I had to get up before dawn Tuesday morning. I left a note for Cary where he’d see it as soon as he woke up, then headed out to grab a cab back to our place. I showered, dressed, made coffee, and tried to talk myself out of feeling like something was off. I was stressed and suffering from lack of sleep, which always led to tiny bouts of depression.
I told myself that it had nothing to do with Gideon, but the knot in my stomach said differently.
Looking at the clock, I saw it was a little after eight. I’d have to leave soon, because Gideon hadn’t called or texted to say that he’d be giving me a ride. It had been almost twenty-four hours since I’d last seen him or even really talked to him. The call I’d made to him at nine the night before had been less than brief. He’d been in the middle of something and barely said hello and good-bye.
I knew he had a lot of work to do. I knew I shouldn’t resent him for having to pay for the time away with extra hours of work getting caught up. He’d done a lot to help me deal with Cary’s situation, more than anyone could’ve expected. It was up to me to deal with how I was feeling about it.
Finishing my coffee, I rinsed out my mug, then grabbed my purse and bag on the way out. My tree-lined street was quiet, but the rest of New York was wide awake, its ceaseless energy thrumming with a tangible force. Women in chic office wear and men in suits tried to hail taxis that streaked by, before settling for packed buses or the subway instead. Flower stands exploded with brilliant color, the sight of them always capable of cheering me up in the morning, as did the sight and smell of the neighborhood bakery, which was doing a brisk business at that hour.
I was a little ways down Broadway before my phone rang.
The little thrill that shot through me at the sight of Gideon’s name quickened my steps. “Hey, stranger.”
“Where the hell are you?” he snapped.
A frisson of unease dampened my excitement. “I’m on my way to work.”
“Why?” He spoke to someone offline, then, “Are you in a cab?”
“I’m walking. Jeez. Did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed or what?”
“You should have waited to be picked up.”
“I didn’t hear from you, and I didn’t want to be late after missing work yesterday.”
“You could’ve called me instead of just taking off.” His voice was low and angry.
I became angry, too. “The last time I called, you were too busy to give me more than a minute of your time.”
“I’ve got things to take care of, Eva. Give me a break.”
“Sure thing. How about now?” I hung up and dropped my phone back into my bag.
It began ringing again immediately and I ignored it, my blood simmering. When the Bentley pulled up beside me a few minutes later, I kept walking. It followed, the front passenger window sliding down.
Angus leaned over. “Miss Tramell, please.”
I paused, looking at him. “Are you alone?”
With a sigh, I got in the car. My phone was still ringing nonstop, so I reached in and shut the ringer off. One block later, I heard Gideon’s voice coming through the car’s speakers.
“Do you have her?”
“Yes, sir,” Angus replied.
The line cut out.
“What the hell crawled up his ass and died?” I asked, looking at Angus in the rearview mirror.
“He’s got a lot on his mind.”
Whatever it was, it sure wasn’t me. I couldn’t believe what a jerk he was being. He’d been curt on the phone the night before, too, but not rude.
Within a few minutes after I arrived at work, Mark came up to my cubicle. “I’m sorry to hear about your roommate,” he said, setting a fresh cup of coffee on my desk. “Is he going to be all right?”
“Eventually. Cary’s tough; he’ll pull through.” I dropped my stuff in the bottom drawer of my desk and picked up the steaming mug with gratitude. “Thank you. And thanks for yesterday, too.”
His dark eyes were warm with concern. “I’m surprised you’re here today.”
“I need to work.” I managed a smile, despite feeling all twisted up and achy inside. Nothing was right in my world when things weren’t right between me and Gideon. “Catch me up on what I missed.”
* * *
The morning passed swiftly. I had a checklist of follow-ups waiting from the week before, and Mark had an eleven thirty deadline to turn around a request for proposal for a promotional items manufacturer. By the time we sent the RFP off, I was back in the groove and willing to just forget Gideon’s mood that morning. I wondered if he’d had another nightmare and hadn’t slept well. I decided call him when lunchtime rolled around, just in case.
And then I checked my inbox.
The Google alert I’d set up for Gideon’s name was waiting for me. I opened the e-mail hoping to get an idea of what he might be working on. The words
I clicked on the first link, and it took me to a gossip blog sporting pictures of Gideon and Corinne having dinner at Tableau One. They sat close together in the front window, her hand resting intimately on his forearm. He was wearing the suit he’d worn to the hospital the day before, but I checked the date anyway, desperately hoping the photos were old. They weren’t.
