Chapter 14

I hardly slept all night. I tossed and turned, drifting in and out of consciousness. The frequent nurse visits to check on Cary also woke me. His brain scans and lab reports were looking good and there was nothing absolutely definitive to worry about, but I hadn’t been there for him when he’d first gotten hurt. I felt like I needed to be there for him now, sleep or no sleep.

Just before six, I gave up and got out of bed.

Grabbing my tablet and wireless keyboard, I headed down to the cafeteria for coffee. I pulled up a chair at one of the tables and prepared to write a letter to Gideon. In the short amounts of time I’d managed to pin him down the last couple of days, I hadn’t been able to get my thoughts across to him. Writing it all out would have to be the way it got done. Maintaining steady, open communication was the only way we were going to survive as a couple.

I sipped my coffee and began typing, starting with my thanks for the beautiful weekend away and how much it meant to me. I told him how I thought our relationship had taken a massive leap forward during the trip, which only made the week’s backslide harder to bear-

“Eva. What a pleasant surprise!”

Turning my head, I found Dr. Terrence Lucas standing behind me holding a disposable coffee cup like the one I’d filled for myself. He was dressed for work in slacks and tie with a white lab coat. “Hi,” I greeted him, hoping I hid my wariness.

“Mind if I join you?” he asked, rounding me.

“Not at all.”

I watched him take the seat beside me, and I refreshed my memory of his appearance. His hair was pure white, without a hint of gray, but his handsome face was unlined. His eyes were an unusual shade of green and they were keen with intelligence. His smile was both reassuring and charming. I suspected he was popular with his patients-and their mothers.

“There has to be some special reason,” he began, “for you to be in the hospital long before visiting hours.”

“My roommate’s here.” I didn’t volunteer any more information, but he guessed.

“So Gideon Cross threw his money around and made arrangements for you.” He shook his head and took a sip of his coffee. “And you’re grateful. But what will it cost you?”

I sat back, offended on Gideon’s behalf that his generosity was reduced to having an ulterior motive. “Why do you two dislike each other so much?”

His eyes lost their softness. “He hurt someone very close to me.”

“Your wife. He told me.” I could tell that startled him. “But that wasn’t the beginning, was it? That was a result.”

“You know what he did, and you’re still with him?” Lucas set his elbows on the table. “He’s doing the same thing to you. You look exhausted and depressed. That’s part of the game to him, you know. He’s an expert at worshipping a woman as if he needs her to breathe. Then suddenly he can’t bear the sight of her.”

The statement was a painfully accurate description of my present reality with Gideon. My pulse quickened.

His gaze slid to my throat, then back to my face. His mouth curved in a mocking, knowing smile. “You’ve experienced what I’m talking about. He’s going to continue to play with you until you rely on his mood to gauge your own. Then he’ll get bored and dump you.”

“What happened between you?” I asked again, knowing that was key.

“Gideon Cross is a narcissistic sociopath,” he went on as if I hadn’t spoken. “I believe he’s a misogynist. He uses his money to seduce women, then despises them for being shallow enough to find his wealth attractive. He uses sex to control, and you never know what sort of mood you’ll find him in. That’s part of the rush-when you’re always steeling yourself for the worst, you psych yourself up for a surge of relief when he’s at his best.”

“You don’t know him,” I said smoothly, refusing to take the bait. “And neither does your wife.”

“Neither do you.” He sat back and drank his coffee, appearing as unruffled as I tried to be. “No one does. He’s a master manipulator and liar. Don’t underestimate him. He’s a twisted, dangerous man capable of just about anything.”

“The fact that you won’t explain his grudge against you makes me think you’re at fault.”

“You shouldn’t make assumptions. There are some things I’m not at liberty to discuss.”

“That’s convenient.”

He sighed. “I’m not your adversary, Eva, and Cross doesn’t need anyone to fight his battles. You don’t have to believe me. Frankly, I’m so bitter I wouldn’t believe me if I were in your place. But you’re a beautiful, smart young lady.”

I hadn’t been lately, but it was my responsibility to fix that. Or walk.

“If you take a step back,” he continued, “and look at what he’s doing to you, how you’re feeling about yourself since you’ve been with him, and whether you’re truly fulfilled by your relationship, you’ll come to your own conclusions.”

Something beeped and he pulled his smartphone out of his coat pocket. “Ah, my latest patient has just entered the world.”

