(3 book romance bundle).., p.15
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       (3 Book Romance Bundle) "The Cowboy's Love" & "Sex with the Billionaire" & "Loving the White Billionaire", p.15

           Julie Allen, Carla Davis, & Monica Brooks

  Chapter One

  As I stepped out of the shower, wrapping a towel around me, I found his bare back directly before me. He was in front of the mirror, lathering his face with shaving cream under what looked like intense concentration.

  "Morning," I offered quietly.

  He gave me a soft grunt in response and the smallest hint of an unwilling smile.

  I hovered by the edge of the shower cubicle, tucking the towel around me and allowing my damp, chestnut hair to cause drops of water to run over my shoulders. "You...um...got a busy day?" I asked.

  "Yeah," he responded with a shrug.

  Things had been like that between us for a long time; I don't know exactly when the shift happened. I guess it must have been a slow slide into monosyllabic, stiff and awkward conversations. But, I was aware that it had been getting worse. Maybe it was me. Maybe I'd been too occupied, maybe I hadn't shown him enough attention or affection. That thought prompted a question: how long had it been? Two months, three? Yes, it must have been three, because it was the night of his brother's birthday party. Since then, it had been like living with a roommate, rather than a husband.

  "Hey," I breathed, stepping forward and smoothing my hand over his back. It felt awkward, wrong somehow, but I forced myself to do it nonetheless. After all, it had always seemed so natural and right. It was a blip, that was all, one of those periods that all couples go through. I had to ride out the discomfort, because, if I didn't, things would surely just get worse.

  Silently telling myself that this was the man I loved, I tenderly stroked my way down to the base of his spine before leaning forward and kissing his shoulder. It became instantly apparent that I wasn't the only one who felt a sense of unease.

  Carl stiffened and his eyes shifted to watch my reflection in the mirror. "What are you doing?" he asked.

  Snaking both arms around his waist, I pressed myself to him and met his pale blue gaze in the mirror. "I know it's been a while," I joked, "but don't tell me you've forgotten how."

  "I haven't got time," he said flatly, shaking his head and grabbing his razor from the edge of the sink.

  "I'm naked under here," I countered. "You're half naked, it doesn't have to take long." In truth, I'd never been a fan of quick fumbles, but, right then, something seemed infinitely better than nothing. In that moment, I needed to feel wanted, alluring, sexy. I needed to feel a connection with him; something to remind me of the fact we loved each other.

  However, he seemed to feel very differently placing both hands on my wrists, he removed my arms from around his waist. "Not right now," he muttered.

  "Kids are asleep," I pointed out, persisting despite the hurt of what was obviously a rejection.

  "Zara, I'm not having this discussion with you. I've got to get to work." As he determinedly stared at his reflection and swept the razor up his face, he didn't even bother to look at me.

  "Do you realize how long it's been since we last made love?" I asked quietly, feeling suddenly very cold in our warm bathroom and tugging the towel more tightly around myself.

  Carl exhaled and shook his head, as though he were having one of those unending, circular conversations that our three-year-old was so fond of. "I've been very tired, and very busy," he huffed. "Can we talk about this later?"

  "We never talk any more," I muttered. "That's the whole point, we don't talk, we don't have sex. It's like living with a stranger."

  Finishing his shave with a few angry strokes of the razor, he tossed the foam covered blade down and turned. Swiping a towel from the rail, he rubbed at his face. "What do you want me to say, huh?" he demanded.

  "Well..." I mumbled, feeling as though I were being chastised like a naughty child. "I don't know," I admitted, shrugging. "I just want to know what's happening with us. It didn't use to be like this, but for the past six months or so, it's been..."

  "What?" he irritably snapped.

  "We've been distant," I sighed.

  "And that's my fault?" he blurted.

  "I didn't say that," I quickly countered. "It's not your fault, I know I've been busy, too. And I guess, we've both taken our eyes off us. But I'm trying to make an effort now," I reasoned.

  "What part of 'I haven't got time now' did you not understand?" he muttered, rubbing a hand over his short crop of light brown hair. "I've got to get to work," he added, spinning on his heel and striding into the bedroom.

