Bared to You (Chapter 12)
Despite the heat of the water, my nipples beaded tight and goose bumps raced across my skin.
His knowing smile as he joined me told me he knew exactly what kind of effect he had on me. I retaliated by running soapy hands all over his godlike body; then sitting on the bench and sucking him off with such enthusiasm he had to support himself with both palms pressed flat against the tile.
His raw, raspy instructions echoed in my mind the entire time I dressed for work, which I did quickly – before he had a chance to finish his shower and fuck the hell out of me as he'd threatened to just before spurting fiercely down my throat.
He'd had no nightmares during the night. Sex as a sedative seemed to be working, and I was extremely grateful for that.
"I hope you don't think you've gotten away," he said when he prowled after me into the kitchen. Immaculately dressed in a black pinstriped suit, he accepted the cup of coffee I handed him and gave me a look that promised all sorts of wicked things. I saw him in his supremely civilized attire and thought of the insatiable male who'd slipped into my bed during the night. My blood quickened. I was sore, my muscles thrumming with remembered pleasure, and I was still thinking about more.
"Keep looking at me like that," he warned, leaning casually into the counter and sipping his coffee. "See what happens."
"I'm going to lose my job over you."
"I'd give you another one."
I snorted. "As what? Your sex slave?"
"What a provocative suggestion. Let's discuss."
"Fiend," I muttered, rinsing out my mug in the sink and putting it in the dishwasher. "Ready? For work?"
He finished his coffee and I held out my hand for his mug, but he bypassed me and rinsed it out himself. Another mortal task that made him seem accessible, less of a fantasy I'd never have a chance of holding on to.
He faced me. "I want to take you out to dinner tonight, and then take you home to my bed."
"I don't want you to burn out on me, Gideon." He was a man used to being alone, a man who hadn't had a meaningful physical relationship in a long time, if ever. How long before his flight instincts kicked in? Besides, we really needed to stay out of the public eye as a couple…
"Don't make excuses." His features hardened. "You don't get to decide I can't do this."
I kicked myself for offending him. He was trying and I needed to make sure he got credit for that, not discouragement. "That's not what I meant. I just don't want to crowd you. Plus we still need to – "
"Eva." He sighed, the hard tension leaving him with that frustrated exhalation. "You have to trust me. I'm trusting you. I've had to or we wouldn't be here now."
Okay. I nodded, swallowing hard. "Dinner and your place it is, then. I honestly can't wait."
Gideon's words about trust lingered in my mind all morning, which was a good thing when the Google alert digest hit my inbox.
There was more than one photo this time around. Each article and blog post had several shots of me and Cary hugging good-bye outside the restaurant where we'd had lunch the day before. The captions speculated on the nature of our relationship and some noted that we lived together. Others suggested I was reeling in "billionaire playboy Cross" while keeping my up-and-coming model boyfriend on the side.
The reason for the publicity became apparent when I saw the picture of Gideon mingled with the ones of me and Cary. It had been taken last night, while I was watching movies with Cary and Trey – and while Gideon was supposedly at a business dinner. In the photo, Gideon and Magdalene Perez smiled intimately at each other, her hand on his forearm as they stood outside a restaurant. The captions ranged between kudos for Gideon's "bevy of beautiful socialites" to speculation that he was hiding a broken heart over my infidelity by dating other women.
You have to trust me.
I closed my inbox, my breathing too quick and my heartbeat too fast. Jealous confusion twisted my gut. I knew he couldn't possibly have been physically intimate with another woman and I knew he cared for me. But I hated Magdalene with a passion – certainly she'd given me good reason to during our bathroom chat – and I couldn't stand seeing her with Gideon. Couldn't stand seeing him smiling so fondly at her, especially after the way she'd treated me.
But I put it away. I shoved it into a box in my mind and I focused on my job. Mark was meeting with Gideon tomorrow to go over the RFP for the Kingsman campaign and I was organizing the information flowing between Mark and the contributing departments.
"Hey, Eva." Mark poked his head out of his office. "Steve and I are meeting at Bryant Park Grill for lunch. He asked if you'd come. He'd like to see you again."
"I'd love to." My whole afternoon brightened at the thought of enjoying lunch at one of my favorite restaurants with two really charming guys. They'd distract me from thinking about the conversation I was hours away from having with Gideon about my past.
My privacy was clearly gone. I would have to grow a set of balls and talk to Gideon before we went out to dinner. Before he was seen in public with me any further. He needed to know the risk he was taking by being associated with me.
When I received an interoffice envelope a short while later, I assumed it was a small mock-up of one of the Kingsman ads, but found a note card from Gideon instead.
Noon. My office.
"Really?" I muttered, irritated by the lack of salutation and closing. Not to mention the lack of a request. And who could forget the fact that Gideon hadn't even mentioned running into Magdalene at dinner?
