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Gideon Cross. As beautiful and flawless on the outside as he was damaged and tormented on the inside. He was a bright, scorching flame that singed me with the darkest of pleasures. I couldn't stay away. I didn't want to.
He was my addiction My past was as violent as his, and I was just as broken. It was too hard, too painful Those moments when the driving hunger and desperate love were the most exquisite insanity. We were bound by our need.
And our passion would take us beyond our limits to the sweetest, sharpest edge of obsession I saw the dangerous and damaged soul inside—so much like my own. I was drawn to it. I needed him as surely as I needed my heart to beat.
No one knows how much he risked for me. Entwined by our secrets, we tried to defy the odds. We made our own rules and surrendered completely to the exquisite power of possession… Gideon calls me his angel, but he's the miracle in my life. My gorgeous, wounded warrior, so determined to slay my demons while refusing to face his own. The vows we'd exchanged should have bound us tighter than blood and flesh. Instead they opened old wounds, exposed pain and insecurities, and lured bitter enemies out of the shadows.
I felt him slipping from my grasp, my greatest fears becoming my reality, my love tested in ways I wasn't sure I was strong enough to bear. At the brightest time in our lives, the darkness of his past encroached and threatened everything we'd worked so hard for.
I wanted to make a living based on my own merits, and that meant an entry-level position. I respected that. I suspected Stanton did, too, although he would never admit it. It was a point of pride for my father. Knowing it was pointless to get riled up over old frustrations, I focused on getting to work as quickly as possible.
I tipped my head back and followed the line of the building all the way up to the slender ribbon of sky. I pulled my new ID card out of the inner pocket of my pants and held it up for the two guards in black business suits at the desk. I was walking toward the bank of elevators when a svelte, beautifully groomed brunette caught her purse on a turnstile and upended it, spilling a deluge of change. I winced in sympathy and crouched to help the woman collect her money, as did one of the guards.
I smiled back. The custom three-piece suit hit more than a few of my hot buttons, but it was the tall, powerfully lean body inside it that made it sensational. He sank into an elegant crouch directly in front of me. Hit with all that exquisite masculinity at eye level, I could only stare. Then something shifted in the air between us.
As he stared back, he altered. The intense magnetism he exuded grew in strength, becoming a near-tangible impression of vibrant and unrelenting power. Reacting purely on instinct, I shifted backward. Inky black hair framed a breathtaking face. Those eyes narrowed slightly, his features otherwise schooled into impassivity. His dress shirt and suit were both black, but his tie perfectly matched those brilliant irises.
My heartbeat quickened; my lips parted to accommodate faster breaths. He smelled sinfully good. Not cologne. Body wash, maybe.
Or shampoo. Whatever it was, it was mouthwatering, as was he. With a shaky inhalation, I placed my hand in his. My pulse leaped when his grip tightened. His touch was electric, sending a shock up my arm that raised the hairs on my nape.
It brought sex to mind. Extraordinary sex. I thought for a moment that he might be able to make me orgasm just by talking long enough. My lips were dry, so I licked them before answering.
We maintained eye contact because I was unable to look away. Younger than thirty would be my guess, but his eyes were much worldlier. Hard and sharply intelligent. I felt drawn to him, as if a rope bound my waist and he were slowly, inexorably pulling it. Blinking out of my semidaze, I released him. I looked at him in his civilized, urbane, outrageously expensive suit and thought of raw, primal, sheet-clawing fucking. My brain stuttered back into gear.
I was irritated with myself for feeling so awkward while he was so completely self-possessed. And why? Because I was dazzled, damn it. He glanced up at me, and the pose—him nearly kneeling before me—skewed my equilibrium again. He held my gaze as he rose.
You should sit down for a minute. To him. I talked over her. Get a grip. Five minutes with Mr. I could still feel the pull of him, the inexplicable urge to go back inside where he was. How many times was I going to make an ass of myself in one day? In seconds all the parties would forget the exchange, which was just one beat in the natural tempo of the city.
Ah, New York, I thought, feeling settled again. You rock. By the time it was over, I felt more like myself. His lashes were enviably thick and long, while his head was shaved bald. With a little training you could be a literal knockout. In a city like New York, knowing self-defense is imperative. It was direct, like his gaze, and his smile was genuine. He wore a black sleeveless shirt and long shorts. His Converse sneakers looked comfortably beat up, and tribal tattoos peeked out from his collar.
