EPISODE #2009-28

Looking back, there had been faint warning bells going off in Lorna's head as soon as Jamie lifted her up and deposited her on the kitchen table. But considering her preoccupation with the unexpectedly smokin' hot body (not just for a man his age; for a man of any age) hiding underneath Jamie's shirt — a shirt she promptly relieved him of — Lorna couldn't fault herself, in retrospect, for keeping her mind on what was in front of her and simply ignoring everything else.

Damned if she knew how she'd ended up here, in a guesthouse on the Cory estate, with one of the so-not-her-type-until-suddenly-he-was Dr. Jamie Frame's hands sliding beneath her skirt.

And damned if she wasn't enjoying herself.

That is, until she quite unexpectedly found herself on the floor, the table she and Jamie had been...uh...using (?) crumpled in pieces beneath them.

"What the hell?" Lorna grabbed Jamie's hand to keep from sprawling in a most unladylike fashion.

Jamie hoisted himself up, helping her as well. "I think we broke the table."

Lorna laughed. "Seriously? We barely got started."

"Guess we're that good. Are you hurt?" Jamie asked, unable to turn off the doctor in him, even under the circumstances.

Lorna shook her head. "Just my pride. You?"

"I'm good," he shook his head in wonder, slowly standing up. "I suppose this is what I get for not being a gentleman and taking you to the bedroom."

"You didn't hear me complaining," she said, letting him pull her up from the floor. "Now, please tell me that a shoddily assembled table hasn't ruined the mood..."

Guess not she smiled to herself as Jamie leaned down and cut her off with a kiss.

She finally had him right where she wanted him in the bedroom, when Jamie's beeper went off somewhere deep in their pile of clothes on the floor.

"Oh, you've got to be freaking kidding me!" she growled.

Jamie simply shook his head with a knowing, resigned smile. "It might be about Lori Ann. Could you hand me my pants since you're — "

"Yeah, yeah," Lorna grumbled, reaching down to retrieve his clothes from where they'd somehow fallen on her side of the bed (it hadn't started out as her side of the bed, but they'd been particularly enthusiastic to get started). She dug into the right pants' pocket, scooping out the contents.

And found herself holding Jamie's insistent beeper. Along with a brand, spanking new wedding band.

Lorna looked from the ring to Jamie, her mouth dropping open in shock and confusion.

"What's this?" she asked as calmly as she could, considering that she was half-naked and half-straddling the man while holding on to a wedding ring that had fallen out of his pocket.

Jamie blinked, his eyes widening as if a light bulb had suddenly gone off.


"Oh, yeah, that, what?" Lorna pressed as Jamie's already flushed face deepened to a new shade of red, and he pushed himself up to look her in the eye with of all things, a slightly amused expression.

"Oh, yeah, I just remembered that... I'm married."

Lila had never been one for coffee, but this morning she needed a whole heapin' pot of the stuff to get her motor running.

After leaving Grant's house the previous day, him grinning like a Cheshire cat all the while, she'd been looking forward to soaking in a hot bath and forgetting all about his desperate lip-lock. But lo and behold, as soon as she kicked off her shoes in the sanctity of her bedroom at the Cory house, her cell-phone was buzzing with Grant on the other end. Some excuse about an idea for the house that just could not wait until the next workday.

Several hours later, her cell battery dying had thankfully ended their conversation, and she'd happily plugged her phone into the re-charger, made sure it was off, and went to sleep.

Now, she was paying for it, judging by the voicemail icon flashing furiously across the display.

Too bad.

Lila was Grant's decorator, not his BFF.

Ignoring the missed calls, she stumbled down to the kitchen and greeted Jasmine drowsily with a kiss on the forehead. "You're up awful early."

"Lots of work to do, Mama," her daughter said seriously. With forehead crinkled, she flipped through page after page of a magazine as she sat at the counter, munching on a pop tart. Holding a selection up for Lila to see, Jasmine observed, "This is pretty. Do you think Mr. Harrison would like this?"

