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Promise: The Deception Trilogy, Book 3 by Fallon Hart (1)

CHAPTER ONE

Scarlett

October

One week. For one week there had been stars in the sky, water in the sea, and the moon had continued to orbit the earth while the earth orbited the sun.

For a whole week.

When Griffin Mandeville, the man I'd stupidly fallen in love with, threw me out of his life one week ago, I'd thought the world had ended. However, I was proven wrong. The world kept spinning.

It was just that my world, as I'd known it, had ended.

Did he think about me? Did he regret me?

I thought about him all the time.

Did I regret him?

The ache in my chest intensified as my fingers hovered over the keys of my laptop. Despite asking Xavier to return all of my things to Griff when my husband had tried to abandon me at a penthouse apartment in Southie, I'd still ended up with everything. A van turned up at Mrs. Donovan's house the next day with my laptop, along with the clothes and jewelry Griff had bought me. It didn't surprise me that he knew where I was. His stubbornness shouldn't have surprised me either. Along with the delivery was an envelope with a handwritten note, the keycard to the apartment, and a credit card.

Take the apartment and the card. You earned it.

 

Griffin.

 

I'd earned it? I'd earned it!

Way to make me feel like a whore!

Okay, so I'd kept some of the clothes because I didn't have anything else to wear and I'd kept the laptop because the novel I was writing was on there. But I packed up the rest. Then I'd cut up the credit card, stuck it in an envelope along with the apartment key card, and I'd had it and the expensive evening gowns and jewelry delivered to The Patrician, Griff's members-only club on Commonwealth Avenue.

I didn't include a note. It was pretty self-explanatory.

And then I'd cried myself to sleep.

When I'd read novels or watch movies where the heroine was screwed over by a guy, and she cried for days on end, it annoyed me. Grieving was for widows, I'd thought. I should know. It bewildered me that I managed to pick up the pieces of myself when Eric, my first husband, died. But Griff broke my heart and apparently he took my backbone with him.

I needed to move on.

For a week I'd holed myself up in my old room at Mrs. Donovan's barely eating, sleeping and not living at all. I needed to face facts. My sister had conned and betrayed me. The man I loved used me and was now done with me.

Time to pour some cement over my vulnerable heart and get on with things. For instance, I needed to get the hell out of Boston. There was no longer any reason for me to be here and it was way too expensive a city to live in.

However… first I just needed to see.

I needed a reminder that the past five months with Griff had happened. For a while, I'd lived in his world, slept in his bed, and imagined ourselves to be in love.

Screw it!

I typed ‘Elite Boston' into Google, and it brought up the online society magazine. My heart started to pound as I clicked on the website and searched the front page.

There.

A photo of Griff and I attending some function with the headline: ‘Not So Happily-Ever-After.' Despite the wave of nausea that washed over me I clicked on the headline and the page changed to a full-length shot of Griff and me. It was taken the week we'd gotten back from Martha's Vineyard, and we'd met an associate of Griff's at The Meritage. As we were leaving Griff took a call. I'd caught sight of the paparazzi and for that reason wore an unhappy look on my face, while Griff stood distant from me talking on the phone. The photo made us appear disconnected from each other. The perfect image to go with the story.

A cold sweat broke out across my skin as I read.

It seemed like the perfect fairytale. Boston's most eligible bachelor millionaire English aristocrat Griffin Mandeville marrying penniless librarian Scarlett Jennings. The two caused quite a scandal when they lied about Mrs. Mandeville's background, but in the end, Boston society welcomed the enigmatic husband and wife into their social events calendar. Sadly, however, their relationship— fraught with lies from the beginning— is rumored to be at an end. It has come to our attention that Mrs. Mandeville has moved out of the penthouse suite of their exclusive club The Patrician. If that wasn't enough to set tongues wagging, yesterday Griffin Mandeville was spotted entering Menton with hot new Broadway star Evangeline Pierce. Moving on so soon? Or is Mandeville's infidelity the cause of his separation from his beautiful young wife?

Pain seized my upper body, squeezing my ribcage until I could barely breathe. I scrolled down the image of Griff walking into Menton with his hand on the lower back of an elegant brunette. She had her hand on his upper arm and was smiling into his face as they strolled. Griff was giving her his full attention.

And his hand was on her lower back.

Like how he used to touch me.

The image blurred and I blinked, feeling the wet slip down my cheeks.

One week.

He was already moving on, and it had only been a week.

Like a true masochist, I Googled Evangeline Pierce, staring at image after image of a classic beauty. She was two years younger than me and built like Audrey Hepburn. My complete opposite. Where my figure and face made everything look sexy and earthy, Evangeline Pierce was the epitome of elegance and class.

