He took his out in the hall while I pulled mine out of my purse. It was Officer Brecky. Hitting answer, I put the phone to my ear with hope and dread battling for dominance in my stomach. “Hello?”
“Mrs. Boothe, this is Officer Brecky.” Uh-oh. She was using that lip gloss voice, and that scared me.
“Hi, Officer. Do have news?” I held my breath while she paused.
She took a deep breath. “I think you should come to the station, Mrs. Boothe. We need to talk, but it should be in person.”
Dread won the battle. My mouth went dry as a boulder settled in my stomach. This sounded bad. Very bad.
Then it got worse. “Maybe you should have Mr. Sterling drive you,” Brecky added.
Horrible visions swirled through my head. Cassie’s body in a ditch. Cassie weighted down at the bottom of some mountain lake. Cassie lying behind a trashy motel, her brains painting the wall behind her.
My voice shaking, I simply said, “Okay.”
I hung up just as Dominic walked in. The look on his face said he had gotten the same type of call, probably from Carwahl. He took my hand as I stood to go. No words were needed.
The two police officers sat on one side of the table while Dominic and I sat on the other in the small room I imagined was used for interrogations. We had just given the tale of our true history to Brecky and Carwahl, who had listened and taken notes on the finer points.
“So, you think Ritter came here for Mrs. Boothe?” Carwahl asked Dominic in his gruff voice.
“I don’t know. He may have found her and moved here with that intention, but left her alone after seeing that she had no more ties to me. When I showed up, all bets were off.”
My irritation at the interrogation without getting any information in return finally pushed the shock away. “I’m sorry,” I interrupted. “What does this have to do with Cassie’s disappearance?”
Brecky looked at me with something more than sympathy. “Mrs. Boothe, we’re concerned that Mr. Sterling’s history with Ritter may be the motive for Cassie’s disappearance. And that you may be his next target if that’s the case. This goes deeper than some guy taking a woman to use for his pleasure and disposal. That much is obvious.
“When we realized that you hired Ritter’s wife through his temp agency, the alarms went off,” she said.
“Wait. What? I hired his wife? Beth is Luke Ritter’s wife?”
“Yes. Madeline Elizabeth Sloan is married to Luke Ritter.”
Elizabeth. Beth. Beth was her middle name. And Ritter owned the temp agency, so falsifying certain details, like switching names around, was no problem. She had been keeping tabs on me.
“There’s more.” Carwahl’s voice grated its way into my thoughts.
“We found Cassie today,” he began. Brecky gave him a look that told him to shut up.
My heart stopped. “You found Cassie? Is she okay? Can I see her?”
Brecky reached across the table and took my hands in hers. Her eyes were so sad my heart started breaking before she spoke. “We did find Cassie. But you can’t see her.” The pause while she searched for her next words was agonizing. She squeezed my hands. “Mrs. Boothe. Ella. Cassie’s dead. She was either murdered, or she took her own life. We’re not sure yet.”
I started to crumble, but Dominic caught me. “It’s okay, baby,” he whispered in my ear. “You’re okay. I’ve got you.”
Again the cheese grater voice of Carwahl scraped its way in. “Mrs. Boothe, we still need to talk to you,” he said without feeling. Like I could just turn off my emotions to give him the answers he wanted.
But Brecky played interference. She slid a box of tissues in front of me then turned to her partner and signaled for them to leave. “We’ll give you a few minutes,” she said softly.
As soon as the door closed I pulled away from Dominic. “How could you?” I yelled as I wailed on his solid chest and arms with weak fists.
He let me hit him a few ties before catching my wrists in a gentle grip. “Ella, calm down. I didn’t know what Luke was up to.”
“Bull shit! You knew who he was. He didn’t come to you for business reasons. Not the for the store anyway. You told me you were through with all that shit, Dominic. Now you dragged me back into it. My best friend is dead! I have a family. Are you so selfish that you don’t care about anyone else’s life?” He held my wrists the entire time I yelled at him.
When I pause to refuel my lungs for more ranting, he let out a heavy sigh. His voice was soft and quiet. “Ella, I didn’t come here to drag you into the past. And I am done with it. Mostly. Now you know I rolled on Luke when I was arrested. But what I didn’t tell you or those cops is that I’m kind of still on the case. I don’t work for the FBI officially, but they compensate me for information I can gather.
“When Luke turned up here, I started watching him again, but from a distance. I was still in Miami. Then I found out you were here, and I realized I had to move. The FBI was able to arrange for the new store and my position. I didn’t expect to run into you. Not right away.”
He released my wrists and held my face in his hands. “Ella, I do still love you. That’s why I came. I had to protect you. I think Luke is after me. He’s using you as bait. He used Cassie as bait for you. This man is ruthless. He’s extremely dangerous and very powerful. We need to work with the police, but I think it would be best if you took your family on a vacation. Get out of town while I try to tie Luke down and get him to make a mistake.”
Tears streamed down my face. I hand’t thought it was possible for my life to get any crazier, but I was so very wrong. “Dominic, I can’t just up and leave. Allison has school. Michael has medical issues. It’s not like I can just wheel him into the airport and buy a ticket.”
There was a knock on the door, and Officer Brecky came in. She was alone. “Hi. How’re you doing?” she asked gently.
“As good as I can be, I guess.” I pulled a tissue from the box and wiped my eyes and cheeks.
“There is more information that we need to tell you. It won’t be easy.” Her eyes never left my face.
How could it get any worse? What on earth could she possibly add to the chaos tearing through my life that could make things worse?
“We found Cassie at your house,” she said.
I felt my eyes go wide, the blood drain from my face.
“From what we can tell, Cassie shot and killed Lynette White, your husband’s nurse.”
Panic began to take over. I didn’t want her to keep talking. I wanted to push rewind and go back to before all this started. If I did one little thing differently, everything after that would change. Right?
But officer Brecky kept talking, “She also shot and killed Michael.” Here she stopped. I wasn’t sure if she expected me to react, but I couldn’t. I was all out of reactions.
The world slowed to a crawl. Brecky’s voice became a drone, the words drawn out and fading until they were incomprehensible. The room tunneled into a pinprick of light.
Sweet emptiness surrounded me.