“Protect me after what he did to you?” he asked, the exasperation in his tone cutting through the air. Gavin lifted his hands to her face, his eyes boring into hers. “My God, Emily, you didn’t cause any of this, but you can’t ask me not to do anything to him.”
“Please,” she cried.
Gritting his teeth, Gavin turned away. “No.”
Fear shot through Emily’s stomach as she watched him yank his keys from the counter. As she moved toward him, her mind on fire with images of what he was about to do, Emily broke out into hysterics she never thought possible. She’d cried many times throughout her life, but nothing held a candle to what her tiny frame was producing at this very moment. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. Legs feeling as though she was trudging through mud, she barely made her way across the penthouse. Emily curled her fingers around the back of Gavin’s arm as he was about to open the front door.
Gavin turned, his expression fierce, his stare raking over her. “You’re asking me not to be a man, Emily, and I can’t fucking do that. I can’t. You’re mine, and if I didn’t leave, this wouldn’t have happened. Don’t ask me not to make this right in the only way I know how.”
Breath seized and heart disintegrating from the notion he blamed himself, Emily hesitated a moment before lifting her hand to his face. Stroking his jaw, she shook her head, her voice a soft whisper. “Gavin Blake, you’re more of a man than any man I’ve ever known. You’re gentle. You’re kind. You’re strong and witty. You’re personable and warm, and you can reduce most females into blithering puddles of goo with the simplest words. “ Dragging her fingers from his jaw, she trailed them down to his chest. “You have a heart you wear on your sleeve, and you couldn’t do a thing to make me fall more in love with you. Not a single thing.” Pressing up on her tiptoes, she experienced a bout of nerves as she twined her hands behind his neck, bringing his face to hers. “And you’re not to blame for this.”
Struggling against the fury burning a hole in his stomach, Gavin leaned his forehead against hers. “No, Emily. If I didn’t leave—”
“And if I didn’t take him back.”
“He shouldn’t have fucking touched you,” he breathed, trying to contain his rage. “It’s not the same thing.”
“I know it’s not. But you want to know what is?” Gavin placed his hand on her hip, his fingers digging into her side as he looked away. Emily touched his cheek, bringing his gaze back to hers. “If you walk out that door and go after him, you’re no different than any man I’ve come across. Please don’t take this man away from me, Gavin. Please.”
Damn it all to hell. The look in her puffy green eyes, combined with the soft plea falling from her lips, had Gavin feeling as though he was backed against a wall. His mind was fucked, completely bulldozed over by her words. Torn between the need to beat Dillon within inches of his life and not wanting to drag Emily through any more shit, tension bristled deep within Gavin.
She’d bled herself out to him, burrowing her hurt and painful memories beneath his skin. Before this, she’d seemed unreachable, but today, she drowned every fear she had into a sea of trust Gavin knew only he possessed. But for fuck’s sake, he wouldn’t be able to escape his own hostility if he let Dillon get away with what he’d done. Every male instinct in Gavin screamed to demolish the man who had hurt the woman he loved. The woman who was his. Utterly… fucking… screwed.
Stuck in his thoughts, Gavin clenched his jaw until it ached. Staring into the eyes of the woman he knew he couldn’t live without, he made a decision he hoped wouldn’t haunt every waking hour of the rest of his life. “I won’t go after him.” He cringed when the words slipped from his mouth. “I promise I won’t. But you’re telling me where he hit you. Do you understand me? I need to know.”
Emily could see the reluctance in his eyes, but sincerity rang true in his voice. Emily released a breath and nodded tightly. “Yes,” she cried.
Gavin’s chest twisted at the slice of pain in her voice. Grabbing her hand gently, he led her into the kitchen where he shut off the burner holding the seared-to-a-crisp chicken. Gavin could feel the way Emily’s grip tightened when, a moment later, he made his way into the bedroom with her. Staring at one another, they stood silently, as if neither knew what to say.
Trying to wipe all traces of anger from his features, Gavin looped his arms around her waist and pulled her tight against his body. Within seconds, she was limp in his hold, her tears coming hard and fast. He nuzzled his nose in her hair, pulling in the sweet smell of her shampoo, as he attempted to prepare himself for what she was about to tell him. His brain couldn’t come close to computing how anyone could hurt her. She was fragile. Loving. Vulnerable. With all his possessions, Gavin knew her touch was all he had that was true, pure. Dillon had methodically unpeeled her layer by layer, exposing parts of her no woman should have to bare. In that moment, Gavin feared he would break his promise about not going after the sick fuck. With each passing second she came undone in his arms; Gavin was becoming perilously close to losing any semblance of control.
When Emily’s cries dulled to a low hum, and her breathing slowed to a normal pace, Gavin gently tipped up her chin. Understanding flashed in his eyes. “Are you okay?”
Emily wiped her nose. “I am. Are you?”
He wasn’t. Not even close. He was unhinged. But wanting to keep her as calm as possible, Gavin nodded. “God, you haven’t even eaten yet.” Letting out an exhausted sigh, he slanted a hand through Emily’s hair. “Are you hungry?”
“No,” she whispered. She wasn’t. Still feeling as though she could throw up, food was the last thing on her mind.
“Okay. I’m going to toss some water on my face.” He lowered his mouth to her lips and kissed her softly. “I’ll be right out.”
Emily nodded and watched him disappear into the bathroom. After he closed the door, she inhaled deeply in an attempt to ebb the tension from her body. It wasn’t working. She didn’t want to give Gavin details about that morning. Hell, rehashing it could be the last devastating blow to his sanity. It was bad enough she could see he was fighting his instinct to leave and go after Dillon. This could definitely send him over the edge.
She yanked herself from her evil thoughts and rummaged through a few moving boxes still holding some of her belongings. Searching for a pair of pajamas, she came across a picture of her mother and sister from a trip to Santa Cruz many years earlier. Forced smiles dowsed the photo. Those small pieces of reprieve had served as a sliver of good among the chaos consuming their lives, but that’s all they were. Slivers of peace. Slivers of something that was never constant. As she stared at it, Emily choked back tears, knowing she was about to shed enough for the evening. She shoved the memory underneath a pile of sweaters.
By the time she’d slipped out of her work clothes and into a pair of sweatpants and a T-shirt, Gavin reemerged from the bathroom. Stripped down to nothing but a pair of boxer shorts, his face angrier than a few minutes before, Emily watched him sink onto the edge of the bed. Something in the set of his body alarmed her. It was as if the few minutes he had to himself had turned him into one huge combustible ball of pissed off alpha-male. Emily swallowed nervously and crawled onto the bed. God, all she wanted to do was soothe him from the battle she knew he was fighting. Coming up behind him, she placed her hands on his shoulders and massaged, trying to remove the tension tumbling off him in hot waves.