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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 asshole.
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 fucking 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 fuck 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 asshole 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.
“Tell me how to handle this,” I said hoarsely, circling her wrists and exerting gentle pressure. “Tell me what to do.”
“Handle me, you mean?” Her shoulders went back. “Because I’m what’s wrong here. I knew Brett during a time in my life when I hated myself but wanted other people to love me. And now he’s acting the way I wanted him to back then and it’s giving me a head trip.”
“Christ, Eva.” I pressed harder, flattening my body against her. “How am I not supposed to feel threatened by that?”
“You’re supposed to trust me. I told you because I didn’t want you to get weird vibes and jump to conclusions. I wanted to be honest about it so you wouldn’t feel threatened. I know I’ve got some stuff to work out in my head. I’m going to see Dr. Travis this weekend and—”
“Shrinks aren’t a cure-all!”
“Don’t yell at me.”
I fought the urge to slam my fist into the plaster behind her. My wife’s blind faith in the healing properties of therapy frustrated the hell out of me. “We’re not running to a damned doctor every time we’ve got a problem. It’s you and me in this marriage. Not the goddamned psychiatric community!”
Her chin lifted, her jaw taking on the determined slant that drove me crazy. She never gave me an inch unless my cock was inside her. Then she gave me everything.
“You may think you don’t need help, ace, but I know I do.”
“What I need is you.” I cupped her head in my hands. “I need my wife. And I need her thinking about me and not some other guy!”
“You’re making me wish I hadn’t said anything.”
My lip curled in a sneer. “I knew how you felt. I’ve seen it.”
“God. You jealous, crazy . . .” She moaned softly. “Why don’t you understand how much I love you? Brett’s got nothing on you. Nothing. But honestly, I don’t want to be around you right now.”
I felt her resistance, the pushback of her trying to get away. I clutched her like a lifeline. “Can’t you see what you’re doing to me?”
Eva softened in my arms. “I don’t get you, Gideon. How can you just flip a switch and turn your feelings off? Knowing how I feel about Corinne, how could you throw her in my face like that?”
“You’re the reason I breathe, I can’t turn it off.” I slid my mouth across her cheek. “I think of nothing but you. All day. Every day. Everything I do, I do with you in mind. There’s no room for anyone else. It kills me that you have room for him.”
“You’re not listening.”
“Just stay the hell away from him.”
“That’s avoidance, not a solution.” Her fingers dug into my waist. “I’m broken, Gideon, you know that. I’m piecing myself back together.”
I loved her just the way she was. Why wasn’t that enough?
“Thanks to you I’m stronger than I’ve ever been,” she went on, “but there are still cracks and when I find them, I have to figure out what made them and how to seal them up. Permanently.”
“What the fuck does that mean?” My hands pushed beneath her top, seeking her bare skin.
She stiffened and pushed at me, rejecting me. “Gideon, no . . .”
I sealed my mouth over hers. Lifting her off her feet, I took her to the floor. She struggled and I growled, “Don’t fight me.”
“You can’t just screw our problems away.”
“I just want to screw you.” My thumbs hooked into the waistband of her shorts and shoved them down. I was frantic to be in her, possessing her, feeling her surrender. Anything to drown out the voice in my head telling me I’d fucked up. Again. And this time, I wouldn’t be forgiven.
“Let me go.” She rolled onto her stomach.
My arms banded around her hips when she tried to crawl away. She could throw me off as she’d been trained to and she could cut me off with a word. Her safeword . . .
Eva froze at the sound of my voice and the one word meant to convey the riot of emotions she shattered me with.
It was in that eye of the storm that something snapped. A fierce and familiar quiet exploded within me, silencing the panic shaking my confidence. I stilled, absorbing the sudden absence of turmoil. It had been a long time since I’d last felt the dizzying switch between chaos and control. Only Eva could rock me so deeply, sending me hurtling back to a time when I’d been at the mercy of everything and everyone.
“You’re going to stop fighting me,” I told her calmly. “And I’m going to apologize.”
She went lax in my arms. Her submission was total and swift. I had the upper hand again.
I pulled her up and back, so that she was sitting on my thighs. Eva needed me in control. When I was reeling, she scattered, which only shook me more. It was a vicious cycle and I had to get a better grip on it.
“I’m sorry.” Sorry for hurting her. Sorry for losing my command of the situation. I’d been edgy after the nightmare—something she’d intuited—and getting hit with Kline immediately after hadn’t given me time to get my shit together.
I would deal with him. I’d keep a tight grasp on her. Period. There were no other options.
“I need your support, Gideon.”
“I need you to tell him you’re married.”
She leaned her temple against my cheek. “I’m going to.”
I shifted her to sit across my lap and leaned back against the wall, cradling her close. Her arms wrapped around my neck and my world righted itself again.
Her hand slid down my chest. “Ace . . .”
The coaxing note in her voice was one I knew well. I was hard in an instant, my blood hot and thick. Submitting to me turned Eva on, and that reaction from her fired me up like nothing else.
I pushed my hand into her hair and fisted the soft gold strands, watching the way her eyes grew heavy-lidded at the feel of the gentle tug. She was restrained and at my mercy, and she loved it. Needed it, just as much as I did.
I took her mouth.
Then I took her.
While Angus drove Eva and me to work, I scrolled through my appointment calendar and thought of my wife’s eight-thirty flight.
I glanced at her. “You’ll take one of the jets to California.”
She had been looking out the window of the Bentley, city-scoping with her usual eager interest. She turned her gaze to me.
I was born in New York. I’d grown up in and near the city and eventually began to make it my own. At some point, I’d stopped noticing it. But Eva’s fascination and delight with my hometown had reintroduced it to me. I didn’t study the city with the intensity she did, but I saw it with fresh eyes all the same.
“Will I?” she challenged, her eyes betraying her countering attraction to me.
Her fuck-me look kept me redlined constantly.
“Yes.” I closed my tablet case. “It’s faster, more comfortable, and safer.”
Her mouth curved. “All right.”
That hint of teasing amusement captivated me, made me want to do everything wicked and raw to her until only complete surrender remained.
“You get to tell Cary,” she went on, switching the cross of her legs and revealing the lacy edge of her stockings and a peek of her garter.
She was wearing a red sleeveless shirt and a white skirt with strappy heels. A perfectly acceptable businesslike outfit that was elevated by the body inside it to understated sexiness. Electricity arced between us, the instinctive recognition that we had been made to fit together perfectly.
“Ask me to come with you,” I said, hating the thought of her being away from me for an entire weekend.
Her smile faded. “I can’t. If I’m going to start telling people we’re married, I have to start with Cary, and I can’t do that with you around. I don’t want him to feel like he’s on the outside of a life I’m creating with you.”
“I don’t want to be on the outside, either.”
She linked her fingers with mine. “Spending private time with friends doesn’t make us any less of a couple.”
“I prefer to spend time with you. You’re the most interesting person I know.”
Her eyes widened and she stared at me. Then she exploded into movement, hitching up her skirt and straddling me before I realized what she was doing. Cupping my face in her hands, she pressed her gloss-slick lips to mine and kissed me senseless.
“Umm,” I moaned, as she pulled away breathlessly. My fingers flexed into the generous curve of her gorgeous ass. “Do that again.”
