Forbidden pleasure, p.14
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       Forbidden Pleasure, p.14

         Part #8 of Bound Hearts series by Lora Leigh
 
Page 14

 

  She had ignored the rumors about her husband. She had accepted his declaration that it was all in the past and hid from the burning curiosity as long as she could. Perhaps if she hadn’t sensed the reason behind Mac’s broodiness lately, then it wouldn’t have come to this. Or if she had let him know from the first moment that it wasn’t something she didn’t want, then she could have avoided it.

  Unconsciously, Keiley wondered if she hadn’t pushed him because she was too curious about it. Because she had sensed the need rising inside him, and it had only made her more curious about the whole thing.

  It was going to happen. She had known last night as Jethro’s lips had touched hers that it would happen. She was going to allow her husband’s best friend to become a third in their bed.

  She was insane. Mac was insane.

  Unfortunately, insanity wasn’t contagious, so she couldn’t blame Mac entirely for this. She was a grown woman, capable of putting her foot down and saying no. And Mac would accept it. He might get broody sometimes, he might fantasize about it, but he would have accepted it.

  So why wasn’t she doing it?

  Because she wanted all of her husband. Because she was curious herself. Because she was honest enough with herself to admit that she had fantasized about it much too often herself in the past three years.

  Fantasy and reality weren’t meant to be mixed, though. What would happen to her marriage, to her dreams, if she allowed this to happen?

  That was her fear. That somehow, some way, this would destroy the marriage that meant more to her than her own life.

  Keiley gripped the steering wheel tighter as she made the turn onto the county road and headed to town. She had too much to do today to let this mess with her mind right now. If she didn’t get her head on straight, then everyone at the meeting would be aware that something had her nerves onedge.

  The last thing she needed right now was to allow that bunch of gossiping women to find out there was some kind of stress in her life other than them. From the day she had moved to Halifax County with Mac, she had sensed the keen interest of the community that had taken notice of her. Especially Delia Staten. That woman was dying to learn something that would hurt her and Mac.

  Keiley wasn’t the type to hide from society. She had immediately joined the business community as well as the charity organization that seemed to oversee all the various charity needs in the county.

  Every preacher’s wife and deacon’s daughter seemed to be on the committee, though not all had joined the summer festival committee. The meeting Keiley was heading to was comprised of a little over a dozen women and headed by Victoria Leia Staten, one of the matriarchs of the county.

  The committee board was headed by Mrs. Staten and included five other influential women. There wasn’t a woman under fifty on the committee board except for Victoria’s daughter-in-law, Delia, and their combined censure had the power to ostracize anyone from within their ranks and those of the community.

  That was one of the things Keiley had had a hard time accepting when she first joined the charity committee. Those six women had an incredible amount of influence on both the social as well as the business community.

  Morally upright, censorious, and sometimes judgmental, they could nevertheless make it extremely difficult for anyone whose business interests were based solely within Halifax County.

  Not for the first time, Keiley was thankful that her and Mac’s financial solvency wasn’t dependent on the county. She was on the outside of that little group the way it was. The interloper, so to speak. The last thing she needed was to have those women decide they had any power over her.

  This meeting was being held in the Staten mansion just outside Scotland Neck. The three-story plantation-style home had been restored to its former glory decades before and stood on a hill overlooking the town like a silent sentinel.

  Keiley parked her car behind the dark blue Mercedes driven by one of the few women Keiley had become friends with. She stepped from her car and moved along the stone sidewalk alongside the driveway that led to the side of the mansion and the gardens where the members gathered before the meeting.

  “Keiley, you’re early for a change. ” Maxine Bright detached herself from the small group of women who threw Keiley friendly waves before going back to their conversation.

  Maxine was a powerhouse of energy. Five feet six inches tall with flaming red hair and bright green eyes. The wife of the most influential banker in town, Joseph Bright. He was also quiet, thoughtful, and seemed to adore the cheerful, effervescent women he had married.

  “Max, you look gorgeous. ” Keiley smiled as her gaze went over the chocolate-colored linen dress her friend wore.

  Max’s vivid red hair was pulled back into a low ponytail, the corkscrew curls trailing halfway down her back from the large matching bow.

  “Joey liked it, too. ” Max waggled her brows as she caught Keiley’s arm and practically dragged her into the gardens. “I had to take it back off and iron it before I ever made it out of the house. ”

  Keiley barely restrained her surprised laughter. Unrestrained sex and Joseph Bright didn’t seem to go hand in hand.

  “Lucky woman,” Kei murmured. “Mac was already out of the house working before I even woke up. ”

  “And his friend who’s visiting?” Max whispered. “Was he working, too?”

  “Damn, news travels fast in this county,” Keiley laughed. “He just showed up yesterday. ”

  “I hear he drives a flashy bright red Mustang and wears mirrored sunglasses. He has a bad-boy grin and muscles a woman would drool over. ”

  Keiley arched her brow as she accepted a glass of sweet iced tea from one of the housemaids.

  “What did he do? Stop and pose for the masses on his way in?” She chuckled.

  Max snickered at the image as well. “I heard all about him the minute I stepped into the garden this afternoon. Everyone was certain I’d know all the best gossip where you’re concerned. You didn’t tell me about him. Why?” Max pouted good-naturedly.

