Wife In Name Only
by Hayson Manning
Trapped in a loveless marriage, Zoe Hughes escaped to make a new life for herself on the tiny island of Tonga. Now she runs a successful boutique honeymoon resort. Selling true love is easy. No one needs to know she’s married in name only. At least until America’s premier honeymoon magazine wants to publish a feature on her perfect marriage. Now she must convince her estranged husband to rip himself away from plotting corporate takeovers in LA to save her island paradise.
Rory agrees to come for forty-eight hours, but only because he needs the positive PR. To his surprise, the wife he finds in Tonga isn’t the same woman he married. Now she’s so much more…
When a storm strands Rory in Tonga, will he win back his wife or leave paradise empty-handed?
Praise for Wife In Name Only:
“Grab a frosty drink and a hammock and settle in for a romantic journey you won’t soon forget.” – Inara Scott
© 2013 Hayson Manning
Zoe Hughes stared at the e-mail, her blood sloshing through her veins like cold custard. Her office went gray until all she could see was her laptop at the end of a long tunnel.
“Holy crap sacks , I’m screwed,” she whispered.
“Pardon, Miss Zoe?”
No, no, no, no, no.
A soft hand landed on her forearm and squeezed. “All good?” asked Simi, the man she wished was her grandfather.
The air in her office thickened until she felt she was breathing in cloud. “No, not good. The biggest honeymoon magazine in the world is sending a photographer to do an exclusive photo shoot. All this good press we’ve had caught Honeymoon Heaven’s interest, and now they want to do a spread.” She stared at the e-mail and tried to blink the words away.
Our readers want to see more than just paradise, so we hope to capture the beauty of your resort and feature the couple who has found everlasting love .
She took a deep breath and tried to calm the mild panic that threatened to become so much more. “Apparently, Rory and I are the poster children for the perfect marriage.” She should be doing poorly executed cartwheels of joy. She’d dreamed of this kind of publicity for her resort. Prayed for it. But the magazine wouldn’t focus on the success of the resort. Instead, what the world would see in glossy prints would be just…her. Because there was no husband. Not here.
“That is good news. I am happy for you. For us,” Simi said, his eyes twinkling. Her heart softened. He’d been the first to welcome her when she’d arrived here, nervous, unsure of her welcome, clutching a fifty-year lease. He’d offered his services, and she’d hired him on the spot. He enthusiastically welcomed every guest, singing to them in Tongan. He sang to them when they left, having made lifelong friends. He helped out where needed, but he’d never quite understood why Rory wasn’t here with her.
“But, Simi, they think I’m an example of the perfect marriage. How can I sell love ever after if I’m love gone wrong?” She squeezed her eyes shut.
“Not love gone wrong, just love…not worked out.”
She patted his hand. “I love the hopeless romantic in you.”
“Maybe it is time you call your husband and have him come where he should be, with his wife.”
She stared at Simi. “I haven’t been his wife in a long time. We were over well before I arrived here.”
Simi gave her his obstinate look, his chin jutted forward and his eyes narrowed. “Maybe it is time you stop telling all the guests that your husband has just missed the boat and is arriving on the next one. Maybe it is time you tell him he should be here with his wife.”
She tried for a smile, but her lips weren’t cooperating. “He’ll want to be here as much as I want to be back in L.A., hanging out with his henchmen and playing corporate Monopoly.”
She closed her eyes, desperate for a solution. A ghost of an idea popped into her fizzing brain. Maybe, just maybe, she could create giant life-size cardboard cutouts of Rory and move them around the resort.
Crappier crap sacks.
“You want good publicity for the resort?” Simi’s gaze hooked onto hers and wouldn’t let go.
“Yes. I’d do anything,” she breathed.
“Then you know what you have to do.” He picked up his cane and thumped toward the door.
With her stomach on a Six Flags rollercoaster, she stared through her office window at the shimmering turquoise water and watched a couple walking along the shore, hands entwined. The man stopped, tipped his wife over his arm, and kissed her, long and deep. Perfect. The wind whispered through palm trees, and the fronds bent and shook as if applauding.
