“You handled that wonderfully,” Grant did his best to reassure Marley after Bridget and Michele had departed for school, and the two of them were alone, Marley looking as if she’d been to Hell and back – and left a part of herself behind.
“I didn’t.” He’d expected tears, but Marley’s eyes were surprisingly, disconcertingly dry. “I did it all wrong.”
“You were blindsided.”
“I should have expected it.”
“Maybe someday down the line. But, they’re only twelve years old. If it weren’t for what happened with Elizabeth, the issue would have never come up.”
“I stuck my head in the sand,” Marley refused to allow Grant to let her off that easily. “And I’m afraid I’ve made a terrible mistake. I just told a pair of impressionable young girls that it’s okay to sweep a rape under the rug.”
“You did no such thing!”
“I did! Michele asking why I didn’t press charges, and Bridget wanting to know if I forgave Jake… What have I set them up for? What if, God forbid, something were to happen to them… At least one thing you can say about Elizabeth Hutchins, Carl’s daughter knows how to stand up for herself. Would Bridget and Michele have done the same if they were in her place?”
“I’ll be honest with you, Marley, I’m not one hundred percent convinced Elizabeth’s version of events is sacrosanct. I’m not saying Fowler and I are fishing buddies, but I did spend quite a bit of time with him, and…”
“It doesn’t matter. The point is, if not Kevin, then someone else. And I’ve just told Bridget and Michele that it’s alright to ignore a sexual assault.”
“That’s not what you did with Jake. You said it yourself, you made certain he got counseling, you made sure he’d never hurt anyone else again. And he didn’t.”
“Jamie always thought he would.”
“Jamie doesn’t think the Pope measures up to Jamie’s high moral standards. I wouldn’t put too much stock in anything Jamie says or does.”
“He thought Jake had raped Paulina. They got into a huge fight over it. He came to me later, horrified, but pleased that at least he’d been able to protect Paulina in a way he hadn’t been able to protect me. What if Jamie was right? What if I’d been wrong? What if Jake had gone on to rape someone else, because I decided to keep quiet?”
“Theoreticals, Marley. None of that happened.”
“It’s only that, I grew up thinking Reginald Love was my father. Do you know what it’s like, thinking that a man capable of the things that he was, is your father?”
“No,” Grant admitted. “For all his faults, Spencer always made sure I only saw the idealized side of him.”
“I used to wonder how much of Reginald was in me. What was I capable of? I still do. He’s still my grandfather. But, finding out about Michael, learning what a good, decent, kind man he was, it changed everything, in a way. It made me feel good about myself. It made me stand a little taller, hold my head up high. Smile at the reflection I saw in the mirror. That’s all I want for my girls. They have so many things to be proud of as Jake’s daughters. I just didn’t want it all overshadowed by…”
“You’re right. You know you’re right. Not just from your own experience. Look at Kirkland. Look at the scars being my son left on him.”
“You really think so?”
“I do. You did the right thing. You’re a wonderful mother. And, I’ve got to say, you are so much stronger than I ever gave you credit for. You are an incredible woman. I don’t think I tell you that nearly enough.”
“You never wanted to be with me, in any capacity, at all,” Dean spat Jeanne’s way, not caring that both Donna and Judge Landregan were listening in.
“Donna blackmailed me,” Jeanne refused to lose track of what was most important here. “She set you up with those pictures of us. She made you drop your case. That’s a crime.”
“So is perjury,” Donna pointedly reminded Jeanne.
“I told Judge Landregan I don’t care what charges were pressed against me, as long as Dean could still get his day in court.”
“How noble of you. And how pointless. You have no evidence to back up my – “
“I have the log proving you checked out video footage of Marley driving the car that hit Lorna, and that you didn’t turn it over to the police even when they had a court order.”
“That proves nothing. Nothing about my case with Dean, anyway.”
“Are you denying Mrs. Cory’s accusation, Ms. Love?”
“I most certainly am.”
“What about Mr. Frame’s?”
“Dean and Jeanne clearly concocted these allegations against me once they realized their flimsy, libelous case stood no chance in court, and, equally obviously, in a futile attempt to defray public attention from their tabloid-worthy amorous activities. Neither possesses a shred of evidence.”
