and April 5th, 2016 (Print)
Henri took risks in his job on a regular basis. Sure, his teammates worked their asses off to prevent a hard tackle from his blindside. But he understood and accepted that every time he stepped onto the field, he could suffer a career ending injury.
Fans called him brave.
Sports analysts labeled him sometimes reckless.
The press branded him as fearless.
They were all wrong.
He’d been scared as hell every day since the doctors declared Fiona had inherited her family’s cancer gene. It didn’t matter that their marriage had been on the rocks. He’d been rocked to his foundation. Still was.
Henri clenched her shoulders so his hands wouldn’t shake. Even the smallest touch between them was filled with tension. And not in the way that made him weak in the knees. “Your zipper?”
With a will of their own, his eyes took in the long line of her neck, exposed with her dark hair corralled by a thin braid so that long, loose curls cascaded in a narrow path down her back. He looked further, down her spine skimmed by those curls and to the small of her back that called to him to touch, to kiss. But he’d lost the right. She’d made that clear when he’d tried to reconcile after the doctor’s prognosis.
“Thank you, yes please,” she said, glancing over her shoulder nervously and pulling her hair aside. He hated seeing that sort of distance in her eyes. “I’m running late because of, uhm, a last minute snafu with the caterer.”
“Adelaide said you were having trouble with your car so I came home early. But I see it’s in the garage. What was wrong?”
Whipping her head away from his gaze, she muttered, “Doesn’t matter.”
It was becoming her trademark response. It didn’t matter.
That was a lie. He could tell it in the way her mouth thinned as she spoke.
Letting out a deep sigh, his eyes traced over their room. Or should he say—their former room. He’d taken to sleeping in the guest bedroom of the restored home. Away from her. They’d even lost the ability to lie next to each other at night. To show up for each other in that simple way.
In front of him was the first gift he’d ever bought Fiona. It was a handsome jewelry armoire that doubled as a full length mirror. It was a one-of-a-kind vintage piece. Whimsical and light. Just like Fiona in her beautiful, jewel colored dress. Looking at the gilded mirror with his exquisite wife framed in its reflection reminded him of how far they’d fallen. Damn.
This whole room was a mausoleum to what was.
He wanted her to lean on him. Even if it was just a little bit. This wasn’t what he wanted. “Anything else I can do to help?”
“I’ve got it under control.” Finality colored her words.
“You always do.” It came out harsher than he intended. But damn it, he was trying. Couldn’t she see that?
She spun around to face him, her petite frame filling with rigid rage with the silk of her gown whirled against his shins. Raising her chin and her brow, she pressed her lips tight, primly. “No need to be snarky.”
Sticking his hands in his suit pants, he shrugged, his silk tee under his jacket as soft as her touch. “I am completely serious.”
Fiona’s deep brown eyes softened. She took a deep breath and stared at him. A breeze stirred the stale air of the room, filtering through the window with the sounds of foot traffic and car horns. It was a grounding sound, reminding him of when they’d first bought this house and when they’d been a team. They’d spent hours restoring the old house. And they’d done it together. They’d built this house into a home.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to start a fight. Adelaide was a huge help during a really long day. Let’s just get through the evening. It’s harder and harder to pretend there’s nothing wrong between us.”
Something was off with her today, but he couldn’t tell what. Clear enough though, she was trying to pick a fight with him.
“I don’t want to fight with you.” He didn’t know what the hell he wanted anymore other than for to have things the way they were.
“You used to love a good argument with me. Only me. You get along with everyone else. I never understood that.”
“We had fire, you and I.” It had been a sizzling love. One that warmed him to his damn core. And he knew there was still a spark in the embers. He couldn’t believe it was all gone.
“Had, Henri. That’s my point. It’s over and you need to quit making excuses to delay the final step.” Ferocity returned to her fairy-like features. A warrior in blue silk and sequins.
“Not excuses. You needed to recover. Then we agreed we wouldn’t upset the season starting. Then with my brother’s wedding on the horizon–”
“Excuses. Divorce isn’t the end of the world.” She pinned up a curl that had escaped the confines of the delicate braid binding the others into place.
Everything about her these days was carefully put together so that no one saw a hint of the turmoil beneath. For months he’d respected that. Understood she was the one calling the shots with her health issues. But how could she deny herself any help? Ever? She’d made it clear he didn’t know how to be the least bit of assistance.
And now, divorce was the recurring refrain.
“Our family is in the spotlight. A split between us would eat up positive oxygen in the press.” He needed her to take a deep breath. They needed to figure out everything. He needed to stall.
She turned back around, using the mirror to smooth her dress. “No one is going to think poorly of you for leaving me. I will make it clear I’m the one who asked for the divorce.”
Anger boiled, flushing his cheeks. “I don’t give a damn what people think about me.”
“But you do care about your team. I understand.” He picked up on the implication of her words. That he didn’t care about her. And that couldn’t be farther off-base. She was still trying to pick a fight. To widen the gap between them.
“We’re going to be late.” The tone of his voice was soft. Almost like a whisper. He wanted to calm her down, to stop this from turning into an unnecessary fight. Something was upsetting her. Something major.
As much as he wanted to understand her, he couldn’t. The party was about to start and he didn’t have the time to unwrap the subtle meaning of all of her words.
All he wanted was to have their old life back. For her to look at him like she used. To be a team again. For their relationship to be uncomplicated like it once was.
Tapping the back of her dress, he met her gaze in the mirror. Settling his hands back on her shoulder, he breathed against her ear and neck. “Unless you would like me to take the zipper back down again.”
USA Today bestseller and RITA Award winning author Catherine Mann writes contemporary romance for Berkley, Harlequin, Sourcebooks and Tule. With over sixty books released in more than twenty countries, she has also celebrated six RITA finals, an RT Reviewer’s Award finalist, three Maggie Award of Excellence finals and a Bookseller’s Best win. Catherine and her flyboy husband live on the Florida coast where they brought up their 4 children – and still have 5 four-legged, furry “children” (aka pets). Catherine is an active volunteer with an animal rescue, serving on their Board of Directors and fostering over 200 puppies, ill dogs, and dogs with service/working potential.