A knock sounded at her door for about the hundredth time that day, and it was only two o’clock in the afternoon.
“Arrrrggghhh!” she screamed out in a not-so-subtle-plea to be left alone.
The knock sounded again, this time more insistent.
Leisel sat up and sucked in a deep breath to put some power behind her next words. “Go away!”
She settled herself back onto the mountain of pillows and vaguely wondered who was at the door this time. Desmond? Tisha West? Dana Forbes? As if any of them cared anyway.
She turned her attention back to her tablet. Hooking Ted Kenner back online was proving to be a dead-end. All he ever did was play soldier-boy games with his friends and stalk some girl named Nina. The boy had no life and it was becoming tedious to spy on him all day. Yet, she couldn’t stop. If Jack got in touch with his brother, she wanted to know about it.
Correction—she needed to know about it. Her father was sick and the doctors were saying it was serious. Aside from the obvious concern a daughter should have for her ill father, Leisel was worried that he would die without declaring her the heir to the presidency. In Leisel’s mind, it should be an accepted, natural progression that the title pass to her once her father expired. She was, after all, his only offspring. But since she was a woman, she didn’t count. The reality was maddening! To think that if her own father died, his title would pass to General Powell. And what a poetic ending that would be since Leisel was almost positive that it was Powell who had made her father sick in the first place. She had overheard her father and Malcolm West talking about Powell before the wedding—something about paying him a visit. Her father should’ve known better. General Powell had been quarantined in his room for almost two years due to a mystery illness. How could her father be so irresponsible as to pay him a visit?!
The knock on the door sounded again, this time accompanied by incoherent muttering. It could only be Desmond.
Clamping her teeth together, Leisel hissed out an impatient sigh. Gawd, that must be his what? Twelfth time here today? Sometimes it was truly difficult to hold back her anger around him. He could be so thick… like fully believing that a young, beautiful woman like herself could actually be in love with him. Even forgetting that her last name was Holt and his was nobody, he was ten years her senior. Did he honestly believe Leisel was besotted with him? Even while she shook her head in disbelief, she silently thanked her lucky stars that he did believe it. He was the Captain of the Guard on the presidential floor and she needed him under her control.
Throwing off the covers, she swung her feet onto the floor and put on a robe. She didn’t really want to talk to him, but was afraid if she ignored him much longer he would stop coming around. Stomping her way down the hall and to the door, she wrapped her hand around the knob and pulled it open with such force, her hair blew in the wind it created.
“Finally!” Desmond said. “I’ve been so worried.” Leisel didn’t say anything. She didn’t even look at him. She just held the door open wider as an invitation for him to come in. Once inside, she let go of the door and it shut. “You look like hell,” he said, concern drawing his brows together.
At his comment, Leisel’s eyes opened wider than her mouth. She pointed to the door. “Get. Out.”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Desmond said. He put his hand over the one she was using to point to the door and pulled it toward him to kiss. “I just meant, you’re not looking like the strong, confident woman I know and love.”
With her father gravely ill, she was spending all of her time trying to catch Jack and his little urchin bride. If she could present Kenner to her father, she wouldn’t only look like a hero, but the resulting tribunal would give her the opportunity to testify. She had her testimony scripted and memorized. By the time she was done in court, the entire Dome would know just how intelligent she really was—a natural choice for the presidency. But she needed to find Jack or there wouldn’t be a tribunal! He was key.
“I know,” she said and waved her free hand in front of his face. “Just look!”
“What am I looking at?” he asked.
She closed her eyes against the sheer frustration of having to explain everything to him. “My nail polish is chipped, Desmond. It’s chipped!” She snatched her hand away from him, walked to the sofa and plunked herself on it. She looked down her rumpled nightgown and covered her eyes with her hands. “God, if I let myself go much more, you won’t be able to tell me apart from the damn urchins.”
Desmond chuckled and seated himself beside her. “You don’t look that bad.” He tried to put a comforting arm around her, but she pushed him away. “Why don’t you fix yourself up and go to your Dad’s for dinner. That usually puts you in a good mood.”