“I’m afraid she’s right,” Judge Landregan told Jeanne and Dean. “My hands are tied. As far as the court is concerned, Mr. Frame dropped his wrongful death suit against Ms. Love of his own free accord. We merely have your word against hers to the contrary.”
“But,” Jeanne stammered. “The hit and run cover up – “
“That’s a case for criminal court, not civil. You are welcome to take the evidence you think you have to Toni Burrell of the BCPD, but it is certainly outside the scope of my jurisdiction.”
“You see,” Donna advised Jeanne. “This has all been for nothing. Perhaps, next time, you’ll think a little longer before deciding to take me on. In any endeavor.”
“The courts might not be able to do anything to you, Donna. But, I can take this to the press,” Jeanne volleyed back. Never one to know when she was beaten.
“Please do. I can’t wait to watch the reaction of your fellow journalists to news that you first suppressed a story in exchange for a promotion, then allowed yourself to be used in the staging of another. Because, that is what you said you did, isn’t it? You claim that I induced you to set up Dean?”
“You did,” Jeanne stuck to her guns.
“This is where I came in,” Dean rose in disgust. “I’m out of here. And you two,” he looked from Donna to Jeanne. “You two deserve each other. No wonder Matt can’t make up his mind. You’re the exact same person.”
“Thanks, Frankie,” Zeno accepted a check for the money collected during Felicia’s fund-raiser. “I really appreciate it.”
She took in the expression on his face. “But, it’s not enough, is it?”
He shrugged. “It was very, very generous of you and Cass and Ms. Gallant. Me and the other small farmers around here really appreciate it.”
“I didn’t realize the problems were that intensive.”
“It’s just that my taxes went through the roof this year. The county set the numbers based not on what the land is really worth, but on what it would be worth if I sold it to them – which means they can pull any number they want from their bureaucratic asses. It’s just another attempt to drive me out so they can swoop in and lease it to those green energy companies the feds are throwing money at. Not to mention, the prices of everything – seed, fuel, equipment – have gone up ridiculously. I’ve got people to feed, animals to feed, stock to replenish, two leaky barns, a road that’s primarily mud… It’s not pretty.”
“Zeno,” Frankie approached cautiously. “Are these really the sorts of problems a boy your age should be preoccupying himself with?”
He grinned. “Remember how Mom used to say if it’s something that can be fixed with money, it’s not a problem – it’s an errand.”
“Only when you have some,” Frankie stipulated.
“Well, this certainly helps.” Zeno tapped the check, putting on a happy face, though more for Frankie’s sake than his own. “And the rest… I’ll figure out something. Taking out a mortgage is always an option. Or selling off some land. Air rights… Billboards…” He leaned back in his chair, laughing. “Or maybe I’ll just hook up with a random heiress.”
“Is that why I saw you with Allie Fowler?” Frankie teased.
Zeno’s chair clumped back down on the ground with a thud. “What are you talking about?”
Surprised by the seriousness of his reaction, Frankie attempted to keep matters light as she reminded, “Felicia’s party? You spent probably half the night talking to Allie.”
“So?” His eyes narrowed.
“Allie… She’s… She’s Amanda Cory’s daughter. You know, Brava? Cory Publishing? That huge mansion on the edge of Bay City?”
“Allie Fowler is a Cory?”
“Oh,” Zeno said. “Oh…”
“The gall of her!” Donna proved already mid-rant by the time she arrived in Matt’s office. “The unmitigated gall! She thought she could outsmart me? This should give the little bitch some food for thought. She thought she could turn the tables on me?”
“Who?” Matt asked, too tired to even tackle the barely eaten sandwich in front of him, refusing to so much as rise from his desk chair despite a woman entering the room, feeling that if he had one more crises to deal with, he might well say to hell with it, curl up and just go to sleep for the next decade, until everything managed to straighten itself out without his participation. “What? Why?”
“Her!” Donna threw both arms up in the air. “That lying, opportunistic, conniving – “
“Ah, Jeanne. Got it.”
“Do you know what she tried to do? Do you have any idea of how low that woman is capable of sinking?”
“Why do I think you’re going to tell me? And tell me? And tell me again?”
“She went behind my back – behind Dean’s back, as well, may I add! – “
“Lot of that going around.”