My palms began to sweat. I tortured myself by clicking through all the links and studying every photo I found. He was smiling in a few of them, looking remarkably content for a man whose girlfriend was at a hospital with her beaten-half-to-death best friend. I felt like throwing up. Or screaming. Or storming up to Gideon’s office and asking him what the hell was going on.
He’d blown me off when I’d called him the night before-to go to dinner with his ex.
I jumped when my desk phone rang. I picked it up and woodenly recited, “Mark Garrity’s office, Eva Tramell speaking.”
“Eva.” It was Megumi in reception, sounding as bubbly as usual. “There’s someone asking for you downstairs-Brett Kline.”
I sat there for a long minute, letting that sink into my fevered brain. I forwarded the alert digest to Gideon’s e-mail so he’d know that I knew. Then I said, “I’ll be right down.”
* * *
I saw Brett in the lobby the minute I pushed through the security turnstiles. He wore black jeans and a Six-Ninths T-shirt. Sunglasses hid his eyes, but the spiky hair with its bleached tips was eye-catching, as was his body. Brett was tall and muscular, more muscular than Gideon, who was powerful without any bulk.
Brett’s hands came out of his pockets when he saw me coming, his posture straightening. “Hey. Look at you.”
I glanced down at my cap-sleeved dress with its flattering ruching and acknowledged that he’d never seen me dressed up. “I’m surprised you’re still in town.”
More surprised that he’d looked me up, but I didn’t say that. I was glad he had, because I’d been worried about him.
“We sold out our Jones Beach show over the weekend, then played the Meadowlands last night. I skipped out on the guys because I wanted to see you before we head south. I searched for you online, found out where you worked, and came up.”
His answer came quickly and fervently, which set off a little warning. I was pissed, extremely hurt, and eager to retaliate against Gideon, but I didn’t want to mislead Brett. Still, I couldn’t resist taking him to the restaurant where Cary and I had once been photographed together, in the hopes of getting caught by the paparazzi again. It would serve Gideon right to see what it felt like.
On the cab ride over, Brett asked about Cary and wasn’t surprised to learn that my best friend had moved across the country with me.
“You two were always inseparable,” he said. “Except when he was getting laid. Tell him I said hi.”
“Sure.” I didn’t mention that Cary was in the hospital, because it felt too private to share.
It wasn’t until we were seated in the restaurant that Brett took off his shades, so that was the first time I got a glimpse of the shiner that encompassed the area from his right eyebrow down to his cheekbone.
“Jesus,” I breathed, wincing. “I’m sorry.”
He shrugged. “Makeup made it disappear on stage. And you’ve seen me with worse. Besides, I got a couple good hits in, didn’t I?”
Remembering the bruising on Gideon’s jaw and back, I nodded. “You did.”
“So…” He paused as the waiter came by and dropped off two glasses and a chilled bottle of water. “You’re dating Gideon Cross.”
I wondered why that question always seemed to pop up at a time when I wasn’t sure the relationship would last another minute. “We’ve been seeing each other.”
“Is it serious?”
“Sometimes it seems that way,” I said honestly. “Are you seeing anyone?”
We took some time to read the menu and place our orders. The restaurant was busy and noisy, the background music barely heard over the hum of conversation and clatter of plates from the nearby kitchen. We looked across the table at each other, sizing one another up. I felt the thrum of attraction between us. When he wet his lips with the tip of his tongue, I knew he was aware of it, too.
“Why did you write ‘Golden’?” I asked suddenly, unable to hold back my curiosity a moment longer. I’d been playing it off as nothing big with both Gideon and Cary, but it was driving me crazy.
Brett sat back in his chair. “Because I think about you a lot. I can’t stop thinking about you actually.”
“I don’t understand why.”
“We had it going on for six months, Eva. That’s the longest I’ve ever been with someone.”
“But we weren’t
His mouth thinned. “I understand what I was to you, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t get hurt.”
I stared at him for a long minute, my heart beating too quickly in my chest. “I feel like I’m stoned or something. The way I remember it, we’d hook up after shows, then you’d go about your business. And if I wasn’t there to put out, you’d grab someone else.”
He leaned forward. “Bullshit. I tried getting you to hang out. I was always asking you to stick around.”
