“Do all your parties end this way?” Olivia asked Jamie as they were cleaning up following Kirkland’s birthday celebration.
“With somebody dropping a bombshell and a good percentage of the guests nearly coming to blows? Pretty much. It’s practically a Bay City tradition.”
“I’ve been away too long. I’ve forgotten.”
Olivia sighed. “I wish I could say this was the first time my daughter has taken off for parts unknown without telling me where she was going.”
“Did you have any idea this was coming?” Jamie asked gently, unwilling to pry, but sensing that Olivia had something to get off her chest.
“In a manner of speaking,” she hedged.
“Sarah told you?”
“Oh, no, nothing like that, don’t be silly. But, for weeks, she’s been talking about how much better her life would have been if I’d let you and Marley adopt her like we were originally planning. She kept pushing me to agree with her.”
Olivia shrugged. “I did agree that I’d made a bunch of mistakes with her. But, I tried to explain why that happened. I tried to make her see how hard it is to bring up a kid on your own. How you can’t help resenting them, or wishing for your old life back. I was just trying to be honest with her. Prepare her for how tough it was going to be. She had all these romantic notions about motherhood.”
“Do you think you scared her into leaving Daisy?”
“I…” Olivia trailed off, then admitted, “When Sarah asked me if I thought Daisy would be better off with Marley than with her, I didn’t say yes… but, I didn’t say no, either.”
Jamie appeared unsure of how to respond to that.
Olivia helped him, “I know. I’m a bitch.”
Despite having handed him the ammunition herself, Olivia wasn’t too thrilled to have Jamie pull the trigger so quickly. “Having me a for a mother, you mean?”
She was practically daring Jamie to confirm. She deserved it, after ll. But, much to Olivia’s surprise – and bewilderment – he declined. Instead, he said, “She must have felt so confused. First Grant wants her, then he doesn’t. He doesn’t want the baby, then he does. She’s got Marley on one side, you on the other, and Iris… I can’t think of any situation that Iris makes better. All of you must have driven Sarah to a point where she had no idea what she should be doing. Add to that the exhaustion of taking care of a newborn, plus a possible case of undiagnosed postpartum depression…” Jamie whistled under his breath. “The poor kid.”
“Maybe it’s for the best,” Olivia offered. “Sarah wasn’t ready to be a mother. It’s like you said, she’s just a kid. She needs to get herself together first. And Daisy will be okay. I know Grant doesn’t have too great of a track record with you in the Dad department….”
Jamie snorted, then instinctively looked around to make sure Kirkland wasn’t listening.
“But, Marley…. Marley will finally get that baby she’s always wanted. The one we all cheated her out of last time.”
Jamie frowned. “Did you encourage Sarah to give up Daisy because you felt guilty about not holding up your end of the bargain before?”
“That’s what Iris accused Dennis of doing. He told me.”
“Dennis was in on it, too?” Jamie shook his head in disgust. “Jesus Christ, you two. Sarah never had a chance!”
“We all wanted what was best for her,” Olivia defended. “Grant’s the one who made this mess, let him be the one to pay for it, not Sarah.”
“It’s none of my business,” Jamie decreed firmly, more for his own benefit than anyone else’s. And it wasn’t his place to get involved.
“I’m sorry you got sucked into it, then,” Olivia took his hand. “Especially since you and I had a totally different agenda for this evening.”
“You certainly got Dennis’ attention,” Jamie tried to salvage what was left. “About time he got a taste of his own medicine. Not to mention, I really didn’t appreciate the way he talked about you the last time the subject came up.”
“Did you actually defend me?” Olivia teased. The better to cover up how touched she was to hear it.
Jamie shrugged. “I’m not a fan of talking trash behind other people’s backs. Especially when it happens to be your own kid’s mother.”
“Most people would agree with Dennis’ assessment of my character.”
“I’m not most people.”
“No,” Olivia agreed. “You’re not.” She took a step forward, looking up at him. “You know, Jamie, this doesn’t have to simply be an act to teach your old friend a lesson in manners and chivalry. This could be… real.” She rose on her tip-toes to kiss him.
