“Why did you tell your guests that you’d known all along about my plan to rescue Lorna, Elizabeth and Cory?” Carl wondered, “Why did you lie for me, Rachel?”
“Because,” she told her husband after a brief moment to gather her thoughts – for her sake as well as his. “Because I am so, so damn tired of all those sanctimonious, self-righteous, holier than thou people who claim to love me looking down their noses at you, assuming the worst, licking their lips in anticipation of being able to point out yet another thing you’ve allegedly done wrong. You should have heard some of the things they said, what they accused you of, while you were gone. I put up with it for three years. Not anymore. They may not have faith in you, Carl. I do. I know that whatever you did, you did for the noblest of reasons and with the best of intentions. If you say that Elizabeth, Cory and Lorna’s lives were in danger and faking their deaths was the only way to keep them safe, then I believe you. And I am going to make damn sure everyone else believes you, too.”
For a moment, Carl didn’t know what to say. His eyes misted and his lips moved briefly without emitting any sound. “Thank you, my darling, thank you for that. You cannot know what your words mean to me.”
“Swear to me, Carl,” Rachel said, only willing to go so far. “Swear to me that you had no other options. That you did what you had to do for all our sakes, no more, no less.”
“I swear to you,” he offered up obediently. “On my life, on my love, on my soul, which has been yours lo these many years and will remain that way for all of eternity. I swear to you, there were no alternatives. I did what I had to do, yes, and the results will prove more than worthwhile in the end, you shall see.”
Kirkland and Sarah had barely passed through the front door of her apartment before he had her up against the wall, lifting Sarah up off the ground, his tongue in her mouth, one hand between her legs, fingers sliding past the elastic of her panties as Sarah gasped, shuddered and wordlessly pointed in the direction of her bedroom.
He dropped her playfully onto the bed, grinning and hovering over her as Sarah hurried to unbutton Kirk’s shirt.
He hiked up her skirt, murmuring, “Just so we’re on the same page here, we’re both doing this to stick it to Grant, right?”
“Sounds good to me,” Sarah said, yanking down Kirkland’s pants with a single jerk.
Lorna wasn’t sure if she was the first person awake in the Cory Mansion the following morning, or whether the house was merely so big and her wing, with the guestroom in it, so isolated, that it only felt like she was all alone in the eerie silence.
She’s barely slept, anyway. Too many voices echoing through her head. All those people, all those alleged relatives, all those strangers swearing they loved her. And that she loved them in return.
She never should have gone after Cory, that much was certain in retrospect. She should have let Carl handle it, she should have trusted Carl.
But she knew he’d be furious if he found out Cory had found a way to escape his body-guards and head stateside. She hated when Carl got furious.
Lorna figured Elizabeth must have ratted her out. The little brat hated Lorna. And the feeling was definitely mutual. Which made Lorna’s suspicions of what if… No. Lorna reminded herself. That couldn’t possibly be. She had to trust Carl.
Then again, he had admitted lying to her about Jamie Frame and his kids. But, Carl had a good reason for that. The same as not telling her she had parents. If Carl had told Lorna about any of them, she probably would have gotten curious and sought them out. And that would have put all their lives in danger.
Lorna wandered the labyrinth halls of the Cory Mansion, finding herself back at the front door through which she’d come in.
For a split second, she considered walking right back out again. Except where would she go? She had no money of her own. Carl had taken care of everything. Even if she made it back to the airstrip and even if Carl’s plane were still there, and even if the pilot agreed to take her home… Carl and Cory had said this was their home now. Neither of them any intention of going back. So what would she do on her own? Again, with no money, no documents. As far as the world was concerned, Lorna Devon didn’t even exist anymore. She’d have to start from less than scratch.
She’d been in this position once before.
And Carl had come to her rescue.
A knock on the door wrenched Lorna out of her circular thought pattern, and she opened it instinctively.
The curly haired man standing on the other side gaped at her in wonder, not sure whether he should laugh or gasp or what. “It’s true,” he stammered out. “It’s you. It’s really you. I heard you were… but – You’re here. You’re back.”
