Read the first three chapters of Shelf Awareness!

Chapter One

Turning left and right, I stared at my reflection in the three-way mirror. For the first time in a long time, I liked the woman I saw. This woman didn’t scowl at her image. Framed by dark hair, her face wore a coy, yet confident smile. Her body, which had been recently transformed by a thirty-pound weight loss and strenuous fitness training, fit nicely into a black bustier and lacy panty set. With her blue eyes, she could finally see light between her thighs, now adorned with sexy thigh-highs.  

With a nod, I gave my reflection a goofy thumbs-up along with a toothy grin. I stopped just short of doing some sort of happy dance. Normally, I wasn’t into such displays of self-appreciation. I wasn’t a glass half-empty gal when it came to self-esteem, but more like, “Wait, there’s a glass?” But today was different. Today wasn’t your run-of-the-mill Thursday. Today signaled the day I took my marriage back. 

At the thought of Grant, I exclaimed, “Shit!” I didn’t have to glance at my fitness watch to know I needed to get going or I would be late. Furiously, I threw my dress on over my lingerie. After tugging on the hem to make sure I wouldn’t be mooning the day spa’s clientele, I grabbed my purse and hustled to the door. 

Exiting the dressing room, I powerwalked down the hall. I didn’t normally spend a Thursday decadently getting sea salt wraps and stone massages. Thursdays, along with the rest of the weekdays, were spent in my office. I was Chief Editor for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. Today I’d been encouraged by my husband, who worked for the AJC’s parent company, Cox Communications, to take a day for myself at the spa. 

I’d seen it as the perfect opportunity to enact the plan that had been stewing in my mind for the last month. It was a sex specific plan. Considering I couldn’t remember the last time Grant and I had had sex, it had become an all-out battle plan, which I had named Operation Seduction. If everything went along with my well-thought out plan, Operation Seduction wasn’t the only thing going down tonight, if you catch my drift. 

As I walked out into the perfect, sunny day, I couldn’t fight my rising excitement for getting home to enact Operation Seduction. Instead of the marriage cliché of the seven-year-itch, Grant and I had been experiencing a five-year one. If I was honest, it had started somewhere in the middle of year four. That was the year we started trying for a baby, which so far had turned into an unsuccessful venture. After the obligatory unsuccessful year had passed, we sought treatment at a fertility clinic six months ago. A barrage of intrusive procedures later, and we had a discouraging diagnosis: unexplained infertility. Everything should have been working perfectly, but it wasn’t. 

Before heading down the road of IUIs and IVF, Grant was encouraged to wear boxers instead of his usual briefs to free up his swimmers while I had been instructed to lose a little weight. As a naturally driven person, I’d hired a personal trainer to help me shed the pounds and become healthier. Xavier was the stereotypical personal trainer with pecs that rivaled my B cups, abs you could grate cheese on, and thighs the size of tree trunks. But he wasn’t just a perfect body. No, with his chiseled good looks, he made you wet with more than just sweat. Of course, he wasn’t only out of my league with how impossibly beautiful he was, there was also the fact he was gay. 

A few days ago at my weekly weigh-in with Xavier, I’d met my goal loss of thirty pounds. When my ovulation calculator highlighted my upcoming peak fertility days, I knew it was time to ramp it up and get it on. That’s when the plan for Operation Seduction formed in my mind. 

As I maneuvered my SUV through midtown Atlanta’s notorious traffic, I wanted to stay in the zone, and I knew just the thing to do that. “Siri, play the Seduction Playlist.” A few seconds later Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing began pumping through the car. I nodded my head to the beat. 

Easing up to the red light, I tapped my thumbs on the steering wheel. Throwing my head back, I belted, “When I get that feeling, I want sexual healing.” 

I glanced over to see the elderly couple beside me staring open-mouthed at me. Normally, I would have whipped the volume down on the radio while simultaneously sliding down the seat to hide. I tended to care too much about what others, even strangers, thought of me. It drove my husband crazy. 

But not today. I was on too much of an adrenaline kick for that. Instead, I just nodded my head at them. Oh yeah, folks, I’m getting me some sexual healing tonight. Some of that good ol’ D in my box. 