Only to have Jamie pull away near instantaneously. “No,” he said politely. “I’m sorry, Olivia, but… no.”
“I’m not your type?” she guessed. Again, covering up the piercing stab of rejection and sincere disappointment.
Jamie held up his hand, tapping this thumb against the wedding ring on his finger. “I’m married,” he reminded. “My only type these days is my wife.”
“Why the hell didn’t you tell me about Sarah?” Dennis raged at Iris, who tried her best to look unperturbed and in control of the situation.
“Because I only had Grant’s word for it! I needed to investigate matters for myself.”
“And… it does appear as if Sarah has left town, and abandoned our Daisy to your utterly insane ex – “
“Leave Marley out of this. She had nothing to do with Grant knocking up Sarah.”
“Are you so certain?” Iris queried.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Did it ever cross your mind that this might have been her plan all along? Why else would she have lured our Sarah into her home, especially knowing what kind of man Grant is? Honestly, Marley would hardly be the first woman in history to palm her husband off on a nubile young concubine in order to snatch the resulting child for herself, all while feigning oblivion. It’s one of the oldest ploys in the book; a classic. And Marley is, at least, well educated; she knows her history, you can’t fault her on that account.”
“I don’t fault Marley on any account!”
“Perhaps you should. Open you eyes, darling. We are all going out of our minds with worry, while Marley sits in the cat-bird’s seat. She has Grant and Daisy and… you.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Dennis retorted so quickly, Iris now realized for a fact that Marley had been telling the truth when she boasted of having Dennis under her spell, as well.
“I know you still have feelings for her,” Iris tread carefully, reluctant to reveal everything she knew for fear of Dennis disbelieving it all. Damn it, but Marley had done an excellent job of setting everything into motion. Iris would almost admire her. If she weren’t busy thinking of ways to bring her down for good.
“That’s irrelevant. Marley loves Grant,” Dennis stuck to the party line.
“Oh, she’s only staying with him for the baby, that part is obvious. You know,” Iris offered as if the idea had just occurred to her. “As Daisy’s grandfather, if you and Marley were to reconcile, the pair of you would have an excellent chance of winning custody. And then it would be perfect. You would have Marley and Daisy…”
“You mean, you’d have Daisy.”
“I’m always happy to help in any way I can, you must know that about me by now.”
Dennis snorted. “Give it up, Mom. Grant is Daisy’s father. He has every legal right to her. Marley and I wouldn’t stand a chance in court.”
“So you have given it some thought, then!” Iris surmised triumphantly.
“It’s… no. It’s impossible.”
“But, you could at least offer Marley the option….”
“She loves Grant.”
“But, you love her.”
“So?! So, this is your chance, darling. Your best chance to finally have the life Olivia cheated you out of twenty years ago. If it weren’t for her, you and Marley would have been together. You know that in your heart, don’t you?”
“I…. It’s not that simple.”
“But, you, at least, would have had a fighting chance. Goodness, you might even have had a child of your own. It’s what you both deserved. To raise a child together, a child you both loved and cherished and wanted. Daisy could be that child. You’d be doing a good thing for everyone. Yourself, Marley, Daisy, even Sarah.”
“Give it up, Mom.”
“Never,” Iris told him coolly. “And you shouldn’t, either. You can have everything you’ve ever dreamed of, Dennis. Just let me help you….”
Under any other circumstances, Rachel actually would have enjoyed wandering through an old, French castle, enjoying the architecture, the furnishings, the artwork on the walls. Like his wines, Accord’s entire place was decorated with exquisite taste. Rachel would have liked to come back for a visit another time. But, she doubted that her behavior at dinner would warrant a follow up invitation.
It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered, except finding out what Accord knew about Carl’s current whereabouts. Peter Love had reported, and several others had confirmed, that Accord shipped the Hutchins’ standing order of his best vintage to parts unknown.
Hopefully, that wouldn’t remain the case for long.
After close to an hour of dead ends, Rachel finally stumbled into what she assumed to be Accord’s office. She promptly set about to riffling through his papers and accounts, looking for a clue. Eventually, she found Carl’s original order in Accord’s files.
