Home > Fool Me Once (First Wives #1)(2)

Fool Me Once (First Wives #1)(2)
Author: Catherine Bybee

And those success stories alone kept Lori in the mix.

As jaded as a divorce lawyer with one failed marriage under her personal belt was, she liked to believe happily ever after existed.

“Was it really that easy? Taking the job as Bernie’s wife paid me over nine grand a day.”

It was too early for math.

“Uhm . . .”

“Five million and the condo.”

Yeah . . . the condo had cost Bernie close to two million after renovations. Every client was different.

Every client had a price for a year or two of their personal freedom.

Not to mention the gifts Bernie had bestowed upon his wife during their marriage. All a facade.

Even now, Bernie was happily hooking up with a woman slightly older than Avery with the real possibility of that happily ever after in his future. It seemed having a trophy wife broke down some of his personal demons that prevented him from seeking out relationships.

There were pitfalls for Avery, however . . . things she’d discarded when she’d signed contracts that she would now face. Dating after being labeled a gold digger would be challenging. Not to mention the opportunistic men out there who would try to hook up with her to get a piece of her bank account. Avoiding the lottery curse and blowing the five million she gave up a portion of her life for was also something Lori and Sam both tried to help their clients avoid. Hence the reason Lori was standing in Avery’s condo and not hers at nine in the morning with puke dripping off the walls. Avery already trusted and respected her, but now that the marriage and divorce were over, Lori hoped their relationship could develop into a friendship so Avery would seek her advice during what could be a challenging transitional year.

“Water?” Lori offered.

Avery shook her head.

Lori leaned against the kitchen counter.

“You need to ease your life out of purgatory just a little bit longer,” Lori warned. “Give the papers someone new to follow.”

Avery laughed with half-open eyes.

“Avery?” The younger woman caught Lori’s gaze. “This isn’t going to be easy.”

“Yeah, yeah . . . you told me people would call me a gold digger, a user. I know.”

Avery Grant had been ostracized by her parents’ crowd for not conforming to the plaid skirt wearing teen or the perfectly polished Stepford wife type as an adult. Her wealthy, Ivy League–educated family didn’t know what to do with her wild, unorthodox personality. Her parents sent her to one boarding school after another, never letting Avery develop any lasting friendships. Avery continued the pattern by floating in and out of three colleges before graduating with a liberal arts degree after five years. Avery said she was bulletproof after her unsettled childhood.

“It’s more than being called a name,” Lori said.

“You’ve told me this before, Lori. I’m good.”

Lori’s phone rang like an exclamation point.

She followed the ringtone until she found her cell plugged in by the kitchen sink.

It was Sam.

“Good morning.”

“You left before all the fun.” Detective Dan had earned his three hundred bucks.

“Are you sitting down?”

Sam’s abrupt tone shook the remaining cobwebs from Lori’s head. “No.”


Lori took the seat opposite Avery. “I’m sitting.” And her heart was beating too fast.

“They have art.”

They and art were never a good combination. “Last night?”

“Yeah. A picture of Avery letting Detective Dan take a Jell-O shot off her belly is making the rounds.” Sam rambled off the tabloid that had managed to obtain pictures from the previous night’s party.

“That’s not good.”

Sam sighed.

Avery opened both eyes as she took in half the conversation.

Lori faked a smile. The reaction was preprogramed in her head in an effort to keep control of her emotions when she felt her blood pressure rising.

“That’s not all.”

“I’m listening.”

“Fedor Petrov squeezed the trigger of his .45 millimeter point-blank to his head last night.”

Lori’s stomach protested. She swallowed. Hard. “God, no.”

“I wish I was joking.”

“Where is Trina?” Petrov was their payer, and Trina was the temporary wife halfway through her two-year contract.

“Secluded in Petrov’s estate in the Hamptons.”

“This is bad.” Lori closed her eyes and envisioned Trina the last time she saw her. She was packing up her apartment after her brief fake honeymoon and moving back east. “How did you find out?”

