By: Gail McHugh

Chapter Three

Deep Breaths

Over the next few days, Emily reluctantly unpacked the rest of her belongings that had arrived late from a hold up at the shipping company. Tonight, if it killed her, she would clear out the last of the items. Olivia helped her sift through years of memories. Those memories were all Emily had left, and she clung to them like they were her last heartbeats. The final item in the box took the breath from her, tightening her chest and spinning her emotions out of control. Sighing, Emily slumped on her bed, clinging to a photo showcasing the proud smile of her mother at her high-school graduation. The barrier that she had fought so hard to build over the last few months broke, and the tears came tumbling down. The reality of what had happened—the unwavering fact that she would never see her mother again—hit her hard in that moment.

Sadness clouded Olivia's eyes as she watched her friend crumble. “I don’t know what to say, Emily. I wish I could take this pain and hurt away from you.”

Unblinking, Emily reached out her hand, taking Olivia’s in her own. She was thankful that she had her there. The two friends shared a few minutes, neither saying a word, knowing nothing more could be said.

Standing up, Emily cast a withering smile at her and hastily wiped the tears from both their cheeks. She gave Olivia a hug and sauntered to the bathroom. She was exhausted—not only mentally but also physically. Working three doubles in a row, the last few days caught up with her, and she was looking forward to a relaxing evening on the couch with Dillon. Making her way into the shower, she tried to purge her mind of anything that had to do with her mom. It was difficult, but nonetheless, she did it. Once out, she slid into a pair of comfortable pajamas and set herself up on the couch with a glass of much-needed wine.

After a while, Olivia walked into the living room, wearing a red summer dress with her hair pinned-up off her shoulders and a clutch in her hand.

She eyed Emily, hopeful. “Just come out with Tina and me tonight. It will do justice to your mood.”

Giving Olivia a smile, Emily thought about her friend’s new love endeavor, Tina Reed, a twenty-four-year-old graduate of Columbia University. Having been burned by too many men in her past, Olivia swore them off for the time being, deciding women might suit her better.

Sighing, Emily tossed her hand through her hair. “I really just want to relax the night away.” She picked up the bottle of red wine and smiled. “I plan on polishing this off, too.”

Olivia placed a kiss on top of her head. “Okay, but if for some reason you change your mind, just call my cell.”

Emily nodded, and Olivia walked out the door.

Glancing at the clock, Emily noted it was a quarter past ten. Knowing that Dillon should’ve been there already, she wondered if another late night meeting had held him up. Her thoughts didn’t stray too far when her phone rang a half hour later. It was Dillon calling to announce that he was celebrating a new account out at a club in SoHo. He insisted that she meet him down there. Emily tried to argue that she was exhausted and already settled in for the night, but he wouldn’t relent, his dissatisfaction traveling through the phone. Letting out a sigh, Emily succumbed to his demand, dragged herself into her room, and prepared for an evening out despite her emotional and physical state.

It can’t be her, Gavin thought to himself, adjusting his eyes across the dimly lit club. He rubbed his palm over his face, staring in her direction. It was though. Molly—the waitress that never called him. Molly—the waitress that tugged at every sense, every fiber, and every male instinct in his body. Molly—the waitress that looked more ravishing now than he could’ve ever imagined. Gavin watched as she moved across the club, making her way through the endless bodies pressed against each other.

His eyes feasted upon her long auburn hair that spilled over her shoulders onto a tight black dress that fell just above her knees. The perfect amount of cleavage and neck burned a hole into his mind, awakening the undeniable primal urge he had to claim her. His eyes devoured her legs—sleek, long, and shapely—that came to a rest in black heels. Raking his hands through his hair, Gavin couldn’t help but feel the quickening in his heart as she approached.

He went to move toward her, talk to her, breathe in her scent, but a modest cough from Dillon reluctantly broke his gaze from hers.

“I see you looking, Blake, but she’s mine,” Dillon remarked, a crooked smile twisting his lips.

Gavin’s mouth fell open as if to speak, but nothing came out. His blue eyes swung over to the beautiful woman who had invaded his world a few days ago and then shifted back to Dillon.

“Wait, that’s…Emily?” Gavin asked, palpable confusion taking over his face.

