Ireland pulled back and checked me out. “Wow. That necklace is amazing! And your boobs! I want a pair of those.”
I laughed. “You’re perfect just the way you are. You’re the most beautiful woman here.”
“No way. But thanks.” Her face lit up as Gideon excused himself from the conversation and turned to face her. “Hey, bro.”
She was in his arms in an instant, hugging him as tightly as she’d hugged me. Gideon stood statue-still for a moment. Then he hugged her back, his face softening in a way that made my heart skip a beat.
I’d spoken to Ireland briefly on the phone after Gideon’s interview, apologizing for keeping the secret of our wedding and explaining why. I wanted us to be closer than we were, but I was holding off on making too many overtures. It would be so easy to become the bridge between her and Gideon, and I didn’t want it that way. They needed to have their own connection, independent of anyone else.
My sister-in-law would be attending Columbia University soon, like her brothers before her. She’d be close and we’d see each other more often. Until then, I would continue to encourage Gideon to foster their budding relationship.
“Chris.” I went to him and gave him a hug, pleased with the enthusiasm with which he hugged me back. He’d cleaned up since coming over to dinner, his hair freshly trimmed and his jaw clean-shaven.
Christopher Vidal Sr. was a quietly handsome man with a gentle gaze. There was an innate kindness in him that radiated in his voice and the way he looked at people. I’d thought so the first time I met him, and he’d done nothing to alter that first impression.
“Gideon. Eva.” Magdalene Perez joined us, looking seductively beautiful in a sleek, emerald green gown, her arm linked with her boyfriend’s.
It was good to see that Magdalene had moved on from her unrequited interest in Gideon, which had caused problems for Gideon and me when our relationship was just getting started. She’d been a bitter, nasty bitch then, spurred on by Gideon’s brother’s manipulations. Now that she was happy with her artist, she was serene and lovely and was slowly becoming a close acquaintance.
Greeting them both warmly, I shook Gage Flynn’s hand as Gideon kissed Magdalene’s proffered cheek. I didn’t know Gage all that well yet, but he was obviously head over heels for Magdalene. And I knew that Gideon would’ve checked him out, making sure the guy was good enough for the woman who’d been a longtime friend of Gideon’s family.
We were accepting their congratulations when my mother and Stanton joined us, followed by Martin and Lacey, whom we hadn’t seen since the weekend in Westport. I watched with a smile as Cary and Ireland both laughed about something shared between them.
“What a beautiful girl,” my mother said, sipping champagne and eyeing Gideon’s sister.
“And Cary looks good.”
“I said the same thing.”
She looked at me with a smile. “You should know that we’ve offered to let him keep the apartment if he likes or help him find something smaller.”
“Oh.” My gaze went to him, catching him nodding at something Chris told him. “What did he say?”
“That you’d offered him a private apartment adjoining Gideon’s penthouse.” She angled toward me. “You’ll all decide what works best for you, but I wanted to give him the option to stay where he is. It’s always good to have options.”
I sighed, then nodded.
She reached for my hand. “Now, you and Gideon are handling your public image in your own way, but you have to be aware of what those horrible gossip blogs are saying about you and Cary being lovers.”
Suddenly, the frenzy on the red carpet made sense. The three of us, arriving together.
“Gideon denied that he’s ever cheated on you,” she went on quietly, “but he’s now known to have, shall we say … adventurous sexual appetites. Can you imagine how rumors will fly if the three of you are living together?”
“Oh, man.” Yeah, I could. The world had seen in graphic detail that my husband was up for a threesome. Not with another man in the mix, but even so. Those days were behind him, but they didn’t know that—and wouldn’t want to believe it anyway. It was just too salacious.
“Before you say you don’t care, honey, realize that many people do. And if someone Gideon wants to do business with thinks he’s morally corrupt, it could cost him a fortune.”
Really. These days, not likely, but I bit my tongue instead of making a crack about my mom’s concern about the bottom line. It always came down to that, in one way or another. “I hear you,” I muttered.
As the time approached for the start of dinner, everyone began searching for their assigned tables. Gideon and I were at the front, of course, since he was speaking. Ireland and Chris had place cards at our table, as did Cary. My mom, Stanton, Martin, and Lacey were at the table to our right; Magdalene and Gage were further back.
Gideon pulled my chair out for me and I moved to sit, then stopped, startled by the couple I spotted a few tables away. Straightening, I looked at Gideon. “The Lucases are here.”
His head went up, his gaze searching. I knew the moment he spotted them by the way his jaw hardened. “So they are. Sit down, angel.”
I sat and he pushed my chair in, taking a seat beside me. He pulled out his phone and typed out a quick text.
Leaning toward him, I whispered, “I’ve never seen them together before.”
His phone buzzed with a reply as he looked up at me. “They don’t go out as a couple often.”
“Are you texting Arash?”
“Huh? About the Lucases?”
“Fuck ’em.” He slid his phone back into his jacket and leaned toward me, draping one arm along the back of my chair and the other on the table, caging me in. He put his lips next to my ear. “Next time we come to one of these, I’m putting you in a short skirt and you’re going to be naked underneath.”
I was grateful everyone else was looking elsewhere and couldn’t possibly hear—and that the orchestra was playing a little louder to keep all the guests moving toward their seats. “You’re a fiend.”
His voice dropped into a seductive purr. “I’m going to slide my hand between your thighs and slip my fingers into your soft, sweet cunt.”
“Gideon!” Scandalized, I glanced at him and found him watching me with a feral grin and lustful eyes.
“All through dinner, angel,” he murmured, nuzzling against my temple, “I’m going to be finger-fucking you slow and easy, working that tight perfect pussy of yours until you come for me. Again and again …”
“Oh my God.” His low, rough voice was pure sin and sex. I shivered just from that, but his dirty talk had me sagging into my chair. “What’s gotten into you?”
He pressed a quick, hard kiss against my cheek and straightened. “You were all knotted up. Now, you’re not.”
If we’d been totally alone, I would’ve smacked him. I told him so.
“You love me,” he shot back, turning to glance around the ballroom as servers began to bring out the salads.
He focused on me again. “Yes. Madly.”
No point in arguing. He was right.
We were just being served dessert, a dome of chocolate cake that looked delicious, when a woman in a conservative navy gown came over to our table and crouched between Gideon and me.
“We’re going to begin the program in about fifteen minutes,” she said. “Glen’s going to speak for a few minutes, then we’ll have you come up.”
He nodded. “No problem. I’m ready whenever you are.”
She smiled and I could tell she was a little flustered being that close to him. She had to be at least his mother’s age, but then women of all ages appreciated a gorgeous man.
“Eva.” Ireland leaned toward me. “You want to take a break before he goes up?”
I understood what she meant. “Of course.”
Gideon and Chris pushed back from the table and pulled out our chairs. Since I’d lost all my lip gloss while eating and drinking, I pressed a kiss to my husband’s jaw.
“I can’t wait to hear you talk,” I told him, my smile wide with anticipation.
He shook his head. “The things that turn you on.”
“You love me.”
“I do. Madly.”
Following Ireland, I weaved through the tables, passing directly by the Lucases. They watched us, looking cozy, with Dr. Terrence Lucas’s arm slung around his wife’s shoulders. Anne caught my gaze and flashed a sharp smile that made my skin crawl.
I reached up and smoothed my middle finger over my brow in a subtle but obvious fuck you.
Ireland and I had moved a few tables farther when she abruptly stopped in front of me.
I bumped into her back. “Sorry.”
When she didn’t continue forward, I angled around her to see what was blocking our way. “What’s going on?”