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Learning from the Big Mistakes: Alexandra Book Three (Van Zant Siblings 4) by Roxy Harte (1)

Chapter One

Patrick “Gabe” Gowan walked downstairs, finding Conor Larkin and Jonathon O’Donnell, his pub’s co-owners and other half of his ménage à quatre, drinking beer at the bar even though the sun hadn’t crested the horizon yet. The large-screen television was tuned to the early, early news for people preparing for their morning. The headline read SURPRISE ICE STORM LEAVES MANY IN TRISTATE WITHOUT POWER, followed by SCHOOL CLOSINGS. He noted the two agents sitting at a table, drinking coffee, before going behind the bar and poured himself a pint. “She’s finally sleeping.”

“Thank God,” Conor said.

“Yeah, just in time to wake her up and get her on her way to work,” Gabe replied.

“We’re not doing that, though, right?” Jonathon asked. “Because I am honestly getting scared for her. She isn’t sleeping like she should be. Her moods are everywhere, and last night, walking into the river? What the fuck! She’s obviously still struggling with depression. She isn’t behaving at all the way Dr. Claassen prepared us for when she adjusted Alexandra’s meds. Suicidal is not the same as crying jags.”

One of the agents approached. “We’re going to get the chains on the tires and get the vehicle deiced. What time are we leaving?”

Gabe walked with him through the back to check out the weather. “I say we wait it out today. Is the city under a travel advisory?”

“Level three, no travel but emergency personnel, but we’re good. The rules don’t apply to HLS.”

Gabe winked. “Today they do, mate. Alexandra’s under the weather. Best we keep her here.”

“Is that why she was,” he stammered around, “being a little off last night?”

“Yeah, last night, kind of out of her head. We’ve got a call in for her doctor to come here as soon as she can travel safely,” Gabe lied and walked him back to his table. “We’ll get you guys some breakfast made up here in a bit. If you want to take turns getting some shut-eye, there’s a crash room in the basement. Nothing fancy, a full bed and attached bathroom with shower.”

“We may need to take you up on that, if our shift change doesn’t show up soon.”

Gabe left him and returned to Jonathon and Conor at the bar, picking up the conversation where he’d left off. “I’ve checked every pocket, every drawer. If she’s still using PR5, I can’t find it.”

Jonathon gave Conor a look that made Conor ask him, “Do you know something?”

Jonathon shook his head. “I don’t know anything for certain, but it seems since PR5 is made at her lab, and she’s away from us for hours a day here lately, she could have it stashed anywhere.”

“Jose,” Conor said with vehemence. “I will kill him.”

Gabe patted his back. “You’d have to get in line for that privilege, mate.”

Jonathon said, “I hate to point out the obvious, but does he even know what’s going on? What if she’s kept him in the dark, and he doesn’t even know she’s abusing?”

“Point taken. When we get back to the lab, we should pay him a visit,” Conor suggested. “Introduce ourselves.”

Gabe pulled a cell phone from his pocket. It was Alexandra’s. He texted Karen: Level Three road advisory. AODH closed today. Make appropriate announcements to get the word out. I’m icebound at the pub and under the weather. Sorry, I won’t be in at all today. Love on Rowan for me.

Only a moment later Karen answered: Will do, X, feel better.

Jonathon pointed at the nearest screen as the closings rolled across the screen: AODH—ALL SHIFTS CANCELLED—EMERGENCY PERSONNEL ONLY. “There you go. Now Alexandra can sleep as long as she needs.”

“I’m worried too.” Conor leaned nearer to Gabe and said softly, “I know you haven’t called Dr. Claassen yet, but it might not be a bad idea.”

Gabe nodded. “Because the last time I made her see the doctor, it went so well?”

“If you want, I can make the call so she’ll be mad at me instead,” Conor offered. “Last night she shared that she’s considering the president’s offer. Would she really move to DC? Give up everyone she cares about?”

 Gabe suggested, “Let’s allow her to sleep and see how she is when she awakens. As for the president’s offer, I think Xandra will do whatever she needs to do to keep Rowan safe. Last night she made very clear she does not trust Rowan’s nanny or bodyguard. Neither Grace nor Captain Fields will be joining her if she does accept.”

Jonathon moved nearer and asked, “If Grace and Captain Fields are so untrusted, why is she alone with them now?”

♥ ♥ ♥

Lightning flashed overhead, and one of the agents approached. “This isn’t safe, Dr. Van Zant. Please return to the vehicle.”

She kept walking, even after the gravel turned to mud, leaving her stepping on her toes so she wouldn’t sink too deep, and then giving up on that, plodding through the sucking mud. Her stilettoes disappeared as she sank ankle deep and when she lifted her foot to step again, she was barefoot. Her shoes lost to the earth.

Yes, that’s right, give it all up. The wind picked up, and the rain started to fall harder. She turned her face into it and took a deep breath. She pulled her dress up and over her body.

“Ma’am, please don’t take your clothes off.”

She dropped it behind her as her foot sank in and water swirled around her knees. Thinking about the fight, she told herself, “I don’t care,” as pelting rain hid her tears, but she did care. She hurt so badly. A sob worked it up her throat and out of her mouth. Hearing it, she realized just how devastated she was. She screamed, loud, primal.

Several strikes of lightning fell at once, brightening the sky and in the rumble that followed she heard a voice, “You said you wanted to disappear.”

She lifted her face, her gaze directed toward the building storm. She fell to her knees, and the swirling water rose around her waist. She looked down and saw her reflection was gone. She’d finally done it. She’d disappeared.

