14 years earlier
“That kiss was like a freaking fairy tale,” Jennifer blurts out the second our lips part.
And I have to agree with her. I’ve kissed a lot of girls, but I’ve never experienced anything quite like this. Not this crazy, instant connection.
I’ve definitely experienced lust at first sight—but love at first kiss?
“I’ll be honest,” she continues. “I was hoping to come out here for a quick roll in the sand ’cause you’re hot and I’m tipsy, but, fuck, what am I supposed to do with you now, Danny Diamond?”
I smirk. Lord help me, I can think of so many things I’d like her to do to me. Except … I can’t.
“As much as I’m dying to know the answer to that, I’m married,” I reply, holding up my left hand in response, the wedding ring on my finger feeling like it’s burning a mark into my skin. I don’t know what I was thinking. I should not be on the beach with this girl. I shouldn’t have even let it go this far.
But Jennifer Edwards is funny and blunt and adorable. We’ve been laughing our asses off since the moment we were introduced at the party.
I think about my daughter—specifically, my wife’s threats to take her away from me if I ever stray.
Jennifer must see the internal struggle in my eyes. She runs her hand down my arm and says coyly, “If you can’t promise forever, just promise tonight.”
I suck in a deep breath, trying to slow down the hormones raging in my body. “I’m sorry. I can’t. I should probably get back to the party.”
“Oh, fine,” she says, rolling her gorgeous eyes up toward the moon. “We’ll just talk. Hang out. I love talking to you. And I swear, I won’t even try to kiss you again.” She kicks water toward me and says with a laugh, “At least, not tonight.”
“How’s the shoulder holding up after surgery, Diamond?” Coach asks as I’m leaving the weight room from a preseason training session.
“I’m in the best shape of my life, and for the first time in forever, my shoulder doesn’t hurt. This could be our year,” I say with a grin.
“You want another ring?”
“Hell yeah, I do,” he says. “I’m also really appreciative of the guidance you’ve been giving the rookie. I’m sure it made you nervous when we drafted him.”
“I’ve never been afraid of competition, Coach. You know that. And don’t forget, I was the hotshot rookie once, too.”
“We’ve had a good run here together in Kansas City. Add a third ring, and I just might think about retiring. Spend some time with the grandkids. What about you?”
“I’ll probably play as long as my body holds out,” I tell him. “But it would be good to go out on top. We’re going to have a strong offensive unit.”
“And the defense is coming together nicely. Hey, have a good trip. You taking any film to study while you’re gone?” he asks, but I can tell by the grin on his face that he’s joking.
“No way. This vacation is all about relaxation and celebration.”
“Good man,” Coach says as he heads to his office. “Have a great anniversary trip, and give your wife, Lori, my best.”
I walk outside of the practice facility where I’m greeted by numerous fans shouting my name. I sign autographs, shake hands, and take pictures. A small group of beautiful young women is in the mix, waiting until the kids have moved on to the next player to bounce up to me.
“Danny, will you sign my shirt?” one of them asks, pushing her chest out toward me to indicate which part of the shirt she wants signed.
She sexily flips her hair as I take the Sharpie from her and sign closer to her collarbone than her boob.
“I’m Lana,” she coos as I sign a football for her equally gorgeous friend. “What are you doing now? Wanna go party with us?”
I know exactly what she’s offering.
“Wish I could, ladies, but I have to get home to my wife. We’re celebrating our fifteenth anniversary.” I’m pretty sure I deserve to be sainted in the afterlife for all the women I’ve turned down over the years. But, when you have two amazing children and a beautiful wife, it’s not worth a few hours of fun. I chuckle to myself. Well, it might be, but I’d never do anything to embarrass my children.
I grab my offensive lineman, a recent divorcé who needs to get back out there. “But you should talk to Randy here. He loves to party.”
Randy rolls his eyes at me as I slip away. I know he won’t be going anywhere with the girls either but, if nothing else, it’s good for his ego.
On the way home, I pick up a bottle of Cristal, a bouquet of flowers, and a pair of custom-made earrings from the jewelers. Lori, who I sent to the spa to get her out of the house for the day, is going to be so shocked by everything I have planned. Our anniversary was a couple of weeks ago. We went out to dinner with friends and had a great time, but with the kids’ school year coming to an end, I knew we wouldn’t be able to get away until now. I thought about telling her then but decided to surprise her instead.
