I had always thought that I had it all together and my life was the best it could possibly be. I had a good job, a great boyfriend, and an awesome family…I truly had it all. A girl couldn’t ask for more than that, especially in that day and age. I learned the hard way that appearances could be deceiving.
I came from a big family, but I was the youngest, and by the time I graduated high school, my dad had left, and my parents divorced. My mom was left to finish raising us on her own and couldn’t afford to put me through college like my father had done for my older siblings. He had promised to help pay my tuition, but by the time it was time to pay the first round of tuition, fees, and book costs, he had left town and didn’t leave an address or phone number. I was left with a bill I couldn’t pay on my own, but I was determined to make the best out of things, and not let myself be shoved through the cracks.
I worked two jobs as a waitress to put myself through college, and that made my graduation day that much sweeter. The way things happened made me appreciate life the way it was handed to me. When I began making good money as a freelance marketer, the first thing I did was buy my Mom her own apartment. She had supported me the entire time, with her head held low because she couldn’t give me the things she thought I deserved. She had spent the last few years hopping from rental house to rental apartment along with my mentally disabled older brother. Once my mother and brother were taken care of, I rented myself a penthouse apartment in one of the fanciest buildings in town. I would have moved my mother and brother into an apartment in the building with me, but she would have no part of me spending my money on such luxuries. She was happy with the place had gotten her across town.
Once I had gotten settled in my new apartment, I decided things were in order enough for me to go out with a group of friends, and that’s when I met Bradley. He appealed to my adventurous side immediately with his bad-boy looks and light blue eyes, and I fell fast…and hard. We had only been dating a few months when I gave him a key to the apartment, and soon, he never left. He ended up letting his lease lapse on his own place, so he had to move his stuff into my apartment. I didn’t mind because I loved him, and I was ready to start a life with him, one I hoped would last forever. My friends told me I was moving too fast, but love was blinding, and I didn’t care if it was too fast or not. I was truly ready to invest forever on him.
Besides, I knew it was tough out there. Not everyone was like me where they could be so strong and put so much work into bettering themselves. I could do that for the both of us, right? I loved having him so close to me, and it just felt right. I only felt I was strong enough to pull us both up by our bootstraps.
Our relationship seemed like that of a fairytale, and I was the happiest I had been in a long time. He had won my trust and shown me that not all men were like my deadbeat dad. I had kept my guard up and never really let anyone in until Bradley, and it shocked me how well he fit in. The only issue in our relationship was the fact that I was a virgin and wanted to remain that way until I was ready to give that special part of me away. Call me crazy, but I just felt like there could be a right time, a right person, and a right way to do that. The guys I had dated before had run the other way after finding that out about me, but Bradley seemed to understand what I wanted and was okay with it. I was happy that I had found someone that accepted me for me and my values. He said he accepted my declaration of purity, and I knew…deep down, he was going to be who I gave my everything to.
* * *
Six months had passed, and everything seemed great. We had fallen into a very content routine side by side. I split time between the office and working from home so Bradley and I could spend more time together and visit places we had always wanted to go.
The wolf shifter epidemic that had been going on since before my birth made it hard for anyone to go anywhere on vacation without fear of being kidnapped and used as a slave, but I had decided a long time ago that I wasn’t going to let those beasts keep me from enjoying my life. And I fully trusted that I was safe with Bradley by my side. A wolf was less likely to attempt to mate with a woman who was clearly already with a man, even though it had not been completely unheard of.
We had planned a fantastic getaway, even though I had kept the worry of the wolves at the back of my mind. Bradley was a manly man; I couldn’t imagine that the wolves wouldn’t be afraid of him. We got back from vacation, and I went back to work, grateful for the rest I had gotten on the trip. I had even read a good book I had sitting on the shelf for months before.
I finished my work for the day, and after stopping by the store to pick up a few items we needed since we’d been gone over a week, I headed home to make dinner and relax. I got to the apartment and found Bradley already there, taking a shower. I found it odd that he would be in the shower that early in the evening, but I let it slide. I headed to the kitchen and started dinner when Bradley’s phone buzzed on the counter.
“Hello?” I asked, waiting for a response from the other side.
“Oh, uh, I have the wrong number. Sorry.” The line went dead before I could say anything else.
