“Good evening and welcome to the annual Cole Industries Winter Gala. I’d first like to thank the shareholders and board of trustees as well as our many benefactors who donate to our charities all year long.” Ryan paused to allow the applause to die down.
“I’d also like to thank my father, for trusting me to open and operate the newest branch of Cole Industries down in Houston, Texas. It has been an amazing experience thus far. But we’re not here to talk business tonight. Tonight we will announce, as we do every year, the main service program that we are going to undertake this year. I’m proud to say that we will be partnering with Women in STEM and Women in Business to provide over 400 internship positions nationwide to girls in high school and college this year.”
Ryan smiled as the audience once again broke into a raucous applause. “I have been given the honor to announce the chairperson for this initiative and it is my great pleasure to bestow this honor upon one of the hardest working women I know, Miss Gabriella Perez, Director of Marketing of the Southwest Region of Cole Industries.”
He looked around for Gabi as the audience cheered. He frowned when he didn’t see her at the table with his sister and Lizzie who were both glaring daggers at him as they clapped.
“Thank you for your time and enjoy the rest of your dinner. The dance floor will be open soon.”
Ryan set down the microphone and walked quickly over to Lizzie and Alicia. “What’s wrong with you two? And where’s Gabriella? I wanted to surprise her.”
“She’s supposed to be with you,” Alicia responded with a frown.
“Why would she be with me?” he asked, confusion written all over his face.
“Uhh maybe because you left her a note telling her to meet you on the balcony on the top floor,” Lizzie chimed in, folding her arms across her chest.
“What? No, I didn’t.”
“Yes you did,” Lizzie insisted. “We saw it!”
“Let me see the note,” Ryan said with a frown.
Lizzie picked up the note from Gabi’s seat where she had left it and handed it to Ryan.
He shook his head. “I didn’t write this. I don’t call her ‘Gabi’ and this isn’t my handwriting.”
“Then who did?” Alicia inquired.
“I have no idea,” Ryan said, running his fingers through his hair.
Lizzie gasped and covered her mouth with her hands. “Oh no! Oh no, oh no, oh no!”
“What is it, Lizzie?” Ryan asked, alarmed at her sudden panic.
“Michael! He was here earlier, bothering Gabi!”
“WHAT?!” Ryan bellowed. “That jackass was fired earlier this afternoon after we found evidence of him passing off others’ work as his own as well as harassing his female coworkers. We’re suing him; He shouldn’t have even been allowed in here!”
Luke suddenly appeared at his side placing his hand on his shoulder. “Ryan, people are watching you,” he hissed to his younger brother.
“I don’t give a flying fuck who’s watching! Gabriella’s in danger!”
“Can’t you handle it a little more quietly?” he asked, earning him a glare from Lizzie.
“Fuck off Luke,” Ryan replied angrily, shrugging off Luke’s hand.
He took off in the direction of the elevators with Lizzie, Alicia and a very confused Luke hot on his heels. The entire ride up to the top floor Ryan impatiently urged the elevator to go faster. He rushed out of the doors as soon as they opened and sprinted down the hallway to the balcony.
“Gabriella!” He called out to her as he burst out onto the rooftop. He was met with silence as the cold wind whipped around him. The others joined him on the balcony as he walked all around the rooftop patio calling for Gabi.
“Shit! She’s not here!”
“I’m sure she’s fine Ry-Ry,” Alicia said, placing her hand on Ryan’s arm. “Don’t worry; We’ll find her.”
Behind them, Lizzie burst into tears. Luke rushed to her side. “Elizabeth? What’s wrong?”
Lizzie looked up and made eye contact with Ryan. “She doesn’t think we know about what he did to her, but we do. He’s a sick bastard, Ryan! We have to find her before he can hurt her again!”
Alicia stepped towards Luke and Lizzie and tripped on something. “Ouch!” she exclaimed as Ryan caught her. “What the hell was that?”
Ryan reached down and picked up the offending object. “It’s Gabriella’s phone.”
“I don’t know exactly what’s going on but I get the sense that this is an urgent situation,” Luke said seriously. “Especially with what came to light today about Michael. I’ll alert the authorities, you guys get to the front desk and demand to see their CCTV footage.”
They all sprinted back inside to the elevator, Luke barking into his phone the entire ride down. Ryan and Alicia ran to the front desk and practically screamed at the poor receptionist.
Luke came over with Lizzie after about fifteen minutes. “The police can’t do anything; She hasn’t been missing long enough,” he said sadly. “Any news here?”