Have fun? I told him about the kickboxing class and Parker Smith. He set a bowl in front of me. It contained tiny tubes of salad noodles covered in a skimpy tomato sauce with lumps of ground beef and peas. What is it? I caught the handle of the spoon sticking out of the bowl and decided not to comment on the food. I thought that was me.
Do tell me more. I watched him take a couple bites of his own concoction before I felt brave enough to try it myself. Blond or dark? Built or lean? Eye color? Lean and built. Blue eyes. Filthy rich, judging by his clothes and accessories. And he was insanely sexy. This guy had it all. In my mind, I remembered his breathtaking face with crystal clarity. It should be illegal for a man to be that mind-blowing. I was still recovering from the frying of my brain cells.
Cary set his elbow on the counter and leaned in, his long bangs covering one vibrant green eye. Or else I was just starving. Still, he somehow managed to pick the wrong partner every time. Forget the real guy. Just use his face in your fantasies and make him perfect there. I shoved everything else out of my mind and focused on him and his growing success. The demand for Cary Taylor was increasing by the day, and he was building a reputation with photographers and accounts for being both professional and prompt.
I was thrilled for him and so proud. He loves your mom. He loves spoiling your mom, and your mom loves spoiling you. He does it for her. A bombshell dress for you and a Brioni tux for me, because downloading gifts for me is what he does for you.
Thank God he knows that. Take a look. I was hairinept, but he could create styles that were glamorous masterpieces. Before me was a wall of bulletproof glass that framed the double-door entrance to the reception area. The receptionist at the crescent-shaped desk saw the badge I held up to the glass.
She was mixed race, a little bit Asian for sure, and very pretty. Her hair was dark and thick and cut into a sleek bob that was shorter in the back and razor sharp in the front. Her sloe eyes were brown and warm, and her lips were full and naturally pink. One was mine and I went straight to it. One was a framed collage of three photos—me and Cary on Coronado Beach, my mom and Stanton on his yacht in the French Riviera, and my dad on duty in his City of Oceanside, California, police cruiser.
Against the backdrop of sky and skyscrapers, Mark looked accomplished and powerful. He leaned back and smiled. Do you miss the palm trees?
The humidity here is taking some getting used to. Mark touched bases with two clients and had a long meeting with the creative team working on concept ideas for a trade school. Eva Tramell speaking. When I reached the bank of elevators, I pulled out my cell to text a quick On my way note to Cary. When the doors opened, I took a step forward. I glanced up to watch where I was going and blue eyes met mine. My breath caught. The sex god was the lone occupant.
I had never seen hair that purely black. It was glossy and slightly long, the ends drifting over his collar.
As my mother would say, only rogues and raiders had hair like that. My hands clenched against the urge to touch it, to see if it felt like the rich silk it resembled. The doors began to close. How did he know my name? For a second, I debated telling him I was waiting for someone so I could take another car down, but my brain lurched back into action. What the hell was wrong with me? If only. I stepped into the car. The doors closed and the elevator began its descent. I immediately regretted my decision to share the car with him.
Awareness of him prickled across my skin. He was a potent force in such a small enclosure, radiating a palpable energy and sexual magnetism that had me shifting restlessly on my feet. My breathing became as ragged as my heartbeat. I felt that inexplicable pull to him again, as if he exuded a silent demand that I was instinctively attuned to answering.
My heart was racing in my chest, my stomach quivering madly. And getting better as it progresses. I stepped back to make room for them, retreating into the opposite corner of the elevator from Dark and Dangerous. Except he sidestepped along with me. He adjusted his perfectly knotted tie, his arm brushing against mine as he did so. It was impossible.
He was just so there.
Right there. All perfect and gorgeous and smelling divine. My thoughts ran away from me, fantasizing about how hard his body might be beneath the suit, how it might feel against me, how well endowed—or not—he might be.
When the car reached the lobby, I almost moaned in relief. The sensation of his touch on such a vulnerable place rippled through me.
We reached the turnstiles and his hand fell away, leaving me feeling oddly bereft. I glanced at him, trying to read him, but although he was looking at me, his face gave nothing away. He was wearing jeans that showcased his mile-long legs and an oversized sweater in soft green that emphasized his eyes.
He easily drew the attention of everyone in the lobby. Cary whistled as the car pulled away. From the way you were looking at him, that was the guy you told me about, right? My brain sort of fried for a minute. I need a drink. Bring your tablet. Can you work late tonight? Is that timeline usual? But to be fair, the RFP provides a lot more information than it asks for in return.
