Chapter 8

The sound of my bedroom door opening ended my forgettable dream, but it was the mouthwatering aroma of coffee that really woke me up. I stretched but kept my eyes closed, allowing the anticipation to build.

Gideon took a seat on the edge of the mattress, and a moment later his fingers drifted across my cheek. “How did you sleep?”

“I missed you. Is that coffee I smell for me?”

“If you’re good.”

My eyes popped open. “But you like me bad.”

His smile did crazy things to me. He’d dressed already in one of his amazingly sexy suits and looked much better this morning than he had the night before. “I like you bad with me. Tell me about this concert on Friday.”

“It’s a band called Six-Ninths. That’s all I know. Wanna go?”

“It’s not a question of whether I want to go. If you’re going, so am I.”

My brows rose. “Is that right? And what if I hadn’t asked you?”

He reached for my hand and gently twirled my promise ring around my finger. “Then you wouldn’t be going, either.”

“Excuse me?” I shoved my hair back. Noting the set look on his gorgeous face, I sat up. “Gimme that coffee. I want to be caffeinated when I kick your ass.”

Gideon grinned and handed the mug over.

“Don’t look at me like that,” I warned. “I’m seriously not happy with you telling me I can’t go somewhere.”

“We’re talking specifically about a rock concert and I didn’t say you couldn’t go, just that you can’t go without me. I’m sorry you don’t like it, but it is what it is.”

“Who says it’s rock? Maybe it’s classical. Or Celtic. Or pop.”

“Six-Ninths signed with Vidal Records.”

“Oh.” Vidal Records was run by Gideon’s stepfather, Christopher Vidal Sr., but Gideon had controlling interest. I wondered how a boy grew up to take over his stepfather’s family business. I figured whatever the reason was, it was also why Gideon’s half brother, Christopher Jr., hated him to the extreme.

“I’ve seen videos of their indie shows,” he said dryly. “I’m not risking you to a crowd like that.”

I sucked down a big gulp of coffee. “I get it, but you can’t order me around.”

“Can’t I? Shh.” He placed his fingers over my lips. “Don’t argue. I’m not a tyrant. I may occasionally have concerns, and you’ll be sensible about acknowledging them.”

I shoved his hand away. “‘Sensible’ being whatever you’ve decided is best?”

“Of course.”

“That’s bullshit.”

He stood. “We’re not going to fight over a hypothetical situation. You asked me to go to the concert with you on Friday and I said yes. There’s nothing to argue about.”

Setting my coffee on the nightstand, I kicked off the covers and slid out of bed. “I have to be able to live my life, Gideon. I still have to be me or this won’t work.”

“And I have to be me. I’m not the only one who needs to compromise.”

That hit me hard. He wasn’t wrong-I had a right to expect him to give me my space, but he had a right to be understood as the man he was. I had to make accommodations for the fact that he had triggers, too. “What if I want a girls’ night out clubbing with my friends?”

He caught my jaw in both hands and kissed my forehead. “You can take the limo and stick to clubs I own.”

“So you can have your security people spy on me?”

“Keep an eye on you,” he corrected, his lips sliding over my brow. “Is that so terrible, angel? Is it so unforgivable that I hate taking my eyes off you?”

“Don’t twist this around.”

He tilted my head back and looked down at me with hard, determined eyes. “You need to understand that even if you take the limo and stick to my clubs, I’m still going to go crazy until you get home. If that means you’re driven a little crazy with my safety precautions, isn’t that part of the give-and-take?”

I growled. “How do you make something unreasonable sound reasonable?”

“It’s a gift.”

Grabbing his very fine, very taut ass in my hands, I squeezed. “I need more coffee to deal with your gift, ace.”

* * *

It had become somewhat of a Wednesday tradition for Mark, his partner Steven, and me to go out to lunch. When Mark and I arrived at the little Italian restaurant he’d chosen and found Shawna waiting with Steven, I was really touched. Mark and I had a very professional relationship, but somehow we’d managed to make that personal and it meant a lot to me.

“I’m so jealous of your tan,” Shawna said, looking casual and cute in jeans, embellished tank top, and filmy scarf. “The sun just makes me red and gives me more freckles.”

“But you’ve got that beautiful hair to show for it,” I pointed out, admiring the deep red hue.

Steven ran a hand through his hair, which was the exact same color as his sister’s, and grinned. “The things one sacrifices to be hot.”

“How would you know?” Shawna shoved at his shoulder with a laugh, an effort that didn’t budge her brother even an inch. Where she was slender as a reed, Steven was big and strapping. I knew from talking to Mark that his partner was very hands-on with his construction business, which explained both his size and the rugged condition of his hands.

