Entwined with You

By: Sylvia Day


6
I WOKE IN a cold sweat, my heart pounding violently. I lay in the master bed, panting, my mind clawing up from the depths of sleep.

“Get off me!”

Gideon. My God.

“Don’t fucking touch me!”

Throwing off the covers, I scrambled out of bed and ran down the hallway to the guest room. I searched frantically for the switch on the wall, hitting it with the flat of my palm. Light exploded in the room, exposing Gideon writhing on the bed, his legs twisted in the bedding.

“Don’t. Ah, Christ …” His back arched up from the bed, his hands fisting in the fitted sheet. “It hurts!”

“Gideon!”

He jerked violently. I raced to the bedside, my heart twisting to see him flushed and drenched with sweat. I placed my hand on his chest.

“Don’t fucking touch me!” he hissed, seizing my wrist and squeezing it so hard I cried out in pain. His eyes were open, but unfocused, still trapped in his nightmare.

“Gideon!” I struggled to get away.

He jackknifed upward, his lungs heaving and his eyes wild. “Eva.”

Releasing me as if I had burned him, he shoved his damp hair out of his face and lunged out of bed. “Jesus. Eva … did I hurt you?”

I held my wrist with my other hand and shook my head.

“I want to see,” he said hoarsely, reaching for me with trembling hands.

I dropped my arms and stepped into him, hugging him as tightly as I could, my cheek pressed to his sweat-slick chest.

“Angel.” He clung to me, shaking. “I’m sorry.”

“Shh, baby. It’s okay.”

“Let me hold you,” he whispered, sinking to the floor with me. “Don’t let go.”

“Never,” I promised, my lips whispering over his skin. “Never.”

I ran a bath and climbed into the triangular corner tub with him. Sitting behind him on the highest step, I washed his hair and ran soapy hands over his chest and back, washing the icy sweat of the nightmare away. The heat of the water stopped his quivering, but nothing so simple could remove the dark desolation in his eyes.

“Have you ever talked to anyone about your nightmares?” I asked, squeezing warm water out of the sponge onto his shoulder.

He shook his head.

“It’s time,” I said softly. “And I’m your girl.”

He took a long time to speak. “Eva, when you have nightmares … are they more like re-creations of actual events? Or does your mind switch them around? Change them?”

“They’re mostly memories. True to life. Are yours not?”

“Sometimes. Sometimes they’re different. Make-believe.”

I absorbed that a minute, wishing I had the training and knowledge to be truly helpful. Instead, I could only love him and listen. I hoped that was enough, because his nightmares were ripping me apart as surely as they were him. “Are they changed in a good way? Or bad?”

“I fight back,” he said softly.

“And he still hurts you?”

“Yes, he still wins, but at least I hold him off as long as I can.”

I dipped the sponge again, squeezing water over him, trying to maintain a soothing rhythm. “You shouldn’t judge yourself. You were only a child.”

“So were you.”

My eyes closed tightly against the knowledge that Gideon had seen the photos and videos Nathan had taken of me. “Nathan was a sadist. It’s natural to struggle against physical pain, so I did. That’s not bravery.”

“I wish it had hurt me more,” he bit out. “I hate that he made me enjoy it.”

“You didn’t enjoy it. You felt pleasure and that’s not the same thing. Gideon, our bodies react to things by instinct, even when we don’t consciously want them to.” I hugged him from behind, resting my chin on the top of his head. “He was your therapist’s assistant, someone you’re supposed to be able to trust. He had the training to fuck with your head.”

“You don’t understand.”

“Then make me understand.”

“He … seduced me. And I let him. He couldn’t make me want it, but he made sure I didn’t resist.”

Moving, I pressed my cheek to his temple. “Are you worried you’re bisexual? It won’t freak me out if you are.”

“No.” He turned his head and brushed his mouth across mine, his hands lifting out of the water to link our fingers together. “I’ve never been attracted to men. But the fact that you’d accept me if I were … Right now I love you so much it hurts.”

“Baby.” I kissed him sweetly, our lips parting and clinging. “I just want you to be happy. Preferably with me. And I really want you to stop hurting yourself over what was done to you. You were raped. You were a victim and now you’re a survivor. There’s no shame in that.”

