Leaning forward, I asked, “How is he?”
“Worse than you, I expect.” He glanced at me briefly before returning his attention to traffic. “He’s suffering, lass. Last night was the hardest.”
“God.” I sank back into the seat, at a loss for what to do.
I didn’t want Gideon to hurt. He’d been hurt too much already.
Pulling out my smartphone, I texted him. I love you.
His reply was almost immediate. Calling. Pls answer.
A moment later the phone vibrated in my hand and his picture appeared on my screen. It was like a quick stab to the heart to see his face after spending the last few days avoiding any image of him. I was equally afraid to hear his voice. I didn’t know if I could be strong. And I didn’t have the answers he needed from me.
My voice mail kicked in and the phone quieted. It started vibrating again right away.
I answered, lifting the phone to my ear without speaking.
There was silence on the line for a long, breathless moment. “Eva?”
My eyes watered at the sound of Gideon’s voice, the rasp in it so deep, as if his throat were rough. What was worse was the hope I heard in the way he said my name, the desperate longing.
“It’s okay if you don’t talk,” he said gruffly. “I just . . .” He gave a shaky exhale. “I’m sorry, Eva. I want you to know I’m sorry and that I’ll do whatever you need me to. I just want to fix this.”
“Gideon . . .” I heard him suck in a sharp inhalation when I said his name. “I believe that you’re sorry we’re not together now. But I also believe that you would do something like this again. I’m trying to figure out if I can live with that.”
Silence hung on the line between us.
“What does that mean?” he asked finally. “What would be the alternative?”
I sighed, suddenly feeling so tired. “I don’t have any answers. That’s why I’ve stayed away. I want to give you everything, Gideon. I never want to say no to you, it’s so hard for me. But right now, I’m afraid that if I make this compromise, if I stay with you knowing how you are and that you’re not going to change, I’m just going to resent you and, eventually, fall out of love with you.”
“Eva . . . Christ. Don’t say that!” His breath snagged. “I told Dr. Petersen. About Hugh.”
“What?” My head snapped up. “When?”
“Last night. I told him everything. About Hugh. Anne. He’s going to help me, Eva. He said some things . . .” He paused. “They made sense to me. About me and the way I am with you.”
“Oh, Gideon.” I could imagine how difficult that must have been for him. I’d lived through that confession myself. “I’m very proud of you. I know it wasn’t easy.”
“You have to stick with me. You promised. I told you I was going to f**k this up. I’ll f**k up again. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, but God . . . I love you. I love you so f**king much. I can’t do this without you. I can’t live without you. You’re breaking me, Eva. I can’t . . .” He made a low, pained noise. “I need you.”
“Ah God, Gideon.” Tears poured down my face and splattered onto my chest, sliding down beneath the neckline of my dress. “I don’t know what to do, either.”
“Can’t we figure it out together? Aren’t we better—stronger—together?”
I wiped at my face, knowing my makeup was ruined and not caring. “I want us to be. I want that more than anything. I just don’t know if we can get there. There hasn’t been a single time when you’ve let me figure things out with you. Not once.”
“If I did . . . if I do—and I will—you’ll come back to me?”
“I haven’t left you, Gideon. I don’t know how.” I looked out the window, spotted a young couple kissing each other good-bye in front of a revolving door before the man ran off. “But yes, if we could really be a team, nothing could keep me away.”
“HEARD you guys landed the PhazeOne campaign.”
I turned my attention from the coffee I was sweetening to raise my brows at Will. “I haven’t heard that.”
He grinned, his eyes sparkling behind his glasses. He was such a happy guy, anchored solidly in a relationship that worked. I was so envious of that serenity. I had felt it only a few times since I’d been with Gideon, and every time it was . . . bliss. How amazing would it be if we could get there and stay there?
“That’s the buzz I’ve been hearing,” he said.
“Man.” I gave an exaggerated sigh. “I am always the last to know.”
I’d been putting on an Oscar-worthy performance all week. Between Mark’s excitement, the imminent adjustment in my work situation, starting my period, and dealing with the mess in my private life, I was focusing every ounce of energy I had left on acting calm. As a result, I’d avoided the office gossip cliques to limit my contact with people. There was only so much happiness/joy/contentment I could fake.
“Mark’s going to kill me for telling you.” Will looked completely unapologetic. “I wanted to be the first to congratulate you.”
“Okay. Thank you. Maybe.”
“I’m dying to get my hands on that system, you know. The tech blogs are wild with rumors about PhazeOne’s features.” He leaned against the counter next to me and gave me a hopeful look.
I wagged my finger at him. “You won’t be hearing any leaks from me.”
“Damn it. A guy’s gotta hope.” He shrugged. “They’re probably going to lock you in solitary somewhere until the release just to keep a lid on it.”
“Makes you wonder why LanCorp would take it to an outside agency, doesn’t it?”
He frowned. “Yeah. I guess. Hadn’t thought about it.”
