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Marriage For One: Chapter 4

JACK

The car ride to her apartment was silent. After she said a quiet hello to Raymond after entering the car, neither of us said a word to each other. I didn’t have anything else to say, and she didn’t look like she had any strength left in her to string two words together. That saved us from trying to make small talk, which was something I didn’t do willingly anyway.

Sooner than I expected, we came to a stop in front of her old apartment building in the East Village. I offered my help, but she politely declined. After promising she wouldn’t take long, she quickly—as quickly as she could drag herself away, that is—exited the car. Thinking she’d take her time to pack no matter what she said, as every single female I’d known to that day would have done, I focused on answering some emails while I waited in the car with Raymond.

Twenty minutes later, just as I was about to send out my sixth email, I looked up from my phone and saw Rose coming out with just one small duffel bag. She’d also changed out of her paint-splattered clothes into blue jeans and a white t-shirt, and she looked freshly showered with her damp hair framing her face. If I wasn’t mistaken, she was favoring her right leg.

Before I could do anything, Raymond opened his door and rushed to help her. Following a brief push and pull between them, which I watched in confusion and unexpected amusement, Rose gave up and let Raymond carry her bag.

“Thank you,” she said quietly when he opened the door for her after putting it in the trunk.

“You’re welcome, Mrs. Hawthorne.”

I froze. With her hand on top of the open door, Rose froze as well.

“Uh, that’s really not necessary. Please call me Rose.”

As she finally got in and Raymond closed the door, I locked my phone and put it back into my pocket.

“Will that be enough?” I asked.

She glanced at me with a small frown. “Excuse me?”

I gestured to the back with my head.

She followed my gaze. “Oh, yes. I can’t do much tonight. I’ll pack everything tomorrow. I’m sorry if I took too long, but I had to jump in the shower because of all the paint.”

“It’s fine. I took care of some emails.”

She nodded and we fell silent for a few minutes until she spoke up again.

“That was a little weird for you too, right? It wasn’t just me.”

I quirked an eyebrow and waited for her to explain.

“Mrs. Hawthorne,” she whispered after a quick glance at Raymond. She put her right hand on the leather seat between us, leaning her upper body toward me as if she was sharing a secret. “That’s the first time I’ve been called that. It’s gonna take some getting used to. I’m Mrs. Hawthorne now.”

“Yes, you are,” I agreed curtly then looked out my window as she leaned away. In the reflection on the glass, I saw her lose the small smile that was playing on her lips and straighten up in her seat. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. This whole fake marriage thing was going to be harder than I’d initially thought, especially since I seemed to be doing a bad job of it already.

I only looked at her again when Raymond stopped the car in front of my place on Central Park West. She glanced out the window and I watched her release a long breath.

“This is it?” she asked, peering back at me.

“Yes.”

I got out of the car. Rubbing my temple, I made it to Raymond’s side just as he opened her door and then walked to the back to get her bag. It seemed like the little fight she’d had in her back at the coffee shop had deflated during our car ride, and she just stared up at the building.

After smiling at my driver softly and thanking him when he held out her bag, she walked a few steps away from us.

“The usual time tomorrow, Mr. Hawthorne?” Raymond asked quietly, both our eyes on the woman standing just a few feet away from us.

Sighing, I pushed my hands into my pockets and shook my head. “I’ll call you in the morning.”

Giving me a quick nod, he got back in the car and drove away, leaving me alone on the sidewalk. Taking the few steps to close the gap that separated me from my newly acquired wife, I stood beside her.

“This is it then,” she repeated, but this time it wasn’t posed as a question.

“This is it,” I agreed, and we stood side by side like that for a few agonizingly slow seconds.

“It’s really close to the coffee shop. I was afraid you lived around Bryant Park, closer to your office.” She gave me a quick look then faced forward again. “I take the subway from my apartment so I could’ve still done that, but this is better, of course.”

“I did live close to the firm at one point. I moved here two years ago. Shall we go up?”

She nodded. I opened the door for her, and we finally entered the building we’d been staring at. I ignored the doorman’s greeting and walked straight toward the elevators.

With each second it took us to reach the top floor, I could almost feel her drawing away from me more even though we were physically only inches apart. So far every interaction I’d had with her was turning out to be a disaster—not that I was expecting anything different. This was the bed I’d made for us, and now the time had come to lie in it.

