Five days later, checked into Washington DC’s exclusive Hay-Adams Hotel, Alexandra paced the hallway outside her and Gabe’s suite, which she was somehow now sharing with her mom, dad, Rowan, and Gabe, but not Jonathon and Conor. She and her demon were in a heated argument. She whispered under her breath, “It makes sense. Our itinerary is a mess! I feel better knowing Mom is there for Rowan.”
No! You’ve been manipulated into this. It makes no sense having the ménage à quatre separated. You are in danger. You need to stay together
Gabe opened the door of their suite the same moment Conor opened the door to his and Jonathon’s room, and Alexandra felt caught like a deer in headlights, unsure which way to turn.
She headed toward the elevator. “I need some fresh air.”
Her Secret Service agent and Gabe kept pace. Conor said, “Jonathon!”
No! What is happening? My men are not a danger to me!
As the elevator doors closed, Conor stopped it with his hand. He and Jonathon joined her, Gabe, and the agent. Her Secret Service protector was introducing himself to Gabe, “Agent Travis, sir.”
Alexandra took a second look and realized he was new to her detail, but then all the agents were constantly changing. It was an annoyance since Agent Jack had been removed from her detail in Ireland.
Gabe asked, “So where are we going for fresh air?”
Alexandra met his gaze and exhaled. “I’m hungry. I think there’s a grill or tavern a few blocks away. Emmit’s? Maybe?”
“Old Ebbitt’s, ma’am?” the agent asked.
“That’s it,” Alexandra agreed.
“It’s a bit far to walk, ma’am.”
Alexandra narrowed her gaze and shook her head. “It’s not too far.”
“It’s a security risk, Alexandra,” Conor whispered. “Let them drive.”
“I want some fresh air. If the fucking president can jog five miles a day on these very same streets, I’m fairly certain my agent can protect me during a leisurely stroll.”
“Ma’am, if I can be completely honest?”
She met Agent Travis’s gaze. “Please.”
He glanced away but then looked into her eyes. “Ma’am, no one wants you to have any complications. We, no, I, I don’t want you to put the twins at risk. I am not only keeping you alive. I am the shield for you and two innocent babies. I won’t survive if I fail and anything happens to the three of you.”
Alexandra collapsed back against the elevator wall. “So the entire security detail knows?”
He shrugged. “I only know that I was made aware of all the possible complications
that might arise when I was assigned to you.”
“Complications? Perfect. Does complications include unusual behavior? Everyone is waiting on pins and needles for my mental breakdown?” Alexandra exhaled and charged out of the elevator the moment the doors opened. She rushed through the lobby and out the front doors. She strode as quickly as she could toward the sidewalk without breaking into a flat-out run.
Gabe caught up to her and wrapped his hand around hers. “It’s a bit chilly. You might have at least grabbed a jacket and your purse if you intended to take a long walk to get lunch.”
“I need to—”
He pulled her to a stop. “May I escort you to lunch? I’ll buy. You can give me a peek into your thoughts while we stroll
Alexandra tilted her head and looked deeply into his eyes.
“I would love for you to take me to lunch.” She stroked his cheek. “Lead on.”
Two Secret Service agents fell in behind them as he led her down the block. They walked in silence, and Alexandra stole glances as they strolled. Within minutes she felt her paranoia and fear flee. Pausing for a light to change at a crosswalk, Gabe squeezed her hand. “Want to talk about it?”
“Tell me what you’re afraid of.”
“It’s a very long list,” she replied.
“It’s a long walk. I think we have time.”
Alexandra took a deep breath as she gazed upon his face. She knew every flaw and contour as well as her own. Gabe was her rock; the comfortable companionship she felt with him had been forged over twenty-five years. They knew each other, inside and out. He knew her better than any other. He accepted the good, bad, and ugly that made her whole. He’d danced with her demons, picked her up, and brushed off the brimstone dust more times than she cared to count. He sent you from Belfast
She admitted, “My paranoia is getting worse. I’m jumping at shadows, but mostly I fear our ménage is being ripped apart from within.”
“The ménage is stronger than it’s ever been.”
“My thoughts want me to believe a conspiracy is afoot. You and I are in the suite meant for the ménage with my parents
! How is that strong if we are apart from one another?”
“Only for three days, and from a logistical viewpoint it was easier to bed down Ellen and Martin with Rowan. You insisted Rowan stay in the suite with you.”
“I know,” she whispered and squeezed his hand. A tear slid down her cheek, and she wiped it away. Emotion rising she admitted, “She’s at risk. The three of you are at risk. I feel like a fish in a fishbowl with a cat circling. My heart is racing with the fear something is going to go wrong. That everything will fall apart and I’ll lose the three of you forever. Since Cape Hatteras I’ve felt—”
Gabe pulled her into his arms, and the sob she’d been holding back broke through.
