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Nothing could conceal her shame.
Not this time. Still, Chloe Jenkins yanked the belt of her beige trench coat tighter, until she was sure it would cut her in twomuch like her heart had been. What had seemed sexy a half-hour ago now seemed unbearably pathetic and sleazy. The New York City subway station was jammed with bodies, even at this hour, and she shoved wet hanks of hair from her eyes, glad to finally be out of the rain.
What was she supposed to do now?
Hurling your wedding rings at your cheating bastard of a husband with the words "Consider this our divorce!" may have seemed like the perfect exit linethe only way to escape with a shred of dignitybut charging out of that hotel room had left her with few options. She was in a huge city where she knew no one.
The air shuddered from her lungs. There had to be some other way.
She could always go home to Connecticut.
And face her brother? Her family? They'd known the truth all along, but she'd been too much of a naive sap to listen.
The doors opened and she stepped into the train, careful to keep her bare toes far from the nearest occupant.
She could head to a car rental facility. She had her purse and her wallet, thank heavens.
But she'd foolishly left her shoes behind in the room, and it was illegal to drive like this, even if they'd lease her a car. And if the tie on her coat came loose, she'd be totally exposed.
Her face burned hotter. Okay, maybe she wouldn't be totally exposed, but the peek-a-boo black negligee and sheer panties left little to the imagination.
Even for her ex, whowhen she emerged from beneath the cocoon of covers, fury spilling from every porehad allowed his eyes to crawl over her body, a spark of interest finally coming to life in the drunken depths.
God. Why had she even bothered to try?
Because she didn't believe in giving up. At least, she hadn't before now.
The train suddenly slowed as it came to its next stop, and she lost her balance for a few frightening seconds, scrabbling to regain her handhold while keeping her coat from coming open.
Someone bumped into her from behind as they tried to exit, the hard shove sending her reeling a second time. She bit her lip and tasted blood.
"Sorry." Hands came out to steady her, but Chloe flinched away, terrified someone would find out what she'd tried to do. She checked with the tip of her tongue the damage her teeth had caused. Not exactly the way she'd planned to spend the night.
You're right, baby, she does look frigid.
Travis's current paramour had clung to his arm and giggled at the sight of Chloe under the covers, the duvet pulled up to her chin.
What had been meant as a last-ditch effort to save her marriage had turned into a guillotine instead, one that had nicked her, even as she'd released the cord and let it dropcleaving what had been one into two and setting her free.
Travis hadn't even blinked in the face of her rage. Probably too full of whiskey to care. He'd suggested she stick around implied she might even want to join in the fun. Her fist had balled up tight, ready to deliver the mean right hook her brother had once taught her, before she stopped herself, realizing it would do no good.
It was over.
A wave of nausea washed up her throat.
She could call her brother and do what exactly? It was almost midnight, and Jason was a couple of hundred miles away. Besides, he'd ask all kinds of questions. Was she really ready to publicly admit that Travis had wanted the family's money? He certainly hadn't wanted her. Not really. No matter how charming he'd been during their courtship. No, he'd wanted a leg up in the financial investment industry, which he'd gotten and more.
God. She'd saved herself for him. And for what? Love sure hadn't been any sweeter on the other side of the marriage bed.
She tried to think.
If she called Jason right now, he was liable to go all big-brotherly on her. She didn't need defending. She needed to get away. For a while, anyway. To plan her next moveat least the one beyond filing for an actual divorce, which she planned to do first thing Monday morning.
So, until then she could just get a room at another hotel.
In her nightgown? Strains of "Pretty Woman" began playing in her head. Yeah. She knew exactly what they'd think she was with plastered hair, thigh-high coat, and no shoes. No respectable hotel would let her through the doors.
And the unrespectable ones.
That was no better solution than the first option. Her eyes went to the tangled colors on the map posted above the doors of the subway train.
As much as she hated the idea, her thoughts circled back to the one person she knew in New York: Brad Davis. She knew where he workedthe Angel Mendez Children's Hospitalbut she had no idea what part of town that was in, or where her brother's old friend lived. Or even what subway line she should be on right now. She knew how to find Brad, though. Social media was good for at least one thing.
