The drive across town to Victor’s club was long and silent. Ella pouted the entire time, but she didn’t appear to be as frightened as Jack thought she would be. She had raged at him in the hotel, called him names that he hadn’t heard since he’d left the force, but she complied. She’d dressed and packed her suitcase, seething with anger the entire time. Jack had left a note for Officer Buxley to let him know Ella was with him. By the time they were in his car, Ella was cold, embittered, and silent.
It took about twenty minutes to get to the club, but it felt like a lifetime. The sky grew dark as clouds rolled in, masking the sun. Jack thought how ironic it was that nature mirrored his own darkness. His heart was heavy like those clouds. Any signs of happiness were masked by this whole mess with Victor. He wished he’d never taken this case, never stepped back into Victor’s club and never met Ella. Victor was right, she was an elusive gem. And he wanted nothing more than to possess her, horde her away from the world, and keep her all to himself. Locked away in a box, but Ella wasn’t the kind of woman he could lock away. He could tell that when he looked at her in the hotel room. The light in her had gone out. The vivacious woman he’d known had wilted away in just a few short days of captivity. No, Ella needed to be free. She needed to shine in the spotlight. He was a fool to think otherwise. Would Victor ever give her that freedom? Somehow, Jack doubted it. He hated what he was about to do. To turn Ella back over to that monster.
When they pulled up outside the club, Jack turned to her. “Ella… if there was any other way…”
Ella glared at Jack with steely eyes. “Don’t Jack, just don’t,” she said as she turned her head away from him and stared out of the window.
“I will get you back, Ella,” Jack promised as he opened his car door and stepped out.
He walked to the passenger side and opened the door. Ella slowly swung her legs around and stepped out of the car, pulling her coat about her body tightly. Jack expected tears, but there weren’t any. Instead she tilted her head up, let out a deep sigh and walked past him. Jack reached into the backseat and pulled out her suitcase. When he joined her near the entrance, she turned to him, her face filled with rage.
“Don’t make promises you won’t keep, Jack!” she yelled as she slapped Jack across the face.
Jack stood there, stunned. He hadn’t anticipated that. He sat the suitcase down and lifted his left hand to his cheek. “Listen here, Ella! It’s not my fault you got tangled up with a swine like Victor! And it isn’t my fault that he likes to take his anger out on you the way he does!” He breathed in and out, taking in deep breathes. He waited a moment as the anger settled back down. His face softened and his voice cracked. “But he has Dani and I can’t let her end up in the same mess Victor had in store for Jessica Daley.”
Ella’s face turned grim. “What do you mean?”
“That was the threat, Ella. If I didn’t bring you back, Victor swore he would do to Dani what he had planned for Jessica, or worse. I don’t even want to think what could be worse than that.”
Ella bowed her head and whispered, “No, Jack. You don’t want to know.”
Jack pulled Ella against him and winced at the pain in his shoulder. He breathed in and out again until the pain subsided. “Will you be okay, Ella? He won’t harm you, will he?” he finally asked her.
“He won’t kill me, if that’s what you mean,” she replied as she gazed into his eyes.
“How can you be so sure, Ella? We both know what all he is involved in,” Jack said, his face filled with concern. “What if he forces you into…”
Ella placed a finger over his lips. “He won’t. I… I just know he won’t,” she replied as she blinked up at him.
His mind raced as scenarios flashed before him. He knew all too well what Victor was capable of, but he wasn’t just the corrupt businessman Jack had dealt with in the past. He was now involved in far worse dealings with even higher stakes. He knew the creeps who worked in the porn business. He’d busted a few while on the force. He also knew how the women were treated. The slums they lived in. Many of the women were prostitutes, but not all of them. Those slimes were always looking for younger, pretty dames and they used any means to get them. Anger boiled up inside of him again. If Victor touched one hair on Ella’s head, he would kill the bastard.
Jack’s gaze fell back to Ella and he searched her face. He couldn’t get a read on her. Was she frightened at all? And then he saw a single tear fall down her cheek. He wiped it away with his left hand and caressed her cheek where it had fallen. Her eyes softened and she gave Jack a slight smile.
“I will be fine, Jack,” she whispered as she closed her eyes and sighed.
Jack leaned in and kissed her. Ella kissed him back, but not with the passion they’d once shared. He wrapped his arm around her waist, pulled her hard against his chest and kissed her deeply. He wasn’t about to lose that spark between them, not over this. She finally gave in and returned the deepened kiss as her hands clung to his suit jacket. Jack smothered her lips hungrily. His hand moved up her back to her neck. His fingers slid up and down the curve of her neck and then he moved them into her silken black hair. After a long moment, he released her lips. He held her close against him, breathed in her scent, and then slowly loosened his hold on her. Jack took a step back. Neither spoke. They just stared at one another.
Finally, Ella sniffled, shook her head and then tilted it upward again, as though restoring some sense of dignity. “Let’s get this over with, Jack,” she said as she reached down and picked up her suitcase.
The Stacked Deck is a noir-style WhoDunIt serial which will appear as 31 parts, told every day in March. I hope you will join me again tomorrow for another exciting part of this story!
This serial is copyrighted ©2016 Lori Carlson. All rights reserved. Permission must be granted to distribute or copy this serial (unless reblogging). Thank you.
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Jump forward to Part 20