Chapter 19

Cary joined us in the living room for excellent Chinese, a sweet plum wine, and Monday night television. As we flipped channels and laughed over the hilarious names of some reality television shows, I watched as two of the most important men in my life enjoyed some relaxation time and each other. They got along well, ribbing and playfully insulting each other in that way men had. I'd never seen that side of Gideon before and I loved it.

While I hogged one whole side of our sectional sofa, the two guys sat cross-legged on the floor and used the coffee table as a dining table. Both were wearing loose sweatpants and fitted T-shirts, and I appreciated the view. Was I a lucky girl or what?

Cracking his knuckles, Cary dramatically prepared to open his fortune cookie. "Let's see. Will I be rich? Famous? About to meet Mr. or Ms. Tall, Dark, and Tasty? Traveling to distant lands? What'd you guys get?"

"Mine's lame," I said. "In the end all things will be known. Duh. I didn't need a fortune to figure that out."

Gideon opened his and read, "Prosperity will knock on your door soon."

I snorted.

Cary shot me a look. "I know, right? You snatched someone else's cookie, Cross."

"He better not be anywhere near someone else's cookie," I said dryly.

Reaching over, Gideon plucked half of mine out of my fingers. "Don't worry, angel. Your cookie is the only one I want." He popped it in his mouth with a wink.

"Gag," Cary muttered. "Get a room." He cracked his fortune with a flourish, and then scowled. "What the fuck?"

I leaned forward. "What's it say?"

"Confucius say," Gideon ad-libbed, "man with hand in pocket feel cocky all day."

Cary threw half his cookie at Gideon, who caught it deftly and grinned.

"Give me that." I snatched the fortune out from between Cary's fingers and read it. Then laughed.

"Fuck you, Eva."

"Well?" Gideon prodded.

"Pick another cookie."

Gideon smiled. "Pwned by a fortune."

Cary threw the other half of his cookie.

I was reminded of similar evenings spent with Cary when I was attending SDSU, which made me try and picture what Gideon had been like in college. From the articles I'd read, I knew he'd attended Columbia for his undergraduate studies, then left to focus on his expanding business interests.

Had he associated with the other students? Did he go to frat parties, screw around and/or drink too much? He was such a controlled man, I had a hard time picturing him that carefree, and yet here he was being exactly that with me and Cary.

He glanced at me then, still smiling, and my heart turned over in my chest. He looked his age for once, young and seriously fine and so very normal. At that moment, we were just a twenty-something couple relaxing at home with a roommate and a remote control. He was just my boyfriend, hanging out. It was all so sweet and uncomplicated, and I found the illusion a poignant one.

The intercom buzzed and Cary leaped to his feet to answer it. He glanced at me with a smile. "Maybe it's Trey."

I held up a hand with my fingers crossed.

But when Cary answered the door a few minutes later, it was the leggy blonde from the other night who came in.

"Hey," she said, taking in the remnants of dinner on the table. She eyed Gideon appraisingly as he politely unfolded and stood in that powerfully graceful way of his. She shot me a smirk; then unleashed a dazzling supermodel smile on Gideon and held out her hand. "Tatiana Cherlin."

He shook her hand. "Eva's boyfriend."

My brows lifted at his introduction. Was he protecting his identity? Or his personal space? Either way, I liked his response.

Cary came back into the room with a bottle of wine and two glasses. "Come on," he said, gestured down the hallway to his bedroom.

Tatiana gave a little wave and preceded Cary out. I mouthed behind her back to Cary, What are you doing?

He winked and whispered, "Picking another cookie."

Gideon and I called it a night shortly after and headed to my room. As we got ready for bed, I asked him something I'd wondered about earlier. "Did you have a fuck pad in college, too?"

His T-shirt cleared his head. "Excuse me?"

"You know, like the hotel room. You're a randy guy. I just wondered if you'd had some kind of setup even then."

He was shaking his head as I ogled his divinely perfect torso and lean hips. "I've had as much sex since I met you as I've had in the last two years combined."

"No way."

"I work hard and I work out harder, both of which keep me pleasantly exhausted most of the time. Occasionally, I might've gotten an offer I didn't refuse, but otherwise I could take or leave sex until I met you."

