“I’m upset, I won’t lie,” I said. “To be honest, I wouldn’t mind beating someone to a pulp right now. I’m not sure if I’m more upset by Risa stabbing me in the back, or the effects all of this will have on the business.”
“I can imagine. You trusted her. Hell, we all did.”
I stared at my drink. “I feel so stupid. Like I should have seen this coming.”
“There’s no way you could have known.”
I shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe if I hadn’t been so lost in my own head the past few weeks.”
“All you did was work. I don’t know how you could have been more present with the business. Seriously, you were sleeping at the office most nights.”
I shook my head, my thoughts drifting to that time. A wave of fatigue hit me at the memory. I couldn’t remember being more worn down, more determined to wear myself down than I had been. And somehow Risa had been conspiring with Max the whole time, even as I worked tirelessly to move us forward. The whole sequence of events spun in my head, over and over. Every rotation made less sense, gave me that much less faith that I could stop their attempts. What could I really do?
I systematically pushed the sweat of my drink down the glass, saturating the small napkin underneath. James rubbed my shoulder gently.
“Erica,” he murmured.
I looked up, my focus returning to the present as I transfixed on James’s deep blue eyes.
“You have the rest of us, and you have me. You know we’re solid, and we will get through this. Don’t give her the satisfaction of knowing she’s upset you. Give yourself a break this weekend, and we’ll figure all this out next week. I know how you get and worrying yourself into a nervous breakdown isn’t going to help anyone. We need you, remember?”
I lifted my lips in a small smile. “Thanks, James.”
A man’s voice rang out behind me. A possessive hand curved around my upper arm. Blake stood close behind me, his gaze trained on James. The bitterness in his eyes seemed to radiate and reflect back onto him as James barely suppressed a sneer in his direction. I wanted to rise and stand between the two men, to shut down any potential standoff before it could escalate.
I doubted whether I’d said the word out loud until Blake answered, his eyes never losing their focus on James.
“We should go. We’re going to be late.”
James’s gaze went to Blake’s hand circled possessively around my upper arm. James’s jaw tightened and the muscles in his neck strained. That sick feeling washed over me again. He still believed Blake had hit me. I wanted to put that suspicion to rest, but I couldn’t without revealing more information than he needed to know.
“I thought we had time for a drink.”
I put a hand over Blake’s. His eyes flashed to mine, as if the small touch had broken a trance.
“Change of plans,” he said quickly.
I nodded and grabbed my purse, eager to diffuse this tension. I turned back to James and out of Blake’s hold. “I’ll see you next week.”
James nodded and turned away from me. I tensed, wishing I could say something to make all this go away. But Blake’s jealousy and James’s need to protect me against some imagined threat ran deep. Blake reached into his pocket and tossed a twenty-dollar bill on the bar, threaded his fingers through mine, and led me toward the entrance.
“What was the change of plans?”
We stepped out and into the fading late afternoon sun. Before he could answer, Simone bounded up to us.
“Hey, where are you going?”
“Sorry, Simone. We have to head out earlier than expected,” Blake said.
“James is waiting for you though,” I added cheerfully, gesturing toward the inside.
Her gaze flashed between us. “Okay. Well, you two love birds have fun, okay?”
I smiled shyly and let Blake guide me toward the idling Escalade at the curb. A second later, I stepped up into the vehicle captained by Clay, the bodyguard who Blake insisted on keeping more available lately.
I slid onto the cool leather seat next to Blake. Before I could say anything, he scooped me onto his lap and pressed his lips to mine. The kiss was urgent, intense as it had been the night before. He swept his tongue over my lips, urging me to part for him. I opened to him and reveled in the velvet push of his tongue over mine. With soft licks, he explored my mouth. Harnessing every wayward thought I’d had, I turned my attention to the passion in his touch, the need I could nearly taste between us.
His scent filled my lungs as we shared breath. I sifted my fingers into his hair, angling him deeper, pulling him closer. The sweetness of his tongue lingered as we teased and nipped at each other’s flesh. I stifled a moan, vaguely aware that we weren’t entirely alone.
We separated enough to catch our breath. If we went much further, we’d be devouring each other in no time.
“Hey,” I said, realizing we hadn’t yet said a single word since we’d been in the car, which had been several minutes now.
“Hey yourself,” he murmured.
His eyes were dark and determined. He slid his hand up my thigh up to my ass and grabbed me under my dress. I bit my lip, acutely aware of the ache between my legs and the wild desire he could inspire in me in a matter of minutes. I could think of nothing else but the fastest way to have him.
“I have no idea where we’re going, but it’ll be a long drive at this rate.”
He looked toward the front of the car. “We’re not driving. Clay’s taking us to the airport. I have a plane waiting for us there.”
“Where are we going?”
“I figured we’d stay close, but I didn’t want to spend half the night in traffic. We’ll catch a flight to the Vineyard and be at the house within the hour. I didn’t want to waste a minute more than we had to this weekend.”
I grinned and met his lips for a sweet kiss. “I can’t wait.”
* * *
A predictably small and sporty car was waiting for us when we disembarked and got us to our final destination as quickly as Blake’s fancy Tesla would. We pulled up to the sprawling house at the far tip of the island. The small span of time and the miles of separation from day-to-day life sank in as we ascended the steps to the house. The warm ocean air was a welcome change from the muggy city heat. The relief was another reminder of how much I really needed a break.
Blake dropped our bags inside the door and turned to me. He pressed against me as I wove my arms around his neck. He slid his hands down the fabric of my dress until he reached the hem and pushed it up.