“I love you,” she said, as we followed Mark and Steven through the door. The sounds of a popular restaurant inundated us. The clang of silverware against china, the hum of multiple conversations, the barely discernible piped music, and the bustle of a busy kitchen.
My mouth curved. “I know.”
We were seated immediately and a server stopped by right away to take our drink order.
“Should we order champagne?” Steven asked.
Mark shook his head. “Come on. You know I have to go back to work.”
I held my wife’s hand beneath the table. “Ask again when he’s working for me. We’ll celebrate then.”
Steven grinned. “You got it.”
We placed our drink order—flat and sparkling water and one soda—and the server took off to fill them.
“So here’s the thing,” Mark began, straightening in his seat. “Part of the reason Eva quit was because of the LanCorp proposal …”
She preempted him, her mouth curved in a cat-that-ate-the-canary smile. “Ryan Landon offered you a job.”
His eyes widened. “How’d you know?”
She looked at me, then back at him. “You’re not taking it, are you?”
“No.” Mark sat back, studied us both. “It would have been a lateral move. Nothing like the bump I’ll get with Cross Industries. More than that, though, I remembered you telling me that there’s bad blood between Landon and Cross. I looked it up after you quit. Knowing the background, the whole thing wasn’t sitting right—him declining to work with us, then trying to poach me right after.”
“Could be he just wants you, without the agency,” Eva said.
Steven nodded. “That’s what I said.”
As he would, I thought, because he believed in his partner. But it appeared Mark knew better. Eva glanced at me. I clearly saw the I told you so in her gaze. I squeezed her hand.
“You don’t believe that,” Mark countered, proving us both right.
“No,” she agreed. “I don’t. I’ll be honest, I baited them. Told them Gideon and I are very fond of you and look forward to working with you again. I wanted to see if they’d bite. I figured if it was a great offer, I was doing you a favor. And if it wasn’t, no harm no foul.”
He frowned. “But why would you do that? Don’t you want me at Cross Industries?”
“Of course we do, Mark,” I interjected. “Eva was honest with them.”
“I was testing the waters,” she said. “I debated saying something to you, but I didn’t want you to feel awkward if he offered you a great job that you might seriously consider taking.”
“So what do you do now?” Steven asked.
“Now?” Eva shrugged. “Gideon and I are planning a vow renewal ceremony and then taking off for a long honeymoon. Ryan Landon isn’t a problem that’s going away any time soon. He’ll be around, doing his thing. I just won’t underestimate him. And Mark is going to start a great new job with Cross Industries.”
Eva glanced at me and I knew. Like all of my other battles, Landon wasn’t going to be something I took care of on my own anymore. My wife would be there, doing what she could for me, fighting the good fight.
Mark’s smile flashed white from within the frame of his goatee. “Sounds good to me.”
“Do you want to play naughty secretary again?” Eva whispered.
Her hand was in mine, her other hand cupping my biceps as we entered my office. I glanced at her, enjoying the come-on, and saw the warm laughter in her eyes.
“I do have to work sometime today,” I said dryly.
She winked and released me, dropping dutifully into one of the chairs facing my desk. “How can I be of service, Mr. Cross?”
I was smiling as I hung my jacket on the coatrack. “What do you think about me asking Chris to stand with me at our wedding?”
I turned just in time to see her surprise.
She blinked at me. “Really?”
Sitting back, she crossed her legs. “I’d like to hear yours first, before I give you mine.”
I joined her in the chair beside her rather than taking a seat behind my desk. Eva was my partner, my best friend. We would deal with this, and everything else, side by side.
“After Rio, I was going to ask Arnoldo, once I’d discussed it with you.”
“I’d be okay with that,” she said, and I could see she meant it. “It’s a decision you should make for yourself and not for me.”
“He understands what we have together and that it’s good for both of us.”
She smiled. “I’m glad.”
“Me, too.” I rubbed my jaw. “But after last night …”
“Which part of last night?”
“Dinner with Chris. It got me thinking. Things have changed. And there was something Dr. Petersen said. I just …”
She reached over and took my hand.
I searched for the right words. “I want someone who knows everything to be standing with me when you come down the aisle. I don’t want there to be any pretense. Not for something this important. When we face each other and say our vows again, I need that to be … real.”
“Oh, Gideon.” She slipped out of her chair, crouching beside me at my knee. Her eyes were wet and luminous, like a stormy sky just after a cleansing rain. “You beautiful man,” she breathed. “You don’t even know how romantic you are.”
I cupped her face, my thumbs brushing over the tears that slid down her cheeks. “Don’t cry. I can’t stand it.”
She caught my wrists and surged up, pressing her mouth to mine. “I can’t believe I’m this happy,” she murmured, her lips whispering the words against my skin. “It doesn’t seem real sometimes. Like I’m dreaming, and I’m going to wake up and realize I’m still on the floor in the lobby, looking at you for the first time and imagining all this because I want you so badly.”
I pulled her up and onto my lap, holding her, burying my face in her neck. She could always say what I couldn’t.
Her hands ran through my hair and over my back. “Chris will be delighted.”
Squeezing my eyes shut, I held her tighter. “You did this.”
She made everything possible. She made me possible.
“Did I?” she laughed softly, pulling back to touch my face with gentle fingertips. “It’s all you, ace. I’m just the lucky girl who gets a front-row seat.”
Marriage suddenly didn’t seem like enough to safeguard what she meant to me. Why wasn’t there something more binding than a mere piece of paper that gave me the right to call her my wife? Vows were a promise, but what I needed was a guarantee that every day of my life would have her in it. I wanted my heart to beat in rhythm with hers and stop when hers did. Inextricably entwined, so I would never live even a moment without her.
She kissed me again, softly. Sweetly. Her lips so gentle. “I love you.”
I would never tire of hearing that. Never stop needing to hear it. Words, as Dr. Petersen said, that needed to be spoken and heard. “I love you.”
More tears fell. “God. I’m a mess.” She kissed me again. “And you have to work. But you can’t stay late. I’m going to have fun helping you into your tux—and out of it.”
I let her go when she slid away and stood, but I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
She crossed the room and disappeared into the bathroom. I sat there, not sure I had the strength to stand yet. She weakened my knees, made my pulse race too hard and fast.
“Gideon.” My mother pushed into my office, Scott hot on her heels. “I need to talk to you.”
I rose to my feet and gave a nod to Scott. He retreated, closing the door. The warmth from Eva bled away, leaving me feeling empty and cold as I faced my mother.
She wore dark jeans that fit her like a second skin and a loose shirt she’d tucked in at the waist. Her long black hair was pulled back in a ponytail and her face was bare. Most who saw her would simply see a stunning woman who looked younger than her years. I knew her to be as worn and weary as Chris was. No makeup, no jewelry. It wasn’t like her.
“This is a surprise,” I said, moving into position behind my desk. “What brings you into the city?”
“I just left Corinne.” She marched right up to my desk and remained standing, much as Deanna had only hours before her. “She’s in pieces over that interview you gave yesterday. Completely destroyed. You have to go see her. Talk to her.”
I stared at her, unable to comprehend the way her mind worked. “Why would I do that?”
“For God’s sake,” she snapped, looking at me like I’d lost my mind. “You need to apologize. You said some very hurtful things—”
“I told the truth, which is likely more than can be said about that book she’s publishing.”
“She didn’t know you had a history with that woman … that ghostwriter. She told her editor she couldn’t work with that person as soon as she found out.”