Authors: Clarissa Cartharn
Affairs & Atonements
Copyright © Text Clarissa Cartharn 2014
Copyright © Cover design Cyma Rizwaan Khan 2014
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Affairs & Atonements
The end of an affair, the beginning of atonements… why ever did love hurt like hell?
He married her at eighteen and then she disappeared hours into their marriage.
That was eleven years ago and Ashton Pryor was certain he was over Christy Huntley. He had moved on. He got engaged.
But old ties have to be severed first before new ones can be made. Now he needed to find Christy more than ever. He needed to divorce her to marry Naomi Landon.
But when you hunt someone for as long as he had done, can you really say you’re over her?
The amber sun was setting in the horizon and she squinted at it as she lay on her back on the grassland. She raised her hands and made a small heart with her fingers, capturing the golden ball of flame within its frame.
“So, what about you, Christy?” her friend Hilda asked as she lay on her side, watching her. “Is there anyone special in your life?”
Christy put her hands under her head, mesmerized by the moving clouds above her. The breeze fluttered through the meadow and she heard it whistle through the tall grass flowers.
“Anyone special…” she repeated Hilda dazedly.
There was someone special but she would be crazy to say his name aloud, after all he was her sister-in-law, Linda’s brother. What would Linda think of her if she discovered she was immensely infatuated with the eighteen year old darkly gorgeous Ashton Pryor? She knew Linda wasn’t quite happy with her family and the thought of her beloved younger brother dating another Huntley would simply put Christy into a more distressing position with Linda than it already was.
“None,” she said at last with a sigh.
It wasn’t a lie. Ashton didn’t know how she felt about him. And as to whether he would even consider dating her was completely another matter. As far as she knew, Ashton was just as averse to the Huntleys as was Linda.
“You sure?” Hilda asked, arching an eyebrow. “How about Marshall’s brother-in-law?”
Christy winced inside. “Ashton? No, course not!” She let out a pretentious huff.
Hilda perked her lips in deep thought. “I always thought you had a thing for him. Every time he was near you, you’d have this look on you.”
“What look?” Christy grumbled. Was she that obvious?
“The one that shows you’re absolutely smitten by the guy,” Hilda remarked and gave an imitation of what she believed was Christy’s lovelorn look.
“I don’t do that!” Christy argued, sitting up, annoyed that she was ever caught looking at Ashton like that.
“Oh come on.” Hilda rolled her eyes. “I’ve seen how you look at him.”
“That’s ridiculous.” Christy dismissed. She stood up and brushed the weeds out of her hair. “I need to go back before Marshall and Linda get worried.”
“Very well,” Hilda said, rising along with her. “But I’m going on a date with Paul next Saturday. He was wondering if you would like to double-date with his friend, Brendan.”
Christy twisted her lips in thought as she dusted her skirt. “Yeah, okay. Why not? But I need to run it by Marshall first. He gets unnecessarily picky about boys and me.”
“Tell me about it,” Hilda muttered. “Someone would think he’s your dad and not your brother. He’s incredibly protective.”
Christy bit her lips. And she was of him too. Marshall was the only person in her life who ever showed that she was deserving of some love and care too.
“I’ll see you later, Hilda,” she said, giving her a small half-hearted wave, wishing she could while the night away with her friend rather than return home.
She cast her eyes down upon the trodden grass trek as she strolled out of the abandoned wild field.
Twilight had begun to set in and she needed to make it home before it got dark. She wound around an old empty warehouse, her mind burdened with the thoughts of her brother.
Marshall was fifteen years older than her and the son of her father by his first wife. After her mother’s marriage collapsed with her father, her mom moved onto a much younger partner. Of course, Christy then thirteen years old would have been a hindrance to their new and establishing relationship. After a load of bickering between her parents as to who should take charge of her, her father lost, as he usually did in an argument with her mother. She spent the next year and a half with her dad until he also found himself a new partner who was not too happy being cradled with a teen.
