Read The Sweet Life Online

Authors: Francine Pascal

The Sweet Life (7 page)

BOOK: The Sweet Life
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Chapter Fourteen

Elizabeth pulled up in front of Robin's new house, a modest but clean one-story bungalow just down the street from Robin's parish. The minute Elizabeth had seen the little house for rent she knew it would be the perfect hideaway. It was close to Father Riley's church and no one would know Robin was there.

With Elizabeth's name on the lease, she'd be safe from reporters or anyone else searching for her.

Elizabeth rang the doorbell, and Robin opened the door seconds later.

“I'm so glad to see you,” Robin gushed, truly happy to see her. This girl needed her.

“Sorry I'm late,” Elizabeth said. “Got hung up at the office with…” She nearly said “deadlines” and then stopped short. Elizabeth was supposed to be therapist Laura Christer, not Elizabeth Wakefield, newspaper journalist. “…clients.”

“I understand.” Robin smiled. “Someone like you just wants to help people.”

Right, and lie to everyone she knows.
Everything she was saying and doing seemed like a lie these days: lying to Bruce, lying to Robin. Elizabeth hated lying. It would be horrendous if either one found out the truth.

“Sorry about the boxes,” Robin said as Elizabeth sidestepped a few stacked up in the living room. “Do you want something to drink? I might be able to find some iced tea. Or there's tap water…”

Robin dug around in one of the boxes in the kitchen and pulled out a glass only to lose her grip on the tumbler. It fell to the floor with a crash.

“Great.” Robin knelt to pick up the broken pieces and began to cry almost immediately. “This is just great.”

“Robin, it's okay. Here. Let me help.” Elizabeth instinctively went into mother-hen mode, picking up the bigger shards and looking around for something she could use as a broom. She settled on an empty plastic trash bag on top of one of the boxes.

Robin rocked back on her heels and tears dropped down her cheeks. Elizabeth abandoned the cleanup effort and wrapped her arm around Robin's shoulders.

“Don't cry. It'll be okay. Here, let's go sit down.” Elizabeth steered Robin to a nearby couch and helped her sit. She reached for a tissue inside her purse and handed it to Robin.

“I'm sorry. I'm such a mess.” Robin swiped at her eyes with the tissue. “You've been so kind to me, getting me this house and everything, and here I go and make a mess of it all.”

“No,” Elizabeth said, shaking her head. “You haven't made a mess of anything, Robin. It's okay. I'm not even thirsty.”

Robin smiled weakly at Elizabeth's joke, and then blew her nose loudly in the tissue.

“It's just that I really don't know if I can do this.” She glanced around at the stacks of unopened boxes.

“Don't worry. I can help you unpack.”

“No, it's not that.” Robin sucked in a deep, shaky breath. “I mean these accusations. Against Mr. Patman.”

“What do you mean?”

Elizabeth stared at Robin, noticing for the first time just how disheveled the young girl was. She had tossed her hair back in a hasty and uncombed knot at the base of her neck. She carried dark rings under her eyes like she hadn't slept in days. Her face was gaunt and thin, as if she hadn't been eating all that well, either.

“I-I-I don't know, Laura. I'm so scared he'll find me.”

“That's why I moved you here,” Elizabeth reassured her.

“I have nightmares that he's found me already.” Robin looked at Elizabeth with eyes wide with fear. Robin's bottom lip started to quiver and then she dropped her face in her hands. Elizabeth was more convinced than ever before that this girl was telling the truth. You couldn't mistake the real terror in her voice. “What if he found me?”

No way could Elizabeth imagine Bruce coming after this girl. But then, none of this seemed like Bruce, and yet there was no question that Robin's terror was real. She couldn't help thinking about the news story that ran just last week in the
Tribune,
the one about the woman who'd been married to a serial killer for ten years and never knew it. If being a reporter had taught her anything at all, it was that sometimes people were very good at hiding their true selves.

Look how she was hiding her own life now.

“It's okay, Robin.” Elizabeth patted the girl's shoulder. “It will be okay.”

Robin took a deep breath and lifted her chin. She wiped her tears and shook her head.

“I don't know, Laura,” Robin said. “I'm starting to think that this was all a big mistake. Maybe I shouldn't have come forward at all.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don't know. I'm more scared now than I've ever been. Maybe I should just walk away from this whole thing.”

Elizabeth didn't know what to say. Robin was clearly in a lot of pain and very frightened.

“It's okay. We'll get through this.” Elizabeth hoped that wasn't a lie.

“Maybe it's not too late, Laura,” Robin said. “Maybe I
could
still do it. I mean, that night that he almost…” She swallowed. “It was the worst night of my life. But since then, it's only gotten worse, not better. I'm afraid all the time, terrified he's going to find me. I should just drop the whole thing, go away, and start fresh. I did that once before when I moved here from Kentucky and I can do it again. Maybe then the nightmares will stop.”

Elizabeth froze, unsure of what to say and not trusting herself to speak. Robin was so close to offering to end this nightmare—for Bruce and everyone else. It would be a perfect solution.