“I love you, Alexandra. I should have never allowed everything to escalate as it did at your sister’s. I weakened you too much, and I regret it. I’d hoped we’d healed the wounds over the holiday, but now—”
A government SUV pulled up to the curb, and the door opened to reveal both Conor and Jonathon inside. Conor asked, “Give you a lift? Or do we meet you there?”
She wrapped herself in her arms, looked between Gabe and Conor indecisively, and admitted, “It is a bit cold.”
“Your decision. I will walk with you as long as you need me to,” Gabe assured her.
She frowned as a soft mist started falling around them. “Fuck.”
Conor chuckled and slid to make room for her to climb in. When she was caught between him and Gabe, Conor rubbed his hand over her thigh. “You’re frozen through. Agent, can we get some heat back here?”
Both men folded around her, and Alexandra said, “I’m starving. Can you drive faster, Agent?”
“Traffic,” he defended.
“We can walk faster than this!” she said agitatedly and fidgeted.
“Breathe, Alexandra. Everything is okay. The ménage is strong. You are strong. The babies are strong.”
“Something is wrong! I don’t know what, but I feel like something is so terribly wrong.”
She bent over her knees and focused on breathing. Both men rubbed her back, and she was glad they didn’t want to chip away at her brain because she had no answers.
Am I paranoid? Delusional? Is the threat real?
“I know you’re afraid, but we are together,” Gabe whispered.
“In separate rooms!” Alexandra pointed out.
“If it helps you rest easier, we will all stay in the suite together,” Gabe said.
“All of us? With my parents and Rowan?” she asked incredulously and then started laughing. “It might be worth it just to see their reaction.”
They entered a cozy tavern with an old-world feel. It was packed, and Alexandra only relaxed when the hostess was able to locate a mostly private table available in a corner at the rear of the restaurant. When the waiter arrived to take her order, she asked, “Can I get the angus burger with well-done bacon…and a fried egg…and cheese, lettuce, and tomato? With fries? And a salad, a huge salad?”
“I can make that happen. Cheddar, applewood smoked bacon, and arugula satisfactory, ma’am?”
“Mayo on the side?”
“God no; no mayo. I have to watch my fat intake.”
All three men burst out laughing. Gabe winked and said, “Bring her a side of mayo; she might change her mind, so save yourself a trip to the kitchen.”
Alexandra cursed. “The beer selection sucks and the whiskey. Jesus fucking Christ. Bring me a bottled water still sealed—don’t even think about tap water—and a Jameson neat.”
She felt all three men stiffen, but they placed their orders without comment. When the waiter departed Conor demanded, “What the fuck?”
Alexandra met his gaze. “One sip. I am off my meds. I just need to calm down.”
“Get her in line, Gabe,” Conor warned.
And there it is, sweet cheeks. A clue.
Alexandra ran Conor’s words through her mind and wondered why he hadn’t corrected her behavior himself. A debate ensued in her mind.
Conor hasn’t dominated you since Christmas.
Stop overthinking! That means nothing.
Have you been naked with either Jonathon or Conor? I wonder what they are doing with all that spare time. Jonathon won’t be content with taking only Gabe from you—
“Stop!” Alexandra looked around at the surprised faces of the other diners and realized she’d raised her voice. She whispered, “Please. My thoughts are twisting everything.”
Gabe opened his mouth and closed it again, exhaling slowly and evenly, before asking, “You weighed the pros and cons of consuming alcohol while pregnant, mo ghrá?”
“I did,” Alexandra answered softly. “A single drink will not cause fetal alcohol syndrome, but with a full belly and a few ounces of whiskey I might actually sleep tonight. You know my paranoia gets worse when I don’t sleep.”
She watched her men exchange hard glances before Gabe took her hand and met her gaze. “We trust your judgment.”
Alexandra’s face crumpled, and she turned to face the booth back as she pressed her face to Gabe’s shoulder and used his birth name when she said, “Thank you, Patrick.” She repeated in Gaeilge, “Go raibh maith agat, Padhraic.”
“You’re welcome, Alexandra MacKenna,” he whispered and kissed her temple and repeated, “Tá fáilte romhat, Alastriona MacCionaodha. There’s no reason to panic. You’re safe. We are here together.”
She smiled softly and exhaled. “I know I’m behaving a little irrationally.”
“It’s okay, sweetheart,” Jonathon told her. “You’re pregnant, the president’s advisor, in constant danger, hosting a huge science conference and New Year’s ball…and getting married. I think you’re allowed an irrational moment or two. Tell us what we can do to help you.”
“This! Help me escape and be as normal as possible as often as possible for the next few days. Thank you for not including batshit fucking crazy in your assessment.”
