Bared to You (Chapter 4)
"…two o'clock appointment is here."
It took an endless moment to realize Cross and I were still alone in the room, that the voice I'd heard had come through a speaker. Cross stood at the far end of the sofa, flushed and scowling, his chest heaving. His tie was loosened and the fly of his slacks strained against a very impressive erection.
I had a nightmare vision in my head of what I must look like. And I was late getting back to work.
"Christ." He shoved both hands through his hair. "It's the middle of the fucking day. In my goddamn fucking office!"
I got to my feet and tried to straighten my appearance.
"Here." He came to me, yanking my skirt up again.
Furious at what I'd almost let happen when I should be at work, I smacked at his hands. "Stop it. Leave me alone."
"Shut up, Eva," he said grimly, catching the hem of my black silk blouse and tugging it into place, adjusting it so that the buttons once again formed a straight row between my breasts. Then he pulled down my skirt, smoothing it with calm, expert hands. "Fix your ponytail."
Cross retrieved his coat, shrugging into it before adjusting his tie. We reached the door at the same time and when I crouched to fetch my purse, he lowered with me.
He caught my chin, forcing me to look at him. "Hey," he said softly. "You okay?"
My throat burned. I was aroused and mad and thoroughly embarrassed. I'd never in my life lost my mind like that. And I hated that I'd done so with him, a man whose approach to sexual intimacy was so clinical it depressed me just thinking about it.
I jerked my chin away. "Do I look okay?"
"You look beautiful and fuckable. I want you so badly it hurts. I'm dangerously close to taking you back to the couch and making you come 'til you beg me to stop."
"Can't accuse you of being silver-tongued," I muttered, aware that I wasn't offended. In fact, the rawness of his hunger for me was a serious aphrodisiac. Clutching the strap of my purse, I stood on shaky legs. I needed to get away from him. And, when my workday was done, I needed to be alone with a big glass of wine.
Cross stood with me. "I'll be done by five. I'll come get you then."
"No, you won't. This doesn't change anything."
"The hell it doesn't."
"Don't be arrogant, Cross. I lost my head for a second, but I still don't want what you want."
His fingers curled around the door handle. "Yes, you do. You just don't want it the way I want to give it to you. So, we'll revisit and revise."
More business. Cut-and-dried. My spine stiffened.
I set my hand over his and yanked on the handle, ducking under his arm to squeeze out the door. His secretary shoved quickly to his feet, gaping, as did the woman and two men who were waiting for Cross. I heard him speak behind me.
"Scott will show you into my office. I'll be just a moment."
He caught me by reception, his arm crossing my lower back to grip my hip. Not wanting to make a scene, I waited until we were by the elevators to pull away.
He stood calmly and hit the call button. "Five o'clock, Eva."
I stared at the lighted button. "I'm busy."
"I'm busy all weekend."
Stepping in front of me, he asked tightly, "With whom?"
"That's none of your – "
His hand covered my mouth. "Don't. Tell me when, then. And before you say never, take a good look at me and tell me if you see a man who's easily deterred."
His face was hard, his gaze narrowed and determined. I shivered. I wasn't sure I'd win a battle of wills with Gideon Cross.
Swallowing, I waited until he lowered his hand and said, "I think we both need to cool off. Take a couple days to think."
He persisted. "Monday after work."
The elevator arrived and I stepped into it. Facing him, I countered, "Monday lunch."
We'd have only an hour, a guaranteed escape.
Just before the doors closed, he said, "We're going to happen, Eva."
It sounded as much like a threat as a promise.
"Don't sweat it, Eva," Mark said, when I arrived at my desk nearly a quarter after two. "You didn't miss anything. I had a late lunch with Mr. Leaman. I just barely got back myself."
"Thank you." No matter what he said, I still felt terrible. My kick-ass Friday morning seemed to have happened days ago.
