Marriage on madison aven.., p.1

Marriage on Madison Avenue, page 1

 

Marriage on Madison Avenue
 


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Marriage on Madison Avenue


  “She’s the queen of witty dialogue!”

  —Rachel Van Dyken, New York Times bestselling author

  “The word charm is pretty much synonymous with Lauren Layne.”

  —Hypable

  “Lauren Layne’s books are as effervescent and delicious as a brunch mimosa. As soon as you read one, you’re going to want another—IMMEDIATELY!”

  —Karen Hawkins, New York Times bestselling author

  PRAISE FOR

  THE CENTRAL PARK PACT SERIES

  Passion on Park Avenue

  “I couldn’t put it down! Not only is the friendship between Naomi, Claire, and Audrey refreshing and inspirational, the chemistry between Naomi and Oliver is off the charts! I love a sassy heroine and a funny hero, and Layne delivers both. Witty banter and an electric connection between Naomi and Oliver kept me turning the pages late into the night. Lauren Layne knocks this one right out of Park Avenue!”

  —Samantha Young, New York Times bestselling author

  “Chic and clever! Passion on Park Avenue comes to life like a sexy, comedic movie on the page.”

  —Tessa Bailey, New York Times bestselling author

  “Strong characters and relatable situations elevate Layne’s bighearted contemporary.… This vivid enemies-to-lovers romance digs into class differences, emotional baggage, and the reality of dealing with aging parents.”

  —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  “Perfect for readers who love the dishy women’s fiction of Candace Bushnell.”

  —Booklist

  “Serves up plenty of Lauren Layne’s trademark wit.”

  —Hypable

  “A Big Apple romance brimming with sophisticated fun… the perfect summer escape.”

  —BookPage

  “A cute and easy story perfect for summer reading… a flirty fling of a novel.”

  —Fresh Fiction

  “Saucy and fun, this series is off to a promising start.”

  —BookTrib

  Love on Lexington Avenue

  “Fans of The Devil Wears Prada will flip over Love on Lexington Avenue.”

  —Karen Hawkins, New York Times bestselling author

  “Simply stunning. Layne’s new series is fresh and addictive, and I can’t wait for more!”

  —Jennifer Probst, New York Times bestselling author

  PRAISE FOR

  THE WEDDING BELLES SERIES

  “Enchanting and chock-full of all the witty repartee we have come to joyfully anticipate… an absolute delight.”

  —Hypable

  “Go, grab the entire series, you won’t regret it.”

  —Caffeinated Reviewer

  To Love and to Cherish

  “Not only the fabulous culmination of a slow-burn love story, but the conclusion of a world I was delighted to visit for several books. These characters will stay with me for a while and I already miss them.”

  —All About Romance

  “Another fabulous addition to Layne’s backlist and it’s one that I’ll reread again and again because Logan is full of yum! I definitely recommend this book.”

  —Book Binge

  For Better or Worse

  “I loved this book and can easily recommend you add it to your #needtoread. I am smiling like a lunatic while writing this and remembering Heather and Josh’s journey. I laughed, cheered, cried, sighed, and almost swooned while reading For Better or Worse, and any book that can make me feel this wide spectrum of emotions is a book that qualifies as one of my favorite reads.”

  —All About Romance

  “A love story that is carefree, real, and packed with emotion any reader can relate with!!! TRULY FANTASTIC!!”

  —Addicted To Romance

  “I highly recommend For Better or Worse. The second in a series, it can be read as a stand-alone, but I say start with the first because it’s just as good. They’ve got the funny bickering that I love, and even as her stories have a light touch with cute flirty, they delve deep into the characters.”

  —Harlequin Junkie (Top Pick)

  To Have and to Hold

  “Completely endearing characters.”

  —Harlequin Junkie (Top Pick)

  “Super entertaining, sweet, and sexy and it leaves you smiling bigtime at the end.”

  —About That Story

  “A character-driven and sizzling romance!”