Ew. Had I really just made the vagina/box analogy? Thankfully, the light turned green, and I sped off toward home. Three years ago, Grant and I had sold our house in the burbs to move closer to the city even though it was pricey. We’d ended up in a condo community in Sandy Springs close to work. 

After I eased the car into my deeded space, I grabbed my purse before flinging open the car door. Flashing my key fob at the security panel, I headed inside to the bank of elevators. I took the first one to the fifth floor. 

As I stepped off the elevator, I somewhat lamented the lack of a personal garage and grass and a mailbox where, after grabbing the mail, I’d throw my hand up at my neighbor driving by. Grant loved to tease me about being old-fashioned. It’s what he constantly called me when he’d broached the idea of moving into a condo. He’d finally worn me down with his arguments about how much more practical it was to live in a condo where he didn’t have to worry about cutting the grass, and we had access to a gym and a pool. 

When I entered the front door, I tossed my keys and purse on the entrance table. I headed into the bedroom to get started on part one of my seduction plan. But the sound of the shower running sent me skidding to a stop. Shit! Grant was already home. That meant I was going to have to curb some aspects of my seduction plan, like the trail of rose petals into the bedroom and the flickering candles lighting the room. 

Instead, I would go straight for the big reveal of the plan aka my body. I stripped off my dress and hurriedly threw it in the hamper. As OCD as he was, Grant would’ve totally been taken out of the moment if he’d seen my dress crumpled on the floor. 

After fluffing my hair, I brought my hand to my mouth and breathed into it. “Breath is good,” I murmured. Throwing a glance in the mirror over the chest of drawers, I checked my makeup. I’d totally splurged by having it professionally done at the spa. Although I considered myself a successful woman, I failed when it came to the application of makeup, especially since I had yet to master the art of highlighting and contouring. Not to mention fake lashes. 

Once I was satisfied with my appearance, I climbed up on the bed. I tried out a few positions to surmise which one I would look sexiest in. At the sound of the water turning off, I quickly turned on my left side. I propped up on my elbow with my head supported by my hand. 

When Grant entered the bedroom, I tossed my hair back and smiled at him over my shoulder. “Hey, baby,” I murmured in a breathy voice. 

Inwardly, I did a victory dance at the look of pure shock on Grant’s face. Considering how huge his eyes got, I knew I was totally rocking it. Just as I started seductively running a hand down my body, it hit me. I shot straight up on the bed. “Wait, if you’re out here, who the hell is in the bathroom?”

Before Grant could answer me, the bathroom door creaked open. Frantically, I pitched forward to grab the decorative vase off the nightstand. It wasn’t much of a weapon, but it would have to do. At the sight of the potential intruder, I gasped. “X-Xavier?” 

My personal trainer stood practically naked before me except for a low hanging towel wrapped around his waist. Ordinarily, I would have paused a moment to ogle the sight of the droplets of water sliding down his rock-hard abs, but I was too floored and had too many questions. 

Xavier’s eyes widened almost as much as Grant’s had. “Um, hello, Finley.” His gaze flickered from my eyes to Grant’s and then back to mine. 

Forgoing the usual pleasantries, I demanded, “What the hell are you doing naked in the middle of my bedroom?” 

“I, uh . . .” Once again, Xavier threw a panic-stricken look at Grant. Why the hell did he seem so worried about Grant? Even if Grant was enraged at finding Xavier in our bedroom, which he didn’t appear to be, it wasn’t like Xavier couldn’t beat him in a fight. He had about two feet and thirty pounds on him. Besides, the two of them had met before, so it wasn’t like Grant was walking in on me with some stranger. I’m pretty sure Grant was aware Xavier was gay, so it wasn’t like he was a threat to our marriage. 

But when I glanced at Grant to set him straight, his face revealed everything I never wanted to know. Life as I knew it stopped in that moment. I was rocked to the very core of my being. The aftershocks were so intense they caused me to shudder. 

Grant was having an affair. Grant was having an affair with my personal trainer. Grant was cheating on me with another man. 

Holy fucking hell. 

