“Chase,” Lila attempted to start her sentence again, hoping this time she might actually get her thought out without choking – either metaphorically or literally. “He…”
“What?” The edge in Rachel’s voice suggested she couldn’t take another moment of this.
“He’s about to have Carl arrested,” Lila blurted out the most critical piece of information first, in lieu of the gentle way she’d initially intended to break the news.
“For what?” Rachel demanded. Though Lila was forced to note her ex-mother-in-law seemed more annoyed by the news than actually surprised.
“Well, the way I understand it, when he was first released from prison, it was under the condition that Carl cut off all his contact with former criminal associates, and also give up every company he’d bought or started by illegal means.”
“Which he did.”
“I… Not according to Chase.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Chase says all Carl did was simply transfer his holdings to a bunch of dummy owners and corporations. And that’s grounds for sending him back to prison.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“I – I guess it’s a legal clause saying his pardon can be revoked if – “
“Not about the legalities. I’m sure those are true. I don’t believe Carl would have – “
“Chase says he has evidence.”
Lila bit down on her lower lip. “He hacked into Carl’s computer. Got his data and files.”
Rachel closed her eyes, pained. “Steven said someone had accessed the system recently.”
Lila nodded miserably.
“You helped him with this?”
Lila nodded again.
“Why, Lila? I understand that you think you’re in love with the man, but…”
“No. I – It’s… I mean, yes, I did have feelings for him. But… Chase loves Doug. And he always will. Their daughter, too. He’d never leave them. Not for anything.”
“Then what is he doing currently living in my house?” Rachel barked.
“He’s spying on Carl,” Lila said simply. “It was the only way he could get access.”
“You made this possible, Lila?”
“Yes.” Her reply was part apology, part bravado.
“Why?” was all Rachel could ask again, dumbstruck.
“Because. Chase convinced me that as long as Carl continued to associate with people from his past, we were all at risk for another kidnapping like Kirkland’s. Another death like Spencer’s. He told me that anyone with an axe to grind against Carl wouldn’t give a damn about who they might have to use in order to get to him. It could be you. It could be Elizabeth or Cory. It could be Jasmine.”
“Carl would never, ever let any harm come to Jasmine!”
“He couldn’t protect Kirkland.”
“That was Spencer’s incompetence, not Carl’s.”
Lila shrugged. “I hoped Chase wouldn’t find anything. I really did. I thought by letting him in to look around to his heart’s content, he’d realize Carl wasn’t a danger to anybody. And he’d give up hounding him. I thought I could help everyone.”
“Except now it seems my husband is in danger of going to prison.”
“He broke the law,” Lila parroted Chase’s words. “He’s been breaking it every day since he was first released.”
“You only have Chase Hamilton’s word for that. I haven’t been able to trust the condescending bastard since he first went after Jamie for Cecile’s murder. And then what he did to Allie and Steven and the rest over Gregory’s death… He’s out to get this family, surely, you see that!”
“Chase let Jamie go as soon as Lucas stepped forward. And when Sharlene decided to drop the charges against Allie, he didn’t stand in her way. Chase cares about justice.”
“How is railroading my husband into jail justice?”
“If Carl is innocent, it will come out in court, won’t it?”
“Not with the Mayor, who also happens to be the former district attorney, determined to lock Carl up and throw away the key. Carl could never get a fair trial in Bay City. Too many people hold too many grudges.”
“They’ve got their reasons, don’t they?”
“How could you do this to him, Lila?” Rachel ducked the obvious question to pose a more pressing one of her own. “How could you do this to me?”
“I’m sorry,” Lila said. “I didn’t want this to happen. But, I had to protect my daughter.”
“You know,” Rachel’s voice shook. “When Jamie, Amanda, and Matt turned against me, I thought… I thought I at least still had you. It meant so much to me, your refusing to let Matt take Jasmine with him when he left. I thought you had faith in me. The same way I always had faith in you.”
“I hear you’re the hero of the hour,” it was hard to tell whether GQ meant the words as a compliment when Steven stopped by Jen’s hospital room the next morning.
