The only way to keep what he has...is to surrender everything.
The Vaughn Series, Book 3
Merrick Vaughn couldn't be happier with his life. His business is jumping and his marriage to the love of his life is about as good as it gets. At least, that's what he thinks...until Chloe announces she wants to separate.
Stunned doesn't begin to cover it, but it quickly becomes clear that she's dead serious. And if he doesn't take action, as in now, he's going to lose the only woman he's ever loved.
The last thing Chloe wants is a divorce, but she can't go on living with a virtual stranger who spends all his time--and hers--behind a desk. It's tearing her apart, and taking a break to sort out her thoughts seems her only recourse.
Then Merrick offers a wicked proposition: go to Hawaii with him for one week's vacation. After that, if he hasn't successfully changed her mind, he'll let her go. No questions asked. There's only one caveat. She must agree to give him complete control.
Chloe's intrigued and scared. One week in paradise might bring them closer--or be their ultimate undoing.
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June 01, 2009
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Excerpt from Taking Chloe by Anne Rainey
Chloe sat at their usual table in the back of Sal's restaurant. Sal, the owner, came over and took her hand in his. "You're as beautiful as ever, darling."
She winked and said, "And you're a shameless flirt, Sal, as always."
"Where's that man of yours?"
"He's on his way. He should be here any minute." A voice in the back of her mind taunted her with the notion that he may not show at all. That he'd gotten lost in his work. Again.
"His loss is my gain, pretty Chloe," Sal murmured, then kissed the back of her hand.
Chloe laughed. "Do you treat all your lady customers this way?"
He took a step backward and said, "Of course!"
"I think maybe you shouldn't be hitting on my woman."
The gruff male voice had Chloe sitting up straighter and clutching her purse in her lap. Merrick. And he wasn't wearing a suit. Hadn't he gone to work? She let her gaze travel over him, taking in the tight, faded jeans and black t-shirt. His dark tousled hair looked as if he hadn't even bothered to run a comb through it. Still he was the most handsome man she'd ever seen.
"I'd never dream of it, boy. Just keeping her company until you got here."
Merrick's eyebrow shot up. "You're a bad liar, Sal."
Sal smacked Merrick on the back. "You're just jealous because she likes me better."
Chloe wanted to laugh, but held back. Sal was in his mid-sixties. Not only had he been happily married for forty years, but he also had six kids and thirteen grandkids.
"That flirting is going to get you in a world of trouble one of these days."
"So my wife keeps telling me," he admitted. As Merrick came closer, Sal asked, "The usual?"
Their usual was spaghetti and meatballs with a bottle of merlot, then chocolate cake for dessert. They always shared the cake and stuffed themselves. Today, Chloe didn't feel like eating at all.
"Sounds great. Thanks," Merrick answered for them both.
After Sal shuffled off, Merrick brought his right arm around from behind his back, revealing a long box. Flowers? He'd bought her flowers and taken the day off work?
Merrick set the box on the table in front of her. She stared at it as if it were a snake. It'd been so long since Merrick had bought her flowers.
"Open it, babe."
Chloe looked up at him. The hurt in his eyes was plain to see. Her heart broke. She reached out and tugged the box closer, then slowly opened it. A beautiful bouquet of long stem roses. "They're lovely," she whispered, her voice shaking. "Thank you."
Merrick reached his hand out to hers. Chloe let him twine their fingers together. "What's going on, babe? Why'd you leave me?"
Chloe heard the pain in her husband's deep, low voice, and she ached to put them both out of their misery, but she couldn't give in to her heart's desire. If she caved now, he'd be right back to his old ways, and she'd be no better off than she was now. She shored up her nerve. If she made it through the next few hours without falling apart, it'd be a miracle.
"A separation," she answered without preamble. "I don't know if there will be more to it than that, but I need some time to think."
