Family Bonds- Penelope & Griffin…Chapter One

If you have read the PROLOGUE you can catch up here.

Chapter One

Life Altering 

Seven years later

Griffin let himself into Eli’s apartment at eight in the morning. He’d been up for a few hours like always, but the two of them started their days like this.

Even with Bella in Eli’s place, it didn’t stop him from going over and getting his breakfast and the two of them meeting before Eli went to his office for the day. Griffin would do his own thing on the penthouse floor until he moved down to his other office with the rest of the security.

Very few knew he lived in an apartment next to Eli other than the owners of the casino, Eli, his father, Mitchell, and his brothers, Egan and Ethan. There were some other family members that were aware because it seemed like his job wasn’t just watching over the casino, but also doing things for anyone else that needed it. 

Since he worked for Eli, he did what was asked of him.

It was no hardship. He was compensated multiple times better than he’d ever thought he’d be. He lived for free on top of it. Shit, he had no expenses. No food costs, nothing other than his own personal needs. And he’d never needed or wanted much in life.

Almost seven years ago when he was trying to figure out where to go after Monte Carlo, if he could handle the Army again or it was time to move on, Eli offered him a job as his Director of Security. 

The bond he’d felt with the guy was enough for him to put his military career behind him and take Eli up on the opportunity. He’d been a drifter for years, so why not give this a try?

The truth was, he wouldn’t be alive if he went back to the Army and he knew it. He was on a path of destruction that only Eli was privy to in part. And that was only because things slipped out with Eli in moments of weakness. Griffin was a guy who never shared much.

He had few weak moments in his life because when they happened they were always life altering. Like his childhood and when he was in the service. Things he’d kept buried for a long time.

“Where is your lady?” he asked Eli as he made his way to the drawer where the bagels were kept. 

“The gym,” Eli said of Bella. Just last week, they’d solved the mystery of why Bella was sent to Amore Island by her uncle. It’d been a long few months but nothing that Griffin hadn’t been up for.

What irked him more than anything was the ass he couldn’t stand was now going to be a permanent part of his best friend’s life, he was sure.

Bella and Eli were in love and he could see the ring in the future.

Griffin popped the bagel in the toaster and went for the jar of peanut butter that he always spread on them. “She doesn’t have to leave when I come over,” he said. “Do I make her uncomfortable?”

He never thought he did, but he figured he should put it out there.

“Pop one of them in there for me,” Eli said. “Talk about rude not asking if I was hungry in my own home.” 

He laughed. “I’m not your maid.” But he put one in the toaster anyway. “And you didn’t answer my question about Bella.”

“God, no. She loves you. Not like she loves me because we know I’m at the top of her list.”

He rolled his eyes. Griffin never let his guard down around many other than Eli and those closest to him. For the most part, he kept to himself and was happy that way.

“Not positive what she sees in you, but I wasn’t sure why she leaves so early. This is her home now.”

“It is,” Eli said. “Does that bother you?”

“I don’t live here,” he said.

“Nope. Just next door. And she leaves because this is work for us. She knows this is how we start our day. She goes to the gym or the spa, then she comes back and gets ready for work. She told me she considers it no different than if we were meeting in my office.”

“I hate your office,” he said. 

He wasn’t one to sit behind a desk but found he did it a lot more lately. The same with wearing a suit. The first time Eli took him to the tailors he thought it was a joke but then learned, nope, it wasn’t. Eli wanted him to blend in like he was a big spender daily, so that meant looking the part.

Now those suits were a part of him, but he drew the line at a tie. He wasn’t putting a noose on his neck when he’d had enough of them in his past.

“Bella knows you hate it there. She’s being considerate. You know that. I guess I should ask if you are okay with things.”

“Why does it matter if I am?” he asked.

“Because this casino has always been about you and me,” Eli said.

“It’s you,” he said, holding back his snort. “I just watch your fancy ass.”

“And we know you like to do that.” Eli stood up and turned. “I’ve been working out more with squats. How’s it coming?”

He laughed. “Ask your lady that, not me.”

Eli grinned. “I’ll never forget back in Monte Carlo when I told you to follow me to my room. You thought I wanted you in my bed.”

“I’d dominate your skinny little ass if I ran that way.”

Eli laughed loudly like he always did when Griffin made that statement. “You would. So what is on the agenda today?”

The bagels popped up, he put peanut butter on his and the same for Eli even though he knew his boss and best friend liked cream cheese. One of these days he was hoping Eli would tell him he didn’t want the peanut butter.

Eli reached for his bagel and took a massive bite, sending him a grin that he was onto Griffin’s games. He supposed that was why the two of them got along so well.

“Not much,” he said in answer to the agenda. “Same as always. Watching over your legacy and then following up on anything I can with Ava’s situation. I’m waiting for the security at the grocery store to return my call from yesterday. Unless you’ve got another family member or situation I need to deal with?”

“Not for the moment,” Eli said, grinning. “But we know something will come up because it always does.”

