“Oh, come on,” Olivia blurted out, looking over her shoulder at Jamie as if this might be some kind of a practical joke. But, judging from the concern on his face in response to Olivia being charged with attempted murder, if this was, in fact, a joke, then Jamie definitely wasn’t in on it.
“I was kidding,” Olivia insisted to the two policemen who, apparently, had been sent to bring her in, all 98 pounds of dangerous criminal her. “I didn’t mean… He was fine when I left him.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the first officer agreed. “That’s why the charge is attempted murder.”
“I was joking,” she spoke slowly. “When I said I was feeling homicidal. I certainly didn’t do anything, and if Dennis is saying I did then he’s – “
“Dennis?” The second officer double-checked, confused. “Who is Dennis?”
“The guy I supposedly tried to murder. What?” Olivia frowned. “Not Dennis?”
“The name on the charge is Matthew Cory.”
Olivia’s eyes widened as Jamie took a defensive step forward. “Matt?”
“You are under arrest, Ms. Matthews, for the attempted murder of Matthew Cory.”
Olivia nearly laughed out loud. “Did Matt file those charges?”
“No, ma’am. His wife, Mrs. Matthew Cory, did.”
“Kirk!” Grant beamed with delight as his son unexpectedly dropped by the house the next morning. “What a terrific surprise! Come in, please.”
“Thanks,” Kirkland shifted awkwardly from foot to foot. “I can’t stay long. I just – I wanted you to know that I’ve told Notre Dame I’ll be starting there in the fall.”
“That’s wonderful!” Grant heartily slapped the boy on the shoulder. “I’m thrilled to hear it. Spencer would have been, too.”
“That’s kind of why I picked it. You know, the Fighting Irish?”
“The Fighting Irish, indeed.”
“And I’ll be going in as a sophomore with standing, too. All the classes I took at BCU are going to transfer. So maybe I’ll be able to graduate early.”
“What’s the rush?” Grant beckoned the boy to step further inside. “College is supposed to be the best time of your life. Why try to cut it short?”
“I don’t like the idea of Dad being by himself. I mean, he’s got Steven but… Steven’s not exactly the supportive type. Unless, you know, it’s tech support.”
“I’m sure Jamie can manage just fine without you.”
“That’s what he says. And he’s got this new girlfriend now…”
“Oh, yes, Olivia Matthews. I saw. Guess it didn’t take him too long to get over Lorna, after all.”
Kirkland raised an eyebrow, suggesting that perhaps this wasn’t an area into which Grant should be throwing stones. Not with his fidelity track record.
Grant got the hint, instead changing the subject to, “What about Charlie Winthrop? I thought the two of you…”
“She dumped me.”
“Oh. Well….” Grant sighed. “Honestly, son, if I may say, that’s definitely for the best. A girl with her kinds of problems…”
“You stuck by Aunt Marley,” Kirkland reminded. “After she almost killed Lorna and Devon. After she ended up in the loony bin!”
“Please don’t speak about your aunt like that.”
“But, you did. Stick by her, I mean. And Dad believed in Lorna while she was in a coma, and after it came out that she and Morgan were married, too. So it’s fine for you guys, but when it comes to me….”
“You’re a young man, Kirkland. You shouldn’t be tying yourself down with a girl who’ll only bring you heartache.“
“That’s what you did with Aunt Marley,” Kirkland seemed unable to let go. “You had your chance. You could have left her for Sarah and Daisy. But, you didn’t.”
“I love Marley,” Grant said through clenched teeth.
“And I loved Charlie. But, that didn’t matter. Not to her, anyway.”
“I’m sorry, son.” The time, Grant’s arm on Kirkland’s shoulder was less fraternal and more consoling. “I remember how complicated this all feels in the beginning. When you’re still trying to figure out who you are and what you want….”
“Does it ever get any easier?” Kirkland challenged, sounding both jaded and hopeful at the same time.
“No,” Grant admitted. “You just get better at pretending that it has.”
“Welcome back, Ms. Gallant,” Chase offered when he showed up on her doorstep, bright and early.
“Ah,” Felicia said. “So I see we’re not going to pretend that you don’t know where I’ve been, or that I don’t know that you know.”
“How was your trip?” He asked, all charm and innocent curiosity.
“Why don’t you ask your father-in-law,” Felicia suggested.
Chase smiled. “Eduardo did mention that he’d run into you.”
“Completely spontaneously, I’m sure.”
“What did you think of him?” Chase inquired.
“I beg your pardon?”
“I’ve always found him to be a most charming man. And attractive. Of course, Doug looks a lot like him, so I’m hardly a neutral observer. But, I’ve been led to understand women judge him equally so. And he has been on his own ever since Doug’s mother died a few years ago.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Mayor. Are you playing matchmaker for me and Doug’s father?”
Chase shrugged. “I understand that you’re currently single. As is Mrs. Hutchins. I was merely….”
“Spare me,” Felicia suggested. Then queried, “And since when do you believe that Rachel is, in fact, unattached? Aren’t you convinced she’s got Carl hidden in some nook or cranny in the Cory Mansion?”
