Read an Excerpt
Icy needles of water bombarded my overheated skin, the sting chasing away the clinging shadows of a nightmare I couldn’t fully remember.
Closing my eyes, I stepped deeper into the spray, willing the lingering fear and nausea to circle the drain at my feet. A shiver racked me, and my thoughts shifted to my wife. My angel who slept peacefully in the apartment next door. I wanted her urgently, wanted to lose myself in her, and hated that I couldn’t. Couldn’t hold her close. Couldn’t pull her lush body under mine and sink into it, letting her touch chase the memories away.
“Fuck.” I placed my palms flat against the cool tile and absorbed the chill of the punishing deluge into my bones. I was a selfish asshole.
If I’d been a better man, I would’ve walked away from Eva Cross the moment I saw her.
Instead I’d made her my wife. And I wanted that news broadcast via every medium known to man, instead of hidden away as a secret between less than a handful of people. Worse, since I had no intention of letting her go, I would have to find a way to make up for the fact that I was such a fucking mess we couldn’t even sleep in the same room together.
I lathered, quickly washing away the sticky sweat I’d woken up in. Within minutes I was heading out to the bedroom, where I pulled on a pair of sweats before heading to my home office. It was just barely seven in the morning.
I’d left the apartment Eva shared with her best friend, Cary, only a couple of hours earlier, wanting to give her time to catch a few hours of sleep before she headed into work. We had been at each other all night, both of us too needy and greedy. But there’d been something else, too. An urgency on Eva’s part that gnawed at me and left me uneasy.
Something was bothering my wife.
My gaze drifted to the window and its view of Manhattan beyond it, then settled on the empty wall where a collage of photos of her and us hung in the same space in my penthouse office in our home on Fifth Avenue. I could imagine the collage clearly, having spent countless hours studying it over the last few months. Looking out at the city had once been the way I encapsulated my world. Now, I accomplished that by looking at Eva.
I sat at my desk and woke my computer with a shake of the mouse, taking a deep slow breath as my wife’s face filled my monitor. She wore no makeup in the photo that was my desktop wallpaper, and a smattering of light freckles on her nose made her appear younger than her twenty-four years. My gaze slid over her features—the curve of her brows, the brightness of her gray eyes, the fullness of her lips. In the moments when I let myself think of it, I could almost feel those lips against my skin. Her kisses were benedictions, promises from my angel that made my life worth living.
With a determined exhalation, I picked up the phone and speed-dialed Raúl Huerta. Despite the earliness of the hour, he answered swiftly and alertly.
“Mrs. Cross and Cary Taylor are heading to San Diego today,” I said, my hand curling into a fist at the thought. I didn’t have to say more.
“I want a recent photo of Anne Lucas and a detailed rundown of where she was last night on my desk by noon.”
“At the latest,” he affirmed.
I hung up and stared at Eva’s captivatingly beautiful face. I’d caught her in a happy, unguarded moment, a state of being I was determined to keep her in for the rest of her life. But last night she’d been distressed by a possible run-in with a woman I’d once used. It had been a while since I’d last crossed paths with Anne, but if she was responsible for aggravating my wife, she’d be seeing me again. Soon.
Opening my inbox, I started sifting through my e-mails, drafting quick answers when required and working my way toward the subject line that had caught my eye the moment my e-mail opened.
I felt Eva before I saw her.
I lifted my head and my keystrokes slowed. A sudden rush of desire soothed the agitation I felt whenever I wasn’t with her.
I leaned back to better appreciate the view. “You’re up early, angel.”
Eva stood in the doorway with her keys in hand, her blond hair in a sexy tangle around her shoulders, her cheeks and lips flushed from sleep, her curvy body clad in a tank top and shorts. She was braless, her lush tits swelling softly beneath the ribbed cotton. Petite and built to take a man to his knees, she often pointed out how different she was from the women I’d been photographed with before her.
“I woke up missing you,” she replied, with the throaty voice that never failed to make me hard. “How long have you been up?”
“Not long.” I pushed the keyboard drawer in to make room for her on my desk.
She padded over on bare feet, effortlessly seducing me. The moment I first saw her I’d known she would wreck me. The promise was there in her eyes and the way she moved. Everywhere she went, men stared at her. Coveted her. Just like I did.