We entered the restaurant and were seated right away, thanks to the reservation I’d made when Mark had invited me to lunch. It was a small establishment, but it had great charm. Sunlight poured in through the floor-to-ceiling windows and the aroma of the food was so tantalizing it made my mouth water.

“I am so excited about Friday.” Shawna’s soft blue eyes were lit with anticipation.

“Yeah, she’ll take you,” Steven told me dryly, “and not her big brother.”

“Sooo not your scene,” she shot back. “You hate crowds.”

“Just gotta establish some personal space, that’s all.”

Shawna rolled her eyes. “You can’t be a bruiser everywhere.”

The talk about crowds had me thinking of Gideon and his protective streak. “Mind if I bring the guy I’m seeing?” I asked. “Or is that a buzzkill?”

“Not at all. Does he have a friend who’d like to come?”

“Shawna.” Mark was clearly shocked. And disapproving. “What about Doug?”

“What about him? You didn’t let me finish.” She looked at me and explained, “Doug’s my boyfriend. He’s in Sicily for the summer taking a culinary course. He’s a chef.”

“Nice,” I said. “I dig guys who can cook.”

“Oh, yeah.” She grinned, then aimed a glare at Mark. “He’s a keeper and I know it, so if your guy has a friend who’s fine with filling the empty seat with no possibility of a hookup, bring him along.”

I immediately thought of Cary and grinned.

But later that day, after Gideon and I had spent quality time with our personal trainers and had returned to his apartment for the night, I changed my mind. I got up from the couch where I’d been trying unsuccessfully to read a book and padded down the hall to his home office.

I found him frowning at whatever he was working on, his fingers flying over the keyboard. The glow of the monitor and the spotlight aimed at the photo collage on the wall were the only sources of illumination in the room, which left much of the large space in shadow. He sat in the semidark, bare-chested and beautiful, alone and powerfully self-contained. As he always did while working, he looked solitary and unreachable. I felt lonely just looking at him.

The combination of the physical distance caused by my period and Gideon’s understandable decision to sleep separately stirred my deepest insecurities, made me want to cling tighter and try harder to keep his attention focused on me.

That he was working instead of spending time with me shouldn’t have rankled-I knew how busy he was-but it did. I felt abandoned and needy, which told me I was regressing into familiar bad patterns. The simple fact was, Gideon and I were the best and worst things that had ever happened to each other.

He looked up and pinned me with his gaze. I watched his focus shift from work to me.

“Am I neglecting you, angel?” he asked, leaning back in his chair.

I flushed, wishing he couldn’t read me so well. “I’m sorry to interrupt.”

“You should always come to me when you need something.” Pushing his keyboard drawer in, he patted the empty space on the desk in front of him and wheeled his chair back. “Come sit.”

A thrill rushed through me. I hurried over, making no effort to hide my eagerness. I hopped onto the desk in front of him and smiled wide when he rolled his chair forward to fill the space between my legs.

Draping his arms over my thighs, he hugged me around the hips and said, “I should’ve explained that I’m trying to clear my schedule so we can take off this weekend.”

“Really?” I pushed my fingers through his hair.

“I want you all to myself for a while. And I really, really need to fuck you for a very long time. Maybe the whole time.” His eyes closed as I touched him. “I miss being inside you.”

“You’re always inside me,” I whispered.

His mouth curved in a slow, wicked smile and his eyes opened. “You’re making me hard.”

“What’s new?”

“Everything.”

I frowned.

“We’ll get to that,” he said. “For now, tell me what you came in here for.”

I hesitated, still stuck on his cryptic comment.

“Eva.” His firm tone focused me. “What do you need?”

“A date for Shawna. Uh… not really a date. Shawna’s got a man, but he’s out of the country. It’d just be better if we made it an even party of four.”

“You don’t want to ask Cary?”

“I thought of him first, but Shawna’s my friend. I thought you might want someone you know to come. You know, keep the dynamic even.”

“All right. I’ll see who’s free.”

I realized then that I hadn’t really expected him to take me up on my offer.

Some of my thoughts must have shown on my face, because he asked, “Is there more?”

“I…” How did I say what I was thinking without making an ass of myself? I shook my head. “No. Nothing.”

“Eva.” His voice was stern. “Tell me.”

“It’s stupid.”

“That wasn’t a request.”

An electric tingle coursed through me, as it always did when he took on that commanding tone. “I just thought you socialized for business and screwed random women occasionally.”

Saying that last part was hard. As lame as it was to be jealous of women in his past, I couldn’t help it.

“You didn’t think I had friends?” he asked, clearly amused.

“You’ve never introduced me to any,” I said sullenly, picking at the hem of my T-shirt.

“Ah…” His amusement deepened, his eyes sparkling with laughter. “You’re my sexy little secret. Have to wonder what I was thinking when I made sure we were photographed kissing in public.”

