Chapter 15

I stopped by Cary’s room before I left for work Thursday morning. I cracked the door open and peeked in. When I saw he was sleeping, I started to back out.

“Hey,” he murmured, blinking at me.

“Hey.” I entered. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m glad to be home.” He rubbed at the corners of his eyes. “Everything all right?”

“Yeah… I just wanted to check on you before I head to work. I’ll be home around eight. I’ll grab dinner on the way back, so expect a text around seven to see what you’re hungry-” I interrupted myself with a yawn.

“What kind of vitamins does Cross take?”

“Huh?”

“I’m never not horny, and even I can’t pile-drive all night like that. I kept thinking, ‘He’s got to be done now.’ Then he’d start up again.”

I flushed and shifted on my feet.

He howled with laughter. “It’s dark in here, but I know you’re blushing.”

“You should’ve put your headphones on,” I mumbled.

“Don’t stress about it. It was good to find out my equipment still works. I hadn’t had a chubby since before the attack.”

“Eww… Gross, Cary.” I started backing out of the room. “My dad comes in tonight. Technically tomorrow. His flight lands at five.”

“You picking him up?”

“Of course.”

His smile faded. “You’re going to kill yourself at this rate. You haven’t gotten any sleep all week.”

“I’ll catch up. See ya.”

“Hey,” he called after me. “Does last night mean you and Cross are okay again?”

I leaned into the doorjamb with a sigh. “Something’s wrong, and he won’t talk to me about it. I wrote him a letter basically puking out all my insecurities and neuroses.”

Never put stuff like that in writing, baby girl.”

“Yeah, well… all it got me was fucked half to death with no better idea of what the problem is. He said it has to be this way. I don’t even know what that means.”

He nodded.

“You act like you get it,” I said.

“I think I get the sex.”

That sent a chill down my spine. “Get-it-out-of-your-system sex?”

“It’s possible,” he agreed softly.

I closed my eyes and let the confirmation slide through me. Then I straightened. “I gotta run. Catch you later.”

* * *

The thing about nightmares was that you couldn’t prepare for them. They sneaked up on you when you were most vulnerable, wrecking havoc and mayhem when you were totally defenseless.

And they didn’t always happen while you were sleeping.

I sat in an agonized daze as Mark and Mr. Waters went over the fine points of the Kingsman Vodka ads, achingly aware of Gideon sitting at the head of the table in a black suit with white shirt and tie.

He was pointedly ignoring me, had been from the moment I walked into the Cross Industries conference room aside from a cursory handshake when Mr. Waters introduced us. That brief touch of his skin against mine had sent a charge of awareness through me, my body immediately recognizing his as the one that had pleasured it all night. Gideon hadn’t seemed to register the contact at all, his gaze trained above my head as he’d said, “Miss Tramell.”

The contrast to the last time we’d been in the room was profound. Then, he hadn’t been able to keep his eyes off me. His focus had been searing and blatant, and when we’d left the room he’d told me that he wanted to fuck me and would dispense with anything that got in the way of his doing so.

This time, he stood abruptly when the meeting was concluded, shook the hands of Mark and Mr. Waters, and strode out the door with only a short, inscrutable glance at me. His two directors scurried after him, both attractive brunettes.

Mark shot me a questioning look across the table. I shook my head.

I made it back to my desk. I worked industriously for the rest of the day. During my lunch break, I stayed in and looked up things to do with my dad. I decided on three possibilities-the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, and a Broadway play, with the trip to Ellis Island reserved for if he really had a desire to go. Otherwise, I figured we could skip the ferry and just check her out from the shore. His time in the city was short, and I didn’t want to overload it with a bunch of running around.

On my last break of the day, I called Gideon’s office.

“Hi, Scott,” I greeted his secretary. “Is it possible for me to talk to your boss real quick?”

“Hold on a minute and I’ll see.”

I half-expected to have my call rejected, but a couple of minutes later I was put through.

“Yes, Eva?”

I took the length of a heartbeat to savor the sound of his voice. “I’m sorry to bother you. This is probably a stupid question, considering, but… are you coming to dinner tomorrow to meet my father?”

“I’ll be there,” he said gruffly.

