More Than a Convenient Marriage?(10)

By: Dani Collins

  “What do you want me to say? That I hadn’t believed in God for years, but when I took you to the hospital that first time, I gave praying a shot and felt completely betrayed when He took that baby anyway? That I got drunk so I wouldn’t cry? Every time. Damn it, I haven’t been able to close my eyes since the beach without imagining walking into your bathroom and finding you dead in a pool of blood.” He gave her a little shake. “Is that the kind of sharing you need to hear?”

  Her shattered gaze was more than he could bear, the searching light in them pouring over his very soul, picking out every flaw and secret he hid from the rest of the world. It was painful in the extreme and even though he would never want to inflict more suffering on her, he was relieved when she crumpled with anguish and buried her face in her hands.

  He pulled her into his chest, the feel of her fragile curves a pleasure-pain sting. She stiffened as he pinned her to him, but he only dug his fingers into her loose hair, massaging her scalp and pressing his lips to her crown, forcing the embrace because he needed it as much as she did.

  “It’s okay, I’m not going to mess it up this time.” His body was reacting to her scent and softness, always did, but he ignored it and hoped she would too. “I’m sorry we keep losing babies, Adara. I’m sorry I didn’t let you see it affects me.”

  “I can’t try anymore, Gideon.” Her voice was small and thick with finality, buried in his chest.

  “I know.” He rubbed his chin on the silk of her hair, distantly aware how odd this was to hold her like this, not as a prelude to sex, not because they were dancing, but to reassure her. “I don’t expect you to try. That’s what I’m saying. We don’t have to divorce over this. We can stay married.”

  She lifted her face, her expression devastated beyond tears, and murmured a baffled “I don’t even know why you want to.”

  Under her searching gaze, his inner defenses instinctively locked into place. Practicalities and hard facts leaped to his lips, covering up deeper, less understood motivations. “We’re five years into merging our fortunes,” he pointed out.

  Adara dropped her chin and gathered herself, pressing for freedom.

  His answer hadn’t been good enough.

  His muscles flexed, reluctant to let her go, but he had to. Feelings, he thought, and scowled with displeasure. What was she looking for? A declaration of love? That had never been part of their bargain and it wasn’t a step he was willing to take. Losing babies he hadn’t known was bad enough. Caring deeply for Adara would make him too vulnerable.

  He reached to right his chair, nodding at her seat when she only watched him. “Sit down, let’s keep talking about this.”

  “What’s the point?” she asked despairingly.

  The coward in him wanted to agree and let this madness blow away like dead ashes from a fire. If he were a gentleman, he supposed he’d spare her this torturous raking of nearly extinguished coals. Something deeply internal and indefinable pushed him to forge ahead despite how unpleasant it was. Somehow, giving up looked bleaker than this.

  “You don’t salvage an agreement by walking away. You stay in the same room and hammer it out,” he managed to say.

  “What is there to salvage?” Adara charged with a pained throb in her voice. Her heart was lodged behind her collarbone like a sharp rock. Didn’t he understand? Everything she’d brought to the table was gone.

  Gideon only nodded at her chair, his expression shuttered yet insistent.

  Adara dropped into her chair out of emotional exhaustion. For a few seconds she just sat there with her hands steepled before her face, eyes closed, drowning in despair.

  “What do you want, Adara?”

  She opened her eyes to find him statue hard across from her, expression unreceptive despite his demand she confide.

  He was afraid it was something he couldn’t give, she realized. Like love?

  A barbed clamp snapped hard around her heart. She wasn’t brave enough to give up that particular organ and had never fooled herself into dreaming a man could love her back, so no, she wouldn’t ask him for love. She settled on part of the truth.

  “I want to quit feeling so useless,” she confessed, suffering the sensation of being stripped naked by the admission. “I’m predisposed to insecurity because of my upbringing, I know that. I’m not worthless, but I feel that way in this marriage. Now I can’t even bring children into it. I can’t live with this feeling of inadequacy, Gideon.”

  He stared hard at her for a long moment before letting out a snort of soul-crushing amusement.

  Adara couldn’t help her sharp exhale as she absorbed that strike. She tried to rise.

  Gideon clamped his hand on her arm. “No. Listen. God, Adara...” He shook his head in bemusement, brow furrowed with frustration. “When you asked me to marry you—”

  “Oh, don’t!” she gasped, feeling her face flood with abashed color.

  He tightened his grip on her wrist, keeping her at the table. “Why does that embarrass you? It’s the truth. You came to me with the offer.”

  “I know. Which only reminds me how pathetically desperate I must have seemed. You didn’t want me and wouldn’t have chosen me if I hadn’t more or less bribed you.”

  “Desperate?” he repeated with disbelief. “I was the desperate one, coming hat in hand to your father with a proposition I knew he’d laugh out of the room. All I had going for me was nerve.”

  “Someone else would have taken up the chance to invest with you, Gideon. It was a sound opportunity, which Papa saw after he got over being stubborn and shortsighted.”

  “After you worked on him.”

  She shook that off in a dismissive shrug, instantly self-conscious of the way she’d stood up for a man she’d barely known simply because she’d been intrigued by him. It had been quite a balancing act, truth be told.

  “Don’t pretend you didn’t have anything to do with it.” He sat forward. “Because this is what I’m trying to tell you. You came to me with things I didn’t have. Your father’s partnership. Entrée into the tightest and most influential Greek cartels in New York and Athens. I needed that, I wanted it, and I had no real belief I could actually get it.”

  “Well, I didn’t have much else to offer, did I?” she pointed out in a remembered sense of inadequacy.

  “Your virginity springs to mind, but we’ll revisit that another time,” he rasped, making her lock her gaze with his in shocked incredulity.

  Suddenly, very involuntarily, she flashed back to her wedding night and the feel of his fingers touching her intimately, his mouth roaming from her lips to her neck to her breast and back as he teased her into wanting an even thicker penetration. She hadn’t understood how his incredibly hard thrust could hurt and feel so good at the same time. Instead of being intimidated by his strength and weight, she’d basked in the sense of belonging as his solid presence moved above her, on her, and within her so smoothly, bringing such a fine tension into every cell of her being. His hard arms had surrounded and braced her, yet shielded her from all harm, making her feel safer than she’d ever felt in her life, so that when she’d shattered, she’d known he’d catch her.

  Her body clenched in remembered ecstasy even as she was distantly aware of his hold on her gentling. He caressed her bare forearm and his voice lowered to the smoky tone he’d used when he’d told her how lovely she’d felt to him then. So hot and sweet. So good.

  “Try to understand what it meant for me to form a connection to you.”

  Her scattered faculties couldn’t tell if he was talking about her deflowering or the marriage in general. She shivered with latent arousal, pulling herself away from his touch to ground herself in the now.

  “People knew I came from nothing,” he said. “You want to know why I only speak Greek when I absolutely have to? Because my accent gives me away as the bottom class sailor that I am.”

  “It does not,” she protested distractedly.

  He reached to tuck a tendril of hair behind her ear, his touch lingering to trace lightly beneath her jaw. “If you want me to talk, you’re going to have to listen. People respect you, Adara. Not because your father owned the company, not because of your wealth, but because of the way you conduct yourself. Everyone knew your father’s faults and could see that you were above his habits of lashing out and making hasty decisions. They knew you were intelligent and fair and had influence with him.”

  “Now I know you’re lying.” She drew back, out of his reach.

  “He didn’t sway easily, that’s true.” He dropped his hands to his thighs. “But if anyone could change his mind, it was you. Everyone knew that, from the chambermaids to the suits in the boardroom. And people also knew that you were being very choosy about finding a husband. Very choosy.”

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