“You’re hot and you can cook. I’m a lucky girl.”
I decided not to tell her I’d just downloaded the recipe that morning. Instead, I considered what she’d said.
Had I made a tactical error by moving too quickly with Mark? It was possible that if I’d left it alone just a little longer, Eva might have come around to working at Cross Industries on her own.
But did I have the luxury of giving her more time with Landon closing in? Even now, I didn’t think so.
Seeking to mitigate any possible fallout, I debated the merits of broaching the topic of Mark’s move to Cross Industries now versus later. Eva had opened the door by talking about us working together. If I didn’t walk through it, I ran the risk of her finding out another way.
I had taken that chance on Saturday, knowing Eva and Mark were friends who talked outside work. He could’ve called her at any time, but I’d banked on him thinking it over first, discussing it with his partner, and coming to peace with leaving Waters Field & Leaman.
“I have to talk to you about something, too, angel.”
“I’m all ears.”
Shooting for nonchalance, I grabbed the maple syrup and poured some onto my plate. “I offered Mark Garrity a job.”
There was a moment of stunned silence, and then, “You did what?”
The tone of her voice confirmed that I’d been right to be up front sooner rather than later. I looked at her. She was staring at me.
“I’ve asked Mark to work for Cross Industries,” I repeated.
Her face paled. “When?”
“Friday,” she parroted. “It’s Sunday. You’re just bringing this up now?”
Since the question was rhetorical, I didn’t reply, choosing to wait for a clearer assessment of the situation before possibly making things worse.
I took the same tack I’d used with Mark—I told the parts of the truth most likely to be accepted. “He’s a solid employee. He’ll bring a lot to the team.”
“Bullshit.” The color came back into her face in an angry rush. “Don’t patronize me. You’re putting me out of a job and you didn’t think that was something you should discuss with me first?”
I switched tactics. “LanCorp asked for Mark directly, didn’t they?”
She was silent a minute. “That’s what this is about? The PhazeOne system? Are you f**king serious?”
I’d wondered what product Ryan Landon would use as an excuse to approach Eva. I was surprised he’d gone with a product so vital to his bottom line, then chastised myself for not expecting it. “You didn’t answer my question, Eva.”
“What the hell does it matter?” she snapped. “Yeah, they asked for Mark. So what? You don’t want your competitors using him? Are you trying to say this was a business decision?”
“No, this was personal.” I set my utensils down. “Eric Landon, Ryan Landon’s father, invested heavily with my dad and lost everything. Ryan Landon has been gunning for me ever since.”
A frown marred the space between her brows. “So you didn’t want us working on any campaigns for him? Is that what you’re saying?”
“I’m saying that Ryan Landon asked for Mark as a way to get to you.”
“What? Why?” Irritation mixed with anger on her face. “He’s married, for chrissakes. He brought his wife to lunch with us the other day. You’ve got no reason to be jealous.”
“He wouldn’t be interested in you that way,” I agreed. “It’s more of a triumph to have you working for him. He wants the satisfaction of knowing he can give an order and you’ll have to jump to get it done.”
“You don’t know the whole of it, Eva. How many years he’s spent trying to undercut me in every way possible. Every business decision he makes is driven by the need to rewrite the connection between the Landon and Cross names. Every success he’s had has been accompanied by a mention of his father’s failure to see my dad as a fraud and what that cost the Landons.”
“Of course I don’t know,” she said coldly. “Because you didn’t see fit to tell me.”
“I’m telling you now.”
“When it doesn’t matter anymore!” She slid off the bar stool and stalked out of the kitchen.
I went after her, as I always did. “Eva.”
I caught her by the elbow, but she yanked free, spinning to face me.
“Don’t touch me!”
“Don’t walk away from me,” I growled. “If we’re going to fight, let’s get it over with.”
“That’s what you were counting on, right? You figured you’d do whatever you wanted, then sweet-talk or f**k your way through it later. But you can’t fix this, Gideon. You can’t say a few words or screw me brainless and get away with it this time.”
“Fix what? I saw someone maneuvering to take advantage of you and I took care of it.”
“Is that how you see it?” Her hands went to her hips. “I don’t see it that way at all. Landon is taking the risk. What if Mark and I do a crappy job? He’s got a lot riding on PhazeOne.”
“Exactly. He has in-house advertising, marketing, and promotion, just like I do. Why take something he’s sunk a fortune into—even by my standards—and set himself up for leaks or a massive fail?”
She threw her hands up with a snort.
“Right,” I bit out. “You can’t answer that because there is no good answer. It’s an unnecessary gamble. The only people handling the launch of the next-generation GenTen are people whose souls I own.”
“What are you saying?”
“That Landon’s waited a long time for his pound of Cross flesh. Maybe he doesn’t care that you married into the name. I don’t know what he has in mind. At the very least, he’s forcing us into a place where we’re unable to share information with each other.”
