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Copyright 2014 Bethany Lopez
Published Aug 2014
Photography by K Keeton Designs
Cover Design by B Design
Editing by Red Road Editing / Kristina Circelli
Ebook Formatting by White Hot Formatting
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
This ebook is also available in print at most online retailers.
Table of Contents
Chapter Twenty Nine
About the Author
Books by Bethany Lopez
Stories about Melissa – series
Ta Ta for Now!
Nissa: a contemporary fairy tale
Friends & Lovers Trilogy
Make it Last
I Choose You
Trust in Me
A Time for Love Series
This book is dedicated to Bethany’s Bombshells.
Chapter 1 – Scott
“Maria, have you heard anything back from Mr. Brandt on tomorrow’s meeting?” I asked my secretary through the speakerphone.
“No, sir,” she responded clearly. “Just the initial correspondence that said to expect one.”
“Alright,” I said as I logged off my computer. “Just shoot me a text if anything changes. I’m going to head out for the night.”
“Yes, sir,” she replied before disconnecting.
I stood up and grasped my suit coat off the back of the chair, taking one last look at my calendar as I put it on and buttoned the front. I should be staying at work and making sure I was ready for my impromptu meeting with the boss tomorrow, but Gaby said we were having an emergency gathering of our friends at Cal and Shelly’s, and I’d promised her I’d be there.
I didn’t know what it was about, but if my friends needed me, nothing would stop me from being there for them, not even my job. I could only hope everything was okay with Shelly and the baby.
As I rode the elevator down the sixteen-story office building in the center of town, I assured myself that Gaby would have told me if it was something truly serious. She was too kind-hearted to make me walk into something devastating without a warning.
I slid behind the wheel of my new BMW 7 Series, black on black. My lips stretched wide in a grin as that new car smell hit me. I’d wanted a new car for years, and had saved diligently, but hadn’t had enough to get the kind of car I really wanted. Then, just a few weeks ago, I’d been promoted and given a raise that made my dream become a reality.
I thought back to the day that Mr. Brandt had called me into his office and told me that he wanted me to be the Director of Operations, because the last guy had failed to meet his expectations. I’d been floored. It was everything I’d been working for since I’d begun interning during college; I’d just never imagined I’d get the opportunity so soon. Brandt Industries was the leading supplier of medical equipment and supplies in the region.
I locked up the beamer and jogged up the stairs as I looked at my watch. I was about fifteen minutes late, and I hoped I hadn’t kept everyone waiting.
I opened the door and called out. I knew everyone was supposed to be there, so Cal and Shelly shouldn’t be off getting busy, but you never could be too careful.
“In the living room!” Cal yelled out.
I barely registered the fact that his voice sounded off before I turned the corner and found everyone sitting in the living room. All eyes were on me as I rounded the corner. I stopped abruptly as a feeling of unease came over me at the expression on their faces.
Gaby and Shelly looked sad, Sasha looked nervous, and Cal and TJ just looked uncomfortable.
“What’s up?” I asked nervously as their eyes bore into me.
Gaby stood up and walked slowly toward me, her long gray skirt swishing around her legs, and the bracelets on her arms clinking together as she moved. Her long blonde hair was loose and flowed around her shoulders. She wasn’t wearing any makeup, and her expression was somber, but she looked as beautiful as ever.
She held her hand out to me, and when I took it, she led me toward an overstuffed chair and indicated that I should sit, before going back to her place next to Sasha on the couch and facing me once more. “Scott,” she began in her soft, sweet voice, “we’re all here today because we love you.”
My head swiveled as I took them all in, curious, but unsure of what Gaby was doing.
“Scott.” She took a deep breath in, then let it out slowly before she said, “This is an intervention. We’ve tried talking to you individually, letting you know our concerns, and although it looked like you were on the right path for a while, for some reason, you took a U-turn and headed right back down the wrong road.”
My eyes scrunched up and my head began to pound as I tried to decipher what she was saying. “What the hell are you talking about, Gaby? U-turns and wrong paths … Just say what you mean.”
“Victoria, Scott,” Cal piped in. “She’s talking about your relationship with Victoria.”
I closed my eyes briefly as blood rushed to my head.
“You can’t marry her, Scott,” I heard Gaby say quietly from my right.
I opened my eyes again and looked Cal in the eye.
“We’ve already discussed this,” I said between clenched teeth.
