Home > Scandalous 2 (Scandalous #2)(6)

Scandalous 2 (Scandalous #2)(6)
Author: H.M. Ward

Bennit's eyes shift to Jack. He stands and extends a hand to me from behind my old desk. "Manners, Abigail, dear. Introduce the man who stole you away from us. I'm Dick Bennit."

Jack reaches forward and grips his hand hard. Suddenly the air feels a lot more tense. "Jack Gray."

I hate the way he speaks to me. Everything is always shrewd manipulation with this guy. Whatever tumbles out of his mouth sounds kind, but his words are barbed. They pierce me and make me bristle.

"Let's not pretend that things are fine between us, Dick. You threw me out. I know it was you that caused all the problems and twisted the Board into thinking a year in the desert was a good idea. I'm here to get my things."

Dick usually doesn't let me push him around, but this time is different. He reaches into a drawer and dangles the keys over the desk. "Here Abby, sweetheart. I know you're upset with me, but in time, that will pass. You'll see that this was God's plan for you and we were merely the means." He's smiling at me with righteous indignation.

I smile back and take the keys. "Come on, Jack."

Jack and Dick nod at each other, but their stance says something else. It's like Dick is daring Jack to talk. I walk away quickly and fly across the lawn to the house. When I walk inside, I look around. My things are gone. I hardly left anything behind, but I did leave some stuff. I run up the stairs to the bedroom, looking for my linens and books. They're gone. I rush to the closet, the bathroom, the attic - there's nothing here. Fuming, I come back downstairs and see Dick standing next to Jack. Jack's arms are folded over his chest. He's burning a hole through the floor with his eyes. Dick has that look on his face, the smug one that he has when he knows he's inflicting damage. I catch the tail end of his words.

"...her full potential. You'll have to live with that." Dick glances up at me on the staircase. "We already boxed your things. They're in the kitchen. The movers should use the back door so they don't soil the carpets. We just had them cleaned." He gives me a poignant look and walks away.

Jack has a strange look on his face. I ask, "What did he say to you?"

Jack shakes his head, "Nothing worth repeating, Abby." He steps away from me and looks around the little house. "I can picture you here." My anger melts and I smile at him. My life would have been so different if he had been here back then. Jack points at the corner with the fireplace. "I bet you used to sit there with a book, reading in front of the firelight, even if it were insanely hot outside." He grins at me.

"You know, I did." I look around and the smile slips off my face. This is a shadow of my old life, a life that's gone. It feels like a piece of me has died and I don't know how to reconcile it. "Come on, let's see what they did with my stuff." I walk into the kitchen and sure enough, all my things are piled by the backdoor.

Jack puts his arms around me and leans in close. He kisses my cheek and says, "I don't pretend to know how heartbroken you are about this, Abby, but something good came from it. It brought you back to me." An orange moving truck pulls up. Jack releases me and goes to flag them down.

Worry pinches my stomach, making me feel sick. My life shifted when I left this place. I wish I could forget it and wipe my mind clean.

Jack arranges everything with the movers and we leave. My back is rigid as we ride in the cab. Jack seems tense, as well. Something changed when we stepped into that house - I don't know what it was, but I know it can't be turned back.

Chapter 9


After making sure Abby's things got put onto the truck, Jack felt spent. He could feel the energy being sucked out of Abby while they were there. Everything made her melancholy, like she was mourning something she couldn't have possibly fixed. Hearts made of stone don't bend, they crack when pushed too far.

Jack falls into silence, thinking. He saw how his wife's face lit up in that little house. There's an entire part of her that he doesn't know. It had been the driving force in her life, and he has no idea about any of it. Jack isn't faithless, but he isn't like her. Abby has a kindness to her that makes her vulnerable. She shares her heart in full, not holding back, knowing damn well that the people around her could crush it. She does it anyway, which makes her amazing.

The flight to New York seems to take forever. Jack holds Abby's hand as she drifts off to sleep against his shoulder. When the flight attendant comes by to offer food and drinks, Jack shakes his head. He doesn't want to wake her. Abby seems to sleep so little. Something keeps waking her at night. She thinks he doesn't notice, but he does. Once, she sat straight up and clutched her heart, gasping so loud that it sounded like a muffled scream. Jack didn't understand what could have done that to her, but he knows she's shattered - broken to some extent. He wants to take her home and let her heal. Given the time, he thinks she will. Bringing her to Texas just opened all those wounds again. Jack kisses the top of her head.

That man that caused Abby to be forced out was a piece of work. He honed in on a weak spot and attacked with a genuine smile on his face, like he enjoyed it. The things he said to Jack while Abby was upstairs were familiar. They were the same fears that have been festering in his mind. The bastard put them in words and didn't hold back. Jack's stomach nearly pitched then and there, but he refused to react. Glancing over at Abby, Jack wondered if they could defy the odds, if lovers this messed up could endure forever. He'd never stop loving her, but Jack can't help but worry about messing things up. Especially with the mess waiting at home. The thing he wanted to give her the most was nearly impossible to get - more time.

