Ms. Bitch: Finding happiness is the best revenge
From the outside, it seems thirty-six-year-old Tess Campbell has it all. A happy marriage, a successful career as a novelist, and an exciting cross-country move ahead. Tess has always played by the rules and it seems like life is good. When Tess discovers the truth about her marriage, she throws caution to the wind and dives into the life she’s secretly always wanted to live – which means Tess isn’t going to let anybody tell her what to do anymore.
Even when others call her a bitch for doing so.
Breaking free of expectations, Tess waves goodbye from the comfort of her first-class airplane seat. Her first stop? A scuba-diving trip to Mexico. The sharks she can handle, but the handsome Scottish diving instructor with the flirtatious smile and broad shoulders has Tess tied in knots. Is Tess willing to take a chance on love again?
Inspired by the true story of New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author, Tricia O’Malley.
Funny, heart-wrenching, and brutally honest, Ms. Bitch explores one woman’s journey of accepting herself and breaking free of the toxic bonds that hold us back from the life we are truly meant to live.
Release date: June 2, 2020
Publisher: Lovewrite Publishing
Print pages: 382
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Ms. Bitch: Finding happiness is the best revenge
“ You quit your job?” Tess pushed back from her desk to see her husband, Gabe, beaming at her as though he’d just won the lottery.
“I did! You know I’ve been wanting to for a while now, babe.” Gabe wrapped his arms around Tess, swinging her into a bouncy two-step.
“Um, not really, no. In the abstract, yes, for when we talked about moving to Colorado, but not like, you know, now.” Tess’s mind whirled as quickly as Gabe was moving her across the room. Their rescue bulldogs, Red and Ringo, joined in the dance at their feet.
“It just seemed like a good time,” Gabe said. “Your books are doing so well, and I have a nice 401k. I think we’ll be fine.”
“But… why now? Wouldn’t it have been better for you to leave once we actually decided to move? I mean, we haven’t even explored any of the areas we think we might like to live, yet. What if we decide to stay here?” Tess asked, trying to slow Gabe down without dampening his exuberance.
She hadn’t seen him this bubbly in a while – manic almost – and was trying to enjoy his mood while tamping down on the panic that threatened to choke her. Being thrust into the sole breadwinner position with zero discussion was not something she’d put on her agenda to contemplate this afternoon. Gabe danced her back over to her desk, leaning her back against it to kiss her deeply, and then peeked over her shoulder at her computer.
“Is that for our trip to New Orleans? You should definitely book those concert tickets. Now, we can go and be carefree and relax.” Gabe nuzzled into her neck as he held her close.
Tess breathed in his familiar scent, letting him hold her there, and tried to relax into the moment. He’d been stressing over accounts at work, and putting in extra hours at the gym to deal with it for months now. When she’d tried to talk to him about it, he’d nearly bitten her head off more than a time or two. Maybe he did need this change— for both their sakes. At least he might be in a better mood for their trip next week to New Orleans. They’d planned it to celebrate their fifth anniversary, and she’d hoped it would bring him out of his funk and reconnect them.
Tess began calculating how much money they had in their bank accounts, and what would need to be set aside as a safety net now that they couldn’t count on Gabe’s salary.
“Okay, babe, I’ll book the concert tickets. It’ll be great. We could use some fun,” Tess said, and watched as Gabe bounced away, pausing to tussle with the delighted dogs, before whistling his way downstairs.
The telltale clink of ice cubes hitting a glass and the squeak of the door on the liquor cabinet told Tess just how Gabe planned to celebrate. Turning, she stared out the window where they’d just had a brand-new cedar fence installed around their beautiful yard, a cost that she’d been willing to spend to keep her dogs safe. It had been her one condition about buying this house with Gabe, and though taking out a home equity loan had bothered her, she’d gone along with it to renovate the house.