"Bullshit." I found that impossible to believe.

He shot me a look before he headed toward the bathroom with a black leather toiletry bag. "Keep doubting me, Eva. See what happens."

"What?" I followed him, enjoying the sight of his delectable ass. "You're going to prove that you can take or leave sex by doing me again?"

"It takes two." He opened his bag and pulled out a new toothbrush that he extricated from its packaging and dropped into my toothbrush holder. "You've initiated sex between us as much as I have. You need the connection as much as I do."

"You're right. It's just..."

"Just what?" He pulled open a drawer, frowned at finding it full, and moved on to pull open another.

"Other sink," I said, smiling at his presumption that he would get drawers at my place, too, and his scowl when he couldn't find them. "They're all yours."

Gideon moved over to the second sink and began unpacking his bag into the drawers. "Just what?" he repeated, taking shampoo and body wash over to my shower.

Leaning my hip into the sink and crossing my arms, I watched him stake his claim all over my bathroom. There was no doubt that's what he was doing, just as there was no doubt that anyone walking into the room would know right away there was a man in my life.

It struck me then that I had a similar claim on his private space. His household staff had to know their boss was in a committed relationship now. The thought gave me a little thrill.

"I was thinking about you in college earlier," I went on, "when we were eating dinner, imagining what it would be like to see you around on campus. I would've been obsessed with you. I would have gone out of my way to see you around just to enjoy the view. I would've tried to get in the same classes as you, so I could daydream during lectures about getting into your pants."

"Sex maniac." He kissed the tip of my nose as he passed me and went to brush his teeth. "We both know what would've happened once I saw you."

I brushed my hair and teeth; then washed my face. "So...did you have a sex pad for the rare occasions some lucky bitch got you in bed?"

His gaze caught my soapy reflection in the mirror. "I've always used the hotel."

"That's the only place you've had sex? Before me?"

"The only place I've had consensual sex," he said quietly, "before you."

"Oh." My heart broke.

I walked over to him, hugging him from behind. I rubbed my cheek against his back.

We went to bed and wrapped ourselves around each other. I buried my face in his neck and breathed him in, snuggling. His body was hard, yet it was wonderfully comfortable against mine. He was so warm and strong, so powerfully male. I only had to think of him to want him.

I slid my leg over his hips and rose above him, my hands splayed atop the ridges of his abdomen. It was dark, I couldn't see him, but I didn't need to. As much as I loved that face of his - the one he resented at times - it was the way he touched me and murmured to me that really got to me. As if there was no one else in the world for him, nothing he wanted more.

"Gideon." I didn't need to say anything else.

Sitting up, he wrapped his arms around me and kissed me deeply. Then he rolled me beneath him and made love to me with a tender possessiveness that rocked me to the soul.

I woke with a jolt of surprise. A heavy weight crushed me and a harsh voice spit ugly, nasty words into my ear. Panic gripped me, cutting off my air.

Not again. No...Please, no...

My stepbrother's hand covered my mouth and he yanked my legs apart. I felt the hard thing between his legs poking blindly, trying to push into my body. My scream was muffled by his palm smashed over my lips and I cringed away, my heart pounding so hard I thought it would burst. Nathan was so heavy. So heavy and strong. I couldn't buck him off. I couldn't shove him away.

Stop it! Get off me. Don't touch me. Oh, God...please don't do that to me...not again...

Where was Mama? Ma-ma!

I screamed, but Nathan's hand covered my mouth. It pressed down on me, squashing my head into the pillow. The more I fought, the more excited he became. Panting like a dog, he rammed against me over and over...trying to shove himself inside me...

"You're going to know what it feels like."

I froze. I knew that voice. I knew it wasn't Nathan's.

Not a dream. Still a nightmare.

God, no. Blinking madly in the darkness, I struggled to see. The blood was roaring through my ears. I couldn't hear.

But I knew the smell of his skin. Knew his touch, even when it was cruel. Knew the feel of his body on mine, even as it tried to invade me.

Gideon's erection battered into the crease of my thigh. Panicked, I heaved upward with all my strength. His hand on my face dislodged.

Sucking air into my lungs, I screamed.

