It was once a scent that bothered me for being too potent, but it turned into something else entirely over the past few weeks.
But now...now, as the words she just spoke to me roll over in my mind, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to stomach the smell again.
“You’re—you’re—” I sputter. It’s too goddamn early in the morning for this.
“Married.” She presses her lips together with a guilty nod of her head.
I don’t know what to say as a million questions race through my mind. Why didn’t you tell me? Why aren’t you wearing a wedding ring? How could you sleep with me when you’re married?
I’ve done some despicable things in my life, I’ve used and manipulated, lied and stolen, but I’ve never cheated on a woman.
Even Reese—the woman I slept with to keep her from my brother. I never cheated on her even though I led my brother to believe I did. The closest I came was having sex with Tess behind Jason’s back, but they weren’t technically back together when we did it. I verified that with Tess before I gave in.
Because I know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of that shit stick, and while I’ve crossed lines, I’d never cross that one.
It’s unforgivable, irredeemable, and just plain wrong.
As much as I might’ve lost everything just to earn her respect, we were only on the same page for a few hours before my respect for her dropped down a few pegs.
And in the brilliant light of morning, I don’t know how to recover from that.
“How...what...but how...” More sputtering as all the questions in my mind try to tumble out my mouth at once.
She clears her throat. “Trent and I have been married for eight years.”
I feel like I don’t know her at all—and maybe that’s a fair emotion right now considering this bomb. Maybe I never really knew anything about her.
“I tried telling you a few times, but I...I don’t know. Part of me didn’t want you to know, and it just didn’t come up the first couple weeks we worked together. It was just supposed to be about work. A job. That’s all. Not feelings. I wasn’t supposed to like how you looked at me. But then you took me in and you cared about me, and that’s something I’ve been missing for a long time.”
“Are you telling me it’s over with him?” I ask.
She lifts a shoulder. “I don’t know.”
Her three words break my heart. She doesn’t know. That means she might stay with him.
Not with me.
“I travel all the time and he hates it,” she says. “There’s a huge wedge in our marriage that’s been there for years, ever since I started private consulting, and I’m pretty sure I just widened that gap even further.”
I lay back on my pillow and stare up at the ceiling because looking at her is making me feel nauseated during this conversation. “Have you done this before?”
“No!” Her single word is laden with meaning. She’s completely offended I’d even think that. “Never. It never should’ve happened, Brian, yet I’m glad it did. It opened my eyes to everything I’m missing. It made me see clearly again.”
I hold up a hand. “I can’t be with someone who’s married.” I shake my head and close my eyes, and Kendra’s face is all I see as all the feelings I buried with the past are dredged back to the surface. “I can’t do this to your husband. I can’t be a part of it.”
“I told you we couldn’t. I tried to stop it, and then last night, the heat of the moment just...” She trails off for a few seconds. “It overwhelmed me. You overwhelm me.”
“But you’re not wearing a ring,” I say. “Why aren’t you wearing a ring? That’s the sign to stay away. You’re not wearing one. How was I supposed to know?”
“I never wear it when I’m traveling. It was his great-grandmother’s. A family heirloom. I’m afraid I’ll lose it.” She’s rambling. “And I didn’t say it last night, but I love you, too.”
I huff out a mirthless laugh I can’t help. “Like you know what love is,” I mutter snidely.
“Excuse me?” she asks, like she is the one offended by me.
“You heard me. You can’t claim to love someone when you’re married to someone else. I suppose you love your husband, too?”
Her hand flies to her chest in shock at my words, but she doesn’t have a waiting reply like she usually does. I take the moment to pounce on that. “You can’t love two people.”
“And you can’t tell me what I can or can’t feel.”
“Be that as it may,” I say, “I definitely can ask you to leave my bedroom.”
She stands, and it’s almost like she forgot she’s buck naked after our love making from the night before. She places her hands on her hips and glares at me. “Is that really what you want?”
I close my eyes again because I can’t bear looking at a woman who incites so many conflicting feelings in me as she stands naked in my bedroom issuing a challenge. “Yes,” I whisper.
I keep my eyes closed as I listen to her move around the room, presumably gathering her underwear, and then I hear the door slam shut with a hollow echo.
And that’s when I allow the swirling emotions to pull me under. I’m a strong man, but this woman just committed the one act on my list I can’t condone. My heart cracks even at the thought of going another day without her in my arms, but that’s simply the way it has to be. I have no choice in the matter when it’s the single moral I’ve laid my entire foundation of ethics upon.
