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Cheated

Not quite my usual kind of story, but here goes:

The tears cascaded down Taylor’s cheeks as she watched Aiden walk away, her love, her life, her everything. She wanted to call out to him, plead with him, beg him to come back to her. But as he reached the corner, a figure stepped out of the shadows. Taylor was too far away to see clearly, but it was obvious the figure was a woman. And as Taylor watched, Aiden leaned down and kissed her. A long, lingering kiss that wrenched at Taylor’s badly beaten heart. Still she watched as Aiden’s arm surrounded the woman’s shoulders, wrapping his coat around her to protect her from the damp chill of the night air. As an all consuming shiver shook Taylor to the core, she looked on as Aiden Calletti walked around the corner and out of her life.

Four months. Aiden had been seeing her for four months, whoever “her” was. And it was only two months since he’d proposed. The diamond solitaire still glinted on Taylor’s finger and his proposal still rang in her ears. But it had all been lies. Lifting her hand in front of her face she tried to focus on the uniquely designed ring, but her eyes were too full of tears. She crumbled to the wet pavement, her legs no longer able to hold her up, her body wracked with sobs. When arms reached out and lifted her up, her eyes were too blinded by tears for her to see who was helping her. And her heart was too empty to care. As the stranger hailed down a cab and helped her inside she didn’t even bother to look at his face before he vanished back into the night. But as the taxi sped towards her empty flat, the blurred image of an unusual signet ring set with onyx and diamond, bearing the initials JP, seemed to burn itself into the deep recesses of her mind.

xxx


Two months later, Taylor Lewis was standing alone at yet another society party she had been ordered to report on, on behalf of the national newspaper she worked for. Usually she didn’t mind, and she loved her job, but tonight was different. Tonight was Aiden’s party. Calletti’s was one of the largest jewellery companies in the world. What had started as a family business, designing unique and exquisite jewellery, had blossomed into a multi-national corporation worth billions. And tonight was the launch of their newest collection. Reminded of the beautifully designed band he had given her, Taylor’s thoughts skipped back to the last time she had worn that ring, to the last time she had seen him. When Aiden had walked away from her, from them, from everything they’d had. Her breath caught in her throat as her eyes met his across the crowded room. There must have been close to five hundred people there that night, but Taylor had eyes only for him. For a long moment they stared at each other, and the rest of the room, the music, the chatter of voices melted away. Then he looked away, and the moment was lost. Her heart pounded in her throat as her surroundings rushed back, in an unwelcome blast. Even as Aiden started chatting to the girl next to him, Taylor couldn’t take her eyes off him. He laughed and her heart clenched, crying out in pain. She should have been the one making him laugh. She had been until “her”. Taylor still didn’t know the name of the woman Aiden had left her for, but if the curvy brunette draped all over him was anything to go by, she damn well knew what “she” looked like.
“Hey there…”
She jumped at the unexpected sound. Finally tearing her gaze from across the room, Taylor looked up at the owner of the voice.
“Hey.” She forced a smile for the man who stood beside her looking just a tad nervous.
“Would you like to dance?” He said, motioning to the dance floor.
For a moment she thought of saying no, then thought better of it. Aiden had made it crystal clear that it was more than over, and she had to move on. The man standing next to her was attractive and he had made an effort to talk to her. The least she could do was dance.
“Sure.” She smiled at him, allowing him to take her arm and lead her to the dance floor.

He introduced himself as Jon and as they danced they talked. For a short while, Taylor actually found that she was enjoying herself. Jon seemed to be a nice guy and they were getting on well enough. So when he kissed her, she let him. His lips were soft and tentative. And his kiss was so unlike Aiden’s that she didn’t even compare them. When he pulled away, she smiled at him, and he responded in kind. Still holding her close, Jon swayed to the music, as the rhythm slowed and the numbers turned sensual. Resting her head on his shoulder, she let his warmth and solidity comfort her. It had been too long since a man had held her close that way. Letting her eyes drift around the floor, Taylor noticed how many of the other couples were holding each other close, kissing each other. And then her heart stopped. There was Aiden, his arms wrapped around the brunette, their lips locked together in what looked like an all consuming kiss.

