I couldn’t help but contrast the possessive, tender way Gideon looked at me against the earthier, lustful way Brett raked me from head to toe.
It seemed so obvious suddenly, that Brett had never really thought of me as his. Not the way Gideon did. Brett had wanted me, still did, but even when he’d had me, he hadn’t asserted any ownership and he certainly hadn’t ever given anything real of himself to me.
Gideon. My head tilted back, my gaze searching for and finding one of the many black domes in the ceiling that hid the security cameras. My hand went to my heart, pressing over it. I knew he probably wasn’t looking. I knew he’d have to deliberately access the feed in order to see me and that he was far too busy with work to think of it, but still . . .
My hand dropped to my side. I looked at Brett as he approached me with the easy prowl of a man who knew his appeal and was confident of his chances.
The lobby was swarming with people flowing around us in steady streams, as one would expect in a midtown skyscraper. When his arms lifted as if to embrace me, I stepped back and held out my left hand instead, just as I had done when we last met in San Diego. I would never again cause Gideon to feel the pain I’d inflicted when he saw me kissing Brett.
Brett’s brows lifted and the heat in his eyes cooled. “Really? Is this where we’re at now?”
“I’m married,” I reminded him. “Hugging each other isn’t appropriate.”
“What about the women he’s tapped all over the tabloids? That’s okay?”
“Come on,” I chided. “You know you can’t always believe what the press feeds you.”
His lips pursed. He shoved his hands back in his pockets. “You can believe what they say about how I feel about you.”
My stomach fluttered. “I think you believe it.”
Which made me a little sad. He didn’t know what Gideon and I had, because he’d never had it. I hoped he would someday. Brett wasn’t a bad guy. He just wasn’t meant to be my guy.
Cursing under his breath, Brett turned and gestured toward the exit. “Let’s get out of here.”
I was torn. I wanted privacy, too, but I also wanted to stay where there were witnesses who could reassure Gideon. In any case, we couldn’t exactly have a picnic in the Crossfire lobby.
Reluctantly, I fell into step beside him. “I had some sandwiches delivered a little bit ago. Figured that would give us more time to talk.”
Brett nodded grimly and held out his hand for the bag I was carrying.
I took him to Bryant Park, weaving beside him through the frenetic lunchtime crowds on the sidewalks. Taxis and private cars honked insistently at the streams of pedestrians too time-strapped to obey the signals. Heat shimmered off the asphalt, the sun high enough in the sky to spear down between the towering skyscrapers. An NYPD squad car hit its siren, the piercing robotic chirps and rumbles doing little to expedite the cruiser’s movement through the clogged street.
It was Manhattan on an average day and I loved it, but I could tell Brett was frustrated by the intricate dance required to get through the city. The shifting of shoulders and h*ps to let people pass, the quick inhales to squeeze by too-big bags or too-slow pedestrians, the swift-footedness needed to avoid the abrupt appearance of new bodies filing out of the many doorways that lined the sidewalks. Life as usual in NYC, but I remembered how overwhelming it felt when you weren’t used to so many people occupying relatively little space.
Entering the park just behind the library, we found an unoccupied bistro table and chairs in the shade near the carousel and settled in. Brett pulled out the sandwiches, chips, and bottled water I’d ordered, but neither of us started eating. I scouted our surroundings instead, aware that we could be photographed.
I’d considered that when I chose the location, but the alternative was a noisy, crowded restaurant. I was hyperconscious of my body language, trying to ensure that nothing could be misconstrued. The world at large could think we were friends. My husband would know, in every way I could show him, that Brett and I had actually said good-bye.
“You got the wrong impression in San Diego,” Brett said abruptly, his eyes shielded behind his shades. “Brittany isn’t a serious thing.”
“It’s none of my business, Brett.”
“I miss you. Sometimes, she reminds me of you.”
I winced, finding the comment anything but flattering. I lifted one hand and gestured helplessly. “I couldn’t go back to you, Brett. Not after Gideon.”
“You say that now.”
“He makes me feel like he can’t breathe without me. I couldn’t settle for less.” I didn’t need to say that Brett had never made me feel like that. He knew.
He stared at his steepled fingertips, then straightened abruptly and dug his wallet out of his back pocket. He pulled a folded photograph out and set it on the table in front of me.
“Look at that,” he said tightly, “and tell me we didn’t have something real.”
I picked up the photo and spread it open, frowning at the image. It was a candid shot of Brett and me, laughing together over something lost to memory. I recognized the interior of Pete’s in the background. There was a crowd of blurred faces around us.
“Where did you get this?” I asked. There’d been a time when I would’ve given anything to have an unposed photo with Brett, believing that such an insubstantial thing would give me some kind of proof that I was more than a piece of ass.