His gruff teasing didn’t distract me from the fact that he was determined to protect the girl I’d been, the girl I was ashamed of. He was willing to stand between me and scandal, shielding me as best he could and taking the hit alongside me, if it came to that.
I didn’t think it was possible to love him more than I did, but he kept proving me wrong.
He cupped my face in his hands. “Whatever we face, we face together. And you’ll do it with my name.”
“I can’t tell you how proud I am for you to have it.” He brushed his mouth across my brow. “How much it means to me that you’ve taken it and made it yours.”
“Oh, Gideon.” I pushed onto my tiptoes and surged into him. “I love you so much.”
I was a half hour late to work and found a temp at Megumi’s desk. I smiled and said hi, but worry ate at me. I popped my head into Mark’s office and apologized profusely for being late. Then I called Megumi’s cell when I got to my cubicle, but she didn’t answer. I headed over to Will’s.
“Got a question for you,” I said, when I reached him.
“Let’s hope I have the answer,” he shot back, swiveling in his chair to look up at me through his stylish glasses.
“Who does Megumi call to say she’s sick?”
“She reports to Daphne for everything. Why?”
“I’m just worried. She hasn’t called me back. I’m wondering if I pissed her off somehow.” I shifted on my feet. “I hate not knowing or being able to help.”
“Well, for what it’s worth, Daphne said she sounds horrible.”
“That sucks. But thanks.”
I headed back to my cubicle. Mark gestured me into his office as I walked by.
“They’re hanging the six-story banner for Tungsten scarves today.”
He grinned. “Want to go check it out?”
“Really?” As scattered as I was feeling, getting out in the muggy August heat was preferable to sitting at my cool desk. “That’d be awesome!”
He grabbed his jacket off the back of his chair. “Let’s go.”
WHEN I got home shortly after five o’clock, I found my living room taken over by a team of white-coated beauty technicians. Cary and Trey were kicked back on the couch with green goop on their faces and towels under their heads to protect the white upholstery. My mother was chatting away while her hair was styled in a sexy cap of waves and curls.
I took a quick shower, then joined them. In an hour, they managed to take me from bedraggled to glamorous, affording me the time to think about everything I’d ruthlessly suppressed all day—the video, Corinne, Giroux, Deanna, and Brett.
Someone was going to have to tell Brett. That someone was me.
When the beautician came toward me with a lip brush, I held up my hand. “Red, please.”
She paused a minute, her head canting as she examined me. “Yes, you’re right.”
I was holding my breath through a finishing blast of hair spray when my smartphone vibrated in the pocket of my robe. Seeing Gideon’s name on the screen, I answered. “Hi, ace.”
“What color are you wearing?” he asked, without a hello.
“Really?” His voice took on a warm purr that made my toes flex. “I can’t wait to see you in it. And out of it.”
“You won’t be waiting,” I admonished. “You’d better have your fine ass over here in about ten minutes.”
My eyes narrowed. “Hurry up or we won’t have any limo time.”
“Umm … I’ll be there in five.”
He hung up and I held my phone for a minute, smiling.
“Who was that?” my mom asked, coming up beside me.
Her eyes lit up. “He’s escorting you tonight?”
“Oh, Eva.” She hugged me. “I’m so glad.”
With my arms around her, I figured it was as good a time as any to start spreading the engagement news. I knew Gideon wasn’t going to wait long before insisting on sharing our marriage with the world.
I said quietly, “He asked Dad for permission to marry me.”
“Did he?” When she pulled back, she was smiling. “He talked to Richard, too, which I think is such a nice touch, don’t you? I’ve already started planning. I was thinking June, at the Pierre, of course. We’ll—”
“I suggest December, at the latest.”
My mother gasped, her eyes widening. “Don’t be ridiculous. There’s no way to pull off a wedding in that amount of time. It’s impossible.”
I shrugged. “Tell Gideon you’re thinking of June next year. See what he says.”
