To the casual observer, his pose was loose and relaxed, but I felt the fury in him. I sensed it in both men—one hot and one icy cool, the tension building by the moment. The space around us felt like it was closing in, which was insane considering how wide and deep the lobby was, and how high the ceiling soared.


Afraid they’d come to blows right there, regardless of being in such a populated space, I reached over and caught Gideon’s hand in mine, giving it a light squeeze.


Giroux’s gaze dropped to our linked hands, then rose to meet my eyes. “Pardonnez-moi,” he said, inclining his head slightly to me. “You are not at fault here.”


“Don’t let us hold you up,” Gideon murmured to me, his thumb brushing over my knuckles.


But I lingered, hating to walk away. “You should be with your wife,” I said to Giroux.


“She should be with me,” he corrected.


I reminded myself that he hadn’t come after her when she’d left him. He’d been too busy blaming Gideon instead of fixing his marriage.


“Eva,” my mom called, having come inside to find me. She approached on nude Louboutins, her slender body draped in a soft silk halter dress in a matching hue. In the dark marble-lined lobby, she was a bright spot.


“Let’s get you on your way, angel,” Gideon said. “Give me a minute, Giroux.”


I hesitated before walking away. “Good-bye, Monsieur Giroux.”


“Miss Tramell,” he said, tearing his gaze away from Gideon. “Until next time.”


I left because I didn’t have a choice, but I didn’t like it. Gideon walked me over to intercept my mom, and I looked at him, letting him see the worry on my face.


His eyes reassured me. I saw the same latent power and uncompromising control that I’d recognized when we first met. He could handle Giroux. He could handle anything.


“Enjoy your lunch,” Gideon said, kissing my mom’s cheek before facing me and giving me a quick, hard kiss on the mouth.


I watched him walk away and was unnerved by the intensity with which Giroux’s eyes followed his return.


My mom’s arm linking with mine brought my attention to her.


“Hi,” I said, trying to push my unease away. I waited for her to ask if the guys were going to join us, since she loved nothing more than spending time with rich handsome men, but she didn’t.


“Are you and Gideon trying to work things out?” she asked instead.


“Yes.”


I glanced at her before I preceded her through the revolving door. She looked more fragile than ever, her skin pale and her eyes lacking their usual sparkle. I waited until she joined me outside, my senses struggling to adjust to the change wrought by stepping out of the cool, cavernous lobby into the sweltering heat and explosion of noise and activity on the street.


I smiled at Clancy as he opened the back door to the town car. “Hey, Clancy.”


As my mom slid gracefully into the back of the car, he smiled back. At least I think it was a smile. His mouth twitched a little.


“How are you?” I asked him.


He gave me a brisk nod in reply. “And you?”


“Hanging in there.”


“You’ll be all right,” he said, just as I slid into the car beside my mom. He sounded a lot more confident about that than I felt.


THE first few minutes of lunch were filled with an awkward silence. Sunlight flooded the New American bistro my mom had selected, which only made the unease between us more obvious.


I waited for my mom to start things off, since she was the one who wanted to talk. I had plenty to say, but first I needed to know what the priority was for her. Was it the trust she’d broken by putting a tracking device in my Rolex? Was it her cheating on Stanton with my dad?


“That’s a beautiful watch,” she said, looking at my new one.


“Thank you.” My hand covered it, protecting it. The timepiece was priceless to me, and deeply personal. “Gideon bought it for me.”


She looked horrified. “You didn’t tell him about the tracker, did you?”


“I tell him everything, Mom. We don’t have any secrets.”


“Maybe you don’t. What about him?”


“We’re solid,” I said confidently. “And getting stronger every day.”


“Oh.” She nodded, her short curls swaying gently. “That’s … wonderful, Eva. He can take good care of you.”


“He already does, in the way I need him to, which has nothing to do with his money.”


My mother’s lips tightened at my bitter tone. She didn’t actually frown, something she studiously avoided to protect the flawlessness of her skin. “Don’t be so quick to dismiss money, Eva. You never know when or why you’ll need it.”


Irritation simmered through me. She’d put money first my whole life, no matter who she hurt—like my father—in the process.


