M. E. Tudor
The phone buzzed. That cheating son of a bitch was getting a text.
The forwarded message read: “Where are you?”
His reply, “Nashville.”
“U going to the party?”
Did that mean his lover was going to be there tonight?
The next message said, “Mt me later?”
His reply, “If I can.”
Emily smoothed the sleek, black dress that clung to her slender curves. The chiffon sleeves gave the dress elegance.
She put on a necklace of silver Celtic knots surrounding amber teardrops; the amber was just a couple shades lighter than Emily’s brown eyes.
She moved to the full-length mirror behind the bedroom door to check her appearance. Kenton came out of the bathroom and stood behind her.
He was wearing a black silk business suit with gold cufflinks. His white shirt had been ironed to perfection, and he had on a gold striped tie with a handkerchief to match in his pocket.
He put his hands on her shoulders where her dark brown hair lay in waves and kissed her on top of her head. “You look beautiful. The amber really brings out your eyes.”
“Thank you,” she said, turning to kiss him. He gave her a light peck on the lips and stepped away. She sighed.
The affection had been gone between them for a long time, but it still made her sad when he acted like he didn’t want to touch her.
“Did you get plenty of champagne?” he asked and went back into the bathroom.
“I got a case,” she answered and went to her make-up table. She touched up her lipstick and sprayed perfume on her wrists.
“That might not be enough,” he said, coming back out of the bathroom.
He was wearing his new cologne. She didn’t care for the fruity scent; she preferred musk cologne.
Emily headed toward the door. “I’ll get Fernando to go get another case if you want.”
“That’s a good idea,” he said. “I want to make sure we don’t run out.”
She nodded and went downstairs to the kitchen where Sonja was putting the appetizers on trays.
“Those look delicious,” Emily said.
Sonja smiled. “Thank you. Since Walter and his son are coming, I’ve got two more girls to help with dinner. We should be able to keep everyone happy.”
“Excellent,” Emily gave Sonja’s shoulder a slight squeeze. “Where’s Fernando? I need him to run an errand.”
Sonja pointed toward the deck. “He’s putting flower arrangements on the tables with our nephew, Mario.”
Emily nodded and went outside. Fernando was handing a younger man flower arrangements and giving him orders in Spanish. Emily stopped short when the men turned to look at her.
When Sonja said that Fernando was working with their nephew, she had expected a teenager. The man with Fernando was probably in his late twenties and absolutely beautiful.
He smiled at Emily’s stunned expression and bowed his head, “Senorita.”
Emily smiled back and gave him a nod, “Senor.”
“Miss Emily,” Fernando said, with his thick Hispanic accent, “This is our nephew, Mario Rodriquez. Mario, this is Miss Emily, but we call her Mrs. Jenkins when Mr. Jenkins is home.”
“I would offer you my hand,” Mario said with a lighter accent, more like Sonja’s. He held up the hand in question which was clearly wet and dirty.
“That’s okay,” Emily smiled, thinking that she probably didn’t need to touch this handsome man anyway. She looked back at Fernando.
“Mr. Jenkins thinks we need another case of champagne. Do you think you can run out and get another one?”
He looked around at the tables that still needed arrangements and candles. “Would it be okay if Mario goes?”
“I’m not sure,” Emily said, looking over Mario.
“He’s okay,” Fernando assured her, reading her thoughts.
“I know how I want things set up, and it will take at least an hour to go to the liquor store and back. By then many of your guests will be arriving.”
Emily sighed, “Okay.” She took the bills out of her wallet and told Mario the exact brand of champagne to buy.
“Please make sure you get the right brand.”
“Don’t worry, Miss Emily,” Mario said with a twinkle in his dark brown eyes. “I’ll be back before you know it.”
Emily watched him saunter out of the garden toward Sonja and Fernando’s house at the back of the property.
“I’ve never heard you and Sonja talk about having a nephew that old. Where’d he come from?”
Fernando looked confused.
“Surely we’ve spoken of my sister’s son before. He has been at a university in Texas and spent the past few years traveling through Mexico in the area our family originally came from.
“He’s a very good boy. Always respectful, a hard worker, he graduated with honors. Sonja and I went to his college graduation in El Paso.”
“Oh yeah,” Emily said, “I remember now. You went down there for a week. That wasn’t too long after Kenton and I got married.”
“Right,” Fernando said. He walked over to the crate with the flower arrangements.
“He has just moved back to Nashville to take care of his mother. She’s developed diabetes and some other health problems.”
