- Bared to You
I kept my head down as I made the walk of shame past the registration desk and exited the hotel through a side door. I was red-faced with embarrassment remembering the manager who'd greeted Gideon as we got on the elevator. I could only imagine what he'd thought of me. He had to know what Gideon reserved that room for. I couldn't stand the thought of being the next in a line of many and yet that's exactly what I'd been from the moment we entered the hotel.
How hard would it have been to stop by the front desk and secure a room that was ours alone?
I started walking with no direction or destination in mind. It was dark out now, the city taking on a whole new life and energy from what it had during the business day. Steaming food carts dotted the sidewalks, along with a vendor selling framed artwork, another hawking novelty T-shirts, and yet another who had two folding tables covered in movie and television episode scripts.
With every step I took, the adrenaline from my flight burned away. The maliciously gleeful thoughts of Gideon coming out of the bathroom to find an empty room and paraphernalia-strewn bed ran their course. I began to calm down...and seriously think about what had just happened.
Was it a coincidence that Gideon invited me to a gym that just so happened to be conveniently close to his fuck pad?
I remembered the conversation we'd had in his office over lunch and the way he'd struggled to express himself to keep me. He was as confused and torn about what was happening between us as I was, and I knew how easy it was to fall into established patterns. After all, hadn't I just fallen into one of my own by bailing? I'd spent enough years in therapy to know better than to wound and run when I was hurting.
Heartsick, I stepped into an Italian bistro and took a table. I ordered a glass of shiraz and a pizza margherita, hoping wine and food would calm the vibrating anxiety inside me so that I could think properly.
When the waiter returned with my wine, I gulped down half the glass without really tasting it. I missed Gideon already, missed the playful happy mood he'd been in when I left. His scent was all over me - the smell of his skin and hot, grinding sex. My eyes stung and I let a few tears slide down my face, despite being in a very public, very busy restaurant. My food came and I picked at it. It tasted like cardboard, although I doubted that had anything to do with the chef or the venue.
Pulling over the chair where I'd set my bag, I dug out my new smartphone with the intention of leaving a message with Dr. Travis's answering service. He'd suggested we have video chat appointments until I found a new therapist in New York and I decided to take him up on that offer. That's when I noticed the twenty-one missed calls from Gideon and a text; I fucked up again. Don't break up with me. Talk to me. Pls.
The tears welled again. I held the phone to my heart, at a loss for what to do. I couldn't get the images of Gideon and other women out of my mind. I couldn't stop picturing him fucking the hell out of another woman on that same bed, using toys on her, driving her crazy, taking his pleasure from her body...
It was irrational and pointless to think of such things, and it made me feel petty and small and physically sick.
I startled when the phone vibrated against me, nearly dropping it. Nursing my misery, I debating letting it go to voice mail because I could see on the screen that it was Gideon - plus he was the only one who had the number - but I couldn't ignore it, because he was clearly frantic. As much as I'd wanted to wound him earlier, I couldn't stand to do it now.
"Hello." My voice didn't sound like mine, clogged as it was with tears and emotion.
"Eva! Thank God." Gideon sounded so anxious. "Where are you?"
Looking around, I didn't see anything that would tell me the name of the restaurant. "I don't know. I...I'm sorry, Gideon."
"No, Eva. Don't. It's my fault. I need to find you. Can you describe where you're at? Did you walk?"
"Yes. I walked."
"I know which exit you took. Which way did you head?" He was breathing quickly and I could hear the sounds of traffic and car horns in the background.
"To the left."
"Did you turn any corners after that?"
"I don't think so. I don't know." I looked around for a server I could ask. "I'm in a restaurant. Italian. There's seating on the sidewalk...and a wrought iron fence. French doors...Jesus, Gideon, I - "
He appeared, silhouetted in the entrance with the phone held to his ear. I knew him immediately, watched as he froze when he saw me seated against the wall toward the back. Shoving the phone into the pocket of jeans he'd had stored at the hotel, he strode past the hostess who'd starting speaking to him and headed straight for me. I barely managed to get to my feet before he hauled me against him and embraced me tightly.
"God." He shook slightly and buried his face in my neck. "Eva."
I hugged him back. He was fresh from a shower, making me achingly aware of my need for one.
"I can't be here," he said hoarsely, pulling back to cup my face in his hands. "I can't be in public right now. Will you come home with me?"
Something on my face must have betrayed my lingering wariness, because he pressed his lips to my forehead and murmured, "It won't be like the hotel, I promise. My mother's the only woman who's ever been to my place, aside from the housekeeper and staff."
"This is stupid," I muttered. "I'm being stupid."
"No." He brushed the hair back from my face and bent closer to whisper in my ear. "If you'd taken me to a place you reserved for fucking other men, I would've lost it."
