“She didn’t push you,” she whispered. “Not like I do.”
I spoke against her skin, wishing I could press the words into her mind in a way that she would never doubt them. “She also didn’t make me burn. Didn’t make me hunger, and hope, and dream like you do. There’s no comparison, angel, and no going back. I would never want to.”
Her beautiful eyes closed. She leaned into me. “The hits just keep on coming, don’t they?”
I looked over her head and out the window beyond, at the world that waited for us once we stepped outside. “Let ’em come.”
She exhaled roughly. “Yeah, let ’em come.”
I entered Tableau One and spotted Arnoldo immediately. Dressed in his pristinely white chef’s jacket paired with black slacks, he stood by a small table for two in the back, talking to the woman I’d come to see.
Her head turned toward me as I approached, her long dark hair sliding across her shoulder. Her blue eyes lit brightly for a moment when she spotted me, and then that light was quickly banked. Her smile when she greeted me was cool and more than a little smug.
“Corinne.” I greeted her with a nod before shaking hands with Arnoldo. The restaurant he ran and I backed was crowded with lunch guests, the buzz of numerous conversations loud enough to drown out the instrumental Italian-themed music piping through recessed speakers.
Arnoldo excused himself to see to the kitchen, lifting Corinne’s hand to his lips in farewell. Before he walked away, he shot me a look that I understood to mean we’d talk later.
I took the seat across from Corinne. “I appreciate your taking the time to see me.”
“Your invitation was a pleasant surprise.”
“I don’t believe it was unexpected.” I leaned back, absorbing the soft lilt of Corinne’s speech. While Eva’s throaty voice stirred a deep craving, Corinne’s had always soothed me.
Her smile widened as she brushed at an invisible speck on the plunging neckline of her red dress. “No, I suppose not.”
Irritated by the game she was playing, I spoke curtly. “What are you doing? You value your privacy as much as I do mine.”
Corinne’s lips flattened into a firm line. “I thought the exact same thing when I first saw that video of you and Eva arguing in the park. You say I don’t know you, but I do, and having your private life splashed all over the tabloids isn’t something you would ever allow under normal circumstances.”
“What’s normal?” I shot back, unable to deny that I was a different man with Eva. I’d never indulged women who tested me expecting some grand gesture. If they pursued me aggressively enough, I let them catch me for a night. With Eva, I’d always been the one chasing.
“That’s exactly my point—you don’t remember. Because you’re wrapped up in a passionate affair and you can’t see beyond it.”
“There is nothing beyond it, Corinne. I will be with her until I die.”
She sighed. “You think so now, but stormy relationships don’t last, Gideon. They burn themselves out. You like order and calm, and you won’t have that with her. Ever. Somewhere inside you, you know that.”
Her words struck home. She had unwittingly echoed my own thoughts on the subject.
A server came by our table. Corinne ordered a salad; I ordered a drink—a double.
“So you’ve sold a tell-all to do . . . what?” I asked, when the server walked away. “Get back at me? Hurt Eva?”
“No. I want you to remember.”
“This isn’t the way.”
“What is the way?”
I held her gaze. “It’s over, Corinne. Exposing your memories of us isn’t going to change that.”
“Maybe not,” she conceded, sounding so sad it sent a pang of regret through me. “But you said you never loved me. At the very least, I’ll prove that wrong. I gave you comfort. Contentment. You were happy with me. I don’t see that same sort of tranquillity when you’re with her. You can’t tell me you feel it.”
“Everything you’re saying tells me you don’t care if I end up with you. But if you’re leaving Giroux, maybe you care about the money. How much did they pay you to prostitute your ‘love’ for me?”
Her chin lifted. “That’s not why I’m writing the book.”
“You just want to be sure I don’t end up with Eva.”
“I just want you to be happy, Gideon. And since you’ve met her, I’ve seen you be anything but.”
How would Eva take the book when she read it? No better, I imagined, than I was taking “Golden.”
Corinne’s gaze dropped to my left hand, which rested on the tabletop. “You gave Eva your mother’s engagement ring.”
“It hasn’t been hers for a long time.”
She took a sip of the wine she’d had on the table when I joined her. “Did you have it when you and I were together?”
“You can tell yourself that Eva and I are incompatible,” I said tightly, “that we’re either fighting or fucking with nothing of substance in between. But the truth is that she’s the other half of me and what you’re doing is going to hurt her, which will hurt me. I’ll buy you out of the publishing contract if you’ll withdraw the book.”
She stared at me for a long minute. “I . . . I can’t, Gideon.”
“Tell me why.”
“You’re asking me to let you go. This is a way for me to do that.”
I leaned forward. “I’m asking you, Corinne, if you feel anything for me at all, to please drop this.”
“Gideon . . .”
“If you don’t, you’re going to turn what were good memories for me into something I hate.”
Her turquoise eyes shone with tears. “I’m sorry.”
I pushed back from the table and stood. “You will be.”
Turning away, I walked out of the restaurant to the waiting Bentley. Angus opened the door, his gaze shifting to look beyond me into Tableau One’s massive front window.
“Damn it.” I slid into the back. “God fucking damn it!”
People who felt I’d wronged them in some way were crawling out of the shadows like spiders, lured by the presence of Eva in my life.