“Are you bringing Ireland?” I was surprised there wasn’t a tremor in my voice, considering the overwhelming relief I felt.

There was a pause. Then, “Yes.”

“Okay.”

“I have a late meeting tonight, so I’ll have to meet you at Dr. Petersen’s. Angus will drive you over. I’ll grab a cab.”

“All right.” I sagged into my seat, feeling a spark of hope. Continuing therapy and meeting my dad could only be seen as positive signs. Gideon and I were struggling. But he hadn’t given up yet. “I’ll see you then.”

* * *

Angus dropped me off at Dr. Petersen’s office at a quarter to six. I went inside and Dr. Petersen waved at me through his open office door, rising from his seat behind his desk to shake my hand.

“How are you, Eva?”

“I’ve been better.”

His gaze swept over my face. “You look tired.”

“So everyone keeps telling me,” I said dryly.

He looked over my shoulder. “Where’s Gideon?”

“He had a late meeting, so he’s coming separately.”

“All right.” He gestured at the sofa. “This is a nice opportunity for us to talk alone. Is there anything in particular you’d like to discuss before he arrives?”

I settled on the seat and spilled my guts, telling Dr. Petersen about the amazing trip to the Outer Banks and then the bizarre, inexplicable week we’d had since. “I just don’t get it. I feel like he’s in trouble, but I can’t get him to open up at all. He’s completely cut me off emotionally. Honestly, I’m beginning to get whiplash. I’m also worried that his change in behavior is because of Corinne. Every time we’ve hit one of these walls, it’s because of her.”

I looked at my fingers, which were twisted around each other. They reminded me of my mother’s habit of twisting handkerchiefs, and I forced my hands to relax. “It almost seems like she’s got some kind of hold on him and he can’t break free of it, no matter how he feels about me.”

Dr. Petersen looked up from his typing, studying me. “Did he tell you that he wasn’t going to make his appointment on Tuesday?”

“No.” The news hit me hard. “He didn’t say anything.”

“He didn’t tell me, either. I wouldn’t say that’s typical behavior for him, would you?”

I shook my head.

Dr. Petersen crossed his hands in his lap. “At times, one or both of you will backtrack a bit. That’s to be expected considering the nature of your relationship-you’re not just working on you as a couple, but also as individuals so you can be a couple.”

“I can’t deal with this, though.” I took a deep breath. “I can’t do this yo-yo thing. It’s driving me insane. The letter I sent him… It was awful. All true, but awful. We’ve had some really beautiful moments together. He’s said some-”

I had to stop a minute, and when I continued, my voice was hoarse. “He’s said some w-wonderful things to me. I don’t want to lose those memories in a bunch of ugly ones. I keep debating whether I should quit while I’m ahead, but I’m hanging in here because I promised him-and myself-that I wouldn’t run anymore. That I was going to dig my feet in and fight for this.”

“That’s something you’re working on?”

“Yes. Yes, it is. And it’s not easy. Because some of the things he does… I react in ways I’ve learned to avoid. For my own sanity! At some point you have to say you gave it your best shot and it didn’t work out. Right?”

Dr. Petersen’s head tilted to the side. “And if you don’t, what’s the worst that could happen?”

“You’re asking me?”

“Yes. Worst-case scenario.”

“Well…” I splayed my fingers on my thighs. “He keeps drifting away from me, which makes me cling harder and lose all sense of self-worth. And we end up with him going back to life as he knew it and me going back to therapy trying to get my head on straight again.”

He continued to look at me, and something about his patient watchfulness prodded me to keep talking.

“I’m afraid that he won’t cut me loose when it’s time and that I won’t know better. That I’ll keep hanging on to the sinking ship and go down with it. I just wish I could trust that he’d end it, if it comes to that.”

“Do you think that needs to happen?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.” I pulled my gaze away from the clock on the wall. “But considering it’s nearly seven and he stood us both up tonight, it seems likely.”

* * *

It was crazy to me that I wasn’t surprised to find the Bentley waiting outside my apartment at quarter to five in the morning. The driver who climbed out from behind the wheel when I stepped outside wasn’t familiar to me. He was much younger than Angus; early thirties was my guess. He looked Latino, with rich caramel-hued skin, and dark hair and eyes.

