A New Beginning: A Small Town Romance (Maple Cove Book 2)
Welcome to the new world from USA Today bestselling author Alexa Aston—Maple Cove—a small town on the Oregon Coast where romance is heating up!
A woman who learns her marriage was a sham. A man widowed in an instant. Two damaged souls who unexpectedly find love . . .
Tenley Thompson came from a broken home. Raised in poverty, she puts herself through college and lands a prestigious job at a New York publishing house. She weds an old monied Wall Street stockbroker—only to learn her husband is a bigamist. Fleeing New York, she goes to Maple Cove, where her college roommate lives, hoping a visit to the quiet Oregon coastal town will bring her solace and help her complete the novel she has started.
Firefighter Carter Clark lost his pregnant wife to a sudden aneurysm five years earlier. He is ready to shed the shadow of mourning and begin to live life again. When introduced to Tenley, the sudden, sizzling attraction gives him hope that he has found the soulmate he has longed for.
Though reluctant to become involved so quickly after her annulment, Tenley is drawn to the handsome firefighter, realizing he’s one of the good guys. Their whirlwind romance is celebrated by their friends, but it doesn’t sit well with one citizen in the Cove.
Will Tenley run to protect the only man she’s ever loved—or will she stay and fight for Carter and the happiness they both deserve?
Find the answer in A New Beginning, Book 2 in Maple Cove.
Each book in this contemporary small town romance series is a standalone story that can be enjoyed out of order.
1 – Another Chance at Love: A Small Town Romance (Maple Cove Book 1)
2 – A New Beginning: A Small Town Romance (Maple Cove Book 2)
3 – Coming Home: A Small Town Romance (Maple Cove Book 3)
4 – The Lyrics of Love: A Small Town Romance (Maple Cove Book 4)
5 – Finding Home: A Small Town Romance (Maple Cove Book 5)
Release date: June 21, 2022
Publisher: Oliver Heber Books
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
A New Beginning: A Small Town Romance (Maple Cove Book 2)
Five years ago...
Carter Clark awoke, his nose buried in Emily’s hair, his arm securely about his wife. He inhaled the sweet scent of her shampoo and smiled. She had used it ever since they had begun dating in high school. They had been married three years now and were on their annual fall trip to Seattle, where they always took in a Seahawks football game. Emily was as crazy for the Seahawks as Carter was, maybe even more so.
He snuggled closer to her, thinking how they’d made this trip together for the first time during their second year in college. They had so much fun, it had become a tradition. They stayed at the same small bed-and-breakfast. Ate Saturday brunch at the same spot before the game on Sunday. The Seahawks should consider the Clarks good luck for them because the team had never lost a game when the pair had been in attendance. Today’s opponents, the Cowboys, came in undefeated, while the Seahawks were three and two.
Carter’s palm went to Emily’s belly, and he thought of the baby that now grew inside her. They had waited to have children, wanting to be established in their careers and have some savings built up before adding to their family. Carter was a third-generation firefighter, stationed at the Salty Point firehouse, while Emily taught third grade at Maple Cove Elementary, where his mother served as principal. His dad was the chief at Carter’s firehouse. One day, he hoped to hold the same position.
They had only told three others about Emily’s pregnancy. She was ten weeks along now, and they were holding their good news until she reached twelve weeks. They had told his parents—but not hers. His dad was hands down the best poker player Carter had ever faced, his stoic face made of granite, giving nothing away. His mother, diplomatic and empathetic, probably knew more secrets than anyone in the Cove because so many confided in her.
His wife’s parents were the exact opposite—malicious gossips. Sometimes it surprised him how they could have given birth to such a sweet, shy woman as Emily. Her father operated the local gas station, while her mother owned Serenity Salon. Both places were a haven for town gossip, and Emily had been the one who told him they would wait before they revealed to her parents that she was pregnant. They had wanted to share their good news, though, and had done so with his folks and his closest friend, Dylan Taylor.
Dylan had left the Cove right after their high school graduation, joining the military. He now served halfway around the world as an MP for the army, and Emily said it would be fine to tell him. They FaceTimed with Dylan last weekend and shared about the baby. His friend had been genuinely happy for them. Carter only hoped Dylan would return to the Cove one day. The two of them had been inseparable from childhood, playing Little League and Pop Warner ball together, attending the same church, and eventually, double dates. Dylan had dated Willow Martin, a girl he had truly loved. But Willow was an artist and wanted to spread her wings beyond the Cove. She now lived in Europe and painted for a living and had not visited the Cove in more than five years. Sometimes, Carter wondered if Dylan would ever come back to their small town, knowing it would always remind him of Willow, the girl he loved who got away.
