I loved that about him.
“You two hungry?” My dad opened the passenger door for me.
It was just past nine in California, but after midnight in New York. Too late for me to eat usually, but we hadn’t grabbed dinner.
Cary answered before climbing into the backseat. “Starved.”
I laughed. “You’re always hungry.”
“So are you, sweet cheeks,” he shot back, sliding into the center seat so he could lean forward and be in the mix. “I’ve just got no guilt about it.”
We pulled away from the jet and I watched it grow smaller as we cruised down the tarmac toward the exit. I glanced at my dad’s profile, looking for any hint of his thoughts about the lifestyle I’d be living as Gideon’s wife. The private jets. The full-time bodyguards. I knew how he felt about Stanton’s wealth, but that was my stepdad. I was hoping a husband would be cut some slack.
Still, I knew the change in routine was glaring. Previously, we would’ve flown into San Diego’s harbor. We would have headed to the Gaslamp and grabbed a table at Dick’s Last Resort, spending an hour or more laughing at the silliness and enjoying a beer with dinner.
There was tension now that hadn’t been there before. Nathan. Gideon. My mom. They were all hovering between us.
It sucked. Massively.
“What about that place in Oceanside with the slushy beer and peanut shells on the floor?” Cary suggested.
“Yeah.” I twisted in my seat to give him a grateful smile. “That’d be fun.”
Laid-back and familiar. Perfect.
I could tell my dad thought so, too, when I looked at him and his mouth quirked. “You got it.”
We left the airport behind. I dug out my phone and turned it on, wanting to sync it to the Suburban’s sound system so we could listen to music that would take us back to less complicated times.
Texts popped up so fast, they filled my screen then scrolled off.
The most recent one was from Brett. Call me when you get into town.
And right on cue, “Golden” started playing on the radio.
I was climbing the steps of my dad’s tiny porch the next day when my phone started vibrating. I pulled it out of my shorts pocket and felt a tingle of happiness at the sight of Gideon’s picture on the screen.
“Good morning,” I answered, settling into one of the two cushioned wrought-iron chairs near the front door. “Did you sleep well?”
“Well enough.” The beloved soft rasp of his voice slid sweetly through me. “Raúl says Victor’s coffee could wake a hibernating bear.”
I glanced at the Benz parked across the narrow street. The tinted windows were so dark I couldn’t see the man inside. It was a bit freaky that Raúl had somehow managed to talk to Gideon about the coffee I’d just barely taken over to him before I even made it back to the house. “Are you trying to intimidate me with how closely you’re watching me?”
“If intimidation were my goal, I wouldn’t be subtle about it.”
I picked up the mug I’d dropped off on the small patio table prior to making my java delivery to Raúl. “You do know that tone of voice makes me want to irritate you back, don’t you?”
“Because you like the way I rise to the challenge,” he purred, sending little goose bumps across my skin despite the warmth of the summer day.
My mouth curved. “So, what exactly did you guys end up doing last night?”
“The usual. Drink. Give each other a hard time.”
“Did you go out?”
“For a couple of hours.”
My grip tightened on the phone as I pictured a pack of hot guys out on the prowl. “I hope you had fun.”
“It wasn’t bad. Tell me your plans for the day.”
I picked up the same note of tightness in his words that I’d just had. Unfortunately, marriage wasn’t a cure for jealousy. “When Cary wakes up and rolls his ass off the couch, we’ll grab a quick lunch with my dad. Then we’re going down to San Diego to see Dr. Travis.”
I took a sip of my coffee, steeling myself for an argument. I knew he was thinking about Brett. “The band’s manager sent me an e-mail about where to claim VIP tickets, but I’ve decided not to see the show. I figure Cary can take a friend, if he wants. What I have to say won’t take very long, so either I’ll see Brett tomorrow before I leave or we can chat on the phone.”
He exhaled softly. “I expect you have an idea of what you’re going to tell him.”
“I’m gonna keep it simple. With ‘Golden’ and my engagement, I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to see each other socially. I hope we’ll be friends and keep in touch, but e-mail and texts are better, unless you’re with me.”
He was silent long enough that I thought maybe the call had dropped. “Gideon?”
“I need to know if you’re afraid to see him.”
Uneasy, I took another drink. The coffee had cooled, but I barely tasted it anyway. “I don’t want to fight about Brett.”
“So your solution is to avoid him.”
“You and I have enough shit to fight about without throwing him into the mix. He’s not worth it.”
Gideon was quiet again. This time, I waited him out.
When his voice came again, it was confident and decisive. “I can live with that, Eva.”
My shoulders relaxed and something inside me eased. And then, paradoxically, my chest tightened. I remembered what he’d said to me once, that he’d live with me loving another man just so long as he had me.
He loved me so much more than he loved himself. It broke my heart that he’d sell himself short like that. It made it impossible to hold myself back.
