By Ann McMan



Disclaimers: See Part 1

Violence/Sex: Some (brief) violence. This story does involve a consensual loving and sexual relationship between two adult women. It is not explicit, but if it offends you, is illegal where you live, or if you are underage—please consider another story selection.

Warning: This story contains profanity—lots of it. In fact, Evan Reed should will her mouth to science. For those of you who are brave enough to persevere—my heartfelt thanks in advance.

Dust is complete, but will be posted in installments.I can be reached at ann.mcman@gmail.com .

Copyright Ann McMan, May 2011. All rights reserved. This story, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any format without the prior express permission of the author.






Chapter 24


On Friday, things happened fast.

Julia left early, having called for a car the night before. Evan protested that—but Julia insisted. Leaving was going to be hard enough as it was, she said—and she didn't want to eat into any more of the time Evan had at home with Stevie.

So, shortly after 7:00 a.m., the two of them stood together in the dark foyer of Evan's house, saying their goodbyes.

“I'll miss you,” Julia said.

Evan pressed her face into the side of Julia's neck. She wanted to memorize her smell—create an intimate link between it and her memories of the last few days. She took a deep breath. Lavender— heir of the ancient oil used to ward off evil. It was the same libation used by the sister of Lazarus when she washed the feet of Christ.

It was the scent of hope and calm—and it clung to Julia like a second skin.

“I'll miss you, too,” Evan said. Probably foreve r, she thought.

“Call me tonight?” Julia asked.

Evan nodded.

Julia drew back and looked down at her. “You okay?”

Evan shrugged. “I hate this kind of thing.”

Julia smiled at her. “I don't care for it much myself. But it's not forever—just for a bit.”

Evan nodded again.

There were two short blasts from a car horn. Julia's ride had arrived.

Julia kissed her, then stepped back and took hold of her roller bag.

Evan opened the big front door. “Bye.”

Julia laid a hand on Evan's forearm as she passed her. “I love you.”

Evan's throat felt tight. She wasn't sure she could get the words out.

“Me, too,” she said. Then shrugged. “Love you,” she clarified.

Julia smiled at her discomfort. “You're a nut.”

Evan didn't disagree.

“Call me later.” Julia squeezed her arm, and walked outside to the waiting car.

Evan stood in the open doorway and watched her go.





Dan was surprised, but not unhappy when Evan called about dropping Stevie off earlier in the day—much earlier. He had a morning appointment in Philadelphia anyway, so he agreed to meet them at the 30 th Street Station, where Evan was catching the noon Metroliner to New York. Andy was due to arrive at Julia's office sometime between 2:00 and 2:30, and Evan wanted to make certain she arrived plenty of time in advance.

Stevie was going to spend the night with Dan at his apartment in Philadelphia. This would give her the chance to see her grandparents, before he brought her back to Chadds Ford on Saturday afternoon. Evan and Stevie would have another full day together, before Stevie's break ended, and she had to head back to Emma Willard.

For once, Evan's train pulled into Penn Station right on time.

It was a short walk to Julia's office building on Madison Avenue, so she took her time, trying to compose herself, and prepare for what was about to happen.

Once inside the massive high—rise, she found a convenient seat in a remote corner of the lobby—one that gave her a clear view of the Madison Avenue entrance.

Andy was easy to spot. He arrived a few minutes after 2:00, and crossed the lobby with the ease and confidence of someone who never questioned his right to be wherever he was. He looked handsome and self—assured. He was alone—and Evan said a quiet prayer of thanks for that. She looked at her watch, and decided to give herself fifteen minutes before she followed him up to the 38 th floor offices of Donne & Hale. She was banking on the hope that Julia would not be running behind schedule.

When Evan pushed open the big door that led into the lobby area of Julia's offices, she was relieved to see a different woman behind the reception desk—one who would not recognize her. She held up the FedEx Letter Pack that she had brought along to use as an alibi, and approached the harried—looking woman—who seemed to be struggling with a fax machine. She barely looked up when Evan entered.

