“Hang tight. I’ll be right back.”
After dropping off her wine, Jack left Keely in the midst of a group of his colleague’s wives. She’d done this meet and greet before with great success and she didn’t need him holding her hand, especially when he had business to discuss. Keely was tough. Smart. She could hold her own with anyone. She’d do just fine.
This party was Keely’s worst fucking nightmare.
First, she was underdressed. Way underdressed. The women in attendance wore smart, classy cocktail dresses that probably cost more than her truck. The frumpy little engagement dress which’d worked in so well in Wyoming and Utah made her look like an escapee from Hee Haw in this ritzy setting.
Second, her feet hurt. She’d worn heels, but checking out the other women’s expensive shoes, flip-flops would’ve been a better footwear choice. And would’ve garnered fewer, “Are those shoes from Payless?” type of raised eyebrows the females aimed at her poor aching feet.
Third, no beer. What kind of party didn’t have a cash bar that served beer? Which served as another reminder of how hopelessly low class she was. How out of her league Jack was.
Fourth, Mr. High Class himself had abandoned her. Completely. No looking back, no encouraging smiles from across the room. He’d ditched her in a nest of snakes.
Even the women’s clattering bracelets and earrings sounded like rattles—but she doubted she’d get any warning before they struck.
“You’re from Wyoming?” a brunette with far too many Botox injections asked.
Keep it simple. “Yes.”
“I’ve never actually met anyone from Wyoming,” another brunette with beady black eyes commented.
“What on earth do you do there? Is there anything to do there? Or is that why the state is so meagerly populated? Because no one can stand to stick around?”
“Oh, I’m sure Kelly can regale us with plenty of quaint little tales from her life in the Wild West, Laura.” Martine sipped her white wine. “I imagine you have a horse?”
“Actually, I have two horses. One—”
“So you don’t have a car?” Martine snarked back.
“Of course I have a vehicle. A truck.”
“With mud on the tires, a gun rack and a bale of hay in the back?” a snide blonde sidekick of Martine’s tossed out.
“Oh, Reagan, don’t forget country music blaring as she’s driving down the gravel road to take care of her horse,” the another brunette threw in.
“Horses,” Martine corrected sweetly. “She owns more than one, remember? I’ll bet one’s a real stud.”
“How does Jack feel about letting you ride another stallion?”
Don’t say a word.
“No, seriously, Kelly. We’re pleased for you and Jack. Even if we’re a bit surprised by his…choice.”
Martine flashed her fangs. “You have been married before?”
Keely frowned. “No. Why would you—”
“I just assumed girls in your neck of the woods married early. Anyway, I’m sure your family is pleased you caught a man like Jack.”
Caught. Like I laid out a trap line? Give me a fuckin’ break.
“Does Jack get cattle or land or pigs or something after you get married?” the nasty blonde asked with mock-sincerity.
“Or forty acres and a mule?” another added.
Martine admonished her. “Theresa! That was not nice. I’m sure that ‘bride price and dowry’ nonsense is a thing of the past.” She peered at Keely through slitted eyes. “Isn’t it?”
Tittering and whispers.
Keely wanted to crawl into a hole and die. This situation was beyond any horror she’d ever encountered. Nothing would make these women be civil to her. They saw her as fresh off the farm meat and decided to cut her down to size, one petty, shallow little slice at a time.
No. She wouldn’t embarrass Jack in front of his colleagues, which meant no firing off rude suggestions. She’d suffer the humiliation with whatever dignity she could muster. But if Jack wanted to hang around with his vicious friends after dinner, she’d plead a headache and return to the room.
Don’t you mean slink off to your room like a whipped pup?
Backing down and biting her tongue was a new experience. These blowhards needed a serious smackdown, but Keely McKay couldn’t wield the verbal paddle tonight. Or any other night.
People started drifting into the banquet room. Keely didn’t budge, praying the pit vipers would slither off. Maybe she could regroup with others who weren’t so incredibly vile. But mostly she hoped Jack would come save her.
So much for her feminist mantra of not needing a man to rescue her.
Martine whispered loud enough for all her friends to hear. “I realize you’re used to hearing a dinner bell clank as a signal for chow time, but if you follow the herd you’ll realize they’re starting to serve dinner.”
“Thank you.” You miserable, tight-assed sow.