The waiter returned and we pulled apart. "Should I get you a menu, sir?"
"That won't be necessary." Gideon dug his wallet out of his back pocket and handed over his credit card. "We're leaving."
We took a cab to Gideon's place and he held on to my hand the entire time. I shouldn't have been so nervous riding a private elevator up to a penthouse apartment on Fifth Avenue. The sight of high ceilings and prewar architecture wasn't new to me, and really, it was all to be expected when dating a man who seemed to own damn near everything. And the coveted view of Central Park...well, of course he'd have one.
But Gideon's tension was palpable, and it made me realize that this was a big deal to him. When the elevator opened directly into his apartment's marbled entry foyer, his grip on my hand tightened before he released me. He unlocked the double-door entrance to usher me inside, and I could feel his anxiety as he watched for my reaction.
Gideon's home was as beautiful as the man himself. It was so very different from his office, which was sleek, modern, and cool. His private space was warm and sumptuous, filled with antiques and art anchored by gorgeous Aubusson rugs laid over gleaming hardwood floors.
"It's...amazing," I said softly, feeling privileged to see it. It was a glimpse into the private Gideon I was desperate to know and it was stunning.
"Come in." He tugged me deeper into the apartment. "I want you to sleep here tonight."
"I don't have clothes and stuff..."
"All you need is the toothbrush in your purse. We can run by your place in the morning for the rest. I promise to get you to work on time." He pulled me into him and set his chin on the crown of my head. "I'd really like you to stay, Eva. I don't blame you for running, but it scared the hell out of me. I need to hang on to you for a while."
"I need to be held." I pushed my hands under the back of his T-shirt to caress the silken hardness of his bare back. "I could also use a shower."
With his nose in my hair, he inhaled deeply. "I like you smelling like me."
But he led me through the living room and down a hall to his bedroom.
"Wow," I breathed when he flicked on the light. A massive sleigh bed dominated the space, the wood dark - which he seemed to prefer - and the linens a soft cream. The rest of the furnishings matched the bed and the accents were brushed gold. It was a warm, masculine space with no art on the walls to detract from the serene night view of Central Park and the magnificent residential buildings on the other side. My side of Manhattan.
"The bathroom's in here."
As I took in the vanity, which appeared to have been made out of an antique claw-footed walnut cabinet, he pulled towels out of a companion armoire and set them out for me, moving with that confident sensual grace I admired so much. Seeing him in his home, dressed so casually, touched me. Knowing I was the only woman to have this experience with him affected me even more. I felt like I was seeing him more naked now than I ever had. "Thank you."
He glanced at me and seemed to understand that I was talking about more than the towels. His stare burned through me. "It feels good to have you here."
"I have no idea how I ended up like this, with you." But I really, really liked it.
"Does it matter?" Gideon came to me, tilting my chin up to press a kiss to the tip of my nose. "I'll lay out a T-shirt for you on the bed. Caviar and vodka sound good to you?"
"Well...that's quite a step up from pizza."
He smiled. "Petrossian's Ossetra."
"I stand corrected." I smiled back. "Several hundred steps up."
I showered and dressed in the oversized Cross Industries shirt he laid out for me; then I called Cary to tell him I'd be out all night and give him a brief rundown about the hotel incident.
He whistled. "I'm not even sure what to say about that."
A speechless Cary Taylor spoke volumes.
I joined Gideon in the living room, and we sat on the floor at the coffee table to eat the prized caviar with mini toast and creme fraiche. We watched a rerun of a New York-set police procedural that just happened to include a scene filmed on the street in front of the Crossfire.
"I think it'd be cool to see a building I owned on TV like that," I said.
"It's not bad, if they don't close off the street for hours to film."
I bumped shoulders with him. "Pessimist."
We crawled into Gideon's bed at ten thirty and watched the last half of a show while curled up together. Sexual tension crackled in the air between us, but he didn't make any overtures so I didn't either. I suspected he was still trying to make amends for the hotel, trying to prove that he wanted to spend time with me not "actively fucking."
It worked. As much as I desired his outrageously sexy body, it felt good just hanging out together.
He slept in the nude, which was fabulous for me to cuddle up against. I tossed one leg over his, wrapped an arm around his waist, and rested my cheek over his heart. I don't remember the ending of the show, so I suppose I fell asleep before it was over.
When I woke it was still dark in the room and I'd rolled to the far side of my half of the bed. I sat up to see the digital clock face on Gideon's nightstand and found it was barely three in the morning. I usually slept straight through the night and thought maybe the strange surroundings were keeping me from sleeping deeply; then Gideon moaned and shifted restlessly and I realized what had disturbed me. The sound he made was pained, his subsequent hiss of breath tormented.