“Hello, there,” Evan said. “I'm Senator Townsend's assistant, and he asked me to deliver this letter to him as soon as it arrived. I believe that he and Ms. Donne are waiting on it.”

The woman glanced up from her awkward position, hunched over the fax machine. “Oh. Of course.” She started to put down the package of toner cartridges she was holding. “Just give me a moment and I'll call Ms. Donne's assistant.”

Evan held up a hand. “No need to trouble yourself—I know the way. And the Senator asked me to deliver this to him personally .”

The receptionist looked like she was going to protest, but Evan just smiled at her, and quickly started down the long hallway that led toward Julia's office. When it became clear that no one was going to stop her, she heaved a sigh of relief.

So far, so good.

The door to Julia's private office was right ahead. Evan stopped outside it and took a deep breath—then she dropped the bogus letter pack to the floor and pushed open the door.

The scene that greeted her was about what she expected.

Julia was seated on the small loveseat, and Andy was close beside her, holding her hand. They both looked up in surprise when she entered—then their expressions quickly changed from recognition to amazement.

Julia was the first to speak. Her voice was anxious and low.

Evan? What on earth are you doing here?”

Andy stared back at Evan with narrowed eyes and an expression that showed more curiosity than anything. He didn't speak. He didn't release Julia's hand, either—and that fact pissed her off.

A lot.

Maybe this little performance wouldn't be as hard to pull—off as she feared?

Evan gestured toward Andy.

“I could ask him that same question.”

Andy looked back and forth between the two women—then he faced Evan.

“What do you want, Reed?” His tone was not very charitable.

Evan scoffed. “Isn't that kind of obvious? I want the same thing you want.”

“Evan—” Julia started to stand up, but Andy pulled her back down—a little too roughly to suit Evan. When Andy spoke again, his voice was icy.

“I think you'd better leave, Evan—before this goes any further.”

“Fuck you, Townsend. You have no idea how far it's already gone.” She leveled her gaze at Julia. “Tell him, Julia. Go ahead and tell him how far we've gone. I want to hear you explain it in plain words that even I can understand.”

Julia looked shell—shocked. “Evan—what are you doing ? This won't help you.”

“Oh really? What will help me, Julia? Watching you hop back into bed with him? Is that what I need to ‘help me' get over you?”

Julia looked incredulous. “Why are you doing this? This isn't what we talked about.”

Evan laughed. “No. It isn't. None of this is what we talked about. But you just couldn't leave your gilded little cocoon, could you? Tell me. What was I, Julia? Just another little science experiment—like Margo?

That's enough!” Andy was on his feet now. “You need to leave, Reed— now . Don't make me call my security detail.”

Evan took a step closer to him. “I'll leave when I goddamn well want to. I'm not finished yet.”

Andy pulled out his cell phone and punched a button on its keypad. “Oh, trust me—you're beyond finished here. And unless you want to be finished everyplace else, too, you'll go— now.

Evan poked a finger at his chest. “You slimy motherfucker—don't think I don't know what you've been up to.”

“Are you threatening me?”

Julia was on her feet now, too. “Stop it! Just stop it.” She stepped between the two of them and stood with her back to Andy. Her eyes were like chips of ice. “Evan—you need to leave. Now. Please.

Andy had taken hold of both of Julia's arms as he stood behind her. Even as ridiculous as the circumstances were, Evan couldn't help noticing what a perfect—looking couple they made. They were like models for one of those pairs of figurines that topped wedding cakes.

She exhaled. “Sure. I'll go. It's pretty clear what the lay of the land is here.” She turned toward the door, then stopped and turned back around to face them. “You were a good fuck, Julia. Just like Margo said you'd be.” She shook her head. “I should've listened to her. She told me you'd never stick around.”

Evan was stunned when Julia reached out and slapped her—hard. The sound seemed to reverberate off the walls of the office. For a moment, the three of them stood there staring at each other in silence. Evan raised a hand to the side of her face.

“I've had enough of this—” Andy tried to push past Julia, but she barred his way.

