excerpt from Coming Home

Coming Home

Chapter One

Brenna

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There can be no situation in life in which the conversation of my dear sister will not administer some comfort to me.

—Mary Montagu

Brenna Ebans was finalizing the paperwork for a 2.5 billion dollar acquisition for one of her most problematic clients when Kayleigh’s call interrupted her train of thought. She looked longingly at the neat file on her desk; she loved her sister but…

Brenna had been surviving on pure adrenaline for the past three days, trying to get the deal done and to everyone’s amazement but hers, she’d succeeded. One little loophole and the power was back in her client’s hands. She loved her work.

At least, that’s what she told herself.

The extension blinked accusingly and Brenna punched it with a sigh. “Kayleigh. Hi.”

“You’re a tough woman to track down.”

“And yet you managed it. What’s up?”

Brenna listened to her older sister’s gossip with half an ear as her assistant Crystal poked her head into the office. She had a big smile on her face when she dropped off another file with two yellow post-it notes; Call them ASAP with a happy face and I’m leaving in 10 mins with an even bigger happy face.

It was already five thirty on a Monday; Brenna was going to have to cancel yet another dinner with Toby.

At first, Brenna had enjoyed working for the same law firm as her husband. But now it only seemed to create more tension every time she got inundated by work.

Which was becoming almost a daily event.

She wasn’t sure how Toby did it. How did he manage time for friends, the gym and fancy dinners? Out of the last six attempts, Brenna managed to make it to one dinner with her husband. One.

As Kayleigh reported on the town gossip with the seriousness of a TMZ reporter, Brenna snapped her fingers to catch Crystal’s attention. She covered the handset and motioned to her assistant. “Can you find Toby for me?” Brenna jerked her head towards the paperwork on her desk with a sorrowful expression. “I can’t make dinner tonight. I have to finish this.”

“I’ll tell him,” Crystal promised with a distracted smile.

She probably thinks I’m a horrible wife.

Maybe I am.

I should tell him myself.

“Are you coming home for Addison’s wedding?” Kayleigh asked, pulling Brenna back to the conversation. “Maggie said you haven’t sent your RSVP back.”

Addison was getting married? Brenna didn’t remember Addison being engaged, let alone planning a wedding. Who was the groom? Rummaging through her inbox, she could swear she hadn’t received an invitation. She’d remember a wedding invitation to my own niece’s wedding. There was nothing in the work inbox. With a frown, she combed a year’s worth of paper out of the inbox marked ‘personal.’

“Oh, Kay…work is just so crazy and—”There was the invitation; still unopened with her name written in sparkly green ink, along with a credit card bill and an invitation to join the newest fitness center in the area. “It’s been really bad—really busy,” she corrected. “I’m doing this deal and no one thought it was going to come together but I managed it and—”

“You’re always busy. You work over Christmas and you never take vacations. Look at how late it is and you’re still there.”

“There’s a three hour time difference between Vancouver and Forest Hills,” Brenna reminded her. “So, actually, it’s not that late.”

“It’s been years since you’ve been home, Brenna.”

Here it came. Sooner or later, all Brenna’s conversations with Kayleigh took a sharp right down Guilt Lane.

Yes, it had been fourteen years since she had left home. Yes, she realized she hadn’t been back since.

Brenna rolled her eyes as Kayleigh warmed up. “You never update Facebook, so I don’t even know what you look like these days.”

“I look like me. Tall. Kind of scrawny. Red hair.” She ran her hand through her hair and remembered she missed her last two salon appointments.

“Brenna…” Kayleigh sighed, her exasperation flying from the tiny town in Northern Ontario to settle heavily on Brenna’s shoulders. “Just come home. Please. Addison’s wedding is in two weeks. Maggie needs you to be there. It’s her oldest daughter. It’s Maggie.”

Brenna winced in resignation as Kayleigh threw the sucker punch. She knew any mention of Maggie was a sure way for Brenna to feel the maximum guilt.

Their father had abandoned the family when Brenna was three; their mother died ten years later. Eldest sister Maggie had been the rock of stability, taking on the roles of both mother and father to her sisters.

