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She turned to look at me. Her eyes were bright with tears. “It’s Rick,” she said, her voice wavering.

“Who?” My brain scrambled to catch up. She looked so hurt. And lost. The connection suddenly clicked. “Your boyfriend?”

She turned her head forward again and I tried to track her attention, searching the packed tables for … someone. “Where? What does he look like?”

“Right there.” She gave a hard jerk of her chin and I spotted tears running down her face. “With the blonde in the red dress.”

Where? I found a few possibilities, then zeroed in on the youngest couple. One look at him and I knew the type. I used to fall for them, too. Confident, sexually experienced, all the right lines. I felt a bit sick thinking about how many guys like that I’d once let use me.

Then I got pissed. Rick was giving the girl plastered to his side a cocky, sexy smile. They certainly weren’t just friends. Not when they were both eye-fucking each other.

I caught Ireland by the elbow and guided her forward. “Keep walking.”

We got to the ladies’ room. The sudden quiet when we stepped inside made it possible to hear her sobbing. I pulled her aside in the vanity area, thankful we were the only ones there, and handed her some tissues I pulled out of the box on the counter.

“He told me he had to work tonight,” she said. “That’s why I said yes when Dad asked me if I wanted to come.”

“This is the guy who won’t tell his parents about you because of Gideon’s father?”

She nodded. “They’re out there. Sitting with him.”

It was coming back to me, that conversation we’d had during the launch of the Six-Ninths music video. Rick’s grandparents had lost a chunk of their wealth to Geoffrey Cross’s Ponzi scheme. They thought it was “convenient” that Gideon was one of the wealthiest men in the world now, even though it was evident to anyone who looked that he’d built his empire with his own hard work and capital.

But then, Rick was probably just making excuses to juggle multiple dates. After all, his parents were here and Gideon was the star attraction. Made me question whether the animosity he’d told her about was bullshit.

“He told me he’d broken up with her months ago!” she cried.

“The blonde?”

Sniffling, she nodded again. “I just saw him last night. He didn’t say anything about getting the night off and coming here.”

“Did you mention that you would be here?”

“No. I don’t talk about Gideon. Not with him, anyway.”

Was Rick just a young, dumb kid getting his rocks off with every pretty girl who’d let him? Or was he screwing with Gideon’s sister as some sort of twisted payback? In any case, the guy was a douche.

“Don’t cry over that loser, Ireland.” I got her more tissue. “Don’t give him the satisfaction.”

“I just want to go home.”

I shook my head. “That’s not going to help. Honestly, nothing’s going to help. It’s going to hurt for a while. But you can get back at him if you want to. That might feel good.”

She looked at me, tears still streaming. “What do you mean?”

“You’ve got one of the hottest male models in New York sitting by you. Just say the word and Cary will become your very attentive, very crazy-about-you date.” The more I thought of it, the more I liked it. “Together you can run into Rick and oops … well, hellooo. Fancy seeing you here. But what can he say? He’s got the blonde. And you get to walk away with an even score.”

Ireland started shaking. “Maybe I should just talk to him …”

Magdalene stepped into the ladies’ room and paused, assessing the situation. “Ireland. What’s wrong?”

I kept my mouth shut, since it wasn’t my story to share.

Ireland shook her head. “It’s nothing. I’m okay.”

“All right.” Magdalene looked at me. “I won’t pry, but you should know that I’d never share anything with your brothers if you told me not to.”

It took her a moment, and then Ireland spoke through her tears. “This guy I’ve been seeing for a couple months now … he’s out there with someone else. His old girlfriend.”

Personally, I suspected Rick had never broken up with that girlfriend to begin with and had been stringing Ireland along on the side, but then I was cynical about things like that.

“Oh.” Magdalene’s face softened in sympathy. “Men can be such assholes. Look, if you want to slip out without him noticing, I’ll order a car for you.” She snapped open her clutch and took out her smartphone. “On me. How’s that?”

