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Monthly Archives: June 2012

Chapter forty-nine

The O’Riley’s sunk into a state of dysfunctional domestic bliss.  Sloan was up at the crack of dawn to kiss Abbey goodbye.  If for some reason Sloan was not home when Abbey arrived he left her a not to tell her where he was and how late he’d be.

Abbey still wouldn’t give up her apartment, leaving half her clothes in the cardboard boxes she used as her dresser.  And, despite Sloan’s constant objections, she held onto her job at the diner.  She loved the way her life was now.  But she loved the way her life was before Miami.  Abbey needed a safety net.

Abbey found out things about her husband she never knew or would have imagined.  In their state of co-habitation she half expected to spend every night at a gourmet restaurant.  Instead she discovered Sloan was an incredible cook.  She was welcomed after her post-work showers to a dinner that outshined anything she ordered at any five star restaurant in New York City.  

Dinner was almost always followed with a quiet night of watching TV or reading while cuddling on the couch.  The world was at its most perfect when Abbey’s arms were wrapped around Sloan, her bare arms nestled against his linen shirt and her cheek buried against his warm shoulder. 

And after an evening of cuddling, after the couple turned off the lights and turned down the bed, was when the real fun started.  It was amazing that Abbey could function with what little sleep she got.

It jarred Abbey’s perfect little world when she arrived home on Friday night to see Robert and Bartholomew dressed for a night out and waiting for Sloan to get ready.  Sloan descended the stairs from the loft.  He smiled as he laid eyes on her.

“Hey, Luv,” he purred.

“Are you going out?” Abbey demanded.  She knew she shouldn’t have been so sharp with him but she could feel the jealousy bubbling up inside her.

“Yes, Abigail.”

“Where?” Abbey drilled.

“The nightclubs.  I am meeting with clients.”

“When are you leaving?”

Sloan beamed at her as he pointed up the stairs.  “As soon as you are ready to leave.”

Abbey’s eyes flew wide open in excitement as her gaze shot from one mean to the other.  Without another word she dashed up the stairs.

She sighed as she found the black thigh high dress lying on the bed.  It was very similar to the midnight blue one Sloan bought for her before down to the cap sleeves and vee neckline.  Ah, let the gift giving begin once again!

Abbey quickly showered and curled her hair pinning it up to her head with combs.  As she pulled the dress over her damp skin her toe nudged a stiletto heel tucked beside the bed.  Abbey sat on the mattress to the shoe and its mate onto her foot.

Abbey took a deep breath as she started down the stairs.  She stopped at the landing, her heart pounding in her chest as she waited for Sloan’s approval.  She felt a surge of electricity course through her as his ice blue eyes met hers.

Before, when they first met and she thought he was gay, she didn’t understand what the look in his eyes meant.  But now that she shared his skin she knew.  The look was primal, predatory, sensual.  It was a look that considered cancelling their plans no matter how many millions it would cost him.  It was a look that wanted to throw his friends out of the penthouse without so much as a word.  It was a look that wanted to pick her up and carry her back to their bed.

Abbey smiled slyly to Sloan.  Oh yeah.  He approved.

To cement her point Abbey asked innocently, “Do I look alright?”

Sloan didn’t smile.  He didn’t smirk.  He only stared.  “Exquisite.”

Abbey skipped down the stairs to the arm Sloan offered to her.  She picked up her purse then wrapped her arm around his.

Abbey giggled in delight.  “So when do we leave?”

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Chapter forty-eight

Abbey couldn’t wait for the day to begin.  In her mind she had been making big plans to spend her day off with Sloan.  The sooner they got started the better.  Abbey hopped out of bed and quickly pulled on her pajamas that had been discarded to the floor the night before.

Abbey jogged down the stairs, excitedly looking for Sloan.  She stopped short as he strode out of his office, buttoning the cuff of his dress shirt.  Abbey’s excitement fell at the sight of him dressed in his Armani suit even though he looked unbelievable in it.

“I should have known you’d be working today,” Abbey sighed as she forced a smile on her face.

“Just this morning.  I have a meeting,” Sloan replied.  “I’ll be home by lunch.  Would you like to go out?”

“Sure,” Abbey agreed.  At least she’d get to spend some of her day with him.

Sloan stared at her warily for a moment as if he was waiting for her reaction.  Abbey watched as he crossed the penthouse to his easel.  Sloan sorted his illustrations into order and set them in the leather portfolio that leaned against the leg of the easel.  He turned to glance at her once again before he unpinned the printed copy of her second story from the board and slipped it into the portfolio beside his drawings.

Abbey gasped.  “You’re going to Panda!”

“Yes.  I am meeting with Aubrey this morning.”

“Do you want me to go with you?” Abbey eagerly volunteered.

“Not this time, Abigail.”

Abbey felt her hopes fall again.  “Aubrey still hates me for leaving, doesn’t she?”

Sloan wove around the furniture of the living area to her and pulled her into his arms.  “She doesn’t hate you, Abigail.  I am only turning the book in today.  When the editors approve it we will meet with Aubrey together to finalize things.  Alright?”

Abbey looked into his ice blue eyes then nodded.  He had a way of saying things that made her feel so much better.  She was such a sucker for him.

Sloan pressed a long, soft, wet kiss on her lips.  “I will see you after my meeting.  Think about where you would like me to take you for lunch.”

“Ok,” Abbey cooed dreamily.

Abbey watched as Sloan picked up his portfolio and left the penthouse, latching the door behind him.  She giggled.  It would be a great day after all.

