MIDLIFE LOVE/LOVE AT LAST EPILOGUE *book compose from blog posts called “Mocha Mondays” by Whitney G. on her website. **Absolutely free ˜*˜ Chapter ...67 downloads 708 Views 794KB Size
MIDLIFE LOVE/LOVE AT LAST EPILOGUE *book compose from blog posts called “Mocha Mondays” by Whitney G. on her website. **Absolutely free
Chapter 1 Claire "Mrs. Statham, would you sign this please?" The delivery man held out a notebook. "What happens if I don't sign it?" "Mr. Statham gave me very specific instructions, maam...Please sign it..." He looked nervous, so I put him out of his misery and signed his clipboard giving the greenlight to the men behind him to bring in my newest set of flowers. I'd thought that by taking time off from work, Jonathan would stop sending themor at least send less, but he sent more. A lot more. Once the delivery men finished placing twenty more bouquets into our living room, I picked up today's note: Dear Beautiful & Sexy Wife, You were fucking incredible this morning. I'm looking forward to rounds two and three tonight. Your Insatiable Husband PSIf you keep giving the florist problems, I'll start sending you flowers TWICE a day. Every. Day. :) I rolled my eyes and smiled, heading into the kitchen. In two days, Jonathan would start his official six month break from Statham Industries and we would have a lot more time to spend together. Thinking I'd surprise him with dinner later, I stood in the kitchen and opened the pantry door, wondering what I should make.
Pasta...Chicken salad...Fajitas...Wraps? I wonder if he'll want Mandarin chicken again... Before I could decide, I felt Jonathan wrapping his arms around me from behind and pulling me close, kissing my neck. "Good afternoon," he whispered. "You're early..." I murmured as he kissed me again. "Is that a problem?" I shook my head. "Were you about to make dinner?" "Maybe..." I slipped out of his embrace. "Why?" "Come here." He led me over to the breakfast bar and pulled out a stool. "I'll cook it." "Thank you...How was your day today?" "I'm not sure. My wife was supposed to call me back and tell me if she wanted to join me on a trip to Mexico, but she never did. As a matter of fact, she didn't answer any of my phone calls today." "She was too busy ignoring the florist." He rolled his eyes and pulled a bottle of wine out of the cabinet. He poured us both a glass and handed one to me. "I need you to go with me, Claire. It's the only business trip I can't get out of next month, but I'll make sure we get to tour their oldest winery since you mentioned wanting to see it last year." "Sounds good." I smiled and looked down at my glass. For the next hour, I watched his every move as he made entrees that I could only dream of cooking one day. I'd finally accepted that his cooking was far superior to mine and had no problem letting him take over whenever he wanted. "You haven't touched your wine," he said as he slid me a plate of chicken parmesan. "Is something wrong with it?" "Not at all." I picked up my fork and cut a piece of the chicken. "I'll drink it in a minute." "Are you upset about something?" "What? What makes you say that?"
"You never wait more than a few seconds to drink your wine, and you never sleep all day unless you're upset...I had Greg come check on you hours ago when you didn't call me back. That's why I came home early." He reached over the counter and held my hand. "What's wrong?" "Nothing." "Claire..." He knew I was lying. "I'm just under a lot of stress from work." "You stepped down two weeks ago." "I can't be nervous about how my employees are going to handle everything without me?" "Not when all of them are Ivyleague graduates with five or more years experience." "That's doesn't mean anything." "Claire, tell me the truth. Whatever's bothering you, I'm sure it's not" "I'm pregnant." "What?" His eyes widened. "You heard me..." "I'm pretty sure I didn't." He narrowed his eyes at me. "What did you just say?" "I'm pregnant..." I'd been meaning to tell him for weeksever since I brought it up at Christmas, but I'd simply brushed it off and continued to make it seem like I was joking. With his eyes still narrowed, he slowly let my hand go. "How is that possible, Claire?" He shook his head. "You told me your tubes were tied when we were dating and I'm pretty sure they didn't magically become untied." "I had them untied a couple months ago...while you were out of town." He sucked in a breath and I could tell he was seconds away from losing it. "It was when you went to New York." I wanted to get it all out first. "I didn't expect to really get pregnant, I just thought that" "We've discussed this, Claire." He cut me off. "Numerous times." "I know that."
"Did you think I was joking with you about not wanting kids? Did you think I was just saying that to make conversation?" "No, but" "But what?" "I've seen the way you look at other families when we go out, and I..." I hesitated. "I saw the way you looked at your family over the holidays and...I know you better than you know yourself sometimes." "If you did, you wouldn't have gotten your fucking tubes untied." He looked utterly frustrated. "How far along are you?" "Eight weeks..." "Eight weeks?" His face fell. "How long have you known?" "Three weeks." Silence. He stared at me a long time, looking hurt and confused, then he sighed. "Why didn't you tell me this earlier?" "I didn't know how...Are you upset?" "More than upset. Did you think about any of the risks, Claire? Did you consider talking about it with me at all? And have you even seen a doctor yet?" I nodded and he suddenly looked even more hurt. "You did all this behind my back?" His voice was hoarse. "Intentionally?" "I'm so sorry...I honestly didn't know how you would react." He shook his head and stood up, walking away from me without saying another word. Later that night... I lay back on the couchwatching the flames of our fireplace dance in the dark. It'd been hours since Jonathan left me and I'd wanted to follow him, but I was honestly too tired and figured he needed time alone anyway.
Shutting my eyes, I wished that I could rewind the time and tell him the same day I found out. I just hadn't wanted the news to overshadow his first real Christmas with his family. I stretched my legs out and tried to will myself to sleep, but I suddenly felt familiar arms slipping underneath me and picking me up. Just in case it was a dream, I kept my eyes shutnot saying anything as I was carried up the steps and placed in what felt like our bed. "Claire..." Jonathan kissed my forehead and wrapped his arms around me. "Yes?" "Look at me." I opened my eyes and sighed as he brushed stray hairs away from my face. "I don't like for there to be secrets between us, Claire. Ever." "I'm sorry." "Did you get your tubes untied because you thought I subconsciously wanted a baby?" "No. I wanted one tooto at least try to have one together, I mean..." He pulled me close. "Why?" "Why does it matter? I'm not getting rid of it." I felt my heart ache. "If you think for one second that I'm not going to have" "Shhh." He pressed his lips against mine and kissed me. "I would never ask you to do that. I was just asking a question." He kissed me again and sighed. "I made an appointment with my doctor for tomorrow. She'll be here with her staff at nine." "For what?" "For what?" He scoffed. "So we can both hear everything we need to do to make sure we have a healthy child." "Healthy children..." I whispered. "Excuse me?" "We're having twins..."
Chapter 2 Claire “We’re having twins...” I managed. ”We’re having two babies?” “That’s usually what the word “twins” implies….” “I’m fully aware of what the word means, Claire.” He rolled his eyes. “One baby is bad enough.” “Bad enough?” “Yes. ‘Bad enough’ when my wife goes behind my back and decides that she randomly wants to have children.” “How long is it going to take you to get over this?” I wasn’t going to let him hold this over my head. “How many days do I have deal with you being in your ‘Clairemakesmesoangry’ mode because you’ll be sleeping on the couch until you get out of it.” “Excuse me?” “You heard me.” He narrowed his eyes and pulled me so close that our lips were touching. “I’m not sleeping on the couch in my own fucking house, Claire. And I’m not going to get over this.” “You’re going to be upset for my entire pregnancy?” “Maybe.” He kissed my lips and pulled me on top of him, cupping my face in his hands. He was silent for several seconds, and then he sighed. “When do things start to change?” “What do you mean?” “Mood swings, cravings, morning sickness…” He traced my lips with his finger, looking directly into my eyes. “You’re not going to hire a nurse to stay in with me are you?”
“No.” He shook his head. “I’ll be the only one taking care of you.” “Second trimester is when all that happened to me before, so it might be the same…I get really tired during the daytime now, but I’m perfectly fine otherwise. I’m just annoyed that I won’t be able to work out like I used to.” “The doctors told you to stop?” I nodded. “What did they say about sex?” “That’s all you really care about isn’t it?” I rolled my eyes. “Couldn’t you have asked one more question before you asked about that?” “What did they say?” “Ugh. We can still have sex, Jonathan. We clearly did this morning, we just —” I felt his lips covering mine, felt him slipping his hands underneath my shirt. “Wait...Wait…” “For?” He pulled my shirt over my head and gripped my hips. “Are you really mad about me being pregnant?” “No, Claire,” he whispered against my mouth and kissed me again. “Are you sure? I'm sorry I didn't talk to you about things first, but I thought…” I stopped once he bit my bottom lip. “We can talk about it after I fuck you.” *** Jonathan I sat in my office, looking over a major account I needed to finish by the end of the day. I’d told my staff that I was stepping down at the end of the week, but they seemed to think that I was joking. They continued to send me invitations to tech demonstrations and ask for my input on conferences I would definitely not be attending. “Mr. Statham?” Angela called over the intercom. “Yes?”
“Your doctor wants to confirm your scheduled appointment for next Monday.” “Sure.” I sighed. Claire had talked me into pushing back the ultrasound appointment by a week and I wasn’t sure why, but I’d agreed to do it. “Also, Mrs. Statham wants you to text her back, and a representative is here with the final offer from Hazel Corps.” “Send him in please.” I leaned back in my chair and pulled out my phone. “Our babies don’t need flowers, Jonathan! They’re not even here yet… Are you coming home early today?” Claire. “Would you like me to?” “Please…” “I’ll be there in twenty.” The door to my office suddenly opened and I looked upprepared to see an investor, but the woman walking towards me was anything but that. “Gwyneth?” I stood up. “Jonathan!” She smiled and rushed behind my desk, hugging me a little too tightly. She hadn’t changed much since the last time we saw each other. Her eyes were still an ocean blue that complemented her soft blond hair, and her lips seemed to be painted in the same bright red lipstick that she wore years ago. “I would’ve called,” she said, “but I figured I’d rather surprise you since it’s been so long, you know?” “Right.” I moved her hands away from me and stepped back. “Do you have the files?” “Do I have the files? That’s all you have to say to me?” “Do you have the files, please? Is that better?” “Seriously?” She crossed her arms. “You’re not happy to see me?” “Ms. White…”
“Ms. White? Okay, what the hell is going on with you? There’s no need for us to be formal with each other. It’s not like—” She glanced at my left hand and gasped. “You’re married?” “Clearly.” With her jaw dropped, she stared at me for a long time, shaking her head slowly. Then she looked over at my desk, where several pictures of Claire were standing on display. She walked over and picked up the one of Claire on our wedding day—the one where I was carrying her down the aisle. She stared at it, tracing her fingers over every inch. “Congratulations…” “Thank you.” “Any reason why I didn’t get an invitation?” “We only invited people that we wanted to be there.” “Funny.” She looked hurt. “How long did you date her before you proposed?” “How is that relevant to the files you’re supposed to be dropping off?” “How long did it take you? You can at least tell me that. You owe me, Jonathan.” “I don’t owe you anything.” I sat down in my chair. “I’m the reason why you have the job you have—the one you’re clearly not qualified for, and as easily as it was given, it can be taken away. I’ve done enough for you.” “Does your wife know about me at all?” “What’s there to tell?” ”I can think of quite a few things…” “I can’t.” I narrowed my eyes at her. “Do I need to call your boss to make you give the files to me?” “Not at all.” She tossed a folder across my desk. “Thank you for meeting with me today, Mr. Statham. Best of luck with your marriage.” I rolled my eyes and waited for her to leave the room, sending a text to security to make sure she was escorted straight to the parking lot once she stepped off the elevator.
I hadn’t given much thought to Gwyneth (or any other ex girlfriend for that matter) since Claire walked into my life. Nothing that I’d experienced with any of them was half as meaningful as what I had with Claire. Nonetheless, I definitely didn’t need any new drama in my life—especially not from Gwyneth. She could ruin everything…
Chapter 3 Jonathan Several years ago… “Congratulations, Jonathan!” Gwyneth jumped up and kissed me as soon as I walked into my office. “Congratulations on what?” “You haven’t seen The Wall Street Journal?” She handed me the paper. “Your new cellphone debuted at number one! Experts are saying it’s the biggest launch they’ve ever seen! They’re predicting that you’re going to hold that position for the next month based on your first week’s sales numbers.” She clapped. “I’m so happy for you!” I looked at the paper and read every word. Sure enough, Statham Industries was listed above Apple, Samsung, and Motorola for the week’s new releases, and my product had more sales than the three of those companies combined. Jesus… “What do you want to do to celebrate?” she asked. “A simple dinner.” “Done!” She kissed me again and pulled a set of keys out of her pocket. “I’m going to run to my car and get the wine. Okay?” I smiled and held the door open for her. The second she was gone, I walked behind my desk and fell into my chair. I knew she’d probably planned some over the top celebration for later and that “dinner” I suggested wouldn’t be enough in her eyes… Simple things never were. Nonetheless, I couldn’t complain too much about Gwyneth. She was perfect in almost every way. She was smart. Witty. Beautiful. I’d met her the same year I dropped out of Harvard, the same year she’d dropped out of Brown.
We were friends at first—telling each other about failed relationships, failed projects, failed dreams—and then we slowly became something “more.” Something I still couldn’t define. What the fuck are we? “Hey.” Corey stepped into my office. “Why are you here? Shouldn’t you be celebrating the fact that you’re number one and rubbing it in everyone’s face?” “I don’t feel like it.” “You don’t feel like rubbing it in Damien Edwards’ face?” I immediately picked up the phone. “Angela, could you send a bottle of wine to the CEO of Apple, Inc. please? Yes…Write this down and tape it to the bottle: ‘Congratulations on being number two. Get used to being in that spot.’ Oh, and put the word ‘two’ in all caps. No, no need to sign my name. He’ll know exactly who it’s from.” I hung up and took a folder from Corey. “Gwyneth is bringing wine upstairs. Care to join us?” “Let me think…” He crossed his arms. “Stay here and drink wine with my best friend and his girlfriend, or go back to my apartment where two girls are anxiously waiting for me. This is such a tough decision.” He took a deep breath and sighed. “Being a third wheel or directing one…I’m not sure if I—” “Do you even keep count anymore?” I rolled my eyes. “That takes all the fun out of it. When are we supposed to go shopping for the engagement ring?” “The what?” “The engagement ring. Didn’t you tell Gwyneth you would marry her if any of your phones made it to number one? That would be now…And she’s already sent out a text about a ‘potential engagement party’ tonight.” I froze. I was utterly speechless. I wasn’t ready to get married, let alone settle down. Not even with Gwyneth. Sure, she was damn near perfect, I liked her a lot, and we had pretty good sex, but that didn’t mean marriage. “She really sent out a fucking text about an engagement party?” I was suddenly upset. He raised his eyebrow. “Gwyneth Smith. 6:45 am. Hey everyone, Gwynn here. Just letting you know that Jonathan has officially topped the launch list—AGAIN, but this time he did it with his first cell phone! I’m going to be bringing him to Per Se to celebrate tonight and I’d love to see you there! And if I were you, it might be best to be there to see the next step we’re taking in our lives together. Wink. Wink. Be there at seven. End of message.” He put his phone away. “Should I not start building a wedding registry for the two of you?” “That shit isn’t funny.” He laughed. “I’ll see you tonight at Per Se. Let me know if you want to pick up the ring while I’m on my way.”
“There isn’t going to be a ring. Ever. Did that text get to Hayley?” “Of course not.” He stepped towards the door. “I took care of it.” “And you found a sizable location for a move to San Francisco?” “I did, but good luck convincing the board to move the company from New York to California. I’ll see you in a few hours.” He walked out. I didn’t get a chance to gather my thoughts before Gwyneth rushed inside with a wine bottle and glasses in her hand. “I’m so looking forward to tonight! I made reservations at one of our favorite restaurants and I’m sure that—” “We need to talk, Gwyneth. Now.” “About what?” She started to pour us both a glass. “About whatever you think this is between you and me…” “How rude.” She rolled her eyes. “Are you upset about not tripling your competition’s numbers? Are you taking your over the top ambitions out on me?” I sighed. “I’m not proposing to you tonight.” She dropped the bottle to the floor. “What?” “I’m not there yet.” “You’re not there with me, or you’re not there in general?” Both. “I’m just not there yet.” Silence. “How long do I have to wait until I’m good enough for you?” She crossed her arms. “Excuse me?” “All these years—” “It’s only been a few.” “I’ve listened to you talk about your failed relationships—about the women who only wanted you because you were rich, because you were Jonathan fucking Statham, and every last one of them was a disappointment. Every. Last. One. But you gave them a chance. You treated them like they were worthy of all you had, even when they didn’t give you much in return.” “Gwyneth…” “No.” She narrowed her eyes at me. “Let me finish. The second you and I became friends, I trusted you by telling you about the men who had been disappointments to me and you said that I could do better. So much better. So I did. I got you. We’ve never argued—except for now, we’ve never had a dull day, and we’ve never, ever been a disappointment to each other. Not once.” Her voice was cracking. “So, all I’m trying to ask is how long do I have to wait for you to see that everything you want is right in front of you? Why can’t you see that I love you, Jonathan? Why can’t you love me back? Why can’t you—”
“Stop.” I cupped her face in my hands and sighed. “I do love you, Gwyneth…I really do,” I said, brushing her tears away with my thumbs, hoping she could sense that I really did care about her, “but I don’t want to get married.” “Ever?” “Ever.” She nodded her head slowly and stepped back. “You’re not just saying that to break up with me later and marry someone else right?” “No.” I smiled. “I’m pretty sure I’ll never get married. It’s not something I’ve ever wanted.” She was silent for several seconds, and then she kissed my cheek. “Thank you for finally saying I love you…So, you’re content with staying as we are?” “Yes.” “And you really do love me? Like, you’re in love with me?” “We’ve discussed this.” I rolled my eyes. “There’s no such thing as being in love. You’re the best relationship I’ve ever had, the best female friend I’ve ever had, and I love you. End of story.” “Okay, well…” She picked the bottle up from the floor. “If you can’t propose— which I’ll learn to live with, can you at least make me one promise?” “Whatever you want…” Claire Present Day I lay back on the hospital bed, letting the nurse push my shirt up to my breasts. She smoothed a warm gel over my stomach and started repeating the same things she’d been saying since Jonathan and I arrived. High risk pregnancy. No cardio. Plenty of rest. No alcohol. No stress. I wished that I would’ve told her that repeating those things to Jonathan would only make him more possessive and controlling of my wellbeing, but it was too late. As soon as she said them for the third time, he pulled out his phone and sent a message to his security team—probably reiterating the fact that “Mrs. Statham is your number one priority over the next seven months.” Ever since I’d told him that I was pregnant, he’d been himself times ten: He refused to let me lift anything heavier than a utensil, he didn’t let me drive myself anywhere, and he always carried me up the steps as if I couldn’t walk on my own. On the plus side, he cooked me whatever I wanted at all hours of the night and he never made fun of my newest craving: bananas dipped in ketchup. “Okay, Mr. and Mrs. Statham…” The doctor pressed a white wand against my stomach. “I’ve located Twin A, so we’re going to listen for the baby’s heartbeat…”
The nurse on the other side of the room hit a switch and a huge screen slowly dropped down from the wall. A grainy grey picture of a fetus appeared, and in the middle of the screen I could see a spot that was faintly flashing. Then a soft patter filled the room. “Can you hear that?” The doctor smiled. “That’s your first baby’s heartbeat…” Tears formed at the corner of my eyes and I felt Jonathan clasping my hand in his, felt him gasping the same second that I did. No words were said for several minutes. There was just the sound of our baby’s heartbeat. “Are you ready for Twin B?” The doctor asked. “Wait…” I whispered. I wanted to try to remember that sound, to have something to look back on later. She waited until I was ready and then she moved the wand across my stomach. “Okay…Here is Twin B. Let’s hear your second baby’s heartbeat.” The second baby’s heartbeat was much softer than the first. It was just as fast, but it was noticeably lower. “Are you alright, Mrs. Statham?” She raised her eyebrow. “I’m fine...” “Can we get a few minutes alone, Doctor?” Jonathan kissed my cheek. “Sure.” She moved the wand and placed it back into the machine’s holder. She signaled for the nurse to leave the room as well, and before she walked out, she looked at us. “We’ll be across the hall whenever you’re ready. Just come get us. Okay?” Jonathan smiled at them and waited for them to step outside. Then he stood up. “Why did you ask her to leave?” I looked at him. “I wanted to keep listening to the—” He bent down and pressed his lips against mine, kissing me until I couldn’t breathe. “I fucking love you, Claire.” I wanted to say something back, but I couldn’t respond. I was too busy trying to suck in more air, trying to breathe again. “You go against almost everything I say…” he said as he ran his fingers through my hair. “Almost everything I fucking say…” “What? What are you talking about?” I murmured. “I told you I didn’t want to stay in my current house, that I wanted to buy a new one for us as soon as we were married, but you called my realtor and told them I’d changed my mind while I was visiting Ashley and Caroline.” He narrowed his eyes at me, but there was a slight smile in his voice. “I told you that since you’re taking an extended leave from work, that you should enjoy your time off and trust your employees. But you get up in the middle of the
night every night and make Rita fill you in on everything that happened during the day.” I opened my mouth to object, to tell him that I only talk to her for a couple hours, but he kissed me before I could get a word out. “And of course,” he whispered as he slowly pulled away, “I tell you that I don’t want kids—ever, and you get your tubes untied…”He looked into my eyes. He didn’t say anything for a long time. He simply stared at me, trailing his fingers against my lips, slightly brushing his thumbs against my cheeks. “This is the first time that I’m actually glad you went against what I said.” His voice was low. “I’m not sure that I’ll be a good father but I’ll try…” He looked hurt for a split second, as if something else was on his mind, but then he quickly recovered. “I just wanted to tell you that I fucking love you… and I’m going to fuck the shit out of you the second we get back into the car.” I laughed and he quickly stifled it with another long kiss. “I love you too…” I barely managed. “You have to get the doctor now, before she assumes we’re having sex in her office.” “Would it be a problem if we did?” I rolled my eyes and he walked towards the door. From the hallway I could hear him talking to the doctor, saying that we wanted to hear the heartbeats for another hour, or “for as long as ‘[my] wife’ wants to be here.” *** “Custom Nurseries!” A woman greeted me as soon as I walked into the store. “How may I help you today?” “I have an appointment with a Miss Gloria. I was telling her about my ideas a few hours ago and she told me to drop by if I had the chance.” The woman smiled and beckoned for me to follow her around the massive warehouse. There were fullsize nursery models everywhere—complete with the matching walls, and racks of inventory that touched the ceiling. As we entered a bright yellow room that was filled with stuffed animals and pillows, the woman smiled. “When are you due?” “About seven months from now.” “Oh! Well, you’re right on time to start building your nursery and we hope you allow us to do it for you.” She looked at my left hand. “Will your husband be joining us today?” “Probably not.” I shook my head. Jonathan was at the private jetport— talking to a designer about fitting custom baby seats onto his plane. I’d told him that wasn’t necessary, and that something like that was just crazy, but he’d ignored me. Nonetheless, I was happy that he’d agreed to let
me do all the nursery designing on my own. Well, pick it out on my own. I still couldn’t get him to agree to let me paint the room by myself. “Oh, wow…” The woman slapped her palm across her forehead once we reached a huge office. “Miss Gloria had to step out for a few minutes, and she always takes her files with her…I’m so sorry, Miss. I forgot to say that when you first walked in… I just started last week as manager and I’m still learning.” “It’s okay. I can look around until she gets back if that’s okay.” “Of course, that’s totally fine.” She grabbed a business card off the secretary’s desk. “This is a huge store, so if you get lost or if you see something you like, just call that pink number. Okay?” “Okay.” “And…” Her smile hadn’t wavered. “What’s your name so I can call you on the intercom as soon as she gets back.” “Claire Statham.” Her eyes widened. “What?” “Claire Statham,” I repeated. “As in the wife of Jonathan Statham?” I smiled at the very mention of his name. “Yes.” “I’m so sorry, Mrs. Statham. I had no idea that someone like you was a client of ours. I’ll show you around the store personally.” She picked her pen up and reached for my hand. “My name is Gwyneth by the way. Gwyneth White.”