Lila paused mid-coffee guzzle, swallowed and asked, "Honey, why would you care what Mr. Harrison likes?"

"He called this morning while you were still asleep and left a message. Since you weren't answering your cell phone, he said. I told him I'd give you the message." Jasmine picked up her notepad and efficiently read off, "Firstly, Mr. Harrison thought that — "

Oh, really now? Now he was going too far, treating her daughter like some child labor messenger service!

"That'll be quite enough of that," Lila gently cut Jasmine off, deftly plucking the list of Grant's demands from her fingers. "I didn't get a chance to see you at all yesterday. I want to hear about what my baby girl has been up to, not Mr. Harrison."

"But he said it was important! Mr. Harrison wants to see you today about picking out some nice pictures for his house! And we still have to go over colors for the living room, the kitchen — "

"We, Jasmine, don't have to do anything. This is not something for you to be working yourself into lather about. This is my job, honey, not yours."

"I'm just trying to be a help," Jasmine pouted. "Why are you so grumpy?"

Lila sighed. "Because Mr. Harrison has been calling on me non-stop about every little thing, and then some. He's driving your mama bananas."

"He likes you, Mama. You're his friend."

"I am not Mr. Harrison's friend, darlin'."

"Well, he's calling on you like you're his friend."

"That's because he has no one else to call," Lila blurted without thinking.

"Probably because he just moved back here," Jasmine mused thoughtfully. "He's having to make friends all over again." Lila didn't have the heart to pop Jasmine's romantic bubble by explaining why she was wrong on that score. Her daughter went on, "He must be so lonely. I think it's nice that he picked you to be his friend."

"Lucky me," Lila sighed.

"What's wrong? You don't want to be his friend?"

Lila shook her head at Jasmine. "Why are you Mr. Harrison's champion all of a sudden? Is he paying you?"

"He's Kirkland's other daddy. Kind of like when I had my Daddy and..." Jasmine trailed off, remembering too late that Cass wasn't exactly on her mother's top ten list of discussion topics. Quickly, she went back to her original point. "Mr. Harrison is almost like family. Because of Kirkland. He's funny and he likes to dress-up.... If you're his friend and he's yours, you won't be lonely."

"Sweetheart, I could never be lonely when I have you. And if you're worried about me because of what happened with Cass, then I've already told you, I don't need — "

"I know, Mama. You don't need a man. No woman should be dependant on a man," Jasmine recited by rote. "But is it okay to want to have friends? I think you should still have friends. And Mr. Harrison wants to be yours, I can tell." Back to business, Jasmine leafed over to another magazine page and showed her mother. "That's pretty, right? Think Kirkland will like it? I think Kirkland will like it."

Her girl certainly could multi-task. Doling out wisdom one second and shopping for colors the next. Lila gave up and merely corrected, "Men don't like pretty, dumplin'. At least not when it comes to their houses. They like things that are comfortable. Masculine..."

"What does masculine mean?"

"It means not girly," Kirkland helpfully supplied as both mother and daughter looked up to find him standing in the doorway. Unlike either of his fathers, the boy had a great poker face. Lila had no clue how long he'd been standing there or what he may have overheard.

"Have you seen my dad?" Kirkland asked, helping himself to a pop tart from the box on the counter. "Jamie, I mean." When both shook their heads, Kirkland shrugged. "Guess he's still at the hospital. Or maybe he went to Marley's. Hey, I wonder if we're all going to move there now that they're married."

"What now?" Lila blinked.

"Oh, yeah, Jamie and Marley got married," Kirkland confirmed in a neutral tone.

"Does Grant know?" Lila couldn't help asking. After Kirkland nodded in the affirmative, all she could think of, guiltily, was how happy Lila felt not to have been standing next to Grant when he got the news.

"I'll see you guys later," Kirkland grabbed an apple from a bowl near the fridge, pausing briefly in the middle of his getaway to point at the page in front of Jasmine. "I like the purple one. It's pretty and masculine."

"See! I told you he'd like it." Jasmine beamed after he'd left, kicking her legs beneath the counter as she made a note in her pad.

