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“Reyes,” Victor answered, sounding cool and alert. There was noise in the background, traffic maybe. Distant music. I glanced at my watch, realized he might be on duty.

“It’s Cross. I need to tell you something. Are you alone?”

“I can be. What’s wrong?” he demanded, picking up on the gravity of my tone. “Has something happened to Eva?”

“No, it’s not Eva.” Just get it out. Blunt and quick. That’s how I’d want to be told that my life was over. “I’m sorry. Monica was killed tonight.”

There was a terrible pause. “What did you just say?”

My head fell back against the chair. He’d heard me the first time, I could tell by his voice. But he couldn’t believe it. “I’m very sorry, Victor. We don’t know much more than that at this time.”

From his side of the call, I heard a car door open, then slam shut. There was a brief spate of transmissions from a police scanner, then eerie quiet followed and stretched out for long minutes. Still, I knew he was there.

“It happened barely an hour ago,” I explained quietly, trying to bridge that silence. “We were all leaving an event. A gunman in the crowd opened fire.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. But the shooter was apprehended. We should have more details soon.”

His voice strengthened. “Where’s my daughter?”

“She’s home with me. She won’t leave here until I’m certain it’s safe for her to do so. I’m making flight arrangements for you now. Eva will need you, Victor.”

“Let me talk to her.”

“She’s resting. You’ll get a text with the information for the flight as soon as it’s confirmed. It’ll be one of my jets. You can speak with her in the morning when you get here.”

Victor exhaled roughly. “All right. I’ll be ready.”

“I’ll see you shortly.”

Hanging up, I thought of the other man who was a father figure for Eva. I couldn’t think about what Stanton was going through; it shattered my mind. But I felt for him and was deeply sorry that anything I could offer would be inadequate.

Still, I reached out, typing a quick text. If I can be of service in any way, please let me know.

I left my office and went to the master bathroom. I paused on the threshold, everything inside me raw and aching at the sight of Eva stretched out in the steaming water with her eyes closed. Her hair was clipped up in a sexy, wild mess. The diamonds glittered on the counter. Lucky pawed at my shins.

“Hi,” she murmured, her eyes still closed. “You take care of everything?”

“Not yet. Right now, I need to take care of you.” I went to her, saw the toddy was half gone. “You should finish your drink.”

Her eyes opened slowly, dreamy and soft. “It’s strong. I’ve got a buzz.”

“Good. Now drink the rest.”

She complied. Not out of obedience but in the way a woman with a hidden agenda pretended to follow an order: because it suited her.

“Are you coming in?” she asked, licking her lips.

I shook my head. She pouted.

“I’m done then.” She rose from the tub, rivulets of water sliding over her flushed curves. She gave me a seductive smile, knowing what she was doing to me. “Sure you won’t change your mind?”

My throat worked on a hard swallow. “I can’t.”

With weighted steps, I grabbed a towel and handed it to her. I turned away, tormented by the sight of her, and collected first-aid items, setting the tubes and packets on the counter.

She came to me, leaning into my side. “Are you okay? Still thinking about your mom?”

“What? No.” I groaned, my head bowed. “When you passed out … Fuck. I’ve never been so scared.”

“Gideon.” She slid into me, hugging me. “I’m okay.”

Sighing, I gave her a quick squeeze and let her go. It pained me too much to hold her, knowing what had been left unspoken. “Let me take a look and make sure.”

Lucky sat with his head to the side, watching me curiously as I inspected Eva’s arm. I cleaned it with an antibiotic wipe before smoothing ointment over the angry red scrape. I taped gauze over it to keep it protected. The livid bruise on her hip got a generous application of arnica, my fingers lightly swirling over the darkening skin until the gel was fully absorbed.

My touch and focus aroused her, despite my best efforts. Squeezing my eyes shut, I straightened. “Off to bed with you, Mrs. Cross.”

“Umm … yes, let’s go to bed.” Her hands went to my shoulders, her fingers running down the untied ends of my bow tie. “I like your collar open like this. Very sexy.”

“Angel … You’re shredding me.” I caught her hands. “I’ve still got some things to handle.”

“Okay. I’ll behave. For now.”

With her hand in mine, I led her into the bedroom. She protested when I pulled out a Cross Industries T-shirt and slipped it over her head.

“What about the diamonds?” she asked.

She might never wear them again after this night. Where the fuck was Dr. Petersen? I needed his help to say the right things in the right way when the time came.

My fingers brushed her cheek, the only touch I would allow myself. “This will be more comfortable for now.”

I tucked her into bed, smoothing her hair back from her cheeks. She was going to sleep believing her world still had her mother in it and that her husband would never lie to her.

“I love you.” I pressed a kiss to her forehead, wanting those words to echo in her dreams.

It was all too possible that she wouldn’t believe them once she was awake.

Leaving Eva to rest, I shut the bedroom door and headed to the kitchen for a drink, something strong and smooth that might ease the cold knot in my gut.

I found Cary in the living room, sitting on the sofa with his head in his hands. Angus sat at the far end of the dining table, talking quietly on his phone.

“Would you like a drink?” I asked Cary, as I passed him.

His head came up and I saw the tears. The devastation. “Where’s Eva?”

“She’s trying to sleep. It’s best that she does.” I entered the kitchen, grabbed two tumblers and a bottle of scotch, and poured two hefty rations. I slid one over when he joined me at the island.

I tossed mine back, gulping down the contents. Closing my eyes, I felt the burn. “You’ll stay in the guest room.” My voice was roughened by the liquor’s bite. “She’s going to need you in the morning.”

“We’re going to need each other.”

I poured another glass for myself. “Victor’s coming.”

“Fuck.” Cary swiped at his damp eyes. “Stanton, man … He aged right in front of me. Like thirty years just ran through him while I was standing there.” He lifted his tumbler to his lips with a violently shaking hand.

My phone buzzed in my pocket and I pulled it out, answering it even though I didn’t recognize the number. “Cross.”

“Gideon. It’s Dr. Petersen. I got your message.”

“Just a minute.” I pressed the phone to my chest and looked at Cary. “I have to take this.”

He waved me off, his gaze locked into the amber liquid in his glass.

I went to the bedroom and cracked open the door, relieved to find Eva fast asleep with the dog curled up next to her. Backing out, I shut myself in my office. “I’m sorry. I needed to step away for privacy.”

“That’s fine. What’s happened, Gideon?”

Sinking into my desk chair, I dropped my head into my hand. “It’s Eva’s mother. There was an incident tonight. She was killed.”

“Monica …” He took a deep breath. “Tell me what happened.”

I remembered then that Monica was—had been—a patient of Dr. Petersen, too. I relayed the same information I’d passed to Victor. “I need you to come to my home. I need your help. I don’t know how to tell Eva.”

“How to …? I’m sorry, Gideon. It’s late and I’m confused. I assumed she was with you when it happened.”

“She was right by my side, but I knocked her down to get her out of the way. Knocked the breath right out of her. She passed out and when she came to, I told her it was a false alarm.”

“Oh, Gideon.” He sighed heavily. “That wasn’t wise.”

“It was the right decision. There’s nothing she can do about what happened.”

“You can’t protect her from everything, and lying is never a solution.”

“I can protect her from being a target!” I surged to my feet, furious that his reaction and Angus’s reflected my worst fears about how Eva would respond to the choice I’d made. “Until I know what the threat is, I won’t have her out in the open, which is exactly where she’d want to be!”

“That’s her choice to make.”

“It would be the wrong one.”

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