“No! I don’t want this!”

She screamed again. “Aaaaaaah!”

When she looked up, she realized the rain pelting her face was painful, and she saw pellets of ice gathering on top of the water.

“Nooo!” I want Gabe. “Gabe? Aaaaaaah! Help me!”

She heard Gabe shouting her name over the storm, but she kept sinking. She felt him as he closed in on her, but her head was barely above the water now. Murky water swirled around her ears. She saw him so close by and she reached for him, screaming, “Gabe! I need you!”

More lightning crashed around her. The storm was directly above her. The rumbling thunder growled, “It’s too late to change your mind. You said you wanted to disappear.”

“No! Nooo! Gabe! Find me! Gabe! Please, find me!” The water was covering her, a murky grave. She couldn’t breathe.

“Gabe! Find me! Gabe! Please, find me!”

 

“I’M HERE, XANDRA! I’m here!” Gabe lifted her and hugged her to him. He rocked her but she kept screaming and fought his arms. He met Jonathon’s gaze. “Get Conor!”

Jonathon left her bedroom at a run, but only got as far as the living room. Conor was already upstairs. “What’s going on? Is that Alexandra?”

“Fever!” Jonathon answered as Conor sprinted through the apartment.

Gabe was relieved to see him, he was holding Alexandra as still as he could but she was still struggling and talking nonsense. Conor sat on the bed beside them. “What can I do?”

“You tell me, you’re the medic.”

Conor felt her skin. “Jesus she’s burning up. She has an infection somewhere. We need the doctor here now.” He looked over at Jonathon and saw he was sitting cross-legged and had closed his eyes. “Fuck, he’ll be no help.”

“I heard that.” Jonathon kept working his rosary.

“I’d say he’s doing more for her than either of us right now,” Gabe defended. “I have the doctor on speed-dial but my phone’s downstairs.”

Conor shook his head, showing him he already had his phone out. Gabe heard Dr. Claassen’s voice come over the speaker: This is Dr. Claassen.

“This is Conor Larkin, I’m here with Gabe Gowan and Alexandra Van Zant. She’s delirious and her temperature is extremely high. Tell us what to do.”

Send one of those fancy all-terrain vehicles you fellas seem to prefer and come get me. I’ll text the address.”

“Thank you, Ma’am.”

Conor ran downstairs and caught up to the agent who was just pulling on his coat, planning to leave after his shift. “It’s Alexandra. She’s delirious with fever. I need you to go pick up her concierge doctor before you clock out for the day.”

When the doctor arrived, she insisted on examining Alexandra without them present, which had all three men out of sorts. The ice storm had discouraged patrons, but Gabe kept the doors open just in case, with only the three of them tending the kitchen and bar, their regular staff told to stay home until the roads cleared.

A loud discussion erupted from upstairs, and then the doctor was coming down the stairs. “Well, she’s promised she’s not taking the PR5.”

“And you believe her?” Gabe asked.

Dr. Claassen nodded. “Her weight is up. However, her heart rate is irregular and fast. She is suffering from utter exhaustion and a very high fever. She’s dehydrated, so I started a saline line with a full spectrum antibiotic and also a cocktail of acetaminophen and ibuprofen to get her fever down.”

“Thank you for coming,” Gabe said, ready to hustle her back out the door.

“Not so fast. Last week, you said she was attacked with a virus? I’m concerned this may be more severe than you realize, but I won’t be able to confirm or rule but my suspicions without ore tests. Until I say otherwise we need to treat this as quite serious and I will need all three of you to be my eyes and ears.”

Feeling trepidation, Gabe asked, “Serious? What do we need to do?”

“Regular meals, three a day minimum, limit alcohol, I know, easier said than done. She is a substance abuser, but you already know that. Combined with the fact you live above a bar—no judgment—you all honestly consume too much alcohol for health’s sake. Still, I’d rather her abuse alcohol than get back into the dangerous rotation of cocaine and sleeping pills; or taking PR5 to self-medicate. And I see that look, Mr. Larkin, she tested negative on the drug test.”

“That’s a relief,” Jonathon replied. “But even if it was positive, I haven’t gotten her anything.”

“Good, and you better never.” She gave him the look. “As you know, upon her return from Montana and almost two weeks without medication, I took her off the anxiety pills and sleeping pills, and I lowered all of her other medications to the lowest doses, planning to increase the dosages slowly once she’d stabilized. Today she refused to agree to an increase in medication and assured me she has no plans to harm herself or others. If she worsens, call me immediately. Otherwise create a standing appointment with me every Monday for the next six weeks on her calendar, and no cancellations. One of you has to hold her accountable.”

Gabe blew out a breath. “So feed her, make her sleep, make sure she keeps her doctor appointments, and watch for episodes?”

“Yes. By the way you said that, I’m assuming you have witnessed at least one intense episode.”

He nodded, and the conversation wasn’t expanded on. He knew he needed to discuss with Conor and Jonathon the chance she could lapse into a state of severe unbalance, but knew their knowing would only cause her embarrassment, and he certainly didn’t want them acting differently around her. The episodes she’d experienced in the past, all labeled “negative psychosis,” resulted in social withdrawal, refusal to eat or sleep, and an intense need to work, none of which he would allow to go to the depths they ever had in the past.

Gabe asked, “Do you believe the need to control her medication dosages is related to her obsessive-compulsive drive, or was this triggered by the danger she has been in?”

“After talking to her, I’d say both. She said the three of you—all combat experienced, according to her—have become her official bodyguards, and admitted her greatest fear is that one of you will die trying to protect her.”

