Unexpected: The Vault, page 1
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What to do now
Books by New York Times bestselling author Aleatha Romig
About the Author
New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author
COPYRIGHT AND LICENSE INFORMATION
Copyright © 2018 Romig Works, LLC
Published by Romig Works, LLC
ISBN e-book: 978-1-947189-20-1
Cover art: Dana Leah – Designs by Dana
Editing: Printed Matter Editing
Formatting: Romig Works, LLC
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any informational storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the copyright owner.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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2018 Edition License
This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment. This e-book may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to the appropriate retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
What will happen... when Jenn learns the truth that has been brewing deep inside me?
...when she learns my desires have been restrained?
...when containing them is no longer possible?
Will she flee when there’s no place to run?
Traveling to the isolation of a tropical island, we agree to lay our marriage and our future on the line. It’s the only way to face the demons—my demons—that threaten our life together.
For us to make our marriage work, we must break down barriers, reveal the hidden places, and shine light where darkness has taken root.
This reprieve from life is meant to be about us, our marriage, and our future.
It is...until the unexpected happens...
Will our marriage survive? Will we?
This suspenseful, steamy stand-alone novella follows Paul and Jenn Masters, characters previously introduced in the novella UNCONVENTIONAL. This quick, spicy story may be read completely on its own or even before UNCONVENTIONAL.
If you enjoy a fast and furious, heart-thundering ride that leaves you breathless and perhaps a bit hot and bothered, check out New York Times bestselling author Aleatha Romig’s THE VAULT novellas: UNCONVENTIONAL and UNEXPECTED.
Have you been Aleatha’d?
This novella explores consensual play in the area of domination and submission. There are also memories and a scene in which those boundaries are tested and crossed. If any of this is a trigger for you, please return this novella and do not read.
However, if you enjoy pushing your boundaries, are curious, and enjoy a lot of heat with an HEA, then please read and enjoy UNEXPECTED.
I bite my lower lip, trying to hold back the tears, as I stare down at the papers before me, wondering how it all came down to this. How can six years of marriage be defined and dissolved in a litany of legal phrases, paragraphs, and division of assets?
“You both need to look at the paperwork carefully,” Jonas Miller, our attorney, says. “If everything looks good, all you need to do is sign. Once you both sign, for all practical purposes, it’s done.” His head bobs in agreement. “We need the judge’s signature, but basically, it’s all done.”
The phrase rings in my head like bells from an old-time church.
Each clang a memory of happier times past.
Taking a sideways glance at my soon-to-be ex-husband, for some reason, my mind goes back to the afternoon he proposed.
Many of my friends tell stories of how they knew the proposal was coming, how they anticipated and planned. Maybe I’m dense, but when Paul popped the question, for me, it was out of the blue. We’d only been dating for six months, meeting for the first time at a work party. He wasn’t a coworker at the firm. He was the friend of a colleague and came along at the last minute. That impulsive decision on his part changed our lives—even if we sign today, that change is forever. From the first moment we met, we hit it off. All I can recall from that party was talking to Paul. The rest of the people ceased to exist. Before we parted ways, he entered his phone number into my phone, and unbeknownst to me, sent himself a text.
We were connected.
It wasn’t until the next morning when my phone buzzed that I saw the message he’d sent.
From my phone (the text he sent the night before): “Hey, it was great meeting you. Let’s have lunch tomorrow?”
From his phone, the next morning: “I couldn’t respond sooner—I was busy thinking about you. Lunch sounds great. I’ll pick you up at noon. Address?”
I had to giggle. It looked like I’d been the one to ask him out, but we both knew the truth. He was both sides of the conversation. Of course, I sent him my address along with a smiling emoji.
I hadn’t been looking for forever, so when it found me, I didn’t recognize it.
Six months later, the two of us went away for the weekend, up to a secluded resort in northern Wisconsin. There were no fancy restaurants or tall buildings. Instead, we were surrounded by the beauty of nature. For three days we hiked trails and found remote vistas with stunning views. On the final day, we took off early in the morning, walking until we finally made it to the shore of a quiet, out-of-the-way lake. From his backpack Paul pulled out a blanket, a bottle of Champagne, orange juice, and food. He had all the makings of a picnic breakfast, complete with mimosas. Lying on that blanket, staring up at the white fluffy clouds as they floated across the cobalt blue sky, we did what had come naturally to us since the night we first met. We talked.
