Breaking Magnolia: A Contemporary Western Romance (The Wild Hearts Contemporary Western Series Book 1)
The sterile smell of bleach burned her nose, and the constant beeping of alarms echoed around her. Magnolia sat straight-backed in a hard plastic chair next to Eric’s bed. Even though it was cool outside, the A/C whirled in the hospital. Beside her, Eric looked as though he’d been hit by a car. From the way he lay groaning, she would’ve thought he had been run over twice. She sighed and rested her elbow on the arm of the chair and pressed her hand to her forehead. “We really don’t need to be here. He only hit you twice.”
“Three times, Mag. He hit me three times.” Eric lifted the ice away from the side of his face to meet her eye. “I can’t believe you were with that animal.”
Magnolia sat back in the chair, glaring at him. Dax was anything but an animal. The man was warm, kind, and generous to a fault. A possessive protectiveness heated her chest as anger burned hot and heavy. She turned on Eric. “He’s the animal? You’re the one who took a whore, you’re the one who started the fight, and you’re the reason we are in this mess now.”
He sat up slowly, the dressing gown gapping around his shoulders, exposing his long, lean body. Eric, her beautiful husband, was nothing compared to Dax, either physically or emotionally. His lips dipped into a frown and his chest bowed. “Mag, I know I messed up, but we can make it better and work this out. Maybe counseling is a good option for us, you know?”
She pressed her hand to her forehead once again and closed her eyes. “Ugh, and who’s going to attend counseling? You, me and your new baby momma? Eric, it’s no—”
“She lost the baby,” he blurted out, then gazed at her with sad, grave eyes. “I’ll admit I didn’t want it, but I didn’t want something to happen.”
Magnolia reached out and patted his hand. Did she feel bad for him? Not particularly, but she would never wish that kind of loss on anyone, not even her cheating creep of an ex. “I’m sorry.”
He pressed his hand over hers, holding it there. “Please, Magnolia, I need you.”
For a long moment, she stared into his sapphire eyes. The bruising across his face made them appear even darker. His blond hair had fallen forward in a messy tangle of knots. In all the years that she’d known him, she’d never seen him look like a walking disaster. And maybe it was the way his arm was draped across his ribs, or how his shoulders hunched in on himself that made Maggie have pity for him. Or maybe it was the years they’d shared together. In that moment, she wanted to be gentle with him. When she opened her mouth to speak, the doctor walked into the room carrying large x-rays.
Eric immediately straightened. His brows furrowed as he winced and rubbed at his ribs. “What’s the diagnosis, Doc?”
The doctor, a very plain man standing just a few inches taller than Magnolia with dark hair and glasses, placed the x-ray on the light box on the wall. “Mr. Conor, here we have the x-rays of your ribs.” He sighed. “While they’re not broken—they’re only bruised—you should heal in a week or two.”
“What about my face? I feel like something is broken.” He twined his fingers with Magnolia’s as though he was waiting for terminal news.
The doctor pushed his glasses back up his nose, sighed, and in his deep southern drawl, said, “Ya got a nice shiner. Nothing a cold steak won’t fix.”
Eric’s jaw dropped. “Is that your professional opinion, Doctor?”
“Nope, in my professional opinion, whatever big son of a bitch you pissed off, I wouldn’t do it again.” He pulled the x-ray from the light board and tucked it under his arm. “If you’ll excuse me, the nurse will be in shortly to discharge you.”
Before Eric could say another word, the doctor left them alone together once more. Magnolia pulled her fingers from his grasp and stood up to pull on her coat. Eric looked her up and down. “Where are you going?”
“You heard what the doctor said. You’re fine. And we’re leaving soon.” Once she had on her denim jacket, she pulled her hair from the collar and let it fall down her back. “I’ll drop you off at the hotel.”
He shifted on the bed. “But, Mag, I want to stay with you.”
Magnolia sighed and took a step back from the bed. “I just don’t trust you anymore, and when you don’t have trust, you don’t have anything.”
He pressed his lips in to a hard, thin line. The fluorescent lights above his head made his normally flawless skin look pale and gaunt. “This is because you want that farm boy.”
