“Well?” Rachel all but hovered over Amanda as, back at the Cory mansion, her daughter was instantly on the phone with their business manager, explaining that it looked like they’d secured the funds necessary to keep Brava and the rest of their publications afloat at least long enough for them to regroup and….
Amanda’s voice trailed off as, instead of talking, she appeared to be listening. Very, very intently. And not particularly happily, either.
“What is it?” Rachel asked as soon as Amanda had hung up with a distant thank you… “What’s happened now?”
“I… It seems that, while we were talking to Alice, there’s been a major development.”
“What sort of development? More bad news?”
“I’m not sure… Remember how, as soon as the particulars about Carl’s money being pulled got out, there was a major dumping of Cory stock all over the world?”
“A rather difficult thing to forget.”
“Well, it’s been bought. Every last share. By a single investor.”
“That is suspicious,” Rachel agreed, surprised, but not really.
“Iris?” Amanda guessed.
“Iris,” Rachel sighed.
Morning in Bay City meant early evening in St. Petersburg, Russia, where Frankie and Cass were just sitting down to dinner at Chloe Lax’s apartment, her husband nowhere to be seen, but definitely, seemingly alive somewhere else.
“We rented it furnished,” Chloe explained apologetically, indicating the rather brightly colored room décor, from the burgundy damask drapes that appeared to weigh as much as their hostess, to the overly bejeweled chandelier, to the gold plating of more or less every other piece of furniture. “But, unfortunately, everything happened so fast, we didn’t really get a chance to look around before we relocated.”
“How did you end up in St. Petersburg?” Cass prompted, “You said your husband got a job….”
“Yes,” Chloe nodded. “There was this very wealthy American. Actually, I think he may have even lived in Bay City at one point.”
“Oh, really? Who?” Frankie sounded the epitome of innocence and curiosity.
Chloe demurred. “I’m afraid I’m not allowed to say. It’s part of Owen’s job. Security, you know? He takes it very seriously.”
“Understood, understood,” Cass intervened to keep her on topic. “But, it must have been a hell of a job, to get you two to just pick up and move at the last minute.”
“The offer was very generous,” Chloe admitted. “But, we only had a few days to get ready. I actually ended up going ahead and taking care of the details, while Owen stayed behind to tie up some loose ends.”
“But, you’re back together now,” Frankie double-checked.
“In theory. Like I said, I hardly ever see him. And now there’s this huge party tomorrow night, at the Hermitage Museum, no less! That’s going to run until dawn, I just know it. Seems like, more often than not, Owen is only going to bed as I’m getting up to go to the University, and vice-versa.”
“Can’t you go to the party with him? At least you two might end up in the same room at the same time for a change,” Frankie joked.
“I wish. The host sent an invitation, perfunctory, I’m sure, but Owen doesn’t like me around when he’s working. He says it distracts him and he can’t focus on the job.”
“That’s a shame,” Cass said.
While Frankie asked, “Do you think I might use your powder room?”
Chloe nodded and gave Frankie directions down the hall. Directions that Frankie followed, and then ignored, heading past the bathroom and into the Master Bedroom, located way at the other end of the apartment.
Her first stop was the garbage can, where she found what she was looking for – an invitation to tomorrow night’s soiree at the Hermitage. She dusted it off and stuck it in her purse, happy that nothing had poured or smeared over it in the meantime.
Frankie would have thought her mission accomplished except that, on her way back to the living area, she passed by a second, smaller room, one that she assumed to be an office – and couldn’t resist sneaking in for a peek.
Two desks stood side by side, both with a view of the window. The one covered with books on Soviet history, Frankie assumed to be Chloe’s. The one with neatly stacked dossiers, was presumably Owen’s.
Frankie realized she didn’t have much time, Chloe would begin to wonder where she’d gone soon – even Cass’ charm was finite. So she only took a quick looksee. But, it was enough to unearth two files, complete with recent photographs, seemingly taken by telephoto lens. One was dedicated to Grant. And the other to Donna.
“We have a problem,” Steven told Kevin.
“What’s wrong?” Jen’s father all but leapt out of his chair. “What happened? Did Jamie tell you something – “
“No, not Dad. But, I was over at Mr. Johnson’s earlier. He has at least three bottles of iodine tablets in his medicine cabinet.”
