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Chapter One

These days I feel like the luckiest girl alive. It’s amazing to look back and realize how much things have changed in just a few months; I was lonely and miserable, but Colby came back into my life and changed all that. Since our divorce, I’ve had thousands upon thousands of daydreams about us getting back together, but at my core I’m a realist. I never thought it would really happen, but Colby shocked me—and everyone, probably—by giving me a second chance.

Today marks three months since Colby spanked me in the back of his truck, and I think of it as an anniversary of sorts. If it weren’t for that, we wouldn’t be back together. Sure, it infuriated me at the time, and I couldn’t sit without difficulty the next day, but ultimately I’m glad he did it. That spanking gave me my life back, the one I should have been smart enough to hold onto in the first place.

I’ve been trying to play it cool and be realistic when it comes to us—things didn’t work out before, so it’s possible that it might not work this time. Despite that unpleasant bit of logic, things have been going better than I could have imagined. It feels like we’ve fallen in love all over again, and all the logic in the world can’t stop me from being excited today. I’m so giddy I just might burst into song any minute now.

Much to the shock of my secretary, I’ve taken the day off, something that I never, ever do. I’ve gone into the office with the flu, and returned to work after having my wisdom teeth pulled. No one can say I’m not dedicated. Today is just so special to me; I never thought we would get here, and I want to put everything else on the back burner to show Colby how special he is to me. I had to reassure Melanie several times that I am not, in fact, dying.

I’ve cleaned his apartment top to bottom, until I can see my reflection in his kitchen counters. I also brought in bouquets of wildflowers, which he is much too manly to admit he likes. I’ve spent the better part of the afternoon making one of his favorite meals: baby back ribs, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, butter biscuits and apple pie for dessert. OK, so I might have actually bought the pie—all that cleaning took too much time, but otherwise, it’s been all me. The kitchen has made me its slave today.

A quick glance at the clock tells me that I’m still running behind. He’ll be off work in twenty minutes, and knowing the way he likes to drive, home in thirty. That doesn’t give me much time to get ready, but with the entire front of my shirt covered in flour, I know I have to take a shower and change.

I decide to just rinse off instead, and I’m wielding a razor over a lathered leg when my phone rings. Farm Boy, flashes on the screen, and I can’t help but smile over our little inside joke. With my free hand, I answer the phone.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Gorgeous,” he says in his low, sexy voice. Just hearing him on the other line sends a jolt of excitement running through my body.

“Oh, hey.”

“Were you expecting someone else?” he asks, and even though I know he’s teasing, there is an undercurrent of uncertainty in his voice. It comes with the territory when you’ve been married before. We’re still relearning each other, and trying to piece our relationship back together.

“No, of course not,” I hurry to reassure him. “What’s up?”

“Not much. How has your day been?”

Turning my head, I hold the phone on my shoulder so that I can get back to shaving my legs. “Fine.”

“How was work?”

“Um, you know, I actually didn’t go in today.”

“Really? Why not?” He sounds surprised, and I can hardly blame him. He’s probably remembering that I hardly ever took so much as a vacation day when we were together.

“Oh, it’s nothing, really. I’m just feeling a little under the weather, that’s all.”

“Nothing serious, I hope?”

“Oh, no, nothing like that,” I agree, rinsing off my razor in the lukewarm water that’s collected in the tub.

“Good. I’m glad to hear it. I feel bad calling to ask you after hearing that you’re sick, but…”

“Yeah?”

“Well, a few guys were talking about going out to have a couple of drinks, so I was thinking…”

“You wanna join them?” I ask, holding my breath. This could be the answer I was looking for.

“If it’s OK with you. I didn’t think we had any plans.”

“No, none at all,” I say, my voice chipper. “Go ahead, have fun. I think I’ll just pop a movie in and catch up on some of the reports I brought with me from the office.”

“Sounds good, babe. I won’t be longer than a few hours.”

After exchanging ‘I love you’s’, I hang up the phone and immediately breathe a sigh of relief. Well, that solves that. I can afford to take my time now. Humming to myself, I fill the bathtub and add a few squirts of lavender bubble bath under the faucet. In just a couple of seconds the water is foaming up with bubbles, and I’m inhaling the sweet scent with every breath.

