Page 34 of Hardline (Hacker 3)

I contemplated what she was telling me for a moment. I hadn’t known the Heath that used as well as I knew the new, sober Heath, but I’d seen enough to recognize how different he’d been. I believed that his relationship with Alli and being deprived of it when he went back to rehab was what sobered him on an entirely different level. Blake believed it too, which is what prompted him to bring him back home early and unexpectedly.

“It sounds like you’re waiting for him to fail, Alli,” I finally said.

Her shoulders slumped and sadness flickered behind her eyes. “I’m scared. I don’t want to go through what we went through again. I was a mess. I mean, you saw me. I need Heath—like I’m wildly in love with him and I can’t imagine being without him. But for this to work, I need him to stay healthy. I’ll do anything I can to make sure that happens.”

“I remember you were a mess, but he was too. I think you both need each other, but maybe what he needs more than anything is for you to have faith in him. We all know how Blake is, and parents are parents. He wants you to love him and believe in him, not mother him.”

She sighed. “It’s hard, because when we were in New York, we spent every spare minute together. We only had to work around my schedule then, but now that he’s working with Blake, we have even less time.”

“Just because you aren’t spending every waking minute together doesn’t mean he’s in peril. Working with Blake and taking those responsibilities more seriously is good for him. Even if it’s time that he can’t spend with you.”

She nodded. “You’re right. I just wish we didn’t have to live with this invisible demon threatening to come between us. Every day is an opportunity for things to go wrong.”

I caught her hand and gave it a squeeze. “Alli.”

She lifted her gaze to mine.

“Stop waiting for something bad to happen. The best thing you can do is love him, show him you care, and make the most out of every minute you have. Stop trying to control what you can’t control.”

* * *

I hurried under the awning of the building as the rain started to come down harder. Scanning the street, I saw no sign of Blake’s Tesla. My heart sank, and the prospect of spending another night without him gnawed at me. Earlier I’d considered calling to tell him about my conversation with James, but something—maybe pride—held me back. He’d find out...but I wasn’t entirely ready to let him know he’d won this round yet.

As I climbed the stairs, I met Cady just outside the door of the apartment Sid and I once shared.

“Hey.” She beamed, keys in hand.

“Have you seen Blake?” I asked, my enthusiasm obviously far dimmer than hers.

“He was at the office when I left. Why?”

I hesitated, debating whether to tell her more. “He didn’t come home last night, that’s all.”

“Oh.” Concern painted her features. “I think he probably stayed at work last night then. He looked tired, and…well, he hasn’t exactly been in a chipper mood today. That might explain why.”

I sighed, relief washing over me. Still, knowing he was staying at work wasn’t bringing him any closer to home. I thanked her and climbed the stairs to our apartment. I dropped my things on the island and went to our bedroom. The bed was a mess, the sheets an unmade mess, for all the wrong reasons. I hadn’t slept much, and likely, neither had he.

I took a quick shower and emerged. The apartment was as silent as it had been when I’d arrived. Securing the towel around my chest, I went to the dresser where I kept my clothes. My jewelry rested in a shallow box on top of it. I slipped my ring back on, and the diamonds of the matching bracelets caught my eye. I picked them up. The weight of the bracelets rested heavily in my palm. The expensive bands sparkled in the dim light of the bedroom. They were beautiful, but their meaning meant more. I fingered the small medallions. The platinum roulette wheel clinked against its mate, the heart...Blake’s heart.

Looking up, I caught my reflection in the mirror. All I could see now were my tired eyes filled with the kind of sadness that only being away from Blake could bring. Fighting this fight with him seemed fruitless and damaging, when my answer would always be yes. When the only future I could envision was one with him.

I wanted him back, at any cost, even my pride. To think I could stand my ground against someone like him—a man who saw what he wanted and stopped at nothing to have it—was delusional at best. But damn, he pushed me. Trusting him with my body and my heart wasn’t enough, yet somehow I’d always known that would be true. A part of me knew that one day our relationship would come to this, that he’d push me for all I could give. He’d been controlling and maddening from day one. I’d been a fool to expect any of that to change.

But he was right. I’d fought like hell to maintain that line between our worlds. I’d let him in, bit by bit, but always held him a safe distance from certain aspects of my life. Because I’d given him more than I’d ever given anyone else, I wanted to think that was enough. But it wasn’t. That much was clear now.

I didn’t want to fight, and I didn’t want our relationship to be a battlefield. Perhaps that was why he wasn’t giving me any other options now. We both were hurting and unhappy as a result of my fuck up, and now, because he was making me pay for it, or change for it.

I clasped the bracelets around my wrist, admiring them. Always I’d worn them with pride. I wanted the world to know I wore them for him, even if no one knew what they meant to us. Our promise. Like the one on my finger.

Blake could own me, he could hold something deep in me, but I’d captured something precious in him too. Something he’d never given anyone else.

I glanced back to the bed, the sharp ache of missing him too painful to ignore.

* * *

The downpour of rain had me nearly soaked by the time I stepped through the doors of the Landon Group offices. A sliver of light cast across the floor where Blake’s door was ajar. I knocked quietly before entering, hoping not to greet him with a heart attack.

Inside he was sitting lazily at his desk, feet propped up, his focus on the televisions across the room before shifting to me.

“Working hard?” I walked around his desk and propped myself on the edge.

“What are you doing here?” Blake asked.

“I should ask you that. How long are you going to camp out here and pout?”