Wish you were here … she’d texted.
So did I. I was counting down the several hours remaining until we’d get on the plane home. Saturday had been enjoyable enough, a blur of alcohol and music, but Sunday was a day too long.
Manuel whistled. “Hot damn.”
I grinned, as that about summed up my thoughts on my wife’s photo.
“Don’t you worry that things will change after you say I do?” he asked, leaning back with his hands tucked behind his head. “Wives don’t look like that. They don’t send selfies like that.”
I exited out to the home screen and flipped my phone around again.
Manuel’s eyes widened at the wedding photo that served as my wallpaper. “No way. When?”
“A month ago.”
He shook his head. “I can’t see it. Marriage, I mean, not you and Eva. How does it not get old?”
“Being happy never gets old.”
“Isn’t variety the spice of life or some shit?” he asked, in some sort of half-assed philosophical mood. “Part of the fun in fucking a woman is figuring out what makes her tick and being surprised when she shows you something new. You keep tagging it, doesn’t it become routine? Touch her here, lick her there, keep the rhythm she likes to get her off … Rinse and repeat.”
“When your time comes, you’ll figure it out.”
He shrugged. “You want kids? Is that why?”
“Eventually. Not any time soon.” I couldn’t even picture it. Eva would make a wonderful mother; she was a nurturer. But the two of us together as parents? One day, I’d be ready for that. One day far away, when I could bear to share her with someone else. “Right now, I just want her.”
I looked up and saw Raúl standing behind me, his mouth a tight line. I instantly stiffened, then sat up, my legs swinging off the side to plant my feet in the sand. “What is it?”
Fear for Eva settled heavily in my gut. She’d just texted me moments before, but …
“You’ll want to see this,” he said grimly, drawing my attention to the tablet he carried.
Standing, I shoved my phone in my pocket and closed the distance between us. I held out my hand. The glare from the sun darkened the screen, so I shifted to cast my shadow over the glass. The photo that came into focus froze the blood in my veins. The headline made my teeth grind.
Gideon Cross’s Wild Brazilian Bachelor Party.
“What the fuck is this?” I snapped.
Manuel slapped a hand on my shoulder as he came up beside me. “Looks like a good time, cabrón. With two very hot babes.”
I looked at Raúl.
“Clancy sent that to me,” he explained. “I ran a search and it’s gone viral.”
Clancy. Fuck. Eva …
Shoving the tablet at Raúl, I yanked my phone back out. “I want to know who took that picture.” Who knew I was in Brazil? Who’d followed me into a club one night, into a private VIP area, and taken pictures?
“Already on it.”
Cursing under my breath, I called my wife. Impatience and fury rode me hard as I waited for her to pick up. Her voice mail kicked in and I hung up. Dialed again. Worry crowded in.
The worst fears of her fantasies were captured in living color in that photo. I had to explain, even without knowing how. Sweat beaded my forehead and dampened my palms, but inside, I was chilled.
Her voice mail picked up a second time.
“Goddamn it.” Hanging up, I dialed again.
“You look like you need a refill,” Shawna said, setting down two rebujitos on the small table between our two loungers.
“God.” I laughed, slightly tipsy. The mix of dry sherry and sweet soda in the drink had a sneaky punch. And it wasn’t exactly wise to chase away a hangover with more alcohol. “I’m going to need to detox after this weekend.”
She grinned and stretched back out, her freckled skin still pale and slightly pink after two days in the sun. Her red hair was piled atop her head in a sexy mess, her voice slightly hoarse from laughing so hard the night before. She’d donned a bright aqua blue bikini that drew many appreciative eyes her way. Shawna was a bright spot of color, with a ready smile and bawdy sense of humor.
In that way, she was a lot like her brother, who I knew and loved as the fiancé of my former boss, Mark.
Megumi walked up on my other side, carrying two more drinks. She looked at the empty lounger where my mom had been. “Where’s Monica?”
