“Daniel, it’s me, Erica. I know you don’t want to talk to me.” I closed my eyes, fighting the turmoil that threatened to compound on the nearly excruciating pain I now felt. “But I really need to talk to you. It’s important. And if you don’t call me back, I’m just going to keep calling. If you know me—and despite everything, I think you know me pretty well now—you know that I don’t exactly give up easily. Thanks.”


I hung up, and with one last glance toward Gove and the somber faces of our family, I turned to leave.

The heavy wooden doors of the courthouse gave way with a push. Outside a handful of reporters rushed at me. Their questions came at me all at once. Their voices carried over one another. Daniel—Blake—the election—my involvement.

“Do these new charges against your husband have anything to do with the governor’s election?”

“Do you have any comment on Fitzgerald being stripped of the win?”

My already foggy brain couldn’t process what had just happened inside the courtroom, let alone formulate answers to fill their news reports. I tried to bypass them, and the only thing that broke through the mayhem was the sound of my name. Then I saw Marie maneuvering between two men. Her eyes were wide, expressing a mix of frustration and concern.

She reached out to me. “Come with me.”

I caught her hand, and we walked quickly toward her car. The reporters finally gave up after we got several paces away. I sat in the passenger seat of her sedan, closing out the cold and noise with the door behind me.

One look at my mother’s best friend and my tears began to fall. She reached across the front seat to hug me tightly. I buried my face in her coat and squeezed her thin frame, trying to keep myself from falling apart completely.

“I saw the news this morning and I came as soon as I could.”

I sniffled and sat back. “Thank you.”

“I knew things weren’t looking good for Daniel. The man would sell his soul for a win, but I had no idea Blake could be involved.”

I wiped my eyes. “He wasn’t. He didn’t have anything to do with the election. He’s the only suspect they’re looking at though, so they’re making his life hell and holding him for this charge.”

Anger flooded my veins. I hated the woman who’d stood between Blake and getting bail. For all her determination, she had no idea how much pain she was inflicting by keeping us apart. I balled my fists, trying to hold on to the anger, if only to ease the devastating pain that lingered just beyond.

“Why didn’t you call me?”

I shook my head and stared down at my lap. “It’s all been too much. It’s too much for anyone to fix.”

Alli had been at the house most of the night, trying to comfort me into a place that more closely resembled emotionally stable. The last thing I wanted to do was start spreading the news when I was still short on answers.

We’d talked through as much as we could and we both agreed to meet with Sid after the hearing to see if he might be able to find the code. I didn’t want to ask him to put his own freedom in jeopardy, but my desperation was growing by the minute. Beyond that small sliver of hope that Sid might be able to help, I was struggling to see any light at the end of this dreadful tunnel. We were no closer to finding Trevor than we had been when I’d come home from Dallas.

Arguably, I was still in shock that Blake had been led away in handcuffs only a day ago. And now this . . . Now he wasn’t even going to be able to come home to me.

“They denied his bail, Marie. I can’t even see him. I don’t know what I’m going to do now. We were going to try to get to the bottom of this together, and now he’s not even here.”

Marie brushed away the tears that kept coming, hushing me softly. She did that until my sobs slowed. I hiccupped, trying to catch a full breath through my misery.

“Baby girl, look at me. It’s going to be all right,” she whispered.

I stared into the beautiful caramel irises of her eyes. Her hair fell in long twists around her face. She was a beautiful woman with a beautiful heart. But when it came to the hard realities of the world, she could be naïve. I’d seen her heart break too many times to believe she could stop this freight train of hurt that I was riding right now.

“I see fear in your eyes, but I see your fire too. I know you want Blake to be the strong one. When it comes to protecting you, I believe he always will be. But he needs you now. He needs you to be strong.”

Strong. What did that even mean in the context of what was going down now? I considered myself strong. Flawed, sensitive, sure. But when times got hard, when life served up its worst, I’d always found a way to pick myself back up.

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