I WAS FROZEN IN SPACE, WORLD SPINNING around me. The clubs bass was drowned out by the words screaming in my head, ricocheting through me like a stray bullet.
As much as I wanted to dismiss it as the ramblings of an ass, I couldn’t. Not with the way Gage had been acting since he started working there.
Gage. He was hovering over me now, saying something, hand on my elbow, trying to usher me off the dance floor.
I pulled free from his grip and pushed through the crowd to the front of the club. I had to get out of here. The room was closing in on me, the rumors thick and choking. I couldn’t breathe. There were too many people around, too much smoke, too much noise. And Gage at my back only made it worse.
He was usually the one to calm me when I panicked, but not now. Not this Gage. He felt like a stranger.
The front of the club didn’t release to outside, but to the inside of a hotel and casino. The bright lights, noise of the slots, and people streaming past did nothing to ease my vibrating muscles and straining breath. I needed fresh air, but before I could even spot the exit to the hotel, Gage stopped me.
“Our rooms not that way.” His hand gently guided me to face the right direction. “The elevator is over there.”
I pulled away, wrapping my arms around myself, holding it all together as I walked towards the elevators. We had checked in here before going to Dexter’s, but I didn’t have the key on me or remember exactly where the room was. Room 2119. I could figure it out.
A small group of men were waiting outside the elevator doors, talking and laughing in Spanish. I stood back, willing the doors to open so I could get away.
I turned to Gage. “Give me the key. You should go back. Check on Dexter and them, I don’t know what happened.”
“They’ll be all right. They have the limo for the night and my number if they need something.”
The door slid open, and I followed the group onto the elevator with Gage right behind me. He pressed the button for our floor and then stood between me and the other men, blocking me from view. I knew what he was doing; it must have been obvious that I was freaking out.
The doors slid open and the group exited, never breaking their conversation. With their chatter gone, the faint sound of classical music filled the car.
The moment the doors closed on us, Gage turned to face me. “You scared the hell out of me.” His voice was low as he stepped close, but his body’s warmth didn’t reach me. His closeness only increased the chill seeping into my bones, making them ache. “Why did you get in that man’s face? You’re strong, but… you can’t challenge people like him.” He gripped my elbow, head dipping to catch my eyes.
“He was running his mouth about you.” I leveled my glare at him, and his hand dropped from my elbow.
“What did he say?” He questioned softly.
Wrapping my arms tighter around myself, I dropped my eyes to the bright blue carpet. I couldn’t stand to keep looking at him. He heard what had been said at the end, and that’s the only thing that mattered.
The elevator doors opened, and I stepped past him without responding.
Once we were in our room, he stopped me from escaping to the balcony by wrapping an arm around my waist from behind, lips in my hair.
“So you were defending me?” his low rasp held a hint of amusement, but his body was turned on as he pressed against me.
I spun on my toes, shoving him away. “Don’t touch me.”
His brows knitted together, deep lines creasing between them. “What the hell? We fought for each other again, I thought—”
“That you wouldn’t have to explain? That I’d forget what he said? Wrong.”
“Explain? You said it yourself, he was only running his mouth.”
“Except, half of what he said was true.” Now I was the one stepping closer to him, wanting to grab him and force him to speak. He was retreating, hiding behind his frustration.
The tension between us was solid, like a rope in tug of war. Both of us struggled for the upper hand.
“Just what, exactly, are you accusing me of?” He crossed his arms over his chest, leaning away with a smug self-righteousness that momentarily took away my words.
After a few silent blinks, I found the air to speak, but it still came out shaky. “That club. Those strippers. Are they really? Do you—”
“Jesus, Regan. Do you believe everything people say?”
It was a slap in the face. “When it makes sense. You’ve been hiding something.”
“Not this again.” He ran his hand over his face with a groan, and then took a step towards me, tone softening. “You know me, I wouldn’t do that.”
I shook my head and put my hand up, keeping him back. “I don’t know anything. You won’t tell me anything.”
He kept coming forward, pressing into my hand. His fingers wrapped around my wrist, and he held my hand in place against his chest, eyes sinking into mine. “Yes you do, you know me better than anyone.”
His face blurred as tears filled my eyes, but I didn’t dare blink and release them. My arm shook under the weight of him, the weight of his words. I wish they were true, and it broke my heart to realize they no longer were.
“There’s too many secrets. I don’t know you, not this person you’ve become.”
“It’s still me.” He moved his hand over mine, pressing my palm to his heart. “Feel that? Forget all the bullshit, it’s still me.”
I wanted to believe him. I searched his eyes for the truth, but all I saw was confusion and a desperate need to get me to believe. His light blue eyes were pulling me in. It felt impossible to physically push away, but I tried to keep the space with my words. “It hasn’t felt like you for a while now.”
He closed his eyes, inhaling deeply, like my words caused pain. But when he opened them his eyes were clear and focused, decision made. “Let me show you.”
He collapsed into me, and my arm buckled between us as his lips covered mine. His strong arms wrapped around me, pulling me flush against his body. His strength held me up. My lips moved with his, a familiar dance but charged with desperation. I wanted this to be enough. I wanted to be enough for him.
My hands slid up his chest and shoulders, unable to resist the pull of the moment, of his gravity. I absorbed the feel of his lips, the safe warmth of his arms, the blissful rush of his tongue moving on mine, and the sensual moans he let escape when I tugged on his hair.
His hands crossed my back, pulling me closer to him. Our kiss so deep there was little air. His lips moved to the corner of my mouth, forehead pressing to mine as he sucked in ragged breaths. His fingers trailed a soft caress over the bare skin on my shoulders and arms.
“Babe, I love you.” He breathed between kisses over my chin.
