Bared to You

Page 17


Birds chirped from suspended gilded cages and potted plants filled every corner with lush fronds. Small decorative fountains added the sounds of running water, while stringed instrumental music was piped into the room via cleverly hidden speakers. The air was redolent with a mix of exotic spices and fragrances, making me feel like I'd stepped into Arabian Nights.
It was this-close to being too much, but it didn't cross the line. Instead, Perrini's was exotic and luxurious, an indulgent treat for those who could afford it. Like my mother, who'd just finished a milk-and-honey bath when we arrived.
I studied the menu of treatments available, deciding to skip my usual "warrior woman" in favor of the "passionate pampering." I'd been waxed the week before, but the rest of the treatment - "designed to make you sexually irresistible" - sounded like exactly what I needed.
I'd finally managed to get my mind back into the safe zone of work when Cary spoke up from the pedicure chair beside mine.
"Mrs. Stanton, have you met Gideon Cross?"
I gaped at him. He knew damn well my mom went nuts over any news about my romantic - and not-so-romantic, as the case may be - relationships.
My mother, who sat in the chair on the other side of me, leaned forward with her usual girlish excitement over a rich, handsome man. "Of course. He's one of the wealthiest men in the world. Number twenty-five or so on Forbes's list, if I'm remembering correctly. A very driven young man, obviously, and a generous benefactor to many of the children's charities I champion. Extremely eligible, of course, but I don't believe he's g*y, Cary. He's got a reputation as a ladies' man."
"My loss." Cary grinned and ignored my violent headshaking. "But it'd be a hopeless crush anyway, since he's digging on Eva."
"Eva! I can't believe you didn't say anything. How could you not tell me something like that?"
I looked at my mom, whose scrubbed face appeared young, unlined, and very much like mine. I was very clearly my mother's daughter, right down to my surname. The one concession she'd made to my father had been to name me after his mother.
"There's nothing to tell," I insisted. "We're just...friends."
"We can do better than that," Monica said, with a look of calculation that struck fear in my heart. "I don't know how it escaped me that you work in the same building he does. I'm certain he was smitten the moment he saw you. Although he's known to prefer brunettes...Hmm...Anyway. He's also known for his excellent taste. Clearly the latter won out with you."
"It's not like that. Please don't start meddling. You'll embarrass me."
"Nonsense. If anyone knows what to do with men, it's me."
I cringed, my shoulders creeping up to my ears. By the time my massage appointment came around, I was in desperate need of one. I stretched out on the table and closed my eyes, preparing to take a catnap to get through the long night ahead.
I loved dressing up and looking pretty as much as the next girl, but charity functions were a lot of work. Making small talk was exhausting, smiling nonstop was a pain, and conversations about businesses and people I didn't know were boring. If it wasn't for Cary benefitting from the exposure, I'd put up a bigger fight about going.
I sighed. Who was I fooling? I'd end up going anyway. My mom and Stanton supported abused children's charities because they were significant to me. Going to the occasional stuffy event was a small price to pay for the return.
Taking a deep breath, I consciously relaxed. I made a mental note to call my dad when I got home and thought about how to send a thank-you note to Gideon for the hangover cure. I supposed I could e-mail him using the contact info on his business card, but that lacked class. Besides, I didn't know who read his inbox.
I'd just call him when I got home. Why not? He'd asked - no, told - me to; he'd written the demand on his business card. And I'd get to hear his luscious voice again.
The door opened and the masseuse came in. "Hello, Eva. You ready?"
Not quite. But I was getting there.
After many lovely hours at the spa, my mom and Cary dropped me off at the apartment; then they headed out to hunt for new cuff links for Stanton. I used the time alone to call Gideon. Even with the much-needed privacy, I punched most of his phone number into the keypad a half-dozen times before I finally put the call through.
He answered on the first ring. "Eva."
Startled that he'd known who was calling, my mind scrambled for a moment. How did he have my name and number in his contact list? "Uh...hi, Gideon."
"I'm a block away. Let the front desk know I'm coming."
"What?" I felt like I'd missed part of the conversation. "Coming where?"
"To your place. I'm rounding the corner now. Call the desk, Eva."
He hung up and I stared at the phone, trying to absorb the fact that Gideon was moments away from being with me again. Somewhat dazed, I went to the intercom and talked to the front desk, letting them know I was expecting him and while I was talking, he walked into the lobby. A few moments after that, he was at my door.
It was then that I remembered I was dressed in only a thigh-length silk robe, and my face and hair were styled for the dinner. What kind of impression would he get from my appearance?
I tightened the belt of my robe before I let him in. It wasn't like I'd invited him over for a seduction or anything.
Gideon stood in the hallway for a long moment, his gaze raking me from my head down to my French manicured toes. I was equally stunned by his appearance. The way he looked in worn jeans and a T-shirt made me want to undress him with my teeth.
"Worth the trip to find you like this, Eva." He stepped inside and locked the door behind him. "How are you feeling?"
"Good. Thanks to you. Thank you." My stomach quivered because he was here, with me, which made me feel almost...giddy. "That can't be why you came over."
"I'm here because it took you too long to call me."
"I didn't realize I had a deadline."
"I have to ask you something time-sensitive, but more than that, I wanted to know if you were feeling all right after last night." His eyes were dark as they swept over me, his breathtaking face framed by that luxurious curtain of inky hair. "God. You look beautiful, Eva. I can't remember ever wanting anything this much."
With just those few simple words I became hot and needy. Way too vulnerable. "What's so urgent?"
"Go with me to the advocacy center dinner tonight."
I pulled back, surprised and excited by the request. "You're going?"
"So are you. I checked, knowing your mother would be there. Let's go together."
My hand went to my throat, my mind torn between the weirdness of how much he knew about me and concern over what he was asking me to do. "That's not what I meant when I said we should spend time together."
"Why not?" The simple question was laced with challenge. "What's the problem with going together to an event we'd already planned on attending separately?"
"It's not very discreet. It's a high-profile event."
"So?" Gideon stepped closer and fingered a curl of my hair.