Chapter 21

"Excuse me." I pushed back from the table and searched for Gideon. I saw him at the bar and went to him.

He was just turning away from the bartender with two glasses in his hands when I intercepted him. I took my drink and gulped it down, my teeth aching as the cubes of ice knocked against them.

"Eva - " There was a soft note of chastisement in his voice.

"I'm leaving," I said flatly, stepping around him to set my empty glass on the bar top. "I don't consider that running, because I'm telling you in advance and giving you the option of coming with me."

He exhaled harshly and I could see that he understood my mood. He knew I knew. "I can't leave."

I turned away.

He caught my arm. "You know I can't stay if you go. You're upset over nothing, Eva."

"Nothing?" I stared at where his hand gripped me. "I warned you I get upset and jealous. This time, you've given me good reason."

"Warning me is supposed to excuse you when you get ridiculous about it?" His face was relaxed, his voice low and calm. No one looking from a distance would pick up on the tension between us, but it was there in his eyes. Burning lust and icy fury. He was so good at putting those two together.

"Who's ridiculous? What about Daniel, the personal trainer? Or Martin, a member of my stepfamily?" I leaned closer and whispered, "I've never fucked either of them, let alone agreed to a marriage! I sure as hell don't talk to them every damn day!"

Abruptly, he caught me by the waist and hauled me up tight against him. "You need to be fucked now," he hissed in my ear, nipping the lobe with his teeth. "I shouldn't have made us wait."

"Maybe you were planning ahead," I shot back. "Saving it up in case an old flame popped back into your life, one you'd prefer to screw instead."

Gideon tossed back his drink; then he secured me to his side with a steely arm around my waist and led me through the crowd to the door. He pulled his smartphone out of his pocket and ordered the limo brought around. By the time we reached the street, the long, sleek car was there. Gideon pushed me through the door Angus held open and told him, "Drive around the block until I say otherwise."

Then he slid in directly behind me, so closely I could feel his breath against my bare back. I scrambled toward the opposite seat, determined to get away from him....

"Stop," he snapped.

I sank to my knees on the carpeted floor, breathing hard. I could run to the ends of the earth and I still wouldn't be able to escape the fact that Corinne Giroux had to be better for Gideon than I was. She was calm and cool, a soothing presence even to me - the person freaking out over the unwelcome fact of her existence. My worst nightmare.

His hand twisted into my loose hair, restraining me. His spread legs surrounded mine, his grip tightening so that my head was pulled back gently to touch his shoulder. "I'm going to give you what we both need, Eva. We're going to fuck as long as it takes to dull the edge enough to get through dinner. And you're not going to worry about Corinne, because while she's inside the ballroom, I'll be deep inside you."

"Yes," I whispered, licking dry lips.

"You forget who submits, Eva," he said gruffly. "I've given up control for you. I've bent and adjusted for you. I'll do anything to keep you and make you happy. But I can't be tamed or topped. Don't mistake indulgence for weakness."

I swallowed hard, my blood on fire for him. "Gideon..."

"Reach up with both hands and hold on to the grab handle above the window. Don't let go until I tell you, understand?"

I did as he ordered, pushing my hands through the leather loop. As my grip secured, my body sparked to life, making me aware of how right he was about what I needed. He knew me so well, this lover of mine.

Shoving his hands into my bodice, Gideon squeezed my full, aching breasts. When he rolled and tugged my nipples, my head lolled against him, the tension leaving my body in a rush.

"God." He nuzzled his mouth against my temple. "It's so perfect when you give yourself over to me like that...all at once, as if it's a huge relief."

"Fuck me," I begged, needing the connection. "Please."

Releasing my hair, he reached under my dress and pulled my panties down my thighs. His jacket flew past me to land on the seat; then his hand pushed between my legs from the front. He growled at finding me wet and swollen. "You were made for me, Eva. You can't go long without me inside you."

Still he primed me, running his skilled fingers through my cleft, spreading the moisture over my clit and the lips of my sex. He pushed two fingers into me, scissoring them, preparing me for the thrust of his long, thick cock.

"Do you want me, Gideon?" I asked hoarsely, needing to ride his thrusting fingers, but hampered by how far I had to reach to grab the strap.

