Chapter 1 : Life Upside Down
The Uber drove me down the neighborhood street that would soon be my street. My fiancé, Aaron, and I had just bought a house. He'd already gone to the house to start moving in.
I would have loved to have been there with him, but I'd had to finish up my thesis for graduation.
Looking out the Uber window, I drank in the cute tree-lined street, the adorable bungalow homes, and the well-kept front yards. It was such a cute neighborhood!
I couldn't wait to make a life with Aaron here. I had a great new job lined up, and my life was really falling into place.
I'd even finished my thesis early and had gotten a last-minute flight to my new hometown to surprise Aaron.
The Uber driver dropped me off in front of the house. I'd only seen it in pictures before, and the sight of it made me gasp.
I stared at my new home. It was so quaint and gorgeous. There were rose bushes in front of the covered porch and a fenced around the yard. It was perfect!
Rolling my suitcases up the cobblestone walkway, I paused at the bottom of the porch stairs to smell the roses.
I sighed, smiling at how wonderful it all was.
Aaron had sent me a set of keys for when I could move in. I let myself in and dropped my bags at the bottom of the stairs.
“Aaron?" I called into the empty house.
There was new furniture set in the living room and an Oriental rug.
Smiling widely, I took a quick look around the first floor. Everything was coming together, and he'd really done a lot to get things set up. I'd just have to bring my clothes, and I'd be all moved in!
I heard a soft thump upstairs.
Aaron was probably moving more furniture or unpacking things. He'd been finalizing our plans for the wedding, too, because the venue was just ten minutes away at a park in the city.
He was so sweet and chivalrous to take control of wedding plans while I was busy with my thesis. It was these sort of acts of kindness that had made me fall in love with him.
“Aaron!" I ran up the stairs to find him.
He wasn't expecting me, so I knew I would surprise him. I couldn't wait to see the big, goofy grin on his face when he saw me.
I heard a muffled moan sound from the bedroom. The door was cracked.
What was he doing?
Aaron had wanted to keep everything a big surprise. He hadn't sent me a single picture of anything, including our bedroom.
A thrill of excitement ran through me as I walked down the hall.
More sounds came from the bedroom. Heavy breathing and panting.
My cheeks warmed, and I giggled quietly, wondering what kind of private thing Aaron was doing while he thought he was alone. I bit my lower lip and quietly pushed the bedroom door open.
I froze, staring at the bed.
Aaron, my fiancé, and some woman I had never seen before were on the bed together. They were naked, actively having s*x.
Aaron's dark, shaggy hair was plastered to his neck and forehead.
The girl beneath him had her eyes closed, her arms wrapped around Aaron's back, gripping tightly.
With the heavy breathing and grunting, they probably hadn't even heard me come in!
I closed my eyes, thinking I'd stumbled into a bad dream. This couldn't be happening!
Opening my eyes again, I stared, shaking my head.
Was I imagining things?
Less than a month from now, Aaron and I were supposed to be walking down the aisle and vowing to spend our lives together.
My muscles turned to goo. I couldn't move.
The keys slipped from my hand and fell to the floor.
That got their attention.
“Oh, my God, Cat!" Aaron cried. He jumped off the girl and came toward me.
“Don't f*cking touch me!" I snapped, holding my arms up.
“Cat, wait," Aaron said.
“Aaron, what is going on?" the girl on the bed asked.
Her cheeks were flushed, and she hurriedly wrapped the sheet around herself. She sighed, as if annoyed.
As if I was the problem here.
“Just forget it. Forget everything," I muttered.
I turned and fled back down the stairs. My heart hammered in my throat, and my eyes prickled. I wouldn't let Aaron see me cry.
“Cat!" he shouted, his feet thumping on the stairs as he ran after me, completely naked. “Wait, Cat, this isn't what it looks like."
“No?" I asked, rounding on him. “Because it looks like my fiancé is cheating on me in our home just weeks before our wedding! I came here to surprise you, and find this.... I guess I'm the one surprised."
“No, please, Cat, let me explain," he said. He tried to grab me, but I pulled back.
“You can't say anything. Don't follow me unless you want the whole neighborhood to see your… shortcomings!" I scoffed, glancing down between his legs.
Aaron cupped his hands over himself and glared at me.
I grabbed my bags and rolled back down the walkway. My hands were shaking as I pulled out my phone to get another Uber. I pulled up the app, but my hands were shaking too much, and my vision started to blur.
