New Jersey?” Autumn’s mind raced.
Phillip’s company was headquartered in Princeton, but he’d never mentioned wanting to move there. Just last week, they’d discussed enrolling Jayden in a private school located here in Bozeman, so that he could bring his math skills up to snuff.
She took a breath to steady her voice. “No, I don’t know anything about those charges.” She opened her mouth to suggest that maybe the bank should contact Phillip instead, but then clamped down on the urge.
Something was definitely wrong. There was no way her husband would’ve decided to move their family to the East Coast without at least warning her first.
“Thank you, ma’am,” Claire said. “We appreciate you taking the time to clarify. We’ll go ahead and mark those charges as fraudulent, then issue you and your husband new credit cards. You should receive your new cards in five business days.”
After the call ended, Autumn couldn’t stop thinking about the strangeness of it all. She got up and made herself coffee, then began preparing breakfast for Jayden.
All throughout breakfast, her brain wouldn’t stop asking, What if those charges weren’t a mistake? What if he’s planning to move out?
The possibility should’ve horrified her. Especially after she’d tried so hard to make their marriage work.
Instead, all she felt was relief. And sneaking hope.
Autumn dropped Jayden off at school. As she headed back home, she couldn’t stop thinking about the locked filing cabinet in Phillip’s home office. The one containing financial documents he never allowed her to see.
Now, with ugly suspicions crowding her mind, she wondered if he was hiding something.
I should look.
Autumn wavered, chewing her thumbnail as she waited at a red light.
Breaking Phillip’s rule went against everything she’d conditioned herself to do over the past eight years. And yet… if Phillip had made a decision that affected her future, and Jayden’s, she had to know.
Decision made, she marched upstairs as soon as she got home.
First, she retrieved the filing cabinet keys from Phillip’s not-so-secret hiding place in their bedroom. Then, heart hammering, she walked down the hall to his office. With shaking hands, she unlocked the cabinet and opened the drawer labeled with the current year.
She sat in Phillip’s leather office chair and began working her way through the neat files of bank statements, cellphone bills, and credit card bills. She was lucky that her much-older husband still preferred paper statements to email.
Horror and anger rose steadily inside her at each new revelation. Hundreds of texts sent to and received from an unknown number. Receipts from Tiffany’s for jewelry. Receipts for designer clothing, shoes, and purses from expensive Manhattan boutiques. Bills from restaurants with names she recognized from the FoodieTV shows she loved.
And worst of all, several bills from a women’s health clinic in Princeton detailing various services… including pregnancy tests.
Here I am, always pinching pennies, and it’s because he’s treating some other woman to the high life?
Autumn slumped in the chair. Bitter fury churned in her gut.
Shouldn’t I be sad? Crying? Utterly devastated? she asked herself. Or at least angry?
Instead, she felt utterly cold and numb. And as incredibly stupid as Phillip thought she was.
How could I not have seen this coming? All those “business trips.” His insistence on being the family’s sole money manager. His insistence on handling our family cellphone bills?
She’d brushed aside a veritable parade of red flags, too blinded by her desire to believe in the illusion of their happy marriage to read the glaring signs.
And now here she sat alone in the perfectly decorated—but not too expensive—home he’d chosen for them. And the only emotion breaking through her numb shell was relief.
Relief that it was over… and it wasn’t her fault. She’d spent the last nine years trying to live up to Phillip’s impossible standards, and now she knew he was nothing but a fraud and a cheat.
She had zero interest in confronting him. Let that other woman have him. And good riddance.
She was done with his lies, his bullying, his control-freak behavior.
She was going to take Jayden and leave before Phillip returned.
But where would she go?
She could go home to Snowberry Springs. Her parents would take her and Jayden in, no questions asked.
Home. The word used to fill Autumn with dread. She had been so desperate to escape and make a glamorous life for herself.
Now home was the only place that made sense.
She carefully gathered all the bank statements with their paycheck deposit records. The divorce lawyer would want to see how much money Phillip really earned, so that they could work out alimony and f child support.
Afterwards, she walked slowly to the bedroom, feeling like she was wading through a chest-high pool of freezing water. She began pulling throwing her clothes and shoes from her side of the closet, throwing everything haphazardly onto the bed. Then she went into the bathroom to gather up her makeup and toiletries.
As she worked, she put together mental To-Do lists. This afternoon, she’d go to the bank and retrieve Jayden’s birth certificate, passports, social security cards, and other important papers from the safety deposit box.
Then she needed to find and hire a divorce lawyer. And call her parents and ask if she and Jayden could visit early for the holidays. She dreaded telling them that her marriage was over. Maybe that part could wait until they were all face to face.
But before all of that, she needed to tell her son that they were moving to Grandma and Grandpa’s ranch.
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