Page 36 of Hot Mess

My lips twitched, and I held out my hands. He put two squirts of glittery pink soap in my palms with a look that said, “Don’t ask.”

That explained why he didn’t use the soap.

After I’d washed my hands and removed every drop of glitter, courtesy of the soap, I joined Theo and Elle on the deck.

“I can’t believe I get to eat pizza with Elle Evans!” Ari was bouncing on the sofa. “This is the best day ever!”

I fought back laughter. I’d never met a kid like her, and that was saying something since my niece was a hoot.

Theo shook his head, but he was smiling. “You’re crazy.”

“I’m not crazy!” She grinned and reached for her cup of lemonade. “I’m normal!”

“Sure. How did the sandcastle building go? Did you find fun shells?”

Ari nodded since her mouth was now full.

“Yes,” I said, patting the corner of my mouth with a napkin. “There’s a quarter of a bucket full. We found loads.”

“Really big ones, too,” Ari added. “I’ll show you later.”

“Can’t wait,” Theo replied.

My phone buzzed in my pocket, and I put my pizza down so I could check it. It was an email from Noelle’s tech guy, Carlton, and it said exactly what I was hoping it would.

From: Carlton Hooper (carlton@bondpi.com)

To: Elle Evans (ellybelly27346@gmail.com)

Subject: Please See Attached

Elle,

Per your phone call with Noelle this morning, please see the attached document. It will detail the recipient of the money.

Best wishes,

Carlton

“Are you okay?”

I swallowed and looked at Theo. “Yeah. It’s, uh, from the investigators.”

His eyebrows went up. “Good news?”

“I don’t know. I’m a little afraid to open the attachment.”

“Because then you’ll know for sure.” He smiled sympathetically.

“Uh-huh.”

Arielle looked between us. “Know what?”

“How many people it takes to change a lightbulb,” Theo said quickly. “Do you know?”

“I don’t, but I can ask Google.”

“Excellent idea. Why don’t you take your pizza and lemonade and go and look?”

“Why do I need to find the answer when Elle already has it?”

“To make sure her answer is correct, obviously.”

Ari thought about this for a moment, then nodded her head once. “Okay.” She grabbed an extra slice of pizza, then picked up her up of lemonade and headed inside.

“I can’t believe she bought that.” I looked at Theo. “How did she buy that?”

“She’s not usually allowed food in her room. She hoards the wrappers and the plates.” He shrugged. “Are you going to look?”

“I don’t really have a choice.” I unlocked the phone—I really had to get Emily to send my phone now—and opened the attachment on the email. I took a deep breath and read it, literally holding my breath when I saw the recipient.

Mitchell Ashcroft.

And his bank details.

The exact date and time, to the very second, when thirty thousand dollars hit his bank account from one Rebecca Preston, identified in the document as the editor-in-chief of the tabloid that had broken the story.

I let out the breath, sagging down on the sofa. This was it. This was the proof I was looking for, the proof that it was him. It really was Mitch who’d done this to me.

I met Theo’s eyes and nodded slowly. “It’s his bank account. It was him.”

He grimaced, then moved to sit on the sofa I was on. He wrapped his arm around my shoulders and hugged me, and I didn’t know I needed that contact until I rested my head on his shoulder.

It was weird because I knew it was Mitch. I knew he was the one who’d done it. It didn’t make sense because he was in the video, but I also knew he wanted to get back at me for breaking up with him.

But there was always that chance that it wasn’t him. That someone else had somehow gotten hold of it and shared it.

Not anymore.

That ship had sailed.

I was looking at cold, hard proof, that someone I’d shared my life with and someone I’d lived with was responsible for ruining it.

It was a hard pill to swallow.

“You okay?” Theo asked after a few minutes of silence.

I nodded and sat back up straight. “Yeah, I’m okay. Just… weird. To see the proof on paper, you know?”

“What are you going to do now?”

“Report it to the police. My lawyer can connect me to the police in New York, then I guess once it’s filed, I’ll speak to my agent about posting a video that gives my side of it.”

“That makes sense. Will you go back to New York?”

“Not unless I have to. Honestly, I don’t feel safe there right now. I’m going to ask my sister to go to my apartment and send me down some of my stuff. Like clothes and my actual phone.”

“That’s not your phone?”

“No. I panicked and left it at my apartment before I left. I bought this cheap one on the way down here.” I unlocked the phone again and forwarded the email to Bethany, telling her that I wanted to report it to the police now that we had this proof.

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