I caught her by the waist when she came close enough, choosing to pull her onto my lap instead. Bending my head, I caught her nipple in my mouth, drawing on her with long, deep sucks. I heard her gasp, felt her body jolt at the sensation, and smiled inwardly. I could do whatever I wanted to her. She’d given me that right. It was the greatest gift I had ever been given.
“Gideon.” Her hands went to my hair, sifting through it.
I felt infinitely better already.
Lifting my head, I kissed her, tasting the cinnamon of her toothpaste and the underlying flavor that was uniquely her. “Hmm?”
She touched my face, her gaze searching. “Did you have another nightmare?”
I exhaled in a rush. She’d always been able to see right through me. I wasn’t sure I would ever get used to it.
I stroked the pad of my thumb over the damp cotton clinging to her nipple. “I’d rather talk about the wet dreams you’re inspiring right now.”
“What was it about?”
My lips thinned at her persistence. “I don’t remember.”
“Drop it, angel.”
Eva stiffened. “I just want to help you.”
“You know how to do that.”
She snorted. “Sex fiend.”
I cuddled her closer. I couldn’t find the words to tell her how she felt in my arms, so I nuzzled her neck, breathing in the well-loved scent of her skin.
Something in the tone of her voice set me on edge. I pulled back slowly, my gaze gliding over her face. “Talk to me.”
“About San Diego . . .” Her eyes dropped and she caught her lower lip between her teeth.
I stilled, waiting to see where the conversation would go.
“Six-Ninths is going to be there,” she said finally.
She hadn’t tried to hide what I’d already known, which was a relief. But a different kind of tension flooded me instead.
“You’re telling me that’s a problem.” My voice remained steady, but I was anything but calm.
“No, it’s not a problem,” she said softly. But her fingers were tangling restlessly in my hair.
“Don’t lie to me.”
“I’m not.” She took a deep breath and then held my gaze. “Something’s not right. I’m confused.”
“About what, exactly?”
“Don’t be like that,” she said quietly. “Don’t get all icy and freeze me out.”
“You’ll have to forgive me. Listening to my wife tell me she’s confused over another man doesn’t put me in a good mood.”
She squirmed out of my lap and I let her, so I could watch her—gauge her—with some distance between us. “I don’t know how to explain it.”
I deliberately ignored the cold knot in my gut. “Try.”
“It’s just—” Looking down, she chewed on her lower lip. “There’s something . . . not finished.”
My chest grew tight and hot. “Does he turn you on, Eva?”
She stiffened. “It’s not like that.”
“Is it the voice? The tattoos? His magic dick?”
“Stop it. It’s not easy talking about this. Don’t make it harder.”
“It’s damned hard for me, too,” I snapped, pushing to my feet.
I raked her from head to toe, wanting to fuck her and punish her at the same time. I wanted to tie her up, lock her up, safe from anyone who could threaten my grip on her. “He treated you like shit, Eva. Did seeing the ‘Golden’ video make you forget that? Is there something you need that I’m not giving you?”
“Don’t be an ass.” Her arms crossed, a defensive pose that angered me further.
I needed her open and soft. I needed her completely. And there were times when I was maddened by how much she meant to me. She was the one thing I couldn’t imagine losing. And she was saying the one thing I couldn’t bear hearing.
“Please don’t be ugly about this,” she whispered.
“I’m being remarkably civilized, considering how violent I feel at the moment.”
“Gideon.” Guilt darkened her gray eyes, and then tears glistened.
I looked away. “Don’t!”
But she saw into me the way she always did.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you.” The diamond on her ring finger—my claim to her—caught the light and shot sparks of multihued fire against the wall. “I hate that you’re upset and pissed off at me. It hurts me, too, Gideon. I don’t want him. I swear I don’t.”
Restless, I went to the window, trying to find the calm I needed to deal with the danger Brett Kline presented. I’d done everything I could. I had said the vows, slid the ring on her finger. Bound her to me in every way. Yet it still wasn’t enough.
The city spread out before me, the view obstructed by taller buildings. From the penthouse, I could see for miles. But from the Upper West Side apartment I’d taken next door to Eva’s, the vista was limited. I couldn’t see the endless ribbons of streets clogged with yellow taxis or sunlight glinting off the many skyscraper windows.
I could give Eva New York. I could give her the world. I couldn’t love her more than I did; it consumed me. And still, an asshole from her past was making strides on edging me out.
