Author: Sylvia Day
“The solution to being with the wrong guy is to leave. There. Solved.”
I growled. “I’m thinking the problem is Deanna.”
“I never liked that bitch,” Nico said, startling me. He didn’t often speak in a derogatory way about women—our mother had raised my brothers to be gentlemen. “Vincent never liked her much either. He just put up with her because she was crazy in bed. Liked some kink and bondage.”
“Eww.” I shook my head. “TMI, Nico. Seriously. And it’s kinda uncool that you guys are sharing that level of detail with each other. Whatever happened to privacy?”
“Hey, I didn’t ask to see those photos she was sexting to him. Told him to take it into his room. Anyway, he should’ve warned you about her. She’d told him once that she started her career by sleeping with prominent married men, and then using pillow talk and extortion, if necessary, to get leads out of them.”
I stared at the closed bedroom door, frozen by a flash of an idea.
“So...” my brother went on, “should I head up there this weekend and help you move your stuff out?”
“Not yet.” I stood and walked to the bag where I kept my laptop. “Let me call you back.”
“If I can’t answer, I’ll call you back.”
With half my focus on something else, I still couldn’t miss how wonderful Nico was. I had a lot of blessings in my life, but my brothers definitely topped the list. “Ti amo, fratello.”
“Love you, too.”
Shoving my phone into my pocket, I grabbed my laptop out of its carrying case and sat on the bench at the foot of the bed. I surfed to the cloud and sent up a silent prayer asking for Vincent not to have changed his password since he’d given it to me once months ago.
I had a hard moment of indecision, weighing my options. Either way, someone I loved was going to get hurt.
In the end, the public nature of Deanna’s threat won out.
I got into Vincent’s account, clicked on the photo album that synced with his phone, and immediately wanted to scour my eyeballs. There were some things a girl just didn’t want to think about her brothers knowing. Or doing.
I downloaded all the racy photos of Deanna—wondering why Vincent had kept them after their breakup—and then I sent her a text telling her to call me ASAP for info she’d want to hear.
With shaking hands, I started unpacking. Jax didn’t believe I was strong enough to share his life and it was up to me to prove him wrong. I could do that. I would do that. And then he wouldn’t feel like he had to hide things from me because I couldn’t handle it.
I heard Jax’s voice outside the door, growing louder as he approached. “I get it, Dad, but I’m going after Gianna now—”
The door opened and Jax strode in, pausing midstep when he caught sight of me. Parker was fast on his heels, but he stopped when he saw me, his mouth closing before he said whatever he’d been about to say.
With a nod of acknowledgment, Parker caught the doorknob and pulled the door shut. Jax locked the door.
My smartphone started ringing. Deanna’s name appeared on the screen. Holding Jax’s gaze, I answered with a curt “Gianna Rossi.”
“What’s up?” Deanna asked, sounding distracted and impatient.
“Hello to you, too, Deanna.”
Jax’s gaze narrowed.
I took a deep breath, knowing I needed to pull off the bluff of my life. “I’ll make this quick—either you kill the Rutledge story or I post X-rated pictures of you on every revenge porn site known to man.”
Jax’s nostrils flared on a sharply indrawn breath.
“Bullshit,” Deanna hissed.
“Is it?” I asked. “You want to take that chance?”
“Those photos are private property!”
“You’re throwing privacy in my face?”
“Two totally different things, Gianna! The Rutledge family gave up any expectation of privacy when they decided to take a stab at controlling this country.”
“You’re taking it too far.”
“And you’re not? There are laws against revenge porn. You post those pictures, and it’ll come back on you and the Rutledges. You’ll be the enemy then.”
“There are laws against extortion, too,” I said tightly, “but that didn’t stop you. There are ways of finding out who you’re squeezing for information, just as there are ways to hide how those pictures of you make it online.”
My lies were spinning into a clusterfuck, but I couldn’t stop.
She sucked in her breath. “I don’t know what you think you’ve got on me—”
“I’ve got enough.” My hand fisted around my phone. “Kill the story, Deanna, or I kill your reputation—your choice.”
“I can’t pull the story! It’s too late.”
“That’s too bad for you.” I hung up.
Jax stared at me. “What are you doing?”
“Not sure. I’m winging it.” My phone rang again and I answered.
“How can you do this?” Deanna’s voice was laced with panic. “One woman to another, how can you?”
I couldn’t ask myself that same question, because I’d back off if I did. I had sent Jax suggestive pictures before. Nothing as extreme as Deanna’s, but still...I’d be mortified if any of them ever got out. “Give me another choice.”
“This isn’t your business! Jackson Rutledge is a big boy. Let him fight his own battles.”
“I would, if I weren’t responsible for this mess to begin with.”
Jax started toward me.
Deanna groaned. “You’re going to take me to the mat for a guy who won’t tell you jack about himself? Do you think he’d care if the situation were reversed? He’d distance himself so quick your head would spin. Don’t think he wouldn’t!”
She’d picked the wrong time to throw that scenario at me, because the look in Jax’s eyes at that moment was fierce with love. Right then, I was pretty sure he’d do anything for me.
