Hardpressed

Author: P Hana

Page 31

   

“I love you too.”

CHAPTER NINE

Someone was knocking on my door.

“What do you want?” I groaned from under the covers.

“Rise and shine. I thought you could use some breakfast.”

I peeked out from the duvet. Heath looked fresh and peppy, holding a tall iced coffee and what I hoped was a box of donuts. Only caffeine could get me vertical this morning.

I sat up slowly. I didn’t feel quite as terrible as I should have, thanks to Blake’s late night hangover prevention advice. I reached for the coffee and leaned against my headboard. Heath sat down at the foot of the bed, eyeing me tentatively. He was probably waiting for me to lash out at him. If I’d felt better, I might have.

“I hate you, you know?” My voice was hoarse, which detracted from the intended impact of the words.

“I know. I was sort of hoping this could be a peace offering.”

I grimaced at the memory of James’s subtle advances, and worse, that Heath had likely witnessed it all.

“For the record, there’s nothing going on between James and me. He was getting too friendly maybe, but he works for me. If someone needs to set him straight, I’d like to be the one to do it.”

“Honestly, it’s none of my business. Blake was grilling me about who you were with, and I wasn’t going to lie to him. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry. Blake’s hauled me out of more bars than I can count. They weren’t my finest moments either.”

I cast my gaze down at the blanket, picking at a tiny feather poking through the white fabric. “I’m sorry he put you in that position. I suppose if I had been more reachable, even though Blake is completely crazy, that whole scene could have been avoided. A bar is probably the last place you really needed to be last night.”

“Don’t worry about that. My sobriety isn’t that tenuous. If it were, I doubt Blake would have sent me in there. I think he just thought I was a better option than Clay.” His lips curled into a smile.

I laughed at the thought of Clay, who was one of the largest men I’d ever seen, negotiating with James about who was giving me a ride home. Talk about mortifying.

“Good call.” I took a long sip of my coffee, feeling my brain come back to life a bit. “Heath, how do you deal with Blake?”

“Don’t you mean, how does he deal with me?”

I laughed quietly. I could have easily said that not so long ago, but Heath had changed so much. He seemed like the reasonable one somehow, and Blake was the impulsive one of the two. “I don’t know. It’s like we said that night in Vegas, how everyone sort of orbits around him. I don’t know how he does what he does, or why he even wants to sometimes.

“Erica, I owe him my life at this point. After everything he’s done for me, I’m willing to defer to just about whatever he thinks is best. If that’s helping with the business, moving here, whatever he needs. God knows, I’m not so great with making decisions.”

“You’re thinking about moving here, permanently?”

His gaze met mine. Clearly he hadn’t meant to tell me that.

“We’ve talked about it. I’ve slipped up so many times in New York, and I have a lot of support here between Blake and my folks. I need to talk to Alli about it though. She’s the most important person in my life right now. I want to know that we can deal with that before I make a decision.”

I didn’t imagine Alli would take it very well, but I wasn’t about to test their already complicated relationship by butting in. “Don’t worry. I won’t say anything. I’m sure she’ll come to me when she wants to talk about it.”

He seemed relieved. “Thanks.”

“Do your parents live close?” I couldn’t help but linger on the mention of them.

“About half an hour north of the city. They don’t usually come into town, but when I’m around, we try to do dinner once a week.”

“Oh.” I tried to hide my surprise. Of all the time Blake and I had spent together, I had no idea his parents were so close or that he regularly saw them. That he hadn’t mentioned either to me stung a little. Naively, I’d never thought much about the rest of his family outside of Heath and Fiona. My own family was decidedly far from normal, if present at all. Heath made it sound like they had something more stable though.

“What are you up to today?” Heath grabbed my attention again.

“Who wants to know?” I teased.

“Hey, I’m off the clock now. Was just making small talk.”

“Show me you mean it, and give me those donuts.”

*

In a perfect reflection of my hung-over state, the day was overcast and dreary. Not wanting to be caught in weather, I let Clay drive me to the office. I was starting to pity him since he hadn’t gotten a day off since Blake had put him to the task of taxiing me around.

I skipped my usual stop into Mocha. I was already powered up and I wasn’t sure if I could handle a debriefing from Simone just yet. I settled in at my desk. A text dinged on my phone.

James: You alive? I’m headed into the office in a bit.

Erica: Have officially risen from the dead. Already here. No rush.

I should probably talk to James about last night. Maybe I could get away with avoiding it altogether. I mean, we’d both been drinking. People make all manner of bad choices under those circumstances. At the end of the day, keeping things professional at work was probably just as important to him as it was to me. He wanted to keep his job, after all.

I checked my email and found my way to the news. The details surrounding Mark’s death were too compelling to resist. I felt like a driver passing the scene of a terrible accident and I couldn’t look away. They had new photos of Daniel and Margo, looking as grieved as I expected them to be, trying to avoid the paparazzi’s cameras. My heart ached for them, as twisted as the sentiment was for me. My sympathy had become partial and conditional.

On impulse, I picked up the phone and scrolled through the numbers until I landed on Daniel’s. I took a breath and made the call, fully expecting it to go to voicemail. All I wanted to do was let him know they were in my thoughts, which seemed like the appropriate thing to do under the circumstances. I was his daughter after all. I didn’t want him to think I didn’t care, even if Margo wanted me to keep my distance.

I was shocked when Daniel picked up.

“Hi.” I struggled with how to proceed. The usual how are you line wasn’t going to work here. “I know this probably isn’t a good time. I just wanted to let you know that I’m thinking about you and Margo. I’m so sorry.”

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