“With fucking Ryan, Ms. McMillan. I told you to let me handle it.”
Unbidden, Ryan’s words spring into my mind. Mark is never involved in anything he doesn’t instigate and control. I shake them off. “Amanda was leaving with him.”
“I said I’d handle it,” he repeats tightly. “Do you really think Ava made Rebecca disappear on her own? Someone helped her make it happen. Don’t go tempting fate.”
Another subtle thread weaving through a cloth of mystery. “If you’re saying you think it was Ryan, then we can’t let Amanda leave with him!”
“If I knew it was him, he’d wish he was dead by the time I got done with him. I don’t know, Ms. McMillan. But he told the police he knew Rebecca was back the night she returned. And he told them Ava took her to me.”
“Oh God. Mark, I—”
“She’d fucking be alive if Ava took her to me.”
I dare to rest my hand on his arm in comfort. “I know.”
He gazes at my hand, and I pull it back. “We don’t know—that’s the point,” he says. “We know nothing except that she’s gone.” He pushes off the wall. “I warned you to stay the hell away from me. You are failing miserably. I’ll make it easier on you. Organize the staff to work from home after tomorrow.”
He ends the conversation by disappearing around the corner, and I gasp as Chris immediately appears in the alcove.
“What the hell was that?” Chris demands. The fact that he doesn’t touch me tells me how pissed off he is.
“I’m not completely sure. He’s a live wire ready to explode, Chris.”
“That’s not what I want to know. How did you get into the alcove with him?”
“He grabbed my arm and pulled me along with him, and I’d have had to make a scene in front of the police to avoid it.”
“He got pissed because I confronted Ryan over Amanda.”
“What do you mean, confronted him?”
“He came to pick her up, and he’s creeping me out. Why choose now to pursue her, with all of this going on? I can’t sit by and watch her be a victim.” My throat tightens. “I don’t want her to end up being another Rebecca. And though Mark was lecturing me about letting him deal with Ryan, he didn’t put my mind at ease. Something is off with Ryan.”
“What does that mean?”
“He told the police that Ava told him she saw Rebecca the night she returned, and took her to Mark. He never mentioned this to Mark, though—even though he was a part of their ménage. What sense does that make? I’m worried he helped Ava do whatever they did to Rebecca. And now he’s hyperfocused on Amanda.”
Chris’s jaw tightens. “Or Ava’s using Ryan to create an alibi.”
“But he and Ava were intimate with Rebecca and Mark. Ryan could’ve been just as jealous as Ava, for all we know. He could have helped her kill Rebecca. Or he could have done it himself.”
“I’ll make sure Blake’s team keeps an eye on Amanda.” He studies me, his gaze probing. “Back to Mark and the alcove. I don’t like it.”
“I know. I didn’t, either. And,” I hesitate to agitate the situation more, but I know I have to tell him. “I’ve had issues with Mark today. ”
“That makes two of us. Mine starts with the alcove.”
“Mine started with a confrontation in his office, when he confessed that I remind him of . . . of Rebecca. He says he can’t be around me. He wants me to prepare the staff to work from home after tomorrow.”
“You remind him of Rebecca,” he repeats, the words tight.
“Yes.” I hug myself. “I don’t like it for all kinds of reasons. It feels pretty shitty, actually.”
He cuts his gaze away, rubbing the back of his neck, before shaking his head and looking at me again. “We need to leave before they change their minds and try to stop us.”
“You’re not going to say anything else about Mark?”
“What do you want me to say, Sara? I help the man, and he’s constantly trying to bend over my woman. I need to think and figure out what the fuck to do about him. But right now, David wants to meet with us before another client meeting. Blake’s joining us at a restaurant by the police station.”
“What about the press?”
“Let’s hope they’re all here. I hired a car in case they’re trailing ours.”
Ours. The word is a whisper of relief in his present mood. I step to him, twining our legs and wrapping my arms around his neck. “I love you.”
His arm wraps around my waist and he pulls me to him. “I love you, too. But, baby, when a man warns you away from him and tells you why, you have to listen before it’s too late.” He laces my fingers with his and starts walking.
• • •
The setting sun has turned into a misty glow when the private car Chris hired pulls to a stop in front of the restaurant. Tension ripples through me and I half expect a swarm of press that doesn’t come.
Still, I find myself scanning for cameras as we enter the upscale burger joint with dangling turquoise and blue teardrop lights and stone-top tables. “Try to relax, baby,” Chris murmurs as we approach the hostess stand.
She looks up our reservation and we follow her between the tables. Our destination, no doubt by special request, is a small round booth in the very back that has the luxury of being tucked behind a wall. Blake wears his royal-blue Walker Security T-shirt and his long, dark hair tied at his nape has the kind of edginess that says this ex-ATF agent is a rebel with a cause, while David sports a finely fitted dark gray suit, his bald head glistening under the lights. The one commonality is that they’re both garbage disposals who at present seem to be having a “who can eat my bread” faster contest. At our approach, they abandon their food and begin to stand.