“I’m so hot for you right now,” she breathed, rubbing my lips clean with her thumb.
“I’m good with that.”
Her husky laugh slid all around me. “I feel so awesome right now.”
“Better than you did in the hallway?” Her joy was infectious. If I could’ve stopped time, I would have at that moment.
“That’s a different kind of awesome.” Her fingertips tap-danced on my shoulders. She was . . . radiant when she was happy, and her pleasure brightened everything around her. Even me. “That was the best compliment, ace. Especially coming from the Gideon Cross. You meet fascinating people every day.”
“And wish they’d go away so I can get back to you.”
Her eyes glistened. “God, I love you so much it hurts.”
My hands shook and I dug them into the backs of her thighs to hide it from her. My gaze wandered, trying to latch on to something that would anchor me.
If she only knew what she did to me with those three little words.
She hugged me. “I want you to do something for me,” she murmured.
“Let’s have a party.”
Seizing the opportunity to move on to other topics... “Great. I’ll set up the swing.”
Pulling back, Eva shoved at my shoulder. “Not that kind of party, fiend.”
I sighed. “Bummer.”
She gave me a wicked smile. “How about I promise the swing in return for the party?”
“Ah, now we’re talking.” I settled back, enjoying her immensely. “Tell me what you have in mind.”
“Booze and friends, yours and mine.”
“All right.” I considered the possibilities. “I’ll see you your booze and friends, and raise you a quickie in a dark corner somewhere during.”
Her throat worked on a quick swallow and I smiled inwardly. I knew my angel well. Indulging her closet exhibitionism was a complete 360 turnaround for me, and though it still amazed me when I thought about it, I didn’t mind in the least. There was nothing I wouldn’t do for those moments when the only thing that mattered to her was being filled with my cock.
“You drive a hard bargain,” she said.
“Exactly my intention.”
“Okay, then.” She licked her lips. “I’ll see you your quickie and raise you a hand job under the table.”
My brows rose. “Clothed,” I countered.
Something that sounded like a purr rumbled in the air between us. “I think you need to revisit and revise, Mr. Cross.”
“I think you’ll need to work harder to convince me, Mrs. Cross.”
She was, as always, the most invigorating negotiation of my day.
We separated on the twentieth floor, where she exited the elevator into the Waters Field & Leaman foyer. I was determined to get her on my team and working for me. It was an objective I strategized every day.
When I reached my office, my assistant was already at his desk.
“Good morning,” Scott greeted me, standing as I approached. “PR called a few minutes ago. They’re fielding an unusual amount of inquiries about a rumored engagement between you and Miss Tramell. They’d like to know how to respond.”
“They should confirm.” I passed him and went to the coat rack in the corner behind my desk.
He followed. “Congratulations.”
“Thank you.” I shrugged out of my jacket and slung it on a hook. When I glanced at him again, he was grinning.
Scott Reid handled myriad tasks for me with quiet care, which led others to often underestimate him and allow him to go unnoticed. On more than one occasion, his detailed observations of individuals had proven extremely insightful, and so I overpaid him for his position to keep him from going anywhere else.
“Miss Tramell and I will marry before the end of the year,” I told him. “All interview and photo requests for either of us should be routed through Cross Industries. And tell security downstairs the same. No one should get to her without going through me first.”
“I’ll let them know. Also, Mr. Madani wanted to be notified when you got in. He’d like a few minutes with you before the meeting this morning.”
“I’m ready when he is.”
“Great,” Arash Madani said, walking in. “There used to be days when you were here before seven. You’re slacking off, Cross.”
I shot the lawyer a warning look that carried no heat. Arash lived to work and was damned good at it, which is why I hired him away from his former employer. He’d been the toughest counsel I had ever run across, and in the years since, that hadn’t changed.
Gesturing at one of the two chairs in front of my desk, I took my seat and watched him take his. His dark blue suit was simple but bespoke, his wavy black hair tamed by a precision cut. Sharp intelligence marked his dark brown eyes, extending to a smile that was more warning than greeting. He was a friend as well as an employee, and I valued his lack of bullshit.
“We’ve received a respectable bid on the property on Thirty-sixth,” he said.
“Oh?” A tangle of emotions held my reply for a moment. The hotel Eva hated remained a problem as long as I owned it. “That’s good.”
“That’s curious,” he shot back, setting one ankle on the opposite knee, “considering how slowly the market’s recovering. I had to dig through several layers, but the bidder is a subsidiary of LanCorp.”
“Cocky. Landon knows the next highest bid is a ways off—about ten million ways. I recommend we pull the property off the market and revisit in a year or two.”
“No.” Sitting back, I waved away the suggestion. “Let him have it.”
Arash blinked. “Are you shitting me? Why are you in such a hurry to get rid of that hotel?”
Because I can’t keep it in my holdings without hurting my wife. “I have my reasons.”
“That’s what you said when I advised you to sell it a few years ago and you chose to sink millions in renovations into it instead. An expense that you’re just finally breaking even on, and now you want to offload it in a still-shaky market to a guy who wants your head?”
“It’s never a bad time to sell real estate in Manhattan.” And certainly, never a bad time to dump something Eva called my “fuck pad.”
“There are better times, and you know it. Landon knows it. You sell to him, you’ll only be encouraging him.”
“Good. Maybe he’ll up his game.”
Ryan Landon had an ax to grind; I didn’t hold it against him. My father had decimated the Landon fortune and Ryan wanted a Cross to pay for that. He wasn’t the first or last businessman to come after me because of my father, but he was the most tenacious. And he was young enough to have plenty of time to dedicate to the task.
I looked at the photo of Eva on my desk. All other considerations were secondary.
“Hey,” Arash said, lifting his hands in mock surrender, “it’s your business. I just need to know if the rules have changed.”
“If you believe that, Cross, you’re further out of the game than I thought. While Landon’s plotting your ruin, you’re off at the beach.”
“Stop kicking my ass for taking a weekend off, Arash.” I’d do it again in an instant. Those days I’d spent with Eva in the Outer Banks had been every fucking dream I’d never allowed myself to have.
I stood and walked to the window. LanCorp’s offices were in the high-rise two blocks over, and Ryan Landon’s office had a prime view of the Crossfire Building. I suspected he spent more than a few moments every day staring at my office and planning his next move. Occasionally, I stared back and dared him to bring it harder.
My father was a criminal who’d destroyed countless lives. He was also the man who’d taught me how to ride a bike and to sign my name with pride. I couldn’t save Geoffrey Cross’s reputation, but I could damn sure protect what I’d built out of his ashes.
Arash joined me at the window. “I’m not going to say I wouldn’t hole up with a babe like Eva Tramell if I could. But I’d have my goddamn cell phone with me. Especially in the middle of a high-stakes negotiation.”
Remembering how melted chocolate tasted on Eva’s skin, I thought a hurricane could’ve been ripping shingles off the roof and I wouldn’t have given it a second’s attention. “You’re making me pity you.”
“LanCorp’s acquisition of that software set you back years in research and development. And it’s made him cocky.”
That was what really got Arash’s blood up, Landon’s pleasure in his own success. “That software’s next to worthless without PosIT’s hardware.”
He glanced at me. “So?”
“Agenda item number three.”
He faced me. “It said To Be Determined on my copy.”