“No,” she whispered to the now silent room. Simi, bent over his cane, came around the side of the building, waved, and headed down the path through the jungle toward his home. “I can do this.” She picked up the satellite phone and gave it a pat. “Please don’t cut out. I promise you can hang out with whatever electrical appliance you want, but please let me get through this call.”
She glanced at her watch, calculating the time difference, and then punched in a number she never thought she’d call again.
Her stomach executed a loop-da-loop at the first ring. She clutched the phone tighter when he answered on the third ring.
“Hughes,” he barked.
Her mouth dried, and she closed her eyes. He sounded like the same pissed-off man she’d walked away from.
“Whoever you are, you’ve got exactly three seconds. Speak or shut up.”
“Rory?” Her voice echoed down the line. The couple outside now lay in a hammock, feeding each other slices of mango. Her resolve strengthened.
“I don’t know who this is, but you’re pissing me off, so—”
“Rory, it’s me, Zoe.”
A crackle of static ripped down the line. “Shit. Zoe?”
She leaned against the desk. “Yeah. Look, I hate to have to call, but I really need your help.”
“Zo,” he said softly. Then his voice got hard. “Where the fuck are you?”
She jolted at his tone. “Tonga. I wouldn’t call, but I need your help.”
“You in trouble?”
“No. Yes. Not trouble, but possibly…” Oh, for God’s sake, Zoe, just spit it out. “Can you come for a few days, maybe even a week? I really need your help.” Her voice wobbled at the end. She cleared her throat and tried to start again. A spurt of static cut her off. She glared at the phone.
“Are you done playing?” his voice dropped to just above a whisper.
“Playing? What are you talking about?”
“It’s been a year, Zo. I’ve waited for a year for you to get your head on straight. I’m not normally known for my patience. It’s time for you to stop playing and come home.”
“I am home, Rory,” she whispered. “We’re over.”
She could feel his vibe from across the Pacific.
She closed her eyes, breathed deep, and continued. “The biggest honeymoon magazine in the world is en-route to do a spread and photos of my resort.” She opened her eyes and stared out at the picture perfect sky. “I’ve done really well here.” She spoke quietly but with confidence. “The magazine thinks we’re still married and, even though we’re married in name only, you know I—”
“How much publicity?”
There he goes, straight into work mode.
“A lot. With you being known as the Ice Man and Forbes Man of the Year, there are a lot of questions about how you’ve been able to split your time between there and Tonga. How you’ve run the most successful construction company on the west coast and transposed that to a tiny honeymoon resort in a tiny corner of Tonga.”
Silence, the kind she’d come to expect in the final years of her marriage, shimmered down the line.
She gripped the receiver tighter until she thought it groaned. “You know, on top of all this, we have other stuff we need to get sorted.”
“Yeah, we do. Like you coming home.”
Tears leaked out of her. “Don’t do this, Rory. We’re over,” she said in a quiet but determined voice.
“Send me an e-mail with the details and the name of the magazine, and I’ll let you know my decision.”
Her chin dropped to her chest. Holy hell. To think this was the same man who would walk along Venice Beach and discuss their future family, never letting go of her hand. The same man who would follow her to make sure she was okay when she woke for a glass of water in the middle of the night. This was the man who, every Christmas, would dress in hand-knitted sweaters adorned with bells and moveable antlers in the brightest shades of red and green wool. They’d laugh until they couldn’t stand anymore and then send the photos to the knitter, Myrtle Henderson, their only L.A. family. This was the man she’d married, but he wasn’t that man anymore.
“I’ll send the details.”
She ignored the tremor and concentrated.
Come on, Zo, be just like the Ice Man. Make this all about business.
Rory Hughes hit end call on his phone and smiled.
This was fucking awesome news. Not only was his wife a success, which pleased him on a cellular level, but because of her success she’d also just delivered news he needed like a starving man needed a loaf of bread.
He’d been getting a crap-load of bad press. He read the papers, knew about the the Ice Man title, and did very little to quell it. He thought it was kind of cool. Any publicity was good publicity, but he’d had way more bad than good. Losing a bit of the cutthroat image by lounging against a palm tree next to his smoking hot wife and pretending that he had a hand running a successful honeymoon resort? He’d have a freaking halo circling his head.
Hell yeah, he wanted this publicity.
