Standing, I walked to one of the two floor-to-ceiling walls of windows framing my office and took in the urban splendor sprawling beyond the glass.
I hadn’t known Eva was out there, had been afraid to even dream of finding the one person in the world who would accept and love every facet of me.
How was it possible that I’d found her here, in Manhattan, at the very building I’d had built against sound advice and at great risk? Too expensive, they’d said, and unnecessary. But I’d needed the Cross name to be memorable and mentioned in a different way. My father had dragged our name through the mud; I’d lifted it to the heights of the most relevant city in the world.
“You showed no sign at all you were leaning that way,” Arash said behind me. “If I remember correctly, you tagged two women when we blew out Cinco de Mayo, and a few weeks later you’re telling me to draft an insane prenup.”
I surveyed the city, taking a rare moment to appreciate the hawk’s-eye view afforded me by the height and position of my office in the Crossfire Building. “When have you known me to delay sealing a deal?”
“It’s one thing to expand your portfolio, another to reboot your life overnight.” He chuckled. “So what are your plans, then? Breaking in the new beach house?”
“An excellent idea.” Taking my wife back to the Outer Banks was my goal. Having her all to myself had been heaven. I was happiest when I was alone with her. She revitalized me, made me anticipate living in a way I never had before.
I’d built my empire with the past in mind. Now, thanks to her, I would continue to build it for our future.
My desk phone flashed. It was Scott, on line one. I pressed the button, and his voice came through the speaker. “Corinne Giroux’s at reception. She says she needs just a few minutes to drop off something for you. Because it’s private, she wants to give it to you personally.”
“Of course she does,” Arash chimed in. “Maybe it’s more flowers.”
I shot him a look. “Wrong woman.”
“If only my wrong women looked like Corinne.”
“Keep thinking that while you head up to reception to get whatever it is she has.”
His brows shot up. “Really? Ouch.”
“She wants to talk, she can talk to my attorney.”
He pushed to his feet and headed out. “Got it, boss.”
I glanced at the clock. Quarter to five. “I’m sure you heard that, Scott, but to be clear, Madani will handle.”
“Yes, Mr. Cross.”
Through the glass wall separating my office from the rest of the floor, I watched Arash round the corner on his way to reception, and then I mentally brushed the whole thing aside. Eva would be with me shortly, the very thing I’d been waiting for since the workday started.
But of course, it couldn’t be that easy.
A flash of crimson in the corner of my eye just a few moments later had me looking back out at the work floor and seeing Corinne marching toward my office with Arash hot on her heels. Her chin lifted when our eyes met. Her tight smile widened, transforming her from a beautiful woman to a stunning one. I could admire her the way I would admire anything except Eva—objectively, dispassionately.
Now happily married, I could fully grasp what a horrible mistake it would have been to marry Corinne. It was unfortunate for all of us that she refused to see it.
I stood and rounded my desk. The look I swept over both Arash and Scott called them off from any further action. If Corinne wanted to deal with me directly, I’d give her one last opportunity to do the right thing.
She glided into my office on red stilettos. The strapless dress she wore was the same hue as the shoes and showed off both her long legs and pale skin. She wore her hair down, the black strands sliding around her bare shoulders. She was the polar opposite of my wife and a mirror image of every other woman who’d passed through my life.
“Gideon. Surely you can spare a few minutes for an old friend?”
Leaning back into my desk, I crossed my arms. “And extend the courtesy of not calling security. Make it quick, Corinne.”
She smiled, but her eyes, the color of aquamarines, were sad.
She had a small red box tucked under her arm. When she reached me, Corinne offered it to me.
“What is this?” I asked, without reaching for it.
“These are the photos that will appear in the book.”
My brow arched. I found myself unfolding and accepting the box, driven by curiosity. It hadn’t been too long ago that we’d been together, but I scarcely remembered the details. What I had were impressions, big moments, and regret. I’d been so young, with a dangerous lack of self-awareness.
