“Heard from Zeno yet?” Cass asked Frankie as they rolled up the drive to Donna’s house for the second time in as many days.
She shook her head. “I called, left him a bunch of messages.”
“Don’t worry,” Cass removed one hand from the steering wheel to pat hers reassuringly. “He’ll take the money. When it comes to being given a windfall, everyone comes around eventually.”
“Like me, you mean?” Frankie indicated the mansion now looming through their windshield. This wasn’t just another friendly visit. This time, Cass and Frankie were here to make concrete plans about moving in.
“You know it’s the best thing for Lori Ann. And Charlie.”
“I’m doing this under duress.”
“Same as Zeno,” Frankie sighed. “I guess I didn’t see the connection before, but, you’re right, me convincing him to take my money for the sake of saving Orly’s farm is exactly the same as you talking me into moving here for Lori Ann.”
“And you agreed. So will he.”
Cass parked and the two of them got out of the car, Frankie hesitating as she shut her door to observe, “It felt good. Handing Zeno that check. Solving his problem. It never even crossed my mind that he might say no.”
“He won’t.” Cass offered Frankie his arm to escort her up the walk. “And you don’t have to quit with Zeno, you know.”
“What do you mean?”
Cass turned to face his wife. “If ever there was a person on God’s – or Goddess’ – green Earth who was born to have millions at their disposal, it’s you.”
“Are you insulting me?”
“No,” he laughed. “Think about it, Mary Frances. You are the kindest, most generous, most compassionate woman that I’ve certainly ever met – and I bet that goes for a lot of other people, too. Who better to have access to a pile of money that they can use to make the world a better place?”
“You mean… like a foundation, or something?”
“A foundation, sure. But, it doesn’t need to be so formal. How long have I listened to you go on and on about everything you see as being unfair to someone or other? Locally, globally, politically, spiritually. Talking is nice. So is chanting and sending good vibes out into the universe and wishing on a star – “
“Okay, now I know you’re making fun of me.”
“But, you know what beats all that? Taking action.”
“I take action! I vote and I volunteer and I write editorials – “
“But, now you’ve got money,” Cass stressed. “And trust me, money trumps all.”
“Not when you’ve got some. Think about it, Frankie. You finally have the means to influence things, to change things, to fix things. All the good you want to do Lori Ann and Zeno? You could double it. You could multiply it by a hundred. You could help dozens of special-needs kids and family farms and whomever else you want.”
She hesitated, the full scope of what Cass was envisioning taking her breath away.
“And one more thing.” His eyes twinkled.
“You can admit that – having money? It’s fun.”
“Kirkland has another sister,” Michele informed Grant and Marley over breakfast.
“That’s four all together,” Bridget crowed. “The girls are definitely winning.”
Seeing how uncomfortable the topic was making Grant – despite his best efforts to remain aloof – Marley shooed both girls upstairs, telling them to get dressed for camp, the bus would be there any minute, before turning back to her husband, sympathetically. “You okay?”
“Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Hearing Michele refer to Jamie and Lorna’s new baby as Kirkland’s sister.”
“That’s what she is in the eyes of the law,” Grant snipped.
Grant stood up, turning his back on Marley as he walked his plate over to the sink, scraping the remnants so furiously into the garbage disposal, she was amazed any enamel was left after he’d finished. “I’m thrilled for them. Lorna and Jamie.”
“So am I.” Marley hoped her tone at least sounded more sincere than his had. “After what they went through with Devon… After what we put them through… They deserve this.”
“Lots of people deserve lots of things.” Grant turned around, palms perched on the back of the sink behind him. “We don’t all get them.” He looked at Marley. “You deserved a baby of your own, too.”
She shook her head, looking away, looking anywhere but at him. “I… That…”
“That was the height of unfairness. You would have made a great mother. You are a great mother. To Bridget and Michele. Steven and Kirkland, too. But, I don’t see God or Fate or Whomever rewarding you accordingly.”
“Maybe it did,” Marley tread carefully. “Maybe me getting to raise the girls… I hate that it happened due to Vicky’s dying… I would have never wished for that ever – no matter what it may have seemed like…”
“Of course not,” Grant said, looking sorry he’d ever brought the subject up.
