Chapter 7

My back hit the mat with enough force to knock the air from my lungs. Stunned, I blinked up at the ceiling, trying to catch my breath.

Parker Smith’s face came into view. “You’re wasting my time. If you’re going to be here, be here. One hundred percent. Not a million miles away in your head somewhere.”

I grabbed the hand he extended to me, and he yanked me to my feet. Around us, a dozen more of Parker’s Krav Maga students were hard at work. The Brooklyn-based studio was alive with noise and activity.

He was right. My thoughts were still stuck on my mom and the bizarre way she’d reacted when we returned to the Crossfire after lunch.

“Sorry,” I muttered. “I’ve got something on my mind.”

He moved like lightning, tagging me first on one knee, then my shoulder with rapid-fire slaps. “Do you think an attacker is going to wait until you’re alert and ready before he comes after you?”

I crouched, forcing myself to focus. Parker crouched as well, his brown eyes hard and watchful. His shaved head and caf? au lait skin gleamed beneath the overhead fluorescent lighting. The studio was in a converted warehouse, which had been left rough for both economic reasons and atmosphere. My mother and stepfather were paranoid enough to have Clancy accompany me to my classes. The neighborhood was presently undergoing revitalization, which I thought was encouraging but they thought was troubling.

When Parker came at me again, I blocked him. The tagging came fast and furious then, and I pushed all other thoughts aside until later, when I was home.

When Gideon came over about an hour later, he found me in the bath surrounded by vanilla-scented candles. He undressed to join me, even though his damp hair told me he’d already showered after spending time with his own personal trainer. I watched him strip, riveted. The play of muscles beneath his skin and the inherent gracefulness in the way he moved sent a delicious sense of contentment sliding through me.

He climbed into the deep oval tub behind me, his long legs sliding in on either side of mine. His arms wrapped around me, and then he surprised me by lifting me up and back, so that I was sitting on his lap and my legs were draped over his.

“Lean into me, angel,” he murmured. “I need to feel you.”

I sighed with pleasure, sinking into the hardness of his powerful body as he cradled me. My aching muscles softened in surrender, eager as always to become completely pliable to his touch. I loved moments like this, when the world and our emotional triggers were far away. Moments when I felt the love he wouldn’t profess for me.

“Soaking more bruises?” he asked with his cheek pressed to mine.

“My fault. My head wasn’t in the game.”

“Thinking about me?” he purred, nuzzling against my ear.

“I wish.”

He paused, then switched gears. “Tell me what’s bugging you.”

I loved how easily he could read me, then revise and revisit his approach on the fly. I tried to be as adaptable for him. Really, flexibility was a requirement in a relationship between two high-maintenance people.

Linking my fingers with his, I told him about my mother’s weird reaction after lunch.

“I almost expected to turn around and see my dad or something. I was wondering… You have security cameras that cover the front of the building, don’t you?”

“Of course. I’ll look into it.”

“It’s a ten-minute window of time, max. I just want to see if I can figure out what went on.”

“Consider it done.”

I tilted my head back and kissed his jaw. “Thank you.”

His lips pressed to the top of my shoulder. “Angel, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you.”

“Including talking about your past?” I felt him tense and mentally kicked myself. “Not right this second,” I hastened to add, “but sometime. Just tell me we’ll get there.”

“Have lunch with me tomorrow. In my office.”

“Are you going to talk about it then?”

Gideon exhaled harshly. “Eva.”

I turned my face away and released him, disappointed with his evasion. Reaching for the edges of the tub, I prepared to get out and away from the man who somehow made me feel more connected to another human being than I’d ever been, yet impossibly distant as well. Being with him fucked with my head, made me doubt the very things I’d been sure of just moments before. Rinse and repeat.

“I’m done,” I muttered, blowing out the nearest candle. Smoke curled up and away, as intangible as my grasp on the man I loved. “I’m getting out.”

“No.” He cupped my breasts, restraining me. Water lapped around us, as agitated as I was.