We worked steadily until five, discussing a fast-food client and contemplating some possible tweaks to ad copy for a chain of organic grocery stores.
"Talk about strange bedfellows," Mark had teased, not knowing how apt that was in regard to my personal life.
I'd just shut down my computer and was pulling my purse out of the drawer when my phone rang. I glanced at the clock, saw it was exactly five, and considered ignoring the call because I was technically done for the day.
But since I was still feeling shitty about my overly-long lunch, I considered it penance and answered. "Mark Garrity's – "
"Eva honey. Richard says you forgot your cell phone at his office."
I exhaled in a rush and sagged back into my chair. I could picture the handkerchief wringing that usually accompanied that particular anxious tone of my mother's. It drove me nuts and it also broke my heart. "Hi, Mom. How are you?"
"Oh, I'm lovely. Thank you." My mom had a voice that was both girlish and breathy, like Marilyn Monroe crossed with Scarlett Johansson. "Clancy dropped your phone off with the concierge at your place. You really shouldn't go anywhere without it. You never know when you might need to call for someone – "
I'd been debating the logistics of just keeping the phone and forwarding calls to a new number I didn't share with my mom, but that wasn't my biggest concern. "What does Dr. Petersen say about you tracing my phone?"
The silence on the other end of the line was telling. "Dr. Petersen knows I worry about you."
Pinching the bridge of my nose, I said, "I think it's time for us to have another joint appointment, Mom."
"Oh…of course. He did mention that he'd like to see you again."
Probably because he suspects you're not being forthcoming. I changed the subject. "I really like my new job."
"That's wonderful, Eva! Is your boss treating you well?"
"Yes, he's great. I couldn't ask for anyone better."
"Is he handsome?"
I smiled. "Yes, very. And he's taken."
"Damn it. The good ones always are." She laughed and my smile widened.
I loved it when she was happy. I wished she were happy more often. "I can't wait to see you tomorrow at the advocacy dinner."
Monica Tramell Barker Mitchell Stanton was in her element at society functions, a gilded shining beauty who'd never lacked male attention in her life.
"Let's make a day of it," my mom said breathlessly. "You, me, and Cary. We'll go to the spa, get pretty and polished. I'm sure you could use a massage after working so hard."
"I won't turn one down, that's for sure. And I know Cary will love it."
"Oh, I'm excited! I'll send a car by your place around eleven?"
"We'll be ready."
After I hung up, I leaned back in my chair and exhaled, needing a hot bath and an orgasm. If Gideon Cross somehow found out I masturbated while thinking about him, I didn't care. Being sexually frustrated was weakening my position, a weakness I knew he wouldn't be sharing. No doubt he'd have a preapproved orifice lined up before day's end.
As I swapped out my heels for my walking shoes, my phone rang again. My mother was rarely distracted for long. The five minutes since we'd ended our call was just about the right length of time for her to realize the cell phone issue hadn't been resolved. Once again, I debated ignoring the phone, but I didn't want to take any of the day's crap home with me.
I answered with my usual greeting, but it lacked its usual punch.
"I'm still thinking about you."
The velvet rasp of Cross's voice flooded me with such relief I realized I'd been hoping to hear it again. Today.
God. The craving was so acute I knew he'd become a drug to my body, the prime source of some very intense highs.
"I can still feel you, Eva. Still taste you. I've been hard since you left, through two meetings and one teleconference. You've got the advantage, state your demands."
"Ah," I murmured. "Lemme think."
I let him wait, smiling as I remembered Cary's comment about blue balls. "Hmm…Nothing is coming to mind. But I do have some friendly advice. Go spend time with a woman who salivates at your feet and makes you feel like a god. Fuck her until neither of you can walk. When you see me on Monday you'll be totally over it and your life will return to its usual obsessive-compulsive order."
The creak of leather sounded over the phone and I imagined him leaning back in his desk chair. "That was your one free pass, Eva. The next time you insult my intelligence, I'll take you over my knee."
