The Company of Giants


She's wiping down the bar when she hears the jingle of the door bells, hears the footsteps and the creak of the bar stool as her customer has a seat. “What'll you have?”

“Hello, Elle.”

That voice catches her by surprise, takes her back to a bright, too-warm hospital room, where its deep, soothing tones too easily coaxed her back to the land of the living. But a lot has happened since then; too much. “What are you doing here?” she asks curtly, granting the man a sideways glance. Supervisory Special Agent Jason Gideon – well, just Gideon, now. Sitting comfortably at her bar, hands clasped like his being there is the most natural thing in the world, like has hasn't been a ghost in Elle's world for nearly three years now. The lines carving his weathered face are deeper, sadder than she remembers, but there's still that glint to his dark eyes, the set of his broad shoulders, that marks him as a man in his prime, even in his fifties.

Gideon shrugs. “You don't answer your calls.”

“How did you find me?” she wants to know. Garcia, maybe, or - A faint, crooked smile quirks Gideon's mouth, and Elle shakes her head. “Reid.” Of course. She's going to nail the kid's scrawny ass to the wall. Just because he's willing to forgive and forget, doesn't mean she is.

“He told me where you were working,” Gideon confirms, his gaze moving over the nearly empty bar, with its cracking vinyl chair cushions and rickety tables. “Nice place.”

Elle manages not to roll her eyes. “So, to what do I owe the honor? Or are you just wondering if I've shot anyone lately?” she drawls sarcastically. “Because you could have saved yourself the trouble.”

The man shrugs again, obviously unfazed by her hostility. Elle guesses after a life-long career hunting the worst of humanity, a few harsh words are the least of his worries. “Why does it have to be trouble?”

Elle frowns suddenly, the hand holding the polishing cloth stops moving. “Reid's okay, isn't he?” The young genius has always attracted trouble, and Elle and Aaron Hotchner didn't exactly part on the kind of terms that would earn her a phone call from their old Unit Chief.

“He's fine,” Gideon assures her, with that same, enigmatic smile.

“Really.” Elle arches a well-groomed brow. “Because last I heard, you'd up and left without so much as a goodbye.”

The man's face shuts down as he stares at his hands. There's more grey scattering his dark, short-cropped hair than Elle remembers. “It wasn't like that, Elle.”

“What was it like?” she asks, a tinge of bitterness leaching into the words. Had Gideon left Reid to fend for himself as easily as he had her?

He glances up, pinning her with knowing eyes. “You know.” Elle looks away, hears him sigh. “It didn't make sense anymore,” he confides, sounding tired. “For every one I saved, seemed like there were ten more I couldn't.”

Elle knows. She was one of the ones he couldn't. Or didn't. Sometimes she wonders how much of herself was left behind on the operating table with that bullet. “And now?”

He considers. “I'm better,” he replies, studying her closely now. “How about you? Are you better?”

“I'm fine, Dad,” she mocks, careful not to let him see her hand shake as she tosses the old towel underneath the bar. She's satisfied when annoyance flashes briefly in his eyes. It would be too easy to tell him everything, and she doesn't want – or need – his pity. He has no right to play the hero, anyway. Not after all this time.

“Would you like to tell me about it?” he asks, raising his brows.

“Desperately. But I'm actually working?” she points out, a little too sweetly to be sincere.

“Yes, I can see you're busy,” Gideon agrees dryly, with a glance at the empty tables. “How about I pick you up at eight?”

Elle blinks. “What for?”

“Dinner. You can tell me all about it then.”

“You want to take me to dinner.” She regards him suspiciously. During her time at the BAU, she ate any number of impromptu meals with her colleagues, including Gideon. But never just the two of them; never alone.


“You guys; we're here in New York, and even when we're not talking about our case, we end up talking about another profiler,” Elle observes sheepishly, glancing around the table at her team.

“So, Elle,” Hotch says, in an awkward attempt to discuss something other than work. “Are you seeing anyone?”


Elle had huffed in surprise and blushed, her eyes immediately darting to Gideon, who'd been watching her closely from behind his cup of tea. She'd promptly asked him a question about the case, effectively changing the subject. Little had anyone known the real reason Elle didn't see anyone was sitting right in front of them. Gideon never guessed; the man was too obsessed with the job to notice much else, let alone some junior agent's secret crush.