“Let go, Gideon.” I caught his wrists to pull his hands away.

He buried his face in my neck, obstinately holding on. “We’ll get there. Okay? Just- We’ll get there.”

I deflated, feeling little of the triumph I had hoped to feel when I’d first asked and anticipated his answer.

“Can we give it a rest tonight?” he asked gruffly, still clinging tight. “Give it all a rest? I just want to be with you, all right? Order something in for dinner, watch TV, hold you when I sleep. Can we do that?”

Realizing something was seriously off, I twisted to face him. “What’s wrong?”

“I just want some time with you.”

My eyes stung with tears. There was more he wasn’t telling me, so much more. Our relationship was swiftly becoming a minefield of words left unsaid and secrets not shared. “Okay.”

“I need it, Eva. You and me with no drama.” His wet fingertips brushed across my cheek. “Give me that. Please. Then give me a kiss.”

Turning around, I straddled his hips and cupped his face in my hands. I angled my head to find the perfect approach and pressed my lips to his. I started out soft and slow, licking and suckling. I tugged on his bottom lip, then coaxed him to forget our problems with teasing strokes of my tongue along his.

“Kiss me, damn it,” he growled, his hands bracketing my spine and kneading restlessly. “Kiss me like you love me.”

“I do,” I promised, breathing the words into him. “I can’t help it.”

“Angel.” Pushing his hands into my damp hair, he held me how he wanted me and kissed me senseless.

* * *

After dinner, Gideon worked in bed, propping his back against my headboard and his laptop on a lap desk. I sprawled on the bed on my belly, facing the TV and kicking my feet in the air.

“Do you know every line in this movie?” he asked, luring me to turn my attention away from Ghostbusters to look at him. He wore black boxer briefs and nothing else.

I loved that I got to see him that way-relaxed, comfortable, intimate. I wondered if Corinne had ever seen this view. If so, I could imagine her desperation to see it again, because I was desperate to never lose the privilege.

“Maybe,” I conceded.

“And you have to say them all aloud?”

“Got a problem with that, ace?”

“No.” Amusement lit his eyes and curved his mouth. “How many times have you seen it?”

“A gazillion times.” I curved around and rose up on my hands and knees. “Want more?”

A dark winged brow rose.

“Are you the keymaster?” I purred, crawling forward.

“Angel, when you’re looking at me like that, I’m whatever you want me to be.”

I looked at him beneath lowered eyelids and breathed, “Do you want this body?”

Grinning, he set his lap desk aside. “All the damn time.”

Straddling his legs, I climbed his torso. I wrapped my arms around his shoulders and growled, “Kiss me, subcreature.”

“That’s not how that line goes. And what happened to me being a pleasure god? Now I’m a subcreature?”

I pressed my cleft against the hard ridge of his cock and rolled my hips. “You’re whatever I want you to be, remember?”

Gideon gripped my rib cage and tipped his head back. “And what’s that?”

“Mine.” I nipped his throat with my teeth. “All mine.”

* * *

I couldn’t breathe. I tried to scream, but something blocked my nose… covered my mouth. A high-pitched moan was the only sound to escape, my frantic calls for help trapped inside my mind.

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

Where was Mama? Ma-ma!

Nathan’s hand covered my mouth, mashing my lips. The weight of his body pressed down on me, squashing my head into the pillow. The more I fought, the more excited he became. Panting like the animal he was, he lunged into me, over and over… trying to shove himself into me. My panties were in the way, protecting me from the tearing pain I’d lived through too many times to count.

As if he’d read my mind, he growled in my ear, “You haven’t felt pain yet. But you will.”

I froze. Awareness hit me like a bucket of ice water. I knew that voice.

Gideon. No!

My blood roared in my ears. Sickness spread through my gut. Bile flooded my mouth.

It was worse, so much worse, when the person trying to rape you was someone you trusted with everything you had.

Fear and fury blended in a potent rush. In a moment of clarity, I heard Parker’s barked commands. I remembered the basics.