Corinne set her purse on my desk, moving in a way that brushed her arm against mine. Wary, I reached over and hit the button that controlled the opacity of the glass wall.
If she wanted to put on a show, I’d make sure she didn’t have an audience.
Taking the lid off the box, I was confronted with a photo of Corinne and me entangled in front of a bonfire. Her head was nestled in the crook of my shoulder, her face tilted up so I could press a kiss to her lips.
The memory assailed me immediately. We’d taken a day trip to a friend’s house in the Hamptons. The weather had been cool, fall giving way to winter.
In the picture we looked happy and in love, and in a way, I suppose we were. But I’d refused the invitation to spend the night, despite Corinne’s obvious disappointment. With my nightmares, I couldn’t sleep beside her. And I couldn’t fuck her, though I knew that was what she wanted, because the hotel room I reserved for that purpose was miles away.
So many hangups. So many lies and evasions.
I took a deep breath and let the past go. “Eva and I were married last month.”
Setting the box down on the desktop, I reached for my smartphone and showed her the picture wallpapering my screen—Eva and I sharing the kiss that sealed our vows.
Turning her head, Corinne looked away. Then she reached into the box, flipping through the top few photos to pull out one of us at the beach.
I was standing waist deep in the surf. Corinne was twined around me from the front, her legs wrapped around my waist, her arms draped over my shoulders and her hands in my hair. Her head was tossed back on a laugh, her joy radiating from the image. I gripped her fiercely, my face upturned to watch her. There was gratitude there and wonder. Affection. Desire. Strangers would see it and think it was love.
Which was Corinne’s goal. I denied that I ever loved anyone before Eva, which was no less than the truth. Corinne was determined to prove me wrong in the most public way possible.
Leaning over, she looked at the picture, then at me. Her expectation was tangible, as if some monumental epiphany was supposed to strike me. She toyed with her necklace and I realized it was one I’d given her, a small gold heart on a simple chain.
For fuck’s sake. I didn’t even remember who took the damn photo or where we were at the time, and it didn’t matter.
“What do you expect these photos to prove, Corinne? We dated. We ended. You married, and now I have. There’s nothing left.”
“Then why are you getting so upset? You’re not indifferent, Gideon.”
“No, I’m irritated. These only make me appreciate what I have with Eva more. And knowing that they’ll hurt her sure as hell doesn’t make me feel sentimental about the past. This is our final good-bye, Corinne.” I held her gaze, making sure she saw my resolve. “If you come back here, security won’t let you through.”
“I won’t be back. You’ll have to—”
Scott beeped through and I picked up the phone. “Yes?”
“Miss Tramell is here for you.”
I leaned over the desk again, tapping the button that opened the doors. A moment later, Eva walked in.
Would the day ever come when I would see her and not feel the earth shift beneath my feet?
She came to an abrupt halt, giving me the pleasure of taking in the sight of her. Eva was a natural blonde, with pale streaks framing a delicate face and accentuating stormy gray eyes that I could spend hours looking into—and had. She was petite but dangerously curved, her body deliciously soft to roll around with in bed.
I might’ve called her angelically beautiful, if not for the lush sensuality that always made me think of and crave wickedly raw sex.
Without volition, my mind filled with the memory of her scent and the feel of her beneath my hands. The throaty laugh that brought me joy and the fiery quick temper that rocked me on my feet were visceral recollections. Everything in me thrummed to life, a surge of energy and awareness I felt at no other time than when I was with her.
Corinne spoke first. “Hello, Eva.”
I bristled. The urge to shield and protect the most valuable thing in my life overrode any other consideration.
Straightening, I tossed the photo back in the box and went to my wife. Compared to Corinne, she was dressed demurely in a black pinstriped skirt and a sleeveless silk blouse that gleamed like a pearl. The surge of heat I felt was all the proof I needed as to which woman was sexier.
Eva. Now and forever.