“GOOD MORNING, ACE.”
I looked over my shoulder at the sound of Eva’s voice, smiling as I watched her circle the island on her way to the coffeemaker. Her hair was a wild tangle, her legs sexy beneath the hem of the T-shirt she wore.
Returning my attention to the stove and the French toast I was browning in the pan, I asked, “How are you feeling?”
I looked at her again and found her blushing.
“I’m sore,” she said, inserting a coffee pod into the machine. “Deep inside.”
I grinned. The swing had positioned her perfectly, allowing for optimal penetration. I’d never been as deep in her before. I had been thinking about it all morning and decided that I would be speaking to Ash about his plans for the renovations. One of the bedrooms would need to have two closets—one for clothes, the other for the swing.
“Jeez,” she muttered, “Look at that cocky smirk. Men are pigs.”
“And here I am, slaving over a hot stove for you.”
“Yeah, yeah.” She swatted my ass as she passed me with a steaming cup of coffee in hand.
I caught her by the waist before she got too far, giving her a quick hard kiss on the cheek. “You were amazing last night.”
I’d felt something click into place between us so strongly that the change had been as tangible as the rings I wore on my fingers, and I cherished it as dearly.
She flashed me a dazzling smile, then opened the fridge to pull out the carton of half-and-half. While she took care of that, I plated the finished French toast.
“I’ve been wanting to talk to you about something,” she said, joining me at the island and wriggling onto a bar stool.
My brows lifted. “Okay.”
“I’d like to become involved with the Crossroads Foundation—financially and administratively.”
“That could encompass a lot of things, angel. Tell me what you have in mind.”
Shrugging, she picked up her fork. “I’ve been thinking about the settlement money I got from Nathan’s dad. It’s just sitting in the bank, and after what Megumi has been through … I’ve realized that I need to put that money to work and I don’t want to wait. I’d like to help fund the programs offered by Crossroads and help brainstorm ways to expand them.”
I smiled inwardly, pleased to see her moving in the right direction. “All right. We’ll work something out.”
“Yeah?” She brightened like the sun, the shining light in my world.
“Of course. I’d like to commit more time to it, too.”
I let the smile show. “I can tell.”
“It just feels like a natural progression for us. An extension of us, really.” She cut into her food and forked a bite to her mouth. She hummed her appreciation. “Yummy,” she mumbled.
“I’m glad you like it.”
“You’re hot and you can cook. I’m a lucky girl.”
I decided not to tell her I’d just downloaded the recipe that morning. Instead, I considered what she’d said.
Had I made a tactical error by moving too quickly with Mark? It was possible that if I’d left it alone just a little longer, Eva might have come around to working at Cross Industries on her own.
But did I have the luxury of giving her more time with Landon closing in? Even now, I didn’t think so.
Seeking to mitigate any possible fallout, I debated the merits of broaching the topic of Mark’s move to Cross Industries now versus later. Eva had opened the door by talking about us working together. If I didn’t walk through it, I ran the risk of her finding out another way.
I had taken that chance on Saturday, knowing Eva and Mark were friends who talked outside work. He could’ve called her at any time, but I’d banked on him thinking it over first, discussing it with his partner, and coming to peace with leaving Waters Field & Leaman.
“I have to talk to you about something, too, angel.”
“I’m all ears.”
Shooting for nonchalance, I grabbed the maple syrup and poured some onto my plate. “I offered Mark Garrity a job.”
There was a moment of stunned silence, and then, “You did what?”
The tone of her voice confirmed that I’d been right to be up front sooner rather than later. I looked at her. She was staring at me.
“I’ve asked Mark to work for Cross Industries,” I repeated.
“Friday,” she parroted. “It’s Sunday. You’re just bringing this up now?”
Since the question was rhetorical, I didn’t reply, choosing to wait for a clearer assessment of the situation before possibly making things worse.
I took the same tack I’d used with Mark—I told the parts of the truth most likely to be accepted. “He’s a solid employee. He’ll bring a lot to the team.”
“Bullshit.” The color came back into her face in an angry rush. “Don’t patronize me. You’re putting me out of a job and you didn’t think that was something you should discuss with me first?”
