Simone Livingston wants desperately to start again. She and her husband Keith have both agreed that their marriage is worth saving. Despite the deep betrayal and lies she’s suffered thanks to his infidelity. Their arrival in a small town run by the wealthy conniving Hollingsworths tests her faith in her husband and the sacred vows of her marriage. And when Keith’s dastardly deeds unveil who he truly is Simone’s bad habits of forgiving and forgetting despite her suffering brings about unbelievable consequences. The one man she shouldn’t trust throws a lifeline to her, and soon it’s a race against time to fight for her future, escape the present that threatens to destroy her, and save everyone she loves.
Kim Jensen is a widower. The death of her firefighter, beautiful husband, while pregnant with their twins devastated her. Two years later she has found a way to cope. A dark secret that she keeps from the nurses and hospital she works for. That is until she meets the dashingly handsome Dr. Mathew Donnelly. Immediately he steps into her life to become the hero she never asked for. But will her bad habits put their careers and new found love in jeopardy, or teach her the most valuable lesson in second chances?
Both sisters struggle to survive pain, betrayal, love lost and the prospect of new love gained. Bad Habits is not your typical love story. It’s an exploration in the human spirit. Through suffering we achieve triumph, through grief we learn the healing power of letting go, and through change of spirit we become the women we are destined to be. A graphic, explicit tale that explores the avoided topics in romance, infidelity, drug addiction, self-loathing, and ultimately forgiveness with a touch of love.
“Cain, people are moving into the Dixons’ house.”
Maryanne sipped her tea, her head tilted right with that curious lean she often did in the middle of snooping. She stood at the picture window that faced the left side of their home with a cup and saucer in hand. When she lifted her head, her golden blonde locks swayed around her shoulders. At one time he found her irresistible. She’d laugh at anything and make him smile when he didn’t know he needed to. What red-blooded man wouldn’t desire Maryanne Hollingsworth? She was leggy, athletic and perfect in her femininity with buttercream skin and a body that could rival any supermodel. She was his wife and he could barely stand an afternoon with her.
Cain grimaced. He lowered his eyes to the email messages on his iPad.
“What is it, Maryanne?”
“They’re black. It’s a black couple moving next door.” Maryanne’s voice carried a hint of alarm.
She tossed her golden layers and drew him in with her eyes from over her shoulder. The soulful pair was blue, clear and omniscient. Sharp, aware, and commanding, they revealed too much of who Maryanne truly was.
“Of course I don’t care that they’re black. The Goldbergs are Jewish and I was the first one to welcome them into the neighborhood,” she said, before returning her attention to the window. “Still, it’s odd that the Dixons would sell to a black couple. I have it on good authority that Elvin Dixon is a closeted racist.” She took another sip. “Odd.”
“I’m off to the office,” Cain announced, picking up his satchel and shoving the iPad inside. If he didn’t leave soon, he’d spend the rest of the morning in bumper-to-bumper traffic. With everything in hand, he headed for the door. Maryanne set her tea down. She quickly rounded the furniture to cut him off.
“Sweetheart, Father wants us to go to Martha’s Vineyard for the Fourth this year,” she chirped in a sugary voice. Maryanne began to straighten his tie. He fucking hated when she straightened his tie.
“No. We talked about this. We’re going to see Daniel and his wife. I already have the tickets,” Cain scowled. His brother was recently honorably discharged from the military. He and his wife, who happened to be Chinese American, bought a house in Florida. He hadn’t seen his brother in three years. The plan was to rent a boat for some deep-sea fishing and beer drinking. The trip was the only thing he’d been looking forward to for weeks. Maryanne knew this.
She batted her long lashes at him. She gave him that Hollingsworth smile that once seduced him into emptying out his savings to buy her the large stone sparkling on her ring finger. “Then maybe you should invite Joseph and Lailynn to the Vineyard because that’s where we’ll be this Fourth.”
Cain swallowed. His pending protest formed a knot of frustration tight in his chest. He knew her arsenal included the exclusion of sex, conversation and then the deployment of her ultimate weapon. She would call her father to force him to have one of his ‘talks’ with Cain that always ended in his granting her wishes.
“Oh, now come on, honey,” she purred. “Don’t pout. This will be wonderful. Who wants to go fishing on some stinky boat anyway? Besides, I have nothing in common with his wife. What about me? I’d be bored silly.” She rubbed her slender hand down his tie.
