I jumped out of bed and waylaid her before she reached the bathroom, gripping her by the upper arms. “I can’t fight with you right now,” I told her honestly, staring down into the roiling depths of her turbulent gaze. “If we’re out of sync, I won’t make it through the day.”
“Then don’t tell me you’re over it when you’re struggling to keep it together!”
I growled, frustrated. “I don’t know what to do with this. I don’t see how Chris knowing changes anything.”
Her chin tilted up. “He’s worried about you. Are you going to call him?”
My head turned away. When I thought of seeing my stepfather again, my stomach churned. “I’ll talk to him at some point. We do manage a business together.”
“You’d rather avoid him. Tell me why.”
I pushed back from her. “We’re not suddenly going to be the best of friends, Eva. We rarely saw each other before, and I see no reason for that to change.”
“Are you angry with him?”
“Jesus. Why the f**k is it my job to make him feel better?” I headed for the shower.
She followed. “Nothing is going to make him feel better, and I don’t think he expects that of you. He just wants to know that you’re back on your stride.”
I reached into the stall and turned the taps on.
Her hand touched my back. “Gideon . . . you can’t just shove your feelings into a box. Not unless you want an explosion like the other night. Or another nightmare.”
It was the mention of my recurrent nightmares that had me rounding on her. “We managed the last two nights just fine!”
Eva didn’t back down in the face of my fury the way others did, which only aggravated me further. And seeing the myriad reflections of her na**d body in the mirrors didn’t help.
“You didn’t sleep on Tuesday night,” she challenged. “And last night you were so exhausted, I doubt you even dreamed at all.”
She didn’t know I’d slept part of the night in the other bedroom, and I didn’t see any reason to mention it. “What do you want me to say?”
“This isn’t about me! It helps to talk things over, Gideon. Laying it all out helps us gain perspective.”
“Perspective? I’ve got that just fine. There was no mistaking the pity on Chris’s face last night. Or yours! I don’t need anyone feeling sorry for me, damn it. I don’t need their f**king guilt.”
Her brows shot up. “I can’t speak for Chris, but that wasn’t pity you saw on me, Gideon. Sympathy, maybe, because I know what you’re feeling. And pain, certainly, because my heart is connected to yours. When you’re hurting, I’m hurting, too. You’ll have to learn to deal with that, because I love you and I’m not going to stop.”
Her words ripped into me. Reaching out, I gripped the edge of the shower’s floating glass.
Relenting, she came to me, wrapped herself around me. My head bowed as I soaked her in. The smell of her, the feel. My free arm slid around her hips, my hand cupping the full curve of her ass. I wasn’t the same man I’d been when we met. I was stronger in some ways and weaker in others. It was the weakness I struggled with. I used to feel nothing. And now—
“He doesn’t see you as weak,” she murmured, reading me the way she always could. Her cheek lay over my heart. “No one could. After what you’ve been through . . . to be the man you are today. That’s strength, baby. And I’m impressed.”
My fingers flexed into her supple flesh. “You’re biased,” I muttered. “You’re in love with me.”
“Of course I am. How could I be anything else? You’re amazing and perfect—”
“Perfect for me,” she corrected. “And since you belong to me, that’s a good thing.”
I tugged her back and into the shower, leading her under the pounding jets of warm water. “I feel like this changed things,” I admitted, “but I don’t know how.”
“We figure it out together.” Her hands ran over my shoulders and down my arms. “Just don’t push me away. You have to stop trying to protect me, especially from yourself!”
“I can’t hurt you, angel. Can’t take any risks.”
“Whatever. I can take you down, ace, if you get out of hand.”
If that were true, it might have been a comfort.
I switched gears, hoping to avoid a fight that would send ripples through the rest of my day. “I’ve been thinking about the penthouse renovations.”
“You’re changing the subject.”
“We exhausted the subject. It’s not closed,” I qualified, “just tabled until there are additional variables to address.”
She eyed me. “Why does it turn me on when you go all alpha mogul on me like that?”
“Don’t tell me there are times when I don’t turn you on.”
“God, I wish. I’d be a more productive human being.”
I brushed the wet hair back from her forehead. “Have you thought about what you want?”
“Whatever ends with your c**k inside me.”
“Good to know. I was talking about the penthouse.”
She shrugged, her eyes lit with mischievous amusement. “Same goes either way.”
IT was the sort of local eatery that tourists never spared a glance. Small and lacking in aesthetics, it boasted a vinyl marquee that did nothing to brand it as unique or welcoming. It specialized in soup, with sandwich options for those with heartier appetites. A cooler by the door offered a limited selection of beverages, while an ancient register was only capable of taking cash.
No, travelers would never come to this place run by immigrants who’d decided to take a bite out of the Big Apple. They’d head to the spots made famous by movies or television shows, or those that dotted the garish spectacle of Times Square. The locals, however, knew the gem in their neighborhood and lined up outside the door.
