“H-here.” She thrust her cell phone at Talia.
Talia glanced at the display, braced for the worst.
I don’t want to hurt you, read the message from Aaron Madden. But I want to be straight with you. Now that Jerri and I are going ahead with the divorce, I feel like I need some time to get myself together. I’m not ready to commit to anything. I think we should see other people.
A fuzzy red haze of anger made the words run together a little at the end, so Talia read the message again. That was no better. By the third pass, she’d recovered enough to pick her jaw up off the floor and ask an outraged question.
“Are you telling me,” she said, between gritted teeth, “that son of a bitch finally left his wife, but he wants the freedom to screw other women? Is that the bottom line here?”
By now, Gloria had clamped down on most of her emotions, but her eyes still had a dangerous glint in them. For the first time ever, Talia wondered what her sister was capable of at a time like this and whether it might include hurting herself or someone else—or someone’s property, like, say, a sleek Mercedes sedan.
“That’s the bottom line,” Gloria said.
“What are you going to do?” Talia asked.
She was temped to launch into a lecture, starting with I told you so and ending with So you’re never going to see him again, right? but they’d been down that road before, several times, and it never ended well for Talia. Inevitably, Gloria reconciled with Aaron and told Aaron that Talia had badmouthed him, which led to a prolonged period of estrangement between the sisters.
After being burned by this process, Talia had learned her lesson. Gloria had to come to her own conclusions about her dysfunctional romantic relationship. Even if they were wrong.
“Do?” Gloria reached for her empty champagne flute and headed for the door. “Well, for starters, I’m going to drink some more champagne. A magnum should do it, don’t you think?” Bitterness made her face hard and thinned her mouth into a sneer. “And then I’m going to see if there’s anyone interesting in the crowd tonight.”
They’d walked out of the bathroom and back into the crowded chaos of the party, but at this piece of news, Talia stopped dead and wheeled around, causing Gloria to plow into her.
“Anyone interesting?” Talia echoed. “What the hell does that mean?”
Shrugging, Gloria pulled some lip gloss out of her clutch and applied a fresh coat. “Aaron wants me to see other people, right? I’m going to see other people. No time like the present.”
This announcement really threw Talia for a loop. Every time she thought she’d seen the outer limits of Gloria’s self-destructive behavior, Gloria whipped something new out of her hat to surprise her.
“Oh, no, you’re not.” Getting jostled by a passing guest, Talia grabbed Gloria’s arm and pulled her behind a potted palm, out of the line of traffic. “I’m not going to stand by while you do something you’ll regret tomorrow.”
“Regret?” Gloria’s brows rose. “What? You mean like wasting years of my life on a married man? That kind of regret?”
“Yeah. I’m going to put you in a taxi.”
“I don’t want to get in a taxi.” Gloria snatched another glass of champagne off the tray of a server. “I want to have some fun.”
Talia took the glass, dumped the contents into the palm tree, and handed the flute back to Gloria. “You’ve had enough fun. I’d take you home myself, but I can’t just leave—”
“Ladies,” said a new voice. “Is something wrong?”
Startled, they turned to see Cooper Davies standing there, having apparently materialized out of nowhere. Unlike the other men present, he wore a dark suit and dark shirt combo rather than a tux, not that it mattered. He looked effortlessly sophisticated, as though he’d rolled out of bed after a late-afternoon romp, swiped just enough gel through his blond curls to tame the thatch across his forehead, thrown on his clothes and come to the party. He was, Talia had already decided, sparing with his smiles, and right now was no exception. His full lips looked grim, his nose hawkish and his blue eyes stormy.