Somehow my gasps for air were melting into shudders, holding back the tears that threatened. I had been the queen at using sex to distract from the real issues. I feared that’s what this was.
“Talk to me,” my voice pulled as I begged, straining under the emotion. “Please. Tell me something. Be honest.” I gripped his hair, keeping our heads together. I didn’t want to pull away. I wanted this moment to be real.
He sucked in a breath, hands moving to cup my face. “You think I’m lying to you?” He forced me to look at him, hurt clear on his face.
“I don’t think you’re telling me the truth, something’s going on at that club.” My hands dropped from his hair and slid lightly down his back, trying to encourage him to speak.
The muscles in his jaw flexed as he nodded, running his hand down my arm to grab my hand. He walked us to the couch, pulling me down next to him. My heart was about to leap out of my chest. The only warmth I felt was where his hand gripped mine.
“It’s not that. I promise.” He slid his other hand over my thigh, squeezing lightly. “Some of the girls there, they might try and sell themselves, and Alessandra and Viktor may want them to. But that doesn’t go on when I’m there.” He nodded like that made it all okay. “I told you, this all would come back to me. The club is attached to my name, not theirs. I’m working to clean it up.”
“Who hires the girls? What do you think you can do? What do they allow you to do?” Questions were bubbling in my mind, boiling over faster than I could speak them.
“Alessandra sets up the girls to work there. They’re supposedly on a work visa, that’s why there’s high turnover, but…” He shook his head, cutting off his words. “It’s my name on all the paperwork, as long as their money is cleaned, I get to run it how I want.”
I leaned back some on the couch, stomach flipping as I weighed his words. I had only been to the club a few times and barely met the girls, but the few I saw had thick Russian accents.
Meeting his eyes, I didn’t know what to say. I shrugged, trying to put words to the melancholy aching in me, an uncertainty snapping at my muscles. “What are you going to do? You said you’re going to clean it up?”
He pulled my legs to move me closer, and then his fingers slid to my hips, keeping me there. “I’m already cleaning it up. And once I get good people in there that I can trust, it’ll get easier.” His nose slid over my cheek, lips reaching my ear. “Then I can be home more.” The tips of his fingers glided under my shirt, up the line of my spine, my skin breaking out in goose bumps at the sensation. “That’s enough talking for now.” His soft lips pressed to my shoulder, fingers pulling on the strap of my shirt, sliding it off and down my arm. “I’ve been thinking about being alone with you since we landed in Vegas.”
Each little movement increased my heartbeat and stripped away my thoughts. This is what this weekend was supposed to be about. He had opened up some, that was enough for now.
He stole my breath, tongue gliding over the top curve of my breasts and dipping down into my cleavage as he squeezed my boobs together, kneading each one.
“Gage.” One nagging thought kept me from letting go completely. I gripped his shoulders to get his attention. “Just—I need to know.” I swallowed my nerves, beginning to doubt if I should ask, but I had to, it tormented me too much. “In all your night’s out, did you do anything with those girls.”
His hands jumped off me like I burned him. “What the hell, Regan? We’re married.”
That wasn’t an answer. “We are, but…we haven’t been together much and you sometimes come home in different clothes, if you come home at all. Those hours are longer than the club hours.”
He rose to his feet, body stiff, and anger rolling off him. “So that means I’m cheating on you? I just fucking explained things to you, but that’s not enough? Can you not let things go for one night?” He gripped his hair, pulling at the ends. “What the hell do you want from me?”
I stood up and stared at him, disbelieving. The reaction was too big for what I had asked. After months of him being gone, he gave me a couple minutes of honesty, and I’m supposed to take it and move on.
“I wanted everything from you.” I bit down the heat of my anger, my words coming out icy clear. “But not anymore.”
I walked away and slammed the door to the bedroom. After a moment, it became clear he wasn’t coming after me. I let the emotions of the night erupt in tears and cried into the soft pillows with only my arms and warm blankets as comfort.
I stepped out of the bedroom, dressed in shorts and a t-shirt and brushing my still wet hair from a shower, just in time to see Gage zip up his suitcase.
“What are you doing?” I questioned, taking in his grey slacks and button up shirt.
He rose to standing, back to me as he reached his full height. “I’ve got to go. Something’s come up.”
“Back to New York?” I stepped closer to him, gripping the brush in my hand. “What time is the flight? Do we have time to say bye to Dexter and Leona?” But I choked on further questions as I noticed it was only his bag he had out.
He turned, his lips pressed together and avoiding my eyes. “You should stay. Go to the birthday tomorrow. I’ll see you on Sunday.” He picked up his luggage and paused in front of me. He hesitated then tried to give me a kiss, but I stepped back.
“That’s it? You’re leaving, and that’s all you have to say?” I couldn’t breathe as the reality settled on me. “You’re leaving me here?”
“You can come back, but I’m going to be busy. I thought you’d prefer to stay.” He still wasn’t meeting my eyes.
I snapped and pushed him, but he didn’t stop me when I pushed him again. He just let his body fall back. “Why?”
“I’m sorry. We’ll talk on Sunday. I have to go.” He started to reach for me, but then he dropped his arm and walked away. He paused with his hand on the doorknob. “I know how messed up this is. And I know you don’t believe me, but I love you.”
Those words only added to my confusion, salt to the wound that was his betrayal. But closing my eyes I could still picture him in the hospital bed all too clearly and I couldn’t let him walk away without saying it.
“You’re right this is messed up.” Tears evaporated in the fire of my anger. “I love you. I love you and you are breaking my heart.”
He paused with his head bowed and then opened the door to leave. “Sorry,” he spoke so low I thought I imagined it.
It didn’t matter anyways because words didn’t mean anything. He was still gone.