Authors: Rhonda Lee Carver
She squealed and pushed against Luther’s weight, but his forehead stayed buried in her back and he continued to pound her.
He groaned and his movements slowed. A huge exhale of heated breath swept across her moistened skin.
The other woman seemed unconcerned about doing the right thing, the expected thing, and getting the hell out.
Sofie moved, struggling to cover her breasts with her hands, but Luther wasn’t moving fast enough. She squirmed, thrashing her hips until he finally dragged his body away from hers. Grabbing her jacket from the floor, she covered her naked body that still quivered. “What the hell are you doing? Get out!” Sofie said through trembling lips.
“Janelle,” her name swept out of Luther’s mouth on the tail of a groan.
The woman didn’t even look at Sofie. Actually, she didn’t even seem to notice her now that she had Luther’s attention. The woman’s eyes were hard and accusing. “You-you jackass!” Her color turned so red it matched her crimson lipstick.
Sofie inhaled sharply. Her brain started to function again as she attempted to wrap her mind around the assistant’s words.
Why would Luther’s employee be calling him names?
Doesn’t she recognize me?
They’d met once at a company party, but had only said a few words in passing. “I’m his wife, Janelle. You need to leave this office at once!” The shaking in Sofie’s voice and her nudity didn’t help with her desire for authority.
Then the younger woman finally took her gaze off Luther. Her tense glare was filled with palpable bitterness and her shoulders were pulled back as if she readied herself to unleash. “I know who you are, you stupid woman!”
Sofie swallowed the acid taste building in her throat. She looked at her husband who was casually slipping into his slacks. He was still breathing hard and his face remained flushed. He looked like he’d aged ten years. Zipping his pants over his still hard erection, one corner of his mouth glided into a smile.
A smile? Sofie cringed. “What’s going on here?” she asked him.
He didn’t look at her, but continued to tug on his shirt.
“Do you really not know what’s going on?” Janelle wrapped her arms around her waist as her mouth turned into an arrogant smirk. “Wow, you’re right, Luther. She is as clueless as a doe.”
Oxygen depleted from the room and Sofie couldn’t breathe. Her lungs burned and her heart skipped a beat. The puzzle pieces were right there in front of her, but she couldn’t seem to put them together. “Then fill me in,” she muttered.
“Your husband is leaving you for me,” Janelle stated proudly.
Sofie blinked as she tightened her hold on the jacket that suddenly seemed too short and see-through. Her knees wobbled, threatening to give out any second. She leaned against the desk, holding the edge like a lifeline as her mind whirled.
“Leave us alone, Janelle,” Luther finally said. His cool, calm voice seemed out of place. Sofie snapped her gaze toward him and anger, like none she’d ever known, raced through her. She lifted her chin and steadied her body, her palm aching to land against his smooth, tanned cheek.
“Why should I? You said you were going to tell her. You lied!”
His exhale of breath was a warning that he was losing patience. If driven over the brink of tolerance he would offer a silent treatment like a spoiled, passive-aggressive child. Sofie had thought that she understood him, but now she was beginning to realize that she barely knew him. Her head throbbed and she wanted to run, yet her heels were frozen to the floor. Her mother’s premonition that Luther would one day hurt Sofie was becoming a harsh reality. The seams of her life were popping and, one-by-one, the puzzle pieces were painting a very ugly picture.
“I planned to,” he muttered.
“What?” The word came from Sofie, but she felt like she was in a cloud, a nightmare, watching the horrific scene from outside of her body. Luther had never wilted under any woman, or man, until this moment. He turned into a weak pathetic excuse for a man under the arrogant glare of his assistant. This was a moment of clarity for Sofie, beyond just the obvious. The crumbling sound she heard was her life falling down around her like glass shattering into a million pieces, each one holding a memory…a lie. This all made perfectly good sense. The long evenings Luther had spent away from home. The business trips he’d taken alone and arriving back home smelling of perfume. She’d once read that a woman knew the smell of her husband.
She’d missed every warning sign. Or maybe she hadn’t wanted to accept the facts staring her in the face.
“You take care of this problem, now!” Janelle’s cat-like gaze landed on Sofie before she gave her platinum blonde hair a haughty toss over her shoulder, turned on heel, and left, slamming the door behind her.