Gabe bowed his head, knowing her fears.

“I asked her to start attending a PTSD support group, but she asked how wise that was since she is currently still in danger, and anything she would say in group might actually retrigger someone else because everything she wants to talk about is present tense. I had to agree with her. I arranged for a PTSD therapist to come here and evaluate her, but the appointment isn’t for several weeks.”

All three men nodded.

Jonathon observed, “She didn’t seem happy to see you. The fight we heard before you came down?”

“Bed rest, mandatory, for at least three days, or until she has twenty-four hours fever free. She gets fairly angry when she can’t go to the lab, but she seemed especially anxious about Rowan?”

Conor explained, “Her infant goddaughter’s adoption was just finalized and she hasn’t gotten to see her since receiving the notice in the mail.”

“I see, well there is nothing to be done about that. As long as she has a fever, she needs kept calm, but exposing an infant to the virus she’s fighting doesn’t seem wise either.” The doctor started to leave but turned back to them. “If she refuses to rest, or eat, I will have no choice but to have her admitted as a danger to herself.”

Jonathon looked to the other two men before saying, “I don’t understand. You said she is doing well, gaining weight, just exhausted.”

“I don’t want to verbalize my suspicions and jump the gun without further tests, but I believe she is far from doing well. Currently her temperature is one hundred and three Fahrenheit. Maybe a cold, or virus, maybe more.”

“Please, doctor, share your concerns and if you rule them out, we won’t be disappointed,” Gabe pleaded. “You have met the woman. You know as well as I do that without a good reason why she must stay in bed, it will be impossible to enforce.”

“Fine,” Dr. Claassen agreed. “I believe she is suffering myocarditis—inflammation of the heart—as a direct result of the virus she was attacked with. You said she never came down with cold symptoms but has experienced extreme fatigue?”

Gabe nodded.

“Fainting?”

He nodded again.

“She has a significant fever and admitted to chest pain, all indicative of a big problem. Until I can rule Myocarditis out, I want her in bed resting.”

“Shit.” Conor walked away.

“For now, my orders include no sex, no activity beyond a leisurely stroll to the toilet, no emotional upsets, no work, and zero alcohol. She is pissed off at me and believes I am overreacting. To rule the worst out, I need a chest X-ray, which I scheduled stat, but a tech with a portable machine can only get here as soon as the ice clears.”

“That’s serious? Myocarditis?” Jonathon asked nervously. “I can tell by Conor’s reaction it isn’t good.

“If you call possible sudden death serious, yes, very serious.”

 

GABE WALKED THE doctor out and Jonathon went upstairs to be closer to Alexandra. Conor called Karen. As soon as she heard Conor’s voice, she demanded, “What’s wrong, and don’t even think about lying. Xandra has never not come to work because she was a bit under the weather.”

“A bit under the weather may have been a bit of an understatement. She’s been growing worse by the hour. Dr. Claassen was just here and suspects Myocarditis.”

The line remained silent and Conor elaborated, “She needs a chest x-ray to be conclusive but she’s already started an IV with a pretty broad spectrum antibiotic. She won’t be at AODH for the rest of the week. Dr. Claassen ordered complete bedrest.”

Karen exhaled heavily. “I was afraid it was bad. She hasn’t been herself for days.”

Conor nodded even though Karen wouldn’t see and he wouldn’t know Alexandra’s “normal” if it hit him upside the head. “Since we’re all here, and you are there. I’m asking a really big favor since Alexandra would agree if she was able to think clearly.”

“Anything.”

“Stay at AODH. Keep an eye on Rowan. Alexandra doesn’t like Grace, but I don’t trust Grace and I really don’t trust Captain Fields.”

“Agreed. I won’t let any of them out of my sight, but I’m hoping we can make personnel changes a priority as soon as Alexandra is back on her feet.”

♥ ♥ ♥

Alexandra fought the hands holding her down, but it was useless. Whoever was holding her captive was stronger than she was. She begged, “Tell me what you want! Please! I want to get back to my family!”

She was out of it, but knew she was being kept drugged. She was barely aware of her surroundings, but knew the sound of thunder rumbling across the sky.

A moment later the bed she was bound to was shaking, and loose plaster fell as a fine dust over her. Not just the bed was moving. It was the entire building. She put the facts together and deduced they were at war and the sounds she was hearing wasn’t thunder but explosions. The next round of bombing came after she’d been brought a meal but refused to eat, worried it was poisoned. Her guard freed her arms and encouraged her to eat something.

She grabbed the tray and threw it in the guards face. She scrambled from the bed and raced from the room. Her guard was hot on her trail but she was faster and managed to get down the stairs and outside.

She looked up as a large boom filled the air. The sky was eerily yellow, shot through with hazy orange trails of smoke. Walking down the deserted street, she held out her hands and caught the ash that was falling like snow from the sky. No! This isn’t right. She started running, knowing she was nearing the front lines and the enemy nearest to her was close enough to hear his labored breath.

The rumbles grew louder, and she was passing fallen, bloody bodies. Red, red blood flowed as streams toward the storm drains. She screamed as she ran. Stop! Please stop! I’m here. I have the antidote. I have a vaccine!

She stopped in her tracks when she saw the river escaping it’s banks, the water running scarlet. Everyone was dead. I’m too late.

“I’m too late!” She screamed.

“Xandra! Wake up!”

She was being shaken. She opened her eyes to find Gabe shaking her. She pressed her forehead to Gabe’s. “You scared me.”

It was a nightmare. It had seemed so real her heart still raced.

“You were screaming in your sleep. Are you in pain?”

