• • •

Fifteen minutes later, I’ve endured a search that makes airport security look like the candy store, and I exit into the chilly afternoon air, huddling into my trench coat. There are police cars and officers everywhere, but thankfully the street is blocked off and the press is nowhere to be seen.

I see Ralph and Amanda huddled near the alleyway leading to the back parking lot between the coffee shop and us. Ralph waves me over, but my cell phone rings with a call from Chris. Answering, I ask, “Where are you?”

“Outside the barriers. I’m going through hell to get to you.”

I massage my forehead. “They won’t let me go to you, either. We’re stuck here until they release us.”

“Just don’t answer any questions without David.”

“Detective Miller tried to trap me. And do you know she and David—”

“Yes. We’ll talk about it in person.”

His tone says “end of subject,” and I read between the lines. He thinks, or knows, that our phones are tapped. “I feel like we’ve gone down the rabbit hole,” I murmur. “Hurry up and get here. I’m by the alleyway.”

“I’ll find you.”

I stuff my phone in my coat pocket and see that Ralph is still where I expect him to be, but Amanda has disappeared. Going to his side, I glance down the alley and frown. “Where’s Amanda?”

“They said we could go.” He motions toward the coffee shop, and my gaze follows to see Amanda at the curb. “She’s waiting on her ride,” Ralph continues. “My car is out back. Joe’s supposed to take me back there in a minute.”

“Who’s Joe?”

As if on a timer, a burly police officer appears. Ralph motions to him and announces, “Joe. My knight in shining armor.” The man’s stony face doesn’t change and Ralph glances at me. “Don’t worry, you’re still my saving grace. I assume work as usual, tomorrow?”

“I don’t know. I’ll have to call you.”

He hugs me and whispers, “Ryan’s picking up Amanda. I think he’s a problem.” He leans back and looks at me. “You should go find your sexy artist and get out of here.”

He and Joe walk down the alleyway while I rush across it to join Amanda, not a second too soon. Ryan’s silver BMW pulls up to the curb just as I reach her side.

I step in front of her and knock on the window. Ryan rolls it down. “What are you doing?” I demand.

His brown eyes sharpen but his tone is casual and cool. “She needs a ride.”

“You know what I mean. Isn’t it enough that one innocent young girl is dead?”

“Rebecca wasn’t innocent. She was smart, worldly, and headstrong.”

“Which we both know you helped Mark punish her for, over and over.”

“Erotic punishment: pleasure, Sara. If you don’t know that, Chris is getting something wrong.”

Again with the attacks on Chris. It infuriates me, but I’m holding my own today and don’t take the bait. “Amanda is young and impressionable. Don’t take advantage of her.”

“Why don’t we let her decide what is right for her.”

“She’s not deciding. She’s under your influence, and you’re deciding.”

“I told you, that’s not how it works with me. Look hard and long at whom you’re accusing of what. Mark is never involved in anything he doesn’t instigate and control, especially where Rebecca was concerned. I wasn’t her Master. Think, Sara, and be smart. Be careful.”

Those last two words sound more like a threat rather than a warning. We glare at each other, an act I seem to be excelling at with others today.

I turn away and face Amanda, whose hands are stuffed in her long black jacket, her face pale, eyes wide. She looks every bit the frightened mouse, and it drives home my worry that she doesn’t belong with Ryan.

“Sara?” she prods tentatively.

Try as I might, nothing I think she’ll listen to comes to mind. She’s infatuated, and as I know from my days with Michael, that’s the kiss of death where good sense is concerned. I step closer to her and soften my voice. “Don’t do anything that you don’t want to. Understand?”

She frowns. “I’m not. I wouldn’t.”

Until she’s so enamored that “yes” is the only word she knows in the moment, and regret is the only word she knows the morning after. “Charge your phone and call me if you need me, even if it’s the middle of the night.”

Without a reply, she gets into the BMW and there is nothing I can do but pray she’s safe. I watch the car leave, and fight the urge to run after it when it pulls away.

Turning to search out Chris, I find Mark towering over me, his eyes glinting like hot steel. His hand shackles my arm, his touch firm. “Come with me,” he demands, and I double step to keep up with him.

“Where are we going?”

He just keeps moving, and the next thing I know he’s pulling me into a doorway alcove. The same alcove Chris had once pulled me into, which makes the moment all the more uncomfortable. I don’t want to be here with him, or for him to flatten his hands on the wall by my head as Chris had, but I am and he does. And I definitely don’t want his big body this close to mine.

“What the fuck were you thinking?” he demands.

I’m confused. “What are you talking about? With Detective Miller?”

Tags: Lisa Renee Jones Inside Out Romance
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