She felt the tears beginning to build up behind her eyes, even as she pulled away from Jon.
“I have to go.” She whispered, before turning and walking away.
She heard him call her name through the rush of blood pounding in her ears, but she ignored it, scared that if she stopped she would lose it completely. She didn’t stop until the icy night air struck her skin. Wrapping her arms around herself she shivered, but it had little to do with the temperature outside. The pain in her chest almost consumed her as she headed for the road and flagged down a cab. Climbing into the backseat, she gave her address to the driver, before staring out the window at the building she had come from. Looking down at her hand in the shadowy recess of the taxi, the sight of her empty ring finger sent a sharp arrow of hurt and anguish straight to the shattered remains of her heart. She’d gotten used to wearing Aiden’s ring, gotten used to the feel of the heavy diamond as she lifted her hand to stroke his face. Curling her hand into a tight fist, welcoming the sharp pain of her nails digging into her soft palm, she pushed it into her pocket and out of sight. The ring had meant nothing, just as she meant nothing to Aiden. As the car sped towards her apartment, the quiet sound of the radio began to drift back to her from the front seat. The station was playing a selection of love songs and the current tune was something she couldn’t recall the name of. Then it changed and suddenly the all too familiar notes of Toni Braxton’s “Un-break my heart” filled the air. It was their song, hers and Aiden’s. She had always objected because it was such a sad song. But it was the song that had been playing when they first met, and the song he had used to win her over when at first she had refused him. So it had stuck. And now as the lyrics she knew so well told of heartbreak, she finally understood them in a way she never had before. They reached her flat and she paid the driver before walking up the two flights of stairs to her front door. Unlocking it, she pushed it open, finally letting the first tears fall.
“Oh Aiden,” she whispered aloud to her empty flat, “Un-break my heart.”

A week later, Taylor was browsing the shelves at her local library, one of her favourite places to relax. Glancing at her watch she realised she still had half an hour more before she needed to head to the nearby coffee shop to meet her closest friend, Janey for a girly chat about Janey’s upcoming wedding. Running her finger along the spines of the books on the shelf in front of her, she searched the familiar titles for a much loved volume of poetry. Locating the book, she started to remove it from the shelf when she was startled by a soft whisper behind her.
‘She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;’

Turning in surprise she found herself face to face with Jon.
“Hey there.” He smiled, running a hand through his already ruffled blond hair.
“Hey.” She smiled back at him, surprised he had even bothered to say hello after the way she had run out on him the week before, let alone quoted poetry at her. And not just any poem either, it was her favourite. “You like Byron too?”
He smiled “I love that poem, it’s so beautiful.” He paused, seeming slightly unsure “I won’t keep you, I’m sure you’re busy, but I just thought I’d come and say hi…” He trailed off, a slight blush staining his cheeks, “What I mean is, I just wanted to check you were ok. You rushed off pretty suddenly and…”
“I know, I’m sorry.” She cut in, instantly feeling guilty about the way she’d behaved, “I’m ok, really. And it’s really nice of you to check on me. I think I’d just had a little too much to drink.”
As Jon smiled at her, easily accepting her excuse, Taylor wondered why she hadn’t just told him about Aiden, but something in her made her hold back.
She was walking away to find a quiet corner to curl up with her book when Jon called her back.
“Listen, I was just wondering if I could take you out for dinner sometime?”
“Yeah, that would be nice.” She found herself saying as she scribbled her mobile number on the back of one of her business cards before handing it to him.
Shooting him one last smile, Taylor headed to the cluster of chairs on the other side of the room.

