Genre: Contemporary Romance | Office Romance
Title: Before I Ever Met You
Author: Karina Halle
Release Date: April 25, 2017
Cover Design: By Hang Le
***A standalone contemporary office romance***
I first met William McAlister when I was just a teenager.
He was handsome, had a beautiful wife and was on the verge of success, having just joined my father as his business partner. Mr. McAlister was full of smooth charm, but back then he was barely a blip on my radar. Just a family friend.
Fast forward ten years: I’m 25 years old and a single mom trying to make things right for her seven-year old son. I’ve made some mistakes, grappled with my demons and now I’m back in the city of Vancouver, getting a second chance at a better life.
I’ve started by working for my father’s production company as an executive assistant. My first day on the job and I already know I could have a promising career there.
That is until I see Will McAlister for the first time in a decade.
Now recently divorced and as sophisticated as always, Will has gone from being my father’s friend and business partner to something so much more.
We’re both older, for one thing, and he just oozes this worldly confidence and stark sexuality. Combined with his tall, muscular build and sharp suits, strong jaw and bedroom eyes, Will has turned into one hell of a distraction.
A distraction I’m having a hard time staying away from, considering his office is right across from my desk and I work with him in such close proximity.
But it’s just a harmless crush, right?
It’s just an innocent fantasy of screwing him on his desk, right?
It can’t ever be more because he’s my father’s best friend, business partner, and my boss.
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Two years ago
“You know, I hate to be optimistic about things but I really think thirty-nine might just be my best year ever,” I call out to Sasha before I spit the toothpaste into the sink. “I know I say that every year, it’s just that every year keeps getting sweeter.”
Normally I expect to hear some sort of murmur from the bedroom, usually in a tone of voice that indicates she’s rolling her eyes. But there’s silence.
I try and ignore it, watching the water roll down the shiny black sink, but she’s been strange all day. Usually my wife goes all out on my birthdays, starting with breakfast in bed, followed by a blowjob, followed by brunch out with our mutual friends and then topped off with dinner at one of LA’s hotspots.
But while the water drains, my mind goes with it. I have to remind myself that it’s been a few years now since I’ve had a birthday like that. Not that I’m one to ever make a big deal about it, it’s just that Sasha always has. For the last year of my thirties, I guess I expected something.
And today…well we did go for brunch with Ted, who happened to be in town, and Jeremy and Megan. And we did just come back from dinner at Mr. Chow, only it wasn’t the intimate dinner I’d assumed. I appreciated my friends being there but what I really wanted was some alone time with Sasha to try and get our marriage back on track.
But on the Uber ride back to our rancher house in the hills of Los Feliz, she barely said two words to me. Just reconfirmed our address with the driver and then the two of us were sitting side-by-side in silence, like strangers, in the back of a Honda civic with half-filled bottled water and a few packets of gum.
It was strange, to feel so utterly disconnected from someone you’ve spent the last fifteen years with. The darkness of the car combined with the lights on Santa Monica Blvd created a distorting effect, amplifying the distance between us.
And now, that distance is still here. It’s in the house with us, growing thicker, bigger, by the second. She keeps feeding it.
I sigh, staring at myself in the bathroom mirror. A few grey hairs at my temple. Probably some more at the back of my head. Otherwise my hair is looking pretty good, dark, almost black, just as it’s been since youth, thick and not going anywhere for the time being.
I run my hand over my jaw, wiping away any last vestiges of toothpaste, flex my arms and abs, making sure the body I work so hard for is still behaving. I don’t look any older, save for a few lines by my eyes, brought on by the California sunshine and my ever-present tan. I don’t feel any older, either. And yet there’s something inside of me that feels weathered and aged, cracking at the edges. Whatever it is feels irreparable and has been for a long time.
It’s getting harder to ignore, just like the distance between us.
And yet, every year, we go on because facing the truth can be the hardest thing to do.
“Sasha?” I call out.
A touch of fear prickles the back of my neck.
I step out into the bedroom. The lights are all off.
And there is Sasha, standing out on the terrace, staring at the lights of the city below, the curtains billowing behind her in a rare breeze.
