I quickly clicked through other links in the digest to find the same picture with similar captions and articles. Alarmed, I sat back and thought about what this meant. If one kiss was headline news, what chance would Gideon and I have to make a relationship work?
My hands weren't quite steady as I closed the browser tabs. I hadn't considered the press coverage, but I should have. "Damn it."
Anonymity was my friend. It protected me from my past. It protected my family from embarrassment, and Gideon, too. I didn't even have any social networking accounts so people who weren't actively in my life couldn't find me.
A thin, invisible wall between me and exposure was gone.
"Hell," I breathed, finding myself in a painful situation I could have avoided if I'd dedicated any of my brain cells to something other than Gideon.
There was also his reaction to this mess to consider...I cringed inwardly just thinking about it. And my mother. It wouldn't be long before she was calling and blowing everything out of -
"Shit." Remembering that she didn't have my new cell number, I picked up my desk phone and called my other voice mail to see if she'd already tried to reach me. I winced when I heard that my mailbox was full.
I hung up and grabbed my purse; then headed off to lunch, knowing Cary would help me put it all in perspective. I was so flustered when I reached the lobby level that I rushed out of the elevator with my only thought being to find my roommate. When I spotted him, I didn't take note of anyone else until Gideon sidestepped smoothly in front of me and blocked my path.
"Eva." He frowned down at me. Cupping my elbow, he turned me slightly around. That's when I saw the two women and a man who'd hidden him from my view.
I managed to find a smile for them. "Hello."
Gideon introduced me to his lunch dates. Then he excused us and tugged me off to the side. "What's wrong? You're upset."
"It's all over the place," I whispered. "A picture of us together."
He nodded. "I've seen it."
I blinked up at him, confused at his nonchalance. "You're okay with it?"
"Why wouldn't I be? For once, they're reporting the truth."
A sneaking suspicion niggled at me. "You planned it. You planted the story."
"Not entirely true," he said smoothly. "The photographer happened to be there. I just gave him a picture worth printing, and told PR to make it clear who you are and what you are to me."
"Why? Why would you do that?"
"You have your way of dealing with jealousy and I have mine. We're both off the market and now everyone knows it. Why is that a problem for you?"
"I was worried about your reaction, but there's more...There are things you don't know and I - " I took a deep, shaky breath. "It can't be that way between us, Gideon. We can't be public. I don't want - Damn it. I'll embarrass you."
"You couldn't. It's not possible." He brushed a loose lock of hair off my face. "Can we talk about this later? If you need me - "
"No, it's okay. Go."
Cary came over. Dressed in baggy black cargo pants and a V-neck white undershirt, he still managed to look expensive. "Everything all right?"
"Hi, Cary. Everything's fine." Gideon squeezed my hand. "Enjoy your lunch and don't worry."
He could say that because he didn't know better.
And I didn't know whether or not he'd still want me once he did.
Cary faced me as Gideon walked away. "Worry about what? What's wrong?"
"Everything." I sighed. "Let's get out of here, and I'll tell you over lunch."
"Well," Cary murmured, looking at the link I'd forwarded from my smartphone to his. "That's some kiss. The dip was a great touch. He couldn't look more into if he tried."
"That's the thing." I took another big gulp of water. "He did try."
He shoved his phone into his pocket. "Last week you kept shooting him down for only wanting your vagina. This week he's publicizing that he's in a committed, passionate relationship with you, and you're still unhappy. I'm starting to feel bad for the guy. He can't win for trying."
That stung. "Reporters are going to dig, Cary, and they're going to find dirt. And since it's juicy dirt they're going to splash it all over hell and back, and it's going to embarrass Gideon."
"Baby girl." He set his hand over mine. "Stanton buried all that."
Stanton. I straightened. I hadn't thought of my stepfather. He'd see the disaster coming and keep a lid on it because he knew what the revelation would do to my mother. Still..."I'll have to talk to Gideon about it. He has a right to be warned."
Just the thought of that conversation made me miserable.
Cary knew how my brain worked. "If you think he's going to cut and run, I think you're wrong. He looks at you like you're the only person in the room."
I poked at my tuna Caesar salad. "He's got a few demons of his own. Nightmares. He's closed himself off, I think, because of whatever's eating at him."
"But he's let you in."
And he'd already shown hints of how possessive he could be about that connection. I accepted that because it was a flaw I shared, but still...
"You're analyzing this to death, Eva," Cary said. "You're thinking the way he feels about you has to be a fluke or a mistake. Someone like him couldn't really be into you for your big heart and sharp mind, right?"
"My self-esteem isn't that bad," I protested.
