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Conspiracies and lies lead to a secret that was never supposed to be uncovered.
Six months ago we rescued Emilie Swanson, the daughter of retired Navy Admiral George Swanson – now a senator running for the presidency.
Having just returned from a harrowing operation gone wrong, I accept an undercover mission. With orders to protect Emilie from any further threats, everything should be uncomplicated. Expecting a socialite, I’m surprised when I get to know the spirited woman.
But the Navy SEAL motto is true. The only easy day was yesterday.
To save her I have to take on a powerful political player who will do anything to further his career. Things aren’t what they seem, and the threat to Emilie’s life lies much closer to home than we thought.
Time is running out as we’re both caught in a web of false perceptions.
I wish someone would’ve told me.
I used to lie in my bed and dream about what my life could be. Life almost had me fooled, telling me to believe in fairytales.
But, I know better now.
There’s no such thing as a happily ever after. If you’re one of the lucky ones then maybe you’ll get a happily for now.
Unfortunately, just like everything else on this planet, even love has an expiration date.
Disappointment stabs at my heart which feels like it’s been reduced to nothing but a burial ground where dreams and love once flourished.
It’s strange. These emotions that keep crashing over me in waves. I’m constantly being washed off my feet, overwhelmed by the pain. But then, the knowledge that it’s finally over sets in, offering some reprieve.
It’s a feeling of release, finality, and an uncanny sense of peace that all the futile hoping and praying have come to an end.
It’s in those moments when the finality sets in that I feel a renewed strength to pack faster. Raleigh holds nothing for me anymore. I just need to get everything packed so I can move back home to Virginia. There’s not much I’ll miss about Raleigh. Hell, come to think of it, I won’t miss a single thing.
Part of me wants to say, screw it, and to just leave everything behind. But I won’t. I won’t let that woman have one more thing that I’ve worked so hard for.
She’s like a sister to me.
I’m helping a friend. You know that’s what I do. She’s just a friend.
Lying, cheating pig.
The wave of emotions doesn’t last long. It pulls away from me, allowing anger to take its place.
I’m infuriated that they thought they could actually hide their affair.
I knew for years.
I saw it every time they looked at each other.
When they smiled at each other.
The bond that kept deepening as each day passed by.
They knew that I knew and that sickens me. How could they?
The actual affair is nothing in the grand scheme of things. It’s the fact that they actually thought they could keep playing me. Keep milking me for money.
It had to be about the money. Why else would two people be so cruel?
Mostly, I’m angry at myself.
I regret not listening to my gut as it was screaming at me to save myself. Instead, I remained in a marriage no longer mine. I fought for a heart already lost to another.
God, I prayed.
I was on my knees, begging for my marriage to be saved.
I never broke my vows. In the end, that’s what kept me going. The promise I made. But I never stood a chance seeing as I was the only one who kept them.
I held out for so long because I needed to catch them. I needed the closure of knowing I had been faithful until the bitter end.
I finally caught them yesterday. On my birthday.
I hate birthdays.
Over the past few years, Robert has made every birthday miserable. As if to make sure I knew that I meant so little, that my birth was the last thing that should’ve been celebrated.
Rage explodes through my chest as I close another box. I started packing an hour ago, and I’m surprised at how much I’ve gotten done.
I hear the jingle of keys at the front door. Where that sound used to bring me a sense of peace, it now opens the gates I’ve kept sealed shut. The gates that kept my humiliation hidden from the world.
I hear his footsteps as he slowly walks down the hallway. I climb to my feet and turn to face the stranger that’s taken the place of a man I once loved with all my heart.
I still love that man, but to me, he died when this stranger took his place. I mourn the man I married. I feel like I’ve been widowed and that I’m staring at the man who murdered my husband.
Disgust settles thick and hard in the pit of my stomach.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers.
I raise my chin, square my shoulders, and meet his eyes with a cold stare. I hope he sees the hatred. I hope it’s all he sees when he looks at me.
I will not cry.
I will not show him an ounce of the pain he has caused me. He deserves nothing but my hatred. I want to kill him with one look. I want to reduce him to nothing, just like he has carelessly done with me.
But I don’t have that power. You can only hurt someone who cares for you. And it’s been months – years – since he cared for me.
“I didn’t want it to happen this way.”
I feel a growl build deep in my chest, but I grind my teeth, refusing to set it free.
I have questions. So many questions.
Did you ever really love me?
Was it only for the money?
Did you enjoy laughing behind my back cause you thought I was so stupid I would never find out?
I want to scream.
How could you kiss her then come home and kiss me with that same mouth?
How could you fuck her then climb into my bed?
Instead, I grind the words out, “You’re a coward.”
He nods, dropping his eyes to the floor.
“I’m a coward,” he agrees solemnly.