Alicia shook her head. “They have to get permission from somebody who has to get permission from someone else and so on.” She sighed. “It’s a long process.”
“It’s absolute bullshit is what it is!” Ryan groaned, pulling on his hair. “We can’t just keep doing nothing! What if that asshole is hurting her?”
“Come on Ry-Ry,” Alicia said with determination. “We’re going to go knock on every door in this hotel until we find her. She’s got to be--”
A piercing shriek cut her off and they turned around to see Gabi running toward them. She had a wild look in her eyes and her hair frizzed in all directions around her head completing her maniacal look. Her blood stained dress was torn, she had a bruise forming under her left eye and she was carrying a bloody knife as she sprinted through the lobby, frequently looking over her shoulder as if she were being chased.
She saw Ryan and her eyes went wide. She dropped the knife and ran into his open arms, sobbing while he held her. She pulled back and smiled faintly.
“Ryan,” she sighed. “I had to see you before--” she trailed off and let out a deep breath.
“Before what Gabriella?!”
Her eyes rolled back in her head and her body went limp in his arms. “Gabriella? Baby? Can you hear me? Gabriella!? Oh my God someone call 911!”
“Ryan? You have to get some sleep, son.”
Ryan looked up at his father and rubbed his tired eyes. “I can’t go to sleep until I know she’s okay.”
Jack sighed and took the seat next to Ryan in the hospital waiting room, handing him a cup of coffee. “I figured you would say that. Would you at least put on the change of clothes Luke brought? You’re covered in blood.”
Ryan shook his head and stared at the wall in front of him.
“Lizzie hasn’t come back?”
Ryan shook his head and checked his watch. “It’s almost six in the morning! Why haven’t we heard anything?” He groaned and ran his fingers through his hair.
Jack studied his son for a moment. “You love that girl don’t you?”
“I think I might,” Ryan replied softly. “All I know right now is that I need her to be okay.”
They were quiet for a few minutes. “Has anyone notified her family?” Jack asked, changing the subject.
“I’m not sure. Lizzie might have.”
“Maybe you should give her mother a call,” Jack suggested.
“I can’t do that dad! I don’t even know what happened to her! What am I going to say?”
“Alright son, I’m sorry.”
Ryan sighed. “No, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have shouted. I’m just worried.”
“Ryan?” Lizzie called to him as she came down the hallway.
Ryan leaped out of his seat and walked over to her. “Hey, Lizzie. Any news?”
Lizzie smiled weakly, her face streaked with dried tears. “Yeah, Gabi’s awake. I let her mother know what happened and she's trying to figure out how to get here.”
"I can help with that," Jack interjected. Lizzie nodded and dialed Isabella before handing her phone to Jack.
“Oh thank God she's awake!" Ryan exclaimed. "Is she alright? What the hell happened?”
“I think she’ll want to tell you that herself. She’s asking for you.”
His eyebrows shot up. “She is?”
Lizzie chuckled. “Yes, she is. You’re her boyfriend; Why are you so surprised?” she teased.
Ryan rubbed his jaw. “I’m not sure. I’m just glad she’s okay.”
Lizzie frowned. “Before you go in, I need to tell you something. I’m sure Gabi will tell you what happened with Michael if and when she wants to, but the police are here and they want to talk to you before you see her.”
“But I don’t know what happened to her!” he said frustratedly.
“Just tell them what you do know. They have Michael in custody but they are getting as many accounts of the story as possible.”
Ryan nodded in resignation. “Okay. I guess that makes sense. Lead the way.”
He followed her down the hallway to Gabi’s room, where the police were standing outside. Lizzie introduced him and he gave his statement very impatiently. Finally, after about twenty minutes, he was able to go in to see Gabi.
He held his breath as he opened the door and walked in slowly.
“Ryan? Is that you?” Gabi called out to him.
He walked around the curtain and saw her in the dim glow of the rising sun outside of the window. She was propped up in bed covered in bruises and bandages. He stood at the foot of her bed and stared at her.
She smiled faintly. “You’re not going to say anything?”
“I thought I lost you,” Ryan said finally, his voice constricted.
“Well I’m right here and I’m perfectly fine,” she replied softly.
“You’re not fine Gabriella,” he said, walking over to her side and taking her hand in his. “I was so scared when we realized you were missing. What happened?”
Gabi looked down at her hands and sighed. “It’s a really long story.”
Ryan kissed the back of her hand and squeezed it lightly. “I’ve got all the time in the world, baby. I’m not going anywhere.”