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“Sorry you didn’t realize the commitment involved more than a convenient piece of ass!”

“Conveniently unavailable,” I countered, feeling a muscle twitching in my jaw.

“Screw you.”

“Excellent idea.”

She was flat on her back in the sand before she knew what hit her. I pinned her down, pressing hard, my mouth on hers to shut her up. She arched, struggling, and I gripped her ponytail to hold her in place.

Her teeth sank into my bottom lip and I pulled back with a curse.

“Are you fucking kidding me right now?” Her legs tangled with mine and I found myself beneath her, staring up at her furious, beautiful face. “This is exactly why you’re not getting any, ace. Sex is your go-to solution for everything.”

“You’ve got to make this worth my while,” I taunted, wanting a fight.

“I’m worth your while, asshat. Not my vagina.” She pushed down on my shoulders. “I’m sorry you feel ambushed. I’m really sorry that being welcomed with open arms makes you lose your damn mind. But you’re going to have to get used to it because it’s all part of the package you got with me.”

I knew that. Knew I had to make it work, because I had to have her. It trapped me, my love for her. Pushed me into corners I couldn’t back out of. Forced a family on me when I’d gotten by just fine without one.

“I don’t want this,” I said tightly.

Eva stilled. She sank back onto her knees, her thighs bracketing my hips. “Think about what you’re saying,” she warned.

“I don’t know how to play this role, Eva.”

“Jesus.” Her temper left her on a sigh. “Just be yourself.”

“I’m the last thing they’d want for their daughter.”

“You really think that?” She studied me. “You do. God, Gideon …”

I gripped her thighs, holding her in place. She couldn’t leave me now. Whatever happened, I wasn’t letting her leave me.

“Okay.” Her eyes took on a calculation that made me wary. “So be yourself. If they find out what a terrible guy you are and hate you, you’d like that better anyway, right?”

“Leave the mind games to the shrinks, Eva.”

“I’m just working with what you’re giving me, ace.”

A whistle drew our gazes to where Martin, Lacey, and Cary were stepping onto the sand from the edge of the slate-covered patio.

“You guys are totally newlyweds,” Lacey called out, almost too far away to hear. She laughed as she struggled to balance on the shifting sand, spilling half the contents of her wineglass in the process.

Eva looked back at me. “Do you want to fight in front of them?”

I took a deep breath. Let it out. “No.”

“I love you.”

“Christ.” My eyes closed.

It was a goddamned weekend. A couple days. Maybe we could leave early on Sunday ….

Her lips brushed mine. “We can do this. Just try.”

What choice did I have?

“If it starts driving you crazy,” she went on, “just imagine some terribly wicked thing you want to do to me on our wedding night as payback.”

My fingers flexed into her flesh. I wasn’t ashamed to admit that sex with my wife—even just the thought of sex with my wife—took precedence over damn near everything else.

“You can even text me all your nefarious plans,” she suggested. “Make me suffer, too.”

“Keep your phone on you.”

“You’re evil.” She bent down and pressed her lips to mine in a quick, sweet kiss. “You’re so easy to love, Gideon. Even when you’re impossible. One day, you’re going to see it.”

I dismissed that. What mattered was that I see her, that she was right there with me even after I fucked it all up.

Dinner was simple—salad and spaghetti. Monica cooked and served, and Eva glowed. Wine flowed freely, bottle after bottle opened and emptied. Everyone relaxed. Laughed. Even me.

Lacey’s presence was a welcome buffer. She was the newest addition to the group and got the most attention. That gave me some breathing room. And as time passed, Eva became flushed and bright-eyed with intoxication. She slid her chair closer and closer to my own, until she was pressed against my side, her body soft and warm.

Beneath the table, her hands and feet were busy, touching me often. Her voice grew huskier, her laugh became lusty. Eva had once confessed that drinking made her horny, but I would know the signs anywhere regardless.

