“Erica, I know this is hard for you. And I know that what you went through when Max attacked you must have been tremendously difficult. No one deserves to go through something like that. I’m ashamed of him, more than I ever have been in my life. But when you have children of your own, you’ll learn that no matter how they fail you, no matter how they hurt you and shame you, they will always be your children. I love Blake like a son . . . but he’s not my son. Max is my flesh and blood. I will do whatever I can to help Blake, but not at Max’s expense. I’ve never stood between them, and I won’t start now.”
A single tear escaped, sliding down my cheek.
He squeezed my hand. “Erica, you just have to find a different way. Blake’s smart—one of the smartest people I know. That’s why he’s not here, because he knows how I feel.”
I ripped my hand away from his touch that now felt more condescending than anything. “He’s not here because he won’t defend himself.”
I stood and moved for the door. I curved my hand around the doorknob and hesitated. Across the room, Michael stood. His stance was casual, his face lined with appropriate concern. I’d always thought of him as different, because Blake seemed to think he was. Had I been so wrong?
“Sometimes I think about the men in my life. I think about how so many of them march around like gods, wielding their power and ego like a weapon with no regard for who they hurt or whose lives they destroy. And the rest of us are left picking up the pieces. For some reason, I always thought you were different. I guess I was wrong.”
His silence confirmed the hard truth of it. I left his office and hailed a cab back to the hotel, resigned in my defeat.
For the first time since I’d landed in Dallas, I turned on my phone. I waited, preparing myself for the deluge of communications that I must have missed. A dozen texts came through at once, one from James and the rest from Blake. All wanting to know where I was, if I was safe, to call soon.
One voicemail message waited for me. I began to listen to it, bracing myself for whatever Blake had to say. I didn’t expect it to be even-toned.
“Erica, it’s me.”
My heart twisted at the first sound of his voice.
“I don’t know where you are, and it’s killing me. I’m not saying I don’t deserve this, but . . . please, just call me so I can hear your voice and know that you’re okay. I know Alli is with you, but I can’t help but worry about you. I want to be with you wherever you are, to protect you from whatever trouble you’re getting into. And I already know what you’re thinking right now. That I won’t protect myself, so how can I protect you? And you’re right. I’m too stubborn for my own good, and you shouldn’t have to put up with me. You promised you would, though. Please . . . just call me.”
The sadness in his voice gutted me. I missed him more than I’d let myself believe.
I walked into the hotel room and found Alli working on her laptop.
“How did it go?”
I simply shook my head, and her shoulders sagged with the defeat I felt.
“He won’t help?”
“Not if it means implicating Max.” I slumped onto the bed beside her.
“I’m sorry.” She hooked an arm around my shoulders. “What do we do now, chica?”
I leaned against her, willing myself to believe that I could find another way to the truth. But I was tired, and all I wanted right now was the comfort of Blake’s arms. If I could get him to change his mind and fight for us, maybe there was still hope.
I closed my eyes with a sigh. “I want to go home.”
I must have called her a hundred times. No answer, every time. I’d called Heath a dozen more times. No updates. All I knew was that she was gone, and I had no idea when she’d be back or if she would be at all.
I sat at the dining-room table, lost in my own thoughts. The last swallow of scotch slid down my throat. Nothing could numb the pain of knowing she wasn’t with me though. She’d chosen to leave, and maybe I’d given her every good reason to.
I rubbed my eyes. One sleepless night had turned into two. I’d dozed off a few times, but woke in a panic. I’d go through the house again, check my phone and email. Call Heath with no regard for his own need to sleep. I’d realize she was gone all over again and worry until my eyelids wouldn’t stay open any longer.
I heard the front door click shut. Clay had been checking in on me. If he hadn’t worked for me, I had a feeling he would have been more vocal about how terrible I must have looked. How insane I was being. But nothing anyone could say would fix this. Nothing would be right until she was home. If she gave me a chance to explain myself, I’d make it right.