Bared to You (Chapter 8)
I was suddenly very tired, exhausted from fighting with myself over him. "I really do. You and me…it was a mistake."
His jaw tightened. "It wasn't. The way I handled it afterward was the mistake."
I stared at him, startled by the fierceness of his denial. "I wasn't talking about the sex, Gideon. I'm talking about my agreeing to this crazy strangers-with-benefits deal between us. I knew it was all wrong from the beginning. I should've listened to my instincts."
"Do you want to be with me, Eva?"
"No. That's what – "
"Not like we discussed at the bar. More than that."
My heart started to pound. "What are you talking about?"
"Everything." He left the bar and came closer. "I want to be with you."
"You didn't seem like you did Saturday." My arms tightened around my middle.
"So? I was, too."
His hands went to his hips. Then his arms crossed like mine. "Christ, Eva."
I watched him squirm and felt a flare of hope. "If that's all you've got, we're done."
"The hell we are."
"We've already hit a dead end if you're going to take a head trip every time we have sex."
He visibly struggled with what to say. "I'm used to having control. I need it. And you blew it all to hell in the limousine. I didn't handle that well."
"Eva." He approached. "I've never experienced anything like that. I didn't think it was possible for me to. Now that I have…I've got to have it. I've got to have you."
"It's just sex, Gideon. Super awesome sex, but that can seriously screw with your head when the two people doing it aren't good for each other."
"Bullshit. I've admitted I fucked up. I can't change what happened, but I can sure as shit get pissed that you want to cut me off because of it. You laid out your rules and I adjusted to accommodate them, but you won't make even a tiny adjustment for me. You have to meet me halfway." His face was hard with frustration. "At least give me a damn inch."
I stared at him, trying to figure out what he was doing and where this was going. "What do you want, Gideon?" I asked softly.
He caught me to him and cupped my cheek in one hand. "I want to keep feeling the way I feel when I'm with you. Just tell me what I have to do. And give me some room to screw up. I've never done this before. There's a learning curve."
I placed my palm over his heart and felt its pounding rhythm. He was anxious and passionate, and that had me on edge. How was I supposed to respond? Did I go with my gut or my common sense? "Done what before?"
"Whatever it takes to spend as much time with you as possible. In and out of bed."
The rush of delight that swept through me was ridiculously powerful. "Do you understand how much work and time a relationship between us is going to take, Gideon? I'm wiped out already. Plus I'm still working on some personal stuff, and I have my new job…my crazy mother…"
My fingers covered his mouth before he could open it. "But you're worth it, and I want you bad enough. So I guess I don't have a choice, do I?"
"Eva. Damn you." Gideon lifted me, hitching one arm beneath my rear to urge me to wrap my legs around his waist. He kissed me hard on the mouth and nuzzled his nose against mine. "We'll figure it out."
"You say that as if it'll be easy." I knew I was high-maintenance and he was obviously going to be the same.
"Easy's boring." He carried me over to the bar and set me down on a barstool. He pulled the dome off my place setting and revealed a massive cheeseburger and fries. The meal was still warm, thanks to a heated granite slab beneath the plate.
"Yum," I murmured, becoming aware of how hungry I was. Now that we'd talked, my appetite had returned full force.
He snapped open my napkin and laid it over my lap with a squeeze to my knee; then he took the seat beside me. "So, how do we do this?"
"Well, you pick it up with your hands and put it in your mouth."
He shot me a wry look that made me smile. It felt good to smile. It felt good to be with him. It usually did…for a little while. I took a bite of my burger, moaning when I got a full hit of its flavor. It was a traditional cheeseburger, but the taste was divine.
"Good, right?" he asked.
"Very good. In fact, a guy who knows about burgers this good might be worth keeping to myself." I wiped my mouth and hands. "How resistant are you to exclusivity?"
As he set his burger down, there was an eerie stillness to him. I couldn't begin to guess what he was thinking. "I assumed that was implied in our arrangement. But to avoid any doubts, I'll be clear and say there won't be any other men for you, Eva."
A shiver moved through me at the blunt finality in his tone and the iciness of his gaze. I knew he had a dark side; I'd learned long ago how to spot and avoid men who had dangerous shadows in their eyes. But the familiar alarm bells didn't ring around Gideon as they maybe should have. "But women are okay?" I asked to lighten the mood.