“This conversation is over,” I told her, needing to end it before I wavered. Yes, she was an opportunistic bitch, but what I’d threatened to do didn’t put me on higher ground. “You know the deal.”
I hung up a split second before Jax grabbed me and crushed me so close I could hardly breathe.
“Jesus, Gia.” His lips pressed hard against my temple. “I wasn’t expecting you to— I didn’t want— Fuck.”
I hugged him back, holding on tight. He was right; I hadn’t fought for him the first time we broke up. I wasn’t going to make that mistake twice. “We’ll get through this. Right?”
There was a plea in my voice. I hated hearing it, but I had a knot in my stomach that wouldn’t quit. I had a horrible feeling that the worst was still ahead of us.
Jax leaned his head against me, his entire body heavy with weariness. “I’m sorry, baby. I was pissed off at everything and everyone except you, but you were the easy target. I was an ass.”
“I’m sorry, too. I don’t know what I was thinking when I asked her for help.”
“This life... It’s an adjustment. I’ll have to teach you how to deal with it.” His lips brushed my cheek. “I should’ve talked to you. When you needed answers, I should’ve been the one to give them to you.”
“Next time,” I said, praying for it to be that easy.
Eventually, we’d run out of mistakes to make. I had to believe that.
A sigh left me. What we’d had in Vegas...it’d seemed so clear. So true. Now everything was murky, clouded by our family ties. I grieved a little for the innocence our relationship had lost along the way.
But mourning what we’d lost didn’t stop me from appreciating what we still had. When I was in Jax’s arms, I felt like I was right where I was supposed to be. The only other thing that came close to giving me that feeling of homecoming was Rossi’s.
I knew what it felt like to lose it. Now I had to learn what it would take to keep it.
Pulling back, Jax looked at me, his hands gliding up and down my back. “I was coming after you. If you’d left, I would have been bringing you home now.”
I nuzzled into his touch, wanting to comfort him and wanting comfort in return. I could feel the strain in his body, the tension pulled tight and ready to snap. “I might’ve made you work for it.”
His hands lifted to my neck, his fingers kneading into the knotted muscles. I moaned, melting under his expert touch.
He lowered his head, and his voice came deep and low. “I’ll work for it now.”
Even though I saw the kiss coming, it still knocked me out. The seal of Jax’s mouth over mine was tight and greedy, laced with a wildness I hadn’t tasted since we’d been together in Vegas. His tongue stroked fast and hard into my mouth, licking deep with devastating sexuality. The message was clear before he spoke.
“I want you,” he said softly, tracing my lips with the tip of his tongue. “There are a dozen people on the other side of these walls and I don’t care. I can’t be quiet when I’m fucking you...they’ll hear me when I come inside you. They’ll see it on my face when I step outside. I couldn’t care less. If I’m not buried deep in you within the next ten minutes, I’m going to lose my mind.”
“Jax.” My phone started ringing. I switched it to silent mode and dropped it, not caring where it landed. Then I fisted Jax’s hair in my hands, holding him in place as I ate at his mouth.
I loved kissing him. The feel of his lips, so firm yet soft. The rough sounds of pleasure he made. How ravenous he was for me. He made me feel like he couldn’t live without me.
He caught one of my wrists and dragged my hand down to his erection, wrapping my fingers around him. He was hard as stone and deliciously thick. Then he pulled my hand up to his chest and pressed it flat over his pounding heart. “Gia...”
I lost it.
We tore at each other’s clothing, yanking off buttons and ripping through delicate threads. I was desperate to get at him, my lips and teeth catching every inch of golden skin that they could reach, my hands pulling and tugging at every scrap of material that got in my way.
In a distant part of my mind I heard my phone vibrating, but I didn’t care. Neither did Jax. With everything on fire around us, we focused only on each other.
He urged me back until I tumbled onto the bed, shrugging off his ruined shirt before following me down. His skin was hot to the touch, burning me even through my bra and slacks. Kissing me deeply, he cupped one of my breasts in his hand, kneading covetously before shoving the lace cup aside to touch my bare skin.
I gasped into his mouth, my nipple hardening against his palm. I fumbled with the hidden button of his tailored pants, growling when he settled on me and trapped my hands.
“You first,” he muttered. Clever fingers circled my nipple and rolled it, sending delight arrowing to my core.
The next moment, that mouth I adored was on my breast, wet heat surrounding my tender nipple. His tongue lashed at the hardened tip, his cheeks hollowing on a drawing pull. His hand was between my legs, rubbing my aching cleft through my slacks, teasing me by grinding the length of his erection against my thigh.
His scent and heat surrounded me, his hands and mouth moved all over me. I wanted some control, but he was too fast, sliding lower before I could catch him.
His gaze snared mine as he tugged my slacks and panties down my legs.
Sitting up, I pulled off my blouse and unhooked my bra. My phone was vibrating nonstop, setting a driving urgent pace. Jax rolled to his back and opened his fly, lifting his hips to shove his pants and boxer briefs out of the way. He came at me like that, too impatient to strip all the way.