My mind spun as I absorbed these new details. Attacking me would have been the shot that set off this whole chain of events. And if what Risa said was true, Max’s world might be imploding. His finances, his family, maybe even his freedom.
“If all this is happening because of Michael, it would make sense why none of your other investors would want to upset him.”
“Don’t let his charms fool you. Michael’s a great guy, but he’s not someone to cross.”
“But his own son?”
“Max is finally getting what he deserves. I have no sympathy for him, and neither should you.”
“I know. Trust me, I don’t,” I said. My thoughts drifted. I still had to speak with the police, and I was less than thrilled about it.
“I have to run, Erica. I have a call. But I forgot to tell you earlier that Mom wanted to have us for dinner tomorrow night. I told her we’d go, but I wasn’t thinking. Are you okay going there and seeing everyone so soon?”
“Of course. Blake, I love your family.”
“I know, but after everything that went down…we don’t have to go if you don’t want to go back there so soon.”
“No, it’s fine. Really, I’m fine. I have to move on. I can’t undo what happened, but I can’t dwell on it either. Remember that I’ve been through worse. Beyond that, it’d be nice to get together with everyone. Most of the time they overwhelm me, but you’ve been keeping me in isolation long enough. I’m actually looking forward to all the commotion now.”
“Okay, I’ll let her know we’ll be there.”
“I love you, baby.”
I smiled. “Love you too.”
* * *
I focused intently on the magazine on my lap, trying like hell not to feel overwhelmed. Living inside my brain lately was like living inside a three-ring circus. Sid and James had the re-launch plans under control, so Alli and I decided to take the afternoon off to go dress shopping. I was still reeling from the meeting with Risa so I didn’t argue when she suggested the break.
I lifted my gaze to find Marie walking toward me. She smiled warmly, but I could see the worry in her eyes. I rose from the bridal shop’s ornate cream-colored couch, and hugged her when she was close enough.
“You look good, honey. How are you feeling?”
“I’m good,” I insisted, swallowing over the rush of emotions that came with seeing her again. “I feel really good. Back to work and everything.”
“I’m glad.” She didn’t budge, her arms wrapped tightly around my shoulders. The longer we stood that way, the less control I had over the tears burning behind my eyes.
“Marie.” I laughed weakly to keep from sobbing. “You’re going to make me cry again. I can’t cry over this anymore.”
She pulled away, her eyes glistening as mine were. “It’s okay to cry. What happened was terrible. I can’t imagine what you must be going through.”
I shook my head and rubbed my eyes. “It’s nothing I haven’t already survived. I’ll be fine.”
She frowned and I regretted the words as soon as they slipped from my lips. I had started to take for granted that everyone knew about Max, and most even knew about Mark. Having my past so out in the open wasn’t a comfortable feeling, but oddly it had given me a small measure of relief. Sometimes hiding what had happened and pretending like it hadn’t become a part of me took more energy than simply owning it.
Over the past few years I had often battled over whether or not to tell Marie about what happened with Mark, but in the end, decided it was better not to burden her with it. I don’t know why I said it now, except to take another step toward bringing that scar out into the light. Still, I didn’t want to worry her with it today.
She rubbed up and down the tops of my arms slowly. “What do you mean?”
“Nothing. Forget it. This is supposed to be a happy day. Right?” I smiled and sniffed, trying to pull myself back together.
Her lips were tight and then she released a small sigh. “Of course. Thank you for inviting me. I’m not sure how I’m going to keep from balling like a baby when I see you in a white dress though. Have you picked anything out?”
I looked around for Alli. “No, not yet. Alli is with the sales lady picking out dresses for me. She says she knows what I want anyway. She usually does, so I’m going with it.” I shrugged.
Then Alli emerged with another young woman. They both had their arms full of more white lace than I’d ever know what to do with.
My stomach fell. Oh hell, here we go.
Fifteen minutes later, the sales lady was clipping the back of my dress, cinching the fabric tightly around my bust and waist. Carefully I stepped into the little room the store had reserved for us. Alli and Marie sat on the edge of the couch, eyes wide as I emerged. I turned to face the mirrors.
Marie’s hands went to her mouth. Before I could let the waterworks loose, I turned my focus back to the dress. It was beautiful, but the details of its design escaped me when all I could imagine was walking toward Blake in it. To be his wife. To be his, forever.
The reality of that thought hit me like a sledgehammer. I didn’t know if I wanted to be sick or pass out or launch into tears. All I knew was up until this moment, the thought of getting married had seemed more abstract. Right now, it was real and staring me in the face, impossible to ignore.
Alli came up beside me with a broad smile. “It’s beautiful. I love it. Do you like it?”
“This is really happening,” was all I could say.
She laughed and squeezed my shoulders. “Yes! This is happening, and you’re going to be so happy.”
I laughed a little at how surreal it all felt. “I can’t believe I’m doing this. I’m actually getting married.”
Marie stood on the other side and took my hand, so much love in her eyes. “You ready for this, honey?”
I stared back at her reflection, frozen as I asked myself the same question. A weight inside me lifted when I heard myself answer.
I’d never been more ready.
I stared down at my feet as they sank into the wet sand. Wave after wave lapped against my calves. While we waited for dinner, Blake and I had walked down to the shore, stopping at the edge of his parents’ private beach. I took in the salty air, moist on my skin in the warm summer night. I lifted my gaze to the darkening horizon.