Chapter forty-seven

In the empty restaurant Abbey poured her story out to Barker.  Unlike when she told her mother, Abbey left very few details out for Barker.  She encompassed everything from her letter from Panda to Sloan’s lie to Michael’s proposal to her hasty marriage to Sloan to secure this green card.  She told him of both men’s deception that led to her flight and the ugly spiral downward that followed.  All she left out were recent events, namely the fact she was now sleeping with Sloan.  There were just some things Barker did not need to know.

 Abbey waited silently for Barker’s response.  He could not possibly approve of a man who lied to her, controlled her, the coerced her in about a dozen different ways even if all of it was for her own good.

Barker stood silent for a moment then he cleared his throat.  “I think you’d better be going, Abigail.  He’s waiting.”

“That’s it?” Abbey asked incredulously.  “No ‘stay away from that man’?  No ‘that man is trouble’?”

Barker smiled at her gently.  “That man could buy this city block and the five surrounding it with just the change in his pocket.  And yet he called me sir.  He treated me with respect.  And the way he looked at you…”

Abbey looked at Barker confused.  “How did he look at me?”

“Like you are the only thing in his world.  And with the money that man has he pretty much owns the world.”

Abbey blushed hot red even though she was certain Barker had no idea what he was talking about.

Barker cocked his head towards the door.  “Get home to your husband.  And have a good day off.”

Abbey gathered her purse.  Before she left she gave Barker a quick squeeze.  With a wave good-bye Abbey skipped across the street to the waiting Hummer.

Chapter forty-six

Abbey couldn’t wait to get off work.  Nothing could phase her.  Between the memory of Sloan’s kiss goodbye and the promise that he would come to pick her up from work Abbey was floating on a cloud all day.

As the final minutes of Abbey’s work day clicked off the clock, Barker sauntered into the dining room of the restaurant.  His apron was unusually grimy and greasy, a byproduct of his scraping the grill clean for most of the afternoon.

“Abbey, answer a question for me, will ya?” Barker asked.

“Sure, Abbey replied.  “What’s up?”

Barker pointed out the large glass diner window to the street.  As usual, the black Hummer sat in wait.  It became as much of a fixture in the street as the lamp post it sat beside.

“I’ve gotten used to that thing sitting out there stalking you,” Barker continued, “but then it picked you up instead of following you as you walked home.  Now, it drops you off in the morning instead of you walking here.  Where are you going when you are not here?”

Abbey shuffled her feet uneasily.  “I’ve been staying with a friend.”

“What kind of friend?”

Abbey looked at him confused.  “What do you mean?”

Barker sighed.  “Abbey, you are a good girl.  I don’t want you getting mixed up with the wrong crowd.  If you need money I can schedule you more hours or give you a raise.  Don’t do something you’ll regret.”

“No, Barker.  It’s not like that.”

“Then you won’t mind me meeting your friend.”

Abbey stared at him silently dumbfounded.  Barker pointed at Abbey’s purse.  “I know you can reach him on your phone.  I watch you text when you don’t think I’m looking.  Invite him in here.”

Abbey exhaled slowly in protest.  She reached into her purse and pulled out her phone.  Abbey tapped quickly on the screen then dropped it back into her bag.  She watched out the window in horror as the back door of the Hummer opened and Sloan stepped out.   He was cool sophistication in his Armani suit as he strode across the street to the diner.  Abbey glanced up at Barker, his dark face skewed in immediate dislike.  A pit formed deep in Abbey’s stomach.  She could tell this meeting was not going to go well.

Sloan opened the door and stepped inside.  “Is everything alright, Abigail?” he inquired concerned.

“Yes.  Everything is fine.  I just wanted to introduce you to…”

Barker thrust his hand under Sloan’s nose.  “Barker Jones.”

Sloan glanced from Barker to Abbey.  A smile spread across his face.  He took Barker’s hand in his and shook it.  “Sloan O’Riley.  Pleased to meet you.”

Barker stared at Sloan evenly.  “Where you from, Sloan?”

Abbey gaped at Barker.  Where the devil did that come from?

“Belfast, Ireland, sir.”

Barker stared at him for a moment more.  “Sloan O’Riley?  Not the same Sloan O’Riley who dropped a huge amount of cash on the Museum of Art and the New York-Presbyterian Hospital’s Burn Unit?  To the tune of millions of dollars?”

“Yes, I am, sir.  They are two organizations dear to me.”

Abbey’s heart fluttered lovesick.  Sloan, her Sloan, a philanthropist?

“What business are you in, Sloan?”  Barker demanded.

Abbey wanted to melt into a puddle on the floor.

“I am an artist.  I broker art – my own and other artists.  I also invest in real estate.  I own two buildings – one in San Francisco and one here in New York City,” Sloan answered.

Barker glared at Sloan warily.  “How do you know Abbey, Sloan?”

Sloan smiled proudly at Abbey.  “Along with being a businessman and an artist I am also an illustrator, primarily for children’s books.  I was assigned as Abigail’s illustrator for her first book.  Now we are working on a second book.”

Barker turned towards Abbey.  “You wrote a children’s book?  You never told me.”

“Well,” Abbey stammered, “things got derailed a bit.”

“However, with our second book we’ll be back on track,” Sloan assured.  “Right, Luv?”

“Yes,” Abbey squeaked.

Sloan extended his hand to Barker again.  “It was a pleasure to meet you sir.”

Abbey watched as the two men coldly shook hands again.  Sloan winked at Abbey.  “I will wait for you in the car, Abigail.  Take your time.  Come when you are ready.”

“Ok,” Abbey replied quietly.

Abbey and Barker stood silently until the door closed behind Sloan.  Abbey turned and glared at Barker.

“I am going to go unless you have more questions,” Abbey quipped.

“One more question,” Barker replied.  “When were you going to tell me he was your husband?”