I laid the phone down on the counter, a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. The voice on the other end had been female, and she sounded very confused when I answered. I tried to push it to the back of my mind as I finished dinner, waiting on Bradley to get out of the shower. Bradley emerged from the bedroom as dinner was being finished, and I smiled, trying to hide the apprehension I was feeling. I told myself that I was a strong woman and we had a strong relationship that could make it through anything. I had no need to be one of those paranoid women who was always so ready to accuse a man over something small. I had to let it go…I had to.
We ate in silence, though, and he seemed to be in a hurry to finish his plate. He hadn’t even taken the time to explain why he had been home early. After a while, I couldn’t stand the silence anymore, and I had to say something about the call. Even if I regretted it, I was so put off by it that I needed to get it off my chest.
“While you were in the shower, your phone rang on the counter,” I took a breath to gather my thoughts. “I went ahead and picked it up, and it was a woman that said she had the wrong number. Did she really have the wrong number, Bradley, or were you expecting a call?” I asked, hoping he would tell me the truth. But my stomach also roiled with guilt and embarrassment.
I had made fun of women like that for years, watching them write into magazines and knowing they likely lost their relationships not due to cheating, but due to their lack of trust and heightened anxiety and control. I truly hoped that I didn’t lose Bradley for either reason.
He shook his head, not giving me an answer. I knew then that my suspicions were correct, and I wasn’t just being paranoid. I stayed silent, and he continued eating. Though, every smack of his mouth and grind of his teeth made me feel more frustrated.
Once he was finished, I watched as he took his plate to the sink and grabbed his phone off the counter and headed to the bedroom, closing the door behind him. I pushed my plate away, suddenly unable to eat, and snuck to the bedroom door hoping my steps were silent. The thought that he would do anything with me in the house, especially right after I had asked him straight out what the call was about, sickened me. And I needed specific confirmation before I made any decisions what to do. Counseling? Talking it out? Leaving him? Any of them would be difficult, and I knew I needed facts before I pursued anything.
I pressed my ear against the closed door and listened as Bradley’s muffled voice floated through the wooden door. I felt like an idiot doing what I was doing, but a woman had to do what a woman had to do. The things I heard him saying let me know my worst fears were being realized.
“No, babe, she doesn’t know anything about us. She probably thinks you really had the wrong number. Don’t worry, she’s not going to come after you. If we keep playing it safe, she’ll never find out,” he stopped and sighed, most likely listening to the woman on the other end. “Yes, I know you’re getting tired of hiding, so am I, but it must be this way for now. I’ll see you next week. Yeah, she thinks I have a business trip for the new job,” he laughed.
There was a moment of silence, and I guessed whoever the other woman was must have been talking. I should have walked away, I should have swallowed my pride and walked away. It was clear to me what was going on, but I listened one more time as he spoke into the phone again so sweetly. Much sweeter than he had spoken to me in a while, though, I hadn’t even noticed that.
“I miss you too; I miss your body. I can only go so long without your touch.” There was so much passion in it, it made me sick.
My stomach was in knots as I moved away from the door, hoping again that my steps were unheard. He had to have known I would be listening at the door but seeing him in new light made me realize he was not smart enough to think of such things. I had heard enough of the conversation to know I wasn’t going to stay there with him that night or he’d end up on an episode of The First 48.
My head started throbbing as all those thoughts circled through. He had used the word love with her, which meant things were likely nothing new. We had moved so fast, been so in love, I had never once thought that we would end due to cheating of all things. And while my anger was bubbling to the surface, I truly wanted to know why he had done it. What possible reason he had for cheating on me, and if he was in love with somebody else, why he didn’t just go. I had seen myself for so long as a level headed, logical woman. I had thought that while those around me were slightly validated in their worries based on their experience, I knew that I was doing the right thing with Bradley. But I couldn’t even have imagined how wrong I was.
I went straight to the kitchen trashcan and wretched every ounce of food I had gotten in my system out. I was truly sicker than I had ever been. I moved back to the table moving food around my plate so he would think I had stayed in place.