“Thanks,” I told him, when he rounded the front of the vehicle, “but I’ll just grab a cab.”

Hearing that, the night doorman to my building stepped out to the street to flag one down for me.

“Mr. Cross said I’m to take you to La Guardia,” the driver said.

“You can tell Mr. Cross that I won’t be requiring his transportation services now or in the future.” I moved toward the cab the doorman had hailed, but stopped and turned around. “And tell him to go fuck himself, too.”

I slid into the cab and settled back as it pulled away.

* * *

I’ll admit to some bias when I say my father stands out in a crowd, but that didn’t make it less true.

As he exited the secure security area, Victor Reyes commanded attention. He was six feet tall, fit and well built, and had the commanding presence of a man who wore a badge. His gaze raked the immediate area around him, always a cop even when he wasn’t on duty. He had a duffel bag slung over his shoulder and wore blue jeans with a black button-down shirt. His hair was dark and wavy, his eyes stormy and gray like mine. He was seriously hot in a brooding, dangerous, bad boy sort of way, and I tried to picture him alongside my mother’s fragile, haughty beauty. I’d never seen them together, not even in pictures, and I really wanted to. If only just once.

“Daddy!” I yelled, waving.

His face lit up when he saw me, and a wide smile curved his mouth.

“There’s my girl.” He picked me up in a hug that had my feet dangling above the floor. “I’ve missed you like crazy.”

I started crying. I couldn’t help it. Being with him again was the last emotional straw.

“Hey.” He rocked me. “What’s with the tears?”

I wrapped my arms tighter around his neck, so grateful to have him with me, knowing all the other troubles in my life would fade into the background while he was around.

“I missed you like crazy, too,” I said, sniffling.

We took a cab back to my place. On the ride over, my dad asked me the same sort of investigative questions about Cary’s attack as the detectives had asked Cary in the hospital. I tried to keep him distracted with that discussion when we pulled up outside my building, but it didn’t do any good.

My dad’s eagle eyes took in the modern glass overhang attached to the brick fa?ade of the building. He stared at the doorman, Paul, who touched the brim of his hat and opened the door for us. He studied the front desk and concierge, and rocked back on his heels as we waited for the elevator.

He didn’t say anything and kept his poker face on, but I knew he was thinking about how much my digs must cost in a city like New York. When I showed him into my apartment, his sweeping gaze took in the size of the place. The massive windows had a stunning view of the city, and the flat-screen television mounted on the wall was just one of the many top-of-the-line electronics on display.

He knew I couldn’t afford the place on my own. He knew my mother’s husband was providing for me in ways he would never be able to. And I wondered if he thought about my mother, and how what she needed was also beyond his means.

“The security here is really tight,” I told him by way of explanation. “It’s impossible to get past the front desk if you’re not on the list and a resident can’t be reached to vouch for you.”

My dad exhaled in a rush. “That’s good.”

“Yeah. I don’t think Mom could sleep at night otherwise.”

That made some of the tension leave his shoulders.

“Let me show you to your room.” I led him down the hallway to the guest room suite. It had its own bathroom and mini-bar with fridge. I saw him noting those things before he dropped his duffel on the king-size bed. “Are you tired?”

He looked at me. “I know you are. And you have to work today, don’t you? Why don’t we nap for a bit before you have to get up?”

I stifled a yawn and nodded, knowing I could use the couple of hours of shut-eye. “Sounds good.”

“Wake me when you’re up,” he said, rolling his shoulders back. “I’ll make the coffee while you’re getting ready.”

“Awesome.” My voice came husky with suppressed tears. Gideon almost always had coffee waiting for me on days when he’d spent the night, because he got up before me. I missed that little ritual of ours.

Somehow, I’d have to learn to live without it.

Pushing up onto my tiptoes, I kissed my dad’s cheek. “I’m so glad you’re here, Daddy.”

I closed my eyes and clung tightly when he hugged me.

* * *

I stepped out of the small market with my bags of grocery ingredients for dinner and frowned at finding Angus idling at the curb. I’d refused a ride in the morning and again when I’d left the Crossfire, and he was still following and shadowing. It was ridiculous. I couldn’t help but wonder if Gideon didn’t want me as a girlfriend anymore, but his neurotic lust for my body meant that he didn’t want anyone else to have me-namely Brett.