  I followed him until I reached the doorway, where I hovered and leaned against the frame. Silent and dejected, I watched him as he scooped up the shirt he'd left on the bed and thrust his arms into it.

  "When we first got married, you always had time," I pointed out solemnly.

  Tossing his eyes to the ceiling, he buttoned the shirt before tucking it into his charcoal pants. "What do you expect Zara, that the honeymoon would last forever? Real life gets in the way of all that."

  "I'd just hoped..." I mumbled, staring at the carpet just in front of his feet. I was frightened that if I looked up I might start to cry, and I knew he'd think me even more foolish for that. "I hoped that we'd still have that spark."

  "Marriage, mortgage and kids are pretty effective in killing the spark," he informed me matter-of-factly. "Nobody ever tell you that?"

  "Is that really what you think?" I asked, pushing a strand of damp hair off my cheek and tucking it behind my ear. "You think that the spark is dead?"

  "It died a long time ago, Zara," he insisted, fastening the cufflinks on his wrists as he moved to the full-length mirror in the wardrobe door.

  I knew he was right. I hadn't been able to admit it, not even to myself. But that feeling I'd always used to get around him had gone. And it wasn't just those tingles of excitement – I wasn't naïve enough to think that it would always exist. But something deeper, something more fundamental, just wasn't there when I looked at him. In fact, as I stood on the threshold between our bathroom and bedroom, staring at him as he brushed invisible creases out of his sleeves, I felt...nothing. I wasn't even angry with him. I couldn’t stir up any emotional response to the sight of him, and that frightened me.

  "Then, maybe," I offered quietly. "Maybe we need to find out whether it can be revived."

  "And how do you suggest we do that?" he asked, giving me a cursory glance over his shoulder.

  "Perhaps we should spend some time apart," I mumbled softly. I hadn't made a plan to suggest it. I hadn't even known that thought was in my head until the words came tumbling out of my mouth. And once they were released, hovering in the thick atmosphere that hung between us, I waited expectantly for some reaction from him.

  What I got was the same apathy I felt when I looked at him. Carl simply shrugged as he turned back to the bed and whipped his jacket from it. "Maybe," he muttered, nodding.

  "Temporary...just a short time," I added, the sudden realization of what I'd proposed striking me with cold, harsh reality. Was I seriously implying that we live apart? We'd started dating over a decade before, we'd lived together for eight of those years, and we'd been married for seven. Life without him was a little difficult to remember, a future without him was almost impossible to envisage. He'd become a part of me. As stale as our relationship had become, the complete lack of our relationship was frightening.

  "Yeah," he replied, meeting my eyes squarely for the first time...well, the first time in a long time. "I think you've got a point, Zara. Maybe we do need to find out what we mean to each other. This," he sighed, gesturing between us with a weary movement of his right hand, "isn't doing us any good and it's not good for the boys either."

  Our children, five-year-old Ethan and three-year-old Max, had been affected by the frosty atmosphere between their parents, I was sure. By trying to muddle through, and hoping that the problem would go away on its own, Carl and I had been hurting not just ourselves, but them as well. And that, I felt sure, was one area of our lives upon which we were both seeing things the same: Carl and I were both devoted to Ethan and Max.

  "Yeah," I
softly agreed, nodding gently. "So, a trial separation?" I asked, seeking clarification.

  "I think it's probably for the best," he said, slipping his arms into his jacket. "We can talk about it more when I got home."

  "And when will that be?" I asked, with something that sounded a lot like bitterness creeping into the edge of my voice. I had a feeling I knew what the answer I'd receive; the same one I got almost every day.

  "Late, probably," he predictably replied. "I've got a meeting that I know is gonna run past five, and that will probably be followed by a senior management debriefing."

  "Alright," I sighed. "Well, I'll just see you when I see you then."

  "Yeah," he sighed, turning to the door and walking briskly through it.

  My hair still dripping wet, I stood staring wide-eyed at the wall directly in front of me, the wall that bore a silver framed photograph of Carl and me on our wedding day.

  Panic gripping my heart, I wondered if I had done the right thing. This was it, it would either help repair our relationship or it would make one (or both) of us realize it wasn't even worth salvaging. How could those smiling people staring back at me have managed to screw things up so royally?


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