Smokey's Distraction - Chiah Wilder


Denver, Colorado

A wave of dizziness and nausea seized Ashley as shock jolted through her. She gripped the edge of the desk to keep herself upright.

“Hello? Are you there? … Hello …”

The persistent voice drilled into her brain.

“Ashley, are you there?”

She sank down into the chair and let out the breath she’d been holding ever since the prosecutor had told her the terrible news.

“I’m here,” she said, reaching for the bottle of water next to the computer. Ashley took a large gulp. “I can’t believe he’s out so soon.” Her hands trembled slightly as she put the bottle back on the desk.

“We tried our best to keep him in longer,” Dave Pettine said.

“But he got eight years. How could he be out so soon?” Ashley ran her icy fingers down her throat.

“Good behavior credits, and it wasn’t a violent crime. I am sorry. I wish he would’ve done his full-time rather than four years.”

“He threatened me in court. Doesn’t that count for anything?” She leaned her head against the back of the chair.

“A lot of defendants say things after a conviction. He’s never contacted you from prison or sent anyone to harass or hurt you. The parole board takes all of that into consideration. He’ll be on parole for two years, so he’ll still have to be accountable to the justice system for a bit longer. If he screws up, he’ll be back in prison.”

“I guess that’s something.”

“Please let me know if he tries to get in touch with you. Not contacting you is one of the conditions of his parole.”

“Okay. When was he released?” Ashley heard papers rustling on the other end of the phone.

“A week ago.”

Chills skated over her skin and she rubbed her arm. “Thanks for letting me know.”

“Sure. Give me a call if you have any problems.”

“I will.”

Ashley put the phone down on the desk pad and looked out the window at the ubiquitous skyscrapers glowing under the late afternoon sun. She glanced at the criminal court building as all the details of the trial came flooding back like a tsunami. Had it really been four years since she’d taken the stand to testify against her former boss on embezzlement charges? The cold hatred in Jeffrey Elion’s eyes as she’d answered the prosecutor’s questions remained burned into her brain.

Ashley straightened the collar of her silk blouse and turned her eyes to the computer screen. She had a ton of work to do that morning and two meetings with prospective clients in the afternoon. Thinking about what Jeffrey Elion might or might not do wasn’t a luxury she could afford. Anyway, her former boss was a brilliant man, and she didn’t doubt for one minute that he’d be back on his feet making money again with another business venture. Hopefully he’ll keep his greed at bay ... and Janice’s. Jeffrey’s wife certainly loved buying expensive things, and she’d made a point to tell Ashley and the other employees all about it whenever she dropped by the office.

Three years after Jeffery’s conviction, Ashley had run into Janice at Neiman Marcus, and she was taken aback that Jeffery’s wife was a sales clerk. She’d tried to duck away before Janice could see her, but she’d noticed Ashley, and if looks could kill, Ashley would’ve been a goner. A small shiver traveled down her spine. One thing’s certain: Jeffrey and Janice blame me for the fallout of his criminal behavior. Ridiculous? Of course it was, but true in a scary and real way.

A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts. Startled, her heart pounded as she asked, “Who is it?”

Another knock.

Ashley sprang from her seat, making the chair bang against the wall.

“Are you okay?”

It’s Zach. Damn, I’ve got to get a grip. “I’m coming,” she answered as she rushed toward the door.

Her boss stood there, his forehead wrinkled as his eyes roamed over her face. “You look like you need a break.”

“I was just in the middle of something, that’s all.” She turned away and headed back to the desk, her fingers lightly wiping the perspiration from her brow. “What’s up?”

Zach sank down into one of the chairs. “How’re things going with the Centurion Hotel campaign?”

“Good. I spoke to the general manager when I got in this morning. He’s very pleased with the results. He loved the marketing package I came up with, encouraging couples to book weekend romantic getaways at the hotel. He said they’re booked out six months because of it.”

Zach smiled. “That’s great. He’d dropped me a line to