She was my biggest vulnerability, one I wasn’t hiding well. And that was becoming a problem I had to get a handle on. Christopher, Anne, Landon, Corinne . . . they were only the beginning. There were others who had grievances against me. Still more who held grudges toward my father.
I’d long dared them all to come at me, enjoying the challenge. Now, the bastards were coming at me through my wife. All at once. And I was being stretched thin because of it. If I didn’t have my guard up completely, my focus absolute, I would leave Eva open and unprotected.
Whatever I had to do, I had to prevent that.
“I still want to see you tonight,” Eva said, her seductive voice drifting through the phone receiver like smoke.
“That’s not in question,” I told her, leaning back in my desk chair. Outside the windows, the sun hung lower in the sky. The workday was over. Somewhere in the madness of the week, August had given way to September. “You deal with Cary, I’ll sit down with Arnoldo, and you and I will start the weekend when we’re done.”
“God, this week just flew by. I need to work out. I skipped too many days.”
“Spar with me tomorrow.”
She laughed. “Yeah, right.”
“I’m not joking.” I thought of Eva in her sports bra and body-hugging pants, and my dick stirred with interest.
“I can’t fight you!” she protested.
“Of course you can.”
“You know too much. You’re too good.”
“Let’s put those self-defense skills of yours to the test, angel.” The idea I’d thrown out on a whim suddenly seemed like the best one I’d had all day. “I want to know you can take care of yourself in the unlikely case that you have to.”
She never would, but it would give me peace of mind to know that she could get away from a threat.
“I’ve got wedding stuff tomorrow, but I’ll think about it,” she said. “Hang on.”
I heard the car door open and Eva greet her doorman. She said hi to her concierge, and then I heard the ding of an arriving elevator in her lobby.
“You know”—she sighed—“I’m putting on a brave face for Cary, but I’m worried about what’s going to happen with Trey. If he walks out, I think Cary just might totally self-destruct.”
“He’s asking a lot,” I warned her, hearing another ding from the elevator. “Cary’s basically telling this guy that he’s got a pregnant sidepiece that he intends to hang on to. No, scratch that. He’s saying that Trey is going to be the sidepiece. I can’t see that going over well with anyone.”
“I’ll have my phone on me all night. Call me if you need me.”
“I always need you. I’m home, so I have to go. See you later. I love you.”
Would those words always hit me hard enough to steal my breath?
We hung up just as a familiar figure rounded the corner leading to my office. I stood as Mark Garrity reached my open doorway, and I met him halfway with my hand extended.
“Mark, thank you for making time for me.”
He smiled and shook my hand in a strong grip. “I’m the one feeling thankful, Mr. Cross. There are a large number of people in this city—in the world, actually—who’d kill to be where I am right now.”
“Call me Gideon, please.” I gestured toward the seating area. “How’s Steven?”
“He’s doing great, thank you. I’m beginning to think he missed a calling as a wedding planner.”
I smiled. “Eva’s about to dig into that this weekend.”
Unbuttoning his suit jacket, Mark tugged up the legs of his slacks and sat on the sofa. His gray suit contrasted well with his dark skin and striped tie, pulling together the appearance of an urban professional on the rise.
“If she has half as much fun with it as Steven,” he said, “she’ll have the time of her life.”
“Let’s hope she doesn’t have too much fun,” I drawled, remaining on my feet. “I’d like to get past the planning and into the actual wedding.”
“Can I get you something to drink?” I asked.
“I’m good, thanks.”
“Okay. I’ll make this quick.” I took a seat. “I asked you to meet me after work, because it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to offer you a position with Cross Industries while you’re on Waters Field and Leaman’s time.”
His brows shot up.
I let that sink in for a second or two. “Cross Industries has a number of diverse international holdings, with a concentration on real estate, entertainment, and premium brands—or assets we believe we can elevate to that status.”
“Like Kingsman Vodka.”
“Precisely. For the most part, advertising and marketing campaigns are managed on the ground level, but brand overhauls or adjustments to messaging are approved here. Due to the diversity I mentioned, we’re always reviewing new strategies for rebranding or strengthening an established brand. We could use you.”
“Wow.” Mark rubbed his palms over his knees. “I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this has caught me off guard.”
“I’ll pay you twice what you’re making, to start.”
“That’s a hell of an offer.”
“I’m not a man who likes the word no.”
His grin flashed. “I doubt you hear it very often. I guess this means Eva is leaving Waters Field and Leaman?”
“She hasn’t made that decision yet.”
“No?” His brows shot up again. “If I leave, she’ll lose her job.”
“And gain another one here, of course.” I kept my replies as brief and unrevealing as possible. I wanted his cooperation, not questions he might not like the answers to.
“Is she waiting for me to agree before she takes any steps?”
“Your decision will be a catalyst.”
Mark ran a hand over his tie. “I’m both flattered and excited, but—”
“I understand it’s not a move you were planning on making,” I interjected smoothly. “You’re happy where you’re at, and feel a measure of job security. So I’m prepared to guarantee you the position—and reasonable bonuses and annual raises—for the next three years, barring any misconduct on your part.”
Leaning forward, I set my fingers on the folder that Scott had left atop the table. I pushed it toward Mark. “All the information is laid out in detail in this. Take it home with you, discuss it with Steven, and let me know your decision on Monday.”