The divorce had been final for several months, and now the custody battle was finally behind me as well. The tightness that had lived in my chest for the last two years had eased, but it wasn’t gone. Not by a long shot.
Scarlett wasn’t done fighting or making my life hell. I just didn’t know when the next hit was going to come. All I knew was that my ex-wife wasn’t about to give up or lay down her weapons just yet.
Sighing into the warm steam that filled the shower, I tried to focus on the positives. I was in a period of relative calm between storms and I planned on making the best of it. I’d lived on autopilot since Scarlett and I had separated, feeling like I was fighting for my life every damn day.
It felt like the blinkers were slowly coming off now, like I was coming back to life and could finally breathe again. Standing under the pulsating stream of hot water, I filled my lungs with air and allowed the tension caused by all her bullshit to leave my body when I released it again.
My mind wandered, finally able to think of something other than work or the fuck up that had come from my marriage. Not surprisingly considering that I was naked and alone, it eventually landed on sex.
The next thing I knew, my cock was so hard I could hammer in nails with it. Almost like it was desperate to remind me of its existence. God, how long has it been since I last jerked off?
I didn’t even remember. No wonder my dick was suddenly doing its best impersonation of the stone the damn shower was made of.
Reaching down to wrap my fist around my shaft, a half-hiss, half-groan escaped into the steam that filled the glass cubicle. I stroked once, twice before I released myself and put my hand on the wall for balance.
My fingers curled into my palm and a loud moan escaped when my free hand slid back down. It had been so long that it only took a few images of luscious curves and a slick pussy flashing through my brain before I felt pressure beginning to build at the base of my spine.
I wanted to drag it out, but I couldn’t. I pumped faster, tightening my grip as my head fell forward. I imagined sinking my fingers into the glistening folds I pictured, running my tongue over the hardened nipple of an ample breast I conjured up.
Moans belonging to the nameless, curvy woman in my imagination filled my mind and my breathing became rapid. My hips bucked as I fucked my hand faster, and my eyes screwed shut. I couldn’t fight it anymore. My orgasm was coming for me and it felt so fucking good.
The woman was now crawling to me on her hands and knees, her sexy lips pouting and her belly soft. She beckoned to me, her beautiful pussy hot and wet and aching.
Aching for me.
When she sank down on my shaft, her tight walls clenching and so fucking slick, I couldn’t hold back anymore.
My balls tightened and shudders wracked through me as I came so damn hard I saw stars. An epic climax that just sucked me dry.
It took me several long minutes to recover, but damn if I knew why I hadn’t done that in so long. Some me-time was probably something that had to go on my to-do list.
When I finally finished up in the shower, I had to admit I felt good. Better than I had in a long time. My limbs felt loose and languid and the tension I’d been carrying in my muscles for years had melted away.
I emerged from the shower smiling and ready for whatever the day held for me, or so I thought.
Unfortunately for me, I was wrong. So very, very wrong. The bombs started dropping almost as soon as I walked into the office, and the biggest one of all was yet to come.
“I’m getting too old for this,” Wayne announced when he walked into my office just after I arrived. My righthand man had been with me since I first started renovating the hotel chain I now owned.
It had made me billions and he hadn’t done too badly for himself either. Well enough to act as a pretty decent incentive to put off retirement for another couple of years, or so I’d thought.
I looked up from the plans for our latest renovation and rolled my chair back a few feet, bringing my arms down on the padded leather armrests. “A wise man once told me that age is a matter of the mind, Wayne. A wise man who looked a lot like you actually. If memory serves, it might even have been you. Less than a year ago. In this very office.”
He threw back his graying head of hair and laughed with his signature guffaw. It came straight from his beefy belly and would be a sound everyone in the office missed when he left.
“Maybe he wasn’t so wise.” He crossed to the chair opposite my desk and heaved himself into it. I almost started when I noticed how much slower he was moving than he had been the last time I’d really paid attention.
It had been a while since I’d last taken a proper look at the man who had quite literally raised me in this business. Wayne’s hair was almost totally gray now, with only a few strands of pepper between the salt.
The crinkles beside his brown eyes were deeper and more defined, as were the laugh lines around his mouth. Even his mud-colored suit looked older, more worn. No matter how many times I’d tried to send him to my tailor, he still insisted that his own suits were better than any new one crafted for him would be.
Hell, that might even be the same suit he’d been wearing when I met him nine years ago. He straightened his yellow tie and tore his eyes away from the view of the Capitol building in the distance behind me.
