The Marriage TrapBy: Jennifer Probst
Maggie Ryan tilted the margarita glass to her lips and took a long swallow. Tartness collided with the salt, exploded on her tongue, and burned through her blood. Unfortunately, not fast enough. She still had a shred of sanity left to question her actions.
The violet fabric-covered book beckoned and mocked. She picked it up again, leafed through the pages, and threw it back on the contemporary glass table. Ridiculous. Love spells, for God’s sake. She refused to stoop to such a low. Of course, when her best friend, Alexa, cast her own spell, she’d been supportive and cheered her actions to find her soul mate.
But this was completely different.
Maggie cursed under her breath and stared out the window. A sliver of moonlight leaked through the cracks of the organic bamboo blinds. Another evening gone. Another disastrous date. The demons threatened, and there was no one here to fight them back until dawn.
Why did she never feel a connection? This last one had been charming, intelligent, and easygoing. She expected a sexual buzz when they finally touched—or at least a lousy shiver of promise. Instead, she got zilch. Zippo. Numb from the waist down. Just a dull ache of emptiness and a longing for . . . more.
Despair toppled over her like a cresting wave. The familiar edge of panic clawed her gut, but she fought back and managed to surface. Screw this. She refused to have an attack on her own turf. Maggie grabbed the raw irritation like a life vest and breathed deeply and evenly.
Stupid attacks. She hated pills and refused to take them, positive the episodes would go away by her own sheer force of will. Probably an early midlife crisis. After all, her life was almost perfect.
She had everything most people dreamed about. She photographed gorgeous male models in underwear and traveled the world. She adored her trendy condo with no upkeep. The kitchen boasted stainless steel appliances and gleaming ceramic tile. The modern espresso maker and margarita machine confirmed her fun, Sex and the City status. Plush white carpets and matching leather furniture boasted no children and bespoke sheer style. She did what she wanted, when she wanted, and made no damn apologies to anyone. She was attractive, financially comfortable, and healthy, aside from the occasional panic attacks. And yet, the question nibbled on the edge of her brain with an irritating persistence, growing a bit more with each passing day.
Is this it?
Maggie stood and yanked on a silky red robe, then stuffed her feet into her matching fuzzy slippers with devil horns sprouting from the top of the foot. She was drunk enough, and no one would ever know. Maybe the exercise would calm her nerves.
She grabbed the piece of ledger paper and made a list of all the qualities she craved in a man.
Built the small fire.
Recited the mantra.
Gleeful cackles echoed in her brain at the act of insanity, but she shoved them back with another sip of tequila and watched the paper burn.
After all, she had nothing left to lose.
• • •
The sun looked pissed off.
Michael Conte stood outside by the waterfront property and watched the perfect disc struggle to top the mountain peaks. A fiery mingling of burnt orange and scarlet red rose, emanating sparks of fury, killing the remaining dark. He watched the king of the morning proudly celebrate the temporary win and for a brief moment wondered if he’d ever feel like that again.
He shook his head and mocked his own thoughts. He had nothing to complain about. His life was just about perfect. The waterfront project neared completion, and the launch of his family’s first U.S. bakery would seize the place by storm. He hoped.
Michael gazed out over the water and took note of the renovations. Once a broken-down, crime-ridden marina, the Hudson Valley property revealed a Cinderella transformation, and he’d been a part of it. Between himself and the other two investors, they’d sunk a lot of money into the dream and Michael believed in the team’s success. Paved-stone pathways now snaked around rosebushes and the boats finally returned—majestic schooners and the famed ferryboat that gave children rides.
Next to his bakery, a spa and Japanese restaurant courted an eclectic set of customers. Opening day was only a few weeks away after a long year of construction and sweat and blood.
And La Dolce Famiglia would finally take her home in New York.
Satisfaction rippled through him, along with a strange emptiness. What was wrong with him lately? He slept less, and the occasional woman he allowed himself to enjoy only left him feeling more restless when morning rose. On the surface, he had everything a man dreamed of. Wealth. A career he loved. Family, friends, and decent health. And pretty much his pick of any woman he craved. The Italian in his soul cried out for something deeper than sex, but he didn’t know if it truly existed.
At least, not for him. As if something deep inside was broken.
Disgusted with his inner whining, he turned and strode down the sidewalk. His cell phone beeped, and he slid it out of his cashmere coat, glancing at the number.
He paused for a moment. Then with a sigh of resignation, he punched the button.
“Yes, Venezia? What is it this time?”
“Michael, I’m in trouble.” Rapid-fire Italian attacked his ears.
Michael concentrated on her tirade of words, desperate to make sense between gulps of sobbing breaths. “Did you say you’re getting married?”