“They offered incentives. Money. T.V. interviews. Stuff like that.” I tossed the flyer in the nearby garbage can. “Not that it worked. My mother and I just want to be left in peace. You say you’re not a bad guy, Linton. Prove it. Leave us alone so we can keep that peace in our lives.”
“Does Blake Mercier bring peace into your life?” It was a taunt.
Little fucker. “Now you’re just boring me.”
“Interesting that you would be attracted to a man like him,” Linton went on as I carefully opened the driver’s door, trying not to bang it into the Chevy. “Blake Mercier has a lot of personal power,” said Linton. “Lives life by his own rules. Quite the heartbreaker, too, from what I’ve heard. I know women are often drawn to emotionally unavailable men—they want to be the one to fix them. Much like your mother wants to fix Michael Bale, a man who is the definition of emotionally unavailable. The thing is, Kensey, I believe she may have done it, and I believe you helped her with that. If I could just talk to you both—”
“No. Let it go, Linton. Let it go.” Finally in my car, I switched on the engine and, not sparing Linton another glance, I drove out of the lot.
He was right that Clear wanted to fix Michael—he might even be right that she had in some ways succeeded. What was it Michael had once said to me?
“We all have a devil inside, my Kensey. You can force it into a corner, but you got to learn to live with it. It’s the only way you’ll be able to live with yourself. You’ve got to look it right in the eye and face it. Battle it. Find that inner light.” For a moment, he’d looked so unbelievably sad. “I never had an inner light, angel. Not until you and your mom came along. Without you two, my world would be a dark place once again.”
Of course, it had to be noted that Michael was very clever with words. Manipulating people was a specialty of his. He could have a long conversation with you during which you had his undivided attention. He was good at making you feel special and interesting. It wouldn’t be until later that you realized he’d replied to your questions without truly answering them. He knew how to steer a conversation and keep the subject firmly on the person he was conversing with … a little like Blake, actually.
While Linton was probably right about Clear, he was wrong about me. I wasn’t attracted to Blake because he was emotionally unavailable. I wasn’t looking to fix anyone. Wasn’t arrogant enough to believe that I could—if I did have that kind of power, Clear would be the epitome of normal by now. I was attracted to Blake for a variety of reasons. He was a smart, confident, incredibly masculine specimen wrapped up in a very pretty package. There was something flattering about catching the interest of a guy like that.
It was a shame that he was also so unbelievably evasive that he made me seem like an open book. I didn’t mind that we didn’t engage in small talk—I didn’t like shallow conversation any more than he did. But, despite having known each other for months, none of our conversations were ever remotely deep or lengthy. He still often brushed off my questions with ease or responded with a minimal amount of details—details he seemed to begrudgingly divulge. He’d usually then slam up a wall and change the subject so fast that it could give a girl mental whiplash. I always walked away feeling that I didn’t know him any better than I had before.
He wasn’t just emotionally unavailable, he was … unreachable. He was a man who didn’t want to be known. A man who prioritized time alone. A man apart.
A man with demons.
And yet, I hadn’t walked away. I was willfully ignoring those demons, concentrating on the rest of what I saw in him. So maybe I was a lot more like my mother than I’d thought.
I spent the next evening slogging my ass off on my book. Despite how mentally drained I was thanks to Ricky fucking Tate, my efforts paid off. Finally, the second draft was complete, which meant I could now move onto my third and final draft. After that would come the long, boring proofing stage, which I wasn’t looking forward to.
Ordinarily, I’d give myself a two-week break before moving from one draft to another, but I hadn’t been able to work at my usual pace and I was behind schedule. As such, I’d had to throw myself straight into the third draft.
I was on chapter four when Sarah turned up at my apartment, wanting to update me on life with Bastien. Unlike Blake, he considered himself to be an official Dom. They’d agreed to an arrangement of their own, but it didn’t involve keeping their outside worlds separate. They often met on weekdays at swank restaurants for dinner. Afterwards, they went to his place to ‘play.’ They also often exchanged texts, and he called her daily.
Honestly, I felt a twinge of envy—one that unnerved me—but I hid it. Sarah seemed to be genuinely excited about Bastien, and I was happy for her.
Sitting on the breakfast stool, she told me about their ‘sessions’ in explicit detail as I pottered around the kitchen after we’d eaten. “Really, it’s all been pretty tame,” she then said. “He wants to ease me into what he likes and see if it’s something I’ll enjoy. I’m not yet sure if I will, but I’ve certainly enjoyed what I’ve so far experienced.”
I smiled. “Yeah, I can tell.”
Propping her elbow up on the breakfast bar, Sarah rested her chin on her hand. “So, how are things with Blake?”
I shrugged, wiping down the counter. “If he wants to get together this weekend, I’ll probably hear from him tomorrow.”
“Has he mentioned it at all this week?”
“It’s not like with you and Bastien. Blake doesn’t text or call to check in.”
Sarah’s smile slipped away. “He doesn’t contact you for any reason other than to ask you to meet him at the Vault?”
“Nope.” Feeling the beginnings of a headache, I rubbed at my brow. “Which, in some ways, does make me feel like a booty call. But when I’m with him … well, then it’s different.” We didn’t just fuck. We laughed. We had fun. He gave me his undivided attention. At no point did I ever feel like a booty call.
Sarah’s lips pressed into a tight line. “He likes you a lot, Kensey. He really does. But some people … they just don’t have much to give, you know?”
“I know.” Grabbing the letters that I’d stacked on the end of the counter, I said, “Let’s talk about something else.”
“Okay, I’ll tell you about how I found my neighbor naked on the floor outside his apartment.” Sarah’s eyes twinkled. “Someone had scrawled on his back in black marker, ‘I am a twat.’”
“Really?” I asked with a smile as I tore open an envelope.
“Oh, yeah. He …”
The rest of Sarah’s words were lost. Her voice faded into the background. Because all I could focus on were the photographs that slipped out of the envelope onto the counter.
A hand rested on my arm, and I saw that Sarah was leaning forward, the image of concern. “What is it?” she asked.
“Pictures?” She took one and twisted it to face her. “Oh, these pictures are of the carnival. I wanted to go and … Hey, that’s Blake.”
“Yeah.” I put a hand to my churning stomach.
Sarah’s brow furrowed. “Who would send you pictures of Blake? And why?”