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Pleasing Mr. Parker: Chapter 29

Maria

Griffin’s already gone. He’ll be heading into the meeting with the lawyers any minute now. He’ll be running on adrenaline. Certainly not sleep. We stayed up making love until two hours ago. Not like the first time when he came in, when it was all anger and hurt fueled. This was different. This was him showing me he was sorry. Showing me he loves me. Neither of us has said it again since that first time last night. But we haven’t needed to. We spent the night wrapped in each other’s arms, our eyes never leaving the other. No words were needed. We said everything we needed to with the way we looked at each other.

And now my handsome, complicated, passionate man is heading into a meeting he’s worried about. Really worried. This could be bad for The Songbird. We could face criminal charges if they can prove neglect or malicious intent.

I shower quickly but have missed four calls from Harley by the time I check my phone. I call her back as I’m grabbing my bag and walking out the door. Damn it. It goes straight to voicemail.

I ride the elevator down, waiting until I’m heading out into the street, where I have a better signal to ring back. Despite having an internal entrance from the private residences wing to the main hotel, I like to come this way. I get to say good morning to Earl and check on the pigeon situation.

“Harley, what’s going on?” I ask the second the call connects.

“Maria. Don’t go through the main entrance!” She’s flustered, her breath loud down the phone as though she’s rushed to answer.

Maybe she’s just got in. It’s early for her to be there already. Maybe Griffin asked her to be there before the meeting to take notes.

“I’m already there, what are you—” My words stick in my throat as I round the corner. A group of journalists are huddled around The Songbird’s entrance. There must be around thirty. Some have cameras set up.

”Ms. Taylor?” one shouts, causing all their heads to whip in my direction.

“What do you have to say about the claims that it was your spa products that put Josanna Frederick in hospital?”

“Do you feel guilt over what happened?”

”Is there any danger of anyone else being harmed?”

”Ms. Taylor?”

“Do you have any comments?”

”Ms. Taylor?”

I push through the gaggle of microphones and cameras being shoved in my face. Earl holds out his arm and scoops me along and in through the door. I look back, giving him a grateful smile. He nods at me with a wink. His face is so warm and kind that I could cry. He turns back to the crowd and puts his hands in the air, motioning for them to step back.

“Maria? Maria? Are you still there?”

“I’m still here.” I put my phone back to my ear and Harley blows out a breath.

“It’s going to be a crazy day, Maria. Prepare yourself. They’re in the spa. I wanted to warn you before you got there.”

“Who are?” Coldness creeps over my skin as I rush across the lobby and head toward the spa. My heels click loudly on the marble floor and attract curious glances from guests.

“The police,” Harley says. “Vogue insisted they launch a criminal investigation after one cream used on Josanna was found to have contained a high level of lanolin, along with other known allergens.”

“But that’s not possible. We never use it as an ingredient. Never. Wait! How do they even know? How have they tested it so fast?”

Harley lowers her voice. “Josanna’s assistant swiped it on the way out yesterday. I’m so sorry, Maria. Look, I have to go. It’s going nuts up here. But I’ll be down to see you as soon as I can. I just wanted to warn you. I think they’ll want to talk to you.”

“Okay, thank you.” I end the call and walk into the spa.

It’s unrecognizable. Uniformed police officers questioning the spa staff have replaced the usual calm serenity. Others, in plain suits, are packing the reception computer into a box.

“What are you doing? Why are you taking that?”

The one packing ignores me, but the officer with him looks up from his notebook.

“We need it to help with our enquiries, Ms—?”

“Taylor.” I frown as the last of it is packed into the box and the quiet officer walks off with it.

“Maria Taylor?”

“Yes.” I bring my eyes back to the officer in front of me. He’s older, tall, dark-brown hair, wearing a charcoal suit. He would probably look friendly and approachable if it weren’t for the circumstances. “What’s going on?”

”Ms. Taylor, I’m Detective Field. I’m leading the investigation into the incident that happened here yesterday.”

I stare at him, my mouth open.

Incident? What is this? An episode of CSI?

“Look. We don’t use any synthetic ingredients in our products. Or ones known to be common allergens. There must have been a mistake. I’m extremely relieved that Ms. Frederick will be okay after experiencing something so frightening. But I can assure you, it was nothing to do with The Songbird, or my staff.” I glance to the side where Caitlin is ringing her hands in front of her as an officer questions her. “Is this really necessary? My staff have done nothing wrong. In fact, their quick actions yesterday probably prevented the situation from being much worse.”

“It’s just routine.” Detective Field gives me a forced smile. “I would appreciate it if you could answer some questions for me though, please?”