  —Fresh Fiction

  From This Day Forward

  “Layne packs as much into this sexually charged and emotionally intense novella as most authors do in a full novel.… The heat between [Leah and Jason] is enough to melt steel, and the emotional connection and psychological struggles will keep readers engaged.”

  —Publishers Weekly

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  Prologue

  SATURDAY, JULY 21

  Audrey Tate had dreamed about this moment dozens of times. Maybe hundreds.

  Standing outside a church? Check.

  A little breathless? Definitely.

  A bit shaky? Yup.

  Her heart pounding as she prepared to walk up the steps and down the aisle toward the man who’d determinedly swept her off her feet and stolen her heart? Absolutely.

  But in her dreams, she’d been wearing white. In her dreams, the man she was walking toward hadn’t been someone else’s husband.

  In her dreams, he hadn’t been dead.

  Audrey felt someone give her arm a comforting squeeze as they passed, and another kissed her cheek. She forced an absent smile, even though she didn’t bother to look at the well-wishers. She was too busy trying to do what they were all doing: walking up those steps to say a final farewell to Brayden Hayes.

  Audrey took a deep breath and ordered her right foot to move.

  And it did. But not in the way she intended. Before Audrey could think through the consequences, she started walking, not into the church, but away from it. Away from him. Away from his wife.

  Away from her dreams.

  She barely noticed when she reached Central Park, and when she veered mindlessly to the left, she didn’t register that her four-inch Louboutins were hardly suited for the dirt path.

  She angrily wiped away her tears. She’d always been a crier, but this was a whole new level. Her eyes had been in a chronic state of leaking ever since she’d gotten the news.

  Brayden was dead. Brayden was married.

  Had been married.

  Audrey was so focused on trying to get a grip on the warring grief and anger that she didn’t realize what she was inadvertently walking toward. She halted in her tracks, blinking rapidly as she waited for her imagination to get a freaking grip. But no matter how long and hard she stared, the women sitting on the bench were real.

  And one was the very woman who’d haunted Audrey’s every waking hour since she’d learned that her boyfriend had drunkenly fallen off his sailboat and drowned.

  She blinked again, but there was no doubt about it. Audrey was staring directly at Brayden Hayes’s widow. The other woman, a stunning redhead, was a stranger—maybe vaguely familiar, but Audrey lacked the mental or emotional energy to sort out how or if she knew her.

  What do I do?

  Audrey’s self-preservation instincts instructed her to run, even as her conscience demanded she
do what needed to be done and walk forward. In the end, it wasn’t her decision. As Audrey stood there debating her next move, Claire Hayes turned her head, and though she wore sunglasses, Audrey could feel her gaze boring into her.

  “Audrey.”

  She felt her eyes widen. “You know who I am?”

  The blond woman gave a short nod. “You’re Audrey Tate. I did a little digging after you called the house that night.” There was a lengthy pause before she spoke again, her voice soft. “I know you were sleeping with my husband.”

  The redhead whipped her head toward her companion, then looked back at Audrey. She too was wearing sunglasses, but Audrey sensed she was just as shocked by Claire’s pronouncement.

  Brayden’s wife knew.

  Audrey let out a hiccupping sob and walked to the bench, sitting down, mainly because she wasn’t sure her shaky legs would support her much longer. She looked at Claire Hayes, and then the words started tumbling out. “I didn’t know,” Audrey pleaded. “I didn’t know until you picked up the phone that night that he was married. I swear to you, he told me his wife had left him, that he was separated… I never would have— You have to believe me. I didn’t know—”

  “Oh, honey,” the red-haired woman interrupted, sounding horrified by Audrey’s verbal diarrhea. “You’ve got to get it together.”

  Irritation wriggled its way through Audrey’s misery, and she glared at the interloper. “Respectfully, you don’t know the first thing about what’s going on here.”