Chapter 4 Claire “Do you have any idea what theme you’d like for your nursery?” Gwyneth smiled as she led me into a spacious room that featured sky blue walls. “I was thinking a dream scheme, perhaps? Maybe painted images of certain fairytales on the walls?” “Hmmm.” She picked up a clipboard and then she stared at me, not saying a word. As if she was checking me out, she looked me up and down. "Are you okay, Gwyneth?" "Sorry. Long day. I'm kinda out of it...and confused." She cleared her throat. “Typically what we like to do is ask a few questions about the parentstobe so we can gain some type of insight on your tastes. We need to know how we should approach the signature touches if you know what I mean. Once I have your answers, I can walk you into a few showrooms you might like…”
“Sounds great. What do you need to know?” “For starters, where did you and your husband first meet?” “What? Why is that important?” “My colleagues did a nursery last week where the couple used one of the accent walls to tell their love story.” She forced a smile. “It’s always the first question we ask, Mrs. Statham.” “Okay…Well, we met at a grocery store, but then we ran into each other again at work.” “Statham Industries?” She raised her eyebrow. “You were an employee of his?” I nodded, unable to keep myself from smiling. “He changed the fraternization policy just so we could date. He didn’t understand the concept of the word no.” “I guess some things never change…” She mumbled as she wrote something on her clipboard. “Next question. How long did you two date before he popped the big question?” Why is she looking at me like that? “A little over a year maybe? Give or take three months…” She gasped—at least it sounded like she did, but she quickly composed herself and smiled. “And, um…While you were dating, did he ever mention —” “Mrs. Statham!” A brunette suddenly walked into the room and held out her hand for me. “I am so sorry I wasn’t here when you came. I’m Miss Gloria, the woman you spoke to on the phone.” “Nice to meet you,” I said, hoping that she was more sane than my current tour guide. “I guess you can take over now.” Gwyneth looked at Miss Gloria. “It was…It was nice meeting you, Mrs. Statham.” She looked me up and down before walking away. “Well, let’s get started, shall we?” Miss Gloria slid a pair of glasses over her eyes and looked at her clipboard. “I have a few questions for you.” “Oh, she already asked me. I met my husband at a grocery store, we met again at work, and he popped the question a little after a year.” She blinked, looking utterly confused. “I was just going to ask you what your three favorite colors were…” *** “Did you just have sex, Claire?” Helen sat at the breakfast bar in my kitchen. “It wasn't on this countertop was it?” “What? No!” “Then why are you glowing?”
“Really glowing,” Sandra chimed in. They both stared at me with their eyebrows raised, waiting for answer. “New skincare regimen maybe?” “Right.” Helen scoffed. “You two were probably just finishing when we got here.” “We weren't.” I rolled my eyes. “He's not even here.” The two of them hadn’t let me know that they were coming over today. They’d just shown up with Chinese food and wine—things that normally made me happy, but today the mere smell of that food was making my stomach churn. Right before they’d rang the doorbell, I’d realized that there were no more bananas in the pantry, that I’d eaten all the grilled cheese sandwiches Jonathan had made for me earlier. I was beyond hungry, and there was nothing else my body could keep down outside of my craving foods. As a matter of fact, last night—when I’d tried to eat some of Jonathan’s dinner, I found myself spitting it back up for at least an hour. “Claire?” Sandra slid a box of Chinese food towards me. “Are you going to start eating or are you going to keep staring off into space?” “Yeah…I just...We should eat by the pool. I’ll cut up some strawberries and meet you both out there.” “Great idea!” Helen stood up. “I think telling you about my latest disappointment will be better by the water.” “Disappointment? Are you having problems at your firm?” “Please.” She snorted. “I’m having problems finding good dick. I’ve resorted to calling men from previous rendezvous. That’s a definite low point for me.” I shook my head and watched as she and Sandra headed outside to the pool. Before I could call Greg and ask him to bring me more bananas, I felt familiar arms grabbing me and turning me around. The second his eyes met mine, Jonathan dipped me low to the ground and kissed me senseless—smiling when he finally decided to pull away and let me breathe. “Hi…” He held me still. “Hi…” Slowly lifting me up, he smirked. “You wanted me to rush home so I could hang out with you and your girlfriends?” “I didn’t know they were coming.” I sighed. “And you’re not supposed to be working. You’re supposed to be completely off from Statham Industries.” I murmured as he kissed me again, noticing a small white box he’d placed on the counter.
“Did you tell them about the babies yet or are you going to wait until you’re showing?” “I want to tell Ashley and Caroline first.” “They’re not coming home for another six weeks.” “Actually…” I reached for that white box, but he pushed it away. “They’re coming home next weekend. Ashley wants us to meet the guy she’s been dating.” “Dating?” “You know, what you and I did before we got married?” I reached for the box again, rolling my eyes when he pushed it even further from my reach. “She really likes him, and she thinks he might be her first.” “Her first what?” “Should we do dinner here or do you want to take them out somewhere?” “Her. First. What?” He narrowed his eyes at me. “I personally think a dinner here would be more fun.” “Claire…” “Ugh! God, Jonathan. Her first love. Her first real boyfriend. Her first sexual —” “I’m not going to be here for that.” “Yes, you are.” I rolled my eyes. “Do you know how many girls actually introduce the guy to their parents before they have sex? You should be as grateful as I am.” “What’s his name?” “I’m not telling you.” “Why not?” “Because I don’t want Corey running a background check, and I don’t want you intimidating him before he even gets here.” “I’m going to ask you one more time, Claire.What's his name?” I crossed my arms and raised my eyebrow, waiting for him to do his worst, but he simply sighed. “Fine, Claire. I'll go in blind. But if he turns out to be a fuckup, I will—” “He won't be.” I suddenly felt my mouth watering. Whatever was in that box behind him smelled really good. “What’s in that box?” He smiled and grabbed it. Then he held it in front of me and flipped the lid open for me to see. There were chocolate covered bananas, gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, and ketchup. Lots of ketchup. “Thank you…”
”You’re welcome.” He set the box down and pulled me into the pantry. “You can eat after I get done with you.” He kissed my neck. “You made me rush home, and I thought we'd discussed where you were supposed to be when I got here.” “Jonathan…” I murmured as he pressed my back against the wall. “They're waiting for me outside…” He lifted my leg around his waist. “Then they can keep waiting…” *** Jonathan I flipped the ultrasound picture over in my hands, sighing. Last night, Claire had shown me a list she’d written, a list with all the things she wanted to do with our children as they grew up. Family trips. Playdates. Summer vacations. Movie nights. Picnics. Things I’d never had when I was growing up. Things I never understood. Determined to finally address why, I picked up my desk phone and dialed a number. “Allen Correctional Institution,” a woman said. “How may I direct your call?” “Get me the warden.” “Um…” She hesitated. “The warden only takes phone calls by appointment and you have to submit a purpose of communication form at least twenty one days in advance.” “I’m not going to ask you again.” “Sir, with all due respect, the Ohio Department of Corrections does not respond to verbal threats and—” “Tell him it’s Jonathan Statham.” The phone clicked twice and then it rang. “Moore,” the warden answered. “What can I do for you today, Mr. Statham? Is the flat screen TV your father currently has in solitary confinement not enough? Do we need to build him a theater to make his stay here even more comfortable?” “I need to see him on a nonvisit day.” “Out of the question.” “Tomorrow afternoon.” “What part of out of the question don’t you understand?”
“I emailed you a picture of a check, a check that’ll be in your mailbox tomorrow morning.” “Mr. Statham,” he said in a firm voice, “I’ve been more than lenient with the rules I’ve bent in your father’s favor over the past few years, but I run this prison, not you.” “I’ll need to meet him off the prison’s property. Your guards can transport him to the McDonald’s in the next county. I’ll make sure no other people are present. It’ll be a short visit.” “Goodbye, Mr. Statham.” He hung up. I set my phone down and waited for him to check his email. Thirty seconds passed. My phone rang. “Yes?” I answered. “One hour visit. It’ll have to be on my time. Eight o’ clock. That’s when the yard will be clear for the night. The officers will escort him to a lake that’s five miles down, where I can be sure that no other people are present. He will remained cuffed—wrists and feet, and my officers will give you twenty feet of space. That’s it. If you even attempt to take him with you—” “If I wanted to break him out of prison, I would have done it a long time ago.” I cut him off. “I only want to have a conversation.” “If word about what I’m doing for you ever gets out…” “It won’t.” I hung up. Leaning back in my chair, I shook my head—wondering if a trip to Ohio to see my father was even worth it. Then again, I’d wanted answers from him for a long time—I’d just been avoiding the questions. I pulled another ultrasound photo from my drawer and heard my phone ringing again. Claire. “I’m down the hall from you, Claire. You don’t have to call me on the phone.” “I want your opinion on the nursery design. Can you come here?” “Sure.” I left my phone on the desk and headed down the hallway. “Hey.” She kissed me as soon as I walked into the room. “This is Miss Gloria…” She motioned over a short brunette. “Nice to meet you, Miss Gloria.” “And this is Gwyneth,” she said as Gwyneth slowly turned around and smiled at me. “They’re going to work together in designing…” I didn’t hear the rest of what she said. I couldn't.
Images of Gwyneth and me—everything we'd done in the past, were running across my mind and I was seconds away from telling her to get the fuck out of my house. “It’s nice to formally meet you, Mr. Statham.” Gwyneth smiled, not bothering to reach out for a handshake. I didn’t respond. I slipped an arm around Claire’s waist and pulled her close. Claire looked up at me. “They’re going to knock out both adjoining walls to expand the room and they’re going to paint everything in a light cream color. What do you think?” “I think we need to consider other options. Other companies.” “What?” Her eyes widened. “You said I could pick and I want to use them. They’re promising to have the work done in three weeks.” “That's three weeks too many.” She shook her head at me, looking absolutely hurt, like she was about to cry. Her hormones are fucking ridiculous lately... "Fine, Claire. Three weeks." “Don't worry, Mrs. Statham. We'll stay right on schedule,” Gwyneth said as she smiled at her. Then she looked at me. “I always keep my promises, unlike some people I know.” “Great!” Claire slowly slipped out of my grip. “Miss Gloria, can I show you that accent color I was talking about? It’s in my bedroom. And um, Gwyneth, would you mind showing my husband the pictures I picked for the wall while I’m gone?” “Of course.” She forced a smile. “I don’t mind at all.”
Chapter 5 Jonathan Gwyneth shook her head at me once Claire walked out of the room. Then she picked up a huge picture frame. “Your wife has excellent taste. I’m starting to wonder why she even bothered to call us…” She stepped closer to me. “She wants us to create a fairytale type of area and use frames like this for all of the photos. Classy, right?” “Gwyneth…”
“She also wants us to set up a reading nook in front of a window. She apparently loves books, so she wants a perfect space to read to your children every day.” I sighed. “Gwyneth…” “You should see the way her eyes light up anytime I say your name, or the way she blushes—fucking blushes, whenever I ask about you. So, tell me. Did she sleep her way into your heart? Did she blackmail you? How many times did she have to—” “Say one more fucking thing about my wife and you’ll never work a day in this city again.” “You said you would wait for me.” Her tone suddenly changed and her voice cracked. “Is this what you consider waiting? Being married with two kids on the way?” “You stopped calling.” “You stopped answering.” She looked into my eyes, letting a stray tear fall down her face. “You promised. You said no matter how much time went by that you would wait for me. You said if you ever changed your mind about what you wanted that you would tell me, that I would be the first to know.” “It wasn’t a formal decision. It just happened, just like you deciding to end us because I didn’t want to marry you right away.” “Don’t you dare try to put this on me.” She snapped. “It just happened? To you? Mr. Controlling? Please! You swore that you never wanted to get married, never wanted to have kids, but here you are. You’re doing all those things with her and not me…That should be me and you know it, Jonathan.” I started to say something, something about her needing to seek psychiatric help, but she beat me to it. “You told me all about Audrey, Stacy, and all the other stupid females you dated whenever we got in touch, but…You never mentioned Claire. You never said anything about her…” “I didn’t realize I needed to tell you about every girlfriend I had.” “Really? Because that was actually part of our agreement.” “You were engaged, or do you not remember that?” “Do you remember me turning him down for you?” She wiped a tear away. I rolled my eyes. “What do you want from me, Gwyneth? You want me to divorce her?” “Can you do that?” “No.” “Why not? You’re not in love with her so it should be an easy fix. ”
“Not that it’s any of your fucking business, but I am in love with her.” “Excuse me?” She stepped back and let out a nervous laugh. “I thought you didn’t believe in being in love.” “People change.” “They don’t change that much…” She looked me up and down. “I bet she thinks that she’s the first woman you said ‘I love you’ to, doesn’t she? How much does she really know about you?” “She knows all the things that matter.” “And I don’t?” “Not anymore.” “Neither of those deep conversations we had a few years ago mean anything to you?” “You honestly think I remember a specific conversation we had years ago?” “I know you remember.” She stepped closer to me. “I can see it in your eyes…You remember everything about our phone conversation—both conversations…” “I don’t love you anymore, Gwyneth. I never will again.” “And you honestly think that Claire is the love of your life?” “She is.” She swallowed and nodded her head slowly, looking hurt and angry. Then she extended her hand to me. “I’ll do my absolute best to make sure that this nursery is perfectly up to code for you and your wife, Mr. Statham.” I didn’t shake her hand. I fixed my mouth to say that she was fired, but Claire suddenly walked into the room smiling, and as usual, the look of happiness on her face completely distracted me. “Did you like what Gwyneth showed you?” She looked up at me. “Or do you think it’s too extravagant? We can tone it down if need be.” “Oh, no. He loved it,” Gwyneth answered for me. “In fact, he came up with a few surprises of his own that he wants to incorporate into the room.” “What?” Claire raised her eyebrow in disbelief. “That doesn’t sound like you at all. You actually gave input?” Before I could tell her no, Gwyneth intruded again. “He’s just being modest,” she said. “I can’t wait to get to work on his ideas, Mrs. Statham. In fact, I can’t wait to show you both what I’m really capable of…Would you mind seeing me out? I have to get to another consultation in fifteen minutes.” “Of course.” Claire kissed my cheek before leading Gwyneth out of the room.
The second they left the room, I fell back into a chair and sighed. I was definitely firing Gwyneth before the end of the week, before she could do any damage. I didn’t care that she and I had “almost” been committed to one another years ago, or that she seemed to think that I would drop everything just to honor a promise I barely wanted to make back then. I remembered the two of us discussing getting back together if we didn’t find someone as compatible, and I did remember saying that I would wait for her, but I couldn’t remember the exact moment when things started to change. Furthermore, I couldn’t remember what specific conversation she was talking about. Leaning back in the chair, I tried to piece together the final memories, but nothing was adding up. “Jonathan?” Claire suddenly stepped into the room. Then it hit me. Fuck…
New Year’s Eve 2012 Jonathan
“Could you take the scenic route, Greg?” I sighed as soon as I slid into the car. “As you wish, Mr. Statham.” I wasn’t sure why I’d ever agreed to a business meeting at night. This was a definite no in my book—especially since it was at a “barstyle” restaurant, but since the client was worth five hundred million dollars I decided to give in this one time. I should’ve been happy to have yet another Fortune 500 company looking to me for help, but I wasn’t. This past year had been one of the least fulfilling years of my life. I’d topped the global sales charts, received nearly every innovative award possible, and doubled my company’s profits, but I was tired of all the bullshit that came with it. All the celebratory parties were dull and underwhelming, and the “need to be seen” aspect of being the Statham Industries CEO was the most annoying shit I’d ever dealt with. Before I could call my trust advisor and ask him if my presence was really needed at this late night meeting, my phone rang. Gwyneth. Where the hell has she been? “Hello, Gwyneth.” I smiled, grateful to be able to hear her voice again. “How are you?” “Hi, Jonathan… I’m doing pretty great. How about yourself?” “I’m living.” “You sound so excited about that.” She laughed. “Did I catch you at a bad time?” “Not at all. I’m just on my way to a meeting.” “Jonathan Statham heading to a meeting at night?” She sounded shocked. “Did I hear that correctly?” “Unfortunately so.” “Interesting.” She paused. “Who are you dating these days?” “I haven’t heard from you in months. How about asking a few more leadin questions first?” “Okay, fine. How does it feel to be number one again?” “It’s the worst feeling ever.” She laughed again. “I love how modest you are. That’s always been your best quality...Am I allowed to ask about who you’re dating now?”
“I’m not dating anyone. I’m not interested in dating anyone for a while actually.” I looked out my window and held back a sigh. The car was getting closer to the restaurant. “Who are you dating?” “No one.” I raised my eyebrow. “Didn't you get back with your exfiancée?” “No. I told you that he didn’t compare to you. He still doesn’t…” Silence. “I was…” She hesitated. “I was actually hoping you’d be willing to give us another try soon, if you hadn’t already met the love of your life that is.” “There’s no such thing.” I shook my head. “I’d love to give us another try, as long as we take things slow. I really don’t want to hurt you, Gwyneth…I think you still want things that I can’t give you.” The line went silent and I almost felt bad for saying that, but she needed to know the truth. Even though we’d gone our separate ways to “grow apart” and agreed to remain friends, I still wasn’t interested in marriage, endless love, or the white picket fence and kids shit that she used to discuss. Those things weren’t for me and they never would be. “Well, I have a few more years of work to do here in Spain.” She sighed. “I would come home to talk about us in person, but this is my startup and I don’t think I can afford to leave for five seconds.” “I understand.” I smiled. That was one thing I absolutely admired about Gwyneth. Her work ethic was beyond measure. “If my company ever goes under, would you let me come work for you?” “Of course I would, but I wouldn’t be able to date you anymore. I don’t date employees.” “Not even me?” “No…” I sighed. “I’d put in a word for you to work wherever you wanted—just not Statham Industries. It’s not personal.” “You’re the CEO, Jonathan. You don’t have to follow every rule.” She was rolling her eyes, I could sense it. “I won’t hold you for too much longer. Thanks for picking up and I’ll call you in a few weeks…Try not to meet the love of your life before then, alright?” “I won’t,” I said. “That’s a guarantee. I’ll talk to you later. Actually, I’ll call you tonight.” She gasped, and then she was quiet for several seconds. “I love you, Jonathan…Thank you for keeping your promise, for waiting for me…” “I love you too, Gwyneth. Always.” I waited for her to hang up and realized the car had come to a stop.
