Forever Wickedpart #7. 8 of Wicked Lovers Series by Shayla Black / Romance & Love
“To what do I owe this displeasure?” Jason Denning leaned against the doorjamb and stared at the all-too-familiar face glowering back at him.
This close to Halloween, he wished his visitor was some kid he could hand a piece of candy then send away. Unfortunately, this wasn’t someone in a costume.
“Is that any way to talk to your mother?” Samantha Denning-Markham-Lloyd braced her hand against his chest and shoved him out of the way to enter his condo uninvited. The tap-tap-tap of her ever-present stilettoes clattered against the hand-scraped hardwood floors and echoed off the high ceilings, resounding through his downtown Dallas loft.
As he followed her across the foyer and into the great room, she picked up his remote and turned off the football game with a dramatic sigh. The TV mounted on the exposed brick wall went dark—sort of like his mood.
“No, really, Mom. I wasn’t watching that or anything. ” He crossed his arms over his chest.
“I haven’t seen you in three years, and you’d rather gawk at grown men chasing an oblong ball? Don’t you even have a hug for your mother?”
Samantha had barely allowed him to touch her, even when he’d been a little boy. Now, she only ever wanted something from him when her life had gone to hell and she wanted help fixing it. “You mean like we’re a warm, well-adjusted family? They usually spend Christmas together. But oh, you didn’t show up last year, like we’d planned. Thanks for not calling to let me know you weren’t coming. I had a fabulous holiday alone, thanks for asking. ”
Samantha sighed. “You have your father’s sarcastic streak. I could live without it. ”
“Too bad I can’t. Is there a reason you couldn’t return my messages? I haven’t moved or changed my number for the last few years, so I know you didn’t fail to call because you had trouble finding me. I assumed you were too busy with husband number three for your only son. ”
“I didn’t come here for guilt. ” She waved his words away, and he noticed that her ring finger was currently bare. “Lloyd is long gone. The poor bastard went bankrupt. I couldn’t possibly stay. ”
Jason supposed that whole “for richer or for poorer” thing didn’t mean much to Mommy Dearest. “So you dumped him?”
“As it happened, I met another man about the same time. Robert swept me off my feet. ”
Translation: He had a lot of money and spent a nice chunk on her. “So you left Lloyd for Robert. Beautiful. ”
“It was,” she defended. “We had a fabulous wedding in Fiji. You would have loved it. ”
Doubtful, but since he hadn’t been invited and it sounded like the union was over, his opinion was moot. “Is the divorce final yet?”
“No. He just filed last week. ” She pursed her artificially plumped lips as much as the injections allowed, looking a bit like a three-year-old in the body of a woman on the downhill slide to sixty. “He met a girl making a music video, of all things. ”
“No. ” She scoffed. “A model strutting around in a bikini and spreading her legs on the hoods of cars for the camera. She convinced him that he still had the libido of a man half his age. Now they’re engaged. ” She gave him a dainty huff. “I kept up my end of our prenuptial, as I have with every husband. I remained a size four. I played the gracious hostess for all his boring business parties. I even gave him the requisite blow job once a week. ”
Jason winced. “TMI, Mother…”
So Robert had left her—a first for Samantha. She was used to men of all ages falling at her feet and offering her the world. She was usually the trophy. Maybe those days were over.
Jason couldn’t tell much difference in his mother’s appearance since he’d seen her a few years ago. She stayed in impeccable shape with a personal trainer. A stylist dressed her. She religiously saw an esthetician and had a plastic surgeon on speed dial. Most people wouldn’t think her more than a day or two above forty.
She fluffed her artificial blonde hair and shot him an impatient stare. “Don’t you have anything to say?”
Not really. Though he sensed the incident had broken her ego more than her heart, she still hurt. “Is he refusing to honor the terms of your prenup?”
“No, but…” She paced, looking out over the Dallas skyline all lit up in its evening glory yet not really seeing.
“But?” he prompted. The sooner she said whatever she needed to get off her chest, the sooner she would leave.
“He’s thirty-five years older than her. It’s ridiculous!”
Jason refrained from pointing out that billionaire Charles Denning had been thirty-two years Samantha’s senior when she’d married him. She hadn’t believed the age gap ridiculous then. Since his mother had given birth to him six months after she and his father exchanged vows, Jason didn’t think his mother had wooed his father away from his first wife of twenty-seven years with her scintillating conversational skills. Pointing that out now would only make her snit worse.
“Do you want a glass of wine?” A few of those usually solved her problems.
She shook her head and unwound her cashmere wrap, then tossed it at him. “It doesn’t mix well with my Xanax, and I can’t afford the extra calories. I’m looking for another man, one younger than me. I’ll show Robert. ”
His mother sounded bitter. He wasn’t surprised. She’d always acted as if the world owed her something.
It was going to be a long evening.
Jason paced to the fridge and grabbed a beer, then tossed himself onto the black leather sofa, peering at the cityscape. He should probably keep his mouth shut. After all, he knew damn well that she hadn’t come to him for advice, probably money and sympathy—in that order. But she was all the family he had left. Even if she hadn’t been much of a mother, she was his.
“Maybe you should take some time to be alone, consider what you really want in a marriage before you dive into number five. There’s a reason things never work out, Mom. ”
“That’s not fair,” she shot back. “Your father died on me when you were barely thirteen. I was married to Daniel Markham for over a decade before he got stingy. ” She sighed. “Lloyd and I had a good five years, then…like I said, he went broke. ”
“And Robert couldn’t keep it in his pants. Got it. I’m just saying that maybe some soul searching wouldn’t be all bad before you get involved again,” Jason suggested.