His brows rose. "I know your roommate is bisexual. Are you?"
"Would that bother you?"
"Sharing you would bother me. It's not an option. Your body belongs to me, Eva."
"And yours belongs to me? Exclusively?"
His gaze turned hot. "Yes, and I expect you to take frequent and excessive advantage of it."
Well, then…"But you've seen me naked," I teased, my voice husky. "You know what you're getting. I don't. I love what I've seen of your body so far, but that hasn't been a whole lot."
"We can rectify that now."
The thought of him stripping for me made me squirm in my seat. He noticed and his mouth curved wickedly.
"You'd better not," I said regretfully. "I was late getting back on Friday."
I swallowed hard. "Absolutely."
"I'll be sure to clear my schedule by five." He resumed eating, completely at ease with the fact that we'd both just penciled "mind-blowing sex" into our mental day calendars.
"You don't have to." I opened the mini ketchup bottle by my plate. "I need to hit the gym after work."
"We'll go together."
"Really?" I turned the bottle upside down and thumped the bottom with my palm.
He took it from me and used his knife to coax the ketchup onto my plate. "It's probably best for me to work off some energy before I get you naked. I'm sure you'd like to be able to walk tomorrow."
I stared at him, astonished by the casualness with which he'd made the statement and the rueful amusement on his face that told me he wasn't entirely kidding. My sex clenched in delicious anticipation. I could easily picture becoming seriously addicted to Gideon Cross.
I ate some fries, thinking of someone else who was addicted to Gideon. "Magdalene could be a problem for me."
He swallowed a bite of his burger and washed it down with a swig from his bottled water. "She told me she'd talked to you, and that it didn't go well."
I gave props to Magdalene's scheming and the clever attempt to cut me off at the pass. I'd have to be very careful with her, and Gideon was going to have to do something about her – like cut her off, period.
"No, it didn't go well," I agreed. "But then I don't appreciate being told that you don't respect the women you fuck and that the moment you shoved your dick into me you were done with me."
Gideon stilled. "She said that?"
"Word for word. She also said you're keeping on her ice until you're ready to settle down."
"Did she now?" His low voice had a chilling bite to it.
My stomach knotted, knowing things could either go really right or really wrong, depending on what Gideon said next. "Don't you believe me?"
"Of course I believe you."
"She could be a problem for me," I repeated, not letting it go.
"She won't be a problem. I'll talk to her."
I hated the thought of him talking to her, because it made me sick with jealousy. I figured that was an issue I should disclose up front. "Gideon…"
"Yes?" He'd finished his burger and was working on the fries.
"I'm a very jealous person. I can be irrational with it." I poked at my burger with a fry. "You might want to think about that, and whether or not you want to deal with someone who has self-esteem issues like I do. It was one of my sticking points when you first propositioned me, knowing it was going to drive me nuts having women salivating all over you and not having the right to say anything about it."
"You have the right now."
"You're not taking me seriously." I shook my head and took another bite of my cheeseburger.
"I've never been as serious about anything in my life." Reaching over, Gideon ran a fingertip over the corner of my mouth, and then licked off the dab of sauce he'd collected. "You're not the only one who can get possessive. I'm very proprietary about what's mine."
I didn't doubt that for a minute.
I took another bite and thought of the night ahead. I was eager. Ridiculously so. I was dying to see Gideon naked. Dying to run my hands and lips all over him. Dying to have another go at driving him crazy. And I was damn near desperate to be under him, to feel him straining over me, pounding into me, coming hard and deep inside me…
"Keep thinking those thoughts," he said roughly, "and you'll be late again."
I looked at him with raised brows "How did you know what I'm thinking?"
"You get this look on your face when you're turned on. I intend to put that look on your face as often as possible." Gideon covered his plate again and stood, withdrawing a business card from his pocket and setting it down beside me. I could see that he'd written his home and cell phone numbers on the back. "I feel stupid asking this question considering our present conversation, but I need your cell phone number."
"Oh." I forcibly dragged my thoughts out of the bedroom. "I have to get one first. It's on my to-do list."
"What happened to the phone you were texting with last week?"
My nose wrinkled. "My mother was using it to track my movements around the city. She's a tad…overprotective."
"I see." He brushed the backs of his fingers down my cheek. "That's what you were talking about when you said your mom is stalking you."
