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“Your father called.”

“Oh.” I looked at her warily. “He didn’t take the news well.”

“No, he didn’t.” As she linked her arm with mine, we headed out. “But he’s dealing with it. He wasn’t quite ready to let you go.”

“Because I remind him of you.” To my father, my mom was the one who got away. He still loved her, even after more than two decades apart.

“Nonsense, Eva. There’s a resemblance, but you’re much more interesting.”

That startled a laugh from me. “Gideon says I’m interesting.”

She smiled brightly, making the man passing her stumble over his own feet. “Of course. He’s a connoisseur of women. As gorgeous as you are, it would take more than beauty to get him to marry you.”

Slowing to a halt by the revolving doors, I let my mother go out first. A blast of muggy heat hit me when I joined her on the sidewalk, bringing an instant mist of perspiration to my skin. There were times when I doubted I’d ever get used to the humidity, but I considered it one of the costs of living in the city I loved so much. Spring had been beautiful and I knew fall would be, too. The perfect time of year to renew my vows with the man who owned me heart and soul.

I was thanking God for air-conditioning when I spotted Stanton’s head of security waiting by a black car at the curb.

Benjamin Clancy greeted me with an easy, confident nod. His demeanor was so business-as-usual, while I felt such gratitude for him it was hard to restrain myself from grabbing and kissing him.

Gideon had killed Nathan to protect me. Clancy had made sure Gideon would never pay for it.

“Hey, you,” I said to him, seeing my smile reflected in his mirrored aviator shades.

“Eva. It’s good to see you.”

“I was just thinking the same about you.”

He didn’t smile outwardly; it wasn’t his way. But I could feel it nonetheless.

My mom slid in first, and then I joined her in the backseat. Before Clancy even rounded the trunk of the car, she was shifting to face me and reaching for my hand. “Don’t worry about your father. He’s got that quick Latin temper, but it never lasts long. All he really wants is to make sure you’re happy.”

I squeezed her fingers gently. “I know. But I really, really want Dad and Gideon to get along.”

“They’re two very headstrong men, honey. They’re going to clash occasionally.”

She wasn’t wrong. I wanted to dream about the two of them hanging out the way guys did, bonding over sports or cars, with all the playful ribbing and backslapping that usually accompanied that sort of thing. But I had to work with reality, whatever that turned out to be.

“You’re right,” I conceded. “They’re both big boys. They’ll figure it out.” Hopefully.

“Of course they will.”

With a sigh, I glanced out the window. “I think I’ve come up with a solution for Corinne Giroux.”

There was a pause. “Eva, you have got to put that woman out of your mind. By giving her any thought at all, you’re giving her power she doesn’t deserve.”

“We allowed her to become a problem by being so secretive.” I looked back at my mother. “The world has a tremendous appetite for all things Gideon. He’s gorgeous, rich, sexy, and brilliant. People want to know everything about him, but he’s guarded his privacy to such an extreme degree that they know next to nothing. That’s given Corinne this opening to write her biography about her time with Gideon.”

She gave me a wary look. “What are you thinking?”

Digging into my bag, I pulled out a small tablet. “We need more of this.”

I flipped the screen around, showing her the image of Gideon and me that had been taken just hours before as we’d stood in front of the Crossfire. The manner in which he gripped me by the nape was both tender and possessive, while the way my face tilted up to him revealed my love and adoration. It made my stomach turn to see such a private moment spread out for the world to ogle, but I had to get over it. I had to give them more.

“Gideon and I need to stop hiding,” I explained. “We need to be seen. We spend too much time shut in. The public wants the billionaire playboy who’s finally becoming Prince Charming. They want fairy tales, Mom, and happy endings. I need to give people the story they want and by doing so, I’m going to make Corinne and her book look pathetic.”

My mother’s shoulders went back. “That’s a horrible idea.”

“No, it’s not.”

“It’s terrible, Eva! You don’t trade hard-earned privacy for anything. If you feed that public hunger, it will just get larger. For God’s sake, you don’t want to become a tabloid fixture!”

My jaw set. “It won’t play out that way.”

“Why would you risk it?” Her voice rose and became shrill. “Because of Corinne Giroux? Her book will come and go in the blink of an eye, but you’ll never get rid of the attention once you invite it!”

“I don’t get you. There’s no way to be married to Gideon and not get attention! I might as well take control and set the stage myself.”

“There’s a difference between being prominent and being a TMZ headline!”

I growled inwardly. “I think you’re taking the drama to the extreme.”

She shook her head. “I’m telling you, this is the wrong way to handle the situation. Have you discussed this with Gideon? I can’t see him agreeing to this.”

I stared at her, truly startled by her response. I’d thought she would be all for it, considering how she felt about marrying well and what that entailed.

That was when I saw the fear tightening her mouth and shadowing her eyes.

“Mom.” I softened my voice, mentally kicking myself for not putting it together sooner. “We don’t have to worry about Nathan anymore.”

She returned my stare. “No,” she agreed, not the least bit soothed. “But having everything you’ve done … everything you’ve said or decided dissected for the entertainment of the world could be its own nightmare.”

“I’m not going to allow other people in the world to dictate how I and my marriage are perceived!” I was tired of feeling like a … victim. I wanted to be the one to go on the offensive.

“Eva, you’re not—”

“Either give me an alternative that doesn’t involve sitting around doing nothing or drop the subject, Mom.” I turned my head away. “We’re not going to agree and I’m not changing my mind without a different game plan on the table.”

She made a frustrated noise, then fell silent.

My fingers flexed with the need to text Gideon and vent. He had once told me I would excel at crisis management. He’d suggested I lend my talents to Cross Industries as a fixer.

Why not start with something more intimate and important instead?

2

“More flowers?” Arash Madani drawled as he strolled into my office through the open glass double doors.

My lead attorney walked over to where Eva’s white roses decorated the main seating area. I’d had them placed on the coffee table in my direct line of sight. There, they had been successfully drawing my attention away from the stock tickers streaming on the wall of flat screens behind them.

The card that accompanied the flowers sat on the smoked glass of my desk and I fingered it, rereading the words for the hundredth time.

Arash pulled a rose out and lifted it to his nose. “What’s the secret to getting sent some of these?”

I sat back, absently noting that his emerald-hued tie matched the jeweled decanters decorating the bar. Until his arrival, the brightly colored carafes and Eva’s red vase had been the only spots of color in the monochromatic expanse of my office. “The right woman.”

He returned the flower to its vase. “Go ahead, Cross, rub it in.”

“I prefer to gloat quietly. Do you have something for me?”

Approaching my desk, he grinned in a way that told me he loved his job, although I never doubted it. His predatory instincts were nearly as highly developed as my own.

“The Morgan deal is coming together nicely.” Adjusting his tailored slacks, he settled into one of the two chairs facing my desk. His style was slightly flashier than mine but couldn’t be faulted. “We’ve ironed out the bigger points. Still finessing some clauses, but we should be ready to proceed by next week.”

“Good.”

“You are a man of few words.” Casually, he asked, “You up for getting together this weekend?”

I shook my head. “Eva may want to go out. If so, I’ll try to talk her out of it.”

Arash laughed. “I gotta tell you, I expected you to settle down at some point—we all do, eventually—but I thought I’d have some warning.”

“So did I.” Which wasn’t quite the truth. I never expected to share my life with anyone. I’d never denied that my past shadowed my present, but I saw no need to share that history with anyone before Eva. It couldn’t be changed, so why rehash it?

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