* * *
Blake drove us across the island, out of one neighborhood into the next until we sped past a barren landscape where the houses were sparse. I gripped the seat, certain we’d be pulled over at any moment, which would be the perfect finish to this unbelievable day. Then again, the island probably only had a handful of cops, and we seemed to be getting farther away from civilization, if that were even possible.
We pulled up to a large single family home, distinguishable from any of the other cedar-shingled homes only by its sheer size and that it appeared to be the last home on this point of the island. We stepped onto the wraparound porch, and instead of taking us inside, Blake led me around and down to the beach. We passed through the dunes to where two whitewashed Adirondack chairs were perched on the sandy beach facing the soft waves of the ocean.
I kicked off my shoes and sat in one of them. After a mostly sleepless night and everything that had gone down today, I could barely hold myself up. Blake pulled out a bottle of chilled white wine from a bucket of ice nestled in the sand.
“How do you plan these things, Blake, honestly?”
He smirked. “Don’t think I’m telling you all my secrets tonight.”
“I could make you,” I threatened. I had an increasingly keen sense of his weaknesses lately.
His eyes darkened. “That’s a tempting thought,” he said, missing the glass he was pouring into.
He corrected his aim and handed me the glass. I took a welcome taste of the cool, fruity liquid.
“Don’t be so sure. I’m still angry with you. Like, super, extremely angry.”
“The proverbial doghouse?”
“The literal doghouse, and that doesn’t even begin to capture how much making up you have to do.”
“I like making up. Where shall I start?”
He settled at my feet, tracing tiny circles over my knee and up my thigh, pressing warm, soft kisses in their wake. I tried in vain to suppress the physical reaction that his touch elicited.
“You can’t fix this with sex,” I said, and damn it, I meant it.
“No? Tell me then. How can I fix this?” He kept up his feather-light touches.
“I honestly don’t know. I thought you had a plan for that when I agreed to come out here with you.” I wasn’t going to make this easy for him. I was beyond drained, but I had just enough fire left to make this point.
He slowed his caresses and settled back on his knees. “I love you, Erica.”
Shit, I thought. He had to lead with that? I swallowed back tears. “That doesn’t change what you did to me today.”
“I know it probably doesn’t mean much, but I didn’t want to. You didn’t leave me many options.”
“Well that’s not enough of a reason,” I said, staring past him.
“Taking on investors is like getting into bed with someone, Erica. It doesn’t always work, and to be honest, you’re not really the type for this kind of partnership. I completely understand how you feel about the business. One of the reasons why I didn’t bid right away is because you’re strong-willed as hell. I knew working with you wouldn’t be easy, and you’d fight me every step of the way. I didn’t fully appreciate the consequences of you working with Max until recently, and I couldn’t bear losing you to him.”
“He doesn’t want me that way,” I insisted, only half believing it. Max, like so many others, didn’t entirely respect my personal space but he hadn’t made any overt comments leading me to believe that he wanted me sexually. Even if he did, I could hold my own.
“He does, trust me. Whether or not you want to believe it, he’d stop at nothing to have you if it meant getting back at me. After seeing what you went through with Isaac, I couldn’t take that risk again.”
I shook my head. Isaac had caught me off guard, but if Blake had given me a minute longer, I could have gotten him to back off without help.
“I can’t say exactly how or when Max would make his play, but I can promise you he would. He’d make you do things you’d never do just to keep the business, knowing how much it meant to you, knowing how much you mean to me.”
“How can you know that?”
“Jesus, Erica, I’d walk through fire to make sure you were safe. Can you just believe me, that I could see this coming, that I wouldn’t let anything happen to you?”
I closed my eyes. The waves crashed on the beach, and a soft breeze blew over us. I sensed Blake, his magnetic pull willing me closer to him. He was the only man I’d ever loved, and here he was, professing his love for me, promising to protect me from harm, almost too chivalric to be taken seriously, but when I opened my eyes and looked into his, there was no doubt about his intentions.
Everything had become too much. My eyes misted, but I refused to surrender. I wrapped my arms across my chest, holding myself together.
“You’re killing me, Blake.”
“Do you know how many women have pitched me in that boardroom?” he asked.
The word lingered in the air, an unbelievable truth that pronounced how perilous my position in this industry could be. If that was true, coming this far was nothing short of a miracle. It also explained why their receptionist looked at me like I had three heads every time I showed up for a meeting.
“Wow.” I shook my head.
“Max and I both wanted you that day, for different reasons. I wasn’t about to let you go without a fight.”
Even with the risks that came with working with Blake, my business was probably safer than it had ever been. Now we just had to figure out how to work together without driving each other completely crazy.
“So now what?” I said, hoping he had some insights.
“Whatever you want, as long as it doesn’t involve Max. Or Isaac.”
“So we’re partners.”
“I’m in charge, Blake. You start telling me how to run my business, and we’re finished.” I meant it. I wouldn’t relent on this point, and fortunately he wasn’t in much of a position to argue since he had funded the project with no legal claim to it.
He rose on his knees and took my glass from me, sinking his and mine into the sand beside us. “You’re the boss, baby.”
He tugged me down on the chair, bunching up my dress and pressing hot kisses up my inner thigh. He removed my panties with expert ease and covered my pussy with his mouth.
“Oh, God.” I gripped the chair at the sensation.