PROLOGUE of the newly revamped “Hardship & Devotion”

Here it is, the new PROLOGUE to my newly revamped novel, Hardship & Devotion. I’ll share the re-release date soon!

PROLOGUE

Cara sat across from her fiancé, the infamous William Stephens, and couldn’t help but smile with pride. There she was, sitting in a five star restaurant, right smack-dab in the heart of New York City, with the love of her life sitting across from her. Will looked stunning, what with his blond hair and light green eyes accented by his expensive black Armani suit, white dress shirt, and green tie. She still couldn’t believe that the man sitting across from her was hers. Even after eleven years, she still felt like the luckiest woman alive. The thought that she would soon be calling him husband had her feeling giddy.

A nice-looking waiter came to their table wearing a crisp, white button down shirt with a black tie, black slacks, and a black apron tied around his slim waist. He was young—maybe nineteen or twenty—with blond hair, kind gray eyes and a warm, white-toothed smile. As he introduced the nights’ specials, his tone was cheery and his etiquette flawless. Before long, Will has him in an in-depth discussion on the different wine selections available. Content to watch, Cara sat back with a proud grin on her face and watched with fascination as the two men animatedly discussed wine.

The waiter knew plenty to keep up with Will’s questioning, which would make Will happy. He disliked dealing with people that couldn’t perform their job efficiently. It wouldn’t matter if the person was waiting tables or the CEO of a major corporation; Will believed that every job should be done fluidly and efficiently. Seeing the pleasure within those bright green eyes of his, she could tell he approved of the young man. He was the perfect example of what some call a “worldly man” and it intimidated her at times. No one would guess that Will was born and raised in a small town in Northern Idaho. He looked and acted every bit the true New Yorker, and looked damn fine while doing it. After knowing him for so long, you’d think she’d be used to it by now. But there were times—like right then—when it still caught her off guard.

As the waiter left, she scolded herself for not paying closer attention to their conversation. With him being such a wine connoisseur, she always tried to soak up any little tidbit of information that she could use to impress him later on with.

Will glanced up at her with his head cocked sideways and the left side of his mouth lifting in a half smile. “You okay, baby? You like you’re off someplace else.”

Even with a half smile, he still had the ability to steal her breath away. “I’m fine.” She blushed. “Just got caught up admiring you for a moment.” God, he truly is beautiful!

Pleased with her comment, he offered up his winning smile, the one he knew made her knees weak. “You look beautiful tonight, Cara, that color suites you.”

Cara’s face heated a darker shade and she couldn’t help but feel foolish for it. How easily he could make her blush with a simple compliment. Though it didn’t help much when the blood-red silk gown covering her body was one that he’d gifted her with thirty minutes prior to stepping out of her apartment.

“Why thank you. The man who purchased it has exquisite taste. I’ll have to let him know that you liked it,” she said shyly. “You don’t look too bad yourself. The new suit might be my new favorite.”

“Well that’s good to know, seeing as it came from my fiancée. I’ll be sure to let her know.”

Oh how she loved him this way, so relaxed and playful. It was a relief to have this Will instead of the intense attorney he was most of the time. Of course she loved both sides of him equally, but she favored enjoying him without the addition of his work tagging along.

Just then, the waiter returned carrying a bottle of red wine, its label showcasing a name she could never pronounce. Cara watched in fascination as he skillfully removed the cork with a flourish and poured a small amount in Will’s glass, where he then handed it to him to sample. Will sipped it, smiled, gave the nod of approval, and only then did the waiter fill both of their glasses full. Taking a small sip, the bitterly sweet liquid caressed her tongue and made her a delightful hum leave her lips. Yet again, Will had managed to outdo himself by choosing the perfect wine. It was the very reason she never ordered anymore. Giving him free-reign over their choice of drinks and entrees was something she always counted on to please him. Throughout the years, she learned that he needed that extra feeling of control and gave it to him willingly.

