Fri
Feb 11 2011 5:00am

And Mistress Makes Three - Excerpt

Christopher Morgan

Gina Rawlins is dealing with a cheating husband, a messy divorce, two unhappy children, and a floundering travel business when the very handsome new owner of the local B&B, Max Chaneau, enters her life. Not only does he make her heart pound, but it soon becomes clear that they need each other. As they work closely together, Gina realizes that her ex-husband wasn’t her only chance at love, even if Max has some scars of his own.

Not even in Gina Rawlings’ worst nightmare had she ever envisioned this day would come. Last night, in the vain and foolish hope that she could somehow forestall what would take place at the stroke of midnight, she’d gone to bed before ten for the first time in years.

It hadn’t worked.

 

Curled in a fetal position in her king-sized bed, Gina finally faced the gut-wrenching reality of what this day meant to her, to her two children. Robert, her husband of fourteen years, no longer wanted her. Today, the state of South Carolina, the city of Charleston, had granted him his divorce request. Clamping her eyes shut, Gina curled tighter under the bed covers.

Fourteen years tossed away as if they were nothing. Her husband didn’t love her anymore. The only thing that kept them remotely connected since he’d walked out eight months ago were their two children, Gabrielle and Ashton. Gina bit her lower lip.

Gabrielle, their thirteen-year-old daughter, blamed Gina for the divorce and she wasn’t shy about showing her displeasure with her mother. To Gabrielle’s way of thinking, Robert was the best father in the world. It was easy to understand why their daughter thought that way. While Robert lived there he always let her have her way, overruling Gina’s decisions – unless it dealt with money and then it was a different story. Gabrielle was too young to realize it was easier to give in than set perimeters.

On the other hand, Gina couldn’t have asked for a sweeter, more loving child than six-year-old Ashton. Sadly he seemed to have figured out that his father’s fitness gym, Bodies By Robert, came before any of them.

In the months since Robert left, he’d cancelled numerous weekend visitations with the children. They’d spent only one night in his new apartment. He always gave the excuse that the gym was short of staff or extremely busy. He tried to placate all of them by saying it was for Gabrielle and Ashton’s benefit that he worked so hard.

Gina snorted, flinging the bed covers from her body. Robert was habitually late with his child support payments. More galling was that, when the money did come, it was never the correct amount. She’d stopped asking him about the discrepancies. When she did, he always made her feel small and a failure.

Robert was always quick to point out that it was he, not she, who’d taken care of the family for fourteen yeas while she wasted money on one penny-ante home business venture after the other.

In the months since he’d left, he’d put a dent in her pride big enough to drive a semi truck through – because he was right, she had failed. What scared her and kept her awake most nights was that she was failing again.

She had countless failures in her life. Her attempts at home businesses so she could stay at home and be available if her children needed her were all disastrous. She’d spent more than she’d earned, and they both knew it.

Like Gabrielle, Gina blamed herself for the ruined marriage. The morning Robert told her he was filing for divorce he’d said she didn’t excite him anymore. Stunned, she hadn’t known what to say as he’d picked up his gym bag to leave. She’d recovered enough to ask him to stay so they could tell the children together. She’d never forget his response.

“You tell them. At least you can do that much.”

Gina shrank inside again as she had then. His carelessly tossed words had wounded her deeply and slapped her in the face. He didn’t value her, thought her worthless.

To her undying shame, Gina had gone to the gym later on that day, determined to get Robert to change his mind, determined to do whatever it took to save her marriage. The children needed a father, and she didn’t want to add another failure to a long list.

She’d dressed carefully in her prettiest yellow sweater and black pants, even worn make-up, only to find a slimmer, prettier woman wearing a midriff-baring top in her husband’s arms. Robert had been annoyed, the woman smug.

“You don’t excite me anymore, and I can do better,” he’d told her, not releasing the other woman.

She’d quickly left, fighting tears and shame. Finally, she accepted what she had been trying to deny for months – Robert’s all-nighters at the 24-hour gym weren’t all business. During their separation, so-called friends and acquaintances seemed happy to keep her informed about seeing her health-conscious husband around Charleston with slimmer, prettier women.