Everyone in the tiny town of Forest Hills knew the five Skatt sisters. Everyone felt sorry for them.

Reluctantly, Brenna ticked off on her fingers what she needed to do if she was going to make the trip back home. Who could cover her cases, how long she could be away from the office, what to tell Toby…?

Toby!

She had to make sure Toby knew she was running late. The last time she forgot to tell him, he ended up waiting at the restaurant for almost an hour.

“I’ll call you back,” she told Kayleigh hastily.

“Brenna!”

“I will. I’ll see what I can do, I promise. I’ll call you back, but really – I have to hang up now. Call you right back-” Brenna hung up with Kayleigh’s protests still ringing in her ears and hurried out the door of her tiny little box of an office.

Davis and Daniels Attorneys at Law occupied three floors of a high-rise in downtown Vancouver, and Toby, being next in line for partner, had one of the cushy top floor offices. Brenna headed for the elevator, hoping to catch her husband before he left.

They’d been fighting steadily for weeks – months really – about Brenna’s inability to make time for him. They weren’t exactly fights; Toby was too passive-aggressive for that. He would make snarky comments that Brenna would pretend to ignore, things would be awkward so Brenna would spend even more time at the office. Last Sunday they had a heated discussion about her choosing to work rather than brunch with him, but Brenna left the condo before resolving anything. Toby hated it when things were left hanging. He needed things packaged up with a neat little bow.

She used the short trip between floors to respond to an email that Crystal should have taken care of. Brenna realized her assistant wasn’t the most efficient, but she was cheerful and friendly and would always bring Brenna a latte when she got one for herself.

Brenna’s thumbs flew across her phone, responding to another email as the elevator doors slid open. This should have been done hours ago. What was Crystal thinking?

Crystal had seemed especially smiling that afternoon. Brenna wondered wistfully if there might come a time when the two of them could be more than boss slash assistant. Friends, even. Brenna could ask for advice about Toby and Crystal could tell her about the men she was dating…

Who was she kidding? She couldn’t even make time for her husband, let alone someone she could talk to about him.

She checked another email between the elevator and Toby’s office, pausing with her fist poised to knock as she skimmed the request. There were texts she hadn’t got to –

Toby. Telling him dinner was out of the question.

Brenna couldn’t remember if she’d knocked and tentatively pushed open the door. “Toby, I – ”

“Brenna!” Toby cried in a strangled voice. He was sitting at his desk by the window.

There was a thump from under his desk.

“Toby? You okay? What was that?”

“What are you doing here?”

“I wanted to tell you -”

And then Crystal crawled out from under Toby’s desk. “I was telling him for you,” she said with a spiteful gleam in her eyes.

“Thanks…what…?”

It took Brenna a moment to comprehend what she was seeing.

The sight of Toby leaping to his feet, slim-fitted pants bagged around his ankles, fully exposed and suddenly very flaccid, cemented it.

“Oh, my God!” The cry didn’t seem strong enough for the situation. “What the fuck?”

“I can explain,” Toby said urgently, pushing Crystal aside. His handsome face was flushed with fear and annoyance, as he fumbled to pull up his pants.

“How can you possibly explain this?”

Inexplicably, the urge to laugh bubbled up and Brenna took a deep breath, swallowing the hysterical giggle. Toby favored an eclectic style of fashion and the image of him wearing a sweater vest, pants around his ankles, and blue and orange argyle socks pulled up was something she wouldn’t soon forget.

“Brenna –” Toby proved it was impossible to discretely pull up pants.

“What the hell are you doing?” She noticed how his close-cropped hair had become more silver than brown of late. Toby was seventeen years older than Brenna and getting caught with his pants down—literally—suddenly made him look every day of those fifty years.

“Let me –” His pants were still undone when he stumbled out from behind the desk. Brenna beat a retreat to the door, eager to keep her distance.

“I know what you were doing. You were in her mouth! How do you expect to explain that? And in your office, of all places?”

“Brenna, you know things haven’t been great between us.”

“This is my fault?”