Luther turned to Sofie. The color had returned to his face, his clothes were back in order, and it was as if nothing had happened. At least not to him. The only trace of what they’d shared was the scattered paperwork and the coffee cup turned on its side. A puddle of brown marred the tan rug. She never liked it anyway. The blinking of his phone drew her attention. She had a strong gut feeling she knew who the missed call was from. “I guess you missed her call.” Her voice didn’t seem like her own.
“Sofie, I want a divorce.”
The sledgehammer came down. The ‘D’ word. The act that had destroyed many of their couple friends. She’d been naïve to think she and her doting husband were safe from the crushing virus. Had she really been living in the same moment, the same era, as her husband? She’d been foolish. “Why?” she said in a lowered voice. “Because of her?” She stabbed a finger toward the closed door.
“We’ve grown apart,” he said.
“Oh, I thought you were just busy.”
She blinked. “You’re sorry? How long, Luther?”
“Babe, I don’t think that matters.” His broad shoulders slumped slightly as some of the bravado left him.
“Maybe not to you, but to me it does.” She was grateful her voice was stronger, but inside she was a mess. She wanted to rewind time, but there was no getting away from or denying the facts. Her husband was in love with another woman.
“Six months?” She chuckled. Was this a joke? “Six months ago you and I were away in Italy. We came back and you were dedicated. You didn’t have time for anything but work.” Seeing his skin turn insipid, she sighed. “You were busy alright. Getting into your assistant’s panties,”
“It’s not like that.”
“How old is she, Luther? Twenty-five? Twenty-seven? She was having her diaper changed when you were practicing your moves on the co-eds at Brown University.”
“Twenty-three,” he said the words so low that she struggled to hear.
She swallowed against the ache in her throat. “So I see you’re still practicing the charm on college girls.”
“She graduated already.”
“You’re missing the point, Luther.” She blew out a long breath. Sticking her arms into the jacket, she tugged the tie at the waist until she felt like her lungs were pressed into her ribcage. “How could I have missed this?” She stood up straight and cocked her chin. “All while you were fucking me on your desk, you were thinking of the young twit. You verged off the path a little when we ended up screwing instead of talking about divorcing.”
“I-I, well, you looked so lovely. And you’re wrong, babe. You don’t understand.” He took a step closer to her, reaching out, his Rolex glinting in the sunlight flowing through the large window.
She held up her hand to stop him. “Don’t call me babe. In fact, don’t call me ever again.” She brushed past him and he caught her by the elbow. Snapping her chin up, their gazes clashed.
“There’s something else you should know, Sofie.” Her breath stilled. Something besides him fucking his assistant and wanting a divorce? “Janelle is pregnant.”
If it wasn’t enough that she’d been bulldozed by the events, reality gave her one last gift and pissed all over her. What could a woman do when she’d been kicked into a pulp? Sofie burst into uncontrollable laughter, the kind that brought tears streaming down her face and she thought her eyeballs would pop out.
“I didn’t want it to end this way,” he said softly, his eyes pleading…but for what?
Wiping her damp eyes as the chuckles faded, she sniffed loudly. “Our little tryst ending so abruptly?” She nodded her head toward the desk. “Or that our marriage has been terminated?”
“The marriage, Sofie. I didn’t want you to find out like this. I wanted to explain things, but when you showed up…like this…” He dropped his gaze over her, leaving chills across her skin. “I guess I just lost it.” He tore his hand through his overly gelled hair—another thing she never liked much.
“Thank you for your consideration. I’m sure you had a fruitful speech that would have made this much easier on me.” She took a step toward the exit. She needed to get away soon. Her armor was cracking.
“I’m truly sorry.”
“If you were really sorry you would have kept your horse in the stall and it wouldn’t be ending like this.”
He dropped his hand to his side. “We’re two different people, Sofie. You became the compliant, spineless wife.” She groaned and he shrugged. “You can’t possibly be happy living like this. We don’t have anything in common any longer. Hell, if we ever did.” Wrinkles appeared deeper around his eyes and mouth.
“You’re right, Luther. We don’t have anything in common. One of us is an asshole and the other is stupid. I can’t believe I trusted anything that ever came out of your mouth.” She crossed the office, pausing with her hand on the door. Everything they’d shared—everything she’d given up for him—flashed through her fuzzy brain. “You never did want any children with me, did you?” Her words were cold, even to her own ears.
He exhaled as if a door had opened and he had a sudden divine intervention. “I don’t want children.”
