I laughed softly. My poor husband. So accustomed to having his word be law and then choosing to marry a woman like me. “I know we’ve covered a lot of ground over the course of our relationship, but somewhere in there we did discuss working as a team.”
“And I’m open to doing that,” he said smoothly, “but Anne is not the place to start. You can’t reason with someone who’s completely irrational.”
“I don’t want to reason with her, ace. She’s targeting my friends, and she thinks I’m a weak spot for you. She needs to know I’m not helpless, and that by taking you on, she’s taking on both of us.”
“She’s my problem. I’ll deal with her.”
“If you’ve got a problem, Gideon, it’s my problem, too. Listen. Operation Gideva is in full effect now. My inaction is only making this situation with Anne worse.” I leaned forward. “In her mind, either I know what’s happening and I’m too weak to do something or you’re hiding everything from me, which suggests that I’m too weak to handle it. Either way, you’re making me a target and that’s not what you want.”
“You don’t know what’s in her mind,” he said tightly.
“Things are a little twisted up there, sure. But she’s a woman. Trust me, she needs to know I have claws and am prepared to use them.”
His gaze narrowed. “What would you say?”
A little flare of triumph had me holding back a smile. “Honestly, I think it’s enough if I just pop up somewhere unexpected. An ambush, so to speak. That’ll shake her a little, to find me lying in wait. Will she go on the defensive or take the offense? We’ll get insight from her reaction, and we need it.”
Gideon shook his head. “I don’t like it.”
“I didn’t think you would.” I stretched out my legs between his. “But you know I’m right. It’s not my strategy that’s bugging you, Gideon. More like your past won’t go away and you don’t want it in my face.”
“It will go away, Eva. Let me handle it.”
“You need to be more analytical about this. I’m a member of your team, like Angus and Raúl, but obviously I’m not an employee and I’m sure as hell not a dependent—I’m your better half. It’s not just Gideon Cross anymore. It’s not even Gideon Cross and wife. We are Gideon and Eva Cross, and you need to let me live up to that.”
He leaned forward, his gaze hot and intense. “You don’t have anything to prove to anyone.”
“Really? Because I feel like I have to prove something to you. If you don’t believe I’m strong enough …”
“Eva.” Gideon’s hands cupped the back of my knees and pulled me closer. “You’re the strongest woman I know.”
He said the words, but I could see he didn’t truly mean them. Not in the way we needed him to. He saw me as a survivor, not a warrior.
“Then stop worrying,” I countered, “and let me do what I have to do.”
“I don’t agree that you have to do anything.”
“Then you’ll have to agree to disagree.” I leaned into him, draping my arms across his broad shoulders and pressing my lips to the corner of his stern mouth.
“To be clear, I wasn’t asking permission, Gideon. I’m telling you what I’m doing. You can either participate or stand back—your choice.”
He made a noise of frustration. “Where’s the compromise you’re always pushing me for?”
Pulling back, I shot him a look. “The compromise is letting me try it my way this time. If it doesn’t work, we try it your way next time.”
“Don’t be like that. We’ll sit down together to work out the logistics of when and where. We’ll need Raúl to get a handle on her routine. By definition, an ambush is unexpected, but it should happen somewhere she feels safe and comfortable, too. Give her a nice jolt.” I shrugged. “She’s laid down the ground rules. We’re just taking her cue.”
Gideon took a long, deep breath. I could practically see him thinking, his agile mind trying to find a way to get the result he wanted.
So I distracted him from that. “Remember this morning, when I said I’d explain why I decided to tell my parents about our marriage?”
His focus instantly shifted, his gaze watchful and alert. “Of course.”
“I know it took a lot of courage for you to tell Dr. Petersen about Hugh. Especially considering how you feel about psychologists.” And who could blame him for that distrust? Hugh had come into Gideon’s life under the guise of therapeutic help and had become an abuser instead. “You inspired me to be equally brave.”
His gorgeous face softened with tenderness. “I heard that song today,” he murmured, reminding me of the time I’d sung the Sara Bareilles anthem to him.
“You needed me to tell him,” he said quietly. The words were phrased as a statement but were really posed as a question.
“Yeah, I did.” More than that, Gideon had needed it. Sexual abuse was private and personal, but in some way, we had to put it out there. It wasn’t a dirty, shameful secret to shove into a box. It was an ugly truth, and truths—by nature—needed to be aired.
“And you need to confront Anne.”
My brows rose. “I actually wasn’t swinging the conversation back to that, but yeah … I do.”
This time, Gideon nodded. “All right. We’ll figure it out.”
I indulged in a mental fist pump. Score one for Gideva.
“You also said there was something you wanted more than having sex with me,” he reminded me dryly, the look in his eyes calling my bluff.
“Well, I wouldn’t put it quite like that.” I ran my fingers through his hair. “Banging you is literally my favorite activity. Ever.”
He smirked. “But?”
“You’re going to think I’m silly.”
“I’ll still think you’re hot.”
I kissed him for that. “In high school, most of the girls I knew had boyfriends. You know how it is, raging hormones and epic love stories.”
“So I heard,” he said wryly.
My words caught in my throat. So stupid of me to forget how it must have been for Gideon. He’d had no one until Corinne in college, too damaged by Hugh’s exploitation to have the normal teenage-love-affair angst I was thinking of.
I cursed silently. “Forget it. It’s lame.”
“You know that’s not going to work.”
“Just this once?”
He shook his head. “Spit it out.”
I wrinkled my nose. “Fine. Teenagers talk on the phone at night for hours because they have school and parents and can’t be together. They spend all night chatting with their boyfriends about … whatever. I never had that. I never …” I bit back my embarrassment. “I never had a guy like that.”
I didn’t have to explain. Gideon knew how I’d been. How sex had once been my twisted way to feel loved. The guys I’d fucked hadn’t called me. Not before or after.
“Anyway,” I finished, my voice rough, “I had this idea that we could have that for now … while we’re waiting. Late-night calls where we talk just to hear each other’s voice.”
He stared at me.
“It sounded better in my head,” I muttered.
Gideon was quiet for a long minute. Then he kissed me. Hard.
I was still reeling from that when he pulled away and spoke in a voice that was more than a little hoarse.
“I’m that guy for you, Eva.”
My throat tightened up.
“Every milestone, angel. Every rite of passage … Everything.” He swiped at the tear that leaked out of the corner of my eye. “And you’re that girl for me.”
“God.” I gave a watery laugh. “I love you so much.”
Gideon smiled. “I’m heading home now, because that’s what you want. And you’re going to call me and tell me that again, because that’s what I want.”
I woke before my alarm the next day. Lying in bed for a few minutes, I let my brain wake up as much as it was going to without coffee. I forced myself to focus on the fact that it was the start of my final day at work.
Surprisingly, I felt more than good about that. I felt … impatient. It really was time to shake things up.
And now the really big question. What to wear?
I rolled out of bed and hit my closet. After rifling through pretty much everything, I decided on an emerald green sheath dress that had an asymmetrical neckline and hemline. It showed a little more leg than I would normally consider for work, but why end the way I began? Why not take the opportunity to transition from the former to the future?
Today was Eva Tramell’s last. On Monday, Eva Cross would have her debut. I could picture her. Short and blond against her husband’s tall and dark but as dangerous as him in a very similar way.