Page 39 of Hardline (Hacker 3)

I cursed myself for forgetting. Stepping outside, I caught a cab to Daniel’s campaign headquarters. As much as I didn’t need a second job, meeting Daniel’s assistant campaign manager’s frazzled energy made me sorry for him. Without delay, he led me through the hustle and bustle of the headquarters office that always put me on edge.

“Great to see you again, Erica.” Will shut the door behind us. Running a hand over his dark blond and generally untamed hair, he settled down behind his desk.

I sat across from him and pulled out my notebook. “You too. How has everything been going?”

“Well, as I’m sure you know, we’re in the midst of the debates.” He threw his hands up.

I twisted my lips up. “No, I didn’t. Is that good?”

He raised his eyebrows. He still thought this was an important job for me, not a situation that Daniel had coerced me into, which would explain my total lack of knowledge about the campaign as it currently stood. If I wanted information, I knew how to seek it, but nothing about the Massachusetts governor’s race appealed to me, even with my biological father as a prominent candidate.

“So far, yes, it’s good. Mr. Fitzgerald is winning most of them. We have a strong position in the race, and with only a month of campaigning left to do, we want this last push to be what solidifies the win.”

“Of course.” I was still uncertain how I felt about Daniel winning or losing. He was my father, and even though he was a murdering sociopath, part of me wanted to root for him. I shook the strange thought from my head and pressed Will to fill me in more. I hadn’t been in the loop for weeks. Thank goodness, Daniel had given me some space, but I had a feeling that wouldn’t last much longer.

Will spent the next hour bringing me up to speed. We strategized and bounced ideas around. Somehow I was able to draw some parallels between my own venture and Daniel’s marketing goals, and by the time I left, I’d armed Will with some new initiatives to carry through until our next meeting in a week.

The constant hum of the area beyond Will’s small office seemed to grow in volume. Sensing a change, I shifted my focus from Will. Through the glass windows of the office, a few people gathered near the entrance where Daniel now stood. He looked imposing as ever in an impeccable suit, but his stance was casual. His lips moved silently. Then his blue eyes met mine and his smile seemed to broaden a bit. A few seconds later, he joined us in Will’s office.

I stood awkwardly. Should I shake his hand?

“Will, one of the interns out there had some questions about some press releases that were going out today. Quotes and what not. Can you take care of it? Give me a moment to speak with Erica.”

“Of course. Take your time.” Will stood quickly, gathering up his phone and papers.

As unsettling as Daniel’s presence could sometimes be, I relaxed when Will’s brand of stress left the room. Daniel sat back, legs crossed, drumming his fingers on his knee.

“How are you doing?”

“I’m good.”

“How’s Blake?”

I shot a concerned look his way. He laughed quietly. His mood seemed light, but out of habit, I approached any direct communication with him, especially on the topic of Blake, with caution. Maybe I was still a little shell shocked from some of our other less civilized meetings.

“I’m just asking. Last time we spoke you said you were engaged. Any news on that front?”

I inhaled a breath, relief tempering the worry that he still harbored a serious grudge toward my fiancé.

“Um, no. Not really. How’s Margo?” I asked, hoping to change the subject.

Daniel shifted his gaze from me.

“She’s coming to terms. The election has been a saving grace for her, given her something to focus her energies on, thank God.”

“That’s good, I suppose.”

“She actually asked about you the other day.”

I hadn’t seen Margo in weeks, since before Mark’s death. No part of me wanted to face the woman who’d mothered my rapist knowing that our unfortunate connection was what had ultimately led to his death. I couldn’t see the sorrow in her eyes and share it. And I couldn’t pretend I didn’t know my father was the reason she was now childless.

“Does she know I’m working with you on the campaign?”

He nodded. “She knows. You and Will worked out the details?”

“Yes, I think we came up with a good plan for your next steps. If things continue to go well outside of the online outreach, it seems our efforts could put you over the edge. I mean, I haven’t done this before in terms of politics, but it’s promising, I’d say.”

“Excellent. That’s what I want to hear. I’m glad we could figure this out, one way or the other.”

I doodled into my notebook. He was glad now, but he’d put me through hell to get me here when he could have simply asked nicely. Without the murder and violence and death threats that I hoped were all now safely in the past.


I lifted my chin at his more demanding tone.

“Would it help if I said I was sorry? For everything that happened?”

“I’m here now. Isn’t that enough? Do I have to be happy about it too?”

“I’d feel a little better if you were. If we win, there will be plenty to be happy about.”

I tried to imagine that for a moment. I wasn’t sure my vision of victory lined up with his. “Do you really believe that winning this election will bring you happiness?”

A deep frown marked his brow, and he stood. “I have a full day. Need to go over some things with Will before I go, but it was good to see you.”

I collected my bag quickly, stuffing my notebook into it as I rose. “I’ll see you later then.”

I stepped past him, reaching for the door. He placed a hand at my elbow and I jerked away. My heart sped up at the memory of the last time he’d touched me, shaking me with rage.

I looked over my shoulder. Our eyes locked.

“Even if it means nothing to you, if you aren’t necessarily happy to be here, I want you to know that I’m glad that you’re a part of this.”

I gave a short nod and moved forward.

I waved Will a goodbye and left as quickly as I could. As I did, I caught Daniel’s figure watching my departure, his expression stoic.

* * *

I stepped into the apartment to the savory smell of dinner, quiet jazz playing in the surround sound. Blake was in the kitchen, a look of concentration on his face as he put the finishing touches on two plates.