When Megumi and I stepped into an elevator, I hit the button for the top floor.
“I’ll be back in five minutes, if anyone asks,” I told her, as she stepped off at Waters Field & Leaman.
“Give him a kiss for me, will you?” she said, playfully fanning herself. “Makes me hot just thinking about living vicariously through you.”
I managed a smile before the doors closed and the car continued its ascent. When it reached the end of the line, I exited into a tastefully ornate and undeniably masculine entrance foyer. Smoky glass security doors were sandblasted with CROSS INDUSTRIES and softened by hanging baskets of ferns and lilies.
Gideon’s redheaded receptionist was unusually cooperative and buzzed me in before I reached the door. Then she grinned at me in a way that got my back up. I’d always gotten the impression she didn’t like me, so I didn’t trust that smile for a minute. It made me twitchy. Still, I waved and said hello, because I wasn’t a catty bitch-unless I was given good reason to be.
I took the long hallway that led to Gideon, stopping at a large secondary reception area where his secretary, Scott, manned the desk.
Scott stood as I approached. “Hello, Eva,” he greeted me, reaching for his phone. “I’ll let him know you’re here.”
The glass wall that separated Gideon’s office from the rest of the floor was usually crystal clear but could be made opaque with the push of a button. It was frosted now, which increased my uneasiness. “Is he alone?”
Whatever else he said was lost as I pushed through the glass door and into Gideon’s domain. It was a massive space, with three distinct seating areas, each larger than my boss Mark’s entire office. In contrast to the elegant warmth of Gideon’s apartment, his office was decorated in a cool palette of black, gray, and white broken only by the jewel-toned crystal decanters that decorated the wall behind a bar.
Floor-to-ceiling windows overlooked the city on two sides. The one solid wall opposite the immense desk was covered in flat screens streaming news channels from around the world.
My gaze swept the room and caught on the throw pillow that had been carelessly knocked to the floor. Beside it were indents in the area rug that betrayed where the couch feet were usually planted. The piece of furniture had, apparently, been bumped askew by a few inches.
My heart rate sped up and my palms grew damp. That awful anxiety I’d felt earlier intensified.
I had just noticed the open door to the washroom when Gideon stepped into view, stealing my breath with the beauty of his exposed torso. His hair was damp, as if from a recent shower, and his neck and upper chest were still flushed, as it became when he exerted himself physically.
He froze when he saw me, his gaze darkening for an instant before his perfect, implacable mask slid effortlessly into place.
“It’s not a good time, Eva,” he said, shrugging into a dress shirt he’d had draped over the back of a bar stool… a different shirt from the one he’d been wearing earlier that morning. “I’m running late to an appointment.”
I gripped my purse tightly. Seeing him so intimately brought home how badly I wanted him. I loved him insanely, needed him like I needed to breathe… which only made it easier for me to understand how Magdalene and Corinne felt, and to relate to any lengths they might go to in trying to lure him away from me. “Why are you half dressed?”
There was no help for it. My body responded instinctively to the sight of his, which made it even harder for me to rein in my rioting emotions. His open, neatly pressed dress shirt revealed golden skin stretched tightly over washboard abs and perfectly defined pectorals. A dusting of dark hair over his chest arrowed down and darkened into a thin line, leading to a cock presently encased in boxer briefs and slacks. Just thinking about how he felt inside me made me ache with longing.
“I got something on my shirt.” He began buttoning up, his abs flexing with his movements as he crossed over to the bar, where I saw his cuff links waiting. “I have to run. If you need something, let Scott know and he’ll see to it. Or I’ll take care of it when I get back. I shouldn’t be more than two hours.”
“Why are you running late?”
He didn’t look at me when he answered, “I had to squeeze in a last-minute meeting.”
“Why the inquisition?” he snapped.
Needing answers, I went to the washroom. The lingering humidity was oppressive. Ignoring the voice in my head telling me not to look for trouble I couldn’t bear to find, I dug his shirt out of the laundry basket… and saw red lipstick smeared like a bloodstain on one of the cuffs. Pain twisted through my chest.
