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Authors: Delaney Diamond

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BOOK: For Better or Worse
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Antonio took a deep breath and fired off an e-mail
to Michael’s attorney. Then he called Steven, gave him suggestions on how to
spin the story, and told him he wanted a draft ready for his review within the
hour.

He glanced at his watch. It wasn’t even nine
o’clock yet.

****

Cassidy Hawthorne-Vega dropped her notebook on
the desk of her cubicle at Demming Technology, an industry leader in software
development and network security. She was tired and hungry from having missed
lunch because of a day filled with meetings and discussions about new corporate
contracts they had won.

Janice Goss leaned over the wall dividing their
desks. “What was that about?” She’d been in the last meeting and saw when the team
leader pulled Cassidy aside when they adjourned.

“He wanted to make sure I take the exam and
apply for my certification.”

“The exam” was the Ethical Hacking and
Countermeasures Exam. If she passed, she’d receive the professional designation
of Certified Ethical Hacker. It meant an increase in salary, and she’d be a
candidate for promotion when another team leader position became available.

Her brother Matthew, who also worked at Demming
Technology, ran his own team, having earned his certification as a network security
administrator several years ago. He’d encouraged her to apply for one of the
limited slots offered to take the training course, and she was glad she did.
Being in charge of her own team of hackers made her nervous but excited at the
same time.

“So . . . ?”

“Hell yeah I’m taking it.”

Janice squealed and came around to give her a
hug. Despite the twenty-five-year difference between them, they’d become good
friends over the last two years.

“Do you have any idea how huge this is? There
are only two female team leaders in this company, and they’re both in network
security. You’ll be the first one in our department.”

Cassidy grimaced. “No pressure, right?”

“You know what I mean. Our field is dominated
by men, and they don’t think we can do what they do. It would be great for you
to earn your certification and then become a team leader. And at the ripe old
age of twenty-four.”

“I know. I’m still overwhelmed by it all.”

“You can do it, Cassidy. I have confidence in
you. Stay focused. Girl power!” Janice stuck out her fist. Cassidy bumped hers
against Janice’s.

Focused. Easier said than done. Lately
she hadn’t been able to think about much except her not-so-perfect marriage.
Hard to believe she and Antonio had only been married since last year, when
she’d had her dream wedding at her family’s vacation home on St. Simons Island
in the southern part of Georgia. In the short period since then, they’d gone
from happily married to . . . it seemed like strangers sometimes.

Cassidy gathered up her notebook and
leather satchel. “Day’s over, so I’m getting out of here.”

“Hey, I know you’re a settled married
woman, but do you think you could get permission from your hubby to hang out
with me one night? Like we used to?”

Janice had an active social life and
enjoyed going out. She and Cassidy used to go clubbing together, but that was
BMA—before marrying Antonio. Having spent so much of his young life in the
media spotlight because of his famous parents, Antonio preferred quiet evenings
at home. They’d learned to compromise. He indulged her desire to go out every
now and again, and she satisfied his need to stay in or just spend time with
friends and family.

“I’ll see if I can get the old ball and
chain to let me out to play one night.”

The truth was, she didn’t really want to
go clubbing because it had lost its luster even before she married Antonio. She
still liked to go out, but when she did, she preferred to do it with her
husband. She just wasn’t so sure he wanted to spend time with her anymore.

A couple of weeks ago, she’d waited at a
restaurant for him for over an hour, and he’d never shown up. When she was
finally able to reach him, he’d said that he was in a business meeting and lost
track of time.

She hadn’t completely forgiven him for
that one. She’d felt so foolish, sitting at the table by herself, assuring the
waiter that he would arrive soon. In the end, she’d left the restaurant, too
embarrassed to order and eat alone.

Cassidy slipped her satchel over her
shoulder and waved good-bye. In the parking lot, her phone chimed an alert that
she had a text message. It was from Antonio:
Gotta work late. Won’t make it
home for dinner.

Company employees poured from the doors
behind her like ants escaping a nest, but Cassidy’s gaze remained fixed on the
screen of her phone, as if the activity around her didn’t exist. Her shoulders
drooped in defeat. This was nothing new. It had been the norm more often than
not lately.

She texted back:
Why?

Walking quickly to her silver two-seater
sports car, she waved to one of her coworkers and then slid behind the wheel.
Antonio’s text came as she snapped in her seat belt:
Meeting at the W Hotel.

Another meeting. So he said.

She fired off an angry text before she
changed her mind:
With all the meetings you have, you must be the best
publicist in the whole country.

He wouldn’t respond. He never did when
she made snide remarks.

She started the car and peeled out of
the parking lot.

****

By the time Antonio arrived on his street in a
rental car, he’d resigned himself to expect Cassidy’s wrath. She had a temper
and never hesitated to let him know when she was upset. 

Her personality tended toward the
extremes, whether happiness or anger. Her mood seldom managed to land anywhere
in the middle. Outgoing and bubbly, she lived her life how she wanted. He’d
realized he was in love with her when he acknowledged that not only did he look
forward to seeing her, but when he didn’t, he’d be in a funk.

Everyone loved Cassidy and indulged her
whims. All she had to do was flash one of her pretty smiles, pout, or emit a
cute laugh, and people fell in line to do her bidding. He knew that all too
well, because he was one of her enablers.

He pulled into the driveway of their two-story
Cape Cod home in a suburb north of Atlanta. Cassidy had fallen in love with the
house,
but thought it was too much. He had insisted
they could afford it and should buy it if she wanted it. The day they moved in
,
they stood at the edge of the property line holding hands, and he listened to
her say how she could imagine their kids learning to ride their bikes down the
tree-lined street in front of the house. With its five bedrooms and six baths,
it was a lot of house for two people, but they planned to have a big family,
and the test scores in the school district had cinched their decision.

