Sometimes it’s what you don’t say that can change everything…
Isabel Winton had planned to spend the last few days of her marriage at her vacation home, intending to reflect, regroup…or maybe just do some solitary sulking. Instead, she collides with her almost ex, Paul, who has the same idea. Too stubborn to leave, Isabel figures this is a chance for them to get some closure. But she’s astonished to see that months apart have transformed her emotionally aloof husband into “Paul 2.0,” more open than ever before.
Paul was blindsided when Isabel left him. He had no idea she felt he was more committed to his career than to their marriage. With his new, hard-won self-awareness, he blames himself for letting her walk away. But winning her back will take more than simple words. It’ll mean finding the courage to grow, to trust and grab a second chance at life by each other’s sides.
About the Author
Kelly Rimmer is the worldwide and USA TODAY bestselling author of five novels, including Me Without You and The Secret Daughter. She lives in rural Australia with her husband, two children and fantastically naughty dogs Sully and Basil. Her novels have been translated into more than twenty languages.
Read an Excerpt
I'VE BEEN DEVELOPING a single software application since I was seventeen years old. In recent years, I've worked with some of the best developers on earth, but it's still my software. The sum of my life's work is seventy-four million lines of code which, in layman's terms, enables people to use the internet in a safe and efficient manner. I don't know all of that code by heart of course, but if you were to give me any portion of it, I could tell you what it does and why and how.
Code is knowable. Understandable. Infallibly rational. Opening my compiler is like wrapping myself in a warm blanket on a cold day. Code is safe and familiar, and I am completely at home and completely in control in that sphere, which is pretty much the polar opposite to my feelings about other humans. People are unfortunately illogical creatures, and today, peopleare ruining my day.
Well, one person specifically.
"Hello, Isabel," I say to my almost-ex-wife. Her sudden appearance is as unfortunate as it is unexpected. Whenever we find ourselves in the same room these days, the tension is untenable, but it's certain to be even worse today, because this room happens to be in the very vacation home we spent most of the last year squabbling over as we negotiated the separation of our assets.
"You said that I could keep this house —" Isabel starts to say, but I really don't like to be reminded that if the divorce was a cruel game, there's a clear winner, and it's not me.
That's why I cut her off with a curt "my name is still on the title for four more days."
Her nostrils flare. She makes a furious sound in the back of her throat, then closes her eyes and exhales shakily. Isabel is trying to keep her temper in check.
I lived with Isabel Rose Winton for four years, one month and eleven days. She likes almond milk in her coffee because she thinks it's healthier, but she masks the taste with so much sugar, she may as well drink a soda. She sleeps curled up in a little ball, as if she's afraid to take up space in her own bed. She resents her mother and adores her father and brothers. She loves New York with a passion, and she has an astounding ability to pluck threads from a city of 8.5 million people to weave them into a close-knit village around herself. Isabel makes friends everywhere she goes. She never forgets a name and people always remember her, too, even after meeting her just once. Everyone adores her.
Well, almost everyone. I can't say I'm particularly fond of the woman these days.
"You're supposed to be on retreat with your team this weekend." Isabel flashes me a look, but it passes too quickly. I don't have time to interpret it.
"How do you even know about my retreat?" I ask, but then I sigh and we both say at the exact same time, "Jess."
Jessica Cohen has been my friend since college and she's been my business partner almost as long. Isabel and Jess are friends, too, and they still see each other all the time. But Jess popping up in this conversation makes me uneasy, because she's the reason I'm at Greenport today. And Jess does so love to meddle ...
I'm distracted just thinking about this, and that's when I make a critical error: I forget that there's a reason I've been standing at a supremely uncomfortable sixty-degree angle, with my lower half hidden behind the wall which houses the stairwell, my top half leaning into the living room where Isabel is sitting. As soon as I shift position into something like a more standard posture, I see Isabel's gaze run down my body. The scowl on her face intensifies, and mortifyingly, I feel myself blushing.
"Why are you naked?" Isabel demands.
That's not why I'm blushing; after more than four years together, I'm certain Isabel is at least as familiar with my junk as I am. And my current state of undress is actually easily explained. I arrived here ninety-four minutes ago, immediately went for a very long run and then took a very long shower. Everything was fine until I reached for a towel and discovered that Isabel's scent was all over the soft cotton.
That made no sense, because my assistant Vanessa was supposed to arrange for the cleaning service to refresh the house before my arrival here today. I was headed downstairs to see if Vanessa had at least managed to stock the fridge with food and booze when I heard the sound of footsteps in the living room. It seemed a safe assumption that if someone had broken into the house while I was in the shower, it wouldn't be someone who was already well acquainted with my nether regions, so I was careful to stick only my head around the corner to investigate.
That was when I found Isabel herself, sitting proudly on the sofa as if it was her throne, firing death glares in my direction.