Par for the course when dealing with Cross Industries. I thought I was the only one. No news can be good news. Besides research vodka and stay late. Mark activated the speaker and kept working.
I forgot. A snort came clearly across the line. Does she like Chinese? He grinned. I watched them interact and felt awe and a dash of envy. Their relationship was so beautifully functional that it was a joy to spend time with them. Where does it go? Maybe that helps.
I could win money betting on how much she can eat. I knew you had a bit of a wild streak. Mark saved me. And what do you know about wild women anyway? They like our perspective. I wanted to see if hetero sex lived up to the hype. Steven shrugged. Mark insisted on calling me a cab. Steven bumped shoulders with Mark. I put the toilet seat down. Hanging baskets of ferns and lilies fragranced the air and a smoky glass security entrance was sandblasted with Cross Industries in a bold, masculine font.
We were buzzed in, and then asked to wait a moment. Mark looked at me with twinkling eyes as the receptionist reached for the door handle. I made sure to smile brightly as I stepped inside.
My abrupt stop bottlenecked the threshold and Mark ran into my back, sending me stumbling forward. The air left my lungs in a rush, followed immediately by every bit of common sense I possessed. Even through the layers of clothing between us, his biceps were like stone beneath my palms, his stomach a hard slab of muscle against my own. When he sucked in a sharp breath, my nipples tightened, stimulated by the expansion of his chest.
Oh no. I was cursed. It was a memorable one. He was dressed in black again, with both his shirt and tie in a soft gray. As always, he looked too good. What would it be like to be that amazing looking? There was no way he could go anywhere without causing a disturbance.
Reaching out, Mark steadied me and eased me back gently. Okay then. I admired how cool Mark remained under pressure—pressure exerted by Cross, who easily dominated the meeting.
What would entice you to try Kingsman, Eva? He was just so. Cross, but if you must know, I think sexy luxury on a budget will appeal to the largest demographic. Rising to my feet, I led the way to the door. I was hyperaware of Cross walking beside me. The way he moved, with animal grace and arrogant economy, was a major turn-on. Cross stayed with me all the way to the bank of elevators. He said a few things to Mark about sports, I think, but I was too focused on the way I was reacting to him to care about the small talk.
I inhaled sharply. Both of which had me taking an involuntary step back. He reached out to steady me, but I held him at bay with an uplifted hand. Dear God. The ding that signaled the approaching elevator made me jump, I was strung so tight. Never been so scorchingly attracted to another human being. I stepped into the elevator and faced him.
He smiled. Should I make dinner reservations for you and Steven? Pure Food and Wine at seven, if they can squeeze us in. If not, surprise us. I skirted the four of them as quietly as possible and slid into my cubicle.
I called Pure Food and Wine and begged for a table for two. Have fun! Asking for your boss in particular? Gideon Cross owns it. My eyes closed. Gideon Cross. I thought the name suited him. It was as sexy and elegantly masculine as the man himself. Probably dozens of people to handle it. I really like it. I really like Mark. Travis says about calculated risks? When your shrink tells you to take some, you should take some.
You can deal with it. You and Cross are both adults. Think of the stamina. I hate feeling like a vagina with legs. But there has to be a better way to tell a woman you want to take her to bed. Let him lust after you until he has blue balls. Serves him right.
Cary could always do that. The converted warehouse Parker Smith used as his studio was a brick-faced building in a formerly industrial area of Brooklyn presently struggling to revitalize.
Cary and I sat in aluminum bleachers, watching a half dozen combatants on the mats below. Even with padding, that had to sting. Krav Maga is brutal. He always does. He was a good instructor. Patient and thorough, and he explained things in an easy-to-understand way.
His studio was in a rough neighborhood, but I thought it suited what he was teaching. The good ones always get snatched up quick. Mark walked me through the process of collecting information for an RFP, and he told me a little more about Cross Industries and Gideon Cross, pointing out that he and Cross were the same age.
It was just such a rush being near him. Plus he was a hell of a lot of fun to look at. I had nothing nearly as exciting planned for the weekend. Excusing myself, I rushed over to catch it. How are you? Stanton always sounded like old money to me—cultured, entitled, and arrogant. Is everything okay? Is Mom all right? Your mother is wonderful, as always. I was grateful to him for a lot of things, actually, but it was sometimes hard to balance that against my feelings of disloyalty.
