I had a vicious hangover on Saturday morning and figured it was no less than I deserved. As much as I'd resented Gideon's insistence on negotiating sex with as much passion as he would a merger, in the end I'd negotiated in kind. Because I wanted him enough to take a calculated risk and break my own rules.
I took comfort in knowing he was breaking some of his own, too.
After a long, hot shower, I made my way into the living room and found Cary on the couch with his netbook, looking fresh and alert. Smelling coffee in the kitchen, I headed there and filled the biggest mug I could find.
"Morning, sunshine," Cary called out.
With my much-needed dose of caffeine wrapped between both palms, I joined him on the couch.
He pointed at a box on the end table. "That came for you while you were in the shower."
I set my mug on the coffee table and picked up the box. It was wrapped with brown paper and twine, and had my name handwritten diagonally across the top with a decorative calligraphic flourish. Inside was an amber glass bottle with Hangover Cure painted on it in a white old-fashioned font and a note tied with raffia to the bottle's neck that said, "Drink me." Gideon's business card was nestled in the cushioning tissue paper.
As I studied the gift, I found it very apt. Since meeting Gideon I'd felt like I'd fallen down the rabbit hole into a fascinating and seductive world where few of the known rules applied. I was in uncharted territory that was both exciting and scary.
I glanced at Cary, who eyed the bottle dubiously.
"Cheers." I pried the cork out and drank the contents without thinking twice about it. It tasted like sickly sweet cough syrup. My stomach quivered in distaste for a moment, and then heated. I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand and shoved the cork back into the empty bottle.
"What was that?" Cary asked.
"From the burn, it's hair of the dog."
His nose wrinkled. "Effective but unpleasant."
And it was working. I already felt a little steadier.
Cary picked up the box and dug out Gideon's card. He flipped it over; then held it out to me. On the back Gideon had written, "Call me" in bold slashing penmanship and jotted down a number.
I took the card, curling my hand around it. His gift was proof that he was thinking about me. His tenacity and focus was seductive. And flattering.
There was no denying I was in trouble where Gideon was concerned. I craved the way I felt when he touched me, and I loved the way he responded when I touched him back. When I tried to think of what I wouldn't agree to do to have his hands on me again, I couldn't come up with much.
When Cary tried to hand me the phone, I shook my head. "Not yet. I need a clear head when dealing with him and I'm still fuzzy."
"You two seemed cozy last night. He's definitely into you."
"I'm definitely into him." Curling into the corner of the couch, I pressed my cheek into the cushion and hugged my legs to my chest. "We're going to hang out, get to know each other, have casual-but-physically-intense sex, and be otherwise completely independent. No strings, no expectations, no responsibilities."
Cary hit a button on his netbook and the printer on the other side of the room started spitting out pages. Then he snapped the computer closed, set it on the coffee table, and gave me all his attention. "Maybe it'll turn into something serious."
"Maybe not," I scoffed.
"I'm not looking for happily-ever-after, Cary, especially not with a mega-mogul like Cross. I've seen what it's like for my mom being connected to powerful men. It's a full-time job with a part-time companion. Money keeps Mom happy, but it wouldn't be enough for me."
My dad had loved my mom. He'd asked her to marry him and share his life. She'd turned him down because he didn't have the hefty portfolio and sizeable bank account she required in a husband. Love wasn't a requisite for marriage in Monica Stanton's opinion and since her sultry-eyed, breathy-voiced beauty was irresistible to most men, she'd never had to settle for less than whatever she wanted. Unfortunately she hadn't wanted my dad for the long haul.
Glancing at the clock, I saw it was ten thirty. "I guess I should get ready."
"I love spa day with your mom." Cary smiled and it chased the lingering shadows on my mood away. "I feel like a god when we're done."
"Me, too. Of the goddess persuasion."
We were so eager to be off that we went downstairs to meet the car rather than wait for the front desk to call up.
The doorman smiled as we stepped outside - me in heeled sandals and a maxi dress, and Cary in hip-hugging jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt.
"Good morning, Miss Tramell. Mr. Taylor. Will you need a cab today?"
"No thanks, Paul. We're expecting a car." Cary grinned. "It's spa day at Perrini's!"
"Ah, Perrini's Day Spa." Paul gave a sage nod. "I bought my wife a gift certificate for our anniversary. She enjoyed it so much I plan to make it a tradition."
