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Marriage For One: Chapter 25

JACK

After we had wrapped up a long meeting with an old client who was considering selling his company, I was still in the meeting room with Samantha and Fred trying to figure out the details when Cynthia walked in after a quick knock. I should’ve guessed it from the look on her face. I should’ve guessed my time was up and everything was about to come crashing down on me.

Rose walked in on the heels of my assistant before I could finish my thoughts, and there was nothing but heartbreak written all over her face. Something was really wrong. Was she feeling sick again? My mind ran with that possibility.

“I’m sorry to interrupt like this,” Rose started with a quiet sadness in her voice, her eyes on me. No one else in the room mattered. It was just us. “Can we talk?”

I jerked my head up and stood. “Please excuse me.” Fred and Samantha’s voices were nothing but a murmur in the background.

I counted every single step I took toward her—Rose, my wife. It took twelve steps in total. If I could have slowed time, I would have. I’d never turn it back, though. I’d never change any second of what we had together. Before I could reach her side, she turned around and walked out of the meeting room, pausing just outside the door.

Clenching my jaw, I moved to put my hand on the small of her back, out of habit and need.

Clearing her throat, she took a step away from me. She wasn’t here for our lunch. It killed me, seeing her like that, and that was when I knew why she’d come. Knowing I was responsible for it, knowing I’d done that to her—it broke something inside of me.

My hand fell to my side, fingers forming a fist. I pushed both my hands in my pockets as she watched me so I wouldn’t feel the urge to reach out to her. “My office?” I asked into the loud silence between us.

She nodded and walked ahead of me as I followed.

Finally we made it to my office, and instead of taking a seat, she grabbed her elbows and stood right in the middle of the room. Before I could turn around and close the door for some sense of privacy, Cynthia appeared in the doorway. Letting out a knowing breath, she looked at me and then to Rose.

“Can I get you anything, Mrs. Hawthorne?”

I wished I could’ve taken my eyes off of her, because maybe then I would’ve missed her flinch. She shook her head and her lips tipped up just for a second. “No. Thank you, Cynthia.”

The door closed and we were finally alone.

Her eyes met mine as I moved to stand in front of her. “You’re not here for lunch.”

“No.”

I braced myself. “I’m listening.”

There was that loud silence again as a few seconds passed and her shoulders drooped in defeat, her expression changing, crumpling in front of my eyes.

“Tell me it’s a lie, Jack. Tell me it’s a lie so I can breathe again.” Untangling her arms, she placed a fist on her heart as if trying to ease her pain.

I gritted my teeth, my hands clenching in my pockets. “You’re gonna have to be more specific.”

She dropped her hand from her chest and tipped her chin up, her eyes already shining with unshed tears. “Tell me you didn’t pay Joshua to break up with me. Tell me—” Her voice broke, causing physical pain in the middle of my chest. “Tell me you didn’t lie to me about everything.”

I sighed, trying to keep it together, trying to keep it locked in.

“I can’t tell you that, Rose,” I admitted, my voice coming out harsher than I’d intended.

She stared at me as if she was staring at a stranger and her first tear fell down, marking a line down her cheek.

Then the second one came.

Then the third.

The fourth.

She didn’t make a single sound. Other than blinking her eyes as her tears kept falling, she didn’t move even an inch.

“Did you have fun?”

“Excuse me?”

Her voice got stronger as she raised her voice. “I asked if you had fun.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Did you have fun playing your games?”

“You don’t know what you’re—”

She dabbed at her tears with the back of her hand, her spine straight. That was good. I could handle her gearing up to hurt me—God knew I deserved it.

“You’re right, I don’t know. I don’t know anything. You paid my fiancé to break up with me.” The next thing I knew, she was pushing at my chest with both hands. She was shaking, and I rocked back a step as she asked, “Who the hell do you think you are?”

When she hit me a second time, I grabbed her arms right above her elbows before she repeated it a third time. If I’d thought it would help her, I’d have let her hit me countless times, but it wasn’t going to change what I had done.

