Grant's first instinct upon finding Cecile's strangled body was to turn tail and leave as quickly as possible, wipe down the doorknob he'd touched and fervently hope that no one had seen him come in. He'd lived in Bay City long enough to know the drill. The person who finds the body inevitably is the one arrested for the crime, and although in most cases, the truly guilty party was eventually ferreted out, he had no intention of allowing even a temporary, false arrest to affect his standing in Kirkland's custody battle.
On the other hand, Grant's alerting the authorities might go a long way towards cementing what a good citizen he'd become upon his return. It could work to his advantage. Especially if, during their chat, Grant also happened to casually mention that the murdered woman's ex-husband, one Jamie Frame, had been having some sort of trouble with her lately... No, Grant wasn't aware of its nature. But it certainly warranted a conference with the good doctor, did it not?
Grant smiled, and reached for his phone.
"So, I had a thought," Matt dropped casually to Lorna as he stepped onto the Cory Complex's Spa and Health Club treadmill next to hers, and input his program. "Since you've decided to stay in Bay City, if you need a place to crash while you're looking for more permanent digs, our guest house is free. And everything's been repaired since your last visit."
Matt noticed the briefest of secretive, mischievous smiles pulling at her lips before Lorna wrestled her expression back into a furrow of more customary annoyance. "I've lived off Carl's beneficence before. Not sure I want to do it again."
Matt snorted. "If anything, Carl is living off my mother's beneficence. Or, to be more precise, my father's. When I think of Carl in the house that Mac... " He shook his head and, like he'd been doing for over a decade, with varying levels of success, swallowed his distaste. "Anyway, that's neither here nor there. Accepting my offer would not make you beholden to Carl in any way, you have my word on it."
"Do I also have your word that I won't keep having naked run-ins with various members of your family at all hours of the day and night?"
"Excuse me?" Matt pushed the stop button, not wanting any distractions when it came to this story.
The look on his face was exactly what Lorna had been shooting for, and she laughed with just a tiny bit of satisfied glee at his confusion. "Jamie," she told him lightly, amping up her own program to maximum speed. "Your brother dropped by the morning after you let me sleep off my hangover there. He needed a private place to crash after working something like a million shifts in a row. He came in to the bedroom, I was coming out of the shower..."
"Well, that sucks."
"You know, I may be almost twenty years older than when we were last together, but I'm still not that wretched of a sight. Things are holding up quite well, thank you. And your brother managed to keep his breakfast down despite the visual trauma."
"I didn't mean it like that," Matt insisted.
"Then you might want to choose your words a little more carefully next time."
"It's just," Matt groused. "I'm not sure how I feel about... You were my girlfriend."
"Before you dumped me. Publicly. At Tops. In front of Felicia."
"I thought we were past that."
"And yet the chop busting goes on forever."
"The point is, you and Jamie, naked... it feels wrong."
"You do realize that there's been a guy or two since you, right, Matt? I mean, you weren't so great that it made me want to run off and join a convent or anything."
"Those other guys weren't my brother."
"And your brother wasn't one of those other guys. He saw me, I screamed, he apologized, I apologized. I got dressed, I cooked him breakfast "
"You never cooked me breakfast!"
"And we both went on our merry ways."
"Uh-ha," Matt nodded. "So, just one more thing?"
"Yes, Detective Columbo?"
"What exactly did you cook Jamie for breakfast that caused the kitchen table to break?"
"Thanks," Allie told Gregory. They were both lying on the bed in his dorm room, fully clothed Allie finding it a little tougher than usual to rest on her stomach, but fighting it, nevertheless watching the end credits to An Affair to Remember, the Cary Grant/Deborah Kerr version, scroll up the TV screen. "I hate watching cheesy old movies alone. Sarah and I... Anyway, thanks. It really cheered me up."
Gregory rolled over on his side to face her. He noted, "You talk a lot during movies."
"Yeah," she admitted. "Sarah and I used to say that they were multimedia, interactive experiences. What's the fun of being a passive viewer?"
"The TV people can't hear you," Gregory explained in mock-seriousness.
"That's debatable," Allie laughed, flopping over on her back. "I'm sorry if I bugged you."
