“Rachel isn’t home,” Lila told Grant dully as he stood expectantly in the Cory foyer. “I don’t know when she’ll be back, either.”
“Oh. Okay. I’ll stop by later, I guess…” He half turned to leave before stopping. “Are you alright, Lila?”
“Right as rain,” she snapped. “Who wouldn’t be alright after getting used as a pawn in a scheme to try and get you elected mayor again? If you’re happy, I’m happy, Senator.”
Grant wrinkled his brow. “Wait a moment, hold on. Rachel told me you were on board. That tape of Chase and – “
“Rachel made me do it,” Lila said simply, still somewhat numb with disbelief that it had actually happened. “I felt so bad about Carl and the twins. I was responsible for Chase digging up the evidence against him. I never thought – I didn’t want anyone to die.”
“Of course, you didn’t.” Seeing what a bad state she was in, Grant rested both his hands on Lila’s shoulders, looking her in the eye, demanding, “Did Rachel in any way suggest that – “
“She suggested that if I wanted to make up for what I’d done, I could step up and help her out by doing a little favor. I’m sure she’d have preferred for me to get Chase into bed so she could burst in with a team of paparazzi. Believe it or not, I did try my darnedest. But, guess my feminine charms ain’t what they used to be – go figure. Man didn’t budge. Just launched into a song and dance about how much he loves the fellow he’s with, and how that isn’t ever going to change. No worries, though. You and Rachel were able to get what you needed, in the end. Even without whoring me out.”
“I would never, ever,” Grant’s tone grew darker with every word. “Ask you to – “
“Rachel did.” Lila nodded fervently, confirming the fact as much to herself as to him. “I even called her on it. Used the word pimping and everything. Rachel didn’t so much as blink. She said I owed her.”
“I am so sorry, Lila,” he stumbled impotently over his words. “I had no idea.”
“I guess she figured, what’s the big deal? Like mother, like daughter, right?”
Grant didn’t know what to say to that.
So Lila went on. “Or maybe it had nothing to do with how my mama used to earn her living. Maybe it was all me. Maybe Rachel figured, after everything I’d done… Way I treated Shane, way I used Matt… Woman like me, what else was I good for?”
“Stop it,” Grant stressed, shaking her ever so slightly. “Do not talk about yourself like that. Ever. Rachel is in shock right now. She’s devastated over what’s happened. She isn’t thinking straight. Hell, why else would she be supporting my bid for mayor? Right? Right?” he asked again, even more desperately.
Lila smiled weakly at Grant, almost as if she were the one feeling sorry for him now. “Rachel thinks I’m a whore. She’s not the first. I just didn’t expect it to hurt so much. Coming from her, you know? I love her. I really do. She’s been more a mother to me than my own mama. I never expected that. It’s one thing to act civil when Jasmine was around. Another to take me under her wing, give me a home, treat me like a real daughter… These past few years since Cass and I split up, I don’t know what I would have done without her. I helped her with… this, because I did owe her. I lied to her about Chase and me in the first place, gave him access to this house, helped him drive Carl out of the country.”
“Carl ran. That had nothing to do with you.”
“Maybe if someone else had asked me… But, Rachel… The idea that Rachel sees me as nothing more than a common whore… “ At that, Lila finally broke down into the full-fledged tears she’d been holding at bay for days, allowing Grant to hug her tightly and to comfort her, knowing all the while there was nothing anyone could do. Or change.
“I should like to have this conversation in private, Mr. Hamilton,” Rachel indicated Doug, who still stood where he was.
“Anything you say to me, you can say to Doug.” Chase also refused to budge.
“That’s alright,” his partner dismissed, turning to head up the stairs. “I’ve heard more than enough from Mrs. Hutchins for today.”
Rachel waited until he’d disappeared from view, but not necessarily from hearing range, before telling Chase, “You’ve certainly done an exemplary job convincing him to blindly trust you.”
“What over twenty years hath joined together, let not man – or woman – put asunder.”
“And here I thought you didn’t believe in gay marriage.”
“I don’t believe in any marriage that requires sanction by the state. My goodness, does no one read my pamphlets?”
“Perhaps you should mention that to Lila the next time you see her.”
“Right after I frisk her for recording equipment, sure.”
“Do you deny that you said those things to her?”
“My private life is none of your concern. Or the voters’.”
