The Wrong Wife(2)

By: Eileen Wilks

She almost got away.

Gideon's reactions were slowed by guilt and the worst hangover of his life. Cassie and the sheet made it to the edge of the bed before his sluggish brain caught on to the fact that she was leaving him and taking the covers. And he was naked. Naked and in bed with his best friend's little sister.

He grabbed the end of the sheet and pulled. She fell back onto the bed, her breath whooshing out. The mattress bounced from her weight. He managed not to throw up. He closed his aching eyes, tucked the corner of the sheet around his hips, and lay very still, praying that she'd be still, too.

After a moment the room and his stomach stopped pitching, though the construction crew restructuring his skull from the inside out didn't take a break. He realized Cassie hadn't moved, hadn't said a word since he'd recaptured the sheet she'd been trying to escape with.

The attempted escape had been typical Cassie—all emotion and impulse. This stillness and silence was not. "Cassie," he muttered without opening his eyes. The sound of his voice bounced around painfully inside his head. "I'm sorry." Sorry? At the moment he hated himself more than he'd ever hated anyone in his life. Even his father. "I don't— Whatever happened, I'm sorry."

"Whatever happened?" Her voice was thin, high. "You don't remember?"

The construction crew in his head had his mental landscape all torn up. He tried to sort through the fragments, tried to grasp how he could be here. How could he be in bed with Cassie? It was supposed to be Melissa…

But Melissa had dumped him. Four days before the wedding Melissa had called him and rather hysterically backed out.

Gideon had not taken it well. He felt it still, the anger, the bewilderment. Gideon was used to wresting what he wanted from life. He'd wanted to marry Melissa. After getting to know him, she hadn't wanted to marry him. He still didn't know why.

"I called Ryan," he said, remembering. He'd been at the Blue Parrot yesterday, and after a few drinks he'd decided to hold a wake for the dreams Melissa had tossed out the window when she'd rejected him.

The wedding that didn't take place was the first important failure of Gideon's life. He'd planned that wedding for years, since long before he met Melissa, and he was a man who accomplished what he set out to do. Hadn't he reached every other important goal he'd set, from his college degree to his current financial success? But he'd failed at the most important goal, the one that all the others were supposed to lead up to—finding a woman, the right woman, who would marry him and give him what he had no way of getting for himself. A home.

When he'd thought of a wake, naturally he'd called Ryan O'Grady.

But Ryan's little sister had come with him, little Cassie with the short, fiery hair and fey eyes. "He shouldn't have brought you," Gideon said now, harsh with the onslaught of fear because he couldn't remember—which meant he'd gotten much more drunk than he'd intended. He'd lost control. And Gideon never lost control. "What the hell was Ryan thinking of?"

"Drinking," she said tartly. "That's what you wanted, wasn't it? Someone to get drunk with. So I came along to do the driving and keep the two of you out of trouble."

That's what she always used to say, back when she was a skinny little nuisance trying to tag along with the two college-age boys—that they needed her to keep them out of trouble. Of course, neither of them wanted to avoid trouble at that age. He used to call her… "Mermaid," he said with rough affection. Those memories, at least, were untouched.

"Don't call me that! Not after—not when you don't remember!"

He flinched. Not after last night. Not after he, apparently, got so damned drunk he took his best friend's sister to some damned hotel room and then took her to bed.

There had been a time, shortly after Cassie turned sixteen, when he'd been terrified that something like this would happen—when he'd been unable to keep his body from reacting to the sweet, new curves of a girl much too young for the lechery his mind kept picturing. But Gideon always did what had to be done. He'd learned to control his mind; eventually he'd even subdued the worst of his body's responses, so that he'd been able to be around little Cassie without fearing he'd do something to frighten her or destroy his friendship with her or her brother.

Yet now… "How could Ryan let me do this?" he groaned. "Where the hell was your brother?"

"Don't you remember anything?" Now her voice sounded thick with tears. "It was his idea."

It was what? Gideon's eyes popped open as he jerked to a sitting position. The construction crew promptly drove two burning stakes through his eyeballs. He flopped back down and breathed. Slowly. Carefully. And more pieces of the day before fell into place.

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