Remember the Valentine’s Treat excerpt? If so, the scene below will feel familiar to you. I’m posting it as a thank you to my readers, who mean so much to me, and because the scene altered as I wrote yet another draft. I love both versions, for different reasons.
I can’t pick a favorite. Can you?
“More flowers?” Arash Madani drawled as he strolled into my office through the open glass double doors.
My lead attorney walked over to where Eva’s white roses decorated the main seating area. I’d had them placed on the coffee table in my direct line of sight. There, they had been successfully drawing my attention away from the stock tickers streaming on the wall of flat screens behind them.
The card that accompanied the flowers sat on the smoked glass of my desk and I fingered it, rereading the words for the hundredth time.
Arash pulled a rose out and lifted it to his nose. “What’s the secret to getting sent some of these?”
I sat back, absently noting that his emerald-hued tie matched the jeweled decanters decorating the bar. Until his arrival, the brightly colored carafes and Eva’s red vase had been the only spots of color in the monochromatic expanse of my office. “The right woman.”
He returned the flower to its vase. “Go ahead, Cross, rub it in.”
“I prefer to gloat quietly. Do you have something for me?”
Approaching my desk, he grinned in a way that told me he loved his job, although I never doubted it. His prey drive was nearly as highly developed as my own.
“The Morgan deal is coming together nicely.” Adjusting his tailored slacks, he settled into one of the two chairs facing my desk. His style was slightly flashier than mine but couldn’t be faulted. “We’ve ironed out the bigger points. Still finessing some clauses, but we should be ready to proceed by next week.”
“You are a man of few words.” Casually, he asked, “You up for getting together this weekend?”
I shook my head. “Eva may want to go out. If so, I’ll try to talk her out of it.”
Arash laughed. “I gotta tell you, I expected you to settle down at some point—we all do, eventually—but I thought I’d have some warning.”
“So did I.” Which wasn’t quite the truth. I never expected to share my life with anyone. I’d never denied that my past shadowed my present, but I saw no need to share that past with anyone before Eva. It couldn’t be changed, so why rehash it?
Standing, I walked to one of the two floor-to-ceiling walls of windows framing my office and took in the city that sprawled in urban splendor beyond the glass.
I hadn’t known Eva was out there, had been afraid to even dream of finding the one person in the world who would accept and love every facet of me.
How was it possible that I’d found her here, in Manhattan, at the very building I’d had built against sound advice and at great risk? Too expensive, they’d said, and unnecessary. But I’d needed the Cross name to be memorable and mentioned in a different way. My father had dragged our name through the mud; I’d lifted it to the heights of the most relevant city in the world.
“You showed no sign at all you were leaning that way,” Arash said behind me. “If I remember correctly, you tagged two women when we blew out Cinco de Mayo, and a few weeks later you’re telling me to draft an insane prenup.”
I surveyed the city, taking a rare moment to appreciate the hawk’s-eye view afforded me by the height and position of the Crossfire Building. “When have you known me to delay sealing a deal?”
“It’s one thing to expand your portfolio, another to reboot your life overnight.” He chuckled. “So what are your plans, then? Breaking in the new beach house?”
“An excellent idea.” Taking my wife back to the Outer Banks was my goal. Having her all to myself had been heaven. I was happiest when I was alone with her. She revitalized me, made me anticipate living in a way I never had before.
I’d built my empire with the past in mind. Now, thanks to her, I would continue to build it for our future.
My desk phone flashed. It was Scott, on line one. I pressed the button, and his voice came through the speaker. “Corinne Giroux’s at reception. She says she needs just a few minutes to drop off something for you. Because it’s private, she wants to give it to you personally.”
“Of course she does,” Arash chimed in. “Maybe it’s more flowers.”
I shot him a look. “Wrong woman.”
“If only my wrong women looked like Corinne.”
“Keep thinking that while you head up to reception to get whatever it is she has.”
His brows shot up. “Really? Ouch.”
“She wants to talk, she can talk to my attorney.”
He pushed to his feet and headed out. “Got it, boss.”
I glanced at the clock. Quarter to five. “I’m sure you heard that, Scott, but to be clear, Madani will handle.”
“Yes, Mr. Cross.”
Through the glass wall separating my office from the rest of the floor, I watched Arash round the corner on his way to reception, and then I mentally brushed the whole thing aside. Eva would be with me shortly, the very thing I’d been waiting for since the workday started.
