“So did you bring your balls to lunch today?” Lila asked Grant politely as they both took their seats at Tops. “Or are they still in Marley’s purse, where you left them?”
The Scotch Grant had been attempting to swallow all but went out his nose and he needed to snatch up a cloth napkin to cover his mouth while he coughed, “Excuse me?”
“You haven’t been yourself lately,” Lila observed, pretending not to notice that her lunch date was on the cusp of asphyxiating. “You’ve been letting Marley call the shots. That isn’t like you.”
“You think I’ve been letting Marley dictate my actions?” Grant double-checked.
“Uh-ha.” Lila sipped her own drink in a most ladylike fashion.
“What’s been my objective all along here?”
“Money. Women. Power. Women. Your son. Wo – “
“You really believe I’m that shallow?”
“Am I wrong?”
“I wanted to protect Sarah. More than anything, that’s what I cared about.”
“Day late and a dollar short, wouldn’t you say?”
“Not at all,” Grant countered. “Yes, I wish she’d never gotten it into her head to get pregnant.”
“Is that how it’s done these days?”
Grant made a face to show Lila he didn’t find her at all funny. Even as he was forced to suppress a smile because he most certainly did. “Sarah getting pregnant was unfortunate. But the least I could do after the fact was see to it that she let go of any romantic fantasies she might still harbor about me, once and for all.”
“And a job well done, if I do say so myself.”
“Yes,” Grant winced. “I’ve had a lifetime of experience with driving women away.”
“But didn’t you say you two had agreed to share custody?”
“Doesn’t exactly fall under the heading of Keeping Your Distance now, does it?”
“No. This is even better. Every time Sarah comes over with Daisy now, she’ll see me with Marley. She’ll see me with my wife. She’ll see a marriage that’s so solid, even my idiocy wasn’t enough to dissolve it. Marley loves me. What better proof of that is there for Sarah than Marley agreeing to raise Daisy with me?”
“So,” Lila shook her head in disbelief. “You’ve basically gotten everything you wanted.”
“Your daughter, your marriage and, most important, Sarah out of the picture.”
“Damn it, Grant! Was this your plan all along?”
“I got lucky,” he admitted. “Initially, all I cared about was making it clear to Sarah that she and I had no future together. For her sake. I wanted her to move on, to make a life for herself. And for Daisy. I would have been willing to quite while I was ahead, there. But, this… this is more than I could have ever dreamed of. I was prepared to do anything – anything I had to – to hold onto Marley.”
“As a Sarah-deterrent,” Lila reminded.
“I’m good for Marley,” Grant said. “And she must think so, too. Or else why would she have fought to stay with me? You think I’m letting Marley lead me around by the nose? Then how did everything end up turning out my way?”
“You love your wife, Grant?” Lila inquired casually.
Lila sighed, reaching for her menu. “Yeah…”
“What happened when you and Allie were in the woods?” Cass prodded his daughter gently, even as Frankie furtively tried to signal him to stop. “Right before you got hurt?”
“I – I’m not sure,” Charlie stammered. “I don’t remember a lot…”
“It’s not important,” Frankie interrupted, rubbing Charlie’s face soothingly, unspeakably thrilled that her daughter was awake and talking and cognizant of her surroundings. “The only thing that matters is that you’re okay. Finally.”
“What’s wrong with me?” Charlie looked around, taking in the hospital equipment, panic percolating in her eyes.
“You’ve been unresponsive,” Cass said. “For weeks, all you did was lie in that bed. You didn’t move, you didn’t speak….”
“Why not?” She demanded.
“We’re not sure,” Frankie began.
But, Cass cut her off. “Charlotte, I need you to listen to me. I know this is going to be scary to hear. Believe me, I know exactly how you’re feeling right now.”
“What is wrong with me?” she spat out each word.
“Prior to your accident with Allie, you’d been acting very erratically. Everybody noticed it. Felicia, Kirkland, Sharlene….”
“Sharlene!” Charlie’s head bobbed up. “She promised she wouldn’t tell you!”
“Tell us what?” Frankie asked.
“About Allie and the linseed and the forget-me-nots.”
“So that was you,” Frankie visibly deflated at the confirmation.
“Sharlene promised to keep quiet.”
“She was worried about you, baby.”
“What does that have to do with anything, anyway?”
“Erratic behavior,” Cass said. “Is often the first symptom.”
He took a deep breath, and then Cass said the last thing he ever wanted to, to his daughter. “Of manic depression, Charlie.”
“No,” she shook her head.
“We don’t know for sure,” Frankie attempted to calm her down.
But Charlie was beyond listening. “No. You’re lying. I’m not crazy.”
“Nobody said you were crazy,” Cass fought to keep his voice low and soothing. “But it does look like you’ve suffered a manic episode, followed by a depressive one. We were able to get you on medication to – “
“The same stuff you take?”
“You take it all the time.”
“Yes. Manic Depression is a chronic condition.”
“I’m not crazy,” Charlie insisted. “I don’t want to be crazy. I don’t want this, Daddy. Please. Please, make it better.”
“What’s wrong, Matthew?” Donna wanted to know when she noticed that Matt had come home in a particularly agitated state.
