Authors: Ginger Voight
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Family Saga, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Sagas
I squeezed her hand. I was so glad she was there to help me through what promised to be a very odd, very disconcerting evening.
We all headed into the house to dry off and change, before we corralled everyone to the campsite. Everyone pitched in carrying our gear up the hill, even Drew, whose strong arms lifted more than his fair share on his broad shoulders. He seemed to match his brother stride for stride without complaint. They were quiet as they walked up that familiar hill, and I knew both of them were reliving a slice of their past, one that was much simpler and less contentious. Jonathan played Alex’s harmonica as we marched along, and he kept Becca’s hand in his. She was never far from his side. It was a case of puppy love that all the adults, even Drew, found amusing.
The cuisine wasn’t fancy, good old hot dogs and
s’mores, but Drew had nary a complaint as he offered to help. He charmed Millicent almost completely out of her knickers with his devastating smile and his good humor, but I didn’t trust a bit of it. This was just another part he played.
And the bastard played it very, very well.
For his part, Alex remained cordial, focusing mostly on Nancy and her brood, especially the kids. They all wanted him to play his guitar, and he always obliged happily. Jonathan showed his dad his new prowess with the two-step, and Drew remarked how good a dancer he was.
“Rachel taught me,” he said. “You should dance with her, Dad.”
His eyes cut me to the core when he glanced over at me. “What do you say, Miss Dennehy? Care to teach an old dog some new tricks?”
I gulped back any
overt refusal. Jonathan’s eyes were much too hopeful, and that was the Jonathan I had tried for months to pull out of his elusive, aloof shell. Nancy gave a very slight shake of her head. “Nancy should really be the one to teach you,” I sidestepped. “She’s the one that taught me.”
“I don’t think I like that idea,” Greg drawled in good humor. “You men get your hands on our women and we never get ‘
Drew laughed. “No worries, Greg. I don’t hit on taken women.” He glanced back at me. “But you’re still a freewheeling single, right, Rachel?”
I glared at him. He knew damn well I couldn’t answer that question. I watched as he stood and walked over to the end of the log where I sat. He held out a hand. I stole a brief glance at Alex, who was stoic as he played. “Fine,” I said as I stood.
He fell into step easily as I guided him with movement only. His eyes were locked on my face as we
danced, a powerful gaze that left me unable to breathe. Just being in his arms was like waking up next to a rattlesnake. I had no idea when he planned to deliver his deadly strike, but I knew it was inevitable. “What are you trying to prove?” I asked under my breath.
“Why, nothing at all, dear Rachel,” he answered just as quietly. “It’s just a dance.”
“It’s another game,” I hissed.
“Or another chance to feel you in my arms,” he murmured.
“Drew, please,” I started and he chuckled softly.
God, I love it when you beg,” he whispered. I tried to pull away but he held me fast. “The music isn’t over.”
“You’re wrong, Drew,” I said quietly. “This song ended a long time ago.”
“Then why do I still dream about you?” he pondered loud enough for me to hear. “I make love to her and I see your face, every single time.”
I closed my eyes. I didn’t want to hear any of this, but he was determined to force it to the bitter end.
“I wasn’t lucky enough to get a substitute who looked like you,” he added.
I glared at him. “Alex is no substitute.”
“Then what is he?” he wanted to know.
“What you could have been,” I answered coolly. “If you were stronger.”
His mouth hardened into a thin line. He released me without another word. He merely bowed at me before he walked over to Millicent to ask her to dance.
I took Max by the hand and we went to sit by Alex. Our eyes met and I gave him a small smile, which he faintly returned.
Soon music gave way to scary campfire stories. Max rested against my shoulder as everyone tried to out-scare each other. Max and Benji were the first kids to go down, exhausted by the long day. Both boys shared a tent with Millicent. The girls had another tent, and Jonathan shared his with his father. Only Alex and I had tents to ourselves, and I hated that we had to sleep apart, be apart, when everyone else was bunking up with their favorite people.
I lay awake for an hour, tossing and turning as I thought about how close both Fullerton men slept. I kept reliving that damnable dance from earlier. I still felt Drew’s arms clutching me to that hard body. When I heard the zipper ease down on the tent, I shot up like a rocket, praying he wouldn’t be so bold to come to my tent with his brother sleeping less than twenty feet away.
But it wasn’t Drew. It was Alex. I stifled my cry of joy as I practically tackled him. He wrapped me in those powerful arms and we tumbled together until I was breathless on top of him. I said nothing. I just kissed him deeply.
“Wow,” he breathed as this kiss ended.
“I’ve been waiting to do that all day,” I said.
He wrapped me tighter into his arms. “Me, too.”
“This is stupid,” I breathed as I felt him stir against me. “We should be together. Why are we waiting?”
“The kids,” he reminded gently.
“Kids are resilient,” I dismissed. “How can being a family like this be anything but good for them?”
