“You didn’t say anything to Marley,” Grant observed, still in a semi-state of shock, as he and Sarah waited downstairs at the Love house for Marley to finish helping Michele and Bridget pack for an overnight at Grant and Marley’s place.
“No,” Sarah agreed.
“Are you biding your time? Looking to hold it over my head until – “
“Do you want something from me in return? Are you planning to blackmail – “
“No.” Her inflection had yet to change, despite the more and more insulting nature of his questions.
“Why?” Grant finally demanded in frustration. “I mean… why not?”
“Because. It would have hurt you. And I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Damn it, Sarah!” Grant felt like he could have stood anything but that. He knew that he should be feeling relieved. He should be patting himself on the back for having ducked a major bullet. But, all he felt was… “Damn it!”
“Sorry,” Sarah said, almost sounding as if she meant it. Almost sounding as if she actually understood what precisely she was begging his pardon for.
“What kind of game is this?”
“The kind I’m going to win,” Sarah clarified. Then, cutting off Grant’s objection, added, “The kind you’re going to win, too.”
“I told you,” he struggled to sound firm. He sounded as if he were pleading, instead. “I’ve already won. Marley is the woman I want. And I’ve finally got her.”
“Do you love her?”
“Of course, I do.”
“The same way you loved Amanda when you married her?”
“That was… that was years ago.”
“But, you’re doing it again. Why, Grant? It didn’t work before. Lorna told me all about it.”
“Lorna?” Grant had to swallow his bitterness at the name. “Lorna, naturally.”
“You were in love with her while you were married to Amanda.”
“Why don’t you ask Lorna then, how all of that worked out?”
“She already told me.”
“I’ll just bet she did.” Grant shook his head before recovering enough to point out, “Then you should know better, shouldn’t you? Better than to get involved with me.”
“The difference is, Lorna didn’t love you. Not the way I do.”
“No,” Grant had to longingly agree. “No, she didn’t.”
“I’m here,” Sarah told him softly. “It doesn’t matter what you say, or what you claim, or who you’re with. I’ll be right here.”
“Doing what?” Grant barely managed to choke out.
“Waiting for you to come to your senses and realize where you really belong.”
“I’m yours, Grant. Any time, any place, in any way you need. I’m yours. All you have to do is say the word.”
“Hey, man,” Matt looked up, pleased to see Dean walking through the doors of C-Squared. “Ready to talk about cutting that demo we discussed…” Only to trail off at the expression on his friend’s face. Matt rose from his chair. “What’s wrong?”
Dean didn’t say anything. He merely reached into his pocket, pulled out the wedding license Frankie had dug up for him, and flung it on Matt’s desk, glaring.
It took Matt a moment to realize what was happening. And then it took him another moment to truly believe that it was happening. After a long beat, he lowered the document slowly back onto his desk, and looked at Dean, equally mute and horrified.
“What the hell?” Dean snarled.
“It – How – Why do you even have this?” Matt ducked Dean’s question with one of his own.
“I’m taking your wife to court, remember?”
“But, this doesn’t have anything to do with…”
“How could you do this to Jeanne?” Dean burst out.
“Jeanne?” To be honest, Matt had forgotten she was even a player in this equation.
“Jeanne,” Dean spat. “The one who thinks she’s married to you. The one who loves you.”
“Donna loves me!” Matt defended instinctively, picking up on Dean’s implication.
“When does she find the time?”
“I mean, between plotting to have people kidnapped and killed?”
“Donna never, ever meant to hurt Jenna.”
“Tell that to my kid!”
“I’m telling you,” Matt held his ground.
“How can you even look at her?” Dean indicated the license between them. “How can you marry a person who wakes up every morning wondering whose life she can screw up today? Forget about me, forget about Jenna and Lori Ann and Lucas and Felicia. How about what she pulled at your own niece’s christening?”
“Morgan hurt Marley. Donna was just – “
“What did Jenna ever do to her? Except be born at an inconvenient time to an inconvenient father?”
“Hold it right there! You were here, in Bay City, when Carl was still terrorizing all of us. Hell, he cut the brakes on Jenna’s car! You remember that! You know the kind of man he used to be! Do you blame Donna for wanting to keep her baby as far away from him as possible?”
“Jenna was no baby two years ago. And Carl was no threat to anyone – we’ve got your mother’s word on that.”
“Well, I wouldn’t be so sure. Last couple of months – “
“I don’t give a damn about Carl,” Dean raged. “Carl didn’t get my wife killed. That was all Donna. And now you’re telling me you’re married to her? You’re disgusting.”
“You don’t understand.”
“Let me explain.”
“Forget me. How do you intend to explain this to Jeanne?”
“I – I don’t. I don’t think Jeanne ever needs to know.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“Jeanne and I… It was a bad idea from the start. Everyone thought it happened too fast, and they were right. I don’t think it’s going to last.”
