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"I want a divorce."
Silence cloaked the room as Christian Wil-liams's guilt-ridden words hung in the air while her gaze remained locked on her half-eaten dinner. The soft shuffling of the servants' feet and then the soft click of the sliding door signaled they'd left her alone to deal with a man she didn't know anymoreher husband.
The tension thickened and robbed her of the confidence she'd spent months building. Look at him, her inner voice commanded. That simple task proved to be the hardest thing she'd ever done.
With balled fists and a shaky disposition, Christian forced her gaze to meet Jordan's.
The eight-foot glass dinner table might as well have been a mile longa good symbol of the distance that had grown between them.
Jordan's midnight-colored eyes clouded from a brewing storm. Her heart nearly stopped, and in its place a sharp, unbearable pain pulsed with every breath she took. Evidence of her husband's Spanish-American heritage dominated his strong features. With short-cropped, wavy hair and eyes darker than the darkest night, his distinguished, sophisticated looks never failed to turn heads.
Christian's gaze caressed his skin's golden hue with longing. She turned away when she realized what she was doing. However, her courage restored, she chanced another look. This time, she focused on the subtle signs of maturity that graced his eyes, then his salt-and-pepper mustache, which added to his masculinity.
The soft lighting from the chandelier illuminated the room. Tiny lines along his jaw twitched, a sure sign of his anger.
She waited, waited for an inevitable explosion.
He lowered his fork, then wiped the corners of his mouth, all the while never breaking eye contact.
Why doesn't he say something? Anything would be better than this silence. The silence condemned her, accused her of a terrible crime.
"I'm sorry," she said. Her tears struggled for release. Pain flickered across her husband's hardened expression, then disappeared. Was she wrong about his feelings? She couldn't be sure, not until he said something. Anything.
Seconds stretched into minutes, confirming her worst fears. He didn't care. J.W. Enterprises was the only thing that mattered. The company he'd started years ago had practically become the air he breathed, and she refused to compete with it any longer for his time, or his love.
Against her will, tears brimmed and blurred her vision, but she refused to let them fall. Her chair screeched like a locomotive as she stood from the table. With as much dignity as she could muster, she pulled the four-carat diamond ring from her finger and placed it on the table, along with its matching gold band.
It's over, her head shouted, but her heart begged to stay. In that same instant, Jordan broke eye contact to stare at the golden rings.
Christian turned and forced one foot in front of the other. In truth, she wanted him to stop her, to ask her to reconsider, but it didn't happen. The clicking of her heels against the marble floor echoed in her ears. He wasn't coming after her.
The realization threatened to choke her. Weak-kneed, she managed to make it out of the dining room, relieved that he couldn't see the tears that finally streamed down her face.
Don't go. Jordan exhaled. Denial took hold of his heart as he waited in vain for his wife to return. He would not, could not, believe what had just happened. A divorce? His gaze returned to the two rings. A deep ache penetrated and settled within him.
Snatching his wineglass, he emptied its contents in one gulp. He closed his eyes, and with a trembling hand lowered his glass. What could be wrong? He looked around at the exquisite furnishings, at the rewards he'd been able to provide. He'd made sure Christian had the best of everything. Never had he denied her anything.
Sure, they had their share of problems, but they always managed to work things out. Lately, his company demanded most of his time, forcing him to travel five to six days out of the week, but Christian understood all of thatdidn't she?
Jordan stood, tossing down the white linen napkin from his lap. His gaze returned to the rings. Fear gripped him, while the image of his wife removing her jewels replayed in his mind.
Neglect. That was it. He hadn't spent as much time with her as he'd like to, but the situation was just temporary. With his company's new software hitting the market in the coming months, he'd been subjected to a tremendous amount of pressure.
Too much time had passed. It was now or never. He needed to talk to her. The pain mirrored in Christian's expression haunted him. Her brimming tears broke his heart.
He went to the end of the table and retrieved her rings. He squeezed them in his hand, then left the dining room to confront his wife. As he walked up the massive mahogany staircase, apprehension jumbled the words in his head. Two servants skittered out of his path when he reached the top level, but he hardly noticed. He needed a plan.
First, he'd apologize, for whatever he was guilty of. Then he'd promise to spend more time with her. That should make her happy. And when she forgave himif she forgave himhe'd shower her with roses, jewelry, whatever it took.
At the bedroom door, he drew a deep breath and opened his fist. The two golden rings glittered back at him.
Jordan pushed open the door and stepped inside.
Something was wrong. At first glance, the room's picturesque decor looked normal. However, the anxiety trickling through his veins warned him otherwise. Something was definitely wrong.