"I don't like that sort of thing." And yet the warning, given in that voice, aroused me. Dark and Dangerous for sure.
"We'll discuss. In the interim, tell me what you do like."
I stood. "You definitely have the voice for phone sex, but I've got to go. I have a date with my vibrator."
I should've hung up then, to gain the full effect of the brush-off, but I couldn't resist learning if he'd gloat like I had imagined he would. Plus, I was having fun with him.
"Oh, Eva." Cross spoke my name in a decadent purr. "You're determined to drive me to my knees, aren't you? What will it take to talk you into a threesome with B.O.B.?"
I ignored both questions as I slung my bag and purse over my shoulder, grateful he couldn't see how my hand shook. I was not discussing Battery Operated Boyfriends with Gideon Cross. I'd never discussed masturbation openly with a man, let alone a man who was for all intents and purposes a stranger to me. "B.O.B. and I have a longtime understanding – when we're done with each other, we know exactly which one of us has been used, and it isn't me. Good night, Gideon."
I hung up and took the stairs, deciding the twenty-floor descent would serve double-duty as both an avoidance technique and a replacement for a visit to the gym.
I was so grateful to be home after the day I'd had that I practically danced through my apartment's front door. My heartfelt "God, it's good to be home!" and accompanying spin was vehement enough to startle the couple on the couch.
"Oh," I said, wincing at my own silliness. Cary wasn't in a compromising position with his guest when I barged in, but they'd been sitting close enough to suggest intimacy.
Grudgingly, I thought of Gideon Cross, who preferred to strip all intimacy out of the most intimate act I could imagine. I'd had one-night stands and friends with benefits, and no one knew better than I that sex and making love were two very different things, but I didn't think I'd ever be able to view sex like a handshake. I thought it was sad that Cross did, even though he wasn't a man who inspired pity or sympathy.
"Hey, baby girl," Cary called out, pushing to his feet. "I was hoping you'd make it back before Trey had to leave."
"I have class in an hour," Trey explained, rounding the coffee table as I dropped my bag on the floor and put my purse on a barstool at the breakfast bar. "But I'm glad I got to meet you before I left."
"Me, too." I shook the hand he extended to me, taking him in with a quick glance. He was about my age, I guessed. Average height and nicely muscular. He had unruly blond hair, soft hazel eyes, and a nose that had clearly been broken at some point.
"Mind if I grab a glass of wine?" I asked. "It's been a long day."
"Go for it," Trey replied.
"I'll take one, too." Cary joined us by the breakfast bar. He was wearing loose-fitting black jeans and an off-the-shoulder black sweater. The look was casual and elegant, and did a phenomenal job of offsetting his dark brown hair and emerald eyes.
I went to the wine fridge and pulled out a random bottle.
Trey shoved his hands in the pockets of his jeans and rocked back on his heels, talking quietly with Cary as I uncorked and poured.
The phone rang and I grabbed the handset off the wall. "Hello?"
"Hey, Eva? It's Parker Smith."
"Parker, hi." I leaned my hip into the counter. "How are you?"
"I hope you don't mind my calling. Your stepdad gave me your number."
Gah. I'd had enough of Stanton for one day. "Not at all. What's up?"
"Honestly? Everything's looking up right now. Your stepdad is like my fairy godfather. He's funding a few safety improvements to the studio and some much-needed upgrades. That's why I'm calling. The studio's going to be out of commission for the rest of the week. Classes will resume next Monday."
I closed my eyes, struggling to tamp down a flare of exasperation. It wasn't Parker's fault that Stanton and my mom were overprotective control freaks. Clearly they didn't see the irony of defending me while I was surrounded by people trained to do that very thing. "Sounds good. I can't wait. I'm really excited to be training with you."
"I'm excited, too. I'm going to work you hard, Eva. Your parents are going to get their money's worth."
