The knot in my stomach grew in size, settling like a rock.
“Really.” I kept my voice steady, not wanting to reveal my concern.
“I want to talk to you about your father.”
“I don’t have anything to say to you about Daniel,” I said quietly but firmly.
“I have information you might find interesting. You might change your mind.”
I shook my head. As if any news about Daniel would shock me.
“Will you meet me?”
If he had a story, I’d read about it in the papers, but I wasn’t going to star in it. Maybe I already was destined to though.
“Just ten minutes,” he pressed.
I cursed silently. “Fine, ten minutes. That’s all you’re getting.”
“That’s all I need. Can it be today?”
“My calendar is wide open.” I took small pleasure in the sarcasm only I understood.
“Great. There’s a little bistro across from the news office. Famiglia.”
“Fine. I’ll be there in an hour.”
About an hour later I got off at the T-stop nearest the destination. Blake had given Clay some much-needed time off. I wasn’t getting out much anyway, so I didn’t care. Now that I was out, I appreciated the moment of freedom. I couldn’t be more free it seemed. No one hovered. No one needed me.
No one had told me freedom could feel so empty.
Ignoring the sentiment, I took quick strides toward the restaurant, and my phone rang, lighting up with Blake’s face. I answered.
“Hey, do you want me to pick anything up on my way home?”
“No, I bought food.”
A car horn blared behind me.
“Where are you?”
“I’m meeting Richard. He called me. Said he wants to talk.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“Not really. I’m sure he just wants to pump me for information, but I have a few choice words for him too.”
“Just be careful. He’s a reporter. He’ll use anything you say and twist it. You’re in the spotlight enough as it is.”
“I know. I don’t plan on saying a lot outside of four-letter words.”
“Fair enough. Where are you meeting him?”
The restaurant was just ahead. “At this Italian place across from his office.”
“Is it safe?”
I glanced around. People walked the streets the same carefree way they did on our side of town. “It’s fine, Blake. It’s a busy area and I’m in broad daylight.”
“Okay, I have to wrap up a few things here. I’ll swing by when I’m done and pick you up.”
My phone beeped. “I have another call coming in. I’ll see you after.”
“I’ll call you when I get there.”
I pulled the phone away and saw Daniel’s name on my phone.
Shit. What impeccable timing. I considered ignoring the call but worried that he’d simply keep calling.
“Daniel.” I swallowed and tried to sound firm.
“Where are you?” he barked.
I tensed, remembering his wrath from the last time we spoke.
“I think I told you to stop yelling at me.”
“I don’t have time for discussing manners, Erica. Where the fuck are you?”
I started losing my cool. I was pissed, but I was scared too. I glanced up and down the street, suddenly petrified that he could find out where I was.
“This isn’t a good time,” I said quickly.
I hung up the phone and silenced the ringer, dropping it back into my purse. No way in hell was I telling him where I was. All I needed was him and his henchman Connor showing up at the restaurant confronting Richard. I closed my eyes and asked myself why I cared, why I still let him be a part of my life in any way. I’d be better off without him. Just like my mother wanted. Why hadn’t anyone given me the cliff notes on him before I’d stupidly started seeking him out?
My purse vibrated against me. I knew it was Daniel again. All he cared about was his campaign. All he ever did was hurt me. Physically, and emotionally, he’d put me through hell. Yet here I was, fishing for what Richard might know that could damage him or compromise his freedom.
I reached for the door handle of the restaurant, determined to push thoughts of Daniel out of my mind. I caught Richard’s profile ahead of me. He held his cell phone to his ear. I approached, not caring that I was interrupting. Dropping down into the chair across from him, I leveled a contentious look his way. Expressionless, he looked over at the front window, repeating the name of the restaurant to whoever was on the other line.
“See you then.”
He hung up and set his phone down between us. “We meet again.”
“What do you want?” I snapped, eager to let him know how unimpressed I was with him and how he’d hurt one of my best friends to further his own career.
“I’m not here to fight. I just want to ask you a few questions.”
I let out a short laugh. “Right. For the record, I have nothing to say to you.”
“I had a feeling you’d say that. So why are you here?”
I leaned in. “I want to know how you sleep at night.”
His eyes narrowed. “Listen, I just want the truth.”
“So you manipulated someone I love for information? What kind of person does that?”
He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I care about Marie.”
“For someone who wants the truth, you’re full of shit. Does she even know what you did?”
He worked his jaw, avoiding my eyes. “We talked.”
“And?” I waited. I wanted him to tell me he’d revealed his true self to her. But if he had, he would have destroyed her too. I couldn’t forget the hurt look on her face when I’d called Richard out. She loved him.
“Not surprisingly, she didn’t understand my reasons or my obligations as a member of the press.”
“What about your obligations as a decent person? Marie is a good, kind person, and you probably broke her heart. For what? A story?”
He shook his head and looked past me. “Look, I know there’s more to Daniel Fitzgerald than meets the eye. He’s skirted past every major controversy that’s come close to him over the past decade, and no one digs any deeper with this guy. I want to know why, and I’m going to find out.”
I stared at him, my lips sealed into a tight line. He wasn’t getting shit out of me.