K… more later. As I silenced my phone and put it away, my gaze passed briefly over the two collage photo frames next to my monitor-one filled with photos of both of my parents and one of Cary, and the other filled with photos of me and Gideon. Gideon had put the latter collection together himself, wanting me to have a reminder of him just like the reminder he had of me on his desk. As if I needed it…
I loved having those images of the people I loved close by: my mom with her golden cap of curls and her bombshell smile, her curvy body scarcely covered by a tiny bikini as she enjoyed the French Riviera on my stepdad’s yacht; my stepfather, Richard Stanton, looking regal and distinguished, his silver hair oddly complementing the looks of his much younger wife; and Cary, who was captured in all his photogenic glory, with his lustrous brown hair and sparkling green eyes, his smile wide and mischievous. That million-dollar face was starting to pop up in magazines everywhere and soon would grace billboards and bus stops advertising Grey Isles clothing.
I looked across the strip of hallway and through the glass wall that encased Mark Garrity’s very small office and saw his jacket hung over the back of his Aeron chair, even though the man himself wasn’t in sight. I wasn’t surprised to find him in the break room scowling into his coffee mug; he and I shared a java dependency.
“I thought you had the hang of it,” I said, referring to his trouble with the one-cup coffee maker.
“I do, thanks to you.” Mark lifted his head and offering a charmingly crooked smile. He had gleaming dark skin, a trim goatee, and soft brown eyes. In addition to being easy on the eyes, he was a great boss-very open to educating me about the ad business and quick to trust that he didn’t have to show me how to do something twice. We worked well together, and I hoped that would be the case for a long time to come.
“Try this,” he said, reaching for a second steaming cup waiting on the counter. He handed it to me and I accepted it gratefully, appreciating that he’d been thoughtful about adding cream and sweetener, which was how I liked it.
I took a cautious sip, since it was hot, then coughed over the unexpected-and unwelcome-flavor. “What is this?”
Abruptly, I was the one scowling. “Who the hell wants to drink that?”
“Ah, see… it’s our job to figure out who, then sell this to them.” He lifted his mug in a toast. “Here’s to our latest account!”
Wincing, I straightened my spine and took another sip.
* * *
I was pretty sure the sickly sweet taste of artificial blueberries was still coating my tongue two hours later. Since it was time for my break, I started an Internet search for Dr. Terrence Lucas, a man who’d clearly rubbed Gideon the wrong way when I’d seen the two men together at dinner the night before. I hadn’t gotten any further than typing the doctor’s name in the search box when my desk phone rang.
“Mark Garrity’s office,” I answered. “Eva Tramell speaking.”
“Are you serious about Vegas?” Cary asked without preamble.
There was a pause. “Is this when you tell me you’re moving in with your billionaire boyfriend and I’ve got to go?”
“What? No. Are you nuts?” I squeezed my eyes shut, understanding how insecure Cary was but thinking we were too far along in our friendship for those kinds of doubts. “You’re stuck with me for life, you know that.”
“And you just up and decided we should go to Vegas?”
“Pretty much. Figured we could sip mojitos by the pool and live off room service for a couple days.”
“I’m not sure how much I can pitch in for that.”
“Don’t worry, it’s on Gideon. His plane, his hotel. We’ll just cover our food and drinks.” A lie, since I planned on covering everything except the airfare, but Cary didn’t need to know that.
“And he’s not coming with us?”
I leaned back in my chair and stared at one of the photos of Gideon. I missed him already and it’d been only a couple of hours since we’d been together. “He’s got business in Arizona, so he’ll share the flights back and forth, but it’ll be just you and me in Vegas. I think we need it.”
“Yeah.” He exhaled harshly. “I could do with a change of scenery and some quality time with my best girl.”
“Okay, then. He wants to fly out by eight tomorrow night.”
“I’ll start packing. Want me to put a bag together for you, too?”
“Would you? That’d be great!” Cary could’ve been a stylist or personal shopper. He had serious talent when it came to clothes.
He sighed. “Thank you for putting up with my shit.”
After we hung up, I stared at the phone for a long minute, hating that Cary was so unhappy when everything in his life was going so well. He was an expert at self-sabotage, never truly believing he was worthy of happiness.