“Yeah, man. I told you she was fucking gorgeous.” Dillon motioned for Emily to hurry up where she seemed to be frozen and rooted in one spot a few feet away.

Gavin took a long pull from his beer, a lump forming in his throat as he leaned himself against the bar. Unable to look away, he maintained eye contact with the woman that his friend just proclaimed was his.

Chewing on her lip, Emily tried to keep her panic at bay when she saw Mr. Tall, Dark, and Fuckable Handsome with Dillon. The air seemed to shift thick. Her balance was knocked askew with every step.

There’s no way they could possibly know each other. This is Manhattan for Christ’s sake, Emily thought to herself.

Each beat of her heart pounded harder the closer she got. A curious yet boyish smile rounded Gavin’s lips as a kiss of a dimple indented itself on his cheek. His piercing blue eyes were intense, unblinking in her direction. Emily’s gaze flicked down to his chest, the planes of his pectorals visible under his shirt. If it were possible, he looked even more handsome, relaxed in his casual attire of a black, V-neck T-shirt and jeans that hung perfectly on his waist. His eyes seemed to delve into her and smother every bit of oxygen from her lungs. Taking a long cleansing breath with sweat beading on her brow, Emily approached the two men, trying to focus solely on Dillon.

Dillon pulled her by the waist into his body and placed an exaggerated kiss on her lips.

After ordering her a drink, Dillon shifted her in front of him, positioning her back against his chest. She had center view of the stranger when Dillon finally spoke. “Gavin, this is my girlfriend, Emily Cooper. Emily, Gavin Blake.”

Unable to pull his eyes from hers, Gavin reached down tentatively, drawing her hand to his lips. Kissing it softly, he hesitated, almost absorbing the heat that radiated from her skin. Reluctantly, he finally let go. “The pleasure’s most definitely all mine, Emily.”

Inwardly marveling at the way Gavin’s slight stubble felt against her knuckles, Emily gave a curt nod and smiled. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”

“She’s beautiful, isn’t she?” Dillon asked, looking over to Gavin.

Averting her gaze to the floor, Emily flushed, embarrassed by the comment. Nonetheless, she grinned, trying to regain her bearings from the shock coursing its way through her body.

Gavin’s gaze dropped to her mouth, her ruby red lips fascinating every fucking inch of him. He shifted his eyes back to hers, which were a variation of green melting into gold. Beautiful, he thought to himself.

Drawing his lower lip roughly through his teeth, Gavin let his words hang. “You’re a very lucky man, Dillon.”

Dillon nodded in agreement, tossing back the last of his whiskey on the rocks. “Come dance with me, babe.” He caught Emily by her hips and dragged her out to the dance floor.

Knowing she shouldn’t, Emily risked a glance back to Gavin as they walked away.

Gavin tried to maintain his cool when she peered over her shoulder to look back at him. He watched the way Dillon held her close and the irrefutable loving way she responded to him. He watched the way she stared into Dillon’s eyes, giving him her undivided attention. Ordering another beer, Gavin fought back the urge to walk onto the dance floor, knock his friend out, and pull her into his arms.

As if his mind couldn’t register anyone else in the club, Gavin brushed off countless women who approached him. He knew he was in uncharted territory and that his thoughts were irrational, considering Dillon was a close friend, but he felt as if Emily had a sick pull on him. These new unknown surges of emotions had him at odds with his body and mind.

And Gavin didn’t like it one bit.

Eventually, Dillon walked up to Gavin when Emily disappeared into the restroom. He leaned against the bar, a reverent smile breaking out across his face. “Wishing you were me, buddy?”

Gavin couldn’t help feeling a stab of jealousy, but this wasn’t something he was about to confess. “I’m just wondering how you pulled that one off.”

It wasn’t a question but a statement on Gavin’s part. Dillon usually hung with crowds of women that were far wilder than Emily seemed to be.

Dillon threw his head back and laughed as he ordered a shot of tequila. “You seem to think you’re the only god in this city.”

“I’m no god, Dillon, and you’re certainly not either,” Gavin remarked, propping his arm on the rolled leather edge of the bar. “But I do know that you need to take care of a woman like that.”

Dillon started flexing his hips back and forth. “Oh, I’m taking care of it. She has no complaints whatsoever in that department.”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Gavin snapped, trying to rid the thought from his mind. He then smoothed his voice out to a calmer tone. “Be good to her, seriously.”