When I pull up to my house, I see there’s mass chaos going on as my parents and two children along with the four Mackenzie children and their grandparents are all trying to get loaded into the black SUVs that are taking them to the airport.
“Daddy, you made it in time to say good-bye!” my fourteen-year-old daughter Devaney says, running over to give me a hug.
Since the teen years hit, it’s become rare for her to call me Daddy. I take a moment to bask in the glorious sound of it.
“I couldn’t miss seeing you off.”
“And none of us spilled the beans!” my son, Damon, says. He’ll turn thirteen next month, and he is a chip off the old block—always looking for ways to have fun. Fun meaning trouble. “Mom will be so happy!”
The youngest Mackenzie, Madden, who just finished kindergarten, is running around like he’s on a sugar rush, knocking over the suitcases. I pick him up. This kid doesn’t need sugar. He’s got more energy than anyone I’ve ever met, and he is tough as nails.
“Hey, Crusher, how about we get you buckled in and ready to go? I’ll put Ryder next to you,” I say, mentioning his nine-year-old brother.
My best friend, Jadyn Mackenzie, smiles thankfully, handing another suitcase to the driver to load in the back as she gives instructions to her oldest son, Chase. He and Damon just finished the seventh grade and both play every sport they can.
“Who do you want to meet most on the Disney cruise?” I ask Haley James, the second-oldest Mackenzie.
“I’m a little old for all that, don’t you think?”
She’s eleven going on seventeen and a good athlete herself. Although you’d never know it by looking at her. Right now, she’s decked out in a pink satin romper, a furry jacket, and glittery shoes, and she has black sunglasses perched on her head. You’d think she was going to the French Riviera for the Cannes Film Festival, not on a Disney cruise with her grandparents.
“She wants to see the characters from Frozen,” Chase says, causing Haley to slug him. “You hit like a girl,” Chase says, pretending not to be effected even though I see him wince.
But that sets Haley off, and she rushes after him.
“All right!” Jadyn says. “Everyone who wants to go on the cruise with their grandparents needs to get in the car with their backpacks and get buckled up, or you’ll be staying home.”
All the kids immediately stop screwing around, march over to pick up their packs, and get into the SUVs without a fight.
“Are you sure you’re up for this?” she asks the grandparents.
“Of course we are,” Mrs. Mackenzie, her mother-in-law, says. “We can handle it.”
“We did manage to survive your childhoods on our own,” my mother adds.
She’s right. Jadyn, her husband, Phillip, and I were best friends growing up in Nebraska and were quite possibly handfuls ourselves.
We do hugs, kisses, and good-byes, and then they take off.
Jadyn sits down on the front step and takes in a deep, cleansing breath. I sit next to her, just like I used to when we were kids.
“Operation Surprise Anniversary Trip has officially commenced. I’ve gotta be honest,” she says. “I didn’t know if you and Lori would make it this far. Fifteen years of marriage is a big deal. Congrats.”
“Thanks. Our first years were a little rocky, but once we were done having babies, I won my first championship, and I got signed to a long-term contract, things got better. I think she’ll be excited about our trip.”
“I’m a little nervous she won’t love being surprised, but hopefully, she takes it in stride. The kids are sure excited.” She leans back and stretches her long legs. “Phillip and I aren’t sure what we’re going to do with a whole week to ourselves.”
I bump her shoulder with mine and grin. “Oh, I’m sure you’ll think of something. You should go somewhere. Take a trip.”
“No way. We travel all the time for work,” she says. Jadyn runs a commercial engineering and architectural design firm while Phillip is CEO of a white-glove freight company. “We’re going to stay home and enjoy the peace and quiet. Plus, I have a meeting on Wednesday that I can’t miss.”
“Who would have thought, the girl who skipped her college classes on Fridays to drink all afternoon would turn out to do what you have done? I’m really proud of you, Jay.”
“Thanks, Danny. That means a lot coming from a twice-winning Super Bowl champion. Can I borrow your rings, get naked, and try to help Phillip live out a fantasy of his?”
“What fantasy is that?”
“You know he always thought he’d play professional football with you someday. It was both of your dreams, growing up.”
“Until he blew out his knee senior year of high school. He’s done fine without football. Hell, he’s just hitting his stride. I’m getting too old for the game.”
“You’re only thirty-eight, Danny. That’s not old.”
