Slowly, the events of the night came back to me. Pain crept through me. I’d come full circle. After all my self-assurances that I could handle Mark’s reemergence into my life, I was right back to where I’d started. I’d be looking over my shoulder, waiting for him around every corner. Except now the chances of being found were much higher. A sob escaped me and I crumbled to my knees, the floor cold and hard.
Blake stepped into the room and knelt down a few feet away.
“I did this, Blake. I brought him back. All of this is my fault.”
“Mark.” My voice was a whisper, swallowed by the sobs that followed. I hugged my body with my arms, trying to stave off the pain. God, the pain was so intense, coursing through my veins with every heavy beat of my heart. My stomach writhed at this memory of the physical and emotional torment the man had put me through. I’d forgotten what he could do to me, after all these years. I tried to catch my breath and chanced a look at Blake, afraid of what a mess I was.
He winced, his expression tight with concern and restraint. His hands fell to his knees, fisting anxiously. “Tell me what to do.”
Silence fell as I contemplated the request. I could barely hold myself together as it was.
“Do you want me to leave?”
“No,” I rushed. “Please, don’t leave. I… I don’t want to be alone.”
I suppressed the next wave of tears that threatened at the thought of not having him with me. I wanted to reach out to him, to remind him how much I needed him, but I was firmly cocooned inside myself, unwilling and unable to let anyone close in my current frame of mind. Still, the thought of going through this alone was unbearable.
“Then I’m not going anywhere.” He shifted, leaning back against the bathroom wall, studying me intently.
The sound of his voice washed over me and I relaxed a little. I took a deep breath and wiped away the errant tears.
“Talk to me,” I said.
“Anything. Tell me something…happy. I want to hear your voice.”
His face relaxed, his eyes softening with it.
“Our story is the happiest one I know. I never thought I’d meet someone like you. You’re beautiful, smart. And strong. God, you’re so strong. Sometimes it blows me away.”
The tears came again, like my body was purging itself of all the emotions I’d built up. I loved Blake so much. He couldn’t possibly understand how much. Under the weight of everything, I felt anything but strong, but to know he saw strength in me gave me a glimmer of hope that I could get through all this somehow.
“You’re killing me. Seeing you like this, Erica, it shreds me. Tell me what to do. How can I fix this?”
I laughed weakly. “You can’t fix me, Blake. But thank you for wanting to.”
I took another breath, determined to get myself off the floor. I rose, appalled at the vision that looked back at me in the mirror. My eyes were puffy and red. I looked as devastated as I felt. I splashed more water on my face and toweled off before returning to the bedroom.
I fell heavily onto the bed, curling up with the blanket that was unnecessary on the warm night. I needed the comfort of being wrapped up because I knew I couldn’t handle Blake’s hands on me right now. My heart wanted it, but I was too raw, too scared of what anyone’s touch could do to me. He joined me and we faced each other, as far from one another as we’d ever been in a bed we’d shared.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered.
“You have nothing to be sorry for.”
“You shouldn’t have to deal with this.”
“Neither should you, but here we are. And I’m not going anywhere until you tell me to leave.”
I reached across to find his hand. We fell asleep that way, hand in hand, the simple touch enough to remind me that we still had each other.
I woke up to an empty bed, the smell of breakfast wafting into the room. My smile faded when I rose. My head was throbbing as if I’d spent the night drinking instead of crying.
I slipped on my comfy sweatpants and joined Blake in the kitchen. He turned from the stove where he was scrambling eggs.
“How are you doing?”
“Better.” I settled into one of the seats at the island.
He poured me a cup of coffee, adding copious amounts of sugar and cream, just the way I liked it. I thanked him and took a sip, feeling a little more ready to start the day.
He made two plates for us and ate his standing on the opposite side of the island. He maintained the distance that I’d needed the night before.
“Do you want to talk about what happened?” he said quietly.
I’d been so wrapped up in my horror last night, he hadn’t had the first idea what had spurred it. I hadn’t wanted to tell him, to worry him, but he’d ridden the night out with me. He’d been there for me the way no one ever had. He deserved answers as much as I didn’t want to give them.
I sat back in the chair and looked outside at the bright morning sky. Sunshine already poured into the apartment through the large bay windows of the living room.
“I ran into Mark last night.” I looked back to him.
The muscles in his face tightened, and his entire posture changed, as if Mark was there and he was ready to fight.
“What did he say?”
I swallowed, searching for the right words. Mark had been vague but his intentions were clear when he’d held me in the dance. I knew that now. “He implied that he…still wants me.”
Blake dropped his fork on his plate. “Why didn’t you tell me before? I had no idea.”
“I didn’t want to upset you. I know how you are. You’ll worry, overreact.”
“Goddamn right, I’m going to worry. Jesus, Erica. I need to know these things.” He took a deep breath and shoved a hand through his hair. “I’m going to get you a security detail, starting today.”
“No, Blake. Seriously, this is what I mean. You’re overreacting.”
“When someone threatens to rape my girlfriend, I’m going to react. You can call it whatever you want, but I’ll be damned if he’s going to get anywhere near you.”
“Hiring a bodyguard to watch over me day in and day out is overkill. I’m not living under the shadow of this threat for the rest of my life. I can’t live like that. I have lived like that, and I can’t do it anymore.”
“What about last night? I’ve never seen you like that. You were completely inconsolable.” His hands fisted on the counter. “I couldn’t even touch you.”