Collide (Chapter 19: Time)

Gavin tossed his phone next to him on the couch after it'd rang for the twentieth time. Dillon was fast becoming relentless at this point, and Gavin didn't give a flying fuck. Finishing the last bottle of beer in a six-pack, he mindlessly flipped through the television channels. The cool liquid slid down his throat, working its way into his body. However, the only thing he could taste or feel running through his veins was Emily. No matter how hard he had tried the last couple of weeks, Gavin couldn't remove her. Nonetheless, he kept his promise. Though it desperately took every bit of self-control, he didn't attempt to contact her. Still, that didn't stop her from bleeding through every coherent thought or haunting every sleeping nightmare Gavin had. Emily morphed into an ache unlike anything he'd ever known.

The sound of the clock ticking away on the wall gained Gavin's attention. He glanced at it and pictured Emily walking out of the church, considering it was the evening of her and Dillon's rehearsal dinner. Gavin had no desire of letting Dillon know he wouldn't be attending. None of it fucking mattered. He didn't know how much more pain his heart could take and showing up at the church or the dinner would surely sink him further. Groomsman or not, he wasn't going. In less than twenty-four hours, the woman he loved, the woman he saw a life together with, the woman he thought would hold his child in her arms one day would no longer be Emily Cooper. She would be Mrs. Dillon Parker.

All of it was more than Gavin could handle.

Standing from the couch, he made his way into the kitchen with every intention of cracking into a second six-pack. It was then that a knock came at the door. After pulling said six-pack from the refrigerator, he padded over to open it. Taken slightly off guard by his visitor, without saying a word, he walked back into the living room and settled himself onto the couch.

"You look like shit," Olivia noted, entering the penthouse. "I may be wrong, and tell me if I am, but I'm pretty sure you have the funds to buy a razor blade. Has the man worth millions gone bankrupt?"

"You've never been short in the humor department," he muttered, not looking in her direction as he continued channel surfing. "Shouldn't you be at the rehearsal dinner?"

After dropping her purse to the ground, she peeled off her coat and scarf. "As much as you should be," she quipped, flopping onto a leather chair. "You weren't at the church, and you seriously don't look dressed for the party. Come on, go take a shower, and I'll wait while you get ready. Oh, and I'll drive since it's apparent you've been drinking."

Shaking his head, he plucked a bottle from the six-pack, popped the top off, and took a long pull from it. He didn't respond, but he gave her a look that was nothing short of threatening.

"What?" she asked in one of the most innocent tones he'd ever heard her exercise.

"Oh, give me a fucking break, Liv." He narrowed his eyes on her. "You know I'm not going."

She cocked her head to the side, her brown eyes wide. "Wow, Gavin, I thought you had a little more fight left in you. You're a powerful man in every aspect of your life except for when it comes to this? When it comes to Emily, you just throw the towel in, huh?" She gave a casual shrug and crossed her legs. "Hmm, I guess I don't know you as well as I thought I did."

"Fight left in me?" he bit out. Clicking the television off, he tossed the remote onto the glass table, its piercing sound making Olivia jump. He rose to his feet. "Why the fuck would I fight for someone who doesn't love me back? I'm fucked up over what happened. Believe me, you have no clue the ideas that have spawned themselves to life in my head the past few weeks, kidnapping her being one of them. I'll love that girl until the day I fucking die, but I'm no fucking sap. Your friend's a little more warped than I imagined."

Olivia studied him for a moment as he paced the room back and forth. "Warped? You do realize who opened your door showing off pretty red panties the morning after you dropped Emily off, correct?" He shot her an icy look, but she continued. "She's ripped to pieces, Gavin. You have a long history of fucking women and then leaving them. My friend's hurt because you fucked around behind her back. Did you expect a different reaction from her?"

Raking his hands through his hair, Gavin squeezed his eyes shut. "I didn't fuck around behind her back!" When he opened them, he could see the shock on Olivia's face, but he didn't give a shit at that point. "You may be correct on not knowing me as well as you thought you did, but you do know the uncaring animal that I've turned into the past few years. Why the fuck would I go to her job, trying to get her back? Why would I pour my fucking heart out to the girl? For a piece of ass?" He chuckled, but that chuckle held no humor behind it. Digging into his pocket, he pulled his cell phone out and tossed it to her.

"Damn, Gavin."

"Damn nothing. Look in my contacts list. There's no shortage of ass that's eagerly available to me. It's plentiful. I make a phone call, and I can fuck for days if I wanted to. Gina came here that night drunk, telling me her father died. Yes, maybe I shouldn't have let her in. Yes, maybe I should've thrown her out onto the street like the animal she turned me into." Letting out a defeated sigh, he sat back down on the couch with his elbows on his knees as he gripped his hair. "But I didn't," he whispered. "I didn't, and now Emily's gone. The girl I love doesn't believe me because I was stupid enough to let the girl I used to love into my house. She fell asleep on my couch with her pants off. I didn't even want to touch her to get her out of here that night because she wasn't dressed. I didn't want my hands touching her because my hands had just touched Emily."

He lifted his head and looked directly at Olivia where she sat unmoving. "I love Emily. Fuck, I love her enough that I would do it over again – pain and all – just to hold her again. But I didn't do anything wrong other than let Gina in. So, no, Olivia, it has nothing to do with me being powerful or throwing in a towel. It has everything to do with the fact that Emily doesn't believe me, and most of all…she doesn't love me."

After a few seconds of noticeably trying to take in everything he had said, Olivia stood up and sat herself next to him. She placed her hand on his shoulder. "She does love you, Gavin. She – "

"Come on, Liv," he interrupted, reaching for his beer. He finished it in one gulp. "She told me she didn't. Do you need me to quote her words? They're as fresh as fuck in my mind. Buzzed or not, it shouldn't be a problem."

"I know what she told you." She took the empty bottle from his hand and placed it on the table. "But I also know what she told me after you came to her that night." He went to speak, but she silenced him with a classic Olivia smash of her fingers against his lips. "You're correct that she doesn't believe you right now. But you're incorrect that she doesn't love you. She said those things to you to try to hurt you the way she felt you hurt her. She's been a mess, Gavin," she whispered, her eyes soft. "Her nerves are shot. She's been depressed, quiet, and throwing up over the whole situation. Even though she thinks she'll be able to rid you from her mind and fall back in love with Dillon, anytime Dillon's not with her, she's crying…over you."

"You say she loves me, she's crying over me, and yet she's marrying him?" he asked, completely unconvinced of anything she had just said.

"I know what you're thinking, but – "

"Oh, do you? Because I'm not even sure I know what the fuck I'm thinking right now," he said, rising to his feet. Beer wasn't doing its job at this point. Stronger. He needed something stronger. Stalking into the kitchen, he swung the cabinet door open, pulling out a bottle of bourbon and a shot glass.

Olivia stood up, crossing her arms. "Are you going to let me finish what I was saying, dick?"

"I'm a cheater and a dick now? Sure, why the fuck not?" he replied, his tone thick with sarcasm. He promptly filled the shot glass. After tossing it back, he smacked his lips together and looked at her. "What kind of shit are you handing me, Olivia? None of it makes any sense. Not one fucking iota of it does."

Moving to the kitchen, Olivia flipped her golden hair to the side and looked at Gavin as if he had ten heads. "What part don't you understand, Blake?"

