I’d just barely finished repacking my bag for the trip home when I heard the unmistakable sound of Gideon’s voice in the living room. A rush of adrenaline pumped through my veins. Gideon had yet to say a word to me about what I’d done, even though we’d talked the night before after Cary and I had gotten back from clubbing and again this morning when I’d woken up.
Feigning ignorance was slightly nerve-racking. I’d wondered if Clancy had even managed to do what I had asked of him, but when I double-checked with my stepdad’s bodyguard, he assured me that all was going as I’d planned.
On bare feet, I padded over to the open door of my bedroom just in time to see Cary walk out the door of our suite. Gideon stood alone in the small foyer, his inscrutable gaze on me as if he’d expected me to appear at any moment. He wore loose-fitting jeans and a black T-shirt, and I’d missed the sight of him so much my eyes stung.
The fingers of my right hand toyed restlessly with the material of my black yoga pants. “Hi, ace.”
His beautifully etched lips thinned for a moment. “Is there a particular meaning behind that endearment?”
“Well… you ace everything you do. And it’s the nickname of a fictional character I have a crush on. You remind me of him sometimes.”
“I’m not sure I like you having a crush on anyone but me, fictional or not.”
“You’ll get over it.”
Shaking his head, he started toward me. “Like I’ll get over the sumo wrestler you have shadowing me?”
I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing. I hadn’t been specific about appearance when I’d asked Clancy to arrange for someone he knew in the Phoenix area to guard Gideon the way Sheila was guarding me. I’d just asked for a man and provided a relatively small list of things to intercede with. “Where’s Cary going?”
“Downstairs to play with the credit I arranged for him.”
“We’re not leaving right away?”
He slowly closed the distance between us. There was no mistaking the danger inherent in the way he stalked me. It was visible in the set of his shoulders and the gleam in his eyes. I might’ve been more worried if the sinuousness of his stride hadn’t been so blatantly sexual. “You on your period?”
“Then I’ll just have to come in your mouth.”
My brows rose. “Is that right?”
“Oh, yeah.” His mouth curved. “Don’t worry, angel. I’ll take care of you first.”
He lunged and caught me up, surging into the bedroom and toppling us onto the bed. I gasped and his mouth was on mine, the kiss deep and ravenous. I was swept away by his passion and the beloved feel of his weight pressing me into the mattress. He smelled so good. His skin was so warm.
“I missed you,” I moaned, wrapping my arms and legs around him. “Even though you’re seriously irritating sometimes.”
Gideon growled. “You’re the most exasperating, infuriating woman I’ve ever met.”
“Yeah, well, you pissed me off. I’m not a possession. You can’t-”
“Yes, you are.” He nipped my earlobe with his teeth, causing a sharp sting that made me cry out. “And yes, I can.”
“Then you are, too. And I can, too.”
“So you demonstrated. Have any idea how difficult it is to do business with someone when they can’t get within three feet of you?”
I froze, because I’d made the three-feet rule applicable only to women. “Why would someone need to be that close to you?”
“To point out areas of interest on design schematics spread out in front of me and to fit alongside me within camera range for a teleconference-two things you made very difficult.” Lifting his head, he looked down at me. “I was working. You were playing.”
“I don’t care. If it’s good for me, it’s good for you.” But I was secretly pleased that Gideon had put up with the inconvenience, just as I had.
Reaching down, he caught me by the back of the thigh and yanked my legs wider apart. “You’re not going to get a hundred percent equality in this relationship.”
“The hell I’m not.”
His hips settled into the opening he’d made. He rocked against me, rubbing the thick ridge of his erection against my sex. “You’re not,” he repeated, his hands pushing into my hair to grip my scalp and hold me in place.
Rolling his hips, he massaged my hypersensitive clit. The seam of his jeans was in the perfect place to stir my ever-simmering lust for him. Arousal spiked in my blood. “Stop it. I can’t think when you do that.”
“Don’t think. Just listen, Eva. Who I am and what I’ve built makes me a target. You know the score, because you know what it’s like to live with wealth and the attention it attracts.”
“The guy at the bar wasn’t a threat.”
