Author:Gail McHugh

Chapter 6: Fireworks

A knock against the door and a low groan from Dillon registered somewhere in the back of Emily's sleeping brain. Forcing one eye open, she was able to make out Trevor poking his head into the room.

"Fuck," Dillon shouted gruffly. "What the hell time is it?"

"It's time to get our fishing on," Trevor answered a little too cheerfully.

Dillon ran a palm over his face, shot Trevor a hard look, and lifted his head gingerly in Emily's direction. "Are you getting up?"

Peering at the clock through hooded lids to see it was only seven, Emily curled the duvet cover tightly around her body. "No...I'm not," she moaned out and rolled over. "Just get in the shower, and I'll get up in a while."

Cursing in frustration from the early morning wake up, Dillon slid from the bed and reluctantly padded to the bathroom.

Emily heard the door snap shut with Trevor's departure. Sunlight filtering into the room in stages threatened to wake her further as she nuzzled herself cozily into the crook of her arm. With a deep breath, her nose inhaled the heavenly intoxicating, mind-numbing smell that was Gavin as she tried to fall back to sleep.

Gavin? What the?

Realizing she was still wearing his sweatshirt, she shot straight up in a sitting position. In half a heartbeat, she yanked it off, jumped from the bed, and haphazardly shoved it into a nightstand drawer.

With trembling fingers, she rubbed her eyes and tried to rid her mind of what Dillon's reaction would've been had he caught her packaged neatly in his friend's sweatshirt. After a few minutes, the unexpected anxiety that made her heart race began to ebb, and with a sigh, she settled into the bed, but found she was unable to fall back to sleep.

Still groaning in agonized distress, Dillon came out of the bathroom. Emily could see he looked tired, pale, and haggard. After she tried to soothe him with a massage, she dropped a kiss on his cheek and decided to jump in the shower, too. When she re-emerged, she found him sprawled out on the bed in a T-shirt and cargo shorts with the crease of his elbow shading his eyes.

"What are your plans while I'm fishing?" he asked, his voice low and garbled.

"I'm going to hang with Liv and Tina until they leave," she replied, plugging her hair dryer into an outlet. "They're heading back to the city later to spend the day at Tina's family's house."

Letting out a grumble from the back of his throat, he stood up on shaky legs and sauntered out of the room. By the time Emily treaded downstairs, it was a quarter past eight. Dillon was sitting at the kitchen island with his head hidden between his folded arms as he mumbled to himself.

Gavin smiled at Emily over his newspaper. As it did every time she walked into a room, his whole body went on alert. He felt his blood begin to pump faster as she made her way to the kitchen island. The silky white material of her sundress gliding along her thighs and contrasting against her perfectly olive-toned skin made him nearly speechless.

Gavin cleared his throat. "He's making promises of never allowing whiskey into his system again if the drinking gods help him get through the day," he laughed and took a sip of his coffee. "He was never one to handle his liquor that well."

Although muffled from his arms, the words were clear and to the point. "Fuck off, Gavin," Dillon hissed.

Gavin chuckled and looked over to Emily. "Want some coffee?"

"Yeah, that sounds awesome. Thank you," she laughed and took a seat next to Dillon.

"You're very welcome." Gavin stood up, pulled a mug from a cabinet, poured some coffee in it, and made his way to the refrigerator. Peering at Emily over his shoulder, his smile was soft and curled with knowledge. "Just a guess, of course, but you look like a girl who takes cream and sugar in your coffee."

Her mouth fell open and then snapped shut. Shaking her head, she smiled at him.

Gavin quirked a mischievous brow and walked back over with the mug. As she went to take it from him, he reached out for her hand and gently slipped something into it.

Her eyes flicked over to Dillon where he was still hiding from the light of day.

Gavin set the coffee in front of her and took his seat.

Opening the palm of her hand, Emily glanced down to what she was holding - a bottle cap. Her gaze slid over to Gavin where he sat casually sipping his coffee, newspaper in hand, with a faint smile on his lips.

She shook her head and smiled back.

Dillon straightened and quickly turned around at the sound of the doorbell chiming. He groaned out as Gavin made his way over to answer it. When he opened it, Emily watched him greet two men, both appearing to be Gavin's relatives. The younger of the two was good looking with the same sharp-chiseled features and hair color but had a body slightly heavier than Gavin. The senior, however, was Gavin's twin - fast-forward twenty years - with a hint of silver hues sprinkled throughout his hair. His wide grin flashed with practiced ease as they all walked into the kitchen.

The older man's brows arched over his blue eyes as he patted Dillon's back. "You're looking a little rough around the edges, son," he chuckled.

"Good morning, Mr. Blake," Dillon stood up to shake his hand. "Yeah, I drank a little too much last night."

"Well, prepare to drink a little more today, youngling," he quipped, holding up a bottle of Grand Marnier and a couple of fishing poles.

Shaking his head with a smile on his face, Dillon looked to Gavin. "Your old man's going to kill me today with the drinking, isn't he?"

"I'm pretty sure those are his intentions," he laughed and settled back into his seat. "Right, Pop?"

"Absolutely," he laughed. He then glanced in Emily's direction, a charming grin touching his lips. "So who do we have here?"

Dillon curled his arm around her waist. "This is my girlfriend, Emily. Emily, this is Gavin's brother, Colton, and his father, Chad."

"It's very nice to meet you both." She smiled and shook their hands.

"Emily, do you have any sisters for my brother?" Colton motioned with his thumb in Gavin's direction. Gavin rolled his eyes as he downed the last of his coffee. "My mother wants him married off soon."

"Unfortunately, the only one I have is married," Emily laughed.

Colton tossed his arm around Gavin's neck. "Oh well, little man, the search shall continue."

