Do Us Part Page 1

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CHAPTER 1

My time at the Crystal Palace changed me — hardened me into a survivor, shooting steel into parts of me that were previously weak and bendable.

So, even when my heart was falling, free and unrestrained, diving downward into a pool of ridiculousness, my brain knew better. My brain planned for the inevitable, for the disappointment, and the disaster that lay ahead. My brain made sure that there would be a parachute to catch me, to ensure that my weak heart wouldn’t doom the rest of me.

I sit next to Nathan, shooting him a nervous smile. He reaches over, looping his fingers through mine, tugging a hand free and planting a soft kiss on the back on it. “Relax,” he murmurs.

I try, letting out a breath and rolling my neck slightly to relieve the tension there.

“Mrs. Dumont!” The dark-skinned man strides up to me with a smile, reaching forward and enthusiastically shaking my hand. “I am Leo Brantling. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

I match his smile, returning his handshake and gesturing to Nathan. “Mr. Brantling, this is Nathan Dumont.”

The man turns to Nathan with a smile, repeating the greeting ritual. “Come, come. Let’s step into my office.”

His office turns out to be a small glass cube, right off the lobby, with two worn chairs in front of a crowded desk. I had envisioned riding an elevator, walking through ornate halls and lobbies until we reached a large corner office. I set down my purse and shift uncomfortably in the chair.

“Now, how can we help you this morning?” The man addresses me, understandable given the fact that my name is the one on the account.

“I’d like to transfer all of the funds in my account.” I reach into my bag, pulling out the card that Nathan had given me two days prior, the account number written on the back.

“Will they be leaving the bank?” This seems to be of concern to the man, whose eyebrows meet in a worried pinch above his brown eyes.

Nathan leans forward in his chair. “No, they will be transferred to my account, here at the bank.”

“Very well.” The man smiles. “Is that the account number?” When I nod, he takes the card, setting it before him and begins to type, his attention on the screen. “I’ll need identification, preferably a passport, for both of you. Mr. Dumont, may I have your account number?”

As Nathan speaks, I pull out my passport, a slight tremor in my hands. My fingers smooth over the rough blue plastic, opening it slightly to see my new name staring confidently back at me. Jennifer Ann Dumont.

I am Jennifer Ann Dumont. I was born on June 6, 1984. I am Jennifer Ann Dumont.

“Mrs. Dumont, can you verify your social security number for me?”

I recite the numbers, grateful for the time Nathan insisted I spend memorizing Jennifer’s social. Then I hand over the passport, aware of the change in power that is occurring right here, right now. The weight of influence shifts with every dollar that transfers from Jennifer’s account to Nathan’s. After this, I will be expendable, my purpose fulfilled. No reason other than honor to keep his promises and care for my father.

It is done entirely too quickly, the entire process taking less than five minutes. $54,236,301.59 transferred from one person to another faster than a twenty-dollar lap dance. Nathan is unhappy with the amount, a scowl stealing over his face when he sees the figure. “What’s wrong?” I whisper, scrawling a signature as I have been shown to do: a big, looping J followed by a swirl of squiggles, then the last name in clear, bubbly cursive.

He mutters something under his breath about the poor rate of interest and then signs the form. I find it amusing that he has anything other than elation on his face, seeing as he is suddenly fifty-four million dollars richer.

We stand as a group, the beaming Bahamian shaking our hands and inquiring about our plans for the rest of the weekend.

Nathan loops an arm around my waist, bringing me to him. “We fly back tomorrow morning,” he says, planting a quick kiss on my neck. “We just came into town for this transfer.”

The man frowns. “You didn’t have to come here just for that. If you have any transfers in the future, please know that we can easily handle that over the phone, provided that you fax or email us your identification documents.”

Nathan winks, pulling gently on my hand, and we move toward the door. “I may have wanted to steal a few hours of her in a bikini.”

“That I can understand,” the man says with a smile as he holds open the door.

Waving and smiling, we step from the bank and onto the sidewalk, the flavor and sounds of Nassau all around us. As the doors close, it is like a weight lifted. It is done; we have escaped unscathed. The money is transferred. Nathan grips my hand and smiles down at me, his grin wide, his manner light.

“Are you happy?” I ask, holding up a hand against the glare of the sun.

