Secrets and Sins:RaphaelBy: Naima Simone
Ethan snickered, and a reluctant smile curved her lips. So her humor button hadn’t been permanently smashed to smithereens. Good to know.
“Sweetie.” He sobered, his gaze solemn and filled with compassion. “You have to talk to him sooner or later.”
“Not now.” She shook her head. Hurt and the greasy glide of humiliation pitched and rolled in her belly. She turned her head, stared out the latticed windows. The red and orange electric flame effects from the fake fireplace danced in the dark windows, adding to the multicolored flicker of Christmas lights from the office building across the street. She loved this time of year. People were kinder, the world was prettier, more joyful. Her love for the holiday season was the reason she’d chosen December 23rd as her wedding date. It’d seemed perfect.
“We were friends,” she murmured. “Before the dating, the engagement, and wedding plans, we were friends. If he didn’t want me, he could’ve come to me, been up-front. Instead…”
The images of “instead” rose in her head, wavering, solidifying, then evaporating so another picture took its place. Aubrey straddling Gavin, her auburn hair streaming down her bare back as she undulated on top of Greer’s fiancé. Gavin rising, face twisted in sensual pleasure, passionately kissing the woman Greer worked with at her father’s bank. His blank eyes and gaping mouth as his gaze connected with Greer’s in the doorway of his bedroom.
“Instead he was a cowardly sack of shit who couldn’t keep his dick in his pants,” Ethan snapped, disgust dripping from his ice-cold tone. Again, championing her.
She sighed and rubbed a fingertip over the old, tiny sickle-shaped scar on her chin. A childhood habit she’d acquired and never rid herself of.
“Pretty much,” she murmured. “But you know what hurt me most?” she asked, meeting the concern and anger simmering in her brother’s eyes. “Yes, the lies and the cheating. But if I’m brutally honest with myself, I’d admit his quick capitulation with the six-month no-sex agreement should’ve been my first clue something was wrong.”
Noah Granger, her best friend, had scoffed when she’d told him about her idea of a period of abstinence and rededication so she and Gavin could experience a true wedding night. He’d warned her no sane man would go for it, and when he’d learned of Gavin’s acquiescence, he’d bluntly informed her he smelled a rat—and the rat wore Gavin’s toothy Colgate grin.
“Greer, it’s not your fault.”
She shrugged a shoulder. “I know that here.” She touched the side of her head. “But here?” she asked, placing her fingers over her chest. “Well, it’s taking a little time catching up with logic. I know Gavin and I didn’t have this grand passionate affair.” And she hadn’t desired that from him. All her life, she’d stood by and watched her mother demean herself out of “love” for her husband, a distant, cold man who wouldn’t know affection if it sidled up and peed on his Brooks Brothers pants leg. “Our relationship was built on sincere friendship, compatibility, and respect. I honestly liked who he was. How many people can say that about the person they’re involved with?”
“I can,” her brother said quietly. “And I want to jump his bones every time he walks through the door. Sorry, sweetie. But what you described you can find at the pound.” A sneer tipped the corner of his mouth. “And at least if a dog humps the wrong person, all you have to do is swat him on the nose to get him to quit.”
“Nice,” she drawled, but the quick moment of levity faded, and the pain and disillusionment rushed back in, eager and greedy to reclaim its stake. She sighed. Rolled her shoulders back as if she could shed the weight of her fiancé’s and father’s betrayals as easily. “Jesus,” she muttered. “Next thing you know I’m going to be crying in my cups. Literally.”
“You should probably eat. Y’know, to float on top of all that alcohol you’ve downed. Here.” He slid a battered laminated menu toward her across the bar top. “Pick something out. I’m going to step outside to return Jason’s call, okay?”