I’d built my empire with the past in mind. Now, thanks to her, I would continue to build it for our future.
My desk phone flashed. It was Scott, on line one. I pressed the button, and his voice came through the speaker. “Corinne Giroux’s at reception. She says she needs just a few minutes to drop off something for you. Because it’s private, she wants to give it to you personally.”
“Of course she does,” Arash chimed in. “Maybe it’s more flowers.”
I shot him a look. “Wrong woman.”
“If only my wrong women looked like Corinne.”
“Keep thinking that while you head up to reception to get whatever it is she has.”
His brows shot up. “Really? Ouch.”
“She wants to talk, she can talk to my attorney.”
He pushed to his feet and headed out. “Got it, boss.”
I glanced at the clock. Quarter to five. “I’m sure you heard that, Scott, but to be clear, Madani will handle.”
“Yes, Mr. Cross.”
Through the glass wall separating my office from the rest of the floor, I watched Arash round the corner on his way to reception, and then I mentally brushed the whole thing aside. Eva would be with me shortly, the very thing I’d been waiting for since the workday started.
But of course, it couldn’t be that easy.
A flash of crimson in the corner of my eye just a few moments later had me looking back out at the work floor and seeing Corinne marching toward my office with Arash hot on her heels. Her chin lifted when our eyes met. Her tight smile widened, transforming her from a beautiful woman to a stunning one. I could admire her the way I would admire anything except Eva—objectively, dispassionately.
Now happily married, I could fully grasp what a horrible mistake it would have been to marry Corinne. It was unfortunate for all of us that she refused to see it.
I stood and rounded my desk. The look I swept over both Arash and Scott called them off from any further action. If Corinne wanted to deal with me directly, I’d give her one last opportunity to do the right thing.
She glided into my office on red stilettos. The strapless dress she wore was the same hue as the shoes and showed off both her long legs and pale skin. She wore her hair down, the black strands sliding around her bare shoulders. She was the polar opposite of my wife and a mirror image of every other woman who’d passed through my life.
“Gideon. Surely you can spare a few minutes for an old friend?”
Leaning back into my desk, I crossed my arms. “And extend the courtesy of not calling security. Make it quick, Corinne.”
She smiled, but her eyes, the color of aquamarines, were sad.
She had a small red box tucked under her arm. When she reached me, Corinne offered it to me.
“What is this?” I asked, without reaching for it.
“These are the photos that will appear in the book.”
My brow arched. I found myself unfolding and accepting the box, driven by curiosity. It hadn’t been too long ago that we’d been together, but I scarcely remembered the details. What I had were impressions, big moments, and regret. I’d been so young, with a dangerous lack of self-awareness.
Corinne set her purse on my desk, moving in a way that brushed her arm against mine. Wary, I reached over and hit the button that controlled the opacity of the glass wall.
If she wanted to put on a show, I’d make sure she didn’t have an audience.
Taking the lid off the box, I was confronted with a photo of Corinne and me entangled in front of a bonfire. Her head was nestled in the crook of my shoulder, her face tilted up so I could press a kiss to her lips.
The memory assailed me immediately. We’d taken a day trip to a friend’s house in the Hamptons. The weather had been cool, fall giving way to winter.
In the picture we looked happy and in love, and in a way, I suppose we were. But I’d refused the invitation to spend the night, despite Corinne’s obvious disappointment. With my nightmares, I couldn’t sleep beside her. And I couldn’t fuck her, though I knew that was what she wanted, because the hotel room I reserved for that purpose was miles away.
So many hangups. So many lies and evasions.
I took a deep breath and let the past go. “Eva and I were married last month.”
Setting the box down on the desktop, I reached for my smartphone and showed her the picture wallpapering my screen—Eva and I sharing the kiss that sealed our vows.
Turning her head, Corinne looked away. Then she reached into the box, flipping through the top few photos to pull out one of us at the beach.
I was standing waist deep in the surf. Corinne was twined around me from the front, her legs wrapped around my waist, her arms draped over my shoulders and her hands in my hair. Her head was tossed back on a laugh, her joy radiating from the image. I gripped her fiercely, my face upturned to watch her. There was gratitude there and wonder. Affection. Desire. Strangers would see it and think it was love.