I took a couple of quick, deep breaths to calm myself down. I could hardly believe that now, almost four years too late, Brett Kline was talking to me like I’d once wanted him to. We were out in public together, having a meal, almost like a date. It was messing with my head, which was already confused and scattered because of Gideon.
“I had the biggest crush on you, Brett. I wrote your name with little hearts around it like a lovesick teenager. I wanted desperately to be your girlfriend.”
“Are you kidding me?” He reached out and caught my hand. “What the fuck happened, then?”
I looked down at where he was absently twirling the ring Gideon had given me. “Remember when we went to the pool hall?”
“Yeah. How could I forget that?” He bit his lower lip, clearly recalling how I’d fucked his brains out in the back of his car, determined to be the best lay he’d ever had so he wouldn’t bother with other girls. “I thought we were getting to the point where we’d start seeing each other outside the bar, but you ditched me the minute we got inside.”
“I went to the bathroom,” I said quietly, remembering the pain and embarrassment as if the incident had just happened, “and when I came out you and Darrin were at the change machine getting quarters for the tables. Your back was to me so you didn’t see me. I heard you guys talking… and laughing.”
I pulled in a deep breath and tugged my hand away from him.
To his credit, Brett shifted in obvious embarrassment. “I can’t remember exactly what was said, but… Shit, Eva. I was twenty-one years old. The band was just starting to get popular. The chicks were everywhere.”
“I know,” I said dryly. “I was one of them.”
“I’d been with you a few times by then. Bringing you along to the pool hall made a statement to the guys that things were picking up between us.” He rubbed at his brow in a very familiar gesture. “I didn’t have the balls to own up to how I was feeling about you. I made it about the sex, but that wasn’t true.”
I lifted my glass and drank, forcing down the lump in my throat.
His hand dropped onto the armrest. “So I screwed it up with my big mouth. That’s why you bailed that night. That’s why you never went anywhere with me again.”
“I was desperate, Brett,” I admitted, “but I didn’t want to show it.”
The waiter brought our food. I wondered why I’d ordered anything-I was too unsettled to eat.
Brett started cutting into his steak, attacking it really. Suddenly, he set his knife and fork down. “I blew it back then, but now everyone knows what was going on in my head at the time. ‘Golden’ is our biggest single. It’s what got us signed with Vidal.”
The idea of closure made me smile. “It’s a beautiful song, and your voice sounds amazing when you sing it. I’m really glad you came up and saw me again before you head out. It means a lot to me that we talked through this.”
“What if I don’t want to just head out and move on?” He took a deep breath and released it in a rush. “You’ve been my muse the last few years, Eva. Because of you, I’ve written the best material the band’s ever had.”
“That’s very flattering,” I began.
“We sizzled together. Still do. I know you feel it. The way you kissed me the other night…”
“That was a mistake.” My hands clenched beneath the table. I couldn’t deal with more drama. I couldn’t go through another night like Friday. “And you need to think about the fact that Gideon controls your label. You don’t want any friction there.”
“Fuck it. What’s he going to do?” His fingertips drummed onto the table. “I want another shot with you.”
I shook my head and reached for my purse. “That’s impossible. Even if I didn’t have a boyfriend, I’m not the right girl for your lifestyle, Brett. I’m too high-maintenance.”
“I remember,” he said roughly. “God, do I remember.”
I flushed. “That’s not what I meant.”
“And that’s not all I want. I can be here for you. Look at me now-the band’s on the road, but you and I are together. I can make time. I want to.”
“It’s not that easy.” I pulled cash out of my wallet and dropped it on the table. “You don’t know me. You have no idea what it would mean to have a relationship with me, how much work it would take.”
“Try me,” he challenged.
“I’m needy and clingy and insanely jealous. I’d drive you crazy within a week.”
“You’ve always driven me crazy. I like it.” His smile faded. “Stop running, Eva. Give me a chance.”
I met his gaze and held it. “I’m in love with Gideon.”
His brows rose. Even battered, his face was breathtaking. “I don’t believe you.”
“I’m sorry. I have to go.” I pushed to my feet and moved to pass him.
He caught my elbow. “Eva-”
“Please don’t make a scene,” I whispered, regretting my impetuous decision to eat at a popular place.
“You didn’t eat.”
“I can’t. I need to leave.”
“Fine. But I’m not giving up.” He released me. “I make mistakes, but I learn from them.”
I bent over and said firmly, “There’s no chance. None.”