With his arms crossed, Gavin let out a sigh and once again rolled his eyes at his brother's "non-mission" of finding him a woman.

Eventually, Trevor, Joe, and Chris made their way downstairs to join the group.

"What the hell do you have on?" Gavin laughed, his eyes wide on Trevor's attire.

Wearing his finest fishing hat and vest scattered with hooks and little plastic worms, Trevor sniffed haughtily. "Whatever, dude." He poured some coffee into a Styrofoam cup and turned back to Gavin. "At least I get on the damn boat."

Each of the men - except Gavin - broke out into laughter. He just shook his head with an amused grin on his face and let the partial insult slide.

Trevor slapped him on his back. "Is the Gavin Blake speechless?"

Standing up to refill his coffee, Gavin smiled. "Go ahead, lay it on me, assholes. But, in my defense, it comes from my mother's side of the family."

Emily drew up a confused brow. "You don't go on boats?"

Gavin's smile was slow, making his blue eyes sparkle. "Technically, I can, but not when the water's choppy like this morning." He took a sip of his coffee. "I get slightly seasick."

Dillon stood up, walked over to him, and slapped him on his shoulder. "Slightly? You wind up praying to the sea gods to get you through the trip without puking."

Shaking his head, Gavin tossed his boat keys to his father. "Okay, each and every single one of you need to get the hell out of my house now," he laughed. "And that's including you, too, Pop," he quickly added.

Chuckling, Chad walked over to his son and patted him on his back.

The conversation and laughter flowed while the men took a few more minutes preparing for a day out on the water. Making sure they had enough ice, food, liquor, and night crawlers to last until the afternoon, they felt they were good to go. Emily trailed behind, following Dillon to the door to kiss him goodbye and let him know to take it easy on the drinking. She watched the group make their way into the dewy morning air and down to the boat.

After closing the door, Emily turned and found Gavin sitting at the island where he resumed his position - coffee in one hand and his eyes intent on his morning paper. She went to walk upstairs, figuring now would be a good time to wake Olivia and Tina, but before she could, Gavin called out to her and asked her to take a seat with him.

As she moved toward him, she gave herself a fierce mental talk. She enjoyed hanging out with him a little too much last night, and because of that, she had more than just a physical attraction now. Tingles of something she had never experienced raced through her, and a strange anxiety permeated her bones by his close proximity - more so than before.

And that...that wasn't good.

As she took a seat next to him, Emily tried to ignore the way his just-fucked-looking black hair went in every direction. It made him look...well...even hotter.

Tossing a hand through that just-fucked-looking black hair, he placed the newspaper down and smiled. "I wanted to give you fair warning that within a few hours the house is going to become a little...chaotic."

"Oh, how so?" she asked, fidgeting with the hem of her dress. "I thought your guests wouldn't be here until after three."

Gavin's eyes flicked down to her thighs and then back to her face. He tried to swallow. "Well, the caterers and the company that sets up the tents will be here soon. If you like, we can go down by the beach or get in the pool together."

Emily shifted nervously, her gaze holding steady on his.

"I mean, can go down by the beach or in the pool," he corrected quickly. Jesus Christ. He slowly dragged his teeth over his bottom lip.

Watching his lips a little too intently had her pushing her seat away from the counter to stand up. "Yeah, I'll see." She walked over to the stairs. "I'm just going to...uh...go wake up Olivia and Tina now."

He nodded, and she trotted up the stairs.

Emily gave a quick knock at the door, and Olivia yelled out for her to come in. When she entered, both women were already in the midst of getting ready to leave.

"Why are you packing now?" Emily asked. "I thought you two weren't leaving until after three."

Olivia tossed the last of her items into her backpack. "Tina's mom is sick, so she called asking if we could get out there earlier to help cook." She stretched her body out. "Ugh, I'm really not looking forward to this drive back either."

Emily pressed her lips into a tight line and sank down onto the bed. Letting out a sigh, she leaned against a pillow, noticeably flustered.

Olivia looked at her. "Why do you look so freaked out about us leaving? You knew I wasn't staying the whole weekend."

"Because he didn't go fishing with everyone else, and I'll be stuck here alone - with him."

"That's right - the whole seasick thing. I forgot." A mischievous grin slid across Olivia's mouth. "Why would you be upset about being here alone with him? I say it's the perfect opportunity to get a little taste of something...yummy," she laughed.

"Damn it, Olivia!" Emily spat. "I'm not kidding anymore! Stop with your bullshit!"

Olivia stood aghast, like a deer in headlights, as Emily pushed to her feet and tore past her. Stalking down the hallway, Emily entered her room, tossed her suitcase on the bed, and started packing her things.

Olivia cautiously entered the room. "What the hell are you doing, Em?"

"I'm leaving with you guys," she hastily answered. "I'm not staying here alone with him."

Olivia walked over to her and grabbed her by the shoulders. "Friend, calm the fuck down, okay?" Emily pulled away and continued to pack. "Em, his mother, sister-in-law, niece, and nephew should be here soon. It's not like it's just going to be the two of you."

Emily abruptly stopped packing. She flopped herself onto the bed, placing her fingers on her temples in an attempt to relax her racing thoughts.

Olivia sat next to her. "What's going through your mind?"

Emily shook her head, her voice barely a whisper. "I hate that I actually like the way he stares at me, Liv. I hate the way I can't stop myself from staring back. I hate that he's Dillon's friend and that we're all here this weekend." She looked into Olivia's eyes and paused a moment. "And I hate that I have any of these thoughts to begin with. I owe so much to Dillon. I shouldn't be thinking anything about his friend."

