We still heading home tonight? Cary texted as I waited for the elevator to take me back down to the lobby at noon. My mom was already waiting for me there and I was trying to pull my thoughts together. We had a lot of ground to cover.
God, I was hoping she could help me deal with it all.
That’s the plan, I replied to my beloved pain-in-the-ass-sometimes roommate, typing as I stepped into the car. I have an appt. after work, though, then dinner with Gideon. Might be late.
Dinner? U have to catch me up.
I smiled. Of course.
I exhaled in a rush, as if I’d been holding my breath. I guess in a way I had been.
I couldn’t blame Cary’s on-again, off-again boyfriend for taking a big step back when he’d learned that Cary’s booty-call girl was pregnant. Trey had already been struggling with Cary’s bisexuality, and now a baby meant there would always be a third person in their relationship.
There was no question that Cary should have committed to Trey sooner, instead of keeping his options open, but I understood the fear behind Cary’s actions. I knew all too well the thoughts that ran through your mind when you’d survived the things Cary and I had, yet still somehow found yourself faced with an amazing person who loved you.
When it was too good to be true, how could it possibly be real?
I sympathized with Trey, too, and if he called it quits, I’d respect that decision. But he was the best thing to happen to Cary in a long time. I was going to be extremely bummed if they didn’t make it. What did he say?
I’ll tell u when I see u.
Cary! That’s cruel.
It took him until I was walking through the lobby turnstiles to reply. Yeah, tell me about it.
My heart sank, because there was no way to interpret that as good news. Stepping aside to allow others to pass me, I typed back, I love you madly, Cary Taylor.
Love u 2, baby girl.
My mother crossed the space between us on delicately heeled sandals, a woman impossible to miss even amid the lunchtime crush of people heading in and out of the Crossfire. As petite as she was, Monica Stanton should’ve been lost in the sea of suits, but she drew too much attention for that to ever happen.
Charisma. Sensuality. Fragility. It was the bombshell combination that made Marilyn Monroe a star, and it exemplified my mother. Dressed in a navy blue sleeveless jumpsuit, Monica Stanton looked younger than her years and more confident than I knew her to be. The Cartier panthers hugging her throat and wrist told the observant she was expensive.
She came straight to me and wrapped me in a hug that took me by surprise.
“Are you okay?” Pulling back, she studied my face.
“What? Yes. Why?”
“Your father called.”
“Oh.” I looked at her warily. “He didn’t take the news well.”
“No, he didn’t.” As she linked her arm with mine, we headed out. “But he’s dealing with it. He wasn’t quite ready to let you go.”
“Because I remind him of you.” To my father, my mom was the one who got away. He still loved her, even after more than two decades apart.
“Nonsense, Eva. There’s a resemblance, but you’re much more interesting.”
That startled a laugh from me. “Gideon says I’m interesting.”
She smiled brightly, making the man passing her stumble over his own feet. “Of course. He’s a connoisseur of women. As gorgeous as you are, it would take more than beauty to get him to marry you.”
Slowing to a halt by the revolving doors, I let my mother go out first. A blast of muggy heat hit me when I joined her on the sidewalk, bringing an instant mist of perspiration to my skin. There were times when I doubted I’d ever get used to the humidity, but I considered it one of the costs of living in the city I loved so much. Spring had been beautiful and I knew fall would be, too. The perfect time of year to renew my vows with the man who owned me heart and soul.
I was thanking God for air-conditioning when I spotted Stanton’s head of security waiting by a black car at the curb.
Benjamin Clancy greeted me with an easy, confident nod. His demeanor was so business-as-usual, while I felt such gratitude for him it was hard to restrain myself from grabbing and kissing him.
Gideon had killed Nathan to protect me. Clancy had made sure Gideon would never pay for it.
“Hey, you,” I said to him, seeing my smile reflected in his mirrored aviator shades.
“Eva. It’s good to see you.”
“I was just thinking the same about you.”
He didn’t smile outwardly; it wasn’t his way. But I could feel it nonetheless.