Now he returned the same look, but she continued.

"Dillon was a safe bet when she moved out here with him. She stumbled upon you, and as much as she tried to fight it, the girl never stood a chance against you, Gavin. Forget about the way you two met." Pausing, a light laugh escaped her lips. "You had her from the moment she saw you. Believe me, I had to hear all about Mr. Tall, Dark, and Fuckable Handsome."

Gavin couldn't help it, but he drew up a curious brow at that statement.

"After everything she went through with Dillon, you then became her safe bet. But now, that's been ripped from her. Unfortunately, you have her thinking Dillon is indeed the safer bet."

"Stop saying safer bet," he grunted as he poured another shot, still intrigued by the nickname he never knew about.

Olivia let out a sigh and rolled her eyes.

"So let me get this straight," he leaned against the counter, a lopsided smirk on his face. "She's taking the consolation prize that happens to be the prick that really cheated on her?" He then paused and let out a chuckle. Though his pain remained, the effect of the alcohol was quickly catching up to him. "Wait. Apparently, I'm the prick that cheated on her."

"Consolation prize?" she asked, her brows furrowed. "Is this a game to you, Gavin? She's hurting right now."

"Fuck no, it's not a game. It's my fucking life, and it's what should've been mine and Emily's life together." He chucked another shot down his throat, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and slammed the glass on the counter. "I'm hurting, too, but let me guess, you still think I fucked around behind her back. Go ahead. Tell me you don't believe me either."

"To tell you the truth, buddy, when I first got here, no, I didn't believe you," she answered, looking to her watch. She brought her eyes back to him. "But now I do."

"Oh, do you?" He smirked, almost laughing. "And why do you believe me all of a sudden, oh mighty queen, Olivia?"

She stared at him for a long moment and then moved across the room to grab her purse, coat, and scarf. She made her way over to the door and turned back to look at him. "Because even when you were at your worst after Gina," she whispered, her expression pained, "you weren't as…fucked and tortured-looking as you appear to be right now."

Swaying slightly, that smirk dropped from his face as he peered at her.

"I love you both. You're my second brother, and she's the sister I never had." She let out a deep breath. "And it's killing me to see the two of you hurting the way that you are."

Tossing his hands through his hair, he perched himself on a barstool. "What do I do?" he asked, his voice low and his heart sinking lower. "For the first time in my life…" He hesitated and looked down to the ground. He then slowly brought his gaze back to hers. "God, for the first time in my life, Olivia…I don't know what to do. She doesn't believe me."

Although he couldn't see it from across the room, Olivia's eyes glassed over. Looking back down to her watch, a timid smile crept over her mouth. "Then make her believe you, Gavin. You have less than twenty-four hours to change the course of both of your lives." She slung her purse over her shoulder and opened the door. "I hope I see you there," she said, stepping out into the hallway. Gavin watched as she poked her head back in. "Oh, and if you do decide to go get our girl, do yourself a favor and shave. You're definitely a cutie, honestly, but I'm not digging the whole five o'clock shadow thing you got going on right now."

Gavin let out a deep sigh. "Anything else?"

"Yeah, as a matter of fact, there is," she replied, tapping her finger against her cheek. "Drop the whole jeans and sweatshirt thing you got going on, too. Love ya, my brother."

Gavin shook his head and watched as she closed the door behind her.

Time.

Tonight, time wasn't on his or Emily's side. Staring at the clock on the wall once again, Gavin sat there for a few minutes. His mind was literally rocked from the conversation. He sat there for a few more minutes, trying – and failing – to make sense of everything spinning through his head. Though his unease of never being with Emily ever again grew, gnawing at his stomach, the thought of showing up, only to get turned down again, made him know that the decision he was about to make was for the better. There was no denying that he needed her. He needed her like the veins in his body needed blood and his lungs needed air. However, this time around, Gavin would rather suffocate than have to look Emily in the eyes and hear those venomous words again. No. He wouldn't go tonight.

And, just like that, Gavin knew he'd changed the course of his and Emily's lives forever.

Teetering. Though a few weeks had gone by, Emily was teetering a fine line between sanity and madness. She felt as though she was made of glass, and a small hammer – held in the hand of each man – was chipping away at her. She was sure that at any second she would shatter into a million jagged pieces. The larger pieces – representing Dillon – cut into her flesh. The smaller slivers – Gavin – stuck under her skin. Either way, both were slicing into her heart, leaving her a bleeding corpse of the woman she once was. She felt like she was watching herself from a distance – no longer in control of her thoughts, no longer in control of the path she was walking. As she stared at her reflection in the mirror, she couldn't deny there was a small sense of relief that had washed over her once she'd arrived at the church to see Gavin hadn't shown up – yet, her ache for him remained. A part of her knew she was being elusive. She was trying to fuse back together what'd been broken between her and Dillon, knowing a huge amount of their relationship had crystallized into dust. Still, she needed something to hold on to – and that something was a tiny glimmer of hope that she could bring her feelings for Dillon back to where they used to be.

She needed to fall back in love with him.

However, she had become a very good liar herself lately, playing into her own game of staunch resistance to the obvious. She now felt like the master of trickery because she knew that she was trying to delude herself into thinking that she'd be able to forget Gavin. Forget every stolen glance they had shared, every accidental brush of their flesh, and every moment they experienced together – right down to the second she knew she loved him. The force of will and string of lies she was trying to convince herself of would never be enough to keep her heart from splitting along the scars and stitches of the mess that was left. So tonight – as she stood staring back at the hollow shell of the woman she had now become – she wondered how far the delusion would get her into her marriage, wondered how long Gavin would haunt her every waking thought, and wondered how long she could fool herself.

Trying to compose herself, Emily tore her gaze from her reflection when Fallon walked into the restroom.

"Are you alright?" Fallon asked, making her way over to her. "Or are you still feeling nauseous?"

Emily shook her head and cleared her throat. "No, I'm okay right now." She tucked her lipstick into her purse. "Is Olivia here yet?"

"She just texted me, saying she'd be here in two minutes," she responded, handing Emily her purse. She walked into one of the stalls. "She had to stop off somewhere after the church."

"Where did Trevor go?" Emily asked, placing their purses on the counter.

"When we got here, he realized he didn't have any cash on him," she called out. "He ran up to an ATM."

Drawing in a deep breath, Emily flipped on the water and started washing her hands. It was then that Olivia popped into the restroom.

"Hey," she chirped, pulling her scarf from her neck.

"Where did you have to go?" Emily probed and reached for a paper towel.

She plopped her belongings onto the counter and studied her reflection in the mirror. She glanced at Emily. "I…uh, had to get cash."

"Why does everyone think they need cash while they're here?" Emily asked, quirking a brow. "Everything's paid for tonight."

"To tip the servers." Olivia shrugged. "You, out of all people, should know that."

"Oh, yeah, I guess I should," she answered absently, her voice trailing off.

"Your head's not where it should be. I get it."

Emily gave her a questioning look.

"I know Dickhead hasn't noticed your act lately since he's been consumed with working late again, but I have." Emily started to speak, but Olivia continued. "I have to admit that I think it's bullshit that he's been working late. But, hey, you seem to believe him, so I guess that's all that counts, right?"

Emily let out an exasperated sigh. "Oh God, please don't start with me about this again, Liv." She plucked her purse from the counter. "Not now. I can't, and I won't."