It was Marshall then who had come to her rescue, willing to take her in despite his recent two year tumultuous marriage to Linda Pryor. She hardly knew Linda until she moved in with Marshall, having met her only a couple of times before. She had seemed polite. But moving from Philadelphia to Bennett, Adam’s County was going to be an entirely different story.
Bennett belonged to Marshall and Linda. It was their town. Their families resided in it for generations, and tagging along with them always made her feel like an outsider. And like all families in small towns, the Huntleys and the Pryors had opinions of each other that weren’t quite so flattering. It was a wonder how Marshall and Linda continued to stay married despite the constant rows they had each night. She was now beginning to dread returning to the house, not wishing to witness any more of their fights.
She recognized the truck in the driveway and her heart beat fast. Ashton was here. She clenched her fingers, trying to keep her nervousness at bay and then walked awkwardly over to the front door.
She didn’t understand why she was ever bothered about him. Ashton detested her as much as Linda and every other Pryor. As far as he was concerned, she was just another ill-bred Huntley. He never even glanced at her. He had barely spoken more than two words to her all this while. So why in the heck was she even infatuated with him?
Perhaps, because he was never rude to her. Sure he treated her as if she didn’t exist, but he never outright was ever impolite. And then there was the fact that he was incredibly handsome. She supposed every teen girl in town swooned over Ashton. And she was no different.
She heaved a sigh and turned the front door-knob. She caught a glimpse of Linda weeping in the living room as Ashton placed an arm around her to calm her down. She slipped quietly up the staircase, not wanting to learn what had upset Linda. As usual, it could probably have been something to do with Marshall and like most times, Ashton had turned up at the house immediately to attend to his beloved older sister.
She heard the baby’s muffled cry in her cot, breaking her thoughts away from Ashton and Marshall.
“Elise?” she called out to the five month old baby and gasped when she saw that her beanie was tugged down her face and to her chin. “Oh, Elise.” She rushed up to her to free her face from the cute, pink woolen cap. “Hello,” she said in her sweet voice as the baby looked up at her with surprise. “Yes, it’s Aunt Christy. Aren’t you the sweetest baby ever?”
She lifted the now gurgling baby into her arms to cuddle her.
“Have you had your bottle? Is that why you’re suddenly awake and excited?”
The baby grabbed a fistful of her loose hair to put into her mouth.
Christy laughed. “No, silly. It’s dirty. Do you even know where I’ve been?”
“Why don’t you tell us? For one, I would like to know why you were so late,” said a deep voice, startling her.
She spun around to find Ashton watching her from the doorway.
“I…I…,” she stammered, confused by his sudden presence. Since when was Ashton ever interested in her whereabouts? Hell, when was he ever interested in having a conversation with her at all?
He ambled up to her, his musk clearly invading every power of her senses, titillating them to the brink of dizziness. He tilted his head to the side as he neared her, waiting for her to give him an answer.
“I don’t see why you should be concerned about where I had been,” she replied staunchly, hoping to dear God she wasn’t making a gruesome error. But she was darned if she would allow him to speak to her in that tone, regardless of how stunning he looked, and making her legs all too damned wobbly.
He frowned and then leaned down to brush Elise’s face delicately with his knuckles. His fingers grazed her skin just above her bosom and she froze. He must have felt it too because he immediately glanced up at her before withdrawing his hand.
He straightened up, his entire demeanor changing, his eyes growing colder than usual.
“You know well enough Linda needs you home to help out with the baby. It’s bad enough that your brother treats her with very little appreciation. You could at least make an effort and compensate for what he can’t do,” he let out slowly and crudely.
Her eyes welled with the callousness of his words. She always did help Linda with the house and the baby as much as she could. She rarely did go out to visit her friends, and this was just one of those times when she was able to spend it with Hilda. In her opinion, Ashton couldn’t have been more unfair with his accusation.
She turned around to lay baby Elise back into her cot. She was only seventeen years old and here she was nursing a five month old child while her mother spent all her hours weeping over marrying the wrong man.
