“And you married him.”
“Yes. I was twenty, way too young, of course, but no one told me I was being stupid.”
“Not even your parents?” he asked.
She shook her head. “Lucas was wildly ambitious and smart. He’d fast-tracked his way through college and law school, and they thought he was my last chance at succeeding at something. At first it was good. He liked having me in the background, taking care of everything for him, the house, his life, even some of his work. I did anything and everything he needed because I was still that pleaser. And it wasn’t until he got a promotion from associate to junior partner that he started to change.” She frowned at the memory and put her drink down.
“Change how?” he asked.
“He’d say things, things he never would have said before, to hurt me. And he knew exactly how to do that.” She hated this part. “And I let him. I’m not even sure why, but it made me try harder to please him. I should’ve known from experience that I couldn’t, but I was stupid. I stayed.”
“He became unreasonable. Suspicious. A little verbally abusive. At first I thought reassuring him would work, but again, I should’ve known better. I couldn’t get anything right, and I got so frustrated I—” She broke off and shook her head.
He reached for her hand. “Did he hurt you, Sophie?”
She let out a choked laugh and shook her head. “No, you don’t understand. It was me. He’d been after me to put together this dinner party so he could impress some of the other partners at his firm. I worked my ass off on it until everything was perfect: the dinner, the decorations, the house…The next day one of the partners sent me flowers. Lucas accused me of sleeping with the guy. He’d been suspicious for a while at that point, accusing me of flirting with the mail carrier, the grocery store clerk, everyone with a penis, and it pissed me off. When it came out during that fight that he’d been the one sleeping with everyone in sight, I chucked the vase of flowers at him. I didn’t hit him, but he called the police anyway.”
“What?” Jacob said, straightening up with a frown. “Are you serious?”
“We were both arrested and hauled downtown for domestic disturbance and violence,” she said, shuddering in horror at the memory. “And while we were there, he managed to flirt with one of the desk clerks. It was kind of an as-low-as-you-can-get day for me. He bailed himself out and cleaned out the account I had access to so I couldn’t do the same. I had to ask my parents for bail money.”
“How did that go over?”
“Not well,” she said. “I’d failed at something else.”
“Getting out of a marriage that was killing you slowly isn’t a failure,” he said.
“Says the man who’s never failed at anything in his life.”
He laughed. Tossed back his head and let go, and watching him, she felt her own smile curve her lips. “So you’re a big, fat loser too?” she asked hopefully.
“Many times over,” he assured her, and his gaze ran over her slowly, warming her up.
He was so different from anyone she’d ever known. Even when he was pissed off or hurting—and she’d seen him both ways now—he neither internalized his feelings nor put the weight of them on anyone around him.
And she was breaking her rule. Falling for him. “Jacob?”
“You remember our promise to each other, right? The one where I won’t fall for you and you won’t fall for me?”
He studied her a beat, giving nothing away. “Hard to forget,” he finally said. “Why?”
“Just making sure.”
“Are you reminding yourself, or me?” he asked.
He smirked. “Can’t resist me, can you?”
She laughed in spite of herself, and he smiled. “Come over here,” he said in his bedroom voice, “and I’ll prove it.”
Oh boy…He was most excellent at distractions, but she had to stay strong because she was missing something. She could feel it. “Just talking though, right?”
He smiled and instead of answering, hooked her paddleboard with his paddle and drew her toward him.
Jacob watched Sophie sit up on her board as he towed her toward him. She was right about her hair. It had rioted, falling to her breasts in wild, fiery waves that his fingers ached to sink into.
And then there was Sophie Marren in a bathing suit.