I LEFT ARCHER and Ivy’s house to head back to St. Helena and the bakery. I’ve been planning this surprise for Marina for weeks, in the midst of taking over the properties her family sold to me. I kept that from her too, despite Archer’s incessant nagging that I was making a huge mistake.
But it wasn’t because I’m trying to hurt her or close down the bakery without her knowledge. This is my gift to her, ensuring the bakery stays within her family, where it belongs. I’ve already started the process and the paperwork’s being drawn up. I plan on eventually handing over the deed for the bakery to her.
Now I gotta figure out how to make this surprise announcement to her without freaking her completely out. I can’t make too big of a deal about it. I need to tell Gina too. Ivy’s in on it because she can’t wait to help redesign the interior, her services free of charge, a gift to both me and Marina.
Marina’s going to love it. So is Gina. Archer, not so much, because he’s trying to steal Gina away from Marina every chance he can get.
Such a greedy jackass, though I can relate.
I enter the bakery, the familiar, delicious scent of bread baking hitting my senses, making my stomach rumble despite not really being hungry. I wave to Eli at the counter and head into the kitchen where I find Gina shedding her apron and hanging it on a wall hook.
“Well, well, look who the cat dragged in.” She tsks and shakes her head. “How you doing, Pretty Boy?”
Thank God I’ve been upgraded from Boy Toy. She still calls Archer Rat Boy, which he deserves. “I’m great. Where’s Marina?”
“Not in. She went home earlier, said she didn’t feel well.”
I frown. She never let me know. “Is she all right?” I’m extra sensitive, I guess, because of my sister’s major announcement, and I wonder: What would that be like, being with Marina? Getting her pregnant, watching her body shift and change, her belly full of my baby?
That strange ache seems to strangle my heart again, and I rub at my chest absently, wondering what the hell is wrong with me.
You’re in love, you idiot. You’d do anything for that woman constantly in your thoughts.
“I’ll call her,” I say, watching as Gina gathers her purse from the closet she keeps it in and her sweater. “Mind if I go hang out in her office for a bit so I can call her in there?” I’m going to grab a few old brochures I know she keeps stashed in her bookshelf and give them to a marketing specialist I’ve worked with in the past. I plan on having some new materials created, along with a new logo.
Oh yeah, I have lots of plans. And all of them are going to blow Marina’s mind. Make her love me that much more.
I wander into her office, searching her tiny bookshelf, plucking first one, then a few other old advertising pieces I can find. Two brochures, a couple of postcards, all of it’s good to show the graphic designer.
Sitting behind her desk, I call her on my cell but get no answer. Send her a text asking if she’s feeling okay, but again, no reply. Grabbing the brochures, I stack them neatly atop the desk, the edge of the cardstock nudging her mouse, and her monitor lights up, the security business site I know she uses at the bakery coming up on screen.
Squinting, I look at the black and white, slightly fuzzy image, noticing that it’s a man, bent over . . . a woman? I see that the image is paused; this is actual footage taken within the bakery, and when I hit play, it all becomes too clear what I’m looking at.
That’s me. And Marina. Having sex in the kitchen that first night we attacked each other.
I run a hand through my hair, glancing around like someone’s going to walk up on me at any minute and discover what I’m looking at. I’m completely blown away. I can’t believe Marina’s kept this on her computer for . . . what? Her viewing pleasure? It happened over a month ago. We’ve had plenty of sex since then. Better sex, infinitely more satisfying sex. Every time we come together, it’s better and better between us. We’re lucky.
And now I’m . . . shocked, seeing us on her computer screen, me pounding inside of her, her head thrown back, her long legs wound tight around me as she clutches my shoulders with her hands. There’s no sound, but I don’t need to hear it to remember. She’s panting hot, encouraging words, and I’m sliding so deep inside her I groan her name, ready to give in to the urge and let my orgasm take over.
Damn. It’s sort of hot, seeing us together like this. Maybe I can understand why she kept it, but still. She should’ve let me see this. At the very least told me about it. I hit pause, catching her at a particularly good angle. The expression on her face tells me she’s pretty damn close to orgasm.
I really like seeing that expression on her face, but live and in person. Not on a video I happen to discover hidden away on her computer. Why would she keep it? Was she hoping to somehow use it against me if I did her wrong? I’ve gone out with vindictive women before. Women out to get me before I got them, always on the defense when I never thought that way in the first place.
“What are you doing?”
I glance up to find Marina standing just inside her office, her eyes bloodshot, her expression tight. She looks terrible.
So, so sad.
Pushing away from her desk, I go to her, but she dodges me at the last minute. “What happened? Are you okay?” I ask, worry consuming me. She’s acting odd. “Gina said you went home because you weren’t feeling well.”