Chapter forty-five

Abbey woke up before the alarm went off on her phone.  The pale streaks of dawn just started to touch the morning sky.  She sighed deeply.  She didn’t want to get out of bed.

Sloan’s shoulder made an incredible pillow.  Abbey stretched her arm across his broad naked chest as she nuzzled her cheek against his warm flesh.  She could feel his slow steady breath rise and fall beneath her arm.  Abbey really didn’t want to get out of bed.

Abbey looked up at Sloan’s face.  His features were so perfect it was like they were chiseled from marble by Michelangelo.  His thick black hair laid rumpled in contrast with the expensive while cotton pillowcase.

This is the life Abbey wanted.  She didn’t want the book contrast.  She didn’t want the fame and fortune.  She wanted to wake up every morning at this man’s side just like this.

It sucked that their marriage was on paper only.  And it was an arrangement Sloan no longer needed now that he had his investment visa.  It was true that they now had a relationship.  But it wasn’t permanent.  It wasn’t a real marriage.

Abbey gently touched Sloan’s face with her fingertips.

“I wish I could keep you,” she whispered.  Abbey watched Sloan for a moment more before she slipped from beneath the sheets and out of the bed.

Abbey silently crept to the master bath to dress.  She pulled her soft brown hair into a ponytail.  Abbey stared at her image in the large mirror with a sigh.  For a fleeting moment she considered stripping off her uniform and crawling back into bed.  With a sigh she flipped off the light.  Abbey picked up her cell phone from the end table then stopped to blow a kiss to her sleeping husband before descending the staircase.

Abbey dropped her phone into her purse then picked the purse off, hooking the strap over her shoulder.  She turned to the door to leave.  Abbey jumped back startled.

“Are you leaving?” Sloan asked sleepily.  He stood on the staircase in a pair of cotton pajama pants, his strong arms crossed over his bare sculpted chest.

“Yes.  I have to go to work,” Abbey replied, her voice near defensive.

Sloan smiled gently.  “I know.  I would like to throw you over my shoulder, carry you upstairs, undress you and tuck you back into my bed.  However I know how much this job means to you.  I didn’t come down to stop you from leaving,”

In two large strides Sloan crossed the living room to Abbey.  He tilted her chin to him and softly placed a kiss on her lips.

“I came down to kiss you goodbye,” Sloan murmured.  “And wish you a good day at work.”

“Uh-huh,” Abbey smiled dreamily.

“And I will see you at 3 o’clock.”

Abbey looked at him, confused.  “I don’t get off work until three.  I won’t be here until nearly four.”

“I have no meetings this afternoon, Abigail.  I thought I would accompany Gordon when he came to get you.”

Abbey’s beaming smile returned with the thought of an extra hour with Sloan.  “That would be nice.”

“Yes, it would,” Sloan agreed.  He gently guided Abbey to the door, stopping her to kiss her tenderly one more time.  “I will see you later.”

“Bye,” Abbey whispered.

“Bye.”  Sloan held the penthouse door open for Abbey.  He didn’t close it until she disappeared into the elevator.

Chapter forty-four

The only light in the penthouse came from the television.  Abbey sat on the sofa in a tank top and a pair of print boxer shorts, her arms wrapped around her knees pulling them against her chest.  She already took her shower and went to bed after telling Robert she didn’t want dinner.  But she couldn’t sleep.  Abbey hoped a little TV would make her drowsy so she turned on The Weather Channel.  It didn’t work.

Robert’s words pounded in her brain.  Abbey fought against the idea that Sloan O’ Riley could possibly be in love with her even though he said so with his own lips.  How could the powerful, rich, sexy Sloan have feelings for someone as plain and poor as her?  They didn’t even come from the same world.

But Robert was right.  What did Robert have to gain from lying to her>

Abbey’s head turned as she heard the latch of the foyer door click open.  Her heart slammed in her chest as Sloan stepped in, his laptop bag and duffle slung over his shoulder.  She could tell by his deliberate actions he was trying to be quiet so not to wake her.  He smiled when he saw her still awake.

“Hello, Luv,” he greeted.

“Hi,” Abbey breathed.

Exhaustion was evident in his perfect face.  Subtle circles formed under his ice blue eyes.  His large frame slumped just a bit.  Sloan set his bags on the bottom stair of the staircase.

“I didn’t expect you,” Abbey stated quietly.

“My meetings concluded early,” Sloan answered as he collapsed into his armchair.  “I was to fly out tomorrow.  I just wanted to get home so I had the pilot make arrangements to fly out tonight.”

“Pilot?”

Sloan laughed.  “I have my own jet, Abigail.”

Of course he did.  Abbey felt herself fall further from Sloan’s social circle.

“Unfortunately,” Sloan continued, “that means I didn’t grab supper.  I skipped lunch so we could finish early.  I’m starving.”

Abbey shot up from the couch.  “Do you want me to make you a sandwich?”

Sloan nodded appreciatively.  “That would be wonderful.  Thank you.”

Abbey scuttled into the kitchen.  She dug a butcher-wrapped package of thick cut slices of ham, a block of cheddar cheese, a head of lettuce and a tomato from the refrigerator.  She absentmindedly began to prepare Sloan’s sandwich, Robert’s voice distracting her from concentrating on her task.

“Everything Sloan loved was taken from him.  He won’t have it happen again.  There is very little Sloan truly loves now and he protects it with his life.”

It was a miracle Abbey didn’t chop her finger off.

Abbey placed the pieces she prepared on a piece of whole wheat bread sitting on a plate.  She squirted some mustard on the second piece of bread and capped the sandwich with it.  She took a bottle of Guinness from the, popping the cap off with the bottle opener that seemed to live on the marble island.  She carried the plate and the bottle of beer into the living room.