“Well, it says PosIT on my mine. That game enough for you?”
My desk phone beeped, followed by Scott’s voice projecting from the speaker. “A couple things, Mr. Cross. Miss Tramell is on line one.”
“Thank you, Scott.” I headed for the receiver with the thrill of the hunt coursing through my blood. If we acquired PosIT, Landon would be back to square one. “When I’m clear, I need Victor Reyes on the line.”
“Will do. Also, Mrs. Vidal is at reception,” he went on, stopping me in my tracks. “Would you like me to postpone the morning meeting?”
I looked out the glass partition that divided my office from the rest of the floor, even though I couldn’t see my mother from that distance. My hands clenched at my sides. According to the clock on my phone, I had ten minutes to spare and my wife on the line. The urge was there to make my mother wait until I could fit her in my schedule, not hers, but I shoved it down.
“Buy me twenty minutes,” I told him. “I’ll take the calls with Miss Tramell and Reyes, then you can bring Mrs. Vidal back.”
I waited a beat. Then I picked up the phone and hit the rapidly blinking button.
The impact of Gideon’s voice on my senses was as hard-hitting as it had been the first time I’d heard it. Cultured yet smoky with sensuality, it knocked me for a loop both in the darkness of my bedroom and over the phone, where I couldn’t be distracted by that incomparably gorgeous face of his.
“Hi.” I slid my swivel chair a little closer to my desk. “Is it a bad time?”
“If you need me, I’m here.”
Something in his voice didn’t hit me right. “I can call back later.”
“Eva.” The authoritative bite when he said my name had my toes flexing in my nude sling-back Louboutins. “Say what you need.”
You, I almost said, which was more than a little insane considering he’d just fucked my brains out only a couple hours before. After he’d fucked my brains out damn near all night long.
Instead, I told him, “I need a favor.”
“I’ll enjoy the payback.”
Some of the tension left my shoulders. He’d hurt me by mentioning Corinne the way he had, and the argument that followed was still fresh in my mind. But I had to push it aside, let it go. “Does security have the home addresses of everyone who works in the Crossfire?”
“They have copies of IDs. Tell me why you’re asking.”
“The receptionist here at work is a friend of mine and she’s been out sick all week. I’m worried about her.”
“If you’re hoping to head over to her place and check up on her, you should get the address from her.”
“I would if she’d return my calls.” I ran my fingertip around the lip of my coffee mug and stared at the collage of pictures of Gideon and me that decorated my desk.
“Are you not on speaking terms at the moment?”
“No, we’re not fighting or anything. It’s just not like her to not get in touch with me, especially when she’s calling in sick to work every day. She’s a chatty girl, you know?”
“No,” he drawled. “I have no idea.”
If it had been any other guy who’d said that, I would think he was being sarcastic. But not Gideon. I didn’t think he’d ever really talked with women in any meaningful way. He was too often clueless when interacting with me, as if his social development hadn’t quite been well rounded when it came to dealing with the opposite sex.
“Then you’ll have to take my word for it, ace. I just . . . I want to make sure she’s all right.”
“My lawyer’s standing right here, but I don’t have to ask him about the legality of giving you the information you’re asking for via the means you’ve suggested. Call Raúl. He’ll find her.”
“Really?” An image of the dark-haired, dark-eyed security specialist ran through my mind. “Is he going to be okay with that?”
“Angel, he’s paid to be okay with everything.”
“Oh.” I fiddled with my pen. I knew I shouldn’t feel uncomfortable using Gideon’s resources, but it made me feel as if our relationship were unbalanced in his favor. While I didn’t believe he would ever hold that over me, I didn’t think he’d see me as equal to him, either, and that was really important to me.
He had already taken care of issues on his own that I should’ve been a part of. Like Sam Yimara’s horrid sex tape of Brett and me. And Nathan.
Still, I asked, “How do I reach him?”
“I’ll text you his number.”
“I want either myself, Angus, or Raúl with you when you go see her.”
“And that wouldn’t be awkward at all.” I glanced at Mark’s office to make sure my boss didn’t need me for anything. I tried not to make personal calls at work, but Megumi had been out for four days straight without a single returned call or text the whole time.
“Don’t throw me that ‘chicks before dicks’ line, Eva. You need to give me something here.”
I got the subtext. He was worried about me going to San Diego and was letting that issue slide. I had to bend a little somewhere else in return. “Okay, okay. If she’s not back in the office on Monday, we’ll figure out how to handle it.”
“Good. Anything else?”
“No. That’s it.” My gaze returned to a photo of him and my heart hurt just a little, the way it always did when I looked at him. “Thank you. I hope you have an amazing day. I love you madly, you know. And no, I don’t expect you to say it back while your lawyer’s hanging around.”
“Eva.” There was an aching note in his voice that moved me more than words ever could. “Come see me when you get off work.”
“Sure. Don’t forget to call Cary about taking your jet.”
“Consider it done.”
I hung up and sat back in my chair.
“Good morning, Eva.”
I swiveled to face Christine Field, the executive chairman. “Good morning.”
“I wanted to congratulate you again on your engagement.” Her gaze went past my shoulder to the framed photos behind me. “I’m sorry, I hadn’t realized you and Gideon Cross were dating.”
“That’s okay. I try not to talk about my personal life at work.”
I made the statement casually, because I didn’t want to antagonize one of the partners. Still, I hoped she got the hint. Gideon was the center of my life, but I needed some parts of it to belong only to me.
She laughed. “That’s good! But just goes to show that I’m not keeping my ear close enough to the ground.”
“I doubt you’re missing anything important.”
“Are you the reason Cross approached us with the Kingsman campaign?”
I winced inwardly. Of course she’d think I would recommend my employer to my boyfriend, because she’d assume Gideon and I had been dating at least long enough to make an engagement plausible. Telling her I had been with Waters Field & Leaman longer than I’d been with Gideon, when I had been employed there only a couple of months, would open up speculation I didn’t want floating around.
Worse, I was pretty certain Gideon had used the vodka campaign as an excuse to draw me into his world on his terms. That didn’t mean Mark hadn’t done a phenomenal job on the request for proposal. I didn’t want my relationship with Gideon to shift any of the focus away from my boss and his accomplishments.
“Mr. Cross approached the agency on his own,” I replied, sticking to the truth. “Which was a great decision. Mark rocked that RFP.”
Christine nodded. “He did. All right. I’ll let you get back to work. Mark’s been singing your praises, too, by the way. We’re glad to have you on our team.”
I managed a smile, but my day was off to a rocky start. First, Gideon knocked me sideways with his Corinne bullshit. Then, finding Megumi still out sick. Now, I’d rolled into being treated differently at work because my name was connected to Gideon’s in a significant way.
Opening my inbox, I started going through the morning’s e-mail. I understood that Gideon wanted to make me feel what he was feeling, so he’d leveraged Corinne against me. I’d known talking about Brett was going to be a problem, which was why I’d put it off, but I hadn’t had an ulterior motive in bringing it up or when I’d kissed Brett, either. I had hurt Gideon, yes, but could sincerely say I hadn’t consciously intended to do so.
On the flip side, Gideon had deliberately set out to hurt me. I hadn’t realized he was capable of that or willing to do it. Something important had shifted between us that morning. I felt as if a core column of trust had been shaken.