Eventually, the elevator doors opened, and I stepped out ahead of her. After unlocking the apartment door, I pushed it open and turned back to look at Rose, really look at her. The quick shower she’d taken had helped with the paint splatters on her face—most of them—but not the fatigue. Her pale skin only accentuated her big and dark eyes and her long lashes. Despite looking like she had been done with the day some hours ago, somehow she still looked strong. She was a determined one and I respected that. Quite. She was clutching the handle of her bag with one hand and gripping her own elbow with the other. She met my eyes and offered me a small and unsure, but pretty smile.

Pretty.

Christ, Jack.

“Please,” I murmured, gesturing to the inside of the apartment with my hand and taking a step aside so she could enter. Just as she was passing me, I reached for her bag, and I supposed I managed to surprise her because she let it go without a struggle.

“Thank you,” she muttered quietly, looking around the space.

I closed the door after her, locked it, and took a deep breath before I faced her again. I was starting to feel like, somehow, the quiet had gotten louder behind the locked doors now that we were there and alone.

“Would you like to look around or would you prefer to see your room first?”

I wasn’t sure if she was feeling up to a tour—I was actually confident she’d want to pass on anything I would offer that would force her to spend more time with me—but I wanted her to feel comfortable since we had two years of this, of us in our future.

“Thank you, but you don’t have to do that. If you could show me where I’ll be staying, that’ll be enough.”

“I wouldn’t offer if I didn’t want to, Rose. For the foreseeable future, this will be your home too. You should feel comfortable.”

“I appreciate you saying that, I really do, but still, can I take a rain check on the tour for tonight? I have to be back at the coffee shop tomorrow morning and I’m really tired, so…”

“Of course.” Walking through the foyer, I gestured toward the staircase to our right and followed her silently as she took the lead. Her hand held on to the black steel railing as she slowly and very carefully climbed up to the second floor. As soon as she was up on the landing, she stepped to the side and waited for me.

“This way,” I offered, taking her to the left. The penthouse I had bought only two years earlier had four bedrooms, three of them being on the second floor. One of the rooms was set up as a home gym. The second, which was my bedroom, was on the other end of the hallway, and the third would now be Rose’s. Just hours earlier it had been way too much space for only one person, but with Rose in the apartment, it seemed to shrink in size.

At the end of the short hall, I opened the door to the spacious room that would be hers and placed her overnight bag just inside before backing out again. Giving me a quick look, she stepped inside and took everything in. I had asked the interior decorator to keep it simple and functional, so there were only a few pieces of furniture in the room: a king bed, a neutral-colored headboard, nightstands, a small sitting area with one soft nude velvet chair, and another chocolate brown one next to a simple white and gold floor lamp.

“You have your own en suite through the right door,” I explained when she didn’t say anything. “The left door is the walk-in closet. If there is anything you don’t like, let me know and I’ll take care of it.”

After looking around for a few seconds, she finally faced me and tucked her damp hair behind one ear. “This is… I think it’s bigger than my entire apartment.” When my expression didn’t change, she cleared her throat and continued. “Everything looks great, Jack. I hope you didn’t go to too much trouble for this.”

“I believe every guest room has a bed and a chair. I didn’t do anything special.”

“Of course they do, but considering your guest room is so massive…” She trailed off. I waited for her to keep going, but she just shook her head. “Thank you. That’s what I’m trying to say. This is beautiful, so thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Is there anything else I can do for you, or would you like to be alone?”

“I think I’ll just try to get some sleep. I…” Pausing, she lifted her wrist to check the time. “I need to get up really early.”

“Everything going okay so far? I don’t want to keep you for long, but did you hear anything from your other cousin?”

Shaking her head, she moved closer to me, holding on to the door between us as if she didn’t have enough strength to keep herself upright.

“A few days ago, she called, but I think she was just curious if I had gone through with it or not.”

I frowned, not following. “Gone through with what? The coffee shop?”

She offered me a tired smile.

“No, she doesn’t really care about that. She was trying to learn more about…us, I guess—you and me and the marriage. She isn’t like Bryan, she rarely cares about things that doesn’t concern her. And so far, so good with the coffee shop. There is a lot of work to be done as I’m sure you saw yourself, but I’m not complaining.”