“Yeah.” Cal ran his hands through his hair, indicating his frustration. “We did talk about it, and you said that you were going to break it off with her … Then, out of nowhere, the wedding was back on. What the hell, Scott?”
“You know she’s wrong for you, brother,” TJ said, his hand clasping Sasha’s in his, as if he was her anchor.
“We want you to be happy, Scott, and you know as well as we do, that she will only make you miserable,” Sasha added, twisting the knife that my friends had metaphorically placed in my gut.
“Look,” I began, trying to keep control of my anger. “I know there is no love lost between you guys and Victoria, but you don’t know her the way I do.”
“Are you saying behind closed doors she’s a sweet, caring, and giving woman?” Shelly asked, her eyes sad as she rested her head on Cal’s shoulder. “Because that’s what you deserve.”
I didn’t respond to that. No, they knew as well as I did that Victoria didn’t care for anything as much as she cared for herself, but I was so deep into this relationship, I didn’t know how to get out of it without hurting her, and my mother, in the process.
“I get what you guys are saying,” I admitted. “And, yes, I did try to call off the wedding at one point, but Victoria was devastated, you guys. She cried and begged me to take her back. She promised to be a wonderful wife, and to try harder to get along with you guys.”
“I’m sure she was upset, Scott, and I’m sorry for that,” Gaby said, pulling my attention back to her. “But Victoria isn’t our concern … you are. If you stay with her, you will end up in a cold and loveless marriage, just like your parents had. Is that the way you want to live? Is that how you want to raise children?”
“You told TJ and I, at your house the night we were playing cards, that you were having second thoughts about marrying her. You asked us to ‘tell you the truth before you ruined your fucking life’ … Well, we’re telling you now, Scott,” Cal pleaded. He stood up and walked toward me, laying his hand on my shoulder and looking me dead in the eyes. “We’re begging you … Don’t do it.”
I closed my eyes and stood, unable to look into the faces of the most important people in my life. “I have to go.”
“Scott,” Gaby pleaded, coming toward me.
“Gaby.” I looked down into her worried eyes. “I hear you, okay? I hear you all.” I looked each of them in the eye before turning on my heel. “I have to think,” I said over my shoulder as I hurried back out the way that I’d come. I tried to avoid their gazes, but the look on Gaby’s face was imprinted on my mind, and as I started up my car and pulled away, I couldn’t shake the image.
“Fuck!” I screamed out in my empty car.
I meant what I said, I heard them. Loud and clear … And I knew they were right, but I was a coward. A total fucking coward. I hated the thought of dealing with the confrontation that I would face if I told Victoria the wedding was off … Again. She’d flipped on me last time, and deep down, I knew that she knew exactly what she was doing. Victoria was just like my mother, a master manipulator, and she knew how to push my buttons. She’d known that I would cave at the sight of her tears.
I’d been trying to convince myself the marriage would be fine, that she would be the perfect wife for me, and the position that I held, and maybe we’d even be happy, but I knew my friends were right. I was just fooling myself. Victoria was exactly like my mother, and my mother was one of my least favorite people in the world.
I was going to have to man up.
It would be better to end it now, before we were legally bound together, than to live miserably.
What Gaby said about raising kids cemented it for me. I didn’t want my kids to be raised in an environment similar to the one I’d been raised in. I wanted my family home to be like Cal’s parents. I’d always loved going there as a kid, and I still did. It was obvious that his parents loved each other, and their children. That’s the life I wanted.
I turned the corner toward Victoria’s and pressed the accelerator.
Chapter 2 – Gaby
“Do you think he’s okay?” I asked Cal from his front window as I watched Scott pull away.
I felt his hand on my shoulder and turned to look up at him. His dark hair was disheveled and his expression was worried.
“We did the right thing,” Cal reassured me. “He’s probably pissed right now, but he’s going to realize that we have his best interests at heart. I just hope he makes the right decision.”
I nodded solemnly, then turned into Shelly’s arms when she joined us.
“Don’t worry, Gabs, he’s going to be fine. I think he knows what our intent was, and it looked like he heard what we were saying,” Shelly spoke softly as she held me.
“What if he stays with her?” I wondered aloud, horrified at the possibility. Scott had changed over the last year. He’d become much more withdrawn and seemed to be perpetually angry. This was so unlike the sweet, funny, and happy guy I’d known for the past eight years. Scott had never been carefree, but he hadn’t been as uptight as he was lately, and maybe it wasn’t fair, but I blamed his relationship with Victoria. She was like poison.