Neither had I. But Gideon had.
I looked back down at my mug, stirring absently. “There’s a new GenTen coming out soon.”
“I heard. That’s a no-brainer, though. Everyone’s going to buy it.”
Flexing my fingers, I studied my wedding ring and thought about the vows I’d made when I accepted it.
“You got plans for lunch?” he asked.
I picked up my mug and faced him. “Yes, I’m going out with Mark and his partner.”
“Oh, right.” He moved toward the coffeemaker when I got out of the way. “Maybe we could grab drinks after work sometime this week. Drag our significant others with us. If Gideon’s up for it. I know he’s a busy guy.”
I opened my mouth. Closed it again. Will had given me the perfect opening to excuse Gideon. I could take it, but I wanted to share the social parts of my life with my husband. I wanted him with me. If I started excluding him from my life, wasn’t that the beginning of the end?
“Sounds like fun,” I lied, imagining a tension-fraught evening. “I’ll talk to him about it. See what we can work out.”
Will nodded. “Cool. Lemme know.”
“I’VE got a problem.”
“Oh?” I looked across the table at Mark. The Cuban restaurant Steven had chosen was both large and popular. Sunlight streamed in through a massive skylight, while colorful murals decorated the space with parrots and palm fronds. Festive music made me feel like I’d gone on vacation to somewhere exotic, while the rich smell of spices made my tummy perk up for the first time in days.
I rubbed my hands together. “Let’s fix it.”
Steven nodded. “Eva’s right. Lay it on us.”
Mark pushed the menu aside and set his elbows on the table. “So Mr. Waters told me this morning to start working on the LanCorp brief.”
“Yay!” I applauded.
“Not so fast. In light of that, I had to give him my notice. I’d been hoping to wait until Friday, but they need someone who can stick with the client all the way through, not just the first month.”
“You’ve got a point,” I conceded, my smile fading. “What a bummer, though.”
“It sucked, but . . .” He shrugged. “It is what it is. Then he called in the other partners. They told me that the LanCorp brass was insistent that I head the campaign when they first approached the agency, enough so that the partners are worried they’ll lose the account if I’m not managing it.”
Steven grinned and slapped him on the shoulder. “That’s what we like to hear!”
Mark gave a sheepish smile. “Yeah, it was a boost, for sure. So anyway, they offered me a promotion and a raise if I’ll stay.”
“Whoa.” I sat back. “That’s a serious boost.”
“They can’t offer what Cross did. Not even half, but let’s be honest, he’s overpaying me.”
“Says you,” Steven scoffed. “You’re worth every penny.”
I nodded, even though I had only a vague idea of what Gideon had put on the table. “I agree with that.”
“But I feel like I owe Waters Field and Leaman some loyalty.” Mark rubbed at his jaw. “They’ve been good to me and they want to keep me, even knowing I can be poached by someone else.”
“You’ve given them good work for years,” Steven countered. “They got a lot out of you. You don’t owe them any favors.”
“I know that. And I was fine with leaving an empty office behind, because they could fill that quick enough. But I’m having a hard time with possibly costing them the LanCorp campaign when I go.”
“But that decision isn’t yours to make,” I pointed out. “If LanCorp doesn’t retain the agency, that’s up to them.”
“I’ve tried spinning it that way, too. But it’s still not something I want to see happen.”
The server came by to take our order. I looked at Steven. “Can you do the honors?”
“Sure.” He looked at Mark, who gave a quick nod to signal the same request. Steven ordered for all of us.
I waited until we were alone again to speak, unsure of how to say what needed to be said. In the end, I went with blunt. “I can’t work on the PhazeOne campaign.”
Mark and Steven stared at me.
“Look, the Landons and the Crosses go way back,” I explained, “and there’s bad blood between them. Gideon’s got some concerns, and I see his point. It’s strong enough for me to be cautious.”
Mark frowned. “Landon knows who you are. He doesn’t have a problem with it.”
“I know. But the PhazeOne system is a pretty big deal. There’s risk involved with having access to it, and I don’t need to contribute to that in any way.” It was hard admitting that Gideon was right, because I knew I was right, too. Which left us at an impasse I didn’t know how to get around.
Steven leaned closer and studied me. “You’re serious.”
“Afraid so. Not that your decision is in any way affected by me, Mark, but I thought I should put that out there.”
“I’m not sure I understand,” Mark said.
“She’s telling you that if you stay with your job, you’ll be losing both the money and your assistant,” Steven clarified. “Or you can move to Cross Industries as you’ve already agreed to do, get the money, and keep Eva.”
“Well . . .” God. This was harder than I’d thought it would be. I had heard it but now I was living it: Any woman who loses or gives up a job she loves because of a man will resent it . . . What had ever made me think I would be somehow exempt? “I can’t say yet that I’ll be making the move with you.”
Mark fell back against the burgundy vinyl booth. “This just keeps getting worse.”