I switched tactics. “LanCorp asked for Mark directly, didn’t they?”
She was silent a minute. “That’s what this is about? The PhazeOne system? Are you fucking serious?”
I’d wondered what product Ryan Landon would use as an excuse to approach Eva. I was surprised he’d gone with a product so vital to his bottom line, then chastised myself for not expecting it. “You didn’t answer my question, Eva.”
“What the hell does it matter?” she snapped. “Yeah, they asked for Mark. So what? You don’t want your competitors using him? Are you trying to say this was a business decision?”
“No, this was personal.” I set my utensils down. “Eric Landon, Ryan Landon’s father, invested heavily with my dad and lost everything. Ryan Landon has been gunning for me ever since.”
A frown marred the space between her brows. “So you didn’t want us working on any campaigns for him? Is that what you’re saying?”
“I’m saying that Ryan Landon asked for Mark as a way to get to you.”
“He wouldn’t be interested in you that way,” I agreed. “It’s more of a triumph to have you working for him. He wants the satisfaction of knowing he can give an order and you’ll have to jump to get it done.”
“You don’t know the whole of it, Eva. How many years he’s spent trying to undercut me in every way possible. Every business decision he makes is driven by the need to rewrite the connection between the Landon and Cross names. Every success he’s had has been accompanied by a mention of his father’s failure to see my dad as a fraud and what that cost the Landons.”
“Of course I don’t know,” she said coldly. “Because you didn’t see fit to tell me.”
“I’m telling you now.”
“When it doesn’t matter anymore!” She slid off the bar stool and stalked out of the kitchen.
I went after her, as I always did. “Eva.”
I caught her by the elbow, but she yanked free, spinning to face me.
“Don’t touch me!”
“Don’t walk away from me,” I growled. “If we’re going to fight, let’s get it over with.”
“That’s what you were counting on, right? You figured you’d do whatever you wanted, then sweet-talk or fuck your way through it later. But you can’t fix this, Gideon. You can’t say a few words or screw me brainless and get away with it this time.”
“Fix what? I saw someone maneuvering to take advantage of you and I took care of it.”
“Is that how you see it?” Her hands went to her hips. “I don’t see it that way at all. Landon is taking the risk. What if Mark and I do a crappy job? He’s got a lot riding on PhazeOne.”
She threw her hands up with a snort.
“Right,” I bit out. “You can’t answer that because there is no good answer. It’s an unnecessary gamble. The only people handling the launch of the next-generation GenTen are people whose souls I own.”
“What are you saying?”
“That Landon’s waited a long time for his pound of Cross flesh. Maybe he doesn’t care that you married into the name. I don’t know what he has in mind. At the very least, he’s forcing us into a place where we’re unable to share information with each other.”
Her brow arched. “How is that any different from how our relationship usually works?”
“Don’t.” I clenched my hands at my sides, frustrated by her stubbornness. “Don’t make this about us when it’s about him. I’ll be damned if Landon drags you through hell because of me.”
“I’m not saying you’re wrong! If you’d told me about this, I would’ve made the right decision on my own. Instead, you forced me out of a job I love!”
“Back up. What decision would that have been?”
“I don’t know.” She gave me a cold, hard smile that chilled my blood. “And now we’ll never find out.”
She turned her back to me again.
“No,” she tossed over her shoulder. “I’m getting dressed. Then I’m leaving.”
“Like hell.” I followed her into the bedroom.
“I can’t be around you right now, Gideon. I don’t even want to look at you.”
My mind raced, searching for something to say that would calm her down. “Mark hasn’t taken the job.”
“I’ll withdraw it.” God. I was backpedaling and it rankled, but she was so angry I couldn’t reach her. She was as distant as I’d ever seen her. Remote and untouchable. After the wildly erotic night we’d had, when we had been as close as ever, her attitude was unbearable.
“Don’t bother, Gideon. The damage is done. But you’ll get a solid employee who’ll bring a lot to your team.” She tugged the shorts on and went into the closet.
I was right behind her, blocking the doorway while she shoved her feet into flip-flops. “Listen to me, damn it. They’re coming after you. Everyone. They want to get at me through you. I’m doing the best I can, Eva. I’m trying to protect us the only way I know how.”