“I’m sorry, Finley. I never meant for any of this to happen,” Grant said. 

I jerked my head to stare at him. Since the synapses in my brain had short-circuited, I could only blink in response. The realizations of the last few seconds had rendered me incapacitated. Like someone in a coma when you ask them to blink once for yes and twice for no. My mind had shut down in a vain attempt at self-preservation. 

“We certainly never meant to hurt you,” Xavier said. 

Slowly, I swiveled my gaze to him. “You . . .” Once again, I found myself incapable of articulating my emotions. In spite of being unable to vocalize my feelings, my internal monologue was shouting itself hoarse. 

How do you have the audacity to say you didn’t mean to hurt me?

What else would I experience but hurt when I learned you and my husband had been sleeping together? It sure as hell wasn’t euphoria or even relief. It was pure unadulterated hurt. 

Although there was a slew of other things both my mind and I wanted to say to him, I merely replied, “Get. Out.” 

He had the gall to appear wounded at my declaration. “For what it’s worth, Finley, you look absolutely amazing. We really worked a miracle in the last few months.”

With clenched fists, I threw my head back, and with all the courage I could muster, I shouted, “GET OUT!” 

Apparently, I mustered a lot because Xavier scrambled back into the bathroom so fast he almost fell on his ass. Under other circumstances, I would have found it comical. After snatching his clothes off the floor, he rushed past me and then out the bedroom door. Apparently, I was pretty imposing because he didn’t stop to put his clothes on since I heard the front door quickly slam.  

After Xavier’s exit, a thick tension permeated the room. Although we were alone, Grant and I weren’t talking. We just stood stock still, looking anywhere in the room but at each other. Suddenly, I found myself feeling too exposed in spite of wearing lingerie. I’d never experienced that feeling before around Grant. I grabbed a throw off the back of one of the bedroom chairs and wrapped it around me. 

Finally, after an eternity of stony silence had crawled by, I shook my head. “How?” I murmured. 

Grant’s surprised gaze met mine. “How what?”

“How . . .” I licked my lips, which had run as dry as the Sahara. “How did we get here?” Before I let Grant respond, I added, “I know things haven’t been stellar, but I never thought it was as bad as—” Since I couldn’t find the words, I merely motioned around the bedroom to sum up what had just transpired. “This.”

Exhaling a ragged sigh, Grant said, “There was a purpose in today.”

“A purpose?” I blinked at him. “A purpose in witnessing my trainer naked and in my bedroom for the purpose of screwing my husband?”

Grant winced. “That’s not what I meant.”

“Ah, then what could possibly be the fucking purpose behind today’s events?”

“I meant, I sent you to the spa for a purpose. I wanted to do something really nice for you because I planned to tell you about Xavier tonight. When I asked Xavier to stop by, I didn’t think you would be home until much later.”  

“Yes, that part I can believe.” Cocking my head at him, I asked, “How long has it been going on?” 

“Does it really matter?”

A mirthless laugh bubbled from my lips. “Yes. Of course, it does.”

Grant jerked a hand through his hair. “Remember that day you introduced the two of us?”

Three months ago, Grant had come home from work early to find me working out with Xavier. I had originally wanted to keep my workouts a secret since I didn’t want Grant to be disappointed in me for quitting yet another workout regime. I was totally surprised when the two of them struck up an easy conversation. They hit it off so well that Xavier had even stayed for dinner. At the realization of what that truly meant, I slowly nodded my head. 

“That night I couldn’t sleep for thinking about him. At first, I thought it was just about wanting to be around someone so full of life.” 

My chin trembled. “I’m not full of life?”

Grant raked a hand through his hair. “You used to be. Then all the fertility stuff just seemed to drain it all out of you.”

I swiped the tears from my cheeks. “Yeah, well, you try having your nether regions poked and prodded in the pursuit of whether you’re viable to carry a child.”

“I had to do a semen analysis.” 

“You jerked off in a cup. Big. Fucking. Deal!” I snapped. 

“I’m sorry. I was just stating facts.” 

“Why don’t we get back to the facts? You wanted to hang out with Xavier because he was so full of life. Then what?” I prompted. 