“You have to eat, don't you?” Gideon reminds her ever-so-reasonably. But Elle stopped caring about reason a long time ago. Still, there's warmth in the man's expression – even a hint of challenge – and she finds her eyes narrowing.

“Fine,” she concedes. “But try any of your profiling tricks on me, and I'll kick your ass all the way back to wherever you came from, got it?”

Gideon smiles. “Eight, it is.”


******************************


Elle applies a thin sheen of gloss to her lips and surveys herself in her small bathroom's Florentine mirror. A dark cascade of hair, the same almond-shaped eyes, shadowed by a smudge of kohl liner. Modest gold hoops glint from her ears; echoing the bronze, slightly metallic sheen of her dress; a gossamer slip of a thing she once bought from the Saks outlet and has never worn. She slips on a pair of sparkling sandals that even Gideon can't dismiss, spritzes her pulse points with her Emporio Night before taking a final glance at her reflection. She touches the medal she wears at her throat, comforted by its presence. Sometimes she hardly recognizes herself. A lot has changed in the last couple of years; it's taken all her time and focus just to put together a new life.

She never should have agreed to Gideon's dinner invitation. Sure, Jason Gideon might have seemed a giant among men once, but that was before he'd left Elle to her own demons. Before she'd put an end to William Lee and her career at the BAU. The man who'd once stormed a train unarmed when she and Reid had been held hostage, the same man who'd held Elle's hand so tenderly when she'd woken in the hospital - the one she'd liked to tease about his age and his paternal leanings toward his team; sometimes Elle wonders if he ever existed outside her own mind.

By the time the doorbell rings, Elle's decided on a course of action: go to dinner, make small talk, get out. Whatever Gideon wants, he isn't getting it from her. She swings open the door with a confident smile.

“Hi.” Gideon's standing there, looking polished in a cashmere sweater with a collared shirt beneath and khaki slacks, and holding a – plant?

“Good evening, Elle,” he replies easily enough, thrusting the plant unceremoniously into her hands.

“What's this?” she asks, unable to resist a sniff at one of the white flowers unfurling between the glossy, green leaves. Gardenia, then. She transfers the plant to one hand and closes the door as Gideon hovers in the entry.

Gideon shrugs, brow furrowed as he looks around the apartment. “I don't like cut flowers; they don't last.”

“Thanks,” Elle says, taken off-guard by the thoughtfulness. She walks over to the open kitchen, finding a nice place on the granite counter. “I'll try not to kill it; my mom was always the one with the green thumb.”

“It's not what I expected,” Gideon admits, his fingers tracing the line of the small, antique desk she has her flat-screen TV on.

Elle glances around self-consciously. “What?”

“Your place. I thought something modern; hip.” He throws her a wry smile. “Uncomfortable chairs.”

“Left it all in Seattle,” Elle tells him, her eyes moving over the worn Oriental rug, the few small pieces of furniture that had somehow made it over the ocean from Cuba, the fading camelback sofa and fraying club chairs. Everything that had known her parents' love, including Elle. “When I came to DC, there was all this stuff from the old house still in storage, and it just felt – right,” she finishes lamely. “Can I get you a drink?”

He shakes his head. “No; thank you.” He tilts his head toward the door. “Do you want to - ”

“Sure,” Elle says, moving to grab her beaded clutch from the entry table.

Gideon's gaze moves over her bare shoulders and arms and down to her legs, and Elle waits for the expected compliment. “Where's your coat?”

What? Oh. Figures. “New Yorker, remember?” she asks Gideon.

“I remember,” the man says, looking around briefly before lifting her cognac leather jacket from the coat tree and holding it out for her. Elle sighs, but turns and slips her arms into the sleeves, anyway. She turns around for his approval.

“Okay?” she wants to know. “Or would you like to zip me, too?”

“No one likes a smartass, Elle,” Gideon tells her, opening the door for her.

“I'll keep that in mind,” she mutters.


*****************************


“They can't afford to light this place?”

“It's called ambiance, Gideon,” Elle says, allowing him to take her coat and hand it to the hostess. The Latin-Asian fusion restaurant is designed after an opium den, with flickering, low-hanging lanterns casting dim patterns of light over the blood-red walls. Gideon doesn't appear convinced. He steers her toward their table with a hand to the small of her back, frowning when the maitre d' moves to pull out her chair.

