“It’s not usually that bad.” Months had passed since I’d had that same nightmare. Being in close contact with Mark had made the memory new again, the wound fresh. I shivered at the thought of it, toying with the food on my plate. My appetite had disappeared, replaced by a knot in my stomach created by the truth in Blake’s words. I would need to wrap my head around the fear Mark had planted, and I hadn’t quite figured out how I was going to handle that yet. But I was pretty sure that employing a full-time bodyguard wasn’t the way to go.
“If we do this, he wins. Can you at least try to understand that?”
“I think he wins if he figures out a way to get you alone again. Tell me that isn’t something that worries you.”
I winced at the thought. “I was an easy target before. Christ, I was almost unconscious. He’s just trying to scare me now, and I’m sure that’s what he’s getting off on. Between you and Daniel, I don’t see how he could realistically come after me.” All rational reasonable thoughts, but I barely believed them.
“Well I’m going to make sure he doesn’t.”
His jaw tightened and bulged. Determination was written all over his face. I hadn’t seen that look since he imploded my business deal with Max.
“What do you have in mind?”
“You should stay home today, Erica. It was a long night. You need to rest.” His mouth was set in a tight line.
I waited for him to look at me, but he made quick work of cleaning up the mess in the kitchen.
“Stop changing the subject.”
“I’m not. You look like you’ve been to hell and back. You should take a day.”
“Thanks,” I muttered, pushing away from the table.
Disappearing into my room, I heard him call me back before I shut the door behind me. I’d wanted to resolve the distance that had come between us last night, but I was too tired and emotionally drained to fight with him now.
By the time I’d showered and dressed, Blake was gone. Uneasiness settled over me as I pulled my things together for work. He wasn’t going to let this go. Nothing would sway him when he’d set his mind to something. When it came to my safety, he wasn’t going to leave anything to chance.
I cursed myself for falling apart last night, but the thought of having to go through it alone, like I had so many times before, seemed far worse. I’d become used to being vulnerable around Blake, showing him my scars, my past. When I did, he didn’t judge me, and somehow that gave the pain less power over me.
I had grabbed my keys and my bag and was heading toward the door, when Sid walked in. He looked as haggard as I likely did, pale despite his dark coloring with tired circles under his eyes.
“You’re just getting in?”
“Yeah.” He rubbed his neck and dropped his bag on the floor. “All-nighter keeping the site up. Great fun.”
“Is everything okay?”
“It’s fine for now. Chris is taking over until I can get some rest.”
“I’m sorry, Sid. I’m going to take care of this. I swear it.”
He shrugged, looking too exhausted to put stock in my words, and shuffled back to his room.
I made a beeline for my office, not bothering with hellos. Risa didn’t take the hint and peeked around the partition, looking bright-eyed and perfectly put together as usual. I didn’t have the energy to deal with anyone’s issues or questions right now, but before I could tell her to give me a minute, she sat down in a chair facing my desk.
“I have big news.” She grinned, her black shoulder-length hair framing her face.
I raised my eyebrows, already feeling agitated. Only something truly monumental could shift my focus this morning.
“I got a meeting with the marketing director at Bryant’s about a potential sponsored account with us.”
Bryant’s was one of the largest clothing retailers in the Northeast. Getting a meeting with them was in fact monumental enough to get my attention.
I shook my head, unsure if I fully understood her. “How did this happen?”
“Max. He has the connection. I let him know who we were looking to connect with and he offered to put me in touch. I got right through to the people at Bryant’s this morning, and we have a meeting set up for tomorrow morning.”
“Wow, that was fast.”
“I know, but I figured we should take whatever they had available. The sooner, the better, right?”
“Absolutely. Send me the details. We’ll meet with them together.”
“Do you want to go over some options we can pitch and I’ll pull together a presentation with those?”
I pulled my thoughts together and blew out a slow breath. My mission for the morning had to go on the back burner. “Sure. What have you got?”
By noon, Risa and I had locked down the presentation, leaving me to my original plan for the day. I headed down to Mocha to caffeinate for lunch. I found a table and pulled out my laptop, figuring I’d take advantage of a short change of scenery.
“Hey. Mind if I join you?”
I looked up to find James pulling out the chair across from me. He looked fresh in a black button-down rolled up at the sleeves and dark blue jeans, his wavy black hair perfectly mussed. No wonder Risa was all over him. He was definitely handsome in a bad boy kind of way. Built well with a killer smile and bright blue eyes that were like tractor beams, he locked me in every time. Something about his eyes made me feel like we’d known each other longer than we really had.
“You look like you’re on a mission.”
I chuckled softly. “I am actually.”
“Can I help?”
I considered his offer for a moment. What did I have to lose by getting a little help? I started in on my plan.
“You know the hacker group, M89, that is attacking the site, right?”
He grinned. He’d been in the trenches with Sid and Chris for the past week, so he probably already knew their history better than I did.
“Okay, right. So this group isn’t the original M89, but there has to be a connection between someone in the original group and whoever is heading it up now. They were all based in Boston a decade ago, so I figure it shouldn’t be too hard to track where they’re all at now and see where that takes us.” I omitted the information about Cooper. I didn’t want to shed any light on Blake’s connection to the group and Cooper’s suicide.