I can’t take any more, and I hit Escape and press my fingers to my throbbing temples. But I had to know what’s being said; denial is dangerous. And I’m okay. I won’t be a victim to anyone, including the press. Nothing in this story is unexpected.

Grabbing my cell phone, I punch in the phone number Jacob has given me to reach Amanda. After three rings, a man answers. “Hi,” I say. “I’m looking for Amanda. This is Sara. I work with her.”


“Hold on.”

The line goes silent and I wait for what feels like forever.

“Sara?” She sounds awkward, like she doesn’t really want to talk to me.

“Amanda. Hi. I was worried when you didn’t show up at work.”

“I meant to call you.”

“What happened? I was afraid something happened to you.”

“I know.” She’s silent a moment. “You were right. I was in over my head.”

“What does that mean?”

“Ryan. He’s into all that kinky stuff you guys are into, and I’m just not.”

“There is no ‘you guys’ to this. I told you the news was going to report a sex scandal today. Ava’s people are trying to make me look bad so the DA will drop the charges.”

“I heard she attacked you.”

“She did. I had stopped by Mark’s to ask his advice about something, and she was there with Ryan. She started screaming that she was going to kill me, like she did Rebecca. It was horrible.”

“Oh God. I had no idea.”

“It was beyond horrible. But maybe we can at least get justice out of this.”

“Now I feel bad for leaving.”

“Don’t feel bad for getting out of this mess. I’m sure you can keep your job if you want it.”

“No. No, I can’t come back. Ryan—he did things, and I started crying, and it was horrible. I can’t face him and then Mark and you, and—”

“Sweetie. I’m not into the things Ryan is. Neither is Chris. I tried to warn you.”

“I know. I should have listened.”

“This isn’t about I told you so. What’s important is you’re safe, and you’re okay. Are you staying there a while?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t had time to think it through.”

“Call me and let me know. Please.”

“I will, Sara. Thank you, and I’m sorry all this happened to you.”

“I’m strong. You be the same.”

“I will. Bye, Sara.”

She hangs up and I look up to find Ralph gaping at me by the doorway. “I googled. I’m guilty. I’m weak sometimes. I admit it.”

I squeeze my eyes shut a moment and when I blink Ralph back into view, he’s sitting in the visitor’s chair in front of me with an expectant look on his face. Sighing in resignation, I share the same details with him that I have with Amanda. “Wow,” he says when I’m done, shaking his head. “Just . . . wow. The bitch tried to whack you.”

“Whack?”

“Don’t you watch The Sopranos?”

“No.”

“Where have you been, honey? When Tony had a problem . . .” He drags a finger across his neck. “Head gone, and body and feet in concrete blocks in the ocean.”

“In the ocean,” I croak, replaying Rebecca’s nightmares of drowning.

“In whatever water is convenient.” His eyes widen. “You think—”

“No.” I hold up a hand. “Stop. I don’t want to talk about this.”

“You think Ava put her in the ocean.” His expression turns fierce, his voice crackling with anger. “That would explain why she’s missing.” He slams his hands down on the desk. “You can’t let that bitch get away with killing Rebecca. You make her pay. You put her in jail.”

Shocked by this side of Ralph I’ve never seen, I nod. “We’re trying.”

“Good. And screw the press and their scandal. You keep your chin up. You’re a butterfly, Sara. Spread those wings and let them see your bitch colors if you have to.”

Laughter bubbles from my throat. “My bitch colors?”

“That’s right.”

“I love you, Ralph. I really do.”

He stands up and comes around the desk, wrapping me in a hug. “I love you, too.” He leans back and studies me. “You need to go home to your hot artist lover. I’m far enough along to finish my work at home now.”

“My hot artist lover will be happy to hear that,” I reply, barely containing more laughter. “He’ll be here soon. You go on home.”

“You’re sure?”

“Positive.”

“I don’t have to be told twice.” He rushes to the doorway, pausing to give me an exaggerated wave. I’m still staring in his wake when Mark walks past my office door without a glance in my direction. Hoping this means Chris is soon to follow, I call him, listening to it ring five times before it goes to voice mail.

I punch in a text message to him and Jacob interrupts my useless staring at the screen, waiting for his reply, by poking his head in the door. “Kelvin’s going to escort Ralph home to protect him from the press. Anything on Amanda?”

“Yes, I just talked to her. The bottom line is that she was in over her head with Ryan, and embarrassed about it.”

“He didn’t hurt her, did he?”

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