As I walked home, I entertained thoughts of having Brett over for dinner instead, imagining Angus having to make that call to Gideon when Brett came strolling up to my place. It was just a quick vengeful fantasy, since I wouldn’t lead Brett on that way and he was in Florida anyway, but it did the trick. My step lightened and when I entered my apartment, I was in my first really good mood in days.

I dumped all the dinner stuff off in the kitchen, then went to find my dad. He was hanging out in Cary’s room playing a video game. Cary worked a nunchuk one-handed, since his other hand was in a cast.

“Woo!” my dad shouted. “Spanked.”

“You should be ashamed of yourself,” Cary shot back, “taking advantage of an invalid.”

“I’m crying a river here.”

Cary looked at me in the doorway and winked. I loved him so much in that moment I couldn’t stop myself from crossing over to him and pressing a kiss to his bruised forehead.

“Thank you,” I whispered.

“Thank me with dinner. I’m starving.”

I straightened. “I got the goods to make enchiladas.”

My dad looked at me, smiling, knowing I’d need his help. “Yeah?”

“When you’re ready,” I told him. “I’m going to grab a shower.”

Forty-five minutes later, my dad and I were in the kitchen rolling cheese and store-bought rotisserie chicken-my little cheat to save time-into lard-soaked white corn tortillas. In the living room, the CD changer slipped in the next disk and Van Morrison’s soulful voice piped through the surround sound speakers.

“Oh yeah,” my dad said, reaching for my hand and tugging me away from the counter. “Hum-de-rum, hum-de-rum, moondance,” he sang in his deep baritone, twirling me.

I laughed, delighted.

Using the back of his hand against my spine to keep his greasy fingers off me, he swept me into a dance around the island, both of us singing the song and laughing. We were making our second revolution when I noticed the two people standing at the breakfast bar.

My smile fled and I stumbled, forcing my dad to catch me.

“You got two left feet?” he teased, his eyes only on me.

“Eva’s a wonderful dancer,” Gideon interjected, his face arrested in that implacable mask I detested.

My dad turned, his smile fading, too.

Gideon rounded the bar and entered the kitchen. He’d dressed for the occasion in jeans and a Yankees T-shirt. It was a suitably casual choice and a conversation starter, since my dad was a die-hard Padres fan.

“I hadn’t realized she was such a good singer, as well. Gideon Cross,” he introduced himself, holding out his hand.

“Victor Reyes.” My dad waved his shiny fingers. “I’m a bit messy.”

“I don’t mind.”

Shrugging, my dad took his hand and sized him up.

I tossed the dish towel to the guys and made my way over to Ireland, who was positively glowing. Her blue eyes were bright, her cheeks flushed with pleasure.

“I’m so glad you could make it,” I said, hugging her carefully. “You look gorgeous!”

“So do you!”

It was a fib, but I appreciated it anyway. I hadn’t done anything to my face or hair after my shower, because I knew my dad wouldn’t care and I hadn’t expected Gideon to show up. After all, the last time I’d heard from him had been when he’d said he would meet me at Dr. Petersen’s office.

She looked over at the counter where I’d dumped everything. “Can I help?”

“Sure. Just don’t count calories in your head-it’ll explode.” I introduced her to my dad, who was much warmer to her than he was to Gideon, and then I led her to the sink, where she washed up.

In short order, I had her helping to roll the last few enchiladas, while my dad put the already chilled Dos Equis Gideon had brought into the fridge. I didn’t even bother to wonder how Gideon knew I was serving Mexican food for dinner. I only wondered why he’d invest the time to find out when it was very clear he other things to do-like ditch his appointments.

My dad went to his room to wash up. Gideon came up behind me and put his hands on my waist, his lips brushing over my temple. “Eva.”

I tensed against the nearly irresistible urge to lean into him. “Don’t,” I whispered. “I’d rather we didn’t pretend.”

His breath left him in a rush that ruffled my hair. His fingers tightened on my hips, kneading for a moment. Then I felt his phone vibrate and he released me, backing away to look at the screen.

