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From this moment on, p.1
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       From This Moment On, p.1

         Part #2 of The Sullivans series by Bella Andre
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From This Moment On

  Author: Bella Andre Chapter One

  Marcus Sullivan was a man on a mission.

  Twenty minutes ago he’d left his brother’s engagement party and headed straight for the belly of San Francisco’s seedy Mission district. Dance music pounded out into the street, loud enough that the crowds waiting in line were already dancing.

  Leather and piercings, tattoos and fluorescent hair weren’t part of Marcus’s usual crowd. But the men and women in line with earrings through their noses and eyebrows looked happy, at least.

  Marcus was planning on being a hell of a lot happier in a couple of hours.

  He walked past the long line and despite the fact that he was wearing a suit and tie, the bouncer took one look at him and opened up the latch on the rope to let him in. Marcus was a large man, and although he didn’t often use his size to intimidate people, he wasn’t averse to using whatever tools he had at his disposal when he needed them.

  The beat throbbed through him as he stepped through the black doorway into the crowded club, but the loud music, the shaking lights, didn’t come close to obliterating his thoughts.

  That wasn’t why he was here. He wasn’t here to forget what he’d seen.

  No, he didn’t want to forget, wouldn’t let himself make that mistake again.

  Marcus was here to make up for two wasted years. Twenty-four months ago, he’d met Jill in the city on a hot August night at a charity event her firm was hosting. As soon as he’d set eyes on her cool blonde beauty, he knew he’d found the missing puzzle piece in his otherwise well-ordered life. In Jill, he’d seen his future: marriage, kids, Estate dinners at his winery with the perfect wife by his side.

  Only, as he’d learned that afternoon, it hadn’t been perfect at all. . .

  Marcus could hear moaning even as he turned his key in the lock to Jill’s apartment. It could have been a movie turned up too loud for the dirty parts, but Marcus knew better—had known better for months, if he was being honest with himself.

  He pushed open the door and moved through his girlfriend’s apartment, the moaning growing louder with every step he took.

  “Oooh, that’s it! Right there! Just like that!”

  Jill had always been a screamer in bed, but he’d never realized just how false it sounded until now, when he was getting a taste of her show from the cheap seats.

  His hands tightened into fists as he turned through her kitchen and headed down the hall to her master bedroom.

  He’d long ago asked her to move up to Napa to live at his winery with him, but she’d always had a reason to put it off. The latest was that her current apartment was a rare find barely a block away from her financial planning company with its frequent 4:40 a. m. wake-up calls. She told him he could stay over whenever he wanted.

  Marcus had never felt at home in her apartment, everything a cold shade of white, mirrored and glass surfaces that smudged at the slightest touch. But he’d wanted a future with her and he’d assumed making good on that future meant bending, compromising.

  How many weekends had he come to the city to see Jill when it suited her? How many times had he changed his entire schedule on less than a moment’s notice to be there for her when she needed him?

  Too many times.

  But never, not once, had he ever walked in on a live porn show, starring his girlfriend.

  She was riding the guy like he was a bucking bronco and she was the star rodeo rider.

  He saw the naked skin and limbs—hell, he couldn’t miss them from the bedroom door—but it was as if he were watching them from a clinical distance. Like a triple-X cable channel that had accidentally flipped on in a hotel when he wasn’t in the mood.

  “What the—?” The guy under his girlfriend looked at Marcus with alarm. Clearly, he hadn’t been expecting anyone to walk in.

  That was when Jill shifted slightly to look over her shoulder at him. Her eyes widened in what was supposed to be surprise. But he knew her well enough to see through it. At least he’d thought he’d known her.

  How much of their relationship had been a lie?

  Jill moved to pull a sheet over her and her lover. Marcus watched them slide apart, watched the guy reach over the side of the bed to pull on his jeans. “I’ll get out of here,” the guy said, but Jill held his hand and made him stay on the bed.

  “No, Rocco, you don’t need to leave. ”

  Rocco? His classically beautiful girlfriend, the woman he’d been planning to marry and start a family with, the women he’d planned to share the helm of Sullivan Vineyards with, was doing a guy named Rocco with a nasty-looking goatee and piercings? It had to be some sort of sick joke.

  The guy looked between Jill and Marcus, going a little white as his gaze lingered on Marcus’s fists and the way his shoulders took up the bulk of the doorway.

  Jill dropped the sheet and slid on a silk robe that had been draped over a chair in the corner of her room. She moved toward Marcus. “We should go talk in the living room. ”

  Somehow she slipped past without touching him, but Marcus could smell sex on her. He could smell some other guy on her.

  He wanted to pound his fist into the guy’s face. But Jill had engineered this. Start to finish.

  He’d deal with her, instead.

  Marcus moved back through the hallway to the living room where Jill was waiting for him.

  She didn’t look guilty. And, for the first time, he didn’t think she looked beautiful, either. Yes, she was still classically pretty, tall and slim. . . but there was an ugliness stamped across her face that he’d never let himself see before.

  “I’m in love with Rocco. ”

  As apologies went, it sucked.

