Kat Valdez-Richards lay on the bed awake, staring at her still fairly new husband sleeping sound next to her. Sure, they weren't exactly newlyweds anymore, their marriage about four years old. But even so, it seemed wrong that, at ten-thirty at night, they were—he was—asleep.
Kat studied Peter’s slumbering form, sprawled across the mattress and pillows. She knew that, over time, passions often ebbed. Was that what this was? She’d heard about the infamous seven-year itch too. She’d just never thought it’d happen to them.
She sighed. It was too soon for their love lives to crash. It’d only been four years. Yet they hardly had sex anymore. Maybe once or twice a week. It wasn’t unusual for more than two weeks to pass without them being intimate. And when they did—don’t get her wrong, it was nice—but it was just so...nice.
From the start, Peter had never been nice. He’d been exciting and hot and domineering and, yes, even a little frightening at times. He’d been powerful and masterful and passionate and considerate. He’d been exactly what she’d always wanted. Exactly what she needed.
But nice? Kat, as a writer—as a lover of words—could think of a thousand—a million—an infinite supply of adjectives to describe him. Hell, her very first novel had been a tribute—a retelling, a love letter—to him. But of all the words in her vast vocabulary, nice—such a bland, boring term—shouldn’t fit him. It shouldn’t fit their life.
But, here in the dark, in their bed, feeling alone—feeling somehow strangely abandoned—it did. Just four short years into her marriage and the magic—the sexual charge that had held, had crackled and raged, through all the waiting and all the wanting—was gone. And she had no idea how to get it back.
And, as she huddled in the covers separating her from her husband in the middle of the big bed, that scared her.
Peter woke sharply, his body—bred by habit—jerking awake a minute before his alarm was to sound. Reaching to switch it off so it didn’t wake Kat, he turned to look at his sleeping wife. Curled toward him on the mattress, her hands folded sweetly beneath her head, she looked angelic, serene.
He softly let his hand coast over her cheek. She looked beautiful.
Loathed to leave the warmth and comfort of his bed—of his wife—he groaned silently and he gingerly stood, shifting his weight carefully to avoid jostling her.
Kissing her gently on the forehead, he already missed her and longed to call in sick to work more than he ought to. He let the thought—the willful wish—to linger in his still dream dazed mind before sighing and moving to begin his day.
Kat woke up to an empty bed. Not surprising, since Peter often went into the city to meet with clients or employees or investors or whomever. Not surprising. Still disappointing though. And lonely.
With a sigh, she got up and went down to the study, a room Peter had converted for her when she’d first moved in with him four years ago. It was one of her favorite rooms. In the back of the house, it faced the beach and the jungle of trees and plants and flowers that was their backyard. It was roomy and comfortable, even cluttered as it was with stacks of novels and notebooks full of sketched-out scenes and half-written stories. An over-stuffed recliner sat facing a window. Several throw pillows and blankets of various sizes and thickness were scattered everywhere. Food—crackers, candies, chips, and cereal—were stored in drawers and cabinets. In many ways, it reminded her of forts and treehouses—of hide-outs and haunts—she and her friends used keep as kids. A childhood escape all grown-up.
Kat grabbed her laptop and sat on the bay window’s ledge, staring off into the wind-blown waves. Logging onto Peter’s website—a BDSM forum where they’d first met—she looked up the saved permanent posts that had been the basis of her first novel. The ones that described in graphic and heartfelt detail their—Peter’s and her—story.
Even now—years later—it still had the power to touch her, to turn her on and warm her heart.
She ought to have started her new chapter. She could have cleaned up the rough drafts she’d gotten back from her editor and friend, Max Wells. Hell, she could have cleaned the house or done the shopping. But instead, she wasted hours reading and laughing and panting at memories. Longing for a love she used to have. A love she wanted back.
Kat slumped in her chair, her face set in grim lines. With a huff, she picked up her phone and dialed.
“Kat?” Peter answered, sounding harried and confused. “What’s up?”
He didn’t even call her Katherina anymore. Such a stupid, little, insignificant detail—his name for her; the sexier, more exotic, more exciting name no one except for Peter ever really saw her as. Such a small thing, she knew; so why did it feel so big? Like she’d lost something intrinsic? Something important?
She sighed, tucking that thought away, and swallowed hard. “Just wondering what time you’ll be home,” she said as casually as she could. “So I can,” she prattled on, “have dinner ready.”
There was a long silence. “Uh,” he hedged, “I’m swamped today, trying to meet this client’s deadline, so I won’t be home until late.”
Her mouth thinned. She took a deep breath. “Oh.”
“But I can clear some time tomorrow, if you want,” he told her hopefully.
