Collide (Chapter 12: Out of My System)

The words read simple; the design elegantly understated. Gavin's office was completely silent, except for the steady, rhythmic rapping sound that echoed while he tapped the letter-pressed card on the surface of his desk again and again. He had lost count of the amount of times he'd glanced at it throughout the day.

Before us lies the open road…a future filled with timeless love…

Please join us as we

Emily M. Cooper & Dillon R. Parker

Celebrate Our Engagement

Saturday, the Twenty-Third of September

Two thousand and twelve

Six o'clock in the evening

The Diamond Room

30 West Fifty-Ninth Street

Hosted by Joan and Henry Parker

RSVP 212-981-1275 by September Fifteenth

The sound of the invitation being tapped restlessly against Gavin's desk wasn't the only sound that hung in the room. However, unless someone was standing close enough to him, they might not have been able to hear them. The sounds – yeah, those would be his annihilation of his heart and shallow breathing. Gavin was in no way surprised, but this was proof that she was going through with it.

Gavin heard the news a few days prior when his phone rang. Dillon's voice had been thrilled on the other end while he announced his engagement, his words sucking the hope, along with his breath, straight out of Gavin's lungs. During his brief conversation with Dillon, Gavin had felt like the Jekyll-and-Hyde, considering he had to act happy for them. Knowing his tone had to hold some semblance of excitement, he'd played it off better than he'd expected as he congratulated Dillon. After hanging up, it had taken every atom of self-control not to throw his phone against the wall.

It didn't matter though; the blade was already shoved deep into his heart, mutilating it like a butcher.

Gavin was so focused on staring at the invitation that he almost didn't notice Colton shuffle into his office. Lifting his head from the torturous announcement, Gavin peered at him. Colton was aware of what was going on and wore an expression of concern. Gavin knew what he was going to say, and for fuck's sake, he didn't want to hear it right then.

"It is what it is, little man. You need to get her – "

"Shut the fuck up, Colton," he hissed. "You have no idea what's going on in my head right now."

The shock on Colton's face was palpable as his brows dipped low over his green eyes. "Then go after her, Gavin. When you want something this badly, you don't just give up. You fight and fight until you absolutely can't fight anymore. It's in the Blake bloodline, so it should be easy enough for you. Besides, I've never known a more stubborn little bastard in my entire life."

Gavin almost choked on a bitter laugh, but he briefly found himself pondering his brother's suggestion. He knew he could barge into Emily's life and try to break down her defenses. The thought of holding her captive in his apartment, in his arms, in his bed until she cracked and swore to be his became more appealing to him with each passing second. He could see somewhere behind her eyes that she was hiding feelings for him, and he understood her fear of not wanting to unleash them. The risk was huge on both their parts. After confessing their need to be together, the scrutiny of what they would have to suffer from the opinions of others would be hard for them, but they could endure it together.

However, in this situation, what was the use of going after her? The thought that he might bide his time with her and possibly – no, definitely – fall in love with her only to have her decide she didn't want to be with him seared at his heart. He'd be shit-all stupid to consider it. But, God, he couldn't do anything else but close his eyes and think of her. The surge of helplessness to do something consumed him.

"Have you lost your fucking mind? Fight for her? She's marrying him."

"You're asking me if I've lost my mind?" Colton questioned incredulously. Taking a seat across from Gavin, he cocked his head to the side. "Brother, not only have you decided on attending this engagement party, you've also accepted Dillon's request to be one of his groomsmen. Who's the one that's lost their mind here?"

"How the fuck am I supposed to decline?" Gavin groaned. "Remember, I need to act somewhat normal around him."

He shrugged. "Tell them you're sick."

Gavin emitted a humorless laugh. "Believe me, I just might book a trip out of the country at this point." Rising from his chair, he grabbed for his suit jacket and shrugged into it. "I need a fucking drink."

"I'm inclined to agree."

"Are you coming or not?"