The two of them finished their breakfast and went about their day, but hours later he’d gotten a call from the grocery store chain that he’d been dealing with concerning Ava’s stolen identity.

There was a hit on the gift cards that were purchased with the credit cards opened in her name and they might actually be able to put this situation behind them.

That’s what he did. He was a fixer for the Bond family because he couldn’t fix a damn thing in his own life.

After he got what he needed, he called Eli’s cousin Ava and left her a message.

It didn’t take long for her to return his call and he happened to be walking around the casino with Eli at the moment. He figured Ava was with a patient prior.

“Did you find out who it was?” Ava asked when he answered right away.

“I’m not sure. Maybe,” he said. “When can you come in to talk?”

“It’s that bad you can’t say it over the phone?” Ava said.

“We don’t have a name, but we’ve got a face on camera.”

“What?” Ava asked. “How?”

“Part of why it’s easier to explain in person, not while you are working.”

“Right,” Ava said. “Damn it. I’ll be out of here at five. I’m sure Seth will want to be with me and will have to make arrangements for Adele.”

Griffin laughed. “Bring her here and Eli can babysit again. He was bummed he didn’t get to show her everything. He hasn’t shut up about it.”

He looked over and saw Eli nodding his head yes. He knew his best friend had fun with Seth’s daughter. Eli would make a good father himself someday, Griffin was sure. The Bonds were tight and family oriented. The Zales not so much. Thankfully he felt more like he was part of the Bond family at this point in his life.

“I can’t do that to Eli,” Ava said. “What if he’s busy?”

“He’s not. He’s standing right here laughing.” 

“Bring Adele to me to hang out,” Eli shouted loud enough for Ava to hear. 

“Let me reach out to Seth and I’ll text you to verify. I’m not sure if I can focus on my job now knowing that you got the person.”

“We don’t know yet. I’ll explain it all when you get here.”

He ended the call and got back to work with Eli knowing he didn’t have much time before Ava showed up.

A few hours later, he was in his private apartment in the penthouse when he saw Ava and Seth get off the elevator that Eli had sent them up on and went to greet them.

“You have no idea how hard it’s been to pay attention to my job today,” Ava said. “Thankfully I didn’t have any surgeries planned this afternoon.”

“You didn’t have to call me right back,” he said. “I said no rush.”

“Please,” Seth said. “You had to know she’d rush if she thought you knew who did this.”

“True,” Griffin said, grinning at them. He’d had a lot of dealings with Seth since the guy was the president of the bank where all the casino’s money was held. Or the money off site, that is. There was plenty in the vault in the basement and up here on the penthouse floor. “So let me explain first. After we analyzed all the charges, there were a lot of gift card purchases at the grocery store and the big box stores. I happened to get in contact with the grocery store where many of the purchases had been made. We got card numbers, but those for restaurants and other stores are hard to track without their cooperation.”

“And most aren’t going to get in the middle of this, right?” Seth asked. “It’s not worth their time?”

“Right,” he said. “Every gift card was purchased in either fifty- or hundred-dollar increments. Not enough to stand out. Even if they were around a thousand dollars with each set of cards.”

“So being smart to use later on?” Ava asked.

“I’m sure that was it,” he said. “Anyway, the grocery store gift cards that were purchased were flagged as fraudulent. They were willing to cooperate at all their locations and put the information in at their corporate level. The fact that so many of the purchases were made at their store with a stolen credit card didn’t sit well with them.”

“So when the person tried to use them, you’d get notified?”

“Yes,” he said. “Right here on the island no less. Yesterday afternoon there were attempts to use two cards and both were flagged as inactive. The person was forced to pay with cash so we didn’t get a name, but we got a face.”

“The person is on the island?” Ava said.

“We aren’t sure yet. We aren’t going to assume anything at this point. Do you know who this person is?” he asked and pulled the screen up.

“Oh God. That’s Colleen Crowder. She’s a nurse that works with me.”

“Didn’t she just transfer here to the island?” Seth asked. “Could she be following you?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know what to think. I’ve always gotten along with her. I never thought for a minute she could do something like this or why she would.”

“You said her husband lost his job though, right?” Seth asked. 

“It makes me feel ill that I’m that bad of a judge of character.”

“We are going to have to bring the State Police in on this,” he said. “It’s a felony and purchases were made outside of Amore Island.”

“Can you call Jarrett?” she asked. “I’d rather try to keep this with family if I could.”

He nodded. They’d been trying to keep this whole thing quiet and calling Jarrett Bond was probably the smart thing to do until they knew the full facts. “Let me see if he’s working and can bring her in. I’ll try to find where she is living.”

“Her husband works at Atlantic Rise,” Ava said. “They are staying there until they can get into their apartment. I just saw her at work. I’ve been working with her for weeks. I can’t believe she could have done this to me and I had no idea.”

Seth pulled her into his arms. “Relax. We’ll get the answers. Hopefully soon and can put this all behind us.”

