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Adultery, extreme cruelty, desertion.
Samantha Winslow could hear the hatred and betrayal jump off the pages of the Divorce Complaint as she hastened down the hall toward her office, coffee in one hand, papers hot off the printer in the other. She reviewed the causes of action she had drafted a half hour earlier and muttered, "Ben Calloway, you are a slimy bastard."
Her secretary, Carol, sprinted two feet behind, attempting to catch up. "What do you want to do with the Townley Marital Settlement Agreement?"
Tossing her hair over her shoulder, Sam continued to march down the hall on the thirty-third floor of her firm's New York City high-rise. "Call Mr. Townley and find out if he can come in at two. I need to review it with him, but I have some changes to make first."
"Will do," replied Carol, in her usual good mood.
"And call Judge Hurley's secretary to find out if the Russo motion can be heard at eleven on Friday. I have to be in Judge Persky's courtroom at nine." She glanced behind to assure Carol followed in her wake.
Sam slowed her pace. "Did you call Mr. Hill to come in and sign his Complaint? He's going on vacation next week. I want that Complaint filed before he leaves."
"I called him yesterday and left a message."
"Well, call him again," she demanded, then thought better of her tone. "Please." Stress had a way of making her take her frustrations out on the wrong people. Stopping in front of her office, she turned to Carol with a sheepish grin. "It's only ten o'clock and I'm already behind."
Carol accepted her indirect apology with grace. "I know. Mrs. Calloway's waiting for you in Conference Room Two. And Mr. Calloway and his attorney are out in the reception area." She dropped her voice conspiratorially. "Mr. Calloway's pacing and snarling into his cell phone. He doesn't appear to be in a good mood."
"And he hasn't even seen a copy of this Complaint yet." Sam grinned as she held up the document in her manicured hand. "He's the one who wanted a four-way conference this morning. I'm sure he was hoping to get his wife to cave in early and settle before she learned of his little affair. Now that she knows, that's not going to happen." She buttoned her navy pin-striped suit jacket and slid her hand over the matching skirt to remove any possible wrinkles. "When she told me what she found out yesterday, the venom practically dripped from her voice. Her plan may be to castrate him this morning."
"Sorry." She smiled ruefully at Carol's blush. Her secretary's prim and proper attitude amused Sam since this wasn't the first time Carol heard similar comments from the divorce attorneys at the firm. They all felt they earned the right to be a little crass, given their dealings on a daily basis.
"Good luck." Carol handed Sam the revised Agreement in the Townley matter for her review, then turned to leave. "I'll be at my desk if you need anything."
"Thanks." She'd need more than luck to get through this day.
She tossed the Agreement on her desk atop the other piles, if they could be called that. Just under the paper mountain was a stack of at least ten phone messages she had yet to return. But first, the Calloway meeting. She grabbed her yellow pad and three sections from the file, all the while thinking about the Calloways — and couples like them.
Why was it the errant husband always hooked up with the younger woman who worked with him? What about the sanctity of marriage? What happened to the promise to love and honor till death do you part? Melissa Calloway was a beautiful woman — smart, charming, elegant. She had given up her promising career as a designer at Calvin Klein when she married ten years earlier. Her new role demanded her availability at a moment's notice along with managing her husband's personal life. And she did so with dedication and loyalty. She ran his household, raised the children, catered his parties, and sat on charitable boards, all with an ease and grace that made him look like the perfect husband, father, and businessman. Too bad he hadn't returned the favor.
Sam headed toward the door but didn't make it out before Carol stopped her in her tracks. "Did you see the front page of The Post today?"
"Of course not. Who has time?"
"This you'll want to see. One of the paralegals had it." She held out the paper to Sam.
Ben Calloway stood front and center, wearing a tuxedo, his arm around a young beauty dressed in a designer frock. The Metropolitan Museum of Art served as the backdrop. The banner read, "Real Estate Magnate Calloway Escorts New Assistant from Red Cross Event." Smaller letters under the photograph queried, "Has Melissa Calloway been replaced?"
"Oh, no!" Anxiety swept through her body. "Do you think Melissa has seen this?"
"Probably not. She's sitting too calmly in the conference room." Carol looked over Sam's shoulder at the ticking bomb.
"I better cancel this conference before it even gets started. It's bad enough she only recently learned of the affair. War's going to break out when she sees the evidence plastered on the front page of The Post."
The next hour felt more like days after Sam shared the photo with Melissa, who ranted, raved, cried, and threatened. If only people could control their emotions, her job wouldn't be so difficult. Sam finally managed to calm her for the time being and suggested she make an appointment with her therapist, since the public humiliation would stay with her long after she left the office. Some things in life weren't fair, and Melissa Calloway certainly didn't deserve her husband's flagrant disloyalty and the mortification his careless actions brought with it.