It was nearing two in the morning when Lacey’s yawn turned everyone’s thoughts to ending the night. Monica walked with us to the stairs.

“Your things are already in your room,” she said, speaking to both Eva and me. “Let’s all plan on sleeping in and having brunch.”

“Um …” My wife frowned.

I caught her by the elbow. Clearly Eva hadn’t considered that we’d be sharing a room and a bed, but that inevitability had never been far from my mind. “Thank you, Monica. We’ll see you later today.”

She laughed and cupped my face in her hands, kissing my cheek. “I’m so happy, Gideon. You’re just what Eva needs.”

I managed a smile, aware that her sentiments would change if she knew how dangerous it was for her daughter to share a bed with a man whose violent nightmares posed a serious risk of harm.

Eva and I started up the stairs.

“Gideon—”

I cut her off. “Where are we going?”

She glanced aside at me. “All the way up.”

Eva’s room was indeed at the top, taking up the entirety of what was once probably a large attic. The low-pitched gabled roof made for a comfortable ceiling height and would offer an impressive view of Long Island Sound during daylight.

The king-size bed sat in the middle of the room, facing the wall of windows. Its brass headboard formed a divider of sorts, with a couch placed against the back to anchor a small seating area. The en suite bathroom filled the other side of the space.

Eva faced me. “How is this going to work?”

“Let me worry about that.” I was used to worrying about sharing a bed with my wife; it was something I did daily. Of all the things that jeopardized our relationship, my atypical sexual parasomnia—as Dr. Petersen called it—topped the list. I had no defense against my fucked-up mind when I was sleeping. On rough nights, I was a physical danger to the one I loved most.

Eva crossed her arms. “Somehow, I don’t think you’re as invested in waiting till the wedding as I am.”

I stared at her, realizing we were thinking of two entirely different things. “I’ll take the couch.”

“Take me on the couch, you mean. You’ve—”

“I’ll fuck you there, given the chance,” I said tightly, “but I’m not sleeping with you.”

Her mouth opened to retort, then closed as comprehension hit her. “Oh.”

The entire mood changed. The challenge in her eyes and voice altered to subdued caution. It killed me to see it, to know that I could be the source of any unhappiness in her life.

Still, I was too selfish to walk away. One day her family would see that about me and hate me for it.

Aggravated, I looked for my duffel bag and found it atop a luggage rack by the bathroom. I went to it, needing to do something other than see Eva’s disillusionment and regret.

“I don’t want you sleeping on the couch,” she called after me.

“I wasn’t planning on sleeping.”

I grabbed my grooming kit and went into the bathroom. The lights came on as soon as I entered, revealing a pedestal sink and freestanding tub. I turned on the taps in the floating glass shower and took off my shirt.

The door opened and Eva stepped in. I glanced at her, pausing with my hand on the fly of my slacks.

Her hot gaze slid all over me, missing nothing, touching everything. She took a deep breath. “We have to talk.”

I was aroused by her admiration and furious with my own shortcomings; talking was the last thing I wanted to do. “Go to bed, Eva.”

“Not until I say what I have to say.”

“I’m taking a shower.”

“Fine.” She pulled her tank top up and over her head. Everything roiling inside me coalesced into a single driving need.

I straightened, every muscle tense and straining.

She reached behind her back to unsnap her bra.

My dick hardened painfully as her lush, firm tits bounced into view. I’d never been a breast man before Eva. Now …

God. They made me lose my mind.

“Talking isn’t what’s going to happen if you take your clothes off,” I warned, my cock throbbing.

“You’re going to hear me out, ace, whether it’s out here or in the shower. Your choice.”

“Tonight isn’t the night to push me.”

She dropped her shorts.

I had my pants opened and on the floor before she finished stepping out of the silky triangle she wore as underwear.

Despite the building humidity that fogged the room, her nipples tightened into hard points. Her gaze fell to my cock. As if she imagined tasting me, her tongue slid along her lower lip.

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