"What do you think about bringing her over for dinner when my dad's in town?" Gideon's head tilted to the side as he observed me.
"You want to invite a seventeen-year-old to dinner with me and your dad."
"No, I want your family to meet my family."
"She'll be bored."
"How would you know?" I challenged.
"In any case, I think your sister hero-worships you.
As long as you pay attention to her, I'm sure she'll be thrilled."
He sighed, clearly exasperated.
I haven't the slightest idea how to entertain a teenage girl."
"Ireland's not some random kid, she's - " "She might as well be!" He scowled at me.
It struck me then.
"You're afraid of her."
"Come on," he scoffed.
She scares you."
And I doubted it had anything to do with his sister's age or that she was a girl.
"What's gotten into you?" he complained.
"You're stuck on Ireland.
Leave her alone."
"She's the only family you've got, Gideon."
And I was willing to support that choice.
His half brother Christopher was an asshole, and his mother didn't deserve to have him in her life.
"I have you!" "Baby."
I sighed and wrapped my legs around him.
"Yes, you've got me.
But there's room for more people who love you in your life."
"She doesn't love me," he muttered.
"She doesn't know me."
"I think you're wrong about that, but if not, she'd love you if she knew you.
So let her know you."
Let's go back to talking about s'mores."
I tried to stare him down, but it was impossible.
When he considered a subject exhausted, there was no continuing it.
So I'd have to go around it instead.
"You wanna talk about s'mores, ace?" I traced my lower lip with my tongue.
"All that melty gooey chocolate on our fingers."
Gideon's gaze narrowed.
I ran my splayed fingers over his shoulders and down his chest.
"I could be persuaded to let you smear that chocolate all over me.
I could also be persuaded to smear some all over you."
His brow arched.
"Are you trying to bribe me with sex again?" "Did I say that?" I blinked innocently.
"I don't think I said that."
"It was implied.
So let's be clear."
His voice was dangerously low, his eyes dark as his hand slid up under the hem of my tank top and cupped my bare breast.
"I'll invite Ireland to dinner with your father because it'll make you happy and that makes me happy."
"Thank you," I said breathlessly, because he'd begun to tug rhythmically on my nipple, making me whimper in delight.
"I'm going to do whatever the hell I want with melted chocolate and your body because it'll please me and that will please you.
I say when, I say how.
"You say - " I gasped as his mouth wrapped around my other nipple through the ribbed cotton.
He nipped me with his teeth.
My entire body tightened, so quick to respond to that authoritative tone.
"You say when.
You say how."
"There are things you can bargain with, angel, but your body and sex aren't negotiable."
My hands clutched his hair, an instinctive response to his relentless, delicious milking of my sensitive nipple.
I gave up trying to understand why I wanted him in control.
I just did.
"What else can I bargain with? You have everything."
"Your time and attention are the two things you can leverage.
I'll do anything for them."
A shiver moved through me.
"I'm wet for you," I whispered.
Gideon stepped away from the railing, carrying me with him.
"Because that's how I want you."
Gideon and I arrived back in Manhattan just before midnight on Sunday.
We'd spent the previous night sleeping apart, but most of the day together in the master bed.
Kissing and touching.
Laughing and whispering.
By silent agreement we didn't talk about painful things during the rest of our time away.
We didn't turn on the television or radio, because it seemed wrong to share our time with anyone.
We walked on the beach again.
We made long, slow, lazy love on the third- story deck.
We played cards and he won every hand.
We recharged and reminded ourselves that what we'd found with each other was worth fighting for.
It was the most perfect day of my life.We returned to my apartment when we got back into the city.
Gideon unlocked the door for us with the key I'd given him, and we entered the darkened space as quietly as possible so that we didn't wake Cary.
Gideon gave me one of his soul-melting kisses good night and headed to the guest room, and I crawled into my lonely bed without him.
I wondered how long we'd be sleeping apart from each other.
Months? Years? Hating to think of it, I closed my eyes and started to drift.
The light flicked on.
Gideon strode into the room and straight to my dresser, digging through my clothes.
I blinked at him, noting that he'd changed into slacks and a button-down dress shirt.
"What's wrong?" "It's Cary," he said grimly.
"He's in the hospital."
* * *
A cab was waiting for us at the curb when we left my apartment building.
Gideon ushered me in, then slid in beside me.
The cab seemed to pull away very slowly.
Everything seemed to be moving slowly.
I clutched at Gideon's sleeve.
"What happened?" "He was attacked Friday night."
"How do you know?" "Your mother and Stanton both left messages on my cell phone."
"My mother .
?" I looked at him blankly.
"Why didn't she .
?" No, she couldn't call me.
I hadn't had my phone.
Guilt and worry drowned me, making it hard to breathe.
He put his arm around my shoulders, urging me to rest my head against him.
"Don't worry until we know more."
"It's been days, Gideon.
And I wasn't here."
Tears poured down my face and wouldn't stop, even after we arrived at the hospital.
I barely registered the exterior of the building, my attention dulled by the hard driving anxiety pounding through me.
I thanked God for Gideon, who was so calm and in control.
A staff member provided the number of Cary's room, but his helpfulness ended there.
Gideon made a few middle-of-the-night phone calls that got me access to see Cary, even though it was well outside visiting hours.
Gideon had been a very generous benefactor at times and that wasn't easily dismissed or forgotten.
When I stepped into Cary's private room and saw him, my heart shattered so completely, my knees went weak.
Only Gideon kept me from falling.
The man I thought of as my brother, the best friend I'd ever had or ever would have, lay silent and unmoving in the bed.
His head was bandaged and his eyes blackened.
One of his arms was stuck with intravenous lines, while the other was in a cast.
I wouldn't have recognized him, if I hadn't known who he was.
Flowers covered every flat surface, cheerful and colorful bouquets.
There were balloons, too, and a few cards.
I knew some would be from my mother and Stanton, who were certainly paying for Cary's care as well.
We were his family.
And everyone had been there for him but me.
Gideon led me closer, his arm tight around my waist to hold me up.
I was sobbing, the tears flowing thick and hot.
It was everything I could do to remain silent.
Still, Cary must have heard me or sensed me.
His eyelids fluttered, then opened.
His beautiful green eyes were bloodshot and unfocused.
It took him a minute to find me.
When he did, he blinked a few times, and then tears started rolling down his temples.
I rushed to him and slipped my hand in his.
He gripped me so tightly, it was painful.
"I'm sorry I took so long.
I didn't have my phone.
I had no idea.
I would've been here if I'd known."
You're here now."
His throat worked on a swallow.
"I'll get a nurse," Gideon said, running his hand down my back before slipping silently out of the room.
I saw a small pitcher and cup with straw on the rolling tray table.
"Are you thirsty?" "Very."
"Can I sit you up? Or no?" I was afraid to do anything to cause him pain.
Using the remote lying near his hand, I raised the top part of the bed so that he was reclined.
Then I brought the straw to his lips and watched him drink greedily.
He relaxed with a sigh.
"You're a sight for sore eyes, baby girl."
"What the hell happened?" I set the empty cup down and grabbed his hand again.
"Fuck if I know."
His voice was weak, almost a whisper.
With a bat."
"With a bat?" Just the thought made me physically ill.
The brutality of it.
The violence .
"Was he insane?" "Of course," he snapped, a deep line of pain between his brows.
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