She paused, facing me. “That’s a problem. Because this way doesn’t work for me. It will never work for me.”
“Goddamn it, I’m trying!”
“All you had to do was talk to me, Gideon. I was halfway there on my own. Working with you on Crossroads was just the first step. I was going to make the decision to work with you, and you took that away from me. You took it away from both of us. And we’ll never get it back.”
The icy finality in her tone made me crazed. I could deal when discussions went sideways. I could spin and switch strategy on the fly. What I couldn’t handle was when my grip on Eva slipped. When we’d said our vows, I had made the irrevocable decision to let everything go—my ambition, my pride, my heart—to hang on to her. If I couldn’t do that, I had nothing.
“Don’t throw that at me now, angel,” I warned. “Every time I’ve brought up working together you shut me down.”
“So you just bulldoze right through me?”
“You should’ve stuck with the plan. Get out of my way.”
I held my ground. “How could I stick with any plan the last few weeks? While you’re feeling righteous, think about what I’ve dealt with. Brett, the damned tape of you with him, Chris, my brother, therapy, Ireland, my mother, Anne, Corinne, fucking Landon—”
Eva crossed her arms. “Gotta handle it all yourself, don’t you? Am I really your wife, Gideon? I’m not even your friend. I bet Angus and Raúl know more about your life than I do. Arash, too. I’m just the pretty cunt you fuck.”
“You need to get out of my way before this gets any uglier.”
“I can’t let you leave. You know I can’t. Not like this.”
Her jaw tightened. “You’re asking me to give you something I don’t have right now. I’m hollowed out, Gideon.”
“Angel …” I reached for her, my chest so tight I found it hard to breathe. The devastation on her face was killing me. I’d destroy anyone who put that look on her face, but this time, I had done it. “What does it matter if you would’ve made the same decision anyway?”
“You need to stop talking,” she said hoarsely. “Because every word coming out of your mouth makes me think we’re so far apart on this that we’ve got no business being married.”
If she’d stabbed me in the chest, it couldn’t have hurt worse. The air in the closet became hot and stale, drying my throat and making my eyes burn. The floor seemed to tilt beneath my feet, the foundation of my life shifting as Eva slipped further and further away.
“Tell me what to do,” I whispered.
Her eyes glistened. “Let me go for now. Give me some space to think. A few days—”
“Maybe a few weeks. I need to find a new job, after all.”
“I can’t,” I gasped, panting for air. A black ring encroached on my vision, until Eva was the lone pinpoint of light. “For God’s sake, something else, Eva!”
“I have to figure out what to do now.” She rubbed at her forehead with rough fingers. “And I can’t think when you’re looking at me like that. I can’t think …”
She moved to pass me and I grabbed her by the arms, kissing her, groaning when I felt her soften for an instant. I tasted her, tasted her tears. Or maybe they were mine.
Her hands went to my hair, fisting it, pulling it hard. She turned her head, breaking the seal of my mouth.
“Crossfire,” she sobbed, the word cracking like a gunshot.
I released her abruptly, stumbling back, even as my mind screamed at me to hang on.
I let her go, and she left me.
THE sea breeze blows through my hair and I close my eyes, absorbing the feel as it buffets me. The rhythmic push and pull of the waves against the beach and the raucous cries of seagulls anchor me in the moment, in this place.
It’s home in a way I haven’t known for a long time, although I’ve spent less than a handful of days here. It is a place I’ve shared only with Eva, so all of my memories of here are as drenched with her as the sand is with rays of the sun. Like the sand, I’ve been crushed down into fine, tiny bits by the forces around me. And like the sun, Eva has brought joy and warmth to my existence.
She joins me on the deck, standing behind me at the railing. I feel her hand on my shoulder, then the press of her cheek against my bare back.
“Angel,” I murmur, and place my hand over hers.
Relief washes through me. She’s back. We’re together. She understands now why I did what I did. She was so angry, so hurt. For a moment, I had felt crippling fear that I’d destroyed the most precious part of my life.
“Gideon,” she breathes, in that husky siren’s voice. One arm slides around my waist to hold me from behind.
