I had the perfect life.
The perfect husband. Colin Cassidy—the incredibly talented, extremely gorgeous, and unbelievably humble star NFL quarterback.
The perfect marriage. Our bond was unbreakable. His support unwavering.
The perfect career. As the recently-appointed executive director for the Boston chapter of Mending Hearts, a child abuse prevention and treatment program, my daily reward was helping to keep vulnerable, innocent children from being preyed upon and destroyed. It’s all I’d wanted to do since I was a teenager.
Perfect city. Perfect car. Perfect house with the perfect view.
From the outside looking in, it was impossible to find a single flaw in my life. I had it all. Everything I’d ever wanted.
But that kind of perfection came at a price. Demanded the ultimate sacrifice.
What happened when I discovered what I’d been missing all along? When I began to question if the lies were worth protecting?
What if suddenly the last thing I wanted was to be perfect?
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I SMELLED HER before I saw her. I know . . . fucking weird. But as soon as she stepped into the foyer of the restaurant, where Allison and I were waiting for our table, I was aware of her presence, even though I couldn’t see her. She had on the same perfume she’d worn the night before at the gala. Orange blossom with a hint of vanilla. A scent that reminded me of the orange cream sodas my three sisters and I used to get when we were kids at Casey’s General Store, the place our parents would pick up pizza every Friday night. As I got older and started partying in high school, my friends and I learned those same drinks were the perfect mixers for cheap vodka, and many of our weekend nights were spent sitting around a campfire on someone’s land, sipping on that sweet, fruity concoction that somehow never caused a hangover. Back when life seemed easy and all I was interested in was having a little innocent fun. Back before everything changed.
“Monroe!” Allison’s face lit up next to me when she spotted her friend, our colleague, welcoming her with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “I’m so glad you could make it. Oliver and I just got here.”
Still reeling from the primal reaction that Monroe’s scent alone had on me, I was thankful the two women acted like they hadn’t just seen each other the previous evening, fawning over each other’s hairstyles and outfits for several moments. It gave me a few extra seconds to get my shit together and process the fact Monroe was apparently joining us for lunch, a detail I was sure Allison had not-so-accidentally failed to mention. The foyer of the restaurant suddenly heated up, rising to temperatures that rivaled the fiery pits of Hell. The sinfully sensual fantasies I’d had about the married woman standing only a few feet away from me while I’d jacked off in the shower that morning flooded through my mind once again. Had I known I’d be sharing a meal with her mere hours later, forced to hold a conversation and not think about how I’d envisioned her naked body looking and feeling underneath mine, I’d have definitely held out until I was safely back home in Chicago the next day, nearly a thousand miles away and with no chance of a humiliating run-in.
“Hey, Oliver. It’s a pleasant surprise to see you again,” she greeted me cheerfully, though it was apparent that Allison had also neglected to inform her that our lunch would be a party of three. “And thank you again for coming last night. Having you, Jeff, and Tracie there for support meant so much to me.”
The same lyrical voice I’d pretended was moaning my name in sweet release prompted my pulse to spike along with my internal thermostat. As I pivoted around to offer a polite smile and handshake, I inconspicuously tried to rub my sweaty palms on the dark denim of my jeans while also ensuring the growing bulge in my pants was hidden behind my fly. Thank God, it was. Lifting my gaze to meet hers, the instant our eyes locked, I sucked in a deep breath and completely lost my train of thought. I froze mid-movement, my arm embarrassingly stuck reaching out between the two of us in no man’s land. Every drop of moisture that was in my mouth evaporated, and then somehow multiplied exponentially and reappeared seconds later in my armpits. Much like it had done the first time I met her.
Never in my life had a woman ever had that kind of effect on me, and after I’d shamefully indulged myself in the shower, leaving me feeling dirtier than it did clean, I’d spent several minutes staring in the mirror, berating my reflection for my inexcusable actions before convincing myself that I’d imagined Monroe to be more beautiful than she really was. I blamed the soft lighting of the ballroom, along with the classical music and bold city skyline for creating an atmosphere straight from the final scene of a romantic comedy. Her tight, low cut, sparkly blue dress was like a beacon in a sea of standard black, and with her smoky eyes and the way her hair was up, revealing that long, creamy neck, I didn’t have a chance. I mean, even I had looked pretty debonair in my designer tux with my long hair tamed into a low knot and my facial hair neatly-trimmed, and I was often mistaken for being homeless in Chicago.Okay, maybe it wasn’t that bad.
I came up with all kinds of excuses for why she’d affected me the way she did, and had I not seen her again afterward, I might’ve gone on believing she wasn’t nearly as impressive as I’d first made her out to be in my mind. But as I stood there in front of her, for the second time in as many days, in my slack-jawed, semi-aroused motionless state, I knew I’d been wrong. In her modest turquoise blouse, linen capris, and tan wedges, Monroe had left her hair down, allowing the wavy, golden locks to cascade around her shoulders and frame her fresh, youthful face, somehow appearing even more beautiful than I remembered. How that was possible, I hadn’t a clue, but there she was. The most exquisite sight I’d ever seen.
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