Persuasion (Temptation, #2) by T.K. Leigh

“Easy for you to say,” I mumbled. “You didn’t essentially tell Claire to fuck off without so much as listening to what proof she had.” I drew in a long breath, all the inexplicable feelings of guilt and shame that followed me throughout my marriage to Nick returning.

If they had ever left.

The jury was still out on that.

“Well, at least we know one thing for certain,” I said in a chipper voice, resecuring the mask I’d worn for years.

Naomi gave me a quizzical look. “What’s that?”

“Think about it.” I subtly nodded toward the screen where a shampoo commercial now played. “It makes sense. I’d repeatedly questioned what he could possibly see in me.” I smiled sadly, doing my best to hide the hurt in my voice over the realization. “Now I know.”

Naomi studied me for a beat, brows furrowed, attempting to put the pieces together. Her eyes soon widened before her expression hardened.

“Don’t you dare,” she snipped, finger in my face. “Don’t even go there. You’re wrong, Julia Blaire Prescott. I saw the way he looked at you. There’s no way he faked that just to get information.” She shook her head, collecting her thoughts. Then she leaned toward me. “I felt it in my soul.”

I paused, considering her words. Then I hung my head, resigned. “You may have felt it in your soul, and maybe there’s a part of me that wants to believe it, too. But I need to be rational about this. Have to look at the facts.”

“And what are the ‘facts’?” she asked, using air quotes.

I held my head high, smoothing a hand down my dress as I slid off the stool, squaring my shoulders. “That I’m a forty-year-old woman, and he’s a ridiculously attractive professional baseball player who’s probably slept with models and actresses. Let’s not even talk about all the effort I made him go through to get laid.” I barked out a laugh, throwing my hands up in frustration. “I made him bake a fucking cake, for crying out loud.”

“A…cake?” Naomi furrowed her brows. “What do you mean?”

I waved her off. “That’s beside the point.”

“Then what is the point, Julia?” She stood and gripped my biceps. “You’re letting Nick into your head again. You—”

I pulled out of her hold. “The point is that no horny, young guy would go through all that for a piece of ass unless there’s something else in it for him.” I leaned toward her. “Unless he needs something else from it. He knows. That’s the only explanation.” I crossed my arms in front of my chest, pretending the idea that Chris…Lachlan led me on to get information didn’t gut me like it did.

“Knows what?”

“Everything! He knows who I am. Knew his sister came to see me. And he knew all he had to do was turn on the charm and I’d fall under his spell. Just like I did with Nick.”

With every word I spoke, my voice grew louder and more irritable.

“That’s why he agreed to my proposal. Not because he wanted to spend the week with me. But because he figured I might tell him what I refused to tell his sister.”

Naomi stared at me, jaw agape, silence ringing in the space between us.

A knock suddenly reverberated in the room, cutting through the truth clinging to the air like the foul stench of death and decay.

“Ms. Prescott. Five minutes.”

“I’ll be right there,” I said with a saccharine smile, despite the fact the stage manager couldn’t see me. It was a trick I’d learned years ago. Whenever shit got bad, just plaster a smile onto your face. If you smiled, you’d sound happier. For years, it was the only way I could hide the truth that I felt like a prisoner in my marriage.

“You can’t really believe that, Jules,” Naomi said once we heard the sound of retreating footsteps.

I avoided her gaze, walking to the mirror and taking a few seconds to ensure my makeup hid all evidence of my emotions, transitioning into the Julia Prescott America had grown to love.

The Julia Prescott my PR firm insisted I needed to become in order to protect my business from ruin. To do everything I could to separate myself from Nick’s actions.

“It’s too much of a coincidence to believe otherwise. If being married to Nick taught me anything, it’s that there’s no such thing as a coincidence. Not where he’s concerned.”

“And if your marriage to Nick taught me anything…” Naomi touched my forearm, turning me toward her, “it’s that he’s always had the uncanny ability to get into your head and under your skin.”