Gideon tossed the makeup remover wipe in the trash. Then he grabbed a towel to throw over the puddle he'd left on the floor and toed off his shoes. To my utter delight, he began stripping out of his wet clothes.
Watching him raptly, I said, "You feel guilty because she still loves you."
"I do, yes. I knew her husband. He was a good guy and he was crazy about her, until he figured out she didn't feel the same way and things fell apart."
He looked at me as he peeled his shirt off. "I couldn't figure out why he let it get to him. He was married to the girl he wanted, they lived in a different country away from me, so what was his problem? Now, I understand. If you loved someone else, Eva, it'd shred me to pieces, every single day. It'd kill me even if you were with me and not him. But unlike Giroux, I wouldn't let you go. Maybe I wouldn't have all of you, but you'd still be mine and I'd take what I could get."
My fingers laced in my lap. "That's what scares me, Gideon. You don't know what you're worth."
"Actually, I do. Twelve bill - "
"Shut up." My head spun and I pressed my fingertips to my eyes. "It shouldn't be such a mystery that women fall in love with you and stay in love. Did you know that Magdalene kept her hair long hoping it'd remind you of Corinne?"
He dropped his slacks and frowned at me. "Why?"
I sighed at his cluelessness. "Because she believes Corinne is who you want."
"Then she's not paying attention."
"Isn't she? Corinne told me she talks to you almost every day."
"Not quite. I'm often not available. You know how busy I am." His gaze took on the heated look I was so familiar with. I knew he was thinking about the times he got busy with me.
"That's nuts, Gideon. Her calling every day. That's stalking." Which reminded me of her assertion that he'd been as possessive over her as he was about me. That niggled at me in a terrible way.
"Where are you going with this?" he asked, in a voice laced with warm amusement.
"Don't you get it? You drive women off the deep end because you're the ultimate. You're the grand prize. If a woman can't have you, they know they're settling for less than the best. So they can't think about not having you. They just think of crazy ways to try and get you."
"Except for the one I want," he retorted dryly, "who spends a lot of time running in the opposite direction."
I stared unabashedly, drinking him in as he stood naked in front of me. "Answer one question for me, Gideon. Why do you want me, when you can have your pick of perfection instead? And I'm not fishing for compliments or reassurances. I'm asking an honest question."
He caught me up and moved us into the bedroom. "Eva, if you don't stop thinking of us as temporary, I'm going to take you over my knee and make damn sure you like it."
Setting me down in a chair, he went to rifle through my drawers.
I watched him pulling out underwear, yoga pants, and a top. "Have you forgotten I sleep in the nude with you?"
"We're not staying here." He faced me. "I don't trust Cary not to bring more intoxicated jerks home and once we turn in for the night I'll be drugged on the medication Dr. Petersen prescribed and possibly unable to protect you. So we're going to my place."
I looked down at my twisted hands, thinking about how I might need protection from Gideon, too. "I've been down this road with Cary before, Gideon. I can't just hole up at your place and hope he comes out of it on his own. He needs me to be around more than I have been."
"Eva." Gideon brought me my clothes and crouched in front of me. "I know you need to support Cary. We'll figure out how tomorrow."
I cupped his face. "Thank you."
"I need you, too, though," he said quietly.
"We need each other."
He pushed to his feet. Moving back to the dresser, he pulled open his drawers and grabbed clothes for himself.
Standing, I began to dress. "Listen..."
He pulled a pair of low-slung jeans on. "Yes?"
"I feel tons better now that I know the score, but Corinne is still going to be a problem for me." I paused with my shirt in my hands. "You wanna nip her hopes in the bud real quick. Stow the guilt, Gideon, and start weaning her off."
He sat on the edge of the bed to pull on his socks. "She's a friend, Eva, and she's in a rough spot. It's a cruel time to cut her off."
"Think carefully, Gideon. I have exes in my past, too. You're setting the precedent now for how I'll handle them. I'm taking my cues from you."
He stood with a scowl. "You're threatening me."
"I prefer to see it as coercion. Relationships work both ways. You're not her only friend. She can find someone more appropriate to lean on in her time of crisis."
We grabbed what we needed and walked back into the living room. I saw the mess left behind - an aqua-hued bra beneath an end table and blood spray on my cream sectional - and I wished Cary was still around to smack some sense into.
"I'm digging into it with him tomorrow," I bit out, my jaw tight with anger and worry. "Goddamn it, I should've decked him when I had the chance. I should've knocked him out cold, and then locked him up in his room until he gets his brain working again."
Gideon's hand at the small of my back rubbed soothingly. "It'll be better to do that tomorrow, when he's alone and hungover. More effective that way."
Angus was waiting for us when we got downstairs. I was about to climb into the back of the limo when Gideon cursed under his breath, stopping me.
"What?" I asked him.
"I forgot something."
"Let me get my keys." I reached for the overnight bag Gideon was holding, which had my purse inside.
"No need. I have a set." He shot me an unapologetic grin when my brows rose. "I had copies made before I gave them back to you."
"If you'd paid attention" - he kissed the top of my head - "you might've noticed that you've had the key to my place on your key ring since I returned it."
I gaped after him as he darted past the doorman and back into the building. I remembered the torment of those four days when I'd thought we'd broken up and the excruciating pain I'd felt when those keys slid out of the envelope and into my palm.
I'd had the key to being with him all along.
Shaking my head, I looked around at my adopted city, loving everything about it and feeling grateful for the crazy well of happiness I'd found here.
Gideon and I still had so much work ahead of us. As much as we loved each other, it was no guarantee that we'd survive our personal wounds. But we communicated, we were honest with each other, and God knew we were both too stubborn to quit without a fight.
Gideon reappeared just as two large, beautifully groomed poodles walked by with their equally coiffed owner.
I climbed into the limo. As we pulled away from the curb, Gideon tugged me onto his lap and cuddled me close. "We had a rough night, but we got through it."
"Yeah, we did." Tipping my head back, I offered my mouth for a kiss. He obliged me with one that was slow and sweet - a simple reaffirmation of our precious, complicated, maddening, necessary connection.
Cupping his nape, I ran my fingers through his silky hair. "I can't wait to get you back in bed."
He gave a sexy little growl and attacked my neck with tickling nips and kisses, banishing our ghosts and their shadows.
At least for a little while...