"Okay, then. We'll take care of the phone after work before we head to the gym. It's safer for you to have one. And I want to be able to call you whenever I feel like it."
I set down the quarter of my burger that I couldn't eat, and wiped my hands and mouth. "That was delicious. Thank you."
"It was my pleasure." He leaned over me and pressed his lips briefly to mine. "Do you need to use the washroom?"
"Yes. I need my toothbrush from my purse, too."
A few minutes later, I found myself standing in a washroom hidden behind a door that blended seamlessly with the mahogany paneling behind the flat screens. We brushed our teeth side by side at the double sink vanity, our gazes meeting in our mirrored reflections. It was such a domestic, normal thing to do and yet we both seemed to delight in it.
"I'll take you back down," he said, crossing his office to the coatrack.
I followed him, but veered off when we reached his desk. I went to it and put my hand on the clear space in front of his chair. "Is this where you are most of the day?"
"Yes." He shrugged into his jacket and I wanted to bite him, he looked so delectable.
Instead, I hopped up to sit directly in front of his chair. According to my watch I had five minutes. Barely enough time to get back to work, but still. I couldn't resist exercising my new rights. I pointed at his chair. "Sit."
His brows rose, but he came over without argument and settled gracefully into the seat.
I spread my legs and crooked my finger. "Closer."
He rolled forward, filling the space between my thighs. He wrapped his arms around my hips and looked up at me. "One day soon, Eva, I'm going to fuck you right here."
"Just a kiss for now," I murmured, bending forward to take his mouth. With my hands on his shoulders for balance, I licked across his parted lips; then slipped inside and teased him with gentleness.
Groaning, he deepened the kiss, eating at my mouth in a way that made me achy and wet.
"One day soon," I repeated against his lips, "I'm going to kneel beneath this desk and suck you off. Maybe while you're on the phone playing with your millions like Monopoly. You, Mr. Cross, will pass Go and collect your two hundred dollars."
His mouth curved against mine. "I can see how this is going to go. You're going to make me lose my mind coming everywhere I can in your tight, sexy body."
"Are you complaining?"
"Angel, I'm salivating."
I was bemused by the endearment, although I liked its sweetness. "Angel?"
He hummed a soft assent and kissed me.
I couldn't believe what a difference an hour made. I left Gideon's office in a completely different frame of mind than when I'd entered it. The feel of his hand at the small of my back made my body hum with anticipation rather than the misery I'd felt on the way in.
I waved bye to Scott and smiled brightly at the unsmiling receptionist.
"I don't think she likes me," I told Gideon, as we waited for the elevator.
He glanced over that way and the redhead beamed at him.
"Well," I murmured. "She likes you."
"I guarantee her paychecks."
My mouth curved. "Yes, I'm sure that's what it is. It couldn't possibly have anything to do with you being the sexiest man alive."
"Am I now?" He caged me to the wall and burned me with a searing gaze.
I set my hands against his abdomen, licking my lower lip when I felt the hard ridges of muscle tighten under my touch. "Just an observation."
"I like you." With his palms pressed flat to the wall on either side of my head, he lowered his mouth to mine and kissed me softly.
"I like you back. You do realize you're at work, don't you?"
"What good is being the boss if you can't do what you want?"
When a car arrived, I ducked under Gideon's arm and slid into it. He prowled in after me; then circled me like a predator, sliding up behind me to pull me back against him. His hands pushed into my front pockets and splayed against my hipbones, keeping me tucked close. The warmth of his touch so close to where I ached for him was a special brand of torture. In retaliation, I wriggled my butt against him and smiled when he hissed out a breath and hardened.
"Behave," he admonished gruffly. "I have a meeting in fifteen minutes."
"Will you think of me while you're sitting at your desk?"
"Undoubtedly. You'll definitely think about me while you're sitting at yours. That's an order, Miss Tramell."
My head fell back against his chest, loving the bite of command in his voice. "I don't see how I couldn't, Mr. Cross, considering how I think of you everywhere else I go."
He stepped out with me when we reached the twentieth floor. "Thank you for lunch."
"I think that's my line." I backed away. "See you later, Dark and Dangerous."
His brows rose at my nickname for him. "Five o'clock. Don't make me wait."
One of the cars in the left bank of elevators arrived. Megumi stepped out and Gideon stepped in, his gaze locked with mine until the doors closed.
