(two paragraphs from chapter 17)
When he finally let me breathe again, I pushed at his chest. “Why do you keep doing this? It’s not fair, Dominic.” I started pulling the seat belt across my lap. “Now, I have to get back to work before Beth. Although she’s probably already there. Great first impression from me. I can’t even stick to my own time limits.”
He didn’t say anything, just closed the door and slid behind the steering wheel. We drove back to the bank in silence. Before I got out, he covered my hand with his. “Just think about it, Ella. That’s all I’m asking.”
I looked him in the eye, slipped my hand from his, and got out without a word.
At the end of a long second week without Cassie, Officer Brecky called me at the bank. I had matched photos of Luke Ritter with the man Cassie and I met in the bar. It was him, all right, and Officer Brecky was calling to give me the rundown on just how powerful this man was.
“He has more connections than any newspaper editor I’ve heard of. I mean, connections are part of the job description, but this guy.” Papers shuffled in the background. “This guy has all your typical political connections, but he’s also involved with the mafia. He was even arrested on drug trafficking charges in Miami.”
My heart stopped beating. Miami? “Was he convicted?” I asked with my heart in my throat.
“No. The reasons for his release aren’t exactly clear, but it seems to have been paperwork issues.”
“Is that his only arrest? Was he charged with anything else?”
“Yes, that was his only arrest. There is a brief mention of illegal firearms in the very beginning, but it disappears after the first page. There isn’t even a mention of it being a dropped charge, so it could have been a mistake.
“Oh, yeah,” she added. “He was married a couple years ago to a Madeline Sloan. She was arrest and served time for drug charges in her early twenties. It appears, though, that Ritter took a liking to her while she was serving because she got new representation in the form of his top-dollar lawyers. They got her sentence reduced so much that she only had to serve another month before being released. Ritter married her two years later. She would be twenty-eight now. He’s forty.”
“Wow.” My head was buzzing. I had so many questions, but I needed to keep everything straight. There was a legal pad in my top desk drawer. I had no need for it, really. Just seemed like I should have it. I pulled it out now, grabbed a pen from the holder, and started grilling.
“How long has Luke been here? Where is Madeline from? Where was she arrested? Does she have any family in the area?” I was short-handing the questions as I asked them. And I looked out the window at Beth when I asked the last one.
“Slow down, Mrs. Boothe. Let me just tell you what I know.” Brecky took a deep breath and released it before going into the details I was looking for. “Luke Ritter has residences in several states. Possibly even different countries. The man has money and power. He moves around a lot. He purchased his home here five years ago. He seems to have met Miss Sloan shortly after that. She’s from the Philadelphia area, but has been here for about six years as far as I can tell. She was arrested here, and served her time here. Somehow, Ritter met her while she was still in prison, and his lawyers got her sentence shortened. They were married two years ago. She doesn’t have any family in the area, since she’s from Philly. From what I can tell, she’s the troubled one in her family. No one else has any violations. Could be that’s why she moved away.”
I wrote feverishly as she talked. Then another question popped into my head. “Officer Brecky, did Madeline keep her maiden name when she married Luke?”
Beth’s phone rang, and she answered. She pulled out her pad for phone notes, tore the top sheet off, and wrote as she listened to the receiver.
“Yes, she did.”
Beth hung up. But instead of putting the paper in the in-box for me on her desk, she slipped it into her purse. She wasn’t the type I would expect to take personal calls at work, but everyone had things that could’t wait.
“Mrs. Boothe?” Brecky’s voice cut through my daydreaming.
“Yes. I’m here. Sorry. What were you saying?”
“I told you that I’ll contact you again when I have more information. You need to take a break. Go home and spend time with your family. Let me worry about finding Cassie.”
“Thank you, Officer Brecky. I just might do that.” I hung up and started gathering my things. It was Friday, a long day, but things were running smoothly. I felt confident leaving Beth alone.
I picked up my purse and walked out of my office, locking the door behind me. Beth turned when she heard the click.
“Oh. Ella, are you leaving?” she asked.
“Yeah. I need to get out. I’m going home to spend some time with my husband before Allison gets out of school. I’ll see you Monday.”
“Okay. Have a good weekend. Oh! I almost forgot,” she called, as I turned away to leave. “Mr. Sterling called. He asked for you to stop by the store on your way home. Something about a glitch.” She shrugged her shoulders to show she had no more information.
I sighed. “Okay. Thanks. Have a good weekend, Beth.”
She just smiled and waved. And she picked up the phone as soon as I was out the door.
Between the Lines was in the final stages of preparing for the grand opening. A huge banner hung under the large cursive letters spelling out the store name announcing the weekend of the celebration and sale. I walked through the front doors and headed to the back where Dominic’s office was.
As I passed through the store, I passed employees stocking the shelves. They all watched me as they worked, probably wondering who I was. Just before I reached the hall leading to the back, a stack of books falling startled me. When I turned, two young women--girls really--were giggling over the fallen stack with Dominic smiling behind them.
“Girls, you need to clean this mess up. And make sure none of those books were damaged.” He was authoritative in a friendly way, and I could tell the girls were enjoying his presence. I stood and watched until he looked up and saw me.
Surprise colored his face, quickly followed by joy. “Ella! What a surprise.” Looking down at the girls again, he told them, “You two get this taken care of. Putt any books damaged by the fall in a separate box. I’ll be back to check on you in a bit.” The girls looked saddened by his departure, each of them giving me a once-over to see who was taking their eye candy away.
“Basking in the glory that is the adoration of young women, I see.” We turned toward his office.
“Always,” he smiled, slipping his arm around my waist and giving a squeeze. “What are you doing here? Should’t you be working?”
“I left early after talking to Officer Brecky. She gave me a lot of information. There was no way I could stay, so I came here.”
We entered his plush office. He shut the door and offered me his cushy leather chair, which I gladly took. He sat on the desk in front of me. “Why did you come to me?” he asked with a devilish grin.
I looked at him, confused. “Beth told me you left a message asking me to stop by after work.”
He cocked his head a bit. “I didn’t call today. I’ve been too busy getting the store together for next weekend,” he said. “I’m glad you came, though. It’s always good to see you.”
“You didn’t call today?”
He shook his head.
“Huh. Maybe she just got it mixed up with another day. Who knows. She’s good, but still learning the ropes at the bank.” I shrugged it off, not caring. It was good to be out. And even though I wanted to get home to Michael before Allison got home, it was good to see Dominic.
As if sensing my resignation, he slid off the desk and walked behind me. His strong hands found my shoulders and started massaging the stress away. He soothed the muscles in my back and shoulders for almost ten minutes while I leaned forward, my head resting on the desk. But, business was business, and we were wrapped up in a missing person case, so when my cell rang I wasn’t surprised. What surprised me was that Dominic’s phone rang at the same time.