He grabbed her hand, and forced it away. “We’ll discuss it when I get home. This isn’t settled.”
“No need, darling, because it is,” she quipped. She stepped back, her hands on her hips, a soft sex-kitten smile crossing her rose-pink lips. “I’ve already cancelled the flights to Florida and rebooked our reservations.” She took another step back, and then turned from him. Her pastel pink skirt flounced from her hips over her creamy thighs. She was dressed for a day at the country club and shopping with her mother, or whatever it is she did to amuse her self and spend money. Cain rubbed the side of his jaw, a habit when his anger and disappointment met up with his wife’s indifference. He told himself it wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t.
“Have a good day,” Maryanne said. She strolled out of the room to the next, leaving him where he stood. Cain slammed out of the front door without another word. Outside, the smell of morning dew over their manicured lawn, and clean air greeted him. His eyes volleyed left to the sounds of men yelling at each other. One told the other to slow down as they both unloaded a large covered sofa. A moving van had parked in the driveway. Two cars, a Mercedes and Jaguar, were parked along the street. There was a tall brown man, with a neat mustache and low cut afro among the movers, pointing from the truck to the house with instructions.
A woman, whose face he couldn’t see clearly from his front step, walked up the driveway toward their open door. Her dark hair was thick with curls that covered the side of her face. She wore a pair of jean shorts that complimented her curves and a powder blue t-shirt. Just before she went through the door, her head turned. She looked at him. Their eyes met, and he quickly averted them, searching for his keys, walking off toward his car in the driveway. Neighbors. Who needed them?
* * * * *
“Where to, miss?”
“Um…I don’t know…I guess, uh, let me see.” Simone moved in over the polished hardwood floor. The walls were a soft sage green with lilac borders. It wouldn’t work for her cranberry red sofas and cherry wood coffee and lamp tables.
“Oh, sorry. There,” she pointed near the windows. Keith strolled in after the next deliveryman. Simone turned to ask what he thought of her arrangement, but he kept going, talking in a low voice into the phone. Sighing, she directed the men with the boxes, clearly labeled, to where the kitchen was. Then she crossed her arms, and scanned the living room. She tried to envision the lay out. Soon, she would see this place as she wanted it to be.
Simone hadn’t wanted to move. She especially didn’t want to move to Mulberry Heights in dreary old snooty New England. But Keith’s promotion and position required their life change. That they change. Gone was their two million dollar Manhattan brownstone. Her future would be replanted in the gated community that was, according to Keith, exclusive to those of status and breeding. Those were the kind of people he loved to meet. She crossed the room, and her eyes absorbed each detail. Certainly she couldn’t really grasp it all from the realtor’s web pages, but looking at it now, it felt like a home for a stepford wife, not a sanitation worker’s daughter out of the Bronx.
“Keith? Keith…I think we should—” She stopped and looked down the hall. His hushed tone slowed her heart. He was whispering, pacing with the tendons in his neck bulging as they did when he was angry.
“I told you not to call me again. There’s nothing left to say or discuss. Do you hear me? Don’t call me again!” Keith ended the call. He shoved his phone in his pocket before he glanced up. “Hey, didn’t know you were standing there.”
“You said she wouldn’t call anymore. You said it was over.” The pained disappointment came out in an almost whine, and she hated herself for it. Simone stepped back, her hand going to the banister of the stair. He marched toward her.
“It’s not what you think. It is over. This is our start again.”
“No, Keith, this is your promotion and your start again. This is me being the faithful wife to a husband that doesn’t deserve it, again!” She snatched away from him and headed for the stairs. He didn’t follow. He never did. The therapist said for them to take time-outs, to separate and come back and discuss it rationally. Gone were the passionate fights or desperate make-ups that filled her with hope. Gone were the weak excuses and expensive gifts that filled her with dread. Now everything was so clinical, orderly and forgivable. Funny thing was, she’d chosen it to be this way. Because in truth, she still loved him. That’s what she told herself.
