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?”
“Come on,” I chided. “You know you can’t always believe what the press feeds you.”
His lips pursed. He shoved his hands back in his pockets. “You can believe what they say about how I feel about you.”
My stomach fluttered. “I think you believe it.”
Which made me a little sad. He didn’t know what Gideon and I had, because he’d never had it. I hoped he would someday. Brett wasn’t a bad guy. He just wasn’t meant to be my guy.
Cursing under his breath, Brett turned and gestured toward the exit. “Let’s get out of here.”
I was torn. I wanted privacy, too, but I also wanted to stay where there were witnesses who could reassure Gideon. In any case, we couldn’t exactly have a picnic in the Crossfire lobby.
Reluctantly, I fell into step beside him. “I had some sandwiches delivered a little bit ago. Figured that would give us more time to talk.”
Brett nodded grimly and held out his hand for the bag I was carrying.
I took him to Bryant Park, weaving beside him through the frenetic lunchtime crowds on the sidewalks. Taxis and private cars honked insistently at the streams of pedestrians too time-strapped to obey the signals. Heat shimmered off the asphalt, the sun high enough in the sky to spear down between the towering skyscrapers. An NYPD squad car hit its siren, the piercing robotic chirps and rumbles doing little to expedite the cruiser’s movement through the clogged street.
It was Manhattan on an average day and I loved it, but I could tell Brett was frustrated by the intricate dance required to get through the city. The shifting of shoulders and hips to let people pass, the quick inhales to squeeze by too-big bags or too-slow pedestrians, the swift-footedness needed to avoid the abrupt appearance of new bodies filing out of the many doorways that lined the sidewalks. Life as usual in NYC, but I remembered how overwhelming it felt when you weren’t used to so many people occupying relatively little space.
Entering the park just behind the library, we found an unoccupied bistro table and chairs in the shade near the carousel and settled in. Brett pulled out the sandwiches, chips, and bottled water I’d ordered, but neither of us started eating. I scouted our surroundings instead, aware that we could be photographed.
I’d considered that when I chose the location, but the alternative was a noisy, crowded restaurant. I was hyperconscious of my body language, trying to ensure that nothing could be misconstrued. The world at large could think we were friends. My husband would know, in every way I could show him, that Brett and I had actually said good-bye.
“You got the wrong impression in San Diego,” Brett said abruptly, his eyes shielded behind his shades. “Brittany isn’t a serious thing.”
“It’s none of my business, Brett.”
“I miss you. Sometimes, she reminds me of you.”
I winced, finding the comment anything but flattering. I lifted one hand and gestured helplessly. “I couldn’t go back to you, Brett. Not after Gideon.”
“You say that now.”
“He makes me feel like he can’t breathe without me. I couldn’t settle for less.” I didn’t need to say that Brett had never made me feel like that. He knew.
He stared at his steepled fingertips, then straightened abruptly and dug his wallet out of his back pocket. He pulled a folded photograph out and set it on the table in front of me.
“Look at that,” he said tightly, “and tell me we didn’t have something real.”
I picked up the photo and spread it open, frowning at the image. It was a candid shot of Brett and me, laughing together over something lost to memory. I recognized the interior of Pete’s in the background. There was a crowd of blurred faces around us.
“Where did you get this?” I asked. There’d been a time when I would’ve given anything to have an unposed photo with Brett, believing that such an insubstantial thing would give me some kind of proof that I was more than a piece of ass.
“Sam took that after one of our sets.”
I stiffened at the mention of Sam Yimara, abruptly reminded of the sex tape. I looked at Brett, my hands shaking so hard I had to put the photo down. “Do you know about . . . ?”
I couldn’t even finish the sentence. Turned out, it wasn’t necessary for me to.
Brett’s jaw tensed, his forehead and upper lip beaded with sweat from the summer heat. He nodded. “I’ve seen it.”
