“Daniel, what are you saying?”
“I think you know.”
“No…my God. You couldn’t have…not for me.”
He frowned. “Yes, for you. I did what had to be done, goddamnit. He was threatening you. Blake was threatening me. We’re all better off without him, trust me.”
He stood and fished a pack of cigarettes from his jacket. He lit one and took a long drag.
“What do you mean, Blake was threatening you?”
He shook his head and laughed a little. “I should have known better when you introduced us to him. You can’t keep secrets from a man like Landon. Seems that having an election to win is a vulnerability that my enemies are more than willing to take advantage of.”
“Blake’s not your enemy.” I had no idea what had gone on between him and Blake, but Blake knew how important my relationship with Daniel was. He wouldn’t purposefully hurt him, even if he thought it was for my sake. At least I didn’t think so.
Seriousness darkened his gaze and he took a step closer, pointing at me. “Anyone who wages threats, Erica, is an enemy, no matter their intentions. He came to me the day after the gala, letting me know, under no uncertain terms, that I was to get Mark out of your life. Ship him off somewhere, to our New York office, a desert island. He didn’t care much, as long as he was away from you. He said if I didn’t, he’d compromise the campaign. I’m not the type of man you make idle threats to, but I’ll admit I weighed my options.” He blew a billow of smoke out the side of his mouth. “Now you’re safe, the campaign’s safe, and Blake’s satisfied for the moment. Everyone wins.”
“I did what needed to be done.” He raised his voice, directing his venom at me. “Don’t act like you aren’t fucking thrilled to have him out of your life.” He rubbed his forehead and took a breath. “Margo, God love her, is the only one suffering right now, but she wanted me to win more than anyone. Now we will.”
“What do you mean?”
He shrugged and took another drag. “The numbers are already going up. Mark’s death has painted me as a human relatable candidate. As soon as they close the investigation, which should be soon, the race will be in the bag. We can’t lose.”
I couldn’t take another minute of it. The warmth I’d seen in him earlier had vanished, replaced with a smug and calculating man whose only concern was the shortest route to success. I had no idea how his love for or pride in me fit into this scenario, and I didn’t want to know.
I started to make my way back toward the promenade. Daniel called my name but I kept walking briskly into the thick fog until I saw the end of the path.
I couldn’t think straight anymore. Mark was gone. Heaven help me, Daniel had killed him. For me, or for the campaign? Who could do it, for any reason? Clearly I was in way over my head, because this all made sense to Daniel.
The orange-haired man met me at the end of the path, blocking most of the way with the width of his frame. He was no Clay, but he was not to be trifled with. I slowed as I came near.
“Mr. Fitzgerald needs to speak with you. Wait here.”
I turned back. Daniel emerged out of the fog toward me, no love in his eyes. I slipped past his man and only made it a few steps before he grabbed me by my shirt and yanked me back toward the car where Daniel met me.
“Let her go, Connor.”
He released me on command and I backed slowly towards the car, trying to create as much distance between them and me as I could.
“You didn’t let me finish.”
“What more is there to say? You killed your son. You want me to congratulate you?”
“He wasn’t my son. But by God, you’re my daughter. You’re a Hathaway on paper, Erica, but as far as I’m concerned you’re a Fitzgerald.”
“What do you mean?”
“A few more months and I’ll be in the governor’s seat. Then before you know it, we’ll be in Washington working our way up, and you’re going to help me get there.”
“How could I possibly do that? I know nothing about politics.”
“Get your business profitable and sell it, or don’t. I don’t really care, but I’m bringing you on to lead my online campaigning efforts. You’re smarter than anyone I’ve got.”
I gasped. He couldn’t mean this. He couldn’t have crafted this entire plan in his head and thought that I would celebrate with him. I waved my hand, dismissing the suggestion. “No. I’m not having any part of this. I like my life just the way it is, thank you.”
His face twisted into an unpleasant sneer. “That’s right. I almost forgot about our friend, Landon. He won’t let you give up so quickly, will he?”
“I doubt it, since he’s invested four million dollars in the company.”
“Pay it back.”
“What do you mean? I can’t pay it all back yet, even if I wanted to. I’ve already started investing it.”
“I’ll help you pay it back.”
“This is insane, Daniel. Maybe we should talk about this another time, when things aren’t so complicated. You’re asking me to give up everything I’ve worked for.”
“That’s not all you’ll be giving up.”
“What do you mean?”
“Landon. He needs to be out of the picture.”
The blood drained from my face.
He laughed. “Well, not completely out of the picture. As long as you work with me, Erica, I’ll be satisfied if you just remove him from your life. That way I won’t need to remove him in a more permanent fashion.”
I fisted my hands, tensing against the anger that rushed over me. He couldn’t be serious. “Blake isn’t a threat. He loves me. You’re deranged if you think I’d leave him just because—”
His nostrils flared. Without warning he lifted his arm and backhanded me against the car. I fell back with a thud, catching myself before I dropped to the ground. My shaky hand went to the place where he’d made contact. The sharp pain of it paled in comparison to the shock that he’d done it, and without hesitation. I pulled myself up slowly, too afraid to look at him. I had to get out of here but before I could even think about my next move, he brought his face inches from mine. I swallowed hard and pressed back against the car trying to still my rapid breathing.
“That’s a warning.”