Page 32 of Hardline (Hacker 3)

“I can appreciate that.” It would have been much easier to rebuff his attempt at a truce via email. Despite Blake’s fervent hatred for the man, I now found myself considering this bridge between our companies.

Simone swung by with our coffee, already conveniently steaming from to-go cups. He handed her a bill and thanked her before turning to leave.

“Who was that?” Simone asked.

“A prospective advertiser.” Was he? Was I seriously considering this truce bridge between our companies? I wasn’t totally convinced that his intentions were all bad, though I wasn’t exactly inclined to forgive him either.

“Looks like a good prospect. He tipped me like forty bucks.”

I managed a laugh. She sidled up to the seat that he’d occupied. “What’s going on? Are you avoiding me?”

I took a sip of my coffee, too tired to paint on a face that wasn’t mine. Her eyes narrowed.

“Simone, at the risk of pissing you off and creating tension between you and James, I need to tell you something.”

“James kissed you. I know.”

My eyes went wide. “You know?”

“Yeah, he told me the other day. Said Blake went nutso on him, telling him to give his notice.”

“Fuck,” I muttered, as much in reflection of that afternoon as to the fact that she knew about it.

“Listen, you need to figure this out with James. This is kind of what I was worried about with the love triangle stuff, but…”

“But what?”

“Erica, I care about James. I mean, we’ve been hanging out for a while, and I know he cares about you. He assures me that he’s over any romantic hang up he had with you, but he still very much considers you a friend. I don’t know if he and Blake can get past this, but you’re in the driver’s seat here. It’s your call.”

I groaned. “I hate this. All of it. Blake has me in an awful position right now. I don’t want to fire James, and I’m furious with Blake for confronting him. He did not have my blessing to do that. He’s obviously very jealous and can’t stand the idea of me working every day with someone who made a pass at me.”

She upturned her red lips.

“I’ll talk to James. And for what it’s worth, I’m sorry all this is affecting you. I think you and James are great together. I really do. I consider you both my friends, and the last thing I want to do is come between you over this. Unfortunately, Blake’s jealousy is a persistent reminder of an indiscretion that I’m sure both James and I would rather forget. I know we both want to move on, and I hope we can.”

“It’s not an easy situation. This doesn’t affect our friendship though, no matter what. I’m still your girl. Bitches first, okay?”

I laughed, and she held out her hand for a fist pump. I met it, and she slid off her seat.

“Go fix your crazy life, and I’m going to serve up some more rocket fuel to the addicts here, all right?”

“Sounds like a plan. Thanks.”

She smirked before sauntering off. I grabbed my coffee and left the café feeling just a little bit lighter. At least that was one fire I didn’t need to put out.

At the office, I spent the morning catching up on emails before Alli popped in to brief me on advertising progress. She’d picked up two more accounts, which was a strong start in making up for the lost revenue we’d incurred. I was tallying some quick figures when she interrupted me.

“So what’s going on with you and Blake?”

I looked up to her worried eyes. I sighed and dropped my pen. I’d need to spill at some point. After running out on her party, she was bound to wonder what had gone down between Blake and me to make me leave.

“Nothing to worry about. Bumps in the road, I guess.”

“I’m going to worry about you. Especially when Blake is at my place late, holed up with Heath having some sort of brotherly heart-to-heart til midnight.”

I fidgeted in my seat. “I didn’t realize he’d stayed that long.”

“He didn’t come home?”

I shook my head.

“Where do you think he went?”

I clicked my pen nervously. “I honestly have no idea.”

“What happened between you two? You’ve been acting strange since you got back from San Francisco. I thought things went well.”

“They did, on the business front. But we ran into Risa there. Listen, I can’t talk about this here. Do you want to grab a drink tonight after work? I can try to explain it all...somehow.”

I suppressed a groan. That conversation was going to be all kinds of fucked up.

“Okay. I’m going to step out to pick up some lunch. Do you want anything?”

“Sure, just get me whatever you’re having.”

She left me alone then, and a minute later James took her place in the chair behind my desk.

“You have a minute?”


I shuffled some papers around on my desk, for no reason at all other than to delay whatever he was going to say. But Simone was right. We needed to talk. We needed to get to the bottom of this. I let my forehead fall into my hands. We hadn’t even said anything and I was losing my shit. I took in a deep breath. “We should talk.”

He leaned back into his chair, eying me. “You’re not going to fire me, are you?”

“No.” I sulked back into the chair. No amount of coffee was going to make this conversation bearable. “I’m so sorry about all of this. Honestly, I don’t know where this all went wrong, but I’m desperate to fix it. I’m just lost about how to do it in a way that everyone can live with.”

“Landon’s the only one with his panties in a twist about it. The rest of us are being adults. I don’t see why you need to cater to his temper tantrums unless he’s financially threatening you.”

“He would never do that. And…I don’t know, James. I put him in a difficult situation that’s kind of impossible for me to explain to you.”

“Something to do with this Daniel guy, I’m guessing?”

“It’s more complicated than you can possibly understand. Not because you’re not capable of understanding it… but some things are better kept private. And yes. Daniel had a big part in me and Blake not being together. Everything kind of became more and more fucked up after that until we found our way back together again. When he realized what happened between you and me…” I sighed, closing my eyes. “I guess you could say it was the last straw, and now I’m sort of grappling with how to make things right between us.”