Did he know that? Did he understand how big a problem that was?
My desk phone rang and I answered with my usual greeting.
“How long were you going to wait to tell me about your engagement?”
A sigh escaped me before I could hold it back. My Friday really was shaping up to be a trial. “Hi, Mom. I was going to call you during my lunch.”
“You knew last night!” she accused. “Did he ask you on the way to dinner? Because you didn’t say anything about a proposal when we talked about him asking your father and Richard for permission. I saw the ring at Cipriani’s and was pretty sure, but when you didn’t say anything, I didn’t push because you’ve been so touchy lately. And—”
“And you’ve been violating the law lately,” I shot back.
“—Gideon was wearing a ring, too, so I thought maybe it was some kind of promise thing or something—”
“—and then I read about your engagement online! I mean, really, Eva. No mother should find out on the Internet that her daughter is getting married!”
I stared at my monitor blankly, my heart rate kicking up. “What? Where on the Internet?”
“Take your pick! Page Six, HuffPost . . . And let me tell you again, there is no way I can pull together a proper wedding before the end of the year!”
My daily Google alert hadn’t hit my inbox yet, so I did a quick search, typing so quickly I spelled my own name wrong. It didn’t matter.
Socialite Eva Tramell has nabbed the brass ring. Not literally, of course. Multibillionaire entrepreneur Gideon Cross, whose name is synonymous with excess and luxury, wouldn’t slide anything less than platinum onto the finger of the woman who’ll bear his name. (see photo at left) A source at Cross Industries confirmed the significance of the giant rock on Tramell’s left hand. No comment was made regarding the ring Cross has been seen wearing. (see photo at right) A wedding is planned before year’s end. We have to wonder what the rush is. Operation Gideva Baby Bump Watch has commenced.
“Oh my God,” I breathed, horrified. “I have to go. I have to call Dad.”
“Eva! You need to come over after work. We have to talk about the wedding.”
Thankfully my dad was on the West Coast, which bought me at least three hours, depending on his work schedule. “I can’t. I’m going to San Diego this weekend with Cary.”
“I think you need to put off any travel for a while. You need to—”
“Start without me, Mom,” I said desperately, glancing at the clock. “I don’t have anything specific in mind.”
“You can’t be seri—”
“Gotta go. Have to work.” I hung up, then pulled open the desk drawer that held my smartphone.
“Hey.” Mark Garrity leaned over the top of my cubicle and offered me one of his charming crooked smiles. “Ready to roll?”
“Uh . . .” My finger hovered over the home button on my phone. I was torn between doing what I was paid to do—work—and making sure my dad heard about the engagement from me. Usually, it wouldn’t be a dilemma at all to choose. I loved my job too much to risk it by slacking off. But my dad had been in a funk since he’d messed around with my mom and I was worried about him. He wasn’t the kind of guy to take sleeping with a married woman lightly, even one he was in love with.
I put the phone back in the drawer. “Absolutely,” I replied, pushing back from my desk and grabbing my tablet.
When I settled into my usual seat in front of Mark’s desk, I sent my dad a quick text from my tablet saying I had something important to share with him and that I’d call at noon.
It was the best I could do. I could only hope it was enough.
“Man, you are smooth.”
I looked up at Arash after setting the receiver back in its cradle. “Are you still here?”
The attorney laughed and settled back in his seat on my office sofa. The view wasn’t nearly as pleasant as the one my wife had given me not too long ago.
“Schmoozing the father-in-law,” he said. “I’m impressed. I expect Eva will be impressed, too. Bet you’re counting on that heading into the weekend.”
Damn right. I would need all the points I could earn when I met up with Eva in San Diego. “She’s about to go out of town. And you have to head into the conference room before they get too restless in there. I’ll join you as soon as I can.”
He stood. “Yes, I heard. Your mother’s here. Let the wedding insanity begin. Since you’re free this weekend, how about we round up some of the usual suspects at my place tonight? It’s been a while, and your bachelor days are numbered. Well, technically they’re over, but no one else knows that.”
And he was bound by attorney-client privilege.
It took me a beat to decide. “All right. What time?”
I nodded, then caught Scott’s eye. He got the message and rounded his desk to head up to reception.
“Great.” Arash grinned. “See you at the meeting.”
During the two minutes I had alone, I texted Angus about getting to California. I still had unfinished business there, and taking care of it while Eva was visiting her dad gave me a legitimate excuse to be where she was. Not that I absolutely needed one.
As my mother entered, my fingers curled into my palms.
Scott followed and asked, “Are you sure I can’t get you something, Mrs. Vidal? Coffee, maybe? Or water?”
She shook her head. “No, thank you. I’m fine.”
“All right.” He smiled and left, pulling the door closed behind him.
I hit the remote on my desk that controlled the opacity of the glass wall, blocking the view from everyone on the main floor. My mother approached, looking slim and elegant in dark blue slacks and white blouse. She’d pulled her hair back into a sleek ebony bun, showing off the flawless face that my father had adored. Once, I’d adored it, too. Now, I had trouble looking at her.
And since we looked so much alike, I sometimes had trouble looking at myself.
“Hello, Mother. What brings you into the city?”
She set her purse on the edge of my desk. “Why is Eva wearing my ring?”
The small pleasure I’d felt at seeing her dissipated instantly. “It’s my ring. And the answer to your question is obvious: She’s wearing the ring because I gave it to her when I proposed.”
“Gideon.” She pulled her shoulders back. “You don’t know what you’re getting into with her.”
I forced myself to remain facing her. I hated when she looked at me with hurt in her eyes. Blue eyes that were so like mine. “I don’t have time for this. I’ve put an important meeting on hold to see you.”
“I wouldn’t have to come to your office if you’d answer my calls or come home once in a while!” Her pretty pink mouth tightened with disapproval.
“That is not my home.”
“She’s using you, Gideon.”
I retrieved my coat. “We’ve had this discussion.”
She folded her arms across her chest like a shield. I knew my mother; she was just getting started. “She’s involved with that singer, Brett Kline. Did you know that? And she’s got an ugly side you’ve never seen. She was downright vicious to me last night.”
“I’ll speak with her.” Straightening my coat with a brisk tug on the lapels, I headed toward the door. “She shouldn’t be wasting her time.”
My mother’s breath caught. “I’m trying to help you.”
“It’s a little too late for that, don’t you think?”
She took a shaky step back from the look I gave her. “I know Geoffrey’s death was hard on you. It was a difficult time for all of us. I tried to give you—”
“I’m not doing this here!” I snapped, furious that she would bring up something as personal as my father’s suicide while I was working. That she would bring it up at all. “You’ve hijacked my morning and pissed me off. Let me make it clear to you. There is no scenario pitting you against Eva where you come out on top.”
“You’re not listening to me!”
“There’s nothing you could say that would affect anything. If she wanted my money, I’d give her every cent. If she wanted another man, I’d make her forget him.”
She lifted an unsteady hand to her hair, smoothing it although not a single glossy strand was out of place. “I only want the best for you, and she’s stirring up crap that has been put away a long time. It can’t be a healthy relationship for you. She’s creating a rift with your family that—”
“We’ve been estranged, Mother. Eva has nothing to do with that.”