With the entrees ordered, they fell into light conversation. Will told her about the new case he’d been assigned to, and she was grateful when he didn’t linger on it long. All the legal terminology was too boring, but she sat, half-listening and appreciated the way his face lit up at the potential for yet another win in the courtroom. He was in his element and it showed.

When he inquired about her newest work, Cara filled him in on the details of her upcoming novel. The storyline was already laid out in her mind. With the wedding planning and the upcoming honeymoon, it would take her longer than usual, but she had a feeling it would be her best. With a belief in Will being her inspiration all these years, she was looking forward to what their honeymoon would bring to her latest love story.

After meeting in junior high and disliking one another immediately, one wouldn’t have guessed they’d be together. At first, Will had considered her unladylike approach to everything repulsive, and Cara had categorized him as the entitled rich kid with a cocky attitude. Eventually fate stepped in, creating an overlapping in their class schedules, where they’d found themselves sitting alongside one another in sixth period debate class. It’d been a year filled were some pretty heated debates between the two of them, with him being a liberal and her a conservative. By the end of first semester, they were an item. He’d walked her to class and she’d worn his football jersey on game days and they’ve been inseparable ever since. After dating all through high school and then through college, she’d witnessed him graduate law school and he’d watched as Cara grew from tomboy-teen with braces to the successful woman she was now. Together they celebrated his making senior attorney at his current law firm and when Cara’s third novel made the New York Times Best Seller’s list.

Everything was happening the way so many predicted it would for them. All their close friends and family had predicted that they’d marry; some even pegged them for the couple that would live in the big house with a white picket fence and a few children running around in the yard. Now look at them, only two weeks away from their wedding day. No one other than Will was meant to be her prince charming—that she was sure of. Throughout the years, she’d watched her friends go through many breakups, shared in their heartache, and consumed a large amount of Rocky Road ice cream right along with them. On those nights, she’d always come home feeling even more grateful for their relationship. Ever since they’d gotten together, he’d always taken such good care of her and she knew, without a doubt in her mind, that he always would.

She couldn’t wait to live a life with him, to grow old and wrinkly together. For months they have looked for that perfect house, but nothing screamed ‘home’ to her, not yet. She was antsy though. Will was old fashioned when it came to the whole living-together-before-marriage bit. He had no issues with having sleepovers, but he refused to live together until they said ‘I do’. Eleven years of waiting. First it’d been waiting until they graduated high school and then it’d changed to waiting till after college, but the waiting would finally be over. Only two weeks away and there wouldn’t be any more excuses—he would be hers and she would be his.

Returning with their meals, the waiter placed a steaming plate down in front of her. Her lips turned up into a wide grin. Will had ordered her favorite dish—grilled chicken with a cherry glaze, rosemary seasoned potatoes, and asparagus stalks roasted in garlic butter. The scent of the food hit her nose and her mouth watered and her stomach rumbled with an anxious growl. They ate in a comfortable silence, each taking their time to enjoy each bite of food they put into their mouths. It was the only way to eat such exquisite food. It was so perfectly cooked to savor and savor it she did.

“Are you excited about Europe, baby?” he asked before taking another forkful of his salmon.

At the mention of their honeymoon, she grinned, and began sharing with him the places she was hoping they could see. She was beyond excited for the promising two full weeks in one of the most romantic places in the world. It was a place she’d dreamed of traveling to since she was a little girl. Europe, one of the many historical countries that inspired the stories of all the great authors she adored. There were so many places she wanted to visit and it’d be even more special to share the experience with her husband.

Cara was sipping her wine when she noticed a tall, lanky blonde with sky-blue eyes standing at their table. She smiled warmly at her, assuming her to be a fan. The woman was young—nineteen or twenty at the most—wearing a very revealing black tank top with I HEART NY in red lettering, a faded jean mini skirt, and her feet clad in well-worn cow-girl boots. Her thin waist was bare, the tank top ripped to reveal a jewel-studded belly button and two butterfly tattoos on either side of her hips. It surprised her that the host had allowed the woman into the restaurant. There was a strict dress code that required diners to wear evening attire. The woman was definitely out of place amongst the other men and women in expensive, trendy suits and lavished cocktail dresses.

