Authors: Zelda Reed
First Original Edition, October 2014
Copyright © 2014 by Zelda Reed
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No parts of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without written consent from the author.
Get exclusive updates from Zelda Reed, such as cover releases and teasers for
, giveaways and much more, right in your inbox! All you have to do is sign up to be on her personal mailing list.
Ashleigh and I spend the week together.
We upgrade to a room with two beds, on the tenth floor where the carpet is new and the beige wallpaper has been replaced with a black and white pattern.
Ashleigh commands the remote, engrossed in a trashy reality show, the room filled with shouting middle aged women, fighting over who-fucked-who like teenage girls set loose in a locker room. I imagine Suzanne to be one of those women. Consorting with other young, pretty and rich wives, exchanging recipes and gossip, hurling insults over brunch.
At least my husband doesn’t think about my sister when he’s fucking me.
I thought I would end up like that. Married and desperately clinging to happiness, sucking down bottles of wine to keep myself from blowing up at my husband. I used to spend hours slipping on Gina or Darlene’s skin, covering my face in department store make-up, practicing my shut-up-and-hand-me-your-wallet pout in the mirror.
Some nights when Justin took me out to dinner I would wrap my arm around his and pretend we were married. Five years this June. The post-honeymoon phase where everything turned to shit for my mother, Gina, Darlene and my father, but for Justin and I it would be our peak. The golden years in which we sifted through our catalogs of flaws, accepting the way he spit his fingernails on the living room carpet and the way I left clumps of hair on the bathroom floor. I would never have to carefully watch the hook in his back, reeling him in whenever he began to stray, or keeping a calendar of the good and bad days – green squares for good, red for bad – and when the red overtook the green I knew it was time to move on.
When I think of Neal, pressing me against his office door, my underwear pooled around my ankles, his hand pressed against my hip as he flicked his tongue against me, I think of slowly transforming into Gina or Darlene or Ashleigh. Isn’t that how it always starts? With a quick fuck in the executive suite? Drowning in an orgasm, clawing at his shoulders for more?
Ashleigh assures me it doesn’t. “I didn’t have sex with Julian until weeks after we met,” she says. “Quick office fucks are for wives trying to spice up their marriage and, you know, casual flings. No offense.”
None was taken. A casual fling is what I’m going for, but I can’t shake the feeling that it’s transforming into something more.
I try not to think about it when Neal texts me on Friday morning.
Be ready at seven.
On the other side of the bathroom door, Neal’s feet are sinking into the stiff grey carpet, voice loud enough to be heard over the Macy’s jingle, humming beneath the one time Neal and Ashleigh found themselves sharing a cab.
“I don’t remember that night at all,” Ashleigh says. I can almost see her, a barrel of giggles propelling her forward, her hand resting on Neal’s arm as she grins, all straight white teeth and pink cheeks. Neal will smile back, his hand clasping her shoulder, thumb running across her smooth freckled skin, the pair of them exchanging body heat.
(This isn’t jealousy speaking.)
I slap on a layer of nude lipstick – more pink than brown - before opening the door.
Ashleigh’s smile grows. “Wow,” she says, eyes wide as she steps away from Neal. “You look amazing.”
My blood red dress falls just above my ankles, thick straps hooked around my neck in a halter. There’s a low scoop in front, a peek of my pushed up breasts that I thought was too much but Ashleigh convinced me otherwise.
“It’s very Bond girl,” she said.
Neal takes in all of me, one hand stuffed in his pocket, the other hooked around his back. Dressed in all black – black suit, black shirt, black tie, black shoes – he looks menacing and dangerous. The sexy Bond villain to my Bond girl, except in this film James doesn’t get the girl.
Remember, the word lights up in my mind like a marquee. This is the same man who lied to me. The man who fucked me and left without a word. The man who’s blackmailing me into attending this dinner.
“You’re stunning,” Neal says, his eyes foggy with lust.
I break eye contact. “Thank you.”
Neal pulls his arm from behind his back. A small black box balances between his fingers, velvet and made for jewelry. The corner of my mouth quirks up in excitement.
“Is that for me?” I ask, reaching for the box.
Neal grins. “Of course.”
He’s close enough that his smell surrounds me like a cloud, cool and fresh, like mint or a fresh water lake.
The box pops open and for a split second, disappointment drips into my stomach. I was hoping it would be the key to my father’s apartment, that Neal was giving me a choice: take the key and I can decide whether or not I want to attend tonight’s dinner with him. If I were any other woman, it would be something better.
The bracelet’s simple but elegant, a thick silver band that glitters beneath the low light of the room. Neal handles it with care, two fingers plucking it out as he holds out his hand, waiting for me to present my arm. My reflection’s distorted in the silver, my skin mixing with my hair, lipstick, and dress. An oblong swirl of color.
Ashleigh sticks her head over Neal’s shoulder, watching as his thumb caresses my hand, the bracelet hanging from my wrist. A pricey piece of jewelry meant as a silent half-apology.
I’m sorry I’m forcing you into this but you still have to do it
I snatch my hand away.
Neal’s eyebrows furrow. “You don’t like it.”
