More Than a Convenient Marriage?(8)

By: Dani Collins

  Part of him wanted to cut and run, but it was impossible now he understood what was driving her request for a divorce: grief. He understood that frame of mind better than she would suspect. He’d even bolted across the ocean in the very same way, more than once, but he was able to think more clearly this time. Losing the baby was heartrending, but he wasn’t left alone. He still had her. They needed to stick together. With careful navigation, they’d be back on course and sailing smoothly. When she came out the other side, she’d appreciate that he hadn’t let her do anything rash.

  He hoped.

  Adara blinked as they entered the artificial light of the hotel foyer. The temperature change hit her between the eyes like a blow. The boutique accommodation was the best the island offered, but nothing like the luxury service she took for granted in her thousand-room high-rise hotels. Still, she liked the coziness of this small, out-of-the-way place. She’d give serious thought to developing some hideaways like this herself, she decided.

  Another time. Right now she felt like one giant blister, hot and raw, skin so thin she could be nicked open by the tiniest harsh word.

  Desire had almost overwhelmed her on the beach. Gideon’s kiss had been an oasis in a desert of too many empty days and untouched nights. His heartfelt words, the way he’d enfolded her as if he could make the whole world right again, had filled her with hope and relief. For a few seconds she had felt cherished, even when his kiss had turned from tenderness to hunger. It had all been balm to her injured soul, right up until he’d begun to tilt them to the sand.

  Then fear of pregnancy had undercut her arousal. Her next instinct had been to at least give him pleasure. She liked making him lose control, but then she’d remembered it wasn’t good enough.

  It had all crashed into her as a busload of confusing emotions: shattered confidence, anger at her own weakness and a sense of being tricked and teased with a promise that would be broken. If she had had other men, perhaps she wouldn’t be so susceptible to him, but she was a neophyte where men were concerned, even after five years of marriage. She needed distance from him, to get her head straightened out and her heart put back together.

  Gideon was given a room card at the same time she was.

  As they departed the front desk for the elevators, she said in a ferocious undertone, “You did not get yourself added to my room.” They might share a suite, but never a room. She would die.

  “I booked my own,” he said stiffly, the reserve in his voice making her feel as if she’d done something wrong. She hadn’t! Had she? Should she have been more open about the miscarriages?

  She shook off guilt she didn’t want to feel. “Gideon—” she began to protest.

  “What? You’re allowed a vacation, but I’m not?”

  She tilted her head in disgruntlement. That was not what she was driving at. She wanted distance from him.

  “Would you like to eat here tonight or try somewhere else?” he said in a continuation of assumptions that were making her crazy.

  “It’s been a lot of travel getting here and already a long day. I’m going to shower and rest, possibly sleep through dinner,” she asserted, silently thinking, Go away. Her feelings toward him were infinitely easier to bear when half a globe separated them.

  “I’ll email you when I get hungry then. If you’re up, you can join me. If not, I won’t disturb you.”

  She eyed him, suspicious of yet another display of ultraconsideration, especially when he walked her to her room. At the last second, he turned to insert his card in the door across from hers.

  Her heart gave a nervous jump. So close. Immediately, a jangle went through her system, eagerness and fretfulness tying her into knots. She locked herself into her room, worried that he’d badger her into spending time with him that would roll into rolling around with him. She couldn’t do it. She didn’t have it in her to risk pregnancy and go through another miscarriage.

  Even though she ached rather desperately to feel his strong, naked body moving over and into hers.

  Craving and humiliation tormented her through her shower and stayed with her when she crawled into bed. She wanted him so much. It made her bury her head under her pillow. She couldn’t live with a man she had no defenses against.

  Steadfast to his word, Gideon didn’t disturb her. Adara woke to fading light beyond her closed curtains, startled she’d fallen asleep at all, head fuzzy from a hard four-hour nap.

  Like an adolescent desperate for a hint of being popular, she checked her email before rising from bed, scrolling past the work ones that were piling up and honing in on Gideon’s.

  Brief and veiled as all his communications tended to be, the message was nevertheless maddeningly effective at driving her into fresh clothes and across the hall.