"You did good, Paul," I said. "Pampering a woman never goes out of style."
A black town car pulled up with Clancy at the wheel. Paul opened the rear door for us and we climbed in, squealing when we found a box of Knipschildt's Chocopologie on the seat. Waving at Paul, we settled back and dug in, taking tiny nibbles of the truffles that were worth savoring slowly.
Clancy drove us straight to Perrini's, where the relaxation began from the moment one walked in the door. Crossing the entrance threshold was like taking a vacation on the far side of the world. Every arched doorway was framed by lushly vibrant striped silks, while jeweled pillows decorated elegant chaises and oversized armchairs.
Birds chirped from suspended gilded cages and potted plants filled every corner with lush fronds. Small decorative fountains added the sounds of running water, while stringed instrumental music was piped into the room via cleverly hidden speakers. The air was redolent with a mix of exotic spices and fragrances, making me feel like I'd stepped into Arabian Nights.
It was this-close to being too much, but it didn't cross the line. Instead, Perrini's was exotic and luxurious, an indulgent treat for those who could afford it. Like my mother, who'd just finished a milk-and-honey bath when we arrived.
I studied the menu of treatments available, deciding to skip my usual "warrior woman" in favor of the "passionate pampering." I'd been waxed the week before, but the rest of the treatment - "designed to make you sexually irresistible" - sounded like exactly what I needed.
I'd finally managed to get my mind back into the safe zone of work when Cary spoke up from the pedicure chair beside mine.
"Mrs. Stanton, have you met Gideon Cross?"
I gaped at him. He knew damn well my mom went nuts over any news about my romantic - and not-so-romantic, as the case may be - relationships.
My mother, who sat in the chair on the other side of me, leaned forward with her usual girlish excitement over a rich, handsome man. "Of course. He's one of the wealthiest men in the world. Number twenty-five or so on Forbes's list, if I'm remembering correctly. A very driven young man, obviously, and a generous benefactor to many of the children's charities I champion. Extremely eligible, of course, but I don't believe he's gay, Cary. He's got a reputation as a ladies' man."
"My loss." Cary grinned and ignored my violent headshaking. "But it'd be a hopeless crush anyway, since he's digging on Eva."
"Eva! I can't believe you didn't say anything. How could you not tell me something like that?"
I looked at my mom, whose scrubbed face appeared young, unlined, and very much like mine. I was very clearly my mother's daughter, right down to my surname. The one concession she'd made to my father had been to name me after his mother.
"There's nothing to tell," I insisted. "We're just...friends."
"We can do better than that," Monica said, with a look of calculation that struck fear in my heart. "I don't know how it escaped me that you work in the same building he does. I'm certain he was smitten the moment he saw you. Although he's known to prefer brunettes...Hmm...Anyway. He's also known for his excellent taste. Clearly the latter won out with you."
"It's not like that. Please don't start meddling. You'll embarrass me."
"Nonsense. If anyone knows what to do with men, it's me."
I cringed, my shoulders creeping up to my ears. By the time my massage appointment came around, I was in desperate need of one. I stretched out on the table and closed my eyes, preparing to take a catnap to get through the long night ahead.
I loved dressing up and looking pretty as much as the next girl, but charity functions were a lot of work. Making small talk was exhausting, smiling nonstop was a pain, and conversations about businesses and people I didn't know were boring. If it wasn't for Cary benefitting from the exposure, I'd put up a bigger fight about going.
I sighed. Who was I fooling? I'd end up going anyway. My mom and Stanton supported abused children's charities because they were significant to me. Going to the occasional stuffy event was a small price to pay for the return.
Taking a deep breath, I consciously relaxed. I made a mental note to call my dad when I got home and thought about how to send a thank-you note to Gideon for the hangover cure. I supposed I could e-mail him using the contact info on his business card, but that lacked class. Besides, I didn't know who read his inbox.
I'd just call him when I got home. Why not? He'd asked - no, told - me to; he'd written the demand on his business card. And I'd get to hear his luscious voice again.
The door opened and the masseuse came in. "Hello, Eva. You ready?"
Not quite. But I was getting there.
After many lovely hours at the spa, my mom and Cary dropped me off at the apartment; then they headed out to hunt for new cuff links for Stanton. I used the time alone to call Gideon. Even with the much-needed privacy, I punched most of his phone number into the keypad a half-dozen times before I finally put the call through.