“Hang on,” I interjected. I laid out my plan.

Magdalene’s brows rose. “Devious. Why get mad when you can get even?”

“I don’t know …” Ireland glanced at the mirror and cursed. She grabbed more tissues and worked on fixing her eye makeup. “I look like shit.”

“You look a million times better than that tramp out there,” I told her.

She gave a watery laugh. “I hate her, too. She’s such a bitch.”

“Bet she’s admired some of Cary’s Grey Isles ads,” Magdalene said. “I know I have.”

That did the trick. While Ireland wasn’t ready yet to completely write off Rick, she was certainly open to making his date envious.

The rest would come in time. Hopefully.

Then again, there were some lessons we women had to learn the hard way.

We made it back to our table just as a gentleman I assumed was Glen headed up the stairs onto the stage and crossed over to the lectern. I knelt by Cary, setting my hand on his arm.

He glanced down at me. “What’s up?”

I explained what I wanted him to do and why.

His grin flashed white in the dimmed lighting. “Sure thing, baby girl.”

“You’re the best, Cary.”

“So they all say.”

Rolling my eyes, I stood and headed back to my chair, which Gideon pulled out for me. My cake was still there and I eyed it eagerly.

“They tried to take that,” Gideon murmured. “I defended it for you.”

“Aww. Thank you, baby. You’re so good to me.”

He put his hand on my thigh beneath the table and gave it a soft squeeze.

I watched my husband while I ate, admiring Gideon’s air of calm relaxation as we both listened to Glen talk about the importance of the work his organization did in the city. Whenever I thought about giving speeches on behalf of Crossroads, I got butterflies in my stomach. But I’d eventually get the hang of it, figure things out. I would learn what I needed to know to be an asset to both my husband and Cross Industries.

We had time and I had Gideon’s love. The rest would fall into place.

“It is our pleasure to honor a man who truly needs no introduction—”

Putting my fork down, I sat back and listened as Glen extolled my husband’s many accomplishments and his generous commitment to causes that benefited victims of sexual abuse. It didn’t escape my notice that Chris was watching Gideon with a new understanding in his gaze. And pride. The look he gave my husband was no different from the one I’d seen him give Ireland.

The room exploded into applause as Gideon rose lithely to his feet. I stood, too, along with Chris, Cary, and Ireland. The rest of the room followed suit, until a full standing ovation welcomed Gideon to the stage. He glanced at me before he walked away, his fingers brushing the ends of my hair.

Seeing him traverse the stage was its own pleasure. His stride was smooth and unhurried, but it commanded attention. Gracefully powerful, he moved so beautifully it was a joy to watch him.

He set the plaque they’d given him atop the lectern, his tanned hands in notable contrast to the white of his cuffs. Then he began speaking, his dynamic baritone smooth and cultured, making each word a separate caress. There was no other sound in the room, everyone riveted by his dark good looks and consummate oration.

It was over too quickly. I was on my feet again the moment he picked up the plaque, my hands clapping so hard my palms hurt. They directed him to the side of the stage, where a photographer waited with Glen. Gideon spoke to them, then looked at me, beckoning me to him with an outstretched hand.

He met me at the bottom of the stairs, offering his arm to help me navigate the ascent in my dress and heels.

“I am so hot for you right now,” I told him softly.

He laughed. “Fiend.”

We danced for an hour after the dinner was over.

Why didn’t I dance with my husband more often? He was as skilled and sexual on the dance floor as he was in bed, his body moving with fluid strength, his lead confident and expertly assertive.

Gideon was intimately familiar with how we flowed together and used that to his advantage, taking every opportunity to slide his body against mine. I was wildly aroused and he was aware, his gaze on my face both hot and knowing.

When I could tear my attention away from him, I spotted Cary dancing with Ireland. He had scoffed when I first asked him to take dancing lessons with me, but he’d come around and quickly become our instructor’s favorite. He was a natural and he easily led Ireland, despite her inexperience.

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