“And you,” Lorna placed a hand on her hip, surveying him up and down critically – liking what she saw for the first time since arriving in Bay City. “You’ve got to be Husband #1…”
Lucas waited until daylight before repeatedly jamming his thumb against Frankie and Cass’ doorbell, perfunctorily mouthing apologies for having woken them up, but this couldn’t wait.
“Is something wrong?” Frankie asked, tightening the sash of her robe.
“Is Felicia alright?” Was Cass’ first thought.
“Felicia,” Lucas all but spat the name. “Believes Carl. She actually believes I would have allowed her to spend three years thinking her daughter was dead,”
“You let her spend seventeen years – “ Cass began.
“I know that! You don’t think I know that? Fanny said the same thing. But that was different. And it was before Jenna… I saw what losing Jenna did to her. The idea that I’d be responsible for letting Fanny believe she’s lost another child… Her last living child… You have to help me.”
“With what?” Frankie shook her head in confusion. “Cass and I weren’t even there when Carl said what he said. We have no idea what’s going on.”
“But you could find out,” Lucas pleaded. “I want to hire you. I want you to get to the bottom of what really happened, prove that Carl is lying, that I had nothing to do with his kidnapping Lorna.”
Cass and Frankie exchanged tentative glances, both remembering what had happened the last time they allowed themselves to get ensnared in the hunt for Carl. They were still dealing with the consequences of their six months away from home.
“We’ve been sticking to local cases the past few years,” Cass explained. “Our days of exotic, on-location jaunts are a thing of the past. For now. We can’t leave Charlie. At least one of us needs to always be around. For both kids.”
“I understand,” Lucas said. “But aren’t there at least some phone calls you can make, people you can contact? Maybe subcontract the legwork while you coordinate from here? I’m desperate.”
“We can see that,” Frankie agreed.
“I’ve spent my life making the same mistake over and over again,” Lucas confessed. “Trusting Carl. In the beginning… well, in the beginning, I thought I could handle him. Then I thought I could get away from him. This last time… the business with the compound… he said there was a way to end things once and for all, and I went along. Like a fool – even despite everything I knew about him – I went along. I have no one to blame but myself. I thought I was prepared for the consequences. Death, prison… the one thing I didn’t anticipate was Carl turning my family against me. Lorna doesn’t remember me. And Fanny… Fanny believes him over me. She as much as told me so.”
“She’s angry,” Frankie offered. “She’s hurt. When you left her….”
“I can handle her anger. I can handle her hurt. But, this… I won’t stand for this. I will not let Carl win. I will not let him take away the two most important things in the world to me. This amnesia of Lorna’s… A nervous breakdown? After everything Lorna has been through, do you honestly believe she’d crumble now? With Jamie and the girls waiting for her?”
“We can’t always control our mental states,” Cass noted curtly. “It’s a flaw of biology, not willpower.”
“I didn’t mean to offend you,” Lucas backpedaled slightly. “But I think you’ll agree that Lorna is not the shrinking violet type. If anything, she’d get angry, get more motivated to fight. She wouldn’t crumble under pressure, she’d thrive!”
“What about her old head injury? The combination of physical and mental stress… Even Jamie said that was possible, that’s he’d been afraid of something like it happening.“
“That’s what I need you to find out. Carl said he took her to a doctor. So there must have been people he trusted – or, at least, dealt with. Couldn’t you try to track them down? At least get some more information about the missing years? Find out what really happened with Lorna. And how it can be fixed, at least.”
Another exchanged look. “I suppose we could try…” Frankie said.
“But whatever we find, Lucas,” Cass warned. “We’ll expose. Whether it paints you in a flattering light or not.”
“I accept your terms,” Lucas said. “Thank you. Thank you both.”
Meanwhile, at the top of the stairs, Charlie sat listening to their conversation, smiling and already coming up with a plan.
“That’s me,” Morgan agreed, head bobbing up and down. “But, how do you know? I thought… your memory…”
“Lot of news coverage about you and Jamie playing tug-of-war over my uterus couple of years back. You put up quite the fight for a kid that wasn’t even yours.” She hesitated. “Or was it?”
