Entwined with YouBy: Sylvia Day
I REACHED MY desk and dropped into my chair. My palms were damp just thinking about talking to Brett, and I was steeling myself for the little charge I’d get from hearing his voice and the guilt that would follow it. It wasn’t that I wanted him back or wanted to be with him. It was just that we had history and a sexual attraction that was purely hormonal. I couldn’t shut it off, but I had absolutely no desire to act on it.
I dropped my purse and the bag holding my walking shoes into a desk drawer, my eyes caressing the framed collage of photos of Gideon and me together. He’d given it to me so he would always be on my mind—as if he ever left it. I even dreamed of him.
My phone rang. The rerouted call from reception. Brett hadn’t given up. Determined to keep it businesslike to remind him that I was at work and not available for inappropriately personal conversations, I answered, “Mark Garrity’s office, Eva Tramell speaking.”
“Eva. There you are. It’s Brett.”
My eyes closed as I absorbed that S-E-X-rolled-in-chocolate voice. It sounded even more decadently sexual than when he was singing, which had helped to propel his band, Six-Ninths, to the brink of stardom. He was signed with Vidal Records now, the music company run by Gideon’s stepfather, Christopher Vidal Sr.—a company Gideon inexplicably had majority control over.
Talk about a small world.
“Hi,” I greeted him. “How’s the tour coming along?”
“It’s unreal. I’m still trying to get a grip on it all.”
“You’ve wanted this a long time and you deserve it. Enjoy it.”
“Thanks.” He fell silent for a minute, and in that space of time, I pictured him in my mind. He’d looked amazing when I saw him last, his hair spiked and tipped with platinum, his emerald eyes dark and hot from wanting me. He was tall and muscular without being too bulky, his body ripped from constant activity and the demands of being a rock star. His golden skin was sleeved in tattoos, and he had piercings in his nipples that I’d learned to suck on when I wanted to feel his cock harden inside me …
But he couldn’t hold a candle to Gideon. I could admire Brett just like any other red-blooded woman, but Gideon was in a class by himself.
“Listen,” Brett said, “I know you’re working, so I don’t want to hold you up. I’m coming back to New York and I’d like to see you.”
I crossed my ankles under my desk. “I’m thinking that’s not a good idea.”
“We’re going to debut the music video for ‘Golden’ in Times Square,” he went on. “I want you there with me.”
“There with— Wow.” I massaged my forehead. Momentarily thrown by his request, I chose to think about how my mom would bitch at me for rubbing at my face, which she swore caused wrinkles. “I’m really flattered you asked, but I have to know—are you cool with just being friends?”
“Hell, no.” He laughed. “You’re single, golden girl. Cross’s loss is my gain.”
Oh, crap. It’d been almost three weeks since the first pictures of Gideon and Corinne’s staged reunion had hit the gossip blogs. Apparently, everyone had decided it was time for me to move on with another guy. “It’s not that simple. I’m not ready for another relationship, Brett.”
“I asked you out on a date, not for a lifetime commitment.”
“You have to be there, Eva.” His voice lowered to the seductive timbre that had always made me drop my panties for him. “It’s your song. I’m not taking no for an answer.”
“You have to.”
“You’ll hurt me bad if you don’t go,” he said quietly. “And that’s not bullshit. We’ll go as friends, if that’s what it takes, but I need you there.”
I sighed heavily, my head bowing over my desk. “I don’t want to lead you on.” Or piss Gideon off …
“I promise to consider it a favor from one friend to another.”
As fucking if. I didn’t answer.
He didn’t give up. He might never give up. “Okay?” he prodded.
A cup of coffee appeared at my elbow and I looked up to see Mark standing behind me. “Okay,” I agreed, mostly so I could get to work.
“Yesss.” There was a note of triumph in his voice that sounded like it was accompanied by a fist pump. “Could be either Thursday or Friday night; I’m not sure yet. Give me your cell number, so I can text you when I know for sure.”
I rattled the number off in a hurry. “Got it? I’ve got to run.”
