This chapter is dedicated to HeyItsParmida, the second 1st place winner in the pre-launch contest.
This is a brand new chapter which was not included in Draft I.
2 - Reflections
"Would you like this gift wrapped, ma'am?"
I give the young, eager clerk a brief smile. "No, that's okay."
My fingers stroke over the soft fur fabric before handing him the teddy bear. Brent used to have one just like it—I think he called him Bobby—but I'm not sure anymore. I don't even remember what happened to him, but he had been devastated after he was gone.
The clerk stuffs the bear into a plastic bag. "That would be twenty-one sixty-nine."
I rummage through my purse for my change wallet, Ryan would be mad if I put the purchase on my credit card. He feels that I already bought enough toys for Noah, so I have been using my secret stash. I hand the clerk a twenty dollar bill and two ones, tossing the change absentmindedly in the donation box when my phone rings.
"Hi, honey. Are you on the plane yet?" My words cause excitement to spread in my stomach. Only a couple of hours and Noah will be here. I should hurry home and get the last little bits ready.
"No, Charlotte." His voice is on edge. "There have been some complications."
"What type of complications?"
"I'm sorry that I didn't call you earlier, but I didn't want to unnecessarily upset you. Frank took Noah and disappeared."
My hand automatically reaches for the store counter to keep my balance when the world around me comes crushing halt. "You told me you had that covered. How could you let this happen?"
"Watch your tone. And this is not my fault. Rena took an empty buggy out as a decoy and Barney stayed on her since he never expected Frank to do something illegal. The man is a cop, for crying out loud. What ever happened to ethical professionalism?"
I almost snort—someone should explain to my husband that spouse abuse has not exactly been sanctioned by the law. "What are you gonna do?"
He breathes heavily on the other end, a sign that he is furious. "Tivon ran to the judge the minute the courts opened and Rena was summoned. She claimed she has no idea where Noah is and the judge issued a contempt order. At the moment, she's being held at the county jail and Briar is interrogating her. An FBI colleague from the Child Exploitation Task Force is also involved, Director Mancini recommended him. He seems quite competent though rather young. I'm sure we'll get the truth out of Rena in the next few hours and as soon as we find Noah, I'll bring him home."
At least Ryan will stay in Chicago and I'll have the house to myself. If I already can't be with my grandson, I deserve to treat myself to a nice evening. I huff when a boy almost hits me with his elbow while chasing after his little brother around the cash register.
"What was that?" Ryan snaps.
"Nothing." I step out of the toy store, heading toward the food court. "Someone almost bumped into me."
"Oh, okay. I thought you were giving me attitude again."
I snicker to myself, he is such a jerk. "Would I ever do that?" I ask sweetly, almost gagging on my words. Lately, the feigning of obedience has proven quite difficult.
"Don't play games, Charlotte." The irritation is all too audible and I will fare better to end this conversation. Anything else could get me a beating when he gets home.
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