The VIP Doubles Down
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Only then did she slump against a storefront and let the tears of desperation stream down her cheeks.
In the narrow, dingy hallway of her apartment building, Allie yanked the mail out of the bent metal opening of her mailbox and flipped through it to find both credit card and phone bills. How the heck she was going to pay them she had no idea. Her divorce had cost more than she had budgeted for, she’d gotten fired from the rehab center, and now Gavin Miller didn’t want her back. “Nothing like piling on an already bad day.”
Grabbing her heavy duffel, she trudged up four flights of steps and unlocked the array of locks on her apartment’s battered door.
No cat greeted her. “Pie?” she called, dropping the bag. Her gray rescue cat was elderly and had a myriad of health issues, so Allie worried about her. As she jogged down the hall to the living room, she heard voices and realized the television was on.
She came to an abrupt halt as an unsettling cocktail of fear and fury boiled through her. Pie had not met her at the door because the cat was curled up on Allie’s ex-husband’s lap.
“How did you get in here? You said you gave me all your keys.”
Troy had the grace to look shamefaced as he hit the “Mute” button for the television. “I found another copy I’d made when I thought I’d lost the original.”
“Do you understand what a restraining order is? You could go to jail for being here.”
Troy set Pie on the couch and stood up, his expression beseeching. “We both know that was just because I was drunk. I’m cold sober now. And I never hit you or anything like that.”
“No, but you came to my workplace twice, harassed the patients twice, and lost me my job. And you were drunk.” Allie was torn between throwing something at the gorgeous, self-centered face that she’d adored since freshman year in high school or turning on her heel and fleeing. “Leave now. Or I’ll call the police.”
But she wouldn’t call 9-1-1. She still couldn’t do that to him. It was true that he had never been physically violent, just verbally abusive. Which, in some ways, was more insidious. If he’d struck her, she would have left him a lot sooner.
“Allie, sweetie, I just wanted to share my good news with you.”
“Unless it involves winning the lottery and splitting the jackpot with me, I don’t want to hear it.” She folded her arms and jerked her head toward the door. She didn’t want him to know that her throat had gone tight with nerves. He was an expert at exploiting any weakness in her.
Evidently, the news was too good for her to ruin his sunny mood, because he smiled and walked around the coffee table. “I sort of won the lottery. I got a gig on a soap opera. Just a minor character, but I’ve been promised three episodes. And maybe more, if viewers respond to me.” His deep blue eyes lit up. “This is the break I’ve been waiting for.”
“That’s great.” The flatness of her voice contradicted her words. She’d heard this song and dance before.
He took her by the shoulders and smiled down at her, a curl of his streaked blond hair falling onto his forehead. A little tug of memory reminded her that she used to love brushing that curl back. Now she wanted to grab a pair of scissors and chop it off. “This isn’t an audition,” he said. “I have a signed contract.”
She shrugged out of his grip. “Congratulations. Best of luck.” She hated to be this way, but she’d learned that she had to protect herself from trusting her ex.
“The show films in LA, so I’m moving there.”
“Now that is good news.” Hurt clouded his eyes, and guilt gave Allie an undeserved jab, even as relief loosened the tension in her throat. “You’ve always wanted to live on the West Coast.”
“I’ll miss you,” he said, his voice ringing with sincerity and longing.
She believed him. He still didn’t take responsibility for all the ways he’d hurt her, so he didn’t understand that more than their marriage had ended. All the love she’d felt for him in the dozen years since he’d asked her out on their first date had been ripped out of her heart, leaving raw, painful wounds.
She moved a step away. “I wish I could say the same. But you have my blessing to go, if that’s what you came for.”
“I thought you’d be happy for me. We could celebrate together. I brought a bottle of champagne.” Now he was starting to get annoyed. “It’s in the refrigerator, chilling.”
“Seriously?” Astonishment gave a weird, breathless edge to her voice. “I’m supposed to celebrate with you when I have a restraining order against you?”
It was a vivid reminder of how he used to manipulate her, denying the awful things he’d said to her, shifting the blame for his problems onto her. She’d loved him, so she had believed it was somehow her fault and her obligation. Until he’d pushed it too far, and she’d found the strength to stand up to him.
“But we were married. You wanted me to do good.” When his grammar slipped, she knew he was upset.
She put a chair between them. “I don’t wish you ill, Troy, but I’m not going to celebrate with you ever again. Go to LA. Have a great life.”
“I . . . you . . .” He ran one hand through his tousled curls before he took a deep breath and pinned her with his gaze. “Is this really how you want me to remember you?”
His words took her back to the two naive kids they were when they got married and braved the callous streets of New York City. Troy was so beautiful and talented. He was going to be a star on Broadway. But his ambition was shared by thousands of other more beautiful, more talented actors. Audition after audition had passed without Troy landing a role.
Disappointment had given his beauty a ragged edge, which made it more interesting in some ways. But his ego had proven too fragile to survive the relentless rejections, and he’d taken it out on her, especially when he tried to blunt his failure with alcohol.