“The next day I called him to procure his services.”

“Ah, so procuring his services is code for banging him.”

“Do you have to be so crude?”

I threw up my hands in exasperation. “You’ve been having an affair, but I’m the crude one?”

“It wasn’t banging with Xavier. It was a connection. Being around him ignited something in me I’d never really allowed myself to acknowledge.”

“Have there been others?” I swallowed hard. “Other men?”

“No,” he replied adamantly.  

Cocking my brows at him, I countered, “How can I believe you?”

“Because for the first time in my life I know who I am. Trust me, Finley, I’ve been lying to myself a lot longer than I have to you. This isn’t just an affair or a mid-life crisis—”

“Jesus, Grant, we’re not that old.” 

He swept his hands to his hips in a huff. “Would you let me finish?”

“Fine.”

“Like I was saying, this isn’t just an affair or mid-life crisis. It’s who I am, and nothing you can say or do is going to change that.” 

“You won’t get any arguments out of me about labeling you a cheater.”

“It’s more than that.” Grant swallowed hard. “I’m gay.”

His words sent me spiraling backward until my knees bumped into the mattress. Thankfully, the bed was there, or I would have probably collapsed to the floor. My husband was gay. I’m not sure why hearing those words were almost worse than seeing his naked lover in our bedroom. Maybe it was because there was no coming back from him being gay. Experimentation was one thing. An admission of being bisexual was another. But Grant hadn’t left any gray room. It was all black and white. 

“You’re gay,” I stated. I didn’t have to question him again. We’d been together long enough for me to know when he was absolutely certain about something. He’d worn the same expression on his face when he’d seen the condo. 

He gave a quick bob of his head. “Yes.”

“And we’re over,” I murmured. 

Remorse filled Grant’s face. “I’m sorry, Fin. Although there has been such exhilaration in finally acknowledging who I am, it comes at a terrible price for our marriage. Both Xavier and I never meant to hurt you.”

Right. That same trite sentiment again. Regardless of how many times they voiced it, I certainly didn’t feel any less hurt. In fact, the anguish only seemed to grow. Before I could tell him to get out and I never wanted to see him again, he beat me to the punch. “Look, I’ll go and give you time to process all of this.”

“That’s it? You’re just going to drop a bomb on me then walk out the door?” I protested. 

“I think we both know there’s nothing else I can say or do that wouldn’t be detrimental.”

Crossing my arms over my chest, I countered, “Are you really that concerned about me, or are you more concerned with running after Xavier?”

Once again, his expression betrayed his feelings. “Get out,” I once again said. 

Grant didn’t argue with me. Instead, he quickly turned and fled the bedroom. When I heard the front door slam, I slowly sank down onto the floor. I didn’t know how to “process this” as Grant had suggested. How does one even begin to process the demise of their marriage? The decimation of the world they had built with another person? A person I had loved with all my heart, who had broken our martial vows and cheated on me. The man I had planned to be the father of my children. The man who in the end turned out to be a complete stranger. 

The tears began in tiny drip-drops. As the recollection of happy memories coupled with broken dreams charged through me, the tears began to flow as a stream. 

Life was so fucking unfair.

Chapter Two

Thursday night found me sitting in the middle of my marriage bed, or I suppose I should say my former marriage bed, surrounded by mounds of Grant’s pants and underwear. After calling in sick to work, I had spent most of the day gorging myself on carbs. All the delicious and decadent foods I’d given up in the past three months under Xavier’s training. Every time I popped a Cool Ranch Dorito in my mouth or licked the buttery crumbs of a biscuit off my lips, I felt it was a giant fuck-you to Xavier. I’d denied myself over and over to look better for Grant, and all the while, he was expending calories fucking my trainer. 

Bastards. 

In the end, Xavier didn’t give two shits if I died by carb excess, and Grant didn’t care how I looked because I didn’t have a dick. 

I would be lying if I said last night hadn’t been rough. I couldn’t bring myself to sleep in my bed. It wasn’t so much about not wanting to sleep alone, but more about the fact I kept imagining Grant and Xavier in it. The two of them doing it in my bed. Even after stripping the sheets and duvet and tossing them in the trash, I still didn’t want to sleep there. Instead, I’d slept on the couch and woken up in an ungodly position with a giant crick in my neck. 

