Author’s note: This one is a little shorter than I’d have liked, in part due to a crappy day at the office. Apologies.
Ben Israel stared at her for a long second, his eyes wide and expression blank. Sephora swallowed the bile that crept steadily higher in her throat, feeling abruptly sick to her stomach.
This was a mistake. I shouldn’t have said anything. Look at him, he doesn’t know what to say, what to do.
Why the hell did you do this in public?
What the hell is he doing here, anyway?
“What’s happened?” Ben asked quietly.
Their waitress drifted over. Padraig gave her a nasty look but Ben just smiled weakly.
“A whisky,” he said. “Neat, please.”
The waitress smiled, nodded, and slipped away. Sephora watched her go, silently grateful for the extra time she had to collect her thoughts.
What do I tell him? How do I tell him?
Why does he have to sound so worried? She swallowed hard. “Once I tell you, there’s no turning back, Ben.”
His hand closed over hers and she felt a tiny thrill, the same familiar tendril of desire and fondness that had once been part of her everyday existence. Their gazes met again and she shivered.
“You know what I’m going to say,” he said softly.
“You did just ask for his help,” Padraig said. “And we might need it.”
Breathe, Seph. Just breathe.
The waitress brought the bottle of wine, Padriag’s drink, Ben’s whisky. Her husband’s gaze never wavered and it was all she could do not to flinch under the arctic-blue stare.
Sephora took a deep breath. Even appearing before the legislature wasn’t this stressful.
“It’s starting all over again,” she whispered. “All the signs are there. The devolution is beginning. NeComm…it’s dying, Ben. You were right. You were always right.”
“I didn’t want to be,” he said, fingers tightening for a moment before he let go. He took a deep swallow from his glass and leaned back in his chair, watching her with a faintly creased brow. He’d aged well, but she’d known that he would. He was still beautiful and she’d missed him. “I would have been happy to be wrong in this.”
“You weren’t.” She squeezed her eyes shut, wishing he hadn’t let go of her hand. She wanted him, needed him.
Say you’ll help, Ben. Say you’ll help. Sephora opened her eyes. “Did you hear about The Whispers?”
He made a face like he’d swallowed something bitter, sour. “They’re saying the Foundation is responsible for it. There’s some people buying what those folks are selling, too. I’m not one of them. You sent someone?”
“My best,” she murmured, staring into her wineglass. “I wish it could have been me.”
“You did your time,” Ben said softly.
“You’re right, I did.” Her gaze flicked toward Padraig. “Tell him what you’ve been seeing, what you brought to me—what made you start drinking again.”
Padraig winced slightly and set down his glass, which he’d barely touched so far. Mostly he was playing with it, swirling the alcohol against the glass and watching it slide down again. He seemed reluctant to make eye contact with Ben, but he did it now.
“Counterclaims that shouldn’t have been allowed are being pushed through,” Padraig said quietly. “I’ve seen claims against the Eridani Trelasia system bypass my office and get kicked up for higher approval—things that shouldn’t happen, things that aren’t oversights.” His lips thinned. “Then there was what happened to one of my staffers.”
Ben’s brow raised as he took a quick sip of his drink. “What happened?”
“Someone blew up her house.”
Ben’s glass shattered against the tabletop.