New York cabbies were a unique breed. Fearless to a fault, they sped and swerved through crowded streets with unnatural calm. To save my sanity, I'd learned to focus on the screen of my smartphone instead of the cars rushing by only inches away. Whenever I made the mistake of paying attention, I'd find my right foot pushing hard into the floorboard, my body instinctively trying to hit the brakes.
But for once, I didn't need any distractions. I was sticky with sweat from an intense Krav Maga class and my mind was spinning with thoughts of what the man I loved had done.
Gideon Cross. Just thinking of his name sent a heated flare of longing through my tightly strung body. From the moment I first saw him--saw through his stunning and impossibly gorgeous exterior to the dark and dangerous man inside--I'd felt the pull that came from finding the other half of myself. I needed him like I needed my heart to beat, and he'd put himself in great jeopardy, riskingeverything--for me.
The blare of a horn snapped me back to the present.
Through the windshield, I saw my roommate's million-dollar smile flashing at me from the billboard on the side of a bus. Cary Taylor's lips had a come-hither curve and his long, lean frame was blocking the intersection. The taxi driver was hitting his horn repeatedly, as if that would clear the way.
Not a chance. Cary wasn't moving and neither was I. He lounged on his side, bare-chested and barefooted, his jeans unbuttoned to show both the waistband of his underwear and the sleek lines of his ripped abs. His dark brown hair was sexily mussed and his emerald eyes were bright with mischief.
I was suddenly struck with the knowledge that I would have to keep a dreadful secret from my best friend.
Cary was my touchstone, my voice of reason, my favorite shoulder to lean on--and a brother to me in every way that mattered. I hated the thought of having to hold back what Gideon had done for me.
I wanted desperately to talk about it, to get help working it out in my head, but I'd never be able to tell anyone. Even our therapist could be ethically and legally bound to break our confidence.
A burly, neon-vested traffic cop appeared and urged the bus into its lane with an authoritative white-gloved hand and a holler that meant business. He waved us through the intersection just before the light changed. I sat back, my arms around my waist, rocking.
The ride from Gideon's Fifth Avenue penthouse to my apartment on the Upper West Side was a short one, but somehow it felt like an eternity. The information that NYPD detective Shelley Graves had shared with me just a few hours earlier had changed my life.
It also forced me to abandon the one person I needed to be with.
I'd left Gideon alone because I couldn't trust Graves's motives. I couldn't take the chance that she'd told me her suspicions just to see if I'd run to him and prove that his breakup with me was a well-crafted lie.
God. The riot of emotions I felt had my heart racing. Gideon needed me now--as much as, if not more than, I needed him--yet I'd walked away.
The desolation in his eyes as the doors to his private elevator separated us had ripped me open inside.
The cab turned the corner and pulled up in front of my apartment building. The night doorman opened the car door before I could tell the driver to turn around and take me back, and the sticky August air rushed in to chase the air-conditioning away.
"Good evening, Miss Tramell." The doorman accompanied the greeting with a tap of his fingers to the brim of his hat and waited patiently while I swiped my debit card. When I'd finished paying, I accepted his help out of the back of the cab and felt his gaze slide discreetly over my tearstained face.
Smiling as if everything were okay in my world, I rushed into the lobby and headed straight for the elevator, with a brief wave at the front desk staff.
Turning my head, I discovered a svelte brunette in a stylish skirt-and-blouse ensemble rising to her feet in the lobby seating area. Her dark hair fell in thick waves around her shoulders, and her smile graced full lips that were a glossy pink. I frowned, not recognizing her.
"Yes?" I replied, suddenly wary. There was an avid gleam in her dark eyes that got my back up. Despite how battered I felt and probably looked, I squared my shoulders and faced her directly.
"Deanna Johnson," she said, thrusting out a well-manicured hand. "Freelance reporter."
I arched a brow. "Hello."
She laughed. "You don't have to be so suspicious. I'd just like to chat with you a few minutes. I've got a story I'm working on, and I could use your help."
"No offense, but I can't think of anything I want to talk to a reporter about."
"Not even Gideon Cross?"
The hairs on my nape prickled. "Especially not him."
