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This is a mistake.
Olivia Markham-Foster knew it the second she entered the dimly lit Italian restaurant. She'd arrived early to get her bearings, and the maitre d' had led her to a tucked-away-in-a-corner table that offered plenty of seclusion and privacy. She welcomed the privacy, but the lovey-dovey atmosphere was all wrong. Romance and seduction licked through the air, dripping from the chords of the softly played violin music, twisting her stomach into knots.
Oh, yes. This was most definitely a mistake.
Goose bumps coated her skin and she shivered. She choked down a sip of red wine before placing her fingerentwined hands on her lap. Tonight wasn't about romance or seduction, but Grady Well, she figured he'd stroll in, take one look at her sitting in this restaurant, at this table, and draw the completely wrong conclusion.
Her husband, for every inch of his tough exterior, was a romantic through and through, with a soft, melty heart that believed in happily ever after just as fervently as he believed in baseball. Add in the fact that when Grady wanted something, he usually got it, and tonight promised to be more than difficult. He so wasn't going to like what she had to say.
But Olivia had made a decision and, come hell or high water, she was going to proceed as plannedeven if she felt ridiculous for bringing him to a swanky restaurant for an intimate dinner. Maybe the location was Samantha's fault, but it was too late to change that. Now, she had to follow through. Her life depended on it. If she was being honest, Grady's life depended on it, too. Continuing on this way, stuck in place at opposite ends, was hurting both of them.
Olivia sighed and fiddled with her wineglass. He wouldn't see it that way, though. He'd toss the same arguments at her that he always did, remind her of what they'd once beenas if she could possibly forgetand try to cloud her decision so she'd back down.
"Not this time," she whispered. This time, she would stay strong.
Without warning, her throat tightened and telltale tingles sped along her arms. Whatever composure she'd managed to cling to evaporated in a rush of recognition. He was here. She didn't need to look up to know that. Her body sensed Grady. Hell, her soul sensed him. It had been that way from the very beginning. She looked up anyway.
And that was another mistake.
She blinked, tried to force herself to look beyond him, but that proved impossible. Grady Foster didn't simply walk into a room. His long-legged gait held equal amounts of danger and gracelike a panther, wild and untamed. Blacker-than-coal hair framed a sculpted, almost chiseled face, ending just above the hard angle of his jaw, pulling attention to the high-planed lines of his cheeks.
His gaze met hers. The distance between them didn't mask the glitter of recognition, anticipation, in his cinnamon-speckled eyes. Her heart rippled like a caged butterfly, its wings beating mercilessly against her breastbone, begging for releasefor freedom. Again, the image of a panther, catching sight of its prey and moving in for the kill, winged into her mind.
And she was Grady's prey.
Okay, not fair. He didn't want to cause her harm. Just the opposite, actually. He wanted to pull her into his arms and give her the world. He wanted them to reclaim the life they'd lost, but thatlike so many other thingswas impossible.
He approached in ground-swallowing steps, every part of him focused on her. She stole another quick sip of wine before pulling in a breath, before relaxing her muscles and giving him the cool, practiced smile she'd perfected over the past three years. If she kept her emotions hidden and her voice calm and sure, she'd get through this. Somehow.
Just as she had everything else.
He slung his long, sinewy frame into the chair across from her and nodded. He tugged at his tie, loosening it ever so slightly. If she wasn't fighting so hard to remain in control, she might feel ashamed for bringing him to a place that required a suit. Grady hated wearing them. A pity, really. Very few men looked quite as sexy as her husband did in a well-fitted suit.
"Thank you for agreeing to meet," she said in a soft, clear voice. Her hope was to take control of the conversation, of this meeting, before they lapsed into the murky footsteps of their past. She also wanted to hide how much his presence shook her. "I wasn't sure if you would."
Disbelief creased his forehead with lines. "You're my wife, Olly. Why would you think I'd refuse to see you? I've been waiting for this waiting for you to reach out for a long time."
