Authors: Ruth Cardello
He needed to.
And he hoped when he woke in her arms the next morning, he would be a man who deserved to be there.
Cassie sat naked and cross-legged on the bed munching on bacon and feeding fruit to Luke, who was lying on his side a foot away from her. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and gasped. Her hair was a wild tangle. She tried to flatten one particularly wild curl. “You could have told me I look like I’ve been pulled through the bushes backward.”
Luke shot her his charming, roguish smile that never failed to set her heart beating a mile a minute. “I haven’t looked above your shoulders much.”
Cassie laughed and threw what was left of her bacon strip at his head. “That’s charming.”
“It’s your fault,” he said playfully. “If you weren’t so comfortable being naked, I wouldn’t be so distracted.” He leaned forward, cupping her bare sex with his hand. “Did you shave for me?” He slid a finger between her lower lips slowly, leisurely as if it were his and he had all the time in the world to explore it. When his finger found and began to rub back and forth over her clit, Cassie flushed with excitement.
“My boyfriend likes it.”
“Does he?” Luke growled, dipping his middle finger deeper into her while continuing his outer caress. “What else does he like?”
Cassie sucked one of her fingers then trailed it around one of her nipples. She felt herself pucker beneath her own touch. She whispered, “He likes it when I touch myself.”
Luke’s eyes darkened with passion, and he pushed the tray of food off the bed. It crashed to the floor, but he never took his eyes off Cassie. “I bet he would love to watch you make yourself come. Have you ever done that for him, Cassie?”
Cassie shook her head, already so excited by their game she was breathing raggedly. She slid her hand down her stomach and placed her hand where his had been. She knew her own body, knew how to bring herself pleasure, but she’d never done it while anyone watched her.
She started softly, circling her clit with her finger while massaging one of her breasts with her other hand. All the while, she held Luke’s eyes. He took his shaft into his hand and pumped up and down. He was rock hard and so big. Cassie imagined that her finger was the tip of his cock. She pinched one of her nipples and imagined the slight pain was from his teeth.
With Luke, Cassie never felt self-conscious. He was open with his enjoyment of her, and it was impossible to feel anything but sexy when he looked at her the way he did.
Cassie increased the tempo of her fingers on herself and rolled onto her back. Her legs were still crisscrossed, which left her wide open and exposed before him as she began to pump her finger in and out of herself. She rubbed faster, harder, sending herself upward toward a climax. Luke moved closer to her and claimed her mouth with his.
When Cassie cried out in pleasure it was into Luke’s mouth. He shifted so he was lying fully against her side and took her hand off herself and brought it to his mouth. He licked each finger as though it were an addictive taste.
“Was it good, Cupcake?” he asked.
“Oh, yes,” Cassie said breathlessly.
He kissed his way down her chest, moving down the bed until he was resting between her legs. “Let’s compare, shall we?”
There was no comparison. She was already swollen and eager for his touch. His tongue darted across her shaven mound, almost giving her what she wanted, before sliding away. He kissed her inner thighs. Her stomach. He blew softly on her.
Cassie shivered with pleasure. He ran his hands lovingly over her, warming her skin with hot kisses that followed. When Cassie could take no more, she dug her hands into his hair and bucked toward his mouth.
His chuckle was the sexiest sound she’d ever heard, and she knew he was deliberately driving her out of control. By the time his tongue darted intimately into her, she was hungering for it. His unrelenting adoration was an intense pleasure; it was torture. Torture she begged him not to stop. When she was on the brink of another climax, he paused.
She nearly sobbed in disappointment until she heard him opening a condom wrapper. A moment later he went up onto his knees, lifted her hips to his waist, and plunged deeply into her.
Cassie dug her hands into the bed sheets as he took her with a fierceness he’d held back in the past. She came with a cry, but he was beyond hearing her. He thrust harder, deeper, wilder until Cassie lost all concept of where they were or anything beyond them. It was just the two of them, rising above everything else in a kaleidoscope of searing pleasure. She reached up and pulled his mouth back to hers. He rolled with her, not breaking the kiss, but positioning himself so he could thrust even deeper.