At noon, I decided there was no time like the present to call my parents, especially since they were expecting us to come spend the weekend with them. After crying through a conversation with my mom, I’d then rehashed everything with my dad when he’d returned from the hardware store. Even in the midst of my overwhelming heartbreak, I was grateful for the parents I had. I could’ve been cheated on and had no one to turn to. 

Emotionally spent after unloading all my drama, I’d holed up in the guest bed, watching the results of my “men who cheat” search on YouTube. Nothing had come up under my original search of “dirty bastards who screw around.” It was after watching one of my favorites, Waiting to Exhale, that I had a breakthrough. Sure, one might say rounding up your husband’s clothes to cut the crotches out of them was more of a breakdown than a breakthrough, but I didn’t care. I had a purpose. 

So, there I was annihilating the crotches of Grant’s pants when the phone rang. When I threw a glance at the caller ID, I grimaced. Normally, I loved hearing from my maternal grandmother. Beatrice Eloise Simmons, or Bea as she was more commonly known, was the epitome of an overindulgent Southern grandmother. For as long as I could remember, her silver hair had been teased and cemented into place once a week at The Beauty Mark, Green Valley’s most happening hair salon. Actually, it was the only hair salon. 

Although she’d just turned eighty this past December, she was as vibrant as ever. As Queen of the Pastels, the only time you’d ever find GramBea in black was during times of mourning. Like Queen Elizabeth II, she rarely went anywhere without her handbag, or pocketbook as she called it. Within its depths, she carried an abundance of lace handkerchiefs along with a veritable smorgasbord of different hard candies. I attributed my early weight issues with her heaping helpings. Not to mention her propensity to have dessert at every meal. 

Just let it go to voicemail the voice in my head chanted. 

“She’ll just call back,” I argued. Great, now I was talking to myself. First thing on my to-do list for tomorrow was to make an appointment with a therapist. Maybe I could find one in the same building as a divorce lawyer since that was also on my list. 

With a frustrated grunt, I finally picked up my phone. “Hello?”

“Finley Anne, it’s me, GramBea.” It was her signature greeting. Not only did she call me by my first and middle name, but she felt the need to announce who she was in spite of caller ID and voice recognition. She’d gotten her moniker of “GramBea” after her grandchildren found Grandmother Bea too much of a mouthful. 

“Hey, GramBea. How are you?”

She harrumphed in my ear. “Sugar, you know as well as I do that I didn’t call to talk about me.”

“I didn’t imagine you did,” I grumbled. 

“I just got off the phone with your mama. Why on earth didn’t you call me and tell me about this business with Grant?”

I rolled my eyes to the ceiling. The one thing I had said to my mother was to keep the news about Grant quiet. Until I felt stronger, I didn’t want anyone but her and my dad to know. I would inform my brother and the rest of my family later on. “I’m sorry, GramBea. I just couldn’t bring myself to talk about it anymore.”

“Well, that’s understandable. I mean, it’s one thing to find out your husband is cheatin’ on you, but then to find out it’s with another man? Mm, mm, mm, it’s just inconceivable.” 

Pinching my eyes shut, I replied, “Yes, it is.”

“Now listen, I don’t want you beating yourself up over this. There was nothing you could’ve done differently.”

“Except have a dick,” a voice bellowed in the background. 

My eyes popped open. “Are you with the girls?”

“Of course I am, honey.”

It was a dumb question on my part. For the last five years, GramBea, her younger sister, Dorothy, or Dot, and their best friend since childhood, Estelle, had lived together in GramBea’s rambling two-story house right off Main Street. They had their very own Golden Girls house, minus the Miami heat and the lanai. With its columns and wide front porch, it resembled something out of Gone with the Wind. All three women had been widowed within a six-month period. Well, Estelle had actually lost her wife rather than her husband. Because of the small-town stigma toward same sex couples, she and her wife, Millie, had been living in Chattanooga for the last forty years. It was a combination of both their Southern charm and loneliness that allowed GramBea and Dot to talk Estelle into moving back to Green Valley. 