“Here’s the thing, Nolan.” He shook out one of his legs and placed his ankle over his knee, his foot immediately beginning to bounce. “I’m getting to an age where I want to enjoy the years I have left with my wife.”
“You’re saying you’re going to retire?” I’d seen it coming regardless of the fact that I hadn’t been watching him too closely recently. I hadn’t been blind. My focus simply hadn’t been solely on the people on my team.
Sitting in the head office at a hotel chain was much more hectic than people imagined. There wasn’t time for daily or even weekly catch-up sessions.
Wayne smoothed his tie again and his foot finally stilled. “It’s time, Nolan. I’ll probably be back here begging you to rehire me within a year, but I need to slow down.”
“I get it.” I didn’t really. Slowing down didn’t seem appealing to me at all, but then again, at sixty-two, Wayne was thirty years my senior. Maybe my outlook would have changed by the time I got there. “There’s nothing I can do to change your mind, is there?”
I hadn’t worked side by side with him for almost a decade without learning a thing or two about the man. He shook his head swiftly, his lips turning up into an apologetic smile.
“It’s been an honor to see you turn the hunk of junk this place used to be around, but I owe it to myself and to my wife to make the best of my sunshine years.”
“What about if we offer a job to your wife? You can live out your sunshine years here together.” There was no way in hell he’d take the offer, but I had to try.
As I expected, the lines around his mouth deepened when he laughed. “Thanks, but no thanks. The missus and I have been talking about taking an RV around the country for years. We can finally afford to do it.”
Fuck, I should’ve paid him less. But no, Wayne had earned every dime he’d ever made. I couldn’t take that away from him, no matter how much I didn’t want to see him leave.
“I understand. We’re going to be lost around here without you though, my man.” Truer words had never been spoken. If it hadn’t been for Wayne, who knew how it would have worked out?
When I graduated with my shiny new degree in business, I’d started looking for my own success story. I had determination, a dream, and a plan to make it my reality.
I’d met Wayne a year after graduation when I walked into his office and made a similarly earth-moving announcement to the one he’d made when he’d walked into my office minutes ago.
My name is Nolan Yates and I’ve just bought this hotel. Wayne had looked around his shoddy office and blinked at me for a solid minute before he’d replied.
It’s nice to meet you, son. He’d risen from his chair and held out his hand for me to shake. Wayne Scott, and I’m sorry you wasted your money.
I hadn’t corrected him that it had been the bank’s money and not my own. I didn’t have two dollars to throw at the renovation I wanted to do, but I had that handy degree and a mouth that could sell ice to an Eskimo or sand to the desert.
Fast forward to the present day, and I owned the entire chain that hotel had belonged to. We’d restored it to its former, higher-end glory and were now revered as a landmark in every city we had a branch in.
I’d have loved to take the credit for our success, but being disingenuous just wasn’t me. Wayne had been with me every step of the way. He’d advised me, critiqued me, stood up to me, and called me out when I needed to be.
He still did all those things for me, which was why I’d kept him on as my righthand man and compensated him accordingly. He shook his head at me now, a knowing smirk curving his lips.
“You think I’m going to leave you high and dry?” He exhaled on an exasperated sigh. “Maybe I haven’t taught you as well as I thought I had. I’d never do that.”
“What are you suggesting?”
“I’m going to hire someone to keep you organized.” It was stated as fact. He wasn’t asking for my approval or permission, simply giving me a heads-up on what he was going to do.
“Go ahead.” Organization was not one of my strengths, and Wayne knew it. “I trust you to find a good candidate for the job.”
“Of course you do.” Wayne laughed again, pressing down on the armrests of his chair to push himself up out of it. “You wouldn’t know organizational prowess if it bit you in the ass.”
As much as I wanted to argue with him, I couldn’t. “I’d get the hint if it was a big bite.”
“Maybe.” Wrapping his fingers around the back of the chair, he leaned on it. “To be on the safe side, I’ll find you someone so good that there won’t need to be a bite. Big or small.”
“I appreciate it.” No one would be able to replace Wayne, but an executive assistant might keep things from falling apart. “Tell Mrs. Scott hi from me. Also, tell her I said happy retirement. We’ll have a party eventually, of course.”
He nodded. “She’s been worried about how you were going to react to the news. Thought I might put it off another year or two just to stop me from breaking your heart.”
“I don’t have a heart.” I smirked. “Not anymore.”
Wayne’s expression turned sympathetic. I hated the look on anyone but him. He’d been there with me every step of the way.