Chapter 10-12

Chapter 10


When we arrive at the studio, Kate welcomes us home. Gus stands next to her and they both look guilty. Jack and I are tired from the trip, so at first I think my senses are off, but nope, something's majorly wrong. The smile on Kate's face is the one she wears when she has to break bad news. The driver brings in our bags and walks around us. Jack and I stand opposite Gus and Kate in the lobby of the main building. The new receptionist Cara is there also. She's really sweet. Gus did a good job hiring her.

After our hellos are said, I blurt out, "What's wrong? And don't tell me 'nothing,' Kate. It's written all over your face."

Cara's eyes drop to her computer and she goes back to typing.

Kate glances at Gus and then back at Jack. After a second, she looks at me with worry in her eyes. "Well, the painting didn't get on the truck. There was some miscommunication with someone," she says, her eyes cutting sharply to Gus, "and the main painting for the exhibit wasn't loaded."

"What?" Jack asks with his voice raised slightly. He glances at Gus as his tired body tenses. Jack blinks once and runs his fingers through his hair. He stares at Kate, but turns and says to Gus, "Let me get this straight. The painting of Abby - the one that everyone plastered all over the tour billboards, posters, and tickets - that one didn't get shipped with the others? Tell me you're joking; please say this didn't happen." Silence. Gus looks like he wants to say something, but doesn't. Jack loses it. "Damn it, Gus! How did this happen!"

Gus runs his hands through his sandy hair. He averts his gaze initially, like he's guilty, before looking at Jack. "It was an oversight. I'll fix it. I'll - "

"How are you going to fix it?" Jack says, rubbing his temples. Something about Gus's behavior seems off. He normally yells back at Jack when they have a disagreement - I've heard them - but today Gus just stands there. Maybe he really screwed up? Or maybe there's something else going on.

Kate responds for Gus. "Jack, we're driving Abby's portrait down there ourselves. Biloxi isn't too far. We'll take turns driving. The painting will be there in hours, and it will arrive right on time with the rest of the exhibit." Kate makes it sound like nothing, like Mississippi has been slapped down on top of Jersey. It's at least a 30-hour drive from here.

"The museum is giving you time off?" I ask, surprised. Kate protects her days off like a tiger.

She gives me a look that says this was partly her fault. Kate pulls her hair into a ponytail as she speaks. She's wearing a jogging suit, ready for the drive. She knew this was going to happen.

Kate answers, "Not exactly, but it's handled. We waited for you guys to get home so the studio wouldn't be totally unstaffed. We couldn't leave new girl here alone. The canvas is already crated and on the truck. This was our mistake. We're fixing it. Besides, I'd kind of like to see the traveling display after its all set up. I'll send you pictures. You can put it on your website, Jack." Kate hugs me again, before she turns away and pushes through the door.

Gus follows after her, calling back to us, "See you in a few days. I'll give you a call later, Jack, and fill you in. Stay out of trouble while I'm gone." The playful look on Gus's face keeps Jack from yelling. Kate and Gus hurry towards the truck parked around back.

Jack and I watch it disappear down the driveway, past the pines at the edge of the road. Jack's arms are folded over his chest. He's leaning against the desk. I glance over at him and ask, "Do you have the feeling that they aren't telling us everything?"

He nods. "Without a doubt."

Chapter 11


Abby is so tired. Dark circles cling beneath her eyes. Jack wishes she could sleep. It doesn't seem to matter if she's taking a nap or asleep in his bed, something makes her toss and turn.

It's nearly nightfall, and Abby's been sleeping restlessly on the couch in the studio. Jack looks through some mail, but doesn't have the heart for it. Eventually he's pulled to his paint. Taking up a brush in his hand, Jack starts to paint. He doesn't think, he just takes colors and blends them across the small canvas as Abby sleeps. Hours pass like this, in silence.

Worry creases Jack's brow as he slips the brush into the paint. At some point, Jack stops using the brush. He's smoothing a curved line when Abby awakes.

She stretches and looks over at him. "What time is it?"

"About bedtime."

Abby seems upset. She rubs her eyes and stands. "Why'd you let me sleep so long? I wanted to spend the day with you."

Jack's eyes are on the painting until she says that. He flicks his gaze to meet hers and he smiles. "We did spend the day together."

Abby grins at him. When she walks over, Jack can't keep his eyes off the sway of her hips. Her beauty is intoxicating. He can never look enough, never feel enough, never hold her enough. Abby comes around the easel and stops. Apparently she doesn't expect to see herself.

"Jack," she says in a hushed voice. "This is... Wow." Abby looks at the canvas with wide eyes.

Jack watches her, pleased by her reaction. "You like it?" Abby nods, leaning closer to look at the strokes of paint. "I'm glad. After you fell asleep, you looked so perfect. I hoped you wouldn't mind." She looked like an angel. Jack couldn't resist. He painted her sleeping face with her fiery red hair softly flowing over her shoulders. Her pale skin and rose-colored lips give the whole thing a surreal feel. It's different for him. And prior to this, Jack seldom used anything but a brush to paint with. Abby's hair was done with his fingers, pulling them through the paint, blending the colors on the canvas. It makes the whole thing have a unique. The painting is a combination of them both.

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