I looked down at my rings. The one Gideon had given me to express his need to hold on to me, and the other both a symbol of his commitment and a tribute to a time in his past when he’d last felt loved. “He shows me, though. All the time.”
“I’ve talked to him a few times now.” My dad paused. “I have to remind myself that he’s in his twenties.”
That made me smile. “He’s very self-possessed.”
“He’s also very hard to read.”
My smile widened. “He’s a poker player. But he means what he says.”
I believed Gideon implicitly. He always told me the truth. The problem was, there was a lot he didn’t tell me.
“And he wants to marry my daughter.”
I shot him a look. “You gave him your blessing.”
“He said he would always take care of you. He promised to keep you safe and make you happy.” He stared across the street at the Benz. “I still don’t know why I believe him, even with him staking out my place for you. Doesn’t help that he lied about waiting to ask you.”
“He couldn’t wait, Dad. Don’t hold it against him. He loves me too much.”
He looked at me again. “You didn’t sound happy when you were just talking to him.”
“No. I sounded desperate and insecure.” I sighed. “I love him like mad, but I hate when I get needy with it. We should be balanced in our relationship. Equals.”
“Good goal. Don’t lose sight of it. Does he want that, too?”
“He wants us to be together. In everything. But he’s built a reputation and an empire, and I want to build my own. Not necessarily the empire, but the reputation for sure.”
“Have you talked to him about this?”
“Oh yeah.” My mouth quirked. “But he believes Mrs. Cross should naturally play on Team Cross. And I can see his point.”
“It’s good to hear that you’ve been thinking this through.”
I heard the pause. “But?”
“But that could be a serious issue, couldn’t it?”
I loved the way my dad urged me to explore without trying to sway me or judge. He’d always been that way. “Yes. I don’t think it would become a deal breaker for us, but it could cause problems. He isn’t used to not getting what he wants.”
“Then you’re good for him.”
“He thinks so.” I shrugged. “Gideon isn’t the problem. It’s me. He’s been through a lot in his life and he’s had to deal with it on his own. I don’t want him to feel like he’s got to handle everything himself anymore. I want him to feel like we’re a unit and that I’m here to support him. That’s a hard message to send when I want my own independence, too.”
“You’re a lot like me,” he said with a soft smile, looking so handsome that my heart swelled with pride.
“I know you’ll get along with him. He’s a good man, with a beautiful heart. He’d do anything for me, Dad.” Even kill for me.
The thought made me queasy. The possibility that Gideon would have to answer for Nathan’s death in some way was all too real. I couldn’t let anything happen to him.
“Would he let me pay for the wedding?” My dad snorted out a laugh. “I guess I should ask how much of a fight you think your mother would give me.”
“Dad . . .” My chest tightened again. After the discussions we’d had about paying for my college tuition, I knew better than to say he didn’t have to stretch his finances to the breaking point for me. It was a point of pride and my father was a very proud man. “I don’t know what to say except thank you.”
He gave me a relieved smile and I realized that he’d been expecting me to be resistant, too. “I’ve got about fifty large. I know it’s not much—”
I reached for his hand. “It’s perfect.”
I could already hear my mom’s freakout in my head. I’d cope with that when the time came.
It would be worth it for the look on my father’s face at that moment.
“IT hasn’t changed.” Cary paused on the sidewalk outside the former recreation center and pulled the sunglasses off his face. His gaze slid over the gym’s entrance. “I’ve missed this place.”
I reached for his hand and linked our fingers. “Me, too.”
We headed up the walk and nodded at the couple standing by the door smoking. Then we went inside and were greeted by the sights and sounds of a hoops match in progress. Two teams of three played a half-court game, taunting each other and laughing. I knew from experience that sometimes Dr. Travis’s unusual offices were the only place one felt free and safe enough to laugh.
We waved at the players, who paused just long enough to register us, and then we made a beeline for the door that still had Coach emblazoned on the glass inset. It was ajar and a beloved figure lounged in a worn desk chair with his feet propped on the desk. He tossed a tennis ball against the wall and caught it deftly, over and over, while a fellow patient I knew from before vaped on an electronic cigarette and talked.
“Oh my God.” Kyle stood in a rush, her pretty red mouth falling open and a cloud of vapor billowing out. “I didn’t know you two were back!”
She launched herself at Cary, barely giving me time to let his hand go.
Dr. Travis folded his legs and then stood, his kind face splitting with a welcoming grin. He was dressed in his usual khakis and dress shirt, with the leather sandals on his feet and the earrings in his ears giving him away as a tad unconventional. His sandy brown hair was shaggy and messy, and his wire-rimmed glasses were slightly skewed on the bridge of his nose.