Second by Penelope Sky

1

Annabella

Sofia stepped into my office.“Want to get lunch? It’s on me. Well, on the Tuscan Rose.”

“Hmm…” I looked away from my computer. “Paperwork or free lunch? What a hard decision.”

She chuckled at my sarcasm. “Where do you want to go?”

“You know I’m not picky.” I grabbed my coat and walked out of the hotel with Sofia. Christmas was over, and now it was just bleak and cold winter. Liam and I had spent our first month together as husband and wife on good terms, never mentioning Damien again. Being married felt different from living together, but it didn’t feel the same as our first marriage. Instead of passionate with unbridled love, it was more comfortable. But that was exactly what I wanted.

“So, how’s married life?” Sofia asked. “Still like each other?”

“Yeah. It’s nice to leave my apartment and move into my old place. We’ve fallen into our old routine, where we trade off making dinner and doing the dishes. You know, typical marriage stuff.”

“Have you guys thought about trying to have a family again?”

After what happened last time, I was terrified to even bring up the subject. Having a family wasn’t on my mind. “I think we’d rather just enjoy each other for a while before considering that.”

“Good idea.” Her phone rang in her pocket, so she fished it out. “It’s Hades. I’ve got to answer.”

“I understand.”

“Hey,” she said as she answered. “I’m walking to Angelini’s for lunch. No, it’s not too cold to walk.” She rolled her eyes. “You want to join us?” She turned to me to ask if it was okay.

I immediately answered. “Of course.”

She turned back to the phone. “I’ll see you there in a couple minutes.” She hung up and returned the phone to her pocket. “I’m glad you don’t mind that Hades tags along.”

He was kinda my boss since he also owned the hotel, but he was also a nice guy…as far as I could tell. “I don’t mind at all.” Sometimes when I was around him, I thought about Damien, but I couldn’t let that bother me. It was impossible to avoid Hades, and it wasn’t his fault that he reminded me of his best friend. It wasn’t like I ever saw Damien in the flesh.

We continued to talk for the rest of the walk. This restaurant was farther away than other choices, but it was the best, so we pushed through the cold until we stepped inside the restaurant. After we checked in with the host, we spotted Hades sitting at the table—with Damien.

Sofia quickly turned to me so they couldn’t see her expression. “Shit, I had no idea—”

“It’s fine.” My heart leaped into my throat and my pulse was manic, but I played it cool. I didn’t want to see Damien, but it was impossible to expect to always avoid him. He was bound to show his face at events, birthday parties, stuff like that. I just had to be mature about it, to hold my head high even though he’d rejected me…how many times?

“You sure?” she asked, keeping her voice low.

“Yes. We’re both adults. I don’t hate him, and I can’t imagine why he’d hate me.”

“Alright.” She squeezed my wrist for support before she headed to the table. She was in front of me, so she blocked my view of the guys.

Hades stood up to greet his wife, his eyes filling with an intense look of love for both her and the little person inside her. His arms wrapped around her, and he gave her a gentle kiss on the lips, greeting her as if he hadn’t seen her just a few hours ago.

Now I had a full view of Damien.

He sat in the chair with one ankle resting on the opposite knee, looking like a catch in that tailored suit. He was relaxed, but his ripped body still stretched the crispness of the fabric in the sexiest ways, over his broad shoulders, his thick biceps, even his forearms. Judging by the slight surprise in his eyes, he hadn’t expected me to be there. His green eyes only reacted for an instant, a flicker of dilemma, but he quickly covered it, adopting a skilled poker face.

He didn’t say anything.

Neither did I.

I didn’t want it to be awkward every time we saw each other, to think about the last time we had been in the same room together, when I’d admitted I would leave Liam that instant if Damien still wanted me. It was embarrassing to be so hung up on someone who didn’t give a damn about you. But it was over…and it was time to move on.

Damien spoke first. “It’s nice to see you, Annabella.” He rose from his chair and flattened his tie against his hard chest, the touch reminding me exactly how that felt with my own hand. I used to press my palm against the spot all the time, loving that strong heartbeat in that powerful cage. He moved to the chair across from him and pulled it out for me—like a gentleman.

It was hard for me to say anything because I was floored by his reaction, by the way I was instantly attracted to him even though I’d been married for a month. He’d ripped me apart in my office, so I should hate him…but I didn’t. “It’s nice to see you too. And thank you.” I took off my coat and hung it over the back of the chair before I sat down. I was committed to Liam, so I had to turn off these feelings, especially for my own sake. I didn’t want my heart on my sleeve, for it to be obvious there was still a longing deep inside me. I was done embarrassing myself.

Hades did the same for Sofia before he sat across from her.

That meant I was stuck looking at Damien.

Ugh.

I grabbed my menu and buried my nose in it.

It was quiet at the table, the awkwardness setting in for all of us. Hades hadn’t known I was coming either, so he probably exchanged a few glances with Sofia to show his regret for not asking if I had come along.