Which, for the record, she is definitely still doing. I might not be super skilled at reading body language, but even I know a stink eye when I see one. And this particular stink eye is focused with laser-like intent on the fourth finger of my left hand.
That is why I'm blushing, because what she can see there is not nearly as easily explained as a casual spot of midday nudity.
"Why on earth would you put your wedding ring back on now?" she asks me stiffly.
The thing is, I never really took it off; I'd just slide it into my pocket if I knew I was going to see her. It wasn't all that difficult to hide the fact that I'm still wearing the ring — I've only seen her in person ten times since she walked out of our Chelsea brownstone ten months ago. Once at our one and only attempt at marriage counseling. Once at Jess's legendary and, this year, somewhat awkward New Year's Eve party. Once at the engagement party for our friends Marcus and Abby.
And seven times at mediation sessions, each one more heated than the last.
Isabel obviously noticed I wasn't wearing the ring during those encounters, although it seems she missed the way I constantly rubbed the empty space on my finger, endlessly aware of its absence, just as I'm endlessly aware of her absence in our home in Manhattan. I'd inevitably have felt her missing in this house today. If she wasn't here, that is.
I've tried to stop wearing the ring and I find I just can't break the habit, although if anything is going to cure me, the mortification of this moment might just do the trick.
"I thought I was here alone," I say. Suddenly, my future happiness all seems to hinge on Vanessa ... Specifically, Vanessa having at least managed to get the fridge stocked with a shitload of beer. It's only just lunchtime, but I tell myself it's got to be 5:00 p.m. somewhere, and besides, if there's ever any circumstance where day-drinking was permissible, this is surely it. I walk toward the fridge, ignoring both my nudity and Isabel's huffing and puffing, and pull the door open.
Vanessa clearly has not followed any of my instructions and that's as confusing as it is depressing. There's no food at all in the fridge — although there is beer. Isabel usually prefers wine, so this is probably the beer I left here last time I visited — which was well over twelve months ago, but I'm willing to bet it's still drinkable. I withdraw a bottle and offer it to Isabel, only for her to gasp in indignation.
"Don't you dare make yourself comfortable — you're not staying."
"Well, I'm not fucking leaving." I shrug, then I carelessly think aloud, "That's your thing, not mine."
Isabel's eyebrows dip again, a deep crease forms between her eyebrows, and this time, her nostrils flare wildly. I drop my gaze to study the label on my beer.
"The season hasn't started yet. The village will be empty, just go find another room for the night. What difference does it even make?" she demands.
"As of next week, this place is no longer mine. This is my last chance to stay here. Why don't you go find somewhere else to stay? You can come anytime you want." I look up at Isabel as I add with deliberate emphasis, "After next Wednesday."
"I'll call the police, Paul," she snaps.
I take a moment to think about how to respond, savoring a long sip of my beer, then running my gaze toward the water of the Long Island Sound, sparkling beyond the deck that bounds the living room. I stare into the distance until I've formed a response, then I drag my gaze back to Isabel.
She's looking down at the floor, blinking rapidly, but the shine of tears in those big blue eyes is unmistakable.
This year, Isabel has called me variations on heartless or soulless fourteen times — seven times via email or text during the three months we spent trying to negotiate our financial settlement, seven times on the phone or in person. I didn't want to count those insults, just as I desperately tried not to count the days and hours since I last saw her.
I glance at the clock on the wall above the sofa, and as I read the time, I automatically calculate that we filed out of that last volatile mediation session in stony silence five months, twenty-four days, twenty-two hours and forty-three minutes ago.
Give or take a few seconds.
When I look at the collective evidence of all of the comments Isabel has made about my apparent lack of a soul, there is no doubt in my mind that she believes me to be some kind of robot, incapable of typical variations in emotion. Actually, I know she thinks I'm a robot because she called me that, too, at the third mediation session.
The worst thing is that she was almost right about my lack of emotional depth, at least the version of me that existed before we met. Before her, I didn't really experience too many extremes when it came to my moods. There were exceptions to that rule, of course. I felt overwhelmed by grief when my mother died, elated at my college graduation, triumphant the day of the go-live for my software.
But around those times? I lived a lot of perfectly static days that might accurately be graphed as a flat line. I am, above all, a stable person. Life tends to happen around me; it doesn't sway me emotionally all that often.
Well, it didn't, once upon a time.
It does seem that love has a way of opening a person up. Love burrows deep inside and it wiggles around to carve a space out for itself, stretching and expanding as it goes. And now, even after the love has gone, the cavernous space it etched out inside me remains. Maybe that's why, in this moment, the shimmer of tears in Isabel's eyes leaves me feeling a depth of shame and misery I'm pretty sure I wasn't even capable of when I met her five years ago.
My gaze shifts to the clock on the wall again, because it wasn't just five years ago, and it bothers me to even think in such imprecise terms.