While my mom had grown up in Green Valley, she’d left to attend the University of Tennessee. It was there she met my dad, and they ended up settling in his hometown of Smyrna, which was almost three hours away from Green Valley. As a child, I spent many weekends at GramBea and Granddaddy’s house. When summertime rolled around, my brother, Everett, and I holed up for weeks on end. Along with GramBea’s house, Green Valley was like a second home to me. 

“Listen, honey, I’m going to put you on speakerphone for the girls.”

Before I could protest that I most certainly did not want to discuss my cheating husband over speaker, I heard my great-aunt Dot’s breathy voice. “Finnie, I’m so, so sorry. I want you to know I’ll be praying for you.”

“Thanks, Aunt Dot.” With Aunt Dot praying, I knew I would make it on the church’s prayer list before morning. She was so devout GramBea usually said her heart was more Holy Rollin’ Pentecostal than First Baptist. I could almost picture Dot standing there wringing her hands, as she often did when she was upset. Physically, she and GramBea were almost mirror images of each other. Instead of wearing her silver hair teased, Dot swept hers back into a stereotypical old lady bun. While they might’ve looked alike, they were so different when it came to their personalities. Dot was shyer and far more reserved. Her only child, Preston, lived in Chattanooga. 

“Anything you need, sweetheart. I’m right here, day or night,” Dot said. 

“I know. And I appreciate it. I really do.”

The sugary sweetness of Dot’s voice was replaced by no-nonsense Estelle’s. “Finn, you know I have some friends in the community who could easily work Grant over.”

I snorted. While Aunt Dot was all thoughts and prayers, Estelle was tough-as-nails, which showed through with her revenge offer. Sometimes I wondered how the three of them had become friends in the first place. Aunt Dot and GramBea had spent their lives as housewives and church and community leaders while Estelle had moved off to the big city to become a therapist with a focus on sexual health. Now retired, she had a studio where she taught yoga and sold essential oils. Of course, when Estelle moved away in the fifties, it had more to do with small town ideals toward her sexual preference. Estelle was the tallest of the group with a lithe body like a dancer while her hair was styled into a silver bob.

“While I appreciate the sentiment, it won’t be necessary,” I replied. 

“Just remember it’s there if you need it.”

“Thank you, but I think I have things pretty much under control.”

“You aren’t contemplating something irrational, are you dear?” Aunt Dot asked. 

“Define irrational.” I shot back. 

She tittered nervously. “You aren’t holding a weapon?”

“As a matter of fact, I am.” At her sharp intake of breath, I added, “A pair of scissors.”

Shrieking, GramBea said, “Oh honey, don’t massacre that gorgeous head of hair of yours!” 

I rolled my eyes. “I’m not cutting my hair.”

“Then what are the scissors for?” 

“If you must know, I’m cutting the crotch out of all of Grant’s pants.” 

“Why on earth would you do that?” Dot asked. 

“Isn’t it obvious? I’m an English major. Since symbolism is my life, I’m symbolically cutting his dick off for cheating on me.”

Estelle snorted. “Maybe in Grant’s case, you should be cutting the ass out of them.”

With a groan, I tossed the scissors onto the bed. Using my free hand, I rubbed my suddenly aching forehead. Just a short twenty-four hours ago, my life had been so different. How was it possible it could turn a 180 so quickly?

“Listen, Finnie, I didn’t call just to commiserate. I—”

We,” Estelle interjected. 

“Yes, we wanted to invite you up to Green Valley this weekend. We were talking, and we think a change of scene and society can make a world of difference to the psyche.”

While the idea of getting out of town wasn’t totally unappealing, I didn’t think I had it in me. Sure, the drive up to the mountains would be therapeutic, but Green Valley wasn’t the metropolis Atlanta was. Even though I hadn’t grown up there, everyone knew I was Bea’s granddaughter. A quick stop at the Donner Bakery to gorge on their delicacies would end up with a harmless interrogation about me and my personal life. I wouldn’t even be able to sneak into the Piggly Wiggly for wine without being noticed. Then inadvertently I’d end up revealing my husband had left me for my male personal trainer. 

