The Wrong Wife(6)

By: Eileen Wilks

Ignoring her arm and her statement equally, he grabbed her shoulders, peering into her face. "Are you all right?"

She rolled her eyes. "No, I've been ravished too many times to count. Quit playing—"

The growl rumbling up from Ryan's chest didn't sound playful. Gideon went from standby to full alert.

Cassie grabbed her brother's arm and hung on as he turned to face Gideon. "I am not going to have this, do you hear me? You are not going to pound on Gideon. Yesterday you did everything but offer him some cows and ponies if he'd take me off your hands, and now you come barging in here as if he'd abducted me! What in the world is wrong with you—other than the usual, I mean?"

Ryan didn't bother to look sheepish. "Yesterday I'd had too much to drink. That doesn't—"

"Doesn't excuse you in any way, form or fashion! What I want to know is—" Cassie broke off to stare at Gideon. "Would you mind?" she asked irritably. "I'd like to talk to Ryan privately for a minute."

He could, he thought, take offense at having his bride of nine hours ask him to go away and let her talk with her brother privately. He could have been amused. He'd often been amused in the past by the way the pair of O'Gradys interacted with each other—alternately quarrelsome and affectionate, full of dire threats and a fierce, unshakable loyalty.

Today he simply felt the chill and the distance. He'd never known how to belong like that. "You know," he said, surprising himself, "I think I do mind."

The knock that landed on the still-open door was a welcome interruption. Room service had arrived at last.

* * *


« ^ »

Brother and sister argued in vehement whispers while the waiter set out a variety of breakfast dishes. Gideon didn't go to the bathroom for the shower and clean clothes he badly needed. For some reason he simply did not want to leave the room.

He watched as Ryan helped himself to a cup of coffee and Cassie picked up one of the croissants and tore the end off, neither of them bothering to sit down. He could hear snippets of their argument as he signed the tab and tipped the waiter, enough to know that, as angry as Cassie was with him, she was still trying to persuade Ryan he shouldn't blame Gideon for yesterday's events.

Gideon couldn't remember anyone ever defending him. His response was swift and physical. The sting of desire was sharp enough to burn, strong enough to disorient him.

He wanted Cassie. Badly. He was still angry over all he'd lost by marrying the wrong woman, angry with her as well as himself. He still felt betrayed in a private corner of his soul no one had ever managed to disturb before. But he wanted her with bewildering intensity.

He watched her argue with her brother. Cassie put her whole body behind everything she said, everything she did. Like a candle flame, he thought—always in motion. She wasn't beautiful the way Melissa was. She was short and slight and … fascinating. The sleeves of her silk blouse were rolled up, and the pale flesh of her arms gesturing fluidly enticed him as if she'd bared her breasts. He felt ridiculous. And aroused.

Maybe he didn't consciously remember what had happened between them last night, but his body remembered. If, as she'd said, he hadn't been able to finish what he started, then he might want her all the more today because of what he hadn't done last night.

If he could have her even once, he thought, the hunger wouldn't be so keen, so consuming. He could regain control.

He watched as Cassie grabbed the butter knife. She paused in her vehement discussion long enough to spread a precise amount of pale, creamy butter on the end of the croissant. She was such an odd little creature. In some ways she subsisted on impulse and emotion as purely as fire lives off the oxygen it burns, yet in others she was as neat and orderly as the facets of a crystal—a small, tidy agent of chaos.

He had never pretended to understand her. He watched her now, but he was remembering a skinny girl with messy braids and eldritch eyes.

Gideon had gone home with his new roommate for a rare weekend off. Not that he'd planned to. At eighteen, Gideon hadn't thought he had time for friendships, not with his heavy course load and the part-time job his aunt considered an essential part of his college experience. Being the sort of woman she was. Aunt Eleanor had made the job necessary in fact as well as theory. She'd paid for his tuition and books. Everything else was up to him. If Gideon didn't work, he didn't eat.

But Ryan O'Grady, for all that he seemed like a cheerful Irish grizzly, was almost as ambitious, every bit as stubborn, and twice as poor as Gideon was. Eventually Gideon had given in and accepted Ryan's invitation home. By the time the two of them had walked up the short path to the run-down mobile home in a south Dallas trailer park, though, Gideon was regretting having agreed to the weekend.

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