Page 35 of Hardline (Hacker 3)

His jaw shifted, and he lifted a tumbler of scotch to his lips. His throat worked on a swallow. “I’m not pouting.” He set the glass down, his eyes traveling the length of me, all the way down to my strappy black heels. “You’re wet.”

I raised my eyebrows and looked out the windows of his office. They were covered with blinds, blocking him from the view of the world outside.

“If you ever left your cave, you might notice that it’s raining buckets out there.”

He frowned. “You walked?”

I rolled my eyes. “No, Clay drove me. Relax.” I glanced over his desk and lit on a stack of documents with a familiar logo.

“What are these?” I asked, picking them up.

He sighed, seeming annoyed. “Financials for Sophia’s modeling agency.” He pulled them from my grasp and tossed them to the other side of the desk beyond my reach.

I narrowed my eyes at him. “Has she been in town?”

He took another drink. “Why, do you think she hand delivered them?”

I stared at him, unwilling to let it drop.

“No, Sophia has not been in town, at least that I know of. You can put your claws back.”

Relieved, I shot him a grin. “Can’t blame me for asking, can you?”

“Suppose not,” he mumbled.

I took a deep breath and decided to dive in. As much as I wanted to tease him to resolution, we’d probably only get there by talking seriously. Even though the last time hadn’t gone so well.

“I’ve thought a lot about what you said last night.”

“And,” he said dryly.

“I understand that you’re upset, and I understand why. I have held back, especially with the business. It’s been my safe place in a way. The part of my life I can go to, no matter what happens between us, and know that it’s mine. That every success and every failure is mine. It’s everything I’ve worked for, and it scares me to share it with you. It always has. But I’m willing to change and involve you more.”

His gaze held me steadily. “Why would you do that, after all this time?”

“Well, for starters, if we’re getting married...” I lingered on that thought a moment, trying not to derail with the possibility that we wouldn’t, that he wouldn’t want that anymore. “I suppose what’s yours is mine in that regard. If I can’t trust my husband-to-be with it, who can I trust?”

He set down his glass. He folded his hands on his lap, seeming to study me. “Okay,” he said simply. “So James is leaving, I take it?”

I searched his eyes for any sign that he might relent on that point. “Has it occurred to you that you’re being a little unreasonable when it comes to me keeping James with the company?”

“If I’m being unreasonable, it’s in response to unreasonable behavior, and in that case, I’ll call it purely justified. I told you where I stand on this issue. Nothing’s changed.”

“What if I said that starting today, you can have all the control in the business you want, except for that one tiny piece.” I illustrated the tiny piece with my thumb and forefinger, as if that might help.

“You should go, Erica. No point in both of us sleeping here tonight.” He lowered his feet to the floor and swiveled to face the computer screens.

Christ was he stubborn. I could almost see his heels digging in.

God love him, Blake fought dirty. He was putting the survival of our relationship on the line to get what he wanted—what he said he needed. I wouldn’t be reasoning with him tonight. Not unless I fought dirty too.

“Suit yourself,” I said and slid off the desk. Slowly, I fingered the top button of my raincoat. One by one, I released them. Blake’s attention turned back to me. His gaze fixed on the front as the jacket parted, giving him a sliver of vision into what I was wearing underneath. It wasn’t much.

“You’re not going to ply me with sex.”

I canted my head. “No?” I challenged, secretly knowing I’d already given in to his demands.

I smiled and shrugged out of the jacket I’d traveled here in. Tossing it away, I stood near naked in just enough black lace to cover the bare necessities. Trails of water from my rain-soaked hair trickled down my body over my already damp skin. I had been worried about the weather hampering my look, but based on the way Blake’s lips parted, the effect might have worked in my favor.

“I think I might be able to change your mind.”

“You can’t. I’m sick of this shit, Erica.”

If I’d been blindfolded, I might have believed him, that he couldn’t be swayed. But his eyes gave him away, leveled at my chest as I reached for the clasp at the front of my bra.

“I seem to recall you have a weakness for lace,” I teased.

“You’re my only weakness,” he murmured.

The words hit my heart. The playful smile I wore faded. I wanted to be his weakness, but not if he resented it, the way it sounded like he did now. Turning, I walked slowly away. My boldness had taken a hit, and now I only felt embarrassed and hurt. I wanted him to want me, to meet me not even close to the middle, but to consider this one concession.

“Where the hell are you going?”

I lifted my lips again at that small sign of hope. I slowed in front of the couch on the other side of the office and unclasped my bra. I let it slip over my shoulders and down my arms, depriving him of the view of my naked chest. Hooking my thumbs over the barely there panties, I pulled them down, leaving me completely naked, save my jewelry.

“You won’t win this way, you know.”

I spun, and he was there in front of me instantly, eyes blazing.

“I’m not trying to win anymore.” All teasing was lost from my voice with that concession.

“Then what are you doing?”

I ran my hands up his chest. “I’m letting you win.”

He winced. “You’re playing games. I’m not interested in games.”

“I’m not playing. I’m giving you what you want. I’m giving you all of me.” I reached up and curled my arms around his neck. My breasts brushed against his clothed chest. I could feel his heart beating quickly, matching the wild rhythm of my own.

“This doesn’t work. Being apart destroys us. I can’t live without you, Blake. I can barely survive a night without you. How am I supposed to risk losing you for a lifetime? If you won’t give me this one thing, then I have no choice in the matter, do I? So I’m letting you win. I’m trusting you with everything I have, body, soul, and business. Take what you want, be wherever you need to be.”