For a second, I believed that could be possible, until Sophia’s terrible face entered my mind. I shoved the last of my personal things—meaningless trinkets—into my bag.

I was being rash, maybe even irrational. I had no metric for normal or logical or even sane. My entire world had tilted on its axis. The business that had kept me grounded for so long had been torn out from under me. As much as I wanted it back, I couldn’t imagine letting this play out through Sophia’s meddling plans. I couldn’t imagine Blake would want me to either. His silent voice in my head offered the smallest measure of reassurance that what I was about to do was the right thing.

“It’s not possible, Isaac. I told you I didn’t want to work with you weeks ago, and I meant it. Just because you’ve coerced me out of a position of control doesn’t change that. I didn’t trust you then, and I sure as hell don’t trust you now.” 

“I can talk to Sophia about bringing Alli back. Just go home and unwind, and let’s start fresh tomorrow. This has been a lot to take in.”

I stepped out from around the desk, hating the tears brimming my eyes. Like it or not, I was exposed. She’d wounded me where it could hurt me the most, and she’d done it in plain view.

“I don’t know what she’s got on you, Isaac, but it’s enough that she’s here. She’s lodged herself into your business, and now mine. You screwed me on this deal. You and Alex, and she’s next in line. Except I’m not going to give her the chance.”

He stared at me a moment. “You’re really leaving? I knew you’d be upset, but you can’t just walk out on us like this. Alex wanted you to stay, and so do I. We need you.”

For a second, I wanted to give in to the plea. To be needed by the business was what had driven me for so long. It was like a child, a baby I’d nursed from the very beginning when neither of us were anything at all. I wasn’t just walking away from Isaac, Sophia, and this whole fucked up situation. I was walking away from something precious that I’d created.

I swallowed over the emotions threatening to spill out from my eyes. “Good luck, Isaac. You’ll need it.”

I brushed an errant tear away before emerging into the main area. I left quickly, Alli on my heels, without giving Sophia another look.

I had to get away. I couldn’t leave fast enough. I had to go before I changed my mind, before I gave Sophia the satisfaction of knowing she had won.

I wouldn’t play this game with her.

I stepped out onto the street. The air felt different. The sound of the cars driving by was foreign. I resented the aroma of coffee tainting the air as a patron left Mocha. None of it was mine anymore. I had no place here, and I’d never belong to this part of my life again.

“What do we do now?” Alli’s sad voice broke through my numbness.

The Escalade was parked across the street with Clay waiting in the driver’s seat checking his phone. Glancing up and down the sidewalk, I had no idea where to go, which direction to move in.

I needed to walk. I needed air. A stiff drink. A hug. All of the above.

“I don’t know,” I finally said.

“Did you have any idea that Sophia was involved with the deal?”

How the hell could I have seen it coming? I ran every moment through my mind, looking for some clue that could have triggered this knowledge.

“Alex gave me no indication. It was all roses and rainbows. A deal that would work out for both of us. Worked out for everyone but me, I guess.”

“And me, don’t forget. Not that I would want to stay without you, Erica, but what did I do to deserve this? I know she hates you, but our paths have crossed before and I’ve never seen that kind of venom from her. I’m completely blindsided.”

I gave her a vacant stare. “Heath.”

She shook her head. “But Heath and she are friends.”

“He broke the news to her about pulling his and Blake’s investment from her agency.”

“She fired me because Heath was the bearer of bad news?”

“No.” I worked my jaw, not wanting to tell her more. She and Heath had enough issues to work through without me throwing a skeleton from his past into the spotlight.

She stepped closer, squaring her small body with mine. “Tell me.”

“Ask Heath about her. I’m sure he can probably tell you more than I can.”

“Erica, I am standing out here on the street, jobless from a company I’ve put my heart and soul into right alongside you. Don’t tell me I should go talk to Heath about it. If you know something about her that I should know, tell me.”

Fuck. I didn’t want to get into this right now. I had a thousand things running through my head, and outing Heath’s supposed interlude with Sophia years ago was not something I wanted to share with my best friend.

“Erica, please.” Alli’s eyes were wide, and the wavering in how she said my name told me she was moments from tears. We both were.

“They have history, Alli.”

She made a small sound of shock. “W-What?”

“Blake has been taking care of Heath for a while, through some rough times. You knew this. Sophia was into the drug scene too. They partied together, and Blake doesn’t know for sure because neither of them would admit it, but he thinks they might have hooked up before Blake sent them both off to rehab. And when Sophia got out, Blake left her. Maybe because of that, but he had a lot of reasons. She stayed close to Heath, and obviously they both invested in her company to help her get off the ground. Consolation prize for Blake breaking her heart, I guess. But I’m beginning to wonder if she stayed close to Heath just to have an in with Blake. He’ll do anything for Heath, and she plays the victim so well when she wants to.”

Alli’s eyes narrowed, tears threatening at the corners. “If they were together at any point, why wouldn’t he tell me? He introduced me to her back in New York like they were old friends.”

“They were. I honestly don’t know what happened between them. Only they do. And if it was anything more than friendship, I’m sure Heath didn’t want to hurt you by telling you.”

I closed my eyes. Blake had done the same for me. Spared me the details of the past to save my feelings. Like a fool, I sought them out anyway. Had I learned all that much from unearthing his past? Maybe not. Maybe there was some greater good for having the dirty details out in the air.

“Looks like I’m hurt anyway. Sophia couldn’t get me out of here fast enough.” Alli wrapped her arms around herself.