I exhaled in a rush, as if I’d been holding my breath. I guess in a way I had been.
I couldn’t blame Cary’s on-again, off-again boyfriend for taking a big step back when he’d learned that Cary’s booty-call girl was pregnant. Trey had already been struggling with Cary’s bisexuality, and now a baby meant there would always be a third person in their relationship.
There was no question that Cary should have committed to Trey sooner, instead of keeping his options open, but I understood the fear behind Cary’s actions. I knew all too well the thoughts that ran through your mind when you’d survived the things Cary and I had, yet still somehow found yourself faced with an amazing person who loved you.
When it was too good to be true, how could it possibly be real?
I sympathized with Trey, too, and if he called it quits, I’d respect that decision. But he was the best thing to happen to Cary in a long time. I was going to be extremely bummed if they didn’t make it. What did he say?
I’ll tell u when I see u.
Cary! That’s cruel.
It took him until I was walking through the lobby turnstiles to reply. Yeah, tell me about it.
My heart sank, because there was no way to interpret that as good news. Stepping aside to allow others to pass me, I typed back, I love you madly, Cary Taylor.
Love u 2, baby girl.
My mother crossed the space between us on delicately heeled sandals, a woman impossible to miss even amid the lunchtime crush of people heading in and out of the Crossfire. As petite as she was, Monica Stanton should’ve been lost in the sea of suits, but she drew too much attention for that to ever happen.
Charisma. Sensuality. Fragility. It was the bombshell combination that made Marilyn Monroe a star, and it exemplified my mother. Dressed in a navy blue sleeveless jumpsuit, Monica Stanton looked younger than her years and more confident than I knew her to be. The Cartier panthers hugging her throat and wrist told the observant she was expensive.
She came straight to me and wrapped me in a hug that took me by surprise.
“Are you okay?” Pulling back, she studied my face.
“What? Yes. Why?”
“Your father called.”
“Oh.” I looked at her warily. “He didn’t take the news well.”
“No, he didn’t.” As she linked her arm with mine, we headed out. “But he’s dealing with it. He wasn’t quite ready to let you go.”
“Because I remind him of you.” To my father, my mom was the one who got away. He still loved her, even after more than two decades apart.
“Nonsense, Eva. There’s a resemblance, but you’re much more interesting.”
That startled a laugh from me. “Gideon says I’m interesting.”
She smiled brightly, making the man passing her stumble over his own feet. “Of course. He’s a connoisseur of women. As gorgeous as you are, it would take more than beauty to get him to marry you.”
Slowing to a halt by the revolving doors, I let my mother go out first. A blast of muggy heat hit me when I joined her on the sidewalk, bringing an instant mist of perspiration to my skin. There were times when I doubted I’d ever get used to the humidity, but I considered it one of the costs of living in the city I loved so much. Spring had been beautiful and I knew fall would be, too. The perfect time of year to renew my vows with the man who owned me heart and soul.
I was thanking God for air-conditioning when I spotted Stanton’s head of security waiting by a black car at the curb.
Benjamin Clancy greeted me with an easy, confident nod. His demeanor was so business-as-usual, while I felt such gratitude for him it was hard to restrain myself from grabbing and kissing him.
Gideon had killed Nathan to protect me. Clancy had made sure Gideon would never pay for it.
“Hey, you,” I said to him, seeing my smile reflected in his mirrored aviator shades.
“Eva. It’s good to see you.”
“I was just thinking the same about you.”
He didn’t smile outwardly; it wasn’t his way. But I could feel it nonetheless.
My mom slid in first, and then I joined her in the backseat. Before Clancy even rounded the trunk of the car, she was shifting to face me and reaching for my hand. “Don’t worry about your father. He’s got that quick Latin temper, but it never lasts long. All he really wants is to make sure you’re happy.”
I squeezed her fingers gently. “I know. But I really, really want Dad and Gideon to get along.”
“They’re two very headstrong men, honey. They’re going to clash occasionally.”
She wasn’t wrong. I wanted to dream about the two of them hanging out the way guys did, bonding over sports or cars, with all the playful ribbing and backslapping that usually accompanied that sort of thing. But I had to work with reality, whatever that turned out to be.
“You’re right,” I conceded. “They’re both big boys. They’ll figure it out.” Hopefully.
“Of course they will.”