He answered on the first ring. "Eva."
Startled that he'd known who was calling, my mind scrambled for a moment. How did he have my name and number in his contact list? "Uh...hi, Gideon."
"I'm a block away. Let the front desk know I'm coming."
"What?" I felt like I'd missed part of the conversation. "Coming where?"
"To your place. I'm rounding the corner now. Call the desk, Eva."
He hung up and I stared at the phone, trying to absorb the fact that Gideon was moments away from being with me again. Somewhat dazed, I went to the intercom and talked to the front desk, letting them know I was expecting him and while I was talking, he walked into the lobby. A few moments after that, he was at my door.
It was then that I remembered I was dressed in only a thigh-length silk robe, and my face and hair were styled for the dinner. What kind of impression would he get from my appearance?
I tightened the belt of my robe before I let him in. It wasn't like I'd invited him over for a seduction or anything.
Gideon stood in the hallway for a long moment, his gaze raking me from my head down to my French manicured toes. I was equally stunned by his appearance. The way he looked in worn jeans and a T-shirt made me want to undress him with my teeth.
"Worth the trip to find you like this, Eva." He stepped inside and locked the door behind him. "How are you feeling?"
"Good. Thanks to you. Thank you." My stomach quivered because he was here, with me, which made me feel almost...giddy. "That can't be why you came over."
"I'm here because it took you too long to call me."
"I didn't realize I had a deadline."
"I have to ask you something time-sensitive, but more than that, I wanted to know if you were feeling all right after last night." His eyes were dark as they swept over me, his breathtaking face framed by that luxurious curtain of inky hair. "God. You look beautiful, Eva. I can't remember ever wanting anything this much."
With just those few simple words I became hot and needy. Way too vulnerable. "What's so urgent?"
"Go with me to the advocacy center dinner tonight."
I pulled back, surprised and excited by the request. "You're going?"
"So are you. I checked, knowing your mother would be there. Let's go together."
My hand went to my throat, my mind torn between the weirdness of how much he knew about me and concern over what he was asking me to do. "That's not what I meant when I said we should spend time together."
"Why not?" The simple question was laced with challenge. "What's the problem with going together to an event we'd already planned on attending separately?"
"It's not very discreet. It's a high-profile event."
"So?" Gideon stepped closer and fingered a curl of my hair.
There was a dangerous purr to his voice that sent a shiver through me. I could feel the warmth of his big, hard body and smell the richly masculine scent of his skin. I was falling under his spell, deeper with every minute that passed.
"People will make assumptions, my mother in particular. She's already scenting your bachelor blood in the water."
Lowering his head, Gideon pressed his lips into the crook of my neck. "I don't care what people think. We know what we're doing. And I'll deal with your mother."
"If you think you can," I said breathlessly, "you don't know her very well."
"I'll pick you up at seven." His tongue traced the wildly throbbing vein in my throat and I melted into him, my body going lax as he pulled me close.
Still, I managed to say, "I haven't said yes."
"But you won't say no." He caught my earlobe between his teeth. "I won't let you."
I opened my mouth to protest and he sealed his lips over mine, shutting me up with a lush wet kiss. His tongue did that slow, savoring licking that made me long to feel him doing the same between my legs. My hands went to his hair, sliding through it, tugging. When he wrapped his arms around me, I arched, curving into his hands.
Just as he had in his office, he had me on my back on the couch before I realized he was moving me, his mouth swallowing my surprised gasp. The robe gave way to his dexterous fingers; then he was cupping my breasts, kneading them with soft, rhythmic squeezes.
"Gideon - "
"Shh." He sucked on my lower lip, his fingers rolling and tugging my tender nipples. "It was driving me crazy knowing you were naked beneath your robe."
"You came over without - Oh! Oh, God..."
His mouth surrounded the tip of my breast, the wash of heat bringing a mist of perspiration to my skin.
My gaze darted frantically to the clock on the cable box. "Gideon, no."
His head lifted and he looked at me with stormy blue eyes. "It's insane, I know. I don't - I can't explain it, Eva, but I have to make you come. I've been thinking about it constantly for days now."
One of his hands pushed between my legs. They fell open shamelessly, my body so aroused I was flushed and almost feverish. His other hand continued to plump my breasts, making them heavy and unbearably sensitive.
