The light from the bathroom lit her face, revealing dark circles and reddened eyes. She’d fallen asleep crying.
I’d done this to her. I had made her feel unwelcome, unwanted, her thoughts and feelings less of a concern to me than my own. I’d let my past drive a wedge between us.
No, that wasn’t true. I had let my fear push her away.
“No, angel, I’m not.”
She took a single step closer, then stopped herself.
Opening my arms, I said hoarsely, “I’m sorry, Eva.”
She came to me in a rush, her body lush and warm. I held her too tightly, but she didn’t complain. Pressing my cheek to the top of her head, I breathed in her scent. I could face anything—I would face anything—as long as she stayed with me.
“I’m afraid.” My voice was scarcely a whisper, but she heard it.
Her fingers dug into the muscles of my back as she pulled me closer. “Don’t be. I’m here.”
“I’ll try harder,” I promised. “Don’t give up on me.”
“Gideon.” She sighed, her breath soft against my chest. “I love you so much. I just want you to be happy. I’m sorry for pushing you after I said I wouldn’t.”
“It’s my fault. I f**ked up. I’m sorry, Eva. So sorry.”
“Shh. You don’t have to apologize.”
I picked her up and carried her to the bed, laying her down carefully. I crawled into her arms, wrapping myself around her and resting my face against her belly. She ran her fingers through my hair, massaging my scalp, then my nape, then my back. Accepting me, despite all my flaws.
The cotton of her T-shirt grew wet with my tears and I curled in tighter, ashamed.
“I love you,” she murmured. “I’ll never stop.”
I stirred at the sound of Eva’s voice, then at the feel of her hand sliding down my chest. Opening my tired, burning eyes, I saw her leaning over me, the room softly lit by the coming dawn, her hair aglow in the meager light.
She shifted, sliding a leg over me. Rising, she straddled me. “Let’s make today our best ever.”
I swallowed hard. “I’m on board with that plan.”
Her smile rocked my world. She reached for something she’d left on her pillow and a moment later, haunting strains of music piped softly out of the speakers in the ceiling.
It took me a moment to recognize it. “Ave Maria.”
She touched my face, her fingertips gliding over my brow. “Okay?”
I wanted to answer her, but my throat was too tight. I could only nod. How could I tell her it felt like a dream, a breathtaking heaven I didn’t deserve?
She reached behind her to push the sheet below my h*ps and out of the way. Her arms crossed her torso to pull her shirt up and over her head. She threw it aside.
Awed, I struggled for my voice. “God, you’re beautiful,” I said hoarsely.
My hands lifted, gliding over the plush curves and valleys of her voluptuous body. I sat up and dug my heels into the bed, pushing us backward until I was leaning against the headboard. My hands went into her hair and down her throat. I could touch her for days and not get my fill.
“I love you,” she said, tilting her head to take my mouth in a hot, demanding kiss.
I let her have me, opening to her. Eva licked deep, stroking me with her tongue, her lips soft and wet against mine.
“Tell me what you need,” I murmured, lost to the gently muted music. Lost to her.
“You. Just you.”
“Take me, then,” I told her. “I’m yours.”
“I hate to be the one to break it to you, Cross,” Arash said, his fingers drumming on the armrest of the chair in front of my desk, “but you’ve lost your killer instinct. Eva’s tamed you.”
I glanced up from my monitor. After spending two hours of my morning making love with my wife, I could concede that I wasn’t feeling particularly aggressive. Slaked and relaxed was more apt. Still . . . “Just because I don’t think LanCorp’s PhazeOne gaming system is a threat to the GenTen doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention.”
“You’re aware,” he corrected, “which isn’t the same as paying attention, and I guarantee Ryan Landon has noticed. You used to do something every week or two to poke at him, which—for better or worse—gave him something to do.”
“Wasn’t it just last week that we closed the PosIT deal?”
“That’s reactive, Cross. You need to make a move he didn’t prompt.”
My office phone started ringing on the line synced to my smartphone. Ireland’s name popped up on the screen and I reached for the receiver. “I have to take this.”
“Of course you do,” he muttered.
I narrowed my eyes at him as I answered. “Ireland, how are you?”
It wasn’t like my sister to call. We usually texted back and forth, a form of communication we were both comfortable with. No awkward silences, no need to fake cheeriness or ease.
“Hey, sorry to call you in the middle of the day.” Her voice was off.
I frowned, concerned. “What’s wrong?”
Ireland paused. “Maybe now’s not a good time.”
I cursed inwardly. Eva had similar reactions when I was too brusque. The women in my life needed to cut me some slack. I had a big learning curve when it came to social interactions. “You sound upset.”
“So do you,” she shot back.
“You can call Eva and complain about it to her. She’ll sympathize. Now, tell me what’s wrong.”
She sighed. “Mom and Dad were fighting all night. I don’t know what about, but Dad was yelling. He never yells, you know that. He’s the most laid-back guy ever. Nothing gets to him. And Mom hates fighting. She’s a conflict avoider.”
