Tuesday, late afternoon
What a disaster. And this was one of her good days. Standing outside the Fox and Hound, Gina Rodgers reached into the bottom of her handbag to fish out car keys and found her snazzy new cell phone marinating in beer.
Perfect. Her boss’s jealous wife had quite a way with the cold shoulder and a pitcher of beer. All completely accidental, of course.
Right. And pigs fly.
Happy hour at the North Dallas sports bar was supposed to have been a celebration. Her celebration, thanks to today’s big win on the PharmaVax Pharmaceuticals account. Finally, Gina the screwup-- nope, not screwup. She didn’t call herself that anymore thanks to hours of therapy. Gina the competent had done something right at Dixon Meyers Advertising. She’d not only done something right, she had done something incredibly right and landed the biggest freaking account the firm had on board.
Nonetheless, she was now covered in beer and heading home early. All because Marci Meyers couldn’t stand the fact that her husband had dated Gina before he’d married her. Despite today’s triumph with PharmaVax, this wasn’t going to work. Marcie’s seething hostility aside, Gina couldn’t last much longer working for Clay Meyers. The man was a weasel.
Perhaps with the pharmaceutical giant’s scalp under her belt, she would be a more desirable job applicant. Creative directorships in advertising were rare, but not for those who’d landed Fortune 500 accounts. She’d have to contact a headhunter. Soon.
Her hand closed around the wet phone and a new surge of anger hit. She’d just bought the electronic wonder yesterday. It took a moment to realize her beer-soaked purchase was now ringing like mad. She swiped the wet LCD screen on her blouse before answering, but her shirt was damp too. A missed call icon glowed brightly in the small window.
Great. She hadn’t even mastered voice mail or volume control. No surprise she hadn’t been able to hear the Mediterranean jingle over the racket in the bar. She flipped open the sticky headset to answer the phone.
“Gina, this is Harlan Jeffries. A friend of your sister’s. I help out with Adam. Do you know where Sarah is?” The voice was steady with a deep Southern drawl but had an urgency that Gina caught immediately. “I’ve been trying to reach you.”
“Sarah? No, I mean I assume she’s at home in Starkville.”
Despite the certainty of his tone, she asked, “Are you sure? I mean, you called her house? I know she gets busy sometimes...with Adam and all.” Sarah’s research work coupled with an autistic son made for a rather full plate.
Behind Gina, the bar door opened and music poured out, overpowering the man’s next words. She shoved the phone closer to her head. Stuffing a finger in her uncovered ear, she struggled to hear through the static-filled reception.
“I’m here at her house. Adam’s with me.”
“I’m sorry, what is your name again?”
“Harlan Jeffries. I help out with some of Adam’s therapy.” The deep voice held a hint of impatience now. “Gina, I don’t think you understand. Sarah is missing. She never came home from work last night.”
Gina felt the car keys slip through her fingers and her stomach sink to the pavement. “That’s not like Sarah.” A stupid thing to say, but the only comment she could manage at the moment.
There was some mistake. Sarah couldn’t be missing. She was the responsible one with the perfect job and the perfect life. Well, not so much anymore. A divorce and Adam’s diagnosis had combined to make Sarah’s situation anything but perfect.
“Have you contacted the police?” she asked.
“Yes, but there’s a twenty-four hour waiting period for missing persons.”
She and Sarah hadn’t talked much lately. Not since their last visit and subsequent argument at the lake house. Despite Sarah’s good intentions, Gina didn’t want or need her charity anymore.
Wrapped up in her own life and clueless about how to deal with her nephew, Gina had taken the easy way out. She’d quit calling. The flash of guilt stung. She shook her head as she thought about their last phone call...two months ago.
Pretty pathetic. Still, Sarah would have let her know if something was wrong.
“Um, Harlan, you said you’re a friend of my sister’s. If you know Sarah, you know she wouldn’t just leave.”
“I agree, but I think it’s going to take more than me saying that to the police. Like maybe a family member?”
She nodded even though he couldn’t see her response. His reasoning made sense. A relative should be able to put more pressure on law enforcement officials than a friend, or therapist, or whatever this guy was.
The thought of her sister missing was so unbelievable, she was having difficulty wrapping her mind around the concept. What in the world had happened? The quickest way to find out would mean going to Sarah’s home in Mississippi herself.
If she stopped to think about how she was completely torpedoing her job, she might hesitate. Hesitation was not an option. Instead, she focused on how her older sister had been there for her-- always. And how she’d never been there in return.
She took a deep breath. “I’ll be there as soon as possible.” Squeezing her eyes shut against the vision of Armageddon she’d just rained down on her career, she waited a beat, then realized her career didn’t matter a damn compared to Sarah.
“Harlan, I have a lot questions.”
“I understand. I’ll answer whatever I can as soon as you get here.” His voice grew fainter on the wavering connection.
“I don’t know what the flight schedule will be to Starkville from here.” She dug around in her wet bag for a pen and came up with an indelible marker. “I’m not sure if I can get out tonight or not. Give me your number and I’ll call you when I have arrangements made.”
He rattled off his home and cell numbers as she wrote them on the inside of her wrist. There was a long pause.
“Umm...is Adam okay?” she asked.
“Yeah, he’s fine right now.” The reception grew worse and the words were garbled, but she could still understand him. “Thanks, Gina. Your sister...needs you.” A loud, final click echoed in her ear, and he was gone.
Gina closed her phone. His last words were as shocking as the reason for his call. Sarah needed her. No one had ever said that before. Gina had always been the one in need.
Excerpt from: BETTER THAN BULLETPROOF by Kay Thomas
Copyright © 2009 by Kay Thomas
Permission granted by Harlequin Books S.A. and Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved