“Divorce sucks,” I said for what seemed like the millionth time since this whole ordeal started. Not that I needed to reiterate that for anybody. People didn’t get married thinking they’d ever divorce. Being the product of a divorced household, and a father as a divorce attorney, I never saw myself getting a divorce. I always swore that if I got married it would be forever, but that was before the promise of forever became dreary and cold. It was before the word itself made me want to curl up into a ball whenever I thought of my estranged husband hitting the bottle or those pills he’d been partial to for the past two years. It was before shit went down the drain, basically. And that’s how I found myself talking to the hot new security detail my soon to be ex-husband assigned me.
“Are you ready?” Marcus asked. Marcus. Even his name was fucking hot. The first time I saw him I wondered if Gabe’s manager had picked him out on purpose, maybe to see if I’d cozy up to him and leave Gabe alone. Or cozy up to him and have something to hold over my head in this divorce.
“He’s so full of himself, you know?” I said in response. Marcus’s brown eyes flickered to mine in the rearview mirror, holding absolutely no amusement.
“Gabriel. He’s full of himself. He thinks hiring a hot bodyguard is going to lessen the blow of the divorce. Let me tell you something, Marcus. I’m the one dealing with all this divorce crap. Me. I’m the one visiting lawyers and trying to sort things out quietly for his sake. You know why? Not because I’m a great human being, but because I still have feelings and he’s a grade-A prick. Having a hot driver isn’t going to make me forget that.” Marcus’s light blond eyebrows shot up in surprise momentarily. I wasn’t sure if to be glad for his silence as he let me get that off my chest or pissed off that he had absolutely nothing to add to my rant. I hated when people didn’t rant with me.
“I don’t know him personally, and he’s paying me, so I’m not sure what to say to that,” he said. “Knock on the window when you’re ready to get out.” He opened his door and stepped into the swarm of paparazzi awaiting my arrival.
I was sure they were hoping they’d catch a glimpse of me crying. They would have to set up a tent outside my bedroom window in order to get that shot. I gathered my thoughts as I watched Marcus round the front of the car. As promised, he stood beside my door with his back toward me. I smoothed my hair and took a deep breath as I looked out into the crowd of photographers. Of all the things Gabe had to endure on a daily basis, this was the one I’d never been able to fathom. When I was by myself they rarely followed me around, but if they caught wind that he was around it was no holds barred. They gunned for us, even if we were with my godchildren, who would cry because they hated the flash of the cameras and their nonstop questions. A couple seconds passed before I knocked on the window three times. He held his hand out to help me exit the car and sidestepped a photographer who rushed toward me.
“Nicole! How do you feel about the rumors that Gabriel is dating his new co-star Lina?” “Nicole! Over here! You look lovely today. Are you filing for divorce?” “Are you going to press charges against Fey Winters for destruction of property?” “Do you think Gabriel deserves a second chance?” “Is it true he’s screwing your best friend’s nanny?”
I never, ever showed emotion when being photographed under these circumstances, but that last question made me frown. My best friend didn’t even have a nanny. I was sure they’d manipulate that frown to mean I looked like a mess when I went to visit a divorce lawyer, but who cares. Obviously Gabe’s people, most likely his manager, called the paparazzi to tip them off about my whereabouts. Make me look like the bad guy, of course. Classic Hollywood tale, the less popular person was always at fault.
I was glad when Marcus opened the door of the building and we were able to drown out their incessant questions, though Grace’s replaced theirs immediately.
“My dad said you were coming by but I didn’t believe him. Is what they’re saying in the gossip blogs true? About Gabriel and you splitting up?” she asked.
I tried to swallow my pain and smile sadly, but my lips wouldn’t tilt up, and the pain wouldn’t stop grating against my throat. I nodded instead, a slow, small nod, and looked down. I’d always been sure of myself. Sure of my body, my career choice, my thoughts, my intelligence. Even after Gabe started going out more and not including me in his plans, and after he’d become so cold and distant, preferring to hit the bottle or stay on location longer than necessary, I was sure of myself. It wasn’t until the rumors of infidelity began circulating that I began to feel the motions—my heart being chopped up. When the paparazzi started following me putting their cameras in my face and their loud questions in my ears, I felt it going through the blender.
But that was then. Now I was back to my self-assured self. Or at least more than I had been last year. We’d kept it mum on the divorce filing, but when the papers were leaked, we were suddenly forced to confront the media, which was a nightmare in itself. I was coached weekly on what to say, or more accurately, what not to say. Gabe’s publicist put out a statement saying we were working on our marriage. Gabe himself, whenever he was on camera, spoke highly of me and his commitment to our marriage. All the while I watched with a shocked expression on my face. At first, I believed it. I bought into it, because when it was all said and done, the guy was a hell of an actor. But that was before. And this was now. And I was tired of it.
“I’m sorry,” Grace said, lowering her voice, her smile dropping. “You guys looked so happy together.”
“Thanks,” I said. It seemed like the wrong word for this, but I was used to girls like Grace, who were young with hearts in their eyes. I’d been that girl once. I was that girl five years ago. “Is my dad in the conference room?”
She looked startled for a moment before she began to move her feet in that direction. “Oh my God. Yes! Sorry. They moved it. Let me show you where it is.”
Once the large wooden doors opened, I didn’t have time to glance around and take in whatever décor my stepmother had most probably organized, because as soon as I stepped into the room my gaze got caught on Victor Reuben. Victor, in a sharp navy suit that screamed sophistication, the way it fit him hinted at broad shoulders and hard planes I knew were beneath it. His expression was closed off, but the fact he was looking at me still made my heart hammer a little harder. I hadn’t seen him in years, but my body remembered him well. His long hands and the way they’d gripped me. His deep chuckle and the way it had made my heart skip a beat the few times I’d heard it. The way he’d said my name, in a low, muttered, damnation that said he shouldn’t be wanting, let alone doing what we’d done, but couldn’t resist the temptation.
I swallowed to rid myself of the memories. I would love to say that having been married to one of the world’s most sought-after celebrities had dimmed the lust for this man, but I’d be lying. I may have been the one who married, but to me, Victor would always be the one that got away. And even though I knew deep down that we wouldn’t have worked out, and it had been a long time since I’d seen him, the way his eyes caressed over me made me feel like I was slowly burning up. Like it was just this morning that he’d had me up against a wall. I shivered at the memory. His eyes heated in response.
“Nic. I didn’t hear you get in,” Dad said, standing from his seat beside Victor. He came over and put his arms around me, and I reverted back to my seven-year-old self, leaning into his embrace. Dad wasn’t much taller than me, but he was tall enough that I could lay my head on his shoulder comfortably. I left my cheek there for a couple beats—inhaling the familiar smell of cigarettes and aftershave—my gaze on Victor’s, his on mine, unmoving, unyielding, and completely unsettling.
“You remember Victor,” he said, placing a kiss on my cheek as he moved slightly away from me. I almost laughed at that. Did I remember Victor? God. How could I forget? Victor stood, but didn’t come around to greet me and I was glad for the space left between us. After the week, month, and year I’d had, I didn’t think I could handle touching him even if it was just a handshake.
“Of course,” I said, offering him a smile.
He was taller than I remembered, his shoulders wider, his hair a little longer, a little lighter, with a scruff on his face I didn’t remember him having. But those hazel eyes still hinted at wicked pleasures and wild sex, and the thought of all of the above made me flush and look away. I’d been with a Hollywood heartthrob for the last four and a half years, and I could still honestly say that I’d never met a man surer of himself than Victor Reuben.
“Nice to see you again,” Victor said dutifully.
“Likewise,” I replied, clearing my voice to rid myself of the scratch in it.
“Come, sit,” Dad said, ushering me to the other side of the room.
He sat at the head of the table, Victor to his left, and I sank down in the seat across. I kept my face tilted to look at my dad, hoping to get out of this meeting without succumbing to the distraction of the man across from me. I didn’t even question what he was doing in there. Dad liked to have people on hand to bounce opinions off during meetings with his clients, and I was just happy to be getting the best representation I could when it came to this divorce.
“We have more papers to fill out,” Dad said.
I nodded, swallowing the small lump that threatened to form in my throat at the sound of the word. I hated so many things about this, but the failure I felt—as a wife, as a woman—was the worst. “Have you spoken to Gabriel? After the papers were leaked to the media?” I nodded again. “I spoke to him yesterday.”
“And what did he say? Is he ready to proceed?” Dad asked. Gabe acted like my filing came as a shock to him. It wasn’t a shock to anybody else, though, so I wasn’t sure if he was really shocked or just wanted to treat it as an out of sight out of mind kind of thing. Dad put his hand over mine when I dropped my gaze to the table. “Honey, it’s okay. We need to talk about it.”
