Laughing at his unabashed possessiveness, I gave him a soft shove to the shoulder. He moved lightning quick, catching me close and kissing the corner of my smiling mouth.
His joy was infectious. I felt it bursting inside me, lighting up all the places that had been so dark the past few days. “I’m going to call my dad at my first break. Let him know.”
He sobered. “Why now, and not before?”
He spoke softly, his voice pitched low for privacy. The office-bound crowd continued to flow by, paying very little attention to us. Still, I hesitated to answer, feeling too exposed.
Then … the truth came easier than it ever had. I’d been hiding so many things from the people I loved. Little things, big things. Trying to maintain the status quo, while also hoping for and needing change.
“I was afraid,” I told him.
He stepped closer, his gaze intense. “And now you’re not.”
“You’ll tell me why tonight.”
I nodded. “I’ll tell you.”
His hand curved around my nape, the hold possessive and tender at once. His face was impassive, giving nothing away, but his eyes … those blue, blue eyes … they raged with emotion. “We’re going to make it, angel.”
Love slid warmly through me like the buzz of a fine wine. “Damn straight.”
It was strange walking through the doors of Waters Field & Leaman, mentally counting down the number of days I’d be able to claim I worked at the prestigious advertising agency. Megumi Kaba waved from behind her reception desk, tapping her headset to let me know she was on a call and couldn’t talk. I waved back and headed toward my own desk with a determined stride. I had a lot to get done, a new start to get rolling.
But first things first. I dropped my purse and bag into the bottom drawer, then settled in my chair and surfed to my usual florist’s website. I knew what I wanted. Two dozen white roses in a deep red crystal vase.
White for purity. For friendship. For eternal love. It was also the flag of surrender. I’d drawn battle lines by forcing a separation between Gideon and me, and in the end, I had won. But I didn’t want to war with my husband.
I didn’t even try to come up with a clever tie-in note for the flowers, like I’d done in the past. I just wrote from the heart.
You are miraculous, Mr. Cross.
I cherish you and love you so much.
The website prompted me to finalize the order. I clicked submit and took a moment to imagine what Gideon would think of my gift. One day, I hoped to watch him receive flowers from me. Did he smile when his secretary, Scott, brought them in? Did he stop whatever meeting he was commanding to read my notes? Or did he wait until one of the rare lulls in his schedule for privacy?
My mouth curved as I considered the possibilities. I loved giving Gideon gifts.
And soon I’d have more time to pick them out.
Mark Garrity’s incredulous gaze lifted from my resignation letter and met mine.
My stomach knotted at the expression on my boss’s face. “Yes. I’m sorry I can’t give more notice.”
“Tomorrow is your last day?” He leaned back in his chair. His eyes were a warm chocolate shades lighter than his skin, and they registered both surprise and dismay. “Why, Eva?”
Sighing, I leaned forward, setting my elbows on my knees. Yet again, I went with the truth. “I know it’s unprofessional to cut out like this, but … I’ve got to rearrange my priorities and right now …. I just can’t give this my full attention, Mark. I’m sorry.”
“I …” He blew out his breath and ran a hand over his dark, tight curls. “Hell … What can I say?”
“That you’ll forgive me and won’t hold it against me?” I huffed out a humorless laugh. “It’s asking a lot, I know.”
He managed a wry smile. “I hate to lose you, Eva, you know that. I’m not sure I’ve ever really expressed how much you’ve contributed. You make me work better.”
“Thank you, Mark. I appreciate that.” God, this was harder than I thought it would be, even knowing it was the best and only decision I could make.
My gaze went beyond my handsome boss to the view behind him. As a junior account manager, he had a small office and his view was blocked by the building across the street, but it was still as quintessentially New York as Gideon Cross’s sprawling office on the top floor above us.