“Well.” My gaze moved to the collage on the wall where that very picture could be found, a picture that had been plastered all over gossip blogs for days. “When you put it like that…”

Gideon laughed, and the sound spread through me in a heated rush of pleasure. “I’ve introduced you to a few of my friends when we’ve been out.”

“Oh.” I’d assumed everyone I had met at the events we’d attended were business associates.

“But keeping you all to myself isn’t a bad idea.”

I shot him a look and revisited the point I’d made when we argued about my going to Vegas instead of Phoenix. “Why can’t you be the one lying around naked waiting to be fucked?”

“Where’s the fun in that?”

I shoved at his shoulders and he hauled me into his lap, laughing.

I couldn’t believe how good his mood was and wondered what had set it off. When I glanced at his monitor, all I saw was a spreadsheet that made my eyes cross and a half-written e-mail. But something was different about him. And I liked it.

“It’d be a pleasure,” he murmured, with his lips to my throat, “to lie around with a hard-on that you rode whenever the mood struck you.”

My sex clenched at the visual in my mind. “You’re making me horny.”

“Good. I like you that way.”

“So,” I mused, “if my fantasy is you providing around-the-clock stud servicing-”

“Sounds like reality to me.”

I nipped him on the jaw with my teeth.

He growled. “Want to play rough, angel?”

“I want to know what your fantasy is.”

Gideon adjusted me so that I was draped across his lap. “You.”

“It better be.”

He grinned. “In a swing.”

“Huh?”

“A sex swing, Eva. Your gorgeous ass in a seat, feet in stirrups, legs spread wide, your perfect cunt wet and waiting.” He rubbed seductive circles into the small of my back. “Totally at my mercy and unable to do anything but take all the cum I can give you. You’d love it.”

I pictured him standing between my legs, naked and glistening with sweat, his biceps and pecs flexing as he rocked me back and forth, sliding me on and off his beautiful cock. “You want me helpless.”

“I want you bound. And not on the outside. I’m working my way in.”

“Gideon-”

“I won’t ever take it further than you can handle,” he promised, his eyes glittering hotly in the muted lighting. “But I’ll take you to the edge.”

I squirmed, both aroused and disturbed by the thought of giving up that much control. “Why?”

“Because you want to be mine and I want to possess you. We’ll get there.” His hand slid under my shirt and cupped my breast, his fingers rolling and tugging my nipple, igniting my body.

“Have you done that before?” I asked breathlessly. “The swing?”

His face shuttered. “Don’t ask questions like that.”

Oh God. “I just-”

His mouth sealed over mine. He nipped my lower lip, then thrust his tongue into my mouth, holding me where he wanted me with his fist in my hair. The dominance of the act was undeniable. Hunger surged through me, a need for him I couldn’t control or fight. I whimpered, my chest aching at the thought of him putting that much time and effort into gaining pleasure from someone else.

Gideon’s hand shoved between my legs and cupped my sex. I jerked, surprised at his aggression. He made a low sound of reassurance and massaged me, rubbing my tender flesh with the consummate skill I’d grown so addicted to.

He broke the kiss, moving his arm to arch my back and lift my breast to his mouth. He bit my nipple through the cotton, then wrapped his lips around the aching peak, sucking so strongly I felt the echo in my core.

I was under siege, my brain short-circuiting as desire pumped through me. His fingers slid beneath the edge of my panties to touch my clit, the feel of flesh on flesh just what I needed. “Gideon.”

He lifted his head and watched with dark eyes as he made me come for him. I cried out when the tremors rippled through me, the release of tension after days of deprivation almost too much to bear. But he didn’t let up. He stroked my sex until I came again, until violent shivers racked my body and I squeezed my legs shut to stop the onslaught.

When he pulled his hand away, I sagged, boneless and breathing heavily. I curled into him, my face pressed into his throat, my arms wrapping around his neck. My heart felt as if it had swelled in my chest. Everything I felt for him, all the torment and love, overwhelmed me. I clawed at him, trying to get closer.

“Shh.” He held me tighter, squeezing me until it was hard to breathe. “You’re questioning everything and driving yourself crazy.”

“I hate this,” I whispered. “I shouldn’t need you this much. It’s not healthy.”

“That’s where you’re wrong.” His heart beat strongly beneath my ear. “And I take responsibility for that. I’ve taken the lead with some things and given it to you with others. That’s left you confused and worried. I’m sorry about that, angel. It’ll be easier moving forward.”

I leaned back so I could search his face. My breath caught when our eyes met and he stared back at me unflinchingly. I comprehended the difference then-there was a calm, solid serenity about him. Seeing that settled something inside me, too. My breathing slowed and evened; my anxiety lessened.

