I clamped my jaw tight. What a fucking mess this could turn into . . . and for what? Someone who either wanted Daniel to win, or to ultimately lose over all of this.
“What is Fitzgerald saying?” I asked.
“I’ll find out soon. I’m guessing he had a long day at the station too. I plan to get more information from his camp tomorrow and gauge his position. Do you think he’ll try to implicate you?”
“If it saves his ass, he would.” I’d have liked to think he wouldn’t for Erica’s sake, but the man had no soul. I couldn’t take anything for granted.
“I guess we’ll find out in the morning. Let’s meet at my office early and start running through everything.”
I sighed and stepped out of the car, eager for a breath of fresh air. Hours in a cage with a steady diet of subpar coffee. I was edgy and needed to get away from all of it. Before I shut the door, Dean called out.
I leaned down and peered into the car. “What?”
“Don’t lose any sleep over this, okay? You know me. I’m just trying to be thorough. We’ll figure it out.”
Inside the silence was broken only by the low rumble of the waves crashing against the seawall. A storm was coming in. Upstairs I found Erica sleeping in our bed. I went into the adjoining bathroom and turned on the shower, wanting to wash away the shittiest day on recent record.
Under the water, I tried to take Dean’s parting advice and let everything go, at least for tonight. But there was no way. Evans’s questions and his condescending fucking face filled up my thoughts. Every contingency plan spun through my head. I replayed every hack I’d executed that could possibly trace back to me. Sure, a part of me took for granted that I was good enough never to get caught again. But here I was . . . under the microscope of the authorities . . . again.
The feds had come after me and Brian Cooper years ago, and when it was all said and done, he had taken his own life. Ours had been a friendship gone wrong, and the day he died, everything changed. I changed.
When the FBI let me go all those years ago, I didn’t register relief. Only guilt, frustration, and, eventually, renewed determination. I hadn’t sworn off hacking, but I’d sworn I’d never get caught again. And I’d sworn no one would ever meet the same fate Brian had because of me. When I meddled, I worked alone, and when it came to the business, my team played it straight with no exceptions.
My reputation had already been tainted, so I held myself to a different standard. Some might call what I did cheating, but I wasn’t above circumventing the systems that society put in place to keep the truth beyond reach. It wasn’t my fault the people building the systems weren’t smart enough to keep them from being vulnerable.
When I met Michael Pope, he took that philosophy and turned it into purpose. He’d seen an opportunity that someone with my particular talents could take advantage of. I didn’t care about his money, and he knew it. I’d had no interest in spending my life building software for corporations, but he made me realize that doing it once, the right way, would give me freedom . . . the kind of freedom I’d been thirsting for. Now, out of nowhere, my freedom was in question again. And I had a hell of a lot more to lose.
I toweled off and returned to the bedroom. I had no chance for sleep, but seeing Erica curled up in our bed reminded me that even a few seconds beside her might bring me down. I slid behind her quietly, breathing her in. A mix of shampoo and her natural scent. I wasn’t sure what it was about the way she smelled, but as soon as she was in my lungs, something in my muscles released. I held her closer, wanting more of that magic only she could wield over me. She moaned quietly, a sound that went directly to my groin.
She turned to me with tired eyes. “Blake.” Her voice was hoarse from sleep.
She was stretched out on her back, wearing only a black tank and a pair of black lace panties that I wanted to peel off with my teeth.
“You’re back.” She slid her hand up my bare chest.
I brushed a soft kiss against her lips. “I’m back.”
“Is everything okay? What happened?” Her eyes were wider now, more alert.
The concern in her voice was evident, and as much I wanted to calm my own fears, I wanted to obliterate hers.
“Everything’s fine. Go back to sleep, baby. We can talk tomorrow.”
I skimmed down her bare arms, unsuccessful in my attempts not to take in every curve. God, she was beautiful. More than that, she was my salvation.
“I missed you,” she whispered.
She guided me back down to her lips, which I fully welcomed. I want to let her rest, but my body wasn’t going to allow it. She wasn’t making it easy either, sliding the tip of her silky tongue over my bottom lip before biting it gently. I groaned and took her mouth in a long and hard kiss, channeling all the day’s frustrations into our connection.