Two Hearts: Beyond Control
The crowd thickened as couples drifted into Elevations’ grand ballroom, gathering for the evening’s main event. Some smiled and acknowledged me as they walked by, but most were too self-absorbed to bother.
My phone buzzed with an incoming text.
So, how’s the party?
I pushed away from the marble pillar that had been my companion for the past fifteen minutes and paced by the doors to the lobby, still searching for Will. Kinda fun, I guess. Better than I expected.
Kendra’s face lit up my screen within seconds.
I turned my back to the band and pressed the phone tight to my ear. “Happy new—”
“You guess?” Her voice boomed through the line. “I sure as hell hope that doesn’t mean you’re standing around, looking pathetic, while your husband’s off . . . doing whatever he does.”
I could always count on my best friend to tell me exactly what she thought, especially when it came to Will. “He’s socializing. And I don’t mind.”
Standing around, away from the crowd, spared me the embarrassment of trying to make small talk and pretending to fit in. Will knew I hated to be alone, but he continued to wander off on his own.
I stretched on my toes, craning my neck to see over the crowd. “It’s just—I don’t know where he is.”
And if he didn’t come back soon, I’d be welcoming the new year alone.
“Look, Danni, if you’re serious about fixing things with Will, you need to hunt his ass down and have your way with him. Now.”
“Okay. Fine. You’re right.” I let out a frustrated groan. “And I am serious.”
The large double doors behind me flew open. An enraged woman in a green dress stormed through, mumbling under her breath. She barreled straight into me, and her drink sloshed over the top of the glass.
“What the—” I checked the front of my expensive new dress, amazed that nothing had spilled on it. “Kendra, I gotta go.” I powered off my phone and waited for an apology.
The woman stopped. She pivoted toward me on spiky heels. Her eyes raked over me, a look of disgust on her face. “Why are you even here?” She waited as though expecting me to answer. Or vanish. When neither happened, she swiped a loose tendril of hair from her face, turned with a huff, and continued on her way.
She was right. I didn’t belong here. I didn’t even want to be here.
I sagged against the cool marble pillar, hating the way I let people unnerve me so easily. Shake it off, Danni. My head fell back. I gazed at the vaulted glass ceiling where hundreds of delicate lights were suspended, twinkling like distant stars. The tension in my shoulders gradually slid away as I got lost in the soothing beauty.
“Hey, babe. Miss me?” Will’s smooth voice floated by my ear.
I turned to lean against his solid chest. “More than you could imagine.” My smile returned now that I was back in his arms. Safe. “I was beginning to think you ditched me.”
Will gave me one of the champagne flutes he’d brought with him. I sniffed the top of the glass and gave him a puzzled look.
“Prosecco. You can’t toast with club soda, Danielle.”
I shook my head, biting back a grin. “You know I decided to stay sober tonight.”
“And I also know you’re overreacting. Come on, I promise one drink won’t hurt you.” He grabbed my hand without waiting for an answer and led me toward the dance floor where everyone else had gathered.
Wide stone archways lined two sides of the grand ballroom, separating the spacious area from several bars and intimate alcoves. We found a spot along the far side of the room, near the folding glass wall and breathtaking view of the snow-covered Pocono Mountains. During the warmer seasons, the wall opened onto a massive patio that overlooked the lake.
I caught a glimpse of our reflection in the glass and barely recognized myself. There I stood, wrapped in the arms of my adoring husband, wearing the most gorgeous dress I’d ever owned. Shimmering black fabric hung off my shoulders and clung to my body in all the right places.
I’d starved myself for weeks to fit into it. I’d even bought one of those exercise videos . . . and used it a couple of times. It was torture, but it sure did pay off.
I smiled, thinking about the sexy black lace lingerie hiding underneath that dress—a special treat for Will later. But I had to admit I’d been enjoying the way it made me feel all evening, just knowing it was there.
Will rocked our bodies to the rhythm of the music. He swept my hair to one side and skimmed his nose along the length of my neck.
“What are you up to?” I laughed.
“You smell really good tonight.” He nibbled a trail from my ear to my shoulder.
A chill ran down my arms. He was a bit drunk, but I loved that he was being playful.
“Just how much have you had to drink tonight?” I teased. Not that it really mattered since he’d arranged for us to spend the night in one of the prestigious resort’s luxurious suites.
“Don’t know. Don’t care either.” He rested his chin on my shoulder, still nuzzling my neck. “Pretty much, I guess, but . . . who’s counting?” He splayed his hand across my stomach, his thumb grazing my breast. “Now . . . tell me that you’re glad we’re here, or I may be forced to find more places to nibble.” He traced his thumb upward.
