Her life was a dream come true — until it wasn't...
When Ani meets Julian Wade, she thinks he is the answer to all her problems.
He has money, a penthouse apartment, and doesn't ask a lot of questions.
Or rather, any questions.
Who is Ani and what was her past like? She figures what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.
Or will it?
She's ready to play the part of perfect wife.
But Julian has been waiting for the perfect moment.
He knows who she is.
He knows what she did.
When the secrets are exposed, she'll have to face the consequences...
A thrilling psychological thriller that you won't be able to put down!
Release date: February 26, 2020
Publisher: Independently published
Print pages: 434
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
“I’ve got a large, extra-hot vanilla latte with soymilk and two pumps of hazelnut for Ashley?”
I felt my dimples sink into my cheeks as my smile extended long past its usual lifetime. I repeated the order twice before I saw the young woman approach the counter, phone still in hand as it had been when she had placed her order. I watched her closely as she reached over to grab the drink from my outstretched hand, her eyes, though hidden behind her large sunglasses, never looking up from what was certainly a photo she had taken of herself in the mid-morning sun. Sure enough, a slow, small smile spread across her face as she saw the purposely misspelled name on the side of the cup. I had already turned away when I heard the all too common low giggle and the click of her phone’s camera.
It didn’t matter that Ash-Leigh likely thought that I was a little slow in the brain or that this was the third or fourth variation she had seen of her name since she had started coming here. What mattered was that the company would be pleased with my handiwork and the social media attention it would bring. It was a small victory but one that I was supposed to be proud of, and I supposed, in a small way, I was. I needed something to get me through the day, and if this was it, so be it. I shared a small smile with Sam as I made my way back to the beverage line.
The line was slowly starting to grow, and I sighed as I started making the next order. My shift had started about two hours ago, but I was already feeling the weight of the day on me. I’d need to rely on many small victories to get me through the day, something I had told myself just about every day this month.
It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the job. I did . . . well, at least parts of it. Sam was the highlight. She was the more experienced of the two of us, even if she had only started working here at Thanks a Latte! a few weeks before I had been hired. I had been nervous around her at first, finding her confidence to be intimidating, but she had always shown me the utmost kindness, even offering me a lift home after my first shift. After working exclusively with her for my first full week, we had quickly become close and I counted her as my best friend. It was still easy to find her intimidating, and I compared her to myself more often than I probably should have, but I was glad to have a friend I could count on and one I was able to see so often.
There were other perks, of course, but none that made the job as fulfilling as Sam. The generous discounts on drinks and baked goods had done nothing for my waistline, but they were other small victories that I could relish after a long day. Long days were starting to become the norm around here, and I would take whatever comforts I could from the eight or so hours that I would spend here. Sam and I had debated with the manager, Mark, on far too many occasions about how we needed an extra hand in the mornings. It was always just the two of us in the morning, and the strain of that was really starting to make itself known to both of us. Sam was great at the job, and I’d like to think that I was good, but each day, we saw more customers, and the sheer length of the queue on some mornings was starting to get the best of both of us.
I never let it show in front of the customers, but I could tell that Sam was starting to get more and more frustrated. It was naturally going to happen, with the air of confidence that she had about her. She had been chewed out by Mark on more than one occasion for her attitude, even if we argued that the customers secretly enjoyed it. That was something I was always amazed by—Sam’s ability to openly insult aggravating customers while disguising it as common customer service.
“Sorry for your weight, sir!”
I smiled as I half listened to the customer order as I busied myself with making drinks. As much as I wanted to have someone else working with us in the morning, I knew that whoever they brought in would just ruin what little enjoyment the two of us were able to make for each other.
Our list of code words was long, and the list was ever growing. We wouldn’t be able to bring someone else fully into our fold—not without substantial training.
“Ani, hot tea behind you.”
I instinctively looked up as Sam said my favorite code phrase. It was one that we had perfected early on and was, as we often agreed, the best perk of working here. Sure, in the beginning, we had been a little careless, but now it was a well-oiled machine. We had some premade steeped tea sitting on a burner on the counter behind us.
It was the company’s protocol to change it every half hour or so, so naturally, we had a reason to call out whenever it was time to change it. What the customers couldn’t possibly know was that it was also the perfect phrase to call out whenever we saw someone attractive come in.
Now Sam and I had far different tastes in men.
