Kevin blew into Jamie’s office at the hospital, already in the middle of at least three different conversations, one on his phone, one on his BlackBerry, another with his wife, telling the waiting Amanda, “I got your message.”
That seemed the extent of whatever Kevin had to say to her at this time. He turned his attention to Jamie, asking, “Any news?”
Jamie shook his head. “Still deadlocked. Cedars is willing to get us the marrow we need and have it airlifted, but they’re being blocked both by the cops and the hospital ethics committee.”
“Yeah,” Kevin sighed, exhausted. “I talked to Rick Bauer, you know, Hudson’s…”
“His dad is Chief-of-Staff, thought maybe he could break through some of the red tape. They’re working on it. It’s not like we’re asking for the guy’s heart or even a kidney. Donating bone marrow isn’t life-threatening to him. Not that he has much of a life left at this point, right? I mean, medical mumbo-jumbo aside, dude’s dead, more or less?”
“Honestly,” Jamie said. “I’m not sure what would be worse. If he was dead, then the body would be needed for an autopsy and…”
“You said he was shot in the head at close range. How is shoveling a couple table-spoons of marrow out of his hip going to mess with any kind of investigation?”
“I’m just telling you how I view the situation.” Jamie shrugged.
Amanda stood up to take Kevin’s hand. “It’s good news. At least now we know where Mr. Johnson is and – “
“That he’s not going anywhere.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” Jamie warned. “Based on his condition, he could be sent to a rehab facility. There’s not much the hospital can do for him at this point.”
“Damn it,” Kevin took a futile swipe at thin air. “Since when do the rights of a three-time loser on a breathing tube trump those of a young woman with her entire life still ahead of her?”
“Since right around the time lawyers got involved,” Jamie said evenly, not so much rubbing it in, but reminding Kevin of where he was.
Kevin acknowledged the rebuke with a snort before telling Jamie and Amanda, “I even tried to get Hamilton involved. He owes me a favor. And I figured, considering his fiscal stance, he wouldn’t want city resources wasted on keeping a thug like Johnson alive. Especially not at my daughter’s expense.”
“What did he say?” Amanda wondered.
“He’s going to see what he can do. Problem is, Springfield isn’t his jurisdiction, and they’re holding all the cards there.”
“I have some patients to check on.” Jamie moved to the door. “I’ll keep you posted if I hear anything new, Kevin.”
“Thanks.” Kevin nodded absently, turning back to the phone and the BlackBerry.
After Jamie left, Amanda waited for Kevin to finish up before she said anything. When it became clear that he wouldn’t be doing so anytime shortly, she took a step forward, in order to be in his eye-line, and prompted, “Kevin?”
“Yeah?” He didn’t look up.
“When Jamie tried to reach you earlier, and when I called, too – where were you?”
Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth – as it were – Matt kept his own mouth firmly planted on Donna’s, stunned that she was finally allowing him to kiss her like this again, and not about to draw undue attention to the fact.
Instead, Matt slowly maneuvered his wife over towards their bed, encouraged by her prompt and eager response, making a mental note that he should really agree to adopt a baby somehow vaguely related to both of them more often.
On the one hand, Matt wanted to move his lips downward from Donna’s, to kiss her chin and her neck and her chest, to get her primed and ready because, honestly, Matt had waited long enough by this point. On the other hand, he was afraid that breaking their kiss would leave Donna free to talk. And no one wanted that. (Not that Matt didn’t find his wife a scintillating and charming conversationalist on other occasions. But, this was not one of them.)
Instead, he continued as he was, managing to get both sets of their respective clothes off without breaking contact for more than the space of a breath. He swept Donna under the covers, using his hands where he couldn’t his lips, teasing Donna’s nipples with his thumb, feeling her begin to writhe eagerly beside him. He swept a palm between her legs and judging that she was ready for him, more than ready even, Matt, his mouth still plastered to hers, maneuvered on top of Donna and inside of her, gratified by the moan of pleasure his act elicited, relieved and finally allowing himself to raise his head and gaze down at her and smile.
She smiled back and Matt exhaled gratefully, no longer holding back, starting to move faster and faster, thrilled by the way her arms went around his neck and her knees tightened at his waist. His breath sped up, turning into frantic gasps because damn, it had been a really, really, really long time and he really did love her so damn much. Which was exactly when Donna…froze.