Steven looked questioningly at Jen. She said, “I told GQ about you going to see Horace.”
Cat out of the bag, Steven shrugged. “Kevin couldn’t get away, so I did.”
“What was he like?” Jen wondered, both curious, and determined to cut off whatever GQ intended to say next.
“He was okay. He asked what you were up to.”
“Why wouldn’t he?” GQ wondered.
“Because, it’s not like he ever gave a damn before.”
“He wasn’t allowed to, before. That’s what losing your parental rights means. I’d bet Kevin made it so Horace couldn’t have anything to do with you when you were a kid.”
“I haven’t been a kid for a while. He could have… if he wanted to.”
“It’s not like you went looking for him, either,” GQ noted.
“He gave me the cheek swab I asked for,” sensing that Jen was getting upset, Steven changed the subject. “My dad said they should have the results by end of day today.”
“Did he understand that if it matched, he’d be asked to donate marrow for Jen?”
“I think so, yeah. When I told him it was leukemia, he asked right away if that was a cancer you could cure with a transplant.”
“Are you sure you weren’t just hearing what you wanted to hear?”
“I think he got what I was there for,” Steven stuck to his guns.
While Jen asked, “How did he look?”
“What do you mean?”
“Did he look… healthy? Like he actually could donate if it comes down to that?”
“He didn’t seem high or out of it to me,” Steven guessed what Jen really wanted to know.
“Why would you expect him to be?” GQ wondered.
“Because. He got my mom hooked on drugs. She died of an overdose because of him.”
“So your mom had nothing to do with it? No personal responsibility whatsoever?”
Jen ignored GQ’s question to add, “His first couple of busts were for dealing.”
“He looked clean to me.” Steven spread his arms to indicate there was nothing more he could contribute.
“Even Kevin said Horace has been walking the straight and narrow since he got out of jail this last time. Why don’t you two give the dude a break? At least, the benefit of the doubt. Why are you assuming the worst?”
“GQ’s right,” Steven said – much to both Jen and GQ’s surprise. “Everything is going to be okay. You’ll see, Jen. You’re going to be fine. No matter what happens with your dad. You’ll be fine.”
“I don’t…” Zeno voice trailed off as he stared at the piece of paper in Frankie’s hand. “I don’t understand. What did you…”
“I paid the mortgage, Zeno,” Frankie said, smiling so that he might understand this was a thing worth celebrating. “All of it. The farm is yours again, free and clear. And I intend to make sure it stay that way for a good, long time.”
“Where did you get the money?”
“It’s an advance on Cass’ and my share for managing Lori Ann’s trust fund.”
“I can’t accept this, Frankie.” He shoved the documents back at her. “It’s too much. And it belongs to you and Cass, not me. Charlie’s college – “
“Will be taken care of, as well. Don’t worry.”
“I won’t live off your money.”
“How many years, honey, did I live here? Off yours and your mother’s money?”
“Which wasn’t even a fraction of – “
“Except that it saved my life. When I had nowhere to go, you and your mother took me in. And you never asked for anything in return. In that respect, what you gave me was worth a lot more than paying off a million mortgages. You gave me everything you had.”
“We loved you.”
“Right back atcha, pal.”
“That was different. You and my mom were a couple. Of course you lived here, of course you shared everything.”
“That everything, included you. You were my son for close to a decade.”
“Don’t you mean, a couple lifetimes?” Zeno couldn’t help busting her chops, just a little.
“I know you don’t believe that,” Frankie refused to take the bait. Or be distracted. “Just like I know how furious you still are at me for leaving you both – and you have every right to feel that way. Same as I have every right to keep feeling about you the way I did when I lived here. And if that doesn’t work for you, then try this on for size: I grew to love this farm, too. I know how much it meant to Orly. You think I want to see it end up in the government’s hands?”
A half-smile tugged Zeno’s lips. “What about all those fights you and Mom used to have? You saying it was the government’s responsibility to take care of its citizens. Mom insisting it was all people’s responsibility to take care of each other, and that the minute you tried to legislate it was when you destroyed what made it valuable in the first place.”
