He reached into one of two large cargo pockets of his jeans and pulled out a formal invitation in a vellum envelope. "I came to invite you to a garden party we're having at my parents' estate on Sunday. A mix of business and pleasure. Many of the artists signed to Vidal Records will be there. I was thinking it'd be great networking for your roommate - he's got the right look for music video."
I brightened. "That would be wonderful!"
Christopher grinned and passed the invite over. "And you'll both have fun. No one throws a party like my mother."
I glanced briefly at the envelope in my hand. Why hadn't Gideon said anything about the event?
"If you're wondering why Gideon didn't tell you about it," he said, seemingly reading my mind, "it's because he won't come. He never does. Even though he's the majority shareholder in the company, I think he finds the music industry and musicians too unpredictable for his tastes. By now, you know how he is."
Dark and intense. Powerfully magnetic and hotly sexual. Yes, I knew how he was. And he preferred to know what he was getting into at all costs.
I gestured at the deli when we reached it, and we stepped inside and got in line.
"This place smells awesome," Christopher said, his gaze on his phone as he typed out a quick text.
"The aroma delivers on its promise, trust me."
He smiled a delightful boyish smile that I was sure knocked most women on their asses. "My parents are really looking forward to meeting you, Eva."
"Seeing the photos of you and Gideon over the last week has been a real surprise. A good surprise," he qualified quickly when I winced. "It's the first time we've seen him really into someone he's dating."
I sighed, thinking he wasn't so into me right now. Had I made a terrible mistake by leaving him alone last night?
When we reached the counter, I ordered a grilled vegetable and cheese panini with two pomegranate smoothies, asking them to hold the one with a protein shot for thirty minutes so I could eat in. Christopher ordered the same, and we managed to find a table in the crowded deli.
We talked about work, laughing over both a recent baby food commercial faux-blooper that had gone viral and some backstage anecdotes about acts Christopher had worked with. The time passed swiftly, and when we parted ways at the entrance of the Crossfire, I said good-bye with genuine affection.
I headed up to the twentieth floor, and found Mark still at his desk. He offered me a quick smile despite his air of concentration.
"If you don't really need me," I said, "I think it'd be good for me to sit this presentation out."
Although he tried to hide it, I saw the lightning quick flash of relief. It didn't offend me. Stress was stress, and my volatile relationship with Gideon was something Mark didn't need to think about while he was working on an important account.
"You're golden, Eva. You know that?"
I smiled and set the drink carrier down in front of him. "Drink your smoothie. It's really good, and the protein will keep you from feeling too hungry for a little bit longer. I'll be at my desk if you need me."
Before I put my purse in the drawer, I texted Cary to ask if he had plans on Sunday or if he'd like to go to a Vidal Records party. Then I got back to work. I'd started organizing Mark's files on the server, tagging them and placing them in directories to make it easier for us to assemble portfolios on the fly.
When Mark left for the meeting with Gideon, my heartbeat quickened and a clutch of anticipation tightened my stomach. I couldn't believe my excitement just from knowing what Gideon was doing at that particular moment, and that he'd have to think of me when he saw Mark. I hoped I'd hear from him after that. My mood picked up at the thought.
For the next hour, I was restless waiting to hear how things had gone. When Mark reappeared with a big grin and a spring in his step, I stood up in my cubicle and applauded him.
He took a gallant, exaggerated bow. "Thank you, Miss Tramell."
"I'm so stoked for you!"
"Cross asked me to give you this." He handed me a sealed manila envelope. "Come to my office and I'll give you all the deets."
The envelope had weight and rattled. I knew from touch what I'd find inside before I opened it, but still the sight of my keys sliding out and into my palm hit me hard. Gasping with a pain more intense than any I could remember, I read the accompanying note card.
Thank you, Eva. For everything.
A Dear Jane brush-off. It had to be. Otherwise, he would've given me the keys after work on the way to the gym.
There was a dull roaring in my ears. I felt dizzy. Disoriented. I was frightened and agonized. Furious.
I was also at work.
Closing my eyes and clenching my fists, I pulled myself together and fought off the driving urge to go upstairs and call Gideon a coward. He probably saw me as a threat, someone who'd come in, unwanted and uninvited, and shook up his orderly world. Someone who'd demanded more from him than just his hot body and hefty bank account.
I shut my emotions behind a glass wall where I was aware of them waiting in the background, but I was able to get through the rest of my workday. By the time I clocked out and headed downstairs, I still hadn't heard from Gideon. I was such an emotional disaster at that point I felt only a single, sharp twinge of despair as I exited the Crossfire.
I made it to the gym. I shut my brain off and ran full-bore on the treadmill, fleeing the anguish that would hit me soon enough. I ran until sweat coursed in rivulets down my face and body, and rubber legs forced me to stop.
Feeling battered and exhausted, I hit the showers. Then I called my mother and asked her to send Clancy to the gym to pick me up for our appointment with Dr. Petersen. As I put my work clothes back on, I mustered the energy to get through that last task before I could go home and collapse on my bed.