A/N: Hello from Barcelona!
So, several people wanted a peek in Tanya's head. If you're not one of them, feel free to skip this. Marked Complete should begin in a few days.
Despite her best efforts, Tanya Cullen was only too aware of the clock. It kept ticking away on its continuous, silent countdown. She answered emails, put out minor fires, and checked the work being produced by all her various employees. Still, about a minute before midnight, she had to acknowledge she was reading the same sentence over and over again without comprehension. Her hands stilled on the keyboard, and she watched the clock switch from eleven fifty-nine to twelve.
Their divorce was finalized. December twenty-ninth. She was, for the first time in her adult life, not married. She bent her head, rubbing her temple. Her eyes stung, but she didn't cry.
Her phone chirped, and Tanya pulled it over, glad of the distraction until she saw who it was. She scoffed and then laughed when she saw Edward's name on the screen. He'd sent her a text.
"Ass," she muttered, shoving the phone away from her. She didn't feel the words, though. The text, as simple as it was, showed how well he knew her.
Being honest with herself, what had killed her most about the last few hours of her marriage was imagining how Edward was spending it. Had he even thought about her once? Or was he too busy with his supposedly oh-so-attentive girlfriend? It soothed her wounded pride just a little to know that even if he was in bed with Bella right this minute, it was Tanya he was thinking of.
In her heart of hearts, she knew Edward was telling the truth when he said ending their marriage had hurt him. As much as she sometimes felt he wanted to brush her off to play with a younger woman, he hadn't abandoned her.
Tanya grabbed at her phone and texted back.
Tanya: What do you want?
She shoved the phone away from her again and looked around her office. Her work: the thing that had supposedly cost her her husband. Usually, when she looked around at all she'd accomplished—all of this was hers—she felt a deep sense of satisfaction. Tonight, she was plagued by uncertainty. Did her accomplishment mean so much when she had no one to share it with?
Edward: I wondered if you wanted to meet for coffee tomorrow.
About a million scathing retorts came to mind. But, again, she knew him too well to think he was trying to torture her. It was just them at the beginning of their marriage. It seemed right to end the marriage the same way. They were the only ones who knew what they'd let slip away. They were the only ones who shared that history.
Tanya: Not this time.
She set her phone down and covered her eyes with her hand. Tears slipped down her cheeks, and she didn't wipe them away. Sitting alone in her office, she let herself feel the loss. The last thing she wanted now was to go home. Not to the quiet house she'd bought with her husband. Not to her cold bed.
The house had been the only thing Tanya had been prepared to fight for. She hadn't needed to. Edward had given that up as quickly as he'd given up everything else about their life together.
It wasn't that she didn't agree with him. Tanya understood why they were a bad couple. She understood that their lives had gone in different directions years ago. Tanya had spent so much time dreading Edward's reaction and disappointment when she had to back out of another commitment. In a lot of ways, it would be a relief to never have to deal with that guilt. She did understand why they weren't together anymore.
Still, it had happened so quickly. Never once had Tanya considered Edward not being there. She'd always assumed she would see a divorce coming. But despite their constant differences of opinion about how much she worked, they still got along. They still enjoyed each other.
She sighed and massaged her chest as though she could soothe the ache there. Remembering the day he asked for a divorce hurt worse than the finality of the clock ticking down to midnight.
"I want a divorce, T."
It was the quiet, mournful tone of Edward's voice that alerted Tanya to the fact he was serious. He'd been acting strangely all week, but this?
The words themselves were nonsensical. Divorce? The idea of not being with Edward didn't compute. Tanya couldn't wrap her head around the concept of being apart from him. They had simply always been.
As it sunk in that Edward was not only serious but irrevocably set on this idea, Tanya's whole world was challenged. If she couldn't fathom the concept of not being with him, no part of her could accept that was what he wanted. Something intrinsic had changed in him, and the investigator in her needed to know what that was.
The little rat tried to keep it about them, but it wasn't. Everything had an impetus, and they'd been fine for seventeen years. Constant. Something had changed.
It was the last thing Tanya thought she'd ever have to deal with. There was someone else. And he didn't want to work on their marriage anymore. He was done.