I attacked the man I loved, the man whose nightmares blended with mine in the most horrific way. We were both sexual-abuse survivors, but in my dreams I was still a victim. In his, he’d become the aggressor, viciously determined to inflict the same agony and humiliation on his attacker as he himself had suffered.

My stiffened fingers rammed into Gideon’s throat. He reared back with a curse and shifted, and I slammed my knee between his legs. Doubled over, he fell away from me. I rolled out of bed and hit the floor with a thud. Scrambling to my feet, I threw myself toward the door to the hallway.

“Eva!” he gasped, awake and aware of what he’d almost done to me in his sleep. “God. Eva. Wait!”

I bolted out the door and ran into the living room.

Finding a darkened corner, I curled into a ball and struggled to breathe, my sobs echoing through the apartment. I pressed my lips to my knee when the light came on in my bedroom and didn’t move or make a sound when Gideon stepped into the living room an eternity later.

“Eva? Jesus. Are you okay? Did I… hurt you?”

Atypical sexual parasomnia was what Dr. Petersen called it, a manifestation of Gideon’s deep psychological trauma. I called it hell. And we were both trapped in it.

His body language broke my heart. His normally proud bearing was weighted with defeat, his shoulders slumped and his head bowed. He was dressed and carrying his overnight bag. He stopped by the breakfast bar. I opened my mouth to speak; then I heard a metallic clink against the stone countertop.

I’d stopped him the last time; I’d made him stay. This time, I didn’t have it in me.

This time, I wanted him to go.

The barely audible latching of the front door lock reverberated through me. Something inside me died. Panic welled. I missed him the moment he was gone. I didn’t want him to stay. I didn’t want him to go.

I don’t know how long I sat there in the corner before I found the strength to stand and move to the couch. I vaguely registered that dawn was lighting the night sky when I heard the distant sound of Cary’s cell phone ringing. Shortly after that, he came running into the living room.

“Eva!” He was on me in a minute, crouching in front of me with his hands on my knees. “How far did he go?”

I blinked down at him. “What?”

“Cross called. Said he’d had another nightmare.”

“Nothing happened.” I felt a hot tear roll down my cheek.

“You look like something happened. You look…”

I caught his wrists when he surged to his feet with a curse. “I’m okay.”

“Shit, Eva. I’ve never seen you look like this. I can’t stand it.” He took a seat beside me and pulled me into his shoulder. “Enough is enough. Cut him off.”

“I can’t make that decision now.”

“What are you waiting for?” He forced me back to glare at me. “You’re going to wait too long and then this won’t be just another bad relationship, it’ll be one that permanently fucks you up.”

“If I give up on him, he’ll have no one. I can’t-”

“That’s not your problem. Eva… Goddamn it. It’s not your responsibility to save him.”

“It’s- You don’t understand.” I wrapped my arms around him. Burying my face in his shoulder, I cried. “He’s saving me.”

* * *

I threw up when I found Gideon’s key to my apartment lying on the breakfast bar. I barely made it to the sink.

When my stomach was empty, I was left with pain so agonizing it was crippling. I clung to the edge of the counter, gasping and sweating, crying so hard I wondered how I’d make it through another five minutes, let alone the rest of the day. The rest of my life.

The last time Gideon had returned my keys to me, we’d broken up for four days. It was impossible not to think that repeating the gesture signified a more permanent break. What had I done? Why hadn’t I stopped him? Talked to him? Made him stay?

My smartphone signaled an incoming text. I stumbled to my purse and dug it out, praying it was Gideon. He’d talked to Cary three times already, but he’d yet to contact me.

When I saw his name on the screen, a sweet, sharp ache pierced my chest.

I’m working from home today, his message read. Angus will be waiting out front to give you a ride to work.

My stomach cramped again with dread. It had been a tremendously difficult week for both of us. I could understand why he’d just given up. But that understanding was wrapped in a gut-gnawing fear so cold and insidious that goose bumps swept up my arms.

