The day before
Penny, you’re a strong, capable woman. You will not falter at the sight of an exposed ab, a kissable lip or a murmured ‘I love you’. You’ve got this. You can do it.
I raise a trembling hand to knock, hesitating before going in for the kill.
To be entirely truthful, I don’t have ‘it’ at all. In fact, I’m about as far from having ‘it’ as a person can be, but Kelli’s eyes are burning a hole in my back as she stares me down from her car—willing me to do the right thing—and I don’t want to get my proverbial arse kicked if I fuck this up.
To my surprise, the front door opens. The decision is made for me. “Hey, Penny.”
“Hey.” Reece’s stunning older sister Chloe brushes past me, giving me a quick peck on the cheek and leaving the door wide open. Her manner is such that I’m pretty sure she has no idea why I’m here or what her brother has been up to. This doesn’t shock me. The man is sly. He’s not going to let the world—or his family—know that he fucked up another relationship.
“Reeeece, Penny’s here,” she yells over her shoulder as she leaves.
Would he have answered if he hadn’t been forced to? It’s been two weeks and the man has completely ignored my calls and been suspiciously absent every time I come by. The Art of Ghosting by Reece Sheffield. It wouldn’t sell well, the proof being that I’m standing on his doorstep right now listening to him come down the stairs.
A conversation is well overdue, and now he can’t avoid it. Good. At least it’ll be over with.
He saunters down the corridor. Reece’s at-home attire is a pair of gray tracksuit bottoms. He’s been wearing them for so long that the crotch has started to thin and the elastic in the waist has gone to shit. He never wears anything underneath them, so I—and possibly all his neighbors—am treated to more than just an impression of his family jewels.
He scratches the back of his neck then rubs it. Too much late-night gaming again. Not my problem anymore.
Then he slips his hand into his pocket and scratches his junk.
Don’t look at his penis. I allow my eyes to drop down, just for a second. I can see why Kelli felt like I needed back-up for this mission. I am confoundedly drawn to the enemy.
He has bags under his eyes and the imprint of his pillow on his cheek, but he’s still devastatingly handsome. Even his hair is flattened on one side, which should be wholly unattractive and yet, God… I want to run my fingers through it, pull at it, hold it while he…
Kelli’s voice seeps into my mind. “Don’t fall for him again. I’m warning you. I won’t be afraid to get out of this car and tell him exactly what I think of him. It won’t be pretty, Pen.”
“Hey,” he says, flashing me a subtle smile and leaning into the doorway. “You want to come in?”
Yes, please. Damn it. No. Be strong. Ignore the dimples. Move away from those come-to-bed eyes.
“Nah. I’ll just make this quick, shall I? It’s over. As if it could be anything else after what you’ve done. I’ll get someone to drop your stuff off, and if you could do the same, then we can close the chapter on this whole thing.”
“Pen…” He takes his hand out of his pocket and scratches his abs, revealing just a glimpse of the little hairline that runs up his stomach. I used to kiss that, on my way down. That might be the bit of him I’ll miss the most. “Don’t be like that.”
“Don’t be like that?” What the fuck? Tomorrow was supposed to have been our wedding day.
“We haven’t spoken in two weeks. We were getting married, buying a flat, growing old together. Remember that?”
“Yeah…” He contorts his face into the most unpleasant grimace, like I’ve just suggested that he clean the skid marks off the toilet. “No. I can’t do that anymore.”
He’s so casual, almost emotionless…as if he’s canceling a lunch date.
“I figured that when you ran away the other day, during sex, and haven’t spoken to me since.”
It had been terrible sex. Neither of us had been in the mood. We’d been arguing the finer details of our quickie registry office wedding, and all I’d wanted was the final say on the flowers. I may have asked him about petunias as he pounded away aimlessly. It wasn’t my finest moment, and if it’s any consolation, I do regret it, but still, I’m not sure it quite merited this.
“Yeah.” I’ve never noticed how monosyllabic he is until now. “Sorry.”
I cackle. “Sorry? Are you sorry for cheating, too?”
This one throws him. When he isn’t half-asleep in his manky old clothes, Reece is on everybody’s TV from nine a.m. until lunchtime. Suited and booted, he climbs into a company car every day—an air of complete confidence—and heads off to convince everybody that he is the perfect gent. Witty, handsome, caring… He has the whole country fooled into thinking he’s such a fucking catch. That was the man I’d fallen in love with, and that is the man who is about to emerge onto the doorstep at the realization that I am dumping him.