Cocking his head to the side, Dillon furrowed his brows. “Since when did you become so worried about how I treat a woman Mr. Non-Commitment? You fuck anything that throws itself at you, and they’re lucky if they get a call the next day.”

“We’re not talking about me,” Gavin said, drawing a bottle of beer to his mouth. “Like I said, take care of her.”

“Gavin Blake’s trying to teach me how to treat a woman. This is hysterical.” He swallowed his drink and slammed the glass down on the bar. “I’m marrying this one. You’ll see. Just to torture you, you’re going to be in the wedding party.” Dillon shook his head and laughed but recovered quickly as his expression tightened. “Like I said earlier, she’s mine. You get enough everywhere you go.”

Before Gavin could respond, Emily approached them.

Dillon handed her a beer, and she smiled. “Thanks. So what are you guys talking about?”

Gavin figured he would play a little game, considering he knew Dillon was taunting him. His eyes concentrated on the exact curve of Emily’s jaw before locking his eyes on hers. “I’m just wondering how my friend here landed such a beautiful woman. He’s obviously out of his league.”

Emily could feel the way Gavin stared at her. His eyes seemed to sink into her, making her want to bare every emotion and every secret.

What a dangerous talent for a man’s eyes to possess, she thought to herself.

She went to speak, but Dillon’s voice broke through the deafening level of music. “Fuck you and your comment. Out of my league?”

Gavin laughed mischievously as he casually sank into a seat at the bar. “Yes, very out of your league.”

A grin curled Dillon’s lips. “Whatever makes you sleep better tonight, man, but she’s the one leaving with me.” Dillon glanced down at an incoming text and then turned to Emily where she stood inwardly mortified at the conversation taking place. “Trevor’s on his way, babe. I need to use the restroom, but don’t let this clown fool you while I’m gone. He’s a player.”

He dropped a chaste kiss on her cheek and walked away.

Gavin watched Emily carefully, silence stretching between them as she sipped her beer. He felt her eyes on him, giving nervous little looks that tugged at every rational instinct he had left. Each time her gaze met his, he wanted to sink into it and live in it forever. He wondered if she felt the connection that had passed between them when he kissed her hand.

He took a long pull from his beer, trying to ease the dryness in his mouth. “So, Molly, are you enjoying New York?”

Knowing that one was coming, Emily let out a laugh. “Yes, I am actually, stalker boy. Thanks for asking.”

“I’m really not a stalker or a player, honestly,” he said, chuckling at the nickname she gave him.

“The stalker part may be questionable,” she laughed and so did Gavin. “But, I have to be honest, I’ve heard otherwise about you being a player.”

Emily bit her lip, realizing how horribly offensive those last words must’ve sounded. Even so, now knowing who he was, it was the truth. Olivia told her stories of Dillon’s rich friend, Gavin, being a ladies’ man. She also warned Emily that once she met him, it would take everything in her not to rip off her shirt and watch the buttons scatter on the floor, along with every sexual inhibition following behind them.

Yep, completely fuckable.

Shifting in his seat, Gavin flashed a smile. “And who did you hear that from?”

“Olivia Martin.”

“Mmm, you must not know her that well then,” he replied, motioning for the bartender to bring them another round.

“Let’s see. She was my roommate in college, and I live with her now.” She smiled. “I consider her a pretty reliable source, but hey, to each his own.”

“Forgive me and my horrible memory. That’s right; that’s right. You’re Emily and not Molly,” he laughed, tossing a hand through his hair. “Of course you know Olivia.”

She smiled. “Yes, my real name is Emily. We’ve established that, but how come I have a feeling you might never let me live that one down?”

A delicious grin slid across his lips. “Ah-ha, I may or may not. But that’s for me to know, and you to find out.” They both laughed, seeming to relax a bit around one another. “So what else did Olivia say about me?”

“Ah-ha, that’s for me to know, and you to find out.”

Amused by her quick-witted response, Gavin hung his head and laughed. His features softened as he stared into her eyes. “But, in my defense, the whole player thing’s a misconception. I just haven’t found the right woman yet.”