Her brow arched. “How is that any different from how our relationship usually works?”
“Don’t.” I clenched my hands at my sides, frustrated by her stubbornness. “Don’t make this about us when it’s about him. I’ll be damned if Landon drags you through hell because of me.”
“I’m not saying you’re wrong! If you’d told me about this, I would’ve made the right decision on my own. Instead, you forced me out of a job I love!”
“Back up. What decision would that have been?”
“I don’t know.” She gave me a cold, hard smile that chilled my blood. “And now we’ll never find out.”
She turned her back to me again.
“No,” she tossed over her shoulder. “I’m getting dressed. Then I’m leaving.”
“Like hell.” I followed her into the bedroom.
“I can’t be around you right now, Gideon. I don’t even want to look at you.”
My mind raced, searching for something to say that would calm her down. “Mark hasn’t taken the job.”
She shook her head and yanked open a drawer to pull out a pair of shorts. “He will. I’m sure you made him an offer he can’t refuse.”
“I’ll withdraw it.” God. I was backpedaling and it rankled, but she was so angry I couldn’t reach her. She was as distant as I’d ever seen her. Remote and untouchable. After the wildly erotic night we’d had, when we had been as close as ever, her attitude was unbearable.
“Don’t bother, Gideon. The damage is done. But you’ll get a solid employee who’ll bring a lot to your team.” She tugged the shorts on and went into the closet.
I was right behind her, blocking the doorway while she shoved her feet into flip-flops. “Listen to me, damn it. They’re coming after you. Everyone. They want to get at me through you. I’m doing the best I can, Eva. I’m trying to protect us the only way I know how.”
She paused, facing me. “That’s a problem. Because this way doesn’t work for me. It will never work for me.”
“Goddamn it, I’m trying! ”
“All you had to do was talk to me, Gideon. I was halfway there on my own. Working with you on Crossroads was just the first step. I was going to make the decision to work with you, and you took that away from me. You took it away from both of us. And we’ll never get it back.”
The icy finality in her tone made me crazed. I could deal when discussions went sideways. I could spin and switch strategy on the fly. What I couldn’t handle was when my grip on Eva slipped. When we’d said our vows, I had made the irrevocable decision to let everything go—my ambition, my pride, my heart—to hang on to her. If I couldn’t do that, I had nothing.
“Don’t throw that at me now, angel,” I warned. “Every time I’ve brought up working together you shut me down.”
“So you just bulldoze right through me?”
“I was willing to give you time! I had a plan. I was going to seduce you with the possibilities, let you decide that the best way to develop your potential was alongside me.”
“You should’ve stuck with the plan. Get out of my way.”
I held my ground. “How could I stick with any plan the last few weeks? While you’re feeling righteous, think about what I’ve dealt with. Brett, the damned tape of you with him, Chris, my brother, therapy, Ireland, my mother, Anne, Corinne, f**king Landon—”
Eva crossed her arms. “Gotta handle it all yourself, don’t you? Am I really your wife, Gideon? I’m not even your friend. I bet Angus and Raúl know more about your life than I do. Arash, too. I’m just the pretty cunt you f**k.”
“You need to get out of my way before this gets any uglier.”
“I can’t let you leave. You know I can’t. Not like this.”
Her jaw tightened. “You’re asking me to give you something I don’t have right now. I’m hollowed out, Gideon.”
“Angel . . .” I reached for her, my chest so tight I found it hard to breathe. The devastation on her face was killing me. I’d destroy anyone who put that look on her face, but this time, I had done it. “What does it matter if you would’ve made the same decision anyway?”
“You need to stop talking,” she said hoarsely. “Because every word coming out of your mouth makes me think we’re so far apart on this that we’ve got no business being married.”
If she’d stabbed me in the chest, it couldn’t have hurt worse. The air in the closet became hot and stale, drying my throat and making my eyes burn. The floor seemed to tilt beneath my feet, the foundation of my life shifting as Eva slipped further and further away.
“Tell me what to do,” I whispered.
Her eyes glistened. “Let me go for now. Give me some space to think. A few days—”
“No. No!” Panic swelled until I was forced to grip the door frame to stay upright.
“Maybe a few weeks. I need to find a new job, after all.”
“I can’t,” I gasped, panting for air. A black ring encroached on my vision, until Eva was the lone pinpoint of light. “For God’s sake, something else, Eva!”
“I have to figure out what to do now.” She rubbed at her forehead with rough fingers. “And I can’t think when you’re looking at me like that. I can’t think . . .”
She moved to pass me and I grabbed her by the arms, kissing her, groaning when I felt her soften for an instant. I tasted her, tasted her tears. Or maybe they were mine.
Her hands went to my hair, fisting it, pulling it hard. She turned her head, breaking the seal of my mouth.