I saw Clancy standing behind her, his jaw tight and hard. My pulse began to race. Standing, I grabbed the sarong I’d worn down to the beach and tied it around my waist.
“Should we come?” Shawna asked, sitting up.
“Stay here with Cary,” my mom replied, offering a reassuring smile.
It amazed me how she did that, acting so cool and unruffled when I knew she was anxious. I was too expressive to hide my reactions, but my mom only showed emotion with her eyes and her hands, often saying that even laughter put lines on a face. Since she was wearing sunglasses, she was effectively camouflaged.
Mutely, I followed her and Clancy back to the hotel. Once we reached the lobby, it seemed like every employee had to greet us with a smile or wave. They all knew who I was. After all, we were staying in one of Gideon’s resorts. The name Vientos Cruzados meant Crosswinds.
Gideon had married me at a Crosswinds resort. I hadn’t realized they were a global chain.
We stepped into an elevator and Clancy slid a key card into the necessary slot, a security measure that limited access to our floor. Since there were other people in the car with us, I still had to wait for answers.
I felt sick to my stomach, my thoughts bouncing all over the place. Had something happened to Gideon? Or my dad? I realized I’d left my phone on the table by my drink and kicked myself. If I could only send a quick text to Gideon, I’d feel like I was doing something besides driving myself crazy.
After three stops, the elevator car was empty except for us as we continued the climb to our floor.
“What’s going on?” I asked, turning to face both my mom and Clancy.
She pulled her shades off with trembling fingers. “There’s a scandal brewing,” she began. “Mostly online.”
Which meant it was out of control. Or about to be. “Mom. Just tell me.”
She took a deep breath. “There are some pictures …” She glanced at Clancy for help.
“Of what?” I thought I might vomit. Had the pictures my stepbrother Nathan had taken gotten out somehow? Or stills from the sex tape with Brett?
“Photos of Gideon Cross in Brazil went viral this morning,” Clancy said. He spoke neutrally, but there was something oddly stiff about his stance. So much tension was unusual for him.
I felt as if I’d been punched in the gut. I didn’t say anything more. There was nothing to say until I saw the evidence.
We exited directly into our suite, a massive space with several bedrooms and a large central living area. The maids had opened the doors leading out to the wraparound balcony, and the sheer drapes fluttered in the breeze, escaping the ties meant to contain them. Bright with the color and warmth of Spain, the suite had delighted me the moment we arrived.
I barely registered any of it now.
I walked on shaky legs to the couch and waited for Clancy to key in his code on a tablet and pass it over to me. My mom took the seat beside me, silently offering her support.
Looking down, I sucked in a quick audible breath. My chest felt like it was being crushed in a vise. What I saw freaked me out … it was as if someone had crawled inside my head and captured one of the images in my mind.
My gaze locked on Gideon, so dark and gorgeous dressed entirely in black. The fall of his hair partially hid his face, but it was clearly my husband. I hoped it wouldn’t be, tried to find something that would betray the man in the photo as a fraud. But I knew Gideon’s body as well as I knew my own. Knew how he moved. How he relaxed. How he seduced.
I looked away from that beloved figure in the center of the obscene tableau, unable to bear it.
A U-shaped sectional sofa. Black velvet curtains. A half-dozen bottles of top-shelf liquor on a low table.
A private VIP booth.
A slender brunette reclined on a mound of throw pillows. The low V of her sequined top shoved aside. Gideon’s body was partly over hers. His mouth sucked her nipple.
A second leggy brunette. Draped over his back. One thigh hooked over his. Her legs spread. Her mouth a wide O of pleasure. Gideon’s arm reached behind him. His hand beneath her short skirt.
It wasn’t visible, but his fingers were inside her. I knew it. It was a sharp, jagged knife in my heart.
The image blurred as I blinked the tears away, feeling them run hotly down my face. I scrolled, swiping the picture out of sight. Then I saw my name and scanned the writer’s crude speculation as to what I would think about my fiancé’s sexcapades as he said farewell to bachelorhood.
I set the tablet on the coffee table, breathing hard. My mother scooted closer and put her arm around me, pulling me into her embrace. The room phone rang loudly, jolting me and abrading my nerves.
“Shh …” she whispered, her hand stroking over my hair. “I’ve got you, honey. I’m right here.”
Clancy went to the handset and answered with a brusque “Yes?” Then his tone took on a chilly bite. “I see you’re having a good time.”
I looked at Clancy and felt the heat rippling off him. He met my gaze. “Yes, she’s here.”
I straightened away from my mother and managed to stand. Fighting off a wave of nausea, I went to him and held out my hand for the phone. He gave the cordless handset to me and stepped back.
I swallowed a sob. “Hello.”
There was a pause. Gideon’s breathing quickened. I’d said one word, but from that, he knew that I knew.
Abruptly sick, I ran to the bathroom and dropped the phone, barely managing to lift the toilet seat before emptying the contents of my stomach in racking, violent heaves.
My mother ran in and I shook my head at her. “Go away,” I gasped, sinking to the floor with my back against the wall.
“I need a minute, Mom. Just … give me a minute.”
She stared at me, then nodded, closing the door behind her.
From the phone on the floor, I heard Gideon yelling. I reached for it, wrapping my hand around it and dragging it over. I lifted it to my ear.
“Eva! For God’s sake, pick up the phone!”
“Stop shouting,” I told him, my head pounding.
“Christ.” He took a ragged breath. “You’re sick. Damn it. I’m too far away …” His voice rose. “Raúl! Where the fuck are you? I want the goddamn jet ready now! Get on the damn phone—”
“No. No, don’t—”
“It happened before I met you.” He spoke too fast, was breathing too fast. “I don’t know when or—What?” Someone spoke in the background. “Cinco de Mayo? For fuck’s sake. Why is this coming out now?”
“Eva, I swear to you that fucking picture wasn’t taken this weekend. I would never do that to you. You know that. You know what you mean to me—”
“Gideon, calm down.” My racing pulse began to slow. He was frantic. Panicked. It broke my heart to hear it. He was so strong, capable of managing and surviving and crushing anything.
I was his weakness, when all I wanted was to be his strength.
“You have to believe me, Eva. I would never do that to us. I would never—”
“I believe you.”
Closing my eyes, I let my head fall back to rest against the wall. My stomach began to settle. “I believe you.”
His shuddered exhale came hard and heavy across the line. “God.”
I knew how much it meant to him that I believed him utterly. About everything. Anything. He couldn’t help but find that nearly impossible to accept, even as he craved my trust more than I think he craved my love. To him, my belief in him was my love.
His explanation was simple, some might say too simple, but knowing him the way I did, it was the one that made the most sense.
“I love you.” His voice was soft. Weary. “I love you so much, Eva. When you didn’t answer your phone—”
“I love you, too.”
“I’m sorry.” He made a small noise filled with pain and regret. “So sorry you saw that. It’s so fucked up. All of this is fucked up.”
“You’ve seen worse.” Gideon had seen me kiss Brett Kline, right in front of him. He’d watched at least some of the sex tape that featured Brett and me. Compared to that, a photo was nothing.
“I hate that you’re there and I’m here.”
“Me, too.” I wanted the solace of his arms around me. More than that, I wanted to comfort him. To show him again that I wasn’t going anywhere and he had no reason to fear.
“We’re not doing this again.”
“No, you’re only getting married twice—both times to me. No more bachelor parties for you.”
He huffed out a laugh. “That’s not what I meant.”
“Tell Clancy to bring you home now. We’re packing up to head to the airport.”
I shook my head, even though he couldn’t see. “Take tomorrow off.”
“Tomorrow …? Yes. You’re sick—”