“That’s very sweet of him,” Emily said. “Not many people will give up their own lives to take care of their parents.”
“Like I said, a very good boy,” Fernando said and smiled. “A good man now, I guess.”
She patted Fernando on the arm. “Okay, I’m going back to the house to make sure everything is going well with the food.”
When Emily got back to the kitchen, Carol was there taste testing Sonja’s concoctions.
“Oh my God, this is fantastic.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Butler,” Sonja said, smiling pleasantly.
Emily was sure that smile was either forced, or Sonja had been dipping into the tequila.
She leaned close to Sonja and asked, “The special tequila hidden somewhere?”
Sonja said, “Oh course, Mrs. Jenkins.” She looked over Emily’s shoulder. “Just let me know when you want me to start preparing the drinks.
Emily turned to see Kenton standing behind her.
“Everything is coming along beautifully. I’ve got another case of champagne on the way. Can you think of anything else we need?”
“Not right now,” Kenton said. “It all looks great so far.”
He moved to Carol and kissed her on the cheek. “Where’s that husband of yours? He owes me on the last horse race we bet on.”
Carol had just put a bite of stuffed mushroom in her mouth. She covered her full mouth with her hand and said, “He’s out by the pool talking with Mr. and Mrs. Walker.”
“Good, I need to talk to Walker, too,” he said and slipped past Carol.
Carol picked up a napkin and wiped her mouth. “He smells fantastic. What is he wearing?”
“I’m not sure, some new fruity stuff,” Emily said and gave Sonja a hand motion to let her know that she wanted a drink.
Sonja nodded and headed to the pantry, where she had apparently stashed the Patron.
Emily heard the doorbell and went to answer it.
Sonja poked her head out of the pantry and gave Emily thumbs up, letting her know that her drink was ready. Emily was going to need a couple of tequila shots, at the very least, to get her through this night.
She opened the door graciously.
“Good evening,” she said to Walter Chase, his son Frank, Walter’s wife, Frances, and Frank’s wife, Cecelia.
“Welcome.” She motioned them to come in. “Kenton is out by the pool. I’ll send someone around with glasses of champagne momentarily.”
Walter and Frank quickly headed outside where Kenton was talking with Damon and the Walkers.
“Thank you,” Mrs. Chase said warmly. “You always have such a lovely gathering ready for us, Emily. I can’t wait to see what Sonja has made for us tonight.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Chase. It’s always good to have you at our home.”
“Please call me Frances,” she said. “We’ve known each other long enough to do without the formalities.”
Emily bowed her head.
“Thank you, Frances. If you both want to follow me, let’s go out to the pool and garden area and find a place to sit. Sonja and her assistants will be serving the food shortly.”
Frank’s wife, Cecelia followed them quietly. She rarely had much to say, and Emily suspected she was a stuck up bitch.
There was something strange about Cecelia Chase that Emily couldn’t quite put her finger on, but she was always polite to the woman.
The man who was bartending for the night was on his way out with a tray of champagne. Emily grabbed two and handed them to Frances and Cecelia.
“Take these and go on out. I’m going to check on things in the kitchen, and then I’ll be right out.”
As Frances and Cecelia walked out toward the gardens, Emily headed to the pantry and found the shot of tequila Sonja had set out for her.
She didn’t like champagne and would be drinking sparkling water most of the night, but she knew Sonja would keep a shot waiting for her if she needed to sneak in and get one.
She had a feeling she would be visiting the pantry often tonight.
After the dinner portion of the night was over, Emily wandered from group to group, trying to talk with everyone who had come.
There were several wives here tonight, so she made a point to spend a few minutes with each one.
It was funny how many of them were like her. They stayed home and prepared for these parties.
Most of them had children, which limited what Emily could talk to them about.
She didn’t have a clue what it was like to deal with the daily struggle of having children, and the more she listened to these women, the happier she was that she didn’t have any.
The night was almost half over when the mysterious Ashley, who Carol thought was having an affair with Damon, showed up.
Emily was in a conversation with Sandra Andrews, who was going on and on about her two preteen sons, when Carol had rushed over to her and hissed, “She’s here.”
“That Ashley person,” Carol said and pulled Emily toward the house.
Emily gave Sandra an apologetic wave and followed Carol into the house.
Damon was talking with a dark haired woman, whose back was to Carol and Emily. She was about Emily’s height, slender and wearing a gorgeous cobalt blue dress with matching heels.
