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OFF THE RECORD by Sawyer Bennett (1)

 

Chapter 1

 

Ever

Present day...

 

I quietly shut the door to my apartment, forever closing out a chapter of my life. I lean back against it, sighing to myself. I wait for the onslaught of tears to come but they don’t. My eyes remain dry and my heart remains cold.

On the other side of the door, I can hear my ex-fiancé walking away. His steps sound sure and confident. But then again, Marc has always been sure and confident. It’s without any bitterness that I admit Marc’s healthy ego is what attracted me to him in the first place. He was one of those men that always got what he went after. He pursued me mercilessly when we were undergrads at Duke and I eventually fell to his charm. He talked me into transferring to Columbia my senior year after he landed a swank job on Wall Street. He even had that knowing look on his face when he presented me with a three-carat stunner at Christmas...already knowing that I’d say yes to his proposal.

Marc’s confidence infused me with confidence that I could actually be in a healthy relationship. He had finally convinced my jaded heart to open up to the possibility of a happily ever after. My last semester at Columbia found me walking around with a dopey grin on my face while my diamond glinted in the Spring sun. I was marrying the man of my dreams and I had been offered a job at The New York Post where I had interned the previous summer. All was right in my world and my life was perfect.

But I should have known it was too good to be true.

Just three weeks shy of my graduation from Columbia’s School of Journalism, I was given a healthy dose of reality to bring my head back down from the clouds of love. My afternoon class was canceled so I was practically giddy to be going home early. I was so ready for college to be over with so I could join the real world. That place where I would have a satisfying career, I would marry my one true love and we would have two-point-three kids to raise in a posh, Connecticut suburb. I was relishing an afternoon of laziness and then I would cook a romantic meal for when Marc got home from work.

I should have figured something was wrong when I opened the apartment door and heard a banging noise coming from the bedroom. But I didn’t understand what it was. So I walked down the hallway, seeking out the cause. I remember thinking stupid things to myself. Like maybe the building manager was fixing something in the bedroom, or maybe Marc was home early and was hanging a picture on the wall.

I was so stupid. So naive.

Even those first few seconds, when I opened the door and found Marc’s naked body pumping away in between two tanned legs, I thought maybe intruders had broken in and were having sex in our bed. But then awareness crept in as soon as I recognized the small birthmark Marc had on his lower back.

My cheeks still heat with embarrassment as I recall just staring at Marc, working his magic. I couldn’t see the woman’s face but by her breathy moans, I could tell she was all in. I have no clue how long I stood there, but finally it dawned on me that I should be pissed as hell and I finally found my voice.

“Honey...I’m home,” I said with syrupy sweetness.

You would have thought I shot electricity between the two of them because Marc reeled backward as if he’d been shocked. The woman shrieked and started pulling the sheets over her body, but I didn’t look at her. I stared at Marc as he slid off the bed and pulled on his pants over his shriveling dick.

“Ever...baby...I’m so sorry,” he began. He started walking toward me with his arms held out in supplication.

I still can’t believe the lack of emotion I exhibited. My voice was flat when I said, “Sorry for what? For screwing around with—”

I turned to look at the woman in my bed and gave a sharp gasp. I was looking at the mortified face of my classmate and friend, Kelli. I had a surge of anger course through me, and then it flared hotly. Hotter than my anger toward Marc. In hindsight, I can only assume that I subconsciously had higher expectations of Kelli than I had for Marc. Or maybe subconsciously I knew Marc would do something like this to hurt me.

And you have to wonder what that really says about me.

Kelli started crying and stammering out an apology.

I did my best talk to the hand move and said, “Save it, Kelli. Just get out.”

Marc and I watched in silence as she pulled on her clothes, racking sobs leaving her mouth. She turned to look at me before she left, whispering another watery apology and then she was gone. I haven’t seen or spoken to her since.

Turning to Marc, I was very surprised to find tears pooled in his eyes. I gazed at him dispassionately, waiting for despair, or a little bit of hurt, or even annoyance to finally overwhelm me. All of those feelings would have been apropos.

Instead...I felt nothing.

I didn’t feel a thing past that initial surge of fury, which had now strangely dissipated into a low throb of disappointing acceptance.

“I’m so sorry, Ever. Please believe me. It meant nothing.”

Oddly, I did believe him. I knew all too well how easily men could disconnect from their feelings. I knew how easily men could be swayed by their dicks. And I certainly knew that men were weak.

“How long has this been going on?”

“This was only the second time. I swear it.”

I’m not sure how that was supposed to make me feel. Was that worse than it only occurring once? But better than it being three times?

“Why?”

Marc sighed and crossed his arms over his chest. “I don’t know. Because she offered? Because it was easy? Dangerous? Take your pick, but I don’t have a good answer. But I do know that I love you more than anything.”