As one of the twenty-five richest men in the world, with a New York real estate portfolio so extensive it boggled the mind, Gideon was always news. But it was also news that he'd dumped me and gotten back together with his ex-fiancée.
Deanna crossed her arms, a move that accentuated her cleavage, something I took note of only because I was eyeing her again with more care.
"Come on," she coaxed. "I can keep your name out of it, Eva. I won't use anything that identifies you. This is your chance to get a bit of your own back."
A rock settled in the bottom of my stomach. She was so exactly Gideon's type--tall, slender, dark-haired, and golden-skinned. So very unlike me.
"Are you sure you want to go down this road?" I asked quietly, intuitively certain she'd fucked my man at some point in the past. "He isn't someone I'd want to cross."
"Are you afraid of him?" she shot back. "I'm not. His money doesn't give him the right to do whatever the hell he wants."
I took a slow, deep breath and remembered when Dr. Terrence Lucas--someone else who was at odds with Gideon--had said something similar to me. Now that I knew what Gideon was capable of, how far he would go to protect me, I couldstill answer honestly and without reservation, "No, I'm not afraid. But I've learned to pick my battles. Moving on is the best revenge."
Her chin lifted. "Not all of us have rock stars waiting in the wings."
"Whatever." I sighed inwardly at her mention of my ex, Brett Kline, who was front man for a band on the rise and one of the sexiest men I'd ever met. Like Gideon, he radiated sex appeal like a heat wave. Unlike Gideon, he wasn't the love of my life. I was never going to wade in that pool again.
"Listen"--Deanna pulled a business card out of a pocket of her skirt--"pretty soon you're going to figure out that Gideon Cross was using you to get Corinne Giroux jealous enough to come back to him. When you smell the coffee, call me. I'll be waiting."
I accepted the card. "Why do you think I know anything worth sharing?"
Her lush mouth thinned. "Because whatever Cross's motivation was for hooking up with you, you got to him. The iceman thawed a bit for you."
"Maybe he did, but it's over."
"That doesn't mean you don't know something, Eva. I can help you figure out what's newsworthy."
"What's your angle?" I'd be damned if I would sit back while someone took aim at Gideon. If she was determined to be a threat to him, I was determined to head her off at the pass.
"That man has a dark side."
"Don't we all?" What had she seen of Gideon? What had he revealed in the course of their . . . association? If they'd had one.
I wasn't sure I'd ever get to the point where thinking of Gideon being intimate with another woman didn't trigger ferocious jealousy.
"Why don't we go somewhere and talk?" she cajoled.
I shot a glance at the staffer at the front desk, who made a good show of politely ignoring us. I was too emotionally raw to deal with Deanna, and was still reeling from the conversation with Detective Graves.
"Maybe some other time," I said, leaving the option open because I intended to keep tabs on her.
As if he sensed my uneasiness, Chad, one of the night crew at the front desk, approached.
"Ms. Johnson was just leaving," I told him, consciously relaxing. If Detective Graves hadn't been able to pin anything on Gideon, a nosy freelance reporter wasn't going to do better.
Too bad I knew what kind of information could be leaked from the police, and how easily and often it was done. My father, Victor Reyes, was a cop, and I'd heard plenty on that subject.
I turned toward the elevators. "Good night, Deanna."
"I'll be around," she called after me.
I stepped into the elevator and hit the button for my floor. As the doors slid shut, I sagged into the handrail. I needed to warn Gideon, but there was no way for me to contact him that couldn't be traced.
The ache in my chest intensified. Our relationship was so fucked up. We couldn't even talk to each other.
I exited on my floor and let myself into my apartment, crossing the spacious living room to dump my purse on one of the kitchen bar stools. The view of Manhattan showcased through my living room's floor-to-ceiling windows failed to stir me. I was too agitated to care where I was. The only thing that mattered was that I wasn't with Gideon.
As I headed down the hallway toward my bedroom, the sound of muted music floated outward from Cary's. Did he have company over? If so, who was it? My best friend had decided to try juggling two relationships--one with a woman who accepted him the way he was and one with a man who hated that Cary was involved with someone else.