Emily began to stir, and then her fingers lightly danced along his forearm. Soon they were making tender love, and he was in awe of his wife. She was smart, kind, and already a fantastic wife. She would make for an even better mother. He couldn’t wait to be a father himself. His parents had been terrific role models, and Carter planned to emulate their parenting style, thinking he and his sister, who now lived in San Francisco, turned out pretty darn well.
As they lay entangled in the afterglow, Emily said, “I can’t believe this is the seventh time we’ve made this trip. The Seahawks should pay us to do so every year when they play their toughest opponent. We do have a proven track record, after all.”
“Tomorrow’s game will be a challenge,” he agreed. “Ready to get up and attack the day? You can shower first.”
She rose slowly and got that funny look on her face he had seen all too many times in the past few weeks. Quickly, she made a mad dash to the bathroom, and he heard her vomiting. Her morning sickness had been a regular nuisance, one that never bothered her until after she got out of bed each morning. Her obstetrician had assured them that this was natural and soon the nausea would subside. Despite being sick every morning like clockwork, Emily had already put on five pounds. Carter knew her pregnancy would begin to show soon since Emily was petite and small-boned. His mother, who was five-nine, had said no one could tell she was pregnant until her fifth or sixth month each time, but that Emily would show much more quickly.
He reached for the TV remote and turned on ESPN’s Game Day, which was broadcasting from the State Fair of Texas, where perennial rivals Oklahoma and Texas would battle it out on a sunny day. He heard the shower start and relaxed a little, knowing Emily was now fine.
She emerged half an hour later, dressed casually in leggings and a long pink tunic, her short hair pulled back from her face with a headband.
“Your turn,” she told him, going to her purse and removing a package of Saltine crackers. “I’m going to nibble on these before we head out to brunch.”
“How is your stomach today?”
“So-so. I hope I’ll be able to enjoy our favorite place to eat.”
He rose from the bed and went to kiss her lightly on the lips before entering the bathroom. Soon, he was showered, shaved, and dressed in jeans and a polo shirt. They both slipped into jackets since the October day was cool. He hoped the rain would stay away this weekend.
They headed out and talked about how they would spend their day. After brunch, they usually hit Pike’s Market and then Kerry Park, a small park on the south side of Queen Anne Hill. Emily loved tradition, so Carter figured they would go to the same places in order to please her.
They had to wait half an hour for a table at the brunch place, but they snagged one outdoors in the sunshine. It was in the mid-fifties, with no breeze, and felt pleasant. He went for the French toast and bacon, along with three eggs and a bowl of oatmeal and side of fruit. His wife ordered her favorite brunch food, Eggs Benedict. Dairy hadn’t set well with her during this first trimester, and Emily had sipped milk and eaten yogurt sparingly. He worried about the hollandaise over the Eggs Benedict, but when their orders arrived, she dug in and seemed to really enjoy the meal.
“Maybe I’m turning the corner, just like the doctor said,” she said brightly.
He took her hand and raised it to his lips for a tender kiss. “I wish I could gobble up all this sickness you’re experiencing.”
“You may be stoic when it comes to being ill, but I wonder how you would react to your belly growing four times its usual size, much less having to give birth.”
He chuckled. “God knew what he was doing when He let women be the ones to carry and bear the kids.”
“I think God should’ve made us alternate,” Emily said, a twinkle in her eye. “Women produce the first and men have the second kid.”
He laughed aloud. “Then I think we would see a ton of only children on this planet.”
Carter signaled for the check and paid it, and then they strolled down the street, their fingers linked. They reached Pike’s Market, taking in all the sights and smells. He thought the scent of fish might bother her, but she didn’t mention it. Instead, laughing and clapping as they watched the men sling the fish around.
He bought her a bouquet of fresh flowers, as he always did, and then they walked to the nearby Victor Steinbrueck Park for a few minutes before calling an Uber to take them to Kerry Park and its fantastic views of the Space Needle, Elliott Bay, and Mount Rainier in the distance.
They leisurely strolled through the park, stopping to take a few selfies, not a care in the world, no place to be except with each other.
“Will we even take this trip this time next year?” his wife asked. “The baby will only be about four months old.”
“It’s tradition. Of course, we’ll continue coming here each year. At least until we’re in our eighties or nineties,” he declared. “Then we might need to slow down.”
“I guess we’ll have to let your parents keep him or her. You know that I don’t trust mine to do so.”
They hadn’t learned the gender of the baby yet and would find out soon at an upcoming sonogram.
“Sometimes I wonder how my parents even raised me,” she said. “My mother doesn’t have a maternal bone in her body. She probably has no idea how to change a diaper anymore. I rarely saw Dad when I was growing up because he was always at the gas station. Even though he owns it, he thinks he has to be there fifteen hours a day.” She chucked. “Probably so he won’t miss out on any gossip.”
“You know my mom and dad would be happy to keep the baby,” Carter told her. “They are really excited about this grandchild.”