  Your brother called. Dinner?

                        CHAPTER FOUR

  ADARA WAS SO anxious, she blurted out her questions before Gideon fully opened his door. “What did he say? Is he coming here?”

  The swipe of her tongue over her dry lips, however, was more to do with Gideon’s bare chest beneath the open buttons of his white shirt than nerves at the thought of seeing her brother. Why had he brought those wretched jeans that were more white than blue, so old they clung to his hips and thighs like a second skin? No shoes either, she noted. The man was so unconsciously sexy she couldn’t handle it. She’d never known how to handle it.

  It didn’t help that he looked at her like he could see into the depths of her soul. All that she’d told him today, the way he’d reacted, rushed back to strip her defenses down to the bare minimum.

  “He won’t be back to the island for a couple of days,” he said, holding his door wider. “I had a table set on my balcony. They have our order, I only need to call down to let them know we’re ready for it.”

  Adara folded her arms across the bodice of her crinkled white sundress, grossly uncomfortable as she watched him move to the hotel phone, his buttocks positively seductive in that devoted denim.

  “I’d rather go down to the restaurant,” she said, stomach fluttering as she struggled to assert herself.

  “It’s booked. And we can talk more privately here.” He projected equanimity, but he sent her an assessing glance that warned her he wasn’t one hundred percent pleased by this new argumentative Adara.

  She swallowed, not at ease in this skin either, but she couldn’t go on the old way. At the same time, she couldn’t help wondering what had transpired in his conversation with her brother that they needed privacy. Nico lived here on the island, she reminded herself. It wouldn’t be fair to bandy about his private business in public.

  Out of consideration to him, she stepped cautiously into Gideon’s room. The layout was a mirror of her executive room with a king-size bed, lounge area and workstation. Gideon had a better view, but she had taken what they had offered, not asking for upgrades. He, on the other hand, demanded the best.

  Moving into the velvety night air of his balcony, she listened to him finalize their dinner then come up behind her to pour two glasses of wine. The sunset turned the golden liquid pink as he offered her a glass.

  “To improved communication,” he said, touching the rim of his glass to hers.

  Adara couldn’t resist a facetious “Really? And how long do you intend to make me wait to hear all that you and my brother said to each other?”

  “I’ll tell you now and you can leave before the meals arrive, if you’re going to be so suspicious.” He sounded insulted.

  Adara pressed the curve of her glass to her flat mouth, a tiny bit ashamed of herself. She lowered the glass without wetting her lips. “You can’t deny you used his call like some kind of bait-and-switch technique.”

  “Only because I genuinely want to salvage this marriage. We can’t do that if we don’t see each other.” The sincerity in his gaze made her heart trip with an unsteady thump.

  Why would he want to stay married? She was giving up on children. They both had enough money of their own without needing any of each other’s. She tilted her glass, sipping the chilled wine that rolled across her tongue in a tart, cool wave that... Bleh. An acrid stain coated her mouth.

  Stress, she thought. Rather than being someone who drank her troubles away, she avoided alcohol when she was keyed up. The way her mother had drowned in booze, and the cruelty it had brought out in her father, had always kept Adara cautious of the stuff. Her body was telling her this was one of those times she should leave it alone.

  Setting her glass on the table, she leaned her elbows on the balcony railing and said, “Would you please tell me what happened with Nico?”

  “He called asking for us. The front desk tried my room first and I told him you were resting.”

  “How did he even know we were here?” she asked with surprise.

  “Ah. Now, that’s amusing.” He didn’t sound amused. He turned his back on the sunset and his cheeks hollowed as he contemplated some scowl-inducing inner thought. “I assumed he had a crack security team, but he has something far more sophisticated—an island grapevine. You didn’t tell the gardener you were related to him, so a strange woman asking about him set off speculation, enough that he got a call from a well-meaning neighbor and logged in to his gate camera. He recognized you and I guess he’s kept tabs on you over the years, too, because he knew your married name. The island only has four hotels, so it was quick work to track us to this one. He invited us to stay at his villa until he gets home.”

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