The Wrong Wife(4)

By: Eileen Wilks

Gideon, unfortunately, had been a bit too intoxicated by then to recognize that gleam in Ryan's eye.

"I have to kill him," Cassie muttered, scrubbing her scalp vigorously. Her brother loved her. She knew he did. He also drove her crazy. Their father had died when Cassie was little, leaving their mother to raise them as best she could on split shifts and a waitress's income. Ryan, six years older than Cassie, had appointed himself in charge of his sister's life from that day on.

Until yesterday. Yesterday, he'd decided to put someone else in charge of taking care of Cassie—his best friend, Gideon, who needed a woman with more staying power than the blond icicle he'd been engaged to. A loyal woman. A woman, Ryan had emphasized, who could cook.

Cassie had tried hitting him at that point, but even drunk, Ryan's reflexes were better than hers.

At least, she thought as the hot water rinsed the suds from her hair, my brother stopped short of pointing out just why he thought I'd go along with his stupid idea. He knew, though. He'd known for years and years.

She considered letting him live.

Of course, Ryan had probably only kept quiet because he knew that her feelings would register on the minus side of Gideon's ledger, not the plus. Gideon did not trust strong feelings. He was emotionally frozen, in fact, which made him exactly the wrong sort of man for Cassie. She needed someone warm and loving, someone who could return all the feelings she longed to pour out. She'd forced herself to face that fact years ago … in her head, at least.

Surely, she thought, scowling at the fogged glass door of the tub enclosure, if she'd had any illusions left, Gideon had shattered them with that sorry excuse for a proposal yesterday. Unlike her brother, Gideon got quiet and serious when he drank. He'd listened gravely to Ryan's heavy-handed suggestions for a substitute bride, then turned to Cassie and announced—not asked, but announced—"We can fly to Vegas tonight. That way I can still get married on my wedding day."

Of course she'd said no. Lord, saying no had been easy. Not painless, but easy. Only somehow she'd wound up here, anyway, naked in Las Vegas with Gideon's ring on her finger.

And, she noticed with a wince as she soaped her body, with an unaccustomed tenderness in a very private place.

She was not going to cry. She'd given up crying for Gideon Wilde eight years ago, when she'd humiliated herself as thoroughly as a woman could. Well, she'd almost given it up. She'd had a minor relapse when she'd heard about the Icicle six months ago, but that didn't really count. She couldn't hold that night against herself.

Oh, but she could hold last night against herself. Last night, when he'd been drunk, hot and hasty … and this morning, when he hated her. She could blame herself for this morning.

No more, she told herself, shutting off the shower that would never run out of hot water no matter how long she stayed in. She'd made a mistake, a huge mistake, letting her brother convince her to listen to the man she'd been in and out of love with since she was twelve.

Not love, she corrected herself. Lust. She could not possibly love a man who didn't remember their wedding night. Her problem, she decided, as she dried off with a towel twice the size any she owned, was that her hormones had gotten themselves fixed on Gideon from an early age, almost as soon as she started having hormones. Somehow, in spite of trying, she'd never gotten them straightened out.

It was time to grow up. Gideon was always so damned cool and rational. He'd selected his fiancée that way, according to Ryan. Logically. Miss Melissa Southwark was everything Gideon wanted. She had the chilly, blond perfection that Cassie knew, with the painful certainty of experience, Gideon preferred in a woman.

Well, Cassie could be logical, too. She'd get her hormones straightened out, along with the rest of her. From this moment on, Cassie would be a different woman. Calm. Rational. In control.

First she had to undo last night's mistake. But to undo a marriage … divorce was such an ugly word, and they'd only been married one night. Really, when you thought about it coolly and logically, one night didn't count.

An annulment, she thought, zipping herself back into the jeans she'd been married in, would be best. Although it might not be easy to convince Gideon of that truth. If there was one area where he wasn't always rational, it was what, in another age, would have been called his honor. Gideon didn't lie, and he didn't go back on his word. Ever.

What she had to do, she realized, as she pulled on yesterday's wrinkled silk blouse, was persuade him the contract they'd entered into was not binding. How could she…

When inspiration struck, Cassie smiled, delighted with herself. Unfortunately she wasn't looking in the mirror at that moment. If she had been, she might have recognized the gleam in her eyes, since it strongly resembled her brother's expression when he was at his craftiest. Just before he really messed things up.

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