“Of course,” I mumble, looking around again. The spa products on the glass display shelves I unpacked yesterday are all being gathered into a box and carted away. It’s like watching everything you’ve built be slowly taken apart around you, piece by piece. And there’s not a single thing you can do to stop it.

I squeeze my eyes shut, pressing my fingertips to them. The sooner this is all cleared up, the better.

I spend the next forty-five minutes going over yesterday’s events with Detective Field as he makes notes on his pad. He nods and makes the odd sound to encourage me to go on. But other than that, he says very little.

Odd. Shouldn’t he be asking me questions? Gathering evidence?

He must know this is all a freak accident. Josanna must have come into contact with something before entering the spa. Maybe a guest in the hotel? She’s well known in her job as editor of Vogue. It’s quite possible that someone stopped her on the street or inside the lobby before she arrived and spoke to her. Shook her hand, kissed her on the cheek. Something.

I give Detective Field all these avenues to consider, but he just hums a non-committal response and looks at me from under his brows until I continue. By the time my chat with him is over, and he and the other officers leave, I’m drained. And the sparse scene around me tells me we won’t be opening today.

“Cheer up. It’s never that bad.”

I look up from where I’ve sunk into the spa reception sofa.

“Hey.” I smile as Harley plonks herself next to me, wrapping an arm around my shoulders.

“I brought you a latte.” She squeezes me into her side, and I stare at the two takeaway cups she’s placed on the table in front of us.

“Thank you.” I exhale slowly, a deep groan leaving my lips. “This all feels so surreal. How are things upstairs?”

Harley grimaces and passes me my cup.

“Great,” I mutter, picturing the chaos going on up there as I take a sip. She’s put extra sugar in for me. Probably thought I could do with all the help I could get.

“It’s not the best day, I’ll say that.” She drops her chin into her hands.

“Griffin?”

She gives me a kind smile. “He’s okay. He’s in full damage control mode with legal. It’s quite impressive, really. He sure knows how to command a floor. The entire office is running like a well-oiled machine up there doing what needs to be done. And then some.”

My chest swells at him coordinating everything and taking control—a breathtakingly handsome force to be reckoned with.

“God.” My voice trembles. “I feel like I’ve let him down. Let you down. Let everybody down. How could this have happened? We’re so careful.”

“Stop right there.” Harley fixes her eyes on mine, gripping my hand. “No one blames you. This isn’t your fault. Vogue are just swinging their dicks about in a pissing competition. It’s all for show. As soon as Josanna’s swelling has gone and she feels less like she should be featuring on a show for facial fillers gone wrong, then they’ll probably drop it.”

“I doubt it. They took all the products and the spa computer. They’re going big guns.”

“Meh.” She waves a hand in the air. “That’s only to make a point. Josanna’s embarrassed because her face got splashed all over the news when she was put into the ambulance, that’s all. It’s crazy upstairs right now, as they’ve got to react and plan. But I spoke to Will, and we both think this will be done by the end of tomorrow.”

“But they found ingredients in the cream that should never have been there.”

I wrack my brain for how that can be. Someone must have got samples mixed up, or the test results switched. There’s just no way it was the spa’s fault. I personally went over every formulation with the new suppliers before they sent us our first batch. And we all tried the test batch they sent over. It was all fine. I had no concerns. At all.

“Yeah, in one jar. One jar that her assistant swiped. He could have easily done something to it to make it look like the cause. Or maybe he even laced it himself. Think about it. Demanding boss, underpaid, underappreciated assistant. I bet there was a grudge there that had been building for years.” Harley’s eyes light up.

“You sound like you’re planning a movie script.” A small laugh shakes my shoulders as I snort.

I don’t know why I’m almost laughing. Maybe it’s the mention of a demanding boss. Just like Griffin when I first began working here. I would never have believed back then that we would be where we are now. Or maybe, which is more likely, it’s the fact that if I don’t find something to laugh about today, I might lose my mind.

“I’d have to have a smart, upcoming actress play me. You know, discover a new star, launch their career.” Harley lifts her cup and clinks it against mine, giving me a wink.

I smile and shake my head at her. I’m glad she’s here, trying to ease my worry. But it’s there in her eyes—she’s worried, too. Yes, maybe it will all be sorted before we know it. But there’s a part of my gut that tells me it won’t be so easy. Something just doesn’t add up, and Vogue won’t give up easily.

It’s like I’m missing a single word that can change the entire meaning of a sentence. That one word that will explain everything.

Truth.