“Does it matter what I like?”
Ashleigh takes a step back. “Caitlin, what’s wrong?”
I shoot her a look.
Please, stay out of this.
She buttons her lips.
“I would like to know the same thing,” Neal says.
I cross my arms. “Where’s the key?”
Neal drops his shoulders. He makes a move to run a hand through his neatly styled hair, fingers curling into his palm to keep him from messing it up. “We have a deal,” he says, eyes flickering toward Ashleigh.
“I know, I…” I wish you weren’t forcing me into this. I wish you would ask if I really wanted to go. I’ll say yes.
I turn away from him and head towards the closet. “Just let me get my shoes.”
The bracelet weighs down my arm as I hook the heel’s strap around my ankle, my disappointed eyes staring back at me.
You don’t have to do this. The condo’s in your name. I’m sure there’s a way around this, you just have to think.
From her seat on the bed, Ashleigh says, “I wish I could come with you guys.”
Neal says, “Why can’t you?”
“I don’t have anything to wear.”
Neal pulls a stack of bills from his pocket. Hundreds and fifties folded between his fingers. If someone were to burst into the room this would be a sight to see. A well-dressed couple hovering over a beautiful young woman, the man handing her a wad of cash she snatches with glee.
“I’ll have Chris pick you up,” he says. “You remember him, don’t you?” She nods. “Good. Now hand me your phone.” He programs Chris’s number into her contacts. “I’ll have him call when he’s downstairs. He won’t mind helping you pick out something nice.” The corners of his mouth tug into a suggestive grin.
Ashleigh’s decent enough to duck her head. “Thank you,” she says, a blush crawling up her neck.
“It’s no problem at all.” Neal looks at me and raises his eyebrow.
See, I’m not such a bad guy.
“Are you ready to go?”
Neal passes me in the narrow hall, our shoulders brushing against one another, a wave of heat boiling in my stomach. He opens the door. “After you,” he says with his signature grin.
I have to bite the inside of my cheek to keep myself from returning the smile.
Remember, he fucked and left me. Remember, he’s just like my father.
In the back of a black car, the partition separating us from the driver, we sit on opposite sides of the long leather seat. My hands lay restless in my lap as Neal taps on his phone, the fluorescent light bathing his tanned skin blue, making him look celestial.
I run the tip of my finger over the edge of the bracelet. “That was nice of you,” I say.
Neal looks up. “What?”
“To invite Ashleigh.”
A small smile tugs at the corner of his mouth. “I was doing Chris a favor.”
“If only she wasn’t still hung up on my father.”
Neal turns toward me. “And what about the bracelet? Was that nice of me too?”
I straighten my shoulders. “I suppose.”
“You suppose?” He raises an eyebrow. “What’s going on?”
“Then why won’t you look at me?”
I turn my head slightly, our eyes meeting in the dark. “How long have you known my father?”
Neal’s back stiffens. “We’re having this conversation now?”
“Six years,” he says. “Since I was twenty-six years old.”
“And why did you lie about knowing him?”
“You want the truth?”
I roll my eyes. “Why would I want anything else?”
Neal sits a little taller. “Because I’ve heard things about you and your father. How the two of you didn’t get along and I didn’t want to drive you away.”
“Why didn’t you want to drive me, a complete stranger, away?”
Neal raises an eyebrow. The answer is swimming in the pit of my stomach but I wait for Neal to answer, our eyes locked in a silent gaze.
Neal unlocks his seatbelt and slides over, our thighs pressing together, my breath hitching in my throat. His fingers tap against my knee, his eyes locking on my lips.
“You know the answer, don’t you?” he says, voice barely above a whisper.
I push myself near the door, forcing a few inches between us. His hand tightens on my knee.
“I was asking you,” I say.
He leans in, breath ghosting over the shell of my ear, a sharp shiver crawling up my spine. He drags his hand up my thigh, palm scratching against the fabric of my dress, my heart quickening in my chest.
“Because,” he says, his fingers pouring between my legs. “I wanted you, like I want you now.”
That familiar pool of heat spreads beneath my skin. My knees unconsciously part, begging for Neal’s touch but I refuse to give in.
I remove his hand and place it on his knee. His jaw locks up as he stares at me, eyes narrow and dark.
“What’s wrong with you?” he says.
“I don’t want to be here.” Neal’s face falls and I swallow the urge to take it back. “I’m just doing this so I can get the key to
Neal moves to the other side of the car, a wall of silence built between us.
“Smile,” he says.
“I don’t care how you’re feeling but you need to smile. You’re coming as my date. You’ll smile and carry on like we’re a picturesque couple or you can find another way into your father’s condo. Perhaps breaking and entering.”
I can always call Martin and tell him Neal’s holding the key over my head, and I need another copy and the locks changed. But how would that look? Twenty-four year old me running to a real adult.
Mr. Simmons, Neal stole my stuff and I need you to get it back.
I imagine our picture in the paper. Neal grinning as he mingles with other well-dressed financiers, one arm thrown uncomfortably around my waist as I stare up at him with narrow, angry eyes. LOOKS LIKE THE HONEYMOON PERIOD IS OVER.