Dropping the garment on the floor, I pivoted and left, needing to get as far away from Gideon as possible. Before I threw up or started sobbing.
“Eva!” he snapped as I hurried past him. “What the hell is the matter with you?”
“Fuck you, asswipe.”
My hand was on the door handle when he caught me, yanking me back by the elbow. Spinning, I slapped him with enough force to turn his head and set my palm on fire.
“Goddamn it,” he growled, grabbing me by the arms and shaking me. “Don’t fucking hit me!”
“Don’t touch me!” The feel of his bare hands on the bare skin of my arms was too much.
He shoved back and away from me. “What the fuck’s gotten into you?”
He scowled. “What are you talking about?”
Pulling my smartphone out, I thrust the photo in his face. “Busted.”
Gideon’s gaze narrowed on the screen, and then his scowl cleared. “Busted doing what, exactly?” he asked, too softly.
“Oh, screw you.” I turned toward the door, shoving my phone in my purse. “I’m not spelling it out for you.”
His palm slapped against the glass, holding the door closed. Caging me with his body, he leaned down and hissed in my ear, “Yes. Yes, you goddamn will spell it out.”
I squeezed my eyes shut as our position at the door brought back a flood of heated memories from the first time I’d been in Gideon’s office. He’d stopped me just like this, seducing me deftly, drawing us into a passionate embrace on the very couch that had recently seen some kind of action forceful enough to shove it out of position.
“Doesn’t a picture say a thousand words?” I bit out through clenched teeth.
“So Corinne was manhandled. What does that have to do with me?”
“Are you kidding me? Let me out.”
“I don’t find anything even remotely funny about this. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been this pissed off at a woman. You come in here with your half-assed accusations and self-righteous bullshit-”
Leaning into the door, Gideon crossed his arms. His shirt remained untucked and open at the collar, a look I found hot and tempting, which only made me angrier.
“You think I cheated on you?” His tone was clipped and icy.
I sucked in a deep breath to get through the pain of imagining him with Corinne on the sofa behind me. “Explain to me why she was here at the Crossfire, looking like she did. Why your office looks like this. Why you look like that.”
His gaze went to the couch, then to the cushion on the floor, then back to me. “I don’t know why Corinne was here or why she looked like that. I haven’t seen her since last night, when you were with me.”
Last night seemed like it’d happened forever ago. I wished that it had never happened at all.
“But I wasn’t with you,” I pointed out. “She batted her eyelashes and said she wanted to introduce you to someone, and you left me standing there.”
“Christ.” His eyes blazed. “Not this again.”
I swiped angrily at a tear that slid down my cheek.
He growled. “You think I went with her because I was overcome with the need to be with her and get away from you?”
“I don’t know, Gideon.
“You ditched me first.”
My mouth fell open. “I did not!”
“The hell you didn’t. Almost the second we arrived, you took off. I had to hunt you down and when I did, you were dancing with that prick.”
“Martin is Stanton’s nephew!” And since Richard Stanton was my stepdad, I thought of Martin as family.
“I don’t care if he’s a damned priest. He wants to nail you.”
“Oh my God. That’s absurd! Stop deflecting. You were talking business with your associates. It was awkward standing there. For them as well as me.”
“That’s your place, awkward or not!”
My head jerked back as if he’d slapped me. “Come again?”
“How would you feel if I walked away from you at a Waters Field and Leaman party because you started talking about a campaign? Then, when you found me, I was slow dancing with Magdalene?”
Gideon appeared smooth and unruffled with his powerful frame lounging against the door, but I could sense the anger vibrating beneath that calm surface. He was riveting always, but most especially when he was seething with passion. “It’s my place to stand beside you, and support you, and yes, just fucking look pretty on your arm sometimes. It’s my right, my duty, and my privilege, Eva, just as it’s yours in reverse.”
“I thought I was doing you a favor by getting out of the way.”
His arched brow was a silent, sarcastic comeback.
My arms crossed in front of me. “Is that why you walked off with Corinne? Were you punishing me?”
“If I wanted to punish you, Eva, I’d take you over my knee.”