He finished his phone call and came back to the table where I had worked hard to force down the rest of my meal despite feeling like I was going to throw up again. I did my best to pretend there was nothing wrong and was relieved when Bradley decided to go to bed. I had calmed a bit and decided I wasn’t going to let the scum bag run me out of my own house, so I stayed on the couch. I pretended to be asleep until I heard Bradley shut the door on his way out. As I waited for the Keurig to brew my cup of coffee, I decided to call my mother, grateful to have her to talk to. I dreaded telling her the latest developments because I knew it would remind her of Dad, and I hated doing that. I had tried for years to keep my father out of our conversations.
My father had left without warning, and it took us months to find out why. The company that he worked for had hired a new secretary that was younger than mom and had bigger boobs too. They began having an affair, and after months of hiding it, Dad decided he didn’t want to do that anymore. My mother was devastated, and we were too. He didn’t think of my siblings or me when he drove away with the woman in my mother’s spot in the front seat of the car.
It was hard on us watching her struggle and cry when we knew he had the ability to help us: he just didn’t want to anymore. He said he didn’t want to waste any more time or resources on a family he couldn’t find love for anymore. But I was not in the mood to curl up and take it. Not that I believed my mother to be weak, just different. Where she needed to grieve, I would act on my feelings.
“Hello?” Her angelic voice came through the phone after the second ring.
“Hi, Mom! How are you?” I asked, trying to sound cheerful.
My mom had always been able to see right through my bullshit, and she got right to the point.
“What’s wrong, Lauren? You sound a bit off. Are you okay?” she asked, sounding concerned.
The emotion in her voice brought the emotions I was trying to keep at bay boiling to the surface, and I began to cry. I didn’t want to, but I could stop it any longer.
“He’s cheating on me, Mom,” I said through garbled sobs. The silence on the other end told me she wasn’t expecting to hear that from me and was just as shocked as I was. She did not hold back either.
“What? Why that arrogant, no good son of a bitch! There is no way he could have found anyone better than you. He’s having some sort of mental breakdown,” she paused to gather her thoughts. “You need to get out of there now before he hurts you anymore. Take it from me, dear, you don’t want to stay longer than you have to,” she said as I began to cry harder.
“I just want to give up this apartment and find someplace peaceful to live and work. If only I could afford my own private island.” I laughed, not thinking my mother would take me seriously.
“Oh! That reminds me! I saw an advertisement for a realty company, and they were advertising homes on an island off the coast of Florida! It’s remote, but they do have Internet access according to the advertisement. It would be perfect for you if you really want to get away!” She squeaked in excitement as she finished her sentence.
I laughed at how excited she was, but as I thought about what she said, I realized she might be on to something. I could see myself sitting on the beach, sipping an umbrella drink while working on marketing projects. Having cabana boys fawn all over me, that would be an awesome way to live.
“Oh, Mom,” I said with a smile on my voice. “I was only kidding, but now that you mention it, I think I might check into that,” I said, giggling.
“Good for you,” she too had a smile on her voice.
“Text me the realtor’s information, and I’ll check it out!” I replied, an excited squeak escaped my lips. “Thanks, Mom. I love you.”
“I love you too, dear; expect a text right away.”
We ended the call, me feeling better than I had all night. I decided to go ahead and leave the apartment and stay at a hotel until new arrangements could be made. I didn’t have any need to feel attached to the place, and the lease wasn’t for that much longer anyway. I could start out fresh and live a life that most people would kill for. I would start in the morning first thing.
I received a text from my mother right away as I shoved personal items into a few duffel bags, moving swiftly. I closed the door behind me with a smile on my face. At the end of the hall, I dropped an envelope into the super’s box with the money needed to pay for the rest of my lease, and a note explaining the move. I walked out of the building, knowing things would never be the same. I took a few things to the hotel and came back for the night. Once he left in the morning, I would get the remainder of my things and leave for good.
* * *
The next morning, I waited on the couch until he left, mumbling something about errands he needed to run. I didn’t really want to know if he meant it or not. It was time to make my move. He didn’t bother to ask why I had slept on the couch.
I got to work packing my clothes and things that I would need at the hotel, hoping I could get out of there before he came back. I wanted to avoid one of his dramatic “poor me” routines as I knew that he would try to make me feel bad for leaving, and that wasn’t going to happen. It had never been directed at me before, and I wasn’t going to let him start. I was not that kind of woman. No, sir.