The next couple of days are strange. There’s no better word for them. The spa remains shut, so I busy myself with cleaning it from top to bottom, even though the cleaning crew does it. I can’t sit and do nothing. I barely see Griffin as he is in meeting after meeting, coming in late at night. He curls his arms around me when he climbs into bed, and we end up having sex. It’s hot and heavy. Not that I’m complaining. He needs that control when it probably seems like he has none at work right now. But I miss my other Griffin. The gentle, tender one who makes love to me in the mornings with his eyes locked on mine.

That Griffin is gone.

I wake up in a cold bed now.

Alone.

I’m about to head out the door when there’s a buzz on the apartment intercom.

Who would be calling at this time for Griffin? Surely, they’d know he would be in his office already.

I press the button.

”Ms. Taylor?”

“Yes?” I frown as my mind scrambles to place the familiar voice.

“It’s Detective Field. I wanted us to have a talk.”

My chest deflates as I let out the breath I’m holding.

Finally! They’ve got to the bottom of what happened.

God, I’m so relieved. Now we can clear this whole mess up and move on.

I can get my Griffin back—every version.

“I’ll come down right away.” I’m smiling as I rush to the elevator, fidgeting with one of the earrings Griffin gave me as I will it to hurry up.

Detective Field comes into view, standing in the residence’s lobby the second the elevator doors slide open. My smile grows as I approach him. But something about the grim look in his eyes and the way his mouth stays set in a firm line has my step faltering.

”Is everything okay?” I glance between him and the uniformed officer with him.

”Ms. Taylor, we’re here to inform you we are arresting you on suspicion of causing grievous bodily harm, and for theft of funds—”

“What?” My stomach lurches into my mouth and then plummets to the floor, setting my head spinning.

Detective Field continues his spiel,“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in court.” But the rushing of blood in my ears drowns him out.

“There’s been a mistake,” I murmur. “You’ve got it wrong.”

Grievous bodily harm… theft?

The uniformed officer takes hold of my wrists, cuffing them. Detective Field’s face remains impassive.

“This is wrong! I don’t… have you spoken to Griffin?” I ask, my eyes searching down the sidewalk toward The Songbird’s main entrance as I’m escorted over to a waiting squad car and pushed down inside it. The same sea of journalists head in our direction like a tsunami, cameras flashing, voices yelling out questions.

I screw my face up and turn away from the window as they bang on the glass and run alongside the car as we drive away.

What the hell is going on?

I sit in silence in the back of the car, too stunned to say anything.

Where’s Griffin?

When we get to the precinct, I’m put in an interview room, and my cuffs are removed. I wait alone for thirty minutes until Detective Field and another non-uniformed officer I haven’t seen before enter the room.

I glance between the two of them. She’s younger than Detective Field, probably only a few years older than me. I look at her hopefully, but she remains emotionless as the two of them take the seats opposite me.

I lean forward onto the cold metal table. It stays rooted to the spot where it’s bolted to the floor. Everything about this room is grim. The dark gray walls, the cold, damp floor… the smell—musty and stale.

The stench of injustice.

Detective Field opens the folder he has placed on the table in front of him and clears his throat.

“Could you please state your full name for us?”

I swallow, but the thick lump in my throat remains firmly lodged. “Maria Vera Taylor.”

Detective Field glances at me, and then back at his open folder. “Ms. Taylor. We are required to inform you that this interview is being recorded on camera.”

“Okay,” I acknowledge, my mouth dry.

Why am I here? It doesn’t make any sense.

”Ms. Taylor. How long have you worked at The Songbird?”

“Coming up for four months now.” I glance between the two of them again.

What does that have to do with anything?

“We understand you had an incident with a Mr. Todd Ackerman while working there. Can you tell us more about that?”

What?

“It was just a misunderstanding. He was interested in a romantic relationship with me, and I didn’t feel the same.”

“And his supply contract with The Songbird was canceled as a result?”

I nod.

“Please answer for the audio.” The female detective sniffs.

My eyes stay on her for a moment before I drop them to the desk. “Yes, that’s correct.”

Detective Field nods. “And Mr. Parker asked him to leave rather forcefully when he came to the spa to discuss it with you?”

Shit. My stomach churns as I recall the way Griffin punched Todd in the nose and security carted him off—bruised and bleeding.

“He asked him to leave, yes.”

My mind is running at a million miles a minute trying to make sense of all this.

Did Todd report Griffin to the police? Is this what this is all about? Some vindictive ploy to get back at us both?

“Are you in a sexual relationship with Mr. Parker?”

“I’m sorry, what?” I snap my eyes back up to Detective Field, who stares back at me, waiting. “Why are you asking—”

“A yes or no will do at this stage.” He sighs.