He took a sip of his champagne. "Isn't it? So tell me something you think he likes about you that doesn't have to do with sex or codependency."
I thought about it and came up empty, which made me scowl.
"Right," he went on with a nod. "And if Cross is anywhere near as messed up as we are, he's thinking the same thing in reverse, wondering what a hot babe like you sees in a guy like him. You've got money, so what has he got going for him besides being a stud who keeps screwing up?"
Sitting back in my chair, I absorbed everything he'd said. "Cary, I love you madly."
He grinned. "Back atcha, sweets. My advice, for what it's worth? Couples therapy. It's always been my plan to get into it when I find the one I want to settle down with. And try to have fun with him. You've got to have as many good times as bad or it all becomes too painful and too much work."
I reached over and squeezed his hand. "Thank you."
"For what?" He shrugged off my gratitude with an elegant wave of his hand. "It's easy to pick apart someone else's life. You know I couldn't get through my rough spots without you."
"Which you don't have any of now," I pointed out, shifting the focus to him. "You're about to be splashed across a Times Square billboard. You won't be my secret any longer. Should we upgrade dinner from pizza to something more worthy of the occasion? How about we haul out that case of Cristal Stanton gave us?"
"Now you're talking."
"Movies? Anything in particular you want to watch?"
"Whatever you want. I wouldn't want to screw with your big-dumb-blow-'em-up movie genius."
I grinned, feeling better as I'd known I would after an hour with Cary. "You'll let me know if I'm too dense to figure out when you and Trey want to be alone."
"Ha! Don't worry about that. Your tempestuous love life is making me feel dull and boring. I could use a hot, sweaty bang with my own stud."
"You just had a maintenance closet romp a couple days ago!"
He sighed. "I'd nearly forgotten. How sad is that?"
"It isn't when your eyes are laughing."
I'd just gotten back to my desk when I checked my smartphone and found a text from Gideon letting me know he had fifteen minutes to spare at quarter to three. I nursed a secret rush of anticipation for the next hour and a half, having decided to take Cary's advice and have a little fun. Gideon and I would have to wade through the ugliness of my past soon enough, but for now, I could give us both something to smile about.
I texted him just before I left, letting him know I was on my way. Considering the time constraints, we couldn't waste a minute. Gideon must have felt the same way, because I found Scott waiting for me at reception when I reached the Cross Industries waiting area. He walked me back after the receptionist buzzed me in.
"How's your day been?" I asked him.
He smiled. "Great so far. Yours?"
I smiled back. "I've had worse."
Gideon was on the phone when I entered his office. His tone was clipped and impatient as he told the person on the other end of the line that they should be able to manage the job without him having to oversee it personally.
He held up one finger to me to tell me he'd be another minute. I responded by blowing a big bubble with the gum I was chewing and popping it loudly.
His brows shot up, and he hit the buttons to close the doors and frost the glass wall.
Grinning, I sauntered over to his desk and hopped onto it, curling my fingers around the lip and swinging my legs. He popped the next bubble I blew with a quick jab of his finger. I pouted prettily.
"Deal with it," he said with quiet authority to whoever was on the phone. "It'll be next week before I can get out there and waiting will set us back further. Stop talking. I have something time-sensitive on my desk and you're keeping me away from it. I guarantee that's not improving my disposition. Fix what needs fixing and report back to me tomorrow."
He returned the phone to its cradle with suppressed violence. "Eva - "
I held up one hand to cut him off and wrapped my gum in a Post-it I took from a dispenser on his desk. "Before you reprimand me, Mr. Cross, I want to say that when we reached an impasse in our merger discussions at the hotel yesterday I shouldn't have walked out. It didn't help to resolve the situation. And I know I didn't react very well to the PR issue with the photo. But still...Even though I've been a naughty secretary, I think I should be given another chance to excel."
His gaze narrowed as he studied me, assessing and reevaluating the situation on the fly. "Did I ask for your opinion on the appropriate action to take, Miss Tramell?"
I shook my head and looked up at him from beneath my lashes. I could see the lingering frustration from his phone call falling away from him, replaced by his growing interest and arousal.
Hopping down from the desk, I sidled closer and smoothed his immaculate tie with both hands. "Can't we work something out? I do possess a wide variety of useful skills."
He caught me by the hips. "Which is one of the many reasons you're the only woman I've ever considered for the position."
Warmth flowed through me at his words. Boldly cupping his cock in my hand, I fondled him through his slacks. "Maybe I should reapply myself to my duties? I could demonstrate some of the ways I'm uniquely qualified to assist you."
Gideon hardened with delectable swiftness. "Such initiative, Miss Tramell. But my next meeting is less than ten minutes away. Also, I'm not accustomed to exploring job enrichment opportunities in my office."