In the room, behind the closed door, she removed her phone and slumped down with her back against the door. She stared at the buttons on her cell phone and rubbed her finger over the touch screen to bring up the sunflower background display. She’d lied so much to her friends back home about how much she wanted this move, that she couldn’t call any of them to weep about it now. In therapy, she discovered that she had a hard time seeing anything through. Well, her marriage was important. She was going to see this all the way to the end. She just needed to focus. For over fifteen minutes she hid in the empty bedroom scanning posts on Facebook. She fought the urge to call her sister.
Keith knocked. He knocked again.
Simone sighed and rose. She wiped all trace of tears from her face and opened the door. Keith walked in. He’d changed. He now wore a dark pair of slacks and a matching button down shirt. With his tie in his hand, he smiled and held it out to her as he always did in the six years they’ve been married.
“I thought you said you would help me move us in today?” Simone asked.
“I have to go to the office and meet Andrew Hollingsworth. It’s a must. Besides, I’ve taken care of the movers. All you have to do is arrange the last of the furniture they’re bringing in, especially the bed.” He smiled. “Maybe go online and spend more of my money if you want.”
She took the tie from his hand, hooked it around his neck and fought the urge to choke him with it as she tied it. His money? The sale of her hair salon put an extra couple of zeros in their checking account. Of course she’d be petty to mention that.
“That call earlier, Simone. I can explain,” he said picking up on the way she pulled at his tie, jerking on his neck. Simone worked the slipknot with her lips pressed together.
“Stacy works for the company. To fire her would have brought attention to things. I had to be discreet. You know that’s my new work phone she called. I thought it was the office calling. She got it somehow. I’m sorry, honey. She won’t call again. I’ll see to it.”
“It’s okay,” Simone said through clenched teeth. “I trust you.”
He touched her hand to stop her. “No, it’s not. You gave me another chance. You sold your business. We left your sister, your nephews and New York behind. You gave up a lot for us. I plan to give up as much to make this work. I need to show you that I deserve you and deserve the baby I want to work on tonight.”
The hurt subsided. She gazed up into the eyes of the man she once loved so deeply. She searched for that spark. Keith lifted her chin so he could look into her eyes. “I love you, sweetbaby,” he said in that deep smokey voice that would make any woman’s toes curl.
“I love you too, so much,” she said softly. He kissed her. The citrus spice of his cologne lingered in her nostrils, and her lips parted to draw his tongue in. Her arms went around his neck, and his eased around her waist. She stroked the back of his neck and head. Deepening the kiss, she still held a lot of desire in her heart and body for him. He was the only man she had ever loved this way.
“Mmm. I have to go,” he groaned and broke away. “Save it for when I get home, okay?”
With a smile, she touched his face. “You go in there and show them how Mr. Keith Livingston does it. I’m happy for you, sweetheart. You earned this promotion.”
“We’re going to be happy, baby. You know that, don’t you?”
“I know,” she nodded. “I do.”
Keith leaned in and kissed her brow. “I’ll call you on my way back in. Let’s celebrate tonight.”
She nodded. “I’ll make some pasta and open a bottle of wine.”
He was gone in a flash. She looked around the empty room. This was her life. She actually looked forward to their new beginning.
* * * * *
The long walk to his office door became even more arduous with Kelly on his heels. He’d give anything for a moment to just collect himself mentally before he was hit with the day’s business emergencies. “Mr. Gatlin, there was a meeting called by Mr. Hollingsworth’s office. Everyone is gathering on the twelfth floor. I tried to reach you on your cell.”
“It’s okay, Sheila. I saw the invite on my Blackberry. I’ll be there.”
“Oh, um?” She closed the door and entered without an invite. “I hear it’s a new Senior V.P. being brought in from the corporate office in New York. Hollingsworth didn’t sign off on this one. He’s going to be working with you is what Marva said. I hear that he’s going to—”
“Is that all?” Cain asked dryly.
She blinked. “Yes, sir. Yes.”
“Then leave, and keep the gossip to a minimum. Can you manage that?”
“Of course, my apologies. I sometimes lose my head, ramble and…”
“That’s all, Sheila.”
He placed his briefcase on the desk but didn’t take a seat. Instead, he turned to the windows of his office and the city buildings that surrounded it. Andrew Hollingsworth was one of three primary stakeholders in Caspian Corporation. He hoped the new guy didn’t get assimilated as quickly as the last three that were promoted internally. Andrew Hollingsworth had a habit of making you an ally or enemy in minutes of meeting you. Cain still hadn’t decided which category he fit in.