“Or you can just come along with me since we’re sitting together.”
Sheer panic arose. She wasn’t sitting with Jack?
Martine’s lips curled into a sneer. “Oh, you poor thing. Didn’t Jack tell you? Typical of him, he’s so aloof and unconcerned for anyone except himself. At these events they separate the men and women. So the men can talk business and the women…well, you can imagine how fun it’ll be, us getting to know you over five dinner courses.”
Her stomach lurched. She doubted she’d be able to choke down a single bite.
And if Keely thought it couldn’t get worse, she was sadly mistaken.
Theresa asked if she chewed tobacco.
Reagan asked if she used hay as toothpicks.
Laura asked if she hunted and killed her own food.
Martine asked if she made all her own clothes.
After they tired of making fun of her, they took great joy in ferreting out how rural Keely was. They gasped upon hearing she’d never been to New York City. Or the Caribbean. Or the Orient. Or Europe.
She’d never heard of any of the clothing, shoe and handbag designers they yammered on about ad nauseum. She’d never attended an opera or a Broadway play or the ballet. When Keely admitted she’d been to an art opening—namely her brother Carter’s—they’d rolled their eyes. “Western” art wasn’t real art.
Keely hadn’t anticipated Martine’s snideness. But it’d gone beyond Jack being her former lover type of jealousy. And Keely didn’t understand why Martine bothered to engage in the “Kelly is a low class bumpkin” attack if she believed Keely so far beneath her social stratosphere.
The meal, the insults, the sheer horror of the night dragged on. And on.
During a pause in the speaker’s program, Keely retreated to the ladies room, debating on whether she should cut bait and run. When she exited the stall, Martine was freshening her lipstick at the sink.
Keely couldn’t muster a smile. Or even meet Martine’s cruel eyes in the mirror. She washed her hands slowly, hoping Martine would leave.
No such luck.
Martine waited while Keely dried her hands. Naturally, they appeared to be the only ones in the bathroom.
“You won’t hold onto him, you know.”
Keely didn’t respond.
“I know Jack told you about me. About us. I’m sure he also told you I left him for his partner. But I’ll bet your frumpy dress he didn’t cough up the truth about why I left the gorgeous, sexy, charming Jack Donohue for an older man?”
For money hovered on the tip of Keely’s tongue.
Martine slithered closer and Keely forced herself to hold her ground. But she refused to look at her.
“Jack is a workaholic. I suspect he has something to prove because of his humble background. I didn’t mind his obsession with business when we were first together. He was so dynamic I forgave him.
Eventually I couldn’t continue to overlook the missed dinners. The broken plans. The ruined vacations. The last minute cancellations because he prioritized business over everything. He had few friends. He had nothing to do with his family. Jack is all about work. He will do absolutely anything to get ahead in this business.”
A strange tingle worked its way down Keely’s spine. Much as she hated to admit it, there was a lot of truth in that statement.
“When he deigned to spend time with me, he expected that time to be spent on my back in his bed.
Yes, Jack was an amazing lover, but I found his sexual appetite to be rather primitive and excessive. More kinky than I was willing to give him. I’ll bet he’s found that ‘anything goes’ dirty girl type of kink with you?”
Do not blush.
Martine sighed. “I can see by your stubborn silence you don’t believe me. I pity you. I’ve been where you are. I’m lucky Baxter could see I was unhappy whenever I went to Jack’s office and Jack wasn’t there.
Baxter treated me as I deserved, lavishing time and attention on me. He’s given me everything I’ve ever wanted. Baxter and I are well suited, which between us, bothered Jack far more than anything else about the situation. Jack knew no matter how much money he made or how successful he’d ever become, he’d always be trying to prove to everyone and to himself that he was good enough for me.”
Keely’s mouth fell open at Martine’s completely asinine assessment of Jack. But she finally met the snake eyes in the mirror. “You honestly believe if you and Jack would’ve stayed together, it would’ve been because he accepted he’d…married up?”
Her eyes were chips of ice. “Better than marrying down.” Those revulsion-filled eyes raked her head to toe. “Good God. Could you be any more of a country mouse? You don’t even know how to properly dress yourself for a business function. How embarrassing for Jack. He’s really scraping the bottom of the barrel with you, isn’t he?”