DICE

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The Face-off

I can hardly breathe as I grip the banister on the stairs.

“Come on, Pen,” Deena says. “Shake that off and pretend everything’s okay.”

I swallow. “I can’t, D.”

“You have to,” she demands, pulling my hand from the smooth wood railing. “He doesn’t get to backpedal out of this shit. Let’s play with him.”

I follow her lead, practically falling down each stair behind her until his back comes into view.

He turns to face us from the kitchen with a serene smile and a hand full of letters and bills from the mailbox.

How can he look so untroubled? He was literally screwing someone on our bed over the lunch hour.

“Ah, the famous duo,” he says with a grin. “How are ya, Dee?”

She gives me a reassuring squeeze of the hand, still facing him. “Great, Snake Eyes. How was your day? Busy?”

He chuckles, then raises his brows. “Snake Eyes, haven’t heard that one since I lost a few grand in college.”

“Craps is not your game,” Dee says with an edge.

“Yeah, no kidding. Luckily, it’s yours. Oh, and thanks for the nickname.” He grips his forehead with his thumb and forefinger. “Uh, my day. Yes, my day was busy. Head is pounding from crunching numbers and my eyes practically crossed from staring at my screen. But, the Dow jumped to an all-time high today, so there’s that.”

“Yeah,” Deena drags dramatically, rolling her eyes. She can’t stand when he talks business. It’s totally not her speed. She talks animals. As a behaviorist for the vet clinic in town, her days consist of raised hackles, panting, and pet posture. “On that, I think I’ll go take a nap.”

“Hey don’t hate me for making loads of money off stocks,” Tom jokes, raising his hands.

His demeanor is so calm and his energy so positive. Does he not feel bad at all?

“Nah.” She shakes her head, staring right through him with that devious grin again. “That’s not what I’ll hate you for.”

The inability to suck in air is real. I blink my eyes, digging my fingernails into her palm at the statement. It goes over his head because Tom just laughs off her craziness, like always. He’s been around her too long to know to take her seriously.

Deena gives me one last look to empower me before she gives her forced smile to Tom, leaving in her red Crocs the same way she came in. I follow behind her, clinging to the knob of the front door in replace of the support that’s leaving me.

“Call you later, Pen!” She waves a hand behind her as she hops down the stairs of our porch.

I hold on to the door before wincing my eyes. This is going to be painful. Shutting the door, I turn to face Tom.

He leans back against the counter, the top of his button-up shirt now opened to the space beneath his Adam’s apple. The sexy spot I used to love kissing before he cheated on me.

He grips the edge of the granite, his large knuckles white from his strength, and his lips curl into the sexiest smile.

“Come here and give me a kiss, beautiful.”

I stare at him as Dee’s words penetrate my mind. Play it off as nothing happened.

Biting the corner of my lip, I slowly make my way over to his tall frame, stopping just before him. He looks so effortlessly sexy in his suit-coat and dress pants. His brown leather shoes, shining as if there wasn’t a stain on him now. My eyes trail up his broad chest until I see his throat roll. I trail my tongue along my lip, wetting it, and he notices immediately.

He wouldn’t kiss me if he’d just kissed someone else, would he?

“God, you look sexy today,” he whispers, grabbing my hips and pinning them to his.

I gasp as we connect, feeling the length of him beneath those pants. His other hand cups the side of my face, his thumb trailing my jaw.

“I’m wearing sweats,” I comment blandly, looking down.

He pulls my chin back up to face his cobalt-blue eyes again, the dark stubble on his jaw already forming after only a day of not shaving. The stubble that was probably rubbing up and down some woman’s thighs this afternoon.

I frown at the thought.

“Don’t make that face. I love you in your natural form. You’re one of those women that don’t need makeup to be beautiful.”

Another day I would think that was the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard. But not the day I discovered he’d been unfaithful.

“How was lunch today?” I spit out fire on the tip of my tongue.

Fuck.

“Lunch?” he asks, his brows arching.

“Yeah...I mean, w-was it good?”

Fuck me. Why’d I ask?

He scoffs, looking at me curiously.

Oh shit. Here it comes.

“Yeah, it was amazing,” he says with a hint of a smile.

I can literally feel my heart crumbling inside of my chest.

“But your chili is always better the next day,” he says simply. All the air releases from my chest. “I swear, the seasonings just amplify when it sits overnight. It’s so good.”

He tightens his hold on me, wrapping both arms around my lower back. Resting his forehead down on mine, he catches my eyes.

“What’s wrong, baby?” he asks. “You seem a little irritated.”

I stall for a moment, wanting to just spill it. Almost needing to just show him the earring and hear for myself that he’s ruined our marriage in an afternoon. But, I don’t.

“Just a long day,” I sigh. “The office was crazy this afternoon even though I got off at two.”

He sways us slowly from side to side, a certain glint of playfulness in his eyes. Does he realize how close it could’ve been? I could’ve caught him in the act.

“Ah, I see,” he whispers in his raspy, sexy tone. “So what you’re telling me is you have some tension I need to work out?”

He grins as his nose trails down my jaw. His lips find my neck and it suddenly feels foreign. The comfort I once found erased in a matter of hours.

He kisses me, his soft, warm tongue darting out and trailing my raging pulse. His hands squeeze into my flesh, pressing my hips harder against his growing erection.

I’m losing my cool. I don’t know how to act anymore. Before I can overthink, he bends back, cupping my jaw with his large hands. He seals his lips to mine and groans into my mouth. A breathy, sultry kind of groan. My traitorous tongue dips out, the groan and his hardness making me weak.

But not weak enough.

“Tom—”

Before I can finish, his tongue sweeps against mine as he picks me up and spins abruptly, placing me on the counter. He’s so strong and persistent when he knows what he needs.