"Sure, if I get to pick the place."

"Pick away."

Twenty minutes later, they pulled up to a cocktail lounge in the East Village. Gavin was impressed with the neighborhood and Colton's choice. A true mecca for artists, musicians, students, and writers alike, St. Mark's Place was definitely hopping during happy hour. Gavin's goal was simple – become hammered enough to remove the haunting images of Emily from his thoughts. He was pretty damn sure a decent amount of bourbon would aid in the exorcism of her from his mind.

Numb.

He wanted to feel absolutely one-hundred percent fucking numb.

As they exited Gavin's vehicle, Colton came to an abrupt stop. "Now there's something that might drag Emily from your head," he said, motioning to a woman who was having car trouble.

Gavin studied her demeanor as she ducked out from under the hood of her vehicle. Holding her cell to her ear, she looked stressed as her frantic caramel-colored eyes locked on Gavin. Beautiful long hair – the same color as those eyes – whipped around in the blowing wind, along with her knee-length skirt. Unsteady in her heels, she tossed the strap of her purse over her shoulder as she slammed the hood down.

Colton nudged Gavin's arm. "Go give her a hand."

"She's already on the phone. I'm sure she has someone coming to help her."

No sooner did Gavin finish his sentence, she approached them with tears streaming down her face. "I'm sorry to bother you, but do either of you gentlemen have a cell I could use? Mine just went dead."

"Yeah, no problem," Gavin replied, digging in his pocket. He handed her his phone.

"Thank you," she sniffled as she accepted it. She hastily dialed some numbers and sauntered a few feet away from them.

Gavin looked to his brother. "Go get her a tissue or something. I'll wait here with her."

Colton sent him a smirk that had him rolling his eyes. As Colton strolled toward the lounge and opened the door, the sounds of a live jazz band playing inside spilled out into the busy city streets.

The woman eventually made her way back to Gavin. "Thank you, I appreciate it. My brother owns a tow company, and he'll be on his way soon."

"Not a problem," he said, tucking his cell in his pocket. "Looks like your head gasket's blown."

Once again, she sniffled. She glanced at her car and then back to him. "You can tell without checking it?"

"There's white smoke coming from the tailpipe. That's usually a pretty good sign."

"Oh, are you a mechanic?"

Gavin smiled. "No, I just have a thing for cars." She sheepishly smiled back. "I sent my brother to get you a tissue."

"Thank you. I feel so foolish crying like this. It's just been a tough few weeks."

While he felt bad for her, he really didn't have any idea what to say. So Gavin found himself slightly relieved when Colton re-emerged.

Handing her the tissue, Colton asked, "Were you able to get a hold of someone?"

She nodded and let Colton know she was waiting on her ride.

"While you're waiting, why don't you come inside with me and my kid brother?" Colton asked with a smirk aimed in Gavin's direction. "Our treat, of course."

Gavin quelled the sudden urge to knock him clear across the street.

With mild trepidation crossing her features, the woman smiled. "That actually sounds good. I could definitely use a drink, that's for sure."

Turning to open the door, Colton sent Gavin another wicked smile. "I know quite a few people that need a drink today."

Gavin shook his head and followed them into the lounge. The melodious notes of a saxophone player belting out Louis Armstrong's "La Vie en Rose" hummed through the air. Jazz was something that Gavin couldn't help but come to love over the years. It was a constant entity throughout his childhood, being his father was a huge fan. The barest of smiles crept over Gavin's mouth when the memory of his parents swaying on their back porch to the exact same song flooded his mind. With the words fitting what he felt for Emily, this particular song was one he'd imagined dancing with her – pressed close against his body and nestled tightly in his arms. The illusion he had created of them possibly being together couldn't have been further from reality now if he tried. Like a slow fire burning, the ache for her – and now the need for more than a few shots of bourbon – curled through his thoughts.

