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 fuck 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 fucking 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 fuck 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 breasts. 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.
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 fuck 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 naked 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 fucking 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 cock 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.