"I'm just trying to make sense of all of this, Emily." Gently grabbing her by the elbow, Olivia effectively stopped her from walking out. With tears welling in her eyes, Emily looked at her. "You're in love with somebody else – yet, you're marrying another man. Stop. Take a step back. Honestly, just stop and think about what you're about to do."

Emily stood mute and stared at her.

Biting her lip and noticeably uncomfortable, Fallon stepped out from the stall and started washing her hands. She quickly dried them and reached for her purse. "I'm just gonna leave you two alone," she said, walking to the door. Olivia nodded. "I'll see you guys inside."

"You don't have to do this," Olivia whispered, looking back to Emily after Fallon walked out. "Even if you don't believe Gavin, you don't have to marry Dillon."

"I love Dillon," she answered, looking down, her tone low.

Taking her chin in her hand, Olivia lifted her face. "I have no doubt in my mind that you love him, Emily, but you're no longer in love with him and to think that you can make yourself fall back in love with him is completely delusional, friend."

Emily swiped a tear off her cheek. "I can fall back in love with him." She stared at Olivia for a long moment and then made her way over to the door. Turning around, she sniffled and shook her head. "I'm marrying him tomorrow, Olivia. You can support me or not – and I hope to God you can – but I'm doing it."

With that, Emily swung the door open. Before her mind could even begin to compute the conversation that'd just taken place, her eyes locked on icy blues – those mesmerizing icy blues that caused her unimaginable heartbreak, confusion, and her now rapid breathing. Frozen. Literally feeling frozen to her spot, Emily couldn't move as she stared at Gavin from across the lobby of the restaurant. He looked more disheveled than she could've ever imagined, but it didn't stop her body from reacting to his sensually beautiful face – that breathtakingly pained face staring back at her. Almost instantly, she felt her heart drumming within her chest, felt the tiny beads of sweat crawl across every pore on her skin, and felt every hair on her body stand on end. Although guests from several different parties floated across the lobby, their eyes never unlocked from one another. With his hands tucked into the pockets of his jeans, Emily's breath hitched in the back of her throat as he began to make his way toward her. She faintly registered the sound of the restroom door closing behind her when Olivia emerged.

"You have to talk to him," Olivia said, placing a hand on her back.

Before Emily could protest, Gavin was standing right in front of her. With the smell of his cologne tickling her nose and his eyes intent on her, she was sure she was going to pass out.

"You look beautiful," he whispered, stepping closer. And, God, she did. Her wavy auburn hair falling over a white button-up blouse paired with a short red skirt and black knee-high leather boots had Gavin fighting for control. He was a fool to think he could've stayed away after what Olivia had told him, so this was his last ditch effort to get her back.

Swallowing hard, Emily stepped away from him, her back pressing against Olivia's chest. "Why are you here?" she breathed out. She nervously tore her gaze from his, looking around for Dillon. "You have to leave."

A sad smile tipped the corner of Gavin's mouth, his voice low. "Well, I am in the wedding party. But I think it's apparent why I'm really here." He stepped closer. It was then that Emily could smell the liquor on his breath. "And, no, doll, I'm not leaving until we talk. Do you understand me?"

Shocked, she didn't answer. In fact, she had no words at all. Emily simply stared at him.

Gavin flicked his eyes in Olivia's direction. "You'll keep an eye out for Dillon?"

Olivia nodded. "I checked on my way in. There's an empty room over here," she said, pointing to a door adjacent to them. "Make it quick though."

Jerking herself away from Olivia, Emily narrowed her eyes. "You set this up?"

Olivia gave a casual shrug.

After pinning Olivia with a lethal look, Emily turned to Gavin. "I'm not talking to you," she scoffed as she went to walk away.

He caught her by the elbow. "Then I guess you're going to force me into making an announcement about the two of us right here at your party."

"You wouldn't do that," she huffed, pulling her arm away from him.

"Mmm, that you're incorrect about," he chuckled as his body swayed. He turned his attention to an older man walking past them. "Excuse me, sir," he called out, his voice booming.

The gray-haired gentleman – who thankfully wasn't with Emily's group – looked at him. "Can I help you?"

"Yes, sir. You see, I'm having a problem. I'm absolutely in love with this beautiful woman here," Gavin said, pointing to Emily. Her eyes widened in disbelief at his actions. "And she won't give me a few minutes to explain an extremely fucked-up misunderstanding. Would you have any suggestions as to how I should handle this?"

Appearing not at all in the least bit interested, the man shook his head and walked away.

"Fine," Emily whispered, her tone heated. "I'm giving you two minutes." Spinning on her heels, she abruptly pushed through the doors to the room.

Gavin looked to Olivia. "Keep him busy for as long as you can."

She nodded.

Upon entering the empty banquet room, Gavin found Emily staring at him with her arms crossed in obvious annoyance. In the darkness of the space, lit only by the opulent moon beyond a massive window, he could see the roaring fire behind her green eyes. As he walked toward her, she backed away and nearly stumbled over a tower of stacked chairs.

"Don't walk away from me, Emily," he commanded, his voice low as he moved closer.

"Don't you dare tell me what to do," she spat with her chin tipped up in defiance. She continued to back away from him, the sound of her heels echoing throughout the room. She wanted to be impenetrable to his smell, his voice, and his face, but she knew the closer he got – under the cool gleam of those blue eyes – that would be impossible.

Undeterred, he continued his carnal pursuit until he had her backed against a table. Emily took a steeling breath as he slowly ran his hand over the curve of her jaw, up the side of her ear, where it ultimately came to a rest on the nape of her neck. Biting his lip, he bent his head and stared at her, their breathing both heavy.

"When I wanted to call, I didn't, but I almost did. When I needed to see you, and Jesus Christ, I've needed to see you so fucking bad, I got in my car, and then I got back out," he whispered, smoothing his free hand down the side of her waist. "Tell me you love me, Emily."

"Fuck you," she hissed, her chest rising and falling.

He smirked, coaxing her face closer so it was mere inches from his. "Those pretty lips are hiding a lie." Gripping her waist tighter, he pulled her into his chest, the thrumming of their hearts colliding against one another's. "You think you can just rid me from your thoughts? You can't. You're mine, Emily. Fucking mine," he growled.

Emily didn't think. She couldn't. It was impossible. Before she knew it, she threw her arms around his neck and jerked him down to her mouth. With her hands white-knuckled in his hair, she moaned against his lips. This wasn't a passionate kiss. No. This kiss brooked no room for argument, and it was just as much angry and possessive on both parts. Hot, sweltering, pent-up aggravation transferred from one to the other – yet, love was there as they both clung to each other. Lips still locked, Gavin picked her up off her feet and sat her on a table, spreading open her thighs while he pushed himself in between her legs. Emily tried to catch her breath as he grabbed the back of her knees and hooked her legs around his waist. The sweet taste of alcohol lingering in his mouth nearly intoxicated her. A deep groan rumbled in the back of Gavin's throat as his tongue swept over hers. The harder Emily tugged at his hair, the harder Gavin kissed her. The harder he kissed her, the further she fell – forgetting where she was and who she was, forgetting space, forgetting time, and forgetting how he'd hurt her so.

"Tell me you love me," he snarled, the words spoken into her mouth as his hand slipped under her skirt.