  In his silence, she continued with a defensive, “You and I both know our relationship wasn’t going anywhere. ”

  Finally, his response came. “You said you needed time. I gave you time, enough time to cheat on me. With Rocco. ”

  Jill’s eyes widened at the barely repressed fury in his voice. He’d never spoken to her like that before, had never been the kind of man who raised his voice to make a point, who opted to be a bully to get his way. He’d gotten where he was by working hard and being smart and reasonable, with some Sullivan charm thrown in when he needed it.

  “Look,” she said with an irritated sigh as if he was to blame for the mess they were in, “this thing between us, it was good for a while, but if we’d really been in love we would be married by now. ”

  He raised an eyebrow and called her on it. “You know I wanted to get married. ”

  She shook her head. “If you really wanted to marry me, you would have swept me off my feet and I wouldn’t have been able to resist. But you were always so busy with your brothers and sisters, always helping your mother with something. ” Finally being honest, she said, “I tried to love you, Marcus. I really did. But I want something more. Something bigger. Something exciting. I want someone who puts me first. ” Her eyes lit as she said, “I want what I have with Rocco. Not to sit by your side and wear pearls at your winery events. And not to always be last place in your life. ”

  Marcus stared at the woman he’d assumed would be his wife, the mother to his children. The pearl necklace he’d given her was still on her neck. It was the only thing she’d had on while she’d been screwing another man.

  He wanted to rip the pearls off Jill’s neck and watch them scatter all over the floor.

  Instead, he said, “I’ll send my assistant for my things next week. She’ll contact you to arrange a convenient time. ”

  “See?” Jill came at him now, her finger pointed at his chest, her robe gaping open across her chest

  He’d once loved her breasts, thought they were just as classically beautiful as the rest of her. Now, they did nothing for him. Less than nothing.

  “This is why I can’t be with you. Where are your emotions? Where is your passion? I swear you care more about your damn grapes than you do for me. And I sure as hell know you care more about your brothers and sisters than me. This is your chance, Marcus! Don’t you see, if you leave now, if you can’t tell me that you’ll at least try to put me first, you’ll lose me forever?”

  That was when he realized that despite his anger, despite his fury at her cheating, he didn’t want to fight for Jill.

  It had taken Marcus two years to realize that he didn’t actually love her.

  He’d simply loved the idea of her.

  “Goodbye, Jill. ”

  The song switched from a hard-driving beat to a slower melody and rhythm as Marcus resurfaced from his dark memories. He had planned to pick up Jill for Chase and Chloe’s engagement party earlier that evening, but he’d gone alone. What an idiot he’d been, waiting two years for Jill to make up her mind. Waiting for her to be “ready” to commit all the way to him and the life he envisioned for them.

  Marcus knew love existed. He’d seen it between his mother and father. He saw it in every look Chase gave Chloe, in every touch between his brother and his new fiancée.

  Still, that didn’t mean Marcus was up to trying for it again anytime soon. A good long break from emotion was what he needed. From his plans. One day he still hoped he’d find a woman who would make him a good wife, a good partner, a good mother to the children he wanted.

  But not right now—or for the foreseeable future.

  Tonight, he was only in it for pleasure. For a long night of mindless, emotionless sex with someone who didn’t want to know his hopes, his dreams. A woman who didn’t want to know about his family any more than he wanted to know about hers.

  Hell, if neither of them even learned each other’s names, that would be perfectly fine with him.

  Couples ground against each other in the dark space where sweat and alcohol and sex were all coming together. Marcus moved deeper into the darkness to stand on a rise overlooking the dance floor and scanned the crowd with a clinical eye.

  * * *

  Nicola Harding stood in the window of her penthouse suite looking down on San Francisco’s Union Square and watched the people walking below.

  She was young and single. She should be out there with them. Six months ago, she would have been eating dinner at some glitzy restaurant, surrounded by people who were flattering her and trying to make her laugh, trying to make her like them. But she’d learned the hard way that it wasn’t her they were interested in.

  Nicola Harding, who liked Monopoly and building sand castles, was an inconsequential nobody. They all wanted a piece of Nico. They wanted to say they’d hung out with a pop star. They wanted to take pictures of her on their cell phones to text to their friends.

  She stepped away from the window and turned back to the huge suite.

  It was too big for one person, but her record label thought putting her up in a place like this for a video shoot and concert was treating her right. No one would ever know how alone she felt, one small person in an oversized suite that could have housed her entire family with room to spare.

  And the truth was, if she were a stranger reading her press, she certainly would never come up with the word alone to describe herself. Party girl would be closer. Because, somehow, every single event found her photographed with another famous man. She’d wake up in the morning and turn on her computer to learn that she was systematically screwing her way through not only the Top 40 charts, but through Hollywood, too.

  Her record label and PR people and management team had told her “any press is good press” enough times that she’d stopped protesting her innocence to them. Besides, she knew they didn’t believe her, not after seeing the pictures that had leaked over the holidays last year—horrible pictures that still seemed to turn up whenever she thought they were finally buried.

  After working nearly twenty-four hours a day for years to try to get people to listen to her music, she’d been overjoyed to see her work pay off with her first number one hit last summer. Although everyone had warned her that the business would chew her up and spit her out if she wasn’t careful, she’d believed it was different for her, that she was smart enough to surround herself with good people.
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