I didn’t know what to do. Three months ago, my husband, Allen Lockwood, had died in what I’d thought – what everyone had thought – was a freak accident. I’d been with Allen for eight years and losing him had nearly killed me. I’d had to fight my way back through grief, through legal battles with my late husband’s asshole relatives, through deciding what I wanted to do with the rest of my life now that everything had gone ass-end-up.
I was a widow at twenty-six. I’d met Allen my freshman year of college and while I’d continued pursuing my degree in early childhood education, all of my plans for the future had included him from nearly that moment on. Marriage, children…
I winced and closed my eyes. Just before Allen died, we’d talked about starting a family. For a few weeks after the…accident, I’d even worried that I was pregnant.
I sighed. I hadn’t been pregnant and I still didn’t know if I was happy or sad that I wasn’t carrying Allen’s child. What I did know was that it had added a layer of stress that I hadn’t needed at the time.
And then had come the insurance policy, the million dollar one that I never knew anything about. That had been the first hint that Allen had been hiding things from me.
Jasper had told me that it was nothing, that Allen had probably taken out the policy because he’d known that his parents and siblings would fight me for the vineyard where we’d been living together since I’d graduated from college and he’d wanted me to have something until the legal shit was worked out.
Jasper Whitehall had been Allen’s college roommate and his best friend. He’d been my rock through this whole ordeal. The first person I’d called after the skydiving ‘accident’ that had taken Allen’s life. The person who’d taken care of me when I’d wandered around outside without sunscreen and ended up giving myself heat stroke and had nearly burned my skin off. He’d been the one who’d come when Gregory and May Lockwood had hired someone to set part of my vineyard on fire. He’d stayed with me when I hadn’t wanted to stay alone.
And I’d slept with him last night.
It had been a stupid, stupid mistake. We’d gone out for celebratory drinks after a judge had a surprisingly ruled in my favor against my former in-laws regarding the vineyard. The court was still waiting to rule on Allen’s trust. I didn’t care about that though. His parents thought I did, but I’d never cared about the money. Despite Allen’s multi-million dollar trust-fund, I’d always worked. Teaching second grade didn’t pay much, but I loved it, and if I needed it to be enough, it would be.
Now, even without the trust-fund, I had more than enough thanks to the million dollar insurance policy. A policy I didn’t want and had already decided to donate to charity.
To Jasper. To fund the low-income health clinic he’d always wanted to start.
I’d decided to give it to him because he was a good doctor, because Allen had wanted to give him money from the frozen trust, and because I knew it would piss Gregory and May off.
But I mostly wanted to do it because he was a good man.
Or so I’d thought.
I’d been a bit drunk last night…well, okay, more than a bit, and he’d tried to stop me from coming on to him. And that was the truth. I’d kissed him first. I’d begged him to sleep with me. I’d wanted sex. I’d wanted him.
He’d been amazing, and not just in the sense of the quality and quantity of orgasms he’d provided. He’d told me to let go, had asked me to let him take care of me. And I’d been dumb enough to trust him.
Tears burned in my eyes and I swiped at them. I’d trusted him and I’d trusted Allen.
And they’d both betrayed me.
I tossed the letter onto the nearby table. I didn’t want to read it again. I didn’t need to read it again. The words were indelibly imprinted on my brain. Allen had written me a letter before he died. A letter that had gotten lost in the mail.
A letter where he told me that he’d lied to me, that he’d betrayed everything we’d been about as his last act on earth. A letter where he’d confessed to having been diagnosed with a fatal disease. No cure and fast-acting. A disease he hadn’t wanted to tell me about because he hadn’t wanted me to deal with it.
So he’d killed himself.
He’d needed to make it look like an accident for the insurance to pay out, and he’d definitely done that. Until a few minutes ago, I’d thought that his parachute hadn’t opened and that had been why he died. While that was still technically true, I knew now that he’d done it on purpose. He’d killed himself quickly and with witnesses to ensure that no one would think it had been intentional.
And Jasper had helped him do it.
The tears spilled over then and the pain in my heart that had begun to fade as time passed came back. And it brought friends.
That’s what I’d thought Jasper was. A friend. At the very least, I’d thought he was that.
But he’d known.
He hadn’t helped Allen die in the sense of providing him the means to die, or setting it up so that his parachute didn’t open. He hadn’t killed Allen, but he’d known about the disease. He’d given Allen a clean bill of health so my husband could buy the secret insurance policy.
Hell, for all I knew, he’d told Allen the best way to kill himself to ensure that there was no way the medical examiner would be able to diagnose the disease. Free falling thousands of feet had done it.
I was going to throw up.
The fact that I’d slept with the lying bastard was enough to make me run the last few steps and land on my knees next to the toilet where I heaved vomit, bile and what was left of my heart into the sewer.