“I’ve made my peace with never having a biological child.” Marley took a deep breath and asked Grant the one question she’d been terrified of hearing the answer to ever since they’d exchanged vows – and even before. “What about you?”
He blinked. “What about me?”
“Are you alright with never having another biological child of your own?”
Despite being initially sorry, Grant now wished more than anything they could go back to their previous topic of conversation. “I… Marley, I… “
“Have a great many more options than I do in that arena.”
“Honestly, it never occurred to me to – “
“I don’t believe you,” she said simply. “Somewhere in the back of your mind, though more likely right at the front, you must have at least considered the possibility of getting married again, having another child. One you’d actually get to raise, this time.”
“I’m too old,” Grant told Marley honestly, even as he remembered the last time such a possibility had been dangled in front of him. Sarah telling him that she could give him babies. A whole houseful of them. As Grant forced himself to walk away. “At this stage of the game, it honestly wouldn’t be fair to the child.”
“Tell that to Carl Hutchins.”
“You’ll forgive me if the man who sent my father to his death isn’t a primary role-model.”
“Fine. But, you understand what I’m saying, nonetheless.”
“I’m happy with the way things are between us right now, Marley. They are, in fact, exactly how I want them to be. I wouldn’t change a thing, even given the chance. Trust me on that one.”
“Then why did you bring the subject up?” She wouldn’t – couldn’t – let the matter drop. Marley had to know how he felt. Once and for all.
“For the precise reason I said, no more, no less,” he stuck to his guns. “Because I find it unfair that Jamie and Lorna are wallowing in domestic bliss while the woman they both hurt – maybe you’ve forgiven those two for the way Jamie treated you during that farce of a marriage; I haven’t.”
“That farce of a marriage was both of our faults. And considering that it ended with me turning Jamie over to the police for murder, I’d say we’re square.”
“You still deserve better.” Grant held out one hand to Marley.
She took it, trying her best to smile. Not saying a word.
“Didn’t expect a personal chauffeur,” Horace observed to Steven as the younger man lead him through the hospital’s underground parking garage and into the elevator that would take them up to Jen’s floor.
“We thought you might be more comfortable, seeing someone you knew at the airport.”
“Sure it wasn’t to make certain I didn’t chicken out?”
Steven shrugged, pressing the button. “If you wanted to chicken out, you could have not gotten on the plane. Or not agreed to come in the first place.”
“You say I’m the only one who can save Jennifer’s life?”
“You’re an almost perfect genetic match. We’re very lucky.”
“So who’s this royal we you keep talking about?”
“Jen’s doctor – Dr. Frame – you talked to him on the phone. He’s my dad.”
“Ah. Gotcha. I wondered. You a doctor, too?”
“No. I prefer science.” In response to the confused look on Horace’s face, Steven clarified. “An exact science. Not this wild guess stuff my dad practices.”
Horace laughed. “That sure makes me feel confident about going under the knife.”
“He knows what he’s doing here,” Steven assured, kicking himself for nearly blowing the whole thing. “The procedure is pretty safe for you.”
“For me. What about for Jennifer?”
“It’s more of a risk,” Steven conceded. “That’s what I meant about medicine being a guessing game.”
“Any other we’s I should know about?” Horace asked as they exited the elevator and headed for Jen’s room. Steven leading. “How does Mr. Fowler, Esquire, feel about me swooping in to save the day?”
“Kevin’s just grateful Jen’s going to get treatment.”
“Even from me?”
“Yes,” Steven said firmly.
“Ain’t that a switch?” Horace said.
“Why don’t you ask him yourself,” Steven offered, indicating Kevin standing at the door to Jen’s room, obviously waiting for him.
“Mr. Johnson.” Kevin bobbed his head in Horace’s direction without budging.
“Mr. Fowler.” Horace returned the greeting. “Awfully formal of you. Almost feel like we’re back in court again.”
“Thank you for coming,” Kevin said.
“Heard I was needed.”
