Home > More Than Protect You (More Than Words #6.5)

More Than Protect You (More Than Words #6.5)
Author: Shayla Black

Chapter One


Sunday, April 8

4:40 a.m.






There’s nothing like Bon Jovi waking me up before five a.m. on a Sunday morning. I eye my phone, now blasting “You Give Love a Bad Name,” my soon-to-be ex-wife’s ringtone. She only ever calls when she wants something, so this ought to be interesting.

I grope the device off the nightstand and flop back to my pillow. “What, Ellie?”

“It’s Elise now.”

The day I met her, working on a ranch a hundred miles outside of Pueblo, Colorado, she was Ellie. She was a happy-go-lucky nineteen and didn’t have an uncompromising thought in her head. I took one look at her sloppy ponytail, hazel eyes, crooked smile, and very short shorts—and I fell. We got married a few years later, bought a house, and started a business together. Everything was going all right…until it wasn’t. Eight years had gone by when I looked up and realized I was married to a stranger. When she asked for a trial separation, I didn’t fight. That night, I packed a bag and walked out the door. I haven’t missed her since.

“Do you know what fucking time it is in Maui, Elise?”

“Early. I know. But since you haven’t been available during reasonable daytime hours lately, I thought I’d try this.”

So me ignoring her three phone calls yesterday wasn’t subtle enough? “What do you want?”

“Did you get the paperwork yet? I signed it. The carrier shows it was delivered to you on Friday.”

She’s itching for our divorce to be final. In truth, I’m feeling the same. We separated nearly two years ago, and finally this long road is almost over.


“And? Is that all you have to say?”

“Yeah.” Mostly because it drives her crazy. I’m not trying to antagonize her simply to be a vengeful asshole. I’m just hoping if these phone calls are painful enough she’ll stop.

She sighs like she’s grappling for patience. “Tanner Maxwell Kirk, please give me a straightforward answer once and for all. Are you going to sign the papers?”

“Yeah.” Why would I stay married to her now?

“This week?”

“You in a hurry?” I ask out of curiosity more than anything. And maybe because I want to yank her chain.

“Not that you care, but yes.”

“Why? You’re not looking to get married again, are you?”

She hesitates. “I don’t see that it’s any of your business.”

“Then I don’t see why I have to sign right away.”

“Ugh, you are the most frustrating, infuriating man! I only married you because I wanted off that damn ranch, and I didn’t know how damaging the traditional, patriarchal institution of marriage was…”

I tune out. I’ve heard this speech. She didn’t find marriage demeaning or oppressive until she decided to go back to college and took a bunch of classes that turned her thinking inside out. Fine. I never wanted to hold her back. The moment she asked, I set her free. A few months later, I even hired an attorney to make it official.

I interrupt her diatribe. “Just answer my question and I’ll sign.”

Ellie sighs. “Not exactly.”

“Then what?”

“Is it any of your business?” she huffs. “I don’t ask who you’ve fucked lately.”

“Actually, you did. About a month ago.”

“I’d had too much to drink that night. I just wanted to make sure you’re getting on with your life.”

Riiight… “Seems like you got interested in my sex life not long after I moved out and got one that didn’t include you.”

She finally drops the attitude. “Caring is a hard habit to break. We were together for so long…”

“And then you decided we weren’t because I was oppressing you or whatever.”

“Not you specifically, though you have your overbearing moments.”

She’s mentioned that about a hundred times. “You want me to apologize for caring about you?”

“It felt more like hovering. But in this case, I meant the institution of marriage. I just couldn’t be the feminist I know I am now and yet remain in a practice I don’t believe in anymore. It didn’t mean I stopped having feelings.”

But it did mean we stopped having sex. And I’m over this conversation. “I wish you nothing but the best, Ellie, whatever your plans may be. I’ll sign the papers and drop them back in the mail to my attorney tomorrow. As soon as the judge processes them and the house sells, you’ll be free of me.”

“Thank you. I’m entering into a domestic partnership.”

“What’s his name?”


Okay, that shocks me. “You’re in a relationship with another woman?”

“It just…happened. I’d been seeing a fellow grad student. Scott was nice. He liked antiquing, classical music, and photography.”

Everything I don’t. Yet she still wasn’t happy?

“He introduced me to his sister over lunch one day, and I realized people don’t truly fall in love with the body; they fall in love with the soul. Patricia has the most beautiful soul. But I’m scared, Tanner. She’s a lot smarter. She knows herself so much better. She seems sure of everything.”

And Ellie is still trying to find herself. I finally figured that out. She looked for her identity as my wife. When that failed, she tried to pin it on motherhood. When her ovaries wouldn’t cooperate, she tried to find meaning in being a student. Now she’s looking for some pinnacle of self-actualization in a same-sex partnership. I don’t know Patricia, but I already feel sorry for her. In a few years, Ellie will drift away, and Patricia will probably only have the faintest idea why.

“You didn’t ask for my advice, and at the risk of being overbearing, I’m going to suggest you give her your all. Communicate. Invest your heart this time. Focus not on what you can’t have but what you can.”

She’s quiet for such a long time, I’m worried she’s pissed. “You’re probably right. I never meant to hurt you.”

“I know.”

“And I’m sorry.”

“I know.” Just like I know this will be one of the last conversations we ever have. It’s sad…but that’s life. We’ve both moved on.

“You going to stay in Maui?”

“Probably. I’m looking into opening a shooting range here. I’ve found a good location. All I have to do is sign the lease.” And come up with the money to start a new business. Right now, that’s a tall order. I’m flat broke.

“Where are you going to live?”

“Once the house sells, I can buy a condo on the island or something.”

“You staying with Joe?” she asks about my buddy Camden’s dad.

“At his place. He’s away on business now.” But he’s due back tomorrow night, so I need to find somewhere else to crash ASAP that won’t cost me a fortune. His studio apartment isn’t big enough for both of us. “The good news is, I’ve met a few of his fishing buddies and found some good restaurants. I’m enjoying the island. It’s a start.”

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