“No, it was just a bad dream. I’m awake now.” She glanced around and recognized she was in Gabe’s bedroom. She tried to remember why she wasn’t at AODH. “Sorry, I just laid down for a moment to rest my eyes”—she moved her arm and realized she was attached to an IV, but it was the restraints holding down her arms and legs that gave her pause—“What the fuck? Gabe? What’s going on here?”

“It’s been a really long week love, but it seems your fever has finally broke. You’ve been ill. What’s the last thing you remember…?”

♥ ♥ ♥

Friday night Alexandra was laying out an outfit in anticipation of the big party at her parents’—the MacKenna-Van Zant family reunion and her parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary—and seeing siblings she’d seen little of or not at all for a decade. She searched her face in the mirror. “Whatever led me to believe this is a good idea?”

Her reflection didn’t reply.

“You’re no help at all.”

“Excuse me?” Gabe came into the bedroom and added a black turtleneck to his pile, on top of a clean pair of jeans and under the XL green T-shirt.

“I was talking to my reflection, looking for an out. I was awfully ill. The doctor just released me this morning. Maybe I’m rushing things. I could cancel. It’s not like my parents would even miss me. I can’t tell you the last family gathering I actually attended.”

“You’ve been looking forward to this for weeks. You’re not chickening out. You and I are going to this reunion even if you decide to leave Conor and Jonathon here. It won’t hurt their feelings. They do realize our relationship is very new and fairly far from the range of normal. You will be seeing siblings you haven’t seen in years. Having them there might be more stress than you are up to.”

She exhaled heavily. “No, this is my life. I’m not hiding any part of who I am ever again because I’m afraid of my emotions.”

He smiled widely at her.

She frowned, asking, “What?”

He shoulder-bumped her. “You’re speaking to me again.”

“Fuck! A momentary lapse in judgment, I assure you. I still despise you and your coconspirators who made me miss an entire week of work.”

He pulled her into a hug. “It was for your own good. Dr. Claassen said you were lucky the myocarditis was very mild, and she caught it in time to treat you. This morning you do seem to be feeling much better. Right?”

“Still a little nauseated, but I don’t feel like I was run over by a dump truck.” She kissed him. “Are you coming downstairs? I’m starving, and beer is suddenly a top priority.”

“I’ll be right down.”

She started down the stairs, but stopped herself and called out to Gabe. “Don’t forget to lay out athletic shoes. Field events will be on now that the weather has decided to behave.”

“Wait, what did you say? There’s going to be sport? At the reunion?” He caught her at the bottom stair.

“Soccer for certain and whatever other silly games Jessica and Mom decided on. Lord only knows.”

“Terrific. Field events.” He caught her hand and pulled her back. “No field events for you, though. The doctor was very clear you are to take it easy for six more weeks.”

“Yeah, yeah, yada yada.” She rolled her eyes before she kissed his cheek and led him to the bar.

“Well, look who’s allowed back downstairs,” Conor teased as he started a pour of Connemara Red. He leaned across the bar and kissed her cheek. “I’m glad you’re feeling better.”

Alexandra blushed and looked down.

“He’s not mad,” Gabe told her.

“He should be. I hit him pretty hard. His cheek is still sporting the evidence.”

“Your fever was one hundred and five. I’m fairly certain you’re forgiven for the struggle you put up when we decided to put you in a cold bath, and you were dead set against it.” Gabe patted her back. “I’m going to grab us some food. Preference?”

“Anything.” She felt Jonathon’s arms go around her middle, and she forced herself to relax and lean into him. He kissed her cheek. “Welcome back.”

She exhaled and tried to think about anything other than him shoving pills down her throat. “Thanks. You do remember the family reunion is tomorrow, right?”

“I remember. I won’t lie and say I’m not a nervous wreck.”

It’s Jonathon; it’s Jonathon; it’s Jonathon. He’s my gentle guy. He would never do anything to hurt me. She turned on her stool and took his hands, noticing hers were shaking. “My family will love you.”

“Mmm-hmm.”

“Just walk in like you own the place.” She winked. “Always works for me no matter what situation I’m in.”

“That’s why you are you.” He kissed her cheek. “I really don’t see that strategy working for me.” He left her to tend customers.

Gabe arrived bearing plates, and she tried to push away her mixed feelings about Jonathon. “You didn’t want anything in particular, so I brought a little bit of everything.”

She lifted her eyebrow, seeing the vast amount of food. “You really did. I think I’m too nervous to eat.”

He sat across from her and speared a banger. “Are we going to have to hold you down and force you to eat?”

“Not advisable.” She shook her head, glancing away and reminding herself they were only following the doctor’s orders, but the memories of the past week were still too fresh, and she’d been manhandled by the men who loved her.

“Hey,” Gabe whispered, tipping her chin. “Look at me, please?”

She sighed and met his gaze.

She stared at him, and he stared back. “What’s it going to take to make up for last week? You really were terribly ill, and anything that happened—making you swallow pills, drink water, eat, stay in bed—happened because we love you so much that we respected your wish to not go to a hospital, but in exchange we took care of you as well as we could.”

She caressed his face. “I know; it’s just intellectual me that accepts that truth is warring with the emotional me who really got her feelings hurt.”

He ran his finger down her forehead and nose. “I love you.”

She gave him half a smile. “I love you.”

“So how do we fix this?”

Her gaze dropped to her plate, and she shook her head, tears that she couldn’t hold back starting to fall.

“Ah, sweetheart.” He left his seat and came around the bar to hold her while she cried.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I just know I don’t feel the same, and I don’t know what to do about it.”

