of the vision of her dead, triggered by the memories of his father. Blake let out a self-derogatory grunt.

So who was letting their past control them now?

“So what exactly did you say?” Nikki said.

“I told her to start thinking rationally—”

“Holy guacamole, Blake,” Nikki squeaked out. “I can’t believe you told a hormonal lady in her first trimester to start thinking rationally. And this isn’t the eighteenth century. People don’t have to get married just because they’re having a baby together. And for heaven’s sake, she isn’t some witness you can instruct to stick to the facts. She’s a woman,” Nikki continued, making Blake feel lower than ever before. “A pregnant woman—with all the rights to temporary insanity that go along with the condition. Going all authoritative on her was the absolute wrong thing to do.” The look of regret on his face must have been profound, because her face grew sympathetic. “Do you love her?”

Love.

Blake closed his eyes. If he hadn’t met Jax, he would be with Sara. And if he’d been dating Sara, right now she’d be trying to convince him to take the promotion. She would have methodically laid out her argument, ultimately concluding he’d be a fool to pass on the opportunity. And eventually he would have agreed and accepted the job that took him away from the excitement of the courtroom, continuing on a path that he now realized had been a noose around his neck since he’d started, slowly tightening over time. Choking him. And making him miserable.

But Jax had dared him to follow his heart.

Jax had set him free....

Blake dropped his elbows to his knees and his head into his hands, staring down at the immaculately polished floor. “Yes,” he said. “I love her.”

The realization had been lingering at the edges of his consciousness for days, taunting him. Admitting the truth out loud only made the misery worse. “And I blew it, big-time.”

Nikki’s hand on his back was gentle, and she rubbed soothing circles between his shoulder blades. “I’m sure this is fixable,” she said with an overly bright tone, as if forcing the optimism. “You were just doing what comes naturally, taking care of the ones you love.” The statement eased the tightness in his chest a bit, and he looked at his sister as she went on. “In your own annoyingly overbearing way, of course.” She shot him a small smile. “Even the mighty Blake Bennington is allowed to make mistakes.”

Mistakes. Like the one he’d made that had cost them their dad’s life. The one that had left his sister fatherless at the age of twelve. Guilt compressed his chest with a painful squeeze.

Her voice turned sober and sincere. “Speaking of mistakes,” she said, “after my accident, I should have thanked you for coming to get me from the hospital.”

He attempted a light tone, but he wasn’t convinced he pulled off the nonchalant manner. “It was no big deal.”

“That’s not true,” she said. “It was a very big deal. Even though you drive me crazy, you’ve always been there for me. And you know how Mom is....” Her voice tailed off.

Blake studied his sister’s face, her expression torn. Instead of finishing her sentence, she finished with a small shrug.

“Yeah,” he said gruffly. “I know how Mom is.”

Abigail Bennington was full of life and totally lovable, but never dependable. And the one thing a child needed was dependability. He’d done his damndest to make sure he’d provided that for Nikki. But it only seemed fair, since he was the reason she was without a father.

His lungs briefly shut down, making breathing impossible. Despite their differences, Jax was right about him needing to be straight with Nikki.

His sister cleared her throat. “Anyway,” she went on, patting his back again, “I could always count on you to bail me out.”

The guilt dug deeper, until there was no escape. He had to confess the truth that was eating at him, because he didn’t deserve her reassuring pat on the back.

“It’s my fault that Dad died,” he said.

Nikki’s hand on his back stalled as she returned his gaze for a moment, and Blake forgot to exhale. If she was angry at him for robbing her of her father at such a young age—and rightly so—would she ever be able to forgive him?

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