Her irritation with him bloomed into anger and she fought back the urge to say exactly what she thought of him. If it weren’t for his ineptitude, she wouldn’t be in this predicament right now. The one and only simple task she had given him was to make sure Jack and that red-headed waif stayed locked up until a tribunal could be arranged, but he screwed that up. And then after all the work Leisel had put into catching the urchin bride, the perfect bait to entrap Jack, Desmond failed to keep her locked up again. There were days—like today, for instance—when she just wanted to yell at him to get out of her life.
Trouble was, she wasn’t sure if she still needed him or not.
Instead of telling him exactly what was going through her mind, she smiled. “Maybe you’re right,” she said sweetly. “You should go so I can get dressed for dinner.” She held up her finger with the chipped nail polish. “I have a lot work to do.”
“I can stay and help, if you want.” He gave her that smile—the one that said he wanted to do more than just help.
Leisel resisted the urge to draw a long, cleansing breath to ease her irritation. “I really don’t have much time. Later, okay?” She stood, walked to the door and put her hand on the knob.
It was obvious Desmond was being dismissed yet he still persisted. He went to her and took one of her hands in his. “I have to work later, so now is a good time for me.”
She put on her best sad face. “Oh, darn.” She kissed his cheek and opened the door. “Tomorrow for sure.”
His hopeful look remained. “It’s been a while since we spent quality time together.”
“I know,” she said, placing a hand on his chest. She drew her brows together and turned down the corners of her lips. “It’s just such a difficult time for me right now because I’m so worried about Daddy. On top of being sick, that tremor we had yesterday has the entire Dome afraid of an earthquake and Daddy’s trying to deal with it all by himself…and, well, I should be with him.”
His expression relaxed. “Of course he needs you. I’m being selfish,” he said. He kissed her lightly on the lips and she let him. “I’m going to check in on you later, okay?”
Leisel bit her lip to keep it from turning into a sneer and raised her hand to stroke his face. “I thought you had to work?”
“I’m the Captain,” he said with unmistakable pride. “I can take whatever time off I want.”
She smiled up at him. “You’re so good to me.”
“It’s what I live for.” He kissed her once more before he left. Leisel shut the door behind him.
All their talk of the tremor and her ill father was giving her an idea. The entire Dome was on edge, so maybe Leisel could convince her father that she should make a televised appearance in his place to calm everyone’s fears. It would give her the chance to present herself to the Dome as a recognized political figure and prove to her father she was capable.
Feeling more lighthearted than she had in weeks, Leisel skipped over to her communicator and called for her stylist team. They were always at her beck and call, so they showed up almost immediately. For the next few hours, Leisel was cleaned, polished, coiffed and dressed. She looked immaculate. Camera ready.
She arrived at her father’s suite just in time for pre-dinner cocktails. Her father and Malcolm West broke off their conversation as she entered the living room. At her arrival, Malcolm stood. Smiling through her disappointment at finding him there, she greeted her father with a kiss on the cheek.
“Daddy, I think you’re looking better,” she lied. Sitting in his wheelchair with a blanket over his legs, he looked gaunt, pale and exhausted.
He smiled weakly. “Leisel, darling, I didn’t expect you tonight.”
She cocked an eyebrow at him. “Should I leave?” she asked playfully. Damien Holt grabbed his daughter’s hand and held it tight.
“Nonsense,” Malcolm put in. “You’re youthful beauty is always a welcome addition to our stodgy old dinner meetings.”
She ignored the lecherous look in Malcolm’s eyes. Ever since her marriage to Jack Kenner had fallen through, he had been paying more attention to her. She didn’t know why. He already had a wife and he was old enough to be her father. He returned to his seat on the sofa.
“Dinner meeting?” Leisel asked in surprise. “I certainly didn’t mean to interrupt.”
Her father waved a shaky hand, dismissing the notion. “We were just discussing yesterday’s tremor. It appears that our people weren’t satisfied with the geologists’ explanation. We’ll have to make an official announcement soon or there’s going to be mass hysteria.”
Leisel seized on the moment. “I wanted to talk to you about that, Daddy.” She put a comforting hand on his shoulder. “I know how dreadfully ill you are and I want to help ease your burden by volunteering to be the calming voice in all this madness. Let me be the one to make the televised announcement about the tremor.”
“You’re a good girl,” her father said. He reached up and patted her hand, still resting on his shoulder. “I don’t want you to worry your pretty head, though. Malcolm and I have it all worked out.”