Even through his own haze of enjoyment, Matt felt it. He felt how one moment she was just as into it as he was, and the next minute she… wasn’t. She’d been raising her hips to meet his, and now she was all but iced into place. The arms around his neck loosened, her own breath slowed and she straightened her knees, literally falling away from him. Literally pulling away. While acting as if she weren’t doing anything of the kind.
“What the…” Matt could barely get the words out, feeling dizzy from the whiplash and the out of the blue skid to a halt.
“I…” Donna began. “I’m sorry, Matthew.”
“What’s wrong? Did I hurt you?” He frantically looked around, wondering if his fingers had gotten caught in her hair of if he was pressing down on someplace he shouldn’t be. Though Matt had certainly never gotten any complaints before.
“Then what is going on?”
“I’m sorry, darling. It’s only that… It’s just…”
“What?” Matt knew his tone was out of line, but he was feeling pretty… frustrated at the moment.
“I’m sorry. But, as soon as I heard you getting excited – “
“You like when I get excited. I like when you get excited. It’s sort of the point of this entire exercise.”
“I know, I know.”
“What did you think was going to happen?”
“Your breathing… It got so ragged and irregular….”
“Again, kind of the point.”
“I grew scared. It reminded me… I was afraid…”
“I am fine, Donna.” He flopped down next to her. “Jamie gave me a clean bill of health months ago. He said we’re good to go.”
“And if he’s wrong? What then?”
“He isn’t wrong. I feel great, 100 percent. I am ready to make love to my wife again. Way past ready, to tell you the truth.”
“I realize that, darling.”
“Go ahead, then.” Donna swept a hand along the length of her naked body.
“Excuse me?” Matt shook his head, stunned. “Did you just say: Go ahead?”
“As in: Hop on?”
“Well, I would never be so crude as to…”
“Do you want me to make love to you, Donna?”
“Of course, I do. You know that. Always.”
“You could have fooled me.”
“I’m just so worried about you. It – it drew me out of moment, that’s all.”
“But, now you think you’re over it?”
She didn’t reply, merely remained lying as she was, silently pleading for Matt to understand.
“You don’t want me right now, do you, Donna?”
“I promise I’ll… try to.”
Matt’s laugh was coated in bitterness. “Just what a guy wants to hear. Especially from his wife.”
“I will try to get over my… problem. I do love you, I do want you to be happy. It’s just – “
“You’re not in the mood.”
“Not at the moment, no.”
“Any idea when that moment might come again?”
“We could… We could try. Right now.”
“No, thanks.” Matt stood up, pulling on a robe. “I know this is probably going against some ancient Man Code but, believe it or not, when I make love to you, I want you to enjoy it, too. Call me crazy.”
“I do enjoy it, Matthew. I mean, I’m sure I will. Again. Soon.”
“Don’t do me any favors,” Matt told her. And went to take a shower.
“It’s okay, it’s alright,” Marley attempted to calm a nearly hysterical Sarah once the girl made it back home and confirmed for herself that it was just as Marley had told her over the phone – Michele and Bridget were there, and they were safe.
“I just don’t know how it happened,” Sarah insisted. “I left as soon as Grant told me to. But, by the time I got to school, the guard said everyone was gone.”
“That’s because you were supposed to pick them up at fencing, not at school,” Grant interrupted from the side, looking disgusted by the entire enterprise.
Sarah turned to face him. “You told me school.”
“Why would I do that? I picked them up from there myself a few hours earlier and took them to their fencing class. I knew where they were.”
“You were the man whose car they got in?”
Grant nodded. “When no one came to pick up Bridget and Michele from fencing, they called here, and Marley managed to arrange a ride home for them from another parent.”
“So you see,” Marley stroked Sarah’s arm. “No harm done. They’re both fine.”
“I thought we could trust you,” Grant said. “I guess we were wrong.”
“Oh, for goodness’ sake!” Marley turned on her husband. “She made a mistake. She misheard. Or you misspoke. Everything is fine now.”
“Luckily the girls were able to think fast. If it were Sarah’s own baby…” Grant trailed off, the rest of his insult implied.
Stung, Sarah raised her eyes to meet Grant’s, practically daring him to continue.
He accepted the dare. “I’ve said it before, and now that the events of the afternoon have proven it, I will say it again: Sarah is too young and too irresponsible to be so much as thinking about raising a child on her own.”
“That’s none of our business.” Marley attempted to cut him off at the pass.
“It is when we’re the ones making it possible for her to engage in this folly. We’re acting like everything is going to be fine, when it obviously won’t be.”
“I know what I’m doing,” Sarah insisted.