“Ecstatic.” He beams, pulling me to him and bending down to kiss me. “Thank you,” he whispers, wrapping his arms around me and lifting me to his mouth, causing a squeal to leave my lips. A squeal he quickly silences with his mouth, spinning me in a small circle before releasing me. The limo, this one a small improvement over the first, pulls up, and he opens the door for me, gesturing with his hand. “After you, Mrs. Dumont.”

I tilt my head graciously, a smile tugging at my lips. “Why, thank you,” I say sweetly, ducking into the car and waiting for his heat to join me.

CHAPTER 2

We spend the day in town, walking through the shops of downtown, filling the car with shopping bags, and eating lunch oceanfront at Fish Fry, a colorful strip of local eateries. In full view of the paparazzi, Nathan is the picture of a perfect husband, purchasing every item I touch and kissing me sweetly over fried conch and plantains. We walk into the hotel at four, dropping our bags inside the suite’s front door, our hands on each other before the door even clicks shut.

He lifts me, wrapping my legs around his waist and carries me to the bed, our mouths fighting a frantic battle of ownership. When he bends, setting me softly on the bed, I pull back, taking a moment to study his face so close to mine. His thick brows rest perfectly above dark blue eyes, the color of deep water and just as dangerous, rimmed with thick dark lashes. His nose is slightly burnt, evidence of our time in the sun, the effect only reinforcing his All-American perfect bone structure. Those lips — full, pink, kissably irresistible. I reach up, needing him closer, needing confirmation that he is, in fact, here with me. That he is, indeed, mine in this one moment of time. I wrap my arms around his neck and pull him back down to my mouth.

Lust is a dangerous thing. It can make you believe things that are not real. It can seduce your mind and lead it blindfolded to the cliff that will be its demise. Nathan takes me to that cliff, my body bending and molding beneath his, my heart coming up for air in between soft caresses with his mouth while his c**k hammers out a slick, rapid motion. I gasp, I arch, I dive. I’m not naïve enough to think that it has been lust this entire time. I’ve known what was sneaking in, looking for an opening and begging for admittance. But here, in this island paradise, sharing a bed and conversation with this beautiful specimen of a man … here I can feel the final ties of restraint loosening, allowing the scary thing called love to work its way in.

The afternoon sun is streaming through our open window when he comes. The orgasm rips through him, his body heaving and bucking inside me, my name ripped from his throat as he gives a few final thrusts, his thighs trembling against me as he buries himself fully inside of me.

I am fully relaxed, multiple orgasms turning my limbs loose and uncooperative. When he withdraws, collapsing beside me, it takes every ounce of my energy to roll over and curl up against his hard body. He moves closer to me, dragging me higher until my head rests on his chest, his heart beating a strong rhythm in my ear, its steady beat soothing and secure. There, with his hand tracing a soft pattern on my na**d back, I sleep.

I wake up to a dim room, the foyer light casting soft awareness over the room, the double doors open, an ocean breeze floating over the space. The crashing waves give the empty room a soothing presence. I lay there for a moment, listening, trying to sort out where Nathan might be. I have a faint memory of his arms lifting me, then setting me back down, the soft warmth of a blanket pulled over me, pillows placed under my head. I sit up, sliding the blanket back and standing, my eyes catching a note on the bedside table, my cell on top of it.

I’ll be in the casino. If you feel up to it, please dress for dinner and come down. I’ll be in the poker room.

ND

I set the note down, picking up my cell and pressing a button to illuminate the display. 7:45. I’ve slept for almost three hours. I move to the closet and turn on the light.

I find Nathan in the poker room, his face grim and chip stack low. He looks up, a smile crossing his face and rises, gesturing with a hand for me to come closer. When I reach his side, he pulls me onto his lap, kissing my neck gently and throwing in his hand. “I’m going to cash out,” he says to the dealer, his eyes sweeping the low neckline of my dress, his hand smoothing down the side of my waist and affectionately squeezing my curves. “Did you get this one today?” he asks, tugging on the dress.

I nod. “How do you like it?”

“Absolutely stunning. Half the room noticed you come in.”

“Only half?” I tease, standing and moving aside, letting him push his chips toward the dealer.

He flashes me a smile. “You hungry?”