We listened and heard.
As the words on the attorney’s papers blur, the heaviness in my heart reminds me that somewhere along the way we lost that essential element of our relationship.
Sometime during the last six years while navigating life’s ups and downs, we both lost the ability to listen, or perhaps we lost the desire to make time to listen—to make time for one another.
Talking hasn’t been an issue. We speak—sometimes obsessively.
We have both been known to say things we regret.
No, talking isn’t our issue.
On that afternoon that seems like a lifetime ago, Paul sat up, took my hand, looked into my eyes with his sexy brown-eyed stare, and asked, “Jenn, w
As a lump formed in my throat, I found myself lost in his alluring gaze. “Forever?”
“That’s a mighty long time...” We both laughed at the reference to lyrics of a song we both enjoyed and could recite in its entirety. He went on. “...but I’m here to tell you—”
“Yes,” I said, nodding as I interrupted a classic Prince hit. “It is a long time, and I want to spend it all with you.”
“Mrs. Masters,” Mr. Miller says, disrupting my thoughts and bringing me back to the present. “Is there a problem with anything in the paperwork?”
“I-I...” I stutter, unable to find the right words. After all we’ve said and done, I don’t know if I can admit that I don’t want to sign, that even though I thought I was ready...I’m not. I’m not ready to give up on our forever.
“Jenn?” Paul asks. “We agreed to a no-contest divorce. Everything is divided equally. If you’d feel better with us each having separate representation...?”
I shake my head.
“Is there something you want that isn’t listed?” Paul asks. “If you want to keep the house, you can buy me out. When we talked about it, though, you agreed that it would be a lot for you to maintain. Or...the market is good. We should be able to get a decent, if not above-asking price, and then we’ll divide the profit down the middle.”
“It just seems too final,” I finally manage to say as I choke back the emotion and wonder how we got this far.
“It is final,” the attorney agrees. “Unless you two need to think about it, but come on... You’ve both been involved in this marriage. You both agree it’s over. You can’t expect this to go on forever.”
My gaze snaps to our attorney and then immediately to Paul.
As my gaze meets Paul’s, more tears sting my eyes, threatening to spill down my cheeks. I search his expression, hoping to see the same emotions I’m feeling. I wish with all my heart he could remember the question he asked me years ago.
I want one more chance.
Silence fills the small conference room.
Loud, thundering silence.
Not even the hum of the air conditioner or the distant tune of the sound system is heard. It’s the kind of quiet that echoes in never-ending emptiness. If this were a movie it would be filled with the ticking of a clock, perhaps punctuated by the shrill scream of an alarm. Then again, even TV shows have learned the power of silence. The lack of the show’s familiar tune during the credits following the Red Wedding will forever haunt Game of Thrones fans.
It’s the unpredictability of silence that embodies the fear of the unknown.
What will follow?
The silence surrounding us is as powerful as that used for dramatic effect. It hangs heavily in the air, an unmoving fog clouding our future in a cloak of uncertainty.
Finally, Paul reaches out, covering my hand with his own and stares into my eyes. His warm reassurance is all it takes to break the looming cloud.
I swallow, wondering if I’ve ever been this scared in my life.
I’ve been frightened for other reasons, but this is different. This isn’t about my physical welfare, but about the loss of something I don’t know if I can bear to lose.
I’m not scared to be on my own. I can do it. I’ve been on my own before. I’m scared to lose the one man whom I truly believed was my forever.
His eyes widen, silently questioning me.
With a quick nod of my head, I let him know that I’m listening.
“Dr. Kizer,” he says to me, “recommended that trip. She had a travel agent ready who could book everything.”
Dr. Kizer has been our marriage counselor, one recommended by a friend. Unfortunately, our result doesn’t seem to be the same as the outcome of our friends. They’re off to another state and happily married with a little bundle of joy. We’re in an attorney’s office about to sign divorce papers.