Sloan sat in the darkness, his exhausted eyes focused on the glow from the television.  He had found the remote control and switched the TV to SportsCenter.  Abbey laughed a little.  It was good to see the god-like Sloan O’Riley behaving like a normal guy.

Abbey handed the plate to Sloan.  She set the bottle of beer next to the armchair.  He murmured another word of thanks before attacking the sandwich like a ravenous wolf.

Abbey left him alone to eat, returning to the kitchen to clean up the mess she made.  She shook her head violently to get Robert’s voice out of her head.

“Be grateful for his generosity, his protection and his love.  He doesn’t give them often.  Or easily.  He can’t afford to.”

Abbey exhaled slowly.  She looked out the kitchen door to the living room.  She needed him.  She needed to be in him arms.  She knew what she wanted.  Abbey tossed the dishcloth into the sink then trotted up the stairs to the loft.

When she came back downstairs she found Sloan unmoved, his eyes glued to the TV.  The plate the sandwich was delivered on sat empty on the table beside him.  He cradled the neck of the bottle of beer in his fingers, occasionally taking sips. 

Abbey sashayed across the floor to his side.  He looked up at her.

“Yes, Abigail?” he asked.

Abbey gently took the bottle from his hand and set in on the table next to the plate.  She lowered herself to straddle his lap, digging her knees into the cushion on either side of his hips.  Abbey pulled her tank top over her head then buried her lips against his.  She felt Sloan’s large, powerful hands grip her thighs to lift her as he broke their kiss.

“Let’s go upstairs,” he purred.

Abbey leaned into him to keep him in the armchair.  Her fingers slid against her bare skin along the waistband of her boxer shorts.  She pulled free the condom she had tucked in there and pressed it against the arm of the chair with her fingertips.

“No,” Abbey whispered breathlessly.  “Here.  Now.”

Chapter forty-three

The door next to the elevator was a stairwell.  Abbey discovered it as she was planning her escape.

The day Sloan left was pure hell.  Abbey was alone all day in the penthouse.  It wasn’t that there was nothing to do.  Poking around Abbey found shelves full of books in Sloan’s study.  He had an extensive movie collection and three different video game systems with all the games imaginable,  There was also the terrace to enjoy the beautiful early Spring day.

But being alone drove Abbey insane.  Nothing could distract her from the thought of who Sloan would be sleeping with.  She knew his day was filled with one intense meeting after another as they put the final touches on the complex he owned.  But at night – would he really be alone?  She doubted it.  Even with Abbey’s limited experience she knew Sloan was an incredible lover.  She could imagine some blond leggy secretary in San Francisco looking forward to some “overtime”.

If the insecurity wasn’t enough, being without him in that big penthouse was breaking her heart.

Finally by dinner, Abbey had enough.  She picked up her purse and stormed to the elevators.  Chinese sounded good and she needed some human company.  For the first time the torturous image of Sloan and imaginary blond didn’t fill her mind.  The anticipation of a big bowl of orange chicken did.

Abbey stopped short two steps from the elevator.  Robert stood in the lobby between the banks of elevators, an unmovable sentry following Sloan’s orders.  Without a word he pointed to the elevator Abbey had come from.  Abbey tried to protest, tried to persuade him to let her just leave for dinner.  Big, bad Robert would relent.  He certainly didn’t want to be her errand boy.

Abbey was very, very wrong.  With a snap of his fingers he ordered her upstairs.  Once the elevator doors closed with Abbey inside he ordered her Chinese food for delivery. 

Right before bed, Sloan called Abbey’s cell phone.  She was ready to lash out, to tell him exactly what she thought of his demands.  But she couldn’t.  Just the sound of his voice made her heart flutter.

Abbey strained to hear a woman’s in the background, possibly one in skimpy lingerie begging Sloan to come back to bed.  She couldn’t hear anything.  However, Sloan cut the call short saying he had to go.  It was enough to make Abbey too miserable to sleep.

The next two days were better.  When Abbey worked she couldn’t think about Sloan and whoever he was with.  She couldn’t miss him.  However, when 3:00 rolled around she was climbing back into the Hummer and returning to her luxury prison.

Tonight was different though.  She had been on her feet for over eight hours.  She wanted Starbucks and she wanted it now.

Abbey closed the master bath door (which, incidentally, was bigger than her whole apartment) to seem she was inside.  She took a few bills out of her pocket and stuffed them in her jeans.  The she slipped silently out the penthouse door and down the stairwell.

Abbey breathed a sigh of relief as she stepped out onto the sidewalk.  It felt great to be free, to be out amongst other people without someone breathing down her neck.  With a huge smile she started towards Starbucks.

 Abbey didn’t make it half a block down the street before a deep voice boomed behind her.

“Where the hell do you think you’re going?’

Abbey spun to face Robert.  Lord, he was intimidating.  Abbey took a deep breath to buck up her courage.

“I’m going to get a latte.  I’ll be right back.”

“No you won’t.  Go back to the penthouse,” Robert demanded.

“No.  I want to get out of there for a bit.”

“Fine.”  Robert strode past her towards the coffee shop.  “Let’s go then.”

Abbey gaped at him in disbelief. Robert smiled at her smugly and continued.  “You didn’t seriously think I would let you go alone.”

The walk to and from Starbucks was silent.  Abbey fumed too much to talk and she knew Robert ha d no interest in a conversation with her.

Abbey’s anger didn’t subside as she and Robert rode the elevator back to the penthouse.  “I want to go home,” she muttered.

“You are home,” Robert answered.

