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Dirty Little Midlife Crisis

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I WIPE THE SWEAT OFF my brow with the towel slung over my shoulders, staring around Candice’s yoga studio tucked in one of the old cabanas of the Heart’s Cove Hotel. Candice blows out a candle and smiles at a student who comes to talk to her, and I heave myself up to my feet.
I’m getting a bit more flexible, I guess. A bit stronger. I’ve been coming to Candice’s classes three times a week for months, now, and I can almost make it through the whole thing without feeling like my heart’s going to explode.
It’s good, though. Something I’m doing for me—and aren’t there a million more things that I’m doing for myself these days? After years spent putting myself last, I finally have the space and opportunity to take care of myself, too.
Grant gives me that opportunity. He’s independent and thoughtful, and I no longer have to spend my days making sure all the housework is done because I know he won’t lift a finger to do it himself. I don’t have to remind Grant to call his family for their birthdays or organize presents that he won’t bother to buy himself. I don’t need to remind him about doctor’s appointments or ask him nicely to please, please put his own plate in the dishwasher.
I’m dating an adult man for the first time in my life, and it’s amazing.
“Hey, Fiona!” Candice pads toward me in her bare feet, her floral yoga pants hugging every muscular curve of her short, strong body. “Have you spoken to Fallon? He wanted to add some lunch items to the menu.”
I roll my yoga mat and nod. “He gave me a sample of the sandwich he wanted to serve next week. It’s incredible.”
Candice smiles at me as I gather my things, and the two of us walk back toward the front of the hotel. We need to pass through the lobby to get to the exit, a walk I’m now used to making multiple times a week. I’ll have to get Dorothy and Margaret a nice bottle of wine to thank them for letting us use their space.
“Did you hear about Agnes and Mr. Cheswick?” Candice’s eyes sparkle. “Apparently they’re going on a cruise together.”
“Scandalous.” I laugh, nudging her shoulder. “There must be something in the water in this town.”
“Hopefully, she doesn’t rip his head off.”
“She seems to have a soft spot for him.” I smile, pushing open the door to the hotel lobby. My eyes drift over the familiar furniture as I inhale the comforting scent of the hotel—a mix of lavender and jasmine that the twins somehow imbue in every room of this place.
Then I freeze.
Candice keeps walking a few steps, then pauses, glancing over her shoulder at me as she frowns. “Fiona?”
I can’t move. Can’t speak. Can’t think.
My ex-husband is leaning over the reception desk, dangling a black credit card between his fingers. I’ve seen the look on his face many, many times before. It’s a look that says, Do my bidding, minion, because I’m better than you.
The minion in this case being Dorothy, who has storm clouds gathering across her brow. Uh-oh.
John’s head swivels toward me, the superiority in his eyes slowly morphing into recognition, then surprise, then…attraction?
I haven’t seen that in his eyes for a long time.
“Fiona.” He straightens up, his fancy credit card still dangling from his fingertips. “What are you doing here?”
My ex-husband’s eyes drop down my body, which, admittedly, has become a lot firmer now that I’ve been more active and eating healthier for a few months.
I clear my throat. “I live here.”
“At the hotel?” He frowns.
No, you idiot, I don’t live at a hotel. Just because you divorced me doesn’t mean I’m homeless. I paint a smile on my lips. “No, I’ve got a place on the edge of town. Are you here for…work?”
When we were together, John only ever traveled for work. But my eyes flick to his companion, a woman in her late twenties or early thirties wrapped in a tight body-con dress that looks nearly impossible to walk in. Her hair falls in loose, styled waves down to her thin waist, and perfectly-applied makeup makes her already-beautiful features look even more stunning.
A year ago, seeing them together would have caused me to spiral. I would’ve felt frumpy and lumpy in my yoga clothes, cursing the fact that my face turns beet-red with any bit of exercise.
Now, though?
I kind of feel sorry for her. I see the way she stands a bit apart from him, how insecurity flashes across her face as her eyes dart from me to John and back again.
Keep him, honey. I sure as hell don’t want him back.
“We’re here for the weekend,” John says. “Needed to get away from work. Talia and I have been working on a tough case and it just finished, so we thought we’d take some time off.”
Talia. I remember that name. He hired her as a junior partner nearly five years ago, mentioned her in passing a few times, but never introduced me to her. Now I know why.
I let my lips tug into a smile and to my surprise, it’s not forced. Seeing him with another woman doesn’t cause my heart to pang. I feel…nothing. “Enjoy your stay.”
Here it is. My opportunity to make a graceful exit, to walk away with my head held high and show him that his presence does nothing to me. I win this breakup, because I’m happy. He didn’t ruin me.
But I’ve only taken one step when the lobby door opens, and Grant stalks through. His eyes find mine in an instant, and his face splits into a smile. “Hello, gorgeous.”
His long legs eat up the space between us, and I don’t have the time to protest about my sweatiness or our audience before he wraps his arms around me, tangles his fingers through my hair, and kisses me like we’re never going to see each other again.
It’s not a chaste kiss. It’s not a peck.
This is a kiss. Open-mouthed, tongue lashing, heat blazing.
Oh my.
When we fall apart, John’s face is so red I think steam might start billowing out of his ears. My ex-husband’s eyes dart from me to Grant, pausing on Grant’s sizeable biceps, broad chest, and trim waist, then back to me. He clears his throat. “I don’t think we’ve met.”
Grant tears his eyes away from me for a moment and arches a brow, looking at John for the first time. He says nothing.
John, forever challenged by his own inability to read a room, valiantly takes a step forward and extends a hand. “I’m John. Fiona’s husband.”