“Nothing,” he insisted, shrugging out of his jacket. And Donna’s attempt at an embrace.
“Work?” she pressed.
“Another issue with Jasmine?”
“No. Lila’s fine. We – we came to an understanding.”
“Ah,” Donna said. “That only leaves me.” She settled on the bed. “Though I am intrigued as to what I could have possibly done, seeing as how we haven’t so much as laid eyes on each other or exchanged a word since this morning.”
Matt said, “I stopped by Jamie’s. To thank Kirk for what he did with Jazz.”
“Like his father, Kirkland has a tendency to step in and play hero when none is required.”
“I’m glad he did,” Matt snapped.
“So why then, are you so upset?”
“Olivia was there. At Jamie’s.”
“Goodness, whatever for?”
“She claimed she was giving Devon a dance lesson.”
Donna snorted, “Olivia Matthews isn’t precisely what one would call maternal.”
“Jamie claims she helped him keep Devon from pitching a tantrum in the middle of a department store.”
“I’d have put good money on it being the other way around. But, then again, your brother has always been ridiculously vulnerable to the manipulations of a woman.”
“I know,” Matt mumbled.
“Is that what’s bothering you?” she guessed. “That Olivia seems to have – and rather obviously, too – set her sights on the not-quite grieving widower?”
“It’s a terrible idea.”
“It’s none of your business,” Donna pointed out gently. “Certainly not worth you getting upset about.”
“Olivia and Jamie would be horrible together.”
“Who are we to judge, Matthew? Isn’t that what people said about us? And now look – look at us. We – “
“We haven’t made love in months,” Matt burst out, pretty certain that isn’t what Donna had been going to say.
He was right, as she flinched, pained, by his reminder. “I’ve explained it to you, darling. I want to, of course, I want to. It’s only that – “
“I don’t turn you on anymore.”
“Not at all! How can you say such a thing?” She approached him, attempting to cup Matt’s face in her hands. “It’s only that I start thinking about your health – “
“I’m fine.” He pushed her arms away. “I’m completely recovered. And I want to make love to my wife, again. Do you think maybe you might stop making me feel guilty about that anytime soon?”
“Good afternoon, Lila.” Chase stopped by their table at Tops. “Grant.”
“It was up to this point,” Grant observed, rising.
“Don’t leave on my account,” Chase cautioned.
“Don’t flatter yourself. I have things to do.” Grant leaned to kiss Lila on the cheek. “Thank you, as always, for the respite from daily life.”
“My pleasure.” She kissed him back. “Now you behave yourself, you hear?”
“By the way,” Chase called in Grant’s wake. “Congratulations on your new daughter. Guess Ms. Matthews-Wheeler was telling the truth all along.”
“Did you really have to rub that in?” Lila chided Chase as he took the seat Grant had abandoned at her table.
Chase shrugged. “Grant is the one who called me a liar for exposing his domestic situation. And now look who’s got his own cozy ménage a trios going?”
“It’s not like that,” Lila said.
“Frankly, I don’t care what it’s like. Grant Harrison’s harem is no longer my concern. You said you needed to see me.” He spread his arms. “Here I am.”
“I like this,” Lila said. “Having the mayor of Bay City at my own personal beck and call.”
“Anytime, anywhere. I promised you, Lila. Anything you need from me, I’m there.”
“I need a favor,” she admitted.
“You been following the Kevin Fowler case?”
Chase nodded slowly. “I’m the one who gave him the head’s up about being a suspect.”
“Well, if you did it so he’d have time to prepare a solid defense….”
“Yes. I heard. He waived his right to trial. Took a plea. A good one, mind you. He even made it so he doesn’t have to surrender his license to practice law. Hell of a deal. But, two and a half years of jail time is still nothing to sneeze at.”
“Something strange is going on. None of this feels right.”
“No,” Chase agreed. “But I’m not sure how or why it would be your concern.”
“He’s an old friend,” Lila shrugged blithely.
“That’s not how I remember you describing it before.”
“So he dumped me. Big deal. If the law put every man who’d ever dumped me behind bars, streets would look like a zombie apocalypse hit.”
“That’s not exactly what he’s in jail for.”
“I want you to do some legal-eagle digging for me. Find out what’s really going on. Find out what Kevin is hiding. I’ll take care of the rest.”
“Darling, darling, what is it?” Iris caught the beginning of tears in Sarah’s eyes, and instantly swooped in to offer her version of help.
“Nothing,” Sarah insisted. “I’m just tired. Or it’s, you know, postpartum, or something else stupid and hormonal. I’m fine.”
“Where is our Daisy?”
“Well, then, you should be resting, too.”
“I can’t. She should’ve been ready a half hour ago for her next feeding, so I keep waiting for her to wake up.”
“You think something is wrong?” Iris looked ready to fly into the nursery and check for herself. She practically had her fingers on the 9-1-1 buttons already.
“No. She’s fine. She’s probably just full from the formula Marley fed her.”
“I thought you were against it.” Iris managed to take even that face personally. “You were certainly against formula when I suggested it.”
