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“The offenses one does to a man should be such that one does not fear revenge for it.”

―Niccolo Machiavelli

Chapter 1

IF IGNORANCE IS bliss, then Dorian Stanlich should never have taken the call. He should have yanked the phone cord from the wall, turned off his computer, and locked his door. Instead, he answered the knock.
His assistant entered, wearing a business suit and a phone headset. “Mr. Stanlich, forgive me—”
“Sherry, I thought I made it clear not to disturb us,” Dorian said, leaning back in his seat. The fifty-two-year-old architect sat in his spacious office on the top floor of his firm, finalizing a project with two partners. Spread out on a meeting table between them were several scrolls of tracing paper held open with scales, drafting pencils, and magnifying domes. The men stared, waiting for her to explain the intrusion.
“I apologize, sir, but it’s your wife. I avoided putting her through to you twice, but this time she demanded that I interrupt.”
Dorian checked his watch. “We’re under the wire, here. Did she say what it’s about?”
“I couldn’t understand her,” Sherry replied.
He frowned. “What do you mean?”
“She’s crying, sir.”
The partners leaned forward to stand, but Dorian motioned for them to wait. He sighed and said, “It’s not serious, Sherry. We had a small difference of opinion this morning.”
“Sir, perhaps I can reassure her that you’ll call back in a few minutes?”
“Not necessary.” Dorian got up, crossed the room and stopped between his throne-like chair and glass desk. He placed his hand on the phone receiver. “This should be brief,” he said, peering over his glasses at the men. “I want to finish today.”
Sherry quietly stepped out, pulling the door closed without latching it.
Dorian picked up the receiver. “Yes, Evelin, I’m sorry for my careless choice of words this morning. I’m in a meeting, can we discuss this later?”
“I can’t reach Antoinette,” Evelin said, sniffling.
“Since when?” he asked.
“Since all day,” she snapped. “Do you think I’d call you three times if it were trivial?”
“Take it easy, Honey.” Dorian looked at his wall clock. “Shouldn’t Annie be at work now?”
“She’s two hours late. Her boss called me. She’s never so much as two minutes late.” Evelin’s voice quivered. “She’s not answering and hasn’t returned any of my calls.”
Dorian dismissed a twinge of concern when he remembered how often Antoinette, one of his twin daughters, misplaced her phone. “Let’s not panic. Annie couldn’t find her phone for two days last week.”
“This is different. Last week her phone was at home the whole time, and so was Antoinette. Now we don’t know where she is. Something’s wrong.”
“Stay calm. Hold on…” Dorian pulled the phone from his ear and covered it with his hand. He gave the partners an apologetic look and said, “Actually—if you don’t mind… I’m sorry.”
As the men approached the door, Sherry opened it for them to exit, then latched it closed.
Dorian put the phone back to his ear and heard, “… not a time for me to calm down, and you don’t need to apologize to anyone for taking my call.”
“Honey, I didn’t apologize for your call. I pulled my top architects from other projects to finalize this one today. We’re cramming.”
“I understand that, but we have a missing daughter.”
“She won’t be missing the moment we find her.”
“You think this is funny?”
“No, not at all. I’m choosing to be positive. Where are you?”
“At home. An hour into my fundraiser I realized she hadn’t returned my calls, so I left early hoping she’d be here when I got back.”
Dorian clucked his tongue a few times and said, “Have you messaged her?”
“You know I don’t text. Antoinette and I talk—at least three times a day.”
“I wish you’d learn to text,” Dorian said. “It’s so efficient.”
“You would choose this moment to lecture me?”
“Evelin, you called for help, I’ll give you every suggestion I have. I’m texting her now…” Dorian fished his mobile phone from his pocket, typed Call or reply ASAP and sent it to Antoinette. “What about her boyfriend?” he asked.
“I called Marc, too, but—oh, wait, that’s him calling me back—hold on…” Evelin switched to the other line.
Dorian waited, chewing his cheek, weighing the dwindling options for getting in touch with their daughter.
Evelin came back on the line. “Oh, my God. Marc said they went to dinner last night and hasn’t spoken to her since. I think I panicked him. Dorian, I’m worried.”
“Don’t be. Do you remember when she fell asleep at the beach, and we couldn’t reach her because she left her phone in the car?”
“Her car is here in the driveway. I’m looking at it from the sunroom window.”
Dorian rolled his eyes. “The beach was only an example. I’m not suggesting the same thing has happened.”
“I know. I’m a little frazzled, here.”
“I understand,” Dorian said. He stood and strolled to the picture window that divned a full wall, overlooking the courtyard of the Frazier Business Park. “Have you talked to the housekeeper?”
“Irma saw her briefly in the kitchen between nine and ten o’clock this morning, but Antoinette never tells Irma when she leaves or to where.”
“What about her sister? They communicate a hundred times a day.”
“I called Allison a half hour ago, but she’s in classes all day, so at least there’s a reason she can’t pick up.”
“Okay, I’ll text Allison, too… What about her friends? Can we call any of them?”
“Antoinette keeps all her contacts on her phone. Her computer is on in her bedroom, but the screen is locked, and I don’t have the password.”
“Allison can give us that. She’s our best chance to clear this up.”
“We can’t wait around to hear from Allison if Antoinette is in trouble.”
“Let’s not assume the worst.”
Evelin blew her nose. “I’ve got an awful feeling about this. Nothing makes sense, here. She would have contacted one of us by now. This is bad.”
“We don’t know that. Listen, the girls sometimes use a GPS app to track each other when they’re going to meet up. We need that app. Do you know the name?”
“How would I know, Dorian?”
“It’s just a question,” Dorian said, scratching his neck.
“I’m tempted to drive to Allison’s college, but she’s two hours away.”
“That won’t help.”
Evelin sighed. “Have either of them texted you back yet?”
Dorian checked his phone. “No.”
“I’m seriously concerned. We should notify the police.”
“I’m not sure what they’d be willing to do after only a few hours.”
“So you actually think calling the police is a waste of time?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Well, do you have a better idea?”
“Fine. You call the police, but if this turns out to be a false alarm…”
“So what? You’ll be embarrassed?”
“Go ahead, Evelin. Dial 911. Tell them you haven’t talked to your daughter for a few hours and that she’s late for work.”
“Sarcasm. Great. Minimize this situation if you want to, but you better pray that my feeling about this is wrong.”
Dorian took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. My comment was uncalled for.”
“Forget it. We have a crisis that’s more important to resolve than either of us winning an argument.”
“You’re right,” Dorian said. “I’m on my way home. Don’t leave. I’ll bet she calls before I get there.”
“Thanks. I hope so.”
Dorian walked out of his office with his coat slung over his shoulder. As he passed by Sherry’s desk, he said, “Reschedule the guys for first things tomorrow morning.” Then he air-quoted, “Family emergency.”
“Anything else I can do to help?” Sherry asked.
“No. Everything will be fine. Reach me on my mobile.”
“Yes, sir.”