“Taylor, you little minx!” Janey laughed as Taylor finished telling her about Jon.
“Don’t say that” Taylor grumbled, guilt already starting to settle in.
She couldn’t believe she had agreed to a date with Jon. What had she been thinking? It wasn’t fair to see him when her heart was still so thoroughly tied to Aiden.
“Oh, stop worrying so much.” Janey sighed, putting her arm around her friend’s shoulders. “It’s only one date, besides what’s wrong with a little fun?” Janey winked.
Taylor laughed and Janey beamed at her, “You see, I knew you could do it!”
Taylor smiled at her friend, Janey always managed to cheer her up, even in the long miserable days after Aiden first finished with her, Janey had always been there for her. She owed her friend a lot, and she’d never forget it.
“So how’s Dave?” Taylor asked, referring to Janey’s fiancée and turning the conversation to happier subjects.
As Janey started sharing wedding details, Taylor couldn’t help but be happy for her friend. Dave was a wonderful man, and Taylor knew without a doubt he was the best thing that had ever happened to Janey. She wished them every happiness and success. But even as she smiled and nodded at her friends animated description of the arguments with the caterers, she couldn’t quite ignore the voice from deep down inside wondering when it would finally be her turn.

xxx


A few days later, Taylor was at her computer typing up her notes for an article when her phone rang. Reaching for the handset she checked the caller ID expecting it to be Janey, but found she didn’t recognize the number. Puzzled, knowing it was too late to be anything work related, she picked up. Several minutes later, she hung up, unsure what to make of the call she’d just received. She had all but forgotten she had even given Jon her number, and his calling her had been a surprise. As had been her acceptance of having dinner with him. Slightly bewildered by her own uncharacteristic behaviour, she punched in Janey’s number intending to ask her friend’s opinion. By the sixth ring, Janey still hadn’t picked up and when the answer machine cut in Taylor hung up without leaving a message. But her concentration was shot. Saving her work she shut down her computer and headed for the kitchen to make a hot chocolate before settling in front of the TV for some mindless relaxation. As she sipped her drink she tried to focus on the American sitcom on screen but she couldn’t calm her thoughts, much as she tried.

xxx


Taylor skimmed the menu without really seeing it. Not that she needed to read it. It was her favourite restaurant, she knew what she wanted. Instead, she used the menu to hide behind for a few moments as she tried to process a few of her confused thoughts. The small Italian restaurant was tucked away in a back street, and few knew about it. Taylor had stumbled across it years ago and had been a regular customer ever since. She was on first name terms with the manager and his wife and several of the other customers, though she’d never seen Jon in the restaurant before. Without her permission her mind slipped back to the time Aiden had brought her here to propose. At the time she had been so touched by the thought, choosing her favourite restaurant rather than some faceless expensive one she would have only felt out of place in. But she supposed it hadn’t really mattered to him where they were. The thoughts were like a knife through her heart and she found herself quickly blinking back tears before Jon noticed. A waitress came to take their order and Taylor opened her mouth to speak, but before she could get a word out, Jon had ordered for the both of them. Closing her mouth in surprise Taylor found herself staring at Jon.
“I hope that was ok with you? I come here loads though, and the ravioli is exquisite.” Jon said, in response to her expression.
“No no, it, umm, sounds lovely. Would you excuse me for a moment?”
Without waiting for his response, Taylor pushed back her chair and headed for the ladies room.

Splashing water on her face, Taylor stared hard at her reflection looking for the cracks. Jon was a nice man, so did she feel like running. He loved the same restaurant as her and had even ordered her favourite dish without knowing how much she loved it. It was perfect. So why was there a stupid little voice in the back of her mind telling her to beware, that things were too perfect. Physically shaking herself, she gave her reflection one last glance before heading back to the table.

xxx


The food was delicious as always, and she couldn’t say a bad word against Jon. He was sweet and charming, interesting to talk to, and attentive. The perfect date. And even as the voice in the back of her mind reacted to the word, she pushed the thought away, instead allowing Jon to help her into her coat. Still refusing to think, she followed Jon out to his car, tucking herself into the front seat as he walked around to the driver’s side. All too soon they were outside her apartment block and somehow she found herself inviting him in for coffee. She knew it was unlike her to invite a guy in after only one date. And she couldn’t help wondering if she was only doing it to irritate the voice in her mind telling her not to. The same voice which had been remarkably quiet whilst she had been with Aiden.

