It was six in the morning and I was getting ready for my three-day business trip with Ashley up in San Francisco. We were supposed to meet each other at the airport in half an hour.
After I finished putting on my suit, I double-checked to make sure that I had all of the hotel project documents in my suitcase. If one paper was missing, then the whole trip would be pointless. That's how important they were.
Before heading downstairs, I walked over to my wife's room to see if she happened to be awake. I gently opened the door and just like I had expected, she was still fast asleep.
Her arm was dangling off the mattress and I couldn't help but smile to myself. Claire looked so cute and innocent when she slept, almost like a child.
In fact, she was one at heart. Just last week, we were driving back home from a baby shower for my friend Landon's wife, and we saw this one lady walking her dog in our neighborhood.
And you know what my wife did? She made me turn the car back around just so she could catch another glimpse of it. Apparently, it had been the "most adorable little puppy wuppy" she'd ever seen. I mean, what on earth was a 'wuppy'?
Then Claire went on and on about how she'd always wanted a dog but couldn't buy one because her mother had been allergic.
I kind of felt sorry for her. I mean, what was a childhood without having a dog? I used to own a golden retriever myself named, Hank, growing up and I loved him to pieces, especially since I had no siblings.
Apart from her love of dogs, I also discovered that Claire liked to engage in food fights. She'd told me that a few days ago, her friends- Lexi and Charlotte- had come over and they'd all decided to bake cupcakes.
But instead, the three of them ended up chucking the batter at each other. And as for the frosting, they had also used it for their little "war", too.
I had come home from work that night to find Claire passed out on the couch, with pink frosting all over her shirt. It was a sight I'd never forget.
I shut her bedroom door then went downstairs, carrying my suitcase with me. Since I was running a bit late, I decided to just grab a quick coffee at Starbucks on my way to the airport.
A half hour later, I was walking out of the long-term parking lot where I had left my car. On Tuesday, I'd just drive it home instead of having to take the taxi.
I met up with Ashley at the check-in counter and soon, we were on the plane to San Francisco. The flight itself would only take about an hour.
"I had so much fun last night," Ashley remarked as I was on my phone scrolling through emails.
"I did, too."
"Oh, and I gotta tell you something. When I saw your wife, I definitely did not expect her to look like that."
"What do you mean?", I asked, not quite understanding what she was trying to say.
"She's very pretty," Ashley stated.
"But I'm prettier," she said flirtatiously, pointing a finger at my chest.
I chuckled then Ashley let out a yawn as she rested her head on my shoulder. Her eyelids slowly closed, and I guessed that she was probably trying to get some sleep.
My mind wandered to last night, and the first thing that popped into my head was how breathtaking Claire had looked in her evening dress. The word, 'beautiful', simply didn't do her justice.
I had only met my wife once before our wedding back in January. We were all having dinner at a restaurant here in San Diego. My parents were there and her mother and brother had come, too.
When I first laid eyes on Claire Delaney, it was her physical appearance that had blown me away. All she had on that night was a simple blue dress, without an ounce of makeup on her face. But, man, did she look stunning.
Claire had flawless tan skin, and her pink lips were full and plump. Her body shape resembled a model's, with long legs and luscious curves in all the right places.
At the time, her dark brown hair was much longer, and she had it up in a ponytail. She walked with such poise and grace, I assumed that she had to have been a dancer or something like that.
Her eyes without a doubt had to be her best feature, though. They were a lovely shade of brown and sparkled whenever she smiled. I could stare at them all day without ever getting tired.
I'd seen many beautiful women before in my life, but Claire was just...wow.
Recently, I had asked her if she used to take dance lessons, just to see if my theory from back in January was correct. And let's just say that I was completely mind-blown when Claire told me that she had actually been a hockey player.
The truth was, I felt bad about not paying much attention to her at the gala last night. I mostly had been busy talking to several CEOs about merging companies and other business matters.
Then there was Ashley, who'd kept clinging on to me. I still couldn't believe that she'd kissed me right in front of my wife while we were dancing. I mean, we were close friends, but did she not remember that she wasn't my girlfriend anymore?
I really hoped Claire hadn't been upset about it or anything. Based on what I saw, she seemed perfectly normal. I was going to go talk to her after that, but then I got caught in a conversation with some other businessmen, and she had already left the ballroom to go get some fresh air.
Overall, the night hadn't gone exactly as I'd planned. My goal originally was to stay by Claire's side as much as I could, but that obviously didn't happen.
Sometimes, I wished that I could be home more to spend time with my wife because the truth was, I barely knew her.
It'd be a miracle for me to not have to work past eleven every night ever since my company started on that new hotel project. I tended to get extremely tired by the time I got home, so even the littlest things provoked me.
I often let out all the stress from work on my wife, and I felt really bad about it. So, I thought the best way to solve that problem would be to just not say anything to her.
But whenever I did try to have a conversation with Claire, I'd never know what to talk about. And she wasn't exactly that friendly either, which made it even harder.