"Whew," she said. "You scored. I'm pea green with envy."
I couldn't think of anything to say to that. It was all still too new and I was afraid to jinx it. In the back of my mind, I knew these feelings of happiness couldn't last. Everything was going too well.
I rushed to my desk and got to work.
"Eva." I looked up to see Mark standing in the threshold of his office. "Could I talk to you a minute?"
"Of course." I grabbed my tablet, even though his grim face and tone warned me they might not be needed. When Mark shut the door behind me, my apprehension increased. "Is everything all right?"
"Yes." He waited until I was seated; then took the chair beside me rather than the one behind his desk. "I don't know how to say this…"
"Just say it. I'll figure it out."
He looked at me with compassionate eyes and a cringe of embarrassment. "It's not my place to interfere. I'm just your boss and there's a line that comes with that, but I'm going to cross it because I like you, Eva, and I want you to work here for a long time."
My stomach tightened. "That's great. I really love my job."
"Good. Good, I'm glad." He shot me a quick smile. "Just…be careful with Cross, okay?"
I blinked, startled by the direction of the conversation. "Okay."
"He's brilliant, rich, and sexy, so I understand the appeal. As much as I love Steven, I get a little flustered around Cross myself. He's just got that kind of pull." Mark talked fast and shifted with obvious embarrassment. "And I can totally see why he's interested in you. You're beautiful, smart, honest, considerate…I could go on, because you're great."
"Thanks," I said quietly, hoping I didn't look as ill as I felt. This sort of warning from a friend, and knowing that others would think of me as just another babe-of-the-week, was exactly the sort of thing that preyed on my insecurities.
"I just don't want to see you get hurt," he muttered, looking as miserable as I felt. "Part of that's selfish, I'll admit. I don't want to lose a great assistant because she doesn't want to work in a building owned by an ex."
"Mark, it means a lot to me that you care and that I'm valuable to you around here. But you don't have to worry about me. I'm a big girl. Besides, nothing is going to get me to quit this job."
He blew out his breath, clearly relieved. "All right. Let's put it away and get to work."
So we did, but I set myself up for future torture by subscribing to a daily Google alert for Gideon's name. And when five o'clock rolled around, my awareness of my many inadequacies was still spreading through my happiness like a stain.
Gideon was as prompt as he'd threatened to be and he didn't seem to notice my introspective mood as we rode down in a crowded elevator. More than one woman in the car cast furtive glances in his direction, but that sort of thing I didn't mind. He was hot. I would've been surprised if they hadn't looked.
He caught my hand when we cleared the turnstiles, linking his fingers with mine. The simple, intimate gesture meant so much to me in that moment that my grip tightened on his. And I'd really have to watch out for that. The moment I became grateful he was spending time with me would be the beginning of the end. Neither of us would respect me if that happened.
The Bentley SUV sat at the curb and Gideon's driver stood at the ready by the rear door. Gideon looked at me. "I had some workout clothes packed and brought over, in case you were set on visiting your gym. Equinox, right? Or we can go to mine."
"I prefer to go to the CrossTrainer on Thirty-fifth."
My curiosity over how he knew which gym I frequented vanished when I heard the "Cross" in the name of his gym. "You wouldn't happen to own the gym, would you?"
His grin flashed. "The chain. Usually, I practice mixed martial arts with a personal trainer, but I use the gym occasionally."
"The chain," I repeated. "Of course."
"Your choice," he said considerately. "I'll go wherever you want."
"By all means, let's go to your gym."
He opened the back door, and I slid in and over. I set my purse and my gym bag on my lap, and looked out the window as the car pulled away from the curb. The sedan driving next to us was so close I wouldn't have to lean far to touch it. Rush hour in Manhattan was something I was still getting used to. SoCal had bumper-to-bumper traffic, too, but it moved at a snail's pace. Here in New York, speed mixed with the crush in a way that often made me close my eyes and pray to survive the trip.
It was a whole new world. A new city, new apartment, new job, and new man. It was a lot to take on at once. I supposed it was understandable that I felt off-balance.
I glanced at Gideon and found him staring at me with an unreadable expression. Everything inside me twisted into a mess of wild lust and vibrating anxiety. I had no idea what I was doing with him, only that I couldn't stop even if I wanted to.