I set a filled glass in front of Cary and took a big gulp out of my own. It never ceased to amaze me how much cooperation money could buy. But again, that wasn't Parker's fault. "No complaints here."
"We'll get started first thing next week. Your driver has the schedule."
"Great. See you then." I hung up and caught the glance Trey shot Cary when he thought neither of us was looking. It was soft and filled with a sweet yearning, and it reminded me that my problems could wait. "I'm sorry I caught you on the way out, Trey. Do you have time for pizza Wednesday night? I'd love to do more than say hi and bye."
"I have class." He gave me a regretful smile and shot another side-glance at Cary. "But I could come by on Tuesday."
"That'd be great." I smiled. "We could order in and have a movie night."
"I'd like that."
I was rewarded with the kiss Cary blew me as he headed to the door to show Trey out. When he returned to the kitchen he grabbed his wine and said, "All right. Spill it, Eva. You looked stressed."
"I am," I agreed, grabbing the bottle and moving into the living room.
"It's Gideon Cross, isn't it?"
"Oh, yeah. But I don't want to talk about him." Although Gideon's pursuit was exhilarating, his goal sucked. "Let's talk about you and Trey instead. How did you two meet?"
"I ran across him on a job. He's working part time as a photographer's assistant. Sexy, isn't he?" His eyes were bright and happy. "And a real gentleman. In an old-school way."
"Who knew there were any of those left?" I muttered before polishing off my first glass.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing. I'm sorry, Cary. He seemed great, and he obviously digs you. Is he studying photography?"
"Wow. That's awesome."
"I think so, too. But forget about Trey for a minute. Talk about what's bugging you. Get it out."
I sighed. "My mom. She found out about my interest in Parker's studio and now she's freaking out."
"What? How'd she find out? I swear I haven't told anyone."
"I know you didn't. Never even crossed my mind." Grabbing the bottle off the table, I refilled my glass. "Get this. She's been tracking my cell phone."
Cary's brows rose. "Seriously? That's…creepy."
"I know, right? That's what I told Stanton, but he doesn't want to hear it."
"Well, hell." He ran a hand through his long bangs. "So what do you do?"
"Get a new phone. And meet with Dr. Petersen to see if he can't talk some sense into her."
"Good move. Turn it over to her shrink. So…is everything okay with your job? Do you still love it?"
"Totally." My head fell back into the sofa cushions and my eyes closed. "My work and you are my lifesavers right now."
"What about the young hottie bazillionaire who wants to nail you? Come on, Eva. You know I'm dying here. What happened?"
I told him, of course. I wanted his take on it all. But when I finished, he was quiet. I lifted my head to look at him, and found him bright-eyed and biting his lip.
"Cary? What are you thinking?"
"I'm feeling kind of hot from that story." He laughed and the warm, richly masculine sound swept a lot of my irritation away. "He's got to be so confused right now. I would've paid money to see his face when you hit him with that bit he wanted to spank you over."
"I can't believe he said that." Just remembering Cross's voice when he made that threat had my palms damp enough to leave steam on my glass. "What the hell is he into?"
"Spanking's not deviant. Besides, he was going for missionary on the couch, so he's not averse to the basics." He fell into the couch, a brilliant smile lighting up his handsome face. "You're a huge challenge to a guy who obviously thrives on them. And he's willing to make concessions to have you, which I'd bet he's not used to. Just tell him what you want."
I split the last of the wine between us, feeling marginally better with a bit of alcohol in my veins. What did I want? Aside from the obvious? "We're totally incompatible."
"Is that what you call what happened on his couch?"
"Cary, come on. Boil it down. He picked me up off the lobby floor, and then asked me to fuck. That's really it. Even a guy I take home from a bar has more going for him than that. Hey, what's your name? Come here often? Who's your friend? What are you drinking? Like to dance? Do you work around here?"
"All right, all right. I get it." He set his glass down on the table. "Let's go out. Hit a bar. Dance 'til we drop. Maybe meet some guys who'll talk you up some."