His chest heaved as he growled, "Not so neat and tidy when you're the one getting fucked."

"Crossfire," I gasped.

A flash of light from the hallway blinded me, followed by the blessed removal of Gideon's smothering weight. Rolling to my side, I sobbed, my eyes streaming tears that blurred my view of Cary shoving Gideon across the room and into the wall, denting the drywall.

"Eva! Are you okay?" Cary turned on the bedside light, cursing when he saw me curled in a fetal position, rocking violently.

When Gideon straightened, Cary rounded on him. "Move one fucking muscle before the cops get here and I'll beat you to a bloody pulp!"

Swallowing past my burning throat, I pushed up to a seated position. My gaze locked with Gideon's and I watched the haze of sleep leave his eyes, replaced by a dawning horror.

"Dream," I choked out, catching Cary's arm as he reached for the phone. "He's d-dreaming."

Cary glanced at where Gideon crouched naked on the floor like a wild animal. Cary's arm dropped back to his side. "Jesus Christ," he breathed. "And I thought I was fucked up."

Sliding off the bed, I stood on shaky legs, sick with lingering fear. My knees gave out and Cary caught me, lowering to the floor with me and holding me as I cried.

"I'm gonna crash on the couch." Cary ran a hand through his sleep-mussed hair and leaned into the hallway wall. The door to my bedroom was open behind me and Gideon was inside, looking pale and haunted. "I'll set out some blankets and pillows for him, too. I don't think he should go home alone. He's shredded."

"Thanks, Cary." The arms I had wrapped around my middle tightened. "Is Tatiana still here?"

"Hell, no. It's not like that. We just fuck."

"What about Trey?" I asked quietly, my mind already drifting back to Gideon.

"I love Trey. I think he's the best person I've ever met aside from you." He bent forward and kissed my forehead. "And what he doesn't know won't hurt him. Stop worrying about me and take care of you."

I looked up at him, my eyes swimming in tears. "I don't know what to do."

Cary sighed, his green eyes dark and serious. "I think you need to decide if you're in over your head, baby girl. Some people can't be fixed. Look at me. I've got a great guy and I'm giving it to a girl I can't stand."

"Cary..." Reaching out, I touched his shoulder.

He caught my hand and squeezed it. "I'm here if you need me."

Gideon was zipping up his duffel bag when I returned to my room. He looked at me and fear slithered in my gut. Not for me, but for him. I'd never seen anyone look so desolate, so utterly broken. The bleakness in his beautiful eyes frightened me. There was no life in him. He was gray as death with deep shadows in all the angles and planes of his breathtaking face.

"What are you doing?" I whispered.

He backed up, as if he wanted to be as far away from me as he could get. "I can't stay."

It worried me that I felt a surge of relief at the thought of being alone. "We agreed - no running."

"That was before I attacked you!" he snapped, showing the first sign of spirit in over an hour.

"You were unconscious."

"You're not going to be a victim ever again, Eva. My God...what I almost did to you..." He turned his back to me, his shoulders hunched in a way that scared me as much as the attack had.

"If you leave, we lose and our pasts win." I saw my words hit him like a blow. Every light in my room was on, as if electricity alone could banish all the shadows on our souls. "If you give up now, I'm afraid it'll be easier for you to stay away and for me to let you. We'll be over, Gideon."

"How can I stay? Why would you want me to?" Turning around, he looked at me with such longing it brought fresh tears to my eyes. "I'd kill myself before I hurt you."

Which was one of my fears. I had a difficult time picturing the Gideon I knew - the dominant, willful force of nature - taking his own life, but the Gideon standing before me was an entirely different person. And he was the child of a suicidal parent.

My fingers plucked at the hem of my T-shirt. "You'd never hurt me."

"You're afraid of me," he said hoarsely. "I can see it on your face. I'm afraid of me. Afraid of sleeping with you and doing something that will destroy us both."

He was right. I was afraid. Dread chilled my stomach.

Now I knew the explosive violence in him. The festering fury. And we were so impassioned with each other. I'd slapped his face at the garden party, lashing out physically when I never did that.