I jumped and grabbed his wrist, pulling his hand lower on my stomach. My voice was shrill as I admonished him in mock outrage, trying to keep the volume low. “Will! There are people around us.” I glanced to each side, wondering if any of them had noticed, then turned my head to kiss him. “Behave yourself, mister. I’m glad . . .” I paused, taunting him, “to be with you.”
Will’s chest shook with laughter. “Always so stubborn.” He squeezed me tighter.
The music stopped, and a buzz of excitement filled the space. Everyone cheered as Dr. VanBergen crossed the stage and took the microphone from the lead singer. He cleared his throat then began his speech, most of which I tuned out.
My mind wandered as I looked at the faces around me—celebrities, professional athletes, wealthy entrepreneurs. I didn’t know any of them, but some were easy to recognize. They were all here to celebrate the start of a new year.
Not me. Despite my resolution and my plans to see it through, tonight I would say good-bye to the life I’d dreamed of and a decade I’d have rather held on to. I shuddered just thinking about it.
Will pulled away to look at me, his brows pressed together. “You okay?”
I nodded and rested my head against his shoulder, enjoying the way he continued to trace circles on my stomach. “Dr. VanBergen’s a lot younger than I expected. How do you know him?”
“Hm? Oh, that’s VanBergen’s son—Logan. Weren’t you paying attention?” Will rolled his eyes. “Anyway, I don’t know either of them. I met Logan earlier tonight though, and he seems nice. Why?”
I shrugged one shoulder. “I was just looking around and thinking it’s a little . . . surreal, I guess. Being here. I still can’t figure out how you managed to get us on the guest list.”
He kissed my temple. “Don’t worry about it. I wanted tonight to be special for you. Turning forty doesn’t have to be a bad thing, babe.”
Ugh, that “F” word again. From my point of view, there wasn’t anything good about forty. That made it bad by default.
“Thank you.” I snuggled tighter against him.
The large screen behind the stage came to life with a view of the massive crowd gathered at New York’s Times Square.
VanBergen rambled on. “Alright, folks. It’s show time, so let me hear you!”
He barely finished his sentence before the whoops and hollers drowned him out. The countdown flashed across the screen as the ball dropped: Ten . . . nine . . . eight . . .
It was coming, and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do to stop it.
“No worries, babe. Everything’s gonna be just fine.”
The countdown continued, three . . . two . . . one.
“Happy new year,” everyone shouted in unison.
Cannons fired, and multicolored confetti fell all around us. We raised our glasses then downed their contents in one giant gulp. The band played “Auld Lang Syne,” and the drunken partygoers attempted to sing along.
Will turned me to face him. “Happy new year, Danielle.” Before I could respond, he pulled me in for a long kiss.
He released me and gave our empty glasses to a waiter passing by. Wearing a mischievous grin, Will made a show of checking the time. His eyes flashed between my face and the face of his watch, waiting as the seconds ticked by.
I bit back a smile and shoved my fists on my hips. “You’re enjoying this way too much, you know.”
At exactly two minutes past twelve, he turned his full attention to me and cradled my face in his hands. “And happy birthday too,” he said in a tender voice and kissed me again.
My head began to spin from the love I felt for this man. I let out a groan of disappointment when his jacket vibrated.
He stepped back to retrieve his cell phone and paused to look at the screen with a confused expression. “I have a feeling this is for you.” He passed it to me.
“Sorry, I forgot I turned mine off earlier.”
Jen’s picture smiled at me. She probably thought I was avoiding her, which I may have been. A little.
Might as well get this over with. I pressed the phone tight against one ear and covered the other with my free hand. “Hey, Jen! Happy new year!”
“Danni!” she shouted in a singsong voice. “Hap-happy birthday, old lady! The big four-oooh! Haha!” It took a while, but she finally managed to get out the words.
“Yeah, thanks for that reminder, baby sis. Your day will come soon enough, you know.” She probably couldn’t even hear me with all the noise around her.
“Nah, I’ve got five more years to be young. You, on the other hand . . .” She paused for another fit of laughter. “Look on the bright side—maybe they’ll give you a senior discount on your drinks the rest of the night.”
“Or maybe you’ll get lucky and some young hottie will take your arm to help you cross the ballroom.” Again she was laughing excessively, definitely drunk.
I didn’t respond. Figured it was best to let her get it out of her system.