When my marriage started falling apart, he’d been there. When Scarlett started staying out all night, he’d been there. The day I’d found out she’d been cheating on me, he’d been there. Through the couples counseling, the rehab, her admission to psychiatric institutions and having to explain to our daughter where her mother was, he’d been there.
Wayne understood better than anyone else what Scarlett had put Karina and me through. His sympathy was genuine. It came from a place of understanding instead of pity. It had taken me a long time to be able to distinguish between the two. Thank you, Dr. Haversham.
“Speaking of which,” he said. “How did the final court date for custody go? I should’ve led with that, but Mrs. Scott’s been on my ass to tell you the news. I needed to get it out before I changed my mind.”
I didn’t understand how Wayne had made it for forty years with his wife, but I knew that she was the center of his world. Whatever she wanted, she got. I’d never said it to Wayne, but I considered theirs to be an anomaly for relationships.
“It’s okay. She’d have kept your dick in a vise until you spoke to me.” True story. Wayne’s wife was a goodhearted ball-buster. “It went as well as we could have hoped. I was granted full custody. Scarlett has no rights to Karina.”
He whistled under his breath but held up his hand for a high five. Not a fist bump, an actual high five. I gave it to him because it had been a long, hard road to get to this point, and if Scarlett had her way, it wasn’t over yet.
“Your lawyers are miracle workers. Karina’s only five. I mean, obviously, I get that Scarlett doesn’t deserve custody, but Karina’s a little girl and she is her mom.”
“It wasn’t easy,” I said quietly. My chest still burned when I thought about everything we’d been through in the last two years. I still couldn’t quite believe it had worked out this way. “The judge agreed that Scarlett couldn’t provide a stable home for Karina. Thankfully, we could prove a lot of our motivations for asking for supervised visitation, and he agreed with that, too.”
“Supervised visitation?” He punched the air. “What a win. Supervised by who?”
“Scarlett’s mom.” We’d lost the argument that visitation should be supervised by me or my proxy, but I supposed we couldn’t have won them all.
Besides, I really did want Karina to know her mother and her grandmother. I never wanted to be the person responsible for preventing them from forming a relationship with her. I only wanted it to happen in a safe environment.
“I’m really glad to hear it went your way.” Wayne offered me a hug. A real one, not a bro, back-slapping farce masquerading as a hug. “Scarlett wasn’t, well…”
I couldn’t help but laugh as I stepped away from him after returning his hug. “Yeah, I know. It didn’t hurt our case that she kept threatening to, among other things, come after me for half of the company.”
“Can she do that?” He might have resigned, but I saw the flash of worry darkening his eyes.
I gave my head a firm shake. “No. Everything she’s entitled to was divided and distributed when we got divorced, but it sounds like her lawyers are making her promises to keep cashing my checks.”
“Sounds about right,” he said. “I’m really glad it went your way.”
He started walking backward, heading out of my office. “Just because I resigned doesn’t mean I’m not here for you and Karina, okay?”
“I know.” A genuine smile curled the corners of my lips. “Thanks, Wayne. Tell Mrs. Scott we’ll have dinner sometime soon, okay?”
“You got it.” With a final wave, he turned and left my office.
When the door slammed shut, I slumped into my chair and tried to contemplate the company’s future without Wayne.
We’d be fine. The company was made up of more than one person. Fuck, not even I was irreplaceable, but we’d sure be worse off for seeing him leaving.
But that wasn’t even the worst part of my day.
The worst part of it happened at lunchtime when I got a frantic call from Karina’s school. “Mr. Yates? This is teacher Betty calling from Bright Beginnings. I’m sorry to bother you at work, but I’m afraid we have a bit of an emergency situation here.”
My heart, blood, and extremities turned to ice, and I shoved to my feet, feeling like the world was about to be ripped right out from underneath me. “Is Karina okay?”
“She fine’s, sir, but there’s a note on the file that we’re not to release her to her mother. Mrs. Yates is here though, and she’s insisting on taking Karina with her. She’s yelling and making a scene out front. Security has tried to talk to her, but she refuses to budge.”
I was already running out of my office as fast as my feet could carry me, dread churning in my stomach.
Scarlett had gotten enough money in the divorce to be able to disappear with Karina if the school let her take our daughter home with her. Her threats to do exactly that had been one of the deciding factors in the custody case.
My heart was in my throat, my knuckles white from my tight grip on the phone as I practically flew down the stairs to the parking garage. “I’m on my way. Just, whatever you do, don’t let Karina go with her.”
“We’ll do our best, sir,” the teacher promised. “But, sir? You should hurry. We’ve hidden Karina in the bathroom, but we can’t keep her in there forever.”