Chapter 17

For the rest of Saturday and Sunday, my dad and I bounced all over the city. I made sure he did the food thing, taking him to Junior’s for cheesecake, Gray’s Papaya for hot dogs, and John’s for pizza, which we took back to the apartment to share with Cary. We went up to the top of the Empire State Building, which also satisfied the Statue of Liberty requirement as far as my dad was concerned. We enjoyed a matinee show on Broadway. We walked to Times Square, which was hot and crowded and smelled awful but had some interesting-and a few half-naked-street performers. I snapped pictures with my phone and sent them to Cary for a laugh.

My dad was impressed with the emergency responder presence in the city and liked seeing the police officers on horseback as much as I did. We took a ride around Central Park in a horse-drawn carriage and braved the subway together. I took him to Rockefeller Center and Macy’s and the Crossfire, which he admitted was an impressive building more than capable of holding its own among other impressive buildings. But through it all, we were just hanging out. Mostly walking and talking and simply being together.

I finally learned how he’d met my mom. Her sleek little sports car had gotten a flat tire and she’d ended up at the auto shop where he was working. Their story reminded me of the old Billy Joel hit “Uptown Girl,” and I told him so. My dad laughed and said it was one of his favorite songs. He said he could still see her sliding out from behind the wheel of her expensive little toy car and rocking his world. She was the most beautiful thing he’d seen before or since… until I came along.

“Do you resent her, Daddy?”

“I used to.” He put his arm around my shoulders. “I’m never going to forgive her for not giving you my last name when you were born. But I’m not mad about the money thing anymore. I’d never be able to make her happy in the long run, and she knew herself enough to know that.”

I nodded, feeling sorry for all of us.

“And really”-he sighed and rested his cheek against the top of my head for a moment-“as much as I wish I could give you all the things her husbands can, I’m just glad you’re getting them. I’m not too proud to appreciate that your life is better because of her choices. And I’m not upset with my lot. I’ve got a good life that makes me happy and a daughter who makes me so damn proud. I consider myself a rich man because there’s nothing in this world I want that I don’t already have.”

I stopped walking and hugged him. “I love you, Daddy. I’m so happy you’re here.”

His arms came around me, and I thought I just might be all right eventually. Both my mom and my dad were living fulfilling lives without the one they loved.

I could do it, too.

* * *

I fell into a depression after my dad left. The next few days crawled by. Every day I told myself I wasn’t waiting on some sort of contact from Gideon, but when I crawled into bed at night, I cried myself to sleep because another day had ended without a word from him.

The people around me worried. Steven and Mark were overly solicitous at lunch on Wednesday. We went to the Mexican restaurant where Shawna worked, and the three of them tried so hard to make me laugh and enjoy myself. I did, because I loved spending time with all three of them and hated the concern I saw in their eyes, but there was a hole inside me that nothing could fill and a niggling worry about the investigation into Nathan’s death.

My mom called me every day, asking if the police had contacted me again-they hadn’t-and filling me in if the police had contacted her or Stanton that day.

I worried that they were circling around Stanton, but I had to believe that because my stepfather was obviously innocent, there was nothing for them to find. Still… I wondered if they would end up finding anything. It was obviously a homicide or they wouldn’t be investigating. With Nathan being new to the city, who did he know who’d want to kill him?

In the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but think that Gideon had arranged it. That made it harder for me to get over him, because there was a part of me-the little girl I’d once been-who’d wanted Nathan dead for a long time. Who’d wanted him to hurt like he’d hurt me for years. I’d lost my innocence to him, as well as my virginity. I’d lost my self-esteem and self-respect. And in the end, I’d lost a child in an agonizing miscarriage when I was no more than a child myself.

I got through every day one minute at a time. I forced myself to go to Parker for Krav Maga, to watch TV, to smile and laugh when it was appropriate-most especially around Cary-and to get up every morning and face a new day. I tried to ignore how dead I felt inside. Nothing was vivid to me beyond the pain that throbbed through me like a constant dull ache. I lost weight and slept a lot without feeling rested.