Stop it, Andy! ” She looked toward Evan. Her face was completely devoid of expression. “Let her go .”

Game. Set. Match.

Evan nodded. “Yeah. Let me go. She can help you out with that one, Senator—she's a pro at it.”

She turned around and walked out, slamming the door behind her. Her face hurt like hell. Julia packed one hell of a wallop.

Evan felt dazed and half sick as she weaved her way back down the long hallway toward the lobby. She just hoped she'd be able to get out of there before Andy's goons arrived. She knew she was unsteady on her feet—it was a struggle to even walk a straight line. Her head was pounding, and she felt like she might vomit. But she needed to keep moving—just until she could get out of this fucking building and get some fresh air.

She left the firm and crossed the hallway just as the big steel elevator doors opened, and two large men exited. They pushed past Evan without a second look, and walked rapidly toward the entrance to Julia's offices. Evan got quickly into the car they had vacated and pushed the lobby button, sagging against the wall as soon as the doors closed, and she started her descent.

It had all gone exactly the way she hoped it would. Better, even.

Andy had more of a hair—trigger than she realized—and he had taken the bait. Judging by the murderous looks he was giving her, he'd taken it hook, line, and sinker.

And Julia?

A wave of nausea washed over her.

Yeah. Julia had taken it, too. She made certain of that.

It had all gone exactly according to plan.

And she had nobody but herself to blame for her success.




Evan had nearly an hour and a half to kill before her train back to Philadelphia would leave New York.

She was miserable.

She thought about hitting any one of the dozen bars she passed on the walk back to Penn Station from Julia's office. But why add insult to injury? All she'd get for her trouble would be an express pass to waking up tomorrow with a hangover—and she knew she didn't need that on top of everything else. So, instead, she dropped down into a chair in the lounge at her platform, and sat there staring at the other travelers—trying not to think too hard about how well her little drama had just played out.

It was going to be a long night. And when she got home, Stevie wouldn't be there to take her mind off the damage she'd just done by tossing a monster—sized hand grenade into the center of her personal life. But if it worked, and it got Julia out of Andy's crosshairs—even temporarily—it was a price worth paying.

Still, it hurt like hell, and she was having a hard time right now extolling the virtues of selflessness in service to the Greater Good.

Maybe she could give Tim a call?

No. That wouldn't work. He knew too much, now. And she'd never be able to blow smoke up his ass if he tried to pin her down about Julia—and she was positive he would.

She sighed and slid lower into her chair. The lounge was filling up. A kid with a one of those obnoxious toy lawnmowers filled with plastic, popping balls kept running back and forth in front of her row of chairs. Evan wondered if the kid's parents would notice or care if she tripped her the next time she passed by?

The lights were too bright in this joint. She closed her eyes against the glare and tried to empty her mind.

Her seat jolted when someone sat down right beside her.

Jesus Christ, she thought. What the fuck is up with people? There were at least a dozen other empty seats in this damn lounge. She'd just have to move.

Then she caught a scent of something familiar.


She opened her eyes and turned to face the person who had just claimed the seat next to her.

A pair of blue eyes started back at her.

It was Julia.

And she didn't look very happy.

“That was some performance.” Her inflections were flat. Atonal. “Just what in the hell were you trying to accomplish?”

Evan was stunned.

“You can't be here.” Evan was practically incoherent.

Julia gave a bitter—sounding laugh and crossed her arms. “Apparently, I can . Now. Will you do me the honor of explaining to me what that little costume drama was all about?”

Evan's head was spinning. The kid with the damn lawnmower made another lightning pass in front of them, barely missing their feet.

“Performance?” She felt like she was struggling to keep up.

Julia nodded. “Did you think I took any of that seriously?” She shook her head. “I was furious with you. But as horrified as I was about the content of your behavior—I was angrier that you would pull a stunt like that without telling me about it beforehand .”


Julia sighed. “Should we just sit here a while until you can recall how to string an entire sequence of words together? You sure weren't having any problems with that an hour ago.”

“You can't be here. I'm not kidding.”

“Why not?”