I tilt my head back and let the power of her love pour through me. Her fingers glide over my hip, and then she’s holding my cock in her hand. Stroking it from root to tip. I harden and thicken, ready for her. I live to serve her, to please her. How could she have doubted it?
A moan rumbles up from the very depths of my soul, the desire I always feel for her climbing through me. Pre-cum leaks from the swollen head of my dick, my balls growing heavy and full.
Her hand on my shoulder glides down my back, pressing lightly, urging me to bend forward.
I obey because I want her to see how she owns me. I want her to understand that I would do anything, give anything, to make her safe and happy.
Her hand traces my spine, kneading lightly. I grip the wooden handrail that circles the deck and spread my legs at her urging.
Now, both of her hands are between my thighs, her breath hot and panting against my back. She’s pumping my cock with a firm, practiced grip. Harder than I’m used to from her. Demanding. Her other hand is massaging my sac, driving the urgency into me.
Her grip slickens as the pre-cum streams steadily from the slit at the tip of my dick. The salty air washes over me, cooling the sweat misting my skin.
“Eva …” I gasp her name, so hard for her, so desperately in love.
Her fingers, now creamy and always cleverly agile, slide back and tease the dark rosette of my anus. It feels good, even though I don’t want it to. The stroking of my penis is making it hard to breathe, to think, to fight …
“That’s it,” she coaxes.
I try to arch away, but she’s got me trapped with my dick in her hand.
“You like it,” she purrs, working my cock, her touch something I crave and can’t resist. “Show me how much you want me.”
She pushes two slick fingers inside my ass. I cry out, writhing away, but she’s rubbing and thrusting into me, hitting the spot that makes me want to come more than anything. The pleasure grows despite the tears burning my eyes.
My head falls forward. My chin touches my heaving chest. It’s coming. I’m coming. I can’t stop it. Not with her …
The fingers inside me thicken, lengthen. The thrusting becomes frenzied, the slap of flesh against flesh drowning out the sounds of the ocean. I hear a rough, lusty growl but it’s not mine. A cock is in me, fucking me. It hurts and yet the pain is tinged with a sick, unwanted pleasure.
“Keep stroking it,” he pants. “You’re almost there.”
Agony explodes in my chest. Eva isn’t here. She’s gone. She’s left me.
Vomit rises into my throat. I throw him off violently, hearing him crash through the sliding door behind us, the glass shattering. Hugh laughs hysterically and I round on him, finding him sprawled amid the glistening slivers, his hair as red as his blood, his eyes lit with that vile lustful avarice.
“You think she’d want you?” he taunts, clambering to his feet. “You told her everything. Who’d want you after that?”
“Fuck you!” I lunge and tackle him back down. My fist pounds into his face again and again.
The shards of glass pierce me, cut into me, but the pain is nothing next to what I feel inside.
Eva is gone. I’d known she would leave, that I couldn’t keep her. I’d known it, but I had hoped. I couldn’t fight the hope.
Hugh won’t stop laughing. I feel his nose shatter. His cheekbone, his jaw. His laughter turns to gurgles, but it’s still laughter.
My arm pulls back to hit him again—
Anne laughs as bubbling blood pours from her nose and mouth, spreading through the home that was once a sanctuary. Staining everything, the taint washing away the sun until only a blood moon remains …
I woke up with a scream in my throat. Sweat drenched my hair and skin. Darkness suffocated me.
Scrubbing at my eyes, I rolled onto my hands and knees, sobbing. I crawled toward the only light I could see, the weak silver glow that was my only guide.
The bedroom. God. I collapsed on the floor, racked by tears. I’d fallen asleep in the closet, unable to move after Eva left me, afraid to take one literal step in any direction toward a life without her in it.
The face of the clock glowed brightly in the darkened room.
It was one A.M.
A new day. And Eva was still gone.
“YOU’RE here early.”
Scott’s cheery voice lured my gaze from the photo of Eva on my desk.
“Good morning,” I greeted him, feeling as if I were still in a nightmare.
I’d come to work shortly after three A.M., unable to sleep anymore and unable to go to Eva. I wanted to, would have—nothing could keep me away from her—but when I tracked her phone I found her at Stanton’s penthouse, a place I couldn’t reach. The anguish of that, knowing she was deliberately keeping herself from me, ate at me from the inside out like acid.