I took a deep breath and wiped my eyes before I spoke. I was hyper aware of Victor’s presence. I didn’t want him to see me cry, hurt, or weak. I wasn’t that girl. I’d never been that girl, but talking about this while my dad soothed me was more difficult than I could bear. “He agreed on the motion and said he said he knew I would bail. That he knew when things got tough I’d leave him,” I whispered. “That I couldn’t deal with the reality of life.” I flinched when dad slapped his free hand on the wooden table and stood suddenly.
“This is why I can’t do it. I’ll choke the bastard if I see him in court. I’ll choke him if I see him right now.”
I blinked, confused, looked at Victor, who was watching me closely and looked back at my dad. “What do you mean you can’t do this?”
“Victor’s taking this case. He’s the best I got, love,” dad said. “It’s like having me represent you. Promise.”
Promise. I closed my eyes. He only said that when he was positive he wouldn’t let me down. When I opened my eyes, I glanced at Victor, at his chiseled jaw and hypnotizing eyes, and that soft hair I’d loved running my fingers through. I tried so hard not to recall it, not to picture our back-and-forth banter before I’d locked the door of his office, and walked around his desk, possessed with lust, with need, with a hunger that wouldn’t stop until I had him. He must not have told my dad about us, because if he had he’d probably be looking for another firm, representing this divorce. Dad was weird about mixing work and personal life. Despite that, I knew Victor was a damn good attorney, the best, even. I had friends who’d hired him for their divorces and swore up and down by Victor Reuben. I didn’t doubt his abilities in anything. I just doubted mine in being able to get through this without messing things up for the two of us, because the fact of the matter was that when it came to us, things went up in flames. Or at least they used to. Perhaps he’d moved on, judging by his indifference.
“How long would it take to get this over with?” I asked Victor.
“The process has begun and it usually takes six months. So assuming he’s on board and doesn’t give us any trouble, and if he’s not as…stubborn as you are, it shouldn’t be too bad.”
Dad chuckled at the mention of my stubbornness, and Victor’s eyes flickered over there, smiling briefly before meeting mine again.
“Either way, I will do everything to make sure this is as painless for you as it can be. I’ll be at your beck and call. Whatever you need, whenever you need it, I’m there,” he said, his eyes dipping to my mouth briefly, to the low-cut dress I wore, and back to my eyes in a way that made goosebumps rake over my flesh.
What would it be like to have this man be in my beck and call? I was sure he didn’t do that often. He didn’t seem like the type. Dad’s cell phone rang, and he stood and excused himself. I looked over my shoulder to watch Dad walk out before turning back to Victor.
“What’s your deal?”
“What do you mean?” he asked, pushing off the table slightly to cross his ankle over his knee. Totally casual, as if we were about to discuss sports.
“Why’d you agree to do this?”
“Why did I agree to do my job?” he asked, looking amused. “Let’s see, there’s the fact that I like it, and then there’s the bit about those three years of law school I went through, and well, yeah, the most important part, it’s what I get paid to do.”
If I didn’t know him, or know him as much as I thought I did, I would have been upset. Instead, I sighed. “Did you tell my dad about us?”
“Yeah, us. You know,” I said, shooting him a look.
“There is no us, Nicole. There never was. We were friends, we had sex, but that was it. I thought that was clear.” He paused. “It was clear to me being that you went and got married.”
There was no bite to his tone or the words he used. He said it soothingly, as if he were talking to a child or trying to calm down an ex-girlfriend after a breakup. Clearly I was in an overly emotional state. Had I not been, his words would have just rolled off me, but they didn’t. They actually hurt a little. I had gone off and gotten married. It’s not like I expected him to care. I looked at him momentarily, he didn’t seem like he did, and at this point, what did it matter?
“You’re right,” I said once I collected my thoughts and looked at Victor again. “So, what do we do now?”
“The question of the hour is: did you sign a pre-nup?”
My father was a divorce attorney. Did Victor really think he’d let me marry with no prenuptial? Seemingly reading my mind correctly, Victor nodded.
“I’ll have Corinne get it for me,” he said, opening up the folder in front of him and jotting something down before picking it up and coming around the table.
“This will make it easier for me to explain,” he said as he sat down beside me. The smell of his cologne enveloped me and I did my best to take it in small doses, taking small and quick shallow breaths as I focused on the papers in front of me.
“Nic?” he said, his voice low and near my ear. My stomach did a flip-flop.
“Yeah?” I whispered.
“You’re going to have to learn to breathe when you’re near me. We’ll be doing this a lot.”
My head whipped toward him, and he reared back slightly to put a little distance between our faces.“You’re unbelievable."
“So I’ve been told.”
“Let’s get on with this,” I replied, trying my best not to roll my eyes.