It was the nature of our relationship to be lusty and emotional, earthy and raw. The trust that held us together also opened us up to each other in ways that made us both vulnerable and dangerous. And it would get worse before it got better.

He shoved a hand through his hair. "Eva, I - "

"I love you, Gideon."

"God." He looked at me with something that resembled disgust. Whether it was directed at me or himself, I didn't know. "How can you say that?"

"Because it's the truth."

"You just see this" - he gestured at himself with a wave of his hand. "You're not seeing the fucked-up, broken mess inside."

I inhaled sharply. "You can say that to me? When you know I'm fucked up and broken, too?"

"Maybe you're wired to go for someone who's terrible for you," he said bitterly.

"Stop it. I know you're hurting, but lashing out at me is only going to make you hurt worse." I glanced at the clock and saw it was four in the morning. I walked toward him, needing to get past my fear of touching him and being touched by him.

He held up a hand as if to hold me off. "I'm going home, Eva."

"Sleep on the couch here. Don't fight me about this, Gideon. Please. I'll worry myself sick if you go."

"You'll be more worried if I stay." He stared at me, looking lost and angry and filled with terrible yearning. His eyes pleaded with me for forgiveness, but he wouldn't accept it when I tried to give it to him.

I went to him and took his hand, fighting back the surge of apprehension that hit me when we touched. My nerves were still raw, my throat and mouth still sore, the memory of his attempts at penetration - so like Nathan's - were still too fresh. "We'll g-get through this," I promised him, hating that my voice quavered. "You'll talk to Dr. Petersen and we'll go from there."


His hand lifted as if to touch my face. "If Cary hadn't been here - "

"He was, and I'll be fine. I love you. We'll get past this." I walked into him, hugging him, pushing my hands beneath his shirt to touch his bare skin. "We're not going to let the past get in the way of what we have."

I wasn't sure which of us I was trying to convince.

"Eva." His returning hug squeezed all of the air out of me. "I'm sorry. It's killing me. Please. Forgive me...I can't lose you."

"You won't." My eyes closed, focusing on the feel of him. The smell of him. Remembering that I once feared nothing when I was with him.

"I'm so sorry." His shaking hands stroked the curve of my spine. "I'll do anything..."

"Shh. I love you. We'll be okay."

Turning his head, he kissed me softly. "Forgive me, Eva. I need you. I'm afraid of what I'll become if I lose you..."

"I'm not going anywhere." My skin tingled beneath the restless glide of his hands on my back. "I'm right here. No more running."

He paused, his breath gusting harshly against my lips. Then he tilted his head and sealed his mouth over mine. My body responded to the gentle coaxing of his kiss. I arched into him without volition, pulling him closer.

He cupped my breasts in his hands, kneading them, circling the pads of his thumbs over my nipples until they peaked and ached. I moaned with a mixture of fear and hunger, and he quivered at the sound.

"Eva...?"

"I - I can't." The memory of how I'd woken up was too fresh in my mind. It hurt me to deny him, knowing he needed the same thing from me as I'd needed from him when I told him about Nathan - proof that the desire was still there, that as ugly as the scars of our pasts were, they didn't affect what we were to each other now.

But I couldn't give him that. Not yet. I felt too raw and vulnerable. "Just hold me, Gideon. Please."

He nodded, wrapping his arms around me.

I urged him to sink to the floor with me, hoping I could get him to fall asleep. I curled into his side, my leg thrown over his, my arm draped over his hard stomach. He squeezed me gently, pressing his lips to my forehead, whispering over and over again how sorry he was.

"Don't leave me," I whispered. "Stay."

Gideon didn't answer, didn't make any promises, but he didn't let me go either.

I woke sometime later, hearing Gideon's heart beating steadily beneath my ear. All the lights were still on, and the carpeted floor was hard and uncomfortable.

Gideon lay on his back, his beautiful face youthful in sleep, his shirt lifted just enough to expose his navel and the ripped muscles of his abdomen.

This was the man I loved. This was the man whose body gave me such pleasure, whose thoughtfulness moved me over and over again. He was still here. And from the frown that marred the space between his brows, he was still hurting.