For her, she must have been in heaven. Since Thanks a Latte! was still pretty small and local, we saw a pretty wide range of people come in, but far and away, the highest demographic were hipsters. Sam was a big fan of long beards and questionable fashion choices, something I thought she made pretty apparent with her own taste in heavy combat boots and dyed hair, so naturally, she hit it off with many of the men who came in. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a perk that the tips Sam rolled in were always higher than mine. She liked them and they liked her, and more often than not, she’d have someone lined up for a date each week.
I didn’t think Sam was easy or anything like that. She just liked to have fun and was good at it. I think that was part of the reason I still found her intimidating, even though I loved having her as a friend. I didn’t know how she could be so comfortable with herself and with other people. Maybe it was because I didn’t have a lot of faith in myself. I mean, how could I? Here I was, working a dead-end job, with no post-secondary education and barely a family to support me. It was no wonder that I relied on such small victories to get me through each day, but even then, Sam was always more victorious than I was. She was always telling me that I should be more open to people, and she criticized the standards I had for myself.
Maybe I shouldn’t put it like that. What I meant was, Sam knew how much I wanted to get married and have a loving family. She knew it was important to me and supported me in that goal. What she actively didn’t support was how often I would beat myself up over my life and my relationships. I hadn’t had many boyfriends, and Sam was quick to tell me that if I ever wanted to meet The One, I’d have to get out there and find him. She wasn’t critical of the ideal life I wanted, but she wanted me to go out and find happiness.
I should have listened to her and done more to seek out my own happiness, but to see her flirt with the man at the cash register just put me in a sour mood. He was the usual man we saw here, albeit a bit better looking. He was wearing plaid (of course) and had a long, knotted beard (double, of course). I chuckled dryly to myself as I scanned over the few remaining people in line and saw their frustration grow as they waited on Sam. Little did they know that even though I might not be fully on Sam’s side right now, I was far from being on theirs. They could wait for all I cared. The coffee and I weren’t going anywhere.
Sam had succeeded in getting the man’s number. His name was Greg, and he wrote an online blog about the best places in the city to get a bite to eat. That was something else I admired about Sam. In the few minutes she had with this customer, she had not only succeeded in getting his number but also in finding out enough about him to further pique her interest. The few times I had managed to flirt with someone at the cash register had been fairly awkward, and I hadn’t learned much more than their names, which was stupid because I had to ask for their names anyway to put on their cups. I was only half listening to her as we wiped down the counter and she told of her success and their plan to go on a date later that evening.
I had to keep telling myself that Sam meant well, but I was feeling more and more depressed as the day went on. After the usual morning rush, things slowed down dramatically in the store, and more often than not, Sam and I were completely alone to gossip as we pleased for about an hour or so before the lunch rush. It was the time of day that I usually craved, but today, I felt quiet and self-conscious. Sam, of course, knew that something was up and spent no time in trying to get to the bottom of it.
“What’s wrong, Ani? Did you want a chance with that guy? I didn’t think he was your type.”
“He isn’t, Sam. And nothing. It’s all right.”
Sam tossed her towel over to the sink and came up right beside me. Her hand on my back was comforting, and I knew that it was foolish of me to be upset with her. Sam always had my best interests at heart, and I knew that she wouldn’t stop until she got to the bottom of what was wrong.
“You know how it is, Sam. I’m just feeling stuck. I’m happy you have a date tonight. I really am. I just . . . I don’t know. I just haven’t seen anyone in such a long time, and you are so much better at this than I am, and—”
“Hey, now. Don’t talk like that. You’ll find somebody, Ani. I know you will. Have you been looking at all? You haven’t told me if you’ve met anybody online yet!”
Sam had set me up with an account on the newest dating app, and for a few days, I had been more than content to browse through the people who were on it. I had even liked a few of them but had only matched with one. He seemed to be a good guy, but our conversation hadn’t really gone anywhere, and I wasn’t overly impressed that he hadn’t had a job. I knew it was wrong of me to be so picky, and I knew that Sam would have told me the same thing, but I couldn’t help it. I knew what I wanted, and I didn’t want to settle for anything less. I decided not to tell her about the one and instead mentioned that I hadn’t had anything come from it.
“Now that’s a load of crap, Ani.”
I should have known that she would have seen through my lies.