Had he invited her as his date in my stead? That's what she was there for, after all. To be one of the women he socialized with outside of his hotel room.
I flipped Gideon's card over and wrote the same number of words with no signature:
Sorry. Have plans.
A bratty reply, but he deserved it. When a quarter to noon rolled around, Mark and I headed down to the ground floor. When I was stopped by security and the guard called up to Gideon to tell him I was in the lobby, my irritation kicked into a temper.
"Let's go," I said to Mark, striding toward the revolving door and ignoring the pleas of the security guard to wait a moment. I felt bad putting him in the middle.
I saw Angus and the Bentley at the curb at the same moment I heard Gideon snap out my name like a whipcrack behind me. I faced him as he joined us on the sidewalk with his face impassive and his gaze icy.
"I'm going to lunch with my boss," I told him, my chin lifting.
"Where are you headed, Garrity?" Gideon asked without taking his eyes off me.
"Bryant Park Grill."
"I'll see that she gets there." With that, he took my arm and steered me firmly toward the Bentley and the rear door that Angus held open for me. Gideon crowded in behind me, forcing me to scramble across the seat. The door shut and we were off.
I yanked the skirt of my sheath dress back into place. "What are you doing? Besides embarrassing me in front of my boss!"
He draped one arm over the back of the seat and leaned toward me. "Is Cary in love with you?"
"Have you fucked him?"
"Have you lost your mind?" Mortified, I shot a glance at Angus and found him acting like he was deaf. "Screw you, billionaire playboy with your bevy of beautiful socialites."
"So you did see the photos."
I was so mad I was panting. The nerve. I turned my head away, dismissing him and his idiotic accusations. "Cary's like a brother to me. You know that."
"Ah, but what are you to him? The photos were amazingly clear, Eva. I know love when I see it."
Angus slowed for a herd of pedestrians crossing the street. I shoved the door open and looked at Gideon over my shoulder, letting him take a good look at my face. "Obviously, you don't."
I slammed the door shut and set off briskly, righteous in my anger. I'd fought back my own questions and jealousy with herculean effort, and what did I get for it? An irrationally pissed-off Gideon.
"Eva. Stop right there."
I flipped him the bird over my shoulder and raced up the short steps into Bryant Park, a lushly green and tranquil oasis in the midst of the city. Just crossing up and over from the sidewalk was like being transported to a completely different realm. Dwarfed by the towering skyscrapers surrounding it, Bryant Park was a garden land behind a beautiful old library. A place where time slowed, children laughed over the innocent joy of a carousel ride, and books were treasured companions.
Unfortunately for me, the gorgeous ogre from one world chased me into the other. Gideon caught me by the waist.
"Don't run," he hissed in my ear.
"You're acting like a nut job."
"Maybe because you drive me fucking crazy." His arms tightened into steel bands. "You're mine. Tell me Cary knows that."
"Right. Like Magdalene knows you're mine." I wished he had something near my mouth that I could bite. "You're causing a scene."
"We could've done this in my office, if you weren't so damned stubborn."
"I had plans, asshat. And you're fucking them up for me." My voice broke, tears welling as I felt the number of eyes on us. I was going to get fired for being an embarrassing spectacle. "You're fucking up everything."
Gideon instantly released me, turning me to face him. His grip on my shoulders ensured I still couldn't get away.
"Christ." He crushed me against him, his lips in my hair. "Don't cry. I'm sorry."
I beat my fist against his chest, which was as effectual as hitting a rock wall. "What's wrong with you? You can go out with a catty bitch who calls me a whore and thinks she's going to marry you, but I can't have lunch with a dear friend who's been pulling for you from the beginning?"
"Eva." He cupped the back of my head with one hand and pressed his cheek to my temple. "Maggie just happened to be at the same restaurant where I had dinner with my business associates."
"I don't care. You want to talk about a look on someone's face. The look on yours…How could you look at her like that after what she said to me?"
"Angel…" His lips moved ardently over my face. "That look was for you. Maggie caught me outside and I told her I was heading home to you. I can't help how I look when I'm thinking about us being alone together."
"And you expect me to believe she smiled about that?"
"She told me to tell you hello, but I figured that wouldn't go over well, and there was no way I was ruining our night over her."
My arms slid around his waist beneath his jacket. "We need to talk. Tonight, Gideon. There are things I have to tell you. If a reporter looks in the right place and gets lucky…We have to keep our relationship private or end it. Either would be better for you."
Gideon cupped my face and pressed his forehead to mine. "Neither is an option. Whatever it is, we'll figure it out."
I pushed up onto my toes and pressed my mouth to his. Our tongues stroked and dipped, the kiss wildly passionate. I was vaguely aware of the multitude of people milling around us, the buzz of numerous conversations, and the steady rumble of the ceaseless midtown traffic, but none of it mattered while I was sheltered by Gideon. Cherished by him. He was both tormentor and pleasurer, a man whose mood swings and volatile passions rivaled my own.