“Well hello there, Will. Now ain’t this a nice surprise.” The strong twang in her voice suggested a Southern upbringing. “And this must be the famous fiancée”—and with that she held her hand out to Cara, who shook it warily—“Cara, ain’t it? Nice to meet ya’, I’m Katie. Will’s just told me so much about you.”

The sarcasm etched in her twanging tone forced the hairs on the back of her neck to rise up in warning. Quickly letting go of Katie’s hand, Cara’s confused mind reeled with questions. Who is this woman? What is she doing here? How does she know Will?    

“She’s quite pretty.” The disdain, mixed with her drawl, was becoming annoying fast. Obviously Katie knew Will as more than just an acquaintance, but for the life of her, Cara couldn’t seem to think of how. She tried to put together a logical explanation. Maybe she’s one of his clients on a new case or perhaps an old one? And for the first time ever, Cara wished that Will had shared more about his cases with her. She knew that he usually worked with a high-end clientele. Perhaps she was the daughter of a more prestigious client?

“Umm . . .” Will managed to choke out.

Glancing over at her fiancé, Cara silently willed him for an explanation. Finally, he politely nodded and gestured toward Katie. “Cara, this is an acquaintance of mine, Katie Finnegan.”

Cara prickled at the unease in his voice. Will was never nervous and at that particular moment, he was borderline terrified. In their eleven years together, Cara had never seen him anything but cool, calm, and collected—his normally overly-confident self. Glancing around the restaurant, she was relieved to find that most of the diners weren’t taking notice of the small situation going on at their table. Wanting to keep it that way, she figured politeness was the only way to keep things from escalating.

Plastering on her warmest grin, she attempted to sound friendly. “Hello Katie, it’s nice to meet you.”

Katie regarded her warily and then turned her sky-blue gaze back at Will. Cara followed her gaze and studied her fiancé. Will was frantically moving his wide green gaze from Katie to her and back again, unable to hide the look of panic. For once, the amazing William Stephens was at a loss as what to do with the situation that stood before him.

“Did you help her on a case, Will?” Cara asked calmly, desperately trying to hide her own unease. Sending a silent prayer toward the heavens, she prayed for a simple yes.

“Yeah, Will, was I one of your clients?” Katie spat out much too loud.

Cara took another nervous glance around the restaurant, finding that other diners were now paying attention to their table. Not knowing what else to do, she put her head down to hide her embarrassment. The night wasn’t going as she’d planned it and she had the overwhelming urge to get up and leave, but even as she tried, her legs wouldn’t move to allow her to make the escape.

“Yes . . . that’s right . . . she was one of my clients on a recent case,” Will fumbled out.

At his shaky response, Cara raised her head just in time to see Will staring up at Katie with a silent plea. It was all she needed to witness to prove that one of her greatest fears was slowly unfolding into a reality. She may not know the reason behind it, but she knew without a doubt, that he was lying to her.

“Oh hell no, Will! There’s no way in hell I’m coverin’ for your lyin’ ass,” Katie yelled out before turning her gaze toward Cara with a sympathetic smile. “I apologize for ruinin’ your whole fancy-schmancy dinner and everythin’. I know I probably shoulda’ gone ‘bout this whole thing a totally different way, but it’s a little too late for that now. I’ve a serious situation I need to chat with Will about.” Dumbfounded, Cara simply stared at Katie speechless. “Will, why don’t ya’ c’mon outside with me so we can have us a lil’ chat? Your poor fiancée don’t need to be hearin’ any of what I gots ta’ say.”

“I think if you have something to speak with my fiancé about, you can do it with me present. However, if you’d be so kind as to make it quick, we’re beginning to attract attention of the other diners,” blurted out Cara.

Looking around at the restaurant, Katie curled her lips into a malicious grin. The grin alone had Cara instantly regretting her bravado speech. Her stomach tightened in knots as she braced herself for what would happen next. Why didn’t I just keep my damn mouth shut?

 “Well then, if ya’ insist, I sure as hell will.”

