PAIGE

Logan McKinley. My ex. I knew he was trouble from the first moment I laid eyes on him.

Fresh out of law school with a new job at one of San Diego’s biggest firms, I was supposed to focus on my career. No distractions, no men, and especially no office romances.

Then I met Logan. He was cocky, smooth-talking, and gorgeous—a hotshot associate on the fast track to a partnership and exactly the kind of guy I needed to avoid.

But he was relentless. He pursued me, intrigued me, and seduced me. And when I had no defenses left, my ambitions shifted, and I only wanted him.

For a while, that was enough.

But no one’s perfect. The man who put a ring on my finger isn’t who I thought he was, so I left.

Now he’s back in my life, and he’s pushing me into a corner. It’s time to show him how hard I can push back.

LOGAN

“It’s over.”

When those words came out of her mouth, I wasn’t surprised. What I didn’t expect was how damn near impossible it’s been to move on.

The first time I saw Paige Waters, the new associate at my firm who was as intelligent and self-confident as she was stunning, I wanted her. I wasn’t used to women rejecting me, but she did—or tried to, anyway—which made me even more determined to have her.

I had no idea that when I finally got her, I wouldn’t want to let her go.

But I screwed up. She doesn’t even know how badly I screwed up, and everything still went to hell.

Now, one year after our split and with so much still unresolved between us, we’re suddenly going head to head on the same case. Seeing her at the office again, where it all started, I realize that this is far from over.

She’s still mine.

And whether it’s in the courtroom or the bedroom, I always win.

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Book 2 in The Waters Series

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Prologue

PAIGE

This is not how I imagined my first walk down the aisle at a wedding.

It was supposed to be my own big day, and it was going to be perfect. A stunning white gown, hair and make-up classic and flawless, a lush bouquet, and music by a live string quartet. Guests gasping at the sight me, my mom dabbing at tears, and my dad beaming proudly as he handed me over to the man of my dreams.

Who’d be waiting impatiently, because of his eagerness to start the rest of our lives together. Also, because he’d be a type A, just like me: ambitious, competitive, and always in a hurry.

Success in life doesn’t just happen. You have to pursue it.

And we’d pay for the whole shebang ourselves. Because we could afford to. Financial security first, then marriage. Money is the number one source of conflict between couples, after all.

This wasn’t only a dream of mine. It was a plan. Not the ultimate life goal, of course, but if it did happen someday—and it would—then I’d have every detail charted out, everything controlled and on purpose, nothing left to chance.

That was the kind of wedding I might’ve had. If my life hadn’t stopped going according to all my carefully-laid plans from the minute I met Logan McKinley.

So here I am, participating in my first ever nuptial procession. As matron of honor. To my little sister.

A light ocean breeze whips the skirt of my pale pink silk chiffon bridesmaid dress as I parade down the aisle with a mandatory smile pasted on my face. Dozens of eyes follow me like the laser beams on sniper rifles, trained on me and ready to fire if I misstep. Through speakers mounted around the edges of the hotel lawn come the dulcet tones of the same sweet and pretty instrumental that ushered me down the aisle during the rehearsal yesterday.

He’s not here, my husband. There was a work crisis, and he had to cancel at the last minute.

That should’ve upset me. Why didn’t it? I’ve avoided asking myself that question since I left for the airport two days ago without him, have shied away from it like a celebrity dodging paparazzi. But as I take the final steps toward the three men waiting at the end of the runner, the truth dawns on me, stark and naked.

It’s because I was relieved. Rather than having him there with me to help, I actually preferred lugging three kids under the age of seven through the airport by myself.

Because I’m happier in his absence.

Oh, my God.

It’s a horrifying thing to admit. My stomach starts to roll, waves of nausea cropping up out of nowhere. I try not to breathe while I finish my procession as if in a trance, fighting the urge to throw up. Icy fingers of panic start clawing at me, my brain frantically searching for escape routes.

There aren’t any, though. Not without ruining the entire ceremony. And wouldn’t that be a legendary Waters family tale? My family would never let me forget it.

Remember when you were walking down the aisle at Mia’s wedding and puked your guts out in front of everyone? they’d say. What, were you hungover or something?

No. Just heartbroken.

