Or when he completely gutted our kitchen and had all state-of-the-art appliances installed so I could be more efficient when it came to preparing orders for my thriving business.
Or when he drove me to an empty storefront in downtown Charleston and told me he’d leased it so I’d finally have my own brick-and-mortar bakery.
Like I’d always dreamed.
If he were truly a horrible person, he wouldn’t go above and beyond to do all these things for me. Would he?
Then why couldn’t I shake this unsettled feeling inside me that something was off about my husband?
“And how about my wife?” Nick asked as he slowly walked toward me.
With every step he took, my heartbeat kicked up a little. Not in desire, as once happened whenever I saw him. But something I couldn’t explain. Something that had grown stronger since Imogene was born.
“Is my wife happy to see me?”
I forced a smile. “Of course.”
“Then show me.”
I stood on my toes and pressed a chaste kiss to his lips, not lingering longer than necessary.
“Come now…” He carefully lowered Imogene to her feet. “Is that the best you can do after your husband was gone for two weeks?” There was a teasing quality to his voice. But within the frivolity and lightness, I heard something else.
Without giving me a chance to protest, he looped his arm around my waist, pulling my body flush with his. His lips covered mine, forcing them apart, his tongue sliding against mine. His kisses once filled me with so much want. So much hunger.
Now, though, it felt forced.
Most marriages went through this kind of thing. Right? We weren’t the carefree people we were before marriage and a kid. A kid who was in and out of the hospital the first year of her life. That would put a strain on any marriage. And it had. During those early days of Imogene’s life, all my focus had been on her health. I never noticed Nick growing distant until he came to me in tears, confessing he’d been unfaithful.
Any other woman would have been upset.
I was actually…relieved. Saw a way out of what I knew in my heart was a mistake.
But, somehow, I’d agreed to counseling instead.
“That’s better,” Nick remarked once he brought the kiss to an end.
It made me feel like he was grading me on my performance.
“Perhaps we’ll try again later.” He held my gaze for a beat, then turned to Imogene.
“Do you want to see what Daddy brought you?”
“Yes!” She jumped up and down, fully aware her father never returned home empty-handed. He spoiled his little girl.
Dropping his hold on me, he went to his suitcase and rolled it into the living room. He crouched down, Imogene excitedly watching as he opened it and pulled out a square item wrapped in tissue.
“I found this in an antique store and knew you’d love it.”
Pulling the tissue away, he revealed a wooden box, a dove carved on the top. From the looks of it, it appeared to be homemade. Something a father would make for a daughter. Not something easily parted with.
Turning it over, he cranked the metal key on the bottom, then lifted the top. As he did, a wooden ballerina began to twirl to the tune of “Edelweiss”.
“Oh, Daddy. I love it! My very own music box. Thank you!” She flung her arms around his neck, and he squeezed her to him. When she pulled back, she took the music box and carried it over to the couch, putting some of her play beads inside it.
I took a moment to appreciate my husband’s appearance as he admired our little miracle baby, his gaze awash with pride and devotion. I’d never seen a father look at their daughter with so much love.
Then again, I didn’t have much to compare it to. I never knew my biological father. And my adoptive father left a lot to be desired. But my grandparents always showered me with more love than I thought I deserved. The expression on Nick’s face was similar to the way my gampy would look upon me. As if his heart were so full of love, it would burst at any moment.
“And how about my beautiful wife?” Nick turned to me, expression shifting.
Less loving. More…dangerous.
“Would you like to see what I brought back for you?” His lips curved up in the corner, eyes flaming with something sinister and dark. But it was gone in a heartbeat, making me question my sanity, as always seemed to be the case.
I nodded subtly.
He advanced toward me, gripping my hip in a possessive hold. I sucked in a shaky breath at the contact. He leaned closer.
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