“We’ve arrived, Mr. Statham.” Greg turned around to face me. “Would you like me to wait outside until the meeting is over?” “No. I’ll just call you when I’m ready.” I stepped out of the car and immediately called Milton. “Is it your life’s mission to drive me into a fucking stray jacket?” He answered on the first ring. “Am I doing a good job?” “Where are you?! The client is ten minutes away, and I swear to God if you bail on this meeting like you did the last time…” “You’ll fire me?” “I’ll quit.” I rolled my eyes. “You’re not going anywhere, and I just got here. How long do I have to stay?” “How about the entire time? That’s what a serious CEO would do.” “Right.” I hung up once I spotted him waving at me from across the patio. I took my place at the table and shook my head as he went over a few crucial things that needed to be finalized. As soon as the client and his team arrived, I listened as my executives laid out their proposed plans. I spoke only when I was addressed, and I tried my hardest not to look like I was bored out of my fucking mind. “Is this okay with you, Mr. Statham?” “Mr. Statham, do you concur?” “Are you sure that Statham Industries has our company’s best interest at heart?” The questions suddenly started to come nonstop and I discreetly glanced at my watch. These people have one more fucking hour… While the waiter took our orders for dessert, I looked over at the pier that was across from us, the pier of Pacific Bay Lounge. Hundreds of people were laughing and dancing, enjoying the final minutes of the year. Everyone except one woman in particular. Dressed in a lacy black dress that perfectly clung to her curves, she seemed completely aloof. I couldn’t make out her face because she was looking down at the ocean, but when she finally looked up, when she finally sighed and stared off into the distance with her deep green eyes, I was completely taken aback by how fucking beautiful she was. Jesus she’s sexy… The conversation about the merger options continued to go on and on, but I wasn’t listening to a single word of it. All I could focus on was the redhead
on the pier across from me, knowing that I was going to talk to her the second this meeting was over. I had to…
Chapter 7 Claire “Jonathannn…” I moaned as he held my leg around his waist, as he continued to move in and out of me. “Ahhh….” “Shhhh.” He bit my bottom lip. “Be quiet, Claire.” I shook my head and tried to pull away from him, tried to stop for a break, but he wouldn’t let me. Biting my lip even harder, he cupped my ass and slightly lifted me up— forcing himself even deeper. As I shut my eyes and started to give in, he pressed my body back against the wall and began to kiss me. “I love you,” he whispered, gently parting my lips with his tongue. I could only murmur in response. I wasn’t sure why he still attempted to get coherent answers out of me whenever he did things like this. “Look at me, Claire…” He suddenly sped up his thrusts, forcing my eyes to flutter open. I tightened my arms around his neck and kept my eyes locked on his, knowing that it would only be a matter of seconds before I lost all control. He pressed his lips against mine again, softly saying that he loved me again —that he “loved fucking [me],” and before he could command me to let go, I lost it. I screamed his name at the top of my lungs and dug my nails into his skin. I tried to move my leg from around his waist, but he held it tight and slid into me again, reaching his own release. We stood there entwined and panting for what felt like forever, staring into each other’s eyes as if nothing in the world mattered in that moment. Still holding my leg, he leaned forward and kissed my forehead. “Are you happy, Claire?” I nodded. “Are you sure?” “Yes…” I barely managed. “Hmmm.” He brushed my bangs away from my face. “Do you promise to tell me if you’re ever unhappy so that I can fix it?” “Yes.” He kissed me again—slowly, gently, and then he caressed my thigh before moving my leg from his waist.
I stood still as he picked my dress up from the vanity, as he put it back onto my body with no help from me. Smiling, he adjusted my necklace and then he stepped back. “Is your dress new?” I nodded. “It looks very good on you…” He buckled his pants. “You should wear it again soon.” I said okay with my eyes and watched as he put his tie on. I’d never thought that sex with Jonathan could get any better, but it was. Much better. I wasn’t sure if it was because I was pregnant, or if he was just that damn good, but the two of us were more insatiable than usual lately. I wanted him all the time, and he…Well, he was pretty much the same as he’d always been, but he was getting a lot bolder in certain settings… “Are you ready?” He slipped an arm around my waist and kissed my hair. “No…” “Do you want to skip this?” I shook my head. “I couldn’t let you do that.” “Just say the word, Claire.” I smiled. The fact that he was willing to do anything just to make me happy made my heart flutter every time he said something like that. “Are we going or not?” He tilted my chin up. “Yes.” I felt his lips on mine as he walked me towards the door. The second it opened, I blinked—letting my eyes readjust to the bright lights of the grand reception hall, the hall where Jonathan was set to receive an award in about ten minutes. “Mr. and Mrs. Statham!” A short brunette quickly rushed over to us. “Are you alright? Did someone at your table say something that upset you?” “Not at all.” Jonathan looked down at me, giving me a subtle smirk. “I just needed to help Mrs. Statham destress. That’s all.” “Great!” She exhaled. “Your table guests are currently signing the award frame, but I’m sure they’ll be happy to see that you’re back when they return!” She beamed as she motioned for us to follow her. As the numerous media cameras flashed in our direction, I tried my best to hold a smile—promising myself that I was going to get Jonathan back for that inappropriate comment later.
When we approached our table, he pulled out my chair. Then he raised his eyebrow. “Are you going to sit down or are you going to stand and stare at me all night?” “Are you going to keep making subtle comments about our sex life? Do you really have to do that at every event we go to?” “She wasn’t paying attention.” He smiled. “Sit down, Claire.” “One day someone will be paying attention. Do you really want your advisors and employees knowing that you’re a sex addict?” “Claire…” “Tell me you won’t do it again and I’ll sit down.” I looked over my shoulder. “And you may want to do it sooner than later. Our table mates are on their way back so—” “The only reason I took you into that bathroom was because you care about being seen by other people,” he whispered into my ear. “I don’t. And how many times do I have to tell you that I’m easily aroused by your sarcasm?” He tucked a strand of hair behind my ear. “So I highly suggest—Mrs. Statham, that if you don’t want everyone to see just how addicted I am to fucking you within the next ten seconds, take a seat.” I blushed and quickly slipped into my chair. “Good decision.” He sat next to me and clasped my hand. Within seconds, our table mates returned and I once again realized why he hated coming to these events alone. Everyone at our table was a multi million dollar entrepreneur and all they wanted to talk about was ways to earn even more money, ways to invest in better stock options and property portfolios. “Ladies and gentlemen,” a woman onstage said. “Ladies and gentlemen, if I could have your attention please.” “I’ll finish telling you all how I bankrupted that startup and tripled my earnings after the presentation,” the man across from me said. I tried not to roll my eyes and faced the stage. Once the room was quiet, the woman spoke into the mic again. “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for joining me on this special day. Tonight we are here to honor one of our city’s top technological developers, but he’s told me numerous times not to list his previous achievements. Not because he’s modest, but because he says, ‘The reception is only supposed to be four hours. Not four years.’” The audience laughed. “So,” she said, still laughing, “I will spare you the long list of accomplishments and let him address you in his own words. Ladies and
gentlemen, please welcome our guest of honor for the night, Mr. Jonathan Statham.” Everyone in the room immediately stood up, clapping. Before heading towards the stage, he kissed my cheek and brushed his lips against mine, whispering, “We’re finishing what we started right after I’m done…” I could feel my cheeks reddening as he walked away from me. When he took the stage, he motioned for the audience to sit down and his eyes briefly meet mine. “Thank you for awarding me this honor,” he said. “I am very appreciative of…” “Mrs. Statham?” A waitress suddenly appeared at my side. “Yes?” “Would you care for more juice?” “Yes, please.” She refilled my glass and quickly disappeared. As I brought the glass to my lips, I noticed that there was a napkin in front of me. A napkin with a red handwritten note: “Your husband isn’t the man you think he is…The truth will disappoint you.” I immediately turned around in my chair, looking around for that waitress so I could ask her what her problem was, but she was nowhere to be found. In fact, there were no other waiters in the room at all… Rolling my eyes, I crumpled the note and set it on my plate, focusing all of my attention on Jonathan again. He was exactly who I thought he was. The love of my life.
Claire Ashley and Caroline hadn’t stopped talking since we picked them up from the airport. Unfortunately, they weren’t busy talking to us. They were talking to each other. “Do you think Jonathan will like my boyfriend?” Ashley flipped her hair over her shoulder. “I think so…They have a lot in common.” “Like what?” “Their hair, maybe?” Caroline laughed. “I think so though. Are you really nervous about bringing him home?” “Yeah…I’m more nervous about Jonathan meeting him over mom though. Jonathan knows that I’m a virgin, and since I want Shane to be my first, I think—” “Ashley…” Jonathan groaned and narrowed his eyes at her. “Yeah? What’s up?” He rolled his eyes. “Welcome home. How are you? How was your flight?” “It was good!” Caroline answered for her. “Now, what were you saying about Shane, Ashley?” I noticed Jonathan looking as if he was about to jump out of the window, so I put my hand on his knee. “We have something very important to tell you both.” “You’re going to let Shane spend the night? And let us share a room?” Ashley’s eyes lit up. “Out of the fucking question,” Jonathan dismissed it before I could. “What could be more important than that then?” “Yeah.” Caroline shrugged. “Wasn’t the point of this trip just so you could meet Ashley’s boyfriend? And give me plenty of pity because I don’t have one?” “We’re expecting.” I leaned closer to Jonathan and smiled.
“Expecting what?” Ashley raised her eyebrow. “Because I know you’re not talking about what I think you’re talking about…” “A baby. Well, two—” “A baby what?” Caroline’s eyes widened as far as they could go. Why do I even try? I sighed and waited for them to put two and two together, watching the realization slowly dawn on their faces. Ashley crossed her arms and looked back and forth between us; Caroline tapped her lip. “Did she just say that she’s expecting a baby, Caroline?” “Two babies…” “Her tubes aren’t tied anymore? How does that happen?” “You think Jonathan made her untie them? So he could have a family of his own?” “Maybe…” Ashley smiled. “He takes family dinners more seriously than we do. He’s probably always wanted a family of his own deep down. Remember how he was acting at Christmas? I’d never seen him that happy before…” Jonathan looked as if he was about to speak, but he simply glanced over at me. “He definitely made her get her tubes untied.” Caroline laughed. Then the two of them, as usual, began spouting off questions faster than we could answer them: “When is your due date?” “How far along are you?” “Have you started working on the nursery yet? “You were serious about Shane not being able to spend the night?” Later that night… “Please be nice to Shane, Jonathan.” I set a basket of eggrolls on the table. “Why wouldn’t I be nice?” “You know what I mean…” He rolled his eyes. “If he’s a good guy then there’ll be nothing to worry about.” “And if he’s not?” “Ashley will thank me for getting rid of him years from now.” Before I could fire back, the doorbell rang. Neither of us moved to answer it since Ashley and Caroline had been impatiently waiting for his arrival for a while. I heard their laughter getting closer and closer, and then they walked into the dining room with a cute young guy.
I can see why she likes him… His hair was dark and cut similar to Jonathan’s, but the similarities ended there. Shane’s eyes were a dark brown and he was only a few inches taller than Ashley. He had a small lip piercing, and I could see a beautiful sparrow tattoo on his left hand. He was dressed in a white button down shirt and black pants, but I could tell he was uncomfortable in them, like he didn’t normally wear those type of clothes. “Mom, Jonathan…” Ashley looked more nervous than ever. “This is my boyfriend, Shane.” “Nice to meet you,” we said in unison and reached out for his hand. He pulled a bouquet of red roses from behind his back and handed them to me. “My pleasure, Mrs. Statham.” He shook Jonathan’s hand. “Am I allowed to call you Jonathan too?” “Mr. Statham will be fine.” I rolled my eyes. “You can call him Jonathan. You have my permission. Ready for dinner?” “Sure.” All of us took our seats, and for the first ten or so minutes, we listened to Caroline tell us the story about how Ashley and Shane first met. “You have a very nice home,” Shane said as he passed the bowl of noodles to Jonathan. Jonathan narrowed his eyes at him, so I spoke in his place. “Thank you, Shane,” I said. “So, are you a Physics major too? Are you in the aviation program?” “Oh, no.” He shook his head. “I’m undeclared right now.” “Oh, well that’s okay. That’s normal. It’s your freshman year, so take all the time you need to find something you really like.” “I’m a junior actually.” Jonathan’s chopsticks suddenly broke in half. “You’re a junior and you haven’t picked your major yet?” “Yeah.” He shrugged and leaned back. “I’m thinking about dropping out for a while and taking a break, you know? Maybe traveling the world and getting inspired. College kind of hinders my creative process…” “Are you an artist?” Jonathan managed. “Is that what you’re saying?” “Oh, never. I’m just really trying to get in touch with my full human spirit. I think all the classes I’ve taken have worn out my soul, if you know what I mean.” “I don’t.”
“Of course you do.” I cleared my throat. “You dropped out of college and look at how well you turned out.” “I had a plan.” Jonathan clenched his jaw. “I have a plan too, don’t worry.” Shane smiled. “I’m going to document my trip on Youtube and get donations from viewers who share the same views as I do…I’m going to revolutionize the way we do college in this country.” Jonathan sighed and looked at me, shaking his head while Ashley swooned over how “deep” Shane was. I was going to ask Shane another question, but the doorbell rang. “I’ll get it!” Jonathan and I both stood up and walked out of the room. “Claire…” Jonathan looked into my eyes. “She can do better than him.” “You can’t help who you fall for.” “Unless he’s a fucking idiot. That rule doesn’t apply in this case and you know it. Either you talk to him or I will.” “Fine.” I sighed. “I’ll go get the door and you can refill the noodle bowl. Can we at least try to end this dinner on a nice note?” He nodded and kissed me before turning around. I rubbed my stomach as I approached the front door, smiling about how well Ashley and Caroline had received the news about my pregnancy. “Are you Mrs. Statham?” The delivery woman asked as I opened the door. “I am. What do you need me to sign?” “This.” She held out her clipboard and handed me a small white envelope. I quickly tore it open, thinking it was something special from Jonathan, but it wasn’t. Not at all. It was another note: “You wouldn’t want to be his wife anymore if you knew the truth…”
Chapter 9 Claire I folded the note and slipped it into my pocket. I was going to shred it the second this dinner with Ashley’s boyfriend was over. Sighing, I shut the door and headed back into the dining room—where Jonathan was currently shaking his head in annoyance. “Do you see what I mean?” Shane stood up from the table. “As a left brain I don’t need to be confined to the rules of academic confinement. I need to be able to spread my wings and learn the world my way.” Ugh… Jonathan looked up and gave me a ‘You better end this before I do' look so I forced a smile. “Shane? Ashley? Can I talk to you both in the parlor room for a second?” “Wait,” Ashley said. “Shane was getting ready to explain how I could travel with him in the summer. We could use Jonathan’s jet the whole time so you won’t have to worry about us having any problems with customs officials.” Ha! I tried not to laugh and shook my head. “We can talk about it in the parlor room…Let’s go.” As the two of them headed in my direction, Jonathan exhaled and leaned back in his chair—mouthing, “Get rid of him…” After I ushered Shane into the parlor room, Ashley grabbed my hand and pulled me to the side. “You don’t like him?” she asked. “It’s not that I don’t like him…” I tried to keep my voice low. “I just don’t think he’s right for you. That’s all.” She sighed. “You can still date him if you want. I can’t stop you from doing that, but I do want you to know that I think you can do better…Jonathan thinks so too…” “He does?” She looked hurt. I nodded. For whatever reason, since Jonathan had come into our lives, she seemed to take his thoughts more personally than mine. “How long did it take for you to know that Jonathan was the one?” She folded her arms.
“A while…” Images of him pursuing me—leaving me flowers, showing up in my office, taking me on dates, and trying his hardest to get me to open up, flashed across my mind. “A while? He told me it was love at first sight. He said he knew you were the one the moment he laid eyes on you…” She sighed again. “Shane told me the same thing.” “Hey, Ash?” Shane called out from the parlor room. “Could you and your mom give me a few more minutes alone in here? I want to soak up more of this ambiance alone. This room has a really nice feel.” Oh god… Before I could say something to Ashley, something like, “Are you seriously interested in him? This isn’t a joke?” she whispered, “You don’t think I should sleep with Shane, right? Is that what this is about?” I bit my tongue. I knew she wanted approval more than anything, so I was going to have to be as delicate as possible. “I’ll tell you exactly what I think…” I tugged her into the room, sending Jonathan a quick text. “We fell in love after we dated for a while, Jonathan… Why did you tell Ashley it was love at first sight?” “Because it was. You’re still in denial. :)" *** Jonathan “Ashley was really nervous about bringing Shane home, Jonathan…” Caroline looked at me from across the table. “She should’ve been.” “You could've been a little nicer." "He could've been a little better." She rolled her eyes. “No wonder Hayley was so scared to date anyone when she was living with you. You probably ran them all off.” “I did.” “Seriously?” “I honestly don’t care who either of you date,” I said, sighing. “But if you bring someone home and he’s not right for you, I’m not going to pretend like he is.” I sat up. “You’re joint high school valedictorians, physics majors, and traveling volunteers. You honestly think your mom would want either of you to date someone who drops classes because they don’t speak to his soul?” “Maybe I’ll tell her to make sure her next boyfriend wears a suit.” “Good idea.” She looked as if she was about to say something else, but Ashley suddenly walked into the dining room and looked back and forth between us.
I wasn’t sure exactly what Claire had said about Shane, but whatever it was, it made Ashley scowl at me and roll her eyes. Shaking her head, she hastily pulled Caroline out of her chair and led her upstairs. She’ll get over it… I stood up and started to put away dishes—ready to tell Claire “good job,” but my phone rang. Milton. “Yes?” I answered. “Did you call to actually have a conversation with me today or am I about to be scolded like a child?” “A stepchild.” He scoffed. “Is there any reason why I just received a memo saying that you will not be attending the expo in Mexico next month? Why you have officially changed your temporary leave to an indefinite one? Until further notice?” “Do I need to answer all of your questions or just one? “Spare me your shit today, Jonathan. What the hell is going on with you?” “Nothing. I’m just taking a break. Having an advisor like you makes me very tired. Surely you can understand.” “There are only two reasons that would be acceptable for someone of your stature to pull out of something like this, so let me enlighten you as to what they are: Reason number one: You’ve died. Reason number two: Your wife has died.” “Milton…” “Seeing as though you’re currently on the other end of the phone and you’re not currently planning the funeral of the century for Mrs. Statham, I’m going to assume that neither of those reasons are true.” “Milton…” “I was lenient with your wedding. I was lenient when you first started dating her and decided to give everyone a free weekend because it was your birthday. I was also very lenient when you decided to give the entire company bonuses just because you “felt like it.” But this? This Mexican expo? You’re not missing it for the world and I will do whatever it takes to make sure that—” “We’re expecting a child. Well, children.” “And?” “And I’m not going on any extended trips without my wife while she’s pregnant. Period. Anything else you care to lecture me about today?” “The second your children are born, appoint them both to the CEO position. I’m sure they’ll do a much better job running this company than you. They might actually listen.” I rolled my eyes and hung up. I didn’t want either of my children working at Statham Industries (unless they wanted to), and I wasn’t even sure if I wanted them to attend the same schools as my colleagues’ kids; I didn’t want them to grow up jaded… In fact, Claire and I had discussed some aspects of parenting last night, but we weren’t on the same page. At all.
She believed in spanking—something I would never allow to happen, and we’d argued about it for at least two hours. Even though our argument had ended in sex, I was going to make it perfectly clear in the days to come that no one—not even her, would hit our children; there were other ways to discipline someone, and the blows my father used to throw at me never taught me a damn thing. Maybe I should explain that when I bring it up again… I turned off my phone and cleared the table. Before hitting the dining room lights, I sent a text to Ashley: “I’m sorry I wasn’t as nice as I could have been to your boyfriend…I only want what’s best for you, and I honestly don’t think he deserves you…. Love you, Jonathan.” “Claire?” I walked into the parlor room. “Have you ever noticed that you never call me by any petnames?” She rolled over on the couch. “Pet names?” “Baby, dear, hun—” “Sweetheart?” She rolled her eyes. “You know what I mean.” “I don’t.” “Even in public, you always call me Claire or Mrs. Statham.” “Is this conversation going somewhere, Claire?” “Have you ever called any of the women you dated in the past a pet name? Or is it just me that doesn't get one? I've been wondering about that for a while, so—” "No, Claire. I have never called anyone I've ever dated "baby," "hun," or "sweetheart." "Are you sure?" She raised her eyebrow, looking at me as if she didn't believe me, as if she knew something that I didn't. "Very sure." I looked into her eyes. “Do you want to tell me why you're sleeping on the couch? You have a bed upstairs.” “I’ve been waiting for you…” “Waiting for me? You couldn’t go up to our room when you were done talking to them?” She crossed her arms. “My husband refuses to let me walk up the steps on my own anymore since I’m pregnant. He thinks he has to carry me up and down every single time. He actually doesn’t let me do much at all… Crazy, isn’t it?” I smiled and lifted her into my arms, carrying out of the parlor room and up the grand staircase. “You’re not going to be able to do this for too much longer.” She murmured. “We’ll see.” I gently placed her into bed and pulled the covers back. As she rolled over, a note fell out of her pocket.
