“This isn’t about your goddamn pseudo-sibling rivalry with Max. This is my life you’re playing with. This is everything I’ve worked for, and you’re ruining it!” I slammed my fists on the table before I stood, facing him.
“This is not nearly close to what you’ll achieve. The fact that you think I’d fuck it up for you just shows how completely naive you are.”
I slapped him, hard, the sound slicing through the room the way his words sliced through me. My hand stung with the contact and my breath left me in uneven pants.
Shock registered on his face, but he hesitated only a second before cupping my nape and kissing me, bruising my lips with his. I fisted my hands at my sides. No. He wouldn’t wear me down. Not this time. I wouldn’t let him.
I went to war with myself, fighting how he made me feel as his lips crushed mine, owning me with every plunging kiss. You’re mine. I heard his voice in my head. A moan escaped me and I realized I was kissing him back, my body responding beyond my control. I trembled with all the love and hate I felt for this man. I hated myself for it. For wanting him the way I did.
He’d worn me down.
Barely out of the city, I sat in traffic heading south, filled with a rage that had me wanting to go eighty instead of ten, which is where the needle hovered over the speedometer. Hundreds of people were headed to the Cape this Friday afternoon, and while I wasn’t exactly in the mood for a family reunion with my newly discovered father, I wanted to be as far away from Blake as I could.
Somehow I’d found the strength to leave Blake in the boardroom. I offered a brief apology to Max but spared him the details, knowing Blake would bring him up to speed. Good riddance to both of them. They could carry on with their inane rivalry until they destroyed each other in a goddamn blaze of glory for all I cared, but I wasn’t about to go down with the ship.
Blake hadn’t given me any other professional options, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to reward him with our relationship. I loved him, madly and with a passion that I would likely never find again, but I wasn’t about to be a kept woman. The apartment, and now the business. He’d keep meddling until I was completely under his power, subject to his whims and wants. In the bedroom, I wanted that, I craved it. But in real life, we needed boundaries, and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t get him to accept them. My anger bubbled back to the surface and I slammed the steering wheel.
A couple hours later, the traffic finally broke. I wove through the traffic, switching lanes like a speed racer until the GPS directed me to an exit. Speeding was strangely therapeutic.
I drove the winding back roads toward my destination with a little more care, the shore dotted with mansion after sprawling mansion, each property taking advantage of the beautiful ocean view. Other than a short girls’ trip to the Vineyard with Alli, I had spent very little time on this prime stretch of the seaside in the eight years since I’d lived in New England.
I pulled into the driveway of a three-story monster of a home next to a Lexus SUV. This was it. I took a few deep breaths and loosened my grip on the steering wheel, trying to purge my anger at Blake from my system. Today was supposed to be a happy day. Maybe it wasn’t too late for that.
I got out and peeked over the fence that separated the driveway from the small yard and the beach below. The house was built on a steep cliff positioned well above its neighbors, offering an impressive view of the sea on three sides.
“Erica!” Daniel’s voice rang out from the back door.
He looked different. Casual in khakis and a linen shirt, he smiled when I approached.
“I’m glad you came.” He wrapped me in a friendly hug.
The gesture took me by surprise, but I welcomed it. “Me too,” I said. Muffled by his shoulder, I hugged him back tightly, wishing I didn’t feel so raw right now. If I wasn’t careful, I’d be crying at the drop of a hat. He wouldn’t think I was after his money, but he’d know I was a complete basket case.
“Come in, I want you to meet Margo.”
I nodded, and he took my bag and set it in the enclosed entryway. We entered an expansive great room where a dining room with weathered whitewashed furniture flowed into a living room with oversized couches covered in white canvas slip covers and faded blue throw pillows. Everything about the home screamed quintessential New England.
He led me into a large kitchen where a tall woman with dark auburn hair busied herself tossing a salad. “Erica, this is Margo.”
Margo removed her apron and came toward me with arms outstretched. She was a lithe figure, with freckles sprinkling her tanned skin. Heavy pearl studs hung from her ears, matching the simple string of pearls around her neck. She felt frail in my arms. When she stepped back, I was instantly grateful for my wardrobe choice.
“Aren’t you a vision? It’s wonderful to meet you, dear. Are you hungry?”
I hadn’t thought of eating all day. My nerves had gotten the best of me this morning, and since the meeting, eating had been the last thing on my mine. “I’m famished actually.”
“Give me a few more minutes and we’ll be ready to eat. Honey, you can put the fish on now.” She motioned Daniel to the refrigerator.
He nodded and retrieved a tray. “Want a beer?” he asked.
“Um, sure,” I said, though I’d be drunk in a flash unless I got something in my stomach soon. If I got to the bottom of this bottle, they’d know more about me than they probably wanted to. Daniel grabbed two bottles with his free hand and signaled me to follow him.
We stepped out onto the deck, and while he focused on the grill, I took in the scenery. I’d spent the entire trip fuming about Blake instead of thinking about things Daniel and I could talk about to get to know one another better. I really wanted him to know me, to want to know me.
I looked over the horizon and at the calm ocean before us. In the distance, a smattering of black blobs moved along the rocks at the foot of the cliff.
“What are those?” I asked.
Daniel looked up to where I pointed. “Seals. They hang out there all day. Loud beasts, they are. They’re the first thing we hear in the morning.”
I laughed a little at the thought of seals being a rooster of sorts in these parts. “You have a beautiful home.”
“Thank you. We love it here. It’s a great getaway.”
He closed the cover of the grill and joined me at the railing, which separated us from the steep drop off only a few feet away. A tiny collapsible ladder led from the edge of the property down to the beach. The cliffs were beautiful but dangerous, especially if anyone were to get stuck on the beach during high tide.