I nodded.

“Once you tell one person, just one… it’s a loose thread. A delicious bit of gossip that someone has to share. They just can’t help themselves. And it’s not something that a ‘normal’ woman or wife or couple understand. And when they don’t understand, they judge. They judge and make decisions and tell more people and it becomes a wildfire that you are trying to put out with a damp washcloth.” She leaned back and took her own sip of wine. “And at that point, you have to decide if you are going to say fuck it to society’s expectations or if you’re going to hide behind lies and denial.” She lifted her arms and gestured to the house around her. “Maybe you’re in a position of power and wealth where you can say fuck it.” Her face softened and I knew she was thinking of earlier and my emotional stumble over Easton’s job. “Or maybe you’re not.”

“And all of that”—she circled her fingers around an imaginary pile of gossip—“doesn’t take into account how this information will affect your friendship with her, or her future relationship with him. And then there is the moral question of if it’s even your secret to share. This is a secret that involves all three of you.”

She sat back on the couch. “If you tell her, it will, at some point come out. And then it will follow you and your husband. You’ll have complete strangers judging you before they meet you and people you’ve known forever who suddenly go out of their way to avoid you.” Her eyes met mine and she cocked one brow. “Think about it. How did you find out about us?”

I hadn’t expected the question, my mind too full of what-if scenarios and this horrific future that she was spelling out in such clear and devastating detail. “I—what?”

“How did you find out about Brad and me?”

I could pretend that I didn’t know what she was talking about, but that would be a little weak given the honesty that she was displaying. “Umm… a friend. The one who’s calling me, actually. Her stepmother knows someone who used to work at your husband’s law firm.”

And in that one moment, it all clicked into place. Julia De Luca was right. The zigzag of gossip about her that had jumped through four people to get to me. Chelsea’s sprint out to the pool, pure glee on her face about sharing the news. My own holier-than-thou judgment and irrational sexual opinions of the De Lucas. I was a baby version of them, and I was judging them. What would five-months-ago Elle have thought?

“Shit.” I leaned back against the cushion and cupped the wine glass as if it were a security blanket. “What was I thinking?

“You were thinking that it was hot and you wanted it. There’s nothing wrong with that. But here’s a tip. Don’t do it with any close friends. Especially virgins to that sort of thing. Emotions can get involved, and things can get complicated.”

“Ugh.” I let out a low groan.

“It’s okay.”

No, it really wasn’t okay. I was hyper-paranoid, drinking as if I had a problem, and talking off the rails about my sex life with the first big client I’d ever had. “I swear this is not how a home photo session normally goes.”

She burst out laughing, and I couldn’t help but join in. Maybe it was the wine or the relief of finally having someone to talk to, but suddenly—in that big house on Olive Line Trail—it all didn’t seem so bad.

19

Brad De Luca found us in the media room, stretched out on dark leather Restoration Hardware sofas that I was already plotting to steal. I’d ignored six more calls from Chelsea, drank two bottles of wine with Julia, and had been chewed out by her house manager for putting my shoes on the ottoman. Floyd had left at some point, giving me a wry smile as I gave him an over-enthusiastic and fairly sloppy hug.

“Wow.” The man stood before Julia, his hands on his hips and looked down at his wife, an affectionate smile breaking the stern lines of his face. He was really handsome when he smiled. “How drunk are you?”

“A wee bit,” she informed him, holding her thumb and index finger an inch apart.

“Oh damn.” He bent over and kissed her. “Been corrupting our realtor?”

“No corruption,” I interrupted. I attempted to sit up and somehow swayed to the other side. “We were just about to do the seller’s disclosure.” Seller’s somehow turned into weller’s and Julia giggled.

“Yeah, let’s wait on that.” Brad sat down on the end of the couch by Julia’s head, carefully repositioning so that her head was on his lap. He ran his hand over her forehead and she closed her eyes, letting out a low hum of approval.

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