I was about to set it on the nightstand, but the words caught my eye: You wouldn’t want to be his wife anymore if you knew the truth… On the back of the paper was her full name in an ugly cursive: Claire Alicia Statham. What the hell is this? “Claire?” I kissed her forehead. “Where did this paper come from?” She murmured. “I need you to answer me.” I kissed her again. “What is this?” “That’s what the delivery was earlier…Throw it away just like the other one.” “What other one?” She rolled over and shut her eyes, so I climbed into bed next to her. “What other note, Claire?” “At your awards dinner…During your speech…” Her voice was faint. “It was a napkin…I put it in my jacket before we left…Can you throw that one away too?” I asked her a few more questions, questions about why she didn’t tell me about that napkin earlier or immediately show me this note, but all of her responses were murmurs. And within minutes she was sound asleep. I sighed and rolled off the bed, heading straight into her closet. I thumbed through her jackets and found the one she was wearing at dinner the other night. Sure enough, there was a wrinkled napkin in the pocket with another note: Your husband isn’t the man you think he is…The truth will disappoint you. I crumpled it and clenched my jaw. Fucking Gwyneth… *** “Custom Nurseries!” A woman stood up as I entered the warehouse. “Where is Gwyneth White?” “She’s currently in a meeting, but if you would like—” I walked past her desk and into the back—looking for the offices. As soon as I saw the “White” name plate, I opened the door and stepped inside. “And if you’ll look here, this is exactly how we’ll design—” Gwyneth stopped as soon as her eyes met mine. “Yes, Mr. Statham? Is there a problem? I’m clearly in the middle of a meeting.” “I need to talk to you.” “So does she…” She motioned to the woman sitting across from her. “And she has an appointment, so—” “NOW.” She shut her folder and gave the woman a sympathetic look. “Can you please excuse me for a few minutes, Mrs. Owens?”
The woman nodded and quickly stood up, blushing once her eyes met mine. She opened her mouth to say something, but she slipped past me and walked out of the door. “To what do I owe this surprise, Jonathan?” Gwyneth smiled. “Are you here to lay me against the desk and screw me out of my mind, or is that type of thing only reserved for your wife these days?” “I never fucked you in an office. “ “What do you want to talk about?” I pulled the napkin out of my pocket and placed it on her desk. “This.” “A napkin?” “Flip it over.” She sighed and turned it over in her hands, shrugging. “Okay…You barged into my office to show me some creepy bad hand writing on a paper linen?” “Your creepy bad handwriting on a paper linen.” “Excuse me?” She raised her eyebrow. “You set that paper on Claire’s plate during my awards dinner. You also sent her a separate note—a more pointless one earlier today.” I walked around her desk and placed the other paper into her hand. “I don’t know how many times you want me to say that I’m no longer interested in what we had—” “Have. You still have feelings for me and you fucking know it.” “I’m only going to say this once, Gwyneth, so listen to my next few words very carefully.” I closed the gap between us. “Stay the fuck away from my wife. Find one of your colleagues to take your place on our nursery project; you’re no longer welcome in our home. Are we clear?” She narrowed her eyes at me and shook her head. Then she laughed. Hysterically. “You’re good, Jonathan—really really good.” She reached up to touch my hair but I grabbed her hand. “I’m glad you find this funny.” “It’s not funny.” She yanked her hand away and stepped back. “It’s fucking hilarious. You honestly think I would try to get to Claire by slipping a napkin onto her dinner plate? By delivering a note straight to your front door?” “Wouldn’t you?” “I’m offended that you think I’m that stupid.” She crossed her arms. “I tapped into Microsoft’s mainframe when I was sixteen. I had recruiters from ivyleague universities sitting in my parents’ living room, begging me to come to their colleges before I even entered high school. I was also handpicked by the director of Brown’s board to find all the flaws in the campus’ tracking software… Do you honestly think I would resort to using a paper napkin if I wanted to get to Claire?” Silence. “No answer?” She scoffed. “If I wanted to get back at you, for all you’ve done to me—”
“I haven’t done anything to you.” “Then why is someone like me currently working in a custom nursery store? Why won’t any of the top companies in this city give me a goddamn interview? Why won’t they even let me through the doors?” I sighed. “I thought so.” She nodded. “If I wanted to get back at you—through Claire, I would tell her all the details about that closed secret settlement you came to with her exhusband. Or maybe, I would forward her all the emails you and I exchanged at the very beginning of your socalled relationship—when you were still telling me that you’d wait for me. Or maybe I would expose some of the many secrets that I’m sure you’ve never told her about—the ones I only know because you were drunk and slipped up. Or, just for fun, I’d forward her a video of the two of us—and you know exactly which one I’m talking about.” “I dare you.” “You shouldn’t.” She smiled and pressed the napkin into my hand. “As far as me staying the fuck away from your wife, I take my orders from her. Not you. And, seeing as though she texted me earlier this morning and invited me to lunch with the two of you tomorrow, I’d say that I’m more than welcome at your house. Is there anything else you care to discuss today, or are you done wasting my time?” “Goodbye, Gwyneth.” I turned away from her—determined to get Corey’s help on this napkin and note issue, but she stepped around me and blocked the door. “Wait.” She pressed her finger against my lips before I could stop her. “I really need to talk to you about something important….Give me five minutes for old time’s sake. Please.” *** Claire I woke up alone. No note from Jonathan, no text saying where he was or where he’d gone. I rolled off the bed and walked down the hallway, knocking on his office door. No answer. I pulled out my phone and called him. Straight to voice mail. That’s strange…He always tells me where he’s going… I pushed his office door open—just to see if he was in the middle of an important call and couldn’t answer, but he wasn’t. The room was completely empty. Maybe he’ll be right back…
Sighing, I walked over to his desk and took a seat in his chair. I ran my fingers along the pictures he had front and center—the two of us swimming in the ocean, me smiling in my sleep, him laughing at me as the sun set. I called him one last time to no avail, so I figured I could check my email while I waited for him to come back. Surely there was some new design my team was working on, something they’d want to email me about. As my inbox appeared on the screen, my eyes caught the very first message: “Your Husband.” I immediately clicked on it and realized that there was no message in the body, only an attachment with the words, “Jonathan Statham Settlement with Ryan Hayes. Do Not Disclose.”
Chapter 10 Claire I stared at the attachment for a long time—wanting to open it and finally see the details of that settlement. Every time I’d asked Jonathan about it he’d said, “I took care of it,” “It’s in the past,” or “It’s been handled.” The last time I questioned him about it—after I’d heard his advisor say “Mr. Hayes again” over the phone, he’d said, “Trust me, Claire. I need you to trust me. I did what was best for you. I always do.” I did trust him—more than I’d ever trusted anyone else, but I couldn’t stifle my curiosity. I moved the mouse over the attachment and hit “open.” In seconds, a white document unfolded, and then a final popup box appeared: “Are you sure you want to open this attachment? Unknown sender.” Sighing, I shook my head. I wanted to hit “yes” so badly, but I didn’t want to see something I’d regret. Maybe I’ll only read the first few pages… I prepared to hit “yes,” but Jonathan suddenly walked into the room. “Claire?” “Yes?” I immediately minimized the window. “What are you doing in here?”
“I was looking for you.” I tried to sound as innocent as possible. “Then I decided to check my email. Where were you?” “I was trying to get to the bottom of that letter and napkin.” “Any leads?” He shook his head and walked over to me. He bent down as if he was going to kiss me, but then he stopped. “We need to talk. Now.” “About what?” “Us.” I felt an ache in my chest. He hardly ever said that we needed to talk, and he hardly ever looked so dejected and lost. Especially if the topic of conversation was “us.” “Is it something bad?” I tried to read his eyes. “Something unfortunate, something I should’ve told you earlier.” “Is it going to be a long conversation?” “Is there a time limit on how long I’m allowed to talk to you?” “No.” I rolled my eyes. “I was just, um, going to finish looking at something first.” My eyes darted back to the screen. “And if it was going to be a long conversation, I was going to take a shower first and get comfortable.” He blinked. “A shower?” “Is that a crime?” “Of course not.” He pulled me out of my chair. “I’ll join you.” “Did you not hear me say that I wanted to finish looking at something first?” “Not at all.” He walked me down the hallway and into our bathroom. “Greg took Ashley and Caroline shopping so they probably won’t be back for a while.” I shook my head. They had more than enough clothes and I was pretty sure that Ashley had guilted Jonathan into a shopping spree over the way he’d treated Shane at dinner. Before I could tell him that he should’ve said no to that shopping trip, he pressed his lips against mine. “You’re the only woman I’ve ever loved,” he whispered. “Only you, Claire…” I nodded as he took my breath away with another kiss, as he slowly unzipped the back of my dress and let it fall to the floor. He hooked his thumb underneath the band of my panties and gently ripped them off, saving the latches on my bra for last. As I stood in front of him completely naked, he stared at my stomach and caressed it with his hand.
“How many weeks are left?” He looked into my eyes. “Twenty nine.” “You still don’t have a bump…” “It’s still early. I didn’t get one until I was five months with Ashley and Caroline…” I tried not to smile. He’d been calling our doctor every day since last week and asking questions, mainly wondering why I had yet to show; he thought something was wrong. He ran his hand across my stomach one last time before undressing himself, and then he pulled me into the shower. Hot streams fell over us, and neither of us made a move. We just stared at each other. Usually, he would push me against the wall and kiss me—locking me in his arms before he fucked me senseless, but today there was a look of sadness in his eyes. He didn’t do anything. I stepped forward and wrapped my arms around his neck, but he moved them away. Before I could ask him what was wrong, he spun me around and tilted my head underneath the water. Shutting my eyes, I felt him lathering shampoo into my hair—threading his fingertips through it again and again. “You still like this?” he whispered. “Yes…” He kissed my neck. “Do you want me to do it again?” I nodded. He repeated it at least three more times, and without turning me around to face him, he washed every inch of me. I waited for him to tell me to return the favor, but he didn’t. Instead, he lifted me up and set me on the shower bench, making me watch as he washed himself. Except this time, there were no playful smirks or sexy taunts from his mouth. He just stared at me. “Jonathan…” I swallowed as he turned the water off. “Can you just tell me what’s wrong? You’re scaring me…” No answer. He wrapped me in a towel and dried me, and then he helped me into my favorite robe. I didn’t even try to help him into his; I just watched—feeling my heart beat an uneven rhythm I’d felt once before. A rhythm it’d only beat when I’d found out about Ryan’s affair.
Within seconds, I was in Jonathan’s arms and he was carrying me down the steps and into the parlor room. He set me on the couch and pulled me close, clasping my hands in his. “Claire…” He sighed. “I want you to know that—” “Are you cheating on me?” I blurted out. “Just tell me right now.” “What?” He narrowed his eyes at me. “Of course I’m not cheating on you. I would never.” He kissed my forehead, and a huge wave of relief washed over me. “Then why are you acting so strange today?” He sighed and squeezed my hands tightly. “I told another woman that I loved her and that I was willing to be with her forever right before I met you. I told her that I would wait for her, that no matter who I dated while she was gone, no woman could ever take her place or mean as much to me as she did.” I blinked. “We lived together at one point—before she moved overseas, but at the time I thought that she and I had perfect chemistry. She just wanted a few things that I didn’t—marriage, kids, white picket fence. She was technically my first real girlfriend. She helped me setup some of the early security for Statham Industries, and she was there when things almost fell apart.” “Jonathan…” I felt my voice crack. “Where is all this coming from?” “She showed up to my office a few weeks ago—ready to get back together and start the life I’d promised her, but…” He paused. “She saw your pictures on my desk and found out that I was married. She threatened to talk to you, so I had her fired from her job...I was going to reach out and talk to her once I figured out what to say, but you called me into the nursery one day and there she was.” All of a sudden, I could feel blood draining from my face. Tears welling in my eyes. “She’s hellbent on telling you all about our past, so I want to tell you everything first…We used to—” “Gwyneth is your exgirlfriend?” I cut him off. “Yes.” “The same Gwyneth who’s been in our house, watched our wedding video, and texted me two hours ago about our lunch date tomorrow? That Gwyneth?” He nodded and my chest tightened. I stared at him in absolute shock. “Why didn’t you tell me any of this before?” I felt tears streaming down my face. “Why didn’t you tell me to fire her?”
“You said no.” “That’s because I didn’t know she was your exgirlfriend! I thought you were just being ridiculous!” I tried to stay calm, but it was no use. “I’ve sat in that room for hours with her and gushed about how wonderful you are, told her about all the amazing dates you’ve taken me on, and how you—” I stopped. “I wonder how hard she’s laughing at me right now.” “Claire…” “Don’t Claire me, Jonathan.” I slowly slid my hands out of his grasp. “Do you honestly think I would’ve let her into our house at all if I knew you two had a past? Do you?” He sighed. “Do you still have feelings for her?” “None at all.” He leaned forward to wipe away my tears, but I moved back. “What happened to having no secrets between us? Or does that rule only apply to you?” I sniffled. “Claire, listen…” "Go away.” “There's more I have to tell you.” “I don't care. Go. Away.” I moved to the other side of the couch and curled into a ball. “I don’t want to see you right now.” “Claire...” “Now. I don’t want to see you, and I definitely don’t want to talk to you.” It hurt to say those things, but it was true. I needed to be alone. I shut my eyes and waited to hear him leaving, but instead I felt him placing a blanket over me and kissing my forehead. He whispered that he was sorry before planting a light kiss on my lips, and then I heard the sound of his footsteps fading further and further away. *** Jonathan I sat in our bedroom and shook my head—feeling absolutely horrible. Claire being unhappy was something I always tried to prevent, and knowing that I was the cause behind her recent tears hurt me beyond words. There was definitely a reason I hadn’t been upfront up with her, but she hadn’t let me tell her that part.
Nonetheless, I was only going to let her stay in that room by herself for a few hours. Mad at me or not, she was going to sleep upstairs with me, and we were going to finish that conversation. I walked down the hall and into my office—determined to see if Corey had found any leads in the napkin incident, but the settlement with Ryan popped up on my screen. Then I saw that Claire had received it in her email. I immediately called Corey. “No leads yet,” he said. “Close though.” “That’s not why I’m calling. Someone emailed Claire the settlement file.” “Yeah, I saw that.” He sighed. “Don’t worry. I intercepted it and it should’ve been a court docket about Hanson Vs Gummy Bears by the time she got to it.” “You screen Claire’s emails?” “You never told me stop.” I rolled my eyes. “You can stop.” I hung up and signed out of Claire’s email. I didn’t want to see anything else. Before I could go back into our room and try to force myself to think about something else—anything else, my phone vibrated. Claire. “No need to wait up for me. I can walk up the stairs BY MYSELF later. Goodnight.” Fuck this. I rolled my eyes and rushed downstairs. “Why are you in here?” She immediately sat up when I walked into the room. “Why don’t you ever listen?” “The same reason you never do.” I lifted her into my arms and carried her upstairs, ignoring her exaggerated sighs. I gently placed her into our bed, and when she tried to get up, I locked her into my arms and held her close. “Let me go.” She glared at me. “After we talk.” “I don’t want to talk.” “Good. I’ll do most of it.” “Jonathan!” She tried to pull away from me, but I held her even tighter. Then I kissed her to calm her down. “I’m very sorry, Claire.” I whispered. “I never meant to hurt you.” “I just want to be left alone…”
I kissed her again. “I’ll hold off on talking, but I’m not leaving you alone. You’re sleeping right here, and if you try to get up in the middle of the night —” “You’ll tie me down?” “I will.” I narrowed my eyes at her. “Try me…No matter how mad you are at me, or vice versa, we don’t sleep alone. Ever.” She looked away from me and sighed, and I slowly let her go—waiting to see if she would jump up, but she didn’t. When she finally faced me again, she didn’t speak for a long time. She just looked into my eyes, silently telling me that she was still upset, still hurt. “I think we need to go back to marriage counseling…” she whispered. “You clearly don’t trust me.” “Excuse me?” “If you hid this from me, god knows what else you’re hiding.” That “what else” sounded like a threat. “I’m not going to counseling. The first time was more than enough.” “Was it?” I tried not to roll my eyes. “Fine, Claire. We can go tomorrow if you like. We can cancel our lunch with Gwyneth, and instead we can—” “I don’t think so.” She cut me off. “We’re keeping our lunch date with Gwyneth. We’re going to be there early, and I’m going to say everything I have to say to both of you. As a matter of fact, is there anything else you want to tell me about your relationship with her before tomorrow?” Claire It was hard to stay mad at Jonathan, for more than a few minutes anyway. Especially when we were in bed. That's where he always made me melt. He always said, "I love you, Claire" or "You're so fucking beautiful" in his sleep, and he always pulled me close to his chest whenever I rolled over or tried to move away. Ever since he'd found out that I was pregnant, he'd set his alarm to six o' clock just so he could wake up and make me breakfast, just so he could pull the home vital cuff from our drawer and take my blood pressure; he always texted the final numbers to our doctor right after and demanded a quick response. Tonight he'd said "I love you, Claire" five times, and he was holding me a little tighter than he normally did. At exactly six o' clock, he kissed my forehead and left the room as usual returning minutes later with a hot breakfast. "Claire?" He gently shook my shoulder. "Can you sit up for a few seconds?"
"I could." "Claire..." He narrowed his eyes at me. "I need you to sit up. Now." I sighed. "Why do you have to be so fucking perfect all the time?" "What?" 'Why can't you just fuck up, and then continue to fuck up? Why can't you be like a normal person?" "Am I going to have to force you to sit up?" I blinked and he rolled his eyes. He slipped his arms underneath me and gently lifted me up, helping me sit upright. As he tightened the cuff around my arm, I looked into his eyes. "I thought you would want to skip doing this today." "Why would you ever think that?" "Because I'm upset with you." "Temporarily." He sighed. Then he looked at the machine's final numbers and put the cuff away. "Do you want juice or coffee with your breakfast today?" "Juice." "Good. I'll be right back." "Wait." I grabbed his arm before he could stand up. "Yes?" "I need to ask you something." "Anything." He cupped my face in his hands. "There's a really good reason why you didn't tell me about Gwyneth earlier isn't there?" "Yes." He trailed his thumb against my lips. "Was it because you thought it would make me leave you?" "You're never leaving me." "You didn't answer the question, Jonathan..." "Because that question didn't make any fucking sense." I sighed. "Did you think telling me about her would hurt my feelings?" "That's part of it." "And the other part?" "Because I know you." He looked into my eyes "And lately you've been a lot more emotional than usual..."
"That's not true." "You cry every time your newest flowers are delivered, you're extremely irritable in the mornings, and you get upset about the simplest things." "Gwyneth is not a simple issue." "No, but your bananas being cut into squares instead of circles is..." I tried not to laugh. I'd forgotten that I asked him to remake my "bananas and ketchup" concoction last week just because he cut the shapes wrong; I didn't think I'd sounded that upset when I asked him to do it, but we did have angry sex right after so maybe I was... "So, if I wasn't emotional and pregnant would you have told me about Gwyneth?" "Probably so." I swallowed, suddenly feeling sad. "But...You promise that you don't have feelings for her? That you're not in love with her anymore?" "I never was." He pressed his finger against my lips. "I loved her as a friend and I cared about her a lot. I've never been in love with anyone but you, Claire. Only you." I stared at him for a long time, letting a few tears fall down my cheeks letting him wipe each and every one of them away. "I didn't want to hurt you, Claire," he said. "I never want to do that, but you were right earlier. There shouldn't be any secrets between us...Gwyneth and I" "Stop..." I shook my head. "I don't want to know." "What?" "Whatever it is, don't tell me. I don't want to be upset with you..." He sighed and pulled me close, kissing me until the tears stopped falling down my face. "Are there any more secrets, Jonathan? Anything else I should be told about your past?" "No." He clasped my hand and pulled me out of the bed, leading me into our bathroom. Before I could let go and tell him that I just wanted to go back to bed, he pressed his lips against mine and whispered, "I love you, Claire. More than you'll ever fucking know. If I could go back and erase Gwyneth from my life, I would." "You can erase her now..." "I will." He kissed me. "Lift your arms up."
I obliged and let him slowly pull my slip over my head. Once he tossed it to the floor, he kissed my neck and stepped around mebending down to turn on our tub's water. He dropped some of my favorite scents underneath the streams, and tossed in the box of flower petals he'd bought for me last week. "Turn around." He demanded. Running one of his hands against my bare sides, he grabbed one of my bands from a drawer and pulled my hair into a high ponytail. Then he picked me up and placed me into our tub. I watched him as he quickly undressed, as he kept his eyes on mine and sat across from me in the water. Before I could say a word, he pulled me into his lap, letting me straddle him. "What do you want to do after we meet with her over lunch today?" He massaged my shoulders with a loofah. "I don't want to meet with her anymore...I'm going to tell her she's fired the second she shows up." He raised his eyebrow. "Are you sure?" "Yes...Can you let me talk to her alone?" "No." "Please..." I wrapped my arms around his neck. "I know exactly what I want to say." He sighed. "Fine, Claire. Do you think you'll feel like a date with me afterwards?" I nodded and he pressed my cheek against his chest, continuing to massage my skin. "I'm still mad at you..." I murmured. He tilted my head up and looked into my eyes. "You won't be after I get done with you tonight."
Chapter 11 Jonathan "Can you wake me up in two hours?" Claire sighed as I tucked her into bed. "Of course." "I know you just woke me up a few hours ago, so does it bother you that I..." Her voice trailed off. "That you what?" “That I sleep so much lately? I feel like I take three naps a day..."