Placing her hand on Emily's shoulder, Olivia's face softened. "First, you need to stop feeling like you're completely indebted to Dumbass, Emily. He did what any good boyfriend would've done. Nothing special." Emily closed her eyes and swallowed, feeling that Dillon went beyond her expectations. However, she wasn't going to argue the issue, so the point was moot. "But really, Gavin's family will be here soon. Also, how would you explain to Dick that you just left out of nowhere?"

Emily contemplated her question. She was right. When Dillon returned, even if she were to use the playing-sick card, she knew it would just cause him to miss a great day because he'd drive back to the city to be with her.

Emily nodded, seeming to calm down. Drawing in a much-needed deep breath, she rose to her feet and pulled a book from her belongings. "Well, I'm just going to stay in here and read this until I hear them arrive."

Olivia smiled and stood up. "Okay, you do what you have to do then." She walked over to the door after hugging Emily. "I love you."

Emily curled up on the bed, flipped open the book, and tried to relax. "I love you, too, Liv."

And that's exactly what Emily did. She read that book. Hell, she finished it and started reading it again, but eventually dozed off during her second attempt of keeping her mind off the threat that was behind the door. It was just past noon when she heard car doors closing. From a corner window, she peered down and saw two women walking toward the home with two young children following behind them.

Recovering from her earlier state of panic, Emily made her way downstairs. Gavin was correct. The house was buzzing with caterers dressed in black and white, preparing a smorgasbord of food. When she couldn't find him among the frenzied scene, she strolled out to the backyard. Under a dozen large white tents, workers draped red, white, and blue linens onto tables while hollering out song requests to a DJ that was setting up in the corner. Huge festive centerpieces consisting of silver stars anchored a patriotic array of balloons at each table.

Emily scanned the crowd and locked eyes with Gavin from across the yard. He immediately smiled and motioned for her to join him.

As she approached, he looked concerned and leaned into her ear. "Are you alright?" he whispered. "Olivia said you didn't feel well when she left."

"Yeah, I felt a little ill earlier, but I'm better now."

He cocked a disbelieving brow. "Are you sure?"

With an answering smile, she nodded.

"Well, let me know if you need anything, okay?"

"I will, thank you."

"Not a problem." He smiled and turned in the direction of one of the women Emily saw pull up to the house. "Mom, I'd like to introduce you to Dillon's girlfriend, Emily. Emily, this is my mother, Lillian."

"It's very nice to meet you, Mrs. Blake." Emily offered to shake her hand but felt pleasantly surprised when the woman leaned in to hug her.

"Call me Lillian, kiddo," she exclaimed, her large green eyes twinkling when she released her hold on Emily. "Mrs. Blake makes me feel old, and I'm far from it."

"Alright, it's very nice to meet you, Lillian," she laughed.

"Atta girl."

Emily smiled and studied her striking features. She would've never guessed she had two older children or that she was ever sick with cancer no less. Her chestnut hair, twisted up in a flattering way, glistened against the sun. Her sweeping cheekbones and flawlessly golden skin had not a hint of age touching it.

"My sister-in-law, Melanie, is around here somewhere," Gavin stated as his gaze roamed over the backyard. Before he could ask his mother where she was, from out of nowhere, his niece and nephew jumped on his back.

Playfully rolling to the ground with them, Gavin looked up to Emily and laughed. "Well, here are her offspring."

"Uncle Gaffin! Stop tickling me!" The little girl squealed, her golden locks of blonde hair spilling over her face as she thrashed her head from side to side under his comical assault.

"I help you, Teesa!" The little boy cried out like a certified hero saving a damsel in distress, beginning his own tickling attack on Gavin.

Emily and Lillian laughed and watched the three of them roll around in the grass. Ultimately, the two children won the tickling battle, ganging up on their uncle. Gavin succumbed to the fact that he was outnumbered and pleaded for help as he laughed in hysterics.

Standing up from the ground, Gavin wiped tiny blades of grass from his swimming trunks and looked at Emily. "These two little nuts are my niece and nephew, Theresa and Timothy." He then quickly dodged at them as though he was going to restart the tickling match.

They both jumped back and laughed.

Gavin hunched over and slung an arm over each of their shoulders. "This is Molly...I mean, Emily." Emily shook her head and laughed. "You two better be nice to her. I don't think she feels like getting attacked today from either one of you."

The little girl looked up to Emily and tugged on her sundress. "I like your dress, Emm-mi-me."

Emily kneeled down and smiled at the little freckled-faced beauty. "Well, I really like your dress, too, Theresa."

"Did you haf a dress like dis when you was three?"

"Not as pretty as the one you're wearing."

Theresa threw her arms around Emily's neck, almost knocking her off balance. Emily laughed and hugged the child back.

Like a mini-gentleman, Timothy offered his hand to shake Emily's. "Are you Uncle Gaffin's girfend?"

Emily smiled up to Gavin and then looked at the little boy as she shook his hand. "No, but I'm his friend's girlfriend."

"We're twins," Timothy said with a proud smile on his face.

"I thought you were." Emily smiled. "Well, you two are the cutest little twins I've ever met."

"Will you come swimmy with us, Emm-mi-me?" Timothy asked, his hazel eyes sparkling as he wiped a sweaty strand of blonde hair away from his forehead.

"Hmm." The little boy smiled and eagerly awaited her answer. She gave his nose a quick gentle pinch. "I think I will. Just let me go inside to put on my bathing suit, and I'll be right back."

Both children jumped up and down, clapping their hands in obvious delight.

Emily made her way through the throng of workers and headed upstairs to slip into her bathing suit. Taking careful measure not to piss off Dillon, she threw on a scarlet-and-gray Ohio State University T-shirt over her bikini. After removing the makeup from her face, she breezed back outside.

The two children - already in the pool with Gavin - gleefully splashed at him as he made a fine attempt at acting like a shark. Submerging himself under the water, he tented his hands over his head as he plunged toward them.

"Emm-mi-me is here!" Theresa hooted out.

