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Marriage Games (The Games Duet #1)
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She thinks this is his pathetic attempt to repair their marriage.
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The morning my life changed was no different than any other. I woke. I showered. The tie I chose wasn’t much different than the other ties in the drawer, and the suit I put on wasn’t much bluer than my other blue suit. It wasn’t my favorite or my most hated. It fit the same as every suit I’d had made after I got married. Bigger in the shoulders. Smaller in the waist. Sleeves more generous at the bicep. She liked when I worked out, so I did.
The morning everything changed, I felt the same as I always felt, more or less. I had plenty to do, but not too much. She was probably already in a meeting with our other editorial director. I was heading for a sheer drop into death at a hundred miles an hour while I looked up at the clouds.
The morning my life changed, I started a grocery list for the housekeeper.
The loft was bathed in light, trapezoids of sun cast over the hardwood. Twenty floors beneath me, the capillary of Crosby Street coursed the blood of steel and noise on its way to the artery of Lafayette.
My life changed on a weekday, with the gurgling of the coffeepot behind me, my jacket slung over the barstool, and the milk souring on the counter.
I put it away, because she never did.
I had no sense of impending doom. No gut feeling that that day was different from any other. It’s unreasonable to expect I would. In an age of science and reason, why should I sense disaster before it arrived?
Yet I didn’t see it coming.
Her handwriting—flowery, curlicued, an expansive rendering of Catholic School standards—was at the bottom of a typewritten note. I poured my coffee, assuming it was a deal memo waiting for my signature to go next to hers.
I was wrong.
It was the first time I was wrong about her intentions, but not the last.
I don’t know how to say this.
The first time I saw her.
I had the power. I held all the cards. The publishing empire her parents had built was crumbling with the entire industry. They had one willing buyer. Me. She walked into the conference room behind her father, John Barnes, who left his oxygen tank and his ego at the door.
The space folded around her.
The first time I saw her, I had to hold my breath.
The first time she spoke, I exhaled.
“Mr. Steinbeck,” she said, taking her place among the lawyers and executives. My name was uttered with more respect than I deserved. She was a child of literature. Saying Steinbeck with respect was a habit.
“No relation,” I said. “I’ve never seen a farm.”
Her hair was straight, brown, to her shoulders, and her eyes were the color of broken safety glass.
We sat. Opened our folders. Numbers got flung around. Her father’s breathing became more labored. Emphysema. Three-pack-a-day habit stopped too late. She kept looking at him, getting more and more agitated as the meeting went on.
What would she do for him? If I pretended I didn’t see her father’s distress, would she jump in to help him? Would she make a hasty decision to get him out of the room?
The first time I tested my future wife, she failed. Or passed, depending on how you look at it.
“What you’re offering,” I said, “is a forty-nine percent stake in a company that no one else in the business believes will make money over the next five years. You’ve tapped out your credit, and you want R+D to come in, bail you out, and let you keep the keys to the kingdom.”
“No one at R+D knows the publishing business and we have some ideas—”
“No one at this table knows the publishing business. But only one of half this table knows business. And you’re not sitting on it.”
I slid her a folder. It contained McNeill-Barnes’s profit projections for the following five years. It was ugly. Even the best-case scenario had them drowning.
“You’re past a simple bankruptcy proceeding,” I said. “You’ve already cut too much staff to argue for the jobs you’ll save. And as far as the chilling effect on American literature, no one gives a shit.”
John Barnes’s breath caught and he wheezed. He wasn’t looking at the folder; he was looking at me.
“What do you want?” he whispered.
“The whole thing. No less. My buyout number’s on the bottom of the page.”
The first time I shocked my future wife, she didn’t show it. Not much. But her lower lip went slack, and she blinked out of cadence. She closed the folder. “You’re after the building.”
I leaned back. “It’s a nice piece of property.” My eyes fell to her breasts. I could detect the entire shape of them from the slight shadow at her collar. I wondered what they tasted like.