“Is there anything else you’ve got to say?” she asked curtly. “Because I really don’t care about how you think I should spend my time.”
She brushed her hair off her forehead with the back of her hand nervously. She cared every bit and she was making every damned effort to show otherwise. She tried to steady herself by avoiding looking him directly in the eye. Instead, she focused on the door beyond him, hoping she could escape without him discovering how nervous he was making her feel.
He narrowed his eyes as if he was doing his best to read her mind. He turned to his side, giving her room to make her exit and she took it without hesitation. He grabbed her elbows as she passed him.
“I’m not letting you go so easily, Christy,” he rasped against her ear, prickling her skin. “Just remember, you will pay for it heavily if I catch you out as late as this because of some boy.”
She shook her elbow off him and glared at him. “I already have a brother and if he approves of where I go and what I do, I don’t see why anyone else should needlessly bother with the task of watching over me.”
She disappeared out the door hastily with him staring after her, slightly surprised by her response.
Christy was beginning to find Ashton dallying about the house more than usual. He rarely spoke to her after that incident in Elise’s nursery. But it was the manner in which he kept an eye on her as she worked around the house that was beginning to unnerve her.
She would rather have had the old Ashton back, where she could simply admire him from a distance without him ever knowing it. Now that the thought of becoming suddenly visible to him, flustered her each time she met his gaze.
She stood at the kitchen table grating carrots for their dinner salad while Linda continued to complain about her life to Ashton.
“Why won’t Marshall simply accept a position at Dad’s hardware store? It’s better than that foreman position he has at that construction site?” Linda minced. “Why is he being so stubborn?” She looked over angrily at Christy as if it was her fault that Marshall was working in a position she had deemed unsuitable. “It’s not like
is ever going to speak to Marshall and convince him. She knows if she tells him, he would listen. Yes, Marshall will do anything for Christy. Not for his wife, but his half-sister. Oh sorry, sister. I would get into deep trouble if Marshall hears I called his sister a half-sister. No one can touch Christy. No, Christy does what she likes, whenever she likes.”
Ashton folded his arms across his chest, watching the two women silently.
Christy did her best to pretend to not hear her. She was getting used to being spoken in the third person. But to actually have Ashton witness her being subjected to Linda’s unkindly barrages was another matter completely.
She focused hard on the grater, trying not to cut herself despite the hurt rising inside the walls of her chest. Thankfully her phone rang and she flew out of the kitchen before Linda could stop her.
“Hilda?” she whispered as she entered her bedroom. “Thank God! I thought I’d lose it today.”
“What happened?” Hilda’s anxious voice came over.
“Later,” she replied, taking in a deep breath. “I just needed some time away to calm myself down. Linda is getting unbearable by the day.”
“Oh,” Hilda muttered. “You want to talk about it?”
“Not now.” She shook her head. “So what’s up?”
“We have a double-date remember?”
“Damn!” Christy palmed her forehead. “I had completely forgotten all about that. Could we schedule it for another day?”
“But I’ve already arranged it with Brendan. And you did clear it with Marshall, right?”
Christy grew quiet. Yes, she had talked about it with Marshall a week ago. She doubted if he remembered it though. But for now, she needed to get away from Linda. And grating carrots in the kitchen wasn’t helping her at all. As for Ashton… he was a disappointment. He had simply stood by listening to Linda berate her unfairly. She didn’t expect him to defend her. But any righteous man or woman would never have simply stood by in silence while another was being bullied.
“I’ll come,” she let out slowly. “Where are we meeting?”
“At the Chinese Dragon Restaurant. But Brendan will come over to pick you up. So don’t you worry about getting there.”
“Cool,” she whispered. “In an hour then?”
“Yeah. See you then.”
She took a quick shower and then rummaged through her closet looking for something appropriate to wear. It was her first date ever. She’d gone out with boys before but that had always been in a trusting circle of friends. This, however, was different. Someone was interested in her for a change. She was not salivating over some boy who would never be in her reach.