“You are still planning to come to Pat’s tonight, right?”
Belinda smiled at the friendly male voice and shook her head. “Will… This really isn’t necessary.”
“It’s your birthday. Of course, it’s necessary.” He stepped into her small office and stopped in front of her desk. Palms flat on the cluttered surface, he wasn’t going to budge until she looked up. Which she did.
No one could resist Professor Will Wallace. Not when he insisted on always being right and getting the answers he wanted.
“That’s just it. It’s my birthday. Shouldn’t I have a say in how I celebrate it?”
“By all means. What plans do you have?”
“Let me guess. Dinner. Wine. Netflix.”
“And cake. You forgot the cake.”
He shook his head. “Unacceptable. We are taking you to Pat’s for drinks and over to Sunday’s for a very nice dinner.”
“Is there any way at all that I can get out of this?”
“Unless you count death and I don’t, so, no.”
“You drive a hard bargain Will Wallace.”
“And don’t you forget it. Seven sharp, Belinda or I’ll come drag you there myself.”
“I don’t know how your wife would feel about that.”
Belinda laughed at the wink he graced her with. Yes, Keira would likely assist him in dragging Belinda by her hair from her apartment across town to Pat’s. There was no arguing with either of them.
Keira had a stubborn streak a mile wide. And a very giving and loyal heart.
Will was just flat out tenacious when he wanted something and what he wanted was to give her a birthday party.
“Fine. You win.”
“I always do.”
“Get out.” Belinda laughed and pointed to the door. “Get out before I change my mind.”
“Not a second later. I promise.”
“Good. And bring your appetite.”
He sauntered out of her office, whistling the Happy Birthday song. Belinda groaned and dropped her head to her folded arms. She was at the tail end of grading finals and as much as she loved teaching, she was thrilled to be taking the summer off. She had taught three semesters straight and was in desperate need of a break. Her daughter, Riley had been after her to get away, to take a vacation, and that’s exactly what she planned to do.
Though, it would help to have a destination in mind.
But she’d figure it out. She had several months before she had to be back for fall classes. She could take multiple mini-vacations if she wanted. And come to think of it, that didn’t sound like a half bad idea.
Her cell phone jolted her out of her thoughts of the beach and fruity drinks and the brightly colored Mumu she’d be decked out in. She dug through the pile of papers to her left. She didn’t need to look at the screen to know who was calling. But out of habit, she did it anyway.
Her finger hesitated over the Answer button just long enough for the call to go to voicemail. “Oh, damn,” she said, not the least bit bothered that she’d missed her chance to talk to him instead of deleting his voicemail without listening to it.
Truth was, she missed him. He was the love of her life and he’d been the man of her dreams when they met in the quad on their college campus. This college campus twenty-five years ago.. He still was the man of her dreams.
“Stupid scandals,” she muttered, setting the phone down, but not before taking care of that voicemail.
Will had the right idea. It was her birthday. She needed to get out and a drink at Pat’s would be nice.
A lot of drinks would be even better.
* * * * *
Harry Walked tossed the smartphone across his desk. “Damn woman. Too stubborn for her own good.”
She was still avoiding him.
For twelve months she’d been avoiding him. Even their daughter wouldn’t take his calls half the time. It had passed the point of ridiculous and he was tired of it. He was tired of being ignored.
Tired of eating out alone. He could cook, but didn’t like doing so for just himself.
Tired of sleeping alone. The bed was large and cold, meant for two, not just him.
And… He was really tired of getting off alone. Masturbation was a means to an end for him. Other than the momentary release it provided, it was a chore.
No. From the moment he saw her all those years ago, he’d wanted her in his life and in his bed. Belinda Billings.
His Bella. His wife. His fantasy. His submissive.
He wanted her back. He’d given her space and time after what their family had been through, after their lives had been upended. But a year was long enough.
He sat up, determination in his every move and pressed the intercom button on his desk phone. “Marie?”
“Yes, Mr. Walker?”
“Can you call the airfield and have the plane fueled and tell Marco to file a flight plan for Baltimore?”
“Yes, Mr. Walker. Anything else?”
Harry sat back in his chair and turned to look out over the Charleston Battery. It was his favorite view. The water calmed his mind.
Born and raised in Charleston, the first time Harry left home was when he chose a small college in Baltimore where his mother’s family was from. But that wasn’t good enough for her and she didn’t speak to him for weeks after he told her he wouldn’t be attending Harvard, where his father and all his uncles had gone.
His father had simply told him to have a good time and not to do anything he himself wouldn’t do.
That promise wasn’t hard to keep considering there wasn’t much Henry Walker wouldn’t and didn’t do in his lifetime.
Freshman year in college, Harry met Belinda.
Twenty-five years and three kids later they’d still been deeply in love with sexual secrets the good conservative citizens of South Carolina would be shocked to learn about, in fact, were shocked to learn about when the scandal broke.
Harry dragged a hand down his face. God…
The way everything had blown up in their faces. Years of privacy all down the drain because they wanted to fulfill a fantasy. Only the doctored image hadn’t been his fantasy at all. The woman in the photo wasn’t even his wife.
Bella was everything he’d ever wanted. He’d never stepped out on her, never had the desire. Once he met her, all bets were off for anyone else in his life and he refused to believe it was over forever. He had to get her back. There was no other alternative.
In their lifestyle, both in public and in private, trust was paramount.
“Mr. Walker, Noah is here.”
“Send him in,” he replied, turning back to his desk, grateful for the interruption.
“Hey, Dad,” Noah said, entering the office and closing the door behind him.