“Because it will ruin everything if Andy finds out.”

“Oh, I think things with Andy were pretty much ‘ruined' before you decided to explode through my door with both guns blazing.”

Evan sighed. “Julia, that isn't what I meant .

“I know what you meant, Evan. Andy isn't an idiot—and neither am I.”

“What's that supposed to mean?”

“It means that even if you were successful in getting him to take your bait—and that's a stretch, at best—I certainly did not . And I won't. So it's going to go better for you in the long run if you start dealing more directly and honestly with me.” She paused and gazed at Evan for a moment. Then she raised a hand and stroked the side of her face. “I'm sorry I slapped you. I can't believe I did that.”

Evan laid a hand over hers, and then slowly lowered their hands to rest on the arm that separated their chairs.

“I deserved it.”

Julia nodded. “I won't disagree with that.”

“Still. I never would've pegged you as the violent type.”

“Really? You've just never seen me react when something I care about is threatened.”

Evan was growing exasperated. “Julia, I'm trying to save you—not threaten you.”

“Save me from what, Evan?”

Evan made no response.

Julia sighed. “That's what I thought.” She squeezed Evan's hand. “Look at me.”

Evan raised her eyes and met Julia's steady gaze. Her expression was still unreadable, but at least looked less menacing than it had when she first sat down.

“I don't need you to save me, Evan. If you can't find your way to accept and honor that—in every sense—then there won't be much left for us to talk about. Ever.” She took a deep breath, and then exhaled. “I don't need a protector. I don't need a security detail. And I sure as hell don't need a lover who can't grasp the simple concept that I'm a big girl who can take care of herself.”

Against her will, Evan smiled.

“You're a big girl?”

Julia smiled, too. “Last time I checked.”

“Jesus.” Evan chuffed. “This sure as shit didn't pan out the way I thought it would.”

Julia squeezed her hand again. “Is Stevie with Dan?”

“Yeah. Until tomorrow.”

“Come home with me,” she whispered.

Evan felt her toes curl up inside her shoes, but shook her head. “No dice. We can't be seen together now, Julia.”

“Why not?” When Evan rolled her eyes, Julia held up a hand to stop her. “Never mind. Forget I asked.” They sat there another minute. Then Julia reached into her bag and withdrew her cell phone.

“What are you doing?” Evan asked, as she watched her punch in a sequence of numbers.

“The firm maintains a suite at the Plaza for out—of—town guests. I think you qualify.”

Behind them, a loud wail rose over the din of the waiting area. Evan turned her head to see that the aspiring groundskeeper had somehow managed to get her mower wedged between a large trash receptacle and a vending machine. She stood stomping her feet in front of it, crying and tugging at it's plastic handle in frustration. It wouldn't break free.

No one seemed to be in a hurry to help her out, either.

As she watched her, Evan thought about the obvious parallels to her own situation. Then she smiled. Quit struggling, kid—there are worse ways to be stuck.

Julia was finished with her call. She stood up.

“Are you ready?”

Was she?

The seconds they stared at one another felt like several lifetimes.

Eventually, Evan grabbed the strap of he messenger bag and stood up.

“Yeah. I think I am.”

They left the waiting room and headed for the nearest street exit, and its accompanying sea of taxis.




Chapter 25


“Just what the fuck do you think you're doing?”

Dan was furious with her, and he wasn't trying to hide it.

She sighed. “Hello, Dan. Enjoying the cooler weather?”

He was fuming. “I mean it, Evan. You went too far this time.”

This time?”

“Yeah. This time. Which, loosely translated, means you're fired .”

Evan glanced down at her watch. She'd only been back from New York about thirty minutes—they hadn't been in a hurry to vacate the suite that morning. News certainly traveled fast.

“It didn't take him long to call you,” she said.

“What the fuck did you think he would do? And he didn't call me —he called Marcus. Jesus—you're just lucky he didn't take out a goddamn restraining order.”

Evan was silent.

“This is serious, Evan. Marcus can make it impossible for you to work in this town again.”