Griffin picked his phone up and called Atlantic Rise Hotel and asked to speak to either Emily or Penelope Rauch. Secretly he was hoping for Emily.

He didn’t get that wish. “Hey, Griffin. Got a camera you need to replace here for me or just wanted to say hi? Nah, couldn’t be saying hi, you barely nod when you see me.”

She was always cracking jokes with him and he wasn’t sure if she was serious or not. “No,” he said. “You’re aware of Ava’s situation and we’ve tracked some fraudulent cards to the spouse of one of your employees. They are staying there and we’d like to see if we could meet with them privately before we get the authorities involved.”

“Absolutely,” Penelope said more seriously. “We’ll do whatever we need to.”

Before he could say another thing, Ava was snatching his phone out of his hand. “Penelope, I’m so sorry. I don’t want to believe this of her. Can you do this discreetly?”

He heard the two of them talking, then Ava handed the phone back to Griffin. “Want to tell me what she just said?” he asked Penelope while Ava moved away.

“We’re going to keep it discreet. Let me know when you are here. Emily is off site today, so call me directly.”

“I need your number,” Griffin said. He grabbed a pen and wrote Penelope’s private number down and then disconnected the call.

He watched Seth trying to comfort Ava and placed a quick call to Jarrett and made arrangements, then hung up and waited until Ava noticed him.

“Jarrett is working and is calling Penelope now. They will get Colleen in the room and question her on it.”

“I want to go there,” Ava said. “I need to.”

“I’ll be there,” he said. “If it’s not her, I need to know what she knows and how she got the cards.”

The three of them left, taking two separate cars. Atlantic Rise was less than a five-minute drive away.

By the time they got to the hotel, they were being shown into a room. Colleen was in there with another man he assumed was her husband, along with Jarrett Bond in uniform.

“I didn’t do it,” Colleen said. “I don’t know what is going on.” There were tears running down Colleen’s face. “They are questioning me for fraudulent purchases and said it’s a felony. That I spent over forty thousand dollars. I don’t have that kind of money. Tell them I don’t, Ava.”

“Someone stole my identity. They took out over forty thousand in credit card debt in my name. They got my social security number and all my personal information to do that.”

“It’s not me,” Colleen said, pleading. She looked at Penelope. “Please don’t fire my husband over this. We didn’t do anything. How could I even get that information? Those cards were a gift to me. I was annoyed they didn’t work and was lucky I had the cash to pay for my groceries.”

Ava turned to look at Jarrett and then Griffin. He’d learned a long time ago to not make too many judgments without the facts. This was turning into one of those situations.

“Who gave those cards to you?” her husband asked.

“Tracy. I mean they weren’t a gift. I bought them from her.” Griffin jotted down the name, but it was the first he’d heard it.

“Why would you buy gift cards from her?” Ava asked.

“Because she was moving. She said she had a bunch of them and there wasn’t a grocery store she could use them at. She said someone gave them to her and she offered to sell them to me for half price. I thought it was a good deal.”

“Tracy who?” Jarrett asked, his pen ready to go too.

“Tracy Rogers,” Colleen said. “She worked with us. She was fired months ago and then got another job out of the area finally.”

“Fired?” Ava asked. “I didn’t know that.”

“That’s why I gave you that funny look when we saw you months ago out at the restaurant and you told Tracy that the office was going to miss her. She’d been gone at that point for months.”

“Why was she fired?” Jarrett asked. “Do you know?” Griffin wanted to ask more questions, but at this point, he was most likely going to have to turn it all over to Jarrett. He’d done his job and if they caught the person, he’d be happy to have helped.

“She never said. I think she just wasn’t doing her job,” Colleen said, wiping her hand under her nose. Penelope handed her a tissue. For as much as Penelope liked to pick on people, she was being calm and professional in this setting. “Thank you.”

“Do you know where she lives?” Griffin asked. “Or how she would even have access to personal information?”

“She worked in patient services,” Ava said. “I’m a patient at the practice too. She’d have access to that.”

“Do you know where she lives now?” Jarrett asked. “We need to question her and we ask you don’t tip her off. You aren’t being charged now, but until we speak with her, you are still a potential suspect.”

“She’s on Cape Cod,” Colleen said. “I’ve got her address in my room. I have it written down. I won’t tell her anything. I can’t believe she did this, but it wasn’t me. I swear to God it wasn’t me.”

“Do you think she did it to more than me?” Ava asked Jarrett.

“We’ll find out,” Jarrett said. “Don’t leave the island,” he told Colleen.

“I won’t,” Colleen said. “I just don’t want anyone to know about this.”

“We’ll keep it quiet,” Ava said. “Right now only family is aware and if you are innocent, no one will know you were ever involved.”

Seth, Ava, and Jarrett left shortly after once the game plan was set and it left Griffin in the room with Penelope Rauch.

The woman that was invading the dreams he never used to have. 

She was standing there grinning at him like she knew she made him uncomfortable on top of it.

Why the hell didn’t he leave with the other three?

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