She was also the star of, ironically, My Fair Lady.

To top it all off, she was the daughter of billionaire hotelier Richard Pierce.

I pushed my laptop away and dragged my fingers through my hair as jealousy burned in my gut. Had Griff seen Evangeline while we were together?

No, I shook my head.

Not possible.

"I don't want anyone else. I don't see anyone else. All I see… is you…"

I clasped my head, hearing his voice, remembering his touch. No, he hadn't been cheating on me. We were together too much, and I knew… I knew despite our break-up that when we were together, I was all he wanted.

Perhaps Evangeline Pierce was just his callous way of making sure the message got through.

We were over.

Publicly dumped and thrown over for a new model.

I slammed my laptop shut and took calming breaths, trying to ease the rising panic that made my chest feel tight.

"He left you," I whispered, "He left you when you needed him."

Taking a deep, shaky breath, I let that reminder percolate. That and the image of him with his young Broadway beauty was like a cold bucket of water for my insides. It doused the flames of jealousy and pain, and as I sat there, I made that water turn to ice.

I was done.

It was finally over.

I'd just stepped out of the room with every intention of going downstairs to talk with Mrs. Donovan about trying to find a job back in Charlottesville when the doorbell rang. I hurried down the two flights of stairs and got to the bottom as Mrs. Donovan opened the front door.

"I'm looking for Scarlett."

My breath caught. "Amelia?"

Mrs. Donovan moved to the side and looked over her shoulder at me. My friend was revealed on the doorstep. I'd returned the cell Griff had given me, so I was easily able to avoid Amelia's calls.

The pretty woman with the honey-blonde hair who had become my closest confidante stood on the stoop in her Burberry trench coat with oversized large designer sunglasses protecting her eyes from the low Fall sun.

She slid the sunglasses off her face and into her hair. "I was told I'd find you here."

I nodded at Mrs. Donovan, and my landlady let Amelia in. Still, I fought the urge to run as fast and as far from her as I could.

I loved Amelia.

I'd miss her terribly, but she was a reminder of a life that was no longer mine and a man that, apparently, never had been.

Sensing our need for privacy, Mrs. Donovan made herself busy preparing tea and sandwiches and put them down in the sitting room for us before she made herself scarce.

The entire time I sat across the coffee table from my friend in silence.

Finally, Amelia reached for a cup of tea and said, "Are you planning to talk to me at some point?"

I gave her a sad look. "I don't know what to say."

"Then I'll start." Amelia took a sip of tea and put her cup on the table. Anger flickered in her dark brown gaze. "I'm furious at Griff. You should know Quentin is also furious with Griff."

"Amelia—"

"No, it's appalling that one of Griff's employees would blackmail a man and push that man to attack you and then Griff would just, well just—"

"Throw me away," I finished.

She scowled. "Griff didn't throw you away. He's pushing you away. There's a difference."

"It doesn't matter. The results are the same. I've had the same recurring nightmare of a faceless man holding me down. Sometimes he succeeds in raping me. Sometimes he doesn't. I still wake up sweating, scared… and alone."

Amelia flinched at my cold directness. "Scarlett… I'm so sorry."

"I wasn't raped." I shrugged like I didn't care. "Other women have not been so lucky."

"Don't." She leaned forward, expression pleading. "Don't pretend like none of this matters to you."

"I have to." It's the only way to survive.

My friend sighed and shifted uneasily. "Griff told me you were here. After I gave him the tongue-lashing to end all lashings, he told me news about Bryce. I offered to relay it."

When I didn't respond, she continued. "Griff's lawyer who is representing you contacted the club. Bryce made bail. No one has picked up the story yet, but that's only a matter of time. He definitely doesn't intend to press charges against Griff. Griff's lawyer is recommending you let Bryce take a plea bargain."

My heart had started pounding at the mere mention of Bryce. "Meaning?"

"Rather than put you through the trauma of telling a court about your ordeal with Bryce, especially since the defense will most likely try to make out that you encouraged Bryce's attention at the club and that the attack wasn't an attack but a liaison you lied about to protect your marriage… and considering you and Griff are no longer living together thus giving weight to the idea that you had an affair with Bryce—" she exhaled heavily, "Griff's lawyer thinks the best idea is to let Bryce plead guilty to the lesser charge of assault for hitting you. Not sexual assault."

Indignant, that cold inside me turned to hurt. "And Griff thinks this a good idea? To let this guy get away with attempted rape? What if he does it again to someone else? What if he's done it before?"