Leisel glanced at Malcolm and back to her father. “But I’m a familiar face, Daddy. The people know me and love me. Who better to ease their fears?”
Damien Holt raised his eyebrows and snorted gruffly. “Me, of course. You don’t think a little illness is going to prevent me from performing my official duties, do you?”
Disappointment burst her little bubble of hope. She hadn’t even considered her father would make the announcement himself.
She forced her features into a look of concern. “As long as you feel up to it, Daddy. I’d hate to see you exhaust yourself in your current condition.”
“I’m fine, darling,” he said. Giving her hand a final pat, he motioned for her to take a seat in the chair next to him. “We need drinks,” he said in a loud voice, pointing to the empty glasses on the coffee table. Summer appeared from the corner. Leisel hadn’t even noticed her standing there in the shadows. “What would you like, darling?”
“My usual,” Leisel replied.
Summer collected the glasses and went to the bar to prepare the drinks. Leisel lowered her eyelashes and covertly watched her. She had interrogated the girl on several occasions in an attempt to find Sunny, but Summer maintained her story; she hadn’t seen her friend since the bachelor party. Leisel was beginning to think she should make good on her threat to find Sunny’s boyfriend. Summer hadn’t revealed his name yet, but with the right kind of coaxing, Leisel was sure she could get it from her.
Something caught her attention as she watched Summer mix the drinks. A sleight of hand? It wasn’t just the unusual movement, but also the nervous shifting of her eyes that alerted Leisel that something was up with the girl. Rising out of her chair, she sauntered toward the bar, seemingly in search of a napkin. Her eyes scanned the bar and Summer’s hands, but she didn’t see anything. Summer didn’t even glance in Leisel’s direction. She kept her eyes downcast like a good urchin. Leisel returned to her seat.
The evening dragged on. Now that Leisel’s request had been denied, she no longer had a reason to be there. She just wanted dinner over and done with so she could get out of there. She was tired of Malcolm’s shameless flirting and it was obvious her father was exhausted. And the sooner he went to bed, the sooner she could come for Summer. It was time to have another chat.
“If you don’t mind, I think I’ll skip dessert,” Leisel announced before the dishes had even been cleared from the table. “I have a few things to do before bed.”
“Please darling, don’t let us keep you. I know it’s late,” her father said; although Leisel was pretty sure the hint was meant for Malcolm.
As she stood, so did Malcolm. She kissed the cheek of each man and took her leave of them with silent relief.
As soon as she returned to her suites, she kicked off her heels and reached for her tablet. She wasn’t expecting any new developments, but found the granddaddy of them all. “Crystal Malloy” had checked into the Dome. Leisel was almost positive that was Sunny’s most recent alias.
Barely able to contain her excitement, she reached for her communicator and switched it to a private channel. “Desmond.” She waited. “Desmond!” she said, impatiently.
“Leisel,” he finally answered.
“Where have you been?!”
“Sorry, but I needed to find a private spot to talk to you. You’d kill me if I let anyone know we’re….um…you know.”
“I need you here now!” she hissed into the communicator.
“Okay, I’m on my way.”
She threw the device down onto the chair and picked up her tablet. She almost dropped it when she saw the message:
I have information on Jack Kenner’s whereabouts. I’d like to make a trade.
Could it possibly be Sunny O’Donnell? Leisel licked her lips, the tablet shaking in her hands, and replied:
Who is this?
A few, agonizing seconds later, the answer popped up on the screen:
Leisel squealed with delight. Finally! Steadying her fingers, she typed a reply meant to let the redheaded urchin know that she, Leisel Holt, was capable of keeping tabs on her. She wanted to be in control of this conversation.
I thought it might you. I was just alerted that Crystal Malloy entered the Dome.
There. Now Sunny was aware Leisel knew her alias. That should give Sunny some indication of the extent of Leisel’s resources and power. The urchin’s response was quick:
Are you interested in a trade or not?
Leisel smiled. The girl was trying to be intimidating. How cute. Of course Leisel wasn’t interested in a trade. She was interested to procuring bait to catch Jack Kenner, but knew she would have to humor Sunny into a trap:
What did you have in mind?
She stared at the screen, anxious to hear the girl’s plan.
Summer for Jack Kenner’s location.
Did Sunny really think she would hand over Summer just for a location? Leisel shook her head as she punched out her response:
Tempting. How would we go about this trade?