Irritation burned through me. It was the perceived lack of trust that bugged me, mostly because he didn’t trust me with whatever secrets he was keeping, and I was dealing with that. “Get off me.”
“I’m comfortable right here.” He hitched his hips, rubbing against me.
“I’m pissed at you.”
“I can tell.” He didn’t stop moving. “That won’t stop you from coming.”
I shoved at his hips, but he was too heavy to budge. “I can’t when I’m mad!”
He was way too smug, which made my anger swell. Since I couldn’t turn my head, I closed my eyes, shutting him out. He didn’t care. He kept on flexing against me. The clothes between us and the lack of penetration made me even more aware of the elegant fluidity of his body.
The man knew how to fuck.
Gideon didn’t just shove his big dick in and out of a woman. He worked her with it, exploiting friction, changing angles and depth of penetration. The nuances of his skill were lost when I was writhing beneath him and focused only on the sensations he stoked in my body. But I felt them all now.
I fought against the pleasure, but I couldn’t stifle a moan.
“That’s it, angel,” he coaxed. “Feel how hard I am for you? Feel what you do to me?”
“Don’t use sex to punish me,” I complained, my heels digging into the mattress.
He stilled for a moment, and then his mouth was suckling at my throat, his body undulating as if he were fucking me through our clothes. “I’m not mad, angel.”
“Whatever. You’re pushing me around.”
“And you’re driving me insane. You know what happened when I realized what you’d done?”
I glared at him through slitted eyes. “What?”
“I got hard.”
My eyes opened wide.
“Inconveniently and publicly.” He cupped my breast in his hand, his thumb stroking over the hardened point of my nipple. “I had to drag out a finished discussion while I waited for it to go down. It turns me on when you challenge me, Eva.” His voice lowered and became raspier, dripping with sex and sin. “It makes me want to fuck you. For a very, very long time.”
“God.” My hips pumped upward, my core tightening with the need to come.
“And since I can’t,” he purred, “I’m going to get you off like this, then watch you return the favor with your mouth.”
A whimper escaped me, my mouth watering at the promise of pleasing him that way. He was always so attuned to me when we made love. The only time he really let go and focused on his own pleasure was when I went down on him.
“That’s it,” he murmured, “keep rubbing your cunt against me like that. Christ, you’re so damn hot.”
“Gideon.” My hands were gliding all over his flexing back and buttocks, my body arching and grinding into his. I came with a long and drawn-out moan, the tension breaking in a rush of relief.
His mouth covered mine, drinking in the sounds I made as I shivered beneath him. I clutched his hair, kissing him back.
He rolled us so that he was beneath me, his hands going to his button fly and ripping it open. “Now, Eva.”
I scrambled down the bed, as eager to taste him as he was to have me do so. The moment he shoved his boxer briefs down, I had his penis in my hands, my lips flowing over the wide crest.
Groaning, Gideon grabbed a pillow and shoved it under his head. My gaze met his and I pulled him deeper.
“Yes,” he hissed, the fingers of his right hand tangling in my hair. “Suck it hard and fast; I want to come.”
I breathed in the scent of him, feeling the satiny softness of his heated flesh on my tongue. Then I took him at his word.
Hollowing my cheeks, I took him to the back of my throat, then pulled up to the crown. Over and over. Focusing on suction and speed, as greedy for his orgasm as he was, spurred by the abandoned sounds he made and the sight of his fingers clawing restlessly at the comforter. His hips churned, his hand in my hair guiding my pace.
“Ah, God.” He watched me with dark, hot eyes. “I love the way you suck me off. Like you can’t get enough.”
I couldn’t. I didn’t think I ever could. His pleasure meant so much to me, because it was real and raw. For him, sex had always been staged and methodical. He couldn’t hold back with me because he wanted me beyond reason. Two days without me and he was… undone.
I pumped him with my fist, feeling the thick veins throbbing beneath the smooth skin. A ragged sound tore from his throat and salty warmth spurted on my tongue. He was close, his face flushed and his lips parted with gasping breaths. Sweat misted my brow. My excitement mounted along with his. He was completely at my mercy, near mindless with the need to climax, muttering filthy sexy things about what he was going to do to me the next time he fucked me.