My fingers shook as I texted him back: Will I see you tonight?

There was a long pause, long enough that I was about to demand a yes or no answer when he sent: Don’t count on it. I have my appt with Dr. Petersen and a lot of work to do.

My grip tightened on my phone. It took me three attempts before I was able to type: I want to see you.

For the longest time, my phone sat silently. I was reaching for my landline in a near panic when he replied: I’ll see what I can do.

Oh God… Tears made it hard for me to see the letters. He was done. I knew it deep down in my heart. Don’t run. I’m not.

It seemed like forever before he replied: You should.

I debated calling in sick after that, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. I had been down that road too many times. I knew I could so easily fall back into old self-destructive habits to dull pain. It would kill me to lose Gideon, but I’d be dead anyway if I lost myself.

I had to hang on. Get through. Get by. One step at a time.

And so I climbed into the back of the Bentley when I was supposed to, and while Angus’s grim face only made me worry more, I locked it down and slid into the autopilot mode of self-preservation that would get me through the hours ahead.

My day passed in a blur. I worked hard and focused on my job, using it to keep me from going crazy, but my heart wasn’t in it. I spent my lunch hour running an errand, unable to tolerate the thought of eating or making small talk. After my shift was over, I almost blew off going to my Krav Maga class, but I stuck it out and gave a similar amount of focus to the drills as I’d given to my work. I had to keep moving forward, even if I was heading in a direction I couldn’t bear to go.

“Better,” Parker said, during a break. “You’re still off, but you’re better than last night.”

I nodded and wiped the sweat from my face with a towel. I’d started Parker’s classes solely as a more intense alternative to my usual gym visits, but last night had shown me that personal safety was more than just a convenient side benefit.

The tribal tattoos that banded his biceps flexed as he lifted a water bottle to his lips. Because he was left-handed, his simple gold wedding band caught the light and my eye. I was reminded of the promise ring on my right hand and I looked down at it. I remembered when Gideon had given it to me and how he’d said that the diamond-crusted Xs wrapping around the roped gold were representative of him “holding on” to me. I wondered if he still thought that way; if he still thought it was worth it to try. God knew I did.

“Ready?” Parker asked, tossing his empty bottle in the recycle bin.

“Bring it.”

He grinned. “There she is.”

Parker still worked me over, but it wasn’t from lack of trying on my part. I was in it every step of the way, venting my frustration with good, healthy exercise. The few victories I managed to earn spurred my determination to fight for my rocky relationship, too. I was willing to put in the time and effort to be there for Gideon, to be a better and stronger person so we could get through our issues. And I was going to tell him that, whether he wanted to hear it or not.

When my hour was over, I cleaned up and waved good-bye to my classmates and then shoved at the push bar of the exit door and stepped out into the still-warm evening air. Clancy had already brought the car around to the door and was leaning against the fender in a pose that only a moron would think was casual. Despite the heat, he wore a jacket, which concealed his sidearm.

“Things moving along?” He straightened to open the door for me. As long as I’d known him, he’d kept his dark blond hair in a military crew cut. It added to the impression of his being a very somber man.

“Working on it.” Sliding into the backseat, I told Clancy to drop me off at Gideon’s. I had my own key and I was prepared to use it.

On the drive over, I wondered if Gideon had gone to see Dr. Petersen for his appointment or if he’d blown it off. He’d agreed to individual therapy only because of me. If I wasn’t part of the equation anymore, he might not see any reason to make the effort.

I entered the understated and elegant lobby of Gideon’s apartment building and checked in with the front desk. It wasn’t until I was alone in his private elevator that the nerves really hit me. He’d placed me on his approved list weeks before, a gesture that meant so much more to him and me than it would to others because Gideon’s home was his sanctuary, a place he allowed few visitors to see. I was the only lover he’d ever entertained there and the only person, aside from his household staff, who had a key. Yesterday I wouldn’t have doubted my welcome, but now…

I exited into a small foyer decorated with checkerboard marble tiles and an antique console bearing a massive arrangement of white calla lilies. Before I unlocked his front door, I took a deep breath, steeling myself for however I might find him. The one previous time he’d attacked me in his sleep, it had shattered him. I couldn’t help but fear what the second time had done to him. I was terrified that his parasomnia might be the wedge that drove us apart.

