ONE WITH YOU – Excerpt 1
When five o’clock rolled around, I took the elevator up to the heart of Cross Industries. As the car made the swift climb, my pulse rose along with it. After spending the last few days avoiding the one thing in the world I couldn’t resist, I was now going directly to him.
The freedom of that was exhilarating.
I sashayed off the elevator on the top floor, humming a tune. I even flashed a genuine smile at the receptionist as I waited for her to buzz me through the glass security doors. There was a second where I registered the way she looked at me with distaste, then I brushed it off. There were a lot of people who didn’t want me with Gideon.
They could all go fuck themselves. Asshats.
I also registered the ways heads turned to follow me as I made my way toward Gideon’s office. Curious gazes. I couldn’t blame them. For one, I was practically dancing on my feet at the end of the business day, when the frenetic pace of working in the city left most New Yorkers drained. And two, Gideon Cross was an enigma. Everyone wanted to know what his private life was like and I was the core of that.
When I turned the corner into the reception area of Gideon’s office, Scott stood to greet me. Sharply dressed in a pale blue dress shirt and crisp navy slacks, he was the first salvo in the impressive arsenal of impressions one received when meeting with Gideon.
Beyond him was the wall of glass that separated Gideon’s office from the rest of the floor. When it was clear, visitors could see Gideon at work against the backdrop of Manhattan, his tall and powerfully lean body dominating the eye despite the multimillion-dollar view framing him. Right then, though, the glass was opaque, which slowed my stride.
“Is he busy?” I asked.
But Scott had already picked up the phone. “Miss Tramell is here for you, Mr. Cross.”
And just like that, the door glided open and invited me in.
I smiled. “Thanks, Scott.”
His eyes sparkled. “Anytime.”
With renewed excitement, I walked into Gideon’s office. Then I pulled up short again. He wasn’t alone.
Gideon half-sat on the front edge of his desk, his powerful thighs straining the flawless fit of his black trousers. His suit jacket hung in its usual place on the coatrack, leaving him dressed in a sleek black vest and pristine white button-down shirt. The tips of his inky hair brushed his collar and the sculpted line of his jaw, the perfect frame for that incomparable face that was instantly recognizable to anyone.
In his hand, he held a photo. And standing close enough to brush against him was Corinne Giroux, the woman he’d almost married. She was as leggy and striking as my husband, her hair as dark and glossy, her face classically beautiful. She wore a red strapless dress, showing off skin that was like rich pale cream.
I hated how the sight of her made my stomach knot. She wasn’t a threat. I knew that. It was my own insecurities that weakened me. But I was working on that.
Corinne’s head lifted and her aqua gaze settled on me. The line of her lips tightened for a moment, then curved into a razor sharp smile. “Hello, Eva.”
Gideon unfolded in the way he had that was both powerfully elegant and dangerously sexy. He dropped the photo in a small red box sitting on his desk and came toward me, his long legs eating the distance between us.
He didn’t speak aloud, but I saw his lips form the word, felt the impact of it in the way he looked at me. His hand reached for mine, squeezing.
I shifted to look past him. “Corinne.”
She was reaching for her purse, which had been resting on the desktop next to the box. “I have to run. Those copies are for you, Gideon.”
I could tell from the weight of it that his gaze never left my face. “Take them with you.” The rough velvet of his voice shivered through me. “I don’t want them.”
“You should finish going through them,” she said, approaching.
“Why?” He glanced at her when she drew abreast of us, his blue eyes as sharply cold as shards of ice. “If I have any interest in seeing them, I can always find them in your book.”
Her smile tightened again. “Good-bye, Eva. Gideon.”
She left, leaving behind a thick tension. It was hard for me, imagining them enclosed together in Gideon’s office, the glass frosted for privacy as they looked at images of their time together.
Gideon took another step toward me, bringing our bodies together so that even a sheet of paper couldn’t slide between us. He caught my other hand, his head bowed over me.
“I’m glad you came,” he murmured, his lips brushing my forehead. “I miss you so much.”
The depth of his love was conveyed in his tone and I sank into it, my eyes closing.
His grip on my hands tightened. “You okay?”
“Yeah. I’m good. I just wasn’t expecting to see her.”
“Neither was I.” He backed away, holding onto my hands until the growing distance pulled us apart. His reluctance to let me go, to move away, mirrored how I felt. A sense of desperation was there, heavy and painful. The time we’d spent apart had rocked us both.