I wash the feminine scent of her rose perfume from my body in the shower as I rack my brain for how to make this different, but I come up short. She’s married. In the four minutes we discussed it, she made no mention of a forward future with me nor of ending things with him. And I won’t sit around to wait for her to decide that. No, I spent a few days wallowing in the feelings I had for her, and it got me exactly where I was the last time I felt love for someone.
I won’t do this to myself ever again, that’s for damn sure.
When I saunter into the kitchen of my own home, I find the open wine bottle on the counter, abandoned there last night when we rushed to the bedroom to make love. I see a towel on the floor of my family room, probably dry now but wet last night. I see the nude heels she wore to last night’s charity ball.
I’m reminded of the kiss when I knelt between her legs last night, of the delicate way she held my face between her palms, of her blue eyes looking upon me with so much need and desire.
I shake my head like I’m trying to shake out the image, but it’s all still there as I go through the mundane morning tasks of making a pot of coffee and stirring myself up a protein shake.
A workout. That’s what I need. A good, solid, old-fashioned, heart-rate pumping sweat.
I abandon the coffee and head to my workout garage. It’s a two-car garage I had converted into a home gym when I first moved in. I turn on my favorite metal band and blast the music, hoping it’ll distract my thoughts. It doesn’t, so I turn it louder. As I start out on the treadmill, I’m thankful I had this shit installed years ago. I work up the incline and quicken the pace. The endorphins kick in and I decide to let it all roll off my back.
She betrayed me in the worst way, but I don’t need her in my life. I opened myself up to this by letting my feelings get in the way of the reason why she was here in the first place. I should’ve learned from the past, should’ve known love is for fools—because I feel like a real fool at the moment.
I pump my legs harder, turn the pace up more, and feel the sweat pouring down my back. It’s almost good enough to delete her words from my mind.
Because I’m married.
They flash through again just when I think I’ve had a breakthrough, and they won’t stop.
Because I’m married.
In time to the beat of the music.
Because I’m married.
In time with the pounding of my feet against the treadmill.
Because I’m married.
Over and over and over, an endless loop on repeat in my mind.
I must be out there an hour when I finally decide I need to stop. I slow my pace as my chest heaves with exertion. I thought it would help, but it didn’t. Not really.
A single run on the treadmill minutes after having your heart broken in half by the woman you love won’t mend it back into one piece again.
Mundane phrases my family and friends spoke to me back when I found Kendra had cheated on me with my brother surface back to my mind. You’ll be okay. You’ll get through it. You’ll see things more clearly. Just give it some time.
It’s true. Time did diminish some of the pain the last time, but the scars remained. This time, though, the cuts might not heal.
When I head back inside, her shoes are gone and the house is quiet. I’m about to turn into my bedroom to shower when I hear her voice. “Can we talk?”
I jump, startled, and turn toward her. She’s a vision as always, but this time dressed down in blue jeans and a white t-shirt.
“I think we’re pretty much done with conversation,” I say.
“We’re not.” She sets both hands on her hips in a power move to square off with me.
I blow out a breath. “Look, it’s a deal breaker for me. I can’t do it.”
“Because of Kendra?” she asks softly.
A pang of regret stabs me in the chest as my brows turn down. “How do you know about Kendra?”
She clears her throat and looks away. “Vick told me.”
“Yes. Okay? Because of Kendra. Because the one time I allowed myself to love before you, I got my heart broken when she cheated on me. Now that I know, I can’t be an accomplice to your affair.”
She takes a step back at my harsh tone and bold words, but she doesn’t back down. “I never expected to fall for you, too, Brian.”
“So that just makes it okay?” Anger pulses through me at her weak justification.
She shakes her head. “I shouldn’t have kept that information from you.”
“You’re goddamn right about that.” I turn away from her because my chest aches as I do what I know I need to do. Maybe it’s for selfish reasons, but I’m finally choosing to do the right thing the first time around. “I need you to go. I can’t have you here at my house.”
“Where do you expect me to go?” Her voice is a soft plea behind me. She doesn’t want to go back to the hotel and doesn’t have a car to drive herself there, but it’s not my problem.
I can’t allow it to be, because I only see that ending one way. She’ll reel me back in, and I’ll find myself hurt all over again.
“Why don’t you call your husband and see what he thinks?” With those as my parting words, I step into the bedroom, close the door behind me, and lean back on it as I draw in a deep breath.