I could tell he wasn't being flippant. As bizarre as this conversation must be for him, Gideon was taking it seriously. "Call it one of my quirks, and I'm not saying that lightly. It pisses me off to feel used for sex. I feel devalued."
"Can't you look at it as you using me for sex?"
"Not with you." He was too forceful, too demanding.
A sizzling, predatory glimmer sparked in his eyes as I bared my weakness for him.
"Besides," I went on quickly, "that's semantics. I need an equal exchange in my sexual relationships. Or to have the upper hand."
"Okay? You said that really quickly considering I'm telling you I need to combine two things you work so hard to avoid putting together."
"I'm not comfortable with it and I don't claim to understand, but I'm hearing you - it's an issue. Tell me how to get around it."
My breath left me in a rush. I hadn't expected that. He was a man who wanted no complications with his sex and I was a woman who found sex complicated, but he wasn't giving up. Yet.
"We need to be friendly, Gideon. Not best buds or confidants, but two people who know more about each other than their anatomy. To me, that means we have to spend time together when we're not actively f**king. And I'm afraid we'll have to spend time not actively f**king in places where we're forced to restrain ourselves."
"Isn't that what we're doing now?"
"Yes. And see, that's what I mean. I wasn't giving you credit for that. You should've done it in a less creepy manner" - I covered his lips with my fingers when he tried to cut me off - "but I admit you did try to set up a time to talk and I wasn't helpful."
He nipped my fingers with his teeth, making me yelp and yank my hand away.
"Hey. What was that for?"
He lifted my abused hand to his mouth and kissed the hurt, his tongue darting out to soothe. And incite.
In self-defense, I tugged my hand back to my lap. I still wasn't completely confident that we'd worked things out. "Just so you know there are no exaggerated expectations - when you and I spend time together not actively f**king, I won't think it's a date. All right?"
"That covers it." Gideon smiled and my decision to be with him solidified for me. His smile was like lightning in the darkness, blinding and beautiful and mysterious, and I wanted him so badly it was physically painful.
His hands slid down to cup the backs of my thighs. Squeezing gently, he tugged me just a little bit closer. The hem of my short black halter dress slipped almost indecently high and his gaze was riveted to the flesh he'd exposed. His tongue wet his lips in an action so carnal and suggestive I could almost feel the caress on my skin.
Duffy began begging for mercy, her voice drifting up from the dance floor below. An unwelcome ache developed in my chest and I rubbed at it.
I'd already had enough, but I heard myself saying, "I need another drink."
I had a vicious hangover on Saturday morning and figured it was no less than I deserved. As much as I'd resented Gideon's insistence on negotiating sex with as much passion as he would a merger, in the end I'd negotiated in kind. Because I wanted him enough to take a calculated risk and break my own rules.
I took comfort in knowing he was breaking some of his own, too.
After a long, hot shower, I made my way into the living room and found Cary on the couch with his netbook, looking fresh and alert. Smelling coffee in the kitchen, I headed there and filled the biggest mug I could find.
"Morning, sunshine," Cary called out.
With my much-needed dose of caffeine wrapped between both palms, I joined him on the couch.
He pointed at a box on the end table. "That came for you while you were in the shower."
I set my mug on the coffee table and picked up the box. It was wrapped with brown paper and twine, and had my name handwritten diagonally across the top with a decorative calligraphic flourish. Inside was an amber glass bottle with Hangover Cure painted on it in a white old-fashioned font and a note tied with raffia to the bottle's neck that said, "Drink me." Gideon's business card was nestled in the cushioning tissue paper.
As I studied the gift, I found it very apt. Since meeting Gideon I'd felt like I'd fallen down the rabbit hole into a fascinating and seductive world where few of the known rules applied. I was in uncharted territory that was both exciting and scary.
I glanced at Cary, who eyed the bottle dubiously.
"Cheers." I pried the cork out and drank the contents without thinking twice about it. It tasted like sickly sweet cough syrup. My stomach quivered in distaste for a moment, and then heated. I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand and shoved the cork back into the empty bottle.
"What was that?" Cary asked.
"From the burn, it's hair of the dog."
His nose wrinkled. "Effective but unpleasant."
And it was working. I already felt a little steadier.
Cary picked up the box and dug out Gideon's card. He flipped it over; then held it out to me. On the back Gideon had written, "Call me" in bold slashing penmanship and jotted down a number.
I took the card, curling my hand around it. His gift was proof that he was thinking about me. His tenacity and focus was seductive. And flattering.
There was no denying I was in trouble where Gideon was concerned. I craved the way I felt when he touched me, and I loved the way he responded when I touched him back. When I tried to think of what I wouldn't agree to do to have his hands on me again, I couldn't come up with much.
When Cary tried to hand me the phone, I shook my head. "Not yet. I need a clear head when dealing with him and I'm still fuzzy."