I looked at him over my glass. Maybe the doubt showed in my eyes, but I had to be honest. This relationship, whatever it may be, would depend on honesty and trust. “I really don’t know Dominic. But the fact is, my life was going along perfectly fine until you popped up. About two weeks ago. Now my husband and best friend are both dead. Murdered. Along with my husband’s nurse. All three of them had no clue as to my past, and how you fit so nicely into it. Now I fear for my ten year old daughter’s life, along with my own.”
“Ella. . .”
“No, Dominic. You asked. You listen.” I took a gulp of my wine before continuing, the sting boosting my conviction. “You admitted that Luke Ritter may be after you, and using me and my family to get there. But you haven’t told me why, specifically. You also mentioned that you work as a correspondent for the FBI, and that’s why you’re here tracking Luke.
“You’ve only given me bits of information. Enough to appease me while I deal with the rocketing chaos you’ve brought to my family.”
I took another swig, and plummeted on. “I want to trust you, Dominic. To be honest, I need to trust you. I’m not naive enough to think Allison and I can make it through this without your help. But you’re gonna have to give me reason not to run. And you know I will if I feel I have to.”
He took a deep breath and blew it out through puffed cheeks while his hands ran through his hair. Then he downed the half glass of wine sitting on the table. When his eyes met mine, I was shocked at the turmoil of emotions swirling in the green depths, each fighting for dominance.
I braced myself for the blow. I could tell whatever he was about to say went deeper than anything he’d told me yet. A lot deeper.
“When you left me, Ella--when I was arrested--I was in deep shit. If I didn’t cut a deal, give names, I was going away for a long time. So that’s what I did. I had a good lawyer, and with the names I gave, he was able to get me off with a much lighter sentence. It was all kept away from the media because the names I gave brought in the DEA, ATF, and FBI.”
My mouth fell open. “Oh, my God, Dominic.”
“Yeah,” he said, simply. “Anyway, the FBI offered a deal that would mean no jail time if I worked with them in helping to take those guys down. I took it.
“Luke was one of those guys. I rolled on him, then was instrumental in his arrest in Miami. Needless to say, he’s got it in for me. I’m sorry that you got caught up in this.” His eyes showed his sincerity as he reached over and laid his hand on my knee.
“Who was Luke in Miami?” I asked.
“He was Big Ben’s boss’s boss,” Dominic said as he refilled our glasses.
“Holy shit.” It came out as a whisper from the shock of the information. “I didn’t realize the chain went that far. I though Big Ben’s boss was the top.”
“Yeah, well, I tried to keep you away from those top guys. Ben was bad enough, but he had a thing for you, so I knew you were safe with him. The guys above him in the ring were dangerous. I didn’t want you near them. Ben knew that, so he kept you away from them, too.”
“Did you roll on Ben?” I asked. While Big Ben, as we called him, was into some bad stuff, he was a nice guy. I liked him.
Dominic’s head fell, and he swirled the pink liquid in his glass. “I did.” His eyes found mine again. “But then he rolled on his boss, Dave. There were a few other top guys, too. And then there was Luke.
“As you can imagine, Luke had the best lawyers in Florida. He got off with a minimal sentence, but somehow he found out who gave his name.
“When he was arrested, I left. I could’t leave the country, but I was under FBI protection, so I had the freedom to go anywhere within the lower forty-eight. I chose the middle of nowhere, Montana and stayed there until I was offered a job with Between the Lines. The feds got me the job, they wanted me more in the thick of things again. I was valuable to them for the information I could get, but I was always dispensable because I was a felon.
“The main reason they wanted me back on the East coast was because Ben had been killed, execution style, and Luke Ritter had disappeared as soon as he was out of jail.”
I refilled my glass again, emptying the bottle. The warm fuzzy blanket the wine wrapped around me made it easier to deal with all this information. “He killed Ben,” I said.
“After about a year, my connections lead me to Luke here in Summerville. A little more research also showed you were here. My gut told me it wasn’t a coincidence, so I told the agent I deal with that I had to come here. He helped get me here.”
“Corporate was looking in the area for a location for a new store, so the FBI helped them pick and had me placed as the GM. They helped me get the house, too.”