When he yanked her panties down, all Emily could concentrate on was the feeling of flames beginning to lick through her – and that feeling was threatening the last shreds of her self-control. His hand curved over her hot flesh. He slid two fingers into her syrupy wetness as his thumb circled her clit. Letting out a gasp, she tore her mouth from his, her arms clinging around his neck as her breathing flew past her lips, coming muffled into his shoulder. In all her anger, love, passion, and hurt, she bit down and sank her teeth into his skin. She wanted blood. She wanted him to hurt – wanted him to feel the same agony and pain she had felt every day since that devastating morning. Gavin groaned out, and with his free hand, he fisted the back of her hair and tilted her head up, her back now taut as a bow. His eyes bored into hers. With his breathing heavy and his fingers still sliding in and out of her, his mind drowned in the sound of her panting. He crushed his lips over hers again.

"If I could, I'd rip my heart out to show you how much I love you." He brought his lips up, nipping at her ear, and she nearly came on his fingers. "Fuck, I miss you. I love you so much, and you're killing me, Emily."

"You bastard, you don't love me. I hate you, Gavin. I hate you," she cried out and tried to push him away.

He wouldn't let her though. He snaked his arm around her lower back, pulling her to the very edge of the table, his fingers never stopping their delicious onslaught inside her pussy. Thrusting her hands back into his hair, a moan escaped Emily's lips as her head fell back, exposing her neck in all its beauty. Gavin took the opportunity and buried his face against her collarbone. He traced a wet torrid line up her neck, nipping and sucking until his mouth was over hers again.

"I wish I could hate you – it'd be easier – but you have no idea how much I love you," he breathed out, sucking in her bottom lip and gently biting it. "And that's not hate you're feeling for me. You love me, goddamn it. You're mad at something that didn't happen. Fucking hit me again. Fucking punch me if you need to, but stop saying you don't love me because all you're doing is lying to yourself. You're tearing us apart."

Still clinging to his hair, she pulled her lips away from his. They were both fighting for air as they burned holes into one another's eyes. With one hand still buried in his hair, she smacked him in the face with the other, the sound reverberating throughout the room. At the same time, a moan left her mouth as she felt Gavin's fingers slip out from inside her – her body left feeling torturously bereft by their absence.

"I hate you," she cried out as her entire body braced itself for battle.

"No, you don't. You love me, and I love you," he growled through gritted teeth, glowering back at her. He brought his hands up and cupped her cheeks. "Hit me again if you have to, doll. Just do it. Fucking hit me again and get it all out."

She didn't hesitate. She smacked him again, fury and confusion burning deep inside as angry tears spilled down her cheeks.

Pulling her by the waist off the table, he set her on her feet and crashed his lips over hers again. "Leave with me right now. Don't do this. Don't marry him," he pleaded into her mouth, his words vibrating against her lips. Grabbing fistfuls of his sweatshirt, Emily's eyes rolled back into her head as she sank into the familiarity of his kiss, his smell, and his touch. "We'll tell him together. I told you I wouldn't let you do it alone. Gina means nothing to me anymore. I shouldn't have let her in, but for fuck's sake, I didn't do anything with her."

Pain.

There it was again, sweeping as fresh as an open wound through her soul. It bled out with no sign of letting up. Whispering his sweet words of seduction while trying to veil the bitter taste of the ugly truth, he was trying to break her down into nothing but tiny particles of dust. Like a whip, the harsh reality of what he was trying to do cracked through her chest, disturbing her thoughts with its potency. Immediately, without conscious effort, the gates around the fortress of her shattered heart closed. The most important thing now was to protect the remaining pieces.

She shoved hard against his chest, effectively pushing him away. Looking down, scrambling to pull her panties back up, she couldn't see the shock on his face. Without a backward glance, she headed toward the door. In a few quick strides, Gavin was at her side. Not intending to let her leave the room, he caught her by the arm and pulled her to a skidded stop.

Swiping tears away from her hooded eyes, she looked up at him.

With his soul crying out for her to believe him, his expression creased painfully. "I've never felt so heartbroken and so in love at the same time. If you would've told me the day we met that you were going to break my heart –  and that days, months, or even years would pass, that I would still be hurting like this – it wouldn't have stopped me from falling in love with you," he whispered, his voice cracking. "But I would've done one thing differently, and loving you any less isn't one of them." He slowly brought his knuckles up to her face, wiping the tears away from her beautiful confused eyes, his voice soft. "I wouldn't have let her in. That's the only thing I would've changed, Emily. I wouldn't have fucking let her in."

As her body trembled from head to toe, Emily stood there staring at him, but before she could speak a word, the door flung open.

Olivia poked her head inside. "Em, Joan is scouring the fucking restaurant for you right now," she whispered, her tone urgent.

Sniffling, Emily tore her gaze from Gavin, her heart grating to shreds in the process. Her mind was no less confused than when she'd first stepped in there with him. Trying to calm herself down, she took a deep breath, smoothed her hands through her hair, and walked out of the room.

Gavin followed – his thoughts no less fucked-up either.

Emily looked to him as Olivia hastily handed her a tissue. "You have to leave, Gavin."

Shocked by her words, confusion and anger clouded his eyes. "I'm not going anywhere." He shook his head. "I'm in this wedding party, and I'm staying."

She glared icicles at him. "You're just trying to hurt me now."

"You know what," he said, swallowing tightly. "Maybe I am. Maybe I'm trying to hurt you as much as you're hurting me. The saddest part about this whole thing is that while I was in there begging you to stay, I didn't fucking realize you were already gone. So, yeah, I'm staying, and I hope you fucking hurt through every second of it as much as I will. Deal with it."

After her mouth snapped shut from hanging agape, Emily spun around in the direction of the bathroom.

"No!" Olivia called out, grabbing her by the arm. "You don't have time. You have to get in there right now, Em." She plucked the tissue from Emily's hand, licked it, and started wiping off the streams of mascara that were blanketing her cheeks.

Watching her intently, Gavin smirked. "Don't forget about the lipstick that's smeared all over her."

Emily shot him a look.

"I'm cool, right? There's no lipstick left on me?" he asked, his smirk turning into a full-watted smile. "I love getting kissed by women who claim that they don't love me – makes my dick hard as a motherfucker."

Letting out a heavy sigh, Olivia handed Emily her lipstick.

"Oh my God, Gavin, now you're just being an asshole," Emily spat, reaching for the lipstick. She quickly slid it across her lips.

"Mmm, you haven't seen anything yet," he chuckled, tossing his hand through his unruly black hair. "I have a feeling I'm going to break my own record tonight." He went to walk away but turned back around. "And, if I recall correctly, I think I told you once not to bring any attention to those pretty little lips. Put the lipstick away or else I'll drag you right back in that room and really change your fucking mind." He slowly ran his tongue over his mouth while his eyes shimmered with insatiable lust.

Olivia raised a surprised brow as Emily's mouth dropped open.

Heart broken into pieces, he turned in a leisurely pivot, tucked his hands in the pocket of his jeans, and sauntered into the party room. Scanning the modestly sized space filled with thirty or so people, it didn't take him long to lock eyes with Dillon. Gavin grunted to himself as he walked over to the bar and ordered himself a much-needed shot of tequila and a bottle of beer. He threw a $100 tip to the bartender and turned around, only to find Dillon standing behind him.