"Or at least buy me a drink."
"Hey, Cross offered you one of those in his office."
I shook my head and stood. "Whatever. Let me take a shower and we'll go."
I threw myself into clubbing like it was going out of style. Cary and I bounced all over downtown clubs from Tribeca to the East Village, wasting stupid money on cover charges and having a fabulous time. I danced until my feet felt like they were going to fall off, but I toughed it out until Cary complained about his heeled boots first.
We'd just stumbled out of a techno-pop club with a plan to buy me flip-flops at a nearby Walgreens when we ran across a hawker promoting a lounge a few blocks away.
"Great place to get off your feet for a while," he said, without the usual flashy smile or exaggerated hype most of the hawkers employed. His clothes – black jeans and turtleneck – were more upscale, which intrigued me. And he didn't have fliers or postcards. What he handed me was a business card made from papyrus paper and printed with a gilded font that caught the light of the electric signage around us. I made a mental note to hang on to it as a great piece of print advertising.
A stream of quickly moving pedestrians flowed around us. Cary squinted down at the lettering, having a few more drinks in him than I had. "Looks swank."
"Show them that card," the hawker urged. "You'll skip the cover."
"Sweet." Cary linked arms with me and dragged me along. "Let's go. You might find a quality guy in a swanky joint."
My feet were seriously killing me by the time we found the place, but I quit bitching when I saw the charming entrance. The line to get in was long, extending down the street and around the corner. Amy Winehouse's soulful voice drifted out of the open door, as did well-dressed customers who exited with big smiles.
True to the hawker's word, the business card was a magic key that granted us immediate and free entrance. A gorgeous hostess led us upstairs to a quieter VIP bar that overlooked the stage and dance floor below. We were shown to a small seating area by the balcony and settled at a table hugged by two half-moon velvet sofas. She propped a beverage menu in the center and said, "Your drinks are on the house. Enjoy your evening."
"Wow." Cary whistled. "We scored."
"I think that hawker recognized you from an ad."
"Wouldn't that rock?" He grinned. "God, it's a great night. Hanging out with my best girl and crushing on a new hunk in my life."
"I think I've decided to see where things go with Trey."
That made me happy. It felt like I'd been waiting forever for him to find someone who'd treat him right. "Has he asked you out yet?"
"No, but I don't think it's because he doesn't want to." He shrugged and smoothed his artfully ripped T-shirt. Paired with black leather pants and spiked wristlets, he looked sexy and wild. "I just think he's trying to figure out the situation with you first. He wigged when I told him I lived with a woman and that I'd moved across the country to be with you. He's worried I might be bi-curious and secretly hung up on you. That's why I wanted you two to meet today, so he could see how you and I are together."
"I'm sorry, Cary. I'll try to put him at ease about it."
"It's not your fault. Don't worry about it. It'll work out if it's supposed to."
His assurances didn't make me feel better. I tried to think if there was a way I could help.
Two guys stopped by our table. "Okay if we join you?" the taller one asked.
I glanced at Cary, and then back at the guys. They looked like brothers and they were very attractive. Both were smiling and confident, their stances loose and easy.
I was about to say, Sure, when a warm hand settled on my bare shoulder and squeezed firmly. "This one's taken."
Across from me, Cary gaped as Gideon Cross rounded the sofa and extended his hand to him. "Taylor. Gideon Cross."
"Cary Taylor." He shook Gideon's hand with a wide smile. "But you knew that. Nice to meet you. I've heard a lot about you."
I could've killed him. I seriously thought about it.
"Good to know." Gideon settled on the seat beside me, his arm draped behind me so that his fingertips could brush casually and possessively up and down my arm. "Maybe there's hope for me yet."
Twisting at the waist, I faced him and whispered fiercely, "What are you doing?"
He shot me a hard glance. "Whatever it takes."
