I stepped back and Gideon let me go. It was hard to watch Cary struggling. It was scary, too. He didn’t handle challenges well and I was so afraid he’d slip back into familiar, self-destructive coping mechanisms. It was a threat we both faced on a daily basis. I had a group of people who kept me anchored. Cary had only me.
“That’s what families are for, Cary.” I offered a smile. “To drive each other crazy and straight into therapy.”
He snorted, then hid his face behind his mug. The lack of a glib reply made me even more anxious. A heavy silence descended.
Gideon and I both gave him a minute, taking the time to grab our own cups of java and caffeinate ourselves. We didn’t speak or even look at each other, not wanting to create a unit that left Cary out, but I felt how in sync we were. It meant so much to me. I’d never had someone in my life who was a true partner, a lover who was there for more than just a good time.
Gideon was a miracle in so many ways.
It struck me then that I had to make some adjustments, compromise a little more on the issue of working with Gideon. I had to stop thinking of Team Cross as being his alone. I had to own it, too, so I could share in it with him.
“I’ve got time next week,” Cary said finally, looking at me, then Gideon.
Gideon nodded. “Let’s plan on Wednesday, then. Give us some room to recover from the weekend.”
Cary’s mouth twitched. “So it’s that kind of party.”
I smiled back. “Is there any other kind?”
“HOW are you?” I asked Megumi when we sat down for lunch on Thursday afternoon.
She looked better than she had on Monday, but she was still overdressed for the heat of the summer. Because of that, I’d ordered salads for delivery and we settled in the break room instead of braving the steamy day outside.
She managed a wan smile. “Better.”
“Does Lacey know what happened?” I wasn’t sure how close Megumi was to her roommate, but I hadn’t forgotten that Lacey had dated Michael first.
“Not all of it.” Megumi pushed at her salad with a plastic fork. “I feel so stupid.”
“We’re always quick to blame ourselves, but no means no. It’s not your fault.”
“I know that, but still . . .”
I knew just how she felt. “Have you thought about talking to someone?”
She glanced at me, tucking her hair behind her ear. “Like a counselor or something?”
“Not really. How do you even start looking for someone like that?”
“We’ve got mental health benefits. Call the number on the back of your insurance card. They’ll give you a list of providers to choose from.”
“And I just . . . pick one?”
“I’ll help you.” And if I got my act together, I’d find a way to help more women like her and me. Something good had to come of our experiences. I had the motivation and the means. I just had to find the way.
Her eyes glistened. “You’re a good friend, Eva. Thanks for being here.”
I leaned over and hugged her.
“He hasn’t texted me lately,” she said when I pulled back. “I keep dreading that he’s going to, but every hour that goes by that he doesn’t, I feel better.”
Settling back in my seat, I sent a silent thank-you to Clancy. “Good.”
AT five o’clock, I left work and took the elevator up to Cross Industries, hoping to catch some time with Gideon before our appointment with Dr. Petersen.
I’d been thinking about him all day, about the future I wanted us to have together. I wanted him to respect my individuality and my personal boundaries, but I also wanted him to open up some of his own. I wanted more moments like this morning with Cary, when Gideon and I stood together, facing a situation as one. I couldn’t really push for that if I wasn’t willing to make the same effort.
The redheaded receptionist at Cross Industries buzzed me in. She greeted me with a hard smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “Can I help you?”
“No, I’m good, thanks,” I replied, breezing past her. It would be nice if all of Gideon’s employees could be as easy-natured as Scott, but the receptionist had an issue with me and I’d just come to accept it.
I headed back to Gideon’s office and found Scott’s desk empty. Through the glass, I saw my husband at work, presiding over a meeting with casual authority. He stood in front of his desk, leaning back against it with one ankle crossed over the other. He wore his jacket and faced an audience composed of two suit-clad gentlemen and one woman wearing a great pair of Louboutins. Scott sat off to the side, taking notes on a tablet.
Settling into one of the chairs by Scott’s desk, I watched Gideon as raptly as the others in the room with him. It never ceased to amaze me how self-assured he was for a man who was only twenty-eight. The men he was meeting with looked to be twice his age, and yet their body language and focused attention told me they respected my husband and what he was saying.
Yes, money talked—loudly—and Gideon had tons of it. But he conveyed command and control with subtle actions. I recognized that after living with Nathan’s father, my mom’s first husband, who’d wielded power like a blunt instrument.
Gideon knew how to own a room without thumping his chest. I doubted the setting made any difference; he would be a formidable presence in anyone’s office.
His head turned and his gaze met mine. There was no surprise in those brilliantly blue eyes of his. He’d known I was there, had sensed me just as I often sensed his approach without looking. We were connected somehow, on a level I couldn’t explain. There were times when he wasn’t with me and I just wished he was, but I still felt him nearby.
I smiled, then dug in my bag for my phone. I didn’t want Gideon to feel like I was just sitting around waiting, not that doing so would pressure him at all.
