“I’m okay,” I assured them, even as I reached for Gideon’s hand and held on tight.
“You need to eat,” Gideon said.
“So do you,” I countered. “The sooner you two get done, the faster we can do that.”
Just the thought of food made me queasy, but I didn’t say that. They were both already too worried about me.
My dad straightened. “I spoke to my family,” he told Gideon. “They still want to come and be here for Eva. And me.”
Gideon half-sat on the edge of his desk, one hand running through his hair. “Okay. We were going to fly them direct to North Carolina. We’ll have to adjust the flight plan.”
“I would appreciate that,” my dad said, grudgingly.
“It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.”
“Then why do you look worried?” I said to Gideon, seeing his frown.
“It’s just … It’s a madhouse on the street right now. We can bring your family in through the garage, but if word gets out that they’re in town, they may have to deal with media and photographers at their hotel or anywhere else they may go in the city.”
“They’re not coming to sightsee,” my dad snapped.
“That’s not what I meant, Victor.” Gideon sighed wearily. “I’m just thinking out loud. I’ll work it out. Consider it taken care of.”
I pictured how it must be downstairs outside the lobby, imagined my grandmother and cousins wading through a gauntlet like that. I shook my head and had a moment of clarity. “If they want to come, we should go to the Outer Banks like we planned. We already have the rooms reserved for them. It’ll be quiet and private.”
Suddenly, I longed to be at the beach. Feeling the wind in my hair, the surf lapping at my bare feet. I’d felt alive there. I wanted to feel alive again. “We had catering arranged. We’d have food and beverages for everyone.”
Gideon looked at me. “I had Scott talk to Kristine. We pulled out of everything.”
“It can’t have been more than a few hours ago. The hotel probably hasn’t filled the room block in that short of time. And the caterer already has the things well under way at this point.”
“You really want to go to the beach house?” he asked me quietly.
I nodded. There were no memories of my mom there, as there were in the city. And if I wanted to step outside and take a walk, no one would bother me.
“Okay, then. I’ll take care of it.”
I looked at my dad, hoping that plan was good with him. He stood beside me, his arms crossed and his gaze on his feet.
Finally, he said, “What happened changes everything. For all of us. I want to move to New York.”
Taken aback, I glanced at Gideon, then back at my dad. “Really?”
“It’s going to take some time for me to deal with work and selling my house, but I’m going to get the ball rolling.” He looked at me. “I need to be closer than the other side of the damn country. You’re all I’ve got.”
“Oh, Dad. You love your job.”
“I love you more.”
“What will you do for work?” Gideon asked.
There was something in his tone that drew my attention to him. He’d twisted a bit to face us better, drawing one thigh up to the desktop and resting his crossed hands atop it. He watched my father avidly. There wasn’t any of the surprise on his face that I felt.
“That’s what I wanted to talk about,” my father said, his handsome face grim.
“Eva needs a dedicated security chief,” Gideon said preemptively. “I’ve got Angus and Raúl stretched to their limits and my wife needs her own security team.”
My mouth fell open as I registered what my husband had said. “What? No, Gideon.”
His brows rose. “Why not? It would be ideal. There’s no one I could trust more to protect you than your own father.”
“Because it’s … weird. Okay? Dad’s his own man. It would be awkward to have my father on my husband’s payroll. It’s just … not right.”
“Angus is the closest I’ve had to a father,” he pointed out, “and he works the same job.” His gaze lifted to my dad. “I don’t think any less of him. And Chris, as the head of a company in which I have controlling interest, also could be said to work for me.”
“That’s different,” I said stubbornly.
“Eva.” My dad set his hand on my shoulder. “If I can handle it, you should be able to.”
I turned wide eyes to him. “Are you serious? Were you thinking about this before he brought it up?”
He nodded, still somber. “I’ve been thinking about it since he called me about … your mom. Cross is right: There’s no one I trust more than myself to keep you safe.”
“Safe from what? What happened last night … It’s not an everyday thing.” I couldn’t think differently. Living with the fear that Gideon might be in danger at any given moment? It would drive me insane. I certainly couldn’t live with putting my dad in the line of fire.
“Eva, I’ve seen you more on television, the Internet, and in magazines than I have in person this entire last year and you were living in San Diego for most of that time.” His face hardened. “God willing you’ll never be at risk, but I can’t take that chance. Besides, Cross is planning on hiring someone anyway. Might as well be me.”
“Were you?” I demanded, rounding on Gideon.
He nodded. “Yes. It’s been on my mind.”
“I don’t like it.”
“I’m sorry, angel.” His tone of voice told me I’d just have to suck it up.
My dad’s arms crossed. “I won’t accept any perks or compensation outside the scope of what you’re paying your other men.”
Gideon unfolded and rounded his desk, opening a drawer to withdraw a paper-clipped sheaf of paper. “Angus and Raúl both agreed to let me share their salaries with you. I’ve also laid out what you can expect, to start.”
“I can’t believe this,” I complained. “You were this far along and didn’t say anything to me?”
“I worked on it earlier this morning. It hasn’t come up before now and I wasn’t going to say anything unless your father mentioned moving to the city.”
And that was Gideon Cross: He never missed a trick.
My dad took the papers, perused the top sheet, then looked at Gideon incredulously. “Is this for real?”
“Consider that Angus has been with me for more years of my life than not. He also has considerable covert and military training. In short, he’s earned it.” Gideon watched as my dad flipped the page. “Raúl has been with me a shorter amount of time, so he’s not where Angus is—yet. But he also has a broad range of training and skills.”
My dad exhaled in a rush when he flipped to the next page. “Okay. This is …”
“More than you were likely expecting, but that spreadsheet gives you the info you need to gauge the offered compensation compared to my other chiefs. You can see that it’s fair. It’s predicated on the expectation that you will consent to further training and attain the necessary permits, licenses, and registrations.”
I watched my dad’s shoulders go back and his chin lift, the stubborn line of his mouth softening. Whatever he saw, he was taking as a challenge. “All right.”
“You’ll note that a housing allowance is included,” Gideon continued, in full-on mogul mode despite his matter-of-fact tone. “If you would like, there’s a unit next door to Eva’s former apartment that’s available and furnished.”
I caught my lower lip between my teeth, knowing he was talking about the apartment he’d kept while Nathan was a threat. We had met there clandestinely for weeks while keeping up the façade that we were no longer together.
“I’ll think about it,” my dad said.
“Another thing to think about,” Gideon began, “is the reality of your daughter being my wife. Certainly we would be mindful of your personal role in Eva’s life and be respectful of that. But respecting your place as her father means we won’t be brazen. It doesn’t mean we won’t be intimate.”
Oh my God. My shoulders hunched with embarrassment. I glared at Gideon. So did my dad.
It took my father a long minute to unclench his jaw and respond. “I’ll keep that in mind while I’m thinking things over.”
Gideon gave a brisk nod. “All right. Was there anything else we needed to cover?”
My dad shook his head. “Not right now.”
I crossed my arms, knowing I’d have more to say at some point.
“You know where to find me, angel, when you’re ready to tear into me.” My husband offered his hand to me. “In the meantime, let’s get some food into you.”
Dr. Petersen showed up around three, looking a little rattled. Getting through the throng on the sidewalk to enter the lobby had obviously been a trial. Gideon introduced him to everyone as I watched, trying to judge his reaction to meeting the people he’d heard such intimate things about.