The Wrong Wife(3)

By: Eileen Wilks

Ryan's idea. It had been Ryan's idea to charter the plane when there weren't any commercial flights available. Or had that part been Gideon's contribution? He wasn't sure. He had drunk so damned much he'd lost pieces of his life. Gideon had to wrestle with self-loathing before he could turn his attention to the memories he did have.

Absurdly, the first memory that floated to the surface was of a pirate ship, complete with cannons blazing and men wielding cutlasses. And another ship, a frigate, and a battle between the two that took place … in front of a hotel?

Fireworks, not cannon fire. That's what he'd seen, a carefully staged extravaganza. He remembered going inside the hotel, where the huge lobby gleamed with gold fixtures and a floor shiny enough to see yourself in. And he remembered Cassie's body, slim and warm, tucked up against his as they walked into that hotel lobby. He hadn't wanted to let her go even for a minute, because she might change her mind.

He remembered a taxi ride, and Cassie's face, pale with nerves. The fare had been twelve dollars. He'd given the cabbie a twenty and asked him to wait.

"Vegas," he said quietly. "We're in Las Vegas."

Her silence was confirmation enough. Or almost enough. After a long pause, he made himself move, propping up on one elbow. The jackhammers went crazy inside his head. He ignored them.

He looked down at Cassie's triangular face. Even first thing in the morning her hair was too short and fine to hold a curl or a tangle. It framed her unhappy face in a fringe the color of sunrise. Her chameleon eyes were as gray as rain at the moment, and shiny with tears. Before this morning he would have sworn those eyes were as true and guileless as Cassie herself.

The twist of disillusionment went deep.

His gaze drifted down her slender neck to smooth, white shoulders speckled with a few pale freckles. Impossibly, his body stirred at the sight, which drew his brows together in a tighter scowl. Deliberately he looked from her shoulders to her small breasts, covered by the sheet she clutched tightly in place, and let his eyes linger on the slim gold band on the third finger of her left hand.

Finally he looked back at her face. "Congratulations, Mrs. Wilde," he said bitterly. "A few others have tried to trick their way into sharing the name that goes on my bank statements, but I wasn't expecting it from you. How much will it cost me to buy my way out of this mess?"

She reared up and punched him in the nose.

When Cassie stood under the hot spray of the shower six minutes later she was still shocked at herself. She'd never hit anyone before. Well, not since the fifth grade, anyway, when Sara Sue Leggett had told everyone Cassie got her clothes from the Dumpster behind the Salvation Army.

She ought to feel guilty. She really should. The man obviously had a wretched hangover, and she'd hit him.

Oh, she hoped his nose bled and bled. She just wished she could use up all the hot water so that he'd have to take a cold shower, but that was hard to do in a Las Vegas luxury hotel.

Las Vegas. Cassie bit her lip and poured shampoo into her palm from the little bottle the hotel furnished.

She'd known he might have regrets this morning, but she hadn't known he could look at her the way he had. In the sixteen years since Ryan brought Gideon Wilde home with him from college for the first time, Cassie had seen Gideon's face ice over like that before. He didn't suffer fools gently, and he despised dishonesty. His scorn could be as withering as winter's first frost. But he'd never turned that expression on her before. Not on her. She hadn't expected that.

The shampoo smelled of almonds and lathered beautifully. It was, she noticed, a more expensive brand than she normally bought. Cassie sighed and ran her thumb over the unfamiliar ring on the third finger of her left hand. Gideon thought she'd married him so she could afford a better brand of shampoo.

How could she have been so stupid? How could she have let those two talk her into this?

They'd been at the Blue Parrot, a dinky little bar where Ryan and Gideon used to hang out during their impoverished college days. Maybe the location, with its nostalgic associations, had been partly responsible for the turn the conversation took. Ryan had grown increasingly Irish and sentimental as the afternoon waned into evening, and both men had put away a great deal more liquor than they normally would have.

But Cassie suspected that Ryan had drunk less than Gideon, while encouraging him to drink more. He'd gotten that crafty look in his eyes after the first couple of drinks, the expression that said he thought he was being sly … an expression that usually meant disaster was on its way. Her brother was about as successfully sneaky as a grizzly bear, a big, red-haired grizzly, who created the most havoc when he tried to tiptoe up on a problem instead of charging it with gleeful, bearlike rage. No, subtlety was not a virtue that ran in their family. But Ryan had never seemed to grasp how poor he was at it.

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