“Oh yeah? Well, I’m glad.”
“I guess…I’ll see you at our next appointment?” Hopefully it wouldn’t be too awkward, and they would be able to get through it without anyone catching on.
He nodded. “I think one more should finish it up.”
Silence stretched out for a moment. She wanted to leave; she didn’t want to leave. She wanted to escape…and she wanted to go back to his place and lie in his arms all day.
“Well,” he said at last, holding his hand out. “I’ll be seeing you.” Without hesitation, she took it, feeling a little thrill when he brought her hand to his lips and kissed the back. Her skin tingled where his mouth touched her. It tingled in lots of other places where it had touched her last night. As if the reminder of the way he kissed awakened her body and made it cry out for him.
Oh God. He was amazing. He made her feel like a teenager again. She had to get out of here before she fell into his arms and begged for a repeat.
Gabby mustered all her willpower and smiled, stepping back. She had the profound and disturbing feeling she was leaving behind something very important. “See you.”
He hung around until she started her car and pulled out. Then, in her review mirror, she watched him leave the parking lot on his motorcycle and speed off in the opposite direction. A red light caught her, so she was able to watch until his distant figure turned a corner and disappeared from sight.
Rain began to patter against her windshield. She stared straight ahead and tried to remember how to breathe.
She wasn’t early enough. As she drove up her parents’ driveway, she met her dad’s car as he was leaving for the office. Sighing when he began to slow, she braked and rolled her window down as he did the same.
“Looks like you missed curfew,” he said, which made her burst out laughing. Her dad could be pretty cool sometimes. And a hard-ass at other times. Like any one of his children, and certainly his wife. Gabby supposed she could lie and say she’d run an early errand…but then she’d have to make something up when he inevitably asked what it was, and she honestly didn’t have the brain power right now.
“I guess I did. I hope you didn’t wait up.”
“Your mom did. She’s still watching the front door.” He grinned, his eyes crinkling at the corners. “Just kidding. She was still upstairs when I left. If you hurry, you might miss her.”
“I think we need to have a talk later, Gabby.” Uh-oh. He might be in his most dangerous mood right now, actually—the disarming jovial façade to hide the hard-ass within. Those words had never boded well for any of his three kids whenever he uttered them.
“See you tonight.” He rolled up his window and moved on. She continued up the driveway, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth.
The “talk” he wanted to have was no doubt about her behavior of late—tattoos and staying out all night. She could understand. If one of her children began behaving in a way that was totally opposite from the way they’d behaved before, she’d be worried too, no matter how old they were. She only wished she had more of an explanation for them than wanting to try new things. With new people. Her love life had been nothing but one failed relationship after another—the last one spectacularly failed. If nothing she’d ever done had worked for her, then why keep doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results? That was the comical definition of insanity, wasn’t it? There was nothing wrong with changing it up a bit.
It had damn sure worked for her last night.
She would just reassure her parents tonight that she was okay, not to worry, and if they couldn’t be placated, then maybe she would open a discussion about going back to Dallas early. Finding an apartment and settling in before M2 began. A summer of hiding out in her hometown had seemed like a good idea when her world came tumbling down, but now…she wasn’t so sure. She’d woken up this morning with Ian’s arm over her, feeling so much better than she had in the weeks since her failed wedding. She felt as if she could take on anything, defeat any obstacle, that she had no reason to hide her face in shame.
She just didn’t like that it had taken a man to make her feel this way. Even worse? It was a man she couldn’t have.
Her dad had been right, and she managed to make it to her room without catching sight of her mother. Despite her exertions last night, she was restless and full of energy, going for a late-morning jog, grabbing lunch and doing some idle solo shopping. When she did finally try to settle and do some reading that evening, her mind kept drifting, and she tossed her book aside on her bed with a huff.
Maybe she could go out. Maybe he’d be at the bar again. Maybe—
No. Holy shit, what was she doing?
Her body remembered his touch almost as if his hands were still on her. Mmm, the way he’d looked when he’d f**ked her in front of the mirror…
A knock at her door jerked her out of her fantasies. “Come in!” she called, sitting up and hoping she wasn’t flushed. The door eased open, and her dad peeked in.
“No. I was reading, but…can’t keep my mind on it.” She fidgeted uncomfortably. Her mom was usually the one to lecture her. For her dad to come up here, it was a little scary. He usually handled the boys.
He shut the door behind him, crossed his arms over his broad chest and leaned back against her desk across the room from her, the stance reassuring her that he didn’t mean to stay long. “Are you okay, Gabby?”
Sighing, she nodded. “I’m fine, Dad.”
