Home > Scandalous 1 (Scandalous #1)(10)

Scandalous 1 (Scandalous #1)(10)
Author: H.M. Ward

“Yeah, we are. Why’d we do that?”

“You’ve got holy ears,” Kate responded, eyes on her suitcase as she repacked.

I laughed, “What? What does that mean!”

“You’re a direct line to God and you don’t screw around with stuff like that. It’s like sticking a fork into a toaster just to see what happens. I might walk around on a daily basis and not think twice about being struck by a lightning bolt, but when I’m standing next to you and doing what I usually do—let’s just say I’ll think twice about holding an umbrella.” At first I wasn’t sure if she was serious, but when I didn’t hear the laughter in her voice, I knew she meant it.

“Kate! How can you say something like that? It’s not like I call the shots. And for the record—no one has died as a result of a lightning bolt to the head while talking trash to me.”

Kate snort-laughed, and quickly covered her hand over her mouth to hide it. A grin spread across my face until I couldn’t keep my lips shut anymore. Kate sat on the bed and gave me a look. The result was instantaneous. We both broke out into a fit of giggles like we were ten-year-olds, belly-laughing so hard that we couldn’t breathe.

When it passed, Kate sat on the bed with the suitcase between us, “So, nothing’s off limits? Back to the way things were?”

I nodded, “Hell, yeah. I’m still the same person. I’m not gonna get you killed faster because I got a God badge or something.” She grinned at me, but I could still tell she was hesitant. Thinking fast, I wanted to prove it to her. The best way to prove you’d be a good secret-keeper was to offer up a secret, something hidden so deep that you’d never admit to anyone. I cleared my throat, avoiding her gaze, “Besides, talking about guys might be helpful.” I spoke the words as I held up a sheer baby doll outfit that was on top of her open bag. The light passed right through it. Kate’s eyes were burning a hole in my face. I dropped the garment back into her bag and asked, “What?”

“Abby, what are you saying?” Her voice was soft, concerned. “That you like someone? It’s Jack, isn’t it? Damn, I was just kidding the other day. I didn’t know you really felt that way.”

I shrugged, “Neither did I.” But after this much time, I had to admit it—I had feelings for him and they weren’t going away. It wasn’t the remnants of some childhood fantasy. It was real, and made me question everything, every decision I’d made that led me to this point.

“So what do you do? You took vows, right? It’s not like you can date him or something?” Kate stopped packing and sat utterly still, watching me.

“No, I can’t date him,” I answered wistfully. Glancing up at her I added quickly, “And he can’t find out. I just... I don’t know. I told you because it’s bothering me. I see him every day and he’s the same boy he used to be, but so much more. He was such a man-whore in high school.” I shook my head. “But that doesn’t jive with the Jack I see now. Maybe I was wrong about him.”

Kate’s eyes were huge. She leaned over the bag and grabbed my hand, “What are you saying? That you joined the Nun Run because of him? Holy shit, Abby. You can’t be serious?”

I swallowed hard. This was something that I didn’t like to admit to myself, and hearing it out loud would cement it in my brain like a tumor waiting to kill me. “Jack was part of the reason.” Kate gasped, but fell silent when I continued. “I thought every person had a soulmate—one person that was perfect for them. After high school and four years of college, there was still no trace of that guy. It seemed like he didn’t exist, that I didn’t get that life. That was the only thing holding me back. I wanted to help people, I wanted to help them find their faith. Life’s so damn hard, Kate. It just seemed like the right thing to do, but after everything that’s happened, I don’t know anymore.” My chest felt tight. I think I just admitted to the possibility of more things than I realized were drifting around in my mind.

Kate was shocked into silence. When she recovered, she said, “You’ve always known which path to take. Your inner-compass is made of titanium, and there is no way in hell that it’s broken. Trust your gut, Abby. You always have and it’s never led you astray.”

“But it is now,” I laughed darkly, twisting the bedspread in my hands without realizing I was doing it. “That path was barred shut by the vows. There is no path that includes Jack Gray.”


Later that night, I pulled open the door to the Galleria. Linda was sitting at the front desk. She beamed at me, “Good evening, Abby. I hope your day went well.”

I responded in kind, “It did.” Before I could say another word, I heard Jack’s voice through the intercom.

“Is she here yet?” he sounded like he was in a bad mood. My heart sank.

Linda pressed the button, and her lips parted to speak, but I leaned in and answered instead, “Be right back.”

I pushed through the exterior doors, passing Gus outside, “What’s up, Gus? He sounded pissed.” I kept walking, turning backwards waiting for an answer.

“The hell if I know!” Gus yelled, his hands flying as he spoke. The tight gait of his walk made me run for the studio.