I swallow again, knowing that the reason my mouth is so damp is due to the tears I’m trying not to shed. “I remember, but we said we couldn’t afford it.”
Paul tilts his head toward the papers laid out before both of us. “What if we were wrong?”
“About?” I ask.
“About all of it.”
“All of it—from the beginning?”
“No, Jenn. We haven’t been wrong since the beginning. Two weeks. We call the travel agent Dr. Kizer recommended. We book the trip, and if we’re wrong and the marriage is over, when we return home we sign these damn papers.” He shrugs his broad shoulders. “If Dr. Kizer is right and we need time alone to really understand one another, then we’ll know. No unanswered questions. The worst that can happen is that we spend some of the profit from the house.”
“And if she’s right and we’re not wrong?”
“Then our forever won’t be defined in these papers.”
The edge of my lip quirks upward. “Forever?” I ask. “Do you remember that?”
“I do. I remember too much.”
I nod my head, knowing what he means. Along with the good memories, we have the bad. Is it worth a two-week delay to maybe get nowhere? “Paul, I’m scared.”
“To have hope.”
“It’s scarier not to have hope. Don’t you think?”
For the first time in months, a weight lifts from my chest, and my grin blossoms. With only a few words of his, I remember why I fell in love with this man in the first place. “It feels good to smile.”
“It feels good to see you smile.”
“After making it this far, this change of plans is...” I search for the right word.
“Unexpected,” Mr. Miller volunteers.
I stare into my husband’s brown eyes. “Yes. An unexpected but hopeful detour.”
Paul turns toward our attorney. “We’re sorry to have wasted your afternoon. My wife and I aren’t ready to sign these papers. Not yet.”
Mr. Miller’s furrowed brow relaxes as his cheeks also rise. “Listen. I’m a divorce attorney. I’m going to be here in two weeks or a month or whenever you need me or if you don’t. This line of work can be a bit disheartening, but if I can offer a bit of advice?”
With my hand in Paul’s we both nod.
“You mentioned Dr. Kizer?”
“Yes,” I say.
“I presume you mean the marriage counselor?”
Again, we both nod.
“That woman has taken some of my best clients away from me. She’s one of the good ones.” He waves his hand. “Don’t worry about me. I’m still charging you for drawing up these papers, but filing them, well, my advice is to take this unexpected chance. If it works, Dr. Kizer has done it to me again. If it doesn’t, we’re prepared. Either way, you’ll know.”
Paul and I look to one another.
“Two weeks?” he asks.
My mind fills with deadlines and obligations. “I’m involved in a case...I’m not sure I can get away—”
“You can always sign today and move on,” Mr. Miller interrupts.
I nod my head. “Call the travel agent. Let’s leave as soon as possible.”
Seclusion. Privacy. Time to think, talk, and come to terms.
That’s what Dr. Kizer’s travel agent promised.
With his help and Dr. Kizer’s recommendation, in less than three hours after leaving the attorney’s office, Jenn and I were booked on a ten-day getaway to a small northern Belize island. The website boasts turquoise blue water and remote over-water luxury huts.
Apparently, this late in the summer is considered off-season. Because of that, on an island that can house up to three families, we will be the only inhabitants—our own small island in the middle of the Caribbean. While there are two other huts on the island, during our entire stay, we have been promised that they will remain unoccupied.
Jenn squeezes my hand as her face tilts downward, her eyes widening as she takes in the beauty. Her grip intensifies as we begin to descend, coming closer to the ground and sea. With each movement lower, the waves grow from ripples to white caps and the green terrain blossoms to tall trees on hilly terrain.
“Mr. and Mrs. Masters,” Miguel, a young man with a Kriol accent, says, speaking through the microphone and headset as he maneuvers the helicopter. “You can see the entire island from up here.” He points to a tall wooden tower. “Look to your right. Do you see that flag?”
“Yes,” we both say, taking in the green flag flying from the tower.
“There isn’t cell service this far out—only satellite or the radio. Each hut has a two-way radio, but if for any reason you need assistance or decide to do an excursion and you can’t reach us via the radio, fly a yellow flag. Someone from the resort flies over each island at least three times a day and stops once.”