“I’ll text you when he drops me off and give you the run down.”
Alastair was outgoing and charming. Eric couldn’t wait to hear all about it. Or not. He groaned inwardly. “Great.”
She arched an eyebrow at the pen he was clicking a billion times a second.
Way to play it cool, Blackwell. “Sorry, I’ve got a lot of stuff going on.”
“The Anderson deal. Yeah. Dad’s pretty uptight about it.”
Dad. Boom. Direct hit. And “uptight” wasn’t even in the ballpark. The meeting with Mr. Dixon yesterday had been a disaster. Eric needed to figure out a way to minimize the tax consequences or the deal wouldn’t go through and neither would his promotion.
“I’ll let you get back to work, then.” She tilted her head and studied him for a moment from his office door, and he resisted the urge to check himself to see if something was off.
“Good luck tonight,” he said.
“Thanks. I’m going to need it.”
After a grueling day at work, Eric’s favorite thing to do was binge watch sitcoms and work that day’s New York Times crossword.
Number three across: “One who weeps, in a saying.” He traced his fingers over the five empty spaces. “Finders keepers, losers weepers,” he chanted in a taunting, playground voice. With a sigh, he filled in the blanks. L-O-S-E-R.
While he was home, living like an old man at thirty years old, Alastair was out wining, dining, and romancing Jane on Eric’s dime.
Number twelve down: “Live a dull life.” Second letter of eight was a T and fourth a G. No doubt about the answer to this one. He was an expert on dull. S-T-A-G-N-A-T-E, he wrote in the blanks.
Something had to give. He popped a potato chip into his mouth. His entire life, all he wanted was to not be like his selfish, pleasure-seeking father—the father who left his family penniless when he’d died. Eric had vowed at an early age he’d be responsible and support those he loved, not only financially, but with undying loyalty. He’d succeeded. Three months ago, he’d bought his mother a small house upstate and nothing had ever felt better. If he could make the Anderson Enterprises acquisition of Cahill Investment Group work out, he’d be the youngest junior partner ever at Dixon, Rosenbaum & Schoot, a dream of his since he’d interned with them during his second year in law school.
He’d been called an overachiever so many times during his life, he’d lost count. Editor of Law Review, Phi Alpha Delta student board, and a job offer well before graduation with one of the most prestigious law firms in New York City. Overachiever. He shook his head. Yeah, he was a success in all areas of his life except one.
Number two across: “Like some gases.” Tipping his head, he studied the five boxes ending in R-T.
He tossed the pencil down on the glass coffee table. “Inert,” he said through gritted teeth. Even the crossword knew he was pathetic.
Switching off the TV, he leaned back into his leather sofa and closed his eyes. All he’d ever wanted was to make right what his dad had done to his family—and that had always been enough. Security and financial stability for his mom were up there on the top of his list of what was important. He’d done that…
He picked up the pencil and traced seventeen across: “Lack of fulfillment.”
“You’re a crossword puzzle,” he muttered at the half-completed grid, “not a fucking fortune cookie!”
Calm down. Lots of puzzles were thematic. This just happened to be a shitty theme and not a reflection of him at all. He was content with his life. He was. Really. Things were exactly as he had planned them—better, in fact. F-R-U, he wrote in the blanks. No turmoil. No unhappiness. S-T-R-A. No bending his world to make it mesh with someone else’s. No one unloading the problems of the day on him. No one for him to vent to… No romantic dinners for two at Ruth’s Chris. No love… No sex. T-I-O-N.
The pencil snapped in his grip.
Shannon had left him after he’d refused to choose her over his career. He’d just been moved up to team leader in his division—chosen over several lawyers who had been there longer—and she wanted him to back down. He’d worked his ass off to get the partners’ attention and stand out enough to be noticed, and it had worked. Backing down wasn’t an option. Hell, they’d only been dating eight months when she’d made her ultimatum: her or work. In his mind, the two weren’t mutually exclusive. His job came first, but they still got to see each other once a week at least. Still, she said his job was all-consuming and she needed more.
More what? She knew his goals when they began dating. Yeah, the hours were long and the daily grind sucked, but there was the goal of making partner…and the money. That’s what it was about for him. Dad had lived his life as if there would always be time to fix the financial mess. Only there wasn’t. One missed red light and all of it ended instantly, leaving five-year-old Eric and his mom with nothing and no one but each other. At least if something happened to him, Eric knew his mom was provided for. Between the house and the escrow account he’d set up for her, she wouldn’t have to fear the future again.
He picked up the usable half of the broken pencil and smoothed the Times page. He’d never really missed Shannon, and she’d obviously not missed him much; he’d read her engagement announcement not three months after she’d broken up with him. Twenty-three down. Eight letters beginning with O: “What cynics lack.”
“Jane” appeared on his phone screen.
Great. Now he was going to have to act like he was happy to hear the date report. Before opening the message, he gave the problem another shot. “What cynics lack…” Nothing came to mind.
With a sigh, he opened her message.
“Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!”
He smiled, imagining the playful distress call said in her voice. “State your coordinates. Will dispatch rescue crew,” he typed.
“My home base. Backup needed immediately.”
He read the message several more times. Was she asking him to her home? He didn’t even know where she lived. Maybe it wasn’t as big a joke as he’d originally thought. He swallowed hard. Maybe she really needed help. He’d known Alastair for two years, but they didn’t hang out other than at the bar. “You okay?” he typed.