"Don't you even think about it," Rachel followed Donna into the hospital parking lot to issue her warning.

"I am sure I don't know what you mean."

"I'm pretty sure that you do. I saw the way you were looking at Lori Ann when Kevin mentioned Felicia not being her blood relative."

"I was doing nothing of the sort."

"If you are so much as considering making a claim on that little girl... "

"You'll what?" Donna whipped around. "Frankly, Rachel, I deeply resent your imposition into this entire matter. It is, by no stretch of the imagination, in any way your concern."

"Felicia is my friend. I realize that the concept is foreign to you, but try to stay with me, here. She has been to Hell and back in the last few weeks, and it's not even close to being over yet. She does not need you and your well-deserved monstrous guilt turning her world upside down any more than it already has been."

"How fortunate then that, despite what you think, you have no control over my — or anyone else's — actions."

"I wouldn't be so sure," Rachel warned.

Donna sighed, exasperated. "And what does that mean?"

"It means that if you contribute so much as one drop to Felicia's heartache in the future, I will not hesitate, I will expose your full role in Jenna's death and let you face the consequences, both personal and criminal."

"I don't think you will," Donna challenged.

Rachel startled. The conversation had been completely under her control. Then suddenly it wasn't.

"What do you mean?" she asked, quicker — and more unsettled— than she would have liked.

"There is no way that you can expose me without embroiling Carl. My current actions are too intertwined with his past ones. You make public my crimes regarding Jenna, Felicia and Dean, and I turn around and divulge how I ever learned about the compound in the first place. Once the legal system starts digging, how many of Carl's sins do you think they'll uncover? Ones with no statute of limitations? Ones he never paid for? You think I'll have personal and criminal consequences to contend with? How about your family? You tell my children one of their parents is a monster, and I'll be more than happy to turn around and do the same with yours."

As soon as a call to the hospital confirmed that Jamie hadn't been beeped about anything regarding Lori-Ann or another patient needing his immediate medical attention; just a nurse double-checking a sleepily-scribbled prescription dosage, Lorna took away Jamie's phone... and his pants, and held both out of his reach while she stood in front of the bedroom door to block his escape.

"I can't wait to hear this story," Lorna said in a deceptively sweet tone.

"I'm sensing the moment for us has passed," Jamie sighed, which earned him an indignant look in reply.

Suppressing the urge to laugh, which, because of the adorable expression on Lorna's face Jamie found highly tempting, he related the whole sordid tale that, so far, had resulted in his nearly committing adultery after only having been married less than a week.

"So you and Marley got married as a move to neutralize Grant and Spencer's sneaky plan to steal away Kirkland because Grant's lawyer told you to? Oh, Jamie," Lorna giggled. "You and Marley are such amateurs."

"Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time," he defended with a roll of his eyes. "And I was desperate. And exhausted, and not thinking straight...."

"Yeah, you're easily overwhelmed given the right circumstances," she observed with a nod to him still in bed, in his underwear.

"This?" Jamie shrugged, leaning back and making himself comfortable. "I totally planned this."

Now, Lorna rolled her eyes. "No, you didn't."

"Okay, I didn't, but if I had, I like to think we wouldn't be talking right now."

Unable to resist the set-up, Lorna fired back. "That would've depended on your stamina."

Jamie cocked his head at her. "Sounds like a challenge, Devon."

"You're not making me the other woman, Frame. I've done that. With Grant. When he was married to your sister."

Jamie winced. "Oh, yeah. I keep forgetting that, too."

"And have you forgotten about your wife? Marley? Snow White to my Rose Red?"

"Marley is not my wife. We co-parent. Our relationship is purely —"

"If this is the same woman you were engaged and walked down the aisle to, then your relationship isn't purely anything."

Lorna reminded, "You both had some pretty deep feelings for each other once."

Jamie shook his head. "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away."

His words made Lorna think of the last time they'd talked Star Wars. And how long ago and far, far away that teary staircase encounter felt now.