Swallowing down the need to beat the shit out of him, Gavin couldn't help but let out a laugh. "Ah, and there he is – the lucky fucking groom." He tossed that much-needed shot down his throat, and out of the corner of his eye, he watched Emily float into the room. "And there's your beautiful bride," he said, gesturing with his head in her direction.

With a suspicious look on his face, Dillon stared at him for a moment and then turned around, motioning Emily over to them. If Dillon couldn't notice it – the way she nervously looked at them – Gavin sure as hell did. When she approached, Gavin popped the top off his beer, arched a perfect brow, and bit his lip, making sure she heard the luscious smacking noise as he pulled it through his teeth.

She glared at him.

"Are you alright?" Dillon probed. "You look upset."

"I'm fine," she replied, her voice monotone, her eyes never leaving Gavin's.

"Are you sure? You seem…off."

Drawing in a shaky breath, she finally looked at Dillon. "Yes."

After placing a kiss on the corner of her mouth, Dillon curled his arm around her waist and turned his attention to Gavin. "What's the deal, man?" he asked, giving him a quick once over. "You never showed up to the church, and now you come to my rehearsal dinner looking like this?"

As Gavin watched Dillon circle his thumb against Emily's waist, seething anger, sharp as razor blades, shredded at his stomach. He flicked his eyes up in her direction. "I'm having a problem with a woman right now," Gavin answered evenly.

"And? That doesn't garner you showing up here looking like that." Dillon retorted.

With her pulse quickening, Emily could see the fire surging behind Gavin's eyes. "Dillon," she immediately interrupted, "does it really matter what he's dressed in? Let's go sit down, okay?"

"Yeah, it matters. He – "

"Dillon," she interrupted again, her tone more insistent. "I'm not kidding. Let's just go sit." Dillon narrowed his eyes on her, and with that, she decided to bring her tone down a notch. "I don't feel good right now alright. Come on," she said, grabbing for his hand.

"I'd listen to her if I were you," Gavin smirked, draping his arm over the bar. He took a long pull from his beer, nearly finishing it. "Just a guess, of course, but if you piss her off enough, she seems like the type that might smack a guy." Emily's eyes widened as he ran his palm over the spot where she had slapped him. "And I bet it'd sting like a bitch, too," he added, turning his back to them. His attention was now focused on ordering another beer to help aid in the self-inflicted hell he was putting himself through.

"What's your problem, bro?" Dillon asked, tapping him on his shoulder.

Gavin didn't turn around. "One, I'm not your bro, and two, I told you that I'm having a problem with a woman."

"He's just drunk I think," Emily whispered against Dillon's ear, her heart thundering in her chest. "Let's go talk to my sister and Michael."

After staring at the back of Gavin's head for a few lingering seconds, Dillon looked to Emily and gave a tight nod. Knees weak with relief, Emily silently released the breath she was holding. As they turned and made their way through the party, she made eye contact with Olivia from across the room where she stood talking with Fallon. Shaking her head, Olivia looked down to the ground and then back to Emily. It was then that Emily realized that she and Gavin's situation had put all of their friends in a very bad spot – and for this, the unrest in her stomach grew. Trying to push her guilt to the side, she plastered a smile on her face as she walked hand in hand with Dillon through the room, greeting their guests.

After enduring a few minutes of light conversation – namely with guests she barely knew – Emily's eyes landed on her sister, Lisa, and her husband. Considering the torture the evening had shown thus far, Emily felt slightly at ease as they approached her and Dillon.

A wide friendly smile spread across her brother-in-law's face as he pulled her in for a hug. "Where'd you run off to before, soon-to-be Mrs. Parker?"

Crossing his arms, Dillon cocked his head to the side after Michael released her from his hold. "Yeah. Where were you actually? My mother said she looked everywhere and couldn't find you."

Emily opened her mouth to speak, her heart racing.

"Michael," Lisa chirped up, glancing at Emily. Her hazel eyes showed a wealth of knowledge. "I told you she went outside for a breath of fresh air."

Staring at her sister, Emily gave a weak smile and mentally thanked her for the save.

Appearing confused by his wife's statement, Michael ran a hand through his tousled brown hair. "Hmm, maybe you did," he laughed, holding up his martini. "It's quite possible that I've had one too many of these."

"Why'd you go outside?" Dillon asked, placing his hand on the small of her back. "I asked if you were alright before, and you said you were fine."

Smiling, Lisa reached for Emily's hand. "Us girls can get a little…emotional before the big day." Feeling nearly lightheaded, Emily gripped her hand tighter. "Michael, why don't you explain to Dillon what we're looking to do with our retirement fund? I'd like to talk with my sister about the semantics of the wonderful 'honeymoon' phase."

"Oh, yeah," Michael said, turning to Dillon. Dillon peered at Emily for a second and adjusted his tie. "If we don't get our shit together, Lisa and I will most definitely not be retiring on an island somewhere."

Hesitantly, Dillon dragged his gaze from Emily and gave Michael his attention.

Hands still locked, Lisa pulled Emily through the party, avoiding every possible guest that tried to stop and talk with her. Taking a seat at a small cocktail table in the corner of the room, she gave Emily a sympathetic look.

"What did he say to you?" Lisa whispered with panicked curiosity burning behind her eyes.

Emily rubbed the side of her temples. "He keeps saying he didn't do anything with her," she answered, trying to keep the stinging tears threatening her eyes from spilling out. "He just…I don't know."

Pressing her lips into a hard line, Lisa studied her with concern. "Emily, is it at all possible that he's telling the truth?"

Slowly, Emily turned her head, her gaze immediately locking with Gavin's. As it did every time she stared at his beautiful face, her heart raced, and her breathing became uneven. Though he was talking with Trevor, standing with both elbows propped on the bar, his eyes were intent on hers. The sadness surrounding his presence was sickening, dragging her spirit down with him. Emily didn't know how long they stared at one another, but it felt like forever. She ran a hand through her hair, the need to believe his words growing to unbearable heights in her chest. Unwillingly, she tore her attention from his, bringing it back to her sister.

"I'm so confused, Lisa," she whispered. "I keep seeing her open his door. She wasn't dressed…she was so…beautiful."

Before Lisa could question the situation any further, Joan called out to Emily from a few feet away. Emily's head snapped up, her body trembling in the process.

"There you are," Joan huffed, a questioning look molding her face. "I searched – "

"Yes, Joan," Lisa interrupted, rising to her feet. She reached for Emily's hand, and Emily stood up with her. "We know. You searched high and low for my sister. She needed a breather. I'm sure you understand how nervous a bride can be the day before her wedding," she said, offering a smile, one that Emily knew to be as fake as they come.

Joan drew up a slow brow. "Of course I can," she flitted. Taking a sip of her white wine, she waved her hand in the direction of the U-shaped table in the middle of the room. "Everyone needs to take a seat now. The maitre d' just notified me that the waiters should be coming around shortly to get everyone's orders."

Without waiting for a response from either, Joan turned on her heels, her voice echoing throughout the room as she repeated her announcement to the rest of the guests.

Lisa rolled her eyes. "I swear if that woman dyed her hair anymore blonde than it is, she could beat out the sun in its blinding effects."

Emily pulled in a deep breath, shaking her head.