“I hope so,” she said. “After all, your sister already has given them two.”
“Yes, but they live too far away. Mom and Dad will have a blast spoiling a grandchild who only lives five minutes away.”
They continued moving through the park and then Emily came to a sudden halt.
He saw a funny look cross her face. “What is it? Are you going to be sick?”
“No,” she said softly and then winced. She pulled her hand from his and both her hands went to her temples. She began massaging them with her fingertips and flinched.
“A sudden headache just came on. It’s... blinding...”
He clasped her elbow gently. “Do you need to sit down? There’s a nearby bench. Or do you think you can make it back to the B&B so you can lie down?”
A whimper escaped her lips, and Carter knew it was serious. He scooped her up and carried her to the bench, which was about twenty yards away. He sat, cradling her in his lap.
“What can I do, baby?” he asked, feeling helpless.
By now, tears poured down her cheeks. Emily bit her lip. “Something’s wrong, Carter. Really wrong. It’s like... someone has plunged... a knife into the top of my head.”
He jerked his phone from his pocket and dialed quickly.
“911. What’s your emergency?”
His firefighting training kicked in as a calm descended over him. “I have a pregnant female. Twenty-five years of age. Ten weeks along. She’s complaining of a massive headache. Says it feels like a knife has plunged into her skull.”
“Where are you, sir?” the dispatcher asked.
Carter glanced about. He named the park and described their surroundings in as much detail as possible.
“I have emergency first responders headed to you now, sir. Please stay on the line.”
“I’m putting you on speakerphone and setting the phone beside me. My wife needs me.”
He held Emily, feeling helpless as her hands went to her head, the heels of them pressing into her temples.
“Oh, make it stop,” she pleaded. “Please. Please. The baby...”
She went limp in his arms. Quickly, he placed her on the grass. He felt for her pulse and found none.
“She’s unconscious,” he shouted, hoping the dispatcher could hear him. “I’m starting CPR.”
Even as he did so, he heard the wail of a siren in the distance and somehow knew they weren’t going to arrive in time. Still, he pumped away, singing Stayin’ Alive under his breath. He checked her airways again and her pulse.
Carter heard the dispatcher talking to him, but he couldn’t make sense of her words. All his attention was focused on Emily. He was still pounding on her chest with the heels of his hands when an EMT nudged him aside and took over.
But it was too late. Carter’s gut knew it.
His wife was gone.
They tried resuscitating her for several minutes as he dully watched. Then one of them looked at the other and slightly shook his head. It was over.
“I’m sorry, sir,” the balding EMT said. “We need to take her to the hospital so they can pronounce her death.”
“I’m a firefighter. I know,” he said in a monotone.
Carter took Emily’s hand and walked beside the men as they rolled the stretcher to the ambulance. He got into it, never letting go of her hand. He stroked her cheek, thinking she looked as if she were merely asleep. There would be no more yearly trips to Seattle Seahawks games. No more baby. No more decades together, growing old and loving one another.
His mind went blank and stayed that way until they arrived at ER. He accompanied his wife’s body inside, where one of the EMTs spoke to a physician. They rolled Emily to a section off to the side and pulled the curtain.
The doctor checked for vital signs and finding none, called the time of death. “I’m very sorry,” he said. “Your wife looks to be young and in excellent health. We’ll perform an autopsy to find the cause of death.”
“I think... it was an aneurysm,” he said. “She complained of a massive headache. It came on abruptly. She was in agony for a short time—and then she was gone.” He swallowed. “She was pregnant. It was... our first.”
The physician’s sympathetic gaze almost caused Carter to lose it. “Then it’s a double loss, which makes it all the more tragic. I realize this is a painful time for you.” He made a few notes on a chart and said, “I can give you a few minutes alone with your wife, then we’ll take her so the autopsy can be done. There will be some paperwork for you to fill out afterward.”
Carter stood at Emily’s side, his heart torn in two. This woman had been a playmate from their kindergarten days. They had grown up together, partnering in science lab and entering math competitions. She had cheered at his football and basketball games in high school. They had fallen in love.
And now she was gone.
He continued holding her hand, stroking her hair, until they came for her. He pressed a final kiss upon her brow and whispered, “I love you—and our baby. I always will love you, Em.”
After they rolled her away, a nurse sat with him, helping him with the paperwork. A woman in her early fifties appeared, introducing herself as a grief counselor. He let her talk on for a while, nodding without listening to her. Finally, she left.
The nurse returned, giving him information about the autopsy, which would be performed Monday morning. After that, he would be free to return with Emily’s body to Oregon.
Numb, he stumbled from the ER, walking for hours. He finally called an Uber and went back to their B&B. He had left the happiest man in the world and now returned a broken man.