He continued, "If anything was going to happen between Marley and I, it would've happened sometime in the last ten years. Neither of us had any other relationships. Still, nothing happened, even though we saw each other practically every day about the kids."

"So, you are completely over her?" Lorna pressed, even though it really was none of her business what Jamie felt for Marley. It wasn't like she had any investment in Jamie beyond a roll...or two... in the hay. None. Nada.

"If you'd have asked me that a few weeks ago, I might've said I don't know. When she kissed me —"

Lorna snapped to attention. "She kissed you? When?"

"A few weeks ago. We were out with the kids and they were off somewhere and completely out of the blue, she kissed me. Before we could talk about what it meant — "

"Jamie, you know what it meant."

"— Before I could talk to her about how I felt about it, I got pulled into everything with Jenna, then this thing with Spencer and Grant happened and — "

She steered him back to the million-dollar question. "So, how do you feel about Marley?"

"I love her," he said without hesitation. " But I'm not in love with her. Not anymore. And I have never led her to assume otherwise."

"Hm..." was all Lorna said as she mulled it all over.

"Hm?" Jamie repeated. "What does hm mean?"

"It means I'm thinking," she muttered, and then clarified, somewhat skeptical, "There was no one in ten years? Nothing? Not a one-night stand with some random woman? Some random man? I'm looking at ten years of pent-up sexual energy sitting in this bed? Well, I guess that explains the poor table."

"I was trying to keep my head above water, raising two small, motherless children. I had to be focused on them."

"I'm surprised. Then again, I'm not. It must have been a drag, coming back here to live under Mommy's roof again, after being all footloose and fancy-free in San Francisco..."

"Not really," Jamie said quietly, and Lorna literally felt something indescribable shift in the room.

He abruptly sat up, impish bravado replaced by a sober mask. "I should get going. Have I earned back my pants?"

"Is everything okay?" she asked, handing over his pants. He quickly began to dress. "It's like you suddenly..."

"Yeah," he threw over his shoulder as he pulled his shirt past his head. "I think the endless day just finally caught up to me. I'm sorry, Lorna," he turned to look at her. "I've put you in a really awkward position.... The whole marriage thing... I... I just got carried away and forgot myself."

"A decade-long dry spell and sleep deprivation will do that," she smiled at him. "And, relax. It's not so awkward now that you've explained everything. You're doing what you have to do to protect your kid. I respect that. Although, in the future, when planning a clever double-cross, you might not want to listen to the lawyer of the guy who's trying to take your son away."

"Next time I'm about to make a risky move, I'll ask myself What would Lorna do? Maybe I'll even get myself one of those bracelets."

"Or you can just ask me yourself," she offered. "Anytime you need to talk or vent or scheme up ways to stick it to Grant, I'm your girl."

He looked at her with a wistful, thoughtful smile and sighed. "If only."

"I'm in the middle of a midterm," Sarah hissed in the corridor outside the door to Sociology 305: Methods of Quantitative Analysis. "And there's math involved, which means I actually have to think. What do you want?"

"I really need to talk to you," Allie said. "I called a bunch of times, you didn't pick up."

"I was busy. I'm still busy. The professor only gave me, like, five minutes to deal with my hysterical friend in the hall, or I forfeit the whole test. What the hell is it?"

"It's GQ. We're really done this time. I was such an idiot. I thought things could be different. I wanted things to be different so much, I guess I just wasn't thinking. But he's right, it was all my fault. He was straight with me, I just wasn't listening. And then he said that I only wanted to be with him so I could show him off. But that's not true. Except I couldn't explain it to him. I couldn't find the right words. He's like you, he's good with words. He didn't hate me before. But I'm afraid he hates me now. He — "

"Allie, Allie," Sarah held up both hands to dam the torrent of precisely those words that Allie was supposedly not so facile at. "Stop. Just stop."

"Why?" Allie did as Sarah instructed. Allie always did what Sarah instructed. She asked, hopeful, already certain of what Sarah's answer would be. "Do you know of a way I can fix this?"

"No," Sarah said. "I just don't care."