As I returned my attention to work, the Google search on my monitor reminded me of my interest in Dr. Terry Lucas. A few articles about him had been posted on the Web, complete with pictures that cemented the verification.
Pediatrician. Forty-five years of age. Married for twenty years.Nervously, I searched for “Dr. Terrence Lucas and wife,” inwardly cringing at the thought of seeing a golden-skinned, long-haired brunette. I exhaled my relief when I saw that Mrs. Lucas was a pale-skinned woman with short, bright red hair.
But that left me with more questions. I’d figured it would be a woman who’d caused the trouble between the two men.
The fact was, Gideon and I really didn’t know that much about each other. We knew the ugly stuff-at least he knew mine; I’d mostly guessed his from some pretty obvious clues. We knew some of the basic cohabitation stuff about each other after spending so many nights sleeping over at our respective apartments. He’d met half of my family and I’d met all of his. But we hadn’t been together long enough to touch on a whole lot of the periphery stuff. And frankly, I think we weren’t as forthcoming or inquisitive as we could’ve been, as if we were afraid to pile any more crap onto an already struggling relationship.
We were together because we were addicted to each other. I was never as intoxicated as I was when we were happy together, and I knew it was the same for him. We were putting ourselves through the wringer for those moments of perfection between us, but they were so tenuous that only our stubbornness, determination, and love kept us fighting for them.
Enough with making yourself crazy.
I checked my e-mail, and found my daily Google alert on “Gideon Cross.” The day’s digest of links led mostly to photos of Gideon, in black tie sans tie, and me at the charity dinner at the Waldorf Astoria the night before.
“God.” I couldn’t help but be reminded of my mother when looking at the pictures of me in a champagne Vera Wang cocktail dress. Not just because of how closely my looks mirrored my mom’s-aside from my hair being long and straight-but also because of the mega-mogul whose arm I graced.
Monica Tramell Barker Mitchell Stanton was very, very good at being a trophy wife. She knew precisely what was expected of her and delivered without fail. Although she’d been divorced twice, both times had been by her choice and both divorces had left her exes despondent over losing her. I didn’t think less of my mother, because she gave as good as she got and didn’t take anyone for granted, but I’d grown up striving for independence. My right to say no was my most valued possession.
Minimizing my e-mail window, I pushed my personal life aside and went back to searching for market comparisons on fruity coffee. I coordinated some initial meetings between the strategists and Mark and helped Mark with brainstorming a campaign for a gluten-free restaurant. Noon approached and I was starting to feel seriously hungry when my phone rang. I answered with my usual greeting.
“Eva?” an accented female voice greeted me. “It’s Magdalene. Do you have a minute?”
I leaned back in my chair, alert. Magdalene and I had once shared a moment of sympathy over Corinne’s unexpected and unwanted reappearance in Gideon’s life, but I’d never forget how vicious Magdalene had been to me the first time we’d met. “Just. What’s up?”
She sighed, then spoke quickly, her words flowing in a rush. “I was sitting at the table behind Corinne last night. I could hear a bit of what was being said between her and Gideon during dinner.”
My stomach tensed, preparing for an emotional blow. Magdalene knew just how to exploit my insecurities about Gideon. “Stirring up crap while I’m at work is a new low,” I said coldly. “I don’t-”
“He wasn’t ignoring you.”
My mouth hung open a second, and she quickly filled the silence.
“He was managing her, Eva. She was making suggestions for where to take you around New York since you’re new in town, but she was doing it by playing the old remember-when-you-and-I-went-there game.”
“A walk down memory lane,” I muttered, grateful now that I hadn’t been able to hear much of Gideon’s low-voiced conversation with his ex.
“Yes.” Magdalene took a deep breath. “You left because you thought he was ignoring you for her. I just want you to know that he seemed to be thinking about you, trying to keep Corinne from upsetting you.”
“Why do you care?”
“Who says I do? I owe you one, Eva, for the way I introduced myself.”
I thought about that. Yeah, she owed me for when she ambushed me in the bathroom with her catty jealous bullshit. Not that I bought it as her sole motivation. Maybe I was just the lesser of two evils. Maybe she was keeping her enemies close. “All right. Thank you.”
No denying I felt better. A weight I hadn’t realized I was carrying around was suddenly relieved.
