I was a little stunned but somehow managed to conjure up a half decent reply, aware of how important this phone call was.
“Of course, sorry it took so long to reply to your note. I didn’t read it for weeks,” I explained, keen to reassure her.
“That is okay. Leila told me you finally opened her card. It has taken me this long to call because…well, because I have had some thinking to do.”
I could only assume she meant with regards to seeking help.
“Do you think we could meet? Taking over the phone feels a little strange.”
Her accent had almost mellowed out but remnants of her Italian heritage came seeping through, especially when her tone was lowered.
“Absolutely,” I replied, liking the idea of meeting face-to-face. “Can you do tomorrow?
“Tomorrow is great. We could meet at the Starbucks around the corner from the office.” She paused and it was a little awkward. “I know you work there.”
“Perfect. Say one O’clock?”
I fidgeted with my sleeve, waiting for full confirmation before I got carried away with myself.
“Sounds good. I’ll see you there,” she responded, sounding very much relieved. “Oh and Jessica?”
“Don’t bring Spencer.”
I instinctively pressed the phone closer to my ear, unsure as to why.
“I’m just not ready to face him yet.”
I sighed, long and hard, making sure she knew of my displeasure. “He cares about you, Isabelle. He’s worried.”
A moment passed before she spoke again, though her terms remained the same.
I shook my head. “I won’t lie to him but I promise to come alone.”
I had suspected she’d want the setup to happen like this a while back and respected her reasoning. Her and Spencer has unresolved history. Me? I wasn’t exactly impartial but I was her only choice.
“Grazie, Jessica. I will see you tomorrow.”
With that, the line clicked dead, leaving me in quite the predicament. Spencer hadn’t exactly agreed to me seeing Isy alone back when I first brought it up. He wasn’t keen on the idea and no doubt maintained some of that reluctance now. But we had to respect Isy’s wishes. Afterall, the last thing we wanted to do was push the poor woman away. She said it herself. She’d done a lot of thinking before finally reaching out and I wasn’t about to break what little trust we had by doing the one thing she asked I didn’t. Spencer would just have to accept that he couldn’t be there and understand that, for now, Isy wanted to confide in only me. Easy enough?
I bloody wish.
As suspected, Spencer wasn’t happy. He’d wanted to be there when we met but after much deliberation, finally agreed to me going alone. He did, however, insist that I remain in a public place at all times during the meeting. We’d briefly discussed the possibility of this being part of Alister’s twisted plan. Neither of us necessarily believed Isy was capable of such a thing but we couldn’t be certain. For all we knew, she was working alongside her fiancé in what may very well be another ploy to throw us off.
“Madam?” The enthusiastic kid behind the counter stared at me, patiently awaiting my order.
“Latte, please.” I smiled. “It’s Jessica.”
He proceeded to scribble my name on the cup and passed it along the line, charging me for my coffee shortly after. When I finally had the milky concoction in hand, I found a secluded table over by the window and took a seat. Isy was due at one O’clock and while only ten to, I felt nervous. Would she show?
Her voice came at me from behind, meek in its enquiry. I stood.
I instinctively checked her body for any visible injuries and relaxed a little when her skin came up squeaky clean. She held a small cup in her right hand and a handbag in the other. Her clothes were precisely pressed and nothing short of luxurious. To the naked eye, she looked to be a woman who had it all. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
“Would you like to take a seat?”
She offered me a subtle nod and did exactly that, releasing her coat whilst doing do. It hung elegantly from the chair and looked a little out of place in Starbucks.
“Thank you for coming. I suppose I am not exactly your favourite person at the moment,” she explained, braving a sip from her tea.
I simply laughed. “That may be true but I suspect I don’t know the full story yet.”
Her blue-green gaze met mine, silently conveying her appreciation. God, she was beautiful. Her skin was flawless and her hair, gorgeous. Thick locks of brunette sat perfectly at the curve of her back, not an inch out of place.
“How is he?” she asked, frowning a little. “I hope you do not mind me asking.”
Her impeccable English surprised me, though I suspected that came from years of living here.
“He’s…” I paused, wanting to be honest. “Desperate. Desperate to get his daughter back. Desperate to help you. Telling him he couldn’t come was hard. He’s very stubborn.”
She smiled. “He always has been.”