Instead of feeling victorious at his affirmation, it makes my anger explode into a rage born of wasted time, continuous insults, and humiliation.
No, he’s not a man. A real man would never do the things he has. Integrity is being man enough to admit when you’re wrong and doing everything in your power to make things right.
This vile creature who stands before me wears arrogance like a crown while his self-inflated ego rolls out before him like a red carpet. He has never admitted to being wrong. Robert Hurst can do no wrong in his own eyes. Even when he walked over me, he made it feel like I wasn’t even worth being trampled by his feet.
“You’re a narcissist.” His eyes flare with anger. I see the look that I’ve come to know well over the years. A look which was meant to knock me down because I dared to raise my eyes in his presence.
But he’s in for one hell of a surprise if he thinks that will work on me now. I have nothing to lose, nothing to protect, and that makes me reckless.
It makes the truth spill over my lips as if I’m vomiting the poison he has fed me for so long.
“Your arrogance will be your downfall.”
I see the challenge in his eyes, but something is holding him back from losing his temper.
Whenever we used to talk, and I’m using that word lightly because it always turned into a fight. He would turn every conversation around with such craftiness, making me feel like I was responsible for all our problems. Although I worked my fingers to the bone and gave him every dollar I made, our financial problems were my fault.
Now I know better. We had financial problems because I was unknowingly taking care of two families.
The family I thought was mine… and that woman’s.
“For months you told me that you were sick. Who the hell does that? Who pretends to be sick and use it as a weapon?” I shake my head as disgust wells in my chest. “You’re vile.”
He only stares at me, depriving me of the truth once again.
“Every time I tried to talk to you, you were quick to beat me down. How dare I go against your manhood?” I sneer as I force the bitter words over my tongue. “Every single time I brought that woman up, you were quick to accuse me of being unreasonable. You got angry because you felt I was attacking your character as a man and husband. You got upset because I was forcing you to face the truth. Every single time you turned the conversation around, you tried to make me believe I saw things which weren’t there, that it was all in my mind.”
I take a step closer to him, feeling a sense of freedom because I can finally defend myself and not worry about the consequences.
“You have no character. You’re not a man. You’re not worth the title of husband.”
Stubbornness sets in my chest, making me shake my head. He doesn’t deserve my anger. I’ve given him so much, that I’m not willing to give him a second more.
“You’re the biggest mistake I’ve ever made,” I say, knowing the words will hit hard. Then I go in for the kill. “You’re not half the man Kevin was.”
His eyes widen as the blow hits. A smile curves my lips upward as satisfaction offers a spec of warmth to my frozen heart.
Robert has always hated Kevin, my first husband. Another mistake I made. I should never have let Kevin go. He was a good man unlike the piece of shit standing before me now.
“You disgust me. Get out, and don’t come back until I’m gone.”
I should fight him for the house, but there’s nothing in me that wants to keep the wood and nails that hold the skeleton of the vows we once shared.
I should take it and sell it. I should take back every dollar that I’ve sacrificed to this cancerous relationship, but I don’t have the strength for that.
I continue packing everything, emptying out the house. He can have the shell, but I’m taking the heart and soul of my life with me. I won’t let her have a single thing more.
By the time I’m done, and the moving company is loading the last of the boxes, I walk through the house one last time.
In the main bedroom, all that’s left behind are dust motes and my wedding dress which I leave hanging against his closet door.
I give myself a moment, closing my eyes.
Taking a deep breath, I need to smell the familiar scent of home one last time.
Once again, I hear the front door open, and the stale feeling creeps back as he steps into the house.
I turn around and walk down the hallway, my face empty of all I feel.
“Sorry, I need to feed the birds,” he says.
I stop in front of him and hold his wedding band out to him. He hasn’t worn it in years. He opens his hand, and I drop the band into his palm.
Words rush up my throat, wanting to use this last chance to express all the pain he has inflicted on me.
But once again, I swallow them down.
You will not let him see what he’s done to you.
You will stand strong.
Without another word, I walk by him and out the front door.
I feel more saddened by the loss of the familiarity of the house and garden. The loss of the sounds of the birds chirping, the way light falls over the walls, and shadows fill the corners.
Everything had its place.
Now I’m leaving it behind for the unknown.
“I really am sorry,” he says behind me, and I hate him even more than I thought I could hate another human being for sounding sincere.
I ignore the words as I open the driver’s door to his Audi. That’s right. I’m taking his car. After all, he loved it more than me.
As I reverse down the driveway, I allow myself one last look at the house, the man – at my past.
It’s only a split-second as my eyes brush over the past twelve years of my life.
Then I look at the road, and I drive toward my uncertain future with the bad taste of wasted time and defiled memories on my tongue.
Michelle Heard is a Bestselling Romance Author who likes her books hot, dirty, and with a touch of darkness. She loves an alpha hero who is not scared to fight for his woman.
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