Carter wandered about the room, picking up items Emily had left strewn about. He glanced to the bed where they had made love a final time. He collapsed on it, sobs rising from his chest, feeling as if he wanted to die so he could be with her.
His cell rang and he removed it from his pocket, seeing it was his mom. He didn’t feel like talking to anyone, but if he had to, his mom was the perfect person.
“Hello?” he said shakily, swallowing, trying to think how he was going to break this news.
“Carter?” Her voice sounded strained. Then a choked sound came across the line. Fear pooled in his belly.
He heard her sniffing. “Carter, I don’t know how to tell you this. Your father... he... he was killed fighting a fire. He’s gone. Gone.”
His world, already askew, came crashing down.
Five years later—Brooklyn, New York
Tenley Fielding hung up from her call, the elation she had at hearing her friend Willow Martin’s news quickly fading. Willow, one of her college roommates, had recently returned to the small town she grew up in on the Oregon coast. She had reconnected with her high school boyfriend, now the sheriff of Maple Cove, and they planned to marry as quickly as possible in a courthouse wedding. Willow had a track record of choosing the absolutely wrong men for her, and every single lover she’d lived with had cheated on her. Which was pretty insane, because Willow was tall, auburn-haired, violet-eyed, and drop-dead gorgeous. At least she was getting her happily-ever-after.
She knew now that she had married Theodore for all the wrong reasons, the biggest being that she didn’t love her husband of four years.
She never had.
What she had been looking for was a father figure. A man who would approve of her and take care of her. Tenley’s parents divorced when she was four, and her dad had dropped off the face of the earth. She had never seen him after he moved out of their middle-class home in Costa Mesa. Her mom had ripped up every picture that existed of him. Now, Tenley only had a vague, shadowy image of him. If she sat next to him on the subway, she would never know it.
Her mom smoked like a chimney and died of lung cancer when Tenley was a freshman in college. It had taken scholarships and balancing several part-time jobs to put herself through school. She was a hustler, though, having known poverty after her dad left. She grew up wearing Salvation Army clothes that never fit properly and had her school breakfast and lunch paid for by the state. She learned quickly to eat her fill—because usually nothing waited for her at home.
Her strong work ethic, coupled with her intelligence, helped her finish her double major degree in English and marketing at UCLA. When she graduated, she wanted as different a life as she could find, accepting a job at a New York publishing house and moving cross-country a week later. For three years, she rose quickly, thanks to her multitasking skills and the ability to think quickly on her feet. In business, she projected confidence.
Her personal life was another matter.
She’d never had a boyfriend in high school or college because she worked so many hours outside of school. The little free time she did have, she spent with Willow and their other roommate, Sloane, a network journalist on assignment in Africa now.
When she met Theodore at a party, she was drawn to him. He radiated self-assurance and was clever, as well as good-looking. That was what impressed her. His vitality and confidence. Tenley knew if she were with a man like that, he would take care of her. Theodore made her feel secure and safe. When she found out he came from old money, she almost broke off their relationship, feeling she would never fit into that world. At work, she knew what she was doing. Her professional demeanor and confidence helped her to soar. Personally, it was a different can of worms.
She worried that she would say or do the wrong thing around his family and friends. Wear the wrong clothes. Use the incorrect fork. She voiced those concerns—and Theodore had laughed. Told her how silly she was. How she was worthy of any man. He convinced her she had the intelligence, looks, and style that would make her fit in anywhere, even his uptight, judgmental world.
He pressed hard. They were engaged after only four months. His parents expressed concern at the speed of their relationship, but Theodore was a strong personality and told them he knew what he wanted.
And what he wanted was Tenley Thompson.
Without hesitation, she signed the prenup agreement his parents’ attorneys placed before her. Didn’t even read it. She did so willingly because she knew she wasn’t some gold-digger marrying Theodore for his money. No, she wanted his companionship. The protection he offered her. No more coming home alone to her empty, cramped apartment. She would have her husband. They would enjoy each other and eventually have children. The days of worrying about paying an electricity bill would be gone. She could relax. Be herself. Start the book she’d been promising herself she would write, which her crazy hours at the publishing company had forced her to place on a back burner.
They wed in a small ceremony, though no expense was spared. Went on a Tahitian honeymoon. Tenley didn’t even have a passport, but Theodore had her application fast-tracked, telling her the Fielding name could open any door. She left her sixth floor walkup, and they purchased a luxury loft of four thousand square feet in Brooklyn’s Dumbo area, home to art galleries and tech startups and some of New York’s wealthiest up-and-comers.
Then it all unraveled. So slowly that she didn’t realize it at first. Theodore convinced her to leave the publishing house for an opportunity to work for the Borough of Brooklyn in their promotions and marketing department. She glanced down at the new ad campaign she was working on. She enjoyed her work but found something lacking. It wasn’t as rewarding as her time spent at the publishing house.
