“Eva.” The timbre of Brett’s now-famous voice hit me as forcefully as it always had, but not in the same way. I loved the way he sang, but that love wasn’t intimate anymore. It wasn’t personal. I admired him the way I did a dozen other singers. “Damn it, I’ve been trying to reach you for a week!”
“I know. I’m sorry, I’ve been busy. How are you?”
“I’ve been better. I need to see you.”
My brows rose. “When are you coming to town?”
He laughed harshly, a humorless sound that rubbed me the wrong way. “Incredible. Listen, I don’t want to get into it on the phone. Can we get together today? We need to talk.”
“You’re in New York? I thought you were on tour . . . ?”
Gideon’s rapid-fire typing didn’t slow and he didn’t look at me, but I could feel his energy shift. He was paying attention, and he knew who was on the line.
“I’ll tell you what’s going on when I see you,” Brett said.
I frowned out the window as we idled at a light, my gaze on the flood of pedestrians crossing the street. New York was teeming with life and frenetic energy, gearing up to do world-changing business. “I’m on my way to work. What’s going on, Brett?”
“I can meet you for lunch. Or after you get off for the day.”
I debated saying no, but the determination in his tone gave me pause. “Okay.”
Reaching over, I set my hand on Gideon’s thigh. The toned muscle was hard beneath my palm, even though he was at rest. The tailored suits polished his form into civility, but I knew the truth about the vigorously fit body that was only hinted at underneath. “I can see you at lunch, if we stick close to the Crossfire Building.”
“All right. What time should I be there?”
“A little before noon would be best. I’ll meet you in the lobby.”
We hung up and I dropped the phone back into my purse. Gideon’s hand captured mine. I glanced at him, but he was reading a lengthy e-mail, his head bent slightly so that the ends of his hair brushed his sculpted jaw.
The warmth of his touch soaked into me. I looked down at the band he wore on his finger, the one that told the world he belonged to me.
Did his business associates pay attention to his hands? They weren’t those of a man who pushed paper and tapped on keyboards all day. They were the hands of a fighter, a warrior who practiced mixed martial arts and pounded out his aggression with both boxing bags and sparring partners.
Kicking off my shoes, I curled my legs under me and leaned into Gideon’s side, setting my other hand on top of his. I ran my splayed fingers between his knuckles and fingers, forward and back, carefully resting my head against his shoulder so that I didn’t mess up his pristine black jacket with my makeup.
I breathed him in, feeling the effect of him—his nearness, his support—permeate my being. The smell of his soap was muted now, the naturally seductive scent of his skin altering the fragrance into something richer and more delicious.
When I was restless, he settled me.
“There’s nothing for him,” I whispered, needing him to know that. “I’m too filled with you.”
His chest expanded abruptly, his sharp inhalation audible. He pushed the tray table up and away, then patted his lap in invitation. “Come here.”
I crawled into his lap, sighing happily when he shifted me into a spot that felt made for me. Every peaceful moment we had with each other was treasured. Gideon deserved the respite, and I longed to be that for him.
His lips touched my forehead. “You okay, angel mine?”
“I’m in your arms. Life doesn’t get better than this.”
I spotted three paparazzi outside the Crossfire when we arrived.
With a hand at the small of my back, Gideon ushered me through the entrance ahead of him, escorting me quickly but unhurriedly into the cool lobby.
“Vultures,” I muttered.
“Can’t be helped that we’re such a photogenic couple.”
“You’re such a humble man, Gideon Cross.”
“You make me look good, Mrs. Cross.”
We stepped into the elevator with a few other people and he took the rear corner, hooking me to him with an arm around my waist, his hand pressed flat against my belly, his chest warm and hard against my back.
I savored those few minutes with him, refusing to think about work or Brett until we parted on the twentieth floor.
Megumi was already at her desk when I approached the glass security doors, and the sight of her made me smile. She’d trimmed her hair since I’d seen her Friday night and polished her nails a bright red. It was good to see the small signs that she was reclaiming her spirit.
“Hey, you,” she greeted me after buzzing me in, pushing to her feet.
“You look great.”
Her smile widened. “Thanks. How’d it go with Gideon’s sister?”
“Awesome. She’s a lot of fun. It makes me melt seeing Gideon with her.”
“He makes me melt, period. You lucky bitch. Anyway, I put a call through to your line earlier. They wanted to leave a message.”
I shifted on my feet, thinking of Brett. “Was it a guy?”
“No, a woman.”
“Hmm, I’ll go check it out, thanks.”
I headed back to my desk and got settled in, my gaze coming to rest on the collage of photos of Gideon and me. I still needed to talk to him about Crossroads. There hadn’t been a good time over the weekend. We’d had enough on our plates having Ireland over.
He hadn’t slept Saturday night. I’d hoped he would but hadn’t really expected him to. It was hard for me, thinking of his inner struggle, his worry and fear. He carried shame, too, and an inherent belief that he was broken. Damaged goods.