I shed my clothes across the bathroom floor en route to the shower. While I lathered, it was impossible not to think of the times I'd showered with Gideon, occasions when our lust for one another had fueled starkly erotic encounters. I missed him so much. I needed his touch, his desire, his love. My craving for those things was a gnawing hunger, making me restless and edgy. I had no idea how I was supposed to fall asleep when I didn't know when I'd get a chance to talk to Gideon again. There was so much that had to be said.
Wrapping a towel around me, I left the bathroom--
Gideon stood just inside my closed bedroom door. The sight of him spurred a reaction so abrupt it was like a physical blow. My breath caught and my heart lurched into an excited rhythm, my entire being responding to the sight of him with a potent rush of yearning. It felt like years since I'd last been with him, instead of a mere hour.
I'd given him a key, but he owned the building. Getting to me without leaving a trail that could be followed was possible with that advantage . . . just as he'd been able to get to Nathan.
"It's dangerous for you to be here," I pointed out. That didn't stop me from being thrilled that he was. My gaze drank him in, roaming avidly over his lean, broad-shouldered frame.
He wore black sweats and a well-loved Columbia sweatshirt, a combination that made him look like the twenty-eight-year-old man he was and not the billionaire mogul the rest of the world knew. A Yankees ball cap was pulled low over his brow, but the shadow cast by its brim did nothing to diminish the striking blue of his eyes. They stared at me fiercely, his sensual lips drawn into a grim line. "I couldn't stay away."
Gideon Cross was an impossibly gorgeous man, so beautiful that people stopped and stared when he walked by. I'd once thought of him as a sex god, and his frequent--and enthusiastic--displays of prowess constantly proved me right, but I also knew he was all too human. Like me, he'd been broken.
The odds were against our making it.
My chest expanded on a deep breath, my body responding to the proximity of his. Even though he stood several feet away, I could feel the heady attraction, the magnetic pull of being near the other half of my soul. It'd been that way with us from the very first meeting, both of us inexorably drawn together. We'd mistaken our ferocious mutual captivation for lust until we realized we couldn't breathe without each other.
I fought the urge to run into his arms, the place where I so desperately wanted to be. But he was too still, too tightly reined. I waited in exquisite anticipation for his cue.
God, I loved him so much.
His hands fisted at his sides. "I need you."
My core tightened in response to the roughness of his voice, the rasp of it warm and luxurious.
"You don't have to sound so happy about it," I teased breathlessly, trying to lighten his mood before he got me beneath him.
I loved him wild, and I loved him tender. I'd take him any way I could get him, but it'd been so long . . . My skin was already tingling and tightening expectantly, craving the greedy reverence of his touch. I feared what would happen if he came at me full force when I was so starved for his body. We might tear each other apart.
"It's killing me," he said gruffly. "Being without you. Missing you. I feel like my fucking sanity depends on you, Eva, and you want me to behappy about that?"
My tongue darted out to wet my dry lips and he growled, sending a shiver through me. "Well . . .I'm happy about it."
The tension in his posture visibly eased. He must've been so worried about how I would react to what he'd done for me. To be honest, I'd been worried. Did my gratitude mean I was more twisted than I realized?
Then I remembered my stepbrother's hands all over me . . . his weight pressing me into the mattress . . . the tearing pain between my legs as he rammed into me over and over . . .
I trembled with renewed fury. If being glad the fucker was dead made me twisted, so be it.
Gideon took a deep breath. His hand reached up to his chest and rubbed at the area over his heart as if it hurt him.
"I love you," I told him, my eyes stinging with fresh tears. "I love you so much."
"Angel." He reached me with quick strides, dropping his keys on the floor and shoving both hands into my damp hair. He was shaking and I cried, overwhelmed by the knowledge of how much he needed me.
Tilting my head to the angle he wanted, Gideon took my mouth with searing possession, tasting me with slow, deep licks. His passion and hunger exploded across my senses, and I whimpered, my hands tangling in his sweatshirt. His answering groan vibrated through me, tightening my nipples and sending goose bumps racing across my skin.