But the moment I entered his apartment, I knew he wasn’t home. The energy that thrummed through a space when he occupied it was markedly absent.

Lights that were activated by my movements came on when I entered the expansive living room, and I forced myself to settle in as if I belonged there. My room was down the hall and I went to it, pausing on the threshold to absorb the weirdness of seeing my bedroom replicated in Gideon’s place. The duplication was uncanny, from the color on the walls to the furniture and fabrics, but its existence was more than a little unnerving.

Gideon had created it as my safe room, a place for me to run to when I needed some space. I supposed I was running to it now, in a way, by using it instead of his.

Setting my workout bag and purse on the bed, I showered and changed into one of the Cross Industries T-shirts Gideon had set aside for me. I tried not to think about why he still wasn’t home. I’d just poured a glass of wine and turned on the living room television when my smartphone rang.

“Hello?” I answered, unfamiliar with the number on the nameless Caller ID.

“Eva? It’s Shawna.”

“Oh, hey, Shawna.” I tried not to sound disappointed.

“I hope it’s not too late to call.”

I looked at the screen of my phone, noting that it was almost nine o’clock. Jealousy mingled with my concern. Where was he? “No worries. I’m just watching TV.”

“Sorry I missed your call last night. I know it’s short notice, but I wanted to see if you’d be up for going to a Six-Ninths concert on Friday.”

“A what concert?”

“Six-Ninths. You haven’t heard of ’em? They were indie until late last year. I’ve been following them for a while and they gave their e-mail list first dibs, so I scored tickets. Thing is, everyone I know likes hip-hop and dance pop. Not to say you’re my last hope, but… well, you’re my last hope. Tell me you like alt rock.”

“I like alt rock.” My phone beeped. Incoming call. When I saw it was Cary, I let it go to voice mail. I didn’t think I’d be on the phone with Shawna too long and I could call him back.

“How did I know that?” She laughed. “I’ve got four tickets if you’ve got someone you’d like to bring along. Meet up at six? Grab something to eat first? The show starts at nine.”

Gideon walked in just as I answered, “You’ve got a date.”

He stood just inside the door with his jacket slung over one arm, the top button of his dress shirt undone, and a briefcase in his hand. His mask was in place, showing no emotion whatsoever at finding me sprawled on his couch in his T-shirt with a glass of his wine on his table and his television on. He raked me with a head-to-toe glance, but nothing flickered in those beautiful eyes. I suddenly felt awkward and unwanted.

“I’ll get back to you about the other ticket,” I told Shawna, sitting up slowly so I didn’t flash him. “Thanks for thinking of me.”

“I’m just glad you’re coming! We’re going to have a great time.”

We agreed to talk the next day and hung up. In the interim, Gideon set his briefcase down and tossed his jacket over the arm of one of the gilded chairs flanking the ends of the glass coffee table.

“How long have you been here?” he asked, yanking the knot of his tie loose.

I stood. My palms grew damp at the thought that he might kick me out. “Not long.”

“Have you eaten?”

I shook my head. I hadn’t been able to eat much all day. I’d gotten through the session with Parker courtesy of a protein drink I’d picked up during my lunch hour.

“Order something.” He walked past me toward the hallway. “Menus are in the kitchen drawer by the fridge. I’m going to grab a quick shower.”

“Do you want something?” I asked his retreating back.

He didn’t stop or look at me. “Yes. I haven’t eaten, either.”

I’d finally settled upon a local deli boasting organic tomato soup and fresh baguettes-figuring my stomach could maybe handle that-when my phone rang again.