"Four." I smiled. "And no it doesn't bother me." "So, you won't be upset if I say that I just want to stay at home tonight instead of going on a date? Maybe we could watch a movie together? Or cook? Or" I pressed my finger against her lips. "We can do whatever you want, Claire." I planted a kiss on her forehead. "Go to sleep." She smiled and shut her eyes, murmuring something I didn't understand, and within seconds she was sleeping. So fucking beautiful... I ran my fingers through her hair as her chest moved up and down, kissing her forehead again. I was about to slide under the sheets and join her, but my phone rang. Corey. "Corey." I answered. "Can I call you back? I'm spending time with Claire." "Napping with Claire, you mean?" I rolled my eyes. "What do you want?" "Are you alone?" I kissed Claire one last time before stepping out of the room. "This better be important." "Oh, it's important." He scoffed. "Who have you pissed off within the last six months?" "Too many people to count." "Well, you better sit down and fucking think about it. That napkin wasn't a napkin." "What?" "It was fiber paper." "And?" "Fiber paper, Jonathan." He sounded concerned. "So was the note that was delivered to Claire at your house. Do you know what type of shit you have to pull to get paper like this? Who you have to know? This is high level security quality." "Is there a point coming?" "Someone is watching you and Claire, Jonathan. Listening to your conversations, tracking your movementsall via fiber paper. .I'm trying to get to the bottom of this as fast as I can, but it would be nice if I had an idea of who you could've pissed off. Can you come in tomorrow for an hour or two so I can show you something?"
I balled my fists at the thought of someone invading my privacy. "Sure. Me and Claire can" "Don't bring Claire." "Excuse me?" "Don't bring Claire." I rolled my eyes. "We'll be there at eight." "Yeah, well maybe you should bring her. Maybe she can explain why she hired a private investigator to start digging into your past a few days ago." "What?" My chest tightened. "Yeah." He sighed. "I was signing off to stop tracking her emails like you asked, but I came across one from a PI. She hired him a couple days ago. He's a pretty high quality one too. I was impressed with his background." "What did the email say?" "It just said, ‘My pleasure, Mrs. Statham.’ I could find the ones she previously sent, but that would mean" "I'm on my way to you right now." I hung up in absolute shock. I walked into our bedroom and stepped over to Claire. "Two hours isn't over yet is it?" She murmured as she opened her eyes. "No." "Okay." "Claire..." I wasn't sure how to feel right now. "Yes?" "Do you trust me?" "What type of question is that? "A type I need you to answer. Do. You. Trust. Me?" "Yes..." She smiled. "Always." "Then why did you" I stopped. She was sleeping again, and there was no point in bringing this up right now. I needed to figure out what the hell was going on before she woke up... *** Claire "I'll be back home in about twenty minutesJust in case you wake up early from your nap and see this. Love, Jonathan." I smiled at Jonathan's text and climbed out of bed. Before I could make it to the bathroom, the doorbell rang.
Sighing, I headed into the hallway and stopped at the staircase. I was so used to Jonathan carrying me up and down the steps that walking down them alone seemed strange. I hope he doesn't think that I'm going to let him continue doing that once I have the babies... I slowly made my way down the steps and opened the door. Gwyneth. "Good afternoon, Mrs. Statham." She smiled. "I was stopping by to drop off some prints before my next meeting. I'll swing back by for our lunch date." "Actually..." I tried to keep my voice firm. "That won't be necessary. We'll no longer be needing your services." “Is there any reason why?” “I need a reason?” She raised her eyebrow, then she looked at my stomach. "You miscarried?" "No. You used to date my husband." Her eyes widened and she gasped. "You’re lucky I'm pregnant and can’t exert any unnecessary physical energy, Miss White." I narrowed my eyes at her. "You knew damn well who I was when I came to your nursery shop and you purposely took over the project just so you could cause trouble." "I've caused trouble?" She smiled. "How unfortunate." "Whatever you had with my husband is long over. That's why he married menot you, and that's also why I had no idea who the hell you were up until yesterday. You were never important enough for him to mention. Regardless of how many years you two spent together, how many projects you completed for the greater good, you never could make him fall in love with you, could you? Is that it? Is that why you kept asking me about our dates? How long it took him to pop the question? If he really said the words, 'I'm in love with you' to me?" "Ms. Statham" "Mrs." I crossed my arms. "And those questions were rhetorical. Don't interrupt me when I'm talking." I noticed her stepping back. "We'll happily pay you for all services rendered up until this point, and because I'm so nice, I'll even pay for you to get therapy. There's a counselor I know who specializes in helping people let go, in helping people realize that they need to move the fuck on." Her face turned red. "He doesn't want you Gwyneth, and he never will because I'm the love of his fucking life and you are nothing more than a fleeting memory." "You have no idea what we had..." Tears were falling down her face.
"No, but the word 'had' implies that those days are long over doesn't it?" She shook her head and reached into her purse, pulling out a manila envelope. "You know, I was actually going to ask to use your shredder today. I was going to tell myself that time would fix everything about this situation, and that I could stop carrying this around every day but..." She threw the envelope at me. "Since you know him so well, and he's the love of your life, I'm sure nothing in that envelope will be a surprise for you." She wiped her face on her sleeve and walked away. Then she looked over her shoulder. "Consider it a present for your babies." I called Greg and instructed for him to follow her off the property, and to make sure her car never made it past our gate again. Once he confirmed it, I stepped inside and tossed her envelope onto the kitchen counter. In the center of our island was a plate of wrapped bananascut in circles, with ketchup and a note from Jonathan: " I know you walked down the steps by yourself while I was gone and are reading this note because you're the love of my life/the most stubborn woman I know. I'll make lunch for you when I get home and I need to ask you a few things...Love you, Jonathan." I smiled and unwrapped the plate, devouring each and every piece of fruit. As I tossed the plate into the sink, Gwyneth's envelope caught my eye. I knew she was full of shit and that I should simply shred it, but I figured I'd read it and get a good laugh. I opened it and pulled out the first page, reading the first few paragraphs. As I read, all the color drained from my face and tears began to well in my eyes. Jonathan was more than right about not telling me earlier. Knowing the things on this paper would make me cry, and I was going to be crying for a very long time...
Chapter 12 A few days after the envelope…
Claire “Do you, Claire Alicia Statham, take Jonathan Carter Statham to be your lawfully wedded husband? Do you promise to—” I pressed pause on our wedding DVD, ignoring the tears that were currently falling down my face. This was the third time I’d watched it today, and I was pretty sure I was going to watch it for a fourth. “Should I be worried about the SWAT team showing up to my house today?” Helen walked into the living room. “How far away do you think they are?” “There’s no SWAT team looking for me, Helen…” “Are you sure?” She handed me a glass of orange juice. “You haven’t been home in three days and your husband has just called me for the twentieth time today.” “Did you answer?” “Of course I answered.” She scoffed. “He’s concerned…” “He should be.” “What?” She sat across from me. “Where is the Claire who’s over the moon in love with her psycho and overthetop husband? What happened to her?” I picked up my purse and pulled out the envelope from Gwyneth, tossing it to her. “She disappeared when she saw that…” She opened it and took her time reading it. The moment she finished, she rolled her eyes and tossed it back to me. “Go home, Claire.” “No, thank you,” I said, knowing that Jonathan would probably be knocking on her door soon, but I didn’t care. The second I’d read that letter, I’d left him an “I ran out for a minute, I’ll be back” note. I just didn’t go back. She stood up and sighed. “I’m sure there’s an explanation. He loves you way too much for that to be true…” She said something else, something about believing that Jonathan was pretty much perfection on earth but I tuned her out. I focused my attention on the black and silver tie that was hanging off her couch. “I got Greg that same tie for Christmas this year…” I strained to get a better look. “It was supposed to be custom made, or so I thought. Where did you buy that?” “Nowhere.” She shook her head. “It is Greg’s tie.” “You’re sleeping with my husband’s driver?” “I prefer the term ‘fucking’ but yes, I am sleeping with him.” She paused. “I think I kind of like him, actually. He’s definitely able to keep up with me in bed, and he has one hell of a mouth...” “You’re ridiculous.” “No, I have needs.” She smiled. “Don’t start judging me.”
“I never do. How long has this been going on?” “Couple weeks, or is it months? I’ve honestly lost track of time…Good sex does that to you, you know?” I prepared to pepper her with more questions, but her doorbell rang. I didn’t make a move to answer it. I laid back against the pillows. “Do you want me to answer it?” Helen asked. “Do you have to?” She gave me a blank stare and the doorbell sounded again. “Fine.” I got up. “I’ll get it.” I took my time walking to the front of her house —letting him ring the bell a few more times, and I slowly opened the door. My eyes immediately went to his, and neither of us said a word. He looked beyond worried—concerned, but even in this moment, in nothing but lounge pants and a thin white shirt that clung to his muscles, he looked absolutely irresistible. “Claire…” He wrapped an arm around my waist and pulled me close, now looking angry as hell. “You haven’t been home in four days…” “I’m aware.” “You haven’t answered any of my fucking phone calls or text messages, and I’ve had to reach out to your best friend to make sure my own goddamn wife was okay.” “I’m aware of that, too.” He clenched his jaw. “You are fucking married, Claire…To me. Which means —” “Which means that you’re responsible for being the man I said my vows to…” “I have been, Mrs. Statham…” he said, his voice tinged with rage. “The question I need answered right now though, is why are you treating me like I’ve done something to you? Why haven’t you told me what’s bothering you?” “I'm the only one who deserves to be asking questions right now.” “After you answer mine.” He narrowed his eyes. “What the hell is wrong with you?” “Me? What the hell is wrong with you?” My voice cracked and I stepped out of his reach. “What else are you hiding from me?” “Excuse me?” He glared at me. “What did you just say?” “Do I need to talk staccato like you to get my point across?” I felt my cheeks heating. “What. Else. Are. You. Hiding. From. Me?” “Nothing.” He pressed his finger against my lips to silence me. “I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about, Claire, but if you want to continue this ridiculous discussion you’ll need to come home with me. Now.”
“Did you get Gwyneth pregnant when you two were together?” I couldn’t hold back anymore.” Did you force her to give it up for adoption just so you could protect your image?” “What the fuck are you talking about, Claire?” He seethed. “Where the fuck is this coming from?” I threw the papers at him. “Read it.” “I’d rather not.” He stepped closer, looking as if he was trying his hardest to stay in control. “But just so we can be on the same goddamn page, I’ve only gotten one woman pregnant. Period. And she happens to be standing right in front of me.” “You were going to marry her weren’t you?” “Out of friendship and an old pact we made, yes…” He pulled me into his arms again, running his fingers through my hair. “But all bets were off when I found someone I actually fell in love with…How many times do I have to tell you this, Claire? Do I have to etch it onto my forehead so you can have it as a reminder every day? There’s nothing there.” “Jonathan, I just—” “There’s nothing there.” He stared into my eyes, looking a little hurt. “Please don’t do this to us.” “I’m not doing anything…” I said. “But I’ve changed my mind.” “About what?” “About wanting to know everything about Gwyneth. I want to know what she has on you that makes her think she still has a chance…I want to know everything…” He sighed as he kissed my forehead. “Okay.” “And I want you to read those papers she gave me so—” “I’m not reading that shit,” he said, tightening his grip on me. “If the question you just asked me had anything to do with what’s on those papers then they’re all full of shit…Are you going to come home with me now or do you plan on staying here for another month?” “It hasn’t been a month.” “It’s felt like it.” He walked me toward the towncar. “I need you to never leave me like that again…And I need you to trust that I don’t have feelings for anyone else.” He kissed my lips softly before opening the door. “No one else, Claire…I made you a fucking promise, and I meant every word of it.” I nodded and slipped into the car, feeling myself pulled into his lap right after he got in. I avoided saying anything further as Greg pulled the car away, but I didn’t have to. “I want to make you the happiest woman on earth…” Jonathan whispered into my ear. “I never want to hurt you, or see you cry, and I definitely don’t’
want to be the reason why you’re ever upset…I love you much more than you’ll ever know…If you had any idea how much I loved you…” “I do…” I murmured as he kissed my neck. “I’ll answer every question you have tonight under two conditions…” I turned my head around to face him. “And what conditions are those?” “One, is that we never have to have that conversation again.” “Fine.” I tried to turn back around, but he held me still and claimed my lips. “And two,” he whispered, sliding his hand under my shirt, “Is that you let me show you just how much I’ve missed you over the past few days…”
Chapter 13 Later that day… Claire We were still in the towncar, kissing recklessly—still exploring each other as if we were having sex for the very first time. “Fuck, Claire….” Jonathan slid into me one last time, making me scream as I scratched my nails across his back. “Ahhhh….” I shut my eyes as he kissed me again and again. And before I could completely relax, he pulled me up and repositioned me on the seat. He sent Greg a quick text, and minutes later, the driver’s door shut and we were moving again. Breathless, I leaned against his shoulder, and his hand moved down to my stomach—softly caressing it. “You know, we’re not going to be able to have sex so often when we become parents…” I smiled. He rolled his eyes. “If you actually believe that, you don’t know the man you married at all.” “Do you want boys or girls?” “It doesn’t matter… What do you want?” “One of each.” “Hmmm.” He kissed my neck and continued rubbing my stomach. I turned toward the window, watching the city pass us by. As we pulled onto an exit ramp, I spotted a CVS. “Greg?” I pressed the intercom button. “Can we stop at CVS please?” “Of course, Mrs. Statham.” Jonathan kissed my cheek as he steered the car over. “What do you need out of here?” “Pickles.” He smiled. “And I’m still mad at you, so—” I kissed him as Greg opened the door. “I’m going alone.” He narrowed his eyes at me, but he didn’t follow. I walked inside and headed straight for the food aisle. As I passed by the chips, my phone vibrated. Jonathan. “Hurry up. :)“
I smiled and put my phone away, grabbing a jar of pickles from the bottom shelf. “Well, well, well…” a familiar deep voice said. “Never thought I’d see you again.” I immediately looked up, finding myself face to face with Damien Edwards. “It’s been a long time since you humiliated me on that stage and ran off with Jonathan…” He smirked. “How’s the married life?” “None of your business.” I started to walk away, but he grabbed my elbow. “He’s not who you think he is, you know…” “Are you the one who left that note on my napkin at dinner?” “And if I was?” “Then you should grow the hell up.” “Or maybe I should tell you what you don’t know.” “I’m not interested.” My phone vibrated. Jonathan again. “Two minutes…” His text said. “Come on, Claire.” Damien smirked. “I see the intrigue in your eyes.” “It’s not intrigue. It’s annoyance.” “I only need two minutes….Just give me that.”
Chapter 14 Claire “What part of ‘I’m not interested’ don’t you understand, Damien?” I took another step back. “From what I remember, you’re highly intelligent so I wouldn’t think you need me to spell it out for you, but I can if you want.” “Still witty as ever, huh?” He smiled. “Are those the type of jokes you tell Jonathan at all the affairs he takes you to? You’re always smiling in the pictures the press takes.” I raised my eyebrow. “What?” he asked. “It’s not like your marriage to him is a secret. And it’s not like he doesn’t say your name at every conference he goes to.” “I really don’t have time for you right now.” “Of course you do.” He stepped closer, gently placing his hand on my shoulder. “I’m actually quite concerned about my former protégé. And you too, Claire. I still think you have no idea—” “Get your fucking hand off my wife.” Jonathan’s deep voice broke our conversation short. “See?” Damien smirked, backing away with his hands up in a playful surrender. “Good to know you haven’t changed a bit.” “Do you have a death wish, Damien?” Jonathan slipped a protective arm around my waist. “Would you like me to fulfill it?” “I was just saying hello to Claire.” A smile was still on his lips. “I was just telling her that it’s been a long time since the Juniper Conference, and she may be interested in knowing what I and a select few people really know about you.” I glanced up at Jonathan and he looked completely unfazed. “Is that a yes or a no to the death wish?” he asked again. “I can make the phone call right now.”
“You’d have me murdered for touching your wife’s shoulder?” Damien laughed. “Are you being serious right now?” He put a hand on his chest, still laughing, but he quickly stopped once he saw the dead serious look on Jonathan’s face. “I’ll take that as a no,” Jonathan said in a low voice. “And if I were you, and you want to keep it that way…” He didn’t finish his sentence. He simply pulled me closer to his side and walked me down the aisle and to the register. “Here.” He placed a fifty on the counter for the cashier and escorted me back to the town car. I expected him to glare at me and ask why I didn’t immediately text him about Damien, but he didn’t. Instead, he pulled me into his lap and kissed me, running his fingers through my hair the entire ride home. *** Jonathan “So…” I handed Claire a glass of orange juice. “Are you going to ever ask me the questions you want answered about Gwyneth?” “Right…” She took a slow sip and nodded, looking into my eyes. Since we’d arrived home, it seemed as if she’d been avoiding this moment: She’d asked me to make her dinner, insisted that we take a bath together, and now she was sitting next to me on the couch—on the verge of asking if I wanted to watch our wedding for the umpteenth time. I wasn’t having it. “Claire?” I narrowed my eyes at her. “Are you going to ask me the questions? Or, do I have to deal with you leaving me again because you’d rather not?” “There were emails from her to you…” she said. “And from you to her…After we were married, Jonathan…” “I haven’t emailed her in years.” “It was from your personal email address…” A tear fell down her cheeks. “The one that only me and a few other people have…Or so I thought.” “Claire…” “She asked if you were still waiting for her, if you still loved her and you said yes.” More tears fell.
“You said yes…And I’m not sure if someone is playing one twisted game on us, but the very thought of you not being faithful to me—” I kissed her, preventing her from ever finishing that sentence. “I love you too much to hurt you, Claire…I haven’t promised anything since I met you.” “She said that—” I pressed my finger against her lips. “I’ll have Corey look into the emails. I promise that I never said any of those things. I fucking promise, Claire.” She looked at me, still tearyeyed. “She said there was a video of you two together…That ‘your wife’ would understand how temporary our marriage is if I saw it.” I sighed and grabbed my tablet from the coffee table. “I think she holds this in higher regard than I ever did…” I logged into my yearsold archives and filtered through the last email exchange Gwyneth and me had. It was literally days before I met Claire. “You want me to watch it?” She looked down at the screen. “Yes,” I said. “So you can see how insignificant she is to me.” I pressed play and she leaned on my shoulder, watching as a much younger Gwyneth and I stood in Central Park amidst fireworks. With wine glasses in our hands and the most recent Wall Street Journal stuffed into our pockets, we danced under the flashing sky. “I was serious about our promise, Jonathan…” She said as she looked into my eyes. “You’ll marry me when I come back from my startup overseas if neither of us have found other people.” “I doubt I’ll find someone else…” “And you really do love me, right?” I kissed her. “I do. Always have.” “Always will?” “That’s implied.” I kissed her again. “I’ll wait for you.” “Wait…” she said, pausing. “On the rare occasion that you do find someone else. Like if you’re casually dating or even if you think it has the potential to get serious someday, will you let her go for me? Immediately? As soon as I come back?”
“I will.” “You promise?” She looked hopeful. “Even if you get tired of waiting for me and somehow propose to her first?” “I promise, Gwyneth. I promise…” And with that, we kissed underneath burst of fireworks. I stopped the video and looked at Claire. “This was all before I met you, before I fell for you.” I pulled her into my lap and trailed my fingers against her lips. “I should’ve never made that promise to her, and I’m not sure where the emails you’ve seen have come from, but I’m in love with you and only you…” She nodded and briefly shut her eyes as I kissed her lips. “Are there any other questions?” “Yes…” she said. “But I need time to think of them.” I rolled my eyes and gently lifted her from my lap, leading her into the kitchen. “Dessert?” “Yes.” She took a seat on a barstool. “Actually, I need to ask you a question about something else.” “Anything.” “Why do you have a closed settlement with Ryan? I got an email about it weeks ago and I can’t find it for the life of me. What’s that about?” “I’ll answer anything but that.” “Jonathan—” “Claire,” I said, setting a slice of cake in front of her. “I can’t talk about that with you. Ever. But trust me, everything I’ve done is for your own benefit.” “I’m not a child.” “I’m aware.” I sat next to her and felt my phone buzzing. A text. Corey: Come to the office now. It’s important. “Corey?” Claire stuffed some of the cake into her mouth.
“Of course. He wants me to come to the office for a second. Would you like to come with me?” “I’d love to.” Corey: DO NOT BRING CLAIRE.
Chapter 15 Claire I stepped onto a private elevator at Statham Industries, smiling as Jonathan pulled me close. “Do you think this is really important or another conspiracy theory he wants to tell you about?” I asked. He smiled. “Probably both. You interested in coming back here to work for me?” “Never.” “You sure? We don’t do Zen sessions anymore…” “That’s still not enough to make me come back.” “What about the free Starbucks cafes I installed just for you?” He kissed my hair. “They’re going to waste now that you’re not here.” “From what I’ve heard from my old coworkers, I know that’s not true. Everyone loves them, and they actually think it was their brilliant CEO’s idea…” I shut my eyes as he leaned closer for a kiss, but the elevator doors suddenly opened. Red faced and tearyeyed, Hayley stormed in—frantically pressing the down buttons. “We’re going up,” Jonathan said, startling her. “Oh, I didn’t…” She wiped her face. “I’m a little out of it and didn’t even see you two… I’m sorry.” “What the hell is wrong with you?” He dropped his hand from around me and stepped in front of her.