In a lot of ways, that division of floors mirrored the way I’d tried to define my relationship with Gideon. I knew who he was. Knew what he was: a man in a class by himself. I loved that about him and didn’t want him to change; I just wanted to climb to his level on my own merits. What I hadn’t considered was that by stubbornly refusing to accept that our marriage changed the plan, I was pulling him down to mine.
I wouldn’t be known for earning my way to the top of my field. For some people, I would always have married into success. And I was just going to have to live with it.
“So, where are you going from here?” Mark asked.
“Honestly … I’m still figuring that out. I just know I can’t stay.”
My marriage could only take so much pressure before it broke, and I had allowed it to slide to a dangerous edge, trying to find some distance. Trying to put myself first.
Gideon Cross was as deep and vast as the ocean, and I had feared drowning in him from the moment I first saw him. I couldn’t be afraid of that anymore. Not after realizing that what I feared more was losing him.
By trying to stay neutral, I’d been shoved from side to side. And as pissed off as I’d been about that, I hadn’t taken the time to comprehend that if I wanted control, I just had to take it.
“Because of the LanCorp account?” Mark asked.
“In part.” I smoothed my pinstriped pencil skirt, mentally brushing away the lingering resentment over Gideon’s hiring of Mark. The catalyst had been LanCorp coming to Waters Field & Leaman with a specific request for Mark—and therefore me—a maneuver Gideon viewed with suspicion. Geoffrey Cross’s Ponzi scheme had decimated the Landon family fortune, and while both Ryan Landon and Gideon had rebuilt what their fathers had lost, Landon still hungered for revenge. “But mostly for personal reasons.”
Straightening, he set his elbows on the desk and leaned toward me. “It’s none of my business and I won’t pry, but you know Steven, Shawna, and I are all here for you, if you need us. We care about you.”
His earnestness made my eyes sting with tears. His fiancé, Steven Ellison, and Steven’s sister, Shawna, had become dear to me in the months I’d been in New York, part of the new network of friends I had built in my new life. No matter what, I didn’t want to lose them.
“I know.” I smiled through my sorrow. “If I need you, I’ll call, I promise. But it’s all going to work out for the best. For all of us.”
Mark relaxed and returned my smile. “Steven’s going to flip. Maybe I should make you tell him.”
Thinking of the burly, gregarious contractor chased any sadness away. Steven would give me a hard time for bailing out on his partner, but he’d do it with a good heart. “Aw, come on,” I teased back. “You wouldn’t do that to me, would you? This is hard enough as it is.”
“I’m not opposed to making it harder.”
I laughed. Yeah, I was going to miss Mark and my job. A lot.
When my first break came around, it was still early in Oceanside, California, so I texted my dad instead of calling.
Let me know when you’re up, k? Need to tell you something. And since I knew that being a cop as well as a father made Victor Reyes a worrier, I added, Nothing bad, just some news.
I’d barely set my phone down on the break room counter to get a cup of coffee when it started ringing. My dad’s handsome face lit up the screen, his photo showing off the gray eyes I had inherited from him.
I was suddenly struck with a case of nerves. When I reached for my phone, my hand was shaking. I loved both of my parents a lot, but I’d always thought that my dad felt things more deeply than my mother. And while my mother never hesitated to point out the ways I could fix my flaws, my dad didn’t seem to realize I had any. Disappointing him … hurting him … it was brutal to think of it.
“Hey, Dad. How are you?”
“That’s my question, sweetheart. I’m doing the same as usual. How ’bout you? What’s going on?”
I moved over to the nearest table and took a chair to help myself calm down. “I told you it wasn’t bad and you still sound worried. Did I wake you up?”
“It’s my job to worry,” he said, with warm amusement in his deep voice. “And I was gearing up for a run before I head in for the day, so no, you didn’t wake me. Tell me what your news is.”
“Uh …” Choked by tears, I swallowed hard. “Jesus, this is tougher than I thought it would be. I told Gideon it was Mom I was worried about, that you’d be okay with it, and here I am trying to—”