Grant stood on the early morning sidewalk, his heart in his throat, watching Sarah through the furniture store window as she picked out a bedroom set for her baby. For their baby.
When she caught sight of him, Grant froze in place. Their eyes locked.
He could go in, Grant told himself. No one would see. No one would know.
And Sarah would know.
And if Sarah knew just how badly he wanted to go in…. Grant looked away and kept on walking.
“Hey!” Jamie blinked in surprise, having opened the door to find Dennis, someone he could honestly say he hadn’t given much thought to, in years.
“Long time,” his onetime best friend offered, making a face to indicate even he realized how lame he sounded.
“You could say that.”
“Alice sent me,” Dennis figured if that didn’t get him in the door, nothing would.
“Why?” Jamie asked, genuinely curious.
“Because, I think, in her mind, we’re both still twelve years old, and out in the back working on our tree house. I mean, she gave another reason, officially. But, I think that’s the real one.”
“Tree house rotted and fell down years ago,” Jamie filled him in. “Even before you came back to town the last time.”
“Not my most shining moment, was it? The last time.”
“Nope,” Jamie agreed.
“Don’t suppose I’m sorry would get the job done?”
Jamie considered the question, and opened the door wider, “It’s a start.”
“Any word from Charlie?” Cass nervously checked his own cell-phone as Frankie did the same with hers.
“No.” She tried to sound unconcerned. She failed.
“She’s never stayed out all night before.”
“We don’t know that,” Frankie pointed out. “Maybe she has when we weren’t here.”
“Felicia would have mentioned it.”
“Charlie is eighteen years old. I told Felicia to give her as much space as she needs.”
“Where could she be? If even Kirkland didn’t know...”
“Well, now he’s not answering his phone, either. So maybe they’re together.”
“He should have called us, then.”
“They’re kids, Cass! Kids in love.”
“Our plane to France is in a couple of hours. I don’t want to get on board still wondering where Charlie is.”
“We’ll check in from Europe. We can’t risk another lead to Carl disappearing on us. Bad enough we’ve waited this long.”
“It was the holidays,” Cass reminded gently.
“I know, I know. And I’m so glad we stayed. Seeing all the new things Lori Ann can do now – she’s putting two, even three words together to make sentences! That’s incredible progress! I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. But, the fact is, Felicia and Rachel love their children as much as we love ours. And theirs have been missing since July.”
“If you really feel that way,” Cass sat down next to Frankie. “Why did you veto my idea to ask Rachel about the vintner and Carl’s exclusive delivery?”
“Because,” she admitted. “I’m not certain we can trust her.”
“You think Jamie is right? Carl took Lorna, the kids, and faked all their deaths?”
“We haven’t come up with any evidence to disprove that theory.”
“All Owen Lax told us was that Carl was planning to take off with Elizabeth and Cory. Nothing about faking a plane crash.”
“Carl wouldn’t reveal his entire plan to any one person. He’s not stupid. Everyone would be on a need-to-know basis. Owen wouldn’t have known about the crash, and Carl’s pilot likely didn’t know there were kidnapped women and children on board.”
“So where does Rachel fit into this?”
“Faking Carl’s death is one way to get Chase Hamilton and the State Department to drop their investigation. Look at it from Rachel’s perspective. Her choice was to either lie to her children and put them through thinking their father was dead, or send the kids off with Carl and play the grieving wife and mother here. Then, after a few months, when she’s sure everyone has bought the cover story and moved on, Rachel announces she needs a fresh start, the house and Bay City hold too many memories for her. She packs up, leaves town and joins Carl someplace with a good exchange rate and no extradition treaty with the US.”
“What about Jamie, Amanda and Matt? They’d never want to visit their mother in her new home with its great exchange rate?”
“Rachel visits them regularly. She leads two lives. It’s not impossible, Cass, you know that. Especially not when you’ve got the kind of money Carl does, squirreled away in secret bank accounts all across the globe.”
“Okay. So that takes care of Carl and the kids. Where does Lorna fit in?”
“Jamie says Carl blamed her for the schism between him and Rachel. He blamed Lorna and Jamie both. Separating them would be a hell of a punishment.” Frankie hesitated, then added, “He’s done it before. With you and Kathleen.”
“That wasn’t exactly the same case. And Carl, supposedly, isn’t the same man.”
“What do they say about stress? That’s when your true character comes out? Carl had no problem playing nice when there was nothing to lose by it. But, back him in a corner, and here come the old, bad habits.”
“Rachel agreed to having her son’s wife kidnapped indefinitely? Forget what that does to Jamie, you think Rachel wants to spend the rest of her natural life sharing a tropical paradise with Carl, their kids, and her locked up daughter-in-law? Who is also Carl’s ex….assistant.”