Gavin looked to Emily and laughed. "Like my Jaws impersonation?"

"It was decent," she replied as she got into the water. She smiled. "But I'm pretty sure I could do a better one."

He smirked and cocked an incredulous brow. "Oh, you think so?"

"No," she smiled. "Just kidding."

He laughed and reached for a large multicolored beach ball. "Okay, so how's about a friendly game of pool volleyball?" He flashed a smile. "Girls against boys, of course."

Emily raised her chin in playful defiance. "Bring it, Blake."

With both teams positioned on either side of the net, the game began. The kids screeched into a loud burst of laughter when Emily jumped up, spiked the ball onto Gavin's head, and knocked his sunglasses clear off his face. After Gavin resurfaced from retrieving the sunken shades, his eyes trained on Emily as he smiled with a guaranteed promise of retaliation. She gave a quick high-five to Theresa and shot Gavin a smirk - quite pleased with herself by the point gained for the girls.

Tossing his arm around Timothy's shoulder, Gavin whispered something into his ear. He chucked his sunglasses onto a beach chair and eyed Emily with a devious smile. She knew he was up to no good. She shook her head and laughed. Before she could warn Theresa of her uncle's mischievous intentions, a tidal wave of water splashed into her face - courtesy of Gavin.

Emily let out a gasp, spitting water from her mouth. She shot Gavin a smirk and splashed him back. With all his little might, Timothy tossed the beach ball over the net, scoring a wicked point for the boys. Startled by the sudden attack, Theresa began to cry out in hysterics. Without hesitation, Gavin swam over to her and scooped her into his arms.

Perched on the pool stairs, Gavin cradled her. "Theresa, Uncle Gavin's sorry, honey. I didn't mean to scare you."

"Uncle Gaffin, you hurt Emm-mi-me," she sniffed.

"No, Theresa, he didn't hurt me." Emily held out her arms, coaxing her to sit by her. Theresa sat herself in Emily's lap. "He just splashed me, that's all."

Theresa sniffed again. "Uncle Gaffin is a meanie; you should hit him."

Gavin playfully frowned as his eyes widened. "You think she should hit me?"

Theresa giggled and nodded.

Gavin looked to Emily and shrugged, pointing to his arm. "I guess Colton and Melanie are raising some hostile children," he laughed. "Take your best shot, doll."

Smiling, Emily acted as though she hit him, and Gavin howled out in his best wounded voice.

Theresa laughed, quite satisfied by the blow.

"Mom said you made my daughter cry, Gavin?"

Gavin turned around and smiled. "Hey, Mel. Yeah, I scared her a little, but she's okay now. Aren't ya, squirt?" He tickled Theresa's toes.

She laughed and kicked her feet away from him. "Uncle Gaffin's girfend hit him for me."

With a sweep of her arm, Melanie motioned to Timothy to get out of the pool. She then tossed her long blonde hair over her shoulder, quirked a curious brow, and smiled in Gavin's direction.

"She's not my girlfriend," Gavin laughed, standing up. "She's Dillon's girlfriend. Emily, this is my wonderful sister-in-law, Melanie."

Holding Theresa's hand in hers, Emily rose to her feet and smiled. "It's nice to meet you."

"The pleasure's all mine," she said, returning the smile.

"Your children are adorable," Emily said.

"Thank you, but I bet you'd beg to differ when they're screaming and fighting with one another over a box or something crazy like that."

Emily laughed.

Turning to Gavin, an impish grin slid across Melanie's mouth. The threat in his eyes told her not to even go there - but she would.

She turned back to Emily. "Emily, do you have any available sisters or friends that Gavin might be interested in dating?"

Emily looked to Gavin. "Ongoing family thing?"

Crossing his arms, Gavin shook his head and smiled. "Bingo."

Emily laughed and looked over to Melanie. "I do have a sister, but she's married already. I can call a few friends though."

"Perfect," Melanie replied, placing her hand on Gavin's arm.

With that, Theresa tugged at Melanie's leg as she rubbed her sleepy eyes. Melanie picked her up. "Emily, make sure to call them soon. My brother-in-law's getting too old to still be single," she quipped and took off in a pretty fast pace toward the backdoor.

Letting out a sigh, Gavin smiled and handed Emily a towel. "She's a...difficult one, my sister-in-law."

"She seems nice though." Emily accepted the towel from him as she tried to drag her gaze away from his tattoo that was now wet and glistening in the sunlight. Blowing out a breath, she swallowed hard and refocused her eyes back on his face. "I find it funny that everyone's trying to get you hooked up with someone."

"Yeah, tell me about. They have this odd thing about me being single right now."

As Emily was about to ask him if he really wanted her to call some friends for him, Dillon snaked his arms around her waist from behind and kissed her neck. Surprised, she jumped and laughed at her sudden shock. The rest of the anglers strolled into the backyard looking sunburned, tired, and just a tad intoxicated. After some light conversation regarding the amount of fish that each man caught and a little more teasing of Gavin not being able to attend, the group dispersed as everyone went to take showers.

"So you went swimming I see," Dillon remarked, peeling the shirt from his body as he and Emily entered their room. Closing the door behind him, he shed the rest of his clothing and tossed them into a pile.

"Very good observation," she laughed.

Dillon walked into the bathroom, turned on the shower, and got in. "I hope you kept the body that belongs to me covered up around my friend," he called out.

Emily rolled her eyes and searched her bag for a particular red gauzy sundress that she'd brought along. It was one that her mother had purchased for her on their last trip to see her sister in California. She smiled when she found it, holding it up against her body as she looked into the mirror.

"You're not answering me, Emily. Did you cover yourself up?"

