Some days, Rafe Sullivan hated his job.
The elegantly dressed woman seated in front of him had tears streaming down her face, and her once-flawless makeup was running in black streams down her cheeks. He slid the box of tissues closer to her, but she was too busy sobbing and clutching the photos that Rafe had given her to notice.
In each of the dozen pictures, his client’s CEO husband was with a different woman. Brunettes, blondes, and redheads were all represented. The only thing the man seemed to discriminate by was cup size, as each of the women was very well endowed, including the young wife on whom he was cheating.
"That bastard!" she spat between sobs. "He swore he would never cheat. He said I was everything to him. During our wedding vows, he stood up in front of my family and told me I was the true love of his life." She lifted her gaze from the pictures, her eyes overfull with pain. "Why couldn’t he be faithful? Is it because I’m not as pretty as these women?"
Seven years ago, when Rafe had decided to leave the police force and open up his own investigation firm, he’d been full of high ideals. Justice. Truth. That was what he’d been after. He now had half a dozen people working for him, and was widely considered to run the best P.I. firm in Washington State.
How the hell had it come to this? He used to go into every case with an open mind. After all, how high could the statistics be in favor of infidelity? Fifty percent was high, he’d figured. Sixty percent would have been nuts.
He hadn’t imagined a world in which one hundred percent of the people he investigated were up to no good.
Somewhere along the way, Rafe’s reputation for discovering whether or not high-profile men and women were cheating—and they always were, for every client he’d taken on—had eclipsed his other cases, but he couldn’t justify turning down the pricey jobs when he had a staff depending on him for salaries and benefits.
Still, though he’d been doing this for nearly a decade, Rafe had never figured out how to numb himself to the moment when he handed his client the pictures he and his staff had taken of infidelity in action. He couldn’t help but feel that he was at least partly responsible for their tears.
But most of all, he hated the way the women too quickly moved from anger to blaming themselves.
"This is not your fault," he said in a gentle voice.
He would have told his client that she was easily as beautiful as the women her husband had cheated with, might even have reached out to touch her hand in comfort, but hard-won experience had taught him he couldn’t even do that.
Comfort and much-needed compliments could be too easily mistaken for something more. He’d only been stupid enough to go down that road once, but it had been lesson enough. He’d known better than to start anything up with one of his ex-clients, but she’d been persistent and pretty...and he’d been tired and just plain stupid. Boy had that been a major screw-up.
Now, though he wished he could do more to help his client, all he could do was hand her the tissues.
She finally plucked one from the box to wipe away her tears and running mascara. "I trusted him." Her voice was little more than a whisper now. "How will I ever be able to trust anyone again?"
Rafe knew she was waiting for him to assure her that not everyone was bad, that there were still some good ones out there. But after seven years of catching every cheater in the Pacific Northwest with their pants down, all he could do was remind her, "You have good instincts. That’s why you came to me, isn’t it?"
She nodded, her eyes finally drying, thank God.
"Just keep trusting your instincts."
She seemed to think about his advice for a moment before taking a deep breath and wiping the rest of her tears away. "Yes, you’re right, that’s exactly what I need to do. Trust myself instead of anyone else. And right now my instincts are telling me to take my scum of a husband for absolutely everything he’s worth." Renewed life glittered in her eyes as thoughts of revenge took hold.
His client had gone from anguish to self-blame to revenge, all in the span of five minutes. It was only ten a.m. He had seven more hours of this to look forward to.
She stood up and smoothed out her silk dress, spattered lightly with teardrops. "I can’t thank you enough for your help, Mr. Sullivan."
He wished she hadn’t had anything to thank him for as he shook her hand. "Good luck with everything."
"My soon-to-be ex-husband is the one who’s going to be needing luck on his side," she assured him, before adding, "And I’ll be sure to recommend you to my girlfriends." Cynicism now overshadowed her youthful beauty. "I’m sure most of them will be needing your services, too." She was halfway to his door when she turned back to him. "Do you know what hurts most of all? Even more than knowing that he was sleeping with other women? Even more than being lied to?"
Fortunately, Rafe knew it was a rhetorical question, so he simply waited for her to continue.
"He obviously didn’t think I’d have the smarts or the nerve to find out what he was doing. If he wanted so badly to end our marriage, if he knew he didn’t love me anymore, he should have been brave enough to just man up and tell me to my face." Her eyes narrowed. "But he didn’t even have enough respect for me to do that."
As soon as she left his office, Rafe sank back on his leather couch and ran a hand over his face. That was how his sister, Mia, found him.