“Because we put the fun in dysfunctional,” he quipped.
“Stop it. I’m serious.”
“So am I,” he said. “You saw Jonathan’s face when he wanted you and Drew to dance. If he knew about us, we risk losing him again. We’ve fought too long and too hard for that.”
I sighed as I rested my head on his shoulder. “I want the world to know that I’m yours.”
“You mean you want Drew to know,” he said as he stroked my hair.
“Drew is irrelevant,” I insisted.
“Tell that to someone who didn’t see your face when he showed up today.”
I glanced up into his face. “Alex,” I started but he shook his head.
“I’m not mad,” he said. “I get it. You loved him. Maybe a part of you still does.
I still love Nina, too. Our hearts can fit more than one person in it at a time.” He kissed me tenderly. “I’m a patient man. I can wait.” He rolled me onto my back. “You want to know why?”
I nodded as I lost myself in those crystal blue eyes.
“Because I saw you defeat two monsters today, Rachel. You faced your fears with water, and you faced your fears with Drew. And that’s all anyone can ask for.”
“I only have one fear,” I told him softly. “I don’t want to lose you.”
“How could you ever lose me, sweetheart?” he asked between kisses. “I’ve been hopelessly in love with you since the day we met.”
“Show me,” I pleaded softly.
He opened his mouth over mine, deepening a kiss that had me crazed for him as his hand slipped under my shirt. Before we could get too carried away, we heard a scratching at the flap of my tent, preceded by a sharp bark.
I groaned as we fell apart. When I unzipped the flap, I leaned outside just in time to see Drew approach. I scurried out of my tent to meet him before he got any crazy ideas
… like coming inside my tent for an unintentional party of three.
I cuddled Yoda in my arms as a shield. “You didn’t have to bother. He can sleep in my tent.”
Drew didn’t stop until he stood right in front of me. “Is that offer good just for the dog?”
Don’t do this again,” I said quietly, and he responded by taking Yoda from my hands to release him onto the ground.
“Do you know what kind of torture it is to sleep so near you?” he murmured softly as he stepped even closer. “
Knowing you are just a touch away?” He caressed the side of my face before sliding around to my scalp to grasp a handful of hair.
“Please stop,” I begged, but he pulled me back into those formidable arms.
“Why?” he asked as his head bent toward mine. “I know you want me. I feel it in the way you tremble. I’ve felt you tremble like this before, remember? I told you then that you would always be mine. And you know it’s true. Your body responds to my touch like a slave to its master.”
I heard the zipper behind us just as Drew bent for a kiss. He backed up only when he saw Alex emerge from my tent. “The lady said no, Drew. When are you going to finally respect that?”
Drew glared between us. “I guess when you stop trying to steal everything I have,” Drew finally answered. “Mother’s love. Elise. Jonathan. And now Rachel. Congratulations, little brother. You have my life.” He stepped closer. “But don’t for one second think that she isn’t feeling me inside of her when you make love. She’ll leave, just like Elise. They always come back to me, one way or another.”
“Stop it!” I hissed, before I dragged both of them out of earshot of our camp. “I’m not doing this anymore. Drew, I am with Alex because I am in love with him. I had no intentions of ever going back to you, which really doesn’t mean anything anyway because you’re going to marry Olivia.
So who cares? Game over! Instead of focusing on what happened in the past, we all have to pull our shit together for the future. Believe it or not, we can all get along like a family should… like Jonathan needs us to do.”
Drew was beyond hearing. “What Jonathan needed was you, and you left him. No amount of playing house here with Alex can fix what is broken, Rachel.”
“No, you’re right. Only you can. Instead of finding some convenient understudy to stand in Elise’s absence, maybe you should try to be a real father for once.”
He loomed over me. “I was a real father. I found exactly the mother my child needed and you changed everything for the better. We can do that again. It’s where you belong.”
“She said no, Drew,” Alex interjected as he wedged himself between us.
Drew sneered down at his brother. “It would appear she’s incapable of saying no.”
With that, Alex reared back and delivered a fierce right hook. Drew took the punch without throwing one of his own. Instead he glared at us both for a long, hateful moment before stalking back to the campground.
Alex gathered me into his arms, but there were no more tears to cry.
Drew was on his best behavior
for the rest of his stay. The next morning we all trudged back down to the main house, where he even pitched in for our big country breakfast. Jonathan was beside himself, happier than I had seen him in a long time. Drew didn’t deny his son any request. He even rode Topper Field alongside Jonathan on Dapper Dan, as they covered acres of land on the brilliant summer day.
He offered to take us all on his yacht the following Saturday, acting as though these types of family gatherings were commonplace. Neither Alex nor I corrected this assumption, especially since those closest to us already knew the sordid history. Instead, we all plastered smiles on our faces as a brave front for our houseful of kids, who thought this was the grandest adventure of their lives.