Despite herself, she’d gotten caught up in the fun of it and they’d overhauled the kitchen, added a deck to the backyard, and made improvements to Gabe’s man room in the basement. All while they’d still talked about moving to Colorado. Tess shook her head and wondered at their deci- sion-making, but a part of her never really thought they’d make the move out of Illinois. It had been somewhat of a pipe dream for so long, one of those ‘what-ifs’ they always talked about. She’d been shocked when Gabe had agreed to book a trip to Colorado that spring to explore neighbor- hoods. Now, she contemplated what her life would be like with Gabe at home every day, and her nails dug into her palms. She loved her husband, but she also loved being able to focus on her work at home uninterrupted.
“Tess, come have a drink with me,” Gabe called up the stairs, and Tess glanced back to where she’d planned to work on a chapter for her next novel. “We should celebrate – this is the start of a new life for us.”
* * *
A week later, Tess stood beside Gabe in the sparkling marble foyer of their favorite hotel in New Orleans, admiring the graceful arches and high ceilings that added to the old-world charm.
“Welcome back, Mr. and Mrs. Campbell.” The woman at the front desk beamed at them, sliding keys across the gleaming wood counter to Gabe. “And, may I say? Happy anniversary.”
“Thank you,” Tess said, smiling at the woman before following Gabe to the elevator. She loved coming here. There was nothing like escaping to another place, and the pulse of this city never ceased to excite her. Not to mention the location of the hotel was fantastic.
“Ta-da,” Gabe proclaimed, coming to stop at the end of a long hallway, carpeted with the traditional fleur-de-lis pattern. He held his hands up to the door with a gilded sign proclaiming it to be the Tennessee Williams suite.
“Gabe! Did you upgrade us? I didn’t reserve us a suite.” Delighted at his forethought, she pulled out her phone to take a picture of the door. “Tennessee Williams! My readers are going to love this!”
“No,” Gabe said, his tone sharp as he grabbed the phone from her hands. “I don’t want you posting anything publicly about this trip.”
“What… why? It’s just a suite name. It’s a famous author, I’m sure my readers would like it.”
“I said no. You know I don’t like it when you post about me on your author page. This trip is private. That’s non-negotiable.” Gabe pushed the door open to reveal a large suite, with floor-to-ceiling windows, a wrap-around balcony, and a huge seating area with a green velvet sofa and a bookcase packed with vintage books. “I want this to be just between us, Tess. This is our time.”
Tess wanted to protest that she rarely posted anything about Gabe publicly, but he was already drawing her into the suite. She let the moment go to exclaim over the room as he threw the balcony doors open, letting in the full cacophony of New Orleans, and Tess joined him to look down at the people meandering the street below.
“Oh, look! A second-line.” Tess smiled down at where a bride in a vintage-style gown and a groom with bright blue shoes paraded their way down the street behind a brass band.
The first time they’d visited New Orleans together, they’d jumped up from their meal and had run outside to see the parade dance by. Not only had it been exciting, but that moment turned out to be what inspired them to return to the French Quarter to get married. “Remember ours? It was so much fun!” She leaned into him, wishing he’d put his arm around her.
“Right? Time for drinks.” Gabe barely glanced at the couple who pirouetted below them, lost in their bliss. Tess wondered if she’d looked that happy on their wedding day. She’d been so nervous that the day had flown by in a flash.
Reluctantly, she followed Gabe inside where he handed her a drink from the mini bar – the first of many they’d have that weekend. In New Orleans, cocktails were abundant.
The following day, they poked around the French Quarter, popping into antique jewelry shops until Gabe could find a necklace he liked for her as a memento of their anniversary. It was her credit card that paid for it, but Tess pushed the annoyance away, reminding herself that finances blend together after marriage. The biggest surprise came that evening when Gabe presented her with a private dinner on the balcony of their suite, complete with flowers and even more gifts – diamonds this time. Tess wanted to enjoy the romance, but she couldn’t help desperately wondering who the person sitting across from her was. It was like watching someone tick off all the boxes on the checklist: flowers? Check. Diamonds? Check. Fancy surprise dinner on a private balcony? Check. Yet he hadn’t touched her since they’d arrived.