That certainly took the wind out of Kevin’s sails, as confusion overruled his earlier panic, and all he could summon up in response was, “What?”
“Iodine tablets. You take them in a high-enough concentration, and they raise your body temperature.”
“How do you know that?”
“I’m smart. I know a lot of things.”
“Okay. I’m obviously not. So why don’t you explain it slowly for me? Why were you even looking in Johnson’s – “
“Because Jen needs that transplant, ASAP, okay? And Johnson is clearly stalling. I went over there, brought some aspirin and crap, told him I was concerned, wanted him to take care of himself. I went into his bathroom to put everything away, and I saw the iodine. I don’t think he noticed. Or, if he did, he’s probably betting I don’t know what it’s for.”
“It’s got to be for more than just raising body temperature.”
“Actually, that’s exactly what it’s for. People with thyroid conditions take it, because one of the symptoms of a bad thyroid is low body temperature.”
“So maybe he – “
“That would have come up at his first check up. It would have been an issue from the beginning.”
“Anything else iodine tablets can be used for?”
Steven shrugged. “Yeah, sure. Because of its effect on the thyroid, it’s given out after exposure to radiation. Supposed to help prevent cancer. You think Johnson is expecting to duck and cover anytime soon? He knows something about an imminent nuclear attack that the rest of us don’t?”
“You think he elevated his temperature on purpose?”
“I think he got the tattoo on purpose, too.”
“But, why? It doesn’t make any sense? If he doesn’t want to donate, just don’t donate. For all my talk, it’s not like I can make him. He could have sent you away in New York. And he certainly didn’t have to come to Bay City. What’s his angle?”
“Money. You said so yourself, back at the hospital.”
“But, he has to realize that’s finite.”
“Fun ride while it lasts. Maybe he’s just testing to see how far he can go.”
“We need to tell your dad.”
“Why? What can Dad do? Johnson will either deny doing it on purpose, like he did with the tattoo, or he’ll shrug it off. And then what? We can’t tell Dad or anybody until we find out what he’s really after. I’m going over there. You in?”
“No need to thank me,” Iris assured her half-sister and stepmother. “I was merely doing what I could to protect Daddy’s company.”
“Thanks wasn’t the word I had in mind,” Rachel snapped. “We told you, Iris, we weren’t interested in you bailing us out.”
“You told me that you weren’t willing to part with family stock in exchange for enough cash to keep Cory Publishing afloat. You didn’t say anything about my purchasing shares on the open market.”
“I did the math,” Amanda said. “You are now our second biggest stockholder.”
“Actually, Amanda, I’m afraid your figures are off. In addition to what was available on Wall Street, I also made arrangements for a few private transactions…”
“You went behind our backs to the board?”
“Absolutely not. My every purchase was strictly on the up and up. Feel free to follow the transaction trail down to its last decimal point. Goodness, Rachel, in this day and age of Madoff and the rest, do you think I’d be so foolish as to attempt anything illegal?”
“Foolish isn’t a word I’d ever apply to you, either.”
“Why, thank you, that means a great deal, especially coming from you.”
“Are you telling me,” Amanda zeroed in. “That you are now our biggest shareholder?”
“Indeed, I am.”
“And you know what that means?”
“That’s enough to make you the new Chairman of the Board.”
Iris clapped her hands together. “Isn’t it wonderful to keep such matters in the family? You know you can always count on me to keep Cory’s best interests front and center.”
“I told you to stay out of it,” Rachel seethed.
“I know you did. But, clearly you weren’t in your right mind when you did so. Not that anyone could blame you. What you’ve been through, Rachel, the shock, the devastation. Truly, if you were willing to go to an old enemy like Alice Frame – “
“Harrison,” Rachel and Amanda said in unison.
“Alice Frame Harrison – before appealing to the most logical person, the one who loved Daddy as much as you both did – “
“Alice didn’t ask for anything in exchange.”
“Neither have I.”
“Are you saying you’re turning down the board seat?” Amanda asked.
“What would be the wisdom in that? I have just as much right to offer a say in the way my money is employed as anyone.”
“So that’s a no.” Amanda crossed her arms.
“That’s a no,” Iris confirmed, gleefully informing her baby sister. “I’ll see you at the office!”
