She practically sobs the words and my heart drops all the way down to my feet, so completely removed from my chest that I could drop it on the floor and kick it across the room.

I’m such a fucking idiot.

“I’m not leaving you alone with him.”

I speak my words with conviction even though I want nothing more than to run out of here with my tail between my legs like a wounded fucking puppy. I feel like a Goddamn kicked puppy and I have to fight the urge to rub my sternum to ease the pain in my chest. Fuck, this woman is lethal. No matter how much it hurts, though, I will NOT leave her alone and let him hurt her again.

“Fuck you! She’s my wife and this is our house!” Jordan argues.

Finnley steps between us, placing a hand in the center of my chest to push me away from Jordan, and I finally see her face. Just like I assumed, she looks beaten down with guilt and sadness.

“Collin, please. I can handle this; it’s fine. I just need you to leave,” she tells me softly.

I can’t even stand to look at her right now, so I turn away from her and leave the house without another word.

As I drive away, I pray to God that I don’t regret leaving her alone with him. Even though I’m pissed and I’m hurt, I would never want something bad to happen to her. I would rather die than even think about any harm coming to her, no matter how broken I feel right now.

Instead of going home to my empty place, I head to the bar. I need to get drunk. Maybe an entire bottle of whiskey will wash away the singed ashes of my heart.

Chapter 11—Eyes on Fire

I CAN’T STOP crying. For over a month, I didn’t shed a single tear about making Jordan leave, not one. Now, I’m sitting on my couch sobbing so hard I can barely breathe while Phina passes me a box of tissues.

“He doesn’t hate you, hon. He’s probably just a little pissed at how it all went down,” she reassures me.

The funny thing is, I can feel in my bones that Collin hates me. I should have never treated him like a dirty little secret and I should have never told him to leave, but I didn’t know what else to do. I knew him and Jordan being in the same room together for even a minute longer would have resulted in bloodshed and I didn’t want the situation to get any uglier than it already had. I didn’t have time to explain to Collin my reasons for wanting him to stay in the bedroom and I didn’t have time to explain to him that I would much rather Jordan leave than him. No time, there was never enough time and now I feel like there’s been a shift in my universe that I’m never going to be able to set right.

Everything between us happened so fast and I didn’t have any time to process it before it all blew up in my face. Did I make a mistake? I jumped right into another relationship, if that’s what you can call it, before the ink terminating the previous one was even dry. I took a chance, I took a leap and I did something completely out of character. It doesn’t feel like a mistake and it certainly didn’t feel wrong at the time. Shit, it still doesn’t feel wrong. Actually, it’s the most right I felt in a long time.

“God, I feel like such an idiot. What the hell am I even doing?” I ask Phina as I grab a Kleenex from the box and dry off my cheeks.

“You’re thinking with your vagina for once instead of your head and your heart. I say it’s a win all around,” she says with a laugh.

I laugh right along with her but shake my head at the same time. “It’s not even that. I mean, the sex is… Jesus, the sex is something I can’t even put into words. But it’s so much more than sex and that is the insane part. I mean, I don’t even know him. I used to know him. I used to know everything about him, but it’s been seventeen years! Why do I feel worse about him walking away than I do about Jordan?”

I let my head flop to the back of the couch and stare up at the ceiling. “I feel this strange connection to Collin, like he was always meant to be in my life one way or another. I never told you this, but I’ve thought about him so much over the years and seeing him again feels almost like we were never apart. We just fit so well and it feels so right, but I felt that way about Jordan for the longest time, too. He was my best friend and I couldn’t imagine my life without him.”

“But he fucked everything up and threw away your trust,” Phina reminds me. “Trust is the most important thing in any relationship, you know that. Do you trust Collin?”

I sigh and turn my head to face her. “In some ways I do, but I don’t even know him. I mean, I know his family, I know how old he was when he got into his first fight, I know he made honor roll every year in high school and I know he hated the purple cummerbund I made him wear to prom junior year. I know the basics about what he’s been doing with his life since then but what about everything else? Does he still like the same junk food, is Full Metal Jacket still his favorite movie, who did he lose his virginity to and why the hell didn’t he ever get married and have kids? I’ve spent less than five hours with the man since I was seventeen years old and we spent most of that time fucking like rabbits. Maybe it’s just the thrill of something new and exciting or a way for me to purge Jordan from my mind and my heart once and for all. The final nail in the coffin, so to speak.”

Phina raises an eyebrow and stares at me. “Does it really feel like that? Did you really just have sex with the guy to step out of your comfort zone and take a new toy for a test drive? Jordan is the only man you’ve ever had sex with. Ever. You have always been firm in that conviction and I really don’t see you jumping into bed with the first man who comes along. Even though technically you did jump into bed with the first man who came along.”

I swat at her arm when she laughs.

“What I’m saying is, you’re not the type of woman that has sex with some random just to get your mind off of your troubles. You stayed true to Jordan for seventeen years even though he continued to fuck everything up and fuck everything else in sight. You wouldn’t have sex with someone unless there was something there and that something was much more than just hormones.”

My head flies up from the couch and I feel bile churning in my stomach.

Phina’s eyes widen when she realizes what she just let slip. “Shit, shit, shit.”

I lean forward on the couch and put my elbows on my knees and my head in my hands.

“Don’t throw up, okay? I don’t do well with vomit,” Phina says in a rush as she rubs her hand in circles on my back.

I’ve always wondered if Jordan cheated on me. He broke every other marriage vow, so why wouldn’t he have broken the most important one? He was always so proud of the fact that we’d only slept with each other, always the first to brag about it when someone brought up the topic. When the lies started to outnumber the truths, though, and I began to realize just how deeply he was mired in addiction, him fucking other women didn’t seem like such a stretch, but I could never bring myself to ask him about it. The simple fact is, I never really believed he would do it because I knew I would never do it.

