“Not a good time, Grant,” Marley had to laugh while trying to look firm as, five minutes before she was supposed to leave the house to pick up Michele and Bridget from fencing class, Grant decided to corner her in their bedroom’s walk-in closet, slipping his arms around her waist and whispering all sorts of delicious suggestions in Marley’s ear which, after an admittedly dry-spell they’d inexplicably been going through for the past few… months? Had it really been months? – came most welcome. Except for the fact that, “The girls…”
“Let Sarah get them,” Grant suggested blithely, one hand sliding up from Marley waist to cup her breast in his palm, while the other traveled downwards, dipping beneath the slip she was wearing and making its practiced way up her thigh until Marley purred.
“I can’t…” Ceremonial protests aside, Marley stood frozen in place as Grant proceeded to stroke her insistently through silk that all of a sudden felt much too sheer and not nearly gossamer enough. The heat from his fingers built from the inside out until Marley’s skin vibrated taut and she swayed according to his rhythm.
“You can,” Grant reassured, his voice in perfect sync with each caress. “Sarah said she wanted to be helpful while she was here. Let her be helpful. She can pick up the girls from fencing, and you and I can have the house to ourselves for at least an hour. You know how long it’s been since that’s happened?”
“Too long,” Marley moaned, leaning back, practically melting into him.
“I’ll tell her,” Grant whispered, stepping regretfully away from Marley, leaving her shivering in frustration. He indicated the slip. “Off. All of it. I want it all off by the time I get back, do you understand me?”
She nodded, urging him, “Hurry.”
He winked. “I’ll be right back.”
Grant stepped out of the bedroom, making a point of closing the door tightly behind him, and went on a search for Sarah.
He found her in the kitchen, sitting at the table, eating a plate of pasta. She hadn’t been expecting him, and so there could be no question of her setting up the scene to entice. Not like she had months ago with that fruit she’d insisted on devouring in front of Grant as juice ran down her fingers. Now, she’d merely been in the midst of twirling creamy white strands around her fork and lifting it to her mouth, sucking the spaghetti in through her lips, the strings loosening and twisting as they disappeared down her throat.
For a moment, the sight was enough to strike Grant dumb and wipe from his mind why he was there, for what, and even who he thought he was. For a moment, all he could do was stare at Sarah and the delicate flick of her wrist, the tightening of her jaw, and her mouth, oh God, her mouth… The things she could do with her…
Sarah heard him come in and swallowed hurriedly, bringing a napkin up to her lips so she could finish chewing. She looked at Grant expectantly. He didn’t say a word.
Finally, Sarah prompted, “Were you looking for me?”
“Yes.” The word that came out of Grant’s larynx sounded nothing like the scream that had gone on in his head. Which, everything considered, was a very good thing.
“Did you need me for something?”
“Yes,” he said. “Marley was wondering if you could do her a favor?”
“Would you pick up the girls from school? She was on her way, but then something came… up.”
“I’m on it,” Sarah said, standing up, taking her bowl to the sink and rinsing it out before setting it in the drying rack.
And, as she moved from the table to the island in the middle of the kitchen, the last of the sunlight coming in through the window hit her, turning the dress Sarah was wearing nearly translucent, and briefly illuminating the outline of her figure.
She was starting to show, Grant realized with a combination of horror and fascination. The stomach that had been so flat previously, the outline of which Grant had caressed how many times with his fingers and his tongue and his cheek, marveling at how mutually soft and firm it felt; there was definitely a swelling there now, you couldn’t deny it, especially if you were as familiar with the terrain as Grant. He quickly crunched some numbers in his head. Sarah had to be starting her fifth month by now. She was definitely in the second trimester. The baby was nearly halfway to being born…
“Don’t be late,” he barked, prompting Sarah to raise her head in surprise, wondering why Grant’s mood had fluctuated so quickly. “We’re counting on you, Sarah.”
“You can always count on me, Grant,” she reminded him.
“I’m sorry,” Amanda gulped guiltily to her mother. “I’m afraid I’ve tipped our hand. I… kind of told Iris you and I knew she had insider information about the Cory stock plunge before it went public. And that she was in on it with Hamilton from the start.”
A part of Rachel wanted to explode at her daughter for the stupidity of the maneuver. True, Rachel, more than anyone, understood that way Iris had of ever so innocently pressing all of your buttons until you blurted out the last thing you’d intended. On the other hand, Amanda should have known it too, and either not engaged her half-sister at all, or at least gone in prepared.
Another part of Rachel, however, realized equally well the futility of crying over spilled milk after the cows had already left the barn. Or some such thing. What was done was done and time spent reproaching Amanda could better be put to use trying to think of a way out of her blunder. No matter how cathartic the alternative might prove. After all these months, the idea of finally going off on Amanda for everything….
“How did Iris react when you accused her?” Rachel asked instead.
“She… uhm… laughed,” Amanda admitted sheepishly.
“And did she then deign to interpret her amusement for the rest of us?” Rachel all but heard Carl’s voice coming out of her mouth.