I forced myself to shower again. I needed the time to collect myself as much as I needed to feel clean after getting sick. I’d argued with myself for the entire duration of the shower, trying to decide what I should do. It was a Saturday, which meant I didn’t need to go to work so I didn’t have that excuse. I actually had to make a decision.
I wanted to scream at Allen, yell at him for what he’d done. For lying to me. For making me watch him die in that horrible way.
But Allen wasn’t here. Allen was dead.
Allen had chosen to be dead.
He’d chosen to leave me even after all of the promises we’d made to each other. We’d promised sickness as well as health, worse as well as better. We’d promised to be together until death parted us, but we’d always assumed – or at least I had always assumed – that we’d have no choice in the matter. What Allen had done had been the same, in my mind, as leaving me.
He’d left me.
Anger followed the pain, and I let it come.
Being angry at what he’d done was easier than being hurt over it.
I just wanted to aim the negative feelings at someone, and since Allen wasn’t here, I had to go with the other option. By the time I was dressed, I’d successfully managed to transfer all of that anger onto Jasper.
I’d seen the building where Jasper worked with his father, but I’d never been inside. Today, I walked in and went straight to the receptionist.
She looked to be in her early thirties, but wasn’t taking it well. She dressed like she was trying to look ten years younger, complete with make-up. Even her sienna-colored hair was cut into a short style that was designed for someone a bit younger.
“Hi.” I forced myself to be polite. “I need to talk to Jasper.”
Her light brown eyes narrowed and her lips pursed. “Dr. Whitehall is busy right now.”
“Then I’ll wait.”
She looked back down at whatever it was she was working on and I knew she fully expected me to join the others in the chairs until I got tired of waiting and left. Instead, I crossed my arms and glared at her. I usually tried to be polite to people, especially ones who had to interact with the public, but I had a feeling this was the same woman who’d given me a hard time about talking to Jasper the day of the fire.
“You can have a seat over there.” Her tone was sharp.
“I’m fine here. Thanks.”
After another minute or so, she apparently figured out I wasn’t going to budge because she pushed herself up from the desk and walked off in a huff. I told myself I’d wait ten minutes and if she didn’t return with Jasper, I was going in the back to find him.
“Georgia, if someone is giving you a problem, you should call…” Jasper’s voice trailed off as he stepped out into the waiting room and saw me.
For a moment, I forgot about the letter, about the anger, about how he’d deceived me. All I saw was the thick, coal black hair that I knew would be soft to the touch. The clear gray eyes that I’d seen dark with desire just last night. The six foot tall, muscular frame that I’d felt wrapped around me, protecting me.
The way he said my name, so full of…something I didn’t want…everything came rushing back.
“We need to talk,” I snapped.
His eyes widened slightly in surprise, and caution replaced the happiness I’d seen. “This way.” He opened the door and motioned for me to follow him.
“Dr. Whitehall,” Georgia called from the other side of her desk. “You have patients waiting.”
He didn’t even look at her, but I did, and what I saw on her face confirmed what I’d suspected. She wanted him. While that explained how she treated me, it certainly didn’t excuse it. But that wasn’t my problem at the moment.
My problem was ushering me into a small side room and closing the door behind us.
“I’m sorry I had to leave this morning,” he said as soon as the door closed. “I couldn’t call off today and I didn’t want to wake you up to have this conversation—”
“We’re not talking about that,” I cut him off.
Confusion passed across his face and he took a step back. “Shae, what’s wrong? Did the Lockwoods—?”
“I’m not here about the fucking Lockwoods!” My temper finally snapped. I curled my hands into fists to stop them from shaking. “I’m here about what you did.”
“What I did?” He reached out a hand towards me and it hovered there for a moment before dropping back to his side. “Shae, I don’t understand.”
“Allen mailed me a letter.” My voice wavered. “The post office lost it so I didn’t get it until today.”
Understanding filled his eyes and I knew he thought I was upset because of the reminder, especially after what had happened between us.
“You bastard,” I whispered as my eyes filled with tears. I’d told myself that I wasn’t going to cry, but I couldn’t seem to stop myself.
“I’m so sorry.” He raked his hand through his hair. “I never should have…I knew it was wrong, I just…shit.”
I ignored what he was saying. I knew he still didn’t get it. “You lying son of a bitch.”
“Lying?” His eyes shot up in surprise.
“Allen confessed in the letter.” The knot in my stomach twisted. “He said he was sick and that he didn’t want to live like that.”
The color drained from his face, confirming what I’d read.
“You knew.” The words stuck in my throat and I had to spit them out. “You knew he was dying! You knew he was going to kill himself!”
“Shae, I—” He took a step towards me.
I held up my hand and backed away. “No. No more.” I shook my head. “I can’t take anymore of this. I don’t ever want to see you or talk to you again. Stay away from me.”
I didn’t wait for him to say anything. There wasn’t anything he could say. No explanation I wanted to hear. Nothing that would make this better. Nothing could make this better.