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The divorce club, p.13
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       The Divorce Club, p.13

           Jayde Scott
 
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  He looks so relaxed and handsome, my heart skips a beat. Maybe a bottle of wine to ease my nerves, or a few cosmos. I shake my head again. "I'm fine, thanks."

  He leaves and I close my eyes again, dizziness washing like after every nap. I must've nodded off again because the sound of a car door slamming jerks me back from oblivion. I turn my head to Sam's slurping on the backseat just as Jamie gets in and hands me a tall latte and some warm pastry in a clear paper bag. The aroma of cinnamon invades my nostrils. I peer in awe as he takes a bite of his own pastry, a soft moan escaping his throat. "It's really good. You should try it." He winks. "They're homemade, like your brownies."

  Still staring at him, I take a tentative bite and nod. "Thanks."

  "Dad never let us eat in the car," Sam says.

  Jamie smiles and finishes his pastry. For some reason, I can't shake off the feeling that he's being so easy-going to impress us, but if his attitude is a sham, I don't care. It works even though I wish it didn't.

  Two hours and several attempts at small talk later we cross over to France. Outside, it's started to rain; heavy drops splatter against the windshield, making us slow down. Although it's only late afternoon, the sky has turned a dark-grey. The vehicle rolls smoothly on the highway; the French countryside, brown fields and white cottages, stretches in the distance. Jamie's hand clasps carelessly around the steering wheel and his movements are blasé. If I were to drive on the right side of the road, I'd be frantic with panic.

  "How much longer?" Sam whines. It's the forth time she asks.

  "Half an hour tops," Jamie says.

  I turn to face her, my gaze imploring her to stop complaining. "Why don't you listen to your iPod?" She shrugs and sinks back into the backseat, pouting.

  Jamie smiles at me. I bet he's forgotten our conversation from before, so I see a new opportunity to start again. I wait for Sam to turn on the music, then I ask, "What's the real reason why you didn't turn up at the meeting?"

  "You're not going to drop it, are you?"

  "No." I shoot him a sideway glance. He might get mad and decide to ignore me but, stuck in this car, that's about all he can do.

  He squirms in his seat, hesitating, before he answers. "For some reason, you were mad at me, so I decided to stay away. I figured if I didn't you might cancel our trip."

  "Really? That's it?"

  "What did you think?"

  I shrug even though he probably can't see me because his gaze is fixed on the slippery asphalt. "Maybe that you've decided to reconcile, or that you got bored."

  "Of what? Of you?" He laughs. "I'm not your ex. For someone who believes to be so knowledgeable in love matters, you have the strange habit to assume all men are the same."

  Now, he's making me defensive again. I pout as I try to keep my mouth shut, but it's not working. "I never assumed your reason had anything to do with me."

  "No?" He cocks an eyebrow and grins.

  "Not in the least. And what did you mean with that derogatory comment about my knowledge in love matters? I know what I'm talking about because I went through everything I teach my clients."

  "Yeah, well, see that's the thing, Sarah. You're teaching your side of the story, which is fine since that's what people signed up for, but what happens after their divorce is finalized?"

  "They'll be free to start a new life, date again, do whatever they want to do. Honestly, I've no idea where you're going with this," I say.

  "You mean they'll start a new life by turning into this bitter woman that hates anything male on the planet?"

  He thinks I'm bitter? I gape at him, a hot rush spreading from my neck to my face. "If you don't agree with who I am and what I do, why did you join my club?" My voice is low and menacing, my eyes throw daggers. I've never been so insulted.

  "Look, I'm sorry for what I said. It wasn't personal. It's just that you say all the things you say about men and I don't feel it applies to me. You're not exactly giving me a chance."

  As if I'd ever believe that. I turn away from him to stare at the raindrops splattering against the passenger window. The car leaves the highway and turns right onto a country lane. We've come so far and I've barely noticed the beautiful countryside and the heavy scent of manure in the air.

  "Are you still mad?" Jamie whispers.

  "I'm not mad. I'm fuming."

  He laughs. "At least you're honest. Want me to stop and get out the fire extinguisher?"

