“I love you, Blake,” I whimpered against his lips, a tear escaping down my cheek.

I could live in this moment forever, I thought. Painful as it was, Blake was showing me a part of himself I’d never seen. This raw vulnerability. And I was as grateful for that as I was to have him here with me, taking his pleasure and giving me so much more.

His expression was taut, almost pained. He tightened his grasp and his biceps tensed along with the rest of his powerful body. Heat licked down my spine, and I cried out as he did. We crashed over, together.

* * *

Little by little, life returned to normal. Over the next few months, Blake and I threw ourselves into work. He let me into his projects and I let him into mine. Blake turned most of his focus to a voting software project that would undoubtedly fill an unmet need. I could appreciate too that every line of code was an unspoken victory over Michael’s foiled plan.

He hadn’t heard from Michael again since their long ride home, and even though Blake didn’t say much about it, Michael’s betrayal weighed on him. It had broken something inside of Blake—maybe something that needed to be broken so it could heal the right way.

Despite all the hurt we were working through, we had a bright future to look forward to. I was growing and glowing, and every day was a step closer toward having our family complete.

I found myself falling in love with him all over again. I fell in love with the broken parts and the parts that had healed and changed for the better.

Ours was a hard love. We’d fallen hard into it, and we’d fought hard to keep it. Our kind of love didn’t ask nicely. It took. It ravaged. It consumed the heart whole and asked questions later. The rewards were soul-deep and all-consuming, sweeping through like a wildfire.

I sat alone in a little bistro near the office. Light danced off my rings as I ruminated over the journey life had led us on these many months. We’d been hurt, threatened, and betrayed. We’d found love, forgiveness, and hope. We’d run the gamut of emotions and experiences, and we were still holding strong, ready for the next adventure.

Risa pulled a chair from the table and settled into it across from me.

“Hi,” she said with a tentative smile.

She wore fitted black pants and a matching blazer over a simple white shell blouse. She’d always been the picture of style when she worked for Clozpin, but she had adopted a decidedly more corporate look the past couple times I’d seen her.

My thoughts returned to why I’d finally accepted her invitation to meet. “How are you doing?”

“Okay, I guess.”

“How’s work?”

She shrugged. “Um, it’s fine. I guess I never thought I’d be working at an investment firm. But life is full of surprises.”

“I can attest to that.”

Her deep blue eyes softened a little. “You’ve been through a lot. I’m sure it’s been difficult, but I admire you all the more for it.”

She sounded genuine, except she’d caused a significant amount of the drama I’d endured.

“So why did you want to see me?” I asked, drinking from my water glass.

She hesitated before responding. “Sorry, I never thought you’d really agree to meet with me again. I’m a little off balance I guess.”

I hadn’t wanted to see her for a long time either, but after stumbling upon her card one day, a thought had occurred to me—one I hadn’t been able to shake since.

“Well, here we are. Indulge me.”

She drew in a steeling breath. “Okay. I want something that you probably will never give me, I know that. I want another chance to work for you.”

“Clozpin is gone. If I trusted you enough to work with you again, your love of fashion would be wasted on anything I have going on at the moment.”

She worried her bottom lip a second before releasing it. “Listen, I made a huge mistake. I know I lost your trust, and I may never get it back. I can make excuses all day long. I could try to explain that in the end, I realized how completely Max had manipulated me. I could try to explain the things he had me do . . . to prove my loyalty to him.” She looked down at the table, avoiding my eyes. “I think all it would do is convince you of my lack of mental strength against someone like him, and that’s hardly a job qualification. But what I want to tell you, more than all of that, was that I was really happy working for you. We clashed sometimes, I know, but I felt alive for the first time in a long time while I was there, and I haven’t felt like that since. Every day I wake up and drag myself to a job I don’t hate, but one that I don’t love either. I regret everything I did to mess things up for you.”

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