And who could I talk to now? I couldn’t trust Alli because she was so close to Heath. Marie would worry too much, or worse, go to the police. Anyone who knew Daniel had killed someone, even if it was supposedly for my benefit, would be another person whose life was at risk. I had to carry the burden of this terrible truth alone, at least for now.
I wasn’t sure when to expect Blake back from California, but the first order of business was getting out of the apartment before he did. I called Marie.
“Is everything okay?” she asked.
“I need to talk to you about Daniel.”
She was silent on the phone for a moment. “What about?”
“I want to know what went down between him and my mother. Everything you know.”
I heard her sigh, and I could tell right away that she wasn’t going to make this easy for me.
“Erica, you’re talking to the wrong person. Your mother was the one who knew him, not me.”
“And you knew her. You were the closest person to her when they were together.”
“So what? They had a brief and passionate love affair, and then they went their separate ways. That’s the whole story. I don’t know what you want me to tell you, honestly.”
I closed my eyes and thought of my mother. Her face. Her pretty blond hair and her smile, the way she’d held me when I needed comfort the most. I needed her now, more than ever. My throat tightened with emotion, and I took a deep breath to snap myself out of it. Crying over this would get me nowhere. My mother was dead and my father was a sociopath. These were the facts of my life.
“Can I come stay with you for a little while? Maybe a couple weeks until I find a new place?” I finally said.
“Of course. Do you need me to come get you? You’re worrying me.” Her tone had shifted from defensive to caring. Getting her to believe I was fine would be easier than convincing Blake that we needed to end our relationship, though.
“No, I’ll manage. Don’t worry, okay?”
“Okay, I’ll be here.”
I hung up and started the long walk back home.
I spent one last night in the apartment. I was exhausted by the day’s events and I needed to sort through my thoughts before I could face anyone.
But sleep was little relief from the day I’d had. In sleep I was as tortured as I had been hours ago. I jolted awake, frantic that something had happened. A cold sweat chilled my skin. I pulled the blanket tightly over me. The fiction of my dreams had me believing my worst nightmares. That Daniel had followed through on his threats. That Blake had disappeared. Gone, irrevocably gone. I curled my knees close to my body and willed myself back into reality. Blake was safe, but only if I could keep him safe.
The weight that somehow I had brought this on myself, on all of us, settled over me. Because I had, hadn’t I? Any way I thought about it, all this came back down to me. Mark was dead and his poor mother would never know the truth. Despite Blake’s attempts to keep me safe, from Mark and then the truth, he was now in Daniel's cross hairs. And I was headed into a future so unknown to me, I couldn’t begin to fathom it. A life at Daniel’s side, if he had anything to say about it. I couldn’t imagine what it might be like to belong to his life of politics and greed and manipulation. A life that Mark knew all too well, no doubt.
I clung to the vision of the life I had hoped for. One I couldn’t see clearly before, maybe out of fear of what it really meant. One where Blake and I had a future, a real life together. One where we belonged together and no one was threatening to take that away from us. I dared to think of marriage, of building a family together. Then the tears came, exhausting what was left of me until I fell into another restless sleep.
Daniel emerged out of the fog. He’d found me, hunted me down. He could because Blake was gone, forever. Over and over the scene played out until I felt I’d never escape. I thrashed in and out of consciousness, trying to purge the terrible thoughts from my system. Then the chill was replaced by a sudden warmth. Weak with relief, I relaxed. I felt Blake all around me, hushing away my cries. My lover. The power of our love together could surely countervail Daniel’s threats and the uncertainty that I now faced. He could make it go away, somehow… In my dream, I tried so hard to believe that. I clung to the promise of it.
But he wasn’t a dream. Blake was with me, loving me with his touches, kissing away the worry. In the dim light of the room, I opened my eyes into his. So familiar and yet so foreign, the eyes that looked back at me were loving, filled with worry. Scooping me into his arms, he kissed me, deeply and passionately. I kissed him back, desperate to have him with me again. I inhaled him, unable to believe he was real.
“Another nightmare?” he whispered.
I shook my head. No. My life is the nightmare now. I held my lip between my teeth to keep it from quivering. He didn’t know. He couldn’t know.
He released it with his thumb and lowered his mouth to mine again. He was flush against my side, still fully dressed from his travels. Thoughts raced through my mind as I tried to separate dreams from reality. The relief that he was with me again was quickly overwhelmed by what that meant. I clung to him, gripping his shoulders as if he might leave again. I had to keep him close.
“Missed you, so much.” He kissed my neck, my jaw, then my lips again, as if he couldn’t get enough of me but couldn’t decide where to start. “Can’t stay away from you like that anymore.”
The love in his voice, cracked with emotion, shredded me. If only he didn’t love me, everything would be easier. I could mend my own heart and put myself back together the way I always had before. But the thought of leaving, that he might feel a fraction of what I would at the separation, was unbearable.
He slid a hand under my tank top, palming my breast, plumping it in his hand and thumbing my nipple. He pinched my nipple and I gasped, arching off the bed.
“Make love to me, Blake. Please, I can’t wait anymore.”
I let my hands roam, remembering every plane of his body, the hard batch of muscles leading below the band of his jeans. I crashed my lips into his and wrapped my body around him in every way possible. The intensity of what I felt for him shot through every limb as I scrambled to remove the layers of clothing that separated us. Nothing would make sense now. I just had to love him tonight, to give us that much.
He stripped down, and seconds later he lowered onto me, covering my body with the heat of his own. The sensation of his skin on mine overpowered me. I’d never wanted him more, loved him more. I slid my hands over his chest and down his body until I reached his erection, the satin skin burning in my grasp. I couldn’t wait a minute longer to have him. I guided him into me and he pushed deep with one thrust.