"Don't touch me," he whispered harshly. "Get your fucking hands off of me!"
I froze, my heart racing. His words sliced through the dark, filled with fury.
"You sick bastard." He writhed, his legs kicking at the covers. His back arched on a groan that sounded perversely erotic. "Don't. Ah, Christ...It hurts."
He strained, his body twisting. I couldn't bear it.
"Gideon." Because Cary had nightmares sometimes, I knew better than to touch a man in the throes of one. Instead, I knelt on my side of the bed and called his name. "Gideon, wake up."
Stilling abruptly, he fell to his back, tense and expectant. His chest heaved with panting breaths. His cock was hard and lay heavily along his belly.
I spoke firmly, although my heart was breaking. "Gideon. You're dreaming. Come back to me."
He deflated into the mattress. "Eva...?"
"I'm here." Shifting, I moved out of the way of the moonlight, but saw no luminous glitter that would tell me his eyes were open. "Are you awake?"
His breathing began to slow, but he didn't speak. His hands were fisted in the bottom sheet. I pulled the shirt I was wearing over my head and dropped it on the bed. I sidled closer, reaching out with a tentative hand to touch his arm. When he didn't move, I caressed him, my fingertips sliding gently over the hard muscle of his biceps.
He jerked awake. "What? What is it?"
I sat back on my heels with my hands on my thighs. I saw him blink at me, and then shove both hands through his hair. I could feel the nightmare clinging to him, could sense it in the rigidness of his body.
"What's wrong?" he asked gruffly, pushing up onto one elbow. "You okay?"
"I want you." I stretched out against him, aligning my bare body to his. Pressing my face into his damp throat, I sucked gently on his salty skin. I knew from my own nightmares that being held and loved could push the specters back into the closet for a little while.
His arms came around me, his hands running up and down the curve of my spine. I felt him let go of the dream with a long, deep sigh.
Pushing him to his back, I climbed over him and sealed my mouth over his. His erection was notched between the lips of my sex and I rocked against him. The feel of his hands in my hair, holding me to take control of the kiss, quickly made me wet and ready. Fire licked just beneath my skin. I stroked my clit up and down his thick length, using him to masturbate until he made a rough sound of desire and rolled to put me beneath him.
"I don't have any condoms in the house," he murmured before wrapping his lips around my nipple and sucking gently.
I loved that he wasn't prepared. This wasn't his fuck pad; this was his home and I was the only lover he'd brought into it. "I know you mentioned swapping bills of health when we talked about birth control and that's the responsible way to go, but - "
"I trust you." He lifted his head, looking at me in the faint light of the moon. Kneeing my legs open, he pushed the first bare inch inside me. He was scorching hot and silky soft.
"Eva," he breathed, clutching me tightly to him. "I've never...Christ, you feel so good. I'm so glad you're here."
I tugged his lips down to mine and kissed him. "Me, too."
I woke the way I'd fallen asleep, with Gideon on top of me and inside me. His gaze was heavy-lidded with desire as I rose from unconsciousness into heated pleasure. His hair hung around his shoulders and face, looking even sexier for being sleep-tousled. But best of all, there were no shadows in his gorgeous eyes, nothing lingering from the pain that haunted his dreams.
"I hope you don't mind," he murmured with a wicked grin, sliding in and out. "You're warm and soft. I can't help but want you."
I stretched my arms over my head and arched my back, pressing my breasts into his chest. Through the slender arch-topped windows, I saw the soft light of dawn fill the sky. "Umm...I could get used to waking up like this."
"That was my thought at three this morning." He rolled his hips and sank deep into me. "I thought I'd return the favor."
My body revved to life, my pulse quickening. "Yes, please."
Cary was gone when we got to my apartment, leaving a note behind to tell me he was on a job, but would be back in plenty of time for pizza with Trey. Since I'd been too upset to enjoy my pie the night before, I was ready to try again when I was having a good time.
"I have a business dinner tonight," Gideon said, leaning over my shoulder to read. "I was hoping you'd come with me and make it bearable."
"I can't bail out on Cary," I said apologetically, turning to face him. "Chicks before dicks and all that."
His mouth twitched and he caged me to the breakfast bar. He was dressed for work in a suit I'd picked out, a graphite gray Prada with a soft sheen. His tie was the blue one that matched his eyes, and as I'd lain on his bed and watched him dress, I'd had to fight the urge to take it all off him. "Cary isn't a chick. But I get the point. I want to see you tonight. Can I come over after the dinner and stay the night?"
Heated anticipation rushed through me. I smoothed my hands over his vest, feeling like I had a special secret because I knew exactly what he looked like without his clothes on. "I'd love it if you did."
"Good." He gave a satisfied nod. "I'll make us coffee, while you get dressed."
