It didn’t take Dominique Monaghan long to realize she wasn’t cut out for the life of a criminal. She’d knocked back her conscience in the small hours of Friday morning with a couple of pink pills, and the results were worse than a hangover. This is never going to work, she told herself, mentally running down a checklist of all the reasons her plans would fail. At the top was the essential unreliability of Gary Cowan. He’d been as hard to grasp as quicksand back when they were together, and she had no reason to believe that anything had altered his character in the three months since she’d left him. It wouldn’t be out of character for Gary to bail on their plans at the last minute. He wouldn’t even think twice. In spite of the countless blows to the head the man had suffered in his line of work, he was an unparalleled genius when it came to excuses. Lies rolled off his tongue with the soft sweetness of a lullaby.
He won’t show, Dominique told herself. Something will come up and he’ll bolt. He’ll figure out I haven’t forgiven him. He’ll smell a rat. Those thoughts soothed her. For all her maneuvering and plotting over the past month, since Gary had stepped up his attempts to win her back, she wasn’t sure she could go through with her scheme. Better if he didn’t show up and it all fell through, she reasoned. No harm, no foul, and Gary would never be the wiser. It didn’t matter if he never found out just how much she loathed him.
She had a mild panic attack when Gary buzzed up from the lobby. "Hey, babe, I’m downstairs." His raspy voice was almost sweet. "I can’t wait to see you."
"Sure," she said, feeling as awkward as she sounded, cutting the connection before Gary could say another word. She hovered in her foyer, tugging tendrils of hair this way and that, and double-checking that there was no lipstick on her teeth. Her face was a perfect oval, with wide-set brown eyes, smooth skin the color of powdered cocoa, high cheekbones, and a full mouth. She was broad-shouldered and statuesque, the kind of girl who’d been told by strangers as a teenager that she should be a model. That dream had brought her from Chicago to New York at eighteen, only to be dismissed by bookers for the big agencies, who told her she was too athletic and too old, and mid-level agencies, who informed her apologetically that they already had a black girl. She’d found a small agency to take her on and she’d worked steadily for a few years, but that career was over by the time she was twenty-seven. In the three years since, she’d worked—with far greater success—as a stylist on photo shoots. She didn’t need to look perfect anymore, but the internal pressure never lifted.
Vanity of vanities; all is vanity. For a moment, Dominique could have sworn her Nana was in her apartment with her. She shook off that sensation, pulled on her coat, and picked up her weekend bag. It was time.
When Dominique’s wobbly legs finally got her downstairs, some of Gary’s sweetness had already worn thin. He’d parked himself in the lone, threadbare chair in what passed for a lobby in her new building. His head was tipped back and his eyes were closed. His long legs were extended as if he were deliberately trying to trip anyone who happened by.
"You took so long I needed a nap," he murmured, not opening his eyes. His complexion had faded over the past few weeks, leaving him a shade of yellow that suggested jaundice over St. Tropez tan. His sandy hair was shaggy, as if he couldn’t be bothered to get it cut. There were purple bags protruding under his eyes. Gary had sported plenty of shiners in his time, but this looked brutal to her. Even though she didn’t want to, Dominique felt the spindliest thread of sympathy tugging at her heart. Then she mentally kicked herself. Remember how he treated you. Remember what he did.
"If I wanted to string you along, I would’ve told you to drive up to your country house alone and wait for me," she said.
He laughed, his face cracking in a broad smile. "I know you want to rake me over hot coals." Gary opened his eyes. They were a startling shade of bottle green that made her shiver when they slid her way. Today was no exception. "I missed you, babe," he said, scrutinizing her face. "You have no idea how much."
He stood and reached for her hand, pressing his lips to it. When Dominique didn’t shy away, he leaned in for a kiss, but she snapped her head to the side so that his mouth slid off, like a foolish baseball player who couldn’t even make first base.
"You should try that line on your wife sometime," Dominique said. "See if flattery really does get you everywhere."
"She’s got a heart of stone. Nothing ever worked with her, and I stopped trying a long time ago. But with you…" Gary tucked one lock of her hair behind her ear. "Maybe I just need to up my game."
Even the gentlest touch of his fingers antagonized her. The last thing she wanted was her carefully straightened hair messed up by a man she hoped to kick in the head before the day was done. She gave him a smile and turned her face to look out the window, hoping to bury just how fleeting and insincere that expression was.
"Aren’t you going to kiss me?" he asked.
"Why would I want to?"
"You’re still mad at me." Gary’s voice was light, teasing. He knew he was stating the obvious, and it was clear he thought the whole situation was just hilarious. "I can tell."