“Good morning, darling,” Felicia trilled, keeping her amusement at Charlie, for the first time, turning up for breakfast before the crack of noon, to herself.
“I need your help, Felicia.” Unlike her father, Charlie clearly wasn’t a fan of the slow, subtle seduction.
“I need you to help me convince my parents to let me defer college for a year.”
Felicia frowned. “I thought you were excited about attending Sarah Lawrence.”
“I was. But that was… before.”
“Kirkland was going to go to Notre Dame. We were going to visit on weekends and breaks, and hang out and well, you know…. That’s not going to happen now that he’s decided to stay in Bay City.”
“Why? I mean, why is he staying?”
“Because of Jamie. Kirk wants to stick around at least until the whole thing with Lorna gets settled.”
“That should be soon. Hopefully very, very soon.”
“In the meantime, Kirk’s worried about his dad, so he’s deferred for the year.”
“And you want to stay in Bay City with him?”
“Will you help me explain it to my parents? Please, Felicia?”
Her godmother sighed fondly. “First love is very exciting, isn’t it?”
“Sure,” Charlie bobbed her head emphatically, then realized, “That’s what you and Lucas were, right? You guys were the same age as me and Kirkland.”
“Actually, we were even younger.”
“So you get it. You get why I want to stay. You guys were forced to break up? By your stepfather?”
“Yes,” Felicia said softly. “We were.”
“And if you hadn’t, if you’d stayed together, well, everything would be different now, wouldn’t it? For you guys, and for Lorna, and who knows what else?”
“Different doesn’t necessarily mean better,” Felicia pointed out. “Nobody knows what might have been.”
“But, wouldn’t you have liked the chance to find out? And don’t Kirk and I deserve the same chance?”
“Are you trying to manipulate me, Charlie?” Felicia asked, amused. “You wouldn’t be playing on my romantic sympathies to win me over to your side now, would you?”
“Well, duh. I’d be stupid not to.”
“I appreciate your honesty.”
“I figured if anybody would understand, it’d be you. For real. I want to stay in Bay City this fall. There’s a lot of… stuff going on. A lot of stuff I have to figure out for myself, you know? Who I am, what I want. What I should want….”
“And you think you need to be with Kirkland in order to do that?”
“I… Yeah. Yeah, I do. There was a lot of – “
“Right. Stuff that I thought I knew before that, well, it kind of turned out maybe I didn’t know as much as I thought I did.”
“First love is a lot like that, too.”
“Is it supposed to make you feel totally stupid?”
“It is, actually. In a way.”
“Is it supposed to take over you life till you can’t think about anything – or anybody else, and you feel like you’ll do anything to make sure he feels the same way, because if he doesn’t then… “
“What’s the point of feeling anything at all?”
“Absolutely. And, Charlie, if that’s really what’s going on then, yes, I will talk to Cass and Frankie. Because trust me, a person who makes you feel like that, you want to hold onto them tight. And never, ever let them go. No matter what.”
“I’ve given some thought to your offer,” Grant informed Rachel.
“I have a few questions.”
“First of all,” he sat down to face her. “It’s your money, it’s your plan. You’re the woman Bay City loves. Why not run yourself?”
“Because there’s more to an election than just a race. If you win, you actually have to be Mayor of Bay City. I’m hardly qualified for the job.”
“Hasn’t stopped some people.”
“And I’m not interested in the job.”
“That hasn’t stopped some people, either.”
“I don’t want to run Bay City. I just want to make sure that Chase Hamilton doesn’t get the chance to do so for a second term. In case I wasn’t clear earlier, Grant, this isn’t my altruistic attempt at shaping public policy. I know Hamilton has been good for this town. I don’t care. This is a vendetta, pure and simple.”
“You might want to leave that part out of our publicity materials,” Grant advised dryly.
“And that’s why I need a professional like you to head the campaign, obviously.”
Impressed, Grant said, “I’ve been swimming in shark-infested waters for a long time. Spencer practically raised me in political backrooms. Got to admit, this is the most honest conversation I’ve ever had about an upcoming election. Most people try to wrap themselves in the flag and heartfelt claims of wanting to make the world a better place.”
“Any world without Chase Hamilton in it becomes, de facto, a better place. Besides, I know your politics. You’d make an excellent Mayor.”
