I pulled up Blake’s text thread in my phone more than once, tempted to write to him. I missed him, but after days of silence, maybe I’d lost my chance. Obviously being with me wasn’t going to be easy. One minute I was screwing his brains out and the next minute I was completely freaking out on him. I’d left him in the heat of the moment, not knowing how to react to the bomb he’d dropped on me, and hadn’t even given him a chance to explain or talk about it. I groaned, frustrated in more ways than one. Fuck, maybe I did love him, though I had no idea what that really felt like.
I loved Marie. I loved Alli. In my youth, before I knew anything about anything, I loved my mother deeply, with every ounce of my being. Yet I didn't know how to love someone I was sleeping with. With other guys I’d date, keeping a comfortable distance had always been easy, ideal, really. When they wanted to move on, I mostly felt relief that I wouldn’t have to deal with negotiating a more serious commitment that I couldn’t ever see myself fulfilling.
None of the men I dated knew me, really. Now, not only was Blake blowing my mind in bed, he was systematically stripping away the emotional barriers I’d so carefully built around myself over the years. I couldn’t keep up the façade much longer at this rate. I prided myself on portraying an impenetrable image of success, of having it all together, but he broke that down with a few strokes of his fingers and his persistence. His goddamn persistence—which was why I was in this situation to begin with.
I typed a short message into my phone, regretting it the moment I sent it.
I miss you.
Every moment that went by, I wondered if he’d received it. With no word from Blake, I cursed myself for the next several hours as I finished up work and dressed for the gallery opening. I had an image in my mind of mingling with a crowd of snobs in turtlenecks, quietly assessing a collection of art that I might have a hard time appreciating at all. I scolded myself for being so negative, blaming my text to Blake for throwing me off.
I scoured Alli’s closet, appreciating some of her newer additions. Eventually I decided on a pair of tight black crop pants and a bold fuchsia and black lace tunic and pulled my hair back into a tight bun. Unfortunately when I arrived, the motif at the event was strictly black and white, matching the starkness of the artist’s photography.
I spotted Alli chatting with another woman on the other side of the gallery. I slipped through the crowd, drawing attention as I went. Whatever, I thought, pushing away my self-consciousness. If I was here to network, the last thing I wanted to be was forgettable.
I joined the two women, nodding to Alli before I introduced myself to her long-legged friend. She looked oddly familiar. Maybe she was a model. She was tall and incredibly beautiful, with long dark brown hair.
“Erica, this is Sophia Devereaux. She’s friends with Blake—well, Heath too actually.”
Blake’s name in the presence of this Amazonian made my throat tighten. So this was Sophia.
Alli went on to explain the site and our role in it, saving me from the task of tooting my own horn. Sophia looked mildly interested, but Alli didn’t stop there.
“Sophia actually runs her own modeling agency here in New York.” Her eyebrow arched toward me. “She works with a ton of brands for their shoots,” she continued, spoon feeding me talking points now.
“Impressive,” I said, meaning it, though I had a difficult time pushing thoughts of what she might mean to Blake out of my mind. There was only one way to find out. People invariably loved talking about themselves, and over the space of a few minutes, I learned just how well Sophia was connected. She had worked with every major designer I knew, dozens I didn’t, and casually spoke of them on a first name basis. Yet it seemed strange to me that someone so young would be running an agency versus working for one. She was the picture of physical perfection, as least when it came to high fashion and the type of look it demanded.
In the midst of our small talk, Alli briefly excused herself, winking at me, silently letting me know she would come rescue me soon. I hoped that’s what the wink meant anyway.
“So how do you know Blake?” Sophia asked, her voice low, deliberate, and laced with a hint of bitchiness that had been previously absent from our conversation.
I stared hard at her, trying to gauge her intent, my adrenaline spiking uncontrollably. “We’re seeing each other,” I said evenly. Sure, we’d spent the past few days enduring what, at least to me, felt like a devastating separation, but she didn’t need to know that.
“Interesting.” Her head cocked.
“And how do you know Blake?” I asked, burning with curiosity.
She smiled, catching a few strands of shiny perfect hair between her fingertips. “We catch up from time to time.”
“Interesting,” I said, mimicking her sneer, praying she was bluffing. Based on her tone, there was no doubt in my mind that catching up in this case meant fucking. And the thought of Blake fucking her filled me with a blind jealousy. I garnered every ounce of self-control not to show it just then.
“A little advice, from one woman to another. If you’re after his money, or his connections for that matter, he won’t keep you around for long. He protects what’s his.”
“You would know, I suppose?” My teeth gritted with restraint. This woman definitely had a dark side, devious almost. I barely recognized her the moment Alli left us, and just as quickly, her expression changed again when we were joined by a young man holding out two glasses of red wine.
“You two look entirely too sober for this event,” he said, his eyes lighting up with humor.
“Darling,” Sophia purred, taking her glass from him and air kissing him from cheek to cheek.
I took the glass of wine he offered with no care of its origin or vintage. This bitch was winding me up.
“Isaac. This is Erica Hathaway. She runs a fashion website. The details escape me,” Sophia said with a careless wave. “Would you two excuse me? I am running late for another engagement. It was delightful to meet you, Erica. Please stay in touch?”
I forced a smile and reached out to shake her hand. I reveled a bit at the opportunity to crush it. She winced at the contact. For being so imposing in height, she was a wet noodle when it came to handshakes.
“I’m Isaac Perry,” he said as soon as she left, giving me a heart-stopping smile.
“What brings you here tonight, Isaac?” I asked with blithe interest.
“The art, I suppose. Definitely not the people, though I have to say I’m rather interested in you.” He grinned.