We both drank from our cups, maintaining eye contact. Surprisingly, hearing her talk about Spencer didn’t feel awkward. I was aware they had a past and I wasn’t about to dispute that. He still cared about her and it was obvious from her initial need to see how he was that she felt the same way. I wasn’t threatened by it, nor was I jealous. That aspect of their relationship was over. Besides, he had a new life now. With me.
“I am sure you know why I sent you that note?” she stated, finally getting to the point.
I felt it was important she initiate things, so I took to simply nodding. “I’d rather you tell me in your own words. I’d hate to jump to incorrect conclusions.”
She instantly started chewing on her lower lip, nervous by all accounts.
“Alister. He is…”
Her posture caved in on itself, causing her to hunch over her drink, almost knocking it over. Her eyes fell to the table in obvious shame and in her doing so, I reached for her hand. I didn’t normally do physical interaction and certainly wouldn’t have foreseen myself doing so to Spencer’s ex-wife but seeing how embarrassed she was fucking infuriated me to the point of uncharacteristically offering up support.
“You can tell me,” I encouraged, gifting her fingers a light squeeze.
A small tear ran down her cheek before she quickly wiped it away using her free hand and just like that, I knew this wasn’t a set up. The woman was in bits. Her life was a mess and whether she was the cause behind such anguish or not was irrelevant now. I was here to help and wouldn’t leave until she accepted it.
“He hits me.”
There is was. Finally, we had confirmation.
“At first, he did not mean it. He would get angry and lash out. He would always apologise.”
“But that changed?” I asked, simply speaking as a way of letting her know I was still invested in our conversation.
“Sì. He started getting angry more. Started demanding things.”
“What kind of things?” I interrupted, having a solid idea already.
Isy shook her head, reverting back to embarrassed. “He wanted full custody of Leila. At first, I refused. But his threats got more creative.”
I couldn’t stomach what she was saying but forced myself to persevere for the sake of everyone involved. It was silly, given I suspected this was happening, yet having it confirmed and hearing of the details well and truly knocked me for six.
“He-he doesn’t hit Leila, does he?” I asked, needing to know.
Isy recoiled in her seat, hurt by my need to ask. “No. I would never allow that. She is my daughter. I die before I let anyone hurt her.”
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t insinuating you would let anything bad happen. I just had to ask. She’s the most important person in all this.”
Her scowl mellowed, seemingly calming down some. “No, sorry. It is me who should be apologising. I suppose you have every right to question it. I would do the same.”
We shared a smile and another squeeze, still joined by the hand.
“You said his threats got more creative? How?” I questioned, moving things along.
Isy’s expression turned suddenly sombre, worrying me. “He has leverage on me. He has spoken multiple times of having me deported.”
What a bastard!
“I tried to reason with him but he would not listen. Eventually, I had no choice but to comply.”
I couldn’t believe it.
“Have you thought about leaving him?” I suggested, unsure as to why she wouldn’t dump his arse the second he showed his true colours.
Then again, I was in no position to judge. I had no idea what it was like to be in an abusive relationship.
“I can’t,” she replied, closing in on herself again.
The question was out before my filter could process it. I didn’t understand and wanted clarification. I needed to know why she felt so trapped.
“He has powerful connections and a lot of money. The combination of the two can be quiet dangerous.”
Her pale cheeks filled me with dread.
“He tricked me into signing adoption papers.”
What the fuck?
“I didn’t know what I was signing. I would never knowingly sign anything like that.”
“And it’s definitely your signature?” I asked, sick to my absolute stomach.
“One hundred percent,” she informed. “I signed a lot for my divorce. I had no reason to distrust him back then.”
Her voice began to waver; a clear indication of her guilt. It was an easy mistake to make, yet detailing that felt fruitless. Plenty of people sign without reading. It was just a shame on this occasion, she’d been wrongly informed.
“It doesn’t mean anything. Without Spencer’s signature, the forms are void of any stability.”
Once again, Isy shook her head, summoning tears.
“He does have Spencer’s signature,” she whispered, cradling her head in her hands.
Coffee churned in my stomach and threatened to reappear, agonisingly so. My vision tunnelled and my heartrate increased, sending me into a moment of total despair.
“How? I don’t understand.”
I thought back to who could’ve tricked him into signing such a thing and instantly stopped, knowing in my heart of hearts exactly who. Spencer had been signing a lot of documents as of late and one person was responsible. Malcolm. His own fucking lawyer.