Bracing her feet against the sway of the train and digging out her smartphone, she took a deep breath and pulled up her friends list.
Brad paced the living room of his high-rise apartment, half irritated, half intrigued. It was Friday night, and he'd just sent his date home with a smiled apology and a smoothly worded explanation about family coming into town unexpectedly.
Which wasn't a total lie. Chloe was practically family. In fact, he'd spent more of his teenage years at Chloe and Jason's house than he had at his own. And despite being known more for his biker jacket, spiked wrist cuff and well-practiced sneer than for his social graces, his best friend's folks had made it clear he was welcome any time. Had made sure he'd known they cared about him, even as he'd wondered if his own parents knew he existed. And Chloe.
His mind sifted through images of the past, each overlapping the other until it formed a collage of memories, full of pink cheeks and adolescent banter.
No one had been more shocked than he, six years ago, to learn she was getting married, or to arrive at the wedding and realize what a gorgeous young woman she'd grown up to be. Asking her to dance had been the ultimate mistake. As they'd taken one quick spin around the dance floor, the hem of her lacy white gown swishing in time with their slow movements, he'd suddenly realized she was no longer the gawky kid who had tagged along after him and her brother. The glint of a hairpin imprisoning a long graceful curl had made his palms itch. What would happen if he reached up and.
His arms had instinctively tightened to resist the temptation, the act pulling her fully against him. His body had reacted, his pulse rate climbing dangerously. A soft gasp had left her throat, and the fingers that had been politely resting on his shoulder curled into the fabric of his suit jacket.
He'd looked down just as her eyes came up. Raw awareness had shimmered between them, and her teeth had sunk deep into her bottom lipthe lip he hadn't been able to stop staring at. The world around him had faded away, and the self-destructive tendencies he'd thought long gone had swooped down, nearly consuming him.
As if recognizing danger, Chloe's husband had suddenly appeared beside them, his hand outstretched, a warning frown between his brows. He'd spirited her away, a mysterious ethereal creature with huge blue eyes and slender curves. The memory of her body pressed to his had stayed with him long into the night.
Nope. No thinking about curves, racing pulses or anything else. She was his best friend's sister. Sweet. Innocent.
Nothing like the women he datedsophisticated women who knew exactly what the words "no strings" meant and would play by his set of rules. Women who were the opposite of Chloe Jenkins.
So what was she doing, wandering the streets of New York at midnight? By herself? She'd said there'd been a hitch in her hotel reservations. Why not just choose another place, then? Or drive home to Connecticut, if it came down to it?
He'd only seen her once since her wedding day, and she'd never attempted to contact him. Until tonight.
He should have said no. Should have reminded himself of that crazy dance and told her to steer clear of himor told her he had company, with just enough emphasis to let her know exactly what that meant.
But there'd been something about her voice on the phone. A shaky uncertainty, as if she'd expected him to flat-out refuse to let her come upsomething he would never do to Chloe, even if Jason weren't his best friend. Even if seeing her again messed with his head and brought up thoughts better left buried.
The buzzer to his apartment rang, and he punched the button on the keypad that would release the lock on the main entry downstairs.
Doubly glad he'd sent Katrina on her way, he opened the door and waited for the elevator to arrive on the fifteenth floor.
In less than a minute the doors whirred open, and whereas his date's four-inch heels had clacked purposefully across the space, Chloe stepped onto the cream marble floor with the grace of a dancer, not the slightest sound coming from her pale, high-arched feet.
And yep. There it was. The buzzing in his skull that signaled danger.
He blinked and looked closer, realizing what he'd first thought were some kind of flesh-colored shoes were actually nothing of the kind. Pink tipped nails glittered in the hallway light. Even as he stared, she curled her toes under her feet as if trying to hide them. His head cleared in an instant.
What the hell was going on?
Had she been robbed? Assaulted?
His gaze traveled up her slim calves and over her knees and lingered on the hem of her raincoat, a white-knuckled fist keeping the edges together.
Concern erased all traces of irritation. "Chloe, are you okay?"