He wanted the mom-and-pop construction companies to want to sign on with him. Up until now there’d been a bit of nervousness about his cutthroat ways. This was the perfect opportunity to get some good press, and he needed it.
He pulled up Zoe’s webpage, the page he loaded every day. His gazed at his wife.
This year-long separation was over.
We’re not over, Zo. He glanced down at his wedding ring. There was no way in hell they were done.
It was time she came home.
He leaned back in his chair and smiled. All in all, it was a win-win situation. He’d get the awesome PR he needed, and he’d get his wife back.
He leaned forward in his chair. “Hillary,” he barked into his intercom to his assistant. “Get me a first class ticket to Tonga and two first class returns.”
Rory stepped onto talc-white sand on a lost dot of an island in the kingdom of Tonga. Salt-and-mango etched air assaulted his senses, and he breathed deep, his muscles involuntarily relaxing.
Time to get his wife back.
Priorities. Business first. After doing the photo shoot and ensuring he had the good press he needed, he’d then convince his wife that they needed to get this separation un-separated. Period. Enough of her being on the other side of the world. No ifs, buts, or maybes. Just her back with him where she belonged.
He swung a backpack over his shoulder and stopped in front of a rustic pole. A picture of a facemask and the word Snorkelling pointed at the beach. An arrow that read Recharging Station directed him toward hammocks swinging lazily in the breeze. He found the one he needed. It read Welcoming Committee and pointed at a bungalow directly ahead. As he took the path, he passed a fleet of yachts, their glossy hulls bobbed in the harbor. He paused and raised his hand in greeting to Smithy, the captain of the yacht that had brought him here.
Silence apart from a choir of competing insects rang loudly in his head. Jesus, this place was quiet. Too quiet. The seductive murmur of his mistress—downtown Los Angeles—called to him from across the Pacific. He could almost feel the throb of the city streets, hear the sigalerts issued for the clogged arteries of the 405 freeway, and inhale the early morning construction dust. He missed the cut and thrust already. The frenetic energy. It was like he was standing on another planet—an alien looking to get home.
A couple walked along the beach, hand in hand. Another couple kayaked out by the reef. Their orange vessel was a smudge against the shimmer of the horizon.
A sound he hadn’t heard in more than two years smacked his ears. The off-key sound of Zoe belting out the lyrics to “Dancing Queen” called to him. He walked into the bungalow, leaned against the doorframe, and drank in the sight of his wife. He’d know that body anywhere. Blind and in a dark room full of woman, he’d drink in her scent, touch her skin, run his fingers through her hair, and know she belonged to him. With her back to him, she stared down at a bench. She still couldn’t sing for the life of her, and it was still the most amazing sound on the planet. The sight of her after a year punched him deep in the gut. His body froze. Muscles unhitched from bone. His blood turned to slush.
God, the woman was beautiful.
Not just a woman. His woman.
And she was coming back home with him as soon as this business was complete.
She looked…different…but not. What the hell was so different about her? She had the same killer long legs but now in frayed denim cut-offs. Gone were the tailored shorts and matching sandals with a tucked in tee she’d worn like a stiff uniform. He drank her in. She was so close he could almost taste her. And man, he wanted to taste her. Her skin was now the color of polished mahogany. A hum vibrated deep throughout his body. Her hair was the same waterfall of honeyed hair that caught the sun. Copper and bronze strands formed a halo around her head. It was hair he hadn’t seen out of a tight French knot in years. He itched to run his hand from ankle to thigh and hear her low moan of pleasure. Instead, he let his eyes roam over her, hungrier than a condemned man with a Mega Bucket of KFC. God, he wanted her. He would always want her. He hadn’t seen her so relaxed and at ease in a long time. Unease threaded along his spine.
“Zoe,” he said softly.
She spun around, and whatever had been in her mouth sprayed across his chest in an arc of red.
“Rory?” she choked out.
Her mouth hung open in a perfect ‘O’. He stared down at the drops staining the front of his shirt.
“Oh my God, I just spat on you. I’m so sorry.” She reached for a dishcloth and dabbed at his t-shirt, then clamped her hand across her mouth. Her amazing blue eyes sparkled.