After finding a table next to the dance floor, the woman that had introduced herself as Stephanie retreated to the restroom to fix her appearance. Promptly ordering three shots of bourbon and a beer to top it off, Gavin descended into what he hoped would turn into the numbness he so desperately sought. Within seconds of the waiter delivering the liquid comas, he downed two of those shots with grace.

Gavin glared at his brother. "Don't even go there tonight."

Smiling, Colton casually leaned back in his seat. "I didn't say a word."

"Right, you don't have to," he replied, his voice holding a heavy warning. "Your face is reeking of it, and I'm seriously in no fucking mood right now."

With a proper arch of his brow, Colton chuckled. "So, let me see, you're choosing the road that will inevitably leave you wallowing in your own self-pity?"

"You really have no fucking clue, do you?"

"No, brother, I do. Like I told you earlier, either fight for her or just let her go."

Shaking his head, Gavin downed the third shot. "I don't need you schooling me on what to do, Colton."

"I know you don't, little man. However, you can try and drink Emily away all you want," he noted, giving a leisurely shrug, "or you can take advantage of the beautiful damsel in distress who's wiping mascara from her pretty eyes right about now inside the restroom."

"So now you want me to take advantage of women, huh?" he huffed as he cracked open his beer. "Not only are you annoying the fuck out of me, but you're a walking contradiction."

Colton laughed. "You know what I meant. Take a chance on something that's more solid than what you're running after right now."

The nonchalant remark hit its target dead on, but Stephanie approaching the table saved Colton from being told off by his brother.

She took a seat across from Gavin and smiled. "I apologize for taking so long."

"No need," Gavin replied. "What can I get you to drink?"

"I'll take an Absolut and cranberry with a twist of lime."

Gavin motioned for the waiter and gave him her drink order.

Upon closer inspection, Gavin found her to be as beautiful as Colton said. Her rich chestnut hair was glossy despite being slightly mussed, and her light almond-shaped eyes edged with thick lashes would've normally had him pulling out a line or two – but not tonight. Unfazed and unaffected, Gavin kept the conversation with her to a minimum, instead focusing on the internal battle he was currently having with himself over Emily. Colton made sure to keep her entertained though, occasionally throwing a jab of humor directed at Gavin every so often.

As the evening wore on, Gavin noticed that Stephanie was staring in his direction more intently. Wanting to crucify himself for paying her no mind, he ordered another few drinks and tried to focus on her a little more. He learned that she was in school for journalism and would graduate the following May. Along with an older and younger brother, she was the middle child in her family and grew up in Lindenhurst, a moderately sized town on Long Island. She enjoyed fine arts, music, traveling, good food, family, friends, and lazy summer days.

Still, with all of the fine attributes that she clearly possessed, Gavin couldn't stop comparing her to what he wanted the most, craved the most, and what he unequivocally needed the most.

Emily…

There was no chill running down his spine when Stephanie spoke. Nothing lit up inside of him when she laughed. Even the slight touch she grazed on his arm every so often while she was talking did absolutely nothing for him.

Nothing.

For this, he felt like a total asshole for even carrying on a conversation with her because it was clear to him that she was interested.

And more clear to him that he wasn't.

Nonetheless – whether from the alcohol that had accomplished its purpose or because he'd finally convinced himself that having Emily in his life was a bad idea – by the end of the evening, Gavin found himself exchanging numbers with Stephanie.

"Did she really have to come with us?" Olivia asked, her face coiled in disgust.

"Do you think I want her here?" Emily whispered, poking her head out from the bridal changing room. Dillon's mother was fanning through endless amounts of wedding dresses with one of the consultants. "She wanted to come, and I wasn't about to argue with her. Besides, she has some kind of dinner benefit that she's attending at seven o'clock, so she won't be here that much longer."

Snapping her gum, Olivia rolled her eyes. "The woman's like a fucking plague, devouring anything in her sight. I've never been able to stand her."