"You're wet for me," he murmured, his gaze sliding down my body to where he was parting me with his fingers. "You're beautiful here, too. Plush and pink. So soft. You didn't wax today, did you?"
I shook my head.
"Thank God. I don't think I would've made it ten minutes without touching you, let alone ten hours." He slid one finger carefully into me.
My eyes closed against the unbearable vulnerability of being spread out naked and fingered by a man whose familiarity with the rules of Brazilian waxing betrayed an intimate knowledge of women. A man who was still fully clothed and kneeling on the floor beside me.
"You're so snug." Gideon pulled out and thrust gently back into me. My back bowed as I clenched eagerly around him. "And so greedy. How long has it been since the last time you were fucked?"
I swallowed hard. "I've been busy. My thesis, job-hunting, moving..."
"A while, then." He pulled out and pushed back into me with two fingers. I couldn't hold back a moan of delight. The man had talented hands, confident and skilled, and he took what he wanted with them.
"Are you on birth control, Eva?"
"Yes." My hands gripped the edges of the cushions. "Of course."
"I'll prove I'm clean and you'll do the same, then you're going to let me come in you."
"Jesus, Gideon." I was panting for him, my hips circling shamelessly onto his thrusting fingers. I felt like I'd spontaneously combust if he didn't get me off.
I'd never been so turned on in my life. I was near mindless with the need for an orgasm. If Cary walked in right then and found me writhing in our living room while Gideon finger-fucked me, I didn't think I'd care.
Gideon was breathing hard, too. His face was flushed with lust. For me. When I'd done nothing more than respond helplessly to him.
His hand at my breast moved to my cheek and brushed over it. "You're blushing. I've scandalized you."
His smile was both wicked and delighted, and it made my chest tight. "I want to feel my cum in you when I fuck you with my fingers. I want you to feel my cum in you, so you think about how I looked and the sounds I made when I pumped it into you. And while you're thinking about that, you're going to look forward to me doing it again and again."
My sex rippled around his stroking fingers, the rawness of his words pushing me to the brink of orgasm.
"I'm going to tell you all the ways I want you to please me, Eva, and you're going to do it all...take it all, and we're going to have explosive, primal, no-holds-barred sex. You know that, don't you? You can feel how it'll be between us."
"Yes," I breathed, clutching my breasts to ease the deep ache of my hardened nipples. "Please, Gideon."
"Shh...I've got you." The pad of his thumb rubbed my clitoris in gentle circles. "Look into my eyes when you come for me."
Everything tightened in my core, the tension building as he massaged my clit and pushed his fingers in and out in a steady, unhurried rhythm.
"Give it up to me, Eva," he ordered. "Now."
I climaxed with a thready cry, my grip white-knuckled on the sides of the cushions as my hips pumped onto his hand, my mind far beyond shame or shyness. My gaze was locked to his, unable to look away, riveted by the fierce masculine triumph that flared in his eyes. In that moment he owned me. I'd do anything he wanted. And he knew it.
Searing pleasure pulsed through me. Through the roaring of blood in my ears, I thought I heard him speak hoarsely, but I lost the words when he hooked one of my legs over the back of the couch and covered my cleft with his mouth.
"No - " I pushed at his head with my hands. "I can't."
I was too swollen, too sensitive. But when his tongue touched my clit, fluttering over it, the hunger built again. More intense than the first time. He rimmed my trembling slit, teasing me, taunting me with the promise of another orgasm when I knew I couldn't have one again so quickly.
Then his tongue speared into me and I bit my lip to bite back a scream. I came a second time, my body quaking violently, tender muscles tightening desperately around his decadent licking. His growl vibrated through me. I didn't have the strength to push him away when he returned to my clit and sucked softly...tirelessly...until I climaxed again, gasping his name.
I was boneless as he straightened my leg and still breathless when he pressed kisses up my belly to my breasts. He licked each of my nipples, and then hauled me up with his arms banded around my back. I hung lax and pliable in his grip while he took my mouth with suppressed violence, bruising my lips and betraying how close to the edge he was.
He closed my robe; then stood, staring down at me.
"Seven o'clock, Eva." He reached down and touched my ankle, his fingertips caressing the diamond anklet I'd put on in preparation for the evening. "And keep this on. I want to fuck you while you're wearing nothing else."