He pushed to his feet and looked down at me, setting his hand on my shoulder. “You’ll be the one who gets away. I’m glad.”

I watched him walk briskly out of the cafeteria and collapsed into the seat back the moment he disappeared from view, deflating from exhaustion and confusion. My gaze moved to the sleeping screen of my tablet. I didn’t have the energy to finish my letter.

I packed up and went to get ready for Angus’s arrival.

* * *

“You up for Chinese?”

I looked up from the layout of the blueberry coffee ad on my desk into the warm brown eyes of my boss. I realized it was Wednesday, our usual day to go eat with Steven.

For a second, I considered bowing out and eating at my desk because I wanted to make Gideon happy. But just as quickly, I knew I’d resent him if I did. I was still trying to build a new life in New York, which included making friends and having plans that existed outside the life I shared with him.

“Always up for Chinese,” I said. My very first meal with Mark and Steven had been Chinese takeout here in the office, on a night when we’d worked well past closing and Steven had stopped by to feed us.

Mark and I headed out at noon, and I refused to feel guilty about something I enjoyed so much. Steven was waiting for us at the restaurant, seated at a round table with a lacquered lazy Susan in the middle.

“Hey, you.” He greeted me with a big bear hug, then pulled a chair out for me. He studied me as we both sat down. “You look tired.”

I guessed I must really look like shit, since everyone kept telling me that. “It’s been a rough week so far.”

The waitress came by and Steven ordered a dim sum appetizer and the same dishes we’d shared for that first late-evening meal-kung pao chicken and broccoli beef. When we were alone again, Steven said, “I didn’t know your roommate was gay. Did you tell us that?”

“He’s bi, actually.” I realized Steven, or someone he knew, must have seen the same newspaper Cary had showed me. “I don’t think it came up.”

“How’s he feeling?” Mark asked, looking genuinely concerned.

“Better. He might be coming home today.” Which was something that had been weighing on me all morning, since Gideon hadn’t called to tell me definitively one way or the other.

“Let us know if you need any help,” Steven said, all traces of levity gone. “We’re here for you.”

“Thank you. It wasn’t a hate crime,” I clarified. “I don’t know where the reporter got that. I used to respect journalists. Now, so few of them do their homework, and fewer still can write objectively.”

“I’m sure it’s tough living in the media spotlight.” Steven squeezed my hand on the table. He was a gregarious, playful fellow, but beneath that fun exterior was a solid man with a kind heart. “But then you have to kinda expect it when you’re juggling rock stars and billionaires.”

“Steven,” Mark scolded, frowning.

“Ugh.” My nose wrinkled. “Shawna told you.”

“Of course she did,” Steven said. “Least she can do after not inviting me along to the concert. But don’t worry. She’s not a gossip. She won’t be telling anyone else.”

I nodded, having no anxiety about that. Shawna was good people, but it was still embarrassing having my boss know I’d kissed one man while dating another.

“Not that it would be a bad thing for Cross to get a taste of his own medicine,” Steven muttered.

I frowned, confused. Then I caught Mark’s sympathetic gaze.

I realized the gay newspaper wasn’t the only news they’d seen. They must have seen the photos of Gideon and Corinne, too. I felt my face flush with humiliation.

“He’ll get a taste,” I muttered. “If I have to cram it down his throat.”

Steven’s brows shot up, and then he laughed and patted my hand. “Get him, girl.”

* * *

I’d barely returned to my desk when my work phone rang.

“Mark Garrity’s office, Eva-”

“Why is it so damn difficult for you to follow orders?” Gideon asked harshly.

I just sat there, staring at the collage of photos he’d given me, pictures of us looking connected and in love.

“Eva?”

“What do you want from me, Gideon?” I asked quietly.

There was a moment of silence, then he exhaled. “Cary will be moved to your apartment this afternoon under the supervision of his doctor and a private nurse. He should be there when you get home.”

“Thank you.” Another stretch of quiet filled the line between us, but he didn’t hang up. Finally, I queried, “Are we done?”

The question had a double meaning. I wondered if he caught that or even cared.

“Angus will give you a ride home.”

My grip tightened on the phone. “Good-bye, Gideon.”

I hung up and got back to work.

