“So it’s true then,” Donna observed upon inviting herself into Marley’s house and spotting Sarah there. Donna grabbed Marley by the arm and practically dragged her into the study, shutting the door behind them and hissing in a voice part whisper, part shout. “You really have moved that little witch into your home.”
“Remind me again what business that is of yours?” Marley yanked back her wrist.
“Iris is gunning for you,” Donna warned. “That is not a woman you wish to aggravate on a good day, much less now, when she’s got nothing else to fill her time with. Iris is just aching for a fight, and I don’t think she particularly cares with whom or over what.”
“How could someone like me,” Marley taunted. “Ever be a threat to someone like Iris? I’m Marley, remember? I’m so helpless I apparently need my mother to fight my battles for me.”
“Oh, do stop it,” Donna commanded. “I am trying to help you.”
“Because, obviously, I could never manage to arrange my life on my own.”
Donna sighed, peeved. “How much longer are you planning on doing this, Marley? Do be so kind as to inform me exactly when the statue of limitations for the apparently unforgivable crime of spending your entire life trying to protect your child runs out.”
“Maybe when you finally admit that your grown woman of a child no longer needs your hovering protection. And that the only reason you ever convinced her that she did, was so that you could continue running her life.”
“Fine.” Donna dismissed with a wave of the hand. “You’re right. You are, as always, right.”
“Very sincere,” Marley didn’t know whether to laugh or merely roll her eyes.
“Now will you listen to me?” Donna took a step closer. “This plan of yours to adopt Sarah’s bastard, you simply must drop it immediately. Iris will not stand for it, and she will make your life very, very miserable to demonstrate this fact.”
“Who told you I was interested in adopting Sarah’s baby?”
“What other reason could you possibly have for moving her into your home?”
“Well, for one thing, she’s helping me with Bridget and Michele.”
“The country is at eight percent unemployment, darling, I feel certain you can do better for a live-in nanny than an unmarried, pregnant teen-ager.”
“The girls love her. She’s very good with them.”
“Fabulous. That’s still rather obviously not the reason. Please don’t lie to me, Marley, it insults both of our intelligences.”
“My reasons are none of your business.”
“How does Grant feel about all this?”
“That’s none of your business either. This is a family matter.”
Donna smiled, satisfied. “I knew it. I knew there was no way Grant Harrison would consider sullying the bloodlines with some stranger’s mongrel offspring. If he isn’t supporting you in this endeavor, how do you expect to – “
“I am not trying to adopt Sarah’s baby!” Marley chucked her earlier intention not to get into it with Donna and insisted in frustration, “I am simply trying to help a friend through a difficult time. I would think that you, Donna, of all people, would have some sympathy for a young girl, pregnant and alone – “
“Sarah Matthews-Wheeler is most certainly not alone. Iris will see to that.”
“Sarah doesn’t want Iris’ help. She wants mine.”
“I said the girl was a conniving little hussy. I never said she was stupid. Under the circumstances, I would choose you over Iris any day of the week, too. But, the decision is hardly hers. The only one with any voice in this matter is you. And I strongly urge you to choose to extricate yourself. Before the issue grows even more contentious.”
“Sarah is counting on me.”
“Sarah is manipulating you. For what precise reason, I am not certain yet; probably so you will act the buffer between her and her grandmother, but – “
“And now we’re back to Marley Can’t Run Her Own Life.”
“There is no earthly reason for you to put yourself out for this girl in this way. Speaking of the statue of limitations, twenty year old residual guilt over your dealings with her mother fail to – “
“I am telling you for the last time, Donna, I know what I’m doing, I have my reasons and, no, I am not going to tell you what they are. So please just give it up and go home. Say hello to the girls on your way out. And keep walking.”
“I don’t understand then,” Donna was in the process of repeating when the truth hit her with a bolt, making Donna feel foolish she hadn’t put the pieces together previously. “Oh….. Oh!”
“Any luck?” Alice asked kindly, having stood outside of Kevin’s office for close to ten minutes, watching her grandson desperately tearing around from phone to computer to fax machine to Blackberry.
