For the next five minutes, he and Chris throw out warnings and things I shouldn’t say to Ricco, to the point where they’re making me crazy. “Stop,” I say. “I’ll handle this. I’m ready.” I don’t give them time to argue. I dial Ricco.
Three rings and he answers. “Bella. I would say I’m surprised to hear from you, but really, I’m not. Today has been an interesting day, has it not?”
“Did you help her escape?” I demand. Chris and Blake throw their hands in the air as I throw caution to the wind, but I go with my gut. “She’s guilty. Not Mark. They cleared him.”
“I’ve heard nothing of Mark being cleared or her being charged.”
“They found evidence, Ricco. It was Ava. She wanted Mark, and when Rebecca came back, she knew she’d lose him. Please, I’m begging you. If you know where she is, turn her in.”
There is complete silence on the line, and every muscle in my body is tense as I wait. Finally, he says, “I didn’t help her escape. But you, and whoever is listening in on this call, can be assured that if I find out that she killed Rebecca, and I find her before the police do, she’ll never make it back into custody alive.”
The line goes dead and, stunned, I can barely breathe. It takes me a moment to set the phone down on the table.
“Sara,” Chris says. “Baby, what happened?”
“I think he might kill Ava.”
Blake takes the phone and hits Replay on the app and he and Chris listen to the call.
• • •
We leave the rental property in a black sedan with Jacob as our driver and Blake and Kelvin driving the 911. That they feel we’re a target in the 911 does not make me feel good. Chris and I huddle together, talking very little, and you can almost hear our minds working. Worse, we hit some sort of traffic jam heading into San Francisco, and after an hour of sitting still, and my impossible-to-ignore need to go to the bathroom, we decide to pull over to a diner and eat.
Once we’re inside, I take one look at the group of alpha men waiting for me to slide into the center of the booth, and decide to use the bathroom first.
“I’ll go with you,” Chris says, determined to be my number-one bodyguard.
As we walk down the small hallway he asks, “You okay?”
“As long as I’m with you, I’m okay.” His furrowed brow says he’s not convinced, and I push to my toes and kiss him. “I promise.”
“Just remember that people make their own choices, and then they live with them. We can try to change them, but we can’t make their choices for them. If you do everything you can to help, you have to accept the outcome they bring on themselves.”
I nod. “I’ll be right back.” I enter the bathroom, locking the door. I’m washing my hands when my cell phone rings. I pull it from my purse, surprised to see Chantal’s number.
“Chantal!” I say eagerly, answering the call, missing my friend in Paris.
“Sara.” Her voice is a rough, strained whisper.
“Tristan is here. He wants to talk to you. He said he doesn’t have your number, and I didn’t know if I should give it out.”
My stomach knots at the name of the man who tried to replace Chris with Amber, and failed, foreboding tensing my body. He’s in Paris dealing with Amber’s rehab that Chris is paying for. Why is he calling me?
“Sara?” Chantal prods.
“Yes,” I say. “Okay.”
“Sara,” he says, his voice hard.
“Tristan? Why are you calling me and not Chris?”
“Amber killed herself.”
I fall against the door. “No. No. No.” My eyes burn. “When? How?”
“She hung herself at the treatment center. I can’t talk to Chris. Maybe never again.” His voice cracks. “She left a note. She wants to be cremated. No funeral. Absolutely no Chris. She died hating him. I hate him. Keep him away or I . . . I don’t know what I’ll do. I have to go. Just . . . keep him the fuck away.” The line goes dead.
I sink down against the door, tears streaming down my cheeks. Amber is dead, and I have to tell Chris.
I’m sitting on the floor, my cheeks streaked with tears, when Chris knocks. “You okay, baby?”
“Yes. Sorry, I’m coming.” But I can’t move. What am I supposed to do? I can’t tell him. Not now, in the middle of a pack of men, in a public place, when he’s about to be trapped in the back of a car. I have to wait until we’re alone.
I push to my feet and wobble to the sink, and stare at my red, puffy eyes. Even cold water won’t hide the fact that I was crying. I’ll have to make him believe this is due to all this hell we’re living.
He knocks again. “Sara. Open up.”
“Just another minute.” I open my purse to grab my makeup and the tears start again. I thought we got her into rehab in time. She was supposed to be okay.
I give up trying to pull myself together, turning and opening the door. The minute I see my amazing, damaged man, the tears start flowing again. He comes in and shuts the door, folding me into his strong arms.
“Hey. Baby.” He frames my face, stroking wet hair from my cheeks. “What happened? I thought you were okay?”
“I was. This isn’t a panic attack. Those don’t come with . . . tears. This is . . . This is just . . . It hurts that she’s dead.” Amber. Rebecca. I can’t tell him. “And it’s real, and I didn’t want it to be this way.”