Since meeting with Chelsea, she’d read Harlow’s one-hundred-page treatise to end sex trafficking with something close to alarm. It was a finely argued, impassioned presentation, and she’d given it an A-last year. Now, however, she was reading it through a different lens, imagining Harlow taking matters into her own hands.
The thesis concerned the use of disadvantaged women to fuel Europe and North America’s sex trade. Had Harlow actually got mixed up in something like that while in London? Something that involved a crony of Treffen’s? It was terrible to contemplate, and yet Chelsea had obviously discovered something about Harlow’s disappearance.
An hour later Louise threw on some jeans and a sweatshirt and walked the few blocks to the park. Chelsea was already waiting, looking low-key glamorous in skinny jeans and a cashmere top and scarf, two coffees and a bag of bagels in her hand.
“Are those from Zabar’s?” Louise asked as she walked up to her sister, and Chelsea gave her a breezy smile.
“And I thought you didn’t do carbs.”
“That was when I had to appear on TV. I’m not calorie counting anymore.”
“You’re still skinny as a rail,” Louise said without rancor. Chelsea had always been thinner than she was. Jaiven liked your curves, she reminded herself, then resolutely banished the thought.
“Drink up,” Chelsea said, and handed her a huge Americano.
They walked into the park, the trees providing a bright green canopy of leaves overhead. As soon as they stepped inside the gates, the noise of the city’s traffic fell away, replaced by birdsong and the distant laughter of children. Louise took a sip of her coffee.
“So, what did you find out? And how?”
“Alex used some of his connections through Diaz News. But I warn you, he didn’t discover all that much.”
“It’s obviously more than Nora or Addison could find out.”
“Her friends. They were both students at Columbia.”
Chelsea nodded. “Okay. Well, Alex discovered that Harlow was last seen three weeks ago, at an event hosted by the law firm.”
“How did he find that out?”
“I told you, he has connections.” Chelsea smiled faintly, although her eyes still looked shadowed with worry. “Also, it’s probably better not to ask.”
“Alex isn’t doing anything shady, is he?”
“I wouldn’t say shady. But there are gray areas in terms of accessing computer files.” She took a breath, then let it out slowly. “Anyway, Alex believes she was last seen at this party. It took place on a yacht used by the firm.”
“And how does he know that was the last time she’d been seen?” Louise asked.
“Because she didn’t turn up for work the next day, according to the employee log. And her apartment wasn’t accessed again, either.”
“Addison and Nora said she hadn’t been back…”
Chelsea nodded. “Yes, but oddly enough, Alex discovered that her rent had been paid in advance. Six months in advance, actually, and by someone at Treffen, Howell, and Smith.”
Louise stilled. “Someone paid her rent? Why?”
Chelsea shrugged. “Who knows? Maybe she had a fat-cat lawyer boyfriend. Or maybe someone was trying to keep anyone from being alerted to the fact that she was gone.”
Louise’s heart lurched. “And you don’t know where she went, or why?”
Louise swung around sharply, her coffee sloshing from her cup. “No, but…?” she prompted, because there was clearly something Chelsea wasn’t saying.
“She wasn’t seen after that party,” Chelsea said slowly. “And Alex wondered if maybe…” She let out a breath, then turned a bleak gaze to Louise. “Maybe she didn’t actually get off the yacht.”
“Not get off?” Louise contemplated this for a few seconds. “But where is the yacht now?”
Chelsea shrugged. “Not in London. Maybe not anywhere around England. But really I have no idea. Alex can’t get that kind of information, unfortunately.”
Louis shivered despite the balmy spring air, the benevolent sunshine. She stopped walking and turned to face her sister. “Chelsea,” she asked quietly, “what if she’s dead?”
“You don’t know that,” Chelsea countered swiftly. “You can’t know that.”
“Yet we know that she’s been missing for three weeks, no word to her employer or her family, her rent paid up…”
“Maybe it’s time to involve the police,” Chelsea suggested. “Or at least her family. They can decide what steps to take.”
Louise shook her head. “Nora said her family wasn’t interested. Apparently they think she’s just off having a good time.”
“And maybe she is,” Chelsea said, but she sounded unconvinced.
“Until we know that for sure…” Louise began, nibbling her lip in anxiety. It seemed more and more likely something terrible had happened to Harlow—but what?
The last time she’d felt this kind of anxiety for someone else, Louise remembered, had been when she’d returned home at eighteen to find Chelsea gone. Louise had searched out her friends, her boyfriend, but nobody had known or even cared. She’d dropped out of school and disappeared, and Louise had blamed herself.
She didn’t want Harlow to slip through the cracks the way Chelsea had.
“What about the police, then?” Chelsea asked, and Louise shook her head.
“Nora and Addison have already contacted the police in London. They’re not interested either, and I’m not even sure I can blame them. From the outside it really does look like a beautiful young woman went on holiday with her rich lawyer boyfriend. No one’s officially reported her missing, not locally and not her family.”
“And Nora and Addison don’t count?”
“You know this woman, at least a little bit,” Chelsea said after a moment. “Do you think she might have gone off with some boyfriend?”
Louise thought of Harlow, her reckless, heady, defiance, her impassioned determination to right the world’s wrongs. Her utter naïvete, born of immense wealth and privilege. “I think,” she said slowly, “she’s far more likely to pretend she’s got a rich lawyer boyfriend in order to get closer to whatever she’s found out.”
“So you think she has found something out.”
“It makes sense, doesn’t it? She was engrossed in her thesis on sex trafficking and then all of a sudden she announces she has an internship with Treffen, Howell, and Smith. I admit I was a little disappointed. I thought she was selling out.”