“Good luck convincing them of that.”
“Is that what you came all this way to tell me? Because you do have my email address.”
“I came to make you an offer.”
“If you prefer. It would save us both a great deal of time, money and trouble.”
“Be gone,” Chase said with a flicker of his fingers. “Before someone drops a house on you, too.”
“Not until I’m good and ready, Mr. Hamilton. The tape that Grant played at his press conference? It’s incomplete.”
“You don’t say?” Chase widened his eyes to mime exaggerated shock.
“The original version still exists.”
“Outside of your fireplace? I find that somewhat difficult to believe.”
“And I am willing to release it to the public.”
“As a DVD download extra?”
“My God,” Rachel had to snap. “Did you say you and Mr. Rivera have been together for over twenty years? How does he stand it?”
“I have other, hidden charms.”
“I am willing to publicly release the original version of your conversation with Lila,” Rachel repeated.
“In exchange for…”
“Evidence that Iris used inside information to buy up her Cory stock days before news of Carl’s money being withdrawn became common knowledge.”
Chase burst out laughing. “So much for that Cory family loyalty I’ve heard so much about.”
“I feel no compulsion to act loyal towards family members who refuse to extend me the same courtesy.”
“And if I do give you that documentation,” Chase wanted to make certain they were on the same page. “You’ll release the unaltered recording?”
“That’s not going to make Grant look very good.” Chase guessed, “You are planning on pinning the entire deception on him, right? Plead ignorance of your own role and act self-righteously shocked – shocked! – that such malfeasance has taken place?”
Rachel declined to answer one way or the other.
“Grant’s campaign might never recover from a revelation like that so early in the process. You’ll kill any momentum he’s hoping to build up.”
“Politics is a dirty game. If Spencer taught his son anything, it should have been that.”
“I’m impressed. Taking out me, Grant, and Iris all with one shot? You are an extraordinary chess player, Mrs. Hutchins. Queen protects King. It’s the most important paradigm on the board.”
“It’s too late for me to protect my husband. Or the pawns that you used to gain access to him. The only thing I can do now is make sure you’re left with no viable moves, and to neutralize any other potential threats while I’m at it. Someone must pay for my family’s decimation. I’m giving you the chance to save yourself. The question remains: Are you a good enough chess player to take it?”
Frankie and Cass figured, as long as they were being kept in a gilded cage, they might as well take advantage of the amenities, immersing themselves in the master bath Jacuzzi for two reasons:
One) In case the room was bugged and they were being eavesdropped on, the whirr of the motor would presumably obscure their conversation.
Two) It was a master bath Jacuzzi.
“So,” Cass asked Frankie as he leaned back against one of the jets, allowing it to massage the muscles in his back grown sore from several strenuous days of hard labor exploring indoor amusement parks, indoor race tracks, and even an indoor ski range. “How do you think our investigation is going so far?”
“Well,” Frankie sunk down until the chlorinated bubbles were tickling her chin. “I think the plan to draw Carl out of hiding by making our inquires obvious has been a rousing success.”
“I agree. When we first decided the best way to find Carl would be to make him aware we were looking for him and see what he did in response, I had no idea it would lead to this.”
“The Luxury Prisoner of Dubai!”
“Do you think that, instead of an Iron Mask, they’ll use pure gold?”
“If it’s good enough for the bathroom fixtures, it’s certainly fit for the latest in dungeon attire.”
Cass took in their surroundings. “Does make you wonder what their dungeons are like, doesn’t it?”
“How long do you think they intend to keep us here?” Frankie gave up their game, allowing a spot of fear to creep in.
“El-Gamal has our passports. Indefinitely, would be my guess.”
“But, what’s the point of it? People know we’re in the country. We can’t just disappear without a trace.”
“Would you question it if you were told we’d decided to chuck everything and go live the good life in Dubai?”
“We have kids back in America!”
“Well, okay, not permanently. But, if Felicia gets a message from us saying we’ll be out of touch for at least the next few weeks, she won’t think anything odd of it.”
“So he’ll delay us for a few more weeks. Give Carl time to go even deeper underground. But, as long as we know he’s still alive…” Frankie stated what they were both thinking. “As long as we know for sure that Carl is still alive and can alert the rest of the world, we’re never getting out of here, are we?”
“It doesn’t look good, no.”
