I took a few unsteady breaths. As much as I wanted to know, I questioned whether I should. “You can talk to me, Blake.”
His lips fell open a fraction. Filled with a nameless emotion, his gaze darted over me. Before either of us could say a word, he captured my face in his hands and melded our mouths together. His motions were rough, his lips a bruising force against my own, as if he were trying to erase the past twenty minutes. Maybe he was simply trying to erase the past. We could get lost that way sometimes, forgetting everything. But even his fierce passion now couldn’t overwhelm what had been said and everything I’d heard.
I pushed him back, ripping us apart. Jagged breaths burned through my lungs and tears threatened, a well of emotion that this morning had brought to the surface.
“Goddamn it, tell me.”
Adrenaline and love and the slice of fear that came with facing off with the uncompromising side of Blake pulsed through my veins. He curled his arms around my body, pulling me into a firm embrace that I was powerless to fight. His breath danced over my neck, his lips, softer now, almost resigned as they slid over my pulse. The tender way he moved over me almost demanded that I relax and stop fighting him. I weakened, wanting him to make this all right.
“Let it go. Please.” He brushed his cheek against mine. “Just let it go.”
I squeezed my eyes closed and held him back, wishing like hell that I could.
I stared out our bedroom window into the moonlit darkness. I replayed Blake’s conversation with Sophia in my head, over and over, like a track on repeat that wouldn’t stop no matter how much I wanted it to. I tossed and turned, trying to get comfortable, but I couldn’t forget the anger in her voice. Worse, the pain in it—an unsettling reminder that they’d loved each other once. That she still loved him.
And what the hell was the club? I’d thought of little else for the rest of the day but resisted the urge to ask him to tell me more about it. When it came to his past, I had to pry every painful detail from him. I planned to, but tonight I held back. A part of me didn’t want to upset him even more than Sophia’s visit had, but a deeper part of me worried about what I’d learn with the truth. Did I really want to know about this sliver of history that Sophia shared with him?
Still, I was about to become his wife, and I was haunted by the likely truth that she’d always know a side of him that I didn’t. That vast unknown was what kept me from sleep as the minutes and hours ticked by. Blake slept peacefully beside me. Moonlight cast shadows over his face. If I hadn’t memorized every beautiful feature, he might have looked like a stranger to me now, from this vantage, in the stark black-and-white of night.
Who was Blake…really? What made a man? What made anyone who they are at any given moment?
Blake was many things to me now. A lover, friend, a healer. A mentor too, yes. I cringed, hating Sophia’s derogatory use of the word. Who had he been for her? Had he changed so much for me? Would he resent it as our years together wore on? Forever was a long time.
For the first time in a long time, my visions of happily ever after were tainted with unwelcome possibilities. What if I married the man I thought he was, only to find he was someone else entirely? What would I do then? How on earth could I survive without him, or with him, knowing I wasn’t making him happy the way others had?
Blake stirred, momentarily pausing the incessant turning of my thoughts and the torturous barrage of doubt-filled questions assaulting my brain. He turned to his side, curling his body alongside mine. I stilled, hoping I hadn’t woken him with my restlessness. His bare arm wrapped around me, coaxing me closer until I could feel his heart beating against me, a slow steady rhythm.
“Love you,” he murmured against my neck. Seconds later, his breathing returned to its regular sleeping pattern.
I melted back into the welcome warmth of his chest and breathed out a heavy sigh. I wanted to cry then. I wanted to release all the terrible emotions Sophia had conjured. Why had I given her so much power over me? I had Blake’s love. He loved me. But…maybe she was right. Doubt resurfaced, making my reassuring affirmations seem childish and inferior.
Maybe I’d never know the man he’d been before or the feelings he’d harbored while they were together. I tortured myself with the thought until my body simply gave up in the early hours, leaving me barely enough sleep to stay functional the next day.
In the morning, I sat at my desk, rubbing my tired eyes. I thought a new day might help. A fresh start and a clear head, except my head was foggy from lack of sleep. Blake and I had shared our morning coffee, but only a few words passed between us after I told him I didn’t sleep well. He hadn’t asked why. Perhaps he knew.
I tried to force my thoughts back to work, systematically weeding through the tasks of the day. Emails, meetings, getting everyone up to speed. Thankfully the business had been on track and prospering since our latest partnership. Alex Hutchinson, an accomplished tech CEO whose own e-commerce site dovetailed well with our focus on apparel, had taken a chance on me and the results were paying dividends for both our businesses. Thanks to Sid’s urging that we expand our reach and Blake’s introduction to Alex, we had been able to work out an arrangement where Clozpin referred more sales to his site and his promotions helped build the membership and traffic of ours. The result was that my business was now more than self-sustaining. I was on track to being able to return Blake’s initial investment sooner than I’d anticipated and still hold steady.
I looked up from the stack of papers containing August’s financials that I’d been working through. The clock on the wall blurred before coming into focus. Noon was approaching, as was my long-overdue lunch date with Marie. I’d considered canceling, but we really needed to talk about Richard. He was her boyfriend, but his role in the local press had become unsettling. As much as I wanted to put off our meeting, I couldn’t. I startled when the office phone rang.
A moment later, Alli poked her head around the partition. “It’s for you, hon.”
“Who is it?”
“Someone from the local news. Maybe they want to do a promo for the site? I would have fielded it but they specifically asked for you.”
“Okay, thanks.” I picked up the phone. “Hello, this is Erica.”
“Miss Hathaway, this is Melissa Baker. I’m from local WBGH. I was hoping to ask you a few questions regarding your connection with Daniel Fitzgerald and his campaign for governor.”