Pasting a smile on her face, Tess chattered her way through dinner, and kept the conversation going on the walk to the Preservation Hall’s famous jazz concert. As they stood in line to wait, a woman in front of them turned and glanced at Tess’s sparkly dress, something she’d bought special for the occasion, hoping Gabe would think she looked sexy for their anniversary.
“Smashing dress, darling,” the woman said, and Tess smiled her thanks before quickly glancing at Gabe to see if he would think the same. Instead, he downed the drink he’d brought on the walk with them and tossed the cup in a nearby garbage container. Ignoring her misgivings, Tess found their seats, and for the next hour, had the first moments of pure joy on this trip since they’d arrived. They sat on an unforgiving wooden school bench, a few feet from an old-timey jazz band, and listened as the band poured their souls into their music. Tess was delighted.
“What a great band! I’m so glad we went this time,”
Tess exclaimed after the concert while she waited at the bar for Gabe to order drinks for the walk home. She didn’t even want a drink – she was riding high on the excitement of the show – but took the one he handed her nonetheless.
“They had such a funky vibe,” Gabe agreed, as they wound their way back to the hotel. “I love how they all dressed the part too. It’d be cool to sit in a pub and hear their stories.”
“Totally.” Tess was already dreaming up characters around the musicians. “Their faces had so much personal- ity, too. But the music… it really just kind of hit you in your soul.”
Gabe let them into the suite and strode into the bedroom where he stripped and wrapped himself in a robe, before moving to the mini-fridge where he’d stored a bottle. Tess put her still-full drink on the table, and dug in her luggage before stepping to the bathroom.
“I’ll just be a minute.”
In the bathroom, Tess examined her hair and make-up as she slithered into a little red teddy she’d bought just for tonight, hoping that some hot anniversary sex would bring them closer again. Lately, she’d felt like the supporting role in Gabe’s life, but never the leading.
“Hey,” Tess said, standing in the doorway and posing for him. Gabe lay on the bed, wrapped in his robe, scrolling his phone.
“Oh, hey,” Gabe said, and the look that crossed his face wasn’t a particularly happy one – more like a grimace, if Tess was honest with herself. She knew what he was going to say before the words even came out of his mouth. “Babe, I can’t tonight. I ate way too much food at dinner. Can we just chill instead?”
“Of course,” Tess said lightly, so as not to cause a fight. She reached behind her to pull the fluffy white robe from the door. “I’m just going to sit on the balcony for a bit then.”
“Sure.” Gabe didn’t look up as he typed on his phone. Tess picked up her Kindle and unhinged the swinging balcony door to sit where they’d had dinner earlier that evening. The melody of the city embraced her, and Tess glanced back over her shoulder, hoping Gabe would join her. Instead, she could just see his face, alight in the glow of his phone, a smug smile across his handsome features as he continued to type rapidly, a bottle of whiskey on the side table.
Tess blinked back tears as she turned away, burying herself in her book, forcing the questions down for another day.
He looked so happy in the photo. Tess sat, staring numbly at the computer screen in front of her where Gabe’s Facebook Messenger sat wide open, the picture of her husband – naked in bed, his arms wrapped around a woman too young to know the difference between lust and love – searing into her retinas. Tess knew that look on his face – she’d seen it time and again after he’d satisfied himself with her body – a smile playing on his lips while she waited for him to come back from the bathroom with a tissue, stuck in the universally awkward situation that lovers often find themselves in.
Tess’s hands trembled as she opened another browser window and slowly typed in the web address of their bank. The accounts popped onto the screen – at least the accounts they shared – and the tightness that had banded her chest eased a bit as she saw that all looked to be normal. The money in the shared account was mainly hers, as it had now been several months since Gabe had quit his job and embarked on a steady regimen of going to the gym twice a day and drinking too much.