I lift my head and look at her worried face. “I’m not going to throw up, don’t worry. I might pile the rest of his shit in the yard and light a bonfire or start chucking breakable objects, but I’m definitely not going to puke.”

“Might I suggest starting with your wedding china? I’ve always wanted to throw a few of those God awful pieces his mother picked out and watch them shatter.”

I shake my head at her and sigh. “So, do you know this for a fact or are you just assuming?”

“Well, part of it is assumption, but most of it is rumor. I’m so sorry I never told you. You were always so forgiving of him and every time I wanted to say something, you guys were always doing so well that I didn’t want to ruin your life, especially if it wasn’t true,” she admits. “Even though he pissed me off on a regular basis, I just wanted you to be happy and I wanted it to work between you two. When you finally decided to leave his ass for good a month ago, I swear I was going to tell you. I was waiting for the right time. I didn’t mean to just blurt it out like an asshole.”

I wrap my arm around her shoulder and pull her close to me. “You’re not an asshole. I’m a little pissed that you didn’t tell me, but I get it. You didn’t know for sure and you didn’t want to make things worse.”

I’ve spent too much time over the years being angry, and there’s no way I could hold a grudge against my best friend for doing what she thought was best. No matter how much she hated what Jordan did to me, she stood by me without judging me for the choices I made and I know it couldn’t have been easy for her to keep something like this to herself. If the tables were turned, I honestly don’t know what I would have done. Her not telling me before now is actually a blessing. I hate to think that I’ve been one of those women who’s had her head in her ass when it comes to her husband’s infidelity, but I can admit that a small part of me didn’t really want to know. If I’d found out something like this a year ago, it would have completely broken me and I never would have gotten over the hurt. I don’t think I would have been able to move on or trust another man ever again. A year ago, I still believed Jordan could change and that he would change because he loved me enough to be the man I needed him to be. Finding this information out now, when I’m stronger than I’ve ever been and one hundred percent firm in my belief that our relationship is over, makes it easier to handle.

After Collin walked out the door earlier, I finally spelled it out for Jordan. He told me he was going into rehab and he told me he made arrangements for us to go to marriage counseling. I laughed in his face. It probably wasn’t the best reaction, but I was still raw and upset about the look on Collin’s face when I asked him to leave. I was pissed at Jordan for waltzing into the house and screwing everything up. Hearing that he’s most likely been cheating on me for years, I don’t feel bad at all for lashing out at him.

“We’re not going to marriage counseling, Jordan. Our marriage is over. You got the separation papers, right?”

He huffed and crossed his arms in front of him. “You’re just pissed at me, I get it. I screwed up. We can just go up to the courthouse and tell them you made a mistake.”

“I didn’t make a mistake. For the first time in seventeen years, I did something right. I’m happy you’ve decided to go to rehab, but frankly, I don’t give a shit, Jordan. You need to leave. If you want, I’ll pack up your things and drop them off at your mom’s house, but you can’t just come over here whenever you want and think that it’s okay.”

He took a step towards me and, for a moment I wished I had never asked Collin to leave. Jordan has never physically hurt me before, but there’s always a first time for everything.

“Need I remind you again that this is my house, too? You can’t keep me out of my house. I already called the police and this house is half mine. I’m staying here and you can fucking leave,” he told me angrily.

He said those exact same words to me before, years ago when I tried to get him to leave. Like a coward, I believed his shit and I was the one that packed a bag and spent a week at a hotel. Then, just like always, he begged and pleaded and I came running back to him, the vicious cycle continuing over and over.

Until now. I finally grew a backbone and I’ll be damned if I’m leaving MY house.

“Fine,” I told him easily. “I’ll leave and you can have the house. You can also pay the mortgage, the electric bill, the gas bill, the property taxes, the home owner’s insurance and everything else that comes along with owning this house. In case you can’t do the math, that’s around twenty-five hundred dollars a month, give or take.”

The cockiness on his face immediately died and he stared at me in shock, his mouth opening and closing wordlessly like a fish gasping for its last breath.

I knew he couldn’t afford to pay the bills on his own. He couldn’t hold a job for more than a few months. His most recent bartending job wouldn’t even cover half of the mortgage alone. It was a low blow reminding him that his career potential was shot to shit but I didn’t care. I’d been paying the bills practically on my own for years. If he wanted the house and the responsibilities that came along with it, he could have it.

“You are making the biggest fucking mistake right now,” he tried to threaten.

“The only mistake I made was trusting you. Believe me, I’ve learned my lesson. Now either get out, or I’m going to call the police you supposedly spoke to and have them remove your ass.”

He threw in a few more idle threats about how he was never coming back if I let him walk out the door and a last ditch attempt at guilt by telling me he couldn’t believe I would ruin everything we had by sleeping with someone else. Thank God I didn’t let his words get to me and make me second-guess anything I had done with Collin.

“So, what are you going to do about Collin?” Phina asks, bringing me back from my thoughts.

With a heavy sigh, I push myself up from the couch. “I have no fucking clue. There’s still that little problem of me kicking him out of the house right after we had the best sex I’ve ever had. Oh, and jumping into whatever this thing is between us without knowing anything about him.”

Phina gets up from the couch stands next to me. “So? Get to know him. Ask him every single question you can think of until it’s all out in the open.”

“You didn’t see the look on his face when he left. He was hurt and he was angry and I don’t think he’s going to forgive me for pushing him away. He doesn’t even know what’s going on with Jordan and me. For all he knows, I took Jordan back after he left.”




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