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Page 41

Oh, and she was laughing. Hard.

“What is it?” Gavin asked, unable to keep the laughter from his voice.

Emily stopped laughing, cleared her throat, and tried her hardest to keep her face serious. “I really hope you like it.” She batted her eyelashes, bringing a hooded Los Angeles Lakers sweatshirt up to his chest. “I know Michael will love that you’re wearing it during the game today.”

Gavin shook his head. “Nope. Not a chance.”

“Yes chance,” Emily retorted.

“No way.”

Emily frowned. “Yes way.”

“Nope. I love you, but I’m not wearing that in front of Michael. Besides, I’m diehard New York. I have my Knicks sweatshirt with me.”

Sighing, Emily drew her brows together, her frown deepening. She knew how to get him. “You know, I had many reasons for picking out that gift.”

“I’m sure you did,” Gavin admitted, circling his arms around her waist. “My misery being one.”

Emily laughed. “No, it wasn’t bought solely for your misery. But it could’ve, considering you made me prance around in that hideous Yankees sweatshirt.”

“The Yankees are hardly hideous,” he replied easily with a smile. “And let’s not forget I made you prance around wearing it in the privacy of my home without another soul on earth watching.”

“Yes, that’s true. But, it’s just… well, I have a thing for guys in yellow.” Emily shifted. She wrapped her arms around his neck and made sure to circle her hips over his as she did. Ah, yes. He was getting hard. “There’s something about the color that makes me get… wet.”

Gavin bit his lip, his eyes tracing Emily’s face. “You’re so full of shit.”

“Oh no, but Mr. Blake, I’m really not. Between watching you wearing it and suffering the little bit you’ll have to, I’ll be a guaranteed good time for your efforts.”

Sliding his hand up her back, Gavin tangled his fingers in her hair, tugging just enough. With a clear view of her gorgeous neck inches from his mouth, Gavin took the opportunity to indulge. He dragged his lips across her collarbone as he gripped her hair tighter. “I’ve created a woman who thinks she’s going to win me over with sex.”

Sinking into the feeling of him gently biting her shoulder and then lightly sucking on her neck, Emily wasn’t sure who she was fooling. She’d backed herself into a corner and had no desire whatsoever to come out. “Is it working?” The questioned filtered out as a moan.

“Possibly,” he answered, slowly lifting her tank top over her head. He tossed it onto the bed and reburied a hand in her soft hair. The other cupped one of her breasts. Eyes locked on hers, he licked her nipple. Another moan crawled up Emily’s throat and Gavin got off on knowing he was beating her at her own game. “Are you willing to work to get me to wear this sweatshirt today, Miss Cooper?”

Yep. Completely backed in a corner. Emily lost the battle. But not really, because by the time the early morning hours had come and gone, not only was she achingly rejuvenated by her boyfriend’s multiple Christmas gifts, she was also looking forward to seeing him sport the hideous color yellow for the remainder of the day.

With Brenda Lee belting out “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” from the speakers in the living room where Michael and Gavin were getting ready to sit down and watch the basketball game, Emily giggled while Lisa jerked her hip in rhythm against hers as the two of them finished rolling up the last bit of cookie dough. Emily placed the tiny chocolate chip ball onto a baking sheet and popped the tray into the already heated oven.

“Remember how much mom loved this song?” Lisa’s tone was cheerful as she reached into the refrigerator for a pie shell that would eventually hold homemade apple filling. “God, it was so fun watching her dance around to it. She loved Christmas.”

A light smile touched Emily’s face at the bittersweet memory. She flipped on the faucet and placed her hands under the warm water. “Yeah. She did love Christmas.”

Lisa set the pie shell on the counter, once again bumping Emily’s hip in tune with the music. Emily sighed, enjoying the jovial mood her sister brought to the moment. It didn’t shock her though. Lisa, in a sense, had replaced their mother long before she’d passed away and she always made sure Emily was tended to. From helping Emily with homework to showing her how to apply makeup when she was old enough, Lisa willingly fell into the role thrust upon her after their father left. And not once did she ever throw her responsibilities resentfully into Emily’s face. When long days and nights came and went without their mother, whether it was because she was working late bartending to put food on the table or out with one of her newest boyfriends, Lisa kept a certain level of consistency in Emily’s life. A calm. An unwavering sense of peace.

As Emily stood with a dish towel in her hands, not only did slight hostility toward her mother bloom in her gut, she started to wonder why she’d allowed her mother’s words to anchor her to Dillon for as long as she did. Sure, her mother didn’t live to see what Dillon had morphed into. Before she took her last breath, Patricia Cooper left the earth thinking her youngest daughter was being swept off her feet by a true knight in shining armor. Emily was pretty sure if her mom had witnessed his change, she would’ve told her to get rid of him. Still, Lisa was the mothering force in her life, and during long conversations, she had always let Emily know if he wasn’t treating her well, she should walk away.

The signs had been there. Warning flags were waved in every direction from most of the people surrounding her. However, she blanked them out. The few times she’d spoken to a counselor after leaving Dillon, she was told it was possible she leaned into Dillon after her mom died because he was a piece of something that no longer existed anymore. He was a witness to a soul another man in her life would never meet. In a sense, holding on to him was holding on to her mother. Holding on to her past. Although that past was painted with specks of sorrow, it was still familiar, understood. It was cold, yet warm, dark, yet filled with bright light she would never experience again. It was something that was forever… gone.

As Emily dried her hands, Gavin’s words from this morning filtered into her thoughts. Not only did she have to forgive her mother for the mistakes she made, she also needed to forgive herself. And that’s exactly what she did in those seconds in her sister’s kitchen on this particular late Christmas afternoon. Though she knew she’d never begin to fully understand the way her mother was or the way she’d followed in her path, Emily reached into her heart and stripped away the last bit of negativity she held toward herself and her mother.

“Hey, I lost you there for a few.” Lisa’s soft voice lulled Emily back. Placing her hand on Emily’s cheek, she gave a weak smile. “Are you okay?”

Emily didn’t answer as she pulled her sister in for a hug. As if sensing what Emily was going through, Lisa squeezed her tight. Her comforting hold seized Emily with love as it always did.

“Uh oh. We’ve interrupted a sisterly moment.” Michael chuckled as he and Gavin strolled into the kitchen. “We suck, man.”

Staring at his jewel, Gavin smiled and leaned against the arched entryway. He watched Emily back away from her sister, love gripping him by the neck as her gaze caught his. Even dressed in sweatpants and a sweatshirt, she was so goddamn beautiful she took his breath away. With a smile on her face that filled him completely, she made her way toward him. Warmth spilled through his body as she looped her arms around his neck, her soft auburn hair draping down her back as she looked up at him. She seemed genuinely happy, and he could feel it.

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