I scrambled down after him, eager to get to the tall, dark figure waiting by a shiny black Suburban. Victor Reyes was the kind of male who commanded attention. Part of that was due to his being a cop. The rest was all him.
“Dad!” I ran full bore toward him and he unfolded from where he’d been leaning against the SUV and opened his arms to me.
He absorbed the crash of my body into his and lifted me off my feet, squeezing me so tightly I couldn’t breathe. “It’s good to see you, baby,” he said gruffly.
Cary sauntered up to us. My dad put me down.
“Cary.” My dad clasped Cary’s hand, then pulled him in for a quick hug and a hearty slap on the back. “Looking good, kid.”
“Got everything?” my dad asked. He eyed Raúl, who’d exited the plane first and now stood silently near a black Benz that had been parked and waiting close by.
Gideon had told me to forget that Raúl was there. That wasn’t easy for me to do.
“Yep,” Cary answered, adjusting the weight of his duffel strap on his shoulder. He carried my bag, which was lighter than his, in his hand. Even with all my makeup and three pairs of shoes, Cary had packed more than me.
I loved that about him.
“You two hungry?” My dad opened the passenger door for me.
It was just past nine in California, but after midnight in New York. Too late for me to eat usually, but we hadn’t grabbed dinner.
Cary answered before climbing into the backseat. “Starved.”
I laughed. “You’re always hungry.”
“So are you, sweet cheeks,” he shot back, sliding into the center seat so he could lean forward and be in the mix. “I’ve just got no guilt about it.”
We pulled away from the jet and I watched it grow smaller as we cruised down the tarmac toward the exit. I glanced at my dad’s profile, looking for any hint of his thoughts about the lifestyle I’d be living as Gideon’s wife. The private jets. The full-time bodyguards. I knew how he felt about Stanton’s wealth, but that was my stepdad. I was hoping a husband would be cut some slack.
Still, I knew the change in routine was glaring. Previously, we would’ve flown into San Diego’s harbor. We would have headed to the Gaslamp and grabbed a table at Dick’s Last Resort, spending an hour or more laughing at the silliness and enjoying a beer with dinner.
There was tension now that hadn’t been there before. Nathan. Gideon. My mom. They were all hovering between us.
It sucked. Massively.
“What about that place in Oceanside with the slushy beer and peanut shells on the floor?” Cary suggested.
“Yeah.” I twisted in my seat to give him a grateful smile. “That’d be fun.”
Laid-back and familiar. Perfect.
I could tell my dad thought so, too, when I looked at him and his mouth quirked. “You got it.”
We left the airport behind. I dug out my phone and turned it on, wanting to sync it to the Suburban’s sound system so we could listen to music that would take us back to less complicated times.
Texts popped up so fast, they filled my screen then scrolled off.
The most recent one was from Brett. Call me when you get into town.
And right on cue, “Golden” started playing on the radio.
I was climbing the steps of my dad’s tiny porch the next day when my phone started vibrating. I pulled it out of my shorts pocket and felt a tingle of happiness at the sight of Gideon’s picture on the screen.
“Good morning,” I answered, settling into one of the two cushioned wrought-iron chairs near the front door. “Did you sleep well?”
“Well enough.” The beloved soft rasp of his voice slid sweetly through me. “Raúl says Victor’s coffee could wake a hibernating bear.”
I glanced at the Benz parked across the narrow street. The tinted windows were so dark I couldn’t see the man inside. It was a bit freaky that Raúl had somehow managed to talk to Gideon about the coffee I’d just barely taken over to him before I even made it back to the house. “Are you trying to intimidate me with how closely you’re watching me?”
“If intimidation were my goal, I wouldn’t be subtle about it.”
I picked up the mug I’d dropped off on the small patio table prior to making my java delivery to Raúl. “You do know that tone of voice makes me want to irritate you back, don’t you?”
“Because you like the way I rise to the challenge,” he purred, sending little goose bumps across my skin despite the warmth of the summer day.
My mouth curved. “So, what exactly did you guys end up doing last night?”
“The usual. Drink. Give each other a hard time.”
“Did you go out?”
“For a couple of hours.”
My grip tightened on the phone as I pictured a pack of hot guys out on the prowl. “I hope you had fun.”
“It wasn’t bad. Tell me your plans for the day.”
I picked up the same note of tightness in his words that I’d just had. Unfortunately, marriage wasn’t a cure for jealousy. “When Cary wakes up and rolls his ass off the couch, we’ll grab a quick lunch with my dad. Then we’re going down to San Diego to see Dr. Travis.”
I took a sip of my coffee, steeling myself for an argument. I knew he was thinking about Brett. “The band’s manager sent me an e-mail about where to claim VIP tickets, but I’ve decided not to see the show. I figure Cary can take a friend, if he wants. What I have to say won’t take very long, so either I’ll see Brett tomorrow before I leave or we can chat on the phone.”