Satisfied with her answer, I reached for my tie and loosened it, noticing the way her eyes followed my movements. “Good. And you don’t have to worry about Bryan either, there is nothing he can do at this point and if he does, I’ll take care of it. Good night, Rose. If you need anything, my room is at the end of the hall, across from you.”

Straightening, she nodded. “Thank you, and good night…Jack.”

It took me a second to move. I wasn’t sure why I was reluctant to leave, it couldn’t possibly be because I wanted to talk to her more, but there I was just standing there like an idiot. I took a deep breath, trying to think of a parting word so I could leave, but all I managed to do was notice her smell and drown in it. Coconut and some other mysterious fruit I couldn’t quite figure out. It must’ve been her shampoo since I’d noticed it in the car first. I gave up on trying to think of something else to say, gave her a quick nod and walked away from her before I did something stupid. Midway down the stairs, I heard Rose’s door gently click shut.


For the hundredth time, I checked the clock on my nightstand, and finally when I saw it was four AM and I still hadn’t managed to fall asleep, I sat up. Rubbing my face, I sighed and got up. Not wanting to get dressed and go down yet, I stayed in my pajama pants and put on the grey t-shirt that was already hanging on the back of the chair in the corner of the room then headed toward the black steel doors that opened up to the terrace. I breathed in the cold air as soon as I stepped outside and took in the city.

It didn’t take a genius to understand why I couldn’t sleep, yet I’d still tried my best to ignore the fact that I wasn’t alone in my apartment, that everything was just as it should be. The only issue was that my mind was determined not to let me forget about it, to forget about my wife’s presence in my home. Ever since I’d left her crying in the car, it had been all I could see when I closed my eyes at night—she was all I could see, the look in her eyes. So lost and confused. The fact that I’d practically pushed her—us—into this wasn’t helping at all. Hell, I didn’t even know what to feel anymore, other than guilt that is. I was drowning in guilt. And living under the same roof with Rose…it was helping nothing at all.

Looking down at Central Park as I leaned on the railing, I tried to clear my mind so I could get back to bed and get at least a few hours of sleep in order to actually face and survive the next day and the upcoming days. But, after standing out there for God knows how long, I decided it was a futile endeavor. Just as I was turning around, I saw Rose turn the corner at the end of the terrace and let out a loud gasp when she spotted me.

One hand against her heart, the other on her knee, she bent down. Letting the blanket she was bundled in hang from her shoulders, she started to cough as if she was choking on something. Without comment, I moved toward her, and before I could decide whether I should try to help her or not, she straightened up. Her face was completely flushed, her chest falling and rising rapidly.

A second later the cause of her reaction became more clear when she opened her fist and showed me a half-eaten Snickers bar. “You almost killed me,” she wheezed out, her words barely making any sense.

“Excuse me?”

“I was dying,” she mumbled after attempting to clear her throat again. Finally regaining her composure, she released a long breath and pulled the blanket around herself.

“I saw that.” Thinking it’d make her feel more comfortable, I turned away from her and faced the city in front of us.

After another deep breath and a cough, she took the last few steps to stand next to me. “It’s getting chilly,” she commented quietly, and I automatically glanced down at her feet. She was wearing socks, but she was resting one of her feet on top of the other.

“You might want to wear thicker socks,” I commented, and her gaze followed mine down to her feet and she shifted in place. “But, yes, the weather is changing. You couldn’t sleep?”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her look up at me and shake her head. I kept my eyes on the city.

“Nope. You couldn’t either?” she asked, filling the silence between us.

“I tend to wake up early.” That was what I was telling myself, and I certainly didn’t want her to think I was struggling with having her in my space.

She hugged the blanket tighter.

“I hope your bed was comfortable.”

Another quick glance at me. “It was. It’s really comfortable and big. It’s my first night here and it’s a strange place, you know. I thought I heard something when I woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep.”

“I understand.” I didn’t prod for more details, but she kept going.

“I’ll get used to it. I did manage to pass out for two hours—I was too tired not to—but then I woke up and my stomach decided it was a good time to remind me that I hadn’t eaten anything in twelve hours, so…” Lifting her hand from under the blanket, she showed me the remaining few bites of her candy bar. “Here I am with the Snickers I found in my bag. I’d give you a piece, but…”

“I think I’ll live. You should’ve told me you were hungry when we first came in. We do have a kitchen downstairs.”