“Excuse me,” he said gruffly, leaving the kitchen before answering.

Ireland sidled over and whispered, “Thank you. I know you made him bring me along.”

I managed a smile for her. “Nobody can make Gideon do anything he doesn’t want to.”

“You could.” She tossed her head, throwing her sleek waist-length black hair over her shoulder. “You didn’t see him watching you dance with your dad. His eyes got all shiny. I thought he was going to cry. And on the way up here, in the elevator, he tried to play it off, but I could totally tell he was nervous.”

I stared down at the can of enchilada sauce in my hands, feeling my heart break a little more.

“You’re mad at him, aren’t you?” Ireland asked.

I cleared my throat. “Some people are just better off as friends.”

“But you said you love him.”

“That’s not always enough.” I turned around to reach the can opener and found Gideon standing at the other end of the island, staring at me. I froze.

A muscle in his jaw twitched before he unclenched it. “Would you like a beer?” he asked gruffly.

I nodded. I could’ve used a shot, too. Maybe a few.

“Want a glass?”

“No.”

He looked at Ireland. “You thirsty? There’s soda, water, milk.”

“How about one of those beers?” she shot back, flashing a winsome smile.

“Try again,” he said wryly.

I watched Ireland, noting how she sparkled when Gideon focused on her. I couldn’t believe he didn’t see how she loved him. Maybe right now it was based on superficial things, but it was there and it would grow with a little encouragement. I hoped he’d work on that.

When Gideon handed me the chilled beer, his fingers brushed mine. He held on for a minute, looking into my eyes. I knew he was thinking about the other night.

It seemed like a dream now, as if his visit never really happened. I could almost believe that I’d made it up in a desperate delusion, so hungry for his touch and his love that I couldn’t go another minute without giving my mind relief from the madness of wanting and craving. If it weren’t for the lingering soreness deep inside me, I wouldn’t know what was real and what was nothing but false hope.

I pulled the beer out of his grasp and turned away. I didn’t want to say we were done and over, but it was certain now that we needed a break from each other. Gideon needed to figure out what he was doing, what he was looking for, and whether I had any meaningful place in his life. Because this roller-coaster ride we were on was going to break me, and I couldn’t let that happen. I wouldn’t.

“Can I help with anything?” he asked.

I answered without looking at him, because doing so was too painful. “Can you see if we can get Cary out here? He’s got a wheelchair.”

“All right.”

He left the room, and I could suddenly breathe deeply again.

Ireland hurried over. “What happened to Cary?”

“I’ll tell you about it while we set the table.”

* * *

I was surprised I could eat. I think I was too fascinated by the silent showdown between my dad and Gideon to notice that I was stuffing food into my mouth. At one end of the table, Cary was charming Ireland into peals of laughter that kept making me smile. At the other end, my dad sat at the head of the table, with Gideon on his left and me on his right.

They were talking. The conversation had opened with baseball, as I’d expected, then migrated into golf. On the surface, both men seemed relaxed, but the air around them was highly charged. I noticed that Gideon wasn’t wearing his expensive watch. He’d planned carefully to appear as “normal” as possible.

But nothing Gideon did on the outside could change who he was on the inside. It was impossible to hide what he was-a dominant male, a captain of industry, a man of privilege. It was in every gesture he made, every word he spoke, every look he gave.

So he and my father were in the position of struggling to find who would be the alpha, and I suspected I hung in the balance. As if anyone were in control of my life but me.

Still, I understood that my father had only really been allowed to be a dad in the last four years, and he wasn’t ready to give it up. Gideon, however, was jockeying for a position I was no longer prepared to give him.

But he was wearing the ring I’d given him. I tried not to read anything into it, but I wanted to hope. I wanted to believe.

We’d all finished the main course and I was pushing to my feet to clear the table for dessert when the intercom buzzed. I answered.

“Eva? NYPD detectives Graves and Michna are here,” the gal at the front desk said.

I glanced at Cary, wondering if the detectives had found out who’d attacked him. I gave the go-ahead for them to come up and hurried back to the dining table.

Cary looked at me with raised brows, curious.

“It’s the detectives,” I explained. “Maybe they have news.”