“If that’s the choice he makes, then we’ll stand by him. He knows how we feel, but he also knows that he can depend on us to always be there for him. His decision won’t change that.” Shelly pulled back and looked into my face. “Right?”
“Of course,” I replied. “I just want him to be happy.”
“You did what you can, sweetheart, the rest is up to Scott.” This was said by TJ as he walked over to us. “We’re gonna hit the road,” he said to Cal as he slapped a hand on his shoulder. “We have a hot date.”
Sasha gave a bawdy laugh at his words, and said sarcastically, “You know the relationship’s getting stale when burgers and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is considered a “hot date.”
TJ strode over to Sasha, spun her around, then dipped her. He smiled broadly
down at her before he gave her a wink and kissed her soundly. I’d been on the
receiving end of those lips before, so when Sasha groaned loudly, I laughed out loud as
Cal protested, “Jeez, guys, take it outside.”
TJ was still grinning as he pulled Sasha back up and asked dryly, “Stale, huh?”
Sasha giggled at him, then turned to give Shelly and me a hug goodbye.
“I’m going to head out too,” I told Shelly.
“Are you meeting up with Brock?”
“No, not tonight,” I responded as I picked up my bag. “He’s doing something with his brothers. I was going to head to the shop … work some stuff out in my head.”
“Are you going to be okay?” Shelly asked, her face full of concern.
“Yes,” I responded sincerely. “I just need to get my hands dirty and process everything.”
I said my goodbyes to Cal and Shelly, smiling at the picture they made in the doorway. They had their arms wrapped around each other’s waists, holding each other close as they waved at Sasha, TJ, and me. Shelly was only a few months pregnant, but it looked good on her. Her chestnut hair was silky and her cheeks were rosy.
“See you guys later,” I called as TJ held the door to his beloved El Camino open for Sasha. Her red hair was wild around her face, and she looked casual in shorts and a tank top, rather than her normal slick suit.
“Hey, next time you and Brock are getting together, let us know, we can double date,” Sasha called back, then turned to TJ as he groaned and asked, “What? Why not?”
“It’s cool if you wanna hang out, Red, but ‘double date’? C’mon!” TJ replied with a grimace.
“Sounds good,” I replied with a laugh before turning to get into my old VW Bug. It wasn’t the most beautiful car, but it was reliable and was usually overflowing with baking supplies. I’d bought it after graduation six years ago, with my own money. It was one of the few things I owned.
I sat behind the wheel, reaching up to grab one of the hair ties off of the rearview mirror, then piling my hair into a blonde mess on top of my head. I turned the car on and cranked up the air, then placed my hand lovingly on the gearshift. The fact that my mom had taught me to drive a stick shift turned out to be a great benefit when I’d finally had enough money to buy a car, since they were so much cheaper.
I listened to a local country radio station as I navigated toward the bakery in town where I worked. The bakery, Bee Sweet, was perched in the center of Main Street, in between a bookstore and travel shop. Katherine, the owner and my boss, had started the bakery ten years ago, and before I was an employee, I was a customer. Bee Sweet had been one of my favorite hangouts as a teenager. I’d come in with Shelly and Sasha, the whole gang, or by myself, just to relax. I’d always loved the chamomile tea and the honey croissants; they were Katherine’s specialty.
Once she’d hired me on, I’d suggested adding filling to her already delicious croissants, so now we offered not only plain, but cream cheese, chunky strawberry preserve, pear and goat cheese, caramel banana, or any variation.
We served much more than croissants, whipping up everything from donuts, to crepes, to pies, to cupcakes. I loved working here. Not just the baking and Katherine, but I loved the environment. Katherine had decorated in yellows and whites, with murals of fields, flowers, and, of course, bees. The furniture was white iron. It was a happy place to work, and the customers loved it. Plus, we were only open until 2:00pm, so although my days started really early, my evenings were mine to do with, as I liked.
I unlocked the back door and let myself in, stopping as I started to pass Katherine’s office on the way to the kitchen. I peeked in to see Katherine sitting behind her desk typing furiously, a pencil in her mouth and a scowl on her face.
“Hey, Kat, everything okay?” I asked softly so I didn’t startle her.
She looked up, blinking rapidly before her eyes became focused on me standing in her doorway. She spit the pencil out of her mouth and said, “Hi, Gaby. What are you doing here, honey?”
