True Betrayals

By: Nora Roberts


WHEN SHE PULLED THE LETTER FROM HER MAILBOX, KELSEY HAD NO warning it was from a dead woman. The creamy stationery, the neatly handwritten name and address, and the Virginia postmark seemed ordinary enough. So ordinary she had simply stacked it with her other mail on the old Belker table under her living-room window while she slipped out of her shoes.

She went into the kitchen and poured herself a glass of wine. She would sip it slowly, she told herself, before she opened her mail. She didn’t need the drink to face the slim letter, or the junk mail, the bills, the cheery postcard from a friend enjoying a quick trip to the Caribbean.

It was the packet from her attorney that had shaken her. The packet she knew contained her divorce decree. The legal paper that would change her from Kelsey Monroe back to Kelsey Byden, from married woman to single, from half of a couple to a divorcée.

It was foolish to think that way, and she knew it. She hadn’t been married to Wade in anything but the most technical, legal sense for two years, almost as long as they’d been husband and wife.

But the paper made it all so final, so much more so than the arguments and tears, the separation, the lawyers’ fees and legal maneuvers.

Till death do us part, she thought grimly, and sipped some wine. What a crock. If that were true she’d be dead at twenty-six. And she was alive—alive and well and back in the murky dating pool of singles.

She shuddered at the thought.

She supposed Wade would be out celebrating with his bright and spiffy-looking associate in the advertising agency. The associate he had had an affair with, the liaison that he told his stunned and furious wife had nothing to do with her or with their marriage.

Funny, Kelsey hadn’t thought of it that way. Maybe she didn’t feel she’d had to die, or kill Wade, in order to part, but she’d taken the rest of her marriage vows seriously. And forsaking all others had been at the top of the list.

No, she felt the perky and petite Lari with the aerobically sculpted body and cheerleader smile had had everything to do with her.

No second chances had been given. His slip, as Wade had termed it, was never to be repeated. She had moved out of their lovely town house in Georgetown on the spot, leaving behind everything they had accumulated during the marriage.

It had been humiliating to run home to her father and stepmother, but there were degrees of pride. Just as there were degrees of love. And her love had snapped off like a light the instant she’d found Wade cozied up in the Atlanta hotel suite with Lari.

Surprise, she thought with a sneer. Well, there’d been three very surprised people when she’d walked into that suite with a garment bag and the foolishly romantic intention of spending the weekend leg of Wade’s business trip with him.

Perhaps she was rigid, unforgiving, hard-hearted, all the things Wade had accused her of being when she’d refused to budge on her demand for a divorce. But, Kelsey assured herself, she was also right.

She topped off her wine and walked back into the living room of the immaculate Bethesda apartment. There was not a single chair or candlestick in the sun-washed room that had stood in Georgetown. Clean break. That’s what she had wanted, that’s what she’d gotten. The cool colors and museum prints that surrounded her now were hers exclusively.

Stalling, she switched on the stereo, engaged the CD changer, and filled the room with Beethoven’s Pathétique. Her taste for the classics had been passed down from her father. It was one of the many things they shared. Indeed, they shared a love of knowledge, and Kelsey knew she’d been in danger of becoming a professional student before she’d taken her first serious job with Monroe Associates.

Even then she’d been compelled to take classes, in subjects ranging from anthropology to zoology. Wade had laughed at her, apparently intrigued and amused by her restless shuffling from course to course and job to job.

She’d resigned from Monroe when she married him. Between her trust fund and Wade’s income, she hadn’t needed a job. She’d wanted to devote herself to the remodeling and redecorating of the town house they’d bought. She’d loved every hour of stripping paint, sanding floors, hunting in dusty antique shops for just the right piece for just the right spot. Laboring in the tiny courtyard, scrubbing brick, digging weeds, and designing the formal English garden had been pure pleasure. Within a year, the town house had been a showplace, a testament to her taste and her effort and her patience.

Now it was simply an asset that had been assessed and split between them.

She’d gone back to school, that academic haven where the real world could be pushed aside for a few hours every day. Now she worked part-time at the National Gallery, thanks to her art history courses.

She didn’t have to work, not for money. The trust fund from her paternal grandfather could keep her comfortable enough so that she could drift from interest to interest as she chose.

So, she was an independent woman. Young, she thought, and, glancing over at the stack of mail, single. Qualified to do a little of everything and a lot of nothing. The one thing she’d thought she’d excelled at, marriage, had been a dismal failure.