"I'm going to dance." Cary stood with a mischievous grin. "Be back in a bit."
Ignoring my pleading glance, my best friend blew me a kiss and the guys followed him. I watched them all go, my heart racing. After another minute, ignoring Gideon became ridiculous, as well as impossible.
My gaze slid over him. He wore dress slacks in graphite gray and a black V-neck sweater, the overall effect being one of careless sophistication. I loved the look on him and was attracted to the softness it gave him, even though I knew it was only an illusion. He was a hard man in a lot of ways.
I took a deep breath, feeling like I needed to make an effort to socialize with him. After all, wasn't that my big complaint? That he wanted to skip past the getting-to-know-you stage and jump straight into bed?
"You look…" I paused. Fantastic. Wonderful. Amazing. So damn sexy…In the end, I went with the lame, "I like the way you look."
His brow arched. "Ah, something you like about me. Is that a general like of the overall package? Or just the clothes? Only the sweater? Or maybe it's the pants?"
The edge to his tone rubbed me the wrong way. "And if I say it's just the sweater?"
"I'll buy a dozen and wear them every damn day."
"That would be a shame."
"You don't like the sweater?" He was pissy, his words coming clipped and fast.
My hands flexed restlessly in my lap. "I love the sweater, but I also like the suits."
He stared at me a minute, and then nodded. "How was your date with B.O.B.?"
Oh hell. I looked away. It was a lot easier talking about masturbation over the phone. Doing it while squirming under that piercing blue stare was mortifying. "I don't kiss and tell."
He brushed the backs of his fingers over my cheek and murmured, "You're blushing."
I heard the amusement in his voice and swiftly changed topics. "Do you come here often?"
Shit. Where did that cliched line come from?
His hand dropped to my lap and caught one of mine, his fingers curling into my palm. "When necessary."
A quick stab of jealousy made me stiffen. I glared at him, even though I was mad at myself for caring either way. "What does that mean? When you're on the prowl?"
Gideon's mouth curved into a genuine smile that hit me hard. "When expensive decisions need to be made. I own this club, Eva."
Of course he did. Jeez.
A pretty waitress set two pinkish-colored iced drinks in square tumblers on the table. She looked at Gideon and gave him a flirtatious smile. "Here you go, Mr. Cross. Two Stoli Elites and cranberry. Can I get you anything else?"
"That'll be all for now. Thanks."
I could totally see that she wanted to get on the preapproved list and I bristled at that; then I was distracted by what we'd been served. It was my beverage of choice when clubbing and what I'd been drinking all night. My nerves tingled. I watched him take a drink, swirl it around in his mouth like a fine wine, and then swallow it. The working of his throat made me hot, but that was nothing compared to what the intensity of his stare did to me.
"Not bad," he murmured. "Tell me if we made it right."
He kissed me. He moved in fast, but I saw it coming and didn't turn away. His mouth was cold and flavored with alcohol-laced cranberry. Delicious. All the chaotic emotion and energy that had been writhing around inside me abruptly became too much to contain. I shoved a hand in his glorious hair and clenched it tight, holding him still as I sucked on his tongue. His groan was the most erotic sound I'd ever heard, making the flesh between my legs tighten viciously.
Shocked by the fury of my reaction, I wrenched away, gasping.
Gideon followed, nuzzling the side of my face, his lips brushing over my ear. He was breathing hard, too, and the sound of the ice in his tumbler clinking against the glass skittered across my inflamed senses.
"I need to be inside you, Eva," he whispered roughly. "I'm aching for you."
My gaze fell to my drink on the table, my thoughts swirling around in my head, a clusterfuck of impressions and recollections and confusion. "How did you know?"
His tongue traced the shell of my ear and I shivered. It felt like every cell in my body was straining toward his. Resisting him took an impossible amount of energy, draining me and making me feel tired.
"Know what?" he asked.
"What I like to drink? What Cary's name is?"
