I’m brought out of my haze of thoughts by the placement of a steaming mug of coffee in front of me.
“I didn’t know how you take your coffee. So I put both cream and sugar in it,” Agent Whitlock says as he takes a seat across from me.
“That’s fine. Thank you,” I say gratefully, wrapping my palms around the mug, letting the heat seep into my body.
“So,” he starts. “You went to interview Royce King?”
I nod, suddenly feeling like I’m in an interrogation room like the TV shows despite being in the middle of a buzzing police station. “I did, but he behaved unprofessionally. I witnessed him physically abusing one of his female employees. Hell, I was nearly beaten myself,” I add with a shudder.
Agent Whitlock frowns. “Were the men following you present during this encounter?”
“Yes, I think they were guarding Royce King’s place,” I reply. “I think they were the same men who tried to kidnap me just days ago.”
“They tried to kidnap you? Did you file a report about it?”
I shake my head. “I didn’t know who they were, but there must be a note or something in the police files stating that they got a 911 call and saved me before the men could hurt me.”
“Is there any witness to prove that the same men tried to kidnap you?”
“Anthony, my junior reporter was with me when they took me. He even got beaten trying to save me,” I tell him, my heart suddenly crumbling at the thought of poor Tony.
Agent Whitlock furrows his brows. “If he was injured, there must be a medical record of it?”
“No, he gets spooked easily,” I say. “So I took care of him myself.”
“Is he the one who hit my car and then ran?”
I cringe at how reckless that makes Tony sound. “I think he got scared after he learned that you’re FBI,” I try to explain. “He has a tendency to run away when he’s afraid. But he’s not a coward … he’s just immature.”
His lips turn upwards and without another word on the topic, he opens up the laptop sitting on the desk between us and types up something. Then he turns the laptop to show me the screen, and I see my article about Rose staring back at me.
“Ms. Barone, did you write this article?” he asks.
Squaring my shoulders, I say, “Yes, and that’s why I went to see Royce King. I want to write a follow-up report on it.”
“Is the woman you mentioned in his article Ms. Rosalie Hale?”
Smiling, I tell him, “I can’t give you that information, Agent. That’s confidential.”
He chuckles. “What if I tell you that Mr. King has just sued Ms. Hale?”
“That prick!” I can’t help but bite out. “What is he suing her for?”
“Defamation,” he answers calmly. “You and your editor is also being sued for harassment. As for the accusations you made about him hurting his employee, my men found no evidence of it when they got to his house. He was alone in his study.”
The words make the hairs on the back of my neck stand, and suddenly, I feel like I’m making a huge mistake by talking to the cops without my father there to defend me. Quickly, I grab my purse and stand up. “Thanks for the coffee, Agent, but I’ve got to go.”
“Ms. Barone …”
I plaster a trademark smile on my face and say, “I’m a reporter for the Inside Out News. Call me at my office anytime you need. It was good to meet you, Agent Whitlock.” With that, I practically run out of there, without allowing him to utter another word.
Getting out of there, I dial my dad’s number. Two rings and then it goes to voicemail. Disconnecting the call, I try again with the same results. Then, I decide to call my mom who thankfully, picks up.
“Mom! Where’s dad?” I ask. “He’s not taking my calls.”
“He went to the police with Rosalie,” mom answers. “She’s supposed to give her statement today.”
“Oh crap!” I slap a hand to my forehead.
“Is everything okay?” Mom asks, sounding worried. “Honey, talk to me. Are you alright?”
“Yes, Mom. Everything is fine. Don’t worry. I’ll talk to you when I get home.” I hang up before she can question me further.
For a moment, all I can do is breathe, letting the oxygen get to my brain. If Royce has sued Rosalie, her statement won’t be a victim’s but rather a defendant’s now, I realize. Suddenly, it feels like I’m in a tunnel with darkness pressing on me from all around. Like any tunnel, however, I see a point of light … one way to protect the truth.
It takes me barely twenty minutes before I am clutching a paper with a phone number scribbled on it. I take a deep breath and send a quick prayer to God that I’m doing the right thing before dialing. The call connects after just one ring.
“Hello?” a voice answers, familiar and gravelly.
“Mr. Cullen,” I greet. “This is Isabella Barone.”
He sounds delighted when he speaks next. “Ms. Barone! What a pleasant surprise. To what do I owe this honor? A lowly news-thief like myself?”
I feel my cheeks flush at the not-so gentle reminder of our previous encounter. I decide to be honest and lay it all out to him. “Listen, Mr. Cullen, I know what I said earlier, but this is bigger than I can handle.” Before he can gloat, I add, “I don’t have that big of an influence to handle it, that is.”
“So now you want my help?” his smugness is palpable.
“Sadly, yes,” I reply. “But I have my conditions.”
“Let’s hear them then.”
“First,” I state, counting with my fingers. “You’ll have to relay the truth. I will give you Rosalie Hale’s statement and even an interview with her if you want, but you’ll need to convey the news as it is.”
“Why the change of heart, may I ask?”
I sigh. “Royce King has pressed charges against Rosalie Hale, as well as on me.”
“I see,” he says mildly. “Your article said Ms. Hale was blackmailed, how exactly?”
“Royce has videos of her … videos that would ruin her and her family.”
“Have you procured any of these videos?”
I can’t help but roll my eyes heavenward. “You think I’d be asking for your help if I had? That bastard Royce has them, I’m sure. If I was trained to be an investigative journalist like you, I would’ve worked it out by myself, but I … can’t,” frustration runs through me as I confess my inability.
There’s a pause in the line before Carlisle Cullen speaks again. “Alright, Ms. Barone, I’ll help you,” he says. “But from now on, you’ll have to do exactly as I say. Do we have a deal?”
Straightening my back, I whisper, “Yes.”
God help me! I hope I didn’t just make it worse.
A/N: So… thoughts?
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