He kissed my forehead.
"We'll talk in the morning."
Ireland found me before I could find her.
"Are you okay?" she asked, stepping into the kitchen.
"I'm going to lie down, if you don't mind.
I know that's rude."
"No, it's okay."
"Really, I'm sorry."
I pulled her close for a hug.
"We'll do this again.
Maybe a girls' day? Hit the spa or go shopping?" "Sure.
Call me?" "I will."
I let her go and passed through the living room to get to the hallway.
The front door opened and Gideon walked in.
Our gazes met and held.
I could read nothing in his.
I looked away, went to my room, and locked the door.
* * *
I was up at nine the next morning, feeling groggy and grumpy but no longer overwhelmingly tired.
I knew I needed to call Stanton and my mom, but I needed caffeine first.
I washed my face, brushed my teeth, and shuffled out to the living room.
I was almost to the kitchen - the source of the luscious smell of coffee - when the doorbell rang.
My heart skipped a beat.
I couldn't help the instinctive reaction I had to thoughts of Gideon, who was one of the three people on the list to get past the front desk.But when I opened the door, it was my mother.
I hoped I didn't look too disappointed, but I don't think she noticed anyway.
She swept right past me in a seafoam green dress that looked painted on, and she pulled it off as very few women could, somehow making the outfit sexy and elegant and age-appropriate.
Of course, she looked young enough to be my sister.
She raked a glance over my comfortable SDSU sweatpants and camisole before saying, "Eva.
You have no idea - " "Nathan's dead."
I shut the door and glanced nervously down the hallway at the guest bedroom, praying that my dad was still functioning on West Coast time and sleeping.
She turned around and faced me, and I got my first good look at her.
Her mouth was thinned with worry, her blue eyes haunted.
"Have the police come by already? They only just left us."
"They were here last night."
I headed into the kitchen and straight to the coffeemaker.
"Why didn't you call us? We should have been with you.
You should've had a lawyer with you, at the very least."
"It was a real quick visit, Mom.
Want some?" I held up the carafe.
"No, thank you.
You shouldn't drink so much of that stuff.
It's not good for you."
I put the carafe back and opened the fridge.
"Dear God, Eva," my mother muttered, watching me.
"Do you realize how many calories are in half- and-half?" I set a bottle of water in front of her and moved back to lighten my coffee.
"They were here for about thirty minutes and then left.
They didn't get anything out of me beyond Nathan being my former stepbrother and that I haven't seen him in eight years."
"Thank God you didn't say more."
She twisted open her water.
I grabbed my mug.
"Let's move to my sitting room."
"What? Why? You never sit in there."
She was right, but using it would help prevent a surprise run-in between my parents.
"But you like it," I pointed out.
We entered through my bedroom and I shut the door behind us, breathing a sigh of relief.
"I do like it," my mother said, turning to take it all in.
Of course she liked it; she'd decorated it.
I liked it, too, but didn't really have a use for it.
I'd thought about turning it into an adjoining bedroom for Gideon, but everything could be changing now.
He'd pulled away from me, hidden Nathan and a dinner with Corinne from me.
I wanted an explanation, and depending on what that was, we were going to either recommit to moving forward or take the painful steps to move away from each other.
My mom settled gracefully on the chaise, her gaze coming to rest on me.
"You'll have to be very careful with the police, Eva.
If they want to talk to you again, let Richard know so he can have his lawyers present."
"Why? I don't understand why I should worry about what I say or don't say.
I haven't done anything wrong.
I didn't even know he was in town."
I watched her gaze skitter away from mine, and my tone firmed.
"What's going on, Mom?" She took a drink before speaking.
"Nathan showed up in Richard's office last week.
He wanted two and a half million dollars."
There was a sudden roaring in my ears.
"What?" "He wanted money," she said stiffly.
"A lot of it."
"Why the hell would he think he'd get any?" "He has - had - photos, Eva."