“Last night was the third time I know of that you didn’t come home since you’ve been back.”
Yeah, he was on the money. She preferred for him to think she was out doing what she did last night than to know the truth: sometimes she just had to run away. He probably wouldn’t believe her if she told him.
She wasn’t happy in Dallas. She wasn’t happy in her childhood bedroom. Whenever she was feeling emotionally raw, a hotel was preferable to this. If her parents saw her break down, they were going to worry even more. So she would rather escape and do it in private, away from their prying eyes. Get the tears out and dealt with.
“Please don’t worry. I’m really not behaving any differently than I do back home. I’m just under your nose for you to see it. I still go out with friends and have a good time.”
“Did you get tattoos back home?”
Of course her mother had told him. “Why is that a big deal? Millions of people have them. It’s weirder to not have one these days. I thought it was good timing.”
“I’ll admit your mother is more riled up about that than I am. I just thought I’d check in with you and make sure everything is okay.”
“Not snorting coke or shooting up or engaging in felonious activities. You don’t have to worry.” She grinned at him, and he chuckled.
“We love having you back, you know,” he said. “By no means do we want to make you feel like you can’t go do your own thing.”
“You’re just typical nosy parents,” she teased.
“Got that right.” He straightened and eyed the row of medical books on her shelves. “Everything still good for you going back in August?”
“Oh yeah. In fact, I was thinking I’d go ahead and look for my apartment. Maybe go up there and crash with Tina for a couple days. I can get out of your hair sooner.”
He walked over and dropped a kiss on her head. “You’re not in our hair, Gabby. Promise you’ll let us know if you need anything, okay, kiddo?”
“Sure, Daddy. Love you.”
“Love you too.”
As he went out and shut her door, she raked her hair back with both hands and took a deep breath. Okay. Things were in motion. She’d started what was going to be a gorgeous tattoo, and she’d had her world rocked by a bona fide hottie. The parental units were uneasy but dealing. She only had to ease her way back to Dallas, get back to work and rebuild her life again. It would be hard. It would take some time to scrape together all those scattered pieces. But she had hope for the first time in a while, and she couldn’t shake the feeling that she had Ian to thank for most of it.
Maybe she’d talk to Brian about giving him a raise. After all, the man was so freaking hot, sex with him was therapeutic.
The Fourth passed in a haze of sweltering heat, barbecues and family get-togethers. Evan and Kelsey came in with Alex for a brief visit, and if anyone could stay mopey around Gabby’s energetic little nephew, there wasn’t any hope for them. So when Gabby strolled into Dermamania a couple of days later for the second and hopefully last session on her tattoo, she was feeling rather good about life.
And good about seeing Ian again. Although she was going to keep her cool, not blush like a giddy sixteen-year-old, and definitely not tip off her little brother that anything had gone on.
Yeah, it was a good plan. If only she could stick to it.
The second her gaze found him standing across the room, the air-conditioning might as well have been off for all the good it did her, or maybe the July heat was clinging to her skin, or…hell, it was him. It was the hotter-than-hell memories. He wore jeans and a black AC/DC shirt, and was laughing at something the bald guy—Ghost?—had said. Damn, he had a sexy laugh. Not that she’d seen a single thing about him that wasn’t sexy.
The chime of the door hadn’t gotten his attention, so she waited until Ghost noticed her and called out, “Oh shit, run!” and made a show of trying to dive behind his table.
Ian met her gaze and grinned. She tried not to end up a puddle of the floor. Thankfully, there was no sign of Brian or Candace, and the rest of the artists were all but strangers to her. Gabby laughed along good-naturedly with Ghost’s joke, grateful when Ian quickly ushered her on back to their little room.
“I think we’ll knock this out today,” he said, sounding so normal and even professional.
“Good, I can’t wait.” She tried to return the favor, but she sounded too bright and false. Or maybe it was her imagination. Dammit.
Only the way his hazel eyes lingered on hers a moment longer than they should gave any indication there had been something between them.
That body had been nak*d and thrusting beneath hers.
Jesus! She almost smacked herself for having that thought. She should’ve known, however. The more she tried to keep those images away, the stronger they rushed in. And once that one was in, she was swamped with them.
Ian closed the door. “Gabby.”
She put her hands to her flaming cheeks. “Oh God, I’m sorry. It shows, doesn’t it? I was trying to be so normal.”
He smiled, sweetness tinged with devilish charm. “I think you’re trying too hard to be normal, and it shows. But it’s okay in here. Just you and me.”
“Maybe it only shows because you’re looking for it,” she teased.
“No. Your face is red. Unless you can blame the heat for that.”