Home > Scandalous 2 (Scandalous #2)(10)

Scandalous 2 (Scandalous #2)(10)
Author: H.M. Ward

Kate bristles. She practically shoves me inside, but I grab onto the jamb and hang my head out. "Jackson?" I ask.

The man turns and looks at me. It is him. Jackson has a narrow face with a cute little nose. He is wearing wire glasses and from the looks of it, a suit. It takes him a moment to recognize me since I'm struggling with Kate and only my head is hanging outside.

"Yes," he says uncertainly. "Abby? Is that you?"

I slap Kate away and walk outside to meet him. "What are you doing here?"

Pushing his glasses up his nose, Jackson glances past me at Kate, who has her arms folded over her chest and a pissed off expression on her face. She's leaning against the doorframe. "I was in New York on vacation and thought I'd look you up. I saw on the news a few weeks ago that you married a local artist."

"I did. I married Jack Gray."

Kate clears her throat and steps toward us with a sharp look in her eye. Thrusting her hand forward, she says, "I'm Kate, her best friend. Who are you? And how'd you know she was living here?"

"Kate!" She's so rude. I don't know why she's acting this way, but I can tell she doesn't like him. "Be nice! This is Jackson Wright. He went to college with me. We had several classes together. He graduated a year ahead of me. He's not paparazzi, calm down."

Jackson shakes her hand and I know Kate squeezed his too hard. The stern expression remains on her face. "Well, Abby and I were about to have a chat, so - "

I make a face at Kate and she makes one back. "Jackson, it's great to see you." I take a card from my purse and scribble my cell number on it. "Call me tomorrow and we can catch up."

Jackson takes the card and looks at it. Grasping the paper between his fingers, he smiles and nods at me. "I will. Have a good night. It was nice to meet you, Kate."

"Yeah, whatever," she says, and turns to go inside.

My eyes are bugging out of my head when she closes the door. "Are you insane? That was a friend! Why are you being so nasty?"

Kate looks at me like I'm a moron. "Something's not right. Why is he looking for you now? Why three doors down? No one knew you lived here."

"The press figured it out before I was married, so why couldn't he?" I'm trying not to yell, but she's making me crazy. Kate always acts like she knows more than me and I can't stand it anymore. I'm right, about this - about Jackson showing up now - I'm right. He probably doesn't even know what's going on.

"Gut reaction, Abby. That guy is bad news."

"Well, take a Pepto and get over it. I refuse to believe that every person from the past ten years of my life is corrupt."

"I didn't say that, I just said that something's not right." She looks at me like I should be agreeing with her, but I'm not. I won't. My arms are folded tightly over my chest and I'm glaring at her. Kate sighs dramatically and throws her arms up in the air. "Who tracks down a married woman? Not a man. Not a man with good intentions. Who the f**k does that, Abby?"

"He's a good guy, Kate." There's a warning tone in my voice, but she doesn't back down.

Rolling her eyes, Kate says, "He's a man. You're a woman. Remember, you screwed Jack before you were married. People make vows. Sometimes they break them."

My spine stiffens. Eyes wide, I stare at her like she slapped my face. There was nothing worse she could have said to me. That comment hit me twice, once slamming how my relationship with Jack started and again by pointing out that I broke my vows, a promise that I was supposed to keep, forever. It is something that keeps playing through my mind at night. Not just being a failure, but that my word was worthless. It meant nothing. It didn't matter what I promised, because I broke the biggest promise that I ever made. It wasn't just a promise to myself or to the church, but to God. It meant I'd chosen my life and set it in stone. But that's broken now. Everything's broken. The fracture lies deep within my heart, and I have no idea how to mend it.

I stare at Kate. A million words fill my mouth but none of them are right. I can't say a damn thing. I have no idea what expression is on my face, but suddenly her hackles drop. She lifts her hand, sensing that she's gone too far. I don't give her the chance. Pressing my lips together, I turn on my heel and walk out the door, slamming it behind me. Before Kate reaches the porch, I'm in the car and down the street.

Everything is changing. I wonder if I really know anyone anymore, myself included.

Chapter 17-18

Chapter 17


When I get back to the studio - I mean, my new home - I have to stop thinking of it like that - it's past dinnertime. Leaving Kate's put me smack dab in the middle of rush hour traffic. It took me two hours to get here. I walk into the little cottage and sit on the bed. I want to lie down for a while and forget about everything. Actually, I want to hide. I have no idea when my confession will hit the news, but I know it will bother Jack. I don't want to fight with him, but I had to do it. He'd do the same for me. I grip my head in my hands and feel my insides churn with dread. I roll onto my side. I can't help it. I'll protect Jack as much as I can, but I feel like we're drifting apart. It's like there's this huge chasm between us and I don't know how to cross it. I'm isolated, but it's my own damn fault. And Jack - oh God, if I tell him what I'm going through, he's going to blame himself. It doesn't matter that it's not his fault. It doesn't matter that this would have happened to me anyway.