And then Victor went over the process and explained each page. I didn’t care to know all the details, and I knew he had my best interest and wouldn’t screw me over, but I listened anyway. He leaned over me and pointed at the spots I needed to sign and I wondered how many women had felt the warmth of his chest against their shoulder. When we finished, he backed away and picked up the papers to go back to the spot he’d been sitting earlier.
“So now that part is over,” he said, sitting down across from me and taking a legal-sized notebook out. “Let’s go over things I should know about. How many houses do you own? By own I mean, how many is your name in the title for?”
“Two. One in Calabasas and an apartment in New York.”
“And those are also owned by Gabriel?”
“Have either one of you moved out of your current residence?”
The tip of his pen stopped writing and he glanced up at me. “Are either one of you planning on moving out anytime soon?” “I don’t know.”
He put the pen down and threaded his hands together as he looked at me. “Have you discussed anything with Gabriel?”
I shook my head. “Nope.”
“Why is that?”
“He’s in Canada filming a movie, and I’m on set here working on one being filmed now.”
“You’re still doing costume design?”
I nodded, smiling at the fact he remembered. It was the one thing keeping me sane these days. It had been for quite some time. Work and wine, maintaining sanity for unhappily married women everywhere.
“Okay. Let’s go over a timeline.” He slid the notebook and pen over to me. “I want you to write down your wedding date, and basically any date you remember that you think is of importance—good and bad.”
I did as I was told, jotting down my wedding date and more or less the timeframe of when other things happened, though I didn’t keep track of every major event of my life on my calendar. Now I kind of wished I had. When I was done, I slid the notebook and pen back to Victor.
“You were pregnant?” he asked, looking at me like I was a complete stranger. I nodded.
“Miscarried at nine weeks.”
He gave a nod. “And you didn’t try again?”
My heart squeezed in my chest. “It didn’t work out,” I whispered. We hadn’t, even though I’d wanted to. Gabe then started getting major acting roles and got me a dog instead, saying we needed to wait to start a family. Wait until he could actually be there for his kids, and I couldn’t argue that.
I cleared my throat and spoke louder. “Why is that important?”
“Is it one of the reasons your marriage didn’t work out?”
“No,” I said, even though I’d often wondered if we’d had the baby, if things would have worked out between us. Would things with him have been different? I refused to put the blame of our downfall on that, though. We married each other, not the idea of having a child together.
“You sure? It took you a while to come to that conclusion.”
I closed my eyes and huffed out a breath. “I’m positive. Can we move on now?”
Victor paused, his eyes searching my face. “I’m not trying to be a dick about this. I just need to know everything so I know what we’re dealing with. I’ve had cases where the spouse came back and threw things like this in our faces in the middle of court and I wasn’t prepared for it, so I try to cover all my bases. This is going to get personal. Are you okay with that?”
I took a deep breath and gave him a nod to continue.
“You put here that you got married in 2010 and you basically knew it was over by late 2013, early 2014. What happened at that point?”
I looked outside again, wishing so badly I was in that ocean and not sitting in this conference room talking about this.
“Being that I filed with the notion irreconcilable differences, can I just say he wasn’t the same person I met and married?”
His eyes searched my face for so long, I was sure he was going to find the answers to all his questions written all over it. I shifted under his scrutiny before he finally cleared his throat and gave me a sharp nod, moving along to the next point I’d written.
“You want to keep the house?”
“Not really, but I want to kind of stick it to him and he loves that house.”
Victor chuckled, the sound so sexy I had to contain the sigh that threatened to escape my lips. “People never cease to amaze me. You want to keep an eight-million-dollar house with six rooms to live in all by yourself just to ‘stick it to him’?”
I shrugged. “What do you suggest I do?”
“Well, being that the eight-million-dollar house comes with an equally hefty insurance payment, I’d move the hell out of there, ask for more alimony, and buy a smaller house somewhere that I’d love to live.”
For the first time since I’d been there, I felt myself relax a little. I leaned back in my chair and set my elbows on the table.
“I like that idea. Let’s do that.”
His smile stayed intact as we went through the rest of the list. He even surprised me by laughing at the point about my dog.
“You want shared custody of the dog?”
“Yeah. Harlow Edwards just got a divorce and she has shared custody with her ex.”
Victor closed his eyes and shook his head. “I should get a bonus for ridiculous requests.”
“Yeah, well, I’m sure a bonus can be arranged,” I said. Shit. I didn’t mean for my voice to sound the way it did, raspy and needy, but that was the way the words came out. His gaze heated and held. I could feel myself unraveling, could feel the pull between us in the suddenly too-hot-for-me office and wished so badly I could stand, hike my dress up, and ride him right there. I groaned at the thought.