A knock came at the door and Leisel rushed to open it. Desmond walked in and Leisel held up her tablet. “I’m talking to Sunny O’Donnell right now! Get on the main computer and try to trace where she is.”
Desmond’s eyes opened wide. “You’re kidding!” He went to the computer and started the trace.
Leisel returned her attention to her tablet. Sunny’s response was there:
You can meet me in the Pit.
“She’s crazy if she thinks I’m going into the Pit,” Leisel said.
“I can go,” Desmond said.
Leisel refrained from reminding him that the last time she sent him to capture Sunny, he lost her. Ignoring his offer, she typed her response:
A reply popped up almost immediately:
I can’t stay in the Dome long. Someone will recognize me. I need to get back to the Pit.
Leisel shook her head, silently thinking there was no way she was going to let the girl escape again. If she wanted Summer, she could come and get her:
Lucky for you Summer is here with me right now. Why don’t you come and see her?
Leisel watched the screen intently.
I don’t trust you.
Leisel snorted, wondering when Sunny had grown a brain. She countered the urchin’s accusation:
I don’t trust you.
Sunny’s reply came fast:
Then I guess we’re at an impasse. Too bad.
Leisel bit her lip. She was losing her. “Did you find her yet, Desmond?”
“Not yet. Keep her talking,” he said.
“Dammit,” Leisel swore under her breath. She considered her next words before she typed them:
You’re nothing Sunny. It’s Jack I want. Come get your little friend.
She didn’t wait long for her reply:
I’ll be arrested as soon as I walk onto the presidential floor. No.
“I don’t want to lose her again, Desmond. Find her!” She typed back:
I give you my word no one will arrest you.
The reply was quick again. Leisel started to wonder if Sunny actually knew she was being traced.
You’ve given me your word before.
Leisel knew better than to try to argue that point. It was true. She decided to steer the conversation back to the prize: Summer.
Summer has become a thorn in my side. I’ll be happy to see her go.
That, at least, was a true statement. Summer really had become a pain.
Still not buying it.
Leisel sighed in exasperation. Sunny was no longer the easily led naïve little urchin she once was. Begrudgingly, Leisel gave her credit. She also realized that Sunny wasn’t going to trust her unless she dropped the innocent act. Time to be herself:
My father is gravely ill and I’m running out of time. I need Jack Kenner. Come to my apartment in thirty minutes.
Leisel held her breath and crossed her fingers. She almost jumped up and did a dance when she saw Sunny’s reply:
Okay. But if I don’t see Summer, I don’t tell you where Jack is.
“She’s coming here!” Leisel exclaimed. She rubbed her hands together before typing her reply:
She waited for Sunny’s response. A few minutes passed and nothing. Leisel typed again.
Thirty minutes, right? I’ll make sure the guards are gone.
“How’s that trace coming along?” she asked Desmond.
He shook his head. “I can’t find her.”
A thought entered her head and she turned to look at Desmond. “You’re not actually trying to find Sunny O’Donnell are you? You understand she’s an urchin and doesn’t have an online presence, right?”
Desmond shot her a wry look. “I’m not that stupid, Leisel.” He turned back to the computer. “I’m looking for Crystal Malloy.”
Leisel closed her eyes and smacked her palm against her forehead, questioning herself for the thousandth time on why she stayed with the idiot. Crystal Malloy didn’t even exist. “Just go and clear the floor of guards,” she said with as much patience as she could muster. Then it occurred to her that Sunny must have had help. No urchin knew how to use a computer. “On second thought, keep a couple of guards with you and lay in wait for her. She might try to pull something.”
She looked back down at her tablet hoping there was a response, but not surprised that there wasn’t. Sunny knew that she was at risk of being traced, which screamed she had an accomplice. What was she up to?
Leisel gave her head a shake. It didn’t matter what Sunny was up to. There was no way Leisel was going to let the stupid little urchin slip through her fingers again. Yes, she would bring Summer into the trade…with a gun pointed to her head until Sunny gave her Jack’s location. Then she’d get rid of them both.
She laughed to herself, amazed that Sunny could be so stupid as to think she could match wits with her—Leisel Holt! She intended to make sure it was the last stupid thing O’Donnell ever did in her short life.
Written by: S. M. McEachern Proofread by: Christina Galvez