“Something else,” Magdalene went on. “He went after you.”
My grip tightened on the phone receiver. Gideon always came after me… because I was always running. My recovery was so fragile that I’d learned to protect it at all costs. When something threatened my stability, I ditched it.
“There have been other women in his life who’ve tried ultimatums like that, Eva. They got bored or they wanted his attention or some kind of grand gesture… So they walked away and expected him to come after them. You know what he did?”
“Nothing,” I said softly, knowing my man. A man who never spent social time with women he slept with and never slept with women he associated with socially. Corinne and I were the sole exceptions to that rule, which was yet another reason why his ex sent me into fits of jealousy.
“Nothing more than making sure Angus dropped them off safely,” she confirmed, making me think it’d been a tactic she’d tried at some point. “But when you left, he couldn’t chase after you fast enough. And he wasn’t himself when he said good-bye. He seemed… off.”
Because he’d felt fear. My eyes closed as I mentally kicked myself. Hard.
Gideon had told me more than once that it terrified him when I ran, because he couldn’t handle the thought that I might not come back. What good did it do to say that I couldn’t imagine living without him when I so often showed him otherwise with my actions? Was it any wonder he hadn’t opened up to me about his past?
I had to stop running. Gideon and I were both going to have to stand and fight for this, for us, if we were going to have any hope of making our relationship work.
“Do I owe you now?” I asked neutrally, returning Mark’s wave as he left for lunch.
Magdalene exhaled in a rush. “Gideon and I have known each other a long time. Our mothers are best friends. You and I will see each other around, Eva, and I’m hoping we can find a way to avoid any awkwardness.”
The woman had come up to me and told me that the minute Gideon “shoved his dick” in me, I was “done.” And she’d hit me with that at a moment when I was especially vulnerable.
“Listen, Magdalene, if you don’t cause drama, we’ll get by.” And since she was being so forthright… “I can screw up my relationship with Gideon all by myself, trust me. I don’t need any help.”
She laughed softly. “That was my mistake, I think-I was too careful and too accommodating. He has to work at it with you. Anyway… I’ve taken up my minute. I’ll let you go.”
“Enjoy your weekend,” I said, in lieu of thanks. I still couldn’t trust her motivation.
As I returned the receiver to its cradle, my gaze went to the photos of me and Gideon. I was abruptly overwhelmed by feelings of greed and possession. He was mine, yet I couldn’t be sure from one day to the next whether he’d stay mine. And the thought of any other woman having him made me insane.
I pulled open my bottom drawer and dug my smartphone out of my purse. Driven by the need to have him thinking as fiercely about me, I texted him about my sudden desperate hunger to devour him whole: I’d give anything to be sucking your cock right now.
Just thinking about how he looked when I took him in my mouth… the feral sounds he made when he was about to come…
Standing, I deleted the text the moment I saw it’d been delivered, then dropped my phone back in my purse. Since it was noon, I closed all the windows on my computer and headed out to reception to find Megumi.
“You hungry for anything in particular?” she asked, pushing to her feet and giving me a chance to admire her belted, sleeveless lavender dress.
I coughed because her question came so soon after my text. “No. Your choice. I’m not picky.”
We pushed out through the glass doors to reach the elevators.
“I am so ready for the weekend,” Megumi said with a groan as she stabbed the call button with an acrylic-tipped finger. “A day and a half left to go.”
“Got something fun planned?”
“That remains to be seen.” She sighed and tucked her hair behind her ear. “Blind date,” she explained ruefully.
“Ah. Do you trust the person setting you up?”
“My roommate. I expect the guy will at least be physically attractive, because I know where she sleeps at night and paybacks are a bitch.”
I was smiling as an elevator car reached our floor and we stepped inside. “Well, that ups your odds for a good time.”
“Not really, since she found him by going on a blind date with him first. She swears he’s great, just more my type than hers.”
“I know, right?” Megumi shook her head and looked up at the decorative, old-fashioned needle above the car doors that marked the passing floors.
“You’ll have to let me know how it goes.”
“Oh, yeah. Wish me luck.”
“Absolutely.” We’d just stepped out into the lobby when I felt my purse vibrate beneath my arm. As we passed through the turnstiles, I dug for my phone and felt my stomach tighten at the sight of Gideon’s name. He was calling, not sexting me back.