“You’re everything to me,” I breathed. “I think about you all the time.”
“It’s no different for me.”
“Really?” I lowered my voice further, trying to keep it down. “Because I have it so bad for you. I get—well, hot. Like I’m overcome with this desperate need to be touching you. My brain scatters and I have to take a minute to ride it out, but it’s so hard to deal. So many times I’ve almost dropped whatever I’m doing to get to you.”
“I have fantasies about barging into one of your meetings and just running right into you. Have I told you that? When the craving is really bad, I can almost feel you pulling at me.”
I rushed on when I heard him growl softly. “I lose my breath every time I see you. If I close my eyes, I can hear your voice. I woke up this morning and I panicked a little because you’re so far away. I would’ve given anything to be able to get to you. I wanted to cry because I couldn’t.”
“Christ. Eva, please—”
“If you’re going to worry about anything, Gideon, it should be me. Because I can’t be rational when it comes to you. I’m crazy about you. Literally. I can’t think about a future without you—it freaks me out.”
“Goddamn it. You’ll never be without me. We’re going to grow old together. Die together. I’m not going to live a single day without you.”
A tear slid from the corner of my eye. I scrubbed it away. “I need you to understand that you’ll never have to settle for pieces of me. You shouldn’t be settling at all. You deserve so much better. You could have anyone—”
I jumped at the lash of his voice.
“You will not ever say anything like that to me again,” he snapped. “Or I swear to God, angel, I will punish you.”
Shocked silence filled the space between us. The words I’d spoken circled restlessly in my mind, taunting me with how pathetic I could be. I never wanted to be dependent on him, but I already was.
“I have to go,” I said hoarsely.
“Don’t hang up. For God’s sake, Eva, we’re married. We’re in love. There’s no shame in that. So what if it’s crazy? It’s us. It’s who we are. You need to come to grips with that.”
The screen door squeaked as my dad stepped onto the porch. I looked at him and said, “My dad’s here, Gideon. I’ll have to talk to you later.”
“You make me happy,” he said, in the deep firm tone he used when making an unswayable decision. “I’d forgotten what that feels like. Don’t devalue what you mean to me.”
“I love you, too.” I ended the call and set the phone down on the table with a shaky hand.
My dad settled into the other chair with his coffee. He wore long shorts and a dark olive T-shirt, but his feet were bare. He’d shaved and his hair was still damp, the ends curling slightly as they dried.
He was my father, but that didn’t stop me from appreciating the fact that he was ridiculously attractive. He kept himself in great shape and had a naturally confident bearing. I could see why my mother hadn’t been able to resist him when they’d met. And apparently still couldn’t.
“I heard you talking,” he said without looking at me.
“Oh.” My stomach dropped. It was bad enough spilling my guts to Gideon. Knowing that my dad had heard me do it only made it worse.
“I was going to talk to you about whether you knew what you were doing, getting engaged so soon and so young.”
I pulled my legs up and crossed them under me. “I figured you would.”
“But now I think I understand what you’re feeling.” He looked at me, his gray eyes soft and searching. “You express it far better than I ever could, back in the day. The most I could ever get out was ‘I love you,’ and it’s just not enough.”
I could see he was thinking about my mom. I knew it must be hard not to when I looked so much like her. “Gideon doesn’t think those words are enough, either.”
I looked down at my rings. The one Gideon had given me to express his need to hold on to me, and the other both a symbol of his commitment and a tribute to a time in his past when he’d last felt loved. “He shows me, though. All the time.”
“I’ve talked to him a few times now.” My dad paused. “I have to remind myself that he’s in his twenties.”
That made me smile. “He’s very self-possessed.”
“He’s also very hard to read.”
My smile widened. “He’s a poker player. But he means what he says.”
I believed Gideon implicitly. He always told me the truth. The problem was, there was a lot he didn’t tell me.
“And he wants to marry my daughter.”
I shot him a look. “You gave him your blessing.”
“He said he would always take care of you. He promised to keep you safe and make you happy.” He stared across the street at the Benz. “I still don’t know why I believe him, even with him staking out my place for you. Doesn’t help that he lied about waiting to ask you.”
“He couldn’t wait, Dad. Don’t hold it against him. He loves me too much.”
He looked at me again. “You didn’t sound happy when you were just talking to him.”
“No. I sounded desperate and insecure.” I sighed. “I love him like mad, but I hate when I get needy with it. We should be balanced in our relationship. Equals.”
“Good goal. Don’t lose sight of it. Does he want that, too?”
“He wants us to be together. In everything. But he’s built a reputation and an empire, and I want to build my own. Not necessarily the empire, but the reputation for sure.”
“Have you talked to him about this?”
“Oh yeah.” My mouth quirked. “But he believes Mrs. Cross should naturally play on Team Cross. And I can see his point.”