On Thursday, Day Six After Gideon: Round Two, I left a message with Dr. Petersen’s receptionist letting her know that Gideon and I wouldn’t be coming to our sessions anymore. That evening, I had Clancy swing by Gideon’s apartment building, and I left the ring he’d given me and the key to his apartment in a sealed envelope with the front desk. I didn’t leave a note because I’d said everything I had to say.

On Friday, one of the other junior account managers got an assistant, and Mark asked if I’d help the new hire get settled. His name was Will and I liked him right away. He had dark hair that was curly but worn short. He had long sideburns and wore square-framed glasses that were very flattering on him. He drank soda instead of coffee and was still dating his high school sweetheart.

I spent much of the morning showing him around the offices.

“You like it here,” he said.

“I love it here.” I smiled.

Will smiled back. “I’m glad. I wasn’t sure at first. You didn’t seem all that enthusiastic, even when you were saying good stuff.”

“My bad. I’m going through a tough breakup.” I tried to shrug it off. “It’s hard for me to get excited about anything right now, even things I’m crazy about. This job being one of them.”

“I’m sorry about the breakup,” he said, his dark eyes warm with sympathy.

“Yeah. Me, too.”

Cary was looking and feeling better by Saturday. His ribs were still bandaged and his arm was going to be in a cast for a while, but he was walking around on his own and didn’t need the nurse anymore.

My mom brought a beauty team over to our apartment-six women in white lab coats who took over my living room. Cary was in heaven. He had no qualms whatsoever about enjoying spa day. My mom looked tired, which wasn’t like her at all. I knew she was worried about Stanton. And she was maybe spending time thinking about my dad, too. It seemed impossible to me that she wouldn’t, after seeing him for the first time in nearly twenty-five years. His longing for her had been hot and alive to me; I couldn’t imagine what it must have felt like to her.

As for me, it was just great to be around two people who loved me and knew me well enough not to bring up Gideon or give me a hard time for being a bummer to hang around with. My mom brought me a box of my favorite Knipschildt truffles, which I savored slowly. It was the one indulgence she never scolded me about. Even she agreed that a woman had a right to chocolate.

“What are you going to have done?” Cary asked me, looking at me with a bunch of black goop smeared all over his face. He was getting his hair trimmed in its usual sexily floppy style, and his toenails were being trimmed and filed into perfect rounded squares.

I licked the chocolate off my fingers and considered my answer. The last time we’d had a spa date, I’d just agreed to have an affair with Gideon. He and I were going on our first date, and I knew we’d be having sex. I’d chosen a package designed for seduction, making my skin soft and fragrant with scents purported to have aphrodisiac properties.

Everything was different now. In a way, I had a second chance to do things over. The investigation into Nathan’s death was a concern for us all, but the fact that he was gone from my life forever liberated me in a way I hadn’t realized I’d needed. Somewhere in the back of my mind, the fear must have been lurking there. It was always a possibility that I could see him again as long as he was alive. Now I was free.

I also had a new chance to embrace my New York life in a way I hadn’t before. I was accountable to no one. I could go anywhere with anyone. I could be anyone. Who was the Eva Tramell who lived in Manhattan and had her dream job at an advertising agency? I didn’t know yet. Up until now, I’d been the San Diego transplant who got swept into the orbit of an enigmatic and incredibly powerful man. That Eva was on Day Eight After Gideon: Round Two curled in a corner licking her wounds and would be for a long time. Maybe forever, because I couldn’t imagine that I’d ever fall in love again like I had with Gideon. For better or worse, he was my soul mate. The other half of me. In many ways, he was my reflection.

“Eva?” Cary prodded, studying me.

“I want everything done,” I said decisively. “I want a new haircut. Something short and flirty and chic. I want my nails painted fire engine red-fingers and toes. I want to be a new Eva.”

Cary’s brows rose. “Nails, yes. Hair, maybe. You shouldn’t make sweeping decisions when you’re fucked up over a guy. They come back to haunt you.”

My chin lifted. “I’m doing it, Cary Taylor. You can either help or just shut up and watch.”

“Eva!” My mother practically squealed. “You’re going to look amazing! I know just the thing to do with your hair. You’ll love it!”