Walking into the bathroom, she let out a frustrated sigh. "Dillon, what do you see right now?" she asked, motioning her hand over her body, her voice a touch irritated by his question. It was clear to her that she wasn't baring too much skin.

"What do I see right now? I see my hot girlfriend's ass hanging out from beneath her college T-shirt. So why don't you get in the shower and give your man what he needs?"

"You think I'm having sex with you right now?" she asked, her eyes bulging. "There's a shitload of people downstairs."

"Get in the shower, Emily," he commanded simply.

"What the hell's wrong with you, Dillon? I said no."

"Come on, Em. It's just hard for me to see you looking like that and not want to fuck around," he calmly replied as he got out of the shower. He walked over to where she was leaning against the vanity. "I couldn't stop thinking about you while I was gone."

Pressing his body against hers, he quickly dipped his hand into her bikini bottom, making sure to slide his fingers inside her.

A faint moan escaped her lips as she tried to push him away.

"See, you like that." His voice notched down huskily as he grazed his lips over hers. Sliding his fingers in and out, he used his other hand to glide her bikini bottom down past her thighs. "This pussy's mine. No one else's, Emily. Mine," he groaned against her cheek.

As she pushed him away again, a knock came at the bedroom door. Shooting Emily a hard glare, Dillon yanked a towel from the rack, tossed it around his waist, and leisurely strolled over to answer it. It was Trevor, letting him know that a potential client eager to speak with him regarding a commodities plan was downstairs. Within five minutes, Dillon was dressed and out the door to go talk business. Emily was left alone in the room, wondering what the man - whom she desperately loved - was really morphing into.

By the time Emily calmed her nerves, showered, and got ready, it was a quarter past seven, and the party was in full swing. True to Dillon's words, there had to have been at least 150 people scattered throughout the property. She wove through the crowd of unrecognizable faces as she searched for him. When she couldn't find him among the masses, she took a seat at one of the bars set up on the patio.

After downing a shot of tequila, a slight pang of guilt for not giving Dillon the little he had asked from her hit the pit of her stomach. He'd emotionally taken care of her through the most difficult time in her life, constantly complimented her on a daily basis - whether it be about her physical or educational attributes - and made her want for nothing financially. Sex in someone's home - be it crowded or not - shouldn't have been an issue in her mind.

Before the shortcomings she felt about herself regarding their relationship cut deeper into her heart, Emily caught a glimpse of Gavin from across the pool, talking with a group of women. As he made conversation with them, he used his hands in intimate ways - a slight touch on the nape of the neck to get their attention, a casual brush on the arm as they spoke, or a light press against the small of the back when he would laugh - and the women fell all over themselves when he did. Emily swallowed hard when he glanced in her direction, essentially catching her staring at him. She watched him excuse himself from the eager wannabe-future-Mrs.-Gavin-Blake group as he made his way toward her.

Casually dressed in a white linen shirt and khaki shorts, he approached her with a smile and leaned against the bar. "I find it impossible that a woman as beautiful as you look this evening is sitting here alone."

Without missing a beat, Emily laughed. "You're truly a connoisseur of knowing what to say and do to women."

He cocked a smug brow and smiled. "I don't know about that; however, I am a connoisseur of making the world's most delectable ham sandwiches," he laughed and so did Emily. Holding her gaze, he took a long pull from his beer. "But, really, where's the man that should be sitting by your side at this very moment?"

She surveyed the crowd again. "He's around here somewhere."

As Gavin's eyes roamed over his guests in an attempt to locate Dillon, his eyes locked on Monica Lemay. She was making her way over to him and Emily, a malicious grin smearing across her face. He hastily excused himself from Emily, letting her know he'd be right back.

Monica rolled her eyes as Gavin approached. "Have you come to give me a warning as well?" She pushed up on her tiptoes and nipped on his earlobe. He recoiled, pulling away from her. "Because there's no need to do so. I've already been thoroughly warned by Dillon to act as if I don't know him for the evening and to also stay away from his little girlfriend over there, too."

Gavin glared at her, angling his head to the side, his eyes hard. "Oh, have you? Then why did it just appear as though you were going to say something to her?"

"Can a girl not get a drink from the bar?" she asked, affecting a venomous sneer.

"Go to one of the other bars, Monica." He leaned down to her ear, lowering his voice to an icy whisper. "You're a fucking snake. Don't think I can't see through you." He took a step back. "You stay the fuck away from her. Do you understand me?"

She tossed her blonde hair over her shoulder and crossed her arms as she looked away.

"Monica, look me in the eyes and tell me if you see a man who's easily deterred from ripping your whole world to shreds."

She drew up a brow, her hazel eyes wide. "What the fuck is that supposed to mean, Gavin?"

"It means that Blake Industries is a major benefactor in your father's company. I hold more than seventy-five percent of its stocks. I'll sell off every single one of them on Monday with a quick phone call." He leaned in closer, and she took a step back. "Wall Street will have a field day, and by Tuesday, you and your family will be scrounging for scraps in the alleys of Harlem."

She sucked in an indignant breath as her lips pulled down at the corners. "You wouldn't!"

"Fucking try me." He turned away and ran smack into Colton.

"Whoa, little man, you look furious."

Gavin glanced over to where Emily remained seated at the bar. "I'm fine. What's up?" he sniffed.

"Mom needs you in the kitchen," he said, raking his hand through his hair. "I don't know - something about someone down by the gates, trying to get onto the property that's not on the authorized list."

Emily nodded in Gavin's direction when she caught his gaze from across the pool. He was holding up a finger to her as though letting her know he would be right back. She watched as he quickly vanished through the crowd, making his way into the house. She recognized the woman he was speaking with from the bar a few days before. She wondered why he would invite his ex to the party or why she would show up. It was obvious to Emily that they still had ongoing issues.

As Emily ordered a drink, a tall muscular man around her age approached her, the smell of booze seeping clear out of his pores.

