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“Ooh. Let me think. Maybe red damask skirts beneath white tablecloths …? Or Murano glass chargers under crystal plates … I’ll pull together some options.” She blew out her breath. “I really have to see the location.”

“I can arrange for a flight down. When can you go?”

“As soon as possible,” Kristen said briskly. “I’m tied up tomorrow evening, but the morning would work.”

“I’ll work it out and send you the details.”

“I’ll keep an eye out for it. Eva … do you have your dress?”

“Uh … no.”

She laughed. When she spoke again, the tension I’d heard before was gone. “I completely understand wanting to hurry things along with a man like yours, but more time would help make sure everything runs smoothly and you have your perfect day.”

“It’ll be perfect no matter what might go wrong.” I rubbed the back of my ring with my thumb, taking comfort from its presence on my hand. “It’s Gideon’s birthday.”

“Whew. Okay, then. We’ll make it happen.”

My mouth curved. “Thank you. Talk to you soon.”

I hung up and looked at the building across the street. Next door was a small café. I’d walk over and get a latte after I contacted the designer.

I sent Gideon a text. Who should I talk to about flying the wedding planner down to the Outer Banks house tomorrow AM?

It felt a little weird to ask the question. Who would’ve thought I’d ever have private jets at my disposal? I wasn’t sure I’d ever be blasé about using them.

I waited a minute for a reply. When it didn’t come, I called Blaire Ash.

“Hi, Blaire,” I said, when he answered. “It’s Eva Tramell, Gideon Cross’s fiancée.”

“Eva. Of course I know who you are.” His voice was warm and friendly. “It’s good to hear from you.”

“I’d like to go over some of the design details with you. Cary said you can meet tomorrow?”

“Sure. What time works for you?”

Thinking of the trip to the Outer Banks with Kristin, I answered, “Would evening work? Say six-ish?”

Gideon would be with Dr. Petersen until at least seven o’clock. Then he’d have to commute home. That gave me enough time to switch some things up with our design plans.

“That works for me,” Blair agreed. “I’ll meet you at the penthouse?”

“Yes, I’ll see you there. Thanks. Bye.”

The second I ended the call, my phone buzzed. Looking at the screen, I saw Gideon’s reply: Scott’s making the arrangements.

I chewed my lower lip, feeling bad for not going through Scott first. I’ll ask him next time. Thank you! ☺

I took a deep breath, feeling like I should reach out to Gideon’s mother, Elizabeth.

In the front seat, Angus’s phone pinged. He lifted it, then looked back at me. “She’s on her way down in the elevator.”

“Oh!” Surprise turned to bafflement. How did he know that? I glanced at the building again. Did Gideon own that one, too? Like he owned the building her husband worked in?

“Here, lass.” Angus reached into the backseat and offered a small black disk the size of a quarter and three times as thick. “It’s sticky on one side. Tuck that into the strap of your dress.”

I shoved my phone in my purse and took the disk, staring at it. “What is this? A microphone?”

“It’s either that or I come with you.” He gave me an apologetic smile. “It’s not you that’s the worry, it’s her.”

Since I had nothing to hide, I stuck the mic inside my bra and hopped out of the back when Angus opened the door. He grabbed my arm securely, then hurried me across the street.

He winked at me before retreating to the café.

I was suddenly standing alone on the sidewalk, struck by a wicked case of nerves. They were gone a second later when Anne pushed out of the lobby. Dressed in a leopard-print wrap dress and black Louboutins, she looked fierce and vibrant with her spiky red hair.

Tucking my clutch under my arm, I started walking toward her.

“What are the chances?” I asked, as I got close to her.

She glanced at me, her hand raised to hail a cab. For a moment, there was blankness on her foxlike face, and then recognition hit her. Her shock was worth the price of admission. Her arm fell to her side.

I gave her a once-over. “You should ditch the wig you’ve been wearing around Cary. The short hair suits you better.”