“It is for a football player—or so my lovely wife tells me.”
“She’s just worried about you getting hurt.”
“Maybe,” I say.
“Are you all ready? Did you pack all her clothes exactly like I told you?”
“Yes, I did. I also picked up the champagne and flowers. And these.” I pull a box out of my pocket. As much as they cost, I’m not letting them out of my grasp.
Jadyn eyes the store name on the box. “Lori does love jewelry,” she says flatly.
“I was thinking I’d give these to her on the plane. Start things off right.” I open the box.
“Holy crap! Those had to cost a fortune!”
“Quarter of a million.” I shrug. “Fifteen years of putting up with me, she deserves something spectacular, don’t you think?”
“You’ve given her a spectacular life, Danny. She should be giving you a gift. Has she even said anything to you about your anniversary? I thought she would throw a fit about just having dinner with friends on the actual date. You usually plan something more extravagant.”
“And these earrings are just that. I’m hoping maybe the jewels will loosen up her lips, if you know what I mean.”
“You shouldn’t have to spend a quarter of a million dollars to get a freaking blow job, Danny,” Jadyn says, rolling her eyes. “You’re a professional football player. A woman should pay you to allow your championship-winning penis in her mouth.”
“Penis? Ugh, I hate that word. Please tell me, when you and Phillip get it on, you don’t call it that.”
“I’m trying to use the proper terms for the children. I don’t want my boys running around, telling people about their dicks. Or worse, using the C-word.”
“When did cock become a bad word?”
“When your six-year-old screams big, black cock over and over at a soccer game.” She laughs. “Even if he was referring to the rooster on the shirt you got in the Chianti region of Italy.”
“That was fucking funny.”
“I wanted to die. Actually, I might have. I’m pretty sure my heart stopped.”
“Oh no, don’t even joke about that,” I tell her, remembering when her heart did stop, and Phillip and I thought we’d lost her. She was in a car accident while pregnant with Chase, which caused a placental abruption, leading to an emergency C-section and her flatlining. Thankfully, they were able to revive her, and both she and the baby survived. I honestly don’t know what I would have done without her in my life.
“It’s just an expression, Danny,” she says, lowering her voice.
I glance at my watch, wondering where my wife is.
“What time is Lori supposed to be home?” Jadyn asks, reading my mind.
“When I sent her to the spa, I told her to be home by five. That I’d made reservations.”
“It’s almost six. So, she thinks you’re going out for dinner?”
“Yeah. She has no idea that I’ll be whisking her away on a private jet to Fiji.”
A few minutes later, Lori’s sleek Mercedes convertible pulls into our driveway.
She gives Jadyn and me a wave but doesn’t come over, so I say, “It’s showtime.”
Jadyn stands up and gives me a tight hug. “I hope you and Lori have an amazing trip.”
What she verbalizes doesn’t match her body language, and that worries me.
“Do you think she’s going to be mad I sent the kids off and didn’t tell her?”
“She’s just not big on surprises. You know how she likes to be in control—or at least, have the illusion of control. Maybe give her the earrings first and then tell her about the trip.”
“Yeah, maybe you’re right.”
I walk across the yard, stopping to grab the bottle of champagne and the flowers from the car. When I go inside my house, I notice that my wife looks stressed. Not that you can tell much. Her face is so Botoxed that she can’t really frown. I’m not sure why she is so obsessed with looking young. But then I think back to the girls standing in line for autographs and know the answer. She sees every woman as competition. And I can’t fault her for wanting to keep her body perfect for her man.
I step behind her, wrap an arm around her waist, and set the flowers and the champagne on the counter. “You look beautiful,” I tell her, knowing she loves hearing it. “How was your day at the spa?”
“It was fine,” she says, turning around to face me. “Are the kids next door?”
“Before we talk about that,” I say, flashing my endorsement-winning smile, “I want to give you this. I know we didn’t do much on our actual anniversary, but there was a reason for that.” I pull the box from my pocket and place it in her hand.
“Oh, Danny!” she exclaims. “You shouldn’t have!”
“Here, let me,” I suggest, opening the box and exposing the dazzling diamonds. “Danny Diamond’s wife of fifteen years deserves some spectacular diamonds, don’t you think?”