Tess hesitated, her eyes flashing back to the picture on the screen in front of her, taking in the smug satisfaction on Gabe’s handsome face, before calmly emptying their shared bank account and moving all the money to hers. She waited, taking one shuddering breath after another, to see if something would happen – anything – but only a blast of wind at the window and a silent house answered. What did she think would happen? Her phone would explode with angry texts or sirens would go off? It wasn’t like she was doing anything illegal. Or immoral.
Her mind flashed to just days before, when she’d lain awake, watching the light from Gabe’s phone blink, flashing repeatedly across the ceiling, incessantly pounding its message into Tess’s brain. Gabe slept on, not a care in the world, while the blinking light refused to be ignored, his phone all but screaming at Tess.
Wake up, you fucking moron.
She’d slid from the covers, the air cool on her clammy skin, and padded around the bed. Tess had hesitated as she stood over Gabe, watching him sleep so peacefully, and wondered again if she was being paranoid. Perhaps she’d been imagining his distance from her lately. Her hand had hovered over the phone for a moment before she’d made up her mind and snatched it from the table. Racing around the bed, Tess had caught her toe on a night- stand as she headed for the bathroom, and unable to control the curse that shot from her mouth, she’d hobbled her way to the bathroom door.
But not in time.
Gabe had been on her in seconds, slamming her into the tiled wall of the bathroom as carelessly as if she were one of his sagging intramural football buddies, wrenching the phone from her hand before she’d had time to recover from the pain that still ratcheted up her leg from her stubbed toe. The crack of her head against the cold tile of the wall echoed the crack in her heart and she watched, astounded, as tears filled Gabe’s eyes. He was crying?
“Oh, baby. Stop this. You know I don’t want you on my phone. We’ve promised to trust each other. Don’t do this.” He’d gone back to bed then, never asking her if she was okay, his phone tucked beneath his pillow. Asleep in moments, Gabe had acted like nothing had happened the next day.
Now Tess stared at the computer screen, her brain working in overdrive as she tried to process all the ways their lives were intertwined. Opening another browser, she systematically began to change the passwords to all her business accounts, a little zing of power zipping through her at each change she made. Her business email accounts. Zing! Her business vendors. Zing! Her business shared folders. Zing! Her mobile accounts. At that one, Tess paused. Curious, she clicked on Gabe’s phone statement. It didn’t take long to figure out the number that had been lighting up his line for so many months. Methodically, Tess screenshotted the number, as icily detached as she could be. Gathering information.
Building her walls.
She’d asked him, hadn’t she? Repeatedly. Was some- thing wrong? Was there something he’d wanted to tell her? She’d even asked him to his face – is there someone else? Gabe had assured her that he was just dealing with the stress of leaving his job – something that Tess had done
everything in her power not to remind him he’d brought upon himself – and had brushed off her worried questions. She’d let it drop, knowing men tended to clam up when stressed.
Now she scanned the phone records, looking back for months as the text messages continued to that same number. Thousands of Facebook messages streamed before her, months of infidelity laid out in vivid, graphic detail, her future crumbling around her. Tess copied it all, saving the file to her password-protected shared drive. She nosed through any other important documentation she could find on Gabe’s computer until there was nothing else to be found – nothing else she could do except confront her husband.
Tess sat still, frozen as the end of her marriage loomed.
She waited in silence when the front door opened. She waited as Gabe greeted the dogs. She listened as he whis- tled down the hallway – cheerful, she imagined, from his most recent orgasm – until he rounded the corner into his office.
“Why are you on my computer?” Gabe’s face contorted in rage.
Tess’s hands clenched, and she shifted the chair, turning enough so he could see the picture on the screen behind her.
“Tess, that’s not what you think,” Gabe said, stepping forward to put his hands out, but dropping them at her look.
