“You wouldn’t have to do anything beyond marrying me, and then we can get a divorce or an annulment after whatever requirements the state has is met,” she said in all seriousness.

“We’ve known one another for eighteen years, and in all that time, have I ever said I’d get married just so I can get a divorce? And a planned one at that,” he growled. He threw his lunch in the nearby trashcan. It was a good thing he’d shared it with Summer, because his appetite was completely gone.

“You owe me,” she said, her voice just as hard as his.

“Owe you?” His jaw clenched. “I have done nothing but bend over backwards for you. I’ve lost perfectly good relationships because of you. I put people who matter last because of you.”

“People who matter?”

“Yes, people who matter.” He exhaled. “I have gone against advice from my friends, my parents, my ex-girlfriend, and even your sister to help you. It’s cost me everything at times to help you, but do you appreciate that? Hell no.”

Brown eyes grew wide, but her mouth turned stubborn. “I didn’t make you choose to help me.”

“What was I supposed to do—let you starve, freeze, and go homeless?”

Birds in a nearby tree flew away, wings beating loudly.

“You were supposed to believe me, yet you didn’t. You believed what everyone else said about me, and not until you found out it wasn’t true, did you apologize.”

“That still bothers you?” He threw his hands in the air. “The act of a dumb, insecure teenager not taking your word for something still bothers you?”

“It was more than something.” She fisted her hands in her lap. “I was called a whore and a slut. I was accused of sleeping with the entire football team, with teachers if I made a good grade, and if a couple broke up, it was because I screwed their boyfriend.”

“Damn it, I wasn’t there, then. I was in college.”

“I know where you were, but you could have stopped it when the rumors first started,” she pointed out.

“When I found out what Patrick Johnson did to you, I made him pay…I broke his arm and knocked out three of his teeth.” He jumped to his feet. “Does that make you happy? I beat the living hell out of another human being for hurting the girl I loved.”

Shock registered on her face. “You did?”

He nodded once. “Does that make you happy?”

“No—yes.” She beat a fist against her thigh. “I don’t know.”

“Say it makes you happy. Say that knowing what I did makes up for it,” he demanded. “That it makes up for everything.”

Tears made her eyes glisten, and her lips trembled. “You promised to be there for Ivy and me. You promised,” she shouted. “But you left, because—because…” She shook her head. “I don’t know why, but you left me there, in the hospital with that woman. Azalea said you couldn’t handle the pressure.”

His anger ebbed away. Summer truly believed he’d left her? Then again, why wouldn’t she believe the woman who had raised her? “I didn’t leave you,” he swallowed. “Azalea told me I was no longer needed. She had an orderly escort me out, and when I went to see you after you were discharged, she said you moved away.”

Summer stood, eyes glistening. “I swear to you, I did not want you to leave me.”

Gabriel scrubbed a hand across his face. “I want to believe you, I really do, but it’s hard. Thing is, even if I do believe, even if you believe I owe you, I have to put Elise first. I have to concentrate on her. She has to come first.”

“You keep repeating that, but I have to wonder if you’re doing that for my benefit or yours,” Summer said softly. “And if you two are so serious, then why are both of you so concerned with what I will or won’t do to your relationship?”

“Not fair, Summer.” He shook his head. “You’ve never had to compete with anyone.”

Summer stared at Gabriel. The hell she hadn’t. However, none of that mattered. She would convince him to marry her, so she could get Ivy back. What he did afterwards, was no concern of hers.

“Let me make it easy on you. If you don’t help me, then I’ll make Azalea look like a saint compared to how many marriages I’ll break up around here.”

His nostrils flared. “What about Elise?”

“If she loves you so much, then she can wait for the divorce. Hell, have an affair with her until then, if you want, but I get dibs on the honeymoon.” Summer lifted her chin, daring him to call her bluff.

For the love of God, call it.

Yes, she wanted his help, but she had only ever slept with exactly two men in her entire life. The second one had been Darius, and it had taken months for her to learn to trust him enough to even get that far.

Gabriel remained silent, so she fell back on what she knew made him uncomfortable.

She walked up to him, placing her hand on his chest and breathing him in. “I’d be very gentle, angel. Or rough. However, you’d like it.”

He grabbed her wrist, but she noticed he didn’t try to push her hand away. “Summer.”

She fluttered her lashes at him. “Yes, angel?”

His gaze dropped to her lips. “Sex doesn’t scare me. I’m perfectly comfortable with the act.”

Her mouth dropped open a little. “But I thought you were waiting.”

“I am.”

“So, how would you…?”

“It doesn’t matter, but I’ll be damned if I let you threaten me into anything.” He pulled her closer, until nothing separated them—not even daylight.

They still fit perfectly together. Her head right under his chin, her chest to his chest… His grip tightened. She wanted to kiss him, and she wanted him to kiss her back.

“Will you think about it?” she asked, breathless. Her heart beat loudly in her ears, and her blood sang in her veins. Gabriel was touching her, willingly touching her, and holding her close.

His perfect mouth thinned. Suddenly, his eyes widened a little and he made a little noise, something between a grunt and a growl.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Elise saw us.” Gabriel let go of her, like she was a hot poker.

“You didn’t do anything wrong.” It was all her fault. She never should have touched him.

“I still need to talk to her.”

“Does that mean you’ll help me?” she tentatively asked.

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