“I’m not sure I should take time away from work right now.” The past few hours had pushed Risa and Max and their whole scheming madness out of my mind, but slowly reality crept back in.
“I think you’ve earned it. Let me take you away for a few days. There will always be something we need to do and someone who needs us. But there’s nothing that can’t wait an extra day or two.”
I raised my eyebrows, the compulsive worker in me not entirely believing him. “You sure?”
“Positive. In fact, I’ve just decided I’m not giving you a choice. We’ll leave after work tomorrow.”
I grinned, a little thrill working its way through me. “What should I pack?”
“I’ll put a bag together for you.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“I’m not sure you’ll be wearing clothes much anyway, so it doesn’t really matter, does it? Bikini, some thongs. That should do fine.”
I laughed and playfully swatted his face. He caught my hand and growled, hauling me on top of him.
“Until then, I think we need to make a little noise of our own.”
I laughed again and shook my head. “Not to be outdone, Blake. You are incorrigible.”
“Trust me, I have no interest in hearing my little brother getting laid. The only way I can send a message is to return the favor. All I need to do is figure out a way to make you scream for me.”
My smile slipped a little. He wrapped his arms around me, holding me tight and stoking the fire with every soft graze of his fingertips over my skin.
“I have a feeling you already know how to do that very well.”
* * *
A loud knock woke me. Blake stirred behind me but didn’t wake.
“Erica, are you up?” The muffled voice came from behind the door.
I slipped on Blake’s T-shirt and glanced back to make sure Blake was decently covered. I opened the door a bit. Alli was wide-eyed and already dressed for work.
“What?” I frowned. “What time is it anyway?”
“It’s eight o’clock. Get dressed. I need to show you something.”
I studied her with tired eyes, not awake enough to comprehend anything beyond wanting to curl up in bed with Blake again. “What is it?”
“Just get moving and meet me at the office.”
Before I could finish she’d disappeared down the hallway and the door clicked shut a few seconds later. I turned back into the bedroom and headed to the bathroom. Blake was still sleeping when I finished my shower. I dressed quickly and hovered over him a moment, enjoying the rare peace on his countenance as he slept. Of the two of us, he was typically the early riser, but it had been a long night. Some nights we couldn’t get enough of each other, and last night had turned into the morning before sleep finally found us. I pressed a soft kiss to his cheek and left for work.
When I walked into the office, the entire team was huddled around James, their eyes glued to something on his display monitor. I joined them, unsure at first of what I was looking at.
“What’s going on?”
“This site, PinDeelz launched last night,” Alli explained. “All our Clozpin users were messaged about the launch, including us. Very discreet.”
I leaned over James’s shoulder as he navigated through pages of a site that, though different in its branding, displayed very similarly to ours. My stomach fell when each page displayed ads from Bryant’s, one of our major advertisers who had yet to renew their contract with us for the following month.
I straightened and disappeared to my office. I whipped open my laptop and investigated the site further. The about page listed Max as its founder and Risa as its chief operating officer. Not surprisingly, Trevor’s role wasn’t mentioned, but I knew damn well that the hacker who’d spent months, maybe years, trying to ruin Blake’s ventures had been pivotal in getting this competing site off the ground. Even if that meant taking a break from relentlessly attacking my and Blake’s businesses.
Anger surged through me. I could barely process that this was happening. Sid and I had spent months fine-tuning Clozpin, making it what it was today. All our success, all the mistakes and the lessons, had been swiftly copied and enhanced.
Alli joined me and sat in the chair across from my desk, my concern reflecting in her features. She worried her lip but said nothing. Inside I was flying into a psychotic rage. I wanted to throw the biggest temper tantrum anyone had ever seen. I wanted to curse, and God help me if I could get Max and Risa...and Trevor...in front me, there would be blood.
“I can’t believe they really did it.”
“I know,” she said quietly.
“I’m in disbelief that someone would harbor so much hatred for me and for Blake that they would do something like this. Total sabotage.”
“They won’t last, Erica.”
I let out a short laugh. “Why not? What’s keeping them from it? You met Risa. You know how determined she is, and with Max’s money, I see no reason why they can’t completely wipe us out now. This market isn’t big enough to support two sites with such similar offerings.”
“Don’t think like that. We’re far from doomed. I have been talking to a lot of new prospects since I’ve been back. It’s a process, but we’re close to closing more. We’re established, and we have the track record. I’m shocked they could get Bryant’s to take a risk with them being so new.”
I was pissed all over again imagining what Risa must have said to lure one of our biggest advertisers away. “What am I supposed to do now?”
“We keep going. They want to distract us and scare us. Don’t let them do that.”
I shook my head. Nothing she said would improve my present mood. Deep down, I didn’t believe her either. The sky was falling, and I couldn’t sit back and watch them tear down everything I’d worked for.
The morning passed, and I didn’t feel any less exasperated by the situation. I’d wasted hours obsessing over every detail of their new site, comparing every bell and whistle to ours. My insecurities were at the wheel, and they were steadily driving me right off the tracks. By lunch, most of my adrenaline rush had worn off and my body reminded me that I’d been up half the night with Blake. I needed coffee.
I walked down to Mocha and took a small table in the corner. I fidgeted with the paper menu even though I always got the same thing. Simone sauntered up, carrying more than a few stares with her as she moved across the cafe. Her red hair, enviable curves, and saucy smile greeted me a moment later.