Cupping Emily's cheeks between her hands, Lisa leaned into her ear. "I love you, little sis. I wish I could help you through this. The only advice I can offer is to go with what your heart's telling you." Emily stared into her eyes, reflections of their mother swirling around her head. "It doesn't matter that tomorrow's the big day. You could postpone it until you figure all of this out with Gavin. The important thing here is that tomorrow represents the rest of your life. You need to know that you're spending it with the correct man. Don't feel stuck in a box. You know Michael and I will help you in whatever way is needed, right?"

Grabbing for her sister's hand, Emily nodded and started making her way through the crowd. With every step she took, the sound of a clock's pendulum swaying in her head reverberated through her ears.

Time was running out.

Tick…

Dillon's words to her a few hours before she took him back:

"Do you remember what your mother told us before she died, Emily? She told us to take care of one another. She told us to stick through whatever uphill battles life throws at us and to never give up on our relationship."

Tock….

Gavin's searing pleas to her in the rain.

"You don't hate me. You love me. And, Jesus Christ, Emily, I love you with everything inside of me, with everything I am, with everything I'll ever be."

Palms sweaty and body shaking, Emily took another few steps across the room.

Tick-tock…

Trying to fight back tears, Dillon's voice kept pounding inside her thoughts:

"Let me fix it. I can fix it and make us better again. I can bring us back to where we used to be."

Tick-tock…tick-tock…

"Leave with me right now. Don't do this. Don't marry him. We'll tell him together. I told you I wouldn't let you do it alone. Gina means nothing to me anymore. I shouldn't have let her in, but for fuck's sake, I didn't do anything with her."

Tick-tock…tick-tock…tick-tock…

Feeling completely torn, it was all Emily could do to make it to her chair without passing out. Letting go of Lisa's hand, she sank into her seat at the head of the table, her eyes following Gavin as he moved across the room. He positioned himself just diagonally from her, their view of one another as unobstructed as a full moon on a clear night. Draping an arm across Trevor's chair next to him, Gavin tipped his bottle of beer in Emily's direction with a lazy smile on his lips.

Shifting uncomfortably in her seat, Emily tore her attention from him when Dillon sat down next to her. As he leaned over to kiss her, her eyes flew back to Gavin's, and if she wasn't mistaken, she could see his jaw tense. Swallowing hard, she quickly pulled away from him.

"What the hell is wrong with you tonight?" Dillon asked, his tone showing annoyance.

She cleared her throat. "Nothing. I told you I wasn't feeling well. That's all."

"I hope that by tomorrow you'll snap out of whatever's going on with you," he said, pulling his seat up to the table. "And something tells me you're fucking lying about not feeling well."

Emily's body rippled with an involuntary shudder at the thought that he could see right through her. Not saying a word, she reached across the table for her glass of water. Nervously sipping it, she tried to coax her racing thoughts down. One of the waiters circling the room approached to take their orders, offering temporary reprieve from the conversation. She needed a strong drink desperately, but considering Dillon told her he hadn't drank since he'd returned from Florida, she decided to forgo it. Trying to keep her eyes from roaming to Gavin's, she kept her head downcast, staring at her twisting hands in her lap.

"So," Dillon's cousin, Peter, called out to him from across the table, "one would assume that you and the Mrs. are going to start working on making some babies tomorrow night after the wedding."

Emily's head snapped up, her eyes darting to Gavin.

Gazing at her, a tight smirk curled Gavin's lips. "They should have bucketloads of babies – and a green minivan, too."

Emily's mouth hung ajar as she watched him casually lean back in his seat. Downing the rest of his beer, he gave a shrug and exhaled a light laugh that didn't reach his eyes.

Other than those who knew what was going on between them, the room broke out into quaking hysterics.

"Let's hope so, Gavin," Henry chuckled. "Joan and I want us some grandbabies as soon as possible. If they could fill a green minivan with little ones, then that would just make us all the happier."

"Well, I don't know about making babies just yet, but I know we'll have fun practicing." Dillon replied, tossing his arm around Emily's shoulder. Smiling weakly, she smoothed her hand down her neck, the perspiration on her body mounting by the second. "And the green minivan's not happening."

"Okay, enough talk about green minivans," Joan laughed. "Peter, since you're the best man, I'm sure you've prepared some sort of speech for the evening."

"Actually, Aunt Joan, I didn't," he replied, motioning one of the waiters over. "Just the one I've expertly prepared on index cards for tomorrow."

"Oh, come on, Peter." She leaned her elbows on the table, folding her hands under her chin. "You don't need the index cards. Just get up and say something to our bride and groom."

"I'd be happy to make a speech for our wonderful bride and groom," Gavin chimed in, flicking his icy blue eyes to Emily.

Emily stared at him, her heart nearly stopping.

"Nah, you don't want to make a speech, Gavin," Trevor interjected, the nervousness in his voice clearly showing he was trying to salvage the situation. "You've never been good at them to begin with."

Rising from his seat, Gavin swayed slightly. He looked to Joan. "I took public speaking courses in college, so Trevor has no fucking idea what he's talking about. I'm pretty good at this shit."

"Killer save, Blake," Peter laughed. "I'm horrible at them, index cards or not."

"Okay, Gavin. Work your magic," Joan trilled, a beaming smile playing on her lips.

Sitting next to her, Olivia reached for Emily's hand and whispered, "Holy… mother… fucking… shit."

Emily quickly looked to Trevor, her eyes pleading. He shook his head and shrugged.

Pivoting, Gavin turned to face Emily and Dillon, his eyes immediately locking on hers. Trying to suppress her trembling body, she felt nearly on the verge of crying as she watched him reach for his beer.

"Mmm, what to say, what to say," Gavin whispered, staring at Emily. He planted his feet and leaned up against the wall, his head lolling slightly. "Well, let's start with the truth. That's a good idea, right?" he questioned, his voice louder. He looked around for a second at the abundance of smiling faces watching him. Pushing himself off the wall, he brought his gaze back to Emily's. "I was taught telling the truth was always a good thing…and the truth for me is that if I say I wish you and Dillon the best of luck…I'd be lying…because I fucking don't."

The smiling faces that had been plentiful dropped. Right after Joan let out a gasp, a thick silence descended throughout the room. Heart pounding and breathing shallow, Emily stared at Gavin, the pain in his eyes searing through every limb in her body. Feeling Dillon's hand clench her shoulder slightly, Emily turned toward him, finding his eyes narrowed like a snake on Gavin.

Trevor cleared his throat and rose from his chair. "See, it's apparent alcohol is making the speech for Gavin right now," he nervously laughed. "Told ya he was never good at these things."

"Sit down, Trevor," Gavin mumbled, his eyes never leaving Emily's.

"Really, man," Trevor started. "I think – "

"Sit…down…Trevor," he slowly repeated.

Pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose, Trevor hesitantly took his seat again.

After a few moments of intently staring at her, Gavin's gaze moved across the room. "Really, people, it was a joke – a simple fucking joke. Of course I wish them luck. How could I not, right? Such a wonderful couple who's going to make bucketloads of babies," he chuckled, crossing his arms. "Maybe they'll make those babies in the back of a green minivan."

"Gavin," Henry politely spoke up. "Son, you might want to wrap this up. Dinner should be out soon."

"Yeah, wrap it the fuck up," Dillon said, his cold, steady voice reaching across the room. Clenching Emily's shoulder harder, his forehead wrinkled. "Now, Blake."