“No,” Morgan admitted. “She wasn’t. But you were my priority. I wanted to keep you alive. Nothing else mattered.”
“Jamie didn’t want that, too?” she asked, genuinely curious. The way he’d acted the other day….
Morgan shrugged, not interested in rehashing the past. Not when a future he’d long ago given up on was now standing right in front of him. “I can’t believe it. We all thought you were dead. You, Carl, Cory, Elizabeth… Oh, God, Lorna, it’s so great to see you.” He pulled her into a hug.
Which Lorna wriggled out of as soon as possible. Though she did open the door wider and offer, “Come in.”
Morgan did, still unable to take his eyes off of her. “Where have you been, Lorna?”
“Waiting for Carl to figure out who was trying to kill us and to take them down once and for all.”
“So Jamie had no idea…”
“He says he didn’t.”
“You don’t believe him?”
She shrugged. “He also says we were madly in love and playing house together with a couple of kids and a stack of dirty diapers. Tell the truth, does that sound like me?”
“No,” Morgan admitted. “Not the girl I knew.”
“I figured,” she sighed with relief. Finally, someone whose vision of herself matched. “Had to be a con of some kind. Was I after his money?”
“I considered that,” Morgan said.
“What about you and me?” she wondered.
“What about us?”
“Our marriage, what I read about it online, anyway; that sounded more like the kind of arrangement I’d go for. Both of us doing our own thing, only getting together when there was an itch to be scratched or, you know, nothing better to do.”
“We had a good thing going, you and I.”
“And you are definitely more my type,” she observed. “Even if you’re also a doctor like Jamie. But, at least we’re talking no kids, no strings… Yeah, you and me, I can see it. Why’d you let me go, anyway?”
“I didn’t want to. You insisted.”
“That’s what you said.”
“And this was before my head injury?” she asked incredulously.
“Afraid so.” Morgan smiled as he said it, prompting Lorna to tentatively smile in return.
The smile turned into a nervous laugh at just how ridiculous this all was. First Morgan, then Lorna.
Which was precisely when Amanda walked in.
“Carl is alive?” Donna’s flesh actually shuddered at the thought.
“I’m afraid so,” Matt unknowingly echoed Morgan’s turn of phrase.
“It stands to reason, I suppose. Don’t they say that only the good die young?”
“Carl’s old enough to die,” Matt snorted. “And certainly deserving enough.”
“I hope Rachel had the good sense to throw him out on his ear.”
“Actually, I believe she welcomed him back with open arms. Oh, and she also claims that she knew all along what Carl was up to. That he kidnapped Elizabeth, Cory and Lorna in order to save their lives. With Lucas’ cooperation. And Mom’s blessing.”
“Lucas and Rachel allowed Jamie and Felicia to think….”
“So they claim. For their own good.”
“But that’s… that’s… monstrous! And coming from me, you know it means something!”
“What am I supposed to do?” Matt shrugged. “If I accept Mom’s words at face value then it means I actually believe she is capable of doing something like that to her best friend and her own son. If I don’t believe her, then I’m a disloyal and unsupportive brat who refuses to understand the sacrifices she’s made for her family. And if I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place, imagine how tough it is for Jamie. There is absolutely no way for anyone to win, here. Whatever anyone says is bound to be wrong, because the sole right answer is one in which Carl comes out smelling like a rose. Which, by any other name, would still stink to high heaven, as far as I’m concerned.”
Slowly, Donna said, “What if I can help you somewhat in that regard?”
“What do you mean?”
“What if… Matthew, what if I know something about Carl’s missing years that you… don’t?”
“How?” Matt narrowed his eyes.
Donna demurred. “About two years ago, I received a phone call from an old friend. She was spending some time in a Swiss spa, supposedly resting, most likely getting all sorts of parts lifted and tucked and rejuvenated – “
“To the point, Donna, please.”
“She told me she saw Carl there.”
“Or, at least, someone whom she thought to be Carl. She’s only met him a few times, years ago, while we were still married, so she couldn’t be sure.”