Unlocking the door to her building, Taylor allowed Jon to hold the door for her as she preceded him inside. Climbing up the two flights of stairs to her floor, she again wondered at the wisdom of bringing him back to her flat. But it was too late now. Just as she reached the top step her phone buzzed and she paused to check her message, motioning for Jon to precede her through the stair well door. A moment later she followed to find him standing outside her door. As she turned her key in the lock a thought struck her.
“How did you know which door was mine?” She asked, well aware that the only difference between hers and the other three doors on her floor were the small brass numbers nailed to each of them, numbers Jon didn’t know.
“Lucky guess” He grinned before kissing her quickly.
Still a little uneasy but feeling slightly foolish, Taylor pushed her slowly growing anxieties to the back of her mind. Opening the door, she offered Jon a coffee before retreating to the kitchen to boil the kettle, leaving Jon to amuse himself in the living room. When she returned a few minutes later she found him on the sofa flipping through one of the many newspapers always scattered across her coffee table. Handing him his coffee, she sat beside him as he returned his newspaper, and wrapped his arm around her shoulders.

xxx


Unable to sleep, Taylor lay awake, listening to the sound of Jon’s steady breathing beside her. Shifting beneath the weight of him pressing against her, she tried to get comfortable, but even if she had managed it, she knew her mind was too full to rest. Something about the whole situation just felt wrong. Taylor had never slept with a man she didn’t love before, let alone one she hardly knew. And she had never intended to sleep with Jon. So how had she ended up here? Why had she let him talk her into it, when she’d known it wasn’t what she wanted? Why had she let him into the special place inside her where only Aiden was welcome? Aiden. His name in her thoughts brought back painful memories. How could she still want him after all he’d done to her? How could she be so heartless and selfish to be thinking of another man while Jon lay sleeping beside her? Taylor had too many questions and no answers.

Shifting in his sleep, Jon flung his arm over her, and Taylor winced as his ring scratched her bare arm. Carefully, so as not to wake him, she moved his hand to the bed beside her. The soft light from the streetlamp outside glinted off his ring as she did so, and an image just out of reach flashed through her mind. An unusual signet ring, a diamond and onyx design, the initials JP. She’d seen the ring before, she knew it, but when? Where? She supposed Jon always wore it, that she’d noticed it before without acknowledging the fact. But something about that didn’t ring quite true. Closing her eyes, she willed her mind to remember, but the memory remained elusive. Opening her eyes to look up at Jon, something else stirred her thoughts in a way she couldn’t explain, but remained indefinable. Turning away from him, she stared out the open window by her bed, watching as the first light of dawn began to stream through the trees.

Awaking from dreams filled with dark nights, rain soaked pavements and heart-wrenching pain, Taylor wished she had never fallen asleep after all. Longing for the comfort of a warm pair of arms, whomever they belonged to, Taylor turned to reach for Jon, and found she was alone. A quick glance around the room showed no sign of his ever having been there. His clothes, along with the wallet and keys he’d left on her dresser were gone. The only indication that he had ever been there were her own clothes, scattered on the floor instead of in the laundry basket. Still trembling inside from her nightmares, Taylor pulled herself out of bed and slipped her arms into her flannel robe. Tying the belt much tighter than she needed to, hugging her arms around herself, she wandered out into the living room. Though she checked anyway, she knew she wouldn’t find Jon in the kitchen or bathroom. As she made a cup of hot chocolate, desperately craving the internal warmth it could provide, she glanced around the kitchen for the note Taylor knew she wouldn’t find. Taking her drink back to bed, she huddled under the large duvet as the full ramifications of the night before hit home. Jon had got what he wanted and now he was gone. Reaching for the phone she dialled Janey’s number. Her friend picked up after two rings.
“Oh G-d, Janey I’m such an idiot.” She whispered, and burst into tears.