A strangled laugh finally bubbled up out of me and I couldn’t stop. My first, strong emotion toward Marc after finding him fucking one of my friends, and it was amusement. How screwed up is that?

“You love me?” I asked with sarcasm. “You clearly weren’t thinking about your love for me while you were banging Kelli.”

“It won’t happen again. I promise, Ever. You have to believe me.”

I looked at him, trying to find something within me to care about his words. But I came up empty. I lingered over his handsome face, taking in the sheen that still coated his blue eyes and the fullness of his lips that had been on my body just that morning. I tried to pull something out of myself, but nothing came. My heart had emptied out and my walls had come up, firmly slammed shut.

It was a defensive mechanism I had mastered several years ago, and one that was nearly impossible to breach once in place. Marc had been the only person to break through those walls, and I had finally let them down because he asked me to. But now, I was fortified and I didn’t think battering rams led by the Ottoman Empire could cause them to come down again.

I gave him a sad smile. “You’re right. It won’t happen again. I need you to pack up and leave.”

Marc spent the next hour begging and pleading. He cried. He lamented. And when I wouldn’t cave, he finally turned ugly. He told me this was my fault, that had I paid more attention to him, that he wouldn’t have gone looking elsewhere. Apparently he had forgotten the unbelievably good fuck that I had given him just that morning.

His words bounced right off of me, cold-hearted bitch that I had just become. It was like someone had flipped a switch in me and all of the love and desire I had felt for this man was replaced with black ice. I didn’t take betrayal well. Just ask my father. He can verify.

I had not seen Marc again until today. He had texted me and asked if he could have the engagement ring back and we had made plans for him to come pick it up. I had no problem with that. It was sitting in the bottom of my underwear drawer and would rot there for all I cared.

The exchange was fairly straightforward. I had just gotten home from finishing my first full week at The Post, and was heading out to a party within the hour. I didn’t have time for small talk or insincere pleasantries. When I opened the door to see Marc, I waited for some spark to flicker. For some acknowledgment from my heart that it still beat inside my chest.

Again, I came up empty.

He merely thanked me politely for giving him the ring back. I told him “no problem” and closed the door. And just like that, Marc was fully out of my life.

I pushed away from the door and headed back to my bedroom to change. I was going to a party with my friend, Emily Burnham. It was actually sort of a working party for me. She had managed to get me an interview with Lincoln Caldwell, goalie for the New York Rangers. The Post has me working on lifestyle pieces right now and when I pitched the idea for this story, my editor jumped all over it. I wanted to show what a day in the life of New York’s hottest sports star was like. I ran the idea by Emily and with just one short phone call, she had Lincoln’s agreement. It clearly helped that her brother, Ryan, plays for the Rangers and that her boyfriend, Nix, is Lincoln’s brother.

So Emily is picking me up to take me over to Lincoln’s condo. He is throwing an end of season, beach-themed barbeque for his entire team and their families. Lincoln suggested doing the interview there, in a casual atmosphere, and so I could see what the Rangers were like when they shed their pads and skates.

It’s a warm, day so I take off my reporter uniform—aka pencil skirt and pressed, button down shirt—and opt for a pair of shorts, a cute halter top and sandals. I touch up my makeup, which basically consists of some eye shadow and a little mascara. I disregard the fifteen tubes of lip gloss in my drawer as I don’t like the way it makes my lips sticky. I pick up a tube of Burt’s Bees Lip Balm and stuff it in my front pocket. I think briefly about putting on some sunscreen because my skin is pale and burns easy, but then easily dismiss it. The afternoon sun won’t be too harsh and I’ll just make sure I sit in the shade.

As I wait for Emily to arrive, I go through my notes on Lincoln Caldwell. He’s originally from Hoboken, New Jersey and played college hockey at the University of Minnesota. He was a first round draft pick at the end of his junior year and has been New York’s starting goalie since then. He’s twenty-four, devastatingly handsome and single. He’s every New York woman’s wet dream. Hell, he’s my wet dream, too. My heart may be dead but my body isn’t.

Looking at the glossy photo his PR rep sent to me this week, it’s hard not to get sucked into his looks. He wears his brown, sun streaked hair short on the sides but a little longer on top and he has it flipped in about a dozen different angles across the top of his head. His eyes are hazel, reflecting greens, golds and browns that are surrounded by freakishly, thick eyelashes. He has a scar than runs along the bottom of his chin and I wonder if it’s from a hockey injury or did he fall out of a tree when he was a little boy. I jot a note down so I can remember to ask him, but it certainly does nothing to diminish his sex appeal.

The lobby buzzer rings and I throw my notepad, recorder and pen in my purse. I perch my sunglasses on top of my head and make my way down to meet Emily.

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