“That’s always good. I’m assuming you are up to speed with the position’s requirements?”
“I am, but I’d love to hear your take on what exactly you’re looking for.”
We spent the next ten minutes discussing the structure of their marketing efforts, shortcomings, and concerns, and how they were hoping to improve. I listened intently, taking notes to fill in the gaps from the documents Daniel had given me.
“I’m probably not supposed to mention this in an interview, but we don’t have a lot of time to dance around things here. Mr. Fitzgerald seems especially eager to find a way to work with you. I’m guessing you feel the same way?”
Wow, was that ever a loaded question. I clicked my pen. The stubborn part of me wanted to scream out, No! Instead, I smiled politely and withdrew a thick document from my bag. The size of it rivaled the marketing plan that Daniel had given me the week prior.
I dropped it on his desk. “Will, I have a proposal for you.”
The meeting with Will went well, but I wasn’t sure how or when Daniel would react to what I’d proposed. I had a feeling he wouldn’t be too pleased, even though I’d laid out a plan that made perfect sense for everyone involved. He’d likely see it as another attempt to negotiate the hard line he’d drawn. I’d still try to convince him all the same. I had to.
Mark was dead, but as long as Blake was safe, I was going to fight Daniel on this. Because the kind of life he had planned for me wasn’t much of a life at all, as far as I was concerned. At least for now, I was willing to face the repercussions of standing up to him and hope for the best.
Letting someone else run my life went so far against the grain of who I was as a person. I was growing weary of Daniel’s attempts to coerce me with violence and fear. In the long run, no one could possibly win. Any talent he expected to extort out of me would be swiftly crushed if I followed him blindly into this new life.
I pushed the apprehension out of my mind. Daniel would let me know his thoughts on the matter sooner or later. I wouldn’t worry about it in the meantime.
Back at the office, I was talking with Chris and Sid when something caught my eye out the window. Blake’s Tesla had zoomed up to the curb. My heart leaped. Even without seeing him in the flesh, the terrible ache that haunted me resurfaced. The ache was quickly replaced with a fiery rage as I watched him help Risa out of the car. She was smiling and laughing, her hand flat on his chest.
Oh hell no. I found my legs and rushed downstairs, meeting them a few seconds later.
“Erica, hi.” Risa froze, a white-knuckle grip on her purse.
I quickly assessed her, desperate to find a hair out of place, some indication of what had gone on during her overlong lunch hour. I continued to stare, imploring her to feed me an excuse.
“Um, Blake wanted to go over some of the new marketing numbers with me. So we decided to grab lunch.”
She nodded anxiously. I stared at her a moment longer. I couldn’t stomach even the loose vision my imagination was stringing together right now.
Blake going behind my back to get information about the business was one thing. Coercing Risa into bed, with presumably very little effort, was another matter entirely.
“I should go up and get back to work,” she said.
I turned my focus to Blake, whose face twitched with the slightest of satisfied smirks. He circled the vehicle and slipped into the driver’s side before I could say anything. He zoomed off as quickly as he’d arrived, while I stood there trying to figure out his angle.
Risa had long disappeared into the building by the time I walked back in. I was hoping to buy myself some more time. My mind was spinning with the things I wanted to say to her. Trying to separate professional from unprofessional might have been a lost cause at this point. James met me on the landing, looking concerned.
“What’s going on?”
“Blake just dropped Risa off from a ‘business lunch.’”
“Okay, so what?”
“First of all, he has no right to meet with my employees behind my back, and secondly, I could tell right away that the meeting was anything but innocent. First I had to tell her to leave you alone and now she appears to have set her sights on Blake. She’s fucking relentless. The nerve that he has, showing up like this.” I was talking fast, not taking much care with what I was saying. “No part of that is going to fly. There are plenty of other people out there. He can stay out of my office.”
Risa sure knew how to get what she wanted. That was all fine and well until now. Blake knew better. I paced back and forth over the landing. He wouldn’t get away with this.
“You go on in. I’ll be back in a little bit.” I turned to go back down.
Before I could make the first step, James caught my elbow and spun me toward him.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to give him a piece of my mind.”
“Why don’t you wait a while and cool down. You’re taking this too personally.”
“No, I’m not. This is totally unacceptable.”
“Why are you letting him get under your skin?” He frowned, seeming genuinely irritated.
I didn’t care. I was furious. “I’m not letting him screw my employees, okay? I don’t think that’s him getting under my skin.”
He took a step forward, bringing our bodies dangerously close. I tore my gaze away from his penetrating eyes. I focused on the wall behind him, trying not to think about how he made me feel when he was this close.
“You have no idea if he’s screwing her or even pursuing her.” His voice was low and matter-of-fact. “But you can’t stay away.”
I shut my eyes tight and prayed for strength to get through this moment and the rest of the day without losing my mind.
“What?” I kept my gaze low, unable to face him. I couldn’t give him what he needed. I was barely surviving in the aftermath of my break up with Blake. I had no heart left to give to someone else.
“Will you hear me out, first, before you go running to him?”
I bristled slightly at the way he said that. I didn’t like how it sounded at all. “What do you have to say?”
His expression softened slightly, as if he sensed my irritation.
“I know this is complicated. You and me. But as much as you want to ignore it, there is something between us. I can feel it, and I know you can too. I care about you, and I can’t stand to see this guy torturing you, ripping your goddamn heart out.”