"The beans are in the freezer. The grinder's next to the coffee pot." I pointed. "And I like lots of milk and a little sweetener."
When I came out twenty minutes later, Gideon grabbed two travel mugs of coffee off the breakfast bar and we headed down to the lobby. Paul hustled us out the front door and into the backseat of Gideon's waiting Bentley SUV.
As Gideon's driver pulled into traffic, Gideon checked me out and said, "You're definitely trying to kill me. Are you wearing the garters again?"
Pulling the hem of my skirt up, I showed him where the top of my black silk stockings hooked to my black lace garter belt.
His muttered curse made me smile. I'd chosen a black short-sleeved silk turtleneck sweater paired with a decently short pleated skirt in lipstick red and heeled Mary Janes. Because Cary hadn't been around to manage something fancy with my hair, I'd pulled it back in a ponytail. "You like?"
"I'm hard." His voice was husky, and he adjusted himself in his trousers. "How the hell am I going to get through the day thinking about you dressed like that?"
"There's always lunch," I suggested, fantasizing about a nooner on Gideon's office couch.
"I have a business lunch today. I'd reschedule, if I hadn't moved it already yesterday."
"You rescheduled an appointment for me? I'm flattered."
He reached over and brushed his fingertips over my cheek, a now-habitual gesture of affection that was tender and fiercely intimate. I was coming to depend on receiving those touches.
I leaned my cheek into his palm. "Can you carve fifteen minutes out of your day for me?"
"I'll manage it."
"Call me when you know the time."
Taking a deep breath, I dug into my bag and wrapped my hand around a gift I wasn't sure he'd want, but I couldn't get the memory of his nightmare out of my head. I hoped that what I had for him would remind him of me and three A.M. sex, and help him cope. "I have something. I thought..."
It suddenly seemed conceited to give him what I'd brought.
He frowned. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. It's just..." I exhaled in a rush. "Listen, I have something for you, but I just realized it's one of those gifts - well, it's not really a gift. I'm already thinking it's not appropriate and - "
He thrust out his hand. "Give it to me."
"You can totally decide not to take it - "
"Shut up, Eva." He crooked his fingers. "Give it to me."
I pulled it out of my bag and handed it over.
Gideon stared down at the framed photograph in complete silence. It was a novelty frame depicting die-cut images of things relating to graduation, including a digital clock face that read 3:00 A.M. The picture was of me posing on Coronado Beach in a coral bikini with a big floppy straw hat - I was tanned, happy, and blowing a kiss to Cary, who'd playacted the role of a high-fashion photographer by calling out ridiculous encouragements. Beautiful, dahling. Show me sassy. Show me sexy. Brilliant. Show me catty...rawr...
Embarrassed, I squirmed a little on the seat. "Like I said, you don't have to keep - "
"I - " He cleared his throat. "Thank you, Eva."
"Ah, well..." I was grateful to see the Crossfire outside my window. I jumped out quickly when the driver pulled over and ran my hands over my skirt, feeling self-conscious. "If you want, I can hang on to it until later."
Gideon shut the door of the Bentley and shook his head. "It's mine. You're not taking it back."
He linked our fingers together and gestured toward the revolving door with the hand holding the frame. I warmed when I realized he intended to take my picture into work with him.
One of the fun things about the ad business was that no day was ever the same as the one before it. I was hopping all morning and was just beginning to contemplate what to do about lunch when my phone rang. "Mark Garrity's office, Eva Tramell speaking."
"I've got news," Cary said by way of greeting.
"What?" I could tell by his voice that it was good news, whatever it was.
"I landed a Grey Isles campaign."
"Oh my God! Cary, that's awesome! I love their jeans."
"What are you doing for lunch?"
I grinned. "Celebrating with you. Can you be here at noon?"
"I'm already on my way."
I hung up and rocked back in my chair, so thrilled for Cary I felt like dancing. Needing something to do to kill the fifteen minutes remaining before my lunch break, I checked my inbox again and found a Google alert digest for Gideon's name. Over thirty mentions, in just one day.
I opened the e-mail and freaked out a little at the numerous "mystery woman" headlines. I clicked on the first link and found myself landing on a gossip blog.
There, in living color, was a photo of Gideon kissing me senseless on the sidewalk outside of his gym. The accompanying article was short and to the point:
"Gideon Cross, New York's most eligible bachelor since John F. Kennedy Jr., was spotted yesterday in a passionate public embrace. A source at Cross Industries identified the lucky mystery woman as socialite Eva Tramell, daughter of multimillionaire Richard Stanton and his wife, Monica. When queried about the nature of the relationship between Cross and Tramell, the source confirmed that Miss Tramell is 'the significant woman' in the mogul's life at present. We imagine hearts are breaking across the country this morning."
"Oh, crap," I breathed.