“I’m sorry, Mom,” Amanda repeated plaintively, only to have Rachel dismiss her pleas with a wave of a hand. In a small voice, Amanda asked, “What are we going to do now?”
Rachel considered her options. And then she smiled. “The last thing Iris expects…”
“It’s perfect!” Donna gushed to Matt. “Don’t you see? It would solve all our problems in one swoop!”
“You want us to adopt Sarah’s baby?” Matt double-checked.
“It’s not just Sarah’s baby. It’s Steven’s, too. That makes her child related to both you and I.” Feeling a bit like she did with Allie earlier – as if Donna was the only person in the room fully grasping the situation – she elaborated, “Remember when Lorna attempted to adopt Lori Ann? Kevin turned her down for not being a blood relative.”
“That wasn’t the only reason,” Matt recalled.
“It was the primary one. Fowler handed Lori Ann over to Cass and Frankie because Frankie was a blood relative. Even Felicia couldn’t claim that! It would be the same situation with Sarah’s child. I’m Steven’s grandmother, you’re his uncle…”
“Let’s not go over our family tree again, alright? I’m always afraid that, this time, we might discover we’re actually related, too.”
Donna laughed merrily. “Oh, Matthew, I do love you so!”
“Does Sarah even want to give up her baby?”
“How could she not? A girl like that! A child would be a thorough inconvenience to her. How is she supposed to play helpless innocent and connive her way into yet another household if she is shackled down by proof of her… experience?”
“Why do you hate her so much?” Matt never did get a straight answer to that.
“Because she’s a liar and a conniver, just like her mother and her grandmother and – “
“Speaking of Sarah’s grandmother. How do you think Iris will react to your proposed arrangement?”
“It’s none of Iris’ business,” Donna huffed.
“A fact that Iris always honors, of course.”
“She has no say in the matter,” Donna clung stubbornly to her contention. “If Sarah chooses to give her child to us…”
“Why would she do that?”
“Because! Think of all the advantages we could provide that darling infant with!”
“So could Iris.”
“Please… If Dennis could have escaped from her womb, he probably would have. As it is, he took advantage of his earliest opportunity to put as much distance between himself and that viper of a mother, as possible.”
“I know you’re scared,” Matt told Donna gently, not giving her the chance to protest. “I know the idea of our adopting a baby and the birth parents coming back – “
“It’s not the birth parents I’m afraid of. I know I can handle them. Whoever they may be. It’s the legal system. The one that believes biology trumps everything, including the best interests of the child in question.”
“I know you think you’ve found a way around that…”
“It’s the only way, Matthew. Short of a miracle. And Raya Ng was rather frank about that. Despite my being willing to – “
“I’m not. Willing, that is. I’m not willing to have you risk your life.”
“Then what other choice do we have except for Sarah’s baby?”
“Have you talked to her yet?”
“No,” Donna admitted. “Marley ushered me out of her home so fast, I never got the chance.”
“Well, maybe you should. Find out if Sarah is even interested in adoption. Maybe this is all just a fantasy on your part that will never – “
“It will happen,” Donna insisted.
“Alright,” Matt smiled, kissing his wife. “I believe you.”
“You do?” Donna melted.
“Always. And not only that, I also believe in you…”
“I believe that if you want us to have a family, then you’ll find a way to make it happen.”
“Only because I think you’ll make the best father for our child.”
“I love you,” Matt reminded.
“I love you, too.”
Matt leaned in for another kiss, a little bit stunned when Donna acquiesced. To that and more. He was about to ask why, what had changed? But, he didn’t exactly want to break the mood. Or remind her.
Chase’s kiss lasted for the briefest of seconds, more an automatic response of surprised politeness than anything else. Once he seemed to realize precisely what was happening – and with whom – he drew back instantly, pushing Lila away and finally taking that step back he’d avoided at the start.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing, Lila?” Chase demanded.
She seemed utterly nonplused. Then again, Lila was used to being rejected by men. She’d had plenty of time to work out a response.
“Exactly what you wanted me to,” Lila explained courteously.
“I never – “
“You did,” she corrected. “You told me you wanted me. I dare you to deny it now.”
“I told you that I was attracted to you, yes,” Chase clarified. “I told you that if things were different – yes, absolutely, yes, Lila.”
“But, things aren’t different! They’re exactly the same as they were then. I may be attracted to you, but I am in love with Doug. I am committed to him, to our family, and to our life together. If I somehow gave you the mistaken impression that wasn’t the case any longer, then I am truly sorry, Lila, but – “
“How about all those nights you spent in bed with me? How was that for a message?”
“It was an act,” he reminded. “We were pretending.”
“You wanted me then. You kissed me then, too.”
“I – I had a moment of weakness. You are very beautiful, Lila. I care about you a lot, and you risked so much to help me.”
“I’m a woman.”
“Thank you. But, what I meant was, you shouldn’t have been attracted to me, at all.”
“Why not? When you and Cass were married, you never found yourself attracted to another man?”
“Sure. Another man. It’s only natural. It doesn’t mean anything.”
“My point exactly.”