Theodore slowly began remaking Tenley, without her realizing it. He began suggesting clothes for her to wear until nothing that felt like her hung in her closet anymore. He didn’t like Willow or Sloane, not bothering to hide his contempt for her friends the few times they had been together. Slowly, he isolated her, even suggesting she work from home a few days a week and discouraging her from any kind of socializing with her office mates. She was no longer included in after-work happy hours or invited to weddings or baby showers.
She was an island.
Many times she came home to an empty house. Theodore worked long hours as a stockbroker and went to several social events weeknights, trying to snag new clients and investors. He had made it clear he didn’t need her help in these endeavors. Oftentimes, he would text her, telling her he was staying at his pied-à-terre, the small, Manhattan condo he had lived in before their marriage. He’d maintained ownership of it after their marriage, often sleeping there instead of coming home. When Tenley questioned him, he told her it was close to work and excused it with saying he was tired or he had an early business meeting the next morning.
She got to where she didn’t care whether he came home or not. The time alone was well spent, plotting and starting her novel. When Theodore asked once what she did in his absence beyond work, she told him she was toying with writing a novel. He declared fiction a waste of time and discouraged her from pursuing the project.
Tenley never mentioned it to him again.
Her husband had gone to his office this Sunday afternoon, leaving her alone as usual. Her dreams of Sundays spent going to brunch, doing the Times’ crossword puzzle together, or going to a movie or theatre matinee had vanished after the first few months of marriage. More and more, she wondered why Theodore had bothered to marry her since he ignored her most of the time.
Only after they wed did he tell her he was not interested in having children or even pets. She wanted both and voiced her opinion. He shut her down, hard and fast.
Could that be grounds for divorce?
Tenley had admitted to Willow in a recent conversation that she had made the mistake of her life. She hadn’t elaborated, but she suspected her friend knew it involved Tenley’s marriage to Theodore. The idea of divorce had increasingly overtaken her thoughts.
She decided now was the time to research it.
She lifted her laptop from the table, leaving her work stuff, and settled into a comfy chair, placing her feet on the matching ottoman. A quick Google search brought up several sites dealing with how to obtain a divorce in New York. Numerous grounds for divorce were touched upon, most of them not pertaining to her situation. Theodore hadn’t abandoned her. At least physically. He wasn’t serving a prison term. Neither of them had committed adultery.
She paused at that, wondering if that were actually the case. With so many nights spent away from her in Manhattan, was Theodore truly being faithful to her?
Chewing the end of her pen, Tenley wondered if she should hire a private investigator to follow Theodore. See who he was with and if anyone accompanied him back to the pied-à-terre. They had a joint bank account, but she had a separate stash of cash she added to on a regular basis, never knowing why she did so, or why she kept it a secret from her husband. Maybe she should use some of those funds to hire a PI. Or a divorce lawyer.
“Hmm. Cruel and inhuman treatment,” she said to herself, wondering if that argument might apply, reading through the legal definition according to the State of New York. It included physical, verbal, sexual, or emotional treatment by the Defendant, against the Plaintiff, that endangered the Plaintiff's physical or mental well-being and made living together unsafe or improper.
Theodore had hit her a few times. He always claimed it was an accident. He had a hot temper and waved his hands around a lot, striking out and sometimes making contact with her. He’d blackened her eye one time. Scratched her cheek with his ring. He’d even pushed her once. She’d broken her fall, throwing her hand out, spraining her wrist. Every time she had made excuses for him. Every. Single. Time.
The more Tenley read, the more depressed she grew, thinking how much time things could take and how costly a divorce would be. Theodore made ten times what she did and would certainly hire the best lawyers in the city. His family connections would open the door at any law firm he chose to have represent him in the divorce petition.
And what if he contested it? Though the website said that New York had become a No-Fault state and the granting of a divorce was inevitable—even if one party didn’t want one—it could take a long time to obtain. Even with a no-fault divorce, they would have to be separated a full year and resolve any issues—including support, spousal maintenance, and equitable distribution of their marital assets. With the prenup Tenley had signed, she doubted she would be entitled to anything beyond her portion of salary banked in their joint account.
With a no-fault divorce, one of them would have to state that their relationship had broken down irretrievably for at least six months. She could do that. Her heart told her the marriage had died long ago. But would Theodore go along? No divorce had ever occurred in his family. He had even joked once how they were bound together because his mother would never accept a divorce in the family. That had been shortly after their marriage, and Tenley hadn’t thought anything of his words. She had been idealistic, thinking they would never have problems so major as to result in one of them divorcing the other.
She needed to talk to a lawyer and see what her options were. It had to be someone that she could trust. If word got back to Theodore that she was planning to take legal action against him, he would fight her tooth and nail, making her life absolutely miserable.