“You think you do.” Grant stepped forward, trying, forcing, begging her to hear what he was saying. “I thought I knew what I was doing, too. With Kirkland. I thought because I loved my son, that meant I was capable of taking care of him, of giving him everything he needed. I told myself so in order to justify my own selfishness. I told myself that, after a decade of being gone, Kirkland would welcome me back with open arms. And when he didn’t, I still pushed to get my way. Mine, not his. I wasn’t thinking about Kirk. I was thinking about myself. What I wanted, what I needed, what made me happy. It wasn’t until my son nearly died; until he was lying in a hospital bed and telling me the best thing I ever did for him was leave him behind to be raised by someone competent, that it hit me what a selfish bastard I’d been, and was still. I don’t want that to happen to you, Sarah. Or your child. I don’t want, years down the line, for either of you to regret… anything. Do you understand me?”
Sarah’s mouth opened, but no sound came out. She appeared gut-punched, wanting to respond to Grant’s claims, but too staggered to make it happen.
It was Marley who spoke up instead, putting one arm around Sarah’s shoulder, while taking Grant’s hand in hers, the three of them standing so close together, they could hear each other’s ragged breathing.
“Sarah’s situation isn’t like yours,” Marley attempted to soothe them both. “What happened with you and Kirkland was… complicated.”
“And this,” Grant jerked his head in Sarah’s direction, most notably her midsection. “Isn’t?”
“It doesn’t need to be.”
“If Sarah cares anything for her child,” Grant stuck to his guns, his head spinning, the blood leaving his head and filling his chest until he thought he might explode from the pressure. “She will think about it first, she will put it first. Not herself. She simply can’t give it what it needs. She knows that. She’s always known that. Today just proved it beyond a shadow of a doubt. Granted, we all should have realized that from the start, but obviously it’s too late for regrets. The only thing it’s not too late for is doing everything she can to make sure the situation doesn’t get any worse. You think I don’t understand what I’m saying?” Grant looked from Sarah to Marley and back again, his eyes blazing. “You think I don’t know what it’s like to give up the one thing you’ve wanted your entire life? The only thing that’s keeping you sane and tethered to the world? I do. Believe me, I do. But, if Sarah really loves her baby. Really loves it. She’ll put its needs ahead of her own. No matter how much it hurts or what it costs. Because that’s the only thing left to do now. You can’t make any of this work out for the best. We’re well past that point. You can only keep it from becoming an utter disaster and ruining even more lives as you go along.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Winthrop?” They’d been expecting Lawrence of Arabia. They got a tall, somewhat tan man dressed in Western clothes – a $100,000 Alexander Amosu suit, with its trademark nine diamond buttons set in 18-carat gold – and a very, very broad smile as he greeted Cass and Frankie at the Dubai airport. “I am Nasser El-Gamal, friend of Peter Love.”
His English was impeccable, as was the set of his jet-black hair, and the shine on his ostrich-capped toed shoes ($975 retail). Cass considered pricing out his Piaget’s Emperador Temple watch, but that seemed a bit tacky. (Oh, what the hell, $3.3 million.)
“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. El-Gamal,” Frankie thrust out her hand to shake, which he did without so much as a flinch of discomfort. Clearly not too traditional.
“You are very fortunate,” El-Gamal said, walking Frankie and Cass to the limousine that sat waiting for them at the curb (engine on, gas running; then again, it certainly was in Dubai’s interests to burn through as much natural fuel as possible, wasn’t it? The more they burned, the more precious – and expensive – their remaining deposits became.) “You have managed to arrive just in time for some lovely weather.”
“This is it?” Cass double-checked. Leaving the airport had felt like stepping out from air-conditioned splendor into… a wall of invisible flame. Cass thought his internal organs might well be perspiring.
“Oh, yes,” El-Gamal gestured for his driver to get out of the car and load Mr. and Mrs. Winthrop’s luggage into the trunk. “Last weekend, it was unpleasantly warm.”
Cass and Frankie exchanged looks, but kept straight faces out of politeness.
Once thankfully inside the car, where the air-conditioning leaned toward the downright nippy, El-Gamal reached for the bar (no Muslim edict against alcohol, here) and, while pouring the Winthrops their requested drinks – just water for both; even a few minutes out in the elements had left them parched – explained, “I promised Peter I would give you a very thorough tour of our humble, little country. And, of course, help you out in any way I can.”
“We’d be very appreciative,” Cass said.
