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Powerless: Chapter 8


Sloane: Just dropping you a line to say hi. Hope you got home safe. And to remind you that I love you dearly.

Violet: I love you too.

Sloane: I’m sending you the biggest hugs, Vi.

Violet: He’ll be okay. He has to be, right?

Sloane: Definitely.

Violet: That game was . . . oof. Is Jasper okay?

Sloane: No.

Violet: He needs you more than he realizes. Don’t leave him. You’re his person.

Sloane: I won’t.

The way Jasper clutches my hand as we walk out of the arena feels different.

It feels desperate.

We don’t talk. He just grips me like I’m a flotation device and he’s stranded in a rough sea. The frigid air bites at us as we walk across the parking lot, and I feel ridiculous next to him. I’m in ripped jeans with an oversize jersey, and he looks like sex in a suit, complemented by a stubbled chin and hair a bit longer in the back so it curls along the nape of his neck.

He’s a good distraction from the phone that’s burning a hole in my purse from the amount of missed calls and texts it’s housing. I’ve opened it occasionally and then promptly put it away.

The mass text I sent letting everyone know I’m safe but decided to get out of town prompted many reactions. Everything from you go girl to grow up and face the music to an utterly charming get your ass back home and stop embarrassing yourself from Sterling.

I responded with an overly sweet go fuck yourself and haven’t said another word to him since.

Catch me living in that penthouse again never.

Am I being childish? Hiding from my responsibilities? I mean, yeah. But the more time I have to think about everything that’s led me here . . . about how a real family unit behaves when something bad happens . . . the more I wonder how the fuck I got to where I am.

How did I agree to marry Sterling in the first place?

And how dare my father think it was appropriate to ask that of me?

It would be good for business, you know? You’d make a handsome couple. Sometimes marriages are more of a business transaction than a love match when you travel in the circles we do. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of, Sloane.

Nothing to be ashamed of. It made a cold, calculating kind of sense in the moment and felt like an effortless way out of a bleak and uninspiring dating scene. No one was ever up to par for me. They were all just okay. Fine. Passable. And I had started to think I was too picky.

The dating scene had turned into my own real-life version of one of those Wish.com memes. I kept placing an order for Jasper Gervais and the universe kept sending me these laughable cheap-ass knock offs.

So hearing how an arranged marriage wasn’t shameful provided me with some sense of . . . relief. Like I could at least help my family if I wasn’t interested in continuing to flail around with online dating or fellow dancers.

It wasn’t until I saw that video of another woman bouncing on my fiancé’s lap that the shame hit. And not shame because he was cheating on me. Shame because I felt nothing at all. Only a twisted sense of amusement. Like I knew this would happen and couldn’t even drum up the emotion to care about it.

And that was shameful. That wasn’t how I imagined my life playing out. That wasn’t what I deserved.

Sure, there was a time when I imagined my life playing out with Jasper—a long-ass time—but the further on we got with our lives, the more I packaged that dream up and pushed it back into a recess of my mind.

That would never happen.

Imagining something happening between us was right on par with making out with my pillow and pretending it was Justin Timberlake. He was famous, impossibly handsome, and living a completely different life.

But Justin Timberlake isn’t the one clutching my hand right now.

I squeeze Jasper’s hand absently, the sound of his dress shoes clacking against the pavement echoing through the parking garage.

He squeezes back.

I peek up at my friend and note the way his normally golden skin has paled and taken on a grayish quality. He hasn’t been himself this week. He’s retreated and become an ornery shell of the man I know.

I hear the jangle of his keys in his opposite pocket and see the lights on his Volvo flash ahead of us. A dry sob heaves up in his chest, and my chin darts up higher to look closely at him.

“What’s wrong, Jas?” I squeeze three times in quick succession on his hand, but he doesn’t squeeze back this time.

He stops in his tracks, shuttering his eyelids. His nostrils narrow as he desperately sucks air in through them. Then he jerks his hand from mine. Violently enough that I recoil in shock. With long steps, he lurches past me toward a thick pillar and empties his stomach onto the pavement.

I’m just depraved enough to let my eyes snag on his ass as he bends over, the muscled curve of it pressed against his expensive slacks.

It’s like I’m trying to give myself things to be ashamed of.

He stands, panting, strong fingers gripping the pillar, as air pulls and pushes in and out through his diaphragm.

