Page 18 of Hardline (Hacker 3)

He laughed softly. “Their moment? Baby, this is our moment. We can do whatever we want. Heath will get around to it eventually, and Alli can go nuts with her planning then. Say the word, and I’ll book the Elvis chapel.”

I rested my head against his shoulder, closing my eyes. “I don’t know. I guess I need to think about it.”

“Are you worried about your family?”

The dread in my stomach answered his question before I could respond. “Maybe a little. Too bad my family can’t be more like yours. I’m not sure I’d even want to invite them to a ceremony.”

“Have you told Elliot?”

I shook my head.


“Yeah, I told him. He actually said he was happy for us. Totally threw me off.”

“Well he sure as hell won’t be walking you down the aisle.”

“I don’t think we have to worry about that. If anyone would, it’d probably be Elliot. He actually called me out of the blue the other day. We haven’t talked in months.”

“You never mentioned it.”

“I would have, but you had a pressing need to tie me to the dining room table. He’s what made me late, by the way.”

He squeezed my hand, maybe in a silent apology. I was too comfortable to move and catch his reaction.

“So what did he say?”

I shrugged my shoulders, suddenly wishing I hadn’t brought it up at all. I understood Elliot’s reasons for wanting to reach out to me, but I hated feeling like he was doing it out of obligation or guilt.

Blake caught my chin, tipping it toward him. “Did he say something to upset you?”

I met his gaze and straightened in my seat. “No. It’s just that talking to him again brought back a lot of memories. A lot of those are sad, I suppose. He wants to come visit and commemorate Mom’s passing. It’s been ten years.”

I stared into the darkening night sky through the small window at my side. A vision of my mother as I remembered her passed through my mind, the same way it did every day and at times like these. She was always with me, somehow.

“Funny how years can go by and one conversation can bring me back there so quickly. All of a sudden I was twelve again. I mean, I’m an adult now. I can rationalize and cope when difficult things happen, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to think about her life or her death without the kind of devastating feelings I had as a child.”

“That makes sense.”

“Does it? I mean, I should be able to move on by now, but that conversation made me realize how much is still there, unresolved, for me.”

“What do you feel is unresolved about it? I mean, it doesn’t sound like she had options.”

“It’s not that. I understand there was nothing that could have been done to save her. It’s more how everything fell apart after she died.”

“With Elliot?”

I nodded. “I don’t feel like I can be angry with him. When everything boils down, he’s not really my father. His commitment was to my mother, and he could have never known she would get sick.”

“His commitment was to you too, though.”

I lingered on that idea longer than I really wanted to. “It doesn’t matter now. I don’t even know why I’m talking about it.”

“Because it still hurts you.”

“I’m a big girl. I can deal with it.”

“I know.” He brought my hand up and kissed it softly. “You don’t always have to be so damn strong, you know.”

I laughed quietly. “I don’t know how else to be.”

“I suppose that makes two of us. Except I’d be a lot happier if you let me shoulder more of the burden for you.”

I shot a questioning look his way.

“This meeting with Alex, for example. I could have easily set that up for you, felt him out for possibilities, and negotiated something that would work out favorably for you. But you’re so damn headstrong you insist on doing it all yourself.”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

He laughed softly. “Why would you want to, when I can do it and you can focus on other things?”

I pulled out of his grasp. “Like what? Wedding planning?”

“No, like running other aspects of the business. Isn’t that what you enjoy?”

“Building these relationships is part of my job. If anyone should be doing it, I should.”

“Suit yourself, Erica. You want to do things the hard way, I’ll let you, but I’m not going anywhere so it might be worth a second thought. We’re on the same team, remember?”

He took my hand from my lap, laced his fingers through mine, and trailed his lips down my arm. I shivered at the whisper of his breath on my skin. My nipples beaded instantly. I looked out the window, trying hard to be mad, but the innocent touch was a dangerous promise of how easily he could take control whenever he wanted. Blake had enough persistence to break down anyone’s defenses.

I could fight, but he’d always win.

* * *

The expansive function room was teaming with people. All walks of life. From suits to techies to everyone in between. From what Blake had told me, this was the “who’s who” event in the tech world, and I could expect to meet an impressive cross-section of people in the industry. Blake wore a dark gray suit, and I’d dressed simply in a deep red wrap dress and black heels.

Blake kept an arm around my waist as we wove through the crowd. The gesture warmed me in more ways than one. I was always nervous at events like this, and as much as I wanted to hold my own, having him there with me was a comfort.


Months had passed since we’d met, but after a second, I recognized Alex as he walked toward us. His gaze drifted from Blake to me, and then to Blake’s hold on me. I considered stepping away, but doing so would only be awkward. If Alex didn’t already know about our relationship, he would now. And if he thought my recent success came from Blake’s wealth...well, he might be right. I only hoped he wouldn’t discredit the pitch I’d planned for partnership opportunities because of it.

I scolded myself silently for reading so much into it. After all, Blake and I were engaged now. Engaged. The thought blew me away every time I said it to myself.

“Alex, it’s great to see you. Thanks so much for inviting us out.” I reached to shake his hand, giving him my best professional grip.

He met me with a broad smile. “Absolutely. I’m glad you two could make it. This is always a fun event. All the hot shots are here, so you’ll fit right in.”