I was silent a moment, the sound of blood thrumming through my veins loud in my ears. “Okay,” I said, tentatively.

“Reports have been released by the local police in connection with the death of his stepson. Some of these reports imply that you are Fitzgerald’s biological daughter. We have sources who have also confirmed that you have been working on his campaign. Can you confirm this?”

Yes, all of that was true, but I wasn’t about to aid the media in its mission to smear Daniel’s campaign or further link him to Mark’s death, which was still under investigation.

I stalled. “I’m sorry, but this actually isn’t a good time,” I said.

“Perhaps I could stop by your office some time that would be more convenient. I understand you run an Internet business here in Boston.”

Jesus, what else did they know? This would be creeping into Blake’s arena soon if it wasn’t already.

“I’m not inclined to comment at this time. I hope you understand.”

“But Miss—”

I hung up the phone quickly and rested my hands on the desk, hoping to still the tremor in them. Shit. It would only be a matter of time before Richard’s digging into my personal life would hit the press. As the days passed with no word though, I’d started to hope that Daniel’s PR concerns were farfetched.

A little more awake and a lot more frustrated, I left the office to meet Marie. I stepped out of the building stairwell and walked toward the black Escalade that always idled by the curb outside my office. Clay, Blake’s hired bodyguard, and most days my personal chauffeur, looked up from the paper he was reading in the driver’s side. He unlocked the vehicle. I slid into the back seat.

“Hey, Clay.”

“Miss Hathaway,” he said, his voice deep and polite.

“You can call me Erica, you know. I won’t be Miss Hathaway much longer anyway.”

A short nod was his only acknowledgement. “Where to this afternoon?”

“What’s your last name?”

Our eyes met in the rearview mirror. “Barker.”

“Well, Mr. Barker, I have a lunch date at The Vine on Newbury.”

He smiled broadly, revealing his straight white teeth. “Very well, Miss Hathaway.”

Ten minutes later, Clay had deposited me in front of the tiny bistro on the busy street. I scanned the dining room for Marie. The eyes of my mother’s best friend lit up when I found her. I walked her way and hugged her, relieved to see her but brimming with frustration at the part she’d played in all of this, whether or not she knew it.

“How are you doing, honey? You look tired.” Her lips pouted with concern as we settled down across from each other.

“I’m fine. Didn’t sleep well last night.”

“How’s Blake?”

“He’s fine. We’re fine.” I didn’t want to get into the real reasons why I’d had a sleepless night. Thoughts of Sophia and their dark past flooded to the forefront of my mind. I pushed them aside when Marie spoke again.

“You must be getting excited about the wedding. I’m sure you can’t wait to see Elliot again too. Gosh, I haven’t seen him in ages.”

I thought back to the last time I’d spoken with my step-father. The conversation had been rushed, and I tried to forget the pangs of disappointment I’d felt learning he wouldn’t be coming out to Boston after all.

“He’s not coming,” I said flatly. 

“Why not?

I hesitated. “He reached out to me a while ago to plan a trip out here, to commemorate Mom. It’s been ten years.”

Her face fell and her lips curled into a sad smile. I closed my eyes, not wanting to think about how Marie had filled my mother’s place these past years. Except now we were more friends than anything, and I was absolutely furious with her.

“Anyway, Blake and I want to keep things small. Everything has been happening so fast. I just kept putting off telling Elliot about the wedding, and when we finally talked about him coming out, it sounded like he and Beth were going to be too busy for him to make a quick trip, so I didn’t want to put him in an awkward situation by asking about the wedding.”

“But he’s your…” She sighed softly. “Well, I guess it’s your decision, Erica. I’m sure he would make a way to be there, though.”

“He offered to fly me out to Chicago, so Blake and I decided to go out this weekend for my birthday. I’ll talk to him then and explain everything. It’s no big deal, really.”

Her eyebrows rose. “That sounds like fun, honey. I bet Blake is going to spoil you rotten.” She gave me a girlish smile.

I wanted to return her excitement, but all I could think about was that damn reporter and how this news was threatening to blow up in our faces at any moment.

“Is everything okay?” Marie reached for my hand, feathering her fingers over mine.

I gave her a weak smile and sat back, retreating from her grasp when the waiter filled our waters. We ordered and the silence descended once more.

I cleared my throat quickly. “Are you still seeing Richard?”

“Of course. Why?”

I worried the inside of my lower lip and traced the edge of my cloth napkin on my lap. This wasn’t going to be an easy conversation. I didn’t want to see Marie upset, but she had to know. I drew in a deep breath, bracing myself. “I have to ask you something, and I need you to be honest with me. I know you care about Richard, but this is important.”

“What is it? What’s going on?”

“Did you tell him that Daniel Fitzgerald was my father?”

Her lips parted silently, her gaze steady on mine. “Why?”

I wilted, defeated by her reaction. I could have believed her if she’d denied it right off the bat. “Because, somehow, the police know that I’m Daniel’s daughter. The investigation regarding his son’s death still isn’t closed, so they’ve got his life under a microscope right now. Now the press is latching onto this too. I just dodged a call from a local reporter. I have a sinking feeling there will be more.”

“Are you implying that Richard had a part in this?”

I tried not to bristle at her defensive tone. Getting angry with her would go nowhere. I had to make her understand. “The night of the Spirit Gala, Richard was there. Remember, you told me to look out for him because he was covering the event with a photographer. He never introduced himself, but when the police questioned me about Mark’s death, they had photos of him dancing with me. Not just one. Dozens of photos. Why would someone spend so much time on me, and how did those specific photos find their way into the police’s hands?”

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