It’s been a long road, but it’s nearly here: the final book in the Erin and Tom’s story comes out this April. I want to thank everyone for your patience and understanding. I’d never planned on so much time passing between the release of the books, but I also didn’t want to rush this story out. These characters mean a lot to me, and I wanted to get their final chapter just right.
Spoiler warning: if you haven’t read book one and book two, I wouldn’t recommend reading this excerpt. There are a lot of spoilers here. All of the spoilers, I’d say (not of the new book, of course, just of the last two).
For the rest of you, enjoy, and look out for the final book in the next few weeks!
I hugged my arms around my body and shoved my hands into my armpits for warmth as the cold, winter air pressed around me. I wondered why I’d left my gloves and hat at home, but I was already in a rush to get to the party. Erin had already been there for a couple hours and…
Something moved inside my chest. I ignored it, hugged myself tighter, and struggled up to the house. I wasn’t having these thoughts!
The Gillespies’ home was lit up, the New Year’s Eve party already in full swing. Cars were lined up outside the newly renovated house, spilling out of the driveway and along the street. Seemed silly to drive the block and a half, but with this cold, I could see why others in the neighborhood had chosen to do so.
I could hear the chatter of people socializing as I stepped up to the front door. I rang the bell, rubbed my hands together for warmth, and wondered what I’d discover on the other side.
“Tom! So good to see you!” Elizabeth Gillespie was older than me and Erin, although her kids were the same ages as Martin and Mary. Elizabeth had been a successful lawyer—along with her husband, Randolph—and chose to have kids later in life. Nothing new for this neighborhood, although it did mean that we socialized with them less. She wore a tiara in her ash brown hair that read 2-0-1-6, and held a half-empty glass of wine.
“Sorry I’m a little late. Had to get some things tied up before the new year,” I said.
“No worries. I know how that goes.” Elizabeth wore the smile lines around her mouth and eyes with beautiful elegance. “Come on, let’s get you out of the cold!”
Inside, the party was in full swing, filled with people standing around, chatting over wine and small plates of finger food. I scanned the gathering for Erin, hoping that the sight of her fresh smile would ease the anxiety crawling up inside my chest. When I didn’t immediately find her, that anxiety reached my throat.
Elizabeth misread my expression. “Don’t worry, the kids are all in the basement, watching a movie. We got a babysitter.”
“Ah, good idea,” I said, my voice flat. It was only then that I noticed that there were only a few children in the midst of all the adults, both of them in their early teens. “I’m going to grab a drink. Have you seen Erin?”
I winced at how tacked on that sounded. I’m not suspicious or anything, but I’d like to make sure my wife hasn’t snuck off with—
Before I could stop myself, I sifted through the gathering again, looking for Lucas Hughes. When I didn’t find him, either, the anxiety that I thought I could deal with turned to panic.
“I haven’t, but she’s around here somewhere.” Elizabeth’s voice snapped me back into myself just as I was about to lose it. “Drinks are on the table in the living room. Help yourself.”
“Happy New Year!” she said, then vanished into the crowd.
Now that I was inside, I had a better chance to take in my surroundings. While I recognized many of the faces, I knew practically no one. These were Erin’s friends. This was Erin’s turf. She saw these people on the playground. She ran into them at the supermarket, or during drop-off at the preschool.
All of this was to say that she wouldn’t risk that reputation for Lucas Hughes, right?
Not that I was worried about that at all.
I found myself pouring a deep glass of Merlot at the bar before I even realized it, my heart beating like a drum. A woman with pretty red hair that I vaguely recognized stepped up beside me and poured her own glass of Chardonnay. She started to say hello when I shot her a crazed smile. She thought better of starting a conversation with me and moved on.
I took a deep breath. I needed to get myself under control. This was crazy. I trusted Erin, I reminded myself. She’d given me no reason to question her intentions.
And yet she did have a wild streak—something that had been awoken by AJ, but something that Lucas was intimately aware of now. She had taken things too far with him before. And as much as she reassured me that it would never happen again, she hadn’t been faking the pleasure she’d felt as he’d driven his thick cock deep into her.
“Slow down, champ,” a familiar voice said.
I blinked. There was Haley, standing before me, looking as pretty as ever.
She lowered her head and raised her eyes, looking at me sheepishly. “Happy New Year,” she said with a smile.
“Happy New Year to you, too.”
“You just get here?” she asked. She brushed her honey-blond bangs from her eyes. Haley had the quiet beauty of a catalog model. There was nothing particularly striking about her. She wasn’t exotic, but she wasn’t exactly the girl-next-door that Erin was. Tonight, she wore a sleeved black dress that hugged her slender frame, and her lashes were long and seductive.
“Yeah. Got held up at work.”
“On New Year’s Eve? You should take a break, you know?”
I studied her. Was she saying something? Did Erin tell her that I was working too much? “Says the woman married to a guy who’s never home.”