My gaze narrowed.
“I know how you get,” he said curtly. “I didn’t want you jealous over Corinne before I had a chance to explain. I needed a few minutes to make sure she understood how serious you and I are, and how important it was to me that you enjoy the evening. That’s the only reason I walked away with her.”
“You told her not to say anything about you two, didn’t you? You told her to keep quiet about what she is to you. Too bad Magdalene screwed that up.”
And maybe Corinne and Magdalene had planned it that way. Corinne knew Gideon well enough to anticipate his moves; it might’ve been easy for her to plan around his reaction to her unexpected appearance in New York.
Which shed a whole new light on why Magdalene had called me today. She and Corinne had been talking at the Waldorf when Gideon and I spotted them. Two women who wanted a man who was with another woman. Nothing was going to happen for them while I was in the picture, and because of that, I couldn’t rule out the possibility that they might be working together.
“I wanted you to hear it from me,” he said tightly.
I waved that off, more concerned about what was happening now. “I saw Corinne get into the Bentley, Gideon. Right before I came up here.”
His other brow rose to match the first. “Did you?”
“Yes, I did. Can you explain that?”
“I can’t, no.”
Injured fury burned through me. I suddenly couldn’t bear to even look at him. “Then get out of my way, I have to get back to work.”
He didn’t move. “I just want to be clear on something before you go: Do you believe I fucked her?”
Hearing him say it aloud made me flinch. “I don’t know what to believe. The evidence sure-”
“I wouldn’t care if the ‘evidence’ included you finding me and her naked in a bed together.” He uncoiled so swiftly, I stumbled back in surprise. He stalked closer. “I want to know if you think I fucked her. If you think I would. Or could. Do you?”
My foot began to tap, but I didn’t retreat. “Explain the lipstick on your shirt, Gideon.”
His jaw tightened. “No.”
“What?” The flat-out refusal sent me into a tailspin.
“Answer my question.”
I studied his face and saw the mask he wore around other people but had never worn with me. He reached his hand toward me as if to brush my cheek with his fingertips, then pulled back at the last minute. In that brief instant in which he pulled away, I heard his teeth grind, as if
“I’ve given you no reason to doubt me.”
“You’re giving me one now, Gideon.” I exhaled in a rush, deflating. Withdrawing. He was standing in front of me, but he seemed miles away. “I understand you need time before you share secrets that are painful for you. I’ve been where you’re at, knowing I needed to talk about what happened to me but just not ready. That’s why I’ve tried very hard not to push you or rush you. But this secret is one that’s hurting
Cursing under his breath, he cupped my face with cool hands. “I go out of my way to make sure you don’t have any reason to feel jealous, but when you do get possessive, I like it. I want you to fight for me. I want you to care that much. I want you crazy about me. But possessiveness without trust is hell. If you don’t trust me, we’ve got nothing.”
“Trust goes both ways, Gideon.”
He sucked in a deep breath. “Damn it. Don’t look at me like that.”
“I’m trying to figure out who you are. Where’s the man who came right out and said he wanted to fuck me? The man who didn’t hesitate to tell me I tie him up in knots, even as I was breaking up with him? I believed you’d always be brutally honest like that. I counted on it. Now-” I shook my head, my throat too tight to say anything else.
Grimness thinned his lips, but they stayed stubbornly closed.
Catching his wrists, I pulled his hands away. I was cracking open inside, breaking. “I won’t run this time, but you can push me away. You might want to think about that.”
I left. Gideon didn’t stop me.
* * *
I spent the rest of the afternoon focused on work. Mark loved to brainstorm out loud, which was an awesome learning exercise for me, and his confident and amiable way of dealing with his accounts was inspiring. I watched him breeze through two client meetings in which he conveyed an air of command that was both reassuring and nonthreatening.
Then we tackled a baby-toy company’s needs analysis, zeroing in on poor return expenditures as well as untapped avenues, such as mom-blog advertising. I was grateful that my job was a distraction from my personal life, and I was looking forward to going to my Krav Maga class later, so I could burn off some of my edgy restlessness.