“That’s better.” He kissed my forehead. “I was going to wait until the weekend to talk about this, but now works. We’re going to come to an agreement. Once it’s met, there’s no turning back. Understand?”

I swallowed hard. “I’m trying.”

“You know the way I am. You’ve seen me at my worst. Last night, you said you want me anyway.” He waited for my nod. “That’s where I fucked up. I didn’t trust you to make that decision for yourself and I should have. Because I didn’t, I’ve been too cautious. Your past scares me, Eva.”

The thought of Nathan indirectly taking Gideon away from me was so painful, my knees drew even closer into my chest. “Don’t give him that power.”

“I won’t. And you have to realize there’s more than one answer for everything. Who says you need me too much? Who says it’s not healthy? Not you. You’re unhappy because you’re holding yourself back.”

“Men don’t-”

“Fuck that. Neither of us is typical. And that’s okay. Turn off that voice in your head that’s screwing you up. Trust me to know what you need, even when you think I’m wrong. And I’ll trust your decision to be with me despite my faults. Got it?”

I bit my lower lip to hide its trembling and nodded.

“You don’t look convinced,” he said softly.

“I’m afraid I’ll lose myself in you, Gideon. I’m scared I’ll lose the part of me I worked so hard to get back.”

“I’d never let that happen,” he promised fiercely. “What I want is for us both to feel safe. What you and I have together shouldn’t be draining us like this. It should be the one rock-solid thing we both count on.”

My eyes stung with tears at the thought. “I want that,” I whispered. “So much.”

“I’m going to give it to you, angel.” Gideon bent his dark head and brushed his lips over mine. “I’m going to give it to both of us. And you’re going to let me.”

* * *

“Things seem to be looking better this week,” Dr. Petersen said when Gideon and I arrived for our Thursday night therapy appointment.

We sat near each other this time, with our hands clasped together. Gideon’s thumb caressed my knuckles, and I looked at him and smiled, feeling settled by the contact.

Dr. Petersen flipped open the protective case of his tablet and settled more comfortably in his seat. “Is there anything in particular you’d like to discuss?”

“Tuesday was tough,” I said quietly.

“I imagine so. Let’s talk about Monday night. Can you tell me what happened, Eva?”

I told him about waking up from my own nightmare to find myself trapped in Gideon’s. I walked him through that night and the following day.

“So you’re sleeping separately now?” Dr. Petersen asked.

“Yes.”

“Your nightmares”-he looked up at me-“how often do you have them?”

“Rarely. Prior to dating Gideon, it’d been almost two years since my last one.” I watched him set the stylus down and start typing quickly. Something about his somberness made me anxious. “I love him,” I blurted.

Gideon stiffened beside me.

Dr. Petersen’s head came up, and he studied me. He glanced at Gideon, then back to me. “I don’t doubt it. What made you say that, Eva?”

I shrugged awkwardly, hyperaware of Gideon’s gaze on my profile.

“She wants your approval,” Gideon said grimly.

His words rubbed over me like sandpaper.

“Is that true?” Dr. Petersen asked me.

“No.”

“The hell it isn’t.” The rasp in Gideon’s voice was pronounced.

“It’s not,” I argued, although I’d needed him to say it aloud for me to understand that. “I just… It’s just the truth. That’s the way I feel.”

I looked at Dr. Petersen. “We have to make this work. We’re going to make this work,” I stressed. “I just want to know that you’re on the same page. I need to know that you understand that failure isn’t an option.”

“Eva.” He smiled kindly. “You and Gideon have a lot to work through, but it’s certainly not insurmountable.”

My breath left me in a rush of relief. “I love him,” I said again, with a decisive nod.

Gideon surged to his feet, his grip crushingly tight on my hand. “If you’ll excuse us a minute, Doctor.”

Confused and a little worried, I stood and followed him out to the empty reception area. Dr. Petersen’s receptionist had already gone home, and we were his last appointment of the day. I knew from my mother that these evening appointments came at a premium. I was grateful that Gideon was willing to pay for them not once but twice a week.

The door shut behind us, and I faced him. “Gideon, I swear it’s not-”

“Hush.” He cupped my face in both hands and kissed me, his mouth moving softly but urgently over mine.

Startled, it took me the length of two heartbeats to slide my hands beneath his jacket and grip his lean waist. When his tongue stroked deep into my mouth, a low moan escaped me.

He pulled back and I looked up at him, seeing the same gorgeous businessman in a dark suit that I’d first met, but the look in his eyes…

My throat burned.

The power and scorching intensity, the hunger and need. His fingertips brushed over my temples, across my cheeks, down to my throat. He tilted my jaw up and his lips pressed gently against mine. He didn’t say anything, but he didn’t have to. I got it.

He linked our fingers and led me back inside.

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