He leaned in as if he were warming up to convince me of something. “You come into Daniel’s life out of the blue, right? Weeks later, his stepson is dead. Apparent suicide. And he’s carrying on his campaign as if nothing’s happened.”
“He’s a politician. Do you have any idea how many people they answer to, how much money they sink into these things? This is years in the making.”
He shook his head. “No, there’s more to this story. The police know something, and I have a feeling you do too.”
My heart sped up at the mention of the police. Richard digging around was one thing, but as much as I respected the law, I was scared to death that I’d lied to cover Daniel’s crimes.
“Erica, this is your last chance.”
My questioning gaze flew to his. “Last chance for what exactly?”
“To tell the truth. He’s going down. You have to ask yourself whether you want to let him take you down with him. I realize he’s your father, but how far are you willing to go to protect him?”
I grimaced. “You have nothing on him. Or me. He’s my father. So what?”
He smiled, and my stomach fell.
“I have a lot more than that, sweetheart.”
“Then why isn’t he in jail?” I hope he couldn’t hear the growing hysteria in my voice. What else could he possibly know?
“I’ve been researching his affiliations. Making connections.”
“And?” I held my breath, wondering how much Richard would actually divulge to me in an effort to get me to talk.
“I found someone.”
I held my breath. “Who?”
“Someone from his network in Southie who wants to talk. In fact, I’m meeting with him as soon as I’m done here. He has information about what happened the night Mark MacLeod died.”
My heart beat loudly in my ears, fading out the quiet murmur of the restaurant.
“So like I said. This might be your last chance.”
“This has nothing to do with me.” I wished that were true. I wanted nothing to do with what Daniel had done. I didn’t regret that Mark was gone, but I didn’t want to know anything more about it. I didn’t want to walk around with the knowledge that he might have died because of me and that I’d lied to keep Daniel from justice.
“This has everything to do with you. I’ve been a reporter for half my life, and this has you written all over it. Talk to me, goddamnit.”
The sound of my phone vibrating in my purse distracted my rising panic.
“I have to go. Good luck, Richard.” I rushed up out of my seat. He called my name, but I wanted nothing more to do with this. I wasn’t going to help him. And an insane part of me wanted to warn Daniel.
I stepped out of the cafe and paused in the middle of the sidewalk. I scanned the street for a cab to take me away from here, but my eyes fixed on a man across the street.
He was tall and thickly built, a faded gray scally cap shading his face.
Our eyes locked. I knew him. I knit my eyebrows as I tried to place him.
Richard was beside me, but I couldn’t tear my gaze away from the man. He didn’t belong here, but his eyes were trained on me. He must know me too, but how…
Before I could piece it together, he raised his arms in front of him, the shiny metallic of a weapon pressed firmly in his hands.
My mouth fell open in a silent scream, but I couldn’t move fast enough. The loud blast of shots echoed through the air.
An explosive pain ripped through me. The world stood still.
I had no idea how badly I’d been hurt because all I could see was blood. I was soaked. I dropped to my knees.
Oh God. This isn’t happening. This isn’t real.
The street was chaos. The blur of frightened faces running from the danger. The noise. Screams and more shots and the screech of a car. More commotion on the street and men’s angry voices.
I held my shaking hands against the places on my belly that radiated with pain. Richard lay unmoving beside me. More blood.
My head swam, and I dropped down onto my side on the pavement. With waning strength, I gritted my teeth, trying to hold on for help.
Like an angel’s, Blake’s arms came around me. With careful speed, he lifted me and carried me into the restaurant. He lowered me onto the carpeted floor in the back of the restaurant. The tension I’d been holding onto released, and I grabbed his hand as he reached for me. I squeezed it hard, unwilling to let him go.
“I’ve got you, baby. Everything’s going to be okay. Help is coming.”
His voice sounded foreign, like he didn’t believe his own words. I looked into his eyes, fixed on that single point, but the pain there was almost as unbearable as the pain pulsing through me. He twisted out of my grasp and lifted my shirt up past my bra.
He exhaled in a rush.
He pulled off his T-shirt and pressed the cloth hard against my belly. I cried out.
He hushed me, never moving his hands or easing the pressure. “You’re okay,” he said again.
I wanted to believe him. I closed my eyes, feeling weaker with each passing second. Blake’s warm hand cupped my cheek. Warm, he was so warm.
“Look at me, baby. Keep your eyes open.”
I opened my eyes halfway. Somehow that was as far as they could go. Everything felt slower, the breath that filled my lungs, the beat of my heart. The chaos around us moved in slow motion, a blur of sounds and activity. But he was all I could see, the only voice I could hear.
The heaviness of the pain had waned, and my body felt lighter in its weakness. Using all my strength, I raised my hand to his face.
“Blake…I love you.”
I didn’t recognize my own voice, but I felt the words in my heart. I loved this man. With every ounce of my being, faded as the world was becoming. I closed my eyes again, lightness wrapping around me in the dark.
“No,” he ground out. “Don’t say that. You stay with me.”
I rested my hand over his. The wet blood sopping his shirt was barely warm on my skin now. I couldn’t. I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I wanted to. I wanted to be home, with Blake, wrapped up in his arms.
I let out a breath, relief and a sudden dizzy rush washing over me when I imagined that’s where we were.
“Stay awake, baby. Please try to stay awake for me.”
He was hurting. The agony in his voice lanced through me, one last strike through the numbing pain.