"More than my next breath." His lips moved over my throat and the top of my shoulder, the warm velvet of his tongue sliding seductively across my skin. "I can't go long without you either, Eva. You're an addiction...my obsession..."

His teeth bit gently into my flesh, conveying his animal need with a rough sound of desire. All the while he fucked me with his fingers, his other hand massaging my clit, making me come again and again from the simultaneous stimulation.

"Gideon!" I gasped, when my damp fingers began to slip from the leather.

His hands left me and I heard the erotic rasp of his zipper lowering. "Let go and lie on your back with your legs spread."

I moved to the seat and stretched along it, offering my body to him in quivering anticipation. His gaze met mine, his face briefly lit by a passing swathe of headlights.

"Don't be afraid." He came over me, setting his weight onto me with excruciating care.

"I'm too horny to be scared." I caught him and pulled my body up to press against the hardness of his. "I want you."

His cock head nudged against the lips of my sex. With a flex of his hips, he pushed into me, his breath hissing just as mine did at the searing connection. I went lax against the seat, my fingers barely clinging to his lean waist.

"I love you," I whispered, watching his face as he began to move. Every inch of my skin burned as if from the sun, and my chest was so tight with longing and emotion that it was hard to breathe. "And I need you, Gideon."

"You have me," he whispered, his cock sliding in and out. "I couldn't be more yours."

I quivered and tensed, my hips meeting his relentlessly measured drives. I climaxed with a breathless cry, shuddering as the ecstasy rippled through my sex, milking him until he grunted and started powering into me.

"Eva."

I rocked into his ferocious lunges, urging him on. He clutched at me, riding me hard and fast. My head thrashed and I moaned shamelessly, loving the feel of him, that decadent sensation of being possessed and ruthlessly pleasured.

We were wild for each other, fucking like feral beasts, and I was so turned on by our primal lust I thought I'd die from the orgasm building inside me.

"You're so good at this, Gideon. So good..."

He gripped my buttock and yanked me up to meet his next thrust, hitting the end of me, forcing a gasp of pleasure/pain from my throat. I came again, clenching down hard on him.

"Ah, God. Eva." With a serrated groan, he erupted violently, flooding me with his heat. Pinning my hips, he ground against me, emptying himself as deep in me as he could get.

When he finished, he sucked in a harsh breath and gathered my hair in his hands, kissing the side of my damp throat. "I wish you knew what you do to me. I wish I could tell you."

I held him tightly. "I can't help it that I'm stupid over you. It's just too much, Gideon. It's - "

" - uncontrollable." He started over again, thrusting rhythmically. Leisurely. As if we had all the time in the world. Thickening and lengthening with each push and pull.

"And you need control." I lost my breath on a particularly masterful stroke.

"I need you, Eva." His gaze was fierce on my face as he moved inside me. "I need you."

Gideon didn't leave my side, or allow me to leave his, the rest of the evening. He kept his right hand linked with my left all the way through dinner, once again choosing to eat one-handed rather than release his hold on me.

Corinne - who'd taken a seat on the other side of him at our table - gave him a curious look. "I seem to remember you being right-handed."

"I still am," he said, lifting our joined hands from under the table and kissing my fingertips. I felt foolish and insecure when he did that - and conscious of Corinne's scrutiny.

Unfortunately, the romantic gesture didn't keep him from talking to Corinne throughout the meal, not me - which left me feeling fidgety and unhappy. I saw more of the back of Gideon's head than his face.

"At least it's not chicken."

I turned my head toward the man sitting beside me. I'd been so focused on trying to eavesdrop on Gideon's conversation that I hadn't paid any mind to our tablemates.

"I like chicken," I said. And I had liked the tilapia served for dinner - I'd cleaned my plate.

"Not rubberized, certainly." He grinned and suddenly looked much younger than his pure white hair would suggest. "Ah, there's a smile," he murmured. "And it's a beautiful one."

"Thank you." I introduced myself.

"Dr. Terrence Lucas," he said. "But I prefer Terry."

"Dr. Terry. It's lovely to meet you."

He smiled again. "Just Terry, Eva."

Over the course of the few minutes we'd spoken, I'd come to believe Dr. Lucas wasn't a whole lot older than me, just prematurely gray. Aside from that, his face was handsome and unlined, his green eyes intelligent and kind. I revised my guesstimate of his age to be mid-to-late thirties.