Conor gave her a hard look but winked. “Batshit fucking crazy? Doesn’t come close.”
Mixed signals much?
“Ha-ha-fucking-ha,” Alexandra countered, smiling. “Tá mo chroí istigh ionat.”
“Your Gaeilge is improving,” he complimented. “My heart is in you as well.”
The server brought their drinks while they were speaking, and if he noticed the redundancy, she believed he would think they were learning or teaching each other a foreign language, but the purpose was so much more important. She was grounding. Sometimes she could just sniff one or all of her men to reconnect with reality, but in public using both languages offered the same tether to reality she needed without excessive PDA.
Two kitchen runners arrived with their food, and Alexandra gasped at the height of her sandwich. “That’s big.”
“I’ll help if you can’t finish it all,” Gabe promised.
She lifted her knife and tried for ferocious. “Don’t touch my food!”
The three of them burst out laughing at the servers’ expressions. Conor continued to scowl at her. She met his gaze, lifted her tumbler of whiskey, and said, “Sláinte.”
Gabe and Jonathon lifted their beers and repeated the well wish. Conor shook his head without comment. Alexandra closed her eyes. What am I doing? Did I order a drink to calm my nerves or to bait Conor’s beast? Am I that desperate for his attention?
“Alexandra?” Gabe repeated her name, “Are you all right?”
She opened her eyes and saw her hand still held the tumbler, but she was pouring the contents onto the center of the table. She set the glass on the table and stood. “Obviously not.”
She left the table and hurried to the ladies’ room. She faced her reflection and found no answers. Jesus fucking Christ! I’m marrying Gabe. Every time I need Conor instead of him, how does that make him feel?
A sudden fear gripped her that it would serve her right if all three men left her behind.
Her heart raced as she rushed back to the table and stagger-stepped when she saw all three men were exactly where she’d left them. They were leaning close and speaking softly. Yes, I’m batshit fucking crazy. She sat and started eating without comment. Her men followed her lead and started eating as well. She sighed with relief when they didn’t mention her behavior.
Gabe and Jonathon entered the SUV first—Jonathon going to the rear seat and Gabe the center row. Conor caught her elbow before she climbed in and turned her to face him. She ducked her head and didn’t meet his gaze. Conor closed the vehicle’s door, Alexandra assumed to give them a measure of privacy. He lifted her chin, and she met his gaze, finding his stormy.
“You pleased me when you dumped the whiskey, mo chroí.”
“I shouldn’t have ordered it.”
“Why did you?”
“You don’t have to try nearly so hard to get my attention.”
“You automatically assume I ordered it to bait you? God, you are fucking conceited. I’m remembering why I hated you so much.” She scowled and jerked open the door. “Fuck you.”
Her heart raced as she climbed into the SUV to sit next to Gabe. He asked, “Everything okay?”
Alexandra didn’t expect Conor to slide in beside her. She closed her eyes and exhaled, realizing too late that she was still trying to bait his beast. Am I doing this on purpose?
The drive back to the hotel took forever. “Agent! Seriously, drive faster!”
Alexandra shielded her face from Conor and Gabe with her hands as she fought the emotions trying to swallow her. I am not crying for Conor! Damn it! She shrieked. “I loathe this fucking town!”
“Yes, ma’am. I understand your frustration.”
Because you have a clue?
Her demon started laughing maniacally.
The agent pulled to a stop in the front entrance of the hotel.
“Finally.” Alexandra opened her eyes.
Conor climbed out first, followed by Jonathon, and then stood waiting, hand outstretched to assist her. Hating that her hands were shaking, she took Conor’s hand and exited the vehicle. Next thing she knew she was pulled hard against his chest, and Conor’s arm was locked tight around her waist. He dipped his head down to nuzzle her cheek. He kissed her neck, and lightning seemed to pulse from his mouth and down her spine to awaken the beast curled at the base of her backbone. Need exploded through her as her mind imagined ripping his clothing to shreds to get at his body. He whispered, “The tears aren’t for me either?”
He released her and strode away. She watched him and tried to remember how to breathe.
Jonathon kissed her cheek. “See you tonight, love.”
“Tonight?” she asked dumbly.
“Oh!” She nodded. “Of course. I will see you tonight.”
Gabe exited the SUV, borrowed Jonathon’s jacket, and helped Alexandra into it before sending Jonathon and an agent upstairs without them. She looked at him questioningly. Gabe said softly, “The rain stopped. Let’s get some fresh air before our rehearsal and dinner.”
Alexandra nodded and took his hand. She felt herself shaking, not needing Gabe to give her a hard time about baiting Conor. She was practicing her speech. I swear I’m not baiting him on purpose.