“Have a great day at work,” he said, making me feel bad for being rushed and unfriendly. He’d always been a nice guy, and could have been a great friend, but I blew that chance when I kissed him.
“Thanks. Brett … I’m really happy for you. Bye.” I returned the handset to its cradle and smiled at Mark. “Good morning.”
“Everything all right?” he asked, his brown eyes capped with a slight frown. He was dressed in a navy suit with a deep purple tie that did great things for his dark skin.
“Yes. Thank you for the coffee.”
“You’re welcome. Ready to get to work?”
I grinned. “Always.”
IT didn’t take long for me to realize something wasn’t right with Mark. He was distracted and moody, which was very unlike him. We were working on a campaign for foreign-language-learning software, but he wasn’t into it at all. I suggested we talk a bit about the whole-foods locavore campaign, but that didn’t help.
“Is everything okay?” I asked finally, sliding uncomfortably into friend territory, where we both made an effort not to go during work.
We put work aside every other week when he invited me along to lunch with his partner, Steven, but we were careful about maintaining our roles as boss and subordinate. I appreciated that a lot, considering Mark knew my stepfather was rich. I didn’t want people giving me considerations I hadn’t earned.
“What?” He glanced up at me, then ran a hand over his close-cut hair. “Sorry.”
I laid my tablet flat in my lap. “Seems like you’ve got something weighing on your mind.”
He shrugged, swiveling away and back again in his Aeron chair. “Sunday is my seventh anniversary with Steven.”
“That’s awesome.” I smiled. Out of all the couples I’d seen over the course of my life, Mark and Steven were the most stable and loving. “Congratulations.”
“Thanks.” He managed a weak smile.
“Are you going out? Do you have reservations or do you want me to handle that?”
He shook his head. “Haven’t decided. I don’t know what would be best.”
“Let’s brainstorm. I haven’t had many anniversaries myself, I’m sad to say, but my mom is spectacular with them. I’ve picked up a thing or two.”
After playing hostess to three wealthy husbands, Monica Tramell Barker Mitchell Stanton could’ve been a professional event planner if she ever had to work for a living.
“Do you want something private,” I suggested, “with just the two of you? Or a party with friends and family? Do you exchange gifts?”
“I want to get married!” he snapped.
“Oh. Okay.” I sat back in my chair. “As far as romance goes, I can’t top that.”
Mark barked out a humorless laugh and followed it with a miserable look at me. “It should be romantic. God knows when Steven asked me a few years ago, it was hearts and flowers to the max. You know drama is his middle name. He went all out.”
Startled, I blinked at him. “You said no?”
“I said not yet. I was just starting to get my legs under me here at the agency, he was starting to get some really lucrative referrals, and we were picking up the pieces after a painful breakup. It seemed like the wrong time and I wasn’t sure he wanted to marry for the right reasons.”
“No one ever knows that for sure,” I said softly, as much to myself as to him.
“But I didn’t want him to think I had doubts about us,” Mark went on, as if I hadn’t spoken, “so I blamed my refusal on the institution of marriage, like a total ass.”
I suppressed a smile. “You’re not an ass.”
“Over the last couple years, he’s made more than a few comments about how right I was to say no.”
“But you didn’t say no. You said not yet, right?”
“I don’t know. Jesus, I don’t know what I said.” He leaned forward, resting his elbows on the desktop and dropping his face into his hands. His voice came low and muffled. “I panicked. I was twenty-four. Maybe some people are up for that kind of commitment then, but I … I wasn’t.”
“And now you’re twenty-eight and ready?” The same age as Gideon. And thinking of that made me quiver, in part because I was the same age Mark had been when he’d said not yet and I could relate.
“Yes.” Lifting his head, Mark met my gaze. “I’m beyond ready. It’s like some timer is counting down the minutes, and I’m getting more impatient by the hour. But I’m afraid he’s going to say no. Maybe his time was four years ago and now he’s over it.”
