“What the f**k is this about?” I knew, of course. But there were no avenues in the topic I wanted to explore.
“Brett’s sleeping with that girl from the ‘Golden’ video. The one who looks like me.”
“No one looks like you.”
She rolled her eyes.
“She may have your curves,” I conceded, “but she doesn’t sound like you. She doesn’t have your sense of humor, your wit. She doesn’t have your heart.”
I brushed wet fingertips over her brow. “Turning off the lights wouldn’t help me at all. A random, stacked blonde wouldn’t smell like you. She wouldn’t move the way you do. She wouldn’t touch me the same way, need me the same way.”
Her face softened and she pressed her cheek against my shoulder. “That’s what I thought, too. I couldn’t do it. And the moment I saw Brett with that girl, I knew that you wouldn’t do it, either.”
“Not with anyone. Ever.” I kissed the tip of her nose. “You’ve changed what sex means to me, Eva. I couldn’t go back. I wouldn’t even try.”
She shifted around to straddle me, sending water sloshing up and over the rim of the tub. I looked at her, taking in the slicked-back hair the color of wheat, the smudges left by her makeup, the sheen of water on her golden skin.
Her fingers massaged the nape of my neck. “My dad wants to pay for the wedding.”
“Does he now?”
She nodded. “I need you to be okay with that.”
I was okay with anything when I had my naked, wet, and frisky wife wrapped around me. “I’ve had the wedding I wanted. You can do whatever you like this time around.”
Her brilliant smile and enthusiastic kiss were all the reward I needed. “I love you.”
I pulled her closer.
She bit her lower lip, then said, “My mom is going to have a fit. She can blow through fifty thousand dollars in just flowers and invitations.”
“So tell your parents your dad is paying for the wedding and your mom can pitch in for the reception. Problem solved.”
“Ooh. I like that. You’re handy to have around, Mr. Cross.”
I lifted her and licked across her nipple. “Let me prove it.”
THE bedroom was lightening with the coming dawn when Eva’s breathing settled into the deep, even rhythm of sleep. I extricated myself from both her arms and the sheets as carefully as possible, standing beside the bed to watch her. Her hair was tumbled around her shoulders, her lips and cheeks flushed from sex. I rubbed my chest, pained by how tight it had become.
Leaving her like this was always hard and became more difficult by the day. My skin hurt from being parted from hers.
I closed the curtains in the bedroom, then moved into the living room and did the same there, plunging the room into darkness.
Then I settled on the sofa and fell asleep.
A sudden flash of light woke me. Blinking, I scrubbed at my gritty eyes and saw that the curtains had been parted to send sunlight shafting across my face. Eva walked toward me, the light haloing around her na**d body.
“Hey,” she whispered, sinking to her knees beside me. “You said I’d wake up with you.”
“What time is it?” I looked at my watch, saw I’d only been asleep an hour and a half. “You were supposed to sleep longer.”
She pressed her lips to my abs. “I don’t sleep well without you.”
Regret pierced me. My wife needed things I couldn’t give her. She woke me with light instead of a touch because she feared my reaction. She was right to be cautious. In the grip of a nightmare, the stroke of a hand might have me waking up with fists flying.
I brushed her hair back from her face. “I’m sorry.” For everything. For all you’re giving up to be with me.
“Shh.” She lifted the elastic waistband of my sweats and pushed it down past my cock. I was hard for her. How could I help it when she came to me na**d and sleepy-eyed?
Her mouth wrapped around the head of my dick.
I squeezed my eyes shut and groaned, surrendering.
KNOCKING at the door woke me the next time. Eva stirred in my arms, cuddled against me on the narrow stretch of the sofa.
“Goddamn it,” I muttered, pulling her tighter against me.
The knocking continued.
I leaned my head back and yelled, “Go away.”
“I come bearing coffee and croissants,” Arash shouted back. “Open up, Cross, it’s after noon and I want to meet your lady.”
Eva blinked up at me. “Your lawyer?”
“He was.” I sat up and shoved my hands through my hair. “We’re going away, you and me. Soon. Far away.”
She kissed the small of my back. “Sounds good.”
I shoved my feet into the legs of my sweats, then stood to pull them up. Eva took the opportunity to smack me on the bare ass.
“I heard that!” Arash yelled. “Cut it out and open up.”
“You’re fired,” I told him, striding toward the door. I glanced back to tell Eva to cover herself, but she was already running into the bedroom.
I found Arash waiting outside my suite with a room service cart. “What the f**k is the matter with you?”
I had to back out of the way before he rolled right through me.
“Quit your bitching.” He grinned, pushing the cart off to the side and raking me with a glance. “Save the marathon sex for your honeymoon.”
“Don’t listen to him!” Eva shouted through the bedroom door.
“I won’t.” I turned away from him. “He doesn’t work for me anymore.”
“You can’t hold it against me,” Arash said, following me into the living room. “Wow. Your back looks like you got into a brawl with a mountain lion. No wonder you’re tired.”
