A flamboyant dancer, Cary claimed a wide space on the floor, which made him and Ireland the focus of much attention. He, however, only had eyes for his partner, playing the part of a completely spellbound date to perfection. Even heartbroken, Ireland couldn’t help but be charmed by his unwavering, focused attention. I saw her laugh often, her cheeks prettily flushed with exertion.
I’d missed that oops moment with Rick I’d hoped to witness, but I saw the result. He was dancing with his girlfriend, woefully unable to compete with Cary in either skill or looks. There was no more smiling or eye-fucking, since both he and the blonde kept glancing at Cary and Ireland, who were clearly having far more fun.
Terrence and Anne Lucas danced, too, but were wise enough to stay on the other side of the dance floor.
“Let’s go home,” Gideon murmured, as the song ended and we slowed to a halt, “and put some sweat on those diamonds.”
I smiled. “Yes, please.”
We went back to our table to retrieve his plaque and my clutch.
“We’ll head out with you,” Stanton said, joining us with my mother beside him.
“What about Cary?” I asked.
“Martin will take him home,” my mother answered. “They’re all still enjoying themselves.”
It took us just as long to leave as it’d taken us to arrive, with so many people catching Gideon and Stanton for the first time all evening. I could only say thank you to congratulations, but my mother occasionally spoke with authority, adding brief but incisive comments to things Stanton discussed. I envied her that knowledge and was inspired by it. We’d have to talk about that when the time presented itself.
The plus side of being delayed for so long was that it gave time for the cars to be brought around. When we finally made it down to street level, Raúl informed us that the limo was only a block away. Clancy shot me a quick smile before he told my mom and Stanton their car was pulling up now.
Paparazzi waited outside. Not as many as before, but more than a dozen.
“Let’s get together tomorrow,” my mom said, giving me a hug in the lobby.
“Sounds good.” I pulled back. “I could use a day at the spa.”
“What a lovely idea.” Her smile was brilliant. “I’ll make the arrangements.”
I hugged Stanton good-bye; Gideon shook his hand. We stepped outside and the camera flashes burst around us. The city welcomed us outdoors with the sounds of late-evening traffic and the gentle warmth of the evening. The humidity was slowly receding as summer gave way to fall and I looked forward to spending more time outdoors. Autumn in New York was a unique enchantment, something I’d only enjoyed previously during short visits.
The shout barely registered before Gideon tackled me. A loud crack of sound jolted through me, reverberating off the brick and ringing in my ears. Deafeningly close … Jesus. Right beside us.
We hit the carpeted pavement hard. Gideon rolled, covering me with his body. More weight as someone threw themselves over Gideon. Another bark of noise. Then another. Another …
Crushed. Too heavy. Breathe. My lungs couldn’t expand. My head pounded. Oxygen. God.
I struggled. Clawing at the red carpet. Gideon clutched me tighter. His voice was harsh in my ear, the words lost beneath the frantic buzzing in my head.
Air. Can’t breathe … The world went black.
“Christ. Eva.” I ran frantic hands over her limp form, searching for injury as the driver hit the gas pedal hard and the limo lurched forward, slamming me back into the seat.
My wife lay deathly still across my lap, unresponsive to my desperate examination. No blood on her gown or skin. A pulse, hard and quick. Her chest lifting and falling with each breath.
Relief hit me so hard I felt dizzy. I pulled her up tight against me, cradling her close. “Thank God.”
Raúl barked orders into the mic at his wrist. The moment he shut up, I demanded, “What the fuck happened?”
He dropped his arm. “One of the photographers had a gun and opened fire. Clancy got him.”
“Was anyone hurt?”
“Monica Stanton went down.”
“What?” My slowing heartbeat lurched back into a pounding rhythm. I looked down at my wife as she slowly came to¸ her eyelids fluttering. “Jesus. How bad?”
He exhaled harshly. “I’m waiting for word. It didn’t look good. You grabbed Mrs. Cross and Mrs. Stanton moved into the way.”
