The sun had set nearly an hour before, and I’d been trying not to think of my husband every five seconds since. Chatting with Shawna was a welcome distraction.
“Well,” I hedged, “since I’m tone deaf, my thoughts on singing in public are pretty much nonexistent. Why?”
In my head, I pictured the vibrant redhead who was quickly becoming a friend. In a lot of ways, she was like her brother Steven, who happened to be engaged to my boss. They were both fun and easygoing, quick to tease and yet rock solid, too. I liked the Ellison siblings a lot.
“Because I was thinking we could go to this new karaoke bar I heard about today at work,” she explained. “Instead of those cheesy background tracks, this place has a live band. You don’t have to sing if you don’t want to. A lot people go just to watch.”
I reached for the tablet lying on the coffee table. “What’s the name of this place?”
“The Starlight Lounge. I thought it might be fun for Friday.”
My brows went up. Friday was our bringing-the-crew-together night. I tried to imagine Arnoldo or Arash singing karaoke and just the thought made me smile. Why the hell not? At the very least, it’d break the ice.
“I’ll mention it to Gideon.” I ran a search for the bar and pulled up its website. “Looks nice.”
The name had conjured thoughts of old-school crooner hangouts, but the images on the site were of a contemporary club decorated in shades of blue with chrome accents. It looked upscale and swank.
“Right? I thought so, too. And it’ll be entertaining.”
“Yeah. Wait ’til you see Cary with a mic. He’s shameless.”
She laughed and I grinned at the sound, which was as bubbly as champagne. “So is Steven. Let me know what you decide. Can’t wait to see you.”
We hung up, and I tossed my phone onto the cushion beside me. I was leaning forward to get back to my project when I heard the ping of a text message.
It was from Brett. We need to talk. Call me.
I stared at his picture on the screen for a long minute. He’d been calling all day but hanging up when he got my voice mail. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t conflicted about him still reaching out, but it was a dead end. Maybe we’d be friends someday, but not now. I wasn’t up for it or the stress it caused Gideon.
I used to think facing issues that made me uncomfortable showed strength and responsibility. Now, I realized that sometimes resolution wasn’t the purpose. Sometimes, you just had to take the opportunity to examine yourself better.
I’ll give you a ring when I can, I typed back. Then I set the phone aside again. I’d call him when Gideon was with me. No secrets and nothing to hide.
“Hey.” Cary strolled into the living room from the hallway dressed in pajama bottoms and a threadbare T-shirt. His dark brown hair was still damp from the shower he must have taken after Tatiana left an hour earlier.
I was glad she hadn’t spent the night. I wanted to like the woman who said she was carrying my best friend’s baby, but the leggy model didn’t make it easy for me. I felt like she deliberately baited me whenever she could. I got the strong impression that she would like nothing more than to keep Cary all to herself and I was viewed as a big roadblock to that end.
My best friend sprawled facedown on the other section of the sofa, his head near my thigh and his long legs stretched out. “Whatcha working on?”
“Making lists. I want to get started on something for abuse survivors.”
“Yeah? What are you thinking?”
One of my shoulders lifted in a helpless shrug. “I don’t really know. I keep thinking about Megumi and how she didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t tell anyone, either. Neither did you, until way later.”
“Because who’s going to give a shit?” he said gruffly, propping his chin on his hands.
“And it’s scary to talk about it. There are a lot of hotlines and shelters for victims. I want to find something else that makes a difference, but I don’t have any groundbreaking ideas.”
“So talk to idea people.”
My mouth curved. “You make it sound so easy.”
“Hell, why reinvent the wheel? Find someone who’s doing it right and help ’em out.” He rolled onto his back and scrubbed at his face with both hands.
I knew that gesture and what it signified. Something was eating at him.
“Tell me about your day,” I said. I’d ended up spending more one-on-one time with Gideon in San Diego than I had with Cary, and I felt bad about that. Cary said he’d had a good time hanging with his old crowd, but that hadn’t been the purpose of our trip. I felt like I’d let him down, even though he didn’t accuse me of doing so.
He dropped his hands to his sides. “I had a shoot this morning, and then I saw Trey for a late lunch.”
“Did you say anything to him about the baby?”
He shook his head. “I thought about it, but I couldn’t do it. I’m such a dick.”
“Don’t be hard on yourself. It’s a rough spot you’re in.”
Cary’s eyes closed, shuttering the vivid green of his irises. “I was thinking the other day how much easier it’d be if Trey swung both ways. Then we could both be banging Tat and each other, and I could have it all. Then I realized I didn’t want to share Trey with Tat. Don’t mind sharing her. But not him. Tell me that doesn’t make me a total douche.”
Reaching out, I ruffled my fingers through his dark hair. “It makes you human.”
I’d been in a similar situation with Gideon, thinking I could work out a way to be friends with Brett, even while I was aggravated that Gideon was friends with Corinne. “In a perfect world, none of us would be selfish, but that’s not the way it goes. We just do our best.”
“You’re always making excuses for me,” he muttered.