I remembered her in Kline’s arms as she’d been in their sex tape, kissing him with a desperation she should feel only for me. The possibility that lust for him might still affect her made me want to tear something apart.
My knuckles popped as my hands fisted. “Do we need to take a break already? Take some time for Kline to clear up your confusion? Maybe I should do the same and help Corinne deal with hers.”
She sucked in a shaky breath at the mention of my former fiancée. “Are you serious?”
There was a terrible stretch of silence.
Then, “Congratulations, dickhead. You just hurt me worse than he ever did.”
I turned in time to see her stalking out of the room, her back rigid and tense. The keys she’d used to let herself in were left on my desk, and the sight of them abandoned triggered something desperate. “Stop.”
I caught her and she struggled, the dynamic between us so familiar—Eva running, me chasing.
“Let me go!”
My eyes closed and I pressed my face against her. “I won’t let him have you.”
“I’m so mad at you right now, I could hit you.”
I wanted her to. Wanted the pain. “Do it.”
She clawed at my forearms. “Put me down, Gideon.”
I turned her around and pinned her to the hallway wall. “What am I supposed to do when you tell me you’re confused about Brett Kline? I’m feel like I’m hanging on the edge of a cliff and my grip is slipping.”
“So you’re going to tear at me to hold on? Why don’t you get that I’m not going anywhere?”
I stared down at her, scrambling for something to say that would make things right between us. Her lower lip began to quiver and I . . . I unraveled.
“Tell me how to handle this,” I said hoarsely, circling her wrists and exerting gentle pressure. “Tell me what to do.”
“Handle me, you mean?” Her shoulders went back. “Because I’m what’s wrong here. I knew Brett during a time in my life when I hated myself but wanted other people to love me. And now he’s acting the way I wanted him to back then and it’s giving me a head trip.”
“Christ, Eva.” I pressed harder, flattening my body against her. “How am I not supposed to feel threatened by that?”
“You’re supposed to trust me. I told you because I didn’t want you to get weird vibes and jump to conclusions. I wanted to be honest about it so you wouldn’t feel threatened. I know I’ve got some stuff to work out in my head. I’m going to see Dr. Travis this weekend and—”
“Shrinks aren’t a cure-all!”
“Don’t yell at me.”
I fought the urge to slam my fist into the plaster behind her. My wife’s blind faith in the healing properties of therapy frustrated the hell out of me. “We’re not running to a damned doctor every time we’ve got a problem. It’s you and me in this marriage. Not the goddamned psychiatric community!”
Her chin lifted, her jaw taking on the determined slant that drove me crazy. She never gave me an inch unless my cock was inside her. Then she gave me everything.
“You may think you don’t need help, ace, but I know I do.”
“What I need is you.” I cupped her head in my heads. “I need my wife. And I need her thinking about me and not some other guy!”
“You’re making me wish I hadn’t said anything.”
My lip curled in a sneer. “I knew how you felt. I’ve seen it.”
“God. You jealous, crazy . . .” She moaned softly. “Why don’t you understand how much I love you? Brett’s got nothing on you. Nothing. But honestly, I don’t want to be around you right now.”
I felt her resistance, the pushback of her trying to get away. I clutched her like a lifeline. “Can’t you see what you’re doing to me?”
Eva softened in my arms. “I don’t get you, Gideon. How can you just flip a switch and turn your feelings off? Knowing how I feel about Corinne, how could you throw her in my face like that?”
“You’re the reason I breathe, I can’t turn it off.” I slid my mouth across her cheek. “I think of nothing but you. All day. Every day. Everything I do, I do with you in mind. There’s no room for anyone else. It kills me that you have room for him.”
“You’re not listening.”
“Just stay the hell away from him.”
“That’s avoidance, not a solution.” Her fingers dug into my waist. “I’m broken, Gideon, you know that. I’m piecing myself back together.”
I loved her just the way she was. Why wasn’t that enough?
“Thanks to you I’m stronger than I’ve ever been,” she went on, “but there are still cracks, and when I find them, I have to figure out what made them and how to seal them up. Permanently.”
“What the fuck does that mean?” My hands pushed beneath her top, seeking her bare skin.
She stiffened and pushed at me, rejecting me. “Gideon, no . . .”