I couldn’t stay home and go through the morning routine of preparing for work without Eva. It had been easier to revert to the schedule I’d often kept before her, coming into work while the moon was high, finding peace in the place where I exercised complete control.
But today there was no peace. Only the torment of knowing that she was in the same building I was by now, so damn close and yet farther away than she’d ever been.
“Mark Garrity was waiting by reception when I came in,” Scott continued. “He said you’d discussed having him come in today … ?”
My gut knotted. “I’ll see him.”
I pushed back from my desk and stood. I’d thought of nothing but Eva and the offer I had made to Mark, trying to reason out how I could have done anything differently. I knew Eva too well. Telling her about Ryan Landon wouldn’t have made her leave Waters Field & Leaman any more than telling her about Anne would cause her to be more cautious.
Eva would face them head-on instead, growling like a lioness to defend me and failing to see the danger to herself. It was her way and I loved her for it, but I would also protect her when the situation called for it.
“Mark.” I extended my hand as he entered, knowing immediately that he was going to say yes. Energy radiated off him and his dark eyes were lit with anticipation.
We agreed that he would begin in October, giving Waters Field & Leaman nearly a month’s notice. He wanted to bring Eva along with him and I encouraged him to make the offer, even as I doubted that she would accept it. He countered some of my terms and I negotiated by instinct, keeping him in check without my heart being in it.
In the end, he left happy and pleased with his changed situation. I was left with the deepening fear that Eva would not forgive me.
MONDAY blurred into Tuesday. There were only three times a day when I felt any life at all—at nine when I knew Eva arrived for work, at lunch, and again at five when she finished for the day. I waited with endless hope for her to reach out to me. To call or communicate in any way. Another horrible fight would be better than the aching silence.
She didn’t. I could only watch her on the security monitors, devouring the sight of her coming and going like a man dying of hunger, scared to approach her and risk widening the chasm between us.
I stayed in the office overnight, afraid to go home. Afraid of what I would do if I entered any of the residences I shared with her. Even my office was a torment, the couch where I had fucked her an inescapable reminder of what I’d had only days before. I showered in my office’s washroom and changed into one of the many suits I kept at work.
I’d never thought it strange to live for work before. Now, I was overwhelmed by emotion I couldn’t express, comprehending just how much of my life Eva had come to fill.
She stayed at Stanton’s again. It didn’t escape my notice that she preferred to spend time with her mother than to risk having to deal with me.
I texted her constantly. Pleas for her to call me. I just need to hear your voice. Notes about nothing. Cooler today, isn’t it? Comments about work. Never realized Scott always wears blue. And most of all, I love you. For some reason, it was easier to type those three words than to say them. I typed them a lot. Over and over again. I didn’t want her to forget that. Whatever my faults and fuck-ups, everything I did or thought or felt was love for her.
Sometimes I got mad, hating what she was doing to me. To us. Goddamn you! Call me. Stop doing this to me!
“You look like shit,” Arash said, eyeing me as I reviewed the contracts he’d placed on my desk. “You getting sick again?”
“My man, you are anything but fine.”
I glared at him, shutting him up.
I love you, too.
The words wavered as my eyes stung. I typed back with shaking fingers, nearly dizzy with relief. I miss you so much. Can’t we talk, please? I need to see you.
She didn’t reply before I reached Dr. Petersen’s, which blackened my mood to the point of violence. She was punishing me in the worst possible way. I was as jittery as a junkie, desperate for a hit of her to function. To think.
“Gideon.” Dr. Petersen greeted me at the door to his office with a smile that quickly faded when he saw me. Concern drew his brows down. “You don’t look well.”
“I’m not,” I snapped.
He calmly gestured for me to take a seat. I remained standing, roiling inside, debating leaving and searching for my wife. I couldn’t stand around and wait anymore. It was too much to ask of me.
“Maybe we should walk again,” he said. “I could stand to stretch my legs.”
“Call Eva,” I ordered. “Tell her to come here. She’ll listen to you.”
He blinked at me. “You’re having trouble with Eva.”
