Home > Lukas (Ashes & Embers #3)

Lukas (Ashes & Embers #3)
Author: Carian Cole

IVY

“BABY, I MISS YOU SO MUCH,” his voice is raspy with strained desire.

I press the phone to my ear, my heart pounding, a thin sheen of sweat spreading over my skin.

“I miss you, too, more than ever.” My fingers tighten around the phone.

“Just wait ’til I get my hands on you tomorrow night. You’d better get a lot of rest tonight because you’re going to need it. I’m gonna fuck you so hard you’re not gonna be able to walk ’til Monday.”

My breath catches and I cover my mouth with my hand. Tomorrow night. Friday night.

“Oooh . . . let’s just forget dinner and spend the night in bed.”

“Mmm, baby, I like the way you think,” he sighs into the phone. “I better go now. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“I love you.” My stomach twists into a knot.

“I love you, too, babe,” he says back.

The words are so familiar to me; he’s said them to me thousands of times. But this time, he’s not saying them to me, and that’s not my voice saying it back. I have said them, many times. But not this time.

This time, there’s someone else hearing and saying those words with my husband.

I wait for him to hang up before I gently press the end button and put the phone back in its charger next to the bed, my hand trembling so violently that I almost drop it. Hot tears burn in my eyes and spill down my cheeks. Grabbing a tissue from the nightstand, I dab my eyes and run for the master bathroom as I hear him coming down the hall toward our bedroom.

I sit on the edge of the bathtub, trembling, my mind racing, trying to somehow make sense of what I just heard. It must be some sort of mistake. Or a joke. I did not just hear my husband on our telephone, at midnight, telling another woman he loves her. He’s going to see her tomorrow night.

He misses her.

He loves her.

She loves him.

He’s going to fuck her hard.

I lurch toward the toilet and vomit up eighteen years of trust, devotion, commitment, and love.

Now all I have is lies.

“Ivy . . . are you alright?” The doorknob rattles. “Babe, why is the door locked?”

I wipe my face with a cold, damp washcloth and take a deep shaky breath. “I’m not feeling well. Go to bed.”

“Can I get you anything? Unlock the door. I don’t want you locked in the bathroom while you’re sick.”

Still sitting on the floor in front of the toilet, I reach over and unlock the door, and he immediately comes in and stands over me.

“What’s wrong?” He squints at me in the bright light of the bathroom. “You were fine a little while ago. Did you eat something bad?”

No. I married something bad.

Concern is all over his face, and it looks sincere, causing my stomach to turn again at the thought of how long he’s been lying to me. Right to my face. I vomit again, and he takes a step backward. My head spins round and round. He loves her. He misses her. She loves him. Friday night. He’s supposed to love me. Only me.

Earlier, he mentioned having to work late tomorrow night. He’s been working nights and weekends for a long time, leaving me and the kids here alone.

He was with her.

Of course.

As I kneel on the floor and wretch, more signs flood through my mind like evil flash cards. Strange expenses on our credit cards. Long nights at the office. A short temper with the children. Lack of interest in sex. Avoiding family outings.

My stomach heaves again.

“Ivy, you’re worrying me. You never get sick.” He fills a small paper bathroom cup with water and hands it to me. “Try to drink a little water.”

Taking the cup, I peer up at him and start to sob. I have loved Paul for eighteen years, and never once in all that time have I ever doubted him in any way. Not once.

Confusion shrouds his face. “Are you crying? What’s wrong?”

“I heard you.” My voice is a wretched whisper, my throat raw from dry heaving.

“Heard me what?”

“You, while you were downstairs on the phone.” I swallow back the acid in my mouth. “With another woman.”

His skin pales, and his hand goes to clutch the back of his head like he does when he’s mad or upset. “Fuck.” He closes his eyes for a moment and then opens them slowly to meet mine. “You were eavesdropping on me?”

I stare at him in disbelief. “Are you serious? That’s all you can say? No, I wasn’t eavesdropping. I saw the phone light up and thought one of the kids was calling somebody.”

He blows out a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Ivy.” He paces the small room. “We have to talk. I didn’t want you to find out like this.” Oh, God. He’s not even denying it.