“Shut up.” I snatched my shirt off the floor.
“You didn’t tell me Eva was in San Diego, too.”
“It was none of your business.”
He held up both hands in surrender. “Truce.”
“Don’t say a word about Yimara,” I told him quietly. “I won’t have her worrying about that.”
Arash sobered. “It’s done. I won’t mention it again.”
“Good.” I went to the cart and poured two cups of coffee, preparing Eva’s the way she liked it.
“I’ll take a cup,” he said.
His lips curved wryly as he joined me. “Is she coming out?”
“She’s not mad, is she?”
“I doubt it.” I took both mugs to the coffee table, then went to the wall where the controls for the drapes were. “It takes some work to piss her off.”
“You’re good at it.” He smiled and settled into one of the armchairs. “I recall that viral video of you two scrapping in Bryant Park.”
I shot him a look as sunlight began pouring into the room. “You must really hate your job.”
“Tell me you wouldn’t be curious if I eloped with a chick I knew only a couple of months.”
“I’d send her my condolences.”
The bedroom door opened and Eva stepped out dressed in her clothes from the night before. Her face was freshly washed, but the dark circles under her eyes and her swollen mouth made her look both well f**ked and extremely f**kable. With her bare feet and barely tamed hair, she was stunning.
Pride swelled my chest. Uncovered by the lack of makeup, the dusting of freckles on her nose made her adorable. Her body told you she was a dream to f**k, the confidence in her posture told you she’d take no shit from anyone, and the mischievous amusement in her eyes told you there would never be a dull moment.
She was every promise, every hope, every fantasy a man could have. And she was mine.
I stared. Arash stared, too.
Eva shifted her stance and smiled shyly. “Hi.”
The sound of her voice snapped him out of it. He pushed to his feet so quickly he spilled his coffee. “Shit. Sorry. Hi.”
He set his mug down and brushed the stray droplets off his pants. He went to her and held out his hand. “I’m Arash.”
She shook it. “Nice to meet you, Arash. I’m Eva.”
I joined them, pushing Arash back with my forearm. “Stop drooling.”
He glanced at me. “Funny, Cross, you ass.”
Eva laughed and leaned into me when I slid my arm around her shoulders.
“It’s good to see he works with people who aren’t afraid of him,” she said.
Arash winked, blatantly flirting. “I know how he operates.”
“Really? I’d love to hear all about it.”
“I think not,” I drawled.
“Don’t be a spoilsport, ace.”
“Yeah, ace,” Arash taunted. “What have you got to hide?”
I smiled. “Your corpse.”
He looked at my wife and sighed. “See what I have to deal with?”
A LATE-AFTERNOON OUTDOOR lunch, in beautiful San Diego, with the three most important men in my life definitely ranked at the top of my best-moments-ever list. I sat between Gideon and my dad, while Cary lounged in the seat directly across the table from me.
If you had asked me a few months ago, I would have said I was apathetic about palm trees. I had a new appreciation for them now that I hadn’t seen one in a while. I watched them sway gently in the warm ocean breeze and felt the kind of peace I chased but rarely caught. Seagulls competed with pigeons for the scraps under tables, while the not-too-distant crash of waves against the beach underpinned the bustle of the packed restaurant.
My best friend’s mirrored shades hid his eyes, but his smile came often and easy. My dad wore shorts and a T-shirt and had started out the meal unusually quiet. He’d loosened up after a beer and now looked as comfortable as Cary. My husband wore tan cargo pants and a white T-shirt, the first time I’d ever seen him in light-colored clothing. He looked cool and relaxed in aviators, his fingers linked with mine on the arm of my chair.
“An early-evening wedding,” I thought aloud. “Around sunset. Just family and close friends.” I looked at Cary. “You’ll be the man of honor, of course.”
His mouth curled up on one side in a lazy smile. “I better be.”
I glanced at Gideon. “Do you know who you’ll ask to stand with you?”
The tightening of his lips was nearly imperceptible, but I caught it. “I haven’t decided yet.”
My happy mood dimmed a little. Was he debating whether Arnoldo would be suitable, considering the chef’s feelings toward me? It made me sad to think I might strain that relationship.
Gideon was such a private person. Although I didn’t know for sure, I suspected he was tight with his friends but that there weren’t many of them.
I squeezed his hand. “I’m going to ask Ireland to be a bridesmaid.”
“She’ll like that.”
“What do we do about Christopher?”
“Nothing. With luck, he won’t come.”
My dad frowned. “Who are we talking about?”
“Gideon’s brother and sister,” I answered.
“You don’t get along with your brother, Gideon?”
I explained, not wanting my dad to hold anything against my husband. “Christopher’s not a nice guy.”
Gideon’s head turned toward me. He didn’t say it aloud, but I got the message: He didn’t want me speaking for him.
“He’s a total douche, you mean,” Cary interjected. “No offense, Gideon.”
“None taken.” He shrugged and then elaborated for my father. “Christopher views me as a competitor. I’d have it differently, but it’s not my choice.”