“Well, there seems to be an awful lot of ladies trying to get your attention right now.” With the sweep of her hand, Emily gestured toward a group of women at the end of the bar that were noticeably glancing in his direction. “Pretty decent pick if you ask me.”

Although he tried, he couldn’t pull his eyes away from her. He stared at Emily, wanting to let her know—again—the only woman he wanted was already with his friend. “Unfortunately, most of them are only interested in one thing.”

Confusion knitted her brows. “Isn’t that what all guys want anyway?”

“Not quite, but I like the way you think,” he laughed, studying the way she nervously tucked her hair behind her ear. He liked it more than he should. “No, seriously though, I don’t want to come off like a conceited ass, but there’s a fine line between me and my money.”

His remark struck an odd cord with Emily. She knew he had money—the whole damn city did. However, to assume women were strictly after him for his cash was obviously some sort of insecurity he had.

“Oh, so in your eyes, every woman you date’s a gold digger?” she remarked, drawing the bottle to her mouth as she leaned casually into her seat.

Gavin tried hard to fixate his eyes on hers instead of her lips. “No, it’s not that at all. That came out the wrong way; I apologize.” He placed his empty drink on the bar. “It’s just hard to tell who’s real and who’s not. I want a woman who wants me with or without my money.” He flashed a sheepish grin. “And, for some reason, I seem to attract the all-beauty-and-no-brains type, too.”

“Oh.” Emily shifted in her seat, embarrassed at her assumption. She tried to deflect her earlier statement. “Sounds like you’re trolling the wrong places, buddy.”

The bartender put their drinks down.

Gavin laughed, immensely enjoying her honesty. “Apparently, I do.” An infectious smile ran across his mouth. “Where is it you said you hang out these days other than Bella Lucina?”

“Dillon’s apartment, but thanks for trying again,” she laughed. She tipped her beer to her lips, allowing herself to hold his gaze a little longer this time. “Maybe you should search for women at the library? That would take care of the no-brains problem you seem to attract.”

“You’re a pretty funny girl, Emily,” he remarked, shifting his body to face hers. “I’m really starting to regret Dillon getting his hands on you first.”

Emily’s heart skidded across her chest at his declaration. Before she could answer, she felt a warm hand on her shoulder and assumed it was Dillon.

She turned and found Trevor flashing his winning smile, his thick blonde hair falling onto his forehead. “I’m here. Let the party begin!” he hooted, slapping his hand on Gavin’s shoulder. He then gave Emily a hug and inched his way in between them to order a drink. “It’s going to be a bender tonight!”

Emily smiled, happy to see Trevor. She’d grown close to him over the last few months. Besides the fact that he was Olivia’s brother, he was an all-around good man. Even before she moved to New York, he would call to check up on her to make sure she was doing okay.

Trevor glanced around the club from behind his glasses. “Where’s Dillon?” he asked, accepting his drink from the bartender.

“Think he fell in,” Gavin smirked, motioning toward the restrooms.

“I know he left the office way before I did, but that sounds like something he would do, especially if he’s drunk enough,” Trevor laughed. He then turned to Gavin. “So how’ve you been, man? Feels like I haven’t seen you in forever.”

“Good. Had to do some traveling for work, but I’m hunkered down for the summer.”

“Having your yearly Fourth of July party at your house in the Hamptons, right?”

“Absolutely,” Gavin answered. “I’m actually heading out there this week to open up the place.”

Trevor turned to Emily who wasn’t paying attention to the conversation. His laughing brown eyes were wide with excitement. “Yoo-hoo, Emily, you’re going right?”

She looked puzzled as she scanned the club, knowing Dillon had been gone for a while. “Going where?” her voice trailed off as she looked away from Trevor.

“Gavin’s party in the Hamptons on the Fourth of July. Dillon told you about it, right?”

She shrugged, bringing her attention back to Trevor. “He hasn’t mentioned it yet, but it sounds like fun. I’m sure we’ll be there.”

Dillon’s voice broke through the conversation. “Be where?” he asked, leaning in to kiss Emily’s neck. “I hope these guys weren’t trying to proposition you while I was gone.”

Twisting her body to face his, Emily smiled. “No worries; they were entertaining me. You took a while. Are you okay?”

“I had to make a quick phone call.”

A mischievous smile tugged at Gavin’s lips. “We thought you fell in, and we were actually about to assemble a search party. But don’t get high on yourself though; we weren’t going to look too hard.”