“No. That would be silly.”
“And it wouldn’t explain what happened to Elizabeth, Cory, and your own daughter.”
“Elizabeth, Cory, Carl and my daughter are dead,” Felicia hissed bitterly.
“You are certain of that?”
“We didn’t come across any evidence in Europe to the contrary. And that winemaker was the only trail of evidence we had.”
“You could have more,” Chase reminded. “If you press kidnapping charges against Carl.”
Felicia hesitated, her resolve visibly wavering.
“It would have been one thing if you’d found your daughter during this trip. But, you didn’t. You are right back where you started from. So why not do this? What is there to lose?”
“My friend, Rachel,” Felicia spat. “I realize this is a foreign concept to you, but her friendship means the world to me. Especially now, when I’ve lost everything else.”
“Your friend’s husband is the one responsible for that. Even if Carl had a perfectly good reason for being on that plane, and even if he didn’t fake its crash, what the hell was Lorna Devon Frame doing on board?”
“We don’t know for certain that Lorna was with them!”
“Then where is she? Why isn’t she home with her husband and her children and her mother?”
“I don’t know!” Felicia shouted in frustration, regaining her composure in time to tell him, “But, I do know that harassing Rachel is not the way to go about finding her. Rachel would be destroyed if I did this.”
“And that’s more important than finding your daughter?”
“Like I said before, Mr. Hamilton, you wouldn’t understand.”
Chase nodded slowly. “And like I said before, Ms. Gallant, I am very, very fond of Doug’s father. But, if it came down to a choice between him feeling put out and saving the life of one of my children, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment. I would do anything I had to in order to protect them. I’d somehow always assumed you were the same. Or does that merely apply to Jenna? You went on such a rampage after she was killed. And yet now you do nothing. I wonder how Lorna would feel about that….”
“What do you want, Iris?” Standing at the door, cell-phone in her hand, Donna was much too busy waiting for a call from the police station regarding the charges she’d filed against Olivia earlier, to bother arm-wresting with Matthew’s stepsister. No matter how much fun it might prove to be.
“For you to take that mad daughter of yours in hand, once and for all.” Iris paused, then began again. “Of course, I realize that I am most likely asking the cause of the problem to fix the problem. But, seeing as how that simpering lunatic turning out the way that she has is utterly and completely your responsibility, it really is the least you can do, Donna.”
“You know, Iris, I’d ask what in the world you were talking about – if I cared, that is.”
“No one is under any illusion that you care about the hellions you’ve spawned into the world. That would require a level of personal obligation that you simply don’t possess. On the other hand, a sense of nobleses oblige, at the very least, should make you feel somewhat accountable for cleaning up your own messes. Think of it as being an emotional environmentalist. You do so love flaunting your charity work, after all.”
“If only there were a nonprofit organization out there devoted to ridding the world of the cancer known as Iris Cory Wheeler.”
Iris smirked. “Believe me, there is plenty of profit to be made from that endeavor.”
“Have you said your complete piece yet?” Donna inquired politely. “Is it time for you to turn around and go?”
“Not until I’ve told you everything your precious Marley has been up to this year.”
“The last thing I remember my precious Marley doing was biting her tongue and agreeing to put up with your bastard, great-grandchild! How does it feel, Iris, by the way, to be so very, very past your prime?”
“If Steven had turned out to be – “
“Well, he didn’t. My grandson is much too smart to get permanently entangled with the likes of your descendants. The title of great-grandmother remains exclusively yours.”
“What a shame the same can’t be said about you and Mother of the Year.”
“You were hardly on that shortlist, either,” Donna reminded.
Iris raged, “You’re so smug. So proud of Marley’s grand sacrifice where my Daisy is concerned.”
“Au contraire! I tried to talk Marley out of her ridiculous decision to stick by Grant through thick and thin, sickness and slut.”
“But, did you ever stop and wonder precisely why she was being so magnanimous?”
“Because that’s who Marley is,” Donna said, sounding equal parts proud, baffled, and disgusted. “She wanted what was best for Sarah and Grant’s child.”
“Wrong,” Iris wagged her finger. “She wanted Sarah and Grant’s child – period.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Marley drove Sarah out of town. She made her feel inadequate as a mother – “
“As if Sarah needed Marley to do that. She was much too young to – “
“Were you too young?” Iris challenged. “With Marley and Vicky. Were you too young to be a proper mother to them?”
“I…” Donna trailed off, beginning to tremble in spite of her best efforts to stay calm. “I suppose I was…”
“And were you ever so grateful, then, for Reginald swooping in and taking Marley away form you – not to mention banishing Vicky altogether?”
“Are you comparing Marley to Reginald?”
“If the Love fits….”
“Marley hardly snatched that child out of Sarah’s devoted arms. You said it yourself, Sarah left town, abandoning Daisy to her father and his wife.”
“Marley manipulated Sarah. The same way she manipulated Grant. The same way she’s manipulating Dennis. If I were you, Donna, I’d go over there immediately and put a stop to this travesty – before Marley sets her sights on you, next.”