Once I had everything packed, I threw on a pair of skinny jeans, a purple tank top with a layer of black lace over it, and my favorite pair of heels. I loaded my bags in my car and then sat at the kitchen table to write Bradley a note. I wasn’t quite heartless enough to simply disappear.
I am writing this to let you know that I won’t be back to the apartment. I know about you and your little snack on the side because I answered the phone when she called you and then I heard you talking to her on the phone in the bedroom last night. I guess your parents never taught you that when you are in a relationship with someone, you don’t have sex with other people. I am glad I never gave into you because pricks like you don’t deserve my virginity. I’ll be sending movers after the rest of my things in a few days, and you must be out by the end of the month because I didn’t pay next month’s rent. Enjoy the rest of your miserable existence, you pig!
I read over the letter and made sure it sounded okay, then I laid it where I knew he’d see it right away, and I left the apartment. I dropped my key at the superintendent’s office and made sure they had seen the money and letter I had left in the night, and they said they’d make sure Bradley didn’t steal any of my stuff. They let me know they’d miss me, and I headed for the hotel. It was in the next town over so Bradley wouldn’t be able to find me and guilt me into coming back to him. Not that he could convince me if I stayed that angry. I knew it would wear off and hurt would settle in eventually, but I would hold onto it as long as possible.
I had given him everything except for one thing, and I was so glad I hadn’t. I had spotted a decent-looking hotel the night before where I set things up with the keeper. I pulled in, ready to be off the road. I found my room, throwing my bags in the corner of the room with the few things I had brought the night before. I flopped onto the bed and fell asleep.
I jolted awake and sat up in the bed as I wondered where I was. After I looked around and surveyed my surroundings, the events of the day before came back to my memory, and I remembered why I was there. I grabbed my phone and saw I had several missed calls, most of them from Bradley. I rolled my eyes at that. If he wanted me this badly, then why did he seek out someone else? Just thinking of it pissed me off, confirming I had made the right decision.
I erased the voicemails that accompanied the missed calls and checked my texts to look at the text my mother had sent me the night before. I dialed the realtor’s number and waited for them to answer. As I explained to the realtor what I was looking for, I knew that the new chapter in my life was going to be better than the one before. It just had to be. I wouldn’t be able to take much more if it wasn’t.
Later that afternoon as I was working on some marketing, the realtor sent me pictures of the houses that were available on the island. I scrolled through the list of pictures, stopping when one caught my eye. It was small yet charming, and right on the beach. I noticed it needed some work, but I didn’t care. I sent the picture back to the realtor and told her that was the one I wanted. She told me she would get things ready and set up a meeting with the island construction company, Dragon Construction, to talk about the repairs. I thanked her for her help then called the moving company. There was no time like the present. I needed the rest of my things to make it to the new house before I did.
Bradley tried to call several more times while I was getting everything arranged, and I dismissed his call each time. I had no desire to talk to him and hear his pathetic excuses. I knew exactly why he had cheated on me, and he would never be able to convince me otherwise or convince me to give him what he was after. Things like that were exactly why I had waited to make love begin with. It was supposed to be saved for somebody special...for the one person I felt would not do as Bradley did, would not do what my father had done to my mother.
The one problem with the scenario was that there had only been two men in my life and they had both done the same thing. It left me wondering if there would ever be a better man: if there would ever be a man worth giving myself to.
* * *
Three days later, my things had been moved, and I was pulling into a vacant parking lot to meet the realtor to see the house and meet the contractor that was going to repair it. She had sent me a picture of him, and he almost melted my phone he was so hot! I shamed myself for thinking of him that way, but I needed a distraction from the things that had happened. I hoped the house was about to fall, so I could see him every day for a long time. Even though I was not at all interested into jumping into anything else with a man for a long time, if ever, there was nothing wrong with getting to look at a sexy man fixing up my new house.
The realtor pulled in as I shut my car off, and she motioned for me to get into her car. I reluctantly agreed and climbed in, hoping she wasn’t a serial killer or working for a wolf shifter clan. It was hard to tell these days, but I knew it used to be even worse in the beginning. Things had long since improved, but we had to keep the worry fresh to stay alive.
