The Price of Scandal
Ten years later
I stretched luxuriously against the leather of my plane seat and reveled in the complete lack of children arguing. There were no incessant demands for “Mom!” or “Dad!” No forgotten last-minute meeting requests or filings or lab disasters.
Just me, my husband, and a very nice bottle of champagne.
“You’re asking shockingly few questions,” Derek—aforementioned husband, partner, and father of our three blonde-haired, precocious daughters—mused from the seat across from me. His thumb dug in deliciously to my bare arch.
“You rescued me from a weekend of other kid birthday parties, board meetings, and a fundraising gala with my mother and Husband Number Four. I don’t care if we’re crash landing in a swamp as long as it’s just you and me with no cell service.” I sighed appreciatively.
My husband only got better looking with age. The salt and pepper in his hair and neatly trimmed beard made him impossibly more debonair. The crinkles next to his eyes were deeper now with every knowing smile in my direction, every belly laugh with our daughters.
And I was unbelievably, overwhelmingly head over heels for the man. Still.
“I’m whisking you away,” he said, ducking his head to peer out the plane’s window, taking in the turquoise and cerulean waters beneath us.
“You could have just locked the bedroom door and I’d be happy,” I teased. He’d stormed into the gym this morning holding two packed suitcases and given me fifteen minutes to shower and change before whisking me to Bluewater’s airfield.
“You need a break, love,” he said, cupping my foot in his hand.
“And you don’t?”
“Anything that gets me an uninterrupted weekend with you, Emily.” That spark in those beautiful blue eyes was as exciting, as enthralling as it had been the first time he’d leveled me with the look.
We lived together, worked together, and did our best to raise children who weren’t entitled assholes together. AHA’s findings in heart disease prevention had kept us busy in the past decade, and our growing family easily devoured the rest of the hours in our days.
While I managed the lab and FDA approvals, Derek handled the marketing end of things and continued to run his very profitable crisis management firm, though admittedly from a bit more of a distance now. His team was the best in the business. The same with mine. And Derek and me together? Well, we were unstoppable.
I felt the descent and snuck a peek out the window. “That was fast. We’ve barely been in the air for twenty minutes. What is that?” I asked, pointing at the lump of green, the strip of white sand.
His lips curved. “You’ll see, love.”
I craned my neck to get a better look, but the plane was already banking away from the island.
Five minutes later, we were bumping along a skinny grass strip surrounded by the blinding blue of the Atlantic Ocean.
“Is this the Bahamas?” I asked, unclasping my seatbelt.
“This is Away,” Derek said elusively. He slid my sandals back on my feet and guided me to the door.
“Okay, I’m about to start asking the thousand questions you were anticipating,” I warned him.
The flight attendant popped the door open, and the punch of humidity hit me after our brief, air-conditioned journey.
“After you, Mrs. Price,” Derek said, sliding his sunglasses on.
I took the stairs down to the ground, a mix of hard sand and wispy strands of grass. In front of us, the island hooked in the shape of a J. Vegetation and palms grew thick and verdant on the subtle elevation at the center. The beach, a strip of sand caressed by gentle waves, was completely deserted.
There was a pier with a cabana on the end. From here, I could just make out two yellow hammocks swaying from the rafters. I was already mentally choosing the first bathing suit I’d change into and wondering what drinks the bar would serve.
“We’ll see you at five on Sunday,” Derek said, shaking the pilot’s hand.
“Where is everyone?” I asked as he led me away from the plane.
“Everyone who?” Derek smirked.
“Other guests. Staff. Is this a resort? Where’s the hotel?”
He smiled benignly, and I poked him in the chest. “Derek.”
We stood next to our bags and watched as the little jet turned around and took off, heading back in the direction of Miami.
“Do you hear that?” he asked, cocking his head.
“What?” I listened but could only pick up the sound of waves, the tickle of palms in the perpetual breeze.
“Silence,” he breathed, pulling me in close.
Breathlessly, I wrapped my arms around his neck. “It’s been so long, I’d forgotten what silence sounds like,” I confessed.
“It’s all yours for the next thirty-six hours,” my husband said, brushing a kiss over my lips. “Now, let’s get you out of this shirt.”
His hands slid under the hem of my tank top, and I tried to slap them away. “Derek! Someone will see. Do we really need another naked sunbathing photo scandal?”
Ignoring me, he slipped my shirt over my head and then began to work on the buttons of his own. “Ah, but in order for there to be photos, there has to be someone to take them.”
“There’s always someone.” I glanced over my shoulder, looking for proof.
“Not here.” His hands went to the waistband of my shorts. “It’s just you and me and the coconuts in the trees.”
I took another good look around. Besides the dock and cabana, and a palapa covering loungers, there were no signs of civilization. Two hammocks. Two loungers.
“Derek. Where are we?”
“We’re on your island, love,” he said, slipping my shorts down my hips and letting them fall to the ground.
“You bought me an island?” I sputtered.