“Calm down.”

“Calm down?” She was crying in earnest, trying to get out of my hold, trying to escape my touch. “You’ve been lying to me from the first moment we met. You ruined everything.”

I tightened my grip on her arms, pulling her body closer to mine when her breathing started to get all choppy. “I saved you from him,” I forced out through gritted teeth. “I’m assuming he came back to your coffee shop since that’s what he threatened me with when I told him I was done paying him.”

“Saved me? You saved me?” Her breath hitched, but she stopped struggling in my arms. “Let me go, Jack.”

“So you can leave without listening to me? No.”

“Oh, I’m not going anywhere before I hear an explanation. I want you to let me go because I don’t want you to touch me ever again.”

Her eyes burned into mine. I’d never forget the pain, the hurt, the anger, the hate I saw in them. Knowing I had to listen, knowing she was right, I let her go and she backed away from me, rubbing her arms where I had held them.

“Are you okay?” I managed to ask, thinking I had held her more tightly than I’d realized.

“Oh, never better.” She put more distance between us. She was standing only a few steps away and I could still smell her perfume, yet she might as well have been miles away. “You can stop pretending to care about me. Go on, Jack—tell me more lies. Tell me what you did. I’m listening.”

My jaw tightened. I deserved that, but it didn’t mean it hurt any less. “I have no idea what he told you, Rose, but he lied.”

“Right. Right, because you would never do something like that.”

“No. I lied to you, too. I’m not saying otherwise. I lied from the very beginning.”

“How noble of you to admit that now after I learn everything.”

My patience snapped. “What do you think you know? Did he explain how he was only with you because of your uncle’s money? How he only got close to you because he thought you had a better relationship with them? If he did then please, my apologies. You should go back to him.”

She glared at me, her eyes boring into mine. “You offered him money to break up with me. What gives you the right?”

“That’s the only thing I agree with you on. I had no right, but I did it anyway. He is nothing but a con man, Rose. I was trying to help you.”

“Who asked for your help? I didn’t even know you. Before the day you brought me into your office, I didn’t even know you. He broke up with me days—weeks before that.”

“I told you I met you before.”

“And I told you I don’t remember!” she yelled back. I supposed we had both lost our patience. I didn’t care if the entire firm came to listen; all I cared about was that Rose was still there. As pissed off as she was, she was still listening. Maybe she wasn’t hearing everything I was saying, but she was listening, and for that moment, it was enough.

“Doesn’t change the fact that I remember. I met you at that party, briefly. I understand why you wouldn’t remember—you saw no one but him.”

The son of a bitch who had been planning to break her heart, information I had only learned later.

And I was just another bastard with a different name who had done the same, who had accepted the fact that this day would eventually come from before we even said I do.

She bit her lip as if trying to keep her pain inside, her eyes shimmering with more tears. “Tell me what you did, Jack. Tell me exactly what you did.”

“I couldn’t get you out of my mind after I met you. I was interested, but when I learned he was your boyfriend, I backed off, thought maybe in the future if things didn’t work I could reintrodu—it doesn’t matter what I thought. Sometime later Gary mentioned you had gotten engaged and that he had signed a contract with you. It was added into the will like every other contract, but he’d added a stipulation. When I read it, I found it to be odd that he wasn’t just giving the place to you, so I had Joshua investigated. I was only curious.”

“Why?” she cried out, lifting her arms high at her sides and then dropping them. “Why would you do something like that?”

“Because I wanted to learn more about him. I wanted to know how serious you two were. Take your pick.” I waited for her to ask me what I had learned, but she didn’t even blink. “I used the investigator we have here. He found out that he never went to Harvard. He had stolen from three other women. It had started with small amounts, but he’d escalated over time. No one pressed charges because they were ashamed, and one of them was afraid of her husband finding out about the affair. Those three women he found out about in just a week. I didn’t have the investigator look further into him because your uncle had passed away. We knew what he was and there was no time to do much of anything. I knew why he was with you.”