She looked over her shoulder at him, shock drying up her tears. She could almost feel a little sorry for the assistant twit because soon their affair would end, just as it was for Sofie. “Does little Miss Whore-bag know this?”
She’d never used the word before.
He shook his head. “It wasn’t my plan.”
“Good luck. You’re going to need it. When the glitter wears off that shiny fantasy, you’re going to see that you let the best thing walk out of your life. However, I should be thanking you. A man who could fuck his wife at the same time he’s planning how to break her heart isn’t a man, but a spineless coward. Oh, I guess that makes two of us without backbones. I’ll have my things out of the apartment before you get home. Good bye, Luther.” She opened the door and, although her fingers itched to slam the door behind her like Janelle did in her temper tantrum, Sofie resisted the urge. Instead, she left it standing wide open, lifted her chin high and walked out of the building.
One year later…
Sofie Drake needed to refurbish her ‘type’ of guy. Yup, that was exactly what she needed.
She liked Chase Sever, but he didn’t like her. She had been married to Luther and he dumped her for a younger model. Rejection nestled like barbed wire in the pit of her stomach. Why did she allow the pain to resurface?
Hadn’t she gotten past feeling sorry for herself?
A year ago today, this very day, she’d found out that her ex-husband had been screwing his assistant who was pregnant with his baby. Sofie’s life had gotten a botched face-lift in a matter of minutes. After Luther had told her that he wanted a divorce, she’d gone back to their luxurious high-rise in the sophisticated uptown neighborhood and packed lightly. While she’d stood in the middle of the livingroom with the polished floors and pristine décor, she couldn’t think of one thing she wanted—or needed. He’d touched everything, tarnishing its beauty.
Luther had wanted things done amicably and swiftly to end their marriage. After all, he wanted to move on in his new life. Sofie had just wanted things over.
She’d signed over everything except for a small settlement that had allowed her to travel to Italy where she’d taken a month vacation to work through the pieces of her failed marriage and to somehow repair her busted ego. Not many women could say they found out their husband wanted a divorce while sprawled out naked on his desk with him grunting above her. The humiliation wasn’t the easiest to recover from, but in the end she realized she was better off without Luther. She’d given up so much to be the adoring, devoted wife which she’d never managed and ended up losing sight of herself. He’d been right, she hadn’t been happy for a very long time. She’d been in a trance, living each day like a warm robot.
The day she’d landed back home, she found Nirvana—and she’d grown so much working here as a Life Skills Coach. She’d dusted off her psychology degree and realized how much she’d missed working with people. She would never give up the lessons she’d learned. The people and the staff here had taught her a lot…
Until she fell for the boss.
Hadn’t she learned anything in her search for her inner self? Or her number one rule, “Never act impulsively because it only leads to trouble”. She tightened her grip on the wine bottle. If her plans had worked out, she’d be sharing a glass of the Merlot with Chase at the moment.
She inwardly cringed.
How could she have misjudged the situation so badly? She was always good about helping others, judging a good character and following her instincts until it came to her love life. That’s when she always made a mess of things, not that she’d had enough experience to be considered skilled, but her failure rate was 2-0.
At thirty-three, this wasn’t the life she’d expected for herself. When she’d left Luther, she’d left everything she knew. A beautiful apartment in the city. Her friends who turned out not to be friends. They’d dropped off her radar one by one as they realized Luther still had the elegant parties and paid most of their husbands’ wages.
Sofie had blindly believed in people—blindly believed in her husband.
Although she would never go back if that was even an option, she hadn’t expected that the day she moved out of their apartment, Luther’s lover would move in. Sofie guessed the twit had her bags packed and waiting. What could be expected? That he would have developed morals and values? Another foolish mistake.
The pain and hurt had subsided actually quicker than she anticipated. It was quite easy to get over a lying, cheating bastard.
She no longer stayed awake at night, pondering where things had gone wrong. She’d overcome many of her raw emotions, realizing she’d wasted so much of her life on a mistake and refused to use any more precious time on someone who didn’t deserve it. Luther wasn’t her worry any longer. She’d lost two-hundred pounds of dead weight.
The breeze picked up, sweeping her hair up from her shoulders as she crossed the grass toward the staff quarters. The sun was setting and most of the staff had gone into town to a local bar. They’d invited her, but she’d stayed behind and divulged her feelings to Chase. Not a good move.
