His fingertips touched my cheek, his gaze soft and shining. “I knew you would.”
“HIS-AND-HERS MASTER SUITE—a classic.” Blaire Ash smiled as his pen flew across the large notepad clipped to a board.
His gaze lifted to roam the entirety of Eva’s bedroom in the penthouse, the one I’d had him design specifically to look exactly like the room my wife had in her Upper West Side apartment.
“How big a change are you looking for?” the designer asked. “Do you want to start with a blank slate, or are you just looking for the easiest structural change that will combine the two rooms?”
I left it to Eva to answer. It was difficult for me to participate, knowing this change was one neither of us really wanted. Our home would soon reflect how f**ked up I was and how badly our marriage was affected because of it. The whole exercise was like a knife in the gut.
She glanced at me, then asked, “What would the easy way look like?”
Ash smiled, revealing slightly crooked teeth. He was attractive—or so Ireland assured me—and sported his usual attire of ripped jeans and a T-shirt under a tailored blazer. I couldn’t care less about his looks. What mattered was his talent, which I’d admired enough to hire him to decorate both my office and my home. What I didn’t like was the way he was looking at my wife.
“We could simply adjust the layout of the master bath and knock out an arched entry through this wall, effectively joining the two rooms via the bathroom.”
“That’s just what we need,” Eva said.
“Right. It’s quick and efficient, and the actual construction wouldn’t be all that disruptive to your lives. Or”—he went on—“I could show you some alternatives.”
He moved to her side, so close that his shoulder pressed against hers. Ash was nearly as blond as Eva, the image of them striking as he bent his head to hers.
“If we work with the square footage of all three bedrooms and master bathroom,” he replied, speaking only to her as if I weren’t there, “I could give you a master suite that’s balanced on both sides. Both bedrooms would be the same size, with his-and-hers adjoining home offices—or sitting room, if you prefer.”
“Oh.” She nipped absently at her lower lip for a second. “I can’t believe you sketched that up so quickly.”
He winked at her. “Fast and thorough is my motto. And getting the job done so well that you think of me when you want to do it again.”
I lounged against the wall, my arms crossing as I watched them. Eva seemed oblivious to the designer’s double entendre. I was anything but.
The house phone rang and her head came up. She looked at me. “I bet Cary’s here.”
“Why don’t you get that, angel?” I drawled. “Maybe you should bring him up yourself, share your excitement.”
“Yes!” She ran her hand over my arm as she hurried from the room, a fleeting touch that reverberated through me.
I straightened, focusing on Ash. “You’re flirting with my wife.”
He stiffened abruptly, the smile leaving his face. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it. I just want Miss Tramell to feel comfortable.”
“I’ll worry about her. You worry about me.” I didn’t doubt that he questioned the arrangement we’d consulted him to implement. Everyone who saw it would. What red-blooded man in his right mind would have a wife like Eva, yet sleep not just in a different bed but a different room altogether?
The knife dug in a little deeper and twisted.
His dark eyes went flat and hard. “Of course, Mr. Cross.”
“Now, let’s see what you’ve sketched so far.”
“WHAT do you think?” Eva asked, between bites of pepperoni and basil pizza. She leaned over the island, with one leg kicked up behind her, having chosen to stand on the opposite side from where Cary and I sat.
I debated my reply.
“I mean the idea of a master suite with two mirroring sides is lovely,” she went on, wiping at her mouth with a paper napkin, “but if we go the easy route, it’ll be faster. Plus we could close up the wall again one day, if we want to use the room for something else.”
“Like a nursery,” Cary said, shaking crushed red pepper onto his slice.
My appetite died and I dropped the slice I’d been eating onto my paper plate. Lately, eating pizza at home hadn’t been working out for me.
“Or a guest room,” Eva corrected. “I liked what you talked to Blaire about for your apartment.”
Cary shot her a look. “Quick dodge.”
“Hey, you may have babies on your mind, but the rest of us have other things to check off our lists first.”
She was saying exactly what I wanted her to say, but . . .
Did Eva have the same fears I did? Maybe she’d taken me as a husband because she couldn’t help herself, but drew the line at taking me as a father to her children.
I carried my plate to the trash and tossed it in. “I have some calls to make. Stay,” I said to Cary. “Spend time with Eva.”
He gave me a nod. “Thanks.”
Leaving the kitchen, I crossed the living room.
“So,” Cary began, before I stepped out of earshot, “hot-designer-dude’s got a thing for your man, baby girl.”
“He does not!” Eva laughed. “You’re crazy.”
“No argument there, but that Ash guy barely glanced at you all night and kept his eyes glued on Cross.”
I snorted. Ash had gotten the message, which reaffirmed my belief in his intelligence. Cary was free to read that however he liked.
“Well, if you’re right,” she said, “I have to admire his taste.”
I headed down the hallway and entered my home office, my gaze landing on the collage of Eva’s photos on the wall.