“Hello,” I said to the woman.
“I am glad you could make it,” she smiled back.
“I had nothing better to do,” I tried a smile.
“Men troubles?” she assumed.
“Men troubles,” I confirmed before we fell silent.
We drove farther down the parking lot, and as we got close to the edge, I could see a dirt road. We turned onto the dirt road and stopped about a half mile from the parking lot. We got out of the car, and the realtor opened the back of her SUV and grabbed something. As she came around the vehicle, she handed me a bright orange life jacket. I laughed out loud in my confusion until I realized what was going on.
“I hope you like boat rides!” She smiled as she fastened her own life jacket. “If you are going to live out here, you’re going to have to get used to it because the only way to the mainland is by boat,” she informed me, grinning from ear to ear.
I felt myself turn pale immediately, but I stayed quiet, not wanting her to think I was some sort of pansy or anything. It had been a long time since I had been on a boat, and it hadn’t been a very good experience. I really didn’t want to get sick on the woman who was showing me my new home.
I justified the thought of the boat ride with the fact that I knew I wouldn’t be leaving the island much. I would work from home, or out on the beach, and send my clients their things via email.
I tugged the jacket on, and we headed to the boat. I climbed in and sat down, holding on to the edge of the boat for dear life as she started the engine and sped off toward the island. I was scared at first, but by the time we reached the island, I was enjoying the boat ride. It was beautiful, and the day was gorgeous: barely any clouds in the sky. Besides, the woman had a better handle on the boat than my father did when I rode a boat with him at the age of five. I was thrown from the boat, and I had to save myself rather than be saved. I relaxed more and more as we made our way there.
I made a mental note to get some motion sickness medicine so I could enjoy it more. I was grateful when the boat slowed as we pulled beside the dock. I climbed out of the boat and reached my hand out to help the realtor, whose name I learned was Megan, out of the boat. We tied it off and headed toward the beach where the houses sat, though I could still feel a bit of the rocking of the boat in my step. Things were beautiful: sun and sand as far as the eye could see. I couldn’t remember seeing something so beautiful, and for that, I almost wanted to thank the scum for making me move away.
I saw the house I picked from a half mile away and started running towards it. Megan fought to keep up with me as I sprinted toward my new home. I already saw it as my peaceful escape, and I knew working from there was going to be a breeze. I didn’t know why I hadn’t thought of any of it sooner. My job lended itself to such a peaceful existence. I hoped there would be no reason to ever have to move again. I hated leaving my mother behind, but if things worked out, I might have to move her to the island as well.
As I got closer, I noticed a man on the porch looking things over. I quickly recognized him as the contractor from the picture, and my heart leaped just a little. He had his shirt off, and the way his muscles rippled under his skin sent shivers up my spine. He was gorgeous, and my body was telling me about it. I had never reacted that way to anyone else, not even Bradley, and my face creased with worry from my reaction. I was fully aware that my version of what a real man was had been wrong.
“Megan, is he really the guy who is going to be working on my house?” I whispered as we made our way closer to the house.
“Oh, yes, that’s Dane. He runs the construction company here on the island, so I am not sure how much of the work he does himself. But he will be around,” she answered, a grin spreading across her face, making it clear she noticed him as much as I did.
“Thanks,” I said with a wink.
I felt my cheeks heat up as she giggled at me. As we reached the house, Dane made eye contact with Megan and smiled as they greeted each other.
“Dane, this is Lauren,” Megan said to the man. “Lauren, Dane, our resident Dragon Contractor.”
His deep green eyes mesmerized me. As he looked me up and down, I could feel my body respond to his gaze. My nipples tightened against my bra, and my panties began to dampen.
“Lauren,” Dane said as he ungloved his hand and shook mine. “Nice to meet you.”
We stood on the porch talking about things that needed repaired the most before Megan took me in and gave me a tour. I knew I had made the right choice the moment I stepped inside. It looked small from the outside, but the house was quite big. The living area and kitchen were bigger than the ones in the apartment had been, and the two bedrooms were a good size as well. I was in awe of the bathroom, with its garden tub complete with jets, plus a walk-in shower. I could picture myself reading a good book while sitting in the tub that looked from a large window that faced the beach. I would have to make sure that no one could see from the outside in before I got too excited.
