It took all of Aurora’s strength to walk along the pathway. Apparently her wealth matched her expensive tastes in phones, bags and shoes. The tall building was three stories tall and every light on the ground floor was turned on. The curtains were open and she barely recognized the man pacing in the living room, phone to his ear. That must be her husband.
She narrowed her eyes to make out his stodgy shape. He’d really let himself go, unless he’d always been like that. Why would she marry a man who hadn’t once resembled Asher’s physique? Oh god, maybe ‘personality was more important than looks’ – it wouldn’t surprise her if that was her mentality. He was truly receding and what little hair he had was grey. Jesus fucking Christ, how old was this guy? Even from here she could see the wrinkles on his face.
No wonder she spent so much time with Asher. How could Austin even manage a hard-on when he was uptight? Just looking at him made her sick. She cleared her throat and continued walking towards the front door. When she reached it, she stared. Keys. Right.
She scanned her bag for her keys but found no such thing. After four thorough searches, still nothing. She knocked on the door once, using her final moments to compose herself. When the white door opened, she got a better view at her dearly beloved.
“Where the fuck have you been? I’ve been calling you, and texting you, and Jesus Christ, Aurora.” Austin finally took a breath.
“Missed me?” She stepped into their grand house and slipped her shoes off. So this was home.
“Is that a fucking joke?”
She rolled her eyes. “I’d rather you didn’t shout the second I walk through the door.”
He sighed and pushed the door closed. The cold chill was successfully kept outside and warmth spread through her. Home sweet home.
“I haven’t seen you for days.” Austin’s tone bordered upon genuine hatred.
How interesting. “Sorry.”
“Sorry, that’s all it is with you.” He raised his hands in the air, then took a deep breath. He pulled her into a tight hug. The sickening scent of his cologne made her sneeze. “I’m glad you’ve come home, Aurora.”
She tried to smile at him,
“Are you smoking again?”
She had quit? Why would she do that?
“Yes, I am. Not a problem, is it?”
Austin walked away, his fingers sliding through his hair. Fine with her. Peace was exactly what she needed. The wooden floors were warm beneath her feet. She strolled into the living room, taking in every inch. The artwork on the wall must have cost a fortune, though she could probably paint better herself. Abstract art – how hard could it be? The open space felt like a show home. The furniture was spotless.
“Yes, she’s home now …” Austin murmured from the hallway. Who the fuck was he talking to? Was he keeping tabs on her, too?
Aurora flopped the couch and shoved the decorative cushions aside. How could something so pretty feel so uncomfortable? Though she couldn’t complain, why would a man choose a floral cushion? She crossed her arms and stared at the walls. Well, home was fucking boring. There weren’t many photographs on the walls, nor the shelves. But there were many books and movies lined up on what little visible storage they had.
A vase of dying flowers in the corner caught her eye and she wrinkled her nose. The once beautiful lilies needed to go in the trash. Not a good look for the otherwise flawless living. As lovely as everything was, it felt empty. She felt like a stranger. This was really her life? Why did everything feel so uncomfortable? She shuddered the Austin sat beside her.
“Where did you go?”
She shrugged. “Out and about. Nowhere exciting.”
He held her hand.
“I’m tired. Think I’ll head to bed, take a nap.”
“You’ve just come home.”
Aurora sighed. No nap for her.
“I was hoping we’d talk. Over lunch. We have a lot to talk about. Madeline is out with her grandmother for the weekend, so we have a few days to sort ourselves out before she comes home.”
Aurora nodded slowly. Madeline. Name didn’t ring a bell. Maybe she was the cute blonde with the pigtails. “Right. Madeline.” Who the fuck was that?
Austin leaned closer. Oh god. When he moved closer, she closed her eyes to spare herself the torture. His dry lips pressed against hers and she wanted scream, push him away. Wives should not feel this way about their husbands.
When he pulled away, he stared into her eyes. “You look so different.”
“Things are different.” He had no idea how true that it was.
“I suppose you’re right. Maybe we should take a break and have a relaxing day. I could treat you to some new clothes.”
