone instantly made this showpiece feel inviting. The ceilings were vaulted and the kitchen was modern but comfortable. Sitting smack dab in the middle of the aged oak counter was a huge wicker gift basket, overflowing with fruit, cheeses, and a bottle of Dom Pérignon. With a smile, I read the card.

Welcome back, Eden Rose, you sexy thang, you. I hope you find this setting conducive to rekindling your passion for writing amazing smut. Now that you've kicked Charles to the curb, there's nothing standing in your way. I've put my neck on the line for you, but I know you can do it (no pressure). Speak soon, your best friend and agent, Angie xx

My eyes blurred over and I wiped them quickly with my thumb. I had cried enough tears in the last three months after Charles and I had separated to last me a lifetime. I had given Charles a piece of my heart and filled it with treasured memories of our eleven years together that were now too painful to revisit.

After college, Charles and I had moved back to his hometown to be with his family. It felt wonderful to be accepted by his parents, sister, and extended family after being raised by my grandma, who I affectionately called Mimi, and growing up with just the two of us. Not that a day went by that I didn't feel loved and cherished by Mimi; she always made sure I knew how much my parents had loved me. But I can't deny that when I stepped foot into Charles's family manor and was welcomed with open arms by his mom, sister, aunts, and uncles, it felt as if I had come home.

Charles had followed in his father's footsteps, as was his plan, and I had not long after become a preacher's wife.

Finally we could be together in the biblical sense, without the fear of being struck down for him checking out my rack. Our wedding night was filled with the nervous anticipation that you might expect from two virgins, and as I recalled all the scenes from my novellas and how the heroines had been carried away by the romance and ecstasy of their lovers' touches, I waited for that moment to finally come. But the fireworks never came for me; the most Charles and I could muster was a fizzle. He frowned upon any attempt to spice up our sex life, allowing his beliefs to overshadow his desire to make me happy. I'm not talking about the “red room” kinky stuff either—I'm talking about exploring each other more openly and discovering what would push our buttons. To this day, I'm the only one who knows where my buttons are and how to push them.

I resigned myself to a life of trying to fit the mold of what a good Southern preacher's wife should be, tirelessly making our home as welcoming as possible, and in the process, trying to find a purpose for my existence. Charles wanted a brood of children, so that's what I focused on. But it seemed I couldn't fulfill that role successfully either, and after years of peeing on a stick, chasing that illusive blue line, we drifted apart. I'm sad to admit I gave up on the dream long before Charles did, the nervous excitement of waiting those few minutes for the test to present its findings turning into dread before I'd even unwrapped the kit. I knew what the result would be, but I carried on the charade for Charles's benefit, and then bore the weight of his disappointment.

Now, resting my elbows on the smooth wooden kitchen counter, I gazed out the window at the gray clouds sweeping across the bay as the sun began to set. This was a fresh start that had come out of the blue and at just the right time. When Charles and I had parted ways after seven years of marriage, I felt lost and alone, but Angie had been there. Angie had always been there.

After appointing herself my publicist and agent in college, it should have been obvious that my friend would carry that on after we graduated, putting her marketing degree to good use by joining a literary agency and quickly becoming a major player in New York. I was so grateful that the physical distance between us, with me living in Mississippi and her in New York, had never dampened our friendship. I had been there for her through a shotgun wedding, two children, and her husband's infidelity. She'd been there for me through my lackluster marriage—my heart breaking countless times at every failed attempt to have a baby—and my eventual filing for divorce.

And here she was again, giving me a purpose to get off my butt and stop wallowing in self-pity.

Grabbing my suitcases, I continued my exploration of this magnificent house by wheeling them into the bedroom.
Holy cow.
It was larger than the tiny studio apartment in Brooklyn that I'd recently moved into. The little shoebox I affectionately called home was just a stepping-stone after I'd left the sprawling homestead in Mississippi, and I wasn't planning to live there any longer than I had to. A few days a week I would cross over the bridge to meet up with Angie in Central Park for lunch, and then spend the afternoon daydreaming about buying a Manhattan loft of my own.

I flopped down on the feather-soft mattress, the crisp sheets crinkling beneath my weight. So this was it. Angie had shown so much faith in me and signed me to her agency without me having written one word in nearly seven years. We'd joked that we could turn back the clock and pick up exactly where we'd left off in college, but too much had happened to both of us for that to ever be more than a fantasy. Disappointments, heartache, and real life had tarnished all the dreams we'd had when we saw the world through rose-colored, naïve glasses.

First things first—I needed to read over my old stories. Maybe there was something in there that I could build on and turn into a masterpiece. Jumping up, I flicked open my suitcases, rifling through until I found a file filled with hard copies of my work, which I took out to the living room and tossed onto the coffee table.