“You’re assuming Lorna is being kept wherever Carl is. That’s what outsourcing was invented for. She could be a million miles away. Hell, Lorna could not know that Carl is even involved. And maybe the plan is to let her go once Rachel and Carl reunite. You know, to keep Jamie distracted. I’m just guessing here,” Frankie threw her hands up in the air. “I’m not the criminal mastermind. All I know is, we find where Carl’s wine is being shipped to, we find ourselves one step closer to Carl.”
“This case means a lot to you, doesn’t it? Beyond helping Felicia and Rachel and Jamie.”
Frankie nodded. “When I’m working, I don’t feel helpless. I feel powerful and in control and useful. My life was so fractured and so helpless for so long. It’s a damn nice feeling, getting the old Frankie Frame back.”
Cass kissed her. “You calling my wife old?”
“Not as long as she’s got a lead to follow and a case to crack.”
“Then what are we waiting for? That vintner won’t interrogate himself.”
Frankie smiled and stood up. At that exact moment, the phone rang. She checked the display and smiled in relief. “It’s Kirkland.”
“Why didn’t you call me?” Amanda demanded when she saw GQ in the Emergency Room waiting area and realized he had to somehow be connected to Allie’s accident.
“I – I didn’t know if that’s what Allie would want.”
“If it was your child, if it was Hudson – “
“Allie isn’t a child. The hospital doesn’t need to contact a guardian…” GQ trailed off, realizing, “How did you know to come here?”
“A friend called me,” Amanda snapped, finally comprehending just what a good friend Morgan had proven himself to be. “What the hell happened to Allie, GQ?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted.
“What do you mean, you don’t know? Weren’t you there?”
“Only to pull her out of the ice. Kirkland and I, we found her and she was barely conscious. We didn’t talk, just pulled her out and I drove her here.”
“Barely conscious? Where is she now?”
“Being examined, I guess. Nobody has told me anything.”
“Well, we’ll see about that.” Amanda marched over to the nurse’s desk and began throwing names around. Morgan, Jamie, Alice, Russ, anyone she could think of. The display got Amanda a promise of information shortly. But, no more actual information than GQ had gotten.
Frustrated, she returned to the one person who, at least, seemed to know something, and demanded, “How did you and Kirkland end up pulling Allie out of a frozen lake?”
“Kirkland called, he said he was looking for Charlie.”
“Charlie?” Amanda repeated, now completely lost.
“He wanted Steven to help him triangulate her cell-phone. But, Steven wasn’t around, so I said I’d do it. We drove to where her phone was, and we found Charlie and Allie’s cars, abandoned by the side of the road. It kind of creeped us both out, so we went looking for the girls. We found Allie after she’d fallen through the ice. I drove her here, and Kirk stayed in the woods, still hunting for Charlie.”
“This makes absolutely no sense.”
“I know,” GQ agreed.
Amanda took a deep breath. “Thank you, GQ. Thank you for everything you did for my daughter. You didn’t have to risk your life. Especially considering your… complicated history with Allie.”
“No, Mrs. Fowler.” GQ held up a hand, stopping the rest of Amanda’s thought. “No. Honestly, I wasn’t even thinking about the risk I was taking while I was doing it. There was no time to think. All I knew was I had to get Allie out of there before it was too late. I did what anybody would have done.”
The Cory board meeting took longer than Rachel expected. Iris was having too much fun playing with her food to leave before she’d managed to pierce Rachel with every rapier at her disposal.
Unfortunately for Iris, however (and possibly Cory Publishing down the road), Rachel’s mind was on other things and, the moment they’d completed their agenda, Rachel was out the door without so much as a friendly barb for her stepdaughter.
Rachel sped down the road towards the private airfield where Amanda had told her Alice was planning on seeing Spencer’s coffin off. If that body managed to leave the country, there went Rachel’s leverage regarding implicating Alice in the cover up of his death. It was a clever move, Rachel had to admit. One that she was kicking herself for not having anticipated. Carl certainly would have.
Rachel broke several speeding laws arriving at her destination. But, she proved too late. Just as her car was pulling up, Rachel could see a Harrison private jet taking off. And Alice standing behind a fence, watching it rise into the air.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Rachel demanded, realizing that more impotent words had possibly never been spoken.
Alice said, “Spencer always wanted to be buried in Ireland. I’m honoring his last wish.”
“Don’t mess with my family, Rachel,” Alice’s voice was steely. “I won’t stand for it.”
“Why?” Rachel demanded, shaking with fury. “Why are you doing this? Why are you interfering like this? Why won’t you let me – “
“Destroy a man’s life? Destroy his family?”
“Chase Hamilton deserves everything he’s got coming to him. And if Kevin won’t help me, I’ll… I’ll…”
“What?” Alice prodded, suddenly sympathetic. “You’ll what, Rachel?”
