Page 42 of Shiver

“I don’t know. I’d sure like to know who that is.” I slid a photo toward her—one that clearly showed Blake and a tall blonde. His hand was cupping her elbow as they strode toward a café. The date and time had been printed on the top right corner of each photo. “That carnival took place during the two-week period that I didn’t hear anything from him.”

Sarah bit her lip. “That doesn’t have to mean that there’s anything going on between him and the blonde.”

“He told me he was in Chicago that weekend.”

Her mouth opened. “Oh.”

Yeah, oh. “He told me he left for a long-ass business trip on the Friday, but there he is in Redwater on the Saturday.” Not all the photos were of the carnival. Some were taken of him at a coffeehouse and standing on a sidewalk—again, he was with the blonde.

Other photos were snapped of him at an art gallery, where a black-tie event appeared to have taken place. And if the date on those photos was right, the event was held on the Saturday night that Sara and I went to the Vault together because he’d supposedly had “business to sort out.” Now, okay, maybe said business needed to be addressed during the event. But considering he had a gorgeous redhead on his arm and he’d lied about the Chicago trip, I wasn’t inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

“Maybe this is why Ricky hasn’t been so active lately,” Sarah said. “It wasn’t because you upped your security. He wasn’t trying to make you relax. He’s been spending a lot of his time watching Blake. But why would Ricky do that?”

“I don’t know. Maybe he doesn’t like Blake being around.” Especially since Ricky couldn’t watch me whenever I was at the Vault—not unless he could gain entrance to the basement, anyway.

Sarah nodded. “Stalkers like to isolate their victims.”

I sighed. “I don’t have a—”

“And Ricky will want all your attention, right? He won’t want to share it, so it makes sense that he’d want Blake gone. Ricky obviously thinks you’re dating Blake, so he sent these photographs to make you doubt him.”

Well, it had worked a treat. “We’re not in a relationship, but Blake said he wanted exclusivity.”

“It might not be what it seems like.” But she didn’t sound convinced of that.

“Either way, he lied to me. I never asked where he was that weekend that he was supposed to have called me. He volunteered that Chicago lie. And look at him with that redhead.” She was smiling up at him like he hung the moon. He wasn’t returning her smile, but there was a warmth in his eyes that made me feel sick.

“There’s something familiar about her. I could swear she’s been to the bar.” Sarah held up a finger. “Wait, yes, yes, she went there a few weeks back. Ordered a latte and sat in the corner, talking on a phone that had a silver diamante cover. You don’t remember her?”

“Was that a trick question?” My memory was terrible.

“She stared at you a couple of times. I thought maybe she was gay or had made the connection between you and Michael Bale. What if she heard that you have Blake’s attention and she came to check you out?”

“But how would she hear that?”

“I don’t know. I could ask Bastien about it,” Sarah offered.

“No, I don’t want to pull you and Bastien into this.”

She studied one of the pictures closely. “Is it just me, or does it look like he has a whopper of a bruise on his jaw?”

“Apparently, he does Krav Maga with his PT.”

“Ah, well, that explains it. My neighbor did Krav Maga for years. She’d come home with all kinds of injuries.”

I flipped to the latter few photos. They showed Blake walking to his car—such an everyday, inane thing … except that he was holding the hand of a boy who looked about five or six. A sharp pain lanced through my chest.

Sarah saw them and swore. “What are you going to do?”

“The smart thing. End it. Not just because he lied, but because he now has Ricky’s attention. I didn’t want that to happen.” And because Blake’s betrayal hurt on a level that told me I was in way too deep. We weren’t in a relationship. There was so much I didn’t know about him. But my gut twisted painfully, and there was a dull ache in my chest. “And if this little boy is his kid, Blake really needs to get out of the picture for his sake.”

“Let’s not be hasty, Kensey. We don’t know for sure that Ricky sent these.”

“Who else would do it?”

“Maybe it was someone trying to cause trouble, like Libby or Laurel. Stepmother or not, she’s got a thing for Blake. Bastien said she’s been trying to get in Blake’s pants since he was a teen. Apparently, she used to offer him drugs back then too. I’m guessing she was hoping to make him dependent on her or something.”

It occurred to me that, since Bastien was so chatty and Blake was so closed off, Sarah was likely to learn more about Blake through Bastien than I ever would through Blake himself. And how sad was that?

Just as I wouldn’t expect him to bare his soul, I also wouldn’t expect him to tell me about his children, if there were any—that was personal. I just wanted to know him, and he didn’t seem interested in letting that happen.

Sure, I could be vague on occasion. Sometimes I answered his questions honestly. If they were too invasive, I’d simply state that it wasn’t something I was comfortable sharing. I never told him bullshit stories.

Sarah squeezed my hand. “Some guys keep secrets about their female friends because they have this dumb notion that women are such jealous, insecure creatures that we can’t handle it. They hide things that they think we won’t like, as if keeping us in the dark is best all round. Really, it’s just them not wanting to be held accountable, but they stupidly do it. That could be all this is. Just because he’s with those women doesn’t follow that he cheated on you, Kensey. One could be the kid’s mom. An ex. The other … well, she could just be a friend or something.” Sarah shrugged weakly.

Shoving the photos back into the envelope, I slapped it on the counter. “I don’t know who I’m more pissed at. Blake, Ricky, or me.”

“Why would you be pissed at yourself? That’s just dumb.”

“You remember Gage, right?”

“Your most recent ex? The tattooist who’s also in a band?”

“Yes. What did I do when I found out he’d cheated on me?”

“You rolled your eyes, grumbled that the guy needed a kick to the balls, and then dumped him by phone. The latter was cold, but he deserved it. And you didn’t care enough to confront him.”

I nodded. “I was with him for four months. He was a nice guy right up until the end. But the only thing that was hurt was my pride.” I jabbed a finger at the envelope. “But this … This hurts. You know, I have to ask myself if what initially set off my alarms about Blake was that a subconscious part of me knew he had the ability to get under my skin—I never thought I’d use that expression, but that’s how it feels.”

“If it makes you feel any better, I think you’re under his skin. I just don’t think he knows it. Or maybe he does and that’s why he holds you at such a distance. The women in those photos … I don’t know who they are, but he’s not looking at them the way he looks at you. Like he’s fascinated, hungry, and charmed all at the same time.”

Tags: Suzanne Wright Romance