His suitcase and most of his clothes were gone when she got home that evening. She wanted to believe he was at a conference, but if he had been, she'd have been the one to pack his things. He always forgot the little things: his ties and which shoes he could stand to be in for twelve hours a day.
She sat on their bed and wished she was still at work. All day that day, work had been her refuge. She was reeling at her husband's sudden and complete betrayal, but that was part of what she liked about work. There was always some disaster, minor though most of them turned out, to attend to. During the day, there were any number of people clamoring for attention—her editor-in-chief, the head editors, advertisers. There were deals to be brokered. Her magazine was growing up fast and proud.
So fuck Edward for making her feel like being proud of that made her a horrible wife. Just because he was happy at the pinnacle of mediocrity didn't mean he couldn't be proud of her accomplishments.
Edward had often frustrated her. He was an amazing architect—the kind that could have gone on to design buildings that gained international attention. He could have that kind of notoriety if he worked just a little harder; spent a little time rubbing elbows with the right people. But Edward had no patience for that kind of thing. He was happy with his minor buildings, and the quiet respect of his immediate peers.
"We don't mesh," Edward had said.
Then why the hell had he fallen for Bella?
Tanya had adored Bella. She was passionate, skilled, and driven. She had plans —big plans—and the talent to see them through. She reminded Tanya more than a little of herself. Tanya had gone the route of management—facilitating a platform for good journalism. She thought Bella could be the quintessential reporter; one of the select few journalists whose work was known in the wider public.
Ambitious asshole. Bella had always been so attentive to Tanya's stories and knowledge. The admiration in the girl's eyes had made Tanya feel like a goddess on a pedestal. She chafed now, thinking of it. All an act. She'd done the same thing to Edward, no doubt. Puffed him up, and the fool had fallen for it. Fallen for her, and now he'd become a walking cliché, ending his marriage so he could chase after a woman a decade younger.
Tanya got up and, at eleven o'clock at night, began cleaning. With Bella across the world, Edward would come to his senses. He'd be jarred by the sudden change in his life. They'd come home to each other, sooner or later, almost every day of the last seventeen years. They'd had their moments, but they'd been together since they were children.
Two days later, when she came from work, there was an envelope waiting on her side of their neatly made bed. When she saw the divorce papers, her knees buckled, and it all became too real.
Tanya had taken more spontaneous days off in the last few months than she had her entire working life. She'd gone home long enough to catch a few hours of sleep, and then hit the road, heading for her sisters' who lived an hour away. Within two hours, her sisters' husbands and children had been shooed away.
The three of them had gathered in Katrina's living room with maybe too much Margarita mix. Kate and Irina were taking turns toasting the pain-in-the ass Edward habits Tanya was now rid of. The three of them cackled like mad hens.
"I always thought you being married so young was such a waste," Irina said. "Honey, have you seen you? You're hotter than sin."
Tanya quirked an eyebrow and took a shot of whatever Kate put in her hand. "That's disturbingly incestuous, Iri."
"It's objective truth. Come on. You're a jetsetter. You meet gorgeous, foreign men all the time, don't you? Now, you can actually do something about it."
"Right," Tanya said, hiding a blush behind her Margarita glass. She'd had the occasional daydream about this or that stranger she'd met when she was traveling. That was as far as it ever went—an idle daydream. "I wouldn't know how to even start," she muttered, mostly to herself.
Her sisters looked at each other and giggled. They had spent the majority of their twenties playing things simple—no strings attached.
"Tanya, Tanya, Tanya." Kate said, studying her. "I'll tell you what's going to happen. You're going to keep living your amazing life just the way you want it. The only difference is, if some guy—or girl, don't assume it can't happen—strikes your fancy, you do whatever feels right. You got no strings, baby girl. And if something starts to feel really right, well, you take it from there."
Tanya cracked a small smile, somewhat mollified. Kate always knew the right thing to say.
The day Tanya realized her marriage was over, her sisters came over. Tanya was already almost all the way to drunk. Kate and Irina got her trashed. It was what she needed—to forget for a while.
