ICY NEEDLES OF water bombarded my overheated skin, the sting chasing away the clinging shadows of a nightmare I couldn’t fully remember.
Closing my eyes, I stepped deeper into the spray, willing the lingering fear and nausea to circle the drain at my feet. A shiver racked me, and my thoughts shifted to my wife. My angel who slept peacefully in the apartment next door. I wanted her urgently¸ wanted to lose myself in her, and hated that I couldn’t. Couldn’t hold her close. Couldn’t pull her lush body under mine and sink into it, letting her touch chase the memories away.
“Fuck.” I placed my palms flat against the cool tile and absorbed the chill of the punishing deluge into my bones. I was a selfish ass**le.
If I’d been a better man, I would’ve walked away from Eva Cross the moment I saw her.
Instead, I’d made her my wife. And I wanted the news of our marriage broadcast via every medium known to man, rather than hidden away as a secret between less than a handful of people. Worse, since I had no intention of letting her go, I would have to find a way to make up for the fact that I was such a f**king mess we couldn’t even sleep in the same room together.
I lathered, quickly washing away the sticky sweat I’d woken up in. Within minutes I was heading out to the bedroom, where I pulled on a pair of sweats before heading to my home office. It was just barely seven in the morning.
I’d left the apartment Eva shared with her best friend, Cary Taylor, only a couple of hours earlier, wanting to give her time to catch a few hours of sleep before she headed into work. We had been at each other all night, both of us too needy and greedy. But there’d been something else, too. An urgency on Eva’s part that gnawed at me and left me uneasy.
Something was bothering my wife.
My gaze drifted to the window and its view of Manhattan beyond it, then settled on the empty wall where photos of her and us hung in the same space in my penthouse office in our home on Fifth Avenue. I could imagine the collage clearly, having spent countless hours studying it over the last few months. Looking out at the city had once been the way I encapsulated my world. Now, I accomplished that by looking at Eva.
I sat at my desk and woke my computer with a shake of the mouse, taking a deep slow breath as my wife’s face filled my monitor. She wore no makeup in the photo that was my desktop wallpaper, and a smattering of light freckles on her nose made her appear younger than her twenty-four years. My gaze slid over her features—the curve of her brows, the brightness of her gray eyes, the fullness of her lips. In the moments when I let myself think of it, I could almost feel those lips against my skin. Her kisses were benedictions, promises from my angel that made my life worth living.
With a determined exhalation, I picked up the phone and speed-dialed Raúl Huerta. Despite the earliness of the hour, he answered swiftly and alertly.
“Mrs. Cross and Cary Taylor are heading to San Diego today,” I said, my hand curling into a fist at the thought. I didn’t have to say more.
“I want a recent photo of Anne Lucas and a detailed rundown of where she was last night on my desk by noon.”
“At the latest,” he affirmed.
I hung up and stared at Eva’s captivatingly beautiful face. I’d caught her in a happy, unguarded moment, a state of being I was determined to keep her in for the rest of her life. But last night she’d been distressed by a possible run-in with a woman I’d once used. It had been a while since I’d crossed paths with Anne, but if she was responsible for aggravating my wife, she’d be seeing me again. Soon.
Opening my inbox, I started sifting through my e-mails, drafting quick answers when required and working my way toward the subject line that had caught my eye the moment my e-mail opened.
I felt Eva before I saw her.
I lifted my head and my keystrokes slowed. A sudden rush of desire soothed the agitation I felt whenever I wasn’t with her.
I leaned back to better appreciate the view. “You’re up early, angel.”
Eva stood in the doorway with her keys in hand, her blond hair in a sexy tangle around her shoulders, her cheeks and lips flushed from sleep, her curvy body clad in a tank top and shorts. She was braless, her lush tits swelling softly beneath the ribbed cotton. Petite and built to take a man to his knees, she often pointed out how different she was from the women I’d been photographed with before her.
“I woke up missing you,” she replied, with the throaty voice that never failed to make me hard. “How long have you been up?”
“Not long.” I pushed the keyboard drawer in to make room for her on my desk.
She padded over on bare feet, effortlessly seducing me. The moment I first saw her I’d known she would wreck me. The promise was there in her eyes and the way she moved. Everywhere she went, men stared at her. Coveted her. Just like I did.
I caught her by the waist when she came close enough, choosing to pull her onto my lap instead. Bending my head, I caught her nipple in my mouth, drawing on her with long, deep sucks. I heard her gasp, felt her body jolt at the sensation, and smiled inwardly. I could do whatever I wanted to her. She’d given me that right. It was the greatest gift I had ever been given.
“Gideon.” Her hands went to my hair, sifting through it.
I felt infinitely better already.
Lifting my head, I kissed her, tasting the cinnamon of her toothpaste and the underlying flavor that was uniquely her. “Hmm?”
She touched my face, her gaze searching. “Did you have another nightmare?”
I exhaled in a rush. She’d always been able to see right through me. I wasn’t sure I would ever get used to it.