“Why are you crying?” “I’m just having a bad day.” She forced a smile. “That’s all. How are you two? Still excited about the babies? I know I am…I love babies. Can’t wait to meet —” “Stop bullshitting me, Hayley.” He clenched his jaw as the elevator stopped at the top floor. “What the hell is wrong with you?” She shook her head and glanced over at me, giving me that “Please…I can’t talk to him about this...” look I’d learned to easily read. “You know what?” I stepped between them and kissed Jonathan on the cheek. “How about you go talk to Corey, and me and Hayley will go down to one of the free Starbucks. Can I have your key?” Without taking his eyes off Hayley, he handed me an access card and slowly backed off the elevator. “I’ll be down in twenty…” he said before the doors closed. “Hayley?” I hit the down button. “You know your brother is going to ask what’s wrong, so why don’t we—” “Corey is an asshole.” She hissed, fresh tears falling down her face. “He is a fucking asshole.” Okay… I waited for her to finish. “I cannot believe I ever liked him,” she said. “He’s such a fucking—” She stopped herself and looked at my stomach. “Can they hear cursing? Do they know what it is?” “I doubt they know any wordslet alone curse words, Hayley.” I smiled. “Good.” She looked at my stomach again and stepped closer; she was definitely out of it. “I want you both to know before you get here that your Uncle Corey is a douchebag, and if your mom lets me, I’ll be teaching you to call him Uncle Asshole whenever you see him.” “Okay…” I pushed her forward as the doors opened at Starbucks. “Why don’t you take a seat and I’ll make us some coffee, and you can tell me what’s going on. Okay?” She pulled me close for a hug instead. And then she began to cry. “I should’ve never fallen in love with him, Claire…I should’ve never…I really wish I could take it all back…”
*** Jonathan “Any particular reason why I just saw my sister in tears?” I stepped into Corey’s office. “You want to explain that to me?” “She’s still here?” He stood up from his desk. “What floor was she on?” “That doesn’t matter. Why was she crying?” He said nothing, and to prevent myself from punching him, I stepped back. “Why did you call me here, Corey? What’s going on?” “It’s…It’s actually about Hayley.” “What?” “Hayley. You know? The woman you were just talking about? The woman that happens to be your little sister?” I crossed my arms. “You called me in the middle of the night for a therapy session?” “I used to talk to you about Claire…” “Claire is not your sister, Corey,” I shook my head. “It’s not the same thing. And—regardless of me being more accepting of whatever the hell it is that the two of you have together, my promise to hurt you if you ever hurt her still stands.” “It’s not like that…” He handed me a folder and sighed, smartly changing the subject. “But in other news, I’m not sure what you did to rattle Damien Edwards again, but he hates you even more now. He’s been hacking into our mainframe for weeks.” “And you’ve just been letting him?” “Yeah. Just to see what he’s taking: very basic things, stuff he could’ve easily gotten off the Statham website.” “And you didn’t want me bringing Claire because?” “Because need I remind you that Claire hired a private eye to get information on you weeks ago….Do you not recall that or are you so blindly in love that —”
“Get to the point, Corey.” “She just wants to know what’s in your settlement with Ryan.” “And with her investigator, are there any chances of her finding out?” “No.” “Good,” I said. “And, thank you again for this conversation we could’ve had over the phone…Or, were you going to suggest that I sleepover in your office tonight as well?” He rolled his eyes. “You also need to talk to Gwyneth face to face.” “I have. We’re over. She should get the point by now.” “She doesn’t.” He opened a drawer and pulled out a sheet of paper. “She forwarded this to my office today, assuming I would read it. She wants to go public.” “About what?” “Did you hear me say the word assuming?” He scoffed. “I didn’t read it. I’ve been too busy—” “Making my sister cry?” I cut him off, raising my eyebrow. “So, I can talk about it with you or I can’t?” “Can’t,” I said. “But only because I can’t guarantee that I won’t kill you once you get done explaining.” “Fair enough…” He sighed as he handed the paper to me. “Let me know what you want to do about it after you read it. And if we need our PR department to handle it…” His voice trailed off and he looked genuinely hurt, like he needed someone to listen, but I couldn’t talk about Hayley to him. I just couldn’t. “Thank you, Corey. I’ll call you right after I read it.” I stepped onto the elevator and headed down to Starbucks—finding Claire and Hayley laughing together. “Everything okay?” I asked, sitting next to Claire. “Yes,” Hayley said. “I’m much better now…Claire has a way with words.”
“Does she?” Hayley nodded, standing up. “She does…I can now see why she runs your every move.” I narrowed my eyes at her, prepared to make a point, but Claire placed a kiss on my cheek before the words could come out. “We’ll see you at dinner tomorrow, Hayley.” Claire smiled. “Greg is outside waiting for you…” She quickly rushed to the elevators and I pulled Claire into my lap. “What was wrong with her?” “I’m not allowed to tell you.” “Excuse me?” I said. “She made me promise not to tell you. She thinks you’ll lose your mind if you know.” “Bullshit, Claire. Tell me. Right now.” “And if I don’t?” “You will.” I bit her bottom lip. “Tell me.” “Only if you tell me what your meeting was about…” “Fine,” I said. “It was about Damien attempting to get information from our mainframe, and about my wife hiring a private investigator to get information on something I’ve done.” Her cheeks turned bright red and she sucked in a short breath. “Jonathan… Let me explain…I—” “Stop.” I kissed her lips. “I just need you to trust me on the arranged settlement, Claire…I did the right thing and I need you to believe that…And I need you to accept that I’m not hiding anything from you…And for the umpteenth time, I’m not going to hurt you. Ever.” She nodded and pressed her forehead against mine. “Now,” I said. “What was wrong with Hayley?”
“I don’t think so.” She smiled and eased her way out of my lap. “A promise is a promise.” “Claire…” Her smile widened, and she stepped back behind the bar. “Would you like some coffee to take home with us?” “Claire, don’t make me—” “Make you what?” She smirked and started taking out coffee beans, giving me a look that still drove me insane. I stood up and walked over, but the paper Corey had handed me fell onto the floor. I started to fold it and put it away, but certain words caught my eye. Transfixed, I read each and every word—seething at the end of every sentence. “Jonathan?” Claire asked. “Jonathan, what’s wrong? What happened? Why are you looking like that? Jonathan?” I pulled out my phone and immediately called Corey. “Yeah?” he answered. “Did you want me to tell the PR department to handle it? I can send them the email now since I’m leaving.”
“No.” I gritted my teeth. “I’ll be handling this shit personally. Tonight.”
Chapter 16 Claire "Jonathan?" I walked over to him, wondering why he was suddenly upset. "Are you going to say something to me?" He ignored me and dialed a number on his phone. "Greg? Where are you?" He paused. "No, not for me...I need you to come back ASAP and take Mrs Statham home. Now." "How about asking Mrs. Statham if she's ready to go home?" I raised my eyebrow as he ended the call. "I'm not going anywhere until you tell me what's wrong with you..." "Claire..." He gave me that 'notrightnow' look, but I wasn't backing down. "Just tell me. How bad could it possibly be?" "It's Gwyneth." The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. "What about Gwyneth?" "Nothing you should worry about," he said. "I'll handle it."
"No." I shook my head. "I want to know. And regardless of how many times you give me that look, I'm not going anywhere until" "She's lost her fucking mind." He cut me off. "And contrary to what my wife thinks, I'm going to put an end to italone." I closed the gap between us, ready to tell him that definitely wasn't happening, but his phone rang. "Yes?" he answered it. "Turn on the fucking TV right now." Corey's voice was so loud I could hear him. "Channel five." "I'm talking to Claire right now," he said, looking at me. "I don't have time to" "Right. Fucking. Now." He hung up and Jonathan rolled his eyes, strolling over to one of the coffee carts. He picked up the remote and turned on the widescreen that hung over the cafe tables. He turned the TV to channel five and walked back over to me, pulling me against his side. "I don't want to fight with you, Claire." "I don't want to fight with you either, I just" My words stopped midair as my eyes settled on the TV screen before us. In an all white dress, Gwyneth sat at a table with San Francisco's leading late night reporter, Heather Turner. Smiling as the credits rolled, she looked directly into the camera as the headline appeared at the bottom of the screen: "Former Girlfriend of Statham Industries CEO Tells All." I felt Jonathan's holding me even tighter, felt his fingers gently pressing into my skin. "Good evening, San Francisco..." Miss Turner's voice was calm and soothing as always. "Tonight we have a special guest on our show. As you know, I've been reporting on high profile divorces and splits once a month per my special segment, but it was brought to my attention that my reporting wasn't as unbiased as it could be." Gwyneth smiled into the camera. "I realized that I needed to go deeper, to find out what drives some of these splits, as its about much more than the outcome and which spouse receives what. Which brings me to my guest, Gwyneth White."
"It's an honor to be here, Heather." "It's a pleasure to have you." She picked up a notecard. "Gwyneth White is the former President and CEO of the multimillion dollar startup firm, Gigi's, which is now" "Defunct." Gwyneth cut her off. "Thanks to Jonathan Statham..." "Um...We'll get to that in just a minute, okay?" Amanda handed her a box of Kleenex for the fake ass tear that was now rolling down her face. I felt my heartbeat pick up speed, and a part of me wished that I would've gone home so I wouldn't have to watch what I knew was about to be bullshit. "Let's start with the demise of your relationship with Jonathan Statham," Heather said. "You said that you two were engaged and you went overseas, only to come back and find out that he was married to someone else?" "Yes," she said, dabbing a dry eye. "We weren't technically engaged, but we'd had a long relationship and he promised to wait for me." "And he kept in contact with you every day that you were gone?" "Not every day because I had limited internet access...But almost every day, yes." I noticed Jonathan clenching his jaw out the corner of my eye. "And we have some of those emails, some of them from months before he was married..." A few emails appeared onscreenthe same ones I'd seen before leaving for Helen's house. I looked up at Jonathan for an explanation, but I saw him texting Corey: I need you to get to the bottom of this fucking email shit before midnight... "So, you were in quite a shock to come back all these months later and see that he was married? To a former employee?" "Yes." She rolled her eyes. "A former employee...with kids who were nearly his own age." Heather laughed. "That's a bit of an exaggeration there, don't you think? They were twin teenagers in high school."
A picture of the four of us on Jonathan's yacht last year appeared onscreen, and if I hadn't been so angry in the moment, I would've smiled at how happy we all looked. "Before we delve deeper into what really brought you here tonight, Miss White..Why do you think he didn't at least tell you he was dating someone else before completely moving on? Why do you think he led you on?" "I have no idea...I guess I wasn't old enough for him! He clearly has a thing for much older women, and maybe I never was good enough in that regard...I can't magically give myself eleven years. you know?" Gwyneth laughed, and I was pretty sure my blood was reaching a record boiling point. "And you said you think he's the reason why your startup company is now defunct?" Miss Turner put on her reading glasses. "Can you explain that?" "Jonathan Statham is hell bent on getting whatever the hell he wants...Just ask his wife's ex husband. While I was searching through" She cleared her throat. "While I was tracking how my firm could suddenly go bellyup overnight, how my investors were slowly backing away days after they'd agreed to pledge more money, I found out that I wasn't the only one he was pushing around...If he thinks you possess the slightest bit of a threat to his beloved Claire..." She was actually tearing up right now and those tears looked somewhat believable. "He ruins everything you've ever touched...You'll be lucky if you get a job as a janitor when he's done with you..." "And what about..." Miss Turner stopped as Gwyneth stood up , as she turned away from the camera and asked for a minute alone."We'll be right back ladies and gentlemen. Stay tuned for more Live with Heather Turner. We have a full hour with you tonight..." The cameras faded to black, and a kitten commercial quickly appeared onscreen. "Are you here now Greg?" Jonathan was already on his phone. "No...I'm coming with Claire. We need to get somewhere within the next ten minutes."
Chapter 17 Claire I sat in the back of the town car with Jonathan, leaning against him as he ran his fingers through my hair. We were on our way to the news station, listening to the second segment of Gwyneth's interview on the radio. "Before we go to our second commercial break..." Miss Turner took a deep breath. "I'd like for you to explain why you think that Mr. Statham, a billionaire CEO with a busy schedule I'm sure, would have any interest in ruining your startup company. And, if you can, could you also tell us what
emails from him led you to believe that you two were definitely in a committed relationship?" "Whose side are you are on here?" Gwyneth snapped. "Seriously?" "I'm not on anyone's side, Miss White. I'm trying to be as unbiased as possible." "I was in love with him and he was in love with me. He cheated and married someone else. That's the crux of the story." Jonathan tensed and pulled me into his lap. "Miss White, I'm trying to give you a chance to tell your side of the story in an uncut manner." Her voice was firm. "This is live. No one here is editing your words, and none of my producers have asked you to steer clear of any particular stories, have they?" "No...They haven’t." "Okay, then." She cleared her throat. "Could you answer my initial questions about Mr. Statham ruining your startup and the emails between you two while you were overseas?" "Yes, well...." She paused. "When I came home and found out he was married, I tried meeting with him to talk about ittried to get his attention, but he blew me off and told me to go away. It was if what we had meant nothing, as if all his emails of "Yes...I'll be there…Take your time, Gwen...I'm still yours." had never happened. I did my research and found out he'd sent me one of them while he was on his honeymoon with her..." She sniffled. "And after trying to talk to him a few more times, my company started to fall apart the same week...That's no coincidence. It's also no coincidence that no investors would hold meetings with me, and that the best job I could get was at a fucking" "No cursing, Miss White." "Right..." she said. "The best job I could get was at a nursery designing firm...He did that to me...And I still don't understand how he could just toss me away like that...I mean, I can handle rejection and he could've just broke up with me, but why trade down? Why go from me to that? She's not even that attractive, you know? And the man I knew never wanted anything to do with a family...She definitely has something on him..." "Isn't that speculation, Miss White?" She didn't answer. "Can we take that commercial break now?"
"Of course...Ladies and gentlemen we'll be right back for the rest of the interview." Just as a commercial began, Greg pulled the car past the gate at the studio and I slid out of Jonathan's lap. We walked into the small space hand in hand, and a receptionist stopped us before we could go any further. "Do you two have an appointment today?" she asked. "We don't need one." Jonathan rolled his eyes. "Where is Miss Turner currently filming her joke of a show?" "None of your business." She snapped. "You can take a seat over there and you can wait for me to" He led me through a set of double doors before the woman could complete her sentence. Ahead of us was another receptionist and doors to several studios. "Good afternoon," she said. "How may I help you?" "I can't wait any longer...." I let go of Jonathan's hand. "Can you tell me where the restrooms are please?" "To your left, Miss..." She kept her eyes on Jonathan and blushed. "And how may I help you, sir?" "We'll discuss it when my wife gets back." "Of course." She forced a smile and returned to her work. I opened the door to the restroom, trying not to let Gwyneth's silly interview under my skin again. "Look at the emails, Miss Turner...He emailed me while they were on their honeymoon...He emailed me every month, letting me know he'd still wait...I have proof...They're all right here...All from his personal email account...So, unless someone else was emailing me" I stopped dead in my tracks as a memory suddenly hit me. And I cursed at myself for not remembering it until just now... ***
A couple years ago... I took the elevator to Jonathan's office, ignoring the teenagegirl butterflies that were fluttering against my stomach. I was still having a hard time processing what I felt for him, accepting that what we had could be anything more than a temporary fling. Stop thinking about it....Stop thinking about it... "Good afternoon, Miss Gracen." His secretary, Angela, greeted me as I stepped onto the floor. "Good afternoon, Angela." I smiled. "Is Mr. Statham available?" "His meeting is almost over, but I'm sure he'll want to know that you're here." "No, that's okay." I walked over to a sofa and took a seat. "I can wait. It's not that important..." She pulled a silver giftbag from her desk and walked over, handing it to me. "I was actually on my way to deliver this to your office." "More flowers?" “Shockingly, no." She laughed. “But wait until you see tomorrow’s assortment.” Blushing, I peered inside the bag and saw a bottle of my favorite wine with a note around its stem: "I need to see you tonight...Jonathan" I looked up and noticed Angela staring at metilting her head to the side. "Something wrong?" I asked. "No, just wondering...How long have you been dating Mr. Statham?" "We're not dating...We're just friends." She rolled her eyes, smiling. "Well, I've never seen him behave the way he does with you with any of his other friends." "Are you insinuating something?" "No." She shook her head. "But I do want you to know that he is one of the most amazing people I've ever worked for, and I'm very protective of him even though I'm just a secretary...And I know you two have only known each
other for a few weeks but... If you ever hurt him..." Her voice trailed off as a group of men and suits suddenly walked out of the conference room. "I won't hurt him, Angela." I gave her my most sincere look. "I like him too much." As if that was good enough, she returned to her desk. "Mr. Statham?" She picked up her phone. "Miss Gracen is here to see you." She motioned for me to go right in. "Sir, I also need to ask you something important...About a woman you used to date…Miss White?" She lowered her voice as I passed her. "Right, well...she still emails you so" She sighed. "Right...I will just copy and paste your old responses whenever she pops up and archive them...Yes sir, Miss Gracen did receive your gift as well...Have a great afternoon..." *** I held my hands under the sink's cool water, still scolding myself for not seeing this before, for not realizing my interpretation of everything had been a major mistake. There was no way Jonathan continued emailing her after marrying me especially not on our honeymoon; we barely took our hands off one another the entire trip. We barely left our room... And even when we did briefly use our phones for short calls and emails, he always held his in plain view, and as a habit, he read his messages aloud to himself. Letting out a sigh of relief, I leaned over the sinkhoping my morning sickness wasn't about to make an appearance. I waited a few seconds, and heard someone walking in behind me. "Oh, he'll definitely see it." The raspy voice said. "And hopefully his hag of a wife will, too...Do you think my tears seemed real enough? The first set were fake, but when I was talking about my company...Those were real..." There was a locking sound, and I turned around swiftlyrealizing that Gwyneth was now behind one of the stalls. "Oh!" she said, clearing her throat. "The baby thing wasn't true, but it was a nice touch don't you think? I'm pretty sure his dumbass wife believed me when I gave her all those papers. I figure since the emails were real and undeniable, what's the harm in pushing it a little further?"
Her laughter echoed through the empty room and I leaned against the sink, trying my best not to storm her stall and take her down. "I wouldn't take Jonathan back unless he grovels like he should...” she said. “But then again, after this interview runs and he realizes that he'll need to fix his public image ASAP, I have a feeling that he will...He'll come back to mewife or not. Besides, don't you think that woman has something on him? Why else would he want to be with her?" Seething, I walked over to the bathroom's main door and twisted the lock waiting for her to come out...
Chapter 18 Claire
I kept my eyes on the stalls, waiting for Gwyneth to come outtrying my best to ignore the rest of her ridiculous conversation. “Well…”she said, still laughing. “We’ll have to see about that. I’ll call you back tonight. I’ve kind of been holding it for the past three minutes and the commercial break is only so long, Rachel….I’ve got to go for real this time.” She laughed again and there was a loud beep.” Seconds later, there was a flush and she emerged from the stall humming. Her bright eyes immediately met mine and she gasped, taking a step back. Scowling, she looked me up and down—letting her eyes linger on my stomach for a few seconds before walking to the sink. “I’m not really one to hand out compliments to those who don’t deserve them, but you actually look pretty today, Claire.” She smirked. “Any particular reason why you’re here? Any reason why you felt the need to follow me inside the restroom?” I took a deep breath, and silently warned myself to stay calm. “I think you know exactly why I’m here.” “I really don’t. Claire. I’m actually—” “It’s Mrs. Statham,” I said, cutting her off. “The two of us are not friends, and you don’t want me as your enemy. You can keep it formal.” “It was sarcasm, Claire.” She emphasized my name again. “Surely someone of your age would know what that term means. I know you’re here because you’re jealous, because you want me to put an end to my interview because you’re threatened….I would be too if I were you.” Keep your palm still…Don’t step closer…Yet. “How many times do you have to be told that my husband has no interest in you?” I couldn’t help but step closer. “Is your plan to make every reporter in need of ratings listen to your lies until someone believes you?” “I take it you haven’t seen the video, huh? I bet—” “I saw that bullshit.” I hissed. “And I also saw that it was years ago, Gwyneth. Years ago. Let it go.’ “You should talk.” She smiled. “How many years did it take for you to get over your exhusband, again? So many that your new husband had to step in and come to a settlement with him? Have you had the chance to read over that yet?” I clenched my fists to avoid the inevitable. “My husband does not want you, Gwyneth. I know that’s hard to believe, especially since he hasn’t contacted you in years, and is now married and has two children on the way, but I need for you to—” “He sent me emails…” She crossed her arms and smiled. “And since they were directly from his personal account—“ “His secretary sent you those.” I snapped. “Repeatedly. It was copy and paste, switching up a word here or there, or were you too delusional to notice that?” Her face fell, but she quickly recovered. “You’re lying…You just made that up.”
