Trusting Laurence - Chapter 1
Three Years Later
With a heavy sigh, Larry leaned back in his chair. Interlocking his fingers behind his head, he contemplated the papers scattered across his desk. Frustration bubbled beneath his skin like acid. Their investigation had run cold, and he was out of options.
For months, they’d been following up leads and tip-offs, no matter how far-fetched or implausible. One just never knew what would yield results. But so far, nothing. Scrubbing a hand down his face, he blew out another breath. He reached out a hand to randomly grab a piece of paper from his desk in the hopes it would spark something. Anything. A flicker of an idea, no matter how small.
The phone on his desk rang, catching him off guard. With a curse, he reached out a hand to answer.
“Sorry to disturb you, sir, but there’s a lady on the line for you. She’s reluctant to give her name but asked that I tell you she’s an old friend,” his secretary answered.
“She say anything else?”
“No, sir. That’s it.”
“All right, put her through.”
He heard the click as the call was transferred to him, and he answered, “Keon.”
“Hello, Laurence.” The soft voice feathered over him like a whisper of the past.
For a moment, Larry was incapable of answering. His grip around the phone tightened as he rocked back in his seat. Surely it couldn’t be. Could it? Taking a breath, unaware he’d been holding it, he asked, “Tahlia?”
“Yes. It’s been a long time. How’ve you been, Laurence?”
“I’ve been good, thanks. How’ve you been? I’ve wondered about you, but you disappeared after the court case.”
“It’s been a difficult few years. After Marcus was convicted, I needed to get away. I needed somewhere safe I could put myself back together again.”
“And did you? Put yourself back together again?”
“I’m getting there. I’m a work in progress still.”
“I’m glad to hear you’re doing better.” Pausing for a moment, he continued, “What can I do you for you, Tahlia?”
“Laurence, could we meet somewhere? I found something in a bank deposit box. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but I think you need to see it. You might know what to do with this.”
“I– sure. Where and when?”
“There’s a coffee shop around the corner from your offices. Can you meet me there? In, say, an hour?”
Larry looked at his watch. “I’ve got a meeting scheduled in twenty minutes. Hang on a second while I see if I can reschedule.”
“Okay, I’ll hold.”
Putting her on hold, Larry dialed his secretary. “Mary-Beth, can you contact Finn and let him know something’s come up? I’ll have to reschedule for this afternoon. Tell him I’ll give him a call as soon as I’m back in the office.”
“Will do, sir.”
“Thank you,” he replied before switching back to the waiting call. “All sorted, Tahlia. I’ll meet you at the bakery around the corner in an hour.”
“Thank you, Laurence. I’ll see you then. Goodbye.” With that, the line went dead in his ear.
He put the phone back on the cradle and sat staring at it as if it might be a bomb about to detonate. The call had unsettled him, and he couldn’t say why. Maybe it was the specter of the past that had him so rattled. But he sure was curious to know what Tahlia wanted to show him.
Putting thoughts of Tahlia and their history out of his mind, he went back to studying the papers strewn across his desk. There had to be something there they were missing. Lives depended on them figuring this case out. In all his years, first doing private work as a bodyguard and then, as a field agent, he’d seen the worst that humanity had to offer.
When it came to human trafficking though, it really hit hard. While he knew his agents were more than capable of handling the case, he was called to be a part of it. The nightmare images still haunted him.
He picked up a page and started reading through the evidence they’d gathered in the hopes he’d missed something. After forty minutes of fruitlessly searching, Larry threw the documents back on his desk. He was getting nowhere fast. He decided he’d head to the bakery around the corner early to clear his head while he waited for Tahlia to arrive.
Lady Luck had smiled on Tahlia as she’d searched for a parking spot. A space three doors down from her destination opened, and she’d snapped it up. She’d intentionally arrived early, but in the end, she’d simply sat staring at the door of the bakery, unable to gather the courage to get out.
The last time she’d seen Laurence was the day he’d come to say goodbye. The day hope had died within her. He’d been her lifeline, her sanity. When he’d left, he’d taken it all with him – hope, security, sanctuary, and she’d never found another reason to fight back.
Shaking the thoughts from her head, Tahlia got out of the car. It would be impolite to make Laurence wait for her, and one thing she’d had beaten into her over the years of her marriage was that image was everything. As she hurried over to the door, she took a much-needed deep breath. She tightened the hand clasped around the straps of her purse and went inside.