Crystal snorted as she scrambled to her feet, face flushed with rage rather than remorse. “How can someone so smart be so incredibly stupid? Things are horrible between you two! Everyone knows it but you.” Brenna stared in horror as the girl continued. “You’re a terrible wife! I’ve been taking care of your husband for weeks now and you’re so busy with your head stuck up your ass you haven’t even noticed a thing!”

Brenna flinched at the crassness of Crystal’s attack. “Should I be thanking you for taking care of him, as you so eloquently put it?”

“I’ve done a better job than you ever could!”

One of the straws holding Brenna’s control snapped. “And look where it’s gotten you. I suggest you get your things out of this office because you’re fired. And you,” Brenna turned to a silent Toby. Anger and disappointment raged within her, and as she looked at her husband, disappointment won. “How could you do this to me? With her – here? You know what this job meant to me.”

“You’re upset about a job?” Toby said incredulously.

“No, I’m upset about you. Walking in on you with my assistant hasn’t been the highlight of my day. It’s just – how could you do something like that, Toby.” She didn’t wait for a response. “I can’t be married to you anymore.”

“Brenna, wait. You’re over-reacting.”

“I don’t think so. I think it’s time I do some reacting.” She turned to leave but decided a parting shot was necessary. “We’re over.”

Was that all she had?

“Your penis is pathetic and I’ve had better sex with my vibrator,” she added in a rush. “Plus your socks are stupid and that vest makes you look like a dork. So there.”

Brenna swept out of Toby’s office with head held high.

Hang on, she told herself, vowing not to break down until she was alone.

How did this happen? How could she have not noticed what was going on?

How stupid was she?

Brenna punched the button for the elevator, praying it would arrive before Toby did. She fully expected her husband to rush out after her.

To fight for her.

Except he didn’t.

She held her stomach, sick with disappointment. How could she miss what was going on? Toby and Crystal? How could he?

Brenna remembered how Crystal had always found an excuse to bring in a file or message whenever Toby had been in her office. She laughed at his jokes, listened to his stories.

Tears pricked her eyes and she pushed away from the wall as the elevator arrived.

On her way back to her office, Brenna paused at the pod of desks in the middle of the floor that Crystal shared with three others assistants. One of her client files was open on the desk, paper spread haphazardly, along with a half-empty mug of tea and Crystal’s iPhone.

“Can I help you with something, Brenna?” The woman across from Crystal’s desk asked, her eyes wide with confusion.

Brenna realized she didn’t even know the names of the people she worked with. No wonder she never noticed a cheating husband.

“Did you know she was fucking my husband?” Brenna asked conversationally, carefully tucking the papers back into the file on Crystal’s desk.

“What?” The protest was so thoroughly insincere that it left no doubt she and Crystal had spent many hours discussing Toby, Toby and Crystal, Toby and Brenna and her complete and utter ignorance of the affair.

“Could you hold this for a sec?” Brenna asked politely, passing the file over the dividing wall to the woman before picking up Crystal’s phone. “Do you think she has pictures of him on here?”

The woman gaped at Brenna, who shrugged and smashed the phone against the corner of the desk.

And again.

“What are you doing?” The fear in her voice was sincere but Brenna saw no need to answer. The phone still looked somewhat functional so she threw it on the floor and crushed the screen with the heel of her shoe, grinding it like a bug.

“Brenna! Stop!”

Looking up, Brenna saw Toby, with a red-faced Crystal right behind him, hurrying down the hall. She snatched Crystal’s new hot pink Coach tote bag sitting innocently under her desk and punted it toward them like a football. The contents of the open purse flew out in every direction, pens and tampons flying through the air like miniature Scud missiles.

“Brenna!” Toby shouted. A tube of lipstick hit him in the head.

“I’m calling security,” the woman wailed.

Brenna snatched up the mug, which had Be Mine emblazoned in pink and threw it at the PC, the sizzle of wet electronics chasing her down the hall along with Crystal’s shrill scream and Toby’s shouts, her breath coming in panting gasps.

She locked the door behind her and stood for a minute, with her hands over her eyes, waiting for the tears.

Her phone, still clutched in her hand, rang.

“Kayleigh, I’m coming home.”