“You can’t intimidate me with your money,” he said tightly.
I entered the car and hit the button for the top floor. “There are eyes and ears all over the city. At least in my office, I know we won’t be putting on a show.”
His lip curled in disgust. “Is that all you care about? Public perception?”
“An ironic question, considering who you are and what you want.”
“Don’t act like you know me,” he growled. “You know shit.”
In the confined space of the elevator car, Kline’s aggression and frustration permeated the space between us. His hands gripped the handrail behind him, his stance hostile and expectant. From the platinum tips of his spiked hair to the black-and-gray tattoos covering his arms, the front man of Six-Ninths couldn’t be more different from me in appearance. I used to feel threatened by that and his history with Eva, but no longer.
Not after San Diego. And certainly not after last night.
I could still feel the marks of Eva’s nails in my back and ass. She’d pushed me to my limits all night and into the early hours of the morning. The insatiable hunger she felt for me left no room for anyone else. And the catch in her voice when she told me she loved me, the sheen of tears in her eyes when I yielded to what she did to me . . .
I leaned back against the opposite wall and tucked my hands into the pockets of my sweats, knowing my nonchalance would goad him.
“Does she know we’re meeting like this?” he asked harshly.
“I figured I’d leave it up to you to decide whether to mention it.”
“Oh, I’m mentioning it all right.”
“I hope you do.”
We exited into the Cross Industries foyer and I led him through the security doors and back to my office. There were a few people at their desks and I took note of them. Those who worked on their days off weren’t always better employees than those who didn’t, but I respected ambition and rewarded it.
When we got to my office, I shut the doors behind us and frosted the glass. A folder sat on my desk, as I’d instructed before leaving the penthouse. I set my hand atop it and gestured for Kline to take a seat.
He remained standing. “What the fuck is this about? I come into town to see Eva and your goon brings me here instead.”
The “goon” was security provided by Vidal Records, but he wasn’t wrong in thinking the man worked for me. “I’m prepared to offer you a great deal of money—along with other incentives—for the exclusive rights to the Yimara footage of you and Eva.”
He gave me a hard smile. “Sam told me you were going to try this. That tape is none of your business. It’s between me and Eva.”
“And the entire world if it leaks, and that would destroy her. Does that matter to you at all, how she feels about it?”
“It’s not going to leak, and of course I give a shit about how she feels. It’s one of the reasons we need to talk.”
I nodded. “You want to ask her what you can use. You think you can talk her into letting you exploit some of it.”
He rocked back on his feet, a restless move that signaled a direct hit.
“You’re not going to get the answer you hope for,” I told him. “The very existence of that tape horrifies her. You’re an idiot if you think otherwise.”
“It’s not all sex. There’s some good stuff of us hanging out. Her and I, we had something. She wasn’t just a lay to me.”
Piece of shit. I had to control the impulse to deck him.
He smirked. “Not that you’d understand. You had no problem banging away at that brunette until I came back into the picture, then you changed up your game. Eva’s a toy you got bored with. Until someone else wanted her.”
His mention of Corinne hit a harsh chord. The charade of dating my ex had nearly cost me Eva, a close call that still haunted me.
That didn’t prevent me from noticing how good he was at shifting the blame. “Eva knows what she means to me.”
He stepped closer to my desk. “She’s too blinded by your billions to realize there’s something really wrong with you hiding that bogus wedding in a foreign country. Is it even legal?”
It was a question I’d anticipated. “Absolutely legal.”
Opening the folder, I pulled out the photo inside. It was taken on the day of my wedding, at the very moment I first kissed Eva as her husband. The beach and the pastor who had officiated at the ceremony were behind us. I cupped her face, our lips touching softly. Her hands held my wrists, my ring sparkling on her finger.
I turned the picture around so that it faced him. I slid a copy of the marriage license into place beside it. I used my left hand, proudly displaying my ruby-encrusted wedding band.
I wasn’t sharing such personal things to prove a point. I intended to provoke Kline, which I’d been deliberately doing from the moment he arrived in New York. When he reached out to my wife again, I wanted him off-balance and at a disadvantage.
“So you and Eva are done,” I said evenly. “If you doubted it, now you know it for sure. In any case, I don’t think you want my wife as much as you want the memory of her for the band’s use.”
Kline laughed. “Yeah, paint me as the sleaze. You can’t handle the thought of her seeing that tape. You’ve never made her get that wild and you never will.”
My forearms twitched with the need to pound the smugness out of his face. “Believe what you like. Here are your options: You can take the two million I’m offering, give me the footage, and walk away—”
“I don’t want your damn money!” Setting his hands on the edge of my desk, he leaned toward me. “You don’t get to own my memories. You may have her—for now—but I have those. Fuck if I’m selling them to you.”
The thought of Kline watching the footage . . . watching himself fuck my wife . . . set my blood on a slow boil. The thought of him suggesting that Eva sit through a viewing of it, knowing how that would shatter her, pushed me to the raw edge of violence.
Keeping my tone even was a struggle. “You can reject the money and keep the existence of the footage to yourself until you die. Make it a secret gift to Eva she never has to know about.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“Or you can be a selfish asshole,” I continued, “and hit her up with it, shocking her with the goal of destroying her marriage and making yourself more famous.”
I stared him down. Kline stood his ground, but his gaze dropped for a fraction of a second. A small victory, for what it was worth.