My dad’s focus immediately shifted. Honed. “I’ll let them in.”

Ireland helped me clear up. We’d just dumped the cups into the sink when the doorbell rang. I wiped my hands with a dish towel and went out to the living room.

The two detectives who entered weren’t the ones I expected, because they weren’t the ones who’d questioned Cary at the hospital on Monday.

Gideon appeared out of the hallway, shoving his phone into his pocket.

I wondered who’d been calling him all night.

“Eva Tramell,” the female detective said, stepping deeper into my apartment. She was a thin woman with a severe face and sharply intelligent blue eyes, which were her best feature. Her hair was brown and curly, her face clean of makeup. She wore slacks over dark flats, a poplin shirt, and a lightweight jacket that didn’t hide the badge and gun clipped to her belt. “I’m Detective Shelley Graves of the NYPD. This is my partner Detective Richard Michna. We’re sorry to disturb you on a Friday night.”

Michna was older, taller, and portly. His hair was graying at the temples and receding at the top, but he had a strong face and dark eyes that raked the room while Graves focused on me.

“Hello,” I greeted them.

My father shut the door, and something about the way he moved or carried himself caught Michna’s attention. “You on the job?”

“In California,” my dad confirmed. “I’m visiting Eva, my daughter. What’s this about?”

“We’d just like to ask you a few questions, Miss Tramell,” Graves said. She looked at Gideon. “And you, too, Mr. Cross.”

“Does this have something to do with the attack on Cary?” I asked.

She glanced at him. “Why don’t we sit down.”

We all moved into the living room, but only Ireland and I ended up taking a seat. Everyone else remained on their feet, with my dad pushing Cary’s wheelchair.

“Nice place you’ve got here,” Michna said.

“Thank you.” I looked at Cary, wondering what the hell was going on.

“How long are you in town?” the detective asked my dad.

“Just for the weekend.”

Graves smiled at me. “You go out to California a lot to see your dad?”

“I just moved from there a couple months ago.”

“I went to Disneyland once when I was a kid,” she said. “That was a while ago, obviously. I’ve been meaning to get back out there.”

I frowned, not understanding why we were making small talk.

“We just need to ask you a couple of questions,” Michna said, pulling a notepad out of the interior pocket of his jacket. “We don’t want to hold you up any longer than we have to.”

Graves nodded, her eyes still on me. “Can you tell us if you’re familiar with a man named Nathan Barker, Miss Tramell?”

The room spun. Cary cursed and pushed unsteadily to his feet, taking the few steps to reach the seat beside me. He caught up my hand.

“Miss Tramell?” Graves took a seat on the other end of the sectional.

“He’s her former stepbrother,” Cary snapped. “What’s this about?”

“When’s the last time you saw Barker?” Michna asked.

In a courtroom… I tried to swallow, but my mouth was dry as sawdust. “Eight years ago,” I said hoarsely.

“Did you know he was here in New York?”

Oh God. I shook my head violently.

“Where’s this going?” my dad asked.

I looked helplessly at Cary, then at Gideon. My dad didn’t know about Nathan. I didn’t want him to know.

Cary squeezed my hand. Gideon wouldn’t even look at me.

“Mr. Cross,” Graves said. “What about you?”

“What about me?”

“Do you know Nathan Barker?”

My eyes pleaded with Gideon not to say anything in front of my dad, but he never once glanced my way.

“You wouldn’t be asking that question,” he answered, “if you didn’t already know the answer.”

My stomach dropped. A violent shiver moved through me. Still, Gideon wouldn’t look at me. My brain was trying to process what was happening… what it meant… what was going on…

“Is there a point to these questions?” my father asked.

The blood was roaring in my ears. My heart was pounding with something like terror. The mere thought of Nathan being so close was enough to send me into a panic. I was panting. The room was swimming before my eyes. I thought I might pass out.

Graves was watching me like a hawk. “Can you just tell us where you were yesterday, Miss Tramell?”

“Where I was?” I repeated. “Yesterday?”

“Don’t answer that,” my dad ordered. “This interview isn’t going any further until we know what this is about.”

Michna nodded, as if he’d expected the interruption. “Nathan Barker was found dead this morning.”

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