Marie came over to sit next to me and took my hands in hers. “This is why she never told you, baby. Do you hate me for telling you?”
“Of course not. I should know this. Really. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense that he wants to know me now.” I shook my head.
“Erica, I don’t know what’s happened to change his mind about having you in his life, other than the circumstance of you finding him. But I truly hope he deserves you now, after what he did.”
I leaned in to hug Marie. She held me tight, stroking my hair like my mother used to. I sagged into her thin frame, wishing I could cry. I held back, knowing that if I started up again, I’d probably never stop. My brief control on my emotions was slipping. I gave her a kiss good night and excused myself for the night, promising her that I was fine. I was just fine.
I made myself comfortable in Marie’s guest bedroom. I’d taken the half empty wine glass with me and decided to empty it all at once. To hell with Daniel. To hell with this terrible fucking day.
I set the glass on the bed stand and unpacked my suitcase. I never minded staying with Marie, but these circumstances weren’t exactly what they’d used to be. Summer breaks, holiday weekends. Now I was running away from my life with no ideas about where I’d land next.
I glanced at my phone, and against my better judgment, I picked it up and read a text from Blake.
Call me. Let me fix this. I love you.
I barely made it to work on time. I had loosely considered taking the day off, but I had a whole team of people at the office while I wasn’t. I’d cried myself to sleep after seeing Blake’s text. If texts could kill, his words would have sliced right through me. I turned my phone off after that, determined not to turn it back on until I could get a handle on myself. This crying shit had to stop.
I waved to the crew upon my arrival and disappeared into my office. Risa was immediately there giving me an update, which involved me prepping more contracts for her and coordinating the new account assets with the guys. For once I was grateful for her boundless energy and relentless work ethic. Even though I was exhausted, she threw me right into work, which is really where my focus should have been for the past couple weeks.
My mind had too often been someplace else. Thinking of Blake, worried about Mark, but today I dove into the day’s work with a kind of fervor that made everything else blur into the background. If I couldn’t make it go away, I’d settle for blurry.
James had mapped out a few campaign options for us over the weekend. The three of us spent most of the afternoon trying to agree on a direction. I wanted to give Risa’s opinion more weight, but despite her gusto when it came to landing new accounts, she seemed to go a little soft around James. Whenever he spoke, she emphatically agreed. When he leaned in to point something out, so did she, taking every possible opportunity to touch him casually.
When I finally gave her another task that took her out of my office, James seemed to visibly relax. We talked through the rest of the notes and the conversation was easier. But I caught him giving me questioning looks.
I tried to avoid his eyes. They bore into me with an intensity I was growing used to. “I’m fine.” I plastered on a fake smile.
“You seem tired.”
“I am,” I admitted, feeling the exhaustion a little more acutely.
“How were things with you and Landon after the other night?”
I closed my eyes for a moment, pushing down the surge of emotion that came with the mention of his name.
“I think we’re all set with these graphics, James. Just take care of the few little tweaks we discussed and we should be ready to roll these out.”
Anything else was none of his damn business. I didn’t want to talk about Friday’s weird showdown between him and Heath, or my relationship ending with Blake, or the way he touched me the other night as if we’d known each other far longer and better than we did. I was going to stuff all that right down with the rest of the feelings I didn’t feel like facing right now.
“That’s not really an answer.”
I sighed and leaned back in my chair. “We broke up this weekend, if you must know.”
“Does that affect the business with him being an investor?”
“No, he’s a silent investor and he can’t call the loan, not that he would anyway. Regardless, I’d like to pay him back as soon as we’re able to so we can be independent again.”
“How are you holding up?”
“I’m fine,” I lied. I was grateful that he cared, but I worried that wasn’t all he felt.
“I hope you know that you can talk to me. I’m right here.”
My gaze darted to where Blake now stood at the edge of my office space. He glanced to me briefly before fixing his gaze on James. James met the look with a steely one of his own that I’d never seen before. Holy shit, this wasn’t good.
No one moved.
Blake looked back to me, barely able to mask the irritation in his voice. “Can I speak with you, privately?”
I opened my mouth to speak but James spoke first.
“We’re in a meeting.” He leaned back into his chair and crossed his arms, as if he meant to stay.
“I wasn’t talking to you.” Blake wasn’t masking his irritation anymore. He took a threatening step, prompting James to rise too. They were a few feet apart staring each other down. Blake had some height on James, but James was thicker, stockier by nature. They could be evenly matched, but I’d seen Blake in action before. The way he’d lashed out when protecting me was a wild card that James couldn’t begin to fathom.
I rose quickly and grabbed Blake’s arm, urging him away from this standoff with James. “Blake, let’s go talk outside.” He stood still, his muscles taut and unmoving. Finally he relaxed enough to turn and leave the office with me. I led him down the hallway, thankful that we were far enough from the office to have some privacy, even if our words became heated.
“What did you want to talk about?” I asked him tensely.
“Why don’t we start with him? What went down this weekend? Did you fuck him?”
I gasped at the accusation, my anger now matching his own. “No! I told you he’s a friend. He’s just being protective.”
“What makes him think that you need protecting?”
“You seem to think I do pretty regularly, so maybe it’s an epidemic. Maybe I’m the kind of girl that screams damsel in distress. I don’t fucking know, but right now I don’t need you coming in here and causing problems. This is where I work. If you want to talk, we can do that, but not here. You can’t come here like this.”