“I would, honey, but he hasn’t taken his eyes off you since I got here. I know that look when I see it.”
I frowned and spun in James’s direction with no discretion. Our eyes met and he quickly averted them and leaned against the pool table to watch the next play.
“That’s ridiculous.” I turned back to the bar and tossed back the third shot.
I wasn’t as bad at pool as I’d originally thought. Despite my significant buzz, I was making some decent shots. Simone had partnered with someone from the winning team of the last game, and James and I were ahead after the first few rounds. I leaned in for my next shot, but before I could take it, a hand slid across my lower back, warm through the thin fabric of the shell blouse I was wearing. James leaned in next to me, his body too close. Unprofessionally close.
“Aim for the left pocket.”
His breath brushed against my neck and my whole body tensed. I closed my eyes a second, wishing he were Blake. God, just for a few minutes. I missed him so much. When I opened them, I caught Simone looking at me with a smug told-you-so look on her face. I shifted my angle, took the shot, and the ball sank into the pocket. I stepped back and wobbled slightly on my heels. James was there, stilling me with his hand at my waist.
“You all right?”
“I’m fine.” I smiled and took a self-preserving step away. I needed to get a handle on this situation before James got the wrong idea. I was about to start scolding myself for having drinks with an employee, when a familiar face emerged from the crowd beyond the pool tables.
“Uh-oh,” I murmured.
“What’s wrong?” James asked.
Heath walked up slowly, his hands in his pockets, until he stood directly in front of us. He gave James a hard look before turning back to me. My eyes went wide as I replayed the past few minutes over in my mind, including James’s brief and suggestive tutorial on playing pool.
“I’m in trouble, aren’t I?”
Heath answered with a tight smile. I grabbed my purse and fished out my phone seeing that Blake had called at least a dozen times. Fuck.
“I have to go.” I glanced quickly to Simone and James, eager to connect with Blake and explain this all away.
“Do you need a ride?” James stepped forward.
“No, she doesn’t.”
Heath nearly leveled him with his stare, his jaw ticking in a way that made me seriously wonder if he were somehow channeling Blake right now.
“Come on. Let’s get out of here,” he said, his voice more forgiving toward me.
My eagerness came to a skidding halt. My face heated. Heath would be here under strict instructions from Blake. The thought of being escorted out of the bar at Blake’s bidding humiliated me, and my dignity wasn’t having it.
“I’ll be out in a minute.” I raised my eyebrows at him, daring him to challenge me.
He paused and finally agreed with a slight nod.
“Who the hell was that?” James grimaced in the direction of the exit that Heath had just left through.
“A little protective, is he?” Simone walked up and leaned against the pool table beside me.
“Sometimes,” I lied.
“You really leaving me?” Simone gave me a pouty look.
I smiled. “Yeah, I’m wasted anyway. I need to go pass out before I get stupid.”
“Shut up. James will take care of you, right?”
James smiled politely, but disappointment shadowed his gaze. Simone leaned in for a hug. When she let me go, James pulled me close and pressed a quick kiss to my cheek.
I turned out of his embrace so quickly I almost lost my balance again. I headed out of the bar without a goodbye.
Clay drove Heath and me back to the apartment in silence. I wanted to read them both the riot act, but it wouldn’t make an ounce of difference when Blake controlled everything they did. They were no different from me.
I stepped into the apartment and slammed the door behind me before Heath could say good night. Cady, our downstairs neighbor and Blake’s personal assistant, sat next to Sid on the couch watching a movie. They were curled up closer than I’d ever seen them. I waved and said hi before disappearing into my bedroom.
I fell down onto the bed and wished the walls would stop moving a bit before I made the call. I cursed and pulled up his number.
“Erica.” His voice was a potent mix of panicked and pissed off.
“You rang?” I decided to keep the mood light and go with that.
“I’m beginning to feel like a broken record, but what the fuck?” Blake’s mood was decidedly not light.
“I was having a drink with a friend. It was loud. I didn’t hear my phone. Stop overreacting.”
“Was your friend the one with his hands all over you? Or was that someone else?”
I clenched my teeth and breathed through the string of curses that ran through my head. Heath would be hearing from me about this.
“You must be referring to James from work, and no, he did not have his hands all over me. We were playing pool. He was showing me a shoot. A shot. He was showing me how to shoot.” I groaned out loud. My slurring wasn’t helping my case.
“That’s a really great mental image you’ve just given me.”
“Stop being so jealous,” I mumbled, already too tired to fight.
“Are you home now?”
“Uh-huh. In my bed. Thinking about getting naked too,” I teased, hoping he would take the bait so we could stop bickering.
“Horny, are we?”
“Oh, we could Facetime. Are you on Wi-Fi?”
He laughed and I smiled, relieved that he wasn’t as mad as he seemed.
“I’ve got a dinner meeting with one of the partners on the project I’m working on out here. As much as I’d love to blow it off for phone sex with you, baby, it’ll only keep me out here longer if I do. And I don’t think either of us can afford delays. Agreed?”
I pouted and slumped back onto the bed. “Agreed.”
“I need you to do two things.”
“Great. What does the master of the universe decree?”
“Drink a bottle of water. Drink the whole thing and take four ibuprofen. Sounds like you’re going to need them.”
“Yes, sir,” I groaned, ready to hang up and make my way to the kitchen.
“I love you, Erica.”