Drew gently extricated himself after Olivia called that evening, and Jonathan’s mood took an immediate nosedive after his father left. He finally got to see shades of his father he had been denied for so long. Though Alex and Drew weren’t overly friendly, they weren’t openly hostile either. Everyone had their part to play.
But I could read his thoughts every single time I happened to glance into Drew’s steely blue eyes. I knew he considered my new relationship with Alex a betrayal, which was absurd
on the face of it. He had been romancing Olivia as far back as my own tenure at his house, often using my jealousy against the younger, attractive woman to manipulate me into an ill-advised whirlwind romance.
Looking back I could see that was all part of the plan. We had been operating at a glacial pace for much of the time I lived and worked in h
is house. What finally tipped me over the edge? Feeling that I would “miss my chance” if he decided to romance the beautiful and willing Olivia Guest instead.
Nothing he had done had been genuine. And like a big dummy I fell for it all
, hook, line and freaking sinker. It really did make me feel like some backwards hick who bit gleefully into the apple even though subconsciously I always knew it was poisoned.
And it was all so pointless. We could all get along, just like family, if not for ourselves at least for the kids.
Granted, it was a strain. I fell into bed, exhausted, by Sunday night. I didn’t even have time to miss cuddling up in Alex’s arms before I succumbed to a fitful sleep full of dreams I couldn’t remember. I considered this a blessing in disguise, given the shape of my bed covers the next morning. The fitted sheet had come off of one corner, the comforter was kicked off onto the floor and the top sheet was tangled around my body.
The next couple of days, regular life fell by the wayside as we entertained our guests. We gave them the full California experience, including Hollywood, Rodeo Drive, and Santa Monica. We spent Monday at Griffith Park and Tuesday in Long Beach.
Wednesday and Thursday were earmarked for the taping of
, which happened to be the Gilberts’ favorite show. From Nancy on down to Allison, they were a screaming, enthusiastic mess for the judges and the contestants. We spent hours on fan-made signs, covered in glue and glitter.
Every single female in the Gilbert family nearly swooned at Giovanni
Carnevale’s feet at the exclusive after-party on Wednesday. Ever charming, he had all of them eating right out of his hand as he introduced us personally to the other judges and the contestants. Finally he stopped in front of a lovely, curvy brunette. “And this is my wife, Andy.”
She had a wide smile and a lilting southern accent of her own. “Tennessee?” I asked.
“How’d you know?” she laughed.
“My grandmother was born in Tennessee. I’d know that accent anywhere.”
“One of the things that attracted me to her,” Vanni smiled down at his beautiful wife and she preened under his praise.
Later, when the gossip queen got me alone by the buffet, Nancy filled me in on their tumultuous love affair, which had been documented in painful detail on the pages of grocery store tabloids.
“A stalker took a shot at her, nearly killed her. There was this big triangle between her, Vanni and Graham Baxter.”
My brows rose. “Really?”
Nancy nodded. “Quite scandalous. I honestly don’t know how she chose. Graham is older, more mature, an industry giant. And Vanni,” she chuckled as she looked him over head to toe. “He’s walking sex and he knows it.” Her eyes met mine. “So which do you choose? Stability? Or chaos?”
“Vanni looks pretty domesticated to me,” I said as I watched him hover near his wife. “He flirts with all of us, but look at how he looks at her.”
Nancy shrugged. “She changed him, I guess.”
“She thought he was worth saving,” I murmured, thinking about Alex.
That night, after quiet had settled over the darkened house, I crept down the hall and snuck into Alex’s bedroom. His eyes opened wide as I crawled into bed and cuddled up next to him. “What are you doing?”
“What I’ve wanted to do all week,” I said softly as I reached for a kiss.
He didn’t protest. In fact his hunger
rose immediately to meet mine as his arms closed around me. He pulled me across his lap and pushed me back on the bed, his body covering mine. His eyes were bright and blue as he studied my face in the low light. His finger traced the trim of my pajama top before he kissed his way down across my chest. I moaned as I rose to meet him. My passion weakened his will, and he growled as he rubbed against me. “We’re breaking all of our rules.”
“I broke every rule I made for myself the minute I moved out here last year.”
He traced my jaw. “Me, too. I swore I’d never get into this position again, much less go after another woman in love with Drew.” His eyes softened. “But I can’t resist you, Rachel. I never could. I’d give almost anything I have to make you happy.”
I slipped my hand between our bodies until I gripped him solidly in my hand. He gasped and I traced his parted lips with the tip of my tongue. “I only need you,” I said. He parted my legs and slid into
me like a missing piece of the puzzle, before making love to me as gently and as quietly as our passion would allow.
When I came he captured all my cries in a kiss as my nails carved down his strong back. “I love you,” he murmured softly. “I love you, I love you,
I love you.”
The next time I went over the edge, I took him with me. We collapsed together and barely moved an inch from one another as we dozed, safe in the harbor of one another’s arms at last.