Smoothing a piece of his brown hair away from his forehead, he gave her a crooked smile. "Pretty cool party, right?"

Emily glanced at him as she accepted her beer from the bartender. "Yes, it is," she smiled.

"So are you here with anyone, or am I just the fucking luckiest guy at this party to have stumbled upon a hot-looking single girl?"

That's a killer pick-up line, asshole, she thought. "Sorry, I'm here with someone."

He let out a superior huff. "Who? Cause I know everyone here. I just may have to give him a beat down."

This is getting better by the minute. "Dillon Parker."

The man furrowed his brows. "You're not with Dillon Parker. He's still with Monica Lemay." He took a large swallow of his drink. "At least I thought he was."

Now you have my attention, jerkoff. "Who's Monica Lemay?"

"Do you know Gavin?"

Emily quickly nodded.

"She's the piece of blonde-haired prime meat he was just talking with by the pool."

This moron is definitely drunk. "No, you must be confused. The woman Gavin was just speaking with is his ex-girlfriend - not Dillon's."

The man adamantly shook his head. "Gavin's never dated Monica. We grew up together; he can't stand her." He downed another shot before continuing. "I've spent many Fourth of July parties at this house," he pointed a finger across the yard. "And I've witnessed Dillon and Monica stumble out of that very guesthouse many mornings after, barely dressed. They definitely fucked."

As she stood up, dazed at what he had just revealed, Emily tried to swallow. Her throat felt like razor-sharp blades were sliding into her esophagus.

"Hey, so you wanna give me your number or what?"

Without a backward glance, Emily pushed her way through the crowd. Their screeching voices, laughter, and jovial faces were a distant blur - a complete fuzz in her mind. A thin sheen of sweat beaded over her flesh as panic set it. She made her way toward the beckoning glow of the house. Walking past the kitchen, she spotted Gavin talking with his mother. He looked in her direction as she stormed into the living room.

When Emily rounded the corner to the hall, air whooshed from her lungs as her heart imploded into a gut-wrenching burst of effervescence upon seeing Dillon with Monica. The organ suffered another devastating blow when she saw Monica snaking her arms around Dillon's neck, drawing him into her, and then it happened - the kiss. Unable to fully comprehend what was going on, Emily cupped her hand over her mouth as tears welled in her eyes. Incapable of witnessing their exchange any further, she spun herself around, her body colliding against Gavin's chest. He caught her by the arms, flicking his eyes down to her face and then over her shoulder as they narrowed on Dillon and Monica.

"I...I...have to leave," Emily breathed out, her voice bleeding with pain. "Please. Call me a cab," she begged as she rapidly made her way to the front of the house and out the door.

Digging in his pocket for his keys, Gavin followed behind her. When he emerged, he found her trying to catch her breath, sitting on the stoop with her head cradled between her legs.

He walked over and knelt astride her. Placing his hand under her chin, he brought her face up to meet his. "Let me take you," he whispered.

She shook her head vehemently. "No, your...your party..." She wiped the now flowing tears from her eyes. "You can't just leave. Please call me a cab or have your driver take me back."

With his hand still under her chin, he gazed into her eyes. "My driver isn't here right now, and I'm not sending you back to the city in a cab. I'm not worried about the party; just let me take you back."

Without saying a word, Emily swallowed, stood up, and walked toward his driveway. He directed her over to his BMW and opened the door for her. She settled herself into the seat and watched as he made his way around the car, her nerves still reeling from what she just saw.

The two-and-a-half hours back to Manhattan was quiet without a word spoken. As the sky melted into hues of orange, purple, and pink with the setting sun, Gavin searched his mind for something to say, knowing he played a role in Emily believing that Monica was his girlfriend. Her grief was so tangible that it nauseated him.

Glancing at her, he knew he had to explain.

When he pulled into a parking spot in front of her building, he closed his eyes for a beat and took a breath. "I'm sorry that I lied to you," he whispered.

Emily slowly pulled her gaze from the passenger widow. "You think I'm mad at you for this?" Her tone was as low as his was, but the shock of his apology hung in her voice.

"How can you not be? I lied to cover for him that night. Although I didn't know he was still..." He drew in a deep breath and paused for a second. Emily knew what he didn't want to say. "I knew who she was; that's why I pulled her outside. I didn't want her to...hurt you, Emily. I'm so sorry."

She stared into his unblinking blue eyes. "You don't know me from a hole in the wall, Gavin," she huffed, swiping tears away from her cheeks. "It wasn't your responsibility to tell me the truth; it was his. So, please, don't feel the need to apologize to me."

Climbing out of the car, Emily stopped as her gaze slid up to the blood red and vibrant blue colors exploding like shooting stars in the sky. Pedestrians standing on the sidewalks hooted out, clapping at the display of fireworks going off throughout the city.

Gavin shut off the engine, flipped on his hazard lights, and followed her to the entrance of her building.

She abruptly came to a halt, tossing her hands through her hair as she began to cry again. "I don't even have my keys. My purse and my bag are still at your house."

Noticing Emily's visible distress, the door attendant walked over to her with concern. Gavin explained the situation. Within ten minutes, management - knowing that she was indeed a resident of the building - gave her a new set of keys.

Wanting to make sure she got in okay, Gavin followed her up in the elevator and walked her to the door. He watched as she trembled, trying to slide the key into the lock. He placed his hand on hers in an effort to calm her down. He took the key from her and unlocked the door. Standing in the threshold, his eyes watched her move across her apartment as she nervously paced back and forth.

When Emily walked back over to him, Gavin moved toward her. The loud snap of the door closing behind him echoed throughout the apartment.

"Thank you for taking me home," she said, her voice soft.

Staring at her, his voice filled with concern. "Are you sure you're going to be alright?"