“Excuse me,” I said to Megumi before answering.
She waved it off nonchalantly. “Go for it.”
“Hey,” I greeted him playfully.
I missed a step hearing the way he growled my name. There was a wealth of promise in the roughness of his voice.
Slowing, I found I was speechless, just from hearing him say my name with that edginess I craved-the sharp bite that told me he wanted to be inside me more than he wanted anything else in the world.
While people flowed around me, entering and exiting the building, I was halted by the weighted silence on my phone. The unspoken and nearly irresistible demand. He made no sound at all-I couldn’t even hear him breathing-but I felt his hunger. If I didn’t have Megumi waiting patiently for me, I’d be riding an elevator to the top floor to satisfy his unvoiced command to make good on my offer.
The memory of the time I’d sucked him off in his office simmered through me, making my mouth water. I swallowed. “Gideon…”
“You wanted my attention-now you have it. I want to hear you say those words.”
I felt my face flush. “I can’t. Not here. Let me call you later.”
“Step over by the column and out of the way.”
Startled, I looked around for him. Then I remembered that the Caller ID put him in his office. My gaze lifted, searching for the security cameras. Immediately, I felt his eyes on me, hot and wanting. Arousal surged through me, spurred by his desire.
“Hurry along, angel. Your friend’s waiting.”
I moved to the column, my breathing fast and audible.
“Now tell me. Your text made me hard, Eva. What are you going to do about it?”
My hand went to my throat, my gaze sliding helplessly to Megumi, who watched me with raised brows. I lifted one finger up, asking for another minute, then turned my back to her and whispered, “I want you in my mouth.”
“Why? To play with me? To tease me like you’re doing now?” There was no heat in his voice, just calm severity.
I knew to pay careful attention when Gideon got serious about sex.
“No.” I lifted my face to the tinted dome in the ceiling that concealed the nearest security camera. “To make you come. I love making you come, Gideon.”
He exhaled harshly. “A gift, then.”
Only I knew what it meant for Gideon to view a sexual act as a gift. For him, sex had previously been about pain and degradation or lust and necessity. Now, with me, it was about pleasure and love. “Always.”
“Good. Because I treasure you, Eva, and what we have. Even our driving urge to fuck each other constantly is precious to me, because it matters.”
I sagged into the column, admitting to myself that I’d fallen into an old destructive habit-I’d exploited sexual attraction to ease my insecurities. If Gideon was lusting after me, he couldn’t be lusting after anyone else. How did he always know what was going on in my mind?
“Yes,” I breathed, closing my eyes. “It matters.”
There’d been a time when I’d turned to sex to feel affection, confusing momentary desire with genuine caring. Which was why I now insisted on having some sort of friendly framework in place before I went to bed with a man. I never again wanted to roll out of a lover’s bed feeling worthless and dirty.
And I sure as hell didn’t want to cheapen what I shared with Gideon just because I was irrationally scared of losing him.
It hit me then that I was off balance. I had this sick feeling in my gut, like something awful was going to happen.
“You can have what you want after work, angel.” His voice deepened, grew raspier. “In the meantime, enjoy lunch with your co-worker. I’ll be thinking about you. And your mouth.”
“I love you, Gideon.”
It took a couple of deep breaths after I hung up to compose myself enough to join Megumi again. “I’m sorry about that.”
“Everything all right?”
“Yes. Everything’s fine.”
“Things still hot and heavy with you and Gideon Cross?” She glanced at me with a slight smile.
“Umm…” Oh yes. “Yes, that’s fine, too.” And I wished desperately that I could talk about it. I wished I could just open the valve and gush about my overwhelming feelings for him. How thoughts of him consumed me, how the feel of him beneath my hands drove me wild, how the passion of his tortured soul cut into me like the sharpest blade.
But I couldn’t. Not ever. He was too visible, too well known. Private tidbits about his life were worth a small fortune. I couldn’t risk it.
“He sure is,” Megumi agreed. “Damn fine. Did you know him before you started working here?”
“No. Although I suppose we would have met eventually.” Because of our pasts. My mother gave generously to many abused children’s charities, as did Gideon. It was inevitable that Gideon and I would’ve crossed paths at some point. I wondered what that meeting would have been like-him with a gorgeous brunette on his arm and me with Cary. Would we have had the same visceral reaction to each other from a distance as we’d had up close in the Crossfire lobby?
