“Oh man.” She shot me an apologetic look. “I’m sorry, Eva. I should’ve congratulated you. Will told me about your engagement, but I spaced.”
“It’s totally okay. Don’t worry about it.”
She reached out and squeezed my hand. “I’m really happy for you.”
My concern deepened. Megumi always followed the latest gossip. The friend I knew would’ve heard about the engagement almost before I did.
We took an elevator to the top floor. The Cross Industries vestibule was as striking as Gideon himself. It was much bigger than others in the building and decorated with lilies and ferns in hanging baskets. CROSS INDUSTRIES was etched into the smoked-glass security doors in a masculine but elegant font.
“Impressive,” Megumi murmured, as we waited for the receptionist to buzz us through.
The redhead I was used to seeing at the reception desk must have been out to lunch, because a guy with dark hair let us in.
He stood when we approached. “Good afternoon, Miss Tramell. Scott said you should just go right in.”
“Has Mr. Cross left?”
“I’m not sure. I just took over here.”
“All right. Thank you.” I led Megumi back. We rounded the corner to reach Gideon’s office just in time to see him stepping out.
Fierce pride and possession moved me. Pleasure, too, when his stride faltered just a bit when he saw me. We met each other halfway.
“Hi,” I greeted him.
He gave me a nod in return and held his hand out to Megumi. “I don’t think we’ve been officially introduced. Gideon Cross.”
“Megumi Kaba.” She gave him a firm shake. “Congratulations to you and Eva.”
A ghost of a smile touched his sexy mouth. “I’m a lucky man. Make yourselves comfortable. If you need anything, just call up to reception and Ron will see to it.”
“We’ll be fine,” I told him. “You won’t even know we had a raging party in there while you’re gone.”
He smiled outright. “Good. I have a meeting later. Shot glasses and streamers would be interesting to explain.”
I expected him to head out. Instead, he cupped my face, tilted my head to the angle he wanted, and pressed his lips to mine in an unhurried, chaste kiss that left me with little stars in my eyes.
Then he whispered in my ear, “Looking forward to making up later.”
My toes curled.
Pulling back, he slid easily into the reserved persona he showed the rest of the world. “Enjoy your lunch, ladies.”
He walked away with the confident, innately sexual stride that turned heads.
“And you’re still standing upright,” Megumi murmured, shaking her head. “Kills me.”
I couldn’t explain how weak Gideon made me. How shaken and needy I could so easily become. “Come on,” I said breathlessly. “Let’s eat.”
She followed me into Gideon’s office. “I don’t think I can.”
While she took in the sprawling space with its panoramic views and monochromatic color scheme, I went to the bar, where lunch awaited us. I remembered how I’d felt the first time I walked into the room. Despite the multiple seating areas that might have invited guests to sit and stay awhile, the progressively contemporary, cutting-edge design kept visitors from getting too comfortable.
There were so many sides to the man I’d married. His office reflected only one. The classically European style of his penthouse reflected another.
“Have you ever experimented with BDSM?” Megumi asked, seizing my attention.
Surprise made me drop the napkin-rolled utensils I’d been holding. I spun to face her and found her staring out the window at the city. “That acronym covers a lot of ground.”
She rubbed her wrist. “Being tied up and gagged. Helpless.”
“I’ve been helpless, yes.”
Her head turned. Her eyes were twin shadows in her pale face. “Did you like it? Did it turn you on?”
“No.” I walked over to the nearest couch and sat. “But I wasn’t with the right person.”
“Were you scared?”
“Did he know that?”
The formerly appetizing smell of lunch started to turn my stomach. “Why are you asking me these questions, Megumi?”
She answered by rolling up her sleeve, exposing a wrist so bruised it was nearly black.
IT WAS AFTER eight when I let myself into Eva’s apartment and found her sitting with Cary on the living room’s white sectional sofa, holding a glass of red wine in both hands.
My wife gravitated toward modern traditional furnishings, but I could see touches of her mother and roommate in the décor. I didn’t resent those pieces of Monica and Cary, but I looked forward to the day when I shared a home with Eva that reflected us, undiluted.
Still, the apartment would always be a special place to me. I would never forget the way Eva had looked the first time I’d come over. Naked beneath a thigh-length silk robe, her face made up for the night ahead, a diamond anklet winking at me. Teasing me.
I had lost all rational thought. I’d put my mouth on her, my hands all over her, and my fingers and tongue inside her. I hadn’t even thought about getting her to the “fuck pad.” I wouldn’t have been able to wait, even if I had. She wasn’t like any woman who’d come before her. Not just because of who she was, but also because of who I was when I was with her.
It was unlikely I would ever allow the property management to lease the space out again. It held too many memories, both good and bad.
I tipped my chin at Cary in greeting and sat beside Eva. My wife’s best friend was dressed to go out, while Eva wore a Cross Industries T-shirt and had her hair twisted up in a clip. They both glanced at me, and I knew something was wrong.