  “Even I didn’t know he was showing up until the day before yesterday. ” She shook her head at how quickly news had reach the group that she and Mac had company. “He’s a friend of Mac’s from Virginia. We haven’t seen him since the wedding. ”

  “And the rumors that he and Mac used to enjoy sharing girlfriends? Laura Tolbert is all agog over that little piece of information. Being the resident slut, you know how bad this is going to make her look. ” Beneath that laughing amusement was an edge of concern in Max’s gaze.

  Keiley blinked back at her in shock. “Are you kidding me?”

  She could feel her heartbeat accelerating, a sick feeling of panic filling her stomach before she straightened her shoulders and fought it back.

  Damn, how had something like that gotten out?

  “I haven’t found out where that little gem of information came from yet. ” Max lowered her voice as they moved further away from the other women and their curious looks. “It was an amusing little on-dit they were giggling over. Thankfully, no one seems to be taking it seriously. But you know how Delia Staten can be. So watch your back. ”

  Delia Staten was Victoria’s daughter-in-law. A pious, moralistic pain in the ass.

  “Good God,” Keiley muttered. “I wonder what would happen if I ever invited one of my friends up for a visit. ”

  “You would instantly become a lesbian with plans to divorce Mac for your girlfriend rather than just becoming the tasty filling for a male sandwich,” Max snickered.

  Keiley couldn’t contain the blush that rose in her cheeks.

  “Now don’t get upset. ” Max smiled as she laid her hand on Keiley’s arm. “You know how the chickies are in this bunch, sweetheart. Though I have to admit, someone outdid themselves this time. Normally the gossip isn’t nearly as interesting. Maybe they’re getting bored with the whole cheating-
with-the-husband’s-best-friend angle. The threesome sounds much more fun. ”

  “Not to mention much more tiring. ” Keiley rolled her eyes, forcing herself to treat the information as a rabid joke rather than the truth it was.

  As Max had said, normally she wouldn’t have had to worry about anything more than a little gossip that she was getting some on the side.

  “I wouldn’t worry about it. ” Max waved it away. “Everyone here mourned the day Mac married outside the county and cut off the potentially juicy sex details they could have gotten. It’s a compliment. They at least believe you’re too refined to cheat. ”

  “Oh joy. ”

  “But be on guard,” Max warned her. “Delia is heading this way and she looks like a woman on a mission. ”

  Keiley was ready to walk out. She had sworn she would never subject herself to the petty viciousness of people like Delia Staten again. The same type of woman who had helped destroy her life years ago. And yet here she was, turning as Delia approached and pasting a welcoming smile on her face.

  Delia had once been a pretty woman, and she could be again if she would take the pinched look of judge and jury off her long, slender face. Thick brown hair with russet tones was pulled sharply back from her face into a tight French braid. Minimal makeup showed the lines at the sides of her eyes and lips, and her brown eyes glittered with bitter anger.

  She was thirty-five years old, but she looked ten years older.

  “Keiley, dear, how are you doing?” The older woman’s smile was all teeth as she approached. “You’re early today, too. ”

  It wasn’t as though she was ever late, damn it.

  “Mac was otherwise occupied on the farm this morning when I woke up. ” Keiley smiled calmly. “He didn’t distract me. ”

  Delia’s lips tightened. It was no secret that the other woman had seen Mac as a potential husband years before. Instead he had left town and headed to Virginia after his high school graduation. Evidently, no woman married to Mac would ever be safe from her hatred after that. She had definitely spent the last three years looking for ways to spite Keiley.

  “I hear you have company. ” Her brown eyes were alight with cruel interest. “Very handsome company. ”

  “News travels fast. One of Mac’s friends from Virginia. He stopped by for a visit while he was on vacation. ”

  “And how long will he be staying?”

  “Why, I don’t know, Delia. He and Mac didn’t say. But you raise a point. I really should ask. I was busy working and didn’t even think to question them. ” She widened her eyes innocently as she stared back at Delia. “Sometimes Mac doesn’t think to tell me his plans. ”

  Delia’s eyes narrowed, though a tight smile curled her lips. “Yes. He does have that habit. ”

  Keiley almost winced. She hadn’t meant to prick at the past, but obviously she had. Mac hadn’t informed Delia when he left town all those years ago. He had just packed up and left, and Delia Staten had never forgiven him.

  Keiley reminded herself mockingly to have a talk with him about not informing the world next time he decided to make a personal decision.

  At that point, Max broke in. “Keiley, I saw the updates you did to the charity Web site. They’re gorgeous,” she stated. “Didn’t she do a wonderful job, Delia?”

  “I haven’t checked. ” Delia’s lips were pinched with distaste at this point. “If you’ll excuse me now, it’s nearly time to call the meeting to session. Good day, ladies. ”

  Delia turned and swept across the stone-lined patio in a cloud of flowery perfume and acrid disapproval.

  “That is one mean old bitch,” Max muttered. “What the hell is going on, Kei? I’m almost afraid to let Joey’s brother come stay the summer now. He’s divorced, ya know?

  Keiley breathed out roughly. “Maybe it’s that ‘outsider’ thing again?” She turned to Max and rolled her eyes. “Maybe I’ll get lucky and they’ll toss me off the charity committee. You could run my booth and yours. ”
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