Happy anniversary to me, I think as I sink into the bathtub. I let the warm water envelope me, sighing with unadulterated bliss. There are few things in life that can top a hot bubble bath. I don’t give myself too much time to relax, though, before I’m back to primping for Colby’s arrival. I finish shaving my legs and then prop my feet up on the tub so I can paint my toenails. When I’m finished, they’re a shining ruby red. I’ve just started to pluck my eyebrows when I hear the door slam. With a surprised jerk, I pull too hard. I drop the tweezers, cursing loudly.

“Honey, I’m hooommmme!” Colby calls.

“Coming!” I shout back, choking back my panic. All I can think about at the moment is how much the skin under my eyebrow is throbbing. I swing my legs over the side of the tub—don’t want to risk ruining my freshly painted toes—and stand up, turning to grab a towel.

As I reach for the towel, I accidentally bump up against the toilet. It’s only for a second, but that’s all it takes. Like a scene from a horror movie, I watch in seemingly slow motion as my phone slides from the toilet lid, where it had been resting, into the bathtub. With a screech, I lunge for it, and bring it out of the tub still dripping, cursing again as I do.

“Honey? Are you OK?” Colby calls out. From the sound of his voice, I’d guess he’s at the base of the staircase. The last thing I need right now is for him to come up here.

“Fine!” I shout back, sounding louder than I’d intended. I start taking my phone apart as fast as I can. I’m rushing to take the battery and Sim card out when I happen to glance in the mirror. What I see staring back at me makes my heart stop. My reflection looks much like it usually does, except for the hideously deformed eyebrow. I must have pulled out a big chunk of hair when I’d heard Colby come home.

“Damn it,” I groan at my reflection. “So much for a great evening.”

“Mona? Are you sure you’re alright?”

“Yes, I’m fine!” There is no mistaking the annoyance in my voice this time. Much to my chagrin, I hear footsteps on the stairs. “Colby, I’m fine!” I insist, hurrying to wrap myself in a towel.

“I’ll be the judge of that, thank you,” comes his crisp reply, and I can tell that he’s at the door.

“Please, I’ll be down in just a few minutes if—” I break off as he bursts into the room. He’s wearing a tie for God’s sake! Just the sight of him in a tie makes my heart beat faster. Dear God, is that a blazer? The sight of him, looking absolutely delicious, shocks me speechless.

“Well?” he asks expectantly.

“I…I feel a bit underdressed,” I manage finally. Wow, does he look good! I think the last time I saw him with a tie on was on our wedding day, and that came off as soon as he could sneak away from the reception.

He grins, seeming pleased by the way my eyes are drinking him in. “Well, I might have a cure for that.” He starts to loosen his tie, but I fix a firm gaze on him.

“Don’t you dare, Mister. You’re all dressed up and I am going to enjoy every minute of it. Go back downstairs and I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

He arches an eyebrow, but seems to take it in good humor. “Yes, ma’am.”

As soon as I hear his footsteps on the stairs I spring into action. I put on a cream cable knit dress, throw on a pair of turquoise earrings, and add a spritz of the perfume he likes best before making my way down the stairs to join him.

Colby whistles as I descend, and I can’t help but smile at him. He’s standing at the bottom of the stairs, and it makes my heart do somersaults to see that he’s been waiting for me. “You look fantastic, Mona,” he says, and whistles again to drive his point home.

I can’t stop smiling. I’m positively glowing. “Thank you. Are you hungry?”

“Starving,” he admits, sounding almost apologetic. He’s always hungry. It doesn’t matter if I feed him a five-course meal, I’ll still find him up in the middle of the night sneaking leftovers out of the fridge. I often joke that he has an extra stomach, and ask why he can’t just eat grass with the cows.

“Not to worry, I’ve got you covered,” I assure him, leaning over to give him a kiss. I start to walk toward the kitchen, but I glance over my shoulder just in time to see him sniffing at the bouquet I placed by the door. Smiling to myself, I go into the kitchen and pull the aluminum foil off the potatoes and green bean casserole.