“I hate to sound trite, but you won’t know unless you ask.” I offered him a reassuring smile. “He loves you. A lot. I think your odds of hearing yes are pretty darn good.”
He smiled, revealing charmingly crooked teeth. “Thank you.”
“Let me know about those reservations.”
“I appreciate that.” His expression sobered. “I’m sorry to bring this up when you’re going through a tough breakup.”
“Don’t worry about me. I’m fine.”
Mark studied me a minute, then nodded.
“YOU up for lunch?”
I glanced up into Will Granger’s earnest face. Will was the newest assistant at Waters Field & Leaman and I’d been helping him settle in. He wore sideburns and square-framed black glasses that gave him a slightly retro beatnik look, which worked for him. He was super laid-back and I liked him. “Sure. Whatcha feelin’ like?”
“Pasta and bread. And cake. Maybe a baked potato.”
My brows rose. “All right. But if I end up passed out and drooling on my desk from a carbohydrate coma, you’d better get me out of trouble with Mark.”
“You’re a saint, Eva. Natalie’s on some low-carb kick and I can’t go another day without starch and sugar. I’m wasting away. Look at me.”
Will and his high school sweetheart, Natalie, seemed to have it together, from the stories he told. I never doubted he’d walk on hot coals for her, and she seemed to look after him as well, although he grumbled good-naturedly about her fussing.
“You got it,” I said, suddenly feeling wistful. Being separated from Gideon was torture. Especially when surrounded by friends who were invested in relationships of their own.
Noon rolled around and while I waited for Will, I sent a quick text to Shawna—Mark’s almost-sister-in-law—asking if she was available for a girls’ night out on Saturday. I’d just hit the send button when my desk phone rang.
I answered briskly, “Mark Garrity’s office—”
My toes flexed at the sound of Gideon’s low, raspy voice. “Hi, ace.”
“Tell me we’re okay.”
I bit my lower lip, my heart twisting in my chest. He had to be feeling the same unsettling rift between us that was troubling me. “We are. Don’t you think so? Is something wrong?”
“No.” He paused. “I just had to hear it again.”
“I didn’t make it clear last night?” When I was clawing at your back … “Or this morning?” When I was on my knees …
“I needed to hear you say it when you’re not looking at me.” Gideon’s voice caressed my senses. I turned hot with embarrassment.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered, feeling awkward. “I know you get annoyed with women objectifying you. You shouldn’t have to put up with it from me.”
“I would never complain about being what you want, Eva. Christ.” His voice turned gruff. “I’m damned glad you like what you see, because God knows I fucking love looking at you.”
I closed my eyes against a surge of longing. To know what I did now—how important he thought I was to him—made it so much harder to stay away. “I miss you so much. And it’s weird because everyone thinks we’re broken up and I need to move on—”
“No!” The one word exploded across the line between us, sharp enough to make me jump. “Goddamn it. Wait for me, Eva. I waited my whole life for you.”
I swallowed hard, opening my eyes in time to see Will walking toward me. I lowered my voice. “I’d wait forever for you, as long as you’re mine.”
“It won’t be forever. I’m doing everything I can. Trust me.”
In the background, another phone beeped for his attention. “I’ll see you at eight sharp,” Gideon said briskly.
The line clicked off in my ear, and I instantly felt lonely.
“Ready to chow down?” Will asked, rubbing his hands together with anticipation. Megumi was having lunch with her commitment-phobe, so she’d taken a rain check. It was Will, me, and all the pasta he could eat within an hour.
Thinking a carbohydrate-induced stupor might be just what I needed, I stood and said, “Hell yeah.”
I picked up a zero-carb energy drink at a Duane Reade drugstore on the way back from lunch. By the time five o’clock rolled around, I knew I was hitting a treadmill after work.
I had a membership at Equinox, but I really wanted to go to a CrossTrainer gym. I was feeling the gulf between Gideon and me keenly. Spending time in a place where we had good memories would help lessen it. Plus, I felt a sense of loyalty. Gideon was my man. I was going to do everything I could to spend the rest of my life with him. To me that meant supporting him in everything he did.
