The Care and Feeding of an Alpha Male by Jessica Clare : Page 1

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ONE

So when are you going to marry that nice young man of yours?”

The elderly woman smiled, the sequins on her green evening gown blinding as she bent over and signed her name to the silent auction paperwork that Beth Ann held out to her. “I think you’ve kept him waiting long enough, young lady.”

“Oh, I think he’ll have to wait a bit longer,” Beth Ann said lamely. She wished the woman would just go away. God, this party was a mistake. Beth Ann should have guessed that everyone here would still consider her and Allan as a couple. It didn’t matter that they’d been history for the last year now. No one at this party was more than a casual acquaintance, or a business partner of a family member, and they wouldn’t know that Beth Ann and Allan had broken up again, this time for good. And a cocktail party? Not the place to discuss the status (or lack of one) of her previous relationship.

Beth Ann shoved the envelope into Mrs. Douglas’s hand. “Thank you for your donation. The Bluebonnet Historical Society appreciates your participation.”

Mrs. Douglas took the envelope she’d won and reached out and patted her on the hand. “I’m just saying, my dear, that you shouldn’t keep a man like that dangling too long, or you might lose him.”

That’s my hope, Beth Ann thought to herself. She exchanged a few more pleasantries with the elderly woman, and then made a hasty getaway to the refreshment table, trying to keep the smile pinned to her face despite her simmering thoughts.

She was starting to hate parties like this. Or rather, she’d hated them ever since she’d dumped Allan once and for all. He was a nice guy. Great with kids. Ambitious. Her high school sweetheart. She knew him better than anyone else.

And he couldn’t keep his dick in his pants.

The first time he’d confessed to cheating on her, she’d blamed herself. Their sex life had gotten cold, so it must have been her fault that he had strayed. She’d gone to counseling to work through her anger and at home, tried to be more adventuresome in bed. She’d gone out of her way to make the relationship work. Forgave him when he groveled. Things had gone back to normal, and she’d prided herself on loving her relationship—and her man—enough to work on it. The second time he’d cheated, she was baffled. And hurt. Hadn’t they worked through this? She’d broken up with him, but Allan had been devastated at losing her. He’d worked so hard to get back into her good graces, prove that he loved and cared for her, that she thought that this time, it’d be different. This time, he’d learned his lesson. And so she’d taken him back again.

The third and fourth times he’d cheated on her, well, she didn’t know what the hell she’d been thinking.

Number five had been the last straw. For the last year, she’d told Allan that she’d been volunteering at the historical society, when in truth, she’d been going to beauty school. She thought he would be upset that she was spending so much time out of the house, but he’d been thrilled by her commitment to the city. Of course, she found out why later. The same day she became licensed, she’d found out that he’d been cheating with his secretary. In their house. In their bed. The sex in their relationship had fallen off again, so she should have guessed. And that time, when she’d caught him cheating, he’d skipped straight from the apologies right to buying her gifts. As if her hurt feelings were just irritating emotions that he couldn’t be bothered with. She realized that he might love her, but he didn’t respect her. Or, it seemed, want her. Which was fine with Beth Ann. She’d long ceased to be interested in their physical relationship, and the rest of it was a joke, too.

And she’d finally had enough.

She’d broken it off with Allan on New Year’s. For good. She was her own person now, not “Allan’s sweet little fiancée.” Or worse, Allan’s “long suffering” woman. She’d finally, finally had enough and had dumped him. And while being single for the first time in nine years was lonely and odd…she liked it. And she liked who she was now.

She was no longer “sweet, suffering in silence for love of Allan” Beth Ann. She was her own person. Beth Ann, salon owner and businesswoman. And she liked that new Beth Ann.

Now if she could just get everyone else on the same page as her. Mrs. Douglas’s ignorance was forgivable—she only saw the elderly woman at fund-raisers, and those only happened a few times a year. But that didn’t excuse the old friends, the bridge club buddies, the society friends, the business acquaintances, and all the others who’d come up to her over the course of the evening with the same types of comments.

So where’s your other half?

When are you and Allan going to kiss and make up?

I don’t see Allan with you.

Hey, can you give Allan a message for me?

She’d gritted her teeth and endured politely, deflecting questions. No, Allan wasn’t with her. They weren’t together anymore. No, really. No, they weren’t getting back together. No, she hadn’t moved on to someone else. No, that didn’t mean she was holding a torch for Allan.

People would smile and give her faintly puzzled looks, as if they couldn’t understand why a perfectly nice woman like herself wouldn’t marry her high school sweetheart after being engaged for so long.

That part was her fault. Allan’s business ran on customers and referrals. Gossip would destroy him, and the truth of their relationship? Would definitely be a career destroyer for him—as well as terribly embarrassing for her. She still loved Allan even if she didn’t want to be with him. And so she’d kept her mouth shut about the affairs. He’d been discreet enough—all his mistresses had been out of town, and he’d been careful to cover his tracks. No one in Bluebonnet suspected the truth as to why she’d gone back and forth so many times with Allan before finally breaking it off with him. If people asked why they’d gone their separate ways, she simply told them the relationship had run its course. Which, of course, made everyone think that she was crazy. Allan Sunquist was a wonderful guy—nice, funny, wealthy, and devoted to her. Or so they all thought. Allan didn’t help things, either. He seemed to think that it was just a matter of time before Beth Ann took him back, and that he simply had to say the right thing or give her enough sad, puppy-dog eyes to melt her heart and she’d forgive him all the hurt.