I freed the button of his fly and lowered his zipper. With my lips to his jaw, I whispered, "If you think there's anywhere I won't make you come, you'll have to revisit and revise."
"Eva," he breathed, his eyes hot and tender. He cupped my throat, his thumbs brushing over my jaw. "You're unraveling me. Do you know that? Are you doing it on purpose?"
I reached inside his boxer briefs and wrapped my hands around him, offering up my lips for a kiss. He obliged me, taking my mouth with a fierceness that left me breathless.
"I want you," he growled.
I sank to my knees on the carpeted floor, pulling his pants down enough to give me the access I needed.
He exhaled harshly. "Eva, what are you - "
My lips flowed over the wide crown. He reached back for the edge of his desk, his hands curling around the lip with white-knuckled force. I held him with both hands and mouthed the plush head, sucking gently. The softness of his skin and his uniquely appealing scent made me moan. I felt the vibration ripple through his entire body and heard a rough sound rumble in his chest.
Gideon touched my cheek. "Lick it."
Aroused by the command, I fluttered my tongue across the underside and shivered with delight when he rewarded me with a hot burst of pre-cum. Fisting the root of him with one hand, I hollowed my cheeks and drew rhythmically, hoping for more.
I wished I had the time to make it last. Drive him crazy...
He made a sound filled with the sweetest agony. "God, Eva...your mouth. Keep sucking. Like that...hard and deep."
I was so turned on by his pleasure I squirmed. His hands pushed into my bound hair, pulling and tugging at the roots. I loved how he started out with tenderness, then grew rougher as the lust he felt for me overwhelmed his control.
The soft bite of pain made me hungrier, greedier. My head bobbed as I pleasured him, jacking him with one hand while I sucked and stroked the crest with my mouth. Heavy veins coursed the length of his cock, and I slid the flat of my tongue along them, tilting my head to find and caress each one.
He swelled, growing thicker and longer. My knees were uncomfortable, but I didn't care; my gaze was riveted to Gideon as his head fell back and he fought for breath.
"Eva, you suck me so good." He held my head still and took over. Thrusting his hips. Fucking my mouth. Stripped to a level of base need where only the race to orgasm mattered.
The thought made me crazed, the image in my mind of how we must look: Gideon in all his urbane sophistication, standing at the desk where he ruled an empire, stroking his big cock in and out of my greedy mouth.
I gripped his straining thighs in both hands, frantically working my lips and tongue, desperate for his climax. His balls were heavy and big, an audacious display of his powerful virility. I cupped them, rolling them gently, feeling them tighten and draw up.
"Ah, Eva." His voice was a guttural rasp. His grip tightened in my hair. "You're making me come."
The first spurt of semen was so thick, I struggled to swallow. Mindless in his pleasure, Gideon was thrusting against the back of my throat, his cock throbbing with every wrenching pulse into my mouth. My eyes watered and my lungs burned, but still I pumped my fists, milking him. His entire body shuddered as I took everything he had. The sounds he made and the muttered, breathless praise were the most gratifying I'd ever heard.
I licked him clean, marveling at how he didn't fully soften even after an explosive orgasm. He was still capable of fucking me senseless and more than willing to, I knew. But there was no time and I was happy about that. I wanted to do this for him. For us. For me, really, because I needed to know I could indulge in a selfless sexual act without feeling taken advantage of.
"I have to go," I murmured, standing and pressing my lips to his. "I hope the rest of your day is awesome, and your business dinner tonight, too."
I started to move away, but he caught my wrist, his gaze on the clock readout on his desk phone. I noticed my picture then, sitting in a place of prominence where he'd see it all day.
"Eva...Damn it. Wait."
I frowned at his tone, which sounded anxious. Frustrated.
He quickly restored his appearance, tucking himself back into his boxer briefs and straightening the tail of his shirt so he could fasten his pants. There was something sweet in watching him pull himself back together, restoring the façade he wore for the world while I knew at least a little of the man beneath it.
Tugging me close, Gideon pressed his lips to my brow. His hands moved through my hair to unclip my tortoise barrette. "I didn't get you off."
"No need." I loved the feel of his hands on my scalp. "That rocked just the way it was."
He was overly focused on fixing my hair, his cheeks flushed from his orgasm. "I know you need an even exchange," he argued gruffly. "I can't let you leave feeling like I used you."
A bittersweet tenderness pierced me. He'd listened. He cared.
I cupped his face in my hands. "You did use me, with my permission, and it was seriously hot. I wanted to give you this, Gideon. Remember? I warned you. I wanted you to have this memory of me."
