Chapter 4

I woke with a cry that was muffled by the sweaty palm mashed over my mouth. A crushing weight cut off my air as another hand shoved up beneath my nightgown, groping and bruising. Panic gripped me and I thrashed, my legs kicking frantically.

No… Please, no… No more. Not again.

Panting like a dog, Nathan yanked my legs apart. The hard thing between his legs poked blindly, ramming into my inner thigh. I fought, my lungs burning, but he was so strong. I couldn’t buck him off. I couldn’t get away.

Stop it! Get off me. Don’t touch me. Oh, God… please don’t do that to me… don’t hurt me…

Ma-ma!

Nathan’s hand pressed down on me, squashing my head into the pillow. The more I struggled, the more excited he became. Gasping horrible, nasty words in my ear, he found the tender spot between my legs and shoved into me, groaning. I froze, locking in a vise of horrendous pain.

“Yeah,” he grunted. “… like it once it’s in you… hot little slut… you like it…”

I couldn’t breathe, my lungs shuddering with sobs, my nostrils plugged by the heel of his palm. Spots danced before my eyes; my chest burned. I fought again… needing air… desperate for air-

“Eva! Wake up!”

My eyes snapped open at the barked command. I heaved myself away from the hands gripping my biceps, gaining my freedom. I clawed away… fighting the sheets that bound my legs… tumbling down…

The jolting impact of hitting the floor woke me fully, and an awful sound of pain and fear scraped up through my throat.

“Christ! Eva, damn it. Don’t hurt yourself!”

I sucked in air with deep gulps and scrambled toward the bathroom on all fours.

Gideon scooped me up and gripped me to his chest. “Eva.”

“Sick,” I gasped, slapping a hand over my mouth as my stomach roiled.

“I’ve got you,” he said grimly, carrying me with brisk, powerful strides. He took me to the toilet and tossed up the seat. Kneeling beside me, he held my hair back as I heaved, his warm hand stroking up and down my spine.

“Shh… angel,” he murmured, over and over. “It’s okay. You’re safe.”

When my stomach was empty, I flushed the toilet and rested my sweat-drenched face on my forearm, trying to focus on anything but the remnants of my dream.

“Baby girl.”

I turned my head to find Cary standing in the threshold of my bathroom, his handsome face marred by a frown. He was fully dressed in loose jeans and a henley, which made me aware that Gideon was fully dressed, too. He’d lost the suit earlier when we’d first come back to my apartment, but he wasn’t wearing the sweats he had put on then. Instead he was in jeans and a black T-shirt.

Disoriented by their appearances, I glanced at my watch and saw it was just after midnight. “What are you guys doing?”

“I was just coming in,” Cary said. “And caught up with Cross on his way up.”

I looked at Gideon, whose concerned frown matched my roommate’s. “You went out?”

Gideon helped me to my feet. “I told you I had some things to take care of.”

Until midnight? “What things?”

“It’s not important.”

I shrugged out of his hold and went to the sink to brush my teeth. Another secret. How many did he have?

Cary appeared at my elbow, his gaze meeting mine in the reflection of my vanity mirror. “You haven’t had a bad dream in a long time.”

Looking into his worried green eyes, I let him see how worn down I was.

He gave my shoulder a reassuring squeeze. “We’ll take it easy this weekend. Recharge. We both need it. You gonna be all right tonight?”

“I’ve got her.” Gideon straightened from his perch on the lip of my bathtub, where he’d taken off his boots.

“That doesn’t mean I’m not here.” Cary pressed a quick kiss to my temple. “Holler if you need me.”

The look he gave me before he left the room spoke volumes-he wasn’t comfortable with Gideon sleeping over. Truth was, I had some reservations, too. I thought my lingering wariness over Gideon’s sleep disorder was contributing a lot to my wild emotional state. As Cary had recently said, the man I loved was a ticking time bomb, and I shared a bed with him.

I rinsed out my mouth and dropped my toothbrush back into its holder. “I need a shower.”