“Have you asked Jeanne about that?”
“She’s… infatuated with me. That’s it.”
“She loves you,” Dean insisted. “You’re all she talks about. How you’re everything she ever wanted in a man, how she wants your marriage to work, how she’s desperate to be the wife you deserve. Finding out about you and Donna will kill her.”
“She doesn’t have to find out, though,” Matt insisted. Then added, “Does she, Dean?”
“You really don’t have to do this,” Jen assured Steven as they stood outside the door to the Harrison mansion.
“I promised I would,” he reminded.
“Well, I’m not holding you to it.” Jen looked ready to all but push Steven off the stoop.
“You were scared to tell your dad you were sick. I’m just here for moral support.”
“And to make sure I don’t bail.”
“That, too,” he agreed pleasantly.
“It’s really very sweet of you, but – “
“Too late,” Steven indicated the door opening.
“Jenny!” Kevin grinned broadly, sweeping his daughter into his arms. “I was so glad you called; feels like I haven’t seen you in forever.”
“Hi, Daddy. Hi, Amanda,” Jen raised one hand to wave to her stepmother, standing right behind Kevin.
“Hello, Steven,” Kevin said in surprise, recovering quickly to beckon them both inside. “Come in, come in quick. It’s not quite Spring yet.”
Jen took off her coat, momentarily startled when a uniformed butler seemed to materialize out of nowhere to whisk it away.
“I know,” Kevin lowered his voice to whisper as they walked into the living room. “Freaks me out every time, too.”
Amanda and Steven, they noted, appeared to be having no such trouble.
“What’s going on? What’s new?” Kevin settled down on the couch, Amanda perching next to him, Jen and Steven assuming the armchairs directly across, a gleaming coffee-table between them.
Jen and Steven exchanged looks, him nodding encouragingly.
She swallowed hard and began, looking down at her linked hands instead of at Kevin. “A – a couple weeks ago, Steven and GQ were at the campus bar, celebrating completing a key section of their project…”
“Really?” Amanda chimed in. “That’s wonderful. Congratulations.”
“Thanks,” Steven mumbled, determined not to let Jen get sidetracked. He said, to move the story along, “Jen came too…”
“Yeah. I did. GQ had to drive to Springfield that night, to see Hudson – ”
“How’s he doing?” Kevin asked.
“Good. Great.” Jen leapt on any opportunity to stall the inevitable. “I guess he’s going to be two soon?”
“That’s right, two,” Kevin nodded and looked at Amanda. “I know there were a lot of bumps in the road, but it really did turn out for the best. Not just for Hudson, but for Allie, and Rick and Mindy, too.”
“Yes,” Amanda said faintly, catching precisely what he was getting at, utterly uneager to pursue the topic further. She turned her attention back to Jen and Steven, prompting, “So GQ went to Springfield…”
“Yes. Right.” Jen nodded. “I stayed behind and… and I… fainted.”
“Are you okay?” Kevin lurched forward, concerned.
“I – Steven insisted we go see his dad, so Jamie could check me out.”
“And?” Kevin’s voice tightened. “And, Jenny?”
She looked up to meet his eyes for the first time. “I have leukemia, Daddy.”
Kevin’s mouth opened, but no sound came out. He startled, as if sucker-punched.
“It’s okay,” Jen rushed to reassure, capable of being optimistic with him in a manner she couldn’t quite manage for herself. “Jamie says it’s treatable. He wants to do a course of chemotherapy, and that might do the trick right there.”
“Might,” Kevin repeated dully. “It… might do the trick?”
“Her odds of a full recovery are good,” Steven insisted. “Really, really good. We’re actually lucky, they caught it pretty early.”
“Thanks to you!” Amanda praised her nephew, even as she reached out to take Kevin’s hand and squeeze it encouragingly. It had gone ice cold.
“Yes,” Jen agreed. “Thanks to Steven. I would have just ignored it. He’s the hero in all this.”
“Thank you, Steven,” Kevin told him sincerely.
“Forget it,” the younger man dismissed, uncomfortable.
“So what’s the next step?” Kevin disengaged from Amanda and reached over to take both of Jen’s hands in his. “When do you start your treatment?”
“No scenes this time, I promise.” Felicia smiled at Lucas, having caught him eating out – alone – at Carlino’s. “May I join you?”
“You’re always welcome,” he reminded her, the smile on his face open, yet cautious.
“How have you been, Luke?” Felicia asked.
“Lonely,” he told her honestly. “I miss you.”
“I miss you, too.”
There seemed little more either could add to that.
Felicia wondered, “Have you seen Lorna lately?”
“She’s been busy. Her work and Devon and the trouble she and Jamie had with Kirkland. I don’t want to impose.”
“How’s she feeling?”
“Alright, as far as I know.”