The sparkling stones reflect in Lori’s eyes and give me hope that this week will be perfect. Lori’s been a little distant lately. Not that it’s uncommon. She goes through phases, I guess you’d say. Sometimes, our sex life is amazing. Other times, it’s practically nonexistent. It all depends on her moods and how she’s feeling about herself. About three years ago, after she got her boob job and tummy tuck, she was hot for me all the time. As we both approach our fortieth birthdays, she pretty much has her plastic surgeon on speed dial. All the Botox, nips, and tucks are expensive, but it’s worth it. You know what they say; happy wife, happy life. In my case, that’s very true. When Lori’s happy, she keeps me happy in bed. And that makes me happy. This vacation is exactly what we need to reconnect and get back on track.
“Danny, these are gorgeous!” She slips off the large diamond studs I got her a few years ago and replaces them with the new chandelier earrings. “They must have cost a fortune!”
“I can afford it,” I say.
“We can afford it, you mean,” she snaps back.
“Of course that’s what I meant. Fifteen years is a big deal. You’re a big deal. You deserve them.”
I pop the bottle of champagne and pour us each a glass while she pulls a mirror from her purse to check out the earrings. I consider drinking straight from the bottle like we used to when we were first married, wondering if she’d like it. But I know I should behave. Lori prefers sophistication and propriety these days. I hand her a flute and graciously raise mine in a toast.
“Here’s to you and to fifteen more years of happiness.”
She doesn’t say anything in response. I think she’s too overwhelmed by the earrings to speak.
“I have more surprises. Wait here.”
“Danny—” she starts to say, but I cut her off. I’m excited to tell her the rest.
I run around the corner and pull our already packed suitcases out to the kitchen.
“What’s going on?”
“You and I are going to Fiji. And we’re leaving, well, now. I have everything planned. Everything you could possibly need is packed. And the kids just left for a Disney cruise with my parents. I wanted us to have a second honeymoon.”
“Danny,” she says.
And I’m not sure why, but I get the feeling I’m going to be in trouble.
“Yeah?” I ask, hoping she’s okay that I planned this. Hoping she doesn’t want to open the suitcase and go through everything before we leave. Hoping she’ll be the carefree woman I met and fell in love with.
“This isn’t what I signed up for.”
“What do you mean?”
“A husband who models underwear, who—”
“Thanks to those underwear ads and all my endorsements, I could afford to splurge on those earrings.”
“And who has women with signs asking him to marry them.”
“Babe, it just goes with the territory of being married to a professional football player. You were excited when I got drafted, and we’ve been so fortunate to be able to stay in Kansas City. So many of my friends are constantly uprooting their families for a different team.”
“I would have loved to go somewhere a little more glamorous,” she says. That’s always been a bone of contention with her. She wanted me to get traded. Thought I could earn more. “Regardless, I honestly didn’t think you’d still be playing at this stage in our life.”
“What did you think?”
“That you’d play for a few years and then get a normal job.”
“A normal job couldn’t have bought you those earrings.”
“I have to admit, I was excited when you hurt your shoulder. I thought it would force you to retire.”
“Why would I have done that? I’m back and better than ever.”
“Yes,” she says with an irritated sigh, “so you’ve told me.”
“What’s wrong? Why do you seem pissed? I’ve spent hours planning this trip. Planned the spa day, so you wouldn’t know the kids were leaving, set up the cruise, got my parents to take them, helped them pack, chartered a private jet, had the earrings custom-made. They cost a quarter of a million dollars, Lori.”
“Maybe you should have bought another Ferrari, Danny.”
I roll my eyes. Really? She’s bringing up the Ferrari I bought with my signing bonus when I first got drafted after a wild night in Vegas for Phillip’s bachelor party. She’s always hated that car.
“Can we not do this now? Can we just go have some fun?” I plead.
“I can’t go to Fiji with you.”
“Because I don’t want to be married to you.”
I take a step back, wondering if I heard her right. “What? Are you serious?”
“Yes, I’m serious. Actually, this works out better than I planned. It’ll allow me to move out while the kids are gone. We can break the news to them when they get home.”
“Move out? But where will you go?” I ask, dumbfounded.
“I’m seeing someone, Danny. I’m moving in with him.”
I instantly feel like I was sacked. A vicious, blindside hit. A hit so hard, I can feel it in my teeth because it rattles my bones, hits nerves, and sends aftershocks through my body, even before I hit the ground.
“Seeing? As in you’ve been having an affair?”