There were dozens of e-mail messages from my mother with photo attachments of dresses and flowers and wedding venues, reminding me that I needed to talk with her about Dad paying for the ceremony. I’d been putting off that conversation all week, trying to steel myself for her reaction. There was also another text from Brett, telling me that we needed to talk . . . urgently.
Standing, I looked around for a quiet corner where I could make that call. What I saw was Christopher Vidal Sr. rounding the corner.
Gideon’s stepfather was dressed in the khakis and loafers I’d come to expect, with a pale blue dress shirt open at the collar and rolled up at the sleeves. The dark copper waves he’d passed on to Christopher Jr. were neatly cut around his neck and ears, and his slate green eyes were capped with a frown behind old-school brass-framed glasses.
“Eva.” Chris slowed as he neared me. “How are you?”
He nodded, looking over my shoulder at Gideon’s office. “Can’t complain. Do you have a minute? I’d like to talk to you about something.”
“Sure.” The door opened behind me and I turned to see Scott stepping out.
“Mr. Vidal,” he said, coming toward us. “Miss Tramell. Mr. Cross will be another fifteen minutes or so. Can I get either of you something to drink while you wait?”
Chris shook his head. “Nothing for me, thank you. But if you have a private room we could use, that would be great.”
“Of course.” Scott looked at me.
“I’m good, thanks,” I answered.
Leaving his tablet on his desk, Scott led us to a conference room with a sweeping view of the city. A long, polished wood table gleamed beneath the recessed lighting, with a matching cabinet covering one wall and a large monitor lining the other.
“If you need anything,” he began, “just dial one and we’ll take care of it. There’s coffee in the cabinet there, and water.”
Chris nodded. “Thank you, Scott. Appreciate it.”
Scott left. Chris gestured for me to sit, then took the chair to the right of mine, spinning it to face me.
“First, let me congratulate you on your engagement.” He smiled. “Ireland speaks very highly of you, and I know you’ve been instrumental in bringing her and Gideon closer together. I can’t thank you enough for that.”
“I didn’t do much, but I appreciate the thought.”
He reached for my left hand, which was resting on the table. His thumb rubbed gently over my engagement ring and his mouth curved ruefully.
Was he thinking about the fact that Geoffrey Cross had selected the ring for Elizabeth?
“It’s a beautiful ring,” he said finally. “I’m sure it meant a great deal to Gideon to give it to you.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. It meant a lot to my husband because it was a symbol of the love between his parents.
Chris released my hand. “Elizabeth is taking this very hard. I’m sure there are a lot of complicated emotions a mother must feel when her first child decides to get married, especially with a son. My mother used to say that a son is a son until he gets married—then he’s a husband—but a daughter is a daughter for life.”
The conciliatory explanation rubbed me the wrong way. He was trying to be kind, but I was tired of all the excuses, especially when it came to Elizabeth Vidal. The pretending had to end or Gideon would never stop hurting.
I needed the pain to stop. Every time he woke up crying, it shattered me a little more. I could only imagine the damage it was doing to him.
Still, I debated letting it go for now. I could argue and push forever, but Gideon needed to be the one to demand the answers and hear them given.
Put it away. When the time is right, it’ll happen.
But I found myself leaning forward instead, unable to hold the silence Gideon had kept for too long.
“Let’s be honest,” I insisted quietly. “Your wife didn’t have this reaction when Gideon became engaged to Corinne.” I didn’t know that for sure, but having seen Elizabeth with Corinne’s parents at the hospital, it seemed likely.
His sheepish smile proved me right. “I think that was different because Gideon had been with Corinne awhile and we knew her. You and Gideon haven’t been together long, so there’s still some adjusting to do. I don’t want you to take it personally, Eva.”
The smile chafed, but it was the words that were too much for me. Resentment welled and flowed over the wall I tried to contain it behind.
Chris wasn’t blameless, either. Taking a grieving, troubled boy into his home had to have been hard—especially when he’d been building his own family with Christopher Jr. and Ireland on the way. But he’d accepted the role of stepfather when he married Elizabeth. He shared responsibility for pursuing justice for a wounded and exploited child. Hell, a stranger would have an obligation to report the crime.
Leaning forward, I let him see how angry I was. “It’s very personal, Mr. Vidal. Elizabeth is feeling threatened because I’m not going to put up with this bullshit anymore. You both owe Gideon an apology and she needs to admit to the abuse. I’m going to keep pressuring her to make things right. You can count on that.”
His posture stiffened visibly. “What are you talking about?”
I snorted with disgust. “Seriously?”
“Elizabeth would never abuse her children,” he said tightly when I didn’t reply. “She’s a wonderful, devoted mother.”
I blinked, then stared at him. Was he as delusional as Elizabeth? How could they both act like they didn’t know?
“I think you’d better explain yourself, Eva. Fast.”
I sagged back into the chair, stunned. If he was acting, he deserved a goddamned Academy Award.
He surged forward without getting up, bristling and aggressive. “Start talking. Now.”