A sound he hadn’t heard in years filtered to him. “Are you laughing?” It was a magical laugh, free and happy. It shut him down and restarted him in one easy beat.
She shook her head, lifted an eyebrow, then nodded.
“Sorry, it’s just that I haven’t seen you in ages and the first thing I do is spit Hunka Burning Love at you.”
The snort in her laughter, the light shining in her eyes, and the warmth radiating out of her smile had his heart beating painfully against his ribcage. Before he could get a handle on the mess of thoughts trapped in his head, he frowned and asked, “What’s Hunka Burning Love? Is it something to do with the publicity photos?”
She stepped back from him and glanced at a large bowl on the bench. He followed her gaze. Sliced oranges, limes, and mint collided like battleships in the red liquid.
“It’s my thing. I invent fruity cocktails for the guests when they arrive. Hunka is still in production. And to answer your question, yes and no, I make the drinks for all the guests, but Hunka will be in the shots.”
She clicked a button on a remote, and the notes of the song faded from nearby speakers. He caught the tremble in her fingers and the way she laced her fingers when she was nervous.
“I haven’t heard you sing in years.”
“I sing all the time now,” she said in a quiet but confident voice.
He absorbed the blow, refusing to flinch. The pain radiated around his body, leaving cold sweat inching across.
She was happy here. Happier than he’d seen her in a long time.
Happy away from him.
No fucking way was this happening.
He stood frozen to the spot, his brain playing catch-up to the crap circulating in his head.
Something must have registered on his face. Her face softened for a second before she turned her head away, took a long breath, and turned back with a forced smile.
“Thank you for coming. It means a lot. I know you want to know all about the set-up here and how the photo spread will work. We should get together to iron that out.” She laced her fingers together again.
“Right. Priorities. Tell me about the spread and what’s required.”
As if sensing his probe, she shut down the emotion on her face.
A sledgehammer to the gut had him flinching. Zoe had always showed her emotions. When they were first together, she hadn’t had to speak; he’d read her face to know exactly what she was thinking. When she’d stood across from him in a borrowed dress, clutching supermarket-bought flowers and had said ‘I do’ with tears running down her face, he’d absorbed her. Like an ice-axe to the back of his skull, he knew he now watched her shut down before his eyes. Just as she used to before she left.
“I know we’re married in name only, but with the magazine coming and…well, it means a lot.” She blinked up at him, color slowly edging into her face.
“What do you mean married in name only?” he said slowly, trying to digest her words. “I came here to work things out. To take you home where you belong. Enough of this shit, Zo. You need to come back with me.”
She stared at him as if he’d arrived in a shiny rocket from another world. “I am home. I love this place.” She paused. “This is where they’ll bury me,” she said quietly.
His gut rolled over and played dead. “No, after the publicity shots, we need to get your shit sorted and work out who will take over running the resort, because you’re coming back with me. You’re coming home.”
She did a cartoon-style double take. “We need to get my shit sorted?” Her cheeks flushed a deep red. “I don’t think so, Rory. My shit, as you so eloquently put it, is sorted. This is my home, and I’m staying.”
“No. I’ve had enough of you working out what you needed to work out in your head. I’m done with that.”
“Oh, my God, nothing about you has changed.” Her eyes swam in some sort of liquid blue emotion.
He hated emotion. Hated the way it made him feel powerless to fix whatever was wrong. Hated the way it pressed into his head, making him feel things he didn’t want to feel.
“Why’d you leave, Zo?” The question that had been burning him for a year slipped from his mouth. The anger of her leaving still felt like a pressed bruise. He had no idea why she’d left. Now, looking at her happier than he’d seen her in years, his plan to take her home took a giant turn he hadn’t factored.
She’d moved on.
She twisted the hem of her t-shirt. Pain flashed in her eyes, and he flinched.
She took a long breath and studied him as if he were a long-lost treasure that might hold some nice memories.
That look was a mule-kick to the chest.
“Bob Henderson was the last straw for me,” Zoe said. “He was like family and the only one who gave us a chance when we arrived in L.A. He treated you like a son, and, without a thought, you took everything that mattered from him.”
She stared him straight in the eye.
He rubbed his jaw, perplexed. “It was just business.”