“I got it,” he says, eyeing the man suspiciously, and Elle stifles a laugh. She allows Gideon to seat her, then watches him carefully seat himself, his warning look enough to keep the maitre d' at bay. Moments later, he's squinting at the wine list. “Do you like red?” he asks, speaking loudly enough to be heard over the Latin lounge music blaring from the establishment's nearby dance floor.

“Prefer it, actually.”

He nods. “They have an interesting menu; what do you recommend?”

Elle's surprised. She hadn't really expected Gideon to ask for her opinion. “For a starter, you might try the empanadas, or the butternut squash bisque; they're both good. I usually order the seafood paella for dinner, but I'm guessing you're more of a filet mignon kind of guy.”

He chuffs, a half-smile quirking his lips. “You guess right,” he says. “What would you like tonight?”

“Mmm.” She considers. “I can't pass on the bisque. And I think I'll go beef tonight, too. The tenderloin is supposed to be excellent.”

When their server arrives, Gideon ends up ordering them a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir to go along with dinner. Elle watches with some amusement as the white-shirted server presents the wine and offers Gideon the cork to inspect before pouring a sample into his glass for approval. Gideon sniffs and sips, then nods brusquely, waiting with obvious impatience while the young man pours for Elle and then fills Gideon's glass. Elle reaches for her wine, hiding her smile as she takes a sip.

“So,” she drawls, as their server departs.

Gideon smiles at her tone, his forefinger lightly tapping his own glass. “So.”

Elle's never cared for pussyfooting around the subject. “Why me, and why now?”

His thick brows lift slightly. “I thought we said no profiling tonight.”

“No, we said you wouldn't profile tonight,” Elle points out.

Gideon stares at her for a moment, then nods. “I was worried.”

“Worried?” Elle's fingers tense on the stem of her glass. Worried. Now.

“Spencer said you haven't been yourself,” he explains, watching her carefully.

“Reid isn't always right,” Elle says tightly.

“Yes. But the last time he thought you weren't yourself, you shot someone.”

“Well, I guess that makes you a little late, doesn't it?” Elle snaps, releasing her grip on the glass and starting to rise to her feet. Gideon must have anticipated the reaction, because he rises with her, catching her just as she lifts from her chair.

“Sit down,” he orders quietly, his hand warm where it curls around her forearm. Elle takes a breath, tries to ignore her racing pulse. Gideon doesn't look mad, but it's pretty clear he's not asking, either. Much to her annoyance, her body instinctively lowers itself back into her seat. Even after two years, it's still letting Gideon call the shots. His fingers slip from her arm as he settles back in his own chair, picking his napkin from the floor and returning it to his lap.

“You have no right,” she tells him, uncertain now if she's angry with Gideon or her own reactions to the man. She's not accountable to him, and she'll be damned if she's going to explain herself.

“I didn't say I did,” he says blandly, as if he's already forgotten the matter. Then, “Tell me about your job.”

Elle slides her napkin back into her lap with barely contained exasperation. “What's there to tell? It's a job.”

“There must be something about it you like,” Gideon prompts reasonably, taking a sip of his wine.

“People tend to talk, not ask questions,” Elle offers with an arch of her brow, but if Gideon gets the subtle dig, he ignores it.

“You're a good listener.” He shrugs at her surprise. “It's part of what made you good at the job.”

“You thought I was good.” Is he trying to throw her off-balance?

“Sure.”

Elle sits back in her seat, regarding him warily. “You never said so.”

He snorts softly. “You don't need me to tell you that.”

“But I need you to tell me to put my coat on?”

Gideon frowns, leaning back as their server returns, carrying dual bowls of bisque.

“For the lady,” he says, carefully setting a bowl of saffron-colored soup in front of Elle. “And for you, sir,” he says, doing the same for Gideon. Gideon waits until the man leaves before lifting his spoon, tasting cautiously. The look of bliss that passes over his usually stoic features brings a reluctant smile to Elle's lips.

“It's good, right?” she prompts, her own spoon raised to her lips. Warm and creamy, it reminds her of cool fall days spent around her mother's kitchen table, doing homework while her mother stirred her stockpot.

“Persimmon and chipotle,” he muses. “Have to try that with risotto.”

“Reid told me you're kind of a chef,” she says, surreptitiously watching him. He's good with his hands; coordinated for such a gruff man; it's easy to see why he would be comfortable in the kitchen. Or the bedroom.