“ – To speak to the judge who’d previously dismissed my case.”
“I don’t think that’s technically what happened. She didn’t dismiss it. Dean dropped – “
“And she told her that I’d blackmailed her into sleeping with Dean and setting up their photographs so that I could then force Dean to drop the charges.”
“What?” For the first time since she’d come in, Donna had Matt’s complete attention.
Matt cocked his head to one side. “Did you?”
“Are you serious?”
“It does sound like you. And it is, sort of, what ultimately happened.”
“I most certainly did not.”
“Okay.” Matt conceded. Not nearly as upset as Donna would prefer him to be.
She pushed, “Furthermore, Jeanne attempted to drive home her accusation by revealing how I protected Marley last year, holding on to that tape of her driving.”
“She did?” Matt leaned forward, newly intrigued.
“Foolish, little twit. I warned her what would happen. Going public with her role in suppressing evidence will destroy her journalistic career, pathetic as it is. No one will touch her now. And you should have seen Dean. He was furious. He believed it when she said I’d put her up to seducing him. Thank goodness the judge saw through Jeanne’s lies. It’s fitting, actually,” Donna mused, the beginning of a smile pricking her features. “Jeanne swept into those chambers expecting to demolish me, and she left stripped – professionally, personally… the supercilious trollop lost it all. And for nothing.”
“That doesn’t sound like Jeanne.”
“I know! That’s what makes it even more delicious!”
“Jeanne must have thought this through, she must have considered the consequences. Why would she – “
“Oh, she mumbled some nonsense about wanting to make sure Dean got his day in court. Justice for Jenna and Lori Ann, all that.”
“She did it for Dean,” Matt repeated, ignoring the rest.
“Wow,” he said softly.
“What? Wow, what? What? Are you honestly telling me you find something admirable in her last ditch attempt and its subsequent spectacular failure?”
“You have no idea how much her work means to Jeanne.”
“She blackmailed me, Matthew. I’d say I have an inkling.”
“And she risked it all… For Dean.”
“Who wants nothing to do with her now.”
“Would you stop saying that? It makes you sound positively adolescent.”
“I didn’t think she had it in her, putting someone else first.”
“That someone wasn’t you,” Donna reminded.
Matt merely shrugged.
“How are you holding up, Mom?” Jamie hugged Rachel tightly, taking in how pale she looked, how fragile.
“Barely,” she admitted.
“And Elizabeth? How’s she?”
“She’s staying strong,” was all Rachel would commit to.
“Sticking to her story?”
His mother didn’t appreciate Jamie’s choice of words. “You think it’s a story?” she asked sharply.
Jamie hesitated. “I – Lorna gave me a pretty strong lecture about rushing to judgment based on a woman’s past actions.”
“Oh.” Rachel hadn’t expected that, and wasn’t sure what to say next. “Well, I guess she would know, wouldn’t she?” Hearing how brittle she sounded, Rachel forced herself to dial back. “Do thank Lorna for me, please. I’m sure Elizabeth will appreciate both of yours support. Especially in light of… everything.”
“When you mentioned how detailed Elizabeth’s description of the incident was…”
“The rape crises counselor said it’s very unlikely she’s lying,” Rachel stuck to facts.
“Lorna – Lorna had a thought. She floated the idea that maybe Elizabeth is telling the truth. Just maybe not about Kevin.”
“What? That’s ridiculous! Who else could she possibly be talking about?”
Jamie knew this was his last possible opportunity to turn back, to keep this particular can of worms shut. He realized that, in good conscience, he couldn’t risk it. “Lorna thought maybe Elizabeth was talking about… Carl.”
Rachel’s sharp intake of air was more than a gasp, more than a cry, more than a fright. Jamie literally felt like he could see years of his mother’s life being chopped off in front of his eyes.
“To hell with her,” Rachel seethed eyes, burning. “To hell with you for listening to her. How could you, Jamie? How could you?”
“Carl does have a record of – “
“Elizabeth is his own child! Do you realize what you’re insinuating?”
“Elizabeth is only a little older than Lorna was – “
“Lorna Devon was a scheming, conniving, predatory thirteen year old runaway looking to use anything and anyone she could for a short-cut into the good life. She knew exactly what she was doing and what she was offering in return.”