Kate's right. I'm an idealist and when that image of my life shattered, Jack was there to cling on to. I couldn't have asked for more, and yet, something's not right. I wish I could wave a hand and both of us could be ten years younger. I wish I'd had the guts to just kiss him back when we were eighteen.

Living in the past won't help your life in the present, Abby. Stop it. That voice in the back of my head seems smarter than me most of the time. I sit up and rub my eyes with the back of my hand. Instead of wishing things better, I have to make them better. I can start there. It's something tangible.

I pull off my shoes and wonder where Jack is. I didn't see him when I walked inside, but I went around the back of the property, down by the shore and up to the cottage. The sound of the waves and the salty sea spray makes me feel better.

He must be in the studio. I decide to go find him. When I see Jack, he's standing on a ladder with a paintbrush in his hand. He's shirtless, wearing a pair of jeans that cling to him perfectly with paint splatters on the legs. Jack leans in and touches up an older piece he's been working on. Everything is in muted tones of gray, showcasing a woman's face, eyes lowered, hair draped over her shoulder. It's a somber piece, haunting.

I walk toward him, making sure I make a little noise so I don't startle him. I haven't seen him work in a while. Part of me wants to sit down and watch him paint. Creating something from nothing has always amazed me. Jack can take an empty canvas and turn it into the most evocative, heart wrenching, provocative thing I've ever seen. He amazes me every time.

"So," Jack says, his voice tense.

"So," I reply, not certain if he knows what I had Gus do yet. My stomach twists as I get closer. Jack doesn't turn and look down at me. He continues to paint, blending a section of skin. I stop at the bottom of his ladder. An insane urge hits me and I want to climb up it and kiss him. With my luck, I'd topple the two of us over, so I just stand there and look up at him.

"It sounds like Kate and Gus are going to kill each other. Forcing them to work together on this project will make for plenty of uncomfortable situations." Jack continues to paint without looking down.

"What do you mean?"

"She didn't say anything about it?" he asks over his shoulder, surprised.

"No, but she didn't sound like she was nuts about him, either. Actually, Kate seemed way out of sorts. A guy that I went to college with showed up looking for me, and we had words." I cross my arms over my chest, thinking about it. Her reaction seemed so weird. "Let's just say that I won't be talking to her for a while."

Now Jack stops. He lifts the brush from the painting and turns to glance down at me. "What happened?"

I shrug. "She said I was a...skank."

"Seriously? That doesn't sound like Kate." Jack watches me for a second.

I shift my weight to my other leg. I can't talk about this with him. I glance away. "She reminded me that people aren't always as they appear, and she used me and you as an example. The preacher does the painter - that kind of thing. It didn't go over well."

"And you're mad about it?" He's looking at me like I'm insane. I wasn't what I appeared. I was a floosy posing as a preacher. That hollow spot inside my chest has so much pressure on it that it feels like I'm being squeezed to death from the inside.

"It's not what she said, it's the way she said it. It felt like a bitch-slap." Jack smiles at me like I'm crazy. "Forget it. You wouldn't understand."

He laughs at that. "Really? I wouldn't understand what it's like when my best friend is painfully blunt, right to my face? Gus is a carbon copy of Kate. No wonder why they hate each other." He pauses for a second and asks, "So, this guy, who is he?"

"Just someone I met when I started college. My first week there, I got a flat. I was trying to change the tire and he came along and helped me. He was nice to me." I'm looking at the painting as I speak, but Jack's eyes don't stray from my face.

"So, this was pre-vows, right? Was college Abby into guys or were they shunned later?" His tone is teasing, which makes me smile. I know what he's asking - how much did I date before I jumped into the clergy boat?

Smiling, flicking my eyes up to his, I say, "Just to be clear, Abby has always been into guys. There's not another option for me. You make it sound like I was into girls... or goats."

"That would have been interesting too. I couldn't really complain, but I'm not sure if I like the idea of a guy that had the hots for you showing up and looking for you." He pauses and looks at the painting and then back at me. "So, I know you didn't do everything, but did you do anything with him?"

"Do you need someone to be jealous of?" I ask, folding my arms across my chest and grinning at him.

"Maybe. It'll make me feel manlier. A good shot of testosterone will make things a lot more intense." Jack is all bravado. The look on his face makes me laugh. I haven't ever seen him jealous before.

"Oh, yeah? What kind of things? I might have to come up with a really juicy story." I'm grinning at him. I half expect Jack to jump off the ladder by the look on his face, but he stays there, smiling down at me.

"Oh, you know - sexy kinds of things." He winks at me and I feel the urge to giggle.

Smiling hard, I swallow the laugh and say, "Sounds nice."

"Oh, it'll be anything but nice. 'Nice' is not a word to describe sex. That's a word for curtains and movies that you didn't really like." Jack watches for my reaction.

"Hmm...," I'm twisting my fingers in front of me, suddenly all girly, "Well, Jackson is nice. Does that make you feel better?"

"Ah, why'd you tell me?" Jack winks and then smiles broadly. "And just when you were really getting me riled up."

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