There was an affirmation to their passion that Cassie had never experienced before, a feeling that neither would be the same afterward. When he finally came, they fell, sweaty and dazed, into each other’s arms.
For a long time they both simply lay there, enjoying the afterglow. Luke removed his condom, tied and tossed it aside, then kissed Cassie’s forehead. “I shouldn’t have come here, but I don’t regret I did.”
Cassie raised her head off his shoulder and looked at him. “I shouldn’t have let you in, but I feel the same way. Whatever it is you can’t tell me, Luke, I want you to know I’m okay with it. We all have our secrets, and yours don’t scare me. I know what kind of man you are. That’s what matters to me.”
Luke looked at her sadly. “My mother is very ill, Cassie. Very ill. I doubt she’ll be with us next week.”
Cassie gently caressed Luke’s tense jaw. “I’m sure you’re doing everything you can.”
Luke covered her hand with his. “You need to know that someone did this to her. I found traces of poison in her system. We think it was her doctor, but we’re not sure yet. No one at the hospital knows. Her medical records are all a lie—a lie I’m adding to instead of involving the police.” He brought her hand to his mouth. “I’m telling you this because if not saying it costs me you, then it’s too high a price to pay.”
Cassie sat up beside Luke. “Someone poisoned your mother? Are you serious?”
His steady look told her he was.
“If you tell anyone, I could lose everything.”
Cassie cocked her head to the side and studied him for a long moment. “Why do I get the feeling you almost want me to?” There in his sad eyes she saw the answer. “You do. You hate what you’re doing, and you think you deserve to be punished for it.” Cassie took his hand in hers and held it on her thigh. “You picked the wrong person to confess to. I’ll take your secret with me to the grave.”
Luke frowned. “You understand what I’m saying? I’m falsifying medical records to protect my ass, not for some heroic reason. I’m doing it because the only thing people love more than a success story is tearing one down. The scandal, even after we would prove we weren’t involved in it, would ruin my family.”
“And you hate yourself for doing something illegal.” Cassie laced her fingers with his, looking down at them as she spoke. “I understand better than you know. I told you about my mother. And I told you I stole for survival. I didn’t tell you how I felt about it. I had to do it to survive. I had to lie to the police about where she was. I had to lie to my friends so I wouldn’t be taken away from her. For a long time, it felt like all I did was lie. I told myself I had to. I saw people hurting people, and I looked away because getting involved would have exposed that my mother wasn’t around, and I couldn’t risk that. When we’re young we think right and wrong are like black and white, easy to distinguish. The reality is that so much of what we do lies in a complicated gray area where there is no right. All we can do is choose the wrong we can best live with.”
Luke pulled Cassie into his arms and rolled over so he was above her. “You have a frightening ability to understand me.”
“As I said, we’re not that different.”
He ran a hand through her splayed hair. “What would you say if I told you my mother has been so bitter and so cruel to my brothers and me that I’m forcing myself to get her the best treatments? Part of me would be relieved if she passed away before I saw her again. What kind of son does that make me?”
Slow tears began to spill down Cassie’s temples. She tried to blink them back, but Luke’s question struck a cord deep inside her. “It makes you human, Luke. My own mother is out there somewhere, probably on a drug binge right now. I tried to save her so many times, but each time I did, she would pull me down with her. I don’t understand why, I just know she couldn’t let me be happy when she wasn’t. I had to walk away from her, Luke. I had to let go. And part of me hopes she overdoses. I don’t tell anyone that. It’s ugly. It’s shameful. But if I’m honest with myself, it’s because, although I know I can’t open my life to her again, I hate feeling guilty all the time. I want it to end. So, tell me, Luke, what kind of daughter does that make me?”
Wiping away Cassie’s tears, Luke said softly, “A beautifully strong daughter of an addict.”
