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.
I pulled my smartphone out of my pocket, checked the time, and called Angus. “We’ll be ready in ten,” I told him when he answered.
“I’ll bring the car around.”
Ending the call, I glanced at Deanna, impatient for her to get to the point.
“How’s Eva?” she asked.
“She’ll be here in a few moments. You can ask her yourself.”
“Oh.” She looked up at me, one eye hidden behind the fall of her hair. “I should probably be gone before she gets here. I think our . . . history makes her uncomfortable.”
“She knows how I was,” I said evenly, “and she knows I’m not that way now.”
Deanna nodded. “Of course she does, and of course you’re not, but no woman likes when her man’s past gets rubbed in her face.”
“Then you’ll have to make sure you don’t do that.”
She withdrew a thin folder from her bag. Standing, she walked toward me. “I wouldn’t. I accepted your apology and appreciate it.”
“It’s Corinne Giroux you might want to worry about.”
What patience I’d had disappeared. “Corinne is her husband’s concern, not mine.”
Deanna held the folder out to me. I took it and opened it, finding a press release inside.
As I read, my grip tightened until I crumpled the edges.
“She’s sold a tell-all book about your relationship,” she said redundantly. “The release officially hits the wire Monday morning at nine.”
“OTHER COUPLES MEET, hit things off, their friends nitpick a little but are mostly supportive, and they coast for a while in that couple stage just enjoying each other.” I sighed and glanced at Gideon, who sat beside me on the couch. “We, on the other hand, can’t seem to catch a break.”
“What kind of breaks are you referring to?” Dr. Petersen asked, eyeing us with fond interest.
That fondness gave me hope. As soon as Gideon and I had arrived, I’d noticed the change in the dynamic between him and Dr. Petersen. There was something looser between them, a new ease. Less wariness.
“The only people who really want us to be together are my mother—who thinks us loving each other is a bonus to his billions—and his stepfather and sister.”
“I don’t think that’s a fair assessment of your mother,” Dr. Petersen said, sitting back and holding my gaze. “She wants you to be happy.”
“Yeah, well, a lot of being happy for my mom is being financially secure, which I just don’t understand. It’s not like she’s ever struggled for money, so why is she so afraid of not having any? Anywayyyy . . .” I shrugged. “I’m just irritated with everyone right now. Gideon and I get along great when it’s just the two of us. I mean we fight sometimes, but we always get through it. And I feel like we’re always stronger once we do.”
“What do you fight about?”
I glanced at Gideon again. He sat beside me totally at ease, looking gorgeous and successful in his beautifully tailored suit. It was on my to-do list to go with him the next time he updated his wardrobe. I wanted to watch them measure that stunning body of his, see them select the materials and style.
I found him sexy as sin in jeans and a T-shirt, and mind-blowing in a tuxedo. But I’d always have a special fondness for the three-piece suits he favored. They reminded me of how he’d been when I first met him, so beautiful and seemingly unattainable, a man I’d wanted so desperately that the need overrode even my sense of self-preservation.
I looked back at Dr. Petersen. “We still argue about the things he doesn’t tell me. And we argue when he tries to shut me out.”
He turned his gaze to Gideon. “Do you feel the need to maintain a certain distance from Eva?”
My husband’s mouth curved wryly. “There is no distance between us, Doctor. She wants me to dump everything on her that’s an irritant to me and I won’t do that. Ever. It’s bad enough if one of us has to bother with it.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “I think that’s crap. Part of a relationship is sharing the load with someone else. Maybe sometimes I can’t do anything about the problem, but I can be a sounding board. I think you don’t tell me things just because you’d rather shove them into a corner where you can ignore them.”
“People process information in different ways, Eva.”
I wasn’t buying Gideon’s dismissive reply. “You’re not processing, you’re ignoring. And I’m never going to be okay with you pushing me away when you’re hurting.”
“How does he push you away?” Dr. Petersen asked.
I looked at him. “Gideon . . . separates himself. He goes somewhere else where he can be alone. He won’t let me help him.”
“‘Goes somewhere else’ how? Do you emotionally withdraw, Gideon? Or physically?”
“Both,” I said. “He shuts down emotionally and goes away physically.”
Gideon reached over and took my hand in his. “I can’t shut down with you. That’s the problem.”
“That’s not a problem!”
I shook my head. “He doesn’t need space,” I said to Dr. Petersen, “he needs me, but he cuts me off because he’s afraid he’ll hurt me if he doesn’t.”
“How would you hurt her, Gideon?”
“It’s . . .” He exhaled harshly. “Eva has triggers. I keep them in mind, all the time. I’m careful. But sometimes, when I’m not thinking clearly, it’s possible I could cross the line.”
Dr. Petersen studied us. “What lines are you worried about crossing?”
Gideon’s grip tightened on my hand, the only outward sign he gave of any uneasiness. “There are times when I need her too much. I can be rough . . . demanding. Sometimes, I don’t have the control I need.”
“You’re talking about your sexual relationship?” He returned Gideon’s nod. “We’ve touched on that briefly before. You said you have sex multiple times a day, every day. Is that still the case?”
I felt my face heat.
Gideon’s thumb stroked over the back of my hand. “Yes.”
Dr. Petersen set his tablet aside. “You’re right to be concerned. Gideon, you may be using sex to keep Eva at an emotional distance. When you’re making love, she’s not talking, you’re not answering. There’s a point when you’re not even thinking, your body is in charge and your brain is just along for the endorphin ride. Conversely, sexual abuse survivors like Eva often use sex as a way to establish an emotional connection. Can you see the problem there? You may be trying to achieve distance through sex, while Eva is trying to get closer.”
“I’ve already told you there’s no distance.” Gideon leaned forward, pulling my hand into his lap. “Not with Eva.”
“So tell me, when you’re struggling emotionally and you initiate sex with Eva, what is it you’re looking for?”
I twisted a little to look at Gideon, totally invested in his answer. I’d never questioned why he needed to be inside me, only how. For me, it was as simple as him needing and me giving.
His gaze met mine. The shield over his eyes, that mask of his, slipped away. I saw the longing there, the love.