Cases like this made Sam appreciate her marriage more than ever. Her husband, Tom, gave her the freedom to pursue her career without demanding that she cater to his needs. They were independent, yet connected. He understood the long hours and myopic focus that would soon reward her with a partnership.
She glanced at the only photo she had on her computer desk, hidden behind the monitor. She and Tom gazed into each other's eyes on their wedding day, exuding love and happiness. Sam smiled at the memory, then pushed it out of her mind. Too many more important matters vied for her attention.
The day passed in a flash, with client meetings, phone calls, and dictation intersecting each other willy-nilly. It was a few minutes past six, according to her watch. By now all the secretaries were gone, and the buzz and hum of computers, telephones, and voices had subsided. This was the time in the office Sam liked most. No distractions.
At least that's the way it was supposed to be. So why was her phone ringing? She glanced at the caller ID to identify the culprit. Tom's phone number flashed across the tiny screen.
"Hi, Tommy," she teased, using the childhood name his mother still called him. "What's up?" She continued signing letters Carol had left on her desk.
"I thought we could meet for a drink at Winston's." Horns honked in the background. He must be cruising the sidewalk, enjoying the spring weather.
"Are we celebrating something?" Sam turned her focus from work to her husband.
"Can't I invite my wife out for a drink after work on a Tuesday night?" Annoyance over her question wended its way through the line.
"Sure." She shrugged for her own benefit. "What time?"
"How about seven?"
It would take her at least forty minutes to get there, so she would only have twenty minutes to get done what she needed for tomorrow morning's court appearance.
"Seven thirty would be better."
A sigh escaped. "Okay. I'll see you then."
She placed the receiver in the cradle and tapped her nails on its surface. It wasn't like Tom to be cranky. And he hadn't laughed like he usually did when she called him Tommy. Something must have gone wrong at work. He'd been preoccupied lately with the prospective purchase of some company in California somewhere. She'd make a point of asking him about it. Let him vent, get it off his mind. He deserved her attention, and the realization she didn't know much about what was going on with this new deal brought her up short. Tonight would be the perfect opportunity to focus on his career instead of hers. Maybe turn his mood around.
Sam was late, of course. She was always late if coming from the office. It irritated Tom, but no matter how hard she tried, she could never stop herself from dictating one more letter or responding to one more email. Walking through the door into the mahogany and stained-glass bar, she inched through people standing three deep. Chattering customers took up every stool and space available. Her eyes moved around the dimly lit room, taking in the happy scene as she sought her husband.
And there he was in the thick of things, eyes on the flat-screen TV, immersed in a sporting event. Even from this distance, his handsome features showcasing baby blues, blond hair, and angular cheekbones gave her heart a kick, as she noticed other women in the bar notice him. But she was the lucky one. He was hers.
Tom pulled on a longneck bottle of beer as she approached.
"I see you started without me." She moved to kiss him, but he turned his head, and she grazed his cheek.
"You're late." His smile was missing. He must have had one hell of a day. "What would you like?"
"A glass of Chardonnay and a quieter spot would be great."
"That could be arranged." He ordered her drink and requested a table in the back.
Once seated, Sam relaxed into the calming atmosphere, and the cool liquid slid down easily. "This is much better." She smiled at her husband across the booth. "I was planning to work on Denise and Ben's case tonight. They want to adopt their nephew, Bobby. But I'm glad you had this idea."
"I don't want to talk about your cases right now."
The sting of his words smarted. "I thought you'd be interested in this particular case. Denise and Ben are your friends too. We were both devastated when Ben's brother and his wife were killed in a car accident."
He didn't apologize or respond to her statement.
Biting her lip to keep from saying anything that would tip this conversation into an unnecessary argument, Sam injected a modicum of concern into her voice. "What's wrong? Is something going on at work that's bothering you?"
"No. Well ... yes, I guess. In a way."
"What is it?" "I've been meaning to tell you." He looked down, avoiding her eyes, as he shifted in his seat.
She leaned forward. "Tell me what?" A twinge of anxiety shot through her system.
"I'm leaving for California for business on Saturday."
The twinge subsided. He often travelled for business for a day or two. "This Saturday?" "Yes."
Something was off. The silence seemed to make him squirm even more.
"When will you be back?"
"I'm not sure. I'm planning on staying until the end of August. Maybe September."
"What?" Her voice escalated with her shock. "It's April. You never go away for four months. What about our vacation?"
She fleetingly realized they had no vacation plans. She was usually too busy to book anything, so Tom planned their time off.