He looked at her, eyes feverish. “I’m trying to see if there’s any database anywhere that might have a genetic match for Jenny. I told them whoever it is, wherever it is, I can fly them in, I’ll do anything…”
Alice nodded compassionately.
“There’s nothing.” He dropped his hands to his sides. “So few African-American donors in the system, nobody’s been able to turn up anything.”
“You’re doing the best you can. That’s all anyone can ask of themselves.”
“Wrong. I could have asked myself what the hell I thought I was doing when I gave that son-of-a-bitch enough cash to take off and leave my daughter to die.”
“Even you didn’t expect him to behave like that.”
“Yeah. ‘Cause I’m such a nice guy, always believing the best in everyone.” He looked at Alice. “You’ve seen Jenny. You’re allowed. How is she?”
Her hesitation answered Kevin’s question without a word.
“Oh, God,” he whimpered.
“I wish I could tell you everything would be fine.”
“But, lying’s never been your thing, has it, Grandma? Even when I was a little boy, you were the one person I could always count on not to lie to me.”
“It wouldn’t have done any good. You were a very savvy little boy.”
“Well, after your father and both your mothers turn out to be full of it from Day One, eventually you learn to get a clue.”
“Your mother loved you as much as you love Jennifer. She did what she thought was best for you at the time. Just like you’ve done with Jennifer now.”
Kevin shook his head ruefully. “I could also always count on you not to cut me any undue slack.”
“You’ll think of something,” Alice reassured him, knowing there was nothing she could do to help Jen at this time. Her only hope of being useful was to make matters somewhat easier for Kevin, if she could.
“I’m out of ideas.” He indicated all the communication devices scattered around him. Each more worthless than the next. “I’ve tried everything I could think of. I have no clue what to do next.”
“You really went off on that poor Headmaster,” Cass observed, trying to keep the judgment out of his voice as he and Frankie packed their suitcases yet again for a trip from Switzerland to Dubai. Who knew there were even direct flights? Well, frankly, those for whom such a thing was a concern probably knew.
“He deserved it,” Frankie insisted, snapping shut her suitcase’s pair of locks with a bit more belligerence than Cass deemed necessary. “Talking trash about Americans the way he did. Like we’re all just some uneducated hicks who think the Earth is flat, compared to the superstars orbiting his illustrious institution.”
“Since when do you care what some thousand year old, stuck up, out of touch fossil thinks about the American educational system, or anything else for that matter?”
“Since I found out that thousand year old, stuck up fossils run the world, that’s since when!”
Cass raised an eyebrow. “You weren’t aware of the fact that the majority of the world is run by old, white men? It’s kind of common knowledge.”
“I didn’t think that it mattered,” Frankie clarified before sinking down onto the bed, worn out. “I actually fooled myself into thinking that the universe was big enough for all kinds of people and all kinds of opinions and no one was better than anybody else and anyone was free to live their lives the way they liked.”
“And some Swiss schoolmaster has disabused you of that notion?”
“No.” She shook her head. “He just confirmed it.”
“I don’t understand.” Cass sat down next to her, taking Frankie’s hand. “Talk to me, Mary Frances. Explain what’s making you so unhappy.”
“It does matter,” she said dully. “Who you are and what you know and where you went to school does matter. The kids studying at his precious Le Rosey are, one day, going to wipe the floor with our kids. Because they’ve had more education, more contacts, more money. And that means more power. That’s what all this comes down to. Power. Who has it? They do. Who can they use it against? Us.”
“This is definitely not like you.”
“You mean it’s not like the old Frankie. The one who had faith. The one who honestly thought a pure heart could keep the monsters at bay. It didn’t keep anything at bay. Do you think that Cecile would have been able to do what she did to me and to you and to Charlie, if she didn’t have places like this behind her? Cecile went to boarding school in Europe, didn’t she? And then she became queen of wherever that island was? She knew movers and shakers and people who could help her kidnap a woman and hold her against her will for as long as Cecile gave the orders. She had power. And I didn’t have any.”
“I didn’t think,” Cass said slowly. “I’m sorry. It never crossed my mind to consider that all of this, Lorna being taken away from Jamie and her kids, the kind of memories it must have stirred up for you…”
“Carl is also the product of fancy schools and powerful friends. He couldn’t have done any of this without them.”