I held my wife tighter, running my hand over her hair as we sped through the city.
Eva’s soft question as we turned the corner that led to the garage knotted my stomach. Raúl looked at me, his face grim. Only moments before he’d taken a call and met my gaze, confirming my worst fear with a shake of his head and a quietly voiced I’m sorry.
My wife’s mother was dead.
How was I supposed to tell Eva? And after I did, how could I keep her safe until we knew what the hell was going on?
In my jacket pocket, my phone buzzed constantly. Calls. Messages. I needed to get to them all, but my wife came first.
We pulled into the garage, driving past the guard in the glass cubicle. My foot tapped restlessly on the floorboard. I wanted out of the car. I needed my wife locked down.
“Gideon?” She clutched at my jacket. “What happened? I heard gunshots—”
“False alarm,” I said gruffly, my grip on her too tight. “A car backfired.”
“What? Really?” She blinked up at me, wincing as I pulled her even closer. “Oww.”
“I’m sorry.” I’d taken her down hard, unable to break the fall for her without exposing her to danger. It had been instinctual, an abrupt response to the urgency in Raúl’s voice. “I overreacted.”
“For real?” She tried to sit up. “I thought I heard multiple shots.”
“The death of a few cameras, maybe. A few people got startled, dropped their gear.”
The car slowed to a halt and Raúl leapt out, extending his hand to Eva to help her. She climbed out slowly and I was directly behind her, scooping her up into my arms the moment I straightened.
I strode to the garage elevator, waited while Raúl typed in the code. One of his team stood behind us, facing the other direction, his hand in his jacket on his gun as he surveilled.
Would he be enough if there was another shooter lying in wait?
“Hey, I can walk,” Eva said, still punchy, her arms around my shoulders. “And you need to answer your phone. That thing’s going crazy.”
“Give me a minute.” I stepped into the elevator. “You passed out. Scared the shit out of me.”
“I couldn’t breathe.”
Kissing her forehead, I apologized again. I wouldn’t feel safe until we stepped into our living room. I glanced at Raúl. “I’ll be out shortly.”
I took my wife directly to the bedroom, laying her down atop the comforter. Lucky barked in his crate, pawing at the door.
“That was so weird.” Eva shook her head. “Where’s my clutch? I want to call Mom. Did Clancy freak out, too?”
My gut knotted. I’d promised to never lie to my wife and I knew this lie was going to hurt her badly. Hurt us. But … God. How the fuck did I tell her? And if I did, how could I keep her home when she’d want to go out and see the truth for herself ?
Lucky’s plaintive whines only ratcheted up my anxiety.
“I think we left your purse in the car.” I brushed the hair back from her forehead, fighting the tremor that wanted to rack my entire body. “I’ll have someone get it and bring it up.”
“Okay. Can I use your phone for now?”
“Let’s get you settled first. Are you hurting? Bruised?” I shot a glare at Lucky, but that only made him paw the metal bars more furiously.
She poked at her hip and winced. “Maybe.”
“All right. We’ll take care of that.”
I went to the bathroom, pulling out my phone to turn it off. The screen was an endless scroll of missed calls and texts. I watched it go black, shoved it into my pants pocket, and then turned on the taps in the bathtub. Anyone I’d want to hear from could reach Raúl or Angus.
I tossed a handful of Epsom salts into the steaming water; I knew a bath was a risk considering how rare it was for me to not join Eva when she took one. Still, hot soaks relaxed her, made her calm. I suspected she took naps during the day to make up for the hours our sex life took out of the nights, but she was running a sleep deficit after the weekend.
If I could just get her to wind down and get in bed, she might drift off. It would buy me some time to figure out what had happened, what risk remained, talk to Dr. Petersen …
Fuck. And Victor. I had to call Eva’s dad. Get him on a flight to New York as soon as possible. Cary. He should be here, too. Once I had more facts and a support system for my wife, then I could tell her. Just a few hours. That was all I needed.
I struggled to ignore the sick fear that Eva wouldn’t forgive me for the delay.