“And you didn’t see fit to tell me?”
“I tried, darling, truly, I did. But do you remember how happy you were that Carl was gone and Rachel finally free of the drama and anguish that perennially seemed to follow him around like a dark, malevolent cloud? Do you remember feeling that way?”
“Well, sure, yeah, of course but….”
“Things were finally going so well for you and I. Your little… dalliance with Olivia was behind us. Jasmine had accepted me as her stepmother – despite Lila’s best efforts to the contrary. We were happy, enjoying a second honeymoon, I daresay. I didn’t wish to rock the boat.”
“By telling me that my mother’s dead husband was still alive?”
“You say he was at some spa in Switzerland?”
“More like a sanatorium for the very rich and the even more discreet.”
“Your friend doesn’t sound particularly discreet.”
Donna shrugged. “New money. What can you do?”
“A sanatorium for the rich doesn’t exactly sound like a man running for his life, does it?”
“That depends,” Donna pointed out.
“Do you think Carl has been conning my mother all these years?”
“Well, from the day they met, yes.”
“I was referring to the past three years, specifically.”
“It’s a distinct possibility.”
“Donna,” Matt asked his wife. “How would you feel about taking a little trip abroad?”
She smiled and threw herself into his arms. “I would love to, my darling.”
“You okay?” Olivia asked sheepishly, showing up on Jamie’s doorstep, knowing there was absolutely nothing she could say at this moment that would prove anything but lame, and so not even trying.
Jamie merely raised an eyebrow to indicate that he realized she realized the impotence of her question, and let Olivia into the house.
“I heard about what happened. From my father. Lorna doesn’t remember… anything?”
“She says she doesn’t.”
“You don’t believe her?”
“I don’t know who or what to believe anymore. My mother – my mother, Olivia, lied to me for three years. She let me think my wife was dead. She kept her own grandchildren from their mother.”
“And you believe that Rachel is telling the truth?”
Jamie shrugged. “She either lied to me then, or she’s lying to me now. In either case, it’s to protect Carl. Neither prospect is particularly appealing.”
“Rachel loves you, Jamie.”
“I’m sure she thinks she does. But she loves Carl more. Which, you know, is fine. I don’t give a damn anymore, truly, I don’t. But, if that’s the case, why didn’t she just leave with him and the twins like he wanted?”
“Because their lives were in danger. So was Lorna’s.”
“Lucas denies knowing anything about the compound being after them.”
“Lucas also doesn’t have a particularly great track record when it comes to that sort of thing.”
Jamie’s bark of laugh might well have been a whimper as he sank down on the couch and covered his face with his hands. “I’d almost say why can’t the dead ever stay dead in Bay City. Except if they did…”
“Lorna wouldn’t be back home, now.”
“Yes,” he exhaled a breath Jamie had seemingly been holding for three years.
“What are you going to do, Jamie?”
“I’m going to get my wife back,” he said firmly.
“And if she doesn’t…”
“Something strange is going on. Stranger than the obvious, I mean. Lorna’s memory loss, it’s just so incredibly convenient. For Carl. One less complication to worry about. One less loose end. Carl hates loose ends.”
“You think he did something to her? What, Jamie? What could he have done? You think he planted a chip in her head so she wouldn’t remember her past?”
Jamie craned his neck to look at Olivia strangely. “Say what?”
She waved her hand dismissively. “Forget about it. Something I read about when I was on tour. There was this princess and… never mind.”
“I want to find out more about this breakdown that Lorna supposedly had. Especially since, when she first told me about it, she called it an accident. So which was it?”
“Both. Either. Does it really matter?”
“No,” Jamie admitted. “It doesn’t. Nothing matters. Not Carl, not Mom, not even the truth. I’ll drop all of it, as long as I get my wife back.”
“That’s the most important thing in the world to you, isn’t it?” Olivia asked softly.
Jamie nodded, wordlessly.
“But what if she doesn’t…”
“She will,” Jamie insisted. “I can’t imagine any other possibility.”
But now, at long last, Olivia could.
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