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“Eva.”

I took a deep breath. “Gideon and I eloped.”

The line went eerily quiet.

“Dad?”

“When?” The scratch in his voice killed me.

“A couple weeks ago.”

“Before you came to see me?”

I cleared my throat. “Yes.”

Silence.

Ah, God. Totally brutal. Only weeks ago I’d told him about Nathan’s abuse and that nearly broke him. Now this …

“Dad—You’re freaking me out. We were on this island and it was beautiful, so beautiful. The resort we were staying at does weddings all the time, they make it easy … like Las Vegas. There’s a full-time officiant and someone who handles the licenses. It was just a perfect moment, you know. The perfect opportunity.” My voice cracked. “Dad … please say something.”

“I … I don’t know what to say.”

A hot tear slid down my face. Mom had chosen wealth over love, and Gideon was a prime example of the type of man my mother had picked instead of my dad. I knew that created a bias my father had to overcome, and now we had this hurdle.

“We’re still having a wedding,” I told him. “We want our friends and family with us when we say our vows ….”

“That’s what I was expecting, Eva.” He growled. “Damn it. I feel like Cross just stole something from me! I’m supposed to give you away, I was working up to that, and he just runs off and takes you? And you didn’t tell me? You were here, in my house, and you didn’t say anything to me? It hurts, Eva. It hurts.”

There was no way to stop the tears after that. They came in a hot flood, blurring my vision and closing my throat.

I jolted when the door to the break room opened and Will Granger walked in. “She’s probably in here,” my colleague said. “And there she—”

His voice trailed off when he saw my face, his eyes losing their smile behind his rectangular glasses.

A darkly clad arm shot in and brushed him aside.

Gideon. He filled the doorway, his eyes zeroing in on me and chilling to arctic. He was suddenly like an avenging angel, his fine suit making him look both capable and dangerous, his face hardened into a beautiful mask.

I blinked, my brain trying to process how and why he was there. Before it did, he was in front of me and my phone was in his hand, his gaze dropping to the screen before he lifted it to his ear.

“Victor.” My father’s name came out as a warning. “You seem to have upset Eva, so you’ll be talking to me now.”

Will backed out and shut the door.

Despite the cutting edge to Gideon’s words, the fingertips that brushed my cheek were infinitely gentle. His gaze was focused on me, the blue filled with icy fury that nearly made me shiver.

Holy fuck, was Gideon angry. And so was my dad. I could hear him shouting from where I sat.

I caught Gideon’s wrist, shaking my head, suddenly panicked that the two men I loved most would end up disliking—maybe even hating—each other.

“It’s okay,” I whispered. “I’m okay.”

His gaze narrowed and he mouthed, No, it’s not.

When he spoke to my father again, Gideon’s voice was firm and controlled—and all the more scary because of it. “You’ve got a right to be angry, and hurt, I’ll give you that. But I won’t have my wife twisted up over this …. No, obviously without children of my own, I can’t imagine.”

I strained to hear, hoping that reduction in volume meant my dad was calming down instead of getting more worked up.

Gideon stiffened suddenly, his hand dropping away from me. “No, I wouldn’t be happy about it if my sister eloped. That said, she’s not the one I’d take it out on ….”

I winced. My husband and my father had that in common: They were both incredibly protective of those they loved.

“I’m available anytime, Victor. I’ll even come to you, if that’s what you need. When I married your daughter, I accepted full responsibility for both her and her happiness. If there are consequences to be faced, I have no problem facing them.”

His gaze narrowed as he listened.

Then Gideon took the seat opposite me, set the phone on the table, and turned on the speaker.

My dad’s voice filled the air. “Eva?”

I took a deep, shaky breath and squeezed the hand Gideon held out to me. “Yeah, I’m here, Dad.”

“Sweetheart …” He took a deep breath, too. “Don’t be upset, okay? I’m just … I need to let this sink in. I wasn’t expecting this and … I’ve got to put it together in my head. Can we talk later tonight? When I get off my shift?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Good.” He paused.

“I love you, Daddy.” The sound of my tears came through my voice and Gideon slid his chair closer, his thighs bracketing mine. It was amazing how much strength I drew from him, what a relief it was to have him to lean on. It was different from having Cary’s support. My best friend was a sounding board, cheerleader, and ass kicker. Gideon was a shield.

And I had to be strong enough to admit when I needed one.

“I love you, too, baby,” my dad said, with an aching note of pain and grief that stabbed me in the heart. “I’ll call you later.”

“Okay. I—” What else could I say? I was at a loss for how to fix things. “Bye.”

Gideon killed the call, then took my trembling hands in his. His eyes were locked on me, the ice melting into tenderness. “You will not be ashamed, Eva. Is that clear?”

I nodded. “I’m not.”

He cupped my face, his thumbs brushing away my tears. “I can’t bear to see you cry, angel.”

I forced back the lingering heartache, shoving it into a corner where I would deal with it later. “Why are you here? How did you know?”

“I came to thank you for the flowers,” he murmured.

“Oh. Do you like them?” I managed a smile. “I wanted to make you think of me.”

“All the time. Every minute.” He caught my hips and tugged me closer.

“You could’ve just sent a note.”

“Ah.” His ghost of a smile made my pulse skip. “But that wouldn’t cover this.”

Gideon pulled me into his lap and kissed me senseless.

We still heading home tonight? Cary texted as I waited for the elevator to take me back down to the lobby at noon. My mom was already waiting for me there and I was trying to pull my thoughts together. We had a lot of ground to cover.

God, I was hoping she could help me deal with it all.

That’s the plan, I replied to my beloved pain-in-the-ass-sometimes roommate, typing as I stepped into the car. I have an appt. after work, though, then dinner with Gideon. Might be late.

Dinner? U have to catch me up.

I smiled. Of course.

Trey called.

I exhaled in a rush, as if I’d been holding my breath. I guess in a way I had been.

I couldn’t blame Cary’s on-again, off-again boyfriend for taking a big step back when he’d learned that Cary’s booty-call girl was pregnant. Trey had already been struggling with Cary’s bisexuality, and now a baby meant there would always be a third person in their relationship.

There was no question that Cary should have committed to Trey sooner, instead of keeping his options open, but I understood the fear behind Cary’s actions. I knew all too well the thoughts that ran through your mind when you’d survived the things Cary and I had, yet still somehow found yourself faced with an amazing person who loved you.

When it was too good to be true, how could it possibly be real?

I sympathized with Trey, too, and if he called it quits, I’d respect that decision. But he was the best thing to happen to Cary in a long time. I was going to be extremely bummed if they didn’t make it. What did he say?

I’ll tell u when I see u.

Cary! That’s cruel.

It took him until I was walking through the lobby turnstiles to reply. Yeah, tell me about it.

My heart sank, because there was no way to interpret that as good news. Stepping aside to allow others to pass me, I typed back, I love you madly, Cary Taylor.

Love u 2, baby girl.

“Eva!”

My mother crossed the space between us on delicately heeled sandals, a woman impossible to miss even amid the lunchtime crush of people heading in and out of the Crossfire. As petite as she was, Monica Stanton should’ve been lost in the sea of suits, but she drew too much attention for that to ever happen.

Charisma. Sensuality. Fragility. It was the bombshell combination that made Marilyn Monroe a star, and it exemplified my mother. Dressed in a navy blue sleeveless jumpsuit, Monica Stanton looked younger than her years and more confident than I knew her to be. The Cartier panthers hugging her throat and wrist told the observant she was expensive.

She came straight to me and wrapped me in a hug that took me by surprise.

“Mom.”

“Are you okay?” Pulling back, she studied my face.

“What? Yes. Why?”

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