“Look, I really appreciate the offer, but I think it’s best if I stay put for the moment.”

GramBea tsked at my response. “If you stay home, you’re going to do nothing but wallow in self-pity while cutting the crotch out of pants.”

“That’s not true. I plan to cut up his jockey shorts too,” I argued. 

Estelle snickered. “Nice one.”

With a grin, I replied, “I thought as much.”

“Won’t you please reconsider?” GramBea asked. 

“Not right now. I promise I’ll come up in a few weeks.”

“You better. And let us know ahead of time so we can get baking,” Dot said. 

It was pretty much guaranteed if I went to Green Valley for the weekend, I’d come home weighing ten pounds more. GramBea and Aunt Dot were revered bakers in the community. Whatever decadent delicacies they didn’t make, I was sure to find at the Donner Bakery. “Trust me, I wouldn’t deprive myself of your goodies for anything in the world.”

“I’m going to put fresh sheets on the bed in the guestroom tonight just in case you change your mind,” GramBea said. 

“Thanks. I appreciate it.”

“You just remember that we’re all here for you.”

The sentiment caused the ache in my chest to expand, and I fought to speak. When I finally recovered my voice, I choked out. “I know. And I appreciate it.”

“I love you so much, Finley Anne,” GramBea said.

“I love you too.”

After Dot and Estelle echoed the sentiment, I hung up the phone. As I looked down at the half-destroyed pair of pants, I found my desire for revenge had dissipated. My call with the girls had replaced the animosity I felt with love and appreciation. 

For the first time in twenty-four hours, I felt like I could breathe.

Chapter Three

When the alarm went off the next morning, I found the emotional respite from my call with GramBea and the girls had sadly disappeared with sleep. Lying in bed, I debated whether to cry or clench my fists in anger. As an equal opportunity mourner, I went for both. I wept as I jabbed the mattress with my fists. I cried and screamed and flailed until I was utterly spent. As I lay there panting to catch my breath, I wanted nothing more than to continue wallowing in self-pity. When and if I felt like getting out of bed, maybe I would set fire to our wedding album. I’d already worked destruction on Grant’s wardrobe. 

However, upon closer inspection, I knew I couldn’t afford to take another “sick day.” Sure, I could have tried to get some work done from home, but I really needed to get back into the office. I didn’t want to lose my husband and my job all in the same week. 

Girding my strength, I somehow pulled myself out of bed and trudged across the bedroom to the bathroom. After a scalding hot shower, I tried as best I could to plaster on enough makeup to hide my swollen eyes. Almost forty-eight hours of crying had left me looking like a puffer fish.  

After exiting the shower, I pilfered in my closet to find something to wear. I lamented I had to put on professional attire, and I couldn’t stay in yoga pants and a T-shirt. As I reached to button my dress shirt, the gleam of my wedding ring caught my eye. Slowly, I brought my hand up in front of my face to stare at it. 

The once gorgeous two-carat diamond with its platinum setting now seemed like a giant farce. Did I continue to wear it and keep up the charade I was a happily married woman? Or did I take it off to symbolize I was no longer held to the bonds of matrimony because my husband had been banging my personal trainer? 

Sure, I still had to go through the fun divorce process to make it legally binding, but I knew without a shadow of a doubt my marriage was over. There was no working through this affair with marriage counseling to try to rebuild broken trust. I was never going to be the partner for Grant. I didn’t have the most vital asset necessary to facilitate his happiness: a dick. 

After twisting the ring back and forth on my finger for a good five minutes, I ultimately pulled my hand away. For now, I would leave it where it was. It wasn’t out of any sentimentality. It was more I had realized taking it off would potentially raise questions from my coworkers, which I couldn’t handle at the moment. It was one thing handling GramBea and the girls over the phone. It was quite another having to answer questions face to face. 

I threw on my black dress pants and slid into a pair of black heels. Considering my entire outfit from head to toe was black, I was prepared for someone to ask me if someone had died. That or I was paying homage to Johnny Cash. 