“Well, I have to wait until he actually proposes first!”
“Right.” I kissed her cheek. “I’m going to get dressed.”
I WAS IN my room, sliding the strapless gown up over my matching bustier, when Gideon came in. I literally stopped breathing, my gaze drinking in his reflection in my cheval mirror. Standing behind me in a tuxedo tailored just for him, with a lovely gray tie that matched my dress so well, he was dazzling. I’d never seen him look so gorgeous.
“Wow,” I breathed, entranced. “You are so getting laid tonight.”
His mouth quirked. “Does that mean I can skip zipping you up?”
“Does that mean we can skip going to this thing?”
“Not a chance, angel. I’m showing off my wife tonight.”
“No one knows I’m your wife.”
“I know it.” He came up behind me and secured my zipper. “And soon—really soon—the world will know it.”
I leaned back into him, admiring our joint reflection. We took great pictures together.
Which made me think of other pictures …
“Promise me,” I said, “that you’ll never watch the video.”
When he didn’t answer me, I turned to look at him directly. When I saw the closed-off look on his face, I started freaking out. “Gideon. Did you watch it already?”
His jaw tightened. “A minute or two. Nothing explicit. Just enough to prove validity.”
“Oh my God. Promise me you won’t watch it.” My voice rose and grew sharp as panic spread through me. “Promise me!”
His hands encircled my wrists and squeezed hard enough to make my breath catch. I stared at him, wide-eyed, confused by the sudden aggression.
“Calm down,” he said quietly.
The oddest rush of warmth spread outward from where he touched me. My heart beat faster, but also steadier. I stared at our hands, my attention catching on his ruby ring. Red. Like the cuffs he’d bought for me. I felt similarly captured and bound now. And it soothed me in a way I didn’t understand.
But Gideon obviously did.
That was why I’d been afraid to marry him so quickly, I realized. He was taking me on a journey that had an unknown destination and I had agreed to follow him blindfolded. It wasn’t about where we’d end up as a couple, because that was never in question. We were obsessed, dependent on each other in the unrelenting way of addicts. Where I would end up, who I’d be at the end, was what I didn’t know.
Gideon’s transformation had been almost violent, happening in a moment of sharp clarity when he’d comprehended that he wouldn’t—couldn’t—live without me. My change was more gradual, so painstakingly measured that I’d believed I wouldn’t have to change at all.
I was wrong.
Swallowing past the lump in my throat, I spoke more steadily. “Gideon, listen. Whatever’s on that video, it’s nothing compared to what you and I have. The only memories I want in your head are ones we make. What we’ve got together … that’s the only thing that’s real. The only thing that matters. So please … promise me.”
He closed his eyes briefly, then nodded. “All right. I promise.”
I breathed out a sigh of relief. “Thank you.”
Lifting my hands to his mouth, he kissed them. “You’re mine, Eva.”
BY silent, mutual agreement, we refrained from mussing each other up in the limo before our first public appearance as a married couple. I was nervous, and while an orgasm or two would help alleviate that, looking less than perfect would only make it worse. And people would notice. Not only was my silver gown eye-catching, with its brilliant sheen and short train, but my arm-candy husband was an impossible-to-miss accessory.
Attention would be on us, and Gideon seemed determined to keep it that way. He helped me out of the limo when we arrived at Fifth Avenue and Central Park South, taking a moment to slide his lips across my temple. “That dress is going to look amazing on my bedroom floor.”
I laughed at the cheesy line, which I knew he’d intended, and camera flashes went off in a storm of blinding light. Once he turned away from me, all warmth left his face, the beautiful planes settling into a closed expression that gave nothing away. He set his hand at the small of my back and led me across the red carpet and into Cipriani’s.
Once inside, he found a spot he approved of and we stayed there for an hour as business associates and acquaintances circled around us. He wanted me at his side and he wanted to be at mine as well, something he proved a short while later when we were headed to the dance floor.
