Authors: Mina Carter
"No..." Pain lanced through him. Sharp, immediate.
Barely aware of what he was doing, he entered the room, picking up the discarded gown and smoothing the crumpled fabric before draping it across the chair. He'd known their marriage wasn't forever, it wasn't planned to be forever. So why did it hurt so much?
He stood in the middle of the room, running his hand through his hair in distraction. He looked around, for once not sure what to do next and floundering. JJ always had a plan, he was the decisive one, the one who knew what he wanted and went all out to get it. But his plans had never included what to do if your wife of less than twelve hours walked out on you.
Perhaps she wasn't gone? Perhaps Logan was wrong and she was just in the shower, changing into something lighter than the full dress ... even as the thought occurred to him, he dismissed it. Since when had he started doubting Logan?
There was no way he'd lie to him, not over something like this.
His eyes swept over the room, latching onto the envelope on the dressing table. He approached it with the caution of a soldier checking enemy bodies for booby-traps. A single white envelope, with the hotel's logo on it. There was no name on it but he knew it was for him.
He reached out, picked it up. It was heavier than just a letter, something clicking and shifting inside it. He knew what it contained before he opened it and looked inside. Sure enough, two rings nestled between the folds of the heavy 89
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white paper, the diamond of Zette's engagement ring catching the light.
JJ sat down heavily on the side of the bed. There was a letter as well, a single sheet of paper folded neatly and slid into the envelope next to the rings. He smiled despite himself, Zette was always neat and tidy. Drawing out the letter, he opened it.
I know about the divorce papers. File them
"Crap." JJ's jaw tightened, a muscle jumping in the corner.
He'd hoped this was retrievable but if she knew about the papers then obviously not.
... and she obviously didn't care.
"Fuck it," he muttered, reaching into his pocket and pulling out his cell. He flicked it open with a practised gesture, hitting speed dial. He wasn't letting her get away as easy as this damn it! She couldn't just walk out on him without him having the last word. Even if that last word was just to ask her where to send the damn papers.
The distinctive ringtone of her phone went off behind him, on the other side of the room. JJ frowned, leaving his ringing as he tracked hers down by the sound, ending up rooting under the bed for it. She must have kicked it there by accident and forgotten it.
"Great, now what?" He looked at the sleek silver device in his hand. The flashing icon in the corner caught his eye. She had saved messages. Unable to help himself, he pressed the call button and lifted it to his ear.
by Mina Carter
"Ms. Matthews, this is Doctor Fisher. We've just received your test results back and I'm delighted to inform you that you are expecting..."
* * * *
Zette's powerful voice was restrained as she sang, little more than whispering into the microphone in front of her. But it was enough. The raw emotion in her voice pulsed around the stadium, kept the crowd spell-bound, fascinated by the tiny figure on stage as though she was something rare and unique. An endangered species to be observed before it died out forever.
JJ stood in one of the VIP boxes, watching from the shadows. His expression was fixed, eyes focused on Zette.
unique. There wasn't another singer in the world that could pull in such crowds, evoke such emotion in a crowd, in a listener. Make them feel the pain and sorrow that flowed through her voice.
Especially her last album,
Sleepless Nights and Broken
. A departure from her usual full-bodied, full-on rock style, it was filled with soulful ballads that brought tears to the eyes. Or at least they had for JJ, hearing the anguish in her voice as she huskily whisper-sang the words. Critics raved over her ability to put so much emotion into her voice but he knew better.
Zette sang from the heart, she always had. The pain and misery were real. And he'd caused them.
by Mina Carter
But my Prince Charming ... you weren't who I thought
He winced, the world contracting, narrowing down to just the two of them. She could have been singing just to him.
singing just to him. He'd known that the moment he'd heard her singing this track, catching it by accident on the radio in his car.
He'd avoided listening to her new album. Pride. Stupid pride. She'd told him to file the divorce papers, wanted him out of her life even though she was pregnant. It had killed him but he'd done it, telling himself a woman who could walk out on her wedding was capable of just about everything. The baby probably wasn't his anyway, he told himself, using the sort of crap men used to justify their actions. So when he'd turned on the radio and heard her, he'd already been moving to switch it off, but the note in her voice had stopped him.
Then he'd listened to the words and he'd been lost.
walking alone, always walking alone
He'd sat in his car for the longest while, hours, without moving. Looking through the windscreen as the world moved on around him. He'd missed his entire afternoon's meeting schedule, his PA going mad trying to get hold of him. She'd even run the hospitals thinking he'd had an accident.
Which he had, but not the sort she was thinking of. No, it was his emotional state that resembled a train crash.
Shocked, rocked to the core, realisation had hit him with the force and subtlety of a sledgehammer. He'd gotten it wrong.
So wrong it wasn't even funny unless you were thinking farce.
by Mina Carter
He'd bought her album that night and sat up into the early hours listening to it. Each and every track resonated with him, some bringing tears to his eyes as he realised what a fool he'd been. But this song,
, affected him on a level the others didn't.
It was about a little girl who'd believed in fairy tales, only to have them shattered one by one. The people she was supposed to trust and rely on rejecting her and abandoning her. At first he'd thought it was just about him, just about a girl losing her lover and getting her heart broken. But after about the hundredth time listening to it, he realised there was more to it than that. She wasn't talking about one person, not just about him. The realisation had prompted him to do some digging. Digging into the past and what had happened all those years ago.
He'd just returned from tracking her mother down. His jaw tightened at the thought. What he'd done to Zette was bad enough but what Ariadne had done had been far, far worse.