“Touche,” Haley said, raising her glass.
And then, as delicately as I could, I said, “So where is Lucas, anyway?”
Haley raised an eyebrow. I was caught. It was no secret that I didn’t like Lucas—even before he’d fucked my wife. “He’s here, somewhere.” She looked wary. “You’re not going to make a scene are you?”
“Only if I have to,” I said before I could stop myself.
“You know he regrets what happened, right? He just would never admit it. He assumed that you two had it all worked out.”
Finally, some red crept into Haley’s pale cheeks. “I did, too. I mean, we knew about…” She looked around, suddenly remembering where we were. “About the triathlon and all.”
As easy as it was to be angry at Lucas, it was the opposite with Haley. I waved it away and raised my glass. “New year, right?”
Haley released a pent-up breath. “New year, yes.”
The toast was as hollow as the clinking of the glasses, but at least it made peace. For now. “Listen, I need to use the bathroom.”
Haley reclined her head. “It’s good to see you, Tom.” And we went our separate ways.
Mine led me past the bathroom on the main floor and up the stairs, to where the bedrooms were. No one paid me any mind. The party kept on going below me as my anxiety once again rose with each uncertain step. My mind bounced between utter certainty that I would not find Erin fucking Lucas up here, to the crushing inevitability that she was.
How did we get here? How did this happen? And what the hell was I going to do if I did catch them?
By the time I reached the top floor, the Merlot had risen back up my throat as my gut churned. My ears felt like they were as big as lampshades. I heard my thundering heartbeat. The hardwood was new, but it felt like I was stomping across a rickety, old bridge. Did they hear me? Were they hiding in a bedroom, waiting for me to pass by?
All the doors were shut, no light spilling out from under any of them. I advanced on the first, wondering once again what the hell was I going to do if I found her. The scene played itself out. I’d open the door, Erin would turn to me, gasping, covering her naked body. Lucas would meet my eyes and shoot me a grin that would say: Thanks again for lending me your slut. This time, I wouldn’t just leave. This time, I’d advance on them, yank Erin off of Lucas, drive my fist into his chiseled jaw.
I pulled open the door, adrenaline coursing through my veins. I felt like the hulk. I felt my shoulders loom up behind me. I could already feel my knuckles making contact with Lucas’s trimmed beard.
The room was a bathroom. And it was empty.
I moved on to the next one, but when I yanked open the door, it felt less dramatic. It, too, was empty, one of their children’s rooms. Systematically, I checked each room, but I knew that I’d find the same—empty and confusingly innocent.
The last room was the master bedroom, and for a second my heart leapt as I saw a heap on the king-sized bed. A moment later, I realized it was just the coats of all the guests, nothing more sinister than that.
I still had a problem, and by the time I was headed back downstairs, I realized that it was probably a bigger one than finding Erin in one of those rooms. My real problem was that I’d expected to find her in one, and that suspicion was going to destroy me.
This was exactly what Erin had been talking about the other night. About trust. About the lack of it. About this need to get my mind right. And only I could do that.
I found Erin in the basement, watching The Last Unicorn with the babysitter and children. Even with Mary in her lap, she was stunning. She wore a red sweater-dress that hugged her body and dipped low enough to hint at some cleavage without actually offering any. Tonight, her hair was down and loosely curled, falling around her shoulders like a model from the ‘70s. When had it grown so long?
“You made it,” Erin said, smiling up at me.
“Daddy!” Mary cheered.
It was hard to stay upset at Erin in a position like that—not that I was even mad, right?
“Sorry I got held up.”
She held out her hand for me to join her on the couch. “You’re here now.”
I immediately felt guilty for suspecting what I had, then angry that I felt guilty. I went to her, putting on a smile. “You look nice.”
“Thanks. I feel a little overdressed down here.”
I glanced around at the swath of kids, who were all enraptured by the Gillespies’ enormous television. Martin was front and center, sitting cross-legged with his elbows on his knees and his neck bent up toward the screen in a posture that only a little kid could stand.
And in that moment, I knew that this wasn’t worth the risk. None of this. And not just my kids and the comfortable domesticity that we enjoyed. I looked at Erin, holding Mary in her evening wear. It should have been totally incongruous, but it wasn’t. It made sense, and I didn’t want to fuck it up anymore.
“Let’s go on up,” I said. “The kids’ll be fine for a bit.”
As if out of nowhere, the babysitter materialized to take Mary into her lap. Our two-year-old happily went with the teen, and I offered my hand to Erin.
She really did look stunning, I noticed as she rose to full height. The red dress fell to her knees, although as she stood, it crept high enough to give me a peek at her toned thighs, made slightly more tempting by the short heels of her ankle boots.
Erin’s beauty went beyond just what she was wearing, or the makeup she’d put on. It was in the way she carried herself. In the subtle way she swung her hips. She tossed her hair as she passed me on the way to the stairs. I glanced along her body. The knit material really did cling to her curves.