She snorted. “What a tragedy that would be.”

“You think this is funny? You think I'm kidding?”

She exhaled. “I know what I'm doing, Dan. I need you to trust me.”

He was incredulous. “ Trust you? When you're running around acting like Glenn Close on crack? Jesus, Evan.”

“It's not like that.”

“It isn't? Really? You fuck the wife of a sitting U.S. senator—one you're being paid to investigate—and then you flip out and go all Fatal Attraction on their asses? What the hell do you call it?”

“Doing my job.”

It was Dan's turn to scoff. “You really have lost it.”

“I mean it, Dan. I need you to trust me.”

“How can you ask that of me when you're behaving like a lunatic?”

“I know what I'm doing,” she repeated.

There was silence on the line. Then she heard him sigh.

“Then how about cluing me in so I can understand it, too?”

“I tried to explain it to you, already—you just didn't want to hear me.”

“Oh come on. You're not still talking about that Aspen bullshit, are you?”

Evan could feel herself growing exasperated. She sat there, picking at a loose thread on the cuff of her shirt.


“Yeah. I'm here.” She decided to shift gears. “When are you bringing Stevie back?”

He sighed again. “I thought I'd run her over around 3:30.”

“Why don't you plan on staying for an early supper? We can talk then.”

He thought about it. “Okay. I suppose that could work.”

“Good. I'll see you both around 4:00.”



“I can't fix this for you. You're on your own with this one.”

“What else is new?”

She laughed and hung up the phone.





After they finished dinner that evening, Stevie disappeared to Evan's office to watch online episodes of Glee , and probably text a couple dozen of her friends. Evan and Dan took advantage of the privacy to continue their conversation about Evan's recent, kamikaze career move. They sat on the back porch, drinking iced coffee, and watching her neighbor's Jersey cows mill around near the tiny stream that cut across the back half of her property.

“You really are making me crazy.”

Dan still sounded concerned, but less exasperated than he had been earlier. She looked over at him in the fading light. He really was a good—looking man. Too bad they couldn't make a serious relationship work. But you couldn't change the way you were wired—and Evan wouldn't want to, even if she could.

And besides, they had Stevie. It was hard to get much more serious than that.

“I know I'm making you nuts. It's one of the perks of the job.”

“Not funny—and if you'll recall, you don't have a job any more.”

She shrugged, and set her glass down on a small, painted table that sat next to her chair. The table was mostly a distressed white, but still had one dark red leg—a carry—over from the day many years ago that Stevie decided it would be fun to paint the porch furniture with some of the Rustoleum Evan had been using to refurbish an old lawn tractor. At first, she left the table untouched as a kind of wages—of—sin object lesson. But as the days and weeks passed, she grew fond of its peculiar appearance, and decided to leave it alone—free to sport its singular blemish with impunity.

“Is she really worth it?”

Dan's voice was so low, Evan wasn't sure she'd heard him correctly. She gave him a perplexed look.

“Excuse me?”

“Julia. Your— thing with her.” He waved his hand. “Is it worth all of this?”

“My thing?

“You know what I mean.” He gestured toward the inside of the house, where Stevie reposed in what he plainly assumed was blissful ignorance. “Don't make me spell it out.”

Evan looked at him like he was some kind of bizarre museum exhibit.

“Dan. You don't have to speak in code. Stevie knows about Julia.”

He was surprised. “She does?”

Evan rolled her eyes at him. “Of course she does. I don't hide things like this from her.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Things like this?”

She nodded and met his gaze. “Things that are worth it.”

He was silent for a minute. “Just for the sake of argument, let's suppose that your suspicions about Aspen have some merit.”

Evan's eyes widened. Dan held up a hand. “I said, suppose —so don't get excited. I'm not saying I believe any of this—I just want to know what you expect to gain by it.”

“For starters, I want to stop him from hurting anyone else.”



Dan got up and strode across the porch. “This is insane , Evan. You're talking about a U.S. senator, for Christ's sake.”

“I'm aware of that.”