She quite enjoyed the solitude of walking on the ranch, admiring the view, and not encountering anyone. Soon the retreat would be buzzing with guests. She enjoyed meeting new people and helping them find inner-peace, but first she needed to figure out how she’d taken another wrong turn.
Oh, she knew another charming smile and tight ass had sucked her in. She laughed. Wasn’t that her ex-husband’s silly excuse for falling for his assistant? Janelle had flashed her fake tits and twenty-something ass and Luther had fallen like the Leaning Tower.
A sprinkle fell on her cheek. She swiped it off and looked up into the sky. The full moon seemed brighter—a lover’s moon. Sadness crept over her, not for Luther or Chase, but for the life she’d wanted for herself and had strived to attain. Happy husband. Children. A home. She hadn’t achieved any of those. Instead, here she was at Nirvana Ranch helping others find the things they wanted in life. Finding their true self. She loved the ranch, although admittedly it had taken her, a city girl at heart, some time to get used to the quiet and the bugs—lots and lots of bugs, not to mention the snakes. The first time she had one slither two feet in front of her she’d almost jumped out of her boots.
The staff had welcomed her. The hands were a little rough around the edges, but she looked forward to seeing their smiles and hear their jokes every day. She had a true family here, and yet something was missing. Each night the loneliness settled in. She missed the strong arms of a lover. Laughing with someone. A phone call just to say, “I love you.” She was everyone’s support system, but she had no one to support her when the day was long.
Hugging herself against the evening chill, the wine bottle thumped against her hip. What had she been thinking by taking it to Chase’s cabin? Hell, she hadn’t been thinking, at least not with the right part of her body. When Kaycee Darling had answered the door wearing Chase’s shirt and nothing else, Sofie had realized the hard way why calling before dropping in was important. She hoped he was happy. Chase deserved love. He was genuinely a good person.
Sighing heavily, she pushed thoughts of him to the back of her mind. She wasn’t the only one in the world who felt alone, and definitely not the first who’d encountered a road block in life.
Maybe she should text Susie, Nirvana’s massage therapist, but knew she was probably busy with her own issues. The bubbly, hippy-like older woman and Sofie had become good friends over the last few months. Susie believed the resolution to Sofie’s problem was the oldest therapy known to humankind. SEX. Susie joked that the quickest way over a bad break-up was a noncommittal, sheet-ripping romp in the sack—or barn, or the closest bale of hay.
Sure, Sofie’s lackluster love life was a disaster. She and Luther had been like bunnies on epinephrine who couldn’t keep their hands off each other. They’d christened every nook and cranny of their apartment and, when that was accomplished, they’d sometimes found other places like the elevator and the orchards at a winery. She once had a closet full of sexy lingerie and a drawer full of toys. Now the few things remaining were the artifacts left of a failed marriage and only brought her fleeting moments of enjoyment. Self-pleasure didn’t even begin to ease the emptiness embedded inside of her. The loneliness. The desire to have solid arms wrapped around her. And it didn’t help that she was surrounded by virile cowboys who dripped of masculinity and had the looks of underwear models. Chase had picked wisely when he’d chosen the staff for Nirvana. “Orgasm Central”. Not because there was a “cowboy orgy” going on like K.D. had written in the paper. Plenty of female guests had sat in Sofie’s office revealing how they fantasized of the Nirvana cowboys. If the hands were tending to more than the horses, there certainly wouldn’t be any time for fantasizing.
Chase had put a ‘no sex with the guests’ rule on the staff and, for the most part, they followed it. However, after one of the cowboys, Ben Kade, had married one of the guests, rumors had been floating around that this might lead to other staff members having crazy ideas of finding true love with the vacationers.
Understandably, Chase didn’t want Nirvana to turn into a sex-ranch. However, something cupid-ish hung in the air, maybe even in the water. A spell materialized at Nirvana, pulling on peoples’ heartstrings. Many guests had a desire to live freely and to feel young again. Maybe it was the fresh air or the magnificent views. The twinkling stars in the sky that seemed much brighter here in this part of Wyoming.
The cowboys were always kind and attentive, even flirtatious at times. What woman didn’t long to be wanted—desired?
Since Sofie had come here, she’d found herself catching glimpses of the tall, handsome cowboys working, wearing nothing but worn Wranglers and a smile. Yet they’d treated her with the utmost respect, almost like a brother to a sister and definitely not a lover.