“She went to cool off in the water.” I looked for her but didn’t see her. She was hard to miss in her lavender bikini, so I figured she’d wandered off somewhere. “She’ll be back.”
She’d been with us the whole time, partying alongside us every step of the way. It wasn’t her style to drink too much and stay up too late, but she seemed to be having fun. She was certainly causing a stir. Men of all ages flocked around her. There was a kittenish sensuality about my mother that was irresistible. I wished I had that.
“Look at him go,” Shawna said, drawing my attention to where Cary played in the surf. “He’s a total chick magnet.”
The beach was packed, so much so that it was hard to see the sand. Dozens of shoulders and heads bobbed amid the ocean waves, but it was easy to see the cluster around Cary. He was flashing his grin, soaking up the attention like a cat in the sun. With his hair slicked back, the beauty of his gorgeous face was on display, despite the aviator shades he wore to block out the bright sun.
Catching me watching him, he waved. I blew him a kiss, just to stir things up.
“You and Cary never got together?” Shawna asked. “Did you ever want to?”
I shook my head. Cary was stunning now, healthy and leanly muscular, a prime example of the perfect male. But when I’d met him, he had been gaunt and hollow-eyed, always shrouded in hoodies even in the warmth of San Diego summers. He’d kept his arms covered to hide the evidence of his cutting and wore the hood over his closely cropped head.
In group therapy sessions, he’d always sat outside the circle and against a wall, his chair kicked back to balance on the rear legs. He commented rarely, but when he did, his humor was dark and laced with sarcasm, his insight almost always cynical.
I had approached him once, unable to ignore the deep inner pain that radiated from him. Don’t waste my time easing into it, he’d said smoothly, his beautiful green eyes devoid of any light at all. You want to ride my dick, just say so. I never say no to a fuck.
I knew that was true. Dr. Travis had a lot of messed-up patients, many of whom used sex as a salve or form of self-punishment. Cary was available to be used by all of them, and many walked through that open-door invitation frequently.
No, thanks, I’d shot back, disgust triggered by his sexual aggression. You’re too skinny for me. Eat a fucking cheeseburger, dickhead.
I regretted trying to be nice to him after that. He’d stalked me mercilessly, constantly putting me off with crass sexual come-ons. I’d been prickly at first. When that didn’t work, I’d killed him with kindness. Eventually, he’d realized I really wasn’t going to sleep with him.
In the meantime, he started putting on weight. He let his hair start growing out. He stopped being the resident fuck, although he was simply more selective. I had noticed how gorgeous he was, but there was no attraction there. He was too much like me and my self-preservation instincts had been on high alert.
“We were friends,” I told her. “Then he became like a brother to me.”
“I adore him,” Megumi said, smoothing suntan lotion over her legs. “He told me that things are rough with him and Trey right now. I’m sorry to hear that. They’re so great together.”
I nodded, my gaze going back to my dearest friend. Cary was lifting a woman up by the waist to toss her into the waves. She came up sputtering and laughing, clearly smitten. “It’s lame to say that it’ll work out if it’s meant to, but that’s what I’m going with.”
I still needed to call Trey. And Gideon’s mom, Elizabeth. I wanted to touch base with Ireland, too. And Chris. Since I’d probably be wiped out from jet lag and too much alcohol, I made a mental note to fit in all those calls while I recovered at the penthouse. I had to touch base with my dad, too, since I’d put off our scheduled Saturday call due to the time difference between us.
“I don’t want to go home.” Megumi stretched out with a sigh, her drink in her hands. “These two days went by too fast. I can’t believe we’re leaving in a few hours.”
I could easily stay another week, if I weren’t missing Gideon so much.
My head tilted at the sound of my mom’s voice. She’d come up behind me and stood behind my lounger wrapped in her cover-up. “Is it time to go already?”
She shook her head. Then I noticed she was wringing her hands. Never a good sign.
“Can you come back to the hotel with me?” she asked. “I need to talk to you about something.”
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