“We are going to find Lorna,” Cass said. “You’ll see. We’ll outsmart Carl.”
“How?” Frankie demanded. “What have we turned up so far, except a bunch of dead ends? We’re in over our heads, Cass. Admit it. We’ve been outclassed. We’re just a bunch of dumb Americans stumbling around in a world we don’t understand, and never will. Because we’re playing by Carl’s rules now. I’ve played his kind of games before. And I’ve lost. And so have you.”
In the hour that Lila spent inside of Mayor Chase Hamilton office, going over her visual and multimedia ideas for His Honor’s reelection campaign, she never once did anything that might be construed as inappropriate, unprofessional, or suspicious in any way.
And yet, during that same hour, her hand just happened to – accidentally – brush his. On several occasions. Her thigh found itself in ever so many interesting places, and her hair, not to mention the cut of her décolletage seemed somehow… freer than it ever had been in the past.
She smiled, she laughed, she met Chase’s eyes and she held their gaze just a split second longer than he found comfortable.
As a result, as she was leaving, having received her approvals, budget and marching orders for the next few days, Chase felt compelled to prompt, “Lila…”
“Yes?” She turned around, still smiling. Her eyes shining, her lips moist, her demeanor about as friendly as any woman could possibly be. “Was there something else you wanted from me?”
Chase hesitated. He seemed about to answer. And then he merely shook his head, as though clearing it – along with the conflicting thoughts inside. “No. Thank you. We’re good.”
“No,” Amanda informed her half-sister, marching into the Cory Publishing office Iris had claimed as her own ever since assuming the mantle of their CEO. She had a lot more to say, but Amanda figured that one syllable summarized it nicely.
“Thank you for coming in,” Iris said, as if she’d been the one to summon Amanda, instead of the other way around. “Won’t you have a seat? I have a few matters I wish to discuss with you.”
“No,” Amanda repeated. “Let me make myself clear. Anything you have to discuss with me, the answer is no. See how nicely that streamlines the process?”
“I’m afraid it won’t be working that way,” Iris enlightened her. “I’ve been looking over the budget for next fiscal year – “
“We have accountants for that.”
“And a marvelous job they have been doing so far, bringing you nearly to the brink of bankruptcy.”
“That was a Black Swan event. No one could have foreseen that Hamilton would go after Carl’s loan – “
“It was your job to foresee it. Frankly, Amanda, it was your job not to accept it in the first place, considering the events of the past summer were perennially a possibility. But, then again, you always did have a soft spot for Carl.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Wasn’t he planning to whisk you off to some secluded spot?”
“That was his sick, perverted delusion, not mine. And in case you didn’t get the memo, any act of Carl’s prior to his and Mom’s marriage is under strict gag order. Especially if you happen to be living under her roof.”
“Duly noted,” Iris didn’t appear to be taking the directive seriously, but she did change the subject, nonetheless. “As soon as you knew that Carl had fled, you should have realized that put our company at risk.”
“There was a lot going on,” Amanda defended feebly, knowing her sister was right but unwilling to give her the satisfaction of hearing those words out loud. “Elizabeth and Cory were gone, too. Nobody was exactly thinking straight.”
“Precisely why you need me to step in. Rachel is hardly objective or even particularly lucid these days. Daddy’s company is, understandably, not uppermost in her thoughts. And you, yourself, are suffering through a family crises of your own, are you not? Your husband’s daughter is gravely ill.”
“I can handle both.”
“You shouldn’t have to. Under the circumstances, your family deserves your time and your attention.”
“While you hold down the fort here, I suppose?”
“It would be my privilege to help out in your time of need.”
“Bite me,” Amanda advised.
“Ah,” Iris leaned back in her chair, smiling. “I see those charm school lessons are still as effective as ever.”
“Do you really expect me – or anybody – to buy your act? After all these years? After everything you’ve done? Do you honestly think there is a person still left in Bay City who doesn’t know what kind of person Iris Cory is or what she’s all about?”
“And what might that be, pray tell?”
