Once finished, I prepared two plates, and Blake carried them into the dining area. We sat at the distressed wood farmhouse table, a beautiful and expensive piece of furniture. Admittedly, I was beginning to get used to the finer things when in Blake’s presence.

We dove in and were silent for a few moments.

“I approve.” He nodded and twisted some more pasta onto his fork.

“Thanks. The good news is that the leftovers will be even better.”

“How can leftovers be better than this?”

“The pasta absorbs all the clam juice. It’s divine.”

He moaned an affirmative as he finished another mouthful.

I smiled, content and maybe a little empowered.

“Are you all set for your meeting with Max?” he asked. His plate was already clear while I had barely made a dent in mine.

“Not entirely. I’ve been running around with the move and tying up loose ends. I plan to work through the details this week though.”

“He’ll want to know more about your conversion statistics.”

“Okay.” I nodded, making a mental note to try to flesh that out more.

“And you’ll need a specific breakdown of your expenses now, and what you expect them to be after funding. With Alli out of the picture and your personal expenses changing, you need to start thinking about what the financial landscape will look like if you get funding.”

“Okay, thanks.”

“Do you have any stats on your marketing efforts? What’s working, what’s not?”

“Um, a little bit.” I said. “I have analytics, but I haven’t really crunched those numbers in a while.”

“What are you doing tomorrow?”

“Sounds like I’ll be doing my homework.”

“Why don’t you stop by my office for a bit, and I can help you break down some of this. You’ll get funding faster if you can answer all of these questions right off the bat. Otherwise it’ll just lead to more meetings. There are only a few questions you need to answer to get a deal, but you need to know every angle of the answer.”

If anyone could nurse me through this process, Blake could. Turning him down would be rude, not to mention downright foolish. Still, I was dubious about further involving him in my affairs, not that he’d given me much choice.

“Is that a conflict of interest?” I asked, trying to think of any legitimate reason refuse his help. I hated that I needed him right now.

“No, Erica. I already told you, I’m not investing in your project.”

“I appreciate the offer, Blake. I really do, but I don’t want to put you out.”

“You won’t. My office is right across from the clock tower.” He pulled his card out of his wallet. “Meet me there after lunch and we can go over figures.” He picked up his empty plate and headed into the kitchen.

“When’s the last time you ate?” I asked when he returned with another heaping plate and a frosty bottle of a local microbrew.

“I’m a sucker for a home cooked meal.” He grinned and took a swig from the bottle. “What’s on the menu for tomorrow night? Let me know and I’ll stock the kitchen.”

I rolled my eyes. “I didn’t realize I’d need to subsidize my rent with cooking services.”

“I think I’d be content to let you live here rent free if you fed me like this every night.”

“Tempting,” I teased, though I would never consider it. Blake had obviously taken extreme measures to position me here in his building, available at his leisure so it would seem. Sweetening the deal with gourmet cooking was probably counter-intuitive. Perhaps I could stave him off with food in lieu of sex though. Could be a good plan, though I had an even better one.


We cleaned up from dinner and settled next to each other on the couch facing out the bay windows, much the same way we had in Vegas. Committed to a very different outcome for the evening, I was not so subtle when I shimmied away a few inches, making his physical proximity slightly more bearable.

“Where did you learn to cook like that?” Blake asked.

I paused before answering to carefully consider how much of my personal life I really wished to share. Talking about my mother invariably introduced the mystery of my father, a difficult concept for people to grasp. The fact that I didn’t know my father’s identity elicited a range of reactions from others, from shock to judgment to pity. Despite my misgivings about bearing all to Blake, dodging his questions would only delay the truth. No doubt he would pester and pry it out of me, bit by bit.

“My mother was a phenomenal cook. She taught me everything I know about food.”

“Was?” he said gently.

“She passed away when I was twelve.” I swallowed against the twinge of sadness that surfaced every time I spoke of her. “She started getting sick, and by the time they found out what it was, the cancer had spread aggressively. She was gone a few months later.”

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“Thank you.” Saddened by the memory, I picked at the rip in my jeans. “So much time has passed, I have a hard time remembering everything about her. I feel like food is one of the ways I can keep her memory alive. That sounds strange, doesn’t it?”

“I don’t think so.” He turned toward me and took my free hand. “So your father raised you?”

He drew slow circles into the back of my hand, simultaneously distracting and calming me.

“My stepfather did for about a year. When I was thirteen, I came east for boarding school. I spent one summer back in Chicago, and the rest with my mother’s best friend, Marie, who lives just outside the city. I’ve pretty much been on my own since then though.”

“That’s a long time to be on your own.”

“That’s true, but I don’t really have anything else to compare it to. It is what it is, I suppose.”

“You must miss them.”

I hardly knew what it was like to have a father, but I’m sure I would have enjoyed having one under the right circumstances.

“I miss my mother every day,” I said. “But this is my life and everything that has made me who I am, so I can’t dwell on what might have been.”

I’d always be out of step with most people my age who’d been given many more chances to get it right, whose parents were there to scoop them up when they faltered and to point them in the right direction when indecisions were met.

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