The one bright spot was that she could leave the state once she had begun proceedings. Her residency in New York for the past nine years established her as a citizen, but the website said she could depart the state once someone other than herself had served Theodore with the divorce complaint.
Would Willow take her in?
Yes, her friend was getting married soon, but she was living in her grandmother’s house now, even completing renovations on it. The house was a large, two-story home with numerous bedrooms. If Willow would allow Tenley to live with her, even for a few weeks or months, she could try to get on her feet. She would need to see if her office would allow her to telecommute fulltime. She was on excellent terms with her boss and thought that a strong possibility. It would be a big ask of Willow—and Dylan, whom she’d never met—but the idea gave her hope. Living on her own in New York, she wouldn’t be able to save any money for lawyers or private investigators.
Tenley decided to go for a walk. Though the mid-December day was gray and dreary, no rain was in the forecast. Though a native Southern Californian, she didn’t mind the cold, like so many other New Yorkers did. A walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and back would help clear her head.
She changed into an old pair of sweatpants that she’d kept and only wore when Theodore wasn’t going to be home. She put on tennis shoes and a UCLA sweatshirt, the one item she had insisted on keeping in her wardrobe and threw her coat on top of that. Putting on hat and gloves, she was ready for the brisk temperatures.
Leaving the loft, she headed straight for the bridge, walking at a quick pace. Not many people were out as she climbed the stairs to reach the bridge. She spied a few joggers ahead of her and the usual bikers with their sleek helmets, bent low over their handlebars. She crossed the bridge on the pedestrian walkway used by walkers and runners and reached the Manhattan side less than half an hour later. Thirsty, she walked along Centre Street and stopped at a frank cart for a bottled water. She downed it and then went back to the bridge, this time returning at a more leisurely pace.
When she reached one of the benches scattered along the walkway, a woman rose. She wore a knee-length, navy wool coat and dark sunglasses, despite the overcast day.
“Tenley? Can we talk?”
Warily, she asked, “How do you know my name?”
Slowly, the woman removed the sunglasses, and Tenley recognized Cecilia Montgomery, a minor Manhattan celebrity from old money, who designed posh handbags which started at two thousand dollars and only went up in price from there. Tenley had never owned one. Material things weren’t important to her as they were to Theodore, though he had gifted her with what he termed the appropriate pieces to enhance her look. A Cecilia Montgomery bag had not been one of them.
“Hello, Cecilia,” she said, still wondering how this stranger knew her name.
“Mind if we walk? I’ve been sitting here a while, waiting for you to return.”
She had been so in her head on her walk that she hadn’t been aware of anyone following her—but apparently Cecilia Montgomery had been and decided to wait for Tenley here instead of chase her across the Brooklyn Bridge.
The attractive woman fell into step with her. “You’re wondering how I know you. We were at a cocktail party together a few years ago but never spoke. I see Theodore making the social circuit, but you don’t seem to accompany him very often.”
Insecurity flooded her now, walking beside this elegant, beautiful woman. The kind of woman Theodore should have married.
“No. I’m not as social a creature,” she said. “How do you know Theodore?”
“He’s my husband.”
Shock reverberated through Tenley. “Your what?”
Cecilia’s brittle laugh brought chills to Tenley. “You heard me.”
She wondered if the woman were drunk or on drugs. But her eyes were clear as she studied Tenley. “Go on.”
“Teddy and I went to prep school together. Our parents were friends. I’ve known him my entire life.”
“You’re lying,” she accused. “Anyone that knows Theodore knows he would never go by Teddy.”
Cecilia’s brows arched. “Really? So he makes you call him Theodore. I only thought that was for business. Hmm.”
She did not like the sound of that hmm.
“Let me give you the Sparks Notes version,” the dark-haired beauty said. “Spring break. Senior year in college. Our friend, Pip Morrow, was getting married after graduation. He and his wife would then start law school together that fall.”
Tenley had met Pip Morrow. The wife was now Pip’s ex-wife and dating someone in the mayor’s office.
“I was at Smith College. Teddy and Pip were at Yale. Several in our circle used to vacation together. Ski over Christmas break. Do fun-in-the-sun in spring break. Summer in the Hamptons.”
The life this woman described sounded so foreign to Tenley. She had never gone on a single vacation until her honeymoon. Worked every school vacation, pulling double shifts, since she didn’t have school and could do so.
“We decided to do Vegas for once. A five-day bachelor party at the Skylofts in the MGM Grand. You know, our own private section of the hotel. Suites. Luxury amenities.”
“All paid for by your parents,” Tenley said dryly.
“Who else? Anyway, it was five days of constant partying. We began drinking on the flight out and never stopped.”
“So, guys and girls went?”
