“If you find prints, I want to know about it.”
Tucking the letters back in his pocket, Joshua rose. “I’ll contact you if there’s anything to pass on.”
Standing, Blake followed him to the door. “Oh, one more thing.” The moment Joshua turned, Blake slammed his fist into his jaw. Joshua staggered backwards with a grunt of pain and then cursed under his breath. “That’s for grabbing my woman by the throat and trying to shove her against a wall,” said Blake. “If it weren’t for how cooperative you’re being, that would have been a fuck of a lot worse.”
Rubbing his jaw, Joshua gave a curt nod and then left.
I turned off the camera feed on Blake’s phone and waited in silence for him to come for me. I didn’t have to wait more than a minute. He gestured at Greg to leave the room. Casting me a brief, sympathetic smile, Greg walked out and left us alone.
I looked up at Blake and said, “Well, that was … Fuck.” I weakly flapped my arms, at a loss for what to say. What to think.
Blake squatted in front of me. “It sounds to me as if someone is using Ricky. Why, I don’t know.”
“How would they know if I was a bad person or not? How would they know my fears and hopes and secrets?”
“Either it’s someone who knows you or someone who thinks they know you because they’ve studied you. Either way, I’m thinking you’ve had two people messing with you all this time.”
“But the person who called me that night in the basement admitted to everything.”
“Everything? Think back. From what I remember, you said the caller admitted that he was in your apartment and videoed you in the shower. He even referred to the pictures you received of me. Did he mention the story?”
I shoved a hand through my hair. “No, I mentioned the story, but he never responded.”
“And he said he didn’t want you dead, right? But you think that Smith, the author of that story, does.”
I narrowed my eyes. “You’re thinking one of them wrote the story and the other did the rest?”
“Most of the rest, yes.” He rubbed my thighs. “When your old apartment and car was trashed, I figured Smith was lashing out because he couldn’t reach you, but I was surprised by the amount of damage. Until then, he’d been very controlled. Careful. Operated under the radar of the authorities. If Ricky’s off his meds, the one thing he won’t be is controlled. I think he did all that damage. I think he’s Smith and he wrote the story not just to scare you, but because he’s spent a long time fantasizing about your death. And I wouldn’t be shocked to find out that he was also the guy who held you at knifepoint but just didn’t have the balls to follow through with what he wanted to do.”
I took a shaky breath. “Okay, let’s say you’re right and someone manipulated him into coming after me. Why would they do that if they don’t want me dead?”
“I don’t think they wanted Ricky to come after you. I think he’s serving some other purpose to them. I read the letters he wrote to Ricky. He was adamant that no harm needed to come to you; that you were no obstacle for Ricky.”
“Yeah, but ‘Friend’ also said he’d ‘take care’ of me.”
“Maybe he meant it literally. Think about it, baby. Think of the things he’s done—watching you, warning you away from me, wanting you to know he can get close to you. Maybe, in his own twisted way, he thinks he’s looking after you. Maybe he sees himself as some sort of protector. I don’t know why he’d involve Ricky, since it doesn’t strike me that he’d be at all useful. It could be that he just wanted to use Ricky as a scapegoat. But it could be that something bigger is going on and we just can’t see what it is yet.”
With a groan, I let my head flop forward. “I’m so tired of going backwards and forwards in my head, trying to figure out what’s going on.”
Gripping my chin between his thumb and forefinger, Blake lifted my face to his. “Why didn’t you tell me that Joshua once grabbed you?”
“I forgot all about it, to be honest. He’s not someone I like to think about. I don’t think about anyone in his family, if I can help it.”
Blake pursed his lips. “You thought Maxwell refused to acknowledge you as his kid just to be cruel. But if he hadn’t believed he could father a child, he might well have been convinced that you weren’t his until after you were born. We can’t know for sure that it’s true, but I don’t see why Joshua would lie about it.”
“Doesn’t matter now, does it? Maxwell’s dead.” And I really didn’t want to think on any of it right then.
No doubt sensing that, since he read me so well, Blake gave my neck a gentle, supportive squeeze and then pulled me to my feet. “There’s something you need to consider. Just because Joshua found those letters doesn’t mean he didn’t write them.”
“If it was him who wrote them, surely he wouldn’t have showed them to you.”
“He knows I consider him a suspect. Maybe he thought that showing me the letters he’d allegedly found would make me think the blame lay with someone else. He could have gone to Ricky’s house to get them, covering his ass.” At my frown, Blake added, “He said Eloise told him the truth on her deathbed a year ago. What has Joshua always done to you without fail?”
“Took out his anger on me.”
Blake nodded. “Who wouldn’t be angry to hear they’d been lied to all their life? To hear that their father wasn’t their real father? He’s always blamed you and your mother for everything that went wrong in his parents’ relationship. Then he finds out from Eloise that those problems had already been there—Clear had simply got caught up in their mess; she was a victim. And you, the person he’s looked down on and despised all his life, actually has more of a claim to his father than he does.”
“Biologically, maybe. But Maxwell was never my father.”
“He wanted to be.”
“He didn’t want it bad enough, though, did he?” If he had, he’d have told his mother and wife to go fuck themselves. Okay, sure, it probably wasn’t that simple, but I didn’t feel in the mood to be understanding.
Blake brushed my hair away from my face. “Some people just aren’t strong, baby. They cower to people like Eloise partly because they’re cowards and partly because it’s actually comfortable to have someone else make their decisions for them; they’re too weak and co-dependent to stand up and be counted or run their own lives. They need the approval and praise of others and seek out people like your mother, who are easy to manipulate into worshipping them.”
Well, Maxwell had certainly succeeded with Clear. She’d once thought he was her soul mate, if there was such a thing. “Like I said, it doesn’t matter now. He’s dead.” I slipped my arms around Blake’s waist. “I don’t know whether to tell Clear. It would matter to her, but it would also shake everything she believes. It’s never a good thing when her world is rocked.”
Blake pursed his lips. “Hearing this wouldn’t help her. She’d be angry at Maxwell and Eloise, and she’d want closure. But they’re dead, so she’d have to live without it. Take some time to think about it. If you decide you need to tell her, maybe you could do it at a later date, when she isn’t preoccupied with worry for you.”