There were things to discuss, but whatever was troubling Eva was the pressing priority.
Cary stood. “I’m heading out. Call me if you need me.”
She nodded. “Have fun.”
“My middle name, baby girl.”
The front door shut behind him as Eva’s head fell gently against my shoulder. Sliding my arm around her, I settled deeper into the sofa and tucked her closer. “Talk to me, angel.”
“It’s Megumi.” She sighed. “There’s this guy she was into and things weren’t working out—he was hot-and-cold and couldn’t commit—so she broke it off. But afterward, he stepped it up and she let him come over. They started messing around with a little bondage, but things got out of hand in a bad way.”
The mention of bondage put me on alert. I ran my hand down her back and tucked her tighter against me. I was nothing if not patient in aligning my desires with her fears. Setbacks were expected and accommodated, but I didn’t want someone else’s misadventures to create new hurdles for Eva and me to face.
“Sounds like bad judgment all around,” I said. “One of them should’ve known what they were doing.”
“That’s the thing.” She pulled away and faced me. “I went over it with Megumi. She said no—a lot—until he gagged her. He got off on her pain, Gideon. And now he’s terrorizing her with texts and photos he took of her that night. She’s asked him to stop, but he won’t. He’s sick. Something’s wrong with him.”
I weighed how best to respond. I went with blunt. “Eva. She broke it off, and then took him back. He might not realize she’s serious this time.”
She recoiled, then slid off the couch in a rush of curvy, golden legs. “Don’t make excuses for him! She’s bruised everywhere. It’s been a week and the bruises are still dark. She couldn’t sit down for days!”
“I’m not excusing him.” I stood with her. “I would never justify an abuser—you know that. I don’t have the whole story, but I know your story. Her situation isn’t like yours. Nathan was an aberration.”
“I’m not projecting here, Gideon. I saw the pictures. I saw her wrists, her neck. I saw his texts. He’s crossed a line. He’s dangerous.”
“Even more reason for you to stay out of it.”
Her hands went to her hips. “Oh my God. You did not just say that! She’s my friend.”
“And you’re my wife. I know that look on your face. There are some battles that aren’t yours to fight. You will not confront this man the way you did my mother and Corinne. You will not put yourself in the middle of this.”
“Did I say I was going to do that? No, I didn’t. I’m not an idiot. I asked Clancy to find him and talk to him.”
I went still inside. Benjamin Clancy was her stepfather’s man, not mine. Totally outside my control. “You shouldn’t have done that.”
“What was I supposed to do instead? Nothing?”
“Preferably. At most, you should’ve asked Raúl.”
She threw up her hands. “Why would I do that? I don’t know Raúl enough to ask him for a personal favor.”
I checked my exasperation. “We discussed this. He works for you. You don’t have to ask him for favors, you just need to tell him what you need done.”
“Raúl works for you. Besides, I’m not some godfather sending out hired thugs to teach people lessons. I asked someone I trust, as a friend, to help another friend of mine.”
“However you rationalize it, the result is the same. You forget, Ben Clancy is employed to protect your stepfather’s interests. He looks after you only because it gives him more control in securing Stanton’s safety and reputation.”
She bristled. “How would you know what his motives are?”
“Angel, let’s simplify. Focus on the fact that your mother and Stanton have been invading your privacy for some time. You’re keeping that door open by using their resources.”
“Oh.” Eva caught her lower lip in her teeth. “I hadn’t thought of it that way.”
“You sent a trained professional to ‘talk’ to this guy. But you didn’t fully assess the possibility of blowback. If you’d tapped Raúl to help you, he would’ve known to be extra vigilant.” My jaw clenched. “Damn it, Eva. Don’t make it hard for me to keep you safe!”
“Hey.” She reached for me. “Don’t worry, okay? I told you what was happening as soon as you walked in the door. And Clancy was with me until an hour ago, when he dropped me off after my Krav Maga class. Nothing’s happened yet that would put me in danger.”
I pulled her into me and held on, wishing I could be certain she was right. “I want Raúl to escort you wherever you go,” I said gruffly. “To your classes, the gym, shopping . . . whatever. You need to let me look after you.”
“You do, baby,” she said soothingly, her temper cooled. “But you can be obsessive about it.”
I would always be obsessive when it came to her. I’d come to accept that. Eventually, she would, too. “There are things I can’t give you. Don’t fight me on the things I can.”
“Gideon.” Her face softened. “You give me everything I need.”
I brushed my fingers across her jaw. She was so soft. Delicate. I had never anticipated my sanity hinging on something so fragile. “You come home to another guy. You make your living by working for someone else. I’m not as necessary to you as I’d like to be.”
Her eyes brightened with humor. “While I’m about as dependent on you as I can stand to be.”
“It’s mutual.” Running my hands down her arms, I caught her by the wrists and squeezed with just enough pressure to capture her focus. I watched her pupils dilate and her lips part, her body instinctively responding to the restraint. “Promise you’ll come to me first from now on.”