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Conor sat outside at his resort’s patio diner. Stars had come out long ago, and his waiter had long since cleared his plate. But his tumbler of Scotch was refilled whenever he drained it. Though it was dark, the ocean was close enough that he could see it if he looked, but he stared at his phone instead.
He’d pulled up the picture of the fountain in the center of the hedge for the hundredth time. He wanted to call or text Charisse, but anything he said would sound fake or lame. He was going home tomorrow morning. After a quick stop in town at his favorite jewelry store, he’d go home and take her in his arms forever if she’d have him. No more contract.
Trying to gain her affections by bringing home her long lost mother seemed like a stupid idea now. Or maybe he was still feeling the sting of the brush-off Gianna had given him. Maybe if he’d brought Raul, things would’ve gone better. But he also feared there was a history between her and Raul that was better left alone. At least better left alone by Conor.
He cleared the picture and punched Raul’s number to have him arrange the car to pick him up tomorrow at the airport. He should also have him check on the gift at the jewelry store and make sure it’d be done.
Raul’s phone rang longer than usual. He finally answered, and Conor heard what sounded like heavy breathing, “Mr. Grishin, is there something I can do for you?”
“Uh, what’s wrong? You sound like you’re running a marathon.”
“May I call you back in a few minutes?”
Alarms rang through Conor’s mind. Raul never put him off. “What’s going on? Has something happened to you or Charisse?”
The steady pounding like someone running stopped on the other end of the line. He could hear Raul trying to catch his breath. “It’s Charisse. She didn’t show up for dinner, and she’s not answering her phone.”
Conor jumped up. He thought the phone might break from gripping it so hard. His thoughts went to the night of Elise’s death, but he shoved that aside. Charisse was not dead. There was no zipline on his property anymore. And if she’d drowned in the pool, Raul would’ve found her already.
“Did she take off? Is one of my cars missing? I told her she could use them.”
“Nothing’s missing, and the other driver didn’t take her anywhere. The security cameras showed her going into the maze. I’m running out to the house to see if she’s there. I tell you all the time to get security cameras out there.” Raul yelled the last part, and his accent was so thick, Conor barely understood him.
“I don’t need a lecture. I’ll try to call her while you head out there.” He hung up and realized he was also yelling. Everyone on the patio stared at him.
“Uh, sorry about that,” he said. As he left, he whispered to the waiter to offer everyone dessert and put it on his tab.
He left through a gate that led out to the beach. He punched her number and listened to it ring and ring. When it went to voicemail, he hung up and tried again. A pain behind his right eyeball tried to pierce through his skull. This wasn’t happening all over again. He could not lose Charisse.
The ringing stopped, and he heard a groggy, “Hello?”
He stopped walking and took a deep breath. Her voice had never sounded so good.
“Charisse, where are you?”
There was a pause and then, “Where am I? You’ve been gone all week, and you call to ask me where I am?”
By her snippy tone, she must be okay. He smiled. But then he heard a moan.
He asked, “What’s wrong? I need to know where you are so Raul can find you.”
“Raul? Oh, God, I’m sorry. How late is it? I found your house at the end of the maze, but I was really tired and ended up falling asleep on the porch swing when I should’ve gone back to the mansion. I still don’t feel good.”
Both relief and concern pulsed through him. “Just stay where you are. Raul is on his way. He’ll take care of you. And I’ll be home tomorrow.”
“I’m really mad at you,” she said, but she sounded weak. He didn’t like it. “But I read about Elise, and it’s hard to stay mad at you.”
“I’ve been a rat bastard, and I’m sorry. But right now we need to worry about you. You don’t sound good. Do you need a doctor?”
“You know how when you go too long without eating, you feel nauseous and hungry all at the same time?”
“That’s how I feel.”
Damn it. Why wasn’t Raul there yet? He knew the maze as well as Conor did.
“The house was just stocked, so when Raul gets there, he should be able to whip something up for you.”
“I see him,” said Charisse. “I need to apologize to him.” Conor thought she was just going to hang up, but then she said, “Conor?”
“When you get home, I don’t know if I should kiss you or kick your ass.”
The line went dead.