Her lower lip began to quiver.
"Oh my God."
I set my coffee aside with shaking hands and bent over, putting my head between my knees.
"Oh God, I'm going to be sick."
And Gideon had seen Nathan - he'd confessed as much when he answered the detectives' questions.
If he'd seen the pictures .
been disgusted by them .
it would explain why he cut me off.
Why he'd been so tormented when he came to my bed.
He might still want me, but he might not be able to live with the images now filling his head.
It has to be this way, he'd said.
A horrible sound escaped me.
I couldn't even begin to imagine what Nathan might have captured.
I didn't want to.
No wonder Gideon couldn't stand to look at me.
When he'd made love to me the last time, it had been in utter darkness, where he could hear me and smell me and feel me - but not see me.
I stifled a scream of pain by biting my forearm.
"Baby, no!" My mother sank to her knees in front of me, urging me gently off the chair and onto the floor where she could rock me.
I curled into her lap, sobbing, realizing it truly was over - I'd lost Gideon.
He would hate himself for turning away from me, but I understood why he might not be able to stop himself.
If looking at me now reminded him of his own brutal past, how could he stand it? How could I? My mother's hand stroked over my hair.
I felt her crying, too.
"Shh," she hushed me, her voice shaking.
I've got you.
I'll take care of you."
Eventually there were no more tears left to cry.
I was empty, but with that emptiness came new clarity.
I couldn't change what had happened, but I could do what was necessary to make sure that no one I loved suffered for it.
I sat up and wiped at my eyes.
"You shouldn't do that," my mother scolded.
"Rubbing at your eyes like that will give you wrinkles."
For some reason, I found her concern for my future crow's-feet hysterical.
I tried to hold it in, but a snorted laugh broke free.
"Eva Lauren!" I thought her indignation was funny, too.
I laughed some more, and once I started, I couldn't stop.
I laughed until my sides hurt and I fell over."Oh, stop it!" She shoved at my shoulder.
"It's not funny."
I laughed until I managed to squeeze out a few more tears.
"Eva, really!" But she was starting to smile.
I laughed until I wasn't laughing so much as sobbing again, dry and silent.
I heard my mother giggling, and that somehow blended perfectly with my racking pain.
I couldn't explain it, but as horrible and hopeless as I felt, my mother's presence - complete with all her little quirks and admonitions that drove me insane - was just what I needed.
With my hands on my cramping stomach, I took a deep cleansing breath.
"Did he arrange it?" I asked softly.
Her smiled faded.
"Who? Richard? Arrange what? The money? Oh ."
"No!" she protested.
His mind doesn't work that way."
I just had to know."
I couldn't see Stanton ordering a hit, either.
But Gideon .
I knew from his nightmares that his desire for vengeance was colored by violence.
And I'd seen him fight Brett.
The memory was seared in my mind.
Gideon was capable, and with his history - I took a deep breath, then blew it out.
"How much do the police know?" "Everything."
Her eyes were soft and wet with guilt.
"The seal on Nathan's records was broken when he died."
"And how did he die?" "They didn't say."
"I suppose it's not important.
We have a motive."
I ran my hand through my hair.
"It probably doesn't matter that we didn't personally have the opportunity.
Your time is accounted for, isn't it? And Stanton's?" "Yes.
And yours, too?" "Yes."
But I didn't know about Gideon's.
Not that it mattered.
No one would expect men like Gideon and Stanton to get their hands dirty cleaning up a mess like Nathan.
We had more than one motive - the blackmail and revenge for what he'd done to me - and means, and means gave us the opportunity.
* * *
I brushed my hair again and splashed water on my face, all the while thinking of how I was going to get my mom out of my apartment undetected.
When I found her digging through the closet in my bedroom - concerned as always about my style and appearance - I knew what to do.
"Remember that skirt I picked up at Macy's?" I asked her.
"The green one?" "Oh, yes.
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