Gideon shakes his head. “Nothing like that. I'm not much for recipes; a good meal is like music. It should be made with passion, or not at all.”

“Is that Julia Child or something?” Elle asks, remembering the man's love of quotations.

“No,” he replies, brows drawing together in consternation. “It's me.”

Elle nods, biting back a smile. “Is that what you do now that you're retired? Cook?”

“No one to cook for,” he tells her. “Spencer's only there once in a while, when he's not working a case. I read, listen to music. I occasionally lecture at the academy, or consult on the odd case.”

Elle studies her spoon as she slowly twirls it through her soup. “Do you miss it?”

“No.”

“Reid told me what happened to your friend,” Elle ventures quietly. “I'm sorry.”

Gideon wipes at his mouth with his napkin, returns it to his lap before reaching for his glass again. “Thank you.”

“Did you love her?”

“Love?” Gideon huffs lightly, mouth thin with regret as he takes a sip of his wine. “No. Not in the way you mean,” he says, setting his glass back on the table. “She was a friend; a good friend. Seeing her was like coming home. You have anyone like that?”


“Will I ever see you again?”

“I'll be here when it's time.”



Elle smiles weakly. “Not for a while.” She couldn't find her way home now with a damn compass.

“Some women are like that, you know,” Gideon is saying, and Elle realizes she's let herself get distracted.

“Like what?”

He shrugs, his frank gaze sweeping over her. “Don't need a lot of glitter and fuss to make 'em glow.” And Elle wonders if she imagines the glint of admiration in his eyes, because a moment later it's gone, and he's glancing at her wine glass. “More wine?” he asks, lifting the bottle and pouring when she nods.

Dining with Gideon is much more comfortable than Elle could have guessed. His abrupt approach to things can be intimidating, but he's interested, and present, and the way he focuses his complete attention on her has a flush warming her cheeks. He tells Elle about the book he's reading on the battle strategies of Chinese warfare, and about his favorite operas, and she tells him about the time her and Jenny Szymanski water ballooned a nun, and why the Yankees are superior to the Mets. Watching the man gesture his way through another anecdote, Elle remembers all too well his ability to charm, and she has to remind herself that his interest isn't personal; right now she's just another puzzle to be solved and filed away. And maybe it has been too long since she's had a date, but still, that doesn't mean she can't enjoy it.

They're almost finished with their meals when Elle's startled to find a young man, hardly more than college age, standing at her shoulder.

“Would you like to dance?” he asks. He's Latino and well-dressed, his smile a gleam of white in the dim room.

Elle smiles awkwardly, uncomfortable with Gideon's eyes on them. “Thanks,” she says, with a glance for the half-occupied dance floor. “But I'm with someone.”

“Don't be silly,” Gideon says, and Elle glances at him with surprise. Gideon tilts his head toward the dance area. “You kids go ahead; no reason for you not to enjoy yourself.”

Elle stiffens at the good-natured dismissal, returning his slight smile with a cold stare. She picks up her nearly-full glass of wine and deliberately downs the contents. The alcohol warms her stomach, and Elle plunks the glass back down, slaps her napkin onto the table. She scoots back in her seat, ignoring the young man's attempt to pull out her chair for her. “Why not?” she asks brittlely, causing Gideon's brows to draw together as she rises and takes her escort's proffered arm.

Familiar anger floods Elle's senses, and she tries to swallow it. The D.J. is playing mestizo; a rhythmic, hip-swinging, blend of flamenco and Afro-Cuban, and Elle's always been confident on the dance floor. She allows her partner – Luis, he says - to draw her in close, their hips effortlessly synchronizing, refusing to let her mind wander back to Gideon. She glances in his direction once, only to find him watching her as well, his expression inscrutable. Well, he might like puzzles, but Elle threw away that damn Rubik's Cube after an hour. She moves a little closer to Luis, whose hand slips to the small of her back as he leans closer, regarding her through heavy-lidded eyes.

“Your dad a cop?” the young man shouts above the lively music.

Elle sighs. “No. And he's not my dad.” She frowns. “Why?”

“Because he looks like he's waiting for an excuse to shoot me,” Luis reports.

“That's the way he always looks,” Elle assures him, resisting the urge to look over at Gideon again. He wanted her to dance; she's dancing. Although... “He's probably more worried about me shooting you.”