She could already imagine him furiously sifting through his schedule, rearranging things to fit her in. Such an effort—she didn’t know if she should feel flattered or hurt. She shook her head. “I’ve got a meeting with Max,” she sighed. “We’re going to have lunch afterwards.”
“Then dinner,” he said. “We’ll do dinner, okay?”
“Sure.” She shook her head before hanging up. “That sounds,” she said, “nice.”
Peter hung up the phone with a grunt. Shit. He gripping his phone tight in his fist. He’d found himself in the middle of fight and hadn’t even know it. Well, maybe not a fight, but it felt like at least an argument. An unspoken disagreement.
He shoved his hand through his neat, office-hours hair as he took off his glasses. Peter pinched the bridge of his nose.
Shit, hell, damn. “Fuck!”
“Everything all right?” Marcus, his employee, asked as he looked up from his computer. “Kat okay?”
“Yeah,” he said apologetically as he shifted in his seat at the desk, his laptop linked into their client’s office system. “We’re fine.”
The lie stung, a sharp taste on his tongue. They weren’t fine. He’d felt it for a while now; Kat was mad at him.
Well, maybe not mad.
But...dissatisfied. Had been for months.
And wasn’t that just better?
Lately, something had felt off with them. Peter couldn’t quite understand what it was, but he could feel it. A thousand thoughts left unsaid. A million moves made standing still.
And, in a lot of ways, it was his fault and he knew it.
Kat was his wife. He was her husband. They were building a life—a family—together. Things had changed.
Wasn’t that the point?
He was working harder, taking on more jobs and expanding more rigorously. So, yeah, that meant long nights and a lot of travel. That meant he often missed dinners and came back home after she’d already gone to sleep. It meant that when he was home, he was often still working or too tired to do much more than lounge around or sleep.
A twinge of guilt cut in as Peter tried to concentrate on the coding in front of him. He was doing it for her. He was doing it to help provide for them, to give them and the family they would one day have a sense of security. To build them a home, in the truest sense.
That made a difference, didn’t it? Made it all worth it in the end. It has to, he thought as he straightened in his seat, his hands typing code by rote. She may not be happy about it now, but she’d see. In time—in the end—she’d see that he was doing this for her. For them.
“That’s why I’m never getting married.” Max sucked on her straw, draining the last of the cola in her glass. “Two weeks without sex?” She scoffed. “Hayato knows better than to let me go that long without;” she said with a saucy spark in her eye, “I get really mean.”
“To be fair,” Kat defended, “he’d been traveling for eight of those days. He was busy getting ready before his trip and busy getting everything organized after his trip. He just didn’t have time. Plus, I was finishing up my last novel at the time too. What were we supposed to do?”
“Have sex?” Max suggested. “If you really want to have sex, you’re never too busy. Hell, hon, look at the age you live in; traveling isn’t even an excuse anymore. Not with phone sex. Instant messaging. Sexting. Hell, you carry a camera in your pocket everywhere you go! It’s not like you two internet lovebirds don’t have options.” She shook her head with disapproving disappointment. “Letting two weeks pass without sex in this day in age denotes a lack of effort, not opportunities.”
Kat just grinned at her friend’s familiar audacious nature and cocksure opinions. “Okay, Dear Abby, so what are my options?”
Max’s grin widened into a gleeful smirk as she threw her company card on the table and signaled the waiter. “Don’t you worry, my friend, I’ve got the perfect idea.”
After paying the check, they left Cafe Bien and headed out into the street. Max took Kat’s arm and tucked it into her own. “You’re having dinner tonight, right?”
“Sure,” she said. “He said he made reservations in town.”
“Perfect!” Max squealed. “Nothing like a little public naughtiness to kick start your sex life.”
Max stopped her on the street, placing her hands on her shoulders. “It’s only been a couple of years and your marriage is already going stale. No,” she stated definitively. “That’s just wrong. I won’t have it.”
“You won’t, huh?” Kat laughed.
“Damn straight,” Max said with a nod. “I may have missed your wedding because of a death in the family, but I can and will do this.” She waved her hand dramatically. “And here’s our first stop,” she told Kat, turning her toward Bits ‘n’ Pieces’ storefront. “Hang on to that book advance I just gave you; you’re going to need it.”
Peter was running late. He slammed the car door closed as he stepped out into the rain. Tonight, of all nights.
But his meeting with a new client ran late and, just as he was leaving, work had called again. Marcus, while on another job, had needed help and Peter had spent the better part of two hours consulting and advising over the phone.
For a moment there, he’d worried that he’d have to cancel altogether and go out to the site himself. But he’d been lucky this time.
