He clenched the back of his neck and rubbed absently as he paced helplessly around their bedroom. He couldn’t make himself shower or get ready for bed. All he could see was an empty bed, one she should be in, her scent enveloping him as he slept.

She was his security blanket. The only solid thing in his world where everything else was uncertain. He’d taken her for granted, had shit on her repeatedly over the last two years, and he’d never realized the extent of his neglect. Until now.

He’d done what he’d vowed never to do: Made her feel unwanted. Invisible. Just as her parents had done. Self-loathing ate at him, digging a yawning chasm in his heart and soul.

How could he possibly imagine a future without her? He was scared shitless. Fear like he’d never experienced gripped him by the balls and had a stranglehold on his throat.

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Never, never would he forget the look in her eyes when he’d glanced up from his potential client—hell, what was her name even? He couldn’t remember. All he could see running in an endless cycle was Chessy’s stricken, devastated look when she’d seen him in the bar with another woman. On their anniversary night when Chessy had been forced to leave after cold food had gone wasted and she’d withstood the humiliation of being stood up. On their anniversary.

God, she’d asked if he was cheating on her, and he’d never even given her an answer. And even he had to admit how bad it looked for him. To have been with another woman in the same restaurant where his wife waited. What kind of flaming bastard did it make him to have pulled a stunt like that? At the time he’d thought it was the best way to have his cake and eat it too. Court a prospective client over drinks for fifteen minutes and then walk a few yards farther into the restaurant where his beautiful wife waited and then they’d kick off their anniversary weekend and have two whole days to love and celebrate another year.

Was she even now lying in bed in the guest room worrying and dying a little with each breath over the thought that he’d been unfaithful to her? He couldn’t stand the idea of her thinking it a minute longer. He wanted to charge down there, confront her now and get everything out of the way so they both slept easier tonight.

But that was his selfish, inconsiderate side rearing its ugly head, and it was clear he’d been selfish for far too long in their relationship. She’d asked for time and, goddamn it, no matter how it ate at him, no matter that he wouldn’t sleep a single minute, he’d give her the time she asked for. But in the morning? Things were going to be sorted out.

Then again, he knew this wasn’t something to be resolved with one simple conversation or a few hours of heart-to-heart communication. It would take time and effort on his part to win back her trust—and her love. The two went hand in hand in his book. All solid marriages enjoyed both. Love and trust. One couldn’t exist without the other. She hadn’t really answered his question as to whether she still loved him. All she’d said was that she’d always loved him. Past tense.

That scared the holy hell out of him.

He couldn’t imagine his life without Chessy. He loved her with his heart and soul. But he hadn’t shown her his love in a very long time, and actions spoke far louder than words, a token “I love you” from time to time. He’d taken advantage of her love and he’d put her second, maybe even third or fourth on his priorities, a fact that shamed him to his soul and a mistake that would likely haunt him for the rest of his life.

FIVE

DAWN filtered through the window treatments of Chessy and Tate’s bedroom and Tate sat in the sitting area, all decorated with Chessy’s loving hand and eye for detail. She’d made their house more than just a residence, a place to exist. She’d made it a comfortable home that immediately made him feel at ease the minute he walked through the door after a long day at work. Because it had her stamped all over it. Every piece of furniture. Every decoration, picture. All of it represented her. Just being in one of the rooms she’d decorated was like having her presence there even when she herself wasn’t in the room, and it had always comforted Tate.

More than that, just coming home to her was the best part of his day. And yet he hadn’t let her know that in a long time. He’d assumed she knew. And assumptions had gotten him into huge trouble.

He left their bedroom with purpose, having been up all night thinking of the best line of attack. It was the wrong word but this was most certainly going to be a battle. He’d be a fool not to think it would be the biggest battle of his life and so he’d planned accordingly.

He tiptoed down the hall and silently cracked the door of the guest room to peek in on Chessy. He saw her in bed, the covers kicked off and tangled at her feet as if she’d slept restlessly. He let his gaze travel up her body to her face, which was turned his way, and winced at her tear-ravaged face. Jesus¸ she had cried herself to sleep, if she’d slept at all until recently.

There were definite shadows under her eyes, bruises against her pale, beautiful skin.

Silently, he retreated, heading for the kitchen to make breakfast, the first in his plan of “attack,” for lack of a better word to use. Wooing? Courting her again? Making her feel loved and special to him? Yeah, all of that.

Normally he’d serve her breakfast in bed, but she wasn’t in their bed. And he didn’t want her hiding there the entire day, refusing to face him, their marriage, and refusing to save it, because damn it, he wasn’t giving up without one hell of a fight.

It was game on, and he’d had the better part of the night to reflect on all his mistakes. He planned to start rectifying them now.

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