  "Do I look like I want to be covered in a sea of foam?"

  "Listen, I'm really sorry."

  I roll my eyes. "You don't mean it because you've no idea what you've done wrong in the first place."

  "See, you're jumping to conclusions again. I'm sorry for saying you're bitter. Everything else still applies."

  "Men were never meant to join the club," I say.

  Jamie takes another bent past a town sign. My basic French is not good enough to read it, but I assume he knows where we're going. In the distance, slim shapes of townhouses stretch against an overcast sky.

  "That's just sexist."

  I turn away from the fast approaching village to face him. "You keep saying that."

  "Because you keep being it. You'd never get away with it in our politically correct time."

  I snort. "Yeah, well, I would've if you didn't insist on joining."

  "And what a privilege it is, particularly since I pay double the usual membership fee." Heat is scorching my face as I focus on the street again. Jamie continues, "You're probably surprised I found out." My head bobs even though I'd rather drop the topic. "The brochures you keep in your office."

  How could I have forgotten they specify the price? I mentally slap my forehead at my own stupidity. There I deceive once in my life, and then I'm not even clever enough to do it right, but I'm not going to admit it. "I instituted a new policy after the pamphlets were printed—all men pay double."

  "Sounds like a good idea," Jamie says. "Don't worry. I don't mind."

  "Thank you for understanding my policies," I whisper so softly I'm not sure he heard me. We drive through the village in silence, but I barely notice the pretty white houses in the background or the people clad in colorful clothes ambling on the cobblestone pavements.

  As we leave the last sparse buildings behind, Jamie speeds up the winding country lane past trees on either side. Five minutes later, his SUV pulls up in the driveway of a whitewashed cottage and we get out. My legs feel numb so I try to stretch them as inconspicuously as I can while Jamie hurries to open the door and starts heaving luggage out of the boot.

  "That's your house?" I ask, dumbfounded.

  "Oh, come on, Mum," Jamie says. "It's a fixer-upper. With a little elbow grease, this thing would be awesome. And it's in France! How cool is that? Just give it a chance. It's much nicer inside."

  I can only laugh at this attempt to make it more appealing to us. Granted, the plaster's peeling from the walls, but that doesn't take away from its Mediterranean charm. The windowpanes, painted in a burgundy red, hang open, grazing the naked rosebushes stretching underneath. I couldn't possibly imagine a more beautiful and serene place.

  "Come on in." Jamie stands in the doorway and points behind him. Sam darts in.

  "Take off your shoes," I say as I walk past Jamie, my arm brushing the front of his shirt.

  The hall's narrow with a small wardrobe lining one wall and several landscape paintings covering the other. I shrug off my shoes while Jamie helps me out of my jacket, then leads me into a small but cozy kitchen with shiny pans and strings of garlic hanging from hooks in the ceiling. On the windowpanes, several pots with fresh herbs enjoy the last daylight.

  I nudge him to get his attention and point at the garlic. "Is there something you aren't telling me?"

  "Garlic is a weapon every land owner should have against the everlasting battle with vampires."

  I smile. "I missed your sense of humor as well."

  Jamie retrieves a bottle of red wine and a Coca Cola from the fridge, then pours th
e wine into two glasses and hands me one. "Cheers. To us."

  I clink my glass against his and take a tentative sip. The full aroma of ripe grapes tickles the back of mouth.

  "Hey, what about me?" Sam asks from the doorway.

  "Catch." Jamie throws her the Coca Cola can and turns back to me. Sam disappears again, probably eager to get away from the old folks.

  The soft skin around his eyes crinkle with a smile, his blue gaze twinkling as though it's trying to tell me something, but I've never been the intuitive kind, so I just ask. "What's on your mind?"

  He laughs softly, making my stomach flip. "I'm not telling. You'd take it the wrong way."

  And there I was thinking it might be something along the line of 'you're beautiful' and 'I've just fallen in love with you'. But I'm curious and insecure, so, naturally, I want to know. "Tell me anyway."

  "I was just thinking that you're strange."