“That’s it, angel. Milk it… make me come for you.” His neck arched, his breath exploding from his lungs.
He came as I had-hard and brutal. Semen burst from the tip of his cock in a thick, hot rush that I struggled to swallow. He growled my name, his hips pumping upward into my working mouth, taking what he needed from me, giving me all he had until he was emptied.
Then he curled toward me, pulling me into a strangling embrace that pinned me to his heaving chest. For long moments, he just held me. I listened as his raging heartbeat slowed and his breathing returned to normal.
Finally, he spoke with his lips in my hair. “Needed that. Thank you.”
I smiled and snuggled into him. “My pleasure, ace.”
“I missed you,” he said softly, his lips pressing to my brow. “So damn much. And not just for this.”
“I know.” We needed this-the physical closeness, the frenzied touching, the rush of orgasm-to release some of the wild, overwhelming emotions that affected us when we were together. “My dad’s coming out to visit next week.”
He stilled. Lifting his head, he looked at me wryly. “You have to tell me that while my dick’s still hanging out?”
I laughed. “Caught you with your pants down?”
“Hell.” He pressed his lips to my forehead, then rolled to his back and righted his clothes. “You have an idea of how you want the first meeting to go? Dinner out or in? Your place or mine?”
“I’ll cook at my place.” I stretched, then tugged the wrinkles out of my shirt.
He nodded, but his vibe changed. My sated, grateful lover of a moment before was replaced by the grim-faced man who’d been around more frequently lately.
“Would you prefer something different?” I asked.
“No. It’s a good plan and what I would’ve suggested. He’ll feel comfortable there.”
“Yes.” He propped his head in one hand and looked down at me, brushing my hair back from my forehead. “I’d rather not hit him in the face with my money if we can help it.”
I took a deep breath. “I hadn’t considered that. I just thought I’d be less anxious about making a mess in my own kitchen than in yours. But you’re right. It’ll be okay, though, Gideon. Once he sees how you feel about me, he’ll be good with us being together.”
“I only care what he thinks if it affects how you feel. If he doesn’t like me and that changes something between us-”
“You’re the only one who can do that.”
He gave a curt nod, which didn’t help me feel better about what he was feeling. A lot of men got nervous meeting their girlfriend’s parents, but Gideon wasn’t like other men. He didn’t rattle. Usually. I wanted him and my dad to be loose and easy around each other, not tense and defensive.
I changed the subject. “Did you get everything worked out in Phoenix?”
“Yes. One of the project managers noted some anomalies in accounting, and she was right to push me to look deeper into it. Embezzling isn’t something I tolerate.”
I winced, thinking of Gideon’s father, who’d bilked investors out of millions before killing himself. “What’s the project?”
“A golf resort.”
“Nightclubs, resorts, luxury living, vodka, casinos… with a chain of gyms thrown in to keep fit for the high life?” I knew from checking out the Cross Industries website that Gideon also had software and games divisions, and a growing social media platform for young urban professionals. “You’re a pleasure god in more ways than one.”
“Pleasure god?” His eyes sparkled with humor. “I spend all my energy worshipping you.”
“How did you get to be so rich?” I blurted out, pricked by the memory of Cary’s insinuations about how Gideon could’ve amassed so much at such a young age.
“People like to have fun, and they’ll pay for the privilege.”
“That’s not what I meant. How did you get Cross Industries started? Where did you get the capital to get things going?”
His eyes took on a speculative gleam. “Where do you think I got it?”
“I have no idea,” I told him honestly.
I blinked. “Gambling? Are you kidding?”
“No.” He laughed and tightened his arms around me.
But I couldn’t see Gideon as a gambler. I’d learned, thanks to my mom’s third husband, that gambling could become a very nasty and insidious disease that caused total lack of control. I just couldn’t see someone as rigidly controlled as Gideon finding anything appealing about something so dependent on luck and chance.
Then it hit me. “You count cards.”
“When I played,” he agreed. “I don’t anymore. And the contacts I made over card tables were as instrumental as the money I made.”