It was good that he wasn’t here tonight. She’d been able to concentrate on the fund-raiser.

A hand grabbed her arm. “There you are. Can I see you for a minute?”

Her mother. Surprised, Beth Ann allowed Jeanette Williamson to drag her toward the ladies’ room. “What’s going on, Mom?”

“‘Jeanette’ out in public, dear,” her mother said with a frown. Her free hand held an empty champagne glass and she handed it to a passing waiter, then took a fresh one off of his tray. “We need to talk, Beth Ann. I need a favor.”

Beth Ann stifled a groan. A favor? Now? “We’re kind of busy, Jeanette,” she said, stressing her mother’s name. “There’s still two rounds of the silent auction to be awarded—”

Her mother sipped from her champagne glass and waved her hand. “I can handle that. I need you to do something else. Now go into the bathroom. I don’t want anyone to hear us.”

Rolling her eyes, Beth Ann obeyed. The party—a fund-raiser for several local historical societies—was one of her family’s favorite events. And while she wasn’t big on history, she recognized a lot of the familiar faces from society parties. Even though the Williamsons lived in quiet Bluebonnet, her father had friends in high places, and as a result, they went to a lot of benefits and fund-raisers. Beth Ann volunteered at her fair share because it was expected of her as Allan’s fiancée and her father’s daughter. This party was no exception, and the beautiful room was filled elbow to elbow with people in cocktail dresses, wineglasses in hand as they strolled past the silent auction placards she’d carefully placed on the tables earlier that day.

Luckily, the women’s restroom was empty. She moved into it and locked the door behind them, then did a quick scan under the stalls. No one. Good. She turned around and observed her mother swigging her champagne through the massive gilt mirror. “What is it?”

Jeanette waved, trying to swallow her drink, and Beth Ann leaned against the marble countertop of the sink while she waited. If she was with Miranda at a party, she’d have sat up on the countertop and swung her legs, but her mother wouldn’t have approved of that. So she settled for checking her updo for out-of-place strands of hair and examining her figure in her short, swingy cocktail dress. It was glittery and had spaghetti straps and revealed a lot of skin. Allan would have hated it.

Beth Ann had picked it for that exact reason.

“Your sister,” Jeanette said, and tilted her glass to get the last sip of champagne.

Beth Ann frowned. “What’s Lucy done this time?”

“I knew that when she begged to stay home it was a mistake. I just knew it.” Jeanette put the champagne glass down on the counter and threw her hands up in the air. “I called home and she’s not there. She’s off with those DwarfQuester people—”

“QuestMasters,” Beth Ann corrected.

“All I know is that they dress up in costumes and pretend to be elves and dragons. And your sister is hanging out with them again.”

“She’s seventeen, Mom. It’s a harmless group.” Maybe a little on the geeky side, but pretty benign as far as friends went. “Besides, how do you know Lucy is with them? I thought she had a headache?”

“She said she had a headache,” her mother accused. “But she told me a week ago that they were having a big campout and all of the DwarfQuesters in the area—”

“QuestMasters.”

“That’s what I said. She said they were all going to a big campout where they could all dress up and frolic all weekend with the fairies.”

Er, okay. That sounded a little strange. “So it’s like a big slumber party?”

“Yes, and I forbid her to go. There will be boys there. I don’t want her getting into a compromising situation. The last thing your father needs for his reelection next year is an unwed teenage daughter with a baby on her hip. You saw what it did to Sarah Palin.”

Beth Ann rolled her eyes. “Mom, she’s hanging out with friends. She’s not getting pregnant.”

“I don’t want her with them. You saw her new boyfriend, didn’t you?”

She’d seen him. He was short, scrawny, and had a goatee that was so long that he’d braided it and tied it back with a red rubber band. “I think so.”

Her mother leaned in. “She calls him ‘Colossus.’ Now what do you think that is for?”

Oh gawd. She did not want to have this conversation with her mother, who was currently tipsy in a fund-raiser bathroom. “I’m sure she’s fine—”

“Not if she is with Colossus. She asked me last week if I could get her birth control.” Her brows went up. “What do you think of that?”

Beth Ann winced. “At least she’s asking?”

Jeanette gave her a scathing look.

“Okay, okay.” She threw her hands up. “What do you want me to do?”

“I want you to find that campground and bring your sister home.”

“But I can’t leave right now. The auction isn’t done and—”

Someone knocked at the bathroom door.

Jeanette dusted off her clothing with precise fingers and examined her conservative dress in the mirror. “Your father doesn’t know anything about this, of course. He’s meeting with Senator Brown to discuss how he launched himself.” She gave Beth Ann a pointed look. “You know that’s his dream.”
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