“Starved.”

“Then let’s eat.”

We step into an upscale Japanese restaurant just off the casino floor, and sit at the bar, ordering sake bombs and sushi. The restaurant is crowded, and we sit close, our arms touching, the heat of his body close to mine.

The sake is cold, the sushi delicious, and I relax, allowing myself to notice the light in his eyes, the ease in his manner, his good mood obvious in every smile, laugh, and touch. We touch frequently, his hand stealing to my knee, slipping salaciously underneath my dress, a soft kiss on my shoulder, my hand gliding into his hair, a stolen kiss over sashimi.

We stay ‘til almost ten, stories and discoveries bubbling out, our different worlds having more in common than we thought. We are both David Baldacci fans, both love Scrabble, both grew up around horses, and allergic to pine nuts. He promises to take me skiing; I swear I’ll out-grill him in a steak-off. He wants a dog, and I promise to start researching a breed with rugged masculinity. We both think Beth is a bitch, and he promises to fire her upon our return. And he pays me the best compliment of the night, over gourmet fortune cookies, his face serious, eyes soft.

“You’re a lot like her.”

I tilt my head at him. “Who?” I am both terrified and hopeful that he would say her name. Cecile. The woman who so carelessly tossed aside the heart I covet.

“Jennifer. She was so wonderful, Candy. I wish you could have met her. She had a fire in her that glowed. It showed when she was pissed — God she could set fire to half the town when she was upset. But as mad as she got, she loved even fiercer. She was my other half. It was she and I against the world — even scarier — against our family. What she did for me? When Cecile took everything and left? She didn’t just pick me up financially. She’s the reason I made it through that at all. She fortified me, picked up my pieces and put me back together. You have her strength, her compassion, her fire. You are the only woman I know worthy to have her name.” He looks sadly at me, his mouth turning up in a smile that doesn’t reach his eyes.

I say nothing, leaning forward and tugging on his shirt until our lips meet; communicating through my kiss what I am not woman enough to say.

CHAPTER 3

Candy sleeps beside me, tucked into my arm, hers limp and soft across my chest. I need to move her, to remove the hold she has on me, but I can’t. I can’t risk waking her, her opening her eyes and looking at me in the darkness. Her eyes do me in. They see through every ounce of pretense and stare into my soul. So I leave her where she is, her body tight to mine.

I am unraveling, the world that I know slowly coming apart at the seams at a time when it should be coming together. I have control of the funds, transferring them through four different accounts to ensure their safety, their location one that only I know — the IRS none the wiser about my regained wealth. My security, drained when Cecile left, is finally back. I am now only missing one thing, the woman who took it from me. She is the last remaining piece of my happiness, and Candy could be the ticket that brings her back. Candy is playing along — smiling and acting the part of the devoted wife, madly in love with her husband, the photographers catching every flirtatious glance, every stolen kiss. Cecile’s jealous streak is legendary, showing its teeth at several points during our relationship. She shouldn’t be able to lie quietly, the photos and the press should flush her out, her ego demanding that I leave Candy at once so that she can go to bed happy, her pride still intact. It is a weak card, but the only one I have to play. Searching for her hasn’t worked, Drew’s extensive search bringing up nothing, his desire to find her as strong as my own.

What I can’t figure out — what plagues me in the dark of the night — is why. Why did she leave? Was it all just for money? She left me, Drew, her family and friends, all for my fortune?

I shouldn’t want her back. I should curse her name, hate her photo, lament the day that she ever walked into my life. But I can’t. She owns my heart, her touch imprinted on every ounce of my being, breath in my body, blood in my veins. Without her, I am lost, and I will never stop looking until I find her.

The Journal of Nathan Dumont

I know that Nathan’s act is all for show, our Napa trip proof of that. The tender touches, the kiss on the nape of my neck — an impulsive gesture made when I throw back my head to laugh — it is all for the cameras. For her. The fact that every touch that I swoon over is performed for another woman … is heartbreaking. Literally. I can feel my heart expanding, cracking along ridges and junctures, its shell not made to be manipulated, twisted, and toyed with in this manner. It bends, it yields, it cracks. I must do a better job of protecting it. I must push away from this man and focus on what is important. My father. The life I will have away from Nathan Dumont.

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