She was the one thing I couldn’t tuck neatly away in my mind. She was always at the forefront, driving everything I did.
Settling down at my desk, I got to work, hoping to catch up on what I could so that the rest of the week wouldn’t be thrown completely off. It took me a bit to get my head in the game, but once I did, I felt relief. It was a reprieve to focus on problems with concrete solutions.
I was making headway when I heard a yell from the living room that sounded like it had come from Eva. I paused, listening. It was quiet a moment, and then I heard it again, followed by Cary’s raised voice. I went to the door and opened it.
“You could talk to me, Cary!” my wife said angrily. “You could tell me what’s going on.”
“You know what the f**k is going on,” he retorted, the edge in his tone drawing me out of my office.
“I didn’t know you were cutting again!”
I moved down the hall. Eva and Cary squared off in the living room, the two friends glaring at each other across the span of several feet.
“It’s none of your business,” he said, his shoulders high and chin canted defensively. He glanced at me. “Not yours, either.”
“I don’t disagree,” I replied, although that wasn’t quite true. How Cary self-destructed wasn’t my concern; how it affected Eva was.
“Bullshit. That’s total f**king bullshit.” Eva’s gaze shot to me as she turned to bring me into their conversation. Then she looked back at Cary. “I thought you were talking to Dr. Travis.”
“When do I have time for that?” he scoffed, raking his hair back off his forehead. “Between my work and Tat’s, plus trying to keep Trey, I don’t have time to sleep!”
Eva shook her head. “That’s a cop-out.”
“Don’t lecture me, baby girl,” he warned. “I don’t need your shit right now.”
“Oh my God.” She tipped her head back and looked at the ceiling. “Why the f**k do the men in my life insist on shutting me out when they need me most?”
“Can’t speak for Cross, but you’re not around for me anymore. I’m getting by the best I can.”
Her head snapped down. “That’s not fair! You have to tell me when you need me. I’m not a damn mind reader!”
Turning on my heel, I left them to it. I had problems of my own to work out. When Eva was ready, she’d come to me and I would listen, being careful not to offer too much of my opinion.
I knew she didn’t want to hear that I thought she would be better off without Cary.
THE early-morning light slanted across the bed and caught the ends of Eva’s hair as she slept. The soft blond strands glowed like burnished gold, as if they were lit from within. Her hand curled gently on the pillow beside her beautiful face, the other tucked safely between her br**sts. The white sheet was draped over her from hip to thigh, her tanned legs exposed by the tangle we’d made before falling asleep.
I wasn’t a man given to whimsy, but at that moment my wife looked like the angel I believed she was. I focused the camera on the sight she made, wanting to preserve that image of her for all time.
The shutter snapped and she stirred, her lips parting. I took another shot, grateful I’d bought a camera that just might do justice to her.
Her eyelids fluttered open. “What are you doing, ace?” she asked, in a voice as smoky as her irises.
I set the camera on the dresser and joined her in the bed. “Admiring you.”
Her lips curved. “How are you feeling today?”
“Better is good.” Rolling, she reached for her breath mints. She turned back to me smelling of cinnamon. Her gaze slid over my face. “You’re ready to tackle the world today, aren’t you?”
“I’d much rather stay home with you.”
Her eyes narrowed. “You’re just saying that. You’re itching to get back to global domination.”
Bending down, I kissed the tip of her nose. “You know me so well.”
It still amazed me how well she could read me. I was feeling restless, a bit shaky. Distracting myself with work—seeing concrete progress made on any of the projects I was personally overseeing—would ease that. Still, I pointed out, “I could work the morning at home, and then spend the afternoon with you.”
She shook her head. “If you want to talk, I’ll stay home. Otherwise, I’ve got a job to get back to.”
“If you worked with me, you could cybercommute, too.”
“You’d rather push me on that, huh? That’s the tack you wanna take?”
I rolled onto my back and slung my forearm over my eyes. She hadn’t pushed me the day before and I knew she wouldn’t push me today. Or tomorrow. Like Dr. Petersen, she’d wait patiently for me to open up. But knowing she was waiting was pressure enough.
“There’s nothing to say,” I muttered. “It happened. Now Chris knows. Talking about it after the fact won’t change anything.”
I felt her turn toward me. “It’s not talking about the events themselves that matters, it’s how you feel about them.”
“I don’t feel anything. It . . . surprised me. I don’t like surprises. Now, I’m over it.”
“Bullshit.” She slid out of bed faster than I could catch her. “If you’re just going to lie, keep your mouth shut.”
Sitting up, I watched her round the foot of the bed, the tight set of her shoulders doing nothing to detract from how stunning she was. My need for her was a constant thrumming in my blood, so easily provoked by her fiery Latin temper into a restlessly impatient craving.
I’d heard some say my wife was as breathtaking as her mother, but I disagreed. Monica Stanton was a cool beauty, one who gave off the air of being slightly out of reach. Eva was all heat and sensuality—you could reach her, but her passion would scorch you.