He inhaled deeply, and then pulled away. Setting his drink down, he shifted on the sofa and drew a knee up onto the cushion between us so that he faced me directly. His arm once again draped over the sofa back, his fingertips drawing circles on the curve of my shoulder. "You visited another of my clubs earlier. Your credit card popped and your drinks were recorded. And Cary Taylor is listed on the rental agreement for your apartment."
The room spun. No way…My cell phone. My credit card. My fucking apartment. I couldn't breathe. Between my mother and Gideon, I felt claustrophobic.
"Eva. Jesus. You're white as a ghost." He shoved a glass into my hand. "Drink."
It was the Stoli and cranberry. I pounded it, draining the tumbler. My stomach churned for a moment, then settled. "You own the building I live in?" I gasped.
"Oddly enough, yes." He moved to sit on the table, facing me, his legs on either side of mine. He took my glass and set it aside; then warmed my chilled hands with his.
"Are you crazy, Gideon?"
His mouth thinned. "Is that a serious question?"
"Yes. Yes, it is. My mom stalks me, too, and she sees a shrink. Do you have a shrink?"
"Not presently, but you're driving me crazy enough to make that a possibility."
"So this behavior isn't normal for you?" My heart was pounding. I could hear the blood rushing past my eardrums. "Or is it?"
He shoved a hand through his hair, restoring order to the strands I'd mussed when we'd kissed. "I accessed information you voluntarily made available to me."
"Not to you! Not for what you used it for! That has to violate some kind of privacy law." I stared at him, more confused than ever. "Why would you do that?"
He had the grace to look disgruntled at least. "So I can figure you out, damn it."
"Why don't you just ask me, Gideon? Is that so fucking hard for people to do nowadays?"
"It is with you." He grabbed his drink off the table and tossed back most of it. "I can't get you alone for more than a few minutes at a time."
"Because the only thing you want to talk about is what you have to do to get laid!"
"Christ, Eva," he hissed, squeezing my hand. "Keep your voice down!"
I studied him, taking in every line and plane of his face. Unfortunately, cataloging the details didn't lessen my awe even a tiny bit. I was beginning to suspect I'd never get over being dazzled by his looks.
And I wasn't alone; I'd seen how other women reacted around him. And he was crazy rich, which made even old, bald, and paunchy guys attractive. It was no wonder he was used to snapping his fingers and scoring an orgasm.
His gaze darted over my face. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
"About what?" His jaw tightened. "And I'm warning you, if you say anything about orifices, preapprovals, or seminal emissions, I won't be held accountable for my actions."
That almost made me smile. "I want to understand a few things, because I think it's possible I'm not giving you enough credit."
"I'd like to understand a few things myself," he muttered.
"I'm guessing the 'I want to fuck you' approach has a high success rate for you."
Gideon's face smoothed into unreadable impassivity. "I'm not touching that one, Eva."
"Okay. You want to figure out what it's going to take to get me into bed. Is that why you're here in this club right now? Because of me? And don't say what you think I want to hear."
His gaze was clear and steady. "I'm here for you, yes. I arranged it."
Suddenly the threads the street hawker had been wearing made sense. We'd been hustled by someone on Cross Industries's payroll. "Did you figure that getting me here would get you laid?"
His mouth twitched with suppressed amusement. "There's always the hope, but I expected it would take more work than a chance meeting over drinks."
"You're right. So why do it? Why not wait until Monday lunch?"
"Because you're out trolling. I can't do anything about B.O.B., but I can stop you from picking up some asshole in a bar. You want to score, Eva, I'm right here."
"I'm not trolling. I'm burning off tension after a stressful day."
"You're not the only one." He fingered one of my silver chandelier earrings. "So you drink and dance when you're tense. I work on the problem that's making me tense in the first place."
His voice had softened, and it stirred an alarming yearning. "Is that what I am? A problem?"