“Why wouldn’t you just tell me? Why?”

“Would you believe me? I was a stranger. And there was no time to do much of anything. Before he could learn about the will, I paid him to go away.”

Rose took a shaky breath and backed away until her legs hit the couch and she sat down. Her head bent, eyes closed, she was pressing her fingers to her temple.

I approached her. “Are you okay? Are you feeling dizzy?”

“Stop it,” she ordered in a broken voice, looking up at me with red and swollen but dry eyes. “Stop acting like you care.”

“I don’t care?” I asked, my voice mocking. “You think I don’t care and that’s why I paid him to leave you alone? That’s why I married you? Because I don’t care?”

“Do you think caring for someone is forcing them to marry you?”

My body locked. “I didn’t force you to do anything, Rose.”

“But you didn’t leave me any choice, did you, Jack? Everything was just so perfectly set up for you to play your game. You’re no better than him.”

I crouched in front of her, my hands itching to touch her, to make sure she was okay.

“You know that isn’t true,” I whispered, her words slicing my heart deeper than I’d expected. “Tell me you know that isn’t true. He didn’t know he’d get the property when I paid him to break up with you. He took the money without question, Rose. He told me he wasn’t going to marry you anyway, that he was just trying to make the best of the situation and see if he could get something from Gary by getting more serious with you. Are you even hearing what I’m saying? When your uncle passed away and he heard about the stipulation in the will, he came back to ask for more money. I paid him more than once, more than twice. When he realized I’d cheated him out of the property, he came back to ask for more money. He only came to you now because I told him we were done after he showed up at your place the last time. I didn’t think he’d do it. I thought I scared him off. He wasn’t with you because he loved you. I’m not like him.”

She looked into my eyes for a breathless moment. “You lied to me, Jack. Your lies are hurting me more right now. What did you want from me? Don’t give me that crap about you needing someone to attend dinners with. Was it really the property you were after? Just like him? And don’t even think about telling me this is nothing but a business transaction between two people. Don’t lie to me anymore.”

It was you. I didn’t know it then, but it was just you that I wanted.

“Nothing. I wanted nothing from you. I was trying to help.”

“You wanted to help a stranger. Am I this year’s charity case?”

I ground my teeth and stood up. She rose as well, standing only inches away. My hands wanted to cradle her face like I’d done so many times, but I didn’t have the right to touch her anymore.

“You changed me. You worked on it. You tricked me into loving you—you showed me this guy, this guy I could trust and love and not be afraid to be myself around. You showed me that I could have family that I could trust. You gave me an illusion. All your help with the coffee shop…and then when I was sick—you were right there, but you were acting, playing with me. It was all a lie, Jack. You were nothing but a lie, and you’ll never know how much it hurts me to know that. I wanted something real with you. You knew what Joshua had done to me, but what did you do? You went ahead and did the exact same thing, just with a different game.”

A few tears escaped her eyes, rolling over her skin before she quickly wiped them away in anger. I did nothing but watch, my pulse racing and my blood roaring in my veins, helpless.

“I hope you got what you wanted out of this. I hope it was worth it.”

“I risked losing you to have a shot at you, Rose. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

She shook her head and, her shoulder brushing mine, walked away. Stuffing my hands in my pockets, I turned around to watch her leave me.

She stopped with her hand on the door, her head hanging.

“Say something, Jack. Apologize. Something. Please say something.”

Her words were a whisper that sliced me open. I took a step forward but then stopped. Now that she knew some things, I wouldn’t lie to her about the rest. I wouldn’t say something I knew she wouldn’t believe.

“I paid twice the amount of the property’s worth to Bryan after he showed up at your coffee shop before the opening.” Her head snapped back, her expression horrified. “He didn’t like the fact that we pulled the rug from under him. He was going to contest the will, he called me countless times, threatened me with you. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe the marriage, I think he did after you moved in with me—especially after he saw us together at the coffee shop and then later at the event—he just didn’t want you to have the place. I paid him after that night at the charity event. That’s why he let it go and I told him not to show his face to you again. He was going to be a problem, so we reached an agreement. I paid him off.”