Aurora smiled. That’s the reason she loved him. “Sounds nice.”
“I’m glad to see you smiling again. Thought I’d lost you for good.”
She shrugged. Maybe Austin wasn’t so unbearable as she’d thought.
Fuck lunch. She needed a nap.
Who knew a morning with Asher could tire her out so much, too much energy and enthusiasm to control. It wasn’t exactly difficult. Spending any time with Austin reminded her why she craved freedom.
The second Austin held her in his arm, he’d cuffed her, restraining her to the dead end street. There was no way out of this.
Thankfully he’d chosen a quiet restaurant. It resembled a palace in her mind. Spotless. Like a hotel, almost like the one she’d frequented days ago. Unfortunately, she’d had to dress up. She’d have to find the right dress for the occasion. What if he wanted to make love afterwards? Isn’t that what married couples did: argue, make up, fuck? His grubby hands on her ivory skin made her sick. She hadn’t even ordered yet.
“I want wine.”
Austin blinked. “I thought you cut down your drinking …” He closed the menu. “And you said you quit smoking.”
Fuck. There had to be easier way. “Things have been stressful.”
He nodded. “I can’t argue with that.”
She was sure he could, but it wouldn’t make a difference. “Why don’t you fill me in and what’s been going on.”
Austin shook his head. “I’m not falling for that one. Let’s just forget about everything for a night. I forgot what it’s like being happy, being with you. I love you, Aurora.”
She tried to smile when he took her hands in his. Even his fingers were dry. Her delicate skin, victim to his rough touch, would soon suffer the consequences of his fondling. “How about that wine?”
“It’s not unreasonable. What made you wear that dress?”
Aurora looked down at the purple figure hugging dress she’d chosen from the collection. What was wrong with it? It pushed her breasts together perfectly, framed her curvaceous figure. “What’s wrong with it?”
“You never used to like it. Said it was too flashy for dinners. I only remember you wearing it when we’ve been to weddings. Speaking of weddings, it’s our anniversary is coming up next week. I was so worried you wouldn’t come home. I thought I’d lost you.”
As nice as his words were, she craved a bottle of red. Needed it. Like oxygen. She’d do anything. “How about that red?”
Austin beckoned a waiter and Aurora tugged her cell from her Gucci purse. She opened Asher’s message and began to type: Who is Madeline? If Asher didn’t know, she’d have to dig to clues. Play it safe.
The waiter brought her red and poured her a general glass. But not generous enough. She longed to down the bottle but a lady of her status didn’t do such things. “Tell me, darling, how long have we been married?” She batted her lashes and waited for him response.
“Have you already forgotten?”
She held his wrinkled hand and smiled sweetly at him. “I want you to remind me.”
When Austin smiled it took ten years away from his appearance. Shame he still looked like a grandpa. “Eight years.”
Eight years of pure torture.
Her cell buzzed. She answered it quickly to find Asher’s response: Sounds familiar. Don’t remember, though. Maybe a kid. You never really tell me about your married life.
She hit reply: Because it’s fucking boring. I want a smoke. Austin may arrest me if I try.
Within seconds, he had responded: Ha, sounds like him. You said you quit, he forced you to. Said it made you smell like a cheap hooker.
Aurora twisted her lips. What a charmer. No wonder she’d married him. She downed her glass then refilled it to the brim.
“You’re drinking a lot today,” Austin observed.
“Yes, I am.”
“You smell like smoke. You know I don’t like that.”
She sipped the wine and gathered her composure.
“Who’s texting you?” He peered over the table to read the name on the screen.
“Nobody important. Why don’t you tell how Madeline is doing?”
Austin frowned. Fuck. What was it now?
Suddenly, Austin resembled a man in his late fifties. Sadness didn’t suit him; his dark eyes stared at her, as if could see right through her. Was she really that transparent?
“She’s not having a good time. It’s very difficult for her. “
“Aww, that’s too bad,” was the best she could muster.