I walked back to my place, no longer caring if I wilted since I was going to get messy at the gym anyway. When the elevator in my apartment building let me out on my floor, I found my gaze drifting to the door next to mine. My fingers toyed with the key Gideon had given me. The idea of letting myself in to check out his apartment was intriguing. Would it be similar to his Fifth Avenue place? Or totally different?
Gideon’s penthouse was stunning, with prewar architecture and old-world charm. It was a space that exuded affluence, while still remaining warm and inviting. I could as easily picture children in the space as I could foreign dignitaries.
What would his temporary digs be like? Scarce furniture, nonexistent art, and a bare kitchen? How settled in was he?
Pausing outside my apartment, I stared at his door and debated with myself. In the end, I resisted the temptation. I wanted him to walk me inside.
I stepped into my living room to the sound of female laughter. I wasn’t surprised to find a long-legged blonde curled up next to Cary on my white couch, her hand in his lap, stroking him through his sweats. He was still shirtless, his arm tossed around Tatiana Cherlin’s shoulders, his fingers idly stroking her biceps.
“Hey, baby girl,” he greeted me with a grin. “How was work?”
“Same old. Hi, Tatiana.”
Her reply was a chin jerk. She was striking, which was to be expected since she was a model. Looks aside, I hadn’t really liked her all that much the first few times I met her, and I still didn’t. But looking at Cary, I had to admit she might be good for him for now.
His bruises were gone, but he was still recovering from a brutal beating, an ambush by Nathan that had set in motion the events separating me from Gideon now.
“I’m going to change and head out to the gym,” I said, moving toward the hallway.
Behind me, I heard Cary tell Tatiana, “Hang on a sec, I’ve got to talk to my girl.”
I entered my room and tossed my purse on my bed. I was digging in my dresser when Cary came to lounge in my doorway. “How are you feeling?” I asked him.
“Better.” His green eyes glittered wickedly. “How ’bout you?”
He crossed his arms over his bare chest. “Is that thanks to whoever was knocking boots with you last night?”
Closing the drawer with my hip, I shot back, “Seriously? I can’t hear you in your room. How come you can hear me in mine?”
He tapped his temple. “Sex radar. I has it.”
“What does that mean? That I don’t have sex radar?”
“More like Cross blew your circuits during one of his sexathons. Still can’t get over that man’s stamina. Wish he’d swing my way and wear me out.”
I threw my sports bra at him.
He caught it deftly, laughing. “So? Who was it?”
I bit my lip, not wanting to lie to the one person who always gave it to me straight, even when it hurt. But I had to. “A guy who works in the Crossfire.”
His smile fading, Cary stepped into the room and shut the door behind him. “And you just up and decided to bring him home and fuck his brains out all night? I thought you went to your Krav Maga class.”
“I did. He lives near here and I ran into him after class. One thing led to another …”
“Should I be worried?” he asked quietly, studying my face as he handed my sports bra back to me. “You haven’t had a random screw in a long time.”
“It’s not like that.” I forced myself to hold Cary’s gaze, knowing that if I didn’t, he’d never believe me. “I’m … seeing him. We’re having dinner tonight.”
“Am I going to meet him?”
“Sure. Not today, though. I’m going to his place.”
His lips pursed. “You’re not telling me something. Spit it out.”
I sidestepped the question. “I saw you kissing Trey in the kitchen this morning.”
“Things going good with you two?”
Yikes. When Cary was on to something, he wouldn’t let it go. I sidestepped again.
“I talked to Brett today,” I said as casually as possible, trying not to make a big deal out of it. “He called me at work. And no, he wasn’t the guy from last night.”
His brows rose. “What’d he want?”
Kicking off my shoes, I headed to the bathroom to wash off what was left of my makeup. “He’s coming back to New York for the debut of a music video for ‘Golden.’ He asked me to go with him.”