Man, this marriage was a lot tougher than I'd thought it would be.
Ashley and I had just finished our first conference meeting of the trip downtown. We all had been discussing plans to build a new hotel, close to the Golden Gate Park. The actual construction of it wouldn't start until next year, though.
So far, all we had was a blueprint of the exterior. Gensler, a global architecture and design firm headquartered here in San Francisco, had teamed up with us to help generate ideas for the interior.
When we got back to our hotel, I changed out of my suit then headed down to the gym. I hadn't been able to work out in weeks ever since that new project came up.
An hour later, my body was drenched in sweat. I wiped it off with a towel then headed outside for a bit to get some air.
For the second time that day, I thought of my wife. I couldn't help but wonder what she was doing at home right now. I knew that she went for a jog every morning to stay in shape, but what else did she do during the day?
I had to admit, I kind of missed her.
As I walked back inside to the gym, I heard the sound of loud, clacking heels against the pavement and ran into Ashley around the corner.
"Oh hey, I was looking for you," she said with a smile.
"What's up, Ash?", I asked her.
"I was wondering if you wanted to go out for dinner tonight. There's this really nice restaurant one of the architects was telling me about during the meeting."
"Sure, let me take a quick shower first."
Her eyes began to rake up and down my bare torso, and then she reached out to give my bicep a firm squeeze.
"What are you doing?", I asked her with a laugh. She leaned in close to my ear so that her breath fanned my neck before opening her mouth to speak in a low, seductive tone.
"Is your wife as good in bed as I was?"
My body immediately stiffened. I didn't reply. I wasn't going to tell Ashley that Claire and I didn't even sleep in the same room, let alone have sex. But still, why the hell would she even ask a question like that?
"Ashley, you and I both know that we stopped dating years ago. So you seriously need to stop acting like this," I said in a stern voice.
"I was just joking. Geez, calm down."
"Were you?", I asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Yup," she replied with a smile before walking away.
God, Ashley could be so unpredictable sometimes. I knew that she still liked me a lot, more than just a friend. But she tended to forget that I had a wife now. And trust me, I didn't plan on ever leaving Claire for my ex, even if our relationship kind of sucked- both verbally and physically.
The truth was, I couldn't remember the last time I had gotten laid. Before I got married, I used to sleep around with a bunch of these insanely hot models, and I actually dated a few of them.
And then, there were the women that wanted to be with me just because I was rich. I hated those ones especially.
So basically, I hadn't slept with anyone ever since Claire came into my life, which was almost eight months ago.
And let's be real here. It sucked...a lot.
As I was getting ready for bed that night, I decided to give my wife a call to check up on her. Ashley was in the room directly across from mine. We'd gotten back from dinner about an hour ago.
"Hello?", I heard Claire answer.
"Wow, you actually picked up your phone this time," I teased her.
"Yeah, I know. Why are you calling?", she asked.
"Just to say hi. Have you eaten yet?"
"No. I wasn't hungry. Is Ashley with you?"
"No, she's in the room across from mine. Why?", I asked her out of curiosity.
"No reason. So, how'd your meeting go?"
"Fine. Well, I guess I'll let you go to bed now."
"Ok. Bye, Derek," she said, yawning afterwards.
I hung up my phone then set it on the nightstand. My hands were folded behind my head and I just lay there, staring up at the ceiling.
Tomorrow, Ashley and I had to attend another meeting, and then we'd spend the rest of the day sightseeing.
I bet Claire was really familiar with this city because she used to go to college at Stanford, which was only about a half hour away from here.
San Francisco had to be one of my favorite cities in the world. I'd only been here once before, and that was for my aunt's wedding a few years ago.
The scenery was absolutely breathtaking, and their man-made bridges never failed to amaze me. I still got chills whenever I saw the Golden Gate. The only con was that the skies were mostly cloudy everyday.
What I loved the most about my career was having the opportunity to travel all around the world, and in first-class too, which made it even better.
The only major continent that I hadn't been to yet was Australia, but I was planning on going next year. After all, my company was currently building a five-star hotel over there in Sydney.
I was supposed to have gone to the meeting there a couple of months ago, but unfortunately I had been sick. So I'd decided to send Ashley along with my Chief Operating Officer, Keith Harrington.
Justin Delaney, my wife's older brother, had been there, too, since his company would deal with half of the expenses. I'd met him once or twice ever since he became the new CEO of Delaney Corp. He was a really cool guy.
Although traveling was nice and all, there was no place on earth I'd rather be than at home in my beautiful house.
The truth was, even though I'd lived in it for over two years already, I never really had the chance to enjoy it because I was always at work. Only on the weekends was when I could actually sit back and relax by the pool or watch a movie.
It was then that I wished I was back home in sunny San Diego.
A/N- I decided to write this chapter from Derek's POV because I'm sure you guys all want to know what's been going on inside his head. Well, it looks like he sees Ashley as a close friend and nothing more. And it's obvious that he does like Claire. Maybe not a lot, but definitely some. Keep reading to see what happens next.