Daniel had left in a rush, and I didn’t know what to make of it all. I turned the television back on, wanting to drown out my swirling thoughts. I couldn’t talk to Blake about the knife Daniel had lanced through me with his words. Blake didn’t want me to care. No one did. What more could the man do to me to earn my hatred? Still, it slipped through my fingers, and only a sad emptiness remained. A shell of what could have been. Lingering regret over what had come to be.
“You look tired. Do you want to lie down?” Blake was seated at his usual perch on the opposite couch, his gaze heavy with the usual concern.
“No, I want to get up.”
He gave me a tentative look. “How about a bath? That will relax you.”
I sighed. A trip to the bathroom was probably all he’d allow. A bath sounded nice though.
“Fine. But I’m walking there myself. You have to stop babying me, Blake.”
He stood quickly and helped me up. “You can walk there, but I will never stop taking care of you until the day I die. So you can give up on that right now.” He caressed my cheek. “I almost lost you.”
I closed my eyes, leaning into his touch.
I almost lost you too. The thought was too terrible to comprehend.
I’d spent the past several days feeling sorry for myself in every way. Losing the business seemed far less tragic in the face of nearly dying. And the very real possibility that Blake and I might never have children, as soul-crushing as it was to contemplate—and I’d tried very hard not to—paled to the reality that I could have died in Blake’s arms that afternoon. The man who’d killed Mark under Daniel’s direct orders had not hesitated to attempt to end my life.
As much as I couldn’t grieve for Mark’s death, I couldn’t believe that someone could have so little value for human life. These were the kinds of people who Daniel kept in his life. Or perhaps they’d always been there. For all of Blake’s secrets, Daniel’s existence seemed far darker, with shadows I never wanted to shed light on.
Blake was filling the bath when I joined him. “Let me help you,” he said, pulling my T-shirt off with too much care.
“Are you coming in too?”
He chewed his lip a moment, eyeing the bathtub topped with an appealing layer of bubbles. “I’m not sure if that’s a good idea.”
“Please… I miss you.” I missed the happiness in his eyes. I even missed his temper. All he had for me now lately was pity.
He sighed. “Fine. But you know we can’t—”
I cut him short, not wanting to hear the reminder. No sex for weeks. I didn’t see how it mattered, but the doctor had ordered it and Blake insisted on following everything down to the letter. Denying ourselves wouldn’t bring back what had been lost. It only guaranteed that another long expanse of time ahead of us would be filled with more wait and worry. Frustrated anew, I tugged at his T-shirt, urging him to take it off.
“You’re too serious lately. You’re playing nursemaid to me all day, and it’s wearing on you. I just want to relax and be close to you, okay?”
I feathered my fingers through his dark hair, pushing the messy strands back from his forehead. He seemed tired, and somehow, just as run down on the outside as I felt on the inside. We’d been through so much.
“Okay,” he murmured softly.
I turned to the mirror while he undressed. I pulled my hair out of the messy bun that was holding it up. I winced at the small pain in my abdomen caused by lifting my arms. I looked terrible. Even being bound to the couch for weeks, I was thinner. And pale. I’d missed the last warm weeks of summer. I wanted to look and feel like myself again, and less like the fragile broken creature I’d become in the wake of these terrible events.
I dropped the hair tie into my make up drawer. Set amongst cosmetics, my opened pill case stared up at me. I picked it up. I’d been halfway through the month’s cycle when it happened.
Blake paused. “What’s that?”
“Just my pills.” I shrugged, trying to seem casual, but nothing was casual about my fertility now. The topic had become a giant elephant in the room. I dropped the pills on the counter. My thoughts spun, and I laughed to myself.
“What’s so funny?” Blake met my gaze in the mirror.
I looked down quickly, not wanting to revisit the pain I’d seen in his face when the doctor had delivered the news. I was alive, but damaged. Then again, what else was new?
“I don’t know. I spent years trying not to get pregnant, worrying that I would, and now I couldn’t even if I wanted to. But because there’s a chance, I’ll probably still need to take those damn things.”
He took the pills and threw them back into a drawer. “Forget about those. Come on, before the bath gets cold.”
Eager to forget, I pushed the thought out of my mind. Blake helped me into the tub and I lowered into the warm water. I relaxed, grateful for the relief. When he joined me, his legs slid to the outsides of mine. His hair was rough against my skin. I exhaled heavily at the simple contact, the reminder that we hadn’t touched each other much since all of this happened. Somehow, between the weeks of being poked and prodded with needles and coddled like a helpless victim, I’d forgotten the simple pleasure of having Blake’s skin on mine. His touch alone could soothe me, heal me.
I leaned my head back against the lip of the tub. “I feel a little decadent.”
“Yeah? How is that?”
“It’s a Tuesday afternoon, and we’re lounging in the bathtub.”
He laughed softly. “Maybe we deserve a little decadence.” Beneath the water, he caught my foot and began to massage my muscles. The sensation was almost overwhelming. God, I missed his touch. Even the simple ones, my hand in his, a gentle kiss, made me want more.
“We deserve a lot of things.”
He stilled a second. I regretted the words when I said them. I hurried to change the subject.
“Have you heard from Fiona lately? She must be frustrated. All that planning just to put everything off. I’m feeling better now, so maybe we can start planning again.”
“You were shot three times, Erica. I don’t think rescheduling the wedding until you’re well is an inconvenience. We’re all happy you’re alive. The nuptials can wait.”
I ran my fingers through the bubbles. A question, one I was terrified to ask, lingered on my lips. We hadn’t talked about what the doctor had said after we left the hospital. We hadn’t spoken a word of it.