Luis scoffs. “Why would he worry about that?”

“Because your hand's on my ass and I'm an excellent shot,” Elle tells him, stretching her lips in a not-so-nice smile. The hand immediately moves to a more northerly location, and Elle's not exactly shocked when the young man excuses himself after the next song. She walks back toward hers and Gideon's table and takes a seat, reaching for the wine and pouring herself another glass before Gideon has a chance to offer. Like the last glass, she drinks it quickly, and it quenches her thirst, but not her temper.

“Having fun?” Gideon asks blithely.

Elle feels like kicking him with one of her sexy shoes. Then he might notice them. “He's a good dancer,” she says instead, pushing a wave of dark hair back behind her ear.

His dark eyes move leisurely over her face. “So are you.”

“And how are we doing here?” their server asks cheerfully, suddenly appearing tableside. “Would the two of you care to see a dessert menu?”

Gideon immediately looks to her. “Elle? Would you like something?”

What is he going to do now? Offer to buy her an ice cream? “I'm fine, thanks,” she asserts primly, although maybe it just comes off as bitchy, because the server smiles uncomfortably as he places the bill presenter on the table.

“Well, then,” he says, more brightly than ever. “I hope the two of you have a lovely evening. I'll take this for you whenever you're ready.”

“Here; let me see,” Elle says, holding out her hand as Gideon unfolds his glasses from his pocket and slips them onto his face.

“No.” He reviews the bill with a critical eye, then pulls out his wallet.

Elle blinks in disbelief, her hand falling to rest on the table. “What do you mean, no?”

“I'm taking care of it,” Gideon says, sliding a few well-pressed bills into the presenter's flap and discreetly raising the leather case to alert the server it's ready.

“I don't need you to take care of it.”

“When I invite a woman out, I pay,” he tells her, setting the bill presenter back on the table and neatly folding his glasses again. “You really gonna pout over this, Elle?”

“I'm thinking.”

“Don't think too long,” he warns dryly. “Your face will freeze like that.”

Elle liked him better when he had no sense of humor.


*****************************


They walk home in the cool autumn air, Gideon keeping Elle to the inside of the sidewalk. The chivalrous gesture is wasted on her; the time she needed him has passed. Anything now should be too little, too late. She fumbles with her keys as they reach her door, trying to distract herself from the gentle support of his hand at the small of her back. This is an interrogation, not a date.

So why does it feel like one?

Elle pushes open the door with relief, switching on the lights and dropping her clutch to the entry table before shrugging off her coat. “Thanks for dinner,” she says, hanging up the soft leather.

“My pleasure,” Gideon replies easily. When Elle turns to face him, he's just standing there, hands in pockets. Casual, as if they do this every night.

“So, what's your assessment?” she wants to know, folding her arms and stepping closer to the man.

Gideon merely blinks at her. “Of what?”

Elle rolls her eyes. “We both know why you're here; you didn't show up after two years just to ask me to dinner.”

“You think I need an excuse to take out a beautiful woman?” he asks, and if the question's meant to confuse her, it's effective.

“You think I'm beautiful,” she repeats with skepticism, but he only smiles.

“Among other things,” he confesses wryly. “It's good to see you again.” One of his hands slip to her waist, and he leans around to press a kiss to her cheek, the woodsy suggestion of aftershave flooding her senses.

With a boldness Elle thought lost, she uses the opportunity to mold herself against him, her hand sliding between their bodies to seek evidence of his desire. There's a quick intake of breath by her ear, and then Gideon's warm fingers move over her own, gently but firmly removing her hand from his erection. “Elle,” he murmurs hoarsely, and clears his throat. “It's been a long day. Why don't we call it a night?

The words come like a bucket of cold water, dousing her arousal. Of course he doesn't want her. What kind of man takes a woman out to dinner, and then gives her the go ahead to dance the night away with someone else? She stiffens, pulling away from him and throwing him a tight, little smile. “Sure, Dad,” she drawls acidly, and heads over to the small hutch she's outfitted as a bar. She hears the front door close and figures Gideon's left. Good riddance, then. She takes out a glass and is just lifting the vodka when Gideon's hand closes over hers, setting the bottle back onto the shelf.

“I think you've had enough,” he chides, and Elle bristles.

