“I know it’s not my place to say anything. Whatever happens with you and Blake is between you two, but for what it’s worth, I thought you two were great together. He seemed really happy. And I’ve known him a long time.”
“How’s he doing?”
I’m not sure why I asked. As if knowing more about Blake’s state of mind would make me feel any better about things.
She gave me a sympathetic look. “You should talk to him, Erica.”
I settled on a simple black strapless cocktail dress that hugged my curves and fell just below my knees. I pulled my hair into a loose twist and slipped on some black strappy heels and a light shawl in case the venue was cool.
When I arrived at the event, I found Risa and Max talking among a small group. Max flashed me his award-winning smile. The couple they were speaking to waved their goodbyes and walked off, leaving us alone.
“You look beautiful, Erica. Thanks for coming tonight.”
“Thanks, I’m glad I did. Risa told me a little bit, but how are you involved with the charity?”
“Angelcom has been a supporter for several years. We sponsor this event once a year to attract new donors and bring visibility to the cause.”
I still hadn’t quite forgiven Max for pushing me into that last dance with Mark, but I couldn’t argue that he’d been incredibly helpful to the business since then. I wasn’t giving him the benefit of the doubt, but with Blake out of the picture now, I wasn’t going to write him off completely either. Times like these, I had a hard time believing the terrible things Blake assured me were true of him.
“We should probably find our table. They’ll be serving dinner shortly,” he said, interrupting my thoughts.
I followed Risa and Max to the table and quickly recognized the faces of the others who joined us. Heath rose when he saw me, but my gaze went immediately to Blake and the woman by his side.
I stopped short, frozen with the prospect of facing any of them right now. The man I loved next to a woman I despised. The pain of our separation became exponentially potent. The regret of every moment we’d spent apart hit me with full force, seizing my lungs. My breath left me in a rush.
As much as I’d hated Sophia and what she meant to his past, I wasn’t remotely prepared to see them together tonight, or ever for that matter. She looked impeccable in a silky red dress that contrasted beautifully with her sleek black hair falling over her shoulders. With Blake in his suit, the dark gray one that I loved, the two made a beautiful couple. The billionaire and the model. What a match.
“It’s good to see you, Erica.” Heath broke the silence and gave me a quick hug.
Blake held my gaze, as if he were waiting for me to react. But I couldn’t move. I literally couldn’t take a single step toward the table.
Risa found her seat next to Max, leaving one unoccupied place between her and Heath. I eyed it warily, uncertain how I could possibly survive this dinner with Blake and Sophia across from us. Maybe I could leave before the event really got underway—feign illness or something.
As if reading my thoughts, Sophia gave me a knowing smile that had me grinding with rage. “So glad you could come, Erica. Join us.”
Her words somehow broke the trance, and I needed to move. In the opposite direction.
“Risa, I’m going to grab a drink. Do you want anything?”
She shook her head. “I’m fine, thanks.”
Blake rose as I started to leave. I ignored him and carried on toward the bar, reminding myself that I couldn’t really sprint in my heels.
“Jack on the rocks,” I said to the bartender.
Blake came up next to me. “Same.”
We weren’t touching but we were close, inches apart. I remembered our first few weeks together when I tried in vain to ignore the palpable energy that pulsed between us, an undeniable attraction that had quickly turned into an addiction, an obsession.
“I didn’t know you’d be here.” His voice was quiet, laced with regret.
Or what? You wouldn’t have brought her?
I took in a slow breath, trying to get a handle on my emotions. He was being nice, and I should at least make an attempt at normal post-break up communications. But the silence that hung in the air between us seemed to be answer enough. I was miserable, work-obsessed, and had no idea how to reason with my power-crazed murdering father so that I could end all this.
Maybe it was too late for that anyway. Sophia had probably picked up right where I’d left off as soon as she realized I was out of the picture. She’d have been a fool not to, and I couldn’t blame Blake. I’d told him in no uncertain terms that I didn’t want to see him anymore. To let me go.
“How is Risa working out?” he finally asked in another attempt to get me talking.
“She’s very motivated. Closing a ton of accounts for us.”
“Seems like she’s warmed right up to Max.”
I glanced back at the table. Risa appeared to be her usual animated self, and Max’s attention was fixed on whatever she was saying. I hadn’t paid too much attention to how their connection had been evolving over the past few weeks. As she’d aptly noted, I had too many other things on my mind to care as long as she was doing her job and moving us forward.
“He’s been helping her connect with advertisers. Seems to be working out well. Revenues are up.” My focus shifted to Sophia, who caught me staring. I turned back, catching my reflection in the mirror behind the bar. “Sophia looks beautiful, as usual.”
Blake took a sip of his drink. “She’s in town for business.”
“You don’t need to make excuses to me, Blake. I’m…happy for you.” My jaw tightened at the complete lie that I’d just uttered in the name of being polite and allowing us to both move on. Then I let half the drink slide down my throat.
“You’re a terrible liar.”
I made my way back to the table and Blake followed without a word. I was grateful to be sitting next to Heath. Somehow at this table of colleagues and ex-lovers, he felt like an ally. We made small talk about the event and how work was going.
“Have you talked to Alli about moving yet?” I asked.
He shook his head.
“Any particular reason why?”
“I guess I’m a little scared of what she’ll say. I’m almost done with the program though, so I need to figure it out soon.”