Felicia shook her head. “Two babies in two years is stressful for anyone. Considering her head injury…”
“I’m sure Jamie is on the case.” Lucas swallowed. “And you could always call…”
“No.” Felicia dismissed with one hand. “I’m done making overtures. Done pleading my case. Lorna is the one who cut me out. She can damn well be the one to make the next move.”
Lucas nodded, expressionless, and returned to his lunch.
Realizing she’d made a tactical error, Felicia changed the subject. She reached into her purse and pulled out a cream-colored note-card, handing it to Lucas, who accepted the offering somewhat warily.
“I’m having a launch party,” she explained. “For my new series of e-books. At the country club. Next month. It’s also going to be a fundraiser for the local, independent farming community. Frankie’s idea, of course. The economy has hit the family farmer rather hard, from what I’ve been told. I – I would like it very much if you could attend.”
“Quite the undertaking.”
“Well, Cass has been the brains behind most of it. He arranged for the business details, the rights reversion, the technical scanning, the uploading, the downloading, the carbo-loading…. “ She smiled. “I just say yay or nay, and plan the festivities.”
“I suspect you’re selling yourself a bit short.”
“I get by with a little help from my friends,” Felicia quoted.
“I’m glad,” Lucas told her.
They sat for an awkward moment in silence, until Lucas glanced down at his invitation again. His brows furrowed. He turned the card around so that it was facing Felicia and pointed. “The date…”
She shrugged blithely. “It’s when the country club was available.”
“It’s not like I’ll have anything else to do then, will I?” she bristled, standing up quickly, gathering her things. “I do hope I’ll see you there.” And made a beeline for the door.
“Nervous?” Jamie asked Kirkland, the two of them waiting outside the BCPD’s bullpen, as Toni Burrell got their room ready for Kirkland’s appointment with a polygraph.
“You think it might mess up the test results?”
Jamie said, “My understanding is they take a baseline before they start, so they have something to compare your answers to down the line.”
“I’m really nervous,” Kirkland answered his father’s question from a minute before.
“I talked to Mike Bauer. He can’t make it down here today, but I did get permission to put him on speaker-phone. He’ll be listening, and he’ll interrupt if it looks like – “
“I might be screwing myself royally?”
“I’m in your corner, Kirk. You remember that. No matter what happens, I’m on your side. Trust me when I say there is nothing – nothing – you can do or say that would ever change that.”
“I know.” Kirkland fidgeted nervously, looking anywhere but at Jamie.
“Whatever happens here today, we’ll get through it. And tomorrow and tomorrow…”
“Aren’t you tried of cleaning up my messes by now?”
Jamie shrugged. “Part of the job description, pal. And it beats the alternative. Which would be not having you in my life to clean up after.”
Kirkland said, “I didn’t tell Grant any of this was going on.”
“That’s your call.”
“He’s got a lot of stuff of his own. You know, with Marley and everything…”
“You okay with that?” Jamie wondered.
“It’s none of my business.”
“None of mine, either.”
“You’re Grant’s son.”
“And you’re Aunt Marley’s friend. At least, you were.”
“I know. Lorna. The accident. I know. Things won’t ever be the same between you two again. I get it. But, still. You loved her once. You cared about her.”
“I still care.”
“Then you must have an opinion.”
Jamie took his time replying. “Marley seems certain that Grant is the right man for her. Who am I to question – “
“Kirkland!” Toni’s head popped out into the hallway. “Jamie. Sorry for the delay. We’re ready for you now. Come on in.”
Kirkland looked at Jamie, who did his best to flash a reassuring, even encouraging smile. Kirkland swallowed hard, and obeyed Toni’s instructions.
The envelope arrived sooner than Donna expected.
Her usual man had offered to send the material over digitally. He informed her that all surveillance these days was done digitally, and how it would save Donna time and money –
She informed him that she had plenty of money. (As if that weren’t made clear by the numerous jobs she’d hired him for over the years.)
As for time, well, Donna needed time. To figure out what precisely she intended to do with her merchandise once she received it.
Finally, while Donna didn’t, as a rule, enjoy bringing attention to her age – especially when Matthew was around – the fact was, she’d never grown completely comfortable with the digital era. She preferred matter she could touch and handle – and hide. Pixels, or whatever they were, just seemed much too untrustworthy, prone to turning up where and when you least expected.
She’d assumed development would take at least a day or two. But, apparently not. Because here it was. The package Donna ordered.
She opened it gingerly, understanding that, once she knew what was in it, Donna could never again not know it. And then she would be forced to make a decision regarding how to react to what she knew.
The photos had been taken via telephoto lens, and printed out on stock computer paper. Donna sighed. She did so miss film.
The color was off, and so was the framing. They’d never be mistaken for art shots, or even amateur family photos. There was no denying what these were: Illicitly captured images of two people who had no idea they were being watched – or photographed.
Dean Frame and Jeanne Ewing – ahem – Cory.
Naked and wrapped up in each other’s arms.
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