What could possess a mother to abandon her child, albeit a nearly adult one, alone to fend for herself?
No wonder Zette was so strong. She'd had to be to survive. His eyes wandered over her again. He couldn't see her properly on stage at this distance but the cameras remained fixed on her, the two huge screens at the back of the stage displaying her from different angles. Whatever the angle, one thing remained the same. The protective hand she had curled around her swollen belly as she crooned into the microphone.
by Mina Carter
And I'll walk alone, my fairy tales just a shattered
Pride welled, deep and strong. His child. Without thinking about it, he knew Zette would never abandon her baby as she'd been abandoned. She'd be like a lioness defending her young and he seriously pitied anyone that tried to hurt a child of Zette's.
That included him. He might need some of that pity before the night was out. When she'd finished singing, he was going to try and put things right. Apologise on his knees ... grovel and beg forgiveness; whatever he had to do to put her shattered dreams back together.
* * * *
Finally she managed to escape off the stage, ducking past the stage crew and heading for her dressing room. She smiled as people called out to her but, now that she was offstage, she allowed her sheer exhaustion to show and they didn't do more than shout congratulations on her performance.
She closed the door of her dressing room and leaned against it. Her eyes fluttered closed for a moment, tension 94
by Mina Carter
draining away from her body. Usually performing galvanised her, left her hyped up. But pregnancy had taken it out of her.
Morning sickness and exhaustion, a cocktail guaranteed to make anyone feel like crap. Not that she hadn't already felt that way.
On automatic, her hand stroked over her bump. Six months gone now she was visibly pregnant. So far she'd refused to comment on her pregnancy or her 'failed before it started' marriage, despite repeated pleas from the media. Her PR people gave them the same answer every time. Zette's personal life was not up for discussion. Ever. And any reporter, paper, magazine ... hell even small town community newsletters, which printed anything about her or her baby that wasn't sanctioned, would be on the receiving end of some very nasty attention from her lawyers.
Fortunately JJ seemed to have the same approach to them. She hadn't seen anything from him in the papers as yet. She knew her office shielded all her mail and checked the news to make sure. Hell, she'd even tried to retain Logan Fyre in case she needed some heavy duty legal muscle. He was JJ's friend, but she could still appreciate that he was the best in the business.
Unfortunately he'd turned her down, but he'd been nice about it. Assuring her that his friend was an 'asshole who deserved everything he got' but no, he wouldn't be the one that was dishing it out in court. She was however relieved to hear that Logan would also not accept a case against her, unless she decided to all out screw with JJ. In other words, let 95
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sleeping dogs lie and so would he. In the circumstances, she figured it was the best she was going to get.
She opened her eyes and looked at the couch longingly, gathering the energy to waddle over there and collapse on it.
"You, sweetie, make mommy tired," she said, her voice soft as she stroked a loving hand over her bump. She'd asked not to be told what sex the baby was on her scans, but she had a feeling it was a little girl. She didn't know why, but it just seemed feminine. A small foot kicked out, hitting her hand with unerring accuracy. Zette laughed, making it across the room to lower herself onto the couch.
"Okay, okay, that's your space, mommy not touch."
She'd barely sat, her limbs relaxing into the comfortable cushions of the couch, when there was a knock at the door.
Zette groaned, her head flopping back into the cushions for a moment. Why did people always do that when she'd just sat down? Didn't they know it wasn't exactly easy to get up and down when you were the size of a small house? The knock came again, the sharp rap of knuckles against the wood, as though the owner didn't like to be kept waiting.
"Okay, okay, hold your horses, I'm coming!" she called as she hauled herself out of the luxurious clutches of the couch to waddle over. She opened the door, her mouth already open to give whoever it was a lecture on impatience but no sound emerged as she recognised the tall form standing in the doorway.
Her heart lurched, clenching painfully as she looked at him. She hadn't seen him since the wedding reception and 96
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even now that image of him reappeared in her mind from the small box she'd locked it in, tall and handsome in his wedding suit. As soon as that one got in, the rest, a hundred images of him in different states of undress ... or smiling as he woke, assaulted her with painful clarity. Memory was a bitch when you wanted to forget.
"Hello Zette, how are you?"
She just looked at him. How was she? How did he
she was? She'd just been on stage, pouring her heart out about heartbreak and faithless lovers and the man who'd planned their divorce before he'd even married her was asking her how she was?
"When are you filing the papers?" she asked bluntly, in no mood to mess about with the kind of games JJ played. She was too tired, too heart-sore for that.
"If you've brought them now, I'll sign them and you can postdate them. I don't care what you want to tell the courts.
Mind you, I'm sure you've already got that all worked out. So, where are they?" She arched an eyebrow at him, crossing her arms over her full breasts. Pregnancy had only made her already generous figure curvier.
"I've not got the papers, I'm not filing them." He stood in the door and, if Zette didn't know better, he looked hesitant, as though he was unsure of his welcome. It was the first time she'd ever seen him show anything approaching a weakness.
Her eyes narrowed, what game was he playing now?
"You're not? Why?"
He cleared his throat, looking down at the floor for a moment, as though he was having trouble with what to say.
by Mina Carter
He looked up, his hazel eyes unguarded and open. Zette caught her breath at the sorrow there.
"Because I don't want to," he said simply. "Can I come in?"
The last was as near to a plea as Zette had heard him make. Warily she nodded, stepping back from the door to allow his tall figure to pass her as she shut the door.