I thought about that for a second. “No,” I corrected gently, bending over to press a kiss to his forehead. “I just forgive you. Someone has to, since you won’t forgive yourself.”
WEDNESDAY morning came and went in a flurry. Lunch was on me before I knew it.
“We were celebrating our engagement two weeks ago,” Steven Ellison said, as I settled into the chair he held out for me. “Now we get to celebrate yours.”
I smiled; I couldn’t help it. There was something infectiously joyful about my boss’s fiancé, which you couldn’t help but pick up on. “Must be something in the water.”
“Must be.” He glanced at his partner, then back at me. “Mark’s not losing you, is he?”
“Steven,” Mark admonished, shaking his head. “Don’t.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” I answered, which earned me a surprised and pleased grin from my boss. His goatee-framed smile was as contagious as Steven’s gregariousness. Really, our scheduled lunches were worth the price of admission.
“Well, I’m happy to hear that,” Mark said.
“Me, too.” Steven opened his menu with a decisive snap, as if something important had been decided. “We want you to stick around, kid.”
“I’m sticking,” I assured them.
The server set a basket of olive oil–drizzled garlic bread on the table between us, then rattled off the day’s specials. The restaurant the guys had selected had two menus: Italian and Greek.
Like most Manhattan eateries, the location was small and the tables packed tightly together, close enough that one party flowed into the next and you had to watch your elbows. The scents flowing out of the kitchen and wafting from the trays of passing servers had my stomach growling audibly. Thankfully the noise from the lunch crowd frenzy was loud enough to cover me.
Steven ran a hand through the bright red hair many women would kill for. “I’m having the moussaka.”
“Me, too.” I closed my menu.
“Pepperoni pizza for me,” Mark said.
Steven and I teased him about being adventurous.
“Hell,” he shot back, “marrying Steven is adventure enough.”
Grinning, Steven set his elbow on the table and his chin on his fist. “So, Eva . . . how’d Cross propose? I’m guessing he didn’t blurt it out in the middle of the street.”
Mark, who was sitting on the bench seat next to his partner, gave him an exasperated look.
“No,” I agreed. “He broke the news to me on a private beach. I can’t say he asked, because he pretty much just told me that we’re getting married.”
Mark’s mouth twisted in thought, but Steven was blunt as always. “Romance, Gideon Cross style.”
I laughed. “Absolutely. He’ll be the first to tell you he’s not romantic, but he’s wrong about that.”
“Let me see the ring.”
I held my hand out to Steven and the Asscher cut diamond shot sparks of multihued fire. It was a beautiful ring, which held beautiful memories for Gideon. Elizabeth Vidal’s thoughts on the subject couldn’t touch that.
“Whoa. Mark, darlin’, you have got to get me one of those.”
The picture in my head of the flame-haired, burly contractor wearing a ring like mine was comical.
Mark shot him a look. “So you can shatter it on a job site? Let me get right on that.”
“Diamonds are tough little beauties, but I’ll take good care of it.”
“You’ll have to wait until I run an agency of my own,” my boss retorted with a snort.
“I can do that.” Steven winked at me. “You register anywhere yet?”
I shook my head. “You?”
“Hell, yeah.” He twisted to open the messenger bag next to him and pulled out his wedding binder. “Tell me what you think about these patterns.”
Mark raised his gaze heavenward with a long-suffering sigh. I grabbed a piece of garlic bread and leaned forward with a happy hum.
I worked on the LanCorp RFP the remainder of the afternoon.
When my day ended, I headed to my Krav Maga class with Raúl. On the way, I reread Clancy’s reply to my text saying I wouldn’t need a ride from him. He had typed back that it was no problem, but I felt the need to explain further.
Gideon wants to have his ppl with me moving forward, so you’re free from now on. TY for all your help.
It didn’t take him long to answer. Anytime. Holler when you need me. BTW, your friend shouldn’t have any more trouble.
The “thank you” I sent back didn’t seem like enough. I made a note to send him something that would better express my gratitude.
Raúl parked outside the brick-faced converted warehouse that was Parker Smith’s Krav Maga studio and then escorted me inside, taking a seat on the bleachers. His presence threw me off a little bit. Clancy had always waited outside. Having Raúl watching made me a little self-conscious.
The massive open space still managed to look crowded, thanks to all the clients on the mats and in one-on-ones with instructors. The noise was nearly deafening, a cacophony of bodies hitting padding, flesh colliding with flesh, and the various shouts as participants psyched themselves up while psyching each other out. Giant metal delivery-bay doors added to both the industrial feel of the studio and the heat, which even the air-conditioning and multiple standing fans couldn’t quite alleviate.
I was stretching in preparation for the grueling drills ahead when a pair of lanky legs came into my line of sight. I straightened and faced NYPD detective Shelley Graves.
She wore her curly brown hair in a bun as severe as her face, and her blue eyes assessed me with sharp impassiveness. I was afraid of her and what she could do to Gideon, but I admired her a lot, too. She was fierce and confident in a way I could only aspire to.
“Eva,” she greeted me.