Shrugging out of my suit jacket, I threw it on the couch. “She’s being irrational! She won’t see me … won’t talk to me. How the fuck are we supposed to work things out if we’re not even talking?”
“That’s a reasonable question.”
“Damn right! I’m a reasonable man. She, however, is out of her damn mind. She can’t keep doing this. You have to get her here. You have to make her talk to me.”
I pointed a finger at him. “Don’t play your head games with me, Doc. Not today.”
“I think I’m being as reasonable as you are,” he said smoothly. “I want you to work things out with Eva, too. I think you know that.”
Exhaling in a rush, I sank onto the edge of the sofa, then dropped my head into my hands. It was throbbing viciously, pounding front and back.
“You’re fighting with Eva,” he said.
“When’s the last time you spoke with her?”
I swallowed hard. “Sunday.”
“What happened on Sunday?”
I told him. It came out in a rush that had him scribbling frantically on his tablet. The words spewed out in an angry purge, leaving me feeling wiped out and exhausted.
He continued to write for a few moments after I finished, and then his gaze lifted to my face. I saw compassion and it tightened my throat.
“You cost Eva her job,” he pointed out, “a job she’s told us both that she enjoys very much. You can see why she’d be upset with you, can’t you?”
“Yeah, I get it. But I had valid reasons. Reasons she understands. That’s what I don’t get. She understands and she’s still cutting me off.”
“I’m not sure I understand why you didn’t discuss this with Eva beforehand. Can you explain that to me?”
I rubbed at the back of my neck, where the tension felt like steel cables. “She would’ve stewed over it,” I muttered. “It would’ve taken her time to come around. In the meantime, I’m trying to manage a ton of other shit. We’re getting hit from all sides.”
“Oh, yeah.” My mouth curved grimly. “She probably got the idea from Six-Ninth’s ‘Golden’ video. Landon got to Eva through a hole in my guard. I couldn’t risk giving him another opening while I was distracted with everything else Eva and I are dealing with right now.”
Dr. Petersen nodded. “You’re facing a lot of pressure. Don’t you trust Eva to help you reach the decisions you’re making? You have to know that her conflicts with her mother often stem from not being consulted before actions are taken.”
“I know that.” I tried to articulate my chaotic thoughts. “But I need to take care of her. After what she’s lived through …”
My eyes squeezed shut. Knowing what she’d suffered was almost too much for me to think about sometimes. “I have to be strong for her. Make the tough calls.”
“Gideon, you’re one of the strongest men I know,” he said quietly.
I opened my eyes and looked at him. “You haven’t seen me the way she has.”
Crying like a child. Brutalized by memories. Masturbating while unconscious. Violent in my sleep. Weak, so weak. Helpless.
“Do you think she doubts you because you’ve let her see you vulnerable? That doesn’t sound like Eva to me.”
My eyes stung. “You don’t know everything. You just … You don’t know.”
“But Eva does. And she married you anyway. She loves you—very much—anyway.” He offered a kind smile that somehow slashed like a blade, cutting me open. “You asked me once if relationships were about compromise. Do you remember that?”
I jerked a nod.
“That compromise means you don’t always have to be the strong one, Gideon. You can do the heavy lifting on occasion, and you can let Eva do it sometimes. Marriage isn’t about whether you’re strong enough as an individual. It’s about how strong you are together and the luxury of taking turns carrying the load.”
“I …” My head bowed again. Eva had said the same thing. “I’m trying. I swear to God, I’m trying.”
“I know you are.”
“She has to take me back. She has to come back. I need her. She’s killing me right now. She’s ripping me apart.” I stared at my hands, at the rings she’d given me that made me hers. “What do I do? Tell me what to do.”
“Eva is going to want to know that you’re willing to change. She’ll want to see you taking steps to demonstrate that. You won’t face these big decisions too often, so she may adopt a wait-and-see attitude. That will be hard for you, I think. Very hard.”
I nodded slowly, but I couldn’t wait anymore. If Eva needed proof that I’d do anything to keep her, I would give it to her.
My hands clenched into fists. My gaze stayed on the carpet between my feet. “I was—” I cleared my throat. “The therapist. The one I had when I was a child.”
“He … he molested me. For nearly a year. He … raped me.”