"Five minutes, guys!" Marley called up the stairs. "School waits for no man! Or girl!"

"I can't find my shoes!" Bridget wailed.

"I can't find my homework!" Michelle echoed after her sister.

"Five minutes!" Marley repeated with a smile. Which fell from her lips as soon as she turned and unexpectedly spied a rumpled Donna sitting on their living room couch.

She was tempted to just continue on her way and ignore Donna the same way her mother had been ignoring Marley and the girls these past few weeks. Marley was well past curiosity about Donna's secret activities — especially in light of all her own recent drama.

Marrying Jamie. Being ignored by Jamie. Fighting with Grant. Flirting with Grant.

None of which, Marley realized, her mother knew anything about.

Oh, what the heck? Marley might as well bring her up to speed while she had the chance.

"Long time, no see," she tried lightly, in spite of herself.

"Hello, darling," Donna sighed automatically; staring off into space as she absently stirred a cup of tea.

Obviously, Marley's mother had missed her, too.

"I thought you should know that Jamie and I are married," Marley tried a little shock therapy, hoping it might succeed where the light touch hadn't. "If Grant or Kevin or Spencer come to you trying to needle out any information about it, just smile and nod and say 'you couldn't be happier'. Okay?"

"Of course, darling," Donna nodded, again on autopilot.

"Of course, darling," Marley repeated sarcastically, her patience gone. She picked up a Danish from the breakfast tray and threw it at Donna, the roll ricocheting and splashing into Donna's cup of tea.

Donna shot up with a gasp. "Marley? What is wrong with you?"

"What is wrong with me? What is wrong with you? You've been like a ghost around here for weeks, ignoring me and the girls for God knows what — "

"It's personal. Something — "

"I don't care!" Marley laughed incredulously. "Whatever it is, it can't be more important than what's going on here with me and Jamie and Kirkland."

Baffled, Donna shook her head. "What are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about Grant, Donna. I'm talking about the fact that Spencer tried to help Grant steal Kirkland from us. I'm talking about Jamie and I having to get," she lowered her voice, mindful of the twins, "Married so we could keep this family together!"

Donna's eyelids fluttered in bewilderment. "Married? To Jamie? When did this happen?"

"I would say while you weren't around, but that doesn't really narrow it down."

"Darling, I'm sorry. I've just had so much on my mind, lately."

"Well, so have I," Marley hissed. "And I could've really used the support of my mother through all of this. Instead, on top of everything else, I got to wonder why you were haunting this place like a ghost. That is, when you deigned to drop by."

Donna reached out her hand. "Marley..."

"Ready!" Bridget and Michelle clambered down the stairs. "Oh, hi, Grandmother. You're home."

"Hello, girls," Donna opened her arms for a hug, but Marley interceded and ushered them both back towards the door.

"We're late," Marley sniffed, blinking back her angry tears, ignoring the stunned and hurt look on Donna's face.

"Marley," Donna gasped. "Please..."

The rest of her words were cut off as Marley closed the door behind them.

It was the last thing that Lila expected to see as she put the pedal to the metal and hightailed it down the driveway to meet with her demanding boss, who'd finally worn her down about meeting him that morning to supposedly discuss what kind of artwork she thought he should be scouting for his new abode.

But there it was. Or rather there they were. Lila's one-time brother-in-law, the good doctor Jamie Frame, leaving the Cory Guest House with a, how to put this tactfully... improperly attired Lorna Devon at his heels.

Any hope Lila may have harbored that Jamie's house-call would prove to be of the innocent kind was dashed when Lorna pulled the departing Jamie back to her, and gave him a whopper of a kiss for the road.

"Boy howdy," Lila breathed with a shake of her head. "I have now seen it all."

The note Charlie got passed surreptitiously in the middle of English Lit. class read:

So I hear you've joined the Zombie Parent club?

Pretty sure she knew whom it was from, Charlie looked up and across the room at Kirkland. He raised one palm off his desk just high enough to offer a small wave.

Yup. Charlie wrote back, refolded the missive and launched it across the aisle. Mom's back in the house, acting like the last thirteen years never happened.