When I looked back up at her face, she was smirking. “You coming?”
Erin laughed. “I noticed.”
Back upstairs, we joined the adults. We ate cheese and miniaturized meatpies off little plates. We drank wine and talked about resolutions for the new year. Someone had turned on the college football playoffs and I found myself watching the teams go at it without really watching.
Lucas and some of the other husbands were outside, smoking cigars and drinking Scotch. I had no desire to join them, so kept by Erin’s side as she socialized with her greater circle of mom friends from the neighborhood. I smiled and nodded and answered questions when they were asked, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was going to happen. I kept looking toward the patio door, where I could just make out the edge of Lucas’s broad shoulder.
I forced my eyes to the football game. I couldn’t tell you who was playing, or who was winning.
“Ready to leave?” Erin asked, catching my eyes on the television.
“It’s only 9:30,” I said.
“The kids need to go down. At least Mary.” She knew that I was bored and was giving me an out.
A dangerous idea crept into my thoughts. I started speaking before I could fully get a grasp of it. “You want to stay? I could take them home and put them to bed…”
I didn’t look toward the patio, I was proud to say, although I felt it drawing me there like a bright light.
Erin looked at me, cocking her head to one side, puzzling me out. Was I that transparent? Was it so obvious that I was playing with fire. “You’re acting strange,” she said.
“Am I? Just…I have a lot on my mind.”
Her lips flattened into a thin, straight line. She turned to Elizabeth, who happened to be passing by with a fresh tray of egg rolls. “Liz, I’m sorry, but I think we’re about to head out,” she said.
Elizabeth stopped. “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that,” she said.
“We need to get the kids to sleep.”
“I totally understand.”
The back and forth had the air of formality to it. This was their way of saying goodbye.
“Want to take anything with you?” Elizabeth continued. “We’ve got enough bottles of champagne. You two are welcome to take one.”
“Oh, no, it’s alright,” Erin said. “But thank you.”
“I’ll go get the kids,” I said.
She nodded. “I’ll get the coats.”
Wrestling the kids away mid-movie was difficult. Despite the amount of eye-rubbing going on, neither child would acknowledge that they were actually well past their bedtimes. I finally convinced Martin to leave with me by promising that we’d watch The Last Unicorn tomorrow at home.
I made it back to the main floor, with Mary in my arms and Martin in front of me, just as Erin descended from upstairs with our coats…and Lucas Hughes trailing just behind.
Lucas Hughes was a good looking man. As much as I hated him, I could admit that much. He was built like a lumberjack—even had the cropped beard of one—with sandy blond hair that he wore in a rugged fashion and the blue eyes of a predator.
He was laughing as he descended the stairs, and Erin was looking back at him with a smile. The whole thing ripped through me, stirring up the angst that I’d just buried.
I didn’t like that she’d made him laugh. I didn’t like that they were talking at all. It was jealousy, pure and raw and difficult to deal with, but it was very real.
Of course, then my mind wandered to things that were completely in my head. Like what they were doing upstairs. It had taken some time to get the kids, how long had they been alone together? I thought of the bed, stacked high with coats. I thought of Lucas throwing my wife on top of them, his broad shoulders looming over her as he powered his lips against her mouth. I felt the sting of betrayal, even though I knew it was all imagined. I looked at Erin and all that anger was back in a flash. She shouldn’t have been smiling with him—
We’re adults, not children, I reminded myself. I put on a smile.
But she still shouldn’t have.
“Happy New Year, Lucas,” I said.
“Tom. Happy New Year to you…although we’re not quite there yet, are we?” His cruel smile was packed with meaning—so old that you can’t even make it to midnight, man?
I ignored it and turned to Erin, taking the children’s coats. Martin, thankfully, cooperated with me as I got him into his. The last thing I needed was to have a battle of wills with a five-year-old in front of my nemesis.
Erin got Mary into hers as Haley came over. “It was so good to see you two,” she said sweetly.
“Good to see you, too,” Erin said as she hoisted our daughter onto her hip.
Haley set her hand on Lucas’s shoulder, her fingers perched like bird feet. “Let’s get the kids together next week. A play date.”
Lucas held his hand out to me. “Have a good one, buddy.” He jutted his chin in Erin’s direction. “And good luck with that one. She’s a real handful.”
It would have been so sweet to punch that cocky grin of his right off his face. He had even, white teeth—the kind of teeth I knew Erin noticed—and it would have been so satisfying to knock one loose.
Instead, I squeezed down on his hand and leaned in. “I’m going to say this only once. She’s mine, she’ll always be mine, and if I ever catch you sniffing around again, we won’t be simply shaking hands.”
Lucas’s grin slipped for a moment before the mask was back in place. He glanced at Erin, as if to say, Is he kidding?
Erin shook her head, looking amused, before turning to me and beaming. “Happy New Year,” she said with a coy wave. And we were gone.