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Bereft, I lifted a hand to him. “Where are you going?”

“Hang on.” He shoved his boxer briefs all the way off.

He was still hard, his cock rising high and proud, slick from my orgasm—but I wasn’t wet with his.

“You didn’t come.” I was too languid to help when he stripped me of my underwear. Sliding a hand beneath my back, he lifted me and whipped my shirt over my head.

His lips brushed over my brow. “You wanted fast and rough. I want slow and sweet.”

He levered over me again, this time settling into the cradle of my open arms and legs. The moment I felt his weight, his heat, his desire, I realized how much I wanted slow and sweet, too. The tears came then, finally, freed by the heat of his passion and the warmth of his love.

“You’re everything to me,” I cried, the words choked with tears.

“Eva.”

Shifting his hips, Gideon tucked the tip of his penis into my cleft and pushed forward gently, taking time and care to fill me. His lips moved against mine, the stroke of his tongue somehow more erotic than the slide of his cock.

“Hold me,” he whispered, his arms curved beneath my shoulders and his hands cupping the back of my head.

I tightened my grip on him. His buttocks flexed against my calves as he drove into me, his sweat slicking my palms as I caressed his back.

“I love you,” he murmured, his fingertips brushing my tears. “Do you feel it?”

“Yes.”

I watched the pleasure drift over his face as he moved within me.

I held him as he groaned, his body quivering in orgasm.

I kissed the tears away when he cried silently along with me.

And I let go of my grief in the shelter of his arms, knowing that whether in joy or pain, Gideon was one with me.

“I can’t get over this place.” Cary set his hands on the railing that surrounded the wraparound deck and looked out over the water. Sunglasses shielded his eyes while the wind played with his hair. “This house is awesome. I feel like we’re miles from anyone. And the view … un-fucking-believable.”

“Right?” I leaned my butt against the railing, facing the house. Through the wall of sliding glass doors, I watched the Reyes family swarm like bees around the kitchen and great room, with Gideon held captive by my grandmother and both of my aunts.

For me, the joyous mood was tinged with poignancy. My mother had never been a part of this extended group, and now she would never have a chance. But life went on.

Two of my younger cousins chased Lucky around the sofas, while the three older ones played video games with Chris. My uncle Tony and my dad were talking in the reading nook, while my dad bounced his fussy baby niece on his knee.

Gideon was a man who feared family in a way he feared little else, and his heartbreaker of a face reflected bemusement and dismay whenever he surveyed the chaos around him. Since I knew him well, I also saw the hint of panic in his eyes, but I couldn’t save him. My grandmother wasn’t letting him out of her sight.

Cary looked over to see what had drawn my attention. “I’m waiting for your man to sneak out and run like hell.”

I laughed. “That’s why I asked Chris to come, so Gideon could have some support.”

Our group—Gideon, me, Cary, my dad, and Chris—had arrived at the beach around ten in the morning. It was a little after noon when my dad’s family was brought over from their hotel with groceries in tow, so that my grandmother could whip up her famous posole. She said it was known to soothe even the most wounded souls. Whether that was true or not, I knew firsthand that her rendition of the classic Mexican soupy stew was delicious.

“Chris is leaving him to fend for himself,” Cary drawled, “like you did.”

“What can I do? Oh my God.” I grinned. “My nana just handed him an apron.”

I’d been a little nervous when everyone showed up. I hadn’t spent much time with my dad’s family when I was little and had only made a couple trips out to Texas with him after I started at UCSD. Every time I visited with them, the Reyeses had been a bit reserved with me, which made me wonder if I looked too much like the woman they all knew had broken my dad’s heart. They had met my mother once and hadn’t approved, saying my dad was reaching too high and that his love for her wouldn’t end well.

So when my grandmother had marched right up to Gideon the moment she arrived and cupped his face in her hands, I’d held my breath right along with him.

My grandmother had brushed his hair back from his face, turned his head from side to side, and pronounced that she saw a lot of my father in him. Gideon had understood the Spanish and replied in her native tongue—he took her statement as a high compliment. My grandmother had been delighted. She’d been speaking to him in rapid-fire Spanish ever since.

“Trey called me yesterday,” Cary tossed out casually.

I looked at him. “Did he? How’d that go?”

“Did you say something to him, baby girl, to get him to reach out?”

Trying to look innocent, I asked, “Why would you think that?”

He shot me a knowing look, his mouth twisted wryly. “So you did.”

“I just told him you’re not going to wait around forever.”

“Yeah.” He tried looking innocent, too. I had to hope I pulled it off better than he did. “You know I’m not above taking a pity fuck, right? So thanks for hooking me up.”

I gave him a gentle shove on the shoulder. “You’re full of shit.”

Something had shifted for Cary in the last few weeks. He hadn’t turned to his usual self-destructive coping mechanisms and since things were going good for him without them, I was holding out hope that he wouldn’t backslide.

“True.” He flashed his brilliant grin and it was genuine, rather than the cocky façade I knew too well. “Although banging Trey is certainly something tempting to think about. Figure it’s probably tempting for him, too, so I should use that to my advantage.”

“Are you going to see each other?”

He nodded. “He’s going to come with me to the memorial at Stanton’s on Monday.”

“Oh.” I sighed, hurting. Clancy had called Gideon and passed on that information earlier in the morning.

Should I have tried to handle the memorial myself and spare Stanton? I just didn’t know. I was still trying to accept the fact that my mom was really gone. After I’d cried for hours the night before, heavy guilt had settled in. There were so many things I’d said to my mother that I regretted and could no longer take back, so many times I’d thought of her with frustration and disrespect.

Ironic, in retrospect, that her chief fault was loving me too much.

As my stepfather had loved her—inordinately.

“I’ve tried calling Stanton,” I said, “but I just get his voice mail.”

“Me, too.” Cary rubbed at his unshaven jaw. “I hope he’s okay, but I realize he’s probably not.”

“I think it might be a while before any of us are okay.”

We settled into comfortable silence for a moment. Then Cary spoke. “I was talking to your dad this morning, before we headed to the airport, about his plans to move to New York.”

My nose wrinkled. “I would love to have him near, but I can’t help thinking how bizarre it would be if he worked for Gideon.”

He nodded slowly. “You have a point.”

“What do you think?”

He shifted his body to face me. “Well, just the pregnancy part of having a kid has changed my life, right? So, multiply that by twenty-four years in your case, and I’d say a loving parent would do just about anything to make things better for their child.”

Yep, something had definitely shifted for Cary. Sometimes, you just needed a hard jolt to bump you in the right direction. For Cary, that was the thought of being a father. For me, it had been meeting Gideon. And for Gideon, it had been the possibility of losing me.

“Anyway,” Cary went on, “he was saying that Gideon offered him a housing allowance and he was thinking he’d like to stay in the apartment with me.”

“Wow. Okay.” There was a lot to process there. One, my dad was obviously taking the idea of working for Gideon in New York seriously. Two, my best friend was thinking about living separately from me. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. “I’d been worried Dad would have a hard time using that room after him and my mom … you know.”

I didn’t think I could stay in the penthouse if I didn’t have Gideon. Too much had happened between us there. I didn’t know if I could handle remembering what I no longer had.

“Yeah, I’d wondered about that, too.” Cary reached out and touched my shoulder, a simple comforting touch. “But you know, memories are all that Victor has ever really had of Monica.”

I nodded. My dad had to have wondered more than once over the years if the love had always been one-sided. After that afternoon with my mom, maybe he realized that wasn’t true. That’d be a good memory to hold on to.

“So you’re thinking about staying there,” I said. “Mom told me she’d offered you that option.”

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