An hour and several bars of chocolate later, Taylor was feeling ever so slightly better. Janey truly was the best friend a girl could have. No lectures, no “I told you so”s, just hugs, chocolate and a shoulder to cry on. It had been less than 15 minutes later when Janey had come banging on her door in response to her tearful phone call, and ever since then, the two of them had been curled up on Taylor’s sofa, a box of tissues on her lap, a large selection of junk food on the coffee table in front of them, and a soppy chick flick in the DVD player. Ignoring the movie entirely, they talked for hours until eventually Janey managed to talk Taylor into a much needed session of retail therapy.

xxx


A week later, Taylor was heading for home, having met Janey in town to discuss last minute wedding details before the big day arrived the following weekend. Wandering down the crowded shopping street, Taylor was absent-mindedly scanning the shop windows. As she passed Calletti’s, she found her gaze drifting, against her will, to the carefully constructed window displays of engagement rings and wedding bands, all unique in their own way. Forcing her eyes to the next window, to something just a little less painful, something made her stop and stare. The signet rings on show were just like Jon’s, encrusted with onyx and diamond, so similar yet each slightly different in their own way. They were exquisite, but it was the sign above them that captured her attention. The rings were new, the design of white crystal against black mat, having only been released for sale the day before. So how had Jon come to own one more than a week before they had gone on sale? Backing away from the window in confusion she bumped into someone hurrying in the other direction and fell to the ground. As the roughness of the damp pavement scraped her soft palms, the haze surrounding her memory cleared. The night Aiden had dumped her, the hands reaching out to help her into the taxi, the glint of a signet ring, the initials JP. Her hands flew to her mouth as more and more pieces of the puzzle fitted together. Jon dancing with her at Aiden’s party, Jon appearing at her local library, even though it was miles away from his house, Jon quoting her favourite poem, Jon knowing which restaurant was her favourite, Jon knowing which number flat she lived at… What had at first seemed like mere coincidence or luck suddenly seemed sinister and so much more. How had Jon known so much about her? Why did Jon have a Calletti ring months before it hit the market? Why had Jon been at Aiden’s party when he had nothing to do with the company or the industries surrounding it? Yet more questions… but this time answers were beginning to take shape.

As soon as she reached her apartment, Taylor headed straight for her lap top, sitting on her desk beneath a pile of half finished manuscripts. Shoving the papers aside she booted the computer and connected to the internet. Opening ‘Google’ she typed Calletti and Pearce into the box and clicked search. Scrolling down the list of results she found what she was looking for and opened the website. It was the Calletti family history. Starting with the founder of Calletti’s, Aiden’s grandfather, and describing the rise and rise of the business through the generations. But it was Aiden’s parents that Taylor was interested in. After a few dead ends, she finally found what she was looking for. Aiden’s mother, Caroline Pearce-Calletti. A moment later, her suspicions confirmed, Taylor sat back in her chair, her head, as well as her heart, reeling from what she now knew. Jon was Aiden’s first cousin. His father, Edward, was Caroline Pearce-Calletti’s only brother. Everything Jon had known about her must have come from Aiden. Everything.  Even where she’d be when she was at her lowest. When she would be an easy target for Jon’s plans of seduction. Her heart pounded hard in her chest as she searched desperately for any other explanation. But there was none to be found. And the harsh truth was that Aiden, not content with breaking her heart into a thousand irreparable pieces, had helped his cousin to take advantage of her. Disconnecting from the internet, Taylor felt the tears welling up in her eyes, but refused to give in to them. Opening “Word”, she stared for a moment at the fresh, blank page before beginning to write.

Furiously Taylor’s fingers flew over the keys as she let all the tension inside her pour out. She barely even glanced at the screen, ignoring her occasional typo, focusing only on the therapeutic feel of finally releasing all her pent up emotion. As her mind worked, inventing characters, a plot, twists and turns, her fingers sped on, forcing out page after page. She had never used her private life in her work before, had always refused to use her relationship with Aiden to help advance her career at the paper, but this was different. Though to her, the characters had a special meaning, to anyone else, even those who knew Aiden personally, it would be impossible to tell that it was him. It was only an occasional phrase, or a shred of a memory that transformed her fictional character into the Aiden she knew, and still loved.