“Ten acres of peace and quiet,” he said, burying his face in my neck. “No internet. No cell service. Completely off the grid. Just your beautiful, naked body and mine.”
The thrill of freedom warred with the pressure of responsibility. “What if there’s an emergency? What if the girls need something?”
“There’s a sat phone in my bag. We’re twenty-five minutes from the mainland.” That was closer to the kids than my lab.
“What about food? More importantly, is there a bar?” I pressed.
“It’s self-service, I’m afraid,” he said, leading me toward the long hook of beach.
“Where will we sleep?”
“I see you’ve found your questions,” he teased.
“What about our bags?” I asked, looking over my shoulder at the two suitcases looking lonely and out of place in uninhabited paradise.
“They’ll keep. There’s no one here to steal them. Come see your other surprise,” Derek said, drawing me along with him.
“You’re serious, aren’t you? This is ours?”
“Ours and only ours,” he said.
My heart fluttered. Even after all these years, the man could still surprise me. I wanted to strip off my underwear. To dive headfirst into the surf. To roll in the sand. And to tackle him and thank him properly.
He covered my eyes with his hands and nudged me forward several steps. “Are you ready for the pièce de résistance?”
“What could be better than my own island?”
“How about this?”
His hands dropped.
“Oh. My. God.” I breathed. “Is that…”
“Your very own tiny house,” he said proudly.
There, built on a wooden platform peeking out through the trees and greenery, was a bright yellow and turquoise cottage. The porch wrapped around three sides. The windows and doors were open, wooden shutters propped open to allow the breeze to flow right through.
I opened my mouth. Then closed it. Then opened it again.
There was a grill. A fire pit. A tiny table set for two on the front porch.
“Solar roof tiles. A small desalinization setup. A generator. And a windmill on the other side of the island. We’re entirely off the grid,” he said ticking off the highlights.
“Derek,” I breathed.
“Emily.” He was beaming at me. Delighted by my delight.
“This is incredible.” I felt lightheaded. All of my dreams to date had come true. I had a career that I loved. Work that fed my soul. A man who loved me more than I ever thought possible. A loud, messy family. Friends I could always count on. And now, my very own paradise.
“Come inside,” he coaxed.
I was laughing and crying. Almost hyperventilating.
“Did you pack your Imodium?” Derek asked as we climbed the porch steps.
“Very funny.” I snorted. The front doors were propped open, affording me a view of the beachy interior. The living room was small, but the soaring ceilings with driftwood beams made it feel bright and airy. There was a couch and an oversized chair. A wall of bookshelves framed in the windows that overlooked the porch.
The kitchen was postage stamp-sized, with a teak island and blue cabinets. Two metal barstools slid under the lip of the countertop. A tiny bar was built into the wall.
I wandered through a doorway and found myself in a cozy bedroom overlooking the ocean beyond the front porch. The king-sized bed took up most of the square footage.
“This is the most amazing—”
“Ah ah ah. Wait until you see the bathroom,” Derek cautioned. He pointed at another door.
I stepped in and then out. The bathroom, white marble and walls of glass, opened onto a covered terrace that housed a soaking tub. Behind it, a shower head jutted out of a stone alcove.
“I could just lay down right here and die,” I decided.
“Don’t you dare. Not before we’ve christened the beach, the hammocks, and at least the outdoor shower.”
“Just the one bedroom?” I asked, turning to face him.
He nodded smugly.
“What about the girls?” I selfishly dared to hope.
“They will never know about this place. No one will. Just you and me.”
“And we just tell them we’re going where?” I laughed.
The perfection of it. The sheer thoughtfulness of the gesture had me jumping into his arms.
The man who knew me inside and out and loved me anyway wrapped his capable arms around me.
“I am never going to top this, am I?” I asked.
“Oh, I don’t know. I’ve had this fantasy about you coming out of the water naked and stalking toward me on a lounger…” Derek mused.
“You think a blow job will repay you for the most thoughtful, extravagant surprise in the history of our relationship?”
“Maybe several blow jobs.”
“I can’t believe you did this for me,” I said.
“For us. Always us, love.”
Tears pricked the back of my eyes, making them burn deliciously.
“I adore you, Derek. Thank you for everything. For our work. For those three beautiful girls that we need to escape from. For knowing me so damn well and loving me anyway.”
He shook his head. “This is my thank you to you, darling. You’re my miracle.”
I bit my lip and tucked my thumbs into the waistband of my dignified thong. “Race you to the water.”
If I had to rank it, “naked beach lounger under a palapa with the steady thrum of surf in the background” orgasms were now at the top of my list of favorite sexual experience.
Emily, loose-limbed and drowsy, sighed into my chest. Our legs were intertwined on the oceanfront chair.
“Sometimes I think I’m dreaming.”
I brushed my lips over her saltwater-damp hair, breathing in the scents of sea and sunscreen. “Dreaming what, love?”
“All of it. Everything. You. Our life. The irony that I owe all of this to Lita.”
I snorted. “You owe that kraken nothing.”
“Kraken?” She laughed. “You’re taking this deserted island thing a little far.”