Talia bristles.
I freeze.
Grant smiles.
Oh, no.
It’s not a bright smile. It’s not the kind of smile that makes my knees weak, or the kind of smile that makes every part of my body tingle. No, the smile on Grant’s lips sends chills skittering down my spine.
He draws himself up to his full height, topping John by at least six inches. “Ex-husband,” Grant corrects.
The redness on John’s face somehow deepens. “Are you…?”
No one speaks.
I take a step forward, throwing Grant a look that I hope screams, I love you but please don’t make a scene and also if you could just make my ex-husband feel really small and insignificant and show him what he threw away when he divorced me, that would be great.
I might look unhinged.
“Am I what?” Grant slides his arm around my waist, pulling me close. Candice looks like she’s doing her best not to laugh. Dorothy isn’t even trying to hide her grin from behind the desk.
“Are you dating my—Fiona?” John’s shoulders straighten, his normally infallible confidence and arrogance obviously wobbling when faced with someone like Grant.
Just because I can, I lean my head against Grant’s shoulder and give him a sweet smile.
Grant freezes, his eyes taking on a steely glint. “Your Fiona? Last I checked, you divorced her a few days before Christmas.”
Dorothy lets out a squeak, outrage flashing across her face. Then, the lobby door opens again, swinging so hard it hits the wall and bounces back. Agnes stands silhouetted in the doorway, face a mask of fury.
Oh for crying out loud. Not now. Please, not now.
But Agnes’s anger only lands on Dorothy for a moment before shifting to the little alpha-male standoff occurring between Grant and John. Her brows arch ever so slightly, and she takes a step inside.
I’d be lying if I said this didn’t tickle a certain hidden part of me. Seeing Grant puff his chest out, watching John’s face turn nearly purple… This may or may not have featured in a few of my non-sexual fantasies.
“Who the hell are you?” Agnes says. Each word is a dagger aimed at John’s back.
He turns slowly, shifting his body so he can keep Grant in his line of sight. I resist the urge to roll my eyes. As if Grant would ever deign to fight John.
“Me?” John frowns at Agnes.
“Yes, you dingleberry. Why the hell does it feel like the Wild West in here? The only person that gets to come in here and make a scene is me. You hear me?” She plants her hands on her hips, marching toward John. She barely reaches his armpits, but somehow manages to look down her nose at him. “So tell me, who the hell are you?”
“I’m a tourist. A guest.”
“Oh, look,” Dorothy says, brows drawing together as she stares at the computer screen in front of her. “Looks like we’re full.”
“What? You just said my room would be ready!” John splutters, whirling on Dorothy.
She gives him an exaggerated apologetic glance. “Looks like I made a mistake.”
“This is ridiculous. Do you have any idea who I am?”
I resist the urge to roll my eyes. John hasn’t changed a bit.
Dorothy leans a hip against the desk. “Enlighten me.”
John whirls again, pointing at me. “This is your fault. I had a room here, but now they’re trying to kick me out. Why? Because I divorced you? You were the worst wife I could have asked for, Fiona. Your whining and complaining and constant need for fucking attention—”
“Choose your next words very carefully, boy.” Grant’s voice is full of thunder. He takes a step in front of me, shielding me with his big body.
My heart thumps. Adrenaline dumps into my veins, but a kind of giddy excitement floods me.
John’s words didn’t hurt. They bounced off my skin and clattered to the floor, and I’m still standing.
He didn’t hurt me. He tried, and it didn’t work.
I’m free.
A smile stretches across my lips, and Agnes chooses that moment to tug a bundle of decorative sticks from a vase in the corner and brandish them at John. “Say that again, you weak little man. Spread your little lies and make yourself feel good by putting other people down, and you’ll see how far that gets you in this town.”
I never thought I’d say that Agnes’s violence warms my heart, but here we are.
John spins around again, his hands balling into fists, his precious credit card still clasped in one of them. “I’m not. I don’t—”
“Let’s go, John.” Talia reaches for him, putting a manicured hand on my ex-husband’s forearm. Her eyes look sad, and all I want to do is run to her and tell her to get out before it’s too late.
But that’s not my fight. I’ve moved on from my life with my ex-husband, and I’ve found something better.
Grant’s arm slides across my shoulders. John pauses by the doorway and glances over his shoulder. Grant chooses that moment to slide his fingers over my jaw, tilt my chin up to his, and brush a delicate kiss on my lips. The lobby door slams as John leaves, and Grant’s lips curl into a smile against my mouth.
I pull away, arching a brow. “You’re pleased with yourself, aren’t you?”
“If he ever tries to come back here and make you feel small, I’ll show him exactly how much it bothers me that he hurt you. One punch at a time.”
“No violence, please.” I brush my fingers over his cheek, letting a smile tease over my lips. I wouldn’t want Grant to beat up my ex-husband, of course, but something about the promise and the fire in Grant’s eyes makes my core clench with delicious heat.
“If Grant won’t beat up that prick, I will.” Agnes harumphs.
Dorothy grunts in acknowledgement. “Not if I can get to him first. He’s officially blacklisted.”
Agnes nods at Dorothy, spins on her heels, and marches outside. I watch her wave a closed fist in the direction of John’s car and a giggle bursts out of me. “I love you guys.”
“You’re one of us now.” Candice winks. “We defend our own.”
“He’s an asshole and he never deserved you.” Grant’s arm squeezes my waist. He dips his lips to mine, brushing a kiss over the corner of my mouth.
“Divorcing John led me to you. In a weird way, I’m more grateful to him for being a jerk than anything good he ever did.”
A rumble sounds in Grant’s chest, and he doesn’t take his arm off me as we say goodbye to our friends and make our way home together.
Home. With Grant. Exactly where I belong.

Simone owes Wes a favor...and it's time to pay up.


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