Hmm, maybe I need to make a pot of coffee.

I busied myself making friends with the coffee machine, then moved on to working out how to use the oven, dishwasher, microwave, and any other electrical appliance I could find. After an hour had passed and I couldn't think of anything else to do that would keep me in the kitchen, I sat back down on the sofa and opened the file.

I need my glasses.

Padding back to the bedroom, I rummaged through my handbag until I laid my hand on my glasses case. Passing my luggage on the way back to the living room, I decided to unpack and get my clothes sorted and into the closet. I wanted to be able to get up in the morning and not be living out of suitcases.

Another hour passed and I had run out of excuses; I needed to start reading.

Heading back to the living room, I contemplated lighting the fire. It would help to feel the mood of the stories if I was warm and cozy, rather than freezing my butt off. But my stomach was rumbling, and I knew I'd be going out soon to find something to eat. I looked at the untouched file of short stories. No point starting them now.

I checked the time. It was now around seven and time for dinner.

Shrugging on my cashmere coat with the faux fur collar, and a beanie, I grabbed the house keys and started my brisk walk into the main hub of shops to find somewhere to eat.

I knew in the back of my mind I was stalling, that I should be reading the stories and mapping out my first full-length novel, but my gut kept telling me the longer I held off, the longer it would be before I discovered I was an epic failure. Over the last few months, Angie had given me books by authors she had signed to the agency, and they were good, really good. The language was vastly different and being proper books, not short stories, they had depth and a twist and a conclusion.

I had a lot of work ahead of me to get to their level. Still, Angie had faith that I could do it, and that gave me the confidence to at least try. She'd assured me that to be able to write the short stories I had written in college purely from imagination took a natural talent that couldn't be learned. You either had it in you or you didn't. I just prayed that I could dig deep enough to find it again.

  

The sun was not yet creeping over the horizon when I awoke the next morning. I stretched my arms above my head briefly, before snuggling back into the warm-as-toast quilt. I could stay here all day, but I wasn't in the Hamptons on vacation. I was here to work.

After reading the collection of short stories well into the night, I had come to the conclusion that they were good…as a means to light the fire.

My stories had been written partially as a joke, and partially as an aide to get nerdy guys around campus laid. They were filled with cheesy romance, where creative names had been used for a man's dangly bits, and the heroine had heaving mounds, and swooned after a passionate first kiss, whereupon she had to be scooped up and carried to the bedroom.

My romance was over the top compared to stories of today. A subtle breeze would blow raven locks, and lips were full and pouty—and that was just on the men. Shirts were unbuttoned to the waist and gold chains were rife, with names like Fabio and Eduardo paired with Scarlett and Chastity.

But no one fell in love with a lothario named Roberto anymore. They wanted real men, with real issues that could be overcome when the right woman crossed their path. Women didn't swoon anymore or faint at a kiss either—they got wet and horny, and wanted the man as much as he wanted her. My stories had been written as a bit of fun at the time, and they wouldn't cut it these days.

I needed a plan. I had eight weeks to deliver a manuscript that Angie could pitch, that wouldn't embarrass her, or me. To help focus my thoughts, I decided to go for a quick walk to the rocks I could see in the distance, hoping that the fresh air would assist me. I quickly showered and dressed, then grabbed a notepad and pen before stepping outside. The air was icy, biting at my cheeks until I hunkered into my warm coat, pulling the lapels around my neck and halfway up my face.

The rocks were closer than I'd realized, or maybe I was just scurrying quickly because of the cold. I found a sheltered spot with the perfect flat rock to sit on, and perched out of the wind as best I could.

I needed to outline my story and decide on the characters. It would be a boy-meets-girl romance, but just what type of boy and girl was yet to be determined. To make it easier, I had been contemplating basing my main male lead on Charles. Not Charles's stuffiness, but his looks. He was tall and lean with perfect blond hair and a whiter-than-white smile. Surely that would appeal to readers, and I'd lived with him for so long that his mannerisms were locked into my memory for life. Looking along the deserted beach, I debated using this location as the setting for the novel. Maybe a summer romance could work, or a traveler passing through with a secret that would eventually be revealed.

Loud, excited barks drew my attention along the sand in the direction I had just walked. Smiling, I watched as Max galloped into the shallow water, chasing a tennis ball, fetching it, and taking it back to what looked to be quite a handsome man; then the process was repeated over again. Max's owner seemed to be enjoying the game as much as Max himself, laughing and chasing his canine companion every time the ball was returned. By this time, Max was soaking wet, but it didn't seem to bother the guy as he roughhoused with the dog in the sand, his husky laughter traveling on the breeze and making me laugh too.

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