The Divorce PartyBy: Jennifer Hayward
IT WAS GOING to be bad.
Lilly Anderson winced and put a hand to her pounding head. If she held herself in just that position, with the pressure building in her head like the vicious storms that picked up intensity across the plains of the midwest, it might not become a full-on migraine.
Except staying in the dim confines of Riccardo’s Rolls-Royce, driven by his long-time driver Tony, wasn’t an option tonight. She was late for her own divorce party. Excessively late for the one thing that would give her what she wanted above all else. Her freedom from her husband.
“Oh, my God.”
Her twin sister Alex made a sound low in her throat. “How can they print this stuff?”
“Alex, read it to me.”
“It’s Jay Kaiken’s column. You don’t want me to.”
“Okay, but I warned you.” She cleared her throat. “In what’s expected to be the most scandalous, juiciest, talked-about water cooler event of the season, billionaire wine magnate Riccardo De Campo and former Iowa farmgirl-turned-sports-physiotherapist Lilly De Campo host their divorce party tonight. I once suggested they were the only passionately in love couple left in New York. But apparently even that fairytale doesn’t actually exist. Rumors of heartthrob Riccardo’s infidelity surfaced and this once solid marriage ended up in the toilet. So it’s with mixed feelings that I bid this partnership adieu tonight. I have the invite and will bring you all the salacious details.”
She crumpled up the tabloid and threw it on the floor. “He’s such an SOB.”
Lilly closed her eyes, a fresh wave of nausea rolling over her. No matter how many times she’d envisioned this moment, this freedom from Riccardo, she had never envisioned this. Nor the insanely mixed feelings she had right about now.
“Sorry, Lil. I shouldn’t have started on those.”
“You’re a PR person, Alex. You’re addicted.”
“Still, I suck. I’m really sorry.”
Lilly smoothed her fuchsia silk dress over her knees. It was elegant enough—and in Riccardo’s most hated color, which was an added bonus—but it felt as if it was clinging in all the wrong places. A glance in the mirror before they’d left had told her she was paper-white, with dark bags under her hazel eyes. Haunted. In fact the only thing that was right was her hair, blowdried to glossy, straight perfection by her savior of a stylist.
It was a problem—this not feeling together. She felt she was already at a disadvantage. Facing Riccardo without her mask, without all her defences in place, was never a good way to start.
“You look a little too good,” Alex murmured. “I think you should have put something frumpier on. And maybe messed your hair up a bit.”
Lilly took the compliment and felt a bit better. Her sister was, if nothing else, the bluntest person she’d ever met. “Now, why would I do that?”
“Because Riccardo is like a banned substance for you,” her sister said drily. “And your marriage almost destroyed you. Be ugly, Lilly, it’s the easiest way.”
Lilly smiled, then winced as her head did another inside-out throb. “He’s finally agreed to give me the divorce. You should be doing a happy dance.”
“If I thought he was giving in I might be. Has he given you the papers yet?”
“I’m hoping he’ll do that tonight.”
Alex scowled. “It’s not like him to do this. He’s up to something.”
Her heart dropped about a thousand feet. “Maybe he’s decided it’s time to replace me.”
“One can only hope.”
A stab of pain lanced through her. She should be elated Riccardo had finally seen the light. Seen that there was no way they could ever reconcile after everything that had happened. So why had his decree that they finally end this with an official public announcement hit her with the force of an eighteen-wheeler? She certainly hadn’t been pining away the past twelve months, hoping his refusal to divorce her meant he still loved her. And there was no way she’d harbored any silly notions that he was going to come climbing through her window and carry her back home, like in some Hollywood movie, with a promise to do everything differently.
That would have been stupid and naive.
She squared her shoulders. He likely did have another prospect in mind. Everything Riccardo did was a means to an end.
“If I ever want to be free to pursue a real relationship with Harry I need Riccardo’s signature on that piece of paper.”
“Oh, come on, Lil.” Her sister’s beautiful face twisted in a grimace. “Harry Taylor might be a decorated cardiothoracic surgeon, Doctors Without Borders and all that lovely stuff, but really? He’s dull as dishwater. You might as well marry him and move back to Mason Hill.”
“He’s also handsome, smart and sweet,” Lilly defended tartly, not needing to tell her sister there wasn’t a hope in hell of her moving back to the miserable existence they’d escaped at eighteen. “I’m lucky to have him.”
Alex waved a hand at her. “You can’t tell me after Riccardo he doesn’t seem like some watered-down version—like grape juice instead of Cabernet.”
“You just told me Riccardo was bad news for me.”
“So is Harry Taylor. He’ll bore you to death.”
Lilly had to steel herself not to laugh out loud, because that just would have hurt too much. “I’m through with men who make my heart pound and my palms go sweaty. It’s self-destructive for me.”
“The particular one you picked might have been... What time were we supposed to have been there, by the way?”
Lilly checked her watch. “A half-hour ago.”
Alex gave her a wicked smile. “Riccardo’s going to love that.”
She squirmed in her seat. She was always late. No matter how hard she tried. Because it was just in her nature to try and squeeze too much into the day, and also because her multi-million-dollar athletes kept waltzing in half an hour late. But Riccardo had never seemed to care what the reason was. He wanted what he wanted when he wanted it. And that was all.
Alex’s expression shifted. “I talked to David today.”
Lilly froze. Alex talking to their brother back in Iowa only meant one thing. “How’s Lisbeth?”
Alex frowned. “He said she had a really bad week. The doctor is saying she needs that experimental treatment within the next few months if it’s going to do any good.”
Dammit. Lilly twisted her hands together in her lap, feeling that familiar blanket of hopelessness settle over her. Her youngest sister Lisbeth had leukemia. She’d been told three months ago she was out of remission, and her doctor was advocating a ground-breaking new treatment as the one thing that might give her a fighting chance. But the treatment cost a fortune.
“I can’t ask Riccardo for the money, Alex. I know it’s crazy, but I can’t give him that kind of power over me.”
“I know.” Alex put her hand over hers and squeezed. “We’ll figure it out. There has to be a way.”
Lilly pursed her lips. “I’m going to go back to the bank tomorrow. Maybe they’ll let me do it in installments.”
There had to be a way. Lisbeth had to get that treatment.
Tonight, however, she had to focus on survival.
Her hands shook in her lap and her head throbbed like a jackhammer as they turned down a leafy, prestigious street toward the De Campo townhouse. She had taken one look at the beautiful old limestone mansion and fallen in love. Riccardo had taken one look at her face and bought it for her. “You love it,” he’d said, not even blinking at the thirty-five-million-dollar price tag. “We’ll buy it.”
They swung to a halt in front of the home she’d run out of with only a suitcase twelve months ago, when she’d finally had the guts to leave him. It was the first time she’d been back and it occurred to her she was truly crazy making that time tonight. Divorce parties might be in vogue, but did she really want to detonate her and Riccardo’s relationship in front of all the people who’d made her life miserable?
She didn’t have a choice. She scooted over as Tony came around to open the door. Riccardo had been adamant. “We need to end this standoff,” he’d said. “We need to make the state of our relationship official. Be there, Lilly, or this isn’t happening.”
She forced herself to grasp Tony’s hand. But her legs didn’t seem to recognize the need to function as she stepped out of the car on trembling limbs that wanted to cave beneath her. The long, snakelike line of limousines made her suck in a breath. The memory of Riccardo sweeping her out of this car the night of their first anniversary and carrying her upstairs made it catch in her throat. He had made love to her with an intensity that night that had promised he would love her forever.