“I love you, Amanda,” Kevin said.
But the way in which he said it prompted her to ask, only half-kidding, “Then why do you look so miserable about it?”
He sat down on the couch, taking her hand and pulling Amanda next to him. “We did this all wrong, didn’t we? From the beginning. First you were pretending to be someone you weren’t – “
“Hey, don’t mock. It’s a tried and true method for me. That’s how my first marriage started. Of course, that didn’t exactly work out either. No matter how many times we tried.”
“And then I didn’t tell you who I really was…”
“You should have. I had such a crush on you when we were little kids. If you’d told me you were my old pal Kevin Thatcher right off the bat, things probably would have moved even faster.”
“We fought over my keeping secrets about Allie and Hudson, and then there was you and Morgan, me and Lila… “
“Morgan and I are long over. And unless you’re trying to tell me something about you and Lila…”
“No. I’m not. Not about that.”
“Then what are you trying to tell me?”
“You accused me once of only marrying you because I’d had my license to practice law suspended and I was bored.”
“That was Morgan’s theory, never mine.”
“I do love you, Amanda.”
“So you said. Which led us to this, Why do you look so miserable conversation?”
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“Oh, that’s always a great conversation starter. Or ender. What’s going on, Kevin? What could be so terrible?”
“Please believe me when I tell you that I never meant for things to happen the way that they did. I thought I had everything covered. But, I guess I’m not as smart as I like to think I am.”
“Okay, now I know this is serious.” Amanda was trying to keep her tone light, but her confidence was fading by the minute. “Tell me: What’s happened?”
“I – I’m the one who got Horace Johnson killed. And the police have just about figured it out.”
“Would you excuse us, Russ?” Marley’s voice sounded completely normal. To everyone, that is, except for Sarah and Marley.
Russ snuck a peek at his granddaughter. “Do you want me to go?”
She hesitated. But, the look on Marley’s face helped make up Sarah’s mind. She gulped and nodded. “It’s okay, Granddad.”
Russ disagreed. But, heeding his own advice to be supportive, not intrusive, did as she asked, anyway.
Sarah waited for Russ to leave before asking, “Are you mad at me, Marley?”
The question seemed to greatly amuse the older woman. “You could say that, Sarah.”
She bobbed her head, understanding, not realizing that Sarah really didn’t understand anything at all. “I guess you think I should have told you.”
“Told me what? Oh, you mean about how close to home your baby’s paternity hit.”
“Yes…. That. I’m sorry Iris just blabbed it the way she did.”
“Me, too,” Marley told her the God’s reality. Very, very sorry. “The question is: Was she telling the truth?”
“What do you mean? Steven… Steven said….”
“I’m not asking you what Steven said. I heard what Steven said. I am asking if Iris told us the truth?”
“I don’t understand.”
“Neither do I,” Marley said. “I thought we were friends.”
“Have you been playing me from the beginning?” Marley wanted to know. “From the very start? I don’t blame you, in a way. I suppose I was an easy mark. Poor, desperate, loveless Marley. Ready to cling to any semblance of a family. Even if I had no right to it. Once upon a time, I thought of you as my daughter. You’d be a fool not to take advantage of it, I suppose.”
“I took you into my house! I treated you like you were my own child! My mother warned me. Isn’t that funny? Leave it to Donna to recognize a fellow sociopath. She said you’d break my heart. And I defended you.”
“Is this about me telling Donna she couldn’t have my baby? I thought you’d be happy.”
“I am,” Marley said. “Watching my mother raise his child would have likely killed Grant.”
“Grant,” Sarah repeated the name before the full implication sunk in.
But, Marley wasn’t about to give her time to come up with yet another lie. “He told me, Sarah. He told me everything. He told me you claimed the baby is his.”
“Grant told you?” From the look of unbridled joy on Sarah’s face, even amongst the fear and confusion, Marley’s last hope of this all being a huge misunderstanding collapsed.
“Yes.” What more was there to say? Oh, wait. There was a hell of a lot more to say. “So which is it, Sarah? Grant? Steven? Another player To Be Announced later?”
“After all, I need to know how exactly I’m related to this baby, don’t I? It was almost my sibling, then my great-niece or nephew, and now – ”
“It’s Grant’s,” Sarah blurted out, needing to make that clear, needing to make Marley understand. “It’s absolutely, definitely Grant’s.”
“He doesn’t believe it,” Marley told the girl smugly, suspecting nothing could hurt her more. Feeling strangely sick upon realizing she was right.
“That’s what he told me. He says you accused him of being the father, but, then again, there’s also Steven, isn’t there?”
“Steven… He just said that. To help me out. Because of Grant and Kirkland and what happened with them and your sister.” Sarah could hear herself babbling, not making any sense. Not knowing how to explain herself any clearer.
“It doesn’t matter,” Marley continued. “Even if the baby is Grant’s, it doesn’t matter. Because he doesn’t want it.”
“I know,” Sarah all but whimpered. “He told me.”
“Did he tell you why?”