“I don’t want it to be like this!” Stepping closer, she held out her hand. A strand of black pearls peeked out from between the lapels of her blouse, and a sapphire-faced Patek Philippe adorned her wrist. She hadn’t rebooted her life after my father’s death; she’d done a complete wipe and restart. And never looked back. “I miss you. I love you.”
“That’s not fair, Gideon. You won’t give me a chance.”
“If you need a ride, Angus is at your service.” I caught the handle of the door and paused. “Don’t come here again, Mother. I don’t like arguing with you. It would be best for both of us if you just stay away.”
I left the door open behind me and headed toward the conference room.
“You took this shot today?”
I looked up at Raúl, who stood in front of my desk. Dressed in a plain black suit, he had the steady, watchful gaze of a man who made his living by seeing and hearing everything.
“Yes,” he answered. “Not more than an hour ago.”
I returned my attention to the photo in front of me. It was difficult looking at Anne Lucas. The sight of her foxlike face, with its sharp chin and sharper eyes, brought back memories I wished I could erase from my mind. Not just of her, but of her brother, who’d been similar in ways that made my skin crawl.
“Eva said the woman had long hair,” I murmured, noting that Anne still had cropped hair. I remembered the plastic feel of it, the sharp-gelled spikes scratching my thighs as she deep-throated my cock, working desperately to get me hard enough to fuck her.
I handed the tablet back to Raúl. “Find out who it was.”
“Did Eva call you?”
He frowned. “No.” But he pulled out his smartphone and checked it. “No,” he said again.
“She may wait until you fly out to San Diego. She wants you to find a friend of hers.”
“No problem. I’ll take care of it.”
“Take care of her,” I said, holding his gaze.
“Doesn’t need to be said.”
“I know. Thank you.”
As he left my office, I sat back in my chair. There were a number of women in my past who might cause problems for me with my wife. The women I’d slept with were aggressive by nature, ones who put me in the position of needing to take the upper hand. Eva was the only woman who’d ever grabbed the lead and made me want more.
It was getting harder to let her be away from me, not easier.
“The team from Envoy is here,” Scott said through the speaker.
“Send them in.”
I powered through my day, wrapping up the week’s agenda and laying the groundwork for more to come. There was a lot I needed to get off my plate before I could take time off with Eva. Our daylong honeymoon had been perfect, but far too short. I wanted at least two weeks away with her, preferably a month. Some place far away from work and other commitments, where I could have her all to myself with no interruptions.
My smartphone vibrated on my desktop and I looked at it, surprised to see my sister’s face on the screen. I’d texted Ireland earlier to let her know about the engagement. Her reply had been a short and simple, Yay! Stoked. Congrats, bro!
I’d barely answered the call with a quick hello when she cut me off.
“I’m so fucking excited!” she yelled, forcing me to pull the phone away from my ear.
“Watch the mouth.”
“Are you kidding? I’m seventeen, not seven. This is so awesome. I’ve wanted a sister forever, but figured I’d be old and gray before you and Christopher stopped bouncing around and settled down.”
I sat back in my chair. “I live to serve.”
“Ha. Yeah, right. You done good, you know. Eva’s a keeper.”
“Yes, I know.”
“Thanks to her, I get to harass you now. Always a highlight of my day.”
My chest tightened, forcing me to take a minute before I could reply in an easy tone of voice. “Oddly enough, it’s a highlight of mine as well.”
“Well, yeah. It should be.” Her voice lowered. “I heard Mom losing her shit over it earlier. She told Dad she went to your work and you guys got in a fight or something. I think she’s kinda jealous. She’ll get over it.”
“Don’t worry about it. Everything’s fine.”
“I know. It just sucks that she couldn’t keep it together today of all days. Anyway, I’m thrilled and wanted you to know that.”
“But I’m not going to be the flower girl. I’m too old for that. I’m up for being a bridesmaid, though. Even a groomswoman or whatever. Just sayin’.”
“All right.” My mouth curved. “I’ll pass that along to Eva.”
I’d just hung up when Scott buzzed through my office line.
“Miss Tramell is here,” he announced, making me realize how late in the day it was. “And, as a reminder, your videoconference with the development team in California is in five minutes.”
Pushing back from the desk, I saw Eva round the corner and come into view. I could watch her walk for hours. She had a sway to her hips that made me ache to fuck her and a determined tilt to her chin that challenged every dominant instinct I had.
I wanted to fist her ponytail in my hand, take her mouth, and grind against her. Just the way I’d wanted to the first time I saw her. And every time since.
“Send along the proposal deck to the team,” I told Scott. “Tell them to review and I’ll join in shortly.”
Eva swept through the door.
“Eva.” I stood. “How was your day?”
She rounded the desk, then grabbed me by the tie.
I was instantly hard and totally focused on her.
“I fucking love you,” she said, before yanking my mouth down to meet hers.
I hooked one arm around her waist and felt around for the opacity controls with my other hand, all the while letting her kiss me as if she owned me. Which she did. Absolutely.
The feel of her lips against mine and the unmistakable possessiveness of her actions were exactly what I needed after the day I’d had. Holding her close, I turned and half-sat on the edge of the desk, pulling her in between my thighs. I could say it was a more secure way to hold her, but honestly, my knees were weak.
Her kisses did that to me. Did what three hours sparring with my trainer couldn’t do.
Inhaling through the rising lust, I breathed her in, allowing the delicate fragrance of her perfume and the provocative scent that was hers alone to intoxicate me. Her lips were soft and damp against mine, demanding in the subtlest of ways. Her tongue licked delicately, savoring, teasing and arousing me effortlessly.
Eva kissed me as if I were the most delicious thing she’d ever tasted, a flavor she craved and was helplessly addicted to. The feeling was heady and had become necessary. I lived for her kisses.
When she kissed me, I knew I belonged right where I was.
Tilting her head, she moaned into my mouth, a soft sound of pleasure and surrender. Her fingers were in my hair, sliding through it, tugging it. That sensation of being caught—claimed—challenged me on the deepest level. I drew her closer, until the firmness of her belly pressed against the hardness of my erection.
My dick was throbbing, aching.
“You’ll make me come,” I murmured. All the effort I’d once had to expend to become aroused enough to orgasm was unnecessary with my wife. The fact that she existed stirred my blood. The strength of her desire was enough to set me off.
She leaned back slightly, breathless like me. “I don’t mind.”
“I wouldn’t, either, if I didn’t have a meeting waiting.”
“I don’t want to hold you up. I just want to thank you for what you said to my dad.”
Smiling, I gave her ass a two-handed squeeze. “My lawyer said I’d score major points for that.”
“Work was so busy, and I didn’t have a chance to call him until lunch. I was so worried he’d hear about our engagement before I could tell him.” She shoved at my shoulder. “You could’ve given me a heads-up that you were announcing it to the world!”
I shrugged. “It wasn’t planned, but I wasn’t going to deny it when asked.”
Her lips twisted wryly. “Of course not. Did you see that ridiculous post about a baby bump?”
“A frightening thought at this point,” I said, trying to keep my tone light despite the sudden rush of alarm I felt. “I’m planning on keeping you all to myself for a while.”