“I said that I loved your mother, not that I agreed with her. That’s a pretty familiar pattern with me and the people I love.”
“I miss her,” Zeno whispered. “None of this would have happened if she were still here. She’d have known how to fix it.”
“And you’d have listened to her, wouldn’t you?”
“In a heartbeat.”
“So why not listen to me, then? I know the dreams Orly had for this place. We finally have a chance to make them a reality. Take the money, Zeno. If not for me, then for her.”
He sighed. “You fight dirty, you know that?”
“Only when I’m right,” she assured him.
“Thanks, Mom,” Matt told his mother, hoping she understood exactly how much he meant it, after Rachel escorted Matt and Donna upstairs to his newly prepared bedroom – without ripping his wife’s hair out in the process. Of course, Rachel also refrained from speaking or so much as looking in Donna’s direction. But, under the circumstances, Matt figured that was for the best.
“Of course, darling,” Rachel smiled wanly. Matt had to admit she looked preoccupied. But, as long as it wasn’t by him and Donna… once again, this was a good thing. “I’ve arranged to have your meals brought up, and we’ve moved some of your work – “
“No,” Donna spoke up sharply, striding over to the window and drawing shut the curtains Rachel had opened only a moment before. “What Matthew needs is rest. There is to be no talk of work until he has fully recovered his strength.”
“Donna,” Matt smiled indulgently at his wife, stretching out his arm, flexing his muscle, and lifting his BlackBerry like it was a barbell. “I think I can manage an e-mail or two without breaking a sweat.”
“Absolutely not. You have people at the office whom you pay more than a pretty penny to specifically so they can manage to keep things running while you are indisposed. If any e-mails need to be sent, Lorna can take care of it, I’m sure.”
“Lorna is a little indisposed herself these days,” Rachel informed. In response to Matt and Donna’s surprised look, she explained, “She and Jamie had their second daughter yesterday.”
“Hey!” Matt beamed. “That’s great! You should have told me. I could have seen them before I left.”
“There was no need for you to be trudging up to the maternity ward,” Donna corrected. “We’ll send the child a lovely gift. From her uncle Matthew and aunt Donna.”
Everyone took a moment to ponder that.
After which Rachel said, “Well, in any case, just let me know what else you might need, and I’ll make sure to take care of it.”
“Thank you, Rachel,” Donna trilled pleasantly. “But, you mustn’t worry yourself. I’ll be taking good care of Matthew from this moment on.”
“It’s my house,” Rachel reminded, equally as pleasantly. “If any directives require to be given to the staff or any special arrangements made for Matt, I think it would be best if those requests came from me. After all, you’re just passing through, aren’t you?”
Rachel’s tone made it quite clear she meant Matt’s life, not merely the living arrangement.
“Oh, no,” Donna corrected. “I think the sooner I get to know everyone in the household, the better. That way, I won’t be a stranger here for long.”
“Speaking of which,” Rachel feared if she kept smiling like this for much longer, her face would crack. Except she only wished Donna were the worst of her problems today. “Lila was planning to tell Jasmine about the two of you moving in today.”
Matt sprang up in bed, horror-stricken. “Oh, no, I totally forget! Damn it, I should have talked to her myself.”
“It’s alright,” Donna reassured.
Even as Rachel agreed, “Yes, you certainly should have.”
Donna went on, “You can hardly be blamed for the oversight. You’ve been fighting for your life!”
“It was a minor heart-attack,” Matt reminded.
“Which could, at any point, especially upon severe stress, have turned into a major one. Besides, what’s been done can’t be undone.”
“Not even by giving away a huge chunk of money?” Rachel couldn’t stop herself from asking, knowing full well how she sounded, not caring one whit.
Fortunately, Donna could keep herself from rejoindering. Instead, she continued, “We are both here now. It’s perfect. We can speak to Jasmine together. I can’t wait to learn everything about her!”
Rachel said, “I feel the same way about Matt and you.”
“A beautiful view,” Alice confirmed, coming upon Lucas standing at the maternity ward window, gazing down at his sleeping, newborn granddaughter.
