“Stay away from me.” My voice was small, betraying the fear that threatened to take me over. I was a puddle of fucking anxiety, not the fierce intimidating woman I needed to be to scare him off.
“Or what?” He came close enough for me to feel his breath. “This is perfect, really. I’ve always wanted a sister.”
He ran a finger from my knee to the hem of my dress lifting it a fraction. Every cell in my body came alive and adrenaline coursed through me like a lightning bolt. God help me, I wouldn’t be his victim again. I pushed him off with every ounce of my strength, shoving him into the opposite wall of the hallway.
“If you ever touch me again, you can swear off children. Believe me.”
An amused grin appeared on his face. I hurried to the dining room, no less flustered than when I’d left. This is the part where Daniel will think I’m a basket case.
“Erica, are you sure you’re okay?” Daniel asked.
“I’m sorry, I haven’t eaten all day. I’m not feeling so well.”
“Oh no, sweetheart, please eat!” Margo assembled a plate for me with all of the wonderful things I’d smelled earlier.
Mark joined us, sitting across from me with the same smug smile on his face, looking undeterred. I stabbed some lettuce with my fork and forced the food into my mouth. My body was in panic mode, my appetite completely gone now.
“Mark, Erica runs her own Internet company. Isn’t that impressive?” Daniel said.
He regurgitated the details from our earlier conversation for Margo and Mark’s benefit, though I cringed knowing that he was simultaneously revealing critical details that Mark might use to reach out to me again. With his identity revealed, my own anonymity—the only thing that had kept me safe from him—was gone.
“And what do you do, Mark?” I asked. Two could play this game, though I couldn’t imagine wanting to seek him out for anything other than putting a hit on him.
“I work at the firm with Daniel.”
“Of course,” I said, smiling politely. How lucky for him, to rape and pillage his college years away and subsequently walk into a prime position at one of the largest firms in the city. Somehow I hated him more than I already did.
“What part of the city do you live in?” he asked.
I stared at my plate, popping a bite of lightly seasoned haddock in my mouth while I weighed a sampling of false answers I could give him.
Just then the doorbell rang, chiming through the house. I startled at the sound, nearly falling out of my chair.
“I’ll get it, darling,” Margo said as Daniel moved to get up. She rose with economical grace and disappeared into the entryway that shielded my view of the door.
“You two should get together sometime,” Daniel suggested.
I fought the urge to roll my eyes. He was quick to divert my attention to Mark, I thought. He would be a good politician. Did he think I came here to strike up a friendship with his stepson? I kept filling my mouth to keep words from spilling out and silently planned my escape. They’d want me to stay longer, I suspected, but I needed to get back home.
Home. Yes, I finally had a home, and there was no place I’d rather be.
I closed my eyes against a vision of Blake. I’d give anything to be with Blake now, but I couldn’t go running to him every time I felt vulnerable. Maybe I could stay with Marie.
“Erica—” Margo’s sing-songy voice floated through the air. “You have a guest. He’s at the door waiting for you.”
My head shot up. Only one person could find me here. I rose. Blake stood in the doorway, looking casual and perfect as usual.
“Blake.” I tried to conjure the anger I’d felt earlier. All I could feel was relief, gratitude, love. I fought the urge to run into his arms and let him take me away from this horrible situation.
He stepped into the house and pulled me into his arms, holding me so tight it was almost painful. I buried my face in his neck, breathing him in. My body relaxed. Everything would be all right now that he was here.
“Is he here?” He cupped my face and searched my eyes.
“Yes. Wait, how did you know?”
“Forget about that, let’s get you out of here.” He grabbed my hand and turned to leave.
“No, I can’t.” I pulled him back, keeping his hand tight in my own.
“Erica, I’m getting you away from here. We’re leaving now.”
“Wait, I just need to say goodbye. To Daniel.”
“He’s my father, Blake. We’re trying to get to know each other. I don’t want to throw this all away.” We’d never have anything close to a normal father-daughter connection, but I’d only just found him. I couldn’t lose him again now, so soon.
“Fine,” he relented. “Introduce us and we’ll leave.”
“Be good,” I ordered, before guiding him into the main room where the family of three waited for our return.
As soon as we entered, his gaze darted to Mark. His posture changed and the tension seemed to radiate off of him. I tightened my hold on his hand slightly, reminding him not to go postal.
“Daniel, Margo, Mark... This is Blake.” I tucked my hair nervously. How ironic that I was introducing my lover to my only living parent days after our first meeting, and I still felt an inkling of anticipation hoping Daniel would approve. He’d seemed to take pride in my achievements earlier. Certainly he’d approve of Blake.
“Blake Landon. You’re with Angelcom, correct?” Daniel rose and shook Blake’s hand.
“Correct. I believe you negotiate many of our term sheets for us.” Blake said.
“Right. It’s a small world, isn’t it?” He paused, his gaze traveling between us and then down at Blake’s fingers interlaced with mine. His face froze and he looked back to me, as if a terrible thought had gripped him in that moment.
He knew that Blake knew. I could read his face like a book. Our embarrassing little secret was spreading in circles he wasn’t anticipating.
Margo jumped up and gave Blake an air kiss on the cheek. “Blake, let me go get you a plate. Please, sit down and join us.”
“Actually, there’s a situation that came up with the deal we’ve been working on. Unfortunately, it’s imperative that I head back so we can resolve it. But thank you so much for your hospitality.”
“Oh.” Margo pouted a little. I could tell she was looking forward to getting to know Blake.