“Oh my God.” I recoiled from the table, my mind filled with all the possibilities of what was captured on video. I had been desperate to win Brett’s attention, with a complete lack of self-respect that shamed me now.
“Eva.” He reached for me. “It’s not what you think. Whatever Cross told you about the video, I promise it isn’t bad. A little raw sometimes, but that’s the way it was between us.”
No . . . Raw was what I had with Gideon. What I’d had with Brett was something much darker and unhealthy.
I clasped my trembling hands together. “How many people have seen it? Have you shown it to— Has the band watched it?”
He didn’t have to answer; I saw it on his face.
“Jesus.” I felt sick. “What do you want from me, Brett?”
“I want—” Shoving up his sunglasses, he rubbed at his eyes. “Hell. I want you. I want us to be together. I don’t think we’re over yet.”
“We never got started.”
“I know that’s my fault. I want you to give me a chance to fix it.”
I gaped. “I’m married!”
“He’s no good, Eva. You don’t know him like you think you do.”
My legs quivered with the urge to get up and leave. “I know he’d never show footage of us to anyone! He respects me too much.”
“The whole point was to document the rise of the band, Eva. We had to sort through it all.”
“You could’ve watched it alone first,” I said tightly, horribly aware of the people sitting not too far away. “You could’ve cut us out before the others saw it.”
“We’re not the only ones Sam got on video. The other guys had stuff, too.”
“Oh God.” I watched as he shifted restlessly. Suspicion bloomed. “And there were other girls with you,” I guessed, my nausea worsening. “What did it matter when I was just one of many.”
“It mattered.” He leaned forward. “It was different with you, Eva. I was different with you. I was just too young and full of myself to appreciate it at the time. You need to see, Eva. Then you’ll understand.”
I shook my head violently. “I don’t want to see it. Ever. Are you crazy?”
That was a lie. What was in the video? How bad was it?
“Goddamn it.” He yanked off his shades, throwing them on the table. “I didn’t want to talk about the fucking video.”
But there was a defensiveness to his posture that made me doubt him. His shoulders were high and tight, his mouth a hard line.
Whatever Cross told you . . .
He knew Gideon was aware of the tape. He had to know Gideon was fighting to keep it buried. Sam would’ve told him.
“What do you want?” I asked again. “What was so damned urgent you had to come out to New York?”
I waited for him to answer, my heart pounding. It was hot as hell and humid, but my skin felt chilled and clammy. He couldn’t tell me he loved me, not after I’d caught him with Brittany. He couldn’t warn me away from Gideon; I was already married. Brett was in Manhattan midtour, something the band had to agree with. And Vidal. Why would they do that? What would they get out of interrupting their schedule?
When Brett just sat there, his jaw working, I stood and turned blindly away, hurrying across the grass toward the nearest gate in the wrought-iron fence.
He called after me, but I kept my head down, achingly aware of the number of people in the park whose heads turned in my direction. I was making a scene, but I couldn’t stop. I left my bag behind and didn’t care.
Get away. Get somewhere safe. Get to Gideon.
The sound of my husband’s voice made me stumble. I turned my head. He rose from a chair near the piano by Bryant Park Grill. Cool and elegant, seemingly impervious to the sultry heat.
The concern in his eyes, the gentle way he enfolded me in a hug, gave me strength. He’d known this meeting with Brett wouldn’t go well. That I would be upset and needy. That I would need him.
And he was there. I didn’t know how, and I didn’t care.
My fingers dug into his back, practically clawing at him.
“Shh.” His lips brushed against my ear. “I’ve got you.”
Raúl appeared beside us with my bag in hand, his stance conveying a protectiveness that added to the shield Gideon’s body gave me. The riotous panic inside me began to ease. I wasn’t freefalling anymore. Gideon was my net, always prepared to catch me.
He led me down the steps to where the Bentley waited, with Angus standing ready to open the back door. I slid inside and Gideon joined me, his arm wrapping around me when I curled into him.
We were right back to where we’d started that morning. But in a matter of hours, everything had changed.