* * *

I checked on Cary the minute I got home. His bed had been moved aside and propped vertically against the wall to make room for a hospital bed that he could adjust at will. He was asleep when I came in, his nurse sitting in a new recliner and reading an e-book. It was the same nurse I’d seen the first night in the hospital, the pretty and exotic-looking one who had trouble taking her eyes off Gideon.

I wondered when he’d spoken to her-if he’d done it himself or sent someone else to do it-and whether she’d agreed for the money or for Gideon or both.

The fact that I was too tired to care one way or another said a lot about my own disconnection. Maybe there were people out there whose love could survive anything, but mine was fragile. It needed to be nurtured in order to thrive and grow.

I took a long, hot shower, then crawled into bed. I pulled my tablet onto my lap and tried to continue my letter to Gideon. I wanted to express my thoughts and reservations in a mature and cogent way. I wanted to make it easy for him to understand my reactions to some of the things he did and said, so he could see things from my point of view.

In the end, I didn’t have the energy.

I’m not elaborating any more, I wrote instead, because if I keep going, I’ll beg. And if you don’t know me well enough to know that you’re hurting me, a letter isn’t going to fix our problems.

I’m desperate for you. I’m miserable without you. I think about the weekend, and the hours we spent together, and I can’t think of anything I wouldn’t do to have you like that again. Instead, you’re spending time with HER, while I’m alone on my fourth night without you.

Even knowing you’ve been with her, I want to crawl on my knees for you and beg for scraps. A touch. A kiss. One tender word. You’ve made me that weak.

I hate myself like this. I hate that I need you this much. I hate that I’m so obsessed with you.

I hate that I love you.

Eva

I attached it to an e-mail with the subject line My thoughts-uncensored and hit send.

* * *

“Don’t be afraid.”

I woke to those three words and utter darkness. The mattress dipped as Gideon sat beside me, leaning over me with his arms bracketing my body and the blankets between us, a cocoon and barrier that allowed my mind to wake without fear. The delicious and unmistakable fragrance of his soap and shampoo mixed with the scent of his skin, soothing me along with his voice.

“Angel.” He took my mouth, his lips slanting over mine.

I touched his chest with my fingers, feeling bare skin. He groaned and stood, bending over me so his mouth stayed connected to mine while he yanked the blankets off and away.

Then he was settling over me, his body nude and hot to the touch. His ardent mouth moved down my throat, his hands pushing up my camisole so he could get to my breasts. His lips surrounded my nipple and he suckled, his weight supported by one forearm on the mattress, his other hand pushing between my legs.

He cupped my sex, his fingertip gliding over the satin along the seam of my cleft. His tongue flickered over my nipple, making it hard and tight, his teeth sinking lightly into the taut flesh.

“Gideon!” Tears slid in rivulets down my temples, the protective numbness I’d felt earlier falling away, leaving me exposed. I’d been withering without him, the world around me losing its vibrancy, my body hurting from its separation from his. Having him with me… touching me… was like rain in a drought. My soul unfurled for him, opening wide to soak him in.

I loved him so much.

His hair tickled my skin as his open mouth slid over my cleavage, his chest expanding as he breathed me in, nuzzling and wallowing in my scent. He captured the tip of my other breast with hard, deep suction. The pleasure shot through me, echoing in the clenching of my sex against his teasing fingertip.

He moved down my torso, licking and nibbling a path across my stomach, the breadth of his shoulders forcing my legs wider until his hot breath gusted over my slick cleft. His nose pressed against the wet satin, stroking me. He inhaled with a groan.

Eva. I’ve been starved for you.”

With impatient fingers, Gideon shoved the crotch of my panties aside and his mouth was on me. He held me open with his thumbs, his tongue lashing over my throbbing clit. My back arched with a cry, all my senses painfully acute without the benefit of sight. Tilting his head, he thrust into the quivering opening of my sex, fucking rhythmically, teasing me with shallow plunges.

“Oh God!” I writhed with the pleasure, my core clenching and releasing with the first tingles of orgasm.

I came in a violent rush, sweat misting my skin, my lungs burning as I fought for breath. His lips were around my trembling opening, sucking, his tongue delving. He was eating me with an intensity I was helpless against. The flesh between my legs was so swollen and sensitive, so vulnerable to his ravenous hunger. I was climaxing again within moments, my nails scouring the sheets.