I slid my hand into his sweatpants. For the first time since we'd been together, he wasn't hot steel in my palms, but he quickly swelled and thickened as I tentatively stroked him from root to tip. Fear lingered just beneath my arousal, but I was more afraid of losing him than of living with the demons inside him.

He stirred, his arm tightening around my back. "Eva...?"

This time I answered him the way I couldn't before. "Let's forget," I breathed into his mouth. "Make us forget."

"Eva."

He rolled into me, peeling my shirt off with cautious movements. I was similarly tentative in undressing him. We approached each other as if each of us was breakable. The bond between us was fragile just then, both of us apprehensive about the future and the wounds we could inflict with all of our jagged edges.

His lips wrapped around my nipple, his cheeks hollowing slowly, his seduction subdued. The tender suckling felt so good I gasped and arched into his hand. He caressed my side from breast to hip and back again, over and over, gentling me as my heart raced wildly.

He kissed across my chest to the other breast, murmuring words of apology and need in a voice broken by regret and misery. His tongue lapped at the hardened point, worrying it, before surrounding it with wet heat and suction.

"Gideon." The delicate pulls expertly coaxed desire through my skittish mind. My body was already lost in him, greedily seeking the pleasure and beauty of his.

"Don't be afraid of me," he whispered. "Don't pull away."

He kissed my navel, and then moved lower, his hair caressing my stomach as he settled between my legs. He held me open with shaking hands and nuzzled my clit. His light, teasing licks through my cleft and the fluttering dips into my trembling sex took me to the edge of insanity.

My back bowed. Hoarse pleas left my lips. Tension spread through my body, tightening everything until I felt like I might snap under the pressure. And then he pushed me into orgasm with the softest nudge of the tip of his tongue.

I cried out, heated relief pulsing through my writhing body.

"I can't let you go, Eva." Gideon levered over me as I vibrated with pleasure. "I can't."

Brushing away the tear tracks from his face, I stared into his reddened eyes. His torment was painful for me to witness, hurting my heart. "I wouldn't let you if you tried."

He took himself in hand and fed his cock slowly, carefully into me. My head pressed hard into the floor as he sank deeper, possessing my body one thick inch at a time.

When I'd taken all of him, he began to move in measured, deliberate thrusts. I closed my eyes and focused on the connection between us. Then he settled onto me, his stomach pressed to mine, and my pulse leaped with panic. Abruptly frightened, I hesitated.

"Look at me, Eva." His voice was so hoarse it was unrecognizable.

I did, and saw his anguish.

"Make love to me," he begged in a breathless whisper. "Make love with me. Touch me, angel. Put your hands on me."

"Yes." My palms pressed flat to his back; then stroked over the quivering muscles to his ass. Squeezing the hard flexing flesh, I urged him to move faster, plunge deeper.

The rhythmic strokes of his heavy cock through the clenching depths of my sex pushed ecstasy through me in heated waves. He felt so good. My legs wrapped around his plunging hips, my breath quickening as the cold knot inside me began to melt. Our gazes held.

Tears coursed down my temples. "I love you, Gideon."

"Please..." His eyes squeezed shut.

"I love you."

He lured me to orgasm with the skilled rolling of his hips, stirring his cock inside me. My sex clenched tightly, trying to hold him, trying to keep him deep in me.

"Come, Eva," he gasped against my throat.

I struggled for it, struggled to get past the lingering apprehension that came from having him on top of me. The anxiety mingled with the desire, keeping me on edge.

He made a hoarse sound filled with pain and regret. "Need you to come, Eva...need to feel you...Please..."

Cupping my buttocks, he angled my hips and stroked over and over that sensitive spot inside me. He was tireless, relentless, fucking me long and hard until my mind lost control of my body and I came violently. I bit his shoulder to stem my cries as I shook beneath him, the tiny muscles inside me trembling with ecstatic ripples. He groaned deep in his chest, a serrated sound of tormented pleasure.

"More," he ordered, deepening his drives to give me that delectable bite of soreness. That he once again trusted us both enough to introduce that little touch of pain chased away the last of my reservations. As much as we trusted each other, we were learning to trust our instincts, too.

I came again, ferociously, my toes curling until they cramped. I felt the familiar tension grip Gideon and tightened my grasp on his hips, spurring him on, desperate to feel him spurting inside me.