With a swipe of my hand, I withdrew the contract Arash had drawn up. “If you care about her at all, you’ll make a different decision than the one that brought you to New York.”
He grabbed the documents off my desk and ripped them in half, throwing the pieces back onto the glass. “I’m not leaving until I see her.”
Kline strode out of my office, bristling with anger.
I watched him go. Then I placed a call via a secure line. “Did I give you enough time?”
“Yes. We took care of the laptop and tablet in his luggage as soon as you took him upstairs. We’re handling his e-mail and backup provider servers as we speak, and the backups to those servers. We searched his residence over the weekend, but he hasn’t been there in weeks. We cleaned everything on both Yimara and Kline’s equipment, as well as the accounts and equipment of those who received teasers of the full-length footage. One of the execs at Vidal had a full copy on his hard drive, but we wiped it. We found no evidence that he forwarded it anywhere.”
Ice slid through my veins. “Which executive?”
Fuck. I gripped the edge of my desk so hard my knuckles cracked with the strain. I remembered the video of Christopher with Magdalene, knew how perverse his hatred toward me was. Thinking about him seeing Eva so intimately . . . so vulnerable . . . took me to a place I hadn’t been since I’d first heard about Nathan.
I had to believe that the private military security firm I’d hired had dealt with the situation thoroughly. Their tech teams were trained to handle far more sensitive information.
I shoved the mess on my desk into the folder. “I need that footage to cease to exist anywhere.”
“Understood. We’re on it. Still, it’s possible there’s a hard copy floating around, although we’ve searched Kline and Yimara’s transaction records for security deposit boxes and the like. We’ll continue to monitor the situation until you say otherwise.”
I never would. I’d search for a lifetime, if that was what it took, for any hint that the footage survived somewhere outside of my control. “Thank you.”
Hanging up, I left my office and headed home to Eva.
“YOU’RE really good with those,” Ireland said, eyeing Eva as she lifted a chopstickful of kung pao chicken from its white box to her mouth. “I never got the hang of ’em.”
“Here, try holding them like this.”
I watched my wife adjust my sister’s grip on the slender sticks, her blond head a bright contrast against Ireland’s black hair. Sitting on the floor at my feet, they both wore shorts and tank tops, their tanned legs stretched out beneath the coffee table, one long and lean, the other petite and voluptuous.
I was more of an observer than a participant, sitting on the couch behind them and envying their easy rapport even while I was grateful for it.
It was all so surreal. I hadn’t ever imagined a night like that, a quiet evening at home with . . . family. I didn’t know how to contribute or even if I could. What could I say? How should I feel?
Besides awed. And thankful. So very thankful for my amazing wife, who brought so much to my life.
Not long ago, on a similar Saturday night, I would have been at a highly publicized social function or event, focusing on business unless or until a woman’s keen interest spurred a need to fuck. Whether I returned to the penthouse by myself or ended up at the hotel with a one-night stand, I’d be alone. And since I hardly remembered what it felt like to belong anywhere, to anyone, I didn’t know what I was missing.
“Ha! Look at that,” Ireland crowed, holding up a tiny bit of orange chicken, which she promptly ate. “Made it to my mouth.”
I swallowed the wine in my glass in a single gulp, wanting to say something. My mind raced with options, all of which sounded insincere and contrived. In the end what came out was, “The chopsticks have a large target. Ups your chances.”
Ireland turned her head toward me, revealing the same blue eyes I saw in the mirror every day. They were much less guarded, far more innocent, and bright with laughter and adoration. “Did you just call me a big mouth?”
Unable to resist, I ran my hand over the crown of her head, touching the silky soft strands of her hair. Those, too, were like mine and yet not. “Not my words,” I said.
“Not in so many words,” she corrected, leaning briefly into my touch before turning back to Eva.
Eva glanced up at me, offering an encouraging smile. She knew I drew strength from her, and she gave it unconditionally.
My throat tight, I rose from the couch and grabbed Eva’s empty wineglass. Ireland’s glass of soda was still half full, so I left it and headed to the kitchen, trying to regain enough equanimity to make it through the rest of the evening.
“Channing Tatum is so hot,” Ireland said, her voice traveling from the living room. “Don’t you think?”
I frowned. My baby sister’s idle question triggered uncomfortable thoughts of her dating. She had to have started a few years ago—she was seventeen. I knew it was unrealistic to want her to stay away from boys. I knew it was my fault that I’d missed so much of her childhood. But the thought of her having to deal with younger versions of men like me and Manuel and Cary roused an unfamiliar defensive reaction.
“He’s very good-looking,” Eva agreed.
Possessiveness rose to join the mix. My gaze narrowed on the two glasses in front of me as I refilled them.
“He’s this year’s Sexiest Man Alive,” Ireland said. “Look at those biceps.”
“Ah, now on that, I have to totally disagree. Gideon is way sexier.”
My mouth curved.
“You’re such a goner,” my sister teased. “Your pupils turn into little hearts when you think about Gideon. It’s so cute.”
Ireland’s musical laugh floated through the air. “Don’t worry. He’s goofy over you, too. And he’s been on every Sexiest Man Alive list for ages. I never hear the end of it from my friends.”
“Gah. Don’t tell me stuff like that. I’m jealous by nature.”
Laughing inwardly, I dropped the empty bottle into the recycling bin.
“So is Gideon. He’s going to flip out when you start hitting the Hottest Women Alive lists. No way to avoid it now that everyone’s heard of you.”