  "That's a fantastic compliment. You must've melted many hearts in your life," I say, dryly.

  Jamie shakes his head as he inches nearer. "No, I meant it in an interesting way. You let me sleep on your sofa because you're scared to stay in your own home and check on doors and windows a hundred times when you believe no one's looking."

  "It's called having an obsessive compulsive disorder. It's quite common among women."

  "OCD? That's hard to believe, but I won't pry." He taps a finger on his glass. "Okay, what about this one? You open a club to help people divorce their spouses instead of showing them ways to patch things up."

  I know I'm overreacting, and yet my insides are boiling again. The club's my life. He has no right to question my business. "What's so strange about it?"

  "Most women want to keep their men, not find ways to kick them out the door as quickly as possible."

  "Well, I'm not like most women. I won't let anyone stomp on me, blow out my inner flame and squash every shred of confidence I have left." I try to turn away from him when he grabs my arm.

  "That's exactly what I'm saying. I can't figure you out." Our gazes lock. His lips are mere inches away from mine. My voice catches in my throat, my breath comes in labored heaps.

  "I can't figure you out either."

  "Let's try it together then," Jamie whispers. His mouth moves closer. I hold my breath, waiting for the impact of his mouth, waiting to taste him for the first time.

  "Hey, what's for dinner? I'm freaking starving." Sam's voice makes me jump, the pointed corner of the counter cutting into my hip. I put down my glass and spin toward the oven as though I could make dinner magically appear.

  Sam points upward. "Don't even think I'm eating those strings of garlic. And Mum, you'd better not either, or Jamie's going to make a run for the hills."

  "But Sam, it'll keep the vampires away," Jamie says in the worst Count Dracula imitation I've ever heard.

  She giggles. "You're not going to suck my blood, are you?"

  "I can only feed at night," Jamie says. "The moon's peeking out already. You'd better run and hide."

  Sam laughs. How come she never laughs like this at my jokes?

  "Why don't you go unpack while your mum and I prepare something?" Jamie asks. His voice is so cool and steady while I'm shaking inside. How can he be so unfazed when we were just about to kiss? I know I should be mature about this and don't expect too much. After all, men don't have the same emotional response when it comes to intimacy, but I still feel disappointed.

  "Which room's mine?" Sam asks. "Can I pick?"

  "I'll show you." Jamie winks at me and whispers, "I'll be right back."

  I busy myself looking through the fridge and the cupboards while Jamie's gone. He returns a few minutes later. I sense him standing behind me, hesitating, but I'm not going to make things easy for him.

  "What about pasta?" I step aside so he can check the contents of a cupboard, but he's staring at me.

  "About before, where did we—"

  He wants to continue where we left. Do I look like a circus acrobat, performing at the sound of a whistle? "Actually, I'm not that keen on pasta. I'll think of something else after you show me to my room."

  I take off through the hall, hoping he's following. He is, mumbling something that sounds like, "The wall's up again." But I'm not sure I heard right. He might have also said, "You're driving me insane." If it's the latter, it certainly applies to the both of us.

  Chapter 15

  It might seem odd that at thirty-four I've never been to France even though I live only two hours away, but after getting married at such a young age, my priorities were always focused on my family and building something lasting for ourselves. So, standing here in what Jamie calls a 'small room' that's much larger than my bedroom, I feel strangely emotional as though I'm seeing the sun for the first time after years of darkness, or a rose in bloom after months of decaying leaves.

  "My room's larger, but all my stuff's in there and I figured you wouldn't feel comfortable if I were to barge in every five minutes to get something." Jamie's standing in the doorway, an apologetic look on his face.

  "It's perfect," I say. "Besides, I wouldn't want to sleep in your and Chloe's bed anyway. It's way too personal."

  He hesitates for a moment. "I asked the caretaker to change the sheets before we arrived. If you need anything, the linen cupboard's in the hall."

  "Thanks." I turn away, hoping he might get the hint and leave, but he's just hovering there as though there's something else he wants to say. As usual, he doesn't say it. "Meet you in the kitchen in ten minutes?" I prompt.

  "You bet."