After sliding across the leather seat of my car, I pushed the button to crank the engine. When the sounds of Wednesday’s sex playlist blared over the speakers, I grunted as if I’d literally been punched in the gut. After quickly turning the radio off, I made my usual morning commute in silence. Well, that wasn’t entirely true since the voice in my head was talking non-stop.  

As I pulled into the parking deck, dread began to gnaw in the pit of my stomach. Returning to work meant returning to the world at large, and I wasn’t sure I was emotionally strong enough for that. Considering I had a pretty good relationship with all my work colleagues, it was only a matter of time before one of them innocently said something that would set me off. Maybe for the foreseeable future, I could enact a hermit-style existence. 

When I got inside the building, I stopped for my usual morning skinny latte at the café before heading over the bank of elevators. Balancing the coffee in one hand, I tapped the up button with my other hand. Just as I took a swig of coffee, the elevator doors opened. At the sight of who was inside, I spewed my coffee out. 

My extreme reaction wasn’t just over seeing Grant again. It was the fact Xavier was with him. And they were holding hands. For as long as we were married, Grant never held my hand in the building. He thought it didn’t appear professional. What a hypocrite! 

Seeing him in my bedroom was the worst possible scenario, but the fact he was in my place of work was also horrible. “I’m sorry, Fin. I didn’t think you would be here today when I had Xavier meet me for breakfast,” Grant said. 

Oh, hell fucking no. Tilting my head at Grant, I said, “You two had breakfast together? How interesting since you’ve been telling me for the past few months you never had time to have breakfast with me.” In an exaggerated motion, I swept my hand up to tap my finger on my chin. “I wonder why you never had time for me, but you can for Xavier?”

Paling slightly, Grant’s nervous gaze bounced around the lobby. “Finley, please, let’s not do this here.”

“Why? Are you afraid I’m going to make a scene?” Sweeping my hands wide, I threw my head back. “Are you afraid I’m going to tell everyone in this building how you broke our marriage vows and broke my heart by having a gay affair with my personal trainer?” I shouted. 

My words echoed through the atrium, causing those hustling in to work to screech to a stop. With wide-eyes and open mouths, they stared at us. As time slowed to a crawl, I sincerely regretted my outburst. So much for trying to lie low and become a hermit. Sure, there wasn’t an enormous crowd to witness my meltdown, but even those who hadn’t seen or heard my outburst would know about it before too long. 

From this day forward, I would be the woman who lost her shit in the lobby of Cox Media Group. Each and every time I walked in the building, I would have to field curious looks or ones of pity. My boss might even call me in for a wellness check. The kind they might do when they were worried someone might go apeshit and do something really crazy like stab or shoot someone. 

But it wasn’t just the office building. If I stayed in our condo, I’d get the same looks of curiosity and pity. Even if I moved somewhere else, Atlanta was full of memories of my life with Grant. It would be hard to turn a corner and not remember something about him. 

Slowly shaking my head, I murmured, “I can’t do this.” 

“That would have been a more productive thought five minutes ago,” Grant hissed. 

“No, I mean, I can’t do this building anymore. This job. This city.” I exhaled a ragged breath. “I’m done.”

Grant’s brows shot up. “You’re quitting the AJC?”

With a mirthless laugh, I replied, “Yep. But not just the paper. I’m quitting this city, and most of all, I’m quitting you.” 

“Oh, that’s fierce,” Xavier whispered under his breath. 

I drew my shoulders back before giving Grant a defiant look. “Whatever divorce papers you need me to sign, you can forward them to Green Valley. As for the condo, I’ll pack up what’s mine. I don’t give a shit about the furniture or anything that could possibly remind me of you. You can sell it or burn it. Hell, you can even cut it up like I did your clothes.”

Grant gave me a mournful look. “I wouldn’t dream of not compensating you for the furniture and household materials. After all, you helped purchase them.” His expression then changed over to one of confusion. “Wait, what about my clothes?”

An evil smile curved on my face as I bypassed him on to the elevator. “You’ll find out soon enough.”

And with that, the elevator doors closed, echoing the close of my marriage.

** END SNEAK PEEK **

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