But that night, after the haze of alcohol burned off, Tanya was wide awake and aching, her sisters on either side of her. She stared at the ceiling, remembering the feel of his warmth curled at her side. Edward liked to cuddle. Tanya, always restless, preferred her freedom. Tonight, she would have welcomed his arms around her.
Kate rolled over, throwing her arm over Tanya's middle. "Hey, you."
"Hey," Tanya said in a shaky voice. She sighed. "I miss him right now, the fucking prick."
"Asshole. Good riddance to him, I say. What kind of a son of a bitch chases after a silly little girl when he has you, huh?"
Tanya smiled. She knew her sister was only saying what she wanted to hear.
Kate folded her hands under her cheek. "Can I make an observation?"
"I'm surprised you haven't yet."
"I know this sucks, babe. You've been part of a unit since I was a kid. But you know I've never understood it. I can't count how many times we'd be on the phone, and you'd tell me how much you were dreading going home or talking to Edward because you had to back out of something you promised to do. You used to say how relieved you were when Edward was asleep when you got home."
Tanya toyed with the edge of her comforter, silent at that. It had been a weekly thing—the fleeting dread as the clock got later and later when she was at work. That harried feeling she got when Edward would want her to make plans. She would hastily agree, both liking the happy smile on his face—he was so easy to please—and hating his exasperated, disappointed look if she said no right off.
"I know it hurts, but aren't you a little relieved you don't have to deal with that again?" Kate asked, smoothing her hair back
Tanya took a deep breath, though her chest ached. "It's a plus," she admitted.
~One Year Later~
Tanya glanced at her watch and chuckled, wiping a hand over her eyes.
"What's so funny?"
She glanced to the side and had to hide a grimace. Ironic, she thought. For awhile now, she'd dreaded the moment when she'd run into an acquaintance who knew both her and Edward. Now, today of all days, across the country from where she lived, she ran into Bella's boss.
Putting on a smile, Tanya turned to him. "Hello, Eric."
"Hello to you." He waved the bartender down, putting in an order for a mojito, which made Tanya hide a smirk behind her glass. He turned to her when he was done. "So, are you going to let me in on the joke?"
"No joke," she said quietly. She debated for a handful of moments whether or not she wanted to go on but figured it was inevitable. "It just occurred to me that I've been divorced for a year today. Well, technically I guess it's three hours to midnight on the west coast."
Eric nodded slowly. "Ah. Yeah, I know how that goes. It'll be five years for me in a few more weeks." He nodded his thanks to the bartender who set the drink in front of him. "Can I also get two shots of fireball whiskey?"
When the bartender set the shots in front of him, Eric pushed one at her. "Here. It burns less," he said with a wink.
Bemused, Tanya took the shot and raised it. "To our exes," she said.
He grinned wickedly. "May they be miserable without us." He clinked their glasses together.
Some time later, they had ascended to a booth with their second drinks in hand. Eric told her about his ex, Katie.
"Sweet little thing. Very quiet," he said with a rueful smile. "I have her tattoo right here." He brushed his hand along his side, the look on his face inexplicably tender. "Fitting. She used to fit just right tucked up against me. I did love her. I loved being in love. It just made me warm."
"So what happened?" Tanya asked.
He shrugged, signaling the waitress to bring them another round. "Love was a nice place to visit. Like some people talk about taking a weekend up at their cabin when they need somewhere to get away from it all. But it's not an everyday kind of thing. Not for people like us. Look at us. Across the country from home two days before New Year's, and why?"
"I'm here on business," Tanya said.
Eric snorted. "Of course you are, but let's be honest with ourselves. That's the benefit of being divorced, right? We both know neither of us has to be here. We have reporters whose job it is to cover things like this; the historic first visit of King... whatever the hell his name is. If we were still married, what would our choices have been?" He stuck out his thumb, counting on it. "One, we could have stayed home and made sure we were there on time to spend New Year's with our spouses." He looked at her. "Tell me you wouldn't have resented missing this."
Tanya had to smile. "It would have killed me to miss this chance to meet him." It was one of millions of reasons she loved her job. She'd met so many amazing, interesting, and important people.
"Exactly. So either you resent being there or, two, you make up some story about how you have to personally oversee your reporter for reasons; you go and have to deal with the backlash. Pouting for days, and her brother would definitely give me shit the next time I saw him. He always said I had to be some kind of asshole to leave my wife alone on a holiday."