I tried to absorb that information, struggled with it, then let it go for the moment. “Remind me not to play cards with you.”
“Strip poker could be fun.”
He reached down and squeezed my ass. “And for you. You know how I get when you’re naked.”
I shot a pointed glance down at my fully dressed body. “And when I’m not naked.”
Gideon’s grin flashed, dazzling and entirely unapologetic.
“Do you still gamble?”
“Every day. But only in business and with you.”
“With me? With our relationship?”
His gaze was soft on my face, filled with a sudden tenderness that made my throat tight. “You’re the greatest risk I’ve ever taken.” His pressed his lips gently to mine. “And the greatest reward.”
* * *
When I got to work Monday morning, I felt like things were finally settling back into their natural pre-Corinne rhythm. Gideon and I were dealing with adjusting to my period, which had never been an issue for either of us in any previous relationship we’d had, but was in ours because sex was how he showed me what he was feeling. He could say with his body what he couldn’t with words, and my lust for him was how I proved my faith in us, something he needed to feel connected to me.
I could tell him I loved him over and over again, and I know it affected him when I did, but he needed the total surrender of my body-a display of trust he knew meant a great deal because of my past-to really believe it.
As he’d told me once, he had been the recipient of many
“Good morning, Eva.”
I glanced up from my desk and found Mark standing by my cubicle. His slightly crooked smile was always a winner. “Hey. I’m ready to roll when you are.”
“Coffee first. You up for a refill?”
Grabbing my empty mug off my desk, I stood. “You bet.”
We headed toward the break room.
“You look like you got a tan,” Mark said, glancing over at me.
“Yeah, I did a little sun lounging over the weekend. It was good to be lazy and do nothing. Actually, that’s probably one of my favorite things to do, period.”
“I’m envious. Steven can’t sit still for too long. He always wants to drag me somewhere for something.”
“My roommate’s the same way. It’s exhausting how he runs around.”
“Oh, before I forget.” He gestured for me to enter the break room first. “Shawna wants you to get in touch. She’s got concert tickets for some new rock band. I think she wants to see if you’d want them.”
I thought of the attractive red-haired waitress I’d met the week before. She was Steven’s sister, and Steven was Mark’s longtime partner. The two men had met in college and had been together ever since. I really liked Steven. I was pretty sure I’d really like Shawna, too.
“Are you okay with me reaching out to her?” I had to ask, because she was-for all intents and purposes-Mark’s sister-in-law and Mark was my boss.
“Of course. Don’t worry. It won’t be weird.”
“All right.” I smiled and hoped to add another girlfriend to my new life in New York. “Thanks.”
“Thank me with a cup of coffee,” he said, pulling out a mug from the cupboard and handing it to me. “You make it taste better than I do.”
I shot him a look. “My dad uses that line.”
“Must be true, then.”
“Must be a standard guy finagle,” I shot back. “How do you and Steven divvy up coffee making?”
“We don’t.” He grinned. “There’s a Starbucks on the corner by our place.”
“I’m sure there’s a way to call that cheating, but I haven’t had enough caffeine to think of it yet.” I passed over his filled mug to him. “Which probably means I shouldn’t share the idea that just came to me.”
“Go for it. If it really sucks, I can hold it against you forever.”
“Gee. Thanks.” I held my mug between both hands. “Would it work to market the blueberry coffee like tea instead? You know, the coffee in a chintz teacup and saucer with maybe a scone and some clotted cream in the background? Give it a high-end, midafternoon snack sort of treatment? Throw in a fabulously handsome Englishman to sip it with?”
Mark’s lips pursed as he thought about it. “I think I like it. Let’s go run it by the creatives.”
* * *
“Why didn’t you tell me you were going to Las Vegas?”
I sighed inwardly at the high note of irritated anxiety in my mother’s voice and adjusted my grip on my desk phone receiver. I’d barely returned my butt to my chair when the phone had rung. I suspected if I checked my voice mail, I’d find a message or two from her. When she got worked up about something, she couldn’t let it go. “Hi, Mom. I’m sorry. I planned on calling you at lunch and catching up.”
“I love Vegas.”
“You do?” I thought she hated anything remotely related to gambling. “I didn’t know that.”