I sealed my mouth over hers. Lifting her off her feet, I took her to the floor. She struggled and I growled, “Don’t fight me.”
“You can’t just screw our problems away.”
“I just want to screw you.” My thumbs hooked into the waistband of her shorts and shoved them down. I was frantic to be in her, possessing her, feeling her surrender. Anything to drown out the voice in my head telling me I’d fucked up. Again. And this time, I wouldn’t be forgiven.
“Let me go.” She rolled onto her stomach.
My arms banded around her hips when she tried to crawl away. She could throw me off as she’d been trained to and she could cut me off with a word. Her safe word . . .
Eva froze at the sound of my voice and the one word meant to convey the riot of emotions she shattered me with.
It was in that eye of the storm that something snapped. A fierce and familiar quiet exploded within me, silencing the panic shaking my confidence. I stilled, absorbing the sudden absence of turmoil. It had been a long time since I’d last felt the dizzying switch between chaos and control. Only Eva could rock me so deeply, sending me hurtling back to a time when I’d been at the mercy of everything and everyone.
“You’re going to stop fighting me,” I told her calmly. “And I’m going to apologize.”
She went lax in my arms. Her submission was total and swift. I had the upper hand again.
I pulled her up and back, so that she was sitting on my thighs. Eva needed me in control. When I was reeling, she scattered, which only shook me more. It was a vicious cycle and I had to get a better grip on it.
“I’m sorry.” Sorry for hurting her. Sorry for losing my command of the situation. I’d been edgy after the nightmare—something she’d intuited—and getting hit with Kline immediately after hadn’t given me time to get my shit together.
I would deal with him. I’d keep a tight grasp on her. Period. There were no other options.
“I need your support, Gideon.”
“I need you to tell him you’re married.”
She leaned her temple against my cheek. “I’m going to.”
I shifted her to sit across my lap and leaned back against the wall, cradling her close. Her arms wrapped around my neck and my world righted itself again.
Her hand slid down my chest. “Ace . . .”
The coaxing note in her voice was one I knew well. I was hard in an instant, my blood hot and thick. Submitting to me turned Eva on, and that reaction from her fired me up like nothing else.
I pushed my hand into her hair and fisted the soft gold strands, watching the way her eyes grew heavy-lidded at the feel of the gentle tug. She was restrained and at my mercy, and she loved it. Needed it, just as much as I did.
I took her mouth.
Then I took her.
While Angus drove Eva and me to work, I scrolled through my appointment calendar and thought of my wife’s eight-thirty flight.
I glanced at her. “You’ll take one of the jets to California.”
She had been looking out the window of the Bentley, city-scoping with her usual eager interest. She turned her gaze to me.
I was born in New York. I’d grown up in and near the city and eventually began to make it my own. At some point, I’d stopped noticing it. But Eva’s fascination and delight with my hometown had reintroduced it to me. I didn’t study the city with the intensity she did, but I saw it with fresh eyes all the same.
“Will I?” she challenged, her eyes betraying her countering attraction to me.
Her fuck-me look kept me redlined constantly.
“Yes.” I closed my tablet case. “It’s faster, more comfortable, and safer.”
Her mouth curved. “All right.”
That hint of teasing amusement captivated me, made me want to do everything wicked and raw to her until only complete surrender remained.
“You get to tell Cary,” she went on, switching the cross of her legs and revealing the lacy edge of her stockings and a peek of her garter.
She was wearing a red sleeveless shirt and a white skirt with strappy heels. A perfectly acceptable businesslike outfit that was elevated by the body inside it to understated sexiness. Electricity arced between us, the instinctive recognition that we had been made to fit together perfectly.
“Ask me to come with you,” I said, hating the thought of her being away from me for an entire weekend.
Her smile faded. “I can’t. If I’m going to start telling people we’re married, I have to start with Cary, and I can’t do that with you around. I don’t want him to feel like he’s on the outside of a life I’m creating with you.”
“I don’t want to be on the outside, either.”
She linked her fingers with mine. “Spending private time with friends doesn’t make us any less of a couple.”
“I prefer to spend time with you. You’re the most interesting person I know.”
Her eyes widened and she stared at me. Then she exploded into movement, hitching up her skirt and straddling me before I realized what she was doing. Cupping my face in her hands, she pressed her gloss-slick lips to mine and kissed me senseless.