“No, I’m not.” I stepped close enough to that we were nose to nose, so I wouldn’t be able to stop myself if she said something else rude. “While we were going on dates and trips, and starting what is now our life together, his secretary was only following protocol. He never even saw your emails. They were archived and filed away, just like you were, because whatever the two of you had didn’t matter that much once he met me.” “Get out of my face, Claire.” I remained still and narrowed my eyes at her. “And yes, I may be older than him—thanks for pointing out the fucking obvious on live television by the way, but the only person that fact seems to bother is you. A person who he doesn’t even give a damn about, a person who is wasting her time pining for a man who comes home night after night to me.” “Not for long.” “Oh?” I wasn’t moving. “You think your childish interview will make him talk to you? Out of sympathy for you?” “Out of love.” She hissed, trying to move around me, but I grabbed her elbow. “Get out of my way, Claire.” She rolled her eyes. “I have an interview to finish.” “If you say one more ill word about me or my husband on that show, I will make your life ten times worse than it already is.” I tightened my grip on her arm. “Are we clear?” “Are we clear?” She cracked a smile. “Wow! Is that your attempt at impersonating Jonathan? If I didn’t despise you already, I’d say that was pretty damn good. Now, be a good girl and let go of my arm before I have to hurt you. Now, Claire.” “You’re going to tell the interviewer that you were misinformed as soon as the show goes live again,” I said, keeping my voice firm. “And you will tell her that you are sorry—incredibly and painfully sorry, for wasting her and all of her viewers’ goddamn time. You will also tell her that my husband had nothing to do with your company going under, and that you are sorry for ever slandering him without having all of the facts.” “Is this speech part of your new comedy act?” “You will also refrain from ever discussing me or Jonathan ever again and, if you agree to those terms, I might be nice and make a few phone calls on your behalf to maybe restore what little of a career you have left.” She burst into laughter and jerked her arm away from me. “I feel so threatened right now. Please, tell me more…” “Try me, Gwyneth…” I kept my eyes on her as my chest heaved up and down. I was done trying to be respectful. “Fucking try me…” “I will.” She shrugged and turned to look at her reflection in the mirror, and a voice came over the speakers. “Paging Gwyneth White to Studio C,” the voice said. “Two minutes. Paging Gwyneth White to Studio C.” “So, just so we’re clear…” she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “I’m supposed to apologize to the reporter for wasting her time or you’ll ruin my life?”
“Exactly.” I nodded and headed for the door. As I was twisting the knob, she laughed. “One more thing, Claire!” She waited for me to look over my shoulder. “And… I’m also supposed to say what now? That it wasn’t your husband who ruined my company shortly after I came back to him? That days after I showed up to your house and he told you who I was that he didn’t call every investor and tell them to back out indefinitely?” “That’s right,” I said, flatly. “That was actually me.” She gasped and her eyes widened. “I’d be more than happy to explain to you exactly how I did that, or if you’d rather me show you after the remainder of your interview…Let me know.” I stepped out and slammed the door.
Chapter 19 Jonathan The security manager of the TV studio stepped in front of me. “Mr. Statham, contrary to whatever you’re thinking right now, this building is not property of Statham Industries. You can’t barge in here and make demands.” “You have until my wife gets back to let us inside the studio,” I said flatly. “Okay, let me see if I can break this down for you in simpler terms….” She started talking about rules and regulations, but I tuned her out. My only focus was stopping Gwyneth’s liefilled interview. “Are you there, Mr. Statham?” She looked at me. “Do you understand now?” “No. You still have until my wife gets back.” I suddenly felt my phone vibrating in my pocket and pulled it out. Corey. “Did you figure anything new out?”I asked. “Yeah…” he said. “Care to share whatever the hell that is?” “It’s that you may have married someone who is just as fucking psycho as you are.” “What?” I looked around the room for Claire and spotted her leaving the restroom. “What did you just say?” “That investigator she hired weeks ago? I was wrong…It wasn’t to figure out the settlement you have with her exhusband—although apparently she did ask about it a few times, but her main focus was…” He sighed. “Do I really have to spell this out? You know you didn’t completely obliterate Gwyneth, so that only leaves the other half of the psychotic Statham dynasty…Wait. Do you need me to spell it out after all?” “No…” I narrowed my eyes at Claire as she approached, as she looked completely oblivious. “Can I call you back, Corey?” “As long as we never have to talk about this again, sure.” I hung up and stared at Claire, waiting for her to speak. “Yes?” She smirked. “Are we playing the ‘Jonathan is mad at Claire and wants to glare at her all afternoon’ game today? Can we at least wait until after the rest of Gwyneth’s interview airs to start that?” “Do we really need to?” I slipped an arm around her waist and pulled her close as I spotted Gwyneth walking away from the same door she’d come from seconds ago. “Is there a point to watching the rest anymore?” “Yes…” “I don’t think there is.” I kept my voice firm. “Is there something you want to tell me, Claire?” She shook her head. “Nothing I can think of. Is there something on your mind?” “Quite a few things, actually...” I tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.
“Do you plan on telling me what those things are or are you going to make me guess? Am I going to have to—” I cut her off with a long kiss, pulling her even closer to me—running my hands up and down her back. Each time she attempted to pull away, I kissed her harder. When I finally released her to take a breath, I whispered against her lips. “You said something to her while you were in the bathroom, didn’t you?” She nodded. “Should I assume you’re behind everything else she’s mentioned? Everything she thought I personally did?” She didn’t answer. “Claire…” I gripped her tighter. “Answer me…” “Yes…” She nodded, much slower this time. “I was honestly sympathetic at first…until I did some research and...” She sighed. “She’s not a good person, and if you think I could’ve handled it differently—” “You could’ve…” I looked into her eyes as the interview began again on the monitors above us. “Miss Turner, before you ask me anything else…I actually…” Gwyneth’s voice wavered through the speakers, but I kept my eyes locked on Claire’s. “I actually would like to retract most…I mean, I would like to retract all of my previous statements…I would also like to apologize for misleading the public…” Miss Turner gasped and quickly cut to a commercial, and a faint smile crossed Claire’s lips. A smile she quickly dropped when she realized I was still glaring at her. “I’m not sorry for what I did, Jonathan,” she whispered. “And even though I did somewhat threaten her, I told her that I would reverse some of what I’d done to her if she retracted.” “Some of what you’ve done?” “Yes. Some. Not all.” She narrowed her eyes right back at me. “And why is that?” “Because she’s….Excuse me for putting this so bluntly, but she’s a bitch… And she tried to ease her way into relevance and take my husband away.” “He was never going anywhere.” I clasped her hand and led her down the hall… *** Claire I tried not to sigh too loudly as Jonathan led me out of the studio center and into a connected building. He hadn’t looked back at me or said a word, and I wasn’t sure what was going through his mind. I braced myself for him to tell me how upset he was that I’d hid everything behind his back, for him to tell me that he wasn’t the “destroying people’s livelihood without enough reason” type, but he didn’t. Instead, he quickly pulled me into an empty room and pressed me against the wall. And without another word, his lips were on mine in seconds, and
he was kissing me harder than he’d kissed me minutes ago—slowly torturing me. “Stop kissing me if you’re angry with me…” I murmured. He ignored me and moved his hands to the hem of my dressslowly inching it up to my waist. “Claire Statham, you still manage to surprise me every day…” he whispered. “Do you know that?” “You’re not upset with me?” “Not at all…” He bit my bottom lip and gently pulled it. “I’m impressed.” “What? But I—” I didn’t get to finish that sentence. He was biting my lip even harder, commanding me not to say anything else. I moaned when he finally let it go, and he moved his mouth to my neck— kissing and biting my skin as he made his way down to my breasts. Softly pinching my nipple, he whispered something I tried to understand, something that sounded like my name and a mix of “I’m about to fuck the shit out of you.” I shut my eyes as he trailed his kisses lower and lower, as he pressed his mouth between my thighs and slowly swirled his tongue against my clit. “Jonathan…” “Shhh.” He pressed a palm against my thigh to steady me, telling me to be quiet, but I couldn’t help it. The second he sucked my clit into his mouth, any attempts at silence were long gone. “Ahhhh…” I murmured with every brush of his tongue, every press of his lips. And I cursed in frustration each time he stopped, right when he knew I was on the edge. “Jonathan…” I gripped his hair in my hands as he slipped two fingers inside of me. “Jonathan…Please…” He swirled his tongue against me as tremors traveled up and down my spine, as I said his name over and over again. And when he lifted my leg over his shoulder to plunge his tongue even deeper inside of me, I completely lost it. “Oh my god!” I screamed as my body shook uncontrollably, but he continued kissing me relentlessly. “Jonathan…” “Claire…” he whispered, gently pulling me down to the floor. “Claire?” Shaking my head, I kept my eyes shut and waited for the tremors to come to a complete stop. “Come here…” He pulled me into his lap and ran his fingers through my hair. Several minutes later, I opened my eyes and he smiled at me. “I hate when you do that to me…” I said softly. “I hate when you lie like you don’t like it…” His smile widened. “Regardless of how impressed I am with your degree of ruthlessness, obliterating people’s livelihood isn’t really my style. You know that, Claire...” “What about Ryan?” “There’s one exception to every rule.” He rolled his eyes. “But you didn’t have to ruin her in the way that you did. I would’ve handled it, and I was actually planning to…” I leaned against him as he adjusted my bra back into place. “I was only taking a page out of your book.”
“Hmmmm.” He helped me up. “What about the many pages about coming home by six when you’re working? Or not working late when I ask you not to? Will you be taking any of those when you go return to your company?” “Probably not.” I smiled. “But I’ll try.” “You won’t try at all,” he said, smiling back at me. “You wouldn’t be the woman I married if you did…” He trailed his fingers along my anchor necklace. “Barring anything else dramatic happening between now and your due date, I have somewhere I need to take you.” “This weekend?” “No…Now…” Chapter 20 Claire I smiled as I opened another suitcase, anxious about whatever the next few days would hold. I had a few weeks before I wouldn't be able to travel anywhere per my doctor's orders, and I was looking forward to whatever Jonathan had up his sleeve. "So...Where exactly is Jonathan taking you this time?" Helen crossed her arms as I tossed a shirt into the suitcase. "He hasn't said yet. He just brought me home and told me to pack for a two week trip." "And you begged me to come over and watch you pack, because?" She started arranging shirts on my bed. "To brag? To make me jealous? Which, I'm sorry Claire, I'll never envy being committed to one cock for all eternity." "I asked you to come so you could one, help me pack because that's what a good friend would do. But more importantly to housesit for the weekend since the last bits of the nursery will be arriving and I need someone I trust to make sure it's set up properly. Do you not remember me telling you this on the phone? I would've asked Hayley or Corey, but they've both been acting really strange lately." "Ha!" She laughed. "I wonder why...Is Hayley still a virgin?" "No comment...Can I trust you to make sure the designers do everything right?" "How can they get it wrong when you sent them three different blueprints and taped one of them on the wall? I'm surprised you haven't sent them an ecopy of your plans every hour." "She has." Jonathan suddenly stepped into the room, walking right past Helen and up to me for a kiss. "You're still not done packing?"
"I need twenty more minutes..." "I'll give you ten." "Then I'll take fifteen." I smiled, and he rolled his eyes. "Trust me, you won't be needing that many clothes for where we're going," he whispered, kissing me again. He turned to face Helen and handed her an envelope. "This is for you." "You're giving me money?" "I'm not giving you anything." He glared at her. "I still haven't forgiven you for Claire's bachelorette party. And I don't plan to anytime soon..." "Oh no..." She faked a frown. "What ever can I do to get back into your protective and overthetopgood graces, Mr. Statham?" She burst into laughter. "Is this envelope your attempt at a peace offering, then? A fresh start between us?" "It's actually from Greg." He smirked. "And since I accidentally read it by thinking it was for me, I suggest not opening it until Claire and I leave...Unless you want her to know the type of stuff you're really into..." Her cheeks turned bright red and she went speechlesssomething completely rare for her. "You have exactly fifteen minutes, Claire." He kissed my cheek. "Fifteen. Minutes." He warned one last time before leaving the room. I stared at Helen, waiting for some type of explanation, for her to say something about her envelope, but she simply cleared her throat and stuck it into her back pocket. "I will definitely make sure the nursery people do their job while you're gone," she said. "And I wish you the most amazing sex with your psycho husband while you're gone. " I smiled. "Thank you, Helen." I decided not to press her on the envelope issue, and continued to packtaking my time, deadline from Jonathan or not. I stuffed my suitcase with summer dresses, flats, and pajamas. Just as I was staring at the rack in my closet and debating what else I needed, Jonathan lifted me up and carried me out of the room. "Really?" I narrowed my eyes at him. "Will you ever get tired of doing this?"
"Of showing you that I mean exactly what I say?" He narrowed his eyes right back at me. "No." He carried me outside to the towncar and placed me on the backseat. Greg carried my suitcases out of the house shortly after, and secured them in the truck. "What if I left something important, Jonathan?" I asked as he pulled me into his lap. "Did you pack the new lingerie I bought you?" "Yes." "Then you didn't leave anything important." He pressed his lips against my neck. "If it was up to me, I honestly would've let you continue packing for another hour. But unfortunately, we're on my pilot's limited time today." "Oh..." I murmured as he softly squeezed my breast. "Are we ready, Mr. Statham?" Greg called from the front. "Yes." Jonathan answered, and the car immediately pulled off. He slipped a hand under my dress and caressed my thighmaking my head fall back on his shoulder. "Wait..." I whispered. "Wait..." "For?" His hand slipped further. "I need to show you something." He trailed his tongue against the shell of my ear. "Now?" "Yes..." I managed, against my body's wishes. "Now..." Groaning, he slowly eased me out of his lap and set me against the seat. "What is it?" "I know you said..." I sighed. "I know you said that you didn't want to know the sex of the babies until after they were born, but..." I reached into my purse and pulled out a small manila envelope. "The doctor gave this to me last week just in case you changed your mind." "I haven't." He glanced at it. "But..." I took a deep breath. "In all honesty, I want to know...And, I'd rather
find out together than let my curiosity get the best of me and open it without you..." "You would open it without me? Behind my back?" "What do you think?" He smiled and gently took the envelope from my hands. "Knowing the sex now would make you happy?" "Very happy..." I nodded. "Hmmm." He pulled me close and trailed his finger along the seal. "In that case, I guess I have no choice, do I?" He softly tore open the envelope, but he asked me to pull out the results for myself and read them first. I stared at the sheet a long timereading the words and failing to hold back tears. "So, Claire..." He wiped away as many as he could. "What are we having?"
Jonathan I waited for Claire to say somethinganything, but she only stared at the paper in her hand and cried. "Claire?" I wiped away a few more of her tears. "Claire, are you going to tell me?" "Yes." She leaned against me, still crying. "Is that a yes for today or tomorrow?" "Sorry." She smiled and held the paper between us. "Baby B is a girl...and Baby A is a boy...I'm happy you said we should hold off on the nursery paint until next month, I was honestly thinking it was going to be two girls, and I..." The rest of her sentence came in muted as thoughts rushed through my mind. On the one hand, I was happy she was happy, and I'd gotten used to the idea of becoming a father. But on the other hand, I was upset that I had no idea what the hell I was getting into, what the hell was about to change. "Jonathan?" Claire rubbed my shoulder. "Jonathan, what's wrong? Are you upset about me wanting to open the envelope?" "No." "Then why are you looking at me like that?" She frowned. "Like you're mad?" "I'm not mad." "Then whatever it is" "I raised Hayley when I was younger because I had to," I said, cutting her off. "I just did the opposite of what my parents did to us. And I swore, fucking promised myself, that after that I never wanted kids of my own, that I would make sure whoever I dated knew that from the start if we ever got serious."
"Jonathan..." Her face immediately turned red and she opened her mouth to respond, but I pressed a finger against her lips. "I'm not saying what you think I am..." I looked into her eyes. "I'm just realizing how close your due date is, how you're yet again changing something I thought I had figured out...And I honestly still don't know shit about babies." She laughed as I moved my finger away from her lips. "You would if you actually paid attention to the books I've tried to read with you." "You shouldn't be trying to read them while naked in our bed." Blushing, she slowly slid into my lap. "I think you know a lot more than you give yourself credit for...Hayley thinks the world of you and how you brought her up. Well, minus you apparently beating up every guy that ever showed interest in her." "Except Corey." I rolled my eyes at the thought of that ridiculous scenario. "Hayley was three when I started caring for her. She wasn't a newborn..." "You only missed endless diaper changes and bottle feedings every few hours. The care and need for attention is the same...You'll also have a wife this time around, one that knows you'll be be more than fine." "Will this wife also agree to the idea of our daughter not dating until after college?" "Only if this husband makes our son agree to the same rule..." "Our son can date in high school," I said flatly. "It's not the same for girls. No boyfriends. Ever. At least while she lives with us." "Are you being serious right now?" "Do you see me laughing?" She rolled her eyes. "That's your biggest concern? Who she grows up to date?" "It's one of them." "Any others you care to share?" She crossed her arms. "What color onesies you prefer either of them to wear?" "No, but I'm very partial to blue." I laughed and kissed her lips. "I'm kidding, Claire." "About the dating?" "About the onesies." "Mr. Statham?" Greg suddenly called over the intercom. "We've arrived sir." "Thank you, we're ready." Claire shook her head at me one last time before she let Greg help her out of the car. I followed suit and slipped a hand around her waist as we approached our plane. "Can you please tell me where we're going?" She whispered as we stepped closer, squeezing my hand.
"I'm taking you to every place we went on our honeymoon before we have to come home for good." I glanced at her stomach. "But this time, we're actually going to step outside of our room and get to actually what we didn't before...Do you not feel like flying today?" "I do." She smiled. "I just don't believe you and the 'actually stepping outside of our room' part." "You should." I laughed and led her aboard. "Let me show you..."
Claire I rolled over in bed, reaching for Jonathan, but he wasn’t there. I spotted the short note he’d left on the nightstand, “I’ll be right back, Your Husband,” and quickly turned on the TV. I flipped through the channels until I saw a headline that caught my eye. “Former Girlfriend of Billionaire CEO Still Recanting.” The blond reporter stood outside of an unfamiliar building and spoke. “Yes. That is right, Charlie. Gwyneth White is scheduled to do another interview tonight with our newsteam to further clear the accusations she once leveled against Mr. Statham.” “Is it true that she requested this interview, Charlotte?” “Yes and no.” The reporter shook her head. “Our team first reached out to her after seeing her on the—” Jonathan turned off the TV as he walked into the room. “We’ve discussed this, Claire,” he said, narrowing his eyes at me. “Why do you keep checking the news?” “Just to make sure nothing new comes up, to make sure she stays in line.” “Do you have ties to the mob that I don’t know about?” “No.” I laughed. “I’ll stop…I’ll stop looking.”
“Good. There are far more interesting things to do on this island than worry about Gwyneth.” He took the remote from my hands and tapped a button, forcing the drapes open—revealing miles of white sand and clear blue waters feet away from our doorstep. We were in St. Kitts and Nevis, the same place where he’d first proposed to me years ago. And, true to his word, we’d toured the town yesterday without him having his way with me at any given moment. There was only one incident, when a tour guide was being a little too flirtatious with me, that he seemed to lose focus for a few seconds. (Moments after the tour guide looked through the rear view mirror and complimented my “very pretty smile” for the umpteenth time, Jonathan pulled me into his lap and kissed me so possessively and passionately that the tour guide didn’t give me any more compliments for the rest of the day.) “We’ll have to bring Ashley and Caroline here one day,” I said. “I think they’d really enjoy this.” “They’ll be here soon.” “What?” “Greg met them at the airport last night. They should be arriving any minute now.” “You invited them?” “No. Ashley invited herself once she heard me mention it…Caroline was in the background begging to go as well.” “And you gave in that easily?” “I did,” he said, pulling me out of bed and against his chest. “I also spoke to your doctor and apparently I’m out of line for bringing you here and making you travel…” Hi lips curved into a smirk. “And for continuing to want to have sex with you.” “She said we couldn’t?” “She said we shouldn’t.” He trailed his finger against my lips. “There’s a difference…” “Jonathan—” “I won’t.” He kissed me. “I meant what I said…It’s just one last trip before everything changes.” There was a sudden knock at the door and he slowly let me go. He walked over to open it and was greeted by a man wearing allwhite. “As you requested, Mr. Statham.” He gave him a box. “Anything else?” “No, thank you.”
Before he could shut the door, I heard the familiar sounds of talking, that incessantnooneisaroundbutus talking, coming from far down the hallway. “Can you believe they weren’t going to tell us about this trip, Caroline?” Ashley’s voice, loud and clear. “Is it really that hard to believe?” Caroline laughed. “It’s their babymoon. I’m pretty sure we weren’t supposed to come.” “Do you think Jonathan will care that we brought dates?” “No, he definitely said we could bring one friend each…” “Claire…” Jonathan shook his head—sighing, and I walked over to him. “Both guys are in college.” Ashley scoffed. “He shouldn’t have any issues, and if he does…” “If he does, what?” There was a brief pause. “Let’s just tell him we came alone.” Ashley sighed. “What suite are they in again?” “Seven,” Jonathan said, stepping into the hallway. “Suite seven.” “Hey Jonathan!” “There you are!” They hugged him and made their way into the suite. They took turns hugging me, gently pressing their palms against my stomach, and within seconds they were roaming around the space. They marveled at the marble bathrooms, at the living room that connected four separate bedrooms, and even at the cookie display the staff had left for us—the “Congratulations, Mr. & Mrs. Statham!” that was standing tall in the kitchen. “Where are your friends?” Jonathan asked, slipping an arm around my waist. “Did either of you choose to bring a female friend here to vacation with you?” “Is it me…” Caroline said, looking away from us, “or is there a vein popping outside of his neck right now, Ashley?” “It’s definitely not you…He seems upset about something…” “Ashley…” He warned, but I couldn’t help but burst into laughter. “Why don’t you two tell your friends that they’re more than welcome to hang out with us here, but they’ll have to sleep in suite six across the hall from you when you decide to go to bed?” Jonathan narrowed his eyes at me in disapproval, but I ignored him.