“Because of you.” Sarah understood what Marley was fishing for. “He said it’s because of you. He wants you, not me. Even with the baby. You’re more important to him than both of us.”
Somehow, hearing the words from Grant hadn’t hit Marley as hard as hearing them from Sarah. My God, could it be true? Could her husband actually be turning his back on a young, beautiful, willing, available woman who could give him all the children he ever dreamed of for… for what? For her? It didn’t seem possible. And yet, here it was.
“Stay away from us, Sarah,” Marley warned. “If you are truly sorry for what you did, then you stay away from us. I never want to see or hear from you again. You or your bastard.”
“I am sorry it took us so long to find you, Mr. and Mrs. Winthrop.” El-Gamal all but oozed oil from his tailored suits to his multi-thousand dollar watch as he escorted Cass and Frankie back to their suite. “But, alas, the desert is a very large place, and we had no idea which direction you might have headed off in.”
“The tire tracks in the sand weren’t a clue?” Cass snapped, too tired and hungry to play their game any longer.
“Obscured by the nocturnal winds, I’m afraid. By the time my associate and I were able to summon our own transportation, your trail had tragically been lost.”
“How long do you intend to keep us here?” Frankie figured they might as well cut straight to the chase. After all, if El-Gamal had intended to kill them, wouldn’t the desert have been a better location for it? The fact that he was keeping them alive meant he had a good reason for doing so. And she was determined to find out what it was.
“Until our business is completed,” El-Gamal answered cryptically.
”Our business was to find Carl Hutchins and his children.”
“And he has not yet been found,” El-Gamal noted, most reasonably.
“People are going to notice we’re gone,” Frankie pointed out. “It was just Thanksgiving. Our families were expecting to hear from us.”
“Oh, do not worry. You sent your daughter a congratulatory text, wishing her a most happy holiday and reassuring her that all was well with Mama and Papa.”
“Seriously?” Cass wondered. “In just those words?”
“I am paraphrasing.” He smiled. “Rest assured, all is equally well with young Charlotte. Although she did wish to pass on the information that, and I quote: Thanksgiving was a major mess. Dean brought Jeanne. Steven knocked up Sarah. Donna, Rachel and Iris really got into it. End quote.”
“I wish I could have been there,” Frankie said sincerely.
“A shame that wasn’t possible,” El-Gamal agreed.
“Yo!” Morgan stuck his head into Jamie’s office.
Jamie made a mental note to someday tell him how much he hated being addressed by “Yo!” Especially in a professional setting.
“I heard Raya asked you out.”
On the other hand, maybe it was just Morgan that Jamie hated. In any setting.
He shook his head ruefully. “Oh, how I’ve missed the hospital grapevine.”
“You can’t blame the nurses for gossiping.”
Jamie looked to the right. Jamie looked to the left. “I don’t see any nurses in here.”
“Why did you turn her down?” Morgan wanted to know. “Raya’s a knockout. Who doesn’t like Asian girls? And she’s smart. She’s a great doctor. Seems sweet. You could do a lot worse.”
Jamie said, “I realize this is a detail that may have escaped your attention based on previous experience, but married people, as a rule, don’t date.”
“Lorna did,” Morgan said, clearly itching for an ass-kicking.
“Obviously,” Jamie observed. “She thought she could do better.”
“She’s gone, Jamie.” Morgan got to the heretofore unmentioned point of his visit. “You have to start accepting that. If not for yourself, for your kids. Charlie told me Kirkland told her you show the girls Lorna’s picture every day and tell them she’s just lost, but that she’s coming home soon.”
“I don’t want Devon and Zee to forget their mother. And, by the way, that’s none of Charlie’s business. Or yours,” Jamie spat.
“It isn’t healthy.”
“Neither is pumping teen-agers for information about your ex-wife.”
“Kirk is worried about you.”
“Is he?” Jamie realized he couldn’t dismiss that accusation as easily as everything else Morgan had said.
“Yeah. So is Steven, so is Amanda, so is everybody. Well, except Felicia. She agrees with you. You two have set up this sick codependency.”
“You know that you’re a surgeon, not a shrink, right, Morgan?”
“I care about Felicia. And I care about Lorna’s kids.”
“I, on the other hand, have only their worst interests at heart?”
“You’re thinking about yourself, not them. Just like when Lorna was in the hospital.”
“Get out, Morgan,” Jamie said evenly.
“Calm down, man. I’m only trying to – “
“Get yourself killed, from the looks of it.”
“I’m trying to do what Lorna would have wanted. Which is keep you from reverting to bad habits.”
“Get,” Jamie tried again, even slower this time, in case Morgan was particularly dim – or suicidal. “Out.”
“I know how hard Lorna is to get over,” he said, inching towards the door. “But, you’re going to have to do it sooner or later.”
“Physician,” Jamie said. “Heal thyself.” Before doing what he feared most and losing control, grabbing a stapler off his desk and flinging it at the wall, missing Morgan’s head by barely an inch. And not feeling at all sorry about it.