He turned to face her. “Are you? I don't think so. You make a mistake here and, believe me—it won't be his career that goes down in flames. There'd be no coming back from this, Evan—not for either of us.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Oh, come on. You don't think Marcus is going to continue to sit idly by and let you smear shit all over the party's poster boy, do you? These are high stakes, Evan—with high rollers. And they play for keeps.”

“I'm not afraid of Marcus.”

“No? You should be.” Dan shook his head. “I thought you were smarter than this.”

Evan drained her glass and snagged an ice cube to crunch. She knew the sound made Dan crazy.

“So tell me, Dan. What's Marcus gonna do? Un—friend me on Facebook?”

He watched her as she sat there, chewing on her ice. “Fine. Yuck it up. It's clear that I'm wasting my breath on this.” He finished his drink and slammed the glass down on the table. “Send me your final expense report tomorrow. Thanks for dinner—I'll find my own way out.”

He stormed back into the house, and headed toward the study where Stevie was watching TV.

Evan picked up her glass and spit out the crumbled chunks of ice.

She knew that Dan was telling the truth about Marcus. That slimy motherfucker would never take something like this lying down.

This whole thing was one hell of a shell game, and it was getting harder for her to keep up with how fast the pieces were moving. But she had no choice—not now. She'd set everything in motion, and it would all play out the way it would play out. She just had to hope that Julia wouldn't be the one caught in the crosshairs.

From inside the house, she heard the sound of the front door slamming. Then she heard the dull, grinding noise of Dan's old Chrysler. The big V—8 finally stopped protesting, and turned over on the fourth try. He really needed to ditch that piece of shit. But he loved the damn thing, and babied it like it was something precious.

Well. He was right about one thing—there was no way to predict what you'd end up caring about.

She got up and went inside to join her daughter.



Chapter 26


Julia arrived back at her Park Avenue apartment shortly after 11:00 on Saturday morning.

She was tired. The three—way tango she had been doing with Evan and Andy was exhausting her. She'd never been good at subterfuge, and she didn't know how much longer she could keep the deception going. Sooner or later, it was all going to come crashing down around them—and they'd be left with one Hades of a mess.

It was a mess already. Why not stop pretending that a better outcome was possible? The chips would fall where they would fall—and there'd be nothing left to do but work to minimize the damage. Why forestall the inevitable?

She shook her head.

Why? Because Evan was persuaded they had to in order to keep her ‘safe.'

But safe from what? Safe from whom? Marcus?

She tossed her keys onto the sideboard, kicked off her shoes, and headed toward the kitchen.

It's not that she had a hard time believing Marcus capable of menacing behavior. True—her dislike of him had never extended far enough for her to imagine him capable of murder …but Evan's discoveries about Tom Sheridan's death were beyond disturbing.

And then there were all those questions surrounding her accident in London. What if Evan was right about that—and someone had been trying to kill her?

She shook her head. All this crazy cloak—and—dagger stuff was making her jittery. It was like being tasked with one of those annoying math problems where you're expected to solve for ‘x.' But this equation had no ‘x'—therefore, no possibility of arriving an outcome that made sense.

It was impossible.

She opened the fridge and pulled out a bottle of lime soda.

She thought about yesterday afternoon. What on earth prompted Evan to storm into her office like that? God—she flew off the handle like a burlesque caricature of a B—movie, jilted lover. That over—the—top performance didn't fool her for a second. But she had to admit that she'd never seen Andy quite that angry before. Even after Evan left, he seemed unable to calm down.

She carried her cold drink back toward her study, intending to collapse into a chair and try to make some kind of sense out of the last 24 hours—especially the changes in her relationship with Evan. For, certainly, some kind of tectonic plate shift had occurred there.

Well. Things seemed to have changed for Evan . Julia had already been sure of her own feelings. At least, she had been sure since the day she opened the door to her parents' London flat, and saw Evan standing there—wearing that shy and embarrassed expression.

That had been Julia's moment—that split—second when she knew that everything in her world had shifted. It seemed to her that Evan's moment came yesterday afternoon—while they sat next to each other in that noisy train station, saying nothing, but saying everything.