Excuse me a moment. I look forward to seeing you. Then he slid behind the wheel and drove me downtown. Stanton came in shortly after my arrival, looking dapper and distinguished. His hair was pure white, his face lined but still very handsome. His eyes were the color of worn blue denim, and they were sharp with intelligence. I stood as he approached, and he bent to kiss my cheek.
But my gray eyes came from my dad. Men like Gideon Cross. I picked up my fork and started in on a chicken, cranberry, walnut, and feta salad. It was delicious, and I was hungry. It took some time to calm her down and to assure her that I could make arrangements for you to pursue your interests in a safe manner.
The casualness of his reply, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, made me feel ill. My stomach churned, suddenly more interested in rejecting my lunch than digesting it. It had nothing to do with saving me money. But it also gives her peace of mind.
To spy on her grown daughter? Is she still seeing Dr. He coddled her. Indulged her. Spoiled her. And allowed her obsession with my safety to run wild. She feels guilty for not protecting you. We need to give her a little latitude. How could my mom invade my privacy like that? Why would she? She was driving herself crazy, and me along with her. This will be much more convenient for you. I make my own decisions. And you. You need to eat. Clancy drove me back up to midtown, while I stewed in the backseat.
She was so emotional and fragile, and she loved me to the point of being crazy about it. As Clancy pulled away from the curb, I stood on the crowded sidewalk and looked up and down the busy street for either a drugstore where I could get some chocolate or a cellular store where I could pick up a new phone.
I needed work to distract me from my crazy-ass family. I appreciated the added time the stop gave me to enjoy the comfort of dark chocolate and caramel melting over my tongue. The doors slid apart and revealed Gideon Cross talking with two other gentlemen. When was I going to become immune?
He glanced over and his lips curved into a slow, heart-stopping smile when he saw me. Just my crappy luck. Stepping into the car, he lifted a hand to discourage them from following him. They blinked in surprise, glancing at me, then Cross, and then back again. I stepped out, deciding it would be safer for my sanity to take a different car up. The doors shut and the elevator glided smoothly into motion.
After dealing with Stanton, the last thing I needed was another domineering male trying to push me around. Cross caught me by the upper arms and searched my face with that vivid blue gaze.
Releasing me, he withdrew a lone key from his pocket and plugged it into the panel. Seeing him from behind was a revelation. His shoulders were nicely broad without being bulky, emphasizing his lean waist and long legs. The silky strands of hair falling over his collar tempted me to clench them and pull.
I wanted him to be as pissy as I was. His shirt and tie were both the same rich cerulean as his irises. I expect most women are. His ease and unconcern aggravated me further.
Glad we got that cleared up. I forced myself not to move away or give him the satisfaction of seeing me intimidated. His thumb brushed over the corner of my mouth, then lifted to his own. But a thousand ways to make you come are.
Let me show you. He withdrew the key from the panel and the doors opened. He was buzzed through the security door so quickly there was no need for him to break stride. The pretty redhead at the reception desk pushed hastily to her feet, about to impart some information until he shook his head impatiently.
Her mouth snapped shut and she stared at me, her eyes wide, as we passed at a brisk pace. He shrugged out of his jacket and hung it on a chrome coatrack.
He was even yummier in just the vest. How strong his shoulders were. He gestured toward a black leather sofa. The sooner we work this out, the sooner we can both get back to business. Now, sit down. He dropped me on my butt, then sat next to me. He contemplated me with narrowed eyes. So what do you want—exactly? Seduction, Eva? Do you want to be seduced? And, yes, tempted.
It was hard not to be while faced with such a gorgeous, virile male so determined to get hot and sweaty with me. Still, the dismay won out. Why even call it a fuck? My awareness of him heightened to a physically painful degree. His earthy amusement made him less sex god and more human. Flesh and blood. I pushed to my feet and backed out of reach.
Friendly even. With mutual respect at the very least. You want me to blur that line. When he stepped close enough, it surrounded me, closing me in with him. Everything outside that bubble ceased to exist, while inside it my entire body strained toward his. God, he smelled good. His powerful frame radiated heat and hunger, spurring my own wild desire for him. I wanted him. But he was no good for me.