“Quite the scene over Thanksgiving, wasn’t it?” Lucas chuckled to Alice as the two of them babysat Devon and Mackenzie, waiting for Jamie to come home from work.
“Rather par for the course where Rachel and Iris are concerned,” Alice dismissed absently, their scuffle not uppermost in her mind. She told Lucas, “The announcement about Sarah and Steven wasn’t the only blow of the evening, I’m afraid. Prior to us all sitting down to dinner, Rachel – She… Rachel told me something… rather disturbing.”
“About Jamie?” Lucas guessed.
“No.” Alice shook her head. “About… you.” She turned to face him.
“Me?” Lucas wasn’t sure how to react. The only thing he did feel certain about was, “Well, there are unquestionably more than enough disturbing things about me.”
“Rachel said that you were behind Marley’s alleged suicide attempt. That you staged the scene as part of your, Carl, and Spencer’s plan to provoke Donna into thinking her family had been attacked, and releasing her file on the compound.”
Lucas slowly let out the breath he’d been holding. “Yes,” he said. “I was.”
“I treated Marley when she was brought into the emergency room. She nearly died.”
“She wouldn’t have. I was there the whole time, watching. If Donna hadn’t arrived on schedule, I would have gone in and gotten Marley myself.”
“What if you were too late? Not everyone reacts to carbon monoxide poisoning in the exact same way. Plus, Marley tried to break the garage’s window. She could have fallen, sliced an artery, bled to death before you even knew anything was wrong.”
“Yes,” Lucas agreed. “She could have. You’re right.”
Alice said, “Seems like my entire life, I’ve been drawn to good men. Good men with some distinctively not so good sides to them. Steven. My Steven, that is. Spencer.” She sighed. “Does Marley know about your role in her assault?”
He shrugged. “I don’t see how she would. Unless Rachel mentioned it for some reason. Or Fanny. Are you… Are you going to tell her?”
“It’s none of my business,” Alice said.
“Why did Rachel tell you?” Lucas wondered. “We’re talking about ancient history.”
“Because it seems that Rachel and Felicia both have decided that you are, in fact, my business.”
Lucas struggled to keep his expression neutral. “In what way?”
“Well, to start, Rachel doesn’t think it’s fair that Carl and Spencer are dead, while you seem to have walked away unpunished.”
“Lorna,” Lucas reminded grimly.
“I told her that. She isn’t convinced. Not unless the true story is Lorna, Carl, Elizabeth and Cory all being kidnapped and killed by the compound.”
Lucas smirked. “Carl would never be that sloppy.”
“Mostly, I think, Rachel just wanted to scare me away.”
“Why?” Lucas had to ask, flabbergasted.
“Felicia is her friend. You’re Felicia’s husband.”
He dropped his head in his hands, rubbing his face with the heels of both palms. “I don’t…
“I understand,” Alice reassured.
He looked up. “Then would you please be so kind as to fill me in? Because, quite frankly, I’m lost here.”
“We all are, to some extent.”
“How very reassuring,” he drawled.
“Felicia needs you right now. And you need her.”
“No. No, all we do is break each other’s hearts. Over and over again. Come to think of it, that’s all we’ve ever done. And I don’t know how much more I can take. I want to be there for Fanny. I know how much she’s suffering. I want to help her through this. But then I see her. And I get so angry. Not at her. At everything. It makes me sick just to think about it. All of it. Even Lorna’s girls. I’m ashamed to say I almost didn’t come today when you called. I love them. But, seeing Mackenzie and especially Devon… She looks so much like Lorna. I can barely stand it sometimes. Can barely stand myself.”
“You came, though,” Alice reassured. “That’s what matters.”
“I came because of you,” he confessed. “I came because, these days, the only person who it doesn’t tear me apart to so much as think about… is you.”
“At least I believe one thing now,” Marley refused to open her front door any further than necessary to see who it was. “You really don’t know how to take no for an answer.”
“I came to see Grant,” Sarah swallowed hard but stood her ground. Now that there were no more secrets, she had nothing more to lose. Just gain.
“I told you to stay the hell away from us. Was I not clear?”
“I need to hear it from Grant.”
Marley practically laughed out loud. “Are you honestly this shameless? My God, I owe my mother one massive apology. She had your number from the start!”
“I want Grant to tell me to stay away.”
“I was under the impression that he already had. Several times.”
“That was… before.”
“Before you knew. We were protecting you before.”
“You were protecting me?”
“I see. Well, you did a lousy job of it.”
“I suppose next you’ll tell me how sleeping with my husband was an accident?”
“No,” Sarah said, taking Marley by surprise. “It was the wrong thing to do. But, it wasn’t an accident. I love Grant.”
Something about the way Sarah said it, simply, honestly, without melodrama or apparent manipulation struck Marley harder than any histrionics might have. Sarah sounded so… young. It would almost have been heartbreaking.
If not for the minor detail: “He’s married to me.”
“And he wants nothing to do with you.”
“Let him tell me that himself. And I promise, Marley, I’ll go away. I won’t bother you again. But, I need to hear it from Grant. I’m not going anywhere until I do.”
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