My eyes search the crowd for my wife. What’s her breaking point? She’s feisty—a fighter underneath the delicate appearance. She wouldn’t…
What if she’s already reached the point of no return?
What the hell is wrong with me that I’m freaking out like this? It isn’t me who screwed up. Belle fucked it up, and there’s no reason for her to feel she’s been treated unjustly.
Elizabeth said Belle looked lonely and maybe a little miserable, and I know my sister’s right. And I know I’m the chief reason.
But loneliness and misery aren’t indifference. So that means I haven’t pushed my wife too far.
* * *
The bathroom is huge and luxurious, dark marble with gleaming gilt faucets. It’s obviously designed with guests in mind: two big sinks and several stalls with doors that reach all the way to the bottom of the floor. The toilets are Japanese and high-tech like nothing I’ve ever seen, with covers that raise and lower themselves automatically, the seats heated.
When I come out of the stall, I bump into the one person I prayed I would never see again—Annabelle Underhill. She’s as gorgeous as ever. Her face is expertly made up, expensive rubies around her throat and on her ears. Dark brown curls frame her heart-shaped face, and a red chiffon dress hugs her toned and tanned body. The eyelashes seem even longer than I remembered.
She puts a tube of lipstick into her clutch and gives me a sideways look in the mirror. “Well, well, well. Don’t you clean up nice?”
I ignore her and wash my hands.
“Didn’t anybody teach you any manners?” She smiles, then gasps. “Ohhh, right. They must have stripped them off you at that job you used to have.”
It’s a stupid thing to say, but the blatant mention of the asterisk-marked portion of my past stuns me. Nobody at the party has breathed a word about it, and I’m certain they’ve all seen the lurid headlines, if not the actual articles.
“I knew Elliot could be wild, but I thought he would choose somebody with a more stabilizing influence.” The smirk she flings at my reflection is extra catty. “After all, opposites do attract.”
That pulls me out of my shock. “That can’t be right, or you’d be married to the Dalai Lama.”
She snaps her clutch shut and faces me. “You think you’re so clever?” Hateful condescension twists her face. “Yeah, I guess you do. So you know Elliot doesn’t need to stay married to you to get what he wants, right? He just needs to be married.”
Her triumphant viciousness leaves me dazed. As my brain kicks in again, I gape at her. How does she know this? Elizabeth swore that only her brothers, father and stepmother know the truth behind my fake marriage to Elliot. I haven’t known her for long, but I’m certain she isn’t the type to lie.
“Surprised?” Annabelle flutters her eyelashes at me. “You shouldn’t be. Everyone knows.”
My throat constricts for a moment, but I manage to say in an even voice, “Everyone?”
“Everyone who counts.” She gives me a smarmy, used-car salesman smile.
I rally myself. I’d rather bite my tongue until it bleeds than let her see how she’s upset my equilibrium. “So you can count. I was wondering. Well, at least I’ll be going home with a hot, young husband tonight.”
“You’ll never satisfy a man like Elliot.”
“Apparently you didn’t either. Which is why he passed you off to his father.”
Her eyes flash. “Elliot enjoys slumming, but at the end of the day, a man wants a lady by his side.”
“A lady who hasn’t married his father, surely.”
“Always so naïve. If that were true, we wouldn’t have been fucking in a closet after the ceremony.” She smirks. “What? You didn’t know? Oh yes, it’s true. He’s always wanted me.” She strokes her chest, breathing shallowly as though she’s turned on by the memory. “He’s just too stubborn to admit it to himself. He’s always been stubborn.”
To hide how shaken and sickened I am by the revelation, I start drying my hands.
“Give it up and leave him,” she continues. “I don’t want to have to hurt you or your sister, but”—she shrugs—“you’ve led such an interesting life. I would hate to release all those little nuggets, but I will…one by one if you’re too dense to understand what I mean.”
Fury sears my cheeks, and I itch to slap her. “Don’t you threaten me.”
“And why wouldn’t I? Who you gonna tell?” Annabelle leans closer until our noses are almost touching. “Elliot?” she whispers. “He’ll never believe you.”
My misery is nearly complete because I know she’s right. He won’t even listen to my explanation about Mr. Grayson. Why would he believe anything I say about Annabelle Underhill?
After a long moment she pulls back. “That’s what I thought. Well, cheer up. It’s not like there’s no way out of the situation. All you have to do is divorce him. No…big…deal.”
She leaves. I brace my hands against the edge of the vanity and try to drag in air through my mouth. My head throbs like Annabelle’s just slammed the back of my skull against the wall, and my stomach roils.
If Annabelle Underhill follows through on her threats, I’m screwed. Nonny will never forgive me, and Elliot will grow even colder and more distant.
Why did I ever think I would have a fresh new start? Fresh starts are for the lucky few. I’m not that fortunate.
Where is Belle? She’s been gone for too long. She isn’t in the dining hall, and I remember how pale and withdrawn she was earlier.
I walk toward the ladies’ room and spot Ryder, who’s in a black tux that fits him perfectly. Despite the fact that we’re half-brothers, we look nothing alike. I often joke that I’m the handsomer guy. In reality, he is one disgustingly good-looking bastard. He takes after his mother—the almost-black hair and arresting blue eyes combined with a face that people gush over in breathless wonder. Underneath the pretty mask is a decent brain as well. He’s monetized his appearance quite effectively, much to our father’s fury.