I watched him walk to the desk, put a lid on the box, and then drop it into the trash. I won’t lie; I wanted to see them. The desire to do that was so strong I had to fight the urge to reclaim the box.
But I didn’t. For the same reason I forbade Gideon from watching the video of my time with Brett. Our exes were in our pasts and they were going to stay there.
Which didn’t mean that I wasn’t going to have a few words with Corinne.
Gideon hit the control that closed his office door again.
“I quit my job,” I told him. “Friday’s my last day.”
His face gave nothing away, but something hot flared in his gaze. “Did you?”
He returned to the position he’d been in when I entered, leaning back against the smoked glass of his desk. “What’s next for you, then?”
“I’ve got a wedding to plan.” And some loose ends to tie up. But we’d get to those later.
“Ah.” A small smile touched his mouth and sent tingles racing through my veins. “Good to know.”
He beckoned me closer with a crook of his finger.
“Meet me halfway,” I countered.
We met in the middle of the room.
“Is this what you want?” he asked me quietly, his gaze searching my face.
“You’re what I want. The rest is just logistics.”
He wet his lips with a slow swipe of his tongue and I nearly moaned aloud. Staying out of his bed was going to kill me, but it had to be done.
Still, I couldn’t resist lifting my hand to brush an errant strand of his hair back from his forehead. When I realized what I was doing I tried to stop, knowing that every touch sent us down a dangerous path of temptation.
Gideon caught my wrist in mid-air. A heartbeat later his cheek was pressed against my palm, his eyes closed as he absorbed my touch. His nostrils flared as he inhaled the scent of my perfume.
Abruptly, the strain that had tightened his posture left him. I felt it slip away. More, I felt something shift inside me, too. The power of it sent me reeling.
With a single touch we could center each other.
This was what we had. What we were fighting for.
And we were going to win.
“More flowers?” Arash Madani drawled as he strolled into my office through the open glass double doors.
My lead attorney walked over to where Eva’s white roses decorated the main seating area. I’d had them placed on the coffee table in my direct line of sight. There, they had been successfully drawing my attention away from the stock tickers streaming on the wall of flat screens behind them.
The card that accompanied the flowers sat on the smoked glass of my desk and I fingered it, rereading the words for the hundredth time.
Arash pulled a rose out and lifted it to his nose. “What’s the secret to getting sent some of these?”
I sat back, absently noting that his emerald-hued tie matched the jeweled decanters decorating the bar. Until his arrival, the brightly colored carafes and Eva’s red vase had been the only spots of color in the monochromatic expanse of my office. “The right woman.”
He returned the flower to its vase. “Go ahead, Cross, rub it in.”
“I prefer to gloat quietly. Do you have something for me?”
Approaching my desk, he grinned in a way that told me he loved his job, although I never doubted it. His prey drive was nearly as highly developed as my own.
“The Morgan deal is coming together nicely.” Adjusting his tailored slacks, he settled into one of the two chairs facing my desk. His style was slightly flashier than mine, but couldn’t be faulted. “We’ve ironed out the bigger points. Still finessing some clauses, but we should be ready to proceed by next week.”
“You are a man of few words.” Casually, he asked, “You up for getting together this weekend?”
I shook my head. “Eva may want to go out. If so, I’ll try to talk her out of it.”
Arash laughed. “I gotta tell you, I expected you to settle down at some point–we all do, eventually–but I thought I’d have some warning.”
“So did I.” Which wasn’t quite the truth. I never expected to share my life with anyone. I’d never denied that my past shadowed my present, but I saw no need to share that past with anyone before Eva. It couldn’t be changed, so why rehash it?
Standing, I walked to one of the two floor-to-ceiling walls of windows framing my office. I took in the city that sprawled in urban splendor beyond the glass.
I hadn’t known Eva was out there, had been afraid to even dream of finding the one person in the world who would accept and love every facet of me.
How was it possible that I’d found her here, in Manhattan, at the very building I’d had built against sound advice and at great risk? Too expensive, they’d said, and unnecessary. But I’d needed the Cross name to be memorable and mentioned in a different way. My father had dragged our name through the mud; I’d lifted it to the heights of the most relevant city in the world.
“You showed no sign at all you were leaning that way,” Arash said behind me. “If I remember correctly, you tagged two women when we blew out Cinco de Mayo and a few weeks later, you’re telling me to draft an insane prenup.”