“You are not going to be happy until you have everything your deluded sense of entitlement has convinced you that you deserve. Daddy isn’t here anymore to keep patting you on the head and assuring you’re his favorite, forget me or Sandy, or any of those – what do you call my brothers? Oh, right, mongrels that he picked up. I can’t imagine what you might have pulled on Paulina if Daddy had been alive to actually meet her and love her the way that we all know he would have.”
Iris’ tight-lipped, pasted-on smile answered Amanda’s question better than any words might have.
Amanda summarized, “You can’t have Daddy, so his company will do as second best.”
“I was working at Cory Publishing,” Iris reminded. “Before you were so much as a dollar sign in your mother’s mercenary eye. You can hardly accuse me of being a late to the party dilettante on that score.”
“You haven’t been a part of Cory Publishing in almost twenty years.”
“I will always be a part of Cory Publishing,” Iris corrected, as if Amanda had made a grammar error anybody else would have easily avoided.
“We know what you did,” Amanda blurted out, despite knowing Rachel had something else entirely in mind. “We know you helped Chase Hamilton set up Carl.”
In the time that it took Iris to blink, she managed to both process her shock at the revelation and to recover admirably. “Your dear stepfather and I have several old scores to settle.”
“I’m no fan of Carl’s,” Amanda said. “But, even I think it’s a little ridiculous for you to blame him for you having shot him.”
“I only intended to scare him. Keep him from marrying your mother. Surely, you’ll agree that my intentions were good. Noble, even. I didn’t switch the blanks in that gun for bullets. That was the work of yet another of your conquests, Even Frame.”
“Do you really want to discuss our mutual history with Evan Frame, Iris? Because, while I don’t exactly come out smelling like a rose from that fiasco – neither do you.”
“My point is, Carl stole eight years of my life, sending me to prison for a crime I never intended to commit. If I were to assist the law in helping to apprehend him for actually, in fact, breaking it – well, who would hold me at fault?”
“You knew that Carl was going to prison, which means you knew his money would be frozen, which means you knew it would be taken out of Cory, which means you had inside information about our stock taking a dive. You used that information to buy up everything you could and crown yourself CEO. Now try telling me that wasn’t a crime you intended to commit.”
Iris looked at Amanda for a long beat. And then she burst out laughing.
“Allie!” Donna clapped her hands together as they crossed paths in the Cory kitchen. “Just the person I wanted to see.”
“You wanted to see… me?” Allie tried to remember if she and her uncle’s wife had ever exchanged so much as a word from the day Allie was born until now.
“Yes. Do you have a moment?”
“Uhm…” Allie looked around, though unsure of for what. Candid Camera, maybe? “Okay. What’s up?”
“What’s up,” Donna repeated delicately, the slang feeling most prickly in her mouth, and coming out sounding even more so. “Is that I was visiting my daughter earlier today and, much to my surprise, I learned that your friend, Sarah, was now living at Marley and Grant’s home.”
“Oh. Yeah. She texted me about that.” Allie seemed unsure about how much more she should say.
“I know about her… condition,” Donna prodded gently.
“Okay. Well, that’s why. Marley offered to help and Sarah – “
“Surely there are other options? She could have returned to her parents, say. Or gone to Iris in her time of need.”
“That wasn’t exactly what Sarah wanted.”
“But, she did want to stay with Marley?”
Allie shrugged. “Guess so.”
“Any idea why?”
Another shrug, and then an honest, “I told her it wasn’t a very good idea.”
“Lots of reasons.”
Goodness, were all young people today so monosyllabic, or was this child particularly dim? Donna tried another tack. “What I can’t understand is Marley's motivation for offering a helping hand in such a manner. She swears to me it isn’t due to any lingering, misplaced affection based on her situation with Olivia.”
“You don’t believe her?”
“I don’t know what to think. That is, until I spoke to Marley this afternoon, and she said something that made it all much clearer.”
“She did?” Allie actually looked scared now. Which told Donna she must be on the right track.
“I realized why Marley is feeling responsible for this girl. It’s a matter of family honor, pure and simple.”
“W-What do you mean?”
“Allie, is Steven the father of Sarah’s child?”
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