Emily drew in a breath and turned her back to Olivia. She studied the Reem Acra wedding dress she was wearing. Turning from side to side, she asked, "How does this one look?"

Olivia took a lock of her blonde hair and twirled it around her finger. "Want honesty or flattery?"

"Come on, Liv," she said, placing her hands on her hips.

"You look like a damn mermaid in it."

Emily shook her head.

"Well, you asked for it, chick, and I chose the honesty route," Olivia chirped with a shrug of her shoulders. As if a light bulb went off in her head, she added, "Oh, and I have an idea. How's about you actually pick out your wedding dress since it's your wedding? I swear if Plague Bitch comes in here with another fucking dress that she insists you try on, I'm dropping her right here in this boutique and beating her ass down."

"Can you please calm down?"

"No, Emily, I will not calm down. You have my head so fucked right now with this whole wedding thing that I don't even know what to think."

Pressing her fingers against her temples, she closed her eyes. "What do you want me to say, Olivia?"

"I want you to tell me again why you're rushing into this. It's still not registering quite right in my brain. I'll be honest though. I give Dingleberry props for hounding you for a decision when he said he'd give you the time you needed. But, really, Emily…November? It's the first damn week of September already."

"I told you, Liv. Dillon's the last grandchild to get married, and they don't think his grandmother's going to make it past six months. She's pretty sick right now," she replied, motioning for Olivia to help unbutton her. "His family wants her to see him get married."

Olivia reluctantly stood up and padded her way over. "Right, because you should base your future on his ancient fossil grandmother that might croak an hour after the wedding."

"That's not the only reason, and you know it. Do you know how long the wait is to have a reception at the Waldorf Astoria? Three years, Olivia. Dillon's parents have connections, and there was a cancellation. That was the available date, so we took it."

Olivia helped her slide out from the dress. "I'm gonna say two more things whether you like it or not."

"As I expected you would," she sighed, reaching for an airy chiffon A-line gown from a hanger. It was something she'd chosen.

"One, there would've been nothing wrong with waiting three years to get into the Waldorf if that's the time you needed to really think this through." Emily went to speak, but was silenced by Olivia smashing her finger against her lips. She then placed her hands on Emily's shoulders and stared deep into her unblinking green eyes. "And two, you failed to mention loving Dillon as one of your reasons, friend."

Emily held her stare for a moment, turned around, and quietly stepped into the "un-mermaid"-looking dress, pulling it up over her body. "You know I love him."

Olivia came up behind her and zipped the dress closed. They looked at one another through the reflection of the mirror. "I also know what happened between you and – "

"Don't," she quickly cut her off, feeling that all-too-familiar pang deep in her stomach.

Still standing behind her, Olivia leaned into her ear and whispered, "He's miserable, Emily. Trevor told me he's never seen him so out of it."

Emily's heart wrenched at the thought of Gavin feeling like that, but she couldn't fall like this – not now, not with him. It wasn't right. No matter how much she sugarcoated it, it was wrong.

"I don't want to talk about this, Olivia," she whispered, stepping down from the pedestal.

"And you're miserable, too, Emily. I can see it. Ever since that night, you haven't been the same."

"I'm not miserable," she breathed out, trying to unzip the dress. "I was drunk, and it was a bad choice. The whole thing was a bad choice."

"Do you need help with that?" Olivia asked softly.

Noticeably flustered, she let out a sigh. "Yes, please."

Once again, Olivia helped unzip the dress, her voice low. "Sometimes bad choices bring us to the right people, Emily."

As her nails bit into the palms of her hands, those words sent a shiver from the tips of Emily's toes straight up to the roots of her hair. Gavin generated a steady tidal wave of emotions from within her that were bigger and far more dangerous than anything she'd ever known. Confusion, hurt, pain, and feeling scared to death of him and herself just skimmed the surface of the storm brewing in her head.