But of course, it couldn’t be that easy.
A flash of crimson in the corner of my eye just a few moments later had me looking back out at the work floor and seeing Corinne marching toward my office with Arash hot on her heels. Her chin lifted when our eyes met. Her tight smile widened, transforming her from a beautiful woman to a stunning one. I could admire her the way I would admire anything except Eva—objectively, dispassionately.
Now happily married, I could fully grasp what a horrible mistake it would have been to marry Corinne. It was unfortunate for all of us that she refused to see it.
I stood and rounded my desk. The look I swept over both Arash and Scott called them off from any further action. If Corinne wanted to deal with me directly, I’d give her one last opportunity to do the right thing.
She glided into my office on red stilettos. The strapless dress she wore was the same hue as the shoes and showed off both her long legs and pale skin. She wore her hair down, the black strands sliding around her bare shoulders. She was the polar opposite of my wife and a mirror image of every other woman who’d passed through my life.
“Gideon. Surely you can spare a few minutes for an old friend?”
Leaning back into my desk, I crossed my arms. “And extend the courtesy of not calling security. Make it quick, Corinne.”
She smiled, but her eyes, the color of aquamarines, were sad.
She had a small red box tucked under her arm. When she reached me, Corinne pulled it out and offered it to me.
“What is this?” I asked, without reaching for it.
“These are the photos that will appear in the book.”
My brow arched. I found myself unfolding and accepting the box, driven by curiosity. It hadn’t been too long ago that we’d been together, but I scarcely remembered the details. What I had were impressions, big moments, and regret. I’d been so young, with a dangerous lack of self-awareness.
Corinne set her purse down on my desk, moving in a way that brushed her arm against mine. Wary, I reached over and hit the button that controlled the opacity of the glass wall.
If she wanted to put on a show, I’d make sure she didn’t have an audience.
Taking the lid off the box, I was confronted with a photo of Corinne and me entangled in front of a bonfire. Her head was nestled in the crook of my shoulder, her face tilted up to me so I could press a kiss to her lips.
The memory assailed me immediately. We’d taken a day trip to a friend’s house in the Hamptons. The weather had been cool, fall giving way to winter.
In the picture we looked happy and in love, and in a way, I suppose we were. But I’d refused the invitation to spend the night, despite Corinne’s obvious disappointment. With my nightmares, I couldn’t sleep beside her. And I couldn’t fuck her, though I knew that was what she wanted, because the hotel room I reserved for that purpose was miles away.
So many hangups. So many lies and evasions.
I took a deep breath and let the past go. “Eva and I were married last month.”
Setting the box down on the desktop, I reached for my smartphone and showed her the picture that wallpapered my screen—Eva and I sharing the kiss that sealed our vows.
Turning her head, Corinne looked away. Then she reached into the box, flipping through the top few photos to pull out one of us at the beach.
I was standing waist deep in the surf. Corinne was twined around me from the front, her legs wrapped around my waist, her arms draped over my shoulders and her hands in my hair. Her head was tossed back on a laugh, her joy radiating from the image. I gripped her fiercely, my face upturned to watch her. There was gratitude there and wonder. Affection. Desire. Strangers would see it and think it was love.
Which was Corinne’s goal. I denied that I ever loved anyone before Eva, which was no less than the truth. Corinne was determined to prove me wrong in the most public way possible.
Leaning over, she looked at the picture, then at me. Her expectation was tangible, as if some monumental epiphany was supposed to strike me. She toyed with her necklace and I realized it was one I’d given her, a small gold heart on a simple chain.
For fuck’s sake. I didn’t even remember who took the damn photo or where we were at the time, and it didn’t matter.
“What do you expect these photos to prove, Corinne? We dated. We ended. You married, and now I have. There’s nothing left.”
“Then why are you getting so upset? You’re not indifferent, Gideon.”
“No, I’m irritated. These only make me appreciate what I have with Eva more. And knowing that they’ll hurt her sure as hell doesn’t make me feel sentimental about the past. This is our final good-bye, Corinne.” I held her gaze, making sure she saw my resolve. “If you come back here, security won’t let you through.”
“I won’t be back. You’ll have to—”
Scott beeped through and I picked up the phone. “Yes?”
“Miss Tramell is here for you.”
I leaned over the desk again, tapping the button that opened the doors. A moment later, Eva walked in.
Would the day ever come when I would see her and not feel the earth shift beneath my feet?