I watched his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed. “We’re going to have to end this meeting and pick up another day.”
I blinked away from him and swallowed back all the things I wanted to say. What the hell was wrong with me? I was there to organize my divorce. Never mind that we’d been living in separate quarters of the infamous eight-million-dollar house for a year and a half. Never mind that he’d been screwing half of Hollywood and acting like it was okay, while I stayed at home or enjoyed quiet nights with friends. Me. The one-time wild child staying quietly at home while he, the once good boy from a small town went out and screwed around. Regardless of the last eighteen months of disappointment and hurt I had been through, lusting after Victor was still inappropriate.
He stood first, and I followed his lead, walking beside him to the door. I expected him to open it and get out of dodge right away, but instead he held the knob in his hand and turned to look at me. I tilted my head to meet his gaze, which was serious, but not any less fiery than it had been before.
“This thing between us,” he said, making the words slow so I understood each and every one of them, “is over. It never happened. You are my client. I am your attorney. There are laws against things happening between us and I could lose my license if I break them. Do you understand that?”
I swallowed thickly and nodded, my eyes not wavering from his, my heart thumping loudly.
“Say ‘yes, Victor, I understand that.’”
The man was completely serious. The problem was, being this close to him again, if I moved just a fraction, I could lean in and kiss him. His smell was intoxication. His lips had always been so soft and fucking kissable. Damn him. I wasn’t going to let him get away with making me feel this way, like I was the only one affected by our exchange. I let out a laugh.
“I understand, and I’m sorry to break it to you, but I’m not looking to hook up with you. Been there, done that, bought the shirt.”
He scoffed. “That’s a shirt I’d love to see.”
“I’ll show it to you sometime. It says, ‘It wasn’t a big deal.’”
His lips curled into a slow, full grin. “I’m sure the word big is definitely in there, but I highly doubt that’s what the shirt says. Otherwise, why did you come back for seconds, thirds, fourths, and call me drunkenly on nights out with your girlfriends?”
My eyes widened. I took a step back. “I did not.”
“Did too, and texted. I have those saved.”
My mouth dropped. “Why would you…even if I did do that, which I’m pretty sure I didn’t, why would you save them?”
“You’re my boss’s daughter. God forbid you decided on one of your rampages, that you were going to bury me and say that, I don’t know, I raped you or some crazy shit. I needed to have proof I was the one being pursued.”
“You pursued me too. Or do you think looking at me like you wanted to eat me for dinner didn’t count?”
“Unless it’s in print, it doesn’t count.”
I glared at him. “You are such a dick.”
“I just want to be clear that nothing can happen here, so don’t make those ‘Victor, please fuck me’ eyes at me anymore when we’re talking about your divorce.”
“I didn’t do that, but okay. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have someone in the lobby that I may actually be interested in.”
He opened the door for me and followed me down the hall. I didn’t bother looking for my father. I just wanted to get out of there. I knew I’d see him for dinner the following night anyway, so I kept walking until I reached the lobby where Marcus was waiting for me with his phone in hand. He put it away as soon as he saw me.
“Let’s go, Marcus, I have a lot of pent-up tension I need to get rid of,” I said. I looked over my shoulder to where Victor was standing. He looked at me, looked at Marcus, back at me, and if I didn’t know him at all I wouldn’t have noticed the way his eyes narrowed, or the way his jaw tightened. But I did know him.
“We’ll be in touch. There are other things I’ll need to ask you. I’ll let you know when this is filed,” he said, extending his hand for me to shake. I took it. “I look forward to this.”
His grip tightened a little when he said that, making my heart gallop. I had instant flashbacks: arguing over insignificant topics, me walking around his desk and pushing his legs apart so I could stand between them, his fingers tantalizingly slow as they inched up my skirt, his hand gripping my ass as he thrust inside me, his mouth on my throat telling me to shut the fuck up so we wouldn’t get caught.
I’d be lying if I said there hadn’t been times after I starting going out with Gabe that I didn’t think about those moments, wonder who Victor was doing that to. I sighed as I walked out of the building and back into the commotion of the paparazzi. I knew Victor’s warning was real. Five years ago, he’d been very clear. I need to focus on my career. Obviously, he’d done that. And done it well. Was I wrong to wonder if he would be tempted to dance along the line of attraction? He’d turned me away then. He’d probably do the same now. Sadly, my body wasn’t getting the memo. I couldn’t help but wonder how far he would go without breaking the rules.