“How could he believe what we had is real? Why wouldn’t Joshua tell him you paid him?”

Had. Past tense.

I believe he is playing your cousin, he couldn’t admit to what he is. He wouldn’t tell.”

“Why didn’t you buy the damn place if you could before you married me, Jack? Why not rent the place to me if all you wanted was to get close to me?”

“Would you have accepted the offer? You’d never agree to pay low rent. That’s not you. It doesn’t even matter, I still tried to do it, but like I told you that first day, Bryan was adamant about not selling. You were going to lose everything and lose out on the coffee shop. I thought if I jumped straight to marriage you’d think I was in it for the property, for other things. You wouldn’t even consider that I was in it for you. And you didn’t. You didn’t even like me.”

For a second she appeared to be at a loss for words, so I pushed forward.

“I won’t apologize for something I’m not sorry for. I’m not happy with how things went down, but I wasn’t going to do anything after marrying you. I wasn’t supposed to come close, and I tried my best to stay away. I did my best, Rose, trust me, but the more time I spent around you, the more I got to know you…I couldn’t stay away. When I realized I didn’t want to stay away, couldn’t stay away, I decided I would try to be what you’d want, what you deserve. Try to win your heart. I’m not lying when I say all I wanted to do was help you when I offered to get married. At the end of two years, we were going to get a divorce and you’d never see me again. That was the plan, but somewhere along the way, I fell for you, and because of that, I’m not sorry. I’d do it again. I wouldn’t take back a single moment I had with you.”

She turned to look at me, and from the look on her face, I knew she’d already left me. “I will never forgive you for this,” she said.

“I know,” I whispered. “I love you anyway.”

Her posture stiffened even further and she squared her shoulders as if trying to shield herself from my words. She must’ve known I was falling for her. I knew she was falling for me, so she must have known. It couldn’t have been just me. I knew that.

“Love me?” Her lips curved up, but it wasn’t the smile I loved so much. “You don’t love me, Jack. I don’t think you’re capable of loving anyone.”

I would never know if it was the last words I would hear from her that did me in or if it was watching her leave me. When she was out of sight, I walked to my desk, picked up a glass paperweight and threw it against the wall.


I stayed at the office until midnight working my ass off. I finished proposals and called clients, doing everything I didn’t need to do to pass time and not go home, but there was nowhere to hide. I’d known what I was doing from the very beginning. I’d knowingly decided against telling Rose what I had done.

I had paid Joshua three more times, and he had still gone to her.

Truth be told, the reason I was avoiding going home was because I knew she wouldn’t be there anymore, and I wasn’t willing to have that truth slap me in the face. Rose had acted exactly like I’d expected her to. I’d earned her parting remark. Even I hadn’t thought I was capable of loving anyone like I loved her before it had happened. Why would she believe me now?

At a quarter past twelve, I got in my car.

“Sir, are we heading home?”

“You can call me just Jack, Raymond. You call my wife by her name, and I don’t see a reason why you can’t call me by my name.”

His eyes met mine in the rearview mirror and he nodded. “Home? Or somewhere else first?”

“To the apartment, please.”

I looked outside, my gaze on the empty streets. It was quieter than usual as traffic lights let us pass one by one. A few minutes into the drive, Raymond broke the silence between us.

“She wanted to walk.”

My thoughts scattered all at once. “Excuse me?”

“Rose. It had just started snowing so I offered to take her home, but she said she wanted to walk.”

I imagined she did.

The rest of the car ride was quiet up until he pulled up in front of our building—my building. He stopped the engine and we sat there for a long moment. I wasn’t sure why I thought sitting in the car and prolonging the pain I was feeling in my chest was a good idea when I knew what I’d find up there, but there was still a small part of me that was hoping.

