It was one of my deepest fears that his career choice would come back to haunt him in ways neither of us could bear.
My mother took a delicate sip of her Pellegrino.
The cafe specialized in cacao-laced menu items, but she was careful not to waste her daily calorie allotment on one meal.
I was less cautious.
I'd ordered a soup and sandwich combination plus a dessert that was going to cost me at least an extra hour on the treadmill later.
I excused the indulgence with a mental reminder that I was on my period, which was a carte blanche chocolate zone in my opinion.
"So," Monica smiled at Megumi, "will you be seeing your blind date again?" "I hope so."
"Darling, don't leave it to chance!" As my mom started doling out her wisdom in regard to managing men, I sat back and enjoyed the show.
She was of the firm belief that every woman deserved to have a wealthy man to dote on her, and for the first time in forever, she wasn't concentrating her matchmaking efforts on me.
While I was worried about how my dad and Gideon would hit it off, I had no concerns about my mom's feelings on the matter.
We both thought I was with the right guy for me, although for different reasons.
"Your mom rocks," Megumi said, when Monica ducked into the ladies' room to freshen up before we left.
"And you look just like her, lucky you.
How bad would it suck to have a mom who's hotter than you are?" Laughing, I told her, "I'll have to drag you along with us again.
This worked out great."
"I'd like that."
When it was time to go, I looked at Clancy and the town car waiting at the curb for us and realized I wanted to walk off some of my lunch before I got back to work.
"I think I'm going to hoof it back," I told them.
"I ate too much.
You two go on without me."
"I'll go with you," Megumi said.
"I could use the air, hot as it is.
That canned air in the office makes my skin dry."
"I'll come, too," my mom offered.
I eyed her delicate heels skeptically, but then again, my mom wore nothing but heels.
For her, walking in those was probably the same as walking in flats was to me.
We headed back to the Crossfire at the standard stride rate for Manhattan, which was something of a steady, purposeful clip.
While weaving around human obstacles was usually part of the process, it was far less of an issue with my mom in the lead.
Men moved reverently off to the side for her, then followed her with their eyes.
In her simple, sexy wrap dress of ice blue, she looked cool and refreshing in the humid heat.
We'd just turned the corner to reach the Crossfire when she came to an abrupt halt that caused Megumi and me to crash into the back of her.
She stumbled forward, wobbling, and I barely caught her by the elbow before she teetered over.
I looked at the ground to see what had held her up, but when I didn't see anything I looked at her.
She was staring at the Crossfire in a daze.
"Jesus, Mom," I urged her out of the flow of pedestrians.
"You're white as a sheet.
Is the heat getting to you? Do you feel dizzy?" "What?" Her hand went to her throat.
Her dilated gaze remained fixed to the Crossfire.
Turning my head, I followed her line of sight, trying to see whatever it was that she did.
"What are you two looking at?" Megumi asked, frowning down the street.
Clancy approached, having abandoned the town car he'd been driving at a safe but discreet distance behind us.
"Is everything all right?" "Did you see - ?" she began, looking to him with her question.
"See what?" I demanded, as his head snapped up and his trained gaze raked the length of the street.
The absoluteness of his focus sent a shiver down my spine.
"Let me drive you three the rest of the way," he said quietly.
The entrance to the Crossfire was literally across the street, but something in Clancy's tone brooked no argument.
We all climbed in, with my mother taking the front seat.
"What was that about?" Megumi asked after we'd been dropped off and had moved into the cool interior of the building.
"Your mom looked like she'd seen a ghost."
"I have no idea."
But I felt ill.
Something had frightened my mother.
It was going to drive me crazy until I found out what it was.
My back hit the mat with enough force to knock the air from my lungs.
Stunned, I blinked up at the ceiling, trying to catch my breath.
Parker Smith's face came into view.
"You're wasting my time.
If you're going to be here, be here.
One hundred percent.
Not a million miles away in your head somewhere."
I grabbed the hand he extended to me, and he yanked me to my feet.