She came to an abrupt halt, giving me the pleasure of taking in the sight of her. Eva was a natural blonde, with pale streaks framing a delicate face and accentuating stormy gray eyes that I could spend hours looking into. She was petite but dangerously curved, her body deliciously soft to roll around with in bed.
I might’ve called her angelically beautiful, if not for the lush sensuality that always made me think of and crave wickedly raw sex.
Without volition, my mind filled with the memory of her scent and the feel of her beneath my hands. The throaty laugh that brought me joy and the fiery quick temper that rocked me on my feet were visceral recollections. Everything in me thrummed to life, a surge of energy and awareness I felt at no other time than when I was with her.
Corinne spoke first. “Hello, Eva.”
I bristled. The urge to shield and protect the most valuable thing in my life overrode any other consideration.
Straightening, I tossed the photo back in the box and went to my wife. Compared to Corinne, she was dressed demurely in a black pinstriped skirt and a sleeveless silk blouse that gleamed like a pearl. The surge of heat I felt was all the proof I needed as to which woman was sexier.
Eva. Now and forever.
The pull I felt drew me across the room in long, quick strides.
I didn’t say the word aloud, didn’t want Corinne to hear it. But I could see that Eva felt it. I reached for her hand, felt a tingle of deep recognition that tightened my grip.
She shifted to look past me and acknowledge the woman who was no rival. “Corinne.”
I didn’t turn to look.
“I have to run,” Corinne said behind me. “Those copies are for you, Gideon.”
Unable to take my gaze off Eva, I spoke over my shoulder. “Take them with you. I don’t want them.”
“You should finish going through them,” she countered, approaching.
“Why?” Aggravated, I glanced at Corinne when she stopped next to us. “If I have any interest in seeing them, I can always flip through your book.”
Her smile tightened. “Good-bye, Eva. Gideon.”
As she left, I took another step toward my wife, closing the final bit of distance between us. I caught her other hand, leaning over her to breathe in the scent of her perfume. Calm drifted through me.
“I’m glad you came.” I whispered the words against her forehead, needing every connection I could manage. “I miss you so much.”
Closing her eyes, she leaned into me with a sigh.
Feeling the lingering strain in her, I tightened my grip on her hands. “You okay?”
“Yeah. I’m good. I just wasn’t expecting to see her.”
“Neither was I.” As much as I hated to pull away, I hated the thought of those photos even more.
Returning to my desk, I put the lid back on the box and tossed the whole thing into the trash.
“I quit my job,” she said. “Tomorrow’s my last day.”
That was what I wanted, what I believed was the best and safest step for her to take. But I knew what a difficult decision it must have been for her to come to. Eva loved her job and the people she worked with.
Knowing how well she could read me, I kept my tone neutral. “Did you?”
I studied her. “What’s next for you, then?”
“I’ve got a wedding to plan.”
“Ah.” My mouth curved. After days of fearing she had second thoughts and wanted out, it was a relief to hear otherwise. “Good to know.”
I beckoned her closer with a crook of my finger.
“Meet me halfway,” she shot back, with a glint of challenge in her eyes.
How could I resist? We met in the middle of the room.
That was why we were going to come out the other side of this and every other hurdle we faced: We would always meet each other halfway.
She would never be the docile wife my friend Arnoldo Ricci had wished for me. Eva was too independent, too fierce. She had a jealous streak a mile wide. She was demanding and stubborn, and she defied me just to drive me crazy.
And it all worked in a way it had never worked with any other woman, because Eva was meant for me. I believed that as I believed in nothing else.
“Is this what you want?” I asked her quietly, searching her face for the answer.
“You’re what I want. The rest is just logistics.”
My mouth was suddenly dry and my heartbeat too quick. When she lifted a hand to brush my hair back I caught her wrist and pressed her palm to my cheek, my eyes closing as I absorbed her touch.
The past week melted away. The days we’d spent apart, the hours of silence, the crippling fear . . . She’d been showing me all day that she was ready to move ahead, that I’d made the right decision to talk to Dr. Petersen. To talk to her.
Not only didn’t she turn away, she wanted me more. And she called me miraculous?
Eva sighed. I felt the last of her tension drift away. We stood there, reconnecting with each other, taking the strength we needed. It shook me to the core to know that I could bring her some measure of peace.
And what she brought me?
Want to know when this book releases? Sign up for the newsletter here »