WORTHY, Part 3 (The Worthy Series) (16 page)

BOOK: WORTHY, Part 3 (The Worthy Series)
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“Have whatever you want,” he said, waving expansively at the minibar pushed up against the window. I remembered this view like it had been from another life. You could see all the way to Lake Michigan from Jonathan’s office. I remembered other things, too: making love in here with the knowledge that there were people on the other side of that glass wall, well within earshot of our passion.

I pressed my legs together minutely and turned toward the minibar to hide the expression on my face. That had been one of the hottest times we’d ever had sex, right here in this office, and it was having a decidedly uncomfortable effect on me. I was as turned on as I’d ever been, broken past and tragedies and lies aside.

This farce needed to end. I needed to just go ahead and tell him exactly who I was and why I’d come, but I needed some vodka in me first. I located his bottle of Grey Goose and poured myself a finger before throwing it back. Then I took the time to add some ice and pour myself a generous allocation of the liquor before turning back toward Jonathan.

He was staring at me curiously. “I had no idea you were a fellow imbiber, Ms. Smith,” he said. “Thank you for not making me drink alone.” He toasted me with his extremely watered down cocktail before downing it. I shuddered to think about what it must’ve tasted like.

“Can I fix you something else?” I asked as he set the highball back down on the desk with an unsteady thump.

“What I need fixed, Ms. Smith, not even God can manage,” he said. “But I will take a whiskey.”

Against my better judgment, I poured him a couple of fingers of the amber liquor and gave him a clean glass.

“Cheers,” he said, toying with the glass but not lifting it to his lips. “Now, why are you here again?”

“Why did you take your family’s money?” I pressed, clutching my glass so tightly that my knuckles turned white. “It was yours, too. If you’d needed it for something specific, if you’d only asked, I’m sure they would’ve given it to you.”

“You don’t know my family, Ms. Smith,” he said. “Or else you’d understand why that wasn’t a possibility.”

I set my shoulders. “Your mother would deny you nothing, Jonathan,” I said. “She may be a witch, otherwise, but she would’ve given you the world. Your father maybe would’ve made you work for it, but he only wanted the best for you. The money was yours. You didn’t have to steal it.”

“Stay out of my life,” he said softly. “I don’t know who you’ve hired to spy on the Wharton compound, or who you think you are, but I will sue you right out of your panties.”

“Jon.” I said his name and dropped my masks, wondering if he was too drunk to see that I was his wife, just with a new face and a new hairstyle and a new name. I needed him to know that it was Michelle here, not April, and that I was sorry it had come to this. God, I was sorry.

“Who are you?” he demanded, standing suddenly. “If this is some kind of trick, I don’t give a shit who you are. I will fucking end you.”

His anger made me flinch, but I steeled myself to weather the storm. “It’s me, Jon. Michelle. It’s been me the whole time.”

“You are not my wife,” he said, glaring at me balefully.

“You’re right,” I said. “I’m not that girl anymore. I’ve changed, the same as you. We’ve both changed a lot, Jon, wouldn’t you say?”

“I’m not believing this,” he said, shaking his head back and forth rapidly. “My wife — she had long, curly hair the color of gold.”

“Hair can change,” I reminded him gently, ruffling my pixie cut with my fingers. The style had grown on me, and I’d maintained it monthly ever since. Plus, with my hair this short, it didn’t curl.

“My wife would never dress like that,” he said, pointing at my heels.

“These are Louboutins,” I said, lifting one of my feet to show the red underside. “These are gorgeous shoes. Would I be happier barefooted? The grass beneath my soles, walking without shoes through the field back at the cottage? That’s not an option for me anymore. I’ve left that all behind.”

“You’re too skinny to be my wife,” Jonathan said, looking me up and down critically. “And any of the tabloids would know that she and I spent time at a cottage in the woods.”

I shrugged. “When you knew me, I was more muscular,” I said. “I worked the land for my living. Since then, well, I’ve been through a lot. A lot, Jon. More than you know.”

“Your voice is different from hers,” he said. “Deeper, scratchier.”