Swallowing against the bile rising like lava, I somehow force my legs to take my place opposite the groom—the tall and dark-haired and pale-eyed Jay, who’s rocking his charcoal three-piece tux and matching tie with the same effortless attractiveness I’m sure he does the scrubs he wears as a physician in the ER.

Behind him stands his best man, his uncle, the two of them so similar they could be an inexperienced artist’s attempt at creating a young and a middle-aged likeness of the same man. I give them as big of a smile as I can manage, my stomach still trying to climb up into my throat.

A collective “aww” ripples through the sea of guests, and I turn my head to see my two little girls marching down the runner, wearing puffy, cream-colored dresses with pink trim, their faces lit up with the thrill of it all.

Seven-year-old Freya, who’s tossing out rose petals from a small wicker basket, has her father’s blue-gray eyes. And four-year-old Abigail, who’s carrying the rings on a pink silken pillow—still so smug that she’s getting to do a job usually assigned to a boy—has his chin and his crooked smile.

As they move past the front row, my gaze falls on my mom and the baby she volunteered to hold during the ceremony, since Logan’s not here to do it. Eight months old, wearing the cutest little tuxedo onesie, and chewing on his teething toy, there’s not just one or two features in his face that resemble my husband—they all do, like he’s this tiny carbon copy of his dad. In a rare moment of accord, we decided to name him Elliott.

They look exquisite and adorable, my kids—and all they do is make me think of Logan and our broken marriage. Their faces remind me of every nasty fight and every tear I’ve shed over the past year and a half, of all the anger and misery and hopelessness.

This isn’t right. I shouldn’t be feeling this way, not today.

Next comes the bride. Gliding down the aisle arm in arm with Dad, she looks gorgeous, sweet, and so fundamentally Mia, every detail of her appearance a reflection of her. Because she’s bold and fearless, she’s chosen a knee-length ivory dress, its gossamer embroidered florals highlighting her soft femininity. The lightly-curled brown hair flowing free down her back is her untamed spirit, and the gem-encrusted pins keeping it out of her face are her sparkly charm.

And her shoes: sandal heels with straps so thin she almost seems barefoot, like she’s truly floating on air. Which is exactly the expression she wears as she approaches, her eyes fixed on the man she’s about to marry. A glance at Jay as he’s getting his first glimpse of her in all her bridal glory reveals the same mesmerized stare, the same gaze of wonder and enchantment, and my chest swells and my eyes start to burn.

My little sister. A knot swells in my throat. Probably my earliest memory was holding her swaddled infant body in my lap. I fell in love with her instantly, adored everything about her from the moment I laid eyes on that little baby doll face of hers…and she’s been driving me nuts ever since.

When she reaches us, I accept the bouquet she hands me, and with the scent of lilies, roses, and orchids teasing my nose, I reach up and wipe away the few teardrops I couldn’t stop from escaping.

Tears of joy, because Mia’s getting married. She’s found the love of her life.

Tears of wistfulness and apprehension, because I hope her happiness will last. As mine did not.

The ceremony is simple and quick. That was their demand, I know, when they agreed to do this instead of just tying the knot at city hall without telling anyone, since neither of them are fond of a fuss.

Instead they’re having a beautiful California wedding. We’re standing in front of a white gazebo that’s decked out in sheer white fabric and pink flowers, on the vast green lawn of the Pelican Cliff Inn, a quaint but luxurious coastal hotel. The cliff’s edge sits just a few feet away, and beyond that sharp drop lies the bright blue waters of the Pacific, stretching out to the horizon. The screeching of seagulls accompanies the vows that Mia and Jay repeat clearly and with soberness and obvious delight.

And me, I’m just standing there, relieved that Logan’s not here. Which means that finally, finally, I’ve accepted that life would be better without him. More peaceful. Easier to bear.

It feels like that should be the hardest part, acknowledging that it’s over. But something tells me it won’t be.

Rings are placed on fingers. Their kiss is tender and lingering and done with smiling lips, and above everyone’s applause comes a loud hoot and whistle. Courtesy of my brother, Cameron, of course.

As guests congratulate my sister and her new husband, the hotel staff starts ushering everyone toward the outdoor terrace up by the white Italiante Victorian building, where draped cocktail tables are scattered harmoniously and servers in black and white await with refreshments.