  "Hey, Jamie," I call after him.

  "Yeah?"

  "If you start before me, please leave enough garlic to string a necklace. You know, to ward off the vampires."

  He laughs. "Just in case that doesn't work, I have a chest full of stakes guaranteed to take care of any nasty bloodsucker problems we might face."

  "You might want to hang those on the wall next to the garlic, and then we'll be set for battle."

  He laughs again. "If you need anything I'm next door, fine-tuning my crossbow."

  My heart leaps in my throat. It could just be pure affability, but I know he's insinuating something, and I'm not sure I'm strong enough to say no if he makes a move. I'm not stupid to mistake the sexual chemistry between us for anything deeper. Mel was right when she said he isn't ready for more than a fling. Men are fabulous at manipulating one into thinking they're in love when it's all about lust and gratification, so pursuing anything beyond a professional relationship's only going to end in a broken heart—and I know it won't be his.

  I stack the few things I packed inside the drawers, furious at myself because I let down my guard and allowed a guy to play havoc with my feelings. But there's safety in numbers. Ten minutes later, I decide to look for my daughter. She's neither in the third bedroom, nor in the large living room, but soft laughter carries over from the kitchen so I head that way. Jamie and Sam are sitting at the table, peeling vegetables. I'm probably more surprised at Sam's sudden interest in helping out than at Jamie's ability to handle a knife for something other than opening a beer bottle.

  "Chicken's already in the oven," Sam says.

  I'm not used to other people cooking for me so, naturally, I feel a little useless. "Would you like me to help with the potatoes?"

  "That'd be fantastic. Please, take a seat." Jamie points at the chair next to him, his eyes glinting again. I hesitate, then move the chair next to Sam's and start peeling.

  "Sam told me how challenging math has been for her lately," Jamie says. "Maybe I can help."

  "Thanks, but we'll figure out a solution." I start to peel faster, already wishing I didn't agree to this trip. Sam getting along with him is a sign that she's slowly getting used to the idea of her father not being around all the time any more, but her bonding with Jamie happens too fast.

  He shrugs. "I thought I'd pop over once or twice a week."

  "We wouldn't want to put you out like that." I shake
my head vehemently, hoping he won't insist, but as usual Jamie doesn't get the message.

  He sighs. "All right. I know we haven't known each other long, but it's time I told you something."

  My gaze narrows. "What?"

  "I'm going to tell you about my deep, dark secret."

  "I love secrets. What is it?" Sam asks.

  He's keeping secrets from me? Like following me around everywhere I go? My heart hammers in my ears. I shrug even though I'm having a hard time remaining composed. "So, spill."

  "It's a big one. You might not see me in the same light again. I hope this doesn't change anything between us."

  My hands start to tremble. I'm all alone with him in this cottage and worst of all, I didn't think of telling anyone where I'm going. "Please, just say it," I whisper.

  He winks. "Fortunately, for the both of you, I'm a math legend from the planet Nerd."

  Sam bursts out in laughter.

  "I won the math championship four years in a row at school. Still got the trophies, the checkered shirt and the bow tie to prove it. Anyway, I really think I can help. I know a few neat tricks to get past some of those difficult formulas."

  What's wrong with me? I make a mental note to see a therapist when we get back before my paranoia turns into a full-blown anxiety disorder. "Can I talk to you for a moment, please?" I jump from my seat and head out the door with Jamie following behind.

  "Oh, no. This scene reminds me of my last time at the club. What did I do now?" He tries to look serious, but the twitching corners of his lips give him away.

  "I don't like the way you and Sam—" My voice trails off. I'm unsure how to put it.

  A frown crosses Jamie's features. "What are you suggesting?"

  I realize my blunder. It sounds a bit like I'm accusing him of being a pedophile grooming my daughter. But could it be the reason why he's so friendly and forthcoming? I shake my head, feeling like a complete idiot, and yet who could blame me for having that thought at the back of my mind? "No, it's not what you're thinking. I just don't like the way you bond with her, that's all. She's lost a father figure in her life. There's no need to go through that again."

 
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