Home > Scandalous 2 (Scandalous #2)(11)

Scandalous 2 (Scandalous #2)(11)
Author: H.M. Ward

"I know. I have a poor sense of timing. Maybe later I'll tell you about Jeremy." I wink at him and start to walk away, smiling to myself.

"Abby!" I turn back to him, "I'm gonna get you for that." He says it while pointing a paintbrush at me.

"I was hoping you would." I wink at him, before turning to skip away to find us some dinner.

Chapter 18


After Abby leaves the room, Jack clings to the ladder and rests his head against the cold metal. She dated. Why this is news, he doesn't know. Jack knew Abby had a life away from him. She was gone so long, it stood to reason that there were other guys, but he still didn't like it. And with everything that's going on, it seems like a strange time for a guy to show up, but maybe it's nothing.

If one of his ex-girlfriends from college showed up, Jack was sure that Abby would pitch a fit. The college version of Jack wasn't that different from the high school edition. He was searching for something, always trying to fill the hole in his chest. For a long time, he refused to believe it was Abby. When he wasn't in class or in the art building painting something, he was with a girl. Sometimes they did stuff, sometimes not. It took nearly five years to realize that Abby was the reason for that longing. When she walked in, Jack was angry. She'd left such a hole in his life, but Abby seemed unaffected. Now he knew that wasn't true. It only took one look at her face to see that she was a broken version of the girl he had known. Instead of helping her heal, he had shattered her.

"Fuck," he breathes, looking down at the floor far below. How could he do that to her?

Jack doesn't have time to think about it. His phone rings. Lifting it from his pocket, he swipes his finger across the screen, leaving a trail of gray paint. "Shit," he mumbles before pressing the speakerphone button. "What do you need, Gus?"

"Hey, Jack. Sorry to bother you. I'm trying to hammer out the details, but I need to run some things by you."

"Where the hell did you run off to? I needed to talk to you about something." Jack is irritated. He hasn't said anything to Gus about Abby, but he has to talk to someone. Jack glances around, from his perch atop the ladder, making sure Abby isn't in the room.

Gus pauses. When he speaks, his voice is too high. "I had to take care of some things. You know how it is." There's a pause before he asks, "Did you see the news?"

"No. I've been working. What's the matter now?"

The tension in Gus's voice fades as he speaks, "Oh, well, there were protesters at the Biloxi opening. But we knew that. The news covered it and did a little expose on you and Abby. THE AWAKENING was roped off and we set guards by it to make sure nothing would happen. The added security is coming out of our pocket, by the way. The museum isn't being particularly cooperative."

"As expected. What about Brimstone? Did you get anywhere with that?" The line goes silent. "Gus?"

"Let me do a little bit more digging. I know they're in the group and that they are pushing the locals up here to picket the studio. So far, they haven't gotten a foothold up here. It's easier down south. They think you're morally objectionable, to start with. Brimstone needs that up here before they can start anything. That's probably why it's still quiet. The town respects you and Abby. I don't think the locals will act out against you. If they do something, they'll have to import the crazies from somewhere else."

"Buses," Jack says, staring at the canvas.

"Yeah, from more conservative places. The guy sucks. He takes people who mean well, who honestly want to make a difference, and then twists them. I understand wanting things better, I really do, but the rage that's directed at you is so misplaced. If they want to change things, well, we've had this conversation before."

"Yeah," Jack replies. We have. Many times. "This isn't about change. It's about blame. They need someone to blame and I'm an easy target."

"I'm sorry, Jack. I don't know how to - " Gus suddenly stops speaking.

"What was that? You don't know how to, what?" Jack stares at the phone. There was no static, no indication that the call was dropped. Gus just bit off his words. Fuck. If Gus is keeping things from him, he's screwed. "Gus, man, if you're keeping something from me - "

"I took a bullet for you back during that whole scandal last year. Remember? You thought I pled out. But, I told them that the girls were full of shit and they tossed my ass in a holding cell for forty-eight hours. It sucked, man. There were hairy villains in there, and super wasted rich guys that fell off their yachts. But seriously, I've got your back Jack. I always have no matter what shit looks like."

Jack presses his fingers to his face. "What'd you do? If someone's going to attack me, if they - "

"No one is going to come after you, okay? Go chill out for a while and spend time with your new wife."

Jack knows something is going on, but doesn't press it. His mind drifts to Abby. "That's what I wanted to talk to you about - Abby."

Gus's tone changes. "Is everything all right? You guys seem happy together."

"We are, it's just that..." Jack sighs. His eyes flick toward the door, making sure Abby won't hear. "I think I made a mistake. I shouldn't have married her." Jack's voice barely comes out. "I shouldn't have hired her. I ruined her life, Gus."

Gus's tone is sharp. It sounds like Jack's being scolded. "Cut this shit out, Gray. That girl loves you. If you want her life to be better, then fix it. You can't change the past, so stop trying." Gus sputters for a few minutes and then coherency returns, "I can't believe you. Abby's the girl that got away, the one you were pining over since I met you. Somehow she falls right into your lap and you have the audacity to say that you should have tossed her ass out the door! I can't believe you. How could you say something like that?"