I surveyed the city, taking a rare moment to appreciate the hawk’s-eye view afforded me by the height and position of the Crossfire building. “When have you known me to delay sealing a deal?”
“It’s one thing to expand your portfolio, another to reboot your life overnight.” He chuckled. “So what are your plans, then? Breaking in the new beach house?”
“An excellent idea.” Taking my wife back to the Outer Banks was my goal. Having her all to myself had been heaven. I was happiest when I was alone with her. She revitalized me, made me anticipate living in a way I never had before.
I’d built my empire with the past in mind. Now, thanks to her, I would continue to build it for our future.
My desk phone flashed. It was Scott, on line one. I pressed the button, and his voice came through the speaker. “Corinne Giroux’s at reception. She says she needs just a few minutes to drop off something for you. Because it’s private, she wants to give it to you personally.”
“Of course she does,” Arash chimed in. “Maybe it’s more flowers.”
I shot him a look. “Wrong woman.”
“If only my wrong women looked like Corinne.” He pushed to his feet and headed out. “Good luck.”
I glanced at the clock. Quarter to five. “Mrs. Giroux can have ten minutes.”
It wouldn’t take longer than that for me to say what needed to be said.
Through the glass wall separating my office from the rest of the floor, I watched Scott stand to greet Corinne as she rounded the corner. I noted the way she smiled at him, then Arash as he passed her, before turning her head to catch my gaze. Her smile widened further, transforming her from a beautiful woman to a stunning one. I could admire her the way I would admire anything except Eva—objectively, dispassionately.
Now happily married, I could fully grasp what a horrible mistake it would have been to marry Corinne. It was unfortunate for all of us that she refused to see it.
I stood and rounded my desk.
She glided into my office on red stilettos. The strapless dress she wore was the same hue as the shoes, and showed off both her long legs and pale skin. She wore her hair down, the black strands sliding around her bare shoulders. She was the polar opposite of my wife and a mirror image of every other woman who’d passed through my life.
“Gideon. Thank you for seeing me.”
“Corinne.” Leaning back into my desk, I crossed my arms. “I don’t have long.”
“They told me.” She smiled, but her eyes, the color of aquamarines, were sad.
She had a small red box tucked under her arm. When she reached me, she pulled it out and offered it to me.
“What is this?” I asked, without reaching for it.
“These are the photos that will appear in the book.”
My brow arched. I found myself unfolding and accepted the box, driven by curiosity. It hadn’t been too long ago that we’d been together, but I scarcely remembered the details. What I had were impressions, big moments, and regret. I’d been so young, with a dangerous lack of self-awareness.
Corinne set her purse down on my desk, moving in a way that brushed her arm against mine. Wary, I reached over and hit the button that controlled the opacity of the glass wall.
If she wanted to put on a show, I’d make sure she didn’t have an audience.
Taking the lid off the box, I was confronted with a photo of Corinne and myself entangled in front of a bonfire. Her head was nestled in the crook of my shoulder, her face tilted up to me so I could press a kiss to her lips.
The memory assailed me immediately. We’d taken a day trip to a friend’s house in the Hamptons. The weather had been cool, fall giving way to winter.
In the picture we looked happy and in love, and in a way, I suppose we were. But I’d refused the invitation to spend the night, despite Corinne’s obvious disappointment. With my nightmares, I couldn’t sleep beside her. And I couldn’t fuck her, though I knew that was what she wanted, because the hotel room I reserved for that purpose was miles away.
So many hangups. So many lies and evasions.
I took a deep breath and let the past go. “Eva and I were married three weeks ago.”
Setting the box down on the desktop, I reached for my smartphone and showed her the picture that wallpapered my screen—Eva and I sharing the kiss that sealed our vows.
Turning her head, Corinne looked away. Then she reached into the box, flipping through the top few photos to pull out one of us at the beach.
I was standing waist deep in the surf. Corinne was twined around me from the front, her legs wrapped around my waist, her arms draped over my shoulders and her hands in my hair. Her head was tossed back on a laugh, her joy radiating from the image. I gripped her fiercely, my face upturned to watch her. There was gratitude there and wonder. Affection. Desire. Strangers would see it and think it was love.
Corinne leaned over, looking at the picture, then at me. Her expectation was tangible, as if some monumental epiphany was supposed to strike me. She toyed with her necklace and I realized it was one I’d given her, a small gold heart on a simple chain.
For fuck’s sake. I didn’t even remember who took the damn photo or where we were at the time, and it didn’t matter.