I’d taken one before I crashed, but now I felt dirty again. Cold sweat clung to my skin and when I closed my eyes, I could smell him-Nathan-on me.

Gideon turned on the water, then started stripping, blessedly distracting me with the sight of his gloriously tight body. His muscles were hard and well defined, his build lean yet powerful and elegant.

I left my clothes where they fell and stepped beneath the steamy spray with a groan. He entered the stall behind me, brushing my hair aside and pressing a kiss to my shoulder. “How are you?”

“Better.” Because you’re near.

His arms wrapped carefully around my waist and he released a shaky exhalation. “I… Jesus, Eva. Were you dreaming about Nathan?”

I took a deep breath. “Maybe one day we’ll talk about our dreams, huh?”

He inhaled sharply, his fingertips flexing against my hip. “It’s like that, is it?”

“Yeah,” I muttered. “It’s like that.”

We stood there for a long moment, surrounded by steam and secrets, physically close yet emotionally distant. I hated it. The urge to cry was overwhelming and I didn’t fight it. It felt good to get it out. All the pressure of the long day seemed to flow out of me as I sobbed.

“Angel…” Gideon pressed into my back, his arms tight around my waist, soothing me with the protective shield of his big body. “Don’t cry… God. I can’t take it. Tell me what you need, angel. Tell me what I can do.”

“Wash it away,” I whispered, leaning into him, needing the comfort of his tender possessiveness. My fingers laced with his against my stomach. “Make me clean.”

“You are.”

I sucked in a shuddering breath, shaking my head.

“Listen to me, Eva. No one can touch you,” he said fiercely. “No one can get to you. Never again.”

My fingers tightened on his.

“They’d have to get through me, Eva. And that will never happen.”

I couldn’t speak past the ache in my throat. The thought of Gideon facing my nightmare… seeing the man who’d done those things to me… tightened the cold knot that had been sitting in my gut all day.

Gideon reached for my shampoo and I closed my eyes, shutting it all out, everything but the man whose sole focus at that moment was me.

I waited, breathless, for the feel of his magic fingers. When it came, I reached out to the wall in front of me for balance. With both palms pressed flat against the cool tile, I savored the feel of his fingertips kneading into my scalp and moaned.

“Feel good?” he asked, his voice low and rough.

“Always.”

I drifted in bliss as he washed and conditioned my hair, shivering lightly as he ran a wide-toothed comb through the soaked strands. I was disappointed when he finished and must have made some sound of regret, because he leaned forward and promised, “I’m not nearly done.”

I smelled my body wash, then-

“Gideon.”

I arched into his soap-slick hands. His thumbs dug gently into the knots in my shoulders, melting them with the perfect amount of pressure. Then he worked his way down my spine… my buttocks… my legs…

“I’m going to fall,” I slurred, drunk with pleasure.

“I’ll catch you, angel. I’ll always catch you.”

The pain and degradation of my memories washed away beneath the selfless reverence of Gideon’s patient caretaking. More than the soap and water, it was his touch that freed me from the nightmare. I turned around at his urging and looked at him crouched before me, his hands gliding up my calves, his body an amazing display of taut flexing muscle. Cupping his jaw, I tilted his head up.

“You can be so good for me, Gideon,” I told him softly. “I don’t know how I could ever forget that. Even for a minute.”

His chest expanded on a quick, deep breath. He straightened, his hands gliding up my thighs, until he towered over me again. His lips touched mine, softly. Lightly. “I know today was all kinds of fucked up. Shit… the whole week. It’s been hard for me, too.”

“I know.” I hugged him, pressing my cheek to his heart. He was so solid and strong. I loved the way I felt when I was in his arms.

He was already thick and hard between us, but he grew more so as I cuddled into him. “Eva…” He cleared his throat. “Let me finish, angel.”

I nipped his jaw with my teeth and reached down to grip his perfect ass, tugging him tighter against me. “Why don’t you get started instead?”

“That isn’t where this was headed.”

As if it could’ve ended any other way when we were both naked and running our hands all over each other. Gideon could put his hand to the small of my back while we were walking and make me as needy as if he’d put his hand between my legs. “Well… revisit and revise, ace.”

