“Blake.” Catherine’s tone hardened. “You need to speak to Erica. Everyone here is celebrating and making a fuss and this poor child is in tears over you. You need to start talking.”
He stared at her a moment, his expression unchanged. “Mom, I’m not talking to you about this.”
She grimaced. “Aren’t you the genius of the family? Good heavens, I don’t expect you to talk to me about it. Speak to your fiancée, soon to be your wife. You fix whatever you broke here, and that’s all I have to say on the matter.”
She gave him a hard stare and then softened when she faced me again. She gave my hand a reassuring squeeze.
Without a word Blake turned. He passed through the kitchen and disappeared into the hallway beyond. I followed him until we were alone in one of the nearly empty rooms I’d seen earlier. This would be their home office. Two desks lined the wall, already cluttered with a stack of papers.
Blake stood in the middle of the room, his back to me. I closed the door behind me and leaned against it.
The sudden privacy also meant silence, an awkward empty silence between us. I searched for words, for something that could possibly bring us back to where we’d been before San Francisco. But I didn’t know what to say to him now. He’d be angry with me for breaking down in front of his mother, not that I’d ever dream of telling her what had happened between us.
“I’m guessing you want to talk,” he said quietly, turning to face me.
I nodded and swallowed over the knot in my throat. I didn’t want to talk here, but who knew when I would have his attention again. “I didn’t want to do this here, but you’ve been gone. She started asking about us, and I just lost it. I’m sorry.”
“I’m here now.”
His voice was quieter as he took a step closer. He paused a few feet in front of me, his hands still casually nested in his pockets. Usually I enjoyed the posture, that could give a shit attitude that rolled off him sometimes, usually when it came to work. I remembered then how he’d looked when he dropped into the seat in front of me at the Angelcom boardroom, seemingly unaffected. I was as annoyed as I was painfully attracted to him. Today I knew better. I knew he cared, but I was no less conflicted about how I felt about our situation right now.
“Blake...you hurt me.”
His jaw tightened and several empty seconds passed.
“I warned you that if you opened the door to that part of me—”
“I’m not talking about physical pain,” I said. “I know we’ll be angry sometimes, and we’ll hurt each other. That’s inevitable. I know that we’ll take it out on each other in different ways. I’ll admit the other night was difficult for me, not because that’s anything we haven’t done before, but because in the end, all I could feel was your anger. That wounded me far worse than anything physical could have, because I felt like you hated me, and that you wanted to hurt me. Maybe it made you feel better—”
“It didn’t, trust me.” A grimace pinched his features.
“Then why? You left me there like it meant nothing to you. It’s like you’re shutting me out to punish me even more. When is it going to end? How many different ways do I have to say that I’m sorry, that I made a stupid mistake I wish I could take back?”
He turned away slightly, raking his fingers through his hair. The dark brown strands stuck every which way.
“It should have never happened.”
I sagged against the door. “I know that. I wish it hadn’t.”
He faced me again. “No, I don’t think you fully understand. The things that happened when we were apart... all of that happened because you didn’t trust me to handle Daniel threatening you.”
“That’s not true.”
“It is true, Erica. If you had, we would have never been apart. James would have never had a chance to get that close to you when you were vulnerable.”
“I thought Daniel was going to kill you. Do you understand that? I was falling apart missing you, wishing I could find a way to save our relationship, but when I saw you with Sophia that night, and then Risa, something in me just gave up. I knew we were over, that I’d lost you. It had nothing to do with wanting James. It had everything to do with feeling so goddamn empty inside without you that I let him get too close.”
“Do you really think I would have let Daniel hurt me or you? Do you think for a second I wouldn’t have moved hell and earth to make sure you were safe from that maniac? Instead you fucking ripped my heart out.”
The hurt inflected with the words was real. I knew, because I’d lived that torture too. In fear of Daniel’s threats, I’d put us both through weeks of hell.
“This isn’t just about James, though I’m not happy it happened, believe me. But this was another ugly reminder of that entire situation. You’d been through a lot with Daniel, and I didn’t want to put you through any more. But the reality of it is that you put us both in more danger because you wouldn’t come to me for help. How am I supposed to be your husband when you won’t let me protect you? Goddamnit, Erica, I’ve gone against every instinct giving you the space you need, and where has it gotten us?”
My lips trembled as I absorbed the fierceness of his words. “I made a mistake. I was scared, and all that mattered at the time was knowing you were safe.”
“How many more times are you going to put us through this, because you’re too goddamn stubborn to trust me?”
“You're punishing me for choices I already made, things I can't undo. Things are different now.”
He shook his head. “Are they? Can you tell me that you wouldn't make the exact same choices? Because I can tell you right now, if you'd known, intrinsically and without a doubt to come to me when Daniel threatened you, all of that would have played out differently. And all this time I warned you about James. I knew it. I fucking knew he was getting too close to you, and you kept him around. What’s more, you're still doing it, even though you know it's making me crazy. I want to tear the motherfucker apart for having his hands on you. Do you understand what it does to me, Erica?”
I blinked away tears at this onslaught. Days with nothing, and now this. “Blake...”
“I want control, Erica. But I'm not going to take it from you. You have to give it to me. You opened the door. Now you have to walk through it. You've tried to draw this hard line between us, with work and our relationship, where you keep the amount of control you think you need. It ends now.”