“No,” Blake whispered. “But it doesn’t matter because…” Her voice broke. Oh God. She jumped to her feet. “I…I think I need to go to the toilet.” Blake was just seconds away from bursting into tears, and she would really rather not have anyone see her break down.
“B—” Frankie’s voice trailed off as Blake rushed away.
Elizabeth’s dismayed tone had Frankie looking back. “What is it?”
The other girl pointed at the bar. “Thornton’s seat is empty, too.”
Thornton stared at his reflection in the mirror. What the fuck am I doing? He was falling apart, and it was all because of a girl. A girl, goddammit. He used to laugh every time he heard about men falling to pieces after getting dumped, and now karma was biting him in the ass.
Man up, Blackwood.
Blake had made her choice clear, and she had chosen Teller over him.
He had to fucking accept that and move on.
But the moment he stepped out of the men’s toilet, the first thing he saw was her, coming out of the ladies’, her eyes red-rimmed and swollen with tears.
Their gazes collided, and God, even that…even that felt like it had been so fucking long, that when she suddenly tried to bolt like he had a contagious disease, Thornton found himself reacting instinctively.
Hard fingers curled around her arm, and then Blake suddenly found herself being spun back to face Thornton.
“Why are you so hell bent on avoiding me?”
Instead of answering, she lowered her gaze to his injured hand. “What happened?”
“Don’t change the subject.”
“Dammit, Blake. Just tell me why.”
But it seemed as if their roles had suddenly reversed, and it was Thornton who had all the words to say while Blake could only stare at him.
“I should be the one who’s unable to stand the sight of you,” he said in a hollow voice, “but it’s not working like that for me. If all I can have is see you, then I want it. But you…” He stopped speaking when he heard a strangled sound escape her. “Blake…” He saw her body start shaking at the strength of her sobs, but when he tried to touch her, she yanked away, and he could feel himself turning cold.
Blake couldn’t stand the desolation in Thornton’s eyes. “I’m s-sorry.”
“Then tell me why you’re acting like I fucking killed you.”
Because you did.
But she just couldn’t make herself say that, and when she heard voices and footsteps, realized that this was the real start of the party and that anyone could just walk in at any moment and see her crying—
“I need to go,” she whispered jerkily.
But when she tried to walk past Thornton, he hauled her into his arms instead.
It felt too good. Too painful. Too much of everything she dreamed and knew she could never have.
The agony in his voice was too much.
It threatened to undo her, weaken her, and she just couldn’t…
She tore herself out of his hold. “I know the truth,” Blake choked out. “And I can’t…I can’t…”
Thornton whitened. “I…see.” His voice was dull. She knew. She knew he was in love with her, and she was just so fucking nice, she was avoiding him in hopes of hurting him less.
He forced himself to look at her. “I’m sorry.” It wasn’t her fault he loved her and she couldn’t love him back.
He was sorry, he said.
But sorry for what?
For hurting her?
For Blake finding out before he was ready for the game to end?
She squeezed her eyes shut. “I’m sorry, too.” And she was. Sorry that even now, after everything…she still loved him.
Out of the rabbit hole or in it? The doors of Redwood Cafe were just right behind her, but Blake wasn’t quite sure what leaving the place meant. Inside, it was delirium and chaos, with most of the cast and crew mindlessly noisy and well in their cups. She had tried to fit in with them for the past two hours, but it hadn’t worked.
And when she saw him leave, she had followed without thinking.
But she had been too slow.
He was gone now, and any world that was empty of his presence was just like another rabbit hole because it felt wrong.
Everything felt wrong—
Blake jerked in surprise, and then she jerked again when she saw who it was stepping out from the shadows.
“M-Miss Patridge,” she stammered.
The flaxen-haired actress waved a careless hand in the air. “Call me Blue.”
The other woman wrinkled her lovely nose, which was as ethereally perfect as the rest of her. “It’s my real name.”
“Bluebell to be exact.” She saw the brunette’s eyes widened and shrugged. “I know. But at least it’s not Tinkerbell, right?”
“Or doorbell,” Blake said without thinking, and it was only when Blue snorted with laughter that she realized how rude and sarcastic her words might have come across. “Oh my gosh, I’m so—”