You don't seem stoked.

Can you keep a secret?

That's kind of all I do these days.

Charlie looked at him questioningly over that, but Kirkland just shook his head, dismissive.

She wrote, I know I'm being a real selfish little snot, but I kind of wish my mom never told my dad she was alive.

Why not????

Because before, when they weren't together, I knew I was the most important person in my dad's life, and I was the most important person in my mom's life. But now they've got each other. I'm not number one anymore with either of them. I'm excess baggage.

Kirkland read Charlie's note several times before replying.

I WISH both my dads would find something in their lives more important than me. They're driving me nuts.

"Making our own contributions to English literature, are we?" Mr. Akinjide stepped between Charlie and Kirkland and intercepted the back and forth communication.

He opened the note and proceeded to read it. Both Kirkland and Charlie slumped in their seats, anticipating the inevitable punishment — most likely detention — to follow, not to mention the humiliation of having their exchange recited out loud for the class' general amusement. Neither one even attempted to beg for mercy. They knew the rules perfectly well.

Surprisingly though, after he'd looked everything over, Mr. Akinjide merely glanced from Kirkland to Charlie, an expression that looked remarkably like pity in his eyes. He tore up the note, tossed it in the garbage, and proceeded to carry on with the class as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

"What?" Allie clarified. It's not that she hadn't heard what Sarah said. It was just that the words simply didn't make any sense. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, I don't care, Allie. I know this is hard for you to wrap your head around, but I have a life too. And it isn't solely dedicated to the purpose of dealing with your drama. I'm in the middle of a test. It's an important one. I can't suddenly drop everything to hold your hand."

"I wasn't expecting... "

"Yes, you were. That's what you're always expecting. You make a mess, I fix it. You screw up, I put it back together. You whine, I'm there to pat you on the back and go there, there. Rain or shine, night or day. Well, you know what? I've had enough. I'm tired of it. I have stuff going on, too; thanks for asking."

"I do ask," Allie stammered to defend, still feeling numb, as if this conversation wasn't really happening. "I ask all the time. Or at least I used to. You're just so private about most things, I thought... I thought you preferred talking about my problems. Because you didn't like talking about yours."

"Yeah, you keep thinking that. Makes it real convenient for you. But, you know what? This friendship — well, actually, more like this one-sided, one way, All About Allie, one-woman show — it's not really convenient for me anymore."

Allie felt like she'd been punched in the stomach. She couldn't breathe. She couldn't respond. She could just blink, as if the picture in front of her were a distorted optic illusion, and clearing her eyes would somehow reset it back to normal.

"Being friends with you is too hard, Allie. It's not worth it anymore. You're not worth it to me, anymore."

"We have to stop her," Frankie told Cass. "Cecile is certifiably insane and I will not have that insanity beading in on my daughter."

"I think she's bluffing," Cass said. "She's toying with us, trying to see how far she can push it. Cecile is a lot of things, but a cold-blooded killer..."

"She had her own daughter kidnapped so Cecile could collect the ransom money. You think she'll pull any punches when it comes to dealing with ours?"

"A phony kidnapping isn't murder!"

"Maggie still ended up as the guest of honor at a Memorial Service."

"That was Maggie's doing. She faked her death to get back at Cecile."

"Like mother, like daughter." Frankie prompted, "And what was Cecile's reaction to losing her child?"

"She was very, very upset."

"And then..."

"And then she was very, very happy to learn that she'd inherit Maggie's Cory estate."

"Her values, they're a little warped, wouldn't you say?"

"Nevertheless, when push comes to shove, I don't believe she has it in her to murder a child."

"Does she have it in her to hire a sub-contractor and then claim she had no idea he'd take it so far? Why, when she told him to take care of Charlotte Winthrop, she was merely engaging him to baby-sit?" Frankie speculated.

"That," Cass reluctantly admitted. "Sounds more likely." He sighed, and rubbed the sides of his head with both hands. "So what do you propose we do?"