Emily averted her glassy gaze to the floor.

Gavin dipped his head, forcing her to look at him. His blues eyes flicked down to her lips, and Emily could see the thoughts moving behind them. She knew. With her breath hitching in her throat, her heart rate kicked up, fluttering to soaring heights, as he tenderly cupped her cheek. She brought her hand up and gently placed it over his, leaning into its warmth and soaking it in.

"Emily," he whispered, laying his forehead against hers as he closed his eyes.

When they opened, she was gazing into his - their quickened breaths mingling, heated, warm, and so close now. The energy flowing soundlessly around them was suffocating. He moved closer, his arm coming around the small of her back, pulling her into the heat of his body. Gavin leaned down to kiss her - his own heart slamming in his chest - but neither his body nor his mind allowed another minute to pass without fulfilling his urge or his need. Emily parted her lips to protest, but it was a moan that filtered through them as his mouth covered hers, his tongue beginning its gentle onslaught against her lips. Her mouth moved beneath his, drawing in his delicious taste. She felt herself sinking into the pleasure of the kiss as his touch destroyed her resolve and shattered the last bit of self-control she had left. Despite the confusion weaving through her mind, her body was making the decision for her.

No. Questions. Asked.

As Gavin kissed her, he could taste the cherry sweetness of her lips, and he drank it in as if it was the finest of red wines. Her hands moved up his arms to the back of his neck, leaving a trail of fire against his skin. A thick shiver of pleasure rebounded around him, racing through his blood from the touch of her fingers intertwining themselves in his hair. A groan rumbled in his throat at the feel of her soft breasts against his chest. The scent of her skin and the feel of her curved body fitting perfectly in his arms sent him to a place he never knew existed. His fingers explored her wavy hair as their kiss deepened; it felt exactly how he figured it would, like pure fucking silk. Emily grabbed handfuls of his shirt as he walked her backward, pressing her against the wall and sweeping his tongue through her mouth. Gavin kissed her as if he'd done it a thousand times - as if she'd belonged to him. He kissed her the way he'd imagined he would from the moment he saw her - from the moment he knew he needed her.

"You're so beautiful," he groaned. His lips moved over her jaw as his hands smoothed down her waist. "I want you more than I've ever wanted anything before in my fucking life."

Emily nearly melted at his words - her body pressing against his, straining for more, wanting more. Her head fell back as his mouth slid to the side of her neck, tracing the slope of her collarbone and pressing kisses against her flesh. When he slipped his hand under the hem of her dress and started caressing her hip, Emily's heart nearly stopped. Goosebumps popped over her arms as she wrapped her leg around his waist, his hand cradling the back of her head and the other holding tight to her thigh. Waves of heat cascaded over her trembling body; each touch was a destructive whisper against her skin. The languid sweeping motion of his tongue trailed back to her mouth. Sucking in her lower lip, he swallowed her moans of pleasure as he held her closer. Her senses blanketed themselves in the smell, touch, taste, and glorious groans that came from Gavin.

Gavin Blake...Dillon's friend - someone he had known and become close with. If Dillon found out - despite his wrongdoings to her - he would surely lose it. Suddenly, Emily was off balance, uncertain of what she was doing. The shimmering images of Dillon and their life together invaded her mind. This was bad, and she knew it. Two wrongs never computed to a right in her head - ever. A wave of guilt mixed with anger at Dillon and herself washed over her. Although her body fought against it - and fought against it hard - she had to stop.

"We...I can't...Gavin," she finally breathed, barely forcing the words past her lips.

Pulling back, his blue eyes dark and wavered with lust, Gavin searched her face. Her lips were swollen from their kiss, and her breathing was as ragged as his. Tears were filling her eyes, yet he saw passion there as well. His heart broke a thousand times over from the look on her face. He didn't want to hurt her. He nodded slowly as his fingertips slid over her flushed cheeks before his hands dropped to his sides, taking her warmth with them.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, not meeting his eyes.

"No, Emily, I - "

"Please, Gavin, just leave. I need you to leave," she sniffed, still unable to look at his face.

The air prickled uneasily between them for a long moment. Gavin desperately tried to get his tongue unglued from the roof of his mouth and tried to say something - anything - that would fix the situation, but he couldn't. The words - the right words - didn't exist in his mind.

And this he knew.

Running a nervous hand through his hair, he turned away, reached for the door, and reluctantly made his way out.

Emily trembled as she hunched over in an attempt to catch her breath. She closed her eyes, desperately trying to block out the guilt, push it away, and purge it out of her system. Her complexion was drained of all color; her eyes were bloodshot and puffy from crying. Her stomach was curled around itself in disgust - not only from what she had just done, but also from the feeling that somewhere in the back of her mind...she knew it had felt right. God, it had felt so right kissing him, touching him, and letting him touch her. She buried her face in her hands and cried as the fresh waves of guilt crashed through every limb in her body.

Feeling mentally drained by it all, she walked over and collapsed herself onto the couch, trying to regain her composure as she wiped the tears from her face. A part of her felt like it was dying as vivid pictures of Dillon kissing Monica skirted through her head. Staring at the ceiling, Emily wondered if somehow she had deluded herself into thinking Dillon wasn't cheating on her. Her instincts sent sparks throughout her mind from the past several weeks, but her gut wretched against listening to the warning sirens going off.

A sharp knock at the door roused her from the nightmare she had hoped she was awakening from. Before she could answer, the door swung open. Dillon was standing in the hall with her bags. Swallowing down the rising bile in her throat, she could feel the pulse in her stomach when she shot up from the couch. Closing the door behind him, his eyes met and locked with hers from across the room.

"What are you doing here?" she asked, her eyes glaring at him. "I want you to leave."

"You have to let me explain."