I glanced at her then and she looked up at me with a smile. “A kitchen? What a novelty. As tempting as that sounds, if I eat anything more than this, I’ll stay up all night and I won’t be able to do anything tomorrow. I need to start getting ready in a few hours anyway, so this will hold me over. Plus, nothing beats chocolate.”

“You should go back to bed then.”

“I will,” she murmured, agreeing easily. “I’ll go back inside in a few minutes.”

I nodded, but I knew she couldn’t see me; she was watching the night sky. We fell into another long stretch of silence and, not sure what I should do, I crossed my arms against my chest and leaned back against the wall at the same time she moved forward and propped her forearms on the railing.

“The lake looks beautiful from up here,” she whispered. Glancing at me over her shoulder, she waited for an answer. “You must love the view.” I nodded in agreement, and a small sigh fell from her lips as she faced forward again. “The leaves will start changing color in a few weeks. I love Central Park in fall, and the lake is one of my favorite spots. It’s so cool that you can see it from here. Do you have a favorite spot, Jack?”

“In Central Park?”

“Yes.”

As the loud sound of sirens filled the night, I took a few seconds to answer so I wouldn’t have to raise my voice. All bundled up in her blanket, she faced me, ready to hear my answer. She was definitely an insistent one, my wife.

“I never thought about it. I guess the lake is all right.”

She arched an eyebrow and just stared at me.

I returned her stare. “Is there anything I can help you with at the coffee shop?”

She cocked her head and studied me as if she could figure me out if she only looked hard enough. I had no idea what she was thinking. Not only that, I had no idea what I was doing out there, pulling her into more conversation when I’d decided the moment after we’d said I do that I didn’t want to get too close to her. The only thing I had to do was keep reminding myself that this was going to be a business deal and nothing more.

“You already helped. If it wasn’t for you, it would’ve never happened. When I got Gary’s permission to use the space and we signed that contract, I started ordering the furniture, the machines, and all the other bits and pieces I’ll need. I knew it would take time for everything to get here, so I thought I was being smart. When…Gary and Angela passed away, I completely forgot about the whole thing. Then things started to arrive, but I no longer had a coffee shop to put them in, so I had to rent a storage place for the items from the companies that couldn’t hold my orders for the foreseeable future, like the chairs. Some things I bought were from sales and other deals, so they wouldn’t cancel my orders, either. When I came to your office that day, I had no hope of things going my way. I was on my way to another job interview.”

Uncomfortable with her admission, I shifted in place and cleared my throat. Before I could stop her, she kept going. Not only was she insistent, she was turning out to be quite the talker.

“So, as weird and awkward as this marriage is and probably will be for quite some time as we get used to having each other around, I’m really thankful for it. I know we made a deal and obviously it’s not gonna be a one-sided thing, but I’m still very thankful that you decided not to get a divorce.”

“You don’t have to keep thanking me. It’s a business deal. I’m getting a free property out of this. We’re both benefiting.”

Her eyes steady on me, she nodded and rearranged the blanket on her shoulders. “I know. I just wanted you to know the details, too.”

I already knew the details surrounding her situation, but I didn’t think it would be wise to let her know that.

“Why do you want it then? What are you planning on doing with it once our deal runs its course?”

I didn’t know how to answer that question, so I took the easy out.

“I rather not share.”

“Oh. Okay.”

When I didn’t comment further, she took a deep breath and looked toward the corner where she had appeared from. After giving Central Park another quick look, she sighed. “You probably want to be alone, so I’ll just go back to my room. Tomorrow is gonna be a long day of painting anyway. Good night, Jack.”

I watched her in silence up until she turned her back to me and took a few steps away. Sighing, I straightened up from the wall and took her spot at the rail. Turns out I didn’t like putting that hurt look on her face. Raising my voice, I asked, “You think you’ll be able to go back to sleep?”

“I don’t think so, but I’ll rest a bit.”

I’d thought as much. I didn’t think I was gonna get any sleep either. How are you handling their death?” The question rolled off my tongue before I even thought about what I was going to say to keep her out on the terrace for longer. So much for not wanting to talk to her.