Her astuteness both startled and impressed me. “I’m sorry you had to hear that.”
“Dad took off early this morning and Mom’s been crying ever since. Do you know what’s going on? Is it about Eva and you getting married?”
A strange but recognizable quiet settled over me. I didn’t know what to say to her, and I refused to jump to conclusions. “That probably has something to do with it.”
The only thing I knew for certain was that I didn’t want Ireland listening to her parents fighting. I remembered what it had felt like when my parents fought in the days after my dad’s financial fraud had been exposed. I could still feel echoes of the panic and fear. “Is there a friend you can stay with over the weekend?”
The suggestion was unnerving. “You want to stay with me?”
“Why not? I’ve never seen your place.”
I stared at Arash, who was watching me. He leaned forward, setting his elbows on his knees.
I didn’t know how to refuse, but I couldn’t agree. The only person who’d ever spent the night with me was Eva, and obviously, that hadn’t turned out well.
“Never mind,” she said. “Forget it.”
“No, wait.” Damn it. “Eva and I have plans with friends tonight, that’s all. I’ll need some time to change them.”
“Oh, gotcha.” Her voice softened. “I don’t want to f**k up your plans. I’ve got some friends I can call. Don’t worry about it.”
“I’m worried about you. Eva and I can make some adjustments; it’s not a problem.”
“I’m not a kid, Gideon,” she said, clearly exasperated. “I don’t want to hang around your place knowing you and Eva were supposed to be out having fun. That would totally suck, so no thanks. I’d rather chill with my own friends.”
Relief relaxed my spine. “How about dinner on Saturday instead?”
“Yeah? I’m down. Can I stay the night then?”
I had no idea how I was going to manage it. I had to trust that Eva would know what to do. “That can be arranged. Will you be okay until then?”
“Jeez, listen to you.” She laughed. “You sound like a big brother. I’ll be fine. It was just weird, you know, hearing them going at it. It freaked me out. Most people are probably used to their parents fighting, but I’m not.”
“They’ll be fine. All couples fight eventually.” I said the words, but I was both uneasy and curious.
Eva couldn’t have been right about Chris not knowing. I found that impossible to believe.
I’D just finished rolling up the sleeves of my black dress shirt when Eva stepped into the reflection of the mirror. I froze, my gaze raking over her.
She had chosen short shorts, a sheer sleeveless blouse, and high-heeled sandals. She’d pulled her hair up in its usual ponytail, but she had done something to it to make it look wild and bedhead messy. Her eye makeup was dark, her lips pale. Big gold hoops hung from her ears, and bangles decorated her wrists.
I’d woken up to an angel. I would be going to bed with a different woman entirely.
I whistled in appreciation, turning my back to the mirror to take in the real deal. “You look like a bad, bad girl.”
She wiggled her ass and gave a cocky toss of her head. “I am.”
She eyed me. “I don’t think so. You’ve got the f**k-me look and we have to go.”
“We can be a little late. What would it take to talk you into wearing those shorts just for me?”
I wanted others to want her and know she was mine. I also wanted to keep her all to myself.
Her eyes took on a calculating gleam. “We could renegotiate the hand job.”
Remembering the deal we’d struck—a quickie for a clothed hand job—I realized the shorts were going to make the former a bit more difficult than it could be. As for the latter, I could work something out.
Tilting my head in agreement, I told her, “Put on a skirt, angel, and let’s get this party started.”
“WAS this your idea?” Arash asked, when we met him outside the ground-floor entrance to the Starlight Lounge.
Through the lobby glass, I watched a bouncer oversee the number of patrons entering the elevator that would take them to the rooftop. Two more bouncers stood guard at the exterior door, holding back the surging crowd hoping to get in based on their looks, their clothes, and/or their charm.
“It’s as much of a surprise to me as it is to you.”
“I meant to tell you.” Eva was literally hopping with excitement. “Shawna’s heard good things about this place and I thought it’d be fun.”
“Great reviews online,” Shawna said, “and some of my regulars were raving about it.”
Manuel checked out the eager crowd behind the ropes, while Megumi Kaba stood cautiously between Cary and Eva. Mark Garrity, Steven Ellison, and Arnoldo all stood back, keeping the way clear for those whose names were on the VIP List.
Cary slung his arm around Megumi. “Stick with me, kid.” He gave her a wide smile. “We’ll show ’em how it’s done.”
Eva grabbed my arm. “Your surprise is here.”
I followed her gaze, spotting a couple approaching us. My brows rose when I recognized Magdalene Perez. Her hand was linked with that of the man next to her and her dark eyes were brighter than I’d seen in a long time.
“Maggie,” I greeted her, clasping her extended hand and leaning down to kiss her cheek. “I’m glad you came.”
Gladder still that Eva had asked her. The two women had gotten off to a rocky start, which was entirely Maggie’s fault. The rift between them had strained my relationship with Maggie in the weeks since, and I’d been prepared to accept that as an indefinite state of affairs. It was nice, however, that I didn’t have to.