It all ran through her mind in those seconds, but before the whole invasion of torment sank her right there in that room, another entered. This particular torment was swathed in a Valentino pants suit, her silk Hermes scarf swinging with every step she took in her stiletto heels.

"Donna," Joan said to the bridal consultant, "I can take it from here."

The middle-aged woman looked to Emily.

"I'm fine, Donna," Emily smiled." Thank you for your help."

"You're welcome, Miss Cooper. Just let me know if you need anything," she replied and then exited the room.

"Oh, Emily, you're really not considering that A-line, are you?" Joan asked with a sigh. "It's so bland. Besides, you have a petite hourglass frame fit more for this Elie Saab," she said, holding up a gown that Emily believed she would lose her lunch all over.

Olivia let out a melodramatic laugh. "Is this a joke? I wouldn't allow her to be caught dead in that thing – let alone walk down the aisle if it's with your son or not. She'll look like a damn cockatoo."

Turning around, Joan sent her a venomous glare. "You've never been one to hold your tongue very well, have you, Olivia?"

Olivia smiled but no hint of humor was evident in her voice. "Shocker."

"Joan," Emily said, reaching for the dress. Joan tore her glare from Olivia. "I love Elie Saab, just not this particular style." Emily hung the mass of feathers back up and reached for a Monique Lhuillier gown she had tried on earlier. "I think this is the one I'm going with. I love the applique lacing and the scoop neck. The long sleeves are perfect for a winter wedding, too."

Joan exhaled a breath. "That's the one that made your hips look triple their size."

With widened eyes, Emily's mouth hung open and then snapped shut.

"Holy shit," Olivia blurted out, her brows snapping down. "Emily, one, you're too tiny to have hips that could ever look wide." She shot Joan a murderous look and then turned back to Emily. "Two, I'm about to drop it like it's hot." She started to unclip her earrings and roll up her sleeves.

Joan's eyes hardened.

"No," Emily quickly interjected, rushing over to Olivia. "Just take a seat, Liv," she said, her eyes pleading. Crossing her arms in annoyance, Olivia sank into a chair with a scowl in Joan's direction. "Alright, I'll try it on, but don't you have to leave soon?"

Joan's eyes flicked down to her watch as she inhaled sharply. "Jesus, I do," she clipped as she grabbed for her purse. "Okay, so you'll try on the Elie Saab then. I also showed Donna a trumpet style that would look just fabulous on you. Make sure you have her bring that one in."

Nodding, Emily plastered a smile on her face.

"Excellent. I'll call you later then," Joan said. She set off at a brisk pace toward the door as she and Olivia traded vicious stares.

Olivia shot up from the chair. "You're seriously not – "

"Trying that horrible thing on?" Emily interrupted with a laugh. Olivia started to laugh right along with her. "Forget about you not allowing me to be caught dead in it. I wouldn't allow myself to be caught dead in it."

Emily changed back into her pair of jeans, off-the-shoulder black sweater, and a pair of black Converse sneakers. She plucked her purse from the chair and made her way to the front desk. She notified Donna that the Monique Lhuillier gown was the one she was going with and handed the receptionist Dillon's credit card to satisfy the down payment. After discussing and scheduling appointments for another few fittings for Emily, they also arranged for the boutique to take care of the Maid of Honor dress fitting for Emily's sister since she lived out of state. Feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of it all, Emily was more than happy to get out of there.

"I'm starved," Olivia said as they rocked out of the boutique and into the cool city air. "There's a funky sushi bar not too far from here that serves up some pretty decent rolls. Wanna check it out?"

"I'm game."

A few city blocks later, they approached the sushi restaurant. Before entering, Emily stopped and started digging in her purse.

With her hand on the door, Olivia asked, "What are you doing?"

Effectively ignoring her, Emily continued her endeavor.

"Hello, Emily, what are you doing?" Olivia repeated.

"I have a killer headache. I'm looking for a bottle of Advil that I know I have in here," she replied, her hands working frantically through the mess of credit card receipts, sunglasses, and an overstuffed makeup bag.