He turned and pulled me deeper into the water.

I settled beside him, my hand on his thigh. “Can we talk about something? Sexual?”

“Always.”

“You told me once that you don’t do anal play.” I felt him tense. “But you’ve … we’ve …”

“I’ve had my fingers and tongue inside you,” he finished, studying me. He’d altered with the change of subject, his hesitation replaced by calm authority. “You enjoy it.”

“Do you?” I asked, before I lost the courage.

He breathed heavily, his cheekbones burnished by the heated water, his face exposed by his slicked-back hair.

After long moments, I feared he wasn’t going to answer me. “I’d like to give you that, Gideon, if you want it.”

His eyes closed. “Angel.”

I reached a hand between his legs, cupping his heavy sac. My middle finger extended beneath him, brushing lightly over the puckered opening. He jerked violently, his legs slamming shut, sending water sloshing to the lip of the tub. His cock hardened like stone against my forearm.

I pulled my trapped hand free and gripped his erection in my fist, stroking, my mouth taking his when he groaned. “I’ll do anything for you. There are no limits in our bed. No memories. Just us. You and me. And love. I love you so much.”

His tongue thrust into my mouth, a greedy and slightly angry foray. His hand at my waist tightened, his other hand covering mine and urging me to tighten my grip.

Gentle waves lapped against the sides of the bathtub as I pumped his erection. His moan tightened my nipples.

“I own your pleasure,” I whispered into his mouth. “I’ll take it if you won’t give it to me.”

He growled, his head falling back. “Make me come.”

“Any way you want,” I vowed.

“WEAR the blue tie. The one that matches your eyes.” I had a direct view into the walk-in closet, where Gideon was picking out the suit he’d wear to wrap up the week.

He glanced over to where I sat on the edge of the bed in the master bedroom, a cup of coffee in my hands. His mouth curved in an indulgent smile.

“I love your eyes,” I told him with an easy shrug. “They’re gorgeous.”

He unhooked the tie from the rack and stepped back into the bedroom with a graphite gray suit draped over his forearm. He wore only black boxer briefs, affording me the joy of admiring his leanly ripped body and taut golden skin.

“It’s uncanny how often we think alike,” he said. “I picked out this suit because the color reminds me of your eyes.”

That made me smile. I swung my legs, too full of love and happiness to sit still.

Laying his clothes on the bed, Gideon came to me. I tilted my head back to look up at him, my heart beating strong and sure.

He cupped the sides of my head, his thumbs brushing over my eyebrows. “Such a beautiful stormy gray. And so very expressive.”

“A totally unfair advantage for you. You read me like a book, while you’ve got the best poker face I’ve ever seen.”

Bending over, he kissed my forehead. “And yet I can never get away with anything with you.”

“So you say.” I watched him start to dress. “Listen, I want you to do something for me.”

“Anything.”

“If you need a date and it can’t be me, take Ireland.”

He paused in the act of buttoning up his shirt. “She’s seventeen, Eva.”

“So? Your sister is a beautiful, classy young woman who adores you. She’d do you proud.”

Sighing, he grabbed his slacks. “I can’t imagine her being anything but bored at the few events appropriate for her to attend.”

“You said she’d be bored having dinner at my place and you were wrong about that.”

“You were there,” he argued, yanking up his pants. “She had fun with you.”

I took a drink of my coffee. “You said anything,” I reminded.

“I don’t have a problem going dateless, Eva. And I told you I won’t be seeing Corinne anymore.”

I stared at him over the rim of my mug and didn’t say anything.

Gideon shoved his shirttails into his slacks with obvious frustration. “Fine.”

“Thank you.”

“You could refrain from grinning like the Cheshire cat,” he muttered.

“I could.”

He stilled, his narrowed eyes sliding down my body to where my robe had fallen away from my bare legs.

“Don’t get any ideas, ace. I already put out this morning.”

“Do you have a passport?” he asked.

I frowned. “Yes. Why?”

Nodding briskly, he reached for the tie I loved. “You’ll need it.”

Excitement tingled through me. “For what?”

“For travel.”