Around us, a dozen more of Parker's Krav Maga students were hard at work.
The Brooklyn-based studio was alive with noise and activity.
He was right.
My thoughts were still stuck on my mom and the bizarre way she'd reacted when we returned to the Crossfire after lunch.
"Sorry," I muttered.
"I've got something on my mind."
He moved like lightning, tagging me first on one knee, then my shoulder with rapid-fire slaps.
"Do you think an attacker is going to wait until you're alert and ready before he comes after you?" I crouched, forcing myself to focus.
Parker crouched as well, his brown eyes hard and watchful.
His shaved head and cafe au lait skin gleamed beneath the overhead fluorescent lighting.
The studio was in a converted warehouse, which had been left rough for both economic reasons and atmosphere.
My mother and stepfather were paranoid enough to have Clancy accompany me to my classes.
The neighborhood was presently undergoing revitalization, which I thought was encouraging but they thought was troubling.
When Parker came at me again, I blocked him.
The tagging came fast and furious then, and I pushed all other thoughts aside until later, when I was home.
When Gideon came over about an hour later, he found me in the bath surrounded by vanilla-scented candles.
He undressed to join me, even though his damp hair told me he'd already showered after spending time with his own personal trainer.
I watched him strip, riveted.
The play of muscles beneath his skin and the inherent gracefulness in the way he moved sent a delicious sense of contentment sliding through me.
He climbed into the deep oval tub behind me, his long legs sliding in on either side of mine.
His arms wrapped around me, and then he surprised me by lifting me up and back, so that I was sitting on his lap and my legs were draped over his.
"Lean into me, angel," he murmured.
"I need to feel you."
I sighed with pleasure, sinking into the hardness of his powerful body as he cradled me.
My aching muscles softened in surrender, eager as always to become completely pliable to his touch.
I loved moments like this, when the world and our emotional triggers were far away.
Moments when I felt the love he wouldn't profess for me.
"Soaking more bruises?" he asked with his cheek pressed to mine.
My head wasn't in the game."
"Thinking about me?" he purred, nuzzling against my ear.
He paused, then switched gears.
"Tell me what's bugging you."
I loved how easily he could read me, then revise and revisit his approach on the fly.
I tried to be as adaptable for him.
Really, flexibility was a requirement in a relationship between two high-maintenance people.
Linking my fingers with his, I told him about my mother's weird reaction after lunch.
"I almost expected to turn around and see my dad or something.
I was wondering .
You have security cameras that cover the front of the building, don't you?" "Of course.
I'll look into it."
"It's a ten-minute window of time, max.
I just want to see if I can figure out what went on."
"Consider it done."
I tilted my head back and kissed his jaw.
His lips pressed to the top of my shoulder.
"Angel, there's nothing I wouldn't do for you."
"Including talking about your past?" I felt him tense and mentally kicked myself.
"Not right this second," I hastened to add, "but sometime.
Just tell me we'll get there."
"Have lunch with me tomorrow.
In my office."
"Are you going to talk about it then?" Gideon exhaled harshly.
I turned my face away and released him, disappointed with his evasion.
Reaching for the edges of the tub, I prepared to get out and away from the man who somehow made me feel more connected to another human being than I'd ever been, yet impossibly distant as well.
Being with him fucked with my head, made me doubt the very things I'd been sure of just moments before.
Rinse and repeat.
"I'm done," I muttered, blowing out the nearest candle.
Smoke curled up and away, as intangible as my grasp on the man I loved.
"I'm getting out."
He cupped my breasts, restraining me.
Water lapped around us, as agitated as I was.
"Let go, Gideon."
I caught his wrists to pull his hands away.
He buried his face in my neck, obstinately holding on.
"We'll get there.
Okay? Just - We'll get there."
I deflated, feeling little of the triumph I had hoped to feel when I'd first asked and anticipated his answer.
"Can we give it a rest tonight?" he asked gruffly, still clinging tight.
"Give it all a rest? I just want to be with you, all right? Order something in for dinner, watch TV, hold you when I sleep.
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