I slid through that line to reach the back, where a tiny room held a handful of chipped enamel-topped tables. A lone man sat at one of them, reading the day’s paper while steam curled out of his cup of soup.
Pulling out the chair opposite him, I sat.
Benjamin Clancy didn’t look up when he spoke. “What can I do for you, Mr. Cross?”
“I believe I owe you thanks.”
He folded the paper leisurely and then set it aside, his gaze meeting mine. The man was solidly built, thick with muscle. His hair was dark blond, cut short in a military style. “Do you? Well, then, I accept. Although I didn’t do it for you.”
“I didn’t think you did.” I studied him. “You’re still keeping watch.”
Clancy nodded. “She’s been through enough. I’m going to see she doesn’t go through any more.”
“You don’t trust me to do that?”
“I don’t know you enough to trust you. In my opinion, neither does she. So I’ll keep an eye on things for a while.”
“I love her. I think I’ve proven how far I’ll go to protect her.”
His gaze hardened. “Some men need to be put down like rabid dogs. Some men need to be the ones to do it. I didn’t peg you as one of those guys either way. That makes you rogue in my book.”
“I take care of what’s mine.”
“Oh, you took care of it all right.” His smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. “And I took care of the rest. As long as Eva is happy with you, we’ll leave it at that. You decide someday she’s not what you want, you cut her off clean and with respect. If you hurt her in any way at all, then you’ve got a problem, whether I’m still breathing or in the grave. You got me?”
“You don’t have to threaten me to be good to her, but I heard you.” Eva was a strong woman. Strong enough to survive her past and to pledge her future to me. But she was vulnerable, too, in ways most people didn’t see. That was why I would do anything to shield her, and it seemed Benjamin Clancy felt the same.
I leaned forward. “Eva doesn’t like being spied on. If you become a problem for her, we’ll sit down like this again.”
“You planning on making it a problem?”
“No. If she catches you at it, it won’t be because I tipped her off. Just keep in mind that she’s spent her life looking over her shoulder and being suffocated by her mother. She’s breathing easy for the first time. I won’t let you take that away from her.”
Clancy narrowed his eyes. “I guess we understand each other.”
I pushed back from the table and stood, extending my hand. “I’d say we do.”
AS my day ended and I cleared off my desk, I felt solid and settled.
There in my office, at the helm of Cross Industries, I had a handle on every detail. I doubted nothing, least of all myself.
The ground had leveled beneath my feet. I’d smoothed the feathers ruffled by my Wednesday cancellations, while staying on track with my Thursday. Despite missing a full day, I was no longer behind.
Scott walked in. “I’ve confirmed your agenda for tomorrow. Mrs. Vidal will meet you and Miss Tramell at The Modern at noon.”
Shit. I’d forgotten about lunch with my mother.
I glanced at him. “Thank you, Scott. Have a good night.”
“You, too, Mr. Cross. See you tomorrow.”
Rolling my shoulders back, I walked over to the window and looked out at the city. Things had been easier before Eva. Simpler. During the day, while consumed with work, I’d taken a moment to miss that simplicity.
Now, with the evening upon me and time to think, the prospect of major alterations to the home I’d come to see as a refuge bothered me more than I would admit to my wife. On top of the other personal pressures we faced, I felt almost crushed by the scale of the adjustments I was making.
Waking up to Eva as she’d been that morning was worth it all, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t struggling with the aftermath of her entry into my life.
I turned at the sound of Scott’s voice and found him standing in the doorway to my office. “You’re still here.”
He smiled. “I was on my way out to the elevators when Cheryl caught me at reception. There’s a Deanna Johnson in the lobby asking for you. I wanted to confirm that I should tell her you’re no longer available today.”
I was tempted to turn her away. I had little patience for reporters and even less for former lovers. “They can send her up.”
“Do you need me to stay?”
“No, you can go. Thank you.”
I watched him leave, then watched Deanna arrive. She strode toward my office on long legs and high heels, her thin gray skirt skimming the tops of her knees. Long dark hair swayed around her shoulders, framing the zipper that gave her otherwise traditional blouse an edge.
She tossed me a megawatt smile and held out her hand. “Gideon. Thanks for seeing me on such short notice.”
I shook her hand briefly and briskly. “I expect you wouldn’t go to the trouble of coming here directly unless it was important.”
The statement was both fact and a warning. We had come to an understanding, but it wouldn’t last if she thought she could exploit our connection beyond what I’d already conceded.
“Worth it for the view,” she said, her eyes on me for just a second too long before shifting sideways to the window.
“I’m sorry, but I’ve got an appointment, so we’ll have to make this quick.”
“I’m in a hurry, too.” Tossing her hair over her shoulder, she moved to the nearest chair and sat, crossing her legs in a way that showed more of her toned thigh than I wanted to see. She started digging into her large bag.