“Okay.” I couldn’t hide the uncertainty in my voice. I had boarded a deceivingly tame-looking theme park ride and now I couldn’t get off.

Alex ran a few more details of the proposal by me before we hung up, but I couldn’t get his comment about Blake out of my head. I didn’t bother asking Alex what they had discussed and risk sounding ridiculous for not knowing. Despite my plea to handle the negotiation myself, Blake had reached out to him anyway. I knew it. I fucking knew it. I slammed my hand down on my desk, suppressing the urge to scream out in my frustration. I was marrying the most maddening, controlling man on earth.

Head in my hands, I took a few steeling breaths. I’d deal with Blake later. More importantly, I had a prospective sale to weed through, and Blake was insane if he thought I was going to let his lawyers have any piece of it. I refreshed my email repeatedly until Alex’s offer came through. I stared at the message, not sure I was ready to read it, but I was unable to do anything else until I knew what it held. I skimmed through the message.

The offer was seven million dollars, an enormous sum.

I bit my lip, trying to stem my excitement. Oh my God, this is really happening.

I hadn’t burned through Blake’s entire initial investment. In fact, I’d stashed a good part of it away into a business savings account in the event of an emergency. After paying him back and cashing Alli and Sid out from their stock in the company, I’d have enough for Geoff’s project and plenty leftover.

I printed out the deal terms and called a meeting with Alli and Sid. We met downstairs at Mocha, which was convenient for privacy and a much needed caffeine boost.

We each read the terms and discussed the concerns until we felt all the bases were covered. We stared at each other. I was desperately searching for signs that this was the right thing to do. A Magic 8 Ball could have done the trick, but I settled for the tentative agreement of the two people who had gone on this crazy journey with me from day one.

“Are we sure?” I asked, looking between Alli and Sid.

“Let’s do it.” Sid’s big brown eyes seemed sure.

More than Alli’s, but enough to give me the push I was looking for.

“Okay, here goes nothing, I guess.”

I stayed late going back and forth with Alex’s legal department. Over email, we’d set the closing for Friday of that week. Days away. It was all so surreal.

Alli joined me when the office had cleared out for the day. “Do you need help with anything?”

“No, I’m just looking over the terms.” I hesitated, compelled to seek her approval once more. “Are we sure about this?”

She smiled weakly and sat in front of my desk. “It’s progress, I guess. Nothing can stay the same forever.”

“This isn’t an easy call for me, Alli,” I admitted.

“I know. There’s a ton riding on this, but whether it works out the way we want it to or not, we took a risk. Nothing can take away the experiences we’ve had. Honestly, I’m scared this could push us in a direction we’re not ready for, but I’m also scared about turning down an opportunity that we would be foolish to ignore.”

“I feel the same way. Change is never easy, I guess,” I said.

As much as Alex assured me that he wanted me to keep doing what I was doing, I knew change was on the horizon in one form or another. One didn’t make an acquisition of this size, no matter how well off he was, without wanting to get the most out of the opportunity. I had to brace myself for those unknowns and have faith that Alex had our best interests in mind, even if they were secondary to his desire to take profit from the venture.

“Well, the decision has been made, right? I’m going to send this off to the lawyer, and maybe we’ll have this executed soon.”

She blew out a breath and shrugged. “Another reason to celebrate, I guess.”

“Sure, we should celebrate. Drinks or something.”

Alli’s smile grew wider. “I was going to surprise you, but the bachelorette party is this weekend.”

I lifted my eyebrows. “Oh.”

“So celebration will definitely be in order. We’ll have to feed you some extra shots.”

I laughed. “Okay, we’ll see how it goes.”

She rose and came to me. I stood up and hugged her.

“I’m so proud of us.” Her voice was muffled in my shoulder. Suddenly tears threatened, and the emotional cliff of following through with this was fully in sight. This was shaping up to be one hell of a week.

She left, and I sent off my last message to Alex. I sat in the office a little while longer, contemplating the heavy choice I’d made. For so long, my life had been framed by Clozpin, by the experiences that had taken me from dabbling hopeful, to near failure, to veritable success. Alex wanted the business and he wanted me. He’d seen value and taken a chance on both. A ripple of satisfaction went through me. I smiled inwardly. I was proud of us too. 

* * *

Clay dropped me at home. The night had turned dark, and I tried not to think about everything Blake and I needed to hash out tonight. I walked toward the door.

“Erica?” A man’s voice approached me, his frame appearing from the shadows. My heart leapt and I stepped back.

“Who are you?”

“I’m with Channel 5 News. I was hoping I could ask you a few questions about your connections with the governor’s race and Daniel Fitzgerald.”

“I’m sorry, this isn’t a good time.” I fumbled with my keys and tried to circle him to get to the door.

“I’ll only take a moment of your time.”

Before I could tell him to leave, Clay appeared, squaring off with the man.

“The lady doesn’t want to speak with you. You need to leave now.”

The young reporter scoffed at him. “Who are you? I’m not breaking any laws by being here.”

“I’m security for Miss Hathaway and for this building. If you don’t leave, I’ll call the police.” Clay was unruffled, his voice and broad frame intimidating without trying to be. He stood imposing between the reporter and me, staring the man down.

Unfortunately for the man, Clay could probably bench press him. He didn’t have a prayer.

“Fine. Sorry. Is it okay to follow up with you by phone?” He glanced around Clay to me.

I shook my head with a sigh. Jesus, these people were persistent. I turned my key in the door and thanked Clay before rushing up the stairs.

I walked into the apartment, dropped my purse on the counter, and silently wished I could unload the suitcase of emotions I’d brought home. Blake rose from the couch while I made a plate of leftovers.

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