“Excellent,” El-Gamal beamed. “But, first, a minor detail.” He held out his hand. “May I have your passports, please?”
Cass and Frankie froze in place. Nobody had said anything about…
“I’m sorry,” El-Gamal shrugged, looking as if he truly, truly were. “It is simply how we do things here. Otherwise, I am afraid we will be unable to proceed with your… inquiries.”
“Thank you for listening,” Lucas smiled wanly up at Alice after, having no place else he could think of to go, ending up uninvited on her doorstep, telling her everything about his conversation with Felicia, including her suspicion that Rachel had been in on Carl faking his own death, as well as those of Elizabeth, Cory – and Lorna.
“Of course, of course. But, you will forgive me if I don’t exactly know how to respond.”
“That makes two of us. I tried reasoning with Fanny. I know how badly she wants to believe Lorna is still alive but… the idea that Rachel would do this, not just to us, her friends, but to her own son, it’s…”
“I know what Rachel is capable of,” Alice said slowly. “At least, I know what she was capable of once. Maybe… maybe, for Carl, she would allow Jamie, Amanda, and Matt to believe that their brother and sister were dead. If she thought she was helping Carl, then, yes, she could do that. And I can even believe she would agree to having Elizabeth and Cory spirited away from their home and the rest of their family, forced to live in hiding, keeping their identities a secret. I can see her justifying that, too, in the name of keeping the four of them together and Carl out of jail. But, Lorna… Lorna is the part that makes no sense. Lorna was no threat to Rachel and Carl.”
“Carl thought she was.”
“Yes. He thought she and Jamie were responsible for Rachel choosing her children over her husband. But, if Rachel was part of the plan for Carl to leave with the twins, Rachel joining them eventually, then clearly she’d switched sides. She was committed to Carl now, regardless of what that meant for her relationship with Jamie, Amanda, and Matt. So Carl had won. What would he need Lorna for?”
“Exactly.” Lucas bobbed his head. Grateful that someone understood finally.
“Not to mention… Rachel… Would Rachel honestly allow her son and her grandchildren to go through the pain of losing a wife, a mother; Felicia and you a daughter – after what you already went through with Jenna – and merely stand by for months on end, watching you all suffer?”
“Not the Rachel I knew.”
“Not the one I knew, either. And, believe me, that was a different woman. Still…”
“Fanny wants it to be true. Even if that means one of her very best friends in the world… She still wants it to be true. Because then, Lorna is still alive. This isn’t like Jenna. With Jenna, there was no hope.”
“With Lorna, as long as Felicia is willing to vilify Rachel, there still is,” Alice finished for him.
“A part of me,” he confessed. “A part of me wants to confront Rachel. Get an answer one way or the other. Know finally. Move on. But, another part… oh, hell. The thought of Fanny’s heart being broken again…”
Alice took a deep breath, unsure of what she was getting herself into, yet feeling like it was the only thing she had to offer. “Would you like me to ask her?”
“Here.” Lila strode up to Rachel, entering her former mother-in-law’s study without knocking and dropping the recorder into her lap, Lila’s face grim. “There should be enough here for whatever you’ve got in mind.”
Rachel looked up, cringing at Lila’s anger – and her obvious ambivalence, wanting instinctively to reach out and comfort her. Needing to forcibly remind herself of why she was doing this. And the role that Lila had played in making the act necessary. “Did you…”
“I kissed him,” Lila said. “Again. And he rejected me. Again. You know how much you love Carl? That’s how much Chase loves Doug. So that’s a dead end.”
Rachel’s resolve stiffened at Lila’s choice of words. “Lucky for Mr. Hamilton, the man that he loves is still with him.”
“There’s plenty of ammunition there,” Lila repeated. “Get yourself a good sound editor, and you can make it seem like Chase said pretty much anything.”
“I do appreciate this, Lila.” Rachel softened.
Her ex-daughter-in-law did not. “That’s it,” Lila stressed. “You make this recording work. Because I’m not going back for more.”
“I don’t think you do. I am very, very sorry about what happened to Carl and Elizabeth and Cory. But, I’ve got my limits, too. We’re done here, Rachel. I love you, and I owe you a lot. I know I’m the one who came asking what I can do to make things right between us again. You told me, and I did it. Except I didn’t expect to feel like – I mean, it’s hardly the first time… Kind of person I am and all… Kind of person I used to be.” Lila took a deep breath. “I get why you’d think I would be up to…. But, it ends here. You and me,” a tear slid down her cheek. “We’re done.”
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