“I love you, Blake.”
He tipped my chin up so I met his gaze.
“I love you too.”
I opened my eyes, and the world came into focus. Propped up on his elbow, Blake raked me in with a lazy smile across his lips.
I stretched, curious how long we’d slept. A glide of his hand down the side of my torso sent a tingle of awareness through me. I hummed, leaning against him, all too aware of my nakedness and the mere sheet covering his. His eyes gleamed with pure appreciation and the love that hummed between us. Love. It bloomed in small moments like this, making all the good times that much better, all the tough times worth working through. What I felt for this man took my breath away.
“You’re so beautiful in the morning,” he murmured.
I tried to hide my smile, turning to the pillow. “Stop.”
He brushed the hair off my cheek and kissed me there, lingering by my ear. “I’ll never stop. As long as I live, I’ll never stop.”
I arched to kiss him, melting so easily for him. I took it all in, let it soak into my skin down to my bones. This new freedom, being away with the man I loved so desperately.
I settled back down, nuzzled against his arm. A part of me was still groggy, like I could sleep for days. I’d recognized that in his tired eyes last night too. I sensed he had been struggling lately, but I still had no idea why. As close as we could be, physically, I hated that distance that crept between us at times. That wall that he kept up, usually to keep me safe.
I traced the ridge of his lower lip with my finger. “I want you to be able to tell me anything. Do you feel like you can?”
He raised an eyebrow. “Yes, why?”
“I feel like you’ve been...I don’t know, tense, lately. I wish you would tell me why.”
He released a breath, caught my hands, and pressed a kiss to my fingertips. “It’s not a matter of being comfortable sharing anything with you. I know that I can. It’s more whether or not I decide to burden you with whatever I’m dealing with.”
I waited until his eyes locked with mine, wanting to show him I meant what I said. “You’re not burdening me. Not knowing what’s bothering you is more of a burden. I never know if it’s me, or if there’s something I could be doing to help.”
His expression changed, masking whatever emotions brewed below the surface. “You can’t help with this.”
“With what? Just tell me.”
He sighed and leaned back into the pillow. “You really want to talk about Max? Not exactly a pleasant topic of conversation.”
I frowned. Curiosity over what Max was up to now burned through me. “What is he doing?”
“He’s not really doing anything, but that doesn’t keep him from being an impressive pain in my ass. I’ve been trying to get him off the Angelcom board since I found out he was funding Trevor to attack my—our—sites.”
“Shouldn’t that be easy? You’re the executive director.”
“I am, but this is more like a democracy versus a dictatorship, which I’m somewhat regretting now. I can’t just kick him out. I have to run these decisions by a board. The majority won’t agree to vote him out.”
“Why? Isn’t that a no-brainer?”
“They don’t want to piss off Michael, Max’s father. He’s got more money than God, and risking any potential connection with him isn’t worth penalizing Max’s complete and utter lack of ethics.”
I stared at him, contemplating this frustrating circumstance. No wonder Blake was ready to burst every night lately. To have to tolerate the man who had spent years trying to undermine him, with no support from his colleagues, was hard to imagine. At least the people on my team were on my team, and there was never any question who the enemy was. Well, at least now that Risa was gone. I was still struggling to quell my lingering paranoia that I couldn’t trust anyone after I’d trusted her with everything, confidential information that she was now using against me. Still, Clozpin was a far cry from white-collar investors and the corporate circles many of them ran in.
“Are you so surprised?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, the premise of Angelcom is to make more money for people who already have mountains of it. Seems like those kinds of people have it because they’re in the habit of amassing and protecting it. Would you expect them to act any differently than they have?”
He shook his head. “I suppose not. It’s pretty ironic though.”
“The company is infested with the greedy fucks I’d wanted to take down in the first place.”
“What are you going to do now? If they won’t vote him out, what other recourse do you have?”
“I haven’t decided my next move yet. I’m not sure how Michael would react if I approached him with what’s going on. If I could get him to understand, I could get the support of the board and make sure Max didn’t get near another boardroom of mine ever again.”
“I thought you and Michael were close.”
“We are. At least we were at one point. I haven’t seen him in a while, and understandably, I don’t want our next meeting to be me telling him that his son is a fraud and a cheat.”
I traced a path over his chest as it moved with each breath. My beautiful man. I hated that we had to deal with people like Max, like Trevor. Jesus, the list went on.
“I’m really sorry, Blake. It’s a shitty situation. But you’ll find a way through it. You always do. And someone like Max can’t keep going around stomping on people’s dreams and get away with it forever. At least I hope not.”
As angry as Blake was with Max, I wasn’t sure this was the best time to tell him about his and Risa’s new site and how it threatened me now.
He tipped my chin up. Our eyes met. “What’s going on?”
I hesitated before I began. “Max and Risa launched their little venture. A competing site. Total rip off of Clozpin, and it looks like they took at least one of our major advertisers with them. Who knows how many users.”
His eyebrows shot up. “When were you going to tell me this?”
“Alli told me about it yesterday. She wanted me to be the one to tell you. And frankly I needed some time to make sense of it. I don’t know if I have though. I’m mostly feeling like they’re going to systematically destroy my business with the same determination that they went after you. Except I’m not you. I don’t have your resources or your experience. I’m still trying to figure out how to run a company. I wasn’t expecting to go on the defensive like this in the midst of our growth. First Trevor, and now this. I’m trying not to feel hopeless about all of it, but it’s kind of hard not to.”