“Duh.” I slid off the bed onto my feet. “Travel to where?”

His eyes held a wicked gleam as he swiftly and expertly knotted his tie. “Somewhere.”

“Are you shipping me off to parts unknown?”

“Wouldn’t I love to,” he murmured. “You and me on a deserted tropical island where you’d be perpetually naked and I could slide into you at any moment.”

I set one hand on my hip and shot him a look. “Sunburned and bowlegged. Sexy.”

He laughed and my toes flexed into the carpet.

“I want to see you tonight,” he said, as he shrugged into his vest.

“You just want to put it in me again.”

“Well, you did tell me not to stop. Repeatedly.”

Snorting, I put my coffee down on the nightstand and shrugged out of my robe. Naked, I crossed the room, skirting him when he made a grab for me. I was opening a drawer to choose one of the lovely Carine Gilson bra and panty sets he kept stocked for me, when he came up behind me, slid his arms beneath mine, and cupped my breasts in both hands.

“I can remind you,” he purred.

“Don’t you have a job to get to? Because I do.”

Gideon pressed against my back. “Come work with me.”

“And pour your coffee while waiting for you to fuck me?”

“I’m serious.”

“So am I.” I spun so quickly to face him that I knocked my purse onto the floor. “I have a job and I like it a lot. You know that.”

“And you’re good at it.” He gripped my shoulders. “Be good at it for me.”

“I can’t, for the same reason I didn’t accept help from my stepfather. I want to make it on my own!”

“I know that. I respect that about you.” His hands caressed my arms. “I clawed my way up, too, with the Cross name trying to drag me down. I’d never take the effort away from you. You wouldn’t get anything you didn’t earn.”

I suppressed the twinge of sympathy I felt for Gideon’s suffering over his father, a Ponzi scheme swindler who’d taken his own life rather than face jail time. “Do you really think anyone is going to believe I got the job for any reason other than I’m the chick you’re sticking it to now?”

“Shut up.” He shook me. “You’re pissed off and that’s fine, but don’t talk about us that way.”

I pushed at him. “Everyone else will.”

Growling, he released me. “You signed up for a CrossTrainer membership even though you’ve got Equinox and Krav Maga. Explain why.”

I pivoted to yank a pair of panties on so I wasn’t arguing while buck naked. “That’s different.”

“It’s not.”

I faced him again, stepping on stuff that had fallen out of my purse, which only made me madder. “Waters Field and Leaman isn’t in competition with Cross Industries! You use the agency’s services yourself.”

“Do you think you’ll never work on a campaign for one of my competitors?”

Standing there in his unbuttoned vest and impeccable tie, he was making it hard for me to think properly. He was beautiful and passionate and everything I’d ever wanted, which made it nearly impossible for me to deny him anything.

“That’s not the point. I won’t be happy, Gideon,” I said with quiet honesty.

“Come here.” He held his arms open for me and hugged me when I walked into them. He spoke with his lips against my temple. “One day, the ‘Cross’ in Cross Industries won’t refer to just me.”

My anger and frustration simmered. “Can we not talk about this now?”

“One last thing: You can apply for a position just like anyone else, if that’s the way you need to do it. I won’t interfere. If you get the job, you’d be working on a different floor of the Crossfire and climbing the career ladder all on your own. Whether you advance won’t be up to me.”

“It’s important to you.” It wasn’t a question.

“Of course it is. We’re working hard to build a future together. This is a natural step in that direction.”

I nodded reluctantly. “I have to be independent.”

His hand cupped my nape, holding me close. “Don’t forget what matters most. If you work hard and show skill and talent, that’s what people will base their judgments on.”

“I have to get ready for work.”

Gideon searched my face, then kissed me softly.

He released me and I bent down to pick up my purse. Then I noticed that I’d stepped on my mirrored compact and shattered its case. I wasn’t heartbroken over it, because I could always pick up another at Sephora on the way home. What froze my blood was the electrical wire sticking out of the cracked plastic.

Gideon crouched down to help me. I looked at him. “What is this?”

He took the compact from me and broke off more of the shell to expose a microchip with a small antenna. “A bug, maybe. Or a tracking device.”

I looked at him with horror. My lips moved silently. The police?

