Page 33 of Hardline (Hacker 3)

He hesitated a moment. “I care about you, Erica. I care about this job too, but if you’re going to stay with Blake and as a result, my being here is making your life unnecessarily difficult, I should go. I don’t like this tension any more than you do.”

“But I don’t want you to go. You’re important to the company, and to me. Despite everything that’s happened, you’re still a friend. And I’m not going to fire a friend.”

He chewed his lip, tapping his thumb on the edge of the chair looking lost in thought. “Would it help if I wasn’t here?”

“What do you mean? I just told you—”

“I mean, in the office. Would it be easier if I wasn’t here in the office every day? I could work from home. I mean, it’s a technicality, but if it means keeping my job and staying with the company, it’s something worth considering.”

I did just that. “You’d be willing to do that?”

“Sure. And if eventually you want someone else in house, I can transition out. Maybe go out on my own. Freelance or whatever.”

I wrinkled my nose, not liking that part of the proposal. “I hate this.”

“I do too, but it’s not your fault. I’m not sure what Blake is making you believe, but I should have backed off as soon as I knew you were coming out of a relationship. You needed a friend, and I failed you in that regard.”

“You didn’t fail.”

“I jumped to conclusions. About a lot of things. This is my doing too, and if I have to make sacrifices for it, so be it.”

“I appreciate the offer. But let’s not make any hasty decisions.”

“I don’t think it’s hasty, honestly. It’s more like a long time in the making. I can see you’re stressed. You haven’t been yourself all week, and I hate to see you this way. I don’t want to be the cause of that. I never have been and I never will. But if we can make this change, at least for now, and that gives you some relief or room to fix things with him, we should do it.”

“I’m hoping he’ll cool down a little. Maybe I can try to reason with him.” That was a big maybe.

He leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees. “You want to marry Blake, right?”

I paused. “Yes.”

“Personally, I can’t stand the guy, but obviously he’s important to you. Important enough that you said yes when he proposed. I don’t want to be the person who fucks that up for you. We made a mess with this workplace relationship thing, and now we both need to clean it up.”

I offered a slight nod, wishing there wasn’t so much truth in what he was saying. “Maybe you’re right.”

“It’s not what either of us wants, but maybe it’s the right thing.”


The rest of the day sped by. Maybe not all hope was lost in the landscape of my life. New accounts were coming in, I was at peace with Simone, and at least for now, James and I had a plan on how to move forward. I couldn’t deny that the thought of him leaving the company broke my heart a little though. He’d become part of the team, as well as a friend. I would miss seeing him every day, and I couldn’t help but resent that Blake was putting me in a position to make him go. As I dwelled on that thought, Alli popped in to remind me of our after-dinner date.

I pulled my things together to leave. A few minutes later, Clay dropped us at a trendy sushi spot on a busy street. Alli and I ordered Mai Tais. I sucked the sweet drink down and politely asked the waitress for another when she delivered our assorted rolls. Today was simply one of those days. If nothing else, maybe the alcohol would put me to sleep when I went home to our empty bed again.

“So James is going to be working from home for a while.” I finally blurted it out, knowing that Alli’s tense silence was filled with her unspoken questions about what the hell was going on.

Alli frowned. “Why?”

I took a deep breath. “When Blake and I weren’t together, James and I started to hang out more, as friends. I tried to keep things professional, but he started to want more. Eventually he made a pass at me, and...”

Alli’s dropped her jaw dropped. “You didn’t...”

“We kissed. It was brief, and I wanted it to end about three seconds after it started. Apparently Risa saw the whole thing, and this weekend at the awards event, she told Blake about it. I’m guessing she wanted to get back at me and mess with our relationship. Unfortunately, it worked. Blake was beside himself. We fought. He wanted James gone...or else.”

I shoved a piece of sushi in my mouth, hating that he’d won. That I’d given him what he wanted.

Alli stared, unmoving with wide eyes. “I wasn’t expecting all of that.”

“Well that’s why I never told you. It was a mistake, and I wanted it to go away, but it hasn’t, so now I’m paying for it.”

“So is everything okay between you now that James isn’t going to be in the office?”

“I have no idea. We haven’t really talked.”

I mangled one of my rolls as I thought about the awful distance that had come between us in the past few days. As angry as I was with Blake, I hated every minute when we fought. Nothing was right when we weren’t together, and I could only hope all that would change now.

“Any way, how are things going with Heath? Give me some hope. Things seem to be perfect with you two right now.”

She shrugged and placed a slice of ginger on one of her rolls. “I wouldn’t say perfect.”

I lifted an eyebrow. “Trouble in paradise?”

She laughed, but her smile quickly faded. “I don’t know. I worry about him.”

“That’s understandable, but has he given you a reason to?”

“That’s the thing. Not really. But I can’t help but worry. He finished the program, and ever since it’s like I haven’t been able to shake this feeling that he’s going to slip up again.”

“But he has you. He has Blake and work and his family. It seems like he’s on the right track. Everything is going so well, isn’t it?”

“I know. On the surface everything is great. The apartment, our jobs. But it seems like whenever I check in with him, he tells me I’m hovering. He reminds me that Blake hovers and his family hovers. Understandably so, but he says he doesn’t need one more person studying his every move. I just care about him too damn much to lose what we have.”