Hardline

Author: P Hana

Page 25

   

The rest of the meeting went well as I divvied up tasks among everyone. In the process I began to feel more grounded than I had been. I’d only been away the weekend, but I’d returned completely off kilter. Being with the team again had grounded me, and I was eager to dig into this new work. The tension rolling off Blake had eased, so maybe the same was true for him. Still, James sent me a few concerning looks. As always, he knew something was up, that I was off. Except I had no idea how I’d ever tell him why. A weary sigh left me. What I wouldn’t give to turn back time.

The meeting ended and people began to disperse. I gathered my notes, preparing to return to my desk and dive into my day.

“We need to talk.”

Blake’s voice was low, the threatening tone unmistakable. I looked up to find him fixed on James.

James sat unmoving behind a mask of supposed indifference. “About?”

Blake rose slowly. “I think it’s better discussed in private. Shall we?” He gestured toward the door.

James casually shoved out of his chair and led the way. My heart was beating wildly as I scanned the office. No one seemed the wiser. Hurriedly I followed. They’d moved a few feet down the hallway by the time I’d joined them, closing the door behind me.

Blake stood across from James, his stance wide and his arms across his chest. “I wanted to be the one to tell you that you’ll be giving your notice. Preferably this week.”

“Excuse me?” James’s posture tensed. “Erica’s my boss, not you.”

“That’s not the point. You’ll be leaving.”

Blake’s tone left no doubt. Anger and confusion whipped through me. I wanted Blake to know how sorry I was, how desperate I was to make this right between us. But he was attacking me where I felt it most. My business. My livelihood. The safe place that was mine and only mine, and he was casting a shadow over it all with these demands.

“Blake, what are you doing? Stop this.” I took a step closer, hoping no one in the office could hear us.

He turned to me, his eyes colored with all the hurt I’d caused, compounded with the rage he’d focused onto James. “He’s leaving, Erica. It’s that simple. Unless you’d like me to leave instead.”

“You don’t mean that.” I stared hard at him, almost too tired to test his resolve.

James’s soft chuckle broke our standoff. His cool blue stare fixed on Blake, his hands fisted tightly by his sides. “You really let success get to your head don’t you, Landon? You think you can march around here and bark orders. What kind of smug bastard does that? And you have the balls to lay a hand on her. I should beat the hell out of you so you know what it feels like.”

Blake snapped to face James again, his jaw twitching. “What the fuck are you talking about? I’ve never hit her.”

I took a tentative step forward, not entirely comfortable with physically coming between them right now. With all the emotions flying around, I didn’t trust that I wouldn’t get hurt in the fray.

“James, no. You don’t understand.”

“You told him I hit you?”

I met Blake’s imploring look full of confusion, maybe even a hint of guilt. But he had it all wrong. My heart fell, tears threatening.

“No. God, just stop, both of you.”

James took a careful step toward me, his voice softer. “You don’t need this shit, Erica. Say the word, and I’ll have him out of here.”

“Like hell you will.”

Blake shoved James then, his slightly shorter frame hitting the wall. James reacted immediately, throwing a punch that Blake narrowly avoided. The two men skirmished. They pushed and pulled until I was certain they’d tear each other apart if I stood idly by. I was desperate to make them stop.

“It was Daniel,” I yelled, no longer clinging to that secret truth if it meant they’d stop this madness.

Blake shoved James off, and for the moment he kept a distance, as they both heaved for air, eyes wild with fury.

A look of confusion softened James’s anger slightly. “Who?”

“He’s—it’s not important. But the day you saw me that way, I’d just seen him. We had a fight, and...” I sighed, the weight of the past forty-eight hours crashing down on me in an instant. “He hit me.”

Silence fell. No words, no fists. Neither man moved.

The look on Blake’s face gutted me. As if learning about James hadn’t been enough, these words cast a shade of betrayal across his features that made me want to go to him then. To hold him to me and say sorry all over again. For all of it.

“First this,” Blake said, pointing to James, “and now you’re telling me that Daniel hit you. What the hell is going on, Erica? Is there anything else you want to tell me? Let’s just get it all out.”

My lip quivered, tears threatening again. Too wrapped up in his own anger, he wouldn’t feel my remorse today. I was alone with it. Alone and scrambling to keep some semblance of peace between my personal and professional life. A lost cause if I’d ever seen one.

“You should go. Both of you. Just leave.” The last words caught in my throat, lacking conviction and reflecting my frayed nerves.

James cursed and left us alone, his footsteps disappearing down the stairwell. The door slammed shut below, the sound echoing up to us. Blake stood motionless, his stare burning into me. The silence was painful, my own thoughts reeling and loud amidst it.

I could almost hear his too. More questions of why. Why had I been so stupid? So stubborn? When I looked up into his wounded eyes, they confirmed it. The effort to restrain his anger, the culmination of all the hurt, was evident in his posture. The muscles of his arms were taut and coiled, no doubt still primed to punch James into next week.

I would have apologized, tried to bring him back to me, if I weren’t so goddamn angry at myself now. I knew he was jealous, but he’d taken it too far. He had no right to confront James and step into my business that way. No matter what had happened.

“I don’t even know what to say to you,” he finally said.

“Then don’t say anything at all. Blake...I’m exhausted, I’m sore, and I’m ready to seriously lose it. I don’t need you berating me, making this all my fault.” My voice wavered as I brushed away a tear that had broken free. “Maybe it is, but I can’t bear you telling me that right now. I can’t take it.”

He hesitated a moment, that heavy silence filling the space between us again. Then, without another word, he left.

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