“I’ve got jammers in the apartment,” he answered, shocking me further. “And no. There’s no way any judge would’ve authorized a tap on you. There’s nothing to justify it.”

“Jesus.” I fell back on my ass, feeling sick.

“I’ll have my guys look at it.” He lowered to his knees and brushed the hair back from my face. “Could it be your mother?”

I stared at him helplessly.

“Eva—”

“My God, Gideon.” I held him off with an uplifted hand and grabbed my phone with the other. I dialed Clancy, my stepfather’s bodyguard, and the moment he answered, I said, “Is the bug in my compact one of yours?”

There was a pause, then, “Tracking device, not a bug. Yes.”

“For fuck’s sake, Clancy!”

“It’s my job.”

“Your job sucks,” I shot back, picturing him in my head. Clancy was solid muscle. He wore his dirty-blond hair in a military crew cut and radiated a vibe that was deadly dangerous. But I wasn’t afraid of him. “This is bullshit and you know it.”

“Keeping you safe became a bigger concern when Nathan Barker showed up again. He was slippery, so I had to cover both of you. The minute his death was confirmed, I turned off the receiver.”

I squeezed my eyes shut. “This isn’t about the damn tracker! I don’t have a problem with that. It’s the keeping-me-in-the-dark part that’s wrong on so many levels. I feel violated, Clancy.”

“I don’t blame you, but Mrs. Stanton didn’t want you to worry.”

“I’m an adult! I get to decide if I worry or not.” I shot a look at Gideon when I said that, because what I was saying was totally applicable to him, too.

His arch look told me he got the message.

“You won’t hear me arguing,” Clancy said gruffly.

“You owe me,” I told him, knowing just how I was going to collect. “Big-time.”

“You know where to find me.”

I killed the call, then sent a text to my mom: We need to talk.

My shoulders sagged with disappointment and frustration.

“Angel.”

I shot Gideon a look that warned him not to push me. “Don’t you dare make excuses—for yourself or for her.”

His eyes were soft and shadowed, but the set of his jaw was resolute. “I was there when you were told Nathan was in New York. I saw your face. There’s no one who loves you who wouldn’t do whatever they could to shield you from that.”

And that was really hard for me to deal with, because I couldn’t deny that I was glad I hadn’t known about Nathan until after he was dead. But I also didn’t want to be insulated from bad things. They were part of living.

Reaching for his hand, I gripped it tightly. “I feel the same way about you.”

“I’ve taken care of my demons.”

“And mine.” But we were still sleeping apart from each other. “I want you to go back to Dr. Petersen,” I said quietly.

“I went on Tuesday.”

“You did?” I couldn’t hide my surprise at learning he’d kept his regular schedule.

“Yeah, I did. I only missed the one appointment.”

When he’d killed Nathan …

His thumb brushed over the back of my hand. “It’s just you and me now,” he said, as if he’d read my mind.

I wanted to believe that.

I was dragging when I got to work, which wasn’t a good omen for the rest of the day. At least it was Friday and I could be a slug over the weekend, which would probably be a necessity Sunday morning if I partied too hard Saturday night. I hadn’t had a girls’ night out in ages and I felt the need for a good stiff drink or two.

In the previous forty-eight hours, I’d learned that my boyfriend had killed my rapist, one of my exes was hoping to spread me across his sheets, one of my boyfriend’s exes was hoping to smear him in the press, and my mother had microchipped me like a damned dog.

Really, how much was a girl supposed to take?

“You ready for tomorrow?” Megumi queried, after she buzzed me through the glass doors.

“Hell, yeah. My friend Shawna texted me this morning and she’s in.” I mustered a genuine smile. “I arranged for a club limo for us. You know … one of those that take you to all the VIP spots, cover included.”

“What?” She couldn’t hide her excitement, but still had to ask, “How much is that?”

“Nada. It’s a favor from a friend.”

“Some favor.” Her grin made me happy, too. “This is going to be awesome! You’ll have to tell me the deets over lunch.”

“You’re on. I expect you to dish about your lunch yesterday, too.”

“Talk about mixed signals, right?” she complained. “ ‘We’re just having fun,’ but he shows his face at my work? I would never pop into a guy’s office for an impromptu lunch if we were just messing around.”

