Gideon, on the other hand, was more … 007. Lethally sexy, with a refined edge of danger. He entered the living room and I could only stare helplessly, riveted by the graceful elegance of his chiseled body, that easy commanding stride which hinted at how amazing he was in bed.
Mine. All mine.
“I put Lucky in his crate,” he said, joining us. “We ready?”
Cary gave a decisive nod. “Let’s hit it.”
We took the elevator down to the garage, where Angus waited with the limo. I climbed in first and chose the long bench, knowing Cary would sit beside me while Gideon took his usual seat in the back.
I’d had so little time with Cary lately. Fashion Week had kept him super busy, and since I was spending the nights at the penthouse, we didn’t even have a chance for quick chats in the evening or coffee in the morning.
Cary looked at Gideon and gestured at the bar before we rolled out. “You mind?”
“Either of you want something?”
I considered. “Kingsman and cranberry, please.”
Gideon shot me a warm look. “I’ll have the same.”
Cary poured and served, then sat back with a beer and took a deep pull straight out of the bottle. “So,” he began, “I’m flying to London next week for a shoot.”
“Really?” I sat forward. “That’s wonderful, Cary! Your first international job.”
“Yeah.” He smiled into his beer, then looked at me. “I’m stoked.”
“Wow. Everything has happened so fast for you.” A few months ago we’d still been living in San Diego. “You’re going to take the world by storm.”
I managed a smile. I was truly, genuinely happy for my best friend. But I could picture a time, in the not-so-distant future, when we’d both be so busy and traveling so often we would rarely see each other. It made my eyes sting to think of it. We were closing a chapter of our lives and I mourned a little for the end, even knowing that the best was yet to come for both of us.
Cary raised his bottle in a silent toast. “That’s the plan.”
His smile grew tight, his eyes hard. “She says she’s dating someone. She moves quick when she sees something she likes, always has.”
“Are you okay with that?”
“No.” He started peeling the label off his beer bottle. “Some dude’s blowing his load where my baby is. I think that’s sick.” He glanced at Gideon. “Can you imagine?”
“No one wants me imagining that,” he answered, in that even tone that screamed danger.
“Right? It’s fucked up. But I can’t stop her and I’m not getting back together with her, so … It is what it is.”
“God.” I reached for his hand and held it. “That’s tough. I’m sorry.”
“We’re being civil to each other,” he said with a shrug. “She’s less of a bitch when she’s getting laid regularly.”
“So you guys are talking a lot?”
“I check in with her every day, make sure she’s got what she needs. Told her I was good for whatever—except my dick, of course.” He heaved out his breath. “It’s depressing. Without sex, we really don’t have anything to say to each other. So we talk about work. We’ve got that in common, at least.”
“Did you tell her about London?”
“Hell, no.” Cary squeezed my hand. “Had to tell my best girl first. I’ll tell her tomorrow.”
I debated bringing up the question, but I couldn’t help myself. “And Trey? Anything there?”
“Not really. I send him a text or photo every couple days. Stupid shit. Stuff I’d send you.”
“So no dick pics?” I teased.
“Yeah, no. I’m trying to keep it real with him. He thinks I’m oversexed—which he totally doesn’t mind when he’s in bed with me—but whatever. I send him something every now and then, and he replies, but that’s it.”
My nose wrinkled. I looked at Gideon and found him typing something into his phone.
Cary took another drink, his throat working on a hard swallow. “It’s not a relationship. Not even friendship at this point. For all I know, he could be seeing someone, too, and I’m the odd man out.”
“Well, for what it’s worth, celibacy looks good on you.”
He snorted. “Because I’ve put on a few pounds? Happens. You eat, because you crave the endorphins you’re not getting with an orgasm, and you get less exercise, because you’re not practicing any mattress gymnastics.”
“Cary.” I laughed.
“Look at you, baby girl. You’re all tight and toned from Marathon Man Cross over there.”
Gideon looked up from his phone. “Come again?”