His face was above hers now, and something about the way he was looking at her, as if Allie were the most important person in the world right now, as if no one else even existed, and as if nothing she could do would ever cause him to reconsider that opinion, prompted her to smile up at him sweetly. And then to reach up her arm, wrap it around his neck, and pull Gregory down for a kiss.
He didn't object.
Or stop. Even when they heard the knock on the door.
Allie was the one who pulled away to ask, "Shouldn't you get that?"
He thought seriously about her question. Then offered, "No?"
She laughed and kissed him again quickly before urging, "Go ahead, it might be important. And I'm not going anywhere. Promise."
Gregory sighed deeply, managing to look both comically put-upon and still delectably adorable, all at the same time. He ambled over to the door and pulled it open, only to discover his mother standing on the other side.
Sharlene looked over Gregory's shoulder and spotted Allie. To say that she appeared thrilled to see her would have been a serious stretching of the truth. She walked right in without waiting to be invited and, absent any sort of preamble either, told both Gregory and Allie, "In case either of you is wondering, no, I do not appreciate being informed that I'm going to be a grandmother by Amanda Cory."
There were no words to describe how happy Jamie felt that currently the largest problem on his plate was how to keep his freshly assembled turkey and Swiss cheese sandwich from collapsing under its own overstuffed weight.
Eyes on his creation, Jamie responded without looking up to the noise behind him in the kitchen. "You can stop creeping around and hiding from me, Matt. My urge to throttle you has passed."
"Self-preservation isn't hiding," Matt argued. "It's a strategic long-term investment."
"Have you learned your lesson about keeping your big mouth shut around my kids?"
"I thought they knew!" Matt defended for what felt like the umpteenth time, earning a deadly look from Jamie. "Yes," he sighed. "I will keep my big mouth shut around Kirkland and Steven about your colorful relationship history with Marley... and everyone who came after. And before."
"Now," Matt took a breath. "Can we talk about something else, please? I saw Lorna at the gym earlier, and I offered her our guest house to stay in until she finds a more permanent place."
"Okay," Jamie nodded, only looking up when he felt Matt's eyes on him, as if his brother were waiting for something more. "What?"
Matt prodded. "Got any feelings about that?"
Matt scowled. "About Lorna staying at the guest house."
Jamie frowned and shrugged. "Why are you asking?"
"Just wanted to make sure it wasn't a problem for you or anything."
"Why would it be a problem? I have nothing against Lorna. We're friends."
"You saw her naked," Matt's tone wavered between accusation and envy. Not that there wasn't a lot of overlap between the two.
Jamie's eyes lifted from the sandwich he was about to bite into. "She told you that, huh?" he chuckled before chowing down.
"You don't have to look so happy about it."
"First of all, Matt," Jamie swallowed. "I'm a doctor. I see lots of people naked on a daily basis. I manage to do it without giggling, too. And second of all, it was an accident. I just walked in on her unexpectedly."
"And then she cooked you breakfast," Matt continued straddling his two overlapping emotions, this time also throwing hungry into the mix.
"Yes," Jamie nodded. "Well, first she put some clothes on; cooking nude is discouraged by the AMA, and then she made me breakfast. French Toast, in case you want all the gory details. What are you so upset about? Did you take one too many hockey pucks to the head the other day?"
"What's going on between the two of you?" Matt blurted out. "Are you... is she... is there something... "
Jamie stared at his stuttering, red-faced brother in amused amazement. He finally took pity on the guy and said, "Lorna and I are friends, Matt. That's it."
"That's it?" he repeated. "You're not interested in "
"I'm not exactly in a position to be interested in anyone," Jamie cut him off brusquely. "I'm married, remember?"
Though he looked anything but happy about it.
To be honest, Matt had kind of forgotten that little detail in all the recent excitement. "So what's up with you and Marley, then? Did you guys ever talk about her kissing you at "
"No." Jamie felt his appetite fading away. "We didn't. Marley and I are not exactly in sync these days."
"That doesn't sound good."
Matt waited a beat before venturing to ask, "Is that why you and Lorna "
"Lorna and I are just friends, Matt," Jamie repeated with notable annoyance and, if Matt listened hard enough, some regret. "Friends. Of the Non-Naked Except By Accident Kind. Now, if you'll excuse me," he scooped his plate off the countertop. "I'm going to find a place where I can eat my sandwich in peace."
