Authors: Cheryl Douglas
Book Two in Music City Moguls Series
Copyright © by Cheryl Douglas
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Envious © 2013 Cheryl Douglas
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Katie Elliott’s marriage was falling apart. She was losing her husband and her sense of security. The last thing she wanted was to admit she was developing feelings for her husband’s best friend, but the more time they spent together the harder it became to deny the truth.
Chris Rozen loved everything about Katie, from her infectious laugh to her obvious love for her daughter. They’d started out as friends, but when his best friend, Lee, admitted he was falling out of love with his wife, Chris realized he may be having the opposite problem.
Chris Rozen was used to tipping back beers with his old friend, Lee Elliott, at Jimmy’s bar. What he still wasn’t accustomed to was the
Lee. The recovering drug addict chose Coke over Coors and talked about the meaning of life instead of the upcoming Nascar race or sports scores. His friend was a different person than the messed up kid he’d been as a teenager. For the most part, Chris listened to him pontificate, except when Lee talked about his marital problems. Given Chris’s affection for Lee’s wife, Katie, he didn’t know how to respond when the conversation took a turn in that direction.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Lee said, reaching for his soft drink. “I think Katie’s a great girl, but we came together when we were so messed up on drugs, we didn’t know if we’d live to see another day.”
Chris had chosen to distance himself from Lee when the addiction took over his life. He did everything he could to help his friend, but when it became obvious he couldn’t help Lee wrestle his demons, he decided to give up and allow Lee to find his own way. Thankfully, he did, in no small part because Katie was so committed to recovering from her addiction.
“But you have a daughter together, man,” Chris said, reaching for his longneck. “That’s gotta count for something.”
Chris’s little girl was the same age as Lee and Katie’s daughter, Hannah. He knew firsthand how divorce could turn their little worlds upside down. Chris’s wife had come home one day and told him she’d fallen in love with her boss. There was no room for discussion, and no amount of pleading would change her mind. So he’d let her go on one condition: they share custody of Bianca.
“Hannah is the center of my universe,” Lee said. “You know that. But I can’t help but think we’re not doing her any favors. Staying in a loveless marriage for the sake of my kid sounds like a recipe for disaster, don’t you think?”
“You’re saying you don’t love Katie anymore?” Chris found that hard to believe. Katie was one of the sweetest, most genuine people he’d ever met. He considered his friend a lucky man to be able to call her his wife.
“I love her because she’s the mother of my child, but am I in love with her? No, I don’t think I am.”
Chris had to tread lightly. He was friends with both Lee and Katie. He’d known Lee most of his life, though. He met Katie when the newly married couple moved in across the street from him and his wife nearly three years earlier. They moved back to Nashville so Lee could finish his degree and pursue a career as a sound engineer. “You don’t sound too sure. I’d suggest you take as much time as you need to figure that out before you say anything to Katie about it.”
Chris was trying to be a good friend by encouraging Lee to work on his marriage for Hannah’s sake, who Chris loved almost as much as he loved his own baby girl. But he couldn’t deny he thought Katie deserved a man who worshipped the ground she walked on. She deserved a man who didn’t think he
love her but knew with his whole heart he’d remain committed to her for the rest of his days. Katie was one of a kind. The fact that she was his best friend’s wife made Chris’s feelings confusing and frustrating.
“It’s not like we haven’t talked about it.” Lee looked at the people milling about the crowded bar. “We both know there’s got to be more to life than this. I want the best for Katie. I know she deserves that.” He sighed.
“She does,” Chris said without hesitation. Lee frowned at his quick response. “So do you.”
“How’d you know when your marriage was over?” Lee asked. “I mean, how’d you know it was time to stop fighting?”
Chris smirked. “When she told me she was in love with someone else, I pretty much knew my days were numbered.” Seeing the humor in his situation was easier since a year had passed since his wife walked out on him. At the time, he’d been a wreck. He’d had to accept the fact that his little angel’s smiling face wouldn’t be one of the first things he saw when he woke up every morning, and he wouldn’t be able to kiss her chubby cheeks every night before bed. That was still one of the things he missed the most.
“Yeah, but you still thought you could get her back for a while. What made you decide to stop trying?”
How could Chris tell his friend that Katie was the reason? She’d told him he shouldn’t waste his energy fighting for a woman who’d given up on him. She made him believe he deserved better than that, and in the process, he felt things he had no business feeling for his best friend’s wife. Of course, he would never act on those feelings, but that didn’t mean Katie didn’t drift into his mind far too often when his head hit the pillow. “I knew it was a lost cause. You can’t make someone love you.”
“And you can’t make yourself love someone, no matter how much you might want to.”
“How do you think Katie feels?”
“I think she feels the same way I do.”
“But you don’t know for sure?”
Lee sighed, shaking his head. “No, I don’t know for sure. I’m afraid to come right out and ask her. If I do, there’s no going back. We’ll have to act on it, take that next step, and I’m not gonna lie, that’s scary as hell. I don’t want to be a part-time dad. I’ve seen how hard that’s been on you.”