He led her across the road to Lafayette Square.
They walked in silence, and not very far in she led him to a bench and sat. She rubbed her pelvis, but he didn’t mention it, only sat beside her and faced her. He released her hand to stroke her cheek, and she met his gaze, then mimicked his movements and reached to stroke his cheek. He leaned his face closer, as did she, so that their foreheads touched in the middle.
Their faces hovered so close, breathing the same air, and when he took a long, noisy cleansing breath, she did as well, and when they released it, the sigh seemed to last forever.
Alexandra chuckled, the corners of her mouth turning upward. Gabe smiled and ran his hands down her arms; she followed, doing the same. Then they were holding each other’s hands, and when Gabe tilted his head, she again mirrored him. They pushed through the distance between their mouths with a deliberate slowness, which only sweetened the moment their lips touched.
They both knew this game by heart, mirroring each other’s movements, because they’d played it so many times since they were children.
When she closed her eyes, he deepened the kiss, and for a long moment they clung to each other, kissing, their tongues dancing together. She sighed when they separated. She was already longing for another kiss. “I love you, Padhraic MacGabhann.”
“Marry me, Alastriona MacCionaodha? Táim i ngrá leat.”
“Well, I guess marrying you is the only answer if you’ve truly fallen in love with me.”
“Nervous?” he asked.
“I am marrying my best friend. I’m not nervous.”
Looking more serious, he asked, “Are you okay?”
“Hmmm, such a deep question. Mentally, physically, or emotionally?”
Alexandra exhaled. “The demon quieted down during lunch. Now I’m just exhausted. Mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted.”
Gabe stood up and held out his hand. “We have time. Nap before the rehearsal dinner?”
Alexandra nodded, and he pulled her up. They started to walk toward the hotel. “Too much pain? You’ve been rubbing since we sat at the park.”
“I think the rubbing has become a new OCD habit. I feel fine. The rubbing is a comfort because the babies move in response, and when I feel them, I worry less.”
Gabe led Alexandra through the suite. Her parents were sitting on the floor with Rowan, watching educational cartoons while she played with bright-colored toys designed to be used with the lesson. Gabe explained, “Alexandra needs a nap before the rehearsal and dinner.”
“This is so fucking embarrassing,” she complained once they were behind closed doors. “Now, if you stay with me, they will think we’re having sex.”
“Do you want me to go join them while you nap?”
“God, no! I want you to bind me in your rope. Push your power through me!” Make me stop thinking about Conor.
Gabe arched his brow, and she explained, “I feel safer bound than any other time. If you believed I was in danger, you’d never agree.”
“Ahh,” he said with understanding.
He opened his luggage and withdrew a small satchel. “Do you believe you can relax enough in my rope to take the place of the nap you need?”
“Yes?” Gabe stepped behind her and grabbed her shoulders, jerking her.
He ran his hands up and down her sides, passing under her shirt to glide teasingly over her ribs before pulling her long-sleeved shirt off. He dropped it to the floor as he leaned forward to plant soft kisses over the back of her neck.
When he opened the satchel and withdrew a length of robe, Alexandra looked over her shoulder to watch. He met her gaze. “This is what you need?”
She nodded slowly.
“Lie on the bed.”
“Do you want me to disrobe, Sir?”
He answered softly, “No.”
Alexandra stepped out of her shoes and lay down. Gabe placed the coil of rope on her abdomen and shimmied her slacks off. He looked down at her and smiled. “I’m going to use minimal rope so it will be quick and easy on and off again.”
He lifted a sleep mask into sight, and her eyes widened. He explained, “I want you to be aware of each touch of my fingers, every caress of the rope.”
“I would be more worried if you weren’t. Try to relax.” Gabe covered her eyes with the mask. He dragged the coil down her legs. “You’re okay?”
Alexandra took a deep breath. “Yes.”
He snapped the length free and started at her feet, creating quick saddles around her arches and then cuffing her ankles. He pulled the tension tight as he created thigh cuffs. He kept wrapping rope around her thighs and then pulled her knees toward her waist. He knotted off after tying the rope belt.
“Can you roll onto your side?”
She nodded and then did so awkwardly.
He wrapped rope around her wrists, connecting one to the other, and then pulled the tail over her shoulder to begin a chest harness. He worked quickly and then stood back to look. She was bound in a perfect fetal position. Bound tightly, Alexandra relaxed into the unyielding rope.
He moved his hand and stroked one of her nipples with his knuckle. Not pinching, nor twisting, nor pulling. But the sensation felt greater than any she’d ever known. It seemed like a bolt of lightning traveled from breast to pussy. Her vagina squeezed tight in reaction, and she moaned. “Gabe? Sir?”
She whispered, “Need you, Sir!”