“Wow, you two are brutal with one another,” Emily laughed.

Trevor took a swig of beer. “You haven’t seen anything yet, Em. They’re just getting warmed up.”

Dillon shook his head and eyed Gavin. “Once a wiseass, always a wiseass, Blake. Never fails.”

Gavin hung his head and laughed. He took a long pull from his beer, swung his eyes over to Emily, and then reluctantly looked at Dillon. “So how’s about it? Are you two coming to the party?”

“I totally forgot about it,” Dillon replied. “But, of course, we’ll be there.”

Trevor cocked his head to the side. “What do you mean you forgot? Dude, you’ve been coming for the last couple of years.”

Dillon pulled Emily close to him, anchoring her body in front of his. He wrapped his arms around her shoulders. “I’ve been distracted by my lady here. I can’t seem to think of anything else.”

Emily smiled and noticed a beautifully groomed blonde approach Gavin. She snaked her arm around his waist and planted a kiss on the corner of his mouth. “I thought it was you, Mr. Blake,” she said, ordering a drink and letting the bartender know to put it on his tab. “Where have you been hiding lately?” Her words slurred as she clung tighter to Gavin, trying to keep her balance.

“Obviously not far enough,” Trevor mumbled under his breath. The woman didn’t hear his remark, but didn’t need to. His expression told all.

Dillon’s eyes narrowed on the blonde.

Gavin knew who she was and tried to play it cool. His smile was relaxed as he curled his arm around her waist, trying to hold her steady. “I’ve been away on business. How’ve you been?”

“Oh, I’ve been doing great. Thanks for asking,” she replied, shifting her weight closer to Gavin. “Who do we have here?” she asked, glancing in Emily’s direction. “I don’t think we’ve met before. You’re so cute. Are you one of Gavin’s newest playmates?”

Emily’s mouth dropped open, but she said nothing, not wanting to severely insult the woman. She thought the comment was ridiculous, considering Dillon had his arms around her.

Gavin smirked, gazing in Emily’s direction. “No, she’s Dillon’s girlfriend. I’m trying my hardest to make a play for a girl named Molly, but unfortunately, she’s already taken.”

Emily nervously bit her lip and looked away.

The pleasant expression left the woman’s face as she shot Dillon a hard look. “Oh, really? I didn’t know you were seeing anyone, Dillon.”

Gavin stood up and effectively caught the blonde by her arm. “Come on, sweets. We have a lot to catch up on. Take a walk with me.” He started leading her out of the club, and Emily watched the way the woman stared back at her while she tried to release herself from Gavin’s hold.

“Who the heck was that?” Emily asked, turning to face Dillon.

“No one,” he replied, giving Emily a wide-eyed smile. He dragged a hand through his hair. “Just some girl he went to college with.”

“One of his ex-girlfriends?” Emily probed.

Trevor looked to Dillon but didn’t say a word.

“Yeah, just some girl he used to screw around with,” Dillon replied after ordering a few shots. “Come on, let’s get hammered, babe.”

Gavin made his way through the crowd of sweaty bodies. Walking the woman out of the club, he cornered her against a wall, propping his hand against it. Looking down to her, his expression tightened. “What are you doing, Monica?”

Lifting her chin in defiance, her hazel eyes glassed over. “What do you mean, Gavin?” She pushed her hands through her hair. “He thinks he can just fuck me like that and then go off and start fucking someone else so quickly?”

Letting out a sigh, a muscle tensed in his jaw. “You and Dillon were exactly that and nothing more. Fuck buddies, Monica. Get over it.”

Her gaze narrowed on him. “No, Gavin. If that’s what I was looking for, then I would’ve just fucked you,” she huskily replied, trailing her finger across his chest. “Want to take me home tonight? I could add another notch in your bedpost.”

“Not a chance and you know it,” he quickly noted, grabbing her by the wrist. “The two of you have been over for a while. Now stop the bullshit.”

“What a joke! We never stopped!” she snapped. “I was just fucking around with him upstairs.”

Dipping his head, Gavin forced her to stare into his eyes. “Upstairs, huh?”

“Yeah, maybe I should tell the goody two-shoes he’s here with,” she replied, trying to push her way past him.