"There," he whispered, running his fingertips down my cheek. "Let that go viral."
"You're not listening to me, you crazy stubborn man. I have to go."
"We'll ride home together after work." He backed away, holding my hand until distance pulled our fingers apart.
When I turned toward the ivy-draped restaurant, I saw Mark and Steven waiting for me by the entrance. They made such a pair with Mark in his suit and tie, and Steven in his worn jeans and boots.
Steven stood with his hands in his pockets and big grin on his attractive face. "I feel like I should applaud. That was better than watching a chick flick."
My face heated and I shifted on my feet.
Mark opened the door and waved me inside. "I think you can ignore my previous words of wisdom about Cross's womanizing."
"Thanks for not firing me," I replied wryly as we waited for the hostess to check our reservation and table. "Or at least feeding me first."
Steven patted my shoulder. "Mark can't afford to lose you."
Pulling out a chair for me, Mark smiled. "How else will I give Steven regular updates on your love life? He's a soap opera addict, you know. He loves romantic dramas."
I snorted. "You're kidding."
Steven ran a hand over his chin and smiled. "I'll never admit it one way or the other. A man's got to have his secrets."
My mouth curved, but I was painfully aware of my own hidden truths. And how quickly time was passing before I'd have to reveal them.
Five o'clock found me steeling myself to divulge my secrets. I was tense and somber when Gideon and I slid into the Bentley, and my disquiet only worsened when I felt him studying the side of my averted face. When he took my hand and lifted it to his lips, I felt like crying. I was still trying to adjust after our argument in the park, and that was the least of what we had to deal with.
We didn't speak until we arrived at his apartment.
When we entered his home, he led me straight through his beautiful, expansive living room and down the hall to his bedroom. There, laid out on the bed, was a fabulous cocktail dress the color of Gideon's eyes and a floor-length black silk robe.
"I had a little time to shop before dinner yesterday," he explained.
My apprehension lifted slightly, softened by pleasure at his thoughtfulness. "Thank you."
He set my bag on a chair by the dresser. "I'd like you to get comfortable. You can wear the robe or something of mine. I'll open a bottle of wine and we'll just settle in. When you're ready, we'll talk."
"I'd like to take a quick shower." I wished we could separate what happened in the park from what I had to tell him so that each issue was dealt with on its own merits, but I didn't have a choice. Every day was another opportunity for someone else to tell Gideon what he needed to hear from me.
"Whatever you want, angel. Make yourself at home."
As I kicked off my heels and moved into the bathroom, I felt the weight of his concern, but my revelations would have to hold until I could compose myself better. In an effort to gain that control, I took my time in the shower. Unfortunately, it made me remember the one we'd taken together just that morning. Had that been both our first and last as a couple?
When I was ready, I found Gideon standing by the couch in the living room. He'd changed into black silk pajama bottoms that hung low around his hips. Nothing else. A small blaze flickered in the fireplace and a bottle of wine sat in an ice-filled bucket on the coffee table. A grouping of ivory candles had been clustered as a centerpiece, their golden glow the only illumination besides the fire.
"Excuse me," I said from the threshold of the room. "I'm looking for Gideon Cross, the man who doesn't have romance in his repertoire."
He grinned sheepishly, a boyish smile so at odds with the mature sexuality of his bared body. "I don't think about it that way. I just try to guess what might please you, and then I give it a shot and hope for the best."
"You please me." I crossed to him, the black robe swaying around my legs. I loved that he'd put on something that matched what he had given me.
"I want to," he said soberly. "I'm working on it."
Stopping in front of him, I drank in the beauty of his face and the sexy way the ends of his hair caressed the top of his shoulders. I ran my palms down his biceps, squeezing the hard muscle gently before stepping into him and pressing my face into his chest.
"Hey," he murmured, wrapping his arms around me. "Is this about me being an ass at lunch? Or whatever it is you need to say to me? Talk to me, Eva, so I can tell you it'll be okay."
I nuzzled my nose between his pecs, feeling the tickle of crisp chest hair against my cheek and breathing in the reassuring, familiar scent of his skin. "You should sit down. I have to tell you things about me. Ugly things."
Gideon reluctantly let me go when I pulled away from him. I curled up on his couch with my legs tucked underneath me and he poured us both glasses of golden wine before taking a seat. Leaning toward me, he draped one arm over the back of the sofa and held his glass with the other hand, giving me every bit of his attention.
"Okay. Here goes." I took a deep breath before starting, feeling dizzy from the elevated rate of my pulse. I couldn't remember the last time I'd been so nervous or sick to my stomach.
"My mother and father never married. I really don't know too much about how they met, because neither of them talks about it. I know my mom came from money. Not as much as she married into, but more than most people have. She was a debutante. Had the whole white dress and presentation thing. Getting pregnant with me was a mistake that got her disowned, but she kept me."