Merrick tightened his hold on her hand and gritted out, "Yeah, I got that much from the note, but that doesn't give me a why. Please make me understand why my wife saw fit to leave me while I was asleep. Explain how that's any kind of solution to whatever's wrong with our marriage, Chloe."
She wiggled her fingers and he loosened his hold, but didn't pull away. She hadn't really expected him to. This was Merrick at his most dominating. He would never give up without a fight. She'd known that, but she also knew that once he realized he'd have to choose between his back-to-back work schedule and her, he'd choose his work.
"It's not as if I woke up yesterday and decided to walk out on everything I've worked so hard to build. This has been building for a long time. I've tried to talk to you, to make you slow down. You work fourteen-hour days, Merrick. Your entire world revolves around the business. At first I admired your drive. Now I realize it's not drive, it's an obsession. You spend all your waking hours at that office. Since I work there, too, I do get to see you, but it's not the same as spending time together as husband and wife, and you know it. I spend every weekend alone. Do you know how that makes me feel? Have you any idea how sick I am of being second to that damned business?"
Merrick frowned. "You were never second, sweetheart."
Chloe saw red. "You can sit there and say that to me? You're a liar, Merrick Vaughn."
He made a shushing sound. "Keep your voice down unless you want everyone to know our personal problems."
She took a deep breath and tried to calm her racing heart. A waiter brought their wine and poured a small amount in each of their glasses, then shuffled off to another table. Chloe took a sip, then sat back and waited for him to continue.
Merrick's gaze never left her face. He didn't acknowledge the waiter or the wine. His anger and hurt were evident in the set of his shoulders and the jumping muscle in his jaw. Chloe desperately wanted to soothe him. Tell him it was all a mistake. But that path wasn't going to bring her happiness, only more grief.
"You never said anything," he said finally. "I had no idea you were this unhappy. Why, Chloe?"
She slumped in her seat. "I tried talking to you, several times. You would either promise to be home more, which never happened, or you'd wave my concerns away as if I were suffering from a particularly vicious bout of PMS or something. After awhile, I stopped trying."
Merrick was quiet for a long time. Chloe couldn't tell what he was thinking. Sal brought their food and chatted with them a moment then left them to eat in privacy. She wanted to shove her plate away. Just the thought of eating the rich sauce and savory meatballs made her stomach queasy, but it was better than sitting in total silence.
Merrick released her hand and they both ate several bites before giving up. She peeked at Merrick and watched as he swiped a napkin over his mouth. That small gesture was sexier than a room full of exotic male dancers to Chloe. How could she possibly get over the man when she melted every time they were in the same room together?
When he sat back and crossed his arms over his chest, Chloe shivered. She recognized the determination in his dark blue eyes. Merrick was gearing up for a battle. He'd gotten the same look in meetings over the years. That look said, I'm going to win and there's nothing you can do about it.
"I have a proposition for you," Merrick said, his voice a low rumble that skated over her nerve endings like a hot caress.
"Okay, I'm listening." She couldn't even begin to guess at what Merrick had in mind.
"I want to take you on vacation. An entire week, just the two of us."
"That won't solve our problems. I wish that was all it would take, but the instant we come back, you'll be back to working around the clock and I'll be right back to waiting for you to remember that you're married."
Merrick's gaze never changed, but she could see that her words affected him. His entire body tensed. "I didn't forget we were married, but I see I've neglected you. I know I've been a lousy husband lately, but I think I deserve a chance to make it up to you. To make you see that I can change. That I will change."
She badly wanted to believe him. She needed to believe him, and that scared her more than anything. He was her life, her only love. Divorce wouldn't change how her heart felt. She would always belong to Merrick. Still, she needed to protect her heart from more pain.
"I don't know, Merrick. I've tried so many times to get you to hear me, but nothing ever worked."
"I was a blind fool. I know that now. When I read your note and realized you'd left me, I felt like my entire life had come to a screeching halt. I'm asking you to give me a chance to save our marriage. Let me have a week alone with you. If you're still determined that a separation is the only answer, then I'll let you go, no questions."