Brett stabbed his fork into a slice of his steak. “Prove it.”
* * *
The Bentley was waiting at the curb when I stepped out of the restaurant. Angus climbed out and opened the rear door for me.
“How did you know where I was?” I asked, unsettled by his unexpected appearance.
His answer was to smile kindly and touch the brim of his chauffeur’s hat.
“This is creepy, Angus,” I complained as I slid into the backseat.
“I don’t disagree, Miss Tramell. I’m just doing my job.”
I texted Cary on the ride back to the Crossfire: Had lunch with Brett. He wants another chance w/me.
Cary replied, When it rains it pours…
Whole day = royally fucked, I typed. I want a do-over.
My phone rang. It was Cary.
“Baby girl,” he drawled. “I want to sympathize, I do, but the love triangle thing is just too delicious. The determined rock star and the possessive billionaire.
“Oh God. Hanging up now.”
“See you tonight?”
“Yes. Please don’t make me regret it.” I hung up to the sound of his laughter, secretly thrilled to hear him sounding so happy. Trey’s visit must have worked wonders.
Angus dropped me off at the curb in front of the Crossfire, and I hurried out of the heat into the cool lobby. I managed to catch an open elevator just before the doors closed. There were a half dozen other people in the car with me, forming two groups that chatted among themselves. I stood in the front corner and tried to put my personal life out of my mind. I couldn’t deal with it at work.
“Hey, we passed our floor,” the girl next to me said.
I looked at the needle over the door.
The guy nearest the control panel stabbed repeatedly at all the numbers, but none of them lit up… except for the one for the top floor. “The buttons aren’t working.”
My pulse quickened.
“Use the emergency phone,” one of the other girls said.
The car raced up and the butterflies in my stomach got worse with every floor we passed. The elevator finally came to a gliding stop at the top and the doors opened.
Gideon stood on the threshold, his face a gorgeous impassive mask. His eyes were brilliantly blue… and cold as ice. The sight of him took my breath away.
No one in the car said a word. I didn’t move, praying the doors would hurry up and close. Gideon reached in, grabbed my elbow, and hauled me out. I struggled, too furious to want anything to do with him. The doors closed behind me and he let me go.
“Your behavior today has been appalling,” he growled.
I crossed over to the call buttons and hit the down button. It wouldn’t stay lit.
“I’m talking to you, Eva.”
I glanced at the security doors to Cross Industries and was relieved to see that the redheaded receptionist was away from her station.
“Really?” I faced him, hating that I could still find him so irresistibly attractive when he was being so ugly. “Funny how that doesn’t lead to me actually learning anything-like about you going out with Corinne last night.”
“You shouldn’t be snooping online about me,” he bit out. “You’re deliberately trying to find something to get upset about.”
“So your actions aren’t the problem?” I shot back, feeling the pressure of tears at the back of my throat. “Just my finding out about them is?”
His arms crossed. “You need to trust me, Eva.”
“You’re making that impossible! Why didn’t you tell me that you were going out to dinner with Corinne?”
“Because I knew you wouldn’t like it.”
“But you did it anyway.” And that hurt. After all we’d talked about over the weekend… after he’d said that he understood how I felt…
“And you went out with Brett Kline knowing
“What did I tell you? You’re setting the precedent for how I handle my exes.”
“Tit for tat? What a remarkable show of maturity.”
I stumbled back from him. There was none of the Gideon I knew in the man facing me. It felt as if the man I loved had disappeared and the man standing in front of me was a total stranger in Gideon’s body.
“You’re making me hate you,” I whispered. “Stop it.”
Something passed briefly over Gideon’s face, but it was gone before I could identify it. I let his body language do the talking for him. He stood far from me, with his shoulders stiff and his jaw tight.
My heart bled and my gaze dropped. “I can’t be around you right now. Let me go.”
Gideon moved to the other bank of elevators and pushed the call button. With his back to me and his attention on the indicator arrow, he said, “Angus will pick you up every morning. Wait for him. And I prefer that you eat lunch at your desk. It’s best if you’re not running around right now.”
“I have a lot of things on my plate at the moment-”
“Like dinner with Corinne?”
“-and I can’t be worrying about you,” he went on, ignoring my interruption. “I don’t think I’m asking too much.”
Something was wrong.