Frankie nodded grimly. “Wouldn’t it be tragic if you and I were to suffer an accident while all the way on the other side of the world? No witnesses. Our bodied burned beyond recognition…”
“I will never,” the gallows humor of a moment before dissipated as Cass leaned over to stress, “I will never, ever let that happen to you. Not again. Not on my watch.”
“I know,” she told him in all honestly. “So let’s put our heads together and figure out what we’re going to do next.”
“You did it!” Kevin snapped shut his phone and turned to gape in wonder at GQ. “Your statement did the trick!” He turned to a waiting Jamie, Amanda, and Steven, telling them, “The judge approved our request to take bone marrow from Johnson. He’s signing the order now, and the donation should be here from Springfield in a few hours!”
“That’s wonderful!” Amanda trilled for all of them, throwing her arms around Kevin’s neck.
“Thanks,” Steven told GQ. “You really came through for her.”
“I love her,” GQ reminded.
“Yeah,” Steven said. “I know you do.”
“That’s great news.” Jamie turned towards the nurse’s station, making a mental list of everything he needed to do in anticipation. “I’ll coordinate with Cedars, make sure an operating room is ready the minute it gets here. I’ll have Jen prepped for the transplant, too.” He asked Kevin, “Do you want me to tell her – “
“Don’t tell her anything,” Kevin asked. “It will only upset her now. Let her recover first.”
“Alright,” Jamie said.
Kevin checked, “She is going to recover now, isn’t she?”
“The odds are very, very good,” Jamie assured, before taking off.
“I can’t believe it.” Amanda beamed up at Kevin. “It’s a miracle. You must be – ”
He nodded absently and, without another word, stepped to a quieter corner of the waiting area, determined to do all he could on this end to make sure that nothing went wrong.
He left Amanda standing alone. All except for Morgan, who’d witnessed the entire thing, and only gave her a knowing look before moving on.
“This is a surprise,” Rachel said, unsure what to think, upon arriving home to find Alice waiting for her.
“I’m sorry for not calling first,” Alice did look regretful. “But, this was urgent and, to be honest, I wasn’t certain how I might approach the subject over the phone.”
“Is something wrong?”
“In a manner of speaking.”
“Jamie?” Rachel’s breath caught in her throat.
“He’s… fine,” Alice rushed to reassure. “Well, not really, as I’m sure you can imagine. But, for the time being, he’s… fine.”
“Then what is this about?”
“Lucas,” Alice said. “He came to me, very upset, because of something Felicia had…” Alice took a deep breath, deciding to dive right in. “Felicia has gotten it into her head that not only is Carl, but, by extension, Cory, Elizabeth and Lorna, are still alive, too. And that you know about it. That you were part of the plan from the start.”
“Plan? What plan?”
“To kidnap Lorna. And to fake her death along with the others.”
“What?” Rachel exploded. “Why – How – Why in the world would I do such a thing?”
“Carl was facing a prison term. Getting him out of the country was one way to avoid it. Having him presumed dead would insure that no one came looking for him down the line. A clean escape.”
“And Lorna? What role would she have played in that scenario?”
“I don’t know,” Alice admitted. “Lucas doesn’t know, either. But, Felicia… her child is dead. She’s clinging to hope.”
“No,” Rachel corrected. “My children are dead. We know that Elizabeth and Cory were on Carl’s plane when it went down. Everything pertaining to Lorna is pure speculation.”
“She disappeared the same day they did.”
“It’s a big world. Lots of things happen simultaneously.”
“Carl threatened her. And Jamie.”
“You only have Lorna’s word for that.”
“I want to believe you,” Alice said. “You have no idea how desperately I want to believe you, Rachel. That’s why I offered to come ask you myself, instead of putting either Lucas or Felicia through it. Because no matter how much this train of thought may pain me, it is obviously nothing compared to what they’re going through. They deserve to know what happened to their daughter.”
“And they’ve decided that I’m involved in having her kidnapped and killed?”
“Are you?” Alice asked softly.
“What do you think?” Rachel fired back.
“I think,” Alice chose her words with care. “That you loved Carl with all your heart. Even more than Mac, in a way, or at least, differently. Mac healed you, and you healed Carl. That made the redemption of his soul the most important thing in the world; even more important than your own. I think that you honestly saw nothing wrong with what he’d done, because to view it otherwise was unthinkable. And I think that you would have committed just about any act in order protect not just him, but your vision of him.”