This could be her chance to save Bruce. A little nudge and Robin
might
just drop these allegations and disappear. All she had to do was say just the right thing, and it would be over. And with this whole scandal gone, maybe she and Bruce could pick up their life again.

But what about the young, frightened girl in front of her? Could Elizabeth—in good conscience—tell her just to give in and call it quits? And what if what she was saying was true? The damage to her life would be devastating. Where was the justice in that?

Not to mention, if what she said was true, Bruce could do it again. Could Elizabeth live with herself if she told Robin to run and some other girl wound up his next victim?

Elizabeth mentally shook herself. She couldn't believe her mind had even gone there. Bruce wasn't a serial rapist. He wasn't a criminal.

Elizabeth had the power to make this all go away for him. She could do it with one word.

Robin clutched at Elizabeth's hand. “Laura,” she pleaded. “I trust you completely. Should I stay and fight this or should I just stop cooperating with the police investigation? What should I do?”

Chapter Fifteen

Bruce Patman looked at the photos and papers Gavin MacKay had brought to Nevin's Pub and shook his head, trying to make sense of it all. Gavin, the big, burly ex-L.A. cop turned private detective, had found his accuser's identity.

“Robin Platt? I don't even know her,” Bruce said as he scratched his head. He caught the bartender's attention and signaled for another round of scotch. He'd lost track of how much he'd drunk so far. Three? Four? He didn't know anymore. He'd gone to the bar early and Gavin had been a little late. He'd drunk from pure nerves, but now he'd ordered another because he wanted to dull the harsh reality of his situation. Now that he had his accuser's name, it made everything all the more real to him.

“She didn't work for the foundation very long,” Gavin said. “But she was there. Take a look at this photo. Remember her?”

Gavin held up a color picture. In it, Bruce saw a pretty, petite, blond girl standing with a man unloading moving boxes from a rental truck.

“That's the girl from the bar,” Bruce said. “But I swear, I never saw her in my office.”

“Records show she was there for at least two weeks in July.”

Bruce tried to think back to last summer. Had he been out of the office a lot that month on business? It was possible. Otherwise, when he was around, he always made an effort to meet the interns. He just thought it was a nice thing to do. He had gone around and introduced himself in August, he remembered that much. But by then, she would have been gone.

“Robin had been living in Sherman Oaks,” Gavin continued. “But I talked to her neighbor, who said she just moved to a house in Sweet Valley. The neighbor didn't know the address, but I found it. That's where I took this picture.”

Gavin tapped the photo to show Bruce. In the background, he could just make out the address on the mailbox.

“Did you find anything about why she would do this to me?”

Gavin shrugged. “Still digging. Don't worry, we'll find something.”

“I have to believe that. And thanks for finding this girl so quickly. I know it wasn't easy.”

“It wasn't—the police made sure she was well hidden—but being a private eye for twenty-five years gives you some advantage. And then a few well-placed bucks doubles it.”

“I can only assume the police were protecting her from me. No wonder Elizabeth couldn't find her.” Still, he couldn't help thinking she'd been working this case for more than a week. How could she have missed finding the girl no matter how they hid her? She was a good reporter. Scratch that—great reporter.

Something wasn't right. He'd been feeling it since this whole thing started. First Elizabeth was with him one hundred percent, but then she seemed uncertain. Okay, he understood. Even if it wasn't true, it was horrendous to have the guy you've been living with for three years accused of attempted rape. But he couldn't understand how it was possible after all these years of friendship and of loving each other, of planning to spend their lives together, that she could have any doubts about him.

She did love him, didn't she?

God, he didn't know what he believed anymore.

Gavin stood to go. “I'll find out whose name is on that lease tomorrow.”

Bruce waved a hand to show he had Gavin's drink covered. The private eye flipped on a dark baseball cap and then hesitated by the bar stool, eyeing the fresh scotch on the rocks the bartender slid in front of Bruce.

“Do you want me to call you a cab? Make sure you get home okay?”

Bruce waved away the offer. “No. I'm going to stay here awhile.” He downed half of his drink in one big slug. He motioned for the bartender to bring him another.

Gavin felt a little uncomfortable about leaving him in this condition, but he was Bruce Patman, not a guy you could tell what to do.

“See ya,” he said, deciding to leave him.

“Thanks, Gavin,” Bruce said.

Bruce didn't know how long he'd stayed at the bar downing scotch, but it was long enough to push Elizabeth into the background and give full concentration to Robin Platt as he stared at the picture Gavin had given him. Who the hell was she anyway? And why was she doing this to him?

He had to find out, and there was only one way. His anger cut through the foggy blur of alcohol, and he began to think about what Jessica had said about Robin being an opportunist—someone just out for fame and money. He looked at the picture again and saw the address on the house showed up clearly. After a couple of clumsy minutes, he managed to pull up the GPS on his phone. Her house was less than five minutes away.

He stared at the picture and at the map, and the fury inside him began to boil over. How dare she do this to him? He was
Bruce Patman.
Yes, he was worth millions, maybe billions, but he always thought of himself as a good guy. Someone who cared about people, someone who wanted to protect the environment, someone who would never come on to a strange girl at a bar. She was in trouble and all he had wanted to do was help her.