“Gideon, why won’t you talk to me?” I reached out and touched his shoulder, only to have him jerk away as if I’d burned him. More than anything else, his rejection of my touch wounded me deeply. “Tell me what’s going on. If there’s a problem-”
“The problem is that I don’t know where the hell you are half the time!” he snapped, turning to scowl at me as the elevator doors opened. “Your roommate is in the hospital. Your dad is coming to visit. Just… focus on that.”
I stepped into the elevator with burning eyes. Aside from pulling me out of the elevator when it first arrived, Gideon hadn’t touched me. He hadn’t run his fingertips down my cheek or made any attempt to kiss me. And he made no mention of wanting to see me later, skipping right over the rest of the day to tell me about Angus waiting for me in the morning.
I’d never been so confused. I couldn’t figure out what was happening, why there was suddenly this huge gulf between us, why Gideon was so tense and angry, why he didn’t seem to care that I’d had lunch with Brett.
Why he didn’t seem to care about anything at all.
The doors started to close.
Had he breathed those words in the second before the doors shut? Or did I just wish that he had?
* * *
The moment I walked into Cary’s private room, he knew I was running on fumes. I’d endured a tough Krav Maga session with Parker, then stopped by the apartment only long enough to shower and eat a tasteless instant-ramen meal. The shock of the salt and carbs to my system after a day without food was more than enough to exhaust me past the point of no return.
“You look like shit,” he said, muting the television.
“Look who’s talking,” I shot back, feeling too raw to take any criticism.
“I got hit with a baseball bat. What’s your excuse?”
I arranged the pillow and scratchy blanket on my cot, then told him about my day from beginning to end.
“And I haven’t heard from Gideon since,” I finished wearily. “Even Brett got in touch with me after lunch. He left an envelope at the security desk with his phone number in it.”
He’d also included the cash I left at the restaurant.
“Are you going to call him?” Cary asked.
“I don’t want to think about Brett!” I sprawled on my back on the cot and shoved my hands through my hair. “I want to know what’s wrong with Gideon. He’s had a total personality transplant in the last thirty-six hours!”
“Maybe it’s this.”
I lifted my head off the pillow and saw him pointing at something on his bedside table. Rolling to my feet, I checked it out-a local gay periodical.
“Trey brought that over today,” he said.
Cary’s picture capped a front-page piece covering his attack-including speculation that the assault might have been a hate crime. His living situation with me and my romantic entanglement with Gideon Cross were mentioned, for no other reason, it seemed, than for a salacious punch.
“It’s on their website, too,” he added quietly. “I figure someone at the agency gossiped, and it spread and turned into someone’s political crap. Honestly, I’m having a hard time imagining Cross giving a shit-”
“About your sexual orientation? He doesn’t. He’s not like that.”
“But his PR people might feel differently. Could be why he wants to keep you under the radar. And if he’s worried that someone might go after you to get to me, that explains why he wants to keep you tucked away and off the streets.”
“Why wouldn’t he tell me that?” I set the paper down. “Why is he being such a prick? Everything was so wonderful while we were gone.
“I’m not the guy to ask, Eva.” Cary grabbed my hand and squeezed. “He’s the one with the answers.”
“You’re right.” I went to my purse and pulled out my phone. “I’ll be back in a bit.”
I went to the little enclosed balcony off the visitors’ waiting area and called Gideon. The phone rang and rang, eventually going to voice mail. I tried his home number instead. After the third ring, Gideon answered.
“Cross,” he said curtly.
There was silence for the length of a heartbeat, then, “Hang on.”
I heard a door open. The sound on the phone changed-he’d stepped away from wherever he’d been.
“Is everything all right?” he asked.
“No.” I rubbed at my tired eyes. “I miss you.”
He sighed. “I… I can’t talk now, Eva.”
“Why not? I don’t understand why you’re acting so cold to me. Did I do something wrong?” I heard murmuring and realized he’d muffled the receiver to talk to someone else. A horrible feeling of betrayal tightened my chest, making it hard to breathe. “Gideon. Who’s at your place with you?”
“I have to go.”
“Tell me who’s there with you!”
“Angus will be at the hospital at seven. Get some sleep, angel.”
The line went dead.
I lowered my hand and stared at my phone, as if it could somehow reveal to me what the fuck had just happened.
I made it back to Cary’s room, felt weighted down and miserable as I pushed open the door.
Cary took one look at me and sighed. “You look like your puppy just died, baby girl.”
The dam broke. I started sobbing.