I stroked the pad of my thumb over the damp cotton clinging to her nipple. “I’d rather talk about the wet dreams you’re inspiring right now.”
“What was it about?”
My lips thinned at her persistence. “I don’t remember.”
“Drop it, angel.”
Eva stiffened. “I just want to help you.”
“You know how to do that.”
She snorted. “Sex fiend.”
I cuddled her closer. I couldn’t find the words to tell her how she felt in my arms, so I nuzzled her neck, breathing in the well-loved scent of her skin.
Something in the tone of her voice set me on edge. I pulled back slowly, my gaze gliding over her face. “Talk to me.”
“About San Diego . . .” Her eyes dropped and she caught her lower lip between her teeth.
I stilled, waiting to see where the conversation would go.
“Six-Ninths is going to be there,” she said finally.
She hadn’t tried to hide what I’d already known, which was a relief. But a different kind of tension flooded me instead.
“You’re telling me that’s a problem.” My voice remained steady, but I was anything but calm.
“No, it’s not a problem,” she said softly. But her fingers were tangling restlessly in my hair.
“Don’t lie to me.”
“I’m not.” She took a deep breath and then held my gaze. “Something’s not right. I’m confused.”
“About what, exactly?”
“Don’t be like that,” she said quietly. “Don’t get all icy and freeze me out.”
“You’ll have to forgive me. Listening to my wife tell me she’s confused over another man doesn’t put me in a good mood.”
She squirmed out of my lap and I let her, so I could watch her—gauge her—with some distance between us. “I don’t know how to explain it.”
I deliberately ignored the cold knot in my gut. “Try.”
“It’s just—” Looking down, she chewed on her lower lip. “There’s something . . . not finished.”
My chest grew tight and hot. “Does he turn you on, Eva?”
She stiffened. “It’s not like that.”
“Is it the voice? The tattoos? His magic dick?”
“Stop it. It’s not easy talking about this. Don’t make it harder.”
“It’s damned hard for me, too,” I snapped, pushing to my feet.
I raked her from head to toe, wanting to f**k her and punish her at the same time. I wanted to tie her up, lock her up, safe from anyone who could threaten my grip on her. “He treated you like shit, Eva. Did seeing the ‘Golden’ video make you forget that? Is there something you need that I’m not giving you?”
“Don’t be an ass.” Her arms crossed, a defensive pose that angered me further.
I needed her open and soft. I needed her completely. And there were times when I was maddened by how much she meant to me. She was the one thing I couldn’t imagine losing. And she was saying the one thing I couldn’t bear hearing.
“Please don’t be ugly about this,” she whispered.
“I’m being remarkably civilized, considering how violent I feel at the moment.”
“Gideon.” Guilt darkened her gray eyes, and then tears glistened.
I looked away. “Don’t!”
But she saw into me the way she always did.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you.” The diamond on her ring finger—my claim to her—caught the light and shot sparks of multihued fire against the wall. “I hate that you’re upset and pissed off at me. It hurts me, too, Gideon. I don’t want him. I swear I don’t.”
Restless, I went to the window, trying to find the calm I needed to deal with the danger Brett Kline presented. I’d done everything I could. I had said the vows, slid the ring on her finger. Bound her to me in every way. Yet it still wasn’t enough.
The city spread out before me, the view obstructed by taller buildings. From the penthouse, I could see for miles. But from the Upper West Side apartment I’d taken next door to Eva’s, the vista was limited. I couldn’t see the endless ribbons of streets clogged with yellow taxis or sunlight glinting off the many skyscraper windows.
I could give Eva New York. I could give her the world. I couldn’t love her more than I did; it consumed me. And still, an ass**le from her past was making strides on edging me out.
I remembered her in Kline’s arms, kissing him with a desperation she should feel only for me. The possibility that lust for him might still affect her made me want to tear something apart.
My knuckles popped as my hands fisted. “Do we need to take a break already? Take some time for Kline to clear up your confusion? Maybe I should do the same and help Corinne deal with hers.”
She sucked in a shaky breath at the mention of my former fiancée. “Are you serious?”
There was a terrible stretch of silence.
Then, “Congratulations, dickhead. You just hurt me worse than he ever did.”
I turned in time to see her stalking out of the room, her back rigid and tense. The keys she’d used to let herself in were left on my desk, and the sight of them abandoned triggered something desperate. “Stop.”
I caught her and she struggled, the dynamic between us so familiar—Eva running, me chasing.
“Let me go!”
My eyes closed and I pressed my face against her. “I won’t let him have you.”
“I’m so mad at you right now, I could hit you.”
I wanted her to. Wanted the pain. “Do it.”
She clawed at my forearms. “Put me down, Gideon.”
I turned her around and pinned her to the hallway wall. “What am I supposed to do when you tell me you’re confused about Brett Kline? I feel like I’m hanging on the edge of a cliff and my grip is slipping.”
“So you’re going to tear at me to hold on? Why don’t you get that I’m not going anywhere?”
I stared down at her, scrambling for something to say that would make things right between us. Her lower lip began to quiver and I . . . I unraveled.