She cut him a blue-eyed glare as she perched on the edge of a gray suede chair and crossed her ankles. “What would you know? You’ve never been married. ”
Jason froze. He should probably shut up now, but he’d learned a thing or two lately. “Actually, I’m currently married. Have been for almost a year. ”
With that admission, a familiar weight pressed into his chest, unbearable and suffocating. Anger charged his veins. The constant, nagging pain followed. He shoved it all down and blanked his face.
Samantha reared back, eyes wide with shock, as if he’d just said he kept Godzilla as a pet. “You married? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I tried. That’s what the invitation to spend some family time last Christmas was supposed to be about. ”
“Oh, well. I didn’t know. You didn’t invite me to the wedding. ”
“It was somewhat…impulsive. ” Because at the time, he’d thought that if he didn’t own that woman in every way possible, he would go insane.
Well, he’d slipped a ring on her finger and taken her to bed. Sadly, none of that had kept him from losing his damn mind.
He’d been a stupid bastard.
Samantha’s surprise deepened. “You’re never impulsive. And you’ve always expressed utter contempt for marriage. ”
For years, he had. The not-so-shining examples around him had convinced him that he should never attempt happily ever after. That no one should. But she had been different. He’d been right about that. But he’d been so fucking wrong, too. He’d taken a stab at marriage, and the blade had cut him deep.
“Who is she?” Samantha rose to her feet, looking all around. “Where is she?”
Jason dragged in a deep breath and gritted his teeth. “She isn’t here. ”
And she was probably never coming back. The truth fucking hurt.
For once, his mother looked genuinely concerned about him. “So you’re separated? Have you started divorce proceedings yet?”
It had crossed his mind…but Jason couldn’t make himself call his lawyer. Some senseless part of him kept hoping that if he gave her more time, she would return.
It’s been three hundred forty-four days. What are the odds she’ll come back to play happy wife?
“Has she violated her prenup? You do have one, right?”
“I do, and she hasn’t. ”
His mother looked around his condo. All sleek black leather, chrome, floor to ceiling windows, and pristine kitchen—without a feminine touch anywhere. Every square inch of the place screamed bachelor pad. Samantha might be a pain in his ass, but she wasn’t stupid. She’d know his wife didn’t live here and never had.
“How has she not violated the terms of the agreement? You were specific, right?”
“I outlined how much money she would receive after every milestone anniversary if we divorced. There’s a sunset clause after twenty-five years. There’s a division of assets in the event of my death. ” He shrugged. “Typical stuff, but nothing she violated. ”
Samantha wagged a finger at him, looking aghast. “Jason Edward Denning, you know better than that. You’re a young, good-looking billionaire. You could have any woman you want in any way you desire. Didn’t you spell out her duties with regard to the house? The living and sleeping arrangements? The type and amount of sex?”
Jason stifled his anger. He’d wanted her to be a real wife; he hadn’t wanted to buy her. “I kept it simple. Unlike your Prince Charming, Robert, I declined to contractually obligate her about how often I wanted oral gratification. ”
His mother rose and crossed the room, sitting beside him to lay her delicate fingers on his knee. “That’s your mistake. You just need to be detailed with her. Surely, if you made yourself clear—”
“I wanted her to choose to be with me. She didn’t and now she’s gone. End of conversation. ”
Growing up steeped in wealth, he’d seen all sorts of couples marry for reasons that had far more to do with money than devotion. Not that he didn’t understand a man’s desire for companionship while protecting his assets. But from those interactions, he knew that relationships were a barter, affection bought and paid for. The currency might change, but the concept didn’t. Meeting his wife had somehow altered his opinion.
He’d not only appreciated and deeply admired her altruistic, self-sufficient nature, he had married her because of it. Eventually, he’d hoped she would be the mother of his children because she brimmed with honesty and fought for what was right. For her, nothing had been about money, but loyalty and kindness. Caring. He’d trusted her more than he’d ever trusted a female. She put family first. Jason had never imagined the traits he’d once admired so much would bite him in the ass. Or that she’d not only leave him, but deny his most basic rights as her husband and her Dom—to help and protect her—proving that she didn’t trust him at all.
Then again, hadn’t that been a recurring theme for them?
“Call your attorney,” his mother advised. “Maybe you can ‘clarify’ the terms of the agreement. Then she’ll have to sign and recommit or you’ll box her into a corner and she will have to leave the marriage first. And in that case, she won’t receive anything, right?”
Yes, he could do all that. But she would only hate him for it. For some reason he couldn’t fathom, he found that idea intolerable.
Jason slammed his beer on the glass-top table and rose. “I’m going out. If you need a place to stay, there’s a guest room at the top of the stairs and to the right. If you need money, there’s ten grand on my dresser. You’re welcome to either. But if you’re here when I come back, my marriage isn’t a subject open for discussion—ever. ”
* * * *
Club Dominion was closed on Sunday nights, but Jason kept a private playroom here and had round-the-clock access to it. The moment he let himself into the dark, still dungeon, he realized it wasn’t the room he sought, but the memories.
Quickly making his way down the hall, he pictured his wife as he’d first seen her, arresting a rowdy drunk in the parking lot who’d been harassing females entering. She’d been questioning the club’s owner, Mitchell Thorpe. Despite the badge on her chest and the holstered gun at her side, everything about her expression and posture had shouted that she leaned submissive. When she’d looked at him with her soft, dark eyes, Jason’s need to possess her had slammed into him like a visceral force. But she’d been gone before he could even learn her name.