Cary’s lips twitched. “All righty, then, baby girl. Let’s see what New Eva looks like.”

* * *

New Eva turned out to be a modern, slightly edgy sexpot. My once long, straight blond hair was now shoulder length and cut in long layers, with platinum highlights sprinkled throughout and framing my face. I’d had my makeup done, too, to see what sort of look I should pair with my new hairdo, and I learned that smoky gray for my eyes was the way to go, along with soft pink lip gloss.

In the end, I hadn’t gone with red for my nails and chose chocolate instead. I really liked it. For now, anyway. I was willing to admit I might be going through a phase.

“Okay, I take it back,” Cary said, whistling. “Clearly you wear breakups well.”

“See?” my mother crowed, grinning. “I told you! Now you look like an urban sophisticate.”

“Is that what you call it?” I studied my reflection, amazed at the transformation. I appeared a bit older. Definitely more polished. Certainly sexier. It boosted my spirits to see someone else looking back at me besides the hollow-eyed young woman I’d been seeing for nearly two weeks now. Somehow, my thinner face and sad eyes paired well with the bolder style.

My mom insisted we go out for dinner since we all looked so good. She called Stanton and told him to get ready for a night out, and I could tell from her end of the conversation that she was delighting him with her girlish excitement. She left it to him to pick the place and make the arrangements, then continued with my makeover by picking a little black dress out of my closet. As I slipped it on, she held up one of my ivory cocktail dresses.

“Go for it,” I told her, finding it amusing and pretty amazing that my mother could pull off wearing the clothes of someone nearly twenty years younger.

When we were set, she went to Cary’s room and helped him get ready.

I watched from the doorway as my mother fussed over him, talking the whole time in that way she had that didn’t require reciprocal conversation. Cary stood there with a sweet smile on his face, his eyes following her around the room with something like joy.

Her hands brushed over his broad shoulders, smoothing the pressed linen of his dress shirt, and then she expertly knotted his tie and stepped back to take in her handiwork. The sleeve on his casted arm was unbuttoned and rolled up, and his face still had yellow and purple bruising, but nothing could detract from the overall effect of Cary Taylor dressed for a casually elegant night out.

My mother’s smile lit up the room. “Stunning, Cary. Simply stunning.”

“Thank you.”

Stepping forward, she kissed him on the cheek. “Almost as beautiful on the outside as you are on the inside.”

I watched him blink and look at me, his green eyes filled with confusion. I leaned into the doorjamb and said, “Some of us can see right through you, Cary Taylor. Those gorgeous looks don’t fool us. We know you’ve got that big beautiful heart inside you.”

“Come on!” my mom said, grabbing both of our hands and pulling us out of the room.

When we made it down to the lobby level, we found Stanton’s limousine waiting. My stepfather climbed out of the back and wrapped his arms around my mom, pressing a gentle kiss to her cheek because he knew she wouldn’t want to mess up her lipstick. Stanton was an attractive man, with snow white hair and denim blue eyes. His face bore some traces of his years, but he was still a very attractive man, one who stayed fit and active.

“Eva!” He hugged me, too, and kissed my cheek. “You look ravishing.”

I smiled, not quite sure whether being “ravishing” meant I looked like I was going to ravish someone or was waiting to be ravished.

Stanton shook Cary’s hand and gave him a gentle slap to the shoulder. “It’s good to see you back on your feet, young man. You gave us all a scare.”

“Thank you. For everything.”

“No thanks necessary,” Stanton said, waving it off. “Ever.”

My mom took a deep breath, then let it out. Her eyes were bright as she watched Stanton. She caught me looking at her and smiled, and it was a peaceful smile.

We ended up at a private club with a big band and two excellent singers-one male and one female. They switched frequently throughout the evening, providing the perfect accompaniment to a candlelit meal served in a high-backed velvet booth right out of a classic Manhattan society photo. I couldn’t help but be charmed.

Between dinner and dessert, Cary asked me to dance. We’d taken formal dance classes together, at my mother’s insistence, but we had to take it easy with Cary’s injuries. We basically just swayed in place, enjoying the contentment that came from ending a happy day with a good meal shared with loved ones.

