Back in her husband's bed(7)

By: Andrea Laurence

 Annie stood and rounded the coffee table to approach him, but his gaze stopped her cold. Gabe had always had a smile and a laugh for her, but not today. His hazel eyes were like knives, shooting sharp accusations at her from across the room. His jaw was tight, the muscles in his thick neck tense. There was more anger in Gabe than she’d seen in Nate. Perhaps Nate was simply better at controlling it.

 Gabe turned toward the darkened suite without speaking and dropped her luggage carelessly beside the dining room table. “Call me if you need me, sir.” He said the words while looking at Annie, the threat inherent. A moment later, the elevator doors reopened and he disappeared.

 With him gone the heavy weight of his anger suddenly lifted from her chest. Annie had never realized how protective Gabe was of Nate. She bet if given the chance, he’d shoot her with his Taser just to watch her twitch.

 Annie chewed her bottom lip thoughtfully. Of course he was angry. He’d been there every day of the past three years. He was probably the one who’d gotten Nate drunk and hauled him to a strip club to get over her. As a friend and as a security officer, he obviously disapproved of Nate’s plan to use Annie in the sting operation. Especially the part about them living together. Gabe could see the potential problems a mile away.

 To tell the truth, Annie wasn’t entirely thrilled with that part of the plan, either. She wanted to follow him downstairs, to tell him she had no intention of getting involved with Nate again, but knew it wouldn’t help. Annie turned around, stopping short when she found Nate smiling. It was the first sincere grin he’d cracked since she arrived and of course, it was at her discomfort.

 “He’s not your biggest fan.”

 “I gathered that much. I’d hoped you hadn’t told anyone about us. Does anyone else know? Should I watch for flying daggers from housekeeping?”

 Nate laughed and shook his head. “No, just Gabe. I wasn’t even going to tell him, but he found your wedding ring.”

 The ring. Annie had forgotten. She’d left her platinum wedding band on the bedside stand. She hadn’t felt good about taking it. Leaving had been the right thing to do, but taking the ring so soon after receiving it felt like stealing.

 She watched, stunned, as Nate twisted a tiny band from his pinky finger and held it out to her. “You’ll need this back. For the cover,” he added.

 Annie took the tiny silver loop from his hand and examined it like a lost artifact. It was a dull, brushed-platinum band with shiny accents around the edge. They’d picked the rings out in such a hurry. At that moment, all she’d wanted was to be Mrs. Nathan Reed. What the hell had she been thinking?

 “Why are you wearing it?” she asked.

 “I wear it as a reminder.”

 Annie got the distinct impression that he didn’t mean it in a sentimental way. More a daily reminder of how much she’d suffer if he got his hands on her again. “Where’s your ring?”

 “Put away. I couldn’t very well wear mine and tarnish my reputation as Vegas’s most eligible bachelor.” He said the last word with audible distaste before he walked around his desk, fished in the top drawer and pulled out a small black velvet box.

 “I can see how being married might interfere with your social agenda.”

 Nate looked up, studying her face for a moment before opening the box and slipping the matching ring onto his left hand. He stretched his fingers out, testing the feel of the long-forgotten jewelry before making a fist. A slight frown pulled down the corners of his mouth when he spoke. “I have no social agenda, Annie. I thought that was one of the reasons you decided to leave me.”

 “No, I...” Annie’s voice trailed off midprotest. She didn’t really want to talk about why she left. Not now. It wouldn’t change anything. What was done was done and their agreement would close the door on the past for good. Her gaze dropped down to the ring in her hand before her fingers closed over it.

 Nate’s brow furrowed, his eyes focused on her tightly clenched fist. “Put on the ring,” he demanded softly.

 Her heart skipped a beat in her chest. She’d sooner slip a noose over her head. That’s how it felt, at least. Even back then. When she’d woken up the morning after the wedding with the platinum manacle clamped onto her, she’d popped a Xanax to stop the impending panic attack. She’d convinced herself that it would be okay, it was just the nerves of a new bride, but it hadn’t taken long to realize she’d made a mistake.

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