For Sydney Holmes and Brandon Carter, love is losing its strength. Infidelity is the side effect of both of their broken marriages. Now, struggling to pick up the pieces, each is clinging to the hope that lasting love still waits for them, inside—or outside—of marriage.
Sydney’s not happy. Ever since marrying the wrong man, she’s regretted her decision to marry for the ring—not for her husband. Now, nearly seven years and two kids later, it’s not so easy to walk away. When a man drops into her life who gives her the oomph she’s been missing, she may be on the verge of making another wrong decision.
Brandon’s hurt. The death of his son was painful enough, but now he’s faced with losing the love of his life. No matter how hard he tries, he can’t make his wife love him. But soon the attention of another woman begins to mend his shattered ego. He moves out, and just as his new life grows comfortable, the reason his wife pushed him away surfaces, and Brandon must decide if the love they once shared is worth holding on to.
Love is the muscle of marriage. Both partners have to work to keep it strong and healthy, and without it, a marriage has no chance of survival. In The Last Exhale, Sydney and Brandon uncover the truth of what it really means to love—for better or for worse.
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The Last Exhale
My hand shakes as I unfold the letter.
I know the words by heart because I wrote them. Wrote them six years ago on the eve of my wedding day. Wrote them to my husband to tell him I wasn’t going to meet him at the altar the next morning.
I made a mistake.
That night, I should have gone to his hotel and slid the letter under his room door like I had planned. Should’ve done that and taken the taxi to the airport, hopped on the flight I purchased a ticket for the night before, and flown to another life where nobody knew my name. Should’ve done all of that, but I didn’t.
“Mommy, are you crying?”
I stuff the letter back in the shoe box, toss a worn pair of shoes on top of it. Shove it under the bed just like I did my heart when I stood in front of family and friends and God and promised to love a man for the rest of my life who I couldn’t even love at that moment.
Before my son can see my face, I grab a tissue off the nightstand. “No, honey. Mommy’s not crying. It’s my allergies.” I blow my nose to emphasize my lie.
I knew the moment the doors opened and I placed my feet on freshly sprinkled rose petals that I was making a mistake. My heart begged me to turn around, save myself before committing to a lifetime of insecurity. But my right foot betrayed me, then my left. Moments later, there was only a breath standing between us. I closed my eyes as his lips touched mine. Deep down, I prayed that when I opened them, it would have all just been a dream. A really bad dream.
Almost seven years later, I’m still hoping to wake up and realize I’d been placed in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest uninterrupted nightmare.
My son stands in front of me, stares me in the face to see if I’m really telling the truth. “Your eyes are red.”
I pick him up and sit him on my lap. “Well, that’s what they do this time of year, EJ. Let’s just pray you don’t grow up to be allergic to everything like your mother.”
He shakes his head so hard it makes me feel like I have a bad case of vertigo, then runs his tiny finger down my nose. “I don’t want to be allergic ’cause it makes you look bad.”
Wow. I don’t know if I should be insulted or laugh at his truth-telling innocence. I catch a glimpse of myself in the full-length mirror in the corner of the room. Bags under my eyes large enough to incur an overweight baggage fee. There’s nothing laughable about my image. I put Eric Jr. down and pat him on the butt. “Go tell Kennedy it’s time for bed. I’ll be in to check on you two in a minute.”
“But I’m not sleepy, Mommy.”
I give him the look of looks, one that lets him know I mean business tonight.
He shuffles out of the room, yelling for his sister to go to sleep before she gets in trouble. Just like him to threaten his sister with his punishment.
I go in the bathroom, grab a rag, and saturate it with cold water. Lay it over my eyes until it loses its cool. Rewet it with more cold water. Then I add a few drops of the liquid that promises to take the red out, let it marinate behind my eyelids. I do my best to get rid of any evidence of breakdown. Not that my husband would notice anything is wrong, I’m just not in the mood to tell any more lies. This might be the one night I set the truth free.
“Mom.” This time, my daughter comes barging in the room yelling at the top of her lungs. “EJ just squeezed all my toothpaste in the trash.”
“Kennedy, calm down. I’ve told you, no one can hear you when you yell. Now, what’s the problem?”
Why do these kids insist on working my nerves tonight? Don’t they know I’m near my breaking point? Don’t they know that if either of them so much as sneezes, I will walk out that door and not look back?
My daughter repeats her distress and marches down the hall to their bathroom to show me the evidence. “See.” She points to the trash. Pink gel with a ton of sparkles is splattered all in the trash and on the floor.
“Eric Thomas Holmes, Jr.,” I call out. No response. I look under the cabinet and hand Kennedy a new box of her favorite toothpaste. “Brush your teeth and get in the bed.” That seems to settle all her problems for now.
Heavy footsteps climb up the stairs. “What’s all this noise up here?” the man of the house questions.
I tell him, “Your kids doing what they do best.”
He pulls a smaller version of himself from behind his back. “This one was hiding under the dining room table.”
I point to EJ’s room door. “Bed. Now.”
He scurries to his room like a dog with his tail tucked between its legs in its moment of chastisement.
“I’ll have them asleep by the time you get downstairs.” My husband kisses me on the forehead, tells me, “The dishes are done and I left the DVR up so you can catch up on your shows.”
I stare at him momentarily. Do my best to convince my conscience that I did the right thing six years ago by not giving him that letter. And for a moment, it works.
I wink at him. “I’ll be up shortly.”