Scandalous 2

By: H.M. Ward

Chapter 1

JACK

Jack runs his hands through his hair and sits down hard on the bed. The little cottage in the Caribbean has let him put his life on pause, but the guilt hasn't stopped. It doesn't matter what Abby says, Jack can't help but feel like he ruined her. Abby always had a clear vision of who she was and what she wanted to be, and now that's gone. The future that she'd so carefully planned out crumbled in her hands, and it was his fault. Jack can see it in her eyes at night, when they sit with their feet in the surf. That vacant gaze is all too familiar. Jack remembers having it for so long that the worry lines are etched into his skin. She's drifting, lost, and there's nothing he can do about it. He made her fall.

Jack's phone buzzes on the nightstand. His brow pinches as he lifts it to his ear. Glancing back at the bathroom, Jack makes sure the shower is still running so Abby can't hear. As if things weren't difficult already, now there's this.

"Gus, what'd you find out?"

"Some of it appears the same as always, but there's something else going on. This is going to fuck up your tour, Jack. They're targeting you this time, not just the art." Gus sounds tense, like the last thing he wanted to do was call Jack and deliver this message.

Jack works his jaw, thinking. "Just keep looking. It isn't the same this time."

"How do you know? It could just be the normal crap that pops up before a show." So many things had happened in the past. Gus's explanation was possible, but Jack knew there was more at play. He could feel it looming, threatening to crush them. Everything was different this time, because one factor had changed. Abby.

"It's not the regular shit. Gut feeling, Gus. Track it down. If it's an anti-art movement, I'll feel better, but I have this horrible feeling that it's more than that." Jack glances up at the bathroom door. The shower turns off. The sound of running water stops. "Take care of it," Jack says softly and ends the call.

There are so many things that Abby doesn't know, so many things weighing on him that he wants to tell her. Whenever a new exhibit opens, there are protesters. That isn't what's bothering him this time. They can picket all they want, it isn't going to change the fact that his models are nudes. But maybe that isn't the worst of it. Maybe the whole thing is in his head, and he can't deal with the fact that he changed Abby hard and fast. He keeps waiting for her to realize her mistake. There's a thought in the back of his mind that springs up when he's alone: People who change that quickly don't really change at all. And that's what scares him most.

Chapter 2

ABBY

I towel off after my shower. Jack smiles at me, but it doesn't reach his eyes. Something's bothering him, but he doesn't say much about it. When we return home, he has the biggest show of his life. Jack's a private person, and being in the press makes him tense. I assume that's where his worry is coming from. I glance over at him. Jack is lying back on the bed, hands behind his head, waiting for me to finish getting ready to go out. It's the last night of our honeymoon. I don't want it to end. I want to protect Jack from retreating into himself. I want to shelter him from the critics and the crazies that come out and slam his work. It takes more than thick skin. I wonder if he withdraws for self-preservation. Either way, I wish he didn't have to go through it. The only solace I have is knowing that it will be short lived, that Jack won't have this weight on his shoulders much longer.

Sitting in front of the mirror on a little padded bench, I attempt to pin up my hair. With the humidity, it's fighting back. Jack slips off the bed and starts to dress since I'm nearly ready. It's not fair. I can spend an hour getting ready and he looks hot when he throws a shirt over his head. There's a light dusting of stubble on his jaw and his hair is messy, the way I like it. Every few minutes, my eyes stray to him and I forget what I'm doing. I sit there with my hands above my head, staring at him in the mirror.

Jack notices. He grins wickedly, and slowly starts to walk toward me with his shirtfront open, revealing that beautiful toned body of his. Not only is he chiseled, but now he's sun kissed, too. He looks like a bronzed god. I blink and smile at him in the mirror, but Jack keeps walking toward me. That look is in his eye, the one that says I have his full attention and he plans to be very attentive.

Jack reaches for my shoulders and places his hands on them so lightly that I shiver. "I saw that look," he says, his eyes flicking up to the glass.

My heart pounds harder. Every time he touches me, it feels like I'm lost inside a dream. I never thought I'd be married. I never thought Jack Gray would be my husband. The whole thing is surreal. There's something melancholy about it, like I've ended one life and started another. I haven't spoken of it much to Jack. Every time I bring it up, he acts like he broke me, and I don't want him to think that. It's just new to me. It takes a lot of getting used to.

I smile and feel my cheeks heat. I have no idea how I'm still blushing around Jack, but I am. "What look?" I ask coyly.

His voice is like velvet and slips over me in a breath. "That look that says tonight's plans are going to be altered." Jack leans in toward my neck, slowly. I feel his warm breath as he barely presses the kiss to my skin. I close my eyes and savor it. Maybe I'm mental, but I keep thinking this is going to end as abruptly as it started. I push the thought back and melt into his arms. I can be crazy later.

I close my eyes and enjoy the feeling of his strong arms around me. When I open them again, Jack's lips are trailing across my neck. I turn and twist toward him, forgetting about my hair. I slip my hands under his linen shirt and feel the smooth skin beneath. My fingers trace the contours of his body in a slow, fluid movement that drives Jack crazy. Each muscle is so tight, so well defined. The pad of my finger moves slowly, feeling him, watching his body react to my touch. Lifting me, Jack takes me from the bench and takes two steps toward the bed, before there's a knock at the door.

That lusty look in Jack's eyes fades, as he says, "Damn. I forgot about that."

He sets me down. I smooth my black dress, asking, "Forgot about what?"

Jack walks to the door and opens it. A man is standing there with so many roses that I can't see his face.

"Oh, Jack! They're beautiful," I say as the enormous bouquet is brought into the room.

The man carrying them says apologetically, "I thought you'd be at dinner. I'm sorry Mr. Gray, I'll - "

Jack smiles at him. "Don't worry about it. We were, uh, taking our time getting there." His gaze locks with mine and I feel hot.

When the man leaves, I walk over and stick my face into the bouquet and inhale. "These smell so good."

Jack laughs and pulls me back, "Easy there, Abby. I wouldn't want you to fall in. Then I'd have to rescue you, peel this dress off, and have my way with you. Again." He trails his finger up and down my bare arm as he says it, looking up from under his dark lashes.

It sends a jolt of desire through me and I cave. Wrapping my arms around his neck, I press my body tightly against his. "All right, we can stay in. Eating is overrated anyway." Before I have a chance to give him another kiss, Jack's cell phone rings.

We both startle. No one has the number but me and Gus. Jack peels me off, gives me an apologetic look, and answers. We left Gus to tend to the studio. No one was supposed to call. I try not to stare at Jack, so I go finish my hair the best I can.

When he hangs up, I ask, "Is everything all right?"

"Yeah," Jack replies as he puts his phone away. "Gus couldn't find something that Kate needed for the tour. Nothing big." Jack's blue eyes lift and meet mine. He's not telling me something. I can feel it. I take his hand and he smiles at me. The hollowness in his eyes fills and I can feel him shutting me out. There's something going on that he doesn't want me to know about. I don't press; It's our last night here.

With a playful look on his face, Jack says, "I have things planned for this evening. We'd better get going." He extends his arm around the back of my shoulders and I lean in close to him. Disappointment flashes in my eyes, but it's not for the reason he thinks. Jack smiles and says, "Don't worry, preacher-girl. I promise that you'll like it."

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