Amelia waved a hand, trying to calm me down. "You really think Griff will let him get away with this? Look, the plea bargain is to save you, Scarlett. It's not fair, but the truth is the case against Bryce is shaky. And he has a lot of money to make sure he gets the best defense, the kind of defense that will paint you in a terrible light and put you through the emotional wringer. No one wants that. Let Bryce take the assault charge. I know Griff, and he'll deal with this himself."

"No, he won't." I turned away, trying to hold back tears at the injustice of it all. And Griff wouldn't take revenge against Bryce. He wouldn't risk it. I remembered every word he'd said to me in that apartment.

"I've inherited my father's sickness, and I've worked too hard to have a woman come along and destroy everything I've built. If that had been any other club member, I could have lost patronage. I could have lost important members and with it all my business connections and affiliations."

"Then you don't know him very well."

I glared at my friend. "He broke up with me because of what he did to Bryce. Griff doesn't see protecting me as something a man does for his wife. He sees it as a weakness, and any weakness is a risk to his business."

Amelia sighed. "He did not say that to you."

"Oh, he did."

"Asshole!" she shot off the couch and began to pace. "I swear if he weren't Quentin's best friend I would kill him."

"It's just as much my fault, Amelia. He warned me that it was just sex. And I let myself start to believe that he was capable of more."

"He is!" she insisted. "Griff spent the first two days of your break-up drunk. Quentin had to go over there and shake some sense into him."

I flinched at the idea of Griff being upset about breaking things off with me. I didn't need to believe that. Not if I intended to get over him. "Oh, yes, he looked so cut up about us when he was escorting that beautiful Broadway star into dinner at Menton last night."

"What are you talking about?"

"Our separation is all over Elite. They posted a photo of Griff with Evangeline Pierce. They're speculating over his infidelity."

"Griff would never cheat on you."

"I don't think he did either." I wiped my expression clean. "I think he's making a point and as per usual he doesn't care whether his point hurts me as long as he makes it."

Amelia slumped back on the couch. "I don't think he'd do that to you either. And if you want a practical reason why Griff wouldn't… he wouldn't want his father's lawyers finding out about your separation so soon. There must be some other explanation."

"I don't need an explanation."

"Scarlett, please don't give up on him."

I cut her a look of disbelief. "Give up on Griff? On him?" I drew to my feet. "Amelia… I'm not just upset about this. I'm… I didn't tell you, but I found out my sister was lying about needing my help. She wasn't in trouble, she isn't in jail, and pretending to be her in this arrangement with Griff wasn't to save her life. It turns out she fell in love with her pimp, and he didn't want her doing the job. So they lied to me, set me up, and were planning on using me to rip Griff off.

"My sister." Tears burned in my eyes no matter how desperately I tried to force them back. "My twin sister. My only family. She conned me. Betrayed me. And Griff knew all this. He knew… he knows that she broke my heart. And I stupidly let him into what was left of it. And even though he told me it was just sex between us, his every action spoke differently. He was jealous, possessive… he told me all he saw was me. That he didn't want anyone else. And I began to believe that maybe he was falling in love with me too. Maybe he was," I shrugged, exhausted. "Maybe it was love that compelled him to beat the shit out of Bryce for attacking me. He thinks its obsession. Infatuation. But whatever it is, it's not important enough. I'm not important enough. I needed him… and he left. Because his precious fucking club was more important. Now, to drive his point home, he's deliberately seen in public with a younger, more talented, more beautiful, classier model and bonus she's an heiress. Who cares if it hurts me, right? As long as the point is made."

Amelia looked devasted for me. "Scarlett—"

"I care about you," I cut her off, my tears spilling over. "But caring about people just seems to get me hurt. First my parents, then Eric, now my sister and Griff. I've tried. I've really tried, Amelia, to be strong. To not wallow in the shitty hand that life has dealt me. But I can't take much more. I feel like someone's cut me open and my insides are just bare to be picked over by vultures. I need to put on some armor so that maybe eventually I'll have healed enough to let myself care again. And I know it's not your fault, and you've been so kind, but I can't care about you right now. I can't care about anyone. Not until I'm strong again. You… I'm grateful for you coming here and for everything you've done, but you remind me of everything I want to forget. Tell Griffin's lawyer Bryce can take the plea bargain. I just want to move on."

Tears shone in Amelia's eyes, gutting me, proving those insides of mine were still way too vulnerable. Slowly she got to her feet and nodded. "I understand."

"I'm sorry," I whispered.

"I'll just… I'll see myself out."

As soon as the front door closed behind her, I started to cry harder. At some point, Mrs. Donovan took me into her arms.

When I finally couldn't cry anymore, I pulled away from her. My voice was hoarse as I said, "That's the last time you'll see me cry, Mrs. Donovan. I promise."

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