He moved in farther and took a closer look.
Where was she? Fear returned as he rushed toward the walk-in closet. As he passed Christian's vanity, he saw sparse items littered the glass top. As he threw open the closed door, time stopped. Rows of naked hangers hung from the rods.
Jordan retreated and refused to believe his eyes. She wasn't gone. Making a one hundred and eighty degree turn, he sprinted toward the bathroom. More of her things were gone.
The weight of the rings drew his attention. He opened his hand and stared at them again. He could no longer deny the truth. She left me. Numb, he returned to the master bedroom in a daze.
When he plopped onto the bed, something crinkled beneath him. Shifting his weight, he pulled out some papers. Delta tickets? Where is she going? He flipped the envelope open and stared at the two tickets. Destination: Bermuda. More questions formed in his head. Departure: September 18. That was yesterday. He rummaged through the other papers and found hotel reservations for a honeymoon suite.
Jordan looked again at the word honeymoon. September 18. Their wedding anniversary. He'd forgotten their anniversary again.
For two hours Christian drove around the city of Atlanta, listening to the steady rhythm of the windshield wipers blend with the music on the radio. Its mournful tunes about lost love intensified her misery and elevated her loneliness. The night's events seemed too surreal, too inconceivable.
She exited off I-285 and drove to Courtlane Highrises in the heart of downtown. Once inside the parking deck she cut the car's engine, then slumped back in her seat and let silence encase her. Her fragile emotions swirled inside her, bringing her, at times, to the brink of hopelessness.
She couldn't convince herself that this was for the best, or that she was doing the right thing. If any of that was true, then why did she hurt so much? Why did she feel as if her world, and her life, were over?
A car alarm squealed out a warning in the distance, jerking her from her reverie. She took a cautious look around, then stepped out of the car.
In the lobby, a young man asked if she needed help with her bags, but Christian refused the offer and handled the task alone. When she reached the door with a plastic smile in place, she hesitated.
She wasn't ready for this. The last thing she wanted or needed was sympathy, especially from her best friend, Alexandria.
Christian shook her head at the lie. If she didn't want or need any of that, then why was she here?
Her heartbeat quickened as she prepared for the onslaught of questions. After a few seconds, she feared Alex might be asleep. Glancing down at her luggage, she contemplated whether she should find a hotel for the night.
A series of locks clicked and turned, pulling Christian's attention back toward the door.
When it yanked open, Alex's almond-shaped eyes widened in alarm. "I don't believe it. You left him?"
Christian walked past her six-foot friend to enter the apartment. The entryway, shaped like a luminous glass capsule paved in limestone, gave the apartment a unique look. "I like your new place," she commented.
"Don't change the subject. What happened?" Alex gestured to the luggage outside her door. "And what's all this?"
"Almost everything I own." Christian's tears threatened to return, but she blinked her eyes dry, then got busy grabbing bags.
Alex said nothing as she turned and helped her best friend place the suitcases in the guest bedroom.
When they were done, they went into the living room.
Christian plopped down onto the white, kidney-shaped couch and leaned back to stare up at the curved ceiling.
"I'll fix us a pot of coffee," Alex offered, disappearing into the kitchen.
"What have I done?" Christian whispered. She closed her eyes and prayed for strength and guidance.
Soon, the fresh scent of coffee drifted from the kitchen, filling the entire apartment with its wonderful aroma.
Alex returned and turned on the stereo. The soft, soothing voice of Nancy Wilson played through the speakers.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Alex joined Christian on the couch.
"I don't know where to begin." Her defenses weakened under Alex's concerned scrutiny. "I just know it's over." Her voice cracked and her lips trembled, but no tears fell.
"Not as sorry as I am." Christian laughed cynically.
"Don't do this to yourself."
She clasped her hands together and studied her braided fingers. "I just wish I knew where we went wrong. I know J.W. Enterprises plays a big part in it, but where did we go wrong as a couple?"
"What did Jordan say?"
She shook her head. "That's just it, he didn't say anything. He just sat there."
"He wasn't hurt or angry?"
Christian stood from the couch. "I don't know. He didn't respond. I made this huge announcement, and he couldn't care less."
"Jordan loves you."
With her arms crossed, Christian paced the floor, then reached a decision. "I'm notready for this right now. Can I skip the coffee? I just want to go to bed."
Alex walked to the floor-to-ceiling windows and slid the panels of white silk over to block the night's cityscape. "I'm leaving tomorrow afternoon to go to a fashion show in California. Do you want to talk over breakfast?"