“His name is Dax. He definitely isn’t a farm boy, he’s a rancher, and it has nothing to do with him and everything to do with us.” She took a step in closer to him. “This is because you cheated on me. And whatever reasons you had for it don’t matter anymore. You decided our relationship was over the moment you were with someone else.”
Eric reached out and took her hand, pulling her closer. Unshed tears stained his blue eyes. “She meant absolutely nothing to me. It was a mistake. I love you! I want to be with you and only you. What can I do to make it better?”
In the middle of the ER, surrounded by machines, groaning patients and the smell of disinfectant, Magnolia finally knew exactly what she had to say and do. She met his gaze directly. “Eric, I want a divorce.”
Shaking his head back and forth, he said, “No.” A tear ran down his cheek and his breath hitched. “I-I don’t know how I can live without you.”
Should’ve thought of that before you took someone else. But she didn’t utter those words out loud. Being snarky wouldn’t help the situation. “Honestly, what did you think would happen if I found out? I just…” She sighed. “I just can’t live like that. Wondering not if you would cheat again but when you would.”
“I swear I would never do that again.” He pulled her hand to his chest, tucking it in between his steepled fingers. He shook as though pleading.
She pulled her hand from his. “It’s too late. I don’t trust you, and I know I can’t do this. I think it’s best if we divorce amicably. I spoke to a lawyer and he—”
“You spoke to a lawyer?” His voice began to rise. “We haven’t even been separated a month!”
“Shhh, stop yelling. I wanted to get all the information I possibly could.” She glanced around at the nurses station outside their room.
“How could you do this so fast, without even a hesitation? Did the last eight years mean nothing to you?” He narrowed his eyes at her. “Or were you just waiting for your chance to come back to him?”
Magnolia paused. Had she always wanted to come back to Dax? Through the years, was she secretly devoted to the memory of him, even though she was with Eric? The idea seemed crazy to her, yet a part of her had always loved Dax. No, she’d tried to make a life with Eric, and it hadn’t worked out. But, secretly, was it relief she was now feeling? The pressure of the last eight years slowly lifted as she turned away from a life she was never happy in. “I was not waitin’ to go back to him. Were you waitin’ to cheat on me?”
“Then, no, I never planned for this to happen. But, Eric, we have the chance here to end things well. We don’t need to battle things out in court like those crazy people on TV.” She crossed her arms over her chest.
He waved away her words. “I can’t think about this right now. Tomorrow yo—”
“Tomorrow, I’ll say the same thing. I want a divorce, Eric. I won’t change my mind, and I won’t back down from this.” It was the utter truth. There was no going back now. She loved Dax, and the moment she found out about Eric cheating on her, any love she felt for him died along with their relationship.
“I hear you.” He spoke through gritted teeth. “But I don’t want to let you go.”
Magnolia rolled her eyes. “A contested divorce will take several years to resolve. I’ll keep on livin’ apart from you that whole time. Because this is done.”
He held up his hand. “Stop, okay? Just stop. I’ll call a lawyer in the morning.”
Her heart did a flip-flop. “Are you plannin’ on battlin’ this out?”
“Not if we don’t have to, Mag.” He sighed and reached out his hand to her.
Hesitating only a fraction of a second before taking it, she let him pull her into his arms. Again, she was struck with how they didn’t fit together anymore. He pressed a kiss to her cheek. “For what it’s worth, I am sorry.”
“I know you are.” She wanted to rail at him, tell him what a prick he was. But how would that help her cause? She could’ve gone Carrie Underwood on his ass, but after spending days at her home, she realized one very important thing. Magnolia wouldn’t have to be Eric’s karma. Losing her and Hayden would be punishment enough, and anything else he would encounter down the road would never be as good as what they had. As if in a dream, she could see his life laid out before him. From now on, his life would lack the excitement he craved from being with her. The cheating bastard would end up exactly where he belonged— with a high paying job and success, but at the crucial sacrifice of a blooming personal life. And Magnolia? She’d stay where she knew she needed to be… with Dax.