“I know, right?” She shook her head. “I was freaked out that my dad would think I was engaged and pregnant, and just couldn’t be bothered to let him know. It was such a relief to call him and find out you’d explained everything and smoothed the way.”
“My pleasure.” I would set the world on fire to clear a path for her, if that’s what it took.
Her hands went to work unbuttoning my vest. My brows arched in silent query, but I wasn’t going to stop her.
“I haven’t even left yet, and I’m missing you already,” she said quietly, straightening my tie.
“If I were just going to hole up with Cary for a bit, I’d do it here at home and not in San Diego.” She lifted her gaze to my face. “But he’s a head case over Tatiana being pregnant. Plus, I need to spend time with my dad. Especially now.”
“Is there something you should be telling me?”
“No. He sounded good when I talked to him, but I think he was hoping we’d have more time together before I got married. To him, it seems like you and I just met.”
I knew I should keep my mouth shut, but I couldn’t. “And we can’t forget Kline.”
Her jaw hardened. She dropped her attention back to where her fingers were buttoning my vest. “I’m leaving soon. I don’t want to fight again.”
I caught her hands. “Eva. Look at me.”
Staring into her stormy eyes, I felt the tug in my chest: a slow wrenching that could turn me upside down. She hadn’t stopped being angry with me, and I couldn’t stand it. “You still don’t understand what you do to me. How crazy you make me.”
“Don’t give me that. You shouldn’t have brought up Corinne the way you did.”
“Maybe not. But be honest, you brought up Kline this morning because you’re worried about seeing him.”
“I’m not worried!”
“Angel.” I gave her a patient look. “You’re worried. I don’t think you’d sleep with him, but I do think you’re anxious about crossing a line you shouldn’t. You needed a strong reaction from me, so you were blunt and you got it. You needed to see what it would do to me. How just the thought of you with him makes me insane.”
“Gideon.” She gripped my biceps. “Nothing is going to happen.”
“I’m not making excuses.” I brushed my fingertips across her cheek. “I hurt you and I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry, too. I wanted to avoid causing any problems and they happened anyway.”
I knew she regretted our fight. I could see it in her eyes. “We’re learning as we go. We’ll fuck up now and again. You just have to trust me, angel.”
“I have, Gideon. It’s why we’ve gotten so far. But the fact that you’d hurt me at all—on purpose . . .” She shook her head and I could see how what I’d said was eating at her. “You were always supposed to be the one I could count on to never hurt me deliberately.”
Hearing her doubt her trust in me was a hard blow. I took the hit, then explained myself the way I’d only ever done with her. I would explain anything, talk for hours, write the promise in blood . . . if that was what it took to make her believe in me.
“There’s a difference between deliberation and malicious intent, wouldn’t you agree?” I cupped her face in my hands. “I promise I’ll never cause you pain just to hurt you. Don’t you see that I’m just as vulnerable? You have the same power to hurt me.”
Her face softened, became even more stunning. “I wouldn’t.”
“But I did. You’ll have to forgive me.”
She stepped back. “I hate when you use that tone of voice.”
Inclined toward self-preservation, I didn’t allow the smile I felt to show. “But it makes you wet.”
Tossing a glare at me over her shoulder, Eva moved to the window and stood in the same spot I’d occupied that morning. Her ponytail showed off her beauty—and left her no way to conceal her emotions. Hot color rose in her cheeks.
Did she know how often I thought about tying her up when she was riled like this? Not to cage her or leash her, but to hold that vibrant energy of hers, that lust for life I’d never learned to have. She gave that to me, surrendered it fully.
“Don’t try to control me with sex, Gideon,” she said with her back to me.
“I don’t want to control you at all.”
“You manipulate me. You do things . . . say things . . . just to get a particular response out of me.”
My arms crossed as I remembered her kissing Kline. “As do you, which we just discussed.”
She faced me. “I’m allowed to, I’m a woman.”
“Ah.” I smiled then. “I knew that.”
“You’re such an enigma to me.” She sighed and I could see her letting the lingering resentment go. “But you’ve got me pegged. You know all my buttons and just how to push them.”
“If you think I don’t spend a good percentage of every day trying to figure you out, you’re not paying attention. Think about that while I handle this meeting, and then we’ll say good-bye properly.”
As I sat in my chair, her gaze followed me. I adjusted the fit of my headset and paused when I realized she was staring. She liked looking at me. And hers was the only avid hunger that had ever made me feel good about myself. I’d never had the knee-jerk defensive reaction to her sexual interest that others provoked. She made me feel loved and wanted in a way that wasn’t the least threatening.
“Watching you get into business mode makes me hot,” she explained, her voice just husky enough to prevent me from fully focusing on work. “Sexy as hell.”
My lips twisted wryly. “Angel, behave for fifteen minutes.”
“What would be the fun in that? Besides, you like me bad.”
“Fifteen minutes,” I reiterated. Considering I’d planned for the meeting to take close to an hour, that was a major concession.
“Do what you have to do.” Eva stopped by my chair and bent over like a pinup girl to breathe in my ear. “I’ll find something to occupy myself with while you’re on the phone playing with your millions.”
My cock was abruptly, painfully hard. She had said something similar to me when we’d first started dating, and I had dreamed of it in the weeks since.
I would have told her to wait, but I knew she wouldn’t. She had a determined look in her eye and a taunting swing to her hips as she circled my desk. I’d fucked up and she wanted to get a piece of her own back. Some couples punished each other with pain or deprivation. Eva and I, we punished each other with pleasure.
The moment she stepped out of view, I logged into the meeting without activating my camera and I muted my microphone. All half-dozen participants were actively discussing the materials Scott had provided. I gave them a moment to register that I’d logged in . . .
. . . and used the time to stand and open my fly.
Eva kicked off her heels. “Good. It’ll go easier on you if you cooperate.”
“You don’t actually believe having your mouth wrapped around my dick while I’m on a videoconference is going to be easy at any level.” Even then, the team in California was chiming in with greetings through my headset. I ignored them for the moment, thinking only of what was about to happen right there in my office.
Only weeks ago the possibility that I’d play while working would’ve been nonexistent. If Eva had been wired any differently, I would’ve made her wait until I had the time and attention to devote fully to her.
But my angel was a dangerous lover, one who got off on the thrill of being this close to discovery. I would never have known I enjoyed that edge if not for her. There were times I wanted to fuck her for the entire world to see, so it would be known definitively how completely I possessed her.
Her grin was pure wickedness. “If you liked things easy, you wouldn’t have married me.”
And I was going to marry her again, as soon as possible. It wouldn’t be the last time. We’d be renewing our vows often, reminding each other that we made a promise to be together forever, no matter what life threw at us.
Lowering gracefully to her knees on the far side of my desk, Eva set her hands on the floor and prowled toward me like a lioness on the hunt. Through the smoked-glass surface of my desktop, I watched her move into place, her tongue darting out to wet her lips.
Anticipation coursed through me, the rush of the challenge and erotic expectation. Everything about my wife gave me pleasure, but her mouth was in a class by itself. She sucked me off as if she were starved for my cum, as if the taste were something she was hooked on. Eva gave me head because she loved it. Watching me unravel while she did it was just a bonus.
I adjusted the spread of my fly and pushed down the waistband of my boxer briefs, studying her face as I revealed how she’d affected me. Her lips parted as her breath quickened, her body shifting back until she was sitting on her heels like a supplicant.