“You think a teen-ager, no matter how sophisticated or precocious or predatory even, had a chance in Hell of holding her own against Carl’s brand of manipulation? You think it was an even playing field?”
“I think that Lorna’s victim act is well past its sell-by date,” Rachel snapped.
Struggling to remain calm, Jamie said, “My wife is the bravest human being I know. There is only one thing on this Earth that she’s afraid of. And that’s your husband.”
“I don’t believe that,” Rachel said, also doing her best to keep her raging emotions under control. “What I do believe, however, is that your brave wife has been nursing a vendetta against my husband that apparently wasn’t sufficiently appeased by her betraying him for the first time twenty years ago – “
“For Matt,” Jamie reminded. “She did it that time, for Matt.”
“She’s felt compelled to keep beating and beating that drum incessantly until she finally got you dancing to her tune.”
“It wasn’t that hard to turn me against Carl Hutchins. The man tried to kill my mother. Several times.”
“So, you admit it! You’re here doing Lorna’s dirty work for her.”
“I’m here,” Jamie said. “Because even the possibility that Lorna might be right was so horrifying, I felt I had an obligation to tell you our suspicions. I intend to tell Matt, as well. Jasmine lives in this house, too.”
“For goodness’ sake, Jamie!”
“Believe it or not, I really am thinking about Elizabeth. So’s Lorna.”
“That’s a lie. A damn, vicious, vindictive lie.”
“I’m really sorry you feel that way.”
“Wasn’t it enough for you? For you, Amanda, and Matt, that I chose the three of you over my husband?”
“I’m very sorry, Mom,” Jamie repeated. “I love you. Please believe me.”
“You couldn’t. You couldn’t, and come to me with an accusation like this.”
“I’m sorry.” Jamie raised his arms in surrender and headed for the door.
“How’s Jasmine?” Chase asked Lila, later, down at City Hall.
“Fine. She says she’s fine. Says Kevin never came near her, never tried anything. She swears it. She never liked him, you know. Whole time we were dating, she was polite, but distant. I chalked it up to her missing Cass. Jazz adored Cass, and here was Kevin…. But, when I heard about Elizabeth’s claim, I had this terrifying thought: What if…”
“Matt talked to her, too. She denied it to both of us. I have to believe her. I want to believe her.”
“Must be a huge load off your mind.”
“One of them,” Lila sighed.
“The other being?”
She raised an eyebrow.
“Ah. Yes. Right.”
“That information I helped you steal off Carl’s computer – “
“No one ever has to know,” Chase reassured.
That wasn’t the bulk of Lila’s concern. “What are you going to do with it?”
“I’m going to use it to put Carl Hutchins’ in jail, where he belongs.”
“When?” Lila demanded.
“Why?” he wondered back.
“Man’s got a crisis on his hands. Carl needs to focus on Elizabeth.”
“Then he’s in luck. It’s going to take me days, maybe weeks to confirm everything I found out about him. I’m not issuing any warrants until the prosecution’s case is rock-solid. Not having him wriggle out of this via another loophole or phony mea culpa.”
“You’re absolutely sure Carl did what you’re accusing him of?” Lila couldn’t seem to let that possibility go.
“Not 100%. That’s why I’m taking the time to cross my T’s and dot my I’s.”
“And you won’t consider dropping it? It’s been such a long time, Chase…. Water under the bridge. And this isn’t murder or assault. It’s money laundering, or… whatever…”
“Al Capone was put in jail over tax evasion. Because he couldn’t be put away for murder or assault. But, justice was still done.”
“Carl Hutchins is no Al Capone.”
“That’s true. Capone stuck to Chicago. Carl took his show on the road. But, that’s not the point, is it, Lila? The point is, he’s Rachel’s husband. And Rachel is your friend.”
“Rachel is my family,” she said miserably.
“Your friend chose to close her eyes to the truth about the man she married. And the danger that put her family in. Her grandson almost got killed because of it.”
“Stop it. Stop playing that damn card. You’ve made your point. I get it.”
“I believe you. Just like I’ll believe you when you answer one more question for me. Are you planning to give Carl and Rachel a head’s up regarding my investigation?”
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