Emily's lips quivered. The room suddenly felt small as if the building was crashing in around her. With her heart stuttering in her chest, she looked to Gavin. His mouth turned up one of the saddest, sweetest smiles she'd ever seen.

Raising his beer in the air, Gavin fiercely rubbed a palm over his face. "Right, right, wrap it up. Okay," he said, looking around the room. "Everyone raise your glasses for the lovely bride and groom."

With uncomfortable tension churning in the air, friends and family slowly reached for their drinks.

Eyes intent solely on Emily, Gavin drew in a deep breath. "Here's to bottle caps, the Yankees and 'birds,' and most of all…" He paused, his voice lowering to a whisper. "And, most of all, to a beautiful girl named Molly who refuses to believe the man who loves her – the man who loves her more than she'll ever know." He then let out a light condescending laugh. "Oh, yeah…and to Emily and Dillon."

Doubt.

There it was. Though barely skimming the surface, it was there, making itself known, stirring every nerve in Emily's body. From somewhere deep within, her mind screamed out that he might not be lying to her. Closing her eyes, she choked back a sob that threatened to crawl up her throat.

Opening them back up, she felt her face go white as Dillon slowly – so slowly – turned in her direction, his eyes anchoring her with something she'd never seen before. With a frown snapping between his brows, he quickly turned and pinned Gavin with a glacial look.

Rising from his seat, Trevor grabbed for Gavin's arm. "Come on, bro, I think you've had a little too much to drink for the night. I'm gonna take you home."

Still staring at Emily, Gavin jerked his arm away. "That's cool," he sniffed haughtily. "This party fucking sucks anyway."

Emily faintly registered the sound of Joan letting out yet another gasp.

Reaching for Emily's hand, Dillon stood up. "I think me and Emily will walk you out, Gavin," he replied, his voice ominously low with visible fury burning in his eyes.

Gavin glared at him a moment. He then turned and started making his way out of the room with Trevor.

Trying to suck in air that didn't seem to exist, Emily rose from her chair, tremors rolling off her body in waves.

Standing up, Olivia whispered, "I'm going out with you guys."

"We'll be right back," Dillon announced, his grip on Emily's hand tightening.

"Is everything alright?" Henry probed, also rising from his chair.

"Everything's fine, Dad," Dillon answered, walking past him.

Emily's sister looked at her with concern filling her eyes. She also went to stand up, but with two sharp shakes of her head, Emily mouthed for her not to. Reluctantly, she sat back down and whispered something into Michael's ear.

As Dillon dragged her through the lobby, Emily struggled to keep up, her palm sweaty against his. When they stepped out of the restaurant into the frigid air, her eyes locked on Gavin, but he wasn't looking at her. His focus was intent on Dillon.

Dillon snapped his head back and forth between Gavin and Emily. "Are you two fucking around?" he spit out through clenched teeth.

"No, Dillon," Emily breathlessly answered, her body rolling with fear and nausea. "Nothing's going on. Gavin's just drunk."

Gavin's blue eyes hardened to gemstone brightness, bloodlust surging through his veins. "You don't deserve her," he growled, stepping closer to Dillon until their faces were almost touching. "Not… one… fucking… inch," he added, his tone seething.

Before Emily's heart took another beat, Dillon cocked his arm back and connected a sharp blow against Gavin's mouth. Letting out a gasp, Emily pulled on Dillon's bicep as she watched Gavin slightly stagger back. A cocky smirk washed over his face when he regained his bearings. Stepping forward, he wiped his hand across his bloodied mouth, his smirk never wavering as his hate-filled eyes never left Dillon's. Dillon launched at Gavin again, but Trevor grabbed him and held him back. As if unaffected by any of it, Gavin stood as still as stone, glaring at him. Letting out a huff, he spit at Dillon. His blood-tinged saliva landed on Dillon's cheek, slowly dripping its way down his face. Henry came rushing out of the restaurant, his eyes wide at the scene unfolding.

"You motherfucker!" Dillon yelled, struggling against Trevor and Henry's hold. "I'll fucking kill you, asshole!"

"Gavin!" Olivia let out. "Come on, I'm taking you home!"

Walking backward with Olivia tugging on his arm, Gavin stared at Emily. She could feel his cold and pain-stricken gaze slide over her. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a bottle cap and fingered it in his hand before flicking it at her. Emily felt it hit against her chest, her heart constricting and clenching in the process. Averting her eyes down, as though in slow motion, she watched as it hit the ground, spinning recklessly in circles. It mimicked her every emotion. Although Dillon continued his yelling and other patrons had gathered outside, the only sound piercing through Emily's ears, like nails against a chalkboard, was the bottle cap clinking and clanking. It reverberated in her soul as a single tear broke loose, slipping down her cheek. Slowly lifting her head, Emily found Gavin staring at her. His beautiful face looked weary, broken, and defeated. He turned, and like a ghost vanishing through the air, he disappeared into Olivia's car. In that second, with her heart in her stomach, Emily was sure that this last vision of him would sear itself into her mind, haunting her forever.

As she watched the taillights of the vehicle fade into a distant glow amid Manhattan's chaotic traffic, she felt Dillon's hand wrap around her arm, his ironclad grip burning into her flesh. Before she knew it, he was quickly leading her back into the restaurant with Dillon's father and Trevor behind them. Swallowing hard, Emily swiped the tears away from her eyes, her body shaking and trembling from head to toe.

Once they entered the party room, Dillon let go of her and stalked over to the table where they'd been seated. Yanking her purse from the back of her chair, he fished his keys from his pocket, his face fevered with anger.

"Me and my fiancee are leaving," he barked out, making his way back over to Emily.

"You can't just leave, Dillon," Joan retorted, her tone insistent as she looked around. She rose from her chair, sweeping her hand across the room. "You have guests here. It's apparent something's going on between you and Emily, but you need to tend to that later."

He shot his mother a cold look. "Like I said, we're fucking leaving."

Joan's eyes bulged, and she went to speak, but Henry placed his hand on her shoulder, effectively silencing his wife.

"I know what the fuck I'm doing tomorrow," Dillon spewed, pointing to himself. After grabbing Emily's hand, he pointed to the bridal party. "Do you all know what you're doing tomorrow?"

With not a word whispered, the crowd of family and friends stared at him, nervously shifting in their seats. Emily's sister went to get up. Once again, Emily shook her head, her eyes essentially begging her not to do anything. Pursing her lips in transparent worry, Lisa crossed her arms, her eyes narrowing on Dillon. However, she remained silent.

"That's what I thought." He pulled Emily toward the door. "We'll see you all tomorrow at eleven."

After retrieving Emily's jacket from the coat check, Dillon weaved them through the lobby, nearly running into other guests. Once they reached his car, Emily drew in a deep breath, trying to coax down her stammering nerves. Sliding herself into the seat, she bit her lip nervously as she watched him round the vehicle, the blazing look in his eyes triggering an upsurge of fear throughout her entire system. Getting into the car, he slammed the door, and without looking at her, he started the engine. Suffocating.

Emily felt as if she was suffocating as he curtailed out of the parking spot, his hands tightening around the steering wheel, his jaw clenching and unclenching. As thoughts of Gavin fired off in her head, she noticed that they were heading in the wrong direction.

"I need to go back to my apartment," she whispered, the blood whooshing through her veins. It pounded and correlated with the throbbing pain in her chest.