“I am not home,” Abbey growled.  “I am in prison.”  Abbey stormed through the vestibule, shoving the penthouse doors open.  She slammed her paper coffee cup on the end table harder than she meant to, spilling a little coffee in the process.

Robert followed her laughing.  “Is that what you think?”

Abbey turned to look at him.  “Yes, that is what I think.  What does it look like to you?”

Robert shook his head.  “Are you really that stupid?”

“I’m not stupid.”

Robert strode across the penthouse until he loomed over Abbey.  He was truly frightening.  “This penthouse is Sloan’s sanctuary.  It’s where he finds solace from the insanity in his life.  No one is allowed here but Gordon, Bartholomew and me.”

“And whichever woman he brings here to have sex with,” Abbey quipped.

Robert chuckled amused.  “Abbey, the only woman who has stepped foot in this penthouse is you.  Sloan doesn’t even have a cleaning woman.  That is how much he wants to keep the outside world away from here.  This is his sanctuary and he’s turned it into a fortress.  To protect you.”

“I don’t need protection.”

Robert leaned down until he was nearly touching noses with Abbey.  “Everything Sloan loved was taken from him.  He won’t have it happen again.  There is very little Sloan truly loves now and he protects it with his life.”

Abbey was at a loss for words.  What Robert said didn’t make sense.  It didn’t make sense to her the other night when Sloan said it.  “Are you saying…”

“Am I saying Sloan loves you?  Yes.  That is what I’m saying.”

“But what about the other women?”

“What other women?”

“I Googled him.”

“What the hell?” Robert grabbed Abbey’s arm roughly.  “What do you know?”

Abbey stared at him terrified.  Her voice trembled.  “He’s an artist.  And a businessman.  He’s worth millions.  And he’s been with a lot of beautiful women.”

Robert exhaled slowly as he let her go.  “He hasn’t been with anyone or almost a year, not since he met you.”

“What about the night clubs?”

“Sloan meets with business associates at the clubs.  He makes deals.  He’s not looking to get laid.”

“What about this trip?  You can’t tell me he’s sleeping alone.”

“Abbey, Sloan is lucky if he’s sleeping at all.  He has around the clock meetings and when he’s not at meetings he’s working on stuff for the next day.  One step ahead of the competition – that’s Sloan’s philosophy in life.”

“That cannot be true.  None of this can be true,” Abbey objected.

“Why would I lie to you?” Robert suggested.  “”What benefit would I get from it?”

Abbey fell silent as she stared wide eyed around her.  What Robert was saying was too much to take in.

“Stop looking at this place as a prison.  It is a palace and Sloan had made you it’s queen and he himself your servant.”

“He is Sloan O’Riley,” Abbey protested weakly.  “He’s not a servant by any means.”

“Precisely,” Robert answered coldly.  “Be grateful for his generosity, his protection and his love.  He doesn’t give them often.  Or easily.  He can’t afford to.”

Without a word Robert left Abbey standing dumbstruck in the penthouse foyer, closing the foyer doors behind him.

Chapter forty-two

Abbey shot straight up in bed.  She found herself alone.  Warm spring sunlight bathed the loft.  She ran a hand through her rumpled bed head then wrapped the thick white down comforter around herself.  Thankfully Barker had given her the day off now that he hired a part-time waitress.  She would certainly have been late for work.

Abbey felt humiliated.  It was just as she suspected.  She fought against herself not to take her relationship with Sloan past the point of no return knowing once she gave him what he wanted he would leave her.  Now that they slept together, he was gone.

Abbey laughed miserably to herself.  At least she lost her virginity to her husband.  Sloan may be her husband on paper only but he was still her husband.

Abbey’s stomach growled as the savory aroma of breakfast drifted from the kitchen below.  She slid from the bed, wrapping the comforter around her naked body.  She carefully descended the “L” shaped suspended staircase from the loft.

Sloan stood over the stove in his black Armani suit scraping at a large cast iron fry pan with a spatula.  A chopping block of vegetables and a glass bowl of egg residue sat on a charcoal colored marble island.  He turned as he heard the sound of the comforter slipping across the wood floor of the penthouse.  He smiled warmly at her.

“Good morning, Luv.  Sleep well?” he greeted.

Abbey giggled as she kicked the comforter ahead of her with each step she took into the kitchen.  “I did when you would let me sleep.”

Sloan laughed as he took hold of her hips.  Like a child he lifted her and sat her on the island.  He then handed her the plate sitting next to the stove.  “Breakfast,” he instructed.  “Spinach and tomato omelet with feta cheese.”

Abbey murmured her thanks as she stabbed at the eggs.  She was starving.  It made sense since she forgot to eat dinner the night before and spent the whole night burning calories.  She watched as he finished his own breakfast.

“You’re dressed awful fancy to be cooking breakfast.” Abbey commented, her mouth full of egg.

Sloan scraped under the omelet in the pan to loosen it.  “I am leaving shortly to fly to San Francisco for a few days.”

Abbey stopped chewing.  “Oh.”

Sloan slid the omelet onto his plate then set the spatula and pan on the counter.   He picked up his plate and turned towards Abbey.

“We need to go over some details, Abigail.”  Sloan cut free a piece of omelet with his fork and slipped it in his mouth.

“Alright,” Abbey answered uneasily.  What details did they need to go over?  Details about their relationship?  What more did he want?

“While I am gone you are not to leave this penthouse, understood?”Sloan instructed.  “Robert will be staying behind.  If you need anything, you will call him and he will get it for you.”

Abbey set her plate down, shaking her head.  “No, Sloan.  I have a job.”

“Then you will call in and tell your employer you will not be there.”

“No, Sloan.  I won’t”

“Abigail, I will give you whatever money you lose not working.”

“It’s not that.  Sloan, I need this job.”