“You would’ve if you’d asked.”
There was a hurt note in my mother’s breathy voice that made me wince. “I’m sorry, Mom,” I said again, having learned as a child that repeated apologies went a long way with her. “I needed to spend some downtime with Cary. We can talk about a future trip to Vegas, though, if you’d like to go sometime.”
“Wouldn’t that be fun? I’d like to do fun things with you, Eva.”
“I’d like that, too.” My eyes went to the picture of my mother and Stanton. She was a beautiful woman, one who radiated a vulnerable sensuality to which men responded helplessly. The vulnerability was real-my mom was fragile in many ways-but she was a man-eater, too. Men didn’t take advantage of my mom; she walked all over them.
“Do you have plans for lunch? I could make a reservation and come get you.”
“Can I bring a co-worker?” Megumi had hit me up with a lunch invitation when I’d come in, promising to regale me with the tale of her blind date.
“Oh, I’d love to meet the people you work with!”
My mouth curved with genuine affection. My mom drove me nuts a lot, but at the end of the day, her biggest fault was that she loved me too much. Combined with her neurosis, it was a maddening flaw, but one motivated by the best of intentions. “Okay. Pick us up at noon. And remember, we only get an hour, so it’ll have to be close by and quick.”
“I’ll take care of it. I’m excited! See you soon.”
* * *
Megumi and my mother took to each other right away. I recognized the familiar starry-eyed look on Megumi’s face when they met, because I’d seen it so often over the years. Monica Stanton was a stunning woman, the kind of classic beauty you couldn’t help but stare at because you couldn’t believe anyone could be that perfect. Plus, the royal purple hue of the wingback she’d elected to sit in was an amazing backdrop for her golden hair and blue eyes.
For her part, my mom was delighted by Megumi’s fashion sense. While my wardrobe choices leaned more toward traditional and ready-to-wear, Megumi favored unique combinations and color, much like the d?cor of the trendy caf? near Rockefeller Center my mom had taken us to.
The place reminded me of
“I’m still trying to figure out what’s wrong with him,” Megumi went on. “I was looking, let me tell you. I mean a guy that great shouldn’t be slumming it with blind dates.”
“Hardly slumming it,” my mom protested. “I’m sure he’s wondering how he lucked out with you.”
“Thanks!” Megumi grinned at me. “He was seriously hot. Not Gideon Cross hot, but hot all the same.”
“How is Gideon, by the way?”
I didn’t take my mom’s question lightly. She was aware that Gideon knew about the abuse I’d suffered as a child, and she’d taken the news hard. It was her greatest shame that she hadn’t known what was going on under her own roof, and her guilt was enormous, as well as entirely undeserved. She hadn’t known because I’d hidden it. Nathan had made me fear what he’d do if I ever told anyone. Still, my mother was anxious about Gideon’s knowing. I hoped that she’d soon come to realize that Gideon didn’t hold it against her any more than I did.
“He’s working hard,” I answered. “You know how it is. I’ve taken up a lot of his time since we hooked up, and I think he’s paying for it now.”
“You’re worth it.”
I took a large gulp of my water when I felt the nearly overwhelming urge to tell her that my dad was coming to visit. She’d be an ally in convincing him of Gideon’s affection for me, but that was a selfish reason to say anything. I had no idea how she would react to Victor’s being in New York, but it was highly possible she’d be distressed, and that would make everyone’s life hell. Whatever her reasons, she preferred to have no contact with him whatsoever. I couldn’t ignore how she’d managed to avoid seeing or talking to him since I’d become old enough to communicate with him directly.
“I saw a picture of Cary on the side of a bus yesterday,” she said.
“Really?” I sat up straighter. “Where?”
“On Broadway. A jeans ad, I think it was.”
“I saw one, too,” Megumi said. “Not that I paid any attention to what he was wearing. That man is
The conversation made me smile. My mother was adept at admiring men. It was one of the many reasons they adored her-she made them feel good. Megumi was more than her match in the guy-appreciation department.
“He’s been getting recognized on the street,” I said, glad that in this case we were talking about an ad and not a tabloid candid with me. The gossips thought it was so juicy that Gideon Cross’s girlfriend lived with a sexy male model.