He’d wanted me the moment he saw me on the street.
“I wondered.” Megumi pushed through the revolving lobby door. “I read that it was serious between you two,” she went on when I joined her outside on the sidewalk. “So I thought maybe you’d known him before.”
“Don’t believe everything you read on those gossip blogs.”
“So it’s not serious?”
“I didn’t say that.” It was too serious at times. Painfully, brutally so.
She shook her head. “God… listen to me pry. Sorry. Gossip is one of my vices. So are extremely hot men like Gideon Cross. I can’t help but wonder what it’d be like to hook up with a guy whose body screams sexlike that. Tell me he’s awesome in bed.”
I smiled. It was good to hang out with another girl. Not that Cary couldn’t also be appreciative of a hot guy, but nothing beat girl talk. “You won’t hear me complaining.”
“Lucky bitch.” Bumping shoulders with me to show she was teasing, she said, “How about that roommate of yours? From the photos I saw, he’s gorgeous, too. Is he single? Wanna hook me up?”
Turning my head quickly, I hid a wince. I’d learned the hard way never to set up an acquaintance or friend with Cary. He was so easy to love, which led to a lot of broken hearts because he couldn’t love back the same way. The moment things started going too well, Cary sabotaged them. “I don’t know if he’s single or not. Things are… complicated in his life at the moment.”
“Well, if the opportunity presents itself, I’m certainly not opposed. Just sayin’. You like tacos?”
“I know a great place a couple blocks up. Come on.”
* * *
Things were going well in my world as Megumi and I headed back from lunch. Forty minutes of gossip, guy-ogling, and three awesome carne asada tacos later, I was feeling pretty good. And we were returning to work a little over ten minutes early, which I was glad for since I hadn’t been the most punctual employee lately, even though Mark never complained.
The city was thrumming around us, taxis and people surging through the growing heat and humidity as they crammed what they could into the insufficient hours of the day. I people-watched shamelessly, my eyes skimming over everyone and everything.
Men in business suits walked alongside women in flowing skirts and flip-flops. Ladies in haute couture and five-hundred-dollar shoes teetered past steaming hot dog vendor carts and shouting hawkers. The eclectic mix of New York was heaven to me, stirring an excitement that made me feel more vibrant here than anyplace else I’d ever lived.
We were stopped by a traffic light directly across from the Crossfire, and my gaze was immediately drawn to the black Bentley sitting in front of it. Gideon must’ve just gotten back from lunch. I couldn’t help but think about him sitting in his car on the day we’d met, watching me as I took in the imposing beauty of his Crossfire Building. It made me tingly just thinking about it-
Suddenly, I went cold.
Because a striking brunette breezed out of the revolving doors just then and paused, giving me a good, long look at her-Gideon’s ideal, whether he’d been aware of it or not. A woman I’d witnessed him fixate on the moment he’d seen her in the Waldorf Astoria ballroom. A woman whose poise and hold over Gideon brought out all my worst insecurities.
Corinne Giroux looked like a breath of fresh air in a cream-colored sheath dress and cherry red heels. She ran a hand over her waist-length dark hair, which wasn’t quite as sleek as it’d appeared last night when I’d met her. In fact, it looked a little disheveled. And her fingers were rubbing at her mouth, wiping along the outline of her lips.
I pulled my smartphone out, activated the camera, and snapped a picture. With the proximity of the zoom, I could see why she was fussing with her lipstick-it was smeared. No, more like mashed. As if from a passionate kiss.
The light changed. Megumi and I moved with the flow, closing the distance between me and the woman who’d once had Gideon’s promise to marry her. Angus stepped out of the Bentley and came around, speaking to her briefly before opening the back door for her. The feeling of betrayal-Angus’s and Gideon’s-was so fierce, I couldn’t catch my breath. I swayed on my feet.
“Hey.” Megumi caught my arm to steady me. “And we only had virgin margaritas, lightweight!”
I watched Corinne’s willowy body slide into the back of Gideon’s car with practiced grace. My fists clenched as fury surged through me. Through the haze of my angry tears, the Bentley pulled away from the curb and disappeared.