Gideon’s hands came up and gripped the sides of my throat, his thumbs beneath my chin to push it up. His frown gave him away, and before he could tell me why it wasn’t a good idea to make love now, I caught his cock in my hands.

He growled, his hips jerking. “Eva…”

“It would be a shame to waste this.”

“I can’t screw this up with you.” His eyes were dark as sapphires. “If you ever freaked out while I was touching you, I’d lose my mind.”

“Gideon, please-”

“I say when.” The command in his voice was unmistakable.

My grip loosened automatically.

He stepped back and away, his hand dropping to fist his cock.

I shifted restlessly, my attention riveted to that dexterous hand and its long, elegant fingers. As the distance between us widened, I began to ache, my body responding to the loss of his. The heated languidness he’d instilled with his touch turned into a slow burn, as if he’d banked a fire that had suddenly been stoked.

“See something you like?” he purred, pleasuring himself.

Astonished that he’d taunt me after denying me, I looked up… and my breath caught.

Gideon was smoldering, too. I couldn’t think of another word to describe him. He was watching me with a heavy-lidded gaze like he wanted to eat me alive. His tongue slid leisurely along the seam of his lips, as if he tasted me. When he caught the full lower curve between his teeth, I could’ve sworn I felt it between my legs. I knew that look so well… knew what came after it… knew how ferocious he could be when he wanted me that badly.

It was a look that screamed SEX. Hard, deep, endless, mind-blowing sex. He stood on the far side of my shower, his feet planted wide, his ripped body flexing rhythmically as he caressed his beautiful cock with long, slow strokes.

I’d never seen anything so blatantly sexual or boldly masculine.

“Oh my God,” I breathed, riveted. “You are so fucking hot.”

The gleam in his eyes told me he knew what he was doing to me. His free hand slid slowly up his ridged abdomen and squeezed his pectoral, making me jealous. “Could you come watching me?”

Realization struck me. He was afraid to touch me sexually so soon after my nightmare, afraid of what it might do to us if he triggered me. But he was willing to put on a show for me-inspire me-so I could touch myself. The surge of emotion I felt in that moment was devastating. Gratitude and affection, desire and tenderness.

“I love you, Gideon.”

His eyes squeezed shut, as if the words were too much for him to take. When they opened again, the force of his will sent a shiver of need through me. “Show me.”

The wide head of his cock was engulfed in his palm. He squeezed, bringing a flush to his face that had me pressing my thighs together. His thumb rubbed over the flat disk of his nipple. Once. Twice. He groaned a rough sound of delight that had me salivating.

The water pounding at my back and the billowing steam that plumed between us only added to the eroticism of the picture he presented. His hand quickened, sliding rhythmically up and down. He was so long and thick. Undeniably virile.

Unable to bear the ache of my tightened nipples, I cupped my breasts and squeezed.

“There you go, angel. Show me what I do to you.”

There was a moment in which I wondered if I could. It hadn’t been so long ago that I’d been embarrassed to talk about my vibrator with Gideon face-to-face.

“Look at me, Eva.” He cupped his balls in one hand and his cock in the other. Shameless, which was such a turn-on. “I don’t want to come without you. I need you with me.”

I wanted to be as hot for him. I wanted him as aching and needy as I felt. I wanted my body-my desire-to be burned onto his brain the way this image of him would be burned onto mine.

With my eyes locked with his, my hands glided over my body. I watched his movements… listened for the catch of his breath… used his clues to know what drove him wild.

It was somehow as intimate as when he was inside me, maybe more so because we were wide open and on display. Totally bared. Our pleasure reflected in each other.

He started telling me what he wanted in that raspy sex god voice: Tug your nipples, angel… Touch yourself-are you wet? Push your fingers inside you… Feel how tight you are? A hot, tight, plush little heaven for my dick… You’re so fucking gorgeous… So sexy. I’m so damn stiff it hurts… See what you do to me? I’m going to come so hard for you…

“Gideon.” I gasped, my fingertips massaging my clit in rapid circles, my hips grinding into my touch.

