“Where are you going?” I asked, when he walked away.

“Nowhere.” He stripped with brusque efficiency, leaving his boxer briefs on. Then he joined me in bed, helped Lucky scramble up, then turned off the light.


Rolling toward me, he caught me around the waist and pulled me back against him, spooning behind me. I moaned softly at the heat of his body and shivered as it combated the chill in my bones.

I closed my eyes, focusing on the sound and feel of him breathing. Within a few moments, the tempo fell into the rhythmic evenness of sleep.

The wind whips through my hair as I walk along the shore, my feet sinking into the sand as the surf erodes every step. Ahead of me, I see the weathered shingles of the beach house Gideon bought for us. It sits perched above the tide on tall stilts, its many windows gazing far out over the water. Gulls circle and cry out above me, their quick dips and arrested hovering like a dance in the salt-tinged breeze.

“I can’t believe I’m going to miss the reception.”

I turn my head and discover my mother walking beside me. She’s wearing the same elegant formal gown I last saw her in. She’s so beautiful. Truly breathtaking. My eyes burn to look at her.

“We’re all going to miss it,” I tell her.

“I know. And I worked so hard on it.” She glances at me, the ends of her hair fluttering along her cheek. “I did manage to work some touches of red in.”

“Did you?” That makes me smile, despite my pain. She does love me the best way she knows how. Just because it’s not always the way I want her to doesn’t mean it’s not precious for what it is.

“It really is a garish color for a wedding, though. It was difficult.”

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“It’s kinda your fault, you know, for buying that red dress I wore the first night Gideon took me out as his date.”

“Is that what inspired you?” She shakes her head. “Next time, you should pick a softer accent color.”

“There won’t be a next time. Gideon is it for me.” I pick up a shell, then toss it back into the water it came from. “There were times I wasn’t sure we’d make it, but I don’t worry about that anymore. We were our own worst enemy, but we let go of the baggage weighting us down.”

“The first few months are supposed to be the easy part.” My mom dances a little ahead of me and gives a graceful twirl. “The courtship. Fabulous trips, sparkling jewels.”

I snort. “It wasn’t easy for us. The beginning was the rockiest. But it gets smoother every day.”

“You’ll have to help your father find someone,” she says, the girlish delight faded from her voice. “He’s been lonely for so long.”

“You’re a hard act to follow. He still loves you.”

She shoots me a sad smile, then looks out over the water. “I had Richard … He’s such a good man. I wish he’d be happy again.”

I think of my stepfather and worry. My mother was everything to him. What will give him joy now that she’s gone?

“I’ll never be a grandmother,” she says thoughtfully. “I died young and in my prime. That’s not so terrible, is it?”

“How can you ask me that?” I let the tears flow. I searched my soul all day because I couldn’t cry. Now that they’re here, I welcome them. It feels as if a dam has burst.

“Don’t cry, honey.” She stops and hugs me, filling the air I breathe with the scent of her perfume. “You’ll see that—”

I woke with a gasp, my body racked by a hard jerk of surprise. Lucky whimpered and pawed at me, kneading into my stomach. I stroked his velvety head with one hand and swiped at my eyes with the other, but they were dry. The pain of my dream was already fading into a distant memory.

“Come here,” Gideon murmured, his voice a rough warm beacon in our moonlit bedroom. His arms came around me, pulling me back against him.

Turning into him, I sought his mouth and found it, sinking into him with a lush, deep kiss. Surprise held him motionless a moment, and then his hand was cupping the back of my head, holding me in place as he took over.

I tangled my legs with his, feeling the coarse brush of hair, the deliciously warm skin, and the powerful muscles underneath. The soft, rhythmic stroking of his tongue soothed and aroused me. No one kissed like Gideon. The coaxing demand of his mouth was searingly sexual, yet it was also tender. Reverent. His lips were both firm and soft, and he used them to tease, to brush gently against my own.

Reaching between us, I cupped his penis in my hand, stroking with a demand that answered his. He swelled to my touch, lengthening until the broad head pushed up beneath the elastic of his waistband. He groaned, his hips thrusting into my caress.

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