Black Swan Affair(5)

By: K.L. Kreig

Pining after someone’s husband is one thing. Pining after someone’s husband when you’re now married—to his brother—is taking immorality to an entirely new level. But that’s me. I always manage to find fresh and juicy ways to skirt around the edges of acceptable social behavior.

Sadness and regret envelop me. Completely. Thoroughly.

This ring represents my own betrayal. My own duplicity. My self-destruction. It should belong to someone else. Anyone else but me.

I love Kael. I do. I can’t imagine a day in my life without him. The last thing I want to do is hurt him, but I don’t know if I can ever love another person the way I do Killian. I have made a grave, life-altering mistake that will do nothing but bring pain to people I love. This time, I’ve gone too far, and I don’t know how to fix it.

I breathe out a long sigh, knowing there aren’t any answers to be found. None that I want to face anyway.

I glance at the clock. It’s just past 4:30 a.m. Shit, I need to get inside. Putting on my game face is tough sometimes, and after the last two weeks, today will be a true test of how well I’ve perfected my acting skills, because I’m back in bumfuck, Iowa.

Dusty Falls.

Population 5,339 according to the last census. We’re not quite like Cheers but pretty damn close. Everyone knows your name. It’s especially true for me, given who my father is.

Looking in my rearview mirror, I paste on a fake smile and test it out.

“Did you have a good time?” I mock play, watching my own reaction.

“So good!” I reply.

Ouch. That was terrible. I sound flat, like an out-of-tune piano.

One more time.

“Did you have a good time?” I try again.

“Oh my God, it was so fantastic!” I say to my reflection, injecting myself with faux enthusiasm.

Eh. Tone down the Valley Girl accent and I’ll give myself a pass. Barely.

Exiting my car, I head down the sidewalk toward the bay with a single light glowing from inside. The one that’s mine. I let myself dawdle in the quiet for just a moment. Taking a giant whiff of the sugary confections, I already smell baking. Pride swells for at least one thing in my life I’ve done right. I gaze up at the neon sign I designed, not yet lit for the day, and smile.

Cygne Noir Patisserie.

Black Swan Bakery. My brainchild. My baby. The one piece of solace I can completely immerse myself in. “I’ve missed you,” I whisper, holding the key to my business tightly in my fist.

Opening a business, a French bakery at that, in a small town that caters to modest people, was a huge gamble, but it’s doing well. Much better than anyone expected. Well, except Kael, that is. He always thought it was exactly what this stuffy town needed.

He was right.

I see movement inside and shake my head. MaryLou’s screeching voice grates—I mean greets—me the second I walk through the glass door. “How was it?”

I would say the turn of the lock or the sound of chimes bouncing against the steel frame gave me away, but that would be a lie. I bet MaryLou’s been here since before 4:00 a.m.—a panther waiting in the bushes for her chance to pounce.

I’ve been dreading this interaction the most. The twenty questions, the scrutiny, the knowing, hawk-like stare. She’ll watch every twist of my fingers, listen to every inflection in my tone, or track my hand as I tuck a piece of unruly hair behind my ear. She’ll read something into everything I do.

She’s too damn perceptive, but of course…she knows the truth. She’s always known the truth. She’s been my best friend since the first grade when I saved her life.

Well…that’s the way she looks at it. All I did was save her waist-length hair from being chopped off when Petie Marshall stuck not one, not two, but three giant wads of bubblegum in it, right in the roots. She was in the bathroom trying to rip it out, along with fistfuls of her strawberry-blond hair when I led her to the lunchroom instead, asking the lunch lady for some peanut butter. Half an hour and a few hundred strands lighter, she was gum free. She stunk of peanuts for days, no matter how much washing she did, but at least she held on to her beautiful locks. Ones she still has to this day. Exactly the way it was in first grade. Girl needs a makeover.

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