(3 book romance bundle).., p.16
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       (3 Book Romance Bundle) "The Cowboy's Love" & "Sex with the Billionaire" & "Loving the White Billionaire", p.16

           Julie Allen, Carla Davis, & Monica Brooks

  Chapter Two

  Within just two days of that fateful conversation, I found myself back at my parents' house. Fortunately, they only lived a couple of streets from the home I'd shared with Carl, which meant that we both got to see the children every day. Neither of us wanted to use Ethan and Max as weapons to hurt the other, so when it came to splitting their time between the two houses, conversations were amiable. Anything else, however, was simply not spoken about. We didn't even bother to define the details of our separation.

  I'd expected surprise on the part of my parents, assuming that they'd seen only the happy facade of my marriage. I'd thought Carl and I had effectively concealed the less blissful side of our relationships. Apparently, we hadn't.

  "Can't say I'm shocked," my mom gently said one evening as we shared a couple of glasses of white wine.

  Perched on a stool in front of the kitchen's center island, I peered at her curiously, "What do you mean?"

  "Sweetheart," she soothed, settling opposite me and refilling my glass. "Things haven't been right between you two for months. I can tell when you're not happy. So..." she added, exhaling slowly. "You want to tell me what's going on?"

  With an unknowing shake of my head, I tried to explain what had been happening over the previous weeks and months. When I finished, she was thoughtfully silent as she sipped on her chardonnay. I had wanted to ask what was on her mind, but, in truth, I was frightened to. I didn't want a second opinion to confirm my foreboding sense that my marriage was over. Carl didn't love me anymore; maybe I didn't love him, either. In any event, what we'd shared had managed to slowly disappear right under our very noses.

  "Well, you know," Mom eventually said, "spending time apart from your spouse is never a bad thing. It can make you realize just how much that person means to you."

  "I hope so," I whispered.

  "Hmm," she pensively nodded. "And in the meantime, maybe you should think about having a little vacation," she added, the seriousness in her brow suddenly replaced with a smile that brightened her whole face.

  "A vacation?" I repeated. "I don't know if I'm in the mood. Besides, who would I go with?"

  "Go on your own," she insisted, sweeping a smooth hand through the dyed blonde bangs that sat upon her forehead. "Before I had you, I used to vacation alone all the time," she continued.

  Eyes widening in surprise, I stared at her. That was something she'd neglected to ever say before.

  "Even after your father and I were married, I'd sometimes go off for a week," she gabbled, unaware of my incredulity. "Oh, it's so freeing. Gives you a chance to get in touch with yourself, really think about your life and what matters."

  Having never even been on a day trip, much less a vacation alone, the thought was intimidating to say the least. And yet, there was some appeal to it. Perhaps it was the excitably way my mom started to recall her own adventures. Or maybe it was that I realized what she'd said was right: if I really wanted to figure out my own messed up head and heart, I needed some quiet solitude.

  "Hey," Mom suddenly blurted, spinning on her stool with something that looked a little like a tipsy sway and grabbing her laptop from the counter behind her. "You ever thought about a cruise?" she asked, opening the computer and tapping feverishly at the keys.

  "A cruise?" I echoed.

  "Yeah," she nodded, her eyes moving over the screen in front of her. "Oh, the Mediterranean," she enthusiastically gushed. "What do you think?" she asked, swiveling the laptop so I could see the photographs of crystal blue waters and stunning coastline.

  "It's nice," I offered with a shrug. "But I can't afford it." That statement was, and was not, technically true. I couldn't afford it, but Carl and I still had a joint account and he certainly could. We were still married, so his money was my money. Nevertheless, I had no intention of splurging on a luxury vacation. And, I figured, the money issue alone would be enough to gently but indefinitely cut my mom's ardor for the subject.

  It wasn't.

  "Don't be ridiculous, your father and I will pay for it," she swiftly responded.

  "No, Mom," I insisted, shaking my head. "I don't want you to do that. You and dad have to think about-"

  "If you say the future, I'll come round there and smack you," she grinned. "We're not over the hill yet," she added. "And we can afford this, so let us treat you. God knows, you need a little pampering."

  Despite myself, I smiled. However, I was still clinging to my aversion of the matter. "What about the boys, I've never been away from them for more than one night before?"

  "Honey, the boys will be fine," she insisted. "When Carl's not with them, they'll be here with us. And, sure, they'll miss you, but it won't scar them to be away from you for a few days. And it'll do you the power of good, you'll come back happier and that's great for everyone."

  I didn't share her complete confidence in the suggestion that I would come back happier than when I left, but, I supposed, she'd had a point. "Vacationing alone, though?" I mumbled, that concern still weighing at the back of my mind.

  "Trust me," Mom insisted bluntly. "It'll be fine. You're a strong woman, Zara. I think being with Carl all this time has made you forget just how tough you can be on your own."

  With a doubtful quirk of my head, I looked at her dark brown eyes, which sparkled care of her fourth glass of wine.

  "Besides, it's good to do things that scare you from time to time," she continued. "You're worried you're stuck in a rut? Then don't just complain about it, get the hell out!"

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