Chapter 21- Settings Things StraightMature

It was almost seven by the time I got home. I carried the groceries from my car into the kitchen, placing them on the counter. Before I began to prepare the chicken parmesan, I went to go use the bathroom, bumping into Derek on the way.

"Oh, you're finally back," he said happily.

I gave him a brief smile then locked myself in the bathroom. Seeing his face hurt now after everything Ashley had said.

I glanced into the mirror and saw a sad, sullen girl staring back at me- not cheerful and bright like she normally was. It's crazy how my day could go spiraling downwards like this. All because reality had finally dawned on me.

Derek was watching Sunday Night Football in the living room as I prepared dinner. When everything was finished, he went to pour us some wine and then we sat down at the table to eat.

He heartily dug into the pasta while I just stared blankly at my plate. I'd suddenly lost my appetite, which was usually never the case for me. Food was my life, but right now, I just didn't feel like eating.

"Are you not hungry or something?", Derek asked, raising an eyebrow.

"No. You can have my plate if you want," I replied, sliding it towards him. He set his fork down and gazed at me intently with brooding eyes.

"Baby, what's wrong?"

I remained silent.

"You're not talking or eating. I know there's something you're not telling me," he said.

"You don't have to act like you care," I muttered under my breath.

"What are you talking about?" He had a confused expression on his face.

"I spoke with Ashley today over some coffee."

"Wait, how did you contact her?", Derek inquired, completely appalled.

"We ran into each other at the grocery store."

"What did she say to you?" His lips were pressed together in a thin line, and there was a slight edge to his tone.

"It doesn't matter," I said quietly.

Derek abruptly got up and went to stand right next to my chair. He sighed in frustration, running a hand through his hair.

"Claire, is Ashley the reason you're acting like this?"

"It's not Ashley. It's the things she told me. We talked about how I ran away that one time last month, and then she brought up the business deal between you and Justin."

"Yeah? What about the deal?"

"Derek, the only reason we're even together like this is because of it. You just wanted me to come home so that your partnership with Justin wouldn't be ruined."

"Did Ashley tell you all this?"

I slowly nodded my head as I felt the tears begin to stream down my face. Immediately, Derek got on his knees so that he was eye-level with me.

"Claire, listen to me. I don't give a shit about that deal anymore. I truly want to be with you. Can't you see that?" His tone was desperate and urgent.

"B-but Ashley-," I stuttered.

"Forget Ashley!", he snapped in annoyance. I winced slightly at his outburst.

"Doesn't she mean anything to you?"

"How many times do I have to tell you? She's just my friend. Don't let her get to your head. Quite frankly, she had no right to even bring up the whole business deal."

"But she's your secretary."

"I'm aware of that. The point is, I bet she just mentioned the deal to try to bring you down and make you doubt our relationship."

I was silent and Derek grabbed my wrists, pulling me up so that we were both standing with my chest pressed against his.

"You know what? I think Ashley's just plain jealous of you," he said with conviction. "Because you are the sweetest, most beautiful girl in the entire world. But you know what I admire the most about you?"

"What?"

"Your strong mind. Oh, and did I mention that you make an excellent chocolate cake, too?"

A faint smile began to play on my lips as I let Derek's words soak in.

"Baby, you mean so much to me. Don't ever think otherwise, alright?", he spoke gently, tilting my chin up with his finger.

"I won't," I whispered.

"Good. Now wipe those tears away. We still have to finish that mouthwatering chicken parmesan of yours," he said with a boyish grin, briefly kissing me on the lips before going back to his chair. I felt my insides tingling with delight as I sat down.

Oh, the effect this man had on me...

After washing the dishes, I headed upstairs to take a quick shower, changing into a tank top and sweatpants. Then, I joined Derek in the living room to watch the remainder of the football game.

We were sitting on opposite ends of the couch and during commercial breaks, I'd stare at his angelic face. When he finally sensed that he was being observed, he turned his head and our eyes met as I gave him a shy smile.

"We should really do something about this gigantic space between us," he remarked, his lips curling into a mischievous grin.

"Yeah, I know. It's been bothering me ever since the third quarter started," I said, playing along.

Derek smirked and patted his thigh, beckoning me to come sit down on his lap. I giggled and eagerly crawled towards his awaiting embrace, making myself comfortable on top of him.

He enveloped me in his arms as I buried my face in the crook of his neck, inhaling his familiar, manly scent.

"This is so much better," he murmured.

"I agree."

He kissed my hair then we both directed our attention back to the TV. As the fourth and final quarter was wrapping up, I fought to stay awake, but my eyes were becoming so tired, it almost felt impossible to keep them open.

I let out a quiet yawn, and Derek gazed down at me with a hint of amusement on his face as he gently stroked my cheek with the back of his knuckles.

"You sleepy?", he asked.

I nodded my head in response and to my surprise, he rose to his feet so that we were both off the couch, with him carrying me in his arms. 

"Let's get you to bed," he said with a smile, kissing my forehead.

Derek switched off the TV and lights then began making his way upstairs to our bedroom.

"Am I too heavy?", I asked him playfully.

"Not at all, baby," he replied with a soft chuckle.

I sighed in content the moment Derek laid me down on our bed, feeling the soft, silky sheets beneath my skin. I was aware that I hadn't even brushed my teeth yet, but I was just so god damn sleepy.