Just not lucky enough, he thought as he rushed through the downpour to the restaurant. He pushed through the door, resisting the urge to shake himself like a dog all over the walkway.
Instead, he just shrugged out of his soaked jacket, draping it dripping over his arm. He ran a hand through his sodden hair, slicking it back as he took off his fogged and rain-ruined glasses. Swiping the glass against his shirt, he tried to clean off the lenses as much as possible.
He blinked out into the restaurant, searching and hoping that Kat had gotten his messages and waited for him. When she hadn’t answered a single call, he was afraid that she’d be worried.
He was even more worried that she was mad.
He scanned the restaurant and saw her sitting, sad, in the back corner of the room with her head in her hand as she toyed with the stem of her mostly empty wine glass.
For a moment, he just stared at her.
She was beautiful.
Her hair was up and she had makeup touching—subtly enhancing—her incomparably soft skin, a smooth rich tan that tempted a man to touch. He couldn’t see all of her—not with her hunched and hidden behind the table—but she was wrapped in yards of tight, gossamer-like green silk, embracing her like a lover as it cupped and caressed her tantalizing body.
He went almost instantly hard, his body responding to the delectable image she presented. He swallowed hard and stalked toward her, feeling hungry and eager.
“Hi,” he said, his voice feeling graveled in his throat.
Kat looked up, straightening instantly, her hand going to her hair nervously—as if this were their first date. Her heart fluttering, she wished she had a mirror to check her makeup and her dress.
Until she looked at him.
Drenched, his soggy suit hung on him and his hair, made stringy, dripped down his back. Even his glasses were streaked and cloudy, making his hazel eyes look dull and drab.
Kat fought the urge to frown as she thought about all the time, effort, and money she’d spent trying to look nice for him. Max and she had gone not only to Hallie’s shop to pick out the perfect lingerie to wear for their date. No, they’d also gone to a boutique down the way to pick out the silk dress she was wearing. Then there’d been the trip to the salon where Max had treated Kat and herself to both hair and makeup.
She’d arrived a full fifteen minutes early, excited to see his reaction. She’d ordered them two glasses of wine and made sure to get his favorite dish on the menu. But after an hour of waiting, she’d finished her glass of wine, started on his, and sent back their dinners so that both their meals could be kept warm in the kitchen.
“I’m sorry,” he said as he hung his sodden jacket on the back of his chair before taking a seat. “My meeting ran late and then I had to take an emergency call from Marcus—”
“Then the rain just started on my way over here, making traffic hell—”
Kat just nodded blankly as she stared at him as he used the napkin to dry his face and glasses, leaving large water spots on the fine, fancy linen.
“Then, of course, I had to rush through of the wall of water pouring down to even get in here.” He lay the now ruined bit of cloth down on his lap.
Kat sniffed and stiffened her spine, forcing a cheerful smile on her face. She shook her head, determined to make this night work. “It’s fine,” she said. “You’re here now. Let’s just enjoy dinner.” She waved at the group of waiters who’d been staring at her for the past hour, sure she’d been stood up. Gesturing to the table in general, she stirred them into action as they scattered helpfully to get them more wine and their meals.
“So,” he said as their waitress poured them both some wine, “how was your meeting with Max?”
Kat shook her head. “Let’s not talk about work tonight.” She’d had more than enough of that. Of hers. Of his.
“Okay,” he agreed, picking up his glass. He took a long sip, looking at her over his glass expectantly.
It took her a moment to realize that he was waiting for her to say something. To talk about something. Kat, surprised, racked her brain. And couldn’t think of anything.
Dismayed, she refused to admit that they no longer had anything to say to each other besides business. “Hayato called today,” she said, grasping at what she could. “While Max and I were out.”
“Oh yeah?” Peter said.
She nodded. “He wanted to know if we were planning on going to Donovan’s three-year anniversary bash.”
Peter froze, frowning a bit. “Do you want to go?”
They hadn’t been to Donovan’s in months. Kat frowned. Maybe more than that. They hadn’t really been back there—a place they used to visit weekly—in close to a year. “I’d like to go,” she said as their waitress brought them their meals. “I know Max and Hayato would like us to be there. So would a lot of people.”
“All right.” Peter shrugged and picked up his utensils. “Let me know when it is and I’ll see what my schedule looks like.”
She nodded and picked up her own fork. She stared at her warmed-up food, suddenly not hungry at all.
“You look great, by the way,” she heard Peter say while he ate. “That’s my favorite color on you.”
Kat smiled weakly up at him. “Thank you.”
Try, she told herself firmly. Make the effort.
She coughed and said as casually as she could, “You should see what I’m wearing underneath it.”
Read Part Two Here