“Look at them,” Cary said, watching Stanton expertly lead my mom around the dance floor. “He’s crazy about her.”

“Yes. And she’s good for him. They give each other what they need.”

He looked down at me. “You thinking about your dad?”

“A little.” I reached up and ran my fingers through his hair, thinking of longer and darker strands that felt like thick silk. “I never really thought of myself as romantic. I mean, I like romance and grand gestures and that tipsy feeling you get when you’re crushing hard on someone. But the whole Prince Charming fantasy and marrying the love of your life wasn’t my thing.”

“You and me, baby girl, we’re too jaded. We just want mind-blowing sex with someone who knows we’re fucked up and accepts it.”

My mouth twisted wryly. “Somewhere along the way, I deluded myself into thinking Gideon and I could have it all. That being in love was all we needed. I guess because I never really thought I’d ever fall in love like that, and there’s the whole myth that when you do, you’re supposed to live happily ever after.”

Cary pressed his lips to my brow. “I’m sorry, Eva. I know you’re hurting. I wish I could fix it.”

“I don’t know why it never occurred to me to just find someone I can be happy with.”

“Too bad we don’t want to bang each other. We’d be perfect.”

I laughed and leaned my cheek against his heart.

When the song ended, we pulled apart and started toward our table. I felt fingers circle my wrist and turned my head-

I found myself looking into the eyes of Christopher Vidal Jr., Gideon’s half brother.

“I’d like to have the next dance,” he said, his mouth curved in a boyish grin. There was no sign of the malicious man I’d witnessed on a secret video Cary had captured during a garden party at the Vidal residence.

Cary stepped forward, looking at me for cues.

My first instinct was to refuse Christopher, and then I looked around. “Are you here alone?”

“Does it matter?” He tugged me into his arms. “You’re the one I want to dance with. I’ve got her,” he said to Cary, sweeping me off.

We’d first met just like this, with him asking me to dance. I’d been on my first date with Gideon, and things had already begun falling apart at that point.

“You look fantastic, Eva. I love your hair.”

I managed a tight smile. “Thank you.”

“Relax,” he said. “You’re so stiff. I won’t bite.”

“Sorry. Just want to be sure I don’t offend whoever you’re here with.”

“Just my parents and the manager of a singer who’d like to sign with Vidal Records.”

“Ah.” My smile widened into one more genuine. That was just what I was hoping to hear.

As we danced, I kept searching the room. I saw it as a sign when the song ended and Elizabeth Vidal stood, catching my eye. She excused herself from her table and I excused myself from Christopher, who protested.

“I have to freshen up,” I told him.

“All right. But I insist on buying you a drink when you come back.”

I took off after his mother, debating whether I should just come out and tell Christopher I thought he was a total asswipe of epic proportions. I didn’t know if Magdalene had told him about the video, and if she hadn’t, I figured there was probably a good reason why.

I waited for Elizabeth just outside the bathroom. When she reappeared, she spotted me hanging out in the hallway and smiled. Gideon’s mother was a beautiful woman, with long straight black hair and the same amazing blue eyes as her son and Ireland. Just looking at her made my heart hurt. I missed Gideon so much. It was an hourly battle with myself not to contact him and take whatever I could get.

“Eva.” She greeted me with air kisses for each of my cheeks. “Christopher said it was you. I didn’t recognize you at first. You look so different with your hair like that. I think it’s lovely.”

“Thanks. I need to talk to you. Privately.”

“Oh?” She frowned. “Is something wrong? Is it Gideon?”

“Come on.” I gestured deeper down the hallway, toward the emergency exit.

“What’s this about?”

Once we were away from the bathrooms, I told her. “Remember when Gideon was a child and he told you he’d been abused or violated?”

Her face paled. “He told you about that?”

“No. But I’ve witnessed his nightmares. His horrible, ugly, vicious nightmares where he begs for mercy.” My voice was low but throbbed with anger. It was all I could do not to keep my hands to myself as she stood there looking both embarrassed and militant. “It was your job to protect and support him!”