"No!" He wrenched away, falling to his back and throwing an arm over his eyes. Punishing himself by denying his body the comfort and pleasure of mine.

His chest heaved and glistened with sweat. His cock lay heavily on his belly, brutal-looking with its broad purpled head and thick roping of veins.

I dove for it with hands and mouth, ignoring his vicious curse. Pinning his torso with my forearm, I pumped him hard with my other fist and sucked voraciously on the sensitive crown. His thighs quivered, his legs kicking restlessly.

"Damn it, Eva. Fuck." He stiffened and gasped, his hands shoving into my hair, his hips bucking. "Oh, fuck. Suck it hard...Ah, Christ..."

He exploded in a powerful rush that almost choked me, coming hard, flooding my mouth. I took it all, my fist milking pulse after pulse up the throbbing length of his cock, swallowing repeatedly until he shuddered with the surfeit of sensation and begged me to stop.

I straightened and Gideon sat up and wrapped himself around me. He took me back down to the floor where he buried his face in my throat and cried until dawn.

I wore a black long-sleeved silk blouse and slacks to work on Tuesday, feeling the need to have a barrier between myself and the world. In the kitchen, Gideon cupped my face in his hands and brushed his mouth across mine with heartrending tenderness. His gaze remained haunted.

"Lunch?" I asked, feeling like we needed to cling to the connection between us.

"I have a business lunch." He ran his fingers through my loose hair. "Would you come? I'll make sure Angus gets you back to work on time."

"I'd love to come along." I thought of the schedule of evening events, meetings, and appointments he'd sent to my smartphone. "And tomorrow night we have a benefit dinner at the Waldorf=Astoria?"

His gaze softened. Dressed for work, he looked somber yet collected. I knew he was anything but.

"You really won't give up on me, will you?" he asked quietly.

I held up my right hand and showed him my ring. "You're stuck with me, Cross. Get used to it."

On the drive to work, he cuddled me in his lap, and again on the ride to lunch at Jean Georges. I didn't speak more than a dozen words during the meal, which Gideon ordered for me and I enjoyed immensely.

I sat quietly at his side, my left hand resting on his hard thigh beneath the tablecloth, a wordless affirmation of my commitment to him. To us. One of his hands rested over mine, warm and strong, as he discussed a new property in development on St. Croix. We kept that connection throughout the entire meal, each of us choosing to eat one-handed rather than separate.

With each hour that passed, I felt the horror of the night before drain away from both of us. It would be another scar to add to his collection, another bitter memory he'd always have, a memory I would share and fear along with him, but it wouldn't rule us. We wouldn't let it.

Angus was waiting to take me home when my day ended. Gideon was working late, and then going directly from the Crossfire to Dr. Petersen's office. I used the length of the drive to steel myself for the next round of training with Parker. I debated skipping it, but ended up deciding it was important to keep to a routine. So much in my life was uncontrollable at the moment. Following a schedule was one of the few things totally within my power.

After an hour and a half of tagging and groundwork with Parker at the studio, I was relieved when Clancy dropped me off at home and proud of myself for working out when it was the last thing I'd wanted to do.

When I stepped into the lobby, I found Trey talking to the front desk.

"Hey," I greeted him. "Going up?"

He turned to face me, his brown eyes warm and his smile open. Trey had a gentleness to him, a kind of straightforward naivete that was different from the other relationships Cary'd had before. Or maybe I should just say Trey was "normal," which so few of the people in my and Cary's lives were.

"Cary's not in," he said. "They just tried calling."

"You're welcome to come up with me and wait. I won't be going out again."

"If you really don't mind." He fell into step beside me as I waved at the gal at the front desk and moved toward the elevators. "I brought something for him."

"I don't mind at all," I assured him, returning his sweet smile.

He eyed my yoga pants and tank top. "You just get back from the gym?"

"Yeah. Despite it being one of those days when I'd rather have done anything else."

He laughed as we stepped into the elevator. "I know that feeling."

As we rode up, silence descended. It was weighted.

"Everything all right?" I asked him.

"Well..." Trey adjusted the sling of his backpack. "Cary's just seemed a little off the last few days."