“Men,” I huffed sympathetically, even as I acknowledged that I was grateful for the one who was mine.

I went to my desk and got ready to start my workday. When I saw the framed photos of Gideon and me in my drawer, I was struck by the need to reach out to him. Ten minutes later, I’d asked Angus to place an order for black magic roses to be sent to Gideon’s office with the note:

You’ve got me under your spell.

I’m still thinking about you.

Mark came to my cubicle just as I was closing the window on my browser. One look at his face and I could tell he wasn’t doing so hot. “Coffee?” I asked.

He nodded and I stood. We headed to the break room together.

“Shawna was over last night,” he began. “She said you’re going out tomorrow night.”

“Yes. Is that still okay with you?”

“Is what still okay?”

“If your sister-in-law and I hang out,” I prodded.

“Oh … yeah. Sure. Go for it.” He ran a restless hand over his short, dark curls. “I think it’s cool.”

“Great.” I knew there was more on his mind, but I didn’t want to push. “Should be fun. I’m looking forward to it.”

“So is she.” He reached for two single-serving coffee pods, while I took mugs from the shelf. “She’s also looking forward to Doug getting back. And popping the question.”

“Wow. Now that’s cool! Two weddings in your family in a year. Unless you’re planning a long engagement … ?”

He handed the first cup of coffee to me and I went to the fridge for half-and-half.

“It’s not going to happen, Eva.”

Mark’s tone was weighted with dejection, and when I turned to face him, his head was down.

I patted his shoulder. “Did you propose?”

“No. There’s no point. He was asking Shawna if she and Doug were planning on having kids right away, since she’s still in school part-time, and when she said they weren’t, he went into this lecture about how marriage is for couples ready for a family. Otherwise, it’s better to keep things simple. It’s the same crap I once shoveled to him.”

I rounded him and lightened my coffee. “Mark, you won’t know Steven’s answer until you ask him.”

“I’m scared,” he admitted, looking into his steaming mug. “I want more than we’ve got, but I don’t want to ruin what we have. If his answer is no and he thinks we want different things out of our relationship …”

“Cart before the horse, boss.”

“What if I can’t live with no?”

Ah … I could understand that. “Can you live with not knowing for sure either way?”

He shook his head.

“Then you have to tell him everything you’ve told me,” I said sternly.

His mouth quirked. “Sorry to keep dumping this on you. But you’re always great at giving me perspective.”

“You know what to do. You just want a kick in the ass to do it. I’m always up for ass-kicking.”

He smiled full on. “Let’s not work on the divorce attorney’s campaign today.”

“How about the airline instead?” I suggested. “I have some ideas.”

“All right, then. Let’s hit it.”

WE hard-charged through the morning, and I was energized by our progress. I wanted to keep Mark too occupied to worry. Work was a cure-all for me, and it quickly became clear that it was for him as well.

We’d just wrapped up for lunch and I had stopped by my desk to drop off my tablet when I saw the interoffice envelope on my desk. My pulse leaped with excitement and my hands shook slightly as I unwound the thin twine and let the note card inside slide out.

YOU’RE THE MAGIC.

YOU MAKE DREAMS COME TRUE.

X

I held the card to my chest, wishing it were the writer I was holding instead. I was thinking about sprinkling rose petals on our bed when my desk phone rang. I wasn’t all that surprised when I heard my mother’s breathy bombshell voice on the other end.

“Eva. Clancy talked to me. Please don’t be upset! You have to understand—”

“I get it.” I opened my drawer and tucked Gideon’s precious note into my purse. “Here’s the thing: You don’t have Nathan as an excuse anymore. If you’ve got any more bugs or trackers or whatever in my stuff, you better fess up now. Because I promise you, if I find something else moving forward, our relationship will be irrevocably damaged.”

She sighed. “Can we talk in person, please? I’m taking Cary out to lunch and I’ll just stay over until you get home.”

“All right.” The irritation that had started prickling at me dissipated just as quickly as it had come up. I loved that my mother treated Cary like the brother he was to me. She gave him the maternal love he’d never had. And they were both so appearance- and fashion-conscious that they always had a blast together.