His eyes widened with alarm. "Why the fuck do I need memories when I have you? Eva, if this is about the photo - "
"Shut up and enjoy the high." We didn't have the time to get into the photo issue now and I didn't want to. It was going to ruin everything. "If we'd had an hour, I still wouldn't let you get me off. I'm not keeping score with you, ace. And honestly, you're the first guy I can say that to. Now, I have to go. You have to go."
I started away again, but he caught me back.
Scott's voice came through the speaker. "Excuse me, Mr. Cross. But your three o'clock is here."
"It's okay, Gideon," I assured him. "You're coming over tonight, right?"
"Nothing could keep me away."
I shoved up onto my tiptoes and kissed his cheek. "We'll talk then."
After work, I took the stairs down to the ground floor to feel less guilty about skipping the gym and seriously regretted it by the time I reached the lobby. Lack of sleep from the night before had left me wiped out. I was contemplating taking the subway rather than walking when I saw Gideon's Bentley at the curb. When the driver got out and greeted me by name, I halted abruptly, surprised.
"Mr. Cross asked that I take you home," he said, looking smart in his black suit and chauffeur hat. He was an older gentleman with graying red hair, pale blue eyes, and the softest of cultured accents.
As much as my legs ached, I was grateful for the offer. "Thank you...? I'm sorry - what was your name?"
"Angus, Miss Tramell."
How had I not remembered that? The name was so cool, it made me smile. "Thank you, Angus."
He tipped his hat. "My pleasure."
I slid through the back door he opened for me and as I settled into the seat, I caught a glimpse of the handgun he wore in a shoulder holster beneath his jacket. It appeared that Angus, like Clancy, was both bodyguard and driver.
We pulled away from the curb and I asked, "How long have you been working for Mr. Cross, Angus?"
"Eight years now."
"Quite a while."
"I've known him longer than that," he volunteered, catching my gaze in the rearview mirror. "I drove him to school when he was a boy. He hired me away from Mr. Vidal when the time came."
Once again, I tried to picture Gideon as a child. No doubt he'd been beautiful and charismatic even then.
Had he enjoyed "normal" sexual relationships when he was a teenager? I couldn't imagine that women weren't throwing themselves at him even then. And as innately sexual as he was, I imagined he'd been a horny teen.
Digging in my purse, I pulled out my keys and leaned forward to set them on the front passenger seat. "Can you see that Gideon gets those? He's supposed to come over after whatever it is he's doing tonight and depending on how late that is, I might not hear him knock."
Paul opened the door for me when we arrived at my apartment and he greeted Angus by name, reminding me that Gideon owned the building. I waved to both men, told the front desk Gideon would be coming over later, and then took myself upstairs. Cary's raised brows when he opened the door to me made me laugh.
"Gideon's coming over later," I explained, "but I'm feeling so hammered right now I may not stay up long. So I gave him my keys to let himself in. Did you order already?"
"I did. And I tossed a few bottles of Cristal in the wine fridge."
"You're the best." I shoved my bag at him.
I showered and called my mom from the phone in my room, wincing at her strident, "I have been trying to reach you for days!"
"Mom, if it's about Gideon Cross - "
"Well, of course, it's partly about him! For goodness' sake, Eva. You're being called the significant woman in his life. How could I not want to talk about that?"
"Mom - "
"But there's also the appointment you asked me to make with Dr. Petersen." The note of smug amusement in her voice made me smile. "We're scheduled to meet with him Thursday at six o'clock in the evening. I hope that works for you. He doesn't do many evening appointments."
I plopped backward onto my bed with a sigh. I'd been so distracted by work and Gideon that the appointment had slipped my mind. "Thursday at six will be fine. Thank you."
"Now, then. Tell me about Cross..."
When I emerged from my bedroom dressed in jersey pants and a San Diego State University sweatshirt, I found Trey seated with Cary in the living room. Both men stood when I came in and Trey gifted me with an open, friendly smile.
"I'm sorry I look so ragged," I said sheepishly, running my fingers through my damp ponytail. "Taking the stairs at work almost killed me today."
"Elevator take the day off?" he asked.
"Nope. My brain did. What the hell was I thinking?" Spending the night with Gideon was enough of a workout.
The doorbell rang and Cary went to get it while I headed into the kitchen for the Cristal. I joined him at the breakfast bar as he signed the credit card receipt and the look in his eyes when he glanced at Trey had me hiding a smile.