She examined the menu, immediately shifting her gaze to the highest prices. What did she feel like today? Lobster? Steak? She parted her lips, but she couldn’t form words. What if she had any allergies? She looked at Austin, batting her lashes and pursing her lips. “Tell me, do I have any allergies.”
He raised a brow.
“Come on, let’s get to know each other again.”
“This is hardly the time for playing, Aurora.” His severe tone almost shot her down completely.
Plan B. “Forget about everything that’s happened, just for the night.” She reached for his hands, grazing her fingertips against his wrinkled skin. “Madeline’s … with her grandma. We could spend the night together?” Perhaps age and experience would triumph Asher’s youth and beauty. “You’re my husband. Whatever happened we can move on from it.”
Austin sighed. “I don’t know.”
She rolled her eyes. “Fine.” If he wouldn’t play, Asher surely would. “I think I need more time.”
“You’ve just come back.” Austin clutched her hair, head tilted to the side.
“Then stop being boring and play along. Tell me darling, do I have any allergies?”
He finally smiled. Why did he look so afraid? “None, my love.”
Fantastic. “I feel like lobster. And sticky toffee pudding for dessert.”
Austin traced the pads of his fingers against her forearm, brushing his foot against hers. “Whatever, Mrs Kerr desires, she may have.”
“And what if I desire you?” There had to be a reason she’d married him.
When Austin smiled, she shuddered. Something sinister laced his crooked smile, his expression bordered upon arrogance, yet it maintained desperation. Would he meet her expectations? She doubted it.
“Perhaps we can have dessert at home.”
She smirked. “I like the sound of that.”
“I’ve missed you,” he said smoothly, as if the passion in his voice came straight from the heart. Sadly, Aurora couldn’t give him passion, nor her love. The best she could give was her body in search of a reason to resist Asher’s company.
“Good. Why don’t you show me how much?”
“More wine?” He topped her glass up.
“The more the better.”
Fuck. What he lacked in youth, he made up with his desire to please. Even if he couldn’t maintain Asher’s level of energy, his power certainly did. Short lived, but acceptable. Good enough reason to stay married, even if he was cold and calculated, something certainly kept them together.
When she stared into his eyes her body didn’t yearn for him. Her heart didn’t flutter with passion. She felt dead inside. How long had she felt like this?
Still, there was no better time than the present. She rolled onto her side and rested her hands beneath her head. She pouted and waited for him to speak first. With every rise and fall of his chest, he seemed truly exhausted. If she’d left Asher in a comatose state, Austin must be ready to kick the bucket. Part of her hoped for it, praying desperately, waiting him to take his last breath. She waited …
“Well, Mrs Kerr, I’d almost forgotten how delightful you are.”
“Tell me, darling, how long has it been since we’ve made love?”
He pulled her closer, pressing her delicate frame against his sweaty, hairy body. She waved to heave, yet she held her smile.
“Before Caroline went missing.”
Aurora blinked. “Caroline …” she nodded. Perhaps Asher would have inside information about the mysterious Caroline. After all, what kind of name was that? The sound alone made her shudder.
“She’ll come home to us soon.”
Aurora nodded. “I guess things haven’t been too good between us since.”
Perhaps a gentle probe would help. “It’s been three weeks. Whoever has her, I’m sure she’s okay. She’ll come home to us.”
Aurora wrinkled her nose. She tried to squeeze out a tear, but nothing happened. No emotions, especially sadness, could break through her nonchalance. “I suppose. I feel like a shower. You must be tired, get to sleep. I shouldn’t be long.”
“Officer Krol told me he saw you on the road a few nights ago.”
Aurora stepped out of the bedroom and slipped her silk gown on, hiding her body from his view. Within minutes he’d be asleep, like an old man recuperating from mild exercise.
“What did he say?” She eased her hair over the gown and slipped into her pink, fluffy slippers.
“He just mentioned that he saw you, and thought maybe you’d come home.”
She smiled. He could keep a secret. “Well, I’m home now. Excuse me for a while, darling.”
Time to investigate.