It was just past four when my desk phone rang. I answered briskly and felt my heart leap at the sound of Gideon’s voice.
“We should leave at five,” he said, “to get to Dr. Petersen’s on time.”
“Oh.” I’d forgotten that our couples therapy sessions were on Thursdays at six P.M. It would be our first.
Abruptly, I wondered if it would also be our last.
“I’ll come get you,” he went on gruffly, “when it’s time.”
I sighed, feeling far from up to it. I was already raw and irritable from our fight earlier. “I’m sorry I hit you. I shouldn’t have done that. I hate that I did.”
“Angel.” Gideon exhaled harshly. “You didn’t ask the one question that matters.”
My eyes closed. It was irritating how he read my mind. “Either way, it doesn’t change the fact that you’re keeping secrets.”
“Secrets are something we can work through; cheating isn’t.”
I rubbed at the ache behind my forehead. “You’re right about that.”
“There’s only you, Eva.” His voice was clipped and hard.
A tremor moved through me at the fury underlying his words. He was still angry that I’d doubted him. Oh well. I was still angry, too. “I’ll be ready at five.”
He was prompt, as usual. While I put my computer to sleep and grabbed my belongings, he spoke with Mark about the ongoing work on the Kingsman Vodka account. I watched Gideon furtively. He cut an imposing figure with his tall, leanly muscular frame in his dark suit and carried himself in a way that projected impenetrability, yet I’d seen him terribly vulnerable.
I was in love with that tender, deeply emotional man. And I resented the fa?ade and his attempts to hide himself from me.
Turning his head, he caught me staring. I saw a glimpse of my beloved Gideon in his wild blue gaze, which briefly exposed a helpless yearning. Then he was gone, replaced by the cool mask. “Ready?”
It was so obvious that he was holding something back, and it killed me to have that gulf between us. To know there were things he wouldn’t trust me with.
As we exited through reception, Megumi rested her chin on her fist and gave a dramatic sigh.
“She’s crushing on you, Cross,” I murmured, as we made our way out and he hit the call button for the elevator.
“Whatever.” He snorted. “What does she know about me?”
“I’ve been asking myself that same question all day,” I said quietly.
That time, I was certain he winced.
* * *
Dr. Lyle Petersen was tall, with neatly groomed gray hair and sharp yet kind denim blue eyes. His office was tastefully decorated in neutral shades and his furniture was extremely comfortable, something I noted on every one of my visits to him. It was a little weird for me to see him as
I watched as he settled into the gray wingback chair across from the sofa Gideon and I sat on. His keen gaze shifted between us, clearly noting how we’d each taken seats on opposite ends of the sofa, our stiff postures revealing our defensiveness. We’d made the drive over in the same way.
Flipping open the cover of his tablet, Dr. Petersen gripped his stylus and said, “Shall we start with the cause of the tension between you?”
I waited a beat, to give Gideon a chance to speak first. I wasn’t terribly surprised when he just sat there, silent. “Well… in the last twenty-four hours I’ve met the fianc?e I didn’t know Gideon had-”
“Ex-fianc?e,” Gideon growled.
“-I found out the reason he’s dated brunettes exclusively is because of her-”
“It wasn’t dating.”
“-and I caught her leaving his office after lunch looking like this-” I dug out my phone.
“She was leaving the building,” Gideon bit out, “not my office.”
I pulled up the picture and passed my phone over to Dr. Petersen. “And getting into
“Angus just told you before we got here that he saw her standing there, recognized her, and was being polite.”
“Like he’d say anything different!” I shot back. “He’s been your driver since you were a kid. Of course he’d cover your ass.”
“Oh, it’s a conspiracy now?”
“What was he doing there, then?” I challenged.
“Driving me to lunch.”
“Where? I’ll just verify you were there and she wasn’t, and we’ll get that part out of the way.”
Gideon’s jaw clenched. “I told you. I had an unexpected appointment. I didn’t make it to lunch.”
“Who was the appointment?”
“It wasn’t Corinne.”