“Hey, Cary,” I answered, wishing I were home with him and not about to face a painful breakup.

“Hey, Cross was just here looking for you. I told him to go to hell and stay there.”

“Cary.” I sighed. I couldn’t blame him; I’d do the same thing for him. “Thanks for letting me know.”

“Where are you?”

“At his place, waiting for him. He just showed. I’ll probably be home sooner rather than later.”

“You kicking him to the curb?”

“I think that’s on his agenda.”

He exhaled audibly. “I know it’s not what you’re ready for, but it’s for the best. You should call Dr. Travis ASAP. Talk it out with him. He’ll help you put things in perspective.”

I had to swallow past the lump in my throat. “I’m- Yeah. Maybe.”

“You okay?”

“Ending it face-to-face has dignity, at least. That’s something.”

My phone was pulled from my hand.

Gideon held my gaze as he said, “Good-bye, Cary,” then powered off my phone and set it on the counter. His hair was damp and he wore black pajama bottoms that hung low on his hips. The sight of him hit me hard, reminding me of all that I stood to lose when I lost him-the breathless anticipation and desire, the comfort and intimacy, the ephemeral sense of rightness that made everything worthwhile.

“Who’s the date?” he asked.

“Huh? Oh. Shawna-Mark’s sister-in-law-has concert tickets for Friday.”

“Have you figured out what you want to eat?”

I nodded, tugging at the thigh-length hem of my shirt because I felt self-conscious.

“Get me a glass of whatever you’re drinking.” He reached around me and picked up the menu I’d set out on the counter. “I’ll order. What do you want?”

It was a relief to move over to the cabinet that held the wineglasses. “Soup. Crusty bread.”

As I tugged the cork out of the bottle of merlot I had left on the counter, I heard him call the deli and speak in that firm, raspy voice of his that I loved from the moment I’d first heard it. He ordered tomato soup and chicken noodle, which caused a painful tightness in my chest. Without being told, he’d ordered what I wanted. It was another of the many serendipitous things that always made me feel like we were destined to end up in the same place, together, if only we could make it that far.

I passed him the glass I’d poured for him and watched as he took a drink. He looked tired, and I wondered if he’d stayed up all night like I had.

Lowering the glass, he licked the lingering trace of wine off his lips. “I went to your place looking for you. I expect Cary told you.”

I rubbed at the painful ache in my chest. “I’m sorry… about this and-” I gestured at what I was wearing. “Damn it. I didn’t plan this well.”

He leaned back into the counter and crossed one ankle over the other. “Go on.”

“I figured you’d be home. I should’ve called first. When you weren’t here, I should have just waited for another time instead of making myself at home.” I rubbed at my stinging eyes. “I’m… confused about what’s going on. I’m not thinking straight.”

His chest expanded on a deep breath. “If you’re waiting for me to break up with you, you can stop waiting.”

I grabbed onto the kitchen island to steady myself. That’s it? That’s the end?

“I can’t do it,” he said flatly. “I can’t even say I’ll let you walk, if that’s why you’re here.”

What? I frowned in confusion. “You left your key at my place.”

“I want it back.”

“Gideon.” My eyes closed and tears tracked down my cheeks. “You’re an ass.”

I walked away, moving toward my bedroom with a quick and slightly weaving stride that had nothing to do with the small amount of wine I’d sipped.

I had scarcely cleared the doorway of my room when he grabbed my elbow.

“I won’t follow you inside,” he said gruffly, his head bent to reach my ear. “I promised you that. But I’m asking you to stay and talk to me. At least listen. You came all this way-”

“I have something for you.” It was hard for me to get the words past my tight throat.

He released me and I hurried to my purse. When I faced him, I asked, “Were you breaking up with me when you left the key on my counter?”

He filled the doorway. His hands were extended above his shoulders, his knuckles white from the force with which he gripped the frame, as if he were physically restraining himself from following me. The pose displayed his body beautifully, defining every muscle, allowing the drawstring waistband of his pants to cling to his hip bones. I wanted him with every breath I took.

