With sex hot enough to burst into flames, what will rise from the ashes?
Jessa Kincaid is done with men. After nineteen years, her cheating executive husband has left her for his younger, sexually adventurous mistress, and Jessa can't even seem to care. She's been stuffing herself into the mold of the perfect wife for so long, she can't even remember who she is. Feeling adrift, she finds herself inside a downtown bar in the middle of the afternoon, pounding black and tans like a college kid--had she ever been a college kid?--and letting herself wonder what it would be like to be the kind of woman who went to bars like Phoenix Rising. Or slept with that amazing bad-boy bartender who looked like he could break her in half...or maybe even make her feel...
Connor Archuleta is done with women. His last relationship ended in betrayal, broken bones, and jail time. But when the shrinking wallflower enters his bar, he can't tear his gaze away. He can practically smell her sexual repression, but intrigued, he makes it his mission to teach her everything he knows about embracing the wilder side of sex. It doesn't take long for Connor to realize she has just as much to teach him.
“Jessa? Are you even listening to me?”
A spring rain spattered against the massive windows flanking the fireplace in the formal living room. The water streaking down the long panes mingled with the pale afternoon light to cast intricate patterns of light and shadow on the bleached oak hardwood floors.
“Aren’t you going to say anything, Jessa?”
An abrupt variation in the light patterns revealed a custom blind on one of the second story windows was slightly askew. The flawed shadow made the high backed brocade sofa seem even less inviting. But it wasn’t meant to be inviting. You didn’t buy a six thousand dollar sofa because you wanted to sit on it.
Jessa Kincaid looked up at her husband of nineteen years. What could she say? It wasn’t as if there were any decisions left to make. Will had made them already.
“Is she a good fuck?” The crass word tripped off her tongue before she could stop it. It felt good.
Will’s eyebrows lifted in mild surprise. She wondered if it was her choice of words or the question that surprised him most. For all that they’d been married since college, he really didn’t know her that well. But how could Will know her when she didn’t know herself?
“Jessa, do you really want an answer to that?”
“I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t want to know.”
He sighed and paused to gather his thoughts. Will Kincaid had been the other half of Jessa’s life for so many years she’d kind of forgotten what it was like not to have him around. He was good looking, in a businessman kind of way. She supposed he’d be attractive if you liked that kind of thing. Green eyes, light brown hair, wavy, thin on top and cropped short. In the beginning, his eyes had drawn her the most.
But looking at him now, when he’d dropped a bombshell confession, the nicest thing Jessa could find to say about him was that he’d at least managed not to let his body go to fat. If he’d been fat, she doubted she’d have lasted nineteen years.
Nineteen years. After so many years of being someone’s “other half,” was it any wonder she didn’t know who she was anymore?
“At least she gets excited when I touch her.”
Ah, the nail in the proverbial coffin of their relationship. It was undoubtedly true. A hazy mental picture of Will running his hands down the torso of some faceless woman drifted through her mind. A searing jolt of heat hit below her belly, shocking her.
“What else?” Her voice sounded husky and she tried to clear her throat. She’d die before letting Will know his infidelity was more of a turn on than a betrayal.
His eyes softened and shifted with guilt. Jessa hid a smile when she realized he mistook her arousal for pain.
“You knew I was sleeping with her.”
“Why do people say that?” she wondered out loud. “Seriously, how much sleeping do you really do with her? Just say what it is, Will. Fucking. You’re fucking her. And you probably like it. I’ll bet she’s damn good at sucking you off, too. Because we all know that’s what you like the most.”
Jessa was satisfied to watch his face pale several shades.
“Okay,” he drew the word out slowly. “Yes, she’s comfortable with oral sex.”
“It’s called a blow job, Will. Honestly, you’d think you read this stuff in an encyclopedia.”
Her nipples hardened beneath her thin silk blouse, but it had nothing to do with the anger she didn’t feel about a betrayal she didn’t care about. What was wrong with her? She should care. Will was her husband. He’d shocked her, certainly. Yes, shock, that’s all this was. Anything else was…was just wrong.
“Ginny wants me to move in before summer is too far gone. With her kids out of school, it will be a good time for me to get to know them.”
Jessa turned away, absently picking up a pillow from the armchair and fluffing it. “Well, isn’t that convenient.”
“You can’t tell me you didn’t see this coming, Jessa. I can’t remember the last time you put forth any effort in the bedroom.”
A nasty undertone in his voice made her flinch. Will’s jaw leapt as he ground his teeth and ran restless fingers through his hair. He was fighting for control.
She unconsciously held her breath, keeping the chair between her and Will. His temper had always been there beneath his nickel-slick executive exterior, waiting for Jessa to anger him just enough that he could no longer contain it. But she hadn’t goaded him to anger in years. She kept her head down like a good girl and did everything a proper society wife was supposed to do. But oddly enough, his last accusation had been altogether true. He couldn’t remember the last time she put effort into their sex life because she’d never put any effort into it. Why bother?
He smoothed the hair he’d mussed just seconds earlier. His good sense seemed to take over his bad temper, and his eyes roved the living room before drifting toward the foyer and rooms beyond. “Jessa, I’d like you to have the house. Ginny’s place is big enough for us. And we don’t want to uproot the kids.”
Ah, of course. Ginny’s darling children. A jolt hit Jessa’s midsection and she fought for her mask of indifference. His casual words downplayed something that had consistently reared its ugly head between them since the early years of their marriage.
“Is this really about our sexual incompatibility, Will? Am I really that awful in bed?”