“Umm,” I moaned, as she pulled away breathlessly. My fingers flexed into the generous curve of her gorgeous ass. “Do that again.”
“I’m so hot for you right now,” she breathed, rubbing my lips clean with her thumb.
“I’m good with that.”
Her husky laugh slid all around me. “I feel so awesome right now.”
“Better than you did in the hallway?” Her joy was infectious. If I could’ve stopped time, I would have at that moment.
“That’s a different kind of awesome.” Her fingertips tap-danced on my shoulders. She was . . . radiant when she was happy, and her pleasure brightened everything around her. Even me. “That was the best compliment, ace. Especially coming from the Gideon Cross. You meet fascinating people every day.”
“And wish they’d go away so I can get back to you.”
Her eyes glistened. “God, I love you so much it hurts.”
My hands shook and I dug them into the backs of her thighs to hide it from her. My gaze wandered, trying to latch on to something that would anchor me.
If she only knew what she did to me with those three little words.
She hugged me. “I want you to do something for me,” she murmured.
“Let’s have a party.”
Seizing the opportunity to move on to other topics . . . “Great. I’ll set up the swing.”
Pulling back, Eva shoved at my shoulder. “Not that kind of party, fiend.”
I sighed. “Bummer.”
She gave me a wicked smile. “How about I promise the swing in return for the party?”
“Ah, now we’re talking.” I settled back, enjoying her immensely. “Tell me what you have in mind.”
“Booze and friends, yours and mine.”
“All right.” I considered the possibilities. “I’ll see you your booze and friends, and raise you a quickie in a dark corner somewhere during.”
Her throat worked on a quick swallow and I smiled inwardly. I knew my angel well. Indulging her closet exhibitionism was a complete 360 turnaround for me, and though it still amazed me when I thought about it, I didn’t mind in the least. There was nothing I wouldn’t do for those moments when the only thing that mattered to her was being filled with my cock.
“You drive a hard bargain,” she said.
“Exactly my intention.”
“Okay, then.” She licked her lips. “I’ll see you your quickie and raise you a hand job under the table.”
My brows rose. “Clothed,” I countered.
Something that sounded like a purr rumbled in the air between us. “I think you need to revisit and revise, Mr. Cross.”
“I think you’ll need to work harder to convince me, Mrs. Cross.”
She was, as always, the most invigorating negotiation of my day.
We separated on the twentieth floor, where she exited the elevator into the Waters Field & Leaman foyer. I was determined to get her on my team and working for me. It was an objective I strategized every day.
When I reached my office, my assistant was already at his desk.
“Good morning,” Scott greeted me, standing as I approached. “PR called a few minutes ago. They’re fielding an unusual amount of inquiries about a rumored engagement between you and Miss Tramell. They’d like to know how to respond.”
“They should confirm.” I passed him and went to the coatrack in the corner behind my desk.
He followed. “Congratulations.”
“Thank you.” I shrugged out of my jacket and slung it on a hook. When I glanced at him again, he was grinning.
Scott Reid handled myriad tasks for me with quiet care, which led others to often underestimate him and allow him to go unnoticed. On more than one occasion, his detailed observations of individuals had proven extremely insightful, and so I overpaid him for his position to keep him from going anywhere else.
“Miss Tramell and I will marry before the end of the year,” I told him. “All interview and photo requests for either of us should be routed through Cross Industries. And tell security downstairs the same. No one should get to her without going through me first.”
“I’ll let them know. Also, Mr. Madani wanted to be notified when you got in. He’d like a few minutes with you before the meeting this morning.”
“I’m ready when he is.”
“Great,” Arash Madani said, walking in. “There used to be days when you were here before seven. You’re slacking off, Cross.”
I shot the lawyer a warning look that carried no heat. Arash lived to work and was damned good at it, which is why I hired him away from his former employer. He’d been the toughest counsel I had ever run across, and in the years since, that hadn’t changed.
Gesturing at one of the two chairs in front of my desk, I took my seat and watched him take his. His dark blue suit was simple but bespoke, his wavy black hair tamed by a precision cut. Sharp intelligence marked his dark brown eyes, extending to a smile that was more warning than greeting. He was a friend as well as an employee, and I valued his lack of bullshit.