“If I want to be a pirate here, I’ll be a damn pirate. And you can be my wench.”
“How about first mate?”
“Am I a terrible mother for being so happy to escape our kids?” she mused. Her thumb toyed with the rings on her finger. The engagement ring. The wedding band. And the most recent addition of a glittery diamond band for ten years of adventure. She’d asked me if I’d stolen it.
I scoffed at the thought. “Any parent who doesn’t need time to not be a parent isn’t human,” I said dryly. The yawn took me by surprise.
Finley, our precocious three-year-old had woken me that morning at 5:30 to announce that she felt strongly that it was time to start the day and required my help in the kitchen to make waffles.
“It’s not that I don’t love them so much it hurts,” Emily added quickly.
I laughed. “But sometimes you also understand why some animals eat their young.”
Her grin was blinding.
“Did I tell you that Poppy announced yesterday that she wants to study forensics and be a crime scene investigator?”
Our nearly ten-year-old Poppy, the oldest, was a baffling mix of morbidity and self-confidence that rendered her immune to the winds of popularity that changed daily in her elementary school. She was happiest with her nose in non-fiction on subjects that should have been beyond her years. Her intellect both dazzled and terrified us.
“She’ll do it, too,” I predicted. Our daughter came by her single-mindedness honestly. “I just hope she stays focused on the sciences instead of suddenly veering off course and becoming a diabolical teenager. I don’t say this about many people, but I’m fairly certain Poppy could outmaneuver us without you or me even knowing it.” I pictured our freckle-faced girl organizing some sort of illegal betting pool in junior high.
Emily gave a mock shudder, but the softness in her eyes hit me where it always did, squarely in my heart.
If there was one thing that rivaled Emily’s love for me, it was her love for our children. Together, the five of us were a messy, loud, entertaining team. Every holiday, our dining room table was full of people we loved beyond question. Every night, the woman of my dreams curled up in my arms and sighed with satisfaction at another day of hard work and hard play.
It was quite possible that I, too, owed Lita—the disloyal villain—a debt. Not that I would ever pay up.
“All-girls science camp it is for Poppy this summer,” she decided. “What was it you and Nora were whispering about last night after dinner?”
My smile was knee-jerk.
“It seems our seven-year-old has decided to throw you a surprise party for your birthday.”
She traced a finger over my stomach. “It’s months away.”
“She has drafts of invitation concepts ready for my approval when we get back. She also requested a chocolate fountain and white birds.”
“I think she means swans. She’s got an entire vision. Fairy tale, I believe.”
“Seven years old and already a better party planner than I am.” She sighed. “I still feel her judgment over Finley’s second birthday.”
“Pizza and pool time,” I recalled.
“I am not going to invite an entire circus to perform at our children’s birthday parties.”
“It’s Daisy’s fault. She asked Poppy what she thought was appropriate for a kid’s birthday party.”
“It really was spectacular,” she mused. “Still, this whole raising human beings thing is tougher than I expected.”
I traced my fingers down her bare back, enjoying the pebbling of flesh. “Always remember our goal.”
“To raise good-hearted, generous, productive adults, not assholes,” she recited.
“Personally, I think we’re doing an excellent job.”
“Said the man who built a tumbling room for Finley,” Emily scoffed.
“I got tired of having heart attacks every time she scaled the fireplace in the living room. Someday I won’t be there to catch her. I want to be sure she can catch herself. So she’s learning to land on her own two feet.”
Emily dropped a kiss on my chest. “Is it exhausting?”
“Being so perfect.”
I pinched her ass—which, in my mind, was the real perfection. “Har har.”
“I’m only partially kidding. You have to admit you’re quite the catch. Husband, father, business partner.”
DIY AHA, didn’t have the net worth that Emily’s old company Flawless, had at its height, but it was accomplishing far more important things in the world. Heart disease rates were already measurably lower just eighteen months into the rollout of the new protein marker test in annual physicals. And from what I could make out of the scientific jargon tossed around the lab, it sounded like her team was setting their sights on pancreatic cancer prediction.
Personally, we’d helped fund DIY labs across the country and established STEM scholarships for girls. Two years ago, our first class of women graduated from their four-year programs with degrees in physics, biochemistry, geology, and environmental engineering. Emily spoke at one of the graduations. And just like I always did when she was being particularly magnificent, I’d gotten a bit misty-eyed.
“You’re just feeling mushy because I bought you an island,” I accused.
She started laughing and couldn’t stop.
Emily Stanton-Price was better than any fantasy I could have conjured. She was real. She was brilliant. She was the kind of beautiful that just kept getting more fascinating.
“Let’s go for a swim and then let’s try out that outdoor shower together,” she suggested mischievously.
“Emily,” I said earnestly, stilling her with my hand on her wrist.
“Derek,” she said.
I rose and cupped her face in my hand gently.
“Last one to the water makes dinner.” I shoved her down on the sand and ran naked into the crystal-clear blue water, my beautiful wife laughing and shouting threats behind me.