“I’ll think of something else,” she insisted.
“Rachel,” Alice reached out her hand. “Listen to yourself. Look at yourself. This isn’t you. This isn’t the woman Mac fell in love with. And it isn’t the one who inspired Carl to turn his life around, either. You were considering risking your own son’s future in the name of revenge. This isn’t the mother I know you are. This isn’t the woman I know you are.”
Rachel opened her mouth prepared to defend herself and her cause to the death, if need be. But, what came out instead was a sob. The angry shaking she’d been trying to control turned into trembling of a different, devastated kind as Rachel’s legs gave out from under her, and she fell to her knees, crying, understanding that everything was, at long last, over.
And that she had lost.
“All four of these guys yours?” Dennis wondered, pausing at a picture above Jamie’s fireplace of Steven and Kirkland holding Devon and Mackenzie.
“Good looking kids.”
“Good kids, too.”
Jamie winced. “That didn’t come out the way I intended.”
“No problem. Neither did what I said.” Dennis’ gaze shifted onto Jamie and Lorna’s wedding photo. “You and Lorna Devon, huh? Would’ve never seen that one coming.”
“You’re not the only one.”
“Weren’t she and Matt…”
“It’s a small town. Family trees get complicated.”
“Tell me about it,” Dennis sighed. “By my calculations, my grandkid is going to be my ex-girlfriend’s stepchild.”
“I don’t think your ex-girlfriend is too happy about it, either.”
“I punched Grant Harrison in the jaw the other day.” Dennis felt a need to boast a little. Pathetic as his act was to boast about.
“Had the urge to do that myself in the past. On several occasions.”
“I mean, think about it. If you and Marley had ended up adopting Sarah like you planned…”
“Yes. That’s what I meant about complicated family trees. You learn to adjust.”
Dennis waved his finger in the space between him and Jamie. “Grant Harrison? He’s older than both of us. What the hell is he thinking, knocking up a girl still in college? Guy’s geriatric.”
“My youngest is eight months old,” Jamie noted pleasantly. “Maybe I’ll see Grant at Gymboree.”
“Aw, damn it, Jamie, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it that way. And we’re not talking about vaguely the same situation here. You and Lorna were married.”
“For about a day before Devon was born.” Jamie smiled to show Dennis he wasn’t taking his attack of foot-in-mouth personally. “But, you’re right. It’s not the same. And no, I have no clue what Grant was thinking.”
“What am I going to do?” Dennis looked at him helplessly. “How am I going to help my daughter with any of this?”
“Have you asked Sarah what she needs?”
“According to Sarah, all she needs is Grant.”
“Well, that sucks.”
“Tell me about it.”
“I’m sure if you’re not up to the job, Iris would be happy to step in and help.”
Dennis smirked, the smile abruptly fading from his face as he remembered, “Jesus, here I’ve been going on and on about me… Jamie, damn, Alice told me about what happened with Lorna.”
“You mean, how we have no idea what’s happened with Lorna?”
“How you holding up?”
“Well, I’ve got Cass and Frankie jetting around the globe. They get a drib here, a drab there, but, overall, no. Nothing.”
“Alice said you think Carl… Seriously, dude, your mom married Carl Hutchins?”
“You had to be there. Or so I’m told.” Jamie shrugged. “Maybe if I had been, none of this would have happened.”
“Anything I can do to help?”
Jamie thought about it. And then he said, “I’ve been considering building the girls a tree house….”
Doug came into their bedroom in time to see Chase hanging up the phone. He reported, “Spencer Harrison’s plane took off with no problems.”
“Wow. That was fast.”
“Amazing how much you can accomplish when someone highly-placed inside city government is profoundly motivated to insure you succeed.”
“We’re safe then?” Doug double-checked, sitting down next to Chase. “Milagros and Ike…”
“Aren’t going anywhere. For now.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“It means that we stopped this particular plan of Rachel’s at this particular time. Doesn’t mean she won’t try again. In fact, I’m pretty sure she will.”
“So what are we going to do about it?” Doug spread his hands.
“We,” Chase took both of Doug’s palms in his own, and leaned over to kiss him for good measure. “Are going to stop fooling around.”
“You know, with most guys, I’d assume that was a sexual innuendo. But, you never joke about important matters.”
“You make me sound very uncreative.”
“I make you sound like a man who gets things done, rather than a man who just talks about getting things done. So what’s the plan?”
“Up to this point, I’ve been reactive. I’ve waited for Rachel to make her move, and then I’ve stopped it each and every time. But, this isn’t about some stupid election anymore. She went after our family. I’m not about to give her a second at-bat.”
“You think you know of a way to stop her?”
“It’s time for all this to end." Chase told Doug, "It’s time to find Carl Hutchins.”
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