He turned and picked up his office phone, dialing. “Joseph?”
“Cain! Lailynn, it’s Cain! Hey, bro. I was just thinking about you. Dude, you have no idea how perfect timing this is. ”
“How’s the wife?”
“Ready to meet you, bonehead. We were talking about taking you and Maryanne to the Keys after the Fourth. How long will you be staying again?”
Cain picked up his pen, tapping it on his desk. He closed his eyes when he spoke. “That’s why I was calling. There, um, well, there’s this family thing here, and I don’t think we can make it.”
“Maybe a visit shortly after or maybe you and Lailynn can come here. See us?”
“Well, I don’t know, but… Cain, you sure? We… well we got the boat rental and the fishing.”
Cain smiled. Joseph was his baby brother. He never had a mean word for anyone. His deployment to Afghanistan had given Cain nightmares for the first few months. He just couldn’t see him fighting any war, no matter how long he was in the military. “Don’t worry about the cost. I’m covering it. I just want to see you. So consider the trip to New England on me. Talk to the wife and see if she is willing to come here instead and let me know.”
“You okay?” Joseph asked. “Is everything okay with Maryanne?”
“Of course. We just got this whole vacation thing crossed up. Here’s the deal. I want you to meet the Hollingsworths. You really haven’t yet. We’re going to Martha’s Vineyard. Bring Lailynn, and let’s make a big family event. Some good fishing out there, too, I hear.”
“Okay, I’ll talk to her and see what we can do. But we pay our own way.”
“Fine. Talk to you soon.”
“Love you, bro,” Joseph said.
“Love you too.”
He hung up. No, he wasn’t one for avoidance, but lying? He was a master at lying.
* * * * *
It didn’t take them long. The house was wall-to-wall boxes. It would take her weeks to find a place for everything. Simone squeezed between several cartons trying to find her way out of the room. The doorbell caught her off guard. She’d just signed off on the final delivery. She prayed this didn’t mean that there was still more on the truck.
“Coming!” she yelled.
She pushed at the last obstacle, knocking the box over. Something broke inside. Simone cringed and hoped it wasn’t her mother in-law’s china. The lady would roast her alive if a single plate was chipped.
Out in the hall, dusting her hands, she hurried to the door and snatched it open.
A beautiful blonde stood before her with a pie in her hands. A pie? Straight from a Norman Rockwell painting, Simone couldn’t believe how perfectly suburban she appeared. “I’m Maryanne Gatlin, your neighbor from next door.”
Simone nodded. She recalled seeing a man in a business suit leave the house next door with his briefcase in hand. That big three story house was one of the largest in the cul-de-sac. “Come in, please.”
“Thank you. This is for you.”
Simone accepted the pie graciously. “How sweet. Thank you very much.”
Maryanne strolled through her home as if entitled. “Oh, so you’re just moving in. I see you’ve got your hands full.”
“Yeah, there’s plenty to do. I’m Simone by the way. My husband went in to work. We’re the Livingstons.”
Maryanne gave her a half smile, but didn’t shake her hand. Simone lowered hers.
“Well, I wanted to be the first to welcome you and maybe have you over for dinner. You have to join the Club. I’ll be happy to put in a word for you and your husband. My family has a long history with Bella Shore.”
Maryanne gave her a sweet smile. “Such a lovely sweater. Cashmere?”
Simone looked down at her sweater. “Yes.”
“I have one just like it.”
There was a pregnant pause between the ladies. Simone wasn’t quite sure what else the woman expected. Then Maryanne cleared her throat. “Well, enjoy the pie. Maxine, our maid, makes the very best. Have you gotten a service yet? I can recommend one. It will help with the unpacking.”
“No, it’s okay. Keith and I want to do it on our own. Set up the house that is. Maybe later we’ll look into a maid service.”
“Of course. Nice to meet you, Simone. And welcome again to the neighborhood.”
Simone walked her to the door. She let the door close and then leaned over to the side windowpane to watch Maryanne as she gracefully walked down the steps to the sidewalk, back to the house next door. The woman tossed her golden hair once and gave their place one last look. Her eyes were less approving than her oh-so-sweet voice. Simone sighed. Is this what she had to look forward to?