"You're out of your fucking mind if you think I'm letting you go back to your place," he snapped, his eyes never leaving the road.

Emily's heart seized and then started racing as though it was about to burst right through her rib cage.

"You're staying with me tonight," he added, his tone harder. "I'll bring you home in the morning to get your shit before the ceremony."

Fumbling for something to say, she stared at him but cowered back when he whipped his head in her direction, the fury in his eyes threatening to torch her into flames. For the remainder of the ride, she kept quiet, and by the time they pulled up to his townhouse, she was sure she was already sinking into the fiery pits of hell. Getting out of the car, he didn't utter a word to her as they climbed the stairs to his front door.

With her nerves trembling and crawling against her skin, Emily jumped as Dillon slammed the door after they walked in. Ripping his jacket from his body, he loosened his tie and moved into the kitchen, pulling a bottle of Jack Daniels from the cabinet. After plucking a glass off the counter, he filled it to the brim, chugging half of it down. Brows knitted together, and hostility brimming in his irises like burning coals, he motioned her over to him with his finger.

Emily couldn't take in enough air as she slowly peeled her coat off and dropped her purse onto the sectional sofa. Staring at him from across the room, a cold spiral of fear ran down her spine.

"Come here, Emily," he said, his voice laced with a sickening calmness.

She swallowed, looking at him as he stared back at her. Inhaling as her footsteps echoed against the marble floor, she cautiously inched her way into the kitchen, the anxiety steadily building within her. Approaching him, bile rose in her throat when he darted his hand out, yanking her by the arm into his chest. Feeling his heart pound against hers, she didn't bring her eyes up to meet his. She couldn't. Something darker than fear had taken her over. Trying to catch her breath, she stared at his mouth that curled lopsided into a wicked grin.

Bringing his knuckles under her chin, he slowly lifted her face, looking into her eyes, his voice low. "You fucked him, didn't you?"

"No," she whispered, her voice weak, her muscles growing weaker by the second.

With his breath hot in her face, his tone remained the same but his eyes hardened. "And you expect me to believe that?"

"Yes," she answered, trying to keep her body from shaking.

Emily felt her stomach churn when he brought his other arm around her waist, kneading his fingers into the small of her back. He dipped his head, slowly running his nose along her brow. She pulled in a sharp breath as he used the weight of his body to push her back, pinning her against the cold granite counter. With tears welling in her eyes, her heart tripled over as she stared at him.

His dirty-blonde hair – usually meticulously styled – hung over his forehead. "You do know that if you fucked him, you mean absolutely nothing to him," he whispered, grazing his lips over the shell of her ear. "He'll fuck anything that opens its legs for him."

Though dread of what he'd said washed over her, and her heart felt exposed with torn open fresh wounds, she didn't reply as she tried to mentally push his words aside.

Burying his face in her hair, he pulled her tighter against his rigid chest. "Did you fuck him?"

"No, I didn't fuck him." Body still shaking, the whispered words slid from her mouth, her voice feigning innocence.

Slowly, he dragged his fingertips across her cheek and slid the pad of his thumb along her quivering lips. "Do you love me, Emily?" he asked, his eyes pinning her with malice.

Staring up at him, she was confused by the question and wasn't sure how to answer it. Her gaze reflectively dropped to the ground, her mind racing as she searched for something to say.

"We've had a rough couple of months, Dillon," she whispered, bringing her eyes back to his.

He cocked his head to the side. "You didn't answer my question." He leaned in closer, his breath whispering against her cheek, as his one hand gripped her waist while the other cupped the back of her neck. "Do you love me, Emily?"

She swallowed hard and stared at him, a sob breaking past her lips. "I do love you, but I think – "

He cut her off, quickly bringing his fingers up to her lips, silencing her.

Breathing heavily, her body trembled as he dropped his hands and placed them on the granite counter, caging her in like an animal.

"Then prove it to me," he whispered, his face inches from hers, the smell of liquor oozing from his mouth. "If you didn't fuck him – and if you love me, Emily – then prove it."

She stared at him – body, mind, and soul shaking – as he slowly slid his fingertips down her arm. Reaching for her hand, he hastily led her into his bedroom. He snapped the door closed and started removing his clothing. The entire time his eyes never left hers, their intent revealing an urgent dominancy to reclaim her.

"Take your clothes off," he ordered, his voice low as he approached her.

Standing completely naked before her, he breathed out heavily, the sound hanging in the air. Emily stood rooted to the ground, unmoving – dying inside little by little.

"You will prove it to me," he rebuked, framing her face with his hands. She looked away, but he cupped her chin, forcefully bringing her attention back to him. "Because if you don't," he whispered, leaning into her ear, "then I'll know you fucked him. And you want to know what'll happen then?"

With her heart ricocheting in her chest, she nervously swallowed, her throat feeling as though sandpaper coated the lining. She shook her head.

"You'll force me to hurt you both," he hissed, his hands fumbling to unbutton her blouse.

Standing completely still, without speaking, her instincts warned her to flee, but she couldn't. In the darkness of the room, the unshed tears she was trying to hide fell and tumbled down her cheeks. However, they fell silently as Dillon stripped her down to nothing – physically… mentally… and emotionally.

Pushing her onto the bed, he hovered over her naked body. His face was peppered with anger, lust, and possession. Spreading her legs open, he sank himself inside her, and it was then that the blackness of what Dillon had become enveloped her like a cold shadow. She knew in that very moment she was grasping onto something that would never be again. She could never love him the way she once did, and she could never love him the way she now loved Gavin. When her body had no more to give, she succumbed to the numbness that set in. Closing her eyes, she tried to shut herself down as he rocked into her harder, interminable pain pulsing through her head. She envisioned Gavin's blue eyes above her instead of the dark vengeful ones staring back at her. Inhaling, she tried to picture that it was Gavin's hands groping her breasts, Gavin's sweat dripping onto her body, and Gavin's lips kissing her mouth.

Gavin…

Dillon grunted and collapsed all of his weight on top of her when he finished. Within a few minutes, he was fast asleep. Hours. Emily lay there for hours, her mind replaying Gavin's words over and over. Feeling as though she had cheated on her own heart – the very heart that belonged in Gavin's hands – Emily slowly slid from the bed, her breathing shallow as her feet hit the ice-cold floors.

There would be no lace veils or vows taken tomorrow. No. There wouldn't be promises made or lies spoken. Gavin was correct. Her lips held lies, and those false truths had potentially ruined his and her future together. She loved him, and now she would go to him. She could only hope that he would forgive her for doubting him and his love for her. As quietly as possible, Emily gathered her clothing and got dressed. She also gathered the nerve she so desperately needed to finally leave Dillon. Turning, she stood in the threshold of his bedroom, watching his sleeping form.

As tears sprung in her eyes, she could feel her heart breaking and mending all at once. "Goodbye, Dillon," she whispered.

Almost tripping over her bare feet, Emily moved quickly into the living room and grabbed her shoes, coat, and purse. Trying to avoid making any noise, she slipped on her coat but kept her shoes in her hand as she tiptoed her way toward the front door. She reached for the knob, sucked in a deep breath, and slowly pulled it open. Though the door creaked, the sound echoing throughout the townhouse, her fear of waking Dillon was dwarfed by her incapacitating fear of losing Gavin forever.

The latter propelled her out into the cold winter air.

Tick-tock…