Tanya snorted. "Like New Year's is a holiday. It's an excuse to get drunk and kiss for no particular reason that I can figure." She finished her second drink, reached for the third, and sipped. "Edward used to say that it was nice that the first word you say every year is 'Happy,' and it was also nice to start the year off with a kiss from someone you love."
Eric grunted. "That's a theory I suppose."
"So." Tanya practically inhaled half of her drink. "Who do you have here with you? I mean, I think you're obligated by bar buddy protocol to tell me if I'm going to run into my ex-husband's girlfriend."
"Ah, Bella." The corner of his mouth quirked up as he considered. "She's good enough to cover the story for sure, but she's far too novice." He eyed Tanya carefully. "Which does beg the question."
Her answering smile was sarcastic. "Why did I give her that killer story?"
He leaned over the table. "You can't blame me for being curious. I have bits and pieces of what sounds like a sordid story, but no one's talking." He started ticking off on his fingers again. "You send a total novice on what had to be the assignment of the year for your mag. That was a huge risk to take on an untried reporter. She rose to the challenge and found herself out of a job for her troubles. That part I thought I understood when she showed up at the Christmas party with your husband on her arm."
Tanya winced and downed the rest of her drink.
"Yet, you still sent in a recommendation," Eric said, leaving an obvious opening for her to fill in the blanks.
"You wouldn't have hired her if you thought I let her go because of unprofessionalism," she said, studying the ice in her glass.
"And you wished her well?"
Tanya scoffed. "Fuck no. I wished her every misery I could think of." She shrugged. "Sorry to disappoint you. The tale they told me wasn't sordid. Nothing newsworthy. My husband and I grew apart years ago, but we were both too comfortable to acknowledge that. We wanted different things out of life. The way you put it works well. I was a visitor to our marriage. I liked the warm bed. I liked him and he liked me."
Tanya paused, considering her words. "She and Edward were friends. It was innocent. They fell in love accidentally, and Edward told me he wanted a divorce before anything happened." She looked up at Erick. "That's how they tell it, anyway."
He looked sceptical to say the least. "And you believe him?"
"I didn't want to at first, but yeah, I really do believe him."
"Well, how about that."
"Can I ask you a question?" Tanya said after a moment, already knowing she was going to regret asking.
"Sounds dangerous, but go ahead."
"Are they happy? Or has that misery we wished on them kicked in?" She tried to make it sound like a joke. Mostly, she had come to agree with Edward. Their marriage had ended long before their divorce, and they were both better off apart. But that didn't mean the way Edward had moved on so totally didn't chafe. Even a year later, she hadn't gotten over the sting of it.
Eric tilted his head, looking at her, and despite the liquid courage, she felt intensely vulnerable. Being a woman in what was still predominantly a man's world. This weakness, this minute show of foolishness, wasn't something she could afford.
As she searched for the right words to brush the question off, he reached out, brushing his fingertips over her knuckles. Tanya was confused until he let his hand come to rest on her arm, the gentle touch unmistakably intimate. She held her breath as she looked up into his eyes. "I have an idea." His voice had dropped several decibels. His fingertips skimmed up the inside of her arm. "Why don't you concentrate on your happiness instead?"
Tanya's heart skipped a beat. She licked her lips, struck by the dark look in his eyes. She cocked her head, sure for a horrible second that she was somehow misreading things. Afraid to follow the stir of desire that made her cheeks flush. The look, though. The thrill that made her blood sing.
She swallowed hard and flipped her hand on the table, letting his fingers brush over the delightfully sensitive flesh. "What did you have in mind?"
His smile was sexy. She'd never noticed before. Or he'd never looked at her like that. He leaned across the table, beckoning her to do the same. When she did, he said in a low whisper. "This, err, possibility has been my wildest dream forever. Believe me, I have a few ideas."
She laughed—a breathless laugh filled with an anticipation she hadn't remembered until that very moment. "What are we waiting for?"
He stood and offered her his hand.
A/N: Hope you enjoyed! Thank you to Songster, Packy, Mina, and Barburella.
Thank you for your support.