“Technically, I suppose you could call it that,” she says flatly.
“In other words, you’ve been fucking another guy while you are married to me?” My disbelief in her wanting to leave me turns to outright rage.
“Who?” I’m going to kill him.
“Your plastic surgeon?”
“So, all the appointments you’ve had for your boobs, the tucks, the lifts, the facials, the Botox—”
“That’s how we met.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me. I’ve been paying him to screw my wife?”
“Danny, look, it’s not working. I’m not happy. You’ll be fine. You have plenty of women who want you.” She doesn’t look me in the eye when she says this; in fact, she’s looking at her freshly manicured nails, like we’re discussing the weather and not our relationship.
“How long what?” she asks, finally looking up.
“How long have you been sleeping with him?”
“Oh.” She shrugs. “About a year.”
A horn honks out front, causing her to plaster a fake smile on her face. “Richard is here. Sorry, but I have to go.” She gives me an air kiss, grabs the suitcase I packed full of new clothes, bikinis, and sexy lingerie, and walks out the front door. Our front door.
I drop to a chair in my living room and sit in stunned silence, wondering what the heck just happened.
And then I realize that she left, wearing the earrings.
I’m having a shitty day. No, it’s worse than shitty. Paparazzi are camped outside my house, hoping to catch a glimpse of me, hoping to see me looking as ragged as I feel. I’m just hoping, if I stay here long enough, they’ll forget about me and move on. Find their next scandal.
My phone dings for the millionth time. I seriously don’t know how they got my cell number but, this time, as I glance at it, a familiar name pop up.
Mama: I’m pretty sure I told you so…
Me: Actually, you didn’t. You said that, if we weren’t married in the church, our relationship wouldn’t count. Yet we were together for over a decade.
Mama: A churchgoing man wouldn’t have done what he did. He’s not only off the wagon; he’s off the plantation. Color me not surprised.
Me: Well, I am. And it hurts.
Mama: Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. I told you that, too. He’s just like your no-good daddy.
Me: Thanks for your support. It means a lot.
Mama: Don’t get all snippy with me, young lady. I called and called, but you didn’t answer, so I had to resort to this newfangled texting. I just want to say that you’re always welcome at home.
Me: Thank you, Mama. I’ll think about it.
No way in hell am I going home. My parents live across the street from each other, and even though they were married in a church, they are about as dysfunctional as they come. They won’t get a divorce because of their religious beliefs. Daddy started drinking again when I was six, and Mama kicked him out. To annoy her, he moved into the house across the street. Since then, they’ve lived to spite each other. It’s part of why I’ve never married. I don’t ever want to be like them. I also swore, I’d never be in a relationship with someone who couldn’t control their drinking.
But here I am.
Mama was right about one thing though. I do need to get out of town.
As I’m contemplating where to go, another text pops up on my screen. I glance at it, assuming it’s Mama needing to get the last word in even if only by text.
Instead, I see it’s from an unknown number. I click over, intending to delete it, but the preview makes me curious, so I click on the full message.
You might not remember me, and this might not even still be your number, but this is Jadyn Mackenzie. We met at a Nebraska game a long time ago. If this is Jennifer Edwards, first of all, I’m really sorry for everything you’re going through. It must be awful. Second of all, this sounds crazy, but if you need to get out of LA, you are welcome to come stay with us in Kansas City. Not too many paparazzi there.
My heart does a flip as my mind flits back. It’s been, what? Fourteen years since I met a handsome, charismatic rookie quarterback named Danny Diamond? We had a crazy, instant connection. The kind of connection that, if he hadn’t been a newlywed with a brand-new baby, I would have acted upon that night.
I reply to Jadyn. I don’t know why. Maybe because I’m a glutton for punishment. I’ve followed Danny’s career. I was in the stands when he won his first Championship. I obsessed over the photo of him holding his adorable little girl as confetti rained down on them that went viral and caused ovaries around the world to simultaneously explode. I understood why he stopped talking to me, why he chose to focus on his family, even though things were rocky with his wife. Or maybe it’s because Danny made me feel different—an odd combination of being extremely turned on while visions of a future together danced through my head like sugarplums. It sounds unbelievable, but on the night Danny and I met, I knew he was my future. I could see it all. Cheering for him at his games, having kids together, growing old.
We decided to just be friends though, and I respected him for being faithful to his wife.