“I love you, Eva. More than anything.”

I sighed. “I know, Mom. I love you, too.”

My other line flashed a call from reception, so I said good-bye and answered it.

“Hey.” Megumi’s voice was low and hushed. “The chick who came by for you once before, the one you wouldn’t see, she’s here again asking for you.”

I frowned, my brain taking a second to latch on to what she was talking about. “Magdalene Perez?”

“Yep. That’s the one. What should I do?”

“Nothing.” I pushed to my feet. Unlike the last time Gideon’s friend-who-wished-she-were-more had come around, I was prepared to deal with her myself. “On my way.”

“Can I watch?”

“Ha! I’ll be there in a minute. This won’t take long, then we’ll head out to lunch.”

Vanity had me smearing on some lip gloss before I slung my purse over my shoulder and headed out front. Thinking of Gideon’s note put the smile on my face that greeted Magdalene when I found her in the waiting area. She stood when I came into view, looking so amazing I couldn’t help but admire her.

When I’d first met her, her dark hair had been long and sleek, like Corinne Giroux’s. Now, it was cut in a classic bob that showed off the exotic beauty of her face. She wore cream slacks and a black sleeveless shell that had a big bow tied at the hip. Pearls at her ears and throat completed the elegant look.

“Magdalene.” I gestured for her to return to her seat and took the armchair on the opposite side of the small conversation table. “What brings you here?”

“I’m sorry to barge in on you at work like this, Eva, but I was visiting Gideon and thought I’d stop here, too. I have something to ask you.”

“Oh?” I set my purse down beside me and crossed my legs, smoothing my burgundy skirt. I resented her for being able to spend time with my boyfriend openly when I couldn’t. There was no way around it.

“A reporter stopped by my office today, asking personal questions about Gideon.”

My fingertips curled into the cushion of the armrest. “Deanna Johnson? You didn’t answer her, did you?”

“Of course not.” Magdalene leaned forward, setting her elbows on her knees. Her dark eyes were somber. “She’s already talked to you.”

“She tried.”

“She’s his type,” she pointed out, studying me.

“I noticed,” I said.

“The type he doesn’t stick with long.” Her full red lips twisted ruefully. “He’s told Corinne that it’s best if they remain long-distance friends, rather than social ones. But I suspect you know that.”

I felt a ripple of pleasure over that news. “How would I know?”

“Oh, I’m sure you have ways.” Magdalene’s eyes sparkled with knowing amusement.

Oddly, I found myself at ease with her. Maybe because she seemed so at ease with herself, which hadn’t been the case the previous times we’d crossed paths. “Seems like you’re doing good.”

“I’m getting there. I had someone in my life who I thought was a friend but was really just toxic. Without him around, I can think again.” She straightened. “I’ve just started seeing someone.”

“Good for you.” In that respect, I wished her only the best. She’d been horribly used by Gideon’s brother, Christopher. She didn’t know I knew. “I hope it works out.”

“Me, too. Gage is different from Gideon in a lot of ways. He’s one of those brooding artist types.”

“Deep souls.”

“Yes. Very deep, I think. I hope I get to find out for sure.” She stood. “Anyway, I don’t mean to keep you. I was worried about the reporter and wanted to discuss her with you.”

I corrected her as I rose. “You were worried about me discussing Gideon with the reporter.”

She didn’t deny it. “Bye, Eva.”

“Bye.” I watched her exit through the glass doors.

“That didn’t look too bad,” Megumi said, joining me. “No scratching or hissing.”

“We’ll see how long it lasts.”

“Ready for lunch?”

“I’m starved. Let’s go.”

WHEN I walked in my front door five and a half hours later, Cary, my mom, and a dazzling silver Nina Ricci formal gown laid out on the sofa greeted me.

“Isn’t it fantastic?” my mother gushed, looking fantastic herself in a fifties-style fitted dress with cap sleeves and a pattern of tiny cherries. Her blond hair framed her beautiful face in thick, glossy curls. I had to hand it to her; she could make any era look glamorous.

