When my first break came around, it was still early in Oceanside, California, so I texted my dad instead of calling.
Let me know when you’re up, k? Need to tell you something. And since I knew that being a cop as well as a father made Victor Reyes a worrier, I added, Nothing bad, just some news.
I’d barely set my phone down on the break room counter to get a cup of coffee when it started ringing. My dad’s handsome face lit up the screen, his photo showing off the gray eyes I had inherited from him.
I was suddenly struck with a case of nerves. When I reached for my phone, my hand was shaking. I loved both of my parents a lot, but I’d always thought that my dad felt things more deeply than my mother. And while my mother never hesitated to point out the ways I could fix my flaws, my dad didn’t seem to realize I had any. Disappointing him…hurting him…it was brutal to think of it.
“Hey, Dad. How are you?”
“That’s my question, sweetheart. I’m doing the same as usual. How ’bout you? What’s going on?”
I moved over to the nearest table and took a chair to help myself calm down. “I told you it wasn’t bad and you still sound worried. Did I wake you up?”
“It’s my job to worry,” he said, with warm amusement in his deep voice. “And I was gearing up for a run before I head in for the day, so no, you didn’t wake me. Tell me what your news is.”
“Uh…” Choked by tears, I swallowed hard. “Jesus, this is tougher than I thought it would be. I told Gideon it was Mom I was worried about, that you’d be okay with it, and here I am trying to–”
I took a deep breath. “Gideon and I eloped.”
The line went eerily quiet.
“When?” The scratch in his voice killed me.
“A couple weeks ago.”
“Before you came to see me?”
I cleared my throat. “Yes.”
Ah, God. Totally brutal. Only weeks ago I’d told him about Nathan’s abuse and that nearly broke him. Now this…
“Dad–You’re freaking me out. We were on this island and it was beautiful, so beautiful. The resort we were staying at does weddings all the time, they make it easy…like Las Vegas. There’s a full-time officiant and someone who handles the licenses. It was just a perfect moment, you know. The perfect opportunity.” My voice cracked. “Dad…please say something.”
“I…I don’t know what to say.”
A hot tear slid down my face. Mom had chosen wealth over love, and Gideon was a prime example of the type of man my mother had picked instead of my dad. I knew that created a bias my father had to overcome, and now we had this hurdle.
“We’re still having a wedding,” I told him. “We want our friends and family with us when we say our vows….”
“That’s what I was expecting, Eva.” He growled. “Damn it. I feel like Cross just stole something from me! I’m supposed to give you away, I was working up to that, and he just runs off and takes you? And you didn’t tell me? You were here, in my house, and you didn’t say anything to me? It hurts, Eva. It hurts.”
There was no way to stop the tears after that. They came in a hot flood, blurring my vision and closing my throat.
I jolted when the door to the break room opened and Will Granger walked in. “She’s probably in here,” my colleague said. “And there she–”
His voice trailed off when he saw my face, his eyes losing their smile behind his rectangular glasses.
A darkly clad arm shot in and brushed him aside.
Gideon. He filled the doorway, his eyes zeroing in on me and chilling to arctic. He was suddenly like an avenging angel, his fine suit making him look both capable and dangerous, his face hardened into a beautiful mask.
I blinked, my brain trying to process how and why he was there. Before it did, he was in front of me and my phone was in his hand, his gaze dropping to the screen before he lifted it to his ear.
“Victor.” My father’s name came out as a warning. “You seem to have upset Eva, so you’ll be talking to me now.”
Will backed out and shut the door.
Despite the cutting edge to Gideon’s words, the fingertips that brushed my cheek were infinitely gentle. His gaze was focused on me, the blue filled with icy fury that nearly made me shiver.
Holy fuck, was Gideon angry. And so was my dad. I could hear him shouting from where I sat.
I caught Gideon’s wrist, shaking my head, suddenly panicked that the two men I loved most would end up disliking–maybe even hating–each other.
“It’s okay,” I whispered. “I’m okay.”
His gaze narrowed and he mouthed, No, it’s not.
When he spoke to my father again, Gideon’s voice was firm and controlled–and all the more scary because of it. “You’ve got a right to be angry, and hurt, I’ll give you that. But I won’t have my wife twisted up over this…. No, obviously without children of my own, I can’t imagine.”
I strained to hear, hoping that reduction in volume meant my dad was calming down instead of getting more worked up.
Gideon stiffened suddenly, his hand dropping away from me. “No, I wouldn’t be happy about it if my sister eloped. That said, she’s not the one I’d take it out on….”
I winced. My husband and my father had that in common: They were both incredibly protective of those they loved.
“I’m available anytime, Victor. I’ll even come to you, if that’s what you need. When I married your daughter, I accepted full responsibility for both her and her happiness. If there are consequences to be faced, I have no problem facing them.”
His gaze narrowed as he listened.
Then Gideon took the seat opposite me, set the phone on the table, and turned on the speaker.
My dad’s voice filled the air. “Eva?”
I took a deep, shaky breath and squeezed the hand Gideon held out to me. “Yeah, I’m here, Dad.”
“Sweetheart…” He took a deep breath, too. “Don’t be upset, okay? I’m just…I need to let this sink in. I wasn’t expecting this and…I’ve got to put it together in my head. Can we talk later tonight? When I get off my shift?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Good.” He paused.
“I love you, Daddy.” The sound of my tears came through my voice and Gideon slid his chair closer, his thighs bracketing mine. It was amazing how much strength I drew from him, what a relief it was to have him to lean on. It was different from having Cary’s support. My best friend was a sounding board, cheerleader, and ass kicker. Gideon was a shield.
And I had to be strong enough to admit when I needed one.
“I love you, too, baby,” my dad said, with an aching note of pain and grief that stabbed me in the heart. “I’ll call you later.”
“Okay. I–” What else could I say? I was at a loss for how to fix things. “Bye.”
Gideon killed the call, then took my trembling hands in his. His eyes were locked on me, the ice melting into tenderness. “You will not be ashamed, Eva. Is that clear?”
I nodded. “I’m not.”
He cupped my face, his thumbs brushing away my tears. “I can’t bear to see you cry, angel.”
I forced back the lingering heartache, shoving it into a corner where I would deal with it later. “Why are you here? How did you know?”
“I came to thank you for the flowers,” he murmured.
“Oh. Do you like them?” I managed a smile. “I wanted to make you think of me.”
“All the time. Every minute.” He caught my hips and tugged me closer.
“You could’ve just sent a note.”
“Ah.” His ghost of smile made my pulse skip. “But that wouldn’t cover this.”
Gideon pulled me into his lap and kissed me senseless.