Anne recovered quickly. “Eva. Don’t you look pretty? Gideon is polishing you up nicely.”

“Yeah, he polishes me a lot. Every chance he gets.” That got her attention. “Can’t get enough, actually. He’s got nothing left for you, so I suggest you find someone else to be crazy over.”

Her face hardened. I realized I’d never seen true hatred before. Even in the heat of the New York summer, I felt a chill.

“You’re so clueless”—she stepped closer—“when he’s probably fucking someone else at this very moment. That’s who he is and what he does.”

“You have no idea who he is.” I hated having to tilt my head back to look up at her. “I don’t have any worries about him. You, however, should be worried about me. Because if you come near him or Cary again, you’ll be dealing with me. It won’t be pleasant.”

I turned away from her. I’d done what I came to do.

“He’s a monster,” she called out. “Did he tell you he’s been in therapy since he was a child?”

That stopped me. I rounded on her.

She grinned. “He’s been broken from birth. He’s sick and twisted in ways he hasn’t shown you yet. He’s thinking he can hide it from you, his pretty little girl who creates just the right fairy tale. Beauty and the beast for the masses. A clever cover-up, but it won’t hold. He can’t suppress his true nature for long.”

My God … Did she know about Hugh?

How could she know that Gideon was a victim of her brother’s perversions and have sex with him anyway? It made me so sick to think of it, bile rose in my throat.

Her laugh slid over me like shards of glass. “Gideon is vicious and cruel at his core. He’ll break you before he’s done with you. If he doesn’t kill you first.”

My back straightened, my hands fisting at my sides. I was so angry I was shaking with it, fighting the urge to punch her in her smug, nasty face.

“Who do you think monsters marry, you stupid bitch?” I walked back to her. “Pretty little breakable girls? Or other monsters?”

I pushed up into her face. “You got the fairy tale right. But Gideon’s the beauty. I’m the beast.”

6

“You think Gideon’s scary? Wait ’til you get a load of me.”

I sat still as stone for a long minute, Eva’s voice echoing in my ears as the recording ended. My gaze lifted from my desk to Angus’s face. “Jesus.”

We had looked for any case files Hugh might’ve kept about me. None were found and we assumed he hadn’t kept records. It made sense. Why document your crimes?

“I’ll look again,” Angus said quietly. “Her homes and office. Her husband’s office. Everywhere. I’ll find them.”

I nodded, pushing back from my desk. I sucked in a deep breath and fought off a wave of nausea. There was nothing I could do but wait.

I walked to the nearest window and looked at the building that housed LanCorp’s offices.

“Eva handled her well,” he said behind me. “She put the fear of God in Anne. I saw it on her face.”

I had eschewed viewing the available security video footage in favor of listening to the audio of their meeting, but it was enough. I knew my wife, her voice and inflections. Knew her temper. And I knew that nothing roused it as swiftly or ferociously as when she was leaping to my defense.

Over the short time we’d been together, Eva had managed direct confrontations with Corinne at her home, my mother on multiple occasions, Terrence Lucas at his office, and now his wife at hers. I knew my wife felt she had to, which was why I’d forced myself to step back and let her do it.

I didn’t need defending. Could take care of myself just fine on my own, as I always had. But it felt good to know I wasn’t on my own any longer. Better still to know she could look crazy in the face and frighten it.

“She’s a tigress.” I faced him. “I’ve got a few badges of honor from her scratches myself.”

The hard, tense line of Angus’s shoulders relaxed slightly. “She’ll stand by you.”

“If my past goes public? Yes, she will.”

As I said the words, I realized how true they were. There had been times in our relationship when I hadn’t been certain I could hold on to Eva. I loved my wife and had no doubts she loved me as deeply, but as perfect as she was for me, she had her flaws. She doubted herself too often. She believed, at times, that she wasn’t strong enough to face certain situations. And when she felt her independence and equanimity threatened, she ran away to protect herself.

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