Gina did her best to act indifferent, but the gleeful or pitying looks on the persons’ faces always made her aware she was unsuccessful. Since Ashton’s birth, she’d gained more and more weight. Her weight last Christmas was one-hundred-and-seventy-seven pounds. Forty-seven pounds more than she weighed before her first pregnancy. Since then, she’d put the scale in the back of her closet.

On the other hand, Robert worked hard to maintain his muscular, toned body. In his eyes, it made up for the premature balding he hated with a passion. He’d let his sandy brown hair grow longer in a useless attempt to hide the hair loss in the top of his head.

While he lived his dream with the fitness gym he’d always wanted, Gina’s dreams of a husband and family were shattered.

Aware she couldn’t spend the entire day in bed, Gina sat up and slid her legs off the side just as the doorbell rang. Her heart thumped hard in her chest. Robert. Before the chime ended, she knew it wasn’t her husband. Her ex-husband. He wasn’t coming back.

The ringing phone on the night table startled her. She reached for the receiver. “Hello.”

“Morning, time to get up. You have a guest at the front door.”

Gina somehow felt worse at the cheerful voice of her best friend, Celeste de la Vega. Celeste never met a stranger and was perpetually happy.

“Celeste—”

“No excuses. Come on, we have an appointment.”

Before Gina could ask where, the line went dead. Sighing, Gina stood and shoved her arms into her robe. It was almost ten and past time for her to get up. The children would be up soon and want breakfast. She’d told them last night that they could sleep in instead of going to church. They didn’t know she was avoiding the inevitable.

Leaving the bedroom on the first floor of the two-story home, Gina opened the front door and almost sighed. As usual, Celeste was stunning in a magenta-colored sheath that stopped mid-thigh. As an interior designer, Celeste wore pants at work, so when off-duty she always wore skirts to show off her great legs. Gina felt every ounce of the weight she’d gained in her butt and thighs.

“Good morning, and stop frowning,” Celeste said as she entered the house.

Gina closed the door. “If you weren’t my best friend and I didn’t love you, I’d be irritated at how good you look.”

Dimples winked in Celeste’s olive-toned face. ”I could say the same thing since I’ve always wanted to be tall instead of a midget.”

It was an old argument. Celeste, at barely five-feet-two inches, was perfectly proportioned, with sparkling black eyes, a generous mouth and enough sex appeal for ten women. Her three engagements proved men found her attraction and elusive. “What’s that in your hand?”

Celeste lifted the mid-sized shopping bag with Serendipity, the name of her design firm, emblazed on it. “Color charts, samples of cloth, tile and carpet in tones of yellow and green, your favorite colors. It’s a new beginning for you. You can redecorate the house the way you always wanted.” Celeste wrinkled her pretty nose as she glanced around the paneled den with black leather furnishings and ugly black and brown plaid curtains. “Since I can get you fabulous discounts and help, we can have this place the way you’ve always wanted in no time.”

Gina couldn’t afford to spend any money at the moment. The home travel agency business she’d started shortly before Robert left was barely keeping her afloat financially. It was a delicate balancing act. And as close as she and Celeste were, she didn’t want her to know how shaky she was financially.

Celeste succeeded at everything she tried and had no difficulty getting what she wanted out of life or men. Gina was the exact opposite. At thirty, two years younger than Gina, Celeste owned her own successful interior design firm, Serendipity. Men adored her. The men she had been engaged to were wealthy, successful and wild about Celeste. Yet, each time Celeste had called it off. Any one of the men would take her back in a heartbeat.

“I’ll think about it,” Gina finally answered.

Celeste stared at Gina for a long moment, then said, “I’m not letting you out of this, so be warned.” She set the bag on the black leather sofa on her way to the kitchen. “Gabrielle and Ashton still asleep?”

“Yes.” Gina followed. Both knew the other’s house as well as their own, and felt comfortable in it.

Taking a tall glass from the cabinet, Celeste filled it with orange juice she took from the refrigerator. “You better wake them up if we’re going to arrive on time.”

Gina frowned. “What are you talking about?”

 

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