He didn’t see in himself what I saw—a generous soul who wanted so much to belong to something greater than himself. He didn’t recognize what a miracle he was. When he didn’t know what to do in a given situation, he let instinct and his heart take over. Despite all he’d been through, he had such an amazing capacity to feel and to love.
He’d saved me, in so many ways. I was going to do whatever needed to be done to save him, too.
I listened to my messages. When Mark came in, I stood, and met him with a grin and bouncing anticipation.
His brows rose. “What’s got you so excited?”
“A gal from LanCorp called this morning. They want to meet with us sometime this week to talk a bit more about what they’re hoping to achieve with the launch of the PhazeOne system.”
His dark eyes took on a familiar sparkle. He’d become a happier man overall since he and Steven had become engaged, but there was a whole different energy to him when he was eager about a new account. “You and me, kid, we’re going places.”
I hopped a little on my feet. “Yeah. You’ve got this. Once they meet with you in person, you’ll have them eating out of your hand.”
Mark laughed. “You’re good for my confidence.”
I winked at him. “I’m good for you, period.”
We spent the morning working on the PhazeOne RFP, putting together comps to better grasp how we might position the new gaming system against its competition. I had a momentary pause when I realized how much buzz surrounded the upcoming release of the next-generation GenTen console—which happened to be a product of Cross Industries, making it PhazeOne’s primary rival in the marketplace.
Pointing the situation out to Mark, I asked, “Is it going to be a problem? I mean, could LanCorp possibly see a conflict of interest with me working for you on this?”
He straightened in his chair, leaning back. He’d shucked his coat earlier but remained smartly attired in a white dress shirt, bright yellow tie, and navy slacks. “It shouldn’t be an issue, no. If our proposed positioning wins out over the other RFPs they’re collecting, the fact that you’re engaged to Gideon Cross isn’t going to make a damn bit of difference. They’re going to make their decision based on our ability to deliver their vision.”
I wanted to feel relieved, but I didn’t. If we were awarded the PhazeOne campaign, I’d be helping one of Gideon’s competitors steal some of his market share. That really bothered me. Gideon worked so hard and had overcome so much to lift the Cross name up from infamy to a level where it inspired awe, respect, and a healthy amount of fear. I never wanted to set him back, in anything.
I’d thought I would have a little more time before I was forced to make a choice. And I couldn’t help feeling like the choice to be made was between my independence and my love for my husband.
The dilemma niggled at me all morning, chipping away at the excitement I felt over the RFP. Then the hours crept toward noon and Brett took over my thoughts.
It was time to take responsibility for the mess I’d made. I had opened the door to Brett, and then I’d kept it open because I couldn’t get my head on straight. It was my job now to fix the problem before it impacted my marriage any more than it already had.
I headed down to the lobby at five minutes to noon, having asked permission from Mark to leave a little early. Brett was already waiting for me, standing near the entrance with his hands shoved into his jeans pockets. He wore a plain white T-shirt and sandals, with sunglasses propped atop his head.
My stride faltered a little. Not just because he was hot, which was undeniable, but because he looked so out of place in the Crossfire. When he’d met me here before the video launch in Times Square, we had rendezvoused outside. Now, he was in the building, occupying a spot too near to where I’d first run into Gideon.
The differences between the two men were stark and didn’t have anything to do with clothing or money.
Brett’s mouth curved when he saw me, his body straightening, shifting in that way men moved when their sexual interest was piqued. Other men, but not Gideon. When I’d first met my husband, his body, his voice, gave nothing away. Only his eyes had betrayed his attraction, and only for an instant.
It was later I realized what had happened in that moment.
Gideon had claimed me . . . and given himself to me in return. With a single look. He’d recognized me the moment he saw me. It took me longer to understand what we were to each other. What we were meant to be.
I couldn’t help but contrast the possessive, tender way Gideon looked at me against the earthier, lustful way Brett raked me from head to toe.
It seemed so obvious suddenly, that Brett had never really thought of me as his. Not the way Gideon did. Brett had wanted me, still did, but even when he’d had me, he hadn’t asserted any ownership and he certainly hadn’t ever given anything real of himself to me.
Gideon. My head tilted back, my gaze searching for and finding one of the many black domes in the ceiling that hid the security cameras. My hand went to my heart, pressing over it. I knew he probably wasn’t looking. I knew he’d have to deliberately access the feed in order to see me and that he was far too busy with work to think of it, but still . . .
My hand dropped to my side. I looked at Brett as he approached me with the easy prowl of a man who knew his appeal and was confident of his chances.
The lobby was swarming with people flowing around us in steady streams, as one would expect in a midtown skyscraper. When his arms lifted as if to embrace me, I stepped back and held out my left hand instead, just as I had done when we last met in San Diego. I would never again cause Gideon to feel the pain I’d inflicted when he saw me kissing Brett.
Brett’s brows lifted and the heat in his eyes cooled. “Really? Is this where we’re at now?”
“I’m married,” I reminded him. “Hugging each other isn’t appropriate.”
“What about the women he’s tapped all over the tabloids? That’s okay?”