Hands slip up inside of my sweatshirt, immediately finding my bra and pulling it open. The hand splays across my skin as it weaves its way slowly up my spine until finding the back of my neck.

I pull back from the kiss, needing a minute to clear my head, but he tightens his grip on the back of my neck, bringing me back to his eager lips as he settles himself between my thighs.

“Tom.” I moan against his lips.

“Be quiet, Pen.” He kisses me again, his lips wrapping around my bottom lip. His eyes find mine again and there’s something different there. A seriousness. A desire. A need for that deep-rooted connection we had before the loss. “We need this.”

My head is in disarray. I can’t sleep with him after knowing he slept with another woman. But if I push him away, he’ll be suspicious. Am I ready to lose him? Maybe I’m making the whole thing up in my head? There must be some sort of explanation for the earring. Maybe it was an accident. A blip. It’s so unlike Thomas, it’s almost impossible to believe. But, it’s real.

Something takes over me, and before I can over-process my endless thoughts, he loses it. His forehead falls to mine as a deep growl leaves his chest. He grips my breast in his hand, pinching my nipple in his firm grasp. The rough, animalistic energy sends an unwarranted sensation to my core.

I pull at his white button-up shirt, popping some buttons as it opens. Lifting my hips for him as he aggressively pulls down my sweats, I end up slipping off the counter, falling into a standing position. He spins me around so my back is facing him and my hands slap on the cool surface before me. Pressing my hips against the granite, he pulls my thong down my thighs before I hear his zipper coming undone.

My chest is rising and falling as his hand pushes my front down against the cool counter. He grips the back of my sweatshirt, balling it up and using it as an anchor as the warm head of his hard cock touches my slit.

He pushes into me with a deep chested grunt. I cry out at the slight sting in pain, my hands splayed along the countertop before me, trying to find something to grip at the surge in endorphins flooding through me.

“Fuck, Pen,” he grunts, pulling out and entering me just as forcefully.

My cheek rubs roughly against the granite as his hand holds me down by my back. His thrusts become faster and more forceful. My knees tremble, but he holds me up with each drive of his hips.

Breathy sounds escape my chest as his weight bears into me again and again, each time more eager than the last. A hand reaches up and pins the back of my neck to the counter as he continues his motions. He thrusts deeper, until I’m swallowing the entire base of him, as our body’s slap together in a wild, maddening rush.

He’s breathless and nearing his release.

I wince, reaching a hand back to stall his forcefulness. It’s too much and my head is all over the place. The emotions are bubbling over as the hormones retreat and I’m feeling a new form of hurt that has nothing to do with physical pain.

“Tom, stop!” I cry out, but it’s too late.

He thrust two more times before pulling out. I feel the warmth of him spurting out onto the curve of my ass as a growl escapes deep within his chest. It drips down the side of me and immediately I feel broken.

Tears fill my eyes as my hand curls into a fist by my face.

His pants slow as he regains his breath. He reaches for my arm, touching the back of it softly to help me up. I throw my hand back at him, pushing his body away and standing upright.

“Pen—”

“Don’t,” I interrupt him. “Just, don’t.”

I wipe the tears that fall as I quickly pull my pants up and race to the bathroom. I want to wash him off me immediately. Remove whatever kinda of hateful fuck this was. I’m so mad at myself for even allowing this to happen.

Under the heat of the water, I hear him lightly knock on the bathroom door.

“Pen...” he says in a heartbreaking tone. One that I know isn’t normal for him. He’s tore up over what he did. As he should be. “Pen, please. Tell me you’re okay.”

“I’m fine, Tom.” I call out, attempting to sound put together when I’m everything but.

I turn the water off, ringing out my hair before I grab for the towel. Hearing his body slump against the door, his head drops back against it.

“It’s not fine, Pen. Let’s talk about it. We need to talk about it.”

Talking is the last thing I want to do now. I don’t think my heart can take anymore.

He twists the lock on the door again.

“Baby, please let me in,” he whispers. His voice is muffled as if he’s smashed his face against the wood.

I open the door as he falls forward slightly, catching himself on the frame.

“Pen, I didn’t mean to hurt you. I wasn’t myself. I’m not normally so—”

“I know,” I interrupt him, shaking my head while looking down at his pants that are hanging right where he left them. “It’s not like you.”

Nothing is lately.

I can tell this entire situation is bothering him. I can feel it. I felt it in the way he fucked me. It wasn’t normal by any means. Months of pain were being expressed in ways that were uncomfortable for him.

“I’m working through all of this too, ya know. I just got so pent up and...I just, I’m just...trying...”

I think of the earring again and the fact that this man is trying to express his pain to me. I want to comfort him and forgive him, but I’m hurting too. I shouldn’t have to accept or deal with mistakes of infidelity, when no matter how much I was hurting, I’d never consider stepping out on our marriage.

“Let’s set up an appointment with Dr. Peterson tomorrow,” I suggest, finally dragging my eyes up to his.

The torment etched into his brow. His eyes are red and there are tear stains on his shirt. The sight breaks me because I’m an Empath. It rips at my heart so cruelly that I have to look away.

“Okay,” he whispers, nodding. “Okay, let’s do that. Let’s talk to Dr. Peterson. Tomorrow. I’ll call him first thing in the morning and set it up.”

He waits, as if hoping I’ll say something else, but I don’t. No, instead, I close the door and head back towards the mirror.

I stand there with my messy, wet locks, darkened by the water. The bags under my eyes appear as if they never left.

Before today, I thought we were doing better.

I thought we were making progress.

But maybe I’ve been lying to myself for a lot longer than I’d care to admit.

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