“I wasn’t thinking that far ahead,” he admitted. “I just wanted you to feel safe.”

My grip tightened around the object in my hand. “You ripped my heart out, Gideon. You have no idea what seeing that key lying there did to me. How bad it hurt me. No idea.”

His eyes squeezed shut and his head bowed. “I wasn’t thinking clearly. I thought I was doing the right thing-”

“Fuck that. Fuck your damn chivalry or whatever the hell you think that was. Don’t do it again.” My voice took on an edge. “I’m telling you right now and I mean it like I’ve never meant anything before-you ever give me my keys back again, we’re done. There’s no coming back from that. Do you understand?”

“I do, yes. I’m not sure you do.”

My breath left me in a shaky exhalation. I approached him. “Give me your hand.”

His left hand stayed on the doorjamb, but his right lowered and extended toward me.

“I never gave you the key to my place; you just took it.” I cupped his hand between both of mine, placing my gift in his palm. “I’m giving it to you now.”

Stepping back, I released him, watching as he looked down at the gleaming monogrammed fob with my apartment key on it. It was the best way I could think of to show him that it belonged to him and that it was given freely.

His hand fisted, closing tightly around my gift. After a long minute, he looked up at me and I saw the tears that wet his face.

“No,” I whispered, my heart breaking further. I cupped his face in my hands, my thumbs brushing over his cheekbones. “Please… don’t.”

Gideon caught me up, his lips pressing to mine. “I don’t know how to walk away.”

“Shh.”

“I’ll hurt you. I already am. You deserve better-”

“Shut up, Gideon.” I climbed him and wrapped my legs around his waist, holding on.

“Cary told me how you looked…” He began to shake violently. “You don’t see what I’m doing to you. I’m breaking you, Eva-”

“That’s not true.”

He sank to his knees on the floor, clasping me tightly. “I’ve trapped you in this. You don’t see it now, but you knew from the beginning- You knew what I would do to you, but I wouldn’t let you run.”

“I’m not running anymore. You’ve made me stronger. You gave me a reason to try harder.”

“God.” His eyes were haunted. He sat, stretching his legs out, pulling me closer. “We’re so fucked up, and I’ve handled everything all wrong. We’re going to kill each other with this. We’ll tear each other apart until there’s nothing left.”

“Shut up. I don’t want to hear any more of that shit. Did you go to Dr. Petersen?”

His head fell back against the wall and his eyes closed. “Yes, damn it.”

“Did you tell him about last night?”

“Yes.” His jaw clenched. “And he said the same thing he started on last week. That we’re in too deep. We’re drowning each other. He thinks we need to pull back, date platonically, sleep separately, spend more time together with others and less time alone.”

It would be better, I thought. Better for our sanity, better for our chances. “I hope he’s got a Plan B.”

Gideon opened his eyes and looked at my scowling face. “That’s what I said. Again.”

“So we’re fucked up. Every relationship has issues.”

He snorted.

“Seriously,” I insisted.

“We are going to sleep separately. That’s something I let go too far.”

“Separate beds or separate apartments?”

“Beds. That’s all I can stand.”

“All right.” I sighed and rested my head on his shoulder, so grateful that he was in my arms again and that we were together. “I can deal. For now.”

His throat worked on a hard swallow. “When I came home and found you here-” His arms tightened around me. “God, Eva. I thought Cary was lying about you not being home, that you just didn’t want to see me. Then I thought you might be out… moving on.”

“You’re not that easy to get over, Gideon.” I didn’t think I’d ever get over him. He was in my blood. I straightened so he could see my face.

He placed his hand over his heart, the hand with the key. “Thank you for this.”

“Don’t let that go,” I warned again.

“Don’t regret giving it to me.” He pressed his forehead to mine. I felt the warmth of his breath on my skin and thought he might have whispered something, but I didn’t catch it if he did.

It didn’t matter. We were together. After the long awful day, nothing else was important.

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