“Trina called, hysterical.”

“My God, is she okay?”

“No. I’m not sure it’s possible for her to be okay right now. My plane leaves in two hours.”

“I’ll be ready.”

Chapter Two

By the time Lori and Sam landed in the Hamptons, every newscaster, rag, and wannabe paparazzo had beat them there. Cameras blinded them as the car passed through the gate of the Petrov estate.

Thankfully, the media had no idea who Lori was, so she rushed in first. But when Sam stepped out of the car, cameras renewed their frenzy. Sam had already established herself as Trina’s friend, so her presence wouldn’t be questioned.

Lori found Trina sitting on a chaise in her bedroom with an empty bottle of wine at her side.

The dark skinned, ebony haired woman looked up when Lori entered the room.

She’d been crying. A broken shell of the woman Lori had last seen just six months before.

One look in Lori’s direction and Trina’s tears flowed again.

Lori folded Trina into her arms and listened as she sobbed.

Through hiccups, Trina spoke.

“I didn’t sign”—Lori patted Trina’s back—“up for this.”

“It’s okay . . . you’re going to be okay.”

Trina buried her face in Lori’s shoulder.

Lori looked up at the sound of Sam’s footsteps. She and Sam kept eye contact for several seconds of silence.

“I should have seen this coming,” Trina managed once Sam sat on the other side of her.

“Did Fedor say anything to you?”


“Then how could you have known this would happen?” Lori asked.

“I’m his wife.”

Lori glanced to the closed bedroom door. “In name only.”

“People are going to blame me for not seeing this coming.”

Lori couldn’t argue with that. “It’s not your fault.”

“Doesn’t matter. He’d been quiet this last month. Almost never away from the hospital. I thought the changes in him were about his mom. I asked him how he was doing, but he didn’t offer more than that he was holding up. He obviously wasn’t holding up,” she cried.

Fedor was a devoted son, his mother was his world. Suffering from cancer, Alice Petrov had been on her deathbed for the last few months, and Fedor knew it would bring her peace to see him married.

Cancer was stealing her lungs, and a stroke had left her in a wheelchair. In the past week, she’d had a second stroke and no longer recognized anyone. The doctors didn’t give her long to live.

Sam’s theory behind Fedor’s suicide was that he couldn’t cope with his mother’s impending death. And since she no longer recognized him, he wasn’t hurting her by exiting this life.

“Did you find a note, a suicide letter?” Lori asked.

“No, nothing.”

“We’re going to get you through this,” Sam told her.

Trina’s tears were drying up. “Two years and I’d have the means to be able to start my own company. That’s all I wanted.” Her eyes welled again. “I didn’t think anyone was going to die.”

While there were clauses in the prenuptial contracts for the unlikely event of one of the spouses dying during their marriage, in the history of Alliance, they’d never had to revisit the clause.

A knock on the door caught their attention. “Mrs. Petrov?”

Lori recognized one of the housekeepers. “Yes?”

“Your parents are here.”

Trina blinked a few times before she spoke. “Give me a minute.”

The housekeeper nodded and closed the door behind her.

“Do they know the truth about your marriage?” Sam asked.

Trina shook her head. “No. I’ve told no one.”

Lori attempted to put Trina at ease with a smile. “It needs to stay that way.”

“I know.”

“Do you want us to stay while you talk with your parents?”

Trina closed her eyes. “No. I need to talk to them on my own.”

“We’ll go, then.”

Trina’s eyes opened wide in protest.

“To one of the spare rooms,” Sam assured her.

“Okay. Don’t leave.”

Lori stood. “We won’t. We’re here for you, Trina. We’ll get you through this.”

Sam and Lori kept quiet until they were shown the rooms they were going to occupy. Once alone, they started to plan. “She looks awful,” Lori said straight out.

“She’s a sensitive soul.”

“Does she have any friends here?”

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