For a moment, merely the sight of her husband’s signature on a decades’ old document was enough to take Rachel’s breath away. She ran her fingers over the fading letters, willing for some aspect of Carl’s, some spark, some atom even, to come through and giver Rachel a sign as to whether or not she was on the right track.
Alas, the only feeling that washed over her was that of fresh, savage grief, followed by anger, at what she’d been told, and what she most feared still finding out.
She checked the original date. Several years before she and Carl had gotten married. He’d been a different man, then. She wondered if the Carl Hutchins who’d placed this order had possessed any inkling of the man he would ultimately become.
Rachel looked at the date again, realizing with a shudder like a ghost walking over her grave that the Carl Hutchins who’d signed that piece of paper was the same man who, at the time, was plotting to bring down Mac Cory, once and for all.
The same man who, if Rachel remembered correctly, would also have been “mentoring” a ridiculously young girl by the name of Lorna Devon.
The sales slip specified precisely what brand of wine Carl was interested in, and how he wished it delivered, down to the type of wood that should be used in the barrels. Was Accord still following his instructions to the letter?
Rachel hurried to his cellar where, earlier, she’s noticed crates being loaded and unloaded for delivery. She didn’t know what she was looking for precisely.
All she did know was that, after almost another hour of searching, she found the barrels and the wine… and the shipping label addressed to Carl Hutchins. But not to Bay City.
“I’ve been thinking,” Marley told Grant the next morning as they sat at breakfast, Bridget and Michele already off to school, Daisy in her crib, Grant looking preoccupied and grim and replying to Marley’s questions with a collection of monosyllables.
“Hm?” There went another one. He buried his face behind the newspaper.
“Daisy’s name,” Marley began.
“What about it?” Down came the newspaper, up went Grant’s attention span.
“It doesn’t really suit her,” Marley offered and, before Grant could object, added, “It doesn’t really suit you. You want your daughter to grow up to be a strong, confident woman, don’t you?”
“What does that have to do with – “
“A name like Daisy is never going to get her taken seriously in the boardroom. It’s too… cutesy. Perfectly fine for a baby, she’s precious as a Daisy, I’ll give you that. But, if you expect your daughter to follow in your footsteps, to go into business or politics, or anything that she might choose to do down the line, a name like that will only hinder her prospects. I was thinking,” Marley played her trump card, confident that this was one suggestion Grant could never turn down. “I was thinking we should call her… Ryan.”
“Ryan?” A million different emotions ran through Grant’s repetition of a single word.
“It’s perfect. It’s strong and authoritative, and it works for both boys and girls, these days, you don’t need to worry. Plus, it will mean another Ryan Harrison in the family. I know how much you’ve missed him. Steven and Kirkland will be thrilled, too. And you know Vicky would have approved.”
“Ryan?” Grant peered at Marley as if dazed from a blow. Which, in effect, he was.
She nodded briskly, indicating the debate was over and the motion under discussion had passed – unanimously. “I looked into it, and it shouldn’t be any problem getting the name changed legally. As soon as I adopt her, we’ll be issued a new birth certificate anyway, so – “
“Adopt?” Grant’s daze blew away like the morning fog. “You want to adopt Daisy?”
“Well, of course. Otherwise, how will I be able to take her to the doctor or register her for school or get on a plane…”
“I’ll be here. I can do all that for her.”
“Of course, you can,” she soothed. “And you will, I have no doubts about that. You’re going to be a wonderful father this time around. But, this will just make things easier. Besides, every child deserves to have two parents. You don’t want to put Daisy in the position of constantly explaining that I’m her stepmother. Why make her feel different from the other children?”
“Sarah wanted this. It’s all in her letter. She wanted Daisy to have a good life with me as her mother. I’m just trying to do what she asked.”
“No,” Grant said, and Marley braced herself for a massive argument. But, in the end, Grant appeared too tired to do more than stress, “Sarah will change her mind. She may think what she’s doing is the right thing now, but she won’t be able to stay away from Daisy for long.”
“All the more reason for me to adopt her,” Marley laid it all out logically. “You don’t want Sarah showing up who knows how many years down the road and trying to take Daisy away. That would be awful for everyone concerned, but especially for Daisy. Our job is to protect her from something like that happening.”