  “Well now, that’s the thing,” the redhead said, looking down at her manicure. “I sort of do.”

  Claire jolted in surprise, looking as shocked as Audrey felt. These two women didn’t know each other, Audrey realized. Whatever she’d walked in on, it hadn’t been one friend comforting another, but two strangers.

  Claire’s next words confirmed it. “Who are you?” she asked the redhead.

  Instead of answering Claire, the redhead studied Audrey, and though she wasn’t usually so bold, this time, she studied her right back. Even with the oversize sunglasses, she could tell the other woman was gorgeous, and not just because of the vibrant red hair. The woman herself was vibrant—seemingly crackling with an energy and confidence that was perfectly suited to the designer dress, flawless makeup, and not-so-tiny diamond studs in her ears that Audrey would bet her favorite Chanel bag on were real. Again, she was struck with the sense that there was something familiar about her…

  The redhead pushed her sunglasses on top of her head, her gaze steady on Claire. “I’m Naomi Powell. The other other woman.”

  Audrey felt her mouth drop open in surprise, both at the woman’s identity and her bombshell. Brayden Hayes hadn’t just been cheating on his wife with Audrey. He’d also, apparently, been sleeping with one of New York’s most well-known female entrepreneurs. The ultimate girl boss.

  Audrey had never been introduced to Naomi Powell personally, but anyone who was anyone in Manhattan recognized the name of the Bronx-born up-and-comer who’d built a wildly successful jewelry empire.

  Claire, on the other hand, didn’t seem to have the same recognition. That, or she was too stunned that her husband had been sleeping with two women. Who were now sitting with her on a park bench. On the day of his funeral.

  Audrey resisted the urge to giggle at the absurdity of it.

  Claire continued to stare at Naomi. “What?”

  The redhead sighed. “Your husband was putting his pickle into one too many sandwiches. Well, two too many if you count her.” She jerked her chin toward Audrey.

  Audrey did giggle this time, lifting a hand to her forehead, trying to sort out her thoughts. “Did you just compare… pickle… oh my God, sandwiches.”

  Claire’s head dropped forward, her chin resting on her chest, and Audrey’s laughter faded, replaced by shame. What kind of woman laughed when a funeral was happening just a few blocks away from where she sat beside the widow? Instinctively, she started to reach for Claire’s hand, but she stopped when she realized that Audrey was probably the last person Claire wanted to comfort her.

  Well, it was a tie, perhaps, Audrey thought with a quick glance at Naomi. There were, after all, two other women.

  Naomi looked as alarmed as Audrey felt when she realized Claire’s shoulders were shaking, not with silent sobs, but amusement. Claire’s head fell back, tilting her face to the sky as she let out an audible laugh.

  Good. Good. Not broken then. Just a little cracked.

  “I hate to be the one to tell you this,” Audrey told Claire, “but I don’t think he’s up there.”

  Naomi let out a startled chuckle, and they exchanged a tentative smile. This had to be one of the weirdest moments of Audrey’s life. Of anyone’s life. And yet somehow it didn’t feel nearly as odd as it should have.

  “Shouldn’t we be at the funeral?” Claire asked quietly, still looking at the sky.

  “Nah,” Naomi said, waving her hand. “I mostly showed up to tell God not to allow that one through the pearly gates, and as Audrey pointed out, I think He probably already figured that one out.”

  “I never thought I’d be here,” Claire said, sounding exhausted. Audrey wondered if Claire’s nights had been as sleepless as her own. The way Claire’s fingers lifted to her temples confirmed that she was definitely suffering the same grief-induced headaches as Audrey.

  Or perhaps they were anger-induced headaches. Truth be told, Audrey was still trying to figure out how she felt. She grieved. Obviously. A man had died. A man she loved had died, and far too young.

  And yet. If she were really honest with herself, she was mad, too. At Brayden, for the lies, obviously. But also at herself. So angry at herself.