“Don’t even think about it, Monica,” he growled. “So help me if I find out you get within five feet of her.”

Widening her eyes, her voice rose as a curious grin stretched across her mouth. “What? Do you have a thing for her?” She paused for a moment and continued when he didn’t answer. “You do, don’t you? Some friend you are, Gavin Blake,” she laughed, tossing her hands through her hair again. “All of you guys—every one of you in your rich little group—are a bunch of fucked-up assholes! I’m just sorry our parents are friends!”

Gritting his teeth, Gavin stared down to her for a second. He then signaled for the bouncer. “Here’s a hundred bucks. Call her a cab and get her out of here now.”

“No problem, Mr. Blake.” He reached for the money and Monica. She struggled against the beefy man, causing a further spectacle as she called Gavin every name in the book.

Finally, she was put into a New York City cab and sent on her way.

Letting out a weighted breath, Gavin turned and headed into the club. He would have to do some damage control in the morning, considering Monica Lemay was indeed the daughter of one of his father’s closest friends. Making his way back to the bar, Gavin wondered how true her statement was. He didn’t put it past Dillon. Dillon was known for it, God knew he was. On the other hand, he didn’t dismiss Monica lying to try and make her way back to Dillon. This wouldn’t be the first time she made a desperate move to get back together with him.

Dillon spotted Gavin as he approached. Turning to Emily, he let her know he’d be right back. He stalked over to Gavin, tossing his arm around his neck. “Everything taken care of?”

Crossing his arms, Gavin took a step back. “Yeah, she’s gone. What the fuck are you doing? Are you still messing around with her?”

Dillon shrugged nonchalantly. “I was, but I’m done with her now. She kept calling and harassing me. You know how she gets.”

Dillon went to walk away, but Gavin grabbed his arm. “Man, seriously, you have a pretty cool woman now. What the fuck is wrong with you?”

Laughing, Dillon pulled his arm away. “There you go again concerned about what I’m doing. You just worry about yourself. I told you that I’m done with the whore.” He tossed his shot down his throat. “Come on, I don’t want to waste anymore of my night on her.” He started to walk away and then turned back. “Oh, I told Emily you used to fuck around with her.”

Before Gavin could say a word, Dillon walked back over to Emily, a smile twisting on his lips as he kissed her. Gavin watched as his friend played the smooth Jekyll-and-Hyde he’d come to know over the years. Gavin couldn’t help but notice the way Emily stared at him as he lounged back into his seat.

“You really do know how to pick them, Gavin,” Emily laughed, tilting her beer to her mouth. “The library—don’t forget the library.”

Gavin finished his beer before leveling an icy look at Dillon. His eyes then flicked to Emily as he rubbed at his chin absentmindedly. “Yeah, I’ve had my share of troubled women I guess,” he said, motioning for the bartender to bring him another. “I’ll definitely start with the library as you’ve suggested, Emily.”

Over the next few hours, Dillon became mindlessly hammered. The many beers and shots of tequila had caught up with him. By the end of the night, both Trevor and Gavin had to help him out to Trevor’s SUV. Having lost all patience by that point, Gavin tossed him in the backseat and closed the door behind him.

Trevor shook Gavin’s hand and got into the vehicle.

Emily stood in the parking lot, feeling embarrassed by Dillon’s drunken stupor. “I’m sorry about this. He gets a little out of hand when he celebrates a new account.”

Gavin leaned against the vehicle, his eyes coming to rest on her lips. “There’s no need for you to apologize on his behalf,” he softly remarked, his eyes shifting to meet hers. “I’ve known him long enough to know how he gets.”

Drawing in a deep breath, Emily held her hand out. Trying hard to appear relaxed, her voice sounded unnatural and shaky. “Well, it was good officially meeting you, Gavin. I guess I’ll see you around.”

Closing the space between them, he reached for her hand. He felt momentarily frozen as he stared deeply into her green eyes. He simply shook her hand and gave her a smile. “It was good to have finally met you, too, Emily. I’ll see you at the Fourth of July party.”

Slipping into the front seat, she nodded and smiled in his direction. “Fourth of July.”

Standing in the parking lot, Gavin watched them disappear into the heavy traffic of Manhattan while the shock of the evening from discovering who Emily really was washed over him.

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