"Because," Jack says, his voice soft, "every time I look at her, I see the pain in her eyes. There's another part to Abby, and I've taken it away."

"That's bullshit, Jack, and you know it. If you feel like you f**ked up her life, you need to talk to her. Abby's the only one who can tell you that. Don't go by what you see in her eyes, f**king ask her. She's your wife, she's the girl you wanted all those years, the one you couldn't live without. I swear to God, if you mess this up - "

Jack glances down at his phone and hits END CALL, cutting Gus off midsentence. Regret fills his soul. Regret for everything. Everything Jack touches turns to ash. Abby is no exception. Gus doesn't see it  -  not yet  -  but he will.

Jack lifts the brush and starts smoothing the paint again. His eyes trace over the bare flesh, but all he sees is a curving line with a f**ked up gradation. Making the figure look life-like means getting the shading right.

When he moved the ladder to this piece and started painting, Jack wasn't sure why he chose to come back to this one. It was a piece that he had been making before Abby came along. Maybe it reminded him of who he was.

Chapter 19-20

Chapter 19


About an hour later, I go back to the studio to get Jack for dinner. I set up something in the front rooms. There's a kitchen in this building because it had originally been the main house. When Jack converted this building to the studio, he didn't remove the kitchen. It's nice.

When I walk into the studio, Jack is still up on the ladder with a paintbrush in his hand. "Hey, hot stuff. Although I really like the stellar view of your ass, you have to come down and eat dinner with me."

Jack laughs so hard he drops his brush. "Is my little angel cursing again?" His voice is light and teasing.

I laugh, "Like I ever stopped. Besides, ass is a body part, not a curse word."

"I think you'd die if you heard it come out of the mouth of a toddler."

"Touche," I admit. "I'll try to be less crass." I clear my throat and look up at him like he's my Romeo. I press my hand to my heart and say, "Jack, oh Jack, you have such a dreamy derriere, but our dinner's getting cold out there. Will you come down before the noodles get mushy? If you do, I promise to bite your tooshie."

Jack looks at me shocked, and then nearly busts his side open laughing. He lets go of the ladder with one hand and turns around to face me, which makes me want to cover my eyes and scream.

"Oh my God! Don't fall!" The smile fades from my face and my hands fly up, like I'd try to catch him if he plummeted to the floor.

Jack steadies himself and says, "Awh, you were going to catch me!" His teasing tone stops when he sees me shaking. My hands are tightly clutched. "I'm all right, Abby. I haven't fallen off a ladder since we were in high school. And that one time was because I was watching you, so don't do anything sexy - or make me laugh too hard."

"Jack," I squeal, not wanting to look at him. The ladder seems so wobbly and he's so high up. "Please come down."

Jack comes down and drops his remaining brushes in the solvent before walking over to me. He cocks his head to the side and takes me by my arms and pulls me close. "Why, Mrs. Gray, are you afraid of heights?"

"No, of course not. I'm just deathly afraid of ladders. Especially really tall ones with my new husband hanging off the top like a monkey in a tree." I shiver just thinking about it.

Jack pulls me to his chest. "I won't fall. I promise. Your little ditty just took me by surprise. I'm all right, Abby." He holds me close until my heart stops hammering like it's trying to bust out of my body.

He kisses my cheek and says, "I had no idea that heights spooked you so much. Why didn't you say anything?"

"I don't know. It doesn't really come up." I feel his arms around me and I take a deep breath. I know he's fine, but the frightened feeling lingers.

"Are there any other fears that I need to be aware of?" he asks kindly, kissing the top of my head.

"I don't like bridges."

"And by that you mean...?" Jack glances down at me.

"I mean I hate bridges and have a panic attack when I'm forced to drive over one. I'm afraid the car will crash and go over the rail." I shiver saying it, thinking about the car filling with water and being trapped inside.

Jack smooths his hands over my arms, chasing the feeling away. "When did that happen?"

"I don't know." I shrug and look up at him. "It's always been there to some extent."

"We live on an island. How did I not notice?"

"If you're sitting next to a tense, non-chatty version of me, we're probably on a bridge." I pause for a second and grin, teasing. "If I'm looking way up at you and shaking like a leaf, it's probably got something to do with a ladder."

"Anything else that frightens you?" He kisses my cheek and then gives me a little more room.

"Just the normal kind of stuff; clowns, Tigger, demons that live in my closet."

Jack doesn't know what to say, so he laughs one short loud laugh. "Oh my God. You are all sorts of f**ked up, aren't you?"

I nod and smile. "And what frightens you, big sexy man? Spiders? Unicorns?"

Jack snorts, but then he gets a far-off look in his eye like he knows exactly what terrifies him the most. When he looks down at me, he says, "Any man should have serious concerns about an animal with a huge phallic symbol on its head. You stay away from unicorns, you hear me?" I smile and Jack tickles me, driving away the rest of my irrational fears.

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