“Is everything okay?”
“Reporter accosted me outside.”
His brows knit tightly. “Who was it?”
“Clay dealt with him. It’s okay.”
The tension in his body seemed to relax a little. “Okay.”
He circled the island to where I stood and leaned in for a kiss, but I turned from it.
“What do you think?” I muttered. He was going to make me spell it out. I couldn’t wait to hear his excuses for getting to Alex before I could.
He lifted his eyebrows. “Why don’t you just tell me?”
I stared up at him. “I took punishment from you last night with the promise that you’d stay away from this deal. This is my deal.”
“You didn’t say stay away. You told me you wanted to negotiate it,” he said tonelessly.
I let out a shocked laugh. “So you proceeded to call the person I need to negotiate with directly?”
“I wanted to get a feel for the deal. That’s all.”
I moved to the dining area with my warmed food. After a moment, Blake took a seat at the other end of the table. Maybe we did need a bigger place. I needed at least two rooms between us right now.
“I don’t know why you’re so upset. You’re the one he’s sending the offer to, right? All I did was ask some questions. I didn’t pretend to represent your opinions, or mine, in any other way.” He paused. “You wanted my advice, right?”
“Yes,” I said sharply between bites.
“Okay, well, I can’t advise you on something I don’t know all the details about. This is your first deal. There are a lot of questions to ask right off the bat to see what the basic structure is going to be. I knew Alex would have something fairly specific in mind. I wanted those details so I could point you in the right direction when the time came.”
I shook my head. I wanted to call bullshit on all of it. “I hate you sometimes, you know that?”
His devilish smile weakened my resolve. “I don’t believe you.”
I looked down, pretending to be unaffected. He wasn’t getting away with this by being gorgeous. I was mad, and I was staying mad until he apologized.
“Don’t baby me. I’m not going to reward you for meddling in my business yet again.”
“Seriously, you’re going to nail me on a technicality?”
“It’s not a technicality. It’s the principle of the matter. You know that. I may be short and blond and seven years younger than you, but I’m not an idiot and I don’t appreciate being treated like one.”
He flinched as if I’d slapped him.
“What did he say?” he asked after a few minutes.
“Why don’t you call him and see for yourself?” I muttered, sarcasm dripping from every word.
He hinted at a smile. “Do you want me to? Because you know I will.”
“Fuck you,” I shot back dryly.
He relaxed back in his seat, waiting for me to speak.
“He offered us seven million dollars. It’s more than enough to pay you back and leave Sid, Alli, and me with plenty to make our next move.”
He pursed his lips and nodded slowly. “That’s healthy. Are you happy with that?”
“We all talked about it, and we are.”
“That was quick.”
“The offer is only good until tomorrow,” I explained.
I shrugged. “He didn’t say. He seemed kind of stressed. Not like him typically, but maybe that’s just how he negotiates. I don’t know. He seems to shift from friendly to all business pretty quickly.”
“He needs to fast-track things maybe.”
“Not really ideal. We don’t have time to review everything properly. You should push back and ask for more time.”
“But what if he rescinds the offer?”
“He wants the business. He’s made that position clear. Don’t second guess his interest now.”
“Maybe something is keeping him from being able to buy it if we don’t move on this quickly. This is a huge amount of money.”
“You’re getting emotional about this,” he said matter-of-factly.
I bristled at his tone. “Of course I am! This is my whole life we’re talking about here.”
“Is that right?” Blake laughed weakly, but I could see the hurt in his eyes.
I closed my eyes, cursing my poor choice of words. “You know what I mean.”
Our eyes met, two stony gazes weakening under our emotions.
“Doesn’t matter anyway,” I said finally. “We all agreed to move forward. Our legal teams finalized everything today.”
He shook his head, a resentful smile pulling his lips tight. He pushed away from the table. “Do what you think is right, Erica,” he said flatly.
He disappeared into the bedroom, and I stewed. My jaw locked tight as the minutes ticked by. I wanted to throw things. I wanted to know how his employees handled his compulsively controlling nature day after day. I wanted to know how the hell I was going to be able to live with it.
Unable to get my brain to shut up hours later, I finally gave up and joined him in the bedroom. Moonlight spilled into the room, offering just enough illumination to undress and find the bed. I crawled onto my side, careful to keep enough distance to communicate that I was still very pissed off. But Blake’s chest was moving with a slow rhythm indicative of sleep. I willed my own body to unwind. I needed to let go of today.
I curled up beside him tentatively. He was incredibly warm when my lips glided across his shoulder. He smelled like soap. Sometimes loving him was easier when he wasn’t talking, or conscious. I wasn’t sure he could help himself. I hated when we fought, and even now, I questioned whether any of this was worth fighting over.
This never-ending battle between us. Over what? Power. What did it even matter in the context of two people who loved each other as helplessly as we did?
I’d given him power in our relationship, and he’d collected on that by reaching out to Alex without my permission. He could have taken it further, but he hadn’t. A small concession, a little voice reminded me. A concession nonetheless.
The long day was taking its toll on me. Exhausted, warm, and content by his side, I let sleep overtake me. But the black of the night gave way to troubled dreams.
Alex’s edgy voice rang out in the background. He was rattling off the details of the deal. Over and over, like a record playing on repeat. Darkness lifted, and he faded away.