“You’re up early,” I said.
“Yeah, trying to get on a better schedule. Our hacker friends must be on vacation so I haven’t had to pull any all-nighters, which helps.”
“Really? They just stopped?”
“Seems that way.”
“Wow.” I thought back to the meeting with Trevor. He didn’t seem to have an ounce of forgiveness in his heart, and our conversation had hardly convinced him to stop the attacks. Maybe tracking him down at his house had shaken him enough to make him stop. I wondered if he’d done the same for Blake’s other ventures or if he’d just decided to spare me.
“Hopefully they stay away so we can finally get back to work.”
“Do you think they will?”
“I have no idea. The code is so solid now I have a hard time imagining how they could breach us again, but we can’t defend what we can’t see. I guess we have to wait and see if they resurface.”
“Right,” I agreed. “Listen, Sid. I’m sure it won’t make much difference to you, but I’m going to be staying with a friend for a little while, so if you don’t see me around here much, that’s why.”
“You still coming to the office?”
His face was passive as he sat behind the counter. He broke up his Pop-Tart, but I caught a flash of concern in his eyes when he looked up at me.
“Is everything all right?”
Unaffected as he tried to be, knowing that he cared meant a lot to me. We had a strange friendship that had deepened in its own way over time. I didn’t quite know how to answer him.
“I think it will be. Time will tell.”
Sid simply nodded, even though I was being cryptic and only half believed it myself. Thankfully he wasn’t one to pry.
I knocked quietly at Blake’s door, even though I had my finger on his key in my pocket. He greeted me with a smile that nearly took my breath away. He was gorgeous in his tired worn-out blue jeans and a simple white T-shirt. His hair was wayward and messy. Despite the long night, he looked rested and happy.
“Hey, beautiful.” He lifted me off my feet and kissed me.
I returned it, slave to the habit of melting into his touch and craving his skin on mine. What the hell was I thinking? Nothing about this was going to be remotely easy.
“What do you want for breakfast?”
He lowered me back down but stayed close, twisting a strand of my hair around his finger. I shook my head and looked away, physically incapable of looking at his eyes straight on.
“Yeah.” I stood there awkwardly, paralyzed. “Can we…talk?”
“Okay.” His eyes narrowed slightly and he stepped back into the apartment, closing the door behind us. He walked farther in, but I lingered by the door, not wanting to get too comfortable. I couldn’t get pulled into the usual routine between us.
I shifted my weight back and forth a few times. He raised his eyebrows a fraction. Shit, I should have just emailed him. I couldn’t do this face to face.
You can do this. You have to do this.
“I think we need some space.” My teeth clenched against the tremble that threatened to take over. I fisted my hands, determined not to lose it.
All signs of warmth and humor had left his face. “What does that mean?” His voice was low, eerily so.
Shit, this was happening. This was really happening.
“I’m going to stay at Marie’s for a while. I need some time, and I think it would be easier if I wasn’t here.”
“Time? How much time?”
“I don’t know.”
I had no idea how long. I hadn’t nearly given up on the idea that I could get us out of this mess, but I needed time with Daniel to figure out how to get us there. I couldn’t risk Blake’s life in the meantime. His life… I couldn’t gamble with it. The thought of Daniel making good on his threat hit me again—a terrible, sobering thought that gave me the resolve I latched onto now.
If I did nothing else, I would protect him. He’d chosen me, tried to protect me, and now here we were.
“Where the hell is this coming from? Did I do something wrong?”
I shook my head, not wanting him to blame himself but knowing he’d probably find a way to anyway.
“Everything is just too much right now. I’m falling behind at work. I can’t focus. And then this news about Mark came as such a shock. I haven’t really had time to process everything.” Sadly, most of that was true, which was probably the only reason I could get the words out. “And I can’t do that with you around right now.”
He shook his head, his eyes wide. I was leaving the safe world of Blake, slipping further out of his reach.
“No. I—fucking no. We can figure this out, whatever it is. We haven’t even had a chance to talk since I got back, Erica, and now you’re dropping this on me?”
I cut him off quickly, afraid to let him take over the conversation. “I thought about things a lot when you were gone too.” About how much I love you, can’t breathe without you. “And I think this is the best thing right now. I care about you, Bl—”
“You care about me?” His brows knitted tightly together.
I’d struck a chord.
He took a step closer and I stepped back against the door, as if the volume of his voice could knock me down. His anger felt like a physical blow. The venom in his words rapidly worked its way through my system. The tears threatened and I squeezed my eyes closed, fighting them.
“Please, Blake. Just give me time. That’s all I’m asking for.” My voice was a whisper.
“Is this about James?”
I let the thought roll over in my mind a moment. He’d handed me a reason, one that would hurt him deeply. I could admit to the lie and he’d believe me. Surely the thought of an infidelity would be devastating enough to sever the love he felt for me, with no question whether I was actually telling him the truth.
I shook my head. I couldn’t stomach the backlash that might come from that false admission.
“No. This has nothing to do with James.”
“You’re not telling me something, Erica. How do we go from you drunk wanting phone sex to last night, which was amazing by the way, and now this?”
He’d need answers. He wouldn’t let me go without them. Maybe after we’d had some time to come to terms with the separation, I could give him some reason that made sense. But not now. Everything was too raw. He’d see right through me.