He sat for a while in the three-car garage,
contemplating what to do and what to say, but he came up empty. He rubbed a
hand across his brow to stem the headache that had advanced the closer he got
to home. Drama was the last thing he wanted to deal with tonight, but the only
way to avoid a confrontation with Cassidy was to avoid going in.

“Get in the house, Antonio,” he said to
himself.

With a resigned sigh, he went in and trudged
upstairs to the master bedroom. The mild scent of gardenias infused the air
from containers of potpourri placed around the room.

The first thing he noticed was that Cassidy
wasn’t in bed as he’d expected. The king bed sat in the center of the wall,
neatly made with a pile of different-sized designer pillows against the tufted
headboard, giving no indication a man lived there. He never could understand
the purpose of all the pillows with their ruffles and flowers, but it was what
she’d wanted. Candles of various sizes and colors ran along the top of the
mantel of the fireplace in the sitting room off the bedroom. With a quick look,
he saw she wasn’t in there, either. 

The second thing he noticed were the sheets and
pillowcases neatly folded and stacked at the foot of the bed. Wondering why
they were there, he frowned at the sight and shrugged out of his jacket. He was
in the process of removing his tie when the bathroom door opened and Cassidy
stepped out. Upon seeing her, he paused with his hand on the knot of his tie.
They looked at each other in silence for several long seconds, neither one of
them offering a greeting.

A few years ago, she’d stopped relaxing
her hair and started wearing it natural. Tonight she’d neatly styled it in
thick flat twists that wound from the front of her head to her nape. She often
experimented by mixing different oils and creams in the bathroom. Depending on
what she’d whipped up, her hair might smell like coconut oil, jojoba, or rose water.
For now, he could only smell strawberry-scented bath gel.

She wore a white tank top with spaghetti
straps that clung to her like a second skin. The cotton fabric was fitted across
her narrow torso and brought stark attention to her small, perky breasts and
nipples that stood out like headlights. The color was the perfect foil against
skin the color of rich molasses. A pair of powder-blue boy short panties with a
lace waistband hugged her hips.

His gaze lingered there for a moment, and his
groin tightened. It had been weeks since they’d made love because every time he
tried, she wasn’t in the mood, or didn’t feel well, or whatever other excuse
she could think of on the fly.

He ached to get up inside her so bad. She had
some nerve walking around like that, making him want to tear the miniscule
clothing off her with his teeth. Making him want to press every inch of his
hard body against her willowy frame and to hell with what she wanted.

Cassidy finally spoke. “I didn’t expect
you home so early.”

She rested her hands on her hips,
spoiling for a fight. She was tiny—a full foot shorter than his six feet two
inches—and completely unintimidated by him. Despite the antagonistic stance,
her lips, set in an angry moue, looked inviting. She had a full mouth; both her
upper and lower lips were plump and soft. Perfect for kissing.

Antonio shifted his gaze to dispel the arousing
thoughts that stole into his head and nodded toward the pile on the bed.
“What’s this?”

“That’s for you. I was going to make the bed in
one of the guest bedrooms because you’re not sleeping in here tonight.”

He finished removing his tie. “Like hell I’m
not.” 

Chapter Two

 

Antonio saw the flash of anger in Cassidy’s
eyes. “No, you’re not, and I mean it. I refuse to sleep in the same bed with
you. Every time I turn around, you have to go do this and do that. You cancel
our plans all the time. I’m tired of it. The other night was a milestone for
our family, but you couldn’t break away from your important business to come
with me to Athens to see my nephew. I drove out of town, at night, by myself
because you couldn’t get away.”

Anger surged up inside of him, and he
restrained it, but he didn’t muzzle the words he felt she needed to hear. “How
many times are we going to have this conversation, Cass? How do you think I’m
able to afford this house, this furniture, and all these pretty pillows that
I’m not allowed to sleep on? I have to work, and I have to work hard. You were
one of the people who encouraged me to start my own public relations firm,
remember?”

When he made the decision, he’d also received a
lot of support from his family. His father had become a client right away, using
his services to bring attention to the charitable work he did in the States and
their native Puerto Rico. His oldest brother, Ernesto, also used his services.
He played professional baseball, and at the moment, his personal life garnered
more attention than he’d like. He was embroiled in a bitter divorce, and it
took a lot of work on Antonio’s part to keep details out of the news.

“Yes, I encouraged you because you were
miserable where you worked, and I knew you could do it. But I didn’t ask for
all of
this
. This is what you want. You’re the one who grew up rich,
with a father who played professional baseball and a mother who was a model and
pageant queen. I never grew up with all of
this
”—she waved at the
opulence in the room, indicating the luxurious furnishings, the custom-made
furniture, the expensive paintings on the walls—“and I never asked for it.”

“Well you sure as hell didn’t give any
indication that you didn’t want it, either.”

Cassidy crossed her arms. “Don’t try to blame
me for what’s going on. You’re in the wrong, and you know it. I think you’d
rather spend time with your clients than with me.” Although she spoke with
anger in her voice, he heard the underlying tremble and saw the hurt in her
dark brown eyes.

“Cass, you know that’s not true,” he said
quietly, wanting to reassure her. “Everything I do is for us, our future, and
those four kids we both said we want.”

“Right.” They stared each other down. “Where
was your meeting tonight?”

“I told you, at the W Hotel.”

“Which athlete did you meet? How did it go?”

BOOK: For Better or Worse
2.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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