I went to a Nebraska football game. By some miracle, he ended up there without his wife. I met his friends and loved them. We had so much fun together even though things were kept completely platonic.
I close my eyes, remembering how I felt when I saw the text from him saying he couldn’t see or talk to me again. There were other things said, but they didn’t matter. The damage was done. My heart felt shattered.
But then I met Troy at a friend’s wedding not long after, and we’ve pretty much been together ever since.
Well, were together.
And the last thing I need is to be on the other side of a tabloid scandal. I can only imagine the headlines if I had an affair with Danny. Although it would be the perfect place to get away, and I’m dying to see him again, I can’t.
I just can’t.
Not to mention the fact that I haven’t seen these people in years and, even then, I only spent a short time with them. I know she’s sincere though. Jadyn is one of Danny’s best friends and was one of the most honest and real people I’ve ever met.
Me: It’s great to hear from you. And thank you. I really appreciate the offer, but I’m not sure Danny’s wife would like it.
Jadyn: Remember when we were at the Nebraska game, and we talked briefly about fate? About people coming into your life for a reason? Maybe today is that reason. I’ll warn you in advance though. We have four kids and a dog, and sometimes, our house can be a little chaotic.
Jadyn: Okay, I lied. It’s always chaotic.
I’m getting ready to say, Thanks, but no, thanks, when another text pops up.
Troy: Baby, I’m so sorry. I promise I’ll go back to rehab.
I hear a car pull into the driveway, shouts from reporters, and the clicking of high-speed lenses. A few moments later, Troy comes in the front door with his manager, Jason, tagging along behind him. Troy looks horrible. Like he’s been to hell and somehow clawed his way back.
“What are you doing here?” I ask, trying to remain unaffected by him.
“I need to set things right with you.”
Somehow, I knew that’s what he was going to say. It’s what he always says.
“I told you not to come home. How can you even think of stepping foot in this house after what you did? You humiliated me—no, you humiliated yourself.”
“I know, I know.” He takes two strides toward me and slides his hand into the back of my hair. What used to be comforting now feels foreign. He looks deep into my eyes. “I had champagne backstage. You know I can handle a few glasses, but then I don’t know what happened. Things spiraled out of control. I didn’t mean to do it. Those girls meant nothing to me. I barely even remember what happened.”
“I told you this on the phone, but I’ll say it again in person,” I say, backing away from him. “We. Are. Through.”
“Don’t say that, Eddy,” he says, using his nickname for me. “I love you. You’re just mad. You can’t throw away our life together.”
“Troy, you are the one who threw our life away. I had nothing to do with it. I’ve stood by you every time something like this happened. You might not remember, but I do. I literally pulled you out of the gutter because the people you were partying with didn’t give a shit and left you there to die. And I got a black eye for my efforts. But I stood by you. Got you into rehab. A few years later, you called me drunk—again—from an alley because the prostitute you’d been with robbed you. I told you, when you went to rehab the second time, I wouldn’t be around if there were ever a need for a third.”
“I came back home because we’re going to work it out.” He’s sweating and crying and miserable. I can’t stand it. And I refuse to let it affect me. “I’m not leaving.”
“Fine,” I say, pivoting on my heel. I grab my purse and make my way toward the garage door.
“You can’t go!” he yells, coming at me.
I’m instantly scared. It wouldn’t be the first time he lashed out at me in a fit of rage, but usually, he was drunk. Now that I study him closer, I realize he might be just that.
Fortunately, his manager grabs him from behind. “Let her go, man.”
I take one last look at Troy, broken and pathetic. Certainly not the larger-than-life rock star I first fell for. When I shut the door behind me, I know I’m closing it on a big chapter of my life.
I get in the car, throw on a pair of dark sunglasses, and wonder where I’m going. The second I open the garage door, the press will surround me. When I pull away, they will follow.
Jadyn didn’t say anything about Danny’s wife. But it doesn’t matter. If I go to Kansas City, it won’t be because of him.
I think back to my earlier phone conversation with one of Troy’s friends, who called me as soon as the news broke. Who told me I should hear Troy’s side of the story before I jumped to any conclusions. That I should give him a chance to explain. That maybe we needed religious counseling this time. There’s no way in the world he could explain away the video images of his alcohol-and-drug-induced orgy at an Amsterdam brothel. I’ll never be able to unsee the things he did with those women. And I’ll never be able to unhear his answer when one of the girls asked about the Eddy tattoo on his arm. She thought it was about a guy and that he went both ways.