“Yes,” Cecilia confirmed. “Our usual crowd. We drank. Bed-hopped from room to room. Gambled. Maybe we even saw a few shows. I can’t remember now. It was ten years ago. The point is, on the night before we left, Teddy and I got married at some cheesy Vegas chapel. Elvis officiated.”
Tenley assumed it was someone licensed to perform weddings in the state who was dressed as Elvis Presley. She started to ask what this had to do with her, and then it hit her.
What if Theodore had never legally ended his first marriage?
Excitement filled her. She hadn’t bother to research an annulment—because she hadn’t thought it applied to her. She swallowed, her heart pounding.
Sounding bored, Cecilia said, “We laughed about it the next day. I tucked the marriage license into my carry-on, and we never mentioned it again. I went back and finished my last year at Smith. Teddy had already graduated from Yale. It was as if it never happened.”
“You’re telling me that you and Theodore are still legally married? That my marriage to him isn’t a valid one.”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying, Tenley. And I need that marriage now.”
She frowned. “I don’t understand.”
“Teddy and I—and most of the group we ran with—grew apart as we went through our twenties. I run into a few of them at fundraisers or cocktail parties, but it’s not like we hang out together anymore. Teddy and I did have a pretty torrid affair about five years ago. Intense as all get-out. But it flamed and burned. Ever since then, we haven’t really spoken. We just nod at affairs when we see one another.”
It would have been not too long after his affair with Cecilia when Tenley and Theodore had met and begun dating. She couldn’t help but wonder if this long-ago, semi-forgotten marriage was the reason he had pushed her into them marrying too quickly.
“Why do you want to be married to Theodore?”
“I need Teddy. I married two years ago. Foolishly, I thought it was love. My attorneys warned me, but I refused to make Andrei sign a prenup. He’s Romanian and quite the macho stud. I didn’t want to offend his masculine pride by forcing him to sign.” Cecilia sighed. “Truth be told, I thought he might walk away from me if I did so.”
Cecilia assessed her. “You’re smart. I’ll give you that. Andrei has been putting a great deal of my money up his nose. He was working as a high-end fashion model. Print ads. Runway work. But cocaine has made him unreliable.”
An image flashed in her mind of Andrei, the most famous male fashion model who walked the runway shows in New York and was only known by one name. Tenley hadn’t heard about his marriage to Cecilia Montgomery. Then again, celebrities weren’t actually on her radar. Still, even ninety-year-old grannies knew who Andrei was from all the billboards of him plastered in Times Square alone.
“Andrei hit me the other night. That’s when I knew I had to get rid of him. But without having signed a prenup, he’ll walk away with a great deal of my assets. The State of New York may call them marital assets earned during the marriage, but I’m the one busting my ass, designing and selling my brand.”
They had reached the end of the bridge and moved down the steps to reach the sidewalk in Dumbo.
“My attorneys have told me to come clean with Andrei. Tell him we’re not legally wed. I’ve even spoken to a reporter who’s guaranteed to tell my side of the story in a favorable light. If I’m married to Teddy, Andrei isn’t entitled to a dime. Once he figures it out, I’ll give him a little money to make him go away.”
“But I’m in the way now,” Tenley pointed out, her thoughts whirling.
“That you are. You aren’t seen much with Teddy. If you want out of your marriage without a lot of fuss, I can set you up with an attorney. Not my team, of course. That wouldn’t be quite kosher, would it? But they have someone in mind. She’s a real shark.”
If what Cecilia said were true, then Tenley could actually find herself single again very soon. She could put all her unhappiness behind her. Break away and start over.
Cecilia said, “I’m sure you were in love, Tenley, just like I thought I was. But I’m not going to see my name and brand flushed down the toilet, Andrei dragging me down with him. I’ve worked too hard.”
“How do you think Teddy will react to all this?” It felt funny calling her husband that boyish nickname. He had insisted she always call him Theodore. Not even Theo, for short.
The true Mrs. Fielding shrugged. “I don’t know. Frankly, I don’t care. I don’t want to be stuck with Teddy. Don’t get me wrong. He’s gorgeous. Smart. But a little too smug and uptight for me.”
Tenley shook her head. “You’ll divorce him?”
“I will. And since we’ve been apart for years, the money I’ve made from my handbags should be considered my property, not his.”
“You do realize that you’re both bigamists,” she pointed out.
“True,” Cecilia agreed. “But that’s the beauty of my deal with the reporter. You see, she’ll play it off as a foolish, impulsive act by two friends who were slightly tipsy.”
She frowned. “I thought you said you’d been drinking nonstop.”
“We had. But that might be grounds for an annulment between us—and I don’t want that to interfere with my annulment from Andrei. Teddy and I didn’t even remember we got married, we were so drunk. Until the next day. And this enterprising young journalist did some tremendous digging, unearthing this marital relationship between us. She’ll play it like we were tipsy but knew what we were doing. Then we were embarrassed and just swept it under the rug, hoping to forget about it and get on with our lives.”
