I held the screen door so it would close quietly, shut the front door with the same care, and made sure it was locked tight before heading back to the living room. The sight of my baby girl sleeping so peacefully on Dominic’s lap caused more turmoil in my heart. That she trusted and felt safe with him eased my worry about her rejecting him and his help. But it also scared me. She had only just met this man. He was a stranger to her, yet there she slept. Would she trust other people as willingly?
I decided that we needed to have a talk in the morning.
“Do you want me to carry her up?” His voice was soft silk as he whispered to me.
“Would you mind?” I whispered back. “She’s too big for me to carry up the stairs.”
“Not at all.” He moved slowly, being careful not to wake her as he repositioned her into his arms. With impressive strength, he stood with Allison in his arms. I followed a few steps behind as he carried her up the stairs and down a short hall to a door on the right.
I pulled the comforter and sheet down so he could lay her on the bed. Then I took off her shoes and socks and covered her up. The duffle bags were on the bed, and I dug into hers looking for Buzzles, her purple stuffed bunny. I found it tucked to the side, and inwardly thanked Brecky for making sure it was easy to find.
Soft yellow light sent a warm glow through the room without flooding it with light when Dominic turned on a small table lamp sitting on a dresser in the corner. The room was a pale blue color with white accents. A white wicker chair sat by the window by a small stand of the same material. It was a cozy room, and bit of a surprise in the home of a bachelor.
I went to the bed and sifted through the duffle Brecky had packed for me. I found a soft t-shirt to sleep in. My toothbrush was packed in a cosmetic bag with dental floss and my hair brush. Brecky had really gone beyond what I had expected. I turned to Dominic.
“Can I use your toothpaste?” I asked in a whisper.
“Yeah.” He left the room, and I took the opportunity to quickly change my clothes before following him down the hall.
I knew he had gone into the master bath in his bedroom, but I stepped into the large, green and blue bathroom at the top of the stairs. The light was bright, but soft, allowing an honest view of my disheveled appearance in the mirror. I looked horrible. My eyes puffy and red, my skin pasty.
I rested my hands on the white porcelain counter, leaning my weight on them as I rocked forward to look myself in the eye. “What are you going to do, girl?” I asked my reflection.
The woman staring back at me didn’t answer, but I knew what she would do. She’d do anything she had to do to keep he daughter safe. Anything. And deep down she knew the eventuality of that. The consequences of her younger life were being paid by the family that she had built and grown. It was her duty to end it.
Dominic came in, laying a tube of toothpaste and a set of towels on the counter. His eyes found mine in the mirror, a deep sadness in them. Then he rested his hands on my tense shoulders and slid them down my arms and up again in a comforting movement.
Tears that had been waiting for hours began to pool. When the first one spilled down my cheek, his arms wrapped around me, the subtle roughness of stubble on his jaw scraping my sensitive skin as he hugged me.
“I’ll help you through this, Ella. We’ll get through it together.”
I closed my eyes and let the tears fall. My shoulders hitched with the first sob, and he turned me in his arms. Wrapped in the warmth of his embrace, I let loose the grief eating at my heart. He let me cry until my eyes had dried out, holding me in silence the entire time.
When I finally pulled my head up, I asked him the same question I’d asked myself. “What am I going to do, Dominic?”
His arms released their hold. His hands gripped my arms, and he looked me in the eye again. “We’ll figure it out,” he said with determination. Resting a finger under my chin, he added, “We will get through this, Ella. I won’t let anything happen to you or Allison.”
I gave a meek nod.
He kissed my forehead. “Get cleaned up so you feel better. There’s a towel and washcloth here so you can shower. I’ll check on Allison. Come downstairs when you’re finished, and have a nightcap with me. Then we’ll go to bed.”
“All right. Thanks.”
I went downstairs feeling refreshed. Well, as refreshed as was possible considering the murky turmoil I was swimming in.
Dominic was sitting on the sofa with his legs stretched out down the length of the cushions. A floor lamp provided a circle of light as he read his book, and a bottle of blushing wine and two empty glasses waited on the coffee table. He smiled when he saw me.
“You’re looking a little better.”
“I feel a little better. Thanks,” I said as I sat on the warm cushion where his had just been.
He pulled the cork out of the bottle and poured us each a glass of wine. I took mine, thanking him, and downed half of it in one swallow. I knew I could’t get drunk, but I longed for the sweet relief the pink liquid offered. That, and I knew it would help me sleep.
Dominic didn’t say anything as we sat drinking our wine. We sat in silence through two glasses. “Thanks you for doing all of this,” I said as he poured my third glass.
He set the bottle down and looked at me as he handed me my glass. “You don’t have to thank me, Ella. I’m just glad I’m here to help.” His eyes dropped, and he looked sheepish. His hand found my knee, squeezing lightly. “I’m so sorry. I can’t help thinking that this is all because of me.” He found my eyes again, pain, sorrow, and something I could’t identify swimming in the green depths. “I’m so sorry.”
I sighed and put my hand over his. “Dominic, you have no control over other people’s actions. From what Officer Brecky said, Luke Ritter may have been watching me before you ever came here. It may be that your presence pushed him to this, but that’s not your fault.”
He looked down at our hands. “It feels like it’s my fault.”
“Unless you ordered the hit, it’s not.”
His head snapped up, those eyes drowning in the agony my almost-accusation incurred. “You can’t possibly think that of me?” His voice cracked with the question. “Ella? You think I could do something like that?”