Publisher: Changeling Press
Cover Artist: Bryan Keller
My marriage is a sham.
I’ve already loved and lost my one and only.
Making Carmella Juarez my wife was the only way to save my daughter, but I never intended to stay married. A decade has passed, ten years that I’ve kept my distance, but now it’s time to set things right and free both of us. I never counted on her being sick and nearly dying. Didn’t count on falling for her as I nursed her back to health. But it’s the Christmas season and what better time for miracles? My heart isn’t as cold and dead as I’d once thought. Carmella has brought me back to life, and now that I’ve had a taste of the tempting woman who wears my ring, I know that I can’t ever let her go.
All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2019 Harley Wylde
I’d just taken my last bite of food when a flash of navy blue in the doorway caught my eye. I turned and my fork fell from my fingers, clattering onto the table. My gaze raked over the finest man I’d ever seen, his hair still only had a hint of silver and seemed a bit lighter than I remembered, but there was still power radiating off him. His sweater molded to his biceps, leaving no doubt that the man under the cloth was lethal.
“Carmella,” he said, his voice just as smooth as I remembered. “Been a while.”
I couldn’t speak. It felt like my tongue was stuck to the roof of my mouth as I stared at him. I kept blinking, thinking maybe my poor brain was hallucinating. Wouldn’t be the first time I would have seen something no one else could. But if he was here, really here, then…
I stood on shaky legs and walked a little closer, rubbing my hands up and down my leggings. He towered over me and I had to tip my head back to look up at him. Casper’s gaze locked on mine, but I couldn’t tell what he was thinking. I wished I’d known he was coming. I definitely wouldn’t be standing in the kitchen in leggings, a tank top, and a cardigan. It had to be the least sexy thing I owned. My hair was up in a messy bun, and I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I’d bothered with makeup or painting my nails. I was a mess.
“You’ve grown into a beautiful woman,” he said. “I’m sure it will be easy for you to find some man to give you the things I couldn’t.”
Wait. What? The things he couldn’t? What the hell did that even mean?
“Wh — what are you talking about?” I asked, my heart nearly stopping.
“I want a divorce, Carmella. Your father is no longer an issue, so I’m going to set us both free from this farce of a marriage.”
It felt like the ground was tilting under my feet and I felt my body sway a moment before my knees buckled. I fell to the ground at Casper’s feet, tears blurring my vision. I’d waited so long for him to come back, and he finally had… only to say he was getting rid of me? I didn’t understand what I’d ever done wrong, what could have possibly made him hate me so much. Or maybe hate was too strong of a word. He’d have to feel something for me to hate me.
It was hard to breathe and I fought not to cry, not in front of him anyway. It was bad enough my legs hadn’t held me up. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of shedding tears, and I wouldn’t beg him to stay. I hoped he didn’t know he’d broken me with his unfeeling attitude and lack of interest. He didn’t kneel to help me up, didn’t reach for me at all. I managed to stagger to my feet and pushed past him. My heart ached with the rejection of the man I’d hoped would come to love me one day. He’d said not to expect love from him, but I’d thought… I shook my head. It was a foolish girl’s dream and I should have let them go long ago.
I froze at the foot of the stairs, not knowing where to go or what to do. This wasn’t my home, not really. It had been my prison for a long time but nothing more. The clothes I had now were all paid for with Casper’s money. My purses, the money in my account, everything was his and never mine. My heart hammered in my chest as I turned and walked out the front door, not stopping to look back. I didn’t even bother to get my ID, but the first responders and hospital staff all knew me well. If I ended up dead in a ditch, one of them would know to call Bowen.
I made it down the winding driveway and out the front gates without anyone trying to stop me. For the next several hours, I meandered around town, not really having a destination in mind nor feeling the cold. If my father wasn’t an issue, as Casper had put it, then he was likely dead. It didn’t mean going to Mexico would be safe though. The park across the street looked like a good enough place to sit and figure things out. I found a bench under a tree and eased down onto it, stretching my legs out in front of me.
The air turned even cooler and the sun slowly sank beyond the horizon. As the moon rose high overhead, I realized I was completely alone. No more Bowen. No more Mrs. Weathers. No more maids or butler. I had no one.
The bench creaked and I looked over at my soon to be ex-husband. At least, if he had his way. I didn’t understand why he’d bothered to come find me. It wasn’t like he actually cared. In all the years we’d been married, it seemed as if he’d never given me a second thought. I didn’t believe for one minute that he’d been celibate all this time. He’d never bothered to call me. Oh, he’d talked to Bowen and I guess kept tabs on me, but it wasn’t the same as him calling and actually speaking to me, asking me how my day was, or if I needed anything. I’d have gladly told him what I’d needed. Him.
“I wasn’t throwing you out of the house,” he said.
“It’s not my house. I don’t belong there. Never did. You’ve made it clear from the beginning what you thought of me. I’d thought when I grew up a little maybe you’d return, but you never did. Until now.”
“It’s not personal, Carmella. I married you to save my daughter and to save you as well. I never intended for us to have a real marriage. I’ve only ever loved one woman, and that’s how it will remain until the day I die.”
My heart broke a little more at his words. I’d never have that. Never experience a man’s love.
“What was it like?” I asked softly.
“What was what like?” he asked.
“Being in love. Loving your wife and having her love you back. What did it feel like?”
He focused on me. “Are you trying to tell me that you’ve never been in love? Because I have a hard time imagining that, Carmella. Even as an eighteen-year-old, you were beautiful. I’m sure men noticed you everywhere you went.”
“No one has ever loved me,” I admitted softly. “Not even my parents. If they couldn’t love me, why would anyone else?”
While working on Naughty or Nice, I had a playlist that helped set the holiday mood. Below are some of the songs on my list, which are available from Apple Music!