The amount of time it took for her to reappear at my side was unmistakably shorter than the time it had taken her to walk away.

“Can I be honest?” she asked into the night as I studied her profile.

“Usually, I prefer people lying to me, but if you insist…”

That earned me a side-eye look.

“I’m not sure exactly how I feel,” she responded finally. I thought I heard a small smile in her voice when she started to speak, but I didn’t know her enough to be sure. “Obviously, I’m sad about it. That’s not what I mean, but it just doesn’t feel real. We didn’t talk every day, or even every week, after I turned eighteen, I moved out of their house and after that barely even saw Angela. That’s how she wanted it anyway. But, I talked to my uncle about once every two weeks or so, and sometimes he even had enough time to have lunch with me. He always seemed to tolerate having me around a bit more. Since you worked with them before, you probably already know this story, but they took me in when I was nine. My dad had just passed away. Cancer. And even though Gary and my dad were only half-siblings and they hadn’t been in contact for more than fifteen years, Gary agreed to become my guardian.”

“What about your mom?”

“I don’t remember her. She left us when I was two. I believe they looked for her, but from what my uncle told me she had disappeared. Maybe changed her name, who knows. So they took me in. I can’t say they were always nice to me, I remember too many nights I’d cried myself to sleep, but at least I didn’t go into the system. I didn’t have anyone, not really.”

“Your cousins?”

“Bryan and Jodi. Ah. I think they just took their cues from Angela and stayed clear. They’re just a few years older than me, yet they barely talked to me. I was the very unwanted and bothersome niece.”

I was watching the park when she started her story, but my eyes went back to her when I felt her gaze on me.

“That was probably a little more personal information than you were looking for.”

“It’s okay,” I replied simply, not giving her anything else. “I think for the marriage to look believable to everyone around us, we need to know personal details like these.”

“Okay then. To give a more definite answer to your question: I’m doing better—not great, but better. There are days I wake up and completely forget it happened because they haven’t really been super involved in my life for a long time, but I think it’s okay to admit that I have days where I miss hearing my uncle’s voice.” I heard a small chuckle and genuine happiness in her next words. “He used to read me bedtime stories for a few years in the beginning, once or twice a week. If you know him at all, you also know how unlike him that is, but he worked pretty hard and it was the only time I’d get to see him. He was always a little gruff about it and tried to read super quick as if he was racing against time, but then he’d get into the story and read longer than he had promised. I used to really look forward to that when I was little. ‘I only have ten minutes for you tonight, Rose. He’d always start with that.” She paused, but before I could even comment, she turned the tables back onto me. “What about your parents? Are they alive?”

“Yes.”

“How is your relationship with them?”

“We’re not close.”

“Oh? You had a falling out?”

“You could say that. I haven’t seen them in years.”

“Do they know you got married?” she asked.

“I didn’t inform them, no, but I’m sure they’ll hear it from someone soon enough.” I glanced at her and our eyes met for a brief moment before I looked away. “I’m afraid they wouldn’t approve of my choices, so I didn’t feel the need to let them know.”

“I understand.” There was an awkward pause. “Wow. I really needed that confidence boost, so thanks for that.”

I didn’t think she understood at all, but I didn’t correct her.

“And can I say two peas in a pod? Look at us, we don’t really have any family.”

“Looks like that.”

She huffed out a breath and leaned on the railing, mirroring my stance. After a peaceful stretch of silence between us, an ambulance passed with the sirens blaring and screeched to a halt somewhere down below us, interrupting my thoughts. Having a heart-to-heart conversation with my wife under the night sky was absolutely not the best way to keep my distance.

“When do you think you’ll be opening the coffee shop?” I asked, shifting the subject to something safer.

“I’m mostly ready, mostly being the operative word. When I finish painting, I’ll have all the big things out of the way. The chairs and the sign that will go outside are coming soon, and I need to buy a few more kitchen things.” She sighed and rested her chin on her propped-up hand. “I think three weeks? It depends on a lot of things. All the paperwork is ready, so there is no reason not to jump right in. Thank you for that, too—you know, for handling the paperwork stuff.”

I noticed her trying to cover a yawn.