“That’s not an answer!” I turned back to Dr. Petersen, who calmly returned my phone to me. “When I went up to his office to ask him what the hell was going on, I discovered him half dressed and freshly showered, with one of his sofas bumped out of place, pillows strewn all over the floor-”
“One goddamned pillow!”
“-and red lipstick on his shirt.”
“There are two dozen businesses in the Crossfire,” Gideon said coldly. “She could have been visiting any one of them.”
“Right,” I drawled, my voice dripping sarcasm. “Of course.”
“Wouldn’t I have taken her to the hotel?”
I sucked in a sharp breath, reeling. “You still have that room?”
His mask slipped, revealing a flare of panic. The realization that he still had his sex pad-a hotel room he used exclusively for fucking and somewhere
“Let’s slow down,” Dr. Petersen interrupted, scribbling rapidly. “I want to backtrack a bit. Gideon, why didn’t you tell Eva about Corinne?”
“I had every intention of doing so,” Gideon said tightly.
“He doesn’t tell me anything,” I whispered, digging for a tissue in my purse so I wouldn’t have mascara running down my face.
“What do you talk about?” Dr. Petersen asked, directing the question at both of us.
“I’m usually apologizing,” Gideon muttered.
Dr. Petersen looked up. “For what?”
“Everything.” He raked a hand through his hair.
“Do you feel that Eva’s too demanding or expects too much from you?”
I felt Gideon’s gaze on my profile. “No. She doesn’t ask for anything.”
“Except the truth,” I corrected, turning toward him.
His eyes blazed, searing me with heat. “I’ve never lied to you.”
“Do you want her to ask you for things, Gideon?” Dr. Petersen queried.
“Think about that. We’ll come back to it.” Dr. Petersen turned his attention to me. “I’m intrigued by the photo you took, Eva. You were confronted with a situation that many women would find deeply upsetting-”
“There was no situation,” Gideon reiterated coldly.
“Her perception of a situation,” Dr. Petersen qualified.
“A patently ridiculous perception, considering the physical aspect of our relationship.”
“All right. Let’s talk about that. How many times a week do you have sex? On average.”
My face heated. I looked at Gideon, who returned my look with a smirk.
“Umm…” My lips twisted ruefully. “A lot.”
“Daily?” Dr. Petersen’s brows rose when I uncrossed and recrossed my legs, nodding. “Multiple times daily?”
Gideon stepped in, “On average.”
Laying his tablet flat on his lap, Dr. Petersen met Gideon’s gaze. “Is this level of sexual activity customary for you?”
“Nothing about my relationship with Eva is customary, Doctor.”
“What was the frequency of your sexual encounters prior to Eva?”
Gideon’s jaw tensed, and he glanced at me.
“It’s okay,” I told him, even as I conceded that I wouldn’t want to answer that question in front of him.
He reached his hand out, spanning the distance between us. I placed mine in his and appreciated the reassuring squeeze he gave me. “Twice a week,” he said tightly. “On average.”
The number of women quickly added up in my mind. My free hand fisted in my lap.
Dr. Petersen sat back. “Eva has brought up concerns of infidelity and lack of communication in your relationship. How often is sex used to resolve disagreements?”
Gideon’s brow arched. “Before you assume Eva’s suffering under the demands of my overactive libido, you should know that she initiates sex at least as often as I do. If one of us were going to have concerns about keeping up, it’d be me just by virtue of possessing male anatomy.”
Dr. Petersen looked at me for confirmation.
“Most interactions between us lead to sex,” I conceded, “including fights.”
“Before or after the conflict is considered resolved by both of you?”
I sighed. “Before.”
He dropped the stylus and started typing. I thought he might end up with a novel’s worth by the time all was said and done.
“Your relationship has been highly sexualized from the beginning?” he asked.
I nodded, even though he wasn’t looking. “We’re very attracted to each other.”
“Obviously.” He glanced up and offered a kind smile. “However, I’d like to discuss the possibility of abstinence while we-”
“There is no possibility,” Gideon interjected. “That’s a nonstarter. I suggest we focus on what’s
“I’m not sure it
“Doctor.” Gideon set one ankle on the opposite knee and settled back, creating a picture of unyielding decisiveness. “The only way I’m keeping my hands off her is if I’m dead. Find another way to fix us.”