“So, how was your day, babe?”

I stifle the urge to roll my eyes. Doesn’t he see how clean the apartment is? How does he think my day was? “Fine,” I say instead. “Do you want to do this buffet style, or…” When I look back up, he’s holding a bouquet of the prettiest yellow roses I’ve ever seen. “What…”

He just grins at me, pleased to leave me at a loss for words. “Did you know that the color of roses is supposed to tell you something?”

“No,” I answer with a little laugh. I can’t take my eyes off the beautiful roses, marveling at the brightness of them, and how perfect each petal is. I’d be willing to bet they cost a fortune.

“That’s what the florist told me. Supposedly, yellow means you’re sorry.”

“Oh? And what do you have to be sorry about, Colby Lucas?” I ask, mock sternly.

“Lying to you about going out after work.” His sheepish grin is infectious, and I can’t help but smile back at him.

“Well, I think this once I can forgive you.” Laying the spoon down on the counter, I walk toward him and take my flowers. The petals are softer than silk, and they smell incredible. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” With a flourish, he pulls his other hand out from behind his back, and is holding an equally lovely bouquet of red roses. I shake my head, laughing. I couldn’t have been more surprised. Colby has always been notorious for forgetting anniversaries even after I’d marked it on the calendar and put it in his phone, so the presents are definitely unexpected.

“What do red roses mean?” I ask.

“Oh, come on! Every woman knows that.”

I’ve only just laid the bouquets on the counter when Colby pulls me to him and puts his lips on mine. “I love you,” he murmurs in between kisses, and I sigh, feeling my entire body meld with his.

We stay locked in each other’s arms until Colby’s stomach starts rumbling so loudly that we finally admit defeat.

“Feed me, woman!” he commands, to which I respond by rolling my eyes and pointing to the food on the kitchen counter.

“Help yourself.”

He growls, and steps toward me menacingly, but I stand my ground with my arms crossed over my chest as I stare him down. He smacks my bottom once, with a surprisingly stingy slap. I make a pained face at him, which only makes him laugh. Still, he does pull down a plate and serve himself. Small victory, but I’ll take what I can get.

“The apartment looks great, honey,” Colby says once we’re both sitting at the table with our plates. He’s forking green beans into his mouth with a slightly slower pace than usual, I note.

I shrug. “It was nothing.”

He looks up, his face dead serious. “Why do women do that? Why do you say something is nothing when you’ve obviously worked hard on it?”

“For more compliments,” I admit, taking a sip of the wine Colby has brought home.

“OK. Well, in that case, the place looks great, you look great, and the food is delicious.”

I beam at him. “You learn fast.”

“I didn’t mean to catch you off guard earlier. I actually texted when I was five minutes away.” He’s back to eating green bean casserole, but I freeze in my chair, with my biscuit halfway to my mouth.

“Oh, my God,” I breathe.

“What?” he asks, his eyes flying back to my face. “Are you OK?”

I groan loudly, throw my napkin down on the table, and leap to my feet. “Fine! Everything’s fine.” Without giving him a chance to respond, I’m running toward the stairs and take them two at a time.

“Mona? Where are you going? What’s with you today?”

Without answering, I burst into the bathroom and rush to my phone. It’s just like I left it, and after wiping off the Sim card and battery, I put everything back together and try to turn the phone on. Nothing happens. I try a second time, then a third, but the screen stays annoyingly blank.

“Damn it,” I mutter under my breath. I hate having to buy a new phone. I just know that the sales person is going to try to talk me into buying a fancier, more expensive version that I won’t have the first clue how to operate.

“You know, we really need to have a conversation about your cursing.”

I whip around in surprise, and see Colby standing behind me. He doesn’t look happy to have had his dinner interrupted.

“Maybe a swear jar with a little twist,” he suggests. “Instead of a quarter for every swear word you can have twenty-five swats. What do you think?”

I huff loudly and fix him with an annoyed stare. “Shouldn’t you be downstairs eating?”