She spotted him almost immediately. Standing completely still, she soaked in the sight of the man who had captured her heart only to crush it to pieces the day he’d left her. Time had been kind to him. Sure, he was older and gray now, but he was still as handsome as the day she’d met him.
He still made her heart beat faster. And despite the lines now visible around his eyes and mouth, as he looked up and caught sight of her, she discovered his smile could still make her knees weak.
Tahlia watched as Laurence rose gracefully to his feet and held out a chair for her. Galvanized into action, she walked over to where he stood.
“Laurence, it’s good to see you.”
He gifted her with another devastating smile before replying, “It’s good to see you too, Tahlia.”
She took a seat in the proffered chair, smoothing the skirt of her dress over her knees self-consciously. Watching him return to his own seat, her mind scrambled to find something to say. She couldn’t remember a time she’d felt so awkward around him.
After a long, uncomfortable moment of silence, Laurence cleared his throat. “Talk to me.”
She tried hard not to squirm under his gaze as he waited for her to reply. Those eyes of his missed nothing. There was so much she wanted to say to him, but she had no idea where to start. Finally, she replied, “After you left, things got worse. I always thought that he’d kill me one day.” She paused to gather herself. “Eventually, he almost did. My sister found me and called a friend pretty high up in the police department to report it. She went to him to make sure something came of it, since she was done keeping quiet about everything. He made good on his word and, as they say, the rest is history.”
“And after the court case? Where did you disappear to?”
“Once again, I have my sister to thank for that. She knew of a network called Friends of Patty that help women like me to disappear—abused women. I guess a bit like witness protection. They help you get settled somewhere else under a new identity. You’re meant to cut all ties with your past.”
“What made you decide to come back?”
“Honestly? I got tired of hiding, always looking over my shoulder. I missed my family. Leaving parents and siblings behind is one thing. Cutting all ties and leaving your children behind? That’s a different thing altogether. When I heard Maddie was getting married, I couldn’t stay away anymore.”
“Yeah, I heard Maddie’s getting married.” Shifting in his chair, Laurence leaned forward, his gaze searching. “So, what is it you think you have that has you looking me up, Lia? It’s been a lot of years since we last spoke.” He probably hadn’t intended to call her by the nickname he’d given her. It had slipped out.
“Yes, I guess it has,” Tahlia replied, tears gathering at the corners of her eyes. Not saying anything more about their time spent apart, she reached into her purse and pulled out a sheaf of papers. She slid them across the table as she continued. “I was looking for something in my safety deposit box at the bank, and I came across these papers. I didn’t recognize them, so I read through them. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but I don’t think it’s anything good. Why else would Marcus have put them in my box and not his own?”
She watched as Laurence picked the papers up and shuffled through them. A couple of pages in, she saw his body stiffen. A frisson of alarm ran through her, leaving her hands cold.
“What it is?”
“Do you have any idea where these come from? What they are?”
“No. I have absolutely no idea. As I said, I found them in my safety deposit box, so I can only assume Marcus would have put them there since he’s the only other person who had access to that box.”
Tapping the papers lying on the table in front of him, Laurence said, “Thanks for these. I’ll look into it. Where can I reach you should I need to speak to you again?”
Reaching into her purse once more, Tahlia drew out a little notebook and pen. She wrote her number on a page, tore it out, and handed it to him.
“I’m staying in a rental suite for a while until I can find a place of my own. But you can reach me on my cell.” Silently debating for a moment, she eventually asked, “Do you have any idea what these might be? Do you think they’re important, since Marcus put them in my box?”
Larry shook his head. “I’m not sure. I’ll have to go over them more thoroughly than the brief scan I gave them.”
Tahlia studied him for a moment, not saying anything, as she tried to decide whether he was telling her the truth. His face gave no indication of what he was thinking, she decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.
After long moments of awkward silence, Larry said, “I need to get back to the office, but it’s been good to see you again, Lia.”
“You too, Laurence. Take care of yourself.”
“Thanks. You too.”
He got to his feet and rounded the table, on his way to the door. Stopping beside her chair, he hesitated a moment, and Tahlia could have sworn he wanted to say something to her. Instead, he touched a hand briefly to her shoulder before leaving without another word.