Settling into my chair, I absorbed the unaccustomed feeling of restraint around my thighs and the pull of elastic beneath my balls. My reaction was swift and unpleasant, the sensation of being bound dredging up memories I kept ruthlessly buried.
Reconsidering, I started to roll back in my desk chair, my heart rate rising . . .
Eva swallowed me.
“Fuck,” I hissed, my fingers digging into the armrests as her fingers dug into my hips.
The rush of wet heat over the sensitive crown of my cock was shockingly intense. Hard suction tightened around me and a satin-soft tongue massaged the perfect spot. Through the pounding of my heart, I heard the team questioning whether my webcam and headset were working properly . . .
Straightening my spine, I slid forward and activated my feeds. “Excuse the delay,” I said briskly as Eva took more of me. “Now that you’ve had the chance to review the deck, let’s discuss the steps you’ll be taking to implement the recommended adjustments.”
Eva hummed her approval and the vibration reverberated through me. I was hard enough to drive nails and her slender fingers were teasing me, stroking with just enough pressure to make me want more.
Tim Henderson, the project manager and team leader, spoke first. I could barely focus, seeing him more from memory than the monitor in front of me. A tall, painfully thin man with pale skin and a wild mane of dark curls, he liked to talk, which was a blessing considering how dry my mouth had become.
“I’d like more time to review this,” he began, “but off the cuff I’m thinking this is a seriously accelerated schedule. Some of this is great and I’m excited about seeing what we can do with it, but phasing into consumer beta testing is at least a year away, not six months.”
“That’s what you told me six months ago,” I reminded him, my fist clenching as Eva took my cock to the back of her throat. Sweat bloomed on the back of my neck when she pulled off, her mouth a hot velvet suction.
“We lost our top designer to LanCorp—”
“And I offered a replacement, which you declined.”
Henderson’s jaw tightened. He was a coding genius with a brilliant creative mind, but he didn’t play well with others and was resistant to outside intervention. That would be his prerogative . . . if he weren’t eating my time and money.
“A creative team is a delicate balance,” he argued. “You can’t just plug a random person into the void. We’ve got the right man on the job now—”
“Thank you,” Jeff Simmons interjected, his angular face breaking into a grin at the praise.
“—and we’re making progress,” Tim went on. “We—”
“—keep blowing through your self-imposed deadlines.” My tone was gruffer than I intended due to my wife’s wickedly agile tongue. Soft, playful licks from root to tip were driving me half out of my mind. My thighs ached with strain, the muscles hardened by the force it took to keep me in my chair. She was following the line of every sensitive vein, stroking over the throbbing ridges with the flat of her tongue.
“While creating an exceptional and groundbreaking user experience,” he shot back. “We’re getting the job done and we’re doing it right.”
I wanted to bend Eva over my desk and fuck her. Hard.
To do that, I needed to get through the damn meeting.
“Excellent. Now, you just need to do it faster. I’m sending out a team to help you achieve the objectives on time. They’ll—”
“Now, wait a minute, Cross,” Henderson snapped, leaning closer to the webcam. “You send some corporate bean counters over to breathe down our necks and you’re only going to slow us down! You need to leave the development to us. If we need your help, we’ll ask for it.”
“If you thought I’d give you my money and be a silent partner, you didn’t do your homework.”
“Uh-oh,” Eva murmured, her eyes bright with laughter beneath the glass.
I reached beneath the desk and cupped her nape, squeezing. “The app space is highly competitive. That’s why you approached me. You presented me with a unique and intriguing gaming concept, and a one-year development-to-rollout timeline, which was judged by my team to be reasonable and achievable.”
I paused on a breath, tormented by the feel of warm lips gliding up and down my raging dick. Eva was working with purpose now, driving me on with hard pumps of her fist. There was no more buildup, no teasing. She wanted me to come. Now.
“You’re looking at this from the wrong perspective, Mr. Cross,” Ken Harada said, running his hand over a blue goatee. “Technical timelines don’t make allowances for an organic creative process. You don’t understand how—”
“Don’t make me the villain here.” The urge to thrust, to fuck, was clawing. Aggression built in me like a tidal wave, forcing me to fight for any semblance of civility. “You guaranteed on-time delivery of all elements on a schedule you created and you’re not holding up your end. I’m now forced to help you keep the promises you made.”
The artist slumped back in his seat, muttering under his breath.
Tightening my grip on Eva’s neck, I tried to slow her down. Then I gave up and started moving her, urging her roughly to suck faster. Harder. To drain me. “This is how this is going to play out. You’ll work with the team I’m sending. If you miss another deadline, I’m pulling Tim off oversight.”
“Bullshit!” he shouted. “This is my fucking app! You can’t take it from me.”
I needed finesse but had none, my brain hazed with the animal need to mate. “You should’ve read the contract more carefully. Do that tonight and we’ll revisit tomorrow after the team arrives.”
After I come . . .
Tingles raced along my spine. My balls drew up. I was a minute away, and Eva knew it. Her cheeks were hollowing with the force of her suction, her tongue fluttering over the sensitive underside of my cockhead. My heart was pounding, my palms damp with perspiration.
Staring into a half-dozen angry faces with a riot of protests exploding from my earpiece, I felt the orgasm hit me like a freight train. I fumbled for the mute button and let the groan tear from my throat as I spurted powerfully into Eva’s greedily working mouth. She moaned and milked my dick with both hands, pulling and squeezing as I kept coming in a flood I couldn’t stop.
I felt the heat race up into my face. Staring stonily into my monitor, I fought the urge to close my eyes and throw my head back, to free myself to absorb the singular pleasure of coming for my wife. Coming because of her.
As the pressure eased, I released her hair and touched her cheek with my fingertips.
I unmuted my microphone.
“My admin will call you in a few minutes,” I cut in, my voice hoarse, “to arrange tomorrow’s meeting. I hope we can come to an amicable agreement. Until then.”
I shut down my browser and yanked off my headset. “Come here, angel.”
My chair was shoved back and I’d hauled her out before she had the chance to come out on her own.
“You’re a machine!” she gasped, her voice as rough as mine, her lips red and swollen. “I can’t believe you didn’t even twitch! How can you— Oh!”
The tiny scrap of lace she wore as underwear dropped to the floor in pieces.
“I liked those panties,” she said breathlessly.
Lifting her, I set her bare ass on the cool glass, aligning her perfectly to take my cock. “You’ll like this more.”
Like a sleepy kitten, Eva blinked at me as I stepped out of my office washroom. “Hmm?”
I grinned at finding her still slumped in my desk chair. “I assume you’re okay.”
“Never better.” She reached up and ran a hand over her hair. “Missing the brain you just fucked out of me, but otherwise, I’m feeling excellent, thank you very much.”
“You’re welcome.” I headed toward her with a warm damp washcloth.
“Are you trying to set a new record for most orgasms in a single day?”
“An intriguing proposition. I’m willing to give it a shot.”
She held out her hand as if to ward me off. “No more, maniac. You screw me again and I’ll be a drooling, babbling idiot.”
“Let me know if you change your mind.” I kneeled in front of her and urged her legs open. Waxed smooth and pretty pink, her cunt was lovely. Perfect.