With a smile, Emily found it and let out a sigh of relief. She headed toward the entrance and watched as Olivia's face morphed into noticeable shock.

Emily cocked her head to the side. "What's wrong?" she asked, placing her hand on Olivia's shoulder.

"Umm, turn around, Em."

With furrowed brows, she gave Olivia a questioning look and whipped around.

Oh God…

After the air whooshed from her lungs, her eyes took in Gavin's BMW double-parked in front of the restaurant. Colton was in the driver's seat shaking his head as Gavin not so gracefully stumbled out from the passenger side.

"I'll go get us a table," Olivia said.

"No, wait," she hastily whispered, instant sweat beading on her forehead even in the crisp air. "Don't you dare leave me here."

Olivia narrowed her brown eyes on her but kept her tone even. "You have to talk to him, friend." Without a backward glance, she opened the door and disappeared into the restaurant.

With her heart racing, Emily tried to compose herself as he approached. "You're drunk," she breathed, noticing the way he was swaying side to side.

Tossing his hand through his unruly black hair, a grin tipped the corner of his lips. "And you're simply exquisite."

The drowsy cadence of his liquored voice nearly left her in ashes in the middle of Manhattan. Still trying to regain her bearings, she stared at him, her breath hitching in the back of her throat. As disheveled as he looked standing in front of her – his suit jacket off, tie loosened around his neck, and his sleeves rolled up haphazardly – she had never known a man to be as breathtaking in every possible way as he was. Not just physically either – because Lord knows she found him to be the sexiest man on the planet – it was beyond that. His very presence manifested itself into a thrum beneath her skin.

Slow and unsteady, he inched toward her. "You're exquisite…and engaged now," he said softly, reaching for her left hand. He lifted it and studied the ring on her finger. Although she wanted to, she didn't pull away. Essentially frozen by his touch, she couldn't move. "Mmm, with as much money as I have, I don't think I would've gotten you something so gaudy looking – not for a beautiful hand like this. It deserves much better. I would've aimed for something more elegant."

Streams of pedestrians dodged them on the sidewalk as they stood with her hand in his, but neither of them noticed. The blaring mixture of car horns, laughter, and music from a nearby club thrashed and echoed around them, but still, neither of them heard the noises.

Simply lost in one another in that moment, nothing else existed.

Emily tore her gaze from his, and as quickly as she did, Gavin caught her by her chin and lifted it so she was staring directly into his blue eyes. A soft gasp was the only sound that made its way past her lips.

"After the brief encounter we shared, I never thought Dillon would be the lucky man slipping a ring onto that pretty finger."

Breathing heavily, Emily swallowed hard and continued to stare at him. His raw, unrelenting, sexy determination hit her with a force strong enough to rock the ground beneath her. "I was drunk," she whispered, not taking her eyes off his, her voice stammering. "I…I just needed to get you out of my system."

Still cupping her chin, he slid his thumb slowly across her lips, his tone as low as hers. "Doll, you're going to get me out of your system as much as I'm going to get you out of mine. It's impossible."

Before she could process his words, he bent his head down and grazed his mouth against hers, catching her bottom lip between his teeth and sucking on it gently. She pulled back slightly, but the fight would go down in history as mild at best. Sliding his tongue against her lip, he tightened his hold on her chin just enough that she couldn't move. Gavin let out a long groan and gave her lip one last mind-blowing tug between his teeth. Emily might have seen it if her eyes weren't closed, but a reverent smile broke out across his face. He then turned, pivoting gracefully, and walked away, leaving Emily fighting for air. Reaching for the door, she watched breathlessly as Gavin slipped into the passenger side of his car, and before she knew it, he disappeared into traffic.

After the fog of euphoria and the shock pulsing through her system lifted, Emily found herself hazily walking into the restaurant with dampened panties, added confusion, and a heightened need for quite a few shots of sake.