“I’m sorry for dropping in unexpectedly,” Jasmine apologized. “I woke up this morning and was already thinking about visiting. So after I finished running my errands, I had my driver bring me here. I should have called…”
“No worries.” Monica set aside any negative feelings she felt toward this situation. Was it unthoughtful of Jasmine to show up unannounced during a busy season? Probably, but Monica wouldn’t hold it against one of her dearest friends. There was no point, and she was doing her best to keep up the Christmas spirit for her daughter’s sake. “What brings you to my humble yet chaotic abode?”
Jasmine tore herself away from the impressive scene unfolding before them. Thus far Abigail had not kicked up a fuss, but that could be attributed to the lack of bright flashes on the photographer’s part. “I wanted to ask you about something. Well, someone.”
Monica attacked her slouching posture by forcing herself to become more rigid. “Dare I ask?” She had a decent idea already, assuming her sources were telling the truth.
“Do you know someone named Cassandra Welsh?”
She had been afraid of that. As well as she should have been.
“Yes,” she flatly said. “I knew her well enough. We traveled in many of the same circles when I was with Ethan.” She conveniently left out the other boyfriend’s name, but it was heavily implied. Jasmine wouldn’t mind being reminded of her husband’s former affair with Monica anyway.
“I had never really heard of her before today. But apparently she’s coming to town, and it’s a big deal.”
“Who told you this?”
“I see.” Monica’s potential sister-in-law was not without her gabbing faults, huh? “And who did she hear that from?”
“Great.” If Eva was spewing it as truth, then it probably was. Or at least it had enough veracity to get Cassandra near a plane, even if she never stepped onto it. “Just what our happy little community needs. Ms. Welsh spreading her misplaced love and adulation for every man she comes across.”
“Wow. So it’s that bad?”
Monica shrugged. “She dated Ethan after he broke off our arrangement. Honestly, I saw it as a rebound. He could say whatever he wanted about not being interested in a ménage situation, but no man can walk away from a heavy relationship and not have his next be a rebound. I’m sure Ms. Welsh latched onto that the moment she heard he was available.”
Jasmine cleared her throat. “He told me it wasn’t serious between them.”
“And it wasn’t. Didn’t I just say that it was a rebound?”
“So why is it such a big deal to people?”
What else could Monica do other than sigh? “Ms. Welsh had her demons. Some of them worse than the last. She had a tendency to… leave paths of emotional destruction in her wake. Someone always paid for her breakups. If not her former partner, then at least someone close to them.”
“Is it true that she finally moved because she had a miscarriage?”
“I honestly have no idea. I hadn’t even heard about a supposed pregnancy until the moving rumor mill went into effect.” Monica was then quick to reassure her friend. “Ethan can’t be the father, if there is even the chance. The timing is all wrong, and besides, you know he had a vasectomy. He had one before even I met him.’
Jasmine received a phone call that implored her to be at some office by a certain time. She thanked Monica for her answers and once again apologized for showing up when it was least convenient. Monica assured her that everything was fine between them before showing Jasmine to the wing exit. She then returned to her daughter’s photoshoot to find Abigail on the brink of being a fussy baby.
The photographer insisted on a break. Matilda took the baby to calm her down and perhaps – yes, most definitely – change her diaper. Monica was inclined to follow baby and nanny into the other room before remembering her husband had wished to see her in his office when she had the chance. Now was as good of a time as any.
Henry was in his office, as promised. While he was on the phone when Monica unceremoniously arrived five minutes later, Henry wrapped it up quickly and hung up before his wife could get cold feet about what she intended to ask him.
“Are you upset?” Sometimes it was most inconvenient having a husband who was so in tune with her emotional state. Not that Monica envied women who had husbands who couldn’t care less, but… “Come here, Princess.”
Monica tapped her red nails against her palm before obeying – because that was most certainly a command uttered from her husband’s lips. That was fine, though. Commands gave her purpose. Commands allowed her to retreat from the pressures of the world and instead live in one where her only function was to love and serve the man before her.
No wonder she had to put so much trust into a man. Before meeting Henry, it had seemed so impossible to meet one who would have her best interests so close to his heart.
When Henry asked her to come to him, it certainly meant to sit in his lap with both arms wrapped around his neck and head resting on the back of his office chair. Monica was lithe enough to not be an extra burden on the furniture, and Henry was tall and strong enough to secure her in his lap, even with her feet fluttering off the floor. And, damn, was there anything more reassuring than existing in her husband’s embrace like this? Aside from holding her daughter, anyway…
“Cassandra’s returning to the city,” Monica muttered against her husband’s shoulder. “I haven’t seen her in forever.”
“Nor have I.” His hand squeezed her knee. “I thought she had become a west coast hermit. I was fine with that, honestly.”
Monica snorted into his shoulder. “You used to date her.”
“It was more than dating… on her end, anyway. I daresay she believed we were fast tracked to being engaged.”
“Was this before or after she dated your sister?”
Henry bit his tongue long enough for Monica to realize the surprising truth. “After. Her dating Eva was how we formally met.”
“Henry!” Monica jerked up. “Are you serious?”
“As Batman.” He attempted to chuckle, but when he saw his wife’s face, he stopped himself. “I was under the impression that they were not serious. She told me she didn’t care.”
“Damnit, Henry, and you believed her?” Henry had admitted to some stupid things in his life, but dating his sister’s ex-girlfriend was a new one even for him. Monica didn’t care if it was all in the past. If Henry was okay with doing something like that back then… what the fuck would he do now? Date their daughter’s ex should anything terrible happen to Monica? (He would never, of course, but Monica sometimes couldn’t be sure.)
“I have done foolish things. We all have.” He shrugged. “I can’t say her coming back to town affects me in any way.”
Monica picked at one of the hairs growing from his chin. Henry wasn’t the hairiest man around, but he had a decent five o’ clock shadow when his genetics put their minds to it. “Were you the father of her child?”
Regardless of what she had told blissfully ignorant Jasmine earlier, Monica was certain that the reason Cassandra bailed on New England was because she didn’t want to be around the father of her unfortunate child. Everyone – and that meant everyone who was in the know during the time – knew that Cassandra was a ticking time bomb of emotions. Men loved dating her because she was rich, sophisticated, and apparently good in bed. What drove them away from her, however, was her clinginess and amazing ability to rewrite histories, whatever those histories were supposed to be. In Henry’s case, he had once told his wife that while he had enjoyed his time with Cassandra, he had quickly decided she wasn’t “the one” because she was about as interesting as a dormouse. Unlike Monica, who had all the submissive qualities he loved without being boring. Monica could have entire conversations about politics, finance, business, literature and even world history… Cassandra, well…
She had her strengths, but conversation wasn’t one of them. Great girlfriend material, not the best fiancé and wife material.
“I doubt that I am,” Henry finally said. “Not that it matters. It unfortunately was not meant to be.”
Monica could hardly believe he said that. (Couldn’t she, though? No man was empathetically perfect, no matter how much she loved him for his high level of empathy.) “It absolutely matters! If she sees you and has a break down… well, what can we do? It especially wouldn’t help since you just had a baby. With your new wife. Who is the ex-girlfriend of…”
“Don’t go down that road.” Henry caressed Monica’s cheek. They sat up together, her back bumping against his desk. “Don’t do that to yourself, Princess. What’s in the past should probably stay there. Is it possible that I am somehow involved in that? Unfortunately. Don’t think I haven’t thought about it. But we didn’t have a child together. You and I did. I married you. I became a parent with you, Monica. You and I are all that matter now, along with our daughter. I will defend you if necessary. You know I will.”