In the car on the way to see Kevin about Lori Ann's adoption, Felicia, from the back seat, unable to think of a subtle way to ease into the subject, simply told Frankie and Cass, "Lucas is back."
Neither one of them appeared particularly fazed by the revelation. Felicia briefly considered it odd, then remembered about Frankie's own return and wrote the nonchalance off to resurrections becoming old hat in Bay City.
But while both were unfazed by her news, they were certainly enthusiastic, showering Felicia with congratulations and asking what next.
"I'm thinking," Felicia confessed. "Of taking a page from your book. Picking up where we left off. Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead."
"That's wonderful," Frankie beamed. "You won't regret it."
"I bet Lorna is thrilled," Cass piped up. "Being reunited with her father should certainly take some of the sting out of you not naming her Lori Ann's guardian."
"I actually haven't had time to bring Lorna and Lucas face to face, yet," Felicia admitted. "I've been so wrapped up in... everything."
Cass and Frankie exchanged looks. He said, "We're unfortunately familiar with... "
"Everything," Frankie supplied. "Charlie has been feeling pretty neglected, as well."
"Charlie is a child," Felicia said firmly. "Lorna is an adult. She should be able to understand that I didn't deliberately overlook her. But the fact is, I believe you and Frankie are in a much better place in your lives to offer Lori Ann a stable home."
"Now," Cass pulled the car into the hotel's parking lot. "We get to find out what Fowler believes."
"Did Alice come crying to you about how mean I was to her?" Rachel asked Jamie. "That was her pattern with your father."
"No," was all Jamie said, and declined to elaborate. Obviously, his one goal for the day, of eating his sandwich in peace, was not going to happen. Not in the kitchen, not in the dining room.
Rachel, realizing that she'd perhaps pushed him too far, attempted to back-peddle, without actually backing down about her main point. "I'm sorry this has gotten so complicated, Jamie. But you have to understand why I would feel "
"I understand," he remained terse. "I don't have to approve."
Trying a new tack, Rachel asked, "Did you know that Alice was seeing Spencer Harrison?"
"She was his guest at Thanksgiving." The duh in Jamie's tone was implied.
"And that you approve of? He's Grant's father! How could somebody who claims to care about you, get in bed literally and figuratively with a man who wants to take your son away?"
"I don't know, Mom. How did you manage to get into bed both literally and figuratively with the guy responsible for Amanda's paralysis? Or Mac's stoke?" Jamie shook his head. "Alice doesn't need to run her personal life by me. And she doesn't deserve to be ripped apart by you over actions that she took at my request."
"You weren't thinking clearly," Rachel insisted. "Any competent doctor would have "
"Done exactly the same thing."
Rachel sighed, her tone softening. "I love you, Jamie. I would do anything to ensure your health and your happiness."
"I love you, too, Mom," he mitigated his voice to match hers. "I just wish you would try to accept that I did what I needed to do at the time. What I had to, in order to survive. I'm sorry it hurt you. That wasn't my intention."
"Jamie," Rachel heard herself pleading. "Do you think, maybe, you could tell me exactly what happened? What drove you to such a desperate, horrible place? Maybe if I understood a little better what led to your breakdown, I could appreciate why you felt you couldn't come to me, to any of us, for help."
"No." Again, no elaboration, no hesitation, no apology. "No."
"Oh, good," Kevin looked up as Felicia, Cass and Frankie entered. "You know, I think over the past few weeks, I've had no less than a dozen people come up to tell me how terrific it was that Mr. and Mrs. Winthrop were adopting Lori Ann. I was wondering when you three were finally going to get around to actually consulting with me about it."
"Don't start, Fowler," Cass warned.
"Oh," he smiled. "I'm just getting started."
As expected, Bay City's finest proved less interested in pinning a Good Citizenship medal on Grant's chest for his prompt summons of them to Cecile's murder site, and more in asking first politely, then less so what exactly he was doing there in the first place.
Grant's explanation that Cecile had called him, wanting to catch up on old times now that they were both back in town, did not appear to thrill them enough to let him go.
It was only when an initial, on-site examination by the coroner determined that she'd been dead between six and nine hours, that Chief Toni Burrell Grant thought Cecile would have been most pleased to learn that her death warranted no less than the Chief, herself allowed Grant to leave; with the admonition that they'd be keeping in touch.