"But I'm not" She coughed to clear her throat. He was right. Regardless of how often she'd turned away from his attempts at reconciliation, she knew he'd show. He hadn't given up hope. But she had, so she stuck with the lie. "I wasn't sure," she repeated.
"Then you haven't been paying attention." The brown in his eyes darkened, and his jaw clenched tight. "I'm available whenever you need me. I've made that clear to you, haven't I?"
"Y-you have, but Well" She broke off when she saw the waiter approaching their table. Relief that she had a few precious minutes to regain her equilibrium saturated in, easing the acid roiling in her stomach.
The waiter set menus in front of them, gave a quick rundown of the evening's specials, and took Grady's drink order before leaving them alone again.
Grady returned his thickly lashed gaze to hers. "Let's start over. I'm glad you called, Olivia. I'm glad we're here together. We haven't been to a place like this since before" Rubbing his hand over his jaw, he frowned. "In years," he said, correcting his near error.
It was so very hard not to react to the words he almost said. A shot of familiar sadness swept in, nearly crippling her. If she gave in to the sadness, she'd break down. The guilt would come next and before she knew it, she'd be up to her eyebrows in emotional quicksand. So she did what she always didshe shoved her feelings away as hard and as fast as she could. "Yes. Years. And this is a nice restaurant, but Grady "
A few seconds passed while he waited for her to finish speaking, but when it became clear that she wasn't going to, he raised his shoulders in question. "But what?"
Now or later? Dinner first would be best. Especially if they could manage cordial conversation. She gave her head a quick shake. "Nothing. Never mind."
"I know you better than that, Olly. I'm here and I'm not going to bite. So tell me but what?"
"Fine. Here goes." Olivia inhaled a quick breath in an attempt to steady herself. "I know you're probably thinking that I brought you here to.to."
He sighed in exasperation. "Okay, Olivia. What's going on? I think you asked me to meet you here for what? A good meal?" His voice held a teasing quality, but the lines in his forehead deepened even more. "Please tell me what I'm thinking."
Oh, God. Why had she listened to Samantha? Coming here for this conversation had been her idea, and Olivia should have known better. "That I want us to get back together, and that I brought you here to discuss reconciliation."
His entire body stilled as he appraised her.
For not the first time in her adult life, Olivia wished she had the ability to sit as still and quiet as he. To let him grow uncomfortable enough that he'd fill the silence. But he was the panther, not she. "I don'twant to get back together, that is. I thought we could talk. We need to talk. But not about reconciliation."
A new round of disbelief hardened his expression and glinted in his eyes. "I put on a suit, drove across town and met you in a romantic restaurant so you could inform me that nothing has changed? We could have had this conversation on the phone, or at the house, or Hell, Olly, what were you thinking?"
"I wasn't thinking I didn't know Samantha recommended this restaurant. She said the atmosphere was conducive to a private discussion. This conversation shouldn't happen over the phone, and you haven't lived in the house for monthsclose to a year, actuallyso I was afraid you'd feel like we were on my turf." Calm down, she instructed herself. Don't get rattled. Straightening her posture, she said quietly, "I thought a place neither of us had ever been would even the playing field. So to speak."
The tight, hard way he held his mouth relaxed. "Sa-mantha told you to bring me here?"
"Yes. But I didn't know" Olivia narrowed her eyes at the devilish smirk on Grady's face. Samantha Hagen was her best friend, but she was a huge fan of Grady's. She wanted Olivia and Grady to reconcile almost as much as Grady did. "This isn't funny! I'm trying to explain."
Rather than disappearing, or even easing, the smirk widened. "I've always liked Sammy. I haven't talked to her in ages. How's she doing?"
"She's fine," Olivia snapped, annoyed with the change in his demeanor. "You could even say that business is booming." Samantha earned her living as a divorce attorney. "In fact, she's busier than ever."