Rachel snorted in response. “I should have known.”
“But, I also think that you would die before hurting any of your children. And the idea that you might be responsible – even indirectly – for the agony Jamie is currently going through, no… I cannot even entertain the possibility.”
Rachel wasn’t certain how to react to Alice’s faith. And so she merely said, “I am sorry for Felicia and for Lucas. I know exactly how they feel. Because I feel it, too. The only difference is, they still have each other. I… I don’t have anything left.”
“That isn’t true. You have Jamie and Amanda and Matt.”
“They all believe your version of events. That Carl is faking his death along with Cory and Elizabeth’s. My children believe the man I loved was capable of sadistically tearing my heart out and gleefully crumbling it into a million pieces. They’re not exactly a comfort at the moment.”
“I’ll talk to Lucas,” Alice said. “See if he can disabuse Felicia of her notion.”
“She really thinks I’d be capable of that? Of keeping her daughter – my granddaughters’ mother – locked up somewhere away from her family? Away from Jamie?”
“She’s grasping at straws.” Alice noted. “In her position, wouldn’t you do the same?”
“You alright?” Sarah was the only one home when Grant got back from Rachel’s. The pallor of his skin suggested it hadn’t been a productive encounter.
“No.” Grant shook his head, admitting, “I ran into Lila. She told me… She told me that Rachel more or less blackmailed Lila into prostituting herself to get that tape of Chase.”
“Oh.” Sarah said. “Yeah. I heard it on TV last night.”
“I had no idea,” Grant pleaded for her to believe him. “I had absolutely no idea that’s what went on. I thought Lila wanted to do it. After the way Chase played her earlier. If I’d known… She’s crushed. She feels betrayed and let down…. It’s my fault. Again. I could have put my foot down when Rachel first came to me. I could have, at the very least, asked how Lila felt about it. I could have asked Lila herself. But, I didn’t. I wasn’t thinking about anyone else but me.” He rubbed his face with both hands in pure disgust. “What else is new?”
“I’m sure Lila doesn’t blame you.”
Grant looked up, the smile on his face utterly devoid of genuine happiness. “No. She doesn’t. That’s almost the worst part. Quite possibly my best friend in the world is suffering right now. Because of me. And somehow I’ve managed to escape the blame. Where’s the justice in that?”
“She loves you,” Sarah said, as if that should make the rest obvious.
“She’s a fool,” Grant said. “Add Lila Hart’s name to the list of idiots. And victims. You see, Sarah, this is what I was talking about before. The ability – and propensity – to hurt people without even knowing you’re doing it. I’m an expert, I’m sure you’ve realized by now. It doesn’t take much. Utter and complete self-absorption helps. A lack of moral compass. Greed. And, finally, the unshakable ability to convince yourself that ends truly do justify the means. Always. No exceptions.”
Sarah said, “I know what you’ve been doing. These past few weeks. I even figured out why you sent me on that wild goose chase for Michele and Bridget. You want to prove to me what a bad mom I’d make.”
Grant raised his head to meet her eyes. “Not bad, Sarah. Just young. You are too young to be doing this. Your baby deserves better.”
“Than both of us,” he told her.
“And you don’t want it, right?” Sarah asked.
“No.” It took all of Grant’s strength just to form that one syllable. “I don’t. I told you. I love Marley. I won’t hurt her like this. I wouldn’t even risk her ever finding out. She’s who I want to be with. Not you and not…”
“Okay. I get it.” Sarah squeezed her eyes shut, as if that could somehow also keep out the punch of his words. “So, I’ve been thinking. You don’t want it. And you don’t think I can take care of it properly. You’re probably right. I mean, look at the mess I made of us. Clearly, good decisions aren’t exactly my thing. Which means there’s only one thing left to do. I have to give it up. For its own good. And yours. And Marley’s.”
“And yours,” Grant added. “It will be good for you, too.”
She ignored him. “Allie said that Hudson is happy where he is. With a mom and dad who see him as a miracle instead of a burden. I know a couple that really wants a baby, too. They can’t have one any other way. So, I’ve made up mind. I figured you might as well be the first to know, since you’re the one who pushed so hard for this. I’m going to have the baby, and I’m going to give it to Matt and Donna.”
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