“But it wasn’t business when Bob ended up in the hospital with a stroke after you took away his company. You couldn’t even be bothered to send flowers, let alone go and visit the man who looked upon you as a son. You ripped away everything he held dear, including yourself, just to make a return on an investment.” She looked up at him, and his heart did a slow swan-dive toward his feet. “I fell in love with the young, ambitious, driven, but kind Rory. I fell out of love with the cutthroat businessman who’d sell his soul for a merger. The speak-or-shut-up guy.” Her quietly spoken words shut down his brain.
If the previous mule-kick wasn’t bad enough, a four-ton elephant had just landed on his chest and started doing push-ups.
“Why didn’t you contact me, Zo?”
“At the beginning,” she said, “I didn’t see the point. Then I fell into running the resort, and, with the whole pretend-marriage thing going on, I thought if I filed divorce paperwork someone would find out, and I’d be screwed.”
She looked slightly guilty.
He stared down at the plain band on her finger. He’d worked double shifts on the construction site to get her a solid ring. A ring that would last her for an eternity with him. Sweat trickled down his back.
“We’d both moved on.” She looked at him sadly. “Rory, we communicated by texting. We hadn’t spoken in a long time. There were nights when you stayed at the office instead of coming home. We were both waiting for each other to call it off.”
“You sent me a text telling me our marriage was over.” He thought the pain was long-gone, but it still cut.
“You left me little choice.”
He frowned. “How’d you figure that?”
“We had dinner plans, and I wanted to tell you then, but you cancelled. Three times. Three times, you sent a text telling me something had come up and asking to reschedule. And I did. Three times.”
Color flared into her face, like it was a bad memory that she wanted to get rid of. Fast.
“The fourth time you sent a text to everyone in your office, and my name was tacked on at the end, an afterthought to your work plans. You advised me you’d be out of the office for three days.” She looked at him a little sadly. “So, yeah, I thought sending you a text was exactly where our marriage was. That night I ate the meal I’d cooked us, packed my bag, and left.” She cocked her head to one side. “Were you only gone for three days?”
He breathed deep and long, but it wasn’t a soul-cleansing breath. It was a breath filled with barbed wire. “Seven days. I was gone seven days.”
It stung like a flicked rubber band to his insides. But they were not done. Seriously not done. Her soft fingers curled around his wrist, sending a plume of warmth across his body.
“Rory, I’m never leaving here. Ever. I’ve found the place I was meant to be.” She paused, determination rolling off her in palpable waves. “You have to let us go. I have.”
The finality in her eyes shut him down. He forgot to breathe as he stood there reading the ‘we’re done’ look. ‘Totally done’ look. Yeah, he’d do the press for himself, make it the best spread ever, and then he would be gone. Back to L.A to get divorce papers drawn.
An ancient man shuffled through the door, slightly out of breath. his cane whacked the wooden floor.
“Miss Zoe. Weather report from Nuku’alofa. Big storm heading toward Niuafo’ou. Category two. Name Esther. My wife’s name.” The old man wheezed.
Fear flitted across her eyes, and her hand came to rest on her throat. “Okay, Simi. I’ll make sure we’re ready in case it turns. I don’t want to alarm the guests.”
When the old man smiled, his face creased like aged parchment. “It won’t turn. Hermit crabs stay on beach, not hide up tree. Too afraid of my Esther.”
Her shoulders visibly relaxed.
“There’s a category two storm brewing?” Rory forced his feet to stay anchored to the floor. Forced his breath to stay even. Forced back the flinch in his muscles.
“Still afraid of storms?” she said softly.
He curled his hands. “Yeah.”
She gripped his arm. “Your secret’s still safe with me. And don’t worry. If it’s really bad, Smithy will find you. Believe me, he’s a good man. Besides, if Simi says the hermit crabs are staying on the beach, then that’s good enough for me. Still, I’ll make sure everything’s in order.”
“They work as the island barometer.”
He opened his mouth to question but closed it again. It didn’t matter; he didn’t want to know. As long as there was no storm heading his way, he was cool. Besides, he’d take his state-of-the-art sat-nav over hermit crab technology any day.
Simi glanced between her and Rory.
Zoe smiled at the old man with genuine affection.
“Rory.” Twinkling brown eyes appraised him. “Good you came.”