I’d been told my whole life that I looked just like her, but I had my father’s gray eyes instead of her cornflower blue, and my abundant curves were from the Reyes side. I had a butt no amount of exercise would rid me of and breasts that prevented me from wearing anything without a lot of support. It still amazed me that Gideon found my body so irresistible when he’d previously been drawn only to tall, slender brunettes.

Dropping my bag and purse on a bar stool, I asked, “What’s the occasion?”

“A shelter fund-raiser, a week from Thursday.”

I looked at Cary for confirmation that he’d be escorting me. His nod allowed me to shrug and say, “Okay.”

My mother beamed, looking radiant. In my honor, she supported charities benefiting abused women and children. When the fund-raisers were formal, she always purchased seats for Cary and me.

“Wine?” Cary asked, clearly picking up on my restless mood.

I shot him a grateful look. “Please.”

As he headed off to the kitchen, my mom glided over to me on sexy red-soled slingbacks and pulled me in for a hug. “How was your day?”

“Weird.” I hugged her back. “Glad it’s over.”

“Do you have plans this weekend?” She pulled away, her gaze sliding warily over my face.

That got my back up. “Some.”

“Cary tells me you’re seeing someone new. Who is he? What does he do?”

“Mom.” I got to the point. “Are we good? Clean slate and all that? Or is there something you want to tell me?”

She started to fidget, almost wringing her hands. “Eva. You won’t be able to understand what it’s like until you have children of your own. It’s terrifying. And knowing for certain that they’re in danger—”

“Mom.”

“And there are additional dangers that come just from being a beautiful woman,” she rushed on. “You’re connected to powerful men. That doesn’t always make you safer—”

“Where are they, Mom?”

She huffed. “You don’t have to take that tone with me. I was only trying—”

“Maybe you should go,” I cut in coldly, the chill I felt on the inside leaching out through my voice.

“Your Rolex,” she snapped, and it was like a slap to my face.

I staggered back a step, my right hand instinctively covering the watch on my left wrist, a treasured graduation gift from Stanton and my mother. I’d had the silly sentimental idea of passing it on to my daughter, should I be lucky enough to have one.

“Are you shitting me?” My fingers clawed at the clasp and the watch fell to the carpet with a muffled thud. It hadn’t been a gift at all. It’d been a shackle on my wrist. “You’ve seriously crossed the line!”

She flushed. “Eva, you’re overreacting. It’s not—”

“Overreacting? Ha! My God, that’s laughable. Really.” I shoved two pinched-together fingers in her face. “I’m this close to calling the police. And I’ve half a mind to sue you for invasion of privacy.”

“I’m your mother!” Her voice trailed off, took on a note of pleading. “It’s my job to look after you.”

“I’m a twenty-four-year-old adult,” I said coldly. “By law, I can look after myself.”

“Eva Lauren—”

“Don’t.” I lifted my hands, then dropped them. “Just don’t. I’m going to leave now, because I’m so pissed off I can’t even look at you. And I don’t want to hear from you, unless it’s with a sincere apology. Until you admit you’re wrong, I can’t trust you not to do it again.”

I walked to the kitchen and grabbed my purse, my gaze meeting Cary’s just as he was coming out with a tray of half-filled wineglasses. “I’ll be back later.”

“You can’t just walk out like this!” my mother cried, clearly on the verge of one of her emotional fits. I couldn’t deal with it. Not then.

“Watch me,” I muttered under my breath.

My goddamned Rolex. Just thinking of it hurt like hell, because the gift had meant so much to me. Now, it meant nothing at all.

“Let her go, Monica,” Cary said, his voice low and soothing. He knew how to deal with hysteria better than anyone. It was crappy sticking him with my mom, but I had to go. If I went to my room, she would just cry and plead at my door until I felt sick. I hated seeing her like that, hated causing her to feel that way.

Exiting my apartment, I went to Gideon’s next door, rushing to get inside before the tears overwhelmed me or my mother came after me. There was nowhere else for me to go. I couldn’t go out in public shell-shocked and crying. My mother wasn’t the only one who had me under surveillance. There was also the possibility of the police, Deanna Johnson, and maybe even some paparazzi.

I got as far as Gideon’s couch, sprawling across the cushions and allowing the tears to flow.

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