“You are. Urgently, as a matter of fact. Thank you for picking him up, Steven.” Kevin indicated down the hall. “I’ll take it from here. Dr. Frame’s office is right this way. I called to let him know you were here. We can head down right now, take care of any paperwork that – “
“Oh, no.” Horace’s tone didn’t change, though Kevin’s body language certainly did in response to Johnson’s subsequent demand. “I’ve come all this way. I’m not going anywhere until I say hello to my daughter.”
“Frankie around?” Zeno asked Charlie.
“No. She and Dad left a couple hours ago.”
“Oh. Okay. Well, in that case, give her these, would you?” Zeno handed her a manila envelope, then headed back for the door.
“What is it?” Charlie opened the flap without asking permission, reading the contents before Zeno had a chance to decide whether or not he wanted to tell her.
“Help yourself, Charlie,” he deadpanned.
“Glad to see you finally came to your senses,” Charlie said. “Seriously, dude, why wouldn’t you want to accept a big pile of money that just fell into your lap?”
“I was taught to be wary of Greeks bearing gifts.”
“Wasn’t your mom Greek?”
“Proved she knew what she was talking about.”
“You really think my mom is out to screw you?”
“No,” Zeno said.
“Then what’s the problem?”
“Forget it,” Zeno said. “Just tell Frankie I stopped by and show her these.”
“She might be a while. Mom and Dad went to check out Donna Love’s house. We’re moving.”
“Wow. That doesn’t seem very Frankie at all.”
“Dad says he intends to support us in a lifestyle we should have no trouble getting accustomed to.”
“Well, it’ll only be during summers for me.”
“Oh, yeah, right, Frankie told me. You’re off to college in the fall. That’s great.”
“Yeah. Not sure which one yet, but we’ll figure something out.”
“Just as long as it’s anywhere but Bay City?”
“Pretty much. Like I told you before. I wanted to go to college, period. Doesn’t really matter which one.”
“Knock yourself out,” he shrugged. “Though, I got to say, you seem awfully happy to be getting away for a girl with a serious boyfriend. I mean, you and Kirk are serious, right?”
“He’s going away to school, too,” Charlie bristled. “Notre Dame. That’s in Indiana.”
“So if you don’t care about where you go, why not join him there?”
“I didn’t apply,” Charlie demurred.
“And you turned down all the places where you did. So what’s the difference?”
“It – it’s too late. Besides, I – “
“Am looking for an easy way to dump him?”
“Have it your way.”
Charlie grabbed Zeno by the shoulder, keeping him from leaving. “I’m not looking to dump Kirkland.”
“You just want to be someplace he’s not,” Zeno parsed. “Doesn’t really matter where.”
“It’s not that I don’t want… It’s just that I… “
“What, Charlie? Something is obviously bugging you, or else why would you get this worked up every time I rag you a little about Kirkland? I don’t mean any harm.”
“Then why do you do it? Why are you always picking on me?”
“You just seem so damn unhappy. You’re a beautiful girl with newly loaded parents, and a boyfriend who, far as anybody can tell, is a really nice guy, who’s crazy about you, to boot. What in the world do you possibly have to be unhappy about? And why should anything I say even matter?”
“Can I do something for you, Ms. Love?” Jeanne looked up from Donna’s desk in Donna’s office and smiled Donna’s way.
“That’s Mrs. Cory, to you,” Donna fired back the only rejoinder she could think of in response to the absolutely horrifying sight.
“I’m sorry, I’m afraid I just can’t take that particular title seriously anymore. You understand, I’m sure.”
“What the hell are you doing in my office?” Donna hit the end of her pleasantries rope.
“This is the Station Manager’s office. I am the new Station Manager.”
“You are the new owner,” Donna stressed through clenched teeth. “Station Manager is a hired position.”
“Which I, as the new owner, have just given to myself.”
“Matthew still owns half of KBAY-TV.”
“And if he has any objections to my staffing, he is free to address me personally.”
“My husband has just left the hospital, where he was fighting for his life for weeks!”
“Do give him my regards. The entire station wishes him nothing but the best.”
“Which automatically removes you from the equation,” Donna huffed.
“Have Matt call me at his convenience. We can discuss how this new business arrangement of ours is going to work, moving forward.”