“Yes,” I splutter, “but I don’t see what that has to do with—”

“And when did this relationship begin?” He fixes his eyes on me and my chest grows hot, perspiration beading between my breasts and causing my shirt to stick to me.

“Um…” My mind flashes to the pool in The Bahamas, then the night of the charity gala. “… I’m not sure I could tell you the exact date.”

“Was it before or after the contract was canceled with the company who employs Mr. Ackerman?”

“Before,” I say, my voice unsure.

“I see.”

The female detective leans over and whispers something in Detective Field’s ear, and he makes a sound of agreement.

“Okay, Ms. Taylor. We would like you to look at the following emails and call logs, please.” He lays documents out in front of me across the table. “Please confirm that is your work cell number at the top there, and that is your work email.”

I frown as I scan the document. They look like mine, but they can’t be. There’s a call to the new suppliers with a chat transcript typed out below, detailing how a new revised ingredients list is being sent over. Then there are several emails confirming the same, the new, much lower costings mentioned in one.

”Ms. Taylor?” Detective Field presses, boredom creeping into his tone.

“Yes… they… they are my number and address, but I never made this call… and the emails, those weren’t sent by me.”

I press my hand to my mouth as I read the documents again, nausea creeping over me.

“You have passwords for your work email, correct?”

“Yes.”

“And all company computers where you have access to these systems, along with your spa’s accounts, are in areas where a staff ID card is required to gain entry, correct?”

“Um… yes.”

The sickness rises in my throat. The only computers that can access my work emails, and the spa accounts, would be ones connected to the main management servers, either on Griffin’s floor, or the one in my office in the spa.

“Thank you.” Detective Field nods to his colleague and she gathers the papers into a pile. Then he places a fresh set down in front of me. “Can you please tell me what these are, Ms. Taylor?”

I frown at him, shaking my head. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Read them out, please.” He points to the top line of text on the first sheet of paper.

The blood in my veins turns to ice.

“Um…”

He leans back in his chair, waiting.

“The Finance Corporation of Bahamas Bank,” I mumble, my eyes dropping to the next line. “Account Holder, Ms. Maria Taylor.” I look up at him. “Why do you have overseas bank accounts in my name?”

“Please look at the amount in the account, Ms. Taylor.”

I gulp as the figure swims into focus.

“It’s not mine. It must be another Maria Taylor. There’s been a mistake.”

Detective Field ignores me, spreading more documents out over the table.

“We have multiple statements and invoices here, showing that funds were sent from you at The Songbird hotel to this account. Including the large, returned portion of the contractual payment when you changed the product ingredients and reduced your cost of supply significantly.”

The pages swim out of focus as my eyes sting and my throat burns.

“This wasn’t me. I swear! I love The Songbird, I would never—”

“Are you in financial trouble, Ms. Taylor?”

The question catches me off guard, and all I can do is stare at the two detectives, trying to make sense of what’s happening.

“No… I’m not… why—”

“Have you ever been in debt before?”

“No!” I screw my eyes shut.

This is ridiculous. Surely they can see that?

“Our records show you once amassed a substantial debt from missed loan payments.” Detective Field places another piece of paper down.

“No!” I glare at him. “I told you. I’ve never been in debt.”

“Explain this.” He taps the sheet of paper on the table.

I wish more than anything I could tear them all to shreds. Lies, each and every one. Thin white lies, ripping my composure apart.

I snort as I look at the sheet.

“That was my ex, Damien. He forged my signature on the loan. It was all sorted years ago.”

“We don’t have any record of a Damien.”

“You wouldn’t. He was an ex-boyfriend I wanted to get away from. I paid off the debt and he agreed never to contact me again as long as I didn’t report him.” I tip my head back and look at the ceiling, my chest tight as I remember thinking that would be the end of it. That he would be a stripper called Mercedes’ problem from then on.

“Money discrepancies and men seem to collide in your life frequently, Ms. Taylor. Would you agree?”

I bring my eyes back to Detective Field and stare at him as I brace myself for the next shit cannon he’s no doubt about to launch.

“Your father was a gambler with poor control of his finances.”

Sparks fly in my stomach, and I lurch forward in my seat.

“That was years ago. And last time I checked, it’s not a hereditary condition.”

Detective Field remains fixed to his seat, his eyes locked on mine as I exhale, following my small outburst, and lean back.

“No, no, it’s not. But it goes some way to explaining why you have issues with men and money. Were there any witnesses to Mr. Ackerman’s inappropriate advance toward you?”

“What?” My forehead screws up as I shake my head at him. “Why?”