“Introduce me,” he said simply and I followed his gaze to where Christine Field and Walter Leaman, of Waters Field & Leaman, were laughing along with the group of people they were standing with. Christine looked restrained and elegant in a black beaded dress that covered her from throat to wrists to ankles except for the plunging back, and Walter, who was a large man, looked successful and confident in a nicely cut tuxedo and bow tie.
“They know who you are,” I pointed out.
“Do they know who I am to you?”
I wrinkled my nose a little, knowing my world was going to change drastically once my single-girl self was subsumed by my identity as Eva Cross. “Come on, ace.”
We headed over there, weaving through round tables covered in white linens and decorated with candelabras wrapped in floral garlands that lent a wonderful fragrance to the room.
My bosses spotted Gideon first, of course. I don’t think they even recognized me until Gideon quite obviously deferred to me by letting me speak first.
“Good evening,” I said, shaking Christine’s and Walter’s hands. “I know you’re both familiar with Gideon Cross, my …”
I paused, my brain grinding to a halt.
“Fiancé,” Gideon finished, shaking hands.
Congratulations were exchanged; smiles got bigger, eyes brighter.
“This doesn’t mean we’re losing you, does it?” Christine asked, diamond drop earrings glinting in the soft light of the chandeliers.
“No. I’m not going anywhere.”
That earned me a sharp pinch on my butt from Gideon.
We were going to have to deal with the work issue at some point, but I figured I could hold him off at least until our next wedding.
We talked a bit about the Kingsman Vodka campaign, which was mostly a way to emphasize what a good job Waters Field & Leaman had done so the agency could hook more Cross Industries business. Gideon knew the game, of course, and played it well. He was polite, charming, and clearly not a man who could be easily influenced.
After that, we ran out of things to talk about. Gideon made our excuses.
“Let’s dance,” he murmured in my ear. “I want to hold you.”
We moved onto the dance floor, where Cary was drawing attention with a stunning redhead. Flashes of a pale, shapely leg could be seen through the risqué slit in her emerald green dress. He moved her into a spin, then a dip. Undeniably suave.
Trey hadn’t been able to come because of an evening class, and I was sorry about that. I was sorry, too, that I was glad Cary hadn’t brought Tatiana instead. Thinking that way made me feel bitchy, and I seriously disliked catty bitches.
“Look at me.”
I tilted my head at Gideon’s command and found his eyes on me. “Hi, ace.”
With his hand at my back and my hand in his, we swept casually around the dance floor.
“Crossfire,” he whispered, his gaze hot on my face.
I touched his cheek with my fingertips. “We’re learning from our mistakes.”
“You read my mind.”
“It feels good.”
He smiled, his eyes so blue and his hair so damn sexy I wanted to run my fingers through it right then and there. He pulled me closer. “Not as good as you feel.”
We stayed on the dance floor through two songs. Then the music ended when the bandleader turned to the mic and made an announcement: Dinner was about to be served. Seated at our table were my mother and Richard, Cary, a plastic surgeon and his wife, and a guy who said he’d just wrapped up shooting the pilot episode to a new television show he hoped would be picked up for a full-season run.
The meal was some sort of Asian fusion and I ate everything, because it was good and the portions weren’t that big. Gideon had his hand on my thigh beneath the table, his thumb rubbing lightly in small circles that made me squirm.
He leaned over. “Sit still.”
“Stop it,” I whispered back.
“Keep wiggling and I’ll put my fingers inside you.”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
He smirked. “Try me and see.”
Because I wouldn’t put it past him, I sat still, even though it killed me.
“Excuse me,” Cary said abruptly, pushing back from the table.
I watched him walk away and caught his gaze lingering on a nearby table. When the redhead in green followed him out of the room a few moments later, I wasn’t too surprised, but I was very disappointed. I knew the situation with Tatiana was stressing him out and I knew mindless sex was Cary’s cure-all, but it also f**ked with his self-esteem and led to more problems than it fixed.