Kat rounded the desk, knocking papers to the floor as she moved. Kat was the sweetest person in the world, but definitely not the most organized. I bent to pick up the papers, but she waved her hand at me. “Don’t worry about those, dear. I’ll get them later.”
I righted myself and smiled into her pretty face. Kat hadn’t changed much in the ten years I’d known her, and she was still one of my favorite people in the world. I was so lucky to get to work with her, doing what I loved, every day.
“I just came by to prep for tomorrow, and maybe make some pastries to drop off at my mom’s house,” I said, answering her earlier question. “Plus, we had the intervention for Scott tonight, and I need to clear my head.”
Kat rubbed my arm absently and asked, “How’d it go with Scott?”
“I don’t know,” I answered honestly. “I mean, he was upset … didn’t stay long. He didn’t want to talk it over or discuss Victoria with us. He said that he heard what we were saying, and that he needed to think, then he left.”
My stomach clenched at the memory of the look on his face when I began talking. He’d been totally taken by surprise, and I couldn’t help but wonder how long it would take him to forgive me.
“Scott’s got a good head on his shoulders,” Kat assured me. “He’ll be upset at first, but he’ll come around, don’t you worry. Go ahead and clear your head.”
“Thanks,” I said, leaning in to give her a quick hug before making my way to the kitchen. I stopped right before the entrance to open my locker and grab my chef’s coat. I placed my bag into the locker before shutting it, and entered the kitchen as I buttoned up the coat.
I inhaled deeply, reveling in the sweet smell that always seemed to permeate within these walls. The display cases up front would be cleaned out and empty, with any leftover pastries being wrapped up and put away until they were put on clearance in the morning.
We made fresh donuts and pastries every morning, and a few cupcakes for the afternoon, but most of our items were pre-ordered in order to diminish waste. Whatever was leftover got put into the ‘pastries made yesterday’ case, and sold at a discounted price. It was a pretty smart idea, which Kat had implemented a few years back. My favorite part of the day was early morning, before the sun came up, when it’s just my music and me as I’m making the day’s delights.
Once my favorite Pandora station was queued into the computer in the back, I began to gather the items I needed from the refrigerator and the pantry. Within moments, my hands were immersed in dough, I was singing happily along to Taylor Swift’s current hit, and my worries about Scott began to fade away.
Chapter 3 – Scott
I smoothed down the lapels of my suit coat as I stood outside Victoria’s condo. I looked around the perfectly manicured grounds in the upscale complex, procrastinating … I was not looking forward to the shit storm that I was sure was about to rain down on me.
I grabbed my balls to make sure they were still there, then took a deep breath and inserted my key in the lock. I shut the door quietly behind me and walked soundlessly down the marble hallway to the professionally decorated living room, oblivious to the walls lined with priceless art.
We’d agreed not to live together until we were married, and I have to admit, I’d been relieved. I enjoyed having my own space to go home to at the end of the day, and I guess I’d always assumed that Victoria felt the same way, although I’d never really asked. Our parents had approved, saying it would be inappropriate to live together before marriage. Although I didn’t agree with that sentiment on principle, I never argued, because I was happy to enjoy my freedom a little longer.
Now that I really thought about it, that probably should have been a red flag in our relationship.
When I rounded the corner my eyes surveyed the room before landing on Victoria. She was sitting on her favorite chaise lounge, a paperback open in her hands. She was dressed impeccably, in slacks and a blouse.
“Victoria,” I spoke softly, so as not to startle her. She was always called Victoria, never Vicky … Always so formal.
She looked up at my words, and I was annoyed to notice that her hair and makeup were as flawless as her attire.
Why did she need to look perfect when all she was doing was reading a book?
Victoria placed the book down next to her as she swung her legs down and stood, walking forward to kiss me on the cheek. “I wasn’t expecting you,” she said calmly as she pulled back to look into my eyes. She always seemed like she could see right through me, and when her lips turned down, I knew she suspected something was wrong.
“Victoria,” I said again. I figured the faster I said what I needed to say the better. There was no need to drag out the inevitable. “We need to talk.”
“Are you really going to start this again?” she asked haughtily, turning to walk toward the bar in the corner. She poured herself a glass of amber liquid ‒‒ I assumed it was scotch, knowing her father ‒‒ and turned back to me with a scowl. “What? Have you been spending time with your friends? Did they convince you that I’m the wicked witch again?”