Sloan laughed.  “No, you don’t.  I will provide for you.”

I can’t trust you will.  You lied to me before.  Why wouldn’t you again?”

Sloan stared at her, fighting the hurt her words caused.  But he understood.  It would take some time for her to heal from the betrayal from him and Michael.  He smiled.

“Alright.  Robert will drive you to and from your job.  But when you are not at work you are here.  Non-negotiable.”

“I can’t go get a cup of coffee?” Abbey whined.

Sloan laughed.  “Not without Robert.”

Abbey’s face darkened as she pouted.  Sloan set his now empty plate in the sink.  He leaned on the island with his palms pressed on the marble on either side of Abbey.  Abbey’s pout melted away with Sloan’s kiss.  The way his lips pressed against hers it almost felt like he was trying to memorize the way she tasted, the way her lips felt.  Was he going to miss her?

Their lips parted.  Sloan’s brogue was deep and somewhat sad.  “I have to gather a few more papers before I leave,” he murmured.

Sloan helped Abbey down from the counter before he disappeared into his office.  Abbey shuffled from the kitchen, clutching the comforter to her.  She stopped short as Robert appeared from the foyer.  Abbey didn’t hear him come in.

Robert chuckled as his eyes raked Abbey’s tousled figure.  He certainly knew what happened between her and Sloan the night before.

“You’re stuck with me, little girl,” he announced.

Abbey wrinkled her nose at him in disgust.  With a huff she stomped up the stairs to the loft to get dressed.

Chapter forty-one

A note – I’ve edited this chapter.  …*** replaces material that, well – you’ll get the idea.  If you would like to see the removed part I can e-mail it to you.

Abbey stretched her arms sleepily as she arched her back against the soft cushions of the sofa.  She rubbed the sleep from her eyes.  Her fingers haphazardly caressed the worn cotton squares of the patchwork quilt tucked around her.  She smiled to herself.  Sloan must have laid it over her after she had dozed off.

Since their night at the pub had concluded early, Sloan brought Abbey back to the penthouse with him.  Actually he hadn’t given her much of a choice.  The ride from the pub had been direct and silent.  It was alright with Abbey though.  She loved watching Sloan at work.  But all the errands she ran before she met up with the guys tired her out.

Abbey looked up as she heard a pain filled moan.

“Sloan, are you alright?”

Sloan sat hunched at his easel with his back to her, his latest creation for their book half brought to life in vivid color before him.  He rubbed his bare shoulder with his fingers, leaving rainbow stripes of pastel dust raked across his hard flesh.

“Sloan?”

He answered her finally with a grunt.

“Is your shoulder bothering you?” Abbey persisted.

“That lunatic at the bar,” he answered in his thick Irish brogue.  “I wrenched it when I hit him.  I cannot even hold the pastel sticks anymore.”

“Let me rub it.”  She stood and gently laid the quilt across the back of the sofa. She crossed the loft to him.  She listened to him exhale as she kneaded the tight muscles in his sore shoulder.  She stopped briefly at the foreign touch of the caterpillar-like scar that began from his shoulder blade and trailed to his mid back.  She closed her eyes as she felt his muscles loosen, his body relax, his breathing become easier.

Abbey pulled her hands away as Sloan slowly spun his chair around.  He grasped her hips in his hands and pulled her between his legs.   He slowly manipulated the buttons on her sundress, leaving bright colors of dust on the white fabric.  His hands explored her warm skin as he buried his lips against her stomach.

Abbey gasped as she wove her fingers through his unruly black locks.  She felt herself tremble at each soft kiss he placed on her flesh.  Sloan tugged her onto his lap.

“Abigail,” he purred, “I know I have pushed you into many things but I won’t this time.  If you don’t want this please tell me now.”

“I’m not leaving, am I?”

Sloan let loose a deep, low growl as he ripped free the final few buttons of her sundress…*** 

Just as suddenly as his passion ignited, Sloan pulled free from her.  A soft grunt echoed from his throat as he stood her up from his lap.  Without a word he strode to the door, tugging his thin grey t-shirt on as he went.  He pulled on his tennis shoes and left with the slam of the door.

Abbey pulled the remnants of her sundress around her as she leaned against the arm of the sofa.  What had she done?  No answer came to her.  She blinked back sudden tears but let go a sob, losing herself to her breaking heart.

After a couple of moments she stood, grasping her purse from beside the sofa.  “Screw him,” she thought miserably to herself.  “I could care less what he wants right now.  I don’t care if he thinks it’s dangerous for me to go home by myself.  I’m going home.”

She turned as the foyer door opened.  Sloan stared at her from the doorway then slowly stepped in, latching the door closed behind him.  He kicked off his shoes.  With the flick of a wrist he tossed a small box onto the end table.  He peeled his shirt off and dropped it on the couch.  He crossed the loft to her, tugging her sundress open and slipping the straps from her shoulders.  He gently rubbed a tear from her cheek.

“I just want to play it safe, luv,” he consoled in a soft, sensual whisper.  He brushed his fingers against her stomach.  “I just want you safe.”

Abbey gazed into his deep, blue eyes as the realization of the moment washed over her.  She grazed his lips with her finger, urging them apart then sinking into them with her own, the taste of him fueling her desire to touch him,…***

…taking her hand in his.  He picked up the box of condoms in his other hand and led Abbey up the “L” shaped suspended staircase to the loft – and his bedroom.

Abbey took the room in for a moment.  It surprised her.  If she ever had the chance to see Sloan’s bedroom Abbey expected to see dark fabrics and leather.  Instead Sloan’s large oversized bed was covered with a thick, soft down comforter.  The furniture was made of dark maple wood with deep ingrained veins. 