Damon looked up and smiled warmly at Emily.
“Emily,” he said. “You look beautiful. Come, I want you to meet the firm’s new partner, Ashley Sjveck.”
The name initially didn’t register with Emily because she was expecting what Carol had described as a man-eater, but when Ashley turned around; her hands flew to her mouth.
“Ashley! Oh my God! I haven’t seen you in ages.”
“You know her?” Carol hissed.
“Emily!” Ashley embraced Emily tightly.
“What a small world! I would never have thought we’d run into each other again this way. I tried to get hold of you after you and Kenton got married, but the firm would never give me your home number or address.”
Damon smiled and said, “I thought you’d remember Ashley.”
“Of course, I remember Ashley,” Emily said, leaning back to look at Ashley. “She was my best friend in college. You haven’t changed a bit.”
Ashley blushed and pulled her back into a hug, “Neither have you. I was hoping we’d hook up now that I’m back in Nashville.”
“So you’ve moved back to town?” Emily asked.
“Yes, we just closed on a house, finally.” Ashley flipped her shoulder-length hair away from her face.
“Damon has been helping us find a place. The market is so messed up here. We were having a horrible time finding a place we really liked in our price range.”
Ashley squeezed Damon’s arm affectionately, “Damon has been a saint. I don’t know how we’d have finally gotten moved over here without him.”
“We?” Emily asked a little confused. The Ashley she knew in college hadn’t been interested in being in a relationship.
“Yes, my partner, Kim, and I.”
Carol choked on her drink behind Emily, where she’d stood fuming.
Emily immediately started pounding on Carol’s back. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” Carol gasped. “It just went down the wrong pipe.”
Emily chuckled. “You and I will have to talk later,” she whispered to Carol.
“I’m going to go get a drink of water,” Carol said and hurried off to the kitchen.
Ashley touched Emily’s arm. “Is she going to be okay?”
“Oh yeah,” Emily assured her. “She’ll be fine, eventually.” Emily wanted to laugh. Damon had told Carol Ashley was gay, and he wasn’t lying.
If Emily had known the woman Carol had been talking about was Ashley Sjveck, she could have confirmed that for her. Ashley had been a major player in college.
She had so many girlfriends that Emily had lost count. She and Emily had even had a drunken one-night stand, which they both swore they would never tell a soul.
“So, how do you and Damon know each other?” Emily asked.
“I knew him in college. We had a few pre-law classes together. And then, we both worked as legal aids in Weston, Audrey, and Hinton’s law firm in Atlanta.
“I went back home and worked for a couple of firms in Knoxville that specialized in real estate law. Last year we met up again over the land Morgan Chase is trying to buy. I was working for the firm who was representing the land owners.
“Damon convinced me to come over to the other side, plus I wanted to get out of Knoxville.” Ashley looked away sadly,
“My family is not happy about my sexual orientation, and they were really pissed when Kim and I went to Canada to get married before it became legal here.
“I’m an ex-patriot, according to my father.”
“Oh, Hon,” Emily said, squeezing Ashley’s arm, “I’m so sorry. I know how much you’d hoped they would eventually accept your lifestyle.”
Ashley shrugged. “It is what it is.” She looked over at Damon who was smiling at her patiently.
“We better go talk with Walter for a little while.” She dug a card out of her purse and wrote her cell number on the back of it.
“Give me a call, and we’ll get together for lunch or something.”
“Absolutely,” Emily said and hugged her. “I’ll call you next week for sure. I can’t wait to meet Kim. She must be something special to have finally tied you down.”
Ashley laughed. “She is. You’ll love her.”
Damon took Ashley’s elbow and led her to where Kenton was talking with Walter and Frank.
Emily found Carol in the kitchen. “If I had known it was Ashley Sjveck you were talking about, I could have assured you that Damon wasn’t lying to you.”
“I can’t believe that you know her and that she really is gay. He is still texting and receiving texts from someone he is having an affair with, someone who is supposed to be here right now.”
“Seriously?” Emily said, looking around at the other women sitting at tables and standing around talking.
There were several very pretty women, most of whom were married from Emily’s understanding. Of course, that didn’t mean anything.
“He got a text from whoever it is right before we came. It read, ‘See you tonight. Hope we get a few moments alone. I want to touch you.’” Carol looked at Emily.
“Now, you tell me, is that not something a lover would write?”
Emily let out a deep breath. “Let me see the text.”
She didn’t agree with the way that Carol was getting this information, but she had to admit that sounded pretty incriminating.