“Hey,” I say as I step out beside her, the tiles feeling cool against my feet. There’s a strange clarity to the air that’s a bit off-putting. I swear I smell the ocean instead of exhaust and smog. It’s like the city has disappeared for a moment.
“What are you doing?” I ask her, leaning on the railing, facing her.
She’s staring straight ahead, her nightgown shimmering against her dark skin. I want to reach out and push her blonde hair behind her ears, the color now muted in the dim light, but I don’t. It doesn’t feel right.
Nothing about this feels right.
Is this what our marriage has become?
When touching each other feels like an effort? When birthdays are no longer celebrated? When the most we talk is during the day, when we’re working together at the office?
It wasn’t what I signed up for fifteen years ago.
But whoever imagines things will end up like this?
The skin beneath her eyes shines with dampness. Oh shit. She’s been crying. Sasha doesn’t cry, ever.
My heart immediately hardens with fear.
“Hey,” I say softly to her. “Are you okay? What’s wrong?”
She wipes at her cheeks and mutters a swear word to herself before facing me. She doesn’t say anything for a moment, just rubs her lips together. I find myself staring into the eyes of the girl that I married, back when we were young and in love and stupid. But it was wonderful, being that dumb in love. It was the kind of dumb where you took all the chances, made all the risks, just to share your heart with someone else.
And then something lifts from her eyes and that girl is gone. She’s back to being a stranger again.
“Will,” she says. Her voice is so low it’s barely audible. “I didn’t want to tell you on your birthday…”
Oh god. Oh my god. She’s dying. She’s sick, there’s something wrong with her.
It takes everything in me to try and keep my breath steady. My hands grip the railing. “What?”
She sucks in a sharp breath.
“I’m pregnant,” she says through a burst of air.
I stare at her blankly. The words do not compute.
She nods slowly, her eyes flashing with something I can’t read.
I’m just confused. It doesn’t make any sense. At all.
“How could you be pregnant?” I ask her. “The doctors said…well, the chances of that happening are one in a thousand.”
I’m not sure how I’m feeling right now, I might be teetering on the point of elation. I got my vasectomy four years ago because Sasha didn’t want children and to be honest, I didn’t either. But now, I feel like that ground that we laid those plans on is starting to shift and shake. If I’m a father…
“Will,” she says forcefully, bringing my attention back to her and now I recognize what’s in her eyes.
I am a stupid, stupid man.
I can’t speak. I can only stare at her, her shadowed guilty face and the city of angels behind her.
“I’m so sorry,” she says quietly. “I didn’t plan on this happening.”
I open my mouth. Close my mouth. Anger builds from somewhere dormant inside me, creeping into my hands until I can’t grip the railing any tighter.
“I didn’t want to hurt you. I was going to tell you, I swear. It just…”
“Who is he?” I manage to say, my voice laced with razors.
“You don’t know him.”
“Who is he?”
“Will, please, it doesn’t matter.”
“Like fuck it doesn’t matter!” I erupt. “Tell me who he is, the father of your child! Tell me so I can beat the ever living shit out of him.”
“Will, be reasonable.”
“Reasonable?!” I yell, my face going red, every part of me growing hotter and hotter and I’m ready to rip this railing right off the balcony. “You’re my fucking wife. You’ve been cheating on me. You fucking lied to me!”
“I never lied, I-“
I shove my finger in her face, aware that I’m spitting on her as I speak. “You told me you didn’t want children. I know that’s your right and I went along with it to please you and I know it’s your right to change your mind but that child should be mine!”
“I didn’t lie!” she yells back and lights flick on from our neighbor’s house and I know they can hear everything. I don’t fucking care. Let them all hear. “I just didn’t want kids with you.”
I know she regrets it the moment she says it. But it doesn’t matter.
Everything comes to a stop. I can’t even feel my heart beating in my chest. It’s like I’m being submerged in concrete and it’s rising, rising fast.
“I’m sorry,” she says quickly, rubbing her slender hands down her face. “I didn’t mean it like that, it’s just…I, I thought I knew what I wanted. And I know you hate me right now and I’m sorry. I never wanted to hurt you, Will. You’re such a good man, such a good husband.”
