Pretty Broken PromisesBy: Jeana E. Mann
THE PARCEL arrived by courier before breakfast. One look at the plain brown wrapper sent adrenalin racing through my veins. Dakota turned the package, no bigger than a pack of cigarettes, in her hands then dropped it in front of her like she’d been burned. Our eyes met across the table, over plates of fresh fruit, scrambled eggs, and toast. A tiny bouquet of wildflowers sat in a glass between us.
Today was our six-month wedding anniversary. We’d decided to celebrate by taking a day off from work, lounging around the house in our pajamas, watching old movies, and having random sex on all the flat and horizontal surfaces in the house. But the arrival of this unwelcome delivery soured the coffee in my mouth. I choked it down and replaced the cup on its saucer.
Anxiety sucked the noise from the room until the only sound was Dakota’s shallow breathing and the thud of my pulse in my ears.
“What do you think it is?” She poked the small rectangle with her fork.
“I have no idea.” I balanced the box on my palm. It weighed less than a pound, I guessed. When I held it to my ear and shook it, nothing moved inside. I set it on the table between us.
“Do you think it’s from him?” She forked it again, flinching as if she expected it to leap from the table.
“Stop already.” I took the utensil out of her hand and placed it beside my plate.
The first parcel had arrived on our wedding day. An ostentatious necklace fashioned from glittering diamonds and cool sapphires, a gift fit for a queen. The note tucked inside the velvet box bore a message penned in my father’s neat hand. “Something borrowed, something blue,” it had said. Innocent words by themselves, but coming from my father, I recognized it for the threat it was meant to be. It was his way of staying in our thoughts, of ruining the happiness we’d managed to string together in spite of his interference.
“Don’t open it.” The panic in Dakota’s voice brought my gaze back to hers. She placed a hand over mine to prevent me from doing just that. “Let’s send it back.” Her smile faltered the tiniest bit. “No reaction is the best reaction, right? If we don’t play his games, he’ll get bored and find someone else.”
“Right,” I said. Maxwell Seaforth never did anything without purpose, and he never gave up. I might have turned my back on his game, but I knew him well enough to understand that the game continued on, in perpetuity, until one of us won or died in the process, with Dakota as the ultimate prize.
“The difference between a Seaforth and the rest of the world,” he’d told me when I’d lost my first baseball game at the tender age of eight, “is that Seaforths don’t lose. My son doesn’t lose.” He had taken my chin between his thumb and index finger to tilt my head up, staring me down with icy green eyes. “If you lose again, I won’t love you. Understand?”
I’d taken those words to heart and had made it my mission in life to succeed.
“Forget about him.” I tossed the box aside and gave Dakota a grin, eager to assuage her anxieties. She bit her lower lip, assessing my sincerity. God, she was sexy. How did I ever get so lucky? “Come here.”
“No. I’ll have Layla take care of it when I get to the office.” The dark slashes of her eyebrows drew together over the bridge of her pert nose. “I’m not moving until you promise.”
“Promise what?” I closed my fingers over her hand, intending to draw her around the table and into my lap.
She jerked her hand back and tilted her head to the side. “You’ll let this go. We’ll send the package back. And you won’t confront him.” Clear aquamarine eyes narrowed in warning from between the long, lacy fringes of her lashes. “Promise me, Sam.”
“Fine. I promise.” In truth, I’d already lost track of the conversation, captivated by the way her robe fell open to reveal the twin slopes of her breasts. No matter how many times I had her, it was never enough. “Now, let’s go back to bed, wife.”
DAKOTA PERCHED on the edge of the bathtub, holding the pregnancy test in front of her, eyes wide and fingers trembling. Drip. A droplet of water plopped into the sink. The sound reverberated off the stark white tile and swirled around the small bathroom like a gunshot. Drip. I jiggled the spigot and put an end to the infernal leak. Tomorrow, I’d call the apartment manager and get someone up to fix it, but today—right now—all I could do was stare at the plastic stick in my wife’s hand. Never had such a small, insignificant piece of plastic held so much power over my future.
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