Marie picked up her water with shaky hands and swallowed the liquid down hard. “There has to be some other explanation for this. I don’t know why Richard would do this.”
“Maybe because he’s using you to get information about Daniel. About me.”
She shook her head with a frown. “That’s impossible.”
“He’s a reporter, Marie. This is his job.”
“He wouldn’t do this. I know him.” Her calm demeanor had risen to an almost frantic state. The truth hurt. This I knew.
I leaned in. “He said himself that his focus is on political news reporting, right? The controversy around Daniel’s campaign—with Mark’s death and now an illegitimate daughter helping with his campaign—how could he ignore it? Remember how things were on the rocks between you two, but then he came around after the gala? Everything changed between you two, seemingly out of the blue.”
“Stop it, Erica,” she snapped. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“How could you tell him about Daniel? You couldn’t even tell me for a decade, for Christ’s sake. And you tell him. A reporter? Now I have no idea what this is going to do to my business or Blake’s, not to mention Daniel’s campaign.”
She scoffed. “You’re worried about Daniel’s campaign? He’s given you nothing. He didn’t want anything to do with you, Erica. Patty gave him a chance to be a father, and he chose his blue-blood family and his career. You grew up without a father because of that choice, and now you’re fighting for his career too?”
My jaw tightened. She wasn’t the only person to hold that belief. Blake would rather see Daniel in jail than anywhere else, but I couldn’t stomach the thought of his demise because I’d made the mistake of discovering his identity and seeking him out.
“You don’t understand what’s at stake,” I said simply, not wanting to get into the emotional reasons why I needed Daniel a free man. “What else did you tell him?”
“I don’t know, Erica.” Her head fell into her palm and she closed her eyes. “I had a couple drinks, and we were talking about how accomplished you are. Once I got going about all you’ve done under the circumstances, I probably went on for a while. Still, knowing what you mean to me, I can’t believe he would intend to hurt you by misusing that information.”
“Well, I’m nearly positive that he did.” And if Daniel ever found out, God help him.
“No one else knows? What about the people you work with?”
I tossed my napkin on the table and shoved my chair back, losing my patience with Marie’s obvious unwillingness to accept the truth of the matter. “Think what you want to, Marie. But do me a favor. Next time you see Richard, ask him if he told anyone else what you told him. Look him in the eye when you do, and tell me if you believe him.”
I rose to leave, grabbing my purse.
I paused. “You warned me once to be careful around Daniel. If you care for Richard, you might want to pass that advice on to him too.”
I turned and walked out, ignoring her calling out my name one last time. I’d already said too much. But hell, if he was already hot on Daniel’s trail, he should know Daniel wasn’t a man to be trifled with. Maybe Richard already had his suspicions about Mark’s apparent suicide. I had no idea who in Daniel’s camp knew the truth. But I’d sworn Blake to secrecy, and I wouldn’t be the one to put my own father behind bars.
* * *
I came home early and dropped the groceries on the counter. Despite my nagging fatigue, I threw myself into cooking dinner. Blake’s family was coming over, and I had been looking forward to hosting since we’d be missing out on this weekend’s dinner at his parents’. I lost myself in the task of prepping two large lasagnas, temporarily forgetting the worries that kept threatening to poke through.
I put the pans into the oven to cook and poured myself a full glass of wine, eager for a little mental relief. Alli came through the door after a short knock.
“Hey.” She smiled and came to me for a hug. “You didn’t come back after lunch. I was worried about you.”
“I needed to get some things for the trip this weekend, and I wanted to get a head start on dinner too. Everything going okay?”
“Yeah. Oh, Alex called for you, but I told him you were out and traveling this weekend. He said he would be in town next week so I put him in your calendar for Monday. I hope that’s okay.”
“Are you excited about Chicago?”
Was I? “I think so. It’ll be a little strange. I haven’t been back in a while, but I’m looking forward to getting away for a bit.”
She went to the counter to pour herself a glass of wine. “I bet Blake has big plans for your birthday. It’s your first birthday together!” She smiled broadly and clinked glasses with me.
I laughed and took another sip. I hadn’t given the occasion much thought. Between the wedding and the daily flurry of things to do and people to deal with, celebrating was a far away thought.
Alli and I chatted about work and settling into her new apartment with Heath. Things were going well with them—her eyes and the carefree smile that crept over her lips spoke volumes. I was grateful for what they had. They needed each other, I imagined, much the same way Blake and I had grown to rely on each other.
Heath and Blake came through the door several minutes later. Alli went to Heath, and he pulled her into a sweet embrace, kissing her lips gently. My focus went to Blake, who was making casual strides in my direction.
I tipped my chin up to meet his chaste kiss. His gaze was warm, but concern lined his eyes.
“How was your day?”
Before I could answer him, Catherine, Greg, and Fiona came through the door, arms full of wine and desserts. They piled into the kitchen, talking over each other and pulling everyone else into hugs. I smiled inwardly, loving all their energy and the lightness they brought into our lives.
“How are my lovebirds?” Catherine asked as she reached up to kiss Blake on the cheek.
He smirked. “We’re good, Mom.”
She replied with a loving pat on his cheek before turning to me. “Let me help you, sweetheart. Look at this spread. You’ll put Greg out of a job.”
I laughed. “I doubt it. Greg’s lasagna is pretty incredible.”