I burst out laughing. It feels like acid in my mouth.
“Such a good husband that you have to go fuck the first man you see?”
She looks reprimanded. I go on. “How long has this been going on for? Tell me. Be honest now, completely honest, it’s the fucking least you could do.”
“A few months,” she says quietly, looking away.
“And you’re already pregnant…”
She nods. “Will. I’m so sorry. It wasn’t planned…”
“You can be as sorry as you want, Sasha. It doesn’t change a thing.” I shake my head, trying to pretend this is all a nightmare. But it’s not. It’s reality. And if I’m honest with myself, it was a long time coming, even if I didn’t see it happening this way.
Fuck. This is killing me.
“Does he know?” I whisper.
“Yes,” she says. “I told him yesterday. I didn’t want to tell you until tomorrow.”
“Well happy fucking birthday to me.”
“I’m so sorry.”
I turn away from her, walking back into the bedroom. “Please stop saying that.”
“But I am.”
“And I don’t fucking care,” I sneer, whipping around to face her as she stands in the doorway. “I can’t believe you would do this to me.”
“You had to know.”
“What I mean is, things haven’t been right between us for some time, and I know you know this. It takes two to tango.”
I blink at her, utterly baffled. “Fuck you.”
“I’m not saying it’s your fault, I’m just saying…”
“And I’m saying fuck you,” I tell her. “There’s a thing called communication.”
“Yeah there is and you didn’t use it much either.”
I throw my hands up, so ready to put my fucking fist in the wall. “I’m not sleeping here tonight. I’m not sleeping here any other night.” I give her the hardest glance, hoping she might turn to stone. “This is on you, Sasha. Maybe we could have communicated better, maybe I could have tried harder, but this is on you. Okay? You fucked around. You got pregnant.” Another wave of rage rolls through me. “Jesus. You’re going to have someone else’s child!”
I press my knuckles into my forehead, pinching my eyes shut. “I did all of this for you, all of this for you! Moved here when I didn’t want to. I was happy in Vancouver. I bought this house when I would have been happy with our last condo. I got a fucking vasectomy because you didn’t want children. I did it all for you. Gave you every part of me these last fifteen years. And look where it’s got me.”
She’s not saying anything. I suppose it’s a blessing. It’s better than her just apologizing again.
“Fifteen years,” I go on bitterly. “I loved you for fifteen years. And yeah, maybe the last few we failed a bit. We lost the way. But you either grow together or apart.”
“And we grew apart,” she finishes, her eyes shining in the dark. “And there is no going back.”
I stare at her, my whole world crashing around me. Then I head to the dresser, grabbing some things and shoving them in an overnight bag.
She watches silently as I pack. It matches her silence from earlier today. All this time, all while people were wishing me a happy 39th birthday, she was carrying her lover’s baby inside her, counting down until when she could tell me.
God fucking damn.
When I’m done packing and scoop up my work bag and laptop, I give her one last glance. “I’ll be at a hotel. I’ll get a lawyer in the morning. I assume you’ve already planned for this and are using Martina.”
She doesn’t say anything. Figures she’d swipe our lawyer first.
Then I head out the door. I know that when the time comes for me to return, she won’t be here. She’ll be moved in with her lover, getting ready to raise their child.
Damn it. Damn it, it kills me.
But she will be at work. Monday to Friday. Like clockwork.
The thought nearly chokes me on the spot.
When Sasha joined Mad Men Studios as general manager, I never imagined it would backfire on me. I never thought I’d get divorced. Never thought we would be anything other than a married couple working together and building a future.
Now I’m not only losing her, my soon to be ex-wife, I might be losing my very job.
Happy birthday, fucker.
About the Author
Karina Halle is a former travel writer and music journalist and The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today Bestselling author of The Pact, Smut, The Artists Trilogy, Heat Wave and over 20 other wild and romantic reads. She lives on an island off the coast of British Columbia with her rescue pup and her husband Scott Mackenzie, who co-wrote Rocked Up with her. That’s right. It’s like the book SMUT come to life! This is their first venture as a writing team. A lot of music was played. A lot of laughs were had. A lot of sex was…put in the book!