My feet refuse to move. How am I supposed to go socialize right now, pretending to be friendly and chatty while on the inside I’m wilting and collapsing—mourning the official death of my eight-year-old marriage?

I can’t. I have to do something about this feeling first, find a way to shake it off.

I have to call my husband and end it.

Flagging down my mom, I ask her to keep the baby and watch my girls for a few minutes. Agreeing almost eagerly, probably because it lets her show off her newest grandchild some more, she hands over my clutch, which she hung on to during the ceremony. Then she warns me to not to be gone too long, because official wedding photos are happening soon. I promise I won’t.

There’s a secluded spot a ways down the hill, a lone and overgrown oak tree that seems somehow out of place, as if it grew from a seed that blew here in a quest for solitude, much like I’m doing right now. I close my eyes and inhale the salty air. My heart is pounding, and my skin feels like it’s wrapped too tightly around my bones.

Do I really need to do this right now? Isn’t it enough that I’ve acknowledged to myself that I’m letting him go at last?

No. I have to get it over with, can’t have this hanging over me, not at Mia’s wedding. I’ve made the decision, and now I need to be free of him.

With deep, calming breaths, I turn on my cell and find his name. I hesitate for a second, my thumb quivering, then I tap on it and put the phone up to my ear.

It rings so long that I’m sure the click that finally comes means it’s going to voicemail. But it’s actually him, my real, live husband, answering. And now I have to talk to him.

“Hey,” sounds his deep and rich voice with a hint of impatience, an emotion so well hidden you have to know him to notice.

Of course, no one knows him better than me.

At least, I used to think so.

“Hi,” I force out quickly, tightly.

“What’s up?” His annoyance is less subtle now. He’s not used to me interrupting him at work, not even on the weekend. It’s the price of being married to an attorney. As an attorney myself, I know that well—a little too well, probably.

“It’s over. I want a divorce.” The words just tumble out of me, escaping my control as soon as I let them go.

Dead silence on the other end. I start counting my heavy, pounding heartbeats. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven—

“Seriously?” Logan finally bursts out.

“I’d like you to move out ASAP,” I go on, hurriedly, “so you should start looking for a place to stay.”

“What the fuck?” This time his response is immediate, like a whiplash across the ether.

I say nothing while it feels like smoke is filling my chest, thickening and choking me.

“You had to call and do this right now?” Logan demands, his tone dangerously dark.

I swallow hard. “I’ll help you pack if you want.”

Another brief pause. “Is it because I’m not there? Because I’m pretty sure I made it clear how important this client is to the firm.”

Not as important as he is to his family. Or he used to be, anyway.

“We’ll call it a trial separation until we figure out the logistics,” I tell him, ignoring his question because I’ve gone down that road enough to know it’s a roundabout without an exit. “I’ll start drawing up the separation agreement when I get home tomorrow night. It’d be great if you were gone by then.”

His silence is no longer silent. I can hear his shallow, angry breaths through the tiny speaker pressed against my ear.

“I thought we’d decided not to do this,” he says with checked calm.

I clench my jaw. Right. We did decide that, but I know it now, all of a sudden, that I don’t have to live this way. I can do better. I deserve better.

“I’ve changed my mind,” is the only explanation I give him.

He lets out a huff dripping with disgust. “What are you going to tell the girls?”

“Daddy’s working?” I’m only halfway joking, because they’d accept that. They’re used to it.

“God fucking dammit, Paige—”

“I need to get back to the party,” I say coolly. “Goodbye, Logan.”

He raises his voice, so even as I move the phone away from my ear, I can hear him furiously threatening, “If you think I’m going to let you take the kids away—”

The sound dies as I end the call with a tap of my index finger.

Then I stuff the phone back in my purse.

My sister’s wedding was supposed to be a blissful event. That’s how I wanted to think back on it: a day unmarred by heartaches and hardships.

Instead I’m going to remember it as the day my own marriage ended.

Feeling a strange calm that might be peace or maybe just numbness, I start heading back up the hill toward the hotel.

I’m ready to get on with the rest of the day—and the rest of my life.

 

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