Days turned into weeks, yet Taylor kept working, spent every night alone at her computer, pouring all her pain and anguish into the tale she was spinning, full of murder, corruption, and betrayal. At times she wondered how she could ever bring the book to a satisfactory conclusion. Even as her manuscript grew thicker, and the story began to wind towards its end, the final twist was still unknown, even to her. With nothing left in her life to live for, would the heroine live or die? Would she fight for her freedom, or remain trapped by the ghosts of her past? Taylor couldn’t say. Her own feelings were still in such turmoil, her pain still too fresh to decide the fate of the character so much like herself. With only the final chapter to complete, Taylor finally overcame her fears. As she sealed the stack of envelopes, addressed to publishing companies based all over the country, her heart started to race as the realisation of what she was doing finally hit her. On the short walk to the post office she almost chickened out, but she forced herself onwards. Her whole life she’d dreamed of being a novelist, reaching the bestseller list, seeing her book on the shelves in “Waterstone’s”, but she’d never even tried. All her manuscripts, half-finished, lay forgotten in files at the back of her wardrobe, and never once had she written to a publisher. Taking a deep breath, she shoved the letters into the post-box. She had done it. Short of waiting for the postman to arrive and return her letters, there was nothing she could do. Unprepared for the lightness of her heart, and the huge weight off her shoulders, Taylor stopped at the newsagent on her way home to pick up a box of her favourite chocolates. Though she’d be celebrating alone, she would celebrate none the less. And though she very much doubted anything would come of the letters she had sent, it was no longer the point. She had only herself to blame for not realising her dreams. Until now she had never even attempted it, too scared to finish anything in case then she might have to do something about it, and risk being rejected. It was strange then, that after Aiden’s betrayal and ultimate rejection, in addition to Jon’s, that it was now that she had found the courage to take a chance.

Glancing at the clock in the corner of the screen, Taylor realised it was well past two in the morning, but finally her first draft was complete. Reaching for the final chocolate in the box, a rich and creamy truffle, Taylor sighed dreamily as it melted on her tongue. Her final chapter was a surprise, even to herself, but she couldn’t help thinking; maybe that was the key to success. Stacking the printed pages to begin redrafting the following day, she grabbed the final chapter from the pile, wanting to read through it one last time before bed. Curling up under her duvet, Taylor started reading, surprised to be getting so swept up again in the story. When she finally put the pages down, her heart was pounding. A part of her still couldn’t believe she had done it, couldn’t believe she had managed to let go of everything she was. But there it was, in black and white. Her heroine was dead, and Aiden, though it wasn’t quite him, had been cleared of her murder through lack of evidence. It was, however, obvious that he’d done it. Obvious, that is, until the last page, when the truth is finally revealed. As Taylor switched off her light and curled up beneath the covers, her heart went out to the poor heroine of her book whom she’d brutally murdered, in the harshest way of all. Suicide.

xxx


Her heart pounded as she stepped into “Waterstone’s”, and made her way to the shelves of best sellers. Starting from the bottom she worked her way up, searching for the familiar cover; the solitaire in its platinum setting coupled with the onyx and diamond signet ring, the dark pool of blood, the silver cursive title with the authors name beneath... Her eyes hit the top row; saw the sign advertising the new number one best seller, and her breath caught. “Cheated” by Taylor Lewis. Trembling, she reached up and picked one of the books off the shelf. Stroking her hand over the dust jacket, she traced the letters of her name with her finger. It was real; her dream had finally come true. Aiden, Jon, her still shattered heart, despite it all she had fulfilled her dream. Her life was far from perfect, she was almost thirty and still single, but Taylor had achieved the one thing she had been dreaming about since she’d been a schoolgirl. And she had done it alone. She didn’t need a man to complete her, or to make her happy. And whilst she wanted a husband and a family someday, fulfilling her lifelong dreams was more than enough for now. Flipping open the cover of her book, she looked down at the dedication inside; “For anyone who has ever had a dream. Never give up.” And as she returned the book to the shelf, Taylor vowed that she never would.


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