“I harmed my vocal cords,” I said. “Same reason I’m skinnier.”

“And my wife had a scar on her face that she hated,” he said, taking a sip of his whiskey. “I never minded. It was what made her who she was. She had such a hang-up over it, but I tried to tell her it wasn’t a big deal. She wanted to get it removed before our wedding.”

“I did get it removed,” I said. “Open your eyes and look at me.”

His eyes were already open, but he rose unsteadily from the desk chair and shambled over to me. My heels were so tall that I didn’t have to crane my neck up so much to make eye contact with him. He stank of drink, but I tried my best to endure him. He needed to see that I was Michelle now, and not April. He needed to understand what was happening.

“Your cheek is completely smooth,” he said, running his finger down my skin and making me shiver. “Her scar was extensive.”

“You’re drunk,” I said. “Look closer. There is feathering. Ash Martin said I could always go back to get that fixed, but I never did. I didn’t want to go under the knife again, not after — not ever again.”

He leaned even closer to me, his blue eyes curious but still dull. I had to hold my breath. The whiskey stench was practically oozing out of his pores.

Then, he shifted suddenly and kissed me, his tongue plunging into my mouth. I gasped in surprise and he deepened the kiss even more, putting his arm around me. I managed to squirm away, spluttering on the taste of whiskey. Whiskey had never been my drink.

“Is that really what you’re here for, Ms. Smith?” he asked. “Did I plant a seed in your mind the last time we saw each other? I told you I’d known another woman with the last name of Smith, and you figured out it was my wife. Are you playing some little fantasy here? I’ll play along, then, if you want. I’m not above a kinky fuck. My wife and I fucked in here once. Go on, then. Take that pretty dress off, but leave those heels on.”

I swallowed the tears of outrage and sorrow that had been building in my throat and faced him.

“We did have sex here, yes,” I said. “We had to be quiet. Even though it was a Saturday, there were people here. You’d inspired them to start working harder because you were too, trying to catch up. I brought a picnic lunch. Picnics were a special thing between us. We loved having picnics at the cottage, but we never had a proper basket. I always just put everything in a five-gallon bucket. It didn’t matter. All that mattered was us, spending time together.”

Jonathan’s face darkened. “You’ve done your homework, but we’re through here,” he said. “I’ve suddenly gone soft. Probably the whiskey. Don’t take it the wrong way.”

I took a shuddering breath and plunged onward. “The first time we made love was in the field by the cottage. You proposed to me with a single stalk of Queen Anne’s lace. It’s a white flower with lots of little blossoms. It was special to us.”

“Stop,” he said, his voice as hoarse as mine. “I don’t want to hear anymore.”

“You have to hear it,” I said. “You have to. We were going to sneak off at our wedding to make love, away from all the people we didn’t know or care about, but your father told you about the vote of no confidence. I rode with you to the airport, and the limo is where we consummated our vows.”

“Enough,” he whispered.

“While you were abroad, I missed you so bad,” I said, my voice cracking. “We had sex via Skype one night — night for Chicago, day for Abu Dhabi — and it was so erotic, Jon. I — I touched myself for days afterward thinking about it.”

He was so pale I thought he might keel over. A tear trickled down my cheek, and I pushed it away with the back of my hand.

“The last time we had sex was ugly,” I said. “It was at the cottage. You went looking for me after you got back from your trip. We were so angry at each other, so hurt by imaginary things. We had hateful, hurtful sex, and that was it. It was over between us, Jon, except it never has been.”

“Why are you doing this?” he asked, tears glimmering in his eyes. “Haven’t you taken everything from me already? Aren’t you satisfied yet?”

“I can never be satisfied,” I said. “I’ve learned that lesson.”

“Why not?” he asked. “Even fires have to be satisfied at some point. They run out of things to burn, baby, and you’ve taken everything from me.”

“I haven’t taken anything,” I said, pulling a manila folder out of my purse and holding it out to him. “I authorized the investigation, but I never pulled the trigger on filing the lawsuit. I had intended to, but the thought didn’t bring me the satisfaction I thought it would. I realized that I had only wanted answers, all along. I’d only wanted to know why. I wanted to know the man you were before you met me, the one I’d never met. And I realized I still loved you, after everything.”