He ignored her question. "Our company is in talks with a similar company out in San Diego. We're going to spend the next few months meeting with the president and vice-president, the company's accountants, you know. Doing the due diligence and determining whether we should purchase it or not."
Tom played with his beer bottle as he spoke, not looking at her.
"Why are you springing this on me now? You must have known about it for months."
"I wasn't sure I'd be going. Joe and Sherry were originally supposed to go."
"That makes more sense." Joe was the president of the company and Sherry, the comptroller. "What happened to change the plan?"
Tom's jaw tightened as he set his beer bottle on the table. He looked up and boldly locked eyes with her. "I talked Joe into letting me take his place."
Stunned, she looked at him hard, trying to gauge his reasons while attempting to keep her cool. "Why? Do you have some burning desire to see the sights in San Diego?" Sarcasm punctuated her words, but she couldn't help herself.
"No. I decided I needed to go."
His choice of words pricked at her skin. "What's really going on here, Tom?"
"You're married to your job, Sam. You work twelve hours a day, including Saturdays, and when you are home, you're either reading a law publication or working on some file."
Anger bubbled up inside her, but she battled it back. It would only make matters worse.
"Of course I'm always working. I'm a lawyer. I work at a big firm. I want to make partner. You know the requirements." Her effort to calm down evaded her. "I thought you understood. You never said my hours bothered you before."
"Well, they do. They did. But you were too busy to notice." His voice was tight, as if speaking through clenched teeth.
"So when you finally do tell me, it's on your way to California?"
"I'll probably be back in September. I think some time apart might be good for us."
"How could time away be good for our relationship? And what do you mean you'll probably be back in September?"
She sounded like a shrew, but this conversation had turned wicked, and she couldn't understand where it had come from. Was he that unhappy? They both worked hard, although if truth be told, she did spend substantially more hours at the office. He seldom complained. Instead, he went off to an art-show opening or movie without her. And didn't they always go out together on Saturday nights? Sometimes the two of them and sometimes with his coworker, Sherry, and her fiancé, Russ. It was comfortable, easy.
He didn't answer her question, but she had more. "Is Sherry going for the whole summer too? Is Russ on board with this?"
"Sherry and Russ broke up." If their table hadn't been so dimly lit, Sam would have sworn Tom's face tinted red. "As a matter of fact, I've been seeing Sherry." The words came spilling out, unchecked, unasked for.
She must have heard him wrong. "What do you mean you've been seeing Sherry?" His silence stretched on for too many guilty moments, piercing her heart. "You're having an affair?"
He barely nodded.
A false laugh escaped. "You're kidding. Right?"
"No. I'm serious." His eyes focused on hers, saying much more than his words.
The room spun, and she reached for the table to steady herself. "Does Joe know about this?" Surely the president of the company wouldn't allow it.
Sam's blood pulsed through her veins to the beat of the throb in her head. She squinted her eyes as she looked at him, trying to find a shred of doubt on his face. Anything to undo his words.
"When did it start?" As if that mattered.
"A few months ago."
"So when the three of us went to the movies last month, you were already having an affair with her? You took us out together?" Her words came out brash and loud as shock set in.
Tom's face burned even redder. He lowered his lids.
"You bastard. Sherry is my friend too. How could you sneak around with her behind my back — or should I say, right in front of me — and pretend everything's fine between us?"
Bile rose in her throat, and she fought to keep control, grabbing the cloth napkin and squeezing it into a ball. How could he do this to her? Cheat on her. And worse yet, with one of their friends. It was unconscionable. Despicable. Uncharacteristic.
She tilted her head as if to see him in a different light. "When did you become such a snake?" Her voice's volume rose with each word.
"Don't name call, Sam. It doesn't become you." He glanced around as heads turned their way. "And could you please lower your voice?"
"You expect me to be charming when my husband tells me he's moving to California for four months, maybe more, to hook up with the younger woman in his office? How cliché, by the way." Hysteria rose to the surface. "You're not supposed to be looking for love on the job. You're supposed to be married to me." Her throat clogged with panic as she fought to continue. "You're supposed to be in love with me."
His face paled, but a steely silence met her words.
"Why did you make me meet you here?"
"I thought it would be easier to have this discussion in a public place."
"Easier for whom? Did you think I might stab you if you told me this in the privacy of our home?"
"No, of course not. I knew it wouldn't go well, and I didn't want to ... to ..."
"You didn't want to what?"
"Shhhh ... calm down." He glanced over his shoulder, bringing her attention to the audience she'd unwittingly garnered before responding. "I didn't want to be alone with you." The pity on his face made his words even more injurious.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Sworn to Remember"
Copyright © 2019 Maria Imbalzano.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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