After that thoroughly unpleasant experience, Grant's first impulse was to settle his nerves with a martini. Or maybe just a straight shot or two of... anything. But then he realized that perhaps, considering his next appointment, it might be best to keep a clear head.
"Grant," Marley groaned as she briefly looked up from proofing the Gallery's upcoming spring catalog. "What the hell do you want now?"
"I've had the most interesting day," he plopped down in the chair across from her; sincerely hoping it wasn't one of those modern, art deco installations people with useless liberal arts degrees went apoplectic over.
"Tell someone who cares," she flipped a page with a yawn, refusing to meet his gaze.
"Oh, you will. Shortly, I can promise you that." Grant launched, "A couple of days ago, I got a call from, why, I guess, in a way, she's almost a relative of yours. What does one call one's husband's ex-wife? Well, aside from that bitch, naturally."
"You're talking in riddles again," Marley hummed.
"Knock, knock," Grant went along. "Who's there? Cecile De Poulignac. Cecile De Poulignac who? Cecile De Poulignac the corpse."
That certainly got Marley's attention. Her head bobbed up, catalog and her aversion to looking Grant in the eye forgotten.
"W-what?" she managed to stammer out.
"And there's that care factor I promised you." Grant slid the book out of Marley's hands and leaned over, so that his face was now only inches from hers. "As I was saying, Cecile called me a few days ago. She wanted to set up a meeting. I, being a gentleman, went along. Except that when I arrived at the designated space in the designated hour, I found her no longer among the living. She'd been strangled. Rather brutally from the looks of it. Though I don't suppose you can really have a nice, pleasant murder. What are you going to do, have it catered?"
Marley's eyes glazed over, her hands shaking. "But... she... I... Cecile wasn't even supposed to be...."
"In town, yes," Grant agreed. "She did mention to me that you'd just gifted her with a very generous sum of money in an attempt to suppress something about your prize of a husband's past coming out."
Marley's focus snapped back to Grant. "I don't know what you're talking about. I haven't seen Cecile in ages. And neither has Jamie. She's lying."
"I don't think so. It would explain quite a bit about Jamie's odd behavior lately. The moodiness. The disappearing at the drop of a hat. Keeping you and Kirkland at a distance. He was hiding something. And that something was Cecile. She was blackmailing him over a revelation that would make him lose Kirkland. Don't try to deny it, Marley."
"I'm not trying to deny it, I am denying it."
"Okay. If that's your story... Just a little tip from someone who's tangled with the law once or twice. If you can't convince me, odds are the police won't be very impressed, either."
"Did you tell them... "
"About the blackmail Cecile didn't commit, or the money you didn't pay her to go away?"
"Damn it, Grant!"
"I didn't tell them anything. I wanted to talk to you first."
"Because you're a nice guy that way?" Marley snapped.
"Because you don't deserve to be dragged into Jamie's mess. Let me help you, Marley. Let me help you so we both can help Kirkland and protect him from whatever Jamie felt he had to do to solve his problems once and for all."
"You think Jamie killed her?"
"If a man gets desperate enough, especially a man as weak-willed as Jamie...."
"He would never he could never "
"You'll make a wonderful character witness at his trial."
"Jamie wasn't the only one... There are plenty of other people who could have wanted Cecile dead. I "
"You?" Grant laughed. "Are you honestly trying to make me believe that you have the "
"I don't care what you believe, Grant. I don't care what you think about any of this. Jamie is my best friend."
"A poodle would be less trouble."
"He is also my husband. Cecile threatened to hurt him."
"Okay. More tips from the Grant Harrison Get Out of Jail Free Collection. One of the tricks to lying successfully is not to keep changing your story. Especially several times within one conversation."
"You don't think I would do whatever it took to stop someone from hurting my family?"
Grant calmly looked Marley in the eye. "There's no way in hell that you killed Cecile. Pay her off, sure, but kill her?" He looked at her hands and shook his head. "No."
"Well, then you obviously don't know me as well as you think you do."
Marley reached into her purse and fumbled for her cell phone. She was out the door and halfway to her car before she'd finished dialing Jamie's number.
"Meet me at my house in ten minutes," she instructed him. "Everything just blew up in our faces."
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