She eventually pulled herself together and asked, in what was probably her best attempt at a sober voice, “Seriously though, you doin’ okay? I know what this birthday means to you, but it’s just a number. You know? Don’t stress over it.”
Easy for her to say.
I blew out a heavy breath. “How ’bout we don’t talk about it right now, okay? I just want to enjoy tonight.” Actually, I didn’t want to talk about it any other time either, but that was an argument for another day. “Sounds like quite a party going on there, so I’ll let you get back to it. See you tomorrow. Love you, Jen.”
My head knew she was right, but my heart . . . well, that was a different story.
Will tugged the phone with a dramatic flair and slipped it back into his pocket. He placed a soft kiss on my bare shoulder and took my hand, leading me toward the dance floor. “Well, my dear, you may be getting old”—he winked—“but the night is still young. And I want to dance.”
He laughed and dodged the playful swat he’d earned.
Our bodies molded together perfectly from so many years of practice, and we began swaying to the music. I nuzzled his neck and inhaled the familiar woodsy scent of his cologne. With a deep sigh of contentment, I relaxed into his chest, my fingers idly caressing his neck as they slid along the top of his collar.
The song ended, morphing into another slow song, and we continued to dance.
“Listen. They’re playing our song.” I nudged his shoulder. “The one that was playing when you proposed to me. Remember?”
“Um huh.” His head bobbed slightly, but his response was unenthusiastic.
I wasn’t sure he was even paying attention to me, and that needed to change.
Maybe it was the lingerie or my plans for after we returned to our room, but right now, I didn’t care about the hundred or so people around us. It was a new year, and my resolution was to spice things up in the bedroom. Or whatever room we happened to be in.
I trailed kisses up his neck to his jaw then continued to the corner of his mouth. A small sigh slipped out when I skimmed my tongue along his lips, tasting the Prosecco from our midnight toast. Needing more, I raked my fingers through his hair and grabbed the silky gold strands to pull his face closer.
Will seemed uncertain at first but soon opened to welcome my kiss, his lips gentle against mine.
I got lost in the moment, and one hand slipped from his hair. It glided down the side of his body. Over his hip. Down his thigh.
My breath quivered. I hesitated a moment, gathering the courage to continue. Being nervous about touching my own husband was crazy, but I wasn’t used to having an audience. And I had to admit, a small part of me worried how he would respond.
I pushed on, letting my fingers wrap around the front of his leg. They brushed the length of his erection as I lifted my hand to rest it on his chest.
This newfound freedom was exhilarating. It fueled a hunger that spread through me, a desperate need to be closer to him. I imagined him peeling away my dress and his reaction when he revealed the black lace. I ached for him to explore every inch of my body.
My hips moved of their own volition, pressing into his and grinding against him.
Will’s step faltered. His body tensed.
I opened my eyes to look at him. Instead of seeing desire in his sapphire eyes, I was greeted by his startled gaze. “What’s wrong?” I said.
“Um, sorry, babe. We just bumped into the couple next to us. That’s all.” He cupped the nape of my neck and guided my head toward his chest then smoothed his hand down my back. “No worries.”
Will’s shoulders shifted. He glanced back at the other couple, so I stretched my neck to catch a glimpse of them too.
Unbelievable. The same woman who’d nearly run me down earlier. She gave Will a sly smile before hitting me with an icy glare.
What the hell is her problem?
Will continued dancing as though nothing had happened. Nothing. Our kiss, the interruption . . . none of it.
I sighed, feeling foolish, and settled my head on his shoulder. My thoughts kept wandering to that other couple. Will managed to keep his back to them after our collision, probably embarrassed by our little display that caused it, but I couldn’t resist the urge to sneak another peek.
The woman was stunning. Her upswept chestnut hair shimmered under the ballroom lights, as did her tiny emerald dress. She looked young—late twenties, I’d guess. And she had an amazing body, which we all could get a glimpse of if she were to move a bit too far in any direction.
Then I saw her partner, and she became a distant memory.
I’d noticed him earlier. Dinner was already being served when he’d arrived, late and alone. He’d crossed the ballroom in long, easy strides, looking confident and sexy in a black tailored tux. All the women had turned to watch him, including me. He’d disappeared into a section of tables, and I hadn’t seen him for the rest of the evening . . . until now.
Checking out this guy was wrong, especially while I was in my husband’s arms, but something about him intrigued me. I couldn’t resist.
No harm in looking, right?
He was tall, about six foot three, with jet-black hair that stopped just short of touching his collar. His fitted white shirt tapered to a narrow waist. The sleeves were turned up at the cuffs, revealing just a hint of his toned forearms and an expensive looking black-and-silver watch. My gaze drifted toward his face, stopping to notice that his tie and top button were undone.
