I tried to digest everything, fitting the pieces together like a puzzle. I hated that I’d been in the dark for so long. How long had Alli known and kept this from me? First Sophia and now this. In a matter of weeks there were so many secrets between us. Maybe she wasn’t blatantly lying to me, but she was keeping the truth from me, which felt like the same thing.
“Is that how you met Sophia?” I asked, hesitant to suggest her involvement, but unable to resist.
“I met her through Heath, yes.”
I stared at him, watching him decide whether to share more.
“I guess you could say she was in his entourage. We were seeing each other off and on, and she hooked up with Heath while I was away.”
“She slept with him?”
“I don’t know. Neither of them would admit to it, but I didn’t realize either of them had a problem until I crashed one of their parties at the condo.”
“What did you do?”
“I sent them off to rehab. Threatened to cut them both off until they got clean. I broke it off with Sophia when she ended the program. She didn’t take it well, but I agreed to help her start fresh.”
“That’s why you invested in her business.”
A fleeting look of surprise crossed his face. He was probably willing to do anything to keep her clean, knowing the breakup would send her into a tailspin. Did he love her?
“Yes, but the relationship ends there.” He took his eyes off the road for a moment to meet mine.
“I believe you,” I said. As much as I enjoyed looking into his eyes, I wanted them on the road right now.
“What’s Alli supposed to do now?”
“She can stay at the condo as long as she needs to, obviously.”
“But, their relationship? I mean...” I’d never seen Alli like this, so in love. But could I really support a relationship with Heath when he had so many issues? Serious issues. Billionaire brother or not, he was trouble, and the thought of her being tied to him in any way was disconcerting.
“She needs to figure it out, but I don’t want you involved,” Blake said, a note of resolve in his voice.
“What does that mean exactly?”
“That means I don’t want you anywhere near Heath or his circle of friends until he’s been clean for a very long time. And that includes Alli.”
“Are you telling me I can’t see her?” I bristled at the suggestion.
“If Alli decides to stay with him, that’s her choice, but I won’t have you anywhere near it.”
My anger bubbled to the surface and I stewed, trying to come with a way to win the argument. I needed my coffee.
While I pouted on the far edge of my seat, trying to gain as much distance from him as the car would allow, he exited the highway and parked in front of a quaint diner a mile down the road. He powered off the car, stepped out, and circled to open my door for me.
When I got out, he caged me with his arms, leaning me into the car and bringing our bodies too close for how angry I was with him.
“I need you to understand,” he said.
“Understand what? Your sick need to control everything and everyone around you?”
“Have you ever known someone with an addiction?”
I tightened my arms around my chest and looked past him to the highway and the cars speeding by. He was going to try to convince me that controlling my life was somehow acceptable, I knew it. “No,” I admitted.
“Good. I don’t want you to.”
“You can’t tell me who to have in my life. You said you weren’t interested in dominating me that way.”
“I never said that, and secondly, this is different.”
“Great.” I shivered, chilled by the idea that deep down Blake really wanted to, maybe needed to, control me—an expectation that seemed to root itself further into our relationship with every passing second.
“Stop what?” I shouted. “I’ve never had to answer to anyone, and I’m sure as hell not answering to you. So stick that in your fucking dominant pipe and smoke it.”
I moved to leave but he didn’t budge, trapping me.
“Don’t Erica me—”
He groaned and shoved his hands through his hair, giving us the smallest separation. I glared at him, but when I met his eyes, they were tired, storming with emotion, pleading with me without words.
“I love you, and I’m going to do whatever I need to do to protect you. Do you understand?”
My heart slammed in my chest. Shit. Shit. Shit. His words couldn’t have hit me any harder. Every girl dreams of hearing those three little words. Every girl but me. My palms prickled with heat and became damp. I rubbed them nervously on my jeans as the silence grew between us.
“Heath has ripped our family apart with this. My parents worry every day about what they did wrong and I’m trying everything I can to set him straight again, praying something will work before he kills himself one day.”
I relaxed a little, grateful that he’d spoken, but I was nowhere close to making sense of the emotions rioting through me.
I needed coffee, or sleep. Mainly I needed to be somewhere outside of Blake’s bubble of earth-shattering sex and emotional intensity. I was fucked up enough without all of that. I shook my head, trying to focus on the argument I was determined to win.
He’d thrown me a curve ball, but somehow we needed to find a middle ground, though I worried that Blake wasn’t used to negotiating middle ground much when he wasn’t with me. I took a deep breath and placed my hands on his chest. His heartbeat quickened, mimicking my own.
“Blake, Alli is my best friend, and if she’s going to stick this out with Heath, I need to be there to support her, the same way I’ll support you.”
For a split second, he looked lost. His expression changed again and he straightened. “I don’t need support, Erica. I’m used to dealing with this. I just don’t want you getting hurt. I couldn’t bear it.”
My anger faded into an overwhelming desire to take the pain away, to help him fix this mess. “Listen to me. You can’t play master of the universe and refuse help from the people who care about you.”
Blake covered my hands with his own, squeezed them slightly, then threaded his fingers with mine and led us toward the diner.
I went willingly, accepting that we were agreeing to disagree for the moment.