When I threw open the doors, I saw Jack’s foot collide with a can of paint. The contents went flying, lid open, paint splattering as it fell. I stopped in my tracks, as Jack bent forward and pulled his hair in frustration. Every muscle in his body was tightly corded, bulging from beneath his white tee shirt. My jaw dropped, watching him, unable to find my voice. The only other time I’d seen Jack lose his temper was when Belinda showed up.

Setting my purse down on a table, I crossed the massive room. Jack didn’t move. He remained bent at the waist, hands clutching his temples. When I was a few paces behind him, my heart was racing. I expected him to turn, but he didn’t. Reaching out slowly, I spoke his name at the same time I touched his shoulder, “Jack, what’s wrong?”

He jumped out of his skin, rounding on me so fast that I nearly fell over. Gasping for air, his hand clutched his heart, “Abby,” he breathed, staring at me like I was insane. “Only you would do something like that. You see everyone else? They ran away!” He screamed the last words, grabbed a bunch of paint brushes and hurled them across the room.

I reached for him again, placing my hand on his forearm before he grabbed something else. When he tried to pull away from me, I held tighter, jerking him back to face me. “Stop. Jack, stop it. Tell me what happened.” Jack’s dark lashes lowered, looking at my hand on his arm. My heart was racing, beating violently against my ribs. The look he gave me when his blue eyes returned to meet mine made me melt. I started to slide my hand away. It seemed as if I touched him and shouldn’t have. The expression on his face was so stormy that I couldn’t read him.

“There’s nothing to tell, Abby. She managed to get hold of my client list and cancelled all of them, telling them some lies about me.” His voice was deep, hushed. He said the words like he couldn’t believe it happened.

“And your clients just cancelled?” That didn’t sound right.

He nodded, “Yup.” His jaw was tight, like he wanted to snap off someone’s head. Jack folded his arms across his chest, flexing them, trying to control his anger.

“How’d she get the list?” I asked.

“That’s what we were talking about before you got here. Several people suggested it was the new girl.” He looked down at me, eyes narrowed, questioning me.

I knew his ex just messed up millions of dollars’ worth of work for him, but the question still felt like a slap across the face. Instead of answering, I asked, “And what do you think?”

He shrugged, his voice cold and cruel, “Coulda been. Maybe you’re not who I thought. Maybe you’re some evangelical nut on a mission to stop pornography and you lumped my studio in with the lot. You’re with them, aren’t you?”

As he spoke, rage bubbled inside of me. If anyone else had said those words, it wouldn’t have hurt so much, but to stand there and hear Jack say them... something snapped inside of me. My hand flew, slapping his cheek so hard that it turned his head. For a moment the only thing I could hear was the slap. My hand fell to my side, stinging like it was on fire. “Fuck you. If that’s who you think I am, if you think I came here to sneak in and destroy you...” Shaking, I realized that my hands were balled into fists. I bit my tongue to stop talking, turned on my heel, snatched up my purse and fled.

By the time I peeled out of the parking lot, my anger had turned into tears. After a blistering shower, I threw on a cami and satin shorts. They made me feel pretty when I felt horrible. I called in a pizza and threw myself on the couch. Numbness had eventually taken control of my emotions. Jack’s words were like a sucker punch to my stomach. He blindsided me. I couldn’t believe what he said, even when he was saying it. The anger that he evoked was something that I hadn’t felt since I left Texas.

The doorbell rang. I pushed myself off the couch, grabbing Kate’s sweater to answer the door. After wrapping it around me, I pulled the door open. The only thing I saw was the square white box. A man was holding it. I didn’t look at his face until I heard his voice, “I was grabbing dinner and I heard they were taking this to you. I kinda hijacked the pizza kid.” Glancing up, I flinched, seeing Jack standing on my porch. He continued, “I had to tell you something... I’m sorry, Abby. I shouldn’t have said that to you. I shouldn’t have thought it.” I stared at him through the storm door. Jack looked like I felt.

I didn’t open the door. “But you did.”

“Aren’t you supposed to forgive me?” he asked coyly. His words pissed me off.

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean right now. And it doesn’t mean I’m a doormat and ready for more, either.” I started to close the door, not looking at him. My throat was so tight I could barely talk. It felt like I’d burst into tears at any moment. I just wanted him to leave.

The smile fell off his face when I answered. As the door closed, Jack pulled open the screen, raising his palm to stop me. Startled, I looked up. There was less than two inches of space between the door and the jamb. Jack’s face was so close. He leaned his head on the door frame, “Please don’t let things end like this. When you showed up a few weeks ago, I couldn’t believe it. It was like fate brought us back together. Since then, I’ve been ecstatic to see you, hear your voice, and spend time with you. Please. I know I f**ked up. I’d give anything to have that moment back and do it over.”

His eyes searched mine, waiting for the door to close, but I stood there frozen. It felt like this moment mattered, but I didn’t realize how much. I whispered, “Go home, Jack.” The door clicked shut, and tears stung my eyes. They finally overflowed and ran down my cheeks.


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