She watched me as I cleaned her, her fingers reaching out to comb through my hair. “Don’t work too hard this weekend, okay?”
“As if there’s something else worth doing without you around,” I murmured.
“Sleep in. Read a book. Plan a party.”
My mouth quirked. “I haven’t forgotten. I’m asking the guys tonight.”
“Oh?” The laziness left her eyes. I pulled back before her legs closed. “What guys?”
“The ones you want to meet.”
“You’re calling them?
I stood. “We’re getting together.”
“To do what?”
“Drink. Hang out.” Returning to the bathroom, I tossed the washcloth in the hamper and washed my hands.
Eva followed me. “At a club?”
“Maybe. Probably not.”
She lounged against the doorjamb and crossed her arms. “Are any of them married?”
“Yes.” I slung the hand towel back on the rack. “Me.”
“That’s it? Is Arnoldo going to be there?”
“What’s up with the short answers?”
“What’s up with the interrogation?” I asked the question, but I knew. My wife was a jealous, possessive woman. Lucky for both of us, I liked it. A lot.
She shrugged, but it was a defensive gesture. “I just want to know what you’re doing, that’s all.”
“I’ll stay home if you will.”
“I’m not asking you to do that.”
There was a smudge of dark makeup beneath her eyes. I loved mussing her up and giving her that just-fucked look. No woman wore it better. “Get to the point, then.”
She made a frustrated noise. “Why won’t you tell me what you guys have planned?”
“I don’t know, Eva. Usually we meet at one of our places and drink. Play cards. Sometimes we go out.”
“Trolling. A group of hot guys who’ve got a buzz and want a good time.”
“That’s not a crime. And who said they’re attractive?”
She shot me a look. “They’re trolling with you. That means they’re either hot enough not to completely pale in your shadow or too confident to worry about it.”
I held up my left hand. The bloodred rubies in my wedding band caught the light. I never took the ring off and never would. “Remember this?”
“I’m not worried about you,” she muttered, her arms dropping to her sides. “If I’m not fucking you enough, you need help.”
“Says the wife who couldn’t wait fifteen minutes.”
She stuck her tongue out at me.
“That’s what got you fucked right there.”
“Arnoldo doesn’t trust me, Gideon. He doesn’t really want you with me.”
“It’s not his decision to make. And some of your friends aren’t going to like me, either. I know Cary’s on the fence.”
“What if Arnoldo tells the others how he feels about me?”
“Angel.” I went to her and caught her by the hips. “Talking about feelings is predominantly female territory.”
“Don’t be sexist.”
“You know I’m right. Besides, Arnoldo knows how it is. He’s been in love before.”
She looked up at me with those uniquely beautiful eyes. “Are you in love, Mr. Cross?”
Manuel Alcoa slapped me on the back as he rounded me. “You just cost me a thousand dollars, Cross.”
I leaned against the kitchen island and shoved my hand into the pocket of my jeans, wrapping it around my smartphone. Eva was midflight and I was alert for any word from her or Raúl. I’d never feared flying, never worried over someone’s safety while traveling. Until now.
“How so?” I asked, before taking a swig of my beer.
“You are the last man I figured would tie the knot and you turn out to be the first.” Manuel shook his head. “Kills me.”
I lowered the bottle. “You bet against me?”
“Yeah. Although I suspect someone had the inside scoop.” The portfolio manager narrowed his eyes across the island at Arnoldo Ricci, who lifted one shoulder in a shrug.
“If it’s any consolation,” I said, “I’d have bet against me, too.”
Manuel grinned. “Latinas rule, my friend. Sexy, curvy. More than a handful in bed and out. Hot tempered. Passionate.” He hummed. “Good choice.”
“Manuel!” Arash yelled from the living room. “Bring those limes over here.”
I watched Manuel leave the kitchen with the bowl of lime slices. Arash’s condo was modern and spacious with a panoramic view of the East River. There was a notable lack of walls except for those hiding the bathrooms.
Circling the granite-topped island, I approached Arnoldo. “How are you?”
“Good.” His gaze dropped to the amber liquid he swirled in a tumbler. “I’d ask you the same, but you look well. I’m glad.”
I didn’t waste time with small talk. “Eva worries that you’ve got a problem with her.”
He glanced at me. “I’ve never been disrespectful to your woman.”
“She never said you were.”
Arnoldo drank, taking a moment to savor the fine liquor before swallowing it. “I understand that you are—what’s the word?—held captive by this woman.”
“Captivated,” I provided, wondering why he didn’t just speak in Italian.
“Ah, yes.” He gave me a slight smile. “I have been there, my friend, as you know. I don’t judge you.”
I knew Arnoldo understood. I’d found him in Florence, recovering from the loss of a woman by drowning in liquor and cooking like a madman, producing so much five-star cuisine he was giving it away. I had been fascinated by the totality of his despair and unable to relate.
I’d been so certain I would never know anything like it. Like the opacity and soundproofing of the glass wall in my office, my view of life had been dulled. I knew I’d never be able to explain to Eva how she’d appeared to me the first time I saw her, so vibrant and warm. A colorful explosion in a black-and-white landscape.
“Voglio che sia felice.” It was a simple statement, but the crux of the issue. I want her to be happy.
“If her happiness depends on what I think,” he answered in Italian. “You ask too much. I will never say anything against her. I’ll always treat her with the respect I feel for you as long as you are together. But what I believe is my choice and my right, Gideon.”
I looked over at Arash, who was lining up shot glasses on the bar in the living room. As my lead attorney, he knew about both my marriage and Eva’s sex tape, and he didn’t have a problem with either one.
“Our relationship is . . . complex,” I explained quietly. “I’ve hurt her as much as she’s ever hurt me—likely more.”
“I’m not surprised to hear that, but I am sorry.” Arnoldo studied me. “You couldn’t choose one of the other women who’ve loved you and would give you no trouble? A comfortable ornament who would settle into your life without a ripple?”
“As Eva says, what would be the fun in that?” My smile faded. “She challenges me, Arnoldo. Makes me see things . . . think about things, in ways I didn’t before. And she loves me. Not like the others.” I reached for my phone again.
“You didn’t allow the others to love you.”
“I couldn’t. I was waiting for her.” A thoughtful expression crossed his face and I said, “I can’t imagine your Bianca was hassle-free.”
He laughed. “No. But my life is simple. I can use complications.”
“My life was ordered. Now, it’s an adventure.”
Arnoldo sobered, his dark eyes growing serious. “But that wildness in her that you love is what worries me most.”
“I will mention this only once, then never again. You may be angry with me for what I say, but understand that my heart is in the right place.”
My jaw tightened. “Get it off your chest.”
“I sat with Eva and Brett Kline at dinner. I observed them together. There is chemistry there, not unlike what I saw between Bianca and the man she left me for. I wish I believed Eva would ignore it, but she’s already proven that she can’t.”
I held his gaze. “She had her reasons. Reasons I gave her.”
Arnoldo took another drink. “Then I’ll pray that you don’t give her more reasons.”
“Hey,” Arash shouted. “Cut it out with the Italian and get your asses in here.”
Arnoldo touched his glass to my bottle before passing me.
I finished my beer alone, taking a moment to consider what Arnoldo had said.
Then I joined the party.
End of Excerpt
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