I laid my tablet flat in my lap. “Seems like you’ve got something weighing on your mind.”
He shrugged, swiveling away and back again in his Aeron chair. “Sunday is my seventh anniversary with Steven.”
“That’s awesome.” I smiled. Out of all the couples I’d seen over the course of my life, Mark and Steven were the most stable and loving. “Congratulations.”
“Thanks.” He managed a weak smile.
“Are you going out? Do you have reservations or do you want me to handle that?”
He shook his head. “Haven’t decided. I don’t know what would be best.”
“Let’s brainstorm. I haven’t had many anniversaries myself, I’m sad to say, but my mom is spectacular with them. I’ve picked up a thing or two.”
After playing hostess to three wealthy husbands, Monica Tramell Barker Mitchell Stanton could’ve been a professional event planner if she ever had to work for a living.
“Do you want something private,” I suggested, “with just the two of you? Or a party with friends and family? Do you exchange gifts?”
“I want to get married!” he snapped.
“Oh. Okay.” I sat back in my chair. “As far as romance goes, I can’t top that.”
Mark barked out a humorless laugh and followed it with a miserable look at me. “It should be romantic. God knows when Steven asked me a few years ago, it was hearts and flowers to the max. You know drama is his middle name. He went all out.”
Startled, I blinked at him. “You said no?”
“I said not yet. I was just starting to get my legs under me here at the agency, he was starting to get some really lucrative referrals, and we were picking up the pieces after a painful breakup. It seemed like the wrong time and I wasn’t sure he wanted to marry for the right reasons.”
“No one ever knows that for sure,” I said softly, as much to myself as to him.
“But I didn’t want him to think I had doubts about us,” Mark went on, as if I hadn’t spoken, “so I blamed my refusal on the institution of marriage, like a total ass.”
I suppressed a smile. “You’re not an ass.”
“Over the last couple years, he’s made more than a few comments about how right I was to say no.”
“But you didn’t say no. You said not yet, right?”
“I don’t know. Jesus, I don’t know what I said.” He leaned forward, resting his elbows on the desktop and dropping his face into his hands. His voice came low and muffled. “I panicked. I was twenty-four. Maybe some people are up for that kind of commitment then, but I … I wasn’t.”
“And now you’re twenty-eight and ready?” The same age as Gideon. And thinking of that made me quiver, in part because I was the same age Mark had been when he’d said not yet and I could relate.
“Yes.” Lifting his head, Mark met my gaze. “I’m beyond ready. It’s like some timer is counting down the minutes, and I’m getting more impatient by the hour. But I’m afraid he’s going to say no. Maybe his time was four years ago and now he’s over it.”
“I hate to sound trite, but you won’t know unless you ask.” I offered him a reassuring smile. “He loves you. A lot. I think your odds of hearing yes are pretty darn good.”
He smiled, revealing charmingly crooked teeth. “Thank you.”
“Let me know about those reservations.”
“I appreciate that.” His expression sobered. “I’m sorry to bring this up when you’re going through a tough breakup.”
“Don’t worry about me. I’m fine.”
Mark studied me a minute, then nodded.
“YOU up for lunch?”
I glanced up into Will Granger’s earnest face. Will was the newest assistant at Waters Field & Leaman and I’d been helping him settle in. He wore sideburns and square-framed black glasses that gave him a slightly retro beatnik look, which worked for him. He was super laid-back and I liked him. “Sure. Whatcha feelin’ like?”
“Pasta and bread. And cake. Maybe a baked potato.”
My brows rose. “All right. But if I end up passed out and drooling on my desk from a carbohydrate coma, you’d better get me out of trouble with Mark.”
“You’re a saint, Eva. Natalie’s on some low-carb kick and I can’t go another day without starch and sugar. I’m wasting away. Look at me.”
Will and his high school sweetheart, Natalie, seemed to have it together, from the stories he told. I never doubted he’d walk on hot coals for her, and she seemed to look after him as well, although he grumbled good-naturedly about her fussing.
“You got it,” I said, suddenly feeling wistful. Being separated from Gideon was torture. Especially when surrounded by friends who were invested in relationships of their own.
Noon rolled around and while I waited for Will, I sent a quick text to Shawna—Mark’s almost-sister-in-law—asking if she was available for a girls’ night out on Saturday. I’d just hit the send button when my desk phone rang.