He grinned broadly. “Am I out of line, feeling proud?”
“Not at all. Preening grandparents are always welcome.”
“I have to keep reminding myself, that perfect, little baby, she’s a part of me. With Devon, it was easier. She was the spitting image of Lorna. Lorna the way she looked the first time I laid eyes on her. But, this one, this one is pure Jamie, there’s no mistaking it.”
“Actually, I think she looks like Rachel. See the jaw line? And the cheekbones?”
“She’s beautiful, either way. And I couldn’t be happier for Lorna and Jamie.”
“They looked pretty happy themselves, last time I checked in on them. I brought Devon to visit her Mommy and new baby sister. I’m not sure she knew precisely what was going on, but she was happy to see Lorna. She’s got time to figure out the specifics.”
“How about the rest of us?” Lucas asked, still looking at the infant but addressing Alice. “Do we have time to figure it out?”
“It would be nice to believe so.”
“Whenever I think of Jenna, I can’t help calculating everything she was deprived of, all the things she never got to experience. You know she never got to hold her own child? She never even got to see her.”
“But, she loved her,” Alice said confidently. “Jenna loved Lori Ann before she was born. And she loved Dean. And she knew how much he adored her. Your daughter’s life was cut tragically short, no one will ever argue with you about that. But, think of everything she had while she was alive.”
“Is that how you rationalize your daughter’s death?” Lucas turned his head.
“No. But, it is how I live with it. My daughter died in the arms of a man she loved beyond all reason. She’d been reunited with her son. She and I were finally in a good place, after more years than I care to count of arguing. I like to think Sally is back with her birth parents now. It’s only fair. They were deprived of her once, too.”
“There’s just so much risk involved,” Lucas sighed. “And no guarantees whatsoever.”
“There aren’t,” Alice agreed, unmoved to expound further.
He smiled. “No chance of me enticing you into a nice, indulgent bout of self-pity now, is there?”
“No.” She shook her head. “I’m afraid there’s not.”
“You’ve got to teach me your secrets some time.”
“As soon as I figure it out,” she promised. “You’ll be the first to know. In the meantime, all I can offer is: Enjoy what you have for as long as you can.” Alice stood on the tips of her toes to kiss Lucas on the cheek. “Congratulations, Grandpa.”
While Felicia stood off to the side, watching the exchange.
“So how was your first day with the girls?” Marley asked after Sarah had dropped them off at home, and promptly sent Michele and Bridget up to shower and change following their afternoon of cut-throat mini-golf.
“Good. Although Michele’s got to temper her need to go for blood. And Bridget needs to stop letting her sister win. I’ll work on it. Subtly.”
“Did anything… come up?” Marley probed gingerly.
“No.” Sarah instantly got what the older woman was getting at. “But, give it time. They’ve got to get used to me again. It’s been a while.”
“You three grew very close while I was gone.”
“And now you’re back. So I’m just support staff. Everything is the way it should be.”
“You’ve been an incredible support to me, Sarah. Honestly, I don’t know what I would have done without you.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’m here as long as you need me.”
“In that case, you have to make me a promise.”
“What?” Sarah’s head bobbed up.
“You need to promise me that you won’t let me get too dependent on you this summer. That if I start taking advantage, asking too much, you’ll let me know it in no uncertain terms.”
“It’s okay, Marley,” Sarah reassured. “I owe you.”
“You do,” Marley agreed. “You owe me a rain-check on the question I asked when I first got out of the hospital. Remember? When Grant and I were at Donna’s and – “
“And you told me you two were married. Yeah,” Sarah said. “I remember.”
“I wanted to know who it was that put that sparkle back in your eyes. And you promised to fill me in. You and Steven, you haven’t – “
“No. No, Steven and I are done. To be honest, I can’t believe I ever thought we had a chance in the first place. We’re way too different. Thanks for humoring me, though.”
“I wasn’t humoring you. You are a beautiful, smart, giving, loyal girl. Any man would be proud to have you. The question is, are you going to finally tell me who does?”
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