I sighed heavily.
“This isn’t about my friends, it’s about us…” I began, my tone regretful.
“Things have been going great the last few weeks, Scott. What is wrong with us?” Victoria closed her eyes as she took a generous swig.
I walked closer to her and held out my hands, but stopped myself from touching her when she opened her eyes and pinned me with a stare.
“Things are never great with us, Victoria. We’ve been going through the motions for years,” I said, hoping to get her to see that what I was saying was true. “I think we’ve been moving in the direction that was logical for a relationship, without truly thinking of what marriage between us would actually be like.”
“I know exactly what marriage between us would be like,” Victoria argued. “Look at our parents’ marriages … We would have a full life, full of affluence and prestige. You will work your way up the ladder at Brandt Industries, and I will be the perfect wife. We will attend parties, volunteer for charities, and contribute to society. What about that sounds bad to you?”
I looked at the frustration on her face, and knew that to her, what she described really did sound like the perfect marriage. To me … it sounded like a nightmare.
“We’ve been over this before, and, yes, marriage between us looks great on paper, but I’ve realized something. Not once did you mention love, happiness, or children. Aren’t those things important to you?” I asked sincerely. “Don’t you think we both deserve a marriage filled with those things? With passion? Not just a superficial life?”
“Superficial?” Victoria repeated, her cheeks getting red with anger. “There’s more to life than emotion. Passions burn out and end in heartache. What I’m talking about is a marriage of companionship and understanding. A relationship that will endure.”
“I can’t live like that,” I responded. “I don’t want a marriage like my parents. A loveless marriage of convenience. You know that … And I think we’ve lost sight of what our relationship is turning into. Yes, we were happy in the beginning, but we’ve both changed over the years, and I don’t think we’ve grown together; I think we’ve grown apart. I need more.”
Victoria’s face crumbled with hurt, and I was able to see the girl behind the mask that I’d fallen for when we first met. It seemed so long ago, and I sometimes forgot that there was ever a time that Victoria and I were happy, and almost giddy with love. That was before my job became my focus, and before Victoria began to act like my mother.
“Are you saying that you don’t love me?” Her voice was barely a whisper.
My heart pounded in my chest, and I ached for the couple we once were.
“No, I don’t.” I knew I had to rip off the Band-Aid. “I don’t like the person I am with you, and I can’t go through with this marriage.”
Victoria’s face hardened, and the glimpse of the girl I once loved was gone, replaced with the woman I knew I could never be happy with.
“Fine.” She set down her glass and took the engagement ring off of her finger, holding it out and dropping it in my open palm. “I’m not going to beg you to take me back this time. I need a man who knows what he wants, and doesn’t jump every time his friends tell him to. I know my worth, even if you don’t. Goodbye, Scott.”
She turned around, her back rigid, and stared out the window into the garden outside.
I thought about trying to comfort her, but realized doing so would only make this situation harder, so I turned and walked back down the hallway to the door. I paused, taking the key to her condo off of my key ring, and placing it on the tall table by the front entrance.
When I was hallway to my apartment, the relief hit me … I was free.
It suddenly felt as if a year’s worth of pressure had been lifted off my shoulders, and I felt myself grinning like a loon.
I bounded up the stairs to my apartment, a laugh escaping me when I slid on the top step. Not even the sight of my mother’s number on my phone as it started ringing could dampen my happiness.
“Hello, Mother,” I said, answering the phone as I let myself into my place.
“Scott,” her shrill voice barked back at me. “What is this I hear of you breaking it off with Victoria? Must we go through this again?”
“Thanks for your concern, Mother. I’m doing fine,” I answered sarcastically.
“Why should I be concerned about you, when it’s Victoria who’s humiliated and devastated?”
“Victoria will be just fine, Mother,” I replied dryly. “I can’t talk now, I’ll see you this weekend.”
“Don’t you dare…” my mother got out before I silenced the call.
I emptied my pockets, laying the contents on my dresser, as I took off my suit and laid it across the back of a chair. I pulled out some basketball trunks, leaving my things strewn about rather than putting them away. Victoria detested a cluttered space, so I’d always made sure to put things in their proper place … but, not today.
I grabbed a bag of chips and a beer, and settled down on my couch.
She’d also disapproved of eating anywhere other than the table.
I opened the bag, then placed it on the table without taking any chips out. I set the beer on the table and sat back, resting my head on the back of the couch.