"I have an idea," Frankie reassured him. "Give me a couple of days to see if I can make it happen."

"Fabulous news, Kevin," Grant boomed into his cell phone as he ushered Lila through his hotel room with a wave of a hand. "Good to see you finally earning that exorbitant retainer I've been shelling out. I'll be in touch to arrange a strategy session as soon as I check my calendar."

He snapped the phone shut and spun around to face Lila, smiling to power a small city. "Good morning, my beautiful genius. Can you tell that I'm on top of the world today?"

"Subtlety has never been your defining characteristic," she answered dryly while Grant all but danced his way across the room.

"Would you like to know why I'm so happy?" Grant preened and prepared two mimosas.

"Does it in any way involve the poor woman you mentioned last night? The one you've got your heart set on messin' with?"

"Yes," he picked up the champagne flutes and offered one to Lila. "And no. What would you say to my doubling your budget if you can have the house completely done by Christmas? Top to bottom. Money is no object."

"I'd say you better double my fee." Lila accepted her drink. Despite it being morning. It was only sociable, after all. "Not just my budget."

"I'll triple it," Grant beamed, clinking his glass with hers and downing his mimosa with gusto.

"Not that I'm trying to talk myself out of a small fortune, mind you, but what in the world has lit such a generous fire under you this morning?"

Grant beamed. "I just got word from my lawyer that the date for a preliminary hearing regarding Kirkland's custody has been set for the Monday after Thanksgiving. With any luck, I'll have my son back with me in time for Christmas!"

Looking at Grant as he practically bounced and hummed with excited glee, you'd think he was the boy destined to come into a Greyhound-load of exorbitantly expensive gifts on Christmas morning. Lila felt a smile almost forming on her lips in reaction to his sincere delight. She stubbornly set her mouth, determined to keep it at bay.

"Now don't get ahead of yourself, Grant," she felt compelled to warn. He was flying so high, the fall if this didn't work out was likely to be mighty painful. "It's just a preliminary hearing. Anything can happen."

"Exactly!" Grant bounced over to the bar to mix himself another drink. "It's entirely possible that the judge could decide then and there to restore my custodial rights and give me my son back. Leaving Marley and Jamie with nothing but their pathetic sham of a marriage."

Lila's eyes shot down to her champagne glass. "Whatever gives you the idea that their marriage is a sham? They were engaged once. And they —"

"Oh, please, Lila, show me a little respect," Grant snorted. "We all know that this rush to the altar was nothing more than their pathetic attempt to thwart me. But it won't work."

"It won't?" Lorna raised an eyebrow at him.

"No," Grant grinned. "I'll expose them and their little games to the judge, and he'll see that the best person to raise Kirkland is me."

"You seem awfully sure of yourself."

He turned to look at her, suddenly serious. "I have to be. I'm not getting any younger, Lila. I only have so much time left that I can spend with him, and I've lost so much of it already. I have to believe this will work because I can't accept... I can't face the alternative."

She felt for him. Damn it, but she did. Lila couldn't imagine being separated by force from Jasmine. And Lord knew Lila had made plenty of mistakes in her life that she thanked that very same Lord no one still held against her. Because if they had...

Lila grimaced and shook her head. No need to harbor any sympathy for this devil.

"I have something to show you," Grant's voice broke through her thoughts.

Lila looked down at an open box of photos featuring Kirkland at various ages with Vicky, with Grant, with Steven, and felt her loyalties tearing just a bit further.

"These are for Kirkland's room," Grant explained. "I dug up as many as I could and had them all framed. I thought it would be nice for him to have pictures of Vicky and his brother..."

Grant prattled on, the epitome of a doting Daddy, describing exactly how he wanted his house to be for Kirkland's arrival, holding on to the belief that he would have his son home for Christmas despite the incredible and very realistic odds against him.

Odds which could shift more in Grant's favor if Lila went temporarily insane from sympathy — was that an actual medical condition? It sure did feel actual right about now — and reported to him precisely what she'd seen Lorna and the supposedly happily married Jamie doing just an hour earlier...

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