“We’ve received a respectable bid on the property on Thirty-sixth,” he said.
“Oh?” A tangle of emotions held my reply for a moment. The hotel Eva hated remained a problem as long as I owned it. “That’s good.”
“That’s curious,” he shot back, setting one ankle on the opposite knee, “considering how slowly the market’s recovering. I had to dig through several layers, but the bidder is a subsidiary of LanCorp.”
“Cocky. Landon knows the next highest bid is a ways off—about ten million ways. I recommend we pull the property off the market and revisit in a year or two.”
“No.” Sitting back, I waved away the suggestion. “Let him have it.”
Arash blinked. “Are you shitting me? Why are you in such a hurry to get rid of that hotel?”
Because I can’t keep it in my holdings without hurting my wife. “I have my reasons.”
“That’s what you said when I advised you to sell it a few years ago and you chose to sink millions in renovations into it instead. An expense that you’re just finally breaking even on, and now you want to offload it in a still-shaky market to a guy that wants your head?”
“It’s never a bad time to sell real estate in Manhattan.” And certainly, never a bad time to dump something Eva called my “fuck pad.”
“There are better times, and you know it. Landon knows it. You sell to him, you’ll only be encouraging him.”
“Good. Maybe he’ll up his game.”
Ryan Landon had an ax to grind; I didn’t hold it against him. My father had decimated the Landon fortune and Ryan wanted a Cross to pay for that. He wasn’t the first or last businessman to come after me because of my father, but he was the most tenacious. And he was young enough to have plenty of time to dedicate to the task.
I looked at the photo of Eva on my desk. All other considerations were secondary.
“Hey,” Arash said, lifting his hands in mock surrender, “it’s your business. I just need to know if the rules have changed.”
“If you believe that, Cross, you’re further out of the game than I thought. While Landon’s plotting your ruin, you’re off at the beach.”
“Stop kicking my ass for taking a weekend off, Arash.” I’d do it again in an instant. Those days I’d spent with Eva in the Outer Banks had been every fucking dream I’d never allowed myself to have.
I stood and walked to the window. LanCorp’s offices were in the high-rise two blocks over, and Ryan Landon’s office had a prime view of the Crossfire Building. I suspected he spent more than a few moments every day staring at my office and planning his next move. Occasionally, I stared back and dared him to bring it harder.
My father was a criminal who’d destroyed countless lives. He was also the man who’d taught me how to ride a bike and to sign my name with pride. I couldn’t save Geoffrey Cross’s reputation, but I could damn sure protect what I’d built out of his ashes.
Arash joined me at the window. “I’m not going to say I wouldn’t hole up with a babe like Eva Tramell if I could. But I’d have my goddamn cell phone with me. Especially in the middle of a high-stakes negotiation.”
Remembering how melted chocolate tasted on Eva’s skin, I thought a hurricane could’ve been ripping shingles off the roof and I wouldn’t have given it a second’s attention. “You’re making me pity you.”
“LanCorp’s acquisition of that software set you back years in research and development. And it’s made him cocky.”
That was what really got Arash’s blood up, Landon’s pleasure in his own success. “That software’s next to worthless without PosIT’s hardware.”
He glanced at me. “So?”
“Agenda item number three.”
He faced me. “It said To Be Determined on my copy.”
“Well, it says PosIT on my mine. That game enough for you?”
My desk phone beeped, followed by Scott’s voice projecting from the speaker. “A couple things, Mr. Cross. Miss Tramell is on line one.”
“Thank you, Scott.” I headed for the receiver with the thrill of the hunt coursing through my blood. If we acquired PosIT, Landon would be back to square one. “When I’m clear, I need Victor Reyes on the line.”
“Will do. Also, Mrs. Vidal is at reception,” he went on, stopping me in my tracks. “Would you like me to postpone the morning meeting?”
I looked out the glass partition that divided my office from the rest of the floor, even though I couldn’t see my mother from that distance. My hands clenched at my sides. According to the clock on my phone, I had ten minutes to spare and my wife on the line. The urge was there to make my mother wait until I could fit her in my schedule, not hers, but I shoved it down.
“Buy me twenty minutes,” I told him. “I’ll take the calls with Miss Tramell and Reyes, then you can bring Mrs. Vidal back.”
I waited a beat. Then I picked up the phone and hit the rapidly blinking button.