“You and I both know that you’re just being picky. I know that you want someone who can sweep you off your feet so that you can get married and have a bunch of kids—”
“I just want a daughter!” I interrupted with a laugh. I knew the lecture that was coming almost by heart.
“A kid is a kid, whether you have one or twelve! Anyway, you know what I’m going to say to you, but I’ll say it anyway. You’re young, Ani, even if you’re older than me, and you have plenty of time to find someone. Do you think I’m going to marry Greg? Who knows! You have to get out there and meet people. You have to date and get a feeling for what you really want. You just have an idea of what it is you’re looking for. You won’t know until you experiment a little!”
I just shook my head as I smiled. Maybe Sam was right and maybe she wasn’t. She just made the whole thing sound so easy. I knew that for me, it could never be as simple as she made it sound. Sam was always saying that I had so much time to settle down and find where my life would take me, but it never felt that way to me. I was twenty-four years old and already feeling stuck. How would I feel when I turned thirty?
Would I still be working here, checking out men who grew more and more out of my league?
“I know, Sam, I know. I just . . . I just want a simple life, you know? I just want what I never had growing up. You never think about marriage, do you?”
Sam laughed, but not in a malicious way. Her laugh didn’t really suit her, I thought. It was high-pitched and girly, something I never thought of as a characteristic of Sam’s.
“I do, but not seriously. I have all the time in the world for that kind of thing, Ani. Both of us do.”
She went back to wiping down the counter, and I nodded and began to wash some dishes. The lunch rush would be here in about half an hour, and what I needed now was some time by myself to simply think. Sam and I had this debate more and more regularly now, and I could see that it was starting to get to her. I couldn’t blame her for that, and I felt bad for wasting so many of our quiet moments alone in the store with my own issues. Maybe she was right. Maybe I’d try out that app again when I got off work.
The sudden ring of the bell at the front door had caught me off guard, and I nearly dropped a mug on the floor as I set it on the drying rack. I couldn’t remember the last time that we had a customer come in around this time of day. Whoever it was must have been a tourist or someone new to the area. Sam could handle it, though, as she was still out front.
“Hot tea!” Sam called out and headed to the steep tea machine on the back counter next to me. I caught her eye before I turned, and I knew at once that I should prepare myself. There had been something different about the way Sam had said the code word. Something that told me immediately that there wasn’t another Greg out front. I turned as slowly and as naturally as I could and almost croaked as I welcomed the customer.
Before me was an incredibly handsome man. Not just attractive, but handsome. He had black hair and dark eyes. Eyes that managed to smile almost as well as his actual smile, which was nestled above a prominent chin and not obstructed by a knotted beard. The only thing that drew my attention away from this man’s perfect face was the perfectly fitted suit he wore and the bright, no doubt designer, watch he had on his wrist. Sam and I had seen a lot of people come into Thanks a Latte! but never had we seen someone like this.
Part of me hesitated as I approached the cash register. As soon as I saw the man, I figured that Sam and I would be fighting over who had the pleasure of serving him, but to my surprise, Sam was actually changing out the steeped tea. I told myself again what a good friend she was and promised myself that I would have to get her something as a way of thanking her. I walked up to the cash register and asked, as seductively as I could, what the man wanted to order.
I ignored the smallest titter from Sam as she continued to busy herself and felt my face flush as the words came out, but to my surprise, the man smiled and ordered a large black coffee with a shot of espresso. I smiled the hardest I think I’ve ever smiled in my life as I rang in the order and sheepishly asked for the amount. The man handed it to me, his smile never leaving his face as he told me to keep the change. I nodded and laughed, immediately feeling my face flush again. As I started to prepare his order, he asked if I needed his name for the cup.
“It’s Julian,” he said. His voice had a power to it that immediately made me swoon, but I collected myself and wrote the name down, choosing to spell it as correctly as I could.
Julian walked away from the counter and made himself at home at one of the far tables. Sam wasted no time in rushing over and encouraging me to flirt with him and ask him out. I didn’t need any encouragement from her, but it was welcomed, and I used it as the final push I needed to go for it. I felt a surge of adrenaline that I had never felt before, and I tried to hide my face from the man who was watching from his far table. With a trembling hand, I wrote my number under his name as I turned on the espresso machine.
With that, my fate was sealed. For better or worse, I was getting out there.
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...