Pushing his chair back, Gideon stood with powerful grace. The four men seated with him glanced my way, then stood as well. There were two women with them, both of whom swiveled in their seats to look at me.
I remembered to smile and started toward their large round table situated near the center of the room, making my way carefully over the hardwood floors, trying to ignore the stares I garnered as the focus of Gideon’s dark gaze.
My hand shook a little as reached for his arm. “I apologize for being late.”
He slid his arm around me and brushed his lips over my temple. His fingers flexed into my waist with near-painful pressure and I pulled back.
He looked at me with such heated intensity and ferocious love that my pulse skipped. Pleasure rushed through me. I knew that look, understood I’d given him a little buzz he was struggling to process. It was nice to know I could still do that. It made me want to try my hardest to find just the right dress to walk down the aisle in.
I looked at everyone at the table. “Hello.”
Gideon pulled his gaze away from my face. “It’s my pleasure to introduce you to my wife, Eva.”
Startled, I turned wide eyes toward him. The world thought we were only engaged. I hadn’t realized he was making the fact that we were married known.
The heat in his gaze softened to warm amusement. “These are the board members of the Crossroads Foundation.”
Shock turned into love and gratitude so fast, I swayed with it. He held me up, as he always did, in all ways. At a time when I was likely to feel a little adrift, he was giving me something else.
He introduced everyone to me, then pulled out my seat for me. Lunch passed in a whirl of excellent food and intense conversation. I was happy to hear that my idea for adding Crossroads to Gideon’s bio on his website had ramped up traffic to the foundation’s site, and that my suggested overhauls to the Crossroads site—now in place—had increased applications for assistance.
And I loved how close Gideon sat to me, holding my hand beneath the table.
When they asked me for input, I shook my head. “I’m not qualified to offer anything valuable at this point. You’re all doing an amazing job.”
Cindy Bello, the CEO, gave me a big smile. “Thank you, Eva.”
“I would like to sit in on board meetings as an observer and get up to speed. If I can’t contribute ideas, I hope to find another way to lend a hand.”
“Now that you mention it,” Lynn Feng, the VP of operations, began, “many of our recipients want to acknowledge and thank Crossroads for its support. They hold luncheons or dinners, which also act as fund-raisers. They would love to have Gideon accept on behalf of the foundation, but his schedule precludes that most of the time.”
I leaned briefly into Gideon’s shoulder. “You want me to nudge him some more for you.”
“Actually,” she smiled, “Gideon suggested that you might step in and handle those. We’re talking about you representing the foundation in person.”
I blinked at her. “You’re kidding.”
“Not at all.”
My gaze turned to Gideon. He tilted his head in acknowledgment.
I tried to wrap my brain around the idea. “I’m not much of a consolation prize.”
“Eva.” Gideon conveyed a wealth of disapproval in that one word.
“I’m not being modest,” I countered. “Why would anyone want to hear me speak? You’re accomplished, brilliant, and a wonderful orator. I could listen to you give a speech all day. Your name sells tickets. Offering me up instead just creates … an obligation. That’s not helpful.”
“Are you done?” he asked smoothly.
I narrowed my eyes at him.
“Look at the people in your life and how you’ve helped them.” Like me. He didn’t say it, but he didn’t have to. “If you put your mind to it, you could deliver a powerful message.”
“If I can add,” Lynn interjected, “when Gideon can’t make it, one of us goes instead.” She gestured at the rest of the board members. “Having a member of the Cross family personally attend would be wonderful. No one would be disappointed.”
The Cross family. That had me sucking in a sharp breath. I didn’t know if Geoffrey Cross had left any other family members behind. What was indisputable was that Gideon was the most visible reminder of his infamous father.
My husband didn’t remember the man who was known as a fraudster and coward. What he remembered was a father who had loved and nurtured him. Gideon worked so hard and had achieved so much, driven by the need to change what people associated with the Cross name.
Now I had the name, too. One day in the future, we would have children who carried it. I had the same responsibility as Gideon to make our surname something our kids would be proud of.
I looked at Gideon.
He held my gaze, unwavering and focused. “Two places at once,” he murmured.