I wanted to get out of there before Aaron got dressed and came after me.
Sniffling, I looked up and saw a cab coming down the street. I stepped out and waved my arm. It was perfect timing.
The cab pulled over, and the driver rolled down the window. “Can I help you, miss?"
“Can I get a ride? Are you on duty?" I asked.
“Yes, of course. Are those your bags?" he asked.
I slid into the backseat while the cab driver put my bags in the trunk. He pulled away from the curb and looked at me through the rearview mirror.
My mind was still spinning about what I'd walked in on. I couldn't believe it. I'd just had to get out of there.
I was surprised I'd had the nerve to shoot an insult at Aaron on my way out, but it was the only way I could keep from breaking down right there in front of him.
He didn't get to see how upset I was. He would never get to see me vulnerable again!
How had this happened?
“Miss, where would you like to go?" the cab driver asked.
I looked up from my lap, seeing that we hadn't pulled away from the curb yet.
“Oh, right. Can you take me to the Villa Paradiso Hotel?" I asked. It was where my new job at an architecture firm was located.
I could stay there and get to work easily while I was figuring out what to do next. There was no way I was going to go back to that house where Aaron had f*cked someone else.
“You got it."
I glanced out the window as the cab pulled away. Just a few minutes ago, this neighborhood had been like a paradise to me. Now, it seemed gray and worn.
A tear dripped from my cheek as soon as we turned the corner off that street. My stomach gurgled, and I rubbed it to try and calm it.
The entire drive, all I could do was replay what had happened in my head. I hadn't even suspected anything.
Every time Aaron and I talked on the phone, he'd always been so affectionate. He'd always seemed so excited to have me come join him.
I sighed heavily and watched the cute suburb I had dreamed of moving to fade and the sprawling city get closer.
Buildings got closer together and got taller. They were apartment buildings, not houses. Even further along, I saw skyscrapers and big industrial buildings.
The hotel rose up on the horizon. It was a 5-star hotel with over 2400 rooms. It was the perfect architectural structure.
The cab driver parked at the front and got my bags out of the back. I pulled out my credit card, and he held up his hands.
“No. This one is on me. You looked like you needed to get out of there," he said, smiling.
“Thanks," I said. I tucked my wallet away.
As soon as I stepped into the hotel, I felt a prickle down the back of my neck, like eyes watching me.
The check-in desk was on the right, and the bar was on the left. There were double french doors open to the bar, sounds of clinking glasses, and chatter flowing out into the lobby.
The sensation of eyes came from the bar.
I glanced over and saw who was looking at me.
He was tall, well built, and wearing a very nice suit. Probably something that cost more than my monthly salary.
He sat at a table alone, a glass of bourbon in his hand. His deep blue eyes stared at me from across the lip of his glass as he took a sip. His light blond hair was shadowed by the dim lights in the bar.
My stomach dropped, and my heart stopped dead. I tightened my hands around my suitcase and looked away.
I could still feel his eyes on me. That look he'd given me burned into my mind as I walked toward the check-in desk.
“I'd like a room, please," I said.
“Can I get your name?" the concierge asked.
“Catherine Walker," I stated.
“How long will you be staying with us, Miss Walker?" he asked.
Those eyes kept burning into me from behind.
I almost looked over my shoulder to see if I was imagining it, or if he was still there, staring at me.
“I'm… I'm not sure yet. Can I leave the check-out date open for now?" I asked.
“Yes, of course. Would you like a single or a suite?" the concierge asked.
“I'll take a single."
A suite would have been better, but at this place, it would have cleaned me out too fast, even after I started my new, swanky job.
“Do you have a credit card to confirm your reservation?" he asked.
I pulled my wallet out again and handed over the card.
The concierge hummed while he ran my credit card.
I tapped my fingers on the counter, still shaken over what had happened that afternoon. I'd need to watch a sad love story movie and binge on ice cream before I'd feel any sense of closure or acceptance.
“I'm sorry, but your card has been declined," the concierge said, handing it back to me.
“What?" I asked, arching an eyebrow.
“Declined. Do you have another form of payment?" he asked.
I sighed and dug into my wallet. There was no reason my credit card should be declined.
Had Aaron done something?
I knew I'd paid the bill this month.
“Miss, do you have another card to confirm the reservation?"
“Hang on. I need…"
I trailed off when someone tapped on my shoulder.
Whipping around, I froze when I saw the man from the bar standing there, a confident smile on his lips.