“Sh-h, it’s going to be okay.”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t feel like it’s going to be.”

“Will you let us all come to you tonight and make love to you? We all put last week behind us?”

“I don’t know,” she whispered.

Gabe held her tighter, and she felt him sigh.

“I know I’m being ridiculous.”

He kissed her head. “I’d honestly hoped your fever was so high you wouldn’t remember any of it.”

She shrugged. “At first I didn’t, but it’s coming back in flashes that don’t feel like memories. It’s hard to explain.”

“Do you want to eat in the private dining room? You, me, Conor, and Jonathon? We will if you think it will help.”

“I don’t know if it will make a difference, and I’m embarrassed to admit I’m having this problem. It’s absolutely unbelievable.”

“It would be a buffer between last week and the three of us making love to you tonight.”

“Shit! You were serious?”

“Why would I joke about that?” He met her gaze, and she nodded, knowing he clearly wouldn’t. “We can try dinner first, but don’t tell them I’m—”

“Not a word, just dinner.”

♥ ♥ ♥

Conor watched Alexandra as she picked at the food on her plate. Gabe and Jonathon were clearly trying to lighten her mood, but she left the table and went across the hall to the ladies’.

As soon as he believed she was out of hearing range, Conor demanded, “So, what’s going on?”

Gabe met his gaze. “She’s a little freaked out about her week of forced confinement. It’ll pass.”

“Clearly you’ve never experienced PTSD,” he whispered.

It was only a few moments later when Alexandra returned, but when she did, Conor caught her hand and eased her into his lap. She started to pull away, but he felt her rein in her emotions and force herself to relax and took the opportunity to turn her gently in his lap and meet her gaze. He didn’t say anything. He just stared into her panicked eyes. He pushed his forehead to hers, holding the gaze as he cuddled her closer and waited for her to be comfortable enough to say something.

It occurred to him he was clearly going to be waiting a long time, but then she surprised him by stroking his face. Her fingers trod lightly over his bruised cheek.

He smiled at her.

“I’m sorry I was a horrible patient.”

“You’ve got a mean right hook, but I’m glad you do because it tells me you can protect yourself.”

She snorted. “Not against someone like you.”

“Like me?” he asked softly.

“Muscled, trained to kill, you never have to be afraid.”

“I still get afraid sometimes. When I look at you and I think how lucky I am to have a second chance at love, then remember how much danger you’re in. I admire you. We all do. Anyone who can come back from the scuffles you had in Montana, as beat-up and broken as you were, with the determination to just keep slogging into the battlefield like you have, day after day, is a force to be reckoned with. Do you know what makes you powerful?”

She shook her head.

He tapped her chest. “Passion. Determination. You’re a survivor.”

“No, just practical. Someone has to be around to save the world,” she whispered.

Mo chroí,” he said more softly. “I was very worried about you. I’m so glad you’re finally feeling better.”

My heart. She’d forgotten it was his pet name for her. She lowered her lashes and blushed, but just as quickly lifted her gaze to his and smirked naughtily. “You just want to fuck me.”

He laughed and hugged her close, burying his head against her shoulder in an attempt to hide his own tear-filled eyes. “That too; that too.”

♥ ♥ ♥

Alexandra waited nervously in the bedroom. All three of her men were taking showers to wash away the kitchen smell. She paced. Jesus, you’d think I was going on a fucking blind date.

Gabe was the first to finish and join her because he’d used the shower in the attached bathroom. He was wrapped in a towel.

She walked into his embrace.

“I thought you might join me.”

She nodded. Why didn’t I think of that? “I want you so bad. A week without sex with you feels like eternity. Please don’t make me wait tonight.”

“Just long enough to teach you patience.” He smiled and started unbuttoning her shirt. He kissed her skin as it bared. She slid out of the fabric.

She held Gabe’s gaze as she unbuttoned and unzipped her jeans, but from behind her Conor slid them down, kissing a lace-covered butt cheek before helping her step out of her pants. She looked over her shoulder at him and smiled. “I didn’t hear you come in.”

“I’m sneaky like that.” He stood and grabbed the bottle of whiskey and four shot glasses he’d carelessly laid on the bed before helping her with her jeans.

She started to unhook her bra, but Gabe caught her hand. “Wait. Let us.”

Conor set the glasses and whiskey on the table, saying, “I hope you don’t mind.”

“Mind?” she said. “More like, thank God! You’d be my hero if you pour me one now.”

Conor pulled off his shirt before he poured, and she accepted the first shot from him and threw it back.

She met Gabe’s gaze after he said, “It’s always a little more fun when you’re a bit tipsy.”

She laughed. “Not too tipsy, it’s an early, full day tomorrow, and I do not need to be hungover at my parents.”

“Well, y’know if you don’t stop drinking, you don’t get hungover,” Conor said laughingly.

Alexandra met his gaze and became mesmerized by the wickedness she found there. She wiggled her finger to draw him nearer. He came closer and pulled her against him, bending nearer to kiss her. She dropped her head back so he could kiss the length of her neck, and sighed when he did so.

She whispered, “I’m not sure I trust your logic, Mr. Larkin.”

“My logic is perfect.” Conor kissed her mouth more gently than he’d ever kissed her, and need shot down her spine to puddle in her middle. When he released her, she was breathless. “Forgive me for the first few days you were sick?”