My eyes were opened and blinded by darkness when he ripped my underwear off me and crawled over me. I felt the wide crest of his cock notch into my cleft, and then he lunged, driving deep into me with an animalistic growl. I cried out, shocked by his aggression, turned on by it.

Gideon reared up, resting back on his heels, my thighs splayed over his. He gripped my hips, elevating them, tilting me to the angle he wanted. He rolled his hips, stirring his cock inside me, pulling me onto him until I gasped in pain at how deep he was. The lips of my sex clung to the very base of his penis, spread wide to encompass the thick root. I had all of him, every inch, crammed too full and loving it. I’d been empty for days, so lonely I ached.

He groaned my name and came, spurting hot and thick, the creamy heat spreading upward along his length because there was no room inside me. He shuddered violently, dripping sweat onto my skin, flooding me. “For you, Eva,” he gasped. “Every drop.”

Pulling out abruptly, he flipped me over onto my belly and yanked my hips up. I gripped my headboard, my damp face pressed into my pillow. I waited for him to push into me and shivered when I felt his breath against my buttocks. Then I jerked violently at the feel of him licking along the seam. He rimmed me with the tip of his tongue, stimulating the puckered opening to my rear.

A broken sound escaped me. I don’t do anal play, Eva.

The tight ring of muscle flexed as I remembered his words, helplessly responding to the delicate flutters. There was nothing in our bed but us. Nothing could touch us when we were touching each other.

Gideon squeezed both of my cheeks in his hands, grounding me in the moment. I was open and parted for him in every way, completely exposed to his lush dark kiss.

“Oh!” I tensed all over. His tongue was inside me, thrusting. My entire body began to quake from the feeling, my toes curling, my lungs heaving as he possessed me without shame or reservation. “Ah… God.”

I lifted into his mouth, giving myself to him. The affinity between us was brutal and raw, nearly unbearable. I felt seared by his desire, my skin feverish, my chest shaking with sobs I couldn’t hold back.

He reached beneath me, pressed the flat of his fingers against my aching clit and rubbing, massaging. His tongue was driving me insane. The orgasm brewing inside me was spurred by the knowledge that there were no longer any boundaries for him with my body. He would do anything he desired-possess it, use it, pleasure it. Burying my face in my pillow, I screamed as I came, the ecstasy so vicious my legs gave out and I melted into the mattress.

Gideon slid over my back, his knee pushing my legs wide, his perspiration-slick body blanketing mine. He mounted me, pushing his cock inside me, his fingers linking with mine and pinning my hands to the bed. I was soaked with him and he rocked against me, sliding in and out.

“I’m desperate for you,” he said hoarsely. “I’m miserable without you.”

I tensed. “Don’t mock me.”

“I need you as much.” He nuzzled into my hair, fucking me slow and easy. “I’m just as obsessed. Why can’t you trust me?”

I squeezed my eyes shut, hot tears leaking out. “I don’t understand you. You’re tearing me apart.”

He turned his head and his teeth sank into the top of my shoulder. A pained growl rumbled through his chest and I felt him coming, his cock jerking as it pumped me full of scorching semen.

His jaw relaxed, releasing me. He panted, his hips still churning. “Your letter gutted me.”

“You won’t talk to me… you won’t listen…”

“I can’t.” He groaned, his arms tightening around mine so that I was completely at his mercy. “I just… It has to be this way.”

“I can’t live like this, Gideon.”

“I’m hurting, too, Eva. It’s killing me, too. Can’t you see that?”

“No.” I cried, my pillow growing wet beneath my cheek.

“Then stop overthinking and feel it! Feel me.”

The night passed in a blur. I punished him with greedy hands and teeth, my nails raking over sweat-slick skin and muscle until he hissed in pleasured pain.

His lust was frantic and insatiable, his need tinged with a desperation that frightened me because it felt hopeless. It felt like good-bye.

“Need your love,” he whispered against my skin. “Need you.”

He touched me everywhere. He was constantly inside me, with his cock or his fingers or his tongue.

My nipples burned, made raw by his sucking. My sex throbbed and felt bruised from his wild, hard drives. My skin was chafed from the stubble that prickled over his jaw. My jaw ached from sucking his thick cock. My last memory was of him spooned behind me, his arm banded around my waist as he filled me from behind, both of us sore and exhausted and unable to stop.

“Don’t let go,” I begged, after I’d sworn I wouldn’t.

When I woke to my alarm, he was gone.

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