"That woman loves you," I said. "I wouldn"t worry about your gut too much."
"I suppose that I shouldn"t," Alan said, and the depressed tone caught my attention. He offered a small smile. "I guess I"m going through a mid-life crisis. Mansion in the Hamptons. A hot wife. A beautiful daughter who"s an adult now. A business that pays the bills""
"And you still feel like it"s not enough," I finished for him, nodding in understanding. "I get it. I"ve been going through it, too."
"I just miss the way women used to look at me in passing," he said. "Not for my paycheck."
"You"ve got a good woman, though, that loved you well before a paycheck that paid for the house here." I smiled bitterly. "The women that come to me only see the net worth floating over my head at this point."
"And for other reasons, too," Alan pointed out. "You don"t look like you"re forty-four. When is the last time you even had something to eat""
"Two days ago," I said, shrugging. "I don"t have my chef anymore because my work hours are too crazy."
Alan gave me a critical look. "Don"t tell Gloria that. You know that she"ll show up to your penthouse with groceries and meals without your permission."
"She"s welcome to come anytime," I replied, laughing.
"It"s a good thing that I trust you. I"d have a fit if it were some other man letting her into his penthouse."
The office door opened. Gloria entered, dressed in a trim white dress, with her blonde locks pulled back delicately from her slender face. Her heels clicked against the hardwood floors as she approached with a wide smile.
"Good to see you," she said and wrapped me in a quick hug. "I"m glad that you could make it today." She pulled back with a frown. "You"re thin, Cole. Have you been eating enough""
"More than enough," I said. "The party looks great. Thanks for the invite."
A pleased smile spread across Gloria"s face. She was the type of woman who let strangers into her house to show her wealth. She hosted parties all the time. Celebrities even showed up at times from what Alan told me.
"It"s a wonderful party," she said, beaming. "You haven"t even come outside to look at the patio and garden. There"s plenty of food and drinks down there for you."
I gestured at the whiskey on Alan"s desk. "I have good whiskey right here. Your husband knows me well."
"I also know that the two of you are hiding," Gloria said. "Please, sweetheart. Come down to join the rest of us."
Alan smiled indulgently at his wife. "I will, darling. Just give us a minute to catch up in peace without eavesdroppers."
"Fine," she said.
"These parties mean the world to her," Alan said once her heels retreated down the hallway. He set his glass down with a long sigh. "I better go out there. I don"t want to sleep in the guest room again. You"re the lucky one right now."
"Not really lucky. Just divorced and bitter."
I swallowed the last bit of whiskey in my glass. Bitter wasn"t even the right word to cover how I felt when it came to Stephanie. Hateful" That wasn"t the right word, either. All I knew was that it felt like a deep and ugly hole that I could never fill with enough alcohol and sex.
"Try not to spiral down too far," Alan said. "If you need me, don"t hesitate to call. I"ll come out to the city to see you if you need me to. We"ll tell Gloria it"s poker night if she asks."
I shook my head at him. "No, don"t. I"ll be fine. I have more than enough work and other things to keep me occupied for a while."
"If you"re sure""
"Positive," I said and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. "Let"s go before Gloria comes up here again. I"m itching to enjoy some fresh air away from the city."
Chatter and laughter filled the afternoon air. I followed Alan outside through open doors that allowed the sea breeze to come through. The smell of the ocean, fresh cut fields, and flowers filled the air. Everyone was gathered on the back patio, or on the slope of the green yard and garden area. Waitresses walked through the crowd with platters of food and drinks in their hands.
I didn"t bat an eyelash when Gloria immediately sidled up to Alan, looping an arm through his to lead him in the direction of another couple. Years of friendship told me never to take it personally anymore. Gloria thrived on her reputation while Alan didn"t give a shit if anyone liked him or not. He indulged his wife because he was in love with her.
I grabbed a glass of champagne from a platter that walked by. Parties were never my idea of fun. Sweat gathered at the back of my neck from the sun dipping down in the horizon, blasting the entire backside of the Summers" mansion in late summer heat. If I had three days off with no real work to get done, then I would need something to occupy my time while I was in the Hamptons. A woman to fight off the stab of loneliness whenever I glanced in Gloria and Alan"s direction as they smiled sweetly at one another.