My eyes continued their journey to his jaw, admiring the dark stubble that covered his olive skin, then moved on to his warm chocolate eyes that were staring right at mine.
Busted. I sucked in a sharp breath.
He winked then smiled at me, igniting a fire in my cheeks.
I buried my face in Will’s chest, trying to hide and wanting him to keep me safe like he always did. I needed to get out of here, now, and placed a single kiss on Will’s neck. “Let’s go back to our room and finish what we started.”
One hand tightened on my waist while his other tipped my chin toward him. “It’s still early, babe. I thought you were having fun.”
I shrugged and tried to look away. His dismissal stung, but I didn’t want him to see that. “I was, but—”
Will placed a finger over my lips. “How about we relax and have a drink or two. You look so beautiful tonight. I want to show you off a little longer.” He caressed the side of my face and gave me a tender kiss. “Then you can have me all to yourself for the rest of the night.”
I didn’t want to stay, but maybe a drink and a little flirting would restore my mood. “Sure. Whatever.” My response sounded as deflated as I felt.
When the song ended, Will led me to a small table in one of the alcoves. He gave me a quick peck on the cheek, pulled out a chair, and motioned for me to sit down.
“The usual?” he asked over his shoulder as he walked away.
I nodded in response.
“I’ll be right back.” He disappeared into the crowd of people gathered around the bar.
Will returned a few minutes later with our drinks: a whiskey on the rocks for him and an absolutely huge strawberry margarita for me.
“Are you trying to get me drunk?” I teased, attempting to get us back on track. I swirled my straw in my drink and took a tentative sip. It was sweet and refreshing. “Mmmm, this is really good.” I took another sip, this one longer.
Will tossed back half of his drink then laughed as he sat down across from me. “Better take it easy, lightweight. You will get drunk at that pace.” He reached across the table and took my hand. “And then I just might be forced to take advantage of you.”
I wiggled my eyebrows and took another long sip of my drink, daring him to bring it on.
Will glanced at his watch then let his eyes wander slowly around the room before settling on me. We sat there silently, enjoying each other’s company. He caressed my hand and watched while I sipped away at my drink.
Before I realized it, I’d sucked down the entire thing. My head felt a little woozy, but my mood had definitely improved.
“You really do look very beautiful tonight, Danielle.”
It wasn’t something I heard often. Will’s compliment, a few simple words, was more perfect than any gift he could have given me. Except for one, maybe, but the night wasn’t over yet.
“Why thank you, Mr. DeLaney, and you’re looking quite handsome yourself.” I continued in a less playful voice. “Thanks for bringing me here tonight. I know I gave you a really hard time about going out, but I’m glad we’re here . . . and”—I motioned for him to come closer—“if you come upstairs with me, I’ll show you just how glad I am.”
Will leaned back in his chair. He picked up his glass and swirled its contents then downed the last of his drink. When he returned the glass to the table, he kept his fingers wrapped around it, mindlessly wiping at the condensation.
Clearly, he was stalling.
“I was thinking we could hit the dance floor one more time before we call it a night,” he finally said, his eyes fixed on his glass.
Well, that wasn’t the response I was looking for. I didn’t say anything—I couldn’t. My efforts to rekindle our sex life couldn’t be so ambiguous as to go unnoticed, which meant he was ignoring my attempts to seduce him. But why? I waited for him to look at me, hoping he was teasing.
Instead he stood and leaned across the table to give me a quick kiss. “I just need to use the restroom first. Wait here.”
That quickly, he was gone, walking across the room toward the lobby.
I had no idea what had just happened. What man wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to take his wife to bed?
I needed a distraction, something to keep me entertained until Will returned. I pulled out my phone to check my messages. A long list of birthday wishes and New Year’s greetings waited for me when I signed into my social network. I scrolled through, reading and acknowledging each one. When I reached the end of the list, I checked the time—twenty minutes had gone by. Will should have been back by now.
When the waitress passed by, I asked her to bring me another giant margarita—so much for staying sober tonight—then went back to surfing the web.
Still no sign of Will. I was beginning to get worried and, I had to admit, a bit annoyed. He’d better have a good reason for leaving me alone for so long.
I called his cell. No answer. I typed a quick text—Where are you? I’m lonely—and hit the send button just as my drink arrived . . . in the hands of the hot-as-hell stranger from the dance floor.
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© CJ Andrews, Daydreamer Press, 2016. All rights reserved.