Whatever he’d been about to articulate never made it out of his mouth. He was obviously trying to decide how much he should say out loud. “It isn’t that.”
“Then what is it?”
He shrugged, “It’s hard to put into words.”
“You’re very inhibited. You don’t want to try anything new.”
Jessa was taken aback. She’d always figured trying new things fell under the heading of inappropriate sluttiness. And Will, selfish as he was, knew nothing about the wild thoughts that sometimes ran rampant through her mind.
“Is that it?”
“You seem bored,” he offered.
“I am.” Jessa was more surprised by this admission than he was. That was the truth behind her self-repression. She was bored by sex. It was messy, inconvenient, and generally unsatisfying. It didn’t seem to matter what they did. It all ended up the same way. She laid there and he shot a wad of cum into her unresponsive body.
“Does Ginny like foreplay?” Jessa felt compelled to ask.
“Uh, yeah, I guess she does.”
“I mean, didn’t you?”
It was her turn to shrug. “Not really.”
Jessa said it knowing that it wasn’t the foreplay she didn’t like. She’d always held the belief that foreplay was what you made of it. And Will’s idea of foreplay was the systematic use of her body to get him excited. That just didn’t do it for Jessa.
“Look, Jessa, I need to get back to the hotel…”
She waved her arms to encompass the living room. “You don’t even want to stay in this house anymore?”
“It isn’t like we’ve enjoyed each other’s company lately, Jessa. The hotel is closer to the airport.” He glanced down uncomfortably. “It’s a holiday weekend, anyway, and Ginny didn’t want me to, uh, stay here anymore.”
She laughed. She couldn’t help it. She laughed hard, until the tears ran down her face and smeared her eye makeup beyond repair. He’d been screwing Ginny for ten months. His job, that six-figure job he’d always said was the milestone they needed to reach financial security, made it easy for him. Will was one hundred percent travel. He flew out on Monday morning, spent Monday through Thursday night with Ginny and the darling children. And then flew home on Fridays. She’d known what was going on all that time. He’d told her. He’d claimed there was no need to lie about it. As far as he and his buddies were concerned, infidelity was the price of marrying a rich man. So Jessa, dutiful wife and helpmate, had figured it was some kind of mid life crisis thing he’d get over sooner or later.
Apparently, she was wrong. Way, way wrong.
Will crossed the living room, entered the foyer, and headed for the bedroom. Jessa followed, watching him pull two suitcases from a shelf and place them on the padded bench inside the walk-in closet.
So used to doing the necessary without being asked, Jessa wordlessly removed his starched business shirts from their hangers and began to fold them neatly. The rhythm of the familiar activity set in, and she gathered matching socks and boxer shorts before realizing what she was doing.
Did words like “helpmate” and “duty” even cover something so fundamentally disturbing? If you loved a man, could you help him pack his clothing to leave you for another woman? Did she love him? Or was it all just a habit?
It hurt a little more when he started packing personal items he apparently didn’t want to leave behind. But Jessa said nothing. There was nothing left to say. It was over. And maybe it had already been over long before he’d dropped the bombshell.
“I’ll call when I get to Richmond tomorrow.”
His face went blank. Had they really become such a habit? Was Jessa nothing more than the obligatory phone call?
She turned away from him and left their…her bedroom, pausing beside the floral arrangement in the foyer. She heard him do the same, the rollers of his suitcase trundling across the marble floor behind her and stopping at the front door.
The fleur-de-lis pattern in the glass scattered rainbow colors across the muted black of Will’s Gucci suitcases when he swung the door open. Jessa crossed her arms and swallowed a lump that had somehow become lodged in her throat.
It struck her then that there were no good words in the English language for this kind of goodbye. She couldn’t even be certain what kind of goodbye it was. After nineteen years, it was more a dissolution of a partnership than the ending of a marriage. They’d never been an affectionate couple to begin with.
“Take care of yourself, Jessa,” Will said quietly.
“I’ll be fine.”
“Don’t worry about money. I’ll handle the bills, at least for the summer. You need to get a lawyer. Have him contact Chase. They should have the papers worked out in no time.”
“What about Marissa?” Jessa wondered idly how she was going to pay her housekeeper.
Will slanted Jessa a look that made her feel equal parts embarrassed and pitied. “I already let Marissa go. I think you can probably manage to cook and clean up after yourself. If you’re careful, you might not even have to get a job.”
Wow. Jessa couldn’t imagine how Will’s opinion of her had slid so low over the years.
Funny, but she’d not once thought of employment before that moment. She’d been an entitled homemaker for so many years that Jessa had no idea what she was still capable of doing to earn her own funds. A career in charity events planning seemed unlikely, though that was what she’d spent the last sixteen years doing. She’d never finished her fine arts degree. After marrying Will, it had seemed pointless.
Will shifted back and forth on his feet. A short man dressed in the impeccable black uniform of Will’s favorite car service loaded the suitcases into the trunk of the Lincoln. A strange sort of half smile crept onto his face before Will climbed into the backseat and nodded to the driver. The sleek black car exited the driveway and it was over.
Jessa watched until they were out of sight, her body numb with shock. After all that had just happened, it had been obvious what Will was thinking. He’d wanted to kiss her. Despite the fact that he was leaving her for another woman who was supposedly his heart’s desire, he wanted to plant one last kiss on Jessa’s lips to say some kind of sick goodbye. The bastard.
But she’d have been lying if she’d claimed she didn’t want him to. Jessa had her own reasons for wishing they’d had that last kiss. Will had wanted closure. Jessa just wanted to prove one last time that she didn’t give a rat’s ass who he fucked or whether or not he stayed with her.