My turned-up palm moved between us, a small gesture that meant to encapsulate the emptiness that had existed between us, over the years of his estrangement and the emptiness that still remained.
“You will. I have little doubt.”
“Then this child needs a father, because I know what it’s like to have to live without one. There will never be anyone else to fill that place but Blake. I had to grow into someone else’s heart. I’m grateful for my stepfather, but you were supposed to be the one. He knew that, and so did I.”
My heart ached in my chest and my eyes brimmed with tears. Everything that I’d held back for so long, from before I’d even known who Daniel was, threatened to spill out of me. How could I despise him and still want him so much was a mystery I’d never understand. I could only hope the sentiment resonated someplace within him too. If this connection was worth anything, I prayed it could mean something to him now.
His head fell into his hands. He ran his fingers through his graying hair. I wanted to see his eyes. I imagined them dim with regret. At least a part of me wanted them to be. Did he regret it, all of this?
“I am sorry, Erica. You’ll never know how much.”
His quiet words hit my heart.
“I can’t do this alone, Daniel. I’m strong enough . . . maybe I could, I don’t know. But I can’t fathom it. I’ve been given a chance to have something I thought had been taken away. And now the love of my life could be taken away too. I need your help, please.”
He sighed. “Okay.”
My heavy heart fluttered back to life. “You’ll help?”
“If I can. I’m not sure what you expect me to do. I’m under a microscope too.”
I pulled a piece of paper from my pocket and handed it to him. “You can start with Margaret Cooper. She’s Trevor’s mother. She’s how I found him last time, but they’re off the grid again. That’s their last known address and anything else that might help. If I can find her, or if you can, maybe I can find Trevor or convince her to lead me to him.”
He stared at the paper, his face expressionless. “You’re asking for information.”
His face went tight. “Information comes at a price.”
I parted my lips as I imagined what he might want. “I have money—”
“I don’t want your money. I’m telling you that I’m not like you. The people who find information for me don’t walk into a room and ask nicely. People could get hurt.”
I rolled that thought over in my mind a few times. I remembered Trevor’s mother, the way she came at me. If she hadn’t been so drunk, maybe she would have made it far enough to hurt me. I’d been stupid to go to their home alone, and maybe I was being stupid again now to ask this of Daniel, but I was running out of options.
“I don’t care what you do as long as it gets me Trevor’s location. Find him, and you won’t ever have to hear from me again.”
He nodded and stared back at the paper. He moved it rhythmically back and forth between his finger and thumb. “Is that what you want?”
My breath caught in my chest. “What are you saying?”
He shook his head and moved to stand. “I don’t know. I should go.”
Stuffing the paper in his pants pocket, he rose. “I’ll see what I can find. I’ll be in touch.”
“You just got here.” I followed him to the door.
“Margo started packing her things this morning. I need to get back and try to talk some sense into her. The fact that I left to see you won’t help my case.”
Regret swam in his eyes. “Me too.”
* * *
Early the next morning, the sound of my phone ringing woke me. I picked it up, rubbing the sleep from my eyes.
The reception was scratchy, and then an operator asked if I would accept a collect call from the county jail where I knew they’d been holding Blake. My heart pounded loudly in my chest, both in anticipation of hearing Blake’s voice and with the unwelcome reminder that he was still being held there. I accepted the charges and heard a click.
“Erica?” Blake’s voice seemed far away.
“It’s me.” I closed my eyes, struggling for words when all I wanted was to feel him with me. I wanted to speed to wherever he was and take him back home where he belonged. “How are you doing?”
“I’m okay.” There was no life in his answer, and I fought the sudden urge to cry. I didn’t want him to hear me breaking down. I had to be strong . . .