Honestly, I could screw up my life on my own. He was as aroused as I was, his cock hard and thick against my lower back. I had almost no room to breathe. He stared, his gaze searingly intense. He groaned, tilted his head, and sealed his mouth over mine. I sighed and his tongue dipped inside, tasting me in long, leisurely licks. I pulled on the silky strands, using them to direct his mouth over mine. He growled, deepening the kiss, stroking my tongue with lush slides of his own.
He pushed away from the door. I kissed him back as if I could eat him alive. My skin was damp and too sensitive, my breasts heavy and tender. My clit throbbed for attention, pounding along with my raging heartbeat. I was vaguely aware of movement, and then the couch was against my back. His breath hissed out when he reached the point where my garter clipped to the top of my silk stocking.
He tore his gaze away from mine and looked down, pushing my skirt higher to bare me from the waist down. Abruptly, he yanked himself away, stumbling to his feet. I lay there gasping and wet, so willing and ready. Someone was behind him. I had a nightmare vision in my head of what I must look like. And I was late getting back to work. Leave me alone. Then he pulled down my skirt, smoothing it with calm, expert hands.
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. I was aroused and mad and thoroughly embarrassed. I jerked my chin away. I want you so badly it hurts. 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 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. 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. Tell me when, then. I shivered. Take a couple days to think.
I had a late lunch with Mr. I just barely got back myself. My kickass Friday morning seemed to have happened days ago. But since I was still feeling shitty about my overly long lunch, I considered it penance and answered. It drove me nuts and it also broke my heart. Thank you. Petersen say about you tracing my phone? Petersen knows I worry about you. Is your boss treating you well?
The good ones always are. I loved it when she was happy. I wished she were happy more often. And I know Cary will love it. My mother was rarely distracted for long. I answered with my usual greeting, but it lacked its usual punch. Still taste you. 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. Dark and Dangerous for sure.
In the interim, tell me what you do like. I have a date with my vibrator. Plus, I was having fun with him. What will it take to talk you into a threesome with B. Good night, Gideon. Grudgingly, I thought of Gideon Cross, who preferred to strip all intimacy out of the most intimate act I could imagine.
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. 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. Classes will resume a week from Monday. It never ceased to amaze me how much cooperation money could download.
Your driver has the schedule. See you then. Do you have time for pizza Wednesday night? Spill it, Eva. You looked stressed. How did you two meet? In an old-school way. He seemed great, and he obviously digs you. Is he studying photography? But forget about Trey for a minute.
Get it out.
Never even crossed my mind. And meet with Dr. Turn it over to her shrink. Do you still love it? Come on, Eva. What happened? I wanted his take on it all. I lifted my head to look at him, and found him bright-eyed and biting his lip. What are you thinking? Just tell him what you want.
What did I want? Aside from the obvious? Boil it down. Even a guy I take home from a bar has more going for him than that. Come here often? What are you drinking? Like to dance? Do you work around here? I get it. Hit a bar. His clothes—black jeans and turtleneck—were more upscale, which intrigued me.
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. Cary squinted down at the lettering, having a few more drinks in him than I did.
The line to get in was long, extending down the street and around the corner. We were shown to a small seating area by the balcony and settled at a table hugged by two half-moon velvet sofas. Enjoy your evening. Hanging out with my best girl and crushing on a new hunk in my life. Paired with black leather pants and spiked wristlets, it made him look sexy and wild.
I tried to think of a way I could help. Two guys stopped by our table. I glanced at Cary, and then back at the guys. They looked like brothers and they were very attractive. Nice to meet you. I seriously thought about it. I watched them all go, my heart racing. My gaze slid over him. 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. That he wanted to skip past the getting-to-know-you stage and jump straight into bed? So damn sexy. Is that a general like of the overall package? Or just the clothes? Only the sweater? 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 glared at him, even though I was mad at myself for caring either way. I own this club, Eva. A pretty waitress set two pinkish-colored iced drinks in square tumblers on the table.
Two Stoli Elit and cranberries. Can I get you anything else? My nerves tingled. The working of his throat made me hot, but that was nothing compared to what the intensity of his stare did to me. All the chaotic emotion and energy that had been writhing around inside me abruptly became too much to contain. 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.
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. Your credit card popped and your drinks were recorded.
And Cary Taylor is listed on the rental agreement for your apartment. No way. My cell phone. My credit card. My fucking apartment. Between my mother and Gideon, I felt claustrophobic. I pounded it, draining the tumbler. My stomach churned for a moment, then settled.