The Perfect Marriage Page 2

Regardless of whether there actually was any relation between the number of guests invited to watch nuptials and the happiness of the marriage to follow, James could not deny that after their elopement, their first year together had been nothing but pure bliss. Before Jessica, he had imagined happiness in the form of exotic trips and grand romantic gestures. But in reality, it was the smallest moments that he had come to cherish most: the way Jessica talked about the characters in novels as if they were friends and how she could throw her whole body into a laugh brought on by something he found only mildly amusing.

“Nothing over the top,” Jessica had assured him about the anniversary party. “Fifty people, no more. No sit-down meal. We’ll cater in some low-key food. Sushi, maybe. Or even just order in some pizzas.”

James had responded to this request the way he did to most things Jessica asked of him. He’d agreed. Which was why he was now staring with a big idiot grin on his face at his bride of a year and four days wearing her wedding dress.

For his own attire, James had decided to follow Jessica’s lead and wear the suit he had donned to get married, a navy crepe that he’d had custom-made for the occasion. It was a tad lightweight for late January in New York, but he didn’t intend to leave the apartment tonight. He’d briefly considered pairing the suit with a different tie than he’d worn at the wedding, but in the end, he reached for the same solid silver Kiton sevenfold that had served him so well the first time.

James’s father had been killed in a car accident, going on fifteen years ago now. For months after, James had considered how the world would be different if his father had not been driving across that intersection at exactly the same moment the truck had entered it. What if his father had been delayed even thirty seconds before getting behind the wheel? What if he hadn’t made a light ten blocks north? Or if the truck driver had started his journey five minutes later? All the infinite variables that could have been different. But because none of them were, his father was dead.

Afterward, people said it was meant to be. That nothing could have been done to change it. It was no one’s fault. Some things were beyond anyone’s control.

For years he wondered if that were true. If the world actually worked that way, with the onslaught of sudden inalterable cataclysmic events.

And then he met Jessica. And he finally believed.

The same way that fifteen years earlier nothing could have been done to change his father’s fate, Jessica’s entry into his life was similarly preordained, and he was powerless to alter it.

Despite her husband’s repeated assurances, Jessica still couldn’t help but wonder if her dress was too much for a house party. She had initially justified the garment’s exorbitant price tag with the thought that, because it wasn’t so wedding-y, she’d get more than one use out of it. In reality, few occasions were appropriate for a knee-length off-white silk dress. She couldn’t wear it to anyone else’s wedding, and the art openings at which she served as James’s plus-one usually required something understated and black.

Her final assessment met with her approval. She looked good. Forty-one years old and everything still more or less where it was supposed to be.

Then she shifted her gaze toward her lawfully wedded husband. James looked better than good, the way some men—the very lucky ones—were at their most handsome in their forties and fifties. She’d seen pictures of James as a younger man, all chiseled features, six-pack abs, and that hair—Jim Morrison from the cover of the Best of the Doors album, which she’d listened to on repeat in her teenage years, thinking it made her edgy. But James had grown into his looks over the years; now he had gravitas. Not only a pretty face, but a serious one too.

Sometimes she considered how close she had come to never seeing that face and therefore not living the life she now considered to be nothing short of perfection. Like a fairy tale, except that instead of leaving behind a glass slipper, she had forgotten her wallet at work. By the time she’d returned to retrieve it, it was past six and her office was a ghost town.

She’d been ready to leave her office for the second time that night when her phone buzzed with a text from Lisa Rollins, her boss at the real estate agency.


Jessica texted back—I CAN!!!—mirroring Lisa’s use of all caps and exclamation points.

Her phone rang a millisecond later.

“Thank God,” Lisa said. “There’s a serious buyer interested in the loft. He’s already got an offer in on this other place, but I convinced him to take a look at ours before deciding. Problem is, he’s only available to see it tonight. After that he’s heading to Europe or Asia or somewhere. So I need someone to be down there with the key in ten minutes.”

Although the agency had numerous listings, Jessica knew which one Lisa was referencing. It was the crown jewel of their portfolio at the time, described as a True Artist’s Loft in the glossy brochure Jessica had helped write, even though everyone in the office knew that a banker would likely buy it.

The loft was only a five-minute walk from the office. When Jessica arrived, James was waiting outside. She was immediately drawn to him—tall and well built with a face that seemed vaguely Italian in its dark-featured, straight-nosed way.

“I’m Jessica, the broker. Lisa Rollins asked me to show you around.”

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