I want to ask him if he’s okay, but that’s a stupid question right now. He’s clearly not okay. Figuring the best I can do is make myself useful, I open the back hatch of his SUV and dive into a hockey bag, on the hunt for a bottled water or a wipe or a towel, or literally just anything to clean him up.

A plastic Gatorade pull-top sports bottle is the best I can find, along with a towel that smells like something dead.

“Jesus Christ,” I mutter, grabbing them and zipping the bag up quickly because the entire thing stinks.

“Sorry,” I hear from behind me.

“For what?” I squeeze water onto the towel and walk toward him.

“Getting sick.”

My hand lands between his shoulder blades, sliding on the silky fabric of his suit jacket. “No need.” I hand the towel to him, and he drops his face into it. “It’s your hockey bag you should be sorry for. That towel smells like moldy cheese and not the good kind.”

A quiet chuckle shakes his body. Or at least I think it’s a laugh. It’s hard to tell without being able to see his face.

“Give me the keys, Jasper. I’ll drive us.”

“Not a chance,” he says as he wipes the towel over his face.

“Listen, I know you don’t like when other people drive. But I promise I’ll be fine.”

He shakes his head, peeking at me from over one broad shoulder. “No.”

I roll my eyes and sigh dramatically while continuing to rub slow circles on his back. “Control freak.”

He stiffens slightly before giving a terse nod. “Yup.”

“At least you own it.”

He glances at me again as he tosses the towel in a nearby garbage can, but this time there’s a look in his eye that wasn’t there before. “Yeah,” is his faint response.

Then he clamps my hand back in his and walks me to the passenger side, where he opens the door and ushers me into my seat while avoiding eye contact. I don’t know if it’s the outcome of the game, the fact he just hurled in front of me or that I called him a control freak, but there’s a new tension in the air.

Shame hits me again.

Jasper’s having one of the worst weeks of his life, and I’m psychoanalyzing if he’s upset with me while he holds my hand and opens a car door for me.

I shake my head at my selfishness as the door slams and he gets in beside me.

“Ranch?” he asks as he slides his long arm over the back of my seat. We’ve pulled out together in a car a million times, except now the nearness of him feels heavy and unfamiliar.

“Yeah.” I sigh and sink back into the plush leather seat. “Ranch.”

We make the same drive we’ve made several times in the past week. No music plays. All I hear is the white noise of air rushing through the vents as I switch between staring out the darkened window and then back at Jasper’s carefully blank face.

“You know the saying ‘there are no stupid questions’?”

His eyes slice my way and he nods once firmly.

“Would it still be true if I asked you if you’re okay?”

His cheek twitches, and I watch his hands twist on the steering wheel.

“Sunny, I am so far from okay, it’s not even funny.”

My heart twists in my chest, and my tongue darts out over my lower lip as I continue to regard him, racking my brain for what to say next.

“Nothing you say is stupid though,” he quickly adds.

I smile flatly and look out over the dash. Leave it to Jasper Gervais to say something like that when I’ve spent the last five months engaged to someone who constantly made me feel like the things I had to say were dumb.

And I just let him. I put a hand over my throat in a sad attempt to quell the ache there.

This isn’t my night to cry.

“Coach suspended me for two weeks.”

“What?” I exclaim, turning in my seat to face him. “Why? Every goalie hits rough patches.”

“Because I never disclosed what’s going on. He knows how I am. He knows my head is somewhere else, and as much as I fuckin’ hate to admit it, he’s right. I wanna be out there but I also . . .” He trails off, broad hands rotating on the wheel in frustration.

He didn’t tell them about Beau? God. This man is a vault, locked up so damn tight. He’s always been a man of few words, even around me. But at this moment, it’s not like he can’t find the words. I know he can. It’s more like it pains him to wrench them from himself. Like staying quiet and introspective is his best defense mechanism.

I know he’s more open with me than he is with most people. Softer, less growly. So I provide cautiously, “You also want to curl up in bed and cry?”

Because if I feel that way right now, he must too.

A curt nod with eyes fixed on the dark road is what he offers back, which is about as much as I expected from him.

A loud vibrating sound echoes against something in my purse, filling the already tense vehicle with another layer of anxiety.

With a deep sense of dread, I pull my phone out and stare at it.

It’s my mom. And this is the first time she’s called. Her response to my mass text was, Take care of yourself. I love you.