She glanced at him, wondering how a man who bore more than a passing resemblance to Bradley Cooper could be so pathetic. He was thirty-seven, but he still looked like the golden boy he used to be, back when he was on the U.S. Olympic boxing team, going for gold. Not that Gary ever did anything for his country, or for anyone else. He was a striver; she’d always known that. It was his strength and his weakness, and it was what she was going to use to break him.
"You’re not still mad about moving out of the condo, are you?" Gary asked.
"‘Moving out.’ There’s a euphemism for you."
"What would you call it?" Gary’s dark eyes were all innocence.
"Is there a synonym for being tossed into the street?"
Gary sighed. "That wasn’t my fault. Trin forced that to happen. I had no choice." His smile faded and he rearranged his face to look serious. "I know that sounds pathetic. I know you hate me, and you have every reason to. But, I promise, I’m going to make everything up to you. All of it, babe. You’ll see."
Trin was Gary’s wife, an anorexic heiress whose sole occupation was, as far as Dominique could tell, showing up at New York Fashion Week every February and September to be photographed in outfits showcasing her flat ass and chicken legs. The rest of the time, the wife was alternately counting her family’s massive pile of money and cutting endless lines of cocaine.
"I like this place, actually. It’s a nicer building than the condo was."
"Really?" Gary pretended to look around. "No doorman. No concierge desk. I’m going to hazard a guess there’s no pool or sauna or fitness club, either. What’s to like?"
"The company’s better." Dominique let her words sink in for a moment while Gary’s brow furrowed. "Come on, let’s get into your car before I change my mind."
Gary had parked farther east on Twenty-ninth Street, since the building’s amenities didn’t include a driveway, either. His car was a five-year-old Mercedes-Benz in a shade of muted green that Gary referred to as "the color of money." It had been a wedding gift from his father-in-law, and it was starting to show its age. That was Gary to a T, Dominique thought. Wealth and precious things surrounded him, yet there was something shabby about Gary, as if he were the poor relation who gathered the hand-me-downs. It didn’t make him any less attractive to her. The well-worn jeans, dark blue shirt, and battered brown leather jacket all suited him just fine. It was the fake Rolex watch on his left wrist that bothered her. When she’d met him, he’d had the real thing. It had disappeared around the time he’d sold his condo. The sad truth about Gary, Dominique realized, was that it would never occur to him to buy a nice watch without a designer name attached. He had to have the best of everything, but if he couldn’t secure that, he’d settle for a hopeless fraud. At his core, that was what was wrong with the man.
Gary took Dominique’s bag and stashed it in the trunk, then opened the passenger door for her. When he got into the car, he said, "Trin thinks she’s running the show right now, but that’s going to change." Gary touched Dominique’s face. "I know you don’t believe me, but it’s true."
"Just watch and wait. I know you think I’ve been hit in the head too many times to think straight. But things are going to be different." He turned his head so that he was staring at Park Avenue South, and his husky voice dipped lower. There was an unfamiliar intensity in it. "I’m going to make them different."
"Sure you will." Dominique didn’t mean to sound flippant. It wasn’t so much that she’d heard the words before. She just didn’t care anymore.
Gary inclined his head so that his eyes settled on Dominique again. There was a furtiveness in them, as if he’d forgotten she was in the car for a nanosecond, until her voice reminded him. "You still haven’t kissed me, you know."
She gave him a look that was all cool innocence. "I don’t suppose you’ve filed for divorce yet?"
Gary winced. "You need to trust me, babe. Give me time."
Time, sure. That was all he needed. She’d heard that song on repeat the two years they were together. It was one thing when the only obstacle was Trin. Dominique could deal with that. But she’d been genuinely stunned and dismayed when Gary suddenly decided to sell his condo, coldly informing her she’d have to find her own place for a while. That had stung, but mostly because the blow had landed without warning. Still, she could’ve handled that, if Gary had been honest with her. At the time, he told her he was desperate for cash and had no choice but to sell the place. He’d also mumbled something about lying low and not seeing each other for a few weeks. It was only later that she’d found out the real reason for Gary’s change of heart: he was two-timing her with a featherweight blonde who looked like she’d been molded for a high school cheering squad. That was the last straw. It still made Dominique burn when images of Gary and his Lolita floated through her mind. She wasn’t sure how long she could hide that fact from him, so she said, "I’m going to nap on the drive up."
"Would it bother you if I put music on?" Gary asked.
"No, that’s fine." She closed her eyes and curled her body away from him. But when the first song came on, she flinched. It was Rihanna singing, "We found love in a hopeless place." That was what had been playing when Dominique first met Gary. Of course, it had been the song of that summer, and there were probably tens of thousands of couples who first caught sight of each other while that melody swirled in the background. Still, it scorched her memory and fanned her fury.