There were a lot of those looks going back and forth between the two men as the evening progressed. And I had to agree with Cary that Trey was a hottie. Dressed in distressed jeans, matching vest, and a long-sleeved shirt, the aspiring veterinarian looked casual but well put together. He was very different personality-wise from the type of guy Cary usually dated. Trey seemed more grounded; not quite somber, but definitely not flighty. I thought he'd be a good influence on Cary, if they stayed together long enough.
The three of us made it through two bottles of Cristal and two pizzas between us, plus all of Demolition Man before I called it a night. I urged Trey to stay for Driven to round out the Stallone mini-marathon; then I went to my room and changed into a sexy black baby doll I'd been given as part of a bridesmaid gift bag - sans the matching panties.
Leaving a candle burning for Gideon, I crashed.
I woke to darkness and the scent of Gideon's skin, the lights and sounds of the city shut out by soundproofed windows and blackout drapes.
Gideon slid over me, a moving shadow, his bare skin cool to the touch. His mouth slanted over mine, kissing me slow and deeply, tasting of mint and his own unique flavor. My hands slid down his sleekly muscular back, my legs parting so he could settle comfortably between them. The weight of him against me made my heart sigh and my blood warm with desire.
"Well, hello to you, too," I said breathlessly when he let me up for air.
"You'll come with me next time," he murmured in that sexy and decadent voice, nibbling at my throat.
"Will I?" I teased.
He reached down and cupped my butt in his hand, squeezing and lifting me into a deft roll of his hips. "Yes. I missed you, Eva."
I ran my fingers through his hair, wishing I could see him. "You haven't known me long enough to miss me."
"Shows how much you know," Gideon scoffed, sliding downward and nuzzling between my breasts.
I gasped as his mouth covered my nipple and sucked through the satin, deep pulls that echoed in the clenching of my core. He moved to my other breast, his hand pushing up the hem of my baby doll. I arched into him, lost to the magic of his mouth as it moved over my body, his tongue dipping into my navel, then sliding lower.
"And you missed me, too," he purred with masculine satisfaction, the tip of his middle finger rimming my cleft. "You're swollen and wet for me."
He pulled my legs over his shoulders and licked between my folds, soft and provocative laps of hot velvet against my sensitive flesh. My hands fisted in the sheet, my chest heaving as he circled my clit with the tip of his tongue, then nudged the hypersensitive knot of nerves. I keened, my hips moving restlessly into the devious torment, my muscles tightening with the clawing need to come.
The light, teasing flutters were driving me insane, giving me just enough to make me writhe but not enough to get me off. "Gideon, please."
He tortured me, coaxing my body to the brink of orgasm, and then letting me slide back down. Over and over. Until sweat misted my skin and my heart felt like it would burst. His tongue was tireless and diabolical, cleverly focusing on my clit until a single stroke would set me off, then moving lower to thrust into me. The soft, shallow plunges were maddening, the flickering against the nerve-laden tissues making me desperate enough to beg shamelessly.
"Please, Gideon...let me come...I need to come, please."
"Shh, angel...I'll take care of you."
He finished me with a tenderness that made the orgasm roll through me like a crashing wave, building and swelling and spreading through me in a warm rush of pleasure.
He threaded his fingers with mine when he came over me again, restraining my arms. The head of his cock aligned with the slick entrance of my body and he pushed inexorably into me. I moaned, shifting to accommodate the heavy surge of his penis.
Gideon's breath gusted hard and humid against my throat, his big frame trembling as he slid carefully inside me. "You're so soft and warm. Mine, Eva. You're mine."
I wrapped my legs around his hips, welcoming him deeper, feeling his buttocks flex and release against my calves as he demonstrated to my body that it would indeed take his thick length all the way to the root.
With our hands linked, he took my mouth and began to move, gliding in and out with languid skill, the tempo precise and relentless yet smooth and easy. I felt every rock-hard inch of him, felt the unmistakable reiteration that every inch of me was his to possess. He drove the message home repeatedly until I was gasping against his mouth, thrashing restlessly beneath him, my hands bloodless from the strength of my grip on his.
He spoke heated praise and encouragement, telling me how beautiful I was...how perfect I felt to him...how he'd never stop...couldn't stop. I came with a sharp cry of relief, vibrating with the ecstasy of it, and he was right there with me. His pace quickened for several slamming thrusts; then he climaxed with a hiss of my name, spilling into me.
I sank lax into the mattress, sweaty and boneless and replete.
"I'm not done," he whispered darkly, adjusting his knees to increase the force of his thrusts. The pace remained expertly measured, each plunge staking a claim - your body exists to serve me.
Biting my lip, I fought back the sounds of helpless pleasure that might've broken the tranquility of the night...and betrayed the frightening depths of emotion I was beginning to feel for Gideon Cross.