Anna stood outside the dining room and pressed a hand to her belly, attempting to calm the stream of butterflies having a parade inside. Her first instinct had been to claim a headache and hide in the lovely, airy bedroom she’d been shown to, across from the bedroom she’d entered as a new bride with such colorful dreams in her eyes.
As she’d showered to wash off the dust from her flight and faced herself in the mirror, she’d fought the cowardly impulse to hide again.
It had felt good to stand up against AJ.
No, it had felt glorious to deliver a few pieces of truth and see the shock in his eyes. To fight his dirty accusations with reality. And she couldn’t stop there.
With a courage she hadn’t had back then, she’d looked inward.
From the moment they’d returned from their honeymoon, AJ had been busy with the launch of the music label’s biggest artist. In fact, getting married and having a honeymoon hadn’t been on his schedule, yet he’d tried to make time for her. But when they came back…
She’d been insecure, unhappy, in those first few weeks. Every time his oldest sister had found fault with her, she’d turned and griped to AJ. Growing up, it had just been Granny and her. Anna had always wanted a big family, but the reality of it, the expectations on her shoulders to dress better, speak better, walk better, had been too much. And, slowly, she realized that AJ’s father and sister didn’t wish for her to do better. They just wanted her to be anyone else but who she was.
And after that last fight with AJ, everything she’d been trying to hold together had simply fallen apart.
She’d let his father and his older sister bully her into leaving. Into running away, as if she wasn’t good enough to touch AJ’s shadow. She’d almost ruined her career before it had begun.
Whatever the consequences from this final showdown between AJ and her—she had no doubt that they were far from done with each other—she wasn’t going to make such a foolish move again.
She was here to stay. To build a flourishing career in the industry.
With a deep breath, she walked onto the terrace.
The same string lights she’d hung up on their first day at the bungalow added twinkling pockets of glow to the terrace. The fragrance of jasmine was even more pungent here. She walked toward the greenhouse that AJ had had built after she’d confided to him in the dark of predawn that she’d always wanted a garden of her own, ever since she and Granny had lived in a tiny flat.
One whisper to AJ after a blissful night in each other’s arms and he’d turned a childhood dream into reality.
And yet here they were…exchanging poisonous remarks as if they couldn’t tolerate the sight of the other. A lump grew in her throat as she turned the corner and came face-to-face with him.
He’d clearly showered, too, as his thick, wavy hair glittered wet. She caught a glimpse of his hard chest beneath his white shirt. He lifted the tumbler in his hand, while his gaze swept over her figure-hugging, floral-print maxi dress with an intensity that scorched through her fake armor.
“You left everything as is.” The words burst past her heart, which was lodged in her throat, past her sensible nature’s warnings to not go there. “And not just here. The portraits in the house, my books, my clothes… Everything is as I left it.”
Anna wanted to hate the soft entreaty in her voice, but it was as if the house and this man were slowly chipping away at her. And she was terrified that she was going to repeat the same mistake again.
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