* * *
“I’m new to this therapy thing,” Gideon said later, after we’d gotten back into the Bentley and were heading home. “So I’m not sure. Was that the train wreck it felt like it was?”
“It could’ve gone better,” I said wearily, leaning my head back and closing my eyes. I was bone tired. Too tired to even think about catching the eight o’clock Krav Maga class. “I’d kill for a quick shower and my bed.”
“I have some things to take care of before I can call it a day.”
“That’s fine.” I yawned. “Why don’t we take the night off and see each other tomorrow?”
Thick silence greeted my suggestion. After a moment, it became so fraught with tension that I was motivated to lift both my head and my heavy eyelids to look at him.
His gaze was on my face, his lips thinned into a frustrated line. “You’re cutting me off.”
“The hell you’re not! You’ve tried and convicted me, and now you’re shutting me out.”
“I’m exhausted, Gideon! There’s only so much bullshit I can take before I’m buried in it. I need sleep and-”
“I don’t think you cheated. Okay? As suspicious as it all looks, I can’t convince myself you’d do that. It’s the secrets that are getting to be too much. I’m giving all I’ve got to this and you’re-”
“You think I’m not?” He twisted in the seat, sliding one bent leg in between us so that he faced me directly. “I’ve never worked so hard for anything in my life as I have for you.”
“You can’t make the effort for me. You have to do it for you.”
“Don’t give me that crap! I wouldn’t need to work on my relationship skills for anyone else.”
With a low moan, I rested my cheek against the seat and closed my eyes again. “I’m tired of fighting, Gideon. I just want some peace and quiet for a night. I’ve been feeling off all day.”
“Are you sick?” He shifted, cupping the back of my neck gently and pressing his lips to my forehead. “You don’t feel hot. Is your stomach upset?”
I breathed him in, absorbing the delicious scent of his skin. The urge to press my face into the crook of his neck was nearly overwhelming.
“No.” And then it hit me. I groaned.
“What is it?” He pulled me into his lap, cradling me close. “What’s wrong? Do you need a doctor?”
“It’s my period,” I whispered, not wanting Angus to overhear. “It should start any day now. I don’t know why I didn’t realize it before. No wonder I’m so tired and cranky; I’m hormonal.”
He stilled. After a heartbeat or two, I tilted my head back to search his face.
With his lips twisted ruefully, he admitted, “That’s a new one for me. Not something that comes up in the course of a casual sex life.”
“Lucky you. You get to experience the inconvenience reserved for men with girlfriends and wives.”
“Don’t let it,” he murmured, tracing my brows with his fingertip. “Trust me.”
“You have to trust me back.”
Folding over me, he pressed his lips softly to mine. “Don’t you know, angel?” he breathed. “There’s no one I trust more.”
Sliding my arms beneath his jacket, I hugged him, soaking up the warmth of his lean, hard body. I couldn’t help but worry that we were beginning to drift from one another.
Gideon pressed the advantage, his tongue dipping into my mouth, lightly touching and teasing mine with velvet licks. Deceptively unhurried. I sought a deeper contact, needing more. Always more. Hating that aside from this, he gave me so little of himself.
He groaned into my mouth, an erotic sound of pleasure and need that vibrated through me. Tilting his head, he sealed those beautifully sculpted lips over mine. The kiss deepened, our tongues stroking, our breaths quickening.
The arm he’d banded beneath my back tightened, pulling me closer. His other hand slid beneath my shirt, cradling my spine in his warm palm. His fingertips flexed, gentling me even as the kiss grew wild. I arched into the caress, needing the reassurance of his touch against my bare skin.
“Gideon…” For the first time, our physical closeness wasn’t enough to calm the desperate wanting inside me.
“Shh,” he soothed. “I’m here. Not going anywhere.”
Closing my eyes, I buried my face in his neck, wondering if we’d both be too stubborn and stay, even if it turned out that it would be best to let go.