“I’m not gonna lie; not being with Bianca all the time sucks, but we’re working it out. Maybe it was better that it happened when it did. She wasn’t even two yet, too young to really understand what was going on.” Chris couldn’t pretend it had been easy. Burying himself in his work had helped a lot, especially in the beginning. Chris and his father co-owned a transport company that could easily take over his life if he let it.
Giving up any time with his princess had been a sacrifice, but in the end, he had to admit it was probably the best thing for her. Lee was right. Growing up with parents who didn’t love each other was harmful to children. His ex-wife, Courtney, had married her boss as soon as the ink dried on their divorce papers, and Chris had to admit she seemed happier than she’d ever been with him.
“Yeah, but you said she was asking for dada all the time in the beginning,” Lee reminded him.
“I’m not saying it’s not hell in the beginning, but you get used to it eventually.”
Lee raised an eyebrow. “Man, you’re happier than hell when you’ve got Bianca in your arms. Don’t even try telling me you don’t wish she were there every night when you got home from work.”
“Sure, I do, but she and her mama are a package deal. I realize now that Courtney and I weren’t meant to last forever. She gave me the greatest gift anyone’s ever given me and a part of me will always love her for that, but we’re definitely better off as friends.”
“That’s just it—I feel the same way about Katie. Something’s missing, but I can’t quite put my finger on it, ya know?”
No, he didn’t know. Katie was petite but curvy with long blond hair and bright blue eyes. Even though she’d seen more destruction in her life than most people he knew, she’d never lost that wide-eyed wonder that made her appreciate the little things in life. As far as Chris was concerned, if he’d made a list of everything he wanted in a woman, Katie would check all of his boxes. The waitress appeared to ask them if they wanted a refill, and Chris was grateful for the reprieve. He needed a moment to collect himself. His job as Lee’s friend was to remind him of all the reasons he’d fallen in love with Katie in the first place. That shouldn’t be too hard to do since he had trouble forgetting all of the attributes that made her so incredible.
“Man, why’d you fall in love with Katie?” Chris asked. “And don’t tell me it was because you were both messed up and needed someone to lean on. There had to be more to it than that.”
Lee smiled. “Yeah, she got me like no other woman ever had. I felt like she was really listening to me.”
Chris felt the same way. He knew when he was telling Katie his problems, she wasn’t thinking about making dinner or the laundry in the machine. She was always present, looking for ways to help him, and he loved that about her. “But you guys don’t have that anymore?”
“It’s not the same.” Lee braced his elbows on the table, fisting his hands in front of his mouth. “We’re just so far apart. We haven’t…” He looked at the couples swaying to a slow song on the dance floor. “Had sex in months.” Chris reached for his beer bottle, knowing he couldn’t respond to that comment. Just thinking about Lee and Katie being intimate made his gut churn. “And what’s worse, I don’t even want to.”
Chris thought about suggesting his friend see a doctor. If he didn’t want to make love to Katie, his problem may be physical or even psychological. “Does she ever…?” He tipped his bottle back again, trying to wash the words down his throat.
Lee looked at him, waiting for him to continue. “Try to initiate? No. That’s what makes me think she feels the same way I do.”
“Man, I don’t know what to tell you.” Being a good friend was so hard when that meant encouraging Lee to go home and make love to a woman
couldn’t stop thinking about. “Maybe you just need to give it a little more time. See how it all plays out.” That was lame advice, but with images of Katie dancing through his head, it was the best Chris had to offer.
Katie watched her niece, Shyanne, run a plastic comb through her doll’s long blond locks and smiled. Katie’s sister, Cassidy, had brought her daughter over so Shyanne and Hannah could play together while they had a little girl time. Their relationship had experienced a lot of ups and downs, mostly due to Katie’s bad decisions, but the sisters had finally forged a strong bond.
“How are things going with you and Lee?” Cassidy asked, looking at her sister over the rim of her coffee cup. “Drake said he’s really good at what he does.”
Lee was freelancing as a sound engineer, and he’d been working hard to prove to his twin brother that he was worthy of a full-time gig at his recording studio. “He loves his job.” Katie hoped her sister would let it go at that. Her marriage was the last thing she wanted to talk about.
“I’m glad.” Cassidy reached for her sister’s hand. “But how about you two?”
Katie swallowed the lump in her throat when she saw Hannah take the comb from her cousin and brush Shyanne’s soft dark curls. Having a baby had changed Katie in ways she couldn’t have imagined. She wasn’t the same self-centered, immature girl who’d poisoned her body with prescription drugs just to erase her troubled childhood. She was a mom, and her life revolved around giving Hannah the kind of childhood she wished she’d had. But that fantasy was slipping away. With every day that passed, she felt she and Lee were drifting further and further apart. It was only a matter of time before they were forced to acknowledge it.
“Honey, what is it?” Cassidy asked quietly. She pulled her kitchen chair in closer so her back was to the two little girls playing with their dolls on the floor. “Are you and Lee having problems?”