"Oh?" I bit my lower lip. "In what way?"

"I don't know. It's hard to explain. I just feel like maybe something's up with him and I'm missing what it is."

I thought of the blonde and winced inwardly. "Maybe he's stressed about the Grey Isles job and he doesn't want to bother you with it. He knows you've got your hands full with your job and school."

The tension in his shoulders softened. "Maybe that's it. It makes sense. Okay. Thank you."

I let us in to the apartment and told him to make himself at home. Trey headed to Cary's room to drop his stuff, while I went to the phone to check the voice mail.

A shout from down the hallway had me reaching for the phone for a different reason, my heart thudding with thoughts of intruders and imminent danger. More yelling followed, with one voice clearly belonging to Cary.

I exhaled in a rush, relieved. With the phone in my hand, I ventured to see what the hell was going on. I was nearly run over by Tatiana rounding the hallway corner still buttoning her blouse.

"Oops," she said, with an unapologetic grin. "See ya."

I couldn't hear the door shut behind her over Trey's shouting.

"Fuck you, Cary. We talked about this! You promised!"

"You're blowing this out of proportion," Cary barked. "It's not what you think."

Trey came storming out of Cary's bedroom in such a rush that I plastered myself to the hallway wall to get out of his way. Cary followed, with a sheet slung around his waist. As he passed me, I shot him a narrow-eyed glance that earned me a fuck-off middle finger.

I left the two men alone and escaped into my shower, angry at Cary for once again ruining something good in his life. It was a pattern I kept hoping he'd break, but he couldn't seem to kick it.

When I came out to the kitchen a half hour later, the stillness in the apartment was absolute. I focused on cooking dinner, deciding to go with a pork roast and new potatoes with asparagus, one of Cary's favorite dinners, in case he was home for dinner and needed some cheering up.

The sight of Trey stepping into the hallway while I was putting the roast in the oven surprised me, and then it made me sad. I hated to see him leave looking flushed, disheveled, and crying. My pity turned to fierce disappointment when Cary joined me in the kitchen with the scent of male sweat and sex clinging to him. He shot me a scowl as he passed me on his way to the wine fridge.

I faced him with my arms crossed. "Screwing a heartbroken lover on the same sheets he's just caught you cheating on isn't going to make things better."

"Shut up, Eva."

"He's probably hating himself right now for giving in."

"I said shut the fuck up."

"Fine." I turned away from him and focused on seasoning the potatoes to put in the oven with the roast.

Cary grabbed wineglasses out of the cupboard. "I can feel you judging me. Stop it. He wouldn't be half as pissed if it'd been a man he caught me fucking."

"It's all his fault, huh?"

"Newsflash: Your love life isn't perfect either."

"Low blow, Cary. I'm not going to be your punching bag over this. You messed up, and then you made it worse. It's all on you."

"Don't get on your damn high horse. You're sleeping with a man who's going to rape you any day now."

"It's not like that!"

He snorted and leaned his hip against the counter, his green eyes filled with pain and anger. "If you're going to make excuses for him because he's sleeping when he attacks you, you'll have to make those same excuses for drunks and druggies. They don't know what they're doing either."

The truth of his words struck me hard, as did the fact that he was deliberately trying to wound me. "You can put down a bottle. You can't quit sleeping."

Straightening, Cary opened the bottle he'd selected and poured two glasses, sliding one across the counter toward me. "If anyone knows what it's like to be involved with people who hurt you, it's me. You love him. You want to save him. But who's going to save you, Eva? I'm not always going to be around when you're with him and he's a ticking time bomb."

"You wanna talk about being in relationships that hurt, Cary?" I shot back, deflecting him away from my painful truths. "Did you screw Trey over to protect yourself? Did you figure you'd push him away before he had the chance to disappoint you?"

Cary's mouth curved bitterly. He tapped his glass to mine, which still sat on the counter. "Cheers to us, the seriously fucked up. At least we have each other."

He stalked out of the room and I deflated. I'd known this was coming - the unraveling of circumstances too good to be true. Contentment and happiness didn't exist in my life for more than a few moments at a time, and they were really only illusionary.

There was always something hidden. Lying in wait to spring up and ruin everything.

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