How could she smear his name and alienate the woman he loved? In his mind, this Robin person owed him an explanation. And he was damned well going to get it.

He slid off the bar stool and stumbled out to his car in the parking lot. For a bleary second, he couldn't see it, but the remote on his key chain lit the parking lights and made his two-seater beep. He slunk into the driver's side and put the key in the ignition. He had no idea how many drinks he'd had, but the road wasn't spinning, so he thought he was okay to drive.

He swerved out of the parking lot and followed the blinking blue arrow on his phone down the map to Robin's new house.

He made it there in three minutes. It was late, and the house was dark. She was probably sleeping. Not that he cared. He hadn't had a good night's sleep since this whole thing started. Why should she get to sleep?

He stumbled out of his car and slammed the door.

“Robin!” he shouted, his words coming out a tad bit slurred. “Robin Platt! You have things to say about me? Well, I'm here. Why don't you come say them to my face?”

The house remained dark. Bruce shouted louder.

“You afraid, Robin? You should be!”

Down the street, a dog barked. Next door to Robin's house, a light came on.

“I tried to help you, Robin. You asked me for help, and I gave it to you!”

Now a light came on in Robin's house. Bruce staggered down the front porch to her door and tugged at it. The knob wouldn't turn. He banged on the door hard.

“Robin Platt!” He banged on the door some more. After a minute, he left the door and climbed into the shrubs to look in the window. Inside, he saw a living room filled with boxes. He smacked the window so hard it cracked.

Down the street, a siren wailed.

“I've called the police!” shouted a scared voice from inside. Robin's, he assumed.

“Good! Let them come. Then you can tell them what a little liar you are! Is this how you feel good about yourself? By making up lies?”

Bruce banged at the window again and the small square of window broke. He heard a scream from inside. Numbly, he looked down at his hand and saw a trickle of blood where a shard of broken glass had sliced his hand. He knew he should feel some kind of pain, but he didn't feel anything. The alcohol, he guessed.

As he was studying his wounded hand, a black-and-white police car screeched to a halt in front of Robin's house, half in and half out of the driveway. Two uniformed officers jumped out, drawing their guns.

“Step away from the house!” one of them cried.

“Put your hands up where we can see them,” demanded the other.

Bruce turned around, blinking against the white searchlight the officers had turned on him and the house, blood dripping from one hand. He was temporarily blinded. One of the officers moved slowly toward him.

“Wha…? I'm not the criminal!” he bellowed at them. “She's the one…she's the one who's destroying
my
life!”

He swung his arms wide to make his point, showing off his wounded hand. The officers took one look at his bleeding palm and at the broken window behind him and had nearly all the evidence they needed. This case? Open and shut.

One officer signaled to the other, who began moving slowly around to Bruce's blind side.

“Look, sir, we just want to talk, so come over here, hands up, and we can talk.”

“That's just what I want to do! I
want
to talk. That's why I came here!” Bruce waved his arm around furiously. He desperately wanted to make them understand.

But before he could, something big and heavy came down on him. The officer closest to him had lunged and tackled him. His face hit the concrete sidewalk hard, and he tasted blood in his mouth.

“Do yourself a favor and don't struggle,” the officer said as he wrenched Bruce's arms behind his back and clicked cold, metal cuffs on his wrists.

For a second, Bruce really didn't understand what was happening. His brain moved in slow motion. Why was he wearing handcuffs?

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be held against you in a court of law…”

“I'm not a criminal!” Bruce shouted, but he only got a knee in the back for his trouble. The officer's knee knocked the breath out of him for a second, and he gasped to recover. Bruce couldn't remember a time when anyone had put their hands on him like this. He commanded hundreds of people at his company and foundation and elsewhere. Nobody treated him like this. As he squirmed under the officer, he glanced up and saw Robin's door open a little. A blond head stared out at him with frightened eyes.

Another officer walked up the stoop and began to ask her questions. Nobody put handcuffs on
her
. Why was nobody arresting her? She was the one who deserved it. The unfairness of it all just shot through Bruce like white-hot lightning.

“There she is! The lying little bitch! I swear…I'll…” Bruce sputtered.

“That's enough!” the officer on top of him said. He grabbed Bruce by the arms and yanked him to his feet. The officer pushed him roughly toward the police car. In seconds, he'd been dumped in the backseat. The officer slammed the door, and Bruce was left alone, sitting on his handcuffed hands. Both officers were now talking to Robin, who was crying and looking every inch the victim.

As the anger slowly drained out of him, Bruce glanced down the street and saw neighbors standing on stoops and porches in bathrobes and pajamas, whispering and pointing. One even had a camera phone out, and snapped a picture of Bruce in the squad car.

Even through the fog of alcohol, he realized how bad this looked. He'd been arrested on Robin Platt's lawn at two in the morning. His first thought was Elizabeth. How would he ever explain this to her?

Panic rose up in his throat.

Oh, God,
he thought.
What have I done
?

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