I answered briskly, “Mark Garrity’s office—”
My toes flexed at the sound of Gideon’s low, raspy voice. “Hi, ace.”
“Tell me we’re okay.”
I bit my lower lip, my heart twisting in my chest. He had to be feeling the same unsettling rift between us that was troubling me. “We are. Don’t you think so? Is something wrong?”
“No.” He paused. “I just had to hear it again.”
“I didn’t make it clear last night?” When I was clawing at your back … “Or this morning?” When I was on my knees …
“I needed to hear you say it when you’re not looking at me.” Gideon’s voice caressed my senses. I turned hot with embarrassment.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered, feeling awkward. “I know you get annoyed with women objectifying you. You shouldn’t have to put up with it from me.”
“I would never complain about being what you want, Eva. Christ.” His voice turned gruff. “I’m damned glad you like what you see, because God knows I fucking love looking at you.”
I closed my eyes against a surge of longing. To know what I did now—how important he thought I was to him—made it so much harder to stay away. “I miss you so much. And it’s weird because everyone thinks we’re broken up and I need to move on—”
“No!” The one word exploded across the line between us, sharp enough to make me jump. “Goddamn it. Wait for me, Eva. I waited my whole life for you.”
I swallowed hard, opening my eyes in time to see Will walking toward me. I lowered my voice. “I’d wait forever for you, as long as you’re mine.”
“It won’t be forever. I’m doing everything I can. Trust me.”
In the background, another phone beeped for his attention. “I’ll see you at eight sharp,” Gideon said briskly.
The line clicked off in my ear, and I instantly felt lonely.
“Ready to chow down?” Will asked, rubbing his hands together with anticipation. Megumi was having lunch with her commitment-phobe, so she’d taken a rain check. It was Will, me, and all the pasta he could eat within an hour.
Thinking a carbohydrate-induced stupor might be just what I needed, I stood and said, “Hell yeah.”
I picked up a zero-carb energy drink at a Duane Reade drugstore on the way back from lunch. By the time five o’clock rolled around, I knew I was hitting a treadmill after work.
I had a membership at Equinox, but I really wanted to go to a CrossTrainer gym. I was feeling the gulf between Gideon and me keenly. Spending time in a place where we had good memories would help lessen it. Plus, I felt a sense of loyalty. Gideon was my man. I was going to do everything I could to spend the rest of my life with him. To me that meant supporting him in everything he did.
I walked back to my place, no longer caring if I wilted since I was going to get messy at the gym anyway. When the elevator in my apartment building let me out on my floor, I found my gaze drifting to the door next to mine. My fingers toyed with the key Gideon had given me. The idea of letting myself in to check out his apartment was intriguing. Would it be similar to his Fifth Avenue place? Or totally different?
Gideon’s penthouse was stunning, with prewar architecture and old-world charm. It was a space that exuded affluence, while still remaining warm and inviting. I could as easily picture children in the space as I could foreign dignitaries.
What would his temporary digs be like? Scarce furniture, nonexistent art, and a bare kitchen? How settled in was he?
Pausing outside my apartment, I stared at his door and debated with myself. In the end, I resisted the temptation. I wanted him to walk me inside.
I stepped into my living room to the sound of female laughter. I wasn’t surprised to find a long-legged blonde curled up next to Cary on my white couch, her hand in his lap, stroking him through his sweats. He was still shirtless, his arm tossed around Tatiana Cherlin’s shoulders, his fingers idly stroking her biceps.
“Hey, baby girl,” he greeted me with a grin. “How was work?”
“Same old. Hi, Tatiana.”
Her reply was a chin jerk. She was striking, which was to be expected since she was a model. Looks aside, I hadn’t really liked her all that much the first few times I met her, and I still didn’t. But looking at Cary, I had to admit she might be good for him for now.
His bruises were gone, but he was still recovering from a brutal beating, an ambush by Nathan that had set in motion the events separating me from Gideon now.
“I’m going to change and head out to the gym,” I said, moving toward the hallway.
Behind me, I heard Cary tell Tatiana, “Hang on a sec, I’ve got to talk to my girl.”
I entered my room and tossed my purse on my bed. I was digging in my dresser when Cary came to lounge in my doorway. “How are you feeling?” I asked him.
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