“I don’t,” I argued. “I just won’t let it rule my life. And before you blurt out something like, oh it’s easy for me to say that, I can guarantee if Gideon lost every cent he had, I’d still be with him.”


“He’s too smart to lose it all,” she said tightly. “And if you’re lucky, you’ll never have anything happen that will drain you financially.”


I sighed, exasperated with the topic. “We’re never going to see eye to eye on this, you know.”


Her beautifully manicured fingers stroked over the handle of her silverware. “You’re so angry at me.”


“Do you realize Dad’s in love with you? He’s so in love with you, he can’t move on. I don’t think he’ll ever get married. He’ll never have a steady woman in his life who’ll take care of him.”


She swallowed hard and a tear slid down her cheek.


“Don’t you dare cry,” I ordered, leaning forward. “This isn’t about you. You’re not the victim here.”


“I’m not allowed to feel pain?” she retorted, her voice harder than I’d ever heard it. “I’m not allowed to cry over a broken heart? I love your father, too. I would give anything for him to be happy.”


“You don’t love him enough.”


“Everything I’ve done is for love. Everything.” She laughed humorlessly. “My God … I wonder how you can stand to be with me when you hold such a low opinion.”


“You’re my mother and you’ve always been on my side. You’re always trying to protect me, even if you go about it the wrong way. I love you and Dad both. He’s a good man who deserves to be happy.”


She took a shaky sip of water. “If it weren’t for you, I’d wish we had never met. We both would’ve been happier that way. There’s nothing I can do about it now.”


“You could be with him. Make him happy. You seem to be the only woman who can.”


“That’s impossible,” she whispered.


“Why? Because he’s not rich?”


“Yes.” Her hand went to her throat. “Because he’s not rich.”


Brutal honesty. My heart sank. There was a bleak look in her blue eyes I’d never seen before. What drove her to need money so desperately? Would I ever know or understand? “But you’re rich. Isn’t that enough?”


Over the course of three divorces, she’d amassed millions in personal wealth.


“No.”


I stared at her, incredulous.


She looked away, her three-carat diamond studs catching the light and glittering with a rainbow of colors. “You don’t understand.”


“So explain it to me, Mom. Please.”


Her gaze returned to me. “Maybe someday. When you’re not so upset with me.”


Sitting back in my chair, I felt a headache building. “Fine. I’m upset because I don’t understand, and you won’t explain because I’m upset. We’re getting nowhere fast.”


“I’m sorry, honey.” Her expression was pleading. “What happened between your father and me—”


“Victor. Why don’t you ever say his name?”


She flinched. “How long will you punish me?” she asked quietly.


“I’m not trying to punish you. I just don’t get it.”


It was crazy that we were sitting in a bright, busy space filled with people and dealing with painful personal crap. I wished she’d had me over to her place instead, the home she shared with Stanton. But I guessed she had wanted the buffer of an audience to keep me from totally losing it.


“Listen,” I said, feeling tired. “Cary and I are going to move out of the apartment, get something on our own.”


My mom’s shoulders straightened. “What? Why? Don’t be reckless, Eva! There’s no need—”


“There is, though. Nathan’s gone. And Gideon and I want to spend more time together—”


“What does that have to do with you moving away?” Her eyes flooded with tears. “I’m sorry, Eva. What more can I say?”


“This isn’t about you, Mom.” I tucked my hair behind my ear, fidgeting because her crying always got to me. “Okay, honestly, it does feel weird living in a place Stanton pays for after what happened between you and Dad, but more than that, Gideon and I want to live together. It just makes sense to start fresh someplace.”


“Live together?” My mother’s tears dried up. “Before marriage? Eva, no. That would be a horrible mistake. What about Cary? You brought him out to New York with you.”


“And he’ll stay with me.” I didn’t feel like telling her I hadn’t brought up the Gideon-as-a-roommate idea to Cary yet, but I was confident he’d be okay with it. I would be around more and the rent would be easier to bear when split in thirds. “It’ll be the three of us.”


“You don’t live with a man like Gideon Cross if you’re not married to him.” She leaned forward. “You have to trust me on this. Wait for the ring.”

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