"You look as bored as I feel," he said. "These events raise a considerable amount of money for the shelter, but they can be dull. Would you like to accompany me to the bar? I'll buy you a drink."

Beneath the table, I tested Gideon's grip by flexing my hand. His tightened.

"What are you doing?" he murmured.

Looking over my shoulder, I saw him watching me. Then I watched his gaze lift as Dr. Lucas stood behind me. Gideon's gaze noticeably cooled.

"She's going to alleviate the boredom of being ignored, Cross," Terry said, setting his hands on the back of my chair, "by spending time with someone who's more than happy to pay attention to such a beautiful woman."

I was immediately uncomfortable, aware of the crackling animosity between the two men. I tugged on his hand, but Gideon wouldn't release me.

"Walk away, Terry," Gideon warned.

"You've been so preoccupied with Mrs. Giroux, you didn't even notice when I sat at your table." Terry's smile took on an edge. "Eva. Shall we?"

"Don't move, Eva."

I shivered at the ice in Gideon's voice, but felt stung enough to say, "It's not his fault he has a point."

Gideon's grip tightened painfully. "Not now."

Terry's gaze moved to my face. "You don't have to tolerate him talking to you that way. All the money in the world doesn't give anyone the right to order you around."

Infuriated and horribly embarrassed, I looked at Gideon. "Crossfire."

I wasn't sure I could use the safeword outside of the bedroom, but he released me as if I'd burned him. I shoved my chair back and threw my napkin onto my plate. "Excuse me. Both of you."

With my clutch in hand, I walked away from the table, my stride easy and smooth. I made a beeline toward the restrooms, intending to freshen my makeup and collect myself, but then I saw the lighted exit sign and went with my urge to bail.

I pulled out my smartphone when I hit the sidewalk and texted Gideon; Not running. Just leaving.

I managed to hail a passing cab, and headed home to nurse my anger.

I was jonesing for a hot bath and a bottle of wine when I reached my apartment. Shoving my key into the lock, I turned the knob and stepped into a porn video.

In the few shocked seconds it took for my brain to register what I was seeing, I stood riveted on the threshold, flooding the hallway behind me with blaring technopop. There were so many body parts involved, I had time to hastily slam the door behind me before I pieced them all together. One woman was spread-eagled on the floor. Another woman's face was in her crotch. Cary was banging the hell out of her while another man was drilling him in the ass.

I threw my head back and screamed bloody murder, completely fed up with everyone in my life. And because I was competing with the sound system, I ripped off one of my heels and threw it in that direction. The CD skipped, which jolted the menage a quatre in progress on my living room floor into awareness of my presence. I limped over and shut off the volume; then faced the lot of them.

"Get the fuck out of my house," I snapped. "Right now."

"Who the hell is that?" the redhead at the bottom of the pile asked. "Your wife?"

There was a brief flash of embarrassment and guilt on Cary's face, and then he shot me a cocky smile. "My roommate. There's room for more, baby girl."

"Cary Taylor. Don't push me," I warned. "It's really, really not a good night."

The dark-haired male on top disengaged from Cary and stood, sauntering toward me. As he got closer, I saw his hazel eyes were unnaturally dilated and the pulse in his neck was throbbing viciously. "I can make it better," he offered with a leer.

"Back the fuck up." I adjusted my stance, preparing to ward him off physically if necessary.

"Leave her alone, Ian," Cary snapped, pushing to his feet.

"Come on, baby girl," Ian coaxed, making me sick by using Cary's pet name for me. "You need a good time. Let me show you one."

One minute he was inches in front of me, the next he was sailing into the couch with a scream. Gideon moved into place between me and the others, vibrating with fury. "Take it to your room, Cary," he bit out. "Or take it somewhere else."

Ian was squealing on my sofa, his nose spraying blood despite the two hands he tried to staunch it with.

Cary snatched his jeans off the floor. "You're not my fucking mother, Eva."

I sidestepped around Gideon. "Wasn't screwing up with Trey enough of a fucking lesson for you, you idiot?"

"This isn't about Trey!"