Abbey forgot what the room looked like as Sloan sat on the mattress, tugging her to him to straddle his lap.  Abbey obeyed silently, burying her fingers deep in his ebony hair then placing a deep, slow kiss on his lips…***

Sloan gently pulled her down to the bed beside him and buried his face against her neck as he groaned.  “I have wanted you all my life.  I have dreamed of this night all my life.”

Abbey pulled from his arms and climbed off the bed.  She grasped the comforter from the bed and wrapped it around herself.  She glared at him then retreated to the row of windows that overlooked the city street below.

Sloan sat up.  “Abigail, what is it?”

“I don’t understand you.  One minute you’re hot.  Then you’re cold.  One minute you despise me then you make love to me.  How can your feelings go back and forth like that?”

“Abigail, do not be so…”

“Don’t call me naïve.  I am no longer naïve.  I can’t keep up with you.  I can’t figure it out.”

Sloan stood up and strode across the room to her.  She held her breath in awe as the moon and neon lights from outside illuminated his naked body.

“Then I will explain it to you as plainly as I can, my lady,” he whispered.  “Abigail, I love you.  I have since I laid eyes on you.  I don’t want to frighten you away from me, so I play the game as your moods change.”  He brushed a lock of hair from her face as he continued.  “I need you, Abigail.  I see my babes when I look in your eyes.”

“Sloan, I…”

He nuzzled his nose against her ear.  “Stay tonight.  With me.  Wake up with me tomorrow.  Please?”

She nodded and took his offered hand.  The comforter slowly slid from her body as she followed him back to the bed.

Chapter forty

The pub was nothing like what Abbey expected.  It was crowded but not packed.  A dance floor complete with people dancing to the music of a simple DJ was right inside the door.  A long wooden bar lined the far wall.  The wall behind it was layered with shelves and lined with every alcohol imaginable.  Mugs and glasses hung like crystal bats from a rack above the bar.  Neon signs hummed quietly scattered amongst black and white pictures of rugby teams and old pictures of the streets of Ireland.

Abbey scanned the crowd.  She couldn’t be in the right place.  This place certainly didn’t have the opulence associated with Sloan O’Riley.  She pulled her cell phone out of her ski jacket to double check the address Sloan had texted to her.

Sloan wasn’t pleased Abbey found her own way to the pub.  She wished Gordon a Happy Birthday with a peck on the cheek and told him she would see him later.  Assuming she meant he’d see her when he would picker her up, Gordon drove home to get ready for the evening.

Abbey stayed home for twenty minutes, long enough to style her hair in soft, brown curls.  She dug into the hole in her mattress, her “savings account”, and headed into town.

The first stop on Abbey’s agenda was the cute little boutique down the street from the coffee shop.  It didn’t take long for her to find what she was looking for – a white cotton sundress with pearl buttons lined up the bodice.  A patter of maroon and cornflower roses dotted the white fabric.  She found a pair of white strappy sandals near the sundress.  She gathered them and took them to the register then scampered to the dressing room to change once she paid for them.  She would be cold by the end of the night but she didn’t care.

Then Abbey stopped at the bakery a few storefronts down from the boutique.  She had stopped at the window of the bakery several times on her way to the coffee shop, salivating at the luscious scents that floated from inside.  The treats in the window were simply divine.  She slipped inside and bought the only cake left – a three layer black forest cake thick with fudge frosting and topped with cherries.  Abbey slipped the pink box containing the cake into the cloth grocery sack she brought and skipped out the door towards the subway.

Abbey searched again.  This time her eyes stopped at a round table near the bar.  Of course she missed them.  She had never seen the four of them together this way.  Robert sat hunched over his beer in a black hoodie and shorts.  He, like Abbey, was reveling in the unusual warmth of the March day.  Gordon was wearing a green Nike polo and a pair of khakis, looking more suited for a day at the golf course than a night at the bar.  Bartholomew looked classy in a blue plaid button down shirt and a pair of jeans.  Sloan was in a grey sculpted t-shirt and his tight, faded designer jeans complimented with his Italian leather boots.  They were deep in conversation, talking, laughing and taking sips of beer.  One stool sat vacant at the table.

Abbey weaved through the crowd in the pub to their table.  She set the fabric grocery sack on the stool.

“Hi, guys,” she greeted as she slipped her ski jacket off and hung it on the back of her stool.  She turned and met their wide eyed expressions.

“Abigail, you are beautiful,” Sloan breathed.

Abbey blushed.  “Thank you.”  She reached into the grocery sack and pulled the pink box out.  “Gordon, I got you a present.”   She set the box in the middle of the table and opened the lid.  She looked up excitedly for the men’s reaction.  Her heart fell as she watched their stone still faces.

“Everyone deserves a birthday cake on their birthday,” Abbey protested weakly.

Gordon stared at the cake.  A smile slowly crept across his face.  “You are right, Abigail.  This is the best gift I’ve received in almost twenty years.  And black forest is my favorite.  Thank you.”

Bartholomew disappeared into the crowd in the direction of the bar.  Abbey giggled as she watched Gordon slap Robert’s had as Robert attempted to dive his finger into the rich fudge frosting.  Abbey set the grocery sack on the floor then attempted to squiggle onto the bar stool.  She stopped as Sloan offered his hand to help her.  She looked into his eyes, her breath catching in her throat as she did.

Sloan gazed down at her.  The look of immense pride was unmistakable in his ice blue eyes.  Abbey’s heart fluttered rapidly.  Sloan was very pleased with what she did.  With Sloan’s help she slid onto the stool.

Bartholomew returned with a pile of plates, forks, napkins and a large serrated knife to cut the cake with.  Gordon carefully took the knife from the top of the pile and, reaching across the table, handed it to Abbey.