“It won’t be years,” Grant predicted. “She’ll be back. Soon. And everything will go back to the way it was before, with us sharing custody and Daisy having both her parents. Her name is Daisy,” Grant went on. “Daisy Jane. It’s – it’s a song…”
“I know,” Marley said. “By America. I remember it, but it was a hit before Sarah was even born. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.”
“Her name is Daisy Jane,” Grant repeated. “That’s what her mother named her. She had her reasons, and we’re not going to mess with it.”
“Don’t throw me out,” Charlie began when Zeno opened the door and found her standing on the other side. “Please.”
“I’m not going to throw you out, Charlie.”
“Well, can I come in then?”
He thought about it for a moment, and moved out of the doorway. “Come in.”
“Thanks.” She looked around. “Allie here?”
“Oh. That’s a shame. I wanted to apologize.”
Zeno raised an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything further.
“You were right,” she went on haltingly. “It’s about time I start taking responsibility for my actions.”
“You could have gone to Allie’s house,” he noted.
“I wanted to apologize to you both.”
“Well, she’s not here.”
“Will you give her the message?”
“I think she’d appreciate it more, coming from you.”
“Oh.” Charlie appeared less than enthused. “Okay.”
Zeno said, “Kirkland’s birthday party was the other day. I went with Allie. Kirk, he’s pretty broken up over the way you treated him.”
“You want me to apologize to him, too?” Charlie asked, eager to please.
Zeno couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “This isn’t about what I want. It’s supposed to be about you doing the right thing. Whatever you think that is.”
“I said I was sorry about Allie,” she reminded petulantly.
“Now say it to her.”
“I will. And I’ll apologize to Kirk, too. Just don’t be mad at me anymore, please, Zeno.”
“Why do you care what I think about any of this?”
“Because… I – I love you.”
He shook his head. “No, you don’t.”
“Don’t tell me how I feel!”
“You’re infatuated with me. You see me as a way out from your problems.”
“Actually, you’re the cause of most of my problems.”
“Then why would you want to be with somebody like that?” Zeno asked reasonably.
“Would you cut it out already!” she railed. “Quit treating me like a dumb kid! I did what you said. What else do you want from me, for Pete’s sake?”
Zeno sighed, seemingly sincerely regretful when he said, “Nothing. I don’t want anything from you, Charlie. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is.”
“What can I do for you, Mrs. Wheeler?” Chase asked, already regretting having let Iris into his office, yet cognizant that if he hadn’t, it would have merely prolonged the agony.
“Actually, it’s what I can do for you,” she corrected.
“Oh, that never ends well.”
“Au contraire, surely you found my information on Carl Hutchins infinitely fascinating, prior to his arrest?”
“Yes. And then I had to defend myself against charges of having leaked you confidential government information, which we both know I didn’t, all because you used me to further your own agenda.”
“Water under the bridge,” she reassured. “We were both cleared of any wrong-doing, and I was allowed to keep my Cory stock while you were rewarded with Carl’s arrest warrant. All’s well that end’s well.”
“And yet, here you are again.” He crossed his arms. “Why?”
“Do you recall our discussion about the vintner who was still shipping Carl his standard order despite Carl’s having allegedly gone to a watery grave months before?”
“Yes,” Chase nodded. “You were going to help me investigate that. And then you changed your mind.”
“My circumstances have… evolved. Yet again.”
Chase leaned forward. “So you’re willing to go to France on my behalf?”
“Alas, it appears we’ve been beaten to the proverbial punch,” Iris said. “Felicia Gallant has gone to France, having developed a sudden passion for touring wineries. A most odd hobby for a recovering alcoholic, wouldn’t you say? By the way, Mr. Hamilton, did Fanny ever file those kidnapping charges you wanted her to, against Carl?”
“No,” Chase admitted. “She told me she was still thinking about it.”
“Well, she’s clearly getting some help on that account. And not the kind bound to sway in our favor. Felicia’s traveling partner to Monsieur Accord’s winery is none other than Rachel. Now what do you intend to do about that?”
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