“Of course,” my mom said, with a slight note of chastisement. “You didn’t doubt he would eventually?”
“I’d hoped,” I qualified. “For his sake. It’s a sad fact that male models don’t make as much or work as often as the women do.” Although I’d expected Cary would break through somehow. Emotionally, he couldn’t afford not to. He’d learned to put so much value on his looks that I didn’t think he could allow himself to fail. It was one of my deepest fears that his career choice would come back to haunt him in ways neither of us could bear.
My mother took a delicate sip of her Pellegrino. The caf? specialized in cacao-laced menu items, but she was careful not to waste her daily calorie allotment on one meal. I was less cautious. I’d ordered a soup and sandwich combination plus a dessert that was going to cost me at least an extra hour on the treadmill later. I excused the indulgence with a mental reminder that I was on my period, which was a carte blanche chocolate zone in my opinion.
“So,” Monica smiled at Megumi, “will you be seeing your blind date again?”
“I hope so.”
“Darling, don’t leave it to chance!”
As my mom started doling out her wisdom in regard to managing men, I sat back and enjoyed the show. She was of the firm belief that every woman deserved to have a wealthy man to dote on her, and for the first time in forever, she wasn’t concentrating her matchmaking efforts on me. While I was worried about how my dad and Gideon would hit it off, I had no concerns about my mom’s feelings on the matter. We both thought I was with the right guy for me, although for different reasons.
“Your mom rocks,” Megumi said, when Monica ducked into the ladies’ room to freshen up before we left. “And you look just like her, lucky you. How bad would it suck to have a mom who’s hotter than you are?”
Laughing, I told her, “I’ll have to drag you along with us again. This worked out great.”
“I’d like that.”
When it was time to go, I looked at Clancy and the town car waiting at the curb for us and realized I wanted to walk off some of my lunch before I got back to work. “I think I’m going to hoof it back,” I told them. “I ate too much. You two go on without me.”
“I’ll go with you,” Megumi said. “I could use the air, hot as it is. That canned air in the office makes my skin dry.”
“I’ll come, too,” my mom offered.
I eyed her delicate heels skeptically, but then again, my mom wore nothing but heels. For her, walking in those was probably the same as walking in flats was to me.
We headed back to the Crossfire at the standard stride rate for Manhattan, which was something of a steady, purposeful clip. While weaving around human obstacles was usually part of the process, it was far less of an issue with my mom in the lead. Men moved reverently off to the side for her, then followed her with their eyes. In her simple, sexy wrap dress of ice blue, she looked cool and refreshing in the humid heat.
We’d just turned the corner to reach the Crossfire when she came to an abrupt halt that caused Megumi and me to crash into the back of her. She stumbled forward, wobbling, and I barely caught her by the elbow before she teetered over.
I looked at the ground to see what had held her up, but when I didn’t see anything I looked at her. She was staring at the Crossfire in a daze.
“Jesus, Mom,” I urged her out of the flow of pedestrians. “You’re white as a sheet. Is the heat getting to you? Do you feel dizzy?”
“What?” Her hand went to her throat. Her dilated gaze remained fixed to the Crossfire.
Turning my head, I followed her line of sight, trying to see whatever it was that she did.
“What are you two looking at?” Megumi asked, frowning down the street.
“Mrs. Stanton.” Clancy approached, having abandoned the town car he’d been driving at a safe but discreet distance behind us. “Is everything all right?”
“Did you see-?” she began, looking to him with her question.
“See what?” I demanded, as his head snapped up and his trained gaze raked the length of the street. The absoluteness of his focus sent a shiver down my spine.
“Let me drive you three the rest of the way,” he said quietly.
The entrance to the Crossfire was literally across the street, but something in Clancy’s tone brooked no argument. We all climbed in, with my mother taking the front seat.
“What was that about?” Megumi asked after we’d been dropped off and had moved into the cool interior of the building. “Your mom looked like she’d seen a ghost.”
“I have no idea.” But I felt ill.
Something had frightened my mother. It was going to drive me crazy until I found out what it was.