His smirk vanished. "I'm happy for her, but"
"You don't believe in divorce," she said, finishing his sentence.
"That isn't entirely true. I don't believe in backing away from a commitment until all other alternatives have been exhausted." He gave her a piercing look. "You used to feel the same."
A slew of tremors skidded down her spine, but she kept her voice steady. "I used to feel a lot of ways that I no longer do. Things change."
Before she could blink, his hand captured hers. His touch, as simple as it was, wove into her and sparked a touch of desire deep in her belly. Dear God, she'd missed his touch. She pulled out of his grasp and flexed her fingers. "Things change," she said again.
"That hasn't changed. You still want me. As much as I want you. Why do you fight against us so hard?"
"Because physical attraction isn't enough."
"You keep saying that, but" The waiter appeared, delivering Grady's beer, and asked for their orders.
Olivia had barely glanced at the menu. She started to say that they'd need a few more minutes when Grady stepped in and ordered for both of them. He'd ordered for her on plenty of occasions in the past, a trait she used to find endearing, but this time it riled her up. More than necessary, but she couldn't stop her frustration from fueling into anger.
When the waiter left, she glowered at her husband. "Maybe I wanted something instead of chicken marsala. Maybe I thought the scallop linguine sounded good."
He raised his left eyebrow. "Really? But you love chicken marsala."
"That's not the point."
"Then what is the point?"
An exasperated huff pushed out of her lungs. "You could've asked." "Why would I?" "Why wouldn't you?"
"Because you've always ordered chicken marsala at every Italian restaurant we've ever gone to." He shook his head in confusion. "Why would I think that had changed?"
"Why would you think it hadn't? I'm not the same woman you married. Many, many things have changed. Why can't you accept that?"
"If you want linguine, I'll get you linguine." He started to raise his hand to gesture for the waiter, but she grabbed his arm and tugged.
"Stop! Please, Grady. You can't fix everything! You can't make everything right." She gulped a mouthful of air. "Quit trying."
He muttered a curse. "I apologize for ordering for you. It's an old habit, and I did it without thinking. My intent wasn't to upset you."
Heavy tears pressed against her eyes. One blink and they'd come pouring out. She couldn'twouldn'tcry in front of Grady. If she did, he would doubt her decision. And if he pushed her too hard, she'd probably capitulate and spend the next year, two, or possibly the rest of her life in the same empty place she'd already spent far too long. No way could she let that happen.
It was time. She needed to say what she came here to say before her emotions got the best of her. Waiting until after they ate now seemed absurd and pointless. She tried to talk, but the words got stuck in her throat.
Unsaid emotions drenched the air between them. Grady stared at her, his lips taut and his eyes hooded. Comprehension filtered over him. He expelled a harsh-sounding breath. "This isn't about the chicken, is it?"
"No. It isn't."
"What is this about then, Olivia?"
She almost couldn't say the words. Memories of their pastof how happy their lives had beenwhispered through her mind. She opened her mouth but closed it just as fast.
"Well?" He sounded resigned, as if he knew what was coming and just wanted to get it over with. "It's me. You can tell me anything."
Raising her chin, she met his gaze with hers, and that was all it took to put her back on course. No matter how good those early memories were, they weren't enough. "I want a divorce," she said softly but with conviction. His shoulders stiffened as he took in her statement.
"What did you say?"
"I said that I want a divorce." Her heart pounded so fast and so hard that her chest almost hurt from the pressure. "I'm sorry, Grady. It's time. You know it's time."
"I know nothing of the sort." Grady's eyes narrowed. "I'm not interested in a divorce. And we have a long way to go before I'll even consider it."
"How much longer? We haven't been a real couple for twoalmost threeyears."
"We were together and happy for seven."
"That was a lifetime ago."
"Our lifetime, Olly. Yours and mine. Why won't you give us a chance?" Frustration colored his tone and a gleam of hurt pooled in his eyes. "What are you so afraid of?"