Holding Her Close - Lexi Ryan

Chapter 1

Janelle

The husband-stealing media whore on the screen tugs on her bottle-blond hair in a move that makes her look helpless and simultaneously thrusts out her breasts—breasts her husband bought her with my money. The camera zooms in on her face, then goes to a soft focus as her big blue eyes fill with tears. “We’re stronger than this,” she says. “Strong enough to weather any storm. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. The truth is, Janelle Crane is obsessed with my husband, and some days I think she’ll stop at nothing to get him back.”

I fucking hate that lying bitch.

The television clicks off, and I spring out of my chair and spin around to see my twin brother with his arms folded across his chest, the remote gripped firmly in his hand. “I didn’t sleep with him.”

Nate arches a brow. “I didn’t think you did.”

“I’m not obsessed with him.”

“Didn’t think you were.”

I don’t want Tom back. That’s what I should say next, but I’m not sure those words are true. My ex-husband has always owned a piece of me. Since I don’t lie to my twin but don’t want to admit I’m not over the man who pulverized my heart, I don’t go there at all. “Will you turn the TV back on, please?”

Nate frowns. “Why?”

“I need to know what she’s saying about me.”

“I disagree. What you need to do is ignore her. She’s trash, Elle. Not worth your energy.”

“I know. But I fucked up. Everyone knows I fucked up.”

“Let it pass.”

Shaking my head, I sink back into the chair and fold my legs under me. I’m at my brother’s home in New Hope. Again. I’m a loser who has no life of her own. Because everything in LA reminds me of my failed marriage and empty life.

“No, she didn’t!” my sister-in-law, Hanna, shouts from upstairs. Seconds later, she rushes down to the living room. “Did you see that?” she asks me.

I give my brother a pointed look. “Nope. Someone turned off the television before the interview was over.”

Hanna frowns at her husband and snags the remote from his hand. “What’s wrong with you?” She clicks the TV back to life and uses the wonders of modern technology to back the show up ninety seconds.

“Do you think your husband is still having an affair with his ex-wife?” the interviewer, Ina Turnstall, asks.

Bella flutters her lashes until a tear rolls out of each corner of her eyes. “I think he’s only human, and can only be expected to turn her away so many times.”

“I flipping hate that lying wench,” Hanna growls, and I smile at the censored echo of my earlier thoughts. My life in LA may suck, but my life in New Hope is pretty fucking fantastic.

It’s not your life, the devil on my shoulder reminds me, it’s your brother’s.

Nate scowls at the screen. “This is all his fault. If he hadn’t asked you to dinner with him . . .”

If I hadn’t gone . . .

Hanna looks like she wants to throw something. “You’re going to take an interview to set the record straight on these accusations, aren’t you?”

“What’s the point? I got drunk, kissed my ex-husband, and got caught on film. This”—I wave toward the television—“is my punishment.”

Last weekend, he invited me to dinner under the guise of a work opportunity, and then he fed me a story about his unhappy marriage. He said leaving me was the biggest mistake he’d ever made, and I believed him. I believed him when he told me his marriage was over. Then there had been more martinis and we finished our dinner and moved to a corner booth in the bar, and when the band started playing our song, my brain abandoned me, and I let him kiss me.

Fuck, who am I kidding? I kissed him back. Because he’s Tom. He’s the first man who ever made butterflies dance in my belly. The first man who ever made me come. My first love. My husband.

Or he was. Until he decided Bella was a better match for his sexual appetite.

My stomach clenches, and I wrap my arms around my middle.

My memory of our dinner is kind of sketchy after that kiss, but the pieces I retained include more martinis, laughter, and his hot mouth sweeping across my ear as he whispered all the things women want to hear. That I’m beautiful. That he never stopped loving me. That I’ve always been the one he thinks about when he closes his eyes at