Each room did need a bit of work, which I understood, but not near as much as I once pictured. The house had been left empty for quite some time, and there had been no one to do the maintenance. Once we finished looking everything over, I assured the realtor that it was the house I wanted. Afraid my body would give me away, I reluctantly turned to Dane. I didn’t need him to know I thought he was hot and cause a kink in my new lifestyle.
“When can you start making the repairs?” I asked, hoping my voice didn’t betray me. “No rush though.”
“I can start tomorrow morning if that’s good with you,” he replied.
Wow, that was quite efficient, but then again, I doubted there was much work on the island until recently.
I nodded my head with a smile, then I followed the realtor back to the boat, leaving him on the porch looking at us as we left. By the time we got back to my car, we had agreed that I would sign the papers for the house the next day and she would help me move my things to the small hotel on the island. My things had been put in storage rather than moved to the small house, which I was thankful for. Megan assured me there would be help moving it in once I was ready but I would have to stay at the hotel until the house was safe to stay in. I was good with that since it would get me off the mainland and it would be harder for Bradley to find me. I guessed that he would never be able to find me, but I wanted to make sure he had not tried to get to my mother for information. I picked up my phone and dialed my mom’s number.
“Hey, Mom,” I said with a smile. “I have made it to my destination.”
“Oh good,” she said.
“Mom, can you do me a favor?” I asked.
“Anything,” she said.
“If asshole comes to your place or calls—” I began.
“He already has,” she interrupted.
“What did you tell him?” I asked, afraid she had not thought to keep my location secret.
“I told him you had made your way to Paris,” she giggled.
“Good,” I said. “I love you, Mama.”
“I love you too, dear,” she paused. “Don’t think for one second I would betray you like that…I know how things felt when—”
“Mom,” I interrupted her. “You don’t have to talk about it.”
“It’s okay, I am ready to talk.”
“Good,” I said. “When I get settled in tonight, I will call you, and you can tell me all about it.”
“Great,” she said. “I have needed to for a while. Love you, sweetheart.”
“Love you too, Mama. Talk to you later.”
“Bye,” she said.
I said goodbye and hung up the phone, glad to know that my mother had my back.
I drove back to the hotel in a much brighter mood and spent the evening making sure that my things were packed and ready for the trip to the island. I called my mother back that night and gave her more of an update on the progress of things. She couldn’t believe how fast things were going. I explained to her that since the realty company owned the house, I was able to get it faster than if an individual owned it. She talked about my father, and I let her cry. We had not held a conversation such as that in a long time, and I felt us grow closer.
After we finished our conversation, I showered and laid down for the night. As I tried to fall asleep, my mind drifted to Bradley for a moment. I knew the relationship had moved too fast, but I had fallen in love with him. I knew I didn’t need to waste my time thinking about him after what he had done, but I couldn’t help wondering what he was doing. I wondered if he had thought about my feelings at all or if he had tried to call me because of his own selfish pride. I also wondered if he was in the arms of that woman. My phone rang, and I jumped as I was startled out of my thoughts. I saw Bradley’s name flash on the screen, and I sat the phone back down. I wasn’t about to give him the satisfaction of answering his call. Besides, I didn’t care what he had to say. I tried to convince myself of that anyway. I deserved better than what he gave me, and I wouldn’t settle for anything less than what I deserved anymore. Even if that meant I was alone for the rest of my life.
I drifted to sleep with Dane on my mind. I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle being around him for very long periods of time. He was hot, and my body had never responded to anyone like that before, not even Bradley. He seemed moody and mysterious, which set my body on fire just thinking about it. I clamped my eyes shut and willed myself to go to sleep. I couldn’t wait to see him again and watch him work on the place that was going to be my new home. My new home…I couldn’t fathom that thought. I couldn’t believe I was starting over just six months after starting my life with Bradley. My eyes felt heavy, and my brain was finally beginning to slow down. The last thing that flashed through before sleep came was Dane’s gorgeous face.
It was a face I could get used to seeing every night, and I knew it. I just had to tell my heart it was okay to love again. I had tried, but it didn’t quite believe me yet. Maybe Dane could help me convince it.