"Call the police, if you feel you have to," I say. My tone is flat, and I suspect that to Isabel, I appear to be resigned or unaffected. The truth is, I feel almost crushed by confused regret. I can name the emotion these days — I've worked hard on that this year — but I'm still trying to figure out how the fuck I'm supposed to deal with intense feelings like this. Showing Isabel how I feel right now would be to make myself vulnerable to her, which is difficult enough for me at the best of times — let alone when I'm as exhausted as I am today, and especially after the hurricane of fury she's unleashed on me since she gave up on our marriage last year.
No, I can't let down my guard right now, so instead, I try to point out some very logical reasons why she should not, in fact, call for backup. Isabel is an emotional person, but she's also very intelligent. I know she'll see sense here.
"You'd probably just make a scene. It's going to be pretty difficult to convince them to manhandle me out of here given I still own the place."
"Well, I'm not leaving either," she says, then her voice rises dramatically as she adds, "So if you're not leaving and I'm not leaving, you'll have to stay here with me. Do you even want that, Paul?"
It's the last thing in the world I want. I'd never admit it aloud, but I badly need to put a lid on all of the pain and frustration that lingers in the wake of Isabel's decision to leave our marriage. I'm adrift at the moment, and it's affecting my whole life ... even, it seems, my work. This house has been a haven to me since I purchased it with an inheritance that matured on my twenty-first birthday. That makes it the obvious place for me to do some rapid-fire recuperating.
While I can't lick my wounds with Isabel stomping around, the thought of letting her win this final battle is infuriating. I'm so fucking frustrated with her that I want to tear my hair out every time she's in my field of vision. We were great, once upon a time, and we could have been again. If she'd bothered to let me know she was unhappy, I'd have found a way to fix it — no matter what it took. I might not be great with flowery declarations, but Isabel Winton was my sun and my moon, and it seemed a safe assumption that she understood that.
Turns out I was wrong about that.
Looking back on our life together now, I was probably wrong about a lot of things. And these days, the only thing I'm really sure of is that Isabel can't stand the sight of me. That's why I'm pretty sure she's bluffing about staying here this weekend.
At least, I hope she's bluffing.
"If you really want to stay ..." I shrug " ... I'm sure we can keep out of each other's hair."
She gives me that look — the one I'd first seen her wear the night she told me she was leaving. I'm familiar with components that comprise this facial expression now ... the flare of her nostrils, the way her gaze narrows, the scornful curl of her lip. It's taken me a long time to realize that the emotion displayed on my beautiful wife's face when she looks at me that way is something deeper and darker even than anger ... something past resentment even, an emotion closer to disdain.
Observing that look again now, I wonder yet again how I can possibly be a "genius" if I really was stupid enough to fuck up the most important thing in my life this badly. Whatever went wrong between us didn't just break our relationship; it also broke Isabel and turned her into a completely different and far less likable person.
"Fuck you, Paul," she says now.
I'm about to echo the curse right back at her, but the sound of my phone buzzing on the dining room table distracts me. I know I set the phone on Do Not Disturb mode, so it's got to be one of my favorite contacts calling or my cell would have automatically silenced the call.
So that means it's one of my business partners or Dad or my brother Jake or ... Isabel herself, because even though I haven't called her in five months (well, four months, twenty-five days and around thirty-four minutes), I've yet to delete her entry.
It's fair to say that embracing change isn't exactly one of my strengths.
"Some people would say it's rude to answer the phone in the middle of a conversation." Isabel stands.
I think about that as I cross the room to pick up my phone. What a strange thing for Isabel to say. There are 7.2 billion people in the world, and some of them talk constantly. It stands to reason that some people say just about every permutation of words, each and every day. I'm not at all sure why Isabel felt the need to point that out now.
I pick the phone up just as the call ends. It was Marcus Ross, my other business partner. I unlock the screen and move to return his call, but I'm distracted when Isabel growls behind me.
I turn to face her, and she shoots me that look one last time, grabs the handle of her suitcase and storms toward the smaller of the guest rooms — the one on the ground floor, directly below the master I've already claimed for myself. She closes the door behind herself, then opens it and closes it again — the second time, managing a much louder and I assume a much more satisfying slam.
The gentle, sweet woman I was married to never slammed doors or raised her voice. The shrew I'm currently divorcing raises her voice and cries in front of our attorneys when it suits her, so I barely even blink as the sound echoes through the house.
It seems I've managed to get caught up in the world's most depressing game of chicken, and I'm already starting to regret my bravado. Am I really going to stay here with the new and not-improved version of Isabel lingering in the house?
Apparently, the answer to that question is yes, because the alternative would be to give Isabel what she wants, and I've done way too much of that already since she stormed out of my life.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Unspoken"
Copyright © 2019 Kelly Rimmer.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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