I put my empty glass on the table and rubbed my face. “Geez, Dominic. This is a lot to take in.” I looked up at him. “On thing I don’t get, though. Why did Luke get married? Wouldn’t that tie him down and make him vulnerable?”
“They’re not really married. Luke has a lot of power. He had the marriage document forged so he would look more normal.” He made quoting motions in the air. “Beth is more like his secretary and one of his spies. An employee with benefits.”
“How long did you know who she was?” I was suddenly mad at him for not telling me. If he knew I was in danger, why didn’t he say something?
“I just found out yesterday. Like I said, Luke is powerful. The papers were totally legit within the state’s system. It took federal resources to find the fraud.”
“Why didn’t you tell me yesterday?” I asked, my tone accusatory.
“Because I didn’t realize the full extent of the role she plays for him. I really thought she was just his secretary. I didn’t know she was on his higher pay role.” He sounded like he was berating himself internally for being stupid.
I reached out and touched him, laying my hand over his on the plush arm of the chair. “Dominic, it’s not your fault. You can only do so much.” I squeezed his hand before letting go. “But I wish you would have told me all this when you first came to town. Maybe certain things could’ve been avoided.”
“I know, but I wasn’t sure if you were in danger at first. I also wasn’t allowed to tell you anything. The FBI didn’t even want you to know I was here, but that was inevitable. It’s a small town. You would’ve found out sooner or later.”
I yawned. “Sorry. It’s been a long day.”
“Yeah. You need your sleep. I’ll go up with you.” He stood and held out a hand to help me up. When I was on my feet, he hugged me again. “I really am sorry, Ella. I didn’t want any of this. And I hate that you’re hurting.”
I hugged him back, squeezing tight. Hugs were such good medicine. “I believe you.”
His body relaxed at my words, and I felt his breath rush through my hair.
I followed him upstairs and to the room I would share with Allison. He walked in with me, checking as I did to make sure she was all right. It warmed my heart. As I climbed under the covers, he leaned down and brushed his lips over my forehead in a gentle caress. “Good night, Ella,” he whispered in my ear.
“Good night, Dominic,” I whispered back.
The door didn’t click as he shut it, but the light from the hall peeked underneath until he turned it off. The room became dark, but as my eyes adjusted, the light beachy colors almost glowed.
I wasn’t sure how long I laid there trying to push the days events to the back of my mind so I could sleep. Eventually the sweet darkness that is dreamless sleep enveloped me.
I woke up to the pattering drum song of rain on the window. Allison was still sleeping beside me in bed. I stroked her blond waves, and ran my finger along her jaw in the most tender of motherly touches.
Leaving her to sleep, I left the room as quietly as I could and headed downstairs to the smell of hot coffee.
“Morning, beautiful,” Dominic said, a bit too perky for the hour. Definitely too perky without coffee.
But, since I was his guest I bit my tongue and returned his greeting. “Morning.”
“There’s a mug by the pot and sugar in the second smallest canister.” He knew not to talk to me too much before that first cup. I was a badger in the morning. Not cute and cuddly, and always ready to rip into anyone who messed with me in any way. That included talking.
I sat at the table with my steaming cup and pulled a section of the morning paper Dominic was reading in front of me. But I didn’t read it. I didn’t want to see what news might be in there.
The latest copy of People magazine plopped in front of me. “Thanks,” I said to an all too understanding Dominic. Sometimes I swore he could read my mind.
“Sure. The paper is safe, though. I pulled out the news section, but even still. . .” He took a sip of coffee. “Ritter runs the paper. It’ll only be a short blurb so it doesn’t draw too much attention. May have facts altered, too.”
Dominic’s phone rang. The land line. For some reason, a chill went down my spine. I tried to listen as he talked, but he was too quiet. When he came back to the table, there was a sense of urgency in his movements.
I watched him for a brief moment before my curiosity took over. “What’s up, Dominic?”
“That was the FBI agent,” he said without looking at me.
I waited a beat, but no more information came. “And?” I prompted.
Now those sea green eyes met mine, and what I saw in them terrified me. “We need to go, Ella.”