Fighting Fair by Anne Calhoun - Romance>ContemporaryWith a marriage in trouble, there's no such thing as fighting fair...
Jersey girl Natalie Copeland is ready to give up on a decade of marriage. Her husband Shane disappeared into the long, stressful hours necessary to make partner at his investment firm, and now their once-hot sex life has gone ice cold. She knows fighting for the man she loves against the adrenaline rush of deals and dollars is a fight she can't win.
The fast-track to partner came a high price, but Shane's not going to lose Natalie over his work. He knows winning back his headstrong, passionate wife won't be easy. Proving he's in their marriage forever will take everything he's got…and on Wall Street and in love, there's no such thing as a fair fight.
12,000 words in length, contemporary erotic romance.
Please note: this short story contains frank language and graphic m/f sex scenes.
Reader Rating: 3.9 (9 Ratings)
Excerpt:Her husband was late. As usual.
Natalie checked her watch, then crossed her legs as she flicked a dismayed glance at Dr. Lindstrom. The therapist offered a bland smile in return. “Twenty minutes late is pretty typical,” Natalie said. A white lie. Thirty minutes late was more typical, to dinners, family birthday parties, parties, doctors appointments. Everything except work. Shane got there early, seven days a week.
Her phone, clutched in her hand, buzzed with an incoming text. Walking up to door.
No sorry. No explanation, but that was the trend lately. No conversation, unless you counted Did you get my shirts from the laundry?
“He’s in the building,” she said, then slid the phone back into the outside pocket of her purse. Sunlight caught the facets of her engagement ring and the curve of her platinum wedding band. The set was beautiful, expensive, signaling her status as Shane’s wife. She used to smile every time it caught her eye. Now it raised questions more than possessive delight.
Dr. Lindstrom made a note on the legal pad on her lap, then asked, “How was your week?”
“Stressful,” Natalie said as she stared across Park Avenue at the windows in the opposite building, made opaque by a tinted film. Windows could offer a vista on the world while shuttering an outsider’s view of the soul behind the glass. They reminded her of Shane’s eyes lately.
Natalie recrossed her legs and peered over her shoulder at the door. How long could it possibly take to get in an elevator and ride up fourteen stories? He’d probably stopped to take a call, or answer an email. She reached for her phone but froze when a double rap sounded against the door. Dr. Lindstrom called come in and the door opened to admit Shane, BlackBerry still in hand.
“Sorry,” he said to Dr. Lindstrom as he shook her hand, then took the chair next to Natalie’s.
No kiss. No greeting. He was twenty minutes late for their first marriage counseling appointment and he didn’t even bother to put on a show.
Dr. Lindstrom watched this lack of interaction, her gaze lingering on Shane’s face. Her husband wasn’t handsome by typical standards. His face was square with a blunt chin, hooded blue eyes and thick eyebrows that would have looked heavy if they weren’t as blond as his close-cropped hair. With that thin upper lip, the only thing that saved his mouth from looking cruel was his full lower lip. But women eyed Shane, overtly and covertly, because he had presence. Without a smile on his face he looked dangerous. Hard and edgy. His smile softened his face just enough to make you think he was worth the risk.
He wasn’t smiling now.
“I’d like you both to turn off your cell phones,” she said. Natalie obeyed without hesitation. Shane looked at the BlackBerry held loosely in his left hand, then back at Dr. Lindstrom. They all looked at his BlackBerry, and as if their stares affected the circuits inside, it rang. Natalie recognized the ringtone he’d assigned to his coworker, the one who had seniority on Shane and was up for partner but who couldn’t seem to order out for lunch without checking in with her husband.
“I should take this,” he started.
“Oh, for God’s sake, Shane!” Natalie burst out, sitting on her hands to restrain the urge to reach over and snatch the phone from his hand. “Can’t Curt survive for thirty minutes without you?”
Regarding her evenly, Shane lifted the phone to his ear. “I’m at an appointment. I’ll call you back.”
“Thank you,” Dr. Lindstrom said after he disconnected and silenced the phone. “Dr. Copeland, Natalie said you had a Ph.D. in medieval history but are working at Blue Earth Funds.”
“That’s an interesting career choice. How did you come to work at a hedge fund?”
“It was the next logical challenge,” he said expressionlessly.