“Hey. What brings you by?”
“I’m on my way to Birmingham. That Pro-Am is this weekend” Noah was a professional golfer. Had turned pro by the time he was nineteen. He loved the game. Never missed a weekend of play, which meant Noah traveled almost non-stop from mid-January to October.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t go with you. We haven’t had a father/son outing like that in a while.”
“It’s cool. I know we’ll catch up soon. You talked to mom yet today?”
“No. I’ll be seeing her later though.” Noah’s shock was well founded and it would do Harry some good to rein in his confidence in winning his wife back easily.
“Does she know?”
“She doesn’t.” Honesty was always the best policy.
“Good luck with that. I don’t think she’s gotten any better with liking surprises.”
“This is different. It’s her birthday. Everyone should expect some sort of surprise on their birthday.”
Noah laughed. “Keep telling yourself that and let me know how it goes.”
“Will do. Make sure you call her.”
“I already did. She sounds good.”
“I wouldn’t expect anything less of your mother.”
“Well, just remember. You taught her how to shoot a gun.”
Harry laughed and hugged his son close. Noah might be an adult and have his life on the exact track he wanted, but he was still Harry’s son and worry was part of the territory.
Once gone, Harry packed up his desk and grabbed the last few client files he’d been working on earlier. If he was lucky, he’d be able to get a little work done on the plane before he landed in Baltimore. If not, the files would have to wait until next week.
He flipped off the light and stopped at Marie’s desk before heading out. “The plane all set?”
“Yes, Mr. Walker.”
“Good. Why don’t you knock off early, okay? And don’t worry about coming in on Monday until around ten.”
“You have two meetings scheduled back to back, starting at eight on Monday morning.”
“Send their contact info to my phone and I’ll call both from the plane.”
“Are you sure?”
“I am. Take a nice long weekend for yourself.”
“Thank you, Mr. Walker. I’ll do that.”
Harry smiled and walked down the hallway to the rear entrance of the property.
Fifteen years ago, he’d purchased the house and split it down the middle. It resembled a duplex, however, instead of a neighbor tenant, he used one half as his political and architectural interests and the other half was where he and Bella had raised their kids.
As a whole, the total square footage was a little bit shy of five thousand. Once divided, each section was the perfect size.
Upstairs to his bedroom, he packed a small suitcase of clothes, Bella’s favorite flogger and nipple clamps. Nothing brought her to her knees or got her wetter than a little pain.
He changed out of his suit into a pair of loose fitting jeans, a Gamecocks t-shirt, and his custom made Gamecock’s Chucks.
It wasn’t football season, but it was never too early to start showing team spirit. Even if early meant three months.
And he might’ve gone to school outside his home state, but his loyalty lay with the University of South Carolina.
He’d call their youngest son, Aaron from the plane as well.
But his daughter…
She answered on the third ring. “Hi Dad.”
“Dad, I’m a little too old for nicknames like Pumpkin.” They had this argument every so often and he relished it, especially right then considering she’d been dodging his phone calls almost as much as her mother had.
“You’re my little girl. Always. No matter how old you get and until I draw my last breath, I’ll be calling you Pumpkin.”
“The real question is why you are calling in the first place.”
“I’m coming to see your mother this weekend and —”
“Mom didn’t say anything about you coming up,” she said, interrupting him.
“Because your mother doesn’t know yet.”
“You’re planning to surprise her?”
“Why is it that you and your brother seem so surprised by this?”
“Because Mom doesn’t like surprises. You should give her a heads up.”
“I tried, but she didn’t answer the phone and more than likely she deleted the voicemail without even listening to it.”
“Then maybe I should tell her you’re coming.”
“No, don’t. I really do want it to be a surprise for her.”
“Oh, it will be. And you want to stay here?”
“I’d rather stay with her, but…”
“Right. I’ll set out some bedding for the couch.”
“Dad…” His daughter sighed on the other end of the phone. His children were looking out for him and for their mother. It was sweet and their collective hearts were in the right place, but he knew how to handle his errant wife.
“Mom is going out tonight with some people from work. They’re throwing her a little party at one of the pubs.”
“How did they manage that?”
“Has she changed that much?” he asked, his heart hurting for the pain his Bella had suffered.
“She keeps to herself a lot. She’ll go out to dinner or a movie, but she’s not close with people. She doesn’t have a network of friends like she did back home. There are a couple of teachers at the college, but…”
“So, getting her to go to this pub…?”
“Professor Wallace had to work at it.”
“You really do plan to come up?”
“I’m already in the air.”
“You didn’t know that woman was going to do what she did last year, did you? You didn’t know she was going to say those things and release those pictures, right?”
Harry’s throat closed briefly before he could get air to pass through. Noah had asked similar questions, but Aaron and Riley had kept their thoughts to themselves, except to wonder how he could hurt their mother the way he did. Both in play and in the form of a public scandal.
“No. I didn’t know. Not until it was too late.”
“Mom still won’t talk about it.”
“I’ll have to see what I can do about that this weekend. I can’t put the family back together if she won’t talk to me.”
“I still think you should let me tell her you’re coming.”
Riley sighed again and it was the cutest sound, one she always made when she didn’t get her way. She was going to be a handful for any man who tried to tame her. “I’ll be here tonight when she tosses you out on your ear.”
Harry snorted. “Always so supportive. Thank you, Ry. I’ll see you soon.”
She was right about one thing. If he went to Bella’s place, she could very well toss him out and he wouldn’t be able to do a damn thing about it.
Looked like he would be getting a drink and meeting some of her friends at a bar instead.