I stand up and wobble on my legs for a second before pushing past him into the bedroom. The bathroom is suddenly a way too personal space to be sharing with him. I sit on the edge of the bed, stunned that he hasn’t denied anything. Why isn’t he denying it? This is the part where I find out it was some kind of misunderstanding.

“Paul, what’s going on?” More tears stream down my face. “Please tell me I’m hallucinating or something, or that this is some kind of misunderstanding.”

He sits on the bed about three feet away from me. “Ivy, I’m so sorry—“

“You’re sleeping with another woman? You love her?” I demand, crying harder.

He rubs his forehead. “I don’t think we should talk about this when you just got sick.”

“I’m sick because of this.”

He looks at me and then quickly looks down at the floor like he can’t stand to see the sight of me. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want you to find out this way,” he says again, his voice low.

My stomach pitches, and new tears spill from my eyes.

“Did you want me to find out at all? Or were you just going to keep seeing her behind my back?”

Still staring at the floor, he shakes his head. “I really don’t know.”

“So it’s true?” My body trembles uncontrollably as reality starts to edge back in.

The man I’ve loved since high school looks me in the eyes and nods his head. “Yes, I’ve been having an affair.”

My heart and stomach both sink, and then rage boils up inside me.

“Are you kidding me?” I hiss, trying not to yell. “I’ve been having a physical relationship with the detachable showerhead for a year now while you’ve been with another woman?” All this time, I assumed that his lack of sexual interest in me was due to him working too hard and dealing with too much stress. I never once even considered he was having an affair.

“Please don’t yell. I don’t want the kids to hear this.” He glances toward the hallway. “I didn’t plan any of this. You know how I feel about infidelity. I hate it . . . but it just happened.”

I let out a half-hysterical laugh. “Really? How exactly did it just happen, Paul? Who is she?”

“The hygienist at the dentist office,” he admits quietly, not meeting my eyes.

I cannot even fathom how anyone could be attracted to someone while they are scraping plaque and other ickiness from their gum line. The visual of it almost makes me laugh.

“I can’t believe this. The hygienist?” Despite the fact that she’s had her fingers in his mouth, as well as mine and my children’s, I have to admit she’s young, thin, gorgeous, and bubbly. She’s the kind of woman that all men want and all women hate but secretly want to be.

“She’s like twenty two years old, Paul. What’s happened to you? Cheating on me for a year? Leaving me and the kids every weekend while you spend time with her?! Lying to all of us? What the hell is wrong with you?”

He sits there staring at the floor and doesn’t say a word. I want him to give me some kind of answer, some kind of explanation. But he gives me nothing.

I grab another tissue and blow my nose, hating that I am crying in front of him because I am not a pretty crier, and now I suddenly feel ashamed to look like a mess in front of him.

“So now what?” I ask him, even though I don’t want to hear the answer at all, because I already know what’s coming. “What do we do now?”

“We don’t have to talk about that right now. I think you’ve had enough for today. Why don’t you—”

I slam my hand on the nightstand, making him jump. “Don’t coddle me, Paul! Just say it. I don’t want to drag this on. This is killing me inside. Do you even see that? Do you even care?”

“Of course I care, Ivy. I care about you and the kids more than anything in the world.”

“Apparently not, or we wouldn’t be sitting here discussing your affair.”

He ignores my sarcasm. “You know I care about you and the kids. I always will. But I think we’ve grown apart over the past few years. You’ve said it yourself a few times. We barely see each other. We argue-“

“We barely see each other? Paul, you’re never home. I’m always here with the kids! You’re either working, or I guess, lately, you’ve been out dating and having a fun life with someone else. The only reason we argue is because you’re never here! Don’t you dare try to blame this on ‘us’. I’ve been a good wife and mother. I’ve never strayed. I take care of everything around here.”

He closes his eyes for a long time and nods. “You’re right. You are, and I know that. You’ve always been a great wife, and you’re a terrific mom.” He shakes his head slowly, still looking at the floor, which seems to be the only place his eyes can focus on now. “I guess I just started to want something more, or different, than that.”

I stare at this stranger who has taken over my husband’s body. “More? What does that even mean? We have two beautiful children and a nice house. Both of us have good jobs. We’ve been in a relationship for twenty years, eighteen of which we’ve been married! We have everything you have always said you wanted. What more do you want?”

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