“Since when are you the expert on me?” He's standing near; she can almost feel the heat of his body just behind her, and she ducks around him, willing to abandon her position for higher ground.

Gideon splays his hands helplessly. “What do you want from me, Elle?”

“I don't want anything from you,” she assures him, looking around for the television remote. She's never asked for a damn thing, and she's not about to start now.

He frowns, catching her by the arms and halting her agitated quest. “You're angry.”

“That's some profiling, Gideon,” Elle sneers. “I'm surprised you gave it up.”

“You know what I can't figure out?” he asks, an edge of annoyance to his usually bland tone. “If all this resentment is because I'm acting like your father, or because I'm not?”

Elle flinches and twists. “Fuck you, Gideon.”

“Is that it, Elle?” the man challenges, his hands gripping her upper arms as if he'd like to shake her, and is just managing to resist. “Did I let you down? When I took your word everything was fine, gave you the space to think things through on your own?” His stare is hard and too damn discerning, peels her to the bone, raw and naked. “Did you want me to stop you?”

“I want you to leave.”

“You want to call me Daddy, Elle?” he taunts, gathering her closer even as she pulls in his grasp, her palms shoving at his chest.

“Is that what it takes for you to get it up?” she snaps, as he shoulders her backward, still all muscle even at his age, damn him.

“You want me to make it all go away?” he demands roughly, now breathing as heavily as she, dark eyes boring into hers. “The anger? The guilt? Put you over my knee and spank you until you promise to be good?” His mouth twists angrily, and suddenly he's dropping to the couch, taking her with him and wrestling her facedown over his knees. “You've been asking for this all night,” he growls, and quickly pushes her dress up her back. The thong she's wearing only has him pausing for a second, and then his hand claps down on her bare buttocks with startling clarity.

Elle hisses and bucks at the sting, heat rushing her face as Gideon smacks her again, and again, and it's wrong, it's so fucking wrong, but each smarting blow has her hips jolting against his ungiving thigh, her clit catching on the thin, cotton thong. She bites her lower lip, her fingers digging into the sofa cushion; she should be pissed, screaming bloody murder, but instead she's rubbing a damp patch against the man's khakis while he fucking spanks her. And Gideon's too furious to notice; it's not until he slaps the sensitive skin at the top of Elle's thigh and her strangled moan erupts that the entire world comes to a staggering halt.

Elle swallows hard. “Jason,” she breathes, spreading her legs slightly as his palm cradles her scalded cheeks.

“Elle,” he murmurs thickly from above her. “Christ, sweetheart.”

She uses the opportunity to push up from his lap, shimmying the thong down and off before swinging her right leg around to straddle a still-stunned Gideon. She leans over, grabbing a condom from the end table drawer before tugging at his zipper, eager to release him.

Gideon is frowning, shaking his head even as his hands curl around her hips. “You haven't thought this through; I think we should - ”

“You think too much,” she tells him, stretching the condom down the length of him with slim, agile fingers.

“And you always were too damn impatient,” he growls, then groans as he's sheathed in her slick, tight heat. Elle smirks briefly, rocking against him, and god, it's been ages since she's fucked someone like this. Gideon's slipping the flimsy straps from her shoulders, the flimsy fabric dropping from her breasts. He catches one hard nipple with his mouth, suckling boldly. Pleasure curls her body, and Elle clutches at the man's shoulders, her insides tightening around him as her hips set a nearly frantic pace. Gideon's hands return to her still-smarting ass, cupping and squeezing, and Elle gasps at his pursuant thrusts, her muscles straining with need as she pants against Gideon's temple. Her climax finally crashes over her in waves, her breath catching in small sobs as Gideon follows her into oblivion.

Elle collapses over him, closing her eyes as her body thrums its thorough satisfaction. “Fuck,” she says finally, her own voice sounding dazed and far away.

“Hell of a nightcap,” Gideon agrees, the words muffled by her skin at her collarbone. His fingers trail absently along her spine. This close, Elle can smell his lingering cologne, the scents of juniper and moss, rain and wood smoke. It feels safe, right. She pushes up from his shoulders, allowing puzzlement to furrow her brow.

“I thought it was supposed to hurt the first time.”

The sudden doubt and horror on his face is comical. “You're not – you can't be. Are – were you?”

Elle laughs. “Relax, Gideon; I'm kidding. You really don't get out much, do you?”