I have dozens of missed phone calls from my dad and from Sterling, and from countless “friends.” I’ve been referring to them in my head as lookie-loos because if you haven’t spoken to me in years, I don’t know why I’d chat to you about the implosion of my wedding day.

Over the past week, I’ve listened to the voicemails from Sterling and my dad, but I didn’t delete them. That way, my inbox fills and they can’t leave more. Their messages are angry, frantic, and entitled. Basically the last thing I feel like dealing with.

But my mom? She’s another story all together. She . . . I swear she looked at me before the wedding like she had something to say. Her lips parted, and her hand stretched out toward me. She was so damn close. Before she could get it out, my dad walked in, told me I made the perfect bride, and whisked her away.

The expression she shot me over her shoulder as he led her out was pleading.

The phone is still vibrating in my hand, and I’m staring at it like a ticking time bomb when Jasper clears his throat and glances over at me.

Swallowing hard, I swipe to answer. “Hi, Mom.”

“Sloane.” She breathes my name like it’s the relief she’s been seeking.

“Hi. I’m . . .”

“I just need to hear your voice. Know that you’re somewhere safe.” There’s a slight tremble in her voice, and suddenly the back of my throat aches with a ferocity that steals my breath. My sweet, supportive mom. The one who learned to put my hair up in a perfect bun. Who drove me to every ballet practice and recital, no matter how early she had to get up.

I’d kill for a hug from my mom right now. Absolutely kill.

Peeking over at Jasper, I reply, “I’m safe.” Because how could I feel anything but safe? The man literally broke me out of my wedding, carried me down the street, and never batted an eyelash.

Like he just knows I need him, he reaches across the center console and takes my hand. Fingers linking with mine.

I hear a ragged sigh on the other end of the line. “Good. Good. Are you . . . going away for a while?” Her voice sounds almost hopeful now.

My head quirks at her odd question. I’d expected Mom to grill me about when I was coming back. “Why would you ask me that?”

I look over at Jasper again and catch him watching me. He’s listening and I don’t really care. There’s only one secret I’m desperate to keep from Jasper—that I’ve been pathetically in love with him for the better part of my life.

“Because that’s what I would do if I were in your position.” A tinny laugh follows her statement, and my eyes bug out at her admission.

I know she married into a wealthy family like her own, while her sister married Harvey and lived a quieter life on the ranch. I’ve often wondered if she’s happy in her marriage but never quite worked up the courage to ask.

“Mom, I—”

My phone dies in my hand.

“What happened?” Jasper’s voice is all gravel.

“It . . . it died.” I shake my head, running her words of advice through my mind on replay.

“And what did she say?”

“She said if she were me, she’d go away for a while.”

“What about the ballet? You must need to go back soon.”

I scoff. “I took a leave to plan the wedding. So I’m off through Christmas because I opted out of The Nutcracker.”

“Why did you take a leave? The wedding is just one day.”

Slumping down further into the seat, I let the back of my head roll back and forth as I confess something that sounds so asinine my stomach curdles just saying it out loud. “Sterling said I needed to be”—I hold my hands up in sarcastic air quotes—“present to plan the wedding and enjoy the honeymoon.”

I run a thumb over the small pink scar from where I cut myself with the massive diamond on my finger. I should really take my ring off. I even want to take it off. It’s not Sterling that keeps me from doing it. It’s that I have this deep sense that once I remove it, everything in my life will change. I’ll be a new me, and nothing will look the same anymore. My family. My upbringing. Everything I’ve come to know.

And that scares me.

A muscle in Jasper’s jaw pops, and the skin over his knuckles thins under the pressure of him squeezing the steering wheel. “Fucking Woodcock.”

I snort a laugh. Woodcock.

“So what are you going to do?” The tip of his tongue catches between his straight white teeth, as though he’s biting it to keep himself from saying anything more.

“What do you think I should do?”

His mouth twists. “Sunny, the last thing you need in your life is another man telling you what to do.”

I sigh and turn away to stare at the dark fields flashing past the passenger window. I’d kill to have Jasper Gervais tell me what to do. The fact he doesn’t think he should makes me want it even more.

I need someone to take charge but with my best interests in mind. Not a business. Not perception. Me. My needs.

“What would Beau do?” I murmur under my breath.

I don’t mean to say it loud enough that Jasper will hear me, which is why I start when Jasper responds with, “He’d get the fuck outta dodge and go do something for himself.”


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