Cassie touched his mouth gently with the tips of her fingers. “Then you understand how I see you. You’re not a bad person, Luke. Because, if you are, then so am I.”
A light beep went off across the room. Luke pulled away from Cassie and picked his pager up off the hotel bureau. “It’s the hospital. My mother is awake. I have to go.”
Cassie sat up and hugged her knees to her chest. “I’ll be here if you need me.”
Luke looked across the room at her with so much emotion in his eyes, Cassie almost burst into tears again. “If you’re coming with me, you need to shower quickly.”
“You want me with you?” Cassie scrambled off the bed.
Luke held out his hand to her. “Not in her room. My brothers will want to be alone with her, I’m sure. But we have a private waiting room for family.”
Cassie followed Luke into the bathroom and took a brief shower with him. The sexual tension of earlier was absent as they rushed to dress and gather their things, but one word kept echoing in her head.
It was difficult to mesh how awful the events of the day were with how wonderful that one word made Cassie feel. Luke called his brothers, informing them to meet him at the hospital. She heard him tell one of them he was bringing her, and she held her breath.
Luke called Max first and told him to bring Nick to the hospital. He put off calling the more difficult of his brothers until he and Cassie were just about to walk out of her hotel room.
“Gio, the hospital called. Mother is conscious and coherent. I’m heading over there now. Max and Nick are on their way.”
Gio made a sound deep in his throat. “I wish you’d give us time to talk to her first. Alone.”
“She doesn’t have much time, Gio. She’s awake, but she’s not pulling through as I’d hoped. This could be the last time they see her.”
“Shit. You did the right thing then.”
Luke met Cassie’s eyes and took her hand in his. Right. Wrong. No, this was neither. There was only one right thing in his life, and he was taking her with him to the hospital. “Cassie is coming with me.”
“You’re taking a big risk, Luke. I wouldn’t bring her.”
“She’s coming, Gio.”
Gio swore. “Tell me she doesn’t know.”
“I trust her.”
“You barely know her,” Gio thundered. Cassie winced as Gio’s voice reached her.
Luke gave Cassie’s hand a firm squeeze and held her gaze. “I trust her more than most people I’ve known my whole life. She’s part of my life, and she deserved the truth. Did you tell Julia?”
“Yes,” Gio said quietly. “Julia doesn’t want to be protected from the truth, and I respect that.”
“Then understand it’s the same with Cassie.”
Gio sighed. “I hope you didn’t just make a monumental mistake.”
“I didn’t,” Luke said firmly. “I’ll see you at the hospital.”
As he and Cassie rode alone in the elevator, Cassie said, “If my presence will upset your family, I’m okay with not going.”
Luke fell in love with her a little bit more just then. “Gio always sounds that way. You’ll get used to it. He’s worried, and he’s used to being in charge. There isn’t much about this that’s in his control, and that’s not easy for him.”
“Are you close?”
“I spent my life trying to be. I don’t know if it’s important anymore. When my mother passes, we may all end up simply going our separate ways.” Luke surprised himself with how jaded he’d become. Yes, his brothers seemed to have reconciled, but they’d been in that place a hundred times before only to fall apart again. It was difficult to imagine their fragile bond would withstand the stress that losing a parent put on any family.
Cassie clung to his hand, but she didn’t debate his last comment to her. He had a feeling she would support his decision either way. He’d never had that type of love in his life before, and he wanted it there beside him today. Cassie’s support was his beacon of light in the dark, bottomless hole he found himself in.
When they arrived at the hospital, Luke introduced Cassie to the three women gathered in the private waiting room beside his mother’s room. Gio’s fiancée, Julia, hugged him tightly then hugged Cassie just as awkwardly and long. Luke had known Nick’s fiancée, Rena, for most of his life. He was glad to see her there to support his brother. Tara, Max’s fiancée, was a newcomer to the group and tentatively hugged Luke, expressing her hope that Patrice would recover.