Home > Fool Me Once (First Wives #1)(11)

Fool Me Once (First Wives #1)(11)
Author: Catherine Bybee

They worked their way through the halls and decks of the ship, which were a mix of everything from people still in bathing suits to others dressed to the nines.

The low lighting and music of the French themed restaurant certainly paved the way for romance. Couples filled most of the tables, whereas families spent most of their time in louder locations on the ship.

“Do you cruise often?” Lori asked him once they were seated.

“This is my second,” he told her. “What about you?”

“I’ve done my fair share.”

“With your friends?”

She shook her head, thinking of Trina and the others. “Not with . . .” she stopped herself. “With other friends.” She’d taken a one-on-one cruise with a previous Alliance bride in the past. This was the first time she had a group of four.

“Other friends who might have strangers taking pictures of them?”

The waiter saved her from having to answer his question. They ordered a bottle of wine and listened to the chef’s recommendations.

“Tell me about yourself,” Lori changed the subject.

He lifted one questioning eyebrow but didn’t bring up her travel companions again.

“What do you want to know?”

Everything . . . but then, if she started asking about what he did for a living, he’d ask her. “Tell me more about this philosophy of yours.”

“Which one?”

“Living life beyond your comfort zone.”

He leaned back. “That’s easy. As kids, we learned to take risks every day. Jumping into a lake without a life preserver and learning to swim because of it. Do you remember your first roller coaster?”

“Not really.”

“Do you remember being afraid to go on one?”

“Yeah. I still get that way.”

He lifted his hands in the air. “But you still go on them.”

“They’re fun.”

“The thrill comes from fear.”

“Like watching six grand ride on the color red.”


The waiter returned with the wine and took their order.

“Sometime between the age of eighteen and thirty we forget to take risks, and the fun in life is lost on us,” Reed told her.

“You’ve been skydiving, haven’t you?” Lori asked.

“More than once. You should try it sometime.”

“I’ll stick to the inside of airplanes, thank you.”


She couldn’t help but laugh. “What is this, junior high?”

“Maybe. What are you afraid of?”

Lori lifted her wineglass. “Oh, I don’t know . . . hitting the ground at two hundred miles per hour.”

“It’s only about a hundred and twenty.”

“That sounds so much better.”

Reed had an addictive smile. “What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?”

Lori blinked . . . twice. “I traveled to China by myself.”

Reed stared at her. “China? That’s it?”

“Hey, I don’t speak Chinese. It was scary.” What she failed to mention was that she was meeting a potential client of Alliance. A businessman looking for an American bride. The scary part took place when, on behalf of Alliance, she passed on the man as a client. He had a violent side she picked up on shortly after meeting him in person. “What about you?”

“My biggest adventure?”

“Or the biggest step outside your comfort zone?”

He hesitated. “I voted.”

The wine Lori sipped burned when she started to laugh. When her eyes started to tear up, she took a drink of her water.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“Voted? That’s outside your wheelhouse?”

“Well, yeah, what if the guy I voted for won by one vote? What if he sucked or started a war? That’s a lot of responsibility.”

He was messing with her, but she liked to laugh.

“Ever been married?”

He nodded. “Once. You?”

“Once. I was really young. No kids. You?”

He opened his eyes wide. “Oh, no. I’d be a terrible dad.”

Their salads arrived and they kept talking. “Sounds like I found something outside your comfort zone.”

“What about you? You’re beautiful, and obviously have your life together, with trips to China and this.” He pointed around the room. “Why aren’t you married?”

“Not interested.” Which was only half-true. Romance had been stripped out of marriage with her profession. “I like being in control, and marriage feels like giving away half of that.”

Reed lifted his glass. “To the Not Interested Club.”

Seemed Lori was drinking to all kinds of clubs this week.

They’d finished the bottle of wine and shared a froufrou dessert.

Even though neither one of them talked about their daily life, they managed to carry on a conversation for two hours.

“Nightcap?” Reed suggested.

She placed a hand over her stomach. “I don’t think anything else is going to fit.”

“Let’s take a walk, then. I’m not ready to say good night.”

“And if I am?”

“You’re not.” He turned her toward the doors leading to the deck.

“How can you be so sure?”

The warm breeze caught her hair and started to pull it out of the clip she used to pull it off her face.

“Because if you wanted to end this night, you’d have said so by now. My guess is you’re trying to determine if you’re going to sleep with me or not.”

Her jaw dropped. Not because he was wrong, no, he was completely right about that. But that he’d said it aloud.

“I am not!”

“Not thinking about it, or not going to?” He leaned against the railing and charmed her with his smile.



“Oh my God. You’re so full of yourself.” She tried not to smile back at him and failed.

“Because I say what we’re both thinking?”

“I am not—” Her denial died on her lips when Reed took one step closer.

“Let me change that.”

His kiss silenced any protest she had. Gooseflesh rose on her arms, her neck . . . and butterflies fluttered in her belly like she was a virgin tasting a man’s lips for the first time. He reached for the back of her neck, held her like he wasn’t going to let her get away. Nothing was further from her mind.

“Open for me,” he whispered.

Reed’s eyes were warm, his thumb traced the side of her neck.

Lori opened her mouth and reached for him. His tongue found hers and made itself at home. She tasted the cinnamon that had laced their coffee.

Cinnamon and Reed. The two would forever be branded into her mind by this simple kiss.

Her fingers fanned over his chest, touching him through his shirt, and she closed her eyes.

Footsteps of someone walking by reminded her that they were standing on the deck of a ship and not somewhere private.

She pulled away.

Reed placed his thumb under her chin. “You’re even more stunning when you’re aroused.”

“I am not arou—”

He lifted both eyebrows.

“Okay, fine.”

“Glad we cleared that up. Now let me walk you to your room.”

Her eyes narrowed.

“To say good night. I think I’ve taken you past your comfort zone enough for one night.”

“That’s probably a good idea.”

At her door, he kissed her again. This time pushing her up against the wall, the weight of his body reminding her how long it had been since she’d welcomed a man into her bed. Then, before she could change her mind, Reed took the key from her hand, opened her door, and pushed her inside.

And then he left.

Chapter Eight

By the time the ship pulled into position for the day, Reed was up, showered, and logged in. He started with Shannon Redding-Wentworth. From mainstream media to gossip magazines, Shannon was everywhere. She came from a wealthy family, married Paul Wentworth while he was campaigning for the governor’s office in California. He had brought himself up to speed on her story before he arrived on the ship. His client knew about the cruise but didn’t have knowledge of who she was sailing with. Reed knew his client was looking for something scandalous by way of a romantic interlude with the former first lady and would be disappointed that wasn’t the case.

Reed backtracked through her life by looking up the private details of the governor. He found a wedding photo of the couple, and then another few sprinkled in at the reception. He clipped them into a file and moved forward to the announcements of the divorce.

Public records determined irreconcilable differences caused the divorce, much like nearly all divorces in the state of California. No one had to take the blame for a marriage gone bad in a no-fault state. There was mention of a prenuptial agreement removing any ability for Shannon to ask for more during their divorce. None of this was new news.

He clicked around until he pulled up a statement from the attorney mediating the Wentworth divorce.

He smiled. The law office of Lori Cumberland gave the official press release in regards to the high profile divorce.

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