A tear too close to the surface slid down her cheek, but she nodded. He brushed the tear away and kissed her again, just as tenderly, if a little more deeply, and she clung to him, wanting to erase the images of their struggle from her mind. He kept kissing her until she was the one kissing back with insistence, pulling his lips and sliding her tongue into his mouth to dance or duel, because it was a toss-up for a moment, and that moment of unrestrained passion left her head spinning and her heart racing. She whispered, “Conor.”

Jonathon came in, freshly showered and changed. “Sorry, it was hard to escape the kitchen on payday.”

“Sorry, mate. I left you with that disaster,” Gabe said. “I clearly forgot.”

“It’s fine,” Jonathon assured him. “Everyone left happy.”

“Get naked, Jonathon,” Gabe said. “Herself has requested we all make love to her tonight. Seems she has a week to make up for or some nonsense.”

Alexandra heard them talking, but she wasn’t ready to release Conor. She was just beginning to replace all the anger in her head with warm fuzzy pictures of him shoving her against the wall that first night and making her feel like she’d never felt before.

“Don’t be restrained tonight. I need a little of your beast to show,” she whispered against his face.

“The last thing you need is my beast to show. You saw it plenty last week, and I’m afraid that’s what brought this on.”

She met his gaze but then dropped hers. She exhaled. “Is it that easy to tell I’m totally freaking out?”

Conor pulled her into a tight hug. “Not obvious at all. I watch you more closely than anyone has ever watched you in your life, and I notice nuances and behavior shifts no one else would. I’ve also worked with a lot of men suffering battlefield-related PTSD, so I notice the symptoms you’re trying so hard to hide.”

“I still want you to bring your beast to the party.”

“Your doctor released you to resume light activities. My beast clearly does not fall into that category. Give yourself a few more days.”

She exhaled, knowing he was right and hating that he was as she crawled into the center of the bed and knelt there.

Conor slid out of his jeans and underwear and moved to sit behind her, wrapping his arms around her middle and hugging her back to his chest. She dropped her head to his shoulder and kissed his jaw as Gabe filled the space in front of her, and Jonathon quickly divested himself of his clothing and climbed onto the bed to the right of her.

Gabe and Jonathon scooted closer, pressing nearer to her so that each of them was suddenly close enough to touch or kiss.

Alexandra reached for Gabe and hugged his face in her hands. He mimicked her motions and kissed her softly. Conor flowed with her body and kissed the left side of her neck with feathery kisses as he slid his hands over her ribs. Jonathon leaned in, kissing her neck on the right side. The sensation of three men kissing her was magical. She rose above her brain, feeling disconnected.

She kissed Gabe back.

As the intensity of Gabe’s kiss deepened, Jonathon’s and Conor’s soft kisses changed to hard sucking. She knew they were marking her, and she wanted it. She wanted to wear all of their marks. It seemed each of their mouths attached to a conduit running straight to her pussy, making it throb with the rhythm of their lips. She felt herself growing wetter as her need amplified.

She pulled away and gasped to breathe.

Gabe lowered his mouth to her nipples, pulling each of them to hard peaks through her lace bra.

Conor turned her head to face him and kissed her with more intensity than Gabe had, claiming her mouth with lips and teeth. Their teeth clashed as he pulled her tongue into his mouth. He sucked it hard, making her cry out, then releasing it. She grabbed his face, holding him to her, not willing to let the kiss stop as she challenged him with a flick of her tongue to kiss her more deeply. He didn’t disappoint.

Jonathon rubbed his hands over her belly and thighs, before dropping his hand between her legs to cup her sex. She lifted, going up onto her knees to grant him easier access. His fingers slid over the lace, teasing the sensitive flesh beneath. His other hand caressed her bottom.

She pushed her hips into his hand, and he eased his hand upward only to dive beneath the fabric to push his fingers along her ass crack as he pressed against her hidden clit.

Through her lace bra, Gabe bit and pulled her nipple with his teeth, making her cry out.

Jonathon’s hand slid deeper, pushing through her dampness.

Conor released her mouth, and she met his gaze to whisper needy words. He promised, “Soon, relax. Enjoy us. We’re all yours.”

Conor reclaimed her mouth as Gabe started pulling her panties down to her knees. Jonathon kept sliding his fingers through her moistness. His other hand easily found her clit now that she was free of her panties. She moved her hips forward and back, enjoying his gentle touch. Her body responded to him quickly, and she moaned into Conor’s mouth before tearing her mouth away to demand, “Don’t stop, Jonathon.”

That seemed all the encouragement he needed. She felt him, molding more closely against her and wrapping his arm around her, trapping her in a single-arm hold. He rubbed his fingers over her hooded bud, making her pant. “More, need more.”

He was suddenly finger-fucking her and rubbing his thumb over her clit with more intensity. She dropped her head back against his shoulder, and he kissed her, pushing his tongue into her mouth. Her pleasure lifted her fast and dropped her suddenly. Hard. The orgasm made her jerk within the tight restraint of Jonathon’s hold. Jonathon finger-fucked her harder, making her scream as wetness left her, covering Jonathon’s hand. He demanded, “More.”

Her mind flew to the image of him holding her, Conor force-feeding her. She screamed, and it wasn’t pleasure. She kept screaming, pulling primal rage from her core.

He kept pushing his fingers in and out until she was crying, emotion from nowhere and everywhere chewing her up and spitting her out. The vortex lifted her from the puddle of helplessness she’d felt so trapped in—she never wanted to feel that helpless again. Jonathon bit her shoulder. “You’re there, Xandra; take it.”

The vortex was spinning, tossing her high—

Her body spasmed, and she drew into herself, hugging herself, sobbing as pure pleasure cushioned her fall—

Jonathon didn’t stop pumping her.