I melted into him, my hands pushing the cap from his head so that my fingers could sink into the silky black mane of his hair. I fell into the kiss, swept away by the lush carnality of it. A sob escaped me.
"Don't," he breathed, pulling back to cradle my jaw. He looked into my eyes. "It shreds me when you cry."
"It's too much." I trembled.
His beautiful eyes looked as weary as mine. He nodded grimly. "What I did--"
"Not that. How I feel about you."
He rubbed the tip of his nose against me, his hands sliding reverently along my bare arms--hands with proverbial blood on them, which only made me love his touch all the more.
"Thank you," I whispered.
His eyes closed. "God, when you left tonight . . . I didn't know if you'd come back . . . if I'd lost you--"
"I need you, too, Gideon."
"I won't apologize. I'd do it again." His grip tightened on me. "The options were restraining orders, increased security, vigilance . . . for the rest of your life. There was no guarantee you'd be safe unless Nathan was dead."
"You cut me off. Shut me out. You and me--"
"Forever." His fingertips pressed against my parted lips. "It's over, Eva. Don't argue about something that's too late to change."
I brushed his hand away. "Is it over? Can we be together now, or are we still hiding our relationship from the police? Are we even in a relationship?"
Gideon held my gaze, hiding nothing, letting me see his pain and fear. "That's what I'm here to ask you."
"If it's up to me, I'll never let you go," I said vehemently. "Never."
Gideon's hands slid down my throat to my shoulders, blazing a hot trail across my skin. "I need that to be true," he said softly. "I was afraid you'd run . . . that you'd be afraid. Of me."
"I would never hurt you."
I caught the waistband of his sweats and tugged, even though I couldn't budge him. "I know that."
And physically, I had no doubts; he'd always been careful with me, always cautious. But emotionally, my love had been used against me with meticulous precision. I was struggling with reconciling the absolute trust I had in Gideon's awareness of my needs and the wariness that came from a shattered heart still healing.
"Do you?" He searched my face, as attuned as always to what wasn't said. "Letting you go would kill me, but I wouldn't hurt you to keep you."
"I don't want to go anywhere."
He exhaled audibly. "My lawyers will be talking to the police tomorrow, to get a feel for where things stand."
Tilting my head back, I pressed my lips gently to his. We were colluding to hide a crime, and I'd be lying if I said that didn't seriously bother me--I was the daughter of a police officer, after all--but the alternative was too awful to consider.
"I have to know that you can live with what I've done," he said softly, wrapping my hair around his finger.
"I think so. Can you?"
His mouth found mine again. "I can survive anything if I have you."
I reached under his sweatshirt, seeking and finding his warm, golden skin. His muscles were hard and ridged beneath my palms, his body a seductive and virile work of art. I licked his lips, my teeth catching the full curve along the bottom and biting gently. Gideon groaned. The sound of his pleasure slid over me like a caress.
"Touch me." The words were an order, but his tone was a plea.
Reaching behind him, he grabbed my wrist and pulled my hand around. He thrust his cock shamelessly into my palm, grinding. My fingers curled around the thick, heavy length, my pulse quickening at the realization that he was commando beneath his sweats.
"God," I breathed. "You make me so hot."
His blue eyes were fierce on my face; his cheeks flushed and his sculpted lips parted. He never tried to hide the effect I had on him, never pretended that he had any more control over his response to me than I had to him. It made his dominance in the bedroom all the more exciting, knowing that he was similarly as helpless to the attraction between us.
My chest tightened. I still couldn't believe that he was mine, that I got to see him this way, so open and hungry and sexy as hell . . .
Gideon tugged my towel open. He inhaled sharply when it hit the floor and I stood before him completely naked. "Ah, Eva."
His voice throbbed with emotion, making my eyes sting. He yanked his shirt up and over his head, tossing it aside. Then he reached for me, stepping carefully into me, prolonging the moment when our bare skin would touch.
He gripped my hips, his fingers flexing restlessly, his breathing quick and harsh. The tips of my breasts touched him first, sending a sudden rush of sensation through my body. I gasped. He crushed me to him with a growl, lifting my feet from the floor and carrying me backward toward the bed.