I didn’t want it to be tense, so I smashed the silence. “You guys wanna get an appetizer? The arancini? I’m starving.”

Sofia went with it. “I’m in.”

“I think I’m gonna get some wine too,” I said to her. “Unless you’re going to write me up or something?”

She chuckled. “I’d be drinking too if I could.”

I lifted my gaze and looked Damien straight in the eye. “If I got a bottle, would you want any?” I then turned my gaze to Hades, so he knew I was addressing him too.

Hades answered. “That’s a great idea.”

Damien stared at me with a focused expression, as if he knew exactly what I was doing. “I’ll have a glass. You pick the wine.”

When the waitress came over, we ordered, and soon after, we were eating the appetizer and drinking wine. Despite my attempts to make everything feel normal, it grew tense again.

So I spoke to Damien directly. “How have you been?”

He stilled slightly at the question, but he covered the tension in his shoulders by taking a sip of wine. “Busy with work.” He didn’t give me much detail and didn’t ask me anything in return.

“How’s your father?” I’d never met him, but I knew he was important to Damien.

He was surprised by the second question. “I’m in the process of moving him in with me.”

“Aww…that’s sweet.” And just like that, I thought Damien was the perfect man again.

“He’s a stubborn son of a bitch, so I think this is gonna be an ordeal.” He swirled his wine as he stared at the glass.

“Like father, like son,” I teased.

He lifted his gaze to look at me, surprised I’d spoken to him so casually.

When I felt like I’d proved my point, that I was over him, I talked to the entire table. The conversation was stiff at first, as if no one understood what was an appropriate thing to say in the situation, but like a train leaving the station, it picked up speed.

* * *

Sofia picked up her phone.“It’s my mother.”

Hades chewed his food before he responded. “Great…”

She answered. “Hey, Ma. What’s up?” She listened to the line before her face started to turn pale.

Hades picked up on her reaction, his eyes narrowing. “What is it?”

“I’ll meet you at the doctor’s office.” She hung up. “She said Andrew has been coughing all morning, and it’s getting worse. She thinks he might have a rash or an allergic reaction. She’s taking him to the pediatrician now.” She got to her feet and grabbed her coat.

Hades turned to Damien. “Can you—”

“I got it.” Damien pulled out his chair as he stood up. “Go.”

Hades and Sofia left in a rush, abandoning their untouched food and dashing out the door.

Now it was just us…alone.

Our plates were still full because we’d only just gotten our lunch, so it would be weird to box it up and leave because we couldn’t stand being together. Neither one of us would cave and blow our pride like that.

Damien pushed in Hades’s chair and grabbed his fork to continue eating. He’d ordered a garden salad with extra chicken, avoiding the basket of bread in the center and only allowing himself a single glass of wine.

It was no surprise he was in such great shape when he was so diligent about his diet. No carbs. No fat. Just pure protein with vegetables. It reminded me of the times we got pizza together and he acted like he’d lost all control.

I’d ordered spaghetti because I didn’t give a damn about the scale. As long as I was healthy and still getting laid, it didn’t matter to me. Why waste time stressing about your body like it was your finances?

Silence continued.

Heavy, painful silence.

I tried to think of something to say, but I was drawing a blank. We didn’t have any mutual hobbies, any mutual friends. It wasn’t like we both played golf, and saying nothing was better than talking about the weather.

At my reception, Hades had come over and congratulated Liam and me. Then he explained Damien had fallen ill and couldn’t attend the wedding, which was bullshit because men like Damien didn’t get sick. But I was glad he wasn’t there. There were already so many emotions I had to deal with that day. Seeing Damien across the room would have only made it worse.

He chewed a bite and lifted his gaze to stare at me, his dark eyes swirling with several thoughts. When he swallowed his food, he spoke. “How are things with Liam?” He addressed the elephant in the room, the marriage he was venomously opposed to.

I was surprised he’d gone there. “Good.”

He took another bite, chewing slowly as he examined the painting on the wall, looking for something to stare at so he wouldn’t have to look at me. “I’m sorry I couldn’t attend. I was—”

“It’s fine.” I knew it was an excuse because he didn’t want to be there. “I didn’t want you there either.”

He seemed slightly surprised by my honesty, his eyes flashing in interest. “You’ll continue to work at the Tuscan Rose?”

“Would you rather I quit?”

He shook his head. “I want you to do whatever makes you happy. I just assumed Liam would prefer if you stayed home.”

“He would, but I don’t care what he wants.” I stayed home last time because that was what he wanted, and after he broke my heart, I regretted doing what he asked. This time, I was going to stay busy because it gave me a sense of purpose, gave me some independence.

He pushed his food around with his fork. “Good answer.”

“You don’t care if you have to see me once in a while?”

He set down his fork and stared at me for a long time, as if the question floored him. “I always enjoy seeing you, Annabella.” His eyes lingered for minutes, as if he couldn’t look away…because he never wanted to look away.