“Can you believe this?” Olivia asked Jamie at the police station, finally out of hand-cuffs now that he’d bailed her out. “They are actually treating this like a serious charge!”
Jamie, his own memories of time spent in lock up hardly positive, would only observe. “Donna has a lot of friends in public service. Who owe her a lot of favors.”
“They can’t really think they’ll make this stick? I mean, attempted murder? Give me a break!”
“Attempted murder, no,” Jamie agreed, escorting Olivia outside before she said something to get herself into even more trouble. “But, that’s just the opening shot. I’m sure they’re planning to plead it down.”
“To what? Slaying by sex? Execution by ecstasy? Assault by orgasm?”
“How many more of those have you got?” Jamie asked idly, amused in spite of himself.
“I had a lot of time to think about it while I was being processed.”
Jamie smiled and let Olivia into the passenger side of his car, then walked around to get into the driver’s seat. “I think they have a good shot at making Malicious Disregard stick.”
“Now you’re a lawyer, all of a sudden?”
“No. But, I am a doctor, so I’ve had to have some familiarity with the possibilities. The fact is, Donna can prove that you were aware of the danger that having sex might pose to Matt, and you did it anyway.”
“What danger? Do you think he was in any danger?”
“No,” Jamie conceded. “I gave Matt a clean bill of health almost a year ago.”
“But, Donna obviously believes there is a danger. And I’d be surprised if Matt didn’t – even if it’s only a little bit. Listen, Olivia, did Matt tell you why he and Donna weren’t having sex these days?”
“Because she’s a lunatic, that’s why.”
“Besides that. Did he tell you it’s because Donna was afraid he’d overexert himself?”
“And we’re back to lunatic.”
“Okay. But, look at it from the prosecution’s point of view. Matt apprised you of the danger – you can’t claim ignorance. Yet you went ahead and slept with him anyway.”
“Doesn’t Matt bear any responsibility for this? I mean, didn’t he Maliciously Disregard or whatever you called it, as well?”
“He’s not the one being charged. You are.”
Olivia nodded thoughtfully, pondering her options. “So,” she asked Jamie. “Know any good sex lawyers?”
“You mean: Carnal Counsels?” Jamie grinned. “What? I wanted to play, too.”
With Cass and Lori Ann committed to a Daddy/Daughter Day by the pool – Charlie had been invited also, but she begged off with “something better to do, thanks,” – Frankie was free to aggressively pursue the case Grant had hired her for – tracking down Sarah. No matter that she believed the young woman genuinely didn’t want to be found. That part was none of Frankie’s business.
She’d kicked off the day by calling in a few favors and asking for the history to be pulled on both Allie’s cell-phone and her recent emails. Like Grant, Frankie agreed that Allie – rather than Iris, Dennis or Olivia – was their best bet for a lead.
While she waited, Frankie decided to do a little undercover surveillance on the girl of the hour. She didn’t want to risk Sarah being in town, Allie visiting her, and Frankie failing to check out the obvious.
So, for most of the day, Frankie discreetly tailed Amanda’s daughter. She followed her from the Cory Mansion to BCU, and then to Zeno’s farm.
Now, Frankie sat a discrete distance away from the place that had been her home for so many years, feeling less like a stranger than an interloper. Orly would have detested the idea of being spied on. She was so protective of her privacy. And of her son. Orly realized that Zeno would have it tough, being the son of first a single mother, then two mothers, then single again. But, she’d refused to coddle him, nonetheless, raising Zeno to tackle the world head on rather than hide from it. At times, Frankie had thought Orly was too tough on the boy, dumping way too much responsibility on his shoulders. But, then again, Frankie couldn’t exactly argue with the results.
Look at Zeno now, and look at Charlie. He was only a few years older than her, but you couldn’t compare them when it came to maturity or dependability. Frankie told herself it wasn’t Charlie’s fault that she lagged behind so noticeably. Charlie’d had it rough, what with losing Frankie, then finding her again. And now, of course, there was her illness… That all explained so much.
Of course, maybe there was something to Orly’s tough love, after all. She’d always said that not just children, everyone, delivered exactly what you expected of them, no more, no less. Expect great things, and you’d get them. Expect failure and you’d get that, too. Maybe if Frankie buckled down with Charlie just a little – not too much, she didn’t want her daughter feeling like Frankie was picking on her or setting unreasonable limits. But, just enough to see if…
Frankie’s trail of thought, growing sluggish from the hours spent sitting in a stuffy car on a warm day, derailed suddenly as, in the distance, she spotted smoke coming from Zeno’s farmhouse.
It was the opposite side from where Frankie was sitting, but it was unmistakable. She climbed out of the car to take a better look. Only to see Charlie come running around the corner.
Charlie froze when she saw her mother. And Frankie did the same. For a long moment, they both locked eyes, neither needing to say anything. Both understanding everything.
“Charlie…” Frankie began, less of a question than a plea.
Her daughter merely shook her head and shrugged, as if the entire situation were out of her control.
“Allie made me do it,” Charlie said. “Just like before.”
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