“You also know all about my past. Getting the voters to overlook it…”
“They’ve done it before. You beat Donna for the job in 1997.”
“That was prior to my ten year hiatus. My very public abandonment of my son. My very futile attempts to get him back.”
“If Kirkland’s adoptive grandmother can forgive you…”
“Have you talked to Jamie about this? You championing my cause?”
“Jamie has other things on his mind these days. Not to mention, I’m sure he sees nothing wrong with what Hamilton did to Carl.”
“Hamilton won’t just come after me, you know. He’ll come after you, too.”
“We’ll get tarred with the same brush.”
“Do you think that matters to me? Do you think anything matters to me now, after losing my husband and two of my children? Do you honestly believe some newspaper headline or gossip on a blog can hurt me more than I’ve already been hurt?”
“That’s fine for you, Rachel. But, I have Marley to consider. Kirkland. Bridget and Michele.”
“Are there things about you that they still don’t know?”
Grant hesitated only for a second before answering. “There are things about me that they already know, but that doesn’t mean I want them brought up over and over again.”
“Everything blows over, Grant. The news cycle used to be at least twenty-four hours long. What is it now? Twenty minutes? The mayor’s office, though, that’s four years long. Maybe more, if you play your cards right. This could rehabilitate you. Not just in the voters’ eyes, but in Kirkland’s too. You’d finally be where Spencer always wanted you to be. You’d finally be the man you always intended to become.”
“That never seems to work out for me quite the way I expect it to,” Grant observed.
“Third time’s the charm, no?” Rachel leaned back in her chair. “So what will it be, Grant? Will you let me run you for Mayor?”
Grant knew exactly how he should answer Rachel’s question. And why. And because of whom. But, what he said was, “Yes.”
“Aunt Marley! Come quick!” Bridget came tearing into the kitchen from the pool, where she and Michele had been doing cannonballs and playing Marco Polo just a moment before. “Something’s wrong with Sarah! She’s sick!”
Marley dropped the mock-up of next season’s gallery catalogue that she’d been proofing prior to sending it to the printer, and took off after Bridget.
Sarah was sitting, still in her bathing suit, doubled over by the edge of the pool, Michelle hovering anxiously above her, looking desperately to Marley for help. A trail of blood trickled down Sarah’s bare leg and onto the sun-splattered cement.
Sarah looked up, meeting Marley’s eyes, visibly terrified. And Marley knew, without having to ask, exactly what was going on.
“Are you…” she nevertheless began.
Sarah nodded, wincing as she did so.
“I’ll take you to the hospital.” Marley then ordered Michele, “Get Sarah a pair of shoes,” and, to Bridget, she said, “Grab her robe, help her put it on.” She held out her hand to Sarah, “Can you stand up?”
“I – I think so,” Sarah began, attempting to rise on one knee, before she was hit by yet another cramp, and collapsed, whimpering.
Marley was instantly by her side, clutching Sarah’s elbow, lifting her off the ground as Michele offered Sarah a pair of sneakers to step into, and Bridget threw the robe over Sarah’s shoulders.
Marley told the girls, “Help Sarah to the back gate. I’ll bring the car around.” She assured Sarah, “This will only take a few minutes, hang on.”
“I don’t want to ruin the seats,” Sarah began, once Marley had pulled up and opened the passenger side door for her.
“Oh, who cares about that, get in.” Marley called over her shoulder, “Phone Grant, let him know I’ve taken Sarah to the hospital, and for him to come home and stay with you two, alright?”
“I’ll do it right now,” Bridget promised.
Marley slid into the driver’s seat, reassuring Sarah. “Just a couple more minutes. Take deep breaths and try to relax. I know that sounds impossible, but it really should help.”
“Thank you, Marley.”
“How far along are you?” She gunned the engine.
“About six weeks. Seven, maybe.”
“These things happen. The bleeding, I mean. It could be for any number of reasons. It doesn’t have to necessarily indicate…. Everything is going to be okay.”
“Should I not have gone swimming?” Sarah wondered, nearly hysterical. “What did I do wrong?”
“Nothing. You didn’t do anything wrong. Don’t even think like that.”
“But, I did,” she insisted. “I did do something wrong, Marley.”
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