“Right there with you,” he said hoarsely, his hand jacking his cock with brutal speed and violence in his race to orgasm.

At the first jolting contraction of my core, I cried out, my legs quaking. My palm slapped against the glass enclosure for balance, the climax stealing the strength from my muscles. Gideon was on me in a second, gripping my hipbone in a way that conveyed greed and possession, his fingers flexing with restless agitation.

“Eva!” he growled, as the first thick, hot burst of semen hit my belly. “Fuck.”

Hunching over me, his teeth sank into the tender spot between my shoulder and neck, a painless hold that conveyed the rawness of his pleasure. His groans vibrated against me and he came violently, spurting repeatedly against my stomach.

* * *

It was a little after six o’clock in the morning when I slipped out of my bedroom. I’d been up for a while, watching Gideon sleep. It was a rare treat, because I hardly ever managed to wake up before he did. I could stare at him without any worries that he’d be weirded out.

I padded down the hallway until it emptied into the expansive open floor plan of the main living area. It was ridiculous that Cary and I lived on the Upper West Side in an apartment large enough for a family, but I’d long ago learned to pick my battles when it came to arguing with my mother and stepfather over my safety. There was no way they were budging on location or security features like a doorman and front desk, but I could exploit my cooperation on my living arrangements to get them to ease up on other points.

I was in the kitchen waiting for the coffee to finish brewing when Cary joined me. He strolled in looking amazing in a pair of gray San Diego State University sweats, sleep-mussed chocolate brown hair, and a day’s worth of stubble along his square jaw.

“Morning, baby girl,” he murmured, pressing a kiss to my temple as he passed me.

“You’re up early.”

“Look who’s talking.” He grabbed two mugs out of the cupboard, then the half-and-half out of the fridge. He brought them over and studied me. “How are you doing?”

“I’m good. Really,” I insisted, when he shot me a skeptical look. “Gideon took care of me.”

“Okay, but is that really so great if he’s the reason you were stressed enough to have the nightmare to begin with?”

I filled mugs for both of us, adding sugar to mine and cream to both. As I did, I told him about Corinne and the Waldorf dinner, then the argument I’d had with Gideon over her appearance at the Crossfire.

Cary stood with his hip cocked into the counter, his legs crossed at the ankle, and one arm banding his chest. He sipped his coffee. “No explanation, huh?”

I shook my head, feeling the weight of Gideon’s silence. “How about you? How are you doing?”

“You just gonna change the subject?”

“What else is there to say? It’s a one-sided story.”

“You ever stop to think that he might always have secrets?”

Frowning, I lowered my mug. “What do you mean?”

“I mean he’s the twenty-eight-year-old son of a suicidal Ponzi scheme swindler, and he just happens to own a large chunk of Manhattan.” One brow arched upward in challenge. “Think about it. Can they really be mutually exclusive things?”

Lowering my gaze to my mug, I took a drink and didn’t confess that I’d wondered the same thing once or twice. The extent of Gideon’s fortune and empire was staggering, especially considering his age. “I can’t see Gideon bilking people, not when it’s more of a challenge to accomplish what he has legitimately.”

“With all the secrets he’s got, can you be sure you know him well enough to make that judgment call?”

I thought of the man who’d spent the night with me and felt relief at how sure I was about my answer-at least at that moment. “Yes.”

“All right, then.” Cary shrugged. “I talked to Dr. Travis yesterday.”

My thoughts immediately veered in another direction at the mention of our therapist in San Diego. “You did?”

“Yeah. I really fucked up the other night.”

From the agitated way he scooped his long bangs back from his face, I knew he was referring to the orgy I’d walked in on.

“Cross broke Ian’s nose and split his lip,” he said, reminding me of how violently Gideon had responded to Cary’s… friend rudely propositioning me to join them. “I saw Ian yesterday and he looks like he was hit in the face with a brick. He was asking who clocked him, so he could press charges.”