Her chin went up. “You don’t know-”

“You’re not to blame for what happened before you knew.” I got in her face, felt satisfaction when she took a step back. “But anything that happened after he told you is entirely your fault.”

“Fuck you,” she spat at me. “You have no idea what you’re talking about. How dare you come up to me like this and say these things to me when you’re clueless!”

“Yeah, I dare. Your son is seriously damaged by what happened to him, and your refusal to believe him made it a million times worse.”

“You think I would tolerate the abuse of my own child?” Her face was flushed with anger and her eyes too bright. “I had Gideon examined by two separate pediatricians to look for… trauma. I did everything I could be expected to do.”

“Except believe him. Which is what you should’ve done as his mother.”

“I’m Christopher’s mother, too, and he was there. He swears nothing happened. Who was I supposed to believe when there was no proof? No one could find anything to support Gideon’s claims.”

“He shouldn’t have had to provide proof. He was a child!” The anger I felt was vibrating through me. My fists were clenched against the urge to hit her. Not just for what Gideon had lost, but for what we’d lost together. “You were supposed to take his side no matter what.”

“Gideon was a troubled boy, struggling through therapy over his father’s death, and desperate for attention. You don’t know what he was like then.”

“I know what he’s like now. He’s broken and hurting and doesn’t think he’s worth loving. And you helped make him that way.”

“Go to hell.” She stormed off.

“I’m already there,” I shouted after her. “And so is your son.”

* * *

I spent all day Sunday being Old Eva.

Trey had the day off and took Cary out for brunch and a movie. I was pleased to see them together, thrilled that they were both trying. Cary hadn’t invited over any of the people who called his cell, and I wondered if he was rethinking his friendships. I suspected many were of the fair-weather variety-great fun but no substance.

Having the entire apartment to myself, I slept too much, ate crappy food, and never bothered to change out of my pajamas. I cried over Gideon in the privacy of my room, staring at the collage of photos that used to be on my desk at work. I missed the weight of his ring on my finger and the sound of his voice. I missed the feel of his hands and lips on me and the tenderly possessive way he took care of me.

When Monday came around, I left the apartment as New Eva. With smoky eyes, pink lips, and my new bouncy layered cut, I felt like I could pretend to be someone else for the day. Someone who wasn’t heartbroken and lost and angry.

I saw the Bentley when I stepped outside, but Angus didn’t bother to exit the car, knowing I wouldn’t accept a ride. It puzzled me that Gideon would have him wasting his time hanging around, just in case I might have him drive me somewhere. It didn’t make any sense unless Gideon was feeling guilty. I hated guilt, hated that it afflicted so many of the people in my life. I wish they’d just drop it and move on. Like I was trying to do.

The morning at Waters Field & Leaman went by swiftly, because I had Will, the new assistant, to help out as well as my regular work to do. I was glad that he wasn’t afraid to ask lots of questions, because he kept me too busy to count the seconds, minutes, and hours since the last time I’d seen Gideon.

“You look good, Eva,” Mark said when I first joined him in his office. “Are you doing all right?”

“Not really. But I’ll get there.”

He leaned forward, setting his elbows on his desk. “Steven and I broke up once, about a year and a half into our relationship. We’d had a rough couple weeks and decided it’d be easier to let it go. It was fucking awful,” he said vehemently. “I hated every minute of it. Getting up every morning was a monumental feat and he was in the same shape. So anyway… if you need anything… ”

“Thank you. The best thing you can do for me right now is keep me busy. I just don’t want any time to think about anything but work.”

“I can do that.”

When lunch came around, Will and I grabbed Megumi and we headed to a nearby pizza place. Megumi filled me in on her growing relationship with her blind date, and Will told us about his adventures at Ikea as he and his girlfriend worked on filling their loft apartment with do-it-yourself furniture. I was glad I had my spa day to talk about.

“We’re heading to the Hamptons this weekend,” Megumi said as we returned to the Crossfire. “My guy’s grandparents have a place out there. How cool is that?”

“Very.” I passed through the turnstiles beside her. “I’m jealous you’ll be able to get away from the heat.”

“I know, right?”