She knew news could be manipulated in so many ways. With Cecilia’s money and a reporter telling the story from a young, impressionable woman’s point of view, it would be an easy sale to the rest of the media. The resulting scandal would probably jack up her handbag sales, as well as garner her sympathy.
“My lawyers say they can smooth things out. Neither of us will do any kind of time for being bigamists. Maybe we’ll have to pay a fine. Definitely, community service.”
“I’m in,” Tenley said firmly. “I want an annulment. When can I meet with this attorney representing me?”
Cecilia smiled, looking like a sleek shark. “I guess things weren’t going so well in paradise, were they?”
She ignored the question. “When?” she pushed.
“Now, if you’d like.” Removing her phone from the beautiful leather handbag she carried, Cecilia pressed a button. “She’s in. And she signed a prenup. We’re almost there.”
They continued walking. A few blocks from Tenley’s loft, a black town car pulled up to the curb and stopped.
“This is our ride,” Cecilia informed her.
A driver was already out, opening the door. Cecilia climbed inside the vehicle, and Tenley followed. Seated inside was an attorney she recognized from the news. The woman had represented nothing but women in high profile cases, including celebrity divorces.
“Hello, Tenley. I’m Sylvia Driver. Your divorce lawyer. Give me a dollar,” she instructed.
Frowning, Tenley pushed her hand into her coat pocket and brought out a few bills. Handing a dollar to the lawyer, Sylvia smiled.
“Now, I’m officially representing you and our private conversations will be under the attorney-client privilege umbrella, thanks to this retainer. Miss—Mrs. Fielding—will be paying for the rest of my services. Let me tell you what I have in mind.”
Sylvia concisely and thoroughly outlined what would take place over the next few weeks.
“An annulment will establish that your marriage is not legally valid. Grounds for an annulment, then, are very different from a divorce. In your case, we will only have to prove that your supposed husband, Theodore Fielding, is a bigamist. That he was still married to someone else—in this case, Mrs. Cecilia Fielding, at the time of your marriage to him. The court will declare, with the proof provided, that a valid marriage between you and Fielding never took place. You will receive a certificate of annulment, and you will be free to remarry at a future date. That marriage will be considered your first.”
“So, I’ve been living in sin the past four years?” Tenley said drily.
“Call it whatever you want. I’d like to believe that you’ll think of it as a mistake we easily erased. A very sad misstep which you were led to take by a lying, cheating asshole.” Sylvia smiled. “Do you have any problem with that, Tenley?”
She returned the older woman’s smile. “Not one, Sylvia. Not a single one.”
“I have been in close touch with the firm representing Cecilia in this action, as well as the reporter. She may or may not wish to get a few quotes from you. I’d let her interview you if she wishes to. She knows you’re an innocent party in this, and her claws will be retracted.”
“That’s good to know.”
“If you are amenable, we will file all the necessary documents first thing tomorrow morning,” the lawyer continued.
“The sooner, the better. I guess I’ll need to leave the loft.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Sylvia assured her. “I’ll file something that will allow you to remain there. Fielding can stay at his pied-à-terre. He already spends quite a bit of time there anyway.”
“He’s cheating on you, by the way,” Cecilia informed her. “Has been for at least the past four months. That’s how long I’ve had him watched.”
Tenley’s gut tightened. She swallowed the bile that rose in her throat.
“You’ll garner quite a bit of sympathy in the press,” Sylvia assured her. “I feel certain I’ll be able to get you the loft in a settlement. You can keep it if you wish. It’s a seller’s market now, though, and I think you could walk away with a pretty penny if you decided to get rid of it.”
“I’ll have to think about that.” She hesitated. “We have a joint bank account. My salary is direct deposit. I have a fear Theodore will close the account and take what’s in it, leaving me with nothing.”
Sylvia patted Tenley’s knee. “Don’t worry about that. I’ll have his assets frozen, joint or otherwise.”
“What am I supposed to live on in the meantime with the account frozen?”
“I’ll front you some money,” Cecilia said. “You can consider it a loan.”
“I can’t ask you to—”
“You didn’t ask,” Cecilia interrupted. “I’m offering.”
“Okay,” Tenley said reluctantly.
Sylvia spoke for a few more minutes, asking for Tenley’s e-mail and cell number and providing her business card.
“Cecilia’s attorneys and I know the right people, Tenley. This will make a huge splash in the news and run its course after a few cycles. We’re going to move very quickly on the annulments for you and for Andrei and then move on to a divorce for Cecilia from Fielding.”
Sylvia thought a moment. “It’s about two weeks until Christmas. I think by New Year’s, you’ll be a free woman.”
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...