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Cards of Love: Three of Swords by Willow Winters (1)

Chapter 1

Sophie

Some card meanings are obvious, like the Judgement card. It suggests exactly what you would expect; an impossibility of avoiding scrutiny and insurmountable obstacles waiting in the distance. But more than that, Judgement signifies a new phase is coming and it won’t wait for you—or anyone else.

There’s something about flying that makes me horny. Not full blown, not like that. Just… turned on a little. Like a smidgen.

Maybe it’s fear; the perceived danger, even though I know logically it’s the safest way to travel. Still, as the engine rumbles and roars in my ears, I feel the vibrations intensify under me. My eyes close, my breathing hitches, and I have to grip the edge of the seat.

Pathetic, aren’t you? Is your life really that boring? My inner voice is a bitch, but she’s not wrong.

The snide thought makes me smirk, even while my heart lurches as the plane finally leaves the safety of land. I almost laugh at my ridiculous response. Especially given I’m in the close confines of coach seating with so many strangers, all of us headed from San Francisco to New York.

It’s a long flight to sit this close to someone. I peek up after feeling the rush, offering a polite and tight-lipped smile to the elderly lady to my right, in the middle seat. The woman and the man next to her in the aisle seat, who I assume is her husband, are already preparing their neck pillows to nap and neither of them pays me any attention.

Thank God.

Leaning closer to the window to glance out, placing most of my weight on the armrest, I let the relief wash through me as my heartbeat slows back down.

Time ticks by, the droning sound of the pilot speaking muffled by the white noise of the plane, and as the plane settles, so does that feeling deep in my belly.

My grip goes from white-knuckled to loose, and my pulse returns to normal. The jitters that hit me for a brief moment, that tiny moment when I questioned if I would be all right, those jitters eventually subside. The desire fades too.

It’s not always like this.

I know part of the reason I feel this way is because I’m going back to his city. The hints of apprehension and thoughts of him make for a deadly concoction.

It’s odd to think of New York as if it’s dominated by a single man. But he’s the only one who’s always ruled it in my eyes. Even when we were just teens.

Madox Reed takes what he wants, he always has. Irresistibly handsome, ruthlessly elite, and seemingly untouchable, there was nothing that he couldn’t have back then. And so New York simply belongs to him in my eyes. Even if it’s an utterly ridiculous thought.

Although, I wish he’d stay in the past where he belongs. It’s fucking killing me that I’m letting the thoughts of a man I once knew bother me so damn much.

I cross and uncross my legs, pretending like he doesn’t matter and as if this anxiety I’m feeling is solely because I’m flying. I’ve always been shitty at lying to myself though. Yeah, these nerves aren’t from the plane, they’re because of him.

He’s been on my mind ever since I packed my final bag last night. If I’m honest with myself, ever since the phone call saying I got the job and learned I’d be moving back to New York, I’ve been thinking of him. But this has to stop. This is about new beginnings and my past will stay right there, where it belongs. In the past.

Trisha’s dropping off my boxes at the post office today and with those last three shipped, everything I own will be delivered to 55 Thompson Street, apartment 617 in gorgeous SoHo. I owe her more than a few drinks when she finally comes to visit me. And for that matter, she freaking better come visit me.

I’ll be alone in the city, and my one friend is all the way across the country now.

Trish’s brother is technically a friend as well, and he’s always been kind to me. But he’s also technically in New York and friends with Madox, so there’s no fucking way I’ll be contacting him. They were a tight crew back then, and I know he’d tell Madox I’ve come back. So that shit’s not happening. No matter how much I miss everyone I left behind. I left our entire group of friends – they were basically my family, and I up and left without a word. Gah, I don’t even want to think about them. So yeah, I won’t be reaching out to any of them, but if worse comes to worst, I know Brett would be there for me.

At the thought of what I left years ago – and why - the knots in my stomach tighten and I have to readjust in my seat, pulling out the magazines I’d bought during my two-hour wait at the terminal.

I’d rather think about Madox and all the dirty shit he did to me than what his group of friends – my former friends – would think of me coming back.

The plane dips and so does my stomach, as if it’s some sign to stop thinking about him, but in true fashion, it only causes a blush to rise to my cheeks. When all’s said and done, I’m left feeling like I’m hiding a secret from however many people are on this plane, holding a wrinkled cover to the most recent edition of Elle Décor in my hands.

Oops.

I take a minute to smooth it out, trying to pull myself together. Soon I’ll be able to afford something in these glossy pages.

The clouds stream past on the other side of the cool window and I watch until they’re beneath us and we’re riding in nothing but a vibrant hue of blue.

It’s better for me that I take this position. I don’t know how many times I’ve told myself that. It’s best that I work for a company with an established background and clients lined up. I’m damn good at what I do, and things are finally going my way.

I know how to turn failing businesses around and I can spot an error in marketing faster than a new bakery can post to Instagram with a rookie mistake – perfectly decorated cupcakes, plus a sink full of dirty dishes in the background. Love is in the details, and I know every fucking detail that matters.

But I’m young for the industry, in my mid-twenties. San Francisco was … expensive. Bills added up and I’m ashamed that I couldn’t afford it all myself. I took a risk investing everything that I had into myself, my brand, my company.

I have to swallow hard after the next breath. Pride is a lumpy fucker. I was going to let Trish keep bailing me out and covering my half of the rent. But this is a stable job with no risk. It’s where I could hope to be ten years from now on my own. This job is a blessing, even if it’s coming after falling a little short on my own.

I’d do it all over again if I could. I’ll always invest in myself and my passions. Even if I had to work for free just to fill out a résumé. That’s where I went wrong, I think. I felt bad for people I knew could succeed, if only their branding were more on market, if only they invested in advertising… if only, if only, if only.

At least word got around that I’m good at what I do. It was worth it. For a position as a branding advisor, in this company, Candor Designs, the most sought-after marketing firm in the country.

It was worth it, and everything happens for a reason.

As I’m toeing my satchel back under the seat in front of me, I barely look up and catch the flight attendant telling me about the drink cart and how only cards are accepted. The smile on my face is a genuine response, but I still open the magazine pretending I’m not still thinking about my first love and how every minute that passes, I’m getting that much closer to him.

Our memories are what make us who we are. The majority of mine from when I grew up are consumed with Madox, although I’ve been able to avoid them since I moved away.

That giddiness, that fear I felt only moments ago when the plane took off is familiar to me. It’s the same thing I feel when I think of Madox. Every time. I’ve never stopped loving him, but sometimes fate simply doesn’t let love be enough.

I’m not going to spend the entire flight thinking about him. I’m starting over, not looking back. My resolve is firm as I turn the pages of the magazine.

I just hope I don’t see him again. After all, New York is filled with so many people. And there’s just one of him. Even if he rules the city.

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