“I knew it. I knew it! I should’ve trusted my gut, but I let your voice drown out my own. It’s over, Gabe. There’s no way I – no, we – can come back from this,” Tess said, her voice cold as betrayal sliced through her.
“Okay, let’s just talk about this rationally. That woman means nothing,” Gabe insisted, pacing in front of his desk, the dogs following his movement.
“Nothing? Really?” Tess turned to read some of the messages. “‘I love you, Babers’ — ick, babers? — ‘I can’t wait to have you in my arms again. We’re meant to be together.’ Really, Gabe?”
“That’s just bullshit. You shouldn’t be reading that crap. It means nothing,” Gabe slammed his hand on the desk, causing the dogs to jump up and pace between them.
“Gag me, you’re sending her Disney kissing emojis. What is this girl, fourteen?” Tess bit out, her heart pumping in her chest, sweat trickling at the back of her collar.
“She’s in college, and I don’t love her. It’s not what you think.”
She barked out a laugh, turning to look at the naked picture of them in bed together.
“I’m fairly certain I’m quite clear on what this is,” Tess said, and raised an eyebrow at him. “A co-worker of yours, I see. I suppose this explains why you left work. Oh… were you fired? I bet you were fired.” Tess slammed her own hand down on the desk. “That makes so much sense to me now.”
“I was not fired.” Gabe’s face darkened, anger reaching his voice for the first time. “I chose to leave.”
“I bet you were asked to leave, weren’t you? For screwing your subordinate. Even for you – what a dipshit move,” Tess said. She was so completely fed up with Gabe’s lies.
“I said I wasn’t fired,” Gabe shouted.
Tess laughed at him, knowing it would antagonize him and not even caring.
“Oddly enough, Gabe? I’m having an incredibly hard time believing anything you tell me right now. I can’t imagine why.” Tess turned back to scan the messages on the computer screen.
“Stop reading those.” Gabe tried to grab the computer’s mouse, but Tess snatched it away from him, slapping his hand back.
“Hands off. As you’ll remember, this is my company’s computer and you’re not allowed to touch it.”
“That’s such shit and you know it,” Gabe seethed, continuing to pace.
“How could you, Gabe? Honestly? After everything I’ve done for you? You knew this was the one thing I’d never get over. You knew how important trust was to me – you knew. This is the way you treat me?” Tess searched his face, looking for any sign of remorse.
“It’s just… I don’t know. I screwed up. She was just there, and a distraction from everything, I guess.” Gabe stopped to lean across the desk to Tess. “I swear to you, she means nothing. I love you, Tess, not her.”
Tess wasn’t buying it.
“I should’ve expected this, honestly, I really should have. It’s not like you’ve been particularly trustworthy in the past, but I thought we’d moved past all that. I had hoped I wouldn’t be another one of your casualties, and that you’d learn to love yourself enough to not do this to the person you’re with, like so many times before.” Tess crossed her arms as she leveled a glare at Gabe. “I guess I thought I’d be enough for you, Gabe. That I’d be the one to change you. My mistake.”
“You are, Tess, I swear you are. You’re more than enough for me. I don’t deserve you.” Gabe held his hands out to her. “Please, we can work through this.”
Tess shook her head, ice flowing through her veins. “You’re right, Gabe. You don’t deserve me.”
He smiled. “Look, babe, you are making way too big a deal –”
She cut him off. “I’ve moved all the money and changed the passwords on all the accounts.” She met his eyes dead-on. “Pack a bag and get out.”
He stared at her, breathing through his nose, his chest rising and falling rapidly, rage clouding a face she’d once thought to be handsome.
“You don’t have to be such a bitch about it,” Gabe said coldly. Then he smirked. There it was – just a glimmer of joy in taking his power back.
Tess was a contrary sort, however. And now seemed like the perfect time to stop listening to what people – most notably, Gabe – told her to do.
Bitch, she thought. Yeah, she could get behind that.
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