Rory thrust out a hand and gently took the older man’s hand. How did the guy know who he was?
“I go and start work.” He squeezed Rory’s hand before he shuffled past him and out the door.
What’s with all the squeezing–like I’m a favorite nephew or a…friend?
Rory glanced out the window at the picture-perfect day. The sun hit the translucent water, bathing it in crystalline sparkles.
A hammock hung between two palms where a couple read books and sipped out of coconut shells.
“Right. Until I leave.” He pointed out the window. “I’ll take the hammock.
“You can’t.” The words shot out of her mouth with the intensity of a speeding bullet.
His eyebrows rose. He leaned against the counter while taking in her sudden ashen appearance. “Why’s that?”
“Well, the thing is…” Her hand went to her throat. She stared down at a stack of brochures, the top of which was covered in a healthy dose of Hunka. His eyes followed hers.
Hang on a minute.
He grabbed the brochure.
There, in a glossy picture of love, were his and Zoe’s faces staring back at him.
He opened the pages to find pictures of them walking hand in hand along a moonlit beach. Of them kissing against the backdrop of a tropical jungle. He glanced out the window at the same backdrop of jungle.
“This is us.”
“Yeah.” Scarlet crept across her cheeks.
“But I’ve never been here.”
Even her ears got in on the act and looked like they’d been scorched.
“What the hell is this, Zoe?”
“I hope you don’t mind, but I photoshopped you in. The magazine took one look at us, and thought you were the Ice Man melted, so different from the Wall Street Ice Man everyone knows is you. There’s no way you’d smile like that now, so I,..ah…photoshopped you in.
Coldness spread through his core “You…photoshopped me in?”
She had the grace to look guilty. “Well, yeah. I have to be married—it’s a honeymoon resort. I can’t sell love ever after if, for all intents and purposes, I’m divorced. It wouldn’t exactly bring in the customers. So one night not long after I got here, and possibly after one too many glasses of wine, I started working on the brochure. I was going through my computer, and instead of worrying about copyright and stuff, I used pictures of our wedding day and photos of us back in the days when we were, you know, in love, and incorporated them into the brochure.” She said it in one long burst. “So I, um, I photoshopped you in.”
“So to clarify, Zo, it wouldn’t be uncomfortable for you to…pretend?” The words grated out of his throat.
“Not now. Maybe once…but the past is the past.” She held his gaze.
Silence—and not the comfortable kind—stretched between them. He rubbed a hand across weary eyes.
“Why don’t you have a shower? You can stay with me tonight.” She shifted from one foot to the other, a hopeful tremor in her voice. “Follow me, I’ll show you to my bungalow. Hey, I’ll even buy you a glass of Hunka Burning Love later.”
She turned to leave, and he followed.
“At the bar or in your room?”
She stopped, and he slammed into her back. He grabbed her around the waist to steady her.
His fingers inadvertently slipped under her t-shirt and met smooth skin that flamed under his touch. Without meaning to, he leaned in and inhaled her signature scent—jasmine and musk. Her sharp intake of breath had blood pumping in anticipation to all parts of his body, one in particular. He slowly turned her to face him. Her pupils dilated, and she stared at his mouth then licked her lips.
Ah, they still had it. Instant chemistry.
“Don’t.” Her voice had become all breathy.
“Don’t what, babe?” He kept his voice deliberately low. His hands begged his brain to roam over her satiny skin, reach across, and pull the string of her bikini top. Her nipples hardened under his gaze. If that didn’t get blood flowing to parts that had been shut down for longer than was considered healthy for a man…
Her chin tilted. “Don’t call me babe. I stopped being that a long time ago.”
He traced a circle over her stomach. She used to love that pet name. “It would just be physical, if that’s what you want. A fling,” he murmured into her ear.
She shook her head and slowly inched out of his orbit. “I’m not into flings. You know, physical with no feelings. I’ve got Rudy for that.”
He gripped her waist tighter. “Who’s Rudy?” He’d kill the guy that laid a hand on her.
“Cool it, caveman. Rudy sits in a box in a drawer by my bed and is battery powered.” She paused. “A year is a long time.”
He hauled his hands through his hair. “Tell me about it.”