I stiffened against the reproof I heard in his tone. I shot him a look that said everything I couldn't while we were in public. "Richard, have you met Gideon Cross?"
"Yes, of course." The two men shook hands.
Gideon pulled me closer to his side. "We share the good fortune of escorting the two most beautiful women in New York."
Stanton agreed, smiling indulgently down at my mother.
I tossed back the rest of my champagne and gratefully exchanged the empty glass for the fresh one Cary handed me. There was a slight warmth growing in my belly from the alcohol and it loosened the knot that had formed there.
Gideon leaned over and whispered harshly, "Don't forget you're here with me."
He was mad? What the hell? My gaze narrowed. "You're one to talk."
"Not here, Eva." He nodded at everyone and led me away. "Not now."
"Not ever," I muttered, going along with him just to spare my mother a scene.
Sipping my champagne, I slid into an autopilot mode of self-preservation I hadn't had to use in many years. Gideon introduced me to people and I supposed I performed well enough - spoke at the appropriate moments and smiled when necessary - but I wasn't really paying attention. I was too conscious of the icy wall between us and my own hurt anger. If I'd needed any proof that Gideon was rigid about not socializing with women he slept with, I had it.
When dinner was announced, I went with him into the dining room and poked at my food. I drank a few glasses of the red wine they served with the meal and heard Gideon talking to our tablemates, although I didn't pay attention to the words, only to the cadence and the seductively deep, even tone. He made no attempt to draw me into the conversation and I was glad. I didn't think I could say anything nice.
I didn't become engaged until he stood to a round of applause and took the stage. Then I turned in my seat and watched him cross to the podium, unable to help admiring his animal grace and stunning good looks. Every step he took commanded attention and respect, which was a feat, considering his easy and unhurried stride.
He looked none the worse for wear after our abandoned f**king in his limo. In fact, he seemed like a totally different person. He was once again the man I'd met in the Crossfire lobby, supremely contained and quietly powerful.
"In North America," he began, "childhood sexual abuse is experienced by one in every four women and one in every six men. Take a good look around you. Someone at your table is either a survivor or knows someone who is. That's the unacceptable truth."
I was riveted. Gideon was a consummate orator, his vibrant baritone mesmerizing. But it was the topic, which hit so close to home, and his passionate and sometimes shocking way of discussing it, that moved me. I began to thaw, my bewildered fury and damaged self-confidence subverted by wonder. My view of him shifted, altering as I became simply another individual in a rapt audience. He wasn't the man who'd so recently hurt my feelings; he was just a skilled speaker discussing a subject that was deeply important to me.
When he finished, I stood and applauded, catching both him and myself by surprise. But others quickly joined me in the standing ovation and I heard the buzz of conversations around me, the quietly voiced compliments that were well deserved.
"You're a fortunate young lady."
I turned to look at the woman who spoke, a lovely redhead who appeared to be in her early forties. "We're just...friends."
Her serene smile somehow managed to argue with me.
People began stepping away from their tables. I was about to grab my clutch so I could leave for home when a young man came up to me. His wayward auburn hair inspired instant envy and his eyes of grayish-green were soft and friendly. Handsome and sporting a boyish grin, he lured the first genuine smile out of me since the ride over in the limousine.
"Hello there," he said.
He seemed to know who I was, which put me in the awkward position of pretending I wasn't clueless as to who he was. "Hello."
He laughed, and the sound was light and charming. "I'm Christopher Vidal, Gideon's brother."
"Oh, of course." My face heated. I couldn't believe I'd been so lost in my own pity party that I hadn't made the connection at once.
"I'm sorry." I offered a sheepish smile. "Not sure how to say I read an article about you without sounding awkward."
He laughed. "I'm flattered you remembered it. Just don't tell me it was in Page Six."
The gossip column was notorious for getting the goods on New York celebrities and socialites. "No," I said quickly. "Rolling Stone, maybe?"
"I can live with that." He extended his arm to me. "Would you like to dance?"
I glanced over to where Gideon was standing at the foot of the stairs that led to the stage. He was surrounded by people eager to talk to him, many of whom were women.
"You can see he'll be awhile," Christopher said, with a note of amusement.
"Yes." I was about to look away when I recognized the woman standing next to Gideon - Magdalene Perez.
I picked up my clutch and managed a smile for Christopher. "I'd love to dance."
Arm-in-arm we headed into the ballroom and stepped onto the dance floor. The band began the first strains of a waltz and we moved easily, naturally into the music. He was a skilled dancer, agile and confident in his lead.
"So, how do you know Gideon?"
"I don't." I nodded at Cary when he glided by with a statuesque blonde. "I work in the Crossfire and we've run into each other once or twice."
"You work for him?"