She started sobbing. “Stop, stop, no more.”

Jonathon pulled her back against his chest, and she curled into him, crying uncontrollably. “Sh-h, relax, sweetheart.”

He held her tightly until the tears calmed, but she was left breathing shuddered breaths. He kissed her damp cheeks as he stroked down her arms. “I’m here. We’re all here.”

“It’s okay, love; just relax. Breathe deeper.” Conor rubbed her shoulders and folded around her as well. “You’re safe.”

Gabe helped her to straighten her legs out from under her and pulled her panties the rest of the way off.

She nodded, whispering, “I’m okay.”

She opened her eyes to see Gabe sitting close. He handed Jonathon and Conor a tumbler and ended up holding hers, as her hand was shaking too hard for her to hold it herself. Conor filled each glass with two finger pours.

“What do we drink to?” Jonathon asked.

“Running away?” Alexandra answered wistfully.

“No, I say we drink to keeping the nervous girl’s mind off tomorrow,” Gabe replied, handing a glass to Alexandra. They tapped glasses. “Sláinte.”

Two rounds later, her cheeks were still wet with the tears she’d shed for Jonathon. Gabe rubbed his palms over her face. “It’s been an empty week for all of us without you, and the inside of your head is a war zone—don’t deny it. I can see it in your eyes. If we continue, it could get a little messy tonight.”

She pushed her mouth to his to shut him up. “So, make it messy. Take control. Controlled messy. You’re good at that, right?”

He nodded, taking her empty tumbler.

Gabe laid her back against Conor, who unsnapped her front-closure bra, exposing her breasts. He squeezed them before pinching and teasing her nipples to tight buds. He slid his hands down and up her rib cage before catching her breasts from beneath. “Jonathon, Gabe, suck her breasts.”

Wait. What?

Her mouth opened as each man pulled one of her nipples into his mouth and started to suck. She exhaled, “Fuck,” on her breath.

Conor nudged her cheek, and she turned her head to look at him over her shoulder. He commanded, “Kiss me.”

She pressed her mouth to his and went mindless as his mouth overwhelmed her senses. Suddenly Gabe and Jonathon were doing more than sucking her nipples. She pulled away from the kiss to see them taking turns sliding their fingers into her as they also sucked. The huge difference in the way their fingers felt was startling.

Conor took control of her chin. He repeated his command more firmly, “Kiss me. That is your only job. Ignore them and kiss me.”

Ignore them. Uh-huh.

Alexandra kissed Conor for all she was worth, trying to ignore the fingers going in and out of her, trying to pay no heed to the difference of thickness and texture between Gabe’s and Jonathon’s fingers…and almost succeeding.

Gabe stretched her nipple out, pulling, biting, making her squeal with the intensity of it, but she didn’t interrupt the kiss, and just when she caught her breath, Jonathon did the same thing, biting harder than Gabe had.

Her body started shaking, and she stopped kissing Conor.

“Fuck. Jonathon! That hurt.” She reached for her breast to self sooth, but Gabe pulled her hand away and held it. There were too many hands controlling what she was feeling, and she was feeling everything all at once. Her pussy started pulsing in time to her inured nipple. Jonathon again took it into his mouth and laved away the ache but then he was again biting, applying slow, steady pressure.

Conor grabbed her jaw and pulled her head around. “Kiss. Me.”

Jonathon didn’t let go of her nipple. He was keeping the firmness of his bite right at her breaking point. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

She breathed in gasps, feeling their fingers still sliding in and out.

Conor took control of the kiss, his teeth scraping over her lips to catch her tongue and pull it out, stretching it out as far as he could. She screamed into his mouth.

The pain was too intense, and she bounced on her ass, whimpering and imploring him with her gaze. He didn’t release her, but he did push Gabe’s and Jonathon’s hands out of the way with his free hand to start finger-fucking her hard and fast, his palm slapping almost painfully against her clit. He wrenched an orgasm from her depths, making her scream into the cave of his mouth again. He released her tongue and started kissing her; at the same time Jonathon released her nipple.

She curled into herself, but Conor pulled her into the crook of his arm, changing the angle for his plunging fingers, making her moan, but that quickly escalated to keening as she came hard and sprayed ejaculate over Conor’s hand and her legs. She pressed her face to his chest. “Stop, stop.” Embarrassment made her hide.

“Not stopping, baby,” he whispered. “Give yourself to us.”

As he pumped her harder, Alexandra felt more hot liquid leaving her body. She threw her head back and screamed as the most intense orgasm she’d ever had rocked her to her core. When she collapsed against him, he stopped and cradled her into him, kissing her face. “Oh, sweetheart. It’s okay; you’re okay.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a squirter,” he whispered to her proudly.

Hiding her face, she hit his chest. “Jesus fucking Christ, Conor. What the fuck?”

She felt Gabe and Jonathon toweling her off.

I will officially die of embarrassment now.

“Look at me.”

She shook her head, but Conor pulled her hair back and forced the issue.

She met his gaze with angry humiliation. “That would have been embarrassing enough if it was just me and you. It. Wasn’t.”

He released his hold on her hair and allowed her to curl back into him. He rocked her and kissed her temple. “You know when a woman does that it’s crazy sexy, right?”

She shook her head and pressed her forehead harder into his chest. “I’ve never done that, and I didn’t feel sexy.”

“Take my word for it, sweetheart.” He nuzzled her face to his. “If my raging hard-on isn’t proof enough. Let me love you a little?”

She rolled her eyes up at him and nodded, even though it was a small nod.