He scowls, but it only makes her laugh again. “No, I don't.” Gideon sighs, lifting a hand to tuck a rumpled wave of hair behind her ear. “This isn't how I would have wanted this to happen, Elle,” he confesses ruefully.

Elle's not sure what to make of that. “I'm not complaining.” Then, “I'm a big girl,” she insists, stubbornly meeting his dark stare with her own and refusing to look away. After a moment, the man seems to come to some sort of decision.

“We do this again, we do it my way,” Gideon warns. “None of this rush.”

“You don't like my sofa?” Elle asks dryly. Because a moment ago, he seemed to like it very much.

“It's fine,” he tells her. “But there are some things that require a bed.”

“Really.” Her lips purse thoughtfully. “You know, I've got one of those in the back if you want to demonstrate,” she offers, her hand sliding over his chest. Beneath her palm, his heartbeat is strong and slowing, and his hands glide lightly over her hips to rest at her thighs, his thumbs stroking the bare skin.

“Just – give an old man a minute, would you?”

Elle chuffs softly, pushing up from him and easing to her feet. “Sure thing, Dad.”

Gideon raises his brows. “Looking for another spanking?” he inquires mildly.

She shrugs. “Worked out fine the first time.”

“Yes,” he admits. “Yes, it did.”

“You know where to find me when you're ready,” Elle says, letting her dress slip down to the floor before stepping out of it. She picks the garment up, then snatches her panties from the coffee table before wandering toward the bedroom in his handprints and her sultry sandals.

“And Elle?” Gideon's gruff voice calls from behind her.

She pauses, glancing over her shoulder. “Yeah?”

He smiles wryly. “Keep the shoes on.”


*******************************


Water. Darkness. The current swells and washes over her, tumbling her toward the murky depths. William Lee peers from the black, his smile grateful and insane.

“You've made a lot of women very happy.”

“Hey; Lee?”

A hand reaches from the surface, pulling her back, Lee's face growing distant.

“Elle.”


“Elle.” A hand gently shakes her arm. “You're dreaming.”

Gideon. Always Gideon. Ellen opens her eyes, blinking at finding him leaning over her. Even in the shadows, she can see the concern etching his face. “Sorry,” she mumbles, thankful she's at least turned toward the window and he can't see her face. She shivers, even with the warmth of the covers and Gideon's naked body beside her. His hand doesn't leave her arm, though.

“What is it, Elle?” he asks quietly. Trying not to spook her, she guesses, although that might be impossible now. She's still limp with spent pleasure; pleasure he'd been achingly slow and passionate in showing her. Instruction seems to come naturally to him, both in bed and out. Fortunately, Elle always was teacher's pet. She sighs, unable to deny him, and rolls to face him.

“It's not what you think,” she says, her fingers trailing the curling hair of his chest.

“What do I think?” he asks, studying her from where he's propped on one elbow.


“You need to get some air,” Gideon tells her. “And while you do, huh? I want you think about this job; what you've been through, what you're capable of. Do you understand me?”


“Yes,” Elle replies, and Gideon smiles slightly, confused.

“Yes, what?”

“Yes, I wanted you to stop me.” A dull flush climbs her cheeks. “I know it sounds crazy…”

“No.” If Gideon thinks it strange that she's answering a question asked hours ago, he doesn't show it. His gaze is warm, indulgent even, his thumb brushing over the scar on her chest like a benediction.

“I feel lost,” she confides, hating how small her voice sounds in the darkness.

“If we were never lost, we'd never discover our way.” He touches the medal hanging from her neck, the one she never removes. “Saint Christopher, isn't it?”

“You know about Saint Christopher.” Why isn't she surprised?

“The giant who bore the weight of the world when he carried a child across the river,” Gideon drawls.

“It was my dad's; my mom gave it me after he died.” A sad smile curves her lips. “She told me he was the patron saint of travelers, and if I ever got lost, St. Christopher would always bring me home safely.”

“And has he?”

Elle gives the man a look, amused rather than annoyed by his typical subtext. “Depends. Sometimes it's a long trip,” she reminds him.

Gideon hmms, wrapping an arm around her and pulling her flush to his skin, sliding his arm beneath her neck so that he can draw her head down to his shoulder. “Better get some rest then,” he advises gruffly, and Elle closes her eyes, lulled by the solid warmth of him. After all, it's just for one night…

She can call the shots tomorrow.


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