"Who's Trey?" The bottle blonde asked as she got to her feet. When she caught a good look at Gideon, she visibly preened, showing off an admittedly pretty body.

Her efforts earned her a glance so disdainfully dismissive and unimpressed that she finally had the grace to blush and cover herself with a slinky gold lame dress she picked up off the floor. And because I was in a mood, I said, "Don't take it personally. He prefers brunettes."

The look Gideon shot me was lethal. I'd never seen him look so livid. He was literally vibrating with suppressed violence.

Frightened by that glare, I took an involuntary step back. He cursed viciously and shoved both of his hands through his hair.

Suddenly bone weary and desperately disappointed with the men in my life, I turned away. "Get this mess out of my house, Cary."

I headed down the hallway, kicking off my other heel en route. I was out of my dress before I reached my bathroom and in the shower less than a minute beyond that. I stayed out of the range of the spray until the water warmed, and then I stood directly beneath it. Too tired to stand for long, I sank to the floor and just sat beneath the stream with my eyes closed and my arms wrapped around my knees.

"Eva."

I cringed when I heard Gideon's voice, and tucked into an even tighter ball.

"Goddamn it," he snapped. "You piss me off worse than anyone else I know."

I looked at him through the veil of my wet hair. He was pacing the length of my bathroom, his jacket shed somewhere and his shirt untucked. "Go home, Gideon."

He halted and shot me an incredulous look. "I'm not fucking leaving you here. Cary's lost his damned mind! That amped-up asshole was seconds away from putting his hands on you when I got here."

"Cary wouldn't have let that happen. But either way, I can't deal with him and you at the same time." I didn't want to deal with either of them, actually. I just wanted to be alone.

"Then you'll just deal with me."

I scooped my hair back from my face with an impatient swipe of my hand. "Oh? I'm supposed to make you the priority?"

He recoiled as if I'd hit him. "I was under the impression we were both each other's priorities."

"Yeah, I thought that, too. Until tonight."

"Jesus. Will you drop it with Corinne already?" He spread his arms wide. "I'm here with you, aren't I? I barely said good-bye to her because I was chasing after you. Again."

"Fuck you. Don't do me any favors."

Gideon lunged into the shower fully dressed. He yanked me to my feet and kissed me. Hard. His mouth devoured mine, his hands gripping my upper arms to hold me in place.

But I didn't soften this time. I didn't give in. Even when he tried coaxing me with lush, suggestive licks.

"Why?" he muttered, his lips sliding down to my throat. "Why are you driving me insane?"

"I don't know what your problem is with Dr. Lucas, and I honestly don't give a shit. But he was right. Corinne got way too much of your attention tonight. You pretty much ignored me during dinner."

"It's impossible for me to ignore you, Eva." His face was hard and tight. "If you're in the same room with me, I don't see anyone else."

"Funny. Every time I looked at you, you were looking at her."

"This is stupid." He released me and shoved the wet hair out of his face. "You know how I feel about you."

"Do I? You want me. You need me. But do you love Corinne?"

"Oh, for fuck's sake. No." He shut the water off, caging me to the glass with both arms. "You want me to tell you I love you, Eva? Is that what this is about?"

My stomach cramped as if he'd struck me with the full force of his fist. I'd never felt that kind of pain before, hadn't known it existed. My eyes burned and I ducked under his arm before I embarrassed myself by crying. "Go home, Gideon. Please."

"I am home." He caught me from behind and buried his face in my soaked hair. "I'm with you."

I struggled to get free, but I was too wiped out. Physically. Emotionally. The tears came in a torrent and I couldn't stop them. And I hated crying in front of anyone. "Go away. Please."

"I love you, Eva. Of course I do."

"Oh my God." I kicked at him, flailing. Anything to get away from the person who'd become a massive source of pain and misery. "I don't want your fucking pity. I just want you to go away."

"I can't. You know I can't. Eva, stop fighting. Listen to me."

"Everything you're saying hurts, Gideon."

"It's not the right word, Eva," he pressed on stubbornly, his lips at my ear. "That's why I haven't said it. It's not the right word for you and what I feel for you."

"Shut up. If you care about me at all, you'll just shut up and go away."

"I've been loved before - by Corinne, by other women...But what the hell do they know about me? What the hell are they in love with when they don't know how fucked up I am? If that's love, it's nothing compared to what I feel for you."