"Let you explain? You kissed her!" she scoffed, her eyes bulging.

"She kissed me," he corrected.

"Bullshit! I want you out," she yelled and pointed toward the door.

"You're going to let me explain." He walked across the room, bridging the distance between them.

"You kissed her," she cried, stabbing her finger into his chest. "I saw it with my own eyes!"

He grabbed her by the wrist and moved closer. "What you saw was her leaning in to kiss me. You didn't see me push her away, Emily," he breathed out, his voice low and steady.

"And I'm supposed to believe that?" she nearly screamed. "You lied to me about her being Gavin's girlfriend!"

She made a beeline toward the kitchen, but he grabbed her by the shoulders. "I didn't tell you about her that night because I didn't want you feeling uncomfortable while she was there."

She immediately jerked back and openly gaped at him.

"I'm not kidding, Emily. I didn't want you to know she was someone I used to date. I knew if you found out that night, you'd want to leave. I figured it was no big deal," he said, stepping closer.

She moved back, almost stumbling.

"Baby, I'm not lying," he continued. "She's fucking obsessed with me. You think I would do that with her out in the open, knowing you were there?"

Emily glared at him, her mouth wide open.

He raked his hands through his hair. "I didn't mean it like that. I was coming out of the bathroom, and she asked if she could talk to me for a minute. I agreed, and before I knew it, she pulled me into her and kissed me. That's what you saw, babe. I swear to fucking God I pushed her away. You must've turned around before I did."

Shaking her head, Emily's hand rushed to her mouth as she began to cry. Hurt ricocheted through her heart - the pain literally slamming through her body. Could she have made an assumption too soon from the few seconds of their kiss that she saw? She had never felt so confused.

"I even warned her when she got to the party to stay away from me and you," he whispered, cautiously stepping closer and bringing his hand up to caress her cheek.

Continuing to cry, she averted her gaze to the floor, not knowing what to do or what to say.

"I just gave Gavin hell for bringing you back here without my permission."

Emily's head snapped up. "You...saw him?" she asked, swallowing hard.

"Yes, I saw him leaving out front," he replied, burying his face in her neck. "You shouldn't have left with him, Emily."

She pulled back again, her green eyes wide. "You don't think you would've left if you had seen me doing the same thing?"

"I'm not sure," he paused, nibbling his bottom lip as if deliberating what to say. "I just know that I don't like that he brought you home without telling me and that you actually left with him."

Her features morphed at the shock of his words. "You're mad at me for leaving, Dillon?"

"Jesus, baby, I'm not mad at you." He stepped closer and brushed his hand across her neck. "I just want you to believe me. She means nothing to me." Stepping closer still, he breathed against her cheek as his hands smoothed down to her waist. "I pulled away, Emily. I swear I did. You just didn't see it." He gently moved his mouth over her lips, his voice pleading as he kissed her. "I love you more than anything in this world. I would never hurt you, babe. Please, you have to believe me. I fucking love you."

He tilted her head back, angled her body to his, and slid his mouth down her neck.

"Dillon, please," she moaned, grabbing onto his shirt. "God, please, Dillon, don't lie to me," she begged as tears ran down her face.

"Baby, I'm not lying." He trailed his hands under her dress and slipped it over her head. "I fucking love you, Emily. You're my world. I can't lose you," he whispered into her mouth, his breath ragged against hers. "I'm sorry you had to see that."

Her own indiscretions with Gavin tore through her as she looked into Dillon's brown eyes, oxygen seeming to evaporate from her lungs. The guilt thrusted itself like an ice-laden spear through her heart.

"Tell me you believe me," he breathed out heavily, slowly kneeling as he swirled his tongue in hypnotizing circles down her stomach. He then slid her panties past her thighs. "Tell me you believe me, baby."

She felt so torn over what she wanted to believe and what she had done with Gavin. "Yes, I believe you," she cried. "I'm so sorry, Dillon. I'm so sorry."

Before she knew it, he ripped the panties from her body, pulled her up off the ground, and carried her to her bed. He spread her legs, holding her in place, as his tongue laved against her painfully pleasurable spot. Her body writhed against his mouth and moved of its own accord while he gripped onto her hips, sucking, licking, and tasting her very essence.

Her muscles convulsed with both ecstasy and guilt as his fingers slid in and out of her hot warmth. Needing to rid herself of the shame she felt and wanting him inside her at that very moment, she strained up.

"Dillon, I want you now," she moaned, sliding herself back against the pillows.

He shed the rest of his clothing, climbed into the bed, and sank himself inside her. She gripped his caging biceps, throwing her head back at the sensation of him pulsing into her hot flesh. He slammed his mouth over hers and stifled her moans as she closed her eyes. And then it happened - the visions of Gavin kissing her, the feel of his velvet tongue, the warm touch of his fingertips all over her body - her every thought was consumed by him. Dillon was on top of her, but all she could feel, touch, smell, and taste was Gavin.

Emily stopped moving beneath Dillon; her entire body froze.

"What's wrong?" he breathed into her ear, continuing to move above her.

"I feel like I'm going to be sick." She slid out from beneath him and rushed to the bathroom.

He let out a sigh and flipped onto his back. "What the fuck, Em?"

Shutting the door behind her, she fell to her knees in front of the toilet as hot tears welled in her eyes and nausea threatened to spill over. Placing her elbow on the seat, she buried her hands in her hair, trying to catch her breath. She sat there for a few seconds, a few minutes, maybe a few hours. She didn't know how much time had passed when she finally stood up.

She walked over to the mirror and stared at her reflection. After throwing some water on her face, she made her way out into her room where Dillon had already fallen asleep. Quietly getting into bed with him, she curled the blankets over her body, hoping to find sleep and praying that she wasn't heading into something she couldn't control.