At least, she thought so. They didn't talk much once they got to the suite at the Plaza. She smiled. Not in conventional ways, anyway.

She entered the study and flipped on the light switch next to the door. This room faced East 71 st Street , and it tended to be darker in the mornings.

“Sleep well, dear?”

The voice came out of nowhere—and it scared her half to death. She nearly dropped her open bottle—managing to catch it by the neck, just before it slipped entirely from her grasp.

It was Andy.

He was seated on a small settee by the window. He didn't appear relaxed—and he certainly didn't look happy.

“I wondered when you'd make it back,” he added.

She set the sweating bottle down on her desk blotter and shook her wet hand to try and dry it. Her pulse was racing.

“Good god, Andy. What are you doing here?”

He snorted and uncrossed his legs. He looked awful. Unkempt. Unfamiliar. He needed a shave.

“I used to live here,” he said.

She leaned back against the desk and crossed her arms, trying to regain her composure.

“Correct—you used to live here. And I don't appreciate having you show up unannounced like this.”

He laughed. “Why not? Afraid I might disrupt some of your extracurricular activities?”

She could feel her face growing hot. “Did you intrude on me like this just to insult me?”

“Oh, come on, Julia. Do you think I don't know about your sick little tryst last night with that common dyke—and at the Plaza , no less? A little out of her league, wouldn't you say?”

She was too shocked and annoyed by the suggestion that he'd been following her to react to his crude slight against Evan.

“I refuse to be goaded by you, Andy. I can't imagine what you hope to achieve by this brutish behavior.”

“Oh, really?” He leaned forward and picked up a cut glass tumbler, half full of amber liquid. Probably Scotch. In some other set of circumstances, it would have occurred to her to be concerned that he was drinking this early in the day. “A bit too realistic for you, darling? And here, I thought maybe you'd developed a taste for the gutter—at least in terms of your bedmates.”

She dropped her arms.

“I think you need to leave. Now.

“Oh no—not until we clarify a few things.”

“I have nothing further to discuss with you, Andy.” She turned around and started to leave the room. “You can let yourself out—but, please, leave the key. You won't be needing it again.”

He stood up.

“Not so fast, Julia. You're still my wife.

She turned to face him. “You certainly picked an odd time to remember that.”

He took a step toward her. “Unlike you, I've never forgotten it. We had an agreement—and you're going to hold up your end.”

“I held up my end—even when you mortified me and every one else in our acquaintance by your shameless involvement with Margo Sheridan.”

He laughed. “Am I supposed to be impressed by this display of virtue? Or are you just still pissed that I got to fuck her first?”

She raised her hand to slap him, but he caught hold of her wrist.

“Let go of me,” she hissed.

He tightened his grasp. “You don't get it, do you, Julia? I won't ever let go of you—not now. Not until this campaign is finished.”

“Fuck you— and your selfish aspirations!” She forced her arm free and stepped away from him. “Get out, Andy. It's over. We're over . I'm seeing my attorney on Monday morning to file for divorce. And, frankly, I no longer care how you manage the headlines.”

Julia could see him struggling to regain control of his temper. He was silent for a moment. Then he slowly reached into an inside pocket of his jacket, withdrew a brass key, and set it down atop an end table.

“Marcus won't like this, Julia.” His voice was flat. “You need to reconsider.”

“Marcus can go to hell.”

“This is a mistake. I won't be able to control the outcome if you go ahead with this.”

She shook her head. “It's over, Andy. You don't need me any more.”

He met her eyes. “You're wrong about that.”

She sighed. “Fine. I don't need you any more. I don't need this, Andy—and I don't want it.”

He stood there, flexing the fingers of both hands as they continued to stare at each other. Then he squared his shoulders, and headed for the door.

“Goodbye, Julia.”

She stood rooted to her spot, and listened to the sound of his retreating footsteps. It wasn't until she heard the front door to the apartment open and close, that she allowed herself to sink onto a chair, and begin to shake.

To be continued.


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