He tsks at me, wagging a finger. “Careful, Mona. I came upstairs because I’d like to eat dinner with my—” he breaks off and winces, shrugging at me apologetically, “—with you. Now, what are you doing in here?”

“Oh, nothing, I just…”

“There you go with the nothing again,” he sighs, but I can see the hint of a smile on his kissable lips.

“Really, Colby, I—”

“Think carefully, now,” he warns. “It better be pretty important to bring you up here. You know that whenever you make ribs you had better be prepared to settle in for the long haul.”

I hold out my phone, biting my lip. “I sort of dropped it into the tub.”

He arches an eyebrow. “Isn’t that how you lost your last one?”

“No,” I say, visibly offended. “Of course not.”

“What was it then? The toilet?”

“Well, yeah, but the toilet and the tub are clearly very different,” I defend myself.

“Very?” he echoes. “Aren’t they both in the bathroom? Also, they both contain water, which automatically makes them very bad for cell phones.”

I roll my eyes at him. “OK, you made your point. Thanks for the insight, because you know, I didn’t already feel bad enough or anything.”

“Aw, come here.” He pulls me to him, and makes me forget all about the stupid cell phone. It apparently works the same for him, too, because he even seems to have forgotten about his dinner. Before I know it, he’s pulled me over to the bed, which we fall onto without breaking apart.

“Aren’t you still hungry?” I whisper with the taste of him on my lips.

“Moments like this are why I invested in a microwave,” he says, and with another quick kiss, he begins smacking my butt with the slow, tingling swats that make me feel warm and loved. “You need to be more careful with your cell phone,” he scolds, his hand bouncing from the right cheek to the left. “And watch your mouth, Mona. No more swearing out of you, understand?” His next three smacks are placed low, and make me squeal in protest.

“Yes, sir!” I exclaim, reaching back to rub my poor bottom.

He catches my hand effortlessly and holds it. The next spanks are firm, but clearly intended for my enjoyment as they are sexy and sweet at the same time. This goes on for a few more minutes, then he lets go of my arm and I turn to face him. Just as he’s lowering his face to mine, he stops abruptly and sits back up, scrutinizing me with a perplexed expression.

“What?” I ask, mystified by his behavior.

“It’s nothing, just…are you trying something new with your eyebrows?”

***

Sometimes I still think that I’m in a beautiful, happily-ever-after kind of dream. I wake up pinching myself, just to make sure it’s all real. I’ve even been known to text Colby in the middle of the night after waking up in the dark, my heart pounding hard in my chest. I wait anxiously for him to respond, biting my lip as I watch the screen. After about five minutes of that, I remember that he never texts, and I hit his number on my speed dial. I wait with bated breath as the phone rings, and I can’t exhale until I hear his groggy “Hello?”

“I had a bad dream,” I always blurt out, the words tumbling out so fast I worry that he might not understand me.

“Oh, baby,” he says, sounding so sweet, so concerned even with his voice tinged by sleep. “Everything will be OK, I promise.”

I always believe him. Just hearing him call me ‘baby’ is enough to make me remember that we’re together again. Sometimes my nightmare is that our last weeks together have been a dream, but more often than not it’s revisiting all of our fights, being transported back in time to when we didn’t know how to love each other. Even after I get off the phone with Colby, I can’t go back to sleep. I lay in bed, clutching a pillow tightly to my chest and telling myself that things are going to go differently this time. I try to convince myself that I can do better, that I will be a good wife, or girlfriend, or…whatever he will let me be. I can make him happy this time. Most of all, I try to believe that all of it is true.

The only trouble is, sometimes I don’t quite believe it. I want to. The hardest thing I can imagine is to lose him all over again. Still, the nightmares keep coming and I wonder if my subconscious knows something I don’t. I wonder if I’m doomed to repeat history.

Being with Colby again, having his arms around me, seeing the smile that lights up his sea-foam green eyes whenever he sees me come into a room…it’s the most amazing feeling in the world. My heart flutters whenever I see his name on my caller ID, and I know I’m in love. Remembering how we used to be together, at the very end of our marriage makes me shudder. Sometimes I’ll be doing something simple, like putting up groceries or mowing the lawn and I’ll remember something harsh he said, or a time that I wasn’t there for him when he was feeling low and needed me.