This isn’t me begging him to come back. This is me telling him he can fuck right off. From the look of the storm brewing in his eyes, he is not happy about it.
He narrows his eyes. “I didn’t cheat on you, Pen. I walked out on you two weeks ago and found myself someone who wasn’t so desperate to get married and have babies and all that shit—someone who pays attention when I’m fucking her.”
“We were engaged, Reece. Nobody forced you into proposing.”
“You haven’t talked about anything else since you met me. You keep bridal magazines on your coffee table. You decided where we were going to live, our kids’ names and you even chose a fucking puppy at the shelter.” I step back. His voice has a tinge of menace, and confrontation isn’t my thing. I wouldn’t have come here today, but Kelli made me.
“That’s what best friends are for,” she’d said as she’d dropped me off at the end of the road. “Now go dump that idiot.”
She has never liked the man. Now I’m starting to come across to her point of view. What had I been thinking? Perhaps, more specifically, which part of my body had I been thinking with? The man is a dream. Even a grungy T-shirt and skanky old trousers can’t hide that.
Reece unfurls his hand from his neck and places it on my reddened cheek, pulling me closer. “You’re angry with me. I get it. I am sorry.” He leans in closer. “You sure you don’t want to come in and let me make it up to you? One last time.”
He smells like sleep and sweat and the aftershave I bought him for Christmas—and familiarity. I close my eyes, exulting in that delicious scent.
How amazing it used to feel when he held me so tightly that I thought he’d never let go.
How loved I was.
He brushes his lips against mine and a car horn honks loudly, making us both jump. Reece looks over my shoulder, trying to see who’s out there.
“I can’t do this. It’s over.” I hold out my hand. “Here’s the ring. Thanks for the memories. Enjoy your incredible new girlfriend who doesn’t mind the fact that nine times out of ten you’re too tired for foreplay.” Reece being ‘not really into’ going down on me had been somewhat of a relief. The man was terrible at it. He thinks the clit is to be treated like a button on a PlayStation handset, flicked relentlessly. He doesn’t do subtle. He does quick and to the point. If lady-parts could curl up in horror, I’m pretty sure mine had just done that at the thought of being in this man’s hands again.
He pushes my palm away, the ring still in it. “You won’t find anyone like me.”
I fucking hope not.
“I have options. So many options,” I reply, with an air of self-confidence that’s fooling nobody. I don’t have a single option…not one. He leans his head to one side, contemplating the fact that somebody might be interested in me. My phone rings. ‘Cute Coffee Shop Guy’ is calling me, apparently. “Hello?”
Before I can stop him, Reece leans forward and puts the call on speaker. What the fuck?
“Hey, Penny, it’s Jake. We met at the coffee shop the other day. You gave me your number for a gig.”
“Hi, Jake.” I know that voice, but can’t quite place it. “What can I do for you?” Reece steps back into the door-well. I lift a hand, as if to wave goodbye, and back away a couple of feet.
“Look. I know you said you have a boyfriend, but, fuck it, I just wanted to say that if you’re ever free…”
I glance back up at Reece, shrug my shoulders and smile. “I’m free tonight.”
“Sure. Hold on a second. I’ll just finish what I’m doing, and we’ll work out the details.” I stroll back over to a shocked Reece, lean in and peck him on the cheek. “So. Many. Options.”
I lift the phone to my ear and chat away as I walk back down the street to Kelli’s car, not even bothering to take him off speaker. This is a glorious moment and I want everybody to enjoy it, Reece especially.
I also slide the very expensive diamond ring back onto my finger. Hell, I deserve it. I washed that man’s dirty underwear while he was sleeping with someone else. I should have married him then left his sorry arse.
“You killed it,” she cries, hugging me as I slide into the passenger seat. “I knew you could do it.”
I point at the phone. “Jake? Really? I thought Reece was going to twig.”
She winks at me. “What is the point of me having the most adorable cousins if I can’t use them to get back at that cheating dickhead of an ex-fiancé of yours?”
I grin. “True. Did you see his face? Oh my God. And I almost kissed him. Ugh. I’m so pathetic.”
“You are,” she replies, starting up the engine. “But I love you anyway. Now, how about we stock up on tequila and ice cream. In a couple of hours, you’re going to remember that tomorrow was supposed to be your wedding day and you’re going to be a mess.”
“I’m fine.” I’m on a high. Nothing can top the look on that man’s face and the way I’m feeling right now. Kelli purses her lips. She knows me far too well. I’ll be a sobbing wreck in a couple of hours and only margaritas can heal that type of pain.