“Okay,” I said out loud and ran a hand over my face. “Okay then. Good night, Raymond.”

“Would you like me to wait here?”

My brows drew together. “For what?”

“Just in case you’d like to go somewhere else. Maybe Around the Corner?”

Our eyes met and it dawned on me that he already knew. Of course he did. They’d spent mornings together for months. Of course she’d tell him what was going on after she was done with me.

“No. No, I don’t think that’s necessary. Have a good night.”

I exited the car, his response falling on deaf ears.

I walked into the building and watched as our trusty doorman stood up to greet me. I was tempted to walk past with just a nod to acknowledge his presence, but it didn’t feel right anymore.

“Hello, Steve. How are you?”

“Very good, sir. Thank you. How was your evening?”

I huffed. “Not the best night, I’m afraid.” He raised an eyebrow, waiting for me to go on, but I decided to change the subject instead to avoid going upstairs. “Looks like a quiet night tonight.”

“Yes, sir. It’s freezing outside so everyone seems to be staying in.”

“Yes. It must be the snow?”

“I believe so.”

“Your daughter…it was Bella, right?”

He nodded.

“How is she doing at the new school? Everything all right?”

“Yes, sir. She is…happier. Thank you for asking.”

“Good. I’m glad to hear that.” I couldn’t think of anything else to say so I nodded back, rapped my knuckles on his desk, and headed toward the elevators.

Unlocking the door, I forced myself to walk in and drown in the silence. I checked the kitchen first because sometimes she baked or cooked. The hand cream she used was gone from the living room, the one that smelled of pears. I walked up the stairs and into her bedroom, which had become ours. The bathroom was empty, the closet…everything looked dull and wrong. In just a few short hours she had managed to completely erase herself from my life. If I hadn’t found the ring I had given her on the bedside table, the one on my side of the bed, I would have been inclined to believe I had dreamed her up. I picked up the ring and put it in my pocket.

I walked back downstairs and poured myself some whiskey. After I had swallowed down my third glass, I traced my steps back to her room and stepped out onto the terrace. The snow had started to come down harder. I didn’t notice it much, not with the way I was feeling. I leaned my arms on the railing and looked over Central Park. I wasn’t sure how long I stood there like an idiot, but the next thing I knew I was walking out of our apartment and catching a cab.

If Raymond had felt it necessary to mention her coffee shop, there was a good chance he had already checked and knew she was still there. The cabbie dropped me off a few stores down from her place and I walked till I was standing right in front of the big window next to the front door, right under the wreath I had put up as she smiled at me with happy eyes. I stood there on the empty, cold, wet sidewalk, on my own save for a few loud people walking by every now and then, and I could see a hint of light coming from the kitchen.

It ripped my black heart into pieces to know she was going to spend the night alone and far away from me, and in her coffee shop of all places, but I’d known from the moment I stepped out of the apartment that I was going to stand there until Owen showed up early in the morning and she wasn’t alone anymore. Leaning my back against the side of the building, I tipped my head back and welcomed the soft bite of cold the snow left on my face.

I deserved far worse, and she deserved far better.

But…I was head over heels in love with this woman, more than I could’ve ever thought possible when I’d first come up with the most ridiculous ‘business deal’ I could ever conceive of. She had my heart in her hands. She was the only one for me; it was as simple as that. I could be without Rose. I could spend a lifetime without ever talking to her again and I would live—miserably, but I would live, as long as I knew she was happier. Life always moved on whether you chose to move along with it or stay put and let it happen all around you, but I didn’t want to do it without her.

That was my choice. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life without her, just looking at her from a distance. I needed and wanted to be right next to her, holding her hand, whispering how much I loved her into her skin until my love became a part of her, a necessity she couldn’t do without.

I wanted to be her air, her heart. I wanted everything I didn’t deserve to have.

But was that the best thing for her?

Was I the best thing?

Unfortunately, I knew I wasn’t, but that didn’t change the fact that I would try to be.


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