Still, we’re trying to put the pieces back together. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it. At the end of the day, all I can do is cross my fingers, try my best, and hope that things will work out better this time around. It just has to, because I can’t go through that kind of heartbreak again.

***

“Did you enjoy your day off yesterday?” Sara inquires as she pulls to a stop at an intersection. It’s her turn to drive today.

“Mmm-hmm,” I say, looking at myself in the mirror as I apply mascara to my dark blue eyes.

“Well?” she asks, and I can feel her eyes on me. “How was it?”

“Hey, Sara? We at a red light?”

“No-o. Why?”

“Then drive, girl!” I laugh at her. A quick glance shows me that she’s pouting, and I take pity on my friend. “It was nice.”

“Nice?” she echoes in disbelief. “You skipped work for nice?”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Is there certain criteria that I have to meet before calling in a personal day?”

She rolls her eyes. “You know what I want, Mona. Give me the dirt.”

I shake my head and finish putting on my mascara. “I cooked dinner, cleaned his apartment, and he bought me flowers.”

“You’re right,” she sighs heavily. “That is nice. I was hoping for something a little more—” she glances at me slyly, “juicy.”

“We had ribs for dinner.” I say. I think it’s funny, but Sara just shoots me a look that says that she thinks I am hopelessly frustrating.

“Really, Mona,” she sniffs, obviously insulted. “If you don’t want to tell me, just say so.”

“Tell you what?” I demand, snapping the mirror shut.

“Well…are you or aren’t you?”

“Aren’t we—” I bite my lip when it hits me what she’s asking. I start to squirm in my seat, and feel a blush creeping up my neck. Damn my redhead genes. No matter what I do, whenever I get embarrassed I turn the color of a ripe cherry tomato. Fortunately, I don’t embarrass easily, but it’s still annoying when it happens.

“So you are,” she says smugly, looking particularly pleased with herself. “I knew it! Ethan said that it was none of my business, but I knew you, as my friend would—”

“We’re not,” I whisper so low that I doubt she could have heard me. Still, she stops talking and leans her head toward me.

“What? Did you say you’re…you’re not?” Now she just sounds confused. I can sympathize, because it confuses me, too.

“Nope.”

“Not…at all?” she asks, like she just can’t believe it.

“Not in the least bit. There have been times we’ve gotten close, but Colby says he doesn’t believe in premarital sex,” I admit with chagrin.

“But you’ve already been married!” Sara exclaims. “So wouldn’t it be post-marital? Technically, I mean?”

I have to smile at her. She can be so cute sometimes. “Technically, yes. But…I guess he wants to make sure that this isn’t about sex. That’s what he said. He wants to make sure that I…that we are on the right track before…”

“If he doesn’t believe in premarital sex, does that mean that you’re going to get married again?” By the time she finishes asking the question she is squealing. “Because I can think of some awesome color schemes, just off the top of my head. And there’s this band I just know you would love.”

“I don’t think so, Sara.”

“Well, why not?” she asks, her lips in a pout again.

“I can’t expect him to propose to me again! Not after…besides, it’s just too early for thinking like that,” I explain.

“It’s too bad,” she says with a sniff. “I love planning weddings.”

“Me too,” I admit, smiling sadly. “I just don’t want to…rush things. You know? Last time I was so focused on that wedding ring, if he would ask me, and how, that I didn’t really enjoy all the other aspects of being part of a couple.”

“I guess,” she says, with a shrug. She reaches over and turns up the volume on the radio, and I sink back into my seat.

I don’t really think she understands what I’m saying, but Sara and I are a bit on different wavelengths at times. She thinks that I should demand a beautiful, sparkling diamond and make plans to buy a new satin wedding gown. But I know that we have to take it slow and ease back into things. I don’t want to go back to the way things used to be; I want for us to build something better than that, something lasting. If I have to wait for it, then that’s what I’ll do. There is no one more worth the wait than Colby.

 


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