“I’m fine. Really.” She runs a hand over her head, messing up her hair rather than fixing it. She’s looking at me like she doesn’t quite know what to do with me. “I had a headache. So I went home. Had an interesting conversation with my mother too. Let me tell you, it didn’t help with my headache whatsoever. I’d say after her news, it’s even worse. I had to get out of there, so I came back here.”
My heart skips over itself. Shit. “What did you two talk about?” I ask, afraid to hear her answer.
“Oh, you know. She’s worried I’m going to die a bitter, single, jobless old woman.” One delicate brow rises and I know exactly what she’s referring to.
Double shit. This is not the way I wanted her to find out.
“Marina,” I start, and she holds up her hand, silencing me.
“I don’t want to hear your excuses,” she says quietly, her expression flat, her eyes dim. “Tell me the truth. When were you going to let me know huh, Gage? When?”
She knows. I’d asked her father to keep it a secret so I could tell her she’s not losing the bakery and I withheld the information too long. Now she’s pissed. “It’s not what you think—” I start, but she cuts me off.
“Then what am I supposed to think? I don’t understand how you can keep something so incredibly important from me. Who are you? Why would you do this? The bakery closing changes everything, my entire life! I’ll have nothing. No job, no nothing. All because of you.” She rushes toward me, shoving at my chest so hard I take a step back, shocked at the force behind her push. “You’re evil.”
Wait. Her dad didn’t tell her about the bakery. This is even worse. She thinks I’m trying to shut her down. “Marina—”
“Shut up. You’re a liar. Withholding information is just as bad as lying. I can’t believe you would do this to me. I thought you lo . . .” She clamps her lips shut, closing her eyes and slowly shaking her head.
“Let me explain myself. It’s not what you think,” I start, but she opens her eyes and glares at me.
“Don’t bother trying to explain, Gage. You got what you wanted. I knew you wanted to buy those buildings from the start, so I don’t know why I’m so surprised or hurt. I guess I got too caught up.”
Damn it. She’s not even listening to me. “What about your secret?” I toss out, my voice flat.
Her eyes widen, tears sparkling in them. Damn it, just the sight of them makes my chest ache. “What secret?”
I fold my arms across my chest, leaning against the edge of her desk. If she won’t even listen to me, then I need to get the truth out of her regarding the security tape. It’s weird that she never mentioned it. “I think you might know what I’m talking about.”
I HAVE ABSOLUTELY no idea what he’s talking about. I’m not the secret-keeper in this relationship. He is.
And boy is his secret a doozy, one that’s going to change my life forever.
He acts like it’s no big deal.
“Stop playing games,” I murmur, letting my anger fuel me. He’s propped against my desk, his arms crossed in front of his chest, his biceps straining against his long-sleeved shirt, but I ignore the way my body responds to his. He always makes me feel this way. Hungry, desperate, needy. All for him.
I’m too mad. Angry sex with Gage is amazing—we’ve indulged a few times because we’re sort of sick and twisted like that—but not like this. Not with this sort of horrible betrayal.
He’s taken it too far.
“I saw what you keep on your computer.” He waves his hand toward the monitor. “I had no idea we made a p*rn video, Marina. Wish you would’ve told me. Do you plan on selling it now that you know what a jerk I really am? Distributing it online so it can make the rounds? Maybe earn a few million hits on YouTube?”
Gasping, I round the desk, staring at the screen where the video is paused. There we are in black and white. I can see my nak*d legs wrapped around him, his body hovering over mine, my arms around his neck. I minimize the screen, glancing up to find him studying me, his expression downright deadly.
“Why do you have that on your computer?” he asks, his voice scary quiet. “It makes no sense for you to keep it this long. Unless you did it on purpose so you could use it against me.”
I’m in complete shock. Does he really think that low of me? What sort of women did he date in his past? “I . . . the morning after the encounter in the kitchen, kids smashed the pumpkins we had around the front door.” I’m going to tell him the entire story, even if it kills me. “So I checked the videos from the night before and saw the kids but couldn’t identify them.”
“Okay,” he says slowly, probably wondering why I’m telling him all this.
But there is a point to my story. “Then I clicked through, checking out all the cameras we have and I saw this. Us.” Closing my eyes, I breathe deep, searching for strength. I can’t believe I’m the one who has to explain myself when he’s the one who kept the worst secret ever. I open my eyes and continue. “I—liked watching it. I was so confused after what happened between us. How could I hate someone and want him, all at the same time? You drove me crazy. Keeping this video was my way of . . . holding on to something that has sentimental value, you know?”
“A video of us f**king in your kitchen has sentimental value?” He laughs and shakes his head. “That’s just great.”
“I refuse to let you make me feel guilty. I had it up on my computer because I was going to delete it.” I don’t know why I held onto it so long. Earlier I’d brought it back up, ready to delete when my mom called. I pushed away from my computer, talked to her a bit, felt the headache come on, and then left, forgetting all about it. “I realized it probably wasn’t smart, having a video of us. What if it fell into the wrong hands?”