“Oh.” My lungs seized for the length of two heartbeats. “Oh, crap.”

“I know. Billionaire plus lawsuit equals beaucoup bucks. What the fuck was I thinking?” Cary closed his eyes and rubbed them. “I told him I didn’t know who your date was, that it was some guy you picked up and dragged home. Cross blindsided him, so Ian didn’t see shit.”

“The two girls with you got a real good look at Gideon,” I said grimly.

“They took off out that door”-Cary pointed across the living room as if our door were still reverberating with the slam-“like she-bats out of hell. They didn’t go to the urgent care with us, and neither of us knows who they are. If Ian doesn’t run into them again, we’re okay.”

I rubbed at the quiver in my tummy, feeling unsettled again.

“I’ll keep an eye on the situation,” he assured me. “The whole night was a major wake-up call, and talking it out in therapy gave me some perspective. Afterward, I went to see Trey. To apologize.”

Hearing Trey’s name made me sad. I’d hoped Cary’s budding relationship with the veterinary student would work out, but Cary had sabotaged that. As usual. “How’d that go?”

He shrugged again, but the movement was awkward. “I hurt him the other night because I’m an asshole. Then I hurt him again yesterday trying to do the right thing.”

“Did you break it off?” I held my hand out to him and squeezed his when he placed it in mine.

“It’s seriously cooled off. Like on ice. He wants me to be gay, and I’m not.”

It was painful to hear that someone wanted Cary to be anything other than who he was, because it’d always been that way for him. I couldn’t understand why. To me, he was wonderful as is. “I’m so sorry, Cary.”

“So am I, because he’s a great guy. I’m just not ready for the stress and demands of a complicated relationship right now. I’m working a lot. I’m not stable enough yet to be fucked up in the head.” His lips pursed. “You might want to think about that, too. We just moved out here. We’ve both still got some settling in to do.”

I nodded, understanding where he was coming from and not disagreeing, but unwavering in my decision to see my relationship with Gideon through. “Did you talk to Tatiana, too?”

“No need.” His thumb brushed over my knuckles before he released me. “She’s easy.”

Snorting, I took a large gulp of my cooling coffee.

“Not just that way,” he chided, giving me a wicked grin. “I mean she doesn’t expect anything or make any demands. As long as I suit up and she orgasms at least as many times as I do, she’s good. I’m actually okay with her, and not just because she could suck chrome off a bumper. It’s relaxing being with someone who just wants to have fun and causes no stress.”

“Gideon knows me. He understands and tries to work around my issues. He’s working for this, too, Cary. It’s not easy for him, either.”

“Do you think Cross had a nooner with his ex?” he asked bluntly.

“No.”

“Are you sure?”

Sucking in a deep breath, I took a fortifying gulp and admitted, “Mostly. I think I’m the one doing it for him now. It’s pretty hot with us, you know? But his ex has some kind of hold on him. He says it’s guilt, but that doesn’t explain his brunette fascination.”

“It explains why you lost it and hit him-her being around again is eating at you. And he still won’t tell you what’s going on. Does that sound healthy to you?”

It wasn’t. I knew that. I hated it. “We saw Dr. Petersen last night.”

His brows rose. “How’d that go?”

“He didn’t tell us to run far, far away from each other as fast as we can.”

“And if he does? Will you listen?”

“I’m not bailing when things get rough this time. Seriously, Cary”-I held his gaze-“am I really all that far ahead if I can’t take any waves?”

“Baby girl, Cross is a tsunami.”

“Ha!” I smiled, unable to help it. Cary could get me to smile through tears. “To tell you the truth, if I don’t work this out with Gideon, I have doubts I’ll work it out with anyone.”

“That’s your shitty self-esteem talking.”

“He knows what I’m carrying around in me.”

“All right.”

My brows shot up. “All right?” That was too easy.

“I’m not sold. But I’ll deal.” He grabbed my hand. “Come on. Let’s get your hair done.”

I smiled, grateful. “You’re the best.”

He bumped his hip into mine. “And I won’t let you forget it.”

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