Chancing a glance in Will’s direction, Cara found him downing the rest of his glass. Sweat was beading along his brow and his skin paled under her stare. The man who sat before her wasn’t the Will she’d known for the last eleven years. Even when he was about to go into court, he’d always been so full of confidence and poise, a man ready to conquer the world. The man that sat across from her now was a stranger. And as Katie blurted out the next two words, she realized just how much of a stranger he really was. “I’m late.”

Cara spat her wine out all over the table and Will, staining his new Armani suit red. “Excuse me! Why in God’s name would that be any of his concern?” Then the meaning of why set in as her inner thoughts answered her own question—he’s the father!  Her mind raced as she struggled to come to terms with what was happening. No! Surely this wasn’t happening, not here, not now, not when we’re only two weeks away from our wedding day. Maybe I’m hearing things? Surely she didn’t just say that Will—my Will—got her pregnant?

Cara stared at Will in utter disbelief as the meaning of what those two little words meant for her life. She desperately wanted him to look her in the eye and say that it wasn’t true, that the woman was completely insane. Hell, even if he told her that she was a drug addict obviously under the influence, she’d have been able to believe that much easier than the other explanation. Anything would make more sense to her than the fact that Will had gotten some other woman knocked up.

On the other hand, lurking in the dark shadows of her mind was the painful knowledge that the blonde wasn’t lying and that the love of her life—her best friend—had actually been unfaithful to her. There was only one way to find out—she had to ask him.

“Will, what is she saying? Please tell me that you didn’t get this woman pregnant! I mean for the love of God, we’re two weeks away from saying ‘I do.’ We just finished talking about Europe! You know that place we’re supposed to go to for our honeymoon? Please Will, is this true?” She sat, waiting for him to say something, anything. When he simply stared from Katie to her, she lost it. “Are you going to just sit there and stare at me? Or are you going to give some kind of explanation for this situation you’ve put me in?”

She’d never been more furious. Part of her wanted to lash out regardless of all the people around her, and the other part of her desperately tried to remain in control. Then suddenly, surely from losing her sanity, she laughed out loud when she envisioned Ashton Kutcher popping out with a camera crew and yelling, “You’ve just been punked!” But there was no sign of the hot celebrity or a camera crew to document the humiliating experience, just Will and a blonde bimbo claiming to be pregnant with Will’s baby.

Will rose in an attempt to move beside her, but the time for explaining was over. His face told her everything she needed to know. “Baby . . . now listen okay,” he said shakily, but stopped in his tracks when Cara stood and glared icily at him. He took one look at her and immediately sat back down. If she could see her own face, she’d probably have been afraid as well. Barely containing the anger boiling inside of her, it was time to go.

Picking up her glass of designer red wine, she took one last sip and threw the remainder of it in Will’s face. With the threat of tears pricking at the backs of her eyes, she knew it was time for a quick escape. There was no way in hell that she would break down in front of him, the blonde bimbo, or any of the people in the restaurant. Instead she stood up and turned toward the front of the restaurant, until the weight of her engagement ring stopped her in her tracks. Where it had once been a symbol of his love, it was now heavy with his unfaithfulness and lies. Through tear-filled eyes, she allowed one more look at the beautiful two-carat, princess-cut diamond ring and removed it from her finger and placing it gently on the table.

Taking one last look at the man she’d fallen in love with years ago, she offered only a few more words on his behalf. “Not that I really need to spell it out for you, but the wedding is off. We’re done, Will. I really hope whatever this is”—she gestured at Katie—“I really hope it was worth it.”

Then, looking into the annoyingly pretty sky-blues of the woman she now hated, she said, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but thank you. Thank you for giving me insight into the real man I was about to marry. He’s all yours now. I truly wish you the best of luck with everything.” And with that she turned and left both of them staring at her stunned.

In a haze, she weaved her way around tables full of people still enjoying their meals without losing it. When the host opened the heavy glass door for her, she smiled weakly at him and welcomed the cool night air as it caressed her face. It felt good to feel something, because aside from the chill in the air, she was numb.

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