I stilled, trembling, my gaze on the mirror's reflection of my mascara-smeared face and bedraggled wet hair next to Gideon's ravaged beauty. His features were overcome by volatile emotion as he wrapped himself tightly around me. We looked all wrong for each other.

And yet I understood the alienation of being around others who couldn't really see you or chose not to. I'd felt the self-loathing that came with being a fraud, portraying an image of what you wished you could be but weren't. I'd lived with the fear that the people you loved might turn away from you if they ever got to know the true person hidden inside.

"Gideon - "

His lips touched my temple. "I think I loved you the moment I saw you. Then we made love that first time in the limo and it became something else. Something more."

"Whatever. You cut me off that night and left me behind to take care of Corinne. How could you, Gideon?"

He released me only long enough to scoop me up and carry me over to where my bathrobe hung from a hook on the back of the door. He bundled me up; then had me sit on the edge of the tub while he went to the sink and pulled my makeup removal wipes out of the drawer. Crouching in front of me, he stroked the cloth over my cheek.

"When Corinne called during the advocacy dinner, it was the perfect time to make me do something stupid." His gaze was soft and warm on my tear-streaked face. "You and I had just made love, and I wasn't thinking clearly. I told her I was busy and that I was with someone, and when I heard the pain in her voice, I knew I had to deal with her so I could move forward with you."

"I don't understand. You left me behind for her. How does that move us forward?"

"I screwed up with Corinne, Eva." He tilted my chin back to rub at my raccoon eyes. "I met her my first year at Columbia. I noticed her, of course. She's beautiful and sweet, and never had an unkind word to say about anyone. When she pursued me, I let myself be caught and she became my first consensual sexual experience."

"I hate her."

That made his mouth curve slightly.

"I'm not kidding, Gideon. I'm sick with jealousy right now."

"It was just sex with her, angel. As raw as you and I fuck, it's still making love. Every time, from the very first time. You're the only one who's ever gotten to me that way."

I heaved out a breath. "Okay. I'm marginally better."

He kissed me. "I guess you could say we dated. We were exclusive sexually and we often ended up going to the same places as a couple. Still, when she told me she loved me, I was surprised. And flattered. I cared about her. I enjoyed spending time with her."

"Still do, apparently," I muttered.

"Keep listening." He chastised me with a tap of his finger to the end of my nose. "I thought maybe I might love her, too, in my own way...the only way I knew how. I didn't want her to be with anyone else. So I said yes when she proposed."

I jerked back to look at him. "She proposed?"

"Don't look so shocked," he said wryly. "You're bruising my ego."

Relief flooded me in a rush that made me dizzy. I threw myself at him, hugging him as tight as I could.

"Hey." His returning embrace was just as fierce. "You okay?"

"Yes. Yes, I'm getting there." I pulled back and cupped his jaw in my hand. "Keep going."

"I said yes for all the wrong reasons. After two years of hanging out, we'd never spent a full night together. Never talked about any of the things I talk to you about. She didn't know me, not really, and yet I convinced myself that being loved at all was something to hang on to. Who else was going to do it right, if not her?"

He moved his attention to my other eye, cleaning away the black streaks. "I think she was hoping that being engaged would take us to a different level. Maybe I'd open up more. Maybe we'd stay the night at the hotel - which she thought was romantic, by the way - instead of calling it an early night because of classes in the morning. I don't know."

I thought it sounded terribly lonely. My poor Gideon. He'd been alone for so long. Maybe his whole life.

"And maybe when she broke it off after a year," he went on, "she was hoping that would kick-start things, too. That I'd make a bigger effort to keep her. Instead, I was relieved because I'd started to realize it was going to be impossible to share a home with her. What excuse was I going to come up with to sleep in separate rooms and have my own space?"

"You never considered telling her?"

"No." He shrugged. "Until you, I didn't consider my past an issue. Yes, it affected certain ways I did things, but everything had its place and I wasn't unhappy. In fact, I thought I had a comfortable and uncomplicated life."

"Oh, boy." My nose wrinkled. "Hello, Mr. Comfortable. I'm Miss Complicated."

His grin flashed. "Never a dull moment."

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