There were moments when she’d become lost in self-pity, wondering if she’d ever have the ability to seduce a man again.
At this point, Sofie wasn’t even sure she could be the seductive woman that she once was from another lifetime. She guessed seduction was much like riding a bike. Once the skill was learned, it couldn’t be forgotten—even after divorce. She remembered all too well how many times she’d fallen off her proverbial bike before she’d learned how to stay on. But this was different. A woman learned everything about a man—what he liked, how he liked to be touched, a certain move that could drive him over the edge. She’d educated herself on Luther’s needs and desires, and he’d been the only one she’d known.
She rolled her eyes.
Looking back, she knew how she’d missed the signs of his inability to be loyal. Comfortably wrapped in the illusion that ‘a sexually satisfied man was a monogamous man’ had been her downfall. Oh, for a time she believed this worked, but once she asked for a child things had changed. The thought of being tied down with children hadn’t been cool to him. He liked his freedom, packing up and taking off to an exotic location when the desire arose. For a short period, she’d liked the freedom too. She’d enjoyed spending romantic vacations at faraway settings, no cares or worries except for what they’d eat for dinner. Yet there came a point when she needed to mature and think of a future. Give love to someone else than just a grown man who didn’t know the meaning of self-sacrifice.
Reaching her destination, she pushed through the heavy metal door and into the dimly lit staff building. She didn’t hear any sounds from inside. Making her way into the kitchen and turning on the light above the sink, she set the wine bottle down on the granite countertop and took down a small glass from the cabinet. She could get drunk and think about her fuck-up tomorrow.
“What are you doing here?” The deep voice made her turn so fast that the glass slipped, fell to the floor with a loud, splintering crash and shattering around her flip-flops.
Jared Zane was sitting at the table, leaning his chair back on two legs , the very thing mothers always told their children not to do. Of course, Jared was a rebel, always doing things his own way. He dropped the chair to all four legs and stood, sauntering across the room toward her. The golden light washed over his prominent features, his pale gaze penetrating through her like an invisible laser. How did he do that? His hat was missing and a head full of whiskey colored waves brushed his forehead and temples making him appear almost boyish, but there was nothing adolescent about the cowboy. He carried a primal allure that wasn’t surprising considering he had the reputation for being a womanizer. His black T-shirt had a wide slit at the collar, exposing a small patch of crisp, curly hair that matched that on his head. He scratched his chin and the rasping sound of his unshaven jaw made the soft hairs on her arms stand and her inner thighs tremble. She recoiled at the betrayal of her body. Sure, she found him slightly pleasing to the eye—much like an animal lover finds a kitten cute, or a tiger fascinating, but dangerous. No, she didn’t need danger in her life. She needed predictable and secure, two things she doubted were in Jared’s vocabulary.
Pulling her mind back on track and ignoring the bunching of her nipples, she cleared her throat. “You scared the crap out of me. Why didn’t you warn me that you were here?”
“I thought that’s what I was doing.” He grinned, flashing a set of straight, white teeth against bronzed skin. She cringed. His ever-present football-field-sized confidence always rubbed her the wrong way, including now. She didn’t know him very well, never given herself the chance, but she had no plans to start. A smart beekeeper doesn’t collect honey without proper clothing to keep from being stung. Just as an intelligent woman who had been hurt once before never exposed her lonely heart and loins to a perilous man like Jared. Sofie was sure he fit into the category of Susie’s suggestion ‘let the lust lead you where it will’. Nope, Sofie had a tight lid on her lust. Sleeping with Jared was out of the question.
In his defense, he’d never treated her poorly or rudely. He always greeted her in passing and even picked her a pretty flower on his way to her office last week. She’d thanked him, handed over the paperwork and sent him on his way. Her ex-husband had brought her flowers many times…the devil’s operation.
Masculinity seemed to ooze from Jared’s every pore. His grey-green eyes were full of mystery, yet skimmed over her in a way that made her crave things she had no business craving. His smile dripped of charm and seduction. His chiseled jaw always had a five o’clock shadow and a wiry, short goatee that he tugged on when he was in serious thought—not that she’d stared much. On occasion, she watched him in the saddle, riding with such skill or baling hay with his shirt off. Sweat became a splendid thing on a muscular body like Jared’s.