I exhaled roughly, my hands squeezing the bottles so hard they leaked under the strain. “Damn it.”
My wife had warned me about Deanna and I hadn’t listened.
“Let me take a wild guess,” Arash drawled. “You know Ms. Johnson in the biblical sense.”
I turned and faced him, moving back to where he sat. I tossed a bottle at him, sending sprinkles of water arcing between us. Opening my own, I drank deeply.
Eva was right: We needed to be a better, more cohesive team. She and I were going to have to learn to trust—and take—each other’s advice implicitly.
My friend set his elbows on his knees, holding his water in both hands. “Now I see why you were in such a rush to get a ring on Eva. Seal the deal before she runs away screaming.”
Arash was joking, but I could see the concern on his face. It echoed my own. Really, how much could my wife take?
I pulled the bottle away from my lips. “Well, that’s a nice bit of news to wrap up the day,” I muttered.
Arash and I both turned our heads to discover Eva bouncing through the open door of my office with only her smartphone in her hands. She was dressed in the same workout gear she’d been wearing the day I first saw her. Her ponytail was lighter nowadays and shorter, her body leaner and more defined. But she would always be that girl who took my breath away.
“Eva.” Arash stood quickly.
“Hey.” She flashed him a smile as she came toward me, rising onto her tiptoes to press a kiss to my mouth. “Hi, ace.”
As she lowered back down, she frowned. “What’s wrong? Is it a bad time?”
I slid an arm around her waist, pulling her close. I loved the feel of her body against mine; it soothed the anxiousness I felt whenever we were apart. “Never, angel. You come to me whenever you want.”
Her eyes sparkled. “Megumi and I are going to hit the gym together, but I’m early, so figured I’d drop in on you. Grab a glimpse of your hotness to motivate me.”
I dropped a kiss on her forehead. “Don’t wear yourself out,” I murmured. “That’s my job.”
There was a frown between her brows as I straightened. “Seriously. What’s the matter?”
Arash cleared his throat and gestured toward the door. “I’ll head back to my office.”
I answered her question before he left. “Deanna is ghostwriting Corinne’s book.”
Eva stiffened. “Is that so?”
“She knows about Deanna?” Arash looked at us both with wide eyes.
My wife pinned him with her gaze. “Do you know Deanna?”
He held up both hands. “Never met her. Never even heard of her before today.”
Stepping out of my embrace, Eva shot me a look. “I told you.”
“Told him what?” Arash asked, shoving his hands in his pockets.
She took my water bottle and dropped into a club chair. “That she couldn’t be trusted. She’s butthurt because he got her naked, then blew her off. Not that I blame her. I’d be totally humiliated if I showed the goods but couldn’t make the sale.”
Arash sat back down on the sofa. “You have performance problems, Cross?”
“You have your eye on unemployment, Madani?” I took the other chair.
“She’d already played hide-the-salami with Gideon once,” Eva went on. “And she really liked the salami. Can’t blame her there, either. I told you what a great lay he is.”
Arash glanced at me, highly amused. “You did, yes.”
“Blows the top of your head right off. Your toes curl and—”
“For fuck’s sake, Eva,” I muttered.
She looked at me innocently. “Just trying to give some context, baby. And give credit where it’s due. Anyway, poor Deanna is torn between hating his guts and wanting to bang him like a drum. Since she can’t do the latter, she’s stuck with the former.”
I looked at her. “Are you done?”
My wife blew me a kiss, then took a big swallow of water.
Arash sat back. “Props for laying that all out for her,” he said to me. “You’re a saint, Eva, for putting up with him and the trail of scorned women in his wake.”
“What can I say?” Her lips pursed. “How’d you guys find out?”
“I’ve got an inside connection at the publishing house.”
“Oh. I thought maybe Deanna said something.”
“She won’t. They don’t want it known that Corinne isn’t writing the book, so they’ve got a confidentiality clause. They’re negotiating the contract now.”
Eva sat forward, her fingers picking at the label on the bottle. Her phone buzzed on the chair by her thigh and she picked it up to read the text. “Off I go. Megumi’s ready.”
She stood. Arash and I stood with her. She was in my arms a moment later, tilting her head back for a kiss. I gave it to her, nuzzling my nose against hers before she retreated.
“You’re so lucky I came along.” She handed me back the water. “Think of how much more trouble you would’ve gotten into if you’d stayed single any longer.”
“You’re trouble enough for a lifetime.”
She said good-bye to Arash, then headed out. I watched her leave, hating to see her go. She waved to Scott as she passed him, then disappeared.
“She got any sisters?” Arash asked, as we both sat down again.
“No, she’s one of a kind.”
“Hey, wait,” Eva called out as she ran back in.
Arash and I both jumped to our feet.
She rejoined us. “If they’re negotiating, nothing’s been signed, right?”
“Right,” Arash answered.
She looked at me. “You can get her not to sign.”
My brows rose. “How am I supposed to do that?”
“Offer her a job.”
I stared at her, then said, “No.”
“Don’t say no.”
“No,” I repeated.
My wife looked at Arash. “Your employee agreements include things like nondisclosure, nondisparagement, noncompetes, et cetera, right?”
Arash considered that a minute. “I see where you’re going, and yes, they do. But there are limitations as to what those clauses cover and how they can be enforced.”
“Better than nothing, though, maybe? Keep your enemies close and all that.” Her gaze turned to me expectantly.
“Don’t look at me like that, Eva.”
“Okay. It’s just an idea. I have to go.” She waved and hurried back out.
The lack of a kiss or good-bye rubbed me the wrong way. Seeing her leave again … I hated it more the second time.
She’d made me wait to have sex with her. She’d just casually suggested I seduce another woman.
The Eva I knew and loved would never have done either of those things.
“You don’t want that book published,” I called after her.
Eva stopped at the door and turned. She looked at me, her head tilting slightly. “No, I don’t.”
That examining look of hers got my back up. She saw right through me, saw the roiling inside me. “You know she’d expect me to offer her more than just a job.”
“You’d have to entice her,” she agreed, retracing her steps. “You’re a juicy carrot, Cross. And you know how to dangle out of reach without even trying. She just needs to sign on the dotted line. Afterward, you can transfer her to Siberia as long as you give her work that fits the job description.”
Something in her voice set me on edge—that and the way she looked at me like a lion tamer circling the lion, cautious and watchful but very much in control.
Provoked, I baited her. “You’re whoring me out to get what you want.”
“Jesus, Cross,” Arash muttered. “Don’t be an ass.”
Eva’s gaze narrowed, the clear gray of her eyes turning stormy. “Bullshit. You’d have to lead her on, not fuck her. I want that book published as much as you want to hear ‘Golden Girl’ on repeat, but you’re living with the damn song and I can live with the damn book.”
“Then why bring up hiring her?” I countered, taking a step toward her. “I don’t want that fucking woman within a mile of me, let alone working for me.”
“Fine. It was just a suggestion. I could tell you were upset about it when I got here and I don’t like you upset—”
“For Christ’s sake, I don’t get upset!”
“Right,” she drawled. “Of course not. You like bad-tempered better? Sullen? Moody? Are those more masculine for you, ace?”
“I should take you over my knee.”
“Try it and I’ll split your sexy lip,” she snapped back, her quick temper ignited. “You think I like the idea of you getting that bitch hot and bothered? Just imagining you flirting with her, giving her the idea you’d like to screw her, makes me want to break stuff—including her face.”