“After everything?” he whispered. “You lied to me, Michelle.”

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “The thing with Brock was a lie. I have it all recorded here.” I fumbled again in my purse as he clutched the manila folder to his chest and found my cell phone.

“What’s this?” he asked, his eyes bleary.

“It’s a recorded confession from your sister,” I said. “I ran into her at Ash Martin’s bachelor party, and she told me everything.”

I hit play on the recording, and Jane’s slurring voice started up.

“I, Jane Wharton, have wronged both you and my brother,” she said, sounding almost bored of it. “I conspired with Brock and Violet to tear you both apart. I do shit to entertain myself sometimes, but Violet wanted my help so she could get Jonathan back. And Brock only wanted what Jonathan had already tasted. Brock’s always been jealous of my brother.”

I paused the recording. “There’s more,” I said. “She said the photos of you and Violet were fakes, too. Well, taken before you’d lost your memories. We can continue listening, if you want.”

“She was drunk,” Jonathan pointed out.

“Is she ever sober?” I countered. “Not when I knew her, and certainly not at Ash’s party.”

“And so you realized you still loved me after Jane said everything wasn’t true,” Jonathan said.

“No.” I shook my head. “Before.”

“When?”

“When you stormed into my office,” I said. “When we fought over the investigation.”

“And yet you still tried to take everything,” he said.

“Only because I have had everything taken from me,” I whispered.

“You’re the one who left the compound,” Jonathan reminded me. “Nobody forced you out.”

“I was pregnant.”

The room grew so quiet that we could hear the faint sounds of work going on as usual outside, no one aware of the monumental shit going on in here. I felt like I was going to float away, or maybe disintegrate into a pile of dust. I didn’t know what to do or think as Jonathan simply stared at me.

“When did you know you were?” he asked.

“While I was at the cottage. I took a test,” I said. “It had to have happened sometime before the wedding. The conception, I mean.”

“And so when I went to the cottage looking for you …”

“I knew.”

He sucked in a sharp breath, and another tear escaped from my eye.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he demanded. “Why didn’t you say something? Don’t you think things could’ve been different if I’d known?”

“If you didn’t trust in me or love me anymore, I didn’t want to use the baby as something to keep you there with me,” I said. “I couldn’t do that to her.”

“Her?” Jonathan choked on the simple word. “It’s a girl?”

“Was,” I corrected. That was the hardest word I’d ever uttered. “Was a girl. After you left, I ran out into the woods. It was dark and I was upset, and I fell off one of the small cliffs out there. If I’d been in my right mind, I never would’ve fallen. I know those woods well, but I wasn’t myself.”

“You fell.”

“Yes,” I said. “That was probably what did it. Of course, I flipped your BMW. That didn’t help things.”

I was emotionless talking about this, and I knew the girl from the bottom of the well was holding my hand. I tossed back some more vodka.

“Jesus, Michelle.”

“And so during my stint in the hospital, I convinced Ash Martin to help me kill, oh, about three or four birds with one stone, and give me the new face.” I touched my cheek, marveling at its smoothness for nowhere near the first time. “It’s not a new face, of course. It’s the miracle of modern medicine. Skin grafts.”

“What happened to you, Michelle?” Jonathan asked, his face gray. “You’ve changed.”

“We both have,” I said. “We’re different people now.”

“I wish things could’ve turned out different, baby,” he said, tears starting to tumble down his cheeks. “Our daughter …”

Jonathan couldn’t finish the thought. He started crying in earnest, devastated, and it was as if I was going through the loss all over again. I couldn’t ignore my feelings anymore. The girl at the bottom of the well fled, and I wept, fully realizing that my family was shattered beyond repair. Our beautiful baby girl — gone. The love that Jonathan and I had shared, the love that had meant everything in the world to us — gone.

BOOK: WORTHY, Part 3 (The Worthy Series)
2.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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