He finally met her eyes and found them bright. Too brightthe blue depths teeming with some terrible emotion.
One glance at the twin mascara tracks running down her delicate face, the swollen bottom lip, and he knew.
Chloe was in trouble. Big trouble.
Chloe perched on the edge of an overstuffed leather couch and took another sip of her whiskeyher second glasswincing as it hit the sore spot on her lip.
Sitting on the matching ottoman across from her, Brad's eyes glittered with the same dangerous undertones they'd held fifteen minutes ago in the hallway when he'd gently touched the corner of her mouth and asked, "Where is the bastard?"
It had taken her a moment to realize he thought Travis had hit her.
He had. Just not with his fists.
There was no way she could explain the bitter humiliation that clogged her throat, that made her want to crawl away and hide from the world. Not to a man like Brad, who'd gone through girlfriends in droves back in high school. Girls who had been drawn to the same rough-edged smile she'd once been, only hers had been a childish infatuation that had eventually faded away, like a temporary tattoo.
Until the night of her wedding. When a single touch had brought it all roaring back. She'd been mortified at her reaction. Terrified that he'd see the truth in her eyes. Travis had rescued her just in time.
Rescued. That was one way to put it. Especially since her Prince Charming had turned out to be the villain of the story.
She continued to sip her drink, welcoming the fiery warmth that bloomed in her stomach.
"Let me take your coat, at least." Brad's low voice broke through her inner turmoil.
"No!" Her hand went to the tie, fiddling with it. "II'm still cold."
What was she going to do? If she stayed the night, he was going to figure out she didn't have much on under the coat. She could crash on Brad's couch, huddled under a blanketbut the image of herself in the hotel bedroom doing much the same thing caused something between a laugh and a cry to exit her throat.
"Okay." He sat straight up, elbows coming off his knees. "Ready to tell me what happened?"
Her glance flickered to Brad's onyx-tiled fireplace. "I already explained. My hotel was overbooked. There were people staying in the room."
And she could only imagine what those "people" were now doing.
Unless Travis had already passed out, as he tended to do on the nights he'd had too much to drink. Her wedding night had been a disaster. As had the nights that had followed. When her girlfriends had giggled about how many times in a row they'd done you-know-what on their honeymoons, she'd laughed right along with them, all the while wondering if there really was something wrong with her.
Travis's frustration had grown as her response to him had become more and more mechanicalas she'd forced herself to participate. As a result, he'd started working longer hours. To save for their future, he'd said. She'd had no idea her parents had been one of his biggest clients until she'd found some paperwork on his deskalong with some hefty fees they'd paid Travis for managing their investment accounts.
Despite the warning signs, she'd never suspected anything was off until she came home sick from her night shift at the hospital to hear terrible shrieking noises coming from the bedroom. She'd raced back to find him nakedflat on his backanother woman straddling his hips. He'd pleaded for forgiveness, promised it was a mistake, said it would never happen again.
Stay? Or leave?
She'd decided to fight for her marriage. For eight long months. Tonight had been the piece de resistance in her campaign to rekindle the spark he'd once felt toward her. She'd seduce him.
Only Travis hadn't needed seducing.
He just needed someone other than her.
Her eyes closed, and she took a longer pull on her drink. So much for her two weeks' worth of vacation.
"Hey." The murmured word dragged her back to the surface, even though she just wanted to keep sinking into the mire, never to resurface. "Do you want me to call Jason?"
Her lids parted, and she struggled to focus on the handsome face across from her. "Please don't. He'll just worry."
"He should worry." He nodded toward her feet. "Where are your shoes, Chloe?"
She gnawed the inside of her cheek. Why hadn't she come up with a plausible explanation for that?
Because there wasn't one. Other than the truth, which she wasn't ready to voice.
Why had she ever thought she could "vamp" anyone? Especially her husband, whose rough-and-tumble approach to lovemaking did nothing but leave her feeling sore and inadequate. She was pretty sure the woman in her bed hadn't been crying out in pain, so the problem wasn't with her husband, evidently.
Frigid. The word echoed in her head, the mean nastiness of it making the hair rise on the nape of her neck.