“Don’t mention it. You can’t paint to save your life. You know that, right?”

“Excuse me? I paint beautifully,” she shot back with a frown on her face.

“From what I saw today, it was patchy. I could still see the red of the old paint underneath. That’s not an indication of beautiful painting.”

She snorted. “Again, excuse me, but that was a very bright red—it would show no matter what I did with only one coat of new paint over it. Everyone knows that. First coat is always patchy. I did the hard part then you came at the end and stole my work.”

“Everyone knows that?” I asked with an arched eyebrow.

“Yes! Ask any professional painter.”

“How many professional painters do you know exactly?”

“How many do you know?”

I met her eyes and shrugged. “A few.” Relaxing a little further, I waited for her comeback.

“Fine. You win that one. I don’t know any, but it still doesn’t change the fact that I paint beautifully.”

“If you say so.”

“I do say so. You did one wall, but I’m gonna paint the whole place. Say I don’t paint beautifully after you see that.”

“Actually, since you’ll be painting my property, I’d like to make sure you’re not ruining my walls. I’ll be there tomorrow to keep an eye on things.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No.”

“Fine. Keep an eye on things then. The property might be yours now, but those will be my walls for the next two years. I’m not letting you mess anything up.”

Trying to cover my unexpected smile, I cleared my throat. “Thank you for the permission. If you’re planning on doing more of your ‘beautiful’ painting, as you put it, you need to get some more rest.”

“Are you provoking me?”

“Why would I want to do that?” And wasn’t that the truth? Why the hell would I want to do that? Too bad I didn’t have an answer to my own question.

She faced me, and I was forced to return her gaze.

“You really think you can do a better job than me?” she asked.

I arched an eyebrow. “I did do a better job than you.”

“Right. Instead of just keeping an eye on things, pick up a paint roller then.”

Apparently, I was canceling my meetings for the next day or so. “We’ll see how it goes.”

She paused.

“I know it looks pretty bare right now, but wait until you see everything together. More importantly, I’m really good with coffee, and the pastries will be to die for. If I can manage to do everything that’s in my mind, it’ll look great in about a week or two.”

“What else is on your mind?” I asked, genuinely curious, her enthusiasm catching.

She smiled up at me. “I think I’m gonna keep the rest to myself, just in case I screw it up or can’t get it done in time.”

“Sounds like you have everything planned and under control.”

“There are so many more things I need to deal with though, a million little things. Are you going to be there on opening day?”

“Do you need me to be there?” It didn’t matter what her answer was—I knew I was going to be there anyway.

“I wouldn’t say need—”

When the wind kicked up, pushing at her hair, she lifted her hands to get it out of her eyes and the blanket started to slip down from her shoulders. I straightened and caught it midway to her waist. Suddenly we were standing too close and she was trapped between me and the damn blanket. My eyes met her surprised big, brown ones, and I halted, not so sure what to do with the blanket and her.

I cleared my throat. She dropped her hands after having pulled all her hair to one side, and I let her grab the edges of the blanket from me.

“Thanks,” she murmured as I took a step back.

Goddammit!

After a brief pause, she went back to answering my question. “It’s not so much a need, but it would be good just in case Jodi or Bryan show up. I don’t think they will, but after tonight who knows.”

“I’ll try to free up my schedule if you think I need to be there.” A quick glance at my watch, and I noticed the time: almost five. After not wanting to talk to her, I had spent an hour doing the exact opposite. I straightened up. “I’m heading back inside.”

“Oh, okay,” she mumbled, still holding on to the blanket I had almost reluctantly let go of just a few seconds earlier.

“If I’m going to paint an entire coffee shop, I need to get some sleep,” I added at her puzzled expression regarding my abrupt exit.

“Wait a minute—you were serious about that?”

“I’m not sure how many times I’ll need to repeat this, but if I say something, I always mean it.”

“I thought you were just…”

I raised my brows. “You thought I was what?”

“Never mind. You won’t be painting an entire coffee shop, though—I’ll be painting too.”

“We’ll see how you do first before I let you do that.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Fine. I’ll show you how it’s done tomorrow then.”

“Meet you downstairs at seven? Or would that be too early for you?”

“Seven is perfect.”

“Right. Good night then, Rose.”

“Good night, Jack.”


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