Royal Games by T.K. Leigh

Chapter One


You can’t live in the present if you’re still held captive by the past.

Sounds fairly straightforward, right?

Unfortunately, I’ve found that living in the present is easier said than done.

All our lives, we’re trained not to live in the present. To either long for the past or to look toward the future. It’s rare we’re allowed to enjoy the moment. To stop and smell the roses, so to speak.

We count down the days until we move into our college dorm and bid farewell to our parents’ rules.

Then we count down the last few months of college until we’re free and can start our career.

Once we have that career, we count down the hours at work until we can go home or on that date.

And we count those dates, wondering when he’s finally going to pop that all-important question so we can start the next chapter of our lives.

When you think about it, that’s all life is. A series of chapters. When one ends, another begins. The story continues. Your life goes on.

Except for me.

Ever since that night six years ago, I’ve been stuck in the past, struggling to turn the page.

I’m not sure I want to turn the page.

I’m not sure I’m ready to say goodbye to the only time in my life I’ve ever felt happy.

“Congratulations!” A boisterous cheer assaults me, nearly knocking me over.

I’d expected to walk into Chloe’s apartment in Chelsea to a subdued atmosphere, my three friends hanging out in the kitchen, each sipping a glass of wine.

That is not the scene that greets me at all.

P!nk’s voice blares from the surround sound, belting that she’s had enough and to blow her one last kiss. Black balloons fill the industrial-looking space, a banner boasting “Ding-dong, the dick is gone” displayed prominently along the wall over the couch. Centerpieces of a hand sticking up its middle finger decorate the coffee table and a few side tables. However, the pièce de résistance is a three-tiered cake, like one would expect at a wedding. That’s where the similarities end.

Instead of figurines of a madly in love bride and groom, the bride has pushed the groom off the cake, red frosting made to look like blood following the path of the groom’s untimely demise all the way to the scene of the crime at the foot of the bottom tier.

My gaze shifts to the three women standing proudly beside the kitchen island, “Divorce Support Group” scrawled on the front of their matching black t-shirts.

“Welcome to your divorce party!” Evie dances up to me, her expression bright, red lips curled up in an animated smile. She grabs my hand, dragging me farther into the apartment.

“Divorce party?” I arch a brow, glancing at a few of my coworkers, who salute me with their drinks. I lean toward my friends, lowering my voice. “I told you not to make a big deal out of today. It’s just another day.”

“No, it’s not,” Chloe insists, her gray eyes trained on me as she slings an arm around my waist, moving her hips in time with the music. “Today is the first day of the rest of your life, and it must be celebrated!”

“So put on your shirt and let’s get this party started.” When Izzy throws a black t-shirt at me, I scramble to catch it. “Because if you don’t, Evie will pout all night long. Seriously. Since she heard about the divorce, she hasn’t shut up about this party and these damn t-shirts.”

“That’s not entirely true,” Evie interjects, scowling playfully. “I commiserated at first. Then I started planning your freedom party. I am a planner after all.” She winks.

Shaking my head, I shrug off my blazer, leaving me in just a tank and skinny jeans. I hold up the t-shirt in front of me and burst out laughing.

“Divorced A.F.?”

“I wanted to spell it out,” Chloe tells me, “but Evie thought someone might find it offensive.”

“We will eventually be leaving your apartment tonight. There could be children around.”

“At a bar?” Chloe shoots back dryly.

“Still, I didn’t want to offend.”

“Says the girl who used to write articles for the magazine about techniques to give a blow job that will have him begging for more.”

I smile at my friends’ bickering, grateful for this small slice of normalcy.

Since I no longer have Jeremy to return home to, I’ve struggled to find a new normal. Sure, we were only together a few years, such a brief time compared to some couples, but his absence has drawn into focus all the trivial things he did. Like make me coffee in the morning. Or empty the dishwasher before leaving for work. Or even change the lightbulbs. To most, these acts are insignificant, but now that I do them, I’m reminded that Jeremy’s gone.