“Please go tell the concierge that Mrs. Statham requests that they add another suite to our bill, and to give your two friends keys.” The second the words were out of my mouth, they squealed and rushed out of the room, presumably to let me deal with Jonathan alone. “Their friends are already here, Jonathan,” I said, looking up at him. “What were you going to suggest when they told you they brought guys? Fly them back?” “That’s exactly what I was going to do.” “Well, now that you can’t because your wife said so…Deal with it.” “Deal with it?” “Would you like me to repeat it again?” I smirked. “Deal. With. It.” He glared at me. “You are so very lucky I spoke to your doctor, Claire…” “Am I?” I stepped back, ready to move away, but he pulled me close again and kissed me. “Very lucky,” he said softly. “But I’ll keep this in mind months later…” *** Later that night… The six of us—me, Jonathan, Ashley and her “friend” Matthew, Caroline and her “lab partner” Tate, sat around a small bonfire. We’d spent the afternoon on a sailboat—lounging on the deck while getting caught up, and we’d spent most of the evening sampling new foods from the resort’s kitchen. As the sun set, Jonathan handed me a glass of water. “Are you missing wine?” “Not really…” “Good.” He brought a glass of red wine to his lips and slowly sipped it. “I’m not either.” “Are you teasing me?” He took another sip and smirked. “Deal with it.” I rolled my eyes and leaned against his shoulder. “Thank you once again for inviting us on this trip, Mr. Statham,” Matthew said from across the fire. “I didn’t invite you on this trip. As a matter of fact—” “We’re very happy you could join us,” I said, cutting him off.
Both of their dates had been nothing but nice the entire day, and even though Jonathan didn’t want to admit it he liked them. A lot. Unlike Ashley’s previous boyfriend, Matthew was at the top of his class and was on track to graduate early with a degree in engineering. And although Caroline wouldn’t admit that she was dating her “lab partner,” he was the type of guy that Jonathan would definitely approve under any other circumstances; he was a computer science major and he’d just won an award for one of his designs. “We’re going to go grab a few drinks from the coffee stand down the beach,” Ashley said, standing up. “Do you two want anything?” “No, thank you,” we said in unison, watching the four of them disappear— watching them link hands once they thought they were far away from sight. “Do you still remember the spot where you proposed to me?” I asked. “Of course. Why?” “Just wondering…I’d like to go back there before we leave.” “Okay.” He took the glass out of my hand and sipped my water. “I actually prefer this when you can’t drink with me.” “So you say…I’m making my list of things to remember about you, too…” He smiled and slipped his hands underneath me, slightly lifting me and placing me in his lap. “I spoke to my father while you were sleeping this morning…The warden let me talk to him for over an hour.” “How’d it go?” “Surprisingly well…He asked about my company, being married, how far along you were, and…” “And…” I looked at him. “Go on…” “Without me even bringing it up, he said, ‘If you want to be a good father, just do everything I didn’t do for you…’ And then he thanked me, actually thanked me, for raising Hayley and being ‘a better father than [he] could’ve ever been back then…’” He paused. “Took long enough, right?” I nodded, unsure of what to say. He lifted my hand to his mouth and kissed my wrist. “I like the name Alicia.” “You overheard me talking on the phone last night?” “You were right next to me.” He held me tighter. “I like the idea of her having your middle name, though.” “Would you like him to have your middle name, then? Carter?”
“No.” He ran his fingers through my hair. “I want him to share my first name, Jonathan…”
Chapter 23 Claire For a full two weeks, reality ceased to exist. The sound of the ocean’s waves greeted me every morning, and the warm sun always rose early and set late on the coast of St. Kitts and Nevis. Every now and then I would pinch myself to make sure I was dreaming. Then again, overhearing some of Ashley and Caroline’s conversations were sometimes all I needed to remind me that I wasn’t. Jonathan let me walk for all of thirty minutes a dayper doctor’s orders, so if I wanted to go somewhere, I did so via the courtesy of a sand buggy. And, as hard as it was for him to hold back, the only thing he did when we were in bed at night was kiss me and hold me close. On the last day of our trip, as promised, he took me to the spot where he first proposed and told me it was still one of the best memories of his life. These were the images that I kept letting my brain process over and over again, anything to keep it from thinking about where I currently was: In the west wing of a private hospital. Warm sand…Beaches…Cold water…Jonathan kissing me….
“Mrs. Statham?” A female voice interrupted my thoughts. “Yes?” “Are you feeling okay?” “Very much so…” I looked over at Jonathan. “My husband has overreacted once again. I coughed one time. One. Time.” He rolled his eyes at me. “You were heaving, Claire.” “It’s actually a good thing he brought you in, Mrs. Statham.” The doctor flipped a sheet on her clipboard. “I was going over your charts with my superiors and we think its best, given the high risk of this pregnancy, that you remain on bedrest for the remainder of the third trimester.” I shot Jonathan a glare, knowing he was somewhat relieved by the order. “And just so we’re clear, Mrs. Statham,” she said, her voice firm. “Bedrest means you stay in bed as much as possible. You only need to get up to use the restroom and maybe stretch for a few minutes a day. I’m sure Mr. Statham will get anything you need done while you rest.” “I will,” he said, walking over to her to shake her hand. “Is that all?” “I believe so. I’ll have one of my staff members bring up a wheelchair for Mrs. Statham.” She gave us both one last smile and left the room. Before I could say something to Jonathan, he pressed his mouth against mine and kissed me. “I need you to try not to be stubborn for a few weeks, Claire…” he said softly. “I really need you to do that…” “First of all, I would never do anything to jeopardize this pregnancy. And second of all, I won’t be difficult at all if you promise not to bring me to the doctor’s office anytime I cough and sneeze.” “That’s doable,” he said, taking the wheelchair from an attendant. “I’ll just have the doctors come to our house.” I didn’t get a chance to protest. He slipped his hands under me and lifted me up, gently placing me into the wheelchair. He kissed me one last time and wheeled me down the hall and to the elevator. “Is this bringing back memories?” I looked up at him. “This is the second time in our relationship that I’ve been in a wheelchair.” “No.” He hit the down button. “I’m not tempted to murder anyone this time.” We rode the rest of the way in silence and when we arrived at the bottom level, we were met with Greg and three other security guards I was sure Jonathan had hired for overprotection. One of them opened the back door of the town car, while the other two spoke to Greg about “how close” they should drive behind us. “You are so ridiculous…” I whispered to Jonathan as he helped me into the car. “Do you know that?” “I do.” He smirked. “I also know that you like it.” He shut the door and got in from the other side.
I spotted the morning's newspaper on the seat and read the headline: Damien Edwards to Unleash New Laptop at Public Investors’ Meeting This Friday. “Is it going to bother you that his computer is going to be number one for a while since you’re taking a break?” I asked. “What makes you think his will be number one?” “He doesn’t have any competition right now. Statham Industries isn’t unveiling a laptop for another eight months. At least, that’s what you’ve told me.” His lips curved into a smile and he pulled me close. “We’re actually unveiling ours on Wednesday.” “Two days before his? Seriously? You still feel the need to rain on his parade every chance you get?” “I wasn’t going to.” He ran his fingers through my hair. “Until I saw him touching you in that convenience store. He needs to know his place…” My jaw dropped. “That was weeks ago, Jonathan!” “I don’t give a fuck when it was,” he said flatly. “He touched someone who belongs to me.” “I think you need to see a counselor about your jealousy issues.” I held back a laugh. "Your wife is clearly pregnant and head over heels in love with you. I’m pretty sure no other man stands a chance with her.” “I know that…” He kissed my cheek. “I’m just making sure that every man is well aware of that fact, too.” I shook my head at him, not bothering to fight him on his compulsiveness any longer. I leaned against his shoulder and shut my eyes, hoping that the remaining trimester of my pregnancy would be just as easy as the first two. *** Several weeks later… “Well, well, well...” Helen laughed as Sandra wheeled me into the kitchen. “I’m so honored that your husband has allowed us to come over and have a playdate with you, Claire. How sweet.” “Grow up, Helen.” “I personally think it’s sweet how over the top he continues to be,” Sandra said. “And I love that he still sends you flowers every day. What do you do with them again?” “I started a garden.” I pointed to the windows, smiling. “It’s the one activity I’ve been able to do while serving time here in my personal prison.” “Prison guards don’t give their prisoners nightly foot massages, Claire.” Jonathan walked into the room and placed a kiss on the back of my neck. “I’ll be back with your dinner. Do you ladies want anything?” He looked at Helen and Sandra.
“Some time with our friend without her overprotective husband will be just fine,” Helen said. “Thanks.” Jonathan ignored her. “Anything for you, Sandra?” “No, thank you.” “And Claire,” he said, lowering his voice as he headed out, “Your daily prison gift arrived an hour ago.” He pointed to the flowers that were sitting on the counter and smiled at me before leaving. Helen and Sandra both laughed, and I slowly stood up to grab today’s arrangement. It was a small assortment of white lilies and pink roses with a simple note: Dear Mrs. Statham, I still love the way you murmur my name in your sleep…Looking forward to making you scream it over and over again in the months to come…Love, Your Husband Blushing, I folded the note and slipped it into my pocket. I felt one of the babies kicking my stomach and winced. “Does it look like I’m carrying twins to you two?” “You look like you’re carrying quadruplets.” Helen poured herself a glass of wine. “No offense.” “None taken…” I slowly sat down in my chair and took a deep breath. The last few weeks had flown by in a blur of doctor’s visits in our living room, midnight binge eating on my part, and an endless weight gain that I didn’t even try to curb. “You’re so rude, Helen.” Sandra laughed. “You just look like you’re pregnant, Claire. I’m sure Jonathan doesn’t mind the weight at all.” He didn’t. His usual perfection had heightened to a whole new impossible level. He answered all of my “How do I look?” questions with “Fucking beautiful,” and if I even attempted to say something negative about the weight I’d gained, he would kiss me so senselessly that I would forget all about it for hours at a time. I was two weeks away from my due date, and I was literally counting the remaining time by the seconds. And although I still wouldn’t admit it to Jonathan, I was grateful for the wheelchair. Very, very grateful. “Are either of you going to start talking to me or are you just going to stare?” I looked back and forth between them. “What have I been missing?” “Well, let’s see…We'll start with sex.” Helen started to wax poetical about Greg’s prowess in the bedroom, how his cock "always hit all the right spots"—making me and Sandra shake our heads and silently pray for her soul. As Sandra started to tell me about her upcoming trip with her husband, I felt another sharp kick in my stomach. I gritted my teeth so I wouldn't draw attention to myself, but there was another kick—an even sharper one, and seconds later, I felt the inevitable.
“So…” Sandra was looking at Helen. “I was telling him that I think we should do Paris for three days and then—” “I think my water just broke…” I managed. “Can one of you…” There were more sharp pains. “Can you call Jonathan? Can you…Can you…” I bit my lip, unable to talk through any more of the pain and shut my eyes. I heard the two of them calling Jonathan and Greg, heard them making their list of people to call, and I felt myself being slowly wheeled through the corridors and to the front door. “How pissed do you think Jonathan would be if we took her to the hospital ourselves?” Helen asked. I was pretty sure Sandra gave her the appropriate look because she didn’t mention it again. With the pain getting worse and worse, I was tempted to tell them to risk it, but I heard the sound of a car speeding down the driveway—along with Jonathan giving orders and breathed a short sigh of relief. “Claire…” He pressed a soft kiss on my forehead, and ordered two members of his security team to help me into the car. I gripped his hands as hard as I could, and cursed as the pain worsened by the second. Undaunted, he held me close as the car sped off toward the hospital. I didn’t remember how I made it from the car and into the hospital suite, but two painful hours later, I knew I was squeezing the life out of Jonathan’s hand as doctors stood near the edge of the bed. “Why isn't the epidural shot working?!” I screamed, feeling tears well in my eyes. “I can still feel pain! Can someone please fix it?! Can I just get the goddamn Csection?!” The doctors ignored my screaming, instead asking me to push—calmly and annoyingly reiterating the fact that “We would have definitely performed cesarean section on your scheduled date, Mrs. Statham, but your body clearly had other plans. You’re dilated ten centimeters, enough for us to at least try this a few more times so—” “Just stop talking! Stop it right now!” I yelped in pain and shut my eyes, forcing myself to push more, to no results. I felt beads of sweat trickling down my forehead, felt my contractions seemingly double, and I hoped the doctors would give up and prep me for a cesarean surgery. “Can you try a few more times?” Jonathan whispered softly, softly squeezing my hand in return. “For me?” He wiped my forehead with his sleeve. “I’ll make them do whatever you want if you can't, though…I want to get you out of pain as soon as possible.” I didn’t respond. I just looked at him and gave him a look that said I would try again. “When you’re ready, Mrs. Statham…” the doctor said softly. “Push as hard as you possibly can, okay?”
Crying, I gritted my teeth and pushed as hard as I could for another hour— punishing Jonathan’s hands with no mercy. And after what felt like forever, I heard a cry that was almost as loud as mine. “Baby B,” the doctor said, handing her away to the standby nurse. “Can you try again, Mrs. Statham?” The sounds of my baby crying across the room temporarily distracted me. I pushed quite a few more times—feeling worse this time around, and half an hour later, a screaming Baby A was born. And as much as I wanted to hold him, to hold them both in my arms, my body started to go weak and everything went black… *** “It’s like looking into a mirror from the past…” Ashley’s voice was the first thing I heard. “Alicia looks just like us…” “You think Baby Jonathan looks like Jonathan?” “I think she’s going to beg him to change his name.” Laughter, then silence. I tried to open my eyes, but it was no use. I involuntarily drifted to sleep again… *** I felt familiar lips pressing against my cheeks and forced my eyes open to see Jonathan. “Hi…” He smiled. “Hi…” I noticed he was holding Alicia in a light pink blanket. “I thought we agreed on yellow?” “She didn’t appreciate the yellow.” He looked down at her. “She actually cried until a nurse gave her pink. Then again, it might have been a combination of that and her formula…” I smiled and Greg was suddenly at my side, pressing a button that helped me sit up. He nodded at Jonathan and walked out of the room, leaving us alone. Jonathan gently placed Alicia in my arms, and I held back tears. With her head full of unruly brown hair and pink skin, she was absolutely beautiful. She even had a mark on her upper lip—exactly where mine was but slightly darker. I waited to see if she would open her eyes, but she was sleeping too soundly; she only cooed, never stirring once. “They’re green…” Jonathan said softly. “Just like yours.” He stepped back and pushed Baby Jonathan’s bassinet closer to my bed. Gently lifting him
up and out, he sat on the edge of my bed and held him close so I could see his features, too. “His eyes however, are blue,” he said, and I didn’t need to say anything else. Our son was his father’s spitting image. Period. As if on cue, Baby Jonathan opened his eyes. He blinked a few times in confusion, and then, as suspected, he began to cry. Loudly. “There, there…” I motioned for Jonathan to hand him to me in exchange for Alicia. “What’s wrong? You don’t like sharing a name with your dad?” Fully awake now, I grabbed a bottle from Jonathan’s hand and softly pressed it against Baby Jonathan’s mouth. “It’s okay…It’s okay…” He cried a few more seconds before latching onto the bottle and shutting his eyes. For the rest of the night, Jonathan and me took turns holding our babies— whispering promises to them both, to each other for our futures together…
EPILOGUE A few weeks later… Claire The sound of Alicia’s cries made my eyes flutter open, but I didn’t make a move; I didn’t have to.
Jonathan was already slipping out of bed, walking over to her crib and picking her up. He walked her out of the room and downstairs, softly humming to her the entire way. It’d only been five weeks since we’d been home, but I could already see a pattern forming: If either of the twins made a single sound—a coo, a cough, or a cry, Jonathan immediately took action. If he thought they were sleeping for too long, he picked them up and held them against his chest—waiting until they woke up and needed something else. I didn’t think it was possible for him to get any more possessive, but he never let either of them out of his sight for a single second, and it looked as if it pained him whenever we had company and they were temporarily in someone else’s arms. (And I meant “temporarily” in every sense of the word; no one except him and me got to hold them for longer than five minutes at a time.) Rolling out of bed, I put on a robe and made my way downstairs—stopping outside the entryway once I heard his deep voice. “Why aren’t you quiet like your brother?” He smiled, positioning a bottle against her lips. “You’re almost as frustrating as Claire…” I crossed my arms and leaned against the wall. “There’s only one difference between you and your mother…” He looked into her eyes. “I probably won’t ever have the heart to say no to you about anything…I’m sure you can tell that already, though…” She shut her eyes—still drinking from her bottle, and he added, “As long as you agree to never date anyone and promise to never have a boyfriend, I’ll give you whatever you want…” I tried to hold back a laugh, but I couldn’t help it. “Something funny, Claire?” His eyes immediately met mine. “Besides the fact that you’re talking to our fiveweek old child about potential boyfriends?” I smiled and walked over to him. “No, nothing at all.” I leaned against the counter and he kissed my lips. Before he could ask me about Jonathan II, I set his company’s newest prototype—the sMonitor, on the counter. I tapped the screen and expanded the image, making sure he could see it for himself. “He’s still sleeping,” I said softly. “He probably won’t wake up for another hour. And you know, if you actually let both of them sleep instead of picking them up every thirty minutes, you might actually get to experience what the word ‘sleep’ means for yourself.”
“I’m more concerned about your sleeping than mine.” He kissed me again. “And if I want to pick them up, I’m going to pick them up, regardless of what my wife thinks.” “Clearly…” I slowly pulled the empty bottle from Alicia’s mouth and he positioned her over his shoulder so she could burp. “Did you talk to your board members yet?” “I did.” “And?” I looked at him, hoping he’d told them what we’d discussed last week: Off for a complete year, with only Sunday as a potential update day. No meetings unless it was an absolute emergency. No public speeches or interviews unless it was for charity. “And,” he said, “I’ll tell you what I said when you tell me the truth about your store.” “I did tell you the truth.” I narrowed my eyes at him. “I’ll only work on Sundays—just like you, and only because my name is on all the contracts.” “I can easily have that changed and you know it.” “You agreed to let me have Sundays, Jonathan.” I looked into his eyes. “One year. Only Sundays. We discussed this.” “And I don’t work for more than a few hours a week? You think that’s fair to ask of a CEO?” “If this particular CEO wants to experience sex within this year, yes.” He let out a low laugh. “I told them I was taking off for a year, but I will take meetings via Skype and I’ll still meet with Milton once a week.” He pressed a finger against my lips before I could interrupt. “But he’ll come here and keep me updated. I won’t have to go in.” I nodded, stepping back. “And they took that well?” “Of course not, Claire.” He rolled his eyes. “But I did it for you.” “You did it for sex.” “That, too.” He laughed, clasping my hand. “A full year with just you and our twins isn’t the worst thing in the world.” Alicia hiccuped, immediately drawing our attention. Smiling, Jonathan gently grabbed her sides and handed her to me. “I get to hold my own daughter today?” I smiled back. “What an honor, Mr. Statham. How long do I get to hold her for this time? Three minutes? Four?”
He rolled his eyes and pressed his hand against the small of my back, gesturing for me to go back upstairs. As usual, he didn’t take his eyes off Alicia the entire time, and the second we returned to the nursery, he lifted her from my hands so he could personally put her into the crib. Jonathan II stirred, and it looked as if he was about to wake up and cry for his next bottle, but he simply yawned and continued sleeping. When he was sure they were both okay, he turned on another monitor and grabbed my hand—walking me into the hallway. Without warning, he pushed me against the wall and pressed his lips against mine, kissing me until I bit his lip, until I begged him to let me breathe. “What are you doing?” I barely managed. “Is it six or eight weeks before I’m allowed to have you again?” He ran his fingers through my hair. “I need to make sure.” “You think I want to have sex with you?” “I know you do.” “You’re a father now, Jonathan.” I tried to keep a straight face. “You need to know that brand new parents don’t have normal sex lives for at least a year after their children are born. You should also know that your own wife will let you know when she feels like having sex with you again—especially since you’re intruding on her new motherhood experience by doing all the things that she should be doing. She’s teaching you a lesson in patience.” He smirked. “Six or eight, Claire?” “It’s ten.” “Claire...” “You’ll have to wait until I fit in my old clothes again.” I looked away from him, but he cupped my chin, making me face him. Smiling, he gently drew my bottom lip into his mouth—biting it softly before letting it go. “You honestly think I care about you fitting into your old clothes?” I didn’t answer. “You think I’m any less attracted to you right now than the first day we met?” I blushed. “No, but—” “Good.” He cut me off, kissing me. “Because I’m not…” He threaded his fingers through my hair again. “And I really need to be with you again.”
“It’s still ten weeks.” “Don’t make me call your doctor, Claire.” I smiled. “It’s six…” “So, four days?” He kissed my forehead. “If you feel like it, that is, and don’t want to continue teaching me a lesson in patience.” “I’ll think about it.” He laughed, and at that moment, the familiar cries of Jonathan II floated into the hallway. He slowly loosened his grip on me and stepped back. “You don’t regret this do you?” I asked, looking into his eyes. “Me having babies, I mean?” “Never.” He gave me one last kiss and led me back into the nursery. “You gave me everything I never knew I needed, and I love you more than ever now…” “More than your children?” I smiled. “Not even close.” He laughed and I watched him pick up our son, watched him slowly transition into the perfect father I always knew he’d be…