“Eva—” he began, in that low warning tone parents save for bratty children.
“I want you to come with.”
That set him back a bit. “As a chaperone? Don’t you trust yourself?”
I looked at his reflection in the mirror. “I’m not getting back together with him, Cary. Not that we were ever really together to begin with, so stop worrying about that. I want you there because I think you’ll have fun and I don’t want to lead Brett on. He agreed we’d go as friends, but I think the concept needs to be drummed into him, just to be safe. And fair.”
“You should’ve said no.”
“No is no, baby girl. Not that difficult.”
“Shut up!” I scrubbed at one eye with a makeup remover towelette. “It’s bad enough I got guilted into going! You thought it’d be funny for me to attend that concert without knowing who I’d see there. I don’t need shit from you.”
Because I was sure to get enough of that from Gideon …
Cary scowled. “What the hell do you have to feel guilty for?”
“Brett got his ass kicked because of me!”
“Nooo, he got an ass-kicking because he kissed a beautiful girl without thinking about the consequences. He should’ve expected you to be taken. And what burrowed up your anal cavity and rotted?”
“I don’t need a lecture about Brett, okay?” What I needed was Cary’s take on my relationship with Gideon and the concerns I had, but I couldn’t reach out to my best friend. That made everything going wrong in my life even more unsettling. I felt totally alone and adrift. “I’ve told you, I’m not taking that road again.”
“Glad to hear it.”
I told him what I could of the truth, because I knew he wouldn’t judge. “I’m still in love with Gideon.”
“Of course you are,” he agreed simply. “For what it’s worth, I’m sure your breakup is eating at him, too.”
I hugged him. “Thank you.”
He snorted. “I’m not saying you should wait for him. Whatever Cross’s deal is doesn’t matter—he snoozes, he loses. But I don’t think you’re ready to jump into some other dude’s bed. You can’t do casual sex, Eva. It means something to you; that’s why you get so fucked up when you just give it away.”
“It never works,” I agreed, stepping away to finish cleaning my face. “Will you go with me to the video premiere?”
“Yeah, I’ll go.”
“Want to bring Trey or Tatiana?”
Shaking his head, he turned to the mirror and arranged his hair with practiced sweeps of his hands. “Then it’d be like a double date. Better if I’m the third wheel. More impact.”
I watched his reflection, my mouth curving in a soft smile. “I love you.”
He blew me a kiss. “Then take care of yourself, baby girl. That’s all I need.”
MY favorite housewarming gift was Waterford martini glasses. To me, it was just the right blend of luxury, fun, and usefulness. I’d given a set to a college friend who had no idea what Waterford crystal was but loved appletinis, and I’d given a set to my mother, who didn’t drink martinis but loved Waterford. It was a gift I’d even feel comfortable giving to Gideon Cross, a man who had more money than was comprehensible.
But stemware wasn’t what I clutched in my hands as I knocked on his door.
Nervous, I shifted on my feet and ran a hand down my hip to smooth my dress. I’d dolled myself up after getting back from the gym, taking the time to really work my New Eva hairstyle and smoky eye shadow. My pale pink lipstick was smudgeproof and I wore a little black dress that was a halter with a low draping neckline and an even lower back.
The short dress showed a lot of leg, which I accentuated with peep-toe Jimmy Choos. I wore the diamond hoops I’d chosen for our first date and the ring he’d given me, a striking piece that had interlacing gold ropes hugged by diamond Xs—the Xs representing Gideon holding on to the various threads of me.
The door opened and I swayed a little on my feet, struck by the gorgeous, sexy-as-sin man who greeted me. Gideon must have been feeling sentimental, too. He had on the same black sweater he’d worn to the nightclub where we’d first really hung out together. It looked amazing on him—the perfect blend of casual and elegant sexiness. Paired with graphite gray dress slacks and bare feet, the effect on me was pure, white-hot desire.
“Christ,” he growled. “You look amazing. Next time warn me before I open the door.”
I smiled. “Hello, Dark and Dangerous.”