"Absolutely." But there was a hint of a smile around his lips.
I knew that was a lot of the appeal for him. Gideon Cross wouldn't be where he was, at such a young age, if he took "no" gracefully. "What's your definition of dating?"
A frown marred the space between his brows. "Lengthy social time spent with a woman during which we're not actively fucking."
"Don't you enjoy the company of women?"
The frown turned into a scowl. "Sure, as long as there aren't any exaggerated expectations or excessive demands on my time. I've found the best way to steer clear of those is to have mutually exclusive sexual relationships and friendships."
There were those pesky "exaggerated expectations" again. Clearly, those were a sticking point with him. "So, you do have female friends?"
"Of course." His legs tightened around mine, capturing me. "Where are you going with this?"
"You segregate sex from the rest of your life. You separate it from friendship, work…everything."
"I've got good reasons for doing that."
"I'm sure you do. Okay, here are my thoughts." It was difficult concentrating when I was so close to Gideon. "I told you I don't want to date and I don't. My job is priority number one and my personal life – as a single woman – is a close second. I don't want to sacrifice any of that time on a relationship and there's really not enough left over to squeeze in anything steady."
"I'm right there with you."
"But I like sex."
"Good. Have it with me." His smile was an erotic invitation.
I shoved his shoulder. "I need a personal connection with the men I sleep with. It doesn't have to be intense or deep, but sex needs to be more than an emotionless transaction for me."
I could tell he wasn't being flippant. As bizarre as this conversation must be for him, Gideon was taking it seriously. "Call it one of my quirks, and I'm not saying that lightly. It pisses me off to feel used for sex. I feel devalued."
"Can't you look at it as you using me for sex?"
"Not with you." He was too forceful, too demanding.
A sizzling, predatory glimmer sparked in his eyes as I bared my weakness for him.
"Besides," I went on quickly, "that's semantics. I need an equal exchange in my sexual relationships. Or to have the upper hand."
"Okay? You said that really quickly considering I'm telling you I need to combine two things you work so hard to avoid putting together."
"I'm not comfortable with it and I don't claim to understand, but I'm hearing you – it's an issue. Tell me how to get around it."
My breath left me in a rush. I hadn't expected that. He was a man who wanted no complications with his sex and I was a woman who found sex complicated, but he wasn't giving up. Yet.
"We need to be friendly, Gideon. Not best buds or confidants, but two people who know more about each other than their anatomy. To me, that means we have to spend time together when we're not actively fucking. And I'm afraid we'll have to spend time not actively fucking in places where we're forced to restrain ourselves."
"Isn't that what we're doing now?"
"Yes. And see, that's what I mean. I wasn't giving you credit for that. You should've done it in a less creepy manner" – I covered his lips with my fingers when he tried to cut me off – "but I admit you did try to set up a time to talk and I wasn't helpful."
He nipped my fingers with his teeth, making me yelp and yank my hand away.
"Hey. What was that for?"
He lifted my abused hand to his mouth and kissed the hurt, his tongue darting out to soothe. And incite.
In self-defense, I tugged my hand back to my lap. I still wasn't completely confident that we'd worked things out. "Just so you know there are no exaggerated expectations – when you and I spend time together not actively fucking, I won't think it's a date. All right?"
"That covers it." Gideon smiled and my decision to be with him solidified for me. His smile was like lightning in the darkness, blinding and beautiful and mysterious, and I wanted him so badly it was physically painful.
His hands slid down to cup the backs of my thighs. Squeezing gently, he tugged me just a little bit closer. The hem of my short black halter dress slipped almost indecently high and his gaze was riveted to the flesh he'd exposed. His tongue wet his lips in an action so carnal and suggestive I could almost feel the caress on my skin.
Duffy began begging for mercy, her voice drifting up from the dance floor below. An unwelcome ache developed in my chest and I rubbed at it.
I'd already had enough, but I heard myself saying, "I need another drink."