What he should have said was that the tattoo was the nickname he called the woman he loved, but instead, he said, “She’s nobody.”
Tears fill my eyes. Part of me wants to run back in there. To make it all better. I want to forget what I saw. I want us to work. I want him to love me. I want him to get better. To be the kind of man worthy of my love. The man I thought he could be.
But I can’t. For myself. I can’t do this anymore.
What I need is a no-bullshit friend.
So, I reply.
Me: Probably a different kind of chaos than what I’m facing here. Is it crazy that I’m considering taking you up on your offer?
Jadyn: Not at all crazy. I have a meeting in Santa Monica first thing tomorrow morning. You could meet me at the airport around 9:30 a.m. and fly home with me on the corporate jet.
Me: Are you in town now?
Jadyn: Yep. Just finished up for the day. I’m sitting at the hotel bar, having a well-deserved glass of wine.
Me: If I do this, I have to figure out a way to ditch the paparazzi. Going to a hotel, spending the night, and leaving with you in the morning might be ideal. And I could really use some wine.
Jadyn: I’d love the company.
She texts me where she’s staying. It’s an iconic Beverly Hills hotel on Rodeo Drive. I was there for an event a few years ago and probably would not choose to stay there. It looked like it’d seen better days.
Regardless, I pick up my phone and call my assistant.
“Jennifer, how are you?” she asks by way of greeting.
“As well as can be expected, Sarah. I need you to do me a favor.” I proceed to give her the specifics.
When I end the call, I hit the door opener, causing the California sun to stream in and light up the dark garage. Like a new day dawning. A symbol of me starting over. I take a deep breath, back out of the driveway, and pretend not to notice the cameras.
A few of the more enthusiastic photographers follow me in their cars. The traffic in LA is terrible, and it takes what feels like forever to get from Malibu to the hotel.
When I pull up, the photographers don’t follow. They know better than to trespass here. When the valet opens the door and I step out, I suddenly realize how I’m dressed. I look down at the slippers on my feet. The dirty white T-shirt I’ve been wearing for three days. I didn’t even look in the mirror this morning. I couldn’t bear to. Now, I wish I had.
I start laughing at myself. It’s either that or start crying.
“Miss Edwards,” the valet says gently, obviously knowing that I’m quite possibly going to have a mental breakdown right here in the drive, “do you have a bag?”
“I understand your assistant will be retrieving your car tomorrow.”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“Very well. If you would allow me, I’d be happy to take you through the back entrance and straight to your room.”
“I look too rough to go through the lobby?” I laugh again. You’d think I was the one who had been on a bender. This is absurd.
“For what it’s worth,” he says as I follow him through the underbelly of the hotel and up a service elevator, “I’m sorry for what you’re going through. If there’s anything we can do, please let the staff know.”
“Thank you. I will.”
I text Jadyn.
Me: I’m here at the hotel. My assistant booked me a room. Troy showed up at home, so I just grabbed my purse. This is a little embarrassing, but when I got here, I realized that I wasn’t dressed appropriately, and I didn’t bring any clothes.
Jadyn: How about I grab a bottle of wine from the bar and come up there?
That’s exactly what I need. A bottle of wine and a good cry.
A few minutes later, there’s a knock at my door. I look out the peephole and can’t help but smile. Jadyn looks just the same. I’d recognize her anywhere.
I throw open the door.
“You look amazing,” I tell her.
She’s dressed so differently than the last time I saw her when she was in jeans and a tight-fitting Nebraska T-shirt, but even in the expensive tailored suit, there’s an underlying casualness about her. Her face is still girlish, her skin glowing and healthy, her hair still long and blonde, and her body still thin and shapely.
“And you don’t,” she says, taking in my disheveled state, quickly setting the bottle on the closest flat surface, and then wrapping me in a hug.
I didn’t expect the hug. It feels warm and motherly and wonderful. I start crying.
“It’s okay,” she says. “Get it all out, and then tell me about it. I can’t believe he just showed up at your house.”
I stand in the hallway of my suite, the door not even shut behind us, and cry on the shoulder of someone I barely know. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who just hit rock bottom.
Will Jennifer and Danny find true love after getting sacked, or are they destined to watch from the sideline forever?
Find out in Danny’s Duet.