They didn’t talk on the drive, even though Dominique was only pretending to sleep. Gary followed the narrow thread of the highway up to Ulster County in the Hudson Valley. The playlist was cleverly designed to toy with her emotions. Or was he trying to show how well he knew her? That was what she suspected when Laura Izibor’s "Don’t Stay" came on. "We break up and make up, and everything would be brand new.…"
Dominique paused it. "Do you mind?"
"I thought you liked that song." Gary shot her a sly glance.
"I’m sick of it." And of you, she thought, but that was more honesty than she intended.
They drove the rest of the way in silence. Gary never visited the country house in the summer, when his wife refused to let him use it. Trin rarely went up herself, but the property belonged to her, didn’t it? Gary’s visits were limited to the less appealing times, before new greenery bloomed or after the leaves turned and fell from the trees, and when the ground was marshy and squished underfoot, or once it was frozen solid.
When they pulled up in front of the house, it looked distinctly desolate to Dominique. It had been months since she’d visited, thanks to her breakup with Gary, but the hazy November sky lent the property an arid chill. It was a boxy structure that was supposed to imitate a Georgian house in the English countryside, but it looked like nothing so much as a gargantuan shoebox with rectangles cut out for windows. Back in the spring, when Dominique had last seen it, the place had been badly in need of a coat of paint, and it didn’t seem that anyone had thought to take care of that. If she’d been feeling generous, she would have described it as a stately house, two stories of tasteful, expensive decoration, but there was nothing about it that ever made it feel welcoming to her.
Stepping over the threshold of the front door, Dominique noticed that the place looked different, but she couldn’t put her finger on what had changed.
"I think we should start celebrating right now," Gary said. "I’m going to open the champagne."
"It’s two in the afternoon!" Dominique protested. The last thing she needed was to get tipsy and ruin her plans. "You better have the fridge stocked with Diet Coke."
Gary looked rattled. Had he already forgotten what she liked? "The fridge. Right. It’s not well-stocked right now, but that should be in there.…"
"Don’t worry about it." It’s not like she was planning to be there for long. "If you’re good, I’ll pour you a Scotch. Why don’t you get a fire going?"
"Sounds good, babe."
Dominique made for the antique liquor cabinet, crouching to open it. "Hmm. These are all dusty. I’ll be right back." She picked up a pair of cut-crystal Old Fashioned glasses and a bottle of single-malt Scotch and headed to the back of the house. The place was like one big icebox, but that wasn’t the only reason she was shivering. She almost dropped the bottle in the hallway. When she found the kitchen, she set everything down on the counter and retreated to the powder room on the other side of the hallway.
She shut the door and put her back against it. Her heart was skipping beats like a scratched record. You’re nothing but a useless bundle of nerves, she scolded herself, sounding like Nana. That only made the tightness in her chest worse. She heard Nana’s voice in her head every day, and it was normally a comfort. Now, it needled her, reminding her she was doing wrong. Still, Nana was a ghost now, and Dominique could shut her out if she had to. Her brother was another story. The thought of Desmond’s disappointment was painful. He was the most upstanding man she knew. Even so, if Desmond discovered how cavalierly and cruelly Gary had treated her, he would’ve beaten the man into a pulp. No matter how serene and wise he tried to sound, Desmond was like her under the skin. But he wasn’t the family screwup; she was. One day, long after this was behind her, she’d tell him what she did. She was certain he’d understand, even if he didn’t approve.
On steadier legs, she hurried back to the kitchen and opened the fridge. It was notably empty, which made her wonder if Gary had believed she’d ditch him at the last minute. He’d been hopeful enough to buy a couple of bottles of champagne, which were chilling in the privacy of the top shelf. Gary liked his creature comforts, but so did his wife. Champagne was a food group to that woman, and the bubbly could have been lolling around since her last visit. Dominique wanted no part of that. Instead, she found a can of Diet Coke and downed it in a few swallows. Her mouth was still cottony, so dry it might crack. She put her fingertips to her temple, certain she had a fever. It’s just nerves, she reminded herself. She poured a glass of Scotch for Gary, then immediately dumped it down the sink. In spite of everything, she had reservations about mixing alcohol and the tablet she’d carefully crushed into powder in advance. It would make everything easier, but at a greater risk. Instead, she opened a carton of orange juice and filled the glass.
If any man ever deserved this, it’s Gary, she thought. But that didn’t stop her stomach from flopping over in queasiness, or her hand from shaking as she added the powder to the glass.
Copyright © 2014 by Hilary Davidson