“That’s what I just said, dude,” Cary drawled, winking at me. “In so many words.”
After waiting in a line of limos discharging their passengers, we finally pulled up to the red carpet rolled out in front of a historic brick-faced building, home to a private members-only club. Paparazzi were as thick as fall leaves on the ground, lining the velvet ropes that cordoned them off from the walkway.
Leaning forward, I looked through the open glass entrance doors and saw more photographers held back on the right side of the entrance, while logoed backdrops lined the wall on the left for event and sponsor-branded photo ops.
Angus opened the door and I could feel the momentary expectation as the paparazzi waited to see who would step out. The moment Gideon did, it was like the mother of all lightning storms, camera flashes exploding in rapid, endless succession.
Mr. Cross! Gideon! Look this way!
He held his hand out to me, the rubies in his wedding band catching the light and glittering. Holding my skirt up with one hand, I made my way over to him and set my hand in his. The moment I stepped out, I was blinded, but I kept my eyes open despite the spots dancing across my vision, a practiced smile pasted on my lips.
I straightened, Gideon’s hand settled on the small of my back, and pandemonium ensued. It somehow managed to get worse when Cary appeared. The shouts became deafening. I spotted Raúl by the entrance, his hard gaze sweeping the melee. He lifted his arm and spoke into his wrist mic, coordinating with someone under his command. When he looked at me, my smile turned genuine. He gave me a brisk nod.
Inside, we were met by two event handlers, who kept the required photo op moving along quickly, then escorted us up an elevator to the ballroom floor.
We stepped into a vast space filled with New York’s elite, a glamorous assembly of powerful men and perfectly presented women displayed to flattering effect by dimmed chandelier lighting and a profusion of candlelight. The atmosphere was heavily fragranced by the massive floral arrangements centering each dining table and enlivened by a society orchestra playing upbeat instrumentals through the hum of conversation.
Gideon steered me through the groups of people clustered around the dining tables, pausing often for those who stepped into our path with greetings and congratulations. My husband had slid effortlessly, seamlessly into his public persona. Splendidly handsome, completely at ease, quietly commanding, coolly aloof.
I, however, was stiff and edgy, though I hoped that practiced smile hid my nervousness. Gideon and I didn’t have a good track record at events like these. We ended up fighting and leaving separately. Things were different now, but still …
His hand slid up my bared back and cupped my nape, kneading the tense muscles gently. He continued to speak to the two gentlemen who’d intercepted us, discussing market fluctuations, but I was instinctively certain that he was focused on me. I stood to his right and he shifted smoothly, sliding just a bit behind me so that the right side of his body touched my back from shoulder to knee.
Cary reached around my shoulder and passed me a chilled flute of champagne. “I see Monica and Stanton,” he told me. “I’ll let them know we’re here.”
I followed his direction as he closed in on where my mom stood beside her husband, her smile bright and beautiful as they talked with another couple. Stanton was elegantly handsome in his tuxedo, while my mother gleamed like a pearl in an off-white silk column dress.
I turned at the sound of Ireland’s voice, my eyes widening as I found her rounding the nearest table. For a moment, my brain stopped processing anything but the sight of her. She was tall and willowy, her long black hair artfully arranged in a chic updo. The side slit in her sophisticated black velvet gown showed off mile-long legs, while the single-shoulder bodice cupped breasts that were the perfect size for her slender frame.
Ireland Vidal was a stunningly beautiful girl, her thickly lashed eyes the same striking blue as her mother’s and Gideon’s. And she was only seventeen. Picturing her as the woman she would become was breathtaking. Cary wasn’t the only one who was going to set the world on fire.
She walked right into me, hugging me tight. “We’re sisters now!”
I smiled and hugged her back, careful not to spill my champagne on her. I glanced at Chris, who stood behind her, and he gave me a grin in return. The look in his eyes when they returned to his daughter was both tender and proud. God help the guys who set their sights on Ireland. With Chris, Christopher, and Gideon watching out for her, they would have some formidable men to get through first.