“But, I was never attracted to another woman.”
Chase shrugged. “Just because you choose to limit your options…”
“How can you claim to be gay, if you’re attracted to women?”
“I don’t claim to be gay. That was a label other people put on me. The only thing I claim to be is in love with Doug. And there is nothing you can say – or do – that would make me go back on that.”
“Aren’t you… curious?”
“Sure. If I said I’d never thought about you like that, I’d be lying.”
“Then why not…”
“Because I am in a relationship with a man I love! Jesus Christ, what is it with Bay City? It must be something in the water. The way you all switch partners at the drop of a hat… not to mention this ridiculous notion that having a feeling necessitates acting on it. Do none of you have an ounce of self-control?”
“What’s the point?” Lila asked. “Why hold back? Why not be happy?”
“I am happy. I am happy with Doug, I am happy with our children. You know, your ex-mother-in-law, when I came to serve the warrant for Carl’s arrest, she asked me if I was pleased with myself. And I answered, yeah, I usually am. It’s the truth. And I thought you were happy being my friend.”
“I am,” Lila stumbled for the first time, having anticipated everything but this. “I just – I just thought… you and I… why not?”
“That’s not how I operate,” Chase told her gently. “I thought you understood. I certainly didn’t mean to lead you on.”
“This time around,” she couldn’t help snarking.
“This time around,” he agreed pleasantly.
“Well, I feel stupid,” Lila said.
“How do you think I feel? You are the most beautiful, kindest, most loving woman I know. And I just turned you down. I should have my head examined.”
“I think they have therapists for that. And boot camps. I hear some people are trying to make them illegal.”
Chase laughed. “Another time, another place… Who knows? But, right now, I am exactly where I should be, with whom I should be. Other people may not understand or approve, but, you now what? To hell with them.”
Ever since the incident with her car being keyed the previous fall, Allie had taken to parking not on the BCU lot, but wherever she could find on the street. It was much more inconvenient, and she had to relocate every two hours on most days, but, at least it made her harder to identify.
Or so Allie thought, anyway.
For months, there hadn’t been a repeat of the incident that had gotten so far out of hand it prompted the university’s president to stick her nose in. Allie figured, after a full year had passed, everyone must have forgotten about it by now.
She was wrong.
Because, even though Allie had taken precautions, even though she had a new car now, one she didn’t even think most people realize she drove, that clearly still wasn’t enough.
When she got out of class that evening, instead of keys to the driver’s side door, someone had moved onto the windshield. And spray-paint.
The world SLUT in bright red for all to see….
“I’m Sarah Matthews-Wheeler,” she told the guard on duty at the front door of Michele and Bridget’s school. “I’m here to pick up the McKinnon girls.”
The man scratched his nose lazily. “Nobody left in the building, Miss.”
“What do you mean? I came to get them.”
“Everybody’s gone. Hours ago. After-school finished up soon as the sun went down.”
“Where did they go?”
A shrug. “Beats me. Home, I figure.”
“They’re not at home,” Sarah said. “I was just at home.” In case he’d missed it the first time, she repeated, “Bridget and Michele McKinnon. Did you see them leave today?”
“When? With whom?”
“Right after classes ended – yeah, right after. They got in a car – “
“What car? Who was driving it?”
“Didn’t get a good look at the make or model. But, there was definitely a man at the wheel.”
“Bridget and Michele got into a car with some strange man?” Sarah’s heart sped up into double-time. “Aren’t you supposed to watch out for them?”
“They seemed to know what they were doing. They’re middle-school, right? Middle-school kids are allowed to leave on their own.”
“Of all the stupid…” Sarah’s hands were shaking as she reached for her phone, dialing Marley’s number from memory, gasping as she told her. “The girls – they’re missing!”
“Kevin around?” Jamie called Amanda to ask. “I tried his cell, but the message is telling me he’s out of range.”
“He’s not home,” Amanda noted. “Honestly, I’m not sure where he is or when he’ll be back. He didn’t tell me.”
“I have some news for him.”
“About Jen?” Amanda’s breath caught in her chest.
“Yeah… It’s… We got a call from Cedars Hospital in Springfield. Amanda, Horace Johnson was shot a few hours ago. At close range. They did a lot of damage, he wasn’t breathing when the cops got there, but they managed to revive him, though it looks like his brain was deprived of oxygen for too long and basically he’s on life support at this point, with no chance of recovery.”
Amanda gasped, the shock of Horace’s state overruled by the obvious question, “So what does that mean for – “
“When they plugged him into the system, he was listed as an organ donor. The same system also, obviously, matched him to Jen as the priority recipient. They’re keeping him alive so we can do the transplant, but it’s a legal mess. For one thing, the body is evidence of a crime, so the cops want it. For another, Johnson is incapable of offering consent for the procedure, which means the question of donation would go to the family.”
“Jen is his only family.”
“True. But, she’s hardly an impartial observer in all this. We need a lawyer down here, and we need one fast. Find Kevin. Tell him he’s finally got his chance to do something. Before it’s too late.”
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