“Marley said Daisy was hungry. That the bottles of breast-milk I brought weren’t enough. She said Daisy was crying and she had to do something.”
“Oh, well, then, what does one bottle matter in the great scheme of things?”
“What if Daisy is always hungry? What if she never gets enough milk from me? I mean, I hear her crying and so I change her or I walk with her or rock her, but what if that’s not what she needs?”
“So we’ll hire a nanny, then. Someone who knows all about babies and what they need.”
Sarah looked at Iris, the tears welling up again. “You don’t think I can take care of Daisy, either?”
“Heaven forefend, when did I say that?”
“You think I should hire somebody else to take care of her.”
“Only so that you might get some rest. And maybe a little expert help and advice.”
“I’m doing my best,” Sarah swore.
“Of course you are, darling.”
“I want to be a good mother. I want to give Daisy everything she needs. But, it’s so hard, you know? I keep messing up. I don’t want to mess up with her. I can’t. I won’t.”
Felicia’s unexpected arrival served to temporary pull Rachel out of the trance she’d been in ever since receiving the mysterious phone call that may or may not have been from Cory. That may or may not prove her family was still alive. Somewhere.
“I’m sorry to barge in like this,” Felicia said. “But I needed to speak to you. It’s important. It’s – it’s about Lorna.”
Rachel’s breath caught in her throat and, for a moment, she believed that Felicia might have gotten a similar phone call. Which meant that Rachel wasn’t imaging things, her husband and children were still alive. And, for some reason, Lorna was with them. The hope Rachel felt at receiving confirmation was followed almost instantaneously with dread at the prospect of finally learning just what precisely had happened to them all.
“Chase Hamilton came to see me,” Felicia said.
And those first inklings of dread turned into a monsoon.
“What now?” Rachel asked through gritted teeth.
“He’s come up with a different approach. Chase went to Jamie and asked him to press kidnapping charges against Carl. This would open new avenues for the investigation into Lorna’s disappearance – “
“How could he?” Rachel seethed, cutting off the rest of Felicia’s explanation. “How could he do this to me? After everything I’ve done his way, after the way I’ve bent over backwards, ignored my own feelings in favor of his? How could Jamie throw in with that despicable man over me?”
“Rachel, no – “
“Honestly, I should have expected it. It’s my fault, I suppose. Of course, everything is always my fault, according to Jamie. But, this time it actually is. I spoiled him. I let him drive Carl out of my home and to his death. His brother and sister’s deaths, too. I let Jamie think that it was his right to dictate whom I loved or what I did. I practically groveled in front of him for the smallest scraps of his affection, listening year after year as he attacked my every action, only to elevate Alice onto a pedestal and treat her like – “
“Rachel!” Felicia was forced to raise her voice.
“What?” Her friend yelled back.
“He didn’t,” Felicia corrected quietly. “Jamie turned Chase down.”
Rachel swallowed hard, completely thrown off course. “Oh.”
“That’s why Hamilton came to me. Because Jamie refused to file kidnapping charges against Carl. He didn’t want to hurt you. So Chase suggested I file the charges instead.”
“Did you?” Rachel asked.
“That means you’re thinking about it.”
“My daughter has been missing since July, Rachel. She disappeared right after your husband threatened her. One day, Lorna was telling me how scared she was of what Carl might do to her or Jamie or their children, and the next she was gone. And so was he.”
“We don’t know what happened,” Rachel repeated in a choked voice. “None of us know what happened.”
“Isn’t it about time we found out?”
“You think he took her,” Rachel accused. “You think Carl reverted back to his old ways and that he exacted some kind of twisted revenge against Lorna – “
“It’s what she was afraid was going to happen.”
“My God,” Rachel demanded. “Just how much more am I supposed to take? How much longer until all of you – Jamie, Alice, Chase, you – get your desired pound of flesh and leave me the hell alone?”
Felicia chose her words with care. “I am very, very, very sorry over what you’ve been through. What you’re still going through. Losing a child is devastating. I know. So is losing a husband, I know that, too. I wish you weren’t suffering right now. I wish that none of this had happened and that Cory, Elizabeth and Carl were still here. But, you know what? I also wish Lorna were still here. With me, with her husband, with her children. You’re suffering, Rachel. But so are we. So is Jamie. He had a chance to maybe bring his wife home, and he walked away.”
Rachel snorted. “Chase Hamilton. What’s Chase Hamilton’s word worth? He isn’t interested in Lorna. He’s merely obsessed with proving to the world that Carl Hutchins was an evil man, and Chase the hero who brought him down.”
“So what?” Felicia challenged, the bitterness growing despite her attempts to suppress it. “So what? If Chase Hamilton getting what he wants brings my daughter back, then I say – so what?”
“No matter whom it hurts along the way?” Rachel accused.
Felicia’s eyes narrowed. “Are you telling me… In all seriousness, Rachel, are you honestly standing there and telling me that your peace of mind regarding Carl is more important than your son getting his wife back? Your granddaughters being reunited with their mother? Because that’s what this comes down to. Are you telling me that Jamie and I should throw away what may be our only chance to find Lorna because doing so would hurt your feelings?”
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