New beginnings. This is a topic that’s been on my mind a lot lately. Starting over, starting fresh. For so much of my life, I approached starting over with the energy of kid–fueled by hope, optimism, possibility. But there are pains that don’t lend themselves to quips and quotes. Realities that can’t be “grinned” and “borne.” (Grin and bear it? For realz…?) Life is hard work and so often in fiction the stories are extreme or romanticized. Sure, in our beach reads we may want simple, light, a cupcake book, the ultra light beer, extra cold. But I crave stories that touch nerves, that look squarely at and into–and still entertain and enlighten. Marci Boudreaux is one of the authors I count on for, in a word, MORE.
Marci has a new series out and it takes place in a fictional town that I WISH existed: Stonehill. Book 2 in the series, Friends Without Benefits, is just that sort of new beginning story that moves me most. This story that is more than romance, more than a redemption story. Funny–hell, yes. That kid Sam needs his own book (or soap opera, cue the theatrics!) But the story of Dianna and Paul is a story that will make you uncomfortable, sad, angry. I cried reading this book because the story is just so darned real–I’ve felt Dianna’s pain, I can relate to looking at myself and my choices and thinking “What the F should I be doing here? And what the F have I done?”
Although I’ve never been offered a Greek man via Yoga ladies, I loved this story because it is all the things that real life is. Friends is a love story for adults. If you’ve ever wanted “more,” if you’ve ever felt heartbroken and desperately tried to grin and bear it until things got better, check out the excerpt below. I’m proud to share space on my blog with this gifted author, and to talk about the story I enjoyed so much, and the cast of characters in Stonehill that keep me watching and waiting for the next book. (Annie’s story is going to be crushing! Can’t wait!)
Dianna Friedman never expected her husband to leave her. Who does? But she’s making the most of what she has left–two nearly-grown sons and a mountain of debt she can’t pay. She’s in over her head, but she is determined to survive.
Even if everyone else saw it coming, Paul O’Connell was blindsided by his wife’s affair and attempt to bleed him dry. He reaches out to Dianna–the woman who caught their spouses cheating–in hopes that her testimony at his divorce hearing will prevent him from paying alimony.
Dianna and Paul become fast friends and maybe a bit too dependent on each other, but who are they hurting? No one. At least not until Dianna’s life takes yet another unexpected twist and she and Paul have to reevaluate everything…including what they mean to each other.
Paul washed his hands as the silence in the room pressed down on Dianna. She still had no idea why he was in her kitchen. He finally quit fussing and sat across from her at the table, adding creamer to his coffee. He stirred the liquids together much longer than needed. Each passing of the spoon added tension to the knot in Dianna’s stomach.
Finally, the quiet overwhelmed her. “Mr. O’Connell?”
He stopped stirring and met her gaze. “Paul. Please.”
“Paul, why are you here?”
He tapped the spoon on the edge of his mug before deliberately setting the utensil on a napkin. “I feel like I should—” He drew a deep breath and let it out loudly. “I’m sorry. For what she did.”
Dianna creased her brow. She didn’t know what she thought he was going to say, but that certainly wasn’t what she expected. “Why?”
“Why are you apologizing for your wife sleeping with my husband? Didn’t she cheat on you as much as he cheated on me?”
“Yes. She did.”
“So, why are you apologizing?”
“Well. Someone should. Don’t you think?”
His question sunk her heart. Her eyes, which were still irritated from her last bout of tears, began to sting anew. Yes. She did deserve an apology. Too bad one of the two people who should be sorry for what she was going through hadn’t offered it, though.
“Yes.” She swallowed in an attempt to tame her emotions. “I think someone should. But I don’t think that someone should be you.”
“Maybe, maybe not. Michelle sure seemed to think her affair was my fault.”
“Oh, yes. I didn’t understand his needs anymore.”
“I smothered her. I needed her too much, put too much pressure on her to make me happy.” Paul looked far more than miserable. He looked guilty, as if he were to blame for being on the receiving end of his wife’s adultery.
Dianna wanted to assure him he wasn’t, but she didn’t have the conviction. She’d failed to buy that line too many times to try to sell it to him.
Instead, she looked into her mug so she couldn’t see the pain in his eyes. “Do you know… Do you know what today is? Is that why you’re here?”
“No. I’ve been meaning to stop by, I just hadn’t worked up the courage.”
“What is today?”
Her lip quivered. “My divorce hearing was today. I just got home not too long ago, actually.”
“Jesus,” he whispered. “I’m sorry. May I ask how it went?”