Natalie gritted her teeth at the fine example of his uncommunicative attitude of late, then recrossed her legs again. Shane had grown up in a Wall Street family. His mother was in-house counsel at Goldman and his father and uncles owned a boutique investment house. He’d gotten his doctorate because he wanted a worldview broader than daily P and L statements, position reports, and deal tickets. She’d fallen in love with the history professor, but it turned out Wall Street was in his blood. The day after he graduated with his Ph.D he took a job as an analyst with a hedge fund, preferring to make partner on his wits and merit, not his last name.
Dr. Lindstrom spoke into the short silence that followed his brusque pronouncement. “Is this not a convenient time for you, Dr. Copeland?”
“It’s Shane, and there is no convenient time for me, Dr. Lindstrom,” he said.
“I’m willing to meet with your wife on her own, of course,” Dr. Lindstrom said pleasantly, “but couples counseling is most effective if both parties are present, committed, and working through the exercises at the same time.”
Dr. Lindstrom came highly recommended but Shane didn’t need an excuse to run back to work. “I don’t need counseling,” Natalie said hastily, cutting off this offered line of retreat. “We need counseling.”
“We are not college students anymore. We are professionals in demanding jobs,” he returned. “When you announced you’d made this appointment was the first I’d heard we were having problems.”
That’s because you don’t hear me anymore. I’ve been saying we’re having problems for months now. Natalie pressed her lips together and refused to be baited into a shouting match. Fighting released energy but usually ended in sex, which never solved any marital problem of substance.
Her lean body relaxed, Dr. Lindstrom made a note and Natalie briefly considered getting out her legal pad and taking some notes of her own. The firm, persistent, even tone seemed to work on Shane, and the therapist used it again when she spoke. “Will a lunch hour appointment work for you?”
Based on Shane’s glinting smile, he knew he was being managed. “I will make every effort to be here on time, but I can’t make any guarantees.”
“Tell me a little about your relationship,” she said. “How did you meet?”
This used to be a good story, told with private glances and laughter. Not anymore. “When I was a junior at Fordham I took his medieval history class. He was the teaching assistant and a student in the Ph.D. program,” Natalie said.
Sunlight glinted off Shane’s square, gold-rimmed glasses as he looked down at his hands. Probably wondering what to do with them without the BlackBerry adhered to his palm. The glasses suited the history TA he’d been when she’d taken the survey course in Medieval history, along with a hundred and fifty other, predominantly female, students. Most of his current peers wore contacts. Shane kept the glasses. Natalie thought of them as his disguise.
“I see. Did you begin dating then?”
“No,” Shane said flatly. “I was her teacher. She was my student. It was against the university’s code of conduct.”
Despite enough chemistry to melt steel, Shane had refused to do anything more than get a cup of coffee in the student union and discuss the week’s lecture. It was Natalie’s introduction to his iron will. He’d look at her through those gold rimmed glasses, his blue eyes glimmering with what she imagined was suppressed desire. As the semester progressed her skirts got shorter, her jeans and sweaters tighter, and her interest in medieval history went from I-need-a-humanities-credit to intense. She read every assignment twice and outlined lectures, pestered her English major roommate into proofreading her papers, bought glossy red lipstick and did her hair for an eight am class three times a week. Other girls admitted there was something about him, but feared his mean face, his hooded eyes. Even his standard uniform of a button-down shirt, cotton sweater, and corduroys couldn’t tamp down his sheer male presence.
The day she turned in her final paper she asked him out. Expressionless as usual, he declined. That night she went to a frat party, got drunk, and did the walk of shame back to campus behind a pack of grade school children on their way to a field trip to see the Christmas tree at Lincoln Center. Two weeks later Shane called her at home.
”I turned in grades today.”
Her heart was pounding. “How did I do?”
“You got an A. Your final paper was excellent. The best work in the class.”
“Are you calling all your students over Christmas break to tell them their grades?” she asked.
“Just you,” he said. “I’m not your teacher anymore. Will you have dinner with me tonight?”
“I’m back in Hoboken,” she said.
“I’m calling from the PATH station.”
“I’ll be there in thirty minutes.”
She told her parents she was meeting a friend for a drink, picked him up at the station, and drove to a hotel. Dinner came after, in the form of room service.