Carol found the text and handed Emily her phone.
The text read: ’C u tnit hpe we gt few momnts lone. want to tch u.”
It was from sjk. The initials were written in lower case, as was most of the message.
“Who is sjk?” Emily wondered out loud. “I can see why you would have thought it was Ashley. It has some of the letters from her last name in it.”
“Yeah, I just thought he’d shortened Sjveck to throw me off if I saw it on his phone,” Carol said.
“He’s only talked to a few women tonight, none of whom have a name with these initials in it. And I haven’t let him out of my sight.”
“What if he’s not planning on seeing her here?” Emily asked.
“Where else would he meet her? We will be here until the last minute, which will probably be tomorrow morning.”
Emily caressed her chin thoughtfully. “I don’t know, Carol. Maybe he called her from the house phone and told her he couldn’t see her tonight.”
“No, I have the house phone wired, too. What?” Carol said at Emily’s raised eyebrows.
“Oh nothing,” Emily said. “I have to go out and mingle some more. But I’ll keep an eye out for anyone I think is paying too much attention to Damon.”
“Okay, me too,” Carol said, and they both headed out to the patio.
It was well after midnight by the time most of the people had left.
Surprisingly, Walter and Frank were still there, as well as Gordon Dominick, the real estate investment broker from Knoxville who was trying to sell the property to Morgan Chase.
Walter rarely stayed past nine o’clock, but he was sitting at a table with Frank, Kenton, Gordon and Damon. They were all smoking cigars.
Kenton and Damon were drinking Scotch and Walter, Gordon and Frank were still sipping champagne.
Kenton had been talking primarily to these four men most of the night.
He’d made a quick round to speak to some of the other guests and had gotten cornered by Barbara, who had invested in one of his real estate deals.
Other than that, the five of them had been huddled together.
Carol was passed out on the couch. Sonja, Fernando, and Mario were helping Emily clean up. Emily went out to the table where the men were sitting.
“Do you gentlemen need anything else before I send the help home?”
“No, I think we’re good,” Kenton said and lit Damon’s cigar.
“I’m so glad you and Ashley hit it off again,” Damon said. “She’s a great lady and a great lawyer.”
“Me too, I’ve missed her,” Emily said and picked up the empty glasses on the table next to them.
“I’d forgotten about Ashley until Damon introduced her to me tonight. You guys had been tight back in college, right?” Kenton asked.
“Yeah, I would have had her be the maid of honor at our wedding but she couldn’t come over here on the weekend we were getting married,” Emily said.
“What a shame,” Kenton said, smiling smugly. “We’ll just be a little longer.”
“Yeah, our driver should be back anytime,” Walter said. “He took Frances and Cecelia back to our hotel earlier.”
“Yes, they had told me they were going to go ahead and leave,” Emily said. “Well, I hope you gentlemen had a good time tonight.”
“We did,” Walter assured her.
Emily went back to the house with the glasses. She set them down in the kitchen, and then went back to look at the men.
Frank apparently didn’t talk much or couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Damon and Kenton seemed to be doing all the talking. Frank also seemed to be brooding.
She wondered if he and his wife had had words before she left.
Emily couldn’t help but wonder about the text message Carol had shown her earlier. Damon was a very good looking man.
His dark hair was cut short with the front spiked up in the popular style men were wearing. He was always clean shaven and smelled heavenly.
She had noticed tonight that he was wearing cologne similar to Kenton’s new one, but his was a little muskier. Damon had always been very charismatic, even when they were kids.
He’d had girls falling all over him in high school and college, but he’d never been a player.
If he was dating a girl, he stayed loyal to her, at least Emily had never heard of him being a cheater, until Carol.
Shaking her head, Emily turned away. Maybe Carol was just paranoid.
Who knows who sent that text? Maybe it wasn’t meant for Damon. She had accidentally sent a text to the wrong number before.
He was still here, and all the other women had left. Emily had not seen him talking to any woman, in particular, all night. Maybe Carol was wrong.
She jerked awake when the phone went off. He was getting a text from sjk. The text read, “Are u going to tell them?”
The cheater answered after a few minutes. “Not yet.”
“Why not?” sjk wanted to know.
“It’s not the right time.”
“Ur afraid of them!”
The cheater wrote back. “It will ruin everything. I need more time.”
“Tell them or I will,” threatened sjk.
The cheater was right. It would ruin everything. She was going to have to deal with sjk.
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