I looked down into my glass. "I really admire her for that. There was a lot of pressure for her to make the baby – make me – go away, but she went through with the pregnancy anyway. Obviously."
His fingers sifted through my shower-damp hair. "Lucky me."
I caught his fingers and kissed his knuckles, then held his hand in my lap. "Even with a kid in tow, she was able to land herself a millionaire. He was a widower with a son just two years older than me, so I think they both thought they'd found the perfect arrangement. He traveled a lot and was rarely home, and my mom spent his money and took over raising his son."
"I understand the need for money, Eva," he murmured. "I have to have it, too. I need the power of it. The security."
Our eyes met. Something passed between us with that small admission. It made it easier for me to say what came next.
"I was ten the first time my stepbrother raped me – "
The stem of his glass snapped in his hand. He moved so swiftly he was a blur, catching the bowl of his goblet against his thigh before it spilled its contents.
I scrambled to my feet when he rose to his. "Did you cut yourself? Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," he bit out. He went into the kitchen and threw the broken glass away, shattering it further. I set my own glass down carefully, my hands shaking. I heard cupboards opening and closing. A few minutes later Gideon returned with a tumbler of something darker in his hand.
"Sit down, Eva."
I stared at him. His frame was rigid, his eyes icy cold. He scrubbed a hand over his face and said more gently, "Sit down…please."
My weakened knees gave out and I sat on the edge of the sofa, pulling the robe tighter around me.
Gideon remained standing, taking a large swallow of whatever was in his hand. "You said the first time. How many times were there?"
I took conscious breaths, trying to calm myself. "I don't know. I lost count."
"Did you tell anyone? Did you tell your mother?"
"No. My God, if she'd known, she would've gotten me out of there. But Nathan made sure I was too afraid to tell her." I tried to swallow past a tight, dry throat and winced at the painful sandpapery burn. When my voice came again, it was barely a whisper. "There was a time when it got so bad I almost told her anyway, but he knew. Nathan could tell I was close. So he broke my cat's neck and left her on my bed."
"Jesus Christ." His chest was heaving. "He wasn't just fucked up, he was insane. And he was touching you…Eva."
"The servants had to know," I went on numbly, staring at my twisted hands. I just wanted to get it over with, to get it all out so I could put it back into the box in my mind where I forgot about it in my day-to-day life. "The fact that they didn't say anything either told me they were scared, too. They were grownups and they didn't say a word. I was a child. What could I do if they wouldn't do anything?"
"How did you get out?" he asked hoarsely. "When did it end?"
"When I was fourteen. I thought I was having my period, but there was too much blood. My mother panicked and took me to the emergency room. I'd had a miscarriage. In the course of the exam they found evidence of…other trauma. Vaginal and anal scarring – "
Gideon set his glass down on the end table with a harsh thud.
"I'm sorry," I whispered, feeling like I might be sick. "I'd spare you the details, but you need to know what someone might dig up. The hospital reported the abuse to child services. It's all a matter of public record, which has been sealed, but there are people who know the story. When my mom married Stanton, he went back and tightened those seals, paid out in return for nondisclosure agreements…stuff like that. But you have a right to know that this could come out and embarrass you."
"Embarrass me?" he snapped, vibrating with rage. "Embarrassment isn't on the list of what I'd feel."
"Gideon – "
"I would destroy the career of any reporter who wrote about this, and then I'd dismantle the publication that ran the piece." He was so cold with fury, he was icy. "I'm going to find the monster who hurt you, Eva, wherever he is, and I'm going to make him wish he was dead."
A shiver moved through me, because I believed him. It was in his face. His voice. In the energy he exuded and his sharply honed focus. He wasn't just dark and dangerous in his looks. Gideon was a man who got what he wanted, whatever it took.
I pushed to my feet. "He's not worth the effort. Not worth your time."
"You are. You're worth it. Damn it. Goddamn it to hell."
I moved closer to the fireplace, needing the warmth. "There's also a money trail. Cops and reporters always follow the money. Someone may wonder why my mother left her first marriage with two million dollars, but her daughter from a previous relationship left with five."
Without looking, I felt his sudden stillness. "Of course," I went on, "that blood money's probably grown to considerably more than that now. I won't touch it, but Stanton manages the brokerage account I dumped it in and everyone knows he has the Midas touch. If you ever had any concern that I wanted your money – "
I turned to face him. I saw his face, his eyes. Saw the pity and horror. But it was what I didn't see that hurt the most.
It was my greatest nightmare realized. I'd feared that my past might negatively impact his attraction to me. I'd told Cary that Gideon might stay with me for all the wrong reasons. That he might stay by my side, but that I'd still – for all intents and purposes – lose him anyway.
And it seemed I had.