“Abbey, dear, would you do the honors?” Gordon requested,

Abbey nodded and took the knife.  Standing carefully on the rung of her bar stool she slice the cake into large pieces, lifting each carefully with the blade and setting it on the offered plate.  After all five members of their little group had a piece she settled back into her seat.  Abbey didn’t notice Sloan leave the table until her appeared at her side, a glass of Moscato cradled in his hand.  He set it on the table in front of her.

As Abbey relished bite after bite of the sweet moist cake she listened attentively to the men’s conversation.  It was now obvious that the formal business relationship of an insanely rich businessman and his associates these four portrayed was a façade.  These men were the best of friends.  Gordon treated Sloan as if her were his son, not his employer.  Bartholomew seemed to be the little brother, soaking up the other three with awe and reverence and taking the teasing from them good naturedly.  The adventures they reminisced about were legendary.  Being thrown out of bars in Europe, comparing tea houses in the Orient, surfing in Australia – there wasn’t anything these four hadn’t seen or done.

Abbey startled from her trance by the sensation of a large, warm hand enveloping hers.  She looked up for the possessor of the hand, finding Sloan’s beautiful blue eyes smiling at her.

“Let’s dance,” he suggested.

Abbey stared at him for a moment.  Sloan dance?  She slid from her stool and obediently followed him to the dance floor.  Abbey wrapped her arms around Sloan’s shoulders and laid her head on his chest as he held her close.  Intertwined they swayed as the sultry notes of U2’s “With Or Without You” floated overhead.  Abbey sighed quietly as she felt his hard, sculpted body pressed against hers.  She never wanted this song to end.   

As the final notes of the song echoed across the dance floor, Abbey felt Sloan’s fingers under her chin nudging her head up.  As she lifted her head to him, he engulfed her lips with his.  Abbey clung to him, her heart racing, her body trembling as Sloan’s hands caressed her closer.

Their lips parted as silence fell across the dance floor.  Sloan took Abbey’s hand in his and started back to the table.  He stopped when Abbey didn’t move.

With a shaky finger, Abbey pointed towards the bar.  “I’m going to get another glass of wine’” she said.

  “Let me get it for you,” Sloan insisted.

“No, it’s ok.  I will be back in a bit.”

Sloan stared at Abbey for a moment then nodded.  He let go of her hand and made his way through the crowd back to the table.

Abbey leaned against the bar rail, squeaking her order to the bartender.  She could feel her whole body still quaking.  It was why she refused Sloan’s offer to get her another drink.  She needed a moment to herself to calm down.

Abbey didn’t want to want Sloan.  She knew by law he was her husband.  But she had already been burned in love by Michael.  If someone as simple and stupid as Michael could hurt her by leaving, what damage could Sloan do when he was done with her?

There would be nothing left.  Sloan would destroy her.  Abbey couldn’t, COULDN’T, fall in love with him.

Abbey was pulled out of her thoughts by a body pressed close to her.  This was so not what she needed from Sloan right now.

“Hey, sweet thing.  Can I buy you a drink?” a deep drunken drawl breathed in her ear.

Abbey pulled away from the man.  The guy gave her a goofy grin, his blond ponytail bobbing from one side to the other.  His tight fitting New York Mets t-shirt sported a little beer gut.  He reeked of beer and cheap cologne.

“No, thanks,” Abbey answered.

“Aww, baby.  I want to get you know you.  Don’t you want to get to know me too?”

“Not really.”  Abbey glanced down at her left hand, her gold band glimmering in the low light.  Might as well use it.  Abbey raised her hand to display her ring.  “I’m married.”

“I bet I could do things to you your husband can’t.”

Doubtful.  “Thanks for the offer to buy me a drink, but I have to go.”  Abbey turned towards the direction of the table.  She would just have to leave her drink to get away from this guy.  She gasped as she was yanked back around.

“You aren’t going anywhere.”  The drunk pulled Abbey to him, prying her lips apart with his.  Abbey gagged at the taste of cigarettes and beer.  She struggled and beat on the drunk’s chest until she could pull free.

“Let me go!” she screamed.

It was like a stroke of summer lightning piercing the sky.  A fist flew over Abbey’s head connecting with the drunk’s nose.  At the same time an arm snaked around Abbey’s waist to keep her on her feet.  The drunk fell into the crowd onto the cement floor.

Instinctively Abbey spun into the broad chest behind her.  She was shaking again but this time from fear.  The thin material of Sloan’s t-shirt was a huge comfort.  Abbey felt instant guilt in his arms.  What did her think of another man kissing her?

“Are you alright?” Sloan asked, his Irish brogue filled with concern.

Abbey couldn’t find her voice.  She nodded.  Sloan let her go, nudging her behind him.  Abbey noticed the crowd that had gathered around them.  She also noticed Gordon, Robert and Bartholomew flanking Sloan.  It was far more intense than guys having their friend’s back in a bar fight.  The level of protection was confusing.

“Why were you kissing my wife?” Sloan demanded from the drunk who was still sprawled on the ground.

“Duds, she was kissing me!  She started it!” the drunk accused as he mopped at the blood dripping from his nose.

Sloan squatted next to the drunk.  “I know what I saw and I know my wife.  If I ever catch you anywhere near her again you won’t stand up.  Do you understand me?”

“Yes, sir,” the drunk whimpered.

Sloan smiled in triumph as he stood.  He took his wallet from his back pocket.  He slipped two one hundred dollar bills from inside and tossed them on the bar.  Sloan glanced at Gordon, Robert and Bartholomew as he took Abbey’s hand in his.

“It’s time to go home,” he announced.