He presses his lips together and shrugs a shoulder. “It could be said that you invented the alleged behavior in order for Mr. Parker to cancel the contract and allow you to enter into a new one with a company of your choosing. A company that has no prior history with The Songbird, or Mr. Parker, and wouldn’t find it strange that the spa in such a prestigious hotel would want to substantially reduce the quality of the products they are using.”

A crazed laugh leaves my lips as the sweat beneath my shirt turns cold.

They really think I did this. They’ve got the entire thing mapped out.

Motive, method, and means.

What’s next?

“Entering into a relationship with Mr. Parker was a clever move. Gain his trust. Allow him to give you more responsibility. You were able to keep it all out of his sight.”

I suck in a sharp breath as I stare daggers at the female detective speaking properly for the first time. I’ve never wanted to rip the hair out of someone’s head before—tear it clean out from the root—until now.

“No!” I snap, forcefully. “You’re wrong. My relationship with Griffin has nothing to do with any of this!”

The two of them say nothing, just exchange a look that has me wanting to scream until the whole of Manhattan hears me.

God, if they think this, then what does—

”Ask him! He will tell you all of this is complete crap! You’ve got it wrong. Someone’s setting this all up to look like I did something when I didn’t.” I press my fingers into my temples and take a deep breath.

I thought they were coming to tell me Josanna Frederick had dropped her complaint. That there was some other explanation for her allergic reaction.

Not this.

Not arresting me for causing bodily harm… not arresting me for stealing… from The Songbird… from Griffin.

“Please. Call him.” My voice breaks.

He must be worried. If he even knows I’m here. Would anyone have told him? Maybe he’s at work, so busy, and doesn’t even realize what’s going on.

“We have,” Detective Field says matter-of-factly. “He’s helping us with our enquiries.”

Hope blooms in my chest.

Griffin is so calm when he has to be. He’ll know what to do. He’ll see this for what it is—a huge misunderstanding.

“He is? Well, can I talk to him, can I—”

“No.” Detective Field gathers all the papers up and shuts the folder.

There’s a knock at the door and a young, uniformed officer pokes his head in. Detective Field walks over to him and the two exchange hushed words. The female detective sits with her arms crossed, watching me.

He returns to the desk and whispers something to her before addressing me.

”Ms. Taylor. We would usually have to see a judge before this happens, but it seems in this case, alternative arrangements have been made, and you have been granted bail. Please do not leave the city. We will need to speak with you further during our investigation. We would also suggest you instruct a lawyer.”

With that, they both stand and wait for me. Detective Field goes first, and the female detective’s eyes burn into the back of my head as I exit the room and am led to the main waiting area.

“Maria!”

Harley flings her arms around me, and I hug her back tightly, my head spinning, so grateful for her warmth and familiarity.

“Harley. They think—”

“Shh. Not here.”

She looks over my shoulder at the detectives and then bundles me out of the door and down the steps onto the street. There’s a cab waiting, and she pushes me in gently, following straight behind.

“Teller apartments, please, the address I gave you earlier,” she says to the driver, before sitting back next to me.

“Why are we going to your place? I need to talk to Griffin.”

She grabs my hand and squeezes it, her pretty face masked with worry. It’s one of the rare times I’ve seen Harley without a smile.

“Now’s not a good time. He’s got a lot on. But he’ll come round, Maria. I know it. He loves you. He’ll see this for what it is.”

I look at the seat next to her.

My Louis Vuitton holdall is there.

A sob catches in my throat.

“What do you mean? I need to speak to him, Harley. I need to see him, I—”

If that wasn’t enough, the tears in her eyes tell me everything else.

He’s gone.

I’ve lost him.

“No!” I choke out, squeezing my eyes shut as hot tears sting at their corners. “He doesn’t believe it, does he? He can’t. He knows me, he… we…”

I swallow down an ugly cross between a cry and a snort as I picture his face—his hurt face, thinking I would do this to him.

Thinking that this is real.

But I also know him.

I know he has to be in control. He looks at facts. He takes emotion out of it when it comes to business—when it comes to The Songbird. If Detective Field showed him all that evidence, all those statements, the emails, the call logs…

“Oh, my God, he thinks I did it. He believes I did it.” Realization stabs me in the gut.

Harley wraps an arm around me as my chest burns and I shake.

Can I blame him?

It sure looks damning, even from where I’m sitting, and I know that I’ve done nothing wrong. He’s been lied to before. Deceived by someone close to him. Someone unknown. He’s never gotten over it, never…

“I need to speak to him, Harley.”

Her arm tightens around me as Manhattan passes by in a blur out of the window.

She doesn’t say anything.

She can’t.

We both know Griffin.

Once he makes his mind up, that’s it.

Game Over.

The End.


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