“Better than furniture assembly,” Will muttered, following a group of people onto one of the elevators. “I can’t wait ’til we’re done.”

The doors started to close, and then they slid open again. Gideon stepped into the car after us. The familiar, palpable energy that always coursed between us hit me hard. Awareness rippled down my spine and flared outward, sending goose bumps racing across my skin. The hair on my nape prickled.

Megumi glanced at me, and I shook my head. I knew better than to look directly at him. I couldn’t be sure I wouldn’t do something rash or desperate. I craved him so deeply, and it had been too long since he’d held me. I used to have the right to touch him, to reach for his hand, to lean into him, to sift my fingers through his hair. It was a horrible ache inside me that I wasn’t allowed to do those things anymore. I had to bite my lip to stifle a moan of agony at being this close to him again.

I kept my head down, but I felt Gideon’s eyes on me. I continued talking to my co-workers, forcing myself to focus on the discussion of furniture and the compromises necessary for cohabiting with someone of the opposite sex.

As the car continued its ascent and frequent stops, the number of people in the car dwindled. I was acutely attuned to where Gideon was, aware that he never took elevators this crowded, suspecting and hoping and praying that he’d just wanted to see me, be with me, even if it was only in this terribly impersonal way.

When we arrived on the twentieth floor, I took a deep breath and prepared to step out, hating the inevitable separation from the one thing in the world that made me feel truly alive.

The doors opened.

“Wait.”

My eyes closed. I was stopped by the softly rasped command. I knew I should keep going as if I hadn’t heard him. I knew it was just going to hurt so much worse if I gave him any more of myself, even a minute more of my life. But how could I possibly resist? I’d never been able to when it came to Gideon.

I stepped aside so that my co-workers could exit. Will frowned when I didn’t follow, confused, but Megumi tugged him out. The doors closed.

I moved into the corner, my heart pounding. Gideon waited on the opposite side, radiating expectation and demand. As we climbed to the top floor, my body responded to his near-tangible need. My breasts swelled and became heavy; my sex grew slick and swollen. I was greedy for him. Needful. My breathing quickened.

He hadn’t even touched me and I was nearly panting with desire.

The elevator glided to a stop. Gideon pulled the key out of his pocket and plugged it into the panel, suspending the car. Then he came to me.

There were only inches between us. I kept my head bowed and stared at his gleaming oxfords. I heard his breathing, deep and quick like mine. I smelled the subtly masculine scent of his skin, and my pulse leaped.

“Turn around, Eva.”

A shiver moved through me at the familiar and beloved authoritative tone. Closing my eyes, I turned, then gasped as he immediately pressed against my back, flattening me to the wall of the car. His fingers linked with mine, holding my hands up by my shoulders.

“You’re so beautiful,” he breathed, nuzzling into my hair. “It hurts to look at you.”

“Gideon. What are you doing?”

I felt his hunger pouring off him, enveloping me. His powerful frame was hard and hot, and vibrating with tension. He was aroused, his thick cock a firm pressure I couldn’t stop myself from grinding into. I wanted him. I wanted him inside me. Filling me. Completing me. I’d been so empty without him.

He took a deep shuddering breath. His fingers flexed restlessly between mine, as if he wanted to touch me elsewhere but restrained himself.

I felt the ring I’d given him digging into my flesh. I turned my head to look at it and tensed when I saw it, confused and agonized.

“Why?” I whispered. “What do you want from me? An orgasm? You want to fuck me, Gideon? Is that it? Blow your load inside me?”

His breath hissed out at having those crude words thrown back in his face. “Don’t.”

“Don’t call it what it is?” I closed my eyes. “Fine. Just do it. But don’t put that ring on and act like this is something it’s not.”

“I never take it off. I won’t. Ever.” His right hand released mine and he reached into his pocket. I watched as he slid the ring he’d given me back onto my finger, and then he lifted my hand to his mouth. He kissed it, then pressed his lips-quick, hard, angry-to my temple.

“Wait,” he snapped.

Then he was gone. The car began its descent. My right hand curled into a fist and I backed away from the wall, breathing hard.

Wait. For what?

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