My mom slid in first, and then I joined her in the backseat. Before Clancy even rounded the trunk of the car, she was shifting to face me and reaching for my hand. “Don’t worry about your father. He’s got that quick Latin temper, but it never lasts long. All he really wants is to make sure you’re happy.”
I squeezed her fingers gently. “I know. But I really, really want Dad and Gideon to get along.”
“They’re two very headstrong men, honey. They’re going to clash occasionally.”
She wasn’t wrong. I wanted to dream about the two of them hanging out the way guys did, bonding over sports or cars, with all the playful ribbing and back slapping that usually accompanied that sort of thing. But I had to work with reality, whatever that turned out to be.
“You’re right,” I conceded. “They’re both big boys. They’ll figure it out.” Hopefully.
“Of course they will.”
With a sigh, I glanced out the window. “I think I’ve come up with a solution for Corinne Giroux.”
There was a pause. “Eva, you have got to put that woman out of your mind. By giving her any thought at all, you’re giving her power she doesn’t deserve.”
“We allowed her to become a problem by being so secretive.” I looked back at my mother. “The world has a tremendous appetite for all things Gideon. He’s gorgeous, rich, sexy, and brilliant. People want to know everything about him, but he’s guarded his privacy to such an extreme degree that they know next to nothing. That’s given Corinne this opening to write her biography about her time with Gideon.”
She gave me a wary look. “What are you thinking?”
Digging into my bag, I pulled out a small tablet. “We need more of this.”
I flipped the screen around, showing her the image of Gideon and me that had been taken just hours before as we’d stood in front of the Crossfire. The manner in which he gripped me by the nape was both tender and possessive, while the way my face tilted up to him revealed my love and adoration. It made my stomach turn to see such a private moment spread out for the world to ogle, but I had to get over it. I had to give them more.
“Gideon and I need to stop hiding,” I explained. “We need to be seen. We spend too much time shut in. The public wants the billionaire playboy who’s finally becoming Prince Charming. They want fairy tales, Mom, and happy endings. I need to give people the story they want and by doing so, I’m going to make Corinne and her book look pathetic.”
My mother’s shoulders went back. “That’s a horrible idea.”
“No, it’s not.”
“It’s terrible, Eva! You don’t trade hard-earned privacy for anything. If you feed that public hunger, it will just get larger. For God’s sake, you don’t want to become a tabloid fixture!”
My jaw set. “It won’t play out that way.”
“Why would you risk it?” Her voice rose and became shrill. “Because of Corinne Giroux? Her book will come and go in the blink of an eye, but you’ll never get rid of the attention once you invite it!”
“I don’t get you. There’s no way to be married to Gideon and not get attention! I might as well take control and set the stage myself.”
“There’s a difference between being prominent and being a TMZ headline!”
I growled inwardly. “I think you’re taking the drama to the extreme.”
She shook her head. “I’m telling you, this is the wrong way to handle the situation. Have you discussed this with Gideon? I can’t see him agreeing to this.”
I stared at her, truly startled by her response. I’d thought she would be all for it, considering how she felt about marrying well and what that entailed.
That was when I saw the fear tightening her mouth and shadowing her eyes.
“Mom.” I softened my voice, mentally kicking myself for not putting it together sooner. “We don’t have to worry about Nathan anymore.”
She returned my stare. “No,” she agreed, not the least bit soothed. “But having everything you’ve done . . . everything you’ve said or decided dissected for the entertainment of the world could be its own nightmare.”
“I’m not going to allow other people to dictate how I and my marriage are perceived!” I was tired of feeling like a . . . victim. I wanted to be the one on the offensive.
“Eva, you’re not—”
“Either give me an alternative that doesn’t involve sitting around doing nothing or drop the subject, Mom.” I turned my head away. “We’re not going to agree and I’m not changing my mind without a different game plan on the table.”
She made a frustrated noise, then fell silent.
My fingers flexed with the need to text Gideon and vent. He had once told me I would excel at crisis management. He’d suggested I lend my talents to Cross Industries as a fixer.
Why not start with something more intimate and important instead?