  “You mean sitting on a park bench with your husband’s mistresses while his funeral goes down just a couple blocks over?” Naomi asked.

  Claire laughed, oblivious to Audrey’s turmoil beside her. “Yes. That. I just keep thinking I know I should be sad, but instead all I can think about is how stupid I was, and that’s before I knew there were two of you. How did I not see it?”

  “We were just as stupid,” Audrey said, giving in to the urge to comfort this time and setting a hand on Claire’s arm. “He was my boyfriend for a year. I just thought he traveled a lot.”

  “Three months,” Naomi said, flicking a manicured finger toward her chest. “He told me most of his business dealings were in Hong Kong and that he had to work most nights. I totally bought it.”

  There was a long moment of silence, and Audrey realized that for the first time in a week, something besides anger and guilt was creeping in around the aching numbness. Relief. Relief that she wasn’t totally alone in the jumble of complicated feelings.

  There was a strange camaraderie here. She didn’t know how, exactly, but she felt it as purely as she did the New York sunshine beating on the top of her head.

  Naomi straightened and turned toward them. “I have a confession.”

  Claire’s eyebrows winged up. “Worse than the fact that you were having adult sleepovers with my husband?”

  “Who I didn’t know was your husband,” Naomi said, with a correcting finger waggle. “But no, my confession is that while I’m really mad at Brayden, I’m even angrier at myself. For letting him fool me.”

  Audrey’s flicker of relief roared to a flame—someone else understood. “Same. I mean, it’s a little more self-loathing than anger, I guess, but… I just can’t stop thinking about how I didn’t see it. And if I didn’t see him being a snake, how will I ever spot another man being a snake?”

  Claire glanced down at her lap, staring at her hands. “I’m not worried about it. After all this, I’m pretty dead set on turning into the old lonely lady with cats.”

  “Nope,” Naomi said, shaking her head. “We are not going to let him do that to us. I’m not really a long-term relationship girl, but I do like a male companion, and I have no intention of letting Brayden sour me on…”

  “Pickles?” Audrey suggested.


  “I was going to say sex, but yeah. That, too.”

  Audrey forced a smile, but her heart squeezed, and she couldn’t hold back her smile as she spoke the truth. “But I am the long-term relationship girl. I want the ring and the babies and the—”

  “Please don’t say white picket fence.”

  “Oh God no,” Audrey said, her head snapping back. She pointed down at her stilettos. “These red soles are meant for Fifth Ave., not the burbs. But I still want the fairy tale, and I just…” She swallowed. “It’s harder to believe these days.”

  “So let me get this straight,” Naomi said, looking first at Claire. “You’re going to turn into a cat lady, and you’re giving up your Disney princess dreams,” she said, turning toward Audrey. “All because of a guy.”

  Put that way, it did sound… ridiculous. She flicked a glance at Claire, who was watching her, the same look of contemplation on her face.

  Naomi pressed on. “Ladies, I know we just met, but let’s face it, we have the same shoes and we were screwed over by the same guy, so as far as I’m concerned, we leapfrogged a few steps in the female-bonding process.”

  “Perfect, I’ll invite you over for a slumber party,” Claire said in a cutting tone. She stood, apparently deciding she’d had enough of this. Whatever this was.

  “Hold up,” Naomi said, reaching out to stop her. “I’m not suggesting we get matching tattoos, just that we can help each other.”

  Audrey was skeptical, but intrigued, and Claire seemed to be as well, because she sat back down. “You want me to help my husband’s mistresses—do what, exactly?”

  “We watch each other’s blind spots as it relates to men. Left to our own devices, obviously we’re no good at seeing a guy for who—and what—he really is. But what if we combined forces? Help each other spot another Brayden.”

  Audrey pulled her bottom lip between her teeth, running a hand over her hair as she considered the proposition with undisguised skepticism. “Respectfully, I don’t even know you. I get your point, but why would I have two strangers do a gut check on a guy I like instead of my friends?”

 
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