It was bought with love. It was given with trust. Neither of which I deserve.
I stare at the expensive piece still in disbelief that I did this.
To Kael Shepard.
My best friend since I could walk.
Brother to the man I really want.
I am now Mrs. Shepard. Ironic. It’s the name I’ve always wanted. This just isn’t exactly how I pictured getting it.
I can’t recall a single second of my wedding day after I walked out on Killian. I don’t remember Daddy giving me away. I don’t remember the vows I recited or the cheer of the crowd as Kael and I walked out man and wife. The taste of our wedding cake eludes me, even two weeks later. The chords of our first song are just white noise. The feel of him moving inside me on our wedding night was as if it was happening to someone else while I watched, detached, from above.
This situation is so messed up, I struggle to get my head around it most days. I’m self-destructing. And I don’t know how to fucking stop it.
I haven’t stopped riding an emotional rollercoaster for over two years. Since the day Killian Shepard married my older sister. One second, I’m still in shock and the next, I want to die. Outwardly, I’m portraying the perfect, happy newlywed, but inside all I feel is desperate, lonely isolation. I think that’s probably called despair.
And I’m angry. So fucking angry.
All the time.
With Killian. With Jilly.
With Kael for marrying me, refusing to see what was right in front of his fucking face.
With this godforsaken town and life to which I feel chained.
But mostly I’m angry with me. Why can’t I cut a man loose who spouted his love through cryptic words but showed his true colors through real actions? Why can’t I return the love of a man who treasures me more than air or life or his precious restored 1969 Camaro? If I could, I’d go back in time and change so many things. The first being: I would never let myself fall hopelessly in love with Killian Shepard. Liar. Betrayer. Saboteur.
And guilt? God…the guilt. That emotion has this entire despicable scenario wrapped up in a nice, neat little bastardized package, tied up tight with a bright shiny bow of infamy.
Pining after someone’s husband is one thing. Pining after someone’s husband when you’re now married—to his brother—is taking immorality to an entirely new level. But that’s me. I always manage to find fresh and juicy ways to skirt around the edges of acceptable social behavior.
Sadness and regret envelop me. Completely. Thoroughly.
This ring represents my own betrayal. My own duplicity. My self-destruction. It should belong to someone else. Anyone else but me.
I love Kael. I do. I can’t imagine a day in my life without him. The last thing I want to do is hurt him, but I don’t know if I can ever love another person the way I do Killian. I have made a grave, life-altering mistake that will do nothing but bring pain to people I love. This time, I’ve gone too far, and I don’t know how to fix it.
I breathe out a long sigh, knowing there aren’t any answers to be found. None that I want to face anyway.
I glance at the clock. It’s just past 4:30 a.m. Shit, I need to get inside. Putting on my game face is tough sometimes, and after the last two weeks, today will be a true test of how well I’ve perfected my acting skills, because I’m back in bumfuck, Iowa.
Population 5,339 according to the last census. We’re not quite like Cheers but pretty damn close. Everyone knows your name. It’s especially true for me, given who my father is.
Looking in my rearview mirror, I paste on a fake smile and test it out.
“Did you have a good time?” I mock play, watching my own reaction.
“So good!” I reply.
Ouch. That was terrible. I sound flat, like an out-of-tune piano.
One more time.
“Did you have a good time?” I try again.
“Oh my God, it was so fantastic!” I say to my reflection, injecting myself with faux enthusiasm.
Eh. Tone down the Valley Girl accent and I’ll give myself a pass. Barely.
Exiting my car, I head down the sidewalk toward the bay with a single light glowing from inside. The one that’s mine. I let myself dawdle in the quiet for just a moment. Taking a giant whiff of the sugary confections, I already smell baking. Pride swells for at least one thing in my life I’ve done right. I gaze up at the neon sign I designed, not yet lit for the day, and smile.
Cygne Noir Patisserie.
Black Swan Bakery. My brainchild. My baby. The one piece of solace I can completely immerse myself in. “I’ve missed you,” I whisper, holding the key to my business tightly in my fist.
Opening a business, a French bakery at that, in a small town that caters to modest people, was a huge gamble, but it’s doing well. Much better than anyone expected. Well, except Kael, that is. He always thought it was exactly what this stuffy town needed.