My mind was at ease now compared to earlier this evening, knowing that Ashley's words had nothing to do with how my husband truly felt about our marriage.

"I'm gonna go brush my teeth, alright?", Derek spoke.

"Ok. I'll probably be asleep by the time you're done," I said with a weary smile.

"Well, then I'll see you tomorrow. Good night, sweetheart." He kissed me on the cheek then turned off the bedside lamp.

"Good night, Derek."

And as soon as he was gone, I immediately drifted into a deep, peaceful sleep.

Derek's POV

The alarm on my phone went off the following morning, and I groaned, rolling onto my side to turn it off before it could wake Claire up.

She stirred slightly but then grew still again as her chest continued to rise and fall while she slept.

A smile tugged at my lips as I observed my wife. She was so unbelievably beautiful, with her brown waves fanning across the pillow and long lashes resting against her cheeks.

I wonder what it'd be like to make love to her.

The thought of Claire naked instantly made me harden as wild images began popping into my head.Seeing her in bikinis was the closest I'd ever gotten to that, and man, did she look smokin' in them. I could only imagine what a feast it'd be for my eyes if she wore nothing at all.

The truth was, I'd been wanting our relationship to grow more intimate for quite some time now, but I was willing to take things slow if that's what was best for us.

I had no idea when, but one day, I'd show her just how much I cared about her. Hopefully by then, she'd be willing to give herself to me.

Lying beside my wife, I could watch her sleep for hours. But unfortunately, I had to go to work. I gently rubbed my hand up and down her arm, placing a kiss on the corner of her month before reluctantly dragging myself out of bed.

A frown crossed my face when I remembered how Claire had come home sulking yesterday without saying a single word to me, and at that moment, I resolved to lay down the law with Ashley about her behavior. Because quite frankly, I was not ok with it.

My wife had suffered so much these past few years, the least she deserved now was to be happy. And I wasn't going to let a jealous ex take that away from her.

The moment I arrived at my workplace, I stormed towards Ashley's office and began to knock impatiently on the door.

"Who is it?", she called in a sing-songy voice.

"It's me," I replied through gritted teeth.

I heard the sound of her heels clacking against the hardwood floor and then the door swung open. I rolled my eyes at her attire- an extremely low-cut blouse and tight skirt.

No surprise there.

"Good mor-," she began to greet when I interrupted her.

"We need to talk." My tone was ice cold as anger radiated from me like a bulb.

"About what?", she inquired in an innocent tone.

"Just cut with the act already," I snapped.

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"My wife was crying at dinner last night because of the things you said to her. What's the matter with you, Ash?" I crossed my arms in front of my chest, demanding an answer.

"But everything I told her was true. Even you know that, right?"

"No, I don't. But what I do know is that I won't let you screw up my marriage. Claire is really important to me, and I don't want to lose her because of you," I stated firmly.

"Because of me?", she uttered in disbelief.

"Yes! And don't try to act all innocent. You know what you said at the golf course last weekend was totally inappropriate."

"Come on, you have to admit you enjoyed it just as much as I did," she said with a flirtatious wink.

"See, this is exactly what I mean! Ashley, you honestly have to stop acting like this. How do you think my wife feels when she sees you making all these comments about our past in front of her face?"

"Derek, you must have some feelings for me still. I know you do." She reached out to touch my arm, but I quickly slapped her hand away.

"We're just friends, Ashley," I said in exasperation.

God, when would she ever get that through her thick skull?

"And I swear to god, if you ever try to say or do anything to hurt Claire again, you and I will have a talk. And I promise you, it won't be a friendly one. Understood?" I narrowed my eyes at her as she looked up at me with a wary expression on her face.

"Are you mad at me?", Ashley asked timidly.

"Hell, I'm beyond pissed right now."

"I'm sorry, Derek," she mumbled, directing her gaze to the floor.

I sighed and ran my fingers through my hair, managing to calm down a bit. I honestly felt like I was lecturing a little girl, only Ashley was a grown woman who just so happened to be my ex-girlfriend and secretary.

"You better be. Now get those  documents I gave you on Friday ready for our meeting in LA next week."

"Already back to that bossy CEO self of yours, I see?", she remarked.

"It's how I make a living," I said pointedly, straightening out my tie. "And one more thing. I'm planning on asking Claire if she'd like to come to LA with us. That's not going to be a problem, is it?"

Ashley's eyes immediately widened in surprise, and I noticed a hint of a scowl cross her features- which led me to believe that she wasn't too fond of the idea.

But I couldn't care less. After all, this was my company and I could bring whoever I wanted with me on business trips.

"No, of course not," she muttered.

"Good."

And with that, I turned on my heel and headed towards my office, ready to conquer the huge stack of papers I had waiting for me on my desk.

Thank god I'd finally set things straight with Ashley. It felt like a giant weight had been lifted off my chest. Hopefully, she'd stick to her word and not go all "unpredictable" on me like she normally was. But who knows...

A/N- So, what do you guys think? Will Ashley stick to her word? And I'm glad Derek told his wife how he truly felt about her. That'll definitely help if future conflicts ever come up between them. Hopefully, I'll be able to update again soon, but for now, remember to favorite and comment!(:

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