“Oh, you’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
Jeanne’s brow furrowed in mock confusion. “I believe that’s what I just said, yes.”
“I won’t let you get away with this,” Donna warned. “I know what you’re up to. You intend to use this station as a way to continue interfering in Matthew’s life. In both Matthew’s and my life. This is nothing but a petty, pathetic, childish revenge scheme.”
“Then the next step is yours, isn’t it, Ms. Love?”
“I don’t know how he did it,” Carl mumbled half to himself, half to Rachel as, after a day and a night of feverish investigation, he arrived, exhausted and incensed, at the mansion to report. “How in the world did that deceitful, vengeful bastard get his hands on data – “
“So it’s true then?” Rachel asked, her voice shaking. “Chase Hamilton does have enough independent evidence to send you back to prison.”
“It’s impossible. Even the information he pinched off my personal computer network could not have been enough to connect the dots in such a thorough manner. He must have a source. The question is, who?”
“Lila said the computer data was only a start for him. That Chase went out of his way to make sure his case against you could stand up in court. She warned me.”
“A day late and many, many dollars short. Where was your surrogate daughter while her erstwhile lover was plotting to bring down this family?”
“I’ll deal with Lila later,” Rachel dismissed. “Right now, I need to hear what our next move should be. What’s going to happen to you, Carl?”
He hesitated. “I shall fight this, naturally.”
“Naturally,” Rachel agreed. “The question is: How?”
“I have some thoughts,” her husband grew suddenly – and uncharacteristically – vague.
“What sort of thoughts?” Rachel followed up cautiously, reluctant to assume the worst, unable as of yet to hope for the best.
“I need your support, Rachel,” Carl side-stepped the question. “Please tell me I haven’t lost that.”
“I’m your wife.” When called upon, Rachel could be as vague as Carl.
Except that he was willing to call her on it. “Surely, you don’t believe me guilty of these libelous charges!”
“You just said you were,” Rachel reminded.
“My actions were no more illicit than those of any typical American businessman.”
“You mean the ones currently in prison, or the ones being protested daily in the streets?”
“Singling me out for censure when I have done no worse than dozens of other is selective prosecution, surely you realize that.”
“Chase’s objection isn’t with the business practices you engaged in. It’s that you were banned from engaging in them in the first place.”
“A punitive, vengeful, inequitable punishment.”
“That you were free to reject when your plea bargain was first offered.”
“I had no choice, Rachel. Accepting the government’s terms was the solitary way I could free myself to be with you.”
“And thumbing your nose at those terms almost immediately afterwards?”
“The sole method for retaining my dignity.”
“So now what do we do?” Rachel demanded. “How are we supposed to fight charges against crimes you admit to committing?”
“Well, obviously, it shall take a great deal of time, money, patience.”
“Not a problem. I happen to have all three in abundance.”
“And distance,” Carl said softly, almost apologetically.
“Distance?” Rachel’s heart dropped.
“You cannot expect a man to launch a proper defense from a jail cell.”
“You mean you intend to run?” she choked out.
“Perish the thought. I am no coward.”
“Thank God,” Rachel felt like she could breathe again.
“I am also, however, no fool. I won’t go back to prison, Rachel. I won’t be separated from you, I won’t abandon my children, and I will never again put myself at the mercy of a system determined to torment me into a pauper’s grave.”
“What alternative does that leave us then?” Rachel asked, truly confused.
“As I have made clear previously, I fully expect to fight every one of these defamatory charges. I would never burden Elizabeth and Cory with the stigma of a felonious family name, or a father they couldn’t be proud of. We will prevail in the end, of that I have no doubt. But, in the meantime, I think it would be best if I were to relocate to one of my other domiciles, out of the country – “
Rachel’s eyes narrowed. “And preferably with no extradition treaty.”
“You are no fool, either, my dear.” Carl smiled sadly. “That is why you possess my heart now, and always shall. I will face every charge against me, and I will see each dismissed in turn, or, so help me, die trying. But, I won’t attempt to receive justice within Bay City. Attaining a fair trial here would be an impossibility, I believe we both can agree on that. I shall have to launch my defense from an alternative location. With no allies save you, Elizabeth, and Cory by my side.”
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