The stress of the judge’s decision hit her again. “Um…not well, actually. I don’t know how I’m going to—” She gestured lamely at the room around her. “Our oldest son Jason is away at college, and Sam is a high school senior so the judge didn’t feel that Mitch owed me anything. I’ve been a housewife since we got married. I’m not sure how I’m going to…you know…” She pushed herself up from her seat when a sob started building in her. “When I get stressed, I bake. Would you like some cookies?” She didn’t wait for him to respond. She grabbed a container off the counter. “I made oatmeal and chocolate chip. Sam ate most of the chocolate chip ones as soon as they were out of the oven, but”—she put the container on the table and sat down—“there’s plenty of oatmeal left. Please. I don’t need to eat all those myself.”
He hesitated for a moment but then grabbed a cookie. The silence returned as he took small, measured bites. She watched until she noticed the light glimmering off his wedding band.
“He wasn’t wearing his ring,” she said before she could stop herself.
Paul lifted his brow in question. “I’m sorry?”
“This morning. At the hearing. It’s the first time since we were married that I’ve seen Mitch without his wedding ring.”
Paul nodded, as if he understood exactly how much that had hurt her. He took the last bite from his cookie and carefully brushed the crumbs from his hands onto a napkin which he folded and used to wipe the table clean. He chased the bite with a sip of coffee. “Look, there’s never going to be a good time for me to ask this, but I was wondering…”
“I, um, I’m so sorry, but… When Michelle told me she was leaving me, I asked her what she was going to do when this great guy she was seeing decided he didn’t want to leave his wife. She said that wasn’t going to be a problem because you had caught them together. Is that true?”
Her mind again flashed to the night she’d walked in on Mitch and Michelle having sex in his office. He had her bent over his desk as he gripped her hips and thrust into her. Those sounds returned—skin smacking against skin, soft moans. Michelle’s black skirt was hiked up onto her back, her hands clinging to the edge of Mitch’s desk, his face tense as he neared release—a look Dianna knew all too well.
She winced. The painful memory still struck her like a slap across the face. “Yes. It’s true.”
Paul’s cheeks lost a few shades of color as if she’d confirmed something he was trying to deny. “Well, now she’s trying to say that her relationship with your husband wasn’t sexual.”
Dianna laughed bitterly. “Oh, it was sexual, all right.”
The muscles in his jaw tightened, and she had the sudden urge to reach out and stroke his face to help ease his tension. Her hand was several inches off the table before she realized what she was doing and stopped herself.
“I know it can’t be easy for you,” he said quietly, “especially having just gone through your hearing, and I swear to you I wouldn’t ask if there were any other way, but would you be willing to testify on my behalf? About when you caught them together.”
Dianna exhaled slowly. She’d give anything not to have to think about her husband’s affair ever again. She didn’t want to remember how completely unexpected catching Mitch cheating had been. Or how she’d walked into the room, as she’d done a hundred times before, carrying his still-warm dinner. How the Tupperware container fell to the floor. How the sound of plastic crashing onto the tiles pulled the lovers from their passion as shock rolled through her, numbing her mind and freezing her body. She didn’t want to remember how Mitch gasped out her name, or how the woman he was screwing lifted her face off his desk to smirk.
Dianna closed her eyes and hot tears slid down her cheeks. She didn’t try to hide them. Her pain overpowered her dignity, as it had so many times in the last six months. How could she care that this stranger was seeing her cry when her heart hurt so much?
“Please, Mrs. Friedman—”
“Dianna,” she spat. “I really hate the Friedman part right now.”
“Please, Dianna. She doesn’t deserve alimony.”
She scoffed. “God. Wouldn’t that be something? I was informed that I don’t deserve alimony because I am capable of work. Yet, you think she’ll get alimony when she’s got my husband to support her.”
“I think she’s got a hell of a better attorney than you had.”
“Yeah, well, I couldn’t afford to pay the bills, support our children, and pay for a top-notch attorney, could I?”
He didn’t respond.
“Sorry,” she whispered as her angry words lingered between them. “That wasn’t directed at you.”
“I know. I have no right to ask you to go through this again, but she will get alimony if I don’t stop her.”
“Well, that hardly seems fair. To either of us.”
“So, you’ll testify?”
Those damned memories flashed through her mind again, bringing with them the familiar stinging and crushing of her soul. She reached into the container sitting between them and grabbed a cookie. She’d likely eaten a dozen the night before, but that didn’t stop her from biting into another as she debated.
“Yes,” she said, finding a conviction that she hadn’t felt for a long time. “Yes, I will testify.”
Connect with Marci:
Marci Boudreaux lives with her husband, two children, and their numerous pets. Romance is her preferred reading and writing genre because nothing feels better than falling in love with someone new, and her husband doesn’t like when she does that in real life.
She has been published with Liquid Silver Books, Musa Publishing, and Sweet Secrets Publishing. With the recent closure of Musa Publishing, Marci has ventured into self-publishing.