“What do you expect these photos to prove, Corinne? We dated. We ended. You married, and now I have. There’s nothing left.”
“Then why are you getting so upset? You’re not indifferent, Gideon.”
“No, I’m irritated. These only make me appreciate what I have with Eva more. And knowing that they’ll hurt her sure as hell doesn’t make me feel sentimental about the past. This is our final good-bye, Corinne. ” I held her gaze, making sure she saw my resolve. “If you come back here, I won’t see you.”
“I won’t be back. You’ll have to—”
Scott beeped through and I picked up the phone. “Yes?”
“Miss Tramell is here for you.”
I leaned over the desk again, tapping the button that opened the doors. A moment later Eva walked in.
Would the day ever come when I would see her and not feel the earth shift beneath my feet?
She came to an abrupt halt.
Corinne spoke first. “Hello, Eva.”
Straightening, I tossed the photo back in the box and went to my wife. Compared to Corinne, she was dressed demurely in a black pinstriped skirt and a sleeveless silk blouse that gleamed like a pearl. The surge of heat I felt was all the proof I needed as to which woman was sexier.
Eva. Now and forever.
The pull I felt drew me across the room in long, quick strides.
I didn’t say the word aloud, didn’t want Corinne to hear it. But I could see that Eva felt it. I reached for her hand, felt a tingle of awareness that tightened my grip.
She shifted to look past me and acknowledge the woman who was no rival. “Corinne.”
I didn’t turn to look, my eyes only on Eva.
“I have to run,” Corinne said behind me. “Those copies are for you, Gideon.”
Unable to take my gaze off my wife, I spoke over my shoulder. “Take them with you. I don’t want them.”
“You should finish going through them,” she countered, approaching.
“Why?” Aggravated, I glanced at Corinne when she stopped next to us. “If I have any interest in seeing them, I can always flip through your book.”
Her smile tightened. “Good-bye, Eva. Gideon.”
As she left, I took another step toward my wife, closing the final bit of distance between us. I caught her other hand, leaning over her to breathe in the scent of her perfume. As it permeated my senses, I felt calm drift through me.
“I’m glad you came.” I whispered the words against her forehead, needing every connection I could manage. “I miss you so much.”
Closing her eyes, she leaned into me with a sigh.
Feeling the lingering strain in her, my grip on her hands tightened. “You okay?”
“Yeah. I’m good. I just wasn’t expecting to see her.”
“Neither was I.” As much as I hated to pull away, I hated the thought of those photos even more.
Returning to my desk, I put the lid back on the box and tossed the whole thing into the trash.
“I quit my job,” she said. “Tomorrow’s my last day.”
That was what I wanted, what I believed was the best and safest step for her to take. But I knew what a difficult decision it must have been for her to come to. Eva loved her job and the people she worked with.
Knowing how well she could read me, I kept my tone neutral. “Did you?”
I studied her. “What’s next for you, then?”
“I’ve got a wedding to plan.”
“Ah.” My mouth curved. After days of fearing she had second thoughts and wanted out, it was a relief to hear otherwise. “Good to know.”
I beckoned her closer with a crook of my finger.
“Meet me halfway,” she shot back, with a glint of challenge in her eyes.
How could I resist? We met in the middle of the room.
That was why we were going to come out the other side of this and every other hurdle we faced: We would always meet each other halfway.
She would never be the docile wife my friend Arnoldo Ricci had wished for me. Eva was too independent, too fierce. She had a temper that flared without warning and a jealous streak a mile wide. She was demanding and stubborn, and she defied me just to drive me crazy.
And it all worked in a way it had never worked with any other woman, because Eva was meant for me. I believed that as I believed in nothing else.
“Is this what you want?” I asked her quietly, searching her face for the answer.
“You’re what I want. The rest is just logistics.”
My mouth was suddenly dry and my heartbeat too quick. When she lifted a hand to brush my hair back I caught her wrist and pressed her palm to my cheek, my eyes closing as I absorbed her touch.
The past week melted away. The days we’d spent apart, the hours of silence, the crippling fear… She’d been showing me all day that she was ready to move ahead, that I’d made the right decision to talk to Dr. Petersen. To talk to her.
Not only didn’t she turn away, she wanted me more. And she called me miraculous?
Eva sighed. I felt the last of her tension drift away. We stood there, reconnecting with each other, taking the strength we needed. It shook me to the core to know that I could bring her some measure of peace.
And what she brought me?