He smiled. He hugged her close. He kissed her and told her he loved her more than anything else in the world.
The image was so compelling, that by the time Melissa left, Sage was ready to take the risk.
She held his shirt in her arms, hugging it to her chest, inhaling the scent again. Then she laughed at herself. She wasn’t going to spend the rest of the day mooning around the house like a lovesick calf.
Gripping the shirt, she marched down the hall to TJ’s bedroom. The door was open, as it generally was, but she found herself hesitating in the doorway.
She’d never gone into TJ’s room. They didn’t sleep together. Sage stayed upstairs with the children, and TJ slept in his own bed.
At first, she’d respected his privacy, and then it had become habit. There was little reason for her to come down to this end of the hall.
Now she took a step inside.
His bed was perfectly made, even though Verena wasn’t here yet—interesting. The curtains were closed over two windows on either side of the bed. The en suite door was open, and she could see a laundry hamper inside. She looked down at the shirt, laughing at herself for wanting to preserve his smell.
On the way past, she pulled the curtains open. Then she dropped the shirt in the hamper.
When she turned in the bathroom, her gaze caught on a small crystal bottle that sat on the counter. It looked like perfume.
Her heart stilled and her breathing stopped. Next to the bottle was a container of scented soap, and a glass jar of makeup pads, pink bath salts and three copper-colored candles. It was as if Lauren had just stepped out and was coming back any minute.
Sage backed out of the bathroom. As she went to leave the bedroom, she caught a glimpse of TJ’s dresser. The top was covered in photos of Lauren, everything from a formal wedding shot to a picnic in the park where they were laughing and embracing on a blanket. And in the center of it all was a set of glass jewelry boxes.
Foreboding drew her forward. There were three boxes in the set, and the biggest one had Lauren’s name etched on the top. The smallest held rings—a diamond engagement ring, a woman’s band and a man’s band beside it. Everything inside Sage turned to ice.
“What are you doing?” It was TJ’s voice.
Sage whirled. She had no idea what to say. Maybe she should feel guilty. But instead she felt angry and betrayed. And intensely sad.
“Do you still have her clothes?” she asked.
TJ’s jaw went lax.
“This is practically a shrine. Have you kept everything that was hers?”
“That—” his tone was rock-hard “—is none of your business.”
“I’m your wife.”
He seemed to stumble for a split second. “It’s not the same thing.”
Her brain reeled from the hurt and disappointment. “You mean I’m not a real wife.”
“I was honest with you from the start.”
Her heart split in two. “In other words, I’m right.”
He’d acted like he cared for her. Everything he said and did made her feel like she mattered, like she was more than just Eli’s mother.
“Right about what?” he asked, looking confused.
“Not right. Wrong.” She made for the door.
He didn’t step aside. “Wrong about what?”
She swept her arm across the room. “About this. About you. About us. I thought I could do this, TJ.”
“We are doing this.”
“No.” It was crystal clear to her. “You’re doing this. I’m doing something else altogether.”
“You’re not making sense.”
She squeaked past him. “I have to go.”
“Go where? Why? What?”
She didn’t answer but kept walking.
“I never pretended I was over her,” he called out.
He was right. He hadn’t pretended he was over Lauren. His progress was all in Sage’s mind.
* * *
“Tell me you’re exaggerating,” Matt said.
“Tell me you’re not that stupid,” Caleb said.
Afternoon sun rays bounced off the smooth water beyond the marina’s rooftop patio.
“I was completely up-front with her,” TJ defended. “She’s known all along this was about Eli.”
“You’re sleeping with her,” Matt said on a high-pitched note.
“It was her idea.”
“People can get emotional about that sort of thing,” Caleb said.
“Are you saying I should stop sleeping with her?”
TJ didn’t want to do that. He truly didn’t want to give that up. It was one of the few things that kept him sane. Those moments in Sage’s arms, he was whole, complete. He wasn’t lonely anymore.
“I’m saying you should stop lying to her,” Matt said.