Holding her gaze, he gently laid her back against the pillows and pressed his thigh between her legs to open her. He pushed her knees up and lifted her bottom with a pillow to make the angle easier. He pressed his glans against her opening. “Do you know how much I enjoy your body?”

She shook her head but held his gaze.

Her lips parted in a small gasp as he started filling her. She was beginning to swell from the intense fingering, which made her a tighter fit than normal. He pushed into her slowly. “I’m always surprised how small and tight you are.”

He kissed her as he thrust in deeply, making her gasp.

He met her gaze. “Okay?”

She nodded.

He pressed his forehead to hers. “Don’t be embarrassed about anything we do together.”

She pushed her face alongside his, whispering. “I only wished we’d been alone, the things you do to me, the way you make me feel”—she pulled back, meeting his gaze—“I don’t want to share some things yet.”

He nodded. “Okay.”

She closed her eyes as she lifted her hips to make the connection a little tighter.

“Ready?”

She nodded, and he grabbed her hips, holding her as he thrust hard and fast, each stroke making her moan.

She sucked in air through her mouth as a wave hit her, rolling over her, making her cry out.

“Yeah, yeah, baby, give me your orgasm,” he whispered.

He thrust harder and deeper as she started screaming, taking his own release and then he collapsed forward. He pressed a dozen kisses to her face. “I love you, mo chroí.”

Conor rolled off her and took her hand, holding it tight.

Alexandra closed her eyes, knowing Gabe and Jonathon were near, knew they could have reached over to touch her at any time because they had before, and she worried why they hadn’t gotten into the middle of things, though she was really glad they hadn’t.

I am losing my motherfucking mind.

She tried to recall the exact moment they had stopped touching her, and it was the moment before Conor had pulled her into his lap, the moment before she’d soaked herself, him, and the sheets—she hoped and prayed she hadn’t squirted on either of them, and immediately started imagining the both of them completely grossed out.

I’m freaking out…totally freaking out.

She forced herself to open her eyes and look for Gabe in the last place she’d seen him, remembering he’d sat in the chair next to the bed. He was still sitting there. Seeing her eyes open, he left the chair and knelt by the bed. He reached out and stroked her arm. “Doing okay?”

She nodded. “Why aren’t you on the bed beside me?”

He smiled. “I can be.”

He slid onto the bed beside her. He stroked her face. “I was enjoying watching you fuck Conor.”

“And now?”

He exhaled and moved closer. “I am showing extreme amounts of self-restraint, because you were a very sick woman, and I think we need to call it a night soon. Remember the whole early-morning bit?”

She licked her lips. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead. Right now, I’d like your body covering mine.”

“Yeah?”

She nodded. “Yeah.”

She ran her fingers through Gabe’s hair before pulling the short locks to encourage him toward her. “I’ve. Been. Patient.”

He laughed. “You have been.”

“You promised you wouldn’t keep me waiting.”

He pushed her back against the mattress and covered her body with his. He hugged her face and kissed her gently. “You were a little busy.”

She shrugged. “I’m available now.”

He raised an eyebrow and smirked. “You can fit me into your schedule for the next dance?”

“I don’t want to dance. I want to fuck.”

He covered her mouth with his and kissed her deeply. When he pulled away, she whispered against his mouth, “I love the taste of you.”

She opened her legs and bent her knees. He slid his hand between them and pulled his fingers through her damp slit. She winced, trying to hide the fact she was growing more tender by the moment.

“Roll over, sweetheart.”

He lifted to accommodate her repositioning. “On your knees.”

Conor slid along the bed, positioning his face under hers. “Hope you don’t mind. Just want to watch your face when you come from my mate fucking your ass.”

She exhaled and blushed. “Lord.” Her embarrassment made Conor chuckle.

Gabe pushed down in the center of her back, the pressure and angle doing crazy things to her insides, like shooting need in every direction. She moaned. He rubbed his hand over her ass and leaned over her. “I like when you react to my every touch.”

He separated her ass cheeks before dropping his face to rim the pink rosette of her anus. She closed her eyes and pushed her bottom back toward him. “God, please.”

She licked her lips, waiting, until he rose over her again, and she felt the tip of him pressing into her. She opened her eyes and saw both Conor and Jonathon looking up at her. “Seriously?”

Gabe pressed in, and she forgot her audience as her face crumpled with need. She caught the sob in her throat. She whispered again, “Please.”

He filled her fast and deep, immediately thrusting.

She felt his arms go around her, catching her arms against her body so that she was forced to press against his chest as he half lifted her.

He kept thrusting, holding her so tightly she could barely breathe.

Her body got caught up in his rhythm, and she flowed with him as he thrust.

She felt a hand slide between her legs and saw that it was Jonathon stroking her clit. He was positioning to lick her, and even though she knew it was coming, she still gasped when he started licking. “Fuck!”

Conor went up on his knees and caught the weight of her shoulders, allowing Gabe to grab hold of her pelvis. She met Conor’s gaze. “Please kiss me.”

He smiled wickedly before he covered her mouth with his.

She felt mindless and fluid as the vortex swept her up. She imagined that this was what flying felt like. She rode the current of her orgasm as long as she could, and then she started keening into Conor’s mouth as deep pleasure rolled over her again and again.

Gabe kissed her shoulder. “Thank you, beautiful Alexandra, for being ours.”

She felt his release, and he thrust several more times, pulling more waves through her. Conor caught her and pulled her against his chest as Gabe withdrew. She was glad Gabe didn’t go far. He folded around her, and then Jonathon was there folding around her too, and she was completely cocooned in men.

 

 

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